Saturday, December 27, 2008

A New Year’s Riff

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

In my experience, the population is divided on the subject of celebrating New Year’s Eve. The most vocal members have had their plans in place for at least a month in anticipation of hearty partying. For the rest of us, it’s something to get through as uneventfully as possible.

I fall into the latter group, which, I suspect, is a silent majority. However, my feelings about New Year’s Eve are strong. I dread it. I think I almost always have.

In childhood, it was the celebration I always missed. No matter how hard I tried, sleep overcame me before that ball dropped. The next morning, the house rarely failed to show evidence of some secret grown-up ritual I was certain was as magical as it was mysterious. Someday, I thought, I will be old enough to join in such fun.

As an adolescent, I spend the long nights in a number of strangers’ homes, tending to their offspring as they frolicked away the last of the year. It was such a bore. Regular television was preempted for the New Year’s specials. It seemed that everyone in the world was partying but me, or so I imagined. At least then I earned a nice bit of change for the empty hours.

As I grew older, New Year’s developed into a time of involuntary reflection. It is when the earth and everyone on it ages, including me. Each January 1, I feel as if I have aged at least a year, although my birthday is five months away.

It’s not that I never had a good New Year’s Eve. While my children were young, I experienced the night through their eyes. We would go out to see a movie together and then either go home or gather at a friend’s house.

As our collective youngsters fought the good fight to stay awake, the adults cooked marvelous treats. We were even known to fire-up the backyard grill and roast s’mores. We sang camp songs and downed hot chocolate. And if anyone remembered, we turned on the tube in time to catch the ball drop, gingerly stepped over the bodies of sleeping offspring to offer the traditional New Year’s kisses.

It was heaven.

But all too soon, my kids were making their own plans for the evening. It seems that the celebration had now grown to include teenagers. Now, my job became one of worrying: Were they where they said they would be? Would they come home in one piece? The up side to having children is that concern for their well being often obscures concern about your own life. So, in a perverse sort of way, my New Year’s Eve dance card remained filled.

For some time now I have been left to my own devices. And I have tried just about everything I could think of to get the dark night behind me. Some years I would force myself to make elaborate plans to avoid ending up alone. This tended to drive my friends, usually a generous lot, and nuts. I’d start asking them in August what they were doing for the New Year. They would pat me on the head, laugh and dive back into the swimming pool.

So I tried ignoring it. It was just another night. Yeah, right. Let me tell so something. It doesn’t matter how many videos you rent or how early you hit the sack, the world will insist upon reminding you at midnight – with firecrackers, bells and whistles – that you are entering the New Year.

Lately, I’ve been taking a more moderate approach. I try not to obsess until mid-December. Then I make casual overtures to a friend or two. If nothing turns up, I try to make my peace with the evening. I may decide to go to a movie. Perhaps I arm myself with a good book, some incredibly decadent food and new CDs.

These days, I bet I can party harty on the internet. Betcha facebook will be rockin". Something tells me, I have a lot of company out there, eh?

Monday, December 22, 2008

ernie & bert

My daughter entered this world the same year as Sesame Street. My son followed 2 years later. We grew up on that fictional inner city block, the characters our neighbors. So a few years ago, when a friend mentioned that Ernie & Bert were devised to desensitize the young to gay couples, I burst out laughing. Ernie & Bert! To me, they were the puppet Odd (not queer) Couple, a cartoon version of Felix & Oscar.

But what do I know. I have no gaydar. Nada. Well, almost nada. I catch on real fast if someone is a flaming, lisping queen. As for the rest, most of it slides right past me. I don't notice. I am gay blind. Some time ago, I asked a co-worker if he had children. He raised his eyebrows and replied: "They don't allow us to have children." (note to those who actually live in "real America": this is Florida.) I am silent. "Roberta, don't you know I'm gay?" No, I say, it never occurred to me. He walks away shaking his head.

Just recently, I pointed out to another co-worker that a young woman was particularly good looking. "Roberta, what do I care, I'm gay." I cover my mild surprise with: "Well, I'm not, and she's still a looker."

I went through this weird time at the newspaper, when women kept coming out (not necessarily "on") to me. I started to wonder if I was giving out some vibes I wasn't aware of and asked a (very hetro) colleague about it. He insisted it was less about sexual orientation than about my non-judgemental nature. OK, I'll buy that.

When I moved here, it took a little while before I realized I now live in what I've tagged "The Castro East," with t-shirts proclaiming: Two of a kind beats a straight." No exactly my kinda poker.

Why all this talk of gaydom? I saw Milk recently. And the film is everything you hear it is. Sean Penn, and perhaps the film, should take the Oscars (no pun intended). I can't quite seem to get the picture off my mind. And it isn't the personally tragic end to Milk's life. It's the time.

The poignancy of the film is almost unbearable, as it is set in the days just before AIDS decimates the Castro, and entire gay community. There is a lightheartedness to the sexuality in the film, that along with the bath houses, are gone forever. It's like watching those people in the 1920s innocently partying their way into the depression. Or even those or so assimilated Jews in Germany in the 1930s.

The present struggle for gay marriage pales in contrast to an era in which homosexuality was illegal, and coming out often meant losing everything. Harvey Milk was audacious enough to offer hope. Sound familiar?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Doggie dominatrix: update

So Victoria Stilwell has now been unleashed on America for while now. And it pains me to admit I’m sorely disappointed with the US version of It's Me or the Dog. (see original post: Oct.6)

Firstly, the show had been supersized. From a snappy 30 minutes to a meandering 60. It’s bloated and lost its pace.

Victoria herself also appeared to have lost her edge. She was spotted last Saturday in (aghast) jeans. More than driving on the left side of the car, she has gone native.

The first two doggies in need, borrowed from Heather, of kids, book fame, and had two mommies. It seems that single sex households have the same difficulties as duel sex. No surprise there.

The next household was a single mom with two kids, living in a spacious suburban house. This woman was so traumatized by a break-in that she brought a humongous mastiff puppy into the home. The doggie proceeded to terrorized everyone, including the kids. I would have invested in an alarm system. It couldn’t cost more than feeding that animal, not to mention replacing the items he destroyed, including a weight bench.

Even with the “puppy” by her side, the woman was afraid to sleep in her upstairs bedroom,. Opting instead for the sofa, doggie at her feet. Victoria presented her with "Beware the Dog” signs, which supposedly discourage unwanted visitors. Again, I would have opted for the alarm system signs.

Yet, I continue to watch anyway. I still love the way she says “dog”

I have had first hand experience with Brits and their dogs. I walked my daughter’s Siberian husky Misha during a visit to her home in London several years ago. As we strolled the common, we were practically mobbed by admirers, old and young. Almost all remarking on her eyes --one brown, one blue. “Just like David Bowe,” they would exclaim.

“Oh, darling, look,” said one entranced mother to her youngster, “This doggie has one blue eye and one brown eye. Just like David Bowe...She’s a wise and magical dog.”

Lady, I recall thinking, you’ve been reading too much Harry potter.
That same "wise and magical dog" managed to catch and down a whole squirrel before my daughter or I could stop her.

