Saturday, July 1, 2017

But She Use To Have A Carefree Mind Of Her Own, With A Devilish Look In Her Eye

The first time I went out with Wingman, he remarked about how much I reminded him of his mother.  When we finally met, I just didn't see it: she was a tall, chain-smoking blonde, with a Lauren Bacall-esque voice, while I considered myself just an average size brunette with no distinguishable qualities.

She and I began our own relationship with stories about our lives, and she won every round of "Can You Top This". At 10 years old, she helped deliver her brother when her mother went into labor at home. Later, her alcoholic mother walked out on the family and was never seen or heard from again, so she dropped out of school to help. At 19, she and her husband eloped, and thought no one knew.  A photographer however, took a picture of them outside City Hall which became the cover of the afternoon edition of the NY World Telegram. (Oops.) A couple of years later, her very pregnant self drove her father and his equally pregnant girlfriend to City Hall in Newark to MAKE them get married.  Her half-brother was born a week after Wingman. Mouth dropping stuff that urban legends are made of.

She ran a tight ship at home. She had to. Her husband was a traveling salesman for a GM ball-bearing company and was only home Friday night until Monday morning. She had four boys ranging from 13 to 20, including one with special needs. Weekends with dad meant Sunday night dinners were mandatory for EVERYONE, and I eventually became a regular for her homemade meatloaf, turkey Paprikash and other budget stretching casseroles, but she could never remember that it was Wingman's old girlfriend who hated mushrooms in her salad-not me.

Before we started dating, she got her GED. By the time I entered the picture, she was studying for her associates degree which landed her an entry level position in an insurance company.  She climbed the corporate ladder quickly while still cooking, cleaning and ironing her boys jeans and tee shirts, a cigarette in one hand with glass of Chablis nearby.  When I floundered in my entry level retail job, she suggested that I handle my staff the same way she did and manage like a mother.  I had NO idea what she meant by that.

Wingman and I decided to get married, and I wanted to include her in some of the planning.  I only recall one mishap: at a wedding showcase, she introduced herself to the other guests at our table, then said "this is my son Wingman, his fiance and her mother ROSEMARY," which is NOT my mom's name. It was, however, the name of the mother of the non-mushroom eating, ex-girlfriend.  Wingman quickly removed her wine glass and she was flagged for the rest of the night.

At a pre-wedding luncheon, I paid the tab with my new married name AMEX.  She was shocked, and admitted ruefully that it was going to be difficult sharing not only her son, but her name as well.  She insisted on being a part of all of her sons' lives and demanded their presence at every holiday.  It was either her way, or...her way. Nine years into our marriage we moved closer to both sets of parents and I demanded that Christmas Day was now OUR holiday and they would have to come to us or not see the boys.  Score one for the little brunette.

Wingman was still well enough to help his parents out when his father was first diagnosed with dementia.  As my boys got older and more into college sports, both men began to sink into their respective black holes until it was just the two of us women who could turn to each other.  On my worst days, I would drive over, have a glass of wine with her and talk about nothing and everything.

On the day before my father-in-law passed, we all sat in the nursing home, waiting for the inevitable.  Wingman started shaking until it got so bad in the evening that a nurse insisted that he be hospitalized. She became a widow the next morning. Three months later, I too, became a widow.   Three months after that, both of our homes suffered extensive damage in Sandy.  Too many things in common for two woman in just six months.

Sadly, her health has since started to fail. Her balance is terrible and she falls. Her once beautiful penmanship has been reduced to block letters. The thrifty casseroles for six that were replaced by elegant gourmet meals for two are now simple plates for one prepared by her live-in aide. But the worst part is that her memory is failing. I wish I could believe that it's a defense mechanism for losing her husband and her oldest son, denying the fears of what will become of her special son, and never seeing her youngest son and grandsons. I wish the son who now bears the burden of her care, or my oldest son who has started doing some of the things that Wingman use to do, could hear the stories just one more time about Chukchi Mary, Wujek Victor and Sister Adele. About the kitchen fire and her running into the street in baby doll pajamas. About making homemade peppermint schnapps and chrusciki at Christmas and singing Sto lat. But she can't remember the names, the places nor the details.

It's sometimes said that pets & owners begin to resemble each other.  There are definitely things I now do like my mother-in-law.  Just like her, every year when the boys were in grade school, I dressed them similarly for picture day.  I now manage my younger staff with a firm hand like I did with my frustrating as that is. I understand that my daughters-in-law will roll their eyes whenever the boys talk about me making their names in pancakes the same way I rolled mine when Wingman mentioned her ironing his jeans. I also remembered to KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT when my future daughter-in-law invited me to go wedding dress shopping. I never insist that they spend their holidays with just me because I know how much stress it causes. I tell the stories that will become my own urban legends, like accidentally locking my 18 month old in a sweltering car while having labor pains 2 minutes apart before delivering a 10 lb. 12 oz baby. I even dyed my hair almost blonde at one point.  And yeah, then there's the white wine...

This week was her 85th birthday. We went to a family luncheon down at the beach which I loved, because all three of my sons were there. She was happy because she had her baby brother, two sons,  six grandsons and two great grandchildren there. Today, I took a turkey breast out of the freezer to make Paprikash.  With the Summer Son eating me out of house and home, I needed a dinner casserole that would stretch my budget a little.  There's enough turkey to double the recipe so I sent some over for her, my brother-in-law and her aide. If you've never made it, or if money is ever a little tight, here's the recipe in Wingman's classic penmanship. Serve it over egg noodles. And don't worry about the missing proportions of the spices-just do it the way YOU want to. Just like she always did.

Happy Birthday Mom. I hope there's much more to celebrate in the years ahead.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest, Put Our Service To The Test

This week is/would be/should be my 35th wedding anniversary.  It's an anniversary that, with the boys all grown, I should be with the man I was destined to grow old with, exploring someplace romantic or at the very least having a romantic dinner.  We should be reminiscing about the good times and the bad and what made our marriage strong enough to get to where we are now. I'm angry and sad and extremely jealous because so many of my other friends are doing exactly that.

 I needed to channel my anger in a positive way. And I'm doing it with diamonds. Baseball diamonds that is.

