Lucky 13th Floor

The lounge at the end of the hall, just doors down from my graduate dorm room became our living room on Thursday nights.  My budding friend group that first year of grad school united for one hour faithfully to watch Hill Street Blues, one of the most popular TV shows that year, 1983.  Remember watching a TV program on a specific day and time? Remember watching one episode a week?  I was not much on crime dramas despite growing up watching Murder, She Wrote and Columbo with my parents who still enjoy watching the seediest characters meet justice. What I did enjoy was the camaraderie,  the ritual of gathering on the couches, giving ourselves an hour off of the evening’s studies.  One night Mark and Robin were sitting on the couch rather close.  Just college kids cozying up with one another, perhaps missing the intimacy of leaning against a parent’s shoulder while enjoying a TV program.  I thought nothing of it… that is until I noticed they were holding hands.  When had my two friends become a couple?  What a funny way to  communicate their happy news. Come to think of it…they had been getting friendlier… Raised eyebrows caused them to giggle and spill.  Two friends becoming more…certainly not the first time.  

Mark and Robin married a few years later.  Though we lost touch the years following grad school,  I hope they have been a happy couple, well suited for a lifetime together, perhaps even sharing with their kids the story of the night in the lounge when they “told” their friends.                                                            

I Swear!

It was Ethan (a competitive swimmer, taller than his teachers) whose push sent Johnny (think Owen Meany) reeling to the ground. This happened outside the classroom this week…many witnesses.  Yet, what precipitated the action is unclear. What is clear is that Ethan was not initially involved.  He thought Emily was being hassled and came to her rescue.  Rescue?   

Two very eager students wished to share their eye witness accounts. During class Will came to me and whispered what he saw.  

“…Then Johnny said, ‘What the hell?’  Huh? No apologetic look for swearing in front of his teacher…the phrase just rolling off his tongue…apparently deemed  ok if you are repeating what someone else said.

At the end of class, Dean offered to join the combative trio at lunch to offer his account.

Not waiting, he launched, “Emily fell into Johnny, not sure if she tripped on Johnny’s feet.  Then Johnny said, ‘What the hell?’

There it was again.  

What the hell?

That’s three students in under an hour.  

What the hell?  spoken like it’s just part of their lexicon…like they have been saying it for years, not the slightest hint of guilt or even pleasure.

They’re 10!

It’s not that I’m not a fan of What the hell?  I love phrases that can carry different meanings in different situations.  What the hell?  used as John did to communicate…What did you do that for?  Or, better, the whimsical What the hell?  when you’re invited to go out to dinner after you already made yourself a tuna sandwich.

Are you wondering why I am more concerned about What the hell? than I am about students arguing and shoving?  Well, no one was hurt; each was culpable…I think…You can never be too sure. Pushing and shoving?  Old news.  This loosening of our tongues at such a tender age…I need to think about this some more…

Or, maybe I should just go with the flow.  What the hell?

It’s Gonna Be a Long Ride

My parents drove me to the local Greyhound station to begin my 804 mile journey to grad school just shy of forty years ago.  I didn’t want them to splurge on an airline ticket, and I didn’t want to spend my hard earned summer savings.  I suppose a bus ticket from the east coast to the midwest was considerably cheaper than flying in the 80’s. The trip was at least 24 hours due to a few lengthier stops along the way.  Fortunately, not too many transfers.  I was ill prepared for this trip.  In my duffel bag was a can of Planter’s dry roasted peanuts, that’s it.  I most vividly recall a layover of perhaps a half hour in Harrisburg, PA in the middle of the night. I didn’t want to get off the bus for fear I would miss it.  However, I longed to stretch my legs and breath in some fresh air. I did get off but never let that bus out of my sight. 

What’s most interesting to me about this memory is that my very protective parents went along with this plan.  Clearly, no cell phones to monitor progress along the way.  They simply assumed that I would be safe.  My mother, who brings sandwiches, snacks and water bottles for hour long trips, did not send me off with provisions for a 24 hour trip.  What was going on?  When I arrived at my destination, I called home to let my parents know I arrived safely.  I likely shared tales of my travels, a little hyperbole for effect.  They reminded me that they were heading on vacation the next day.  It wasn’t until years later they admitted that this was planned to purposely coincide with the start of grad school. They remembered with great detail how frequently I called my freshman year and knew that I was in for another bumpy transition. (It was…but short lived.)  Was this their version of tough love?  Or, was parenting simply very different when I was growing up?  Perhaps they thought at 22, I was ready to be treated like an adult and could handle the discomfort.  Neither they or I  could know that on that day, rolling down route 80, I began a greater journey, two of the happiest years of my life.  

