The Summer of ’72

One minute I was fixing dinner, and the next? I was gone. My head in another place and my body swaying to the music on the radio…humming along and drifting… back in time to a sweltering day in August of ’72. There were just three of us, me, my best friend Effie and a young guitarist strumming the tune– “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me”–by Mac Davis.  The guitarist’s name was “Horst” (but he preferred Jimmy) and he was pretty good.

We sat there, Effie and I , on cool satin, zebra striped sheets that covered the bed Jimmy’s dad slept in. Yeah, Jimmy’s dad was quite a character…divorced and wining and dining every available woman (married or single) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Not a great looking guy, nothing “studly” about him–but he had charm and he would charm the ladies right into this very bed on which Effie and I now sat–listening to Jimmy strum away.  Sounds a little yuck, no? But we didn’t care–the sheets felt cool against our hot and perspiring bare legs–even the hot pants we wore were too much for this heat. But there was another kind of heat in that room that day–and it had nothing to do with Summer swelter.  Sweet Jimmy had a crush on me.  He wanted me and I knew it and it made me feel powerful, but not in a good way.  You see, I wanted Andy (his best friend) as much as (no! even more than) Jimmy wanted me.  I wanted him so badly I could taste it–and yet–all Andy wanted was a french girl named Marie-Luce.  A french girl! Could it be any worse than that?  How does a girl like me (the girl next door)–compete?  I can’t…couldn’t…and I knew it.  My burning (seventeen year old) libido threatened at times to burst into flames when Andy was around me–but lately–Jimmy seemed to be having the same effect. I was combustible and ready to burn baby burn.  Hey remember–“if you can’t be with the one you love–love the one your with”?  It was the 70’s man–free love and flower power…it was all good–wasn’t it?

 

So Jimmy sang and I sang along–

“Girl-you’re a hot-blooded woman-child and it’s warm where you’re touchin’ me but I can tell by your tremblin’ smile, you’re seein’ way too much in me…”

Well yeah, I was.  I was dreaming about Andy–while getting all hot and bothered about Jimmy and this twisted love song! This song that spoke what my body was feeling!  Poor Effie–we both (Jimmy and I) nearly forgot about her–but there she was just valiantly humming along.  Was she aware of what was going on between Jimmy and me?  If she was, she didn’t let on…just kept humming softly while I shifted (uncomfortably) on those satin sheets and tugged at my shirt– feeling the hot flush rising up from somewhere down below –slowly burning it’s way upward over my breasts–onto my neck and then slapping me across the both cheeks! I felt my breath coming shorter and faster and –lastly both my ears lit up like two red beacons of what? Well–my out-of-control teenage hormones–that’s what!  Jimmy was pretty much the same shade of pink as me–and breathing even harder as he tried to keep singing sing steady. It was when he started perspiring like mad –from the effort of trying to control himself–that Effie finally noticed–I think?  As Jimmy (breathlessly) sang,

“Girl don’t let your life get tangled up in mine–’cause I’ll just use you, I can’t take no clinging vine–Baby baby don’t get hooked on me–Baby baby don’t get hooked on me–’cause i’ll just use you–theI’ll set you free…Ooooooo…Baby, Baby –don’t get hooked on meeeeeeee”–

Yeah..that last part came out like  a long hoarse whisper but then he stopped and just stared at me–long and hard. “Is something wrong?”, Effie asked innocently concerned.  But I knew what Jimmy was thinking–and he knew what I was thinking too. Damn that song–it was great but it almost word for word explained the tangled up mess (of love?) we all found ourselves trapped in!  Me loving Andy, (Jimmy’s best friend) –Andy loving Marie-Luce (la pew!), (she was nobody’s friend–just a stranger he met one horrible day and fell in love with) –Jimmy loving me and Effie loving Jimmy.  We were all “hooked” on the wrong people and too stubborn–too clueless and controlled by our useless (yet raging) emotions to do anything (even slightly smart) about it.

So? Did I sleep with Jimmy? No–but I probably would have–eventually–in spite of Effie’s feelings for him.  When that fire of desire burns in a seventeen year old body–there isn’t much room for loyalty– or for wasting time thinking ’bout what’s right or what’s wrong! It’s physical–the urge so strong that the addled brain never gets consulted or given a chance to “opt out”.  I said I would have…slept with him–if I’d had the chance. But–his dad happened to come home right about then–with one of his lady friends in tow. He told us all to get the “hell off of his bed and out of his god-damned apartment”.  Jimmy grabbed his guitar, I grabbed Effie and we all tumbled down the five flights of stairs out into the street.  Jimmy mumbled an apology and tried to hug me goodbye–but Effie was trying to hug him at the same time–murmuring –“No worries–we’ve got to get going anyway–we’ve all got places to be tomorrow.”.

The next day I sailed off to Germany (with my mom) on the SS Berlin–the beginning of a year long stay that was Hell and changed my life –forever! Effie moved in with her Aunt on Long Island–(from where she would commute to Art School in Manhattan in the Fall)–And (my?) Andy left for France with (his) –soon to be fiancee Marie-Luce–AND Jimmy took his guitar and left for parts unknown–never to be heard from again–by me.

It was the last Summer of freedom for us all.  The last Summer to let the wind blow us like dandelion puffs in the breeze–no worries as to where life would take us next–or where it would set us down. A crazy day that seems to have gotten stuck in my brain (I think) forever? Because today–nearly five decades later–I felt that burn on my body again–Felt the cool of those black and white feral satin sheets and regretted never having slept with that sweet sweet Jimmy. Crazy in love with me–Jimmy –who strummed that guitar so well and sang that tangled up love song to me–so many (many) summers ago?

Gotta love the power of a song to transport both body and mind back in time—this body went there today–back to that sweltering day in August of 1972–and burned again with remembered desire…and it could’ve been aright –but like the song said–it was really –all so wrong.

I guess I’m sorry Effie–let me just say that much (now)?  Maybe it wasn’t “love”–but it was something.  Jimmy and I had a connection that we  should’ve  explored more deeply. Who knows–it might have changed both of our lives for the better (or maybe not?)–but we’ll never know.

Each time I hear that song …I wonder –Should I have been “hooked” on Jimmy–like he was “hooked” on me? Instead of being  “hooked” on Andy–who I knew …was never “hooked” on me?  And what about Effie–being “hooked” on Jimmy–when all Jimmy wanted…was me?

