Sunday, November 29, 2015

Holy Crap

Two Thursdays ago I dumped the entire contents of the litter box down the toilet. I know you’re not supposed to do that, even if you use “flushable” litter like I do—but it was like I’d lost my mind, and some weird cosmic cesspool seemed to be calling the litter home. I can still hear the whoosh of the walnut-shell pellets leaping into the bowl like spawning salmon.

The toilet immediately started overflowing, and I ran to the kitchen to get a plastic container in order to bail out the water, which I threw into the sink. When I got close to the bottom, I took a wire hanger and pushed it as far as I could down the snakey maze of the bowl’s innards. Encountering no clumps or clogs, I stubbornly, blindly pulled a Pollyanna and…

I flushed again.

At this point things went from suck to blow, the pellet and poo stew reappearing from the depths of the bowl and sloshing at my toes. I slid into the nearest available shoes—my beloved copper Birkenstocks—and gloriously surrendered to my own idiocy, making things worse with each progressively bad decision I made. First smooth move, ex-lax: I bailed out water and backed-up pellets into the sink. Second smooth move, ex-lax: When the sink got too full, I moved to the bathtub, which already had been slow to drain over the past few weeks.

Finally, with the toilet clogged and both the sink and the bathtub refusing to drain, I surrendered.

“I’m an idiot,” I told the after-hours emergency plumbers in a shaky voice.  “Please help.”  At this point Sal was yelling at me that he had to go to the bathroom, while Ira was scratching at the empty litterbox—neither of them gave a sh*t (c’mon, I had to write that!). While I waited for the plumbers, I bailed as much of the standing water as I could. But there was no place left to put it, right?! Wrong—not when you’re as foolishly, muleishly resourceful as I am…so I flung it out the window, hoping to God since it was pouring out that no one else had their window open.

The plumbers—it took two, huge and beer-bellied—brought a giant snake with them, and some motorized thing that whirred and sucked when turned on. I went to ask them some questions and apologize, and they ignored me. One walked by and rolled his eyes, muttering “Ridiculous!” right as he passed me, while the other stood in the middle of the living room looking at his phone, dripping water on the floor. Who knew plumbers were so passive-aggressive?!

I don’t know if anything like this has happened to you, but there’s something so…infantalizing…about your toilet overflowing, a primal shame of getting caught with your pants down. So when I heard them say, “Look at this, we gotta get a picture of this,” galumphing around in the tub to take photos of the supposedly 5 pounds of sludge that had been stopping it up, I couldn’t even look at them. They slammed out the door, threatening to charge me twice.

The next day, though, I was oddly rejuvenated, flushing freely and fearlessly. It had been a wake-up call—if those rude oafs who spend their days cleaning up shit think I’M disgusting…. !!! Histrionic much? Sure, but if I was going to panic, I better go all out, and it better be for a good reason. I had a sense this could be about a lot more than kitty litter—what do you want to flush away so that no one  can ever see? 

It’s true—on a surface-y kind of level, I suspect I may be a slob. I’ve seen cat hair in the refrigerator, and I have a drawer that sometimes doesn’t open because of the wires and cables and ear buds I’ve shoved in to it.  Some people may be fine with that, but I have a low trash threshhold--visual clutter is very anxiety-making for me.

Since then, I’ve been hanging up my coat instead of throwing it over the chair. Seeing what’s hiding in the corners. Recycling clothing items I don’t wear that someone else might. And I consider it healthy for my ego that the day after the Big Flush, I felt a blooming, belated rage at those plumbing oafs. I’m just really trying to get my sh*t together.

P.S. I did lose my copper Birks in the battle.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Little, You Do Know

I was one of those dreamy kids, the kind that don't really exist anymore, mostly because of the Internet and because moms would totally get crap for letting their children do, well…nothing. Each hour spent looking for four-leaf clovers I swear made room for something new in my head, like the imagination is this giant hole only you can dig for yourself, its adult size determined by how much space you can shovel into place by the time you are, say, 12…

I walked to the library every week and carried home my loot--goopy Nancy Drew, bad dream-making Alfred Hitchcock. I talked to the flowers in the backyard, scared to touch the bleeding hearts, lightly fingering the churchy Queen Anne's lace… I danced to my sister's terrible records (for hours!), drew ladies in ruffly, bustle-y dresses, raided the bathroom cabinet and mixed up concoctions in the sink, explaining to the television audience (the one behind the mirror, of course) exactly how to combine the ingredients.

