Load On Your Back

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In the time-honored tradition of explaining to children how you had it way worse “back in the day” than they do, when my son recently expressed trepidation at starting in a new school this fall, with so many more kids, I told him that no matter how uncomfortable he felt, it probably wouldn’t top my first day of middle school, when a girl I didn’t know came up to me on the sidewalk in front of the school, with a small posse of friends behind her. She asked me my name, then she told me my first name was “bullshit” because she had a sister who had recently died who had the same first name and that me having that name MADE HER ANGRY. The whole group was looking at me like I had done something wrong. It was literally the first day of school, and I didn’t know any of these girls. She pointed at me, an inch away from my face as I stood there in shock and said, “YOU and ME after SCHOOL TONIGHT!” and told me where to meet her behind the school building, then she and the posse walked away. I was in shock and so confused. How do you make somebody mad just by having a first name?

Needless to say I did not go to meet her. I don’t even remember her ever approaching me or talking to me again, but I tried to hide whenever we were in the hallway together, and to appear invisible when she was nearby.

D was pretty surprised by my story and said yeah he agreed, his first day would probably not be like that. Then I asked him what he would do if someone was crappy to him, and he said he would probably say something to his teacher, and tell me when he got home. So that’s progress, as I didn’t do any of that. I knew nobody would do anything about it in any kind of formal manner. Times were different, and the school administration people weren’t t there to protect me, they existed to protect and foster other kids. Kids who could afford braces and who had nice clothes, who didn’t say stuff like, “SHE isn’t going to work on MY school newspaper.”

In 8th grade, my teacher made fun of my last name and intentionally mispronounced it to pick on me, repeatedly, until it made me cry and I finally told my parents about it. Then, my dad went up to school and had a little discussion with the teacher after school let out one day, in his Steve McQueen/Michael Corleone-style, and the teacher never said my name wrong again and that’s how we solved things back then. I had good teachers, too. Who saw my potential and quietly found ways to advocate for me. I’ve explained to my son that not all teachers are good, that going through school is good preparation for the working world, because not all bosses are good either. I told him about the boss I had who screamed at everyone and talked about my boobs and banged the table with his fist yelling the owner the first week I was there, and I also talked about other bosses I’ve had who were good. That school gives you skills to learn how to produce the work each teacher wants, however they want it, in the way that will make them happy and result in the best grade. It isn’t always a cut and dried as doing the “best” job. It’s about reading people and knowing how to deal with them.

I never even took calculus or trig or anything. Soon, I will be of limited use scholastically to my son. So I teach him what I know, which are life lessons. Behavior. What might be coming, how to deal with it if and when it does.

It’s funny how time colors things. While I remember the incident very clearly, 50-year old me is angry that I didn’t stand up for myself and tell this girl to fuck off, or meet her after school and at least attempt to beat the crap out of her for her bullshit. The mean girl was yet to emerge, but this is how she was created. I was nice, until then. Naive, I guess you’d say. It would take a few more years of incidences of people treating me badly for no good reason at school before I built up a thick enough skin to act like nothing bothered me and that I’d cut anyone who crossed me, which finally caused people to fear me and largely steer clear of me, save for the few people who saw the real me and liked me anyway. But, I mean, I was 10 years old. What did I expect? I can’t even give my 10-year-old self a break. It’s amazing to me how critical we can be of ourselves, even decades later.

There are resources now that didn’t exist. Bullying is much less tolerated these days than it once was. Social media has exacerbated everything. I’m trying my best to prepare him, and to let him know that I will be his ally. That I will push the system for justice for him, that there are pathways for protection. I don’t want him to be the closed-off kid, but I don’t want him beating his way through school like my dad did either, who (by his report, at least) got expelled in 10th grade for punching out his gym coach.

He returns to me tomorrow morning from his week with his dad. There’s always a bit to undo and adjustments to make as his dad’s parenting style is more indulgent, but he adjusts pretty well after a day or so. There’s still so much to teach him. Fourth grade will be over in just three months.

 

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Seasons Of My Life

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I’ve never been into the whole “adult coloring book” thing. I don’t find fireworks or car washes cool or awe-inspiring. I mean, I wish I did. But I don’t really seem to have any of the sort of things many adults can enjoy in order to “tap into” how they felt about something as a child—to access that childlike joy.

I remember recently my son asking me how old I was when I no longer thought playgrounds were fun and it’s funny how you can’t really remember when that stopped, isn’t it? (if it did for you) I can’t remember when things stopped being fun or no longer had the potential for fun like that for me, and I haven’t really ever found much of anything, I don’t think, that taps into that sort of “inner child” everyone talks about.

