Saturday, December 26, 2015

Since You Died on Friday

I indicated that last week's essay would likely be the last one of the year. Often writing here is a duty for me but at least I feel the accomplishment of having done a little something other than sit on the couch and watch tv. It's been a while since  there's been an event so overwhelming that I need to use my words. On Friday December 18, my friend of over forty years, Richard Scott, died suddenly.

For Richard
January 30, 1947-December 18, 2015

Since you died on Friday
I no longer have an emergency contact.
I held my son in my arms and we wept.
I realize that except for my own, 661-7506 is the only phone number that I know by heart.
I worry that my Hanukah menu of latkes and doughnuts may have induced your heart attack.
I'm sorry that you didn't hear the police woman say that yours was the tidiest house she'd ever seen.
I remember how we got high and watched sitcom reruns and Date With Dale on Christian broadcasting and that we sent Dale Evans a letter suggesting that she invest in a more supportive bra.
I make my husband a sardine sandwich with your pumpernickel bread.
I realize I will never earn another dollar for being the first to notify you about a celebrity death.
I see that in your phonebook you've written every friend's birthday in red ink.
I regret that I was snippy and preoccupied the last time I saw you.
I am thankful that our penultimate time together was wonderful and even though the latkes may have done you in it was a perfect evening.
I remember my kids seeing your yellow VW bug in the handicapped spot at Video Journeys and dashing into the porn room to find you.
Every person I call to tell that you died said that you were their best friend.

Since you died on Friday
Your favorite movie lines resonate in my head.
Get me the axe.
We're in a tent darling, we're not at home. I can hear you perfectly well if you speak in a normal tone of voice.
Top of the world Ma!

Since you died on Friday,
I've been eating, as you would say, like I'm going to the chair.
I had to stop myself from calling you to tell you, that despite an amazing cast, Truth is a terrible, awful film.
I take everything from your freezer and heat it on a big cookie sheet and we eat it for dinner.
I am thankful that in 2015 you did everything that you like to do.
I am acutely aware of the better person I've become for having known you.
I regret that we put off traveling to London together.
I'll have to figure out how to keep track of my own bills and appointments.
I see how my friendship with you has been a blueprint for every other satisfying relationship I have.
I remember Bob noting that no one made me laugh as hard as you did.
I note that the your most recent “Last Gasp List” of elderly or infirm celebrities is the last one I'll receive.
I threw away your razor, a bar of soap and a pack of honeybuns from the 99 Cent Store
I drink, as I write this, coffee with milk from your refrigerator.
I am befuddled that I was unable to find your pot.
I remember the Oscar birthday cake that I made you.
I eat another breakfast from the green depression glass plate that you gave me.
I discover that I am not the only one who couldn't stand the corn pudding you insisted on making for Thanksgiving.
I remember how much more patient you were with my dementia addled mother than I was myself.

I am reminded too that I will die and that for you it was fast and you were sitting in your favorite chair with a glass of iced tea and the tv on.

Since you died on Friday tears flow a couple times each day but I know you are immortal because I will think about you every day and that I am better for having loved you and that I am not the only one.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Tuxedo Variations

Christmas is a legal holiday, so even though I'm a Jew I think I have a dispensation if I don't get around to posting here next week. Unless I am struck with a sudden compulsion to write something (highly improbable) this will likely be my final post of 2015. There is always shitty stuff happening in the world for me to wring my hands about but the last couple months seem particularly awful and rife with violence and stupidity. It feels like the world is worse off than a year ago. Having been in Europe during the Paris bombings, and having close ties with the San Bernardino/Redlands area, these events are particularly resonant. The odds, I know, are better that I am offed by a herd of stampeding wildebeest than at the hands of a terrorist. But, I think that 2015 brings a change to the way that most people think about the world. Perhaps 2016 will occasion a pandemic of compassion and common sense.

I have chronicled here over the last two years the loss of two dogs and two cats, the last being our beloved Gary who leaves us a few days after we return from our trip. We are both devastated but the truth is that while Gary liked me just fine, he preferred Himself, as had his predecessor Malcolm. Himself hadn't been a cat person when he met me but he developed a fierce attachment to Malcolm and later Gary. There has been a discussion about not replacing pets in order to free us up for travel but I agree to this only when it seems like Gary will survive for many more years. Given the kitty's early demise and the fact that I have always had a cat (usually a number of cats) I am desperate for feline companionship. Himself, however, still in deep grief, keeps throwing up the zero population growth agreement and staunchly refuses to discuss the matter.

Number One Son, at age twenty-three is pretty much a mensch. His graduation and subsequent landing of a decent job provide my greatest satisfactions of the past year. Nevertheless, once in a while the boy doesn't plan ahead and requires a parental bailout. This is in the first paragraph of my Jewish mother job description but Himself, being of the gentile persuasion, is a bit less patient with these little screw ups. “Don't tell Dad,” is sort of our conspiratorial mantra. Number One Son is frantic one morning, unable to locate his keys. We scour the house to no avail and Himself's irritation is palpable.

The mystery of the keys is solved several days later. Himself has confused them with his own keys and they have been relegated to a drawer upstairs in our bedroom. Among my other duties as assigned is exploiting guilt to my own advantage. Knowing the Himself feels lousy about stealing the keys, I retain the boy's services in the cat matter. He broaches the subject with his pop at the dinner table, after a couple of beers. My son, having undoubtedly blossomed under my tutelage, is charmingly relentless and refuses to take “no cat” for an answer. Himself is ultimately broken and says that in the unlikely event that he were to adopt another, it would have to be a tuxedo cat like Malcolm and Gary.

At warp speed I make contact with the Kitty Bungalow. This is a self-described charm school for cats, housed in a bungalow near USC. Volunteers come in regularly to socialize feral kittens. I make an appointment and from dozens of candidates, I choose two male tuxedo litter-mates. Ordinarily kitties aren't homed until they are neutered but I guess I make a good impression and they are released in time for Hanukkah.

Kittens and cats are housed in different rooms at the bungalow. Mine are in a small room with a couple dozen other kittens when I go to fetch them. The door opens and while the other kitties carry on, my two tuxedos march right out, ready to go. The last litter-mates I adopted, over a decade ago, where Gary, Mary and Larry. The kids and I drove to a home in El Monte and when Himself came home with a big yellow bag from the opening day of Amoeba Records the tiny trio was playing on the bed.

Things ended badly for Larry. I found him lifeless in the bedroom and was stricken. I called our dear friend and neighbor Broderick whose sonic arrival and expeditious dead cat removal I will always be grateful for. When the deed was done, Broderick did present me back with the towel I had given him for wrapping kitty. “Do you want this?”