I remember clearly one Saturday afternoon in late winter, when I took my red, white and blue basketball (cue up the Harlem Globetrotters theme song) and walked up the road and through the field to the basketball court at Most Holy Trinity to practice by myself. We had just formed our first girls' basketball team, and I was the center. I was 11 and there was nothing I couldn't do--keep up with the boys during sprints in gym class, hit triples during our lunchtime baseball games, get 100s on my tests, write, sing and perform my entry in the school song contest (to the tune of "Camptown Races," the only other song besides "Jingle Bells" I could play on the guitar)… So on that March day, I was full with potential, like the forsythia buds that my mom had brought into the house to force-bloom. As I looked up at the net I had this vague feeling that things were going to get complicated in the distant future, but in that moment, at least as far as I could see ahead of me, the world was kind and mine.

I'm pretty sure that's a basic rule to live by if you're a kitten like Ira, and I would do anything to keep his life--and that of his big brothers, Lorenzo and Derrick--that way, always. Dogs and cats have that pureness and sureness I get really fierce about protecting, because it seems like even kids have to let it go sooner and sooner… and somebody has to have it or we're all screwed.

At 13 weeks old, he reminds me that with every day dawns a whole new world, and there he is waiting for the sun. The first time he met Derrick and Lorenzo, he launched himself at them like a rocket, a kitty Odysseus finding his long-lost friends. (They reciprocated…a month later.) When he's hanging out on his cat tree or perched on the foot of the bed and sees me walk by, he gets so excited that the force of his wee-kitteh happiness knocks him off balance, and I am forever making sure he doesn't fall. He can't quite yet contain his meows either--I'll say his name softly, Ira, Ira, Ira, and he does this redonkulous bobble-head thingie, his whiskers start wiggling and only then does the meow come, like it's something he's still figuring out the choreography for… Can you imagine if you got that happy to be recognized, when they called your name at, say, jury duty, or when you're next  in line in the post office?

When Derrick showed his little bro how to play Bathtub (Cat A jumps in bathtub and uses magical kitty powers to make sure Cat B, who may be otherwise engaged in another room, knows the game is about to commence; when Cat B approaches, Cat A leaps out of the bathtub; Cat B chases Cat A), they played this every morning for a week. Then one day Ira tried to initiate the game while there was water in the tub.

Well…nothing much happened. He tumbled into water that went up to his little chocolate-brown cat spats and zoomed right out, galloping through the house in celebration. The next day he was back in the tub, watching the faucet drip.  I was too scared to try out for basketball in high school, and now I think I sing so badly I'm embarrassed to do karaoke (tho I practice it in the bathtub--I could probably do "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," if they even have that one.)

Ira knows, in his tiny cat head, that it's not about how it's done, it's simply that it's done. And if you carry on as though good things will happen (like your big brothers love you even though you steal food and treats out of their bowls and push them off the prime real estate), maybe good things will happen. That people love you more the worse you sing karaoke, that it's the best feeling ever when someone's happy to see you, and that the world is big and you are small but not.

Incidentally, the MHT girls basketball team played just one game. We won, but I wasn't in it because I'd broken my finger the day before.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Letter to My Dad on Father's Day

Dear Dad,

I'm sorry I can't be there to give you black licorice, Superman socks and a pair of Groucho Marx glasses (you looked so good in them!), but I wanted to tell you these 8 things I love about you.

1.) You respect everyone...
No matter who it is, you always look at someone and nod at them in acknowledgment when you pass by. I think of this every day when I get on the elevator in my apartment building and feel someone avoiding my eyes. We walk through each other like there's no one else there, even when we're inches away. It's what we do.

But then I see that gentle, expectant look on your face when you greet someone you may or may not know. Doesn't matter--it's the same look. (I've caught you doing it to the neighbors' dogs, which makes me love you even more.). So I think of you and say "Good night" or "Have a good day"  when I get off the elevator. I kinda mumble so they may think I'm talking to myself, but I promise to keep working on it.

