In the devolution of the species, hope

I was at a meeting outside of city today.  I took a commuter train.  It was exciting for me, the ultimate city dweller.  No, I can’t imagine an everyday commuter thinking this way.  And I was “reverse commuting” so the uncrowded train made it like I was going to spend a day in the country. (Except that I was in a dress and heels.)

Yes, it is ok to roll your eyes at the seen-it-all-yet-wide-eyed New York City girl.

I went to the 125th Street stop because who needs to schlep to Grand Central Station if you live on the Upper West Side?  First thing: look at the landscape and determine that the on-coming train was going in the right direction.  To get my bearings, I noted the Triborough Bridge (ok, the RFK Bridge to those born yesterday).  The sky and views on a Fall morning were in fact spectacular (if you are a city kid, like me).

Then, I had to ask the conductor or engineer (whoEVER) if it was getting on the correct train.  Never, ever, ever, in decades of riding New York subways, have I ever had to ask such a question of train personnel.

But the truth is that for all my New York smarts, I have no confidence that I could navigate the commuting life successfully.  Checking train schedules, timing it just right, missing a train because of subway delays, would send my blood pressure into the stroke zone.

It was a great meeting and a valuable trip.  Business potential, brain engaging projects, blah blah.  A promising day on the road to a working person’s Utopia.  (Where did those days of idealism go? Oh, mortgage and tuition.  Right.)

And then.

After our day long meeting, an assistant at the company drove me the three steps to the train station.  (I am exaggerating; it is a FIVE minute walk.)  She was so gracious and insistent and I was wearing heels, that I couldn’t refuse the offer and the hospitality.

We were having a lovely conversation on the way down to the parking lot and through the quaint suburban streets.   A crazy driver with his (I assume) family nearly sideswiped us (at the time, I couldn’t help but think the road aggression was personal), as he tried to barrel ahead through non-existent traffic.  Then he started to weave on town streets (but not drunkenly so), only to come up beside us and yell:

“Snapperhead!”

Whaaat?  I never heard that word before.

“Well, that was unpleasant,” my gracious host replied.

“What does that even mean? I have never heard that before.”

“It is a derogatory word for Korean.”

Whoa.  Did I imagine the earlier aggression? Was he gunning for her?

“Can I get out and beat him with my heels?”

I was so mad and so outraged at this man with a child in the back seat saying such a thing, TEACHING such a thing, that I was ready to fight hate with violence.  And that is the wrong way to change hearts and minds but it would have felt really good, especially since he was getting ready to drive away and I only had a few seconds to deliver a message.  And I thought a “FUCK YOU” message was the least I could do.

“I have heard worse and the really sad thing is that there is a child in the car who will learn from him.”

“I know.  I get that.  And I am sorry that about my outburst about beating him with my heels.  That is not the answer.”

“I get called names a lot.  It hurts but I don’t let it get me down.”

That stunned me.  A lot?  What is happening to this country?

“I sort of get that, in a small way.” But really the only reason I, an otherwise white, privileged woman, get it is because I am gay.  So, I continued, “I am gay and the hateful things people have shouted at me when I least expect it is so much harder for me because my guard is down.  Here we are having a very funny conversation, and someone spews hate out his window.  What a misguided coward.”

“Now,” my new friend said, “I don’t get that discrimination. . . .”

I was shocked.  How do you think of others in this situation?  My new friend has a kind and gentle soul  Our conversation continued as to how to undo and prevent these types of prejudices.  I was almost late for my train.

In the midst of suburban quaintness, immense wealth and potential deal-making, there converged narrow-minded ugliness and the resilience of the derided person’s sense of humanity and justice.

And a moment shared between two women of different backgrounds, cultures, economic classes, and races, who have both been bruised by prejudice, albeit to different degrees.

That was moment that turned a good day into a great day.  And filled an otherwise cynical New Yorker with hope.

Tales of Aging in the City

It was, more or less, a typical Saturday.

SOB and I disposed of a week’s worth of scam mail that Dad receives.  Official-looking scams targeting the elderly.  Here is three days’ worth on its way to the shredder:  photo200Dad was affable enough about our rummaging through the house in search of mail and chucking it.  I guess he was hungry and wanted to see his pals at COTUD (Coffee Shop of the UnDead).

