Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A stream of mindlessness

     This is an experiment in writing, Am I able to do a stream of consciousness blog, which is so unlike the way I write?  But having just read Nicholson Baker's quite wonderful The Anthologist,  I began to see how you can really write a simple story and embellish it with all the other wool-gathering thoughts that float through your head all day. And all night, too, in your dreams.

So let's begin with what just happened. There was a phone that kept ringing and ringing. And it stopped for a minute and started over again. My land line is right beside me and my cell is on the charger across the room. I called my caregiver to tell her I thought it was her cell, and she was just on her way back to make sure I was ok because she thought I wasn't answering the phone. This does not feel like a very auspicious beginning.

So rewrite it, Phyllis, I say to myself, and start again.

A phone was ringing and it wasn't mine. I remember Franklin Avenue, where we had a rotary dial phone in the breakfast room. That was where my Dad used to see me in the morning and say Good Morning, Mary Sunshine.  When my mother remarried, she gave that breakfast room table to her sister,because my aunt Rosina  and her family moved into our house and, I think,  her son, Dick, has it now.

I haven't seen Dick for a long time.  There were six of us first cousins, the two Kohn boys, the two Weiler boys and my brother Al and me.  I was the only girl and the oldest.  I don't know if that is supposed to make you happy or sad or have some kind of difference in your psyche.  We didn't have psyches or psychiatrists in the world of my growing up. I've learned since that they did exist, but not then, in the heartland of the country.

This is the best place to live.  I thought I wanted to live on the East Coast when I graduated from Wellesley. I had been "pinned" to a boy from Providence who went to Brown.   We had been girl -and- boy friends for years, when we had been Junior Counselors at Forest and Indian Acres. On our nights off, we walked to Ladd's drugstore in the village of Fryeburg, Maine and then we walked to the railroad station and drank beer on top of the box car. But then I met Bob Greene and, in a few short months, I found the man who would be my first choice, and I got to choose him.

Both my boyfriend and my husband are gone. So is Harry Kohn and my brother, Al. I don't much like that my mind has wandered to the sad place. Bob and Al's loss are wounds that will never heal.

A real author would forge through the valley of the shadow of death and emerge into green valleys, beside still waters.

Or  back to Forest Acres, where, when I was a twelve years old camper, Madeleine Someone from Eau Claire, Wisconsin played the bugle to wake us in the morning and owned The Oxford Book of English Poetry. She let me read it some afternoons, and I had a crush on her.

Crushes were the rage. We Form IX at CSG picked out the  Form XII  girl to have a crush on.  That meant that we hoped she might say hello to us in the hall. I had a crush on Helen Harvey and, of course, Madeleine whoever, and on poetry.

That poetry love has lasted forever.  Which is probably one of the reasons I wanted to read The Anthologist.

So, now I know and you know, I don't have anywhere near the skill to use such a sophisticated technique. But we all knew that before I struck the first key.

So, I am going to post this blog.  You certainly don't have to read it to know my name does not belong in the same sentence as Nicholson Baker.

But I am going to post it , anyway, because I tried. And I am happy that I did try.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

That Happy Birthday Balloon is moving again

     Do you remember that birthday balloon I wrote about in December? It had arrived in October, atop a beautiful basket of fruit, sculpted like flowers. It was a gift of the Hofheimer boys, sons of my best friend, Lois. It had flown off toward the ceiling of the dining room and, since that is a room I never use unless my family is here, I just didn't think about the balloon again-- until December.

     In December, somehow, that balloon had travelled to my sitting room, and I have looked at it each day to remind me that it had come as a gift of love. I tend to see "Sermons in stones and good in everything."( Which turns out to be William Shakespeare;  I have always given William Wordsworth the credit. Whatever. )There was that love hanging above my dictionary stand, steady as she goes, until this morning.

      When I came to the Blue Room and began the same old routine: NYTimes, e mail, Facebook, I glanced up and the balloon was GONE. It had floated itself across the hall and was sitting atop the bookcase in my daughter's old bedroom.