Baseball has certainly been a big part of not just Wingman's and my sons' lives, but also of mine. My family went with Dad's fire company on summer bus trips to Shea Stadium to see "The Mutts" when they were the perennial losers and tickets were cheap.  All seven of us went for less than what one semi-decent ticket costs today.

All three of my brothers played ball. I know I had a mad crush on at least one of the guys they played with, and was more than happy to watch without being a mopey, bitchy pre-teen. When my parents added a pool in the backyard, those boys could be found splashing away after a game with me at my bedroom window drooling, umm, I mean...watching. Even babysitting for their coach's kids evokes memories. He wore Brut cologne, and that scent still sends me back into teenage baseball delirium. 

First Love played baseball, and I spent years in the bleachers cheering him on.  The first time my high school played his, an actual fight broke out, which resulted in a decades-long rivalry. It wasn't easy going back to classes and sitting next to guys that were in that fight, and I think my teacher/team baseball coach actually failed me on my next test out of spite. It was decades later when son #2 won in relief in a conference championship game against that school that I could finally say that revenge was sweet.

Having three sons, our time at baseball fields stretched almost two decades. Early on, Wingman coached their teams and he was fantastic nurturing little kids. It was sweet watching boys with huge mitts and hats that slid down over their ears hit "home runs".  It got tougher though as they got older; watching them strike out with bases loaded or walk in the winning run. But he was always a kind and patient coach. He use to say that coaching little kids was what he wanted to do when he retired.

By high school, Coach Wingman became obsolete.  He was relegated to being just a spectator with the other parents.  It was about that time that his demeanor changed, and he became anxious and depressed. By the time the two older ones went on to play in college, he could barely watch without liquid fortification. When we went to games, he would say he was going to get coffee, but would come back empty handed.  He would go back and forth to the car, and I would eventually end up driving home, furious, while he slept it off.

One summer, son #2 complained about a flutter in his chest. Wingman scoffed it off, saying he had the same thing, an extra heartbeat, when he played football in college and it turned out to be nothing. We took him to a cardiologist, who agreed but put a monitor on him for a week as a precaution. Out of the blue, his college coach called to say that he found a summer team in Waterloo Iowa for him to play on.  They needed a good relief pitcher, and Coach felt this would be a great opportunity. Son #2 was ecstatic. The monitor had to go.

Wingman changed overnight. "He's not going, not with his heart like that. He could die." All of a sudden, it was like he needed a heart transplant.  He and I fought over it and he refused to even discuss it.  The plane ticket had to be purchased, and we were short on money, so a friend loaned me the cash to buy his ticket. Wingman went into another slump. The morning son #2 left, he put a letter under Wingman's pillow as he slept about how disappointed he was with his behavior, and as I drove him to the airport, I mused over Wingman's words: "If he dies out there, it's your fault."

He didn't die, and had a fabulous summer pitching in a bunch of big stadiums in front of much bigger crowds than he ever did before. As much as I/we would have liked to have flown out there to watch him, Wingman wasn't going to work regularly, and I feared that either he would lose his job, or even worse, be an embarrassment. So we stayed. The only bad thing about Iowa was the housing arrangements.  Since he was so late to the table, they found an older man to take him in, who lived in the woods, and barely talked to him.  He spent most of his time with a guy he met whose host parents agreed to let him sleep on the couch for the rest of the summer. I was eternally grateful for their generosity.

Last year, I started thinking about all things baseball.  I was using Wingman's laptop, and found a very old email from a woman who ran the summer league the boys played on. I looked it up to see if it was still around, and found out that they are, and were looking for host families for players.  I sent her an e-mail that I had two spare rooms if she needed one. Like summers before, I was late to the table and they had all that they needed.

Son #1 moved back home last fall to start a job here in the states. When a couple of months ago the woman from the summer baseball league sent a blanket email looking for host families, I deleted it thinking that two sons at home was enough.  Then came a second email, and a third desperate one. Nine baseball players still needed homes. I couldn't do it-the last spare room was a wreck. Then came a personal phone call with one last plea. With one deep breath, I said yes. Out came the garbage bags to purge.

And so, on Monday, in walked my "summer son", a 19 year old boy from Fitzwilliam,  New Hampshire.  He eats things I would feed a two year old: Strawberry Pop Tarts, mac n cheese, nachos, cheeseburgers and carrots with ranch dressing. He's never seen pork roll, hates fish and doesn't eat vegetables. Worse that all that, he's a Boston Red Sox fan.  But, he's sweet, and Dexter already likes him. He loves Bruce Springsteen and can quote baseball statistics about almost every player in MLB. He tells me when he's leaving and when he's coming home. When I leave for work, he actually says good bye and be careful-something my own brood  never does. And I'm looking forward to watching him play-he throws in the low 90's. I want to be like that family from Waterloo Iowa that gave my son a great summer. Paying it forward if you will.

As it happens, his birthday and my anniversary are days apart.  I plan to watch his game and take him to a pizza place where they give you a tee shirt if you can eat a whole extra large pie, which I have no doubt that he can. In my mind, it will be nothing and everything like that 35th anniversary dinner should have been with Wingman.

Because some or most of our conversation will be about baseball.

Happy Birthday Tyler. And Happy Anniversary me.

Friday, May 12, 2017

I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt

Wingman use to call me many things. Obstinate. Overcritical. Certainly bitchy. I even recall on our wedding day that he called me "beautiful". But that was a one-time happening, and I don't recall him ever crooning Eric Clapton"s "You Look Wonderful Tonight" after that. So it comes as no surprise that he never called me "sexy".

And I get it.  When I went to school in NYC, a couple of my friends were stopped by Eileen Ford and asked to come to her agency to model.  They were cute, and one was even, in an exotic way, sexy even back then.  But not me. I was and always will be, fine with how I look.

There were some things over the years that got me when I stopped dying my hair and grew it out to donate for a wig.  As part of a lecture that I did on The Avon Walk For Breast Cancer, I had my beautician come in and cut my waist-long hair short. The following Sunday at church, I was a Eucharistic Minister, which at a Catholic Mass is a regular person who gives out communion. Knowing that my new looks would draw attention from the regular attendees, I positioned myself at the furthest, quietest part of the church.  As I distributed communion and said "Body of Christ" many of the people responded with, instead of the perfunctory "Amen", comments like "Love your hair!" and "Wow, you look great"!

