Perfect Moments

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In the sixties, when I used to sit down cross-legged on the floor to watch the escapades of the Starship Enterprise and her crew, I was a fan of Captain James T. Kirk.  We raised Doberman Pinschers and William Shatner had Doberman Pinschers and he was a charismatic figure.

Mr. Spock inspired less feeling for me. He always seemed something of a cold fish, and since I was a girl of many passionate opinions, I just didn’t care that much for unflappable logic of the half-Vulcan half-human man with the pointy ears.

So I never became a Trekkie (or “Trekker” as apparently they prefer) but I did, in time, get to be a huge fan of Leonard Nimoy. That started at a party, where someone had a copy of The New World of Leonard Nimoy, which contains gems like “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and “Proud Mary,” “I Walk the Line” and “Let It Be Me.”

Nimoy was clearly a man of many gifts. Singing wasn’t one of them. This record was dreadful. And it wasn’t his first, he’d had at least three others before this one, I was told. We didn’t know if he was so tone-deaf that he didn’t know that he couldn’t sing, or if he just didn’t care. There was something appealing about that. Clearly, he enjoyed making records, his ego didn’t need for them to be good records.

Each time I saw Leonard Nimoy doing something other than Star Trek, I was charmed. He was an educated, intelligent, gracious man. He had a strange relationship with Mr. Spock, evidenced by the title of his 1975 memoir “I Am Not Spock” and also by his second one twenty years later “I Am Spock.”

Nimoy was a kind of Renaissance man for Hollywood. He wrote books of poetry, was an avid and accomplished photographer, recorded those awful records, and did film and television work that had nothing to do with Vulcans.

Like a television movie about Golda Meir. And he directed Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby and Diane Keaton in The Good Mother. He wrote and starred in a one man play about Vincent Van Gogh. He appeared in a mini-series of The Sun Also Rises. (As Count Mippipopolous. He was versatile, but Jake Barnes might have been a stretch.)

He was not a one-trick pony, certainly, but that one defining role was the one he was never able to shake.

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock eat pie.

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock eat pie.

 

He was gentle with his Star Trek fans though, and made frequent appearances in regards to the beloved character. He often appeared with his old friend, William Shatner, including a few cameos on Shatner’s gig for Priceline. There were talk shows, conventions, the role reprised on both television and the large screen.

He provided voice-overs for “Spock” on the Simpsons, Futurama, Big Bang Theory. When Leonard Nimoy’s death was announced this morning someone wrote “Who will tell Sheldon?”

Leonard Nimoy’s stepson signed Bruno Mars to the Warner Brothers. That might have been the extent of it, but no, there’s Leonard playing an fictive self in a ratty bathrobe in an alternate version to “The Lazy Song.” The character is really pretty scurrilous– what Leonard Nimoy might have been if he was bitter and lonely and living in the San Fernando Valley. It’s amazing he was able to keep a straight face, but I guess he had practice.

Because of course, he was neither bitter nor lonely.

In a taped interview included in the New York Times obituary, he explained how the Vulcan Salute came to be. It turns out the that the now iconic gesture– with which almost everyone greeted Leonard Nimoy (including President Obama) was one he observed during a Kohanic blessing at temple when he was a child in Boston.

Though his father instructed him to turn away, to avert his eyes, he peeked. He saw the Jewish priests’ outstretched hands in blessing and he thought it “magical.” He suggested the V-shape hand signal (it is actually the sign for the Hebrew Shin)  to Gene Roddenberry many years later, and a chapter in popular culture was born. But watch the video at the link. To hear him tell the story is lovely.

Just over a year ago, Leonard Nimoy was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s a ghastly way to die.

“I quit smoking 30 yrs ago,” he tweeted to his fans. “Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP.”

LLAP. “Live Long and Prosper. ”

“Smokers, please understand,” the messages continued. “If you quit after you’re diagnosed with lung damage it’s too late. Grandpa says learn my lesson. Quit now. LLAP. I’m doing OK. Just can’t walk distances. Love my life, family, friends and followers.”

On the 23rd of February, his last tweet was posted.

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.

He probably didn’t come up with his last message on Monday. He’s had a little time to think about how to say goodbye to all those people who loved him and his character so much. It doesn’t matter when he came up with it, it is his last, most beautiful, gift to his fans.

My friend David Weinstock wrote today  “Hail Spock, who made the 1970s a better place for Jewish boys with strange ears.”

