THE COLON, THE SEMI-COLON, AND THE COLONOSCOPY

Grammar never came naturally to me. Neither has my “regularity.” I know this is a personal topic, and the colonoscopy is to be taken seriously, but I can’t help my warped sense of humor. Not being able “to go” is uncomfortable. Bloat is not a pretty word. All my husband has to do is drink a cup of Keurig coffee, and he “goes.” Again, I am jealous of the man, who sleeps and poops like a baby…sorry, Bruce, I know how you hate when I bring your name up in my blogs.

So, I’ll talk about Jeffrey, our son. When he was about three-years-old (cute as a button with his blond Dutch boy bowl haircut) I made him buy me Ex-Lax – you know – those yummy chocolate squares?

Anyway, the four of us, Bruce, Janelle, Jeffrey and I, were on vacation (when I’m away from home, I’m chronically constipated) and I was in great need of relief. While in a 7-11store buying some candy and gum, I was too embarrassed to place the box of laxatives on the counter because it wasn’t conducive to a “private” transaction; so I had the brilliant idea of letting my toddler son pay for the items. He had no idea what it was, and okay, I took advantage.  The rest of us waited in the car, giggling, as we watched him through the window being ignored by the clerk, as other customers were rung up one after another ahead of him. Either he was too small to be seen over the counter or the clerk thought the little boy didn’t know what he was doing. Oh no. Is the clerk pointing to the Russell Stover boxes? Don’t switch boxes, Jeffrey.

Phew, our obedient Jeffrey held on to the candy we told him to buy.

We had to wait and see what would happen. “Come on, Jeffrey, be more aggressive; money talks. Put the money on the counter,” we chanted from the car. We saw him holding up the dollars in his little fist. Finally, he reached higher to the counter top and the man took the bills clutched tightly in his tiny fingers. Success. Box was in the bag. We cheered him as he got in the car, and he looked perplexed, yet pleased with the praise. Terrible. Terrible parents, I know.

Back to the dreaded colonoscopy: I could only understand every other word my doctor said to me, as he spoke broken English. That’s all he breaks, I hope. I got the gist of it: no solid food. Nothing red. The thing is I’m an emotional eater. I grab snacks every 14.2 minutes. So, how am I going to not eat for 24 hours? I piled up on the Jell-O and ice-pops, never feeling satisfied. I was also allowed unlimited clear liquids. Hmm…I called the nurse. “Uh, am I allowed white wine?” “Absolutely, NO alcohol,” she said. Damn!

I had opted for the Osmoprep “horse” pills, instead of the seaweed drink, but feared the over-sized pills would get stuck in my chest. I had to down 32 pills in a short span of time as directed and, only one pill got away, shot across the room, catapulted by my gag reflex.

I waited. The instructions warned: If nothing happens within three hours call the doctor. I watched the clock. “Oh my God, I only have ten minutes left. I knew it,” I cried. “I knew it wouldn’t work for me. I need dynamite!”

Suddenly, I was on the run for the nearest bathroom. Bruce later told me he could hear me singing “Hallelujah” all the way down the hall, across the house. At bedtime, because I was worried about the procedure, I took an Ambien to help me fall asleep. Then I realized two things:  what if I have to go in the middle of the night, but don’t wake up. And the other thing is my Ambien sleep-eating problem. So, Bruce blocked the bedroom door so I couldn’t escape in the night and sleep walk to the fridge. Bruce, however, did wake up in the middle of the night and tripped over the chair blocking the door. The dog barked like crazy, and I slept through the whole thing.

Next morning, my pregnant daughter picked me up to take me to the clinic. I told her to get to work, that I’d be fine by myself, waiting. Until I found out that the doctor was late, and it was a two hour wait in a roomful of people who used the one bathroom every two minutes. Some patients were slumped over in wheelchairs, others drooled, and one guy had half an eye. Oh yeah, and there was Cat Lady who sounded like she was coughing up a hairball. I wanted to go home sooo bad.

The good part was being put to sleep – a wonderful experience for any insomniac. And, of course, the best part was to wake up and hear that I had a healthy colon, thank God. What do you think about a sick sense of humor?

FLY GIRLS

After I graduated Stew School from Capitol International Airways on June 18, 1971, I got to fly all over the world. It was during the glamour days of flying – little white gloves, shoulder-padded blue skirt suits, coiffed hairdos, and broad smiles. At 22, I was fearless and faced turbulence and unruly passengers without blinking an eye.

Every year Capitol has a big party not too far from Philadelphia where we were based in 1972. I recently joined over 100 former stewardesses and pilots for the 30th reunion since Capitol went out of business. We all met under a huge tent outside the Delaware racetrack property. Horses with jockeys on their backs raced by us every few minutes, adding to the excitement.

