One Nation?

I believe in America, its promise and its endless possibilities.  I also know that, in America,  people live in abject poverty, without adequate schools, and in fear of deportation.

And I know that there are as many Americas as there are colors of skin, nationalities, religions, sexual identity and orientation.

We live in a fractured America.  Some of us cross any number of the shards.  Some, like me, can pass as Christian and straight.  If I even wanted to do so.  I am too old to hide.  But I am lucky; I have a choice.

But is any of us satisfied with this type of America?  Don’t we get tired, after every miscarriage of justice, of assuaging our horror and guilt, by saying, rather apologetically, “but there are good and kind people all across this country”?

Look, everyone has prejudices.  But that isn’t supposed to matter.  The point is that America is supposed to be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Justice.  Justice.  Justice.

It isn’t just a word.  It is the basis of our nation.

It means that even if you steal, or sell cigarettes illegally, you don’t deserve to be tortured or killed.  Even more, you deserve treatment in accordance with the pettiness of the crime committed.  In other words, there shouldn’t be a bruise on you.

I was taught that wrongs will be done, but justice, JUSTICE, will prevail.

I believed in that.  I placed my faith in the systems of “justice” and government.  Because two generations ago, this country took in wretched poor refugees and gave them opportunities for work and their children a free education.  I grew up hearing, “G-d bless America.”

I still say, “G-d bless America,” except now I also say, “G-d save America”.

Because when our systems of laws and order fail, fractures of our nation becomes shards of glass on the floor.  Almost impossible to reassemble, but stronger if we glue the fragments back together.

Let us all glue this nation back together so that it is again: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner.

When the future loss seems real right now

I have chronicled Dad’s decline, and his surprising cameos in reality.

Something has changed.  I couldn’t articulate it until I bumped into SOB (sister of blogger) in the gym locker room.  Because why not discuss our deeply personal business when naked women are blow-drying their hair, I said:

“Something is different with Dad”

“He is winding down.  It is sad.”

“It isn’t just his heart failure —

SIDEBAR: everyone over a certain age is in heart failure.

— have you noticed that he doesn’t annoy us so much anymore?”

We both had a think about that.

Dad was once a maestro at making us nuts.  When Mom was dying, we knew that we would move in and disrupt our lives to care for her.  Dad was different; he was too damn annoying.

Now, we are talking about taking turns staying over (along with his 24/7 care) if necessary.

What is different? 

Dad is now a lovely old, nutty man who has — maximum — two or three habits that make SOB and me nuts.  That’s it.

Wait. 

Whaaaaat?

WHERE IS THE MAN WHO, WITHOUT EXERTING A MUSCLE, COULD MAKE ME NUTS BY TALKING ABOUT THE PRICE OF BANANAS OR COMMENTING LOUDLY ON OVERWEIGHT PEOPLE ON THE BUS? OR COULD BE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE WHEN A CAB DRIVER WAS TALKING ON THE PHONE INSTEAD OF ASKING HIM TO END HIS CALL?

Yes, the change.  Dad being Dad as he is now doesn’t make me nuts.  (Dad’s dementia, however, makes me sad, mad and crazy.)

I wished that my father would stop torturing me all these years.  Now I understand the maxim: “careful what you wish for” because the quid pro quo in my case is too heartbreaking.

Thankfully, dementia is not linear.  The old Dad shines through sometimes.  Just this weekend, in advance of Thanksgiving, where we serve brisket instead of turkey, he asked:

“Did you remember to get the lean cut of brisket and did you find someone who knows how to carve it?”

Oh, Dad, the miracle of your annoying ways made my eyes well up when I responded:

“Daddy, I am good at a lot of things, but not carving brisket.  You may have to deal with the usual thick slices, ok?”

Pause.  Silence.  Resignation.  “Of course, darling.”

Ah, the gifts that can light up an evening sky.

Ritual

SOB (sister of blogger) and I set out for the cemetery to unveil the gravestones of ULOB (Uncle L of blogger) and AROB (Aunt R of blogger).  This ceremony is not formal tradition. It is not required by Torah or rabbinical teachings. In fact, because of that, this commemoration more befits AROB and ULOB than any set ritual.