Mary was a sweet shy thing and while Gary allied with Himself, she was my girl. She contracted stomach cancer in 2013. The new adoptees are Harry and Jerry. Himself returns from his meditation class and the pair are frisking on the bed. I am concerned that he will be miffed as he hadn't really committed to a new cat, let alone two. Luckily the “if” in “if I got a cat” doesn't come back to bite my ass and he is immediately in love. We note within minutes their distinct personalities. Jerry is more outgoing and jaunty. Harry is quiet and conservative. Both poop about three times their body weight every day.

Himself is on sabbatical for a few more weeks and spending days at home reading and writing. Since the arrival Harry and Jerry a week ago, when Himself is working in his chair, they are on his shoulder. When he is in bed they are on his head. He baby talks to them all day long. Seldom has a risk I've taken paid off so well.

Facebook is my window on the state of the universe. Stupid platitudes. Neediness and self promotion. Earnest political info-graphics shared with like minded friends who share them with like minded friends. Cute kids. The current metaphor for shallow and banal is “cat videos.” The truth is, cat and dog pictures and videos (and the occasional teacup pig) are really the only thing I value on Facebook. A recent video posted of people weeping as they receive gift puppies has me in tears. One of my favorites is “Dogs Annoying Cats with their Friendship.” Some hardcore animal rights people make a stink about “Cats Terrified of Cucumbers” being cruel but it doesn't really bother me when once in a while a cat is brought down a peg. I don't follow Governor Jerry Brown on Facebook but I am a long time devotee of his Corgi, the First Dog of California, Sutter Brown. The brunt of my feed however is “Dog Spotting” which is nothing more than people posting pictures of dogs. I've posted two myself.

One of the bigger laughs I have ever gotten is at a Weight Watcher's meeting. I am sitting with my posse of girlfriends and the leader of the group describes a woman's triumph in establishing a physical fitness regime. She dances Zumba with her husband every night. I whisper “Himself and I do that,” and my friends disrupt the meeting, wailing in laughter. My husband is greatly respected but taciturn and gruff are probably more apt than bubbly or effusive. After the heartbreak of Gary's death, Himself now babbles in baby talk all day to Harry and Jerry. If two tiny kittens make for such a change in disposition maybe the weapon for world peace is Facebook going all kittens and puppies all of the time.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Haiku for the Winter Solstice

Lots of lousy gifts.
Hanukah may be eight nights,
but it ain't Christmas

The house wreaks for days
hours degreasing the kitchen
but we love latkes.

I'm tired of tapas.
Tiny plates with wee portions
I resent sharing.

Endless long lines for
Black Friday sales and I-Phones
but never to vote.

All Trump, all the time
Fans loud but not that many
Hillary blissed out.

Weight Watcher's change up
reduces sugar and carbs.
Armed insurrection.

Dog catches latka.
when parents applaud wildly
The kid rolls his eyes

PhD husband.
Sets the table each night with
glass on the wrong side.

Twenty somethings can't pick up
beer bottles or shoes.

Bye bye to the drought?
El Nino is on the way!
Got flood insurance?

Only old crackpots
answer a landline and talk
when a pollster calls

Does terrorism
not apply to shooting up
a Planned Parenthood?

Bard memory class:
Great medical advancements,
but I forget them.

Here in Echo Park,
man bun, rescue dog, baby.
Hipster credentials.

Leave a single sheet
instead of changing the roll?
You're still an asshole.

Burly tattooed dude
out walking a chihuahua
in a pink sweater.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Very Special Shooting

Twenty years ago we considered joining a neighborhood babysitting coop. Another parent called to screen us and earnestly asked if we kept guns in the house. This perhaps is the stupidest question anyone has ever asked me. One of my former employees was into guns but other than that, to my knowledge, none of my friends keep guns. Yet, in America the rate of U.S. gun ownership is the highest on the planet. There are way more guns than people. If the murder of twenty children at an elementary school in Sandy Hook isn't a catalyst to revisit our interpretation of the second amendment it terrifies me to think of what possibly might be. In 1876, an enlightened U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Cruikshank that “the right to bear arms in not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.”

In U.S. v. Miller in 1939 the Court ruled that the federal government and the states could limit any weapon types not having a “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 to booster marksmanship and promote gun safety. Before the National Firearms Act of 1934 was enacted by Congress, NRA president Karl Frederick testified before a hearing “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one...I do not believe in the promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” As late as 1968 the NRA supported a gun control act which created a federal system to license gun dealers as well as establishing restrictions on particular categories of firearms.

There are a number of reasons for the NRA's shift from advocating for sportsmanship and safety to proposing that a concealed carrying, assault weapon amassing America is the anecdote for an epidemic of mass murders. A potentially beleaguered gun industry has co-opted the NRA and therefore purchased the most powerful lobbying entity in the country. More subtly, as the cultural horizon shifts, white men feel threatened and impotent as they sense their ebbing hegemony. I think the election of Barack Obama raised a lot of hackles.

Himself distrusts Obama. I admit that the Hope Change thing hasn't panned out that well and many of the Changes I'd Hoped for haven't come to fruition. However, I don't think that anyone would doubt Obama's solid commitment to sensible weapons legislation and his frustration at the power that the NRA wields. Ironically, the election of an African American president has probably fomented a lot of the unease that the NRA and gun manufacturers exploit in order to keep sensible gun law reforms off the table.

Mass murders have become so commonplace that I respond on autopilot.  The first thought that runs through my mind is to hope the killer isn't a Jew. Fortunately, since the Son of Sam back in the 70s, this hasn't been the case. Secondly, I hope that the murderer is not a Muslim. Lately I'm giving Bad for the Muslims near parity with Bad for the Jews. As complete sidebar here, is that once in a very great while I ask Himself a question that he is unable to answer. Recently I inquired as to why we used to say Moslem but now we say Muslim. In the rare instance there is something that Himself doesn't know my second choice is Wikipedia. This is what I discover:

According the the Center for Nonproliferation Studies: Moslem and Muslim are basically two different spellings of the same word. But the seemingly arbitrary choice of spellings is a sensitive subject for many followers of Islam. Whereas for most English speakers the words are synonymous in meaning, the Arabic roots of the two words are very different. A Muslim in Arabic means “one who gives himself to God,” and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means “one who is evil and unjust” when the word is pronounced, as it is in English “Mozlem” with a z.

My sidebar to the sidebar, is that the word “Moslem” is rejected by my spellchecker, although the “n word” and “kike” are not.

