Jiggety Jig

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Going to a conference in a famously warm climate was fun and all but let’s face it: You can’t avoid your fate and our fate as Americans is obviously to shiver for five months, because that’s sure enough what we’ve been doing. My man and I packed shorts and t-shirts, bathing suits and sunscreen and really, except for about 90 minutes at the end of one afternoon we never took of the twenty-five towels we tried wrapping ourselves in out by the pool.

Plus then you have to come home again… Where It’s raining and HAS been raining and PLANS on raining for the foreseeable future. Suffice to say we didn’t need these!

This was a conference about gaskets, which we all know and love. And in the end I was happy to be there in the company of people who know gaskets.

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“You should come with me to the gasket convention in Orlando,” David had said to me months earlier.

“Gaskets! What are gaskets anyway?” I  had said.

“O-rings,” he said. “Things used to make a joint water- or air- or particle-tight.”

“Come on, there aren’t any O-rings anymore, only microchips!” I said back, just to get him going. He’s in manufacturing, an industry which for a while appeared to be diminishing here in the good old US of A like a tray full of Shrinky-Dinks in an oven.

“How wrong you are,” he replied. “You couldn’t live without O-rings. Nobody could.”

And if that wasn’t the language of romance then I don’t know what the language of romance is. And so, to paraphrase Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses, I said, yes I said yes, I said yes, I will go with you to Orlando.”

And go I did, to sunny central Florida, where I saw exactly no preening by the Gorgeous Young, nor anyone enviously eyeing anyone else’s contours. Instead I saw only myself reading a story in which the main character finds herself touring Ireland as a passenger in a car her mother has to rent because she herself can’t drive a standard shift. Every day the narrator sits on what should be the driver’s side but without any steering wheel until she begins to feel like a child again and thinks, “I’m back.”

That’s how I felt, despite the chill:  Back.

 A little kid again with all this solitude.

Watching the people go by.

Reading my book.

Times like this you almost don’t MIND the chill, and hey your fate is your fate. Plus one way or the other you gotta figure there’ll be tulips in a month. Right? Am I right there, please God?

lovely tulips

 

  

We’re All in This Together

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven on a bus 50 miles out, you can feel the great city pulling you toward it, and next thing you know you’re rolling down an off-ramp to a small sign. “Welcome to the Bronx,” it says.

Here, a century-old schoolhouse stands, with cutouts of small paper tulips adorning its windows. There, items on a clothesline resemble notes on a musical staff. They hum a few bars as they snap in the stiff spring wind. And ever southward the big bus lumbers, as it carries us closer to the city’s soaring towers.

One wide corner more and we are on the isle of Manhattan: high up in Harlem.

“Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard” a street reads, and the earnest commerce spreads all around us from the Wizard of Eyes Optical Shop to a take-out shop called Young Fish.

A man in a wheelchair sits by a crosswalk as if waiting for the light-change – until a closer look shows him to be sleeping, head bowed, his hand resting on his head as a mother’s hand might rest on the head of her little one.

Before an old brownstone, a young dad stoops beneath his popped-up car hood, probing inside it, as beside him, a slender little girl in pink looks thoughtfully on.

Here are You and Me Fashions and The Bethel Church of Our Lord God Jesus Christ.  Here now is the We the People Document Service Center. 

And here is a mosque. And there is a temple.

Every time I come to this city, I am amazed by the easy exchanges among its citizens.

At home, I live on a corner lot in a town with yards both front and back. My neighbors are great and friendly people but we keep a certain distance.

Here, the opposite is true, and I can’t help but smile at people as I pass them. 

Most smile back, though often after that little hiccup of hesitation when you can see that they’re thinking, “Do I know her?”

But they do know me, in a way.  In New York we all know one another. 

We are all eating at this pushcart, with its pretzels and hot dogs. We are all watching this street vendor as he puts on his lively show.

More important, we are sleeping side by side, and I think it is this fact that moves me the most when I come here: the implied human trust that lets us lie down in such proximity.