“Just keep it friendly…’cause I don’t want to leave–don’t start clinging to me…’cause I can’t breathe!  Baby, baby don’t get hooked on me–Baby, baby don’t get hooked on me–’cause I’ll just use you and I’ll set you free…Baby, baby–don’t– get hooked–on me.”love-with-signature

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Judge Not?

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“Judge not, Lest ye be judged.” Matthew 7:1-3 KJV

Mama said it and so it must be so!  Judging others was something ‘good Christians’ just didn’t do –even if they wanted to.  Pronouncing judgement on others could be cold and cruel–like a snowfall that covers up everything…sometimes hiding what lies underneath.  All one can see from the outside is the “snow” (or the the judgment) that covers all.  The trouble with ‘judging others’ –is that (most of us?) we don’t even realize when we’re doing it.  My Mama was like that. It was pretty confusing to me as a child–being told–to follow such an important rule and not quite understanding what it really meant. As a child, I was exposed to a steady stream of my Mama’s ‘critical appraisals’ (as she liked to call them) of others –but yet they sounded really judgmental to me. when I asked about it–to clear things up in my little head–I was told that there was a difference between those “appraisals” and “judgments” and that Mama was a good “Christian” and “good Christians” do not judge!  That was ALL i needed to know about that–Mama said.

Mama liked to think here ‘critical appraisals’ were –helpful– to others.  I might have been just a kid–but I didn’t see how that could be?  Couldn’t see how Mama calling Mrs. Jones’ new hair an “unnatural shade of orange that hurts the eyes” –could possibly be helpful to her.  Of course Mama didn’t say it to her face–but she might just as well have– ’cause just about everyone at coffee hour after church on Sunday–heard her say it! And things like that?  They don’t stay “secret” long cause there’s so much gossiping going on after church.  Seems like people after sitting quiet for an hour or more during the service–just need to wag their tongues once they got out–about anything–anything at all. Lord they all seemed to have so much to say–so many “critical appraisals” and they all sounded like judgments to me as a child..

“That Mr. Parker sure is fine!”  Mama would exclaim loudly.  “But why he hasn’t found himself a proper young lady yet sure beats the ‘beJesus’ out of me”…she said to Mrs. Appleby one afternoon. ” I wonder, I just  wonder… if maybe he’s just a ‘little funny’, if you know what I mean?”, Mama said with a little back -flip of her hand.  To which Mrs. Applby sniffed a bit and whispered back (a bit too loudly) “Yesiree–I sure do know what you mean my dear…I sure do know.  Men that pretty themselves? They don’t go looking for proper young ladies!” There i stood–wide-eyed and wondering next to Mama–So what was wrong with Mr. Parker?  He always seemed so friendly and so nice–guess it was just another “confusing critical appraisal” that I was far too young to “understand”?

When Mama got home from church on one Sunday, she carried on for over half an hour about Mrs. Appleby and her God awful bad breath.  “Why, she’s always blowing that nasty smell out her mouth when she speaks, it’s a wonder anyone can bear to converse with her!” Mama said.  I tugged gently on Mama’s arm and asked her–“Isn’t Mrs. Appleby your friend, Mama? And if her breath smells so bad–why can’t you just tell her?  Maybe she doesn’t know and needs for someone to tell her?”  But Mama got all huffy and said “Child, child–There’s just so much  you don’t know yet.  People don’t take kindly to having others point out their faults to them. Telling Mrs. Appleby that she’s got dinosaur breath would be offensive and  (we) good Christians? We don’t offend people on purpose”.  Well okay–I didn’t really understand but I decided Mama was in a “listening mood” so i asked her about Mr. Parker.  “Mama, what’s so ‘funny’ about Mr. Parker?  Does he tell jokes?  You said he was ‘too pretty’? Is being ‘pretty’ a bad thing?  You’re always telling me that I’m pretty…does that make me a bad thing?”   Mama stared down at me and started shaking her head from side to side–“Now look here Missy,” she said–What kind of silly questions do you have inside that head of yours?  Have you been eves-dropping  on grown-up conversations? You’re much too young to mind grown-up business like that–so you just don’t worry your little head about matters like that–you hear?”  I nodded, cause i could see that was the end of it–but I just had to ask her–“Mama…when I get older, will you explain it to me?” Mama snickered a bit –but then said “Child–when you get older you’re gonna find out about these things yourself, and you won’t need anyone to explain them to you”.  I shrugged–hoping what she said was true.

Papa walked in  just then–had he been listening outside the kitchen door –I wondered? But he didn’t say anything to Mama–he just reached down and grabbed me up in a great big bear hug.  “How’s my little darlin’?”,  he whispered, hugging me tight to his chest. “How’s the prettiest little girl in all the world?”   “Oh Papa!” , I whispered back–just  loud enough for him to hear –“I’m not ‘too pretty’ am I?”   Papa looked a little startled but replied–“Too pretty? How can anyone be ‘too pretty’?  Baby girl–You say that like it’s a bad thing.  Where’d you get a crazy notion like that?”  Well–I was just about to tell him what Mama had said about Mr. Parker–when Mama came rushing past me and ran straight to the window. “There! There!”, she cried. “Will you just look at that? It’s that Johnson girl from across the street–she just left her house looking just like a streetwalker!  I’ll just bet her parents don’t know she goes out dressed all trashy like that! Why–I wear more clothes when i go to sleep than that girl has on in public. It’s a disgrace, that’s what it is! And i won’t stand for it! I’m a gonna go out there and give that little girl a good talking to–someone has to–and her parents certainly aren’t doing it!”

Papa gently put the me down and took Mama’s arm before she could open the front door–”  Mabel”, he said softly.  You know you shouldn’t talk like that around the little one.  She’s like a sponge…she absorbs everything!”  I didn’t know what that meant–I didn’t think i was a sponge but it seemed there was a lot I didn’t know about.  “What?” Mama shouted at Papa?”There’s nothing wrong with what I said!  It’s the God’s honest truth that I speak…or God can strike me down dead where I stand.” I sucked in my breath and held it–what if God stuck Mama down? But as the minutes passed…no bolt of lightening came from the sky, and so I turned to Mama and asked her what a “streetwalker” was? Papa just cleared his throat loudly and Mama told me not to ask so many questions and then stormed out the front door..

