He Left NYC at Age 3 but I could still hear his accent …

Some of you may know a woman’s clothing store called Coldwater Creek. It’s a little pricey, but every now and then there’s a good coupon offer and they really do have some nice clothes.  I prefer to call stores because I can ask them not to share, sell or rent my info, which you can’t do online.  I placed my order and then gave the promo code from RetailMeNot, a coupon center, for a $30 discount.  The sales clerk tried the code, then said no coupons from RMN were accepted by C.C.  I begged to differ, but it was no use.  Needing time to think what I wanted to do, I canceled the order.

A few minutes later I decided to try placing the order online instead and the coupon code was accepted. However there was some other glitch — the order could not go through.  Doubly frustrated and annoyed, I called C.C. customer service…and got Glenn F.  We hit it off. He had a Queens accent (one of NYC’s 5 boroughs) and Queens working folks can often be (prepare for sweeping generalization) very down-to-earth, efficient, nice. Anyone remember the Liza Minelli character in the movie “Arthur?” She lived in Queens.

He worked with me while we chatted and laughed.  He said that because I was so nice he would help me out with a little extra saving, so I got not just the $30 off but free shipping as well, which brought the whole order into a more affordable zone.  As he was getting off the phone, I said: “Glenn, may I just ask you, did you ever live in Queens, in NYC?”  There was a pause. “I was born there,” he said. “But we moved to Florida when I was 3.  I go back to visit family,” he added.  “Well,” I said, you still have the accent!”  We laughed again.

I asked to speak to his manager so I could thank him or her for Glenn’s good service.  The manager was one of those (prepare for next sweeping generalization) efficient, pleasant-sounding African-American southerners (I’m a musician — I detect accents and this was Georgia) who took my compliment and then asked for my name.  I gave my first name, and then she said in the same efficient voice:  “and your last is the same as Glenn’s, I assume.”

My turn to pause, and then burst into laughter. In general, managers don’t usually indulge in humor over the phone; the surprise element added charm.  I will chuckle about Glenn and his manager all day.  My faith in the working people of Queens has    been validated!

In Which I Take Pictures and Talk to Strange Men

Yesterday was heaven with its cool, strong breezes and I was outdoors—with time before my physical therapy session. I was in the sweet zone of the Upper East Side – the 70’s. For you non-New Yorkers that’s a section of streets, not an age. I lived there a long time ago with my mother and new step-father, after  I’d dropped  out of college. I was miserable, floundering all over the place. One thing that helped was walking over to Madison Ave  to the Soupburg, a tiny hole-in-wall with the best burgers in town.  It was lively in a grown-up way (are you with me?) — I’d even made friends with one of the counter guys, who’d taught me 2 or 3 phrases in Greek that I still remember.

The Soupburg isn’t there. I didn’t really expect it to be. New York City flips over every few decades and on the new side are the “impatient” stores where servers and sales folk are young, white, pleasant, fast-moving. But my body remembered where the old place had been.  There was a tiny coffee shop with a bench outside. On it, a man in his early 70s in a newsboy cap was contentedly drinking coffee. He looked like a certain type of older Manhattan guy: satisfied in his own skin, fitting in, ready to talk (not listen).  I asked about the Soupburg I’d known 55 years earlier, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. He corrected me about where it had been and told me it had closed not long ago. He filled me in on some other neighborhood-y stuff and I walked off, happy to have had a chat about an unhappy part of my youthful past with a cheerful  stranger.

As I crossed the avenue, there was a beautiful church I didn’t remember ever seeing. That’s the thing about Manhattan — it’s only 13-1/2 miles long and maybe 2-1/2 miles wide, but just when you think you know everything about it, you see something great you’ve never seen before. It was cream-colored, with lots of turrets and towers and designs and as I looked up, I saw an amazing configuration of buildings — one of those special city sights we often miss when we don’t look up. I took some photos with my cellphone.

Only I realized after a few that I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just don’t use the phone much, didn’t know the icons and couldn’t make out the words on my screen in the daylight. What images I could see there seemed to be in reverse!

