My Favorite Things

There are five general categories of things that I love more than anything else in this life:

No. 1 – My kid. While she’s certainly not perfect and even drives me a little crazy sometimes, I will always be her biggest fan.  I made her, after all, baked her in my body like it was an Easy-Bake Oven and she was a tiny angel food cake.

Second only to my kid I love my family and friends, and goodness knows I’ve been fortunate to have some really special people in my life – including my sister and my niece, and my first cousins on my mother’s side:  one is a podcaster extraordinaire (check out his podcast “Meanwhile at the Podcast”, described as “a show about pop culture, fandom, and the fun stories of everyday life” [http://meanwhileatthepodcast.libsyn.com]) and the other is a dad of two kids, the younger of whom I only know from Facebook (but I already adore her) and the elder I last met when he was barely walking.  I miss my cousins.

When we were growing up, and especially when my grandparents still lived in New York, we saw them a lot, and always spent holidays together.  I remember vividly the night before my cousin George was born.  Much of my extended family had gathered in the basement of my grandmother’s house in Queens Village to celebrate the 90th birthday of my great-grandmother, which included the whole panoply of second cousins and first cousins once removed.  My aunt hadn’t come to the festivities, however, due to the fact that she was ready to give birth, and in fact she did the following morning – on Christmas Eve of 1967.

But now my cousins live in the D.C. area and, while we follow each other on social media, we haven’t seen each other in years, which is really a shame.

Some of my closest friends, too – people I love like they’re actual family – are long-distance and visited much too infrequently.  One of the things I’m most looking forward to for my retirement is being close to one or more of them so that we can hang out on a regular basis. They are fun and fascinating to be around, and I cherish the time spent together, especially given that it’s so infrequent.

No. 2 – Music of all kinds (as long as there’s a melody). I’ve been accumulating my collection since I was four years old, although I had a devastating loss following Superstorm Sandy in 2012 when all my best LPs – hundreds of them – were warped and waterlogged and lost forever.  (I lost a lot of unreproducible cassette mix tapes, too.)  I’m still kind of old-school when it comes to my current collection, although I’m not a vinyl collector (I do have a few remaining second-tier albums and also took a box of my soon-to-be-ex-brother-in-law’s albums that he was going to just THROW OUT (the horror!), including a stash of Pink Floyd LPs that I’m very excited about).  Streaming music just doesn’t do it for me, although I certainly appreciate the variety.  I mean, I listen to the radio – WFUV, 90.7 on the terrestrial radio dial – all day, every weekday while I’m working from home, and in the car on local drives.  But I want to OWN my music, to be able to listen to it on demand, in my own flow and combinations, wherever I might be located (as long as there’s a listening device).  My classic iPod is battered and suffers glitches such as songs that end prematurely, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the greatest musical storage invention of all time, and incredibly portable.  I still buy CDs when I have Amazon gift cards, not to mention thousands of downloaded iTunes, which I then back up on recorded “mix tape” CDs with names like “The Never-Ending Collection” and “Nan’s Favorite Gift Is Always Music” (a not-so-subtle message to anyone who is thinking of buying me a present for my birthday or some other gift-giving occasion), which I catalog in a Mix CD inventory so I know exactly where to find any single song in my miscellany at any given time.  I’m kind of obsessive about it and only regret that I don’t have more time to enjoy the full variety of my music (basically only on weekends and long drives).

I also regret that I no longer have any good buddies in close proximity with whom to share my music.  Back in the day, communal music listening was a huge part of my life, but no longer.  I haven’t found any new friends who love musical exploration as much as I do.  There is a lovely couple I’ve become friendly with lately – I went to high school with the husband, who is a guitarist in a really entertaining CSNY cover band named Four Way Street, for which I’ve turned into quite the little groupie, and I also really like his wife; we all share political leanings as well as a love of music – but unfortunately they live miles away and we haven’t reached the point of socializing outside of band performances, where it’s not always so easy to communicate amidst the noise and crowds.

In any event, music for me has always been somewhat of a solitary pursuit, but one that I take a great deal of pride in sharing with like-minded, open-minded folks.

No. 3 – Animals, especially cats, and especially kittens. There is nothing cuter.

My daily involvement as a volunteer with the local animal shelter / rescue organization Posh Pets and being the foster parent of over 30 creatures over the past few years is a testament to that love.  Even though the never-ending clean-up of poo and pee and vomit can be exhausting, the incessant barking gives me frequent headaches and the cost of pet food (and wee-wee pads and paper towels) is bank-breaking, I get a warm feeling inside when one of my fosters goes to a permanent home where they will be loved and doted on.  When I pet my cat Savannah, or cuddle a puppy, or a kitten makes biscuits on my belly, or on quiet afternoons when all the dogs and cats are in their respective beds enjoying a siesta, it’s the pinnacle for me of peacefulness and joy.  Companion animals are deserving of better than we give them.  They trust us; they depend on us; we are their world.

No. 4 – Hockey, especially New York Rangers hockey. Such an exciting game – there’s no greater value for your entertainment dollar, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m far from a stats wonk, and I have no interest in assembling a fantasy league team.  I just like to watch the games, and I really only follow the Rangers.  Once the Rangers get eliminated in – or prior to – the playoffs (which has sadly happened every year since the blessed year of our Messier, 1994), I just immerse myself nightly in the glorious spectacle that is playoff hockey and perhaps a favorite will emerge over the course of no less than four grueling best-of-seven series that I think is deserving of the ultimate team prize, the Stanley Cup.

I appreciate the personalities of hockey players and enjoy watching their reactions to things happening on the ice, and I’m also fascinated by what they do for fun off the ice.  (One of the best things I ever watched on TV was the HBO Series “24/7” that followed the Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers in the days leading up to the NHL Winter Classic in 2011.  Uncensored and hysterical, it was a coveted insider look at what hockey players say and do during games and at home.)  Hockey is an incredibly human game.  Hockey players come in all sizes, from 5’6” mini-mighties like Mats Zuccarrello and Marty St. Louis, and the prototypical tiny tough guy, Theo Fleury, to giants like the 6’9” “Big Z” Zdeno Chara or the man-mountain goalie for the Dallas Stars, 6’7” Ben Bishop.  Even though, as a general matter, the players seem to be getting bigger and younger, there’s still room in the game for small and old(er).