Ummm...I never confessed that. Bless me Father...

Which leads me to work now. Back when I was working full time at Wrinkle City and running to my part time fashion gig, I use to have to make quick changes in the stockroom.  My full time job required 3 piece corporate suits, panty hose and pumps.  The fashion job was much more casual, with one of the only no-nos besides tongue piercings being panty hose (because they are corny). Becoming a full time manager at the fashion company means that I only have a couple of 3 piece suits left (like black ones for funerals) and tossed the panty hose.

I think I dress fashionably and appropriately for my age. I don't own tight sweaters and low-rise jeans and my shoes and boots are all flats, thanks to bunions from wearing high heels for 40 plus years to all my other jobs. Obviously, not all of my co-workers feel the same way as I do.

A couple of Sundays ago, I went to church and went directly from there to work. When my associate manager came in, she looked me up and down, sniffed (she's a sniffer at things she doesn't like) and said "You didn't really wear THAT to church, did you?" It was the dress pictured with the same black tights (not corny panty hose), same black boots, and a black blazer (from my funeral suits) instead of the jean jacket.

I asked her what was wrong with the outfit.  She sniffed...AGAIN...and said "Don't you think you're a little too old to wear that?" "A little old?" I questioned.  She replied "Well that's too sexy for someone YOUR AGE to wear to church."

I started having flashbacks to some of the old ladies at Wrinkle City with their overdone makeup and crazy clothes.  Was I becoming one of them?  I asked a relative in HR what she thought, and she told me that my response should have been to tell her to mind her own business. I asked the pastor in church if he thought I dressed inappropriately, and he laughed and said my associate shouldn't come to a later Mass where her head would explode if she saw what one of the women wears each week.  And I asked my boss, who laughed and said the same woman told her that her shirts are too tight.

So I let it slide, and last week went shoe shopping with the BFF.  It's been a while since I bought anything new, and I'm like a 10 year old boy with shoes-they get scuffed and worn like I used them for a bike brake. We found a great sale and I bought, ahem, more than I needed including a trendy, strappy little pair of suede wedges that look really cute with jeans.  In fact, the first day I wore mine, both my boss and another associate wore similar ones with higher heels.

One of my tasks that day was to send some heavy boxes of clothes back to our central warehouse. As I was pushing one of the boxes, it hit the transition between the wood and tile floor and stopped me dead in my tracks. My foot rolled in my new strappy sandal, and it started to hurt, so I changed into sneakers.

When I left the store two hours later, I could hardly walk. By the time I got home, I couldn't put weight on it. Now, I'm not a baby, and can tolerate pain very well. My second son was an all natural delivery and weighed 10 lb. 12 oz. I debated taking two Advil and waiting until morning until the dog decided for me when he stepped on my foot. Since son #3 was working, #1 was no where to be found and #2 lives too far away, I drove myself to the hospital.

And this is what I have to show for wearing strappy sandals for the first time in years. A badly sprained foot with an equally badly bruised ego.  At least it's not broken, and for the next couple of days, while I can't wear cute shoes (at least on my left foot), I have this neat pair of steel gray crutches to accompany my wardrobe.

Maybe the sniffer is right...I'm too old to wear strappy little sandals, that, in the back of my mind, I saw as being sexy.

Or maybe, Wingman was right when he use to just call me a klutz.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Won't Get Fooled Again

 I would consider myself a skeptic. When the boys were younger and said they were too sick to go to school, for the most part I didn't believe them and packed them off. And most of the time I was right...except for one missed case of Pneumonia that I recall with son #2. At work, the people that SWEAR that they only EVER hand wash their jeans and don't know HOW they could POSSIBLY have ripped both knees simultaneously, get met with the glare-over-the-glasses look of  the mother who has heard that BS before as I pack them off with the name of the tailor upstairs that can patch them.

But it's surprised me that I've had the proverbial wool-pulled-over-my-eyes this year more than once and in more ways than one. From being told "You'll be comfortable for life when this deal goes through" to being asked "want to go to a game? to the disappointment of  hearing "I'll call you later" and not, has had me doubting my own judgement.

In my defense, I am proud to say that I didn't fall for the Indian-speaking IRS agent who, when I asked if he was calling from the home office in Roswell New Mexico and he said yes, was able to put the receiver in the kitchen junk drawer until he got mad enough and hung up.

But then again, I was a victim of "THE SWAG BAG CAPER"

Now, I have a great BFF who is the best Type A friend you could want. She is the Ying to my Type B Yang, and that's why our friendship has lasted almost half a century. Last spring we went to Amsterdam, and she perfectly coordinated everything for five of us from our car service to our accommodations to our day trips. All I had to do was Venmo her what I owed her and pack my bag, and even that I screwed up by forgetting a hat and gloves for our frosty day-stay in Iceland. The week of my summer vacation, I assumed we'd spend some time at her beach club...but instead, she planned a second vacation-a romantic anniversary trip to Italy with her husband. Which left me with time on my hands.

As luck would have it, another friend invited me that week to her birthday party. It was at the lovely beachfront apartment of a woman, who, from the get-go, I could see was someone I wanted to hang around with. Her great ocean views aside, she exuded confidence, loved to entertain and have fun, and best of all, was single. As we talked, we acknowledged our mutual need for female friends and exchanged phone numbers. We have gone to dinner, heard bands, seen concerts and even, on our mutual birthdays, threw axes.

When the BFF got back from Italy we went to the movies. There, I saw a sign for an upcoming event-it was the anniversary of  "Clerks" and there was going to be an original cast and crew party, featuring the film "The Making of. Clerks" as well as showing the original. As an added bonus, they were giving out SWAG BAGS. And while I realized that, at $28 a ticket, they wouldn't include Oscar night trinkets like Botox treatments, I thought it would be fun.

When Clerks first came out, Wingman insisted we see it as my birthday present. I was not impressed at the time of having to pay a babysitter to watch a black and white film shot locally about two low-lives in a convenience store. Even seeing a guy I went to high school with in the funeral home scene didn't make me love, much less like it. But Wingman loved it and proclaimed him a film genius, and we saw every subsequent film this guy made including "Chasing Amy" which was partially shot in his office. By the time Jersey Girl came out, I too, was a fan.

