Wednesday, March 28, 2012

California Dreaming

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me

                                                           Bohemian Rhapsody –Queen

Los Angeles 2012.

It was fantasy.  Perfect weather.  Perfect Palm Trees.  The Perfect Hotel. Perfect food. Perfect mood. It gets bad when even your eleven year old tells you “Mom you’re getting too silly.”

My recent Los Angeles trip with my daughters was sheer bliss. We toured most major sites: the LA zoo, the breathtaking J. Paul Getty museum. We also toured every major movie studio, (Warner Brothers and Universal) including an unofficial tour of Paramount with an old college roommate who is "in the business."  Just to walk through those gates and be welcomed in by security was a dream. 

It was definitely a “yes Mr. Goldwyn” moment.  All I needed were sparkling red shoes since I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

The week ended with Cirque du Soleil. Those death-defying high wire acts were combined with more movie magic. Ah...seventh heaven.

There nothing like returning on first class to lull you into another fantasy.  The flight attendant was masterful and catered to my modest need for beverages, food and finally peace and quiet.  My girls were catered to too,  so I tucked myself into a reclining chair, a good book and headphones to drown out the ambient noise.

Five hours of uninterrupted bliss. Sell my clothes I'm truly going to heaven.

Well, maybe…whoa...not too fast.

It’s funny what you do notice in all that peace.  I had finished Isaacsons’ Steve Jobs biography and I just sat there not dozing but not fully aware either. Was I finally relaxed?  

The captain came on:

I just turned on the fasten seat belt sign as we are starting our approach into Dulles…The temperature there is a cool 54 and we should expect a great ride in.”

I glanced at the farm fields of Northern Virginia.  Neat rectangles of blossoming spring green.  Small farmhouses.  Beautiful Country.

But suddenly there was a change.

Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,

The flight attendant’s once cheery demeanor and body language was not her usual cool, pleasant and overly accommodating self.  She rushed to the front and then to the back of the plane in a hurried walk.  Her facial expression turned from a plastic smile to a wide-eyed frown.  A man from the back  rushed up to the front.  Anyone who flies frequently enough could spot the air marshal from a mile away. Any 30-40 year old man regardless of race who is clean-shaven with a square jaw and a black North Face jacket in a temperature-controlled plane doesn’t need a badge.  

Unusual grinding noises gradually shook the plane. It began to seem like an awfully long time to descend.  More grinding, more familiar ground scenes could be seen from the small windows. More grinding , same ground. We were circling not once, twice, now three times.  

There’s a certain amount of apprehensiveness I have when traveling with my children.  It was worse when they were younger.  The travails of what they are going to eat and whether they are going to sleep well given time changes and strange hotel rooms.  Did I pack enough and the proper clothes?  It’s getting better especially now with teenagers and a preteen.  But a parent never stops worrying. I thought the comfort of first class would allay some of those pesky fears. I was wrong.

Moments like this you worry but have no control. I vetoed telling my kids what was going on with the stuck landing gear.  Think of the Jurrassic Park flume ride at Universal, just close your eyes and Isaac Newton figured out the rest. No, instead I had a visual flashback to the “War of the Worlds” display of a crashed 747 at the Universal Studios Tour. One nervous Nellie in our small group was enough. One was still watching the Muppet Movie, another “Dexter” episodes and the other reading.  

Some I imagine would pray to whatever version of God they believe in at his point.  I called upon my faith in that the gears were just stuck; that the maintenance on VirginAmerica knew what they are doing and worse comes to worse, the crew knew how to land without landing gear. No gremlins on board today.

Spray the foam on the runway, we’re coming home.

The grinding continued for about a full 30 seconds then a jolt of release of both the landing gear and my anxiety. It was the fifth and final circle. This was no Divine Comedy or was it?

“Flight attendants prepare for landing….”.

She came back to her small rear-facing seat. I heard her sigh of relief as she leaned back, relaxed her shoulders and fastened her seatbelt. The air marshal disappeared "like magic".

Not caught in a landslide today nor escape from reality.

Click, Click. There’s no place like home.

Whew. Glad to pull into Gate 34.

Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me….

Sure, right.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Shimmer

She left it on the kitchen table.  There is often so much stuff on the kitchen table after a full night of homework in my house that it’s hard to tell what is good and what is junk.  But karma told me to read it and I am glad I did.  I kept it too.

