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??”
Years ago, when I was single – I’d say young and carefree, except I wasn’t quite that young, and I’m not sure I was ever carefree – I went out to dinner with a girlfriend. It was a fairly skimpy meal as I recall, and we were deep in a conversation (probably about work…we hardly ever discussed men; just our crummy jobs), so I suggested we go back to my place where we could continue to bitch and at the same time have ice cream to supplement our small but pricey dinner.
When I took out the carton of gelato, my friend was rather astonished.
“Were you expecting company?” she asked when she saw the container of very premium ice cream.
“No,” I answered. “It’s just a little pint of my favorite flavor.”
“I can’t believe you would buy something like that for just yourself,” she said.
And I smiled.
Because I had learned that lesson long before.
When I was a kid, I knew a lovely old woman who was part of our extended family. Rachel had been widowed for many years. And when I was a teenager, I remember a conversation with her that made a lasting impression. It was one of those small moments that changes your life and you recognize immediately that it is changing your life. I can’t recall what sparked this serious discussion between a young girl and an 80-year-old woman, but we were talking about happiness and loneliness.
Rachel said that the secret to happiness was being nice to yourself. “I’ve lived alone a very long time,” she said. “So I take extra care to be kind to myself. Who else is responsible for making sure I have a good life?” she said. “I often have no company for days on end. So I treat myself like company every day.”
In that moment, I understood.
I see too many people who don’t treat themselves well.
Who don’t think they are worth the good ice cream.
Here are five things you can do right now to treat yourself like company.
1. You deserve to live in a clean house. When company is coming over you always pick up, right? Well, clean the house for yourself. You deserve a nice environment. You deserve a shiny bathroom. You deserve clean sheets when you go to bed at night. A fresh-smelling refrigerator. A clean house is a gift you give yourself.
2. You deserve to dress well. Remember the last time you got all dressed up, and felt wonderful about yourself? You can do that every day. I don’t necessarily mean a fancy outfit or an expensive necklace. Just this: When you do shop, buy only what you love. Even if it is a sweatshirt – which I hope it isn’t – but if it is, at least buy one that you LOVE. Too many times I see people shopping whose attitude seems to be ‘good enough.’ As if they don’t believe they are worth the time or energy needed to find something that fits well, compliments them – and most important – makes them happy. Hold out for something that thrills you. Soon you’ll have a wardrobe (even if it is a small one) composed entirely of clothes you love. And so you’ll be wearing something you love every day. Think about how good that would make you feel.
3. You deserve to use your good stuff. Do you have your Grandma’s silver? Some beautiful wine glasses that were a wedding present? Some candles with a heavenly aroma that you never use? USE THEM. Drive that vintage Mustang to the post office. Take out your good china tonight. Light those candles. Treat yourself like company.
4. You deserve to love what you do. Hardly any of us are lucky enough to make a living doing what we love. If you are one of those few – wow. But most of us have to buy groceries and pay the rent by keeping our boring or maybe even awful jobs. That’s just a fact of life. As my mother used to say, “Welcome to adulthood.” But on the other hand, that lousy job is eight hours a day, and you probably need to sleep eight hours too. But that still leaves another eight hours. Every day. Could you fill ONE of them with something you love? Reading, swimming, baking muffins, playing with the dog. You deserve to spend some time with a smile on your face. And what if it turned out that you could do that for TWO hours a day? Double wow.
And while I am on the subject of doing what you love:
5. You deserve to be unashamed of what you love. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I recently overheard someone ridicule a friend for reading a romance novel. And the romance-lover was embarrassed and actually apologized for her poor taste in reading material. How I wish she had said, “I LOVE this book!” What do you love? Star Trek conventions? Dolly Parton music? Making paper airplanes? Knitting little sweaters for your hamster? You are lucky to have found something that gives you such pleasure. Be proud of it.
You deserve it.
You are worth the good ice cream.
This essay originally published on The Huffington Post.
A few weeks ago, we put in our vegetable garden. (Yeah, very late, but it was a really cold spring and it rained a lot and I was really busy, okay…?) My husband prepared the raised beds. He excels at this – mixing in composted cow manure and turning over the soil – fresh and soft and warm.
We have four raised beds. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, cucumbers, eggplant, swiss chard. Yum.
(By the way, we’ve done kale as well as swiss chard in the past. I don’t like kale, but I know it’s good for you, so I gave it a try. And guess what? The deer ate every bit of the swiss chard and didn’t touch the kale. I rest my case.)
