Tuesday, August 15, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Who Is Homeless?


I’m on Broadway, walking to the subway, when I am approached by a black man maybe in his 30s with his arm outstretched, and I think he’s fund-raising for some nonprofit because they are sometimes aggressively friendly. And I’m trying to see what organization is on his T-shirt.
            He comes right up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder, and starts his spiel, which is that he’s homeless and hungry, and can I help him get something to eat, and he’ll even recite a poem, which he starts to do. It takes me a few seconds to realize that he still has his hand on my shoulder, that he didn’t do it merely to stop me, and I say, “Please don’t touch me” (did I say “please”? I don’t remember). He removes his hand. And I think I should give him something, so I get out my wallet and give him a dollar. He takes it and walks away.
            He was ordinary looking, with the beginning of a beard, wearing neat clothing, just a few inches taller than me. The most curious thing about this encounter is that I never felt afraid or threatened. Why not? He did not look like he’d been living on the street. He looked like someone I might know. As though anyone I might know could not be living on the street.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Going to a Yankee Game


Today I went to a Yankee game with my cross-the-hall neighbor. She has a half-season plan and shares the tickets with her various friends and family.
            First, I decided to take the bus, which meant a bus up Riverside Drive, and transferring to a bus across 155th Street into the Bronx, to Yankee Stadium. I used my MTA Bus app to learn when the Riverside bus would get to 112th Street and discovered that it takes just over 3 minutes to get from my apartment to the bus stop. Just missed the bus and had to wait almost 20 minutes for the next one.
            On this bus, we waited about five minutes at 135th Street and Broadway for a new driver. Several blocks on, a woman sitting on a stoop waved toward the bus, indicating she wanted to get on. But she didn't walk immediately up to the bus, instead had a conversation with a man near the stoop, so the bus driver closed the door and started to pull away. The woman then came running up, banged on the door and yelled that she wanted to get on.
            Once on the bus, she berated the driver, walked a few feet into the bus, where I could smell strong odor of alcohol (it was about 12:15 p.m.), and continued to harass the driver. After a few more blocks, the driver pulled over next to a police car and ordered the woman to get out. I was glad she was gone, fearing that a look or a wrong move on my part or any of passenger's would set her off into an attack verbal or otherwise on us.
            As we neared 155th Street, I asked the driver where I should get the bus to the Bronx, and he pointed to a bus in the other direction, which I could see was the one I want. By the time I got off, however, the bus had moved on, and when I checked my bus app again, it looked like the next one was more than 20 minutes away. On Google Maps, I looked to see how far the stadium is from Broadway and 155th -- just over a mile. I could walk that, and I did, in 25 minutes.
            There were massive crowds trying to get into Yankee Stadium, and as I walked to the gate I needed, I felt light drops of rain. It took 15 minutes to get through the entrance, then an elevator to the top Grandstand. Stopped to buy a hotdog and water, resisted a large order of fries, texted my neighbor that I was inside (she was still outside waiting for other friends to give them their tix), and found our seats. And discovered the field covered with tarp and the start of the game in rain delay -- more like drizzle delay, because it really wasn't raining hard at all. This meant I wasn't missing the first pitch and would be able to keep score from the beginning.
            Which turned out to be 2:31 instead of 1:05, so the game started out with an 86-minute "rain" delay.
            The game itself was somewhat anticlimactic. Tanaka did give up a run in the first innning, but considering that he gave up three straight hits, getting out with only one run against him was a good sign. Alas, the Yankees could not manage anything against Jordan Zimmerman, leaving 8 runners on base, 6 in scoring position. Very frustrating.
            As the 8th inning was about to start, there was a flash of lightning, followed by thunder and real rain, blowing in on us, even though we were under an overhang. I had brought a plastic hooded rain jacket and quickly got it on. But as the rain intensified -- and the tarp was rolled out on the field again around 4:50 -- my neighbor decided she didn't want to stay, so we got down the stairs, onto the Grandstand concourse, which had no drainage whatsoever -- inches of rain piling up. We were soaked pretty quickly. Walked through the crowds on the ground level, ran for the D train, and got home in a bit over an hour. 
             (BTW, if the game had started at its original time, it would have been over before the thunderstorm struck, and we could all have been home, and dry.)
            Once home, where the rain had stopped, I checked in on the Yankee channel, which was still in rain delay. Once the rain stopped, they periodically showed us the grounds crew rolling up the tarp, squeegying the field, then poking pitchforks into the ground to encourage the accumulated water to be absorbed.
            Finally, the game restarted, at 8:01. Despite Betances throwing an "immaculate inning" (three strikeouts on the minimum of three pitches each), the Yankees could manage only one hit in their last two innings, and no runs. The few hundred people who stuck it out at the stadium, including children, had an adventure: 2 hours and 52 minutes of game time (a quite reasonable game length), and 4 hours and 37 minutes of rain delay.
            While I usually would never leave a game before the end, I didn't mind this time. It was fun to see as much as I did, come home, and see the rest of the game while eating my own dinner.Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Computer Success!

