Tag Archives: friendship

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)

The Hermit Emerges

Let me tell you, having a designated parking space has been a life-changing event – literally.  No longer do I have to limit my summer weekend travels to wherever I can bike to or late Sunday evenings on the off-chance that I just might find a spot when I get home with the exodus of the day-trippers.  Now I can freely leave my house for errands, pick-ups or even just on a whim.

As a result, I have actually managed to have some semblance of a social life this summer!!  Movies, concerts, visits with friends – soon the powers-that-be will have to revoke my “hermit card”!  (And I can no longer use “parking” as an excuse to avoid socializing!)

It’s especially great when I get to spend time with people whose company I really enjoy, and who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like.  Case in point was this past week, when my friend Wendy flew up from North Carolina and our mutual friend Sue came out for the day from New Jersey.  In this instance, it wasn’t lack of parking that had prevented our get-together:  it was distance and time – too much of one, not enough of the other.  Even while ostensibly enjoying a couple of days of relaxing conversation, all three of us managed to find some time to do work.  For Sue, it was trouble-shooting calls for the au pair agency for which she is a regional representative with over 70 families to coordinate and appease (very impressive).  For Wendy, it was catching up on some online college assignments as she pursues an advanced degree in nursing while regaining her strength and stamina after a long illness (also impressive).  For me, it was the same old nonsense, and even though it was the slowest week of the legal year (the last week of August before Labor Day), I still had a few cross-border emails to address.  But for the most part, we played with the animals (Sue brought her mini-poodle Leaf and I also picked up a tiny tortie kitten named Gigi to clear out a cage at the shelter to make room for the animals our shelter director was bringing back from Houston following Harvey), ate out and enjoyed some adult beverages, and mostly talked and talked and talked, catching up on years’ worth of each others’ lives.  I loved being with people I’ve known for decades, with whom I feel comfortable enough to discuss literally ANYTHING, with many shared memories and a shared political and ethical mindset.  As far as I was concerned, it was pure bliss and I only wish it could have lasted longer.

On Friday, Wendy and I went into the city to meet her mom Marilyn and walked around the 9/11 Memorial site, looking for people’s names engraved on the walls of the reflecting pools.  Wendy had actually been at work that dreadful day, in the World Financial Center, just a skybridge away from the World Trade Center, and she retold the harrowing tale of getting out of town that day, of seeing the towers fall and the horror of people jumping, billions of bits of paper filling the sky like toxic snow.  If I wasn’t with two such lovely people, such a discussion would have been a bit of a downer.  But it was a beautiful late-summer day, with signs of the city’s renewal all around us, and we ate lunch along the Hudson and talked about politics and TV shows and dogs and how the world manages to carry on despite disasters like 9/11 and Trump.

As we were getting ready to board the E train to take us to Penn Station and Port Authority Bus Terminal, respectively, to sadly go our separate ways, we happened to walk past a tiny shop in the brand new Oculus, the mall/transportation hub near the 9/11 Memorial.  It was called Penhaligon’s, a perfumery established in 1870 in London.  An impeccably dressed and well-spoken fellow named Anthony proceeded to ask us our favorite scents and matched each of us PERFECTLY with a particular perfume, tying a little silk square scarf doused with our selected fragrance around each of our wrists.  I have been searching for a signature scent for most of my life (Love’s Baby Soft, anyone?) and I think I have finally found it:  Penhaligon’s Empressa, a patchouli base with infusions of sandalwood, coconut and vanilla.  AND IT LASTED ALL DAY, which is the true test of a signature scent.  I have promised to buy it for myself for my birthday.  At $175 a bottle, it had better last a few years!!

So the hermit has officially emerged, and it turned out to be a fine summer, highlighted by a glorious couple of days with some of my best friends in the world.  I should really try it more often!

Hostess with the Leastest

I was overjoyed when my college friends Erika and Curtiss told me they would be swinging by Long Beach on their way to New England in August (via Port Jefferson-Bridgeport ferry).  I looked forward to showing off my current stomping grounds and introducing them to my menagerie (my “puddises”, as Erika would say), not to mention spending some in-person quality time, however brief, with two of my favorite people on the planet.

The preparation was spot-on:  I scrubbed and vacuumed to reduce, to the extent possible, the voluminous pet hair given that Curtiss has certain sensitivities.  I bought a fruit platter, plenty of bottled water and a case of assorted flavors of Strongbow Hard Cider.  I packed a gallon-sized Ziplock bag of ice from multiple fill-ups of my lone ice tray, and I even got cannolis from Country Boy Bakery!  But it utterly shames me to say that I failed MISERABLY in the execution.

