COVID19, you suck…חלק ראשון

March 3, 2020

Of course it’s raining! I feel like this trip is already cursed. Every time I looked on line, the planes to Israel kept filling up quicker than I could pull up Google Chrome. The month leading up to my plane ticket purchase found me anxiety-ridden, knowing I had already paid (in full) for an apartment in Jerusalem without bothering to make sure I could even get to Israel in the first place. (In hindsight, it never occurred to me that coronavirus might be the culprit in my inability to snag a couple of seats to the Motherland.) Daily, for over a month, I would go on El Al’s website and search for a plane leaving anywhere from the east coast to Tel Aviv. Miraculously, on January 12th, I managed to find two ridiculously reduced priced front-row premium class seats on a flight to Israel from Newark, New Jersey – holy s**t! As soon as I clicked on that “Purchase” box, I immediately said to myself, “You get what you pay for.” One week later, the first COVID19 case would be diagnosed in the United States.

So, in any other lifetime on any other day, saying, “You get what you pay for,” has become a standard motto in our household. From plumbers and electricians to hotels and car rentals, the hubby and I have been mostly happy with what we have gotten for what we paid, even if it means spending more than we should. This seems to be a 99% accurate motto, the other 1% reserved for airplane travel…

It all started with the  plane returning back from Tennessee in October 1996 that had to circle Philadelphia International Airport for over an hour for some “unknown” reason during the era of “suspicious packages” prior to 9/11 thanks to the Unabomber, and following a panic attack overcoming me when boarding the plane after the flight attendant found a small unlabeled, cardboard box in an overhead compartment to which no passenger could claim. I didn’t fly again until 2010…

Following the advice of a psychologist friend who specializes in fear of flying, I planned a trip to Milwaukee to see my brother and sister-in-law as a precursor to the very long flight I would be taking to Israel for the first time in 2011 in celebration of the kid’s bat mitzvah. This friend warned me that my anxiety would be at peak levels during this flight because of the short distance. He said it takes approximately 20 minutes for anxiety to cycle from start to finish. Looking at a 2 ½ hour flight, I would have at least a third of the flight in a state of pure anxiety. Lovely…but I was prepared…or so I thought…

The flight to and from Milwaukee came from the depths of hell, the hubby organizing the flight plans while the kid and I lived a Lord-of-the-Flies-existence at summer camp. Needless to say, we flew from Philadelphia to Chicago on a bus with wings – a very noisy bus with wings that rattled and shook for the entire 2 ½ hours it took to fly from Philadelphia to O’Hare International Airport. And then we had to switch to a commuter plane…

To this day, I’m amazed that I, let alone the hubby, survived that plane ride. We still mention that trip every time we plan to fly. A scheduled 45-minute flight took 10 minutes…WTF?! What the hell kind of winds were those?  Needless to say, the hubby hasn’t been allowed to make travel arrangements since 2010.

Then came that very long flight to Israel for the first time in 2011. Wanting to fly locally and wanting to spend as little cash as possible, we chose U.S. Airways out of Philadelphia…you get what you pay for…

It all started with the family sitting behind us – Mom, Dad and their two kids, Sissy and Bro, Bro absolutely refusing to sit in his own seat, opting to sit on mom’s lap instead, and the flight attendant repeatedly requesting the parents immediately put the child in his own seat with a fastened seat belt or the flight would be delayed. “Delayed” was not the word I wanted to here, sitting on the tarmac at the precise time the plane was scheduled to take off. The mother begged to hold her son, warning that the child would scream if he had to sit on his own. And this argument continued for 40 minutes, my anxiety about the flight nearly burning a hole in the roof of the cabin. Remember, this is only the second roundtrip flight I had taken in 15 years. I don’t know what came over me, and I seriously didn’t (and still don’t) care about the way I reacted (this is where the hubby and the kid facepalm). I unfastened my seatbelt, stood up, turned around and said, “For the love of G-d, put the f**cking kid in his seat and let him scream! At this point no one gives a s**t if he screams! Let’s just take the f**k off lady!” I do believe I received a standing ovation in the minds of those poor flight attendants, as well as the other 400+ passengers onboard. And that was before we even took off…

Two brothers, not older than 10-years-old, reclined their seats to their fullest capacity the entire 10+ hours flight, their heads completely visible to us as they literally slept in our laps while their parents, sitting in the row in front of the boys, not understanding why I complained about not having enough room. On the way back home, I had a man with the world’s largest hands sitting in front me, he seemingly only capable of sleeping with his hand hanging over the seat that was also reclined to its fullest extent, blocking my entire view of the t.v. screen. But the crème de la crème was the man sitting next to me…

After sitting down, my seat partner proceeded to take out a Jordanian newspaper. It wasn’t so much that he was reading a Jordanian newspaper, but more so a reaction to the situation in Israel at the time becoming increasingly tense with multiple terrorist attacks taking place in Jordanian controlled areas throughout the country, some happening while we were there. I will also admit that my knowledge of Israel and the conflict was in its infancy.

And then he took out a liter-sized bottle of water, which was completely banned on all flights to/from Israel after 9/11. My anxiety taking over (along with my inability to keep my mouth shut), I questioned my new friend about the bottled water, to which he proclaimed, “It’s “bullsh**t!”

Okaay…and then he took out a whole cooked chicken…

This is the point where the hubby and the kid usually tell me to just shut the hell up and mind my business. But then I wouldn’t be me, right?

Seeing my reaction (which I would give anything to see now) to his “carry-on luggage,” my new friend began to chuckle. He then proceeded to tell me the story of his life. See, this is what you get when you “talk too much” and have a degree in Anthropology.  I don’t recall the village from whence he came, but he grew up somewhere in the West Bank north of Jerusalem on the Jordanian border. He identified with being Jordanian and did not call himself a Palestinian but complained that Israel considered him a Palestinian and “treated him as such” whenever he crossed the border. He was proud of his Jordanian heritage and didn’t wish to be associated with being “Palestinian.” He then filled in the gaps about the whole cooked chicken while offering me raw cucumbers and tomatoes his relatives had grown in their backyard gardens. I learned how he migrated all by himself to the United States at the age of 16. How he ended up in Baltimore, Maryland and slowly found his way, completing his GED, graduating college, getting married and having children, ultimately finding himself owning several businesses and becoming “quite wealthy” in the process. In return, he flew back to Israel four times a year for a month at a time to assist his two maternal aunts, his female cousin and his sister, all of whom suffered from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease. Wow

Then there was the 2017 flight to be with the kid when she made aliyah – very last row in front of the toilets with the toothless dude on the aisle seat slurping and chewing ridiculously loud (yeah, I’m one of those people), then falling asleep for the entire flight. I had to keep reminding myself that we originally weren’t sitting together, and that the ticket supervisor managed to rearrange seating so that we could sit together…until the woman whose seat we booted started to complain about not sitting in her originally assigned seat. Oh, and, by the way, the very last row seats don’t recline. And, because we are who we are, we had the same seats coming back, another dude sitting in the aisle seat who slept the entire flight. And don’t forget about the woman sitting in front of me who kept reaching back to poke my knee, insisting I was constantly pushing her seat. Yeah…good times, good times.