Not in My Wildest Dreams

I’m not much for analyzing my dreams, but I do think there might be something to the recurring dream.  My friend Stephanie and I share the recurring dream of heading to an exam we didn’t study for…Maybe we haven’t even been attending classes… Further, we didn’t even know we registered for the class!   Both of us, with our control issues,  do not care for this dream.  The scary recurring dreams are the ones where danger lurks, and it’s time to move…quickly, yet my legs won’t.  It’s as if I am stuck in slow motion.  I told my daughter, Elise (a psychology major) that I have a recurring dream that I am in a new house and upon wandering discover new rooms, not ordinary rooms but rooms that are large and usually furnished  elaborately.  It was the first time I had articulated this to anyone. After our conversation I got curious and googled “dreams about extra rooms in houses.”  To my delight it is “a thing.” I texted Elise: Extra rooms in a house= unexplored aspects of self.  She was underwhelmed…as anyone in their early 20’s would be as self exploration is their current journey. Pleased with this analysis, I read no further. I imagine my subconscious saying, you have aspects of yourself, at the ripe old age of 60, that you have yet to explore. That’s rather exciting.  Now, to figure out what they are.

Breakfast in Bed

When my children were young, I never dreamed that there would be mornings like this…

As an empty nester for a good part of the year, I have developed a weekend morning routine which suits me just fine, especially in winter.  I do not set my alarm. I let the sunlight tell me the time. Upon waking, I prop myself up on my backrest pillow and reach for my book.  I lean across the nightstand to pull back the curtains for some extra light.  If necessary, I will put on my bedside lamp.  I read and read until I am hungry and ready for coffee.  Usually a need to visit the restroom also prompts me to emerge from under layers of comfy covers.  I pad my way into the kitchen, happy to stay in a groggy state, to make a pot of coffee and my favorite breakfast of yogurt, fruit and granola.  I will do a few kitchen chores while the coffee percolates. With the yogurt in one hand and a large cup of coffee in the other, I  scurry back under the covers.  Voila, breakfast in bed.  I continue to read and enjoy my breakfast.  More pages turned,and I begin to consider the rest of my day but then decide instead for a second cup of coffee while dropping the dirty dish in the sink.  Back to read just one more chapter. 

Writing Class and First Love

The expository writing class my junior year was held in a tiny classroom; the small class seated around an oblong table. Professor Rivers had seriously wounded my fragile ego the previous semester by suggesting I take one of her writing classes.  Writing literary essays about early American literature was a challenge for this English major. A literary essay required a deep understanding of a challenging text and the ability to articulate and defend a thesis in a scholarly and original manner. I sought her guidance.  “I’m going to be a writer,” I explained to her, my dreams of a byline in the NY Times fading. Please tell me that I have not chosen my life’s work based on the fact that I have kept diaries since I was old enough to write.

I looked forward to the writing exercises and the variety of genres Professor River asked us to compose for each class. One day I began to pay a little more attention to a chatty classmate, Dick.  He was witty, uninhibited and exuded warmth. Living the writerly life, I would pen letters to friends back home.  In response to Carolyn’s letter asking if I was interested in anyone, I mentioned Dick.  

“Have you talked to him?”  Um…

 “Well, just say ‘hello’ the next time you see him.”  Imagine needing to be told this? I promptly tried this strategy in the next day’s class. 

“Hi,” I said casually while we both unpacked our notebooks. He didn’t respond, didn’t look up.  I would not be deterred. The next day, I tried a little louder. This time I would actually look in his direction.

“Good morning,” I projected. This time I got a response and a smile.  

The following class, I happened to follow Dick out of the building.  He held the door open and said,’ I liked your sentence about rear engine cars,”  referring to a complete-the-sentence class exercise.

I laughed, “I don’t know anything about rear engine cars.” 

“Me neither.  But, I think you’re right.  They probably are more dangerous.”  

Dick and I became friends. I wanted more. I fell very hard. For the first time I experienced true heartache. Dick was a person who lived his life out loud and this introvert was drawn like a magnet to his big personality.  Dick went to all boys’ Catholic high school;  kicked the soccer ball; played guitar and composed songs with catchy lyrics; let me interview him for my journalism class; had brillo pad hair (said my friends) wore corduroys and flannel shirts; told me I wasn’t like the other girls; hung around the basketball team, drank too much beer on Thursday nights at the bar; kissed me on the cheek unexpectedly and sadly left school the following semester.  I remember him as my first love.

Browsing

I went to the library today..I  strode through the automatic sliding doors to enter my home-away-from-home, my sanctuary. I  am going to browse. Oh, ecstasy!  No brown to-go bag with my name scrolled in black Sharpie sitting alphabetically on the tables outside.

I signed in, name and phone number, with a pen,  then was directed to place the pen in the “used pen” cup. The ceiling high Plexiglas separated the library staff  from patrons…a new staff member and I struggled to communicate. The comfy chairs were pushed against the wall, taped paper signs read, “Due to COVID…” There was no money to be exchanged to pay my fines.  I laughed to myself; the precautions taken at my library far exceed those at my school of 300 plus students.  Despite the restrictions, I was allowed to roam the stacks,  free to wander. I strolled down the aisles alone pausing and recalling titles read. I filled my arms with books, many more than I can possibly read in three weeks time, but like a kid in a candy shop with no limit,  I indulged.  I  forgot what it felt like to browse. 

