Sunday, November 28, 2010

My mother was a Lady

We were in the midst of the first day of cleaning up somethings at my mothers house when my cousin Betty said that she would work on Mom's clothing while I started on the paperwork.  After about an hour, I got bored looking at the shopping bags of old bills, and I decided to tackle the master bathroom.

When Betty saw what I was doing, she got this alarmed look on face.

"What are you doing?" she asked with an odd urgency in her voice.

Betty came over to me and said "I'll take care of this, why don't you work in the office."

No, I felt I could do this, and I was tired of looking at papers.  After some back and forth, she got the idea that I couldn't be diverted, and then she said "I just don't want you to find anything that might upset you."

Having been through the past two months, losing my mother and then other stuff happening, I just said "Like?"

Betty, who has been like a sister to me said: "I just wanted to save you from finding something that would taint your memory of you mother."

Now I was really confused. 

Did she know something about my Mom that I didn't know?  Evidently I had a look on my face that was like someone had just smacked me upside my head with a cast iron pan.  I wasn't reading between the lines.  I wasn't picking up on what she was laying down.  I wasn't smelling what she was shitting.

"Your do I say this," she looked genuinely vexed on finding the words.  Then she blurted out: "Your mother was a Lady!"

Now I was lost.  My mother had never had a title of peerage, either by birth or marriage, so technically, she wasn't a Lady, but she was a "lady" and carried herself very well.

"What I meant, is, that, your mother was a...WOMAN.  She may have had needs.  I don't want you to come across something that could confuse you about how she was your mom, but she was a woman, first."

The light went on inside my head where my brain should be, and I felt a pang in my heart.

Poor Betty.  God love her; she was trying so hard to dance around it, she was stepping right in the Cow Cow Boogie, as we say back home.

"You mean," I said, "you didn't want me to find the Rabbit?"

There was a pregnant pause.  "You found a vibrator?  Really? How do you know about those things?"

No, I didn't find any such thing.  Seriously, I hadn't.  And had I found such a thing, I would have done the gentlemanly thing and discreetly disposed of it and kept quiet about it.  Had I found such a thing, I wouldn't be writing about it, because I would have been playing dumb.  Somethings are personal, you know.

But since I didn't find anything like that, I can tell you that none existed.  My mother's reputation is unsullied.

The thing is, I love Betty - she really is like my sister. 

Not just because of this moment, but because she is a good person.  She stuck with me all through the hours the night Mom died.  That's when you can tell who loves you for who you are.  They stand by you.  And they're willing to take the "bullet", so to speak, out from a secret hiding place if one had been discovered.  And I love her because she thought that, up until that point, I was still innocent.

And she didn't want anything to spoil my memories of my mother.  Not that anything could.  Still, its good to know that I have her watching my back.

Mountain of paper, no buried treasuer and our Vacation House

We spent today at our new vacation house, in my hometown.  That's how we are referring to my mother's former house.  Its the vacation house in north central Ohio that we never thought we wanted.

We installed a programmable thermostat because we keep forgetting to slip the temperature back after we visit and turn up the furnance because the house is COLD.  So now, when we walk in the door, we can turn it up to 68 degrees and then after four hours it will slide back to 64 degrees, automagically.

We also replaced a light fixture because whenever we turned on the old one we smelled something "hot" in the electrical sense.  In doing so, we discovered that the cheaper the light fixture, the more Fiberglas they use in the insulation, and the more fiber glass you have to fuss with, the more you get on yourself.  No fun.

The other thing that we did was continue to go through the house and gather up the last of the paperwork that we can find.

My mother was a neat person, but she did save everything.  Her house is uncluttered, but we have found 10 or so shopping bags of old bills and old statements.  Or so we thought.

In fact, she had a habit of saving old statements, and old window envelopes, onto which she would write these cryptic notes:  And thats pretty much what filled those shopping bags - empty envelopes with frantic notes in her hand writing:
  • SAVE!!!!  Stock purchase!!!
  • KEEP!!!  Marriage license!!!
  • HOLD ON TO!!!

