This summer at the beach, I was standing at the water’s edge as a women was making her way in through the foaming waves breaking at the shore. I watched her struggle to get past the undertow. She lost her footing, regained it, only to lose it again, falling forward. She struggled to right herself just as another wave hit, pushing her backwards this time. She finally managed to plant her feet, and she saw me watching her, and she laughed.
“Please don’t make me have to save you,” I said.
I admire heroes. It must be wonderful to be in the exact right place to make a difference in an emergency – to change someone’s life – maybe save someone’s life.
I can respond adequately in a pressure situation. And I think I would do the right thing if confronted with a true crisis.
But the truth is, I really would rather not.
I’m not the hero type.
It must be a glorious feeling, but if possible, I will pass on the following experiences:
- Donating an organ. If I could help another person get healthy without losing any of my body parts, I think that would be better.
- Shaving my head in support of a friend with cancer. I have a friend who went through chemotherapy. One night over dinner, I confessed that I was shallow enough to think that losing my hair is as terrifying as cancer itself. And my friend agreed. She called it the final insult to her sick body.
- Testifying at a trial. I once sat on a malpractice jury. I hated making a decision that was bound to hurt one person or the other. I saw the “losing” party in the parking lot after the trial. I wanted to give him all the money in my wallet.
- Picking up relatives at the airport in a snowstorm. This is no biggie, right? But please – if the weather is horrible, just stay at the airport hotel until it clears up, okay?
- Taking in strangers after a natural disaster. Hurricanes and tornadoes and blizzards can destroy someone’s home. The people who are lucky enough to be spared should share their homes with the tragically unlucky. And I have shared mine – with my mother.
- Saying a few words at a funeral. I care. I hurt. Most times though, I can’t share it. I could probably write a wonderful eulogy. Maybe someone else could deliver it.
- Retrieving a severed finger and packing it in ice to take to the hospital. We have a friend whose eleven-year-old daughter had to do that when her Dad cut off his thumb with his jigsaw. I can picture my husband cutting off his thumb. I can’t picture myself picking it up.
- Passing messages to political prisoners. I’ve marched against two wars. But that was as a part of a large group. I don’t believe I can be brave alone. I would drop the message in front of a guard with a gun. For sure.
- Delivering a baby… I don’t even like the responsibility of doing someones’ taxes. I can’t even express how much I don’t want the responsibility for a human being coming out of you.
- Talking someone off a ledge. Muhammad Ali did that in 1981. Wow. Can you imagine? How do you know what to say? I could get it all wrong and the person could think “Now I REALLY don’t want to live.” That suicidal person may have had the worst possible life. I do not wish to be the final straw.
It’s time to think about downsizing.
My husband and I live in a very big house. It’s just gorgeous, but it is becoming too much – too much maintenance, too much cleaning, and too much taxes. As I join my husband in retirement, we can see that it is time to simplify our lives.
As we contemplate moving someplace smaller, I can see that having a big house has allowed us to be very impractical. My husband has bought lots of lots of car and tool toys, and I have bought lots and lots of clothes – and neither of us really had to get rid of any old stuff when we bought new stuff. We had enough room to just put the new stuff near the old stuff.
Plus – turning the corner into a new lifestyle makes me WANT to simplify. For the first time in my life, I am actually looking forward to stop acquiring shit and start getting rid of shit.
I had occasion today to get started.
I thought I would start at the bottom.
I have a ton of shoes, but it’s not really a shoe fetish. I have weird, hard-to-fit feet. So I buy a lot of shoes – always hoping to find a pair that are cute and maybe – just maybe – a little comfortable. It almost never happens. So I just buy more. And hope. I’m a hopeful person. So I have a lot of shoes.
A few days ago, our cat Stewart spent all day in our walk-in closet. Mostly just staring at my shoes. This means only one thing. Stewart was mouse-hunting. We always know when there is a mouse in the house because Stewart’s focus becomes very unwavering.
And then he stopped. He left the closet and went on with his life.
This also only means one thing.
He got the mouse.
And he didn’t bring us the body.
And the next day – maybe it was my imagination – the closet didn’t exactly smell fresh.
