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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Direction Unclear

I lack direction.

Well, in addition to that, I mean I lack a sense of direction. I have been known to make four right turns and be utterly mystified that I came back to where I was. So negotiating a new place takes practice.

In New York, this is how I leave a subway or a building: I walk outside and strain to see the next street sign over. If I’m at 15th Street, and I can see 16th, I know that way is uptown. I am oriented! If I’m looking for an avenue, that’s harder because they’re longer and you can’t see the next one. So you look for the next street, aim yourself uptown, and then you know the avenues on your right and left. Unless you’re at Broadway, which runs diagonally. Or the avenues which suddenly give up numbers and become Madison, Park, and Lexington. Or Lexington, Madison, then Park? I scramble them every single time.

Invariably, I end up walking the wrong way and asking a stranger which way is Fifth.

Ah, but on the subway, I know my connections! I see a map in my head. That’s ON the subway. IN the subway station is a whole other story. Getting out of a station or transferring to another subway line within a station is a true challenge. Yes, after a while, you get the routine movements down, but a new station is always a new puzzle.

I couldn’t get from the F train to the 6 train until I found a man at an elevator with a little sign on it that said “To 6 platform.” When I got to the platform, other people were arriving, but I have no idea how they got there. I’ve looked and looked, but as far as I know, the elevator is the only way. But that can’t be true.

Some station arrows make it easy. Go up the stairs to the left or right.

But there are arrows that make it confusing. Does this mean you should turn around for the elevator? Or straight ahead and turn right? (Or jump up and down?)

Arrows combined with environmental cues (like stairs) are easier.

I think this one means “go around the big elevator box in the middle of the platform.” But that may explain why I could never find the 6 without the elevator.


Arrows without environmental cues are confusing. This next is the Big One, the source of much subway misdirection: Does this arrow mean up or straight ahead?
I have come across tourists looking for the stairs up where there are none. I have missed going up because I was aiming for straight ahead. The problem is the “up” and “straight ahead” arrows are identical. I propose a solution:

The longer ones mean “Go far ahead, into the distance.” They could even be grayed out as they stretch further ahead. What do you think? Will this work?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bra Ladies

When I was a teenager, my mother used to take me to Dora Myers Corsetry to buy bras, and I HATED IT. Old ladies with glasses strung on beaded chains would poke and prod at me, and – did I mention I HATED IT? Why couldn’t we just go to Macy’s like all the other girls?

But now I’m in my Third Third … and I travel 4,000 miles to buy my bras at Mary Corsetieres on Long Island. I line up with all the other women who are outside on a cold New York day waiting for Mary to open up at 11 a.m. Yes, I’ve come the furthest, but there are women there from Manhattan, from Massachusetts, from Connecticut. We enter and sign in, and we are prepared to wait several hours. Unless you’re not and you’re new, and then you are horrified by the “terrible customer service,” but we Mary regulars know better.


Because once you’ve been fitted at Mary’s, you can’t go anywhere else.

The fitters at Mary’s – my sisters and I call them the “Bra Ladies” – can just look at you and say things like, “Now you’re a 36 F … in your left breast. So we’ll have to go up for that but adjust it for the right breast.” And this is what distinguishes them, this is why we return like salmon to our spawning grounds: they alter the bras right there, on their sewing machines!
They add a dart here, a line of stitching there. If those straps are uncomfortable, put in different ones. If you’re between sizes, let them take it in and make it a size just for you. The bottom line: you leave with a bra – or three or four because when will you be back? – that fits you and only you perfectly.

Now that I’m in my Third Third, I know the value of that.

I’m sending my Aunt Evelyn there because she needs to have front closure bras. I asked the fitter about that, and she said they can make ANY bra into a front closure for her. Women came with the dresses for their daughters’ weddings so they could get the bra first and have the dress fitted after, only with the right bra.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of my Bra Lady because I was too scrambled remembering the names of my bras, Anita and Freya and Dominique. But as she ran up and downstairs searching out bras for me to try, I eavesdropped on the conversations in the other fitting rooms.

Have we made it all the way into our Third Thirds to be so utterly embarrassed by, ashamed of, and angry at our bodies? Every woman didn’t like her flab or her fat, her breasts or her butt. They didn’t like the sag or the slump, the blob or the bumps, the skin or the hair. Hearing that cacophony of disgust and self-loathing was enough to shut my mouth tight (although I’ve been known to say the same things).