It must be a very difficult time for Leonard Nimoy’s family and for his friends and for his colleagues and all of the people who knew him so well and enjoyed him so much. I know this to be true because of how his death this morning, at the age of 83, has affected the rest of us.

I admit it, I have wept.

Highly illogical.

 

 

 

 

 

Addled.

Living Inside the Migraine. 

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It starts with a missing letter in the instruction manual.

The ends of words start to evaporate.

The harder I look at them the more they disappear.

There’s no pain, though, so I’m hoping that perhaps this is something else. Even as I hope I know that I am kidding myself.

 

I am at a friend’s house, installing his new printer. It’s a simple task, but he is older, a self-professed technophobe. What’s remarkable is that he even has a computer.

Something isn’t working right though. Everything’s plugged in but it won’t print, it only wants to send a fax.  The manual, in three languages, has some trouble shooting tips.

Make sure the printer is plugged in.

Make sure the cables are secure.

The harder I try to read the manual, the more the words slip away.

 

The very first migraine I ever experienced was an ocular migraine– an ophthalmic deficit. There was no pain, but it scared the living daylights out of me. That’s not what this is, though. Oh, that’s part of it. But I know that more is coming.

Online, a number for tech support is found– of course, it’s not in the manual. The questions are automated. I answer them. Finally, I have a conversation with someone in the Philipines. A man, a woman, I can’t tell. They are very kind though I am sure they must think I am an idiot. They ask for the serial number.

I try to read the serial number, folding myself over the printer. Is that a D or a zero? It must be close enough. “Thank you so much,” the voice says.

A few minutes later I can’t remember the word “serial.”

The words are slipping away faster and faster.

The technician takes control of the computer by remote. A few settings are adjusted and the printer is working. At least I think it is working. It’s not a Mac, I’m not familiar with the platform, I can’t think of the words I need to use to explain this.

A man arrives, a friend of the friend. I know him, I can’t think of his name. I know his name. It’s not a matter of not remembering, it’s just the name won’t come back to me.

“Hello! How are you!” I offer heartily.  Because we are polite, we make the best of it. They are talking about the Westminster Dog Show. This is a topic I know very well, but I can’t follow their conversation. The sentences seem fragmented and nonsensical.

“Are you coming with us to dinner?” the friend asks.

Only the truth is left.

“I’m in a migraine, I’m so regretful. No, I’m sorry.” My face is pink with embarrassment.

“Oh no,” my friend says “I caused it.”

“No, no” I say, smiling, shaking my head. Frightened.

 

The triggers are cumulative.  Eating. Not eating. Not enough sleep. Nitrates. Stress. Pollen. Hormones. Barometric pressure. Light. The smell of diesel fuel. How they piled up this time isn’t obvious, but even it was obvious, I can’t put anything together in any kind of order. It doesn’t matter why.

They are in another room, I think. I put on my coat and gloves, find my keys, call out my goodbyes. At least I think I did. I hope I did.

The curb is awash in slush. It’s dark out. It’s a bit like being drunk, but there’s no buzz. Just clumsy.  From a stop light, I call my husband.

It’s a struggle to speak.

“It’s a migraine. Coming—  ”

The word “home” escapes me.

“House,” I say.

“Where are you?”

I think hard. I know where I am. I can’t find the name —

“Wa—something.”

“Wayne?”

“Yes.”

I am afraid I won’t be able to navigate the car into the garage, but I don’t know how to convey that. I can’t remember what a garage is called. My brain keeps tripping on “garden” and “gadget”. Those aren’t right. I try.

“I’ll bring car to the . . . porch. Will you park?”

“Of course. I’ll look for you.”

I drive methodically, but it is instinct that leads me home. There is some pain now, someone inside my head with a small hammer.

I wonder if I should go to the hospital instead.  I know that I am out of migraine meds, I’ve been out of migraine meds for months. It’s taken me 5 months to get an appointment with the neurologist, March 4.

But I will go to the hospital if I.

If I.

If I what?

If I think this is a stroke.

If I think this is a stroke I will go to the hospital.

I curl my tongue, roll it to form a tube. Inventory left and right feet, hands, shoulders. It feels like the left side of my mouth is drooping, but when I check my reflection at a stoplight, it looks fine.

Frown lines, I hadn’t noticed those.

The streets are full of rutted snow. The usual U-turn in front of the house won’t be possible. I drive around the block. Where are the flashers?

He meets me on the sidewalk, a kiss.  Our son is waiting for me, he says.