            Last year, my math/computer whiz niece set up a router to extend the wi-fi range of my Internet network into the kitchen (my apartment is just big enough that the wi-fi stopped just short of the kitchen table, the only surface I can use as a desk). Early this year, that router died. I was able to get a replacement under the warranty, but setting it up was not so easy.
            I thought I am computer savvy enough to figure out how to set up the new router myself. But after plugging it in and going to the Airport Utility (I have a Mac), the first step asked if I wanted to “switch networks,” and I had no idea what that meant. Switch from what? Would this affect my existing network? And what’s the password for my wi-fi network anyway?
            Just as a test, I chose another network on my base station Airport, and discovered that neither of what I thought were the passwords worked. Oh, dear. I knew there is a way to discover my password in the Airport Utility, but just searching around, without guidance, failed to find it for me. So the extending router has been sitting on the table next to where I usually work, flashing yellow, for months.
            Finally, yesterday, I went to the Apple Store. Finally, I also googled* “how to find password on Airport Express” (should have done that months ago). The Apple Store person helpfully suggested I call 1-800-MyApple and have them walk me through the process. Okay, I thought, that sounds easy.
            Today, I figured I’d try it myself one more time, so I’d know exactly where the snags are when I talk to the 1-800 people. First, I followed the instructions on “how to find password on Airport Express,” and after some hunting around (they didn’t apply exactly to my system), I found the password—and wrote it down. Next, I went to my laptop to set up the router. That, too, turned out to be quite simple once I accepted that I had to tell it to “switch networks.” Flashing yellow light turns to green, and go!
            Success in the computer world, and I didn’t have to call anyone at all. Just me and my computer, all’s right with the world.

*Usage mavens, do you think “google” as a verb has become sufficiently common that it can be lowercased? Or will Google come after me with the legal letter asserting its trademark rights?
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It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Big Words: Backsliding


(I want to acknowledge Tanya Shirley, a Jamaican poet, whose “A Chant Against Fear” inspired part of this.)

            Backsliding – should I be afraid of it or look forward to it? Mainstream culture says backsliding is bad. We must always be moving forward. Like sharks, if we don’t keep moving (forward, of course), we die. If we take one step forward and two steps back, that’s a tragedy.             What if there’s a time for backsliding.
            Jack died. Did I tell you that? I’m supposed to be moving forward, finding closure, healing. But I’m not backsliding into grief. Grief is beside the point.

            We met when we were 21, married at 22. We were children. I know, some of you may be 21 or 22 and think you’re adults. We thought we were adults, thought we knew who we were and what we were doing.
            We were lucky, together for the next 52 years. At the beginning, I was a shy, reserved person afraid to speak up because I knew no one would listen to me. I’ve becomw confident, outspoken, standing up in front of classes, sometimes crowds, like this, becoming a boss, hiring and firing, traveling to many countries with strange languages. Women’s liberation had a lot to do with this transformation, but Jack supported it, too. Without him, I’m afraid I’m backsliding to that earlier me.

            When we met, I was on my own and supporting myself, but I was still unformed, malleable. Going from family to roommates, I’d only ever lived alone for two weeks of my life. The first time I was completely on my own, in my own place, I sat on my sofa/bed and cried, for half an hour. I retreated home, to my parents. Then I was afraid, of the silence (no radio), no one to talk to (on the pay phone out in the hall).
Fear of loneliness.
Fear of not knowing who I was.

