‘Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out…

October 31, 2018

Every year my memory banks remind me of the time that became known as “the day Alice was arrested for roller skating down Main Street” – a VAST exaggeration of the facts occurring the night of Saturday, October 31, 1980.

Number one rule in my parent’s house until marriage – NO BOYS IN YOUR BEDROOM…PERIOD…except for the afternoon of October 31, 1980 when I convinced my mother that Matt and I were just friends with absolutely no strings attached (truth) and that he needed to come to my room in order to paint my face for Halloween (also truth). Matt and I were friends by virtue of his squandering love affair with my best friend Roseanne. I won’t deny that I had a secret crush on him, but I was not even close to being in his ballfield whatsoever. He was tall and thinly muscular with shoulder-length, curly brown hair the likes of Lindsay Buckingham, beautiful crystal-blue eyes and an artistic talent and sense of humor that brought me to tears.

I was dressing up like a dead mime on roller skates – black opaque stockings and black long-sleeved bodysuit, a pair of chocolate brown satin shorts with white piping over both and a pair of rainbow suspenders to boot – and don’t forget the white four-wheeled roller skates. Regretfully, we didn’t get a photograph of Matt’s handiwork that night, but I will tell you it was MAGNIFICENT. It took several hours, but it was worth the time…especially having him in my bedroom alone and all to myself for the first time ever…strictly as friends. As the time quickly passed, I looked up to see Roseanne in my bedroom doorway ready to spoil the party. After a quick hello and an equally quick goodbye, Matt told us he was heading home to get his costume and would meet us at our mutually agreed destination – the local Shop Rite parking lot off Main Street

As we made our way to Shop Rite, Roseanne and I decided we were going to trick-or-treat for the last time in our lives, me at 15-years-old and she at 16. So off we went down Maple Street going door-to-door with our pillowcases begging for candy, trying to eat as much as we could along the way so as not to have to share with the group of kids waiting for us in the Shop Rite parking lot. At this point I will tell you, the only roller skating I did down any street that night was on Maple Street…and no one saw me except Roseanne…PERIOD

Once in the parking lot, no other kids having arrived yet, Roseanne and I sat on the curb waiting for Matt, me removing my skates and us talking about nothing, eating the rest of our candy. After some time, Matt, dressed up like an aborigine (and fabulously so, I might add), finally graced us with his presence at the entrance to the Shop Rite. Before I knew it, Matt began approaching various customers, asking them all kinds of silly questions and joking around with them. Every single person thought he was adorable and laughed along with him…except one

I will admit, even on that night 38 years ago, Matt stepped way over the line. Following a pregnant woman through the parking lot and into the store, chattering away and cracking jokes, Matt made the grievous mistake of asking the woman if she knew who might be the father of her unborn child. As Roseanne and I laid into Matt for his insensitive remarks and demanded we leave, the others arrived…just in time for the cops…who’d been called by the Shop Rite manager after hearing the pregnant woman’s complaints…

Oh…did I mention the bargaining I had to do in order to go out that night after Roseanne and I were picked up by the police three weeks before after missing curfew…after meeting up with two male classmates who bought us beer…and drank with us in the woods behind the railroad track next to Finch Park? First of all, both boys had girlfriends…long-term girlfriends. There was no way I was going to do anything with either of them besides drink their beers. Roseanne had a much different mindset – she didn’t care about loyalties (hence her squandering love affair with Matt). So while I fended off Mr. Tentacles, Roseanne was MIA somewhere in the woods…and I made sure to yell out for her every minute on the minute reminding her of the time. Finally emerging from the dark, I grabbed Roseanne and told her we were leaving – no ifs, ands or buts. Not sure how much Roseanne had to drink that night, I held her arm and slowly dragged her over to North Central Avenue down to South Central Avenue – the street where we both lived, her home across the street and several houses up. Somewhere along the way, a police officer stopped us and asked us if we wanted a ride, to which I gladly accepted, not knowing what time it was and feeling the urgency of getting me and Roseanne home and into bed ASAP. Unbeknownst to us, my father had called the local police to report me missing. Did I mention how buddy-buddy dad was with the local police force? It was 1:00AM, the town curfew being 10:00PM and mine being 11:00PM…I was IN trouble. If not for Roseanne’s intoxication and drunken divulgence of her version of the story to my sister Regina while walking her home, I most definitely could’ve talked myself out of that one…

Fast forward three weeks…Shop Rite parking lot…cops…everywhere…

The next thing we knew, Roseanne and I, along with a dozen other kids, were shoved into the back seat of several different police cars, being whisked away to the Ramsey Police Department a little over a mile away. Separated into various interrogation rooms, we were questioned about the night’s events. I was fortunate enough to be cross-examined by one of my father’s best friends, who knew there was no way I was involved in whatever heinous crime that had been committed in the parking lot of the local Shop Rite (for some reason Arlo Guthrie comes to mind…). Suddenly, dad stormed through the door, insisted on my innocence and I was released without incident…no arrest for roller skating anywhere in Ramsey whatsoever

That was the last time I trick-or-treated in my life…

The debate over whether or not to celebrate Halloween was difficult for me. It was my favorite holiday as a child and, quite honestly, was still my favorite holiday right up until the year 2000, despite my “arrest record.” As the hubby and I became more and more religious after the kid entered our world, however, the idea of celebrating a holiday that is pagan in its origins and focused on death seemed every bit antithetical to Judaism being centered on the celebration of life. Fortunately for us, when the kid was 18-months-old, the decision to forego Halloween was forced upon us due to her extreme fear of strangers coming to our doorstep dressed in scary costumes and demanding candy, along with the ever-growing yearly competition we had with our next-door neighbor to come up with the scariest yard scene. We finally realized the game needed to stop when we talked about setting up the garage like a haunted house and the hubby surprising everyone by jumping out dressed like the Jersey Devil wielding a chainsaw…so that Tuesday, October 31, 2000, the kid screamed and cried and hid behind the couch the entire night…and that was it…no more death in our lives.

Throughout the years, the kid would sit in her bedroom, peaking out the window to watch the trick-or-treaters roam the neighborhood, commenting on the different costumes and rating their creativity. Sometimes she would question if she might want to try it, but would quickly change her mind each time. She didn’t even like dressing up for Purim, so why would she want to dress up for Halloween? Besides, mommy bought candy all the time – why exert the energy going door-to-door when she could just go downstairs into the kitchen and grab a handful? By the time she left for Israel in 2017, the kid was looking forward to never having to see Halloween again…until her dormmates decided to sneak out to attend a Halloween party taking place for Americans in Tel Aviv…and she was pissed…

For the past nineteen years, we have spent Halloween night hiding from death with the lights off and watching some scary movie after taping a “NO CANDY” sign on the front door as we listened to the disappointed voices of children hoping to score one more tidbit before packing it in for the night.

