A couple of nights ago, we were having dinner with some old friends. My husband has spent weeks under his classic car trying to get it ready for an upcoming show. So Friend-Hubby volunteered to help.
“That would be friggin’ great!” said Hubby enthusiastically. (I thought for a moment he might cry.)
“I can come over any night this week. When do you want me?” asked Hubby-Friend. (which is a synonym for Friend-Hubby – because I’m not sure which is the proper term)
“Let’s see,” said Hubby “…. tomorrow is Wednesday…”
(Which miraculously was correct…my husband never knows what day it is. And let me digress further. One November, he asked me what day Thanksgiving was, and when I told him it was the 26th, he said, “No, I mean what day of the week” – and so I told him that this year Thanksgiving happened to fall on a Thursday, and he said – seriously – “Oh. Okay.”)
Let me start that sentence again:
“Let’s see…tomorrow is Wednesday,” (I’m repeating this for a reason) ” and I have to put the oil pan back on and switch out the tubes” (okay, it wasn’t tubes, but I don’t know what the hell is was…), “and there’s the transistors” (I didn’t take notes, all right?) “and the gaskets, and Thursday I’ll be ready for the duvet covers. So maybe, Wednesday night.”
“Okay,” says Hubby-Friend, trying to follow (whereas I had completely given up). So tomorrow night.”
And Hubby said. “I don’t know. What day is tomorrow?”
When we got home, I heard that distinctive chirp that drives me crazy but that my husband has never heard in his entire life.
“Uh-oh,” I said. “I think we need a new battery in the smoke detector in the den.”
“Where?” said Hubby.
“The den,” I repeated.
“I know you said ‘the den’ – but I’m not sure what room you mean.”
“It’s the room off the kitchen. The one with the TV and the bookcases and the leather furniture.” I admit this explanation may not have been in my inside voice.
“Oh.” said Hubby.
“What do YOU call that room?” I asked.
“The room with the TV” he answered.
You may not believe these conversations happened. But I SWEAR. And the same evening, no less.
But here’s what he said the following day when I got home from work.
“Guess what I did today,” he said. “I went to the radio station. The door was locked and there was a sign that said ‘No Soliciting’ – but I banged on the door anyway. And when someone finally opened the door, I explained that I had a story they should cover. I said that they needed to interview my wife. That my wife was an English major in college and she was a really good writer and even won some awards in school. But after college she got a job and the company helped pay for an MBA, and so she gave up writing and worked for her whole life in Finance. But a few years ago, she realized how much she missed writing and so she spent two years writing a novel while still working full-time. And now she’s published her book and it’s really good. She did it – and she’s a good example for anyone who thinks it’s too late or that their dreams are impossible. And so you need to tell her story.”
Did that make the radio station want to tell that story?
But it did make me want to stay married. At least for a few more days.
When I was a little girl, I believed – for much longer than I should admit – that all dogs were boys and all cats were girls.
I believed this despite the fact that when I was about five I had a dog named Daisy. But I never for one minute believed that Daisy was a girl.
(I didn’t believe that Lassie was a girl either, even though Timmy would cry, “Go get help, Girl!” And it turned out I was right.)
I had strong reasons why I thought all dogs were boys: They were rambunctious, loud and smelly.
I rest my case.
Cats, on the other hand, were graceful and delicate. I think I was twelve before I realized that the word Feline was not a synonym for Feminine.
When I finally understood that there were actually girl dogs and boy cats, I was quite embarrassed.
But now that I think about it, I had no reason to be ashamed of my mistake. It’s actually perfectly reasonable to associate dogs with boys and cats with girls.
First there’s the way they play.
Dogs will chase a ball or a stick – over and over and over and over. They are never bored. There’s a mindless joy to their repetition. Sort of like Baseball. And whatever toy they have, you can be certain they will completely destroy it in no time at all. I had a cat however, who always took her toy to bed and cuddled with it. (I admit this may have had something to do with catnip.)
Then there’s the loudness – which I have already mentioned. I’m not saying women are less talkative than men. I am saying there is an astounding volume to boys. Especially when they are in a group.
And speaking of groups, men are much more comfortable in packs. Of course, they call them teams. But it’s really the same thing. Women need their alone time. So do cats. Cat-related alone time is usually about 19 hours a day.
Let’s compare Patience. Dogs are not patient. They will knock you over to get to the door first. Eat like the food bowl may explode in five seconds. And, rather sweetly, will greet you like you have been away for 3 weeks, not three hours.
