Who’s Old? (With a Tip o’ the Hat to Michael)

I got the message I was old 3 times in 30 seconds when I picked up my young friend Angie the other day. She hopped in the car, shot me a quick a look and asked if my hair was really long enough to be gathered at the back of my neck. “Nah, it’s fake, They call it the Fun Bun,” I said, yanking it off to show her.

“O-KAY,” she said in that certain young way that always makes me feel a tad defensive.

“Hey what’s the point of being old if you can’t have fun? If you can’t wear a thing like this?” I said, pointing now to the pouch at my waist.

“A fannypack?” she said, actively working to suppress a smile.

“But I need it!” I cried, pulling from it that tiny device with the white ear buds that has made so much money for the good people at Apple. “How else would I carry my…. my … my Walkman here?”

Which prompted an even MORE indulgent smile –  and this from someone who still wasn’t alive five years after “Bad” came out.

But you know studying the pictures from that famous video I see now that my hairstyle then was exactly like Michael’s hair back then. In fact I really LOOKED like him – only I never learned to snarl and look all mad like he did in these clips. I was taught to just smile and act all sweet and that was probably just as well, because I have a hunch the young are gonna let us live only if we DO smile, and stay twinkly, and keep on furnishing them so much amusement.

And now  …..Michael, an angel even then:


Rare When It Happens

Rare when it happens that the room you rent looks even nicer than it did in the brochure. I drove yesterday to Portland Maine to see two college pals and am staying at a B & B called The Pomegranate Inn. A month ago when I first saw the picture that opens up on their website I said to myself “That’s my room!  And it’s on the third floor, up under the eaves, high among the treetops!”) The three of us walked and talked tirelessly for seven straight hours and all I could think when I turned the key and walked into room 3 was “where’s the bed?” I turned on the tiny television for a few minutes for the inanity of the 10 o‘clock dramas (yet more body parts found in urban settings! yet more lady coroners in low-cut lab coats joshing with yet more engagingly boyish members of the law enforcement community! ) then slept and dreamed of peonies and cotton balls and Oscar Wilde. And when I woke this morning I understood why:

I am in a room with intricate hand-painted walls where the bright ocean light is positively ladling in through the windows, onto the bed, onto the walls, onto the fat and cheerful pillows. The place looks exactly as it had in the promotional literature and maybe better and how often does that happen in life?

Speaking of Oscar they say that even as he lay dying he was funny. The story has it that right near the end he turned his face to the wall, opened his eyes and said “Either this wallpaper goes or I do.”

I have always imagined that wallpaper looked quite a lot like this. But me, I could look at this wallpaper forever – and I’m just betting this room is every bit as nice at dusk on a clammy November day as it is right now at seven on this high-summer morning.

Go to the Funerals

Many of the houses along Summer Street are old in the nicest way – you still can see the 1920s and ’30s written all over them – but for all  the years I have loved this small city and remembered my time teaching here, I has never before been in this Summer Street church. It looks like the inside of one of those sugared Easter eggs, like Paradise the way people once pictured Paradise, with arches and frescoes and an altar like something sculpted out of ice. When you sit in its hushed high space it could almost BE 1920 again, the birth year of the lady we were there to memorialize.

And what a lady she was. I knew her as the mother of my student Lisa, who in English class answered every one of my questions almost before I got done asking them. Mrs. C. used to come to the Parents’ Nights and fix me with a few looks that made me wonder if the whole front of my dress wasn’t unbuttoned. And really how could I blame her? She was a woman in her 50s who had given birth to six children and buried two. I was a kid of 23 presuming to tell her things about her daughter. She did smile when I said Lisa could go to any college she wanted  – wasn’t Lisa’s next oldest brother a senior at Dartmouth? – but she knew Lisa and Lisa  had her own plans. In the end the years passed and we had our babies together, or almost together. I still remember going to her house with the maternity clothes I knew I wouldn’t need again.

From the pulpit yesterday Lisa told great and funny stories about a woman many called feisty though as Lisa said  “feisty” didn’t come close to expressing it. From the pulpit  that same Dartmouth brother told great stories too and it wasn’t because he represents the  8th Congressional District of Massachusetts that you could hear a pin drop as he spoke. Like Lisa, he had to stop once or twice to collect himself.

After Lisa’s daughter Carly finished singing four or five other songs with a voice like silver filigree, she launched into “We’ll Meet Again,” just as the priest was blessing the coffin. It’s a song from the era when Rita was a young bride waiting for her war-hero groom to come home to her and it cheered me so to look across the aisle and see that small knot of her special pals swaying and singing along.

I went to Mr. Capuano’s wake some 16 years ago now, for Lisa. And for Mike.  And for Mrs. C.  I went too because I could never forget how tender that man always was with me because on  some level, he told me once, I reminded him of their child  Karen, lost to polio and born the same year I was born.

I couldn’t get to Mrs. C’s wake the other night because I was on the road but I am so. so glad I got to the funeral. Because where else can you go to see – really SEE a person’s family send him off wrapped in so much love?

Lisa now, with one of her two famous-actor sons, Scott Evans

and Lisa then, when our babies were small & we had no furniture  at all 🙂

Slow News Day

Lindsay spent her first night in jail, a runaway dump truck took off on its own flattening 5 parked cars, and passengers on United Flight 967 got bounced like so many toy people in a toy bus dropped onto the floor. Also, a cop went to get his picture take with the 3′-9″ porn star Bridget Powers – oops! – right in the middle of his shift. “Where was the news when I pulled someone out of a burning car last year?” he said upon tendering his resignation.  “All the good things you do, and I’m going to be remembered for one stupid decision. It just sucks.”

That must be how poor Lindsay feels this morning.