Papa sighed deeply.  He was thinking back to something his own Momma once told him–  “Be careful boy when you raise your own children”, she’s said. “Children learn what they live and sometimes they won’t question what they don’t understand–they’ll just do what you do and speak your words –because if you say or do it–then it must be ok for them too.”  Papa knew that the time had come to stop treating his own little girl like a baby. he would have to explain more and encourage her to question more. It wasn’t going to be easy–but he had to try. So when his wife returned–he said “Mabel, the child deserves an explanation.  It’s high time you watch what you’re saying and if you don;t want to have to explain it to her–maybe just don’t say it.”  Mama muttered a little and then looked at Papa with dark angry eyes–“Don’t you go lecturing me about how to raise no children!” she sputtered angrily! “You who aren’t here half the time and when you are here you just sit around the house like a guest to be waited on!  You! You who wouldn’t know where to start trying to explain things to her yourself! You…”, but Papa put his hand up and told her…”Enough! Judge not, Lest ye yourself be judged!”

Mama’s eyes opened wide then.  She stared at Papa as if she was seeing him for the very first time.  Papa continued…”As for your ‘critical appraisals’…they need to stop!  You can call what you do, whatever you want, but you ARE judging others and you have no right to do that!  You call yourself a ‘good Christian woman’??? Well take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if that’s really true.  Your words are weapons and you go to ‘war’ every time you leave this house…sometimes you start the battle right here within these very walls!”

Papa grabbed me by the hand then, and headed for the door. “The next time you choose to ‘critically appraise’ anyone”, Papa continued, “Just remember what you saw when you looked into that mirror.  There are those who could judge you as well…but they simply choose not to.  They CHOOSE NOT TOO! I want our child to be kind and forgiving of others.  I want her to learn to accept people for who they are and not what they look or act like! And Mabel–IF she can’t think of something nice to say…then she should know it’s better to say NOTHING at all.  Think about it Mabel…then  you let me know what kind of ‘good Christian’ woman you want to be.  In the mean time, this little girl and I will be at her grandmother’s house.  A house where questions are asked and answered and there are no judgments disguised as “critical appraisals”.

Mama?  I whispered with tears in my eyes.  “Oh go on with your father”, Mama said, her voice shaking a little.  “Go…Go  visit your grandmother– that ‘holier than thou’ creature that can do no wrong–thinks she know’s everything, just like her high and mighty son!  Why one would think he’s Jesus himself!”

“MABEL!”,  Papa cried out and his wife stopped short and put her hand up to her mouth…her eyes growing wide as she realized how ‘out of control’ she was and in front of her own husband and daughter.  She hung her head and whispered…”Go.  Just go now…I need to catch my breath and get my head together…I’m not feeling very well.  Go child.  Your father is right…do as I say and not as I do.  Judge not…that IS the ‘Christian thing’ to do…and guess I’ve not been practicing what I preach–and for that i am sorry!”

I ran to Mama then and I hugged her tight. “It’s okay Mama”, I  cried. “I love  (funny) Mr. Parker and Mrs.Jones with her orange hair and even Mrs. Appleby  with her bad breath…but most of all I love YOU Mama and YOU Papa. I just hope I’m not TOO pretty for YOU both to love me….?”

Pearls of wisdom fell from the mouth of a child that day–or so Mama and Papa have told me time and time again, when they tell this story.  Me? I’m just glad that they both agree that I’m just “pretty enough” to be their sweet baby girl! That their love for me is warm and true! I’m sure glad Papa and Mama started seeing eye to eye again too! Those front blinds Mama used to run to all day?  They stay closed up now–just like Mama’s lips–sealed tight against the “critical appraisals” that used to tempt her mouth to open–just wide enough to let all those nasty  judgments come flying out.  Judge not…lest you be judged…I like that–and even my young mind–understands what it means now.

ANYTHING? ANYTHING AT ALL?

20170210_185119Can you remember anything unusual about the call?  Anything? Anything at all?

Sitting in her manager’s office, surrounded by him, his manager and the VP of her department–plus three serious looking detectives who were staring her down–was NOT the way she wanted to end her day. Looking at their faces, she realized, they were now waiting for an answer– a different answer than the one she’d already given them three times in a row. No…no and no!  There was nothing more to tell them. It had been a night like any other, alarms were coming in sporadically, sometimes five, six seven, in a row and then nothing at all–for half an hour.  Keeping awake and focused was difficult at times–so she read and periodically checked her phone for messages. Sometimes she even scrolled down her Facebook page in an effort to stay alert.  It was all routine tonight–the same stuff she did every other night at her job.

But–something WAS different. Something had happened earlier tonight–that much she knew. Didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this much attention and sitting in the “hot seat” in her manager’s office being grilled–was not the “normal routine”. They had been asking her the same questions now for over an hour!  “Try to remember,” the one detective said.  He had a notepad in his hand and seemed to be writing down random things–even though no one was talking. “Did you hear anything unusual?  Maybe a sound in the background?  Someone yelling?  Or maybe the woman you spoke to?  Was she out of breath?  Did she seem distressed at all?  Just think back…anything you can remember might be helpful”, her manager said to her–as he had quite a few times before.

So she decided to do as he asked–she thought about  the night’s alarm calls. There had been so many–as an operator for a small security alarm company, on any given night, she handled at least 100–but sometimes even 150 to 200 alarm calls. She was an experienced operator–but after doing this job for 20 years–those alarms had all started sounding the same a long time ago. Had she told them that? She must’ve mentioned it awhile back–while her manager had been explaining the “basics” of what her job actually entailed. The incoming alarm hits a her computer screen, the premise phone number appears on the screen and she dials it–if someone answers–she asks them for their “password” or “codeword.” That being a word the customer chooses before signing the alarm contract.    If the right word is given–she asks the customer if everything is ok.  If the answer is yes–she wishes them a good night and that call is done.  She then hots the “enter” button to bring the next alarm down to her screen. It’s the same process over and over and over again–the repetition is dull and boring and sometimes downright–nauseating! It wasn’t a job that required a lot of skill–why in her manager’s own words–“A trained monkey” could do it.  Bu then there’s that other “variable”–if the phone number gets called and the correct password is NOT given– well then–there’s a little more “thinking” involved with the job. She would call the police–give them all the information she has on her screen–name, address etc. The police then are dispatched to investigate how, why and by whom–the alarm was set off. The same procedure is followed for a fire alarm–only the fire department gets dispatched instead of the police.  For a medical alarm–either sent in from an alarm keypad or via a pendant that the customer wears around their neck–the password is not required but if necessary–an ambulance is dispatched for whatever the medical emergency is–oftentimes it’s just an accidental trigger.  Grandma pushed the pendant while she was getting up off the toilet–that kind of stuff.  All really very routine –even boringly mundane–except…one in a blue moon or so..when it’s anything but.