Then there was 2018…

Despite scoring economy plus seats round trip, we quickly learned that every single person in economy likes to congregate and socialize in the two feet of extra leg room afforded to us for an additional  $110 per seat. I would later learn in 2019 that economy plus is also where the men like to daven (pray) – you get what you pay for…

However, I met a man named Ben, the passenger sitting on the wing side. The good thing about Ben is that he also “talks too much” and never sleeps on planes – the perfect partner. Ben was originally from New Jersey and moved to South Carolina. He was currently an Uber driver and loved his job, explaining to me how Uber drivers should behave (but don’t) and how passengers should behave (but don’t). Ben had been a cavalry scout in the United States Army. He later obtained his private aviator license and continues to fly planes as a hobby. He’s also a big gun aficionado and 100% supports the NRA and every American’s right to own a gun. Another hobby Ben actively participates in is Civil War reenactments, he opting to dress up in confederate garb. But the most interesting facet of Ben’s life was his return back to Judaism.

Ben was primarily raised by his mother after his parents divorced, his father disappearing from their lives. His mom was originally a Christian from Columbia and met Ben’s father after immigrating to the United States. She would later convert and get married to his father. Up until 2019, Ben had no idea where his father might be living, let alone if he was still alive. I don’t recall how Ben found his father, my memory telling me he discovered a half-brother on Facebook or possibly through a genealogy search. Either way, the father was now living in Tel Aviv and Ben now had an instant family, including several half-siblings.

Six months prior to our departure, we were all still recovering from the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting where eleven people were shot dead by a lone gunman. Ben disclosed that because of this event he found himself rediscovering his Judaism and was becoming more religious, a local Chabad guiding him through the process. Ben and I spent the entire flight talking about our lives, making the 10-hour flight seem like minutes, the only thing breaking up our conversations being the massive minyanim (prayer groups) taking place in front of our seats; that, and the cranky flight attendant who refused to give me any cream cheese for my bagel and told us to stop talking – you get what you pay for.

In April 2019 we managed to score a couple of premium class seats for a nominal fee, my aisle seat companion being a Polish man with dementia who only spoke Polish and some unknown form of Hebrew no one could understand. He spent most of the flight yelling at me for not understanding him or seemingly complaining about the flight attendants not understanding him either – you get what you pay for.

May 2019, travelling to Israel alone this time, I managed to upgrade to an economy plus seat. Of course, much to my “surprise,” the 10-year-old boy sitting next to me was an uncontrollable vomiter – you get what you pay for.

On the way back home, I won a lottery for premium class – woohoo! Not…the drunk man sitting behind me complained about me “talking too much” the entire flight – you get what you pay for.

So, here it is, March 3, 2020. Why should anything be any different?

Driving in the rain, in and of itself, is bad enough, but driving in the rain at night totally sucks.

Despite scoring my premium class seats two months prior, our plane had already been changed, albeit retaining our fabulous seats. Except for our 9:00PM flight, the airport was empty, us swiftly passing through TSA with absolutely no issues, all along me asking, “Am I missing something here?”

Not having eaten for most of the day, the hubby and I bought a couple of sandwiches and sat at a communal table next to a couple who were eating salads. Our table neighbors, Martha and Joel, are from Maryland and were flying to Israel to see their son, Danny, graduate from michve alon (a pre-army Hebrew language school). This was the only reason they were flying to Israel. We completely understood. We did the same thing a year ago to see our daughter graduate medic training. In talking, I discovered that Martha is also a lone soldier mom on what the hubby and I refer to as “the mommy site” on Facebook. While we talked, the hubby recognized a gentleman from our community also sitting at the table. We discovered that our neighbor’s son is not only in michve alon with Danny, but they also live on the same kibbutz. As we were getting ready to board, Martha introduced me to Michelle, whose daughter lives on the same kibbutz as the son of a mutual friend. An only-in-Israel-but-not-yet-in-Israel moment. There are no coincidences in life…

The plane was half empty with a number of people wearing surgical masks and latex gloves, me continuing to ask myself, “Am I missing something here?” And then a child in economy started screaming as the flight attendant closed the curtain to separate the cabins, the screaming child now barely audible – you get what you pay for.

The plane was 25 minutes late taking off, but the hubby and I didn’t care as we knocked back some bourbon and red wine at no extra cost. So far this flight might just be our best yet, the hubby letting me talk as much as needed to ease my anxiety.

Despite leaving 25 minutes late, our plane arrived one hour earlier than expected, but I’m not complaining.

And Ben Gurion was empty too…am I missing something here?

The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves it’s her hair that he touches
She asks “Are you cursed?” He says “I think that I’m cured”
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bull rushes

The Curse – Josh Ritter

COVID19, you suck…

A memo to all you assholes out there who are hoarding the entire supply of America’s toilet paper:

F**K YOU!

Two weeks ago, the hubby and I left for Israel to visit with the kid, who is currently serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. This trip was in the making for almost a year. The kid’s birthday was on Shushan Purim, so we thought it would be a blast to spend Purim and her birthday in Jerusalem. It was the first time we would be together on her birthday in three years. I even started shopping for costumes at the tail end of Halloween in anticipation of our celebration. Completely certain this trip was going to happen, I contacted the owner of the apartment we rented last April, making a deposit mid-November of 2019. We didn’t even have plane tickets yet, but I was determined to make this trip happen.

On January 12th, one week before the first case of COVID19 appeared in the United States, I finally bought our plane tickets. Less than three weeks later, the United States banned all foreign nationals who had traveled to China from entering the country. By the time we got on that plane, on March 3rd, over 47 countries had been affected by COVID19 and the list of banned foreign nationals was steadily growing, along with daily travel advisories for American tourists. At that point, most of the cases in the U.S. were on the west coast, leaving us east coast folks not too concerned. Seeing that Israel wasn’t anywhere near the top ten countries on the forbidden list, we breathed a sigh of relief and went ahead with our travel plans.

Needless to say, over our two-week “vacation,” we were bombarded by constant news about COVID19 and watched the list of countries affected increase on an hourly basis. Restrictions in Israel were appended almost daily, news anchors repeatedly assuring the Israeli population that there would be enough food and other essential supplies to last long enough to get through the pandemic. Walking the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, you would never know anything was going on. For the most part, people remained calm, some following the letter of the law, others thumbing their noses at the prime minister. All in all, I didn’t feel worried at all and couldn’t understand why the rest of the world was losing their minds.

And then we started hearing about all the crazy Americans, their appalling behavior disgusting us and the Israelis alike. We weren’t looking forward to returning to the United States as it was, let alone finding ourselves head first into what was perceived to be the next Zombie Apocalypse.