BACKSTORY:  It is a long-standing Jewish custom to place a marker on a gravesite. The marker is made of stone or metal, a permanent substance that represents that the person lives on, although the body does not. The treatment of the body itself could not be more different. It is shrouded in linen and the coffin is made of unvarnished wood with no metal hinges. The body is supposed to return to the earth (dust to dust) as quickly as possible. But the memory lives on. And the gravestone is our communal memory.

In truth, we could have blown it off and no one alive would have known or remembered.  No one, that is, except us.

It was this growing internal call to take hold of the mantle of keeping our family traditions, just as our mother did for her generation and our grandmother for her generation.  We have completed the generational shift and assumed the roles of the keepers of the memories and the traditions.

Actually, SOB and I dreaded the day to some degree.  We asked AROB’s nephew and wife to come, as well as POULOB (paramour of ULOB) about whom we learned around the time that AROB died.  Having a joint unveiling would have been hard on POULOB.  Dancing around the complexities detracted from the purpose of the unveiling and would have been hard on us.

BACKSTORY: For the crazy backstory, you need to read http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4980; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5014; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5029; there are some others, too.

As fate would have it, only SOB and I were able to make it.  And so we were able to pay tribute in our way, to the giants of our childhood, even though we have long since reconciled the differences between who they were and our childhood memories of them.

ULOB and AROB lived their lives, making up the rules as they went along. What they didn’t like, they banished. What they loved, they gave it their whole hearts. The same with those they loved.  There were the students they taught and neighbors they helped.  Yet, they loved in their way. They accepted love in their way. They let you know you were entering a minefield when you probed a subject that was off-limits. And they guarded their independence even when they needed help the most.

They lived according to the ancient principal of our people, “love me, love my meshugas [craziness]”.

And the great moments remain in our memories. For SOB, BOB (brother of blogger) and me, growing up with them was magical — they captivated us; they spoiled us; and they opened us up to the arts.

And today, there we were, at their graves. And, looking back on their lives (and all we now know since their deaths), we remember them, with love. Always with love.  As imperfect as they were. As imperfect as we all are.

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Jesus, just around the corner

I am a Jew. Second generation American.  Of Ashkenazi descent.  From the huddled masses coming to our shores, yearning to breathe free.

I remember the pickled herring, stuffed derma, whitefish chubs, lox (nova was too expensive), salami and a bottle of scotch or vodka that were delicacies served in my grandparents’ rundown apartment.  They were poor Jews, but the children and grandchildren were coming over.  The apartment was in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, back when it was a dangerous, largely burnt-out neighborhood.  My grandparents never could pronounce a “W” so until I could read, I thought they lived in Villiamsburgh.

I tell you this so you will understand the apparent incongruity of what follows.

There is a man who walks up and down Broadway between 100th and 110th Streets yelling that he loves Jesus and that Jesus is the Lord.  My son calls him The Preacher.  In rain, heat, cold, morning or night, The Preacher is seeking to share Jesus with every passerby.

Today, I envied The Preacher his mission.  His sureness of purpose.  His rock-solid belief.  Unwavering in the cold, the heat, the pouring rain.  Jesus is with him.  More than that, Jesus is in him.

It doesn’t matter if The Preacher is right or wrong.  When he finds that out, his days walking Broadway to spread the word will be over.  (And he appears well-fed, well-clothed and, in all other respects, well-kempt, so I am not worried about his day-to-day livelihood.)

As a Jew descended from those who fled Europe, members of my family have turned away from our version of G-d, shaken their fists at our version of G-d, and, sadly, resigned themselves to not having earned the love of our version of G-d.

Me? G-d and I are not so close.  So much so, that I think it is better for everyone if I not keep anyone in my prayers, lest doom and gloom come to them.

But The Preacher has a hold on me.  He exudes love and trust.  Maybe borne of revelation or desperation.  I won’t ever know.  But a love and trust so deep in something we cannot see.  Something that our society holds as both an ideal and a reason to commit a person to mental institution.