Once in a while–just when she comes to the decision that the job was boring her to death –i.e.– slowly killing brain cells in her head that were not being put to any good use–just when she has made up (what’s left of) her mind–to quit–something “new and different” would happen.  There would be a REAL burglary–or a REAL fire (eeew that sounds sort of ghoulish but a mind is such a terrible thing to waste and a fire? It gets that mind jump-started again)– and she and her fellow “trained monkeys”  would get the chance to feel as close to “heroes” as some ever will.  Sometimes a child would answer the phone when she called –a crying child, left home alone by some clueless parent using the alarm as a “babysitter” for their child. Said child–bewildered by the blaring alarm would have to be calmed while the police were being called. How she would hope that those parents got fined for endangering their children that way! It wasn’t much in the way of excitement or stimulation but at least those kind of calls got the blood flowing back to her brain every once in a while!

“Anything?  Anything at all?” That question jarred her back into the “present”. She was still in the office and these detectives were still asking the same questions…”No!” she  answered again–“A hundred times NO!”  She had not heard, seen or sensed anything wrong during THAT alarm call.  She had no reason to believe that the specific alarm the detectives were referring to–had been anything but–routine. “What on earth do you expect me to tell you?”, she cried out in frustration. “WHY on earth do you keep asking me the same question– over and over again?”, she whined.  Finally, her manager came to her rescue–“Fellas”, he said, “I think that’s it for now–there’s just nothing to be gotten here–she really doesn’t have anything to add to your investigation”.  But the second detective (the one in the grease stained sports jacket and the five o’clock shadow on his face) pulls his chair closer to hers and puts his arm on her shoulder –he takes a deep breath and exhales –right into her face (man his breath smelled like onions!) “One more time…” he drawls as she snaps her head back and sees–out of the corner of her eyes that the other five people in the room are now ALL staring at her! FUCK-FUCK-FUCK–she thinks–WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO??? The voice inside her head is now screaming! Her armpits were getting damp, and the palms of her hands were cold and clammy as all hell! She felt tiny beads of  sweat forming on her upper lip and her throat was dry…so… very… dry. But she knew she HAD to stick to her story–she just HAD to! No matter what! Even if they decided to fire her–what she had told them was –NOTHING–and that was all they were gong to get.

The detective cleared his throat and said very softly…”Someone got killed last night.  That someone was in the house, of the alarm, that you called at 7:54 P.M.–the detective slowly said.  “Wait–what?…” she sputtered. “HOLY SHIT! WHAT DID YOU SAY?” She cried out (quite convincingly). “What do you mean someone got killed?  What are you saying?”  Her manager spoke then and said–“The boyfriend got killed.  The boyfriend/lover of the woman you spoke to on the phone (for less than 2 minutes) got killed at 7:55 pm tonight. ”

“But HOW?  HOW was he killed”?…She asked, trying hard to force a look of utter disbelief and shock to register on her face. upon her face. “Well”, the manger said, I’ll let the detectives fill you in on the rest…and so they did.

Apparently, during that less than two minute phone call with “Mrs. Smith” (who had given her a correct password)–“Mrs. Smith’s boyfriend was attempting to run out the back door of Mrs. Smith’s house–naked–while being chased by Mrs. Smith’s husband–who had arrived (earlier than expected–perhaps suspecting his wife’s infidelity?) and entered quickly through the front door–setting off the burglar alarm. It seemed that Mr. Smith failed to disarm the alarm (by punching in his key code) because both his hands were otherwise engaged–the left hand holding his keys and the tight hand holding his double-barreled shot gun.  He aimed and fired the shot gun at the fleeing (naked) body of Mrs. Smiths lover and fatally shot him in the back. All this was happening–while Mrs. Smith (calmly) gave you her password and assured you that everything was “ok” before disconnecting the call.”.

WELL SHIT! She now sat there –looking (appropriately) stunned–slowly letting out a deep–huge–breath. A breath she had been holding in (it seemed) the entire time the detective was speaking. Was he done now? She wondered to herself. But no–he continued speaking–his voice a bit calmer now. He said–very evenly–“So you see, Ms. Jones…As you were speaking to your customer–‘Mrs. Smith’–she was witnessing her boyfriend/lover being shot in cold blood–right before her very eyes!”  If we are to believe what you keep insisting is true–the same Mrs. Smith–was calm as a cucumber, while all this was happening?  Even managing to give her password and assure you that everything was just fine?”

Well, how man times was he going to repeat that scenario to her–she wondered. But she answered…”Yes–and Yes…and Yes!”  Repeating once again that she had heard nothing in the background–absolutely –nothing!  No gun shot, no door banging, no other voices, no crying–no shouting–NOTHING!  She knew the phone calls were not recorded and everyone at her company knew the equipment was lousy and out-dated–why sometimes there was so much static on the line, an operator could not even hear the customer and had to hang up and try again. “I’m really sorry–so SORRY–but  I can’t help you!”, she said, feeling strangely  calmer now that the whole “business of what had transpired” was out in the open. “I have nothing else to say–so–can i go now?”, she asked.

The taller detective, the one who had questioned her the first time, stood up and held the door open for her–told her she was “free to go”. So she thanked him and quickly walked out the door. She walked back to her cubicle–her back straight–hoping no voices would be calling her back. This “trained monkey” was no fool. She knew how to “watch her own back”. Of course she HAD heard that gunshot,  HAD heard a man’s voice in the background say to Mrs. Smith in a menacing tone…”Give her the damned code word Judy and tell her if she sends the cops…she’s as dead as your damned lover!”  So Judy Smith did exactly as she was told–she gave the password but then had whispered into the phone–. ” PLEASE–Don’t send the cops…don’t say anything to anyone…he’s already killed and if you say anything, he’ll find you and kill you too!  He will…he will!  He’s a mean son of a bitch but he won’t kill me–he knows that’ll just put me out of my misery.  It’s too easy…he likes to see me suffer!  But he’ll kill you for sure, if you say ANYTHING!”