I kept walking, and on the corner of Park Ave, I spotted a young, red-haired guy on his device and gently asked if he could help me.  I told him about the reverse thing and that I couldn’t even see the home page words. “Sure,” he said, “I can fix both those problems.”  And he did.  And he took his time — no hurry up about him.

We chatted a bit and laughed … it was one of those moments — I’m sure you’ve had them — that shows you what’s really important. The hustle of the city disappeared and we stood there with a gusty, cool breeze, reveling in this first day after a bad heat wave, somehow transported into a slightly different perspective.

Me: 70’s (age) lady. him: 20’s guy. Both of us happy in our slo-mo moment … real in the midst of a fast New York end-of-summer Friday.  We said goodbye, smiled, walked off.My physical therapy went fine.

But how could it miss, when the view I had while wobbling on the balance machine was way over the tops of Manhattan to the quiet NJ Palisades, and a sliver of blue Hudson River with white clouds drifting above in slo-mo.

Last Visit to the Good Doctor

I should have bought a cookie. I was at the perfect place for it, Eli’s — a Zabars family store — buying fruit and veggies, passing pastry shelf after after pastry shelf. After 20 months on Jenny Craig, my training is strong. But now I’m home, having bade farewell earlier to one of the best doctors in NYC, and I can’t cry — and one of Eli’s cookies would have been the perfect answer.

Dr. Mike. He sat behind his desk in a sparkling white shirt, with his peppery gray hair and 70-ish, trustworthy face comprised of intelligent, mischievous blue eyes and a surprisingly shy smile — looking calmer and more relaxed than I remember from previous visits. His retirement, still 2 months off, must have that effect.

He took blood and as always, I felt absolutely no pain. Not a prick, nothing. He gets into my worn-out veins the way a lifelong sailor hops into a boat … no wasted motion.

There’s so much to be said about Dr. Mike — how thorough he is in his hands-on exam, all the things he considers and looks at, how he always presents his best medical advice and information but then listens to my ideas — at least once he realized I read things and had half a brain.  We compromised. He could have tossed me out saying there was no point in my coming if I didn’t follow his recommendations.  But I think he liked that I didn’t go behind his back — I always told him what I was doing and why and I always took his advice very seriously before making my decisions.

We’ve been through a lot together.  There were emergency hospitalizations, heart flutters, spiking blood pressure episodes, disagreements about medications.  But with time, we gained what I saw as a mutual respect.  He might have seen it as a standoff not worth fighting about! I also believe there was some fondness.

Today I read him 2 of my poems. He’d never heard any and I told him I wanted him to know more of who I am. I raised my eyes once quickly as I read and saw the most delightful expression … head tilted, eyes warm and an enchanting half-smile. I repeated after that I hoped it helped him know me a little better, and he said sincerely that it did. And so we hugged goodbye, and I felt kicked in the heart.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going downstairs to the deli under my building and buy a poor substitute for a cookie, and an even worse substitute for Dr. Mike.  But it will help, and I have learned that change is — if not always wonderful — important to weather, more tolerable then I expect, and often growth-producing.  Sometimes it even leads to something good.

I’m back upstairs now.  They carry rice crackers covered with dark chocolate!  Who knew there were such a cookie? If not for Dr. Mike, I never would have found them.

 He just keeps giving!

How My City Works for Me

Where I live, there’s an apartment building across the street whose windows face mine. At one of those windows sits a woman, big as life, staring out.

She’s there a lot. I can’t miss her because she’s exactly at my level, eight floors up. I’m nearsighted so I can’t see her face clearly, big though it is. But it looks as if she’s looking right into my kitchen or bedroom — watching me, making me nervous in my own home.

Finally one day I decided to look at her through binoculars at a time when she seemed to be peering into my bedroom. I wanted to catch her in the act and then decide what to do about it.  But I was surprised to see that she wasn’t looking at me at all.  She wasn’t even facing me. She was looking down at the life on the street below her.

Her building is part of a large complex of several buildings. There are benches in front where people always congregate, and a bus stop where folks are always standing or sitting as they wait the long, long wait for the #15 bus. Everyone coming and going has a dog or a kid or a wheelchair or something…so there’s a lot for her to watch.

But knowing where she’s really looking doesn’t help — because whenever  I glance at her with my nearsighted eyes, I’d swear she’s looking straight at me, all day, every day.