I think every parent looks for glimpses of talent or ability in their children.  Some to brag but hopefully mostly to encourage.  What better thing to do than to support a child’s love of anything.  To see the smile on a child’s face when they are really happy doing something is the best gift a child can give to a parent.  And that should be anything: woodworking, horseback riding, analytical geometry, music, you name it. Pure joy is a wonderful thing.  You can’t fake it.  It shows both outwardly and inwardly. You want to get your picture taken with it.  You want to scream it from the highest mountain. You should be drunk with it without the alcohol.  

True love should be like that too.

My middle daughter wrote an essay about her friends.  I hardly ever get a glimpse of what she’s thinking lately. Fifteen year old girls can be quite secretive.  I should know, I was one once. I  know all her girlfriends by their very elegant ethnic forenames but the boys are hard.  They all have some sort of nicknames.  And all five of them seem to be named Matt or Max. One is called “Greenie”  and the other "Goldie" after their respective last names and yet another  “B.C.” since his last name is hyphenated.  I kid her by asking her if it stands for “Before Christ” but that’s my sense of odd and irreverent  humor. I don't think there's a Max A.D. There's not too many people nowadays claiming Roman heritage.

Her piece about her friends was surprisingly heartfelt, descriptive and very moving. Now I think I know who is who. Better yet I think I know better who my fifteen year old is now. She writes beautifully. And I could tell she enjoyed the exercise. The words just flowed.  To use Joan Didion’s concept of writing: she sees the “shimmer.”

I hope to encourage this in her.  She’s a good student, loves science and got an A- on this assignment.

But that wasn't the point.

I see a shimmer now in her too.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Good Golly....


I dialed my Dad’s phone number the other day.  It was a totally natural thing for me to do before but now it was just unsettling. My daughter had been awarded a fellowship to do community service this summer in Ohio and I had to tell someone.  When it was something about my girls I would always telephone my Dad first. 

I caught myself when the number appeared on the phone screen.

Harriet M. Welsh knew this type of confidence.  To childrens’ book lovers she’s better known as “Harriet the Spy.” That was one of my favorite books when I was about 11. When Harriet lost her nanny Ole Golly she couldn’t share things with her in the same way.

This is the part of grief that will always stay.  My mother died when I was 20. I was grown up physically but so far from grown up otherwise. Her death was sudden and very unexpected.  There isn’t a day in the last thirty years I haven’t thought about her; what she would say, how she would do things, what she would think about what I have done in my life. I have had less time with her on this earth than without her. And boy, I would love to have my girls spend just one day with their grandmother. And they think I am blunt.

I would love to have just one more day to tell her "things."

Having a good memory is both a blessing and a curse. I still have my old phone numbers memorized:  The childhood one when we lived in the city  and the adolescent one when my family moved “down the shore”.  And now of course, my Dad's.

But no one will answer them now.

That's the worst thing.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Talking to Old Soldiers

Why hello, say can I buy you another glass of beer
Well thanks a lot that's kind of you, it's nice to know you care
These days there's so much going on
No one seems to want to know
I may be just an old soldier to some
But I know how it feels to grow old
-Talking to Old Soldiers- Elton John/Bernie Taupin
            Tumbleweed Connection

We sat in my Aunt's kitchen again.  My puppy sleeping silently under the table.  Darkness had shaded the windows and all the lights were on. 

“Your hands are a mess.” She said glancing at my naturally stubbly fingers and ragged but clean nails. You look at a picture of my Polish great grandfather’s hands and my hands, and they are identical.  Genes are funny things. At least I didn’t inherit his handlebar moustache.

“Don’t you get manicures?”

I have never had one in my life. I was born to have cuticles. Nail polish chips the minute I put it on.  Fake nails? I wash my hands way too much and I am afraid of fungal infections. I am clearly not the type.

A pedicure? Are you kidding? I have to walk, run to my car, plant bushes, fill in puppy holes, stand on tip-toes to reach for things since I am not that tall, kick dirty teenage clothes into a pile to finally pick up, etc.  I don’t like people messing with my feet.

“I have been gardening.” I answered.

“You need to take care of yourself.  When I was your age I went to the Beauty Parlor once a week.”

“To be shellacked?”  My inner smart ass never fails.  I forget sometimes who I am talking too.

She broke into a smile. “Your grandmother insisted.”  “When I was working, I always looked presentable.  The hands were important.  Posture too.”

“I suppose bikini waxes were in too.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”  Apparently that was not part of the female grooming ritual it seems to be today. Or is it?  I have no idea. I plead ignorant.

“And you curse too much. When I was at high level meetings at work, the men never stooped that low in my presence.” 