Yes, the Coffee Shop of the UnDead

(cue suspenseful music)

En route, we bumped into a man who was once our upstairs neighbor and our playmate 40 years ago.  His mother, who always seemed a lovely woman, still lives in Dad’s building and she is sick.  And he is taking care of her.  I wanted to think kind thoughts but he is a convicted pedophile.  He wanted to hug and kiss us all hello and I wanted to vomit.  I kept my distance.  I was so close to screaming and beating him about the head and face.

(Cue clip of Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU ‘cuffing him.)

He served some (not enough) time and was released.  As a citizen, I believe in a criminal justice system that gives convicts a second chance.  As a mother, I believe in the death penalty for pedophiles and other predators.

Sidebar:  Ain’t the old neighborhood great?  There are scary, bad secrets scattered all along the sun-soaked streets of the East Side.

I decided I didn’t need to remind my father of this former neighbor’s felonies.  I didn’t think Dad could process it.  There are some things Dad doesn’t need to remember.  I, of course, was thinking about castration.

We were late to COTUD.  I wondered if any of the regulars wondered whether Dad might be more than undead, as it were.

(cue suspenseful music)

No table for us.  It was bustling at COTUD.  But, because we are regulars and we don’t stay all afternoon, the management likes us.  So do the main waiters, Nick and Vassily.

Vassily asked an old woman with a walker to get up and move, so they could put tables together and accommodate us.  I was mortified.  I went over to the woman and apologized and thanked her.

(cue sadess about the indignities of being old in a fast-paced, youth obsessed world)

We saw Sam and his long-time companion, Norma, who were eating with Norma’s daughter and sons. We had never met Norma’s family.

(cue immediate suspicion)

It was good to see Norma out and about. She is frail.  As people grow older, their face lifts and other work seem so distorted against the natural aging (and sagging) of the rest of their bodies.   (Just a note to those who are considering “face work”.  Even her daughter’s face work could use a little — how do you say? — refreshment.)

Last time SOB saw Norma at the COTUD, they had a pleasant conversation, after which SOB overheard Norma say about Mom:

“Elsie was a special person.  It was the first time at a funeral that people used superlatives and they were true!”

(cue sigh and teary eyes)

Ok, so we love Norma.  And Sam.

Vassily didn’t even give us menus.  The only thing that needed to be said was “french fries, too”.

The fries came.  I offered them around.  Something was stuck to the underside of the plate.

It was gum. 

Peppermint gum. 

First, what cretin sticks gum on the underside of a plate and, second, what dishwasher doesn’t clean that?

And this place has an “A” health rating. 

(cue visions of the horror flicks like, ‘Wilbur,” about a killer rat.)

Ugh.  I scrubbed my hands raw in the less than Grade A bathroom.

Then Harvey came in.  He had to take a cab the 1.5 blocks from his apartment building to the diner because it was uphill and he has two canes.  (I saw him through the window.)

He took a table right next to us.  We greeted him warmly and asked about his wife and (now middle-aged) son.

Barbara, his wife, was at home.  “She has dementia and cysts on her legs.  But me, I turned 90 and I still work and drive!”

OMG. This is the second public menace we have met today.

I was worried about the driving thing but he can’t get in and out of a car without assistance, so I am pretty sure he doesn’t really drive.

He said to SOB, “you look great  — just the same — and still working hard, I am sure.”  He looked at me.  “You look different.”

Harvey, whom I never liked, was telling me I looked old.  I liked his wife, even with her screechy voice.  She was always making a jello mold.  She always had a bouffant “do”.  She perpetually lived in 1969.  Even in the 1990s, she brought jello molds to my parents’ Yom Kippur break fast.  By then, it was totally cool and retro.

By the end of lunch, SOB and I staggered out. Overwhelmed by the faint smell of peppermint.  Horrified at seeing the pedophile free among us.  Wistful about time gone by for Sam, Norma, Harvey, Barbara and Dad.

Dad, however, thought it was a fine time in the neighborhood.  And that is how it should be for Dad at 93.

Oh, the relationships we find in this City

Unfortunately, our family has frequent flyer miles at a particular funeral home.  We all hope that it will be a while until we need these services again.

ULOB was buried on Friday.  Yesterday, I received a call on my cell phone from an unrecognizable phone number.  Usually, this is not a good sign.

It was Frank, the man who assisted us in the recent burials of AROB and ULOB.