Maybe it’s just the sometimes incomprehensible British accents I miss.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cutting our loses -


Why do we continue reading bad books? Or sit through awful movies?

Sunday night I saw Synecdoche New York. I sensed I was in trouble when it opened with the lead character, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, beginning his day by reading the obits.

This sorry excuse for a movie quickly devolved into an unintelligible mess and seemed to go on for 2 days instead of 2 hours. Yet few of us got up to leave. Why?

Some may have been waiting for it to improve, to make some sense. After all, it had a first rate cast and good reviews. It was even billed as a comedy. I will admit to bursting out laughing a time or two at the inanity of it all, but I was the only one. Some comedy. It was so relentingly dreary people just sat, stone faced staring at the screen. Why?

I stayed because my companion will not leave in the middle of a film, regardless, unless we have aisle seats.

Others, doggedly wanted their “money’s worth,” I wager. My own time, though, is worth more to me than that.

My main theory is that most of us are afraid, afraid we are missing something, that we are the only one not smart enough to understand the deep meaning. Afraid to declare the script has no entertainment. As my former father-in-law would say: donkey dust.

If it doesn’t make sense to you, odds are there is something missing in the work, not in you. To those of you muttering that I didn’t “get it’” that it was an existential exercise. I got it. I will concede that it might have been meant as a send-up. If that’s the case, I really am not smart enough to see the difference.

How about you? The truth now. Do you vote with your feet or your seat?

Monday, December 8, 2008

face out

I confess.
I have strayed, lured away by superficial charm.
By facebook.
Instead of blogging, I have been frolicking on the field of the cheerfully mundane.

Last week or so, I finally took the plunge and joined the site. While I have barely scratched the surface, I now understand the lure. It IS the surface. In real time. It's the 21rst century party line.

My son may be too busy building an empire to respond to an email or phone call, but fb fit into his life. I like knowing when he stops for pizza. It's kind of like the warm, fuzzy feeling I get when he, his sister & I are all on aim at the same time. Silly, eh? Yet it's akin to how I felt when, as teens, they were both in their beds at home. Am I making any sense?

Then there is the fun of seeing the list of friends grow exponentially and reconnecting with the long-forgotten and the unexpected.

Sure, there is the serious, the organizations et al, but I am convinced it's the quick peep into the lives of those "friends" and "friends of friends" and so on, that addict.

Have to run, need to check my page.
Look at ya later.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

the cheese stands alone

November 26

Today my mother died. Not TODAY, today, but on this date 12 years ago. My mind refuses to remember the exact date. Maybe that’s because it was “two days before Thanksgiving” and that’s one of those holidays that moves around. My body, however, always knows it’s coming. There is no way I can forget to remember. For a short time last week I panicked because I couldn’t find my dad’s old black Filofax (remember them?) in which I list such things. I was just about to call my Aunt Sally and shamefully ask, when I found it in one of my many shoeboxes of stuff.

The column I wrote after she passed, became one of my most requested and responded to. Years after I left the paper, I would run into people looking for a copy, or telling me how they had passed it along to their own daughters. In that spirit I offer it once again:

I have come down with a severe case of chronic terminal adulthood.

Two days before Thanksgiving, my mother died. With both my father and younger brother having preceded her, I have become the last standing member of the family in which I came of age. And frankly, this is one of those times when there is cold comfort in the knowledge that many others are being propelled through an identical emotional gauntlet.

So, I have become – in the words of self-help guru John Bradshaw – not only a “terminal adult,” but an “adult orphan.” To those who haven’t yet experienced the last of their parents’ passing, it may seem a bit self-indulgent to consider oneself an orphan when one is just shy of 50, but it really is an accurate description of what it’s like. There is something both scary and liberating about finding myself in this position. As Janis Joplin once sang: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Ain’t it the truth.

My father used to say that when he was a young man attending family functions, he was seated at a table near the door with his cousins. Then, one day he turned around and realized he was in the front of the room, with nowhere left to go and all eyes upon him.

In the month since my mother’s death, I have barely touched on the emotional work. With all the pressing, practical details, it’s almost easy to avoid the crushing realization that the parenthood fantasy is ended. Gone. There no longer exists in this world someone to whom I am all-important, someone to always be there, someone to willingly place his or her body between me and the grave.

Aside from terse financial realities, there is all that stuff. The stuff, not only of their lives, but also of mine. A melange of memories. Sorting through it bounces me back and forth in time – very unsettling.

The passing of seconds, hours and days are indistinguishable. I rise each morning and go about the rituals of life, but I am disconnected. The world spins freely without me. And that’s OK.

Oddly (or maybe not so oddly), the only place I approach wholeness is in the solitude of my mother’s house. It still looks, smells and feels as if she stepped out for a walk. I watch TV from her recliner, wade through a mass of papers on her desk and heat the last of her frozen homemade vegetable soup for dinner. Some nights, I even sleep in my parents’ bed.

For me, she will not really die until I dismantle her home, scattering her worldly goods. I begin, slowly and singularly, shaking off offers of help. I am not in a rush. In a weird way I savor the chores, perhaps as one last parting gift. I want to do it right – as if there is such a thing.

As many others of the Great Depression generation, she saved everything regardless of the logic. I found niches filled with folded paper bags of every description, a can of old twist ties, a collection of more take-out plastic food containers than a caterer would need, receipts more than a decade old, handbags with broken straps, an evening gown I wore at 17 to a cousin’s wedding – and so on.

I ask my children, extended family and her friends what they want. Their choices are surprising: a vase from my own childhood; a pair of wine goblets: a set of fruit knives, a tiny teddy bear. As for me, I can’t decide on what to sell, what to give away and what to keep. I am literally dizzy with indecision. What do I do with all those bowling trophies?

For the first week or so, the answering machine in the den hummed with innocent reminders of missed doctor’s appointments and confirmations of future appointments never to be kept.

The answering machine is quiet now; there is no blinking light announcing new messages. Well, almost no blinking light. I confess to dialing the number once or twice just to hear that familiar voice promising to return my call.

Monday, November 24, 2008

days of our lives

Hey, be of good cheer! It's the most calendar time of the year.

Come November, calendars are as ubiquitous as Christmas carol Muzak filling retail stores. Long gone are the days when calendars were primarily given away by gas stations and other local businesses. Some years ago, an enterprising calendar manufacturer obviously had this thought: People are going to need new calendars anyway, so why not market them as Christmas presents?

It's one of those brilliant marketing strokes that's multiplied like those notoriously fecund tribbles on that famous original Star Trek episode. And much like the tribbles, calendar displays threaten to devour many a book or stationery store.

There are animal calendars, famous dead people calendars, famous artists and photographer calendars, baby calendars, ecological calendars, verging on the pornographic calendars, funny calendars and pious calendars, to name a few. Just about every self-help book has found its way into a calendar of its own.

