I have been reflecting on my lack of a summer vacation this year.
I’m not complaining. We had a fabulous trip to Jamaica in March – which will satisfy us for a year at least. Maybe two years if we want to pay for that trip before we travel again.
We have a beautiful yard and a patio that is just made for reading and napping. And for variety, napping and reading.
So I’m happy.
But there’s something about going away on vacation that makes you step outside yourself. As much as I love the comfortable, secure feeling of being home, there’s something about being AWAY that makes me feel like someone new.
I remember my first “grown-up” vacation.
1969. I had just graduated from high school. I had never had a vacation without Mom and Dad and the whole family. My mother entertained me with tales of her first “adult” vacation. She had been about my age. She said it was the sweetest memory – being on her own for the very first time. Grown-up. She was enthusiastic about giving me a similar experience.
So my father helped me rent a cottage in Westbrook, Connecticut from one of his friends. Dad drove me down there the week before vacation to show me where it was. I was awed. It was more than a cottage – it was a lovely four-bedroom home a block from the beach.
My two best friends and I pooled our money. It was a little tight because we thought we might want to eat a little something while we were there. So we got another girl to pitch in too. She was a quiet girl I didn’t know well, but she planned on spending her week with a pile of books – so she was okay by me.
We drove down in my friend Chris’s car – which was a Mustang. In 1969, that was about as good as it got.
We had our linens and towels and clothes and whatever food our mothers packed up for us. But we didn’t really bring too much food – we wanted to grocery-shop for ourselves. How sweet it seemed to actually pick out your own food.
First things first, though. How better to feel like a grown-up than to have an immediate crisis?
Almost upon arriving, Chris fell down the stairs. On the landing she hit the wall hard with her foot. Her toe immediately swelled up.
We looked in the phone book for a hospital, but didn’t see anything nearby. I was supposed to be a grown-up. I hated the thought of calling my mother. But Mom was a nurse and would know what to do, so I swallowed my pride and called. “It’s probably broken,” Mom said. “But don’t worry about it. Broken toes just mend on their own.”
And so, eighteen and on vacation, I didn’t worry about it.
We didn’t call our parents again for the rest of the week. We were on vacation. We were AWAY. We were adults. We were an HOUR away from home.
Chris was a trouper too. She had a hard time driving, but she did her best, and she reluctantly (since it was her Dad’s car, really) let one of us get behind the wheel once in a while. I’d had my license for 40 whole days, so Chris wisely excluded me from the driver’s pool.
My other friend Mary and I set up a card table on the big screened front porch. We even found a tablecloth. We took all our meals there, in the cool ocean breeze. Breakfast on the porch. Coffee and toast with marmalade.
A couple of boys came to visit – the boy Mary was seeing, and his friend – who in my mind was the most gorgeous boy I ever met. I flirted shamelessly. I had a two piece bathing suit and a tan. What more did I need?
The weather was spectacular – dry and hot. Where the heat rose from the pavement in waves. Waves on the water. Waves on the road. The radio played “Sweet Caroline” three times an hour.
We ate mostly hotdogs and potato chips. One evening, we went out to eat at a very nice restaurant that overlooked the marina. I had lobster. Truly a grown-up meal. I wanted a glass of wine – but we were under the legal age. I didn’t even try to pass for 21 – I may have been 18, but I looked 15.
We went to an inexpensive drive-in that specialized in second-run films. We propped Chris’s foot on a pillow and watched “Barefoot in the Park.” I had never before seen Robert Redford. I approved.
Every evening, Mary and I brewed another pot of coffee and retired to the porch. Most nights we sat on that porch till 3:00AM, whispering and giggling and telling secrets in the dark.
She wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be a nurse.
“I think you will be something else,” Mary said.
She was right.
As I writer, it is perfectly acceptable, and practically a professional requirement, for me to eavesdrop.
How else would I know how teenagers whine, or families fight, or men flirt (yeah, I’ve been married THAT long) – in order to get it right in my stories?
Restaurants are especially good. Booths are best, because you can listen to the people behind you so inconspicuously. I listened to the complete story of a guy’s divorce that way once. It was terrific. (The story, not the divorce.)
Last year my husband and I were in one of the more prestigious restaurants in town to celebrate our anniversary. The weather was really bad, and the only other diners there were the actor Sam Waterston and his companion (wife, maybe…I have no idea.) But anyway, my husband was professing his love, and being quite romantic, so it was pretty much a bust as an eavesdropping occasion. I thought I heard “Woody Allen” in Mr. Waterston’s conversation, but I could hardly say to Hubby, “Shushh, I’m listening to the next table,” it being our anniversary and all.