SIDEBAR:  Uh oh, I thought.  And, then, I thought, is the Grim Reaper REALLY “phoning it in”?

Frank called to make sure that we were happy with the funeral home’s services.  He also wanted me to know that he was dropping a customer satisfaction survey in the mail to me and that he is available when we were ready to deal with the headstones and any other internment needs.  Really?

I know, you are all thinking of the personal relationship I have with MiniStorage (see http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5153 and http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5168).  Well, there is another relationship I didn’t mention…..

With Disaster Masters.  When it looked like ULOB might be able to get out of the hospital and want to go home, SOB and I met with a consultant who prepares homes of elderly people for assisted care.  He has a whole shtick, he visits the house, takes pictures, gives an assessment, and tells you what he can do and what he can’t do.

“‘Clean’ is a bad word. This place will never be clean.  You see that yellow on the ceiling?  That’s from 60 years of smoking.  We are going to try to make this place habitable.  Let me state even more narrowly:  habitable so the home health attendant doesn’t do the ‘I quit dance’!!!”

And then Mr. Disaster Master demonstrated — spinning around with hands flailing in the air.

ULOB was off the respirator and possibly leaving ICU and I was so scared that he would be discharged before we had time to sanitize the place.  Mr. Disaster Master wasn’t in a rush — probably because he has seen this before so many times.  At first he only wanted to speak to me because I had power of attorney, but when I wanted him to make the place habitable whether or not ULOB ever came home, he only wanted to speak to SOB, because as a doctor, she understood the vagaries of life and post-trauma health.

I congratulated him on figuring out who was going to be his ally.  And I told him that, nevertheless, I wanted a plan after the weekend (I had given him a downpayment).

I sent him a reminder email over that weekend, to which he responded:

“[Blogger]:

I need to learn how [ULOB] is doing physically and mentally.  These issues often change people.   Can he do the stairs after this trauma?  The PT and OT people should be TOLD that he lives in a tall 4 flight walkup when he gets into rehab.  These places generally only give one hour a day and ½ of that is billing time.  We want to assure that he is well up to speed. If not, then we may be looking at a downsizing move for him.  When I understand exactly what the deliverable is I will then be able to provide the right solution.  Till then we just play the what-if game and that is a waste of time for all of us.

Best, [Mr. Disaster Master]”

This guy sounds like an infomercial spokeman but, whoa, he could read a situation.

  • Anxious nieces.
  • A disgusting home.
  • A dying uncle who would, assuming that he survived the hospital stay, would surely die if he couldn’t go home to his disgusting home.

He knew so much about us — SOB, ULOB and me — in that hour that we were in ULOB’s apartment that it was eerie.

I really believe that he knew that ULOB could never go home again and he didn’t want to prey upon my willingness to throw money at the situation on the off-chance that ULOB pulled out a miracle.  It was frustrating in the beginning to feel that he wasn’t in a hurry, but he said it was because he knew his business.  And I believe that.  And he just didn’t think that his services would be needed after all.

Ron Alford (ron@theplan.com) is the one to call when needs like these arise.

He is a good man in rough city who helps people during heart-wrenching times.

Seinfeld and the Gang — Part 3: The Love Hangover

Every generation has its sci-fi flick about hell having no fury like an artificially intelligent computer scorned.

And, because I am partial to women, my own personal horror flick would probably have a robot/computer who looks like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (www.imdb.com/title/tt0093010/).

NOTE TO ALL:  I really do not spend much time thinking about this.  Really.  No, really!!

All I can say is welcome to our new family relationship with mini storage.  On Saturday, both my cousin and I engaged (grudgingly) in the ceremonial coma-signing of more paper than anyone could imagine for less than 100 square feet of real estate (even in New York).  On Tuesday (today), we were both sent TWO questionnaires about the quality of service and attention and our overall experience when renting the storage space.  I guess the computer really wants to feel the love.  Whoa.

SIBEBAR:  Maybe, my cousin, who is straight, would agree on my choice of Glenn Close.  Note to self: ask cousin about his ideal pyscho stalker.  P.S.: try not to freak him out by the question.

We exchanged ooked-out emails about the incredible attention paid to our mere rental, albeit on the NEW 9th floor of the facility.

SIDEBAR:  I am thinking about the movie adaptation:  trapped with the devil on a non-existent floor of an apartment building . . . maybe a twist on Rosemary’s Baby?  Paging Mia Farrow (even if you looked like a pre-adolescent boy in that movie and really DID marry Woody Allen).

