Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Whatever Happened to Albert?"

When I was a teenager, circa 1974, I used to hang with my older sister in Atlantic City. She was newly divorced at 25 and had a little post divorce money and was no stranger to partying. We shacked up together at LaConcha,an old style blue and white two story hotel on the famous AC boardwalk, with a wrap around balcony. Our room faced the street, a seedy neighborhood of row homes interspersed with pawn shops and the occasional bodega. My girlfriends and I would run up to the roof top to get a view of the Atlantic Ocean and watch couples doing the promenade to dinner. The manpowered push carts lining the boardwalk rail, hawking a ride to strolling passersby.

Occasionally, my tan and bikinied sister would have a date, a guy she met at the pool, or a friend of a friend that had a friend looking for some companionship. She knew that I was mature enough to stay alone, but had a standby babysitter just in case. And that is where Albert comes in. Yes, Albert, I often wonder what happened to him. My teenage babysitter with a penchant for women's clothing and hair dye application. He was effeminate but not overly so, just a hint to get a handle on where he was coming from, if you know what I mean. I liked him instantly and thought of him as a supervising girlfriend. We would each take a bed and turn on TV and snack. Albert had what some would call, albeit, politically incorrect, a Jew fro. In fact, in my early 20's while working at the casino I met Don King, he reminded me of Albert. I would have commented on his hair but I figured he was tired of that verbiage; instead I stared, wide eyed at the gold chain hung heavily around his neck with his full name spelled out in diamonds. It surely upstaged his hair, at least for me, you see I knew Albert, and Don King's spiky silver locks were tame in comparison.

On this particular night, he was the consummate entertainer; he went into my sister's closet and pulled out a short midriff tank and a wrap around skirt with fringe. We laughed because the top was baggy where breasts should be and the wrap around skirt was more befitting someone with hips. His hair was outrageous, and Albert, if he had an electric guitar as a prop would have looked more like Jimi Hendrix than a cross dressing babysitter. We laughed as he vogued and then we got down to business. The business of dying my hair. You see in the early 1970's we all had wings, I can't explain the phenomenon, but the style was to color the wings and leave the rest of the hair natural. Albert and I mixed up the dye and applied it and after the rinse we marveled at the outcome. After blow-drying and styling my new do, I felt like a grown up, it was a rite of passage to get your hair dyed at 14, ear piercing would come later.

The best part was that in the middle of the night when we each were snuggled in our bed, the T.V as background noise. We woke to what sounded like an explosion, I jumped up as did Albert and we looked at each other horrified. “What the Hell was that." Albert squeaked. I ran to the bathroom and push opened the door to find that the left over hair dye had exploded and covered the walls, ceiling and floor. It dripped like frothy lemon meringue from the ceiling, coating the walls like taffy, sticky . The smell strong like ammonia. It was like a high school lab experiment gone awry. It was a lesson learned for years to come as I continued to dye my hair, never tighten the lid to the hair dye applicator, instead wash it out and toss it out. Albert and I cleaned the bathroom, and laughed about the mess. My hair looked yellow in the harsh light of the bathroom. I wondered what it would look like in daylight. My sister came strolling in around midnight, and my babysitter left for home. The rest of the week was uneventful, and summer flew by as I prepared for 9th grade at a new school,new friends and new experiences, but never a summer goes by that I don't think whatever happened to Albert?

Monday, December 31, 2012

" 2012 is Ringing in My Ears"

It is hard to know what to reflect on at the end of a year. I believe the milestones reveal themselves with the passage of time. With the exception of color blocking, it was ugly in the 1980's and its ugly in 2012. DEATH TO COLOR BLOCKING!

What about 2012 is ringing in my ears?

It was a year of exploration and change. I changed jobs and I took a head first dive into the world of writing. I joined a writing group, registered for a 9 week writing workshop and attended my first writers conference.

One of the highlights of the year, came in late summer when I strolled into the local dog shelter and found a tiny chihuahua curled into a ball, sharing space with two very large beagle pups. It was love at first sight and now Greta lives among the three dogs and one cat that is my family.

I treated myself to a good movie "Lincoln" ( Day-Lewis made the GOP sexy) a good book, " Gone Girl" ( sorry 50 Shades of Grey) and a good CD, "Unorthodox Jukebox" (Yes, I like Bruno Mars, do you have a problem with that?)

