My first book has been released!

My first book has been released!
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Monday, February 13, 2012

Sex and the Launch Sequence!

As a Cape Canaveral, FL resident, I ask, “Can you imagine a shuttle launch without the sequence and the count down?  Wouldn't it be a dud?” This is on my mind for Valentine’s Day because great sex with a woman requires the same attention to detail.

My relationship with my husband began as a smoldering love affair.  We met in hotels after work and passionately inhaled each other.  I nervously undid his tie and wrinkled his pressed dress shirt by clutching his massive chest.  His huge fingers lovingly traced the curves of my body like a blind man until laser desire guided him to the classified areas of my body which were ready to become the next frontier. My attention slid down to torment his maleness until it begged to be released. I traced its shape with every sensor. We’d make our way to the bed, him with suit pants and belt around his cordovan wing tips and me moving him, like a puppet, using only the magical force field of passion.

Even though time stood absolutely still in these moments of animal pleasure, it was the hours of anticipation during the day that set us up for the powerful ignition. These included the knowing looks across a board room table; ignoring all thoughts except the “I can’t wait until tonight,” message scrolling across my mind like the LED in Time Square; the songs caressing me on the radio on the way to the hotel-- “Saving All My Love for You” and “Sexual Healing;” the overly loud, guilty clicks of my high heels across a marble hotel lobby as I pretended I was a business woman rushing to my room;  the glass of wine sipped knowingly in an aromatic bubble bath leaving my skin as sleek as a summer slip and slide; the practice positioning on the bed as I waited for the knock at the door: Was it better to squeeze my boobs together or open my legs slightly; the buildup was exquisite and contributed to the payoff of overwhelming lust and gratitude expressed in devouring kisses. Telepathically we whispered, “I’m finally home in you. This is where I want to spend eternity.”

Fast forward twenty years into the relationship that culminated in a successful marriage. The Shuttle Program has ended!  This Valentine’s Day I ask all women, “Is mine the only man who forgot about the launch sequence?”  Like the rocket and shuttle launches that have become so routine, do we take the magic for granted?

No matter how many times it happens each year, I still rush to my balcony for every launch. After the earth-shaking sounds subside and the flame of ingenuity disappears behind the clouds, I’m left to reflect on what’s been lost.  I sit for a moment and think of the words of many girlfriends. One said,  “My husband walks up to me and puts his hand on my nipple and stands there grinning.  I want to laugh and ask what he thinks he’s doing, but I try not to hurt his feelings.” Then she makes a goofy face, takes a wide manly stance, deepens her voice and mocks her husband, “Do you like that? Does it make you hot?” We roar laughter.

Gentlemen, there is a step by step sequence.  How did you forget? A hand placed on the breast completely out of context doesn’t start our engines. A casual question like, “Feel like doing it?” is not Marvin Gaye sensuality.  OMG, “How about oral?” is a kick in the crotch. This makes our whole being scream “Abort mission!  Abort mission!”

Please, lovers, let's take it from the true rocket scientists and take our time. Below is only a teeny, tiny segment of the checklist to launch the shuttle and illuminate our hearts, minds and universe with fireworks.

ACTIVATE LCC MONITORING SOFTWARE                           
SLOW FILL TO 5% SENSORS WET                                                               
NOW IN FAST FILL TO 98%                    
NUMBER 4 VERIFICATION                  

            (Skip ahead 20 more pages)
T-00M6.6S    MAIN ENGINE 3 START COMMAND                 
T-00M6.48S   MAIN ENGINE 2 START COMMAND                 
T-00M6.36S   MAIN ENGINE 1 START COMMAND                 
T-00M00S     T-ZERO  SRB IGNITION                        


We have liftoff! Whew! I hope that was as good for you as it was for me. Don’t we all want to have a sexier Valentine’s Day and beyond? Let’s make an effort for both partners to dedicate ourselves to each phase of this important mission!  Otherwise, when your giant hand randomly reaches for a squeeze, our defenses flare and our minds shout, “Danger! Danger! Alien approaching!”

