Monday, December 31, 2018

And So This Is Christmas, And What Have You Done?

This year, I overcame my compulsion to create the “perfect” Christmas. For too many years, I over-bought, over-wrapped, over-decorated and over-everything-ed, attempting to over-compensate for Wingman’s dislike of my Uber-Christmases and his drinking. Every year we were like two speeding Polar Express freight trains heading towards each other with the same disastrous results.

There was a one year reprieve in 2012 with Wingman’s death and Superstorm Sandy hitting right before Christmas. But going back home in 2013 allowed me to add something new to my holiday mix: guilt. My sons now had NO father rather than an alcoholic one, and I reverted to over-buying /wrapping /decorating /cooking/etc. And I was frustrated when these kids didn’t seem to appreciate my efforts. An old client from our deli/catering days suggested that I put some of my energy to better use volunteering with her and her husband, but I declined: some of our ex-friends were very involved in their group and it was still too painful to see them. I know...wah-wah boo hoo. I needed to get over myself.

The economic climate of retail in 2017 was so bad for mall stores that I feared that mine wasn't going to survive, which would probably mean unemployment again. I was in a rut personally and professionally, so I looked up that old client and asked how to join that volunteer group. I spent my first nights taping pump bottles of lotions and packing them back in boxes so they wouldn’t leak. Having never worked on an assembly line before, I figured if nothing else, I could spin it somehow to use in my resume.

This group only allowed three first year volunteers to work each entertainment event, and I was eager to start. On my first bus trip (to a center in south Jersey for developmentally disabled adults) I was given bus protocol: the musicians sat in the back of the bus and volunteers sat up front. Volunteers would be carting the food, the props and the cases of duffel bags filled with sweatshirts, socks and personal hygiene products for the people they served. Musicians would carry their drumsticks.  And microphones. Oh, and the leader was quick to tell me that musicians didn’t talk to volunteers...all except one-a nice guy who actually treated the volunteers like we were valued. The leader said she would be happy to introduce me to that guy as he was a personal friend of hers. More about that later.

The events were a blast. To see adults get excited about The Grinch, or Santa was joyful. To dance and spin children in their wheelchairs was heartwarming. But I was also totally ignored by a guy who use to be part of my posse...and well, that still sucked.

The last event I worked in 2017 was actually seven shows in a row for developmentally disabled children, teens and adults, We were all in the school’s kitchen when “that nice guy” walked in. It was like seeing Norm in Cheers-everyone called for him and he knew everyone’s name. When he saw me, he came over and gave me a big hug. There was an audible gasp from the above leader who asked how I knew him. I replied “Him?  He was in my wedding. And once set my hair on fire.” Score one for the new kid-no introduction needed.

This year gave me the opportunity to volunteer every weekend in November and December. My favorite places were veteran’s homes where the residents ranged from WWll seniors to Afghanistan vets suffering from PTSD. I met a 95 year old guy named George who was in the invasion at Normandy and was the spitting image of my dad. I made him promise to be there when I come back next year. Then there was Lee, the Vietnam double amputee with the great wheelchair dance moves.  We danced to “My Girl” and he said it was the first time in a long time he was out on the dance floor. Bobby was a two time Bronze Star winner who couldn’t look anyone in the face and missed his wife. Miguel was training his Malinois to be his service dog after attempting suicide. I realize now just how much we owe our veterans, and how little they really get from our government.

I also liked an event for drug and alcohol rehab residents. I “adopted” a table of guys who were mostly from Philly and south Jersey. While learning about them, one guy told me that he has nine children. I asked him if I could give him some motherly advice, and he agreed.  They all listened intently as I leaned in and said “put that thing in your pants AND KEEP IT THERE". The rest of the guys cackled, and called me Mom the rest of the day.

That was also the first time I dressed as a character. I discovered my inner ham as The Grinch, Frosty and Rudolph. At one event, I appeared as Elmo to my former neighbor’s Cookie Monster. We only had one song for me to quickly become Frosty to his Grinch. As we ran to the side stage he said “I’ll undress you first and then you undress me”. I stopped dead in my tracks and said “The last time someone said that to me was a long time ago and alcohol was involved”. Silly fun.