I voted on November 6, 2012 and enjoyed the summer olympics. I welcomed my nephew Felipe in February and got to know my second cousin Armando. I changed my dentist, passed a stress test and attended a civil union.

All in all it was a good, good year. I look forward to the next 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days. The laughter and merriment is fast approaching and the hour glass for 2013 yearns. Happy New Year, dear friends, now it's your turn!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The $50 Christmas Bet

A few years ago a good friend gave me a shelter dog. He was a rare mix of many breeds, most likely a long haired Dachshund and Pekinese. He conveniently came with a name (Buddy), lots of ticks and a nonfunctioning flea collar. My friend told me that if he didn't take him they were going to euthanize Buddy by the end of the day! Yeah, I bet they tell that to all the customers. Anyway, Buddy came home to me.

Buddy was an unknown entity and there was a distinct look in his eye that some would call crazy. What we soon found out was that he hated other dogs and they instantly hated him. Buddy was like the guy on the train without deodorant; instantly recognizable and a definite mood changer. Buddy was that guy for the canine set.
One day a co-worker, after hearing about the trial and tribulations of my life with Buddy, offered me a Christmas Day bet. He said that Buddy would be dead by Christmas day. I was insulted that he would think that my boy Buddy would perish through some fault of my own. He told me not to read into the bet just take it or leave it. I took it and the days and months ticked away.

On Christmas morning, I packed up the car and Buddy and headed to my mother's house. Only ten minutes into the ride, Buddy started signaling that he needed to go to the bathroom. Since it was early Christmas morning and no one was around. I pulled over onto a vacant lot under a set of elevated railroad tracks. I got out of the car looked around to make sure that there were no other dogs in sight. I opened the back door and told Buddy to get out and do his business. It was at that minute that I looked up and on the far side of the vacant lot, there stood a wiry old black dog. My reflex was to grab Buddy and scoop him up and back into the car, but he was way too fast for me, his sleek long body and short legs, were turbo charged when he caught a hint of another dog. He took off like a bolt of lightning and the other dog sensing danger ran toward the railroad tracks. I flew into a panic and ran after Buddy, screaming, come back, come back. The wiry old black dog ran on to the railroad tracks and Buddy was right behind, barking incessantly. I tried to keep up but I petered out and I could no longer see either dog and Buddy’s bark grew faint and finally went silent.

I felt defeated and I didn’t know what to do. I turned back and headed to my car. All the doors were ajar and the engine was running, Christmas music blared from the radio, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” I climbed into the driver’s seat and put my head in my hands. What a terrible Christmas! I lost my dog and I lost the 50 dollar Christmas bet! I had given Buddy up for dead; it was my punishment for taking the bet.

I began to think back to my childhood when my family traveled cross country in 1967. We drove from Philadelphia to San Francisco California with our very old Fox Terrier Tiny. One day we pulled over and let her out near a wooded area when she saw a rabbit and took off after it. My sister’s and I prayed to St. Anthony the patron saint of lost causes and to our delight, after several hours, waiting, Tiny returned to us. I thought if it worked before, it might work again. So, I folded my hands in front of my face and prayed to St. Anthony to return Buddy to me on that Christmas morning. I told St. Anthony that it was never about the 50 dollar bet, it was about the love I had for my dog. It was only a few minutes after I ended my prayer that I looked up toward the railroad tracks and I saw a tiny dog running hard and at full speed toward the car. I jumped out of the front seat and ran toward him as fast as my legs would carry me. I struggled up the steep incline toward the tracks and yelled, come on boy, come on Buddy! Let’s get back on the road to Grandma’s house. I scooped up his 26 pounds of fur and fury and tucked him in the back seat among all the wrapped presents. I was ecstatic and thankful that St. Anthony once again had answered my prayer.

Well, I never shared that story with my friend, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he almost won a bet that I should have never taken. Buddy with all his imperfections lived to a ripe old age of 18. I thought it only right to mark his grave with a flat stone inscribed with the following sentiment. “A long time ago a good friend gave me a dog, and his name was Buddy.” Merry Christmas Everyone.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened While At the Diner

Next time you visit a diner sit at the counter, it is an amazing experience. You hear all the frustrations, celebrations, and general musings of women in transit, better known as the "waitress". Once in a blue moon you see a man doing this job, but he doesn't last long. Counter sitting fills up the senses, if you are eating alone, its a singular adventure.