            A few months after Jack died, fear came roaring back. Now I was home, and my fears were different:
Fear of losing the person I’d become via loving Jack and he loving me.
Fear of being old as a single person, as a single woman, as a woman who’s 75.
Fear of forgetting Jack if I’m successful in learning to live without him.
Fear of the open-endedness of freedom, with no one to share it with.
Fear that having a daily plan will constrain me, but
Fear that having no plan will leave me unmoored.
Fear of dying.
Fear of being a person who is afraid of dying.

            The fear ebbs, but never disappears. I remember what the great Negro Leagues xpitcher Satchel Paige said, “Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.”  But if I look back, if I backslide into that fear, perhaps I’ll learn something I need to know.
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I read this at the July 24 Big Words series, which had the theme word "Backslide."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Two Sentences


I just read the short fiction by Elif Batuman in the January 23 New Yorker. I quite liked the story (first generation freshman college student at Harvard), but two sentences stood out for me. "The cocktail party was reproduced in miniature in Gary's eyeglasses." And "Such names were unheard of in New Jersey, where everything was called Ridgefield, Glen Ridge, Ridgewood, or Woodbridge."
            That first sentence is a transition, from the narrator's surprise to her reply. But I can't help wondering how the author came up with that image. "Gary's eyeglasses" play no other role in the story, and the cocktail party is a cartoon being shown in an art seminar. How long did it take for Batuman to come up with that image? What other images did she try out? What made her choose this one over the others? Writers' questions.
            The other sentence just made me laugh. I know two women who once lived in one of those New Jersey towns, Ridgewood or Ridgefield, I can never remember. They have long since left, now residents of New York City, where they are much more comfortable and happy. 

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It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Air Travel Hell


            I’ve been traveling a lot lately, but last Thursday was probably the nadir. Here’s what happened.
            I was scheduled to fly out of LaGuardia on American Eagle nonstop to Dayton at 1:06 (I was headed to a college reunion in Yellow Springs). I arrived at the gate around 12:30 and everything was fine. About 10 minutes later, the flight had been postponed an hour and a half. Ten minutes after that, it was canceled. I was being picked up at the airport, so I first had to text my handler so the driver wouldn’t head to the airport.
           Next step: customer service desk, where a small line had formed. A text from American said I was rebooked the next morning on a 6 a.m. flight, but that was not going to happen. I was behind a woman with a young boy, who I later learned was 7. While mom was on her phone, the boy didn’t have any toy or book to occupy him, and he was clearly already extremely bored. It took almost an hour to get to the desk. Here I was offered the choice of the 1:06 flight the next day, or a 4:35 flight to Washington, D.C., connecting to a 10 p.m. flight to Dayton, getting me in at 11:35.
            Going home to return the next day felt like moving backward. Besides, flying to Ohio in the summertime is always iffy; a few years ago I’d been making this same trip and two flights were delayed by weather. Dayton is about a half-hour drive to my final destination, but it seemed hard to expect a volunteer driver to come get me late at night. If I could get a room at a hotel near the airport, it made more sense to take that choice.
            My phone gave me the number for a Hampton Inn, and I was able to get a room that night. And the clerk assured me that there was a 24-hour free shuttle bus. So I was soon on my way to D.C. And once there, lining up for the next leg, I was once again behind the woman and her son. Here’s where I learned that they had been in New York for an annual checkup with a doctor, where they had stayed in New Jersey, though on previous visits they had stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. This implied something serious, but the boy seemed totally normal and I hesitated to ask why he needed annual checkups with a doctor in another city.
            Finally, we arrive in Dayton, and I immediately call the hotel to find out where to find the hotel shuttle bus. The desk clerk tells me that there is no shuttle bus because the driver called in sick – and there is no backup driver. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. The desk clerk next tells me that he is the only person working, so there’s not even another staff person who could come get me.
            Fortunately, there were taxis at the airport, so I did get to the hotel. And the next morning, a volunteer from the reunion staff picked me up and got me to the reunion. Reunion was fun, and I danced for more than an hour at the Saturday night dance. And the two-hour delay on our flight home felt almost normal.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

#52essays2017, Essay 10: K Is for Keep On Keepin’ On


(I’m way behind the essay a week writing challenge, and have clearly not kept up with the daily Blogging AtoZ Challenge for April. So I will combine the two for my essays and try to catch up, which could mean writing two or three essays a week for the rest of the year. Haven’t checked a calendar yet for a real schedule.)