So today was my day off, and I knew what I had to do. Find the mouse body.
I took all my shoes out one by one and tossed them aside. And eventually – there was the mouse carcass.
Stewart killed the mouse. I found the mouse. We did our jobs. Getting rid of the body – That’s my husband’s job. (One of those times when I am so glad I finally got married.)
Corpse carried off, I was left with this:
The perfect time to start simplifying.
My goal was to throw away a dozen pairs. That really shouldn’t be so hard since hardly any of my shoes fit me anyway.
The first pair I tossed were beautiful beaded but stiff and uncomfortable sandals. It was an easy decision because the left shoe had contained a mouse body for two days.
Then went ugly thick-soled pumps, platform monstrosities, flip-flops where the toe-thingy was about an inch thick whereas my toe space is about one-eighth of an inch wide, heeled sandals that match nothing, black sandals with ankle straps that made my ankles look enormous (my ankles ARE enormous, but that’s beside the point), shoes that used to be comfortable and quite cute, but I remember wearing them on a vacation to Bermuda, which was in 1988.
All in all, I had thirteen pair of shoes in throw-away pile.
Well, that seemed unlucky, so I took out one pair of old black ballet flats. I have three pair of black ballet flats, and so I was throwing out the two worst-worn ones. But it’s nice to have a backup. So I saved the better of the two pair – and they are quilted leather, so that’s different from the first keeper-pair.
So there were twelve.
Exactly my goal.
As I was putting these shoes in the bag, I gave a pair of embroidered mules a second look. I hardly ever wore these shoes, and they were slightly misshapen and very very dusty. But I reconsidered. I cleaned them up. And put them on.
They were adorable!
How can you not love these shoes? How can you not give them a second chance?
So I drove directly to the Goodwill box, and tossed in a bag with eleven pairs of shoes.
Not too bad.
And I gave my embroidered mules the center spot in my closet.
Yesterday a friend remarked to me that he wished he had more joy in his life.
I felt bad for him.
My own day was filled with joy.
- When I woke up I felt the warmth of my cat who had nestled himself behind the crook of my knee.
- I showered with my favorite fragrant soap, with one of those net scrubbies that makes a ton of lather.
- I hugged my husband when he was fresh from his shower. He smelled of my soap mixed with shampoo and shaving cream.
- My husband made coffee, as he does every morning. We used the mugs decorated with maps of Paris.
- The toast came out a perfect light-brown, and I was able to grab it while it was still hot – so my peanut butter melted to a creamy liquid.
- When I turned the key in the ignition, the car started.
- With a car that starts and runs, I can go anywhere I want to go, but I chose to go to work. I will make some money today.
- I said hello to my best friend at work. She looked very nice, and I told her so.
- I finished a task that I especially disliked. I crossed it off my list.
- I reapplied my lipstick after lunch, and when I went into the ladies’ room, I thought I looked pretty good. I told myself so. Out loud, since there was no one else in there.
- I got to go home after making some money. I swung my arms as I walked to my car.
- My dog greeted me with his happy dance. We ran around the yard until we were both panting.
- I had chicken for supper. With peppers from the garden – a mix of sweet and hot, sauteed with just a bit of olive oil. I bit into one pepper so spicy my mouth stung, and my husband put a spoonful of cottage cheese on my plate to put out the fire.
- I took off my shoes.
- I watched people sing on TV. Most of them sang very well, and the ones that were not as good were encouraged to keep singing anyway.
- While watching TV, I washed the sheets. I put them back on the bed directly from the dryer, and crawled in while they were still warm.
- I kissed my husband goodnight.
- The cat settled in and began to purr.
My life is overflowing with joy.
It just depends on how you define joy.
I don’t recall attending any country fairs when I was a little kid.
Fairs are big in Connecticut. From August through October you can go to Terryville, Goshen, Hebron, Bethlehem, Harwinton, Berlin, Durham, Woodstock – and about a dozen more. Or you can travel up to Springfield, Massachusetts to The “Big E” – the Eastern States Exposition – a regional fair for all of New England.