I keep my fingers crossed that the mass murderer du jour is neither Jewish nor Muslim and hope instead that it's some right wing nut job who at least can be held up to further discredit other right wing nut jobs and the NRA. It is better too if the gunman commits suicide or killed by law enforcement. I am rabidly anti-death penalty and firmly believe, and have personally witnessed, that redemption can happen behind bars. However, I think it is better that society be spared the expense of protracted legal proceedings and decades of incarceration and probably for the families of victims it is better to spared the experience of a long trial. I will add that I have met inmates serving life sentences with little chance of parole who have committed themselves to personal growth and restorative justice and actually manage to live fulfilling lives. The likelihood however of a notorious mass murderer having the wherewithal and access to resources for the promotion of healing and inner peace are slim. There may be exceptions but I think that in most of these cases it is better in every way that the shooters die along with their victims.

Finally, given the proliferation of mass shootings, once the deed is done, in addition to preferring a fanatical right wing perpetrator, I also prefer that news coverage not preempt Judge Judy. Given that absolutely nothing happened after the murder of children in Sandy Hook, I have lost hope that anything ever will. I am numb and prefer my usual routine of popcorn and my favorite arbiter of ethics, Judy.

This week's a game changer though. Wednesday morning Girlfriend-in-law is traveling to Los Angeles from Redlands via the Metrolink train from San Bernardino. At 11:30 she calls, upset. There's been a shooting nearby. The train station is crawling with police and the other passengers are very tense. She finally is able to board a train, and while the trip takes two hours longer than ordinarily, she reaches L.A. safely. We are shaken. Girlfriend-in-law attends, in Redlands, the same school from which I graduated, as did Number 1 Son.  Usually when there's a mass shooting I sigh and curse the NRA and hope that Judy's still on. But now I am glued to the news and don't miss one bit Judy's cranky moral instruction.

I have driven on the same streets as the folks who attend a company party they'll never return from. I have likely shopped at the same supermarket as Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. As I write this their motive is still hazy, although evidence seems to be leading towards some sort of free agent terrorism. Not only does the proximity to my own stomping grounds catch my attention but I am gobsmacked at the thought of Tashfeen dropping her six month old baby with her mother-in-law, changing into tactical gear and then embarking on an inevitable suicide mission. This just doesn't match the usual profile of thwarted American dreamers determined to exact their fifteen minutes of fame at any cost.

San Bernardino is different in a number of ways of what we can now say are “run of the mill mass shootings.” The shooters aren't lone wolves but a married couple with a baby. Their apartment arsenal is blocks from my college. I hate though that it's this variance, from what's become a pattern, that captures my attention. It has to be more than just another crazy white guy. I detest how cavalier I've become. I agree that some mass shootings probably wouldn't have been prevented by stricter background checks and a ban on assault weapons. And it isn't just a matter of providing more outreach to the mentally ill. The problem is insidious and complicated and beyond my own grasp. Japan and Australia however have instituted strict gun-control laws and have virtually eliminated mass shootings so undoubtedly, some sort of restrictions would be at least a step in the right direction. It always seemed that my little quinoa eating, NPR listening enclave, by virtue of our enlightenment and liberalism, was exempt from the American phenomena of mass murder. Given the power that the gun industry wields I can't foresee any substantive gun control measures being implemented in the near future. It is harder to resign myself to this and the enormous suffering this has caused and will, inevitably continue to cause, when it happens in a place that's more to me than just on dot a map.

In the course writing this I make sure that there were no other Jewish mass murderers since Son of Sam. I google "Jewish murderers" and hit on David Duke's webpage which bears a huge headline declaring that “The Greatest Mass Murderers of all time Were Jews.”  I think that an illustration of the memorials for the victims at Sandy Hook might prove poignant for this piece but my Google image search reveals mostly illustrations claiming to prove that the shooting was a hoax. The Internet has certainly accelerated the dissemination of lies and crackpot ideas, including a convoluted interpretation of the Second Amendment. I suspect that if the framer's of the Constitution had been able to imagine the 21st Century they well might have tweaked the Second Amendment. But even though now we can spread bullshit through the universe in a nanosecond I doubt if they would have touched the First. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Churched Out


I write again from an AirB&B apartment in Italy.  Another Saturday morning.  This one in Florence.  Himself sleeps.  Despite watching an instructional You.Tube video I have just melted the tiny Bialetti coffee pot.  I make a fine, albeit dinky, cup yesterday. I think I’ve followed the same steps today but apparently not and I am relegated to drinking tea.  After instant coffee in Ireland and a week of wee cups of Italian sludge, it will nice to be home to my 12 cup machine and the jumbo canister of Trader Joe’s beans.

We travel off season, not only because that is when Himself has time off, but also, to avoid crowds.  Rome however is jammed. The weather is lovely, in the 70s and the streets and cafes teem with visitors and Romans alike.  We walk around the Coliseum but the ticket line is long and we observe that the inside is dense with people snapping selfies.  Crowds distract us from getting a real feel for a place and it seems that in some cases looking at images and video online is more satisfactory, as many of Rome’s heavy hitter tourist sites feel like Disneyland.  We eschew most of the “A ticket” attractions and instead wander and poke into churches.

The number of churches, that don’t even merit guidebooks listings and are over-the-top ornate is mind boggling. The percentage of Italian Catholics who are church involved decreases every year.  In most of the churches we visit, there are a handful of people engaged in prayer but almost all of the worshipers are substantially older than we are.  Despite the rockstar popularity of Pope Francis it is predicted that church affiliation in Italy will continue to decline.  There are a number of UNESCO designated churches that will always draw an admission paying crowd but what will become of the little gems that are off the beaten path?  It seems that there is a church every few blocks and each has its own treasures.  But these structures, crammed with precious religious art, must cost a bundle to maintain.  I doubt if the Irish or Italian government is in a position to protect and maintain every historic church and I wonder, what with the decline in active Catholicism, how these countless ancient churches will be preserved.

We make the obligatory stop at the Trevi fountain.  The crowd is incredibly dense and we can’t really get close so Himself tosses coins from high overhead. They may have hit the water or perhaps another tourist.  The Spanish steps are under construction.  The Vatican at dusk is stately and awesome but lined with kiosks laden with religious kitsch and peddlers hawking selfie sticks.  

There are posters all over Rome advertising a Balthus exhibit. Perhaps it is sacrilegious to take in a show by a modern French/Polish painter instead of Michelangelo, Leonardo and Bernini but we both like his vaguely creepy paintings of sexualized pre-adolescents and cats.  There is a particularly satisfying group of sketches inspired by Bronte’s Jane Eyre and other works that give a nod to Lewis Carroll.  Balthus’ biography reveals that as a youth, he was encouraged in his artistic pursuits by Rainer Maria Rilke. The poet also happened to be having a love affair with Balthus’ mother.

