Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Prodigal Cat

We have had a feline crisis of sorts around here.  Half of the Turd Brothers went missing.  The Frank half.  Both of these cats go in and out all the time so I was not aware that Frank was AWOL until Mark brought it to my attention that two days had gone by without a Frank sighting.  When two more days had gone by I began to worry about the guy out there in the cold.

We decided not to let Mallory know that under our care the cat population had diminished by 50%, so at dinner last Sunday Maggie asked me on the down low if Mallory knew what was going on.  I shook my head "no" while Will blurted out, "Hey, Mal, did you know that we can't find Frank anywhere?"

So much for keeping secrets.

"What???" she yelled.  "What do you mean Frank is gone?  How long has he been gone?"

Four days, dearie.

"Well, what are you guys doing about it?"

We're worrying that's what we're doing.

"Yeah, but like a plan.  What's your plan to find him and bring him back?"

Oh honey, we have never been planners.  You know that..........we're wingers.

"There is a cat missing.  Plans need to be made here."

She was right and I thought about going to the rental house a few doors away.  We're a little familiar with that family.  When we had our other cat the girl that lived there liked him so much she picked him up and brought him home.  Mal had her suspicions that Beamer was blatantly kidnapped, and so the next day Mark knocked on their door and said to the dad, "Yeah, I think you've got our cat."

"We don't have a cat here," the dad said.

"Yeah, I think you do," Mark said and the case was busted wide open when a meow came from the bedroom of the alleged kidnapper.

This was running through my mind after Mal left and so I looked at Pip and said, "C'mon, find your brother.  Be useful for once in your life."  Pip seemed content to be King of the Cats around here and would stalk fluttering leaves like the half-wit that he is without the slightest idea that he was being kicked out of the house to comb the neighborhood for signs of his brother.

He is gone for good, I thought.  Swooped up by an owl, chased to another zip code by a fox, run away to a better home.

We were sad.  Not that I'd want either of them to lead the gypsy life, but of the two Frank is the least annoying.  Pip will bug the shit out of you all day long until you're screaming WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME like he's some kind of bad boyfriend that keeps showing up drunk, needy and crying with a pee stain on the front of his pants.

Not that I've ever had first hand experience with that.

Mal came home to spend the night on Saturday, and night owl that she is she heard a single meow at 2:00 a.m. at the back door.  Ten days after he left you-know-who came back to his girl.

The Frank Whisperer.

Pip gave him a cat bath after his long journey abroad and our wanderer napped most of the weekend.

On the clean shirts right out of the dryer.


Sunday, October 27, 2013


The first person I met in this neighborhood was Marie who lived next door.  Because we had closed on the house and had until the end of the month to leave our apartment, I would come every morning with a load of stuff - Maggie and Will in tow.  They loved our new empty new house and would run around exploring while I worked on getting things set up.  After a couple of hours we would leave to take Maggie to afternoon kindergarten and return again the next day.

Marie was standing in her driveway one morning when I pulled up.  "Hello new neighbors," she yelled over and the kids and I went to meet this woman.

It didn't take long for her to become a mainstay in my life......the older surrogate mom while my own mother and mother-in-law were very far away.  She would come over often, sometimes to visit or to show me some new clothing purchase.  If we were working in the yard she'd tell us to take a break because we were making her tired just looking at us.

She had many friends and when she would go to lunch with them she could never fasten her favorite bracelet and so would appear at my door in her long red skirt and ask me to help her with the clasp.  After my mom met her she said, "Those tall women can wear anything they want and look like a million bucks."  In Marie's case, this was very true.

Marie had raised two boys alone in the house next door long before we arrived, and during a time when that was far from being a common experience.  At one point in her life she was the private nurse for Harry Truman after his presidency when he came back to Missouri. 

Mark and I found her fascinating and could listen to her stories over and over.

She was raised in Atchison, Kansas and had a deep knowledge of antiques.  When a local place was going out of business I put a hold on a pine cabinet and drove home to get Marie who couldn't be happier to go on this adventure.  "Tell me what you honestly think," I said.  "I'll only buy it if you think it's worth it."  She gave her blessing and every time she'd come over she would admire our mutually agreed-upon purchase.

