Friday, July 31, 2009

shaken & stirred

The thing about Walter Cronkite’s passing is that it stirred memories of a time long gone and shaken loose others. I should have expected it. Yet, as is often the case, these things have a way of ambushing my emotions.

All the Cronkite memorials naturally keyed in on the Kennedy assassination, the days surrounding November 22, 1963. And the power of seeing those black & white images again, snapped me back in time, riveted.

But that passage of time also left layers of poignancy on the images, once so crisp and familiar. The solemn procession under the watchful gaze of the stately young widow, punctuated by a toddler’s salute, weigh on me differently now, now that they are all gone.

And my thoughts turn to Caroline, as they did on July 16, 1999, when that toddler, then 38 years old, old died along with his wife and sister-in-law in that plane crash. Because she is the lone survivor of the immediate family of her birth. And I know what that’s like.

Yes, it’s odd for me to identify with one so accomplished, so wealthy, with so much extended family and resources. And yet I do. Both of us outlived parents and a younger brother. That’s enough for me.

In my case, my brother was the first to leave, a suicide at age 39, ending a life of emotional pain. Neither of my parents really recovered from that.

No one knows why my 75 year-old father died after a routine operation removing age-old adhesions blocking his bowel. He came out of the operation, regained consciousness, even sat up, before his body started shutting down. An autopsy revealed nothing, nothing medical that is. I’ve always believed he, too, chose to go. My mother was battling lymphoma and I don’t think he wanted to wake up one day without her.

My mother, on the other hand, never forgave him for “leaving her,” and fought on for 15 months before joining her husband and son. Her heart just gave out.

I was never much of a “family” person. And in the 13 years since my mom’s death, have been shocked at the grief and deep aloneness—much greater than simple loneliness—that overcomes me at times such as these. I have lost my moorings.

From Walter Cronkite to Caroline Kennedy to me.

Memory isn’t linear and once awakened, we never can know where it will take us.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

the Viagra diaries

Economic hard times are leading to fewer hard-ons for some seniors.

New Jersey says senior citizens will have to pony up for their own Viagra starting next month. Another unforeseen consequence of this down economy.

The NJ Department of Health and Senior Services announced the change in letters sent to 76,000 people enrolled in its two low-cost prescription drug plans for senior citizens.

(In addition to impotency drugs, the state will no longer pay for so-called "cosmetic drugs" that treat obesity or skin conditions. Nor will it cover vitamins or cold medicines. But methinks these changes won’t cause much of a stink)

Geez. I guess this means the loss of a low-cost recreational option for many of these folks, at least—both men and their partners will be at a loss, so to speak.

There are likely health benefits to a continued full sex life, I wager, such as lower blood pressure and less depression. Hey, I wonder if the increase in antidepressives, or other meds, will cut into the dollars the state figures it will be saving.

Years ago, when erectile dysfunction made the TV commercials as “ED” by none other than former presidential contender Bob Dole, I wrote a column detailing how turned off I was by the whole turn of events.

Anyone who’s met me, even casually, can tell I’m about as far from a prude as one can get, yet I still can’t stomach those commercials for “when the time is right.” Especially that one for the herbal remedy featuring gawky “Bob” who prances around with a shit-eating grin, while swooning women wonder at his “new-found confidence.” There’s even one where a guy looks over at him longingly while holding a limp water hose. OY.
I’m also glad I don’t have to answer some youngster’s inquiry about “a four-hour erection” and the dangers of...

Listen, I’m as much of a fan of the end product as the next gal (or guy for that matter). Yet, I dunno. It just has no grace, no charm, no taste to have this pushed at me on the tellie. Yeah, I hear ya, there’s all that feminine hygiene stuff also, but that just doesn’t have the sleaze factor. Although, ads for the new KY-Intense, that promise a gigantic increase in that “special moment” for us woman falls into the same category. It may not require a prescription, but at $28 bucks for a small tube, it is pricey—too pricey for me, girlfriend. I’ll just work harder.

It almost makes me yearn for the good ol’ days, when bras where shown on forms instead of the real life “girls”.

Guess I’m really getting on--instead of getting it on--eh?

Monday, July 20, 2009


A front page article in the NYT the other day describing the new Obama administration’s policy of granting political asylum to abused foreign women, brought me back to a column I wrote way back in October of 1994. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant, so I thought I’d post it.

Survival is a victory for this woman

I switched on the TV while getting dressed and heard the familiar voice of Gloria Steinem.