Many people are not aware of the intense training flight attendants went through for two months. We had to endure a plethora of minute details and information from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while we were based in Smyrna, Tennessee, outside Nashville. We had to study from a thick manual, and learn how to administer First Aid—from insulin shock, to heart attacks, to delivering babies in midair. And we also had to learn about almost every nut and bolt on the airplanes. This entailed studying each piece of emergency equipment, including the oxygen system needed for rapid or gradual decompression, and we had to know the various locations according to each aircraft we were flying at any given time; over land and over water evacuation; practicing crash landing and ditching and life raft procedures; putting out fires; and handling serious life and death situations. The training had little to do with serving meals, or handing out blankets and pillows.

I hadn’t seen my old roommates and classmates, and other girls I flew with for over 42 years; you can imagine how seeing everyone again would be a real trip! Our destinations back in the day were amazing; now, I can’t even fly from here to upstate New York without experiencing my 19th nervous breakdown. I figured out that is because I need to be in control; if I worked the flight, I’d be much better off!

I reminisced about some of our trips. Capitol was great because of the long layovers. Aside from one bomb scare, the time we almost crashed in the fog in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the time we had a prisoner handcuffed on a deadhead flight, the military trips were the most thrilling. Capitol was the last commercial airline to fly into Vietnam during the war. But I vaguely recall a quick change of plan while we flew over the Mei Kong Delta headed for Cam Ranh Bay…our pilots were ordered from the base to descend to 500 feet so our tail numbers could be read; we were then told to turn around, and we ended up in Bangkok, Thailand where I saw a giant cobra swallow a rooster whole and, simultaneously saw the fastest jet fighter take off. The military guys hadn’t seen girls in a long time, and made us feel like the Beatles had landed. My crew members and I got to hang out inside the largest plane in the world – a C5A, which could hold 16 Greyhound buses. It amazed me how that monster could get off the ground. I’ll never forget the expressions on the faces of the soldiers we got to take home.


I was a bit apprehensive as I boarded my Amtrak train on the way to the reunion; no longer the free bird I once was. Would I recognize my old friends? How had they changed from the independent young girls I once knew?  Sure, our wings may all have drooped somewhat over the years, but I could look past that.

When I saw each of them, one at a time, I immediately recognized our old selves – the sparkle of adventure still in their eyes and their same stew smiles and same laugh. The roomies:  me, the introverted writer type, Susie, the cool California chick, Laurie, the “genius” from Ohio; Joanie, the deep romantic from Michigan, and our friends, Carolyn, the motorcycle mama from Florida and Betty, the mischievous, mysterious one.

We exchanged our fading memories, trying to catch up on our lives, some who came through with flying colors after battling cancer, sharing happy stories about raising our own kids, and the joys of grandparenthood. We laughed over our ages and topics of hot flashes and irregularity.

It was bittersweet saying goodbye, after it took so many years to say hello again; and you never know when it’ll be the last time. No matter, in a way,  “birds of a feather” will always fly together.

BEING THE YOUNGEST CAN BE WICKED

The giant dead tree stood alone in the empty field like a big wart on the middle of one’s forehead. I was impressionable, only about four or five years old at the time, but my memory of the deformed tree is all too clear. I can still picture it, over sixty years later. I can still feel its rough bark, and hear my own screams as I tried to escape its embrace when my sneaker got wedged in its old trunk. I was trapped by its enormity; sure this looming form would eat me alive. I had believed it already ate one of my feet.

“Judy…Billy, come back! Help me!” But my sister and brother were getting further away as my heart pumped faster with fear. Why weren’t they coming back? Had the wind carried my voice in another direction? Surely if they heard my cry they would turn around. Wouldn’t they?

To make matters unbearably worse, right before my siblings ran away from me, they were sure to thoroughly point out the witch in full black garb that was circling above on her broom, like a buzzard at dusk. And, I swear, to this day, that I actually did see the ugly, bony-faced woman, as she swept the clouds with her sweeper.

I was helpless. The witch was coming and my foot was swelling up bigger inside the crevice of my keeper. Why was this happening? What did I ever do to a tree to deserve this? I’d always adored trees in my short little life, always climbed their lovely branches ascending heavenward.

Was this particular tree angry that lightning had once struck it into its deadly form 100 years ago and decided to take out its revenge on little ol’ me?

My cries went unheard, as I watched the diminishing figures of the boy and girl I once knew as my brother and sister, giggling, as I screamed their names. Being the youngest, I knew my place in their life was to be abused and laughed at, to withstand all their pranks, but this was the very worst thing they had ever done to me. This time, they had gone too far. I was so mad at them that I’d never wanted to see their faces again; but all I wished for at that moment was to see their faces one more time.

