Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rules 1, 2 and 63

I've been thinking about a couple of important ways to keep myself centered, proud, useful, loving and sane.  I think they're worth sharing.

1) Pay it forward.  When I was a graduate student at NYU and living at the St. Mary's Residence for Working Women (i.e., my worst nightmare, cheek-by-jowl with nuns), on a budget of $700 a month that had to cover everything except tuition, one of my professors from Cornell sent me $250.  It was a fortune and it saved my ass.  In coming to the end a difficult year, I've been able to help a few people out both financially and with my time/knowledge.  It hasn't been much.  I no more expect to be paid than I repaid my former teacher.  I understand now why he did it and I think such gifts carry not only a small morsel to distract the wolf from the door, but a karmic morsel as one.  That which is freely given and freely taken holds a glimmer of what we all want: freedom.

2) When a dog asks for a belly rub, make it twelve times as long as you think you have time for.  The one exception is first thing upon waking when peeing is urgent.

3) Never go to a friend's stoop sale when you have given said friend "clever" gifts in the past.

A brief post.  I began the fall quarter today by getting completely lost.  Bad address, bad Mapquest -- I don't know.  But in the heavy air between rains, I saw a part of Wall Street that made me feel I was back in Prague again.  It's easy to forget that the steel-and-glass cauldron of evil is also the oldest part of New York and, therefore, the tiniest.

And there is a new batch of roses in bloom.  They flourish in June and make another appearance in September.  In ways, I will always be a Montanan when it comes to seasons.

I promised Dr. It's-Never-a-Cigar I would try to take time to myself this quarter rather than getting worn out by academic details.  We decided that I would continue to pursue what I began in my week off: decluttering and editing a friend's novel.  I did not get rid of anything today or put anything away.  I came home to wait for the cable company to install a new cable box, a task which in itself is an accomplishment for one who was too deer-in-the-headlights to schedule the call last quarter.  I had to clutter up my apartment in order for him to do that voodoo that he do so well, moving junk off the TV hunk and pulling out the bags of clothes stored behind it.

Needless to say, Cable Man, despite calling at 4.30 to say he was on his way, did not show up.

So now I have three big bags of clothes mauling my room and have not yet made a new appointment.  I suppose I have to put them back but I'll still be overwhelmed with the plastic Brownie Scout and eyeglass sprays and whatnot.

So here's my question.  If I actually made more of a mess, did the half-bag of dog hair and grit that I swept up from behind the TV mountain count as decluttering???

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Waking Up

One of the reasons I don't blog as often as maybe I should is that once in a while I write something -- like "Fred" -- that I want to hang like a Picasso lithograph in a millionaire's living room.  However, I am in desperate need of shaking off some difficult years so today I'm going to tell you what I've seen and the conversations I've had.  It's a rare opportunity because I'm substitute dog-walking & out for three or four hours...

In other words, I want to document a day in order to wake up from my ongoing stupor.


8.20 a.m.  Daisy eats a half a powdered sugar doughnut on Love Lane that someone didn't pick up.
8.50 a.m.  Recycling day is tomorrow.  Unwanted furniture is starting to line the curbs.  Tuesday is the day Brooklyn Heights collectively outgrows Ikea.
8.55 a.m.  Long talk with dishy doorman.  He has a hard, hard body.  The squirrel he rescued and was tending in the outside lobby of the veddy exclusive building he works for had run away.  "Probably to die," I said.  "Animals are like that."  He told me that "in the country I come from," they have all these saying about donkeys because when a donkey is dying, it will break chains and knock down fencing to get out and go off to die in private.  "Remember Solomon in the Bible?" he asked.  I nodded.  "He has a donkey's jaw.  Think about that.  Why not another animal's jaw?"  His "country" is Romania so we talked about the Roman Empire and how he can understand about 20% of the janitor's Spanish and the fall of Communism.  I liked it.
9.10 a.m.  A hoary man sits down backwards on a bench outside Harry Chapin Playground and begins to do sit-ups using the backrest to keep his knees from lifting.  First thought: Innovative.  Second thought: I would never have the nerve.
9.25 a.m. A frisky young malamute mix decides to eat my hair, wash my neck and pierce my ears.  "I can give you his leash and he's yours," his frustrated owner said.  Later I saw that she had her notebook out on a picnic table and was working, her dogs wandering quietly around and under the table.  First thought: Daisy would jump up on the table and sit on a computer in the dog run.
9.30 a.m.  Honey Bear, part Australian cattle dog and a notorious herder, got humped and herded by a Pyrenean mix.  The owner took Pyre to task but I was laughing and laughing at the well-deserved comeuppance.
9.38 a.m.  For no real reason, the thought occurs to me that, today, I am close to my inner serial killer.
9.40 a.m.  The first pumpkins of the year, on a stoop on Willow Street.
9.45 a.m.  Ran into the former nanny at Zeke's house, pushing a wise and somber three-year-old and tugging two toy dogs behind her.  She still sees the kids at Zeke's house and told me how the youngest has grown up in the years since Zeke was put down.  "Why don't you take me out for sushi?" he asks her every time they se each other.  He must be...four?
9.55 a.m.  Hunky Doorman walks part of the way with me and Honey Bear and tells me he now takes his coffee half-cappuccino/half-vanilla.  I tell him I used regular canned coffee but dump about a tablespoon of cinnamon in before brewing it.  A short conversation about the virtues of spices and the use of them to kill oneself by eating too much ensues.
9.57 a.m.  An elderly gentleman has brought a folding chair outside to read his newspaper in the sun.  This pleases me.