I feel sad when the Rangers lose a lot, and I get frustrated when they don’t SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK, especially when they’re on a power play.  If I were a coach, I would preach the following:  Get the puck out of your zone, then get it deep into theirs.  Think shot first, always.  You can’t score if you don’t shoot.  I’m not as clear on defensive strategy, but that would be my simple but effective offensive game plan every time.

I spent my youth talking hockey with my dad, and my college years being a valued member of the Trinity College hockey coaching brain trust, as team statistician.  (A precursor to today’s “video coach,” I had the best overview of the action from my perch on the highest bleacher seat at center ice, and I memorialized every shot, goal and penalty in my trusty spiral-bound book, which we analyzed after every game.)  The players undoubtedly wondered about my motives for spending so many winters hours traveling with the team, but Coach John Dunham knew the real reason I was there was a pure love of the game, and he was the only one whose opinion mattered.

As a college graduate, I was certain I would have a career in the sports world (well, hockey was the dream, but I would have settled for any pro sport in those early days).  Thanks to an unfortunate life path divergence I’ll expand upon in some future post, it was a dream deferred and, ultimately, denied, because it’s way too late in life now.  In law school I seriously considered pursuing a career as an entertainment lawyer, and my Sports Law professor (who gave me an A) was a former trustee of the New York Islanders so I might have had an “in”, but it wasn’t meant to be, and I ended up as a summer associate at the firm where I’ve been ever since, dealing with aviation finance transactions rather than rinks and stats and sticks and pucks.

Even if it’s not my career, I can (and do) still love hockey from the confines of my own couch and occasionally even decent (but never great, which is always a huge disappointment ) seats at Madison Square Garden.  For a few years I even had the income to be a proud partial-season plan owner, with all the perks that came with it, such as an outing at Bowlmore Lanes in NYC with my kid, where we literally rubbed elbows with Brandon Prust (her favorite player at the time) and Rangers’ TV color man Joe Micheletti.

(An aside:  My kid also counts among her favorite things in life items 2, 3 and 4 above, but not so much item 5.  Which is  . . . )

No. 5 – The written word – both to read and to write. Right now I literally have four books going, from Rachel Maddow’s Blowout to James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to read any of them to the end and will in all likelihood have to return one or more of them prematurely to the library, to be re-borrowed to finish at some future date.  I am so jealous of a recently retired friend of mine who just published on Facebook his 10 favorite books of the year.  (Obama, too, always brags about his prolific reading lists.  How does he find the time??)

As for the writing part?  Well, here I am . . . staying up past my bedtime while trying to keep up with my weekly posts for this re-boot of “Life Considered”.  I maintain my dream of a wider readership (when I actually write something worthy of wider reading, that is).  And one of these days – probably in connection with my next residential move, which will involve considerable down-sizing – I’m going to have to cull through the decades of blathering journals I’ve been hoarding to see if I can find a nugget or two or three that might be the genesis of something publishable.

You know what I’ve concluded as a consequence of this analysis of my favorite things?  I NEED TO RETIRE.  Because once I do, I can indulge more deeply in all these things I love.

                     Some adorable kittens.  (Impossible to get them all to stay still!)

Meatballs

My sister and I have meatball grandma bodies.  We’re both about five feet tall (as I always remind her, at 4’11” she’s not even five feet tall, whereas I hover around 5’1”) and heavy breasted, which gives us the illusion of roundness from certain angles.  Our grandmother (born in 1918) was of the first generation who actively and persistently sought the svelte (but still curvy) figures of the Hollywood stars with restrictive rubber girdles and pointy bullet bras, flocking to Jean Nidetch’s fledgling Weight Watchers diet program in the 1960s.  I always remember my grandmother fighting with her weight, but she never really fit the meatball mold.  On the other hand, both her mother and her mother-in-law – great-grandmothers I was fortunate to know as a child – were on the more short-and-round side.  Unfortunately, my sister’s and my physiques seem to have skipped a couple of generations.  (Our mother, by our standards, was an Amazon at 5’6″ and always called us her “peanuts” when she stood next to us.)

When I lived with my mother after my divorce in 1998, between jobs and with an angry three-year-old who didn’t quite understand why Daddy didn’t live with us anymore (one time, she literally took a sharpie and wrote “NO” on various appliances and walls, although we never got a straight answer as to why), I was on a self-improvement mission.  My sister had just gotten married and lived a few towns away.  So we decided to take a step class at the Lucille Roberts halfway between our houses.  Our instructor was this beast of a girl (Cheryl?  Sharon?  Karen?), who was solid and tight, with thick thighs and a  high butt.  We tried so hard to follow her!  Neither of us has been blessed with the dancing gene (although I like to think I have a decent sense of rhythm, I don’t always know what to do with my arms). But we ended up, after a few weeks, being the confident ones who stood in front of the class, in full view of Cheryl/Sharon/Karen’s rock-hard derriere.  I can’t remember why we stopped going, but of course we did.  All of our fitness regimes (I’ve had many, my sister fewer – her roundness developed later than mine) eventually sputter out and die.

I’ve been though at least a dozen different diet or weight loss or lifestyle change programs, and I’ve been some degree of successful using each one.  I stuck with some longer than others, and for a few weeks, if not months, I wouldn’t feel like I was struggling or deprived, and the pounds – slowly but surely – would come off.

But then, something happens.  It’s always a different something (often, but not always, readily available holiday goodies starting around Halloween and extending through New Year’s), but the result is always the same:  falling off the wagon, eating uncontrollably, abandoning my exercise programs and packing on the pounds.  Most recently, my sister and I tried to be each other’s support system, texting each other at the end of the day with how many calories we’d eaten and how many steps we’d walked.  It was a good way to stay in touch with my sister, too, who doesn’t live very far from me but we don’t get together as often as I’d like.  She’s going through some major life changes of her own, and diet and exercise aren’t high on her list of priorities, even though she knows (we BOTH know) that when you’re exercising and eating right, you actually feel BETTER.  Unfortunately, we always fall victim to the opposite approach:  the only thing that we think will make us feel “better” when we’re struggling and sad is comfort food and couch surfing.