Here, I will digress and say that Wingman enjoyed some of the most sophomoric, contrived movies ever made. He once rushed the entire family through dinner, making us leave our plates of food on the table, to be the first to see "Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery" and guffawed through the entire film. As appalled as I was with the boys watching a character called Alotta Fagina, you can only imagine how embarrassing it was when we got home. Wingman had forgotten to turn the oven off, with a tray of French fries in there. The new neighbors heard our smoke detector and called the fire department who smashed in the door and left the pan of charred fries on the lawn. What was worse was that my mother heard that the fire department responded to a call at our house, and reamed me out for leaving dirty dishes on the table because it was embarrassing to her and my fire department life-member dad. I lived with THAT for months.

Back to the Swag Bag.

I looked up the event, and asked the BFF if she was interested. She wasn't a fan, and her Friday nights were usually a pizza date with her hubby, so I asked my new fun friend. She was in, as was the woman who introduced us.

We got to the theater, and through the crowd, I saw the guy who made the film. Score! We were actually going to meet some celebs, albeit ones we might not ever recognize in everyday life. Then, this haughty little man with a British accent asked to see our tickets. He sniffed his approval, and motioned for us to enter. "But we have to get our Swag Bags first" I replied, gazing longingly at...plastic grocery bags???

"Um, no. You bought your tickets too late. You don't get a Swag Bag."

Too late? It couldn't be. The BFF wouldn't have bought tickets too late. I couldn't have bought them too late.  I protested, but that snotty midget with his annoying Cockney accent wouldn't budge. Just like The Soup Nazi, it was "No Swag Bags for you."

I pulled out the big guns. "Oh yeah? I'm going over to Mr. Smith and tell him you won't let us have our Swag Bags." To which he replied "That's NOT Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith is filming in Toronto." I looked over at the celebrity that I saw as we walked in, and low and behold, it was a damn look-alike. "So who is here from the original cast?" I asked in a voice that was now at least two octaves higher than when we walked in. He ignored me to greet other people and give them their grocery store Swag Bags. By now, the two women with me were getting embarrassed, and suggested we sit down. I pulled out my phone, and saw that tickets for this event were still available...AND INCLUDED WERE...SWAG BAGS. "I'll be back" I said to my friends, as I went to find Shorty.

"EXCUSE ME" I yelled as he tried to look important to a bunch of younger fans. I shoved my phone in his face. "It says right here that if I bought tickets today, I'd get a Swag Bag. So what's the difference with my tickets from last week?" "The difference" he said "Is that you didn't buy them when we were offering Swag Bags." I wanted to do a smack down on him, but just then, my woman posse came and rescued him. Or me. Or both.

"Do we really want to see this movie?" my friends asked. I told them that if they didn't have a problem with some of the new president's vernacular for cats, they wouldn't have a problem with this movie either.

"Then let's go for Margaritas" they replied.

So we walked out, not meeting any cast, not seeing the movie and not getting a Swag Bag. And every time I have to go out in the yard or neighborhood and pick up the dog's poop with a grocery bag, it reminds me of getting scammed that night.

I vowed to myself: before I ever plan anything like that again, I'm asking the BFF to make sure I do it right.

And I'm going to practice my axe throwing...just in case I don't.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cover It With Chocolate And A Miracle Or Two

Every fall I go to a farm market and buy a big bag of hot cherry peppers to stuff.  It was my aunt's recipe, and for years, they were a staple for Wingman as he watched Sunday football games. The recipe is memorable for more than the burning sensation from the oil that stays on my hands for days after cutting and removing the seeds. Every time I make them, it takes me back to a candy company and an air traffic controller's strike.

I was working in retail for six years when my old candy buyer phoned me about a job opportunity in the wholesale field.  Two weeks after my only interview and armed with a Willie Loman suitcase, a road map and some samples, I was out selling chocolates.

I approached it in what I considered was a scientific way.  I would initially go to my biggest clients, and make subsequent visits to the smaller ones.  The first company I visited was an Italian food distributor in South Jersey, where I was ushered into the office of a guy my age who was a mustached Tony Soprano looking type. Without even shaking my hand, he proceeded to MF me and my company, shaking his cigar right in my face. I looked at him wide eyed, started shaking uncontrollably, and then broke out in huge racking sobs. He looked back at me bewildered since he had never made a vendor cry before, and then shuffled me into his car where we went to a diner for coffee. It turned out that that my predecessor had set up a bunch of small stores as distributors, and they in turn were passing their low costs to their friends/his customers so he couldn't compete. I skipped the scientific approach and went to every small coffee shop, pizza parlor and deli he complained about and told them that their distributorships were rescinded and that they had to buy from him.

He became putty in my hands and my best business friend.  When my company needed to dump inventory, I could count on him to buy all or most of what we were offering, and I always made great commissions on his account. Most of all, he taught me how to deal with men-Italian men-who had little or no respect for women in business by developing a thick skin and a backbone.

In early August of 1981, the Specialty Food Industry held its summer trade show in Chicago, and I went out early as the set-up person for our booth.  As I deplaned at O'Hare, there were news crews everywhere.  The air traffic controllers had staged a strike, and Ronald Reagan fired all of them.  As organized as the government planned it, only half of nation's flights would be available for the next week.

The show would be a bust.  Vendors couldn't get in to set up.  Planes of cargo were grounded. Buyers couldn't fly in.  On the opening Sunday, there were gaping holes where booths should have been, and aisles empty of buyers.

My distributor stopped by my empty booth and asked if I was going to the industry dinner that night.  My company was "frugal" in that regard, so I wasn't.  He said that since his parents couldn't get a plane-would I like to take one of the tickets as his guest? Of course I said yes.

When I arrived at the dinner, I found him standing in a line of men in shiny suits, waiting to shake hands or kiss the cheek of some guy.  At our turn, my distributor said, "Barbara, I want you to meet..." and I shook hands with a 40-something man with a gold pinky ring, who was in the olive oil business.  But his name jarred my memory, and I said "I KNOW THAT NAME" which of course, happened to be a very famous Mafia family name. As everyone around me gasped clutching their chests, he sarcastically asked how I knew that name. Men expected guns to be drawn.