I have to admit before that day, I’d never minded their practical jokes much and being their sole source of entertainment, but being left alone in the desolate field stuck in a tree with a wicked witch headed my way.

As it turned out, my family members that I wanted to disown, came back and freed me from my impending doom. That was always the script they wrote: I was the one in distress, and they were my heroes. And, still are.

LOSS OF CHILDHOOD

As a child, the grass in our backyard was a vivid shade of green, and the sky a deep blue. Our family life was like living in a colorful water globe that changed hues with each passing year. The modest brick ranch we lived in was our castle, placed inconspicuously on a dead end street in a content world. Towering bushes encircled our home like a moat, keeping us safe.

Life was big. I even looked at trees differently as a kid. I knew the feel of their bark as well as my own skin; I climbed their limbs to the highest point. So many experiences still to be had for the first time. Raised in the 50s, we were blessed with a mother who was simply a mother, and a father who labored to make family work. I never realized at that time just how successful my parents really were.

We had many gatherings at our home with grandparents and cousins, including our extroverted Uncle Al from Brooklyn, who always had a cigar dangling from the corner of his mouth, and he’d undoubtedly slip a silver dollar (a million bucks to us) into each of our pockets while no one was looking. And Aunt Mary who was always wearing some kind of crazy hat with birds and things sticking out from it, was always chasing us around the house, trying to snatch a kiss.

While a long row of us kids sat at the outside picnic table, Mom tried to talk us into eating everything on our plate, including the vegetables. It seemed like the only one listening was a king-size bumble bee which landed on the yellow squash, causing it to instantly drop dead.

“See,” we laughed. “Vegetables aren’t good for you after all!”

I idolized my big brother, who insisted to his friends that they let me, his tomboy sister, join in on games of tackle football. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was proud of the way I zig-zagged between the players, fast as a little bug. And I revered our older sister, too, so much more sophisticated and smarter than the two of us, and impossible to emulate. Maybe when I grow up, I thought … if I ever want to grow up.

Our mother was an endless flow of creativity. Every pillow, curtain, tablecloth, coat, wedding dress, everything around us Mom had made, and everyone from everywhere knew mom’s reputation as “the greatest seamstress in the land.” She touched fabrics the way I touched bark on trees, and copied the best designers from the finest stores, but we foolishly envied other girls wearing store-bought clothes made of chintzy material and trim. Our entire lives, there were always loose threads on every rug in the house, and even hung from Mom, like tinsel.

One day, we all left our castle, and separated, to raise our own families, and hardly noticed our mother and father aging. The first time I noticed my father as being “old” was the day he couldn’t walk into the ocean by himself anymore, and the next day it seemed, he couldn’t walk at all. It made me think of the newspaper article we kept in our attic about the day Dad saved a girl from drowning upstate, New York. He was so proud.

Before long, our own children finished school and moved out of our house. It was our turn to be alone. When my own father left this world, Mom became despondent. I found their devotion to each other romantic. They may have had half empty pockets, but they were rich in fairy tale love.

We took Mom from her own home, and moved her in with us to our bigger, fancier house than the one we grew up in, but it wasn’t really Mom anymore, only her outer shell. Our real mom had gone away with our dad. Even though we provided her with a lovely, freshly-painted room of lavender, her glassy eyes didn’t seem to notice her favorite color. Her Singer sewing machine sat in the corner, unused; no longer threads on the floor I would have been grateful to vacuum up.

Soon after, I went back to work at an elementary school where I was surrounded by small children full of big giggles, and when I returned in the afternoon, I’d take Mom for a leisurely walk. The chilly wind blew around us, and I found myself buttoning her coat, as if she were one of the children on the playground; the one who lost her giggle.

One day, Mom was gone, too, and I realized that along with her, I not only lost the person closest to my heart, but I also lost the child within me. It occurred to me that I was no longer anyone’s child. The house seemed emptier, quieter, and I’d turn on the TV to fill the void, barraged by shows that I find offensive and ugly, certainly not made for “family.”

I was thankful for the simplicity I once knew and missed. Then one day something wonderful happened – a child was born, and my grandson filled my world again, and allowed me to see through clear eyes just how blue the sky remained, and what a wonderful world we live in after all.

Dedicated to Jagger

In The Classroom

At the Stony Brook University Southampton Campus, under the direction of my creative writing instructor, the well-known (actually, he corrected me –-“FAMOUS, Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Author-Illustrator”) Jules Feiffer, in a class called “Humor & Truth,” our first assignment was to write about being in an “uncomfortable” situation. I pondered the topic for about two seconds when I came up with – Gee, it’s this assignment! I’m halfway there, for that’s the Truth part.

