Monday, May 18, 2020

My Christmas Letter 2019

“Silence, Earthling! My name is Darth Vader. I am an extraterrestrial from the planet Vulcan.” 
Back to the Future

“Nothing is as far away as one minute ago.” 
Jim Bishop

Today is May 17th, or 18th…May 18th as I just checked my smart phone. And I’m pretty confident it’s a Monday for whatever that is worth today. On this cloudy, unseasonalble cool May in North Carolina I became inspired to write my Christmas letter 2019. I wrote several drafts previously – back in December, and maybe a short one in January, though I never sent my cards. I figured I’d send them for Valentine’s Day – that nutty MB, sending her Christmas cards for Valentine’s. Not too many friends would be surprised. Then that romantic holiday passed. St Patty’s Day – feeling the luck of my Irish, too caught up in this novel virus and all the swirling drama and talk, those cards collected dust. Today, Monday, May 18th, my cards sit, in a corner, neatly stacked, waiting for the trash or a wacky red head to pop in the mail in May (or June, or Christmas in July). We shall see.

I haven’t written a blog in well over a year. Up until recently, I’ve been too busy with life, shuffling here and there for this and that, running in circles, treading water to complete a task amongst ten other tasks. I’ve pretty much given up on “keeping in touch” with new friends, never mind old friends, sometimes don’t even keep in touch with family. Sit down dinners? Who has time for them? All the prep, the time, for a moment on the lips, a mess that lingers sometimes till morn, and half the time maybe I have one customer who sits to eat? I succumbed to life as a newly crowned happy hermit, me and the hubby, with life just passing us by, kids one foot out the door. How I wished for life to slow, how I longed for the days when I was stuck at home with the kiddies, shackled to nap schedules, feeding and snack time, bath time, bedtime story snuggles. Those were the days! If I could just have one moment in time to relive those days. I know I’m not alone. But I pinched myself back to reality, I figured those days were long gone. Life is good, keep calm and carry on. Livin’ the dream. Be careful what you wish for they say cause welcome to a new age.

2019 was a good year, though I don’t remember it in its entirety, it was a good year. I think my first draft went something like this…Kids are good, all did well in school. Daughter a junior at college, pictured here with her boyfriend of 4 years. We love him. She works really hard in school, straight A’s, and various part time jobs and volunteer causes. She just got accepted to an overseas school this summer as part of her major – we can’t wait to visit! Daughter #2 living the beach life while attending school, hard to pin her down for a picture.

Son, pictured with his lacrosse gear, is heading into his junior year so we took a college tour –see the orange and purple tiger mascot in the background? With Clemson Engineering as his goal, he’s working really hard in school and so far it’s paying off with straight A’s. He's working really hard at lacrosse, attending off season workouts and even forgoing joining the swim team, demonstrating his commitment to the coach for a spot on varsity. He’s also become quite the classical pianist which fills the house with music which does my heart proud.

Daughter number 3 working hard her first year of high school. She’s making the grades, dancing and volunteering at her studio 5 days a week, and after school practices for dance team. I’m worried she’ll burn herself out she’s so busy. See her in her JV dance uniform? She’s so pretty.

The "baby" started the fall as a 6th grade middle schooler, he loves baseball and Xbox. He made a traveling baseball team after trying out for 4 teams. He’s now a Havoc! Look at him in his uniform! I know he's MLB bound. So proud of his perseverance. We can’t wait for the season to start!

Hubby and I bought a boat and spent the summer exploring the Pamlico waters with many adventures. Here we are, he as captain, aye aye his first mate. The highlight that brought 2019 to a close was our 120 year old Washington, NC home was part of the Christmas historic tour. We had over 500 people tour our home from top to bottom. See us pictured at our mantle with our official historic society nametags to commemorate the event. I worried up to the day of all these strangers trapesing through our home, the possible germs – you know with flu season in motion, the wear and tear on the old floors – but alas it was a wonderful experience with many new friends made. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2020!

Here's a preview of Christmas card 2020:

Daughter #1 summer school program cancelled. College studies online. She’s taking life in stride.

Older son did not make varsity lacrosse or find a prom date. That turned out to be ok with him because school and prom and lacrosse all cancelled. He’s discovered a whole new world of activity that involves social distancing: kayaking, fishing, golfing, mountain biking and drive in movie theaters. Everyone gets an A. He’s loving life. 

Daughter #3 has been dancing virtually. She spent two months, hours a day, practicing to make the varsity team via virtual tryouts. Unfortunately she did not make varsity though I’m not so sure there will even be a football season to perform. She was set to get her driver’s permit – that got put on hold. She was set to become a lifeguard and work at a pool this summer – that too on hold. The most social of the bunch, she misses her friends. But we painted her room pink and gray and created a virtual wonderland.

The traveling Havocs season was short. My tween is lost in a black hole called “The Xbox.” Someone send out an SOS please, he needs rescuing.

The hubby still heads to work, mask on, daily temperature taken, his business considered essential. We are grateful he has a job.

Everyone boating, every day of the week, the water so crowded we are standing by the river's edge.