And they hunt the same way. They charge after their prey, yelping and jumping and completely crazed. When a dog is successful with his hunt, it is mainly due to power, enthusiasm (and sheer luck). I have yet to see a dog sneak up on something. A cat gets her prey due to patience and strategy. I’ve seen my cat sit by a stack of boxes in the cellar for twelve hours.
Peeing. I learned very early on from my cousins that when a boy feels the need to pee, he just whips it out and pees. In the middle of a dodge ball game, and Johnny has to go…. Well, right over there by the bushes, Johnny. No need to even call a Time-out. Us girls need a bit more privacy. Cats too. They have their personal box and if you walk in on them during their nature call, they are not happy, and will usually walk away and come back another time. And they don’t need to pee constantly. I had a dog, Sarge, for seventeen years. Walking him a quarter of a mile meant stopping every seven feet to pee. Five minutes of walking and twenty-five minutes of peeing. Dogs love to pee. Boys think it is pretty special too.
And finally, while we are down in the nether regions, there’s grooming. Cats love to be clean. They bathe and bathe. They wash their little faces and their little ears and their little tails and their little paws.
Dogs? Only interested in their genitals.
I rest my case.
Genius, they call it.
And I cannot disagree.
This little gadget I can carry in my purse or tuck under my pillow or in my desk drawer so I can sneak a few paragraphs when I am supposed to be on a conference call….
Oh, I resisted for a long time.
I like books. I like turning pages and underlining and writing comments in the margin. I like seeing the bookmark work its way down chunks of book.
I like the smell of cheap thin old paper.
I like bookcases.
I can have thousands of books on my little 5 x 8, 7-ounce reader, but those books won’t be able to decorate my bookcase anymore.
But I can carry more books than I was ever able to carry.
When I started high school, the city had a bit of a capacity problem. The temporary solution was to have the freshman start later in the morning, and stay later in the afternoon. I don’t know why this was supposed to work. In the middle of the day all the students were there. And there were no classes being held in the bathroom. We fit somehow.
But what we didn’t have enough of was lockers. So Freshman didn’t get them. We carried our books and coats from class to class.
And to and from school. Every day. All the books.
I lived exactly 1 mile from the school. And I added one-tenth of a mile in order to meet my friends. Even if it was freezing I wouldn’t think of cutting my walk by that tenth and walking alone.
With all my books: English, History, French, Math, Science – and of course my notebooks – one for each subject. If I didn’t have homework I had to carry my books anyway. Because I had no locker.
I’d stack them with a large notebook on the bottom and a double stack on the top. I weighed less than 100 pounds. I was carrying one-fifth of my body weight (okay, slight exaggeration, but only slight) 2.2 miles a day.
Heaven forbid that I had to sneeze.
If it rained, I got drenched. I could not carry an umbrella too. But my books did not get wet. They got a plastic bag. I got a wet head.
One morning, while walking by St. Anthony’s Church, a pigeon crapped on my head.
But I didn’t drop the books.
One of my classmates never had any books on our trek to school.
“I do my homework in study hall,” she said.
“But where do you keep the books without a locker?” I asked.
And one day she showed me. She had found an unlocked closet behind the stage in the auditorium.
“What if someone takes them?” I asked.
“Textbooks????” She replied.
But I just couldn’t leave my books. I covered them with brown paper and I wrapped them in plastic, and I hugged them to me for 2.2 miles a day.
It was good for me. Carrying those books probably gave me the strength to hold plank position in yoga today.
Now I have my teeny lightweight device.
It’s still good exercise. My swiping finger is getting a workout.
I rarely post poetry from my other blog (“With Resistance”) here on “Not Quite Old.”
My movie-star infatuation reminded me of some of my other Hollywood crushes. Which reminded me of a poem I wrote about a year ago.
I believed at seven
that given the chance
I could be Shirley Temple.
I could dance and sing
and cry at will
and I most certainly could
pull off curls
if my mother would only
show some effort.
I’d outgrown the ruffles
but Hayley Mills and I
had much in common.
I could squint and bite my lip
and spout that classy English.
On top of that
her hair was hideous.
In sixty-five I pierced my ears
Inspired and heartened
by Mia Farrow
delicate and equally
In just one year
as classmates cried
for poor Zhivago
I wept in defeat
abandoned my Hollywood dream
Julie Christie smiled
and I knew my limits.
I may be able to write a blog, a novel, and a poem.
I may be able to formulate a three-year-plan for the nursery business and negotiate insurance coverage.
I may be able to bake a loaf of babka.