One of my other New York adventures was an exhibit at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology on “The Body: Fashion and Physique.” The exhibit focused on the lack of diversity in and the deception of fashion advertising. A video showed a live shoot with a live model … and then the photo manipulation afterwards – lengthening her thighs, narrowing her waist, lifting her breasts – that would be impossible for a real human’s anatomy to match.

Mary should show that video to all her customers. Through it all, the Bra Ladies were consoling but tough New York psychologists: “You’re 60; you want to not be 60?” “They’re called thighs. They hold you up.” “This is the size you are; you want to be happy in a bra or miserable in one?” And then they would provide a bra that held and supported and made someone look and feel great. And women left restored.

Who wouldn’t travel 4,000 miles for that? I even went home with a swimsuit.

But just in case, Mary’s has my whole bra history – with size, style, and altering notes – on file. If I’m desperate, I can order by mail.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Go Signs

A few days ago, my sister and I were on Long Island at longtime family friend (my mother’s best friend) Gloria’s for dinner. Her daughter, Linda, described how she took a particular course of action because she’d had three signs. You know, SIGNS. Like the universe telling you this is what you should be doing.

So let me tell you about my Signs.

#1
Several years ago, I became enthralled with the notion of transparent art. Something on transparent pages that would say different things depending on what you could or couldn’t see. I couldn’t figure it out. It’s very complicated because, of course, you can see through the pages.

#2
I read Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. A young man commits suicide in the bookstore and leaves his suicide note in clues in a series of books. He cuts out the words in one book, leaving windows. When placed up against the pages of a companion book, the windows expose the words which become his suicide note.
#3
My Bricolage group challenge for last month was “Postcard.” Do anything with postcards: make one, collage one, send one, whatever. That’s how our art challenges work. I look at the postcards I’d sent my mother over the years – which I now have after her death – and they seem to me messages from not only place, but time.

#4
The next email I receive is from the New York Public Library about their 2018 series, NYPL LIVE. Billy Collins, the poet, is a speaker when I’ll be in Manhattan. I buy a ticket.

#5
Suddenly, Billy Collins’ poem, “Forgetfulness,” rises to my consciousness yet again. I’ve mentioned it a few times here because it’s so age-appropriate for us, but now you need to see these first verses:
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
And they seem to me to be messages from another time, from other places – postcards to ourselves in the present.

#6
So I take the poem and cut it up. I buy some clear, plastic envelopes and cut them into postcard sizes. I glue the words down to send these messages from the past, from someone who’s gone and retired far away. This is the first postcard I’d send:


And then this:

And then this:

And after eight postcards – all with messages like this – you would have this:


#7
Isn’t that exciting! All the Signs led me to this art project and it worked, so of course I have to show it to Billy Collins. I get to the library very early; I am the first in line. I get a good seat.

Billy Collins is a relaxed, humorous, self-deprecating sort of conversationalist. I thoroughly enjoy myself. Afterwards, I am right in front on his signing line, and I show him my creation. He looks at me, thanks me, is glad to inspire, and then he looks at the 75 people waiting in line and has to usher me away.

I leave happily. The universe told me this was the project for me – all the Signs said so – and they were right. In a world where things go wrong, sometimes they just line up and go right.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks

New York City’s sidewalks aren’t made for klutzes or space cadets. My daughter is waiting for me to fall into a gaping, cellar access door. I’M waiting to fall into a gaping, cellar access door. They start out innocuously enough: they’re just iron plates lying flat on the sidewalk except for their large padlocks.

But when they open, storekeepers can load their stock from the truck and put it right on a ramp or conveyor belt or plain old stairs to get down to the basement. Unfortunately, if you’re looking around, you may wind up in the basement, too. I wonder how many people on smart phones have done that. (I hear they fall off subway platforms in Japan.)
New York City sidewalks are remarkably free of dog poop, but there are plenty of other obstructions. The food carts – the hot dogs, the pretzels, the halal dishes – and the cannoli, gelato, vegetables, depending on the neighborhood – are everywhere. In Chinatown, merchants and their roots and remedies + 7-T-shirts-for-$10 have taken over the sidewalks; in my neighborhood, it’s the fresh flower guys.