Like most folks, I pause at the displays, weighing my choice for the approaching new year. I tend to go in cycles. For several years, I purchased Ansel Adams calendars, with the intention of framing the photos once the year expired. I didn't, of course. Most recently, it's been a series of Marilyn Monroe calendars -- same intention, same result.

So what happens to these outdated calendars? They're tossed out, right? Wrong. They are addedto the growing pile in the corner of a closet. I can't throw them away. Now, I'm not just talking about those with fancy artwork. My repository includes all manner of date books.

I used to think I was the only weirdo who has trouble throwing out old calendars, but an informal poll of my friends has turned up others afflicted with the same malady--although they insist they're only saving the prints of famous photos or great paintings and the like. Donkey dust.

I don't buy it.

Every few years, I stumble across my yellowing collection of bygone days and try to toss 'em. I can't. In thumbing through the pages, I'm struck by how the most mundane list of appointments floods me with memories. Discarding them would be like disposing of those years of my life. Silly, huh? After all, I do keep a journal. But it's just not the same.

Unlike journal entries, calendar notations are impromptu and therefore more revealing. There is something about the ordinariness and periodic repetition of calendar entries that evokes the rhythm of the days. And the form of a monthly calendar visually spreads out time before your eyes, encouraging a different perspective, uncovering growth or lack of same. It's almost impossible to avoid noticing crowded weekdays and lonely weekends, for instance.

As time goes by, not only do the details of our days pale, but often events blur and we tend to confuse the order or length of a particular incident. This jumps off the pages of distant calendars, much to our surprise.

Did I really spend so much time working on that project? Why did I stop at the cleaners so often? Boy, my allergies must have been driving me crazy. How did I find the time visit the gym so frequently? Has my brother really been gone so long? Gosh, I could have sworn Tom and I danced away that New Years Eve, etc.

Of course, it's quite possible that I'm especially sentimental, and all of you view old calendars simply as objects that have outgrown their usefulness, but I doubt it. So, who has trouble throwing out those little phone directories after you've bought a new one? Let's see a show of hands, please.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Over the river and through the woods to Boston Market we go?

So it's not exactly grandmother’s house. But it’s the closest many of us get these days. And they do serve up one tasty traditional Thanksgiving meal. Since moving to Sarasota, seven years ago, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to indulge myself in their holiday meal, at times inviting another single life traveler with a tray to join me.

A time or two, I’ve been welcomed to a so-called orphans' Thanksgiving, where kind souls gather up a few of us strays and open up their home for a feast. Always a pleasant and comforting way to spend the day. As the song goes: if you can't be with the one you love; love the one(s) you're with. I invest in an outrageous desert to up my chances of being asked back.

When I am most lucky--as I will be this year--my close friends fly down from New Jersey to their condo in Fort Myers Beach, and I joyfully make the 4- hour round-trip to spend some quality time with “family” as my two offspring are flung far and world-wide.

That’s not to say I don’t miss my family, those still here and those long gone. Especially now. Thanksgiving has always ranked as my favorite holiday for several reasons:

It’s a uniquely American holiday. Regardless that the story isn’t the fairytale we were fed as children.

It never hurts to focus on that for which we chose to be grateful.

It’s all about the food, my favorite expression of abundance. Whether one chooses turkey or tofurky, the meal’s the thing. And there is NOTHING about the food I'm not nuts about, especially since everyone has gone poultry skin phobic, and I claim more than my share from the dog.

My memories of the time are such mellow ones. I come from one of those large loud families stuck in their childhood roles. In other words, my adult aunts and uncles waged their childhood wars their whole lives, putting any extended family gathering in jeopardy of imploding--except for Thanksgiving. I guess I’ll never know why. Not that it matters much anymore.

So among the things I am grateful for on Thanksgiving are the warm feelings I carry into this brief respite from the everyday. The chance to share it with those I cherish is a bonus.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quick takes

I thought I’d never live to see the day…

How often have we heard that in the last few weeks?

I can recall the first time I said that out loud. It was the eve of Gulf I, and I was covering a council meeting, in which no one was interested in the town’s business. We heard the news from a clerk it had begun. Back then, I never thought I’d live to see the day we would go to war without a direct attack. That was what the other guys did. You know, the BAD guys.

So I’ve taken to noting a few other things I thought I’d never live to see, in no particular order. (That’s just the way my warped mind works. Once it finally get rolling it just keeps going.)

I thought I’d never live to see the day ...

Odd black hairs would appear on my chin.
We would engage in another offensive war courtesy of Bush 2.
My mothers face looking back at me from the bathroom mirror.
A modest car would cost more than my first house.
We would decisively elect a black president.
I would need easy open pill containers.
My children would finally leave home.
Renewable energy being taken seriously.
Organics go mainstream.
We would elect a black president with al qaeda sounding name.
Gas prices at $4 a gallon.
Gas prices dropping like a stone to half that.
Americans bringing their own bags to the supermarket.
My son tucking a $20-bill into my pocket, while solemnly instructing me to ask the conductor, “Does this train go to Grand Central?”
I would have another “Kennedy” moment.
Americans working as “health care slaves”.
My tush falls out of the back of my shorts.

Last one for now:
I never thought I’d live to see the day...
One of my people making the national political stage and almost capturing the prize. By my people, I mean Hillary. Not because she’s a woman. It’s her “big guffaw” of a laugh. She’s one of us. Mine is sort of like a hysterical machine gun, a derivation of my mom’s embarrassing big belly laugh. A friend once threatened to have it surgically removed. We have really come a long way baby.

How ‘bout you?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Burning bright: the column

Ok people, I apologize.

In the last post, I referenced a column I had written in my journalist days immediately after the death of a much younger lover, a column that became my first book, Moonshadow. I know, I know, a more knowledge person would have simply inserted a link for those of you who wanted to actually read it. But I couldn't figure out how, and frankly, didn't want to bother my daughter again. So here it is:

He drove a battered white Plymouth Duster, complete with the tiny red devil painted on its rear. I was 28, separated from my husband, juggling two kids, college and a weekend job as hostess at the Ocean Bay Diner, Point Pleasant, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. That’s where I first saw him one hectic Saturday night among the bar crowd. He sauntered by as only a 19-year-old male can.

There was no doubt about it, the kid was obnoxious. Seriously good-looking, but obnoxious. He flirted with me, I think, to impress his friends. I gave as good as I got. Sometime in the weeks that followed, we left banter behind. He came to dinner. Then he came to stay. What an uproar. My folks were appalled. As for his parents, I can’t be sure, but since I was only 11 years younger than his mother, it wasn’t hard to imagine.

Nobody, though, was more surprised by our relationship than the two of us. I was mesmerized by his manner, his mop of shiny black hair, brown eyes you could bathe in and the most exquisite hands I have ever encountered. He was as affectionate as a puppy.

As intense as the physical relationship was, it paled alongside our growing love and admiration. We talked and laughed for hours over coffee, didn’t leave the house for days on end, even shut off the phone.