And now it’s over for the year. I will miss volunteers like Mary, who adored children and who I greatly admire for going to Haitian orphanages every January if just to hug the babies. Rocky, with her cool demeanor even when things go wrong (like me dropping a box of 10 dozen dinner rolls). Rene with her crazy costume and delicious brownies. And another Mary, who played the lead as Catherine in Phantom on Broadway, sang sweetly and never missed an opportunity to hug every dirty, smelly homeless person she met. I will laugh, remembering  the little power struggles I witnessed, glad to be “just a volunteer". I learned that musicians DO help with carting and serving...especially when the founder is leading the band. And I will miss the Christmas songs that still make me smile.

The thing that makes me happiest though, is that my oldest son, seeing me tired but happy after long trips said that he would like to volunteer next year.

Tonight, I feel like celebrating New Years for the first time in quite a few years. A friend is having a party for misfits, and I’m so glad to be invited.  Because, like the groups’s opening and closing song “Nobody Ought To Be Alone On Christmas.”

Which goes double for New Years Eve.

Cheers to a great 2019.

Me and my favorite Santa.
Me as Rudolph.  The most difficult costume to see out of-The eye holes are too high and the mouth is too low.
Reconnecting with an old friend who knows that face painting isn't my strongest suit.
Dancing with a homeless Navy vet who got a hot meal, a warm coat and a little fun.
With another neighbor who volunteers. She face painted-I served hot dogs.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

You Just Keep Me Hanging On

One evening last week, I was working the phone like my job was in a call center: stressful and with frustrating results.  The buyer of my house was begging for ANOTHER extension since he hadn’t sold his townhouse. My realtor was insisting that we squash the deal and let him find me a “real” buyer-something that he hadn’t produced in the previous five months. I was trying to juggle meeting up with a friend who simultaneously was trying to juggle a mandatory visit to an in-law in the hospital. A lot of talk with no action.

That night, I had a dream about Wingman which shocked me because I don’t recall having even one dream about him since he died. In it, we were on a cruise ship which was apropos, since he said, after our only cruise together, that the next one would be “over his dead body”.

The ship was at port, but the sea was rough, and water was breaking over the bow. A large wave swept me into white water on the deck. Suddenly, a hand grabbed my wrist, and wouldn’t let go. I was tossed around under the water but because of the grip, I couldn’t right myself dammit. As the water subsided, I looked at the person who grabbed my hand to yell at him for almost drowning me. I couldn’t see the face, but the voice was definitely Wingman’s. The body however, with the six-pack abs certainly was NOT. I gasped out loud and sat bolt upright in bed. If not Wingman, who the hell was it? And why didn’t I thank him for trying to save me?

Hello 4:17 AM. Welcome to my panic attack.

I asked Google, or “G”, my know-it-all husband of sorts what the dream represented. Drowning? Being overwhelmed. The hand holding? Loneliness. And the six-pack abs? My inner desire of how I want to see myself.

Yes, I know, time to go back to the gym.

I’m suffering with the paralysis of analysis right now. I want to move, but can’t because my buyer can’t sell. Because of that, I can’t get motivated to pack. I won’t relist the house because it will require me to live like a guest in my own home-again. I want to join a gym, and know I SHOULD. But I know me and if I really do move, I know that I won’t go which is a waste of money that I don’t have because I CANT SELL THIS STUPID HOUSE. I lay in bed flipping between apps like Redfin looking at townhouses I can’t have and Our Time, looking at men I don’t want.

Truth be told, I’ve been working myself up into a mental frenzy about a year from now when I have two weddings on the same weekend. Both are the daughters of dear friends and I couldn’t be happier for them. But after feeling totally alone at a wedding a couple of years ago, it took jumping out of an airplane for me to regain my sense of worth. To be dateless at two? It may require being ejected from a fighter jet to get over that. There is however. one happy thought I'm holding onto: I may not have a dance partner, but there also will be no one to tell me that I can’t have a second piece of wedding cake. Two days in a row.

Then I’ll think about that gym membership. For real.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Like Painted Kites, Those Days and Nights, They Went Flyin' By

Just call me Rip Van Widow. I went to bed on the last night of spring, and woke up on the first day of fall.  WHAT HAPPENED TO SUMMER??? More importantly, why does summer seem to get shorter every year?

Many years and a lifetime ago with three ridiculously active sons, I spent all of my days off between June and August either at a baseball field or on the beach.  It was infinitely satisfying sitting doing absolutely nothing except the NY Times Sunday Crossword (in pen) while enjoying a pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich along with a cup of coffee. The only way I knew where I was headed, was by what I wore. A tank top was important in keeping my tan lines in check, but wearing a bathing suit to a baseball game would have embarrassed the hell out of my sons.