     The Hofheimer boys, boys ages 55 to 65, have been D.G.'s friends forever, but they wouldn't have gone to her room. It is their mother, Lois, who is there in the balloon.  She never was shy about saying what she thought,  and D.G. and I both believe she's in there to say she still thinks D.G's. hair is too messy and then ask her out for a lovely dinner.

     I hope the balloon stays on and on in my house, although I know that the helium can't last forever.

     But love and friendship can.  And I know it will outlast Lois and me and the boys and D.G.  There will always be a balloon of love afloat in the world. Look for it in your house; it is there somewhere.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I'm fine, thank you. Why do you ask?

     I am finding myself more and more on the defensive when kind and polite people ask me, "How are you?"

      I have no reason in the world not to be fine; I have no pains, and my ills lie dormant. I have loving and devoted family. And yet, I get on my muscle, because it feels as if I need to defend my position as "fine."

     It feels to me as if that old automatic phrase, "Hi, how are you?" asks for an explanation of my exact, up to date description of every aspect of the good health I am enjoying.

     Each time the phone rings, and it isn't even all that often. I am compelled to say, " I feel wonderful. I'm great. I am so happy and my days are so full. How can I be so lucky?" I say it to my children, daily, and to the plumber, to the carpet cleaners and my care-givers, who know exactly the state of my health, as they bring me my meals,  help me in the shower and get me dressed.

     The fact of the matter is that I am unsteady on my feet, my back can be painful, at times. I do not have much stamina and I take an awful lot of medicine. I have a  pacemaker and stents and heart fibrillations and--- I feel wonderful. ( Do you think: maybe I am a little nutty?)

     Am I protesting too much?  I don't think so, because I do feel wonderful and I am content with my mostly-at-home life. There is something in my psyche that puts a chip on my shoulder;  subconsciously, I seem to have a need to prove what is obvious: a year ago I was at death's door.  I have lived a miracle, and how does a simple, ordinary ninety-year old lady, me, account for it all.

OMG, I say to myself. Of course, it is my God, my Father who art in heaven.

Friday, January 15, 2010

how has "erudite" become "crudity"

       Many year ago, there was a summer theater north of Worthington, called Playhouse on the Green. Professional actors came from New York, for the summer, and performed a different show, every two weeks, using local amateurs in small roles. Only Bob Greene was too talented for walk-on parts.  The director, Paul Pruneau, saw that, immediately, and soon was  giving him the lead.

      Those were wonderful summer nights, driving on country roads, to rehearsals. And, between rehearsals, going over lines with him in the backyard, the children already asleep.

       And what does that have to do with erudition and crudeness?  Well, it does. Because one night, Bob and Phil had a conversation about using "swear " words on the stage.  Clark Gable had just shocked the movie world by telling Scarlett O'Hara "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. "When," Bob asked, "would the F word ever be tolerated by the public?"

     We know, now, how soon it happened, how prevalent it is. It is probably the most used adjective in our culture. Culture, I use the word begrudgingly.

     I confess that I have used it myself, not often, and not to the public in general. And certainly not to describe something good!

     From this not-so-staid old lady, I am sending you a list of very effective adjectives.  Use them judiciously and be surprised at how impressive you can be.

     Here they are, straight from my Thesaurus: wonderful, wondrous, remarkable, extraordinary, superb, amazing, phenomenal, flabbergasting...

      Oh hell, go to your own dictionaries.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

on being a mere person

 Reading the New York Times article about the history of the Time Warner/AOL merger, I was reminded of my own attempt to be a "player". How pitiful was it ,as I look back at the whole sordid mess, to think that I had a fighting chance to do something about it?  

I have written before about my on-line book group, in a blog called Book Groups R Me. It was truly important to all of us in the group; we were thriving under the wing of AOL, and then, (mixed metaphor), they pulled the rug out from under us.

Jo in ABQ was the most technically capable of any of us, and she used all of her on-line smarts to tell AOL that they were making a horrible mistake. Of course, we had no idea of the magnitude of the contemplated changes, but even to the unsophisticated GGOBITS that we were, it looked like a stupid marriage.

I decided that I would just call them and alert them to the damage they were about to commit.  I called my broker to get the corporate number, and I called it.  Of course, I couldn't reach Steve Case or Gerald Levin. I ended up speaking to an underling of an underling in the advertising department, I think.

