Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Grandma

Two and a half years ago I became a granddaughter. In life very often you will marry into a family and receive in-laws of all shapes and sizes- sister, mother, brother. This was not the case. The actual truth of the matter is- in the divorce-someone ELSE's divorce- while party A (my husband) and B (his ex-wife) split their marital assets amicably and divided custody of Elder and Little between them with grace, there was one asset that didn't quite fit into that careful, politically correct and oh-so-modern "happy divorce" settlement. That asset was Grandma Annie.

VLH and I were fortunate enough to find a house literally around the corner from where Elder and Little live with their Mom. This fell into the picture of the "perfect" divorce. I say these things in quotes because I know how much pain and even as time passes bouts of discomfort arise as fallout of something as emotionally devastating as the breaking up of a family. Finding a house so close to the boys felt just a little bit like even if they had two homes- at least they were close enough together that forgotten mittens or lost iPods or just a little unscheduled Dad or Mom time could be had with relative ease.

As the newcomer to this equation I understood all the benefits of moving into the neighborhood. But there was one benefit I hadn't anticipated. That benefit arrived on my doorstep the morning after we moved in. We spent the 1st night in outhouse with Elder and Little who were excited to "move in" but not so excited that they felt moved to unpack anything so day one dawned with me attempting to wade through boxes finding clothing and two shoes that matched for all parties. The bedrooms looked like a gypsy caravan had parked in them overnight with hastily thrown together beds, the living room was awash in wires and the only clear spot on the 1st floor was between the TV and the couch, because my husband and the boys had their priorities in order- we couldn't find a drinking glass but HBO and Showtime worked perfectly.

While I could find the TV I could NOT find VLH. I figured he was in another pile of boxes and I would find him eventually- like in the Spring when I went searching for the seder plate.

I was upstairs trying to decide between locating clothing from this decade and making the bed when I found my husband. I actually HEARD him- he was opening the entry door and I heard him speaking rather loudly- to someone and then I heard a stranger yell "YOOOO-HOOOOOO". "Come Down" VLH yelled up the stairs "I got someone you need to meet".

Standing at the bottom of the stairs beaming up at me was a - well- a little old lady. White haired, wrinkled comfy-shoed. I walked down the stairs smiling but unsure. "Hello,,," I said tentatively. "Melanie!" she yelled (I was standing in front of her) "I'm the Grandma!"

That was the beginning. Antoinette Dellaquilla roared into my life - 5'2" of solid enthusiasm. At first I was confused- shouldn't this elderly Italian lady be... well, MAD at me or something? Where was the spiky discomfort that came from the idea that somehow *I* had something to do with the divorce. All of that was definitely my issue, not hers.

At first I called her Annie- we would visit often as she lived literally around the corner in a house she had occupied since about 1960. VLH would cook things and send them over or we would stop by so a lightbulb could be changed or a smoke alarm battery replaced. Annie's front door is unusual- there is a traditional screened storm door in front of a wooden door with a 50's style cut-out of three circular windows that allow you to peek inside. The front of the house had all manner of small decoration- little American Flags, decals of flowers, 2 plastic chairs sit on the porch and through the little windows of the entry door you could see a little paper sign tacked up with a charicature of a man, grinning and the words, "Keep Smiling". A wooden sign to the right of the door reads Dellaquilla and there is a woodcut of a butcher carved into the face-Annie's husband John was a butcher. In the time I knew Annie I also got to know John- though he had been gone for almost 25 years he was alive in that house and in Annie.

Annie very quickly became a part of my everyday life. There was always a reason to stop by- a piece of cake or a bunch of flowers that caught my eye as I came home from work. I never really needed a reason- and she never asked why I came. She greeted me as if I were visiting royalty running to make coffee or tea, pulling cookies from a drawer or artichokes, beans or peppers from the freezer, each plastic container labelled with a yellow post-it note shakily inscribed in blue ballpoint script "Broccoli OK " or "Peppers OK ". We never understood why she labelled them that way but VLH would joke that he would not eat them if Grandma didn't label them "OK".