What it Feels Like to Be the Struggling Student. I don’t Like It.

We dissected the seven pages of the Middlemarch Finale this evening for three hours and fifteen minutes.  I scribble the questions posed by my instructor in my notebook. Without this strategy, his questions evaporate into thin air.  It’s a moment only before a classmate boldly takes a stab. Listening carefully to other responses will bring clarity, prompting me to raise my timid hand.  I loved this novel (a Victorian page turner!) and I love Thursday nights with a group of curious, intelligent, introspective, humorous folks from around the country.  

Only I feel deficient. This novel study experience beckoned me, a former English major trying to make amends for four years of a less than stellar effort.  It seems the fewer the pages, the closer the reading, the more baffled I am.  The more pages, the more plot, the more I have to say about these complex and flawed characters living their lives in the provincial town of Middlemarch across 800 pages. 

Yet, I push myself to raise my hand, to share my thoughts, as raw and ill conceived as they may be. I am fortunate to have an instructor who responds to our theories.  Do I notice him encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone, to not accept the first thought I have?  Thank you, Noah.  You must be able to hear the tentativeness in my voice, even without knowing how very long it has been since I have found myself in a setting like this. 
I am pleased that my copy of the book is filled with notes in the margin, that I actually understand the plot and have some insights to share.  But, my limitations are so glaring…perhaps more pronounced in the Zoom setting.  In the Zoom setting, it feels important to speak in paragraphs of thought.  How different from my book club where we would sit around the coffee table and banter back and forth…Yet, I wasn’t looking for more book club talk….I sought novel study to quench my desire to build my interpretation skills. Perhaps I am building those skills; my deficit is my inability to articulate those thoughts with confidence and clarity.  I hasten to blame my life as an introvert but the teaching life refutes this. It is so important to me that I can comprehend, interpret and discuss a challenging text.  How do I improve my ability to do this? The only answer that comes to mind is practice. So, I return to the course offerings for the next 10 week session in order to continue this journey. How humbling, thinks this English teacher.

Baby Blankets

Before Rosa knew she was having a boy, I picked up a pretty blue yarn at a tag sale, the type of yarn that seems especially made for infants.  I debated a moment before the purchase but figured correctly that a dollar was worth the risk.  The weekend after Rosa confirmed that her intuition was correct..she was, in fact, having a boy,  only able to knit scarves, I showed my mother the yarn and asked her if she would knit Rosa’s baby a blanket. She told me that I knew little about how much yarn it took to make a blanket. 

“It’s a baby…it can be small.”  

“I could add a white trim around the edges to make it bigger.”  

I want Rosa and her son to have a blanket that can be pulled out of the closet many years from now, a blanket that may still carry the scent of a baby.  I want that blanket to remind her of the early days, weeks of being a first time mother: the exhaustion, the joy.  

“Mom, Rosa, had to wait for this baby…” My parents waited on me for five years, so I knew mom would knit some love and understanding into that blanket.  It is a sweet blanket, a little small, but one I hope will keep her sweet bundle warm.  I can’t wait to give it to her. 

A Character Sketch, A Birthday Wish to a Very Special Man

I have from a young age felt indebted to my father for his steadfast love. This summer  he and we celebrated his 90th birthday in a big circle on the front lawn. He wanted a simple celebration and perfectly simple it was: Italian subs, sangria and homemade ice cream cake.  As a young girl, I sent my dad corny sentimental cards for his birthday. He used to tease me about these cards, so I decided to leave the schmaltzy poetry behind but couldn’t resist a personalized card. So, I wrote this poem for my dad. Happy 90th year, Dad.  How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.  Oops…couldn’t help myself.

Happy Birthday to…

A man who has worn many hats and baseball caps over the years…

Oldest son of Mary and Joseph

Brother to Dorothy and the twins

Lifelong friendships first formed in elementary classrooms 

Stickball coach on the streets of Woodside

Reluctant artist at the textile high school

Dodgers fan at Ebbets Field

Who had to let go of a loving mother

A Marine who sent home letters from Camp LeJeune

Who met Nettie through ¨the gang¨

And moved his family to Norwalk to earned a living as a Traffic Manager

Offbeat sense of humor, tough love, boisterous sports fan, short fuse, sports car enthusiast

Farina making, costume designing, dog walking, note writing, briefcase carrying, hockey dad 

Baseball is Life and Everything Else is Details

Teller of stories with characters like Gil, Yogi, Lou, Jackie, Mickey, the Babe and Tom Terrific

Ranger blue seats, Jets disappointments, Mets pennant runs

Radio tuned to WFAN 

Little Pops counts beans, poaches eggs on Tuesdays, drinks 2/3rds a cup of decaf, and enjoys hours reading in the corner chair, glasses perched on the tip of his nose, glancing up with loving eyes, asking, Is it time for dinner?

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