We’ve had a few successful years – like this one:
When my husband had the first bed ready, it was time for my part.
“I can plant the tomatoes while you start on the second bed,’ I offered.
“Oh no,” he said. “You can’t do tomatoes right…. maybe you can do the peppers.”
Yup. sticking plants in the ground is tricky.
But I guess peppers is a bit less tricky than tomatoes.
So I planted peppers.
And now several weeks later, I have to admit – the peppers look kind of wimpy.
This Sunday, we prepared all our annuals for our patio pots. (Yeah, very late, but it was a really cold spring and it rained a lot and I was really busy, okay…?)
Hubby prepared all the pots. He has a good system. He puts stones in the bottom of the pot for drainage, and then filter paper,and then his secret mix of soil and manure.
And when he had a pot ready, I designed a nice combo of annuals – petunias and impomoea and impatiens and angelonia. I planted every pot with an eye for good color patterns and a nice symmetry and fit for each pot.
Fifteen in all.
And as I finished each pot, Hubby carried it to the designated spot on the patio.
I watched him…
Yup, sticking flowers in dirt is still really tricky.
I love my pets.
And I love yours too.
To be perfectly frank, I’d rather see photos of your dogs and cats than your kids. Your pets are always at their sweetest in photos. But although your babies may have that fresh and innocent look, your older kids (older than, say, two) are mostly just mugging for the camera in ways – I must confess – I usually find just slightly obnoxious.
Perhaps this is because I have pets of my own, but I don’t have children of my own. But perhaps it is also because I have seen your kids in action. I often like your pets better.
But please don’t ask me to pet-sit.
My heart is in the right place, but my track record is dismal.
Several years ago, a close friend asked me to stop by and feed her cat while she was away for a few days. No problem, I said. The first day, I entered her house, and there was no sign of Kitty. I discovered the bathroom door was closed, and once I managed to get it open (there seemed to be something wedged on the other side), there was the cat. He had managed to get the door closed behind him and it appears that in his resulting panic, he had pulled down the bathrobe that had been hanging on the door.
But okay. I propped open the door with a few heavy books so Kitty would not be able to lock himself in again, and put his food out. I wanted to pet him to calm him down, but he was nowhere to be seen. But he had always been kind of a spooky little guy. I didn’t worry about it.
The next day, my friend came home, and couldn’t find the cat. She searched everywhere in the house. I had left her a note explaining why the books were stacked by the bathroom door. But there was no Kitty. She was distraught. Until she looked out the window and saw Kitty sitting in the back yard.
I swear I don’t know how Kitty got out. But I can only assume that I was too busy building my book doorstop for the bathroom to realize that I hadn’t exactly closed the kitchen door.
Thank God it ended well.
The same can’t be said of another friend’s fish.
My husband’s friend lived quite near my office. So when he and his wife planned a little vacation, I was happy to stop by their house on the way home from work and feed their tropical fish. The first afternoon everything looked fine. But the second afternoon, two fish appeared to be dead. I didn’t have a lot of tropical fish experience, But I didn’t believe that fish usually do the backfloat. But just in case I was wrong, and they were just napping, I left them there. I carefully fed the rest of the fish, exactly according to directions.
The next day, our friends returned, and they immediately called me. All of the fish were dead. All of them.
I just couldn’t understand it. They had written all their instructions down. I read really well, and I am very obedient. I could not imagine what I did wrong. I felt horrible.
But thankfully, the investigation cleared me from all wrongdoing. The couple discovered that the water in the tank was extremely warm. Too warm for even tropical fish. They realized that they had left the drapes open in the living room, and the morning sun had landed right on the fish tank. There was no way I could have known that, as the sun had moved off by the time I went over. (And of course, if I had seen the sun reflecting on the tank, I probably would have thought, How nice for the little fishies.)
The very next year, the same friends adopted a sweet little kitten. And they needed to go to Maine for a family event. The friends were a bit hesitant to ask me to take care of the kitten. I’m sure that was because they didn’t want to inconvenience me – it had nothing to do with dozens of dead fish, since that was totally not my fault. But my husband said he would stop by.
Well, about noon that day, I received a call from my husband. He was in a panic. He arrived to find the kitten in a very bad state. “She’s barely conscious and she’s panting so hard her whole little body is shaking.”