Not sure where to go from here.  They say it gets harder to lose weight and maintain fitness the older you are, and frankly, I’m older than I’ve ever been (and also fatter).  I’ve also come to the conclusion that I can’t (or won’t) give up those food items I love, like peanut butter, and ice cream, and pizza, and bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches – the list goes on and on.  So the way I see it, I have two options if I don’t want to be forever disgusted to look at myself in a mirror:  (1) Exercise on a regular basis, not just walking but perhaps getting back to a step or other aerobics class?  Perhaps I can do it from home?  If I just woke up an hour earlier every day, I could squeeze in some fat-burning activity.  At a minimum, I need to keep up with the steps – at least 7,500 a day would be ideal.  (2) Eat what I want, but eat way, way less of it.  No more obsessive binging, like polishing off a bag of Reese’s miniatures in a single night, returning again and again to the fridge where I kept the bag in a drawer (ineffectually trying to hide it from myself or at least make it more work to get to), grabbing two or three at a time, berating myself with every return visit.  Denying myself the foods I love – milk chocolate, cookies, the occasional giant blueberry muffin, peanut butter parfait Nips – would be like denying life itself. But I seriously need to develop better self-control.

Hopefully my sister and I can continue to encourage each other in our pursuit of fitness, and maybe, if we’re diligent, by the summer we can look more like frankfurters than meatballs (or at least cocktail weenies – nothing to be done about the shortness, I’m afraid).

IMG_2389 (1)

Meatball Great-Grandma in the middle, Grandma second from right, Mom third from right. No one could have predicted that the future would hold even more meatballs.

 

 

Life Re-Considered

I’ve missed my blog.  It’s been nearly two years since I’ve posted, for various reasons (which I will address in due course), and it’s almost as if my best friend moved away and lost touch.  Yes, I still write in my journal every day, and I still keep track of happy moments in my Joy Book (even though my entries sometimes consist of the simple declaration, “No joy today”).  But there’s a real void where my blog should be.

I started writing my blog in 2015 as an attempt to get my words out into the ether, to publicly post what I’d been hiding in my personal notebooks for decades.  I purposely committed to writing FOR MYSELF, and only for myself, so that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I wasn’t widely read or didn’t get a response.  Needless to say, I wasn’t and I didn’t, but that didn’t stop me.  For more than two years, I cranked out a blog entry weekly, re-reading and editing it until it was the best I could produce in a week’s time. I was proud of many of my blog entries, and occasionally even posted a link to particularly good ones on Facebook to access an even wider audience.  I was content.  I was writing, which is all I’ve ever really wanted to do and the only modest “talent” I felt I possessed.

But then the 2016 election happened, and slowly, over time, I lost the will to write.  All I could think about was how we had gotten it so wrong. How was an unabashed conman and rude caricature like Donald Trump allowed to become the president of ostensibly the greatest country on earth? How had enough Americans been so bamboozled to allow the only qualified candidate (by far) to lose the election?  It was as if a dark fog kept creeping into my brain unbidden, coloring everything in there.  If you look at the last few of my blog posts (monthly rather than weekly by then, in early 2018), you can see it clearly.

There was other darkness, too – my job, my lack of funds, my feelings of life passing me by.  And somehow the writing dried up and I stopped posting.

Oh, I thought about re-starting hundreds of times.  I wrote lots of solid first sentences, and even a full paragraph now and again.  But I couldn’t sustain the effort.  Frankly, I still wonder if I can, but it’s a new year now, a new hope of finally getting rid of the stain that’s been clouding the country, the world and my own mind for the past three years. I agree with a post by a friend on Facebook, who said optimistically that she welcomes 2020 because she wants to be happy again, to stop wishing the years away, yearning for a time when maybe we can use Facebook just to swap recipes or post photos of our pets rather than lamenting the destruction of our country and, ultimately, humanity itself.

So I’m giving my little experiment in thoughtful positivity another try, but I can’t promise to be a hundred percent positive a hundred percent of the time.  Please bear with me.  Perhaps it will be like a typical pro hockey season:  the rust of a summer of inactivity takes a few weeks to be buffed away, with daily practice and game-day regimens.  And by the time I reach the halfway point, I’ll either be in playoff contention or I’ll be selling off parts for a re-set.

I turned 60 last year.  I really thought I would have accomplished something in my life by now, and being a writer is all I’ve ever wanted to do.  The time is now.  I’ve really got nothing to lose.  Wish me luck.

2020 page

Kids

A month ago, young American high school students in Parkland, Florida (PUBLIC high school students – I’m talking to you, DeVos) faced an unspeakable tragedy when one of their own took a military-grade rifle to school with the express intention of killing as many people as possible.  Their response was to say, loudly and in unison, “ENOUGH”, and today, a chorus of young voices from not only around the country but also around the world have joined their powerful voices.  If adults can’t act like adults and do something – ANYTHING – to stop or at least minimize these tragedies, then maybe a bunch of loud, passionate kids can do something.  After all, a lot of these high school kids will be able to vote in the 2020 election – and who do you think they’re going to vote for?  True, the NRA funds politicians from both parties, but the vast majority of NRA dollars go to members of the Republican party, which in recent years –since they became the majority in Congress, and especially since the invasion of Trump – has become the party of the mean, petty and spiteful.

And their incessant mouthpieces, in the form of Fox News and Breitbart and Info Wars, had to belittle the admirable efforts of these young people.  These lunatics with their conspiracy theories!  They’d rather create elaborate fictions than admit to the truth they hear and see right in front of their eyes.  Like clockwork, here come Alex Jones and the tinfoil-hat brigade (or might it even be the Russians?), spouting nonsense that these kids aren’t real high school students and they’ve just seized on this shooting to further their left-wing agenda.  What contortions they go through to provide “evidence” for their insanity!