But in fact, the previous Saturday, my aunt (of the cherry pepper fame) and uncle, had come to my parents house for a visit which always consisted of a lot of talking over coffee and an Entenmann's cake. They were tut-tutting how my 18 year old cousin was being wooed by a classmate with dozens and dozens of roses...begging her to go out with him. They were none too happy because his father was being indicted in something boxes and oregano were mentioned.

So I asked Pinky Ring Guy if he had an 18 year old son. He said no, that his boys were older.  I replied that I heard that my cousin was going out with someone with the same last name.  He said he had nephew who was 18, and after comparing notes, jumped up from his chair and exclaimed "WE'RE PRACTICALLY RELATED! MY NEPHEW IS GOING OUT WITH YOUR COUSIN!!!" Everyone exhaled nervously, he made the guy who was supposed to sit next to him move down a chair, and I got the seat of honor.

My distributor looked at me in amazement. Or disgust. I forget which.

The next day at the very empty show, Pinky Ring Guy showed up with a guy from Boston.  That distributor, another guy in a shiny black suit who looked remarkably like the undertaker from "The Godfather" and who had never bough our candy, was being "encouraged" to buy a container of product from me.  Then he brought San Francisco.  Los Angeles.  Florida.  In total, we sold 12 CONTAINERS of candy, cookies and whatever else we had to business associates of my new "relative" at the worst attended show ever.

I must now talk a little about my boss.  He was not Italian-in fact he had escaped Austria by train with the Von Trapp family and came to America. He served in the US Army as a paratrooper during WW ll, and later as a war crimes interpreter with one of the Von Trapp sons.  He was a brilliant business man, but he had one small flaw.  When he got nervous, he would start scratching himself.  Down there. With the first container, he was pleased.  By the 12th container, his pants were practically in shreds.  He was a nervous wreck that I had created a candy show monster. At breakfast the next day, he questioned me as to whether Pinky Ring Guy was really a relative or had I slept with him to get those orders. I was indignant. He was relieved.

And he didn't pay me one dime of commissions on anything from that show.

The following year, right after Wingman and I got married, Pinky Ring Guy called me up and wanted to help us out with a home.  He took us to his brother's house-what even now I would say was a mansion. All I remember was that the pool in the back had a fountain, as well as the brother's company logo in imported Italian tiles embedded on the bottom.  The house was listed for $350,000 when the average price of homes back then was about $85,000.  So totally out of our price range that even Wingman was nervous about the motive.  They wanted to keep it in the family, so if we could make a nominal payment, the family would hold the mortgage, and then buy it back from us at a later date. Wingman was adamant that we were being set up, so I used my distributor friend to help me decline their most generous offer.

Some years and two career changes later; I attended another Specialty Food Show, and made it a point to look up my distributor.  He was there, looking thin, pale and very sickly.  It turned out that he had cancer, and not long after that show, I learned he passed.  His company is huge now and when I go shopping, just seeing everything with the bright yellow labels makes me smile and yet get a little sad.  If he were alive today, I wonder if he would be retired with kids and grandkids, or still shaking cigars in vendors' faces making them cry. Probably no to the latter. He helped me develop a backbone. I helped him become compassionate towards young people starting out in business.

My aunt is gone too. And my uncle.  He taught Wingman how to make great Italian bread.  She taught both of us how to cook her way which was good, basic Italian food. And right now, my eyes are tearing up.  Partially in remembering them and a lot of good family times.

And partially because I still have lingering bits of hot cherry pepper oil on my fingers when I wiped my eyes.  Man, my eyes really do burn, as my distributor would have said, like a MF.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Just Sit Right Back And You'll Hear A Tale, A Tale Of A Fateful Trip

Last Saturday, as most of the shore area was making preparations for Hurricane Hermine, I was at a friend's mother's funeral Mass. She lived a good long life, and the church was filled with a mix of family and friends. Afterwards, everyone mingled on the front steps, because after all, it's always at weddings and funerals that you get to catch up with the people you seldom see.There, I saw a couple I haven't talked to in over a decade. We met on a cruise ship in 2001, run by our mutual friend.  The cruise would be Wingman's and my first (and last) cruise together because of, what else-a hurricane.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

If You Believe In Forever, Then Life Is Just A One-night Stand

Today is the fourth anniversary of Wingman's death. Four years. 1461 days. Time has passed both like the speed of light yet like watching paint dry.

The night he died, I went to the hospital with a decaf coffee and a buttered Kaiser roll. Wingman had regained enough of his memory after brain surgery to remember commuting to NYC for his film editing job. The Kaiser roll was for "the bus".

He didn't know that we (his brother, our youngest son and myself) had arranged to have him moved to another hospital the following morning. He was sitting in a chair when I arrived-eating mashed potatoes with chocolate pudding that he said was gravy. Our conversation was comical because threads of his memory were coming back like Dumbledore's Pensieve. He talked about climbing a mountain in Canada. He said he spent the day playing Army in the back yard and complained that he had to be the German because his Jewish school friend refused to.

He wanted to go home. He demanded his clothes. He tried to get up because he wanted me to take him with me. I promised that I would go and get his clothes. He couldn't remember my name, but told his aide that I was "the bitch".

Another small part of his memory that had come back to him.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When A Man Loves A Woman

Like most young women, I dreamed about meeting my Prince Charming who would sweep me off my feet and marry me. Of course, he would propose with a diamond ring befitting his princess. I had mine all picked out. A heart-shaped diamond in a plain white gold band (because I wasn't savvy enough yet to want platinum).

When I met Wingman, my list of suit-wearing, corporate job holding requirements went right out the window because he was in a band. But that didn't stop me from wanting that ring.  As time went on and friend after friend got engaged and married, I got more and more agitated.  When was it going to happen to me?

Then he hit me with the bomb: he thought we should see other people because I wanted to settle down and he didn't. When he found out that I actually DID date someone, he wasn't real happy about it. And he did something quite amazing in the parking lot of the bar that he was playing at.  He proposed.