It’s been a real challenge as a parent, not having access to that, as most of the time I’ve spent playing with my kid, I’ve been pretending to enjoy it and be into it, and I’m only doing it because I know it’s good for him, and because he doesn’t have any other playmates. I laid down for a nap a few days ago when my son was here because school was closed and was thinking about all these containers of tiny toys he has in several large plastic storage bins in his room. I thought, I can’t remember the last time I saw him playing with any of that stuff. And soon perhaps he will abandon those things, and will never play with them again. You don’t know when the moment is coming when you last play with a toy, or last enjoy holding a stuffed animal, or no longer find playgrounds to be exciting and filled with opportunity. So I got up and suggested we play with all the stuff in the bins, which he was thrilled about. We spread it all out on the floor and “played” together, which was mostly me sifting through the broken stuff and putting it to one side, which I would be able to later get rid of when he wasn’t paying attention. Tiny little playing cards and unassigned limbs from action figures. That knight we got when we came upon a small, indie toy store that was going out of business that day, purchased with another knight who has somehow gotten lost. The tiny tractors from his tractor phase, and the “Bumpy Road” song I made up that we used to sing while playing with the tractors. He doesn’t remember it at all now, how the farmer was driving on a bumpy road and carrying a full load of —whatever, fill in the blank. I would make D name a produce item he was carrying, and then something would happen to the tractor and the invisible load would spill and he’d have to go back home and start again. This was really just a way for him to brainstorm fruit and veg and be able to name as many as he could. It isn’t because I like playing with tractors. But that’s gone now.

It didn’t last for long, the play session. I don’t have genuine interest and capacity in the playing, and am unable to sit on the floor for more than a little bit, because it really hurts my back. I did what I could, but after only a short while, we cleaned everything up and put it all away again. I feel bad a lot for not wanting to play with him more. But I don’t.

It’s also been a challenge as an actor. I have been asked a thousand times in warm-up exercises, acting classes, rehearsals and other group-of-actors settings to do things that access the “child” within you. These feel extremely disingenuous to me. I once walked out of an audition because we were being forced to do repeated, stupid things that I just couldn’t abide after the 4th or 5th request to hop on one leg or lay on your back and cry like a baby or pretend to play hopscotch or whatever, I just felt like a fucking moron. I know the purpose of these exercises and support them if they work for you, but I was just going through the motions. I don’t “feel” like a flower growing or whatever the christ.

I’ve thought about why I don’t have access to that space in my brain and heart. Surely it must be there somewhere. There are things that bring me joy – not in a Marie Kondo kind of way, but stuff I like doing, but that pure feeling of enjoying something at that raw, childlike level, it seems to have left a long time ago. I get excited about stuff, but not in the way a playground used to excite me, or fireworks, or the prospect of going to a pool.

Until the dog. I am remembering, through owning Indigo, what it was like to have that bond with dogs that I had when I was a little girl. It was special, just between me and our two dogs, and I spent more time with them than anyone else. I was the only one who walked them and while my sister and I both fed them and cleaned up their poop out of the yard occasionally, they weren’t inside dogs so I spent a lot of time outside napping in the big dog’s ramshackle wooden house my dad had thrown together.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting the dog has been a big fucking expensive hassle, and as his primary caretaker, marching him around several times a day in the wind, rain, snow and ice, cleaning up his puke, having my gym bag handle chewed through or the pizza box drug onto the floor off the table by his chompy self, such that all the pizza has to be thrown out, is really not my idea of a good time. He was so filthy yesterday after outside elimination duties that I had to carry him to the tub and give him a bath then and there, which left me, the bathroom, and subsequently, my couch covered with hair. When he’s really happy, he tends to drag himself back and forth over the couch and roll around on it with his legs in the air, leaving it with a thin layer of his white fur, which is vacuumed up regularly. Rinse, repeat.

But I’ve noticed my interactions with the dog are … childlike. Like how I was with my dogs. I’ve observed it for a couple of weeks and I think I know why.

It isn’t the companionship. I am perfectly content being alone for many, many hours, every single day, day after day. If I long for companionship, I’m happy to toddle up to a bar and talk with a stranger, or meet a friend for happy hour. In fact, most of the day, Indigo sleeps, while I work.

I thought back to what it was with Teddy and Fred and Bogey, the big dogs of my youth, and what I liked about them. In essence, they 100% liked me exactly the way that I actually and truly am, and of course so does Indigo. Fat, sloppy, unshowered, or dressed up and looking pretty, he doesn’t care. He doesn’t ask me why I cook my eggs the way that I do even though nobody else cooks them that way. He doesn’t ask why I feel like I have to leave the butter out, or keep salt in a dish next to the stove instead of in a shaker.