I allowed Tom to step out with relative safety into the world away from his close-knit family. I offered him a sort of physical and emotional halfway house between childhood and adulthood. Tom allowed me to live out my young adulthood, cut short by marriage at age 20. He introduced me to Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull and the bump. He had an acid wit, a sensitive, brooding intelligence and insight that often belied his years. He loved my poetry and hated my singing.

He adored my children. The oldest of four siblings, Tom had an easy way with kids. He taught my son to use the bathroom in, shall we say, a manly way. He hung shelves in my daughter’s room to make it comfortable.

He was my lover and my best friend, more of a husband than I would ever have; more of a father to my children than they would ever have. If not the love of my life, he came close enough to make such a love possible.

As with many passionate relationships, though, ours was turbulent. The gap in our ages only compounded normal conflict. It was fire and ice. When it was good, it was beyond extraordinary. When it was bad, it was beneath hell. I was unaware the, however, that his acts verging on cruelty were fueled by alcohol.

Still, when it ended, it was years before I could hear his name without my heart missing a beat. He drifted away, marrying and divorcing twice. I heard he was living on the West Coast, estranged from his family and still battling the bottle. We didn’t exchange a word in 14 years. But I never doubted we would see each other again some day, although
I was certain he could generate no more tears.

I was wrong on both counts.

On April 23 his brother called. Tom had died the day before of a heart attack, two months before his 40th birthday. He was alone in a California motel room, a bottle of vodka at his side.

The pain was overwhelming. It was as if he had been ripped that very instant from my arms. I had never really said goodbye. And now I know I never will. You see, it was Tom, himself an aspiring writer, who recognized in me an ability I never knew I possessed. He awakened me to the joys of writing, encouraging me to keep a journal.

So each time I pick up a pen or face a computer screen, he is there, watching my struggle, murmuring in my ear: “Come on, woman, there is nothing you can’t do—except sing,

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The wind of my soul

I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul.

Great stuff. Unfortunately not mine. The words and phrasing belong, of course, to a storied British singer-songwriter. There is no artist “like” Cat Stevens, nothing derivative in his musical DNA. And to twist a well worn phrase, his work is the soundtrack of my love.

The other day, covering a break in the music department at Barnes&Noble, my day job, my eye catches his name in the bins. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say the name reaches out and grabs me by my ears like one of those loony animated cartoons. Against my better judgment, I thumb through the familiar cds, my hand resting on a strange one, released in 2006 and called An Other Cup (a clear reference to his Tea for the Tillerman best seller of the 1970s.) This is decades after our relationship comes to a crashing halt. And by relationship, I include the young man who introduced--or should I say seduced--me with his music.

Back in those 1970s, that relationship is considered way out of line. Even today, when older women/younger men couples are more common, ours likely wouldn’t make the cut--with me a 28-year-old single mom and him a 19-year-old still living at home. Naturally, it flames out.

However, my intense and passionately complex relationship with this young man alters my life’s course, leaving me ragged and raw. At least I still have Cat Stevens, his musical alter ego. Then Cat abandons me, also. Converting to Islam, rejecting his musical gifts, selling his instruments and awards, and adopting the name Yusuf. Silly as it seems now, I take it personally. And when he supports the fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, I can no long bear the sound of his name (s).

The world turns and turns and turns. Word reaches me that my former young lover has died. He is only 39. My stomach turns and turns and turns. I immediately take refuge in Cat Stevens’ voice. Driving home from the funeral, I am compelled to write about us. A newspaper column is followed by a novel, which is really a memoir wrapped in a tissue paper of fiction. Cat Stevens is my constant companion during this time. His songs provide the chapter names and the title, Moonshadow.

I move on.

As the saying goes: Change is mandatory; growth, optional. I sample cuts from Yusuf‘s 2006 album on the store‘s machine. The voice remains smooth and rich, the lyrics compelling. Yet it is this blend of Cat Stevens and Yusuf that I now hold dear. If I ever run for office, this would be my anthem: Peace Train

Monday, October 27, 2008

Message in a bottle

Greetings, faithful readers.
It's been roughly two months since I began this journey.
I am a blogger.
This is a blog.
Blog, a contraction of the term Web log.
Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, eh?
Which is as it should be, cause it doesn't exactly slide into a life.
It is insatiable. And unfathomable. Like tossing rolled up bottled messages into a vast Internet sea.

I put up a huge amount of resistance to this practice, as I have a hard time fathoming why anyone other than my friends and family would be interested. Which on the face of it is odd, because as a former Sunday newspaper columnist for the second largest paper in New Jersey, I was actually paid to write what came into my head.

But this is different. Unfiltered. Raw. Unedited by anyone but me. I never realized before the comfort an editor brings.

It gobbles up my life. There are always several posts underway simultaneously, most of which never make it online. As I go about my day, ideas flood my brain. When I empty my pockets, I find slips of paper with fragments. The book I am rewriting simmers on a back burner.

This is where the generation gap makes itself known. I mention to a younger friend that I'm blogging in dribs and drabs, during 15 breaks at work. And he responses with: That's great. Do a break blog.

A break blog? Never crossed this ol' broad's mind. I am busy cobbling moments together. He says the moment is enough. Ah, the difference several decades make.

Break over.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Game over

Deed done.
Final bell.

(Fat chance)

I'm Roberta Wells, and I approve this message for the relief I need.

Election day used to be fun. It was a holiday. Schools were closed cause that's where we voted. There was a celebration vibe.

Fast forward. We are expected to vote around our working hours. We're voting all over the place, like the Elks, as schools are open. Voting becomes a chore to be scheduled in a busy day. People curse the lines, casting glances at their watches.
(An aside: when my daughter lived in San Francisco, she once voted in someone's garage.)

Then I move to Florida and am assigned to vote in a church. A CHURCH! I am expected to pass under a giant cross to cast my vote in a land founded on the separation of same. No one else seem to think this is not appropriate. I am furious.

Enter early voting. I learn if I vote early I have my choice of venues, seven days a week. I opt for Fruitville Library. I like it. It feels like a school.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A gaseous tale

Once upon a time, in a land beneath our feet, there lived a people addicted to Big Oil, aka gasoline. While there was plenty of the black gold to be had within the borders of this lush land, an overindulgent and highly marketed people soon outgrew their homegrown. You might say demand exceeded supply.

The once idealistic people, you see, had fallen into a form of idolatry (and we all know where that leads). They worship their iron horses, aka automobiles. They wax, shine and caress these machines, creating every gadget their prodigious imaginations could conjure. As we all know, size does indeed matter, and autos grow exponentially, some eventually costing as much as a starter house did before the house bloat.

( A note: auto/oil addiction evidently makes people very thirsty, so cup holders become a most cherished option.)

All this pushes gas prices up and leaves these proud people at the mercy of OPEC, a Mideast Mafia composed of mostly Saudi potentates, in whose kingdom, women are not allowed to drive. (Although between the ibayah and the full face veils, their vision and movements are so impaired, that’s not altogether a bad thing, I suppose.)

Of late, though, events have taken a strange twist. The record high price of gasoline continues to plummet faster than the stock market. Yet supply remains the same. So what’s the deal?