Not with a heart shaped diamond, but with a Burger King onion ring. He was "pretty sure" we could be a good couple.  It wasn't quite the romantic prose I had hoped for, so I did the only logical thing-I ate the onion ring. Which was actually a good thing, because the next day, he called to say that whatever he had said the night before I should forget because he couldn't remember it anyway.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Sittin In The Morning Sun, I'll Be Sittin When The Evening Comes

Back when the kids were in grade school, we took one of our very infrequent spring vacations to Florida.  Wingman was in charge of gassing up the car (yes, we drove) and packing his own suitcase.  I was responsible for packing: clothes for three boys, a cooler with lunches and snacks for the road, activities to keep them occupied so they didn't annoy us or kill each other, getting the homework assignments that they would miss and packing school supplies, ordering tickets for theme parks and coordinate travel plans with in-laws who would be meeting us there.

Did I mention packing for myself as well?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Back Of My Neck Getting Dirty And Gritty

I have this waking hours fantasy.  As I work in the yard, a deliciously handsome young man walks down the street.  He pauses in front of my house and I watch him surreptitiously through the flowers: White shorts, low white Cons, shirtless, with sun-bleached hair, a golden tan and washboard abs. He crosses the lawn.  I look up at him-his skin glistening with a faint sweat.  His eyes are green, flecked with gold and he has a small cleft in his chin as he smiles down at me.  He pushes a wisp of hair out of my face and asks "what can I do to make you happy?"

I reply: "Weed my garden."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Love Is Lovlier The Second Time Around

It started with a snide comment I made when I read that 66 year old Billy Joel was getting married for the fourth time on July 4th to his 33 year old girlfriend. "Really Billy? A woman four years older than your daughter?" It was followed-up by a half-hearted good luck wish for an old school chum who married his fourth bride (the third was only 6 years ago) two days before my birthday. I wrote that I just erased him from my short list of potential second husbands.

But the kicker was the black envelope with gold lettering that I received at Thanksgiving. It was to the fourth wedding of the man I met for the first time the same day as Wingman. Deja vous...we had been guests at his first wedding, (where he received, then re-gifted Tiffany wine glasses to us the following year at our wedding). We were at his second wedding where the bride shared the same first name as the previous Mrs. Somehow, we missed his third wedding and never learned if her name was the same. And now, finally this one which included those surprise words after my name: "AND GUEST".

2015 was a year for love. OK, probably no more than the past few years, but one where I was invited to three of my friends' children's weddings. They were lovely ceremonies and the receptions that followed were all gorgeous affairs in perfect weather (compared to Wingman and I who got married in a nor'easter). But like all young people, the brides and grooms had very little to do with anyone other that their friends. To now be invited to one where the bride and groom are my age and one where I know some of the crazy skeletons hanging in the groom's closet?  Unfathomable.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

One of the things that Wingman and I use to enjoy doing was cook...although we were not good cooks together.  I am a "follow the recipe to the tee" type of gal, while Wingman liked to experiment with ingredients.  Sometimes they were a hit, and other times, like honoring our Korean daughter-in-law with kimchee-stuffed Stromboli bread, left a lot to be desired.

When we first met, he was amazed by the type of magazines I subscribed to. I read Bon Apetit like most women read Cosmo, and Food and Wine was my Vogue bible. Wingman's first Christmas gift to me was a set of frying pans (and no, at 21, they were not well received). But the cooking magazines opened doors to amazing meals.

One summer weekend after our honeymoon in Italy, we went to a farm and picked our own basil to make a pesto pasta dinner for friends. They admitted that they stopped at Mickey D's for burgers before arriving since they had no idea what pesto was or if they would like it. Like them, there was a lot we needed to learn over time as well: like that duck was extremely fatty and that you should add water to the roasting pan while cooking.  A lot of smoke and a small fire one Easter Sunday had everyone shivering in the early spring weather while we tried to air out the house, screaming at each other "why didn't you know that???"

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Smoke Of A Distant Fire

Back a few long years ago, I was honored to be a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding.  We wore beautiful wine colored gowns, had wreaths of dried flowers in our hair.  I sported an 80's Diane von Furstenburg-esque long perm kept in place with massive amounts of hairspray.

At the reception, I danced with a long-time friend of Wingman's.  We circled the dance floor and he dipped me backwards gracefully. As I came back up, I saw this look of horror on his face, and he started hitting me in the head.  People all around were starting to scream, and I saw the photographer coming towards me with a water glass and a wet linen napkin, which he threw on my head and doused me with cold water.

The reason for the hitting, screaming and sudden cold shower was that my dance partner had dipped me into live candles and my dried flowers and the back of my hair had caught on fire.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Might As Well Jump. Go Ahead And Jump!

When I was working at Wrinkle City, A/K/A the retirement playground for rich old people, the very cute executive chef gave a talk one day about how a person's taste buds change as they get older and they lose the ability to enjoy food as much.  He went on to say that you have to add lots of texture and spice to foods to make them more appealing.

I don't think that holds true just for food, because it certainly applies to my life.  One day last month, I found myself coming home from an event (alone-no +1) thinking that I am loosing my joie de vivre. The event was certainly beautiful, but was absolutely no fun because I'd stopped feeling the textures and tasting the spice.  I'm maintaining Wingman's gardens but all I see are the weeds. I'm a manager in one of the top, hip nationwide retail stores, but all I think about is NOT working anymore and traveling.

I needed a serious bitch-slap.  One to wipe the RBF off of me.  You haven't heard of RBF? It's the new buzzword this summer, a/k/a "Resting Bitch Face".  I look in the mirror and it's not just resting.  It's everyday.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

When I was in my first full-time job, I had two friends who were seriously in the market for the guys who would be good enough to marry them.  We would sit at lunch and I would listen to them make lists of the qualities that their husbands would have to have.

I thought about what I wanted as well: I didn't care what his profession was, but a man who wore nice suits and wing-tip shoes to work. A good tan to set off the crisp white (or I would accept baby blue) shirts and rep ties that he would wear.  A nice car (the BFF was dating a guy with a yellow Corvette). And, when the time was right, someone who would propose to me with a heart-shaped diamond engagement ring.