Sometimes she would call us up and say, "I've got his bottle of wine that I can't open so why don't the two of you come over and help me out with it."  And we would sit at her dining room table and talk and laugh over a glass of wine.

For a short while one of her sons moved back home and the two of them wore a path between their house and ours.  They each found the other incredibly annoying, so Mike would come over and complain to Mark about Marie, and Marie would come over and complain to me about Mike.

We were amused.

One day Marie came over very distraught.  Someone who said they were from the water department came to her door to check some things out and she let them in.  While they were in her house she became suspicious and thankfully, got them out before anything happened.  She called the police and by dinner time was on the local news being interviewed about this water department scam that seemed to be preying on the elderly.

She became nervous and afraid after that and I noticed some other things that didn't seem like her.  I mentioned them to Mark who said her confusion was a sign of aging and that she seemed to be fine to him.  I wasn't so sure and would later learn that women are especially good at covering up memory issues unless you're around them often enough to figure it out.

A few weeks after that we were walking down the street to a graduation party for a neighbor's son when I noticed Marie a few doors away.  We went up to her and though she was going to the same party, she couldn't figure out where it was.  Her confusion was evident and disturbing to her and us.

After that I called her son, Dan, who lived close by.  "It is none of my business," I said, "but she seems very forgetful and we're worried about her.  We are all keeping our eye out for her but I thought you should know."

He was already aware of her lapses in memory and in the process of taking her car away which made my heart sink.  No more lunches with friends?  No trips to Macy's for something fabulous to wear when she went out?   No going to church?

I was already mourning Marie's independence.

As time went on she would often come over to get Mark for help with her washing machine.  "The darn thing keeps breaking down," she said to him, but in fact she would set it and never pull the knob out to start it.  Once she came and got me in tears because the numbers on the refrigerator wouldn't stop going around.  It was her dishwasher running its cycle, and rather than explain that I just shut it off which seemed to relieve her greatly.   Besides those things, my neighbor with the impeccable fashion sense started making odd clothing choices.  Wool sweaters in the Kansas heat in July, and layers of clothes that would make me sweat just looking at her.

It was obvious that staying in her home was not going to last for much longer.

Dan came over and told us that Marie had Alzheimer's and would be going into assisted living by the end of the month.  They were packing up what they could to make her new residence feel like home and selling off the rest.

The day before Marie was to leave I went over to my old friend's house and invited her over for a glass of wine.  "Just like the old days, Marie." 

This time Marie had no Harry Truman stories to engage us with, just a nervousness that wouldn't go away.  We talked about being neighbors for such a long time, and that we promised to see her in her new place when she got settled.  She had a piece of pie and took her wine with her when I walked her home.  By mid-morning the following day she was gone.

I dragged my feet going to see her and when I ran out of excuses and was but five minutes from the place on another errand, I pointed the car in the direction of my friend.  There was beautiful Marie sitting in the lobby with another woman and I was so happy to see her I could have cried.

"Sit, sit," she said.  "What do you think of the place?  Do you know I can have coffee whenever I want?  It's just right over there.  Would you like me to pour you a cup?

Always the hostess, our Marie.

"Have you ever met my son, Dan?  He comes by to check on me a few times a week."

"As a matter of fact, Marie, I know Dan pretty well," I said.

"Oh yes, of course you do.  I forgot."

We sat for awhile catching up and then she took me upstairs to see her new place.  There were all the familiar things that were in her house for years.  The chair I always sat in when I went to visit her, the framed paintings of family owned farms in Atchison, the bedroom set that had been handed down for generations.

"I like it, Marie," I said.  It looks like you have everything you need."

"Are you kidding me," she said.  "Sometimes I want to call a cab and tell them to take me back to 71st Terrace, the best street in the world."

"I know.  Aren't you glad we found our way there?"

"71st Terrace I would say to the cab driver if one pulled up right now.  Take me back there as fast as you can."

"Well, Marie, I think you're in good hands here and I need to be going.  The kids will be getting out of school soon and I have to pick them up."

"Oh, the children, how are they?"  I miss them so," she said.

"They are just fine and and they miss you, too," I said.  "Things haven't been the same since you left."

She walked me out and I hugged her when it was time to leave.

"I'm so glad you came," she said.

"Me too, Marie.  Me too."

"You have a great husband and kids, don't you?"

