Monday, September 29, 2008

I feel like a ghost.

I feel like a ghost. Maybe it's because of the fact that I was listening to "The Lovely Bones" through thirteen states, and so I've had the afterlife on my mind. But more likely it's because in all those places I have a history as a different person in a different body. I guess that's true of everybody every day, but somehow when you flit around and are in the early autumn Berkshires in the morning and at the still summer Jersey Shore by nightfall, the memories and sensations are not all in sync. So I feel a little off balance and out of my body. I feel as though I'm watching myself from somewhere not here.

Reunions, like the one that brought me North, bring up a lot of things. One of the nicest things that was said to me is also one of the things that has not meshed. Phil D remembered that when we walked down the aisle at our ninth grade graduation, I wore flats because I was a lot taller than he was, although he remembered it as his being a lot shorter than I was. I guess whoever is doing the remembering gets to make it about himself or herself. He remembered me as being kind for choosing the flats. Maybe. But knowing myself as I do, I'm thinking that at fifteen I was more concerned with not looking like a stringbean geek. The thing is that he's now taller than I am, and is in fact one of the best looking 68-year-olds I've seen. What's weird, though, is that in my mind he's still short. We get these ideas in our heads and they don't always go quietly.

And then there's me sitting at The Fireplace, so happy that it's still there and that the burgers are as good as they always were and that the music is familiar, and I am completely forgetting that I did not drive there in my father's 1950 Chrysler. I am oblivious of the fact that I am not wearing 22" waist Bermuda shorts and that the old lady hands that are playing with my soda straw are wrinkled.

And along the way there was me driving past the apartment I brought my firstborn home to and me taking the same route I took with my late lovey and people asking me about my brother and my parents and all these loved ones are gone. Except that they're really not gone because I remember them and they're with me as I travel around. So with their spirits close by and my sense of a self that doesn't really fit this time and place, I feel as though I am every age and free to roam the world untethered to it. It's not a bad feeling, being a ghost.

Friday, September 19, 2008

50 years later

Today my "couch" has been the leather seat of my car as I traveled to Round One of a three-day 50th high school reunion. Since I am skipping Rounds Two, Three, Four, and Five, which involve two different country clubs and a football game and some formalities at the school, tonight will have to do it for me. And it was just enough. I left happy for the chance to make contact, probably for the last time, with people who really knew me when. I got to tell a few people I loved them then and still do.

What I had not expected was the almost masquerade quality of the beginning interactions. "Who are you?" isn't far from the "Who are you supposed to be?" we asked at annual Hallowe'en parades during our school years. It's probably better not to get too far into the weeds about existential identities or costumed identities, but when you know what people looked like at five and twelve and fifteen and eighteen, their seventh decade appearance seems like a disguise. In some you see something familiar in the eyes, or in a particular facial expression, but in others there's just nothing recognizable.

The name tags help, but the reality is that most of us need big print at this age, so now we're leaning toward someone's chest to read the name rather than ask it. And of course there are the ringers, the ones who never were in our class but who married into it or are just dating it (yes, even at nearly 70).

For me, the evening started when I hit the Garden State Parkway around the Oranges and caught that chemical whiff that I remembered from many trips home from the Jersey Shore. A few minutes later, and I was no longer driving. When I saw the Bloomfield-Belleville Exit (150?) in my mind I gave the wheel to my 1958 model boyfriend, Eddie B. I met Eddie at the shore the week after graduation and we raced up and down the GSP for most of the summer until he left for Great Lakes Naval Base and eventually Viet Nam. If my parents knew.... But Eddie had a '54 Ford convertible with a '57 TBird engine and it was made to race.

Later I checked into my hotel, which happens to be a very short distance from the memorial park where my parents and grandparents are buried. A good thing, because if I get creamed on Butcher Boulevard Route 17 (called that even in the 1950s and much more exciting today), they can just toss my remains over the fence. Seriously, if people think that 278 has its moments and that Atlanta's Spaghetti Junction is a challenge, they need to try getting to something necessary, like their hotel, by crossing a lane of cars streaming off the GSP at some ridiculous speed and 2 feet apart. I am too old for this. The nerves may not be the first to go, but they're high on the list.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A View

Okay...this blog is A view not The View, so what I say represents MY view of the world, mostly from my beloved couch. I don't answer to Disney or anybody. I don't have to say anything to keep my job. What I say is what I think.

But I am not an oracle. I don't know everything, and most importantly I DON'T KNOW WHAT I DON'T KNOW. Too bad The View-er so many love to hate, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, hasn't learned that yet. Too bad she will have to live with an archive of know-it-all remarks that remind me of myself in my twenties. It's immaturity aka lack of experience talking. Not that every young person is immature. Not at all. But there are some who have no idea that they are looking at the big, wide world through a pinhole and making judgments accordingly. What's that old adage, something like "better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and relieve all doubt"?

Hasselbeck is a beautiful fresh-faced young woman and she has parlayed that into a career that encourages her to speak when she would be better served to just sit and smile and wear the clothes. Instead, she takes firm positions on complicated social and political issues and gets all knitty-browed and fast-talking if, say, logic or facts are introduced. What usually gets to me is the attitude rather than the statement. I want to tell her to go to her room. If an aggressive attitude doesn't work to win the skirmish, then next comes the victim role, and we have poor widdle Bessy whining that others get more time to speak. Hello! There are often four people in opposition to what she's trying to sell. For good reason.

Furthermore, I don't accept the maternal authority of a woman who has been in that role for less than four years. You are not an authority on mothering until you have gone through more stages than colic and potty-training. If you're going to start a sentence with the phrase "as a mother," please make clear that you are speaking for yourself and not necessarily for all mothers.

There is no maternal global view. There are successful mothers and unsuccessful ones. There are involved mothers and uninvolved ones. There are sick mothers and healthy ones. There are rich mothers and poor ones. It goes on and on. I would say the same about fathers. Love your family, do the best you can to be a good parent, live and let live.

'Twas ever thus

Long before my bottom wore this couch threadbare, it sat at a desk every day. One of those days began with a sobbing phone call from my third daughter: “Mooooooooooooooooommmy! I only got three raisins in my cereal!” Recognizing that the immediate problem was with the raisin bran people, the mommy part of me knew that there was a child at home who needed not an explanation of how products shift in boxes but reassurance of how much her mother cared about her even though she wasn’t there that very minute. And that’s a snapshot of the life of a working mother in a job where maybe there’s not much flexibility. Working on an assembly line, say, or in a retail job wouldn’t have allowed even the kind of response I gave. Now, for good or ill, we see clerks and bus drivers handling family stuff on their cell phones, but in 1974 only the bigwigs had mobile phones.

There was another memorable moment at that same job. It was when a man wearing gore-stained overalls entered my fancy office to collect the $5 he grudgingly agreed to accept for the removal of the carcass of a horse that was dear to my family. The backstory is that my young teen second daughter was given a horse by her father, my ex, and she stabled it a couple of miles from our suburban house. One of her friends took the horse for a ride, without permission or notice, and rode it where she shouldn’t have and they were struck by a car. The friend suffered an ankle injury, but the horse was done-for. Called to the scene, we watched Dusty die where he fell. One, but only one, of the horrors of this event was that his remains were visible from the road and the schoolbus passed them the next morning. Determined to rectify that situation before the afternoon trip of the schoolbus, I sat at my desk making phone calls and finally got this guy from a rendering company to agree to remove poor Dusty that day. “I reckon it’s gonna cost you an extra $5,” he said. Relieved, I said, “Fine.” “Leave it on the horse,” he said. And then I begged. So that’s why he brought his own carcass into my office for the $5.

This was me running my family from my desk. Four kids in three different schools, one only half-day. It was an intricate schedule, but I had been a stay-at-home mom for thirteen years, and I could type only 43 words a minute, and I was lucky to be hired at all. Thank God they thought a "housewife" might be able to keep the coffee pot clean and filled as needed. Thank God they thought I had receptionist looks.

So I can see the problems of having a job and a family but ‘twas ever thus. Not long ago I read a journal of a midwife, Martha Ballard, who battled life and institutionalized sexism in 18th century Maine. She herself gave birth to nine children and buried three of them. She coped with aging and loneliness and deteriorating family relationships as her husband was imprisoned for not being able to collect local taxes.

We should not underestimate nor especially applaud the capabilities of women. Without its women, this country would likely not have been settled as it was. And yet discrimination against women still exists. I may not like Governor Sarah Palin or her politics or her mouth, but I say to her, “You go, girl. You have every right to fulfill any dream you’re willing to work toward.” If it takes having a running mate hide behind your skirts, well it’s nothing new for a man to do that.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


This is a day for remembering. Of course, when you get near seventy like me, your calendar has many dates that are for remembering. But this is one of the ones that people talk about. Where were you? How did you feel?

I watched a lot of September 11, 2001 on tv, from this very couch. I remember walking over to the beach and on the way talking with one of the golf rangers whom I already knew and who is now gone himself. He had not yet heard the news. I remember my concern for my Atlanta daughter, Valerie, who had been at the Jersey shore and whose schedule I didn't know. Would she have been flying out of Newark that day? In those first hours, there was so much confusion about missing planes and where they were from and where they had been headed. And videos of the towers kept playing and replaying all day.