I don’t seek forgiveness for my faux pas – I don’t deserve it – but I wish I could come up with some valid explanation.  I was so happy to have my good friends here – separated by distance and time but just as fond of one another (if not more so) than we were thirty years ago – and to enjoy our easy, comfortable conversation.  But how did my enjoyment of our pleasant time together somehow short-circuit some mechanism in my brain that caused me to forget a fridge full of snacks and beverages that I had purchased that very day for this very occasion?  It’s inexplicable.  I offered them NOTHING.  Not the fruit, not the hard cider, not even a lousy bottle of water.  It was bad enough that I had forced them pay for an overpriced hotel room rather than letting them stay here (actually, I did offer, but my current living situation is not as conducive as I would have liked for hosting sleepover guests, so I probably telegraphed my reluctance).  But while we sat out on my terrace, enjoying the late summer evening and chatting non-stop for a couple of pleasant hours, I did not once think to go into the kitchen and bring out the refreshments.

Fruit and Veg

Fruit and Bev

And to top it all off, there was no music!!  I always yearn for opportunities to share my music in real time with my friends, especially ones like Erika who share my love of good tunes.  We’ve lately been exchanging by email YouTube videos of performances by some of our favorite artists, old and new.  Why, in heaven’s name, for the hour-plus we were sitting out on the terrace – with all the windows actually open for a change, given the reduced humidity, enabling me to give my AC a break for the day – did I not turn on my stereo?  In fact, I had just a week or so ago told her about an artist I had discovered on WFUV, Angel Olsen, and her new song, “Shut Up Kiss Me” that I could have played for her!!

What makes my shame even worse (if that’s possible) is that these are the folks who were so very gracious and generous with my daughter and me when we visited them in Greece, even helping to plan the vacation from start to finish and then schlepping us everywhere, even though Curtiss was suffering with a painful foot.  When I visited them for an overnighter at their apartment in D.C. a couple of years ago, they very kindly picked me up and dropped me off at the airport (which wasn’t around the corner), fed me and put me up on an air mattress in their living room.  Even on this visit, they actually took ME out to dinner at the local Thai restaurant rather than the other way around.  Gah!!  The more I think about my oversights, the more horrible I feel.

I remember, as a kid, helping my mother prepare for her bridge and mahjong get-togethers, setting up the card tables with the pull-out legs and putting ashtrays and finger bowls full of nuts and M&Ms on every corner.  When we finally managed to clear out my childhood home, for some reason I took a whole closetful of dessert platters and chip ‘n’ dip sets and china serving bowls, perhaps in the vague hope that I would someday have guests for dinner and maybe even card parties!  (In fact, that was one of the things Erika, Curtiss and I were talking about while I was forgetting to serve the snacks and beverages:  what we were expected to do with all the inherited dish- and glassware that somehow no longer fits into our current lifestyles like it did for our parents.)  So, in retrospect, I did grow up in a house where great care was taken in entertaining; I just didn’t inherit those genes, I guess.

While I’m quick to blame my recent anti-social tendencies for my failed hostessing abilities (i.e., it’s been so long since I’ve invited other humans into my home, I’ve forgotten how to do it), upon further consideration I think this affliction goes way back.  In fact, I recall throwing a welcome-back-to-school tequila party early sophomore year at Trinity College with this very same Erika, where we diligently bought a couple of bottles of tequila at the local package store, lemons (which we carefully sliced into wedges), salt and shot glasses, and thoroughly cleaned our suite (really adjoining singles where we moved both beds into one room and used the other as our entertainment lounge).  But instead of being the gracious hostess I had envisioned, I managed to make an incredible fool of myself, getting perhaps drunker than I’d ever been previously or since, before most of the guests even arrived, leaving all of the hosting responsibilities to Erika, which I’m sure she handled with aplomb.  As for me, I became the literal centerpiece of the party, passed out on the couch in the middle of the festivities with a vomity towel draped around my neck.  My antics pre-coma had to be shamefully recounted to me the next day (as I suffered with a grievous hangover to which I would have preferred death at the time), as the last thing I remembered was falling into the closet.  I evidently did some floor circles a la Curley from the Three Stooges, tumbled into the shower in the communal bathroom, and pulled our My Little Puppy baby’s toy (don’t ask; I don’t remember why we had it, I just remember that we did, along with a set of Weebles that provided hours of amusement) randomly around the corridors of Jackson Hall.