And then I started reading the memes on Facebook about toilet paper. Toilet paper? What’s this about toilet paper? And then I started reading all the complaints about the lack of toilet paper, accompanied by photographs of empty toilet paper shelves at the local supermarkets. Wait…WHAT?! Toilet paper?! Am I missing something here? Toilet paper?! Toilet paper was everywhere in Israel. Israelis weren’t freaking out over toilet paper. WTF is going on in America?! Toilet paper?!

By the time we got back to the United States on March 18th, over 160 countries had multiple cases of COVID19. Every single state in America had at least one case of COVID19 with over 16,000 diagnosed and over 200 deaths. Facing possible quarantine, the hubby decided to venture out to the supermarket to pick up some much-needed supplies the following morning. Due to jet lag, we both awoke at 3:00AM, the hubby already scheming the battle plan in his head. Having picked up some medication for me the night before, the hubby discovered the empty toilet paper shelves in every store was a reality. Really?! Toilet paper?! Then the hubby was advised by the pharmacist to arrive to the supermarket as early as possible because of the lines. Lines?! What lines?! There’s lines now?! Yup…there are lines now.

So, the hubby left at 6:30AM the next morning in order to wait on line for the store to open at 7:00AM. There were actually two lines, which were apparently alternated daily, the hubby, of course, not getting on the “right” line that day. The hubby calmly walked over to the paper products, picked up a package of toilet paper, just enough for the two of us to get through a possible two-week quarantine, paid for said toilet paper and left the store, returning home to brief me on his toilet paper excursion and relaying the appalling behavior we had heard about in Israel. By 7:13AM the toilet paper in the store was completely gone, the hubby describing a scene only comparable to The Walking Dead. By all accounts, I now believe the Zombie Apocalypse has begun…

Seriously, people – toilet paper?! WTF is wrong with y’all? So, to all you assholes out there who are hoarding the entire supply of America’s toilet paper:

F**K YOU!

Try thinking about the other 327,199,999 other Americans who might need a roll of toilet paper once in a while…assholes

And don’t get me started about the avocados…

It’s getting kinda lonely out here by myself
Food’s running low, there’s dust on the shelf
But at least I have the voices arguing in my head
Which is much better than being undead

Zombie Apocalypse – Kirby Krackle

 

Listen up!

I see no reason to keep silent about my enjoyment of the sound of my own voice as I work. Muriel Spark

I worked my way through college at the performing arts center located on campus. For the most part, I worked in the box office during the day taking ticket orders by telephone and keeping the place as organized as possible, slowly advancing to Assistant Box Office Manager before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology/sociology within a three-year period (bragging rights after graduating high school in three years as well). Cell phones (let alone smartphones) and the internet didn’t exist to waste my time. Nor did we have a computer (that didn’t arrive until after I graduated and hung on for a few more months). Everything was done by hand, so, needless to say, I always seemed to have something to do. Up until a few days before an event, most of my time was spent in solitude studying, with the occasional friend stopping by to say hello or asking to score free tickets on their way to class and/or another work-study student coming in after realizing they had hours to make up in order to get their tuition paid.

I enjoyed the solitude…most of the time. However, I preferred having someone at my side to chat up a storm. Throughout my three years in that box office, there was a steady stream of work-study students coming and going on a regular basis, all assuming it would be a cake job and loads of fun…until their first event. At least I had the radio to keep me company in between co-workers, a habit I still hold today to ward off the loneliness.

I don’t like empty silence (which is why I would’ve made a terrible outpatient therapist). One of the numerous secretaries at the performing arts center described me to a tee the day she met me.

Secretary: You’re that four-year-old kid standing in the middle of the room, stomping her feet and waving her fists, shouting, “Pay attention to me!”

Yeah, she pretty much nailed it. I was the youngest of five children, seventh on the list of priorities. By the time I had anything important to say, my three oldest siblings were out of the house, leaving me mostly alone to my own thoughts.

Very often I am told I talk too much. From my parents and siblings to distant relatives and close friends (and the occasional stranger), I am fully aware that everyone thinks I talk too much. For years and years, I allowed my feelings to be hurt by this one criticism. And ya know what? I don’t care anymore. I know I talk too much. It’s who I am and for as long as my voice can be heard, I will continue to talk too much. Get over it.

So, now for that radio habit…

Music has always been present in my house, regardless of where and with whom I lived (which includes living with a coke-addicted rock band in Arizona that never left the ground). Of course, as a child, and most definitely as a teenager, my eyes couldn’t have rolled higher when forced to listen to my parents’ choice of music on the car radio, especially on long road trips in the family station wagon. Now, as a middle-aged adult, I find myself listening (and actually enjoying) “the classics” of my parent’s generation – Perry Como (mom’s absolute favorite), Tony Bennett (my secret fantasy husband), Andy Williams (the King of Christmas) and Mel Torme (the Velvet Fog). My musical palate is much like my taste in wine – it’s all over the place. My godsend was when Alice Cooper finally admitted he liked the Bee Gees. If that Alice could like the Bee Gees, this Alice could like anything.

My radio is on (99% of the time to WXPN, the other 1% Pandora) from the time I open my eyes in the morning to the minute I go to bed at night, the only sound supplementing the silence being my sound machine of crickets chirping. Music has helped me through many a hard time in this life of mine. But now it serves a greater purpose – I suffer from chronic tinnitus…24/7, every second, every minute, every hour, every day of every week for over 25 years. Music pleasantly drowns out the incessant noise emanating from my brain. So nowadays, when the music isn’t playing, I talk too much to distract my ears from hearing my brain’s babel. Plus, I’m just a social creature. Deal with it.

On January 21, 1989, the hubby and I had our first date at the performing arts center where I had worked a year before, me then working at a drug rehab in Atlantic City. It was the Hartford Ballet. They sucked (sorry guys). Their stomping feet so loud above the orchestra and smoking backstage in between scenes just didn’t do it for us…but it’s a story we tell to this day, thirty years later…thank you Hartford Ballet!

I’ve met some famous people because I talk too much. But, of course, I don’t have pictures to prove it because there weren’t any smartphones hanging around in those days…you’ll just have to take my word for it (wink, wink)…

Gossip, gossip, we want gossip!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_ZwWwsqPtw

Arlo Guthrie is a beautiful human being. He performed at the PAC when his son, Abe (in his teens), first began touring with him, and Arlo made sure no one was getting anywhere near his kid. I actually had a picture taken of me with Arlo but the photo didn’t come out. Despite his refusal to sing Alice’s Restaurant, Arlo was very polite and a majorly decent human being. He later played the PAC again in the fall of 1987…and played Alice’s Restaurant…while I was studying in Ireland. However, me, the hubby, Kathy and her husband, Joe, went to see Arlo during the 50th Anniversary tour of Alice’s Restaurant. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the show…except Alice’s Restaurant. Dude, I totally get why you don’t wanna sing that song no mo’…

What can one say about Richie Havens? He is one of the most-humble human beings I’ve ever met. One of my closest friends at the time was a member of the Lenape tribe. He swore he was best buds with Richie since the Civil Rights Movement…and he wasn’t lying! Richie, you are so missed. A beautiful spirit.