It is a funny story in retrospect, but it is a very unfunny fact in real life.

It is the old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it ".  TIME was once a wonderful newsmagazine, but it was beaten into a pulp of its former self by the twenty-four hour news cycle. WARNER; whatever did happen to that great movie studio? The AOL  today is so much a tangled web that my old book friends are heading elsewhere.  One of our members' daughter did try to set up a site for us; we would consistently lose our ability to access it.

 Make it simple, stupid. That is all we were asking.

But that foolish story is just the lead-in to my real concern. In the cacophony and the dissonance, no one hears anything.  Everyone says something. How can we speak to one another above and beyond the noise? 

This is a subject of immense importance.  In a democracy, who can hear a single voice ?  Signing on line petitions does not seem to bear much weight with the receivers of our outcries, whether for or against. The phone lines to our Senators are always busy, yet many of us keep trying. What are the statistical odds that the vote tally is close to accurate?

The voices in the wilderness are not heard, even mobilized by Move On. The individual stockholders who show up at annual meetings don't have a chance against the block votes of the majority.

We watch NBC shoot itself in the foot. We believe Barry Bond's  or we don't.  We think airport security is getting better. We have no idea what our strategy is against AlQueda. I trust the government; many do not. 

Being a mere person is a sad concept in this gigantic and complicated world. It knocks the naiveté right out of you. Am I not able to change with the times?  I think it is more than that.

Each one of us is lost in the wilderness, and I am afraid.

Forgive me for pretending to be Camus.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Facebook sorrow

I have been thinking about my Mother a lot lately. Actually, I think about my mother all the time, but, as I have moved from my eighties to my nineties, I have a new ( and aching) pain.

I am feeling that I have things so much easier than she did. Not that she lived an underprivileged life, in any way.  She had grown up in a household where she didn't need to lift a finger.  She never learned to cook. My Dad was a good provider and, although we were far from rich, she never had to be a housewife, in that old-fashioned sense of the word.  After my Dad died, very young, fifty-two years old, she remarried into an even more privileged life.

Not that she was ever idle, sitting around eating bonbons. She was a super-active volunteer, serving in the Red Cross efforts during both World War I and World War II. She set up and organized the Blood Bank,  delegating tasks, supervising and checking on the on-going work around her. She served on local Boards and National Boards; she knew how to take charge. And she did.

She travelled extensively to far and exotic places, she made so many friends on the way. She would get letters, or visitors, or phone calls from many of them.  She had a Columbus circle of interesting people. She had a hair appointment every Friday, and the woman who was scheduled just after her had started a very successful stock club, ( do any of your remember stock clubs? ) These two bright women would meet for lunch and discuss the market.

What I regret, for her, was the emptiness of her days when old age caught up with her. Oh, she played cards and went out to meals when she was well enough to do that.  She had moved into a new high-rise apartment building, after the death of her second husband. She was surrounded by friends from her previous life and friends she made in the building. But the days grew longer and her abilities decreased. Television was not stimulating or even very well-done. And, of course, she died long before computers began to change the world.

It is, I have finally realized, Facebook that is making me sad for her. I can sit in my house and my comfortable chair and touch base with so many people that I love. What if she could have laughed at what color brassiere her granddaughter is wearing. To know where her great-grandchildren are practically every hour of the day and night. (There is some of that information she probably shouldn't know. ) And I shouldn't know, either.

With Facebook, she could have kept up with the He/Shes, two homosexual men whom she had met in her travels, and who kept in touch, by mail. They were bright and funny, but on a slow boat to China or on a South Pacific Island. She could still be communicating with Ida Reiter, a fellow Red Cross volunteer or Lucile Curtiss, a fellow community leader. Or Mildred Whitman who had given birth to a son on the same day she gave birth to me, at the same hospital.

These Facebook opportunities, the chance to say a fleeting hello and touch base with far-flung friends is, for me, an incredible pick-me-up.

By bringing multitudes of people from outer space into my small room, I am still in the world, despite age and infirmities. There are endless possibilities for me.

