About Me

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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Life Is What Happens While You're Busy Making Other Plans

I've had a busy week of appointments, errands, a few utterly joyous events, commitment to my commitments, and precious little time to write for pleasure. This bothered me more than usual, because I had a serendipitous blog post coming along in draft form, but coming too slowly to suit me. Well, actually, I still have that post in draft form, but it will likely have to wait awhile. Here's what I had to say in my first paragraph:

"I have been caught in a downpour of good things, an unpredicted storm that has left a few large gifts in a terrifically truncated period of time. Maybe some would holler "Hallelujah!" and run off to enjoy themselves, but I am a perverse creature. Oh, believe me, I've hoped for some good fortune, but now that a little of that has fallen into my lap, I am unsure how one handles some of it. If I blink, will it go away? Why have some of these things come to me and why now? Will I handle the details differently from my methods in the past? What are the deal-breakers, so I can make certain not to commit any of them? And - oh, the sleep-robber - "am I worthy?"

Jennifer Layne 
Copyright 1994
This afternoon I was showering, blow-drying, seeking out clothes in which I would not roast, pushing the clock just a little, which is unlike me. When the phone rang, I thought, "I have no time for this, whomever it is. Just let it roll to voicemail." But I recognized the telephone number as I've called it a few times in the last few days. "Hi, is this Leslie?" I said it was. "This is Kerry from the clinic." Oh. The Vampire Department just drained me yesterday. This may not be a good phone call. She said that my blood test results were in. There is no anemia. That's great, as I have a chronic problem. My cholesterol is on the "watch list" - for the first time in my life. OK, people deal with that every day. None of the medications I've been prescribed are causing any mischief. Good, good. I thought to myself, "Then why is this woman calling me?" "It's about your white blood cell count. Dr. Q is very concerned. She wants you to see your physician. We have a copy of the lab results for you but we're closed for the holiday weekend until Tuesday morning." I said I'd come Tuesday, then see my doctor. "No. She wants you to see your doctor tomorrow. Tell them it is urgent and what I've just told you about your test results." Well, I didn't scream or faint, but I'm not stupid. I've been down this road before. This call has a sense of deja vu. "Just how bad is the white cell count?" I have .7 when I need 4.0. Oh, that's pretty bad. "We're concerned about your immunity to any infections. It shouldn't be this low. You need to be seen right away." Boy, howdy.

I sat down hard on the bed, forgetting that I was running late. Damn it, what is this? The karmic cost for the good things that have just come along? And how would I deal with it this time, new in sobriety, but a veteran for having gone through it before? "It" is an insidious thing, a precursor to a deadly cancer that few survive for 5 years. The good news: I am not "sick" as it is asymptomatic, almost always revealed in a routine blood test. And many people live with the precursor for years, never developing the end disease. The bad news: This is not my first rodeo. I was closely monitored for 2 years, monitoring including regular bone marrow biopsies. A bone marrow biopsy is not an enjoyable experience. But the physical assault can't hold a candle to what these things do to one's head. And then there is the wait between the biopsy and the appointment to learn the results. And then count 90 more days, with blood testing in between. I can do every every part of that, I feel, tonight. And I must remember to pack all the good things into each and every day that I can. I already have a team in place, just in case one is needed: driver, hand-holder during the procedures, soup maker, prayer givers, well-wishers. OK, I think this will be all right.

At the large AA Club where I attend various meetings, the kudos, grins, hugs, high-fives and questions still flew about the wonderful things so recently fallen upon my head. I've been teased mightily and reminded that such good things happen to those who work their program well and truthfully. I chose not to mention today's news. It's not time. People are joyous for me. There's no good reason to put a damper on the joy others can feel for a fellow. "Hey, meet Les. She is a hard case, but she's worked diligently and after 8 months, good things are happening to her." If the time comes to share information at AA, I have no doubt I'll be fully supported there, too. Given everything I need. I'm no more fully identified by any other disease I may have than I was by alcoholism. A person wants to be both graceful and sturdy. Admirable, like.

In my ears right now, just because:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

You Didn't Pass the Audition

You know, at the first, he had me. Yes, I was on his side, even though - on paper - this wasn't an ideal match. I'd now had a little dating experience. I wasn't precisely jaded or cynical, but the words "almost spent" come to mind. And while I'd had a few snickers, maybe one or two actual guffaws, never once had I had even a hint of that slight lift of heart and mood that comes when . . . well, I know it comes sometimes. It's happened to me.

He was responsive to e-mails, something to which I attribute perhaps too much merit. He was literate in those e-mails, something of importance to me. On the other hand, he showed no symptoms of the great sense of humor I value. His look wasn't dead-on, and may I elaborate on that, please? In all my life I've never weighed going out with a man based on his extreme good looks. No male models needed here. I have written about being blown away at age 15 when I met a young man who turned out to be gorgeous. I'd never considered that possibility, but only wanted to get to know him whom I'd met and so enjoyed in conversation on the telephone. "Gorgeous" was an unexpected delight. Following my long and bitter divorce, someone important in my life referred to Ex as an "ugly fuck" and I went off! Oh, yes, an alcoholic who ruined his health and was not an ideal spouse to me - guilty. Ugly? Maybe to you, but not to me. So, while there are some deal-breakers, such as the man who looked identical to Stepfather in his latest years, mostly I accept people as they look, within wide reason. Bald? Not a problem. Large nose? Likely OK. Physique imperfect? Let's talk about that, because I am an imperfect person, too. Generally, if I reject a possibility based on looks, it relates more to attitude projected by the look than actual physical traits.

So, he suggested a coffee house that was located 2 blocks from my office and I thought, "Well, that's pretty easy. I drink coffee, anyway." He looked average in his photos: height, weight, hair, coloring. He was age appropriate and able to converse about a variety of topics. He worked in an industry I knew nothing about and I was going to mark that down as a plus - I could learn something new. He owned a car and had that job (so he said), putting him miles ahead of some Las Vegans who put themselves on the open market. The car claim might be put to partial proof when I arrived at Starbucks, providing he hadn't borrowed one. Yes, I would meet for coffee.

When I pulled into the parking lot and left my car, I glanced around, tidied my shirt and slacks and immediately received a text message. "I'm already inside. Your coffee awaits you." Oh. All right. That's nice, though I felt just a touch odd being watched through the window. But that's what one might get when meeting in public places. As I walked in and aimed for the table, he stood up to greet me - nice. Lots of men don't do that any longer. He'd got my coffee correctly and I sat down to a nice conversation. I knew quickly that there weren't going to be any fireworks on my side, and I didn't know him well enough to know if he would experience any. I hoped not, since I couldn't be reciprocal. But we talked congenially about things the other knew nothing about, each seeming to be interested in what the other had to say. I'm not sure we could have been much less likely matched, but that was OK. If I was west, he was east, I read, he watched TV, etc. We agreed to a second cup of coffee, neither with a gun held to our head.