2)…even commonly mispronounced words
Yup, you're one of the few people I know who actually says the second "e" in vegetable and the "a" in comfortable, showing me not to overlook the little things in life. And let's not get started on "berserk!"

3) You don't talk trash about people.
It occurred to me the last time I saw you that you don't say bad stuff about ANYONE.    I think the worst I've heard you say is that someone's a "freeloader" or a "wise guy," but with all that practice, it's like you probably couldn't even insult someone if you tried.

I think this means I have to forgive you for writing that really nice letter to George Bush. : )

4) You have great skin.
93 and STILL NO WRINKLES! Seriously, folks. I think it's directly related to #3. And maybe #7.

5) You still do whatever it takes to make us feel at ease.

Oh, Dad. I know it upsets you when you can't remember things.  First of all, it doesn't matter--everybody forgets stuff. And second of all, I'm on to you. I see how you make jokes to make us feel better about it, and how you keep finding new ways to anchor yourself in the present. You'll talk about the cardinal-red flowers that have just started to bloom, or the birds who have visited our backyard that day. That's what a good dad does, and you're only getting better with age.

6) You taught me how to tie a tie, shine my shoes and keep score at a baseball game.
All of these things take a little extra time and care. And darned if I don't know a 6-4-3 double play when I see one.

7) You have ice cream every day and always give IHOP a little treat during dinner (and lunch, and, well, probably breakfast, too).
Life is to be enjoyed. Why not with caramel sauce and maraschino cherries?

8) You have great taste in women.
Barbara told me that she recently found you looking at the beautiful photograph hanging near the fireplace of you and mom on your 50th wedding anniversary. "She was such a good person," Barbara heard you say out loud. Yeah, you're right about that : )

Enjoy your day. Can you feel the big hug I'm sending you?

Daughter #5, Kid #6
(Hair still pink)

P.S. Meet you back here next Father's Day for 8 more reasons!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Either Aura

Warning! Unicorn Alert: This post contains content that has not been scientifically proven. Aura photography! Spirit guides!  Oh, and a Fresh Prince of Bel Air video…

This March I had a picture of my aura taken during a visit to Kripalu Institute. I'm pretty sure it employs Kirlian photography, named for the electrical engineer who discovered the technique, which he believed to depict a life force or energy field surrounding living things. The sweet photographer Heidi set up this tripped-out, willy-wonky, Wizard of Oz-y contraption, and I had to put my palms into hand-shaped panels with little electrode-y points for the finger tips. I normally don't like having my photo taken because my nose tends to come out looking like it has its own zip code, but this was one photo in which you just couldn't hide…

Although I had a stray thought that it'd come out rotting and covered in black mold, I was surprised-but-not-surprised at that pop and snap of beany green. [Note: This is a photo of my photo I took with an iPhone, and you can't really see everything I'm gonna write about. Hopefully you get the general gist.]  According to the handout clipped to the photo, the colors on the subject's left (what you see on the right in the photo) represent the vibration coming into your being. The colors on the right are the energies being expressed, what others most likely see and feel. And the color over the subject's head is the color that best describes that person. According to the handout:

Primarily Green Photos: These individuals are strongly connected to the heart chakra and are most often balanced, giving people…The keywords here are love and service.... Green in a photo may also be an an indication of a growth opportunity or change, and is a good indication of a positive state of overall health. Green individuals will show a tendency to periodic burnout caused by their unceasing engagement in trying to help others and right the wrongs of the world. Being connected to the source of Perfect Love, they don't realize their own limitations and push this to the extreme point where they save little for their own needs.  (Acck, just rereading this, I don't like that last sentence--there are few things worse than someone who is stingy with herself!).

Along with the green I got a little bit of Oy G. Biv going on, with those fruit stripes of orange ("childlike, playful, creative, living life from the gut") and yellow ("cerebral and intellectual, with strong abilities in logic and number-based thought processes"). Uh, not sure about that last one…tell that to all the people I ask to check my calculations 'cause I've forgotten how to subtract..I panic and overcompensate when it comes time to cross out a zero and carry the 1. And I'm so beyond grateful for that juicy grape of "inspiration from things divine" to my left.

