Minding the Elderly Can Age a Person

Today, the paternal side of the Blogger family buried one of our own.  My cousin was not even 37.  Family members spanning nearly a century — 4 generations — were present, as if to beam a harsh light on the tragedy that my cousin would never grow old.

BOB, who flew in from Texas for the funeral, thought that we should visit Mom’s brother, Uncle L., the last surviving uncle of blogger (ULOB), and that he should meet ULOB’s paramour (POULOB).

SIDEBAR:  Why not make it the day a total beat-down?  In for a little hearbreak, in for a trifecta.   Like that penny and pound thing.

This was so last minute.  And I didn’t want ULOB to think that BOB would come to town and not see him (even though that does happen from time to time).  So, I call ULOB from the car on our way back from the funeral and tried to frame the narrative:

“Hi, Uncle, it’s [Blogger].  [BOB] just came into town at the last minute for a [paternal Blogger] family funeral.  We didn’t want to call to early to wake you [ULOB sleeps until noon].  We would like to stop by and visit this afternoon.”

“Can I invite [POULOB]?”

“Of course.  Does 4pm work?”

“See you then.”

Great.  Death. Destruction. Tears. Lamentations. And a visit to the apartment that is gross by the slums-of-Calcutta standards.  I guess I am not getting a nap today.

BOB and I walked [3 miles] to ULOB’s apartment.  It was good to talk to BOB.  I don’t think we have an hour to talk just the two of us in three decades.

But, we were running late.  So I called ULOB’s apartment.  No answer.  Hmmmm.  Odd.

We arrive at his building.  He lives on the fourth floor of a five story walk-up in what is formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen.  We buzz his intercom.  No answer.

I call again his phone again.  No answer.  BOB leans his palm on ULOB’s buzzer.  I go inside the first door (which is never locked) and start buzzing every apartment in the building until someone lets us in.

We walk up four flights to his apartment.  There is a radio blasting.  We go inside his apartment (don’t you mind the details), expecting to find a body.  BOB says helpfully, “you know, bad things happen in threes, so this would be event no. 2.”

SIDEBAR: BOB needs a refresher in the Blogger family protocol, as in “unhelpful comments in scary, potentially life and death situations are punishable by a different kind of scary, life and death situation.”  Rule No. 3, for those of you following in the handbook.

The place looks like it has been ransacked.  BOB is a little rattled, but I remind him that that is usually what the place looks like.  I am still calm.  I start to look around for a body.  The stench of 54 years of filter-less cigarettes would cover any smell of a decomposing body.

No body here.  Thank G-d.  But nobody here either, so he must be dead in the street.

BOB and I decide not to panic.  Instead, we sit at an outdoor cafe doing our version a TV crime drama stake-out, only with cocktails.  I watch his building while BOB looks for him along the street.

We leave countless more messages on ULOB’s message machine in case he shuffled in while traffic was stopped and a bus obscured my view.

ULOB doesn’t have a cell phone.  We don’t have any contact information on POULOB except her address and her phone number is unlisted.  (I tried.)  This is the time when I wish I didn’t avoid information about her and just embraced her, regardless of their relationship’s beginnings.  Sometimes, principles just bite you in the ass.

SOB knows POULOB’s phone number.  Except, SOB is in London. My phone is running out of juice. And I am rattling off phone numbers to BOB as my phone dies.

BOB calls SOB, “Hey, [SOB], [ULOB] is a no-show at his house.  But he isn’t dead IN his house.  We need POULOB’s number.  Oh, I love you, [BOB]by.”

We abandon our stake-out after 1.5 hours.  Police work is not for me, unless lubricated with a nice cabernet.  BOB goes to Dad’s to have dinner with him.  I go home, preparing myself to call hospitals or go to POULOB’s house and knock on the door.

I get home. The doorman hands me a message from ULOB and POULOB. They were here, thinking the gathering was here. The message says they are at a nearby restaurant. I RUN there.  We clear up the miscommunication.  POULOB says ULOB told her we were having a gathering either at 2, 3 or 4.  They opted for 4:15. Ok, I am not so devastated about missing them.

I say, “we were at a funeral, although I could understand the mix-up”.  Wow, cabernet is the opposite of a truth serum.  Because, who, in the world invites guests, who don’t know the deceased, to a post-funeral gathering?

We resolve the following things:

  • ULOB needs a cell phone.
  • POULOB needs all of our contact information and we, hers, because she is here to stay.  And she does take really good care of ULOB.
  • Nobody dies on my watch.  And when I say nobody, I also mean no body on my watch.

I did remember to text SOB that we were really sorry we gave her a heart attack, especially when she would get care in the UK hospital system.  I called Dad to tell him to tell BOB that all is well, but Dad already started cocktail hour, so at some point I ask him to pass the phone to his attendant, because I could not live another moment in loopy land.

This Abbott and Costello afternoon happened on the heels of the real tragedy — my young cousin’s untimely death.  Today I experienced universal grief, elderly confusion and existential anxiety, some at both ends of the spectrum of life.