The rows of bright blue CitiBikes take up a lot of space, too. I don’t mind any of them; pretzels satisfy the hunger of too much looking around and not enough sitting down and eating, and the CitiBikes come with map posts. Besides, they’re above ground and obvious so I’m less likely to fall over them.

It’s just that the available sidewalk space is getting squished. It’s incredibly clever for businesses to construct arctic entries in front of their doors. It keeps customers warm and saves energy. But they look like dark, soft-sided phone booths – big boxy things – sitting in front of many restaurants. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to walk in, but they’re just like tent vestibules in front of the building, with doors.
I also don’t mind the huge masses of garbage bags and recycling at the curbs. They’re neat, and all their recycling is separated meticulously. New York’s garbage is organized … and it gets picked up.
 

So organized that wherever you see a trash can, you see a recycling container next to it.

The Mayor of New York’s Vision Zero program is working to reduce street injuries and fatalities to pedestrians with enforcement, speed limits, etc. But the plan also includes changes in street design with things like posts and bollards and … obstructions amenities. So you can be walking along and then suddenly, there are trees. Or benches. Or tables and chairs. Don’t get me wrong – I like to sit; I like benches. It just means I have to pay attention to where I’m walking.

I have to pay attention to where I’m walking because everyone loves a parade. When streets are closed and everyone is kept safely corralled on St. Patrick’s Day or during the March for Our Lives, parade detritus left hundreds of police barricades gathered on sidewalks. I only walked into one batch.

I have to pay attention to where I’m walking because there are interesting things down there! Look down at your feet along lower Broadway, and there are granite commemorations of all the ticker-tape parades held along the route to City Hall.

In SoHo, artist Francoise Schein has created a subway map “articulating the message of the ‘universal declaration of human rights.’” I don’t get it. It doesn’t even look like a subway map to me, but it’s there, on the sidewalk. Where I’m looking. Where there are also subway grates (and my map points out Marilyn Monroe’s famous subway grate).

Another reason to look down and see where your feet are going is to avoid looking up. Looking up is a vertigo experience, a tip-over-and-feel-dizzy experience because there is an awful lot of “up” to look at. I can’t look at all those tall buildings and not think, “What if there were a fire?” Or “Yikes, they’re surrounded by concrete and steel.” So I’m not really looking up when I’m gaping at New York: I’m looking at all the things right there at human scale: shops and food and posters and art and buses.

But every now and then, there’s something up there that truly startles.

What is Lenin doing there on the roof at my corner? It’s a story, a New York story. No matter where I look – at my feet, on the sidewalks, on the rooftops – this place is full of stories.



Friday, March 23, 2018

Living Standard ... or Substandard

When I first arrived at my Airbnb apartment, I freaked out. It wasn’t just the mass of battered trashcans in front or the banged-up front door which couldn’t close securely.
No, it was the row of mailboxes – smashed, broken, and rusted – how could anyone get any mail? The torn-up linoleum and the elevator door opening and shutting at random was just the icing on the cake. What had I done?!? I had paid in advance for a hellhole!


The apartment didn’t reassure me. The bathroom door didn’t open all the way because it crashed into the toilet. Everything was clean – kitchen up-to-date and newish – but there was nothing on the walls except for the nails where something hung once. And one of the lamps – the only lamp, actually – had a burnt-out bulb.

I even phoned Tim to tell him I was freaking out (which is not a thing to do when someone is 4,000 miles away).

I went around the corner to the grocery store. Its doors were a little wonky, too, but wow, their prices were way cheaper than Anchorage! I got a fresh fruit salad, a big Snapple, some organic soups. The people in the store were regular people, New-York-style (an entire subway train can go by without a single blond person on it!).

The man in front of me on the checkout line asked, “How much was your fruit salad?”

“$3. It’s a great deal!”

He showed me what he had in his cart: a jar of not-fresh fruit salad. “$3.99,” he said. “Not as good a deal.”

By the time we got to the check-out machines, he had told me to only shop the sales, they change on Fridays, pick up the circular. When we parted, he called out, “Make sure you get the frequent shopper card.” I did.

Oh, I love New Yorkers! I love how they’ll talk to anyone, ask them anything, offer any advice. Once again, I’m swimming in my own DNA.