Planning my wedding and even Darian’s sweet 16 party were moderately successful endeavors (although, in my opinion, wholly unnecessary) only because I left everything up to others – primarily the respective catering halls – although I did ask my friend Liz to do the centerpieces for Darian’s party, which turned out quite lovely:  tall glass tubes filled with teal, aqua and lavender translucent stones with a flameless candle lighting them from underneath, purple florals and peacock feathers (my sister still displays hers in her family room).  In fact, Liz is the polar opposite of me when it comes to entertaining:  She is a fantastic party planner, and her table settings are uniformly perfect, especially if there’s a theme involved.  And she never forgets a thing.  (I always tell her, when I win the lottery, I’ll help her go into business as a party design professional, which I believe is her true calling.)

IMG_1189

My prior disastrous attempts at parties have ranged from too much food for not enough people (on one sorry occasion, lobsters, no less) to not enough food for too many people.  But never before did I have the perfect amount of food and drink and just somehow FORGET to offer it to my beloved guests.

I know what I can do to maybe, in some small way, make up for my abysmal hostess skills:  When Erika and Curtiss return home from their trip, I’ll send them an Edible Arrangement with a note that says, “Here are the melons I withheld from you when you visited me in Long Beach!”

(P.S.  If it’s any consolation – and it’s not – only the watermelon and honeydew in the fruit platter I bought were really any good.  And that’s not just sour grapes!)

A Brief Respite from the Hermit Life

This week featured (uncharacteristically for me) an active social life.  It’s not quite winter yet, which is when I prefer to cocoon in my little house with my creatures thanks to the grey days and hockey nights.  In the fall I’m still willing to venture out into the world and actually DO THINGS and TALK TO PEOPLE!!  This past Friday, I took a late-afternoon off-peak Long Island Railroad journey (so much more civilized than peak rush hour times) to meet my good friend Carl, who was in NYC visiting from Sweden for a long weekend with his new girlfriend.  Our visit was entirely too short, but we enjoyed some quality time together.  First, Carl and I caught up over outdoor adult beverages at a pop-up “beer garden” on Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets.  (Waiting for Carl to arrive, I found an empty metal chair at the intersection of Broadway and 40th Street – literally in the middle of the street! – and sat there for a few minutes with a small smile on my face, feeling a bit like Buddha at the crossroads observing the world.)  Later, with his new lady friend Jessica and her charming ex-pat pal Ife, we made our way west to an open-house at an art studio where up-and-coming artists literally sat in their studios and welcomed visitors, happy to discuss their work and, in the case of Jessica, negotiate prices for purchase.  I don’t know if she was serious about buying the actual art; she has just started a new career as a real estate developer with an eye for design, so it’s conceivable that she was feeling a bit like a “connoisseur” in NYC for a weekend of fine art shopping!  It was certainly a fun few hours. I felt like I had known Jessica and Ife for years.

Then, on Sunday, I had a double-dose of entertainment – first, at a fantastic performance by Four Way Street, a CSNY cover band featuring a recently discovered high school chum who is a talented musician (as he had been even in high school).  My buddy Beanie came with me, and we enjoyed a 45 minute set (again, too short!) of gorgeous harmonies and toe-tapping sing-alongs at the Long Beach Public Library as part of the annual Long Beach Roxx music festival.  The folding chairs in the library auditorium had flexible backs so you could actually rock in your seat!  Then I raced to drop Beanie off at her mom’s and headed to the Third Annual Posh Pets Gala, a fund-raising event for my favorite animal rescue organization, where I had a delicious lunch and chatted with some of my friends from the shelter, all dressed up for the occasion.

It’s funny to me how I’ve changed over the years.  I used to be a social being, constantly surrounded by a rotating cast of beloved friends.  I’m not sure when I became such a hermit.  It might have been when I moved to Long Beach, which is in some ways a very close-knit community, especially in the neighborhood where I live.  (What used to be called in real estate jargon “the Trendy West End” has, post-Sandy, undergone a not-so-welcome transformation, with huge three-story monstrosities replacing the bungalows on the tiny, close-set lots.  While it certainly makes sense from a flood-mitigation perspective, the character of the neighborhood has been entirely altered.)  But apart from the shelter, where I started volunteering in 2012, I just haven’t managed to find a community here.  (See “Friend Zone”, 6/17/15.)

In some ways, my hermit lifestyle has become like a comfortable old blanket, protecting me from the hazards of humanity.  (Another benefit of my home-hibernating is that there is no need whatsoever for me to care what I’m wearing.  I rock a full-on ragamuffin mode most days: oversize black quilted coat, baggy old jersey pants that once belonged to my mother, man boots, Rangers cap, and a ratty-looking mismatched scarf.  Taken as a whole, it’s become my actual personal style!  Not a style that anyone would want to emulate, admittedly, but it works for me.  It’s clean and it’s comfortable, above all else.  I’m all about the comfort.)

