be kind to each other

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My friend Brian died Monday.
I met Brian though my friend Lyle.
Lyle died 6 years ago this summer.
They had a lot in common. They were cranky, curmudgeonly, loving men, 8-year-old boys at heart, who poke you and pull your hair when they like you. Men who came from hard places and had big soft hearts.

I found out yesterday.
My phone rang and from the name on the caller ID I knew I’d either been dialed by mistake, or it was bad news. I’d rather have been a mistake.

Brian and I had drifted apart for no reason other than location, location, location. We found each other again through Facebook, so say what you want about it, it brings people together.

Lyle used to say Life isn’t fair. You don’t get what you deserve, he said, You get what you get. It’s what you do with it that’s the measure of your character.

They were men of character.

I can only remember half a dozen things in my life, but that’s one of them.

Brian had the virus.
Lyle had cancer.
They both died sober. That’s supposed to be some sort of consolation, and I suppose it’s better than dying drunk, but really, dead is dead and gone is gone. There is no good way to die, there is no good day to die.

Lyle also said, be kind to each other.
That bears repeating.
Be kind to each other.

Rest in Peace Brian.

daddy was a con man

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Daddy was a con man.

Not a thief, not a Catch Me if You Can con man, but a con none the less.  Of course, this was before he married my moms.

Before he married Big Edie he was a lot of things. I was raised on the stories of a Fred before my moms, before me. That’s him, front and center with his Navy pals. He was a handsome rogue & a gypsy tea leaf reader. He read crystal balls, minds, tarot cards, handwriting & palms. He worked the carnival side shows & the burlesque halls. He rode a motorcycle & wore black leather. He was The Wild One. He was Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone rolled into one. A real buckler of swash, he had style & flash and was bigger than life to me as a kid. I was awed and I was terrified.

I fought for the privilege of saddle soaping his leather m/c jacket. It was years before I was allowed to touch the crystal ball.

He knew everything about everything and when he didn’t he sounded like he did. With facts and statistics at his fingertips, he won every argument in the house for the first fifteen years or so of my life. Until the day Big Edie questioned him, Where’d you get your facts?, she asked. He laughed like hell. He’d made it up. All of it. You could never tell if he was telling the truth or weaving a story just for the sake of a story.

I learned to be suspicious, and that while ‘smart’ matters, seeming smart is sometimes enough.

He gave me my love of the slightly shady, of all things circus & carny, strippers & burley-que queens, freaks & sideshows, werewolves & vampires. He taught me to avoid three card monte, the necessity of a shill, the difference between a long con and a short con and the art of misdirection.

I learned to hide my soft parts, and to think on my feet.

I was raised on the Wizard of Oz (a long con, in Technicolor), Damon Runyon, Yellow Kid Weil and P.T. Barnum. There’s a sucker born every minute, kid, a sucker born every minute.

I was one of those suckers. I believed he could read minds, see the future, create magic. He was make-believe and we bought it, starting with the woman who ran the gypsy tea room when he was a moviestar handsome teen with deep set eyes who looked the part.

I believed in the stories and the magic when I was a kid. They kept him untouchable, kept us all at a distance; the con kept his own soft parts safe.

Maybe all parents have to have feet of clay sooner or later. Maybe every little girl thinks her daddy is magic and sooner or later struggles with the fact that he’s only human. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, he’s not a bad man, he’s just a very bad wizard.

in the name of the father…

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How is it so easy to write about my mother, and so hard to write about my dad?

The fact that I shrink from writing about him tells me I’m not quite ready to sleep in Thursday mornings and drop Therapy Guy just yet.

With Big Edie, it’s all very clear. She’s my crazymaker. That’ll never change. I love her so much that if I loved her one tiny bit more my heart would explode, there’d be bits & chunks of my heart splattered all over the wall.

With Fred, the feelings are not quite as easily identified.

I discovered Fred natural spring water last summer. I have two empty bottles in my kitchen cabinet  I cannot bring myself to throw out. The man has been dead for almost 9 years.

He had a photography studio, the logo was a five foot tall representation of his face. The studio closed when I was 15. I am 52. The giant face, paint peeling, chipped & faded, is in my coat closet, facing the wall, behind the coats. Sometimes I tell myself I keep it because my Aunt Magda designed it. Uh-huh. I say that. I do.