Once I unpacked and found places for my things, the apartment didn’t seem so shabby or frightening. My friend Steve mentioned in his blog how he had to get serious about fixing up his home, that “It's easy to get used to a water stain on the ceiling, old worn rugs, cracks in the cement, and other minor problems. …that visitors [must] wonder how we live in such a well worn space.” It’s all about familiarity. When things become part of our lives, we don’t notice their shabbiness any more. Before Tim and I replaced our carpeting, I began to think that visitors might look at our floors and not want to walk around in socks.

And now, here it is just a few days later, and I’m sitting on the couch in the apartment and feeling quite comfortable and homey. It’s snowing outside, and I’m relishing feeling cozy inside. I don’t notice the things that bothered me at first. And mostly, I actually appreciate them.

I appreciate that I am living in an affordable neighborhood. Last time I took my month in New York City, I was in Midtown, on the East Side. I couldn’t afford groceries there and the stores were uninteresting because their merchandise was out of my price range. $800 shoes! I wrote wondering why class warfare hadn’t broken out.

But here, in the Lower East Side, I can get my $3 fresh fruit salad, my 99¢ slice of pizza, and 64 ounces of Snapple for $1.67. The stores are useful for living: hardware and shoe repair, laundromats and school supplies. Yesterday, a man was out power-washing the sidewalk in front of his building. Regular people live here, and I like being among them.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Philosophy on the NY Subway

As I prepared for my month in Manhattan, I discovered that I could get a personalized MetroCard – with a photo! – that would get me half-price on the subways and buses.

You have to know the transit lover in me to know the ecstasy that overtook me. I phoned them up right away: yes, I could come in with two photo IDs even before my birthday and I could get it right then and there. Hooray for turning 65!

So, of course, I took my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, excited self down to 3 Stone Street as soon as I arrived. First, I had to find Stone Street, then I had to find how to travel there. I’m renting in a less-than-familiar part of Manhattan so I’m in the midst of direction-confusion and am back to writing little cheat sheets to myself after I examine all the permutations and combinations of MTA Trip Planner and my maps. Plus, I still have to learn how to lock the doors to where I’m staying.

I waited for my number to be called and headed to Window #1, and I received a gorgeous, yellow, Reduced-Fare MetroCard with my photo on it!

I can’t paint an exact picture of it here because I no longer have it. (Sob!)

After getting my gorgeous, yellow, Reduced-Fare MetroCard with my photo on it, I calculated which was the best deal for purchase. I could pay for a trip costing $1.35/trip; I could get a 7-day Unlimited Ride Reduced-Fare MetroCard for $16 or 11.8 rides in a week, or $2.29/day; or I could get a 30-day Unlimited Ride Reduced-Fare MetroCard for $60.50 which was the best deal in the whole wide world!

So off I went to the nearest subway station, to the fare machine. Nothing about it was intuitively obvious, but I came to the big existential question of the day: Was I going to “Add Value” or “Add Time”?

What would you say?

What would you say if you’d saved the attached quote in your journal for many years?


I can’t add hours to the day. I can’t add more days to a week or a month, but value? I can add value to my card (by putting money on it), value to my ride (by going for the 30-day option), and value to my whole life and the planet!

So I added value. Something didn’t look right. I went back to 3 Stone Street, got a new number and window #5: “You weren’t supposed to Add Value. You were supposed to Add Time. Nothing we can do about that now. We’ll take back your gorgeous, yellow, Reduced-Fare MetroCard with your photo on it and get you a refund in six weeks. Here’s a temporary, boring, plain old card you can go put another $60.50 on.”

Which I did.

Back to the station, I swiped my card in the swiper. It said "expired." I tried again. It said, “Just Used.” I tried another gate: “Just Used.” I’ll spare you all the back and forth trips for remedies. Eventually, a station agent let me in, and I boarded a train, slightly dreading that I wouldn’t be able to get back because my brand-new boring and untested MetroCard wouldn’t work.

But as I swiped it for the return, I saw that the message said, “Pass Expires 4/12/18.” Oh, it wasn’t expired! It was giving me handy consumer information! Bless those tiny little LED-ish messages that can’t be read in dimly lit stations! I just pressed the turnstile and was through.

