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Tag Archives: Lee

Nearly Dying of Exposure

For Lee. Be well my dear one. You were the font of all that is good and right in this world, the genesis of all that is beautiful and the wellspring of all that in creation is joy. I will see you later. I will.

On our way
home from the beach
We stop beside the car
For you to change,
Backside to the passenger door,
I hold a blanket in front of you
As you slip off your top
And drop a loose
Dress over your shoulders
Over your belly,
Mid-calf,

Neglecting to button the bodice
So you dry in the air.
And below the blanket
Your bathing suit
Bottom hits the ground.

As I drive the highway home

Still wet,
You place your feet on the dashboard,

Pull open your top just a bit more
Pull up the hem of your dress over your hips
and fan yourself dry

On the car seat

Spread out in the sun.

I almost hit a wall.
I almost hit a tree.

Bless you.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Family, Poetry

 

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I Believe in You

(A poem for Lee)

I believe in you.

You.
Like I believe
The Sun rises each morning and
The moon shades from light to dark then
To light again.

I believe in you
Like I believe in
The laws of Nature.
I am as sure of you as
Water runs downhill,
Cold contracts,
Gasses expand,
An object in motion stays in motion…

I am as sure of you as I am
Spring will come again and again.

I believe in you like light.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Family, Poetry

 

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Gabriel Erector

At a garage sale last Sunday
I purchased an erector set.
Not an ordinary erector set
but one in a sky blue box
and in it everything I need
to build angels.

It’s an angel building kit.
Not the kind of angels
made of plastic and wire and
glue makes your head hurt
and the world dizzy spin.
Not like a model set.
Not like the kind of angels
who blow a horn
and my living room walls
come tumbling down
or talk in my brain and I go off
to fight the English,
but the kind of angels
who open rain clouds,
tug at grass blades until they’re long,
lift up the corners of a baby’s mouth.
The kind of angels who pull open irises
and make it so you can see
the chest of your loved one
sleeping next to you
rise and fall with each inspiration
even though it’s completely dark,
but you know you see it.

It’s my angel building kit.
So far,
since I took my kit home
and opened it,
It has rained,
my grass grew,
my irises bloomed
and I can see my loved one’s chest
rise and fall in the night
even though I have the shades drawn,
and it’s completely dark.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Family, Poetry, Religion

 

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A Letter to Sadie

I have just come back from a three and a half mile walk. Why? I am just a little bit more serious about long walks. Soon I’ll be pushing a stroller with you in it. Then walks in the park. Then maybe some road-trips to places you want to go. Then, who knows?

I want to be here a long time. Not just for you. That would not be true. I want to see your Father older, happy, smiling at you as you grow up. I want to see your Aunt Sef, my daughter, achieve everything she wants in life. I want to see your Grandmother, forever.

I want to see the family together. Your Father, your Mother, your Aunt, your Grandmother. Together. Again and again and again. And I want to see you. I want to see you crawl and walk and graduate college or learn the arts or whatever it is you want to do, I want to see it. I want to see my granddaughter. I want to see you happy.

As I write this, you are a month before you are born. I have felt you kick, I have talked to you through the wall of the womb. “Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?” Yes, Pink Floyd lyrics. If you like Pink Floyd, you can blame me. You heard them in utero.

See, even before you are born, I love you. I can’t help it. Maybe it is biology. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I can imagine talking you for walks, playing in parks, seeing things together. Being a good Grandfather.

I’m sure I’ll make as many mistakes as a Grandfather as I made as a father. There are no instructions for either. And I have no role models for it but I’ll do my best.

Last night I was sitting at the kitchen table with your Aunt Sef. She is, as I write this, 25 years old and in pre-med in New York City. I am telling you this because I hope you, unlike me, will know who your family is without having to put puzzles together. In part, that’s why I am writing this letter.

In a chair, near us, is your Grandmother. Dusty is on the couch with Sef’s boyfriend, Joe. Maybe he will be your Uncle. We sort of hope so. Her dog, Godiva, is on the other side of him. On the other couch are your Father and your Mother. She’s kind of on top of him and you are happily warm inside her. You three are startlingly cute together.

Sef and I are going through boxes of pictures brought up by your Great-Grandfather. He doesn’t know who most of the people are. I asked my Mother, your Great-Grandmother, Sheilah, for whom you are named, but by the time the pictures came to my attention, she could not identify some of the people, was unsure of others, changed her mind. Remembering not remembering was hard for her, stressful, upsetting. I let it go.

Really, that’s what this letter is about. It’s about introducing you to your family. And, as time moves on, I will label pictures better, Years, people, events, relations. I’ll do a better job than those before me.

Let’s start before there were pictures.

Your Father’s side of the family is all I can describe, of course. So I’ll talk about your Grandmother and Grandfather, Lee and myself, with that understanding.

Way back, maybe six or seven generations, both families were in Galicia and Galacia. Don’t confuse those. A letter can make a big difference. Language is funny that way, as you’ll discover.

Galicia is in Spain and it borders Portugal. Galacia is in Eastern Europe and it is sort of between Austria and Poland. Both had an awful lot of Jews which is why they got their own names and they got invaded a lot because when Jews live somewhere, it’s treated like no one really lives there.

Your Father is Jewish. I know – it’s hard to tell. See, it’s a religion, yes. It’s a culture too, yes. It is also a race. Sort of. Kind of. No one can tell from your genes if you are Catholic or Baptist or Mormon or Buddhist or what-have-you, but you can tell if you are Jewish. Even if you are a Cohan, Levite or Israelite. Your Father, by the way, is a Cohan, a member of the priesthood, traditionally. I can explain all that to you later. It’s kind of cool and kind of doesn’t matter anymore.

Genes. You can track the genes for the Jewish people for the female lineage by mitochondrial DNA. And for the male lineage by the haplotypes of the Y chromosome. Ok, so you are minus one month old and maybe not up to anthropological genetics. Besides, your Aunt loves genetics and she can explain it to you when you are older and able to understand. When you are four or five maybe.

You Father is Jewish. His entire side of the family is. Here’s how we got here.

Your Great-Great-Grandfather, my Grandfather, my Mother’s father came from England. Albert Cohen. His family was from Galicia. Near Portugal. His last name was Cohen. His family had to leave Galicia and went to Portugal. Had to means the governments said, “Hey, you. Jews. Convert or leave.” Sometimes it was just, “Leave.” And sometimes the request to leave sounded an awful lot like hoof-beats and rifle shots. They settled in Portugal and then they were told to leave again. This was 1496.

They could be forcibly baptized, or killed or leave. They could stay as “Crypto-Jews” which are also called Marranos, which means they outwardly convert but practice in secret. Many Marranos find out centuries later their families are Jewish and that is the reason they have customs and practices that are not quite Christian. Many even practice in cellars as part of their heritage but didn’t know why. Your family chose to leave.

They went to The Netherlands. There they were welcomed and in the 1670s you family helped create The Portuguese Synagogue. There is a lot of history there and we should go see it someday.