He also offers companionship without demanding anything in return, and protection without extortion. As gentle and loving as he is with me, always by my side, I understand why he barks so fiercely if he hears someone in the hall, as he’s trying to let them know he’s gonna fuck them up if they mess with me. Heck, a couple of weeks ago, my partner, dressed in a costume of sorts, was unrecognizable to him and he growled and barked at him as he approached me from behind, until he figured out who he was. He’s easy company, and he wants to take care of me and be with me in whatever way works for whatever I feel like doing. That’s what the dogs were like when I was a kid, too. Made fun of and left out of so many friendships and gatherings, the dogs didn’t care if I didn’t have designer jeans, or that my mom made my clothes, or that I was wearing Amy A’s hand-me-downs.

That’s worth tromping through the weather and dealing with the mess of dog life. It gave me back a tiny sliver of the kid in me. Hard to believe the kid that loved hot dogs and Happy Days, who had a rusty Snoopy lunchbox and new saddle shoes and whush-whush corderoys every fall for school is turning 50 in just a couple of weeks, but here we are.

Judge Not Before You Judge Yourself

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Me, 1984

I read an article today that posited that “mean girls” grow up to be mean women.

This can be accurate. But it’s lazy. People who never change from how they were in childhood are kind of boring to me. It shows no growth, no maturity. Fortunately, this position can also be false.

When I was in middle school, I was trying very hard to belong to a couple of different groups of girls who were all friends. I was an outsider to both groups and while they talked to me sometimes, and we all shared space together every day in classes and extracurricular activities like track, I only had one or two girls who were actually friends, who invited me to their houses, who played with me, etc.

I kept trying to forge connections with the girls in these two groups. There was a girl who had been sort of nice to me, in a distant kind of way, let’s call her Halle. On the playground one day, I overheard this other girl, “Linda,” bad-mouthing Halle behind her back. She was really saying unkind things, trashing on how the girl dressed and so forth. I felt bad for Halle, and I went to her in confidence and told her, I don’t think Linda is your friend. She was talking about you behind your back. And A, B, and C person were all there and they were agreeing with her. She thanked me for telling her and I thought that was that.

The next day on the playground, Linda marched up to me with her posse behind her, told me to keep my big mouth shut and smacked me HARD on the face. I was completely shocked. I was still a pretty nice girl, and the thought of hitting her back or starting a fight with someone who assaulted or challenged me was still a good year or two away, and I remember crying in shock. Halle had clearly said something to her, and now Linda and all her friends hated me. When I saw Halle, I hoped she would want to be friends, but she just ignored me. Later in the year, she was friends with all those girls again, and I was still on the outside trying to get in. I felt stupid for the whole thing, for saying anything. Like I should have just agreed to talk about this girl behind her back, or shut up and said nothing, if I wanted to be in with the in crowd. A few of the girls still talked to me, but everyone was at arms’ distance, nobody would really let me in.

The other group of girls seemed nicer, but they too talked behind each other’s backs about each other. I kept my mouth shut, having learned my lesson, and hoped to be better friends with some of them.

At the end of the year, there was a big talent show and I remember being hurt but not particularly surprised that Halle and Linda and their group had all elected to do a dance number together to a fun song from a musical. They shook their little hips and waved their little fists and I felt like I was sitting in the last row of the auditorium alone.

A few acts later, the girls from the second group came on. They had also decided to do a dance number, to a pop hit on the radio. I remember sitting in the audience crying and feeling so left out, so humiliated, like there was nothing I could do to get anyone to like me. Nobody would ever invite me to be in their group. Nobody would want to include me.

Once I got out of that town, I realized that it was a small-town problem that was instantly fixed by going to a college with people from all walks of life, all parts of the world, many different cultures and backgrounds. I had no trouble making friends at all. People liked me, they interacted with me, they respected me, they laughed with me, some folks looked up to me and others I respected so much it was a thrill when I got to work with them on stage or move across the floor with them in dance classes.

Even some mean girls can grow and change. I’ve encountered both Halle and Linda at high-school reunions. Linda still hates me and we’ve never exchanged a kind word. She is unchanged from her school years, as best I can tell. Halle and I are very different people, with very different politics and lives. Yet she reached out to me after one of the reunions to apologize for having been such a bitch in school. So has another girl from her clan. With age and wisdom and their own share of struggles comes perspective. With their own children to raise has come an awareness of the meanness of exclusion and bullying, and they have worked very hard to bring about change through their own kids.

Even decades later, those apologies have filled holes in my soul I didn’t know were still there, as they scabbed over and healed with a bump. It’s nice to patch some of those potholes.

I see stories in the news now of young people doing great things. People that were the age these girls were when they were so fucking awful to me all the time, making fun of my clothes, saying to my face that they didn’t understand why my boyfriend was dating me, picking on me when I got a bad grade, never picking me for teams in gym, laughing at me when I tried out for cheerleading, excluding me over and over again. Now, I see young folks asking physically and mentally challenged people to the prom, young people being open and proud about their gender, their preferences, girls taking girls to homecoming, students doing acts of kindness and charity that nobody would have done back in my day, at least not at my school.