All of my friends are wonderful people (I probably wouldn’t be friends with them if they weren’t!), but there’s another dynamic at play when you put yourself out into the world:  interactions with the opposite sex that have the potential to turn into dangerous liaisons.  Among circles of friends, groups and parties – isn’t that where most romantic relationships begin?  (And, more nefariously, isn’t that where affairs start?)  Is there flirting going on?  I never did that very well, but it wasn’t unheard of for me to be, at some points in my life, “sexually playful” at parties, especially when lubricated with liquor and other inhibition-removers.  These are foreign concepts to me these days, and have been for some time.  I don’t even remember what it feels like to be “sexually playful”.  After what I confess was a highly active libidinous life in my teens and twenties, and then almost 10 years of being in a monogamous relationship, those desires seem to have dried up.  Frankly, I don’t miss them.  Truth be told, I have basically written off love and sex for the remainder of my days.

But I do still enjoy being with old friends and meeting new people.  I believe I am a genuinely kind person – at least I always strive to be, to the point where someone who met me for the first time asked a friend if I was really that nice, convinced that I was a phony because no one was ever really THAT nice.  My niceness has even worked to my detriment, because I suffer from “the disease to please” (I think Oprah called it that) in that I want people to like me so I tend to swallow my anger and impatience when they arise in dealings with folks who are perhaps not quite as open-minded or fair as I am.

Of course, there will invariably be reasons for people to disagree – if everyone thought the same things all the time, what a truly boring world it would be!  And things are rarely black-and-white; there are always nuances and shades of gray.  For instance, people who are strongly in favor of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body could also believe that the death penalty is wrong in all circumstances (except perhaps where a heinous criminal wants to die, in which case they should probably be helped along to save the public expense of sustaining the life of someone who doesn’t want – or deserve – to live) and could also be in favor of assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Someone hearing these positions might think they are contradictory, but that is the beauty of individuality:  We don’t all believe the same things all the time.   My point is just this:  Humans will inevitably disagree, but there is no reason whatsoever not to start from a position of kindness.  I always cite the old adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”; instead of battling to get what you want, sometimes you just need to be nice.  But maintaining that sunny attitude can be exhausting, which may be one of the reasons I’m a happy hermit, at least for the winter!

Sophisticated Art Lookers

During our birthday celebrations, which we do twice a year (for her birthday in July and for mine in September), my friend Sue and I spend the day wandering in a chosen NYC neighborhood (although for my last birthday she came out to Long Beach with her dog and we were able to enjoy adult beverages at a couple of my local watering holes) and we talk about EVERYTHING. We go off on tangents and then circle back an hour later; we never run out of topics of conversation, only the time to converse.  Being with Sue reminds me of how thoroughly enjoyable it can be to spend time with someone who loves and accepts you for who you are (as she herself accurately stated about the way I feel about her). I feel blessed that I have a lot of people in my life like that (who I unfortunately don’t get to spend enough time with) but Sue may be the best.

This past Sunday, for my 2015 birthday celebration, we wandered on the High Line, the new park in New York City built on the site of an abandoned elevated railroad track. It’s a great use of public space, and it must be very pretty in the spring and summer. [As an aside:  I read that there are folks in NYC who are trying to create a Lowline as well, which would potentially be set in an empty subterranean trolley station under the Lower East Side. [Jen Carlson, “Get a Taste of What the Lowline Will Be Like If It Ever Happens”, Gothamist, http://gothamist.com/2015/10/16/lowline_essex_lower_east_side.php#photo-1] While it sounds like an intriguing idea, and folks like Lena Dunham and Spike Jonze are holding events to raise funds for the project, my first concern when I read about it was that homeless people would take up residence there. On the High Line, it was only the smiling Hare Krishnas with their little gold calling cards.]  It was surprisingly crowded for an unseasonably cool day (we even wore gloves and scarves!), but when the sun came out from behind the clouds, it was a delightful stroll, with never-before-seen sightlines into construction sites and empty white apartment buildings, but also the Hudson River, some surprise pop-up artwork and the teeming cross-streets from 30th Street down to Gansevoort, which is where the new Whitney Museum of American Art is located.

First we had brunch at Bubby’s, which was worth the extended wait (but, you see, we don’t MIND waiting on line, because it’s just a different locale for our never-ending conversations). We shared giant pancakes and scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, bacon and hashbrowns; I sipped a Concord grape mimosa and Sue had a bloody Mary. (We also ended our day with decadent dessert from the Gansevoort Market, where we finally sat down for a spell and realized how tired we were from all the walking we’d done.)