Three years ago, today, on Saturday, October 31, 2015, my brother Michael, the only brother I have ever known, was laid to rest. Being that is was Shabbat, I was not present for his funeral, having flown back home early the morning before. Luckily for me, there were barely a dozen passengers on that flight, allowing me an entire row to myself, where I wept the entire way home and watched the sun rise…Shamayim…

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Exactly one year later to the day, on Monday, October 31, 2016, the hubby would bury his father…

Halloween had now truly become a day of death, its novelty having worn off…

Today the hubby attended the funeral of his cousin’s husband who died the night before All Hallow’s Eve…

At this point, I could take it or leave it…

And hopefully I won’t be pissed off on October 31, 2028…

‘Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out
And everywhere they’d go, they’d shout
And though I covered my eyes, I knew
They’d go away
My Dear Country – Norah Jones

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

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Why I have annoyed all my Facebook friends with hundreds of photos of my bike rides for two years now…

October 27, 2018

For ten years the hubby and I searched for that perfect community. We had come a long way, driving the 1 1/12 hours both ways to the kid’s third Jewish day school in her lifetime, incorporating our shopping for chagim (Jewish holidays) into the fold, me oftentimes thinking I should just get a job here to justify the travel. After nine long months of three-hour-a-day driving five days a week, we had a two-week break for Passover, at which time I proclaimed to the hubby, “We’re moving to Cherry Hill by next school year…”

By that time, the hubby and I had been together for almost 21 years – he knew me well enough to recognize that I was serious…this move was going to happen within the next three months or else. So, on October 1, 2009, Erev Sukkot, we packed up the kid and our morbidly obese guinea pig named DJ into our two cars and headed west. Upon our arrival, I directed the movers up and down the endless sets of stairs as the hubby assembled the sukkah that would stand unadorned for the first time in ten years, only because our new community had come to our rescue thanks to the friend of a friend (the mother of the groom from the February 26th wedding we attended in Israel this year – A lawyer, a judge and a barrister walk into a bar/The Wedding…Monday, February 26, 2018) who invited us for first lunch and whose friend/neighbor insisted on having us the second day and so it went – every meal we had received an invitation from other guests we had eaten with each meal, leaving me not having to unpack the kitchen for the first two weeks of living in our new (very old) house.  It was as if our dreams had come true. We were now in a place that accepted us for who we were in a Jewishly diverse community and everything was at our fingertips for the first time in over 20 years. Of course, because this is the way our lives together have mostly gone, it was too good to be true…

The only thing stopping me from truly enjoying my new habitation was the nagging feeling that I had abandoned my parents who now lived the 1 ½ hours away. Up until that move, we had spent the last seven years a mere five miles from them (less than ten miles the eleven years before), my parents spending all their available time hanging out with the kid. And, by the summer of 2010, after seven years of working at that Jewish camp I just couldn’t get enough of, I found myself discontent and no longer wanting to be there. While the hubby and the kid let me know how miserable they both were with the daily torture of living amongst 500 other souls 24/7 for nine weeks straight, thanks to much better cell phone reception, I was listening to my mother’s concerned voice daily complaining about dad’s eye sight worsening and increasing loss of memory. He had difficulty driving, leaving them incapable of running errands and going to appointments, stranded in a house that had become way too much to manage. By the end of that summer, mom called to tell me that dad had been diagnosed with dementia. After seven summers, the kid and I having abandoned Peepaw and his pool, I was ready to go home. Forgoing the end of summer camp staff gala, I packed up my belongings, quietly sneaking them to my car while the rest of the staff partied in the dining hall. That night I stayed in my bunk and cried myself to sleep. As soon as the sun peaked through my remnant-curtained window, I tiptoed to my car and slowly drove away, knowing this would be the last time I would be in this place…

Death would enter our lives with a vengeance, refusing to leave for six…long…years…overshadowing any possible happiness in our lives…

By October of 2016, I’d had enough of Death’s all too frequent visitations and searched for a way to deal with the immense loss the hubby, the kid and I had endured since leaving camp that summer in 2010. I mourned over the summers missed with Peepaw playing beat-up-the-kid in his swimming pool, knowing our summers would never be the same again. I lamented daily for months over the senseless loss of my sister two days before Christmas, regretting the many occasions where I just didn’t take the time to pay a visit. I cried for my mother’s sorrow, losing her only sibling, having reconnected with him recently after a twenty-year absence. I shed tears at my dear friend’s funeral, for the loss of a beautiful life and friendship that had had its ups and downs in the years prior to her death. I sobbed with despair over not having answered the phone that afternoon mom called begging me to come to her house while she sat in the driveway all alone with dad’s lifeless body in her arms. I wept over my mother’s dying body, reliving the last time I saw her, yelling at her about how I needed time for me and my family and storming from her inpatient rehab room, stress and exhaustion having gotten the better of me. I grieved alongside the hubby when he lost both his parents and quickly joined me as a member of the “Orphan Club.” But, for some reason, it was Michael’s death that brought me to this blog.

I think I knew two years ago that this would be some form of therapy for me. I needed something to make Death go away and let me be. At first, I wrote almost daily or, at the very least, once a week. Over time, my posts grew more intermittent, sometimes forgoing my writing for weeks and even months. I also noticed that my posts had become less and less about Death and more about the life I was continuing to live with the hubby and the kid, so many new paths being forged over the past year. As the third anniversary of Michael’s passing quickly approached, I found myself wanting to get back to the point; that this blog was about Michael and our shared love of cycling. However, not realizing it at its launching, it has really been about coping with death and loss. The therapy I received and still receive from cycling lead me to this place. I have shared my life with many family members, friends and strangers alike throughout the world and pray that my stories have made an impact on everyone who has read them.

So why was it Michael’s death that provoked me to start this blog? Looking back over those six long years, it was his passing that generated a response I had never experienced before. After speaking to Kathy on October 25, 2015 and her informing me that Michael would be dead within 48 hours, a yowl burst from my soul so forcefully I almost passed out. Seemingly selfish and insincere, I went for a bike ride to clear my head and think about my next move. By nine years, nine months, three weeks and one day, he was my older brother…the only brother I have ever known. We shared a special bond, he being the oldest child and me being the youngest.

By the end of that ride, I knew I was getting on the first flight to Milwaukee. Impulsively boarding that plane on October 26, 2015, I finally recognized how cunning Death is in seizing life and how precious every single moment matters. This was the second chance I hadn’t had all those other times Death cheated me. In the end, this blog has helped me heal from six long years of grief…and now it’s time for me to truly enjoy this habitation…

On September 16, 2015 at 11:38:45AM, five weeks and six days before Michael died, I got on Ole Bessie for no particular reason and decided to go for a little ride…

2015-09-16-11-38-45

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive

In sixty-nine I was twenty-one and I called the road my own
I don’t know when that road turned into the road I’m on

Running on Empty – Jackson Browne

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

 

 

A lot to live up to…

Forrest Gump: [narrating] Lieutenant Dan sure knew his stuff. I felt real lucky he was my lieutenant. He was from a long, great military tradition. Somebody in his family had fought and died in every single American war. I guess you could say he had a lot to live up to.