But last night made up for all of that.
My husband and I had been out shopping, and stopped at a Chinese restaurant that we like. The food isn’t even all that good at this place. It’s just that about 20 years ago, an old friend of my husband’s called us out of the blue to say that he and an associate were in Connecticut on business, and asked us to join them for dinner.We met at this Chinese restaurant near their hotel. We had one of the most fun evenings we had ever had. We laughed ourselves silly that night, and now we can’t even remember what we were so silly about. I do remember a lot of wine. But 20 years later, we still like that restaurant. We call it Gus’s Chinese Joint.
So last night, we are eating at Gus’s Chinese Joint. My husband was quiet. He was tired and preoccupied. This is not a necessarily a bad thing if you like to eavesdrop.
A family was two booths down from us, but there was no one in between. I couldn’t see them well behind my husband’s generously sized head, but oh my, their conversation was Choice.
It was Mom and Dad and Son and Daughter, both of the kids around college age. Mom and Dad and Son had very soft voices. I strained, but couldn’t really make out what they were saying.
But Daughter was clear and LOUD. And her side of the conversation alone was enough. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more because I had to imagine what everyone else was saying, as I listened to only one-fourth of the dialog.
“Now that you are a JP and all,” said Daughter, “I suppose you will want to officiate at my wedding. If I ever have one.”
That sentence was pretty cool. I like to think she was addressing her mother.
And then the kicker.
I wouldn’t say she hollered. It was more of a very loud gasp.
“OMG! You shaved your chest! Why on earth would you shave your chest?????”
And just when I strained to hear how her brother would answer, her old man tore open his shirt Superman-style.
“Oh DAD! That is so gross!!!!”
That fifty-something father of two had been manscaping. And he bared his chest in Gus’s Chinese Joint.
Daughter was shocked.
I like to think that Mom was laughing her ass off.
PS – Amazon is offering the Kindle edition of my novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, for only 99 Cents this week. A TOP 20 book in the category of Literary Humor – and it is! (Literary and Humorous, that is). Click here to see more!
Do you ever have one of those moments?
When suddenly you realize something important?
Today I had a revelation.
And it is not only something important. It is MAJOR IMPORTANT.
I’ve been having a rotten month. Worrying about my work, my coming retirement, my house, my finances, my family. I’m not a worrier by nature. I’m usually quite lighthearted. But when I do get in a worry mode – it tends to be FULL-OUT WOE.
And this month I have felt like I am walking around in the dark. I can’t see where I am going. But I can’t stop. I just keep walking anyway – into potholes and dead ends and fences. I’m distraught.
And today I saw a video.
And there it was.
My problem completely exposed.
I’m carrying a big box of shit that I think I might someday want – and it’s blocking my vision.
All I need to do
I never liked cartoons much when I was a kid.
I hated the silliness and the weird ping-pongy background music and what was basically the same plot over and over: Tom and Jerry, RoadRunner, Bugs Bunny – “Chase me, but I’m smarter than you.”
Oh, give me a Real Story any day. With Real People, not cartoons. I so preferred Spin and Marty on the Mickey Mouse Club as opposed to Mickey himself.
Oh, I did like some of Disney’s animated features – “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” especially. But NOTHING could top “Pollyanna” (which I wrote about here)- a Real story with Real people.
One cartoon I especially disliked was Popeye.
Popeye was ugly, aggressive, and weird. And who could understand a single thing he said, anyway? Plus I never could figure out why the bad guy was sometimes called Bluto and sometimes Brutus. Because I was a kid, was I not supposed to notice? (Just FYI, the studio thought they might have a copyright problem with the name Bluto, so they changed it. But since the cartoons were never shown in order, Bluto and Brutus skipped back and forth, making me quite irritated.)
And worst of all – to me – was Olive Oyl. How I detested her.
But I was wrong.
Last night, I was reflecting on the role models I had as a kid. Pollyanna – good. Gidget – maybe not so good (although she wasn’t afraid to learn a “boy’s sport”). Cinderella – pretty bad.
And during my ruminations, I experienced a revelation.
I should have identified more with Olive Oyl.
Oh sure, she needed Popeye to save her a jillion times, and I don’t admire helplessness. But when you think about it, Olive probably got into such predicaments because she was never afraid to take a chance. Or more likely – because she always had her mind elsewhere, and so never realized the danger she was walking into. I totally get that.
And then there’s her inability to pay attention to her child. Now I never had children myself, but I am fairly certain that’s the kind of mother I would be. Lost in my daydreams while shopping for the best zucchini while my kid has climbed out of the shopping cart and into the potato bin.