During an earlier version of our nonstop discourses – I think it was the 2014 Sue birthday celebration, during which we had meandered through Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and Park Slope (where we both used to live), visited friends and caught a Nick Cave concert in Prospect Park – we were talking about art and how some of it just is incomprehensible to me, even though it clearly has some value to SOMEONE. I said something along the lines of (admittedly while a little pleasantly buzzed), “I consider myself a sophisticated art looker . . . “ and the two of us cracked up at the simultaneous ignorance and accuracy that statement represented, in that I wasn’t even able to come up with a more literate way to describe someone who appreciates the visual arts than “art looker”! (I am proud to say that, while I am perhaps a better music listener than art looker, I have great love and appreciation for both art forms!)

Some of the pieces at the Whitney were prime examples of this. For instance, as soon as you get off the elevator on the 6th floor, there it is – a 5-x-5 foot solid black painted square, probably called “Untitled”. [It’s actually called “Abstract Painting”, by Ad Reinhardt. Evidently the significance is in the nuance and subtlety of the solid black, because if you look closely and deeply and long enough, there are supposedly modulations of the solid black, but hey – this is from a guy who painted ONLY black-on-black pieces for over a decade, until he finally died. And how do we know that the modulations aren’t just due to one’s eyes bugging out after staring at it so closely and deeply and long?] My first thoughts upon seeing this painting aren’t, “What does this evoke?” or “Where does it fit into the pantheon of American Art?” No, my first thoughts are “Why would someone paint this?” and “Why the hell is this even here?” To me it is just a waste of valuable wall space. Over by the windows, there was a clear glass box on a plexiglass platform. But why? I pointed out that there was dust on top of the box and the security lady told me in no uncertain terms to “step away from the art”. Otherwise I wondered, why is there a see-through empty box taking up space in a prestigious museum? I’m sure it’s significant – the meaning of emptiness, perhaps, or stripping “art” down to its most basic elements, or some such philoso-babble – who knows? It could have just been an empty display case, except that the security lady probably wouldn’t have gotten her knickers in a knot about my getting too close to that. (This particular piece, by Larry Bell, actually IS called “Untitled”.) I will never understand some art. The pretentiousness of it all (and of the people who trumpet its genius) – really!! It’s absolutely beyond me.

On the other hand, there was a multitude of intriguing and awe-inspiring pieces of art at the Whitney that I don’t need to “get” so much as they just touch something in me, and the talent of the artists is on full display. For example, there was the series of richly colored prints of scenes of Yosemite and the western U.S. by Japanese artist Chiura Obata, who had painstakingly recreated his own watercolor paintings using woodblock printing. The entire 8th floor was devoted to a retrospective of the work of artist Archibald Motley, whose vividly bright paintings appeared outwardly gleeful but had serious historical and social commentary depths. On the lower floors, we saw a triptych by Grant Wood called “Study for Breaking the Prairie” and I knew in some recess of my brain that Grant Wood had also painted “American Gothic”, and then Sue piped in, “I think it’s in a museum in Chicago.” According to the interwebs, we were right on both scores, which impressed even us.

My favorite floor was the 6th, which featured representative post-war work from the 1950s through the ‘70s. Some of it was powerful; some of it was whimsical and yet also thought-provoking. There was colorful and disturbing anti-war propaganda; Andy Warhol’s “Before & After, 4” depicting in bold graphic lines a rather necessary nose job; a short silent film (with tinkly piano soundtrack) by Helen Levitt called “In the Street” set in Spanish Harlem in the mid-1940’s on what looked like Halloween, featuring dirty, adorable children, many in costume, presumably belonging to the moms and grandmas who watched them while hanging out the brownstone windows and the grandpas who admonished them when they got too rambunctious but otherwise for the most part left alone to dance and run and tease and smack each other with what looked like nylon stockings filled with flour or construction dust.

There was a cool sculpture by someone named Marisol called “Women and Dog”, constructed from wood, plaster, acrylic, found objects and, notably, a taxidermic dog head and showing something different and unexpected from every angle, sharing gallery floor space with giant stuffed cigarette butts overflowing a platform standing in for an ashtray by Claes Oldenburg. And in a place of prominence on the 7th floor, amid paintings and photographs from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s that were those decades’ depictions of the “celebrity culture” that manifests itself today as “reality TV” and paparazzi-fueled gossip magazines, was Alexander Calder’s “Circus” tableau, carefully constructed from found objects and sewn-together creatures, which almost looked like it should be played with rather than statically viewed in the round.

