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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My Friend, the Car

My beloved Subaru reached its Third Third, too. Twenty years – what’s that in car years? In Barbara-car-years, we still had miles to go.

My previous Subaru was called the Flintstone Car. You know, where Fred’s feet stuck out the bottom and powered the car? Well, the bottom was so rusted on my car, you could see pavement. That was fine by me.

Until one day, after a storm, Tudor Road was full of puddles and standing water. I hit one while driving and next thing I knew, I was covered in mud. Sophie, in the back seat, was shouting, “You’re all dirty! You’re filthy! What’s happening?” It was absolutely shocking; I was positive the windshield had disappeared. How could I be so totally spattered in mud? Mud was dripping from the ceiling. I should have put something over the holes in the floor.

Okay, so that car finally got replaced. I bought this Subaru in 2002 in Massachusetts. Sophie and I were beginning the National Waterpark Tour, ultimately traveling 10,000 miles in 2½ months back to Alaska – via 24 waterparks. We bonded with that car.


It had its trials. It bumped into a 4-hour old Dodge truck once, a stationary boulder another time. It had dents on the side, and it had a glued-together rear view mirror from a too-tight back into the garage. I still can’t figure out why I ended up with pieces of leftover black plastic after I glued it all together. I had enough for a mirror and a quarter.

But it reached the point where I couldn’t put gas in it. I knew there was a rusted fuel pipe problem, but it had been going on for years and was supposed to go on for more. When I put the gas nozzle in, I had to wiggle it around and then I was never sure whether I was poking a hole in the pipe or not. So I’d start pumping.

And gas would slowly pool out from under the car. In a panic, I’d shut off the pump, but the spill response guys were already on it, spreading barriers.

So I thought, “You just have to get the nozzle in tight. Don’t let it dangle.” So I went to another gas station … and the same thing happened. I was hugely embarrassed. Somehow, I managed to fill the tank. Whew!

Next time – by now, filling my car with gas was a trauma – I managed to get it to fill without incident. And then when it reached half a tank, the gasoline pooled out again. I started to worry the spill response guys would recognize me and turn me in.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was out doing a ton of errands. I was running on vapor, and the car wouldn’t fill with gas. I mean, gas flowed, but it didn’t linger in the car; it just ran out all over the place. Now I was in a panic: I had a car with no gas and no way to put gas in it.

I ran home, got on Craig’s List and had a new used car in four hours.



Everyone likes my new Subaru Outback. The color is called Lapis Blue Pearl, and it has a key fob with buttons that beep when I lock or unlock the car. (Now you can tell how old my previous car was.) It has all sorts of things on the dashboard – a back-up camera! – but I still haven’t learned how to program the radio. The manual is two inches thick.

Did you ever watch Car 54, Where Are You? on television? There’s an episode where Molly Picon doesn’t like all the modern conveniences newfangled gadgets in her brand-new apartment building, so she harasses the developers to have it remodeled to her specs. The final image: an old tenement building, just the way she likes it.

My other car was little; this car seems swollen. It’s my car on steroids. The guy selling me the car politely said car manufacturers weren’t aiming to please me; I was at the end of my car-buying life. And yes, if I keep cars for 20 years, I guess this is my car for life, for my Third Third.

And my old Subaru? It became a donation to public radio, a fitting end for a good friend. It took us back and forth to work, school, and friends. It took us on adventures; it took us on errands. It schlepped projects and purchases, kids and groceries. It kept us safe, dry, warm, and mobile. I miss its dented, rusty, not-big self.

Now if only I can replace my bumper stickers, maybe I’ll learn to love this new car, too.


Friday, August 10, 2018

New Thing: Internal Injuries

It’s interesting how far I’ll go in my Third Third to feel fresh, to have new input, to find a New Thing. This time, it meant internal injury.

Not for real! It was the airport’s “2018 Full-scale Disaster Exercise,” and I was so excited when Debora invited me to do it with her. (Debora and I have a history of great adventures with a twist of calamity, so of course we’d do a disaster together.)

The scenario at the airport: two planes had collided and there were injuries. We waited in line to receive ours. Debora got a broken wrist (from bracing herself against the seat in front of her), and I got internal injuries after being flung forward against the lap belt.

Next, it was on to moulage (a new word for me, a whole other New Thing!): special effects make-up. These were the instructions: “Bruising is mottled discoloration using reds, burgundy and some purple.” Having a ring of purple painted around your middle calls attention to the roll of flab that lurks there, sort of a blueberry-raspberry muffin top.
Then we sat around.

Each of us were given a piece of broken luggage to carry. (Debora’s still had the flight tag attached; why hadn’t they returned it?!?) When we were taken out to the tarmac, we saw emergency vehicles and two halves of planes. We boarded ours and took our seats.

Aiiee! My seatmate was dead! He wasn’t even human anymore. He’d turned into something that looked like a guitar case with boots on (both attached and unattached to legs).

Then we sat around. Fire fighters were busy putting out a fire in a giant tin can.

All the other volunteers were very entertaining. One guy played the safety talk on his cell phone for all of us. A “dead” woman did a lot of heavy leaning on her poor seatmate. Someone hoped there were no snakes on the plane. Nope, only the comfort snake.

Then we sat around.

One woman was supposed to die if she didn’t get attention. Her moulage was pretty harrowing, but she was a nursing student so she was trying to time her death. As we waited and waited and waited, we decided we must be the budget airline; they must be working on the other half-plane.

Eventually, fire fighters came on board with colored tape. When assessed, I was supposed to breathe fast and shallow, about 30/minute. I was supposed to say my radial pulse was weak and my “capillary refill is delayed at > 4 seconds.” I learned that if you press on your fingernail, for instance, and the color doesn’t come back when you stop, that means the blood is going somewhere else. Like, internally.

So my guy wrapped a red tag on me. That means I was triaged as “immediate (Red)” Debora’s broken wrist got her a green, and she and the other greens walked off the plane.

Then the rest of us – the Reds – sat around.

And sat.

By now, the humor was getting blacker as more red tags turned black. A woman who was supposed to have been locked in the cockpit ran out screaming. My symptoms (feeling bloated, tired, weak, cold, shaky, a bit confused, dizzy, and nauseous) gave me lots of fodder for humor … which – as the day wore on – was ultimately unappreciated by the other injured parties.

Then we sat around.

Eventually, the fire fighters returned with backboards to get the dummies off the plane. They spent a lot of time on the dummies.

Then we sat around.

Until they finally took us off and left us on the tarmac.

Debora had done this years before and said she’d been transported to the real hospital. My instructions said I was to be sent to “a treatment area for oxygen, IV fluids, and transport to the hospital.” When examined, I was supposed to “stick your belly out (distend) and keep it firm during any palpation. If pressed on your abdomen, hurts worse all over.”

I was really looking forward to my great dramatic role! All I’d done so far was breathe fast and shallow.

But alas, not to be. A bus driver took us away for a barbecue. Then we left.

So what happened? No one told us. My guess is that the EMT types didn’t show up.

Event anticipation: high as a kite
Event participation: a dud
Bottom line: I learned about moulage, got a terrific bruise drawn on my belly, had fun with a friend and made two more. I’m just going to avoid colliding with another plane over Anchorage.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Discard Remorse

Yes, my de-cluttering went too far. I went back into the recycling bin and pulled stuff out.

It was the letters. No, not just the letters – it was the memories reflected in the letters.

I’ve talked about the easy stages of de-cluttering: the broken, the junk, the never-used.  When I first started this blog, I was big into tossing. I was just off clearing out my mother’s house and fifty years of accumulation. Dealing with too much stuff has led to more tossing.

But in this latest binge, I uncovered two shoeboxes of letters from 1985 (when I moved to Alaska) till 1993 or so. (I think that’s when email took over and letter exchange diminished drastically.) I spent hours going through those letters, loving every minute of my trip down memory lane. And then I put them in the recycling bin.
I thought, “If I haven’t looked at them in 25+ years, by the next time I look at them, I’ll have dementia and won’t know who any of these people are.” I was thinking of my mother. When she was 84, she took great pleasure in letters from her cousin written when he was overseas during World War II. But by the time she was 91, things like that were distressing because she didn’t remember a lot of it.

But that night, I emailed my friend Janet and quoted a bit from a letter she’d written me. It brought back a flood of memories, and Janet replied right away to my email, saying that she’d loved it, too. We both sat, a thousand miles away, grateful for our history together. How could that happen if I’d thrown them all away?

When I was eight years old, we moved from New Jersey to Long Island. My friend Karen and I were devoted pen pals, as she moved on to Illinois. We met up again once in Colorado when we were in our 20s. I’ve tried finding her since then without luck. But spurred on by these letters, I tried again that night and found her online! We’re emailing again!


My friend Rodney died in 2008, and I loved reading every letter he’d written. But this time, I saw that I’d always appeared in his holiday letters:
“As I have for all Thanksgivings since my friend Barbara moved to Alaska (she always invited a bunch of friends over to eat and I got to make and take sweet potato pie), I went to Lake Tahoe.”
I thought of Rodney and his sweet potato pie, and I missed him. I hadn’t realized he didn’t have Thanksgiving dinners any more. I wished I could spend one more Thanksgiving with him.

I didn’t realize my friend Sharon – who I’ll see in a couple weeks – was by far my most prolific correspondent, and we shared a lot. But then I read of a disagreement we’d had, how she was upset with me, how we processed that out. I don’t even remember it, but I see how we worked it out, how our friendship continued, how it survived and thrived.

And then there are the letters from my mother. Most of my mother’s correspondence were notes, quick typing while she was at work, sending on some package or information and adding in a note. But then there was this:
“I’m reading Marilyn French’s “Her Mother’s Daughter.” If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a “must”! Explains – no, doesn’t explain, just makes me aware of all my frustrations over the years, yours, too – and how we see things so-o-o-o differently – and then just getting older makes certain realizations clearer – She’s not ‘easy’ reading – but she’s certainly thought provoking – READ IT! Particularly pg. 290-295. Interesting.”

I’m sure when I received that in 1988, I read it and put it aside while I was busy with work and life. But not in 2018. In 2018, I was blown away at this window into my mother. I immediately put the book on hold at the library and am working my way to page 290. When I get there, I’ll wish I could talk with my mother about it.
The greeting cards are still in recycling, as are the letters from acquaintances I already can’t remember. But the letters from friends, from family, they’re back in a special box.

There’s such a thing as premature de-cluttering. I’d written before that “while you’re still remembering and laughing, this is not the time to toss,” and Betsey commented “I think I’d keep it forever.” Forever it is.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Of Decks, Dominoes, Dust, and De-cluttering

This is another story about dominoes. Home remodeling or repair seems to do that. You think you’re just replacing carpet, but really that’s only the first domino in asbestos abatement, floor replacement, stair reconstruction, etc. etc. I’ve written about that.

No, this time it’s about a deck. For years, we hashed and re-hashed the deck idea. If we put it off the kitchen, it wouldn’t catch maximum sun. If we put it off the living room, we’d have more sun, but we’d have to schlep from the kitchen. Over and over. No deck.

Finally, last summer, we DID THE DECK. Or rather, Lance (“I’m Your Handyman”) did. We love it. It’s beautiful. So this summer, it was the second domino’s turn: turning the window from the kitchen into a sliding glass door to the deck.



Third domino: The baseboard heater is under the window. Pipes have to be moved over so the door can be put in. Tim goes downstairs to the laundry room, moves stuff into Sophie’s room, and cuts a hole in the ceiling. After the plumber moves the pipes, Tim drywalls and paints the ceiling. (Yes, I constantly think of my mother sighing at Tim and murmuring “Oh, he’s so handy!” in adoration.)

Fourth domino: The laundry room – and all the shelves, pantry, storage – are covered in a fine layer of dust. Everywhere. Dust. This is my domino. I own it. I attack it.

Interruption: I LOVE the deck and the sliding glass door. It’s my favorite New Thing. I love how it adds more light, opens out our space as if we have another living room. I even love how global warming means it’s in the perfect location because elsewhere it would be too hot. I love how “lying on the deck” somehow means more than “just vegging out” because I’m OUTSIDE. In our Third Third, we may think we should have done this in our Second, but it’s here now.

But the deck I love came with dust. Lots of dust. This amount of dust requires a major operation: removal, scouring, organizing, replacing. And de-cluttering! I am in my element: I am The Organizer! I will Clean Things and Assign Them Their Proper Places.

I proceed shelf by shelf. First to go is the Sno-Paint set. Sophie didn’t like it; the paint froze when they went out to spray it on snow. But Dawn’s grandchildren will love it. (Easy de-cluttering: not wanted, good place to give it to). They also got the box of the bazillion bubbles and wands. (De-cluttering score: 100!)
But then, realizing the punishment I inflicted on my mother for alleged de-cluttering, I started photographing the Sophie-childhood items and texting Sophie just to be sure. Have to hold onto the Build-a-Bear bear, the remote-controlled truck, the Storyblocks.


But the easel can go to the Alaska Literacy Program preschool; art work and wine glasses to their silent auction. Record albums sold or donated. The seven celebrity waiter aprons can go to the synagogue preschool, the bowls and lids to Sarah for her potlucks, the Harry & David boxes to Irene for her art kits for kids. (De-cluttering score: 100!) The bags and bags of bags have been sorted and will be recycled. (Recycling earns only a de-cluttering score of 90.) There are still too many jars and boxes – good jars and good boxes – but I think I come in at a good 95 all around.

The dust is a challenge. The steel shelves come with little curly decorations that won’t yield to a vacuum cleaner. I have to wash each curl one by one.

But the victory! I open up so much room that I can store my dozens of bottles of ginger beer. I have all the camping food supplies in a neat tray. The crafts are all together; picnic supplies are easy to reach. Things are off the floor!

I am a de-cluttering phenomenon! I am on a roll! I have reached a new level of what I’m willing to give away or recycle. I am motoring through other rooms, other closets – I am a de-cluttering fiend!

Uh, oh. Danger, danger. There’s a reason why they say all things in moderation. Next post: Discard Remorse. Or, if they’re still in the recycling bin, do I dig in and retrieve?


Monday, July 30, 2018

Tab Hunter -- the Corrected Memory

Uh, oh. My little Tab Hunter post has opened up a can of worms. I could put it all down to a memory problem, but ... it’s a bigger story than that.

It all started with Tab Hunter dying and my thinking of “My Future World,” the novel I wrote about our married life together. That reminded me of The Little White Closet, the chest of drawers that held all my stories and creative ventures when I was little. Unfortunately, when I was away at college, my stuff disappeared, replaced by my mother’s financial folders. Gone was the novel. That part of the story you’ve heard.

In order to paint The Little White Closet for the blog, I needed to remember the colors of the drawers. So I put the question out on the sibling email. My sister, Allison, and I shared the dresser. We emailed back and forth with images of the drawer layout, trying to remember, but ultimately I had to guess at the color scheme. We emailed about the bedroom layout, the stuffed animals we each had on our beds, the old, clunky TV. It was a real trip down memory lane.

And then Allison wrote this:
I was just looking for that email again so I typed in “Tab Hunter” and I just found an old email of ours from 2014 where you, Barbara, wrote about finding your novel about marrying him.
Pause for major mental readjustment. I’d found it?

Pause for major hunt through boxes in the downstairs closet and … the discovery of “My Future World.” Or the re-discovery, as the facts show: on June 8, 2014, I sent an email to the siblings announcing the discovery of the novel. It’s there, in my sent mail. I even mention my author’s note:


That was 2014. It is now 2018. Where did that memory cell go?

And where did all the false memories come from? Why, for instance, was I positive that Tab and I had 26 children, named alphabetically? The real novel: “You all know he was a bachelor but he finally married a young girl by the name of Barbara Brown. Mrs. Hunter was an actress and a very fine mother of a family of 12 boys.” 12, not 26. And it was not written on a Big Chief pad.

Especially shocking to me were the number of pets: six dogs, five cats, and a bird named Twinkles. In real life, I am not a dog person, not a cat person; I guess Barbara Hunter was. But even she had her limits. Chapter 2: Worse than an Elephant. The boys got a duck and named him Blabby. He jumped on beds, tore pants, and ate greens. He was given away to Uncle Larry and Aunt Dot, who also lived in Hollywood, along with Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Eric.

Yes, Allison was still in New Hampshire, but in Chapter 4, the whole family visited her:


So it wasn’t exactly banishment. Even though the Hunters lived at 62 Maple Avenue, Hollywood, California, they could visit Aunt Allison on a weekend. On the way home, they stopped off in Alabama (Alabama?!?) to visit Barbara’s father.

All siblings accounted for, Dad accounted for (in Alabama?!?), but where is Mom?

Uh, oh.

In college, I discovered The Little White Closet was emptied of all my childhood writings. I blamed my mother. Despite her denials, I “mentioned” her transgression often. Maybe every trip home.

1989: I pack and mail a box of Long Island things to Anchorage. The address label is in my handwriting.
2014: I discover the box with my novel inside it.
2016: At my mother’s funeral, I again mentioned how she’d tossed my writings.
a few days ago: I wrote a blog post and clearly insinuated that my mother had thrown them out.

I absolutely, positively believed my mother had thrown out my stuff despite all the evidence to the contrary. Shit.

Today, I have an announcement: My mother did not throw my stories away. Tab Hunter died without seeing my novel, and my mother died before I could ever acknowledge she hadn’t thrown it away.

Did my mother feel as wronged as I had?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

My First Crush: Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter died. Proof that I’m in my Third Third … and that Tab Hunter was in his Eighth Eight. (My husband says I have to provide a link so people will know who on earth Tab Hunter is.)

Tab Hunter was my first crush. Sunday nights were Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, followed by Shirley Temple’s Storybook, followed by The Tab Hunter Show. I remember nothing of the show except that I fell in love with Tab Hunter. I must have remembered that it took place in California because …

I wrote a novel about growing up, marrying Tab Hunter, and living in California. It was called My Future World. It was very long – it filled an entire Big Chief tablet of ruled paper. I showed it to my favorite teacher, Miss MacNally. She was young and fashionable, and she followed on Miss Crisswell and Miss Strangmeyer, who were old and fuddy-duddyish and had eyeglasses on chains around their necks.

Only yesterday did I realize that if I showed it to Miss MacNally, I was in third grade and I was seven years old! I remember that because Miss MacNally divulged my secret: she showed my novel to the school psychologists. I came home from school and there were two men in suits talking with my mother in the living room (the room NO ONE ever occupied). They wanted to put me in fourth grade. They wanted to take me away from my beautiful, attentive, wonderful Miss MacNally. I refused. It worked; I was a pretty adamant seven-year-old.

Do you ever look back on things you did when you were younger and you simply cannot believe you could do them? In cleaning out the family attic, my siblings and I were constantly flabbergasted over science projects and term papers we’d come across. Who did this?!? I did?!? And not only because I can’t remember, but because I can’t remember being that capable.

Anyhow, Tab Hunter and I had 26 children, all named alphabetically. I got their names from the big, fat, red book on the bookshelf. It had something to do with parenting, but the back was an appendix of baby names and their meanings. That’s where I found out that Barbara meant “pirate, barbarian.” That must be where the adamant seven-year-old came from.

The only other thing I remember is that I lived in California with Tab. So did my brother and baby sister. My middle sister, Allison, lived in New Hampshire.

Notice that, did you? Allison, with whom I shared a bedroom and slept not three feet away from every night for 15 years (well, since I was seven, that would have been only five years by then) was exiled across the country. I know I specifically picked New Hampshire because it was FAR AWAY.
I love Allison. I miss that she now lives so far away in Berlin. But I guess in addition to tormenting her when we were little, I also exiled her. I was the older sister after all.

I remember coming across another story I’d written. A non-fiction one. Mom asks me to do the dishes. I say, “It’s not my turn. I did them last night. Why don’t you ask Allison to do it?” “Oh, you know,” my mother answers. “She washes them in cold water.”

So for that crime, she was banished to New Hampshire.

I have a few of the stories I’d written. I called them “Golden Books” and made them into booklets.

But the novels? They’re gone. I kept them in the chest of drawers; our mother had painted each drawer a different color. The right side was a cabinet, The Little White Closet. That’s where my stories sat even when the dresser was moved to the basement.

One day, my mother, who was a witty and wonderful and unpublished writer, shared that she had kept her stories hidden under a cushion on a sofa in her parents’ basement. She came home from school one day to discover that her parents had sold the sofa. She couldn’t get them back. Hearing that, I was devastated for her. Devastated.

Years later, I came back from college to discover that The Little White Closet had been emptied and was now filled with folders labeled, “Financial Papers.” My mother insisted, “I never throw anything away!” but my life with Tab Hunter vaporized. I never even told him about our future life together.

And now Tab Hunter is dead.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Time -- Lots of Time -- for Shoes

Walking through an airport, I spotted a zillion people on line. No, not at the security line, not at the gate. They were waiting for coffee. This is a phenomenon of our Third Thirds: people waiting on long lines for coffee concoctions. They didn’t used to do that. And it’s not just airports; it’s everywhere.

I don’t drink coffee, never even tasted it. My parents drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, so somehow those two behaviors got linked in my mind.

So while I don’t stand in long coffee lines, I do waste time. I waste lots of time. I waste time wondering what to do, I waste time procrastinating about doing it. I waste time all by myself, I waste time staring at things. In my oomph-less, sluggish state, I can waste away hours and hours, occasionally enjoying it, mostly beating my immobile, do-nothing self up about it.
But when I finally gather enough oomph to DO something, I don’t like anyone else wasting my time. And I CERTAINLY do not like the Internet wasting my time. For example….

I wear a Nike Air Pegasus running shoe. I have worn it my whole lifetime of running. (The running I have not been able to do because of the knee injury a year ago, but the shoes – like me – were still deteriorating.) I used to go into Sports Authority, pick out the Nike Air Pegasus size 7.5, buy two-for-one, and be set for a couple years. But then Sports Authority went out of business, and online shopping reared its ugly head.


But now that I’m running again – short distances, doctor! – and feeling my psyche lift, I needed new shoes. The first hurdle was with Nike because there are two Air Pegasuses for sale: 35 and 34. Uh, oh. You know what that means. That means Research and Reader Reviews. 35 is the newer version and it costs $120; 34 is last year’s, and it costs $80.

In our previous Thirds, didn’t we just walk into a store and ask for “sneakers”?

Now I have to research whether 35 is a significant improvement over 34. Why did they have to mess with my favorite Air Pegasus anyway?!? So I wander down the rabbit hole of 35s and 34s (just like the rabbit hole of Rummikub versions), and finally decide: go with cheaper.

The millennial daughter – who is not fazed by any of this – tells me to check out Zappos, which I do. I pick my color (Barely Grey/Deep Jungle/Light Pumice), I look at it frontwards and backwards and I listen to Nellie show me about the shoe on a video. Then I place my order. Uh, oh. They don’t have my size.

Next up is Dick’s Sporting Goods. He has a special deal today for $10 off, so I have to speed up my investigations. Dick has different colors than Zappos did, so after looking at all my choices, I pick white/purple. I fill out my billing address, my shipping address, I create an account, I am ready! But Dick says “Only one delivery method is available for this product: Expedited at $24.99.” Oh, I know what that’s about. That’s about living in Alaska. So much for my $10 saving. I ditch Dick.

Then it’s Foot Locker. They have even more different colors. And while “Store pickup not available at any Anchorage locations,” Ship to Home has an asterisk: “*Ships to the 48 contiguous United States.” So it’s clear Foot Locker doesn’t want my business AT ALL.

Two hours later, I’m back with Dick. But this time, Dick is shipping to my friend Sharon’s address in Seattle … for free! I’ll see Sharon in a month, and she’ll have my shoes waiting for me.



As you know, I’m just emerging from a long-enduring state of depression, so you might have thought this might put me over the edge. But despite all this wasting of my time, all this rerun of we-don’t-count-Alaska-as-the-U.S., all this confusion over colors and shoes and 35s or 34s and decisions, decisions, decisions; for a few hours, I had a respite. Instead of inexplicable sadness, I had a REASON. I had righteous frustration. I had FURY. I had faced the shoe lords, and I had taken a stand.

Now let’s see if I end up with shoes.




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