I told my cousin that maybe he should have thought to send flowers and candy, because they know where we live.  He did not respond to that email.

SIDEBAR:  I am thinking that I don’t have to worry about whether or not I will freak him out.  I already have.

But, hey, I am still not as scary as a computer in need of love and affection.

 

Once they were young

I was cleaning out a relative’s apartment this weekend (yeah, more death and destruction in Bloggerville).

While I was cleaning the Collyer Brothers-like apartment (though not a home) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collyer_brothers, two timeless axioms of my youth (one from my grandmother and one from the rabbis) came to mind:

  • Wear good (and clean) underwear just in case you are hit by a bus so the emergency room doctors will know you come from a good family (and presumably treat you better); and
  • Live every day as if it were your last on earth.

How do these concepts work together, you ask?  Work with me, here.

While there may be loftier connections, mine is decidedly mundane:

DON’T EMBARRASS US OR MAKE US CRINGE AFTER YOU DIE.

And the corollary:  Get rid of pictures, outfits you haven’t used in a long time, do your laundry EVERY DAY so that no one has to see anything that could make him or her go blind.

Because everyone was young, wild and stupid, once (maybe more than once).  Just don’t leave a record of it, for others who are cleaning out your home to find.

Examples of acceptable things to leave behind:

  • Kick-ass black leather skirts (regardless of your age at death) and even tasteful lingerie;
  • Memorabilia and photo albums (that don’t have nude or semi-nude pictures of you with other, now aged or dead relatives, however young or not you were at the time);
  • Keepsakes, necklaces, etc. (of whatever or no value) that your family members can wear to carry you with them always;
  • Phone number of 24-hour cartage company to cart away some of the inevitable detritus;
  • List of accounts and financial representatives; and
  • A last will and testament.

Examples of things NOT to leave behind:

  • Dominatrix outfits, even if still in the box;
  • 1970s Polaroid photo album of various poses of you and your partner naked from the waist down;
  • ANYTHING from the 1970s for that matter;
  • Collection of 20 years of junk mail (not every collection has value); and
  • Gross piles of dirty laundry strewn about.

Did you stop at “Polaroid photo album of various poses of you and your partner naked from the waist down”?  Yeah, I knew you would.  Yep.  I almost went blind.  And I had to stop once I realized what it was I was looking at.

I know, once they (and we) were young.  Once, they (and we) were middle-aged.  Hell, do it in your 80s.  But if you are in your 80s, burn the pictures every night.  And in your 90s, don’t take pictures.  Because you will forget that you have them.  Because, with most of your life in the rear-view mirror, it is almost a certainty that you violate the Rule of the Ages:

DON’T EMBARRASS US OR MAKE US CRINGE AFTER YOU DIE.

This blog will self-destruct in 25 years.

My morning with Bessie and other things in a random day

I am sick (with the flu) and have been home almost all week.  The problem with being home (besides cabin fever) is that you notice every imperfection in your house, every age spot on your legs and those barely perceptible (to the naked eye) and asymmetrical droops in your breasts.

I was feeling pretty ok this morning.  And I needed to get out of the house.  And I was despondent over missing a Soeur reunion in Cancun.  And my bras didn’t provide the necessary level of support.  So, off I schlepped to the local mecca for women’s undergarments.  This is the place where, for decades (until her death), the Dowager Countess of Ladies’ Undergarments would cup your breasts in her hands and yell out a size and style and point you to one of the dressing rooms.  And if she determined that your current bra was ill-fitting, she would pitch a loud fit.  You had to have self-esteem or you needed to be high to deal with her.  I never went while the Dowager was alive.

POB and I went to here to get our undergarments of steel for our wedding dresses.  Bessie, an older Southern woman, helped us.  She noted that day that I was wearing “some kinda ratty bra.”  http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4354

Today, I walked in and saw Bessie and strode straight for her and said, “you helped me with my wedding undergarments and I promised I would be back and here I am.”

“I remember you.  You was with a friend and you was both gettin’ married.”

“To each other,” I  responded, gently.

“You had a ratty bra that day, I’ll tell yoooooo.”

Sidebar:  OKOKOKOKOKOKOKOKOK, really?  She remembered?  And I was here to rectify that.  I was thinking that I wasn’t feeling better; I was just delirious.  And why do you think I don’t go bra (other than sports bra) shopping often, huh?  A little humiliation every other decade or so lasts a looooooong time.