Me, truth be told, aside from the tragedy of this pandemic and all the horrid implications for many, my YMCA membership on hold, my quest for toilet paper (and now brown sugar - who knew?) I’m happy as a clam. I have stepped back to a time I truly thought was gone except for the snapshot of a year preserved on a holiday card tradition, this is as close to time travel as I'm gonna get. I’ve got my family home, life has slowed, and I can breathe (knock on wood!). It’s an opportunity  to get caught up, stop and smell the roses, and prepare for a new day.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

“Red Bricks and Ivory Notes”

"Pianos, unlike people, sing when you give them your every growl. They know how to dive into the pit of your stomach and harmonize with your roars when you've split yourself open.
And when they see you, guts shining, brain pulsing, heart right there exposed in a rhythm that beats need need, need need, need need, pianos do not run. And so she plays." - Francesca Lia Block
Walking towards the 1920’s white colonial, along the red brick pathway, uneven with roots that have jumbled with time, I anxiously carry my sheets of music, anticipating another season of piano. Magnolia seedlings have sprouted, planting stakes of what will be grand hallmarks with lilies of the valley growing freely throughout the garden beds. A stray red bud or two has lost its way and azaleas and boxwood are grounded in the yard. The great big oak that once stood at the border of her yard lived a long life and all that remains is a pile of saw dust sinking in a hole. 

As I take a step onto her tiny front porch I notice a little bird’s nest perched in a corner of the eave amongst a background of painted shutters and shingles of infinite layers. I ring the doorbell but soon remember it doesn’t produce any sound. I knock a once or twice with no response.

I know Ms. Kathaleen is expecting me. My lesson is at 2:30. Originally it was scheduled for 1 but as usual, she accommodates my crazy, erratic and disorganized time management and allows me to change lesson time at the last minute. I always call frantic with an excuse, but really I’m just a big hot mess, on a treadmill. I probably have no business trying to fit time in for myself. Yet here I am, on time for once, but someone else is playing.
Maybe she finally, after all these years, got fed up with me and took another lesson, just to teach me about the value of other people’s schedules. No, that’s not her style. Don’t think I have ever seen her not smiling, not greeting you like she hasn’t seen you for ages and is so happy you’re here, so grateful to have your presence. Her calm yet vivacious, infectious moods are always so consistent. She’s no pushover mind you, no ma’am, she’s not. She’s tough in a quiet manner. And you’d think she was actually organized with all the lessons she juggles, keeping track of sheets of music and books she purchases and passes along to her students, the great recitals she organizes, forty years of lessons and counting, but no, I think she’s as hot a mess as I am. At least that’s what she tells me.

She always says, “Mary Beth, you’re just like me. We don’t know if we’re coming or going. That’s the mind of a musician.” Or something to that effect. “Time doesn’t matter to us, at least it has no boundaries. It just flows and we roll with it.” Or something like that. “Playing piano keeps your mind fresh, keeps your memory alive. All my students are smart, do well in school and go on to do great things.”
As I peer through her window, the pane slightly rippled and cloudy, I see there is not another student taking my spot but Ms. Kathaleen at her grand piano, playing my piece. 
I oftentimes phone her out of the blue and announce enthusiastically “I just heard this piece on Classic FM and want to learn to play it.” It’s typically a Chopin piece as he’s my favorite composer. She’ll respond so delighted that I called, she’ll give a little chuckle in a high pitched note and respond in a deep pitched voice with a soft southern drawl, “Oh Mary Beth, you’ll have your hands full with that one but we can try it.”
I’m currently working on Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante Ballade Op. 34 Nr2. It might take me a lifetime to learn. I’ve been working on Beethoven’s third movement of Moonlight Sonata, having mastered the first and second. The third is quite intimidating though, so much I often just sit and stare at the notes in an anxious panic. I’ll learn them before I die, but maybe not for spring recital this year. Well at least I’ll try. 
There was one piece I called her about that sounded simple enough: Chopin’s Berceuse. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece. Slow and melodic, with flat notes of D, E, G, A, and B and scales going from naturals to flats to sharps and back again. The treble clef remains fairly constant. It’s one of the pieces that makes me feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.
I haven’t been playing piano for very long. I’m almost forty seven and I’ve only learned to read notes a few years ago. I tried for decades to learn to read music but no one could teach me. I play by ear so the pieces I started with had always been so simple I ended up taking the easy route and sounding them out instead. The instructors assumed I was reading notes because I was playing “Stepping Up and Down” notes C, D and E. I wasn’t reading or learning though, they thought I was, but I never got past the basic kid piano books. I must have gone through about five instructors during my youth, with the same pattern of learning the same silly song, no progress, and so I’d quickly get bored and quit instead of wasting everyone’s resources.
Though my desire never waned. I yearned to play true classical music, I yearned for it, just to have my fingers dance over the keys and fill a room with great beauty. I was determined. So the summer of my sixteenth birthday, which I recall being particularly rainy and boring, I sounded out the entire first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I had a pink boom box with a cassette player my father bought for me. I would play and rewind, play and rewind all summer long until I felt I mastered the piece. It was the first time I danced with the ivories and I was so proud, as were my parents. I felt I had truly accomplished something great: the entire piece, learned by ear, note for note.
My pride was shattered though when I played one day for my mom’s friend, a fellow pianist like myself. She told me in no unforgiving, sympathetic terms that I had spent the whole summer sounding out the piece in the wrong key. I felt deflated. I cut myself a break though. After all, I was playing on a hundred year old piano rescued from the basement of my grandmother’s house, with sticky keys and broken strings, glue coming undone on the felt. I doubt that piano had ever been tuned. Maybe someday I’ll have a new piano and I’ll gracefully dance along the keys.
Time passed, a marriage and three kids later, I got my piano: brand new and well-tuned, an upright Young Chang, pretty with cherry wood, no Steinway, but still of good stock. Now what to do with this piano? My ear could only take me so far and that’s how I stumbled upon Ms. Kathaleen.