I walk in the door and head straight for the counter, if the hostess tries to block me with her oversized menu she is dead. I survey the layout, usually two old Greek guys on the end watching soccer, friends of the owner most likely. Half way in on the far right two old guys, waiting for their early bird special, (which is offered all day).eating soup, mumbling something to each other. My goal is to sit in the middle with at least two chairs between the old greek guys on the end and the early bird old guys at the other end, that puts me smack in the middle, with a buffer zone. (By the way, doesn't matter what time of day, always old guys at the counter, the young guys that approach the counter just want take out.)

The hostess is now standing next to me shoving the oversized menu in my hand, I wave her off," I know what I want". "Okay" she says," no menu", (I am beginning to think she is paid per menu).  I look up to find the waitress, usually annoyed that someone is at her station, she has to work the counter and the tables and the counter is just more work for little payoff.

"Do you want to see a menu" she asks," No, I know what I want, can I get a baked potato" I ask, "yeah, if its after 3pm" is her retort,( HMMM the potatos come to work after 3pm) . "Well luckily it is after 3, I will take that baked potato and a hot tea"'. "You got it" she says, "you want any bread?", (HMMMM, the old bread basket, usually stale, and you know what I don't eat goes to the next table). "No bread, I'm good".

The glass of water is a staple, a grainy tumbler, filled to the rim, ice cold and tempting, I need at least three refills. Next comes the beverage, usually unsweetened ice tea, a sliver of lemon, hold the artificial sweetner. The cup of soup, usually lentil, comes in a bowl, with saltines. I scoop out 4 tablespoons and figure my salt intake has exceeded the daily limit. I push the rest to the edge to signal I am finished. I sit and wait.

My eyes widen with delight when my dinner is delivered. Little bowls full of food are strategically set down around the main course plate. The smells swirl about my nostrils and I grab my napkin and tuck it inside my shirt. What's the joke? If I was flat chested my shoes would be dirty! Anyway, my gaze shifts to the smorgasboard in front of me and I dig in.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

" Message in a Bottle"

About twelve years ago, I found myself in a predictament. It was the last hours of the twientieth century and I hadn't written anything down. I was getting ready for a party with family, and dinner was waiting. I was in a panic and grabbed a book, a soft back book by my favorite author Ken Follett. I turned to the last three pages with advertising copy and copyright information and began to write some thoughts of the past and the future. Hence, the beginning of a tradition for me each New Year's Eve.

From time to time I will pick up an old soft bound book, only to find my end of the year commentary. Of course, I don't know where all the books are and I really don't care. I always imagine that someone finds the book at a yard sale or lying in the trash heap and gets to the last page to find my ramblings. I surely would be intrigued by this "message in a bottle" twist.

So, I urge you to try it too. Before the NOOK takes over our tactile paper fetish, grab a soft bound book from your dusty stack of old reads, and turn to the last two or three pages, the inside front and back cover is also a good choice. Write your name, date and time and begin. Make sure the last paragraph you list those wishes for 2012. Real wishes that apply to you! We all want world peace and more money, but those things are most likely out of our control.

If I had to make a wish right now, I would wish for a year of happenstance. A quirky year of happy little coincidences, like winning a scratch off lottery ticket, or finding out that handwritting is genetic. ( I have proof)
It is the little things that matter. The big things will come and go, it is the little nuances of a year that makes up happy to wake up each day.

Happy New Year, 2012

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


In 2004 I moved to Philadelphia to escape the high taxes of New Jersey, but I cross the bridge so often to visit my beloved New Jersey that it is probably a wash. Anyway, Philadelphia was not what I expected. In fact I had no expectations, same as when I got married, I figured it would end in 6 months, (my marriage, not my stay in Philadelphia) that was my expectation. Likewise, I never thought I would still be in Philadelphia in 2011. Nevertheless, I have grown personally and I want to share the six things that make me want to stay in the City of Brotherly Love.

Number One: My neighbor Minnie. I watched her beat a guy (a supposed stalker) with a club and get arrested the first week I was living in my new home. The stalker went to the hospital and eventually to jail. Minnie, on the other hand became an instant darling of the 26th Police Precinct. Now, that’s what I call a welcome wagon event; talk about the empowered woman. I might not have ever witnessed that in South Jersey. It made crossing over worth it.