My husband died last year. I keep saying that, and it’s probably getting boring for other people. But it still feels like the most important thing that’s happened in my life recently.
            It was a moment, the moment Jack died. Up until that moment, our lives were entwined. We were not the joined-at-the-hip type of couple, like my husband’s brother and his wife. We had our own friends, we traveled separately often, we shared housework—and we kept our money separate. He went to the gym almost every day, I went maybe three times a week. But we both loved baseball and went to games together, went to the movies, had some friends in common. And we were both storytellers, though he was much better than me.
            When he got sick and said things like “if I’m here next year,” I ignored the implication. I continued to believe our “moments before,” alive, would go on forever. Denial, much? It’s the “moments after” that continue to mount up, to add on, to move me steadily away from those moments when Jack was alive.
            Yet I have to keep on keepin’ on. Remembering the past is not the same as living in the past. But integrating the past into the continually-moving-forward present is a paradox when one member of that past is no longer present to continue that work. His memories have evaporated, or live, imperfectly, in the memories of others. I don’t want to be stuck in the past, I don’t want to lose the past, and I want to keep on keepin’ on with the past as companion. 
#52essays2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

#AtoZChallenge and #52essays2017 (#9): J Is for Jumble


            The jumble is my mind. I have not been able to settle on a J word for weeks. J could have been Jack, my late husband who was never late and would have hated being referred to as “late” (I didn’t think to ask him about that as he waited for death, which was not as on time as he wanted, but was not too late either). But a brief post about “J Is for Jack” would not have been possible.           
             J could have been Jaffe, my family name. But that too would not have been a brief post as I gathered Jaffe stories. And would they be stories about the family I grew up in? The family my father grew up in? It could have been only how his father came to this country, since I know very little about my grandfather’s family, besides his coming from Vitebsk, Russia (the same city Marc Chagall was from), in order to escape being drafted into the czar’s army.
            “J Is for Joy” is too clichéd. That it was one of the first words that popped into my head was reason enough to reject it.
            Jumble. Yes, my mind has been a jumble. I sometimes find myself at the end of the day wondering, “what did I do today?” “What did I do yesterday?” Last month I missed a meeting because I had it in my mind that it was at 6:30, when it was clearly written into my datebook for 6. I write an e-mail to my daughter every week (and she to me) to let her know what I’ll be doing, when I’ll be home or out. (Before Jack died, he talked to our daughter almost every day, so he was up on her activities. The e-mails are my attempt to replace that exchange.) But then I forget and have to keep consulting the datebook myself to be sure I’m in the right place at the right time. And my to-do list? I add to it, then never look at it. There are items on it from a month ago; I look at the list and can’t deal with the phone calls or other tasks, but can add one or two more.
            Enough. I’m going to a friend’s 70th birthday party in a pouring rain. It’s the middle of May in New York City, and it’s 52 degrees outside. Mother Earth is not happy, as a full-page ad[[https://www.keepmotherearthhappy.com/]] in yesterday’s New York Times attests to. 
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 I never finished April's Blogging AtoZ challenge, and wrote this weeks ago and forgot to post it. Maybe I can catch up with the #52essays2017, which I only got up essay #8, which also did double-duty.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

SOLTuesday: Street Scene


I’m walking down my block today, past the school. A little girl, 2 to 3 years old, has stopped, leaned over, and picked up a white feather from the sidewalk. I think, she shouldn’t be picking things off the sidewalk, and I look around for the pertinent adult. About 25 feet ahead, a tall man carrying a child’s backpack has turned around, looking back toward the girl. As I continue walking, I think about telling him that she’s picked up a feather from the street. But I say nothing.
            An instant later I hear him say, “Put that down.” I keep walking as I hear her voice the perennial child question: “Why?”
            If my block were a village, I would have known that child and her father. It would have been normal for me to say to her, “Don’t pick up feathers from the sidewalk,” or to her father, “Chloe [or whatever her name is] just picked up a feather.” We might have stopped and exchanged stories about what small children see on the street at their feet and find fascinating.
            But hundreds of people live on my block and around the corner, and many children attend the school I’m passing from other neighborhoods. I can’t know all of them. That’s the price I pay for living in a city where I don’t have to own a car, where there are dozens of movies playing every day, dozens more museums, walkable streets and parks. I have my own “village” of friends around the city, just not necessarily those I see on the street.
 
