Heard at the Coffee Shop

I was in line at the coffee shop on August 1st when a young woman appeared beside me who was evidently known to the store manager. 

“How’s it goin’?” asked her pal behind the counter.

“Great! Hey, did you know that I’m fasting?”

“Fasting, no.  Why on earth are you fasting?”

“Ramadan began yesterday. “And my boyfriend, he’s a Muslim. So I just thought, whydon’t I fast too and see what happens. Inside my mind, you know. Inside ME.”

Well now! I thought.  

Maybe this is how minds are opened, one person at a time, who admittedly is just sticking a toe in the great river of Islamic thought – of a new spiritual belief – but isn’t that the way we all begin swimming? By sticking a toe in?  

I overheard this conversation on August 1st and the next day  saw this picture with the women looking so lovely in their pale sherbet-colored garments.

The caption says they are  “Indonesian women, performing  the evening prayer called tarawih, the night before the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins.’” It was taken at the Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta.

Now, today, with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, Muslims mark the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan and I was thinking: Our cities and towns all suspend school for Christian holy days, and many do the same for the Jewish High Holidays. Maybe one day we’ll do the same for Eid.

The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp for both of the Eid holy days  ten whole years ago, under President George W. Bush, so can other kinds of official recognition be far behind?  That’s where the real strength of this country lies, remember. It lies in our ability to welcome new people, and embrace them and learn from their ways.

It’s a good reminder: whether August 31st is Eid or the anniversary of the day your father died, or the day you got sober or the day your firstborn landed in the world, every day is sacred to someone. ‘Put thy sandals from off thy feet for the place where thou art  standing is holy ground.’   That’s Yahweh to our pal Moses.

Holy ground, this earth. Holy people, us, when we try to be.


Strong Medicine

A woman wrote in to ‘Dear Abby’ about her retired husband Bud, calling him a lazy slob because “all he does is watch TV or play on his computer all day” while she works fulltime outside the home. ““Our house has become a pigsty, she went on. “If I try to do some cleaning, Bud gets mad and says he’ll do it ‘later’ but ‘later’ comes and goes. Returning to a filthy house after work is driving me crazy. He doesn’t even do the grocery shopping; I have to do it on my lunch hour.”

Abby suggested the lady try getting her husband to articulate his ‘vision’ of retirement. “You may find that it’s very different from yours.

“Also, he may be depressed at the changes that have occurred in his life… If Bud was always a ‘lazy slob,’ then face it – that’s the person you married. However, if this is a recent, radical change in his behavior, you should insist he be examined by his doctor. “

Good luck getting any guy to see a shrink just because you don’t like his behavior, right?  Still,  Abby’s tips are good tips all the same – just not as good as this regimen that  a reader of mine says she has used for her own husband and sons. She first wrote to me after reading a column I did about boundaries. We talked back and forth over the months and one day in came this email, from the lady I will here call Jan, whose last name I don’t even know:

I began realizing my effort to be a good person, wife, mom, and daughter were becoming a huge drain on me, so for a while I stopped doing everything around here. I redefined what was mine to do and let the rest go. Basically, I cooked a simple healthy meal and that was it. I gave them all their own sets of towels and dishes, all color-coded. I had to give them each their own color because that stopped them from being lazy and using someone else’s clean things ha ha! And wow what a breakthrough! I no longer wash dishes. My husband and sons rinse them off after they use them. 

I no longer wash their towels or laundry either. If they run out, that’s their problem.

As time passed though, I saw that my husband worked long hours and paid all the bills and mortgage – and he did try to do his own laundry – so out of love, I have helped out. My boys wash their clothes but sometimes, out of love, I will fold them. I try not to take over their personal responsibilities; I have my own. 

And so a switch started taking place inside of me:  I was no longer doing things out of a sense of duty, but out of love, and it felt much less draining on me.

I still don’t wash anyone’s dishes. It only takes them a few seconds to run them under hot soapy water, dry them off, and put them back on the shelf and if they can’t manage that then Jeez I have really crippled them!