But let’s not focus on her current troubles. Let’s remember instead the time a few summers ago when she appeared with Meryl Streep, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin and the odd and tender Garrison Keillor in A Prairie Home  Companion. Here she is now  along with Naughty Woody and the rest in the trailer for that film and, under that, doing a song all on her own. Who wouldn’t wish a good outcome for this poor girl, a child still in so many ways?

Uh oh

Sometimes you just get a bad feeling. I had such a feeling at this gas station where one tank seemed to be fine and the other said “Condemned.” Would it blow up on us all? Who knew?

I got another bad feeling yesterday at the Dunkin’ Donuts where four very small children were sitting all alone. The eldest looked almost six. Then there was one four, one three and one about 15 months. The six-year-old put the little one in a high chair and pulled her to the table. Then they all sat looking out the window.

“I’m not running a day care center!” the lady behind the counter suddenly yelled over to them. “You just tell your father that!”

“Where is he?” I asked when I approached to order my latte. I too had noticed the absence of a grownup.

“Search me!” she said.” He said he had to go to the ATM.”

“Oh. Well let’s not make the children feel bad!”

“I know, but for God’s sake!”

I walked over to them. “Hey guys.”

They smiled up at me. “Shall we watch for him together?”

“Yup” they said and we turned and all looked out. “Is he in your car?”

“Nope. That’s our car there. It’s red,” one said.

“Hey my car is red!” said I. “Two red cars!” they said and laughed.

“I’m sure he’ll be back in a sec.”

I went to collect my coffee then and when I turned around again the dad was back. I ducked into the bathroom at that point and so didn’t hear what the woman behind the counter might have said to him. I did note that his back was very straight as he left the shop with his four children a few minutes later.

They were a black family. This was the hard part, since every other patron in the place was white and, well, you could sense a lot of judgments and silent assumptions being directed at him. All I felt myself was that same bad “uh oh” feeling I had felt at the gas station. And I was grateful this time too that nothing exploded.

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Are We Having Fun Yet?

The crickets have started in, two full weeks ahead of schedule. It’s a sign we’d best  hurry up and squeeze in the summer fun. And how am I doing with THAT so far? Hmmmm.  Well we got the air conditioner into the bedroom finally and that’s certainly been fun. As of this morning it’s leaning so far back into thin air I think it’s going to go any minute and take the whole window-frame with it.

I also stole away from my desk in the middle of the day to see Sex and the City 2 the very day it came out. Had the wide-brim hat and silk sheath dress all lined up to put on and shoot a video making fun of it, but the energy seeped out of that idea as soon as I got to the theatre. Conked out 30 minutes in, walked out 30 minutes later. Dumb, dumb movie. I mean could Samantha’s nymphomania BE any more offensive when the action takes place in an Islamic country? Plus, is that what dermabrasion does? She’s all …. waxy, like those little tubes you used to get in elementary school and sucked the red goo out of and stomped on the pavement after. And I don’t care how nice a person Sarah Jessica Parker might be she still looks like a horse.

I haven’t slept outside yet and hope to God I don’t have to. Haven’t swum in the aqua gel of a pool, haven’t gotten a sunburn or been to the beach or walked up to a single jingling ice cream truck.

Over the weekend I did go to a lake and for the first time this year dove off a dock. You have to go shallow off this particular dock or you’ll hit the rocks but I remembered my racing dive because I learned to swim at the same summer camp as this pretty diver here. Only for the racing dive you get into the proper squat, shoot your arms back, shoot them forward and slam! you go, flat against the water and come up doing that mile-a-minute crawl stroke, in my case all the way out to the raft without once coming up for air….

And when I did come up I wasn’t any longer the grownup who hasn’t been to the beach or swum in a pool; wasn’t the one who goes to the movies and sees them through a glass all darkly. Instead I was the child who can keep her eyes open wide the whole time in the moss-green water and cherishes as her friends the minnows and the tadpoles. I was this little person below, second from the right getting ready to play The Beet in that timeless Parents Weekend play King Hale of Healthland.

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Camp Do-Too-Much

Up at 5, write ’til 9; then food-shopping for twelve people. Home for 3 hours making and serving food to gracious lady never before met. Then three more hours preparing pork roast, meat loaf, two salads, French bread and rice, not just for the 11 people set to arrive for supper but also for 89-year-old uncle, all of whose meals I provide. At 6pm an hour-and-a-half spent going to get him and bring him out for a spell, stopping real quick for the night’s beer and wine. Drop him off and quick home to greet not just the hungry 11 but the two little grandsons invited to sleep over earlier in the week, pant, pant.

They do sleep over as party roars on only whoops, the little one sounds off like a cuckoo clock every two hours all night. Hurry to his crib, take him up, walk him, whisper into his little head etc. until 5am when he gets up for good. His brother up at 6. Three blurry hours involving bacon, cocoa, eggs, French toast, banana smoothies, etc.  Dave leaves for work. Still no coffee even for me but that’s OK tt quick let’s go out to the yard! Inspect the dirt, inspect the bugs, inspect the garageful of musty things from the 1940s. Little boys drag out garden hose, water grass, water shrubs, water each other by mistake. Back inside, sneakers squishing. Pop everything in dryer, pick up house which looks like a Connect Four/Mouse Trap/ Lego bomb has gone off in it, sit them down to read two nice musty garage books. Then Dave reappears, we pack the clothes-the-kids-the-food, drive a hundred miles to the place where their parents will meet us and I will no longer be in charge, whew!

All this took place Thursday-Friday this past week which is why I didn’t write on Friday. I really am starting to see now that whenever I fail to sit and write I feel like a vacuum cleaner with something caught in its throat: Just that jammed up. Just that weak and wheezy.  I don’t know but after 40 years of over-functioning I think I really have to stop with the crazy overbooking, before the crazy overbooking stops me.