After my mother died, I asked Rabbi Ayelet Cohen why she believes in G-d.  She answered, “either I am right or I am crazy.”  All these years later, I remember her words.

Rabbi Ayelet, maybe being both is the magic mix. 

 

Trumpet in the Time of Migraine

I heard he played a good song . . . .

Ok, that is from Killing Me Softly.  A classic song that alludes to a song — not actually sung — that speaks of a woman’s (or every woman’s) hopes, desires and yearnings.

My son is learning to play the trumpet.  I was having a migraine.  We live in a NYC apartment.  “Killing me softly” were not the words that came to mind.

Torturing me screeeeeeechingly, but please kill me quickly.

In truth, my son is getting better (even said the curmudgeonly upstairs neighbor).

But if this be the music of love? (asked someone in a Shakespearan play).

Then stick a sock in it.

Love my child?  Of course.  Every tone that come out of his mouth?  Nah.  I have evolved from the true Yiddisha mama.

 

Tim Cook

Tim Cook is gay.  Everyone thinks his coming out is so revolutionary and so game-changing.  I just think it points out how far we still need to travel.

Tim Cook had to make sure the Apple board of directors was ok with his coming out, because it might affect stock price or product sales, and ultimately his job.

He had to ask permission to come out.

I guess that is better than a subsistence wage earner who has to worry about whether the boss or foreman is anti-gay, or frankly any person who is 2 pay checks away from being homeless.

But asking permission is not the same as being free.   

It actually makes me sad for him, for me, for all of us.  And yet I believe that scared and closeted gays and lesbians all over are silently cheering.  My hope is that Tim Cook’s coming out will free them to be who they are, love who they love and be happy.

And, sadly, I am more free than Tim Cook.  While I work in an industry where gays are not equal, I don’t worry so much about workplace harassment or losing my job. Maybe that is because I live in a state that protects me.

Imagine a world where you, as a straight person, would have to pretend to love a person of the same sex.  You would have to be affectionate in public, go to company functions and try to live a life that conformed to society’s standards.  And sometimes, you would seek out the love and companionship of a kind and wonderful person of the other sex.  Because you are lonely, and tired, and need to be loved and feel love. And you want to be understood and forgiven for the charades and the lies.

Live in that desperation for a minute.  That pain.  That emptiness.

And, imagine you were found out.  And lost your friends and your job and your family.  Because you were being you.  Authentically, you. 

That is life in so many places in the US and in so many countries around the world.

And while the titan of global industry had it easier, he was still “private” about his life.  Lies by omission.  Vague references.  Even though he didn’t have a “cover” family, he needed three years at the helm and a vote of the board of directors to come out.

I glad that Tim Cook came out of the closet. 

But I guess that I will really celebrate when no one thing defines him, but all make up who he is. The CEO of Apple.  Out-Sourcer-in-Chief of jobs and Avoider-in-Chief of US taxes. A gay man. White son of the South.

He is all of these things. And that is what is important.

The next frontier is looking beyond the “boxes” and looking at the whole human with all of his/her faults, attributes and gifts.

Then we will be free.

Magnetic

If you were to read my blog entries over the past years (don’t, really), you would know that my siblings and I have taken care of the elderly of our family, in all stages of life, death and that gray area in between.

We have found people collapsed in their homes, held their hands as they died, negotiated for access into their homes, slipped past police tape, found blood heirs because — while they were our relatives in love, mind and time — at their deaths, they were strangers as a matter of law.  (Love matters in life; legal papers matter in death.)

I have surrendered firearms, repatriated funds from unnamed accounts, and taken those suffering from acute dementia and paranoia to psychiatric wards and held their hands through the process.

Aging is a nasty business.

These experiences must emanate from my being.  Sometimes I think that there is a magnet implanted in my forehead in the shape of S.

S as in SCHMUCK

How do I know, you ask.  Thank you for that segue.