I would show up at Ms. Kathaleen’s home with my music books, a bag of goldfish, and Pack-and-Play in hand. I would plop down my one year old son, toss him the fish and have my thirty minute lesson. And I learned, truly learned to read notes. Ms. Kathaleen didn’t start me on the baby stuff. She started me on Chopin. And I played that year in my very first recital, in front of a crowd of other adults in a beautiful chapel with outstanding acoustics.
And I choked. I got up to play, my piece so well practiced I didn’t even need the sheet music to play. I had it memorized like every great pianist before and after me. I was confident until I sat down to play. I imploded. I forgot bits and pieces, I stalled, I stumbled, my hands shaking, my brow sweating. I was mortified.
I stormed off, no customary bow, and I was embarrassed and ashamed but looked angry with fire blazing from my red head. I had no plans to return and spent the summer cowering in self-pity as my infamous piano choking turned out to be a precursor of sorts, a life’s metaphor for the catastrophe that was about to unfold.
The summer, dark and cold, even with a burning Carolina sun, was ending until a fresh breeze blew my way. Ms. Kathaleen called me, “Would you like to schedule your lessons for the new season?” I didn’t know what to say. Wasn’t she offended by my behavior? I mean, I didn’t even walk up to the stage to accept my certificate. I sent my five year old daughter up in my place. My husband even scolded me for my behavior, telling me he was embarrassed and ashamed of me. Yet she was calling me to start again.
“But Ms. Kathaleen, I choked and then I stormed off that stage.”
“Oh Mary Beth, you’re just like all those other great musicians who get flustered and throw a tantrum. That just means you’re a true pianist. So when do you want to come for your lesson?”
The summer of my fortieth birthday, that a dark and ever so dreary summer, I needed saving. I had three beautiful children and a piano but I didn’t feel my value. The music I so longed to play since I was just a little girl had been silenced.   
I showed up at my scheduled lesson, probably late and a big hot mess as usual.  Maybe I should have stayed in my cocoon. But I'm an open book and I couldn’t help myself. I broke down and told her my story, my story of shame, of devastation, my story of loss and sadness and fear. I figured this women, so well revered by many, so full of grace, would have no understanding of what I was experiencing. The thing I valued more than anything was slipping from me forever, never to be recreated, with only memories that held onto the pain. But she said, “Oh Mary Beth, I been there. Now let’s play.” And so I played.
Eight year later, as I peered into Ms. Kathaleen’s window she was playing my piece: Berceuse. Oh what a gift! I peered and listened, I closed my eyes, soaking in the notes, my eyes watering with sheer joy in the sound.
I continued to peer into her window as she sat on the stool of her grand Steinway, her back towards me. Her pure white, short yet wavy coiffed hair, her shoulders hunched slightly, a pretty purple shirt, and her fingers dancing along the keys. Maybe not with the vim and vigor of her early days, like the red brick pathway uneven with roots jumbled by time, she played and I listened. Oh what sound, what beauty, what a moment to be cherished, what a life, what value, oh what a gift, what simplicity, what a reflection.
She finally came to the door and I thanked her, with a tear in my eye, I thanked her for her gift. She chuckled in a high pitched note, then in a deep and sweet southern drawl, she hugged me, and said, “Oh Mary Beth, what am I going to do with you? You mean with my slow aging fingers, I’m stumbling through the piece” or something to that effect. I said, “Oh no, it was beautiful. I can’t wait to learn it now.” She said, “Well it will be much easier than that Ballade. Now let’s play.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


“Baseball is like church. Many attend, but few understand.” Wes Westrum, Mets Manager

“It ain’t nothin’ till I call it,” Umpire Bill Klem

“Life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” Jackie Robinson

“Is this heaven? It’s Iowa.” Field of Dreams

Whomever doesn’t understand why baseball is a great sport well, my grandmother taught me not to judge, but let’s just say for those who just don’t get baseball they must be missing an American gene, or a gene of humanity, some lack of sentimentality, or something missing from the heart. I’m not referring to the rules, I mean the game!

This spring season of 2018 we were a part of the Orioles, not the Baltimore Orioles, the North Wake County, North Carolina Orioles. I’ve got Yankees blood in me born from my father who bleeds Yankees blood, but for the spring 2018 season, we were Orioles, loud and proud.

The season started out like any other little league season with the exception of this being the first season of “kid pitch” for Graham, my nine year old son. Kid pitch differs from adult pitch because it starts to test eye hand coordination maybe before a nine year old has fully developed this motor skill. Pitches are faster and more erratic. Put in laymen’s terms, the ball just doesn’t land on the bat. A batter has to wait for the right ball and be ready. And that ball may not come while the batter is up.

If you think this sounds hard on a nine year old kid just itching for the sound of a ball to crack his bat, it’s even harder on a parent. I had to ride home listening to my son talk about how he’ll never make the MLB because he can’t hit. He was downright despondent, which, for a mom, is so painful hearing such disappointment in your child’s voice. I just listened, then I asked him, “What’s the MLB?” “Mom, Major League Baseball!” “Oh,” I said, “Well Graham, you don’t want to be too good too soon. If you peak too early you’ll never make it to the MLB so just keep trying and don’t give up.” He was ready to quit but he didn’t give up. He shed some tears with every strike out but after a while he learned to shake it off and get back to the game.

The start of any baseball season is a little awkward. The team is new, most parents and kids not knowing each other. It’s like the first day of school. The start of the Oriole season was no different. Parents and kids were shy when introducing themselves to one another, the team feeling each other out, parents trying to remember names and whose kid belonged to whom, but then we started to play. Cheers from the bleachers were hesitant and quiet at first, and the boys and their team camaraderie was in an infancy stage. We lost our first game to the Braves, coached by the only female coach in the league. She was my son’s coach from the previous season and she was a good coach, competitive and tough.  I liked her last season but not this season. She beat us.