Yesterday morning Grandma passed away. It is an almost unbearable torture to sit here and write this. Remembering her and our time together when the loss is so fresh hurts more than I have words for. But the thought that today, and tomorrow and each day after that, that I would begin to forget all the special little things that made her so amazing- that tomorrow or some day soon after they will begin dismantling the house she spent fifty years putting together and the life and love she stored in those walls will be scattered among children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There are things I don't want to forget

She loved vegetables. After being married to a butcher for 49 years Annie almost never cooked meat after John died. She lived on artichokes, broccoli, beans and escarole. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren among so many other things will miss grandma's broccoli as it was the first solid food most of them ate- tiny pieces fed lovingly by hand into their mouths. Last night as we missed her we wondered about the fate of the pot she cooked vegetables in- some women leave jewels- here the family will carefully decide the fate of the broccoli pot- so many memories of her invested in that small bit of cookware. Elder's new baby brother though fortunate enough to have been held by Annie will have to taste his first artichoke leaf from his brother's hand. A tradition, I am certain he will follow, scraping the tenderly cooked leaves on tiny lower baby teeth.

She did not like figs- there was a tree in her back yard that yielded a bumper crop of black mission figs each Fall. Annie tied everything including pouring bleach on the roots of the tree to kill it, to no avail. I think ultimately she respected the tree's ability to withstand adversity and with good humor distributed the figs among friends.

When worried she would pray to Saint Anthony- a statue on her bedroom dresser. She prayed for her health and for the hopes and prayers of those she loved. Though she spent a fair amount of time talking to Saint Anthony I am certain he knew who was boss because if Saint Anthony didn't answer her prayers she would turn him upside down- on his head- until he gave her what she wanted.

She loved to dance. I danced with her at her daughter's 50th wedding anniversary party- she outlasted me and three other partners before sitting down.

She wore hearing aids in the last year or so of her life- she did not want to miss any bit of a conversation. But she really didn't need them- I know only how she was with me but she always knew without being told how I was- if I felt a bit off- "You're Mushy!" she'd say- "What's wrong?". I arrived at her house one evening stressed after work and she began speaking of a man who had just died. Annie claimed he made himself sick from worrying- "We don't worry about little things do we Melanie?" And whatever small issue from work faded away. Life was too short to waste worry on little things.

She used to hit and occasionally she'd give you a bite, proud, I think that she still had her own teeth. I know that sounds strange but Grandma only greeted you politely if she didn't like you. Each time I visited Grandma would slap my chest or grab my shoulder or reach around my neck to pull me close and whisper to me how much she loved me. And remind me to love my husband when I got home. I watched her pull the hair and punch the shoulder's of VLH's friends- often endangering their lives as she would do so while they were driving!

And speaking of love-from the very first day Grandma was very clear with me about her views on love and marriage. Literally on day one she pulled me aside and told me You love him? she said- Of course you do. Love him up she said- Don't be stingy. Men don't like that. She often spoke about sex- not in a vulgar way- but she let you know that it was very much a part of her life with John- up to and including the day he died- and that you should love every day. It was even more than that-

Grandma would speak about Love as if it was all that mattered. She had no bad word for anyone she knew-" Love each other" she'd say. That was the thing I think she'd want me to remember, that and her neighbor's recipe for escarole, I promise to try. I will miss you so much- I am missing you now.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'm not your Target Consumer, Pal

The email subject line said "Sensible Shoes for Women and two-day free shipping".

Why am I getting this? Targeted marketing...

Recently I purchased Merrells for VLH and Elder Son on the internet. For the uninitiated A word about the Merrell company and their shoes from Wikipedia

"Merrell was founded by Clark Matis, Randy Merrell, and John Schweitzer in 1981. The company has designed and produced performance outdoor footwear throughout much of its history... The company started out by creating hiking boots that fit like cowboy boots with a wide toe box and narrow heel to accommodate the North American foot shape Also, almost all Merrells have Vibram and an unpopable air cushion in the heel."

Comfy yet stylish and a big hit with VLH. Elder son has a habit of unfailingly wearing "Chucks". For the uninformed these are Chuck Taylor All-Stars, or Converse All-Stars, also referred to as "Chucks" or Cons are canvas and rubber shoes produced by Converse. Elder son will don these regardless of weather or miles to go or how wet or stinky they might become. As he has inherited VLH's wide, flat, Flintstone feet- that's gotta hurt- so Elder son too received Merrells. Little Guy is just this side of too little for Merrells but as he too has flat little North American feet- we found Merrell-esque Sperrys for Little who rewarded us by running rather than walking in them. As Little is built for comfort, not speed this was most surprising in a good way.

