Friday, July 3, 2015

It's Always Something

So, a couple weeks ago, I was walking down the hall at the senior community where I work, and I heard a resident upstairs on the 4th floor playing The Way We Were on the piano. I stopped to listen, and it made me smile, because she was playing very methodically, perhaps a little woodenly, and it reminded me of Lisa Loopner's performance of the same song in Gilda Radner's Broadway show, Gilda Radner: Live From New York.

It tickled me to think of Lisa Loopner hammering away at a piano in Assisted Living, so I searched for a clip of her performing the song to post on Facebook. The clip I found had a comment attached noting that the film of her show was directed by Mike Nichols, and also pointed out that she's sitting on a giant phone book while playing the piano. I realized that while I have (and know by heart) the album recorded from her show, I'd never SEEN any of it. I didn't realize there was a filmed version out there. I bought it immediately.

And then last Sunday, after going to an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil in the rain and realizing that those beers we washed the crawdads down with tasted pretty good, we got some more and came home to drink them. I suggested we watch my DVD of Gilda Live which had just arrived a few days earlier.

Oh, it was so funny and sweet and sad, because she's not with us anymore. Watching her play Judy Miller and Roseanne Roseannadanna and Candy Slice at the Winter Garden Theatre just makes you wonder what she'd be doing now if she was alive.

It also made me think back to 1989 and what a pivotal year it was for me. It was really an incredibly formative year, kicked off in a lot of ways by Gilda's death.

I had just finished 10th grade and was looking forward to a summer filled with floating around my parents' pool with a thick book and a bag of candy, wandering the streets at night with my friend Mrs. Schmenkman, eating potato chips and making ludicrous plans for adventures we'd never get to carry out in our boring little town. My world was only as big as the confines of our village, sometimes expanded to include visiting family in Binghamton or New Jersey, or once in 8th grade, Niagara Falls, Canada, the only spontaneous trip I've ever known my parents to take. Things are different now with the internet, but back then, the only way you could get a glimpse of the greater world was to travel, or though the limited TV, newspapers or magazines that came to our area. (Example- my grandmother had MTV long before we did. Our local cable company was of a Christian bent and thought music videos were immoral.)

On May 20th, Gilda Radner died. She'd battled and overcome ovarian cancer, only to
succumb to it when it reared its ugly head again. I was truly saddened by this- I had been allowed to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live when she was on the show and I felt such a connection to this funny, adorable, frizzy-haired, sad-eyed lady. I had Gilda Radner paper dolls. I'd read It's Always Something, her autobiography. My mother let me buy the issue of Glamour magazine that featured a cover story on her life. Up until then, my magazine reading had been limited to Cricket, Seventeen and the occasional Life magazine Year in Review.

Besides mourning my lovely Gilda, the magazine opened my eyes to a new world. Glamour was much more of a feminist publication back then; it wasn't the Kardashian-Kontrolled rag it is now. There was coverage and commentary on current events, particularly how they affected the lives of women. They had their annual Women of the Year awards, which weren't just awarded to actresses and models, but to scientists and politicians and lawyers and innovators and activists.

There was a lot going on in the world to notice then:  the Ayatollah Khomeini- the closest thing my
generation had to a comic villain- died and was violently mourned. Students protestors in Tiananman Square were shot at- my mind reeled at the famous photo of the man standing in front of the tanks with his grocery bags in his hands. The Berlin Wall was breached and finally torn down. The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil. Ted Bundy was executed. Women's rights were being attacked again,  thanks to the conservatives that Reagan had ushered in with him. The Central Park Jogger was brutally attacked and raped- a woman named Barbara Grizzuti Harrison wrote an editorial piece in Glamour about how we were all the Central Park Jogger and we needed to stand up for each other as women, no matter how different we all may be. I
remember that photo of the jogger's bloody sneakers- just regular old Nikes like anyone else had. It was a sobering realization that there were people out there who liked to hurt women; I was now in the ranks of women, which meant that there were people who'd want to hurt me simply for the fact that I was female.