So, while I may not be able to refer intelligently to abstraction and expressionism and modernism and all that “sophisticated art looker” jargon, I at least have a basic “Art History 101” knowledge and a deep appreciation for the visual arts, in all its forms. Even if I can’t tell you what school the artist was part of or what genre the work represented, I know what sticks with me and I know what I like. But what I like even more than looking at art is talking endlessly about EVERYTHING – even overflowing into our thoughts on our respective train rides home, to be immediately texted or emailed sometimes for days afterward – to my friend Sue.

Me and Sue in NYC

College Daze

My daughter Darian started her junior year at West Virginia University yesterday. As we had never visited the campus, her father and I also wanted to see where our kid was going to spend the next two years of her life, so we made a three-car caravan for the 8-hour trek over the span of two days from Long Island to Morgantown, West Virginia. They both left on Thursday; I followed on Friday. Darian arranged housing that would allow her to bring one of our cats to live with her, so I had Jojo in a cat carrier on the front seat and then, because my ex-husband is my usual dog-sitter and wouldn’t be available for dog-sitting for obvious reasons (i.e., he would be with us in West Virginia), I had to bring Munchie and Gizmo as well. In order to avoid freak-outs, the vet had given me a Xanax prescription, so I dosed Jojo with a whole 25-milligram pill and the dogs got half each. The dogs slept the whole way down, but Jojo meowed and howled and scratched at the door of the carrier, trying her damndest to bust out although where she thought she would go was a mystery to both of us.

Darian’s off-campus student housing resembles a singles apartment complex, with a pool full of beautiful people, a fire pit featuring an oversized Adirondack chair and a beach volleyball court. The complex is located next to a huge shopping center, with a Target and a Walmart and a Petco and a bunch of other shops, as well as a multiplex movie theater. Her roommate – a bearded ex-footballer who’s now a pre-med student – conveniently went home for the weekend so we were able to leave the dogs in her apartment when we went out to dinner and to do errands. One of those errands involved her lifeline (aka her iPhone): Evidently the T-Mobile network hasn’t made its way into the Appalachian Mountains, so we had to scramble to change her phone service.

WVU is split into two campuses (actually, I think it’s three, but only two for undergrads): the Downtown campus, which is literally in the heart of Morgantown, on the eastern bank of the Monongahela River; and the Evansdale Campus (which for some mysterious reason I kept calling the “Glendale” campus), which is closer to Darian’s residence and where all of her classroom buildings are located. We somehow missed getting her a student ID, which she had to take care of first thing Monday morning. In addition to permitting her entry into buildings and paying for her food, she’ll also need it to get on the campus bus or the cute little PRT, the people-mover rapid transit that scoots from one campus to the other. The whole experience was a little discombobulating, but I have every confidence that she’ll figure out where everything is eventually and make new friends. She’s got two years to do it, after all.

But what made our “Intro to WVU” weekend even more fun was meeting up with a friend from my own college days, whose son also attends WVU. I actually hadn’t seen her since she transferred out of Trinity College after sophomore year – she was going to take a year abroad, as many juniors did, and then come back and room with me and two girls named Isabelle for senior year. But she never came back, abandoning me to live on my own with the Isabelles. As she reminded me, we had actually seen each other post-graduation, when she was on Long Island for a friend’s wedding. But that was the lowest point of my life, which I have largely succeeded in wiping from my memory, even if it meant I also wiped out my last visit with Cathie. But we’ve managed to re-connect on Facebook, which is how I learned that her son was a student at WVU. So when my daughter was considering going there, I reached out and we happily renewed our friendship.

Cathie & Me in our Trin Hockey Jerseys

Cathie and me in our Trin hockey jerseys.

Before we met them for dinner, my daughter asked me, “How do you know you’ll still like her?” I had always remembered her fondly (once I got over the “abandonment” thing!), and seeing the kinds of posts she makes on Facebook (she’s a sports fan, an animal lover and shares my politics, to name just a few areas of common interest) was all the evidence I needed to know that our reunion would be fun.

The four of us had steaks and ribs at the Texas Road House (where the novice waitress spilled a large full glass of sweet tea all over me, for which I was fairly compensated with a free dessert brownie). Her son and my daughter hit it off fine, although I suspect they both tend toward shyness. They went their separate ways after dinner and she and I bought some hard cider and went back to the Econo Lodge with the dogs and talked for hours, catching up on all the things we’d missed in each other’s lives, going off on tangents and realizing how much we still have in common 30-plus years later. It’s great when people you liked years ago come back into your life and you like them just the same as you did then, despite the time that has passed. That’s the way it was with Cathie. I look forward to having opportunities to hang out with her again, which will hopefully involve a trip to Long Beach, which she actually used to frequent when she was in graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook back in the 1980s.