Mostly though, we walk.  We get lost trying to find a recommended restaurant and wander for hours on the outskirts of Rome, through housing projects and modest neighborhoods.  We navigate the twisty alleys of the Travastere. The Monastario San Grigorio, home to an order of Calmondolese monks since the 1570s, pops up as we stroll.  Just a sidebar in the guidebooks, we peruse the particularly vibrant frescoes virtually by ourselves.

Himself knows just about every saint and points them out in frescoes and altarpieces. I can probably give most Jewish girls a run for the money on martyrdom and torture wheels, upside down crucifixions, and definistrations.  For Himself these vivid depictions give vision to the tales that filled his childhood.  Despite the grisliness, I think he experiences some sort of nostalgic comfort.  For me, most of the churches and monasteries are a blur. Altarpieces.  Frescos.  Fantastically intricate painted ceilings. Tons of gold leaf. Relics, including the preserved severed head of St. Catherine of Siena.

I’ve lost count now but one of the standouts is the Dominican monastery of San Marco, in Florence.  The artist-monk Fra Angelico was born in 1395.  The monastery displays altarpieces and spectacular murals.  During the Renaissance tones grew darker and more muted but the work of Angelico is vivid and crisp.  We notice too that Angelico has a sense of community.  Witnesses to miracles and martyrdoms are engaged in conversation and their bodies stand naturally. Fra Angelico seems to have broken with the stiff symmetry of pre-renaissance paintings.  It is this ordinariness of spiritual experience that attracts me to the work of English painter Stanley Spencer, who was undoubtedly very much influenced by Fra Angelico.

The tour of San Marco also includes the cells of the monks, each with a mural depicting a stage in the life of Christ.  Some of the murals show the birth of Christ, all soft and sunny but others bear gruesome images of the crucifixion that I would prefer not to have to wake up to each morning.  Another notable resident of San Marco was the infamous super zealot monk Savonarola, who rallied against the secular.  His disciples burned artworks and books--The Bonfire of the Vanities.  Savonarola also spoke against the corruption and greed of the church.  The pope eventually ordered the monk's excommunication and hanging.    His hairshirt is on display at San Marco.  

Siena is a spectacular medieval city.  We stay at a former convent that’s been converted to a hotel but is still under the church’s aegis. There are fussy little signs everywhere.  Don’t put your suitcase on the bed.  No clothes washing or food allowed in the rooms.  Eat your breakfast from a plastic tray so as not to soil the tablecloth. Nevertheless, our spartan room has a spectacular view of the ancient city and the magnificent Byzantine Duomo.  We climb an unbelievable number of steps to reach a viewing balcony.  The picture of splendid old city surrounded by the gentle green hills of Tuscany is well worth the effort.

From Siena we travel on to Florence and then Venice. I work some on this piece from a Venice coffee shop but the document disappears and as our trip winds down I don't manage to get back to it until now, having been home for a week. After having no television for our first week in Italy, the apartment in Florence has a set and the only English language channels are BBC and CNN. The news is devoted to the Paris massacres exclusively. We can't help but watch, compelled a bit more than we might be ordinarily I guess as Italy neighbors France.

Church fatigue has set in by the time we reach Firenze. We trudge with crowds through the Bargello and Uffizi Galleries. I prefer the crisp vivid colors of the late middle ages to the moody grays of the Renaissance except I am taken with the complicated composition of the many enormous Tintoretto works at Venice's Scuola di San Rocco.

Venice is our last stop. I expect it to be unlike any place I've ever visited but am blown away by how profoundly different it is. Our hotel is so difficult to find that we have to load a video with directions unto our phone. Dark, twisty alleys lead to bright crowded squares. Dogs, without the risk posed by cars or bikes, wander freely. We see a mutt with a fancy collar, by himself, walk into a pet store to check out the merchandise. We see some Orthodox kids with payot and yamulkes in less touristed Jewish ghetto. A plaque memorializes the 247 Venetian Jews who were deported and executed by the Nazis during the Second World War.

As the church looses ground in the west, the pope characterizes the current threat posed by fundamentalist terrorists as a piecemeal Third World War. Back in the day, church leadership could expediently rid itself of the messily over zealous. The Pope made sure that after his hanging, the bones of Savonarola were burned, less any relic peddlers attempt to martyrize him. I doubt if this would be a practical solution for mainstream muftis and imans.

Himself, the most frugal person I have ever known, is actually enthusiastic about commissioning from a Venice mask maker, a papier mache kitty with our Gary's likeness painted from one of the pictures, from the several hundred that I have stored of him, on my phone. It is difficult to remember all of the animal companions we've survived but it is inevitably the case that each pet has a favorite human and both humans have pet pets. Gary's littermate Mary, who died a year ago, preferred me and Gary has slept most nights on top of Himself and spent many days perched on his shoulder, staring into a computer screen.

Our herd has thinned now to just a single dog. I stole from someplace the wonderful observation that one dog is people. Two dogs are dogs. Given the truth of this I am content to keep only a single dog. We say we want to get down to no pets because we enjoy traveling so much. The truth is, it has never really been a problem to get a house-sitter. The problem is that when we travel we miss the pets too much.

Opie goes through her normal hysterical whining and dancing routine when we return. If I had worn military fatigues when I walked in the door after the trip, the video would go viral. Gary usually gives us a cold shoulder for about an hour before we get his purr back. We hear him howling and finally find him cowering under the bed. He will not eat and only briefly tolerates being held before he disappears again under the bed. After three vet visits and no concrete diagnosis, he has a seizure the day before Thanksgiving and we know that it is time. Himself stays with him until the end. I can only stand the first injection. The mask is beautiful and I am relieved when I consider how much worse we'd feel now if we'd elected not to have it made.

Even if we hadn't endured the drama of losing the cat, I doubt if this piece would be completed any sooner. The accretion of churches, punctuated by a Paris bloodbath and all in God's name leaves me at sea. I do not cover my Facebook profile pic with the French flag. I am not Charlie Hebdo or France. Nor do I have an affiliation with any religious organization and my observation is pretty much limited to a couple of minutes on Friday night where we try to cram in some appreciation of family and a nod to the salubriousness of mindfulness.

Freud alluded to the human need for religion as a substitute for mother love. Himself reads a book by a biologist who explores this theory with a sophisticated scientific understanding. I wonder if there is any evidence that suggests that the most vulnerable to religious excess have a history of troubled maternal bonding.

There is some sort of singular satisfaction I guess; Himself just can't pass up a church. Between Ireland and Italy though I am more than sated. How many of the greatest treasures of western art were created at the behest of the Catholic church? To me, every ornate church is an example of the church's insatiable appetite for wealth and power, The clergy has its hands in the pockets of the poor while they preach for them to accept the nobleness of poverty.