In England too. I have a picture of my Grandfather’s father or uncle. I cannot tell. He is the Lord Mayor of Hereford. He is standing next to King George VI and The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth’s mother. King George is in military uniform. They are on a street, in a group, in one picture. In another, looking at a bomb site. This is WWII Britain.

I never met my Mother’s father. He died of pneumonia when my Mother was a teenager. Or younger. He ended up in England, following his father, I think. Or his Grandfather. I am not sure. But he then came to Canada before WWII and was in the Canadian Forces and fought in that war. He was an electrical engineer. He met your Great-Great-Grandmother. I am not sure how. He became an American.

Looking through the photographs, I find pictures of him. He is in his 40s, maybe. Some in uniform, some not, some in a suit, a wedding picture. I find pictures of his brother, Uncle Dave and his sister, Aunt Jane. Great Uncle and Great-Aunt, actually. Your Great-Great Great Uncle Dave (Wow, three greats) was a jazz musician. He died in the late 1990s. He was amazing on a piano and would tell us stories of all the famous people he played with. He was married to Aunt Ester. We would go over to visit them often when I was small. Less than seven years old. They lived in New York then. They lived in an apartment. Their chihuahua bit me.

When they moved to Florida, as did we, we’d visit them in their home in North Miami. She would give me gin and tonics. I was twelve, thirteen.

Aunt Jane. There is a picture of my Mother with Aunt Jane and Uncle Al. My Mother is in her 20s. Great-Aunt Jane met my Great Uncle Al when they were both 14. He had a pushcart in New York City. He sold various items from it. He met Aunt Jane. They were married 78 years. In their late eighties they would go to the old age homes and play for what Aunt Jane called “The Old People.” Most of them were ten to twenty years younger than they were. Aunt Jane would play the piano and sing and Uncle Al played accordion.

She got sick and died within two weeks. She was in her nineties. That was 2007. Uncle Al took me aside and asked me what he was supposed to do. What do you do without your best friend? He asked me this because, he said, he knew I would understand. I didn’t have a good answer. We just sat. He died in 2009. I still have his number in my phone.

His daughter, Judy, my cousin, lives in New Hampshire.

Your Father met them. He was lucky. Aunt Jane and Uncle Al were two of the nicest, kindest people I had ever met. I believe, if there is no heaven, surely one was created for them.

Back to your Great-Great-Grandfather. Albert Cohen. Here is what my Mother told me about him. He was never cross, never unhappy. There was no day he did not smile.

My Grandmother. My Mother’s mother. I have pictures of my Grandmother with my Grandfather’s parents. I saw a picture of her at the dock when the survivors of the Titanic were brought back. It listed her as a survivor too. She wasn’t. She was just at the right place at the right time and the journalist took her picture, her name, and made an assumption. Her last name was Governor then. It had been changed when she came through Ellis Island. It was Governosa. Ukrainian. Her Grandmother’s last name was Chansky.

Names. You can’t tell a Jew by their name no matter what some people try to tell you. We were pushed, pulled, kicked from so many places. Forced to hide, assimilate, evaporate, leave, relocate. That meant being flexible. So we each had two full names. A Hebrew name and a regular name. We let the regular names go and come as we needed. We didn’t tell anyone about the other names.

So when the border between Poland and The Ukraine shifts east or west, now you are Polish, now you are Ukrainian, today you are Austrian, tomorrow, Slovakian. Pass through Ellis Island and your name is hard to spell. They change your name for you. Let it change. You are lucky to be here. They can still turn you away. Life goes on.

Most ethnic groups have a landscape they can adhere to. It is made of space and mountains and rivers. Not us. Our landscape is made of time.

So Grandma Chansky, as my Grandmother used to call her, came to the US. It wasn’t really by choice. Jews were being expelled from Russia and The Ukraine. In the Pogroms, which were official systematic forced removal of Jews. If you were in the rural areas, by Cossacks. If you were in the cities, by mobs, by not being allowed to hold jobs or go to school or buy bread.

They came to the US. One day, you and I and your Father, at least, should go to Ellis Island. And we should try to get Aunt Sef to go too. She loves to learn about her family and she and I both like research. Sef went by herself one year. And your Grandmother and I, another. Here is what we found in the archives.

Blue Star Line. From Kiev to Buenos Aires, Argentina to the US. My Grandmother, her mother, her sisters. I have pictures of them. Aunt Ann, Aunt Gert, Aunt Ethel. And there are pictures with their husbands much later. Uncle George. Uncle Red. Uncle Murray, whom I adored and still do. I made sure Sef got to meet Aunt Ethel. And she met her Grandmother many times. She missed seeing Uncle Murray. Your Father had not met any of them. All are gone. The links to the old land are gone and nothing is left but time.

He did not meet his Great-Grandmother either. He was very young and she was very sick. She was sick a long time. She did not help herself to not be sick. She was angrier even longer than that. She did not help herself to be not angry either. My Mother told me that, when her father died, her mother became angry and stayed that way. Grandma sure did love me. I know that. But it didn’t help her to not be angry. She died at eighty two or eighty six and she was angry half her life. Isn’t that a shame? All the things we could have done, what we could have laughed over, the games we could have played. Don’t spend your time angry.

She lived with us from when I was little. She died a few weeks after your Father was born. He came in and she went out. I buried her myself. All I can say about her is she loved me and she was angry.

I have pictures of her as a bride. In a bathing suit. Outside with my Mother. After your Great-Great-Grandfather died, the pictures nearly stopped.

She had your Great-Grandmother and your Great Uncle Teddy. I saw Teddy a dozen times, maybe. He talked me into going to speech therapy when I was in second grade. I could not tell “F” from Th.” Imagine that. Sadie, I don’t think you will get to meet him.

Your Great-Grandmother Sheilah. Some of the pictures of your Great-Grandmother are stunning. I see photographs of her at age three or so. Age six or seven with her father. Playing, on a bike, at the park. Age ten with Uncle Al, in her teens at the beach, in a bathing suit. Pictures of her at her wedding.

She was born in a suburb of Boston. She was smart but not well educated. She went to secretarial school. She met my Father, your Great-Grandfather, in her 20s but I’m not sure when. Or where. I know my Father snuck her aboard ship when he was in the navy. My Father’s father had friends in high places and my Father got an honorable discharge. Not just for that.

She was active, rode her bike, went hiking, went prospecting for gold, diamonds, emeralds. We did lots of stuff when I was a kid. As much as we were able. We didn’t have much. I can remember sitting on the floor watching Star Trek when it first was on TV, walking to kindergarten, taking trips. She made dolls, painted clothing, refinished furniture, made wood puzzles, did arts and crafts. She played the piano and sang.

But she didn’t rest. Your Grandmother and I took a trip with her and your Great-Grandfather. She had pneumonia. She refused to rest. She ended up in the hospital on the trip. She took no time off. So she got sick. Then she got very sick. I wrote a lot about your Great-Grandmother. You can read some or all or none later on. Let’s say that she was pretty cool most of the time.

Anyway, she had me. And she had your Uncle Merrill. Great Uncle, I guess. He is three years, one month and four days younger than I am. We don’t hear from him much. You can ask me why, but I would not be able to give you a good answer. I just don’t have one. Sometimes, things are like that. It upset your Great-Grandmother though. She was hoping everyone would be closer.

