Thursday, November 26, 2009

the cheese stands alone: year 13 repost

November 26

Today my mother died. Not TODAY, today, but on this date 13 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. Also, I tend to confuse it with President Kennedy's death.

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.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It matters not that I have to work Tuesday and Wednesday, my Thanksgiving holiday started 27 minutes ago when I saw on fb that my daughter’s plane was leaving the gate at Heathrow. I shall be at the Tampa airport gate at 10:30 p.m. to greet her.

It’s been 14 months since I been close enough to hug my eldest child and only daughter, and I miss her muchly. She has made her home in London for almost a decade now, and our visits are few and far between.

Her brother just closed on his first home, having moved with his wife to Seattle from New York after being recruited by Microsoft. So I live roughly 4,000 miles from each of my offspring. It is even rarer for all of us to sit around a table. This will not be the year.

Yet, I am grateful. They are healthy, extremely talented people, leading sound productive lives. Not only are they my children, but I like and admire them—and would choose them as friends. Not too shabby.

A recent post referenced the defunct TV show Northern Exposure, and once again it flits across my mind. It was Shannon, my daughter, who turned me on to the quirky show, which became my all-time fave. Set in the fictional town of Cicely, in (pre-Palin) Alaska, it had a Thanksgiving episode in which the native folk celebrated by throwing tomatoes at it’s white residents.

All of that aside, Thanksgiving is just about my favorite holiday. The reason? Simple. It’s ALL about the food. Period. It doesn’t hurt that I love Turkey et al. (My son once made a complete Thanks dinner for my birthday party in June!) And I’m Jewish. Who else has a holiday around fried food (Hanukah)? Except for Yom Kipper, we never miss an excuse to chow down. We even snack at the cemetery.

I also have warm memories of family Thanksgiving as a child, which translated into holidays for my own kids. And this year, I get to spend the day with one of my own children. OK, so she says she may roast a chicken. That’s OK by me.

Happiest Thanksgiving to all...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

santa on a cycle

So I’m out doing errands late this ayem, in the left turn lane of the (first) supermarket of the day. I notice a motorcycle cop in the opposing lane, followed by Santa on a cycle. Then, I see hundreds upon hundreds—I kid you not—of Harleys coming at me. Each rider carrying a teddy bear of some kind, from tiny to life-size. There was honkin’ and waving as the swarm of cycles seemed endless. I honked and waved back, determined not to be put off by the delay.

I know the big bikes come our way each year this time, but for the life of me can’t remember when. Each year I am taken by surprise.

They are by and large a merry middle-aged and up bunch, likely lawyers, accountants and dentists out for a fling. Not a Marlon Brando in the crowd. Women are both passengers and riders these days.

It reminds me of an episode of Northern Exposure, when Ruth Ann (well up in her 70s) steals Chris’ bike and joins up with a few rough looking dudes for a ride through the Alaska countryside. Turns out, the men are as I describe above, on a short foray from their lives, and have to pull out datebooks to find time to get together again. An adult version of a “play date.”

Life. It happens to all. Yet we all need room for play, regardless of how long we’ve been here this go round. Thanks guys, for the reminder.

Monday, November 9, 2009

coeds & sex-toys & Duke—Oh my!

A campus religious leader is up in arms over a Duke University study involving coeds attending parties where sex toys are offered for sale—at a discount, no less.

Now, these are the stories that have me salivating for me ol’ newspaper column. You just can’t make these things up, folks. That the director of the Duke Catholic Center is upset about such a “study” rates a “DUH.” But if I were a parent of a student—or even a student—I’d be pissed off also. Not to mention ashamed of my alma mater.

This is DUKE UNIVERSITY, people, not Daisy Duke University. And all those associated with one of this country’s top schools deserve better, especially at today’s prices. Talk about a bogus use of university resources.

The study reportedly invites coeds over age 18 to parties with erotic toys, lingerie and games. The women complete surveys about their sexual attitudes before and after the parties and get product discounts. Does it occur to you, Dukesters, that the women are just interested in getting a good deal on the product? How valid would such a “survey” be?

A spokesman for Duke said the sex-toy party project went through the peer review process. Boy, how I’d like to have been a fly on the wall during those meetings. Really guys, what legitimate academic truth will result from a university run cut-rate sex-toy party? Perhaps some young woman will report a more receptive attitude toward Ben Wa balls or fur-lined handcuffs. And this proves what? Where is the legitimate scholarship here?

This is the generation that gave us “friends with benefits” and “rainbow parties” for those not much out of middle school. Unless these women are from some fundamentalist cult/religion, I can’t imagine they would find sex-toys anything but a wholesome diversion. Face it folks, this generation would agree that President Bill didn’t “have sex with that woman” because they don’t consider “oral” to be sex.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m all for open and frank sexuality. I came of age with the Pill and the pre-AIDS free love 1970s. I adore Dr. Ruth. Now there’s a person who added to the national sexual discourse. And she isn’t above marketing her own sex toys. But I digress.

I’m gonna let you in on a little (not so) secret from my past. Back in the day—pre internet et al--my brother ran several “adult bookstores”. And during a lean period of unemployment, I briefly worked for him. The stores were sealed boxed with no windows, not a real pleasant place to eat your lunch, I might add. And let me tell ya, there isn’t much I haven’t seen in the way of sex-toys. So I’m not offended by the subject matter, but by the fact that this project lacks redeeming academic value.

As for this old broad, my favorite sex-toys come permanently attached to a human being. No batteries required.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

playing with time

When I was not much more than a tot, my dad told me that story about one twin going off into space and returning years later, not having aged, facing an old twin—illustrating Einstein’s theory of relativity. Way cool thought I. And every since I’ve been fascinated by time travel.

I can’t resist books, TV shows, movies et al that make use of the device. From a Wrinkle in Time, Star Trek to Quantum Leap, I gladly accept the premise although the classic time paradoxes can give me headache. (Such is the case with the ultra-convoluted Lost, which I no longer watch.)

Now, I know that “time travel” is not possible according to scientists. And as enticing as the concept is, I’m not sure I’d opt to travel either way if given the choice. The past too sad (see Our Town), the future a mondo spoiler alert. OK, so it would be more than a little tempting to get in on the start of Microsoft, Apple, pantyhose (Peggy Sue Got Married) and bottled water. But then we come up against that “changing the past” thang.

However, we all do time travel, don’t we? Take today, the start of EST a 25-hour day in which we “fall back” into reliving an hour. Then there’s all that flying around the world in which we “gain” or “lose” time. But regardless of how much we humans play with time—we could crisscross the international date line every day—it will not halt our own personal march of time, unlike Einstein’s space voyage