I wish she could read my status update.

It would make her happy to know that, at ninety, I am very happy.

Friday, January 8, 2010

on the anniversary of my brother's death

 Over the course of many years, the Harmons and the Greenes had dinner together. In Columbus, on Sanibel and on Longboat Key. It was always a pleasant and fun evening.  Fancy didn't impress us, but we did enjoy the food and the ambience of upscale restaurants. After Bob died, Sue and Al  invited me to dinner, often, and they even allowed me to take them a few times.

I  have  had my lucky fill of white table cloths and gourmet food. I look back on those with pleasure, knowing that my out-to-dinner days are over, but remembering, too, that my last best meals were at the Hickory House.

Definitely not a white table- cloth place, but five star ribs . We liked the nice, ordinary aura of small town Reynoldsburg and the very smokey bar where we sat on high stools to have our drink, waiting for our table number to be called. Sue was a good sport when she came with us; she hasn't eaten meat in thirty years. She settled for a shrimp cocktail and potato skins.

 Evenings when she was busy elsewhere, Al would come pick me up and we knew, without even considering an alternative, we would head to the “Hick House”.  In the early years, we both drank Vodka; I had to trade-down to wine ( my coumaden dosage, my pacemaker). A short time later, Al had to do the same ( his back operations, the pain, the oxycontin).

 We didn't need to see the menu to order the half slab of ribs, well- browned home fries and apple sauce. Al was always so patient with the young girl at the podium, so pleasant to the waitresses, complimentary to the manager. Going there for lunch a few months after Al's death, the manager told me how sorry he was to read of my brother's passing. Al, from among a really large clientele , was memorable here, like everywhere, because in every encounter, he paid kind attention.

  It was a truly grand evening.  Our conversations were interesting, topical , political and personal;  we each had much to share.  No disagreements ever; no disagreements ever in our life.  Al's children now say that he was different when he was with me; he was like a little boy again, just happy and comfortable, with his blue eyes sparkling, a Paul Newman look-alike.  I probably was different, too. In our eighties, we were, once again, the two little Harmon kids, running through the sprinkler in the back yard on Franklin Avenue.

Rest in peace, Al. We are doing well,really well,   but, oh, how we miss you. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

Focus on Fear

Hanging on my kitchen wall, where I used to see it every day is a print of an old Irish saying, author unknown; of one thing I am certain, he or she is a parent.

It reads:
     God keep my jewel this day from danger
     From tinker, from pookah and black-hearted stranger
     From harm of the the water and hurt of the fire
     From horns of the cows going home to the byre
     From teasing the ass when he's tied to the manger
     From scones that would bruise and the thorns of the briar
     From evil red berries that waken desire
     From hunting the gander and vexing the goat
     From depths of sea water by Danny's old boat
     From cut and from crumble-from sickness and weeping
     May God have my jewel this day in his keeping

I kept this in my kitchen where I would see it, daily, reinforcing all my prayers for my children. I was not an overly nervous mother, but their safety was never far from my mind.  I liked it best when I knew they were all asleep in their own beds.

Today, it is horrifying to think that none of us are safe, anywhere. I am not overly nervous about that, either, because it is so completely out of our control. Since the Christmas Day ( almost) bomber, we are assaulted with newspaper articles and TV reports; Embassy closings in Yemen, can we move the terrorists from Guantanomo to Illinois? Is the President handling the situation well? For me, he is. There are others to whom Dick Cheney is still spouting his theories.

But we do have more to fear than fear itself, and we need to recognize it.  The San Francisco Chronicle quotes the same prognosticator who previously had reckoned that  the day of rapture would be in 1994; that passed without the world coming to an end.  Previously, he had mathematically discovered that the Apocalypse would happen in 2012.  The new date was just announced by Biblical scholars: May 21, 2011. There are good people who are true believers.  They are not afraid. I do not believe any of that, but I know there is more to fear than the end of the world.

The recession is not over; there are still more homeless than beds in shelters; jobs are still very scarce; and there are children in Columbus, Ohio who carry home school provided food in their back packs to tide them over throughout the week end. It is scary out there.

So. take care.  Happy New Year.