Your Father didn’t know your Great-Grandmother well. He never met her when she was active. She died when he was barely eighteen and she was sick for that many years. He knew her only with a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. But your Aunt knew her as a more active person. One day, ask your Grandmother about her. They were good friends from even before your Grandmother and I were married.

Me. I was born in 1964, in Brookline, Massachusetts, outside Boston. I was kind of sick. I couldn’t swallow food, and I had a hole in my spine, and a blood disease. I wasn’t supposed to live. Or see. The said I’ve never learn to walk either, but I did – really late. I was over three years old. I didn’t see well. I still don’t. My Mother taught me to read when I was four because the doctors and the schools said I never would. My first book was Duck on Truck. After that, all I did was read. I taught myself most everything else. Except math. Your Grandmother taught me that. They didn’t know, I didn’t know, I was autistic until many years later and it took me a long time to figure out who I was and what I was doing. Or maybe just to figure out how things work and not be angry with the world. Or just to figure out what I really wanted. I’m just me.

I met your Grandmother when I was fifteen and she was twenty-one. She was a good friend of my Mother’s. I remember her asking my Mother if there was any way she, as in my Mother, could get rid of me. My Mother said yes. Your Grandmother and I got married when I was twenty. My Mother, your Great-Grandmother, told your Grandmother she should have been more specific.

Your Grandmother and I were best friends. Still are. Like Uncle Al and Aunt Jane. Best friends. I wish the same for you. It is the best wish I can wish for you. Really.

She and I made plans. It took a long time. We made them real. So whatever you want to do, I’ll back you. You can do it.

My Father’s side. I can’t tell you much. I wish I could. There are nearly no pictures. They don’t talk much. They tend to be not very close. I could tell you a few things though.

They are from Galacia. Remember, that middle letter, a instead of an i, means a lot. That is the area around Poland and Austria. The Gal in that word, both words, means the Gaels, the Celts settled there. A very Jewish area. Where they lived became Austria. Their name became Tritt, which means “step” and then they had to leave. That was in the early part of 1900s. The ones who stayed aren’t alive anymore. The ones who stayed died in the Holocaust. Sorry. I can’t make that sound good or pretty or nice. Your Aunt and I once went to the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach. You should do that someday. I can go with you. Your Great-Grandmother, my Mother, went to the one in Washington DC. When you go in, they give you the name of a victim to carry through with you. She was given a relative. What’s the chance of that? She was not ok for weeks. It happens, I guess. I have never been. I don’t know if I could.

Some of your Great-Grandfather Fred’s family lives in Israel now. His brother, Warren, your Great-Great Uncle, and his wife Merav, live in Tenafly, New Jersey. You have cousins in New York. And in Israel.

Let me tell you a little bit about your Great-Grandfather. He can be fun. In his own way, he is, has been, was, brilliant. He designed things. You and I, out and about, will probably see some of them. Some even in museums. Some in supermarkets. Labels, posters. He is a paradox. That means, in some ways, some of his qualities seem out of place when you look at some of his other qualities. I can say there is certainly no one else like him though.

He and your Great-Grandmother were activists. They were busy in lots of causes and, without a doubt, played their part in history.

Your Father and Aunt call your Great-Grandfather Pinkponk. Go ahead. Ask him why one day. Your Great-Grandmother they called Grandma. She really really loved them.

Let’s go back to your Grandmother Lee and her side of the family.

Your Great-Grandmother Shirley, she’s Bubbie. It’s Yiddish for Grandmother. Grandfather in Yiddish is Zeda. Great-Grandfather Lou didn’t want to be called that, or Grandfather, or anything like that. He wanted to be called Lou. He got it.

I have no idea, by the way, what you will call us. It doesn’t matter to me.

Your Grandmother and I grew up hearing Yiddish. But no one would teach us. The generation before, your Great-Grandmother, could understand it but not speak it. So it goes.

Back to your Grandmother, little one.

Remember Ellis Island and that Blue Star Line in 1922? Guess who else was on that? Your Grandmother’s family. Funny, huh? From Kiev to Buenos Aires to the US. Some of her family stayed in Buenos Aires. There are lots of Jewish people there. How? Well, remember The Netherlands, where they were accepted? They could start business and be part of culture. Many got involved in the Dutch East India Tea Company and they helped start business, on behalf of that country, in South America. You still have relatives there.

Your Grandmother’s Great-Grandmother went to Montreal. Then the family ended up in Philadelphia. Your Great-Great-Grandfather, your Grandmother’s mother’s father, a huge fellow who looked shockingly like Rasputin, was a deserter from the Tsar’s Army. Tsar Nicholas II. He left before the October Revolution and Lenin. He left during the Pogroms. The same things that sent my Grandmother and her Mother and sisters to the US. The Army carried these out with the help of Cossacks. There were several. This one was between 1903 and 1906. Who could blame him? I never met him.

Your Grandmother’s family on her mother’s side is really really nice. And fun too. You will meet lots of them, no doubt. Her sister Fran is wonderful. Great Aunt Fran. Really. You’re going to love her and she’ll love you. Your Grandmother has a brother too, Great Uncle Mitch. He’s in the Air Force. We don’t see him much. He’s a nice guy. He has three kids. They are your cousins. Jonah, Sydney and Danielle. Your Grandmother’s cousins are cool too. Fran and her kids, Harriet and her kids, Cheryl and Bob and their kids, Robin and her kids (and one of her kids has kids.), Jack and his kids. They all look a lot alike. At least the girls do. The Levin Girls, they call themselves.

Those cousins are the kids of your Great-Grandmother’s brother Ed, a wonderful fellow, and her sister Helen. Great-great uncle and great-great aunt. Helen was married to Uncle Shelly. He died not long after I met him. Some liked him, some didn’t. He was kind of unusual. But he was great to me and helped smooth me into the family. I miss him, really. He died pretty young. Here’s a hint how. Don’t smoke. Just don’t. Funny, but I don’t have any pictures of him. But I have pictures of all your cousins.

On her Father’s side, I have met Margo, your Grandmother’s cousin. She has two kids. She is nice and very kind and will love to meet you. Past that, I can’t tell you anything about your Great-Grandfather’s family. They don’t have much to do with each other, it seems.

You and I will look at all these pictures together. In this age of Internet and Facebook, there are a lot more pictures and, in some ways, it is easier to keep track. But the old pictures need to be saved, fixed, labeled and appreciated. We can do that together.

We can do lots of things together. Because you are going to be amazing.

Let me tell you. I liked your Mother from the first moment I met her. Really. I’d do anything for her. She’s wonderful. She is strong-willed and has a really good brain. And I am looking forward to getting to know her better as the years grow.

You are going to be proud of her. And she loves you already. You should see her walk around with you, showing you off. She is so looking forward to being your mommy. You two are going to be great together.

And your Daddy. He is as good and kind a person as anyone could want a person to be. And he is crazy smart! I’d be happy to know him even if he wasn’t my son. The world is lucky to have him.

