If Nana Had a Podcast

If Nana was alive now, in the age of podcasting, we would have a wild time with it.

She would have no idea what the hell a podcast was, even after my attempts to explain it. Nana’s  awareness of technology stopped right around the advent of the Blackberry, when we showed her how we could enter her name into Google (“What is this Google? What are you doing?”) and see the search results. This not only did not amuse Nana, but it really freaked her out, and she was Having None of It. She told us to “Stop! Stop!” She did not like being googled. But suspending disbelief, I can easily imagine how a podcast with Nana would go.

The podcast could be called Having None of It. Or any number of one-line gems and private jokes that spoke a thousand words to me every time she said them. They Stick Together… Be Careful!…You Can Eat It Hot or Cold… Has There Been a CAT in my House?… You’ll Crack Your Head!… Come on, Have Something…  Ehh, fanabla…. What the Hell is the Matter with Him?… Te Sorella!… Or my personal favorite, My Fucking Chives.

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Laughing, 1989.

There would be foul language if she momentarily forgot that others could hear us. There would be shrieks of faux-horror and offense as I told her that today, we would be interviewing a great Italian-American, Mr. Stu Gotz. There would be a lot of laughter throughout our fascinating podcast, even after we had settled down and agreed to be serious.

I would ask her to tell the listeners about her wedding day. And she would tell me that she almost didn’t make it to the church on time. On her wedding day, she and everyone in her house almost died. They were due to walk down the block to St. Bartholomew’s Church for the ceremony. There was a gas leak while everyone was asleep, and no one had any idea. Everyone woke up feeling dizzy and nauseated and not quite right. They thought they were coming down with something–but it was later discovered that it was carbon monoxide poisoning. This is why, she would say, as she had said so many times before, I don’t look right in my wedding picture. She looked amazing to me in her photo–a sparkle of mischief in her eye, the train from her wedding dress cascading around behind her. If you didn’t know the story, you would have no idea.

Great grandparents, Vincenzo and Rosa D'Arezzo

Parents of the bride; groom just behind them.

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What’s left of the church

She would tell us about dancing with her father at the reception. He was “so cute,” getting so old. Way before Nana was anyone’s Nana, she was his youngest child, and probably his favorite one. He was in his 70s when she got married. He was a little bit frail, she said. He would die five months later, of the lymphoma that he didn’t know he had, and never meet her children.

I would ask her to tell the listeners again about Uncle Charlie’s racing bike. And she would tell me that Uncle Charlie always liked to have nice things, and he always had an awareness of the larger world, outside our small city. He saved and saved his money, and this was during the Depression, you know. And he bought an Italian racing bike by mail. In this family of fifteen, everyone was expected to share things, and there wasn’t a lot of patience with one person having something that the others didn’t have. But they must have made an exception for Uncle Charlie, because when the bike arrived, he hammered some nails into the wooden beams in the cellar, and hung his bike on the nails. He warned the younger siblings not to touch his bike. Not to even think about it.

But of course they thought about it. It was all they could think about. One of them even acted on it, within days of its arrival. It was not one of his brothers, who he assumed needed the warning–it was Evelyn, his second-from-the-youngest, daredevil sister, who succumbed to the temptation and took the bike down. Just for a little spin! And it was just a little spin alright. Not-yet-Nana watched as her sister jumped on the bike and coasted down the gentle hill of their street, one of her friends riding on the back. Before she could even get used to the bike and start pedaling and really enjoy it, she coasted right into the intersection and into the path of a truck (a milk truck?).

The bike was destroyed and Evelyn broke a few bones. The story I remember is that the friend on the back of the bike was also hit by the truck. And people were so concerned with Evelyn’s injuries and the friend’s bumped-up head that they overlooked the friend’s badly injured leg, and the friend died of gangrene a few days later. If we could podcast, I would ask for clarification on this last part (was the gangrene death from the same bike incident, or was it another accident on their street?). Nana would remember the friend’s name and whether I had the other details correct. She could not tell this story without using the other girl’s name and asking, Isn’t that terrible?

I would ask her to tell us again about her date, before she was dating Papa–the only date who ever stood her up. She would say that she waited and waited, and that her brothers (and Papa, who was just her dear friend Butch at the time) went out after the guy. You know, to whoop his ass. And how they couldn’t find him anywhere. And that they found out the following day, or maybe the day after, that he had died, just hours before he was to pick Nana up for their date. She would remember his name, too, and be able to tell me more about him. I would ask her to remind me how he died, because she did tell me, many times, but I can’t remember.

