Monday, October 19, 2015

Bridge Mix

They didnt talk about aging or warn us younger ones about what was coming. I don’t even remember hearing that word, “aging,” back on those humid summer afternoons in Connecticut when I visited my mother and father for ten days every year after I’d run off to California to make my new life.  

The “They” that didn’t mention aging were my mother’s pals who came over for drinks and bridge, stretching the afternoon out until dinner.  

They laughed and cackled while I watched them from a chair drawn up to the side of their card table, loving every minute of their gossip and jokes, each one of them drawing deeply on their filter-tip cigarettes, twisting their heads in a quick gesture to let the smoke out.We didn’t know then that smoking wasn’t so hot, health-wise. 

They were all good players at a game I just couldn’t be bothered with, except that I was pleased when I was asked to sit in for a hand. Then I got to take a seat at the card table and eat the bridge mix from the fancy glass bowls at the four corners of the table. Next to the ashtrays filled up with lipstick-edged butts. The women were good-natured about my gaffes, my timid bids, wrapping up a bum hand by going over all the bidding and remembering every card that had been played. This ability of theirs impressed me. 

I only remembered them, their pastel Ship ‘n’ Shore blouses, their quick hands, their freckles just a shade darker than the tans, the curly-by-perms hairdos, the earrings that pinched their lobes, since only Gypsies had pierced ears as far as they were concerned. They had some wrinkles at the sides of their eyes, and a few of them had those lines around their mouths, from all that pursing of lips that occurred while smoking, I guess. 

The women were all tanned because they practically lived on the shore and spent any waking moments when they were not playing bridge or cooking their family suppers or going to the Stop ‘n’ Shop for groceries, lolling on big, striped beach towels getting their summer tans. When I visited, my mother and I would go down to the beach and I’d slather myself with some sweetish-smelling tanning lotion and settle down next to my mother to chat and doze.  

In conversations, we’d dip gingerly around delicate family-slanted topics.  My time in Connecticut was rare and short and I wanted to leave all the sleeping dogs lying.  The air was salty and cool, the sun hot, the sand itchy—it was perfect.  I could return to Berkeley with a tan and look good for a couple of weeks.

At the bridge table, the women talked and smoked and laughed and drank their drinks, ice cubes musical in the squat, heavy glasses.  They were only a little plump by then, only in their fifties.  Aging hadn’t really come to call.  No one was dying in their circle of pals. The one who had died was very young when it happened, and it was a long time ago, from cancer. 

I suppose that’s the first time, then, when you know it can actually happen. And no one was in line for Alzheimer’s; no one even talked about that.  None of this came up. Later, one of these women would be diagnosed with it, would drive around in neighborhoods near her house but not know how to get back home. But at this particular time, these days of bridge and drinks and snacks and suntan and great old jokes, this was prime time. Aging was for the in-laws and it was called “getting damned old.” 

 I never learned to play bridge properly. I’d always want to read a book instead. Not the least bit social, I think now, remembering all the fun those women had together. They looked forward to those times with each other, those bridge games and the drinks and cigarettes and bridge mix, which always included malted milk balls and peanuts and even Jordan Almonds.  

It was delicious, in all kinds of ways.  

In those years, I was playing a different game that took all my concentration.  Playing a solo, even though I was only a Mom in the middle of a family. Just like my own mother—a Mom in the middle of a family, juggling the things she wanted to do with the things she had to do.  Finding, often, that there was only room for the had-to, not the want-to.  Bridge was her way; reading was mine.  

And aging was nothing to us.  That was a long way off.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Nice Hot Shower and Some Mu Shu Pork

I got to Italy after years of hearing about it from friends and I fell in love, just as they'd said I would, with everything.  

With the food, the landscape, the warmth and hospitality, with the food again, the musical language, the Italian dogs, the gardens, the architecture, the crispy little chicken, so moist and tender inside, the perfectly simple, exquisite bolognese sauce, the bruschetta, the artichokes, the ceramics, the olive trees in careful rows, the olive oil, the colors.  

The colors.  