People have the power to change and the power to decide to be different. Maybe that’s what you’ll decide to do this year – be different. Be better. Be kinder. Nicer. More empathetic. Stop judging people and making assumptions. Reach out to someone with whom things were bad, and fill in that pothole, if you can. Help out at a charity. Bring dinner to someone who is struggling. Check up on people and be an ear for their problems. Tell someone you are sorry.

Be better in 2019.

Faithful Friends

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I went to a friend’s house a couple of weeks ago for a party. She is also divorced with kids and is working at a new job. It has been a year of change for many of my friends, and she is no exception.

She and I got married the same weekend back in 2003. We met on a wedding planning board online, where I met many awesome women that I am still friends with today. Because she lives pretty far on the other side of town, I rarely see her but we always intend to get together more often, yet, as these things go, rarely do.

I made the trek over to her party with trepidation. My friend is beautiful and thin and a chipper, bubbly person, a runner a naturally positive gal. I am dark and obese and saggy and physically broken, always looking for the bad news of the day and anticipating the worst. I haven’t run since February because of a seemingly incurable foot problem, and working from home hasn’t been great for my waistline, where I can fix whatever I want to eat, whenever I want it. My friend also has very different politics than I do, though we never, ever discuss it.

Friend’s home looked like the “after” picture in an HGTV show, and I felt so bad about myself. I have been living in this shitty, dark, basement apartment for 15 years now. I’ve lived in apartments longer than I ever lived in a house in my life – all my adult life, save the year-plus I lived in Beverly Hills (which obviously was not my house). There are a lot of pluses to apartment living but a ton of negatives. I’ve never been able to decorate or afford to do anything to the place, and the cheap, crappy beige carpet is permanently stained everywhere, even though it’s been replaced once already. The walls are gross even though they’ve been repainted once during my time here. My decor and furnishings are more hippie garage sale than Chip & Joanna Gaines, and have mostly been selected on what was free, cheap, found at the Goodwill, given to me by a friend or relative, or was able to be purchased on a really long-ass payment plan from a furniture store. Nothing goes with anything else. There’s no theme. Nothing is pretty. I’ve had the same shower curtain since 1998, when I moved back from Los Angeles, and finally broke down on Black Friday this year and bought a different one, feeling guilty about spending even that little bit of money. I hate my bed. It is too small, the corners are very hard 90-degree angles that I constantly run into with my thunder thighs when changing the bed, causing deep bruises that last for weeks. Meanwhile, my friend had a table that looked like a display item at Anthropologie and a big playroom/gym for her kids off the beautiful main living room, with matching furniture and cute Christmas decorations everywhere.

I felt like a complete failure. I was extremely insecure at the party, and overcompensated by talking too much, trying hard to be funny, drinking way too much and forcing at least one of her friends into an uncomfortable (for both of us) “discussion” about being accepting of gender fluidity and LGBTQ+ individuals. I was glad I had made plans to spend the night there. When I woke up, hungover, early the next morning, and crept out before my host woke up, I drove home thinking about how terrible I feel about myself and how little I have accomplished.

It weighs on me extremely heavily. Especially after 18 months without a full-time job, and what with it becoming increasingly clear I will never work such a job again. I spend my days pitching and hustling for work, mostly low-paying. I dazzle half my clients and the other half hate what I do. I am running my own solo business now, which has never been something I want to do, and the thought of my tax appointment in a few months literally makes me break out in hives. It’s going to be so bad. Starting with the $400 I owe the county for unemployment overpayment earlier in the year, which they will take out of any return I might be due. I simply haven’t been able to pay it back and it’s gone to the state AG’s office for collection. Which also makes me feel bad, as I have always paid my bills.

This Christmas, in order to keep functioning, I have taken stock of the very many things I enjoy as a result of the generosity of my wonderful group of friends, who have literally and figuratively kept me alive, fed, clothed, wined and dined throughout the year.

The people who picked up the check for me when we went out, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. The folks that helped crowd fund me getting the best dog, who has become my constant companion and a wonderful source of non-judgy, unconditional love. The folks who mailed me cards. The MOMS of friends who mailed me letters and cards and gift cards – people I haven’t even MET. Those silent peeps who quietly mailed me a check and said I must cash it, but must keep quiet that it was sent. Those who have shipped me wonderful food and drink goods, who have cleaned out their cupboards and gone shopping for me and sent care packages. The girl who made me homemade cheese crackers and sent them from states away. The woman I’ve never even met who sent me emergency wine, because being out of wine sucks. The cases of toilet paper. The bags of vegetables. The grocery shopping trip where I could buy what I wanted and they would ring it up. Folks who referred me to people looking for a writer, and helped me get meetings, interviews, and even a little freelance work. Friends who always have a hug or are always there when I text, feeling desperate and bad, who understand, who love me. To everyone who has read my writing, liked my articles online, and bought my shitty little paperback/kindle book. To those who have stuck with me even if we disagreed, debated or argued about an issue heatedly.