Over the second cup, he told me something that many people would not easily share, at least not in a first meeting. He suffered from an acute case of genital herpes of longstanding, resistant to drugs and spread beyond the area one might expect. This did not make me run away or start eyeballing the door. You see, just as I don't judge first on any person's appearance, I do not attach stigma to anyone who has an illness or who has suffered some attack or wrong by another person. There are certain medical descriptions that may ultimately cause me some distress, but I knew a little about this condition and it wasn't harrowing for me to hear. I also knew I wasn't ever going to engage in any activity that would put me in harm's way in that respect. It was safe discussion and I rather credited the man with being straightforward about something many sufferers hide from their associates until it is too late for them to make informed decisions. Besides, maybe it helped him to speak openly about a problem and not be censured. This cost me nothing except the price of the second round of coffee. No, I'm not patting myself on the back for my humanity. I'm suggesting that it costs little to be nonjudgmental.

The second coffee was getting low and I was about to say, "Well, thanks, it was really pleasant to meet you." I wouldn't mislead with any complicated comments. Besides, if he was drooling over me, he hid it well. Agreement is a good way to end a meeting, right? And then he said it. I looked up quickly to make eye contact so I could laugh along with him, though he'd made not one original humorous remark the entire time. "You didn't pass the audition. I'd never go with you. Would you like me to tell you the reasons?" Genuinely floored, I began to sputter, "No, oh no, thanks, but no . . .". Not to be rebuffed, Mr. Herpes told me I was a reject because I was well-traveled (true), well-educated (not as true) and had a job I loved (yes, very true). Though I am rarely at a loss for words, I couldn't think of any response, whether appropriate or idiotic. I began to gather my jacket and purse, not kicking over tables, chairs and cups, but decidedly ready to take my leave. Not really as hip, slick and cool as I'd like to be, as I got into my car, I thought, "Damn me for listening to my mother and Granny again! I thought those were the things I was supposed to reveal."

I regret to say it bothered me. I'm a little sensitive. I work rather hard to be well-liked and admired, though I will not be false. Over time, when I have felt myself in a situation safe enough, I've mentioned this put-down episode to friends. I have trouble saying "arrogant idiot" and stomping off. No, I have to analyze it. "What's wrong with me?" Though Mr. Herpes had left little doubt of what was wrong with me, unless he had more on his list that he didn't spew before I got up to leave. I've landed somewhere pretty solid. Likely his take on me was that I was independent and didn't need him (or anyone else) to fulfill me. That threatens some people or turns them off. They feel  extraneous. But wasn't he taught to keep his mouth shut and simply move on? I guess not. Like I was trying out for the lead in the school play!

Every now and then Facebook lands in my Yahoo mailbox attempting to woo me into their evil game. (I don't and, so far, won't Facebook, for reasons that are my own.) In their offering is a yoo-hoo from seemingly everyone I've ever e-mailed with. "Let's be friends!" Yeah. Uh-huh. Mr. Herpes is invariably in the mix, with a new photo since I met him. His face shows no evidence of having recently been smacked by some angry woman. I'm pleased to see his health is holding out. No, really.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It's a Bitch

It was so hot you
could have fried an
egg on the pavement!
I use the word as it might relate to the dog days of summer, as that season has officially arrived. And today was hotter than one of those - 108-degrees on the blacktop when I arrived at AA at nearly 5:00 p.m. I'd been somewhat asleep at the wheel, only vaguely registering its imminent arrival, when my Tao Daily Meditation hit me between the eyes and said, "Hey, solstice is here!" Oh, yeah! Thanks, Tao. The "fun" time of year, though difficult to love in the Mojave Desert. And I'd like to be on record as one who rarely uses that "b" word about another person.

So, a brief quotation from Tao Meditation No. 172 and how it resonates with what I've currently got going on, which is also a bitch. By the way, I do not claim to be a practiced Taoist. When I am that good, I will claim to be so. I read Tao and try to harmonize its teachings with other daily devotionals that are important to me. The best days are the ones when each of my three testaments expresses the same (or a similar) idea in a different voice.  It happens, randomly, on more days than one might expect. In one language or another, sometimes my simple mind can comprehend and integrate more complex truths.
When the true light appears,
The entire planet turns to face it.
The summer solstice is the time of greatest light. It is a day of enormous power . . .
This great culmination is not static or permanent. Indeed, solstice as a time of culmination is only a barely perceptible point. The sun appears to stand still. Its diurnal motions seems to nearly cease. Yesterday it was still reaching this point; tomorrow, it will begin a new phase of its cycle.
Those who follow Tao celebrate this day to remind themselves of the cycles of existence . . . left and right, up and down, zenith and nadir . . . All of life is cycles. All of life is balance.
Ah, OK then, a powerful zenith in the sun's strongest light, maybe all the world pulled up to a visible projection just briefly, and a reminder to seek balance, to recognize nothing will be permanent, that ebb and flow are the only certain things. A message to alcoholics and other addicts: this constant motion thing is OK. It's the way of the world. In our language, this is "accepting life on life's terms."

I've been a member of AA for quite awhile now. I am encouraged to lead meetings and when the right person feels I am a woman who talks the talk and walks the walk and we agree I should be her sponsor, then that will happen. I own and voraciously read many of the recommended books, attempting to incorporate certain principles into my little life. I am progressing through my 12-steps at a slower pace than some because I have to argue about everything. I am made that way. It is not a footrace, luckily for me. But after I've argued something to death, if I ultimately accept it, I am a true believer because I've tried to deflate it and found it can't be mitigated. For myself only. I don't try to tell anyone else what is and isn't right for them. I'm not that good. By every benchmark, I should have bombed out by now for my first time. Those are the odds. That information and $1 will get you a cup of coffee at a really cheap place.

It's that balance thing that threatens my happy summer sunshine, that accepting life on life's terms and making my way forward. I am a person knows how to learn, and once I learn something, I have confidence in it and myself. Why can't I learn this balance deal? Am I an alcoholic because I lack balance or do I lack balance because I am an alcoholic? Regardless, it is the hardest thing I have ever struggled to reach. Most of "us" have a lot of human wreckage to repair once we become sober. I am no different and it is daunting. We are not obliged to undertake this in any particular way. We must not attempt to make direct amends to someone if to do so would further harm them. We are even allowed to not make direct amends to someone if to do so would be harmful to our own sobriety. That is a powerful freedom that must be tempered with "at what point does that become a cop-out?" If necessary, we are even encouraged to write a letter of amends we never intend to mail or send a letter to a dead man or to conduct a ritual of our own design. We may make an amends looking into and speaking to a mirror or a doorknob or we may make a "living amends" which means to let our present and future behavior say all there is to be said. In every case, we must somehow make amends to those we have harmed or whom we have lost in some way, expecting nothing from the other person, but only sweeping our own side of the street. Now we are sober, we hope we are so approachable we may reach some form of resolution with those who have harmed us, even though we may not owe them amends and we have no ability to design any detente. Yow. It is a tall order. But until we do this step properly and thoroughly, we will not have completed our 12 steps or know peace. And we must design our current and future behaviors to minimize resentments which are what cause our alcoholic breakdowns in human relationships. Ugh. Balance. Assertion in place of passivity or aggression. Responsibility for self and no one else and being OK with whatever happens. Wait a minute! It's my inability to do that which got me into trouble in the first place. No, I am not being funny.