I spent 90 minutes topless in a dressing room that others had no problem entering at will.  I must have tried on 30 bras.

Bessie commented on each:  “Now that one make you almost look perky!” “You don’t fill that up anymaw.  Betcha you did once!”  “Now, that is a beautiful cup on you!!

“But, Bessie, it is electric blue!!!”

“It don’t matter what color it is.  A good fittin’ bra is a good fittin’ bra.  You don’t turn your nose at a good fittin’ bra.  Not when we’s our age!!”

Pause.  We are NOT the same age.  I may be going on 50 but she is 70.  Wow, I really was delirious.

“I’ll jest put this in the buy pile.”  She walked away.  Ten bras (of varying colors; some electrically so, some not) later, she went to find matching bottoms.  I prevailed on nixing the dull blue and brown striped one that was almost like a bikini top.

“You a full-cut or a thong type?” She yelled for everyone to hear.  Of course, the entire conversation was for everyone to hear.

“How about we look at the matching bottoms and then I will decide.”

Bessie packed up all the things she decided I needed, less the bra that I would not, could not, buy.  “Now, send your friend on in here, hear?”

Wow, I needed a long snooze.

POB and SOS were doing G-d’s work, by having lunch with my Dad, so I could rest.  Or be delirious, whatever.

We arrived home at the same time and had a little rest hour.  And then POB and SOS set about making a cheesecake for SOS’s friend who is recovering from serious back surgery.  Our hearts were on standby to be broken if anything went wrong.  An 11 year-old’s undergoing serious back surgery is a parent’s every nightmare.  He came through like the champion he is.   And he wanted cheesecake.  “Then, give the boy a cheesecake,” said (and did) POB and SOS.

So we all hovered in the kitchen while POB did most of the heavy-lifting, SOS helped a little and I helped not at all.

SIDERBAR:  Hey, there needs to be a slacker in every family.  I proudly claim that mantel.  In fact, I “gold-medal” in it, without the need for performance enhancement drugs.  (It is a non-performing sport.)

Then SOS remembered that Cousin Gentle and he are going to visit a Sikh enclave in Queens tomorrow and he needed to learn, “hello”, “good bye” and “thank you” in Punjabi by tomorrow.  Cousin Gentle sent a link to a primer on Punjabi.

So, now, I sit in a warm kitchen with wonderful smells wafting through the air, blogging about my day and over-hearing my son practice words in Punjabi.

Yes, yes, I must be delirious.

 

More on the Basic Foundations

Our camp alma mater starts with “[t]he basic foundations of Wingate are expressed in what we advocate: be kind to others, know oneself, value knowledge and strive to create….”

Today I tried to live up to the first principle: be kind to others.

First a little back story that Wingaters know because I posted on our super-secret-decoder-ring-required Facebook page (with some edits):

Last night, I hopped the bus from the gym to home. It was 9:15pm. There was a confused elderly lady on the bus who was talking to the bus driver.  The bus driver was impatient and short with this woman and dismissed her with, “switch buses at 110th Street for the M4”.  OK, great.  Really helpful, Ms. Bus Driver.

The old woman, Joan (as I later learned), seemed concerned that she would navigate this transfer successfully.  She kept asking others on the bus, “is this 110th?”.  So, I piped up that I was getting off at her stop (not true) and would help her make the transfer.

I couldn’t bare the thought of a confused person with limited night vision trying to find the bus stop around the corner from where the bus driver let us off.

I thought this woman could have been my mother if she were still alive.  She is, in fact, the mother of two (as I later learned). But, all that matters is that she is a person in the world whose mind and body were failing and who needed a helping hand.

I waited with her until the bus came because she wouldn’t let me pay for a cab. I think she wanted the company.  As we chatted, she told me about her life, her late husband, her children.  She was a school administrator at Trinity School in New York City.  She told me her name and where she lived.  She kept repeating her phone number so I could call her.  She gave me, as a stranger, too much information for her own safety.  But her loneliness made my heart ache, so when she asked for my business card, I gave it to her.

