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

 

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

‘Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out…

October 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015-10-30 06.49.35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015-09-16-11-38-45

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

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

Running on Empty – Jackson Browne

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

 

 

First Day of School

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

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

First Day

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

First Day of Kindergarten 1970

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was your first day of school?

I still prefer mornings over afternoons..

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

It Started Out So Nice – Rodriguez

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