Recently my friend and I discussed how we each were so misaligned that, as children, we failed to scream "pervert" in real personal crises, for fear of appearing impolite. Really. I have a long history of failing to holler for the CIA, the SSA, the FBI, a parent, someone's parole officer or a policeman on my own behalf when at least that needed to occur. On the other hand, I have some history of committing reprehensible, unfathomable, aggressive human crimes, of holding grudges, of being very difficult to love or forgive. Yes, I do want to find the sweet spot between the extremes. I think I see it, right there on the razor's edge. Without the assistance of alcohol, here are some things I've been working on. I think I'm doing halfway all right, though in some cases I am not making others very happy. And that's OK, too. I was in the people-pleasing business much too long.

So, would I really expose the shortcomings of an upstanding-looking blighter by publishing essays and badly written poetry (it exists, a suitcase full of it)? Unlikely. How does harming another person help me? Good logic, eh? Or write a l
etter to one parent on each coast of the U.S. to apologize for being such a difficult, colicky infant? Not going to happen. To my dear friend for whom I always pay and my friend who never, ever thinks of inviting me first: you may expect different behavior from me. Regarding the man who pressed his luck when I said, "I've told you this repeatedly for years." and he replied, "Well, you know, sometimes you don't pay attention to someone.": I was not loud, profane or difficult to understand. It was recommended I send official anger notification to those who "assisted" me in nearly killing myself with booze: already done. "You treated me terribly." Now I can begin my amends to each of them for I certainly have responsibility, too. [This should not be misconstrued as me saying ____ made me drink. This only refers to undeserved bad treatment by others. I dealt with it by choosing to drink.] Can I tell my friend and business associate I can't support the program as it stands? Done, well received and discussion to ensue. And for the friend who tells me what to do with my life before saying hello: get ready, dear!

Those things and similar ones can, did and could make me drink. That's not how I choose to do it today. What do you think? Progress? Old dogs/new tricks? In May and in June I attempted amends, expecting nothing. In both cases that is precisely what I got. These were not the giant roaring monsters like parents or ex-spouses. In one case, I do not believe I harmed the person directly, but I apologized if I had done that and said I'd love to have him/her in my life. In the other case, I had harmed the person but felt our bond had been deep enough for us to find some common ground. I did not get what I hoped for. I did not drink.

Something that charmed me:  It charmed me just now to type "I did not drink". It charmed me to find Ms. Janis singing "Summertime". It charms me to go out 4 feet from the French doors and slide into the pool nekkid under the moon. It charms me that tomorrow is expected to be 110-degrees. It charms me to keep trying as hard as I can try, apologizing when I have been clumsy. I wish everyone a joyful summer.

This does not charm me: I'm invited to a BBQ, a big bing-bang bash hosted by a friend of a friend. "What can I bring?," is always my first utterance. I love to make melon ball baskets and really good potato salad by the bathtubfull and 80 dozen deviled eggs, or whatever the host wants. "Oh, how about a big old bottle of tequila?" Really! "Um, that would be really difficult for me. Terribly difficult, actually. I can maintain balance with all of you and your tequila shots game like you played at Christmas, but I don't know about buying it, supplying it." This brought a smartassed comment which caused further conversation during which I gave no ground. She seems to have kind of dug her feet in. I've used no profanity, nor loud tone of voice. I'm surely not going to drink over it. But it's a bitch, you know?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Concert, or the Night the Smallest Vests Were Large and We Weren't

Does this vest make
my butt look huge?
Pull it up on your shoulder,
dear, you're losing it.
OK, so at P. F. Chang's where our adorable server, Chad, custom-concocted a fiery sauce to our specifications, we chopsticked through a really good dinner and scooted on over to the Henderson Pavilion for our second volunteer gig as ushers. It is not common for me to struggle for the proper words to describe something I've thought or felt or experienced, but I'll have to dig hard this time. This evening was kind of surreal in ways. Not at all like the afternoon we ushered families to their seats for the live play, The Wizard of Oz. I wish I'd done a little online research before the concert, to learn more about Yellow Brick Road. Then I'd have known they were a local iconic cover band and we were going to be in the midst of an event of epic proportion. I'd have known the lead singer, Brody (age about 15 by appearance), was "retiring" after 14 years of leading the band and this was his last performance. Women wept. T-shirts sold like hotcakes. The Pavilion sold out to its biggest crowd ever, with 3,300 in the seats and 700 on the lawn. My comment that there didn't appear to be enough Security should have earned me a free ticket to a future show! "You two are old hands at this, I want you down in front, stage right," exclaimed the volunteer coordinator. I'd have preferred the word "veterans", but it's nice to be recognized. "I've got tough news," she continued. "All the vests are enormous tonight. Sorry!" Boy, howdy.

Picture a big old dumb hound that doesn't get to leave the yard much. Picture him taken out on a leash to an event packed with smells, noise, color, people . . like that hound, I took in the night with all my senses. From flowing beer to wafting pot, from women who should know better but dressed that way anyway, from hard-working event staff to some slightly cowardly Security, I fairly consumed all there was to be had from that evening. Had I a tail, I'd have wagged it! Science question: Why, if my body was going to complain so badly within 24 hours, did it even allow me to sprint up and down those stadium stairs so many times? I was a sprite! Now I am not. I moved wheelchairs and jumped into a fight I had no business taking on. I worked my friend, the security guard, into allowing me onto the stage, much to Brody's surprise, though he didn't miss a note.  Disclaimer: All pictures and video taken in poor lighting conditions on a cell phone by a woman who was also working. However, if the words appeal, some of them may be worth mashing one's nose up on the monitor to see. Click on any photo to see it larger, but still poorly. Double size the video for perhaps a better view.

Click for insider
shirt caption!
I'm pretty fascinated by the staging of a show. I have no knowledge of it, though Jenn has a degree and many years experience. Twice she has commented that were she producing the show, the sets would have been ready long before curtain time and tested twice. That doesn't seem to be the way at The Pavilion, a bevy of activity right up until the last moment and sometimes a rather late curtain. I asked questions a mile a minute. We'd already seen all the band and orchestra instruments, music stands ready, piano taken through a dry run. Now they were moved backstage in a jumble, a really ugly curtain dropped, what appeared to be paint dropcloths placed and duct taped to the floor and paint buckets brought out. "WTF, Jenn?" She had no idea. When the stage crew rolled out the gigantic bell in bumblebee colors, I raised my eyebrow at her. Still no idea. So we simply watched, like everyone else. For a good sound venue as to the concert music and play dialog, the Pavilion lacks a lot in quality of the announcements mike. The opening act was announced without fanfare - just his name, which I missed. He defied description.