What might be a normal person’s reaction upon seeing these earnest young people who want to be the agents of change for a broken system, when it’s their futures that are at stake?  They are the largest stakeholders in ALL of these laws and regulations that aren’t serving them or their futures one iota.  My feeling – and the feelings of all reasonable people, from Rachel Maddow to Bernie Sanders – is that, it’s a shame that it took a massacre of innocents to prompt them to action, but good on ‘em for doing everything in their power (which admittedly isn’t much – that is, unless you accumulate enough voices and enough allies to become an immovable force, which is hopefully the way this will go) to get someone to fix the problems.

I am inspired by these grieving and traumatized and, frankly, furious young people who are FED UP with the complete lack of action by the people elected to protect and serve them (and in countless ways actually hinder efforts to protect and serve them) all over TV, finally getting HEARD and SEEN and resisting things as they are, in their horrible and horrifying state.  They are picking up the mantle from the women’s march(es), the Charlottesville protests, all those regular folks speaking out at town halls and picketing outside their representatives’ offices – people who are supposed to REPRESENT those regular folks!! –to preserve the Affordable Care Act and attempt to save the Dreamers.  But more and more, elected officials, especially at the Federal level, don’t act for the people who elected them, or even their children, as evidenced by the current waves of protests and picketing.

I happen to know first-hand that, given an opportunity, kids of all ages, but especially high school students, have a LOT to say about their schools, their communities, their countries and the world.  I spent four of the first five years of its existence working closely with the founder of Global Kids, Inc., an inspirational woman named Carole Artigiani.  Carole started Global Kids back in 1989 with the express purpose of giving young people a voice.  Global Kids’ motto was (and continues to be – the organization, based in New York City and Washington, D.C., still thrives) “Youth turning hope into action.” Through Carole’s connections and her tireless outreach (and that of her enthusiastic staff and the teachers at the schools where Global Kids is embedded as an after-school program), the students were given platforms at local community board and city council meetings, the governor’s office, Congress, and even the Council on Foreign Relations and the United Nations.  They’ve met with Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton.  They’ve traveled the world.  For over 25 years, Carole’s aspirational little after-school program has produced generations of “woke” young people who have gone on to become teachers and activists and performers and leaders and lifelong speakers of their minds.  [www.globalkids.org]

And what about those teenagers in Kansas who want to run for governor who aren’t even old enough to vote?  It wasn’t a joke or a publicity stunt – they sincerely believe that their interests are not being addressed.  Something they learned from American history is the “No taxation without representation” protest – well, this is their way of saying, “Don’t make rules for me if my voice isn’t represented.  We may just be kids, but it’s our planet, our future.”  There’s even a 13-year-old political savant in Vermont who wants to run for office there and who already knows exponentially more about how our government works than the abomination who currently occupies in the Oval Office.

LET THE KIDS SPEAK – and actually LISTEN TO THEM.  Government at all levels needs an influx of young people, and soon, before the bitter, close-minded old folks in power now destroy the planet entirely, which seems more and more likely given Trump, and the obstructionist Republicans and the impotent, in-fighting Democrats.  There’s GOT to be a better way – so why not listen to the young inheritors of this planet when they actually have something to say about it?

Reunion

The weekend before last, I attended my 40th high school reunion.  It was conceived and hosted by a classmate who I had not seen since we graduated in June of 1977, but who was one of my absolute favorite people in high school.  Colin was someone with whom every moment was literally spent hysterically laughing.  He reminded me of an amusing boredom-buster he and I and another friend (who was also at the reunion, who I enjoyed catching up with very much) used to do in Spanish class.  We’d write a line of a story, leave a single word on the next line, and then fold down the paper and pass it to the next person, who wouldn’t know what you’d written except for the last word.  Then that person would write the next line and pass it along, repeating until the page was full.  We’d read the finished result, often separately and silently, in class, and try our damnedest not to crack up to the point of being asked to leave the classroom.  We usually didn’t succeed.  Colin said he had actually saved some of them but couldn’t locate them in time for the party.  I hope he can find them for the next time we get together, which I anticipate will be soon because I really like the guy and want to stay in touch.  As he runs the hotel and restaurant in New York City where we had the reunion – shout out to the charming French Quarter Guest Apartments and the Bourbon Street Bar & Grill, steps away from Times Square and the theater district! – that gives me a fantastic excuse to see him again.

Those are the best kind of stories to tell at reunions, because not only do they recall a shared experience, they bring back some of the laughter.  Another such tale involved a party at our friend Robin’s house.  (Robin, sadly, did not attend the reunion, but she was fondly remembered by all.)  Robin had some great parties, which I always associate with listening to Elton John records and also, somehow, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, whose heyday was really before our time but we knew every word to every song anyway.  (“She’s Just My Style” was a perennial favorite.)  There would inevitably be drinking and, frequently, encounters of a sexual kind in her laundry room, which abutted the basement den where the festivities took place.  During one particular party, while the lights were low – well, off, actually – and there was much necking and petting going on, one of our male friends decided to disrobe entirely and plant himself for eventual discovery on the big console TV.  Suddenly, the lights came on, and there he was, in all his nakedness.  But who had turned on the light?  As our formerly bare-assed classmate reminded us at the reunion, it was Robin’s mother! And she was none too pleased to see a nude six-footer perched nonchalantly on the family television.

We also recounted parties at my house, where we practically invented the Long Island Iced Tea by mixing together everything we found in my father’s liquor cabinet, replacing what we took with water (which was inevitably discovered, resulting in one of my many teenage groundings).  One such party – in broad daylight – involved emptying the contents of my refrigerator into the backyard built-in pool:  sour cream, frozen vegetables, a pot roast.  I could not tell you WHY we did such a ridiculous thing, although it was likely a food fight that got out of hand.  And suddenly, way earlier than expected, my parents came walking into the backyard, open-mouthed in disbelief.  The partygoers (other than me, of course) scattered, but not before hearing my mother, in her fury, scream at me, “I give you an inch and you take the whole arm!”, a cliché mash-up that has provided decades of amusement among my friends who were there that fateful (but thoroughly entertaining) day.