This was a Big Day in my Third Third:
  • Turning 65 comes with unanticipated thrills! I have unlimited reduced fares on subways, buses, even the Long Island Rail Road. If I’m never heard from again, check with the MTA.
  • I still think I was adding value, not time. In the universe, I’m right. In the MTA, they’re right, and I’m finished arguing even though I did tell them they should have the capability to over-ride the magnetic strip.
  • They say we have to do really difficult things to keep our brains active, and plunging myself into a new environment, negotiating bureaucracies, figuring out how they could have done it better if I were in charge – all while panicking that I’d never get home – are just exercises to avoid cognitive decline. I’m not getting older, I’m getting IQ points.
  • It’s always about the adventure. I took four train trips today. I saw a parking lot with cars on elevators, I went to the Museum of Math on Pi Day, heard the author of Caesar’s Last Breath talk about air, had a 99¢ slice of New York pizza, got a New York Public Library card, and walked more than 70 New York blocks. All possible because I had a temporary, boring, plain old Reduced-Fare MetroCard.

Monday, March 12, 2018

How is getting sick like cheesecake?

Getting sick is like cheesecake.

The first time I had cheesecake, it was a skinny little sliver of a piece in a restaurant. The texture just slid over my tongue, the taste sent fireworks to the back of my mouth, and the pleasure escaped in one big hum of satisfaction. It was gone in five bites.

Every other time I ordered cheesecake, it came in that same measly, pathetic, little sliver size. Then, one day, I discovered a cheesecake recipe. I even went out and bought a spring-form pan, and I made my own cheesecake cake. No slivers there!

I had all the cheesecake I could ever want.

And I haven’t eaten cheesecake since.

There are a lot of things like cheesecake: the too-much-of-a-good-thing story, the all-things-in-moderation story. And for the last week, it’s been the getting-sick story.

I am blessed with a strong constitution and good health. For most of my life, I simply didn’t understand people who missed things because they “had a cold.” Well, blow your nose, I thought; put on a sweatshirt. Then I had a 2-year-old who clung to me with her germ-spewing, hot little body, sneezing and coughing into my face. One red-letter week, that reduced us both to stagnant blobs on the couch. I had never felt so listless, so apathetic, so wrecked. Thank heavens it was just that once.

Sunday was a sunny, glorious day for a ski. Over hill, over dale, up and down, feeling great. Until Monday.

Monday didn’t feel so good. Every time I coughed, things would rattle around in my head till my brain hurt. I took to the couch.

The couch and I have a complex relationship. It is my homey spot, my comfortable spot for reading, for watching Netflix, for just hanging out. But it’s also a lazy spot, an avoidance spot, an I-just-don’t-feel-like-doing-it spot. So sometimes, guilt intrudes on couch good times.

But not if you’re sick! If you’re sick, you get to retreat to the couch to feel better. It’s advisable to lie on the couch so whatever you have doesn’t turn into the crud everyone else has. So first I went to the library to stock up on mysteries (all the brain could bear, sorry Alexander Hamilton). Then I settled in. Take-out for dinner (on the couch); heating pad (on the couch); sweatpants, baggy shirt, and no bra (on the couch).

Welcome to heaven.

Except for the cheesecake analogy. A week and four mysteries later, unlimited couch in actuality is not so much fun as unlimited couch as an idea. I missed two outings with friends, one performance, one party, and a movie. The only times I’d spent this much time on the couch, I was depressed. Was this illness or depression? Was I avoiding something, hiding on the couch rather than tackling it? Was coughing just an excuse to put my head in the sand?

Those questions were too much work for someone who could only manage lying on a couch. The effort seemed monumental. Any effort seemed monumental.

And the only reason you’re reading this is because it finally ended (but may I hold onto the empathy it taught me for other people who might succumb to germs and bacteria and viruses). Except that right now, I just feel relief. And better.




Thursday, February 22, 2018

Amazon Adventures

I lost the Five Crowns championship to Tim last night, and I’m not happy about it.

The only thing different about being in my Third Third is that I’m still a sore loser, but I’m a self-aware sore loser. I know that it was “just a game” and that it was more a matter of chance rather than skill. I know that I still love my husband and that I’ll probably play games with him again. I know that playing games is way more fun than doing dishes, shoveling the driveway, or sitting and moping…

But maybe it’s time to retire Five Crowns for a while and pull out the Rummikub [pronounced rummy-cube] again. I’d never heard of Rummikub, but I read an interview with someone famous, and she said her family played endless games of it. Then I received newsletters with stories about Rummikub and its Jewish origins. Suddenly, Rummikub was everywhere. Rummikub may have been the top-selling U.S. game in 1977 – there are international Rummikub championships! – but I’d never heard of it.