“Get that cat to a vet right now. We cannot be responsible for killing our friends’ pets two years in a row!” I hollered into the phone. I used the royal “we” in this case. You can do that if you are a couple.
So Hubby raced the kitten to the nearest vet. Where it was determined that the little girl was hypoglycemic, and was in some kind of diabetic coma. The vet gave the kitty a dose of glucose, and she perked right up.
Everything turned out fine. Although my husband said later that it was a whole lot harder taking the cat home from the vet than bringing her there. A little kitten in a coma will lie in your lap quiet nicely while you drive. While on the other hand, A kitten of a full-fledged sugar high will jump around the car like it is an incredibly fun trampoline.
My annual reminder. If I can do it, so can you! If you are overdue for a colonoscopy, please make your appointment today! It could truly save your life.
HOW TO KICK-START YOUR DIET
I did it!
The “Dreaded Colonoscopy.”
Only it wasn’t so dreaded. It was easy. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. (Literally “lemon squeezy.”)
The hardest part was the prep. Which really wasn’t as bad as I’d read. Hilarious Dave Barry warned that you may need a seatbelt for your toilet. I only needed to stay within twelve feet of mine — and some chafing cream.
So that wasn’t too horrible. What was awful was watching my husband eat all kinds of goodies. He made ham-and-pickle salad. I adore ham-and-pickle salad. In fact, it is right up there with lobster. But no. I ate green jello with a Dulcolax chaser. He had roasted almonds dusted with sea salt. I had a beef bullion cube. He had chocolate covered strawberries. I had lemony Drain-O.
I got up before dawn. That wasn’t too difficult because I was up every 18 minutes anyway.
The doctor’s orders said no make-up. That was bad news. But I have a lightly tinted moisturizer. Surely that would be okay. And my new blush is really sheer. But what if they couldn’t tell I was cyanotic because my blush looked so fresh and healthy? I took it off. (I left on my new concealer though — they don’t need my dark undereye circles to check my oxygen levels…)
And no contact lenses! No one has seen me in glasses since I had my gallbladder out. So here’s another medical establishment I can never frequent again.
We went to the Endoscopy Center as the sun was just coming up. Good thing Dunkin Donuts is open at that hour. Hubby needed a glazed donut. I needed the ladies’ room.
The nurse at the Center was very nice. She explained all about the procedure. She gave me a hospital gown in size XXXXXL. It fit pretty good.
She told me that when I woke up, I would be in the recovery room with other patients who had the same procedure. “You all have to let the air out,” she said, delicately describing the Farting Room. “It will be very musical. Just join the band.”
They gave me Propofol to knock me out. I was out for 20 minutes, and woke up as refreshed as if I had slept eight hours. And euphoric.
And my colon is perfect. “Absolutely perfect,” said the doctor. She gave me pictures. And you know what? My colon IS perfect. Just like my Grandma used to tell me when I was an eight-year-old ugly duckling — “I am pretty on the inside.” I won’t share those photos with you, but let me say that my colon is like a chain of rosebuds, delicately unfurling.
I felt so good, I went out to breakfast without make-up or contacts. And I even laughed when I farted as the waitress brought me my scrambled eggs and bacon. That Propofol is pretty damn good.
And I lost two pounds.
Today we cleaned, bagged, and froze twenty pounds of strawberries.
We have strawberries and/or blueberries every morning. Healthy breakfasters, that’s us.
So Hubby picked about thirty pounds of strawberries in the past week.(Five pounds already in the freezer; five pounds already through our digestive systems, so twenty pounds to fix today.)
I love picking strawberries, but I’m still working full time, while Hubby is retired, and the strawberry field is right on his way to the gym. Yeah, he has the life that I am hoping to have very soon.
We’ve tried just freezing them whole right from the field, Results are okay, but they are hard to wash once they’ve thawed, since strawberries don’t hold up quite as well as blueberries. So we wash and dry them, and cut them up for freezing. It’s not hard work, but to do so many is time-consuming. And finger staining, by the way. But I’m used to that. In our former home we had wild blackberries in our yard. One year, I stained my fingers so badly before a big meeting, I had to make a detour on my way to New York, to have a manicurist soak my fingers in Polident. In comparison, strawberries are a piece of cake. Shortcake, that is.
But it did take close to two hours to prep them all.