When I heard that Judy Collins was coming to the PAC, I immediately called Kathy, who was a big fan. At that point, our tickets were free (wink, wink). I had arranged for Kathy to meet Judy in person (wink, wink). Prior to bringing Kathy backstage, I met with Judy to let her know how much my sister loved her and how much she wanted to meet her…and she was a total bitch. Not wanting to ruin the moment, I didn’t dare tell Kathy about my meeting with Judy (I apologize Kathy that you have to hear this now, thirty-five years later).

Unbeknownst to me, the hubby was in the audience when Miles Davis performed at the PAC. We had to create a private space for Miles because of his active recovery and chronic shyness. He only came out to perform. It was enough for both of us. One of the best jazz musicians of all time.

Marvin Hamlisch…I don’t really want to say anything else.

Pilobolus…I saw you practice naked…oy!

Sophomore year I told the school photographer that my name was Alice Cooper. She believed me…and my mother worked in the attendance office…too funny.

10th

I met Glen Buxton in 1984 at a party somewhere in Arizona…maybe the Phoenix area? Either way, he was seriously f***ed up and had no idea how he ended up at the party and ultimately passed out in a chair while I stared at him. Alice Cooper seems to be my legacy.

Okay, so I didn’t get to meet my fantasy husband, Tony Bennett, but I did meet his son at the Bat Mitzvah of a friend of the kid’s because he was married to her aunt (not the kid’s, the friend’s). This was the year that we took the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon challenge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmn-amJ9UA4

So…

  • my daughter was friends with
  • the daughter
  • of a woman
  • whose sister was married to
  • Danny Bennett, the son of Tony Bennett,
  • who met at the Spirit of Independence honoring Clint Eastwood in 2007.

Oorah!

I said you talk about this, and you talk about that
When the cat took your tongue, I say you took it right back

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EheLN-MDzrA

 

F you

Warning: I apologize ahead of time for cussin’ like a sailor (no offense to all you naval peeps out there – respect). I’m a little grumpy today…

Coming home from grocery shopping, I was stopped at a red light preparing to turn left and decided to send a quick text to the hubby letting him know what I was making for dinner. When I looked up to check the light, I was startled by a person on a bicycle staring at me through the passenger side window. This person was visibly upset and seemed to be yelling at me, repeatedly looking underneath my car and continuing to berate me with words I couldn’t hear over the traffic or the rain. It finally dawned on me that my car was on top of the crosswalk, which wasn’t actually at the corners of the traffic light, leaving me completely unaware that I was parked on top of it. The cyclist walked around the back of my car and continued to yell at me through the driver side window, me finally capable of making out some of what this person was upset about. Apparently, it wasn’t at all cool that I was on top of the crosswalk because this person couldn’t just ride their bicycle straight across and remain within the lines of the crosswalk. Not wishing to interact, let alone having the energy to argue with a complete stranger who was observably not in their right mind and thought way more concrete than I was capable of at that moment, I simply chose to ignore them and turned when the light changed to green, watching as the cyclist pointed fingers and attempted to take my license plate down.

So, here’s what I would have said to this person if I truly had wanted to bother…

  • Angrily berating another human being in the middle of a busy intersection, let alone in the pouring rain and wearing a cycling outfit entirely made of black is not only 100% foolish, it’s downright dangerous. Someone could have run you over because they couldn’t see you as you were crawling underneath my car.
  • I could have been that person who ran you over because I didn’t know you were crawling underneath my car.
  • Yelling at other human beings, regardless of how you’re feeling today, is just not nice.
  • I could have had a gun and shot your face off because I didn’t like what it was saying to me.
  • I did have pepper spray in my pocket and was actually getting ready to launch if the light had not turned green.
  • I, too, am a cyclist and fully aware of the rules and laws of the road. Not only were you illegally riding your bicycle on the sidewalk, you were riding your bike against traffic, in the rain – foolish and dangerous, once again.
  • You would have been a lot less saturated by the rain if you had just kept going and not stopped for at least five minutes to berate me about my faux pas.
  • Go ahead, take down my license plate – see who gives a shit.
  • FYI, the cops don’t give a shit, that’s who.
  • Fuck you…

So, it’s not working out, this whole cycling thing. I see people riding in 20-degree weather or, like today, in the pouring rain. Fuck you. You make me feel bad about myself and I don’t like that you do this to me. Of course, it’s not your fault. I’m just grumpy today and wish I had the stamina and/or motivation that I had prior to 2019. I’ve started at least a handful of times since January 1st to train for the Bike-a-thon Bridge to the Beach ride scheduled for June and have failed miserably. I just don’t want to do it and couldn’t understand why…until I talked it over with the hubby.

What came out of our conversation was that I didn’t want to ride to raise funds anymore. I already knew from the get-go that I didn’t want to race for any reason whatsoever. Deep down inside, I realized that my motivation to ride had become selfish – simply ride for the pleasure of riding. I want to join a group of other people who feel the same way – find a beautiful place and just ride recreationally and look at the beauty that surrounds us. I also discovered that they exist and was determined to find the right fit…until Kathy sent me an email…

There’s this thing called the Great Cycle Challenge – a cycling challenge to raise funds for kids with cancer. As sick as it sounds, cancer is so very near and dear to my heart. For over 20 years I’ve been forestalling my own personal battle with pre-cancer, thank G-d successfully. My Irish twin battled cancer and won. My nephew-in-law also beat his cancer into submission. Several of my closest friends have cancer and struggle every day to keep it at bay. My brother, Michael, fought cancer and lost. The idea of children suffering what I witnessed adults go through just kills me.

So, when Kathy sent me that email, I found myself motivated once again to raise funds and challenge myself at the same time while taking in the beauty of the world at my own pace.

There are no coincidences in life.

So, here we go again…and fuck you…I’m still a little grumpy…sorry…

I apologize again for cussin’…

P.S. Rea (despite how you feel about yourself today) and Judy (you rock), you two are my inspiration today…

Look inside
Look inside your tiny mind
Now look a bit harder
‘Cause we’re so uninspired
So sick and tired of all the hatred you harbor

F You – Lily Allen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8VZX4sHn-4

Moo!

Warning: I tend to be overly friendly. Part genetics and part upbringing, I learned the true meaning of random acts of kindness from my dad. Don’t ever go shopping with me if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. Always expect that moment in the store when I stop to chat with complete and total strangers. And, (G-d forbid) I should run into someone I know, don’t expect to be home on time for dinner.

The majority of the people I tend to strike up a conversation with seem to be senior citizens. I think it comes from the last few years I spent with mom and dad, taking them on their weekly grocery shopping trips once dad was completely incapable of driving. Dad always socialized at the store. For many senior citizens, it might be the only time in their day, week or even the month, where they get to be out and about among other fellow humans. Some only want a hello. Others may need a little more than that. I don’t mind either way – I’ve got time to listen.