Its the "Hold On To" and SAVE!!!! envelopes that scare me because we have no idea what stock she bought, sold, or lost, and we haven't the foggiest idea what it is that we're not to let go of, because envelope's are almost always empty.  Thus we are throwing out a lot of stuff that says we shouldn't be doing exactly what we are doing - but thats all it says.

Of course the child of a friend asked if Mom could have left account numbers on the enevlopes using invisiable ink.  I suppossed that is a slight possibility, but she would have most certainly written in ball point pen INVISIBLE INK.

We have found 27 copies of her marriage certificate to my stepfather, one copy of the second divorce decree from my father, and nothing regarding the man she was married to in the early 1950s.

We have also found an inordinately high number of snap shots taken of my step-father, shirtless.  My mother was not a visual woman - she thought men looked silly without a shirt.  I think that some men are quite fetching without their shirts on, unfortunately, the one I see anymore should have their shirts on.  This includes my step father.  What bothers me about these pictures is that I feel that they are in some way intimate, even though its just step-dad standing on the beach at Sanibel Island with his shirt off.

Anyway, I spent the past ten days sorting through the paperwork.  We have thrown out six 30 gallon trash bags of envelopes (all searched) and mail that has no identifying features, and we have half of one paper box full of things to shred. 

I also regret to inform you all that there were no unexpected windfalls - no maps to buried treasure.  We did find her lotto betting card from 1985, the year she guessed six out of six numbers and split a lotto jackpot with five other people.  Now before anyone thinks that I stinking rich from this, guess again - it pretty much paid for her retirement.  And besides, since I maintain the family "kennel papers" I know who is related me, and who isn't.  There are no unknown heirs out there and I wasn't born yesterday.  Send me an email telling me that you are my long lost brother Farouk from Nigeria (or West Virginia) and I'll shit all over it.

As Executor, I will now sort and file the materials that apply to 2010 so I can hand them off to the account to do the taxes for her.

Not how I planned on spending my December.  Cheers to all of you, I'm going back to the paper work.  Bah!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jason does have a point

As Jason has pointed out, it always does, PEOPLE magazine - that must have of medical waiting rooms everywhere - has decided that they will decide for all of us who the Sexiest Man Alive is.  Are we excited?


This year, unless you've been dead and haven't already heard the news, they chose Ryan Reynolds, best know for his starring roll in ABC's long dead sitcom Two Guys, A Girl and Pizza-Something-Or-Other.  He was also known for being the "ex" of Alanis Morrisette.  Here's the cover:

Now don't get me wrong, Ryan is fetching, especially when he starves himself and works out 24 hours a day for a project. And I'm sure he is charming and very sweet.  I find him "pretty", but is he "sexy"  To a certain demographic, yes, but is he currently the sexiest man alive?

Perhaps the people at PEOPLE said, over the disco beat at their editorial board meeting "We can't do Clooney, Again - that leaves us with who?"

C'mon PEOPLE, the Sexiest Man Alive should be someone that excites man and woman alike, not just teenage girls riding the hormonal "big one" as they come crashing into their boobage years.  The Sexiest Man Alive should take one look at you and set your heart to aflutter.  He should raise your pulse, and make you feel faint. 

Its been years since Hollywood has produced such a man.  Take for instance Clint Walker, the man who just might have been PEOPLE MAGAZINE's 1962 Sexiest Man Alive (if there had been a People Magazine back then):

Now just in case you you don't grasp the difference in sexy, lets do this side my side, OK?

See what I mean?  Clint is SEXY, but Ryan is "Fetching".  Which of these two men, in their prime would you rather be ravaged by?  Beefy, muscular, 6'5" Clint, or "Body by Jake" Ryan? 

Still don't believe me?  OK, lets try this: Robert Conrad (vintage 1968) vs. Ryan Reynolds: Who is sexier.


Or Robert Conrad?

I thought so.