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It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. Add one of your own.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

SOLTuesday: Windows and Blinds

            A couple of months ago I was taking a shower when I noticed a man on the ledge of the school next door, which is maybe 15 feet from my bathroom window. We have never had a window covering on the bathroom window because our apartment is on the dark side: second floor, tall building on other side of narrow alleyway. Why make it darker with a shade?
            Standing in the shower, I was able to get into a corner that was out of the sightline, and when I peeked out, I saw the man had his back to my window, and when I was done  with my shower, he was gone from the ledge.
            That school building’s ledge has two immense fans, probably part of the air-conditioning or heating system, and there is usually never anyone there — except maybe once every few years. And then there’s Local Law 11, which requires every building to inspect its exterior walls every five years.
            Why did I never check to see if anyone was there? Because when Jack was alive, he almost always woke up first and alerted me if there were workmen able to see into the bathroom. And if there were, I’d rig up a temporary shade with a towel on a curtain rod for the duration.
            Now, I no longer have Jack as early-warning-system. And why shouldn’t I buy blinds or a shade that would be open most of the time, and closed only when necessary? I stopped at the nearest home décor store, ordered a shade for the bathroom and a blind for the bedroom that used to be our daughter’s, and which she claims had a blind in her youth but I have no recollection of it.
            Now I look out the bathroom window every day before getting in the shower, and there hasn’t been anyone on that ledge since. So no need to use the shade — yet.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

SOL Tuesday: What's the Worst Insult?

After the gym the other afternoon, I sat down in a vest-pocket park. A woman at a nearby table took out a styrofoam plate, which the breeze blew onto the ground in my direction. As I reached down to retrieve it, I heard a man's voice: "Do you want me to get your plate for you?" As I handed the plate to the woman, I heard him say, "Oh, granny got it."

WTF?! I looked at him, a white man, at least in his 50s, maybe 60, gray pants, gray shirt. I said, "That's not an appropriate thing to say." He looked surprised, replied, "So sue me." And as he walked away, he added, "Sue me. You won't get anything. I don't have anything."

The woman and I looked at each other, with "what is his problem?" expressions. I'd have liked to use Jack's favorite insult: "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on." But that might have provoked violence."

After I posted this on Facebook, a friend suggested I could have said, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, grampa."

 
--> It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SOLTuesday: The First Time


            I did something today I’ve never done before. A man — 30s? 40s? — was sitting on the corner on a black plastic crate, asking for money. I passed by on my way to the grocery store. No money in my pockets, so nothing to give.
            In the store, I bought bottles of juice, a few small yogurt containers, a package of carrots, and a box of little yellow tomatoes, and pocketed 42 cents in change. As I left the store, I thought I would give the change to the man on the corner (if he was still there; often the begging people move on). But 42 cents seemed piddling. What if I gave him some of the food I just bought? A yogurt? I didn’t know whether he was a yogurt eater. I could give him the tomatoes.
            He was still sitting on the crate on the corner, asking for change. I gave him the coins, and asked, “Do you want some tomatoes?” He looked puzzled at the package I handed him; they were yellow, not the usual color of a tomato.
            “What is it?” he asked.
            “Tomatoes.”
            “Potatoes?”
            “No, yellow tomatoes.” And I moved on.
            I’ve never given food to a person begging on the street, thinking, what if it’s food they don’t like, what if it’s something they’re allergic to and they get sick. Maybe he’ll sell the tomatoes to get what he really wants, cash. I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to know.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Busy, Busy, Busy...


Every spring I work on a freelance project for the magazine I used to work for full-time. That work started up a couple of weeks ago, and today it’s really heating up. Now it’s getting a bit hard to fit in the work in between the rest of my life. So today...
            First, going to the gym.
            Second, home for lunch.
            Third, spending an hour helping one of the editors on this project get up to speed on the technology we will be using. But there’s a hitch, and I had to e-mail people at the magazine for help.
            Fourth, another hour using that technology myself.
            Fifth, I take a few hours off to see a Bulgarian movie, Glory, which was worth seeing, but very depressing.
            Sixth, dinner out at a local restaurant, an excellent roast cod with stewed vegetables, and a glass of wine.
            Seventh, home to continue work on that project, in between doing my laundry.
            Eighth, writing this slice.
            Ninth, time for bed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: I Is for Ignorant