Robin’s and my houses were not the only popular party sites, though.  Another one of our classmates (who sadly wasn’t at the reunion, and I’ve been really disappointed that she hasn’t confirmed my friend requests on Facebook because I’d love to see what she’s been up to all these years) had the absolute best party house.  Her mother was a night-shift nurse, leaving us an empty house for hours in the evening with no danger of being discovered.  Those parties were also an opportunity to commingle with the boys from Chaminade, a local Catholic school, which was a good way to enhance the available male talent pool, so to speak.  In fact, one of my high school friends actually married a guy from Chaminade that she met at one of those parties.  At the reunion, where they showed, on a loop, a montage of photos from our high school days that Colin had assembled, a delightful portrait of them from their junior prom kept coming up on the screen.

And then there was the ultimate party:  the senior class trip, an event that, as a direct result of the debauchery of my class, was permanently discontinued afterward.  On a side table at the reunion (next to a plate full of some of the most delicious brownies I’ve ever eaten), Colin had displayed a folder full of historical high school documents, including a student council list of “do’s and don’t’s” for the trip.  Prominently featured on that list was “NO LIQUOR!” Well, many of the suitcases that came on the bus with us to the upstate dude ranch contained not a stitch of clothes but full cases of beer.  “You said no liquor,” the kids would later offer as a defense, “but you didn’t say no BEER.”  I don’t remember much of the senior trip, having spent the bulk of it on the bottom bunk behind a blanket with an adorable kid who, in my memory, always reminds me of Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (also, unhappily, not a reunion attendee), but evidently the highlight of the weekend was a dousing of a particularly persnickety teacher with a fire extinguisher, which left a telltale trail of neon yellow in the snow.

Ah, those days!  We were admittedly naughty, but that’s when things were the most fun and memorable.  On the other hand, there didn’t seem to be the danger that pervades today’s youth.  We rode our bikes everywhere, at every hour of the day and night, and never wore helmets.  (In fact, in one particularly vivid and memorable episode, a bunch of girls snuck out from a slumber party and headed to the local park, where we were accosted by a wave of guys riding naked on their bicycles.)  Remember, these were the days before cell phones, so our parents never had a clue where we were (and frankly, I think they preferred it that way).  There were no guns.  There were drugs, and in fact a couple of my closest friends both lost brothers to drug overdoses, but most of my classmates mostly indulged in nothing stronger than beer, marijuana and whatever liquor we could steal out of our parents closets (or whatever we could convince someone’s older brother or sister – the aforementioned Robin’s sister was particularly helpful in this regard – to buy for us from the local liquor store, including a stomach-turning concoction in a bottle called Tango, a sort of screwdriver made with vodka and Tang, Southern Comfort, and Boone’s Farm Apple/Cherry/Blackberry Wine).  I can’t recall a single pregnancy scare or unwed mother, but, then again, in those days it still would have been a major scandal and very much kept under wraps.  In some ways, the girls of that time were kind of prudish, despite the ready availability of birth control, and this created a situation for which I personally suffered some ostracism and abuse, but that’s another story for another day.

There was something more innocent about that time, back in the late ‘70s.  Or maybe I’m just remembering it through rose-colored memory glasses.  Admittedly, there were moments of pain and shame in high school, too, most of which I’d rather not remember (a barrage of snowballs and a bombardment with eggs are two that immediately come to mind, both courtesy of the same jerk, who fortunately did not attend the reunion – although I might have been curious to see if he had an apology in him).  But for the most part, I loved high school, I loved my high school friends, and I’m glad I had the chance to see many of them again at the reunion, easily able to reminisce and laugh together again after all these years.

[A small word about politics:  Our gang was so simpatico at the reunion that politics barely entered the conversation (if at all), which was probably a good thing given that our class is represented by more than a few Trump supporters.  But I did manage to have a satisfying little rant post-party with my reunion roomie – who adorably was still able to fit in her cheerleader skirt and sweater, although the saddle shoes were a later vintage – and another one of our mates, sitting on the stoop of the hotel in a misty rain on an unseasonably warm January night, just to remind ourselves that there are a lot of free and reasonable thinkers from Seaford, too.  In fact, my OPA group was founded by and includes a number of Seafordites, which makes me proud, although the same could not be said about ALL of my classmates, based on their posts on Facebook.]

A good time was had by all of the sixty or so folks who attended the reunion.  I hope we don’t have to wait another forty years to do it again!

Seaford Class of 1977 Reunion 2018 [BBA Photography]

Seaford High School Class of ’77 (2018) (Photo credit: William Moseley / BBA Photography)

Retirement Options

My financial advisor always talks about “65-year-old Nancy,” and how we have to consider her when making financial decisions today.  65-year-old Nancy is the reason I need to keep working at a job that I find spiritually unsatisfying, because not only do 58-year-old Nancy and her 22-year-old kid need to live TODAY, 65-year-old Nancy needs to be able to live comfortably a mere seven years from now (it used to be more years but, man, do they zip by quickly, which makes 65-year-old Nancy’s plight that much more urgent).

When my mother passed away, she was able to leave my sister and me a small nest egg, mostly derived from my deceased father’s assets but also wisely invested, and my cheapo mother never needed to dig into the pot to cover unanticipated expenses, like both her daughters have done with some frequency.  (My mother also never paid full price for anything; it was always coupons and store brands, even though, in my mind, we were reasonably well off and didn’t have to scrimp.)  Over the past seven years since her death, I have slowly but surely whittled down a $350,000 inheritance to little over $100,000.  (And don’t even get me started on the $35,000 she left for my daughter, who, as soon as she turned 18 and was entitled to access the funds, spent it all – every damn penny – despite my entreaties to set some aside in a CD or money market account so she might have some left over for college or a car or something substantial.)

The bulk of my mother’s money went to into my house.  Insurance didn’t pay enough to cover the renovations after the storm, and then the elevation, despite the generous grant from New York State’s New York Rising program, was more costly than anticipated when, in the course of lifting, the entire rear of the house practically fell off and ultimately had to be demolished and rebuilt.  Of course, this resulted in my having two-thirds of a brand new abode, but it also meant that my assets were no longer in the form of (easily liquidatable) stocks and bonds and REITs but in real estate instead, which will only be realized once I sell the house.