Wouldn’t you’d rather us both smiling and humming, “Let’s get it on!”  Ahhh, Baby!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Teachers are People Too!

I would wager that the average adult would not last one day as a teacher.  Oh, it seems as if they leave work at 3 o'clock each day and enjoy restful summers, but this just isn't the case.  During my fourteen years as an English teacher, I had to read every night whether I wanted to or not.  And I wasn't reading romance novels, but Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I required students to write weekly journals, which I read all weekend and wrote comments on the entries to encourage those who were struggling with personal issues.  I corrected piles of essays and term papers.  I worked every weekend and all summer as a waitress to supplement my income. 
Most people shudder at the thought of giving a 3 minutes presentation in front of peers, whether in college or in the business world.  A teacher has to speak and lead meaningful discussions for 40 minutes, 7 times a day.  While speaking, it helps if they are interesting...or better yet exciting and engaging.  They have to do this in front of a sometimes hostile audience (I taught in a technical high school where students hating English class--until they met me.) And you have to get ALL students, even the most severely handicapped, or those with limited English, to attain minimum proficiency on a test that most Americans would never pass.  In fact, the average American could not pass the 4th grade test.  When we were in school, a math problem on a standardized test required us to find the area of a rectangle.  Today's math problems go something like this: Pedro was hired to cut his neighbor's grass, which measures two acres for $8 per hour.  Pedro asked his friends Rasheed and Joseph to help him.  If they divide the grass into 3 sections, how many square yards would each boy cut?  If each boy cut 500 yards per half hour with a push mower, how long with it take the team to finish?   If Joseph cut the grass for only one hour, how much would he finish?  If Pedro and Rasheed divided the remainder of the grass, how long with it take them to finish?  How much would they get paid? Write an essay explaining your answer.  This is a fabricated fourth grade math question, but trust me, it's very close to reality.
Of course, for all of the struggles of being a teacher, nothing matched the laughter and joy associated with the job.  Students are not widgets, so you never know what to expect each day.
During my first year of teaching, I taught English in a nursing classroom that had 8 hospital beds on one side and a classroom on the other.  Each day, I had to ignore the unusual sexual poses someone placed the male and female hospital mannequins  in before my class started.  One day, the sweet little nursing teacher, who was in her late 50s, about 5 2” with round glasses and mousy brown hair,who barely whispered when she talked, asked if she could speak to me.
I left my classroom of 23 freshmen and told them to continue reading while I was gone for a minute.  Once we were in the hallway, Mrs. Roberts folded her tiny hands across her chest and said in a very serious tone.  “We have a problem.”  Knowing how well respected she was and that I was new and making lots of mistakes, I panicked for a minute.         
I said, “I’m so sorry.  I’m sure it can be worked out.  What is it Mrs. Roberts?”
She said, “Someone stole my vagina.”
“What?”  She usually spoke as if sugar melted in her mouth so I assumed I didn’t hear her correctly. 
“Excuse me?” I asked and put my hand to my ear to signal for her to repeat what she said.  She said, “I believe one of your students stole the model of a vagina that I use for my nursing class.”  She added.  “My vagina was here last night when I locked-up and your students have been the only class in the room today.”
With all my might I muffled my laughter in the back of my throat.  “Oh my God, I am so sorry."  I tried to show deep concern. "I'll look into it and get back to you right away.”
As I turned the door knob to my classroom I thought, I am looking into her vagina?  Great.
As I closed the door and reentered my classroom, I bent over and started laughing so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath.  Tears were dripping down my cheeks as I laughed uncontrollably.  My class stared at me as if I was losing my mind.  I squeezed my legs together as if I were going to pee my pants.  Then, after a few long minutes, I got control of myself and raised my hand to quiet the class, but more to gain my own balance and composure.