Half-an-hour ago I was fine.

The door opens and there’s my kid, smiling. “Are you okay?”

I shrug, nod.

The word is there, let me find it.

“Headache.”

In the kitchen, I break some Irish soda bread, and butter it generously. I am suddenly starving.

Did I eat today? Yogurt, blueberries, granola.

My son is explaining something. The words cascade over me like water.

“Wait. I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t do more than three or four words.”

My husband comes in the kitchen door, stomping the snow from his feet.

“Do you want some eggs?”, he asks taking off his coat.  “You could use some protein.”

I nod. When he asks how many I don’t answer. I’m not ignoring him. I’m just so addled.

On the sofa, I sit with the buttered Irish bread. On the television, they are honoring Bob Simon on 60 Minutes. When Morley Safer talks about him, I wipe the tears from my face.

The eggs come, I eat them, measuring each bite. Focus on that one thing. The color, the texture, the warmth. A mean imitation of being drunk– everything swims around you, except a single thing you can concentrate on. In the old days, it might be the ice in the bottom of the glass. The cocktail napkin folded into abstract origami. Your lover’s mouth.

Now it is scrambled eggs.

On the sofa I doze sitting up. In half-sleep I hear Bob Simon’s voice and it confuses me. He’s dead. Oh, right. They’re covering his stories.  Srebrenica. The Lost Boys. He’s delighted to return Rafael Nadal’s serve. Naked children swimming, the Moken.

I can’t keep my eyes open. They’re playing cellos made from recycled garbage. “Mongolian horsehead fiddles”, I think, knowing as I think it that I’m wrong. Wrong continent.

When I awake, half an hour later, it’s all over. My head feels tender, like it’s been bruised on the inside somehow. But my words come back to me, lined up in order, ready to serve.  This struggle is finished, this one is done. I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Of Soup and Love

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“Of soup and love, the first is better.” — Spanish Proverb

 

It’s been cold for days. It’s the end of the month, which means both groceries and money are short. But there’s a chicken in the freezer and soup seems like a good idea.  My mother made a chicken soup and rice when I was growing up; it was an excellent soup for tea and sympathy.

Years ago, in the unending quest to make chicken soup interesting, I concocted a recipe which has become one of the standards here: whole chicken, well-salted, simmered until tender. Remove the carcass, add chili powder, cumin, sriracha, blend to incorporate schmaltz and broth.  Pick chicken. Set aside the cartilage, skin, and nasty little parts for the dogs. Return the meat to the broth, add corn, diced red pepper, vidalia onion, garlic, beans, cilantro and rice. Serve with diced avocado, shredded manchengo cheese, more chopped fresh cilantro.

It’s a good night for it, and it makes a huge pot of food and sustains our little family for several days.

Given that I was wrestling pigs in mud (well, really, I was handling people being obtuse, but it might as well have been pigs in mud) I asked my beloved if he would mind putting the chicken in the pot to start. He swears he added salt, but I think he must have been distracted. He kept rushing the pot outdoors to the nearly-zero temperature so it would cool quickly. My God, we’ve developed hang-ups about food safety regarding chicken.

The carcass is cooked to the point of disintegration. No big deal, it will be more like a chicken stew. I chop and slice, open cans and bags of vegetables, add the rice and go to read. Occasionally, wandering through the kitchen, I give it a stir, add a bit of something. An unsalted chicken is a tall hurdle to cross.

Along the way I am distracted. When I come back to check, the rice has cooked nearly to porridge, a kind of Chinese jook. Not my preference, but it will be okay. But when I begin to stir, I realize that the rice has scorched to the bottom.

Now the members of my husband’s tribe make a scorched rice soup– it’s called something like “fahn-del” — that may not be right– it always makes me think of a baby’s “fontanelle” when he mentions it. He used to claim to be making scorched rice soup every time he burned the rice in one of my saucepans.  Eventually we bought a rice cooker.

So now there is a slight scorched taste to the soup, but adding more sriracha and cilantro masks it well enough. Elmer doesn’t mind. Later, when I lift the lid to show our son that there was a pot of soup, I see that it is full of something that looked like blackened cornflakes floating on the surface.

“Did you scrape up the scorched rice from the bottom of the pot?” I ask him. He nods vigorously, smiling. “It’s good that way.”

For you, maybe.