So, shopping at the local Wegman’s a couple of weeks ago, I was perusing the bulk aisle in search of macadamia nuts for the monthly brownie recipe the Food Network magazine had convinced me to make for the month of January – Snowy Day Coconut Brownies. As I weighed my macadamia nuts, an apparently unconscious sigh broke the silence.

Joe: You’re way too young to be making that sound!

Me: You’d be surprised…

Joe looked like a man who should be the one sighing, but he was smiling instead. Then Joe asked me a question that I absolutely hate being asked, let alone answer…

Joe: How old do you think I am?

Ugh…either way, you’re wrong. If you say they’re way younger than they are just to be polite, you’re insulting their intelligence. If you guess way over, you’re just plain ignorant (or under the age of 30). So, swallowing an insult to injury along with my ignorance, I guessed Joe was about 75 and, of course, I was wrong. Joe is 90-years-old. Honestly, he didn’t look a day over 80 and actually did look like he could be in his 70s. Joe proceeded to listen to my sighing justification as a result of many personal tribulations over a short period of time, I, in turn, hearing about the deaths of everyone in his life as a result of living as long as he has.

Somehow, we steered ourselves onto a conversation about smoking. I told Joe how I had quit smoking over 25 years ago and subsequently developed a rare neurological condition. Joe then told me how he had only quit 10 years ago at the age of 80 and only because he was having open heart surgery. According to Joe, his doctor warned him of the need to stop smoking two weeks prior to surgery in order to be anesthetized properly without ramifications. Joe claimed he quit “just like that” without any kind of physical or mental support. And after the surgery he figured he hadn’t smoked for at least a month so why go back…and that was that. I praised Joe for this incredible feat, and blessed him for making it this far in life still looking like he was 75…

Asking Joe about his heart condition now, he said he never felt better, despite feeling all of his 90 years at this point regardless of how he looked. He told me how the doctor had to replace one of his heart valves with a cow’s heart valve because of severe aortic stenosis, something I had never heard of before.

Joe: Yeah, now whenever I go to the doctor for an examination, he takes out his tongue depressor and tells me to open up and say, “Moo!”

“Put them out, out to pasture, beneath the olive trees.
That line the hillsides of a distant gracefulness.
So they might feed and flourish in abundance.
And you and I may live.”

 Cows of Gladness – Seals and Croft

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVqQYKPXuvY

2019…in a nutshell

December 31, 2019

It’s New Year’s Eve. I want to watch When Harry met Sally and not pay for it, but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen tonight. Feeling slightly nostalgic, I wanted to watch it because it came out shortly after New Year’s Eve 1988, thirty years ago, a month after the hubby and I started dating. Not having free access to the movie and the hubby being asleep since 8:21PM, my New Year’s nostalgia bubble has quickly burst. Looks like I’ll be the only one in the house up at midnight again this year. Even after the kid fought tooth and nail to stay awake for New Year’s Eve her first time back in 2010, she passed out on the family room floor at exactly 11:45PM, the hubby snoring faintly by her side.

At this point I’ve settled on The ‘Burbs (which I own, of course). For those of you who don’t know the movie, it’s a film directed by Joe Dante during the writers’ strike of 1988. Although there was a script written for the movie and the writer of the script appeared in the film, he was not allowed to contribute any ideas while on set, so most of the scenes were completely improvised by the actors. In a nutshell, the story revolves around the Klopeks, a strange foreign family who have moved into a typical suburban neighborhood located somewhere in middle America, and how their neighbors respond to them. All kinds of theories involving the Klopeks abound after an older neighbor has gone missing without a trace, from which the entire movie is focused.

Since birth, I’ve lived in the ‘burbs, except for a brief stay in Astoria, Queens when the hubby was in law school, our neighbor across the hall being the Egyptian taxi driver who fashioned a hookah out of car parts and smoked the finest Turkish tobacco only money could buy the equivalent to the best cocaine on the planet. At the time we lived in Astoria, our apartment was located in the primarily Greek Ditmars/Steinway neighborhood, a large portion of our neighbors being widows who spoke little English. We knew they were widows because it was explained to us that after their husbands died, they would only wear black clothing. We lovingly referred to the old widow who lived in apartment A1 on the first floor as “The Mayor.” She knew everyone in the building and everything about them, regardless of whether or not you personally spoke to her. Once The Mayor knew who you were, your business was everyone’s business by the end of the day you moved into the building. During the warmer months, the widows spent their days sitting outside in chairs brought from their kitchens, no doubt gossiping about the neighbors. I wouldn’t know because they only spoke Greek, which we sadly never learned to speak the entire 2 ½ years we lived there. I also assumed they were gossiping because numerous times we were confronted by a member of the widow gang who would ask questions they could only ask if they knew personal information about us. I will admit, after a while it didn’t bother us having our laundry aired out in this small slice of gyro heaven. Having lost all of our grandmothers years before, it was kinda nice having so many built-in bubbies who actually did care about and watch over us.

One of the things I loved about that neighborhood in Astoria was its diversity. Aside from the widow gang, our building was filled with four stories of mixed nuts, each floor containing six apartments full of life. Living on the second floor, there was Muhammad, the Egyptian taxi driver who lived across the hall. Muhammad had moved to the United States with his wife some years before, wanting a better life for his family. Despite having an engineering degree obtained in Egypt, Muhammad could not find work, his credentials seemingly useless in America, forcing him to start driving a taxi, making chump change on the side repairing cars for friends and neighbors. Eventually, his wife would give up and return to Egypt with their two small children, leaving Muhammad alone, he questioning us as to the protocol for hiring a live-in woman who could cook and clean for him. Next door to Muhammad was the young male graduate student who loved arguing creation versus evolution with the Jehovah Witnesses, groups of two or three adults and children somehow finding their way into the building every Sunday afternoon and who we ultimately discovered were getting into the building via our neighbor upstairs we affectionately  referred to as “the prostitute,” thanks to her stiletto stomp on the wood floors above us at all hours of the day and night. Next door to us was the Saudi couple we could hear shouting over the telephone on a nightly basis as they spoke to their families back home during the first Iraq war, Operation Desert Shield. In the 2 ½ years we lived in our apartment, I never once met the wife, nor had anyone else. However, the husband was very friendly and conversed with us often. The occupants of the other two apartments remains unclear to us. I’m not sure if we ever met them or just simply forgot who they were, their life stories not being indelible enough for us to recall.

The other thing I loved about that neighborhood was its relative safety. I never felt scared walking the streets alone, regardless of the time, day or night. We rarely heard of any criminal activity, mostly thanks to the Catholic high school across the street keeping us out of harm’s way. And we never heard of or saw any kind of neighborhood strife thanks to the increasing diversity of the community. Despite being a part of New York City, it still felt like the ‘burbs to us…until the day we moved out.

