Monday, September 19, 2016

Moving a Lifetime

We found it on a dreary, icy February Sunday. Close to the city we loved and wanted to frequent more, it was an ugly, dirty brown stucco house, listing to the left, with sad dandelions and other unidentifiable weeds disguised as a front lawn.

We wanted it the minute we stepped out of the car.

Taking an estimated five months to make the new-to-us house habitable gave us time to sort through twenty years of stuff in our current house. Stuff that was shoved into the attic, basement, kids’ closets, under beds.

We assumed our clean out tasks would be a breeze. A cinch. A snap.

Older son’s closet belched out dozens of boxes of baseball cards, little league awards, and speech and debate trophies, along with stacks of high school math and political science notebooks. “I don’t want anything,” he claimed. “Throw it all out.” I made judgment calls, donated or threw out a bunch of stuff and boxed up items that I deemed important.

Our daughter deigned to travel to the suburbs one more time to peruse her childhood belongings. She packed up some letters, books, old CDs. We reminisced about summer camp and quizzed each other with “Gilmore Girls” quotes. “What do we do with the Beanie Babies?” she asked, pulling out green garbage bags filled with the stuffed animals. She chose two to take with her, and tossed the rest.

Younger son, the one still living at home when not at school, was not a tosser. He wanted to keep everything. Everything. The Thomas the Tank Engine trains and tracks. The Legos. Pokeman cards. I relented: “Pack everything up. We’ll shove it into the new basement.”

Many carloads of filled-to-the-brim moving boxes later, with a new basement fuller than anticipated, we trekked to our newly renovated home, excited for this next phase to begin.

Previously published in Silver Birch Press

Monday, September 12, 2016

Beach Days

I am sitting in my striped beach chair, close to the white sand, under the red umbrella, Kindle in hand. Every morning this week in August, Steve carries the umbrella to the bay beach near our rental house and secures it in the spot that I like, near the beach grass, out of the way. He then returns to the house to work on the shaded deck, fielding phone calls and reviewing contracts while enjoying the sea breeze from there. I read. And people watch. From time to time, my left sand sifts through the shiny, soft sand by my side and I inhale the salt that drifts in from the water. We are both totally content in these peaceful beach days, days to think and dream and maybe get a little work done. I return to the house around noon to make a tuna sandwich or a salad and iced tea. I pull out my laptop to write for a few hours, then return to the beach to enjoy the late afternoon sun and thinning crowd. Steve comes back down to watch the sun set over the water and we discuss where we’ll go for dinner.  “How about Abba?” I suggest. He carries the umbrella back to the house. Later on, after dinner, we’ll read or watch a movie. We might drive up to Provincetown for an ice cream cone in our little 2-seater convertible, enjoying the cooling hum of the evening. Each day blends into the next, and there’s a wonderful timelessness when I’m not sure if it’s Tuesday or Thursday and I really don’t care. For a full week I can push aside daily worries and concerns, some major, some minor, and consume myself with oysters and corn on the cob and gin and tonics.
We began coming to the Cape over twenty years ago, when our three kids were toddlers and preschoolers. Instead of tossing a couple of suitcases and some sunscreen into the tiny trunk of the 2-seater like we do now, we jammed the mini-van to overflowing: stroller, port-a-crib, buckets and shovels and swimming noodles, games and books, safety gates for stairs, luggage and beach towels and beach blankets for five people. The week before we left, I made lists and lists of stuff to bring and ran around town to collect the necessities we didn’t already have. After the van was full inside, we strapped five bikes to the back and to the roof. The helmets barely fit under the seats. I poured myself into the front seat, wiped out before we had barely begun.
Beach days with three young kids stretch into infinity; like the beach days I have now, except they are non-stop action. Three meals a day, most of which were prepared in the beach house kitchen, with the occasional foray to the fried clam shack. My kids, restaurant aficionados now, were not fun to take out to eat when they were young. Packing up for a day at the beach was no day at the beach. Coolers filled with lunch and snacks. The required beach toys. Chairs, blankets and multiple umbrellas. Steve would, like he does these days, lug all the stuff to the beach, set up, stay and play for awhile and then head back to the house to work. I was constantly on the move, in the water, out of the water. We built sand castles, played whiffle ball, collected shells, reapplied sunscreen. At the end of the day, after showers and baths washed away the stubborn sand, I was exhausted but self-satisfied.  Now, as adults, they remember those beach days and sigh.
“Remember when we were on the beach right before the hurricane?”
“Remember when we had lobster races across the back deck?”
“Remember when Connor would fling himself into the waves, like, 20 times and you had to keep dragging him out?”  
One afternoon last summer (maybe it was Wednesday, maybe Friday), I watched a mother about 25 years my junior chasing her two young kids all over the sand and into the water, while I sat alone under my umbrella enjoying the latest Ann Leary novel. On one of her many trudges up and down the beach, she stopped. “You have no idea how much I envy you right now.” I looked up. “I know you don’t want to hear this,” I told her. “Enjoy this time. It’s over in a flash.”
I took a sip of my water, and went back to my book.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Poolside in the 1970's