Now that she’s got me on. Swear words, sexual innuendos and sarcasm constitute my second, third and fourth languages. I should go back to Latin.

There is nothing like an old soldier talking to inferiors. I felt lower than a snake’s belly. I looked at her gnarled arthritic hands but perfect pink nail polish.  Her perfectly coiffed hair. Slacks, no jeans. Lipstick.  Slippers worn in the house, no bare feet and earrings that matched not only her pendant but rings as well.

I couldn’t look this put together if I tried.

Her hair is a family tradition. I noticed this at my Dad’s funeral.  There isn’t a Polish female relative among them who has gray hair.  My Aunt at age 93 still dyes her hair blond.  Her younger cousins now in their 70’s all had brown hair. Clairol must have been trucked into the old neighborhood.

Deep down I knew she was right. With recent events in my life, I have neglected some of the finer things in life.  The clothes, the hair, the jewelry, etc.  My guess was that no one was really looking.

I guessed wrong.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Other Bobby Sherman

As a preteen in the early 1970’s everyone knew Bobby Sherman.  He was the teenage idol that graced the covers of Tigerbeat. Several of my classmates in fourth grade,  I remember,  actually went to one of his concerts in New York.  He was as handsome as a magazine cover could be.

But I remember another Bobby Sherman who entertained me so much more than just that pretty face in “Here Comes the Brides.”   It was Robert Sherman of the Disney brother songwriting team of Sherman and Sherman.  

My favorite: “It’s a Small World.”

It's a world of laughter

A world of tears

It's a world of hopes

And a world of fears

There's so much that we share

That it's time we're aware

It's a small world after all

I remember this song dearly. I attended the 1965 World’s Fair in New York and one of the rides featured this song.  I also remember Michelangelo’s "Pieta" at the fair with the moving sidewalk and the shimmering silver backdrop with red and blue lights. But "It's a Small World" won me over way more than any classical piece of sculpture. The song had such on effect that at a Catholic Mass the following Sunday, when I didn't know the words to some hymn, I sung that song instead.

Memories like that you keep forever.  When at Disney World several years ago with my own children, I couldn’t go into the “It’s a Small World” attraction.  Real life animatronics with its stilted movement in no way compares to the smooth images in my once 3 year old mind's eye.

And who could forget "Mary Poppins?"   Who hasn’t from my generation tried to convince a parent to spike any medicine with a “Spoonful of Sugar?” Children’s flavored antibiotics make that song still come true today.

His songs were not only for children. In “Jolly Holiday” you get the romantic side of Mary Poppins and the gadabout Bert. Bert and Mary clearly had an underlying love story:

Oh, it's a jolly holiday
With you, Bert
Gentlemen like you are few
Though your just a diamond
In the rough, Bert
Underneath your blood is blue!

You'd never think of pressing
Your advantage
Forbearance is the hallmark
Of your creed
A lady needn't fear
When you are near
Your sweet gentility is crystal clear!
Oh, it's a jolly holiday with you, Bert
A jolly, jolly holiday with you!

 “The Jungle Book” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” two other Sherman classics, marked even more events of my childhood.  “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” was a school field trip to Radio City Music Hall and “The Jungle Book” was a “Daddy only” night at a local movie palace called "Loew's" (pronounced "Lo-eee's" to the locals).

Mr. Robert M. Sherman died this week.  He was 86.  We seem to be losing all the greats lately.

With sadness and gratitude I read his obituary in the New York Times tonight.  

Rest in peace Mr. Sherman. Your  lines were not lost on this little girl who once sang to your brother’s music and who now appreciates your true poetry.

Words last.  Music does too.  Youth, especially the magazine cover-type, doesn't.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sock Monkeys

Monkeys are highly social animals, and almost all live in troops consisting of several females with young and either a single male (as in hamadryas baboons, mandrills, most guenons, and most langurs) or several males (as in savannah baboons and macaques). Usually, but not universally, the females stay in the troop in which they were born and are thus closely related to each other. Males join new troops on maturity, and so they are unrelated to each other and somewhat antagonistic.

-"Monkey." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Ultimate Reference Suite.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009.

I noticed it as she climbed into the minivan.

“Jeez, C. did you put your socks on inside out again?”

Yessssss, Mommmmm.”  The drawn out consonants are about as antagonistic as my youngest gets. But she's learning.

My 16 year old, K, on the other hand, is a different beast.

It takes just the slightest suggestion of vulnerability for this 16 year old woman/child to smell a fight then go for the throat.  She smells a beta female in her mission like a monkey in the jungle:

 “C, you’re a mess.  Can’t you do anything right?”