Those soft yellow walls and rich rosy ones.  The patina on ancient buildings, any part of which, if you could lift out a rectangle of wall and hang it in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, would have the patrons gawping with pleasure.

Like everybody who'd ever gone to Italy, I wanted to bring back a souvenir.  I'd have my camera, of course, all filled up with images.  I bought those little ceramic bowls painted with a merry design of black olives and just right for serving my own olives when back in the States.  I wasn't that interested in the elegant clothes or gorgeous leather pointy-toed shoes--they weren't for me.  I certainly brought back some added pounds as a reminder of the luscious meals I'd swooned over!  

Brochures and ticket stubs tumbled out of my suitcase at home as mementos of my wonderful time.  I treasured the memories of music and paintings and would yield to my determination to learn Italian for the next trip.  And for that trip I'd begin a new jar on the bookshelf in which to put all my change, having been told that you can save a lot that way and quite painlessly.  

The most important thing I brought home from Italy, however, was yellow.  

My idea of Italy's yellow.  And since I'd been to Tuscany, it became my idea of Tuscan yellow.  I thought, if I put that yellow in my downstairs bathroom I could transport myself to Italy every single day.  This I would do.  

 The bathroom had been remodeled in the waning days of our marriage by my clever husband.  He did the hard part, setting the dark burnt-brick colored tile on the lower walls and floor and sink area. I applied the paint; it was mauve and it was all right for then.  

With my new vision of Italy in my bathroom I needed to be sensitive to the dark bricky tile--I could not pluck it from the walls and replace it with a lighter, pizza sauce color.  When he left to seek his new fortune, Pete took his handy, crafty ways with him.  But I could paint the walls, yes, I could.  I could make Italy happen in my bathroom with my Tuscan yellow paint.

At Calico Corners where I work, they'll tell you that one of the hardest things to do is to carry color.  That you may think that you know precisely what color will match your wing chair or your Queen Anne valance but chances are you don't. That color you are remembering in your head is not accurate.   

Actually, "they" is me.  I'll tell you that and I'll press swatches on you and tell you to take home the whole bolt and why-don't-you-take-the-hanging-samples, please, please!  Because I work there and can do this and because long ago I read a scientific article about the difficulty of carrying color in your head and it stayed with me.  
And then I went and disregarded all that I knew. 

I believed that I could trust that perfect Tuscan yellow I'd memorized from being in Italy.  After all, I had studied color theory in art school and had just picked out a fine array of lovely yellow paint chips from OSH, among which my yellow would surely reveal itself!  

I was an artist, wasn't I?  

So I trusted myself in this personal situation and never mind the scientific article and years and years of being privy to my tear-stained customers' color remorse.  I chose my perfect Tuscan yellow for the bathroom from only a one and a half inch square of color.  And applied it.  

And ended up with a Chinese restaurant.  

That's right.  You step in there and you want to order egg drop soup and chicken with snow peas and mu shu pork.   There is an unmistakable look of a Chinese restaurant the way that yellow wall sits on that dark, burnt-brick tile.  I can saute garlic and tomatoes in the kitchen and invite the fumes toward the bathroom. 

I can put Puccini on the CD player.  I can make a bouquet of basil, put it in a little Italian ceramic pitcher and place it on the bathroom cabinet top.  But I can't ever talk myself into believing that I have successfully brought Italy to my bathroom.

I've moved on; I'm into heavy acceptance now.  

I've found that you get used to things, that you change your aim, that you regard all things as learning experiences.  I like snow peas.  I like those shrimpy things with walnuts.  Also the spicy eggplant dish, which sometimes even resembles the Italian eggplant.  Well, not really.  But they're both tasty.  

It's all good.

Got My First 2015 Bad Haircut Today

This morning I took my way-overlong old, frail, grey-ish hair into Supercuts and I again attempted to explain the situation around my ears, wanting so desperately not to end up with the short clumps, as usual, but with carefully thinned sideburns that would be sort of like, but never presuming to be just like, Rachel Maddow’s sideburns.  