When I was in junior high my stepfather, along with some friends, one of whom was our neighbor Cookie, dug a hole in our backyard with a borrowed backhoe and installed a large in-ground pool. By the end of that first summer, we could walk a few steps from the screened in breezeway to the pool’s patio and jump right in.
My mother never learned how to swim and was actually a bit afraid of the water but loved to bask in a lounge chair in the hot summer sun, sipping iced tea after iced tea. My stepfather, the pool builder, was a freckled redhead with very fair skin; he avoided the sun. I never saw him actually swim in the pool he built for his acquired family.  He quickly moved on to rebuilding an old boat from the hull up; that half-built boat loomed over the fence of the pool way past my high school graduation. But that homemade backyard pool made for heavenly summers in the 1970’s.
Cookie’s daughter, Sue, was one of my best friends. We worked together at a Howard Johnson’s cafeteria on the Mass Pike during those summers, she in the kitchen making salads and me at the cash register, collecting money from busloads of tourists. After work, she and I  would joyfully strip off our just-below-the-knee turquoise checked uniforms and leap into the refreshing water. Often joined by a gaggle of girls, we would take turns rushing down the blue plastic slide and practicing dives off the board at the far end. Bikini-clad, we stretched out on brightly colored beach towels and slathered on Coppertone tanning lotion. We would snack on Fritos and Cokes and then jump back in to wash off the crumbs.
When I was a sophomore, I started dating the high school quarterback. The team would have summer practice sessions during stifling August afternoons. “Have the team come over for a swim after practice,” I told John. They did. Often. Sometimes a few, sometimes a lot. A horde of well toned and muscled high school boys would hoot and holler as they cannonballed into the cool blue surface.
Heaven for this teenaged girl.

An earlier version of this piece was published in Silver Birch Press.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fifty Nine Thoughts About Being Fifty Nine

1. Some of the articles in the AARP Magazine look really interesting.

2. When I'm away from my kids, I should miss them more than I do.

3. To justify this, I tell myself it’s because they are doing well and don’t need me so much.

4. I spend way too much time playing spider solitaire.

5. I am hopeful that studying Italian will help keep my mind sharp.

6. Then, the next thing I know, I have to pull the car over because I forgot where I was going

7. Sometimes I go to bed with my make up on.

8. I really need to start drinking my kale/celery/broccoli stem/cucumber juice again.

9. When my grandmother was my age, she had 17 grandchildren.

10. That crease on my face that I wake up with, the one that used to fade right away? It’s hanging around a lot longer now.

11. I buy clothes for the life I don't lead.

12. Snow is unappealing to me even when it is fresh, fluffy and beautiful.

13. I used to love to downhill ski.

14. Sometimes I am terrified that the cancer will come back.

15. I try not to waste that much time thinking about it.

16. Apparently I like country music now.

17. The sound of a cocktail shaker brings me great joy.

18. I tend to be either obsessive or dismissive. Nothing in between.

19. I don’t think this is a good thing.

20. I love the feeling you get when you're reading a great book and can't wait to share it.

21. I can eat a bag of Lay's potato chips at one sitting and still want more. There were no consequences when I did this as a teenager.