In the recesses of her mind she probably couldn’t tell you herself today, but one of the kid’s earliest memories occurred at the exact age of two-and-one-half years – September 11, 2001 (9/11, September 7, 2018). You know how I know? Because for the last thirteen years the kid has told the hubby and me that the only thing she ever wanted to do in her life was join the military and fight terrorism. As Jews, we advised her to join the Israeli IDF (no offense to the American military, but it just wasn’t an option as a religious person). I never expected her to actually listen to that advice…and now here she is living in Israel, a full-blown citizen waiting on her draft date…

Although the kid comes from a “long, great military tradition,” thankfully no family member has died in any American war (Feeling grateful…November 8, 2016). From the hubby’s reminiscence of the “battle of Panama” and Michael’s rather uneventful ten-year stint in the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s to my father serving in Korea and the hubby’s father serving in Iran throughout the 1950s, the kid has always been enamored by military service. Fighting terrorism was simply the icing on the cake.

So, as planned back on January 15th (IsraelPart Deux: Returning to the originally-planned-before-the-kid -decided-to-make-Aliyah-last-year trip/March 23, 2018), the hubby and I visited the kid in Israel for two weeks in February and March, and she visited with us for 2 1/2 weeks during Passover. Finishing up her gap year at Bar Ilan University, the kid would technically become “homeless” after final exams, forcing her to schedule a return flight to the U.S. to spend six weeks with us this summer. Anxiously awaiting word on her official acceptance into Garin Tzabar (the lone soldier program through Nefesh B’Nefesh), the kid was informed prior to leaving Israel that it was a sure thing.  Now the summer would be consumed by everything that was next – When did she need to return to Israel? Where would she be living and with who? When would she draft? Which branch of the military would they decide for her? For what jobs would she be eligible? What and how much should she pack?

Within the first couple of weeks, the kid had some answers. She needed to be back in Israel by August 15th, the day she would officially become a member of Garin Tzabar. She was offered a space on a religious kibbutz in the Negev for which she had interviewed months before and would be living in a communal building with 25 other lone soldiers from around the globe, including a friend from high school. If all went as planned, her draft date was set for November 15th but wouldn’t know which branch or what job she would have until after being drafted. And then the incessant packing and unpacking of every suitcase in the house went into full force…

However, with each answer, several more questions were created. When should she fly back and where would she stay until August 15th? How safe is it on the kibbutz? Siren alerts pinged daily on her cell phone, informing her of more fire kites, balloons and rockets being fired into the Southern District. Would they have to stay on another kibbutz in the interim? Having visited the kibbutz before leaving Israel, the kid thought there were only 26 lone soldiers in her building but discovered there were now 30 altogether – where would the other 4 soldiers live? What happens once she gets there? And the shuffling through pages and pages of job listings she was eligible for ensued…

In the end, it all worked out just fine. She left two days early so that she would have one more day of freedom, the hubby and I splurging on a hotel in Tel Aviv and the kid visiting her favorite restaurant one last time before heading south. Altogether, 350 18-23-year-old adults from around the world got on a plane and made their way to Tel Aviv. Following a long day of festivities welcoming them to Garin Tzabar, the kid and 29 other young souls loaded onto a bus and made their way to the Negev. Ultimately, due to the lack of living space in the communal building set up for the group, the kid would be housed in an apartment with another woman. Now her time is filled with holiday celebrations, traveling, Hebrew classes, evaluations, testing and mock basic trainings…and she continues to wait on her draft date…that has now been pushed to December 23rd

Lieutenant Daniel Taylor: So, you boys are from Arkansas, huh? Well, I’ve been through there. Little Rock’s a fine town. Now, go shake down your gear, see the platoon sergeant, draw what you need for the field. If you boys are hungry, we got steaks burnin’ right here. Two standing orders in this platoon. One, take good care of your feet. Two, try not to do anything stupid, like gettin’ yourself killed.

Forrest Gump: I sure hope I don’t let him down.

Since returning to Israel, the kid has kept us posted on her day to day life on the kibbutz, sending photographs as evidence via WhatsApp.

As I scroll through each snapshot, I am immediately reminded of Michael and his time in the Air Force.

Goofy

And as the kid tells me how frustrated she is with ordering socks online because her credit card won’t work and/or she has no actual “street address” so it can’t be delivered, I hear a faint siren in the distance followed by a faraway boom, the earth shaking beneath the kid’s feet and her breath becoming labored as she runs from the fire. I wasn’t hanging up the phone for anything and calmly ordered her to keep running…

The kid could never let me down. She has received confirmation of her worth in a multitude of ways over the past six weeks. In high school the kid wasn’t exactly a “poster child” representative of her yeshiva. For four years, she was in zero pictures taken and/or videos produced. If her friends on the yearbook committee hadn’t fixed that problem by plastering my daughter’s face all over the front and back covers of their yearbook, having a photograph of her on the cover of the Jerusalem Post completely righted every wrong ever done to her…

Jerusalem Post

And then her evaluation and test results came back – she scored a 55 out of a possible 56 on the Kaba (an acronym for kivutzat aicut or quality group, i.e. intelligence testing) and an 80 out of a possible 90 on the Dapar (dirug psicotecni rishoni or isometric testing), “the highest scores which will open all the doors to you in the IDF.” In a nutshell, the kid can request any branch of the military and apply for any job of her choice. In the words of the kid, “I’m so happy the old me is jealous of the new me.” Amen sista!

And she continues to wait on her draft date…

Ooo, I believe, fate, fate smiled 
And destiny laughed as she came to my cradle 
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience, and with faith
She’ll make her way, she’ll make her way

Wonder – Natalie Merchant

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

The Seven Stages of Grief

“G-d is with me, through my helpers, therefore I can face my foes.”

1. Shock and Disbelief

October 25, 2015 I was sitting on the couch in the hubby’s man cave after talking to Kathy about Michael’s impending departure, weeping as I had five years prior upon hearing the news that my sister Maureen had died suddenly without warning on December 22, 2010 at the age of 51. Mom had just died eight months ago and dad two years before that…

September 16, 2018 – Two years ago today I began writing about my cycling adventures, inspired by the experience of witnessing my brother, Michael, perish after a 2 1/2 year battle with cancer. It seems like only yesterday I was riding Old Bessie and taking random photographs of the things I encountered and posted to his Facebook page in the hopes of cheering Michael up while he wasted away in the hospital.

On September 16, 2015, Bessie and I set off to a place we’d been multiple times before since moving to Cherry Hill six years prior. Following the back roads of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, we were in search of the small rickety bridge crossing Rancocas Creek and bringing us to Rancocas Village, a quaint little town dating back to the mid-18th century (May 29, 2018, Where there’s a will, there’s a way….). It was a Tuesday morning with temperatures in the 70s, low humidity and a beautiful clear blue-sky day, not a cloud in sight.

As I rounded the bend leading to the bridge off Centerton Road, I came across a blockade…I actually cried…

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Tuesday, September 16, 2015, 11:38 a.m.