WHOA! YEAH! She had panicked at that point–had wondered if Mr. Smith could really do that? Could he find her?  With one finger on the “drop call” button…ready to dial the police line…she had weighed the odds against her and then her “monkey sense” took over.  No one here was paying her to use her head–HELL–hell they were barely paying her enough to pay her rent!  She  hadn’t gotten one raise in the last five years!  She knew exactly what she had to do–so she had slowly  moved her finger OFF the drop button and said as calmly as she could…”Well–Thank you Mrs. Smith–As long as everything is okay–you have a good night”. Then she disconnected the call.

She looked down now at the broken chair in her cubicle–the one with the foam arm rests that looked like someone had taken a few bites out of them. She sat down in the tilting chair–put on her headset, hit the “enter” button on her keyboard and took the next alarm. She dialed the premise phone number –listened as the phone rang–once, twice, three times–then a woman’s voice said “Hello”.

“May I have your password please?”, the operator asked, and when she got it–thanked the customer–asked her if everything was OK (it was)–then  wished her a good night.

A Good night? Maybe not–But still just another routine night–doing a routine job for (less than) routine pay. She was so tired of this bullshit! Maybe it WAS time for her to think about retirement? Lord knows she wasn’t getting any younger–and Mrs. Smith’s boyfriend wasn’t getting any older *sigh*

AN OPEN LETTER ON MOTHER’S DAY…

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Mother’s Day…BAH!  It’s just another Hallmark Day!  A day to make money on cards, flowers, perfumes, jewelry, even the odd vacuum cleaner?  All the things a “mom” could possibly want (to make her life complete) on sale at 10-20-30-40% off, (even 50% if you wait till the day AFTER to buy)…the “industry” makes it so simple to make the day a “perfect one” for the Mother (or mothers) in YOUR life.  Why then, when perfection is so easy to achieve…is Mother’s Day still a “let down” for so many moms?

I can only speak for myself… I’ve given the matter quite a bit of thought and I’ve come up with a few possible reasons that “Mother’s Day” can fall short of expectations, desires and even demands.  I remember myself as a child, I was the bratty one (my sister was the ‘golden one’),while I,  the one who talked back, never listened and basically was…as my mother put it…”a hard nut to crack”.  I think she was referring to my head as the nut…’cause I fell on that more times than I can say…it should’ve been cracked by all calculations…but it is still (reasonably?) intact. I loved my mother, I have no doubt about that…but like so many children, I took her for granted.  Children don’t really have an understanding of “time passing” and the human body “aging”.  Mother is simply “mother”…she always was, is and will always be that …”go to person”…the one who knows “stuff”…the one who cares when no one else seems to and the one who will give you love, when even YOU know you don’t really deserve it. The fact that they are also the people who confine us as children, set limits, give orders, make us eat and do stuff we don’t want to…lament endlessly about our inability to “do what is asked of us”…that’s part of the “contract”.  In order for us to have mom for the good stuff…we also have to tolerate mom with (what we consider) the “bad stuff”.

I loved my mother and I know she loved me.  Yet, there were times when I screamed at her “I HATE YOU!”, loud enough for the butcher on the corner to hear it.  She would look at me, with momentary shock, but her recovery was always pretty quick…then she would leave me to slam my door (loudly) and I would have the impression that I had somehow “won”.  Won what?  I don’t know really.  Maybe the fact that I got that “look” from her, made me think that I had wounded “the enemy”, even slightly and as a child that gave me some “power”.  Let’s face it…children are essentially powerless (and yet in some homes they rule the roost…don’t they?).  Powerless in the sense that they are dependent little beings with an inflated sense of what they can and can’t do, can and can’t get away with.  Parents…mothers…fathers…must set limits to keep children safe, help them to grow and help them to NOT become obnoxious beings that NO ONE wants to be around.  Making the rules and enforcing them…makes parents unpopular sometimes…but that is the burden we bear.., we KNEW what we signed up for when we decided to have children…didn’t we?

I loved my mother (did I mention that already?)…and she loved me and yet, my mother and I, I am sad to say, were never really “friends”…but maybe that’s a good thing?  Most parenting guides (and the professionals who wrote them) seem to frown on the “friendship angle” of parenting.  They stress that discipline and respect of authority are necessary to raise children properly, and parents whose children view them as friends (first), will have a problem with both the “respect” and the “authority” aspects of parenting.  So, I was never friends with my mother…she was thirty five when she had me.  She had lived through two World Wars, famine and  poverty, the loss of her home and so many other losses (too many to go into).  My mother was tired by the time I arrived, and planned for me to have my older sister’s temperament so the job of raising me would not be an exhausting one…but I was “me” and I exhausted her.   When Mother’s Day would roll around…I would do my best with tissue paper rose bouquets, jewelry boxes made from macaroni bedecked (and gold painted) shoeboxes, cards hat bore crayon hearts as big as I could possibly draw them, and hugs and kisses …as many as she would allow me to bestow…I did my best to show that I loved her…even though my stubborn personality and my refusal to “see things her way”, kept us “at arms” for most for the rest of the year. On Mother’s Day…I let her know she was special and that I felt lucky to have her as my Mama, my Mutti…but NEVER my “MOM”.  She hated that word…an abbreviation that was abhorrent…the only thing worse was calling her “MA”…akin to a sheep bleating, I believe she once said.

As I got older (and she did too), there were jobs I had, that allowed me to spend a bit more on suitable gifts for my Mama on Mother’s Day…though I will say she never made it easy to “be-gift” her.   She would always scold me for spending too much money…and (in truth) her tastes and mine were quite different…so many things I bought her…I would wind up returning or exchanging and that would drive me nuts!  She did this with birthday gifts and Christmas gifts as well…I used to joke that she was the hardest person to please, (and yet , I suspect, she rather enjoyed the attention…my attention (?) that being difficult got her.