I may be able to match my blush to the perfect shade of lipstick.
I may not be able to stage a raffle.
What I planned for my book giveaway was this:
Readers would write in and tell me what actress they pictured when they imagined a 50-year-old woman, like Cynthia in my novel, Just What I Always Wanted. Then I would take all the suggestions and have a poll. And the top 3 vote-getters would win a copy of my book for the person who suggested those actresses.
What I didn’t figure on is that several people would suggest the same actresses. And so then if five people suggested Diane Lane, do I need another poll to pick the winners?
And let’s not even mention the fact that I couldn’t even figure out how to do one of those “click on the button” polls. I tried a few times and … well… let’s just say that this is the third time I am typing this.
But I loved all the suggestions.
I loved that you picture someone as pretty as Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock when you picture “fifty”. And it’s encouraging that when you think of Susan Sarandon or Meryl Streep, you still think of someone lovely enough to play “fifty.”
Then there’s Meg Ryan and Courteney Cox and Julianne Moore and Michelle Pfeiffer and Kyra Sedgwick… how encouraging it is to see that instead of a limited supply of middle-aged ladies – there are so many that are so beautiful.
What is interesting is that no one suggested the actress (really two actresses) that I pictured as I was writing the book. It’s not that I was already thinking of the big movie deal (though that would be nice), but rather what I imagined Cynthia looked like. I don’t know why she didn’t look like me, but I knew she didn’t. The look I pictured when I first started the book was Geena Davis. Tall and pretty and quick to laugh. But there’s a funny twist to writing a novel. It took me so long that Geena sort of outgrew the role. Because while she got older, Cynthia stayed fifty. So gradually the image changed, and about five years later, when I was finishing up, I was picturing Julianna Margulies.
But it seems that Diane Lane is the overwhelming choice. And it’s a terrific choice. She’s so lovely in such a real and mature way.
And ironically, she makes an appearance in my book.
Early in the novel, Cynthia is soliciting suggestions of what to do with her retirement, and the patrons at the post office all chime in with the most romantic places to go. And someone says, “Didn’t you see that old movie about the Bridge of Sighs in Venice? The one with the girl who now has a middle-aged bosom but still the pretty face?”
That movie was “A Little Romance” – my favorite film of 1979. And the actress was Diane Lane:
I am delighted that so many of us see fifty as lovely, not old.
But I still need to give away three books.
So I put the names of everyone who commented on post-it notes (except my brother-in-law… he doesn’t count) – and I folded up those papers and my husband drew names.
Not exactly the contest I promised, but my heart is in the right place. My contest-organizational skills just are not.
And the winners are:
1. Valentine Logar
3. Diva For A Day
So send me your address at firstname.lastname@example.org – and I’ll send you off a copy of Just What I Always Wanted.
I hope you enjoy it. (And if you do, please write a nice review on Amazon.)
In my last post, I described a fictitious (but totally plausible) conversation of younger women’s view of older women. Their view: Old women are OLD.
But it’s perfectly natural.
When I was ten, someone twenty was old. And then forty seemed really old when I was twenty. And although I abhor those women I wrote about (even though I made them up) who thought sixty was old – but I confess, I certainly thought that sixty was OLD when I was forty. And now that I am over sixty, I know for sure that over eighty is OLD.
And I learned the painful truth of this reality a few month ago.
I was working on the finishing touches for my book. Most important to me was the cover. Because you CAN judge a book by the cover. We do it all the time. Just ask Amazon.
Some very loyal readers have actually suggested that I should have illustrated the cover myself. But I had no wish to represent my book by some silly little illustration. I wanted something really PRETTY. And I just don’t have the patience to draw something pretty. If I spend more than forty-five minutes on a drawing, I am guaranteed to screw it up, just because I get bored on minute forty-six and rush to finish.
So I sought out a cover designer. She came well-recommended and I checked her portfolio and her other cover designs were truly lovely.
So I hired her. I told her about my book. That the main character was fifty years old, and that much of the book was humorous, and I wanted the cover to represent this fifty-year-old with a great sense of humor.
And I found out something crucial when she sent me back her design.
She is obviously young.
Because her idea of a funny fifty-year-old was:
I won’t show you her design because I don’t have the rights to the photo, but I’ve drawn a version:
You may think that I am exaggerating, but truly, NO.
Her cover was WORSE!
I emailed her back immediately, and said, “No, No, No! Fifty isn’t old! Fifty is YOUNG! Fifty is PRETTY!”