And the 6 green dots? [Gaak, you can't see them in my photo.] Those are spirit guides. Heidi said that 6 was on the high side, and I think I know why. This was taken right when I was coming out of a period of deep mourning when my mom died, so I needed all the help I could get. One of those is my mom for sure, and Bing and Paloma, and my mom's mom, too. I didn't know her well, but my Grandma was a kindred spirit. She used to sneak out of the house to go dancing when she was young, and knew there was nothing that chocolate couldn't fix.

Science will tell you that what's captured on film is the corona discharge (I think that can be simplified to "electrical field") between the object photographed and the high-voltage plate used in the photography set-up. And even more Boring Bettys will tell you that the actual colors are impacted by stuff like oils, sweat, bacteria and ionizing contaminants. No way, just… no way. The secret of one's spiritual state cannot come down to what kind of deodorant you wear. (Though I have to state here those crystal rocks don't work too well.)

P.S. I asked Heidi if she'd taken any aura photographs of animals. Yes, she said, a German shepherd. He had to stand on his hind legs and put his paws on the hand sensors. The photo came out all purple--for an individual "very closely tied to a high level of spirituality, those who tend of carry a lot of natural healing ability and may feel they are on a special mission for the benefit of humanity at large." I got chills when Heidi told me he was a service dog.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Letter to My Mom on the Occasion of Her Birthday

 My mom would have been 89 on April 16. I had a few things I wanted to share with her.

 Dear Mom,

I miss writing to you. I'm so glad that I saved all the letters you sent when I was in college and during my semester in Greece, those years when I was a bit of a jerk. I recently came across one that included your response when I told you we had a maid. In retrospect, I think they just didn't want college kids trashing their nice Athens apartments, but it did seem over the top at the time. "If you were a patriotic American, " you wrote, "you would clean your own tub and mess to show how disciplined and clean we are--thoughtful, etc. And all it takes is a clean tub!"

Hmm…I honestly can't remember if I cleaned the tub or not. But it couldn't have been that dirty because we had to do our laundry in the tub, so it was like I was multitasking. And you'll be happy to know I spent a good hour cleaning my bathroom in honor of your birthday on Thursday--Brillo, two kinds of cleansers, grout brush, on my hands and knees for some major scrubbing action. I'm definitely disciplined but clean is a bit harder--I found some cat hair in the refrigerator the other day.

Remember when you wore that bright orange vinyl raincoat to pick me up after school, and I would get so mad at you because I thought it was so hideous and tragically out-of-style that I was embarrassed to be seen with you?! I am really sorry about that. As it turns out, I just got the most amazing orange spring coat. I originally ordered it in brown, but I knew that was the wrong decision the minute I clicked the "place order" button. I tried to convince myself that brown goes better with everything, and since I wear a lot of black, an orange coat would be too much like Halloween, but I finally switched the order at the last minute.

We looked for a photograph of you wearing the orange coat but we couldn't find one--we did, however, find this photo of me on the orange couch that Sears sent by mistake.

I never knew that the Sears customer service guy who placed the order pleaded with you and Dad not to tell his manager that he ordered orange instead of beige, since he'd screwed up a lot and was worried he'd be fired.

Barbara has been urging me to take something of yours, so on Saturday I guiltily snagged what I consider to be the best thing of all--one of your heart-shaped cake pans.

I can't even imagine how many layer cakes and brownies you made in this pan, how many birthdays, bake sales, just because-es! There were still some crumbs stuck to it, and Merry and I liked holding it knowing that you had too, so many times. I remember standing at my sink about 5 years ago smelling delicious brownies baking in the oven out of nowhere (believe me, no one on my floor makes brownies), not a chocolate chip in sight, and then finding out you were home in East Hampton making some for me. And they say brownies don't travel well.


P.S. I also took 2 mason jars you probably used for either pickles or strawberry jam, because I want to make pickled cabbage. Fermented vegetables are the new thing, so you and your sauerkraut have been ahead of the curve for awhile.