He may well be Chinese-American, but he was born and brought up in Los Angeles, and grew up eating hot dogs and fried chicken along with the traditional dishes his mother made. Why on earth would he think that we would want to eat soup with scorched black rice bits floating in it? For a moment I wonder if it was some kind of passive-aggressive nonsense, but another carryover from growing up Chinese is the inability to waste food. (“I’ll just scrape the mold off, it will be fine.”) So he wouldn’t set out to ruin a pot of soup for the rest of us just to be bloody minded.

Julian heats up some frozen taquitos.

There’s a maple yogurt in the fridge, I can add some granola to it.

 

 

Soft Landing

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Martha Dog on her first night here.

 

A woman I’d met in Boston Terrier rescue sent me the photo. Did I know how to contact anyone in American Foxhound rescue, she asked. I wrote back to her. There is no American Foxhound rescue.

American Foxhounds are one of the rarest breeds in the American Kennel Club. There are probably fewer that 20 of them being shown in the country right now. But truly the breed is not rare.

In the south, particularly, they are a popular hunting dog, used for trail hunting  on deer, coyote, foxes. It’s not that unusual to find them in pens of  ten, twenty, a hundred. The same in the mid-Atlantic region where they run in huge packs alongside horses and riders.

Even good hunting dogs get lost. The National Bench champion from three years go ran off with the rest when the hounds were “cast” during the final element of competition, and was never seen again.

Dogs who are troublesome are turned over to shelters, or simply turned loose. It takes an educated eye to distinguish an American Foxhound from its cousin, the Treeing Walker Coonhound and in fact, the popular tri-colored Foxhound is often referred to as the Running Walker.

This is a long way of getting to a short brutal fact: the southern pounds and shelters and rescues are full of tri-colored hounds, and there is no specific rescue to spring them. They are often not placed from shelters because they don’t do well with overstimulation and they tend to cower in the runs.

They can be a handful for first time dog owners– any hound can. They are the most independent of the dog breeds. They love to sing. They can scale fences and any hole they can get their heads through, their limber bodies soon follow.

I have a small pack of Foxhounds, retired show dogs who sleep on sofas and eat ice cream on their birthdays. It hurts my heart that there is no organized rescue for Foxhounds and truly, I just try not to think about it.

The woman wrote back. These two hounds were in the Johnson County Garage, because Johnson County, Kentucky doesn’t have a shelter. They’d made a few pens in the county garage and some  very dedicated and hardworking women labored tirelessly to place the dogs and cats that came in– because those that weren’t placed by Friday afternoon went to animal control the next town over, where they were killed.

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I looked at Johnson County on a map. There was a guy there who’d bred Foxhounds in a town there. He had the sire of one of my dogs and the grandsire of another. I looked at the picture of the dogs more closely. Was that a familiar profile I saw? Were these dogs family?

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There was a dog show in Lexington beginning on Thursday. I was going that far already. How much farther could Paintsville be?

Quite a bit farther as it turns out, more than 100 miles through the Appalachian mountains. We were pretty much broke. It took some careful finagling to get together the money to buy gas drive just to Lexington. Feeding two more hounds wasn’t really a move in the right direction.

I went anyway. Another Foxhound exhibitor gave me $40 to buy some extra dog food. I figured I’d get them home and place them. At least they wouldn’t be dead. Yeah, they seemed a little long in the tooth. And yeah, there’s not even much of a market for Foxhound show puppies, but maybe someone would step up.

A woman met me in the parking lot of Tractor Supply in Paintsville. The hounds were in crates in the back of her pick up. I opened up the back of the Jeep and she helped me load them. First the male, then the gyp. The male looked so old and tired, I wondered if he’d survive the trip home. My own Foxhound girl, clean and shiny for the show, seem to recoil in her crate.

One look told me what my head should have known anyway. These dogs weren’t related to our dogs. They were Foxhounds, certainly. From someone’s pen, no doubt.  But there was no way I could say no at that point. It was Thursday afternoon, they only had a few hours left.

I called my husband to tell him I was on my way home.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“I’m just leaving Paintsville.”

Paintsville!  You didn’t go and get those dogs did you?”

“What? I can’t hear you, must be a bad signal here. Call you later. Love you. Bye.”

I stopped at a gas station just outside the on-ramp to US 52 to put a bit more gas in the tank, get an iced tea, walk the dogs.

“Just wait a minute, Gracie. Let me walk these two first.” The old pair hopped out of the back and went along pretty happily on leashes with me through a vacant lot. Gracie howled her displeasure from the Jeep. With a deep sigh the male dog squatted and deposited a pile of turds as big as a cantaloupe. Within minutes, the other one too had left a steaming mountain — they must have been holding it in for a few days.