You have to admire Olive’s fashion sense – in that she found a style that she liked and she stuck with it. How can you go wrong with a red blouse and black skirt? Timeless. The yellow stripe at the hem of the skirt just goes to show you that she’s unique – it’s not your average black skirt. And the big brown Doc Martens – can you be more ahead of your time?
Olive never had a lot of hair, but not too many women can carry off a bun that sticks straight out. It doesn’t get messy no matter how dire the circumstances. It even curves upward when you are in the mood for love – now that is a hairdo with a message!
Speaking of ‘the mood’… I can never hear “I’m In The Mood For Love,” without hearing it in Olive Oyl’s screechy voice. Yes, the memory of her voice has lasted more than sixty years for me. I always wanted to be unforgettable. Olive has achieved that with one song.
And most of all – her looks. When I was an immature kid, I disliked Olive Oyl because she was homely.
How short-sighted! I should have been cheering for the skinny, flat-chested, thin-lipped, gawky woman with huge feet, who still managed to see herself as sexy and alluring.
Why, Olive had men fighting over her. Constantly.
It doesn’t come from big boobs, blond hair, and high heels.
It comes from CONFIDENCE!
What a great concept.
Olive Oyl, I wouldn’t mind being just like you.
Actually, I AM just like you.
(Time for a summer rerun)
First, let me assure you that not all of my Life Philosophies are derived from the Sunday comics.
That being said, I admit that Funky Winkerbean changed my life.
Do you remember hapless Les back in the 70s? (By the way, I’ve never really understood the word ‘hapless’–why does poor Les have no hap?)
Anyway, back in the high school days of the comic strip, Les asked one of the plainer girls for a date. She was very surprised he asked her, and she said so. He explained that he hadn’t had any luck asking out the popular girls and so decided that he should lower his standards.
While this didn’t exactly win over the girl, it won me over.
I’ve been setting my goals pretty low ever since. It works so much better than failure.
This is why I was able to return the beginner’s Yoga class, despite my considerable ego. For a couple of weeks I tried to graduate to the advanced class, but then I reminded myself that my goal was never to touch my feet to the back of my head in Bow. My goal was to be able to get up off the floor after Corpse.
Do I need a higher goal after ten years of Yoga? Maybe. Aspiration is a good thing. So I have decided that this year, my goal will be to stand on one foot. If I can stand on one foot, I can do Tree. I can do Eagle, Crane, and Warrior III. That will be good. That it will have taken me eleven years to stand on one foot just goes to show you how patient I am. Which is an admirable Yoga goal.
The risk of low ambitions is that you still might not exactly achieve them, and that could be a little embarrassing.
I was reminded of this a few days ago, during lunch with some friends.
One of my friends is an avid music fan, and he was speaking of Keith Richards’ autobiography. According to Richards, Marianne Faithfull was so crazy that Mick Jagger finally had to call it quits. Just think about that. How sane are you if you are not sane enough for The Rolling Stones?
And here is the clincher – the epitome of underachieving: Two of my lunch-mates were reminiscing about their high school buddies. One of their friends back then had always wanted to become a clown. And she had applied to Clown College. But she had not been accepted.
That’s a pretty low threshold to miss.
I have ordinary dreams.
Except when I was a kid.
I was nightmare prone. I couldn’t hear a ghost story without weeks of recurring and terrifying nightmares. And so, of course, my sisters and all the kids in the neighborhood just loved telling me scary stories. And I wanted to hear them. Because for my whole life, nothing is better to me than a good story. Funny, sad, scary. Just tell me a story.
As I got older though, I began to see the connection between horror stories and the frequency of my nightmares. So I have tried to stay away. No Stephen King for me. (although I read “On Writing” and “11/22/63.”)
And while I am on the subject of “11/22/63” – I have always been a bit of what they call a Conspiracy Nut. I was twelve when JFK was assassinated. And I believed, even back then, that we were not hearing the true or whole story.So I have read numerous books and studies. At one point, I read so many books in one month, that I developed a new kind of nightmare: Lee Harvey Oswald was standing at the end of bed, watching me sleep.
That’s when I cut back (a bit) on my assassination research.
And my dreams since then are ordinary.
I dream that I am back in school, and I have to take a final exam for a course I didn’t realize I had registered for, and have never attended a single class. (I have been out of school for decades – but this is still my most common dream. You too, I bet.)
Or shopping. I always dream I am shopping. Often I’ll throw in the complexity of being late for a huge event, but I NEED to buy an outfit. I am a very good shopper, but I tend to be a terrible shopper in my dreams.