Then, with the most serious face I could muster and a monotone voice, I said.  “Someone in this room stole a vagina.”
The class had never seen me more serious.  There was a awkward moment of silence. 
But just one moment later, they all lost it and laughter was roaring throughout the room.  I couldn’t help but join in.  I tried to be serious again and added, “I don’t care who did it…but I want that vagina back on this chair by 3:00PM today.  My job is on the line.”
I was forced to ignore the comments like the one from Alex: “Hey, it’s been snatched!”
Fortunately for me, Mrs. Robert’s vagina was returned and placed on my desk that day as required.  After that one moment of joy that we all shared, I never had a discipline problem with my class and we shared an outstanding adventure in literature throughout the year.  We made a connection and that is the basis for outstanding education.   
Then, through the magic of reading chapters out loud, watching videos, acting out scenes, conducting mock trials, and other methods, I helped them tackle To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crucible, Of Mice and Men, Shakespeare and more.  I loved to see how proud my vocational students were that someone expected them to learn and to understand these works.  Other teachers shared stories about how much my students spoke to them about suddenly loving English class.

Once, the automotive teacher was listening to two of his students who were in the grease pit under a car.  The one student, who attended the vocational school on a part-time basis and had academic classes in a different high school, said to his buddy, “We’re reading MacBeth in English Class. It’s so stupid and boring.  I hate it.”  Brian, a student from my class, answered, “Well, maybe you just don’t understand it.”

(Enjoy reading my blog?  A portion of this post is an excerpt from my 5 Star memoir: My Mother Killed Christ: But God Loves Me Anyway.  Buy it on or Kindle Today!)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuning Out!

My question is “If the US falls, but no one tunes in to view it, did it really happen?”  Is your life really in decline?  Ok, let’s agree that there are people who are suffering dramatically.  But, can we really do something about it?  Beginning 45 years ago, as a Catholic school student, my classmates and I collected money for people starving in Africa on a yearly basis.  We did this as a plaid uniformed  army filled with compassion along with millions of children like us across the globe. Every year, we went door to door, bar to bar, store to store, collecting money in little red boxes decorated with photos of starving children.  We believed we were doing good.  Yet,  I noticed on the news the other day that people are still starving in Africa. 
My husband and I spent a combined 60 years trying to bring change to education at the local level.  When I look back at our school, things are pretty much the same.  Yet, I do vaguely recall transforming the lives of individual students.  Is it possible that we will all have the most meaningful and dramatic impact on the universe if every individual worked hard to positively impact those we come across daily in our own little worlds?  If everybody turned out from the “global connection” and tuned into the actual human beings that are right in front of us, will we make a difference? What if we really cared about the people we know and shared ourselves and our resources with them?  Could this have a ripple effect on the universe?
I’m going to tune out and try it.  I’m going to buck the trend and stay far away from Facebook, Twitter and blogs and give my attention to persons.  I will begin by reminding my own little circle that things in my country are better than ever in so many ways that I can’t even count.  In my lifetime, women were offered limited career choices. Many stayed in loveless marriages for decades because they had no choice. Minorities were excluded from opportunities and gays were routinely shunned and beaten.  Meanwhile, children with handicaps were institutionalized in filthy places, like one called Willowbrook.  When I was in 7th grade, an exceptional journalist named Geraldo Rivera kicked the door down and exposed this disgrace.  He was my hero.
Okay, quality has declined in some areas and of course our politicians are scumbags and clowns…but they always were.  In my school uniform, I was also taught to pledge allegiance to a President called Kennedy who was the face of Catholic values.  We all know how that turned out.  But guess what?  Our peeps are still of the highest caliber.  On the left and right of me are exceptional persons.  Meanwhile, if I turn my head away, just six goddamn inches from the television or computer screen, life is freaking fantastic!
I’m signing off and stepping out where the sun, not a computer screen, forces me to squint.  I 'd rather shield my eyes from blessed light,  than from the burn of electronic visions of pathetic losers, child molesters, and greedy thieves that will no longer enter my home and my mind. 
Putting my head in the sand?  Better than putting it in shit! Real life is just outside your door.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trick or Treat