So, now, here’s how the city works for me.  Pay attention, fellow city-dwellers!

Below me the street is full of traffic, with lots of police cars, ambulances, buses and fire engines.  It’s a major Manhattan thoroughfare, so it’s also a nightly egress for hundreds of interstate trucks. I sleep through it all, so I’m OK with that…

But my windows are filthy!

Somehow, one of the two panes remains pretty clean in both bedroom and kitchen. So what I do  now is slide the other pane, the dirty one, over so that it covers her view. I can still see the river through the other pane, but her view of me in a bizarre kitchen outfit  licking a plate, or me making my bed still in my nightie (or less), is blocked.

And that’s how my left NYC pane washes the right NYC pain!

[P.S.  Speaking of washing, you should know that despite the round of nor’Easters we’ve had here in NYC, with hurricane-like winds and lots of pounding rain, my east-facing windows remain filthy. This has enormously down-graded my respect for storms.]

Lessons of Guilt and Humiliation

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I had an assignment at my agency I loved — helping my peers at work with personal problems. In most cases they came voluntarily but there were a few whose frustrated supervisors referred them as an alternative to formal rebuke or worse. My job was to help people face and assess their issues and guide them to good resources.

For most of the 18 years, I was rewarded with challenges, praise, gratitude. But there was just one time that a client frightened me and instead of recognizing I was afraid and taking appropriate steps (like ending the meeting immediately), I tried to deal with it. The fear clouded my judgement and I said things that were received in the worst light. The client sued both me and the agency, claiming mental stress and worse.image

I felt so guilty!  I’d worked with him a few weeks and we’d come such a long way. In 2 minutes I’d blown it all and caused this vulnerable young man great mental anguish, if he were to be believed.  I was terrified that if I reported exactly what I’d said and done, it could cost me this job I loved so.  But worse, I worried my whole reputation would be destroyed. I’d finally won the respect of my agency for high integrity and wisdom after years of flirting with its limits, and I was proud of it.

No one believed the client’s claims (which were exaggerated), but I knew the truth, and was devastated and humiliated. I suffered beyond anything I’d ever known. The whole thing dragged on for almost 5 yrs and every time I thought of it I wanted to die.  In the end, the agency settled and my own reputation wasn’t sullied in the least. Other people had more faith in me than I had in myself.  Even the lawyer who deposed me, to whom I absolutely could not lie, after hearing the whole story said that I was clearly trying to help the client and the mistake was in the approach I chose.

“If you tell it exactly as it happened,” she said, “people will really not be able to understand because they can’t get into your head to see what was going on there.”    She said to let her handle it — and I did, with a feeling of great relief for finally having told the whole story to someone.

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Throughout my life, I have often felt humiliated by my own behavior and usually when it happens, I’m forced to examine what it was that led to the behavior and work to change myself. Humiliation and guilt can be great teachers, if they don’t kill you first! There were 2 lessons I took from this experience, both invaluable.

1)  We are often unnecessarily afraid that something we’ve done or said will ruin a good relationship, and that’s simply not true. Not if it’s truly good. “Don’t worry,” someone who loved me once said to me as I apologized for snapping at him. “I know who you are!”

2)  Fear is not anything to be ashamed of.  It IS something to pay attention to and do something about, whether it’s standing up to it or running the hell out of there! That’s one of the lessons of the “Me Too” movement, isn’t it?  Trust your instincts.  Believe in your feelings. If your feelings turn out to be wrong you can always apologize, but if you ignore them, you may do yourself, and others, a much greater harm.

 

Coe Mansion and The Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, Long Island

What is it about a moving vehicle that encourages us to share confidences with total strangers? Or maybe it’s only true when the trip is a happy one, as the one I took yesterday via bus with a group of men and women over 60.    

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It was a warm, on & off drizzly day with sun for a bit in the PM, but it was good enough. We toured the inside of this truly gorgeous mansion (I’m not a historical room person but this had me from hello), climbing winding staircases while hearing about the Coe family’s adventures.