Here's one I think you'll like. I heartily endorse this sentiment:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Analyze This: The Candy Man

I find myself deeply pondering songs that most people would say aren’t very good.  I can’t help it—the glimmer of potential, the integrity of earnest intent, the challenge of finding those sweet, sincere redeeming qualities poking through…does it for me every time.  And since we can’t all be like Lester Bangs, I’m going to do my best to champion those bountiful one-note wonders here--starting off with an oooey, gooey gummy worm of a tune from everybody’s favorite, Mr. Show Business.

You may not want me as a guest on your team in Family Feud. I remember once someone asked me to name a famous Jewish entertainer, and I immediately blurted out, “Sammy Davis, Jr.!” That may not get me a kiss from Richard Dawson, but I stand by my choice: Everybody loves Sammy. My friends and I did as a kid, even though I really didn’t know much about him, other than he was this positively super-fantabulous outtathisworld charismatic being I’d seen on the Dinah Shore Show, and that Samantha the German short-haired pointer who lived up the street was named after him. (P.S. She lived with Lady the poodle and a big sweet orange kitty, Archie, named in tribute to Nate Archibald.)

And of course, to me he was, well, the Candy Man.

And for a sensitive, chubby girl who woke up at 6 am to sneak frozen mini peanut butter cups out of the refrigerator, being the Candy Man was no small thing. Heck, I definitely would have eaten the dishes.  That’s the song I wanted to hear on a hot July day, riding shotgun in my sister’s red Cutlass Supreme, the backs of my thighs sticking to the white vinyl bucket seats, with Sammy calling and the Mike Curb Congregation responding, their milquetoasty back-up vocals as benign and comforting as banana pudding to my seven-year-old self.

Err, wait, that sentence was half-baked--better make that as comforting as a groovy lemon pie…

And you know what? It’s as simple as that. Looking back, people say the Candy Man must have been a drug dealer (put this song up against “I’m Waiting for the Man” and you too will be jonesing for peanut butter cups at 6 am) but really, truly, it’s just about a guy sans guile who’ll give you “sweet chocolate, gum drops, chocolate malted candy…anything you want.” A song like this could never happen now, never—only doofy Barney gets close, and he’s kind of a jerk and is upside-down proportionately uncool as Sammy is swellegant.

Any chick with cool hair and a kitty on her shoulder is welcome at ssspunerisms.
This is May Britt, who was married to Sammy from 1960-1968.

It wasn’t just sugar-addicted 7-year-olds who liked the song—The Candy Man went all the way to number one for Sammy, even though he supposedly hated it. Legend has it that he rushed through it in two takes, commenting, "This record is going straight into the toilet. Not just around the rim but into the bowl.” That’s another thing I like—he’s such a professional that you’d never know he thought the song was a bunch of crap—I believed him and his character, and that I too might one day eat a dinner plate and it’d taste like Sunkist fruit gems and Tootsie rolls.

And we all know he would have no problem taking tomorrow and dipping it in a dream.

P.S. 7-year-olds and German short-haired pointers know a good person when they see one. As I was writing this blog I asked a dancer friend of mine if he’d ever worked with Sammy. He hadn’t, but his friends had, in the Broadway production of Golden Boy in 1964-66. It seems that one night after a performance, he took the cast to Howard Johnson on 46th and 8th Avenue. This was a time when people behaved much worse than they do now toward others who don’t look like them, and the waitress was really rude to Sammy. He didn’t say anything, but when it was time to go, he told her, “This is for you”—and handed her 5 $100 bills. How’s that for a tip on how to free your mind, lady?!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Egrets, I've Had a Few...

Q: What’s more irritating than serial commas? (C’mon, people! That “Let’s eat Grandma” example won’t work with me--you know deep down they’re like putting mascara on fake eyelashes…)

A: Dumb signs with words that most people don't use or understand, like the one above, which was plastered in the elevator in my building a couple weeks ago. Egress?! It’s not good writing if no one gets it, no matter how many SAT words you use.

I actually had to look it up, a leaky, squeaky sounding word that’s both a noun and verb meaning, respectively, "a way to get out of a place" and "to go or come out." With all those options, it's still a clunker in any sentence it shows up in. Easy egress in an emergency... The only egress was a dark, narrow stairway...