I would ask her to tell us again about the time she and yet another date (was it Vinnie F, who she dated for quite awhile and might have married, if he hadn’t been so possessive and bossy? Or was it someone else?) damaged a bit of history. His car lost its brakes, went careening down College Hill, and crashed directly into the back of the First Baptist

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Scene of the brake failure, from the front.

Church (really–THE first one). She told me that story every time we drove down that hill, and I sometimes laughed about it, sometimes just tolerated it. I would give a great deal to have her tell me the story again. I would ask her questions and get details that I hadn’t gotten before.

I would ask her to tell us again about how she lost the fourth knuckle on her right hand, (it was caved in, just a flat spot between her two normal knuckles). And how it wasn’t child abuse back then–I deserved a lot worse for making my poor mother worry like that!  My great-grandmother was quietly waiting at the back door when Not-yet-Nana, not-yet-Mom, nor anyone other than just Virginia, Gigi, arrived home later than authorized. She thought she was home free when she crept in through the back door and started right up the back stairs.

She caught sight of her mother, standing in the back entry, going in for a good strike with the broom. She covered the intended target (my behind!) with her hand and high-tailed it up the stairs, but not quickly enough, and SWAT!. Instead of getting it in the ass with a broom, she got it in the back of the hand with part of the handle. It was an accident, and her mother felt horrible about it for a long time. It wasn’t a violent household, the occasional broom-wielding notwithstanding. Nana forgave her immediately and never let on that she was actually injured, and so the knuckle healed badly and she had an indentation in that space for the rest of her life. Every time Nana told me this story, she would refer to her mother as, my mother, the poor thing.

I would ask her to tell us again about the third time that the men in uniform came to her door with a telegram. The first two times, they brought news that Papa had been shot and wounded, but was expected to recover. This time, this was it. He was dead. How many times can they come to the door with a telegram and have it be just an injury?

She stood in the doorway to the upstairs apartment, her oldest son racing around the kitchen in his baby walker–the kind with wheels, that current generations of kids have never experienced. This was it, she was sure of it. She felt the blood drain out of her face as she mumbled some words of acknowledgement to the uniformed men. They turned and walked down the stairs. She stood in the open doorway, paralyzed with shock and fear, and held the telegram without opening it. And she didn’t see her son fly by in his baby-zoomer on wheels until he was out the door and halfway down the stairs. His rolling start and subsequent flight shook her out of her fog–but by then, there was no catching him. He tumble-sped down to the first floor, around the corner, shot down the short back entryway and down the next flight of steps, landing in the basement. Or so the story went. I’ve spent a lot of time in that house, and I don’t see how his making it past the first floor entryway was physically possible–but what do I know, and who am I to doubt my Nana’s story, when she was kind enough to do this podcast.

He could have been killed! She was sick–sick!!–with worry. She raced down the stairs and found him on the basement floor, still in the seat of the tipped-over walker. She examined him all over. He had probably hit his head, but no broken bones, no real harm done.

Nana and Dad

Not-yet-Nana, late 1943, a few months after the third telegram arrived.

The telegram was still in her hands, unopened. She sat next to her wailing son on the basement floor and opened the envelope. By now, the calamity had attracted the attention of her mother, on the first floor, and she appeared in the basement doorway and looked on as not-yet-Nana/just-recently-Mom opened the envelope. The telegram said that her husband had been shot and wounded, but that he was expected to recover.

She would then remind me, unsolicited, of how when the grass seems greener, there is almost always more to the story. She would cite, as an example, a free-spirited cousin, who made art and explored Buddhism (before everyone and their sister was doing so) and lived a life that kids like me thought was so cool and limitless. And she’d remind me that that free-flowing, organic life was quietly, heavily subsidized by the cousin’s elderly parents, for the rest of their lives.

She would remind me that there is always someone who has more than you do, and always someone who has less. I would tell her that I now know that to be true, and I tell my children this all the time.