Maybe he’s a little like I was in that he’s still figuring things out in some ways. But one thing he doesn’t have to figure out is that he loves you. He is so happy you are on the way that it’s obvious to everyone who sees him. He is doing everything he can to make a wonderful life for you. Everyone is. But he is working extra hard at it. You are going to be proud of him too.

And I can’t wait for you to meet your Aunt Sef. She is bright, and nice, and fun, and, and… Oh, Sef is Sef. She’s wonderful and amazing. You two will be friends, I am sure.

And your Grandmother. She is the best. I mean that. I hope you get some of her drive and determination and brains. Your Grandmother is incredible.

And, so, I know the best, most amazing ladies in the world. Your mom, Sef, your Grandmother and you, Miss Sadie. And that makes me the luckiest Grandfather this world has ever ever seen.

Welcome to the family.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Culture, Family, History, Social

 

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Rememberance

The dates had been set for a trip for Lee and I to New York City. A drive up with the remainder of my daughter’s boxes, sixteen of them in varying sizes and weights, two portfolios, two pictures carefully wrapped in blankets, one tool set and a two by six by eight inch stone signed by fellow students from the inaugural class at The America Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, NC. The dates were changed from later in the month to earlier – her work schedule changed and, always overprotective, she worried about us traipsing around NYC by ourselves. On our end, work became heavy and, heading into summer, we were reticent to tell patients they could not have appointments.

It had been months since we’d seen her. Too long for me. But, in the end, though I missed her enough to bother her by phone nearly every day, it seemed a trip destined for difficulty. I felt we were pushing it somehow – the fast drive up and back, the shuffling of patients, the challenge in accommodations as she had, as yet, no couch or blow-up bed and I was not looking forward to arriving in NYC and immediately dropping a few hundred on a sleeper sofa.

Lee suggested Alek go along instead. We made the plans but, at the last minute, he felt it was a bad idea. Not just for him, but for anyone. In the end, it seemed he was right and we canceled. But I still needed a day or two away and Lee suggested Gainesville.

I had shied away from Gainesville. But, now settled into a home I like, visiting the place I considered my home for so long no longer seemed melancholy and bittersweet. I could go to my favorite gardens, walk the trails, climb the sinkhole, sit downtown, stay up late at my favorite coffeehouse, spend the afternoon at museums. And I can get from here to there well before a single MP3 disk runs out.

I asked Alek if he wanted to go – to get away with me and leave Lee the house to herself for a couple of days. Happily, surprisingly, he said yes.

This might have something to do with my having invited his girlfriend too.

Jessica is a sweet kid. A smart kid. We have made it a point to include her in the household whenever we can. She’ll watch TV with us, have dinner with us, go out with us. We want her to feel welcome and to know that she is. This is no chore – she’s fun to have around.

A week ago, Alek took her to South Florida to visit my father and brother, my in-laws. She learned quite a bit about the family and, yet, she stayed. So why not take her to Gainesville and show her some old haunts and tell her some odd stories. Let her see where Alek was born, where we lived, learn a bit about his parents.

Besides, Alek is quiet, Jessica talks. She and I will sing in the car while he sits. When we go out, he is worried about which one of us will embarrass him more. In short, it’s fun to have her along and it makes Alek happy. So why not?

The day was set. We leave Thursday. An easy trip. One night there. Gardens, sinkholes, museums, flea markets, thrift stores, retro clothing, coffeehouses. Maybe I’ll look up some people I know. Maybe not. I post a status message on Facebook. “Anything musical, festival, artful, eventful, funful or playful going on in Gainesville this Thursday of Friday?” I should have known not to, I did know not to, and I did it anyway.

Wednesday night I got this reply as a message on Facebook. It is from Tori, a friend of fourteen years. Tori thinks it is longer and I don’t tell her any different. The subject was “The Wild Young Zikr, Poetry Jam and Potluck”

I had gotten an invitation to this a month or so back but, since it was in Gainesville and I am in Palm Bay, three hours away, I said no. That and the fact it was a potluck which means there will be food and people which means eating food and talking to people. Actually, that was the only reason I said no.

The entire body of the email was two words. “Come by.”

People who know me, who spend time with me, come to understand that somehow, often somewhat uncomfortably, often somewhat frequently, they are in for new experiences. Tori, later, Victoria, later Murshida, always Tori to me, is like that as well. Having seen the comfort-stretching, learning and experiencing my friends tend to endure when around me, I knew what I had to do.

I had to say no. I had to say it quickly and before it was too late.

Why did I not use the word no? I walked right into it. I said “My dear Dear, It is a party. That means I will be struck with near paralyzing fear, cold with sweat, and wanting to crawl into any hole I can. Then I’ll cling to anyone I actually know and then worry about having done that. How’s THAT for a confession and knowing myself?” I added, “Besides, I won’t have been able to have cooked anything.”

There. That would be that. Done. Over. Crisis averted. After all, I promised no more forcing myself into social situations. I didn’t need them, didn’t like them, didn’t want them. And I can lie to myself as well as the next guy.

On the occasions I have needed a psychotherapist, and I assure you I have and do, I have not seen one. Why? Pack of idiots. Pulling out their tricks and counting on their common logic. I know their tricks and can out-logic them half asleep. Too smart for my own good, I am told, I have never found them to be effective. In psychotherapy, a good therapist has to get past your mind, past tricks and leave you with no place to go but in the direction of discovery, experience and growth, of finding or leaving. Tori is a psychotherapist. I should have known better. I should have just said no.

Her reply.

It’s not a party– it’s a ceremony– does the invite say party? That was a student’s oversight.

Come at 8:30 to eat and for Zikr– helping clean the dishes as your contribution to the meal will help manage your social anxiety between the eating and the invocation– bring a couple of dark chocolate bars to add to dessert– you can break them up and arrange them on a plate once you get here– another activity to manage social anxiety…did I tell you I was almost paralyzed by this for years… covered it up because I am an actor. It sucks. My heart to you! I love you.

And Zikr… Zikr is… Zikr is…

5,000 years of Dervish Divine Magic. 130,000 prophets in the room, Illumined Teachers in the room, music beyond what is being sung… such beauty.

During the height of the Moorish Empire when our ancestors lived in the Iberian Peninsula enjoying what is sometimes referred to as The Golden Age of the Jews, there were seven generations of Jewish Sufi Sheiks. And you, my dear, area Dervish to the core. So… if you don’t come I won’t be insulted for a moment, but what a thing to pass up… eh?!!! ♥ ♥ ♥

Damn. She did exactly what I would have done. The sidestep. She deflected my issues, piqued my curiosity, spoke to my longing and left me nowhere to go but discovery and experience and growth. She left me nowhere to go but her house on Thursday evening.

Hmm… social interaction and food. Nothing like dropping myself directly into the lion’s den.

But, if it is religious as well, it would probably be interesting to Alek, soooo…

Mind you, my newest poetry is not printed out so all I have is some older things. I mean, I have the new stuff on Internet access and on the computer, but not on paper. So if I read it might be something you have heard before.