But all these good deeds could no go unpunished. The other day I received three disturbing bits of flotsam from the universe- an email regarding a sale on "Sensible Shoes for Women" and a catalog of "Comfortable Walking Shoes" and a letter inviting me to join the AARP.

I could barely move- and it wasn't even my shoes'fault. Whether it was the walking shoe purchases or the fact that databases throughout the world have been alerted that in 90 days' time I will leave my fourth decade behind me- I had been profiled. Old and in need of shoes that close with velcro and a month's supply of catheters. Its a wonder they did not just send me a gun with a trigger labelled PULL HERE. I lingered for a moment in my chair- laptop with offending email open next to the pile of nefarious junk mail listening to myself breathe. Was that a wheeze? Arrhythmia?

Hold the phone. At that very moment I sat up straight, planted my feet and stood up. "Who the HELL are they TALKING TO?"

The fact is that I have heard "you are as old as you feel" and "Fifty is the new Twelve" or what have you- but in reality- when you tell someone you are fifty- or fourty nine- the inevitable response is- if you are lucky "I didn't think you were THAT Old." Which they mean as a compliment- which it is- when you are SAYING it instead of hearing it. The fact is I'm OK with being fifty- its the assumptions that accompany it that I take offense to.

Interestingly enough I absolutely understand where this comes from on a direct mail and internet basis- you see - I work in marketing. Unless you live "Off the grid" completely- sans birth certificate or phone- we know about you. LOTS. Age, ethnicity, address phone and email are all here for the plucking. Wedding Date-yup. Children- we know their ages. Even whether you have a dog or a cat- and if that beloved pet dies- don't be surprised if you get a sympathy card from Little Friskies backed up by an offer to adopt a stray from the North Shore Animal Shelter and an postcard advertising savings on carpet cleaning. The gentleman I work for says "life is all marketing" the truth is these days we market not to people but to lives.

OK so I'm in marketing and karma has just delivered a truckload of Depends- what to do? Same thing they did in the 60's man- fight the system. If I am to be analyzed by my purchases I'm buying dominatrix boots and coyote pheromone deer repellant. If I am asked on a website to give my year of birth I will say 1892 to one and 2002 to the other- let them figure out if I am senile or precocious. I'll buy birth control pills and register on fertility websites and volunteer to be an egg donor. In stores when asked for my zip code I will have memorized the postal codes for rain forests and frozen tundra. I'll have more personality changes than Madonna and more wardrobe choices than Lady Gaga.

But that will only make me giggle with glee- it won't fix the problem. Assumptions are made daily- by marketers who don't have any idea who I am or who I plan do be when and if I grow up. Perhaps its a bit optimistic for me to imagine that anything as broad and impersonal as the brush used by the world of marketing to paint a 50- something woman from Union City NJ would come up with something more like the portrait of Dorian Gray and less like Whistler's Mother. And I know its expensive to market, after all its my job but I think that marketing should take a slightly broader view. But that will probably not be the case for awhile. I have read and about algorithms that spit out 8000 personality points and create accurate portraits of who a target customer is. But- I am more than the sum of my points- and a warning to marketers- I fully intend to remain a moving target- catch me if you can.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A New Proposed Holiday: Everyone says "I Love You" Day

Nenu ninnu premistunnanu means "I love you" in Telugu- a dialect spoken by the Andhra or Telugus in the North of India. It must sound lovely when spoken but in the reading all I can picture is thumbs stuck in ears, fingers waggling while these words are spoken. Certainly a genuine I love you, spoken for the first time carries with it the element of risk- so starting out looking foolish when uttering those words on their maiden voyage to the loved one's ears eliminates that oh-so perilous mid-point when the reception, and the hope of reciprocation are still in question. You start out looking so silly that every thing that occurs after that, if not the desired response, will at least be slightly more dignified.