I just had to just stop everything and take a step back to redefine what was mine to do and what was theirs. It took about six weeks. And I had some guilt, but then I realized:  It’s all about healthy boundaries. And so this works for us all and I feel more respected by them and more respectful of myself.

 And there, folks, is the magic combination: of self-respect, a recognition of the importance of community-mindedness and the willingness to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes. Brilliant!

Waiting It Out

Like everyone else. we waited around yesterday, but because the body will stay for only so long in a state of alert we also watched some TV.  I myself swam with this Scooby Doo fan, out to the swim raft, onto whose ladder a water-spider had tied a webby netful of babies.

This same little guy’s mum, who is our first-born and is seen to the left in profile, told us not to climb onto the raft. If we did we might dislodge this one mother spider’s silk-sack of webbing, inside which her two dozen tiny progeny trembled tinily.

So we paddled around for an hour without once resting, he using his Spider Man boogy-board and I on my  own two legs, trained at age five to do the Elementary Back Stroke.

Our other daughter meanwhile, whipped up an Indian food feast that took eight hours to prepare. (When you make the cheese, then press the cheese, then cube it, then deep-fry it, all so you can mix it into the Saag Paneer and the Shahi Paneer, it takes eight hours at least and these were but two of several  different dishes. She also did a homemade banana later cake.)

Our other young grandson played a really hard game with Uncle Jeff to pass the hours. This was after Jeff and Old Dave and the little boys’ other mother Chris had taken and moved indoors every lawn chair, houseplant, loose branch and wind chime…. And then, again like everyone else, we waited.

And the storm came and for five hours put us in the dark with no water. When the juice came back on it seemed like a miracle. 

After supper and before bed, the Defender of All Spiders was limping a little. She spoke of a hitch in her hip-flexer and so for the first time in five years I practiced some deep-tissue massage. On her. To release the TFL if I could and just bring some freshly oxygenated blood to the area.

Later, as the wind still howled, lashing the trees outside our bedroom window I worried I had gone too deep on her. She is pregnant and what if I lifted one of the complicated membranous ‘pegs’ anchoring the delicate water balloon of packaging in which her child floats, disturbing him/her just as she had feared disturbing the water spider’s babies? 

On a day filled with wind and flood you worry about such things, even as you count yourself safe in your shelter from the storm.

 many trees and branches down on the innocent-looking morning after

A Real Pinwheel of a Storm

  • The shattered water made a misty din,
  • Great waves looked over others coming in,
  • And thought of doing something to the shore
  • That water never did to land before.

That’s Robert Frost, in” Once By the Pacific” when he saw Nature winding up to deliver a real punch.

I read where the word ‘hurricane’ was all but unknown in our part of the world before the storm in ’38 roared up the eastern seaboard and, in the space of an afternoon, killed over 700 people and injured twice that number. The Before and After pictures from that storm are stunning: a whole village of homes and beach pavilions in this shot, a community as it looked for a hundred years; and in this next shot, nothing, not one stone upon another.

Picture it yourself, your house collapsing under you, you and your family rushing to the roof and then the roof goes too and you’re launched open upon the waters like Huck Finn in his raft. Picture the 50-foot wall of water in 1938. People said they looked in the direction of the bay. What IS that huge thing? What’s that noise? they were all thinking.

And then it was upon them.

My mother and aunt were in the Berkshires with their sister-in-law and her three-month-old baby when it began roaring in their directions. Their immediate thought: get to Naughton’s Market fast for steaks and beers. Well they were young, barely out of their 20s. It’s what you think of at that time of life, how to make a party out of everything.

But boy did that storm do damage. They say that more than any other factor, the Hurricane of ’38 is responsible for the absolute wiping-out of what once made New England look so New Englandy: town commons graced with many examples of the American Elm tree, all shaped like so many wineglasses, like living fountains spouting cascades of green..

That hurricane started what Dutch Elm Disease finished. If you didn’t know about the two phenomena you could scratch your head a long time without figuring out just exactly why every street in America has an Elm Street when the elm tree itself is now so rare.