It’s the silver lining in the economic storm cloud. Simply put, we are apparently driving less, therefore demanding less. With a drop in demand, the price drops. Free market 101. Geez, folks, there may be something to this capitalism thang after all, eh?.

This is marvelous. It demonstrates that we are not at the mercy of Saudi princes. WE control the price of oil, not OPEC. Not to mention how this is also a great thing for the environment…less greenhouse gas, less global warming et al.

You think?

Take heart, we can bring that feeling of doom right back. Just listen to some economic “expert” on the tellie. This reduction in driving, tantamount to the American public turning its back on its one true love—its automobiles, is sure evidence of a serious deepening recession—or so they say.

They sure know how to turn tarnish a silver lining,

Monday, October 6, 2008

Doggie Dominatrix

Victoria Stilwell is coming.
Victoria Stilwell is coming.

And I'm chomping at the bit. Who is she, you ask? She's the latest Brit to set us colonists straight--and make a pile of dough in the process.

To my total shock, I've been totally taken in by the dog training star of the Brit's "It's me or the dog." This intensely attractive woman dolled up in skin tight clothing and black leather boots, comes to the rescue of owners whose pets treat them like, well, dogs. These people are the equivalent of those unbelievable incompetent parents who can't control their offspring in Nanny 911.

Not to worry. Victoria, her posh accent, her chicken treats and her snazzy sports car are on their way across the pond to teach us her brand of tough love. She is often shot from below, arms crossed, making her look 10-foot tall and more intimidating than those women wrestlers. Regardless of her presentation, she is more lace than leather, unflappable but kind, confident and caring. I have picked up tips that actually work on my cat, Abbie.

I am entirely without sympathy for these clueless pet owners, many of whom claim to treat their pets like "children." Well, excuuuuuuuse me, but even THEIR children don't toilet all over the house.

And although I've become suspicious of the fairy tale outcomes, I still watch. (I just love the way she pronounces "dog".) This DD breezes into town for 2 days, turns the doggies and their OWNERS around and leaves for the owners to follow-through, checking back in two weeks and sometimes in 6 months.

Call me a cynic, but I find it difficult to believe that women-- whose dogs won't let their husbands so much as touch them for years and chase them from the connubial bed--don't have something a bit deeper going on. The men come off as pussy-whipped victims or sexist bullies who refuse to neuter male dogs who are abusing their partners, or walk a "girlie dog."

Animal Planet TV is taking over my house. I've become a regular viewer of animal cop shows (especially the one in NYC), wild animal rescue shows and have even watched the Grizzyman Diaries, made so poignant by its known tragic ending.

T'is a real puzzlement

My growing addiction to the Animal Planet is rather startling.. Looking over these posts, I realize a good many deal with pets. That also surprises me because I've never thought of myself as an animal person. For most of my adult life, I've viewed pets kindly, but at a distance. Much like people who chose to remain childless view other's kids.

As a child, I would discard one coloring book after another in search of one without those sickening baby animals. My interest rests solely in people. And my natural inclination isn’t helped by my youthful pet experiences.

I find my first pet, an adorable black and white Cocker Spaniel named Penny, gone one day as I return from my second grade class at South Grove Elementary down the block. My mother gives her away because we are not walking her. I never understood why she didn't let us say good-bye.

A few years later, it was Corky, a mischievous mutt, who also mysteriously disappeared. All I recall of Corky is my dad hitting her with a rolled-up newspaper while sticking her nose into her poo, as part of his "house training." (Our DD would have been mortified.)

Then it was Snowball, the first tiny calico cat. By then I was a teenager. And guess what? She went missing one day, never to be seen again. Decades later, my mom told me she was mauled to death by a neighbor's German Shepard.

So it's not a total shock it took me years get back on on the horse, so to speak. After my children are out of the house, I gradually acquire three cats-- the aforementioned Abbie and Rosie, along with my daughter's adult male, Starbuck. Over the past several years, I have cared for my aunt and uncle's Rottweiler, Tammy, and Angel, my friends Lab. And my bonding with these large, aging dogs has been intense.

So, Animal Planet it is. No politics, no financial moaning and groaning. Just a bit of barking now and then.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fall back into possibility

I'm hungry. I crave autumn colors, sharp breezes, the touch of flannel, the memory of leaves burning. Here in Florida, we have a break in the muddy air, the hint of an echo of fall. It isn't enough, like that first pistachio nut. But for this short period of time my brain fog lifts. I produce. I decide to mark the time, take the Jewish holidays off. It's New Year once again. Back in my columnist days at the Asbury Park Press, these are my thoughts:

I’m feeling rather mellow and philosophical lately, finding it very hard to concentrate and almost impossible to access my normal caustic style. I suspect the reason is the New Year that is upon us.

New year? Yup. New year. For me, September, and not January, ushers in a fresh new year. I still get the urge to buy notebooks, pens and new shoes as August winds to a close.

Summer is timeless. Its sights, sounds and smells are those of eternal childhood – the smell of damp wood at the boardwalk, the grit of sand in a wet bathing suit, the aroma of freshly mowed grass and the song of the ice cream trucks. Even the games of summer, such as baseball, are outside of time.

The summers of my childhood were spent in the deep green of the Catskill Mountains , NY, amid the numerous bungalow colonies that dotted the landscape in the 1950s and ‘60s. As soon as school was out each year, we packed up and left suburban Long Island for “the country.”

It was a world in which well-oiled women roasted in the sun on chaise lounges and children spent their time at day camp, braiding lariats, fighting color wars or treading water in a pool to graduate from minnow to shark.

It was a world without men from Monday through Friday. In those days before central air conditioning, men parked their families in the cool mountains and stayed behind in the city working, making the trip north each weekend. And from Friday to Sunday evening, the adults partied at the casinos (as they were called) or at poolside.

Summer is a time out from life. They don’t call them the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” for nothing. We live summer in the present, in seemingly never-ending daylight, talking about doing this or that “after the summer is over.”

With Labor Day all that ends. Life returns with a vengeance. It’s back to school, the stiffness of real shoes and the smell of new books. Games of football, basketball and the like are defined by time. Notebooks are empty. Everything is before us. Anything is possible.

I realize this is a rhythm established in childhood (and often continued into parenthood), as our lives are geared to each school term. But it runs much deeper than that – at least for me.

January 1 may be the official start of a new year, but aside from the calendar (and all those resolutions notwithstanding), nothing changes. Winter just closes in.

Ah, but the fall. With September comes a perceptible change in weather patterns. The air itself is clearer and sharper. Food tastes better. Vitality returns. With the impending winter, time takes on urgency, poignancy.

Many folks think of September as an ending —and end to warmth, an end to freedom. But for me it’s a beginning, the beginning of clarity, of production—both in the air and in my own thoughts.

Here at the Jersey Shore, September also means the beaches, cafes and highways return to us. Favorite restaurants are once again accessible.

Fall is also the time Jews celebrate the New Year. Rosh Hashanah can even coincide with Labor Day. This two-day holiday marks the start of what is called the High Holy
Days, ending 10 days later with Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and atonement.