The blog format is wholly inadequate for me to recount my college experiences in all their debauched glory. I actually wrote a (very bad) novel that spanned freshman to senior years in a semi-fictionalized roman à clef, which may someday see the light of day in some configuration (or not). You spend so much of your time at college in various status of inebriation or panic or stress (and let’s not forget joy and laughter) that the relationships you develop in that environment get hard-wired into your emotions. I have a couple of those deep and lasting friendships (and hopefully can now include Cathie among them), and I hope my daughter will be able to enjoy the same. Because Darian only spent a year at SUNY Buffalo and is now a transferred upperclassman at WVU, it might be a little more difficult to connect with classmates, who might conceivably have been in friend clusters since early freshman year. But I don’t think it’s the duration that matters. Yes, I met my roommate Erika on the very first day of freshman year, and despite years of being out of touch (including two college semesters when she was studying abroad), I like her as much today as I did in those early times (ditto for our old college friend / her new husband Curtiss). It’s the same with my friend Nick Noble, Worcester’s favorite radio DJ, with whom I worked in the sports department of the Trinity Tripod. Frankly, I didn’t meet my very best friend from college, Sue Walsh Ober, until senior year (coincidentally, she was my neighbor when I lived with the Isabelles, so I spent a lot of time in her room escaping my own) and, as mentioned, I hadn’t seen Cathie since sophomore year.  Relationships that have developed at a four-year, live-away college retain some weird juju, because your college years are, in their way, fantastical and strange. Never again will you have that freedom, that sense of wonder and anticipation. Perhaps for some folks that heady feeling comes in the years following graduation, when you’re playing at being a grown-up in the “real world” for the first time, but I think more often than not those post-university years are especially traumatic, precisely because they follow – and are wholly unlike – the magical college time.

All this being said, I hope my daughter uses this special time in her life to pursue her dreams. For her, now is the best (and maybe only) time to do it. Unfortunately for me, I abandoned my dreams some time during the waning days of my senior year, extending into the post-graduation summer. In retrospect I think it had something to do with my father not being around, as he had passed away in November of my junior year. He had always been my guidepost and drill sergeant, pushing me to push myself, so I was basically lost when I returned home from Hartford.  I worked at the International House of Pancakes and got involved with a horrible man and suffered some of the worst things you could imagine. I’ve been trying to get back to myself — that person I was in college, with so much hope and promise — ever since.

Of course my daughter does not take my advice (or at least she doesn’t let on if she does), but hopefully she has heard (and seen, first-hand, the consequences of not heeding) my greatest message to her: Find something you love to do – now, while you’re in college, in that most special of times when the world is your oyster and the doors are open to the big wide universe – and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Friend Zone

Between the end of the hockey season (congrats, Blackhawks) and obsessing over the finale of “Game of Thrones”, this week has had a feeling of finality, of the end of things. That was one of the things I liked so much about school– there were finite beginnings and ends of time frames. The school year ends, then there’s a respite (in some respects very welcome, in others sometimes not) and then it all begins afresh in a few months’ time. I see it with my daughter now being home from college, and there’s even more anticipation this summer given that she is transferring to a different university and so will be starting over in an unfamiliar location.

[An aside: As much as I enjoy that aspect of the scholastic cycle, it’s completely different with my work (and a probable contributing factor to my dislike of it). It’s true that individual deals begin and then end with a closing—sometimes in fire-drill fashion, sometimes dragging on for months – although it’s also true that some deals NEVER end, and there is usually some ongoing and highly annoying maintenance and administration that needs to be done post-closing, so you can never entirely wash your hands of a deal as much as you might want to.]

But the thing I like best about the endings of things is the looking forward to the new beginnings. I anxiously await September for hockey (particularly in light of this season’s disappointing outcome) and next April for Season 6 of GOT (especially given all the cliffhangers!). Now I just have to find a way to entertain myself during the break!

One of my summertime diversions is socializing with friends. In fact, this weekend I am expecting actual visitors (!), which means (a) massive overdue house cleaning and (b) food and beverage preparations, neither of which is a particular strength of mine. Because I live at the beach, entertainment is never an issue – we can go to the beach! There are many lovely bars and restaurants! There is even a fair on the Boardwalk this weekend that we can ride our bikes to! – but there’s still the matter of having enough of a selection of beverages and noshes at the house to comply with my hosting duties. Bah! Piddling concerns, in light of the fact that I’M FINALLY GETTING SOME COMPANY!!