It was about the time that I realized I wanted something more than what my small town had to offer. I wanted something different from what most of the girls I knew aspired to, something different from what people expected me to want.  I wasn't meant to be one of those people who stayed in the same place they grew up for the rest of their lives.  I wasn't going to marry someone I'd grown up with, settle down in my hometown, work whatever job I could find, have babies and run into my classmates at our kids' t-ball games. I wanted to see new places, meet people different from me, learn about and try new things that I had no access to in rural Steuben County. I wanted adventures and experiences. I knew I wanted a different path, but I didn't know just what yet.

And then in 1989, I discovered Murphy Brown and I found my idol. I was absolutely entranced by Murphy- she wasn't anything like any other woman on TV and I loved it. She was smart and not ashamed of her intelligence and refused to play it down to make men feel more comfortable around her. She was tough and not afraid to stand up for herself or others. She didn't care about the things other female sitcom characters did- she wasn't looking for a man to complete her; she was fine on her own, and in fact, preferred it that way. She didn't give a shit about decorating or housekeeping. She loved her work and didn't see a problem with devoting herself to it.
She was dry and sardonic and sarcastic and wonderfully funny. She interviewed fascinating and infuriating people. She was extraordinarily well traveled and at ease in the world of powerful men. She forced her way into a club that didn't allow women. She called people out for perpetuating stereotypes and misogyny. And to top it off, she was effortlessly gorgeous and smartly dressed. So many of the female characters on TV and in movies at that time seemed to demonstrate that you had to sacrifice style for smarts. Murphy showed you could be whatever the hell you wanted to be. Candace Bergen, the actress who played Murphy described the character best:

"a complex, original, endearing, feisty, take-no-prisoners woman. And more surprisingly, a woman who cared not a whit what others thought of her. There was not an ounce of submission, not a drop of passivity, no suggestion of shrivel. Murphy was fierce and principled. She had passion- especially for her work, where she gave no quarter. We all wanted to be her." *

I wanted to be her. Not necessarily a journalist, news anchor or TV reporter. I just wanted to be like Murphy Brown. I wanted to be fiercely independent, unapologetic, proud and capable. I wanted a career that excited and energized me. I wanted a life lived on my own terms.

When you're a little kid, people are always asking you what you want to be when you grow up. Back in my childhood days, if you were a little girl and didn't have a different answer at the ready, it was assumed you wanted to be a wife and a mommy. There is nothing wrong with women who want to be wives and mothers. It IS wrong to assume that every little girl wants only that and to disregard any suggestions to the contrary. If you did state a desire to do something ambitious, folks usually laughed indulgently and nodded knowingly, implying that you might think this way now when you're small and don't know any better, but inevitably you'll change your mind. I got this reaction a lot when I told people I wanted to be the first female president of the United States of the America.

But almost no one asks you WHO you want to be when you grow up. No one asks what kind of person you want to be, what kind of life you want for yourself, where you see yourself as a grown-up. At 16, aware for the first time really of the greater world around me, I was getting an idea of who I wanted to be. When I pictured what I would be like as an adult back then, I was a lot like Murphy Brown. I had glamorous long hair, exquisitely tailored suits, sensible heels. I spent most of my time in
my office, but I went home late at night to a spacious loft apartment with fantastic city-views, decked out in dark, modern furniture. I had a pet cat, and an equally successful boyfriend who wore pin-striped suits who would visit me and drink martinis in my elegant apartment, but didn't live there and went home to his own place when the evening was over so I could have my space to myself. I was principled, powerful, successful, driven, serious when necessary but funny when I wanted to be. Above all, I was passionate about my work, which was left kind of vague in these fantasies, except they involved me striding purposefully through hallways in my sensible heels. (It's become harder and harder to find attractive shoes with heels that you could run for a bus in but are not frumpy. Heels have become ridiculously high in the past couple years, and it's my theory that these higher heels are a subconscious design intended to keep women incapacitated. Remember that commercial with the women playing basketball in pumps? Imagine doing that in today's 4,5, or 6- inch-heeled pumps with the extra platform in the toe box that makes it look like you're wearing high-heeled Kleenex boxes on your feet.)