The Orioles got off to a rough start with their first loss but then they became a force of reckoning. They became number one in the league, undefeated from their next win on out. This was not just luck, this, this sweep was hard work, strategy, good coaching, competitiveness (after all this is a game where winning matters and losing really stinks, this isn’t everyone gets a trophy – this is baseball!). The team’s specialty: stealing bases. We were feared in the league.

Parents’ cheers from the stands became louder, we became more opinionated. “That umpire isn’t very good.” “Hey, that’s the second out called on our boys. Someone start video recording, we want an instant replay.” “What, that’s not the same call you made for the other team. What rule book are you using?” “That pitcher is wild, he’s gonna hurt someone.” “He was blocking the base!?#@” “Tell that boy to back down.” “He dropped the ball!” “He didn’t tag him!”

Then there were cheers FOR our kids. “Wait for your pitch” “Good eye” “Good Swing” “Come on – insert parent pet name – you can do this, you got this” “RUN!” “OMG, I can’t watch, he’s trying to steal!” “He’s off his game today, what’s wrong with my child!?” “Shake it off buddy!” “What do you mean?! He touched the base!” “Oh wait, I just missed it.” “Couldn’t get a good picture.” “I got a good action shot!”

There were cheers from the coaches “Just you and the mitt” “Let’s take this ball on a ride” “Baseball ready” “Get ready to run” “Outfield, wake up!” “You got this one.” “Tuck in your shirt!” And there were probably a few others I missed because I was busy chatting in the stands.

And of course we can’t forget the umpires: “OUT!” “SAFE!” “STRIKE!” “BALL!” and warnings “If you throw your bat at me one more time you’re OUT!”

Then there was Coach Chris, the leader of our team, hard core and full of heart for the boys and the game. If there was a call he didn’t like he’d shout a time out, march out to home base and fight his case. He often didn’t win his protest but at least he didn’t kick up dirt and spit in the umps face. He walked away with grace and said “Alright boys, let’s get back to playing.” The players would say, “Shake it off coach.” He was always ready with praise, inspirational speeches, baseball words of wisdom, recognizing every little achievement with patches handed out after each game, our boys’ hats became maps of pride.

This season we had players with a broken finger, a broken ankle, and a broken arm. These boys showed up even when they couldn’t play just to cheer on their teammates, and then, probably a little too prematurely, they were back out playing. Tyler and his broken ankle gave us all some cringes like when he went running for home base fresh out of his cast. We all shouted, “Don’t slide!” Austin pitching when last time we saw him his arm was in a sling. He threw strikes.

We ended one game with a tie. A tie? What the heck is that? So a few days later Coach Chris sends out an email letting the parents know that he went to bat for the team, called the league, argued the call that cost us a run and this time, his persistent protesting pulled a win for our team. Well done Coach Chris! Perhaps some thought this was an unconventional move for little league, a little too competitive? But I gather every parent on the Orioles was quite pleased. I think some even egged him on to debate the call in the first place.

The parents, the parents were great. Every one with a story, I could write a book. But that’s baseball, everyone has a story but everyone keeps playing. We all share in the dream. The dream that our little guy who’s growing faster every day, gets a hit at bat because with every swing, and every stolen base, and every run scored or ball fielded well, they grow. And parents beam with pride and their hearts swell and, like that ball hit far into the field, we are taken on a ride. And all the coaches, parents and kids ride that ride together and it becomes a bond that will become a memory, a really good memory.

This team has been magical. See, baseball is making me sentimental. I get it, I may not know all the rules but I get it. We’ve got one more game, the big championship game. We made it to the top. Win or lose – of course winning is better – the boys, parents and coaches will play their hearts out tonight. Then the season will end, and like most little league teams, we will all part ways. Maybe we’ll run into each other at Target or somewhere. Maybe some of us will play on the same team again, maybe some of the parents will keep in touch, probably through Facebook, a random text here and there. Maybe some of our little guys will grow up to be big guys and stand on a Major League Baseball field - the MLB! and we'll catch them and say we remembered them when...Maybe. I’ll tell you though, doesn’t matter because this field, this season, this was baseball.

Thanks to all the coaches for their hard work and dedication. You gave of your time which is very precious. Hats off to Coach Chris, Coach Brian, Coach Todd, Coach Adam, Coach Kyle and if there is a coach I missed, then my bad. I don’t remember my own kids’ names sometimes. Play Ball!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

"Middle Age Adventures in Pet Sitting"

"Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life."
James Cromwell

First of all, this is the first time I have personally referred to myself as middle aged.  I still think of myself as 25, and often act like it too. I have boundless energy and often times take on more than I can chew. I also have the confidence of a flea, if a flea has confidence, which has nothing to do with feeling 25 it’s just a personal confession I am making to the world or my 20 viewers. Magnum, my husband, would caution me to say such things should I ever interview for a job. Such an announcement would give reason for an employer not to hire me. But I don’t care because first of all, this is my pen name! No one knows the real me! Secondly, since I have no confidence, I have no worries that anyone would hire me in the professional workforce anyway. After all, I believe I have failed at most careers ventures. I either have too much ‘Jersey’ attitude or am not detailed oriented enough. But this subject is a whole other blog I’ve been wanting to write and will originally and creatively title “YOU’RE FIRED!” Be on the lookout.

Today I will write about my latest attempt to earn a penny: pet sitting. I’ve been busy pet sitting and have neglected my trilogy blog “Life of Jack and Jane” I started a few weeks back. I know, the suspense of those stories, I’ve left you all hanging. Anyway, my middle age adventures in pet sitting all began a year ago when I posted on our neighborhood website that my son is available for pet sitting. I was trying to help him earn a buck in an honest and age appropriate way. We got no response so I figured the competition for pet sitting in the hood was steep.