Watching baseball games with Wingman was fine, but going to the beach with him was not. While the boys took all of about 10 seconds to scatter like cockroaches from the horrors of being associated with us, going with Wingman was akin to the hassle of bringing a baby: he needed a regular lounge chair with an umbrella, a blanket, radio, food, drink, sunscreen AND something to do. When he was bored, he wanted me to put down my book and talk to him. He wanted me-a non ocean person-to go in the water when HE was hot. Eventually he made us all happier when he chose to just stay home and watch the Yankees on TV.

Being on my own these past six years, I've tried to make summers different from the ones before Wingman died. The first was my “Karma” year volunteering with the YMCA to build a playground and again with another group, helping special needs kids enjoy the beach. The second was a feeble attempt to rework Wingman's yard. I've been to Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, circuses and fairs. No, I didn't get arrested for scattering Wingman's ashes in Monument Park, and yes, the circus protesters did, trying to free the elephants.

This year, I wanted a summer to remember so I made a Bucket List of everything I wanted to do and everywhere I wanted to go. I surprised myself with how much I really did,  and as it turns out, some of the most simple were the most memorable like blueberry picking with my grandkids and seeing their joy in bringing that $40 almost full PINT (after spending $14 per person to get in, the bushes were mostly picked clean) home to their parents. Or saying "On your mark, get set...GO!" and jumping off the platform over and over again at the lake with my grandson.

I saw Broadway shows and rock concerts, heard bands at bars and went to a couple of barbecues. There were the predictable sunsets to see, beach with the BFF, and an almost annual tradition of going to Saratoga race track with son #3. I made a point to go to places that Wingman HATED like the crowded July 4th fireworks, firemen's fairs and even a mermaid parade.

There was also the unexpected that was added to, but not intended to be on my list: my car breaking down while I watched dozens of hot air balloons ascend at sunrise. It took 5 hours to get towed 50 miles only to have to lease a brand new car a couple of days later. (I was pretty proud of myself with that deal.  The salesman said that I was scary-good at negotiating.) Oh yeah, and that broken filling which led to a crown which led to a root canal...

And now, its fall and everyone's starfish and mermaids have morphed into pumpkins.  The shelves in the grocery store are filled not only with Halloween candy but some marketing idiot's idea that pumpkin Cheerios, pumpkin Oreos and even pumpkin pie Pop Tarts are a good idea. I'm ready to close my eyes again and wake up on Christmas Eve.

But first, I have a new Bucket List for fall.  One that's already started with a high school football game, and a trip to Yankee Stadium, and includes a street fair, a couple of concerts (including one on my birthday seeing The Boss) and going to Florida with the BFF.  I have question marks next to places like a Lantern Festival, Sleepy Hollow at Halloween, and oh yes, moving-a task not yet complete from my summer list.  If it doesn't happen real soon, the item "visit a jail or penitentiary" will get a check mark, because I will put a beating on someone.

I  read somewhere that if you make friends with yourself, you might be alone, but you will never be lonely. The voices in my head at 2 AM most nights can attest to that. Being alone means that I'm the lead dog and can do just about anything new and exciting I find, which is great, because, as they sang in "Bye Bye Birdie": "I've got a lot of living to do".

I just wish I was doing it IN THE SUMMER.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cause You Had A Bad Day, You're Taking One Down, You Sing a Sad Song Just To Turn It Around

Thanks to social media, I'm able to remember all of the happy moments I've shared to prove to mostly total strangers how wonderful my life is.  Today, I had what started out to be one of those days, a day that I was happy to share worldwide...followed with another of those events that I blog about.  And for some reason, Social Media reminded me that today, July 29th, has historically not been a date that I want to remember.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

For The First Time In History, It's Gonna Start Raining Men

There is an old saying about how things happen in threes.  With Wingman dying, my house flooding and losing my job-all in three months, you'd think that I would have been happy with just the 2012 version "Been There, Done That" tee shirt and given myself a pass.  But no, this year-with losing my job and putting the house on the market, I wanted another three-peat.