She would try to make me take things home with me, while I’m still alive to make sure, and we would have an on-air battle about my not wanting to take the dishes, the jewelry, the furniture. When she was here, I would never take them–it felt weird to me, so I would tell her she was being morbid. But today I would take them, because I now know exactly what she was doing and why.
I would hug her tight and wish her a Happy 99th, on this Special Birthday Episode. I would thank her for repeating so many stories, so that even though I never did write them down when she was here to really bring them to life, I have at least some secondhand memories.I would ask her a thousand more questions and make her promise to answer them on our next episode.

nana in milan

Not bad for almost 80 years old!

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Mess en Place

When it’s no longer the twinkling holiday season, and it’s now full-on January, and the grace period for still having the Christmas tree up has ended, and the grace period for getting down to business (and not just imagining or gearing up)  on those New Years Intentions is growing long in the tooth…when you’ve squandered the days off and chunks of free time around the holidays, and you have not painted those rooms or written that book or resolved any number of big things…when even the Annual Year-End-Wrap-Up and Inventory-Taking is woefully late…when your desk does not look like this…

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Desk goals

 

 

 

 

…but instead looks like THIS…

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The struggle is real.

When the snow falls and falls, and then the sun shines too brightly and its glare off the snow is weirdly depressing, strangely right up in-your-face with the fact that you have not done All of the Things, or even most of the things.

When these things weigh heavy, some of us take to our beds and wallow, and some of us take to the kitchen and make something hopeful. It has to involve chocolate, and be pretty simple. It has to require only things I already have in the house, because I’m not going out into that bright glare. It has to invite possibility and friendship and love and all kinds of good mojo. It has to be share-able.

I realize that this is a lot to ask of one cookie, but the World Peace Cookie can handle all of these criteria, all of this emotional responsibility, and look cute in the process. Not cute like a very dolled up, brightly iced, very pretty-but-shitty-tasting confection from the bakery–cute like the real thing, rich and chocolaty, with that sparkle of fleur de sel.

I first received this recipe from another Montessori parent, many moons ago, but all credit goes to Dorie Greenspan, who popularized them and who is just the maven of baking all things (we’re not worthy!). I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but it was this time of year, and she promised they would be good. The other parent was a chef, and she knew from good cookies. It was a chocolate shortbread, she said. What is better than a chocolate shortbread! It did not disappoint, and I made it many times–but now, I had forgotten about it and not made it in years.

In this, the week of President Obama’s farewell speech, and in the throes of confusion, contention, controversy, contempt–World Peace Cookies are what I need to make, in order to “make something gloriously unhealthy but limit my intake of it”…”foisting the calories” on my lucky and deserving coworkers.

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Cocoa–check. The kind with the creepy, mustachioed chef on it, although who is going to taste the difference if you use Hershey’s? No one.

In keeping with my new practice of Being More Organized and my re-commitment (with a ceremony and everything) to practicing Mise en Place while cooking (hoping it will spill over into life), I pre-measured everything and got it all lined up. I even took out some eggs, and these cookies do not contain eggs. Doing the organized prep has served me very well in the twelve or so days of 2017. Yay me.

fleurSea salt, check. The special sauce of these cookies. This is what I have in the house. I don’t think one needs to use fleur de sel, as long as the salt is fine and not like big, pretzel salt. I like to sprinkle a little bit on the tops of the cookies when they’re still hot, just because.

World Peace Cookies come together in about ten minutes–not even kidding. But I had not made them in a few years, and I did forget that the dough needs to chill (or freeze) for a few hours before baking. So if you’re the sort of person who does not read through the whole recipe, and just forges ahead and starts making things, reading as you go (ahem), then I’m doing you a favor with this heads up–make the dough ahead and leave enough time to let it chill its bad self in the fridge.

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It’s not pretty, but mmmm, so good.

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Huh huh. You said “log.”

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Okay, so I ran out of fine sea salt and had to top the cookies with the very coarse sea salt that I just advised against.

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And some focaccia and gorgonzola dolce from last night. Because calm down, I’m not drinking wine at 10:00am.

Make these cookies asap, bring them to someone, and let the love fest to begin.

I’ve got your joie de vivre, right heah.

Today’s Awful Truth is that I really, really cannot listen to Leonard Cohen. I don’t get the fascination with him. I can’t stand the sound of his voice, and I think he sounds nauseatingly faux-earnest and pretentious. And yet, these lyrics to a song I had never heard have been on my mind almost daily, since about a year ago, when I saw the words somewhere, bouncing around the internet and into my consciousness by chance.