Over the next two years, on September 16th I made the pilgrimage back to what I now know as Centerton Road Bridge, each year bringing the disappointing fact that I wasn’t getting across any time soon.

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Friday, September 16, 2016, 11:50 a.m.
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Friday, September 15, 2017, 12:26 a.m.

2. Denial

September 13, 2018Purge City! Before the kid left for Israel last month, I made a promise to myself to go through the house, room by room, the closets being my nemesis, bins full of memories I hoped to never forget – having lived with Alzheimer’s does that to a person. Coming across the kid’s Jewish version of Flat Stanley (a.k.a. Flat Shimeon) that she mailed to Michael and Liz in 2005, my brain reminded me that Michael wasn’t with us anymore…right?

September 16, 2018 – The bridge will be open today…

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Sunday, September 16, 2018, 10:50 a.m.

3. Pain

October 26, 2015Why didn’t I visit more often? What stopped me from just hopping on a plane to visit my one and only brother?!

September 16, 2018 – As Bessie and I sulked our way back home, my thighs screamed for mercy. I hadn’t ridden long distance since the cancer ride on June10th, and I was feeling it. That’s when the Doherty gene kicked in – ignore the pain…work through it…suck it up…

4. Anger

December 22, 2010, April 1, 2013, February 3, 2015, October 27, 2015WHY?!

September 16, 2018 – Why did I wear this pair of capris?! The chamois is way too big…man, does my ass hurt…and why the f**k ain’t that bridge fixed yet?!

http://www.burlingtoncountytimes.com/news/20180509/burlington-county-set-to-demolish-centerton-bridge

5. Bargaining

October 27, 2015If I had only known how sick he really was…

September 16, 2018 – Okay, G-d…just get me to the Exxon station so I can buy some water…

6. Depression

December 10, 2010 – September 15, 2018 I’m not going to make it…

September 16, 2018 – It dawned on me today that every year has given me that beautiful clear blue sky, the only change being the juxtaposition of the blockade and the vegetation being more overgrown than the year before. My angels provided the day…and life has gone on…

7. Acceptance and Hope

Today – No big deal. I knew what to expect when I got to the bridge. Only, there was that nagging prayer that the bridge would be repaired just in time for my return, as if the Burlington County Board of Freeholders knew how important this was to me. What can I say? I’m an idealist – I never give up hope. Eventually we will all see one another again…on the other side of the bridge…a nice pedestrian bridge would most certainly be acceptable to this pilgrim…

Not quite the conformist, I found myself disobeying the signs once again…

…and I made tashlich (“to cast,” referring to the intent to cast away our sins) at this place…

So tell the voice inside ya head to believe it
I talked to God about you, he said he sent you an angel
And look at all that he gave you

Only One – Kanye West

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

9/11

September 11, 2001

8:50AM

It was a perfectly beautiful day. The sky was crystal blue with puffy white clouds, and the temperature barely reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I was working out to my favorite kickboxing/self-defense video in the living room of our 1,020 square foot two-bedroom rancher at the edge of a well-known wildlife refuge in Southern New Jersey, sweating my ass off in an attempt to lose those 55 pounds gained during pregnancy two and a half years prior.  As was the daily protocol, the kid attempted to thwart my every move by strategically moving her kiddie table and chairs, along with various other toys and stuffed animals, in an attempt to cease all exercise. The kid just didn’t like me to exercise…ever. No matter what I did, where or when I did it, the kid just wasn’t having any of it. Perhaps she thought of it as play time. Or maybe she just thought it was funny to watch mommy dancing around, punching and kicking like a beached whale desperate to roll off shore into the ocean where I would exist weightless from Earth’s gravity. Whatever the case may be, the only other thing I remember was the cordless phone with the caller ID announce voice informing me, “Call from Mom.” Desperately wishing to make it through one workout video without interruption as I flailed my way past miniature tables and chairs, teddy bears, mega blocks and crayons, I refused to answer the phone. Mom and I talked almost daily and had seen one another at least five times a week over the past summer, my parents’ pool being the end-all-of-be-all for the kid since she could hold her head up.

The answering machine picked up the call as I listened to my mother’s panic-stricken voice on the line, “They’re attacking us! Please pick up! We’re being attacked! Are you watching?!” Not quite understanding what the hell she was talking about, I picked up the phone, pissed off that my routine had been broken, no thanks to the kid’s daily shenanigans and my mother’s constant anxiety. But this time it wasn’t about psychological tension.

Immediately turning off the VCR, I clicked on the channel to CNN (my go-to news source at the time and the first station to utilize the scrolling news bar on 9/11) and watched as giant plumes of black and white smoke bellowed from One World Trade Center’s North Tower. My only thought of, “What the f**k is going on?” replayed in my brain as mom relayed the scenes she witnessed on the ABC, CBS and NBC news shows she and dad religiously watched every morning since retiring in 1988.

My brain refused to believe what my eyes were seeing. A commercial airliner had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a building that had been completed when I was five-years-old, its sister South Tower being completed at the age of seven.

9:03AM

Watching as the North Tower burned, I leapt up and screamed as I witnessed on my television a plane crashing into the South Tower. I trustingly informed my mother that I needed to hang up in order to contact the hubby and would respond to her as soon as I spoke to him about what was going on. The hubby was and still is my main source of informative news, his predictions always 100% spot on (excepting Trump, that is – sorry dude).

As I questioned the hubby, it dawned on me that he was completely clueless as to the morning’s events. How was that possible?! How could he not know anything?! Frantically updating him on mom’s phone call and the burning North Tower followed by the plane crashing into the South Tower, I begged him to come home. To my dismay, the hubby refused to leave work early. I do believe the amount of calls I made to him that day are the most he’s ever had from me since the day we met, January 21, 1989.

9:37AM

The Pentagon is on fire, apparently as a result of another plane. This isn’t happening…we’re being attacked?!

9:59AM

Collapsing to the floor as I watched the South Tower crumble in a matter of seconds, the kid finally stopped f***ing around and realized how serious the matter had become.

10:03AM

Another plane crashes somewhere in Pennsylvania. Coincidence or related? This is f**cked up!

10:28AM

The North Tower buckles in seconds flat. At this point I’m a disheveled mess on the floor of my living room as the kid attempts to cheer me up by bringing me more toys.

Glued to the television set the entire day, I watched as the west side of lower Manhattan collapsed piece by piece into the rush hour. All planes in the U.S. were grounded and/or ordered to land regardless of their route. Rescue teams began desperately searching for survivors as I crumpled into the couch still sobbing from the day’s events. Waking up the next day with CNN still blaring from the t.v., the scrolling news bar listing the names of each and every passenger aboard each plane, I lost my s**t when the names of two sisters, ages two and four, rolled swiftly across the screen, along with the names of their parents…

The next 48 hours were the quietest I’ve ever experienced in this life on the planet.

I watched CNN 24/7 for two months straight, hoping to find some sense in a day that had none. I watched to the point where I couldn’t function. I watched to the point where I couldn’t watch anymore…and then I just turned the television set off.