Lots of people make cameo appearances in my dreams. Like, every member of my family – close or distant – and every person I ever worked with. They just pop up and disappear again. Once, in a shopping dream, I turned around in the store and the Beatles were behind me. It was very cool. And then they were gone. And in the morning, the radio said that John Lennon had been killed.
That’s not to say I’m psychic or anything. That’s about the only premonition I have ever had. And it was probably just a coincidence. But it was creepy, and it would be fun to be creepy again once in a while. Like with an ability to pick Kentucky Derby winners.
But this week I had a GREAT dream. I woke up laughing. (And if any of you out there are dream interpreters – I would love to hear what the hell this one means.)
My husband and I had adopted. A squirrel.
We had raised this little squirrel and he was one smart squirrel, so we sent him to school.
And in the dream it was Squirrel’s high school graduation. and he wore a little black cap and gown and we were very proud of his academic accomplishments.
At his graduation celebration I told Squirrel I had a present for him, and I brought out this huge electric bass.
And Squirrel was SO disappointed, because the bass was like ten times bigger than he was.
I kept a straight face for quite a while. And then I laughed, and said,
“Only joking, Squirrel! The bass if for ME. So I can accompany you. Here is your real present.”
And I took out this tiny little guitar – exactly squirrel-sized.
And Squirrel was delighted. And he played a tune right then and there, still wearing his cap and gown.
And he was GOOD.
That Squirrel could SHRED.
One night many years ago I was lying in bed, waiting for sleep and reviewing my day. I hadn’t had a bad day, but I could not decide whether it had been a good day.
I realized then that my problem was that I did not have any standard for measuring the success of my day.
I needed a Good Day checklist.
Over the next several weeks I developed my test for the valuation of my days.
I decided on six criteria. It’s simple. I just need to do one good thing in each category. Just one. Not so ambitious. I found that even if I did something I really loved all day long – one single category did not give me that sense of satisfaction that comes from just doing something small in all six.
And I have been using this checklist for at least 20 years now. It works for me.
Each day is a Good Day if I:
1. Do something good for my home. Make the bed. Do the dishes. At least turn on the dishwasher.
2. Do something good for my body. Take a walk. Practice Yoga. Skip the donut and eat the apple.
3. Do something good for my mind. Read a book. Learn something new. Maybe even listen carefully to an opinion I don’t share.
4. Do something good for my work. Up to this point, my do-good list has been job related. To make sure I accomplish something worthwhile every day. You’d think I’d easily be able to accomplish SOMETHING at work – that’s what they pay me for after all. But I am sometimes surprised – and appalled – at how difficult this can be. But if I finish just one thing – that’s a good day. And now that I am retiring – my focus will be on my new in-process novel. I can’t wait to start checking this one off my list on a daily basis.
5. Do something good for someone else. Bring dinner to my mother. Compliment someone sincerely. Teach someone something. Perhaps just: ‘Don’t holler at you-know-who’ is enough some days.
6. Do something good for sheer pleasure. Watch that TV show that I’m embarrassed to admit I love. Reminisce over old photographs. Dance in my underwear.
I’ll admit that there are days when I am on the floor at 11PM getting in a few crunches. Or saying, “You looked nice in that shirt today, Honey,” as I’m saying goodnight.
But most days – it’s easy. Really easy.
And I have a clean house, decent health, interesting conversations, a successful career, good friends – and a smile on my face.
One year ago I attended a party and met a woman who truly fascinated me. Or at least, her ego fascinated me.
I had described her as “celebrity-lite.” She is a minor (very minor) TV personality on one of the local daytime talk shows.But she wore her negligible fame like a twenty-carat tiara. I was actually impressed – not by her meager stardom, but how amazingly high she carried it.
I mean, I am really proud to have written a book. And if the opportunity arises, (any small opportunity – any teeny-weeny opportunity, I admit it), I certainly jump at the occasion to mention it. (with trumpet flourish). But my boasting pales in comparison to her grandiosity. I have a lot to learn in the Conceit department.
And I had another lesson last week.
I went to the same party and once again, Celebrity-Lite made a grand entrance.
Like last year, she brought a change of clothes. Several actually, so she could get more than one round of compliments, I suppose. I could be kind though, and say she wasn’t sure what the weather would be like. But honestly, both her outfits (or maybe more than “both” – I only saw two) were lightweight summer party outfits (“breezy”, I’m sure she calls them) – and both her swimsuits were…well…swimsuits. It’s not like one was for July and one was for an arctic swim.
I envied her the luxury of having a selection though. My husband and I had a different event to attend in the morning, and the morning weather was chilly and drizzly. And though the weatherman called for clearing skies, I am not one to put much stock in a forecast. When I see rain, I usually think “It’s raining.” I’m stubborn that way.