I usually stopped at Duncan Donuts to pick up two old fashioned donuts and a black coffee.  This seems easy enough, but regardless of how I placed the extraordinarily hot coffee in the cup holder, it always seemed to spill across the white leather interior of my Lincoln Continental.  I was on my way to the Care Center to visit my ex-husband, whose entire left side of his body was paralyzed from a recent stroke.  For the first year, he couldn’t eat anything but thickened liquids and his mouth was twisted permanently preventing audible speech. But he progressed now and was able to eat whole food and most of his words could be understood. It was Halloween, so I decided to get him two pumpkin spiced muffins instead of the usual treat.

Since we were divorced for 12 years, I didn’t anticipate that one day my life would include visiting him every other day. His doctor warned me, when he was in the hospital, “If they learn that Steve has no advocate, they will warehouse him for the rest of his life. He needs you.”  For my son and because of the many times he helped me, I had to step up and be his “person."  After all, we had remained best friends after our failed marriage.  I was just 21 and he was 42 when we tied the knot and, of course, the marriage was doomed from the start.  Still, he spent every holiday with us and we were parents and partners together throughout our son’s life.
The funny thing is that he used to call me “AdvoKate” and “The voice for those who could not speak,” because of how enraged I became at injustice and how I placed myself at unnecessary risk for others.  For example, when I was a senior in college, I could not believe how many men were incarcerated because of dysfunctional childhoods. In my mind, they never had a chance, so I signed up to teach a poetry class at Rahway State Prison.  When Steve found out, he was furious.  “You know what kind of poetry you’re going to hear?”  Since he was a truck driver, most of his words cannot be repeated here.  But if you think of Andrew Dice Clay, you would be on the right track. 
Other times, when I was in a department store and saw a parent striking a small child, Steve turned his back as I approached the woman and said, “Why don’t you try f-ing picking on someone your own size?”  Even though I would be a terrible fighter if it came to that, the F word was usually enough to scare the parent and to make her stop.  I would walk back to Steve and he would growl, “Get him, Tiger!”
Still, my visits to the nursing home were not noble in any way and I didn’t approach them with a warm, giving heart.  I hated it.  The place smelled like urine and more. His rotating roommates were all in different states of being permanent vegetables and the aides were incompetent.  Steve was already in trouble for throwing a shoe at one after she left him on the toilet for 2 hours. Because even his trunk was paralyzed, he didn’t have the force to reach her with the shoe, but he tried.  When they wrote him up for “misbehaving,” I marched to that nurse’s station and ranted, “I’d throw both shoes at you!  How would you like to be left naked on a toilet for two hours?”
Meanwhile, Steve refused to leave his room to participate in any activities, even meals, because at 59, he was a full 20 years younger than most of the residents.  I would beg him to, at least, go to the dining room for one meal a day. He’d say the best he could with a paralyzed mouth,  “I’m not eating with f-ing people who need someone to cut their f-ing food!”  I would reply, “Steven, you need someone to cut your f-ing food too.” He would simply turn away and the visit was over.
I tried taking him out of the nursing home to eat, but that got too difficult for me.  He weighed 230 pounds and by the time I got him in the car and the wheel chair in the trunk, I was so exhausted.  The last time I tried to give him a fun day put an end to the idea for good.  I had purchased a new Sebring Convertible and I thought Steve would really enjoy going for a ride.  I struggled to lift him and drop him into the front seat, fold up the wheel chair and get it into the trunk without scratching my white exterior.  I put a New York Yankees cap on him and a Penn State cap on my head and dropped the top.  I put Born to Run on the radio and took off on Route 78.  The sun was shining and the wind was blowing my hair.  I turned to Steve and asked, “Isn’t this great?” He replied, “I’m going to throw up.”