Long Beach is so fine in the summer, although the population literally triples, especially on the weekends. I like riding my bike and walking the dogs around the West End. So many good-looking young folks! And I can observe with impunity because I’m essentially invisible. Occasionally someone will comment on my Rangers hat but otherwise I am too old and ugly to register with most people. But that’s OK. I’ve lately become very much an observer rather than a participant in life. I can’t recall the last time I was a member of some kind of “friend group”. It was probably the East Village/Park Slope years back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (which period is rich fodder for future blog posts). By the time my ex-husband and I left for North Carolina in 1995 – in my mid-30s, newly married with a baby – I had been forced to cut ties with the old familiar “fun me”.

Of course I’ve had – and continue to have, thank goodness! –very dear and cherished friends. But due to recent life circumstances, I no longer have a “group” – people with whom you have outings and get-togethers, for events both traditional and random. I especially feel it in the summer because it’s a much more social time of year. (Of course you want to be out of the house, in the sunshine and balmy breezes!) I spent three years in law school amongst mostly 20-somethings instead of making friends with the moms of my daughter’s school friends during the time when we lived with my mother in my old home town of Seaford, NY after our return from the failed experiment that was North Carolina. When I moved to Long Beach in 2002, other than a college friend who had actually grown up in Long Beach, I didn’t know anyone here and I couldn’t really meet anyone (other than my fantastic landlord, of whom I was – and still am! – very fond; we don’t see each other as often as I’d like, even though we only live a few blocks apart) because I was always working and never home. And because I commuted an hour-plus between NYC and Long Beach for work each way every weekday, I wasn’t engaged enough with my work colleagues because all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there at the end of the day (however late that might have been), back to my kid and my house at the beach, so I never developed a drinks-after-work crowd either (not to mention that they were all considerably younger than I was).  Actually, the best work friends that I did make are currently scattered to three of the four corners of the globe: Dubai, Sweden and Ghana.

Add to that my peculiar and infuriating situation of living in Long Beach without a driveway, and it aIl combines to leave me feeling a bit isolated. I don’t like to go anywhere on weekends that I have to drive to because I’ll lose the spot in front of my house and I have to park miles away when I get back to Long Beach. I also can’t drink if I have to drive anywhere. (In fact, that’s a real problem with everyone on Long Island – too much drinking and then driving – because unfortunately there aren’t a lot of easily accessible alternatives as there would be in the city).

My friend Liz posted something on Facebook the other day that resonated with me (and I’ve seen similar sentiments elsewhere): “They say true friends go long periods of time without speaking and never question the friendship.” I feel that way about many of my friends, especially in the last decade or so during this hermit phase. So recently I’ve been trying to come up with ways to spend more time with more friends more often. There’s Facebook, of course, which has been a great way to keep up with folks I haven’t seen in ages and who are frequently on my mind. But sometimes you just want face-to-face time.

A couple of years ago I was able to piggyback some friend visits on my daughter’s college trips: Igor and Kim (and their growing family) and my cousins George and Bill in the “DMV” (which I understand is shorthand for the DC/Maryland/Virginia region) when we went to the University of Delaware; Wendy and Claude in the beautiful seaside village of Southport, North Carolina (which, as Claude recently posted on Facebook, is one of the nicest towns in the U.S.) when we went to North Carolina State University; Nick Noble and his son Jonathan when we did our tour of the New England “U” schools.

For the past couple of years, Sue Walsh Ober (who lives in the wilds of New Jersey – so close and yet so far!) and I try to do something together for our birthdays, which occur a couple of months apart in July and September. This year we’re planning a day on Governor’s Island. We actually used to spend a bit of time with Wendy and Claude on Governor’s Island when Claude was in the Coast Guard and we all lived in NYC, so even though G.I. is considerably different from when it was a Coast Guard base, the singular NYC skyline views will bring back many happy memories.

Last summer my daughter and I had a fantastic time in the company of my college roommate Erika and her husband Curtiss (also a close college friend) in Santorini and Naxos, Greece. The year before I had used some JetBlue credits and enjoyed an overnighter with them in D.C. Now they’ve moved to Baltimore and I’m dying for an excuse to go down for a couple of days to check out their new place.

The problem now with short-term trips, though, is getting my menagerie looked after, especially when my daughter is at school. And the difficulty with inviting people to visit is the aforementioned parking situation and my lack of hostessing skills. (Fortunately, Long Beach is easy to get to by train, so my city friends – like my friend Matt from work and his girlfriend who are visiting this weekend – can come pretty easily, although I’m slightly embarrassed that I can’t even pick them up from the train station.) But these are minor obstacles when it comes to reconnecting with people I care about. Hopefully I can manage to bring an end to my hermitage and will have plenty of good times with good friends to look forward to this summer!