My entire life, being in any classroom has made me extremely uncomfortable; and I guess sensing others being uncomfortable is kinda humorous, right? So, there I have it – Humor and Truth. What is “funny,’ anyway? Isn’t humor in the eye of the beholder? Or does that only apply to Art? Well, hold on, I’ll get to my past experience with Art in a moment. Back to Mr. F’s class, where I felt unprepared, without my own schtik – I was schtik-less, not a leg or a schtik to stand on. And I felt I had to do standup – me a self-proclaimed manic-depressive.

“I wish I was somewhere else…” I mumbled under my breath. Nobody heard me, I’m sure; they were all too busy jotting down all their ideas for the assignment, every other individual with their imaginary Ph.D. light bulbs aglow above their heads.

Ahh, back to my artistic abilities: I remember when I first dabbled in Art. I think someone had given me a Bob Ross starter kit. I was all set with easel, canvases, paints and brushes – the works. Then, I had this ingenious idea to actually register for college courses in the subject.

It started with “the egg.” That’s right, the incredible, edible egg, that plain oval-shaped, pale and colorless object void of texture or depth., Alas, I was so wrong, as we were instructed to use all our pencils; but I only had one for my three-hour-long course – the good old standard #2 SAT type. I was unprepared. I never knew there was such magnitude and variety of “the pencil.” I diligently watched the second hand on the clock gently tick-tocking on the wall above me.

“Draw,” the teacher said. Draw what? I looked around the room; was I the only novice in sight? Were they all eggs-perts? They certainly seemed busy enough, sketching and cross-hatching that stupid egg. I, on the other hand, sat there for a long while before my blank drawing pad. I think I had enough time to figure out which came first the chicken or the freakin egg before me; enough time to lay my own.

Through the classroom window, the sun shined its beam right on my talent-less face, through the classroom second story window, like a spotlight on a criminal in the interrogation room. “Is it hot in here?” I asked the annoying eggheads around me. No one answered. They were all absorbed in their work. What work? There was no work to be seen, to be had, to bluff even, not for me, the rookie artisan. After I finally got some sort of configuration of a stretched-out ball onto my blank page, I wondered why I hadn’t read the course description more carefully. Who was I kidding? I was not an artist!

The next class I took was even tougher – “Intro in the Human Body.” What was I thinking? I was thinking the models would be clothed, that’s what! Not that there’s anything wrong with the human body, of course; it’s just that I didn’t necessarily want to study it, decipher it, draw it, especially if it belonged to a stranger. Thank God I didn’t have to touch it. Thank God I didn’t go into the medical field.

One model looked to be about 80-something and kind of resembled a big old timid turtle that had lost its shell. Should I draw a shell on his back? No, that was not part of the lesson plan. Luckily, he was wearing a Speedo. When he tired, another male model came upon the stool, a younger, more cocky one, totally Speedo-less, and who I wished wore a shell. I couldn’t look! I looked everywhere but where I was supposed to look. I longed for the egg. Please, give me the egg back – I could do wonders with that egg now – I just know I could … please, the egg … the eeeggg!!!

Ahh, finally, the words I needed to hear. “Pencils down.” I was smiling, getting ready to pack up and leave, then noticed we still had another hour to go. At the same time I asked myself, What could be more humiliating than the task I had just finished? I’ll tell you what – when each student had to go around in groups and critique each other’s work. It was agony in slow motion. Why hadn’t I taken “Art Appreciation” instead? When they came around to my work of art, heads were turning and twisting, this way and that, contorting to make out my piece de resistance. Believe me, I resisted! One student moved in closer and pointed. “What is that?” I turned red, and gave an I-dunno shrug, wondering if any students had ever questioned Picasso.

So, here I was in Jules Feiffer’s classroom, all those years later, and I see that I managed to get myself into another fine mess…’Write,” he says. Write what? I think. I am not a writer! I stare at the blank page before me. Well, once again, here’s to egg on my face.

After the First Kiss

Back in my day, mothers pulled their daughters aside at a certain age to talk about the birds and the bees, but I think in retrospect, that the lectures should have emphasized how women have been subservient to men since biblical times. Girls define themselves by painting their faces with artificial blushes, cherry-mocha lip gloss and black mascara, hiding what’s inside them, forgetting who they really are.

That daisy-pickin’ stage of “he loves me, he loves me not” is now nothing more than a lost pleasure. I realized I had vanished, too. I recall looking into the mirror one day and asking myself, who are you? I huffed on the glass, wiped it clean with my sleeve and, took another look at my reflection, remembering the innocence of what had taken place in between then and now. Not too long ago, wasn’t there more? Where did I go? It was frightening how I could only see my skin, face, hair and body. What was once “inside” had slowly faded.