Eight-thirty, eh? Dark chocolate, eh?

You know, if I’m on stage, I’m fine. If it is my job, I’m great. But I have even stopped going to contra dances for fear I won’t get asked, or, if I ask, I’ll be turned down. I never am but I know, next time… next time… so I don’t go. I just stopped forcing myself.

So what’s the dress code?

Why was I asking her that? Was I actually going? I asked the kids to see if they might say they’d not want to go. I prodded. I suggested.

“Sounds interesting,” they said. Damn.

Tori’s reply to my queries and misgiving?

Dress code is comfortable. Alek is welcome of course. Lots of young people. Not a place for performing actually. But what comes through comes through… you’ll see. Someone will be holding your hand most of the time and guiding you through… I promise that! lol. ♥ VA ♥

I wrote back. “Guiding me through? I’ll have Alek’s main squeeze with me to. Guiding me through?”

Notice the sidestep here. “Awesome… ,” she answers. “The Path of Love Loves Lovers… yep yep yep ♥”

“Damn, it looks like you are giving me something to write about. CRAP!”

“Yes!”

I have not written much in the last two months. It’s not that I have nothing to write about. I am working on a revision of a book coming back into print, on a novel, on a series of vignettes, on promotional material for the office. I have things I could write about. Maybe too many. A friend joked the other day that my problem was I had so much to write about that I don’t know where to start. I said “I need assignments. Write about this event. Write that story. Even better, maybe someone will give me an adventure. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a something interesting I could go to, less than a day away, that I could write about.” Make sure you really want something before you ask for it.

So Thursday morning we set off.

It is a three hour ride and we arrive in town with plenty of time. I take the kids on a tour, showing Jessica the house we lived in that we bought because of the live oak tree (age three), where the Lubavicher rabbi, one Shabbos eve, got Alek drunk on vodka and he spit up all over the rabbi in return (age four), where I died in my orange VW bus after a head-on collision with a blue truck, laying across Alek keeping him safe (also age four for him), his elementary school, Littlewood (ages five to nine), the old cooperative school we started out in the woods (ages who knows), Civic Media Center, where I got my start reading poetry at a clothing optional event (age who knows again), the bookstore we owned (age seven to nine) which now sells cigarettes and beer, and the house he was born in (not age four).

We pass the houses of people we know and decide to not stop in. Many we have made attempts to keep up with and most of the friendships fell apart from disuse as the distance and time grew. Some I email and some I call and from none do I get replies. That evening, I clean out my phonebook.

We explore downtown a bit and stop in at Flashbacks, a retro consignment shop. We buy a dress for Jessica and some cool whacked-out multi-coloured skater shoes for me (women’s size ten) and a great, magnificent find – a plaidish wool fedora. Neither appear to have been worn at all. Ever. Divesting myself of fewer than twenty-five dollars and feeling well on the upper-side of the bargain, we set off for lunch.

El Indio. It is not hard to find it and we have a great lunch of Mexican food under the trees on Gainesville’s main street, which is not Main Street, but 13th Street, US Highway 441. From there we walk a block to Mother Earth and buy three bars of dark chocolate. Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cocoa Dark Chocolate.

There is a whole lot of tired going on. We head back to the West Side, near Archer Road, and look for a hotel. Classes let out for the summer a week ago and rooms are plentiful and inexpensive. We settle in, me in one room and Alek and Jessica in another. We will rest and, in an hour and a half, at quarter ‘til seven, leave for Tori’s.

Out Hawthorn Road, in the Southeast region of the town, down towards the lakes, in a hidden area of small to medium, iconoclastic adobe, A-frame, tin-roof, shack, balcony, geodesic houses, each more improbably different than the next, we wind around dirt roads until we find Tori’s home as described, notice the many people sitting, standing on the wide front porch. I had hoped we’d arrive before most of the people and I feel my heart rise in my throat.

It is difficult to find a place to park and we squeeze past the cars on the narrow lane, turn around at the end, at the bank of Calf Pond, and squeeze past them again to park by the top of the street, unblocked and unblockable by any car obeying even the rudiments of the spirits of logic and the traffic laws. I have planned my escape.

The kids exit the passenger side. I left not quite enough room for me to get out and I step into the vines and loam, smoothing my way against the side, compressing myself over the hood. Down the road, up the short path, two steps up to the porch.

“Adam!” She rushes toward me, slams into me, hugs me. It takes me a moment to process the voice, now buried in my shoulder. Kat. Katey. “Katey!”

In her mid-twenties, tall and thin, other than a sporadic picture on-line, I have not seen her for nearly ten years. Long among my daughter’s best friends, even when distant. For years we saw her nearly every day.

I introduce the kids. Alek, of course, she knows though he has changed much since his age was in the single digits.

She takes my hand and brings me, around the people, inside. A small house. An adorable house. Different coloured walls, arches, stucco, sashes and prayer flags over doorways, devotional items on the walls, a fireplace to the left on the front outside wall as soon as one enters, and a table at the far end covered with food. A floor. The floor looks like people. Pillows and people. A sea of people between the front door and the table. A sea of people wearing shorts, t-shirts, sarongs, tank tops, less, more. I step around, over, through.

Really, it is not that crowded, but I don’t look down. There are many people but I don’t look down as that is where they are, sitting. Katey tells me her mother is busy talking with someone and points to a door through which I assume Tori is. And she must go as well. “Wait a moment.” I reach into my backpack and hand her three large bars of the 85% cacao chocolate. “For the desert table.”

We stand. It must be a few minutes or maybe a few seconds. I look at Alek and say softly, “I’m going to go outside where I’ll be less conspicuous.” I am not thinking about the fact that I am dressed in a button-down, albeit flowered, forest green shirt and dungarees which is as comfortable as I get when I don’t know the people. No, I am thinking about my mere presence and palpable, I am sure to everyone, discomfort.

And from some part of the room I hear, “be less conspicuous?” And so confirmed becomes my belief, my self-fulfilling prophecy, that people notice me, laugh at me, talk about me. I walk out the door again. Across the porch, down the steps, to the road and walk to the left, the right, one end, the other.

Out comes Tori. Tall, bright, nearly buzzed white hair, dressed in white, flowing inside and out, she hugs me. And I do so adore her. Always have. And miss her. Always do. She senses the discomfort even as I melt. She tells me how good it is to see me. She takes my hand, leads me around, introduces me to people, tells them she knows me much longer than she does. I don’t argue. “Want to take a walk to the pond? We have a dock that goes out into it.”

We walk down the road, onto the narrow, single file, wooden dock. In the water baby gators swim by.

“I swim in there,” Tori tells me and a few other people who have followed us, met on the way, or were already there. “I just listen to my instincts.”

It’s time to go back to the house. Time to eat. Back up the lane, inside. Tori walks to the table, gathers people around, points to the dishes and tells us what is what, what’s in it, who brought it. Time for a blessing and we all gather in a large circle squashed by the walls. Someone is missing. Tori’s mom. I’ll get her, says someone and leaves the room. A few moments later, her mom, thin and white, sitting in a chair, is slid into the room, chair legs across the tile floor.