“Shut up K,”  my youngest C replies, adjusting her seatbelt remembering the fictional toddler lesson that the car doesn’t start unless the seatbelts are secure. One has to strap yourself into this vehicle for this ride through the morning bush. 

I climb into the drivers seat.  It’s going to be a long expedition. My tribe is all settled, seatbelts fastened and NPR on. They are all plugged into their iPods. God only knows what they listen to, but music soothes these savage beasts.  The 695-Beltway terrain can be a rough journey in this Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom.

Halfway down the driveway, I realize that I had left our puppy in our electric fenced yard commonly referred to as the outside pen. She is the youngest member of this simian-like female troop.


Yes that will be on the floor if you don’t crate her,  Mom, ” says A, my middle child.

Sarcasm is indeed a second language in my household.

Up the driveway again, I run like a Capuchin corralling an already too smart puppy into the house then her crate.   Barking, howling and scratching- and those noises were coming from me.

Back to the vehicle. 

You know Mom, speaking of socks, I need some new ones.” my oldest K explains.

"Didn’t I get you some about a month ago?"

Yea, but my boots ruined them. Besides, I need blue socks not the cheap white ones. Where did you buy them? Walmart? Five for $1.00?  Why do you always get me the worst socks?   Why are you always so cheap?  The blue match my uniform. My friend M, gets hers from REI or Dover Saddlery…” 

 Her friend M’s family owns a horse racing facility in the more rural area of the county.  They even buy socks for the horses.

She rambled on for two more minutes. Who knew a high school junior knew so much about socks?

“…I like the cotton ones versus polyester blends…. 

“…and no one wears those geeky tube socks…”

Jeez.  Now three minutes.

…School embroidered ones cost a bit more but I know you would never buy them for me…”

 Yikes, she’s already a walking billboard for her private girls’ school.

I figured if she wanted a response she would have stopped talking.

Four minutes.  A new record in clothing demands.  Clearly Monkey-see-monkey-do.

It hits the half hour and NPR news promo came on. She ran out of coercive steam.

Fine.”  I’ll appease even the most outrageous demands if it means no further jibber jabber and allows me contact with the outside world.

I glanced down at my middle daughter’s feet.  A, got the coveted, often fought over, front passenger seat.  The “death seat” I remind the older two when it almost comes to blows , but my comments are ignored as usual.

Yo, A,  where are your socks?” I talk like Sylvester Stallone when I feel a battle brewing in this rainforest, Rambo style.

I don’t wear any” she retorted. 

What?  Since when? “ 

Since the beginning of the year. Nobody wears socks in my high school. They don’t look good with my Converse.”

"Yikes!  Even in the dead of our non-existent winter?"  


However, in strong contrast to the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans), most monkeys do not appear to be very good at learning from each others' experience—individuals more or less have to learn new behaviours for themselves.

This sibling pair are clearly less similar than simian.

A, your school is so weird.  Do they give out awards for the geckiest kid there?  Who won last week?” K chimes in.

Nobody.  They found out the prize was a date with you, how horrible.”

We have a winner in the weekly sarcasm award!

Stop it. Jeez, no wonder your shoes smell. Why are there so many of your socks in the laundry pile then? “

The puppy grabs them out of my drawer.” Ah, an invader species.  Must close the crate at feeding time.

I sigh.

Among the smaller New World forms that have endeared themselves to humans with their antics and their tamability are the alert marmosets, often tufted and colourfully arrayed, and the inquisitive squirrel, woolly, and capuchin monkeys—all of which exhibit in marked degree the curiosity and cleverness ascribed to monkeys generally.

Take your socks off C and put them on right”, K screams, “they look ridiculous.”

Who really cares?,” my youngest and smallest replies. Clever girl. Finally some sense in this barrel of monkeys.

You can get to know a lot about a kid by their socks. Monkeys too.

Similar simians.  Welcome to my wild but wonderful world.  Jane Goodall would be proud.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Beautiful Mornings

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rainand back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right
I have been one acquainted with the night.
                                        Acquainted with the Night- Robert Frost

It is a beautiful morning.  A low hanging fog hangs over my neighborhood, not enough to obscure vision but just enough to make my scenery look more compelling.  The sun is out too casting parallel shadows  from the still bare trees.  The colors seem more vibrant ever since yesterdays rain.  And the air is fresher, cleaner with a continuance of an early Spring since we had no winter.

I need mornings now.  

I have been one acquainted with the night.