I haven’t watched or read any news since that day. I’m not kidding – I HAVE NOT WATCHED OR READ THE NEWS SINCE DECEMBER 2001. Hence the hubby still being my main source of informative news…

The following year I would watch the French documentary 9/11, followed by every and any other documentary available about that day, still trying to make sense of impossible nonsense…and then we found out about Osama Bin Laden…who would be killed ten long years after the fact…

Needless to say, whenever I worked out after that day, the kid was ever present, f**king around, bringing me stuff and trying to make me laugh…until we joined a gym together fourteen years later…and now I try to make her laugh…

First Day of School

“You know, it’s funny what a young man recollects. ‘Cause I don’t remember being born. I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas, and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember the first time I heard the sweetest voice in the wide world.” – Young Forrest Gump

Do you remember your first day of school? For you younger folks, which includes my daughter, that might mean the first day you were put in daycare at the tender age of three months. However, back when I was a little girl, the first day of school meant kindergarten. In my world, mothers didn’t work or, at the very least, they didn’t work full time. Mom was there when you got up in the morning, ready to hand you that brown paper bag filled with the lunch she made while you were getting ready for school. However, in our house you were permitted to buy lunch from the cafeteria once a week, which for me was usually hamburger day on Fridays. Mom was also there when you got home from school, all ears and seemingly willing to hear about your experiences and question whatever homework was due the next day. No latchkey kid here. I actually hadn’t even thought about my first day of school for decades until Regina sent me this photo:

First Day

I vaguely remember my first day of kindergarten, little snippets of memory breaking through here and there over the years. My best friend, Kassie Moore, and I walked the four blocks to John Y. Dater School, our mothers in tow and Kassie’s baby sister Meredith in a stroller

First Day of Kindergarten 1970

As we approached the building we noted separate entrances, one for boys and one for girls, and questioned whether or not it was necessary to abide. Fortunately, my classroom was the first door on the left, accessed through the lower middle doors not marked by any gender requirements. I remember Susan P. sitting at the end of the table, sucking her thumb with an incurable case of the hiccups while several other kids cried for their mommies, not quite ready for the inevitable beginning of separation that would occur for the rest of their lives until launching properly as young adults from their parents’ household years later…hopefully. I recollect the teacher asking if we knew how to read, write and/or count, which I, being the youngest of six children, knew for at least two years.

My teacher was Mrs. Schoenlank, the best kindergarten teacher a kid could have. She was also probably the most sensitive teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life. She was made for kindergarten. She played piano for us every day, sometimes teaching us a new song to sing along with her accompaniment or leading us in a tremendous marching band circling the room, miniature drums and handheld cymbals, tambourines, triangles, wooden blocks, jingle bells, maracas and kazoos in mastered rows. Aside from the ever-present music, we occupied ourselves with sand and water tables, finger painting, board games and other toys always readily available. Mrs. Schoenlank also knew a local chicken farmer who provided our class with fertilized eggs kept inside an incubator for us to monitor until adorable little yellow chicks emerged, ultimately returning them to Farmer Fred. We also bred mealy worms…not sure why…perhaps to feed the chicks? Needless to say, I don’t remember doing any schoolwork whatsoever. It was just downright fun. I loved going to kindergarten every day…until the mid-year switcharoo…

Although some school districts still follow this pattern, back in the day kindergarten was only half day. For three months you went to morning session and for six months you attended the afternoon session or vice versa. How I got stuck doing afternoon longer than morning annoys me to this day. In the mornings you woke up, got dressed, brushed your teeth, ate breakfast, grabbed your paper-bag lunch and ran out the door. By the afternoon your day was almost over…and there were way too many distractions…like Bozo the Clown…

I was obsessed. After morning sessions, I would arrive home just in time for Bozo the Clown, who waited patiently for me in the television set every day at 12:00 noon sharp. But during the afternoon sessions I was expected to leave the house by noon in order to get to school on time. I often attempted to “hide” from my mother’s watchful eye by sitting in front of the t.v., quietly praying she would forget I existed and/or believed I had responsibly found my way out the door like a dutiful child. Not so lucky…The only other memory I have is of Dawn C., the girl who would become my best friend for many years after and who, thanks to the marvels of social media, I would find once again decades later.

Each new school year I looked forward to the first day of school, carefully planning what I would wear and anxiously wondering who would be in my class. But it never lasted beyond the first week. On the first day of first grade I was transferred to Mrs. Gebhardt, a brand, new baby teacher who was a total bitch and yelled at poor Jimmy G. who cried because he just wasn’t ready to leave kindergarten. In second grade I ended up in the hospital with some strange stomach virus, although Miss Marble made sure letters were written by my fellow students, claiming to miss me and wishing better health. Third grade was an exception, Mrs. Layton being one of my all-time favorite teachers who lived on a farm and invited students to her home on a regular basis to witness farming firsthand. For years after, Dawn C. and I would ride our bicycles to Mrs. Layton’s home where we would spend hours helping out and playing with her kids. Although I loved my fourth-grade homeroom teacher, Miss Hamilton, a lounge singer at night, she was the only teacher that year who didn’t treat me like an idiot. And my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Walker, was going through a divorce – need I say more? Middle school was horrendous. And don’t even get me started on high school. G-d bless Mrs. Schoenlank for her efforts. It all started out so nice. If anything, she was the motivating catapult that pushed my love of music and encouraged my learning how to play piano – an instrument that got me through many a challenge in life.

In the end, by the time I was in high school mom went back to work full time, and I became that latchkey kid, oftentimes forgetting my key and having to climb into the downstairs bathroom window and rummaging through the fridge for food after spending my lunch money on cigarettes. Kassie Moore moved the summer before first grade, and we never saw one another again. Steven R. , the kid known as “the retard,” now works for Merrill Lynch. When we were in middle school, Susan K.’s mother died from lung cancer after sucking the carcinogens of her father’s cigarette smoke for years, her father later becoming an ex-smoker, born-again Christian who married another Christian and moved the family away before high school. Susan G. and Kim W. now live happily in Florida, a place we all aspire to retire. Laura F. died from cancer a few years back. Lisa G. would be caught with cigarettes by her father, who would challenge her to chew an entire packet of tobacco thus allowing her to smoke openly. Susan P. stopped sucking her thumb and went on to be a head cheerleader in high school. Matthew C. is in software. Larry R., my secret crush, would ultimately move away, get married to his perfect match (not me) and raise two beautiful children (not mine).  Jimmy G. would be left back in first grade to kindergarten. I later befriended him in high school, but I don’t think he ever graduated. Dawn C. would move away before middle school, marry her high school sweetheart, divorce and lose a long-time love to cancer last year. Marc M. would later squeeze my boobs in the second grade and find himself deep in the throws of addiction and come out clean for years after. John Y. Dater School got a complete makeover a couple of years ago and looks nothing like when we were in attendance, and the granddaughter of John Y. Dater was killed on Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie Scotland on December 21, 1988 thanks to a terrorist bomb planted on the plane in Germany. As for the rest of my class – Rosemary, the two Andrew W.’s and the other Andrew, Laurie S., Eileen O. and the other Eileen, Melody and Clifford B. – I pray that your lives have given you fulfillment. Accepted into the gifted program in first grade, I was smart but refused to excel – too much work and not enough fun – a decision I regret to this day. Discovering that Mrs. Schoenlank died from cancer years ago, I wept as if I’d lost my best friend and, at this writing tonight, I learned that Bozo the Clown (a.k.a Frank Avruch) died this year on March 22nd. And I suddenly wondered what happened to those cute, fuzzy little yellow chicks…

How was your first day of school?