 The bed in my hotel room is not 15 feet from the bed of the woman next door. I tune out the ventilator’s humming din and I can tell: she has a little cough. 

When it is time to leave this wonderful place my big mooing bus just reverses direction and wades on upstream: Past Fineman’s, the department store and Engine 35, the firehouse. Past P.S. 57, the elementary school and Casa di Dios, the house of worship.

Past playgrounds and past basketball games. Past housing projects with their benched and sunning elders.  

In my town, one family has its property rigged up so that a loud recorded voice warns you away the second your foot hits the driveway.

That’s no way to live, if you ask me. What makes a city work is the same thing that makes a country work: the willingness to look out for one another and not just ourselves; the willingness to extend our good wishes and our greetings both, and the willingness to freely use and share our public spaces.

  

Inside the Bathing Suit

Here’s the latest Believe It or Not: I found a bunch of bathing suits that come with the ladies already in them! And OK yes they’re made of see-through plastic and are missing their insides and their arms and their whole back half but still they have the important stuff, meaning,  ahem, breasts, that fill out the suit very nicely.

“Wo they’re selling ladies! “ I cried when I came upon them in the bathing suit bin at my local BJ’s. Four other shoppers whipped their heads around to stare at me, but I couldn’t help it: they reminded me so much of the Visible Woman I got for my ninth birthday and oh the fun I had painting her little pancreas and tiny colon!

She had breasts too, which were highly interesting to us kids since our mother was so modest she practically hid in the cellar to change. As a result Nan and I grew up in ignorance. What were breasts anyway? WE sure didn’t know and we were girls! We called them ‘lumps.’ “When will WE get lumps?” we asked each other.

And now here were all these bathing suits that came with them! I picked one up. A two-piece, nice. Little black shorts and a kind of overblouse, cute. Made by Jantzen, a reputable house.

I grabbed one and brought it right home; put a fright wig on its stem of a neck and propped it up on the bed next to Dave who said “DO NOT take a picture! OK DO NOT put that picture on your blog!”

So I took her into the study and propped her up against the window so you could se her.

selling-ladies

She’s amazing , right?  She even has a bellybutton!  I love her.

She goes with my skeleton, the next best thing I bought in the last six months.

Now all I need is a bag of insides and there’s my kit: Visible Woman ’14, here I come!

see thru TV pal

 

I’m Happy Today

I’m happy today hanging out with my old man David  – these are his arms –

the arms of dpm

who slept so late I thought he’d been kidnapped from our very bed, sucked out through the bedroom window by aliens. Call Liam Neeson!

I’m happy because we will see our daughter Annie and her man John,

just annie

though not their baby-dog Archer, still just a pup, though tall enough at 8 months to sweep the counters clean if left unattended.

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We’ll see our daughter Carrie too, which makes me happy…

mama carrie & baby caroline 11 days old

…though sadly not her  Chris, or their oldest son, since the two of them will I suppose be watching basketball or some such silly March thing while the rest of us are at our favorite eatery.

Along with Carr, we’ll also get to see their two younger children who are always ready to join me in restaurant fun. (Today: tiny black-velvet fuzzy-posters with bright neon-colored markers!) 

Sadly, we won’t get to see our son Michael

mike says didnt we say no pictures

since he’s out in Utah this weekend pretending to ski, a thing not really in our blood. David grew up with sandlot baseball, and pounding and being pounded by the other kids at the park, while the main pastime for my one sister and me was sneaking into the alley just around the corner from Blue Hill Ave. to inspect this one dead cat as it went through the absorbing transformation from the three-dimensional to something flatter than an old kid glove squashed under somebody’s tires. 

I’m happy because I’m about to sit down and write 14 days’ worth of entries in my diary. (My entries are a lot more interesting, I find, if wait ’til I’m really in the mood for the endeavor and can do the mental levitation that let me look at my last few weeks from the air, so to speak, and thus spot the highlights.)

I’m happy because I just said ‘Screw returning those shoes to Macy’s today. The store will still be there tomorrow when my workday ends.’