Let’s hope things don’t get that dire this time. Just in case they do I’m going outside to take a picture of our maple.

Coupla Dopes Posing as Naughty Minxes

Now even that good grey lady the New York Times has lost its mind:

I opened the online version of the paper just now and got immediately taken to this weird little semi-titillating, young-women-resting their heads-on-one another’s-laps video.

It’s an ad for pajama bottoms I think.

Plus never mind they out-and-out STOLE “Bossy Pants,” the name from Tina Fey’s memoir..

Click here to see the two models in full drowsy, live-action pout- there’s a little short ad first, the footage.

It really irks me for some reason. 

I say make these two dopes pick up the place NOW, then split them up and send ’em to their rooms without any dinner.

Kathy I’m Lost

To me the high point in Simon & Garfunkel’s touring career was the Concert in Central Park back in ’81, when even Superman couldn’t have leaped the tall buildings of women’s hairstyles.

I had a cassette tape of that performance that I played so much I could make Paul’s same cracks about the joints circulating in the audience as he made, with his exact timing and intonation.

I found it so touching, earlier this week, to see how many people have the lyrics to their songs memorized.  Somebody posted the following verse on Facebook the other  day when she read what I had written about the duo and to me it conveys perfcectly the poignant quality of their work. Bet you know it too:   

“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat” 
“We smoked the last one an hour ago” 
So I looked at the scenery. She read her magazine 
And the moon rose over an open field 

“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping 
“I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why” 
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike 
They’ve all come to look for America , America 

But what is this America that we should seek her so? A dream? If so, it is a dream owned by no one man, or woman or political party.  An idea, like the green light on the end dock that Jay Gatsby so yearns to reach out and touch, standing at the edge of his own raw and ostentatious gardens? Though really it was the golden girl just back from that green light whom Gatsby loved, not for herself but for the way he looked to himself when he saw his reflection in her eyes.

It’s that way with our country: the dream of what America is has sometimes made us seem better to our paltry human selves than we actually are; has made us believe we can BE better, and at times we have been. It’s an aspiration that children understand instinctively, harboring in their own hearts an idealism we are meant to foster in them and not cynically stamp out.

Anyway let’s listen together in a minute and reflect that being lost and knowing you’re lost can be the best first step to finding a truer path…   

Hooking Up

“Follow the Bouncing Body-Part” I should have called yesterday’s post. Don’t they have some amazing ways of dancing these days though. And how on earth do people hear each other at the noisy clubs? How can they even begin to size each other up when all they have to go on is what meets the eye?

Or maybe the point really IS to just the quick ‘hook-up’, a phrase that always sounds  very painful and fish-hook-like –  with a barb on the end to wound you in your tenderest parts -and also sadly mechanical, like those long, dull docking sequences from The Empire Strikes Back.

Neil Paumgarten wrote a piece for The New Yorker earlier this summer about online dating sites, sites that one handsome, single friend just told me he wouldn’t dream of using since in his mind they smack of “desperation”.

Boy is he wrong. As Paumgarten put it,  “The process of selecting and securing a partner, whether for conceiving and rearing children, attempting motel-room acrobatics or merely  finding companionship in a cold and lonely universe” is really “consequential. 

“Lives hang in the balance. And yet we have typically relied for our choices on happenstance – off-hand referrals, late nights at the office, or the dream of meeting cute.”

College campuses and cities  meanwhile he calls great “habitats of abundance and access” when it comes to meeting possible partners  “but as people pair off, and as they corral themselves, through profession, geography and taste, into cliques and castes, the range of available mates shrinks. “We run out of friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends. You can get to thinking that the single ones are single for a reason.”

Which is nonsense of course. Few people are single because they deserve to be. My Great Aunt Mame used to say it about pairing off: “For every old sock there’s an old shoe.” All people really need is the help of the complicated algorithms so painstakingly perfected by sites like e-Harmony and Match.com and OK Cupid. You need the pre-sorting that they do. How are you going to avoid getting in too deep with a Tea-Party-when you’re a Socialist, if the best you can do is read lips at some noisy club?