The last time I saw her mom she spoke. The last time I saw her mom, she walked. Last time I saw her mom… I want to go over and say hello. She smiles. People talk to her. I can’t. My lack. It has not been long since my mother died and it feels like that. Far too much like that. Far too soon. And immediately I feel badly for my inability to communicate with her, my desire to distance, the feeling, if I walk over, I will begin to cry and see my mother, again, cold, dry, dead. My last image of her and I can’t do that now.

It is my lack. But I choose to be kind to myself. As kind as I can be while still dishing self-reproach.

The blessing begins. Tori leads it, blessing the food, our gathering, that we have come together to share this meal, this love, this precious time together and our reaching out to one another in union, in expansiveness, in joy. That we all move toward the one and the one moves within us all, each a ripple or wave in a single expansive sea.

And we eat. I wait, as always, not wanting to be seen eating, that someone might say, “he’s fat but he’s eating?” knowing, as I do, I am the only one who begrudges me food. But I wait, regardless, until the line is down, ’til seconds have been had, ’til cleanup has commenced, ’til most are busy talking, or laughing, or walking in the warm night.

I grab a plate and find the food is gone. This was my hope, of course. My son tried to get me to eat. I told him I would. But if the food is gone, what’s to be done?

There is half a slice of bread left, made by Tori, spelt and seeds and dense and delicious. There is a handful of cucumbers and a few fork-fulls of salad. I eat. Beside me is a conversation about massage therapy and sore legs. One woman has shin pain and wants to know how to stretch to alleviate it. It is a chance to help and I apologize, ask if I might make a suggestion, and, with leave, do. She is a massage therapist, not a student as I thought, and I think they might believe me to be egoistic. But it is information she did not have and seems happy for it. And I back out off the conversation before I have worn thin my welcome.

I bring my plate into the kitchen and, among three other people, wash my dish. Then other dishes on the counter, then gather other things to wash, happy to have a chore – doing something that allows me to face away from others and with no expectation of socializing. When there are no more dishes to wash, I walk outside. The kids are sitting on a set of steps.

Jessica is feeling uncomfortable. Her stomach hurts. She feels somewhat nauseous. Part of me wants her to want to leave and I will, of course, concede. part of me wants her to come in. We’ve come this far, why not go all the way? Tori comes over, crouches, speaks with her, assures her no one will ask her to do anything she feels unable to. She agrees to come in and give it a try. I am heartened. I am undone. My mind, my will, divided, opposed to itself, gets what it does and does not want.

Then, we are called back into the living-room and asked to take seats upon the floor. There are pillows. I refuse one, knowing, within ten minutes, my legs will be asleep. People push in, Tori askes we get closer. “Smush. Smush.” My son to my right, Jessica beside him. To my left, a young lady who’s name I do not know. I do not know anyone’s name save my son, Jessica, Kat and Tori. She wears a green dress and sits on a pillow. Everyone has a pillow and she leans forward and grabs one of the few remaining, piled in the middle of the room, and insists I take it. She has a Spanish accent, South American. Argentina, I am nearly sure. I refuse the pillow. I refuse the kindness.

“Smush Smush.” We do, I am pressed against Alek and he sits tightly. I try not to impose on his space. Ms. Argentina is pressed against me and I try to move to give her room, but there is no where to go. She sits cross legged and lets her legs fall to the sides, her right leg resting on my lap. I thank her for the excellent suggestion of the pillow, taking it from behind her and popping it under me. Newly elevated as I am, her leg still drapes over mine, resting on my thigh. I have no choice but to melt and breath.

Tori lays a sheepskin down in front of the fireplace and sits. “This (drawing a large circle in the air) is Islam. This (drawing a large circle slightly intersecting the other) is Sufism. This little space where they come together is Islamic Sufism but the rest of this circle is Sufism too. A long time ago, Mohamed welcomed the mystics, persecuted elsewhere, into his protection. Everyone was welcomed. Muslims, Jews, all the mystics. And they sat on sheepskins, or ‘sufs.’ So they were called Sufis.”

Zikr. It means to remember, to praise, to celebrate, to devote. It is movement and a spiritual state. It is to occupy ones body and mind, simultaneously, with the act of devotion so there is no space, no thing within that is not involved in devotion, not filled with celebration, not engaged in remembering, not suffused with love. The entire being becomes a celebration of all that is within and without and, soon, cannot tell one from the other. All things are divine and nothing is not the ground of creation. Zikr. Dhikr. Daven. Sway, rock, recite, repeat, praise, sing, move, move move.

She speaks about recognizing each other. Sufi’s, those on the path, mystics, though not all alike, recognize each other, as she recognizes us tonight.

There is further, but brief, explanation. Some chants will be in Aramaic, some in other languages, but all will be translated and all are here to bring us toward the one, toward unity, to ecstasy, out of our bodies and out of our minds to expansion past our skin-encapsulated egos, and into the ocean of being. We will be soaked, drenched in the one. We shall be drowned, encompassed without, filled within, by the love of all that is.

“Allah hu. Hu Allah.” A name of the one and the universal sound, a breath. We chant. I was taught a similar chant by Rabbi Isenberg, now the Chairman of the Department of Religion at the University of Florida. We would breath, chanting fast, bowing our heads. ” Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil / Adonai Eloheinu / Adonai echad.” Three bows each time, one for each part. Fast, faster, breathless. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour. Shaya would gather the Jews of a mystical bent and the Muslims of a mystical bent and have evenings he called “Jufi Dancing” to prayers and songs and chants. The Dances of Universal Peace. On Sundays, often, we’d play soccer, the Jews against the Muslims, no one keeping score. A name for oneness is a name for oneness.

Yet, I have trouble as the chant takes hold around the circle. First I sing not at all, then quietly, barely moving my lips. Then, as time passes, the chant starts singing itself and I feel no choice.

Words have meaning, rhythm and sound. Their power comes from the vibration of these three. But we don’t need to understand the words. Sometimes the words are lost. Sometimes we can’t pronounce them. The rhythm and sound are all that is needed as these impart their own meaning.

A rabbi taught me , if I don’t know the words, hum. There is power in the tune, in the rhythm and sound. Some chants come and go. Some, though, have power in their tunes, power in their sounds. They last. “Allah Hu.”

So I sing. And Tori begins to twirl. She spins and spins and spins in the little space there is within the circle. She bends down and grabs someone’s hands and they spin together. She lets go and that person grabs someone’s hand and they spin. We chant, we breath, they spin. With each choosing of a new partner, I wish simultaneously to be chosen and overlooked. We sing we sing we sing, they whirl, they whirl, they whirl. Faster and faster and then, as though by cue, we slow and breath and slow and slow and stop.

We had all pulled our legs in, to make more room, to not get our feet spun upon, and Ms. Argentina and I are now rather nestled into each other. And it is time for the next chant.