The conundrum for me is that I am pretty intractable when it comes to freedom of religion. But this unwavering tolerance opens the headways for a whole lot of crackpot bullshit in the name of faith. Not that it would happen, but perhaps stripping religious institutions from tax exempt status in the U.S. might separate a bit of wheat from the chaff here at home. Nor do I see an effective tool on the global horizon to tamp down out-of-control extremism.

Fortunately, I have not been charged with preventing deranged nut jobs from carrying out atrocities in God's name. I have not been selected to oversee a more equitable distribution of church assets. Apparently we have a biological need to replace mother-comfort with the belief in some higher loving force. Perhaps they'll invent a pill for this. Or maybe, like the pantheistic faiths of Greece and Rome, the religions of the world will simply run their course. And then of course there's the chance that the Pope is right and we are on the cusp of unimaginable destruction.

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, someone posts “Don't pray. Think.” This makes sense when one considers the scores of atrocities committed in the name of faith. But my own thinking is confused and ineffectual. I am not Paris, or Kenya or Malala. There is still clean up from Thanksgiving. We are sad about our cat. We're due for a binge on Amazon's Man in the High Castle. I have no bright ideas to bring to the debate about religious extremism. Nevertheless, being in Europe after the Paris attacks and having had thrown in my face for four weeks the obscene riches of the Church, the state of religion is on my mind. My thinking however is naive and distracted. When your intellect is absolutely and utterly useless, maybe it's not so bad to pray.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Travelblog #2

The GPS of Death and the Italian Nightgown

 We have become so accustomed to getting lost finding places that elude our little Garmin GPS that we don’t even fight anymore. I enjoy listening to pop tunes on local radio to tune in with the zeitgeist of a place but if Himself heard one more Adele or Taylor Swift song I would have been in extreme jeopardy. We agree on an Irish National station, designed for old fogies,with all talk, all the time. We drive over a thousand miles in Ireland. That's a lot of talk radio. The station broadcasts to the entire country. Call-ins have been replaced by text messages like "Tell me mam that I'll be there as soon as your show is over." Programs shift completely unpredictably from banal to sophisticated. Erudite discussions are followed with inane banter. There is a piece on sex education for the severely autistic and a long interview with Vincent's Price daughter. A serious piece about the Troubles is followed by an equally earnest piece about Nantucket whalers leaving their wives with hand carved dildos that could be filled with warm water. Everything is punctuated with listener's texts from all over the country about traffic, the weather and ironing.

Saturday morning we leave the twee but not unpleasant guest house in Linsalong to visit friends Sinead and Tony at their cottage in the also GPS absent Corduff. Finally we stop for directions at a little B and B with two miniature horses. The nice lady offers us tea and tells us that we’ve actually arrived in Corduffkelly but that Corduff isn’t too far.  From Tony and Sinead’s description I expect a mud floored, thatched roof arrangement.  I make a mental note that Corduffkelly and the tiny ponies might be a good alternative if the cottage proves too primitive.  When we are finally able to differentiate Corduffkelly from Corduff proper we arrive to find a completely equipped little house and a lovely room with private bath.  There’s even a dishwasher.

What there isn’t, by Sinead and Tony’s design, is wifi, cellular service or television.  My phone and laptop are idle for the day.  I try to remember the last time I lacked digital access for over twenty four hours and realize it must be when I was giving birth to twenty year old Spuds.  Writer Tony made contact years ago after reading on the net some of Himself’s essays on subjects arcane and disparate.  Himself has met the couple a number of times but this is my first encounter.

We sit by the fire and Himself and Tony jump from book to book to book.  I haven’t met many people who read as voraciously as Himself.  It is hard to follow the trajectory of their conversation but I can tell for both that it is very satisfying.  I will add, that unlike Himself, Tony engages in yard work.  Sinead and I have been Facebook friends and send each other cards for our February birthdays.  A few times I have met people from cyberspace and find them far less appealing in person.  Fortunately, Sinead and I hit it off right away.  We are both passionate about food and essentially, we are married to the same man, except that one of them does yard work.

It is Halloween, which has become in recent years a huge deal in Ireland.  There is a profusion of bonfires and scarecrows are everywhere, traditions likely inspired by the Celtic festival of Samhaim.  But there are Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating which are relatively new customs here.  We sent, for a number of years, Halloween costumes for our American friend Carrie’s children as she was unable to find them in Belfast.  Tony takes us to the charming village of Carlingford and the cobbled main street is decorated and children and adults alike wear masks and painted faces.  We enjoy a nice lunch served by an elaborately costumed waitstaff and visit the ruins of an ancient mint.  

I enjoy, more than I should admit I guess, a stop at the bargain supermarket Lidl’s.  I shop there in England in summer and love the selection of dirt cheap food plus the shelves of odd merchandise like bras and power saws.  We talk, in front of the fire, until nearly two a.m. and wake in the morning and talk some more before we set off for Adare.

Years ago we met Bridie in the park with her three children.  Our kids played together and we struck up a conversation and we’ve stayed in touch with her and husband Sean ever since.  They own a pub in Adare, one of the most touristed of the many quaint Irish villages. Our kids were so young on trips to Ireland that their memories are very hazy but both have a vivid recollection of watching Sean kick a drunk out of the bar.

It’s been over ten years since we’ve seen Sean and Bridie Collins.  They’ve added a guesthouse next to the bar and closed The Pink Potato--a brief foray into fast food.  Ireland was a country hit particularly hard by the recession and the Collins describe how tough this has been to weather. Things are better now but with three kids, a bar and a hotel, both work incredibly long hours.  Sean and Bridie are both wonderful raconteurs, naturals behind the bar and in their element serving pints and chatting with the locals and tourists who visit the pub.  They note that it is nearly impossible to take time off but with a satisfaction of having survived and ultimately prospered in a dreadful economic climate.  

From Adare, on to the Dingle Peninsula, a part of Ireland we’ve yet to explore.  It is off season but there is still some action in the town. Years ago at the Tate Britain I was captivated by the painter Stanley Spencer.  After visiting St. Mary’s Church in Dingle I am partial now to Harry Clarke, who designed some of the most spectacular stained glass I’ve ever seen.  Although I am too nervous for Himself’s driving back at home, after transporting us the short distance from the Dublin Airport to Drogheda I abdicate.  However, if Himself had permitted me, as I did in England, to post a sign on the rear window that says “American Driver” I might have hung in while longer.