In choosing to say I love you in another language you also eliminate the monotony of the "I love you/I love you, too" conversation. Imagine saying "I love you" to the slightly longer-standing object of affection when after a few weeks the novelty of the aforementioned exchange begins to lack that certain spontaneity- you have a full range of new and novel responses- you can reply T'estim molt and then expand the conversation to explain the origin of that phrase and if truly inspired, weave a tale of a sultry Catalonian romance long ago when you learned that phrase BUT never truly understood it until you met the current recipient of your affections - on second thought the idea of a midnight tryst on some Andorran mountainside with a guy named Bixintxo (which means "Conquerer" in Basque as everyone knows...) might NOT have the intended effect of generating a feeling of "my one and only". Maybe respond with I mog di narrisch gern as the thought of Bavarian nights may conjure thoughts of schnitzel, beer steins and Liederhosen but would result in more images of heartburn than hearts and flowers in the mind (and chest cavity)of the recipient.

As I researched this I thought about the idea that there are a million ways actually to express love- the fact that I was able to find so many ways to express a positive esteem- it would be harder to find this many translations for "How much is this?" or "Where is your restroom" or especially "I am going to go to war with your country because we don't agree with the way you run it" or " We are going to send troops into your poverty-stricken country because with all this unhappiness there must be a weapon of mass destruction in here somewhere" My guess is that would take a couple of hours of research at least- and I am doubtful there would be a direct translation in Tagalog or Urdu. Hopefully on some remote Fijian Island the concept of mass destruction on an imaginable scale would be a lack of coconuts in the market for the day- sad but there would be coconuts the next day- or two days hence. Bad but, they'd get through. Perhaps coping by sitting under one of those lazy unproductive coconut trees whispering Mahal kita to some special cutie in a sarong. If that's "sa-wrong" I don't wanna be right. (OK I will wait for the groaning to cease)

I was looking at events that occurred on Valentine's Day-

Penicillin, a popular treatment for venereal diseases such as syphilis, was introduced to the world on February 14, 1929. Let the love-fest begin.

The Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (CTR) of Binghamton, New York, changed its name to International Business Machines (IBM)on February 14, 1924.

1924 was a busy Valentine's Day year, also in 1924, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge delivered the first presidential political speech over the radio prompting millions of kids to first utter the question "Isn't there anything ELSE on?"

And there was, 16 years later: in 1940, MBS, The Broadcasting System, presented the premiere broadcast of the radio play, "The Adventures of Superman."

I got the idea that there could be a new meaning to February 14- I know this is crazy as we cannot get the world to agree on a currency much less have one, international holiday but ...wouldn't it be cool if February 14th became Everyone says I Love You Day (ESILY). No exceptions- as a matter of fact- instead of handing out medals for valor and bravery in battle we gave medals to people who on ESILY found someone NO ONE would say I love you to and despite revulsion or public condemnation said I Love you to the school lunch lady- or Osama Bin Laden. Imagine that between 12:00 pm and 12:15 pm everyone said this to the person it would be most difficult for them to say it to- soldier to soldier, Huutu to Tutsi, estranged father to son. And imagine what would happen at 12:16 that same day. Just imagine. The moment after those words are spoken the space between those two individuals would change. You cannot help but see the person- the vulnerable precious living being that bravely uttered those words in your presence. Eyes would be opened- and hearts. When you see one person that way you too are changed and suddenly you see not one individual but two- the person to whom you spoke, and yourself, accepted as a perfect human for that moment in their eyes. And you'd want to keep that feeling- to try as best you could, to keep that feeling- to be that person. And it would not be possible at 12:16 that day to say something hurtful in anger, to raise a hand in violence, to close a heart in anger once it had been opened by love.

So here's a list- a lack of information shouldn't stop you and certainly not a lack of the appropriate phrase in Denmark or the Sioux Nation. Forget the chocolates and the overpriced long-stems- Let's just say "I love you" and see what happens.