He stepped out onto the stage and yelled into that mike in a very loud voice. The mike distorted every sound and his French accent was thick enough to require a machete for cutting. He stood before his gigantic bell, throwing up both arms now and again, to much cheering. Ah. And the bell tolled. We looked at each other. "What?" "What?" "What the hell?" I felt some relief that Jenn didn't understand it, either, and she is much younger than I. Let's see. How to tell it? In words? Frenchy had a bad collection of very poorly recorded music and a collection of pretty remarkable dancers if they were still in middle school. In costumes one couldn't quite mesh with the music, the dancers worked their asses off, the music thundered, and Frenchy . . . got into the paint buckets with his hands, rendering some pretty credible likenesses of Hendrix and other rockers. With each number, Frenchy got more worked up, flinging paint from his fingers at each completed canvas, hollering louder but still incomprehensibly. Ultimately, he slipped on the paint and fell - hey! It was wet up there. He ended his show with a frantic rendering of Led Zeppelin on the curtain. Alas, I cannot name the icon he painted on the gigantic bumblebee bell, but said rocker sported a big old helmet like Brunnhilde in the opera. It is my opinion that Frenchy

Video # 1 - Yep, me (voice only) directing a patron to row RR. Hey, I sound as good as Frenchy.
Video # 2 - Frenchy's Dancing Queens.
Video #3 - Frenchy's Hendrix painted by his bare hands on a spinning platform.

Frenchy gets his Led Zep on to close the opening act!

OK, we tolerated that for a good long while, directing folks to restrooms, concessions stands, lawn chairs and more. We grinned, we chuckled and we guffawed. We asked one another over and over and over again, "Why?" I still don't know the answer. I only know the first act is over and I'll serve up an intermission before the headliner comes on.

Yet to come:
  • Les jumps into the fray during a fracas, but manages to avoid the tampon fight in the womens restroom (yes, really).
  • Les impresses the Security Captain as "being someone" so the Captain consults her on everything for the rest of the night.
  • Les works herself onstage to the surprise of the lead singer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Likely my dating confusion may be at least partly laid at the feet of Greg Clarkson who ruined me that beautiful spring for (many, if not all) other men. In the summer of 1963, we'd moved again from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. I grew to my full adult height and from about 90 pounds to maybe 105 between the end of the last school year and my birthday at the end of the summer. My teeth were not snaggly new growth any longer, though it seems there were still a couple of molars to come, and the wisdom teeth that never did make it through the gums but were finally surgically removed when I was over 40. I could fix hair nicely, my own in a dark Gidget flip, and I washed and set my mother's to earn money. I worked cheaper than a professional in a beauty parlor (now called a salon). At the coming Christmas, I would receive makeup in my stocking - Angel Face pressed powder and the palest pink lipstick ever seen. Upon my body, curves existed where none had before and these made me feel just slightly awkward at the country club pool. (My parents eschewed the golf side of that club so I could make full use of the pool. It was a bargain to them to pay half-price and they knew I'd swim more than they would golf.) I turned 11 late that August.

The truck transporting our household belongings to Salt Lake was involved in a terrific accident along the way. Everything we owned was destroyed and my parents received a sizable insurance settlement. We gathered donated items from relatives to use in an apartment while we gathered ourselves. By early autumn, they had bought a house on the (then) far west stretches. Construction having just begun, there was still time to add a few custom touches and then we waited. We'd often drive out to the site after my dad came home from work. He'd hoist me up onto the second floor into what would be my bedroom and I could see all over the valley, lights beginning to twinkle here and there. I dreamed. This was to be the nicest home they ever owned, decorated nicely, with everything in it brand new. There was little development yet near Taylorsville. Everything needed to sustain life was also under construction to accommodate the booming growth in housing and residents. Oh, yes, there were gas stations and some mom-and-pop stores. But for major shopping, the library, and other necessities, we'd have to drive a bit. Dad would actually have a commute into the city.

Though some families were already moving into their completed new homes, the schools weren't springing up quickly enough to accommodate all the kids. The Valley West developer, whether a thoughtful Mormon father himself or under pressure from the new homeowners, devised a shortcut for the kids to take to the elementary school thereby avoiding Redwood Road. This heavily trafficked thoroughfare was used by everyone coming into and going out of the area and also by semi-truck drivers passing through. There were no sidewalks, the crumbly blacktop meeting the gravelly, weed-choked dirtpack irregularly. During the early autumn months, the shortcut flowed with a veritable river of kids going through the covered pathway and across a now-deserted sugar beet field. The school was an ancient, forbidding hulk of dark brick and no architectural relief, 3-stories and maybe 100 years old. Until the new schools were ready, the youngest children began their day at 6:00 a.m. and upperclassmen at 1:00 p.m., with school getting out at 6:00 in time for dinner, an imperfect temporary situation. When the snow flew, the shortcut became difficult and I remember trudging along Redwood Road in the afternoon, arms filled with books, heavy coat, gloves and boots. Soon enough I came to understand the honking, hooting truck drivers were not sounding "Hey, kids, get up farther on the verge to walk" messages, but "Hey, baby" salutations. Parents carpooled the kids home in the dark and snow, and soon enough John C. Fremont Elementary School was ready for us.

Normal school hours and a new facility, not yet even filled to capacity, made for a wonderful spring.  Softball began and counted as our PE portion of the day, with my 6th grade class pitted against the other. Remember the year: girls were not required to play softball if they didn't care to, but they had to go to study hall if they didn't play. Once a month for a few days, a girl could plead a physical excuse if she cared to. And then - the Promise Land - on softball days girls could begin to wear some form of trousers, but only on the diamond, not during the rest of the school day. That was OK enough for me. My father always, but always, treated me like his kid, not only like his daughter. I knew how to play softball. I was now bigger than most of the other kids and stronger, including the boys. I was fearless and skilled, sliding into base having never bothered me. I was pretty fast and I could catch a hurtling cannonball without dropping it. "Don't drop that ball, Les. Morgans play hard!" "OK, Dad!" But, oh!, the piece de resistance. My father owned a most wonderful wooden bat, 36" long and 33 oz. - a most manly bat and likely too much bat for me at the time. On softball days, I attracted some noise carrying in my bat and my bag, which I think was a bowling bag, with my pants and sneakers in it, for we also did not wear sneakers during the rest of the school day. These days were the highlight of my week and I learned much that spring. I learned never, ever to throw my bat again after making a young fellow drop to his knees in tears. I'd never much thrown my bat before that, but I got a little show-offy there on home plate, adding a little elan to my swing. I learned that some of the glee expressed by others on softball days had to do with me running the bases like the wind and getting in under a high pop fly. It wasn't so different from the swimming pool or the honking, hooting truck drivers.

"Hey, Greg Clarkson really likes you." A boy from the other 6th grade delivered this message and I flinched, I am sure. "Oh?" "Yeah, he thinks you play really well and you're cute." Uh-oh. "Oh." I walked away, completely unprepared for such an announcement and not knowing how to cope with it. Oh sure, I knew who he was. He was in the other class and may have been the only player more talented than I. Quite tall and very thin, he was strong and fast and tough. He stared me down at the plate and on the field. I always knew I had to play against Greg Clarkson and not so much against anyone else. The other pee wees kind of ran around and Clarkson was the only real competitor. I imagine he felt the same, in softball terms, about me. We always pretended not to be looking at the other, but now I noticed his hair was longish and curly, dark. Oh, not long hair as an original affectation like the Beatles who were taking over all of our pubescent or prepubescent minds. More like his mother had allowed him to skip one haircut because the Beatles had taken over his mind. Soon we began to exchange notes. I was comfortable with that, easily finding my voice in written word. He had miniature messengers at his command and the notes fairly flew back and forth. Then it was telephone calls. I began to use a phone upstairs so my parents, both with eyes bugged out at the notion of a boy calling me, would not be able to hear every (innocent) word of my side of the conversation.