We count off into ones and two. Hold hands. Ones turn to the left first, then right. Twos to the opposite. Say “I don’t exist.” Turn. “You exist.” Turn. “I don’t exist.” Turn. “You exist.” Again. Again. Look in the eyes. Repeat. Again and again Ms. Argentina and I look into each others’ eyes, tell each other “I don’t exist.” Alek and Jessica are doing the same. Alternately, I turn to Alek, tell him “You exist.” Back to Ms. Argentina. “I don’t exist.” People are snickering, some laughing, some looking down, some follow through, more and more, look around, smile, radiate, expand, glow.

We rise and learn a song. Umbay alahay alahay alaho / Umbay alahay alahay alaho / (Rise an octave.) Umbay alahay alahay alaho / (Drop and octave.) Umbay alahay alaho. We sing. We sing. The circle breaks and the beginning of the line moves, sways, walks, dances. We become a snake, moving, swaying walking, around the house, into the kitchen, out the back door, into the yard, singing, walking, spiraling, singing, singing, faster, slower, louder, softer, tight, loose, drawn, compressed, expanded, pulling, pushing, singing singing singing. Passing eyes, looking, gazing, singing, the line doubles on itself, we face each other, it spirals again, we face away, it folds, circles, folds. We coil, coil, sound in our ears, singing all around and after an unknown time, we are all spiraled into a singing coil, tight, tight against each other, side by side, front and back, singing, pressing, pressing. Warmth and sound and naught else.

There is nothing to do but sing and melt. I cannot tell where I end and the next person begins. How long have I been holding Ms. Argentina’s hand? Alek’s hand? I am pressed between them, against the person in front of me, the person behind me. Briefly, ever so, I take inventory. What is there? Sound. But so much is missing. Anxiety. Worry. Boundaries. Me.

We quiet. Sing in a whisper. Slowly uncoil. Sit on the warm Earth. Come back inside. Sit again.

We are quiet. It is time for a story. Tori starts it. We each add a bit then pass it on. I am two thirds of the way around and it falls in and out of continuity, the story of a lonely woman of the distant past. A woman who lives in the desert and wishes to see the ocean. My turn comes and I do my best to return the story to the realm from which it came, to address the original question, get the woman to the ocean and away from caves and talking cats and speeding cars and back to her home and time and desert and to help her find her ocean.

The person before Tori has his turn. “I don’t have to finish it, do I?”

“No,” she says, “I wouldn’t do that to anyone.”

He takes his turn. So does Tori. But the story is undone.

“Adam,” She asks. “Would you finish the story?”

I guess I’m not anyone. I am surprised. It is a compliment, I know. And I take it gladly, finishing the story with the breath of the divine lifting the woman and her carpet to the clouds, to the sea. Everyone blows. Everyone blows. Our breath together is the divine breath. Our wish together is the divine wish. And together her wish is fulfilled. Together, may all our wishes be fulfilled.

Tori looks across the room, smiles, puts her hands together in front of her heart, shakes her head yes, says “I love that man.”

And, yes, I believe it’s true. And, right now, so do I.

 

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Adventures in Service Doggery

The first time we went to put the service vest on Dusty, she backed up. I was on my knees, following her as she backed into a wall. That’s when I slipped it over her head and fastened its blue airy mesh loosely under her belly with the Velcro strap. She walked tentatively around the block. For week she did this, walking with the vest unsure, as though something was wrong.

Then we took her out, to a store. We went food shopping. Into the car she went, jumping in as though she thought the vest would inhibit her ability to make it from the ground to the seat. Once in, she was happy. Does this vest mean car trips? Indeed so.

She was in heaven walking into the grocery store, stayed by my side, wagged the entire time. People asked if they could pet her. Of course. She’ll let you. Many people simply gave us a wide aisle to walk. No need, but I didn’t argue. Kids yelled “doggy” and adults remarked “how beautiful.”

After that, we never had trouble getting a vest on her again. Not that she needs one. All she really needs is my service dog say-so. But the vest is the accepted symbol in this culture. She also has a tag on her collar stating she is a service dog, with the appropriate law and corresponding numbers. I have a card in my wallet but I have never had to use it for her.

One Sunday we walked to a nearby church fair. Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, whirlybirds. Games, food and many other things I had no intention of taking any advantage of. I just thought it would be a good walk for her. Cops came by, asked if they could pet her. Children patted her.

One gentleman left the game he was running to come over to us – a set-up designed to make it seem easy to knock down a pyramid of bottles, placed there for the sole purpose of giving you the easiest task in the world just so they could say you did something, anything, to deserve the stuffed animal they so very much wanted to give you. It didn’t look like they were running out of prizes anytime soon. He tried to get me to play.

“No thank you.”

He knelt down in front of my dog, nearly nose to nose. “Is he blind?”

Who goes nose to nose with a dog they don’t know? Who talks into a strange dog’s face? What else could I say? “No, you moron, the dog can see perfectly well.”

We took my daughter’s dog to New York. She had left her with us while she moved and got settled in. We took a plane up so we could drive her now unused car back.

As a working dog, she was able to come on the plane with us. At twenty-five pounds, she didn’t take up much space and sat on the floor against the bulkhead. Good doggy!

The plane went from Melbourne, Florida to Atlanta and then, with an hour layover, to Newark. We were told Delta had a greenpatch for dogs, this not being the first service or working dog they’d had on a plane.

We disembarked. We asked at the gate for the greenpatch. No one knew where it was.
They called for someone to come get us. Apparently it was a security risk to tell us where it was and let us go ourselves. But the person coming for us knew. Just be patient.

One call. Two calls. We pace. We walk. Time to get back on the plane. Someone comes, apologizes, and hands us napkins.

“I’m so sorry we weren’t able to get you to the greenpatch. I don’t know what went wrong. But here are some napkins in case she has an accident so you’ll be able to clean it up.”

I let Lee handle this one. “First of all, this is cruel. You and Delta are being cruel to this animal who has behaved as well as anyone could want. Two, that would not be nearly enough napkins, I’m sure. Since she has been holding it since six this morning and it’s now noon and we won’t be landing again until two-thirty. Three, you can be sure, if she goes, it won’t be an accident. And you can be doubly sure it won’t us cleaning it up.” Back on the plane. Poor doggy.

Once we landed, Lee got the luggage and I raced the pooch outside and she saw the first plant since we left the house. She raced for it. I timed her. One minute and twenty seconds worth. What a pup!

In the meantime, Lee had procured a shuttle from Newark to New York to drop us to meet Sef at NYIT.

Seven people and a driver, us and the dog. The driver wants to know where the dog’s cage is.

“No cage. She’s a service dog. They knew that when we got the tickets. No cage on the plane and no cage now. Service dogs don’t have cages. They wouldn’t be of any use in a cage, now would they?”

“Well, he can’t get in the van without a cage.”

“According to US law, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, she goes where I go. And as long as she behaves, no one can deny access.” I showed him the tag and the card I was carrying that described the rights of the working dog and his or her owner/handler.

“Well, according to Super Shuttle law, she needs to be in a cage or she isn’t going.”

“You know, there was a time when someone would have said I don’t care what US law says, people who look like you still can’t ride in the front of this bus and you sure as hell can’t drive it.”

That did it. He just stared at me while seven people waited. “Well, if it’s ok with them,” and he pointed to the other passengers.