There are unpaved patches and narrow one lane roads all through Ireland.  The Dingle Peninsula amps up the fear factor with steep cliffs and blind turns.  It is rough and beautiful, the pervasive Irish green against the gray Atlantic.  The Blasket Islands are close but there is no ferry service in the autumn.  The Irish government forced the evacuation of the populace in 1953, deeming the islands unsustainable.  Our accommodations, yet again, aren’t on the GPS and our landlady is vague with her directions.  We finally locate the nineteenth century stone cottage and pick up groceries for dinner from a store where Irish is spoken.  The shopkeeper is surprised when Himself tries out his Irish and I am impressed that the autodidact can actually communicate effectively.

The Ring of Kerry presents another driving challenge but Himself is confident behind the wheel and the scenery is breathtaking.  Another idiosyncrasy of our Garmin GPS is that to reach Cork from Dingle we are directed to traverse Priest’s Leap Road.  After the fact, we see on Trip Advisor that others have had the same misfortunate, due to Garmin.  This yields some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever witnessed but the road is unimaginably treacherous.  Opposing traffic, darkness or rain I’m sure would have guaranteed our doom.  I think that soon we’ll come to a less steep, wider, smoother section but the road just becomes rockier and steeper as we ascend.  The ten kilometers of Priest’s Leap is far and away the most frightening car journey of my life but at least I’m not driving and even though my heart throbs, I am at least able to take in Ireland at its most wild and rugged.

I know I’m a broken record but after surviving Priest’s Leap, we set out for another vacation rental unlocatable by GPS.  Ardfield is on the coast, west of Cork.  We rent another ancient stone cottage and after a few days of intense traveling we collapse for two days.  There is an organic farm honor stand two doors down.  I chose some carrots and potatoes and a bunch of shallots while a dog snoozes in the corner.  I pop a few Euro in the till and maneuver an ancient peeler to make a pot of soup.  I am delighted that Judge Judy is on Irish television most of the day.  They broadcast very old episodes that I haven’t seen.  I note that in recent years that Judy metes out justice much more swiftly and less patiently than in the past.

It is easy at least to arrive in Cork.  The parking is challenging but once that’s accomplished we head to the lovely Crawford Museum.  The obligatory eighteenth century portraits of the town’s landed gentry are particularly awful but there are a few beautifully chosen exhibits.  We happen again, fortuitously on the work of Harry Clarke, this time some amazing illustrations for fairy tales and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.    Cork is known for the 17th century English Market, filled with victualers, fishmongers and cheese merchants.  We enjoy some soup and grab a couple of sandwiches to take to Dublin.  After spending the night in a generic airport hotel we catch a very early morning flight to Rome.

Himself’s suitcase is one of the first to arrive at the baggage claim.  We wait a half hour for mine which, an hour later we find remains in Dublin. The owners of our Air B & B apartment have arranged to meet us at the airport.  They brush off their two hour wait and concern themselves only with helping to insure that I receive the bag.  The apartment is up a few flights of worn stone stairs in an ancient building but after two weeks of fusty Irish Cottages and ubiquitous instant coffee it is enormously appealing.  There is everything we could possibly need, including an espresso machine and a fully stocked bright blue refrigerator in a tiny cunning kitchen.  I tell Himself that as much as I love Ireland, I always feel like an outsider.  Here in Rome among the food and wine loving dark complected I feel more at home and brim with a sense of lively excitement.  Our apartment is around the corner from the Campo Di Fiori, an ancient and bustling produce market.  While one of our hosts shows us around the apartment the other dashes off to the market to fetch for us a bunch of flowers.

We wander around happily and aimlessly.  We step into the Pantheon and see the tomb of Raphael.  We wander in and out of alleys with cafes and endless rows of Vespas.  I need a few items to survive the night sans suitcase.   Yelp directs us to a non-existent department store and with a bit of fatigue setting in after rising at 3:30 a.m. to catch a flight I am about to give up when I see an ancient shop with bras and nightgowns in the window.  It is a shop called Di Cori.  Little English is spoken.  I have studied Italian daily using Duolingo for about six months.  Almost useless.  This is a very old school shop, established in 1863.  There is no merchandise laid out for you to browse.  Everything is in drawers and cupboards and salesladies zip around the tiny store pulling out nightgowns and underpants once I am able, through a combination of broken Italian with accidental Spanish and mime convey my needs.  I have noticed after a couple of weeks in Ireland that clothing seems to cost twice as much as it does at home.  The first nightgown is a simple one but at 52 Euro I manage to communicate that it’s for a night only and I need one that is menos caro.  I end up with a cotton number that actually isn’t bad and based on local pricing is a bargain at 32 Euro.  I notice as I pay a tiny tzedakah box behind the counter.  I know the word for Jewish because as a food obsessive I am aware that a Roman speciality is Carciofi Giudea--Jewish artichokes.  I point to the box and say to the owner “Giudea?”He nods affirmatively and I point to my heart and say “me too.”  He smiles and the ladies warmly thank me and wish me well as I leave the store.  My only other requirement to get through a night until the suitcase arrives is some facial cleaner.  Three girls jabber indolently behind a counter at a pharmacy.  Once they understand what I need one of them points to a shelf and resumes her conversation.  She takes her time and avoids eye contact while ringing up my purchase.  I wonder if there is a Jewish pharmacy.

The area is tourist heavy and restaurant staff aggressively try to reel us into cafes and trattorias with English menus outside.  I want to stay close to our apartment in case my suitcase arrives so after researching using Yelp and Trip Advisor I settle on a place.  Although highly praised on both sites, It turns out to be a tourist trap and the service is unctuous.  Everyone is asked “Where are you from?” and the server keeps her hand on my shoulder as we order.  Actually the food isn’t terrible and it’s very inexpensive but my lesson is learned about the reliability of Yelp and Trip Advisor.  We do a bit more wandering and stroll along the Tiber after dinner.  A lemon chocolate gelato is a great conclusion to an exhausting day.