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One time, in the middle of January, I finally looked up the song and listened to it in my car. I thought it would be life-changing. It would be my new theme song. It would resonate with me and surround me with the glow of some special something or other.

But what happened instead was that the self-important, low-pitched warbling was just too much. I almost hit a tree on River Avenue, from trying to turn it off while driving in snow. I mean it–it was horrible. I was so disappointed. How could two lines of lyrics have such an impact on me, and the song be so unbearable?

But I digress.

Not since discovering, during a blizzard in early 2015, that, Yes, I actually LOVE Green Eggs and Ham Tom Petty–have I encountered something that took my breath away like this. Something that made me stop and think, Oh yeahhh, this is everything. So much expressed in so few words.

I know a thing or two about a perfect offering. I think a lot of us do. One might say that my adult life has been one big, long, drawn out IMperfect offering, of everything I could offer. As if, on some subconscious level, that would inoculate me. As if it would protect my children from everything, real and imagined, that could and would threaten them. As if homemade baby food and tofu-dogs, PBS and being there for everything would mean that the autism spectrum, mistreatment by others, and home-grown terrorism wouldn’t come for them. As if anything I did would protect me from adult versions of the same.

As if.

And I rang the bells, even when there was barely a bell to be rung. With a vengeance. I decorated that tree, and parked by empty railroad tracks at midday and waited, just in case a train came by to make my LittleMan’s day. I watched church plays, soccer practices, long examinations of acorns and bugs–and fell asleep while reading memorized bedtime books. And maybe they will someday tell me that they remember some of those things, and that those things worked their way into their muscle memory and emotional fiber, and created some lasting peace and warmth and certainty that their mother loved them so very much. But those things protected them from nothing, because when the cracks outnumber the offerings, sometimes nothing we can do matters.

My superpower is my abundance of cracks. I know how to let the light in.

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Goals.

I let it in, in spite all of the things that conspire to snuff my light out–daily life, the human condition, and the more direct attacks on my spirit, you know the drill. And when the light doesn’t come pouring in by itself, I create it, in any way that I can. And I bring it to others, sometimes in small, insignificant ways, as much as I can. I know, from the times I have lapsed in this effort, that if you don’t let the light get in, then the terrorists win.

Read this carefully: you* will not snuff me out.

The light is a wee dog who pops up in the window when he hears my kedogdogys, runs to meet me at the door, stays by my side and is nothing but love and more love.

It is Sasha at the nail salon, who can be trusted to choose the color, and who will also talk about how much she loved Of Mice and Men, and how Curley’s wife was a ho anyway.

It is a class Dean who sends a personalized birthday card, who catches kids and picks them up when they fall, and who is the real deal when she refers to the school “family.”

It is the Christmas food and the music and shouting in my multicultural workplace (the Jewish folks think THEY have Eight Crazy Nights, but I’m here to tell you that the Dominicans don’t stop from Thanksgiving through New Years)–and it’s the crazy Eid-celebrating in summertime, among people finding community in their new country.

flying-colors

It is getting to see this painting** every day at work (it is well known that if it ever goes missing, the authorities should look to me first).

It is covering The Boy’s forehead with kisses while he’s asleep and not protesting.

It is hearing a violin lesson through an open window as I walk the dog (bonus: it was TWO young violin students, playing a very simple duet of La Bamba).

It is a defiant, two-foot Christmas tree, covered with lights.

It is is friends with whom one look says everything, and triggers a good laughing jag. It is friends I haven’t seen in years, with whom one word or shared photo online says everything and you know just what they mean.

It is homemade granola, minestrone, braciole, and the mastery of something new in the kitchen.

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I mean, seriously. Look at these potatoes.

It is the music on early Sunday mornings when only I am awake.

It is remembering all of the various nicknames that old friends and family have given me, and laughing at the new nicknames that I’ve acquired more recently.

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It is knowing that you can live to be 100 and never have read All of the Books.

It is meeting a cousin for the first time (that we remember) and feeling like he’s an old friend.

It is overhearing my two babies, laughing and laughing at a rerun of a long-ago children’s TV show, and remembering every word.

It is hearing things about my kids from other people, and seeing them as others see them.