I am not a religious person and was not raised in an observant home. Yet, this is one time I think we Jews got it right. (Unlike that business of reading back to front and starting our days at sundown.) Even the most casually observant of us tends to honor this time, and not with noisemakers and hangovers.

Yes, there is a lushness and abundance about the harvest that makes it a great time to welcome a new year. But more than that, the shortening of the days and the sharpening of our senses moves us naturally into a period of reflection and examination necessary to lead a rich and meaningful life. More than crops are harvested each year, and seeds planted bring forth more than nourishment for the body.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I interrupt this blog...

to catch my breath. I'm a bit winded, having spent the better part of 2 weeks sprinting like a broken field runner. Why? I've been trying to avoid the chunks of the financial sky that's falling. Evidently, Chicken Little is correct once again. It's not exactly the sky that's falling but the stock market. And the beat goes on. The collapsing economic dominoes (I don't understood that game. Do you?) add to an escalating pundit hysteria. Oh my, Oh my, it's the Second Coming of The Great Depression! If they don't shut up, they will induce enough fear to bring it on. Can one of you psychics please channel FDR?

I pass a week ago last Monday in blissful ignorance, going about my errands, unaware I am suppose to be clutching my chest in dread. A former journalist and news junkie, I have stopped watching news broadcasts except an occasional Jim Lehr and yes, the Daily Show. I no longer subscribe to newspapers or news magazines.

Of course, bad news will out.

OK, so I trip over it, maybe on TV or the car radio. I ask myself: Is there anything I can do about this? If the answer is in the negative, I do my best to release it and move on. (It's one of those times when having absolutely no investment portfolio is a silent blessing) I don't watch the shows, read the paper or engage in conversation on the subject. I will wallow no more.

Take the weather channel--please (couldn't resist, sorry), which runs neck in neck with the news channels as purveyors of the Most Awful, speakers in superlatives of doom. When I first moved down 7 years ago to Florida, (also known as the"what's the weather state") I fell into that addiction, and ended up paralyzed with fear.

I have since resigned as a "weather warrior". I now limit watching to the local forecast and an brief look at weather patterns. I don't allow myself to get sucked into the whirlwind of doom--be it flood, hurricane, tornado et al. Not to mention monitoring those darn millibars.

A final note. Please don't bother to phone this "Pollyanna" to bring her "back to reality." Those who have tried are chuckling. You see, my answering machine instructs callers to leave only "good news."

What can I say? This girl just wants'ta feel good. Over and out.

Monday, September 15, 2008


September 14

It’s been an intense afternoon. Noodling around on the couch, as I am want to do on the first day of my “weekend,” I flip on PBS to find it’s Pledge Week. Oh goody! No, I REALLY mean oh, goody. I love it when they dig out the good stuff again, and am usually not bothered by the intermittent begging. Since I often donate, my conscience is clear, and I burn the time by channel surfing or getting to a chore or two.

Anyhow, this time I toggle between the two PBS local stations and am riveted. One is showing Wayne Dyer’s “The Power of Intention” among his best work which I forget I own. The other is the late Randy Pausch’s much lauded “The Last Lecture,” which is infinitely better than his bestselling book of the same name. Both works are well known to me, but the juxtaposition increases the impact exponentially.

At first glance, it’s easy to assume these two men are from opposite ends of the spectrum, albeit both brilliant PhDs and potent salesmen for the best of all lives. (Even though Pausch’s mother introduces him, as the “kind of doctor who doesn’t help people.”) Pausch, a brash extraordinarily popular computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, is 47 at the time of his lecture. He is in the last throes of his battle with pancreatic cancer and dies in July. Steeped in popular culture, Pausch lives in a world of virtual reality that I find hard to comprehend. Dyer, old enough to have been his father, is from the humanities and is often thought of--incorrectly I think—as a new ager.

But as I flip back & forth, I am struck by the incredible synchronicity between them. Too many, in fact, for me to list. Here are several paraphrased examples:

Dyer: Albert Einstein said the most important decision any of us has to make is whether we live in a friendly or unfriendly world.
Pausch: You have to decide if you are a Tigger or an Eeyore.

Pausch: As you get older, you will find enabling the dreams of others even more fun.
Dyer: As a child, I earned a few pennies helping old ladies out with their groceries. And I’m still just helping old ladies out with their groceries. Find a way to serve.

Pausch: You can't control the cards you're dealt, just how you play the hand.
Dyer: When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

The more attention I pay to the two programs, what they are saying becomes secondary to how they are living. There is something rare at work. A buzz, an energy, drawing people to them. Yes, both are passionate, genuine and have the gift of reducing complex dry ideas to juicy enticing morsels we commoners gobble up. They also seamlessly bridge disciplines such as art/science, science/philosphy.

But it’s much more than that.

The are what the great psychologist Abraham Maslow would call self-actualizing people. Those few among us who “must be what they can be.” These are the engines driving our world.

I have been privileged to know two such people in my life. More about them coming up next.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The return of Abbie

Abbie arrives after work Saturday, and I sense a little "click," as a missing piece of my personal puzzle falls into place. My young friend Hope--who will not eat or wear anything animal--has taken superb, loving care of my cat for the past 2 months while I roam. In her honor, I've decided to post Abbie's chapter in Just Between Us, my latest book in progress. Enjoy.

I must at this time introduce Abbie, my companion and counselor since I read all my writing to her first. Abbie, now 13, all but rolls her eyes when I relate the story of our early life together. Growing up, we have two calico cats in succession, both from the same mother—and both named Snowball. OK, so we're a little short in the imagination department.

After my dad’s unexpected death, I think my mom might enjoy the company of another calico and bring her two tiny sisters from which to choose. She declines, and I can't bring myself to part with either one. Since I am in no position to name any babies after my dad, as is Jewish custom, I name my baby cats after him: “Abigale (Abbie) and Rose (Rosie)”. This is what I wrote back then.

What remains
I’m writing this with a ball of fur tickling my nose. Abbie, one of my two 8-week-old calico kittens, is fascinated by the computer. She climbs up onto my shoulder, which would be kind of nice, except she insists on constantly walking by my face. Maybe I should be grateful that her sister, Rosie, is a tad more aloof, as she is quite a bit pudgier with longer hair and would make seeing the screen even more difficult.

The little girls have been living here for two weeks and I’m not exactly sure why, except that it feels right. I was half-musing about getting a pet when I chanced upon this litter. The two calicos were impossible to resist, even for someone who is allergic to cats.

Rosie is straight off a greeting card. Playful and plump, with rabbit like silky hair and a round, pushed-in face, she is the picture-perfect kitty. Wiry Abbie is slighter with pointed features and shorter fur. Although not as conventionally beautiful, she is the one I connect with immediately—maybe because she resembles Snowball, the small calico I
had in my youth.