I go back in my mind to seventh grade, a time when I was more aroused by the first edition of Old Yeller, than the popular boy I sat next to in English class – “Tony N. Testosteroni,” better known as T.N.T. Pubescent teenage males on the brink of hormonal explosions belched in science class to the tune of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Snickers scattered among the guys with an outburst of covert armpit farts and spit balls, reconfirming that all guys are gross.

During high school English, the teacher assigned the students to write a poem about love. Love? I was clueless for years. All that time wasted daydreaming in class over true love…then the bell rang, and I saw my true love walking down the hall with his arm around another girl. Overcoming the hurt took a long time, and then I figured out how to get back at the bastard – someday I would marry him.

As time went on and proceeded over that proverbial hill, I noticed my poetry changed; in fact, it ceased. What was once a throbbing heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow in a chiseled chest was now merely palpitations in a flabby, wrinkled physique…not exactly romantic vocabulary from top to bottom, from thinning hair to hammer toes. Even the silhouette on the shade is out of shape. The eyesight has deteriorated, thank God, sparing us a clear focus of our decline. Colors seem a bit murky. Or is that another gray hair? Our forms have become distorted, Picasso-ish, and our body parts shift and go south even before we do.

To think we grew up in the 60s, once so au naturel. It’s difficult to witness what young girls have to contend with these days –The Perfection Paradigm. And we haven’t ‘come a long way, baby,’ as the media continues to shame females to keep up with airbrushed celebs on the cover of magazines who wear uncomfortable clothes that only hang right on hangers, and shoes that cripple us.

Over-grooming has gotten out of hand. The other day I walked into a salon for a little trim, and a petite foreign girl attacked me at the door like the Karate Kid. “Wax on? Wax off? Brow? Lip?” I automatically hid the mustache I didn’t know I had behind the nearest magazine, and noticed the flawless model on the cover. Since I had time in the waiting area, packed with many other one-hair-on-the-chin women, I filled out the cheesy questionnaire in Cosmo. Talk about insulting your intelligence. One of the questions about your love life was: “When was the last time you got risque’ and took a bubble bath with your mate with your high heels on?’ I answered, “When was the last time you found a coupon in the paper for waterproof orthopedic stilettos?”

After the salon, I went to the nearest pharmacy, where I purchased a giant-sized magnifying mirror and a pair of stronger reading glasses. As soon as I got home, I smacked my poor husband (the one I got back at by marrying), the former Woodstock hippie, upside the head. “Why didn’t you tell me I had a mustache?”

He looked closer at me with his unshaven face. “You do?” He wore his usual “huh” expression, as I searched the mirror for the hirsute follicle.

“Ouch!” I cried, plucking at my skin, wearing my thicker eyeglasses. “Where is it? I still can’t find it!”

How shallow the world has become to suffer these various indignities where we can be ostracized in public, tied to a whipping post in the town square, if one body hair should pop up in this PERFECT world. Perfect family, perfect job, perfect everything, but self image.

Women have been liberated to the point of exploitation, especially sexually. Turn to any channel on TV, and it may turn your stomach – UGH! The cheesy, degrading humor toward women is deplorable! I’m from the Protest generation, and I wish the young girls of today would protest the media that wages war against them.

In answer to the question I asked myself about defining love…first, you’ve got to love yourself…before you disappear. That is, unless, you can seal true romance inside a water globe and stash it away in your attic, along with the shadowy memory of your first kiss, now light years away.

First Kiss

I was a spitfire tomboy and only around thirteen when I made my first exciting escape, sneaking out at three o’clock in the morning, shimmying down the side of the house from my second floor bedroom window. I was a little shaky high up, but I had so much adrenaline before my feet touched the ground that I thought I could fly.

Less than two miles away, he waited for me, Larry Hermann, the boy with sun-bleached hair and eyes the same color blue as my big sister’s angora sweater. We had met at a boy-girl party where some of the older kids played spin the bottle and we’d just watched, while stealing sneaky looks at one another.

He was sitting on his front stoop in the dark when I came up his walkway, and he jumped up to greet me, like he couldn’t believe I showed up, like he was really impressed. I was surprised when he linked his hand into mine and pulled me. We ran together, talking nonsense and laughing, until we got to Bunker Woods, where only untamed animals and cool kids dared to go. Neat, I thought. He must like climbing trees, too.

Unexpectedly, under the waning moon, he wrapped me up in his arms. Lickety-split, I realized it was an embrace unlike the ones I got from my parents and aunts and uncles. All my senses seemed to be magnified a hundred-kazillion times. His breathing in my ears, like gusts of wind.

Roy Orbison was singing “Oh Pretty Woman” on a transistor radio Larry had set down on a log; the high notes went through my body like the bow of a violin. I felt like I was floating in the lightness of the moment, confused by his caress, concentrating on my own feelings, imagining his. At the same time I was studying the mighty oaks around us – what great tree houses and forts could be made in these surroundings.