22, There are consequences now.

23. Fear of failure can immobilize me.

24. I wish I had hung onto all those hippie, gauzy 1970’s clothes. ‘Cause now they are back in style.

25. Except it’s called “BoHo.”

26. As my lips grow thinner, I think my nose is getting wider.

27.  A beach house would be nice.

28. Having my younger son call me a bad influence only encourages me.

29. I can't be middle aged unless I live to be 118.

30. I think I did that math right.

31. Laughing is one of my favorite things to do.

32. Hearing laughter is another.

33. The daily vitamins I take seem like a recitation of the entire alphabet.

34. I have had to leave the room while watching my adult children interact, because I was so overwhelmed with the wonder of it all.

35. I would not have predicted that when they were 8, 6 and 2.

36. There is no one who would put up with me on a daily basis like my husband does.

37. Sometimes that pisses me off.

38. My high heel days are long gone.

39. So are my dancing on tables days.

40. The latter is probably a good thing.

41. I never knew elbows could be saggy.

42. No one is surprised anymore when they learn I have a 30 year old son.

43. I own 7 pairs of reading glasses and can never find a pair when I need to. Which is always.

44. I try to remember to whisper a “thank you” every day and hope the words linger and float into the universe.

45. I am aware that I can move into an Active Adult Community at any time.

46.  have never taken, and will never take, one of those large ocean cruises.

47. These days, all birthdays are big birthdays.

48. My limited musical taste doesn’t embarrass me anymore.

49. In fact, not much embarrasses me at all anymore.

50. I try to remain calm when my daughter says, “You sound just like Grammy.”

51. When in doubt, wear black. Throw on a scarf.

52. One of my main missions is to bug all of my much younger friends and relatives to get a colonoscopy when they turn 50. I’ll drive you.

53. I cannot carry a tune but remain convinced I would be an excellent backup singer.

54. I am slowly accepting the fact that I am eligible for some senior citizen discounts.

55. I don’t recognize half the people in People Magazine anymore.

56. I am so delighted that my 3 children have grown into compassionate, thoughtful, funny adults.

57. The hair from my thinning eyelashes is showing up on my chin.

58. If Jane Fonda can wear leggings and over the knee leather boots, I think I’m good.

59. These boots were made for walking.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Senior Discount

When Steve turned sixty, a milestone age which makes many of us who are younger than that squirm, he was no fun. The teasing and old age jokes did not bother him one bit. He shrugged off all references to creaky joints, ignored admonishments that he should stop climbing ladders (“You could fall and break a hip!”), and refused the offer to have dinner at 5 o’clock. “I think it’s the law once you turn sixty,” I told him. No reaction. When our daughter started calling him “Pops,” he found it amusing.  “Well, I feel like a Pops,” he reasoned.
He did not want a big birthday bash, despite my frequent pleadings. Instead, we rented a house on the Cape for the week, with immediate family wandering in and out, and he happily ate mussels and steamers with our kids and biked the fifty two miles to Provincetown and back with his sister-in-law and brother-in-law.
His real joy kicked in a couple of years later when he discovered the Senior Citizen discount.
“Seniors over 62 get a discount on Amtrak tickets,” he bellowed from the other room. “This is fantastic!”
“So, now you’re calling yourself a senior citizen?” I was horrified.
“You’re just jealous you’re not as old as me.”
“And did you know I can get discounts at Applebee’s and The Olive Garden?"
“Have fun with that.”
We recently took a 12-day road trip through the states of Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana to celebrate Steve’s next milestone birthday, occurring this summer. We mapped out a route to include stops along the “Blues Trail,” which included juke joints now run down and shuttered that were alive and hopping decades ago. We stopped by the birthplaces of musicians like Buddy Guy and B.B. King, and lots of others I had never heard of. Most of these spots were noted by markers on the side of southern, dusty back roads, and took some searching to find.
We also visited historical and musical museums that had admission fees. That’s when Senior Citizen Steve stepped in. We went to so many places in such a compressed period of time that the request for a discount was, to me, constant and loud.
“Do you have Senior discounts?” He asked the clerk at The Johnny Cash Museum.
“Yes, sir, 62 and older.
Steve beamed as he saved his two dollars.
It was the same at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and Sun Studio and Graceland in Memphis and various sites throughout the Mississippi River Delta.
“One senior and one adult ticket, please.” I heard it over and over again.
On our last day in Memphis, we walked to the south side of town to visit The Civil Rights Museum, set in The Lorraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King’s assassination. As we crossed the parking lot, we stopped to gaze up at the balcony where Dr. King was shot. It was a somber and serious moment in what had otherwise been a joyful and exuberant road trip.
As we went through the front doors of the museum and approached the ticket counter, Steve nudged me and pointed to the Admission Prices posted on the wall.
Adults: $15.00
Senior Citizens (55 and older): $14.00
I gulped. “That’s me,” I whispered.
“Go ahead,” he smiled, a little too broadly.
I walked ahead of him up to the ticket counter.