“What? In my new car?”  I quickly pulled over and reached across him, unbuckled his seatbelt, and gave him a little shove so that his head would be facing down when he vomited.  Oh my God, I forgot that his trunk was paralyzed and saw that his head was going right towards the sidewalk.  I quickly ran around the car to catch him before he hit the cement.  We both decided, with me doing all of the talking, that I wouldn’t take him out anymore.
In addition to all of this conflict, despite painting the biggest smile on my face each time I entered his room for two, Steve seemed to not even care that I was there.  I was taking two hours out of every other day, after working full time, to stop to see him. I was basically a delivery girl… that’s it. “ Where’s my coffee?  Where’s my donut?” And then he would stare at the television.  The doctor explained to me that after having a stroke, his brain was so attracted to the television that it was such an effort to turn away and that I shouldn’t take it personally.
Well, since it was Halloween and I had to take my own son Trick or Treating, it was my plan to rush into Steve’s room, put the coffee and muffins on his food tray and leave immediately.  I reasoned that the aide could cut the muffin for him after I left.  As I entered the automatic glass doors, my stomach turned.  After adjusting my sight from the bright October sun, I focused and saw a line of twenty to thirty wheel chairs all along the hallway wall.  The first thing that I focused on was the plastic, orange and black, Jack O Lantern trick or treating buckets each wheel chair occupant had in his or her lap.  In the wheel chairs were grotesque wrinkled, toothless witches; nodding, drooling vampires; hideous fairy princesses with sparkly pink crowns atop dingy, grey teased hair.  Then, I saw Steve.  He was wearing a red, plastic too-small fireman’s hat and a plastic yellow cape that resembled a fireman’s coat with red strings tied under his double chin.  His wheel chair had a cardboard fire truck taped to the arm rest. My eyes scanned up from the photo of the ladder and hoses to Steve’s left arm, which was strapped in his wheel chair by a seat belt- like restraint. Within flashbulb seconds, my eyes scanned higher to see the elastic chin strap making a red mark beneath Steve’s unshaven chin.  A little higher, I saw his stroke-affected mouth with one side so low into the deepest, most despairing frown.  The last blow was the tear drop rolling down from his left eye partially erasing a red circle of makeup that was painted onto his face to form a rosy cheek.  That’s when I lost it.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I screamed.  Three aides, at different check points along the caravan of wheel chairs faced me.  He’s not a goddamn child! He’s a grown man! How dare you?”  I ripped off that plastic hat, undid the straps and ripped the cardboard fire truck into ten pieces within two seconds.  I cut into the line and grabbed the handles of the wheel chair and pushed as fast as I could, running at full speed, until I was in his room.  I quickly washed his face with brown industrial paper towels and Lysol smelling hand soap and carefully lifted him back to bed.  I gave him a sip of coffee through a straw and cut his pumpkin muffin into bite size chunks. 
When I calmed down, I had to do what I tried never to do in front of him.  I cried hysterically. I sobbed openly and loudly.  He reached his good hand out to take mine and struggled immensely to be heard.  Even with his frozen jaw, drooping lips, and sputtering tongue, I received his message loud and clear: “Get him, Tiger,” he said. He squeezed my hand firmly with all of the strength he could muster, and turned his full attention to the television where Casablanca was playing on the Turner Classic Movie Channel. 
I was relieved because within just a few moments, I knew in his mind, the real Steve was Humphrey Bogart saying sweetly, “Here’s looking at you kid.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top of the Morning?