Amharic: Afekrishalehou
Arabic : Ana Behibak (to a male) Ana Behibek (to a female)
Bavarian : I mog di narrisch gern
Bengali : Ami tomake bhalobashi
Cantonese : Ngo oi ney
Catalan : T'estim (mallorcan) or T'estime (valencian) or T'estimo (catalonian)
finally: T'estim molt (I love you a lot)
Chinese : Wo ie ni (Mandarin)
Croatian : Volim te (most common), or Ja te volim (less common)
Czech : miluji te
Danish : Jeg elsker dig
Dutch : Ik hou van jou
Persian(Farsi): Tora dust midaram
Flemish : Ik zie oe geerne
Finnish : Mina" rakastan sinua
French : Je t'aime
Gaelic : Ta gra agam ort
German : Ich liebe Dich
Greek : S' ayapo
Gujarati: Tane Prem Karoo Choo
Hebrew : aNEE oHEIVET oTKHA (female to male) aNEE oHEIV otAKH (male to female)
Ani ohev at (man to woman) Ani ohevet atah (woman to man)
Hindi: Mein Tumse Pyar Karta Hoon (man to woman)
Mein Tumse Pyar Karti Hoon (woman to man)
Hopi : Nu' umi unangwa'ta
Hungarian : Szeretlek te'ged
Icelandic : ?g elska ├čig
Indonesian : Saya cinta padamu or Saya Cinta Kamu or Aku tjinta padamu
or Saja kasih saudari
Italian : Ti amo
Irish : taim i' ngra leat
Japanese : Kimi o ai shiteru Sukiyo
Kannada: Naanu ninnanu preethisuthene or Naanu ninnanu mohisuthene
Korean : Tangsinul sarang ha yo
Latin : Te amo or Vos amo
Mohawk : Konoronhkwa
Navajo : Ayor anosh'ni
Ndebele : Niyakutanda
Norwegian : Jeg elsker deg (Bokmaal)
Pakistani : Mujhe tumse muhabbat hai
Pilipino : Mahal Kita or Iniibig Kita
Polish : Ja Cie Kocham or Kocham Cie (Pronounced Yacha kocham)
Portuguese : Eu te amo
Punjabi : Main tainu pyar karna (male to female)
Mai taunu pyar kardi aan (female to male)
Russian : Ya lyublyu tebya or Ya vas lyublyu
Scot Gaelic : Tha gra\dh agam ort
Sioux : Techihhila
Spanish : Te amo
Swahili : Nakupenda
Swedish : Jag a"lskar dig
Tagalog : Mahal kita
Taiwanese : Gwa ai lee
Tamil: Naan Unnai Kadhalikiren
Telugu: Ninnu premistunnanu
Neenu ninnu pra'mistu'nnanu
Nenu ninnu premistunnanu
Thai : Phom Rak Khun or Ch'an Rak Khun
Turkish : Seni seviyorum!
Urdu : Mujhe tumse muhabbat hai
Vietnamese : Anh ye^u em (man to woman) or Em ye^u anh (woman to man)
Welsh : 'Rwy'n dy garu di. or Yr wyf i yn dy garu di (chwi)
Yiddish : Ikh hob dikh lib
Zuni : Tom ho' ichema

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hearing Voices or How we killed J.D. Salinger

I love to read- as a child I devoured books well outside my age range defying cranky school librarians who would refuse me "The Secret Garden" at 7 years of age or "Gone with The Wind" in the third grade. I loved the different worlds books provided. I also read very quickly- for most light reading about 100 pages per hour- for the heavier classics- maybe 70 pages an hour and about 10 pages in 15 minutes for technical reading- I have very little patience for books that teach or rather instruct- I would much rather destroy a DVD player than read the manual and after destroying the DVD player would just sit down and read a book, feeling no lack. My lovely cardigan wearing sole-mate has photos of himself wearing glasses and a bathrobe staring intently into a novel at 14- "That was a Saturday night in my house back then" he says- having watched him tear through the John Carter of Mars series I bought him for his birthday I could see the child in the man- rapt and off fighting for the honor of the bright red princess of Mars.

The youngers are another story. VLH (he of the cardigan) has two sons who share time between us and their mom- who lives around the corner. Little Guy is 10 going on 11 and has an intellect that craves information the same way his entire being craves chocolate. The same way that a small Hershey's kiss can paint his face cheek to cheek as he consumes it, Little Guy devours books of facts with a similar soul smearing gusto- Mayans and Egyptians and Michael Jackson share space with every president, most presidential wives and a large number of presidential pets. Do you know which President kept a raccoon as a pet? I do. Little Guy is absolutely filled to the brim with information and it will spill out and land on anyone in close proximity- whether Little Guy and the party in question have been properly introduced or not. The only requirement for connection is whether Little Guy can reach up and grab their elbow and let the sharing begin - because in his voracious consumption he is a zealot- a convert to the church of information he proselytises at every opportunity and cannot comprehend that you are not as interested in the things that absolutely fascinate him. At 10 and a half he loves Gene Kelly and hates Richard Nixon ("Why?" you may ask him and he will reply "remember a little thing called Watergate?" of course this is the beginning of a conversation not the end.) He corrects tour guides at National Historical Sites. When travelling even a short distance he requires at least 3 books and until lately- a little orange bear named Rupert- though Rupert seems to prefer the couch at home more often these days and that makes me sad a little. So Little Guy also is a reader- but only of factual books- his father once offered to read "The Princess Bride" to him as a bedtime story- Little Guy looked at his dad and said "No offense Dad, what else ya got?" waving a hand in front of him to diminish the sting of his rejection of a book he knew his dad loves.