I still prefer mornings over afternoons..

 It started out with butterflies
On a velvet afternoon
With flashing eyes and promises
Caught and held too soon

It Started Out So Nice – Rodriguez

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Mommy Mikey Day

bound·a·ry /’bound(ə)rē/ noun: a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

June 27, 2018

This morning I remembered the box of Cream of Wheat in the pantry that I bought to use as a thickener for a vegan soup recipe. I haven’t had Cream of Wheat in ages and couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I really needed to eat it for breakfast. As the farina came to a slow boil, I reached for the Splenda and suddenly remembered that my mom always added butter. Okay, so Earth Balance Original is not exactly butter, but it still felt like a big ole hug from mommy. Now I was ready to rock and roll and start the day feeling good.

Tired of the same old gym routine and the threat of thunderstorms making a bike ride a bad decision, I resolved to go for a walk some place close to where my car would be parked just in case the weather decided to cooperate with the forecast. That’s when I thought about Boundary Creek Natural Resource Area, the park I ventured out to on a misty rain two days before Michael died (Christmas in October, September 23, 2016). Despite all forewarning, I defied the Weather Channel and chose to head out on another misty morning almost two years later. The park, itself, was not very large with the parking lot speedily accessible no matter what trail I would be walking along.

As I drove to the outskirts of Moorestown, it dawned on me that I had never been to Boundary Creek in the summer, having only gone in the autumn several times before. This time (weather permitting) I was going to take my time and really look around, determined to read every single signage…and I did!

Boundary Creek is located along Rancocas Creek, a waterway named after the “Rankokous,” the Native American Nation of the Powhatan Renape. Starting off the Delaware River and running a little further south of Vincentown, Rancocas Creek winds through a number of major hubs in Southern New Jersey. I discovered that the park was part of a 1050 acre peach plantation originally owned by John and Grace Hollinshead, immigrants from England in the mid-17th century. At the time the southwestern counties were being settled, there were no roads, thereby creating a “riverline highway” for steamboat transportation up and down the Rancocas. John Hollinshead also owned and operated one of the steamboats.

Three hundred years later, throughout the 1980s the County Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County began acquiring land in order to preserve what are known as “green acres.” As of the early 2000s, Burlington County boasted over 3500 acres of open space and over 50,000 acres of preserved farmland, the Hollinshead property being one such acquisition in 2002. By 2004, the county began planning and designing the preservation of the natural habitat that was later named Boundary Creek Natural Resource Area. From open field grassland and succession to a vast forest area, the park has become home to hundreds of plant and animal species.

Milkweed wafting lilac scents, stately coneflower, wild raspberries beginning to ripen, bright red berries taunting the local wildlife, interesting fungus growing on a fallen tree and sweet-smelling honeysuckle.

With a multitude of mammals, herptiles, waterbirds, birds of prey, songbirds and woodpeckers, several pathways along the creek invite you to hide out and spy or just merely sit and ponder…

Finishing up the 1 1/2 miles of figure-eight trails and boardwalks, I decided to stop off at Johnson’s Corner Farm, one of mom’s favorite places to visit. The rain still holding, I thought it would be a good idea to go pick-my-own veggies and fruits – an activity with a very short window in any given year. You just can’t beat fresh organic produce grown locally and picked by your own hands. Driving out of the parking lot of Boundary Creek, I officially declared Boundary Creek to be Mikey Bro’s Farm from this day forward. I’ll be forwarding a memo to the County Board of Chosen Freeholders ASAP…

Stomach growling to remind me that I hadn’t eaten all day, I stopped at the local Wawa to purchase some hard boiled eggs, promising myself some ice cream at the farm but only after eating something healthy like a nice homegrown peach. On the way, I somehow convinced myself to go to the gym after the farm, despite my decision this morning to skip the old boring gym routine. Besides, if I was going to eat ice cream, I had to hit the gym to burn off the calories, right? Arriving at the farm, I entered the shop to purchase some produce not available for picking, particularly the peaches. I quickly scarfed down a peach to satisfy my insistence on eating something healthy before going for ice cream. As soon as I saw the list, I knew what I needed – blueberry pomegranate chocolate chip ice cream! And it was FABULOUS!

Sauntering inside to buy tickets for the hayride that would take me to the fields where I had predetermined picking my own blueberries, strawberries, snap peas and green beans, I was informed by the cashier that the tractor driving away as we speak was the last one until tomorrow. I just had to stop for that ice cream, didn’t I…argh!

F**k the gym! I didn’t need all that stuff anyway!

In the end, I found myself at the local grocery store to shop for Shabbat.

A box of Cream of Wheat started today’s journey. How funny that a simple red cardboard box filled with farina can expel a swarm of memories – our family home in Ramsey filled with fifteen years of childhood memories, my mother ever present for whatever was needed…at least most of the time for me. So where did my thoughts of Michael come in? That’s right – they both died in 2015 eight months apart…and they both died on a Tuesday…

I thank G-d that my mother didn’t have to suffer the loss of one more child…

Still seething over my inability to pick my own produce and not burning off those ice cream calories, unlike my defiance of the definite impending thunderstorms that never happened, I succumbed to G-d’s advice – sometimes you just need to not have a plan and just go with what I’ve given you…LIFE

Enough is enough…time to set that boundary…

And then a neighbor came over this afternoon to give me some strawberries in exchange for some old dishes…

“Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me”

Strawberry Fields – The Beatles

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Returning to the scene of the crime

Twenty-nine years ago this summer, the hubby and I went to the Berlin Farmers Market in West Berlin, New Jersey to buy our first dressers together as a couple. We met in January 1989, four months into his third year of law school as I was getting ready to work on my Master of Art in Anthropology at the New School for Social Research beginning that fall. Two weeks into the relationship I suggested we become roomies, a proposal the hubby probably would have ran from in a heartbeat if he hadn’t been so concerned about my feelings.