My admiration for this woman has only grown as years go by. Not only does she display an incisive mind, but she continues to appear on the tube – having reached a certain age – without benefit of a smear of lipstick. I’ve always been a sucker for those with the courage of their convictions.

Anyway, she was taking about the new issue of Ms. Magazine and its extraordinary cover. Front and back, it portrays a Vietnam Memorial-type wall. On it are inscribed the names of women killed by domestic violence in the past four years.

As Steinem answered questions on the now ubiquitous subject, she concluded by saying that as grim as the statistics are, at least now the problem has a name. Twenty years ago, she added, it was just life.

Twenty years ago…….

Actually, it was about 27 years ago. I was pregnant with my daughter when we moved into the little five-room yellow ranch house in a small Ocean County town.

I was a few months past my 20th birthday. She was four years older and already had children. We became inseparable fairly quickly, which was rather odd. She was tall and preppie; I, short and ethnic. She was Junior League. I was La Leche League.

But something grew between us that has spanned almost 30 years, five children and two marriages, despite the fact we often went for years without much contact. In those days, we lived in each other’s houses. She taught me to bake cookies. I convinced her that sheets didn’t need ironing.

Neither her mother nor her husband had any use for me or my “bad influence.” Why she even breast-fed her last child. By age 30, she was restless, searching for something not to be found at home. I didn’t understand.

My own marriage was over. Regardless of what her family thought of my “loose” life-style, in reality, I was scared, lonely and bowing under the financial and emotional weight of supporting two children under 5 years old. So, I wasn’t about to encourage anyone to frivolously follow in my shaky footsteps.

Under my insistent questioning, she finally broke down and told me the truth.

The beatings had begun when she was pregnant with her first child. His need to control every aspect of their environment – from the finances to the temperature and lighting -- was obsessive. She never knew what would set him off. And when she tried to leave, he would physically bar the door and take her car keys.

She hid the evidence with grit and cosmetics, riddled with shame and guilt. After all, her handsome, athletic husband was a brilliant professional with an advanced degree. He made a fine living. It must be her fault. After all, that’ what he said. She was unstable and an incurable spendthrift, he insisted.

Our modest homes were no more than 10 feet apart yet, I never had a clue. My shock quickly turned to fury.

At 30, something snapped. She was unwilling to continue in a dark, cold world forever. So, she began carving out a life of her own. It was slow and not without cost.

She stayed for the kids, she said, and for the financial security. But she went back to school, got her own advanced degree and established a career, an independent life.

The physical beatings ended, but the verbal and fiscal abuse continued. The more independent she became, the more affairs he had. After each one ended, he bought her a wedding ring. She has an extensive collection.

The shell of a union officially died earlier this year. He found himself someone younger and more acquiescent. He has already remarried. After 30 years of marriage, she cherishes her solitude and independence. She no longer eats dinner in a dark house with a cold husband or stews about his gun collection. She has a regular companion butt marriage is no lure.

She is among the lucky ones. Her name does not appear on that Ms. Wall. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

where the heart is...

Since my return up north for the summer, I have been considering the subject of “home.” What exactly is it? Where is it? Is it “where the hat is”? And if it is, as some say, it’s where the heart is, can the heart live in more than one place?

I’m not sure I know the answer, but I am sure that many folks surely have the same questions. Well, fairly sure. OK, so maybe I’m among the few who bother to think about these things. So sue me.

Regular readers of this space are aware I feel deep connections to several places separated by both time and space.

When I travel back to Syosset, Long Island, the Nassau County neighborhood where I came of age, there is indeed a sense of homecoming. It is a static homecoming, set in the 1950-60s and viewed through childhood eyes. My brain tends to screen out changes and emotions are stirred—egged on, I’m sure by the loss than comes as we age.

The pieces written on my time here in Rye, NY (see: what I did on my summer vacation, August 21, 2008 and return to Rye, June 11, 2009.) also touch on my youth, on the summers spent in the Catskills. Another visceral connection. A decided chunk of my heart is home amid the cool green mountains of New York.

Then there is the Jersey Shore, where I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life, where I raised my children, did my best work. I can get so gut wrenchingly homesick for the sights and smells of the place, it drives me nuts. But unless my children are with me for a “down the shore” foray, Point Pleasant, the actual town in which we lived holds little sway. I am somehow more connected to the neighboring town of Point Pleasant Beach, perhaps because it has both a real downtown and the boardwalk where much time was passed. And maybe it’s because my house of 40 years was stripped of its uniqueness by its new owners. I avoid going down that street now.