Then there is Elder Son. Elder is just a week or so shy of 16. Bright. Talented. And he makes a mean chocolate chip cookie. It seems very perilous to talk about Elder Guy here- at 15 I have had the pleasure of watching him start to carve his own path- choosing friends from those he grew up with and those he attends prep school with, railing against societal requirements and school uniforms and I watched, sitting in amazement as he pulled the school handbook from his enormous backpack to see whether green hair was in violation of the dress code. I explained that even though COLOR wasn't specifically mentioned that GREEN hair was actually the definition of "Extreme Hair Styles" prohibited in the handbook. I'd hate to embarrass him in any way- in adolescence mortification is a nearly fatal disease.

Elder and I have a standing Wednesday night rendezvous- he has a class in the city near my office and we head home together each Wednesday. I tell my office mates with not a little pride that this is our "date" and am inordinately pleased he chooses to spend this 90 minutes a week hanging with me. I also give him a snack when he shows up but I am pretty sure that's not why he comes.

A couple of weeks ago Elder and I were riding home on the bus and discussing his grades- while he had near perfect grades in Latin and Spanish, his English marks were only at about the 3/4 level. "Why?" The answer- the books were chosen for the entire class and reviewed in the same format over and over. Elder was bored. Trust a High School English class to suck the joy out of Mark Twain and Zora Neale Hurston (TY Mimi) and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Elder loves music and video, draws and writes, has access to video games and the internet- and unlike VLH, Little Guy and me, books don't naturally draw him- and there is so much else that does. But then there's that English grade.

I stood up on my soapbox right there on the #123 bus driving along the Marginal- "Books like that," I said- "have a voice- you can hear the characters in the books talking to you- can feel the location grow up around you- the smells and the sounds!" I was on a roll. I saw the light of attention fade-out in Elder's eyes- "Fahrenheit 451 was good" he said. I said "Well is there a literary voice you can remember hearing as you read the book?" "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." he said. "I gotta get it back from Dad and finish it". Part of me was proud that he had chosen such a unique literary voice. The other part worried about a Kerouakian need on his part at some point to try hitting the road to Vegas one day well stocked with a vial of the essence of the pineal gland of the iguana and a bottle of Patron. "We have to read "Catcher in the Rye" this Spring." he said interrupting my little revery of the thought of peeling Elder off a ballroom ceiling while he ranted about bats and reptile-headed political journalists. "Catcher in the Rye!" I gasped, more than a little relieved. "Fantastic book" Perfect timing for a man struggling to identify life's boundaries in order to vault over them sporting green hair.

I am a big Salinger fan. In the 8th grade someone compared an essay I had written to Salinger and I was complimented, if not completely unaware who this was. Within a couple of weeks I had read not only "Catcher in the Rye" but "Franny and Zooey", For a long time any of my friends understood my burning curiosity to know where the ducks from Central Park go in winter. Anyone who did not wasn't a friend for long. Not a personality conflict so much as a difference in nature. I prefer to spend my time with people who ask "Why?" and "Why not?"

We spoke until our stop on the bus- about Salinger, teen rebellion and why a writing talent hid after just a few books and never came out to play again.

The next day Salinger was dead at 91.

I texted Elder. "We killed JD Salinger" He texted back " He was old wasn't he". Old will get you every time.

I felt like the conversation we'd had- like many had with someone younger- maybe just didn't resonate. With so much information coming into his life- the daily life of a teenager- school, girls, guitar, license- one conversation just wasn't that important. I took no offense.