It took me many years to figure out, that all my mother really wanted was my “time”. Lord, I was so busy…always so busy in my twenties and thirties and forties…running every which way like a chicken without a head.   In my twenties, B.C., before children…I thought it was a sign that my life was successful?  So many interests that took me out of my house and a social life and hobbies and a host of other things…I was always “going to” or “coming from”. I am ashamed to admit…even now…all these years later…that I could not find the time (many weeks) to even give my mother a call…I was too busy. I would get a call from  her…and she would open with,  “Well, I am so glad you are  still alive”, which only annoyed me and I would say so. Then  she would sigh and ask if I intended to visit anytime soon…and I would hastily reply…”If I can find the time…of course I will”…but it happened (sadly) not often enough.  I know it hurt her…and I guess what “goes around really does come around”.

I am now the proud mother of two beautiful daughters…they are my pride and joy in so many ways.  Their lives were not “perfect” growing up and I made more mistakes than I care to write about, even to myself.  I know, however, that I tried my best to give them, what I felt was lacking when I was growing up…I gave sometimes too much and other times too little.  I made decisions that affected them and me sometimes badly, I at times had my priorities mixed up and even backwards…but through it all… I  loved (love)  them more than I could ever love anyone or anything on this earth. Like most moms (except maybe those in the comics) I was very human, flawed and more vulnerable than my “Wonder Woman” shield would lead people to believe.  I grew up a lot right along with my kids…and I learned stuff and am still learning things…every single day! The most important thing that I learned, is that the times may change but certain things remain constant. Though I have saved (some) of the many lacey red (construction paper ) hearts …and cards that declare in huge letters how much my girls love me…there is one gift…that never ever grows old…TIME!

Spend time with your mother…my Pastor once told me. I must have been about 28 or 29 years old? She had been unburdening herself to this man of God and must have mentioned how (insufferable?) her youngest daughter was…never calling and never visiting and simply not seeming to care…etc.  She (my mother) asked him to mention it the next time he saw me and so he did.  Decades later …that is what I must tell my own children too…spend time with your mother…ME!  Spend time with me?  I will not be here forever…and I miss the camaraderie of the two of you. The movie nights and the dinners, the birthday parties…giggling with the two of you. I don’t need to share all of your deepest darkest secrets …but maybe you guys could just keep me in the loop a teeny bit more…I would so love that and (honestly) it would be the best Mother’s Day gift ever…that and a bottle of  “Happy” cologne? Hey…”us” mother’s like to smell nice!

So all you wonderful sons and daughters out there…give your moms the gift of TIME…your time…now…while it is still a gift that matters to both you and your mom.  A gift she can accept (without guilt) and will make her feel happy and loved. Do it…there is no better time than …now… today?!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

WHAT IS LIFE?

Who exactly is it out there that ponders a question like this in their spare time…Is it me…or you? Or is it many people being paid lots and lots of money to come up with a definitive answer as to what…exactly…constitutes “life”?  Not exactly the “meaning of life”, a topic that Monty Python’s group had some fun with …but “life” …what IS living…itself. Perhaps it’s the poets waxing poetically about rebirth and new growth, the kind that happens in Spring?  Maybe THEY are the ones who ask repeatedly…”What IS Life”?  The flowers are alive again in Spring…some come back from deep under the ground where they’ve lay dormant all Winter, while others must be newly planted from seeds and then grow from seedlings once again.  Animals get the urge to mate…Mother Nature makes sure that there will be a lot of procreation going on…enough so that a species need not die out…ever.  Birds rush around gathering all sorts of odds and ends to make their nests…and then make them in every nook and cranny they can find?  On top of my air conditioner, for instance?  Not the most comfortable nesting ground at first glance…and yet…it is high up and away from predators …four legged “egg stealers” and “young baby bird” eaters.  It is under the ledge that juts out from the roof…protected from rain and close enough to the house to be protected from extreme wind as well.  It is sunny for a good part of the day…and the woman who lives in the house (me) provides water and bird seed in the back yard…just a hop, skip and a direct two second flight straight down.  So maybe it is a pretty smart choice, isn’t it? Birds are like that…they figure things out.  They make the best of whatever circumstances they have and then…make a nest!

Sea creatures like crabs and lobsters, scallops, clams and all the varieties of fish…they procreate too.  Driven by the same urge that Mother Nature instills…to keep life going and growing. But there are  predators that scoop up the young of these sea creatures in huge nets…because…of course…we humans love to dine on these delicacies…that are…in fact…”life” itself.  We don’t really think of these creatures as “life” though…to “us” they fall under the much larger heading of “food”.  Chickens, cows, lambs, pigs, tuna, salmon, and so many more examples of living entities…fall under our heading of “food”.  We humans dine on such a variety of “life”, don’t we?  But this blog is not a discussion on  “meat eaters” versus “vegetarians” …NO…that is a whole other issue that deserves much more time…because it is complicated.  What I do want to “discuss” here, is the sanctity of all life and living things….but I DO want to discuss “life” and “living things”.

We are taught, (most of us?), as children to have a certain respect for living creatures.  We are taught by our parents (hopefully?), NOT to abuse animals, or torture other living creatures, because it is “wrong”.  Of course, it might follow that those same parents will have to explain why… if it’s wrong to torture them, then how on earth could it be right to kill them and eat them?  The answer, most people will revert to, is simply that “eating meat” is done for survival of the human species…and yet…that isn’t quite right, is it?  Yes, there are certain things our human bodies need to remain healthy and functioning at maximum capacity, protein, for instance.  Many folks argue that they eat animal meat for the proteins.  Guess what? But I suspect that you already know this…proteins can be derived from a host of other sources that do not at all, involve animals.  There are plants that have protein, like Kale and Broccoli.  Beans also have proteins, as do peanuts.  We can obtain any manner of fruit or vegetable, in this day and age, that our diet or palate craves. We can import (out of season) fruits and vegetables (and nuts) fro(almost) any part of the world…and we do just that! But we still don’t seem satisfied…we get bored eating the same things and are always looking for “something new” (and exciting?) to eat. People starving in third world countries don’t really have that problem…they could feast on what we throw out as garbage, on any given day.