Flash forward to a year later and our first client reached out to us; traffic source the NEXTDOOR site from our post a year ago. Of course we jumped at the chance. Problem was, Tommy, my son, was not available the entire time because he goes to school, has sports and divides his weekends with his dad. But I did not want to lose this opportunity in a tough pet market so I said yes and it became a joint venture.

Brady the dog and Lucy the cat was our first gig, our first pet clients. I don’t like cats but I love Lucy! And Brady is just the sweetest little, white dog. So we very much enjoyed watching these pets and their owners have been a steady client.

Next our neighbor around the corner asked my daughter Halley to watch her two cats. Once again we said yes but my help and time was needed to assist in the process so it once again became a joint venture. We were told their one cat had separation anxiety and often misbehaved when they went out of town. Well this cat threw up and broke a pot with dirt all over the floor and ceramic and a big mess. Not a big deal for Halley or me but I felt bad for the rug and pot and would have to “break” the news that damage occurred on our watch.

Cats are easy to watch. You check on them once a day, make sure they have food and water and refresh the litter box. If they want a hug, you give them one, and typically cats don’t want hugs, except for Lucy, whom I love. Well this naughty little cat disappeared for the rest of the week. I kept checking for dead cat in the corner, sniffing for foul, rotting flesh, I mean I was concerned! I had to notify the cat owners, though I was tempted to go to the local shelter to bring home a look alike. Long story short, cat was found, safe and sound. Rascally pet!

Even with the missing cat, I suppose word got out about our pet sitting and business began to boom. The neighbors were coming out of their dog houses. I got another reach out to watch two Shitzus. I always feel like I’m cussing when I say Shitzu. Shatzi and Max, two adorable Shitzus full of personality. Shatzi has kidney disease and needed to be walked frequently. My time with Shatzi and Max was uneventful. I walked and fed them once, gave them hugs and cuddles and they survived my pet sitting. I refused pay since I did it as a neighborly gesture and enjoyed being helpful. They paid me with a bottle of wine which was overly generous and I believe I made friends with the dogs and owners, they are such a nice couple. Perhaps Magnum and I and the owners can get together some time. Anyway, I digress as is my habit.

I was feeling good about myself and ability to pet sit, even if I had misplaced a cat. Maybe I did have worth outside of the home. I felt aside from being a mom and wife, this could be my thing, my little side gig. After all, I could give attitude to a dog and they would still lick my hand and there was no photo copying or filing for me to have to be detailed and screw up. Pet sitting boosted my confidence in my ability to work outside of the home. This psychosis in my neurosis about my anxiety in my working ability may sound psychotic but once I write and readers read my blog “YOU’RE FIRED” any borderline worry about my mental state will be quickly understood as just a temporary state of insanity, I think. Wait, what did you say? I thought I heard something, a strange voice. This dang fly won’t stop bugging me. What fly? The one I’m swatting. Huh? What was I doing? I’m not crazy, how dare you…

Anyway, like I said, business started to boom. Another neighbor reached out to me to watch her 10 week old yellow lab Zoey. She wanted me to let Zoey out twice a day. I said no problem but offered to take Zoey back to hang with our lab Daisy for a few hours a day since I felt it was too much for a pup to be left alone for such a long time. She seemed thrilled with that idea. I took Zoey home and had her on leash. My neighbor’s dog across the street came over unleashed to our house. He sniffed Zoey and then tried to attack her. Fortunately I don’t think he tried to bite her but was just showing his dominance. This was a close call though and I started to rethink, perhaps, it’s not my place to decide what is best for someone’s else’s puppy, that I will just leave Zoey in her crate and do as the neighbor requested and check on her twice a day. Even if puppy cries tear at my heart strings, not my dog.

Then came Toby. Another neighbor reached out for me to keep Zoey at our house for 8 days. Wait, did I say Zoey, I meant Toby, I can't keep track of all these pets! Anyway, before I said yes to being a doggy room and board I checked with Magnum who was becoming a bit concerned that our home was turning into a kennel. Magnum loves pets though and seemed happy to have Toby.

Toby has been a gem. He is a poodle spaniel mix, black and white. He doesn’t shed, he’s quiet, and he and Daisy have become great friends. Toby quickly became attached to me and is very Velcro, which means for those that don’t know, he attaches himself to me, he’s my shadow. All this was very endearing to me. I felt I was giving Toby a five star stay which would please his owners. After all, his lady master told me this was the first dog she ever owned and Toby means the world to her.

At first I let Toby out on a leash as my yard only has one of those invisible fence things. But seeing that Toby was Velcro ,I became very comfortable that if I kept a close eye he would stay within 10 feet of me. Between the puppy, Daisy, and Toby, all three dogs were having fun in the sunshine and pet sitting, even with the lost cat and mauled puppy, was going great.

Then, and I know this is a longer blog, but hang in there, almost getting to the climax. But then Toby took a poopie in the yard. So I took 10 steps into our detached third car garage to grab a poopie bag. I turned my back on Toby for maybe three seconds. When I came out of the garage, closed the door, Toby vanished into thin air. Holy Shitzu, a pet sitter’s worst nightmare, the dog was gone.

I figured he wandered around the house so I hollered his name. He was NO WHERE in sight! Even Daisy began to panic. I think I was on the verge of entering a state of shock.

I rallied the three kids to hop on their bikes and search for him. A white dog against the green backdrop of trees and springtime shouldn’t be hard to spot. But he was NO WHERE to be found. How could this happen?