But this year, something weird hit me. I feel the most at home in a place I have never lived. How can that be? That place is Red Bank, where a best friend puts me up every summer. I walk downtown for coffee, which I drink outside at a café table. The view is identical to the photo on my home computer. From there, I easily travel to walk the Spring Lake or Point Beach boards and to visit others. And the hospital, a short walk from my friend’s home, has a dynamite view of the Navasink River from it’s café. Having lived across from the Manasquan River for decades, I love watching the action on a river.

Sadly, the one place I still do not feel at home is where I’ve lived for the past 7 plus years—Sarasota, Fl. I wish I could will myself to feel that sense of belonging that comes with being “at home.” In moving so far from all I know, alone, I acted against type, gambling it would shake up my moribund life for the better. The best I can say right now is that the jury is still out. I am better at hanging on to old connections that making new ones.

It surprises people—even those who know me fairly well—that my apparent extroverted nature is severely tempered by an introverted soul. I dislike parties, crowds and find it difficult to join things. When I first moved, I went to some social mixer-type things, simply looking for friends of either sex. I even went on one date. It was excruciatingly boring and painful.

The first two people I hit it off with, moved away. I do work with good folk and will return in the fall, once again, with determination to reach out some more, somehow. Yes, I’m well aware the fault is in me, not the place. I realized recently that I am much more comfortable as an observer, rather than a participant, so finding my way to journalism makes perfect sense.

I also tend have a tendency to blend into the lives of my friends instead of building my own—sounds a bit like a book concept. You know, a woman who lives her life by shuttling from one friend’s home to another, adopting and adapting to their lifestyles before moving on. Oh my, how hollow is that!

Whoa, this piece has taken an unsettlingly whiney turn. Enough of this.

Billy Joel, the voice of my Long Island youth has his own take on the subject as he sings:

Well I never had a place that I could call my very own.
That's all right, my love, 'cause you're my home...You're my castle, you're my cabin and my instant pleasure dome.I need you in my house 'cause you're my home.

A decidedly romantic, but methinks very dangerous concept of “home”.

Perhaps the simplest answer:
When someone asks “where are you from,” what’s your first response?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Death take a holiday

Enough already!

The month of June was over rife with celeb deaths, it seems to me. Yeah, I know, it’s probably not statistically aberrant. I mean, folks die all the time and under those well-known skins, celebs are just human. (I know, it comes as a shock.)

But the never ending list of famous endings still seems a bit much—like their expiration dates all came due. They were all ages, also. The exits ranged from the natural and odd, quick and drawn out, painful and seemingly peaceful, expected and shocking.

June. Of all months to have death busting out all over.

This is where the internet comes in handy, for a list of those who have moved on. I confess these are a few names in there I’ve never heard of. And I know I’m getting on in years, cause quite a few of these folks aren’t that old to me.

Deaths in my extended family bunched up in August. We always seems to be marking one anniversary or another. When my uncle died some years ago, my aunt noted it was on one of those anniversaries, to which a cousin quipped: “It’s hard to find an open date in August.” (And yes, we laughed.) We have a rough sense of humor in our family, what can I say?

And July continues the trend. As I write this actor Karl Malden, 97 has just died. And from what I read, Patrick Swayze and Walter Cronkite won’t be far behind.

Perhaps that bit about celebs dying in threes should be amended to dying in droves.

For the morbidly curious, here’s the list in chronological order

June 3
Chicago blues legend Koko Taylor dies at 80
David Carradine, Accidental Death at72
1950s-'60s tenor saxophonist Sam Butera dies 81

June 7
Singer-songwriter Kenny Rankin dies of lung cancer at 67

June 8
Actor Johnny Palermo dies in car accident at 27

June 10
Jack Nimitz, Sax Player, a Big Part of Jazz History, Dies 79
Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section Keyboardist Barry Beckett Dies 66
Ink Spots guitarist Huey Long dies at age 105 in Houston

June 14
Bob Bogle, Original Member of The Ventures dies at 75

June 23
Ed McMahon dies at 86

June 25
Farrah Fawcett dies of cancer at 62
Michael Jackson dies at 50
Sky Saxon - Band Member of The Seed dies 63

June 27
Gale Storm, singer, star of '50s hit TV series, dies 87

June 28
Infomercial Pitchman Billy Mays Dies at 50
Fred Travalena, impressionist and singer, dies 66

June 30
Harve Presnell, 'Fargo' Actor, dies at 75 from pancreatic cancer