“Two senior citizen tickets. And, please, please ask for my id.”

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sometimes the Big Stuff Matters

I could never live with someone that didn’t share my political views. It is such a vital part of who I am, what my values are, what is important to me, that I can’t imagine not sharing that with a partner. Steve, my husband, agrees. We know many people who have strong relationships while disagreeing politically. Good for them. It wouldn’t work for me. During election years, we cheer for our candidates and are horrified by the others.
“Mom, I thought you and Dad were going to stop yelling at the TV after President Obama was elected,” our younger son, Connor laughs.
“It’s not him we’re yelling at.”
And it’s great to cheer and yell together.
It’s the smaller, little things on which Steve and I have vastly different views. The biggie is heat and air conditioning. He believes very firmly that one should be a bit chilly in the winter and warm in the summer. Over the course of about 35 years of cohabitation we have been known to follow each other around to adjust the thermostat, with him turning it down in winter and me turning it up, neither one of us acknowledging that this was happening. I think I’m the reasonable one; when the weather is nice, I completely agree that it is delightful to have the windows open so fresh air can waft through the house. I don’t rush the air conditioning, but I do approve of it.
We used to have neighbors, whom we are still very good friends with, that rarely opened their windows at all, and set the air conditioning low very early in the season. It wasn’t cool in their house in July, it was cold. When they would have us over in the summer months, I would warn Steve. “We’re having dinner next door in the meat locker.”
And there are those stifling days of July and August when it is my fervent belief that air conditioning is a luxurious necessity. There is no doubt in my mind that Steve wouldn’t turn it on for one minute if I wasn’t around.
When we were renovating our house, which consisted of tearing it down to the studs and replacing everything from plumbing to electrical to heating systems, the most intense disagreement we had was over air conditioning.
“We don’t need it,” he insisted.
“Oh, yes we do.”
On a sweltering August day last summer, with the air conditioning humming away, I called up to Steve’s third floor office, the one that used to be an airless attic.
“What do you think of the air conditioning now?”
“I can’t hear you,” he called back.
Food is another subject that we view differently. Citing general health concerns related to cholesterol, and later on, ethical and environmental questions, Steve stopped eating meat about fifteen years ago. That was not happening for me. I’ll take a braised short rib any day of the week. I love embarrassing my kids in restaurants that list “humanely raised veal” on their menus.
“Do you have any inhumanely raised veal,” I ask the waiter. “I hear it tastes better.”
To his credit, this amuses Steve rather than horrifies him, and he joins the kids in merely rolling his eyes as he orders some broiled salmon over quinoa and swiss chard. Restaurant ordering is also often a source of amusement when a server assumes the martini and steak are for him and the white wine and scallops are for me.
Whenever I get a pedicure, he shakes his head in bewilderment. “How can you let someone even touch your feet,” he asks. I remind him that sitting in that massaging chair, having Tina file the calluses and dead skin off my feet is one of my greatest joys and pleasures.
Steve obeys traffic signs strictly, with no room for interpretation. He resists crossing the street if it is against the light, never mind that there are no cars in sight. I, meanwhile, lope along in the crosswalk without him, ignoring the Do Not Cross sign, and wave from the other side. While driving, I speed up, just a little bit, to make the yellow light, while he cautiously and carefully steps on the brake, coming to a full stop.
He doesn’t get the concept of binge-watching, which is one of my favorite pastimes. Currently, I am rewatching season three of House of Cards for the third time, while he watches it alongside me for the first. He lasts, at most, two episodes.
“C’mon,” I plead. “How can you stop now?”
“That’s enough for me,” he says, leaving the room as I pout at his common sense approach to TV viewing and turn to season five of The West Wing.
But, as with politics, we agree on the big stuff.
We laugh at the same things. Although, sometimes, he get this look on his face, which lasts about two seconds, and I know he’s deciding whether what I just said was funny or horrifying and grossly politically incorrect.
We make big decisions quickly and firmly. Buy this house? Yes. Get a new puppy? No.
home school Connor? Yes. Vacation there? No.
Most importantly, we equally and agreeably raised three children to adulthood. We didn’t really believe in punishing, and both thought that natural consequences did the trick. One of the kids didn’t want to wear mittens in the winter? Go outside and have cold hands, then we’ll talk. You don’t want to have this for dinner? You’re probably going to be a bit hungry later on. We thought grounding an adolescent was generally a silly punishment, but the one time we did it, it was for something big and we both agreed it was necessary. Be kind, we both told them.  Read a lot. Try hard. Be yourself.
I acknowledge that raising children is a mine field and much can be attributed to luck, but we have turned out three smart, funny, compassionate adults who always vote for the Democrat.
And we did it together.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Blue Bomber