Thankfully, I only made it through about half of Anthem before turning it off, so I can remember these few lines (as I do, daily), without it being tainted by the funeral dirge of his singing. This couple of lines by Leonard Cohen, who I just probably undeservedly slammed, but to whom I give due credit for his superpower. Cohen is the peanut butter, banana, green superfood, raw-egg-added, with some chia seeds thrown in, protein shake of songwriters. Not pleasurable in any way, but really good for you.

Ring the bells that still can ring. They ain’t going to ring themselves.

 

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*Disclaimer: If you are reading this, I meant the collective “you,” above. But if you either mean me harm, or have enough ego or paranoia to think I’m referring directly to you, then yeah,  I am.

**The name of the painting is Celebration 9, by Ray Caram. The photo here does not do it justice.

The Afternoon Knows

 

I have a lot of funny memories of playing I Never.

It’s a drinking game, played in a group. To play I Never, one person makes a statement, like “I never have been arrested,” and if the statement is NOT true for you, you’d have to drink–thereby letting everyone present know that you have been arrested (no, I have not been arrested. this was just an example). This game can have pretty high stakes, as the statements become more and more personal and the players get more and more intoxicated. It also gets sillier and sillier, and inevitably ends up with someone saying that they had “never made out with anyone in this room”–provoking a lot of staring around, and wiggling eyebrows, and laughing. I was terrible at most drinking games. I had no skill for Quarters, and I never could get the rules straight for Asshole (Who is the Asshole? Who is the Vice Asshole? How do I keep track of this?). But my complete lack of life experience served me well when playing I Never.

never have i ever

It is now called Never Have I Ever, but in the 80s, it was just I Never.

 

As the college years give way to young adulthood, then to middle adulthood, the game often turns from I Never to I Would Never. It may be played with wine and not cheap beer, but this game can have pretty high stakes too. We wear our smugness as an immunity necklace–if we would never do this thing or that thing (you know, whatever that other person is doing), then we will never look-at-me-on-my-high-horse-0ef23have to contend with whatever it is that they’re contending with. We think–and sometimes we say right out loud, behind backs and even to faces–that we would never do/put up with/tolerate/choose/allow whatever that thing is.

It is one of the uglier parts of the human condition.

I can only speculate, since I would never spout such stupidity  (this is a filthy lie; I not only would, but I have. I could list the times I’ve thought these priggish thoughts or said them out loud, and the many ways I have been tested, or even directly bitten right in the bum, by these things I would never do. but to do so would be too tedious and horrible. just take my word for it). I have been on both ends of these asinine statements, and I regret being on the (pardon my French, Rooney) asshole end of such situations more than I regret dimming my own flaming response when on the receiving end. But not by much.

I like to think that as adulthood continues, we learn not to do this so much. That what smug sentiments that are left after life has smacked the shit out of us in any number of ways, we at least know to express these sentiments in our minds, and not out loud. That our empathy muscle gets stronger and we recognize when One of Ours is in trouble, and needs to be pulled up. I like to think that we evolve, and we shift our sport-judging skills of I Would Never to other games, like What Was I Thinking!?, or Mistakes Were Made–team sports for which the success of your squad depends on your collective ability to get real about not being All That. It might be unrealistic, but I like to think.

In the drinking game of Mistakes Were Made, we would honor the diversity of our drinking tastes and our horrible mistakes, large and small–and we’d drink anything we wanted, and judge (mostly) only ourselves. We would confess the stupid things that we wish we had done differently, and everyone would drink a toast. When one’s regrets got too heavy (as they do), we would surround the gut-spiller in a hug, give them some tequila and remind them of what is excellent about them. There would be toasts of solidarity and hope. And anyone who lapsed into the smugness, or uttered anything beginning with “I would never,” would be made to chug a glass of white zinfandel. Sutter Home, mothafucka. Warm.

Because now we’re learning that being a high-horse jockey takes nothing, and that taking a shot at someone when they’re down is a shitty and desperate thing to do. And that expressing, “what the hell was I thinking,” not worty gifespecially when it comes to the serious stuff, like our children and close friendships, takes both vulnerability and balls. This blogger and friend has both, and three months later, I am haunted by her words and gradownloadteful for them. If she was sitting with me, playing Mistakes Were Made, there would be an ice cold glass of something bubbly for her.