I tracked down one of Joan’s children on the Internet and called him this morning to tell him that his mother was traveling late last night, and she was confused, lost and alone. He is aware of the problem but “she won’t listen”. He said, short of committing her, there was nothing he could do. I tried to develop a rapport by talking about my elderly and lonely dad and how we kids navigate this situation.  He sighed and hmmm’ed.  I said she seemed very lonely and I asked her when he last saw her. He said FIVE years and that should just show me how stubborn she was and how he HAD to throw in the towel. Really? Painful? yes. Give up? No. Inexcusable.

His sister is supposed to take care of things now. She is at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore (Joan told me). I don’t know her married name and he wouldn’t tell me. I told him about services in Joan’s area.  I asked him to please tell his sister what happened.

I know he will do nothing. But she has my business card so she may call.  If she remembers who I am.

I shared this with my Wingate camp friends.  One commented, “Do parents give up on children? No.  Children shouldn’t give up on them.”  Another said, “I know very good geriatricians and helpers in her area.  I can give you names.”  SOB offered names for a psychological evaluation at a local hospital.  Others chimed in their support.

It was hard to hear the sadness in Joan’s voice, experience the forgetfulness of Joan’s mind and see the fear in Joan’s eyes.  It is scary to think that Joan might call me and draw me into her world.  Extending a helping hand is harder than writing a check.  It can getting messy, frustrating and time-consuming.

The basic foundations of Wingate are guiding principles for living a purposeful and enriched life, not an easy life.  Step 1: Be kind to others.

Vision and Sight

Sometimes I wonder about Judaism.  Some laws are aspirational; others acknowledge the base nature of humanity.  For example, “don’t talk unkindly about the deaf” or “don’t put a stone in the way of the blind”.

Nevertheless, a good reminder.  But there is a greater imperative: guide someone who is blind if requested, or if you think that the offer of guidance would be well-received.

I went to the gym for exactly one-half hour.  (SOB is wearing off on me.)  I stopped at the wine shop because I deserved a treat after so much (okay, so little) exertion.

I overheard a conversation between a man and a woman.  The man was describing the stores to the woman.  He was very formal, as if they hadn’t met before.  I looked back and I saw that the woman had a blind person’s walking stick although her eyes didn’t have the tell-tale signs of long-term blindness.

I slowed my gait to listen.  The man, Richard, was turning left on 97th Street, and the woman, Debra, was continuing on.  On the northwest corner of 97th Street, I introduced myself to them and asked if I could be of assistance.

Debra and I walked along for a block and I described the new stores and the general scene.

Then I asked, “It seems that your blindness is recent.  May I ask what happened?”

“Glaucoma.  It was gradual.  I can see big objects, but I can no longer read.  I am what people call ‘legally blind’.  But I can’t just sit at home.  I have to make the best of it.”

We continue along and I describe the stores and our relative location.  Of course, I can’t ever remember what the new store replaced.  Because I don’t have to rely on my memory rather than my sight.

And people don’t get out of the way of a blind person.  They really need to read the basics of the Hebrew Bible.  Mostly because I was ready to rain down vengeance all over them.

She asks, “is the Starbuck’s still here?”  “Is the jazz club still here?”

I answered her questions.  We talked about family and kids.  She is 61 and her mother is still alive and is inconsolable about her daughter’s glaucoma.

At 106th Street, my turn-off, I decide that Broadway and West End converge in way that is difficult to navigate.  I decide to take her to the Rite Aid on 110th Street, which is her destination.

“Why this Rite-Aid?” I ask.

“I grew up in this neighborhood and now I have moved back.  But the last time I was here was five years ago.  I figured that Broadway on a Sunday in the summer was quiet enough that I would try an adventure.  To be honest, I was relying on nice people in the neighborhood who might help if I needed it.”

I walked her into Rite-Aid.  She blessed me and my family.

But I felt blessed.  Blessed that I don’t have her impairment.  Blessed that two strangers can walk along amiably for a half-mile and both leave the encounter feeling very positive, even if for different reasons.

 

The Old Neighborhood

I grew up in the East 50s near Sutton Place.  DOB still lives there.  Most times, he likes to come see us on the Upper West Side — “The travel gives me a way to pass a few extra hours,” DOB says.

Nevertheless, every now and again we take out our passports and travel to the East Side for lunch.  DOB has started to favor a coffee shop closer to the house.  I think because the old coffee shop is three blocks away and down a hill.