Abbie seems to think she’s a puppy. She cries if you leave the room, waits by the bathroom door for you to come out and complains if she is not picked up and played with. She likes to be cradled like an infant and is not above muzzling your mouth and

Sitting on a couch, Rosie might well curl up alongside me for a nap. But Abbie insists on sleeping curled up by my face, softly purring into my ear. It’s really a delightful sensation and has the effect on my psyche of waves lapping a beach. Now I understand why therapists say pets add to one’s mental—and possible physical—health.

I took them both with the intention of giving one away, but after seeing them together for a few days, I didn’t have the heart to break up the duo. So here I sit, a middle-age woman who can barely afford to feed herself taking on the expense and responsibility of two animals—just when I was freeing myself from the care and feeding of my own offspring.

I guess it’s time to face the truth. I’m well along that path of becoming one of those eccentric old ladies living with cats. Oh, well.

Just like a pair of small children, they have turned this house upside down. Nothing is safe. They climb and wrestle on every couch and bookshelf, disconnecting the fax machine and teaching the answering machine to do bizarre tricks by scampering across its buttons. At night, they push open the bedroom door, romping across the bed and making it impossible to sleep.

And the decisions: to feed wet or dry food, to cover or not cover the litter box, to spay or not to spay, to keep them indoors or allow them to roam?

Working from home can be a solitary business, sometimes too much so. It’s certainly hard to feel alone, though, with the patter of eight little paws chasing up and down the stairs. I find myself sitting quietly and watching them at play, the way you do with young children. It’s possible to lose oneself for a short period of time, which is akin to meditation. Not having had a pet since childhood, I had forgotten the pleasures.

In the intervening years, I had focused on the expense and work of caring for an additional creature. Frankly, I’ve had my hands full trying to raise two little humans.
But as trying as youngsters can be, caring for them when they are small is very intimate. There is all that hugging and touching involved in day-today life. As they grow, the need sharply diminishes and then almost disappears.

Children grow and leave; partners, parents and siblings age and die. However, the need to touch and be touched, to feel the warmth and live vibrations of another living being, live on. And one cannot always depend on another human to fill that hunger. Pets, I posit, are Mother Nature’s way of ensuring her children are never alone.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Meet Kona

Kona behind bars

Kona and friends. She is
a Jackchi--Jack Russell Terrier/Chihuahua.

Kona (my friend just returned from a Hawaiian trip) lives in Point Pleasant, NJ, with my bestest friend Carol's family. She is a rescued dog, and one of the cutest I've ever seen.
Ok.. so I think little Kona should pursue a modeling career. What do you think?????

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Adventures in eating

Friday, August 29, 2008
9:05 pm
Red Bank, NJ

I am in my pajamas. OK, perhaps I should say STILL in my pajamas. Never got out of them today, a fact I am more than a little embarrassed to admit. I have heavy duty plans. The last Friday I have to spend at the Jersey Shore, almost perfect weather, the holiday tourists yet to descend for Labor Day weekend. Gone.

To backtrack. Yesterday, I rode out to an adult community in Monroe County to see my Aunt Sally. I make the trip mostly on muscle memory, as my parents lived in that community for the last 20 years of their lives. More than a decade has passed since their deaths, yet I slide backwards in time as I get closer to the gate. I can never resist turning down Chatham Lane and slowing down in front of their unit.

I don’t know if it’s a common skill, but I easily and often time shift. It matters not the current paint color or the now maturing new vegetation, I do not see nor smell it. The house morphs before me. It’s gray-blue, with an oval "The Rosenfield’s" sign askew over the prominent double garage door. Fuchsia azaleas lead to the door, where I never know what song will ring out when the doorbell is pressed. Hava Nagila is my dad’s favorite. The notes bounce around in my brain as I pick up speed and head toward my aunt’s house.

I flat-out love my Aunt Sally. At 77, the last of my mother’s sisters, she remains active and attractive, still counting every mouthful of food. She goes to at least three stores to get the freshest supplies for the simple menu. As we sit down to our traditional lunch of bagels, cream cheese, smoked whitefish and a composed salad, I watch her unconsciously perform her rituals. I can’t recall the last time I saw my aunt just eat a bagel. She slowly turns each half in her palm scooping out the inside, leaving a shell, onto which she allows herself a schmear of cream cheese. I wager she knows the calorie count of every edible item in her kitchen.

Ironically, as a child,one reason I adore visiting her Brooklyn apartment is the food, specifically the candy. Atop the console TV in the front room, there sits a green ceramic lazy susan filled with assorted chocolate covered treats—marshmallow twists, jellies, nuts, creams—you name it. And in her old-fashioned walk-in pantry, there are boxes of cookies, almost always the favorite Mallomars. Her cabinets are still filled with bags of chocolate miniature sweets, and often the garage frig is stocked with Mallomars, so she will have them through the summer months when they disappear from store shelves.

Here’s the thing. She keeps all this stuff but doesn’t touch it until company comes. She is the strongest and most disciplined person I’ve ever known. All her life, it has fallen to her to care for aging in-laws, a young son dying of cancer, her mother, and then her husband after a major stroke. This, in addition to the normal stress of raising three daughters. She is excitable, smart, funny and a joy to be around.

As a young adolescent, I spend summers with my aunt and uncle in the bungalow colonies that dot the Catskills of the 1950s and ‘60s. As she’s a full decade younger than my mom, I feel even closer to her. Although, living in such tight quarters we are all “close”. We sleep in the same bedroom, and she testily informs me one morning that my teeth grinding is driving her nuts. Who knew? At home I sleep alone behind a closed door.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck this has to do with my pajama day. Hang in there. It’s coming.

So I arrive about noon. We eat and talk—and talk, and talk—and when we look up, it’s almost 7 pm. (Oh, I should add that I do a load of laundry. I like to do my laundry there. She is a stain maven, never meets a stain she can’t defeat.) What’s left to do? Why go out to dinner of course, either at the diner or local Chinese restaurant. We choose the later.

I’ve been to the low key family restaurant more times than I can count with my folks. Since we’re eating “late” the place is deserted, which turns out to be fortunate. We order our soup and combination plates, sip our tea and crunch our tasty fried noodles. And we—what else—talk. We continue nonstop as our combo plates arrive.

I’m not paying attention to my food. I pick-up a small piece of General Tsos chicken, covered in sauce. I chew lightly and swallow. And start choking, retching, and other stuff too gross to mention. It’s a red chili. I pace, unable to breath, wheezing and coughing. I know enough not to drink water, but I do and it’s worse. My poor Aunt Sally starts to panic. I’ve seen that look in her eyes when I was 12 years old.

Chinese people keep patting my back, telling me drink tea. No use. When I catch my breath and can spit out a few words, I ask for a piece of bread. There is none in the restaurant. (How the hell do they make shrimp toast?) I stop my aunt from running next-door to the Quick Check to buy a loaf. Small cubes of pineapple help. I slowly eat a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I am sore but calm. We go next-door to buy Aleve which I down in case the inflammation decides to close my throat, windpipe, et al.

However, I almost don’t make it out of my seat. Not only are my chest muscles aching, but somehow the spasms manage to severely wrench my back. Walking isn’t easy. My aunt wants me to sleep over, but the drug kicks in and I'm even able to set up her Kureg coffee machine. I make it back to Red Bank at midnight.