I had to check it out on Amazon.

The thing about Amazon is The Choice. It brings out the worst in my Conscientious Consumer self. I have to read every description for every variety, every review. If I am about to make consider a Purchase, it has to be the Right One. Do I want the Original Version, the Deluxe Version, or the Classic Version???


I am not alone. Rummikub’s Amazon Q&A are filled by people like me. There are more than 3,114 Rummikub customer reviews!

Reading the reviews on Amazon is only a bit like reading the online comments on newspaper articles. No, they’re not evil-spirited – people are trying to help you make the best purchase – but yes, they give you an insight into the reviewer’s personality.

So what would you say about this reviewer:
I’ve been playing Rummikub for 30 years with my grandmother’s (now mother’s) beloved set of what feel like (but isn’t) solid ivory tiles, with engraved numbers, heavy, easy to maneuver and pick up. [This one is] absolute junk. … I was looking for another heirloom set – I am so disappointed every time we play that it is almost ruining the game for me.
And despite what you may think about that reviewer, would you still want to buy that version of the game?

The big deal apparently has to do with the tiles. Are they substantial? Can you distinguish the colors? Do the numbers last? One Rummikub has red and orange numbered tiles and it’s hard to tell them apart. Another has blue and green numbered tiles and it’s hard to tell them apart. One version doesn’t have recessed numbers on the tiles so they rub off, and one makes it hard to tell 6s from 9s.


Oh, no! This is the harbinger of hours and hours of product reviews. If sets become “beloved” and “heirlooms” to pass down to the next generation, it has to have the right numbers!

Or does it? This reviewer won’t let anything ruin the game for her:
My elderly mother and her neighbors couldn’t distinguish the yellow tiles very well so they painted over the yellow with a green magic marker – probably a Sharpie. Lasted for years. If the colors start chipping on yours, just keep painting with Sharpie or magic marker.
When my siblings “ruined” a Scrabble game because someone noticed that one of the Ds was dark (D Dark), we just put all the pieces in a bag and had to draw them blind. That same paper bag has been in the box for 50 years. It’s an heirloom.

Ultimately, I checked out the Rummikub LARGE Numbers Edition. They corrected the orange problem, the flimsy racks problem, the wouldn’t-it-be-smart-to-have-a-tile-bag problem, but it’s the LARGE numbers on LARGE tiles that scored the hit:


“Nice large tiles – you don’t have to search for reading glasses when you play.”

“It’s easy to learn and convenient to handle (unlike cards which many seniors cannot shuffle or deal out).” Who knew?

Baby Boomer market influence! I bought it, I love it! I’ll challenge Tim to a game tonight.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Barbara vs. the Machines (Round 3)

Victory!

Victory over technology! I fought the scanner and I won! (It just took a few rounds, but I’m back.)

There are three things that can cause stress and anxiety in my life, and the last two weeks have been the perfect storm of all three:
  • Logistics (as in flight arrangements, tickets, and lodging)
  • Income Taxes and other Bureaucratic Forms
  • Inexplicable Technological Failures
All three conspired to make blogging difficult, but it was the last that made it impossible. The first made me a basket case, the second amplified the hysteria, and the last left me vibrating.

The Logistics Nightmare
       I scored Hamilton tickets on Broadway. Through an elaborate process of being designated a Ticketmaster “verified fan” (meaning I don’t scalp tickets), receiving a secret code at 4 a.m. Alaska time, and getting online with a bazillion others; I scored Hamilton tickets. I was going to take another month in Manhattan.

Which, of course, meant Logistics. I began with Airbnb, which meant hours of looking at other people’s apartments. I had never used Airbnb before and I was haunted by things like this:
Less than three days’ notice! Yikes, yikes, yikes! So after I found a lovely spot, I emailed back and forth with the host, seeking reassurance that she’d never do anything like that. She promised.

And then she did it. After I’d already matched my flights to her dates.