At the end of June 1991, upon graduation from law school, we hired Israeli movers to pack up and move us back to New Jersey where the hubby would begin his lifelong career as a legal aid attorney. We knew the day wasn’t going to be one of our best when the movers showed up four hours late, announcing that they were going to breakfast. Reluctantly sending them to the Pakistani-owned market on the corner where we had shopped for 2 ½ years without incident, our Israeli friends abruptly returned, relaying their story of the Middle Eastern conflict having just taken place at the corner market. I quickly went down to the market to demand an explanation from the man whom I visited almost daily to buy a cup of coffee on my way to work, but he refused to speak to me and looked past me as if invisible. That’s when I went back home and brought my friends to the Greek market around the block. While out, there was a shooting at the Catholic school across the street…and then we discovered that all the moving boxes were labeled in Hebrew…after the movers were already gone. Vowing to never live in the city again, we moved ourselves back to the ‘burbs, where we believed it was going to be a lot safer.

Returning to the pinelands where we first met while attending college, the hubby and I moved between several different apartment complexes in search of the perfect location. Of course, as our luck would have it, each residence brought with it those interesting characters we just couldn’t avoid. In our first apartment, there was Ingrid, the single mom living below us who drank herself into oblivion on a daily basis while listening to music that bellowed throughout the entire complex, oftentimes leaving her 10-year-old daughter to fend for herself on the weekends she wasn’t visiting daddy. Ingrid literally howled when having sex with whatever man she brought home on the weekends her daughter was absent. Whether it was the loud stereo, the neglect of her child and/or enraptured squeals, calling the cops was a fruitless effort. It seemed the entire local police force was either a relative of Ingrid’s and/or a sexual partner. There was no getting around it.

At our second apartment, a gang of kids hung out with baseball bats in the parking lot on a nightly basis, leaving us hostages in our own home. There was also the “family” across the landing who seemed to grow in number, despite the legal maximum capacity never enforced by the management. And then I discovered that a client was living in the building next door.

We weren’t in our third apartment long enough to even meet a neighbor, the hubby and I breaking the lease after discovering the bedroom flooded every time it rained. Having one of my clients, a budding child arsonist and his adoptive father, moving into the complex also definitely rushed the process.

Ultimately landing in a house for rent, we had moved four times in as many years, each home being within a five-mile radius. Unbeknownst to us, the owner decided to secretly divorce her husband and offered to sell the house to us, wanting to pocket the money that was rightfully hers before escaping with her son and leaving her abusive spouse. We were thrilled to finally be “home.”

It wasn’t just the ‘burbs, it was the boonies…and we loved it. It was a small ranch house situated on a cul-de-sac filled with a mélange of families. We had the Burnes family, a blended family of four. The wife, Patty, had a daughter name Caroline from a previous relationship, the father having died in an automobile accident shortly after Caroline’s birth. Patty later married Bill, with whom she had given birth to Robert, a boy who would become the kid’s very first true best friend. Sandwiched between us and the Burnes’s was Mr. John, a widower whose wife had passed from cancer several years earlier and was now remarried to his wife’s best friend Georgia. Mr. John was another transplant evacuee from the city of Brooklyn, also looking for the safety of the ‘burbs. Mr. John insisted on doing everything himself, refusing to hire anyone to repair anything or to work around his home, his penultimate moment being the night he got stuck on the roof of his house in an attempt to clean his gutters, Bill coming to his rescue with a ladder.

When the kid turned 2-years-old I decided to quit working in order to stay home. The measly salary I was making was basically paying for childcare, so there really was no point in me working, plus we had finally paid off the hubby’s student loans. Of course, the upside to being a stay-at-home mom is being a part of your child’s development, something you never get back once missed. But the biggest downside to being a stay-at-home mom is having too much time on your hands while your child is sleeping. This is when my imagination takes over and fills in the blanks of the neighbors I don’t really know. Kathy, the single mom lawyer who lived next door seemed normal enough, but she decided to sell her house and downsize upon empty nesting. When the new owner, Sharon, moved in, I was convinced that she was a prostitute because she only went out at night, only to learn that she was a recently divorced single mom working in the local casinos in order to support her teenage son.  Before I knew Georgia, I also believed that she was a prostitute who made house calls because she only came over to Mr. John’s at night. There was another Sharon, who I insisted was some kind of drug addict and/or dealer because she rarely left the house, had two defunct cars in the driveway and had various unknown visitors throughout the day. I would later find that she was also a single mom whose joint pain prevented her from moving around, hence not leaving the house. And, so it went, from house to house, my brain inventing scenarios that never really existed. All in all, despite my creativity and some unleashed crazy neighborhood dogs, I never felt unsafe. I walked daily for miles within the community, alone or with the kid, without a care in the world.

Our second purchased home was also on a cul-de-sac the neighbors lovingly called “The United Nations” due to its diverse inhabitants. To one side of us were the Franks, a typical southern New Jersey Italian-American nuclear family of four – mom, dad, brother and sister. Next to them was the Andersons, empty nesters with two beautiful but dimwitted Samoyeds and who ultimately decided to move because of the shenanigans of their neighbor, Mrs. Chang. Mrs. Chang was a single Chinese woman who, not unlike Mr. John, insisted on doing everything without the help of others and was often seen climbing around on her roof, her piece de resistance trying to pull a tree out of her front yard with a tiny Toyota Corolla, ultimately ripping off its bumper. Some years later, she would be found in bed by her sons on Christmas Day, two days after dying of natural causes. The Andersons sure felt like shit wanting to move after that day. There were the Filipino grandparents on one corner and the French widow on the other. Jack the Filipino was a jack of all trades and drove a jitney in Atlantic City for a little extra cash in his retirement, his son and grandchildren also living in the home. Jack would later die unexpectedly from a stroke while driving with his wife on the highway. Renee, the French widow who chain smoked, rarely came outside, especially after some car randomly plowed through the front room of her house years before. Renee’s next-door neighbor was the Wu family, a typical Chinese-American nuclear family of four – mom, dad, brother and sister. Mr. Wu would later die from cancer. In between the Wu home and ours was another Sharon who lived with her elderly mother. Sharon and I never got along, basically because she was an outright bitch. She didn’t get along with anyone else either, so I didn’t feel singled out. It wasn’t until the Andersons moved out and the new inhabitants moved in that my imagination took over once again…

I just knew they were mafia or, at the very least, some kind of gypsies (thanks to My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding series that I was obsessed with watching at the time). Despite the parents’ claim to being involved in some kind of real estate business, doubt was immediately cast when the former owner, Mrs. Anderson, who was a long-time realtor in town, claimed she’d never heard of them and couldn’t find them anywhere in any listings. On any given day, a family member could be seen chasing their pedigree terrier dog and/or the baby sister out of the cul-de-sac, sometimes having to make the choice between the two after both sprinted in opposite directions. The dog pretty much always won that bet, the mother reminding us of how much she paid for the dog. Besides, at some point the baby would plotz and just come home, the dog, on the other hand, running as fast and as far as it possibly could in seeking refuge. But my breaking point was the day I saw the father dressed in a white suit, running from his house carrying a violin case…