I guess my parents weren’t crazy about fairs – I didn’t attend the Big E or the neighborhood Terryville Fair until I was in my twenties. I suppose (actually, I know) it was a waste of money for a family with lots of kids – junk food and then carnival games that you can’t win and more junk food, and then rides to assist you in getting rid of the junk food.
I suffer from motion sickness. My husband can’t even back up the length of our driveway without warning me, “Close your eyes for a second.”
So carnival/amusement park rides and I are enemies. Mortal enemies. In my home town, we have an amusement park – Lake Compounce – that is rather famous for being the oldest continuously-operated amusement park in the U.S. My sister still goes there regularly, first with her children and now with her grandchildren, and reminisces: “See that ride? Your Aunt Nancy threw up on the ride. See this ride? Your Aunt Nancy threw up on this ride.”
So I’ve never had a great love of amusement parks or carnivals. But I did attend a church fair every year – Saint Anthony’s Parish in Bristol had a big fair – I think in June of each year. And I discovered – through a dare – one ride that didn’t make me puke.
The Ferris Wheel!
I may not be able to go around and around on a carousel. But I found I could go around and around vertically.
How I loved it. I loved stopping at the top and swinging the seat just a little bit. I was so brave!
I’d save my money for months so that I could ride the ferris wheel several times over the weekend. My best friend and I would go early and watch the rides being set up. I couldn’t wait.
The only thing besides the Ferris Wheel that I spent money on at the St. Anthony’s Fair was the most exotic food I had ever eaten.
Oh my God! The smell, the texture, the pretty pink (only pink, thank you) color. They way it dissolved on my tongue. And there was no other place to have cotton candy the whole year except St. Anthony’s Fair.
Now it is everywhere, and no longer has the power to enchant me. What a shame.
But I have found that country fairs offer so much more than puke-inducing rides. There are cows and chickens and ax-throwing and skillet tosses. And now even pig races and demolition derbies.
And though I don’t eat cotton candy anymore, I really love a greasy steak-and-onion sandwich. This year in Goshen, I had a steak-and-onion sandwich so greasy that when I picked it up, a river of steak-and-onion grease ran down my arms and shirt and all the way to my jeans. You can’t get much better than that.
But I demonstrated remarkable restraint.
Because I didn’t have:
Apple Crisp a la mode
Ice Cream Sundaes
Root Beer Floats
Slushies and Flurries
Corn on the Cob
Steak On A Stick
Chicken On A Stick
Stuffed Baked Potatoes
Deep Fried Dough
Deep Fried Oreos
Deep Fried Twinkies
Deep Fried Pickles
Deep Fried Snickers
But I could have.
I also could have had a Fresh Garden Salad.
But that’s just crazy.
Why I was too distracted this week to write something new:
I’m a new Mom!
His name is Theo, and he’s eleven weeks old.
Theo is a Lagotto Romagnolo – an ancient Italian breed who is the ancestor to the Standard Poodle. Lagottos are medium sized dogs – about 30 pounds full-grown – who are renowned as truffle hunters. At the current rate of $400 per pound for truffles, I may soon be rich. (Or at least he might eventually pay for himself. If I knew anything about truffles. Like whether they exist in Connecticut.)
He was conceived in Italy and his pregnant mom came over in order to have an anchor baby. Yes, he is a birthright citizen.
As of this afternoon, he weighed in at 9 pounds exactly, but that will probably be 15 pounds by tomorrow. He is eating his adorable little head off.
I am crazy in love.
So I am busy taking online Italian lessons.
I need to be able to understand him when he starts to talk.
He may tell me where the truffles are.
(A reprise – one of my favorite posts from a few years ago)
I Missed The Train
The current heat wave reminds me of the first time I ever wanted to be a grown-up.
Some kids can’t wait to grow up; but not me.
I liked being a kid. I could not picture life without dolls and make-believe. Being an adult looked awful, almost as bad as being a boy – who seemed to do nothing but pretend to shoot each other. Sure grown-ups could still swim and ride bicycles and play cards, but they didn’t seem to have much fun doing it.