I came back with Gracie and some plastic bags to clean up after them. Gracie stood far away, with one delicate foot poised in the air, watching me bag the evidence.

When we got home, my husband was annoyed, but resigned. He knew what he signed up for when he married me. We put the old dogs in a run for the night, he was tender with them. I knew what I signed up for when I married him too. The dogs seemed quite happy.

“It’ll be okay,” I said. “I’m sure I can place them.”

We called them George and Martha, after the Washingtons. George Washington developed the American Foxhound by crossing French staghounds with the slower English Foxhound in order to create a dog that could give chase to the quick brown fox.

For a few weeks George and Martha lived happily in the kennel run– they had a dog house and seemed content. They’d been fed communally and even though we brought them separate dishes, they’d eat first out of one bowl and then out of the second. Neither wanted to come inside.

Then Martha came into season, and she had to be separated from George. Then the autumn chill came on, and George had to come in as well. It was quite an ordeal to get him into the kitchen as he seemed certain that his life would end in many a hideous fashion if he crossed the threshold.

It’s an unfortunate trend that people like to talk about what awful lives their rescued dogs must have had before they came to live with them, as if the worse it was the more virtuous that made the “adopter” or “rescuer.”  Shelters feed into this by embellishing or creating terrible life stories to go with each dog.

Were George and Martha abused? Probably not. They weren’t well socialized– they’d been hunting dogs. Maybe they’d had more rough handling than tenderness, but they still looked to people for affection.  Who’s to say how they came to be trotting down a highway in rural Kentucky one morning, but the only one who ever came for them was me.

I kept telling George and Martha when they arrived that this was just a way-station for them, just a stop on the journey to their forever homes, and they would look at me and smile and wag their tails as if they knew different.

I guess they knew different.

You can probably figure the rest of the story. Eighteen months later George and Martha are still here. I never did get around to even trying to network them. Occasionally my husband grouses about the extra mouths to feed, but they’re old dogs. They’re happy here. A commitment to the “rest of their lives” is no more than a year or two.

George spends most of his time hanging out with two of our other dogs. I would have said originally that George and Martha were a bonded pair, but really Martha has little patience for George. George is not the smartest of dogs– he’s easily confused. I believe now that he is quite profoundly deaf.

Martha sleeps in my study. If we move her bed she can’t find it, but she sees well enough to get around the house and mosey through the yard. She is always cheerful. She loves the sound of her name, a bowl of her own, cookies at bedtime, a soft landing.

Scenic Route 53


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“A great alternative way to reach Grants from Gallup is via Scenic Route 53, which runs parallel to, and south of, I-40. It takes a full day to really experience this out-of-this-world landscape of lava tubes and red arches, volcanic craters and ice caves, as well as unique historical attractions and traditional New Mexican towns.”  

-Lonely Planet

On Friday, I turned 53. I’m not particularly bothered by it. I happened to be online around 1 a.m. and commented that I’d been 53 for 53 minutes, to which my mother (the next day) said “Not exactly.” Which is true, I wasn’t born until 6:40 in the evening. My father had gone home to make a sandwich.

And it was one time zone over, so I guess I wasn’t truly 53 years old until twenty minutes of eight on Friday. But that’s not what this is about. I could be turning 39 or 57 or 10.

This is about expectations.

Like everybody, I’ve had good birthdays and crappy ones. I’ve had full-blown week-long celebrations and birthdays that passed with little notice. Oh wait, that last part’s not true.  I’ve never had a birthday that passed without notice.

But lately I’ve started to realize that the enjoyment I found in a celebration had direct correlation to what I expected from it– but not having any expectations is not only not realistic, it’s not the answer.  The answer is this: make your own fun.

One of the very best things about my birthday is that the weather, which has been a socked-in-solid deep freeze for the last several weeks began to thaw. I know it isn’t spring, this is still January. But it was forty something, and the air felt soft. I went out into the world wearing a velvet coat.

It starts with a swim at the Y, a brand new luxury for me. The day before my husband went with me to sign up for a membership and bought a parking pass for good measure. Then we went out to buy shoes.