You. You are my Christmas.

And I am so grateful.

All The Tired Horses In The Sun

My son had his best friend stay overnight Friday night. It was his first time having someone overnight and he was so excited. The other kid’s mom was excited, too. Though she has two littler kids, twin girls, they would be going to bed straight away when she got home from the school event where we collected D’s friend, and her husband was going to be out late on a basketball coaching gig so she was looking forward to a nice, rare, quiet night alone.

It was anything but quiet here, though. Navigating the first-time overnight is important. I wanted to give the kids space (well, as much space as you can find in a 900 sq. ft. apartment) and leeway to break the rules a bit by staying up late and being a little loud, but I was also aware that this would set the tone for other overnights. My son, like many kids, is fond at throwing details at you of what you once said, promised, or did in a particular situation so that he can bring it up again to claim precedent. Maybe he really should be a lawyer, hmm.

D’s friend, DC, had basketball practice but his mom was going to bring him to the school event, Winterfest, when practice was over, and then we could take him from there.

My son was so crabby. I finally realized this was one of those rare manifestations of his dad’s temperament. They both get short tempered and impatient when they are anxious or nervous or impatient about something unknown. D didn’t understand why I wouldn’t just let him stay at school until the event started, when I picked him up at 4:30 (the event started at 6, DC wouldn’t be there until after 8). When we arrived at the school event, he was mopey and acting bored. I offered several of the activities they had going on – writing letters to santa, decorating cookies, etc., but he declined and only wanted to nurse a can of ginger ale, like a guy nursing a whiskey in a dark bar after a bad breakup.

I finally decided to just decorate a cookie myself, and he eventually joined me. Then I decided to create one of the craft ornaments they had on a table, all glue sticks and tissue paper and paper plates and bows. He finally came around on that as well and half-heartedly made one. This is his last year of elementary and we usually skip all this stuff and he just runs around screaming with his friends, but I wanted to try to do some of the actual things they had going on in an attempt to make some memories.

But really all he wanted to do was hurry up the night until the time we brought home his friend. We ended up leaving to pick up the kid straight from basketball practice, D didn’t want to wait for him to come back to the school and the kid’s mom agreed that would be quicker. So we all headed up there and I watched my son and the twin girls while she went in to get her boy DC. Just watching 3 kids in the dark near a pickup train of cars made me tired. It’s impossible to have your eyes on all the kids at all times. I wanted to chain them to the tree we were standing next to just to keep them together and safe. I was truly glad in my soul that I only have one child, a rare feeling for me.

The overnight was everything you’d think. I made hot chocolate and popped corn. The boys thumped and screamed and beat each other with life sabers and I don’t even know what all. It sounded like an F5 hurricane was blowing around in D’s room but I tried hard to just be chill about it until around 11pm, when I informed them that’s when quiet hours would begin and suggested they begin to tone it down. They took it from a 10 to about an 8 but it was still pretty crazy. The dog barked every time they opened the door and the poor canine was so stressed out he came to bed with me at around midnight and went right to sleep. I told the kids again before I went to bed that I was turning in and to keep it down as other people live in the building, but they continued on. There were Pokemon cards everywhere and all the toys were out and the bed and sleeping bag were disheveled. I finally went in at about 1:15 and said all right boys, that’s enough, turn the lights off and go to sleep and finally they did. By 2pm all was quiet and I could finally sleep.

I was up at 6 to take the dog out. I felt hungover from lack of sleep, even though I’d had nothing to drink. Dog and I plodded around outside in the quiet, frozen dark, and I thought about how many times I’d spent the night at my best friend’s house growing up. I hope they don’t end up doing this repeatedly until they get on each other’s nerves and one day, beat the crap out of each other like me and my then-bestie did. I’ll never forget the terror of us chasing each other around all the expensive furniture in her house, or when I clapped her so hard on the head that she fell through a flimsy door between rooms. But he’ll probably do better. This is the beginning of his journey, and next time he’ll stay over there and get to see how other people live, which will be good for him.

He doesn’t go to other kids’ houses as he doesn’t really have those kinds of friendships, and all the people I know with kids already have playmates for their children (usually siblings), or they’re too young or too old for D to play with. I have no way to talk to other parents or connect with them to arrange playdates, and DC is really busy with his sisters, basketball, and his other friends so it’s hard to get anything going. That’s ok with me. We keep busy and have a routine, but I know D wishes we did more with other kids.