It is our habits, that keep many of us eating diets that are very similar to those we ate growing up. Ingrained behaviors from when we were small to when we grew tall…these habits are hard to break (much like smoking), they are so much a part of us, that something just feels “off” when we try to reprogram ourselves. Then there is of course the attitude that we feel entitled in our society to eat whatever the damn hell we want to!  As long as we can afford to eat what we want, where we want and how we want…who has the right to “preach to us” what we should (in good or bad conscience) eat or not eat?  In fact, those of us who have “made it” in the world, and are successful with so much money that money has become no object? Those of us may  even  develop an appetite for the exotic…to please our newly refined (and spoiled) palates…we desire things like antelope meat, or Imu, or Giraffe?  We want to experience the taste of eggs from fish that are so rare…that it may cost thousands of dollars to obtain them for us…to eat.  Since money is no object…there will always be someone, somewhere, willing to undertake the task of getting to us…that which we want to deliciously savor in our eagerly anticipating mouths.  Is this wrong?

I have, in the past few years, been finding much to be taken to heart in Buddhist teachings.  The very concept of “Be kind…harm none”,  has actually made my heart a little softer and my mind a little calmer.  It also makes me view with different eyes…the human consumption of food…that is life…that is…for all purposes…defenseless against us.  I somehow find it hard to believe that “we humans” were put here on this earth…and given permission to eat any other form of life that we choose to.  It makes me laugh a little, when so called  Science Fiction writers, write tales of alien beings coming to “our” earth, with the sole intent of feasting on our brains.  What a delightful reversal of “they hunter becoming the hunted”.  Why not?  Why can’t that happen?  If we can hunt any other living thing…and excuse ourselves with saying we “were hungry”?  Or we “desired to taste a different kind of meat, or fish, or fowl…or whatever”, why shouldn’t an alien species say the same about us?

I won’t even try to suggest that there is an easy solution to the problem here.  The problem being that so many of the earth’s creatures are being hunted to extinction.  Those whose “meat” we are not shoving down our throats…we hunt for their horns of ivory or their mystical paws that have healing qualities, leaving the rest to rot like garbage on the plains, in the forest and in the oceans. If we had a collective conscience…could we do that?  Shouldn’t more people be screaming STOP?  Not just the poorly funded environmentalists?  Not just World Wildlife Federation?  The Audubon Society?…The Humane Societies that have the additional burden of tracking down humans who make a sport for amusement and profit…of having animals tearing each other apart. There are hundreds of Internet, non -profit organizations requesting signatures on petitions to stop all forms of “human madness”.  Stop the exploitation of animals everywhere…and yes…even to stop the exploitation of “human animals”…for we are a unique race…in that we are even predators to our own species.  Maybe there are voices screaming STOP…but there have to be more…because it is not LOUD enough!  In order to preserve the LIFE/Lives being needlessly squandered… there has to be more volume to that collective “SCREAM”…or else…we will go the way of “lost civilizations” before us.  The imprint we leave on a desiccated planet…will be an ugly one indeed.

Teaching our children about life…is where it starts.  They need to know that all they see going on around them, isn’t necessarily good and right.  They need our voices (parental voices, teachers voices) telling them what is right and/or wrong!

Take for instance this scenario…

A family goes on vacation…they have two young boys.  It is a seaside vacation and the boys play in the surf and discover…of all beautiful miracles…a “fry” of seahorses…babies…floating in  the surf.  How wonderful to share this beautiful example of life with a child.  The youngest boy, about three years old, exclaims…”pretty” seahorses! But the older boy, about six years old, wants to “catch them” in a bucket.  He is so excited, that the father allows him to do that.  The boy is mesmerized by the tiny seahorses, each intricately detailed and delightful to look upon.  When it is time to leave the beach…the young boy does not want to let the fry go…he refuses to put them back in to the ocean. (Now, you are probably thinking…the damage was done when the seahorses were taken out of the water, for whatever parental units were standing by…were long gone. But actually, seahorses are left to fend for themselves from pretty early on. Many of them DO become “fish food” for larger fish. However, ….returning them to the ocean…would have been the right lesson to teach on this day). The family goes back to their hotel room, the boy, with bucket in hand…now has two tiny “fry” pets to care for. We all know that babies…of any species…need to eat…don’t they?  So what do the baby seahorses eat?  Do you know?  I don’t…and neither did this child’s parents.  The fry floated around in the bucket for all of two whole days.  The young boy played with them and watched them…and as young boys do…fell a little bit in love with HIS baby seahorses…and then they died.  You knew that was coming…didn’t you?  The parents HAD to know that was coming as well…but they did not want to disillusion their little boy or ruin his pleasure with such facts of LIFE.

The young boy was very sad when HIS seahorses stopped moving.  He cried and he asked his parents, “Why did they die, even though I loved them?”  The father explained that the seahorses probably missed their mommy and daddy so much…that they did not want to live without them.  The child replied, “Did they go to heaven?”  The father replied, yes, the baby seahorses went to heaven to be with God and all the other baby seahorses that didn’t make it here on earth.  The child then wanted to know…”If I go to heaven, will I be able to see the seahorses again?”  The father told him yes…but that probably won’t happen for a very long time.  Sounds like a pretty deep conversation about “life” and “death”, doesn’t it?  It also proves that children can understand a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.  Had that same child, been told “no”, when he wanted to fish those sea horses out of the surf…perhaps the conversation would have…could have(?) been more positive.  The father could have told him…”Son…those baby seahorses have a mommy and daddy, and sisters and brothers…just like you do.  If you take them and put them into the bucket…you are taking them away from their family and away from their home.  Those little seahorses can’t live right now, without their parents…they are like you and your brother…they need help finding things to eat, they need to be protected and they need to be loved by their family.  So we will leave them where they belong…because they do not belong to US.  Maybe the boy would have been disappointed…maybe he would have cried…even caused a scene?  But the larger picture would have been a lesson of LIFE that perhaps, he would never forget?

What of the butterflies we let the children catch in their nets and then keep in glass jars till they suffocate?  The beauty of butterflies can be appreciated from a distance as can the delight of fireflies…they don’t have to be “caught” to bring us pleasure. They should not be caught at all since they are really not “ours” to own.  Ant farms trapped under glass?  Earthworms in cardboard boxes?  Most of these critters have short lives when our “little darlings” forget that their new pets need air and food and water. Why not just teach our children the beauty of nature and observing rather than “capturing” life?