When I met Wingman, the list went right out the window.  He was a part-time bartender going to a local community college after giving up an out of state football scholarship because he was homesick.  His wardrobe consisted of one peach polyester suit, and a drawer full of tank tops and tee shirts with holes. He had a motorcycle as well as a car with no muffler that sounded like her nickname: "The African Queen". And, after dating him for six years, he gave me not a rock, but a rocking chair to "seal the deal".

But he did have this great guitar.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Doctor Doctor, Gimme The News

When I was a kid, there were not as many choices for doctors as there are today.  There was the old-fashioned pediatrician who made house calls.  As a budding first grade Typhoid Mary, I brought home Chicken Pox and infected the whole house.  The doc came with his black bag and said "Yup.  Keep 'em home," condemning my mom to whatever the incubation period was for probably a few bucks for the diagnosis.

Then there was the GP-the man who had an office in the front of his house, who examined us with a Popsicle stick in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dancing To The Rhythm That Is In Our Soul On Saturday Night, Saturday Night

From the day I met him, Wingman was a huge fan of Saturday Night Live. After all, it never competed with a single Yankee game on TV.  And perhaps, Saturday Night Live owes him a big debt of gratitude for helping create one of their more popular skits.

I met Wingman at a party. We tried to find common ground (certainly not our heritage with me being Irish/Italian and him Czech/Polish) but we did like the same movies (Casablanca) and TV shows (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman). He was incredulous that I had never seen Saturday Night Live, which as the second season began, became a weekly ritual for us.

Wingman was working as a bartender at the time I met him, and knew a guy with connections to the show.  He called me one night in June and in a voice three octaves higher than usual, squealed "I got us an invite to the SNL season ending cast party!" For two kids from the burbs, this was beyond cool.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Shower The People You Love With Love...Show Them The Way That You Feel

With very few exceptions, 2014 turned out to be more "MEH YEAR" than "MY YEAR". True, I finally got a full-time job as a manager with the company I worked part-time at for six years, and couldn't be more grateful.  In November, I became a grandmother for the third time in two years-this time a beautiful baby boy who was named after Wingman. But beyond that, the year was quite unmemorable. Which made writing at a certain point difficult.  If I wasn't interested in my life, why would anyone else be?

All things considered, with 2012 being my personal worst year (Wingman dying, Sandy destroying so many belongings in the house as well as losing my job all within 92 days) this year was at least tolerable.  As I recall, 2014 was more about getting it together than getting together.

That's not to say there weren't good times.  The trip to Florida to help someone deal with her ex was great.  Surrounding myself with thirty or so cute college boys for a home-cooked meal in March was a night I'll always remember.  And, of course, nothing could beat the surprise birthday party my kids threw for me in October. But it was New Year's Eve alone in 2013, followed by the same on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day which turned most nights last year into my own version of Groundhog's Day.  There were too many nights sitting alone WITH the dog and not enough nights putting ON the dog.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To

When my BFF reached her milestone year, she planned her own party. She picked the place, the food and the guests. It worked out so well that I planned to do the same thing this year. And as my birthday was also the same weekend as the NYC breast cancer walk a friend and I planned to participate in, I figured I'd have it the week before. So back in the early spring, I mentioned my party plans to my son. His response was for me to walk in another city another month this year.

Could it be? Was I imagining that the men-children responsible for every stretch mark and quite a few gray hairs and frown lines might be planning a party for me? Could they have inherited that from Wingman?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

If You Like Pina Coladas...

A young work associate and I were discussing dating.  "It's so hard", she moaned.  "All the guys act like The Situation or Paulie from The Jersey Shore.  They never stop checking out their phones or texting. You just can't meet a nice guy who wants to have a CONVERSATION."  I thought about that for a moment and offered this:

Imagine the lush African plains.  There are rivers and lakes, where all species of animals, birds and reptiles have plenty of water and live together peacefully. Now, think about that same African Plain during the dry season.  The lakes have dried up to muddy puddles and only the most aggressive animals get to lap up whatever swill is left.

That's the difference between the dating pool in your twenties and at my age.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Record Shows I took The Blows

By now, half the civilized world has seen the Gatorade ad celebrating the career of Derek Jeter.  And I must admit, it brought a tear or two to my eyes as well.  A classy guy who was born two years after I graduated high school, who makes 12 million a year playing baseball ans another $18-20 million a year in endorsements is retiring. But what brought a tear to my eye wasn't that ad, or his retirement.

It's that he dates women half his age.  Which makes the men MY age who think they are as classy as he is, want to date women half THEIR age.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Answer My Friend, Is Blowin' In The Wind. The Answer Is Blowin" In The Wind

When I finally decided how to commemorate the second anniversary of Wingman's death, I was reminded multiple times that what I planned to do was illegal.

Since he was a lifelong fan, I planned to leave some of his ashes at Yankee Stadium.

It happened that the anniversary was a day when the Yankees were in town during Derek Jeter's last season and it also happened to be Paul O'Neill bobble head day. Paul O'Neill was my favorite Yankee so to me it was a no-brainer.  A baseball game...a bobble head doll...maybe a beer...and a bag of ashes. What more could he ask for from me?

Well, for a $10.00 donation to the Yankee's charity foundation, I could put his name on the Jumbo-tron. For some reason, I found it insanely funny envisioning "The New York Yankees Welcome Wingman" knowing that part of him was resting in Monument Park.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Love When You Can, Cry When You Have To, Be Who You Must-That's A Part Of The Plan

A year ago, I thought that my head would explode if I didn't write down or talk about what I was thinking and how I felt.  Lately though, I've felt almost the opposite-that other people's heads will explode if I say what's on my mind.  And since yesterday was the second anniversary of the day I first thought to myself, "Wow, I'm a widow now..." I tried to think of where I was then, where I am now, and what I've taken from this experience.  Here's what I've come up with so far:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

And I'm Never Going Back To My Old School

Wingman and I bought our first home in his hometown about a year before his first high school reunion.  On that evening, we planned to have a few friends over for a nice, sophisticated apr├Ęs-reunion soiree.  Some carrot and celery sticks, wine in the wedding crystal...

Well, the friends we invited told a few of their friends.  Who mentioned it to others.  By the end of the night, the announcement was made from the stage that the after party was at our house.