Okay, that’s worth some tension. That’s worth about five more hours on the Internet and more emails with prospective hosts, seeking reassurance (in a situation that offers no reassurance). The most I could achieve – until I show up in Manhattan and get a key for an actual apartment – is temporary relief. So we move on to:

Income Taxes and other Bureaucratic Forms (such as Medicare enrollment)
       I went to an information session, I ordered explanatory booklets, I talked to friends. I was ready. I signed up.

And then the bill came: $402 dollars when everyone else is only paying $134! $402 a month is $4,824 a year. That is more than I’ve ever paid for health care. My budget is blown!

I phone friends, I Google things. I freak out (because, of course, I’m already in the midst of the Logistics Nightmare). Only much later do I see that the bill is quarterly.

But then assorted IRS documents show up in the mail. In my efforts to declutter financial accounts, I now have to research things like “basis” and “automatic reinvestment” and the inches-thick file I have on an account I’ve had since I was 23.

I haven’t even faced this problem. At this point, I’m so notched up – didn’t I just return from vacation?!? – that it’s even interfering with my ability to avoid, to zone out with Netflix.

Inexplicable Technological Failures
       But our Internet has suddenly become so slow that a single Netflix show is buffered 17 times. Watch for a minute, wait for a minute. Watch for a minute, wait for a minute. The Internet Service Provider says nothing has changed; they continue to deny reality. They change our password.

Now the HP printer-scanner won’t scan. It needs the new password, but it tells me:
What does that mean?!? I turn to the HP Support Forums … again. If I were to make my contribution to the world, I would re-do Support Forums. This is how they work: random person has a problem, random person poses a question, not-so-random people pose solutions. Many, many people have my same problem, and they all post the question so there are zillions of the identical question. The not-so-random people who answer only answer the one they see, so you end up with zillions of potential solutions which are hidden like needles in a haystack.

Let’s say my problem shows up 57 times. Answerer #28 answers Questioner #47 and Questioner #47 says it works. Hooray! Except that Answerer #28’s answer is buried underneath Problems #1-57, and those other Answerers were wrong, communicated in Klingon, or missed the point. But you have to look at ALL of them, try ALL of them until you happen to stumble upon Questioner #47. Where you discover that you must have been given a WPA2 security protocol with a WPA2 password … and your printer-scanner was manufactured before they invented WPA2! The Internet guy says, “Whoa, your scanner is OLD!”

No, it’s just in its Third Third.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Time for Nothing

At first, I panicked.

Tim and I had just arrived in Caye Caulker in Belize by water taxi. The roads are dirt, and there is very little town. But there is also very little beach. In fact, there is no beach, no surf. You access the water off docks.


I leave Alaska desperate for daylight and warmth, and the second I actually arrive in sun and warmth, I realize sun and warmth is usually too sunny and too hot and that’s why I live in Alaska. Where will I hide from the sun? How will I get in the water?

I had three library books, four crossword puzzles, and a pack of Five Crowns (the card game). I had no laptop and two whole weeks.

This is the stuff of terror. The terror of … Nothing. Capital-N Nothing. No body-surfing, few little shops to explore, oh-my-god, I should have brought more books! What would I DO?!?

I realize it is hard to feel sympathy for a person who’s facing two weeks in Belize, but Caye Caulker seemed so EMPTY compared to our last time in Belize on the mainland. There are only three roads, no cars, and 14 days just LOOMED in front of me. (One week would have been enough; why did we decide on TWO?!)

And then it rained. The wind roared, slamming rain against all the windows. Thank goodness we were in a lovely guest house with a living room or we would have felt trapped in a cell. No one ventured out. We were all confined to quarters.

Well, at least the rain meant I didn’t have to worry about the sun.

Little by little, we discovered … activities. We kayaked around the island, bicycled, snorkeled, tossed bean bags into holes. We discovered the little bakery and went there every day for the cookie with the jam spot (me) and the cookie with the chocolate spot (Tim). The lunch special at Happy Lobster restaurant – stewed chicken with dirty rice, cole slaw, and plantains – was so good, I could have it every day. Most days, I did.

We would sit on the porch of Happy Lobster and spend hours on our Coke Zeros, people-watching, and playing Five Crowns. There is NO LIMIT to the number of Five Crowns games you can play when you’re sitting at the Happy Lobster and just … sitting.

Because Nothing expands to fill the time available.