I rallied a few neighbors to help me in the search. I immediately posted on NEXTDOOR an urgent message to find Toby. I’ve lost our dog Daisy before, we have tons of dogs roaming and wandering and they always find their way home. This is a very dog friendly neighborhood. But Toby is not my dog and who knows his psychosis. Maybe he bolted to find his family? It was a nightmare. And the sun was going down. Darkness was about to set.

Worse yet, since I publicly posted an urgent alert about my pet sitting incompetence I had to call Toby’s owners to notify them before they read on social media that their beloved dog, member of their family that they entrusted me to watch, was missing. The lady master was naturally very distraught and I could hear panic in her voice. I not only lost their fur baby, I ruined their very expensive Disney vacation high.

After another shout out for "Toby" and two of my three kids riding their bikes all over the neighborhood looking for Toby, neighbors posting leaflets - exaggeration, ten minutes after I hung up with Toby's lady master breaking the potentially devastating news to her that I lost her dog, Tommy, my son, found Toby – in our third car garage. Unbeknownst to me, Toby followed me into the garage and I closed the door on him. My lack of attention to detail got me again. Toby is now on doggie lock down.

I quickly called back Toby’s lady master. She was relieved, naturally, but told me to please keep a better watch on Toby. I was sick to my stomach over the whole ordeal. I vowed then and there that I would end my pet sitting venture, and I became a flea once again.

All’s well that ends well, as the saying goes, except I publicly humiliated my pet sitting failure for all current and previously potential pet clients. I announced it on social media! But even worse, I ruined Toby’s owner’s confidence in me and their Disney vacation.

Someday I’m sure I’ll be able to laugh at all of this shenanigans but for now I opened that bottle of wine Shatzi and Max Shitzu owners brought me. I disclosed my misgivings as a pet sitter to Brady and Lucy's owners and I’ve given up watching the puppy at my home. The biggest lesson learned though is don’t let dogs off leashes.

After my disclosure to Brady and Lucy’s owner, she laughed but warned me that Lucy is a little escape artist so when I watch her pets this weekend, yes she still trusts me, and I made a commitment to her, watch out.


"If you are a dog and  your owner suggests that you wear a sweater suggest that he wear a tail"
Fran Lebowitz

Friday, March 24, 2017

Life with Jack and Jane: Part II Jane, "Queen of Queens"

I gave a little character description of Uncle Jack in Part I of Life with Jack and Jane (read: Jane, Aunt Jane, Uncle Jack’s common law spouse, was in complete contrast to my Uncle Jack. My Uncle Jack was 100% Irish Catholic. Jane was 100% Jewish. Uncle Jack, six foot something plus, Jane, four foot eleven on a good day. Jack was a comedian, never to be taken too seriously. He drank and ate too much and did other stuff too much. He even cussed. Jane did not. She laughed all the time, mostly at Jack, but she had not a comedic bone in her tiny frame.

Speaking of her tiny frame, Jane was one round ball from head to toe. She ate like a bird but looked like a hippo. There were no lines stopping to define where her head met her chin all the way to her ankles meeting her feet. Her hair was a frizzy, mousy brown, cut short with big, dark rimmed glasses, sallow skin that makeup may have addressed, and a really large gap in her two front teeth. She smelled like lilacs and intense body odor with maybe a hint of moth balls and soot she picked up from living with Jack.

Appearances don’t matter when you are the sweetest "Queen of Queens."

Jane was one of the finest people I have ever known. Not only was she lacking a funny, comedic bone but she also was missing a mean bone. I never heard her speak a bad word about anyone or anything. She always saw the best in everything. She was also extremely respectful of everyone, she never judged, her manners and taste were impeccable. She was dainty and polite.

Generous and thoughtful with Jane were a given. She minded her business and never got in anyone’s way. I honestly do not think she ventured much past Queens other than to travel to work. Maybe she took the occasional trip to New Jersey to visit her sisters or our family. But other than that, I really don’t think she left Queens. She may not have been a worldly queen but she guarded and preserved her territory like any great ruler.

That’s why I crown Jane "Queen of Queens!"

Jane, a native Jew from Queens, was married once before to another native Queens Jewish man whose parents escaped a Nazi concentration camp, or were rescued by the Americans from a camp at the end of the war. Whatever the specific details of the story, that’s how they ended up in America. They were Holocaust survivors that went on to live the American dream. They built a fortune in American in, if memory serves me, the steel industry. They had a son, Jane’s husband. Jane and her husband had a child named Jill.

Jane and I would spend countless hours talking, mostly every Friday evening when she would end her work week at the United Nations and mine at Simon and Schuster publishing firm. We’d commence the long week by ordering Chinese, sitting at her traditionally appointed mahogany dining table, eating our broccoli with chicken and brown sauce. We would talk and talk while Uncle Jack, um, hmm... tended to his plants.

I often wondered what happened in her marriage and why she and my Uncle Jack after all these years of committing to one another had never married. I began to inquire, like any novice investigative reporter, in a very nonchalant, quasi manipulative manner. Knowing such an answer to my question would require her to delve much past the point of my inquiry’s origin I proceeded to ask, "How did you and Jack meet?"

In her Minnie Mouse voice, in contrast to my Uncle Jack’s Frosty the Snowman loud, husky diction, she told me Jack had just returned from Vietnam and she was recently a widow.

“Yes, I was told your husband had passed away. How did it happen if I may ask?”

Now one thing about Jane, "Queen of Queens," she was so sweet she put a sugary spin on everything. She never would say a single bad word about anyone or anything. In her thick Queens’s accent she began to tell me her story, “Oh, he was verwee, verwee sick. He was in horwible pain. He had, sorwt of like a brwain tuma, you know like a big mass in his brwain, cawsed him terrwible, terrwible pain. It got werse, and werse and he eventually died."