As for Joe Nichols here, well we all know this: getting a girl out of her clothes thanks to alcohol is pretty much the last thing any woman wants to remember having done the morning after, however coyly cute Joe looks singing about it. 

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Here by the beach, with a slender moon catching all the action, things are gettin’  lively at the karaoke bar. As I walk in, four young women have just told the Master of Ceremonies that one of them turned 21 that very day.

From the stage he shouts to the rest of us, “Born as recently as the 90s, and they’re drinkin’ here tonight, people!” “I have socks older than they are,” a mustachioed man remarks, but the emcee does not hear him because, like a preacher with a killer sermon, he is busy building momentum.

“Do you even know what a radio is, honey?” “Sure,” responds the birthday girl. “Didn’t I just ask to sing a Paul Anka song?”

“Later, Darlin’,” says the emcee, for he knows he has to craft the evening carefully, let the amateurs take a few cracks at the mike, then bring up enough ringers to get things really jumping.

The first young guy up sings something so wildly off key that only the two great-grandmothers at the corner table manage to smile their encouragement. Everyone else talks right over him, some wincing as they talk.

Then two ladies join forces for “We Are Fam-i-lee” (as in “I’ve Got All My Sisters With Me”) and the crowd stamps and whistles.

Next the emcee shouts “Now ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the best attorney on earth AND the moon, FRANK!” And Frank takes the stage to deliver a tender ballad called “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”

“Yes!” cries a young woman with a drink in her hand. Then, as if to illustrate its theme, she rises and begins gyrating slowly while languidly waving one hand in the air like a sleepwalker hailing a taxi.

In response, a young man moves toward this young lady whose clothes have in fact begun doing a bit of Venus-on-the-Half-Shell thing. He smiles to show harmless intent, then yells at the top of his lungs into her ear, which is what people have to do in order to be heard in settings like this.

She leans very far forward, whether in real or feigned deafness, prompting the three other guys who had come in with this brave swain to snap their eyes over to the slow loping rhythms of the ballgame on the wide-screen. No guy wants to be seen eyeing the girl another guy has begun the Great Dance with.

Now a young guy steps to the stage and does a hip-hop song about love and body parts.

Now a stocky girl takes the mike for a growly version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots.”

And now a smallish young man tackles Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” the one song I have just recently been told is guaranteed to bring any wedding dance-floor to soaring life.

Finally, a man in his 70s comes forward and croons a pitch-perfect version of Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” – at which point even that elegant Fred Astaire of a crescent moon seems to bow in homage, just ever so slightly, in this moist August sky.

(oh yeah and in this video? That’s me on the left 😉 :

Good Old Simon & Garfunkel

Say the names Simon and Garfunkel and see what it evokes. Steve from South Caroline wrote the other day that he was listening to their early work and within seconds PilotPatty from the Metrowest area of Massachusetts laid down four lines of a classic S&G song bam!,  just like that right out of her head.

Music goes deep all right.

The mere mention of their names takes me back to senior year in high school when late at night I worked away up in the attic, making  two velvet dresses for my sister and me while “The Sounds of Silence” played  on the radio. The dresses were Burgundy and Forest Green I remember and they bunched in a sad homemade way around the armpits so later that winter I added long sleeves in the belling-out angel-costume fashion of the times.

We thought we looked so great e decided to get our picture taken in them at good old Loring studios in donntown Lowell. As present for our mom we thought. Only when the proofs came back we looked in every shot like the female equivalent of that eager-to-fit-in-pair the Wild and Crazy Guys as played by Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd in the old Saturday Night Live skits. (Have mercy on all young people! They work so hard at inventing a self!)  

I just came upon this rendition of  S & G’s ‘For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her’. How many young females swooned over this one with its words carried in on the waves of Art’s high-tenor voice. Sex was getting closer by the minute with the Pill newly available and all those rockin’ sounds out of England, but how scary could it be when sung about by these gentle souls with their Kathys and their Emilys, in search of some town called Scarborough Fair? Searching always for that one girl, just that one girl? How the world has changed since those days my gosh! Here is Emily now: