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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Going solo

When I first wrote about this idea of a month in New York, even people who travel a lot said they were jealous, and that surprised me. I narrowed it down to three reactions: (1) it was New York City, (2) it was long-term, as a “resident,” not a tourist, and (3) it was on my own, without Tim.

Some married women were startled; some thought it was “brave.” Some said they’d miss their husband. One friend who took a solo trip said she didn’t miss her husband till after Day 11. My friend Helen wrote that a “solo adventure could really open up the time and space to think through all those other big questions” we have about life.

Well, I’m not sure I’m figuring out any Big Questions, but I have thought about marriage. Do I miss Tim? I’m not sure what “missing” means. With technology, it changes. We talk on the phone, we send each other emails, we make plans. (I still send him on errands.) We’re still connected.

But when I decide to go to a collage class at Materials for the Arts in Queens, I don’t have to compromise because Tim’s not interested. I don’t have to compromise on a daily basis AT ALL. Marriage is a steady dose of compromise, from not having the light on late at night to whose turn is it to cook dinner.
I plot out my activities on a calendar, and it’s heavy on the arts, literary events, theater, political and Jewish stuff. I am pretty confident that those things would never show up on Tim’s wish list of how to spend a solid month. I can imagine his groaning from 3,500 miles away. That’s why this trip is my special event and vacation, not his.

When I created my space in the apartment – clothes go here, reading material goes there – I didn’t have to confer. I didn’t even have to leave any room for Tim’s stuff. My very specific, anal-retentive organizational tendencies could just Impose Order. And when they break down and junk accumulates, it’s only My Junk.

So do I miss Tim in my space? No. Do I miss him in this life? No. I wanted this experience of solitude. I have not experienced real solitude for 27+ years, and even here, I still have conversational and emotional access to Tim. But what I have now are 24 hours in every day that I have to fill or not fill on my own. Where I have not been successful at home in finding a new rhythm and giving myself the freedom to move slowly – or not at all – I have begun to do that here. It began with just needing to recover from wearing myself out, but it morphed into just letting myself Be.

My cousin Larry and his wife Kathy are both retired, and I asked how they spend their days. Larry said he fills his day with less, does everything slower, takes more time. Kathy said her days are still filled with to-dos because they still eat dinner and require clean clothes. I thought about how I left my to-dos in Anchorage. Yes, I still make dinner and do my laundry, but it’s just me, and it’s easier. There’s just so much less.

I’m trying to understand why things are simpler. I had fish, asparagus, and a salad tonight, but I only had to make exactly how much I was going to eat. When Tim and I eat dinner, it feels like a bigger production. It feels like it takes time, requires more clean-up, invades my day. Here, it was a short respite between my afternoon adventure and my evening one. I was happy when I realized the timing would work and enjoyed preparing it; it felt like a break instead of a chore. Afterwards, I pretty much had two bowls to wash and a pan. It’s like camping, kind of bare bones.
I never forget that I am here because Tim is back home working, and I marvel at how generous and gracious he is. (I think I would be a lot crabbier.) I also know this is temporary. This is not my life; it’s a very distinct departure from my life. From the life we share. If at any moment I felt permanently alone – as if there were no Tim to return to – this would be a challenging, frightening, unpleasant experience. I wouldn’t even do it.

So, no, I don’t miss him, but it’s because I know he’s there.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

I don't get it.

Every now and then, I encounter a New Yorker thing that I just don’t get. Sometimes it just seems odd; other times, it’s a way of living that I don’t (wouldn’t?) participate in. Take, for example, the concept of “books by the foot.”

At the Strand Bookstore:
We can assemble a great book by the foot collection for you that will satisfy the mind and please the eye. Book by the foot collections can be made to order based on color, binding, material, size, and height to match your specific style and home decor.
Who picks their reading lists by color, size, and height? Oh, I see, they’re not to be read. And Steven Spielberg is one of their clients? Oh, I see, maybe he’s doing it for movie sets. I hope so.

I also don’t think New Yorkers cook meals, but that just may be New Yorkers who live in apartments. Or maybe that’s just New Yorkers who live in Manhattan in studio apartments. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of this one.