In any case, the sign irritated me so much that I went ahead and “corrected” the typo, replacing the first "s" with a "t," as you can see in the photo above. I’d much rather live in a world that’s open for egrets.

And I’d definitely hold the elevator for them, too.

I digress, but this egret doth profess to prefer ingress.

One bird you don't want hanging out in your lobby:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cat, Sitting

 As a beginning meditator (yup, it’s been about 5 years since I’ve been consistent with my practice and I’m still just getting my feet wet), I benefit from guidance and instruction from others. Along the way, I’ve learned you can really cheat your way through it if you do it with people who are better at it than you. It’s super powerful meditating with a group, and that includes groups whose members have four legs and a tail. Cats definitely have it together when it comes to meditating, and can help you to: 

(1) Sit the Heck Still 
When you still the body, the mind follows. Tell that to my legs, which for about 2 weeks this winter would start itching fiercely every time I’d sit down to meditate. I tell myself to relax and breathe into it, but the more I attempt to do that, the more intense and burning the itch becomes, and I start thinking of “Disco Inferno” and blow the whole thing. 

If I were a zen monk in training, I’d have the Ino whacking me with a stick every time I moved or otherwise fell out of concentration—this according to my writing teacher/friend who is a zen monk, though I don’t think he actually used the word “whack.” If this is not an option for you, a regular old kitteh can do the trick. To train yourself to remain still, lie down and wait for your cat to crawl on top of you and park himself. If he is like Lorenzo, he will give you a harsh correction every time you try to move. 

This happened the other night as I was simply trying to fall asleep, and not even practicing meditation. Lorenzo had other ideas. He was perched on my back, and when I lifted my head and tried to turn it to the opposite side, I’d feel a paw on the back of my skull, pushing it back into place. I was restless so kept fidgeting, but Every. Single. Time., there was the paw, claws extending and flexing exponentially with each digression. Finally I just gave up and focused on the fact that I didn’t have to do anything except lie there. The moment that happened, he got up and began shoving his cold nose into my face and licking me, which of course necessitated the practice of #2....  

(2) Accept and Allow 
If I’m making meditation sound all rule-y and rigid, it’s because that’s where I am in the practice right now--if this is a journey, I’m still at the 7-Eleven paying for my Slurpee and filling the tank. I do know that the rules help to cultivate the focus you need for when the discipline dissolves and it becomes something else entirely…  kind of like painting a still life before you can Pollock…

Beginners like me can be easily sidetracked by outside noises and inner sensations: the aim is to practice accepting and allowing these things. Like, if I sneeze or the phone rings, I may go all Type A and wonder how many seconds that cost me, rather than just let the moment be … That’s where Derrick comes in. 

Every once in a blue moon, my big, sweet flamepoint will park himself next to me when I’m sitting. He’s a big talker with a big vocab for a cat, but during meditation he mostly employs the short, staccato quack. On one recent morning he wanders in and looks up at me, quacks as soon as I make eye contact, and commences purring. I was pretty quiet-minded that day, so when he starts quacking again, I think—not only am I going to accept and allow this furry big mouth at my side, I am going to follow his lead. 

So we take turns sneaking looks at each other, him quacking and purring and blinking and vibrating to the point I think he’s going to levitate. I am smiling so wide that I think it’s shining my skull.  And I think, hey…I’m getting an advanced lesson from him on the higher purpose of meditation, which is to…

(3) Love More 
One of my favorite yoga teachers, Erich Schiffmann, gives homework in his workshops—which always includes practice love more. He suggests starting with something/someone who is easy to love, and that way it’ll get easier when you practice on things/people who aren’t so easy to love. 

So, yeah, there’s Derrick, radiating this incredible joy and love and, HELLO, YUP, I GET IT! I can love him more, no problem. 

I am still smiling as he shoves his butt in my face, the tip of his tail candy-caning in full expression of feline happiness and confidence, walks a few feet and plops down on the rug directly in front of me. When I look at him he spreads the toes on his front paw. It is the luxurious, slow unfolding of a lotus flower, each paw pad a pink petal. And yes, he and I just pass the love back and forth like we’re in some dorky new-age dance-off… 

We both face the light, me wondering out of nowhere, “What is the sound of a candle flame?,” and Derrick just being, eyes closed.