3.35 p.m.  Honey Bear, Daisy and I are about to turn onto Pierrepoint Street but first pause to let a woman with a double-decker stroller go by.  Inside are two enchanting Kate Greenaway tots, one about three, the other possibly 18 months old.  Blonde as Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  "Hitler would approve," I murmur to Daisy.
3.40 p.m.  The golden retriever barks up a storm when I step out of the elevator but it's all show.  She won't get off the bed, merely rolling over on her back for a belly rub.  I seduce her with a cookie.
3.42 p.m.  The Not Quite As Hunky Doorman tells me I don't have to leave Hunser and Daisy leashed to the fence so far from the building entrance.  I tell him I was walking the golden when the brouhaha began over dogs and elevators in that building.  It's a CEO sort of building and the owner of the ground floor apartment on the south side is, as Not Quite says, a bay-itch.  She demanded that no dogs be leashed outside her window because of the pee.  (A dog won't pee in a spot it can't get away from, but never mind.)  Then she complained about dogs in the elevator.  (She lives on the ground floor, but never mind.)  "So," I summarized, "I figure it's best to keep the dogs as far away as possible."  It's my last day filling in for Mike so the point is moot.  Still, he tells me the bay-itch complains all the time about the ice cream truck outside the Promenade Playground across from her aparmtent.
3.46 p.m.  The rag and bottle pickers are out, going through trash to find whatever they can resell.  Remind me not to throw out a shirt in a bag that has bills and stuff in it.
3.55 p.m.  We meet Hudson, a black English Lab.  Black Labs practically make me lactate and Hudson is a perfect specimen, not as fat as a lot of English Labs, with a perfect otter tail.  His owner is throwing balls for him but he takes time to wink conspiratorially at Daisy.
4.10 p.m.  I look up to see a large family hanging over the fence of the dog run.  The dog run is the local zoo -- the fence is often lined with people watching the free play of the dogs.  This family is dressed to the nines.  Out-of-town Jehovah's Witnesses who have come to marvel at their organization's HQ in Brooklyn Heights.  I'm glad Daisy jumps up on the water fountain to drink rather than trying to nose Hudson away from the dog pan that is at the foot of the fountain.  They point and laugh and I think about how they've been hearing the party line all day as they looked at printing presses and whatnot.  They need a little comic relief.
4.13 p.m.  Honey Bear decides Hudson needs to be corralled from his wanton ways of chasing a ball.  She nips his butt.  Hudson.  Doesn't.  Like.  It. 
4.25 p.m.  The wind shaking the lime trees on Willow Street makes me think of Flathead Lake, which makes me think of a comment my shrink, Dr. It's Never a Cigar, did not pick up on.  "If I was rich I'd be sitting on a beach at Flathead," I said in response to something.  "It's the only place I am truly myself."  I thought about that as he tried to drag some Totem and Taboo truth out of me.  It was too simple a statement.  I feel myself when I'm traveling, especially abroad.  And when I'm writing.  I should write a book cataloging people's various authentic selves, I think.  I would call it The Wind on Willow.