My apartment has a dishwasher. As my cousin pointed out, there’s not enough room in the cabinets to have enough dishes to even make a load. There’s not enough room in the cabinets to stock any staples. A friend of mine’s fully-equipped, high-end kitchen still has only two burners. I was in a delicatessen one evening around 5:30. Suddenly, I was swamped by people ordering a half-pound of this, a pound of that. They don’t cook, they “heat up.”
New Yorkers and their kids ride scooters, not skateboards. Kick scooters, like Razors, the ones Sophie and the Alaska kids had when they were little and which are now clearly an old, dead fad. Not in New York. That’s what they ride here. My guess: in a crowd, it’s easier to pick it up and over a curb than bending down to retrieve your skateboard with your head in everyone’s butt. But that’s only a guess.
Runners. Runners here run in thick crowds, on concrete, around obstacles, on horrible paver stones. I am a spoiled runner. The idea of running in and around LOTS of people who are not running, who are strolling or just waiting for a bus – who are wearing suits! – is beyond unappealing. I can’t even believe these runners attempt what they do – why? They’ll ruin their feet on the concrete, and what kind of meditative experience is it? But that gets to Nature and wilderness and Alaska and me, and that’s a subject for another day.

I don’t get what the trucks are doing between 2 and 5 a.m. that can possibly make THAT MUCH NOISE right in front of the apartment building. The doorman thinks they’re unloading and reloading office furniture … every night of the week. I checked … and that’s what they’re doing!

Sometimes, the thing I don’t “get” is more profound. I spent one afternoon at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn. They had an exhibition on operating in crises: 9/11, the power blackout of 2003, Superstorm Sandy, etc. Going through the 9/11 photos and video testimonials was powerful. Regular subway operators described how they encountered terrified people in the Cortlandt Street Station and stopped to jam them on the train because they were so frightened. Bus drivers ferried as many people as they could out and home. Photos of New Yorkers – more than you could ever imagine – walking across the bridges trying to get home.
I was in San Francisco on 9/11 for a week’s run of my one-woman show. Flight 93 was headed to San Francisco; it was full of locals. The City was put on lockdown, the Golden Gate Bridge was closed. 9/11 felt very immediate. We all know where we were when it happened.

But I wasn’t in New York City. Ground Zero was GROUND ZERO here. Regular old people in their regular old jobs had to take on emergency duties, had to take on life-saving duties, had to conquer their own fears and step up. Had to live with what happened that day.

9/11 wasn’t TV coverage for New Yorkers. It was right here, and they had to deal with it, go to sleep to it, wake up to it, live with it. We all know the “you had to be there” feeling, the way you just can’t describe something to someone who hasn’t experienced it. The New Yorkers who lived through 9/11 were touched in a way that I was not. I have a new and profound respect for their ability to get up, get moving, help out, face grief. I imagine they look at each other and know, in their souls, “We were here.”

I wasn’t.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A tale of two cities

Every day I’m in New York City, I’m astonished that class warfare hasn’t broken out. This city is filled with places, stores, restaurants, activities – you name it – that I can’t afford. There are plenty of free things – free night at a museum, pay what you can at an event – so I am having a great old time, but the expensive things are WAY OUT OF RANGE.

Sophie, whose New York is a world I’d never find or know existed except she tells me, happened upon a trendy gathering and they took her along to a club. The cost to sit at a table was $2,000, and that was before drinks! I walked into a store and won’t even tell you what the shoes cost.
The thing about New York is that you see EVIDENCE of rich people. Somehow in Alaska, it doesn’t feel so in-my-face as it does here. I move in my own circle back home (which, granted, doesn’t mean I encounter poverty on a daily basis). Sure, there are restaurants I don’t frequent, gear I don’t own, but we all shop at Fred Meyer. Here I’m wandering around, crossing economic boundary lines every day and popping my eyes at the prices. Popping my eyes!

The Village Voice had an article about the gardeners, plumbers, and service people in Long Island’s Hamptons. How they’ve been waiting 40 years for Reagan’s trickle down, how their lives have changed over the years. One income used to support a family; now two are required. They’re fed up and see the people who hire them – and treat them poorly – getting richer and richer.

So they’re supporting Donald Trump. That confuses me. I see the things they do, and Bernie Sanders speaks to me. Like a billionaire is going to revamp the economic system that has lead to this wider and wider divergence of incomes?

But this is what worries me: the Leo Frank exhibit tied his lynching and the resurgence of the KKK to how the South felt after Civil War reconstruction. Everyone ties Hitler to the deprivation of Germany after World War I penalties. When people feel excluded from prosperity – excluded, not just passed by – they get angry. And demagogues can channel that anger better than calm explainers.

The people who are angry are not stupid. The stupid, stupid people are the ones who thought they could get away with this indefinitely, that they could keep impoverishing people while they lived higher and higher on the hog. Did they think the waitress wouldn’t notice that they were throwing down $2,000 to sit at a table? I can see why the Occupy movement began in New York. I’d be camping in a tent on Wall Street, too.

Friday is the 105th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire where 146 mostly young women garment workers died. 62 of them jumped to their deaths and splattered on the pavement. The owners had locked certain doors to make sure the workers didn’t take unauthorized breaks, and they made more money from insurance than they were forced to pay in compensation. No one went to jail. Banker bonuses anyone?

On Friday, I will chalk Yetta Goldstein’s name in front of the building she lived in when she died in the fire at age 20. We have to remember the price regular people pay when they’re taken advantage of, treated poorly, and seen as the means to someone else’s prosperity. I’ve met wonderful people in New York who remember this, who organize those regular people to make productive change for health, safety, and wellbeing. Who draw the community together with those goals.

There are two New York Cities, one for the Haves and one for the Have Nots. I’m worried this isn’t going to end well.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Is "New Yorker" a DNA thing?

Am I like a little duckling that was imprinted at birth? I was born in Brooklyn but while I have no memory of it, does it somehow reside in my DNA? How else can I explain this overwhelming feeling that I am surrounded by “my people”?

I never even had a thick New York accent (except when angry, under the influence, or on the phone with my mother), but I understand every word that’s said to me. I can even understand the public announcements on the subway when they’re made by the operator with marbles in his mouth and static in the system.

I walk down the street and everyone is so gloriously, unabashedly ETHNIC. All colors, all kinds of clothes, but they are somehow all New Yorkers, and I fit right in. I dress a little differently than they do, but there’s something in me that feels like I’m swimming in the same school of fish. Something in me feels like I’m not sticking out. The Italians here are REALLY Italian, the Greeks are REALLY Greek, the Puerto Ricans REALLY Puerto Rican.
I walk down the street positive that my hair is frizzy, the way it was when I was younger and when my self-image must have been stabilizing. I feel like I look like the other people around me, big boobs and all, and not just the Jewish people. When I talk to a burly Italian guy in the Hayden Planetarium, I feel like we’re related. When I joke with the African American woman in the elevator, I feel like we’re sisters.

This is such a bizarre feeling. It’s like feeling part of a majority culture that includes me, a New Yorker culture.
I went to a comedy show tonight, and the woman was riffing about rude strangers. When a stranger tells her to “Move!” she wants to move to another state. But I seem to find smiling people, people at the same event who start conversations, store employees who engage me. I wonder if it’s because I’m not in any rush and am just so observant of everything around me? Still, I used to say New Yorkers were the kind of people who, if you sat next to one on the Long Island Railroad, you had their life story by the time you got to Penn Station. They don’t just like my hair; they want to know the name of the dye I use. Their boundaries are just so deliciously fluid.

Okay, there IS one big qualifier here, and it has to do with class. (In my world view, everything has to do with class….) I don’t share any DNA with rich New Yorkers, and this trip is the first time I’ve seen where they live. I’ve passed stores named after the clothes I’ve only heard about from the Oscar’s red carpet. The friendliest thing about those people are their nannies.

Yes, it’s true, there are still New Yorkers walking around the streets talking to themselves, but this time, they have wires dangling from their ears….
Yesterday, I went to a second program at the Library. As I walked in, the woman at the information desk looked up and said, “Oh, it’s our visiting library lover. How is it going for you?” I felt remembered! In a city of eight million, I wasn’t even anonymous.


Friday, March 18, 2016

LOTS of food for thought

When my daughter started school and when she went to college, there was always just one thing I was watching out for: was her curiosity still intact? Was she still finding the world interesting and was that interest still motivating?

I ask the same of myself, but especially now in my Third Third. The idea of stagnation is anathema to me, and now it’s compounded by believing that curiosity fights off cognitive decline (and seeing my mother in New York leaves me especially worried about that).

Mostly, I’ve always been curious. My brain is like a garbage disposal that can’t turn off. With no food in it, it just whirls and grinds away relentlessly but pointlessly. But with food – and New York City provides SO MUCH food – it’s useful and productive. It processes.

Here are some of the things I’m wondering about now. I haven’t been able to sleep until I Google some of them, but I’ll probably need to check some books out of the library.
  • In the Hayden Planetarium show “Dark Universe,” Neil deGrasse Tyson (one of my heroes), said that when things move away from us, their light waves “redshift,” that from our position in the universe, everything is moving away from us. He distinctly said that from ANY point in the universe, everything is moving away from it. How can that be? Something has to be in front of something. In fact, one of the panels mentioned the galaxy “in the foreground,” so wouldn’t it be chased by the galaxies in the background? This bothers me.

     
  • During World War II, book publishers turned out 123 MILLION Armed Services Editions of little, skinny (but complete) versions of titles so soldiers could fit them in their pockets. The author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn received 10,000 letters from grateful GIs (according to the New York Public Library program by the author of When Books Went to War). I want to find a skinny book!
  • From the American Museum of Natural History “The Secret World Inside You,” I discovered that a baby’s passage through the mother’s birth canal is crucially important to bathe it in valuable bacteria. Doctors are now looking at swabbing babies born through Caesarean section with the bacteria to prevent things like asthma and food allergies. I am SO GLAD I gave my daughter bacteria!

  • In the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, I saw Jenny E. Sabin’s gorgeous, knitted pavilion. She made it of solar active yarns so it lights itself up at night. It is truly spectacular and my drawing wouldn’t do it justice so you can click through for more photos here. Just imagine being under it.
  • I learned about Voronoi polygons at the Museum of Mathematics on Pi Day (3/14/16). If you have a few points and you divide them up so a region (shaped like a polygon) is closest to one point than any neighboring one, they’re Voronoi polygons. A bazillion kids on a field trip danced on a floor that changed shapes and colors every time a kid moved. John Snow, who identified the water pump that spread cholera in London (another hero of mine), used these to find the pump. He must have plotted all the deaths and saw they were closest to that one pump.
  • A Jewish man in Georgia, Leo Frank, was sentenced to death for murdering a young girl. When evidence showed it couldn’t be him, the governor commuted the sentence, but a group kidnapped him from prison and lynched him. The group included the former governor, mayors, and state legislators. They were never punished, and they subsequently revived the KKK. I learned this at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
I realize this is all pretty boring, listed out like this. I learned from brilliantly designed exhibits, with things you could touch and see, bright graphics and clear visuals. My New York experience is mostly real life and real culture, and I pick up most of what I learn through osmosis (although I manage to forget that the D train is an express and I keep ending up on my way to the Bronx with no way to get off).

But these museums, these programs, these institutions are smoldering hubs for curiosity. I am really, really good at unearthing every program, talk, exhibit, tour, or event I can; the table is littered with flyers, newspapers, programs, and handouts.
I am a glutton and curiosity hog, New York is a never empty banquet, and I only have a month to feast.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Tragedy of the Ninth Ninth

I have said before that my Third Third is my mother’s Ninth Ninth, and this visit goes right to the heart of those problems.

When I visit my mother, I sleep on the couch in her living room. In the middle of the night – several times in the middle of the night – my mother turns on the television with the volume set at 35 (or thereabouts). I wake up frantically, race into her room, and try to lower the volume. She is not happy about that. I have a hard time falling back to sleep, but if I do … the TV roars again. By morning, I’m hallucinating.
This last time, my mother was furious and announced at 6 a.m. that I had no business showing up and interfering with the way she lives. I told her that I had to get some sleep. She said she was an old woman who had her way of doing things.

Sleep deprived, I told her she’d be a lonely old woman because I couldn’t stay there and not be able to sleep. “I just finished your laundry, getting out the stains that bothered you; I handled your paperwork, I bought you your supplies, took you to the bank, to the doctor. I can’t do any of that without sleep so I’m leaving.” Huff, huff, huff. I called a taxi and was on a train back to my apartment by 7 a.m.
Yes, I seem to be missing the caregiver gene. I know this about myself. My mother and I have had a … prickly … relationship. It’s gotten better recently (these events to the contrary) because, as I say, with dementia my mother has forgotten that she hasn’t liked me so much.

I spent this morning trying to track down her hospital records from a visit in January. Her regular doctor had asked, “What visit?” so I’m trying to figure out when, what happened, who should have sent records. My mother says, “I was in the hospital??”

I just spoke to my mother on the phone. I told her I’d be out there Sunday for lunch. She asked, “Staying over?” and I said, “No, you turn on the TV too loud and I get no sleep.” “Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know. Just tell me and I’ll turn it down.”

You see? She is incredibly sweet and completely oblivious. I am not as good a person as I imagine other people would be in this situation. As my sisters are. My sister Allison emailed, “It’s frustrating, it’s more than sad, it’s tragic because it is not going to change, ever.” At least this trip, I have the opportunity to visit my Mom for a meal or an outing and then return to my place.

Allison wrote that what we got from our mother “was her ‘ear,’ even if she didn’t understand all of what we told her, she was always eager to hear it. And now we don’t even have her ear.” I sit with her and tell her our stories and we laugh and laugh, but for her the story is of some other family, some other road trip, some other funny thing that could have been a TV sitcom. She has no memory of it. Ten seconds later, I could tell the same story again – brand new.

The mother I knew is already gone. In her place is some sweet old lady who’s trying to negotiate a world that makes very little sense to her while her demanding offspring insists on turning her TV down. Sigh. I’ll see her Sunday. For lunch.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Living Vertically

There are lots of things that thrill me about cities, but the one that never fails to amaze me is what I call “people living on top of each other.” Not in the figurative sense of crowds, but in the literal sense of people living in an apartment on top of someone else’s apartment on the floor below. I stand at ground level and look up at what’s going on in lighted windows: someone eating is completely unaware that someone just below him is watching TV. It just amazes me.
In New York City, I can look up at an apartment building and see SIXTY people living on top of SIXTY people who are living next door to another SIXTY people living on top of their SIXTY. It boggles the mind. Which leads to the other thing that awes me: at 8 a.m., all those people are usually changing places. They’re leaving homes for work or school or whatever, and they’re often doing it via public transit. It’s why I got into transit in the first place. Just think about it: all the people living on top of each other changing places in about a two-hour period.

Gasp.

So when I heard that the curator of the Skyscraper Museum exhibit, Ten Tops, was doing a curator’s walk-through, I went. (There are so many exciting things implied in that sentence: that a Skyscraper Museum even exists, that it’s a dynamic museum with changing exhibits, and that they offer a curator’s walk-through and expect people will come! This is New York!)

The exhibit focuses on the two dozen or so buildings that are 100 stories or higher. The Burj Khalifa building in Dubai has the highest occupied floor in the world. More than 900 households live there with the possibility of living on top of 87 floors of other people.

But the big thing I learned from the curator was about wind. The museum is filled with the models used in wind tunnel tests. I learned wind is why these buildings are all pointy or oddly shaped. Wind is a killer on a regular old rectangular building; you need angles to confuse and disrupt the wind.





One of the more inspiring buildings, the Shanghai World Financial Center starts out at the bottom as a square, but the architect used angles and arcs drawn off a circle to slowly transform it as it rose so that at the top, it’s six-sided. The very, very top was designed to have a circular hole (and they’d install a ferris wheel), but when the owners saw it, it looked like the rising sun of the Japanese flag so it was nixed. Now it’s a rectangular hole.