Himself sleeps while I write most of this.  I get a text from the owners of our apartment that my case has arrived.  Himself, still groggy is about to begin is daily exercise routine when I importune that he should go get my suitcase and drag it up three flights of stairs.  He obliges and my bag is here.  Himself says that my new nightgown is matronly but I like it.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Travelblog Episode 1

Away now for a week and a day.  Usual cattle car airline flight and argument with officious stupid agents at car rental counter.  Followed by fatigued bickering as we maneuver out of Newark during rush hour.  We finally arrive in the kitsch filled little place we rent in Redhook.  Everything is the same as when I stayed in the summer except now the leaves are gold and red and the air is crisp.  We attend mini-courses on the Bard Campus as part of family weekend.  I attend one on “The Science of Forgetting.”  The professor is about thirteen. I have been out of school for so long I have never seen anyone use a laser pointer for anything but tormenting a cat.  A chart for, an otherwise serious, presentation lists the different forms of forgetting, running the gamut from something being on the tip of your tongue to full blown dementia.  One form of forgetting is conflating a real experience with a fantasy or dream.  There is a photo of Brian Williams next to a fighter jet to illustrate this one.  It takes me several minutes to summon the name “Brian Williams.”  I keep coming up with Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings.  Finally, I have to google “Girls TV” to get the name of the daughter, Allison Williams and voila!  You can see why the session about forgetting is of interest to me.  Aside from the Brian Williams belly laugh and a couple of show off parents, what I most remember is that apparently the best measure to ward off memory loss is physical exercise.  While I am pretty regular about this, I inquire, just in case, if there are any drugs in development that might provide an additional prophylactic and I am pleased that the answer is affirmative.

We take the second course together and end up there because neither of us reads carefully.  The class is titled “The 60’s.”   What we neglect to notice is the the instructor is in the theater department and the topic is mainly “The Living Theater” and its founder, Julian Beck.  Neither, except for Himself’s soft spot for Samuel Beckett, has much appreciation for the avante-garde and we roll our eyes at each other when we realize our fatal error.  The class is too small to slip out of.  It turns out that the presentation is quite interesting and illustrates how experimental theater laid a groundwork for mainstream productions like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.

After a morning of intellectual rigor we head over the bridge from lovely Annandale to a two mile stretch of chain stores in Kingston.  I hate Walmart although I did enjoy Crystal Bridges, the admission free art museum they created several miles from corporate headquarters in Bentonville Arkansas.  I am also an enormous cheapskate but if there were a Walmart a few blocks from my home I like to think that I wouldn’t shop there.  It is completely irrational, I know, that it is ok with me to drive over the bridge to Walmart to buy stuff for Spuds.  Himself has never been to a Walmart and shushes me when I begin to comment on a display of pink rifles.  We fill a basket with staples for Spuds and throw in an electric blanket, having noticed that the cavernous old house he lives in is cold and drafty.  Walmart yields a remarkable amount of stuff for remarkably little money and a strong imperative to do something now to clean up my karma.

My cheapness extends also to restaurant dining.  The Hudson Valley is chock a block with places where entrees start at thirty bucks and the menu lists the provenance of every ingredient. Not a good choice for starving college students.   Spuds is a very good sport about having pizza two nights in a row. After all, he has enough in Walmart provisions to get him through to the end of the year.  We do spot Gaby Hoffman picking up take-out from a Hudson joint.

We take Spuds and his girlfriend Anne to Olana, the residence of Hudson Valley painter Frederic Church.  The site is chosen by the artist to provide a spectacular view of the scenery from every window.  The home is like no other of the period, Church having traveled extensively in the middle east and incorporating many oriental elements into the design. The home has been faithfully restored and a number of Church’s Hudson Valley landscapes hang there.  The light on the Hudson River vista, autumn leaves in full color on a late afternoon, is breathtaking. How comforting too that while having so little time with Spuds these days that we do so spectacularly well in the quality department.

We arrive in Hudson for a Halloween parade down the main street.  It is a ragtag affair, led by a police car and followed by a fire engine.  The town’s major employer is a nearby prison but there has been a great deal of gentrification.  The main street boasts twee stores and pricey restaurants and artist Marina Abramovic has plans for a museum there.  Still, there is a pleasant small town feel as we stroll at dusk with Spuds and Anne.

On Monday morning we deliver two loads of freshly mom washed laundry and some additional groceries to Spuds and take him to breakfast at a badly managed coffee shop quartered in a lovely old church near his house in Tivoli.  Our second celebrity sighting is of Daniel Mendelson, a Bard professor and writer that we both very much admire.  We stop to tell him how much we enjoy his work before we bid farewell to Spuds.  

We cross the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to visit the Thomas Cole House.  He is the true founder of the Hudson Valley school and was a mentor to Frederic Church.  His homestead is far more modest than Olana but shares with it a spectacular view of the Hudson.  Our tour guide is of the vapid chipper sort who filters every detail through her own personal experience. Still, there are a number of Cole paintings and it is delightful to take them in from the point of inspiration.

Perhaps the only cheaper person than me on the planet is Himself.  We have prepaid for a full tank of gas and when we leave Redhook there is enough fuel for 120 miles which happens to be the exact distance to the airport.  We don’t however account for bumper to bumper traffic or the additional distance to the rental car return.  The gas light comes on about 30 miles before the airport and by the time we hit the off-ramp for JFK the indicator says we have only enough to drive a mile and I am in a panic.  When we actually reach the return lot it’s down to zero and I’m relieved to see a downhill ramp.  

An AerLingus redeye takes us to Dublin.  The flight attendants sport old school beehive hairdos, like the B52s, taupe pantyhose and their uniforms resemble housecoats.  They are curt, like most airline employees are these days, except for one who is mortified that our order for Himself’s vegetarian meal hadn’t been recorded.  She heaps our trays with rolls and salads and extra desserts and even offers to bake a potato.  I feel guilty when Himself eats the chicken curry anyway.

Our first stop on the Emerald Isle is Drogheda, a medium sized town about an hour from Dublin. We stay at a sweet guest house and the owner brings us freshly baked bread when we arrive.  Himself has an uncanny way of knowing who’s Catholic and who’s Protestant and informs me that our host if definitely the former.  Dear old friends, writers Carrie and Anthony move here from Belfast about eight years ago.  We see Carrie every couple of years as she hails from Orange County and returns to the States regularly to visit family but it’s been close to a decade since I’ve seen Anthony.  His Northern accent confounds me and embarrassingly, I have to often rely on Carrie for translation.  I will add, in my own defense, when Anthony is interviewed by Henry Rollins for American television, he is subtitled.   Both of their kids attend Irish speaking schools and take great pleasure in making fun of Himself’s self taught Irish.  We walk along the Boyne and visit St. Peter’s Church to see the embalmed head of Saint Oliver Plunkett and a supposed relic from the True Cross.  

Drogheda is a pleasant town with a burgeoning food scene but other than the saint’s shrunken head there isn’t much in the way of tourist attractions.  This gives us time for leisurely meals and excellent conversation.  Our conduit to the world is primarily digital these days, it is tonic and refreshing to just hang out with old friends.  Before lunch on the day we are to leave, Anthony washes two loads of clothes for us (which apparently wrecks their washer) and carefully mends a seam in Himself’s jacket.  He is a large man who sports a very full beard and many tattoos and I am charmed to observe his natural domesticity.