The dictionary defines ignorant as “destitute of knowledge or education,” “lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified,” or “unaware, uninformed.”
            I like to think of myself as being aware, informed, knowledgeable, educated. Of course, there are aspects I am ignorant of, as is everyone else: I’m ignorant of when I will die, what I will die from. I am ignorant of what will happen in the future, though I can make educated guesses based on the past — with the caveat that comes with financial advice: “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
            Being aware, informed, knowledgeable, educated: this is important to me. But why? Didn’t an 18th century English poet write “ignorance is bliss”? He was thinking of the perils of life, which only ends with death, and if we knew when that would occur, wouldn’t that overshadow any present happiness?
            One night when I was 15, I lay in bed yearning to know everything there is to know in the universe. I no longer remember what prompted that desire, but it remains embedded deep in me.
            For many years, I thought the way to learn about any subject was to start at the beginning, like a novel, and read through until I got to “the end,” which would be “the present.” The Hungarian Uprising in 1956 sent me to the World Book encyclopedia; I had to find out why Hungarians were rising up against communism, which my parents thought was quite a good system. Outlining the history of Hungary would answer my questions, except that it didn’t. The Six-Day War, in 1967 sent me to books about the Israeli-Arab conflict, except that some assumed Israel was right, and others assumed the Arab view was right, and I didn’t yet know how to dance through the evidence from both these viewpoints to determine my own opinion. I still thought it was like math, there was a right answer and a wrong answer.
            As I moved through adulthood, I realized that I was never going to know everything there is to know in the universe. I decided there were some things I could remain ignorant of. India was one: until I read the Jewel in the Crown series, and decades later visited the country. I don’t know Spanish, so I decided to remain ignorant of Latin America: news stories occasionally pierce the darkness, but without much context. Even some parts of American history are shadowy: the Civil War, the antebellum period, the early Republic.
            I started thinking about ignorance after reading a review article in the New Yorker about books on democracy. Universal suffrage allows many people to vote who are ignorant of policy, how the government works, who the candidates are and what they stand for, and even how to think rationally instead of emotionally. So should these ignorant voters have the same rights as more knowledgeable voters? Saying no leads to very undemocratic results. Saying yes can lead to our current president. Per Churchill in 1947, “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time....”
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I'm using this for one of my essays a week, which I have fallen seriously behind on. #52essays2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: H Is for Help


I know that anyone reading this who has lived on his or her own for a good part or all of their adult life will find this post pretty much a whine. But bear with me, please.
            I'm 75, and I've lived on my own for perhaps three weeks of my adult life. This doesn't count three weeks here or four weeks there when I house-sat for my aunt in Vermont, or my husband took a trip to England or California. Those don't count because my husband was still part of my life, and I knew I would be coming home to him or he would be coming home to me. They were interludes, vacations from my "real" life.
            Now that he's dead, I am having to learn to be a single person, and it isn't easy. The first few months, coming home to a dark and empty apartment was like entering an alternate universe. It felt wrong.There would be a half-second before I opened the door when I would think, maybe he'll be there. Maybe somebody will be there. What if the light is on? What will that mean? Are there ghosts? (Neither of us believes/believed in ghosts or anything spiritual. He would not have expected to come back to haunt me or reassure me — and he hasn't. But I still understand the impulse, the desire, to believe.)
            After about six months, something clicked. I was riding home on the bus and didn't dread that moment of opening the door to a dark apartment. It would be okay. I went out of town for a week, and when I returned, I greeted myself at the door as he would have: "Welcome home, baby." Before taking another trip, I bought a timer and set it to go on and off at set times, so it wouldn't be obvious no one was home. And after I came home, I kept the timer so there would be a light for me when I came home.
            But I still miss the help. As in, I'm now responsible for everything. Jack and I didn't have a traditional marriage, with me doing all the housework and he doing all the earning a living. Whoever cooked, the other washed the dishes, or whoever cooked also washed the dishes, but neither one of us was the only one who cooked every day. We took turns doing the laundry. And we alternated going to the accountant for our taxes.
            Now I have to do everything. After I bought a new kitchen faucet, I had to e-mail the super to set up an appointment for getting it installed, and I had to be home for the installation. I had to do the taxes last year and this year... And the year after that and after that and after that... I have to call the super to change the lightbulbs in the kitchen and in the bathroom; no longer can I stand on a stool while Jack holds me steady, or vice versa. I have to do all the shopping and all the cooking and all the washing up, although if I decide not to wash the dishes one evening, no one will complain.
            I dread the time when I will be in the hospital and need someone to advocate for me, as I advocated for him in his various hospitalizations and his last month. Or when I will need help after coming home from some hospital procedure and can't take care of myself. My daughter can help in minor situation, like picking me up after my cataract surgery six months ago. But if I can't get to the bathroom by myself and need 24-hour assistance? That can get expensive — and it's not the same as having a partner.
            Yes, I know, many, many people live like this all the time, and in far worse circumstances. But I feel like I need lessons in being a grownup, and it feels a little embarrassing to admit that as an old person.