Not all of that fantasy came true- there were modifications and changes that had to be made as I left 16 and moved into my 20s, 30s, and then 40s where I am today. I have three dogs, not a cat. I live in a 151-year-old farmhouse in the Finger Lakes, not a lofty penthouse in an unnamed metropolis. My furniture is decidedly not modern. I rarely wear suits or heels to work, although I do walk very quickly with purposeful strides through the halls. My husband doesn't wear suits often either, and he lives in our house with me. (Although I do insist on having space that's just mine in our own home.) But truthfully, those are minor details; the important parts are the same. Someone on social media not too long ago posed the question of what you thought it would be like if your childhood self met your grown-up self. Would she be pleased or disappointed with how you turned out? I think I'd be pretty happy with adult me.

Because the other truth I've learned is that you don't have to be one kind of woman. You can take the
best of an acerbic, fierce, passionate character like Murphy Brown and combine that with the goofy, endearing sweetness of someone like Gilda Radner. You can be serious and funny. You can be a goddamn boss at your job and also enjoy singing songs about Walter Cronkite thinking you farted in his office. You can relish the predicability of your daily routines and also do joyous, adventurous stuff like watch the Independence Day fireworks from a paddleboard in the middle of the lake at night. I think my 16-year-old self would find that pretty cool.

Interestingly, the night we watched Gilda, Live just happened to be her birthday.
She would've been 69 years old.

Happy birthday, my lovely American Gilda. Thanks for being such a great role model.

*Quote from Candace Bergen's autobiography, A Fine Romance.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Crunchy Danger Haystacks, SUP and Macarons

Since I don't have anything of real consequence to say this week, here's an Oprah post- my favorite things right now:

1. Moone Boy

 Oh my dear lord, this show. I'm just about ready to watch all three seasons all over again. If only for Padraic and HIS imaginary friend, professional wrestler Crunchy Danger Haystacks.

"Martin Moone is a young boy who relies on the help of his imaginary friend Sean to deal with the quandaries of life in a wacky small-town Irish family in the 1980's."

2. Shut Up, You're Welcome by Annie Choi

"Choi (Happy Birthday or Whatever, 2007) returns with a second collection of essays that once again mines the mother lode of material provided by her relationship with her Korean immigrant parents. Some of their clashes are generational; some are cultural; all are comic gold. As with her first memoir, Choi’s exasperation with her parents is played for laughs—from her father’s stubborn refusal to part with a decrepit kitchen table to the pressure her mother puts on Annie to marry and have kids: “Even nun marry. To God.” Choi is a born storyteller with a fantastic ear for dialogue reminiscent of David Sedaris, including his penchant for comedic exaggeration. Readers will likely be so busy laughing at tales like “Midas Touch,” in which Choi reveals her chemist father’s obsession with gold plating everything he can get his hands on, they’ll scarcely notice the stories frequently fail to make a larger point. With her family providing a never-ending supply of yarns, one suspects Choi has only just begun to scratch the surface of her talent. --Patty Wetli"

3. Orange is the New Black, season 3. 

The wee bit of focus on Chang, Pennsatucky being shown to be more than just a redneck stereotype, Big Boo revealing her intelligence and heart, Black Cindy becoming Tova- all fantastic. I'm continuously blown away by the detailed, nuanced, genuine portraits that are drawn of each inmate. Except for Alex Vause. I think she is the most pointless character on the show- sometimes I wonder if maybe she's Piper's imaginary girlfriend because she doesn't seem to interact with anyone else on the show and she only
seems to exist for Piper to play off of. I liked Laura Prepon on That 70s Show but it does seem like Laura Prepon can really only play Laura Prepon, even with different colored hair and glasses. I found myself tuning out during all the Piper/ Alex scenes only to be drawn back in when someone else came on.

4. Wegmans' French macarons

5. The fact that our street is closed for repairs so I could go out in the middle of what's usually a very busy road to get photos of the sun setting on Cornell University on the opposite hill.