Needless to say, he took me up on my offer, and we spent the summer searching for an affordable apartment somewhere within the Five Boros, ultimately finding one in the Ditmars neighborhood of Astoria, Queens not far from the park along the East River. Now knowing how much room we had to fill, the rest of the summer was spent looking for some good, cheap furniture, hence our discovery of the Berlin Farmers Market. Procuring a 19th-century chest of drawers made with wooden joints and a 1940s highboy for a whopping total of $90.00, my father assisted us with the use of his pickup truck and some muscle and stored the dressers in his garage until the big move. My father also took it upon himself to refinish the older dresser, making it appear as if brand new. Boy, I miss his many talents…

As the beginning of the school year approached, the hubby and I packed up our meager belongings, shoved them into a rented U-Haul and made the three-hour trip north to what would be the first of seven homes we would create together over the next thirty years. Upon our arrival to the apartment building, the hubby and I eagerly slipped the entrance key into the keyhole and made our way up the flight of stairs to B3, our new digs on the second floor. That’s when we looked at one another and realized we would have to lug the entire contents of the moving truck parked half a block away out of the truck, up the street, up the stairs, through the lobby, up another flight of stairs and down the long hallway leading to the apartment…including the 19th-century chest of drawers made with wooden joints and a 1940s highboy dresser…that we later discovered were barely big enough to house all our clothing because there were only two closets, one of which was in the hallway and only a foot deep and the other the size of a small linen closet located in the living room.

Plugging in the recently purchased telephone that would be our first of many, we discovered that our service had not been hooked up as promised. Remember, this is 1989, what would be the end of the dark ages for telephone users in America. Cordless phones weren’t even a thing yet, let alone cellular, so the hubby spent the entire day going back and forth to the payphone on the corner at the end of the street calling the phone company questioning our lack of service. Remember when there was only one actual phone company…can you imagine?! Returning one final time, the hubby informed me that I had to pretend to be eight-months pregnant. Out of desperation, he had told the customer service rep that he absolutely, positively had to have phone service immediately because his wife was on the verge of giving birth. So the bed pillow went under my shirt and I laid in bed like the dutiful wife I am…and it worked – the phone guy showed up minutes later and service was restored.

Fast forwarding twenty-nine years, the 19th-century chest of drawers made with wooden joints and a 1940s highboy dresser long ago forgotten somewhere in New Jersey, I just so happened to come across an advertisement online about the Berlin Farmers Market and managed to convince the hubby to go with me last Sunday. It was pretty much the way we remembered and questioned whether or not we were permitted to be there based on our lack of the apparently required amount of tattoos. We joked about the sheitel (wig) store and the floppy alien standing guard. I took note of the bodhisattva proudly declaring her support of the MeToo Movement next to the holy family warding off any further solicitation of wise men. There was the creepy display reminding us of House on the Rock and the gun store where a young boy was buying his first weapon. I had to double-take the Perfect Jew(elry) Exit sign, as well as the locksmith who also just so happens to make keys, the rock-a-bye baby, my portrait of a sleeping husband and a tiny bath bowl.

Having had our fun, we mutually agreed it was time to move along, my purchase of a cute garden accessory in hand, marked down from $7.99 to $3.99 and sold to me for $2.00 because I paid cash. All in all, we were entertained for the afternoon, but no furniture was purchased on this trip – that can wait until our eighth and final home…

“Dallas, got a soft machine; Houston, too close to New Orleans,
New York’s got the ways and means; but just won’t let you be, oh no.”

Truckin’ – Grateful Dead

 

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Stopping to smell the roses

“All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.”

Henry Miller

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Today was the first time in a very long time that I spontaneously headed downstairs into the garage, hopped on Ole Bessie, walked out onto the driveway and had no idea where I was going –  no premeditated plan, no GPS, no Google Maps or MayMyRide…just a small bag of trail mix, my debit card and ID and two containers of water. Today I was going to stop and smell the roses…

Not wanting to climb any mountains, I knew which roads to start with to avoid any unnecessary exertion at the end of my ride – let’s go through Maple Shade…no brainer – down the hill on 537 and left on New Albany Road…one of the most dreadful overpass, steady long inclines in Burlington County coming the opposite direction.

First stop – chicken wire sculptures – how have I never noticed this before?!

It’s been a long time since I took New Albany Road to the end…and remembered why when I hit the dreaded Route 130…

Highway

Somehow managing to cross over the highway of hell, I continued on until reaching River Road – another road that fellow cyclists seem to enjoy yet produces significant anxiety for me deep within my soul.

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With the fear of giant sneaker-clad ghosts out for a stroll on the highway along the Delaware River haunting me, I pedaled as quickly as possible through Cinnaminson until the “bike lane” allowed enough room for me to not fear imminent death.

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A turtle crossing sign made up of recycled roof singles – okay, if the turtles don’t have a chance in hell, what of me?!

Safely making it into Riverton, I checked out the shops promoting painting lessons, dining with yoga and old-time hardware. As I came to a red traffic light at the intersection of River Road and Main Street where I normally turn left, I decided to check Google Maps to see what would happen if I turned right.

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I stopped briefly at a beautiful 19th-century church where I met a little boy walking his bulldog named Ruby. The boy’s father then appeared on his bike after a nice morning ride and the three of us chatted for a few minutes – until someone slammed the church door shut…loudly…we got the hint.

Main Street ends at Bank Avenue, home to the Riverton Yacht Club, one of the oldest steamboat landings in America.

https://jerseydigs.com/riverton-new-jersey-on-delaware-river-easy-to-visit-by-train/

A mere seven blocks long, Bank Avenue is lined with gorgeous 19th-century mansions, one of which is the 1851 Riverbank Manor or the Caleb Clothier House, reportedly a stop on the Underground Railroad. By the way, it’s currently up for sale if anyone’s interested…

Coming to the end of Bank Avenue, I turned left toward River Road in order to get back onto Main Street and head home. This time I decided to stop at an old abandoned house I’ve ridden by a few times.

The sign says it’s the Cinnaminson Home established in 1880, but I can’t find any information whatsoever about this place. Oddly attached to this 19th-century farmhouse is a long brick building resembling a a school or apartment complex – curiouser and curiouser…

Ready to finish my ride, I was pleased to find that Hello Kitty lives a little over a mile from my house…

 

“Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothing I would rather do”

Highway to Hell – AC/DC

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Lockin’ it up

June 10, 2018 – Bridge to the Beach Bike-a-thon

Checking the forecast throughout the week, I was repeatedly forewarned on a daily basis that it was not only going to rain all day long, I should also expect severe thunderstorms…

Great…

Was this some kind of metaphor? For nearly three years I’ve been riding for and writing about my brother Michael and his battle with cancer. How apropo…

A year ago this week, I was bombarded by a nasty respiratory infection (no thanks to the hubby) that I, in turn, gave to the kid days before her high school graduation. I still can’t believe I managed to ride 54 miles that day, deathly ill with the possibility of an SVT attack in 90-degree weather. I also cannot believe that the kid is already a full year out of school and is now an Israeli citizen.