And then there was the murder of Gerardina Garcia, a neighbor around the corner. I remember it was on Shabbat in the middle of the day when I, the hubby and the kid were all taking an afternoon nap. As I slowly awakened to the faint sound of a nail gun compressor followed by the crack of a nail hitting shingle at the neighbor’s house replacing their roof, a sudden louder blast repeatedly interrupted the sequence. I immediately jumped to my feet, checked on the hubby and the kid and ran out the front door looking for the source of the blast. Unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Garcia had just been shot in her SUV, her 8-year-old son in the back seat watching every moment.

https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/homepage/20091019_5_killingshaunt_Egg_Harbor_Twp__neighborhood.html

The final straw occurred the day we moved out of that second cul-de-sac house before leaving that house one last time. Another neighbor and her daughter had been found that morning, shot to death by the daughter’s jilted boyfriend. I thank G-d every day that our buyer didn’t back down on the deal. I was no longer feeling safe – it was time to go…

“I hate cul-de-sacs. There’s only one way out, and the people are kind of weird.”

Image result for garbage man i hate cul de sacs the burbs

Thankfully, we moved into a community that was (for the most part) safer, relatively free of death by shootings and not on a cul-de-sac. I wanted the busiest, most traveled street in town with the local hospital and fire and police departments within walking distance.

Of course, that didn’t stop my soap opera brain from fabricating the tales of our new neighbors: the Russian spies who “worked from home” and made Cirque de Soleil look like amateurs; the other Russians and/or gypsies who stole cars, refinished them and sold them to Chinese mobsters; the drug dealer across the street who snuck out at night with a duffle bag and had numerous visitors throughout the day; and the paranoid two-time Iraq war vet who convinced me the government dropped camera probes into my sewer system. To this day, the hubby and the kid tease me about my fantasies…however, they still can’t prove that I’m wrong…I wonder what the neighbors say about us?

Since the age of five, when Kathy taught me how to ride that little red Schwinn bike, I had always owned a bike, until 1984, having sold my last bike back in Arizona in order to make some fast cash to buy a plane ticket home after becoming suddenly homeless. I didn’t buy another bicycle until 2003, when I moved into that second cul-de-sac home. Since then, I’ve spent many hours on my bike exploring the surrounding neighborhoods to see what’s what. Aside from the occasional loose dog, I’ve rarely been afraid to ride my bike alone – which is always. Many times, I’ve been asked how I can ride so freely without any protection or fear of something happening to me, to which I admit my need to believe that most people in the world are inherently good and decent people. Plus, I’m not an idiot – if it feels unsafe, I don’t stick around. However, as I’ve mentioned, those bike rides have been few and far between over the past year due to medical issues preventing me from riding, but I did manage to get in my scheduled 10-minute stationary bike ride at the gym earlier today.

There was something else I did today – I bought pepper spray at the local Target. Why did I buy pepper spray at the local Target on New Year’s Eve? The seed to that answer was planted way back when on that day in June 1991 – the day I was refused because of who I am. As if Pittsburgh and San Diego (and countless other incidents throughout the world over the past year) weren’t enough for me to fear the need for increased security in my house of worship, it was no longer about feeling unsafe – it was about the focus on a specific population of which I am a part. Sure, I have fallen guilty of judging others with my imaginative life stories, just like the neighbors in The ‘Burbs, but I never wanted to hurt, let alone kill, someone based on whatever beliefs I had about them – I am Ray Peterson.

Diversity has been one of the most important factors in every neighborhood within which I have lived. But, at some point outside my little universe, acceptance included everyone EXCEPT Jews – except me. I bought that pepper spray today because I am afraid. I’m afraid because I am a Jew. I’m afraid because there is a growing worldwide populace who hate me for who I am. They hate me because I’m a Jew. I no longer feel safe exploring my neighborhood alone. I have become a Klopek – a member of that strange foreign family who moved next door into your suburbia. On every single night of Hanukkah 2019, Jews were attacked in the New York Metropolitan Area. Jewish men, teens and boys were punched in the head and viciously attacked while innocently walking down public streets during rush hour. Jewish women, teens and girls being smacked, punched and hit in the head while shopping with their babies, children and siblings in broad daylight. Israeli tourists being verbally and physically attacked and robbed on public trains, chosen because they were speaking Hebrew. I could be in the kosher deli up the street on any given day and gunned down or attend a holiday party and be stabbed with a machete simply for who I am – a Jew.

All this because we are Klopeks…

This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (ayy)
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)
Guns in my area (word, my area)

This is America – Childish Gambino

 

 

Forgetting to grieve…

I remember the day I decided to finally quit smoking for good. Well, not the exact day, but it was probably a New Year’s resolution or something of that sort. Actually, now that I think about it, it was New Year’s Day at some point in my late 20s. Memory tells me it was 1991…but my brain sucks and can’t remember anything for shit, so here goes…

It was the third time in my life since taking up this vile “habit” at the age of 15 that my New Year’s resolution was to quit, and this time I was determined to make it stick.

The first time I tried to quit, the hubby was still smoking. (FYI, quitting a drug when your partner is still using makes “breaking the habit” a thousand times more difficult, if not impossible.) So, naturally over the following months, after finding the hubby in various places with his new apartment building smoker buddies, including the Egyptian taxi driver across the hall who fashioned a hookah out of car parts and smoked the finest Turkish tobacco only money could buy the equivalent to the best cocaine on the planet, I found myself wanting to join in on the “pleasure” I was missing not being part of the smoking crowd.

The second time I tried to quit was about two months before the wedding of a mutual college friend the hubby and I shared. Once again, the hubby was still smoking. Watching as he and his new wedding smoker buddies convened their pleasure circle outside the reception tent, I could hear the laughter of possibly the best time ever a group of people could have at a wedding…outside the wedding reception. Ever notice how the people having more fun than you are the ones using when you’re not? It’s amazing how people who are stoned and/or drunk out of their minds can make standing around doing nothing look like the rave of the century. My exact thoughts at that moment while sitting at the table with a former college acquaintance suffering unmedicated schizophrenia and an unnatural affinity toward Irish women, along with a former college boyfriend who was sitting with his new bride?

Me: “F**k this!”

Storming out of the wedding tent, I marched up to the hubby, grabbed his pack of Marlboros, lit up like a Christmas tree and joined in on the fun. Yup…I was once again sucked down that never-ending smoker’s rabbit hole.

For the record, smoking is not a “habit” my friends – it’s an addiction. According to the American Addiction Centers in a November 25, 2019 article, “6 of the Hardest Drugs to Quit,” nicotine is the fifth most difficult addiction to break and the “number one cause of preventable death in America.” Even with this knowledge in mind by the end of 1991, my argument to myself was, “If the price of cigarettes goes to $2 a pack, I’m quitting!” And guess what happened by the end of that year?