I wanted to wear makeup, of course, but I didn’t see a reason why I couldn’t be a kid and wear makeup too. Makeup is part of make-believe – and that was my right as a kid.
No, I didn’t want to grow up.
Until a hot summer trip in 1962 to Washington DC.
My family traveled by train from Connecticut to Washington for my father’s military reunion.
And that train ride changed everything.
The six of us – Dad, Mom, my two older sisters, my little brother and me – were joined by my parents’ best friends and their two daughters.
My sisters were only a year apart in age, and the older of the friends’ daughters was their age too.
The younger daughter Jan was a rambunctious nine-year-old. I was eleven. I had, up to this point, always had great fun with Jan.
I had never been on a train before. The train car had seats that faced each other. This reminded me of a stagecoach like on Bonanza and I was delighted.
My parents sat with their friends, with my little brother between Mom and Dad. The older girls quickly settled down into seats that faced a group of boys. I sat separately with Jan.
Sooner or later, an active little girl can get on the nerves of a daydreamer little girl. A seven hour train ride did it for me.
Jan was up and down and back and forth. She seemed to especially enjoy going to the ladies’ room, as if there were something enthralling about peeing on a train. She needed to visit her mother constantly. She needed a snack every ten minutes. And she wanted to sit by the window…no, the aisle…no, the window. And her method of getting past me was just to crawl over me. I had footprints on my skirt. What a baby.
And from where I sat, I could see my sisters, Christine and Claudia, with Jan’s sister Barbara. Sitting with those boys.
I hated boys.
But on the other hand, there was an awful lot of giggling going on with those boys. It seemed to me the boys even treated the girls to a soda. Like in Archie and Veronica.
I couldn’t hear their conversation. But I knew from Popeye that boys mostly liked to show their muscles to girls. So I imagined that there was a lot of muscle demonstration going on.
And suddenly I was jealous. I wanted to sit on the train with boys. I wanted to be laughing with boys. I wanted to flirt. I wanted to be grown up like my sisters. (who were 14 and 15.)
We saw all kinds of historic things in Washington on that trip. But I only remember the oppressive heat. And that train ride.
But I realize now that I missed my opportunity to get my wish.
For many years, I had a job which required me to take the train to New York once a week. I got to ride on the train with boys.
But all these guys had their laptops and their cell phones and their Wall Street Journals.
Where were the cokes? Where was the laughter? The flirting?
Years of riding on the train with boys and not once – NOT ONCE – did a boy show me his muscles.
I’m so disappointed. Being an adult sucks as much as I thought it did.
Everyone always says how they are constantly amazed by children.
Everyone but me. I almost never say that.
Oh yeah, I think kids are cute and say cute things. Except of course when they are bratty and say bratty things.
But for the most part they are predictable. Kids learn, and when they learn something, it’s kind of cool the way you can actually see the light bulb going on over their heads. And I admit that it’s also cool to watch them interact and try to figure out grownups.
But there is a universality in children that you must admit sometimes loses its ability to inspire awe. I mean, EVERY parent thinks her kid is amazing…and most people watching think “not so much.”
We were all kids once and learned to talk and dress ourselves and read and count and not pee in our pants.
And your kids learns that. Wonderful. He’s normal, not a genius.
Once in a while though, I am impressed.
Last night my husband and I joined our friends in that classiest of entertainment – the Demolition Derby. I had been there was before (Renaissance Woman) and surprised myself by enjoying it tremendously. It’s not the ballet. But in it’s own way it’s almost as good.
Next to me on the bleachers was a young boy and his buddy. This kid was maybe eleven. The age at which most adults start to dislike even their own kids. But for some reason, I’ve always liked pre-teens. They are able to have a real conversation with you, but are still young enough to have interesting opinions.
He was a pretty big kid – chunky and red-cheeked. And loud. He loved the demo derby – and knew a lot about cars and destruction.
This was a Double Figure Eight Race – a combination race and demolition derby – with six to eight cars in each round racing around the track in a kind of DNA helix pattern – which lends itself to smash-ups as they cross paths. The winner of each round then goes to the finals. And after the finals, they just completely demolish each other in a last-car-standing free-for-all.