All in all, I allowed my OCD to take over this year, thereby ensuring I would not, under any circumstance, become ill in any way, shape or form…and it worked in my favor. Although the kid was battling a nasty respiratory infection over in Israel (just in time for college finals), the hubby and I were clean as whistles, which are not actually clean with all that spit, are they? It’s like “sweating like a pig” – FYI pigs don’t sweat…

I also took Ole Bessie to the shop for a pre-ride check up last month and had to wait almost two weeks to get her back thanks to cycling being in season and everyone and anyone deciding to bring in their bikes the same week. Needless to say, despite paying for an intense cleaning and requesting small quirks be eliminated as much as possible, Bessie was not fixed properly and I had to return her three days before the ride. Admitting their error, I waited for Bessie while chatting with my buddy Jeremy who told me about a couple of very cool miniature golf courses in the area and gave me the name of a guy who just might take those 78s we inherited from my father-in-law and have been piled in the garage for over a year. All in all it was a productive visit – bike fixed for the cancer ride, mini-golf addiction fed for the summer and possibly gaining three extra feet of storage space in my garage for the year…

Before I knew it, the day was here. Although I had done it last year, I still found myself nervous, struggling to catch my breath as I swung my right leg over Bessie’s saddle. Maybe it was because I decided to challenge myself a bit more this year and rode from my house to the first rest stop for cyclists leaving from Philadelphia – a mere six extra miles. Or maybe it was the impending thunderstorms the Weather Channel adamantly insisted would happen today. Or maybe it was the change in directions to the second rest stop that were unfamiliar to me, despite printing the directions out again and remembering how I missed a turn last year, almost missing the whole ride.

But I was prepared – I was wearing my new pair of Shebeest capris with the cushiony chamoise that had proven effective. I  had my new iPhone 7 (see below), fully charged portable charger and fully charged new micro bluetooth speaker to play my fully charged iPod, two containers of water, a bike kit, two extra inner tubes, a bike pump, ID, debit card, cash, snacks, lip balm, hand sanitizer, wipes, eye drops and reading glasses – yet, I was still scared…

Last year the temperatures were into the 90s by 6:00AM, but this year I actually needed a light jacket as I rolled out of the driveway at 5:45AM.

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The first six miles were a piece of cake…

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Eagerly lingering at the rest stop and trying to be a law-abiding adult as the volunteer with the megaphone updated us on how many minutes we had left, declaring we had three minutes left two minutes after telling us we had two minutes left, I took off five minutes before the starting time…I think…and I wasn’t taking my phone out again for fear of dropping it after shattering the screen when it fell from the new phone holder five times on my last ride before the cancer ride that cost me $150 plus to fix so I would have a GPS and a cry for help safety net for the 61 miles I planned on riding. (BTW, Target graciously allowed me to return said holder sans packaging but with receipt in hand…and I had to explain to the customer service rep how to complete this transaction – my Target addiction is a whole other blog…)

Asking what time it was from the gentleman behind me riding for Lockheed Martin who was also complaining about megaphone woman’s issues with math, I pretty much started the same time as last year – 6:40AM. Although this year it was only in the 60s, I stripped off the jacket after sweating buckets thanks to my relentless menopausal hot flashes that never seem to take a break…

Not missing any turns this time, finding the new path actually more direct and easier than last year, I quickly arrived at my first rest stop.

Parking Ole Bessie under an old faded sign allowing me to “park anytime,” I battled with my anxiety over whether or not I should lock her up as I watched absolutely no one with bicycles much more expensive than mine not locking up theirs. I managed to escape long enough to stock up on the traditional carbs and salt while checking on Bessie to squelch my ridiculous fears of thievery. Allowing The Bully to take over and forcing me to move my bike closer to where I was hanging out, I made friends with a very friendly local police officer who was biding his time by using his radar gun on incoming cyclists and telling them their speed.

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As the Philadelphia crowd arrived at the rest stop, I remembered Jeremy-at-the-bike-shop’s words last year, “Don’t stop at the first rest stop – too many people stop there and wear out their welcome.” Apologies to my Philly friends…

As I made my way to the third rest stop, I thought about why I allowed The Bully to take over my thoughts about having my bike stolen. It wasn’t about the price of it – I could always buy a new one, right? I’ve invested a lot of time and money into Bessie to make us fit just right and have ridden many miles with her. To me she is a priceless creation. After complaining about my saddle being torn from use, bike shop Jeremy advised me to suck it up and buy some duct tape, “Once your ass and your saddle fit, you don’t wanna f**k with that symmetry.” Well, that about sums it up…

Reaching the second rest stop, I defied The Bully and leaned Ole Bessie against a tree next to the bike repair tent set up 20 feet away (at least someone would be keeping an eye out, or so I believed enough to abandon my bike) – so that I could make a B-line to the port-o-potties. Actually, my bladder pretty much wins against any bully, human or imagined.

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Stuffing my belly to the gills with watermelon and a snack bar wondering why I was eating so much despite not actually being hungry, I proceeded to the third rest stop and set Ole Bessie under a shady tree sure that she would be safe – f**k you Bully!

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Pretty much sensing my average MPH at this point, I texted the hubby as predetermined, knowing it would take me 1 1/2 hours to ride the remaining 18 miles to Atlantic City – the estimated time it would take him to drive the entire 61 miles. Long stretches of pine barrens later, I approached the fourth rest stop, grateful that the township had finally repaired their majorly potholed roads that nearly killed us last year. Now all I wanted was fluids with only seven more miles to go…

IMG_0435Thinking about all the losses my family has suffered over the past eight years, I felt the tears welling up here and there along the way, but as I rounded the bend off Franklin Boulevard onto the ramp leading to the Atlantic City Expressway, I felt the giddiness of a little school girl. It’s like having the red carpet rolled out before you – royalty for the whole world to stand by and applaud – and they always do. Passengers in vehicles rolling down their windows cheering us on, telling us, “You are awesome! You can do it! You got this! We’re so proud of you! Keep going, you’re almost there!” Although it was 20 degrees cooler than last year, that ass-kicking sea breeze off the Atlantic Ocean coupled with 57 miles of riding in the saddle made this the most difficult stretch of the ride.

And then it hit me…something I’d noticed last year but didn’t quite register – when you round that bend, everyone suddenly breaks off and rides the last 4 miles alone, even the teams. That’s what it’s all about – we have our cliques, our groups, our teams, our peeps, our families, our whatevers…but in the end, we are all alone…

Texting back and forth, the hubby and I managed to find each other in front of Boardwalk Hall amidst thousands of tourists, volunteers, onlookers, cyclists and local weirdos. Walking Ole Bessie into the garage to park her while I collected my participant tee shirt on the boardwalk, I made sure to lock her up this time, in spite of the posted signs throughout stating you needed to check with security (who didn’t exist) before you could leave with your bike (which anyone could’ve done) – it is Atlantic City after all…and absolutely no one with bicycles much more expensive than mine locked up theirs – that’s not The Bully, that’s just common sense.

I’d show you the pictures I took while riding the ACE and at the finish line, but I accidentally deleted them from my phone and Facebook…I’m a serial purger, what can I say…but that’s a whole other blog…

“When I want something,
I don’t want to pay for it
I walk right through the door”

Been Caught Stealing – Jane’s Addiction

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump