Categories
Personal Essays

Father’s Day is Over

imagesIt’s over. Thank God. It’s the second Father’s Day without my dad, but this one was awful. Not that I spent many Father’s Days with my dad, or even sent a gift. It was a phone call holiday and often rushed. But with everyone posting this and that about their fabulous fathers, I felt lost.

So here it is. A day late, and for sure a dollar short, because I never said anything kind to him about his efforts. Dad, if you are reading, pay special attention to this one.

My dad sang Mack the Knife. But only when I was little. I’m not sure when he stopped singing it, but he would snap his fingers, tap his cool toe, and sing it. I have no idea if it was off key or not, but judging from my own sense of musical self, it most likely was off key. He seemed so sure of it when he sang it and he had a big smile on his face.

Flash forward to the sixth grade ballroom dancing class Father Daughter night. We went and he was a nervous wreck. A wreck I tell you. I realize only now that he cared very deeply about dancing with me so he wouldn’t embarrass me. Oh alright, if we are honest here, it was probably more about embarrassing himself, but he’s gone so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. He was nervous and made silly jokes that irritated me. He did the same thing walking me down the aisle. I told him to shut up.

And, so it goes. A memory re-written with new insight that intention matters. My dad, through all his difficulties with nurturing, had the best of intentions around everything he did for us.

Missing you dad. Love, C.

 

Categories
Personal Essays Religion

Looking for God in All the Wrong Places

imagesI am not a God Girl by nature. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I have turned to God when planes are bouncing in the air — air that has no business carrying them — and as many others do, I have that conversation in my mind about what I am willing to do if God just gets me to the ground safely. So far, he’s kept his end of the bargain. And me? I have not.

Three years ago a friend and I were at a Barnes and Noble next to a movie theater on New Year’s Day, and we decided to each buy a Bible, with a handshake agreement to read it cover to cover over the coming year. Her husband, who only begrudgingly puts up with the two of us and our unfulfilled promises — which have included reducing our candy intake, committing to exercise regimens, expanding our intellectual horizons, and now spiritual growth — looked on in disgust. He bet us $1,000 it wouldn’t happen. Three years later, we are doubled or nothing up to $4,000.

It’s not all my fault that I haven’t finished it. It’s a terribly written book, filled with violence and cruelty, and it repeats the same stories over and over again, like one of those friends who repeats their version of the past over and over again, perhaps hoping it will make better sense the more it is told.

And The Bible is so negative. It tells us endlessly what we shouldn’t do, but everyone knows you get better results if you tell people what they should do. Seriously, this is why Oprah is always bringing experts on her show to explain the importance of positive energy. The Bible doesn’t really do that. It has great distribution channels, however, and that is how I believe it has lasted this long and stayed on the top of the best-seller list year after year, century after century. No other book has that kind of reach, and more power to the churches is all I have to say about that.

Just so you know that I’m not just an ecclesiastical idiot, I do have Bible passages that I love. Like, “To Every Time There is a Season (Ecclesiastes 3:2),” which I used to think had been written by the Byrds, who sang the Turn, Turn, Turn lyrics as if they had written them. They didn’t even give the Bible credit on the album cover. I looked. Really not okay. And the words are game-changing. It’s worth reading The Bible for that alone, or listening to the recording.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

And then there is the part about mustard seeds. (Matthew: 17 – 24) Who isn’t taken in by a teeny, tiny mustard seed, and the hope that it could be the beginning of whatever you want it to be?

So before you send me to the devil, recognize that I did find things in The Bible that meant something to me. But as a book, as a read-through, it just doesn’t have what I need. It’s too very sad.

We didn’t really go to church growing up. We had moved sixteen times by the time I was fifteen, so even when my poor mother got it together to get us to church, my business-driven father was off on the golf course or sleeping in. When I was finally confirmed in the sixth grade, the minister asked me what I thought was the most important book in the world. I straightened up, looked him in the eye, and said, “I know you want me to say The Bible, but when I told my dad this morning that it was the most important book, he said you were mistaken. He said the most important book is the checkbook. I’m going with my dad. I hope that doesn’t mean I can’t eat the thin bread thingy. I am really looking forward to that.” Let’s all agree that didn’t work out so well and move on with my story.

My mom died two years ago, and everything changed. I needed to find the answer for myself. I needed to figure it out. I knew there had to be something bigger out there. So I joined a church. Yep, a really old church on Cape Cod that my ancestors helped build and whose physical simplicity and beauty were just what I needed to quiet my soul in those tough days following her death. I went on Sundays, tried to participate in events, and contributed money and service. But the people there were sort of mean. Not all of them, but enough of them that I realized that Maya Angelou would tell me to hightail it outta there and find some people who raised me to my highest self. There is no point in going over the things those people said and did; suffice to say that if you heard them you would not question for one moment my desire to move on.

There was no where else to go. So I went inside myself. I challenged myself to find my own God. I stopped looking outside and went inside, where talking to myself is something I do without noticing. And that’s when I stopped dead in my tracks.

God is that voice inside me; that voice that sometimes screams to be heard when I would prefer to look away—and too often do just that. God is that innate sense of right and wrong that I know to be true, not because the father who worshipped the checkbook taught it to me, but because it is just so.

God is the unexplained part of me that rises above that other part of me that often prefers the easier road. That road is well traveled, but it doesn’t lead to the better future that is my quest. My hope. My belief.

God is the voice inside that sings when I do something for another and feel just plain “right,” not because of the accolades but because it just is.

And God is the grateful part of me that says I am happy to be me and not anyone else in the world.

There is optimism in me. Not a deserved optimism — there is so much of me that is not what I wish it to be — but an optimism based on hope that change can occur. It’s an optimism that just is. It stands on no solid footing. It has no real right to be there. But it’s there because God’s inside me and says it is so.

So you see, God is me. I am God. The inside of me — that unique me, unlike any other person in the universe — has to be God. How else would it all be possible? It has to be something larger than the cells that make up my body. It has to be more complex than I can explain.

So I listen to no woman’s or man’s explanation of God and what he or she wants for me. Instead, I listen to the God inside me, what I want for myself, what I believe is possible. And God’s voice is a voice that knows me better than I know myself. And oh, what a song is sung for only me to hear. It is based on the voices of those who have gone before me. It is based on setting myself apart, and living with the results of what I do. It’s based on celebrating how fabulous I actually am. It’s based on being better today than yesterday and not as good as tomorrow.

So, I can stop looking under my bed or in buildings with stunning tall steeples. I can stop looking in a book that is worth a read, but only to lend historical context to a man who lived and died telling the world that he was the son of God. Son of God—not so different from being God, really.

Categories
Health Personal Essays Science

My New Hip Henry

imagesI got a new hip.

It’s my left hip. I have named him Henry because he’s not really part of me and needs to have his own name. I’m not sure why he’s a guy when I am a girl, but it was the first name that came to me, and that’s the end of that. He’s Henry. No one can accuse me of being Lean In sensitive. I’m gender neutral as are all fake hips.

I still can’t get over the fact that I have a new hip. I wonder what they did with my old hip? I forgot to ask. I’m sure they tossed it away without the proper burial that it deserved. Let’s just take a moment to reflect on all that left hip did for me over the years, and to say goodbye. To say nothing of the possibility of a hip fairy who might leave me some money if I’d put it under my pillow.

I love to drive. Love to drive. I drive and drive and drive. I’ve driven cross-country by myself three times. I put the groovy tunes on and sing away. Or I listen to a book on tape, which is no longer accurate because they are on CDs or iPhones, not tape anymore—like my hip, tapes were just shoved out of our lives without a second thought. Anyway, I always drove with my left foot on the dashboard. Yes, I know, I know, but it stretched my leg, and I liked it. My hip did not like it, but it never complained. Not until the last three years, when I could no longer lift it up on the dashboard.

I rode horses for the better part of twenty years. I put that left foot in the stirrup each and every time I mounted, and that hip lifted the rest of me up and over. Then I jumped things and landed bam bam bam on that left hip. But it never complained. Not until the last few years, when I stopped riding because of the pain.

I played tennis. A lot of tennis. Women’s tennis, men’s tennis, and singles. Lots of singles. I was a strong player and well trained, so people wanted my Chrissie Evert kind of play on the court, and I gave it to them. I’m not really sure I liked playing tennis. To be honest, I can’t remember. But I’m right-handed, and my serve had me landing on that left hip and again and again, pivoting on it and laterally stretching it for a shot on the way to the net. Okay, that last part is a lie. I hated going to the net and rarely went. I was a baseline player. And my fabulous left hip never complained. Not once.

When the doctor looked at my x-rays six months ago, he looked around the room and asked if I were using a wheelchair.

“Why would I be using a wheelchair?”

“Because this is bone on bone in a way I rarely see. You must have a high threshold for pain.”

“Not really,” I replied. I thought for a minute and then said, “To be honest, my body and I don’t chat much. We aren’t really all that close, so if something hurts, I don’t really notice.”

He looked sideways at me, and I smiled to show him I wasn’t someone who had to get a psych consult (I love Grey’s Anatomy, don’t you?) before having the surgery. He moved on and so did I.

My friend Paula went with me to the surgery. I was very calm on the way over that morning. She said she knew I was nervous because I was making jokes in the prep area, but really I was doing that because that’s just who I am. I think I’m very funny.

So it’s been six weeks, and I’m no longer limping painfully. Titanium Henry is well ensconced in my hip, with my muscles growing back around it like the un-tended shrubbery around my house. Wow. It really is something, isn’t it?

I was reading a Facebook posting by a friend who was making bone marrow for dinner. I should make that for my hip, I thought, and then realized that the old hip could have used some marrow perhaps. But Henry here is titanium, and who knows what to feed titanium? Oil? Olive oil? Actually, I don’t really know if Henry is titanium but it’s the lightest of the metals, so I’m assuming that’s what they load into women who care about what things weigh.

Henry and I have been together six weeks, and our marriage has had no arguments to date. That’s a good thing right? When he’s a pain, I figure he’s entitled. We are doing fine.

And I guess that’s that. But I wanted to say goodbye to my left hip. This is an Ode to My Old Hip, which wins my personal Academy Award for a lifetime of achievements. Thank you old friend, old part of me.

Categories
Art Books Personal Essays Relationships

It’s Norman’s Fault.

imgres-2I have been pondering who is to blame for the misconception of the “normal” American Family that we all struggle to overcome when our own families don’t quite measure up. Okay, forget the “don’t quite measure up.” Let’s call a spade a spade: Our families look nothing like the Leave it to Beaver, or even Modern Family models that we all love to turn on each week. There is no sign of the real sadness, anger, and stress of being part of an American family, and this makes us feel isolated in our inability to get it right. And, then there is the environment they live in lacking in the unmade beds or dishes in the sink that beg to be found out if anyone were to drop by your house on a given day. Maybe that’s why no one drops by anymore. And please do not get me started about the way Facebook enables us to re-write our daily lives into smiling faces and fabulous news that hide the real ebb and flow emotions of our own reality.

Anyway, I’ve figured it out. It’s Norman’s fault. Yep, Norman Rockwell, who happens to have the same birthday as me. He set up this ridiculous measuring stick that has no basis in reality. His artistic masterpiece covers for The Saturday Evening Post of happy, happy, happy Thanksgiving dinners and American life portraits were clearly set nowhere near my family’s Thanksgiving dinners, to which I was assigned to bring cranberry sauce in a can because no one liked me. Or Christmas when I was little, when my mother once gave me of a picture of myself as a gift. I immediately realized it was a photo of my sister, not me, which confirmed that no one ever took pictures of me when I was little because I wasn’t cute. (I’m cuter now. Actually, I was cuter in my twenties and thirties than I am now, but who wasn’t?) Anyway, the point is that Norman set us up to believe that someone, somewhere in America, was living the way his 322 Saturday Evening Review covers depicted, and he knew he was lying.

Norman was married three times and suffered from depression throughout most of his adult life. His repressed sexuality (he painted lots of men and boys), fear of women, and a fascination with manhood seem to stand out as his personal struggle, according to his biographer, Deborah Soloman, who worked on his biography, American Mirror: The Life of Norman Rockwell, for ten years. Of his 322 covers, only three depict a traditional family of parents and children. Who knew?

Soloman’s look at Rockwell has drawn a lot of criticism from those who prefer to let his paintings’ depiction of life be seen as his life’s reality, which was clearly not the case. His life was filled with the dark side that never saw the light of day in his paintings. His shrink, for example, spoke of suicidal moments and repressed everything. One of this models jumped out a window after he dropped him with nary a word, as was the painter’s habit. When Deborah Soloman spoke in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “You’ve taken all the optimism out of Rockwell’s work.” Well, girlfriend, wake up and smell the paint brush. His work wasn’t portraits after all, but rather something I’m going to dub American Surrealism Under the Guise of Portraits. It sets everyone up for failure by encouraging them to reach for something that doesn’t exist. It’s like You’ve Got Mail, or Pretty Woman, two movies that depict love in such an unrealistic way that many women never find men who measure up. More American Surrealism. Hey, I’m just the messenger. And, I’m a reluctant messenger. I love Rockwell’s work and Pretty Woman and You’ve Got Mail are two films I watch at least once a year.

So, don’t get me wrong here. I write this not to complain about any lack of fabulousness in life; I love my life, past, present, and hopefully my future. But it’s important to recognize that there are ups and downs and imperfections and shades of gray in everything, and to accept this and realize that no one’s life is perfect makes those parts of our daily life so much easier to bear. If Norman had painted the kid getting his first haircut crying, instead of with that silly look of happy surprise, he might have given us a better mirror of our own lives. Couldn’t one face in the Thanksgiving Feast have been sullen? Just one out of the eleven in the picture? Come on, give a girl a break here. Make me feel at home.

So Norman, I forgive you. And after reading about your life a bit, I will say that it must have been hard to be held to a standard you knew didn’t exist, but which you somehow must have thought could exist. Or should exist. Maybe if you had tried just a little bit harder, it would have existed.

Categories
Personal Essays Theater

My Ballet Recital

imagesWe all have them, those stories from our childhood that are laugh-out-loud funny today, but at the time were like Greek tragedies that we thought would destroy our selves forever. I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and I started to tell her how much I admired her grace in getting out of things. How she could quietly resign from a women’s group of which we were both members. We both wanted to get out of this group, but she just faded and disappeared while I went out like a bull in a china shop, leaving repercussions that I’m still experiencing. Then it hit me.

“This is so like my ballet recital when I was five.”

“What?”

“Well, there I was planted on the stage all curled up ready to unfold as the flower I was always meant to be. I was supposed to stay in first position and rise up with my arms unfolding gracefully as the bumblebees danced around the stage and the trees swayed to the music. Unfortunately, as I rose in my glory, I inadvertently nudged the passing bumblebee who stumbled into the swaying tree, who started crying, at which point the bumblebee pointed at me and yelled that it was all my fault — even though I had stayed planted in that first position, stoically taking the charge as if I were one of the Los Angeles Lakers’ defensive guards. I swear my feet never moved. Do you believe me?”

She nodded, fully aware that I still needed to have my traumatic experience validated fifty-five years later.

“Well, everything unraveled and the long and short of it was that my teacher told my parents — with me standing right there, mind you — that she thought I should move from ballet to tap, where my natural tendency toward passionate movement would serve me better. Tap? You can’t be serious? Who wanted to do tap? That was the end of my ballet career, but do not think for one moment that it hasn’t been with me every day since. Don’t think that I don’t plunge when others float into a room. When I walked down the aisle on my dad’s arm, may he rest in peace, don’t think that I wasn’t that flower struggling to make sure I didn’t trip on my dress, which was not even floor length lest I be distracted. And may I also say, now that we are talking about it, the tree hated me from the get-go and cried to get me in trouble. I’m sure of it. Whatever.”

She then told me her story.

She was in a dance class, and her number was a Mexican dance that was to take place around a piñata. They practiced the dance, which ended with them breaking open the piñata and continuing to dance around it after its contents had fallen to the floor. But they practiced without the candy in it, and so when they actually broke it open during the performance (in front of probably thousands of people), instead of continuing to dance around the candy on the ground, she immediately stopped and started to gather candy (perhaps the word scramble might better describe her action, but I want to be supportive here, since she was very kind about my trauma), and the dance number ceased to be what it was supposed to be and became a free-for-all as all the kids scrambled to get their share of the candy. When the teacher talked to her about it, she earnestly explained that it made no sense to continue dancing around after the candy was on the ground; no self-respecting Mexican child would do that. But the teacher just didn’t get it. I got it, though. It made perfect sense to me.

I felt as though sharing my story had purged the pain of the past, and I hope my friend felt the same way. I do not believe her story was quite as painful as mine because she wasn’t thrown out of the class afterward, but I think it’s best not to compare yourself to your friends. Nothing good comes of it. We must share our experiences, learn from them, and remember that the rearview mirror is smaller than the windshield for a reason. Look forward, Christine. I may even take a ballet class next winter after my hip replacement. You never know.

Categories
Personal Essays Relationships

It’s My Party.

22DINELI2_SPAN-articleLargeDid I ever mention I had a party once and no one came?

H2 (Husband #2) and I had a lovely home on the beach in the Hamptons. He still has the home, but trust me, it really always belonged to him. We decided to have a beach party with lobsters, a steel band, and various other costly things to entertain one hundred plus of our nearest and dearest friends. It was going to become an annual event.

So on the night of the party, it’s 6:30 p.m., balloons are at the end of the driveway, and valet and security are ready to keep everyone safe. H2 and I are on the beach looking casual fab (I was trophy-wife cute back then). The steel band is ready to start a calypso something or other, the bars are open, the bartenders are at their posts, and one hundred plus lobsters are ready to give their lives in the name of wowing our friends. Ready, set … nope.

We waited until around 7:00, and then H2 said, “Did you do something to piss off every person we know?” I actually thought for a minute before answering, which is one of my issues that needs work. “Surely you jest.”

I turned on my heel and went into the house to call my good friend, Susan.

“Hey,” said Susan.

“Hey yourself. Why are you still home? You were supposed to be here at 6:30 for the lobster bake on the beach.”

“And I will be there … next week, which is when I was invited to attend.”

Susan hung up without another word, knowing that I was going to want to plan my conversation with H2 carefully. Also, you should know, Susan was never known for her empathy.

H2 was actually really nice about it, even after we realized that we would have to pay twice for one party. As they say in the year 2000, shit happens. I felt like an ass, and I was happy that the secret of my ridiculous mistake was confined to our household, Susan (who probably never had another thought about it), and my sister and her POSSLQ (IRS term for Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters), who never opened the invitation and were called during the day to remind them to come.

The four of us sat on the beach as the fog came in and listened to the band and ate lobsters while discussing where we could send them so they did not die in vain. We laughed a lot, and the next week’s weather was even better than the week before, and all was well in the kingdom on the beach.

I bring it up because a client of mine is doing an open house party thing, and he is a mess. I told him that story to ease his nerves, and judging by his silence at the end of my story, I think he thinks he needs to look for a marketing person who is better with details. No matter. The point is that the best-laid plans are not always well laid, and you can make yourself nuts or go with the flow. More and more, I’m a go with the flow person.

Categories
Fashion Personal Essays Products

Me and My Lipstick

imagesI want to be that woman who cares as much about a lipstick’s name as its color. I do. Ok, truth be told, I want to be that woman who actually cares about her lipstick and doesn’t have the same one for a year because she rarely puts it on.

I recently attended a writing workshop, and the person leading asked everyone a question or two. And it wasn’t a small group either, so I admire her desire to know her audience. The woman next to me was wearing lipstick — red lipstick.

“What lipstick are you wearing? I love the color.”

“I’m wearing … ”

And they were off to the lipstick races. Naming colors and makers of lipstick as if they were reciting a memorized Emily Dickinson poem. Reverence. Rembrance. Historically significant.

I sat stunned. I have at any given moment maybe three or four lipsticks. I have no idea about the names of any of them. The only lipstick name I know is Fire and Ice, which I wore in the seventh grade because it was the only lipstick the Seventh Grade Mean Girls Police would allow any of us to wear, so the name is engraved in the fear section of my brain, which is never far away from my present self.

I peeked into my bag and looked at the name of my lipstick. Oh, I forgot to mention that they also knew who made it. I read Bobby Brown Ruby Sugar Lip Gloss.

Bobbi Brown Ruby Sugar Lip Gloss.

Everything that had been hazy became clear.

No one who is me should buy Ruby Sugar Lip Gloss. First of all, sugar is poison, a vice I struggle with every day. Putting it on my lips? What the f— was I thinking? And it’s just another in a series of details that I need to address in my life. Like going through my closet and throwing out every single thing that doesn’t make me feel really good when I’m wearing it. Every single thing.

Second and perhaps more importantly, I need to be a Chanel girl, not a Bobby Brown girl. I’m sixty-one years old for God’s sake. Do I wear miniskirts? But Bobbi Brown is right near the door of Bergdorf, and it’s the first counter I see when I shop there, so it made perfect sense when I bought it.

The details, girlfriends. God is in the lipstick details, I tell you. And if we paid closer attention to those details, instead of spreading ourselves thin, we would be stronger women with a better sense of our lipstick selves.

So I went to do the homework. I Googled “Chanel Lipsticks.” I found Aqualumiere. Yes, it’s true that Aqualumiere isn’t an actual word, but let’s face it — that might perfectly reflect the true me. I’m not sure who, what, or where I am either, so we may be simpatico, Aqualmiere and I.

Then I found a site that actually reviews all things lipstick, and it had some very interesting things to say. Some of Chanel’s lipsticks, for example, are limited editions. Limited editions? Like art? And they really describe the lipsticks. I mean really. For example: “Eau de Rose has a sheer, pink-tinged base with cool-toned, icy, iridescent pink shimmer.” Sheer. Cool-toned. Icy. And so you are described. You and your lipstick.

I am heading to the store today to find my new self. My lipstick for the decade. I vow to spend at least one hour there determining what my new signature self will be. The next time you see me and you ask how I am, I may reply, “I’m sheer and icy wearing my Eau de Rose. Thanks for asking.”

Categories
Personal Essays Politics

Jury Duty. Oh Happy Day!

1484720_10152025296327605_2068610248_nOh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness! I’m sixty years old, I have voted in every election since I was eighteen (although Nixon was a real disappointment, if I’m honest about it), and I have yearned — yearned I tell you — to serve on a jury. But I have never been called. Nope, not once. I’ve really felt it was personal for the last twenty-something years. And then, yesterday, like the arrival of the Omaha Sweepstakes (come on, in this year that is going to be my year), I got my first Summons for Juror Service. I even love the title. I have been “summoned” by my beloved country to “serve” as a possible juror on an actual court case. Oh, happy day!

My desire to serve started in college, with the Patty Hearst trial. I wanted to move to California and offer my services. I knew she was not guilty, and I felt I could be very helpful. Since then there has not been a major case of public interest that has not made me want to be a juror. It’s come up many times, when friends have complained about being called. I’ve offered to dye my hair and take their place. I’ve pointed out that the country doesn’t demand much of our time if you think about it, and since we do have the finest judicial system in the world, it’s the least we can do right? They look at me in that disdainful way you look at someone who tries to tell you something is going to be fine, when you know it’s going to be awful and you know they have never had to deal with it. You know the type. I am not that type, I swear. I am not a Pollyanna.

Think about it. Where else do you have to judge someone else? Not turn the other cheek? We all walk around quoting that ridiculous “Judge not, lest ye be judged” philosophy, which is good advice, but goes against our bitchy inner selves, which often need to vent. On top of that, the idea that I could also run in a popularity contest with strangers to be the foreman (Is it foreperson now? I so want to be politically correct when I speak of my work as a juror) of the fabulous jury I will be on is almost more than I can take. Happy dance, for sure!

I came home after getting the summons, filled out the card, and then immediately went back to the post office to mail it, just in case they changed their minds or there was a fire at my house. I am confident that I can lose weight before April 2nd. (If it had said April 1st I would have known it was one of my nasty BFFs playing a joke on me, but it was the 2nd. Phew.) I will buy a new black suit to ensure that I don’t appear frivolous to those deciding which case will be mine. I will carry my orange briefcase (orange is the new black, you know), and I will bring a note pad with my initials on it. And my Swarovski pencils, which look way cool when you are writing with them. It’s a plan.

I even have a badge number of my very own — 038551864. Hi, it’s me, Christine, 038551864. Oh, happy day.

But then I realized there are issues. I woke up at 1:00 a.m. in a panic. I realized that being called to jury duty is really just an invitation to try out to be on a jury. Gads. I’m in marketing and my fabulous cousin Gary pointed out at last dinner that I can strategize how to get on the jury, and I should be able to do it. He also said he thinks I’d be great on a jury because I always cut to the chase. I think I’ll take it as a compliment.

So I’m a little stressed about it. I do so want to be chosen. I know that jumping up and down in front of the lawyers as they are doing their choosing and shouting, “Pick me. Choose me. Love me!” might not serve me well. I will have to put a lid on it for sure. So, it’s a primary election for me to get on the jury and then a general election to get picked as the foreperson. I’m thinking when we sit as a jury and say we have to pick a foreperson, I will pull out some baked goods or other, and then I’m in. Right? I have much to go to get ready. Guess that’s why they give you four months notice. Put out good thoughts on April 2nd. Will let you know how it all goes.

Categories
Business Parenting Personal Essays Relationships

Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School. Oh my!

imgresI had lunch the other day with a friend of mine. Talk turned to fathers, and how similar our two fathers were. Her father was a worker and a golfer like mine. Work and golf and show up now and then to be a larger than life presence in the lives of their kids. Mine was a tough taskmaster whom I didn’t appreciate until long after he no longer had any influence on me. We both acknowledged the enormous influence of those men in our lives.

I told her that when I arrived back in New York City, fresh from the University of Nebraska hinterlands, my dad summoned me to his New York apartment, where he would hold court once every month or so when he had business in the city. He flew in like the Shah on his lear jet, and I still remember pushing the button to the floor of his apartment on the upper east side with a feeling of anxious hope that we would feel good after the visit was over. Both of us. I was still on the Parent Payroll, which in fairness to him I didn’t treat with much respect or regard. It just was. On this particular day, he informed me that he wanted me to enroll in Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School. I was shocked.

“Why, Dad, would I do that? I have no intention of being a secretary.” To be honest, I didn’t have much of an intention to be anything at all. Ah, to live those years over again. Seriously. It’s one of my largest regrets. Not searching for anything other than a man.

Dad replied, “Because, Christine, no matter what happens in life, you can always get a job as a secretary.”

“Well that may be Dad, but I’m not going.” I was so insulted. Insulted I tell you.

“If you do not go, then I will cut you off.”

“Frankly Dad,” I said with great bravado, having just finished Gone with the Wind, “I don’t give a damn.” I stood up with every ounce of unearned dignity that I could muster, and I walked out.

I was never on his payroll again. I also immediately found a job answering phones at Marymount Manhattan College. “Marymount Manhattan College, how may I direct your call?” That lasted a few days, until I simply took off the headphones and walked away from the switchboard, leaving an “I can’t do this job, but thank you” behind as I shut the door on my way out. I ended up at a financial management company, where my “clients” included Don Imus, who was in forced financial management for not paying taxes and used to yell at me on the air because the management firm wouldn’t give him all his money to spend on photography equipment, women, and drugs. Until the taxes were paid, he was on an allowance.

But I digress. The point is that I can say I have done all right for myself, and while I do not have a Katherine Gibbs certificate, I think I gained my independence, and a dose of reality that probably saved me from never really trying to earn my own way.

“Oh my God,” my friend said, after I had finished telling the story of my dad’s ultimatum. “My dad enrolled me in Katy Gibbs too!” (I guess if you’ve graduated from there you call it “Katy.”) But the difference between us is that she went. And she contends she is the better for it, having learned how to manage paperwork in a way her more artistic peers cannot do. I believe her. Six months at Katherine Gibbs would have changed my life, I’m sure. It would have put me on a different road, to somewhere else. Interesting to say the least.

And what do we have to offer our kids to guarantee them job skills now? There are more college graduates without jobs now than ever before in history. I recently went to look for the Katherine Gibbs School in New York City, and it’s closed. Doors shut. Like so many doors to the middle class, these days, there is no pathway to the doorway; just an infinite number of changing social media and Internet platforms with which to navigate to one dream or another.

I’m not sure what the point is for this blog entry. Roads less travelled? Safety nets for a secure future? Independence? Dependence? I just wanted to say that I understand now why my dad wanted me to have that in my tool box. My daughter’s tool box is ever so full of things that she can call out when she needs them as she travels the road to her future. More than me. It makes me feel good. And, so it goes.

 

Categories
Personal Essays

They Tore Down My High School

imgresThey tore my high school down a few weeks ago. Our Senior Class President posted the news on Facebook. To be honest, when he posted it, I didn’t even click on the pictures he uploaded of it happening. I have not set foot in that school since the night of graduation in June of 1971. I went on to the University of Nebraska, and we moved away from the area, never to return.

So, it’s a few weeks later now, and the school has been in my thoughts numerous times since the post. In the middle of the night, in the morning, and once during the day, when a song from the seventies came on the car radio.

“Strange,” thought I to myself. “Why would I care?”

The physical high school building was one of the cornerstones of my growth. I spent more of my waking hours in that school those three fabulous and awful years than I did at home, or anywhere since. In many ways it made who I am today. High school is a time on an assembly line of experiences and exposures that help determine the directions we take toward our futures.

I remember my locker. My “room” in the school where I kept the books I never took home, my coat, and a sweater or two that never again saw the light of day after I carelessly left them there. Once or twice I pretended to be looking for something in it while I hid a tear or two brought on by some word or other that hit me the wrong way.

There was the gym where we gave speeches during elections for class officers, and I was whipped by Jeffrey A., who wrote a much better speech than I did and deserved to win. I thought it was about popularity, and that I should have won. Maybe it was about popularity, and the class simply liked him better than me. Who knows? It was my first loss, and I learned from it.

There was the lunchroom where I learned to make new friends — friends who may not have been quite so cool as the group I hung out with. There were conversations there that I still remember as if they were yesterday, about real things like Vietnam and the soldier I was writing to daily, and whom I expected to marry even though we’d never met. Conversations about the POW bracelets we were wearing, and who that particular guy might have been in “real” life. Oh, all right, we talked about boys too. Bob R. Rollie B. Rick K.

There was the parking lot where you were assigned spots by year, so when you became a senior you were one happy camper to be so close to the entrance. When you drove in, you knew at a glance who was already there ahead of you. Janet, Lauren, Susan, and I drove to school together each day, and I left an hour early to pick them all up. Really? What was I thinking? There was Sue R’s mother, who happened to be behind me one night when I was driving everyone home from a football game and said I was a good driver and could drive Sue to games if I wanted to. I felt like a good driver from that moment on. Forty years later I still think of it during difficult driving through bad weather.

There was the girl’s locker room, where I returned for some forgotten thing or other and walked in on the swimming coach (a woman) sitting on the gym teacher’s lap (also a woman) in a way that I knew was not okay to the outside world. I never said a word, but they were terrified, and I ran out the door. I am not sure the word lesbian was even in my vocabulary at that time. I was not a good keeper of secrets, but I kept that one.

There were the bleachers outside where I went to a football game wearing that amazing Ladybug outfit my mom had bought me after my grandmother left her some money. There was that spot under the bleachers where Rick K. and I made out. There was another spot on the bleachers where I cried and told someone that my parents were getting divorced.

There was Mr. Koenig’s class right by my locker. Mr. Koenig was the first teacher for whom I wanted to do well to make him notice how smart I was. And the English class down another hallway, where I actually read and loved the book being discussed, The Scarlet Letter. I wish I’d realized that other books might have made me think, too.

There was the trophy case outside the lunchroom, where Bob R’s picture sat and reminded me that I was a fool to break up with him our freshman year in the hopes of an upperclassman noticing me. Your first love is always with you.

There was the lounge by the front door where I heard about a girl a year older dying in a car accident over Thanksgiving, and wondering how it was possible someone our age could be gone forever.

There was Powder Puff football on the huge field where I was a defensive point “man” and was noted in the paper for excellent defensive play. Thinking about that field made me realize I wished I had played more sports in high school. It was the field where I played field hockey without shin pads my junior year because the coach (the same one I’d seen kissing the swim teacher) said we would play like we were wearing them if we wore them.

There was the theater, where the Student Council met and never really accomplished anything that I can recall, other than being happy to have been voted in by our peers.

But more important than those and the many other memories that make me who I am, Bloomfield Hills Andover High School was safe. At least for me. I do not remember bullying. I do not remember anti-Semitism, although my friend EJ, who was the target of it, does. I don’t remember being mean to people, or people being mean to me. To be honest, I don’t remember one glass of liquor during high school. I will say that there were few people different from myself at Andover. We were all the same. Upper middle-class kids who grew up during those four years with little to fear … at least while we were in the building, and so much to try on for size. To see what we cared about for later.

There has never been a building since that one that gave me so many opportunities to grow. So many opportunities to try things. So many people to call friend in one place. So many identical days that I looked forward to. The buildings of our youth, those structures that reflect so much of what we became, should remain on the planet always. I just wanted to take a moment to mark it in my personal history. It served me and so many others well.