Number 2: The Soy Café on 2nd Street. My neighborhood is notorious for bad service from an indifferent wait staff. However, the girls of the Soy Café are friendly and gracious, and they allow my dogs in the store. Often, they will serve my lunch with some fresh, cut up turkey bites for the chiwas. This place has awesome food! The soy smoothies,(my favorite, the chunky monkey) wraps, and miso soups are to die for. They also have a cute vintage shop in the back that is spare but interesting and an outside patio that is peaceful and allows the doggies to stretch. After a visit, I like to rest within the natural indentations of the big log in front of the store and contemplate the meaning of life.

Number 3: Café La Maud, recently opened, owned by a Lebanese family, they have the best cup of coffee in Philadelphia. The owner has a little Jack Russell named Gee that runs loose and greets everyone by smelling their pant bottoms; he is very charming. The counter girl is friendly and fast and their French inspired food and decor is gorgeous! Last week, I snagged a seat in the front open air window and ordered a bagel with crème cheese, onion and tomato and I received a bagel with crème cheese topped with olive oil infused bruchetta. It was a taste of HEAVEN!

Number 4: Penn Treaty Park. I found this park by accident; it is the place where the Lenape Indians signed over the area along the Delaware River to William Penn. This is an eclectic park in which neighborhood families fish on one end and drug addicts smoke crack at the other end. I know this because one day I let my dogs loose in the park and they weeded out the crack heads behind a tree. There is also a social club of middle aged guys that meet there in the afternoon with their dogs. The first time they approached me, they began to ask all these questions about my dogs. Are the chiwas not worthy? I ran to my car and left; I was totally weirded out. Anyway, I love the view of the Ben Franklin Bridge from the waters edge and the circle path that I ride my bike on until I get dizzy.

Number 5: The Gourd lady. She plants several gourds in Liberty Lands, early spring; then cracks them open for the birds to feast on in early fall. Every time we cross paths she invites me to her garden and clips a huge branch of fresh Rosemary for me and says "enjoy it". And, I do Gourd lady, one day I will ask your name, but not yet. I like the happenstance of our friendship.

Number 6: Pet Chic on Liberties Walk, takes in stray dogs and cats and finds them homes. Gordon the red pit and Magnella the cat are full time celebrity pets that bring in the customers. They just added a huge red tabby that slithers between your legs when you walk in. The strays are housed in large cages and sometimes if there is overflow in the bathroom. But, the bathroom door isn’t shut, instead a curtain is hung in the doorway, and you know I head there first for a peak. The girls in the store are wonderful examples of business owners that do what they can, with the resources they have to save animals that are found on the streets of Philadelphia. This week they have an old,old Yorkie that was found roaming the neighborhood. The vet said the dog was too old to neuter. The girls are confident that they will find him a home; and in the meantime set him up in a fancy bed with toys and treats in the shop. It was hard for me to look at this very old, beat up dog. Who could be so cruel? Who would be so kind? I guess it is the Ying and Yang of life.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What's in Your DNA wallet?

In graduate school, I had to take a course called Emotional Systems, and I tried every trick I knew to get out of this class, because I had heard that people broke down emotionally and that a certified counselor was a co-teacher, to handle any instance of distress in the classroom. I was afraid someone would bring an UZI to class and I managed to find a seat near the door just in case. Now, no one wants to face their childhood demons, least of all me. But,the program manager wouldn't let me opt out of the course. Needlesstosay, I relented and registered; and my backup plan was to get drunk before class but that really never worked out.

The first assignment was to interview two relatives with a list of questions that would become the content of a presentation on Bowen theory. I selected my niece Dawn and we drove to New Hope one Sunday for brunch and I conducted the interview. Dawn's revelations were sweet and honest and emotional. It was a time that I shared with her, since we practically grew up together. There were some surprises and unknowns that I hope brought us closer together. Now, I needed another relative to interview and I thought long and hard and decided to ask my brother John. Since, we were raised seperately; this was a chance to get to know him more intimately. And, given we share a critical, self deprecating sense of humor; I was looking forward to his responses. My hope was that he would give me a glimpse into his life with our Mother and his father. Afterall, everyone knows that stories of my brother John are famous at parties and get togethers, he was let's say, "unique" as a child.

Moreover, I had just reconnected with my brother after many years and this would be an ice breaker opportunity to talk more and get together. I just hoped that John would agree to participate and that he would find the nostalgia of his life a meaningful experience. I knew that his responses would be funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I emailed John with a request and told him we could do this via email and he agreed immediately and I was delighted. The questions went out and a few days passed by and a few more and suddenly his attachment appeared in my email inbox.