It turned out that my child and her sister, whom I knew would not be flying, were watching the Manhattan smoke from a New Jersey beach. Valerie started doing interviews via her cell phone from there, and later was sent into the city to cover whatever Atlanta connections there might be. She stayed there for over a week, and I am still concerned about what she might have breathed in during that time, although no symptoms have appeared.

I remember the steady stream of names and obituaries, some from the town where I grew up, in the NYTimes and the Record during the weeks and months that followed, and my own trip to Manhattan to do the only thing I could do other than pray: spend money in NYC. There were impromptu memorials everywhere. From my hotel room, I could see one at the Engine Company near Madison Square Garden.

Watching a replay of 9/11 videos today, I was even more horrified than I was the first time I saw them, less shocked but more horrified. Seeing how the events of that day have been used to justify yet more killing, I say, "Dear God, forgive us our unwillingness to love each other." And I say, "Rest in peace and freedom all of you who died as a result of such irrational and godless willfulness. All of you."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lizards of Satan

Along with several other partisans, Karen Hughes, former Bushie spokesperson (as opposed to spokesmodel...meeeow!) is valiantly trying to defend Governor Sarah Palin’s experience as a small-town mayor. Now really! If we were talking about a Democrat would Hughes be so enthusiastic about the myriad duties involved in holding that office? I don’t think so. I can hear it now. She would find some way to disparage, denigrate, diminish the very thing that she is now veeeerrrrry seriously calling “the most demanding job there is.” How many of those are there, I wonder. Most demanding jobs, I mean. Naturally motherhood is one of them, when a politician is appealing to mothers. Likewise schoolteaching, when a politician is appealing to education enthusiasts.

Spokespersons are often rewarded for speaking. Consequently they will say ANYthing.
Experience matters except when it doesn’t. Personal attacks are off-limits except when they aren’t. Principled stands are important except when they’re not. It’s a bi-partisan game. Guns for hire.

What really gets to me is the sanctimony that goes with some of the positive spin. There’s often a hint of “eeeeeeew” at people like me who might be open to ideas like gay marriage or abortion rights or any of a panoply of notions that do not fit “the cultural conservative agenda.” The sanctimonious types are always dressed very carefully, with hair and concealer and bright smiles in place. They say things like “I’m troubled” to indicate something negative about an opponent. They wouldn’t say shit if they had a mouthful of it. And yet these people are willing to send our best and bravest off to hell-holes of prisons and battlefields, where there is plenty of shit and blood and really “eeeeeeew-y” matter. These are the same people who want someone ELSE to watch over a family member on a ventilator for decades if need be. Will these morality types be changing any of the associated dirty linen? Of course not. Eeeeeeew!

How much does it pay to be one of these career spokespersons, I wonder. I heard the other day that a good speechwriter can make about $175,000 a year, so I’m thinking that a good talker could probably do pretty well too.

No way to tell what a blogger like TUBOB can make inventing “facts” like his “Lizards of Satan” spoof, but I’m guessing it’s less. I don't see a big difference between his contribution and Hughes' though.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Stop me before I blog again! Somebody! Please!

Hi, my name is Pea B. and I'm a blogaholic. This past week I've had a major slip, followed by a minor one this morning.

I've been working on a project that involves a bunch of spreadsheets and other docs and I found myself taking breaks by visiting the BT website. Last Friday, the day just got out of control, and late in the day I found myself in the bathing suit I had put on in the morning, long before my 8:55 a.m. post here, never having swum or eaten, surrounded by paper and other litter. Something about the party conventions and the nomination of Sarah Palin unleashed an interest in arguing that I haven't felt for a while, and at this moment I remember hardly any of it. I can't say what exactly got to me. Coulda been the moon phase or anxiety about weather uncertainty. In my rational moments I see the futility of these back-and-forths. Maybe it was different in the early days of BT when many more people seemed to be reading, but now it's like howling at the wind. And no one hears the howls because they're howling themselves. It's a complete waste of time. I see that.

So yesterday I took the results of my spreadsheet project to a meeting and of course discovered a rather embarrassing and obvious error AT THE MEETING. Chastening myself for mindlessly ordering my priorities, I vowed to get a grip. Maybe I could just lurk. But I didn't even plug in the computer yesterday just to be safe. After my meeting I went shopping and to the library. Got the car washed. Took the recyling. Acted normal.

This morning, however, I'm reading and recognizing the virtue of my decision not to log in, when up pops a post from JoePofKP from India, and I couldn't ignore it because after all he was agreeing with me and that doesn't happen too often (on the BT boards anyway). My response to him was the minor slip after an entire week of major slippage. Please, please, please if anyone reads this and happens to spot me or one of my sockpuppets on the BT site, please, please, please embarrass me publicly by calling me on it. Unless of course you don't dare log in either.