Just last week, I was on the phone (being all important, OF COURSE) and another call comes in.  I can tell it is an internal call, because the name flashes up.  I get an email from my assistant that someone from one of our Florida offices asked that I call back (instead of the usual: “oh I will just email her”).  I have never heard of the person so I look her up as I am dialing her back.  She works in the records department in another office so I cannot imagine why she is calling me.  No way our paths would have crossed.  I have never been to our Florida offices and it is not likely that she traveled to the New York office.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Cindy, this is [Blogger] returning your call.  How can I help you?”

“Thanks for calling back.  My brother died yesterday in New York and I need some advice.  Because he was relatively young, the police have cordoned off his apartment.”

Really, you are kidding me.  Someone with whom I have never possibly crossed paths knows to call me when there is a death in the family.  And a messy death, at that.

MY SCHMUCK MAGNET IS SO STRONG, IT DRAWS PEOPLE FROM ALMOST THE SOUTHERNMOST POINT OF THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES.

And what is crazier?  I actually have experience in this.  Because I had an aunt who. . . . blah blah blah.

I offer advice, not as a lawyer but as a family member who went through this.  Her brother and she were not close, at all.  She wants it all to go away.

Days go by.  I email Cindy and ask about everything.

She types back:  “Oh, yeah.  He is really dead.  There is some lawyer handling this. Thanks.”

Soooooo many things wrong with that.  The obvious ones are too good to pass up:

  • of course, he is [still] dead.
  • I am invested in the outcome, but
  • in the span of three days, she has moved on.

Me? I am still in freeze frame in my own Law and Order episode.

I deserve the magnet.  But, it may be that I am the one who gets sucked in.

Dear Dad,

These days, I keep thinking of the old times.  How you were so playful when we were toddlers, too strict when we were teenagers, my rock during the turmoil of my twenties, and, along with Mom, your kids’ greatest cheerleader.

Sometimes I think that I see the glimmer of the old you.  Beneath the bizarre outfits and the confused talk.

Our weekend of celebrating your big birthday was wonderful.  (After 90, they are ALL big.)  Sometimes you didn’t really understand what was going on, but you were happy that your family was around you.

10630568_10202625072736212_3324593164443517949_o(And you knew to wear the appropriate outfit your aide set out for you.)

And I know you didn’t need the luncheon to be in such a fancy place.  I know if we said, “Dad, we are coming over and we are eating cardboard for dinner [fiber-rich],” you would say, “how wonderful! I can’t wait to see you.”

But you might worry about whether you would get an evening cocktail.

And so I know you have not lost your mind completely.

In the light of day, you know you get confused at night and, appreciating the humor, refer to the nighttime aides as your guards.

Your kids prefer the term, body guards.  So, let’s use that term, shall we?

Today, you were mostly discombobulated and, yet, and yet, you were ready to go to the aid of an old friend whom we didn’t see in the diner today, and whom the waiters hadn’t seen since last week.  You called him to pay a visit and bring food.  In a clutch moment, the old you comes shining through.  (P.S.:  Sam is ok.)

This is a hard road, Dad, for all of us, and, most of all, for you.

And yet.

And yet, even in the waning days of your life and the continuing diminishing of your faculties, the essential you shines through.

You won’t ever read this.  But I had to write it.

I love you, Dad.

~Blogger

P.S.:  See you tomorrow, Dad.  Same time.  Lunch.  But let’s change it up a little; let’s order something different.  Because I cannot watch you try to put jam in your coffee or on the tomato slices that comes with your usual order of scrambled eggs.

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time Near the Beach

Once upon a time, in the 1970s, in a snuggly hamlet close to the beach lived — for many summers — about 100 girls, at any one time.  And they would grow up and know each other for decades and decades.  But not yet.

And some years spun by and the little girls became hormonal teenagers.  And, as hormonal teenagers, the subjects of sex, drugs and — alas, not rock ‘n roll, but — punk captivated each and every brain cell in their still-formative minds.

There was one such girl, shy in her youth and averse to tongue kissing (let’s not discuss Greg Pogarsky), whose hormones would transform her, in her teenage years, into, well, let’s think of the caterpillar turning into the butterfly.

And more years spun by and now the girl is 50.  And Septembers bring her back to that snuggly little hamlet filled with love and friends, like a genetic homing instinct.