So, fast forward to the third time I decided to quit – New Year’s Day 1992 (or thereabouts)…

This time it was going to happen. I was determined and did my research.

The first thing I read was that approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by mid-February…

Me: “Oh great! F**k! Okay, so now what?!”

Phantom article: “Set a different date later in the year to start said resolution.

Me: “Seriously?! That’s it?!

Phantom article: “Yup…”

I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the date, but I set May 1, 1992 as the day to start my New Year’s resolution.

The second thing I read about stopping an addiction had to do with what I attached to it. What purpose does the addiction serve me? What does this substance bring to my life that nothing else can? How does it make me feel? To this day, I don’t know how I came up with the idea to utilize grief therapy as a means of coping through withdrawal (although working in a drug rehab for three years probably taught me a thing or two), but it worked…along with a nicotine patch or two over a three-week period. Another friend told me about the healing power of sucking on licorice root, which I attempted and failed, later settling on organic panda black licorice chews instead.

All in all, through this process, I discovered that smoking went way back to elementary school, where, for some reason, I found the smoking crowd to be the coolest…and the most feared.

Ho…wait! I want to be cool AND feared. And that was it…

It was that simple. After years of being bullied – being the nerd, the thumb sucker, the fatty, the ugly one – my love affair with nicotine started at age 12, landed me an at-home suspension at age 14 for smoking in the girls room (now I was cool), became a full-blown habit by age 15, receiving two in-school detentions for smoking in the girls room and the hallway (because now I was an idiot), and was a hard-core addiction by age 27 (we’re talking looking-for-butts-in-random-ashtrays-to-suck-the-last-few-drags-of-nicotine addiction). So, at the age of 27, I had to convince myself that being a nerd, a thumb sucker, fat and ugly was okay; that I didn’t need to smoke to prove I was or wasn’t any of those things. And it worked…and then I gained 30 pounds and developed a rare neurological condition…BUT I never picked up smoking again.

That lesson in grief has stuck with me for almost 30 years. Each situation in my life requiring grief needed to be addressed situationally, and that’s what this blog has been for me. It helped me to process the loss of seven family members over a seven-year period…and now I’m back to NOT grieve.

One of the things that helped me heal after being diagnosed with that rare neurological condition was playing piano. At that point I had been playing piano for almost 30 years. Piano had been my love since I could speak and/or sit upright unattended banging the keys of a keyboard stenciled with numbers and letters. Playing piano helped the pain go away, if even for a minute or two. However, as my condition improved, not only did my interest in playing cease, I found that the condition would later rob me of certain memories, including my knowledge of playing piano. I grieved this loss of music ability that had served me so well over a lifetime just like I had grieved my nicotine. I later realized it had served its purpose and that was that…it was okay to let it go.

It’s been a little over a year since I stopped blogging about my bike rides. Over the past few months I noticed that I was visiting the cemetery less and less, merely stopping by out of guilt on the way back from somewhere else along the way. As birthdays and wedding and death anniversaries swiftly passed by, I would catch myself days, weeks and sometimes months later realizing I had forgotten the date…and it didn’t bother me…which brings me back to this blog.

This blog’s purpose was initially started to follow my bike rides so that my brother, Michael, could follow along while he lay dying of cancer in hospital. Over the past year I haven’t taken many bike rides but always made sure to take photos ultimately never posted.

 

Cancer is an unwanted visitor that has visited me and my family and friends over the past 10 years. After all we’ve been through, it is no longer welcome in my home, despite its insistence.

Dealing with my own battle of pre-cancer over the past 20 years, bike riding in 2019 has taken its toll and has not been a constant thing this year thanks to multiple procedures necessary to thwart off my unwelcome visitor…and that pisses me off. At some point I lost interest…again…and this time it wasn’t okay to let it go.

Last year I missed the American Cancer Society Bridge to the Beach ride and decided that it was time to get back in the saddle and take on this challenge once again – for Michael and everyone else fighting this beast. Today I forced myself to go to the gym despite the cold rain outside to begin my first phase of training – 30 miles in 8 weeks…pathetic…cause I gotta do 60+ miles in one day, starting from home at 6:00AM and on the Atlantic City Expressway before 3:00PM.  Feeling dejected, I put on my largest pair of bike capris owned (thanks to a ten-pound weight gain in 2019), drove to the gym six miles from home (I could’ve ridden to back in the day), perched myself atop the brand-new stationary bikes recently purchased (thank you Planet Fitness) and cycled 80-90RPMs according to my schedule…for 10 minutes…ugh…

It’s time to get back to life and continue the purpose!

Now, teacher, don’t you fill me up with your rules
But everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school

Smokin’ in the Boys Room – Brownsville Station

 

9/11

I wrote this a year ago, but still a memory forever…

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…

ICEman

Blue skies

Cool breeze

Bike ride…

because you don’t know when the next one will happen.

Favorite haunts

Water…boats…those skinny girls from high school you love to hate,

knowing you don’t belong even at the age of fifty-something,

remembering the country club where you also didn’t belong and got laid on the 18th hole with the Irishman just to prove a point and stick it to the man.

Walking dazed, looking for that shot

Flash of titanium

Dark mirrored glasses

Silver-haired Santa with earth-colored skin

A leg once human, dragging a camouflage kayak across the concrete jungle

“Watch the goose poop!”

The Birds Final Scene – I am surrounded…

“I’m so done with these geese.”

“And there’s nothing we can do about them.”

“Really? Isn’t there something we can do? I heard if you put a fake dog out, the geese won’t land.”

“Nope. We had those, but they didn’t work. Now we use the stringer.”

“The what?!”

“The stringer. The string!”

Pointing at air

Good ole-fashioned white string wrapped around small stakes every foot, outlining the perimeter of grass and docks.

“They can’t climb over the string, so they don’t come here.”

“Really?!”

“But the kids don’t know any better. They move the string and forget it. Then them geese come back and shit all over the dock. Them kids don’t know any better. They just sweep the shit right into the water. Not allowed!”

“Gross! Can you swim in the water?”

Eyebrows raised behind dark mirrored glasses

Would you swim in the water?”

Hushed voice…

”I do, but I know where to do it. And that water may not look like much, but it can get pretty strong. I don’t want them kids thinking they can swim here and start jumping off the dock.”

Water, brown, placid, unappetizing…

Would you swim?

My Gump Ride…putting the past behind me so I can move on…

December 1, 2018

3:38:45am

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going…My mama always said, “You got to put the past behind you before you can move on” and I think that’s what my running was all about.”

I’m putting the past behind me so I can move on….and I think that’s what my riding has been all about. I have ridden for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours. I’m pretty tired…think I’ll go home now…

And just like that, my riding days was over…so I went home…

Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin

Memory – Barbra Streisand