#AtoZChallenge: G Is for Grief

Empty
Disoriented
Unmoored
Lost
Found
Alone
Free
Open
Wandering
Wondering
Remembering
Forgetting
Floating
Silent
Shifting
Shuddering
Shiftless
Unwound
Mixed-up
Exploring
Foundering
Touching
Locked in
Tentative
Tears
Joy

Friday, April 14, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: F Is for Food


(I haven’t had any Internet connection for the past few days, so I’m filing F, G, H, I, J, and whatever we’re up to, as fast as I can. Gotta keep up.)
            I love food. Jack, my late husband, loved food. I love to eat. Jack loved to eat. I love to cook. Jack liked to cook—I don’t know if he loved to cook. I love to try new dishes; last week I made a vegetarian chili verde for my writers’ group and had no idea how it would turn out until it was almost done and I tasted it. Jack had his specialties—broiled chicken, black bean soup, tuna casserole, spaghetti sauce, brownies—which were always very good. I often thought of writing down his marinade for the broiled chicken, but never did—and now it’s too late. But it wasn’t really a recipe anyway: juice, olive oil, wine, dried herbs or spices, whatever was handy or he felt like.
            I’m a recipe person myself, wrote about this years ago for a tiny magazine, And/Then. Called “Recipes for Life,” it contrasted two ways of approaching cooking: following a recipe, or sensing what went well together and winging it. At that time in my life I followed recipes. I needed to know quantities: how much juice, how much wine, how much oregano and what if I’d run out of oregano? Then, I was hoping to be more adventurous in cooking, and in life as well. Now I use recipes as guidelines, looking at 1, 2, 3, what ingredients do I know I like, what combos taste interesting in my mind.
          That vegetarian chili verde? I had a chili verde a friend had made, but it was full of pork. One of the writers in my group is vegetarian, so I had to improvise. (I used the basic pork version but substituted beans for meat and added bell peppers and about half as much green chilis.)
            I love to cook, but not every day. Even the few years I was a full-time parent, I didn’t cook every day. We ate out a fair amount, and our school-age daughter had her favorite restaurants: Symposium (Greek), 107 West (new American), Japonica (she liked sushi at age 8). When Jack was the full-time parent, he’d go to the farmers market late in the day and buy a quantity of tomatoes and sale price. Then he’d make a quantity of tomato sauce and freeze most of it. We even had a free-standing freezer, which felt very suburban in our New York apartment.
            My mother didn’t teach me to cook, though she was a pretty good cook. She didn’t have enough patience, she said. She’d been a home-ec major in college (a compromise with her immigrant parents; she wanted to major in biology) and relished modern technology: frozen vegetables, TV dinners. We did have a garden for a few years when I was a child, and I learned the luscious taste of sun-warmed tomatoes and crisp peas right out of the pod. I also read my mother’s cookbooks from college and started clipping my own recipes as a teenager. Perhaps the first one was a tuna melt from Seventeen.
            And I wanted my daughter to learn the fun of mixing ingredients into some new concoction that tasted good. So when she was 4, 5, 6 and had to stand on a stool to reach the counter, I’d have her take a turn mixing the cake batter and frosting, rolling out the pizza dough, filling the dumplings. When she was a teenager, she wanted to make her own meals and start experimenting. I suggested she master some recipes first and improvise once she’d learned the basics. Now in her 40s, she still cooks, makes leftovers to take for lunch, and has found a partner who likes to cook as much as she does.