As he held me, I thought about something I once read: how bunny rabbits could simply die from lack of touch. I wondered how I’d ever survived up until this point without it. I felt like a wild animal, getting my first jolt when his lips gently touched mine. I thought of the soft feathers of a baby bird; with our lips together, I became a sparrow flying for the first time. Wow! I thought.

The first kiss – it was monumental, like on the big screen. Every microscopic cell of my being exploded like magic, the stars multiplied and twinkled and burst across the sky in applause, and I looked at him through kaleidoscope eyes. His skin was tawny and warm. He smelled like summer. We blossomed as one, and we melted into candle wax too hot to touch, and too confusing for me to contemplate.

My long brown hair fell out of the shiny satin ribbon which held it and I shuddered, afraid, yet not afraid, of the most important kiss of them all. I was ready for it. It would be the one that I will never forget. The setting was perfect among the birch, and maples and pines, where small animals were our only witnesses, peeking at us in awe.

We returned to the empty road that led back to my house and said our goodbyes. We never saw each other again. One secret encounter was all we needed in our innocence, and it belonged only to us and no one else. Forever.

I climbed back up and through my bedroom window, landing on the mattress near my favorite old stuffed toy. The rabbit’s glass eyes looked frozen, like he needed a hug more than I did, like he was once alive and kept in a cage, untouched and then stuffed and stitched up with all his feelings stuck inside. Unable to sleep, I reached the water globe on my nightstand, with the plastic boy and girl figurines glued together in a whirlwind of glitter. This boy, the “real” boy, somewhere not far from my bedroom window, had just shaken up my insides and was unattached to the globe I had within me. I was alone with my thoughts. Or was I? Would he remember the experience in the same way? Would life continue on as before without a kiss review in the local newspaper?

Mom used to say, “Don’t grow up too fast,” when she brushed my hair late at night. I guess I could have waited a little longer for my first kiss, especially because love is crazy, kind of like magic is, and can disappear into the night – like Larry Hermann. Poof!

Holi-Daze

Phew! Sure glad that’s over. It never fails – it happens every year, around the holidays, when I get so over-wired and over-tired that my insomnia kicks in big time, and my lack of sleep makes me even loopier than I already am. I can’t think straight and cannot get from Point A to Point B without making painstaking pit stops along the way at Points L-M-N-O-P. My lapse in memory doesn’t help, and I need to backtrack every time I enter a room and wonder why I went in there in the first place. Now, what was I looking for? Oh yeah, toilet paper. Guess I gotta go. It took me so long to figure it out that the urge left me.

But this one morning in particular, something is bugging me, something very important that my husband asked me to do as he left for work. I can’t call him and ask him because he’s always stressed on the job, and will remind me – ‘I only asked you to do that one thing, one lousy thing.’ Then he’ll go into the whole lecture about being a writer and living in my imaginary world. And it doesn’t help that the night before we got a call from the oil company, saying that we paid the bill twice. “Oh.” I turned red. He yelled at me. “HOW can you throw away money like that?” He’s always yelling…I call him Old Yeller. I answered, “You know how generous I am around holiday time.”

He walks in the door after a full day at work (even though he had a retirement party which didn’t stick) and I can see he’s on the cranky side. He immediately asks me, “So, did you get out those papers from the file I asked you to find?” My eyes bulge a little as I try to recall. Papers? Papers Pap-for some reason, I recall the papers aren’t exactly cheerful reading material, but what in the world ARE they? He did say the word file, so that helps narrow it down to approximately 300 Pendaflex folders that await me in the file cabinet. I do a quick search in my mind: A-auto insurance, B-banking, C-cute baby pictures—no, no – stay focused!

I succeed at temporarily changing the subject (which I’m pretty good at) and tell him dinner’s almost ready. Oh, crap! I’m having Kielbasa tonight, not one of his favorites. “What’s in this stuff?” he asks. I read the package. “Nothing, really,” I say. “It lists the ingredients: pork, beef, water, corn syrup, dextrose vinegar, 2 percent or less of salt, natural flavoring, paprika, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite.” He makes a face. “Well, you eat hot dogs, dontcha’?” “Yeah, I love hot dogs.” “At least it doesn’t say eyeballs.”

During and after dinner (which I drag out), I ply him with red wine, one glass after another and watch his eyes get heavy in front of the television. I sigh with relief as I wash the dinner dishes, and later suggest he go to sleep early because he looks so tired. He shuffles down the hall and collapses into bed. I’m exhausted too from no sleep the night before, but when I lie down next to him and the dog, I am wide awake, torturing myself over those stupid papers. I look at the dog with contempt. “You don’t have a thing on your mind, do you?”