I’m thinking he had a brain tumor and that’s what killed him. No, that’s not what happened. She continued with her story, “He shot himself in the head from the tuma. I trwied to take the gun frwom him but he pointed it towards me and my little gurl and luckily we were fine but he shot himself.”

I continued to listen. “It wasn’t his fawlt ya know, he was verwee, verwee sick. He hearwd voices and stuff so he didn’t know any better. And so I was verwee, verwee sad. My little gurl, she was verwee young. But he died. He had a lot of demons in his head that herwt him so I can’t blame him. He had no choice.”

"My little gurl and I ran to the closet. We were vewry scaed. I was worried. Ya know, back then we didn't have cawdless phones so I could cawl anyone. We just waited and hearwd the gun and well, he died. We came out of the closet and he was on the flowa and he must have been in so much pain from the tuma, I can only imagine. He was suffering so much he had to do it. He was vewry sick."

I didn't know what to say so I said nothing. I felt I had pried too much, perhaps overstepped boundaries for her to share such a painful memory over Chinese food, on a Friday, after a long work week. But Jane was happy to continue down memory lane.

“I met yaw Uncle Jack on the street one day. He stopped to tawk to me. Yaw Uncle Jack was so sweet to me and my little gurl. And he was so vewry handsome. And chaming. And from there the rest is histowry.” She ended with a little giggle, covering her mouth as her body jiggled from laughter.

Handsome and charming? I was startled, “Uncle Jack, handsome?" I said.

"Oh yes, vewry handsome." She covered her mouth again as she giggled a body jiggle. She was so proud and glowing as she spoke of him. "Heyr, let me show you some pictchas." She pulled out some pictures of her and Uncle Jack, circa 1970 something, with bell bottoms and platform shoes, hairy chests sprouting from collared polyester shirts. My Uncle Jack was, to put it in a non-weird niece way, hot! Tall, tan, golden, blond hair, no mustache, no oversized tie-dye t-shirt, muscular, obviously carrying the confidence of someone who feels the world is their oyster and they are young and invincible. Jane likewise was hot! Slender, curvaceous, stylish, well-coiffed hair, accessorized, beautiful makeup, just drop dead gorgeous.

“Who were these people and what happened to them?” I asked myself.

Upon viewing the photos I began to string together my own answers to my curiosity about Jack and Jane. It was like “Bizarro World” out of the movie Superman, reenacted in the popular sitcom of the times “Seinfeld” nothing was as it seemed but it all made sense.

They had both been to battle and were survivors, living with their scars, keeping them tucked away in a compartment, occasionally recounting them in a soliloquy for the young and stupid like me. 

I was given a glimpse into my future. Who I am today may not be who I am tomorrow. Of course we're always changing and growing but to an unrecognizable point? Yes, quite possibly, what happens today will catch up with my tomorrows and over power my yesteryears. Today I have youthful exuberance glowing from my na├»ve and untested soul.  Years from now I could become a vestige of my former self, unrecognizable to me but judged by strangers for my imperfections carved by life’s trials, in what form, in what story, I yet to know will present themselves but I know they're waiting.

I was haunted, once again.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Life with Jack and Jane: Part 1 “Moving On Up”

“I installed a skylight in my apartment…
the people who live above me are very furious!” Steven Wright

With my few belonging I packed up and headed to Queens, NY. I left my sheltered, suburban life behind. In one trip, all that I knew was a thing of the past and what lay ahead I hadn’t a clue.

Jack and Jane were common law spouses. They had lived together for over twenty years. They resided in a rent controlled, pre-war apartment building in Forest Hills, Queens, NY. Forest Hills was considered a ritzy borough. To me, it was a city: dirty, crowded, and concrete. They did live in a really nice building. The lobby was grand, with black and white marble floors, brass accents, spacious, like a page out of a featured art deco design in an Architectural Digest magazine.

Their apartment was comfortable and loaded with character. Beautiful built-ins and shelving, crown molding everywhere, hard wood floors throughout, a modest dining room with French doors, a large landing that stepped down into a generous living room. The kitchen was galley style but it had a nice window. A long hallway led to two very spacious bedrooms with windows that let in a lot of natural light. And of course one bathroom for three adults to share.

I had my own room with a king size bed, a black and white TV, and a pretty, peach satin fabric chair and ottoman. I moved in the summer of 1996.

The apartment had no air conditioning and New York City summers are hot and humid, sticky and stinky. I slept with my window open as wide as it would open just to let some type of breeze blow through and reach my clammy, perspiring skin. Every now and then a light, feathery gust would whisper through but mostly the sound of JFK airport two miles away, car alarms, and neighbors arguing and shouting their home life dysfunction was the only breeze I felt.

The building was a block away from the subway so I could walk and then ride to my city job at a large publishing house. Groceries could be delivered or a quick walk across a four lane highway could fetch one the necessities of nourishment.

Forest Hills had a street lined shopping district which was fun to browse. The original US Open tennis stadium was around the corner, and a slice of suburbia was tucked away, filled with glorious and gorgeous historic Tudors and mini-mansions. I loved walking those streets. I would catch families coming out of their homes, getting in their cars for a weekend excursion. I wondered, “Did their mom just finish making them blueberry pancakes?”

Yes, I very much missed my family but this was a new chapter in my life. I was an adult, still not fully independent, but those days of Saturday morning pancakes made by mom with Bisquick and blueberries, would have to be saved in a box and pulled out years later like a recipe passed down from generation to generation.

Life with Jack and Jane was good. They rescued me and I am eternally grateful. If I could ever repay the favor, not sure how, but maybe someday I would if I could. I was still in survival mode though so such a thought was brief.