I was staying overnight at my girlfriend’s house from like 1st grade onward, and I felt bad that D is getting started so late. He so passionately loves being around other kids. He comes alive at school events, like the community tree lighting at the local rec center a couple of weeks ago where he spent a couple hours running around in his socks and screaming with a group of other boys from school. He ate too much candy and went to bed happy, so I call that a success.

What was most astounding to me about the whole night was when the boys came out of the room asking what year the bombing of Pearl Harbor was. It didn’t even occur to me that it was Pearl Harbor day until they came out, but they had obviously talked about it in class. Then they both started talking about what details they knew. Some were wrong or a little confused, but they were both pretty smart about it generally. They knew the Japanese attacked us thought that was the start of WWII. I’m REALLY BAD at history but I said I didn’t believe that was the start of the war, just when the US got involved. Then they talked a little about allies and Germany and mentioned Hitler and the “Nah-zees” as my son pronounced it, and I corrected him. They were both a little confused about the Nazi’s and so I gave an extremely brief overview of Hitler and aryans and how they slaughtered 6 million Jews and how that was called the Holocaust. My son remarked that only liking people who look a certain way seemed like Trump, and I couldn’t disagree though I didn’t elaborate. “SIX MILLION?” DC said, and I nodded. “Why didn’t they just leave?” DC said, and then we dug into that a little bit, me drawing some parallels that would be meaningful for the kids, in light of the current treatment of people who are different in our country, or who are trying to come here while fleeing from danger. THEN DC said his mom told him about Saudi Arabia and how we used to help them and train their soldiers and then they did 9/11 and now they’re attacking some small country, he couldn’t remember what it was called and I said Yemen and he said yeah, Yemen, they’re doing terrible things, and also the Trump family does business with the Saudis and that doesn’t seem right. I was astounded at their even child-like grasp of world events. I knew nothing about anything as a kid, didn’t care, and never learned a great deal about any of this stuff until I was an adult. Then they went back in D’s room, back to screaming and playing and I was just like huh, so that’s what kids are like these days. I think when me and my friends were 9, we talked about who might like who at school and who was cute and we collected baseball cards and watched Electro Woman and Dyna Girl and wanted to be Solid Gold Dancers and had Sean Cassidy posters.

I made breakfast for everyone after the dog and I came in. I didn’t know what to make since I don’t know what the other kid eats so I threw in a thing of Crescent rolls and made scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, and some fruit. The boys watched cartoons and then I had to harangue them hard to get dressed so we could take DC home. As soon as we dropped him off, D was quiet. Later at home, he said he missed him.

The sleep disturbance has left him a little off the rest of the weekend, as I expected. That’s ok. Making memories is tiring.

Sit Around And Wonder What Tomorrow Will Bring

In pieces

My mom read Sally Field’s book and very strongly recommended it to me. I have little time to read, even though I’m not working full-time. I find it difficult to concentrate on books anymore, to sit down and shut off with the long blocks of time it takes to devote attention to a single object and subject. But she wanted me to read it so much she brought her copy over from the library. It’s new and can’t be renewed, so I felt pressured to begin it right away, so that I can get it back to her to return before it’s overdue.

It’s very good, better than I thought. I read a good deal of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs and the beginning chunks are usually long, boring details about their family life growing up that I typically don’t find interesting. I’ll slog through them if I’m a big fan of the author, but more often than not, I skip ahead and begin reading 1/3 or halfway through the book. Not so with Sally’s. I quickly came to appreciate why this book speaks so much to my mother. It was cemented yesterday in a conversation we had.

Sally’s mother was literally approached and discovered by a talent scout in California. Many years later, Sally was also tapped in a similar fashion, by a stranger from Columbia Pictures who had seen her auditioning for some local theater work. Long story short, you know the rest, and that’s why we all know who Sally is today. There really were talent scouts back in the day, and they really did approach strangers, and sometimes, changed their lives.

My mother grew up extremely poor in a very tiny town in central Ohio. She was telling me a story yesterday of how when she was a young girl, she learned how to do a fair amount of gymnastic stuff; round-offs and back handsprings and flips and such, which she would do in the side yard and up through to the front of the house. The house sat on a state highway and had a fair amount of traffic, and mom liked to think she was somehow “performing” for the traffic. She told me my aunt would often urge her to go outside and hour after hour perform these acrobatic feats because “A talent scout could be driving by and might see you, you never know.” She relayed the story with a wry smile, understanding now that my aunt was just trying to get her younger sister out of her hair, but it struck a chord with me as I’m reading this book.

She used to jokingly say stuff like that to me and my sister when we were teenagers and didn’t want to get properly dressed to go run errands or go to the store or whatever. “You never know,” she would say, “A talent scout might be there!” Of course, there are no talent scouts for Hollywood in Ashland or Mansfield Ohio, and she knew that, but was saying it half jokingly as that’s what she was told as a child.