Because I was going to dump a man.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Love and Marriage, Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage

The Royal wedding is over. The royal horse manure has been picked up, the fascinators are back in their boxes and even Joss Stone, who sang at the royal after-party, is back in NJ with my brother rewiring her house. I’ll admit that I got caught up, along with about 1 in every 10 people in America. Today, on the eve of my anniversary, it's hard not to think about the glaring contrasts between the that and my own wedding, and even some of the others I've been a part of.

First of all, they got picture perfect weather while I married Wingman in a Nor'Easter which flooded the entire Jersey Shore peninsula. I sloshed down the aisle after my train fell in a puddle outside the church-no cute, toothless pages to carry it in. The flooding meant that people just couldn't show up to our $35 per person (including $2.00 extra for shrimp cocktail) beach reception, which certainly wasn't the case at the $45 million British bash.  I'll bet the royal guests would have paddled their own canoes to the castle if they had to. At the end of the night, Wingman's Best Man's uninvited quasi-girlfriend (a girl who yes, just showed up-good thing we had empty seats) took the top tier of my cake as well as the dorky dove topper-both which were never seen again. By the looks of Royal Best Man William's slim bride Kate, I doubt she even had a piece of the lemon elderberry cake, much less stole a whole layer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

She’s Leaving Home After Living Alone For So Many Years

Wingman was a partner in an up-and-coming Dotcom company which was eventually bought out by a much larger Dotcom company. The owner got cash for his shares of stock while all the limited partners got was their stock transferred to the new company. When the owner bought a big, beautiful  home, Wingman wanted a bigger home too. We argued about selling our little ranch-after all, in just a couple of years, the boys would be starting college (think tuition) and moving on. And where would we get the money for that bigger mortgage? Wingman rationed that once he could sell his stock, we'd be fine. Very reluctantly, I agreed to buy the home I live in now.

One week before we closed, Wingman lost his job.

A month later, a tree in the front yard keeled over, hit the house and broke the front door.

Two months later, the Dotcom bubble burst, and the stock we owned wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

Boy, did I hate that house then.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Closing Time-Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning’s End

Once again, the unthinkable has happened.

The company where I am (well, WAS) a manager opted not to renew our store’s ten year lease. A few months short of a decade with this company, I find myself once again facing the challenge of looking for a new job.

The day I learned about the store closing, I was in NYC seeing the Christmas windows at Saks and Macy's, having lunch, doing some shopping, and was having a drink before getting on the train to come home. My phone rang and I got a message to call someone in Human Resources. Like the phone call I got when working at Wrinkle City, it’s never good when someone from HR wants you. True to form, I was told about my store and many others that would be closing in 45 Days. Besides it sucking to end the day like that, I left my only gloves on the seat in the bar. My hands stayed cold for weeks.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Long and Winding Road That Leads to Your Door

History was never my favorite subject in high school. I recall failing a test freshman year when I tried to pass off a line from Cool Hand Luke as something to do with the Monroe Doctrine. Unfortunately, “What we have here is a failure to communicate” didn’t fool my teacher.

My ancestry was as vague to me as the Monroe Doctrine. It wasn’t until my oldest started looking at colleges that I thought about delving deeper into my lineage. Since winning a scholarship  for making a suit out of duct tape seemed futile, I looked into ones that he might get-like the Shamrock Irish Heritage Contest for my Mom’s side of the family, or the Sons of Italy Foundation Grant for my Dad’s. Or one I really wanted him to get-a Native American scholarship.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

'Cause Baby You're A Firework. Come On Show Them What You're Worth

Five years ago today, I stood in a hospital room strewn with used syringes, rubber gloves and other medical waste, looking at the lifeless body of the man that I shared a life with for over 30 years. I should have been thinking of family, love and loss.  Instead, my first thought was, "Wow, I'm a widow now." Pretty pathetic in retrospect, and when Wingman referred to me just before I left him as "The Bitch", probably not too far off the mark.

But in time-warped speed just a half hour before that, I had already talked to the hospital twice, woken son #3 up to go over to the hospital with me, called Wingman's brother on the way, fought with a gimpy legged night watchman who wouldn't let us in the hospital, and finally took "that meeting" in a small private room where the doctor told my son and I that they did everything possible, but unfortunately (UNFORTUNATELY???) Wingman had passed. My brain was filled with what to do, who to call, and what was coming next.

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.

And So This Is Christmas, And What Have You Done?

This year, I overcame my compulsion to create the “perfect” Christmas. For too many years, I over-bought, over-wrapped, over-decorated an...