It was a 1969 Buick Electra 225.  My father first bought it as a second car in the early 1970's so my mother wouldn't drive the brand new Cadillac, which he wanted to keep all shined up and sleek in the garage, when she was running errands or bringing us to school or driving 2 towns over to see her mother or one of her sisters.  She didn't like the Buick; it was big and clunky and used.  She drove it resentfully.  “The Cadillac just suits me better,” my mother told my father to no avail.  Since my father had a truck that he drove to work, the Cadillac remained in the garage unless the four of us went somewhere as a family or my parents went out to dinner. The old Buick sat, dull and bulky and utilitarian, in the driveway.
As soon as I passed my driver's test (on my second attempt)  in 1973, my mother passed the Buick along to me.  She would drive it occasionally, but I was definitely the excuse why she needed to drive the Cadillac. “Sherry has to go to work,” she would tell my father. Or, “Sherry needs the Buick because she is staying after school and there won't be a bus for her to take home.” I didn't care. I loved The Blue Bomber.
Maybe it was because it was my first car; maybe it was because I was one of the few among my friends who had a car at her disposal.  But I think it was more than that.  It represented a heady freedom for a 16 year old small town girl. I could climb into the car, turn the key in the ignition and go. Just go. My mother’s only requirements for use of The Blue Bomber were that I wait in the long 1970’s gas lines that stretched for blocks to fill the tank, drive my younger sister around when she needed a ride, and and go into town to grab a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread at Cumberland Farms. 
The Bomber had a dull bluish-gray patina with light blue cloth seats that scratched the top of my legs whenever I drove wearing shorts.  A bench seat that stretched from side door to side door was in the front as well as the back.  No seat belts of course, so on Friday nights we could fit 4 girls in the back seat and 4 in the front.  Each of the four doors was heavy and wide, with over-sized gleaming silver handles and a button to push in order to tug the door open.  The Bomber had a huge blue steering wheel that loomed  over the top of the dashboard. I can still feel the individual ridges on the underside of that wheel, where I fit my fingers. Fins on the back, not too big, but fins nonetheless.  
The AM push button radio was always set to WRKO 680, as we blasted the music and sang along with Elton John, Carly Simon, and Stevie Wonder. My love of driving began with the Bomber as did the feeling of freedom whenever I climbed behind that wheel, knowing that I could, if I wanted, go and do anything. That sensation reoccurred a few years later as I was driving away from my very short first marriage, my stick shift Toyota Corona packed to the gills and me belting out Donna Summer tunes.
I learned how to change a tire when I had the Blue Bomber.  I was working at Jordan Marsh in Framingham's Shoppers World and came out at the end of my shift to find a flat tire.  I called Uncle Ronnie, who lived nearly and knew cars.  He came right away but refused to merely change the tire. I changed; he directed, stepping in when more than my 16 year old brute force was needed. I bragged endlessly about how I could change a tire when, in fact, that was the first and last time I actually did so. One winter night that same year, I gripped the Bomber's over-sized steering wheel, its heavy backside swishing menacingly from side to side, all the way up the steep hill heading into town during a heavy snow storm.  
I drove the Bomber to Pete's Market, located one town over, renowned school-wide for selling Michelob Seven's and Boone's Farm wine to the 16 and 17 year old set.  We would always send Janet in because she looked the oldest, was the prettiest and flirtiest, and she always succeeded.  One night we sent Teresa in first; then Janet after Teresa was rejected. When Janet returned with the bottle of Tango and bag of ice, she told us how the store clerk mentioned that “some underaged kid was just in trying to buy beer.  Can you believe that?” Often, after the trip to Pete’s, we would head to the lake and bring our drinks and snacks to the sandy beach.
On Friday nights, I drove the Bomber through the center of town, stopping at the only traffic light, where we would throw open those heavy doors and all eight of us would run around the stopped car in what we called a Chinese Fire Drill. We would drive around and around town for hours, waving and honking at other cars full of kids, virtually the only entertainment available in our small, small town.  We thought nothing of racing down the winding back roads, speeding up to go over one “Victor's Bump” named for a heave in the road in front of Victor Bunde's house.  Seatbeltless, we all careened into the air, squealing with delight. We were free and invincible.
On hot summer mornings, we piled beach blankets, towels, cokes and chips into the Bomber’s cavernous trunk and took off up Route 128 to Crane's Beach, with all of the windows rolled down and singing along to the radio at the top of our lungs. Everyone pitched in $1 for gas and it was always enough. We baked in the sun, came home with scorching sunburns and couldn't wait to do it again the next week.
Now, over 40 years and many cars later, there is a core group of 4 of us from those teen aged days who get together and go away for a weekend every year. We've been to Manhattan, Provincetown, Newport, Portland. Of course, I always drive. Felicia always hands over a dollar for gas. Everyone buckles her seat belt.  As we sit on a beach or go for a hike or visit a museum, the Blue Bomber comes up in conversation. We remember, then we marvel that no one got hurt. Or arrested. And how we would have killed our children if they behaved as we did. When we remember high school and boyfriends and bad behavior, the Blue Bomber looms large, as a character in every story, in every memory.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Out My Window