Fred taught me life lessons the best he could. He taught me what he knew.

If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, get yourself a job in a restaurant. Valuable advice, easily adapted to all sort of situations.

I learned how to turn a dollar into two with bar bets I couldn’t lose. And how to pick the sucker who would pay rather than punch me in the nose for getting over.

One of my earliest memories is of shooting crap with my dad against the fireplace wall in our house. It was how I learned to count, shooting crap & play blackjack. Big Edie yelling from the kitchen, “Don’t take the kid’s money.” Fred yelling back, “If the kid’s gonna learn to gamble, the kid’s gotta learn to lose.”  I sat mutely while he scooped up my allowance. My three pennies. I was three years old.

I learned not to risk anything I wasn’t willing to lose.

I was terrified of Fred. And I worshipped him.

He taught me how to survive on nothing, or almost nothing. How to get by if I had no money, no place to live, no where to eat. I’m grateful for those lessons.

What I didn’t learn was how to handle abundance of any kind–love, attention, money, time, talent, dreams, friends. He passed on what he knew, that’s all he could do.

The lessons of love & abundance I’ve had to learn on my own and it’s been harder than it sounds. I didn’t grow receptors for that stuff. And so, me & Therapy Guy, we have a future together. I believe he’s planning on an Ivy League college for his kid. I believe I’m paying for it. Lucky for me, I know how to turn a dollar into two.

if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother

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Mother’s Day. Growing up we never made a big deal about those made-up Hallmark holidays. But, I’m at an age where I don’t take having my mom around for granted, so I pointed the car towards home. Not in the literal sense because Big Edie sold Home with a capital H right after Fred died, before the body was cold, but I get to go home in the sense of my Heart. Home to my moms. And her big Italian boo.

She drives me crazy, my mother does. You know what they say, no one can push your buttons like the folks who installed them – and Big Edie & I are preternaturally close (hence, the endearment, Big Edie). She doesn’t see it like that, as co-dependence or enmeshment or any of those other psychobabble terms. “We just have a really good relationship“, she says.

She knows when I’m hurt. Physically or psychologically, without seeing or talking to me, she has that innate Jewish mother’s remote viewing where they know if you’re hurt even before you do. She gets “twitchy”. She’s not always right, but I like that her radar is tuned to my well-being, station KJSD.

We have no secrets. Mothers & daughters should have some, Therapy Guy says. But I don’t know any other way & so we tell each other everything. Except of course the important medical stuff, the stuff we should be sharing, the stuff we promise to never keep secret. That we hold back from each other for just a little while to keep the other from worrying. We both do it. We both lie to each other about it.

She’s got this new Italian boyfriend, her first since Fred died in 2000. That’s a long time between hugs. Each time I visit since they “hooked up” I see a woman more comfortable in her skin, more the Big Edie I imagine she was before the years of a hard marriage took its toll. She laughs & smiles all the time. She’s flirtatious & playful. She’s spoiled & silly.

She’s feisty in a way she thinks is absolutely freakin’ adorable. Apparently, the Italian thinks so, too.

My mom is a caretaker, so is her guy. They care about each others feelings, share chores and responsibilities. I  watch her putter after someone who enjoys her company. I love seeing someone putter after her. They are companions, companions with respect and affection for each other. It’s a wonderful thing to watch.

I’m a little jealous, I admit it. Therapy Guy tells me I need to get over it, move on & get my own boo. I’m not sure that I do though, because I’m not that kind of jealous. She was always the pretty one, the attention getter. She was the object of my father’s obsession. I don’t resent her having a boyfriend, I expect her to have a boyfriend.  But my inner spoiled baby is surfacing, the only child that still wants to be the the only one.

I can let that go. The drive out to Long Island becomes a trip back in time where I get to see what Big Edie was like as a girl. When I call on the phone & hear Sinatra in the background, I know they’ve been dancing, old school, in each others arms, bodies warm and touching. They tease each other like high school kids who still have little secret crushes on each other, even after they’ve gone to prom. He shops for bargains, not saving a dime because he buys double, giving her half the produce, the eggs, whatever it was that was on sale. Her refrigerator is stocked with enough food to feed my entire office for a week. The Italian has gained 30 pounds.