“Shoes?” you query. “Who needs shoes to swim in a pool?” Well, that’s true. I don’t need shoes to swim in a pool. But I might need them to sneak a little walking or racquetball or some other exercise disguised as fun. This is a very delicate arrangement, I don’t want to frighten my good intentions.  These are the shoes, they’re far more gaudy than any pair of shoes I’ve ever bought in my life, my footwear exists in the spectrum from Doc Martens to sensible Mary Janes.

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After swimming, it was off to the kind of meeting that makes you wish you were having a root canal instead. For two hours. Lord help me. Save us from people who refuse to be reassured and offer nothing in the way of solution or support.

And I didn’t even get paid for those two hours lost forever from my life, on my birthday no less– it was all part of a volunteer gig. On the other hand I was the youngest person in the room. That gives me faith that 53 is not all that old, and that there are still plenty of years ahead for me to make trouble.

After the meeting, a late lunch with a friend. The white tablecloth restaurant where we hoped to go had closed for lunch, so we ended up at Panera, but that was alright, I had a favorite salad and it was delicious. My friend gave me this wonderful birthday card, one of the best I’ve ever seen. Inside it says “You’re just a few clicks past thirty.”

 

bostonbdayI would have lingered longer but I had to go pick up my son.

At home, there were birthday cards– one, from my father’s widow, had a generous check enclosed. There was an odd shaped package from my mother, which turned out to be a tall object resembling an umbrella stand.  We don’t think it truly is an umbrella stand, but it has found a place in the hallway and I like it.

Earlier, on our way to the closed restaurant, I passed by the windows of a shop I had only seen from the car. I’d always thought it was a high end gift shop– you know, home of the $40 paperweight. But walking by the window I saw on a shelf a figure of a dog, but I hadn’t had time to check it out before going home. So, it’s my birthday, right, I’ll indulge myself a little.

Back to the shop, and it is chock full of interesting stuff, shiny baubles and costume jewelry and beautiful French wrapping paper. The dog figure is only ten dollars, but it looks like the head of a mastiff on the body of a hound, so I pass on that, but pause over a number of bracelets, inspect some marked down Christmas ornaments and buy some French wrapping paper. It’s a place I’ll go back to, I’m only sorry it took me so long to go in the first time.

From there to the weird hum of the Goodwill outlet, where I found a blue plaid wool blanket, a poster from a Grand Funk Railroad tour, a first edition of LeRoy Neiman’s Art and Lifestyle, an interesting Melmac tray and a Magnajector. This is a Magnajector.

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From Goodwill to the grocery store, and flush with the unexpected birthday check, I splurge on steaks for us. And a ganache-covered torte to serve as birthday cake.

Birthday dinner, then was sublime. More relaxed than any restaurant and you could go back for seconds. No candles on the torte and no singing (that may have been a misstep) but the cake was awesome.

It was nearly midnight before I sat down to check the computer. There were emails. A couple of texts. Some Facebook messages . . . and more than 150 posts wishing me a happy birthday. Some of them so perfect as to be gifts all in themselves.

Like this one.

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And this one from my friend, Terri, quoting Byron.

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And this one from my pal Mark, noting my return to the water.

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What gift could be better than messages like those from friends like that?

And then I found out all kinds of interesting things about the number 53.

  • It’s the number of an incredible scenic highway in New Mexico.
  • 53 is a prime number.
  • It’s the code for direct-dial calls to Cuba, a place I desperately want to visit.
  • 53 is the racing number for Herbie the Love Bug.
  • The Daily Mail says that 53 is when middle age begins.
  • At 53, Ludwig van Beethoven completed his Ninth Symphony
  • Sidney Sheldon began writing his first novel at 53.
  • Robert E. Peary reached the North Pole at age 53, and that’s how old Walter Hunt was when he invented the safety pin.
  • 53-year-old playwright Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia.
  • Sue Monk Kidd published her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, at– yep, 53.
  • The atomic number of Iodine is 53. In it’s gaseous state, it’s violet, like the cardigan I’m wearing in the photo above, taken on my 53rd birthday. It is present in ocean water, as I too, would so like to be. But the Egyptian-inspired pool at the Y will have to be a close second.
  • The character of the Grinch (who stole Christmas) is 53.

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As is Dewey Largo, who in the episode of The Simpsons that I just happened to watch on the night of my 53rd birthday, sings “My country ’tis of thee, my job is misery. Life disappointed me, I’m 53 . . . .”

(I think I aged better than Mr. Largo.)

 

Here’s what I know: you are responsible for your own happiness. I had a wonderful happy birthday, because I decided that I would have a wonderful happy birthday. Many, many people, friends and family alike, helped make it even happier. But from the time I got up in the morning I decided to celebrate the day like the present it was.

Today I am still eating birthday cake. Lucky girl.

A Second Cup of Tea

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Last year, I decided that I wanted something different for the new year– not resolutions which seemed doomed to failure and designed to inspire self-loathing– but something else, a kind of “to do” list. Not a bucket list, with its solemn life-changing scope, something smaller. What I came up with was a “tea-cup list“.

On the original list, there were 15 items. I achieved 7 of them:  I did renew my passport and I did leave the country. I bought a kitchen torch, I took Ransom to the beach, I spent more time with friends. I threw away my old tired undies, I explored more, I kissed more.

But the living room ceiling is still without gilt, I didn’t get to Kitty Hawk, I haven’t been riding, though I did take a carriage in Central Park.  I didn’t take the train to the Library of Congress, and I didn’t find a place to swim.  The fireplace still needs tile, and I haven’t learned to make a pie crust– though I found a restaurant in West Milton, Ohio that makes the most wonderful pie, so maybe I can cross that off instead. I am not writing five days a week and that does vex me.

I still want to get to all of those things, but they won’t make this year’s list.  Oh, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of one or two here or there.  But it is a new year and I have new things, and new-old things I want to try. And as with last year’s, I post these not because I think you have any particular interest in how I plan to make my year, but in hope that it may inspire you to make plans for some fun of your own.

 

Tea for 2015

1.  Two finished chapters by March 1.

I’ve been spinning my wheels on this long enough. The research is always fun, but the weight of what I need to do has begun to tax me. It’s time to get those chapters written, the outline polished, the pitch made perfect. In March I want to begin to sell the book.  (And while this sounds a bit like a resolution and I am resolved to make it happen, it is finally, a gift to myself to move forward.) 

 

2.  French doors to the study.

There are two sets of vintage French doors in the garage. And a five-foot wide opening into my study through which sail dogs, husband, children and the like. I love my family, truly, but if I can’t close the door, they interrupt, and if they interrupt I don’t get any work done. See item 1. 

 

3.  Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts is safe, thank God. I had planned to go and visit when it was in danger of being raffled off to cure the city’s bankruptcy.  The imminent threat has been abated, but I still want to get to the Motor City to explore restaurants and make photographs of another great American city and poke around the art museum and see my friends Ed and Jerry over there in Windsor. 

 

4.  A few nights at the Elizabeth City Bed & Breakfast

When the Wrights went to the Outer Banks to try their Flyer, the train took them to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. They stayed in the Southern Hotel there while waiting for the weekly freight boat to Kitty Hawk. The Southern is long gone, but the quaint and charming Elizabeth City B & B is in an old inn that was the Southern’s contemporary. I think there’s a pillow there with a mint on it for me. 

 

5.  Chincoteague

I want to go and see the ponies. It’s not so far. 

 

6.  Finish early

This one is even more like a resolution, but my relationship with deadlines is a toxic one. It makes me anxious and cranky, and I could just be a lot kinder to myself by not letting it go so long. I will try. 

 

7.  Swim nearly every day.

What a luxury, and one within the realm of possibility. I would not have modified it to “nearly”, and could have planned to swim every day but I know my own life well enough that my best hope is four or five days a week. 

 

8.  Hang every picture in the house. On freshly painted walls.

I have many wonderful paintings and photographs and the like that are stacked in closets and up against walls and packed in boxes. It’s time to hang them so I can enjoy them. Some of the walls need a new coat of paint first. I’ve got the paint, I just need to set aside the time to make it happen.

 

9.  Rookwood Pottery. A single tile. 

Rookwood Pottery is functioning again. I told my husband I’d like a bear for my birthday. Perhaps I’ll get my wish. But really I’d like to go and look at tiles and see them made and perhaps buy just one, and use that one splendid tile for the focus of the surround that the living room fireplace has needed since we moved in. Eight years ago. 

 

10.  Go to the zoo and visit the lions.

I love the lions at the Cincinnati Zoo. There are new cubs. It’s not so far, nor so expensive. I just like to sit quietly and watch, it’s good for the soul.  I’ve never been sorry to spend an afternoon there. 

 

11.  Have a lobster roll.

My most favorite food. I don’t know where I’ll get this lobster roll. It doesn’t seem all that likely I’ll get to the Maritimes two summers running. But maybe. Revere Beach is closer. And if it comes down to brass tacks, I’ll make one for myself. 