For now, I am grateful to be in the middle.


Serenity and Renewal

My professional coach (not CAFOB) had sent me a New Year’s greeting card which I finally got around to opening at a computer (as opposed to a blackberry).  It was warm and wonderful and direct.  Wishing me the usual for the new year, but also renewal and serenity.

Eureka!!!  (My coach is awesome, but not as awesome as CAFOB who is my friend for 30 years.  If you need a coach, I can give you two people who are amazing.)

Renewal.  Not a theme of the Jewish new year (which has more of a return to G-d and atone theme).  More a Passover theme (spring time, rebirth and renewal of the covenant with G-d).  Nevertheless, I have been feeling the weight of creating business generating opportunities in a terrible economy.

I was so exhausted in August that when it came time for our family week in Montauk, I told the COB (colleague of blogger) that I would not be checking my blackberry and that all calls had to go through POB (partner of blogger).  Originally, POB told me there was no wifi where we were staying and only POB’s phone would work.  As it turned out, there was wifi and my blackberry worked.  If POB lied to me, well, then I love her more for realizing that I needed a blackberry-free zone.  Only twice did work intrude on the week.

When the world is in chaos, it is still navigable but it takes so much more energy that I often feel — well — spent.

My family re-charges me.  POB and SOS (our son, source of sanity) are my mainstays, but SOB (sister of blogger) and HOSOB (husband of SOB) and Cousin Gentle help hold me up.  They are daily miracles in my life.  Even DOB (father of blogger) with all his eccentricities grounds me.  And CB (Cousin Birder) links me to my mother’s family and he is such a wonderful guy. (I wish that CB only realized how awesome he is.  I lectured him about this on Rosh Ha-Shanah — of course I did.)

And there are my goddaughters.  They don’t have to love me because of family connection.  We created that connection together.  These relationships are among the most important in my life.

By their presence in my life, all of these people feed my soul, lessen my burden and give meaning to life.  They are my agents of emotional and psychological renewal.  I hope that I provide for them even a fraction of what they provide for me.

Serenity. Acceptance.  Roll-with-it.  What will be, will be.  Take it as it comes.  Don’t worry forward.  Be in the moment.

Discussion:  compare and contrast blogger’s personality with the above themes.  (Hint: no common ground, as in blogger is the antonym of each of these themes.  Don’t believe me?  Read Wikipedia (right after I send in my comments).)

Ok, clap your hands if you’ve heard this before:  someone has business in this economy, someone is figuring it out, someone is benefiting from all the problems!

Ok, if you have heard this, clap if you heard:  “An A minus?  What’s wrong with an A?  Did someone get an A?”

Whoa, I hear a round of applause throughout the blogo-sphere.

This serenity thing is a hard one.  But I did laugh these last two days when I looked at the wild ride of the stock market and how our retirement is now effectively pushed out to age 113.  I will be the dead, yet-propped up greeter at Walmart’s.  The company will love me because it won’t have to pay overtime (how will I know? I’ll be dead), and I won’t mind being in the freezer section.

At least I laughed.  Ok, gallows humor, but, hey, it IS a start.  I am trying to focus on the things that renew me because they also provide the building blocks of serenity — love, constancy and laughter.

*     *    *    *    *   *    *   *   *   *   *    *   *  *   *

But renewal and serenity are sooooooo much easier in a bull market and a roaring economy.  Just sayin’.

My coach knows me well.  This is the start of a journey for me — to allow time for renewal and to allow a sense of serenity in a chaotic world.

Really, email me if you want a lifeline (or two).

Take-Out Take-Away

From age 21 to 44, I lived on take-out food.

In the beginning, it was cool to order during a late-night at the office especially since I couldn’t afford to eat that way if I were actually paying for it.  Then I had dreams of eating tuna fish out of a can over my kitchen sink if only I could be at home at dinner time.  And then I realized that I never had time to be in my kitchen, much less clean my kitchen, so I really wouldn’t want to eat anything in there.  The dream remained, even though interrupted from time to time by reality.

At some point, I was living with someone who cooked (pre-POB (partner of blogger)) and the food was good but hard on my digestive track.  And before the days of blackberries and remote access, I had to go to the office with my intestines in a twist.  So, as a matter of honor and sacrifice to my colleagues, I was forced to stay late and eat Shun Lee and other take-out so that I didn’t smelled of garlic or other spices anymore than anyone else.  In typical blogger family fashion, it was, in fact, the least I could do.

When POB came along and beepers were available, we would work long hours, meet at the gym, have a little falafel and hummus with hot sauce that tested our abs of steel — in a slightly different way.  We learned that some days were more — how do you say? — microbial than others.  But these are the sacrifices we make to “have it all”.

Then came TLP (our son, the little prince) and there was no time for sleep, let alone cooking or even eating.  Exhaustion won over hunger every time, except when we absolutely, positively needed energy.  “Don’t talk with your mouth full” became “don’t-sleep-with-your-mouth-full-because-I-am-too-tired-to-do-the-Heimlich-and-I-can’t-stand-the-smell-of-whatever-you’re-eating.” As many of you will remember, love is an emotion that is felt but not expressed when you have a newborn.