And I found a stock photo that I loved and sent it to her, and she loved it too, and made me a lovely, beautiful cover:
Beautiful. Probably despite the likelihood that she thought a fifty-year-old could not possibly look like this. But fifty looks like this TO ME – at sixty-three.
So what does fifty look like to you?
Who do you think of when you think ‘Fifty’? Who would play Cynthia in the movie version?
Tell me, please.
There are prizes attached.
My book, of course!
I will ask for votes in my next post and give away copies of my book, Just What I Always Wanted, to the top three vote-getters.
I noticed over the last year or so that my favorite catalogs have changed.
Or perhaps I have.
There are two retailers in particular where I used to buy almost all my clothes. They were stylish but age-appropriate. What I used to call “Classic with a side of Funk.”
But I have been gradually and increasingly disappointed in their offerings.
“Classic with a side of Funk” has become “Classic with a big side salad of Boring.”
Why ever would I want a boxy seed-stitch cardigan in olive green?
And I’ve been thinking about it and I have come up with an explanation, which of course must be completely accurate because I can picture the board meeting where the decision was made:
President (Age 40): “Twenty-five years ago when we founded this company, our average customer was forty years old. Sophisticated and stylish.”
Vice President (Age 35): “Just like you.”
President: “Yes, of course. And our customers have been very loyal. But now they are in their sixties.”
Vice President: “Just like the old President and Vice President who were asked to retire to make way for new blood like us.”
President: “That’s right. So we have to make a decision. Do we design clothes for us new stylish women, or do we adjust to the advanced age of our long-time customers?”
Vice President: “Well, I’d love to see us sell cool clothes. But our current customers are used to shopping here, and cool people like us actually shop elsewhere. It would be more consistent with our image to just follow our customers into old age.”
President: “And easier too.”
Vice President: “Sure. We will only have to make three colors a season: Navy, Brown and Olive Green for fall and winter. And Pink, Lavender and Baby Blue for spring and summer.”
President: “And we don’t have to worry about an exact fit either. Old ladies don’t want body-conscious clothes. Let’s make sure that size small is big enough for ladies with very big bosoms. But that our pants are extra short.”
Vice President: “And we can add a line of sensible shoes.”
President: “Great idea. Maybe something like a sneaker with velcro fasteners. Once you get to be sixty, you need something comfortable and easy to get on an off without having to bend over.”
Vice President: “Our customers will love that.”
President: “Thank God we’re not old. It must be so depressing to be sixty.”
Am I right or what?
Why ever would I want to be stylish? I am already sixty-three.
So the problem is not the catalogs. They have nice comfortable age-appropriate clothes.
The problem is me.
I DON’T WANT TO BE AGE-APPROPRIATE!
This Sunday, my husband and I took advantage of the nice weather to take our little rubber boat out to the local lake to paddle around.
I never know exactly how much makeup to wear on occasions like this. Certainly I need a little blush over my sunscreen. And a touch of lipgloss. But then my eyes look so tiny, that I need just a little liner and mascara to offset the blush and lipgloss. But without a little concealer, the liner will emphasize the dark circles under my eyes, so I need some of that too. (Please – you do not need to point out that I was wearing sunglasses… I could have needed to take them off. I didn’t, but I could have.) And then bronzer all over, so I look totally natural. (only better).
Here’s the result:
Of course, I am sorry now that I was wearing those cheap drugstore flip-flops. But I’ve had those $5.00 shoes for more than ten years, and they are the most comfortable shoes I own, and I can totally walk in the water with them, and they float. So there you go. But I should have taken them off for this picture.
Back to rowing.
My husband rowed the entire length of the lake, about half a mile, and I rowed back.
Let me repeat that.
I rowed back.
I have never rowed before, and I found that what looks easy is not so easy. For example, I had a bit of trouble
- getting both oars to move at the same time
- rowing with the same pressure on each oar
- getting the oars to not turn sideways
- moving the oars at all
I think, in my defense, that my husband had the current with him on the way out. (Lakes have currents, don’t they?) I also think that some big lake turtle must have latched onto my left oar and prevented me from moving it as strongly as I moved the right oar. (That could have been the problem, don’t you think?)
I did, however, find it very easy to turn in circles. Rowing back took a very long time because I made so many circles.
But I did it. I rowed all the way back. I only hit one dock. My husband is very sunburned because the trip took a little longer than we expected. He offered to take back the rowing chores several times, but NO WAY. When I am determined, just forget about it.
It did remind me of my favorite movie when I was nine.