"I do.  I'm lucky that way."

 "I thought so and now you get to go back to 71st Terrace.  Maybe I should go with you."

"Oh Marie, I'd get in a lot of trouble if I did that but maybe Dan can bring you over one day for a visit."

"I would love that.  I'm going to talk to him about that.  About taking me to see my old friends, but before you go tell me is it that I know you?"

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Row H

Last week Will, Mallory and I went to see Sara Bareilles.  Will and I saw her six years ago which you can read about here.

She is beautiful, funny, talented, adorable, worth every cent.

Will got the tickets from a free app called Seat Geek.  He and Mallory went into a lengthy explanation of this app and how I can download it on my if I was their age and knew what they were talking about. 

I did not.

Because of this app Will was able to get us seats on the floor for only $23.00 each.  That's my boy.  When we got there the rows were marked but not the seats so we were a bit confused.  We thought we were supposed to sit on the end but there was a nerdy, young kid with a fro bigger than mine sitting there by himself and he wasn't moving.  Or talking.  Or making eye contact.  Turns out we were on the opposite end which was likely a relief to this kid who looked like he wanted no company.  Especially chatty company like the three of us.

Just before the concert started I was scrolling Facebook on my phone and found out my neighbor was there.  I left a comment "hey, me too" with our location.  A few minutes later she showed up.  The seats in front of us were empty so she texted her sister and they watched the concert right in front of us.

Yeah!!!  Neighbors at the concert!

Finally Sara Bee came out and did her thing and she was so freaking amazing.  She told the story behind many of the songs she wrote and I loved her even more.  She played the piano, the guitar, she sang with a voice from God and danced across the stage.

As the pace of the music picked up during the concert, everybody got up to sing and dance along and that's when things went downhill for me.  I didn't know how to dance.  I thought doing the whoop, whoop dancey thing over my head would obstruct the view of the people behind me and so I had no idea what to do with my arms.

They were like brand new appendages that had been stapled on for the night.  Creaky, stiff and never been used.

I watched Mal the dancer but that wasn't much help as she's a little advanced.  Will was having a blast but I couldn't see his moves well enough to replicate them so I settled for my neighbor's sister who I don't even know.

Yes, yes, that's what I'll do.  I will dance like her tonight.......which I did in an uptight hey-don't-move-so-fast-I'm-copying-you kind of way.  During my fake dancing, I wondered if the guy with the fro and shorts (even though it was freezing that night) sitting at the other end of the row was having as much trouble as me moving his arms to the music.  Or maybe he knew that was beyond his skill set and wasn't even trying.   

Note to self.

The review of the concert in the paper was gushing and said of Sara, "Her enthusiastic dancing during the electronica of Eden was endearingly awkward."

Good thing the reviewer never let his eyes wander from the stage and the star of the show because the two fans flanking Row H were grooving to all kinds of major awkward.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Business 101

When I was going to school at night I took an accounting class.

It. Was. So. Hard.

I remember spending hours on a Sunday afternoon doing a spread sheet for homework and could not find my mistake.  I felt like ripping it up and stomping on it, but just when I was about to give up I found my transposed number and VOILA........we balanced Mission Control.  Now I have a job doing accounting and often daily it feels hard.  It was a failure of my imagination to think that the debit/credit/fixed assets/prepaid expenses mumbo jumbo that made me soooo crazy would rear its confusing head and park itself in my life years later. 

If I am keying something in at work and the numbers don't jive, a big, red WARNING WILL ROBINSON will appear on the screen saying, "Girrrrrrrl, you can't do that cuz that just doesn't add up.  Now put your thinking cap on and try again."  Then I have to find my mistake.  Often it's an easy fix but if it isn't I stare at the screen and whisper in desperation, "Come to Mama."  

It is my secret accounting tactic from back in the day.

Prior to my accounting class I took Business 101.  Halfway through the semester the teacher missed our weekly class and it was cancelled.  For the night school student who has come from work to finish her degree this is like manna from heaven. 

When he came back he apologized for his absence and said, "I had a death in the family and that's why I couldn't be here last week.  It was my father," he said stopping to control his emotions.  "He had been sick for awhile and his death was not unexpected, but now I am an orphan.  I am a 46 year old orphan and I'm not sure I know how to find my way now that both of my parents are gone.  I'm trying to figure that out so please bear with me for awhile."