A week later we were sitting at the table- he getting ready to do homework and me tidying, which is an obsession with me these days- I make no excuses for it- or I make many excuses- but that's a topic for another essay. I saw a familiar bookcover peeking through his fingers. "Catcher in the Rye?" I asked. "Yeh"- he said, head down in the book. "I thought you didn't need it til Spring?" I said. You see, Elder is a notorious last-minute school supply guy who is well known for desperately needing a folder, notebook, report cover or clip the night before its school-mandated appearance. I do believe he eats 4x6 index cards in the school lunchroom on a daily basis as that would be the only explanation for the rate at which he consumes them. "I thought I'd get a head start" he said "Sounded like it might be ok"

Might be. (Yippee!)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

It ain't over til the Yat Lady Sings

Monday, February 1, 2010

Their Eyes on Punxsutawney

UPDATE: On Gobbler's Knob February 2nd, 2010, Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of all Prognosticators proclaimed, "If you want to know what's next, you must read my text. As the sky shines bright above me, my shadow I see beside me. So six more weeks of winter it will be."

"Groundhog Day is a lot like a rock concert but the people are better behaved and there's a groundhog involved," Tom Chapin, editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper.

I read that PETA- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have complained about the ritualized misuse of Phil- dragging him from his den every February 2nd to a mad media frenzy (bad enough to be woken months before his natural wake-up time-worse to have the paparazzi hanging around for a quick shot for the papers- maybe they'll protect Lindsay Lohan next) PETA's suggestion was that Phil be replaced with a robotic groundhog. I shudder to think. While I admit and am grateful that the vigilance of groups like PETA have made me aware that foie gras and veal are cruel- they sure can take all the fun out of a pair of new leather stilettos (OK most of the fun). The very idea of an electronic replacement for the Groundhog just leaves the door wide open for ruining so many other holidays- next thing you know they'll get their hands on Valentine's Day and heaven only knows what they'll substitute batteries for in the interest of protecting one species or another. (Oh c'mon, do the math...)

From a Wildlife damage control website:

"Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, have a great reputation among gardeners. Even the hit movie "The Caddy Shack" illustrated their reputation as being impossible to control. Woodchucks can literally mow a garden." If they can also plant flowers and weed I'm getting one.

From a Groundhog control website:

"...your garden will have no future if you pay no heed to this garden pest's sign language. Your garden will be trapped in a perpetual Groundhog Day of destruction, raided at will by the marauding rodents. " Sign language? I smell a screenplay here, don't you?

PETA might consider that annoying ONE groundhog once a year may be the very BEST way to sell the public on leaving the rest of these destructive little guys alone based on the goodwill generated. I'm sure Phil would volunteer- if someone bothered to explain it to him in groundhogese- after they get him a cup of coffee.

Other Random ramblings on Marmota Monax

The groundhog (Marmota monax) is also known as a woodchuck or whistle-pig- a marketing opportunity missed there- the Gobblers Knobians could have gotten corporations to sponsor the festivities in exchange for Phil whistling their jingle during the event.

During Prohibition Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter if he wasn’t permitted a drink. Way to negotiate rodent!

In 2009 Phil's appearance was shown live (at DAWN) on the Jumbotron in Times Square. Like one more giant rat on 42nd Street would cause a fuss.

You can get a text message about Phil's prediction by texting his forecast for the first time (to sign up, text "groundhog" to 247365) He also has a Facebook Fan page and an online Souvenir Shop...

Since Phil’s first trek to Gobbler’s Knob in 1887, he has seen his shadow 98 times, no shadow 15 times, and no record 10 times. He saw his shadow last year. This year marks Phil's 124th prediction.

There has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking “groundhog punch,” a secret recipe. Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life. My guess is that the "no record" days and the excessive consumption of "groundhog punch" are somehow connected.

To the Groundhog (from a California pre-school website)

Will you
Won't you
See your shadow?

Will it
Won't it
Really matter?

Do you
Don't you
Grin to see

Take you

Please don't take this seriously- just raise a glass of groundhog punch with me and toast to Spring- whenever it gets here.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Certain Age

I am approaching a portentous anniversary of my years on the planet. It has me inviting people to a party I have not yet planned- still months away- calling in all markers, the hand holdings, late night phone calls,and interruptions of holiday dinners for an emergency gravy consultation ("Yes you can freeze that"- "No you shouldn't forgive him just because HE thinks you should") . If I MUST turn 50- I need all the support can muster.