I have never seen that many people in one place legally.  Crammed in every corner, in every room. The screened in porch was packed, even on that cold (I believe November) evening.  Not to mention that there was sex happening EVERYWHERE in the house-even in the bushes outside.  Younger high school kids, who had nothing to do with the reunion, showed up with a keg, thinking they could PAR-TAY.  The house was filled with Newport cigarette smoke (that school's butt of choice) and Wingman's brother who was living with us at the time, came home to find cocaine lines being drawn on his dresser.

Ah, the eighties.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Last Night I Didn't Get To Sleep At All

There were a lot of things that Wingman bought over the years from TV ads that were crazy.  Stupid even.  Expensive as well.  He bought Saturday Night Live videos and Time Life music CD's, pillows that help you sleep, shoe lifts for fallen arches, even a program from a real estate guru to make millions flipping foreclosed homes.  But it took a snoring dog next to me in bed to put me into the category of "What Was I Thinking?" when I succumbed to the middle-of-the-night infomercial. 

Besides inside vacuuming and dusting, I am now forced to take on Wingman's outside house responsibilities or pay someone to do them, like putting up a fence and installing a sprinkler system. Rather than pay someone to stain the deck that had to be replaced when the tree fell on it during that "she-who-must-not-be-named" storm in 2012, I decided to do it myself.  All 175 spindles and 68 deck boards and steps.  I envisioned a summer spent, not at the beach but on my knees with a stain brush in one hand, sort of like Lady Liberty getting sucker punched. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I'll Always Love My Momma (She's My Favorite Girl)

I remember being in 8th grade when my Mom had my youngest brother.  When I went into her room to visit for the first time,  she was crying in pain, and I went screaming down the hall for a nurse.  She later had "one of those talks" with me, saying that childbirth pain is hard but beautiful and you forget it quickly.  I wasn't big on the pain threshold back then and thought "I'm never having kids if it hurts."

Then there was the night in high school when I was forced to endure going to my other two brothers' Pop Warner football games.  When one brother got speared, the doctors thought he might have a cracked rib, so they put him in an ambulance to be x-rayed.  Mom went with him while Dad stayed behind as a coach. In the next game, that younger brother got clipped and hurt his knee.  As he was put into the second ambulance, the first one pulled in. Mom got out of one ambulance and into the next to go to the hospital again.  I thought to myself "I'm never having boys. They get hurt too much.  Just girls."

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Boys Are Back In Town

This is a story about a super baseball team and a super storm.

Admittedly, up to his senior year, son #2's high school baseball career was as painful as Michael Jordan's was in basketball.  (Jordan was cut and fought his way back on the team...son #2 had a JV coach who begged to keep him because he saw potential where the varsity coach saw none).  At a showcase his junior year, an assistant coach for a southern college saw him pitch and liked him, but alas, he was only there scouting position players and catchers.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Desperado, Why Don't You Come To Your Senses? Come Down From Your Fences, Open The Gate

No this is not my yard.  This is the yard I WISH was mine.  Right now, after this week's torrential rain, the gullies (where the dead arborvitae were removed from) are two 60' long breeding pools for mosquitoes.

There grass seed hasn't begun to take root yet, and since we've had first, extra dry and windy, then ridiculously wet and freezing weather, the seed doesn't look like it's going to germinate and will be there until the birds conveniently roosting there eat it. I guess Scott's colored the seed blue so I can tell what a failure my lawn is going to be through every granule just laying there doing nothing. Wingman would have been out there with his hoses, sprinklers, weepers and secret weapons all the while cursing the seeds into growing. Me, I watch from the window while checking out what's happening on Facebook.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Every Step You Take I'll Be Watching You

Back in high school, a friend of mine had a H-U-G-E crush on a classmate.  Besides knowing his schedule, she knew about his hobbies, his address and his family...even though she never spoke a word to him. She was the first stalker I ever knew.

She wanted to take the bus to his neighborhood and walk past his house.  That's as serious is it gets when you're 16. Since her curiosity made me curious as well, I went with her.  Unfortunately, we got off the bus MILES from his house, and walked until almost dark.  We could barely see the house before we had to turn around and walk back to find another bus to take us back to town.  I was grounded for weeks for not telling my mother how late I was going to be.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Let My Love Open The Door

Over the course of our thirty year marriage, Wingman had some eccentricities that we would continually argue over.   For example, when the boys were babies, I couldn't hang pictures over their cribs, or later beds, because he was convinced that if/when we had an earthquake, the pictures would fall off the wall and kill them. 3000 miles from southern California, and every time they had a quake, he's say "You see?  I told you so.  It could happen here too."  Really, there's no arguing with logic like that.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I'm Just Sitting Here Watching The Wheels Go Round And Round

It's April 11th.  I don't have my taxes done.  My yard looks like a war zone with dead grass, holes and ruts where the dead bushes were removed.  The house is a dusty mess.  I just threw away a container of mold with a few strawberries poking through. My granddaughter's birthday is tomorrow and I don't have her gift, much less have it wrapped, and I'm working until 10:00 tonight.  Then again, I also haven't shopped for or mailed an Easter present to my granddaughter in Korea, and that takes five days to get there once it's mailed. My taxes aren't done, the gas fireplace doesn't light, both garage doors squeal and I missed putting out both the recycling and garbage cans this week. The fence permit that took me two weeks to get to boro hall was just denied so I have to start over again.  I'm washing my hair with body wash since I'm out of shampoo and using my battery-powered toothbrush manually since the batteries died. I haven't written a word in my blog in over three weeks, AND DID I MENTION THAT MY TAXES AREN'T DONE???

Monday, March 17, 2014

Somebody Shake Me, Wake Me

Saint Patrick's Day.  Once, a one day, get-out-of-Catholic-School-free day, and now a holiday that starts right after Valentine's Day and ends with one giant hangover a month later. Ouch.

My earliest memories of the day are rushing home from public school to watch Captain Jack McCarthy (Cap'n Jack) on WPIX hosting the parade down Fifth Avenue while my Irish Mom boiled a big pot of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes on the stove. My Italian Dad would relish that once a year treat while my brothers and I would gag.  I think I might be the only person still to have never eaten a corned beef sandwich at Kelly's-the most famous Irish bar in the area.