Thao, the pretty Asian haircutter with the rich black hair that was easily two feet down her back, new person, not my usual Tiffany, who is also Asian but who works afternoons, suggested this and that, all with the idea that I would achieve more body if she went at me the way I could see she was going to.  

That gleam in her eye and all.  I had to have “lady” sideburns, not like a “man’s”, she told me, barely concealing her alarm.  So I let her do her thing and now that I have come home and tested myself in front of the bathroom mirror, that First Truth Test, I see that I look quite a bit like a GOP Presidential aspirant…more Jeb Bush than Ted Cruz, but nuts. 

And here I go again, trying to grow my hair out, zippity-fast every single minute of the day and night for weeks to come.

You Don't Have Time To Read This

The latest New Yorker probably just landed, maybe with one of those smashing Blitt or Ulricksen covers, filled with too much to even get through in a week.  There are still piles of them, unfinished, in your living room or family room or wherever.  Plus the new Franzen just came out—perhaps you already have your copy.  The fall book lineup in the New York Times Book Review is juicy—there are plenty of things to hanker for.  Hanker after.  Want. 

Besides, these days any writing I am fiddling with is basically for me to see what I’m thinking.  Making lists doesn’t do it for me any more.  I’d enjoy having some verbs to scamper along after the nouns.  Also, the chance of a reader coming across an a-ha is slim.  The last epiphany I had was in 2013.  Something to do with politics, which have since gone on to greater depths.  The downward plunge. 

So, no.

I'm just here at the computer where so many people are these days.  Twenty years ago I could have been “here” at my three ring binder.  Now it’s a keyboard with remains of old snacks on the keys and a shift key that won’t work because once I tried to clean the keys with a damp sponge that was not altogether damp.  


I’ve adjusted to the shift key problem; funny how a person adjusts in life.  To almost everything, or so it seems.  Things you can’t imagine you can stand at all, you do.  You stand them.  Maybe you cried over something a while ago and now you don’t.  At least, not over that same old something.  You took it in and examined it a bit, as much as you could, and other things came along to distract you.  

So you then found out you could be distracted and that was almost good enough.  For the time being, anyway.  The deal, it appears, is to keep the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing going.  The getting up out of bed thing, when you see the light come through the window and you know it’s a new day.  

A day that might work—what the heck: it might.

So here I am, talking to myself, looking at the letters jump along, wondering if I’ll find an answer to some problems.  Nothing like the problems in the rest of the world, which are beyond belief, they are so terrible.  Just my problems, that’s all I am interested in right now, ol’ Selfish.  Tapping at the keys, waiting for insight, waiting for answers.


I told you.

Fantasy World

I have run through Fairy Princess scenarios, which leak out of my brain lickety-split, seeming tired and unreachable at the same time.  Better hair in a kinder environment, that's what I'd go for, I think.  

But nothing sticks.  

The backyard has a lot of oxalis in it and even though oxalis is a rampaging weed, it is pretty to look at. Little yellow flowers and all.  So my surroundings will Do. New paint jobs in various rooms--the bathroom's Chinese Restaurant Look could be replaced with something more bathroomy.  

I was going for Italian once, and it didn't make it.  Tuscan yellow, you know.  So, yes, paint jobs in the hall and bathroom and maybe even up the stairs. This is how my fantasy mind works. Grounded like old rubber soles on a clay path.  

Thunk, thunk.  No soars, no bright blue skies.  

Wait, there's a fantasy waiting to happen: Rain. Yes, I will get behind that one---rain away, mean old blue skies of today as chillingly beautiful as you were yesterday and all the days before you!  The Chronicle stuck one of its hardly-ever-used raincloud images on the front page today but looking out the window here in San Jose, I say "nope."

And, of course, the real, real fantasy that would give me ease and comfort and relief is if my two children would, magically, wake up one morning all well again. Fixed. No dystonia for Mark, no head injury problems for Jen, no wobbling and falling and aphasia and stuckness in this life as they now know it.  

Then we would be able to form a circle and dance around the living room and run to leap off the shallow steps into the yard and continue that dance of pure joy.  That's the fantasy that has made its home in my brain for so long.  

A stroke of a magic wand, a miracle.  And some rain.