So anyway, I had dressed in faded jeans and a long-sleeved gray baseball tee. I looked very casually cute, but not exactly ready for a swim. My husband had packed a bathing suit, and told me I was being really dumb not to bring mine – the hosts have a marvelous pool – but for some stupid reason (relating to my goosebumps) I didn’t bother.
During our morning event, I was fine in my “more autumn than summer” outfit. But as we left and drove to the afternoon party, the sun came out. Those damn weathermen – they only get it right about 1.7% of the time, and this was the day.
The air steamed up, as we arrived at the party. Now it was sunny – and hot – and humid.
Not too bad at first. I’m the type of person who likes being warm. But given an hour or so in the sun, I began to wilt in the heat.
We played bocce. Guess who I drew as an opponent?
The sundressed starlet versus the overheated (but stylish) unknown author. And that unknown author had never played bocce before. Starlet had her own balls. Yes, she has a remarkable set of balls. I managed, though the sweat was puddling in every crevice of my body, to score 2 points to her 12, (Our husbands also played, but that’s immaterial.)
Pool time. Most everyone changed into their swimsuits. Except of course, the morons who thought it would be too cold to swim.
I rolled up my jeans – about 3 inches – which is as far as you can go in skinny jeans, and sat by the edge of the pool with my feet dangling in the water and my jeans slowly soaking up another six inches or so. But it was cooling, and I felt a bit better.
And Celebrity – now holding court in her swimsuit – came up to me and generously offered me a change of clothes.
“I have another outfit. Very lightweight loose pants. I’m not going to wear them after all, and they would be a lot cooler than your jeans.”
“Oh, thanks,” I said. “I really appreciate it, but I’m feeling okay now.”
And then she said:
“You should try them. Really. They have a very stretchy waist. So they might fit you.”
I was speechless.
I wish now (of course) that I had taken those goddamn pants into the bathroom, waited three minutes, and brought them back, with the (loud) comment: “Oh it’s a shame, but they are just HUGE.”
But you know the nicest thing about being a writer rather than a celebrity?
Last weekend, my sisters and I (and our husbands) got together for an impromptu picnic.
I love spending time with my sisters. I can’t imagine there could ever be anyone more comfortable to be with than the two girls who tormented me in my formative years.
Actually, when we were kids, we did an enormous amount of bickering, but an enormous amount of giggling too. I don’t know which made my parents crazier. A tossup, I think.
My oldest sister’s husband built a cool wood-burning oven in their backyard, so we had a make-your-own-pizza party. I really like doing a kids’ kind of activity without any kids.
We got to discussing spoiled celebrities for some reason. I don’t even remember what spoiled celebrity it was – but you can take your pick.
I said, “The problem with celebrities is that their lives become so disconnected with reality, that they don’t even know how weird they are. And no one will tell them.”
I know. Duh. It’s obvious. And it was even more obvious sitting there with the two people who had dedicated much of their childhood to pointing out any peculiar behavior on my part.They made sure they wouldn’t be mortified by their strange little sister. I couldn’t help but grow up normal. I toed the line, because, thanks in good part to them, I always knew where the crazy line was.
My sisters were instrumental in ensuring that I developed into a rational, socially-acceptable human being, through their nurturing, gentle, and generous advice:
“What are you, NUTS??”
Apparently, not so with celebrities. They are surrounded by sycophants. Hanger-Ons who do nothing but praise all behavior – no matter how ridiculous.
“Sure, Elvis, you can date a fourteen-old-old. Sure, you can rent an amusement park so you can go there in the middle of the night. Sure, I can get you a prescription for that.”
“Sure, Britney, you look good bald. Sure, you can drive with you toddler on your lap. Sure, it’s okay that your dog pooped on the designer dress.”
“Sure,Tippi, it’s a marvelous idea to live with a full-grown lion – what a great experience for your 13-year-old daughter.”
“Sure, Kanye, go right up on stage and interrupt that acceptance speech.”
“Sure, Michael, why not have some more plastic surgery? You look great as a combination of the Tin Man and Diana Ross.”
But I don’t really blame these famous folk for being so nuts.
I blame their “friends” and family. The folks whose job is it to ensure that their famous loved ones still know how normal human beings behave.
How in the world can you be a well-adjusted socially-appropriate person without knowing what that is? Without someone yelling once in a while, “What are you, NUTS??”
I wish someone had introduced my sisters to Michael Jackson back in the 80s. His future might have been very different if only he had heard those two girls say:
“No, you may NOT bring your chimpanzee to tea with the mayor of Osaka. What are you, NUTS??”