ALL LIFE DESERVES TO LIVE. We do not have sole dominion over others…we seem to want to and need to be the superior race.  We claim our intelligence and our souls set us apart from other life forms…and yet…it makes me wonder when I see what is going on in this world of ours?  Intelligent beings do not act like we act…compassionate beings do not commit the atrocities that we must view in the News every day, read about in the newspapers and have flung at us over the internet.  Something HAS gone wrong in “our” programming…and there are days that this thought weighs heavy on my own mind and soul.  I can only hope (and pray) that their is a Divine Plan…and things are going according to it.  Perhaps each life that is lost, here on earth, is a lesson that we must learn.  Those of us that are able to understand the lesson…we move a bit further toward enlightenment?  I just hope that the lives that are “chosen” for suffering, pain, abuse, torture and death by all means of horrible…I hope those “souls” are rewarded righteously when they arrive at their destination.  I hope the pain is erased from their “being” and that they are like “flashes of beautiful energy in the sky”…shooting stars that have “passed the test of endurance above and beyond the call of duty” and are now eternal forms of a “different” life…up there in that wide expanse of universe…

WHAT IS LIFE?

Good question indeed.

When Writing Becomes A “Need to…”

Writing is (for some of us) a “thing” we keep trying to do.  A ‘thing” that we NEED to do to keep ourselves sane in an impossibly insane world.  We attempt to fit our “writing” into our busy schedules…because if we don’t…we suffer for it. It is a noble attempt on our part to keep ourselves pleasant company for others as well. Writers who do not write…get grumpy and miserable…no one likes to deal with such people, now do they?

Trying to make time to do the things that keep us happy (and well?) becomes a little like attempting to “nail Jello to a wall”, doesn’t it?   We keep trying to find the TIME to do these “things”, we use different “tools” to get there, deciding to write our thoughts down on scraps of paper (napkins, tissue, receipts?) whatever’s handy when that “thought” hits us.  You know, that “thought” that is so profound it veritably makes our minds “shake” with excitement.  That “thought” that we must absolutely “nail down” on paper?  Then we scramble for a pen and paper, we scramble for a tablet, or a laptop…or (?) any means by which to hang on for dear life to that “wonderful piece of wisdom that dropped into our brain, and unless we “nail it down” will wiggle and jiggle and slither away like Jello…that can’t be nailed…to anything.

IF we are lucky enough to capture our own “wisdom”, the next step is what we do with it.  Can we incorporate it into a timely blog?  Is it something that will make good poetry? Or can we use it in a book of some sort?  The sky is the limit when we are making plans, isn’t it?  We imagine ourselves taking off into the “wild blue yonder” comfortably seated on this fantastic and absolutely mind-numbingly wonderful “thought” of ours.  The possibilities are endless and we ride the high for as long as we can…or until we are distracted and lose the piece of paper or the “file” onto (or into) which we entrusted out mental treasure.  We can spend hours looking for it, and it may never be seen again, and so we accept that the “Jello” has escaped and we go back to wondering whether or not we will EVER write anything of great significance at all.  We sulk a bit, and blame ourselves for misplacing our “treasure” and then…one day…(again) when we least expect it…while we are sitting somewhere just pondering the universe, life and the miniscule part we play in the larger picture…another thought hits us.  WHAM!  It’s BRILLIANT, our mind tells us…hurry, hurry and jot it down…NOW!

This process repeats itself over and over for any aspiring amateur or even accomplished professional writer.  I don’t care how many files or file cards an organized writer has…there will still, always, be that moment when a thought crashes in and has no place to land!  If we are “lucky”, and have a good memory, (which I don’t), chances are that thought can be trapped in the twisted  threads of memory up there, in the tangled grey matter of a mind that holds and actually stores stuff…not just useless trivial stuff (like my mind), but honest to goodness stuff that one can actually find good use for.  So let’s just say, we ARE that lucky…and we CAN remember…what then?

Well…we still need to find the time to actually “write” our “thing”.  That “thing” built around that one saved thought (or many saved thoughts), that will make us feel accomplished as writers.  That word itself, is a difficult word for an “aspiring” writer to even use.  Most of us, (me especially), have trouble seeing ourselves as “writers”.  We WANT to write, and indeed we DO write…but a lot of our “work” doesn’t really make it to the “surface”…it is kept in notebooks, on memo pads, tucked into our underwear drawer (mine), where no one will come upon it and have the pleasure (or pain) of reading it.  That is both a blessing and a curse now, isn’t it?  If no one gets to read it, no one will know how wonderful it is…but they will also not get a chance to critique it, or SLAM it down as “BAD WRITING”.  Most of us (?) would not mind sharing our written “stuff”, if we were guaranteed a pat on the back and a “well done!”, or at the very least, a commentary that starts and ends with “Hmmmm…that was very interesting!”  BUT…there’s  the other side of  that damn coin, isn’t there?  What if someone (totally tactlessly and without an ounce of compassion) blurts out something like “Now that is the worst thing I have EVER read! How can you write drivel like that and profess to be a “writer”?  That CAN happen you know…and it HAS happened, I am sure, to many a writer who either went on from there to never write again, OR…decided that the NEED to write, far outweighed the damages of such cruel and merciless critique.

Face it…there is no one that can be “everyone’s cup of tea”.  We are all unique in that we have different tastes, different needs and desires, wants and dreams.  It is only when we attain the courage to write for ourselves…to take that thought and build on it something we feel good about…that we can truly say we have “arrived”. Needing to write trumps ALL. A writer who is meant to write, cannot stop him or herself  from writing indefinitely…it simply is not possible.  So knowing that, “we” go forth and call ourselves writers…because we …write.  We will continue this process of writing till our memories are “dust in the wind” and our collected scraps of thoughts are scattered and lost forever. We (some of us) … may be published at some given point in time, and the “world” will have the pleasure of sharing in our “gifted thoughts”…but even if that never happens, in our lifetimes, we will know…yes we will…that we were writers. We felt the need within  us to write and we did so…we “nailed that Jello to the wall” and we watched it wiggle and squiggle…but before it could slither away, we captured it in buckets and  just kept on trying…we never gave up because writers  are not quitters…they persevere against all odds.  They make Jello stand up and stop quivering…yup…that’s what writers do!