Mother’s Day is the day you’re supposed to treat your mom special, take her out to dinner, treat her fancy. That’s not how we roll. We cooked together, two grown assed women and fifty two years of love and baggage maneuvering in a tiny kitchen. We ate, she laughed, drank her wine, the boyfriend cleaned up, she made fun of us both whenever she got the chance and was as cute as she possibly could be.

Before the boyfriend, at the end of a visit, Big Edie would freshen her lipstick, walk me either to my car where she’d stand and wave from the curb while I buckled in, or to the train station where my 79 year old mother would stand on the platform waving like an idiot, trotting alongside the train as it pulled out. It mortified me. Which is exactly why she did it. It cracked her up.

Sunday, after dinner and ice cream, I kissed them both goodbye, kissed her again, hugged her. I left my mom with a guy that thinks she’s just the bees knees & doesn’t want to change her not one bit. I rode the elevator downstairs alone. I can’t say what kind of day it was for her, but for me, it was a great Mother’s Day.

the facebook friend & flirt

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Okay, I’ve already admitted to & been sanctified as, having more than a wee touch of paranoia. In other words, I see Creepy People. I do. I see Creepy People all over, and Facebook seems to be, if not a breeding ground, certainly a conduit.

I don’t understand the Facebook friend collecting syndrome, this obsessive compulsive hoarding of friends. I’m not a celebrity, I don’t have the 2540 friends Chuck Palahniuk has (which is nothing compared to his page as a writer where he has over 37,000 fans – and that’s only one of his fan pages. All well deserved, so, if you haven’t read any of his stuff, do. Start with Lullaby. You’ll thank me. Really, you will). But I have FB friends who have friend lists that number in the low 4 digits & many friends with lists up in the 600s. I guess I’m a bit of a lowball loser, but I honestly don’t understand how I even have the 200+ I do have. I try to keep it to people who actually are, or at one time were, my friend, people I would gladly share a meal with, but this thing has a life of its own. Everyone I’ve ever met, spoken to, worked with however briefly or been related to at one time or another wants a hook up.

But if you don’t know me, and you have 4000 friends, why’re ya bothering me? Why would you want yet one more person’s inane status & posts clogging up your wall and home page? Do you collect all these friends & then “hide” their posts, claiming the digits without the clutter. It’s wierd, but it’s not creepy.

Therapy Guy says when I say Creepy, what I really mean is Sex.

Facebook creepy to me is the sideways friend flirt. This is Facebook, by definition “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life”. The people IN my life, not the people who think they want to BE in my life. This isn’t computer dating. If that’s what you want go to Nerve or Match or LavaLife (How is that even still around? Who used that?). Or are people actually hooking up via Facebook & I’m just outta the loop, not in the groove? I’ve had a couple of unwanted flirtations – one from an old friend that really surprised me, but at least he was so straightforward it qualified more as a solicitation than a flirtation.

Today, it was that sideways creepy flirtation – men are good at this one, the kind you can’t quite pin down, with enough vagueoisity left for denial if called on the behavior. Annoying. Every time I logged on for the last two days, blam, an IM from my new “friend” with some inane how-de-do. Cute the 1st time, even the 2nd, by the 4th time, it’s just Creepy and I’m feeling I gotta go stealth. I blew him off and culled him from my list.

I love Facebook for the way it lets me stay in touch with the people I heart but don’t get to see in real life as much as I’d like. Friends out West or uptown, away at school, overseas or just those with busy, busy lives.  I can pour through their information & updates at my pace, scan their photos, mobile uploads, laugh with them & make fun of them.  It’s like an old-fashioned party line where I can hear all my friends & vice versa, without having to cram 200+ people into my small Queens apartment. Come to think of it, growing up on Long Island, my girlfriends & I used to meet teenage boys, total strangers, on a party line – then arrange to meet them in real life at the mall.

So is the Facebook “friend & flirt” just an outgrowth of that? Is my Creep meter working overtime? What’s your take on it?

can you hear me now?

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Sometimes when I go to a meeting or a presentation, or unfortunately even when I’m hanging out chatting with friends, I already have in mind what I want to say or ask when the speaker stops talking & it’s finally my turn.  I listen to what you’re saying, but really, all that’s on my mind is how I can tie what you’re saying back to my point, my question. Or I’m repeating a phrase in my head so I don’t get distracted by your words & forget mine. That’s certainly not conversation. Technically, it isn’t even listening. It’s acting like I’m listening.

lis·ten     intr.v.   lis·tenedlis·ten·inglis·tens

  1. To make an effort to hear something: listen to the radio; listening for the bell.
  2. To pay attention; heed: “She encouraged me to listen carefully to what country people called mother wit”(Maya Angelou).