9.15 p.m.  Daisy grins broadly when we walk out the front door.  Recycling night!  All those bags to either rip open (I had to prize a bag of fried chicken out her mouth from Monday's garbage) or pee on.  My girlie-girl: lifts her leg especially for plastic.
9.16 p.m.  We're expecting a mini-heat wave but I wish I had a sweater on.
9.17 p.m. No, we are NOT going down Love Lane to find more powdered sugar doughnuts.
9.18 p.m.  What do you mean, you forgot the cookies??????
9.21 p.m. The blast of grilling beef at Heights Cafe hits us.  My stomach growls.
9.28 p.m.  Am I even hungry for dinner?  What would be good?  Ham and cheese roll-ups?  Yogurt.  I'll have yogurt.
9.29 p.m. Three boxes of Milk Bones fall on top of me and bounce into my basket.  What I do for love.
9.31 p.m.  I didn't bring enough money with me & have to pay by debit, which is not what I planned on doing.  Visa can wait another day.
9.35 p.m.  Theseus is tried up outside Starbucks so we go over to say hello.  Another black English Lab but as hyper as a popcorn machine.  Daisy takes advantage of the diversion to try to crawl into a trash can.  There are big black bags of garbage outside Pick-a-Bagel.  Montague Street the night before trash pick-up is Daisy's heaven.  It could only be topped if I had a Sanitation Services guy for a sleep-over boyfriend.
9.45 p.m.  Despite barking at a man with a CVS bag and a Pomeranian we make it home, but only before Daisy looks at me with the Cookie Question after the Pomeranian squabble.  No way.  "Do you want love?"  And yes, she does, going between my legs in the Tunnel of Love that reassures her everything is OK.

I'm having yogurt, oats and a banana for dinner.  My father is tucked in with his beep-beep channel hopping between National Geographic and a Rocky Marciano marathon.  I soaked my feet before shaving them tonight (no, I am NOT a hobbit) and did something to the plunger that drains the bathtub.  Tomorrow's second move is already mapped out: call the super.


What if I'd gotten cereal and pastry tonight, or ice cream?  Would it have effaced a day of conversations and mental photography?  Which is really me -- the sugar freak or the walking blogger?  Somehow it's a question that matters very much.

But not quite now.

And so to bed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I call my father most nights to read him the "funnies," his expression for the television schedule.  He lost his 90% of his vision about ten years ago and while he still cooks and does his laundry, he's dependent on other people for such niceties.  His housekeeper in Arizona is wonderful and my brother as faithful as molasses, but when I'm with him I come in for heavy duty reading -- he wants to look up something in Merck?  You ask the English major rather than the Costa Rican or my rather unschooled brother.  I read him the best of the catalogues, the grocery store aisles, eBay, the Missoula obituaries, liner notes from his CDs, the contents of his desk.  Whether I'm with him or not, most days I end up reading to my father.

He's trying out assisted living in Missoula for some six months just now.  The food, he says, ranges from awful to very good.  He eats dinner at an assigned table of taciturn men.  He spends his evenings with football or baseball or one of the science channels, and he spends his days listening to books from the Library for the Blind.  Losing his vision turned him from a sort of free-thinking Republican into a raving progressive because one of the first subscriptions he got was The Nation and he discovered he likes spending an hour or two waking up with NPR.

He's about to have a girlfriend back in Arizona.  My brother called me a few days before Mother's Day to ask me to take care of Dad's command that we send flowers to -- we'll call her Lois.  I called Dad because flowers are a personal thing and read him the website.  He wanted red roses.  I told him that women regard red roses from a man as a love token.  "That's fine.  Send her three dozen on Mother's Day." 

Mother's Day I refused to do.  She is not his mother.  She is not the mother of his children.  She has sons in the Phoenix area who would most likely give her flowers so Daddy's gesture would be lost.  I sent them on the Thursday after Mother's Day.

My father has never picked up the phone and called me but he calls Lois each Sunday.

I think this is fine.  She's an old friend; her husband was one of my father's lab partners in medical school.  There's a best man/maid of honor thing in there somewhere.  She's small and pretty like my mom but possibly, in some ways, more of a lady where Mom had a touch of the dame.  When we had a small get-together in Sun City after Mom died, it was Lois I turned to.  She has so much joint-history, you see.

One of the godmothers of my gray mood has been a consciousness that on Wednesday the 29th, it will be a year and a day since my mother died.  I miss her a lot.  I had new author photos taken and one of them is really gorgeous.  I feel sad that she's the only person for whom I would have made a print, framed it and sent it to.  Daddy would appreciate it but he couldn't see it.  The sense of a safe haven left with my mom because she always wanted to hear about my deepest thoughts and feelings.  That's not how my father operates and that's fine, too.  I couldn't talk about Sibelius or 15th century England with my mother.