This raises all sorts of questions about my future.  My daughter has stated in no uncertain terms that she wants to keep the house, which creates a small problem:  If I don’t sell the property, I don’t get the benefit of my investment.  So that’s one hurdle to overcome.  The other is actually selling the house for what it’s worth, given that it will need new floors throughout thanks to my pet pee situation.  And it’s also dependent on the economic environment, which I think right now is a buyer’s market given the glut of distressed lots and rebuilt homes since Sandy.  Sky-high property taxes will be a further consideration for anyone contemplating buying a home in Long Beach (that is, if there even IS a Long Beach if another one of those “100 year storms” rolls around).

The key may be to sell sooner rather than later, my daughter’s wishes notwithstanding.  She’s presumably going to be traveling the world working with endangered animals anyway; why would she want to come back to lovely but boring old Long Beach?  So her future factors into this, too, not just 65-year-old Nan’s.

Let’s say I sell within the next 3-5 years.  Would I go on to buy another place, or maybe just rent?  There are benefits and drawbacks to both.  I enjoy having SOMETHING to show for the money I pay every month, even if I do share it with a bank.  With rent, it’s basically just throwing money away for the privilege of living in someone else’s investment.  But as I’ve discovered over the years, home ownership is a royal pain in the ass when it comes to maintenance and repairs.  It was a pleasure, when I lived in the apartment last year, to have someone take out the garbage and shovel the walk (even if I never actually took advantage of my on-site super to fix things like the leak in my kitchen sink because I didn’t want to him to know I had a bunch of cats in the apartment!)

But the biggest question is, WHERE DO I GO??  One thing that’s quite clear is that I want to be somewhere much warmer than here, without the snow.  I’d also like to avoid major storms and weather events like tornadoes and wildfires and natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, which kind of limits my choices since nearly everywhere in the world has its own local destructions.

Plus, it’s got to be a lot less expensive than living in New York, because the taxes and cost of living here are probably higher than they are nearly anywhere else in the country, let alone the world.  If I’m going to be depending on Social Security and whatever remains of 65-year-old Nan’s paltry investments (including my meager 401(k)), there’s going to be a lot less money coming in (although I can probably come up with some online work – or, dare I say it, freelance writing? –to make ends meet).  And because I’ll be older, I’ll need someplace with dependable health care, which pretty much puts me out of the United States since our health care system here is an obscene embarrassment compared to the rest of the civilized world.

And what happens with my animals?  I’m up to eight permanent members of my furry family – five cats and three dogs – although realistically not all of them will be living three to five years from now.  If I move out of the country, will I have to quarantine them?  Can I ship them by boat or airplane?  The logistics are kind of daunting.  And if I do decide to rent, not everywhere is pet-friendly (especially with SO MANY creatures).

Clearly, I need to do more research, but two places keep popping into my head – one domestic and the other international.  On the domestic side, I’ve heard good things about Delaware.  I could live in one of the many lovely beach towns, so I’d be able to continue enjoying coastal life with less of a hurricane threat than Florida (or even Long Beach) and a slightly more temperate climate than New York (although with global warming, the mid-Atlantic states are seeing more snow than ever – ugh!).  Perhaps best of all, I’ve heard that Delaware is one of the most tax-friendly states for retirees and seniors, featuring no sales tax, low state income tax, and no tax on Social Security benefits.  As an added bonus, I’d still be close to friends and family who live in the New York area, and even closer to family and friends on the Delmarva Peninsula and North Carolina.

On the international front, though, there’s Costa Rica.  I’ve never been, but my daughter has, and she always raves about how much it appealed to her.  (“Costa Rica has a piece of my heart,” she says.)  Conceivably, if I moved there, she could come with me and pursue her career in wildlife conservation in an amazingly rich ecosystem.  It would also be a great place for the aforementioned friends and family to visit.  From what I’ve read and seen (Darian posted a great video on Facebook the other day that I keep revisiting [https://www.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/10155046651386479]), Costa Rica is a thoroughly modern tropical paradise:  low crime and cost of living, high regard for the environment and sustainability.  The more I think about it, the more I want to move there.

Who knows?  There are other places to consider – Sedona, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, Canada; Spain (where my friends Erika and Curtiss are planning to retire) or even Portugal.  But at the moment, Delaware and Costa Rica are the two front runners.

So now it just becomes a matter of getting 58-year-old Nan to be wise enough with her money so that 65-year-old Nan (or maybe even a younger version, if I win the lottery!) can think about the next phase of her life with excitement and anticipation rather than dread and worry.

2017:  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I blame the New Yorker.  I kept getting emails in my inbox from them, teasing me with a few of their intelligent, well-written articles and glimpses of the on-point cartoons (“Love them New Yorker cartoons!” frequently writes a Facebook friend.)  So, in the spirit of supporting definitely-not-FAKE NEWS (which also accounts for a subscription to the Washington Post that I can’t really afford right now), I ordered a trial subscription.  (I also, by dint of some clerical error that I won’t be calling to anyone’s attention, received not one but two fantastic New Yorker totes as a thank-you gift.)  The subscription has caused a bit of a problem in that I don’t have enough “free reading” time – I pretty much only ready on the train going into the city once a week, and really only coming home because I tend to nod off on the morning ride – and the New Yorker articles are so dense and just, let’s face it, LONG, so the magazines were just piling up.  I’m only now getting finished with the November 9 issue.  So I discontinued the subscription when it came time to renew at the regular rate (which, needless to say, I can’t afford).

Apart from overloading my limited reading time, the more egregious thing that my New Yorker subscription did was expose me to all that quality writing, which had the effect of shifting my confidence decidedly back into the “I will never write as well as these people” sphere.  So I blame the New Yorker, but that’s only one of many reasons why I seem to have abandoned my blog just short of three years from its inception in March 3, 2015.  It causes me indescribable psychic pain that I wasn’t capable (for whatever reason) of keeping up with my weekly blog posts, and since November I haven’t posted anything at all.  And yet that discomfort hasn’t been painful enough, evidently, because I haven’t done anything to stop it.