Nothing means that a visit to the bakery, a walk down to the Split to jump in the water, maybe buying some bananas from the fruit lady, maybe having a conversation with folks who turn out to be from the place you used to live in New Jersey, fills your whole day. And then you take a shower which is beyond pleasurable because you are hot and sticky, and cleanliness is so totally delicious you revel in it like it’s heaven. Showers are a wonder of the world; showers are worth swooning over.

The days are filled with less and less but are filled more and more. A big excursion is to find the place where seahorses hang out. That can take hours … and it’s only a five-minute walk away. No wonder the motto of Caye Caulker is “Go Slow.”

Because Nothing expands to fill the time available.

It rains every day, but you realize that as long as you’re in a bathing suit, it doesn’t matter. It is perfectly easy to swim in the rain, even to get caught in a downpour in a bathing suit.

And when you made a mistake and left the umbrella at the ice cream lady, your to-do list the next day is only “walk down to ice cream lady.” If she’s not there till 4, somehow your day moves along till 4. Maybe you were watching seahorses or pelicans or wondering why the mud on that one road is green, and next thing you knew, it was 4:00.

Because Nothing expands to fill the time available.

Now that I’m back in the land of This Thing and That Thing and Too Many Other Things, I appreciate the true value of Nothing. I need to keep it in my life.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Her and I can't be friends.

Her and I can’t be friends.

Oh, there are so many reasons why! First of all, her can never be the subject of a sentence. That’s reserved for she. Her can only be an object, as in “I’m not friends with her.” Secondly, her and I can’t do things together. They can’t appear in a sentence together like that. Ever.

If there’s her, then her friend has to be me. “Mary went to the store with her and me.” Both objects.

Only “she and I can be friends.” Subjects together. Happily.

I promised here, once before, that I do NOT correct other people’s grammar. But this is a story about being in my Third Third and suddenly confronting a revolution in the English language.

It’s everywhere! In movies, on radio, on TV: “Her and I went on vacation.” “Him and I missed the bus.” But this is the real horror: I shared this discovery with my daughter, who prides herself on her grammar, too. And she said, “I say that, too. I’d never use it in writing, but I do use it in spoken English. Sometimes I even say, ‘Me and her went out to eat.’”

Aiiiieeee! Me and her can’t do that!

Am I failing to evolve?

Why am I suddenly feeling like the supports of civilization are crumbling? I could handle it when Mick Jagger cried, “I can’t get no satisfaction!” No part of me wanted to counter, “Mick, it should be ‘I can’t get any satisfaction.’” It was a song lyric; it wasn’t spoken English. It’s to dance to, not to talk like. It’s not role-model English.

But role-model English appears to be right up there with walking to school and penmanship.

Am I showing my Third Third-ism?

I have another one: explainer. “Explainer” made its appearance and rapidly multiplied like rabbits. Even on NPR, they introduce “explainers” to clarify something that’s in the news. The explainer is not a person; the explainer is the explanation. See? There was a perfectly good word – explanation. If you don’t understand gravitational waves, then you just need an explanation, not some new-fangled explainer.

Listen to me! Soon I’m going to be talking about the length of skirts.

Speaking of which, didn’t women learn that miniskirts were a restrictive, restraining hassle requiring too much squirming and readjusting – why did they come back again? But I digress….

I know that we don’t say “thee” and “thou” in regular old English anymore. I know that languages change over time. I know Shakespeare invented a ton of words, and Lewis and Clark misspelled mosquito a dozen different ways. I have no problem with changes to their English, but this is my English. Am I upholding standards … or failing to evolve?

Some of my supposedly good English could be wrong. Like how I spent almost my whole lifetime thinking that dilemma was spelled dilemna, with an “n” like condemn. I shudder to think of places I must have used that. I bet I even argued with someone about it. I bet I even taught someone else my version!

A few years back, I started noticing the word woken in books, when I thought the only right way to say it was awakened. Who would ever say “You have woken the patient” rather than “You have awakened the patient”?

Turns out there are really four different verbs about opening your eyes after sleeping: awake, wake, awaken, and waken. When things go into origins in Old English, ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ verbs, transitive and intransitive, my eyes glaze over. I have my grammar limits. Ultimately, they advise going with what sounds right. Like, for instance, only woken or woke can go with up. One person suggested he “would go with ‘I was done woke up by that there alarm clock.’”

I laughed at that because it’s a joke. Because it’s funny.

Me and him might have the same sense of humor.

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