That day, I was at work and I opened his email at my desk, in my cube and began to laugh out loud, alone. My co-workers remained silent, until my laughter went on for about 10 minutes and then they came up to ask me what I was reading, I picked one short benign story and read it to them and they too began to laugh, and asked for another and another, until I ran out of stories and the page went blank. So, I started all over again!

Up until that moment, I had thought that my writing ability was linked to my father's writing talent, since he could weave a story with words and imagery that was fascinating,and soulful at the same time. But, when I read John's words, his style, and tone were so near to my writing style that it could have been my words on the page. Because we share only our Mother, was it her talent that we shared? Wow, that was a revelation I might have never known, if I had not taken the class or my brother had declined to participate. Maybe, it was just a remnant of our Catholic school education. It's amazing how little we know about our DNA.

Now, I know you are anxiously awaiting a snipet of my brother's life, we could all use some comic relief after watching the world events of this week. Well, I will not make you wait any longer, and I hope my brother and his wife Nicole are okay with my sharing some of his life story.They are both my Facebook friends. Here goes...

Question 19. Who was your first girlfriend?

A red headed girl named Mary when I was 14. She was a year older than I was so my mother automatically thought she was a whore. Our relationship only lasted 2 short weeks because she could not tolerate my mother always saying don’t bring that red-headed whore in my house. One day I heard a knock on my door and it was Mary’s parents. They wanted to talk to my parents about the whore comments my mother made about their daughter. My face turned white. I called my mother to the door and then I proceeded to run out my back door, climbed my back fence and hide out in the park for 3 hours until they left. I secretly wanted to be a fly on the wall during what must have been an interesting conversation but I was too shocked and embarrassed to stick around.

Question 6. What did you do for fun, what did the family do for fun?

I liked playing in my backyard as a very young child.
On days when I really got on my mother’s nerves, she would send me to the backyard with a large kitchen-serving spoon and tell me not to come back in the house until I dug a hole to China. I never made it to China but I dig a hole deep enough to stand in up to my neck. I would then cover the hole with newspapers hoping to trick a friend or family member to walk across it so they would fall in.

Question 4. What are your early school memories did you like school? Your parent’s attitude toward school?

I did not like school as a child. I attended Catholic School and it was a very structured environment, which I was not raised with. Several times during my Grade School years my mother would be called down to school to discuss my conduct and behavior. I was very hyperactive and I would routinely disrupt class with my loud unruly behavior. It was suggested routinely by my teachers to my mother that I be placed on some-sort of medication to control my behavior. My mother’s answer to them would be “give him a good smack if he acts up”. When my mother got home from these meetings she would act mad and serious at first but shortly after we would be laughing at all the stories the teacher told her concerning my behavior. She shared with me all the anger and disgust the teachers would relay to her during her special visits with them. I think she enjoyed the fact that someone else was as tormented by me as she was.

I kind of fancied myself as the class clown and my mother seemed to be my biggest fan. It seemed my mother enjoyed hearing these stories as much as I enjoyed doing them.My father was a different case. My mother never fully told my father about my conduct issues at school. He knew I was not an angel but he did not know how disruptive I really was. He was very hot headed and I would surely have received a beating by his thick belt or thicker hands if my mother did not keep quite about this. My mother would always tell my teachers that my father did not speak English well enough to attend these special meetings. In reality she was just saving me from getting my ass beaten when he got home.

Question 11: Favorite ways to get into trouble?

Putting explosive cigarette loads in my Parents cigarettes that I used to buy at a magic store on the boardwalk down the shore. I laughed my ass off watching them explode in their face when they smoked. I received quite a few beatings for this but the joy it brought me watching the look of horror and surprise on their face when the cigarette exploded was well worth it. I also enjoyed putting fire crackers on the stove while my mother cooked and watched in delight as a pot of broccoli flew off the stove after the fire crackers exploded. Again well worth it.


Question #17 Any family mottos or rules frequently repeated by parents?

My father would quote the Grey Hound Bus motto while driving in the car. “ Leave the driving to us, Grey Hound Bus.” It was very funny since he had a thick Greek / broken English accent.

As I got older and started dating, my mother’s motto would be “ Don’t stir the pudding” Loosely translated = Don’t have sex with girls who are whores.

Well, I made it through the course without incidence but it was a bumpy ride for others. Looking back, the experience made me grateful for perhaps the greatest attribute of my DNA, a sense of humor. All in all, I think my brother would agree with that, and our decision NOT to pro-create! Thanks, John.