6. The orange lilies that are the only thing to sprout in our garden

7. Sunrise SUP Yoga

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Just keep swimming… and ignore the creepy people in lane four

For those new to this blog,  this will be my third year doing a local fundraiser called Women Swimmin'. It's an event where 300+ women swim 1.2 miles across Cayuga Lake to raise money for Hospicare and Palliative Care Services. It's such a beautiful event- I wanted for years to participate. One of the things that absolutely blows my mind about it are the people associated with Hospicare who thank you for swimming. When you climb up on the dock once you've reached shore, there are Hospicare people waiting to hug you, offer you a blanket if needed, and thank you for doing this event. It should be the other way around; it's an utter privilege to do this.

Anyway, to prepare for the swim, I've been training at the A&E Center Pool at Ithaca College. Thanks to my work schedule and the hours the pool's open, the only time that works for me to swim laps is when the pool opens at 6:00am. Oh yeah. Six o'clock in the morning. Which means getting up at 5:30am. (The pool is only about a 5 minute drive from my house, but it takes me that long to wake up enough so that I feel it's safe for me to be on the road in a moving vehicle.) I am not, and never have been, even when I was very small child, a morning person. So showing up to the pool and swimming my mile and a half before 7am may actually be the greatest thing I've ever accomplished, or ever will.

It's a curious crowd at the pool at 6am. I don't know if it's the hour, or the kind of character (or lack of sanity and good sense) that brings one out of their warm soft bed to throw themselves into a chilly tank of water and flail your arms and legs hard enough that you start to sweat in the water. One thing's for certain- there are regulars here. Let me tell you a bit about them:
  • Lane One- tall, lanky bald gentleman. Retired VIP with the college.  Does an interesting mix of one lap crawl, then this odd double-armed backstroke back. Sort of a two-armed Pete Townshend windmill stroke.
  • Lane Two- me. Until recently when it had to be retired due to sagging-ass issues, in my Wondrous Woman suit. And goggles that leave me looking like someone hammered shot glasses
    into my eye sockets. (Thank god for Bruise Relief gel.)
  • Lane Three- This woman is intimidating. She is here EVERY SINGLE DAY. I am not kidding. During the school year, I'd occasionally change my schedule around and swim on a Tuesday or Thursday instead of MWF. She'd be there. I'd switch it up and get my laps in on a Saturday. She was there. Beyond the disconcerting idea that maybe she's some kind of pool ghost that haunts the middle lane, that is some goddamned dedication. She swims exactly the same workout at exactly the same time, every single day the pool is open. I can tell what time it is by where she is in her workout. In spite of the fact that we have encountered each other in this environment for the past three years, we never speak. It's an unwritten rule of respect- we will not waste each other's time with the frivolity of chat. She does not suffer fools gladly.
  • Lane Four- Creepy couple. This middle-aged pair is a recent addition to morning swim. When I first encountered them, they were making out like bandits outside the women's locker room. At 5:55am. On a Friday. I can't even look people in the eye at this hour. I actually had to tap the woman on the shoulder in order to get past her to go in and change. And then, curiously, as I was standing at the sink getting my swim cap on, I saw through the mirror the woman come in, strip down to just her hoodie
    and stand pantsless holding her bathing suit under the hand dryer. She then put the dried suit on, went out to the pool and got in the water. She and her male partner (who wears a polo cap that snaps under his chin and reminds me of Teddy Beckersted from One Crazy Summer) then proceed to canoodle at one end of the pool, maybe paddle one length, then whisper sweet nothings to each other over their kick boards as they leisurely make their way back to the other end. They do about four lengths of the pool, then leave. The woman dries herself under the hand dryer again (WTH?) then they go out in the hallway and suck face outside the women's locker room entrance. They only appear on Fridays. Facebook feedback suspects they are a couple having an affair at which I must roll my eyes. That has to be the lousiest affair ever. "Hey baby, come to the pool with me at the butt-crack of dawn and swim laps with me!" What a fun sexy time for them. 
  • Lane Five- As of the past couple of weeks, Lane Five has been dominated by a woman who seems to have a Single White Female thing for Lane Three woman. She also wears these paddle-type devices on her hands, and goggles yet no swim cap. (Although Lane Five does a very leisurely crawl stroke, while Lane Three, to my befuddlement, swims a very vertical breaststroke with the paddles on her hands.) Lane Five also times her workouts to Lane Three, abruptly leaving the pool when she sees Lane Three get out. She has often tried to engage Lane Three in conversation in the locker room, but Lane Three, while polite, quite firmly discourages this. As I've said before, Lane Three does not have time for meaningless chitchat. It's Business Time for Lane Three woman.
  • Lanes Six-Exceptionally hairy dude in a Speedo who likes to dolphin-kick a lot and uses a snorkel. One day I was swimming in Lane Five and when I reached the wall at the end of a set, I looked up to him sitting nearly spread-eagled on the deck, his crotch directly above my head, adjusting his snorkel's headgear. It was enough to make my bypass my rest period and dive back underwater.
  • Lanes 7-9 tend to be the pros, the off-season swim team members or masters swimmers, sometimes two to a lane, which is nice of them to leave the entire lanes for the rest of us weirdos.
There's also occasionally an older Asian woman who takes extremely seriously the whole "please shower before entering the pool" directive that the rest of us wantonly disregard, a portly white-haired Wilford Brimley-looking man who also does a flinging two-armed backstroke and always wears his eyeglasses in the water, and my recent favorite, the two college-aged girls who got into a screaming, sobbing, knock-down drag-out fight in the locker room over the fact that one of them was not listening to the other. Or something.

You may think that perhaps I'm not paying enough attention to my own workout if I'm noticing all this
about my fellow swimmers, but in the course of 50 laps (the pool is set in 50 meter lanes now) there isn't an awful lot else to look at and one's mind does tend to wander. I figure I'm honing my observation skills, as well as building my endurance.

For more about why I'm doing Women Swimmin', visit this post from a few years ago. And if you're feeling generous, you can support my swim by going here. In addition to making my morning encounters worthwhile, your gift will be used to provide items such as medications, oxygen & medical equipment, as well as emotional, psychological, social & spiritual support to patients, families and friends facing the hard issues of mortality and loss. Hospicare's services are available to everyone in the community regardless of their ability to pay.  So in addition to enabling my chlorine habit, you'll be doing a good, good thing. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I can really taste the nutmeg

 I met Judy Blume.

I stood within two feet of her and HAD A CONVERSATION WITH HER.

Oh yes.
I am her friend now. (She said she considers all her readers to be her friends, and I'm one of her readers, so I'm her friend. Shut up.)
It was amazing.
She was as kind and friendly and gentle and funny and sweet as you would expect her to be.

Meg Wollitzer, who is another author I adore, interviewed Judy for this program, and also signed books afterward.
As she signed my copy of The Interestings, she commented about my name being that of the county in Ireland.
She's my friend, too.

And so is Sheri Moore Weppel, who is a lovely example of how online friendships can be rewarding, fulfilling and very real.
You can see how Sheri would be fun to hang out with.

Gary Rith suggested that we become friends, as we both love beagles, books and yoga in all sorts of variations.

We met in real life, so they say, last summer, when I also got to meet the amazing Miss Olivia (and Jason, Sheri's husband and Olivia's daddy).

And then Sheri found out Judy Blume was speaking nearby and invited me to come join her.

It was amazing.

For one thing, it was my first rental car experience. Not my first time in a rental car; I'm not that much of a rube. My first time renting and driving one myself. It was fun. I was worried I would be overly anxious about having the responsibility, but it was fun to drive a little car that was new to me, with a port for my ipod right in the dash, and best of all, return it when I was done.

I saw fun things, like this puppy bar outside a gas station in New Milford, PA.

And not so fun things, like the Lehigh Tunnel, which was under construction and therefore squeezed two-way traffic into one tunnel. I started getting a little queasy going through it the first time, mostly because I wasn't prepared
for it, I think. It wasn't as bad coming back through on the way home. But still, not anything I'd like to do on a daily basis.

When I got to Sheri's, we had fantastic sushi and talked about yoga, then went to a couple wineries and did some tastings. I bought a bottle of Chambourcin, a variety we don't have up here in the Finger Lakes that I enjoyed very much. I told her about when I worked for Dr. Frank's winery one summer and how occasionally we'd just make stuff up during tastings to test how far the power of suggestion would go. The tastings staff would watch for signs that the people in the group weren't terribly experienced with wines, then just completely fabricate, saying things like, "In this one, you're going to get just a hint of black pepper, with subtle spices in the finish. Do you taste the nutmeg?" And inevitably, the tastees (?) would nod vigorously and say, "Oh, yes, I can really taste the nutmeg."

Then we went off to see Judy, with plenty of time to get seats as close to up front as we could. It was in a middle school auditorium, because, really, where better to hear Judy Blume talk? (They probably couldn't fit us all in the school library.) It was so cool to look around and see who came out to worship at the altar of Blume. There were women there with their FIRST EDITION copies of Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret. And others with books whose covers I remember from my school library growing up. There were mothers and daughters there together, girlfriends young and old, even a few dudes. (Sheri and I came to the conclusion that Superfudge seems to be the boys' Margaret.)

And then there was Judy.

She was amazing.

And bless her heart, she stayed to sign every person's book who wanted one signed. EVERY LAST PERSON. There were over 500 people attending the event. Judy stayed for over 2 hours after the program finished to sign books. Sheri and I were among the last dozen people in line (we were smart-
we just stayed in our seats and waited for the end of the line to reach us). Judy was still, after all that, so sweet and genuine and friendly. I thanked her for staying to do this, it really meant so much to her fans. She smiled and said, "Of course I would! I love my readers- I owe them everything!" I said I hoped she wasn't too tired. She said she was either so tired that she would sleep like a log, or so tired that she just cried. I told Judy Blume I hoped she didn't cry.
Her husband George was there, helping out, taking pictures, chatting with the crowd. He looked like a sea captain.

Then, as if anything could be better than TALKING TO JUDY BLUME IN PERSON, we went to a speakeasy called the Bookstore.

It was one of the coolest establishments I've ever been in. There are no signs, just a door that says "Bookstore" down a couple stairs on a side street. Inside, it was dark, with candles flickering in hurricane lamps, glass-doored barrister bookcases filled with old books everywhere, slightly sinister-looking portrait paintings hanging in giant gilt frames in odd places (facing the bathroom doors). The bartender was dressed in a pinstriped shirt and suspenders, and even though the kitchen had closed, he very nicely rounded up some snacks for us- sweet potato chips, fig toasts with goat cheese, a cheese platter. The menus for both food and drinks are pasted into the pages of a real antique book.

So are the rules for the establishment, which in a nutshell, are that you can't stand anywhere- you must be seated (how they get around having all those candles in hurricane glasses), anyone seen playing on their phone while ignoring the party they are there with will be asked to leave, and ordering a Coors Lite is grounds for immediate expulsion from the premises.

I had a William Henry Pratt. It smelled- and tasted- heavenly. Sheri went for the custom cocktail- you pick two words from the menu page for custom cocktails and the bartender concocts a drink for you based on those terms. She picked "berry" and "bubbly" and the result was so good, it could kill you.

The next day we got up bright and early and went off to aerial barre class, which was knee-shakingly hard, but we did some really cool poses in the hammock. Breakfast was, of course, required after such exertions.

I bought Minchy, Frances & Ozzie some souvenir treats at Olivia's favorite pet bakery, The Dining Dog. Then I was off in my little rental car and on my way.

While it was good to be home (although the dogs totally ignored me once they got their mitts on the pork roses I brought them from the Dining Dog) I had so much fun on my adventure and even better, it
Yeah, she's Judy's friend, too.
was wonderful to spend time with a friend "in real life" that you had found through cyberspace. Maybe next time we'll bring our new BFFs, Judy and Meg, along for the ride.