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

 

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

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