The girls who were my friends were fascinated and began to suit up for softball so they could watch us on the field. The boys who were his friends seemed to watch him exclusively. Were they taking lessons from his example or had they been warned that I was his and they should not even look? We'd each dawdle on the grounds for a short time after school and finally a chaste, quick peck of a kiss was exchanged, some 20 child observers marking the occasion in silent awe. One afternoon he head gestured me to join him around the corner of the building. I looked toward my friends and weighed whether I would do this. I did. Around the bend, he wasted no time pushing a small parcel toward me, a jewelry box, to be precise. Taking it from him and feeling not on solid ground, I noticed he had dirt under his fingernails at the end of the day. Inside was a modest neck chain and a clear pendant with a mustard seed inside, perfectly appropriate for an 11-year-old girl heading for 12. Since that time I have heard a couple of different mustard seed legends, but when Greg asked me if I knew what it meant and I said I did not, he told me it represented "I love you." I did not respond to that in any verbal way, but I felt my eyes widen. Then he proposed what he knew to be my favorite tune as "our song", the meaning of which also had to be explained to me. We exchanged a kiss no more heated than the ones delivered in view of mesmerized 6th graders, he put the chain around my neck and we emerged onto the playground. I surmise Greg had older brothers or sisters because he was smooth - smooth! - and I knew nothing about any of the steps. But I liked the dance.

We became local celebrities, Greg Clarkson and Leslie Morgan. Even the teachers seemed aware of the chaste connection and smiled at us. The mustard seed pendant was much handled by young girls. I don't know what Greg had to deal with in his crowd of admiring boys. We held hands while walking in the hallway, though we would never have kissed openly and nothing, nothing changed on the softball field except that I tucked my necklace down the front of my shirt. The end of the school year approached following an idyllic spring and it was announced we'd have a 6th grade party day to include a movie in the cafeteria, "free dress" (slacks and sneakers ~ yay!), and if we brought our own records, we could play them and dance. A number of the moms provided better-than-school-cafeteria snacks and it was a red-letter day. Funny that I do not recall what movie was shown. But I remember that we sat close and held hands throughout as other kids exchanged looks and grins. No other young people so coupled up. What, we were enough for everyone, even if it was vicarious? When the music started, it was revealed that Greg arranged for our song to be played first. We danced, surrounded by silent classmates. He danced quite well, actually. Soon I saw some girls dancing together. When some fast tunes came on, some of the braver boys jumped on board. It was better than a prom.

He told me his family was moving to Alaska in the summer. I was good at geography and I knew his bike wasn't going to carry him to my house or the pool any longer. He reminded me we were nearly 12 - well, he actually was already. It wouldn't be so long until we could design our own lives and not be held hostage by our parents. My mother told me to invite him for dinner. She grilled steaks and did not act weird in front of Greg. My dad talked decently with him about baseball. He held my hand in front of them and kissed me goodbye at the door. They saw this. And then he was gone. He was an excellent letter-writer and he was allowed to call me once a month for 10 minutes. My parents allowed reciprocal phone calls. I did not cry or pine miserably, though I missed his company. Eventually it faded away, perhaps when we moved back to California in a couple of years. Or perhaps when the next youngblood said "My friend thinks you're cute." Or maybe Greg was attracted to a lovely young female in a parka. Anyway, it ended predictably, without rancor. I owned the mustard seed necklace for a very long time - decades. I do not know where it is now.

In my ears right now:  Oh, come on, what do you think?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

(With Plenty of Experience Now) I Only Date My Own Species

I may sometimes come across as both articulate and loquacious which is sometimes interpreted to mean "outgoing, sturdy, not thin-skinned". Nothing could be farther from my actuality. I'm highly sensitive and somewhat easily hurt. But I take risks by showing myself and telling truths about me - the person - in almost every relationship I undertake. Why would I take a chance making myself vulnerable to people I don't know well? That's how I relate with other human beings. I'm not so comfortable with casual relationships or fleeting friendships. Relating only on the surface doesn't work for me. I'm curious about others and am willing to show myself, within reason. It is always my hope the other person will eventually show me at least something real about themselves. By nature and by training, that is how I interact with other humans. Does this point out how difficult it is for me to deal with the dating bullshitter, the closed-down and the tight-lipped? Oh, and one last thing: I am pretty scrupulous about not being unnecessarily harsh with others, even when they have sometimes set themselves up for such treatment. Even when . . .

He was literate and he read books on purpose for entertainment. He worked in a field similar to mine, so we understood one another's workday stories. He sought outdoor activities and claimed to be physically fit, liked some of the movies that were my favorites and had a sense of humor. We were age appropriate and had exchanged photos, finding one another attractive, or at least worth continuing to talk with. Until he found out my name. You see, he'd just been hurt by a Leslie and didn't feel he could engage with another so soon. Or that's what he said and I have no supporting information whatsoever to confirm that as truth or untruth. I was gracious. "OK, well, I certainly understand that. Thanks for chatting." I am not 100% certain I do understand that, as a common name never was a deterrent to me, but I felt no need to be nasty to a man who had been pleasant throughout.

Conversely . . . Before I learned to pull the plug at the first, not the seventh, warning sign, I let conversations continue past the date they should have ended. And this man was one waving red flags from the first e-mail. HE WAS ONE OF THOSE "ALL IN CAPS" FELLAS. I didn't know there were any such communicators left, but I now can attest there are. It annoyed me, but I didn't immediately say "Stop it." He said he kept 5 dogs and I felt further disinterested. Not hostile. Just not enthusiastic. "I CAN GET YOU INTO A 3-YEAR-OLD CAR THAT LOOKS BRAND NEW," he virtually screamed. "Oh, well, thanks. Mine is less than a year old and perfectly suited to me." I decided to try the path of least resistance, simply distancing myself by e-mailing less frequently and then not at all. It was my impression that online conversations faded quickly if one party slowed or stopped for 24 hours. He was slow to understand and, in fact, turned up the heat in direct proportion to my cooling. "WELL, AT LEAST LET'S EXCHANGE PICTURES." He attached his to that message. He looked exactly like Stepfather. I cringed, actually recoiled from my computer monitor, but said nothing. This did not satisfy him. "WELL, I KNOW I'M GOOD LOOKING, SO WHY HAVEN'T I HEARD FROM YOU?" I remained quiet and (foolishly) passive. He turned up his aggression, bombarding me with e-mails assaulting both my character and appearance, though he really knew nothing about either of those. I finally had to unload. "You look just exactly like my stepfather. It creeps me out." Never heard from him again.

I cannot say how many times I have been challenged with "Is that really your picture?" "Yes, it is me, taken 10 days ago." "It's not your daughter or your girlfriend or sister?" "Uh, no. It is me." "Ten days ago, you said?" WTF? "Yes, 10 days ago." I gather it is common for both women and men to send pictures that are 10 years old, 100 pounds lighter, or simply not their own photograph while still in the just-talking phase. I never understood that. If I send a misleading image of myself in order to snare a man into meeting me somewhere, will I not be exposed as a fraud the moment I walk into the place? Apparently it is not unusual. OK, so noted. I don't believe I ever met a man who had sent me someone else's photo, but I met several who selected pictures of themselves no longer very recognizable when compared to the reality.