I watch. It might be more politically correct and more writerly to say I observe, but let’s face it. I’m watching.
When we first purchased our dilapidated antique house just outside of Boston, I claimed the sunroom as mine. It was tumbling to the ground in its current state and would have to be removed and replaced but there was no doubt that I wanted it. Looking at the house from the sidewalk, the sun porch was on the left, listing and lurching and done, off to the side of the core of the house, separate, yet attached. Not too big, not too small.
And now, I sit at my desk, in the new sunroom on the left, surrounded by brand new windows, framed photographs and books on the shelves and am supremely satisfied.  Sometimes I write, sometimes I study Italian or pay bills.  I think about going to the gym. Often, I merely dream about this and that. Sometimes I leave my desk and settle into the comfy, floral easy chair in the corner with a book and a cup of Irish Breakfast tea.
No matter where I am in this perfect room, with sun streaming in all seven windows, I am constantly and willingly distracted by the comings and goings of neighbors, passersby, dog walkers. I am compelled to watch.
I glance out and see the rugged middle-aged man with the long, red, thinning pony tail walking his two brown Australian shepherds and know it is 7:30am. I have never spoken to him and have no idea what his name is but I do know that he lives in the house one street over with the always changing political signs on the front lawn, signs that inform me that if we were to have a conversation, we would agree on many things. I know that he lives with a woman who is quite stocky with long white messy hair and who occasionally walks the dogs but at a different time, always in a housedress and Birkenstocks no matter the weather.  I am very bad at guessing ages, but I think it is very possible they are mother and son. But maybe not.
One of the first neighbors I met was Dan, who lives behind us, to the side, just behind the sunroom, so that our backyards abut. “You used to have the ugliest house on the block. Not any more!” he yells to me over the fence.  He wears a black leather motorcycle jacket, black jeans and a Vietnam Vet baseball cap. In warmer weather, when I have the windows open, I hear Dan pop open a Bud Light while he sits on his back porch and I know it is 10:30 in the morning. He tells me that he grew up in that house and returned to live there with Carol after the war. “All of us kids used to run through these yards,” he says, “before everybody put up these fences.” I wonder if he is resentful of the fences and somehow blames us for them. But he’s friendly enough and writes down his phone number in case we need anything.
Our house was in a state of disrepair for such a long time that it was an object of intense curiosity during the eighteen month renovation. We got used to people strolling by, often stopping directly in front of the house, pointing and commenting. Kevin stops when I’m in the front yard and we discuss wood gutters. Leola from across the street asks for recommendations for a landscape company to reseed her lawn. A young couple pushing a double stroller and juggling Starbucks cups tells me they think the yellow we’re painting the exterior is too bright. “You think?” I answer. I shrug. “I like it.”