Is it mere writer’s block?  True, I haven’t been writing much in my journal either.  In fact, I have to force myself, most nights in bed before I fall asleep, to even manage to pen a few quick paragraphs to recount my day and beat myself up over how miserably I’ve failed at keeping up with my writing.  (On the positive side, I’m at least somewhat proud of that meager diligence, and also that I manage to write SOMETHING in my joy book every day, even if it’s “No joy today”.)  It’s also the case that my brain hasn’t been particularly brimming with creative ideas or juicy thoughts ripe for squeezing out on paper.  I’ve basically been BLANK for months.  The things that occupy my gray matter lately fall into three categories:  the good (not much – mostly my kid, my pets and volunteering at the shelter – oh, and actually having a parking spot every time I leave the house); the bad (my money woes, hating a job that I desperately need, lacking an overriding “purpose” to my life and continuing to be somewhat of a hermit); and the supremely ugly (TRUMP and the travesty our government has become in the hands of the Republicans).

The fact that it’s winter doesn’t help.  I’m pretty sure I may have mentioned it once or twice in this blog, but I HATE WINTER.  I especially hate when it snows, as it did this past week (nearly two feet in drifty spots), and digging out the carport was no picnic.  Thank goodness Darian had to free her car right away for a trip to Boston to catch a flight to the Cayman Islands (SO JEALOUS!) with her college friend’s family, and then a lovely man with a snowblower and three pre-teen “assistants” with shovels came by the following day to liberate my car.  To add to the snow, the temperatures were well below freezing for nearly two weeks and my front-of-the-house pipes froze, halting the flow of water in my kitchen and main bathroom.  Fortunately, we still had heat and hot water in the small master bath at the back of the house (tiny shower and tinier sink) throughout the frigid snap.  But only on Tuesday morning, as the temps hit 40, did all my water come back.  The short, dark days, the cold, the mess – all of that contributes to my seasonal depression.  Plus the Rangers – usually the only bright spot in the winter months – aren’t playing particularly well (and they’re actually in their “bye week” right now, so there’s been no hockey AT ALL for nearly a week), so that’s become more of a downer than an upper on the mood scale.

Underlying it all is this feeling of futurelessness.  Like, when I try to envision my life in twenty years, ten years, even five, I don’t see anything different than what I see right now, and that is ultimately kind of paralyzing.  Realistically, I know things won’t stay the same – in fact, I can almost guarantee that I won’t be doing this job much longer, which will create a whole different trauma.  I had my worst year, billable-hourly speaking, since I started working there over fifteen years ago.  And (by design) I don’t participate at all on any of our “big client” deals that the younger partners in our group spearhead.  When the senior partner in my office, who has enabled me to finagle my current plum working situation, was removed as practice group leader (“moved up” to global practice group leader, they said, but he and I both knew what it really was) last year, I was sure I would get my walking papers.  Fortunately, the new practice group leader knows me a little bit (although he works on the West Coast) and appreciates my work (at least so far), so he kept me on.  After this past year, though, there’s not really much justification for my retention unless I expand my scope and I am too lazy and unengaged to do that, I’m afraid.

So let’s say they cut me loose – then what??  I won’t get a severance package because I’m a contract attorney, not an employee.  I guess I could try to collect unemployment, but I have no idea how to do that.  It might force me to start another career, even if I have to begin at the bottom of the ladder.  At least I could explore areas that are more fulfilling to me – ACLU, civil rights work, even some kind of animal law, or perhaps not even practicing law anymore and getting back into the publishing sphere – but that would probably involve having to LEAVE MY HOUSE to work a regular 9-to-6 shift somewhere (to which I would also have to commute).  It’s been so long since I’ve had that experience, I don’t think I even remember how to do it (and I’m pretty sure I don’t WANT to do it).  That is, if I can even get through an application-and-interview process that sounds like the worst kind of hell right about now, given my lack of self-confidence.  I’m way too lazy for my own good.  And don’t even mention the inevitable reduction of income.

So, as you can see, there’s enough “bad” there to choke a horse.  I don’t even want to get into the “ugly” because it fills me with such impotence and gloom and an overriding fear that it’s only going to get worse, somehow, if all the controls come off completely.  I remember when Trump first (inexplicably, shockingly) won the election, the thing that most upset me was that there would be no checks on him, given that the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and he would take advantage of the Supreme Court nomination stolen from Obama (by those same dastardly Republicans) and create a conservative majority (please the gods, no one else dies or leaves while he’s still in office!).  (Alarmingly, it’s largely gone under the radar what a travesty Trump’s judicial lifetime appointments to the lower courts will turn out to be.)  He’s stacking the deck with hand-picked federal prosecutors and even trying to get the Justice Department and FBI, both of which are sworn to uphold the law wholly independent of any president, to swear fealty.  It’s an “American Horror Story,” all right.  And it’s brought out all this ugliness in so-called publicly elected (and supposedly publicly accountable) government officials.  Whatever happened to “You work for US”??  November 2018 can’t come soon enough, and there needs to be waves of volunteers helping everyone who wants to vote, because the Republicans are going to do their damndest to shut out (and shut up) the Democrats.

I’ve never in my life been so obsessed (and not in a good way) with the workings of our government, but it’s probably a civically responsible thing that I am.  In fact, every week I receive an email about the local neighborhood association meeting, and I note it but I never actually go.  (That’s not precisely true – I went once, when they were talking about hiring a “parking consultant” to sort out the parking situation in the West End, which turned out to be a colossal waste of taxpayer money with no apparent results.)  This year I am committed to going to the meetings regularly and maybe even getting involved on a committee or something.  The last president of the West End Neighbors Association went on to win his first election as city councilmember this past November, so who knows?  Maybe I would make a good politician!  There’s a woman I met at one of my Organize Plan Act (OPA) meetings named Elaine DiMasi who is running for House representative in Suffolk County to unseat the terrible Lee Zeldin.  She is a scientist and is operating a really intelligent campaign, getting out to meet her potential constituents and LISTENING TO THEM, which is something that I think this happy flood of women candidates nationwide will do much better, as a bloc, than their male counterparts.  (There are always exceptions – I’m looking at YOU, Susan Collins.)

One of the pundits I follow regularly since Trump came along is Robert Reich, formerly the Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton and an incredibly smart man (who also draws well!).  I saw on Facebook the other day his “GUIDELINES FOR 2018”, which I found encouraging and uplifting and entirely do-able:

  1. Don’t use the president’s surname. [Well, I do call him “Trump” but I never use the word “president” when I refer to him or, like Charlie Pierce of Esquire does, use an asterisk! One of my OPA colleagues always uses a lower-case “t”.]
  2. Remember this is a regime and he’s not acting alone. [And they’re the truly frightening ones – Trump is an ignorant puppet who can be easily manipulated.]
  3. Do not argue with those who support him—it doesn’t work. [I’ve lost so much respect for people I know who support him that I wouldn’t waste my time.]
  4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state. [Again, they’re not necessarily “his” policies since he only parrots what he hears – see #2 above.]
  5. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies grow.
  6. No more helpless/hopeless talk. [These two might be tough, but I’ll try my best.]
  7. Support artists and the arts. [YES! ALWAYS!!]
  8. Be careful not to spread fake news—check it out first.
  9. Take care of yourselves.
  10. RESIST.

To end on a positive note, let’s look at the good – and there IS definitely some, and I do my best to remember that.  My daughter is home, at least for a little while, till she figures out her next career steps.  January finds her, first, in the Cayman Islands for a rainy but warm vacation, and then she’s off to Thailand for five days (almost longer in the air than on the ground) to pick up some pups from the Soi Dog Foundation, an affiliate of Posh Pets Rescue who saves dogs from the meat trade and other cruelties in Southeast Asia.  Generous Soi Dog donors periodically offer to pay the round-trip airfare for volunteers to come to Thailand and then accompany a few doggies back to the States to find their forever homes.  It was an ideal opportunity for travel (which she loves to do), so she jumped at it.  She’s never actually been to Asia (apart from a wedding on the Asia side of the Bosphorus in Turkey), so that will be yet another continent represented on her “world travels” map.  I’ll finally get to see her again at the end of the month!

But in the meantime, I have furry children to keep me company.  We’re above maximum capacity at the moment, on the canine AND feline side.  The Posh Pets cat director, Vanessa Vetrano Vaccaro, had a horrible fire at her house just before Thanksgiving and actually lost five of her favorite cats, which was heartbreaking, although the many fosters living with her were saved and shuffled off to various locations in Westchester and Long Island.  In the chaos after the fire, I of course offered to take in one of her foster cats.  As this happened a couple of weeks before Darian’s graduation (on December 15, a day that will live in Lucas Family history!), I had a whole room in which to host him.  Turns out the cat I took home wasn’t one of Vanessa’s cats at all:  He was just a stray that lived in a foreclosed house down the block from her.  But he’s never going to live outside again, as he has become House Cat Supreme, lazing all day on the bed and getting cuddles and pets, non-stop purring and making biscuits.  He’s a big, beautiful strawberry blonde boy we first called Fred, which we had to change when another “Fred” was surrendered to the shelter the same day.  So then we were calling him “Big Red,” but once Darian got home, she decided she didn’t like that name because it reminded her of a girl she didn’t like, so now we’re calling him “Greg”, which seems to fit just fine.  Greg is still officially a foster cat but we are going to have a hard time giving him up.  My daughter is very fond of him as well, and shares her bed with him nightly.  They haven’t even posted him on the Posh Pets website yet as none of us can manage to get a good photo of him (as the below can attest – it does NOT do him justice).

Greg (fka Fred, Big Red)

Greg (fka Fred, Big Red)

And earlier this week I took home a little 7-month old Teddy Bear (bichon-shih tzu mix) named, appropriately, Teddy.  Teddy was one of fifty (!) dogs that Posh Pets saved from a puppy mill auction where they sell these beautiful creatures off like so much merchandise after having lived their lives as breeding machines, stuck in a metal cage with bars under their feet so the poop and pee can fall through, never feeling a human touch or love.  It was harrowing for the Posh folks that actually went there and for those of us here at home, too, as we heard the horror stories.  What a cruel business!  And what’s even worse is that so many of those puppy mill puppies will end up in shelters when the unthinking folks who preferred to buy from pet stores rather than adopt inevitably unthink their way into surrendering an animal whose family membership they didn’t fully consider. (More ugliness, I’m afraid.)  We can’t change people but we can save some lives, including little Teddy’s.  I didn’t have him for long.  He was adopted today by a lovely family in New Jersey and he’s going to have the best life ever.  Housebreaking and separation anxiety will need to be worked on (although he was a pretty quick study with the weewee pads), but he’s so cute and cuddly and playful, he’ll make a wonderful companion.  So now I’ll probably end up taking another one of the 50.  So many dogs!!!  Watch this space.

IMG_1109

Teddy has a forever home!

Finally, the ultimate “good” is this:  I have a roof over my head (and now I even have running water from all my faucets!); reasonably good health (although my medical insurance situation is a whole other nightmare that I’ll tackle in another blog post); a house full of love and barking (and yes, plenty of poop and pee – my garbage men must find me disgusting); good friends and family (even though I don’t see them often enough); and a college graduate daughter whose future stretches out before her like a sparkling (if maybe a little daunting) yellow brick road.  And maybe, just maybe, I can re-start my blog in earnest and resurrect it as the pleasurable pursuit it was intended to be.

The Graduate

The graduate and her siblings

Happy 2018!

A sad post-script:  My cousin George has officially retired “The George and Tony Entertainment Show,” which makes me very sad, especially as his foray into the podcasting arena was a catalyst for me to start my blog.  RIP, GATES.  You will be missed.  I am encouraged, though, by inklings that his podcast days are not entirely over and that there’s some new project in the works.  I certainly hope so!  Cousin George has shown himself to be an intrepid interviewer and a charming and funny host.  Can’t wait to catch up on some of the podisodes I missed in the last year or so and look forward to his future endeavors.

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