Look, you can put Ryan Reynolds up against just about any man (the Fabulous Nathan Gunn, for instance) with the exception of anyone in politics, Rush Limbaugh, Ryan Secrest, Prince Charles, Ron Jeremy and/or Steven Hawking, and there is a good chance that the other guy will be sexier.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving's Like We Used to Have: A Dysfunctional Playette

It dawned on me that many of you may be longing for the types of Thankgiving dinners that you were familiar with as children.  You know, the dinners that turned in William Inge plays, or something more like Tennessee WIlliam's would script?

To help you get through today, I whipped together thais small playette entitled

A Good Old Fashioned American Thanksgiving
A One Act Playette

For those who miss the good old Thanksgivings of the past, we present a short play that may be performed around the Thanksgiving meal table.  This is especially suitable for those who will spend their Thanksgiving away from their biological Families and yearn for the dinners of years past.

This play requires three people. (A role for a fourth person presents itself midway through the drama.  It may be played by anyone else present, or ignored.)

If more are seated at your table, their role will be to look either embarrassed or horrified, or if the person is a true blood WASP, nonplussed by the raging drama.

If a girl, age ten to 16 is present, her job is to roll her eyes, as if to say “whatever” at random moments.

This is a unisex play, the roles can be played by people of either sex.

Person One: Who’s got the salt?

Person Two: Uh, its right in front of you. As if you need anymore salt in your diet.

Person Three: I believe that the proper way to ask for the salt is to say “Please pass the salt.”

Person One: Don’t start on me.

Person Three: I was only trying to be helpful. It would be nice if we could enjoy a normal meal together, for once.

Person Two: Well if you wanted to have a nice meal for once, could you please stop correcting people? And what in the Hell is this? (Pointing at a food on their plate.)

Person Three: “Why that is  (INSERT THE NAME OF A PERSON WHO WOULD MAKE SUCH A DISH) famous (NAME OF THE DISH) . You always used to ask for seconds when they made it!

Person One: Yeah, because they could cook.

Person Three: I have just about had it from the both of you.

OPTIONAL: Person Four:  My, we are certainly having some weather today, aren't we?

Person Two: Sweet Jesus, here we go again.

Person Three: Our Lord, Jesus Christ is our Savior; Don’t talk about his as if he was the next door neighbor coated in powdered sugar!

Person Two: What the Hell is that supposed to mean?

Person Three: I’m just pointing out that his full name is “Our Lord, Jesus Christ” and its not to be taken in vain at my table.

Person One: Is his first name really is “Our Lord”? And here all these years, I thought it was Jesus. (smirks)

Person Three: Did I ever tell (pouring another glass of wine) you that we wanted adopt another baby, but all they had was you?

Person One: You BITCH!  You’re a monster!  You're only happy when someone else is crying. (Runs out of the room)

Person Two: Hey you, don't EVER call your (NAME OF POSITION IN A FAMILY) a Bitch even if he/she is one. (Pauses)   So much for a special Thanksgiving. This one is just like all the rest.

Person Three: Shut up, and hand me that salt shaker.

And the meal contiues.

~The End~

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Turkey, Fanny's Way

The Turkey comes in the last 30 seconds, but the whole piece is wonderful if you have the time. May your Thanksgiving be whatever you need it to be, and hopefully, drama free!

I don't know what to feel, DAMN IT!

Today is November 24th.

My mother died fifteen days ago. There is no one left that remembers life as I remember it.

My birthday was was two days ago.  Someone fucking do something for me.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  After that, it is not.

What am I going through?

I'm angry.  I'm sad.  I'm numb.

I am trying to come to grips with the most important parent in my life not being there.

I am sick of people telling me how I should feel - that I should allow myself to cry and grieve.

I am sick to death of all the same people who are telling me that I should now be happy that it was my birthday.

I want to throttle those who ask tell me how difficult it must be knowing a place at the table is now empty.

Do these people really think I am that stupid that I don't know these things?  Knowing isn't the same as feeling.

I am, at this, junction FEELING lots of stuff.

I can't turn on the tears because you feel I should.  And once the tears flow, I just can't shut them off and be "happy" its my birthday. 

I am not a fucking floor lamp. You can't clap me off and then clap on again.

I feel cheated. 

I feel like the world is fucking me over.

I have all these things that need to be done but I can't fucking focus on anything.

I want to punch the fuck out of someone.

I can't explain this rage, but I can.

I am, for the first time in 48 years, I'm an orphan and will be until I die.

I'm afraid.  I'm scared.  I am unable to control what I thought I could control.


I will survive.

But its Hell getting there.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time...


You know how at work, you have these brainstorming meetings, and the Vice President conducting the meetings says something wacky like: "There are no bad ideas...don't hold anything back..." just to get those creative juices flowing?  And if the group is homogeneous - they all have too many things in common so there is no depth of cultural knowledge - they can't look to see if the genius of their collective thought has a different meaning.  This is how things can snowball into something totally different than what the team ran up the flag pole and saluted. 

For example, one phrase that my grandfather used in his time - "pull a boner"  was a common expression.  Pull a joke on someone and you buddy was likly to say something like "Boy, you sure did pull a boner on him."

Now, fast forward 80 years or so.  Could you say out loud, and without reservation, in public that you had "pulled a boner" on someone?  Not unless you were gossiping in a bath house, and even that isn't what it once was, either.

In 1920, pulling a boner meant that you ran the risk of getting egg on your face; today that same phrase takes on a whole different meaning of what you could get covered in, if you aren't careful. And if you did use it, your would find yourself going to great lengths to explain what you mean.

"Well it means to do something funny, either to you, or someone else - its like a joke...really, it is," is sure to ruin the funny story and your reputation at anyone's cocktail party, unless its at the house of the confirmed bachelor down the street, and even then you'd just be considered insensitive by the blue haired ladies in the Rose Club.

So imagine my surprise when I found this picture on a creative media company named OLSON in Minneapolis:

Image Credit: OLSON 

Obviously, these folks at OLSON really are trying to "milk" the whole car analogy of "pistons pumping" (get it - cars, engines, pistons, revving, speed, rear end collisions, etc.) but what they have really done is created an image better suited to the "Sling Room" at finer leather clubs and bars throughout the US, or an art film produced by Raging Stallion Studios.  I know, it is a bit more out of the ordinary SNAFU of "their", "there", and "they're" and walking away with a head shaker fill with confused meaning and conflicting statements.

This is exactly the kind of thing that can happen if your group think is too much alike.  You end up with egg on your face.

More troubling is the question: does this firm not employ one gay man that was part of the "group"? 

I don't think they do. 

How can you be a creative media savvy company in today's world without have at least one gay man on staff?  And if they do, is he the only gay man in the world that doesn't know the slang of our times?  Or is their intent to market to the mainstream world a term that in real life about a is a man who really is wearing some "Elbow Grease" and working up a sweat to get the job done?

I know, I shouldn't go there.  But sometimes, its so hard to say no.

I just have this image of a guy in Detroit, leaning back on his couch while his girlfriend (or even boyfriend) looks at him with bedroom eyes, and he says "Oh, yeah, baby, pump that fist, but don't get it on the carpet."

And I don't think thats what they intended.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The funeral caper

Today is now funeral+one and like a fool. I was up and at ‘um this morning all bright eye’d and bushy tailed. Now I am dragging and need coffee to bolster my flagging energy. Oh, Yuban, where for art thou?

Well the funeral yesterday was wonderful.

My hometown doesn’t have a Rabbi of its own, instead they use a Rabbinical student. We didn’t know what to think, and wondered how the Cadet Rabbi would do (“Reporting for duty, SIR!”), but once we met him my fears were set aside. He was a wonderful man and gave us a memorable service that was like Mom – very light on sentimentality, but educational. My mother loved to teach, and because most of the people in my hometown have never been to a Jewish deli, let alone a funeral, I asked Rabbi Phillip to use the moment as a teaching experience. And he patiently explained to everyone what was going on and why it was done as it was.

That takes me back to our three old hens who sat perched in the back of the room, their eyes scanning about to see who came in, who sat where and with whom.

Before the service we did the Keriah – a ceremonial tearing of the cloth. In this case a black ribbon worn by each member of the family which is then slashed and then worn for seven days to signify our mourning.

Then the service began and I gave my eulogy, which I was told was beautiful, and which I do not remember very much of, even though it was written down.

Because Mom had a beautiful smile, I ended the eulogy with a story that was my mother, in spades:

About a year into keeping company with the man who become my step father, she called me one Sunday morning and had to tell me something.

Mom: “Guess what the two of us did together for the first time last at about midnight?”

Me: “Oh, God…”

Mom: “Well, the two of us..." she paused, "went to Kroger to look for food that was going out of date the minute after midnight. If you find something and take it to the service counter, you get one of these items – fresh of course – for FREE!”

Me: (relieved that it was something else that they had done) “You two wacky kids.”

Mom: “We have steaks that are just beautiful, and fresh milk and butter.  I have six jars of capers for you.” 

Me: “When would anyone use six jars of capers in a lifetime. They’ll go bad before I use them.”

Mom: “Oh, these things are canned – they’ll never go bad on your shelf…”

Me: “Well the store seems to think that they go bad, otherwise you never would have gotten these in exchange for the out of date one you found, right?”

Mom: “Oh, yeah…”

The room cracked up, because that was who she was, and they knew it.

Yes, she was proper, and always on the mark, but then she would do these random things. But she always thought about me, or my cousin, or her bridge buddies, or someone she had met through a friend.

This, the joy, is what we should remember when the people we love pass on.

And even though those three old hens annoyed me so, I realized that in a way, they too brought their own kind of joy – finding opportunities for life in death.

Before they left the "after party" that was our meal, the lead hen came up to me and started on about how she had these local history books that she was sure that I could have used when I wrote my two (real) books on our hometown.  She made the mistake of bragging about them in front of another town historian who is a family friend. 

"These books are very old, and very rare.  I should take them on the Antiques Roadshow - they must be worth a small fortune!" she said.

Never mind that the books had been reprinted, or that the library had them on the shelves, or that the local historical society tried everything they could get people to keep them rather than denoate them (they had a number of copies), Old Henny Penny was just certain, that like everything else, she just had to be right.

As she walked away, my friend said to me, in a lowered voice, "And who is that fabulously unaware lady and her entourage?"

Still, the poetry books have a date with destiny’s dumpster. Despite their assertions that their “Lord, Sweet Jesus” poems were my mother, they didn’t know the woman I knew. And that woman would have found a use for all those capers, lest they go to waste, and she didn't suffer fools, wisely, or otherwise.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Poetic Justice?

OK, so today was Mom's funeral - and I am fine, really I am, just tired - and we made it through just fine.

But this is about yesterday, and I was too tired to post this then, but we had a visit from a trio of cackling old hens who came to the funeral home just to insert themselves to see what they could get for themselves.

The Friday before Mom died, one of her "club women" friends called my mother up and said that she was going to pick her up and take her to this little bazaar that she puts on every year. While Mom was there she bought a couple of these crocheted things and two “books” of poetry, that this woman insisted that my mother fell in love with.

Well you need only know that my mother and look at those poems to know that the painkillers were doing a number on her. And calling them “books” is a bit of a stretch because these “books” were three ring binders, with clear sheet protectors holding the pages in. Now I write and publish books, and get paid well for my books, but these were no books.

And the poems? Jesus! No, quite literally, Jesus, was in every poem. And that was not my mom. Never was. Mom was always offended by the way that this new breed of “christians” (lower case intended) always seemed to know the words of the bible but never seemed to practice their meanings. “The way they talk about Jesus this, and Jesus that, you’d think that he was their favorite cousin gone off to college or something.”

Anyway, the Hens came to funeral home, broke into the conversation I was having with someone from out of town and made sure I knew who they were, or at least who they were there playing in this Kabuki Theater we call Calling Hours.

The leader of the hens introduced herself – and she was just pleased as punch to make sure that I knew who they were and that she was the one with the brains (and the mouth) Then there was her sister, the simple one, who kept thinking that I was my husband and my husband was me, and then we got to their little friend who had the sourest look on her face. She looked like she was weaned on a lime. Looking at her even I got a bad taste in my mouth.

But get this: the sour one was the author of the poetry book!   In the name of Helen Steiner Rice (see picture above) this woman was no Helen Steiner Rice!

EVIDENTLY, the simple hen told me, the poetry lady, at the egging on of lead old hen, had come to see her poetry book on display with the mementos and pictures of Mom in happier times.

And guess what…IT WASN”T THERE!

Rebuffed, she had come fishing for compliments, and not finding any, sat herself down in a corner and started to caste aspersions.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Three Old Hen's, was too busy to notice her friend, but she was taking notes on me, and making up the rest.

“Have you been weeping?” she asked.  Her face was rank with man made empathy.

I explained that, no, while I missed Mom, that I was quite relieved that she wasn’t bed ridden or worse, in horrible pain.

“But you must be prostrate with grief?” she asked, hopefully.

Again, my answer was no. “Like my mother, I am not one to be beside myself at these moments.”

“But what about the regrets?” she asked plaintively.

“Regrets are none. We did everything we could.”

“Well then,” she said, “we’ll be back tomorrow – I’m sure that you’ll feel differently.”

Why that nasty old so-and-so!

So what was this all about? Well first of all, she came to get a look at me because I’m gay, ergo, I am an emotional stereotype, and that would give her something to talk about. Two, she came with her bitter little friend hoping I would ask bitter little friend to do a reading at the funeral – AND – three, she came to have a look see so she would have something to gossip about at the next Club Meeting!

But my friends, I am telling you that at the funeral, it got better…

To be continued…

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Shaker Heights Icon: Bowood

courtesy Cleveland Public Library Archives 

Bowood is one of three estates in Shaker Heights by Master Builder Clarence Mack.  Mack was not a registered architect, but a builder who designed magnificent residences in the Cleveland area in the 1920s and 1930s, and later in Florida.

Located on exclusive South Park Boulevard - the poshest street in the poshest community in Northeast Ohio - and inspired by classical architecture, Bowood is Mack at his best, and at the same time, his most ironic.  The house exhibits perfect period form and appears to be a country-seat in Great Britain, not a city residence in a Cleveland suburb.

The brilliant irony of Mack's design is the appliqué of the colonnade to the actual facade of the main section of the house.  Doing so allows the north facade of the residence to accept as much daylight as possible while maintaining a classical appearance. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Shaker Heights Dragnet

Things in Shaker are very different than you would find otherwise.  Take the crime, (as reported in the Cleveland Sun Press) for example:

ATTEMPTED THEFT, HILDANA ROAD: Someone tried to steal a car Oct. 18.

(Note, they tried to steal a car - they didn't vandalize it, they just tried to steal it to see if they could.)

THEFT, CHAGRIN BOULEVARD: A Cleveland man, 52, was arrested Oct. 18 for stealing sunflower seeds from Heinen’s.

(Sunflower seeds?  Chop off his hands!)

THEFT, CHAGRIN BOULEVARD: On Oct. 19, police arrested a Cleveland man, 59, for stealing 10 packs of gum, bottles of lotion, mouthwash and other items from Rite Aid.

(Well its obvious he had a date that night.)

THEFT, NORTH MORELAND BOULEVARD: A resident reported Oct. 19 that someone stole a package with two pairs of golf shoes that had been delivered to his apartment.

(No quick nine holes for you!)

OVI, WARRENSVILLE CENTER ROAD: A Chagrin Falls man, 39, was arrested Friday for operating a vehicle while intoxicated near the Chagrin Boulevard intersection.

(And evidently, he was chagrined when pulled over, too.)
THEFT, CHAGRIN BOULEVARD: On Saturday, an unknown suspect stole a pumpkin pail and assorted Halloween candy from CVS.

(Well you have to have a place to display your stolen candy corn.)

And there you have it - Crime in the BIG city.