The UPS guy is now my buddy. In the midst of the chaos that renovation causes, I did a lot of online ordering, everything from light fixtures to cabinet pulls to Levolor window blinds, and received a lot of deliveries.  The UPS guy helps me carry the heavy packages into the house and sometimes he stays until I open them because he wants to see what I order. He has been known to question my purchases and comment on the renovations with entertaining banter. He always leaves with a “See ya, Cher!” When I am walking down Mass Ave, if he drives by in his big brown van, he beeps and waves. Once, I was having a pedicure two blocks away and he walked into the salon with a pile of packages. “Cher!” he yells in greeting, making me laugh. “Is that your husband?,” the woman in the next chair asks. I shake off the odd question. “Nah. That’s my UPS guy.” Three years later, he is still my UPS guy. He doesn’t wear a name tag so I don’t know his actual name. I don’t want to know. I like calling him my UPS guy. When he doesn’t have a delivery for me, he’ll still drive by the house, stop in front of the sunroom, and wave and beep if he sees me at my desk. My buddy in brown.  
Michelina rang our doorbell one evening. She explained she lives directly behind us and was having some tree work done in her yard. Would we mind if they trimmed some of the trees on our property which were overhanging theirs and casting shadows on their vegetable garden? As we walk out to take a look, I listen carefully to her accented English. “Michelina, are you Italian?” She tells me she was born in Italy seventy years ago. “Mia nonna era d’italia, troppo! Vicino a Napoli,” I tell her. “Anch’io,!” she replies and flings her ample arms around me. We are bonded. She introduces me to Giovanni, her husband, whose English is not good at all. This works out perfectly for me because he is more than happy to talk me in Italian whenever we are in out in our adjoining yards. He corrects my paltry vocabulary and inconsistent grammar. I love warm summer evenings when I am out having a cocktail on my patio and can overhear Michelina and Giovanni’s rapid fire Italiano banter.
Gordon lives directly across the street. I watch him lace up his white sneakers most mornings on his front porch, stretch a bit, then head off on a jog. After a large snow storm, he always maneuvers his snowblower across the street and clears the sidewalk in front of our house, and we grab shovels and clear off both sets of steps and our front porches. He is a widower, and lives alone in that very large brown house. I always bake him cookies or brownies after snowstorms and he tells me what a great baker his wife was. “Her apple pie was the best.” He sighs. It makes my heart hurt.
I am surrounded by a cast of characters.  I watch, and I don’t judge. OK, maybe sometimes I judge. Like the time the guy didn’t pick up after his dog who left his business on our front lawn and I chased him down the street, shaming him into coming back. Haven’t seen him since.
But, mostly, I just sit back and enjoy the show.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