The smell of the air is the same as it was in our youth.  We all breathe in so deeply as if to capture the memories in our bodies’ organs.

And karma is a boomerang.  And it plays out like a maestro hitting our emotional buttons.

[play music to suggest that the idyllic story takes a turn for the humorous and slightly ooky]

And now she is a mom of a college freshman son.

And in the serene place where we can be as carefree as we were decades ago, technology and too much information intrude.  And in the same place (Google doesn’t discern between the steps of Lodge 1 or Lodge 2) as she pined for a young man named Will, came . . . .

OMG, my son just got to college and he slept with a girl!!!

He texted you that?”  All of us were thinking, but one person said.

They spent the night together but I don’t know what happened, HAPPENED!  I am trying to find out by asking if he put his sheets in the laundry.

GREEK CHORUS: “Understated, yet smart.”

Wrong question.  He is a BOY.   No matter what happened, he is not changing his sheets.

GREEK CHORUS: sigh, “Truth”.

Do you really need this information?” asked a sage one.

GREEK CHORUS: “NO one needs this knowledge.”

DOES HE HAVE CONDOMS?” asked ALL of us.

GREEK CHORUS: “Is this ready for prime time?”

I don’t know!! Ok.  This is a first!!” [“Ok, HOW do you know that?” thought all of us.]

GREEK CHORUS:  “We are closing our ears. We can’t HEAR you!!”

Ok, congratulate him for ALL of us.  Now, make sure that he has condoms,” said another sage one.

GREEK CHORUS: “Wait, this isn’t Braxton Family Values or Crazy Wives of [pick a City]. Let’s play on.”

Coincidentally, one among us is not only a professor at the young man’s college, but a professor of human sexuality.

I would be happy to deliver the condoms in a see-through bag while I am on the campus.  Is it ok if I say, ‘a group of your mother’s middle-age friends are very happy for you, but use these, please?

GREEK CHORUS:  “This is a whole new reality genre, like Naked Dating.  Let’s hang out; we may be revived by something other than a Shakespeare festival!”

[Revert to the fairy tale music]

The morals of the story, as you can plainly see:

  • You do it, you live with it (you along with a posse of older women).
  • Stop texting your mother about these things.
  • Things are only sacred if they aren’t bloggable.

And we all lived happily ever after, looking forward to the next visit to Camp Wingate.

 

So thirty or so middle-age women are at a reunion . . . .

Sounds like the start of a joke, huh?

Well, we do have our own odd communal sense of humor — and propriety.

First, a little background:

  1. And most of us are comfortably in our middle-age (but we look — to each other — as if we are still campers).
  2. We all feel close to each other, regardless of the facts — many of us only recently met at reunions.
  3. Those of us who did know each other at camp now share each other’s food, drink, and menopausal medications.
  4. As we age, we need to add supplements to our foods, and those supplements vary.

And that closeness has its draw-backs.

Imagine one middle-age camper’s surprise upon learning that, after taking a gulp of another’s coffee, it was laced with the mother lode of Miralax.  One camper’s constipation became another camper’s . . . . well, you know.

By lunchtime, the following conversation ensued:

[Constipated one], I am f^&*ing stinking up Lodge 2 because I can’t stop shitting!  How much of that stuff do you need?

I need a lot because I have not gone in a while.

How constipated?  So long, as in an enema with a vacuum?” I offered (not so helpfully).

Let’s ask the doctors here.  You need help.  And I need to stop friggin’ shitting my brains out!

Oh, gross, we cannot talk about this about lunch.

Ha.  Of course we can.  Those assembled asked about our friend’s colon, intestines and just how much Miralax she takes (with every meal and then some).  I renewed my suggestion about a vacuum.

Thereafter at every meal, we discussed the progress of “things”.  The bizarro nature and the hilarity of it all got people laughing so hard, that yet another camper peed in her pants.

I’ve had THREE children.  These things happen!

And no one thought otherwise.

Next installment:  Twelve 50 year-old women are talking about their children’s sex lives. . . .