I called Dad tonight with the wonderful news that there is boxing on TV and a couple of college football games until then.  He said he'd been watching football and then 60 Minutes because he was resting up from his big day yesterday.

His big day had gone right over my head.  Actually, I think it went over his head as well until today when everyone in the complex had something to say.  It seems they had a dance yesterday.  Dad put in an appearance because he didn't want to disappoint the recreation director.  Said director pulled him out on the floor for the rhumba.  "It's been twenty years since I danced," he said.  "I didn't think I knew how any more."

One of my favorite phrases from the movies is Woody Allen's aunt in Annie Hall confiding to his kid-self that once upon a time she "was quite the lively dance-ah."  My parents courted on dance floors.  They collected Glenn Miller 78s.  As a kid, I remember how much I loved/hated their dancing club nights.  I loved them because I hung out on the bed in their room and watched them put on their formal clothes.  The smell of face powder and Channel No. 5 and a waxy kiss goodbye are physical sensations even on this warm Sunday night ten days before the first anniversary of my mother's death.  I hated dancing club nights because my brothers were "babysitting" me.  I never knew what that would entail except that I would either be used, hurt or told to get lost.

In the mysteries of a marriage, my parents were a united force when it came to dancing.  I saw them dance once, in a taverna in Rome when I was twenty.  The band struck up "In the Mood" and they were there, swinging and moving to the rhythm in such a circle of knowledge of how to dance to that music that the other dancers fell back and watched in admiration.

I was drunk as a boiled owl that night but I remember the people parting like a curtain and seeing my mom and dad at it.

Lois is passionate about dancing.

So my father allowed the rec director to pull him into one rhumba and history was made.  She didn't know what she was doing but all the steps were buried memories in his 92-year-old body.  Ladies were lining up to dance with him.  "When I finally got to sit down, I was sweating," he told me with surprise.  And today, ladies were still lining up to compliment him and ask that he save a dance for them the next time.  And Daddy is thinking he will start going to tea dances in Sun City.

He lost his Ginger but he's got a long career ahead of him.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


Where have I been for the last 36 days?

In a gray funk.  Not a black one but not a clear blue sky one either.

Doing everything I can to escape myself & my responsibilities.  I owe amends to self & to dawg, & to everyone with whom I've had scant contact with.  I simply haven't wanted to speak.  Last Saturday I mostly sat looking at some random office plants very blankly while my therapist tried to find a way into my non-working brain.  For this I paid seventy dollars.

It's been a bitterly hot summer.  I began teaching two months ago after not working in nine years and not teaching in twelve.  I spend 210 minutes, back to back, trying to explain commas.  I'm exhausted by the time I get home.

Friends have been asking if I like teaching.  Yes, of course.  I like bringing disparate parties together to focus on what is impossible (commas, for instance, are impossible) and to laugh together.  It's a performance, another word my therapist likes to bandy about.  Why a performance?  Well, Dr. A-Cigar-Is-Never-A-Cigar, I have to be high energy to get them to maybe pay attention to commas.  Why not be yourself?  That would be staring at...what?  There is nothing in my sleek, squeeky-new classroom to stare at.  My self is not a self I like very much lately.  They don't pay me the pitiful bucks to come in & be blank.

Yes, but do you like it, B & D press further. 

What is "it"?  My students are interesting.  About half are international students, adding English and the cachet of studying marketing or business in New York City to their resumes.  They come from Norway, Paraguay, Nigeria, Kosovo, Korea, China.  They have studied hard to be able to take college classes in English & their study of language has paid off in sharpening their brains.  The other half are more motley, many of them condemned by Creole street talk & bad New York City schools to constitutional blobbiness.  It's not so much they that can't think outside the box as that they can't think.  Their brains are in danger of atrophy & this makes me terribly sad, adding to my desire to atrophy by self-will.

The despair of 45 papers is beyond words.

It's even beyond ice cream.

I feel sick with dumb Facebook games, ice cream and a winter gray when it's 95-degrees outside.

There are brighter notes but they are spectator sports for me.  Friends have included me in their lives but it is not what I would call being alive myself.  Perhaps fall & a different, more diffused class schedule will help.  Maybe a new flavor of Ben & Jerry's.  Maybe having finally traced fragments of my life on the foggy window of this blog.