Lately the phrase "woman of a certain age" has been rattling around in my mind. As a voracious reader I have long been aware of the phrase and picture well-coiffed and marvelously groomed ladies having tea- or cocktails- and speaking wisely to each other about things I am not sure which things- perhaps the running of their families, or their lives, or the planet. Whatever the subject they have a look, to my mind, which says that they have it licked- nothing to see here, got it all under control. To me- the "certain" part of the phrase means- they were sure. At some pre-ordained moment they had been struck with a sense of "Aha!"and everything popped into focus.

I'm waiting. "Certain" hasn't quite reached me yet.

I did a bit of research and found that the French believe "une femme d'une certaine age" is a forty-ish woman who is able to initiate boys and young men into the beauties of sexual encounters. Those clever French can build sex into anything including potatoes- or aging women.

I have not been a fan of the younger man as a rule- for a very long time I eschewed the younger man, choosing male companions older than me. My first love had been younger and quite honestly- I no longer wanted the teacher role. Unfortunately in my younger days I learned the veracity of something a friend in college swore was true- she said "There are no men- just little boys in suits". For a long time, in relationships I steered when I wished nothing more than to let someone else do the driving. I also learned along the way that just because someone has a license doesn't mean they should drive. So I took life as it came along- and gathered information. I do not know if I taught anyone about the beauty of sex- I have learned that the man who can't kiss well won't be much in the romance department- and the fellow too good at romance will likely not last beyond the death of that first bunch of too-quickly proferred roses, and that the man who can make me laugh will also be pretty good at holding me when I cry. I've also learned that looks don't count for much but attraction counts for everything. If you want to love someone- liking who they are is a pretty essential place to start. Ignore the cardigan- concentrate on the laugh.

Like the man who is lost but making good time I spent a great deal of the last 20 ears muddling through if not embracing my uncertainty. The path took me to church and ashram, temple and wooded grove communing with all my questions. I remember once lying in a yoga class, lights dimmed and incense filling the air with its chalky serenity. I had my legs stretched over my head and my toes grazing the floor behind me and I was crying into my own lap. I had made a step back instead of forward in my emotional development and was filled with questions and remorse. The teacher quietly came beside me- he was a friend- a guy named Greg who outside the ashram installed air conditioners, knelt by my side, concerned. "I'm so confused" I whispered- instantly his face lit up- "That's WONDERFUL" he said breathily "you're learning".

I know now that these were wise words but in that quiet, dark, om-filled room the only truth I experienced at that moment was that my goal in life was to haul off and clock the sensei. Fortunately for him, in that position, feet touching the ground behind my head, it was challenging to simply breathe- moving an arm would certainly have cut off my airway. The conversation did lead me to some truths about myself. The first is that when enlightenment shows up I won't acknowledge it until I'm damned good and ready and second I HATE being told what to do.

I also learned that if I believe something is an absolute truth in my life the universe will sit up and say- "Ya think so girly?" and show me just how wrong I can be.

Couple of years ago I went on my last first date- I guess. I found someone I could live with- who could also live with me. This speaks to someone tolerant with a good sense of humor. Someone magnanimous enough to be ok with my displaying our lives on the internet in my exhibitionistic need to write publicly. I love to write but never seem to get around to it- its been almost a year since I wrote here. Anyway, that wonderful person just walked into the room as I write and said he was happy to see me writing- that it had been too long. My last first date is five years younger than me- and still has that cardigan and a laugh that I would pay money to hear if it didn't come so easily upon hearing even my dopiest joke. But even this tolerant soul cannot tell me what to do. He tried once, when I had a gall bladder attack and was writhing in pain, to tell me I should go home. I dug in and refused, then threw up on his shoes. He learned not to tell me what to do- and I did eventually tell him he was right- 18 months later. My teacher would be so proud- still learning- but the curve can be unusually long between information and spoken revelation.

In an article in the NY Times the wonderful William Safire spoke about the "middle- aged spread" of the "certain age"- that what once was 40 was 50, and then 80. I have met very "certain" people of three years of age and amazingly wonderful people in their 90's who look to me with questions- their wisdom being in the knowledge that certainty is a fool's game. The world is always changing and us with it- the moment a judgement is made or an opinion etched in stone with a harrumph and a stamping of the foot there is almost a guarantee that that very footfall will rock your world. You can refuse to change your stance- you can deny change in your mind but the way of the world is change and nothing is certain- except laughter and the occasional cardigan, and that certainty changes with time. Sometimes the best you can do is shrug give in- and let the world show you all that you don't know.