I sleep in a bit, eat a bit, down more than a bit of Aleve and decide to take a bit of a rest. I awaken late in the afternoon and can summon no energy. Come to think of it, I’m really tapped out. Time to head upstairs for the night. It's been a rough day.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Walking Angel

10:49 am

I take Angel out for our last summer walk about 7:30 am. The dear was up late last night watching the Olympics with me and slept in. She is an 11-year-old lab/chow mix, adopted last year by my friend Martin. They are meant for each other. Both are from broken homes, hers by divorce and his by death. Now they are a couple.

The first and longest of her three daily walks falls to me. And once I relent to her constant prodding and bid a reluctant farewell to a delightful bed, it’s a joy. The route varies some, but always includes the outskirts of two abutting country clubs. (If there is a social distinction between the two, it escapes me.)

This morn we pass by to the tune of ponging tennis balls from a social foursome. We cannot see the men through the solid fencing but their repartee is clear.

“Do you want me to serve this to your forehand or backhand?”

“How about right down the middle?”

“Well, that begs that question. First in?”

“First in.”

Not exactly the Open, but probably much more fun. Then Angel and I find a treasure, a bright yellow tennis ball napping under a bush. I scoop it up for later. She is generally quite frisky on these forays, prancing up and down the hilly terrain, sniffing and aching to go full out in a futile attempt to catch a bunny. The only sign of her age is arthritis which acts up at times. Then again, so does mine.

The other day, I take a pass-through instead of turning around, and she bounds to a skinny, shallow brook for a drink. Before I can react, Angel jumps in, splashes around and emerges with black muddy legs. On our return, I am treated to a Lucille Ball-moment, as I chase her around in circles trying to get her into the tub. Finally, I settle for washing her legs one by one with a cloth, as her highness stretches out on her bed. I abandon that route reluctantly.

After all, Angel is 70 pounds of the finest food available. She is fed three times a day—at least. Then again, you can say that about me, also. And while I am here, I eat as well as she does, which is to say T-bone steak (bone in, please), salmon, ground beef, loin lamb chops, brown rice, couscous, pasta, veal parmesan, pizza etc. She is definably a Jewish dog, with a real taste for bagels and lox, herring in cream sauce and matzo brei.

She does have her quirks. Thunder storms and fireworks being the most troubling. They send her into a quivering, drooling frenzy. She is known to throw herself into the bathtub, under tables or the car in the garage. Unfortunately, the house is a mile or so from Playland, an iconic New York summer getaway, so fireworks are scheduled twice a week. And let’s not even talk about holidays.

I spend July 4th on the floor, huddled with Angel under a table, covered in doggy drool thanks—not only to Playland’s extended display--but to celebrations from the numerous boat and country clubs in the area. Geez, I wonder what Labor Day weekend will be like? Instead of being relieved, though, I am surprised to find myself disappointed I won’t be here to help a bit. Back to the Jersey Shore for a week, then on to Sarasota.

I’m really gonna miss you, girlfriend.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"What I did on my summer vacation"

Rye, NY

Ah, how those of us of a certain age would wince when confronted by that infernal perennial composition each fall. However, half a century removed from grade school, I find myself dwelling on that very subject.

Thanks to a generous, if unpaid, summer leave from my day job (due to a lethargic economy) I'm enjoying a longer than usual respite from my "real life" in Sarasota, Florida. With less than 2 weeks left I savor every nanosecond. As I tap these keys, I sit propped up on a heavenly king-sized bed, a briny breeze wafting in from the Long Island Sound. The posh setting courtesy of the dearest of friends.

The sights and smells of this place transport me back to the Catskill summers of my childhood and a brief college career at Bard. I relish the contrast between the mountains and the former potato fields of my suburban tract Long Island home. When people talk about "the smell of fresh mowed grass," this is what they mean... a lushness so intense I walk about without sunglasses, unheard of. During early morning walks with Angel, my friend's 11-year-old Lab, the silence penetrates. I hear myself think.

I recall a youthful vision. THIS--where the hills meet the water, where Manhattan is but 45 minutes away, this is where I would live, this is where I belong. Life washes my body away, but bits and pieces of my soul remain. The recognition is sweet. This is a place my childhood lives, my salad days.

The meat of my life lives at the Jersey Shore. It's where I marry, divorce, raise a family, finish college, work as a journalist, fall in love, write a book. It is my adulthood. I fall in love with the Jersey Shore slowly, maturely. As the frantic summer melts into fall, I walk the nearly deserted boardwalk, bracing against the coming chill and breathe the unique saltiness of the Atlantic.

Fortunately for me, it's also where my dearest friends still live, so I am treated to a shore vacation as well. My closest friend opens her Red Bank home to me each year. As we visit, I renew my affair with the boards and the eternal surf. The unique aromas of the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk evoke specific images from decades lived within its reach.

I can't help but giggle with the fuss made this year about "staycations," as if high gas prices are the mother of this invention. Not to sound like Al Gore, but many many summers ago, we took them every year. Just ask my kids.

For too much of their growing years, we live a hand-to-mouth existence. (A story for another time.) Desperate for some way to amuse them, I "invent" a vacation at home. It would be a week when we would be "Bennies," the Jersey Shore term for tourists. Borrowing from Zen, we use "beginners mind," fresh eyes. We eat all meals out, troll the boards for junk food, attack the rides...etc. Our home is our hostel. Rules for TV, curfews and the like are suspended. It's the best I can do. There are some perks to living in a resort town after all.

The first time we are to take a "real" vacation, driving (where else) to my aunt's home in the Catskills, I lose my glasses in the surf and the kids are scared the replacement cost might sour the deal. We do go. I have proof. Photos taken when the motor of my aging Datsun gives its all and dies on the way up a "real" mountain. My mom arrives and rescues our "real" vacation.

And that's what I did on my summer vacation. 'Nuf said.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Brit

Rye, NY
12:30 pm

I had a cozy, very long distance chat with my daughter on Sunday. I inquired as to whether she was following the Olympics'

"Yes, I watched the rowing."

The ROWING, thought I, ashamed to admit I didn't even realize it was an Olympic event.

"...and I'm dying to know who won the women's marathon." She was totally disinterested in swimming, Michael Phelps or gymnastics. My eldest daughter is truly a Brit. This isn't exactly a shock. I've seen it coming in bits and pieces since her move to London about 6 years ago. She actually follows soccer and carries a "mobile phone." During my first visit across the pond several years ago, she cautioned my against referring to my "cell phone" as it would out me as an American. I broke up laughing. Honey, I replied, as soon as I open my mouth everyone will know I'm an American. Besides, I thougtht, I have no desire to hide my origins.

There is no denying it. My daughter is a fully functioning ex-pat. Her life is now an ocean away. And I miss her deeply. She seems much farther away than when she lived in San Francisco, although the actual mileage is likely about the same. At least she hasn't adopted the accent--for the moment.