We went on to discuss how she really enjoyed being in the chorus of a couple musicals at school, which I knew. She was talented but is not extroverted, which is a particular kind of combination that’s tough to channel into anything. She said the director thought she was so talented in one show, he insisted on moving her into a lead role. She refused. She didn’t want to be the lead, and he pressured her, insisting she would love it once her talent was showcased. She quit the play in protest, and never did another. He didn’t get it, she said, she just wanted to be a chorus girl.

Nobody ever talked to my mom about any type of career when she was in school. The best she could hope for was to fantasize about some magic person who would appear and take her away from her small town life where she could go to Hollywood and be a chorus girl. But she never had any clue how to go about anything, and little drive or ambition to pursue any sort of dream. She just waited around hoping for something to happen to her, passive in her life, her studies, because nobody ever asked her what she wanted to do. Nobody ever said, you could go to college, you have a big interest in plants and flowers, you could study Botany. You’re really good with numbers, you could be an accountant. Nobody said you could go to college and study musical theater, or any other thing. Nobody talked to her about any of that, as she was just a mediocre female student in a small town in Ohio from a family with no money, and nobody cared.

Instead, she got pregnant, and watched as life passively happened to her and made choices for her again and again. It wasn’t until several years after she got divorced that she realized that what she really wanted was to get out of there, and move to a bigger city where nobody knew her and judged her, where there was actual opportunity even if she didn’t exactly know how to go about pursuing it. She moved to Cleveland, got a job that she worked at for more than 20 years, and saved her money to buy her own house, which she still lives in today.

She didn’t know how to advise me and my sister about any sort of college or career, because nobody talked to her about it. I had Hollywood dreams of my own, seeds probably in part planted by her, and all the hundreds of old movies and musicals we watched together. I did pursue it, but for many reasons, it wasn’t meant to be. I fell into writing when I was too sick to act, and that has become my vocation for a couple of decades now. But I backed into it without proper training or purpose, and have been lucky to make somewhat of a living (not much of one these days, but I’m working on it) as a writer these many years. But I wonder if I had been coached and educated on a wider variety of subjects, if I would have considered something else instead of my doomed-before-it-began pursuit of a career acting in film & television. If instead of just old movies, I had been talked to about different jobs and careers, my interests channeled and guided, opportunities provided and explored. Who knows. But I am trying, with my son. Dreams are important, and fantasizing about reaching for the stars is extremely healthy mentally, but more than anything, I don’t want him to end up like I am. Almost 50 years old and no skill I can apply to a well-paying job to afford a comfortable life, with my bills paid and an occasional vacation taken, some ability to travel and see the world, to buy a book once in a while instead of always getting them from the library. I never want him to have to go to food pantries for food because there’s no work, or have his credit ruined because can’t pay his bills.

There are no talent scouts anymore.

We Are But A Moment’s Sunlight

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I went to the big produce pantry today in Parma Heights. It’s once a month, and you get a lot of food, but it’s a big pain to attend, because people start registering for numbers as early as 6 a.m., when they open the church dining hall where everyone waits. The pantry doesn’t actually start until 9, but if you get there after, say, 8 in the morning, your number is going to be 200-something. Because that’s how many people are food insecure just in that zip code and the surrounding ones. Almost all elderly, this pantry posts signs in English, Spanish and Polish, as there is still a very high concentration of Polish people in and around Parma. A woman I sat next to at one point asked me what my number was in Polish, and I showed her. I don’t know Polish, but that’s what people ask each other there, and I know enough of other languages to be able to tell what she was asking. What’s your number, how long will we have to wait.

I set an alarm for 6:30 but just couldn’t pry myself out of bed and into the cold morning until 7:00. Then I had to take the dog out and feed him, and finally was on my way around 7:20. I hurried because I was late, and then got distracted by a police car that had pulled someone over for speeding and missed my turn for the church. This is just how my brain works anymore. I’m not as calm and organized in my thoughts as I once was. Call it depression, stress, whatever. I backtracked and found the road and was pleasantly surprised to see there were still parking spots available. Usually I have to park across the street by the Walmart and walk over,  but I got a spot near the entrance and quickly made my way inside. 108. Ugh. It was only 7:40 and would be a long wait. They have homemade soup, but I never eat it as it’s made with little to no salt for the salt-sensitive patrons, and I don’t care for it. But it smelled good.