At the Desk with Christiane Amanpour

She wouldn’t call it a disastrous first marriage, but it was a short, unsuccessful one. And it wouldn’t have happened at all if she was able to go to the private, more expensive university and not the state school that her father had insisted upon. “But I was accepted to BU’s Journalism School,” she argued. “Do you know how hard that is?” No matter. She was too naive and sheltered and poorly advised to realize that she could apply for grants, scholarships, loans. Now, forty years later, it still pisses her off.
If she had attended Boston University’s School of Journalism, she wouldn’t have had a failed first marriage. Maybe. On the other hand, it’s good to get a marital mistake out of the way when you’re young. She was married at nineteen; it very much could have been a disaster if her first failed marriage occurred when she was forty, and had a rich complicated life that was difficult to dismantle with kids and real estate and custody to consider. When you’re young it’s relatively easy, although you don’t know it at the time, to leave a 3 page note on the wood grain kitchen table, pack up the Toyota Corona with your clothes and books and record albums, and hit the road.
If she had gone to BU, she wouldn’t have left after freshman year because a boy she liked graduated. She would’ve gotten a summer job at Jordan Marsh and an unpaid internship at the Globe or the Phoenix where she would write, write, write.  Or, more likely fetch, fetch, fetch. She would down tumblers of scotch because that’s what reporters do. She would go out with and no doubt sleep with more than a few boys, but nothing long-term or lasting. She was going to be a serious journalist, damn it.
Not like at UMass, where she had set her sights on the tall, good looking blonde that lived on the first floor of her dorm. All the girls were crazy about him. All the girls vied for his attention. Not that she was competitive or anything, but that made her more determined to get him. Now, when she thought about it, which was not often if at all, it seemed as if this was the earlier life of some other girl. Certainly not her. She won him in the end and fairly easily; she just took her victory a bit too far when she married him.
Which led to years of clerical and secretarial jobs that bored her silly. The days of Selectric typewriters, dictaphones, and fax machines that had to be physically plugged into the telephone’s handset. Although she changed jobs every year or so, she was grateful for the decision she made senior year in high school to take typing instead of physics, despite the fact that Miss Harris, the ancient spinster science teacher who preached chemistry and physics, chased her down the high school hall yelling, “Typing? You’re ruining your future!” Physics would not have gotten her those mundane office jobs that allowed her to rent an apartment, make car payments, and buy food. She went out after work with friends and office mates to work off her post-divorce gloom. It helped.
If she had gone to BU, she would have worked for the BU News Service, writing and editing and trying to decide between print and broadcast journalism and then deciding not to decide. She would love living in a city, with its bars, libraries, bookstores, and museums, so different from the very small town she grew up in. She would study for a semester in Florence and fall in love with Italian art and the Italian language. And Italian men.
Not like UMass, where she wrote a few articles for the Daily Collegian, but then got scared when the editors started giving her more assignments. Where she thought, “I can’t do this.” Where she no longer stopped by the paper’s office or answered their phone calls. Where she used her fear and insecurity as additional reasons to leave after freshman year and not start writing again for twenty years.
If at BU, she would have gotten itchy during her senior year, just like everyone else. Eager to get out into the world. After graduation, she and her roommate would have stayed in their Fenway apartment, each feverishly mailing out resumes while bouncing from one graduation party to the next. She would maybe work for a local newspaper, covering Town Meetings and grocery store openings. Maybe she would eventually cover national, even world wide issues for a big city paper. Maybe she would have interviewed governors, senators, presidential candidates. Or maybe she would have stayed in a local newsroom, writing obituaries, working long hours into the night to meet deadline after deadline. And as she sat at her shared desk with the colleague who never changed his shirt, maybe she would wonder how she ended up here, what she was missing out on.
These days, she tells her kids the story about the missed Golden Land of Boston University and how different her life would be if she had gone there. “But Mom,” they tell her, “Then you wouldn’t have met Dad and you wouldn’t have had us.” “So? Maybe I would have married a better husband and had better kids! Who knows? Maybe I would have no husband and no kids! I could be sitting at the news desk with Christiane Amanpour!”
The three of them roll their eyes at her latest silly rant. “Who the hell is Christiane Amanpour?” one asks another and they laugh at the inanity of it all as they walk away.
She watches them go, knowing they will tease her later about her ridiculous ranting and raving, she and the kids and the husband knowing that ranting is all it was and nothing more.
She sits at her desk, opens her laptop, and continues her story.