To understand how scary the wind is, the curator showed us photos of the “tuned mass damper” (TMD) in Taipei 101, which was the tallest building till Burj Khalifa. It has to withstand not only typhoons – up to 130 miles per hour – but also earthquakes. The structure likes to be flexible, but the people inside like it not to be so flexible. (I can see why.) So inside, there’s a giant 660-ton sphere, 18 feet in diameter – that’s the TMD – that hangs like a pendulum around the 90th floor. When the wind blows, it swings the opposite way and stabilizes the building. It can swing up to 59 inches!

[Pause while woman from Alaska-via-San-Francisco has small, sympathetic freak-out over this: swaying from wind and earthquakes is the worst thing I can imagine in the place where anyone would live. 59 inches – that’s almost five feet of sway! And that’s the stabilizer!]

I am staying in an apartment on the 8th floor. It is not so bad because the people on the ground still look like people, not ants. I can look out in the morning to see whether they’re wearing coats or not (although New Yorkers seem to wear parkas and scarves that would leave any Alaskan with heat stroke). I am not anticipating any earthquakes.

So while I’ve always marveled at looking at all the people living on top of each other, this is the first time I’ve actually been one of those people. Sitting here at my table, I’m not even aware of the seven households under me. I only see them from outside. I haven’t even checked how many might be living above me; I’ll have to look at the elevator buttons.
It’s a new perspective: to be what you’ve always just looked at. But that’s what this whole trip was meant to be about.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The grapes of ... New York

My first order of business was getting a New York Public Library card. Now, after two days, I realize I’d better leave some time for reading or else my feet are going to break. I have covered ground! One block of interesting things leads to another block of interesting things. By the end of the day, my feet are screaming.

So my second order of business was getting my Metro Card. But that was also because of the grapes.

I love my grapes. I can go through a Costco 4-pounder in two days. So here I am in Midtown Manhattan. I stopped a man with a dog and asked where a grocery store was: “Right on the corner.” It was a little fancy, but it wasn’t till the checkout line that I realized how fancy: $11.62 for two pounds of grapes!

So the next day, I Googled “Costco.” There was one in Manhattan, in East Harlem. I could take the #6 subway to 116th Street (where I could also visit the Hot Bread Kitchen, one of the sites for New York’s best challah and a women’s employment bakery to boot). I’d load up at Costco with my daypack and big cloth bag and take the M-15 bus back. Too exciting for words!

I got off in East Harlem and realized this is the New York I love: ethnic, “un-sanitized,” full of nooks and crannies that aren’t designer clothing shops. There are real things, like real grocery stores. And even the Costco was a little different: it has Jewish food. I stocked up on Gabila’s potato knishes. The food ladies had samples of … Marinated Wild Alaskan Salmon, 6 pouches! I realize that I’m going to be cooking in servings rather than meals; I think that’s how New Yorkers eat, or at least how they shop. I don’t have all my ingredients, and though the kitchen is well-equipped, it wouldn’t even be able to hold my spice rack from home.

Four pounds of grapes = $9.99

Back at the apartment, I decided I’d look for the East River for a running route. So instead of turning left out the front door, I turned right. I was in Dag Hammarskj√∂ld Plaza, where on Wednesdays, there’s a Greenmarket … with the Hot Bread Kitchen! I looked around the corner, and it was the United Nations! I am right on the corner of the U.N.! No wonder it’s Dag Hammarskj√∂ld Plaza! I looked back, and there was The Trump World Tower. And condos starting at $2.1 million. Oh, yikes.

Still in search of the river, I turned left and the street sign said “Beekman Place.” No, NOT Beekman Place! In The Way We Were (the only movie I have seen four times), glorious, brash, Jewish lefty Barbra Streisand discovers that husband Robert Redford has had an affair with a wealthy, WASPy woman whom she calls “Beekman Place.” I am living right off Beekman Place! Horrors! No wonder their grapes are so expensive.

So I have to neutralize my proximity and head downtown, towards the Lower East Side. I made it to Kalyustan’s acres and acres of spice store. I just needed oil and vinegar but that took hours of browsing hundreds of bottles, types, and ooh, that looks interesting over there. Then I had to hustle to the library for my first author program.