Closely related: age, height and weight claims. "How old did you say you are?" I've told the man several times and it is in my profile. Why am I asked about this continually? Ah, because people pad or whittle these things by many years, inches or pounds. Almost always, I am told. I didn't understand that one, either. What if I flip open my wallet to pay the tip or the bill for coffee and expose my drivers license? What if I'm not good enough in math to adjust my entire life experience to an era 10 years later than my own? What if I just find it easier to tell my real age for simplicity and let him make an assessment of height and weight by looking at me and deciding whether the full package is worth pursuing or not?

The man was educated and brilliant (seemingly) in his field. I know when he went to lunch with a woman, his office called, paged and sent text messages constantly, he was so sorely missed. We engaged in e-mail, text and telephone conversations for quite some time before meeting for a bagel and coffee. We had to, you see, because he was going to have to get something out in the open before showing himself. Though I was not bragging to friends or dreaming about him, I thought this was an OK man. I was interested, not rabid. We discussed the headlines, politics, trade unionism and the ubiquitous "what brought you to Las Vegas?" I remain convinced each of us was truthful about previous marriages. After a month or so, he broke the news: "I am younger than you are." Hmm .  . what constitutes "younger"? I think I'm pretty moderate about that, feeling maybe a 5 year difference in either direction is rarely an issue and more than that should be discussed. I looked at his profile again. Yes, it was true. He didn't reveal his age there, as I had mine. I'd been juggling so many men, I had failed to check my assumptions. "OK, so how old are you?" I asked, pretty bravely. Yow. Significantly younger.

"OK, back to 5 squares negative of Square One: what are you doing? My profile divulges my age. What did you not get from your mother that you want from me?" We talked for another month or 6 weeks. He wasn't looking for money - he made more than I did, owned a nice home, had investments. This was not verified by me. I am repeating what he told me. He claimed no fantasies of parading me on the Strip in granny garb while he sported diapers. He made a strong case for simply being attracted to an older woman both because of appearance and common interests. To support this, he cited some musical favorites that actually fell between my own youth and his, but OK. He wasn't quoting current Top 40. We finally met several times for a meal and I learned some things about myself. I wasn't mortified to be seen "dating" him, though he was clearly quite a bit younger. I was really excellent about taking my turn at buying lunch or coffee. He did not take advantage of that. I began to relax and said I'd consider it when he asked me for a more serious date (as in after dark to a comedy club). He called before I could give my final answer. He was in a panic. He'd been called away to LA on business and he had a huge dilemma. Could I help him out? "Well, what's up? Do you need a ride to the airport?" No. No. His ex-wife, a drug- and gambling-addict who was camped out on his couch because he couldn't bring himself to throw her in the streets (this is not unusual in Las Vegas, either) was in the throes of her addictions and could not be relied upon to take care of Matthew in his absence. Though I'd never heard of Matthew, he was age 7 and his father had full custody. Would I be willing to take care of Matthew for "a few days"? I am sure the sound of my foot being pulled from the sucking mudhole was audible. I never learned whether Matthew was taken to LA and got to visit Disneyland, as I never heard from his father again. Some people look to their (figurative) mothers as problem solvers, caretakers. I probably disappointed, as I delivered a message filled with fiery "you might have mentioned" words.

Oh, I'm on a roll now and rather regret holding back for so long! Yes, I do realize there could be some old dudes out there who may think, speak or write about the goofiest woman they ever encountered and picture my face in so doing. That's OK! My point is not to take anything away from anyone. My point is that human beings are damned complicated, heavily layered things driven by stuff we may not even contemplate. When someone such as I, already feeling a bit challenged by these fascinating animals, is faced with stuff she does not immediately know how to handle . . things can get funny or sparky or mean or frightening. And I haven't even spoken yet of He Who Told Me What Was Wrong With Me (to whom I was never grateful), nor He Who Was Actually Kind of Scary in His Intensity, nor even He Who Would Have Been the One Worth Keeping for Awhile. Talk soon ~ I've got a date. Nah!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

May I Offer You Some Dates?

All right, I've avoided it long enough. The taboo material. Oldster dating. Odd, because I have much to say on the subject, and I don't usually hold back when something is on my mind. Perhaps I've been too self-protective because I know that in telling the anecdotes I will be mortified from time to time. However, when I slipped in one short sentence on the topic a few posts back, esteemed follower JF responded that it seemed we had some experiences in common. Then I was taking a walk with another woman friend and said the "d(ating)" word. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. Another good and decent woman of a similar age with some less-than-wonderful experiences. So let's talk about this. Disclaimer: no part of this post or future ones on the subject is meant to generally bash males. It is more to express my amazement and confusion at some human behavior. And, yes, sometimes even my own.

I am on record as having little understanding of other human beings and even less about males than females. My father, my husband of 32 years and the love of my life were much too close for me to make objective observations about the species. I know today that those 3 are pretty sterling examples of the breed. I was sheltered and fortunate for the men I knew well. I did not date from 1971 until 2007. I was rusty. Nor had I ever been the prom queen, so I was no serial dater, even in my teens. On my best day of life, which was many decades ago, I was likely a cutie and not a beauty. I was reasonably intelligent, dressed all right and was probably somewhat interesting. I could dance and I had all the newest records. I did OK. When Ex and I set up housekeeping together, I looked forward to a happy future, and was just a little relieved to be done with the dating thing.

To my surprise, in my maturity, I found myself uncoupled and I felt like a square peg. No, I didn't need anyone to help feed, clothe or house me. I simply wasn't sure what to do without a man hanging from me like a charm bracelet. I was in a female-dominated work situation and developed my plan after much consultation with women of all ages. After deciding all the safety measures I would exercise at all times, I went online. There were lots of men out there! All the websites said so. I made firm rules about always having my own car at hand, cash, credit cards and my cell phone. I would go on no date without telling someone where I was going and with whom. Bring someone back to the apartment? Not in the immediate future. Always park close to the doors under a light standard and don't be shy about telling someone, "I don't think this is going to work for me." Be both honest and truthful. Don't waste anyone's time. Talk to people just like I talked with business associates - this would just be a "getting to know you".  And do not cruise for a man on a free website. If both he and I had not paid a fee, I should not even consider him.  "OK, gotcha, roger and check. Thanks, ladies."

I know many more things now than I did then, about myself and others. I needed to spend some time alone, getting to know myself as I was "right now". Why was I looking for a date? What did I want or expect and what would I not tolerate? Did I have anything whatsoever to offer a companion, and what were the things that interested me?  What did I like to do and what would I like to learn about from someone else? Who knew? I didn't ask myself any of those things. I just blindly went looking for a date. It took no time to attract some e-mail attention. I am a quick learner. Men who seemed illiterate wouldn't be a match for me. Those who seemed to only check their e-mail once a week weren't operating at the same speed as I. Telling me in the first e-mail they were hopeful for a job and a car soon (hey, this is Las Vegas!) - delete. If "I make $150,000 a year!" was his hello, I thought, "I bet you don't, actually." Hey! I was a pretty quick study. This wasn't so difficult.

I was fortunate the first time I went out. He was a very kind, age appropriate, long-time recovering alcoholic. I'd ridden on the back of his fine motorcycle to the Fremont Street Experience. This was a completely different mode of transportation for me, and kind of fun, though I've never again sought it out ~ he'd thoughtfully provided both helmet and goggles. We stepped first into Hogs & Heifers Saloon where I was immediately knocked to the floor by a very large woman dancing like there was no tomorrow. Picking myself up and dusting myself off, I had to say, "I'm not really so comfortable in bars." My friend was OK with that. Walking outside, we came upon a Soul Food Festival and Street Fair. I stretched out of my comfort zone ~ the fried catfish was good. My friend insisted that I be photographed (twice) with the Chippendale's dancers on the street, which is also not at all what I do. But I did, with fairly good grace. I did not like this experience. I had to ask hotties how to pose. They told me. Hey - they pose with young and old women all day every day in little clothing and for a price. I wasn't anything new, special or different. They shave their backs. Apparently about once a week, judging by the prickly new growth. They autographed my picture frame. "Vegas, baby!" wrote Matt. In case I forgot where I lived, I suppose. He is the one with the offensive belt buckle and the Vegas tan. "Love Ricky," wrote the one whose zipper is down about an inch in the photo. He didn't have to spell as many words as Matt. I'd be the one who looks like a carousel horse mounted on the head of that silhouetted Chippendale's dancer. How did they get that so perfectly?  We rode on the motorcycle to the other side of the valley to hear live music. And finally, freezing on that bike at an hour I had forgotten existed, he yelled, "Want to come to my place?" I said no. "Can I come to yours?" I said no.

Returning to work on Monday morning, I was greeted by expectant faces and exhortations to "tell". I did so. Now the faces wore shocked looks. "How many of the rules did you break in one short evening? He could have boiled you into soup and eaten you!" I admitted to a few infractions of my own rules and adopted a hangdog look. I think the women felt I was behaving properly remorseful. I was. For not the reasons they imagined. You see, I was studying what I felt I should "do" with this man I now knew. He was pleasant and bright and he was interested in me, trying to present me with things to do that he thought I might enjoy. He'd called all weekend after our Friday night outing. I dodged the calls. For not only did I not know what to do with him, I wasn't sure I even wanted or needed anything to do with him. Although it took some thinking time, I was on the way to learning that I do not need or want a date or, necessarily, a man only for the purpose of filling time. For that, there are friends of longstanding and books and writing and camping and hiking and meditation and movies and music and walking and pets and shopping and any number of things. If I wanted a date for the specific purpose of developing a relationship with a man, then that was different. I didn't learn that until I was 55 years old and it would still take me awhile to land there firmly.

I've traveled a little. I've often tried to familiarize myself with some rudimentary phrases for communication in the native tongue so I'd feel more comfortable in a new environment. With the vast experience of one date tucked under my belt, I now felt qualified to analyze what should and should not happen for the dating future. I needed to speak the language more fluently, for sure. Absent a Berlitz course or Rosetta Stone, I decided I could use my own talents of observation and online research to develop dating eloquence and comprehension. Once again, I was a pretty quick study. It took me little time to understand that "This is not a recent picture" could mean the background music was K.C. and the Sunshine Band. "A few extra pounds" might mean 50-75 extra. I filed these away for future reference. The best early lesson, however, was the one that taught me not to lower my personal standards in the interest of "just going out". Oh, I knew better than to test this. I did it anyway, for I have a history of pushing the boundaries. "Considerate smoker," he wrote. "Don't do this, Les," thought I. I did it. The wind blew like hell and we were meeting at a coffee house. I thought maybe he'd forgo smoking for the short time it takes to meet, greet and down a cuppa Joe. But no. No. And that evening I learned that "considerate smoker" could be construed as a man who puffed like a locomotive, tucking his date against the stucco side of a building while the wind shrieked by at a sustained 25 mph. Almost as useful a discovery as "Donde esta el bano?"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Between the Covers

I'm reading a book I own for, I believe, the fourth time: Savage Beauty, The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford. It is an extremely well-researched and beautifully written record of the very complex and difficult alcoholic, bisexual, repeatedly aborted, first female to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. (Side note: Milford's biography of Zelda [Mrs. F. Scott] Fitzgerald is an equally wonderful read. One feels that Milford brings these women to life before our eyes.) So what, right? Well the quirks are these: when one recommends a writer to me, what I really want to know is about the writer, not necessarily what s/he wrote. And I am a sheepish poetry ignoramus due to failure of teachers to prod me and lack of sufficient interest to dig out poetry on my own until about the past year and I'm doing nicely, thank you. Oh, and I do not, do not, appreciate most of Millay's poetry. But I love reading her life story. Though much celebrated, she suffered many harsh cruelties and few of life's truly beautiful things. I wonder if, after earliest childhood, she ever had a moment free of worry except when she drank.

My friend loves poetry perhaps above anything else because she considers the beauty of the desert and of light through glass and of flowers purchased at the farmers' market poetry, not to mention what she finds in print. She sought out lyric in school and has a minor scandal in her past relating to her tremendous desire to own a particular volume of rhyme. We'd only known each other a short time and she'd been sending me favorite poems frequently. "What are your favorite poems?" she asked.  I had to confess I was ignorant and a little bit prickly about being ignorant and not, after all, starving for the relief that only verse can bring. I was doing OK without poetry. She persisted in sending me sonnets and quatrains and then began to assign me the task of interpreting certain of them. WTF? I'm not a schoolgirl. But my friend is an oldest child and I think her sister and brother probably jumped when she said "jump".

I reluctantly began to scratch the surface and learned that I did know Charles Bukowski's writings quite well and who wouldn't consider Bob Dylan a poet? I can recite volumes of his words. I have been fortunate to read and enjoy the offerings of unpublished everyman kinds of poets, so perhaps I wasn't quite as benighted as I feared. I actually like Emily Dickinson and Robert Service and I've happily read some Sara Teasdale after being exposed to her in the book about Vincent Millay. My friend and I got into a  discussion - perhaps a spirited debate - about Millay after I began the book this time and after she confessed she'd never finished reading her copy even once. I commented that I skipped right over her poems when they were printed in full in the body of my book. "What?" exclaimed Friend. I admitted I just didn't like Millay's poems for the most part. Friend immediately began to shoot me some of her favorite Millay pieces. "No," said I. "Don't care for it at all."  Friend couldn't understand me at all.

Our discussion rolled on and Friend e-mailed me Recuerdo (don't Google it, Reader, you're about to have it from the source). I wrote back that though I am the woman who likes Victoriana, I find Millay's language stiff and dated. I did, however, describe to my friend the spirit of the poem as I believed it to be, and the sun broke through the clouds. "Yes!" she cheered, "You've got it exactly." Well, yes, Friend - I'm not soulless or stupid. And I do understand that Renascence rocked the world 100 years ago and rocks the world now, expounding on beautiful, lofty concepts, but I don't care for the words presented to relate the concepts. My friend commented that she likes old-fashioned language and does not care for today's overused hip, slick and cool talk. I agreed that I like good, descriptive language that people from many generations would understand ("rock the world", notwithstanding), but I'm unlikely to say that I am "merry" about anything. We congratulated one another for making a good case for our respective beliefs and I imagine she grinned as widely as I did.

The next morning I dawdled at the computer nursing coffee more slowly than usual. My friend is a night owl and often drops e-mails late at night to greet me on my virtual breakfast tray. I wanted to send her something, and on a hunch I Googled. Oh, yeah!  There it was! YouTube, of course. Millay reciting her own Recuerdo. I played it for myself and nearly toppled over. I'd been reading about Vincent's beautiful voice and speech patterns. I'm not sure who highjacked her and gave this reading, but it was a mean, mean trick. Had I paid a quarter or half-dollar in 1940s money to attend a reading, I'd have demanded my money back, I'm afraid. I just sent it to my friend without comment and said "Let me know what you think."  Even my poetry loving cohort had to admit the rendering has lost something across the decades. We shared a laugh and she quickly sent me another poem. Edna St. Vincent Millay was from Maine. I know Maine. My father lives in Maine. I have never heard another human being speak in Millay's manner. Not from Maine or anywhere else. I still absolutely love her story.

Something that charmed me:  I have found one of Millay's works I like, read beautifully by a man who sounds like perhaps he is from Maine. Have I mentioned I love learning new things?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Learn From Yesterday

I'm dreamy-like. Kind of moony. In my head a lot. I am focused more on the past, both good and bad, than present. Perhaps this is because I've been actively working on "what's next" in my life. Having the past to retreat to is soft and gentle, or at least familiar, when I need that. I don't feel completely capable of moving myself along.

Apropos of absolutely nothing:
"You aren't very demanding. You don't ask for much."
She didn't reveal she'd given that up in vain long ago.

Last night we went out for Chinese food, a treat because I've had no one with which to share that particular cuisine in awhile. It was good food and I loaded up my plate like a greedy pig. I can only plead, "Yeah, but this will feed me four meals for the cost of one moderately priced dinner." We sat as far as possible across the restaurant from the family with the, ummm . . . , energetic young children, none of whom will have to worry about being heard if they ever have to holler for help in an emergency. As we sat dining, I got rather dreamy, viewing snippets from a past life, and I'm not sure what triggered that. The tastes?  The smells? What, doesn't everyone go into a reverie with the fragrance of Beijing Beef?

Amber was 2 1/2 that summer. We'd learned in the previous February that Ex had ruined himself with drink. He wasn't expected to live until Christmas. He lived, dying, for 18 more years.  There weren't very many pleasant moments during that time for him. I had the job that defied every description - time commitment, stress, pay, health benefits, travel, fulfillment of every sort. Now I was afraid to go to that job. What if Ex fell ill while driving Amber to daycare or passed out while taking care of her at home?  I sometimes left at 5:00 a.m. and didn't get home until midnight. Who would know if they were in trouble?

The finest case of employee representation I ever delivered was spent in getting Ex removed from his job as a union organizer. Oh, I wasn't fighting cruel monsters, even though labor unions can be notoriously evil employers. No, I was still going to work there, and we were valued. They weren't out to cut him off at the knees. When he became so ill he couldn't walk to the car any more, I basically had to quit for him. He couldn't throw in the towel himself, verbally. He was 90 days from being vested in his pension.  The union kept him on the books for 91 days, paying him all salary and benefits, giving us time to apply for state and social security disability. And get him to doctors for tests and medication and heart monitors. He was 38 years old.

I'd always been convinced Ex would ruin us by killing someone in a drunk driving incident or in a round of fisticuffs over the pool table at the bar or that he'd cripple himself and I'd be required to push him around in a wheelchair. Because I'd given up hoping for a child in our lives, I'd never contemplated him getting ill and leaving me alone with that child. In all of my life, through everything, I have never before or since been as sad and frightened as I was that summer. Amber deserved to have 2 parents. I was not capable of taking proper care of her, giving her a good life, taking care of Ex and being the breadwinner. I had other burdens, as well, not yet written about for publication, but soon to come. I began therapy, Ex took his medications, both of us deeply depressed.

Surprise! This post is not going to go down the path of what a great savior I was. I "god-damned" Ex so many times each day, he may have thought that was his name. I was terrified and hugely angry at him. "I told you Budweiser was going to take us down."  "And now we have this beautiful baby who needs every good thing we can give her and I don't have everything it takes to give her by myself." It didn't take me long to lose a little of my edge on the job. I had an enormous early mobile phone that rarely had signal and I listened with one ear constantly for it to ring with the bad news. I was as harsh and unkind as a person can be toward another person. He mostly was not harsh or unkind. It took him 7 years to learn to do something with his time and little stores of energy.  For that first 7, he sat a lot. Watched TV. Visited doctors. Once he got up from the recliner, he was fairly admirable for awhile, taking our little dogs to visit shut-ins, volunteering for sedentary activities.

That summer I allowed something to happen many times over that shames me still. I allowed Amber to get a little bit lost in the shuffle. I hope to god I never said, "Leave Mommy alone." I don't believe I did. But when she fell in love with The Jungle Book video, I just let her go with it. Though she'd never been one to sit for hours in front of the TV, now she did, Mowgli and Baloo and Bagheera and Kaa playing over and over again. She'd nap and snack and call me over to see the best parts, which I tried to do with great cheer. No, she didn't miss bathing or meals. I just couldn't push hard enough to get myself and her up from the damned Jungle Book. It is painful and one of my lowest sins, to have diverted my attention from her or to have allowed Disney to care for her for great blocks of time.

I turned 40 that August. After Labor Day, I bought winter clothes for all of us and my work schedule picked back up because school had started and all my union members were back at work. Ex had fallen into a slow, quiet, predictable daily schedule and wasn't exhibiting any signs of imminent death. It wasn't too soon to start shopping for Christmas gifts. One day, I snapped off The Jungle Book and Little Black Eyes looked at me. "No more, Mommy?"  "Uh-uh. Let's go find something to do.  Maybe Daddy would like to take a ride with us."

So why is this gray little slice of life popping up now? Because I am undertaking change again. I do not care for change, even good change. I do not feel strong or capable in many ways. I think I am reviewing times when I had to take difficult steps, about which I did not feel secure. Oh, in a life as long as mine, there are plenty of face-plant episodes, but there are some glowing successes, too. The little child was not ruined by her summer of The Jungle Book. It gave me time to regroup and devise a new "normal". And then I went on.

We went to a different library branch, larger and farther away. I've pretty much read my local branch dry, at least the books that interest me. I don't love the Library of Congress Cataloging System, mostly because each branch puts up a poster describing it, but one can't find the books in the right places from one location to the next. Finally, I hit a treasure trove, spinning me from a Virginia Woolf study on the effect of her sexual abuse on her writing, to a Tennessee Williams bio, a Violet Trefusis study and Nigel Nicolson's autobiography "Long Life". Not sleeping more than an hour or two, I am holed up with books, dreaming and doing little else. My version of The Jungle Book for just a little while so I can think things through.