I loved that movie as a kid, and I watched it many many times as a teenager and (and as an adult too, I must admit). And it wasn’t the excitement of the chariot race, or the religious miracles (although that’s what the nuns emphasized).
No. It was Charlton Heston. I certainly didn’t approve of his later-life politics, but I approved in a really big way (even at nine) of his body. He was the first man I ever swooned over.
But after this Sunday, I am so glad I never had to be a galley-slave.
This week my husband and I took our annual micro-vacation. Neither of us likes to be away from home too long – for me, because I can’t bear to be without all my clothes and makeup and hair products, and for him, because he is afraid the pets will pine for him.
Sure enough, I didn’t like the sandals I brought, and although I thought that would be a nice excuse to buy some new ones, I couldn’t actually find any. Well, I did find some, but they were pricey and cute and didn’t match the one extra outfit I had brought, so then I would have need a new tee at the very least, if not a new bathing suit, since the cute sandals would have been atrocious with the bathing suit I had packed, and I only had forty-five minutes till the parking meter ran out and that was certainly not enough time to make a decision as monumental as shoes.
And on my husband’s side, sure enough, the cats pined away for a terrible, horrible one-and-one-half days without my husband, and the most docile of them even hissed at the kind neighbor who was feeding them. Of course, the cats can hardly endure my husband going to the bathroom, never mind Rhode Island.
But despite having the wrong sandals and fretting about the poor abandoned kitties, we had a really nice time.
We stayed at the marina in Newport, and it turned out the dockside bar was right outside our room. This was a sign, I was sure, that I was meant to relax.
So right after we didn’t purchase shoes, and didn’t purchase grey pearls (although hubby came close – he’s a sucker for beautiful jewelry – a cross I have had to bear all my married life – poor me) we strolled out the seven feet to the bar for a pre-dinner drink.
Two other couples soon joined us, and naturally my husband made new friends. My husband’s social skill is the only thing that keeps me from becoming a pathetic recluse.
Drinks all around. Everyone – but me – decided to have a Dark ‘N Stormy. This drink is made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum mixed with ginger beer. Everyone loved it. Made them feel like pirates. It’s definitely a pirate drink. Argggh.
I had a glass of merlot.
Merlot is not exactly the classiest wine. Real wine drinkers refer condescendingly to merlot. (Just think of insults poor merlot received in the movie Sideways.) But I like it. But as classless as merlot’s reputation is, I still thought that perhaps a glass of wine made me look snooty as compared to Dark ‘N Stormy big tumblers.
I didn’t want to look snooty. I wanted to be a regular guy, like the Dark ‘N Stormiers. So I ridiculed the ostentatious display of the yachts in the marina. Yes, I made fun of the wasteful clueless rich. I don’t know why I did this. I don’t really have anything against rich people. I would like to be one myself.
And of course, it turned out that my husband’s new pals were the occupants of one of those yachts.
I didn’t exactly know how to redeem myself.
Maybe I could have a Dark ‘N Stormy. We can all have that pirate drink and be happy pirates together.
But I just couldn’t.
My Polish grandfather (Dziadzi is Grandpa in Polish – think “Ja-Jee” for pronunciation) liked his drink. He was a shot-and-a-beer guy all the way. Any kind of whiskey – and then a beer chaser. Like most immigrants from eastern Europe, Dziadzi liked his beer warm. He kept his Schlitz in the bedroom closet – and in the summer, in his third-floor, bathroom-down-the-hall tenement, that was WARM.
When I was a teenager, my mother used to visit Dziadzi a few times a week. In summer, Mom often asked me to accompany her. Her motives were a little suspect. Dziadzi would always ask her to bring him a bottle, and she didn’t like to deny him the pleasure of a drink in his later years. But she worried about him drinking too much – and she knew of the risk of combining too much whiskey with the many medications he was taking.
So she would bring him a bottle – but she didn’t want to leave him with too much to drink alone after we had gone. So she’d say, “Come with me to see your grandfather. And have a drink with him.” I was still in high school.
So on a hot summer morning, we would drive to New Britain. And I would have a shot and a beer with my mother and my grandfather. She’d bring him a very small bottle, so we’d only be leaving him a little if we both had a drink too.
So at ten a.m., often twice a week, in an apartment already approaching 90 degrees, I would have a shot of Jack Daniels and a warm Schlitz.
To this day, 45 years later, I only drink wine.
As much as I would like to drink Dark ‘N Stormy like a pirate with some nice rich people and be as sociable as my husband -
And a glass of merlot.