Maybe if I get some sleep, I’ll remember what papers he’s talking about. I hate doing it, but once in a while I take a sleeping pill, and this was one of those nights. I feel the sedative kicking in 20 minutes later, and instead of going with it, I pop up with the recollection of the papers – The Last Will & Testament. Half crawling, I find myself at the file cabinet, and finger through the folders. Hmm…not under L, not under W, not under T. In my stupor, I wonder and worry about why he wanted the papers anyway. Is he trying to tell me something?

Oh my God, what am I to do? I know – Google. Even though I’m not at all technological, I’m not a bad Googler. In the middle of the night I try to RECREATE the documents, downloading a mock copy of a Last Will & Testament, filling in our names and forging a lawyer’s signature, while nodding out every other minute, my head bumping into the HARD drive to wake me again and again – in the same place on my forehead; now I know why they call it a Hard drive.

I copy it word for word, doing mine first…I, Janet Lee Berg, residing at etc., BEING OF SOUND MIND – Oh No! here’s where I stop and fall sound asleep.

Vacaciones en Familia Loca

This annual holiday trip was a little different than our usual luxury vacation. We went to a small fishing village in Mexico, to experience something different. Something quaint! As we approached the town some building lots near beautiful homes like the one we rented for the week looked like they were bombed out. We pulled up to the villa to be greeted by the dozen or so construction workers who would be hammering away at the sister house on the property the entire week long. The minute we unlocked the front door to our oceanfront casa, our daughter, Janelle, ran out to the back deck, and with her clothes on, and jumped into the infinity pool. Then came the infinity of rain…and the infinity of wet towels (the washer/dryer never reached “Stop.”) Jillian, our niece and her husband, Andrew, soon found out that all the terra cotta inside the house was as slippery as an ice-skating rink.

We quickly surveyed the floor plan and claimed our own bedrooms, neatly unpacked our suitcases, and got organized. Well, except for the thirty-something-year-old single boys, Jeffrey, Marc and Chris, who shared a huge bedroom, referred to as “the pig sty.” A frieze of a pig’s head actually hung on the wall above their headboards. Perfect!

For dinner on the first night we arrived, we hired a cook who served us the freshest fish I’d ever seen, with a mound of sauce covering the poor bass(tard’s) eyeballs and gills…finally smothered, the flopping stopped. The plate was still. “Dig in,” Judy, my sister, said. The next day we ate nothing but chips.

The young’uns took my husband Bruce to a bar on the street, showing him how to do shots (a first for him), and he was in his glory when two Mexican guys with guitars, who didn’t speak much English, happened to know all the words to a dozen Rolling Stone songs Bruce requested, along with his 12 shots of Tequila. The nieces and nephews later found Uncle Bruce sitting in the rain on the median of the road, reminiscing about Woodstock and philosophizing on life, and from then on coined him Uncle Hemingway.

The following morning, there was a slight break in the weather, and some of us took the complimentary dilapidated bicycles for a ride on the sandy beach along the shore, scouting out the hotel where our daughter Janelle and her husband Mike had originally planned to have their Destination Wedding – that is until the Swine Flu outbreak. To my horror, and the cackling sound of one of my nephews, I was almost blinded by what I saw next – the hotel is now the Swinger Hotel on Naked Beach. Let me tell you, nothing is worse than the shock of unexpectedly seeing a 90-year-old butt of an old man sunbathing. I closed one eye and we hopped off our bikes and headed for a pier, away from the nakedness…but then a sign stopped us dead. It read: No sexual activity beyond this point! “Oh my God, Oh my God!” I panicked. “Where do we go? Where do we look?” I hopped back on my bike and pedaled my prudish-posterior outta there as fast as I could go.

We swam in the rain under big black clouds, thunder clapping, lightning bolting, and umbrellas turning inside-out. There were a few inconveniences within our living quarters, too, but I think the worst of it was the signs above the toilets in each of our five bathrooms: DO NOT FLUSH ANY PAPER, WHATSOEVER. This took a lot of calculation after eating Mexican food which seems to go right through you. One night I heard Bruce wandering the house, like a zombie, at 3 a.m., looking in all 5 bathrooms for the one plunger provided Until then, we had only thought about using it to smash the piñata we bought to celebrate the multitude of Holiday birthdays.

It was a NOISY house, indeed. Day and night. One morning while in the shower (clogged, by the way), I heard a horrific sound and thought this is it. This is the end. A tidal wave? (only later to find out it was a very low-flying helicopter) The rain continued, the kitchen ceiling leaked, and every morning at 6:30 a.m. sharp, the construction crew next door arrived to add to the commotion. Some of us cried. No, really, CRIED teardrops (as if we needed more liquid?)