There’s no effort to hear on my part, no heeding. What I’m really doing, is waiting. I’m waiting for you to stop talking so I can start.

To really listen I have to let go of my plans of speaking, my need to be heard; to stop creating flowery words, clever anecdotes, right answers, perceptive quips in my head. I have to shift my attention from Me to You. To really hear what you’re saying, I have to let go of my preconception of you, your needs, your information & start fresh. I also have to let go of my expectation of what I’m supposed to do with the information you’re giving me. That’s harder than you’d think. It means staying present & in the moment and anyone who has ever tried Zen meditation knows how hard that is.

Conversely, there’s some comfort in knowing that when I’m talking, I can tell my deep darks with no worries – I know I’m not the only one out there acting like I’m listening. But I do wonder what it is you’re thinking about when you’re not thinking about Me…

crackbaby & tender hearts

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mama’s little crackbaby -jshd 08-

I can see my cat’s teeny pink boy nipples.

I have the most annoying cat in the world. He drags broccoli from the garbage to gnaw on in the living room, like a dog with a bone. He follows me from room to room to room, like a dog with an anxiety disorder. He buries my food, while I’m eating it, steals my popcorn, leaving popcorn crumbs all over. He never thinks poop is quite buried enough yet, given an opportunity he will poop in the bathtub, leaving it totally exposed. He thinks nothing of walking through my dinner plate, stepping into my cup of tea, sprawling across my laptop, pining at least one of my hands to the table. He compulsively rushes into every closet any time I open the door. Every closet. Every time. Left to his own devices, he will climb up my clothes, knocking them off the hangers, scrabble up to the shelves & push everything off. He wanders on the tops of my kitchen cabinets, leaving tell-tale greasy little paw prints on the hood of the stove. He has stolen my underwear & twelve dollars cash money. Given a choice, he will sleep on my face.

I am allergic to cats.

I have the most affectionate cat in the world. He just wants to be with me. He wants to poop where I poop. We share everything, food, time & space. He doesn’t believe the theorem that two objects cannot occupy the same space. He is wedged between me & my dinner plate or my laptop. He’s a frequent, albeit illiterate, contributor to my emails, FB status, blog posts & homework assignments. He challenges me to figure out just what it was he changed in my settings when I wasn’t watching him. He’s fast & funny & tolerant. I hang him upside down, play him like a set of bongos, make him dance, follow him with my camera. I sing to him in the key of off and he curls up under my chin. After two months he returned the twelve dollars, leaving first the ten folded on my pillow, then the two singles a few weeks later. He tears silk flowers from my arrangements & leaves them under my covers, I fall asleep with him in my arms, wake with him staring at me from the next pillow. The alarm goes off, I sit up, and he crawls into my lap, flips over on his back, exposing his belly for a rub & purring to beat the band. Call me, you can hear him purring over the phone as he tries to push it out of my hand with his nose.

Today we went to the vet, to have a very stinky, very rotten tooth taken care of, discovered a heart murmur & with it, a higher risk of dying under anesthesia. How could he be ill? Living with CrackBaby is like living with a hyperactive 8-year-old boy in a fur suit. He swings from the chandeliers, bounces off the walls, he annoys the neighbors until they’re forced to call building management, but really, how do you stop a happy cat from running & dancing in the night?

I left him for tests and went home. Alone. I got a lot of work done today. I was able to use both hands to type. I had full use of my kitchen table, walked through my home without fear of tripping on four legs and fur.

Six hours of awfully awfully quiet.

$566 dollars, two syringes full of blood, one echocardiogram & a diagnosis of a leaky mitrovalve later we are home. Stinky tooth & breath still intact.  He could’ve stayed overnight and had the tooth taken care of in the morning, instead I gathered his terrified little fur self up into my arms and we went home. We’ll go back in the morning, but this evening, we have each other again. And I can see his little pink boy nipples where they shaved his chest & my heart is opened, broken & healed again. He lays across my arm as I write this, sleeping.