And we did just that while he taught on his wobbly feet.

My accounting background might have gotten me this job and on rare occasions I can recall some of those lessons, but it is the words my teacher spoke that Monday night in Business 101 that have forever been seared into my memory. 

It is the only thing I remember from that class.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Safety Nets & Coworkers

My first retail job was at Petite Sophisticates nearly two decades ago.  I shopped there frequently and one day the manager came up to me and said, "I like your style and we are looking to add to our staff.  Would you be interested in working here?"

The rest is my service industry history.

The assistant manager was a woman named Dorothy.  She was a retired nurse and this was her 2nd career- a welcome departure from the stress of caring for sick people.

One day Dorothy told me about her life.  She had five kids and was married to an abusive man.  When the abuse kept escalating she went to her parish priest for advice and counsel and permission to leave this man.  The priest said to her, "If you leave him you will become a divorced woman and you will go to hell."  She stayed until one day he kicked her down the stairs and held a shotgun to her head.  "That was the day," she said, "when I decided that my chances in hell were better than my chances with him."

Many years later I worked with a woman who was subjected to such verbal and psychological abuse at the hands of an ex-boyfriend that she would shake in fear when the store phone rang.

There are many other examples over the years of woman I have worked with that live on the edge.  Thankfully, the abuse stories are not the norm but the scraping by certainly is.  The ones who are consistently kept under forty hours week after week so the company doesn't have to pay them health insurance.  The ones who juggle several jobs to make their rent.

They are the woman who know that a car accident, an illness, a root canal or a cut in hours will put them under a pile of bills that they might never recover from.  They rob Peter to pay Paul and come to work sick because that is all they know how to do.

I have loved these woman and it has been my honor to work along side them.

One time I told one of my friends about a situation with one of my coworkers and she said, "Well, why doesn't she just take some money out of her savings account or get a loan from the bank?"

It doesn't work that way.

I have worked most of my life.  Getting out of the suburbs with the cars and vacations, the home remodels and relentless faux problems and into the real world was the best thing that has ever happened to me.  As my mom said years ago when we left the comfort and security of our Catholic grade school for an integrated high school that closed every spring because of racial strife, "Kids, you need to see how other people live."  For the time being, my retail career is over but I miss it and those women.  I miss their guts, their perseverance, their example of putting one foot in front of the other and praying your way through the latest crisis.

I miss their stories most of all because when you know the uninsured, the single mom and the underemployed - when you work next to them eight hours a day, week after week unpacking boxes, hauling trash, moving fixtures, steaming clothes, smiling and waiting on customers when their burdens are so heavy that they could sit and cry at any given moment..........

When you know all that you cannot hear one more time that somehow these are the people who have milked the system.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fall Around The House

Despite my mishaps in decorating our bedroom, I really do love to fluff the nest.  I have entertained the idea of home decor employment forever, but I figured I'd end up being the lame front door person that said "Welcome to Pottery Barn," 10,000 times to people who ignored me.

I see myself as more the photo stylist for the catalog shoots.

Doesn't everybody?

A couple of times a year a friend pays me to come over and give her a decorating consult.  We have identical houses and she tells me the results she wants and then we brainstorm about paint, furniture placement, art, accessories.......  I love it and the reason I can tell is because I talk really fast and get louder as I get more excited.  She likes it because, like her, I can't drop a ton of money to get the look I want and therefore think way outside of the box stores.

Several people I know have downsized in the last few months.  Significantly, and I have been mulling that idea around.  Our house is already small so going smaller isn't exactly what I was thinking, but perhaps living with less stuff.  I have floated this idea to Mark but he has found it impossible to part with anything except his fat clothes after he lost a bunch of weight.

I told my friend about this and she said, "Well, I see your house very differently than you do.  When I look at your house I see a surprise wherever I look."

I came home with a different attitude and I haven't given up on living with less but I am rather attached to my surprises......especially in October.

Happy fall.  Happy cold mornings.  Happy leaves.  Happy sweaters.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The October Present

When Will was a toddler he was a holy terror or maybe he was just being a boy.  I'm not sure but he wore me out.

Then all of a sudden he stopped and that kid could entertain himself for hours.  He would go in the basement and you wouldn't see him until dinnertime.  Down there with his Playmobil and Legos he'd be building and tearing apart and building again.

He'd make roads from construction paper and scotch tape them all over the floor.  I started to hide the tape from him and dole it out on request because I could never find it when I needed it.

Once when we were at a doctor's appointment for his asthma we waited in the examining room for well over an hour.  I thought they forgot about us and was getting antsy but Will entertained himself the entire time with a paper clip.

When he was about twelve and in the basement he discovered that one of the local radio stations played jazz on Saturday night.

He became a jazz fan in the 6th grade.  Sometimes if I were picking him up from somewhere he'd say, "Let's turn on the jazz, Mom."

Today our jazz fan, interior designer, charming, funny Will turns 23 and it has gone by so much faster than I would have liked (except for when he would climb on the table and swing the light fixture back and forth).

Happy Birthday Will.

Watching you discover and march to the beat of your own drum has been my joy.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Clavicle Incident

The Big Daddy started biking to work twelve years ago as a way to get in shape.  He would come home from the five mile ride and sit on the stairs hacking and clutching his chest.  I'd stand at the ready.....scooping up plates of Prison Food for dinner with one hand and the cordless phone in the other in case I needed to call 9-1-1.

After awhile he got into shape, started taking this biking thing more seriously and participated in more rides than just back and forth to work.  There were charity rides, weekend rides, the 75th St. brewery ride, the Blue Moose ride, the Brookside group, the PV ride, the Ride ride..............

And I'd about had it with the rides.

One morning after the kids had gone to school and I was getting ready for work, he came downstairs in some of that ridiculous spandex he'd started wearing and said, "Yeah, some guys asked me to ride tonight so I won't be home for dinner."

What????  Again???  Who asked you?  What guys?  I want names.

"Oh, you know Cliff and a couple of other guys."

They didn't ask you.  You went trolling for riders.  That's what you do.  You go all over town looking for rides to go on.

"That's crazy.  I don't do that, besides it's just going to be a short ride."

You're never here.  We never sit down and have a decent dinner any more.  You. Are. Never. Here. And. What. Are. You. Going. To. Do. About. That?

He went to work.  I might have called him names after the door closed.  No, wait, now that I think about it I'm pretty sure he was still in the room when I called him names.

I stormed off to work and fumed most of the day about this ride he was going on.  At 5:30 he showed up at the store - very apologetic and willing to skip the ride and start dinner.  I was so happy to have a decent meal when I got home that I said, "You start dinner.  Everything is there for chili.  Get it going and then meet your friends for your ride."

Winning!  Marriage saved, he gets a night ride with friends, we have chili for dinner, and the kids don't have to worry about an evil stepmother - just their familiar, predictable evil mother.

For the next hour and a half at work I salivated just thinking about that chili simmering at home and when I walked in the door the smell did not disappoint. 

The kids told me that some guy had called numerous times and I was to call him back right away.  I looked at the number, didn't recognize it and said, "Okay, as soon as I have a bowl of chili."

I lifted the lid and the phone rang.

It was the police department.  Mark had flown off the front of his bike and was hurt.  Not bad the cop said, and he refused the ambulance but he should probably go to the emergency room.  He told me how to get to where he was and pick him up.

It took awhile because I got lost which happens as soon as I pull out of the driveway.

When I finally got to him, we put his banged up body in the front seat and his bike in the back.  "He passed out," one of his friends told me.  "He says he's fine but he needs to get looked at just in case."

We went to the emergency room of the medical center he's worked at for twenty years.  The shiny, new multi-million dollar new ER that had been opened for all of two days.  This would not be the ideal time to visit an ER with a non-life threatening injury.

Nobody seemed to know where anything was......essential ER things like an xray machine to look at the collarbone that was sticking up, and all I wanted was to hurry this thing along so we could go home and have some chili.

When multiple attempts to find an xray machine failed, it was decided that Mark would have to go to the old part of the hospital for the xray and a wheelchair was ordered.  "I'm fine," he said,  "I can walk."

"Yeah, he's fine," I said.  "He can walk cuz we need to get home and have some chili."  Nobody said anything, not even a polite chuckle but I was serious.  If him walking meant getting out of there sooner and going home to a bowl of chili well, let's do it.  Better yet I thought, his bike is in the back of my car.  Maybe he could ride it to this random xray department.  After all, he still had his spandex on.

After much deliberation and the curtain opening and closing around him a dozen times, a wheelchair arrived and we went to some abandoned, empty part of the hospital with one xray room.  "I'll be back," the kid pushing the chair said.

"No, no.  Just wait here with us.  He'll be done in no time and then we can all go back down together and he can get a cast or a sling or a cane and then we can go home.  We can.  We can go home real soon if you'll just stay here.




He left.

Mark got the xray and it was confirmed that his collarbone was indeed broken.  We sat in the hallway for nearly an hour waiting for the kid who dumped us there to come back and get us.

Finally I said, "That's it.  I'm pushing you back myself.  We're not waiting here another minute."

"Do you even know where you're going?" Mark asked.

"No," I said unlocking the brake.  "I have never known where I'm going.  That's my mission statement in life.  No plan.  No direction.  No clue."

The Wheelchair Pusher showed up just then.

We went back to our curtained ER room and waited for a doctor nurse resident med student anybody to advise us so we could be on our merry way.  When a doctor-like person finally arrived for the final curtain opening he said, "It's a broken collarbone.  There's not much we do for those these days.  We'll give you some pain pills, a brace if you want one and that's it.  It will heal on its own."

And I started to seriously lose it. "What???  Are you kidding me?  We've been here all night for that???  I missed chili for something that will heal on its own!"

"There, there," Mark said wincing as he got up.  "You're going to be just fine in no time."

We stopped at the hospital pharmacy (which was only slightly faster than the ER), got some pain pills and I drove us home nice and slow so as not to upset the cracked collarbone.  At midnight, with my coat still on I sat down and ate a bowl of crusty, overcooked chili that I scraped from the bottom of the pot.

Mr. Tour de Shoulder Smash sat at the table grinning in his slinged arm.  Missing were his glasses which had flown off his head as he was falling and were subsequently run over by the ambulance.  I gave him the stinkeye for ruining what was supposed to be the saving-the-marriage-dinner.

By then the Percocet had kicked in and he winked back.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Playing With Fire

I went with Maggie and Will to the mall last Saturday.  It was a chilly, rainy day so that meant 10,000 other people had the same idea.

I'm not really much of a mall person these days.  A shopper?  Oh yes, with my insecurities I'll take some of that retail therapy, but my comfort zone has diminished to a few miles and the mall is a few miles past my few miles.

The mall is too much for me........a sensory overload of baked potatoes, pretzels, piped in happy music and Seacret Spa and electronic cigarette stalkers.

We went to the new H & M and the place was packed.  I found a sweater and it was exactly what I've been looking for.  V-neck, oversized, weekend wear but the kids thought $25.00 was too much.  You could get that at the thrift store for a whole lot less, they told me.   

FYI, kids, I buy plenty at the thrift store, but ever since you two started popping tags you're acting like you're my mother, who by the way wouldn't be caught dead in a thrift store.

I ignored them, sang some Hard For The Money and made my purchase.

Will had some guy things to do had to get away from us so Maggie and I went to Sephora which is kind of like taking a gambler to Harrah's.

Sweet Jeezus, I love that place. 

As soon as I walk in I see the potential for a whole new unwrinkled me with big eyelashes, perfect brows, pouty lips, striking cheekbones.  When somebody hands me a cute, little Sephora basket and I place it over my arm, I instantly feel like Audrey Hepburn.

I tend to lose track of what I'm there for if you know what I'm saying.

The buzzy highs I get when I walk in the door start to feel like ringing in my ears at the register.  I try to keep my voice from sounding shrill and shaky when the associate tells me the total.  "How much did you say that was?" my inquiring mind asks.  And when she repeats the same amount I say, "Ummmm, could you just tell me what each thing costs cuz I might have to put something back."

Did I mention I am sweating? 


She repeats the same number for the third time and then says, "Did you know you've reached 100 points and qualify for a gift?"

B. I. N. G. O.

Oh girl............

Home alone opening my teeny, little black and white bag with my microscopic free gift wrapped in red tissue paper, the harsh reality sets in.  I have done significant damage to my just deposited paycheck. 

I pout.

With an awesome new lip liner.