I’m happy because I think I might be about to actually vacuum that room I’ve been meaning to vacuum for a month.

I’m happy because we watched that old chestnut Ghostbusters yesterday and I read my three books and stripped the lid to the piano bench for a piano that lives at the ABC house. I’m happy because I got it all sanded and primed and even stained. Now David will help me screw on the lid, I can put on two finish coats and then trot it on over there.

I am not so happy when I remember that I almost learned to play the piano as an adult, together with Michael who was then 11, but quit just as I was getting that itchy feeling in the top of my head when my fingers were starting to know what a note was. We both quit and I’m sad now that we quit, causing the people who gave us the loan of that nice old upright piano to take it back again to give to worthier persons … But the days are getting longer now and who knows but what I’ll go out and buy a little keyboard and have another go at learning a new thing? We learn till we die do we not? I’m happy remembering that truth.

And now, me playing that classic beginner’s piece The Happy Farmer at age six (but why doesn’t that guy in the suit leave my nice pink dress ALONE! 

 

Cynical? Sarcastic?

massage proneI was getting some bodywork, on account of a spine that in the last few years has started to feel like one of those twisty drinking straws your kids will beg you to buy, then use once and forget all about. Only of course your back you can never forget about since you use it every day, along with the muscles in your core that hold it up.

There I was anyway, prone on this massage therapist’s table, my face pressed into that padded doughnut-looking thing they have at one end.

I was doing my best to get through the part where they use the tip of an elbow to press the living daylights out of your calf muscles – since, as they explain, everything is connected to everything else in the body and if you want to ‘open’ the tissues higher up, you have to start by undoing any kinks closer to the floor. 

“Breathe through the pain,” she had just said and God knows I was trying to. Then, as she was walking around me to get at my other leg, she asked what I did for work.

“I write,” I said in a voice muffled by the foam of the face cradle. “A column,” I managed to add.  “For various newspapers.”

She started in on my other calf and as the lights inside my head began to dim and billow with that point-of-the-elbow move, she went on:

“What do you write about?”

“Oh I don’t know,” I squeaked. “ Our common life I guess.  It’s mostly observational. “Sometimes it’s funny,” I added.

That’s when she asked the question that leads me to bring you into this sacred-seeming room in the first place:

“So what is your writing like? Is it cynical and sarcastic?”

Puzzled by the question, I stayed silent for a beat. “Oh no! Not at all!” I finally blurted.

“Because I mean I can be pretty sarcastic myself,” she said.

Cynical and sarcastic?

The words kept echoing in my ears. In all the interacting and people-watching I have done in the course of my career, I have never seen anything that would prompt me to write in a cynical or sarcastic fashion.  In fact 99% of the time what I see is either funny or uplifting. 

Here’s one example: This week in Starbucks I got a free coffee, because, as the barista told me, that man in the blue shirt by the windows had told him he wanted to pay for the beverages of the next ten people to walk in the door. “A random act of kindness,” the man smiled when I went over to thank him. 

And here’s another: I sent a skirt back to the J. Peterman catalog people, asking for a refund, since, as I wrote in the “Reasons” section, it seemed very ill-made.

Then, not four days later, a fresh J. Peterman box arrived holding two precious-to-me documents, which I had inadvertently enclosed in the box with the poorly made skirt. 

No note accompanied it these documents, no scrawled first name on the “Packed By” card you sometimes see. More importantly, no charge was posted to my credit card, then or ever. 

Someone in the shipping room had lifted out the skirt, seen the photo of the 14-year-old Brooklyn boy and the citation, done in gorgeous calligraphy, awarded to him four years later and understood what these might mean. This person then wrapped then in fresh tissue paper, adorned it with cream-colored ribbon and shipped it right back to me. 

So I ask you now and I really do wonder:  In a world with such generosity and kindness, how can anyone, ever, speak cynically and sarcastically? 

And now, just for proof, the two documents sent back to me by that good person in the shipping room at J. Peterman.   

rayvoughn at 14ray citation