By the end of the week, we were ALL doing tequila shots; the only well-behaved ones were the three toddlers, Sammy, Lila, and Jagger. The coming and going of us crazies on the bikes down the long street to town was a sight. It seemed nephew Marc always got the “good” bike, and his brother Chris was always walking one home with either a flat tire or a loose chain; his face marked with black grease, entertaining my son Jeffrey, the more logical one. All the locals (THE nicest people in the world!) got to know us. And on the last day, one of the locals – a fisherman, took the boys out to sea in his boat, right after they scoffed down 30 tacos. He gestured to them; shrugging his shoulders at why they ate SO much before the excursion…they answered while they sang Heave-Ho over the side of the boat, laughing their fool-heads off at one another.

EEEEEK!!!

UH-OH, that time of year is coming up – when outsiders seek refuge from the cold – usually at our house – the critters affectionately refer to it as ‘you know where those suckers live.’ It’s true. Bruce and I are more tolerant than most when the home invasion begins, but I admit that a few times these houseguests’ cartoonish-cuteness starts to fade. Years ago, we’d find a random black cricket in our basement that strutted by in a top-hat and carried an umbrella…but these days, we dare not go down to the depths of the basement where those humongous, grayish, hideous, prehistoric, dinosaur-like crickets dwell.  Let me say this: they ain’t no Jiminys!

We’ve put up with Rocky, the squirrel on our roof, and Ricky the Raccoon in our garage, but the toughest challenge of them all is always – the MOUSE, and I don’t mean Mighty Mouse…no one ever comes to “save the day.” I’m talking about Mickey, Minnie, and that cute Italian fellow, Pepino.

I cringe at the thought because it can take weeks to get them outside again where they belong. Oh, you must be saying to yourself, that’s not how to handle it…and practically speaking, I can see why. But, the guillotine – no way! Without the heart to end the lives of these small creatures, I continue to stand on stools with a broomstick and shriek.

I had to come up with my own techniques of “mouse removal,” as most methods seem inhumane. I recall one night when our kids were small, my husband was asleep, and me with insomnia, stayed up playing PacMan. (I was a PRO at killing off those little dots.)

Anyway, I heard a noise coming from the kitchen, and I tiptoed in to see two beady eyes staring back at me from under the stovetop burner. I eventually went to bed, but could not sleep…what if? What if I fell asleep with my mouth open, and the mouse happened to be looking for another dark place to hide?

I had no choice, but to get out of bed again and put my Genius plan into action: I filled the sink with water, a couple of feet from the burner, and left a trail of breadcrumbs leading up to it.

I waited in bed, watched the clock…singing in my head Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock—“No No – I had to get these cute images OUT of my head. “ At 3 a.m. I tiptoed back into the kitchen. AH-HA – gotcha! There he was, swimming in circles like a miniature seal. I scooped him up with a plastic container, quickly put a lid on it, and happily set him free outside my front door while humming “Born Free.” I looked up at the beautiful night sky, at large snowflakes, then I looked down again at the wet mouse – who took three steps and froze solid in his tracks.  I cried.

One year, I blew a mouse clear out the French doors at the back of our house with a giant leaf blower…I’m pretty sure he survived, but he must have landed in OZ. That was a very successful mouse rescue and release episode that I am still proud of.  The worst house invasion was a couple of winters ago…he or she must have come through a basement vent and left poopies (not cute) in my oven trays under the gas burners. I was so grossed out that I didn’t want to cook at all (which of course I milked.) Well, one day I had a long talk with the man at the hardware store, who sold me a plastic “non-kill” mouse trap. My husband (NOT handy) and I read the instructions (we usually never read instructions until after we fail) and thought we had it down pat.  The next morning, to our relief, the trap door was closed, but when we picked it up, it felt empty. We opened the trap door and saw the cheese was gone, but NO mouse; he outsmarted us again. This went on for weeks and once in a while I’d see the mouse scurry by as we watched television. “Uhh, Bruce,” I said to my husband. “Looks like the mouse has put on a LOT of weight.”

“Really? Is he still wearing those jazzy Disney red shorts and large yellow shoes?”

“No, he’s totally naked this time, except for his white gloves. But-but he’s a different color now.”

It suddenly dawned on us – it was not the Same mouse; we had more than one. The following day we bought many traps (one of them had to work!); we lined them up in the pantry, where they’ve been stealing food, and waited once again. Finally, SUCCESS…every day we’d catch another mouse…unless, it occurred to me – unlesswhen we released them, they just came right back in the house for their meals.  We then made executive decisions:  each time, we drove the mice a few miles away to a horse farm, and let them go. After weeks of sterilizing our kitchen with Lysol, and no sign of mouse poopies, we were content that Mickey and Minnie and their extended family were finally gone!!!

The bad news, I had to start cooking again. EEEK!