When we were seated, an old man next to us asked if we were new to the neighborhood.  “Our family has lived here for over 50 years!” I replied jovially (at least I thought so).  The old man said, “I was just going to tell you what’s good,” and then he sighed in that loud annoying way to show he was exasperated and feeling under-appreciated even though his help was unsolicited.  Or, maybe I yelled at him, “What’s it to you, bud?”  Of course, I didn’t but you would think so based on the tone of his response.

Wow, I thought, the old neighborhood has gotten cranky with age.  Maybe because all of my parents’ contemporaries (who are still alive) have grown old and cranky in the old neighborhood.

Shortly after we shut down that random act of neighborliness gone horribly wrong, I saw an old (old) friend of my parents walk in the door.  He was with his female companion of 30 years or so.  Our families had gone to the same synagogue and we kids went to Hebrew School with his daughter.

I immediately got up and went over to greet them. They thought I was SOB because they said that they see her on the street when she visits Dad, implying that I am never around.  I paused, counted backwards from 10 and determined that they didn’t mean it the way it sounded.  Except, they certainly did mean it the way it sounded.

Sidebar:  As nice as this man is — he really is — he took me aside at a gathering shortly before my mother died and after having met POB, “make your father happy; find a man.”  But back to the situation at hand.

There were so many ways to handle this affront to my being a good and attentive daughter:

  • I could dredge up ancient gossip and unpleasant truths about his long ago divorce.  Nah, that is too aggressive.
  • I could just smile.  Nah, too passive.
  • I could be could let slip that Dad usually comes over on Sunday nights for a home-cooked dinner.  Ahhhh, passive yet aggressive.  Perfect.

Sidebar:  Don’t you love when being passive-aggressive is the reflection of your best impulses?  So, so, rewarding.

I did let that fact slip using a tone that suggested that his daughter never cooked for him.

“You must be a good cook!”

Really, that’s your response?  That’s all you got for me after my exhaustive mental gymnastics to figure out how to preserve my dignity and protect my mother’s pride in her children?  Really?

There were two other people whom Mom knew who walked in during the course of our lunch.  But I was too exhausted to go over and say hi.

 

As heard on the subway

This morning, I was having my usual full-body experience with complete strangers on the subway.  At 86th Street, three guys got on the subway together.  It sounded like they were neighbors.  They were in their 40s and 50s, but they could have easily been kids in a school yard.

The short, balding, rotund guy with bad teeth (Nebisch) was trying to impress his two friends by talking about a pending lawsuit over unauthorized use of information.  He apparently knows the person who is suing for a significant sum.  This guy signed a confidentiality agreement, but didn’t read it — at least that is what he said.  He wasn’t allowed to talk about it or the name of the case, but it rhymed with . . . and well it is a matter of public record. . . .  And, thanks to the conversation on the subway, a matter of subterranean record.

 

I think Nebisch wanted his “friends” to know that he knows/is related to/hangs with a person who stands to make a lot of money.

One of the “friends” is a taller guy, full head of hair, with expensive coat and shoes, that didn’t work with the pedestrian shirt and tie (Bully).

Bully egged on Nebisch to breach his confidentiality agreement and pushed him to say more than he wanted.  At his core, Bully is insecure.  He looked around every time he said something to see who was noticing him.

Bully used the usual tactics he has honed for thirty years — diminishing and challenging everything Nebisch said.  And, Nebisch, wanting to undo those childhood memories with any number of bullies, had something to prove and was pushed to say more than what was comfortable.

The third guy had his back turned to me, so I couldn’t get a read on him, other than he did nothing to help or hinder the conversation.  But he is necessary to this vignette because his presence, together with his silence (Enabler), enabled both Nebisch and Bully to assume their school yard roles dance the age-old dance.

I was able to block most of it because I get embarrassed listening.  Besides, I generally operate on a need-to-know basis (if I don’t need to know, then, really, really, I don’t need (or want) to know — mostly because my brain capacity is shrinking daily).

Eventually, Nebisch got very frustrated with Bully and Bully got bored (people were not paying enough attention) and, without more, Enabler was no longer a catalyst. I guess people do grow up and don’t run into on-coming traffic to prove they are tough enough.

At 59th Street, the subway car cleared and there was enough room to move away from the trio.  As I maneuvered through the subway car, a woman asked if I wanted a seat.

“No,” I said, “I just need to stop listening to that car crash of a conversation.”  She laughed and offered me the seat again.