Let’s be honest, Ladies, no woman looks forward to her annual gynecological exam.  For men out there, you have no clue what we must endure.  The only remotely similar medical experience you undergo is the annual prostate exam.  And even this makes my big, macho husband tremble.  As he turns his back and hears the last snap of the doctor’s rubber glove secured in place, he turns his face over his left shoulder and threatens, “I better not feel your two hands on my shoulders anytime during this exam!”
Recently, I scheduled my first annual exam and PAP smear with a new gynecologist in Florida.  Since moving to paradise, I’ve become somewhat relaxed about schedules and have tried to avoid this important medical procedure.  At 53, this area of my expanding body more closely resembles a ghost town amusement park whose colorful flickering lights and joyful music has long gone silent.  Every once in a while, the caretaker may go for a solo ride on the roller coaster, but the screaming has been muted. In fact, the ups and downs are so much less thrilling that he might actually belch or nod- off in the middle of what was once a thriller.
Like all women, when the day for my gyno appointment arrived, I gave myself the “Let just get this crap over with” talk.  I paid great attention to the little details that a man would never even consider.  What shoes will keep my feet from perspiring so that they smell pretty mid day?  How does my French pedicure look on my big toe? If the doctor’s hand or arm should brush along my calf, with I feel smooth and silky?  What matching lacy panties and bra should I select in case the bitchy nurse should glance and judge them where they lay on the requisite patient chair? After a military quality inspection of the lower half of my body, I checked my face, added my rings and earrings and I was on my way.
Before being taken into the exam room, I was given the opportunity to meet with my new gynecologist in his well appointed office.  He was an upbeat, handsome man, with blue friendly eyes and neatly trimmed auburn hair and beard.  While he did ask me if I had any concerns, my too quick “no” response made the whole experience similar to speed dating.  No wine, no food, nothing before he popped up from his leather chair and said, “Off, we go, then.” Perhaps this was a one night stand.
I was trying to keep my feet and hands from sweating as I reclined on the vinyl exam table wearing a white, scratchy robe of the same quality as paper towels.  I followed the familiar instructions of the nurse who barked, “Everything off.  This drape on top with the opening to the front and this one covering your lower half.” So, there I was, as so many women have been before me, butt forward on the table, legs open, feet in stirrups, with only a thin paper drape covering what my grandmother told me I should never let a man touch.
The bubbly, doctor bounced into the room and his nurse immediately stepped to my left side.  He rubbed his hands together, to make them warmer, and said “Ok, let’s have a look.”  As he did, I focused numbly on the mysterious colorful mermaids that had been painted on the dropped ceiling panels.  I tightened every fiber of my body. Both of arms were extended to my sides and with defensive, white knuckles, my hands held metal grip bars on the side of the exam table. I heard the doctor sit on his short stool, and could hear the squeaky wheels as he rolled himself closer.  Gently, he lifted up the lightweight, white paper sheet.
 Instantly, he exclaimed, “Oh my God, who’s Irish?”
“What?” “Huh?”
Complete silence.
My mind processed rapid thoughts.  What the hell is he talking about?  Are parts of me a red head? Am I freckled?  Does anything, in that area, resemble a shamrock? Am I carrying a Leprechaun? Was this a rhetorical question?
Then, he freaking repeated the question again more emphatically, “Who’s Irish?”
Like a hundred year old turtle that has been flipped on its back and is struggling to get right, I floundered on the exam table and used my very few remaining “core” muscles (as my legs were still in stirrups) to lift my head and ask, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Your ring. Your ring.  I see you’re wearing a Claddah ring.”
He pointed to my right hand on the side of the exam table.
The three of us in the room laughed so hard that, at fifty –three (Ladies, back me up here) my instant prayer was that I didn’t pee my pants or lack thereof.
“I just bought my wife one,” the doc added.  
He had me at Erin go Bragh!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mean Girl