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Then we had a fabulous lunch nearby and returned for the PM tour of the gardens.  I love wild gardens – and these were that, plus some amazing trees with names I never knew, like all kind of weeping willow trees including cherry blossom ones (impressive even sans cherries) and so many species of hydrangeas, peonies and azaleas!

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But I digress. Because it was the woman I sat with (behind me at first, then by choice, next to me) whose lovely face and quiet voice I’ll remember just as well, and the excited chatter of the campers/seniors! We shared thoughts and stories about problems and solutions related to living arrangements, family, health, I don’t really remember the words so much as the pleasure telling a bit about who I am to a good listener and providing the same for her.

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That’s pretty much all I want to say except I almost didn’t go.  8AM????  My feet, my legs, my back, my laziness, my dislike of 90% of strangers I meet, my fear of fatigue on the walks, oy oy oy!!  Forget about it!  But…with a little encouragement, I climbed a narrow, winding staircases up to the balconies and 2nd floors … those rooms were so worth it!

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But of course, perfection is not to be had in this life.  On the bus ride home, cleverly put off until the very last 20 minutes, an announcement that someone had found a tick on her neck!  A groan followed, more low-voiced chatter, a little fear thrown in, but by the goodbyes, all was forgiven and the pleasure remained.

I know all about tick bites.  As a child, I pulled one off a doggie that then made a home in my neck and infect-ed me with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (which no one realized at the time) resulting in various kind of maladies related to aches and pains.

But I know the best thing is to climb into a very, very hot shower and soap good everywhere, plus shake the bejeezus out of your clothing and shoes.image

With all that, I wouldn’t have traded a month of Sundays in my city apt for this lovely outing with strangers … and a new friend.

WordPress Daily Prompt: infect

To an Old Friend

I wonder if you feel like I do tonight. We spent the day together, reuniting after a long separation filled with hurt and anger, twin feelings that can do so much damage for so long. It was a nice day; the weather smiled on us, the park smiled on us, the walking together was good, the eating together was lovely. It was a pleasant day, no more, I thought. Because it’s hard to hold the past in your hands, even when you reminisce and laugh over memories that go back 70 years. As the day ended, we hugged and for a moment we didn’t want to let go. You said words like: “We have to be in each other lives … we are family…” but the words weren’t what mattered. For quite a while, my heart hasn’t wanted to open very wide; even today I kept a close watch on it. But when something gets through it’s for a reason, and here you are, despite the fact that we’re full of wrinkles and stories about our health and doctors and so on, despite all that, we could easily have been at camp in 1950. Was it your voice, its inflections unchanged through the years?  Is it the familiar way you say things?  The years disappeared!  But what does that really mean? Here’s what I think: when you’re young and you give yourself to a day with a friend, everything is a first. The friend becomes the rough path, the chocolate soda, the feel of a late afternoon. The friend becomes her freckles, her yoyo, the songs you sing together. Something so exciting goes into every part of your body and spirit, because when you’re young you haven’t learned how to hold back. So it’s giving of self without reservation, and what you’ve given that way you can never take back. The millions of times my cells have turned over — memories that can hardly make their way through all that are right here tonight. We’re in your kitchen baking cookies, we’re at camp walking with our arms around each other’s waists, fingers hooked in the belt rings of each other’s jeans. I hear our shoes on the porch of the Main House. I see the slick raincoats and the tack board, the darkened ping-pong table, the big tree with the swing. I see the baseball field to the left, the infirmary with the view of the lake through its windows. I see the game room with the piano against the wall. I see the jewelry bunk and I smell the oil and hear the cutting sound of the saw as we shaped the silver into scotty dogs and flowers. I see Frisky the goat under the tree and beyond her, the smells are rising on the path to the lake. I see the water as it flashes in diamonds through the trees. I can feel the air cooling as we stand in the candy line after dinner and hear the laughter of counselors grabbing a last few minutes on the tennis courts. I remember the love comics we read during rest hour and the hearts with initials we painted on the tent walls. And you and I were there, Jo, and so was Elena, and so were Liz, Evie, Nora and Gittle, Walter, Connie, Earl, Kathy and Fran, Steph, Hubby, Jesse and Vic. You are right. We fill a space in each other’s hearts that no one else ever possibly can, and I welcome the joy and the pain that comes with our embrace.

 

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