Another friend recently posted on Facebook that she wishes her younger self had not been such a brat when her IMG_3954-696x464father told her he couldn’t afford something that she wanted, because being now on other side of that conversation sucks. This epiphany gets a whole round of Whispering Angel rose for the whole group (because I think this friend would like it)–because there are few of us who cannot identify, and few who are so arrogant as to claim that they were never that kid at one time or another, or that their kid would dare express something so ungrateful.

Yet another friend has been very candid with me about having great success, fancy-beercausing their own great fall, and putting themselves back together again. This kind of honesty and unflinching ownership gets a fancy-pants beer and an entire watermelon from me, along with a whole lot of respect.

Because now we are learning what Robert Frost put so perfectly–that “the afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” This could be amended to “the afternoon knows what the morning should have freaking known, or possibly did know, but overlooked, but that’s a tale for another day. We could probably continue on this learning curve until we die. But it seems that by middle age, we have the chance to become aware of it and to let that awareness drive us to have more grace, or at least a better filter for our clueless thoughts.  this_is_my_smug_face_mug-rb20aa1199aa34bc39b6275652dbd94e9_x7jgr_8byvr_324

 

 

 

 

 

Comet

first_shooting_star_by_pod_tanwenIt is unfathomable to me, this many years without him in my life, or in this world. He was just twenty years old. He was the most life-filled person I knew, then or now. He was a tremendous force of nature, always on the verge of being a natural disaster. He was all in.

He probably had some mild bipolar disorder going on. That whirling dervish personality was probably him being manic, and I didn’t have the life experience to recognize it. It was exhausting, contagious, wonder-inducing. You couldn’t help but be whirled by him and with him. And he certainly had a black dog thattasmanian….dogged him sometimes, and he kept that close and didn’t let too many people see it–and he never let anyone be hurt by it.

He would get into his car and drive, at speeds I didn’t realize the car could go. Drive down to Providence to see me, drive to Walden Pond or to Cape Ann to sit and contemplate things for a few hours, drive to New York or Detroit or somewhere, just to see some friend or another, to experience something, to get away. Always taking off, always coming back with some ridiculous story.

He would drive 40 minutes out of our way, just to avoid the $.50 toll, just on principle. He loved to find ways not to pay for things, like long distance telephone. We had a system in which he’d make a collect (or “person-to-person”–my kids don’t even know what that is) call to me, to Elizabeth Windsor from Lord Mountbatten.  I would refuse to accept the charges, and that would be his way of saying that he was leaving and heading down to see me, without having to pay for a call. He would get illegal long distance calling card numbers, that you’d have to enter into a pay phone to make a call, and he’d use them until they no longer worked–and then he’d get another number. He loved to stick it to The Man, and he loved to get free long distance.

More than even sticking it to The Man, he loved his friends. They were everything to him. His friends from high school, back in Michigan. His friends from college. His friends he met on some summer job, his friends who he met while tearing through their town on the way to somewhere.  I met him when we overlapped for fifteen minutes in a dorm of a high school friend I was visiting. He stayed in touch and he valued his tribe so much. He made everyone feel as if they were #1 in his life. He made me feel like I was above #1.

What would he think now, of the fact that long distance telephone is not even a thing. What would he think of our world, almost 27 years later? In that length of time, cell phones and skype and laptops and a whole world beyond his Apple Mac.  I’m thoroughly convinced that he would have been another Jobs or Gates or Zuckerberg.  So innovative, so unable to be contained, so willing to take risks and to work on something without any end in sight. He would have dropped out of Harvard–he was already on his way to doing so, taking year off to think. He was a shooting star.

He thought I was the most fabulous and dazzling creature on earth. The finest person he had ever seen or met. A pretty, smart girl who knew how to have fun. A girl with “one of the worst Madonna-Whore complexes” he had ever seen (please, as if he had seen so many). A girl who was always up for an adventure. A girl with a family not as effed up as his was, but just effed up enough that he wasn’t self-conscious about his. A shiksa goddess. A girl who liked interacting with his sister. A girl he cared about more than anything, ever. And when that wore off,  a great girl whom he loved, and a friend forever. He saw me as I was, but better.