Between the visit to Drogheda and meeting some friends in a rural cabin we select a well reviewed guest house in County Monaghan.  The location is listed as Ballybay but the address we are given yields no results on the GPS.  We arrive in the town and stop at a mechanic’s shop to ask directions.  He does his best to explain but finally sighs that it is dark and that he doubts we’ll find it.  By some miracle we do and are warmly greeted by a grandmotherly sort who Himself proclaims is Protestant.  He later verifies this when snooping around he finds the book “Presbyterians of Ireland.”  We are in the attic, in a room that must have been a daughter’s as we find an envelope full of birthday cards under the bed.  The place is warm and comfortable but crammed with knick knacks, doilies, artificial flowers and popular fiction.  Breakfast is farm fresh eggs and fresh brown bread, and miraculously, brewed coffee.  Many Irish are partial to instant.

There has been a smattering of rain but fortunately only when we’ve been indoors.  I dream of borrowing Casper, the resident weimaraner and going off for a walk.  But our hostess advises us that the trails will be muddy and suggests alternatively we visit the farmers market and museum in nearby Monaghan.   The market is tiny but if I had a kitchen I would have scored some gorgeous fat carrots and a giant celery root.  I do stock up on a few hostess gifts from the local baker.

As usual, we have the town museum to ourselves and get from the paleolithic era to The Troubles in about twenty minutes.  The town was known for linen and lace. Monaghan, close to the Northern Irish border was quite a hotbed and there were a number of Loyalist car bombs in the 1970s.  The IRA’s most conservative voice, the fascistic  Eoin O’Duffy, hailed from Monaghan.  Now the town is quite left leaning and we notice signage in a number of different languages, reflecting an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Still, shopkeepers are curious about my accent and always eager to chat about the weather.  We’re hoping to continue missing the rain as we continue traversing country roads to visit friends and be immersed in green.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Happy Trails to Me

Embarking on our usual Autumn travels and hope to check in here every so often to recount exciting adventures and memorable meals.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Special Shoes

There is a stubborn sore on my earlobe, which I am able to diagnosis, via Google Images, as skin cancer.  The nine year old dermatologist states however that it's just a stubborn infection and he prescribes two strong ointments.  By the time the medication is available for pick up from our insurance-provider-approved pharmacy, my ear is nearly healed.  However, while I have access to a bonafide, albeit elementary school age, board certified dermatologist, I ask him about cosmetic dermatological procedures and how I could get the most bang for my buck.  “You really should wait a few years before you consider having any work done,” is the right answer. Unfortunately I am advised instead that it is Juvederm, Botox and chemical peels, in that order and at the price of a decent used car.

I travel with my friend to Lucky Feet, a shoe store in Rancho Cucamonga managed by a podiatrist and catering to troubled tootsies.  Jack Benny had a running gag about Cucamonga on his radio, and then later television, show.  The squat beige stucco town likely wasn’t filled out until the sixties and we are tickled to discover one street named Rochester (after Benny’s sidekick) and another, Jack Benny Drive.  I am probably one of the youngest people on the planet which this would be meaningful to.

My fiscally conservative mother spent hours cutting out and sorting coupons but she advised me never to scrimp on food or shoes.  Alas, I thought the other admonition of hers I’d followed, to stay out of the sun, had paid off but the dermatologist was more than happy to suggest prescriptives.  This isn’t my first visit to the old lady shoe store.  We make a side trip there a few months ago after touring the nearby Maloof House and Museum.  My feet are measured by hand and on a Jetsons type machine.  The saleslady suggests a pair of shoes from Israel and assures that they are comfortable on a long walk but also suitable to wear to a restaurant. At a price that should get me across the Sinai.

The weather is so warm that I don't have the opportunity to check out the Israeli shoes but, as we are leaving on a trip which will involve a great deal of walking, I test them out a few times on my morning walk.  I try them with thin socks.  Thick socks.  Orthotics. They are miserable.  I call the store, and even though the purchase was over five months ago I am invited to bring the shoes back to be checked out.  It turns out I’ve been given the wrong size and I try on about a dozen pairs of other shoes to select some that are comfortable and not too orthopedic looking.

The young podiatrist says that some of her friends find it gross that she handles feet all day.  She is glad that we take an interest in her profession.  We learn that arch supports and orthotics are basically the same thing and that my big toes are exceptionally short. When I was a kid, foot docs were called “chiropodists.”  I’m not sure why “podiatrist” is more sexy.  I note how tragic it is that most podiatric treatment is not covered by health insurance although foot trouble can be extremely debilitating.  About two hours pass at the Lucky Shoe Store and my friend and I bone up on the wide world of feet and both nab a pair of walking shoes that aren’t too old ladyish.  

Joe Workforce turns 23 in a few days.  I try hard to remember myself at that age and remain patient when he says something inane.  I can’t recall what I wanted when in my early twenties or what I expected my life would be like thirty years down the pike.  I know I didn’t worry about skin cancer and sore feet or that visits with a dermatologist or podiatrist would be so fascinating.  It is surreal this aging thing.  Sometimes it feels like a joke or a dream I will awake from.  How is it that I’m not in my twenties anymore?  How is it that every day brings me closer to my last?  I don’t remember the aha moment when it hit me that the odds against me increase with every breath I take.  My ear lobe is completely healed.  The new non-Israeli shoes are good for, if not an exodus from Egypt, at least twenty miles.  Still, the list of possible bad outcomes expands the more I see what the world has the potential to dish out.  I have become, like my mother, a worrywart, as aging brings my vulnerability more sharply into focus.  

We gripe about a spate of bad luck, plagued by a hit and run accident, household breakage, work stresses, and a stolen computer.  It seems, I whine, that we cannot get a break.  There is nothing however that is fatal or physically painful or that cannot be ameliorated with an injection  of time and/or money.  It isn’t karma or divine retribution.  Shitty things just happen. The accretion recently of little bummers makes me think that maybe the universe really does have it out for me.    Annoyances, screw ups and tiny heartbreaks are ceaseless and inevitable. But still, when my mind wanders through old history the memories are mostly sweet.  My world sometimes seems like it is falling apart but always somehow puts itself back together.  I am astonished to think about the number of years I have habituated the planet.  It is impossible not to be more guarded as one witnesses the seemingly infinite variety of tribulations one might face.  Yet as I grow more acutely aware of all the shit that can, and likely will, happen, my memories of unluckiness and dumb decisions still seem to fade.  In a year or ten I will likely only remember this rough patch if I happen to reread about it here. The warm and  fuzzy,  the sustenance I get from the ancient marriage, our spawn evolving into decent young men, the people I choose to spend my time with, is stuff I won't have to read about in old blog entries in order to remember.