Then, came the Great Recession.  Time for family and friends.  Time for hanging out.  Time to have our families over for Sunday night dinners.  POB decided after a while that she would rather cook than order another dinner from Saigon Grill (and we were supposed to be boycotting them anyway for labor violations).  So, she started cooking.  And she didn’t stop.

And the take-out stopped and the cook-in began.  POB cooked, I cleaned.  When she needed to prove a point, she dirtied every pot and utensil in the house.  Point taken and respect paid.  Harmony restored.  Paradise, momentarily lost, was regained.  A possible script for a Sunday night movie, although no one is dead or psychotic — yet.  (I’ll get back to you on this.)

Tonight, these many years later, we are companionably cobbling together dinner from the fridge — cold carrot soup with cumin and lime, quinoa with tomatoes, onions and black beans, a salad and some wine.  A perfect repast for a hot summer’s night.  And our kitchen is cozy (yet cool thanks to air-conditioning) and inviting.

Take-out was my food source for over 20 years.  I don’t miss it at all.  And now we have a kitchen in which I would eat tuna out of a can just to be home with my family.

And to think, she still wants to marry me next year.

When worlds collide

If you live, work and love in New York, sometimes old worlds and old orbits collide. Sometimes, the reunion is comfortable; sometimes, there has been too many years of avoiding contact about issues. Quite frankly, sometimes we are in fact so shaped by our current circumstances, that the overture across worlds would require the universal translator that always saved Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek.

And in life (in contradistinction to movies), epiphanies are few and the hoped-for catharsis even rarer. Mostly, those who were on the peripheries of your prior worlds are only proxies for the unanswered questions and unresolved feelings of something much bigger.

So I declined the opportunity to invade someone’s performance at an outdoor cafe to re-greet a person of the past. She was performing and it would have been selfish at that moment. There are certainly opportunities — I have her number, etc., but I have chosen for 11 years not to reach out.  Why do so in her space during an expression of her art? If I really wanted to bridge the worlds, I would do so on terms acceptable to both of us. And after a decade, what do you say?  “How are you?”.  Sounds so stupid and pedestrian.  Some things are left better unsaid.  And these are not opportunities to reconnect — reconnect with what?  A life and circumstance that no longer exist?

I enjoyed her performance.  She has a beautiful voice.

The ties that bind

Humans are bound together by many things (being human, for one).  But there is a litany of things that people say are intrinsic to being human and, therefore, we share.  If you read my blog before, you can imagine my eyes rolling at lofty connections.  But I came upon one tie that caught me quite by accident.

A person’s relationship with his/her hair stylist.  Most people don’t think about that relationship.  It is the only one where if you “step out”, you can’t hide it.  If you are unfaithful, you have to break up because your hair stylist will know you went to someone else.   Don’t even think that skipping a few “trim cycles” will protect your indiscretion.  The very fact that you avoid your hair stylist is evidence of your guilt and your infidelity.  Fooling a spouse or a lover, piece of cake.  Hair stylist?  All I can say is that I am glad that those open razors (a la Sweeney Todd) are not in fashion anymore.

I always thought of my relationship with Miwa as “oy, she will look at how I let her beautiful cut go to hell, like an overgrown garden.”  And always wondered if she would break up with me because I was so unreliable about getting my hair cut.  Yet, ours was a different relationship.  Miwa talked to me as much as I talked to her.  So, I knew about her mother’s death and her difficult and conflict-ridden relationships with her mother and her daughter.  I knew she felt  guilty that her daughter was her surrogate in caring for her dying mother in their native Japan. I knew that she left her family for a career in the US, which was so radical in so many ways, even more so in the decade in which she did it.  In her youth, it seemed, she did what she wanted and then figured out how to pick up the pieces.

I knew that, while Japanese and not Jewish, she knew how to cook for a seder since her male companion was Jewish.  I knew that his mother and his sister and sister’s family never (it seemed to her) showed any respect or appreciation for her efforts.

I also knew that she recently had a bruising fight with cancer and that she won rounds 1 and 2.  I also figured she was anywhere from mid-50s to mid-60s.

Miwa was too tired in round 3 to cut hair.  She wouldn’t schedule appointments.  That was a bad sign because it was her art and her passion.   In a 45-minute flurry of hair flying out of her scissors, she could make me look vital (and less like a graying middle-aged person) and yet I didn’t look like the proverbial 50 year-old trying to pull off a mini-skirt.

Finally, I had to have someone else cut my hair.  I held out as long as I could until I started looking like a hippy. I felt like I was betraying a dying friend but Miwa had said during each of my last two haircuts that, if she were unavailable, I should have Mary cut my hair.  Mary is very good, but Miwa was an artist.

Miwa lost the fight in Round 3.  She was actually in her mid-70s.  And I bet she took the death blow rather than stay alive and be helpless.

Miwa, I toast your life lived on your terms.  I know you had regrets.  I hope you healed as many of them as you could before the end.