As I walked back to the apartment – feet just screaming yet again – I noticed a crowd on the sidewalk. A fruit vendor was doing a fiery business. Of course, he had grapes for $1 a pound ... and they looked just like my Costco grapes, in the same packaging.

I have a month to learn how New Yorkers do things.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

I don't know how many underpants to pack!

There’s a great Doonesbury comic I think of often. Joanie Caucus is packing to start law school at Berkeley, and she freaks to Zonker, “I don’t know if I’ve got enough toothpaste!” He calmly, Zonker-ishly replies, “Don’t you think there are probably drug stores out there?” And this is Joanie’s response:
“I don’t know! I don’t know what the drug store situation is like out there in California! I’ve got to be prepared!”
Whenever I pack for a trip, I think of Joanie. Ridiculously, because this time, I know the drug store situation in New York. I visit New York twice a year. So why am I having conversations with myself like this:

“How many underpants should I pack!?! I don’t want to get stuck doing laundry too often, but I don’t want to run out.” (Never mind that the apartment comes with a laundry, as does my mother’s place.)

“How much contact lens solution do I need!?!” And this despite measuring how many ounces I needed when we were in New Orleans for ten days. This is complicated by the Costco factor: I own big containers of contact lens solution, and I’m always reluctant to transfer them. You never know if your transfer container is as sterile as it’s supposed to be.
Tim spied me adding my pumpkin flax cereal to the bag, but I don’t know what the grocery store situation is like in Manhattan!! I know Manhattan as a visitor. The whole reason for this trip is to know it as a resident, but that may take a while, and I’ll want my pumpkin flax cereal for breakfast. With raisins.

This whole thing is mystifying me. Where did all this goofiness come from? I have gone to other countries for months and traveled the U.S. nomadically for an entire summer, never knowing where I was going to sleep. Here I’m going to a place with no currency exchange, a place I have visited often, a place where I already have my own personal subway map, several relatives, and a laptop with Google.

I think it’s because I am just incredibly excited!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Use it, use it up!

Do you remember the big box of 64 Crayola crayons? You’d get it brand new … and then you didn’t want to use it because it would dull the brand new points? Or the journal you thought twice about writing in because it was so pristine and beautiful?
This morning my friend Connie called to ask me to join her on a hike. “What are you wearing on your feet?” I asked (because I didn’t know if she planned an icy place, a muddy place, or a dry place). So we talked cleats and grip-on thingies, and she said, “Oh, I assumed you’d be wearing your new hiking boots.”

“I didn’t want to get them muddy.”

Yes, boots are made for getting muddy, and yes, getting muddy is part of breaking them in. But besides that, in our Third Thirds, I should be finished with keeping things pristine. I think of that Erma Bombeck quote where she hopes that at the end of her life she could tell God “I used everything you gave me” or the one that shows up on Facebook about arriving “thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming – WOW – What a Ride!” Erma was talking about talent, not crayons or hiking boots, but it’s all about using things – even us – to the max.

In our Third Thirds, we can ask the question, “What am I reserving it for?” For some perfect occasion or some perfect use? I have delicious bottles of wine bought on a memorable trip, saved for a memorable occasion. The wines from Italy, from Maui, from Argentina, from Homer. But now I’m not really into wine anymore. So they sit.
That candle that’s so beautiful – the perfect occasion may not happen or even, if it does, you won’t be able to find the candle when it does. Worse yet, as happened with me, you’ll find the colors faded, the candle warped. It needs to be lit now or given as a gift now so we can feel the pleasure now. Now is now and later may be too late.

Or else it will just be someone’s great deal at a garage sale.

I’m looking around my house now, trying to spy never-used things waiting for their perfect use. My mother once had a couch – no, a whole living room – that waited. I had a set of fancy teacups, but I started using them when I realized they were just … waiting. One broke. So what?

Life leaves evidence – of things used, things worn down, things broken.  Crayons – when they’re used – leave color behind.

I’m in my Third Third. I use my crayons, my paints, my journals, my fancy paper. I’m working on my fancy gift bottles of oils and vinegars. Hey, I’m even going to make plans for those memorable wines. Soon plans, not distant plans.

And yes, I wore my hiking boots. They made me happy. They were great, both uphill and down.

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