His grey-blue eyes would have seen so much and read so much and done so much. He would have been bald by now. He would have lost his zealous “IG-nosticism” (don’t know, don’t care!) and returned to at least a loose Jewish faith. He would have maybe taken off and toured with a favorite band in those very early years. He would have been the biggest Simpsons fan. He would have reconciled with his father. He would have used that amazing brain to do Tourette’s research and better understand his sister’s disabilities. He would have traveled, and traveled. He would have been that mad, mad uncle to my kids. He would have brought incredible happiness to someone, maybe many someones. He would have written something amazing. He would have never lost the kindness in his soul, the kindness that was larger than any other aspect of his personality. He would have lamented his luck with women, even now. He would have been my rock, my brother, my friend.  I would have so loved being whirled by him.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

So then, I said the thing that always encourages people to calm down and get a grip. I said, Do you think…that you can get through this entire experience today, and handle this situation, without lashing out at the other people in this car?

Angry+Bull+9-24

(This works EVERY TIME. Try it, I dare you.)

But let me go back. Back to the beginning of the day, when I dropped my LittleMan off at school, where he would get on a school bus to his high school team’s first scrimmage. All was right with the world when I watched him disappear into the locker room entrance. He had worked hard all summer and was one of just three freshmen to make it onto the varsity team (freshly fractured arm and all). The older kids on the team were encouraging and happy to have him. His longtime teammate and soccer buddy was now, in a miraculous turn of events, going to be his high school teammate and classmate too.

We headed down to the Furthest Reaches of our little state by car. The Mr. was all about the game, but I had the added perk of the game location being the home of one of my Oldest and Dearest Besties (I’ll call her ODB, and if that makes you laugh, then xo to you), who I had not seen in much too long. ODB was in the early days of the hell of having a seriously ill spouse, just as she was about to launch her eldest off to college for the first time. We had plans for pre-game coffee and catching up. Sister (the child formerly known as Stretch) had even gotten out of bed early and made the trek, so that she could see her friends, ODB’s girls.

All was right with the world. Well, almost all. Okay, many things were not right with the world. But all was right in that sitting beside a dear friend way–the fantastic iced latte, the sun shining, our teenage daughters laughing and murmuring on a blanket behind us (lest they be seen with us) and her LittleMan watching the game with us–just as we all once imagined our best friends’ and our children would do.

All was pretty cool with the world as we watched my Little Man play the entire second half (and not too shabby, either!) and board the bus and take off as ODB’s son pulled up divots of grass and threw them at the girls and Sister fired them back. It was time to leave, time to vow to come down again soon with the other friends and kidnap ODB for a day or evening and do some wine tasting (a euphemism).

And then, tragedy struck. Not even ten miles up the highway, the car broke down (near NOTHING). We pulled over onto the grass and sat there for two and a half hours, waiting for roadside assistance, during which time Sister’s and my phone batteries quickly died, the warm sun turned hot, people became snappish, and we all literally could not even.

That was when, about fifteen minutes into this dark turn of events, I said that thing that makes angry people feel all calm and less hostile. And lo and effing behold, it worked. I mean, not in the sense that the Mr. then felt more calm and less angry, but he did take a deep breath and get out of the car. He stormed walked off to the right and sat down on the grass, facing the woods. Good, I said, possibly out loud. Go and sit over there. I hope a tick bites you.

At this point, our phones were not dead yet, but they would be soon.

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Sister and I resourcefully texted away, me to LittleMan’s friend’s mom, to ask her to be there at the school when the bus arrived and please take them to her house–and Sister (gotta love her quick thinking and teen-agenda-prioritizing) to her Suitor-Friend, who would never become a boyfriend because he lives so far away from us, conveniently sort of near the place where we broke down, to ask him to come and get her.

Not too much later, Sister’s friend arrived and she took off with him, ostensibly back to our area, but really NOT AT ALL (that is a story for another day). The roadside assistance arrived and we rode back to our local garage, car in tow, with a most awesome, young tow truck driver.

Two weeks of exhaustive investigation by all the king’s horses and all the king’s men at the Volvo dealership (and at Volvo central) and the verdict is:

dead jim

So now it’s a new car for the Mr., not in a leisurely way, and a derailing of the plan to keep that car for the kids to use.

What is the point of all of this? It’s that the car is still an unresolved issue and the expense has been ridiculous and we really don’t need this right now. But that tragedy is relative, and remembering this is one my life skills. And that my memories of the day are defiantly the great latte, the warm sunshine, the sound of our kids’ voices, the sitting next to a good friend.

detour

house

So as I’m stopped in front of his house, a guy about my age comes out onto the front porch. He looks at me, curious, about to say something.