Do you ever think back to a moment in your childhood to realize that you did something truly mean.  I hate to admit that every now and then, I participated in street urchin, gang mentality activities that hurt innocent victims. In my tiny NJ neighborhood, the people most targeted by our adolescent cruelty, were Annie and Tony—the owners of a candy store a few blocks from our house.                                         
Annie and Tony were Polish immigrants with thick, spitting accents who opened their eclectic store at daybreak and hustled until 9:00PM.  I never liked it when I was sent to the store for cold cuts or bread because nothing was organized and sinister cats tiptoed across the display counters throughout the day.  It was difficult to pick up a loaf of bread without the Wonder name appearing a bit furry from cat hair.
Annie and Tony, too, were unattractive because they seemed interchangeable. Maybe their bodies just looked the same because the two of them wore matching denim bib overalls daily.  They also had similar white hair that was tinged with yellow on the ends.  It didn’t glow like blonde hair, but looked dingy like white sweat socks that needed bleach.  It was dulled by the fact that to save on utilities costs or to keep the place cool, they rarely had lights on in the store.  From the outside, then, when they and the cats moved about on the inside, the big store windows turned them into ominous shadows working the meat slicer or pushing a straw broom.  This sent even more hair and dust into the air to settle on top of the Bit O’ Honey, Tootsie Rolls, or Sugar Daddy candy boxes.  Still, we went to Tony’s because no matter how poor we were, we always had enough to purchase three pretzel rods for two cents or a few long red licorice whips.  Looking back, I can’t believe that, after braiding these sweet, red strings or swinging them around to hit my brother, I still ate them.
Each day after school, three or four boys pulled open Tony’s store door, making the cow bells strapped on by a faded brown leather belt, startle the owners inside.  “Annie, do you want to suck my Sugar Daddy?” One pimple faced boy taunted.
Tony puffed up like a blow fish and put his fists in the air shouting, “What you strange boys want?  Git from my store!”  But the more he yelled, the more the boys laughed.  By the time Tony hurriedly cleared his products from a center portion of the counter on hinges, the boys grabbed a case of RC Cola, a bag of hot dog rolls, or any other item displayed near the front door.
One crisp fall night, I was sitting on our concrete stoop, when my brother and his two friends ran to the porch.  “Did you see that?” My brother Billy said, struggling to catch his breath.  “I nailed Tony in the head with a Ding Dong.”
The three boys chuckled.  My brother’s friend, Joey, reached inside his blue Yankee's wind breaker and said, “Yeah, well look what I took.”  His hand was filled with colorful jaw breakers, Sweet Tarts and other penny candies.  “Here, have some.” Joe turned to me.  “Why don’t you come with us next time?”  My heart leaped because Joe recently began kissing me every time I completed a pass when we played touch football.  I was steady quarterback and started throwing the best spirals in the seventh grade, even though I was a girl.
Just around 6:00 O’clock the next evening, the four of us headed to the store.  We all wore blue ski masks and our blue school windbreakers.  Our pockets were filled with eggs.  We used sewing needles to put holes in the top and the bottom of the eggs. Then we blew out the insides and filled them with Ajax and topped them with Scotch tape.  Joe went up to the store window first and whispered to Billy, “Annie is sitting in her chair at the counter.  I don’t see Tony.”  “Perfect,” my brother replied.  With that, Joe pulled open the glass door and the four of us pelted Annie with the eggs.  White and green speckled Ajax covered her shocked face and she started rubbing her eyes and screaming.  Just then, Tony came out of what seemed like a secret hallway swinging a baseball bat.
As he struggled to connect with one, another boy ran behind him and kicked him in his seat.  “Leave him alone!”  I screamed. “Stop it! Don’t hurt him!”  I didn’t realize, at first, that I was talking to the boys--not to Tony.  I ran home terrified.            
A few weeks later, I was forced to return to Tony’s candy store for my great grandmother's quarter pound of ham bologna.  I never knew if she wanted me to ask for ham or bologna. When I asked for clarification, she spewed curses at me in Polish and added, “Stupid girl, get ham bologna.”
When, I entered the scene of my previous crime, I guess Annie didn’t recognize me in my plaid Catholic school uniform. My blond hair was angelic compared to my navy ski mask. She stood from her badly scratched  maple rocking chair and said, “Come, here, Sweetheart, is this not beautiful?  Listen."   She pointed to her ear, then squinted, creating deep wrinkles on each side of her face. She lifted her head proudly and read slowly and clearly from her Readers Digest.  “Be careful of the words you say.  Keep them soft and sweet.  You’ll never know from day to day, which words you’ll have to eat.” 
She pushed a crumpled Kleenex across her shriveled face and asked, “What can I give you today?”
Nervously, I stuttered and said, “My great grandmother wants ham bologna, but I don’t even know what that is…”
Annie mistook my shame for innocence and said, “I take good care of you, honey.  Don’t worry.  Grandma be happy.  You are a good girl!”
It was on this day, in Tony's candy store, that it clicked for me that words have power.  As Annie handed me the small, brown, package of meat, I smiled and said, "Thank you, Annie. Have a good day."  In that moment, when our eyes met, I put my mean days behind me.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Tides of Life

When I was growing-up, my family spent memorable summers at the Jersey Shore building sandcastles to be washed away again and again by the thundering surf. Now that I live on the beach in Florida, I learned that in addition to all of the fun associated with a day at the beach, the event has many lessons to teach.
You see, what most people, who only go to the beach for the day or a week may not realize, is that the beach is not always a beautiful place.  It's a completely unique beach every single day.  One morning, you walk along the shoreline and your feet are warmed and massaged by smooth sand.  The seashells you find are all perfect, whole treasures, and the waves are just big enough to tickle your soul as they carry you, giggling like a lover, safely back to shore.
Other mornings, the beach is littered with ghastly, stinging jellyfish.  Your toes are stabbed and scratched by jagged shells.  Your arms and legs get bound and tangled in webs of foul-smelling seaweed.  Overpowering waves batter you and spit in your face, stinging your eyes, forcing tears, as you struggle find your balance.
Sometimes, you smell a rotting fish that sea gulls, which a day before appeared so graceful and beautiful, are fighting brutally amongst themselves to salvage. One flies away celebrating with a sinister laugh as it carries bloody chunks. You can't imagine that you were deceived into seeing it as a dove once.
Despite its cosmic beauty and its gloomy ugliness, its daily certainty and its growing mystery, the one thing that the ocean has taught me to remember in life is consistency.  No matter what happens; no matter what my marital or income status; no matter what time of the year it is, the waves keep rolling into the shore and out to the sea--over and over, with nothing to stop it, forever and ever into all eternity.
As we move through “our times” often made bleaker by the media, we must realize that there are always going to be wonderful days of smooth sands that form perfect shells of memories. Likewise, there will also be days where the dull sky and murky water seem to meet to form endless grey.  Like the surf rolling in and out, what you must keep in your mind and in your heart is what remains constant.  Here is what I have learned:
First, you are never alone.  Let the waves remind you of the support of your family; regardless of how your family is defined.  If you don’t have a family in the traditional sense, know that you will always be part of the human family and someone is here for you.  Take the risk and let someone know that you need help. I promise a pool of support will be captured by your openness.
Second, as you weigh the burdensome questions and decisions, stand firmly on the shores of the core values of honesty, trustworthiness, respect, fairness, and compassion.  These will always keep you afloat, above the bottom feeders, who will eventually be consumed by larger scum.
Finally, if pressure seems so great that you think that you can't possibly make it  another day, just close your eyes and remember the sounds of the ocean.  Listen in on your soul for the greater than you waves rolling in and rolling out that have been there everyday since your birth.  Your worrying will never change or impact that in any way.  No problem in your life will ever be more significant than the tiny grains of sand.  They are continuously stripped from the shore as the wave rolls out and redeposited in a completely different circumstances, as the tide rolls in.  Nothing will ever interrupt that rhythm.  Tomorrow will still come, and you will be able to face it.
This is the give and take of life. It reminds us to appreciate and celebrate our rightful place as children of the universe.  ALL the rest is just some crazy sunscreen—colorless, meaningless, layers that we apply as humans.  It's as if we think we actually have the power to combat forces as powerful as the sun. Put your hand up to stop the glare of electronic humanity and look within.
Surrender. Grab a beer.  Sit in a beachy chair.  Close your eyes. Remember what matters.