Knowing to expect a long wait, I had brought a large coffee and a book. But it was particularly crowded and loud today because it was the pantry event just prior to a holiday, and there were many more people there than usual, so it was hard to concentrate on a book in another language that I’ve been trying to learn forever (Spanish). A second company, some other religious organization, provides big mystery boxes of stuff at the pantries right before Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were there today, and I remembered them being there last year and wondering what was in the boxes and how to get them. I had certainly hoped not to have to be at that pantry a year later, but there I was. No longer reticent about getting what I need, I went to the table and asked how you get their wares. They explained that after your number is called at the regular table and you’re all officially checked in, you come check in at their table and they put a sticker on your number that allows you to get the boxes after you get the produce.

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A couple hours later, my number had finally been called, and I visited the second table and got my sticker. The pantry was getting ready to officially open, when they start calling numbers in small groups to file outside with bags and receive whatever they have to give. They call fairly small groups of 10 or 15 but it goes pretty quickly, so I moved closer to the door so I could hear what numbers were being called. I sat down on an empty pew against the wall so I’d be out of the way. A moment later, an elderly man sat down next to me. It was crowded even on the pew, so he had to squeeze in to sit down. He turned to me and jokingly said, “I promise not to hold hands until the second date.” Without missing a beat, I said, “Why wait? You never know when your time is gonna come. I looked at him and he looked at me and picked up my hand and held it in his, and I let him. We sat there for a minute, his skin dry and papery, the first time I’ve felt young in a long time, and I wondered how long it had been since he held someone’s hand.

“I’m Paul,” he said, and I noticed his Vietnam Veterans hat, which was decorated with small pins. I gave him my name, and he said he was pleased to meet me. “You served in Vietnam?” I said, indicating his hat and he said yes, and I thanked him for his service to our country. He thanked me for thanking him. “What’s the good word today?” he said, so I made small talk, about prepping for Thanksgiving, and how mom had come over yesterday to help me make the homemade noodles. “Fresh noodles are really good,” he said. I took out my phone and showed him a couple of the pictures, and he complimented me. I asked if he had plans for Thanksgiving, already planning on inviting him. He’s going to his daughter’s, he said, and we talked briefly about her and her family. “You married?” he asked, and I smiled. “No, I’m divorced,” I said, “I have a little boy who is nine.” “That’s a fun age,” he said. There was a lull. He said something about living alone, his wife was gone, and then someone came in yelling numbers. “Whaddyou got?” he asked, showing his, in the 200s. “108,” I told him. “Ah,” he said, “I couldn’t get here early enough for a good number.” “Me neither,” I told him.

I asked where he served, meaning geographically in the country. He said was an MP in the Army, some kind of supervisor, and that there were a bunch of guys underneath him; he was the oldest by several years. He seemed open to talking about it so I continued with gentle questioning. He and his men were in the Tet Offensive and he described some of their action. He said he told his men, “You’re all going home, I promise, and not in a box,” and he was so pleased to be able to say that he kept that promise. One guy lost an arm, he said, but everyone else under him was whole and basically physically well when they went home. He described how they kept in touch over these 20-plus years, and how he went to Louisiana last year to bury the last of his group that was still living, besides him. He’s the only one left. I breathed slow, so the lump forming wouldn’t get the best of me.

I told him about the multipart documentary I had watched last year about the Vietnam War, and how I learned so much about the war from it. That I was just a baby when everything was going on, and this had helped me to understand about the specific battles and the strategy and what we were up against. “They just used us,” Paul said somewhat bitterly. “It was futile, and they knew it.” I mentioned how so much was happening for so many years in that country before Americans were told and he nodded vigorously. “Most people have no idea what was going on over there,” he said.

I asked if he was welcomed home or, like so many Vietnam veterans, had not been well received, and he shook his head. “It wasn’t good,” he said, and I apologized for that, even though I was just a baby, and it wasn’t my fault. I felt like I was apologizing on behalf of so many Americans who wish they could, in retrospect. I explained that I am a bit of a hippie and a peacenik but also, a staunch supporter of the armed forces. That I come from a Navy family, with several generations of relatives serving our country, and I appreciate the dedication and sacrifice they put in, their dedication to preserving our way of life in America and their belief that they were doing the right thing, and he thanked me for saying so.

“Look,” he said, “Can I have your number?” I hesitated a second. I know he was hitting on me, even though we both knew that was silly. He saw my expression and said, “You know, just to chat, or whatever.” I patted his hand and said, “You know Paul, I’m gonna have to say no, but I appreciate talking to you and enjoyed it, and maybe we can talk more next month, if that’s ok?” He said sure, absolutely. So he wouldn’t feel awkward about being rejected, I pushed the conversation ball forward and we talked easily again for a few minutes.

They called my number, and I got up and said, “Well, see you next month, Paul,” and he said, “Sounds good, see you next month. And Happy Thanksgiving.” “Same to you,” I said, and we waved goodbye.

I decided when I left that I’ll give him my number next month. If it makes him happy to meet me for coffee sometimes and talk, well, that’s my way of repaying him for his service.