I get out of the car. Buenos tardes, I say, and ask him how long he has lived there. He says one year, but the people downstairs, who own the house, have been here awhile. I tell him that I was in the area and I wanted to drive by and see the house where my Nana and her twelve siblings were born and raised.

He says, Wow–thirteen kids, on which floor? and I tell him that it was not divided into apts, it was all one house—until probably the 1940s. Thirteen kids in this house and thirteen kids next door, in that house. He shakes his head and says that is a lot of kids.

I tell him that until the 70s, English was not the first language in the neighborhood then, either–everything was Italian.  He says, Yeah, there’s this sort of monument thing just down the block and you can tell it’s some kind of Italian thing.  I tell him that that is what is left standing of the original St. Bartholomew’s Church. This entire neighborhood was baptized and married and buried there. He seems a little bit surprised to hear this, and only semi-aware of just HOW Italian Silver Lake was, and not at all aware that its residents came from just a handful of neighboring Italian towns. It has always been Latino since he has been here, he says. It’s a nice neighborhood—everything very nearby, people pretty cool.

St. Bartholomew's Church

St. Bartholomew’s Church

I tell him that I spent so many holidays, so many Saturdays just hanging around, so many good times, in that house.

Ahh, que buenos recuerdos, he says.

Si. Que bonita, esta familia, I answer.

And then he switches to near-perfect English, after an entire conversation in Spanish. I am embarrassed and apologize for my assumption, and he says, Of course not! No worries! And we laugh.

Still there: the black, wrought iron fence that looked so menacing then, that I would look down on from the second floor porch, stepping around window screens with tomatoes sun-drying on them, and imagine being impaled if I fell.

Probably still there: the little backyard, once with round table and yellow umbrella, where Uncle Charlie and his best friend, Gino, on one of their summer visits from Switzerland, sat and drank coffee and ate wine biscuits and sang to me, “Che la Luna” and “La Donna e Mobile” and other songs I didn’t know. And where Uncle Archie’s June birthday would be celebrated every year, all of the siblings in attendance, with a strawberry shortcake, with strawberries that Auntie picked at Schartner’s, made with love, for her brother. And where thirteen children, and many grandchildren, somehow played and didn’t feel crowded.

Still there, but only in our collective memory: The side entrance with the music box which would play whenever the door was open, and automatically stop when the door closed, the tune some variation of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” with a tick-tick sound keeping time; the fantastic smell inside, which I remember vividly, but can’t put into words; the stairway to Uncle Archie’s second floor apartment, both stairway and apartment covered with original art by Uncle’s daughter, Cousin B (who left for Europe for her junior year abroad and never come back, eventually settling in northern CA and changing her name and embracing the hippie life for good. Auntie and Uncle were so crushed by her departure, both from their daily lives and from all sense of what they knew to be Normal Life–but they were also very proud of her art, and the stairway showed it. But I digress); Auntie Livina’s first floor kitchen–modest, spotless, where magic was made and gold was spun, without any help from Kitchen-Aid or Wusthof or Cuisinart; the dishes of candy, Peanut Butter Cups and mini-Snickers and M&Ms, just waiting for my visits; the rosary blessed by the Pope; the framed photo of me on the sideboard in the dining room.

Still there, but only in stories that predate any of us: the dining room, where this huge family somehow ate very well, and where there was always room for one more, even the occasional hungry stranger during the Depression; the basement, where chickens and turkeys and possibly other non-pets ran around until they became dinner (a fact of life accepted by all except Auntie Jean, who was upset by the whole thing as a child, and who might have briefly gone vegetarian over it); the living room floor, where a pushy vendor once spread out his kitchen supplies and would not leave until my great-grandmother pointed the shotgun at him and told him that she’d blow his head off if he didn’t get out of her house (apparently, she didn’t need that fancy kitchen shit either); the parlor, where the deceased were “laid out” and wakes were held; the dining room table, where the whole family, with the exception of a teenage Uncle Archie Elmo, was treated to his contraband pies, after he hid them under his bed in an effort not to share them with is siblings; the street outside, where Auntie Evelyn (ever the tomboy) sped off on her brother Charlie (ever the fancy-man)’s closely guarded Italian racing bike, and was promptly hit by a truck.

italian house

Also still there: the home of the Last Italian, a few doors down, with the flag flying and the theme both nautical and religious.