And this kid picked the winner in almost every round. A couple of laps in, he’d say to his buddy: “Number 24 can really drive – he’ll win!” Or “Look at how Number 41 takes those corners.” Or “Sixty-five is on his rims, he’ll never last – sixty-six will pass him for sure.”
If I had been able to spot a bookie (I’m sure they were there, but how the hell do I know what they look like?) – I would have jumped up after each prediction by this kid and put some money down. Maybe I’d have even bought the kid a hot dog.
I believe that SMART has three components: Knowledge, Observation, and Imagination. The ability to draw accurate conclusions from what you see and what you know.
And this kid had it in spades. He knew cars, he watched the drivers, he evaluated the situations. And he knew who would win. Round after round.
That kind of SMART can be applied to everything.
Just from sitting next to him for an hour, I can draw my own conclusion: That kid will make good informed decisions his whole life.
It was all I could do not to ask him:
“Hey kid, I just heard some disconcerting news about my doctor, and now I am questioning my diagnosis. Would you be available for a second opinion?”
SMART is SMART.
Maybe I can just ignore it, and I can fall asleep anyway, and not have to deal with it until tomorrow, I think.
It’s such a little thing. Hardly noticeable, I think.
See, Hubby can sleep. I’m being ridiculous, I think.
I can count it, like counting sheep. It will make be drowsy, I think.
Every 15 seconds.
Do you know how many 15 second intervals there are in an hour? 240.
And how about in 2 1/2 hours? 600.
It turns out that 600 is my limit. That’s how much I tolerate before I drag myself out of bed.
Of course, this is only the beginning of the 1:30 AM mystery.
Back when I was a kid, my parent’s house had two smoke detectors. One on the first floor and one on the second. But we’ve gotten more careful.
Instead of inventing ONE smoke detector that can sense smoke anywhere in the house – which you think we just might be able to in the last 50 years – someone has decided that a much better idea would be to install a smoke detector every seven feet. Just in case it is a very small amount of smoke. I guess in case Fido is smoking a joint in the attic.
I know you think I am exaggerating, because I am a writer – and well, because I am a writer.
But our house has SEVENTEEN smoke detectors.
It’s a big house. But it’s not Versailles, for God’s sake.
So now I have to find out which one is chirping.
This means standing under each one – if I can remember where they are – and waiting till the next chirp.
Bedroom is an easy elimination. The sound seems more distant. So out to the hallway. I am barefoot, so I am hoping than none of the three cats has puked since we went to bed (which would actually be kind of a miracle).
You may be wondering why my husband isn’t involved in the search party. He hasn’t woken. He sometimes doesn’t hear the smoke detector GOING OFF, never mind a brief, tiny chirping. I could wake him, but he couldn’t search the house. He would have no idea if he were standing under the offending unit.
Not the hallway. Why does the fifteen second interval between chirps now become 60 seconds? I do not know the answer. But I know it is the truth.
Not the little room I use as my office.
Not the guest bedroom.
I go downstairs and wait in the kitchen. But no, the next chirp sounds distinctly UP. That may eliminate four more. Maybe.
Here’s another question. Why, if the battery is dying, but there is enough power to chirp, why oh why can’t that power make a little flag pop out that would say, “IT’S ME!”?
I go back up and into the storage area over my husband’s office. The cats hang here, so I am in grave foot danger.
But then I hear it.
It’s right over my head! Hooray.
Now that I have identified the culprit, I can take care of this. Only.
Only it is just out of my reach. And I don’t know where the batteries are.
Besides, I need to wake up my husband. Why should I be so annoyed by myself?
He staggers out of bed. He puts on his slippers. It’s safe now that I have tested all the floors like a naked minesweeper, but he never goes barefoot. He doesn’t go to the bathroom barefoot.
I point. He pulls the damn cover off and goes somewhere where he hides batteries.
I go back to bed.
Five minutes later he joins me.
We wait. No chirping. (Although how would HE know?)
And we wait for sleep that doesn’t come.
We turn on the TV.
Which would have drowned out the damn chirping in the first place.
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.