I stood at the kitchen island, which is a perfect height for me. But it was a little low for my husband, so he dragged in an old stool, so he could sit. This stool has been around just forever. One of those simple unpainted pine jobs. It’s been in the sunroom holding a big plant for a couple of years. And a few weeks ago, we moved it outside to the patio. But the plant was beyond help. My soft-hearted husband has a tendency to try to turn annuals into perennials. By that I mean he moves all the potted annuals into the house at the end of summer. Where I watch them slowly waste away, until my husband is watering dead sticks.
“It will come back,” says Hubby, standing over some sorry remains. “I can save it.”
So anyway, he grabbed this old stool that had been soaked from overwatering the dead stick, and then soaked lately from the rain.
But Hubby wiped it down and sat down and resumed his strawberry decapitation..
And halfway through the stool cracked and about a third of the seat crashed to the floor.
And Hubby swore.
“What a piece of shit,” he howled. “So much for all this whizz-bang modern technology…..”
It’s a friggin’ STOOL!!!
My Father’s Day Post from a few years ago:
When I was young, my father loved cigars.
A while ago, I wrote about Dad smoking cigars in the car (“Riding In The Car with Daddy”). I sat up front between my father and my mother – basically because my sisters would not sit next to me. I was nauseated most of the time. And nobody ever attributed this to my dad’s cigars. They just figured I was a puker.
Well, okay, this was sort of true. I still can’t sit in a car going backwards (even the length of a driveway) without my stomach turning over. And until recently, I used to go to New York once a week on business. I’d take the train. God forbid I didn’t get a forward-facing seat. Of course, as I turned greenish, the gentleman opposite me would often generously volunteer to switch. Wasn’t that sweet?
And forget amusement parks. I am okay with skeeball – that’s about it.
But I think my motion sickness is a Pavlovian response to all those years in the car with Daddy. All I need is to feel vehicular momentum and my body reacts: ‘Okay’, my autonomic nervous system says, ‘Vehicle in motion = Let’s get queasy.’
After all, the other stimuli elicits the same response. ‘Cigar smell = Let’s throw up’.
But the cigar response is more complex. Sure the waves of nausea are like the incoming tide. But there’s also another beachy reaction – Sheer delight.
To this day, the smell of a cigar fills the air with images of my father (along with the stinky smoke).
My mother always hated cleaning ashtrays. Her solution was easy – she never put any out. Dad would sit and watch TV in the evening, with his hand cupped under the cigar.
And there would often be a half-smoked cigar perched on the edge of the end-table near his chair, or on the lip of the sink. “Don’t throw that away,” he’d say. “I’m going to finish it later.” And so the unsightly (but not too unsightly – he didn’t chew the end) would sit, patiently waiting for the next evening.
(I think he got that habit of saving his stogie from his old relative – not an uncle – I’m not sure how exactly we were related – but this old guy would leave his cigar perched on the step at the door of our church. He’d pick it up after Mass.)
When I was a teenager, I remember my mother wanting to hang some new sconces on either side of the picture window in the living room. My father put up the first one by measuring the distance from the window with his cigar. He popped back into the den for a few minutes to check the game. Then he went about putting up the second sconce also by measuring with his cigar. “But your cigar is shorter now, ” complained my mother. “Don’t worry,” said my father, “I’m allowing for the ash.”
When I was in college – I took my first big trip. I flew down to Mexico. (my first plane trip, and I did it alone. To another country! And I didn’t throw up on the plane – I waited till 2:00 AM at the hotel. Pretty good, I still think.) Anyway, I had a high school friend at the University in Mexico, and we met up and went to Acapulco for the cheapest Christmas Break adventure ever experienced.
Cuban cigars, though contraband in the U.S., were available in Mexico. And I bought my dad one. One. It cost the equivalent of six dollars. Which was about 30% of what I spent that whole week. Given the exchange rate at the time, I think the price on the label was about $40.00… this was what I liked best about the cigar. When I gave it to my Dad, he was impressed. “I’m going to save this and smoke it at your wedding.”
I didn’t get married right after college. I waited a few years. Like twenty.
And at my reception, my Dad took from his pocket the twenty-year-old Cuban cigar and lit up. We practically had to evacuate. But it was one of the highlights of my day.
As my father grew older, he cut down on his cigars, and eventually in his old age, he gave them up completely.
I’d like to say I miss them – but honestly…no.
But I do miss Dad.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I hope there are lots of cigars in heaven.
But for God’s sake… (LITERALLY, Dad!):
Open a window.