 

12.  Resurrect the Suburban.

Poor Suburban, our work truck, gasping for fuel, the front passenger seat torn asunder where the dog lost his mind one afternoon. There’s a spot on the roof with a bit of rust. It’s sat in the driveway so long now that the remote won’t work. But it wouldn’t take so much to put it all to right, and once again have a rig that will carry sheet rock, plywood, garden soil, straw bales, dog crates, storage tubs and furniture. I miss it, I miss sitting a bit higher than the rest of the traffic. I miss its limousine qualities. It’s a worthwhile endeavor to bring it back. 

 

13.  Winnow

Like everybody, I’ve got too much stuff. Some of this stuff I don’t even really like. It’s time to pitch it. Ditto the spices I’ve been carrying around since I was a sophomore in college. The shoes I will never ever wear again. Some of the ways I squander my time. Friends who aren’t friends. Clothes that make me feel self-conscious. Books that I haven’t read and won’t read or those I’ve read once and won’t ever read again. Music I don’t like. VHS tapes.

 

14.   Go to the movies.

I like the movies. There’s a first run cinema here where you can see them for five dollars a pop on Wednesdays. I just need to make a point to go. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie in a theater. It might have been a decade ago.

 

15.  Keep being grateful.

This autumn I made a point to count my blessings– three a day for a hundred days. I’ve finished that exercise and it was a good one. I’m so very glad I did it, even though I’m –um– grateful that I no longer have to do it such a formal fashion. But it did change me in a profound way. I learned to look for the silver lining, to note the things that made me feel happy or joyous or content instead of just letting those slide.  The glass is more beautiful when it is half full.

 

 

To a Former Student of My Father’s

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A few weeks ago, an email arrived out of the blue from a former student of my father’s. My father, dead now nine years next week. In this unexpected missive were recollections of my father’s enthusiasm for 18th century poetry and the way he laughed. He did have a wonderful manner of laughing. It’s said that you die two deaths. One when you draw your last breath, the other when someone speaks your name for the last time– and thus my father, Larry Vonalt (January 10, 1937 – December 26, 2005) lives on.

Dear David,

Thanks for your note. I’ve been meaning to answer it since it arrived, but time has a way of zipping past regardless of one’s intentions. I can’t imagine what you found on Google– but I haven’t been 40 for some time. I went to Florence O. Stillman and Wilbert Snow Schools in Middletown and have vivid and mostly happy memories of living in Connecticut.

Though I know well his enthusiasm for 18th c. poetry, Dad’s interests later tilted more towards the Moderns and after– Eliot and Pound, and then Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Delmore Schwartz, Dylan Thomas, John Berryman. I sat in his senior seminar in poetry the summer of 1972– and remember some 40 years later that two poems covered that day were Anne Sexton’s “Woman with a Girdle” and “Flee on Your Donkey.”

Dad spent 1971 (’72? one of those) — on sabbatical trying to write a book about John Berryman. It was the same year that Berryman died– but he didn’t finish it and as a result didn’t apply for tenure at Wesleyan. My mother fell in love with a British physician and she and I left the country in the autumn of 1972.

When he was dying of laryngeal cancer in 2005, Dad asked me to clean out his office at the University of Missouri at Rolla and I found drawer after drawer of material on Berryman– each poem had a file an inch thick. When I asked him what to do with it, he wrote (having been robbed of speech by that time) “Pitch it.”
I didn’t, of course, I couldn’t– and instead carted it home like a very heavy cautionary tale.

The way he let me know that the cancer treatment had failed was to ask me, by email, if I wanted his poetry books. (Because of course, I already had copies all my own.) When we buried his ashes at a cemetery in New Harmony, Indiana I read aloud at graveside the last stanza of “Little Gidding” from a first edition of Four Quartets, (“We shall not cease from exploration . . . .”) and then I carefully tore the page from the book and placed it in the little vault (bigger than a bread box? barely) with what remained of him.

He would be very pleased to know that you turned out to be a poet. I tried for years to not be a writer. I mean, I worked at not being a writer, even going so far as to take a degree in art. But I allowed myself a few poems, and then somehow I became the protege of Howard Nemerov. After my shoebox filled up with rejection slips from all the best houses and journals, I gave it up in entirety. (Marriage and children and a career in journalism contributed to the fall, I’m sure.)

I still miss my father every single day.

Thanks for writing. Enjoyed the couplet.

Larkin