Jack was my mom’s oldest brother. He was about six feet plus and inch or two, looked like Santa Claus with his big belly on his 300 pound frame. He sounded, and picture this because this is truly how he sounded, his voice sounded like Frosty the Snowman. Like when Frosty comes to life and says “Happy Birthday” that was my Uncle Jack’s voice.

Jack was always cheery, happy, easy going, thoughtful, kind, and generous. He always liked to try to make you laugh or put a smile on your face even if he paid a self-deprecation expense. He reminded me so much of my grandmother, his mother, except with a mustache and shorter hair. Even their hands were the same. I think they even smelled the same. Like moth balls, cologne, and soot with a hint of body odor.

Yes Jack always seemed happy. A fifty something Vietnam veteran hippie with a green thumb. He grew these funny looking plants in his living room window. They had these little brownish, black seeds I used to find all over the apartment. I’m not sure what type of plant it was but it sure made him happy – and hungry!

Every night he’d hunker down in his room after a long day of cleaning the subways. Some funky smell emanated from under the crack of the door. I knew he had a six pack of beer that he finished every night so I gather he had a touch of the Irish in his bones. But then he’d get the munchies and finish off a gallon of milk and an entire Entenmann’s yellow cake with fudge icing.

I learned not to mess with his cake. One day I couldn’t resist and figured he wouldn’t mind if I had a slice or two. I probably should have asked before I ate but we were family. Never again! That was the first time I saw Uncle Jack cranky, anger, and quite frankly bitter. Never again would I touch his chocolate cake.

Life with Jack and Jane was so easy going. We were three peas in a pod. They said I was like a ray of sunshine to them which was nice to hear. We would talk and talk and talk about anything and everything. One time Uncle Jack even broke out some old photos of his days in Nam. After two tours of duty, he told me he’d go back there in a heartbeat. He told me part of him never left and there was the happiest days of his life.

I asked him, “So you really enjoyed being a cook?” He said, “Cook?! No darlin’ I was on the frontline.” And then he proceeded to tell me how he was crossing this field in Vietnam, by himself and out from the woods or jungle comes another American soldier, his cousin Noelle whom he grew up with in Bel Harbor, NY. Neither one had any idea the other was in Nam. They stood there, just the two of them in the field, talking, reminiscing, very surreal, a moment of extreme euphoria and then headed back towards their assigned platoons.

I said, “Hmm, I always thought you were a cook.”

He said, “Nah, that’s just what I told my motha so she wouldn’t worry.”

Yes, life with Jack and Jane would teach me a lot.

Following is the link to the prelude if interested in starting from the beginning:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life with Jack and Jane: Prelude to a Story

“I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it – but take care not to smile at any part of it.” Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

I was alone and scared, and desperate, living beneath the eaves of a great home, filled with young children and a loving couple, who gave me refuge within their castle. Cast away in the basement, I hid from shame, I covered my mind from fear, cowering at my present situation. I was homeless and penniless when it seemed just yesterday I was a princess in my own castle, with a family filled with love and warmth. But that time passed and I was alone and cold.

I would hear noises in the basement. They sounded like voices of demons and ghosts and they frightened me, but I knew it was just the air conditioner preparing to exhale. The basement was so dark I saw visions floating past me, but I realized my eyes were just closed and my imagination was catching me.

I couldn’t sleep for when I did, I was haunted. I would dream of her but she was unreachable. I dreamt we were at a large arena filled with familiar faces of everyday life. Sitting in the stands I was at the bottom of the bleachers searching for her and I spotted her way up top. I called out to her “Mom!” but she did not hear me. She was too busy talking to others. I reached out to her for one last embrace, to cherish her being, but the dream ended and she was gone. I dreamt this dream over and over, waking to tears flooding from me, dripping onto my already cold skin.

As much as I wished, and wrenched my heart wishing it so, those were days long gone. Instead I found myself alone, shunned from all I knew, knowing I must leave. "This is not my home. I am not a guest. I am a bum who has graciously been given temporary shelter. I don’t belong here and my welcome is a burden."

My wound still had not even begun to heal, and it was fresh, raw and hurting. The healing process had not even started. I wished I were a little girl again when my mom was there to hold me and make it all better. She would always say to me that the pain means, “It’s getting better, getting better” as she'd sing a little tune. And I believed it. But she was gone and the pain was getting worse.

My wound couldn't be seen, but my anger spoke of it, “Till it happens to you, you won’t know how I feel.” I needed to pull myself together, and I’d be fine. Hold my head up and be strong, I needed to get up and move on. But what the hell did I know?

Tears still poured from me. My fear of the ghosts and demons paralyzed me. My eyes clenched shut I prayed for reprieve, for an answer. And then my prayer was answered. I saw my grandmother, with her bright red hair, glowing skin, eyes filled with rays, her full and portly figure. I loved and missed her very much. She always had a smile on her face and gave when she had nothing to give.

She spoke to me, “Call your Uncle Jack.”

The next morning, light filtered in from the basement window well, reminding me the day was new. I called my Uncle Jack. I had a job offer in the big city but the pay was too little for me to afford rent. But it was a job. If I could find a way to make it work things would work out. Maybe if Uncle Jack would let me live with him and my Aunt Jane, things would be ok?

I dialed his number. The phone rang. My Aunt Jane picked up. Before I could even get the words out to ask, she said, in her Minnie Mouse voice with thick New York accent, “You come live with us.”

I asked him how they knew why I was calling. My Uncle Jack told me that he was at church one Sunday and this lady was in front of him. She had bright red hair, glowing skin, eyes filled with rays, and a full and portly figure. “For a moment, I thought it was my mother,” he said. “And when you called, we just knew.”

And just like that, I moved on.