“It doesn’t have to be ok with them. You are going to lose this one no matter what. But ask any way if it makes you feel better.”

An old Scots lady said instantly, “Of course it’s ok. Shall we just go?” Others said similar. We were loaded, on our way and, of course, no problems with our pup at all. Everyone said good bye to her. But no one much spoke to the driver. When we departed, the last passengers, at Columbus Circle, I tipped him. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Today I took Dusty to the grocery store. Nothing much appealed to us at home and Lee wanted a sub. We walked there, walked in and waited at the deli counter. And waited.

Dusty sat by my legs, as she always does when we wait. People comment on her, as they always do. My turn was soon to come. After this, I’d walk with her to the pet aisle and let her pick out a treat.

Along came a man, impossibly tall, wearing a stocking cap that reached high enough over his head that I have no real idea how tall he really was. He could have had a cone under there. He could have been hiding three stacked rolls of toilet paper under there.

Beneath that, he had a face full of beard and a tattoo high on his left cheek. A shiny white t-shirt over a pot belly and black shorts with a white strip reaching mid-calf. Stolen, I imagine, from a middle school marching band. Up his leg ran tattoo flames. Down his arm ran the same.

Then came a shopping cart with two infants and his wife/sister/friend. “Doggy. Doggy” She asked if the children could pet my dog. Certainly. Yes.

One child walked over, cookie in hand, and gingerly started to pet Dusty. The impossibly tall idiot bent down behind the child. Now, I do not say he was an idiot for his mode of dress, hat, height or tattoos. But for the fact that, the moment the child touched my dog, the idiot barked in the boy’s ear as loudly as I think he could muster. In front of the deli counter.

The child jumped back, dropped the cookie. My dog jumped back, pressing herself against my leg. The impossibly tall idiot picked up the cookie and began eating it. The wife/sister/friend hit the impossibly tall idiot on the arm. “What did you do that for?”

“I wanted some of the cookie.”

“Why didn’t you just ask for it?”

“I don’t know.”

She asked again if the children could pet the dog.

“I think it’s best they do so they don’t stay traumatized. You can too. But I don’t think she’ll let him pet her,” I said, tilting my head towards the impossibly tall idiot.

On the way home, walking through the grass, I noticed her leash had somehow come off her collar and was dragging behind me. No difference. She was right by my side. A very good dog.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Culture, Social, Travel

 

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The Harmony of Broken Glass

A million years ago, I used to own a bookstore. The community had asked for it and even put up much of the money. In return, they’d receive a return on their investments when the store turned a profit and would have a local store that carried the things they wanted. All Lee and I did was to quit our jobs, invest our time and money and pour our hearts and souls into it. They gave us a list of the sorts of things they wanted, we stocked them and they pointed their browsers at Amazon to buy the books and drove to Wal-Mart to buy the candles and soon we were out of business and they could not quite figure out why.

We were in Gainesville, Florida, at the end of Sixth Street, where it met 441 at an acute angle just past the north-side of town. Our building was an old gas station built in 1906. It had the original brick foundation holding up the original cedar beams holding up the original pine tongue and groove floors holding up the original pine tongue and groove walls in which were held the original windows. Nearly one hundred years old the entire building was and it creaked and groaned and loved every step made inside.

The building had two main rooms. The front, the salesroom, was twenty by twenty and windows all around except for the front door on the south wall perpendicular to the street, and the door leading to the second room, right in the middle of the west wall with a large pane of glass, door to wall, on either side. The second room, twenty by forty, was solid wall on the north and east. Separated by glass from the front room and, on the south side, made of century old wood, plaster and glass. Mostly glass.

The windows were high and wide with broad sills. In the second room, three of them stretched from the front to the back. As one looked to the lower edges of any of the windows, as one looked to the grass below through the bottom of the pane, the world stretched, became bulbous, swirly. If you put your hand on the glass, you could feel it thicken as one got closer to the sill. Thin at top and thick at the bottom. Old poured glass windows – a super viscous liquid that slowly, over nearly one hundred years, poured towards its own bottom. Kids would love to sit there and stare though the bottom and watch the world wiggle, fatten, and wave. So did I.

This was the room we used for classes and workshops. Around its perimeter, it held rugs and t-shirts, dresses and scarves as well as other textiles, folded on tables, hung from frames, and tacked to the walls. So large, it was, we never had to move anything much for a workshop or fair.

We had bands too, and we’d serve coffee. We’d be open until eleven and many of the coffee drinkers would not purchase anything, so we figured the coffee would pay for the electric that evening, at the least. The coffee was in the small kitchen area off the large room and it was self serve as we were neither set up nor licensed for food service.

At first it was by donation. When we found the donation can with little money but filling fast with empty sugar packets and gum wrappers, we decided the honor system wasn’t working and charged a dollar for the cup. Not the coffee. Just the cup. All our mugs went behind the front counter. Folks could ask for one, pay their buck and drink all night if they wanted. On an average night we should have made thirty to fifty bucks from the folks who, otherwise, would not have spent a cent. Folks who came in and bought books and such, we’d happily hand a cup to. Everyone gets to do their share.

It wasn’t long before I started seeing people walking around with coffee in vessels I had never seen before. Little ones. Big ones, Even stainless steel thermoses and double-size travel cups. I’d ask for the buck for the night’s coffee and they’d show me their one quart mason jar, telling me they had brought it from home so no need to hand any cash over to me. I suggested, along with the cup, next time they should bring their own coffee, too. Late nights at the bookstore ended soon after that.

But the workshops continued. Authors, therapists, artists. Booktalks, dances, songfests. I taught a few myself, on occasion.

I had, over the few years prior, been doing a workshop on chants from the Kabala. I had been doing them, recently, at the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, at churches as far away as Greensboro, North Carolina, in the forests of Ohio and even in a hot tubs. So why not do one at my own store?

The night was set and we had a very nice turnout of over thirty people. Someone volunteered to watch the register and I set to work. Three rules only. These rules, along with the chants themselves, were taught to me by Rabbi Shelly Isenberg who was the Chair of the University of Florida Department of Religion. They seemed to work for him and they work for me.

Three rules. Everyone stands who is able to stand. I’m tired is not a reason for not standing. We always lose a few at this one. People walk out in a huff because they aren’t going to be able to sit and chant. No full breaths from a full body while sitting curled in a chair. Everyone singing. No gawkers. We always lose a few more at that. When I tell them we’ll be chanting for an hour or so, still more leave. I tell them it won’t feel like an hour. That they will wonder where the time went but people want fast, instant results and they want them easy. They want to slouch in a chair and attain enlightenment from watching other people sing for five minutes. Good luck.

The last rule is everyone comes to the center. I set up four chairs in the middle of what will be our circle and, at some point, each person comes to the center to sit and have the rest of us sing around them, letting them feel the sound, the vibration, the harmony. I often have a person help me make sure everyone gets their chance. I joke that I call her my shill. I tell them, at some point, I’ll be going to the center as well and, please, please, they should not stop chanting just because I have. Always people laugh at this. The twenty or so people who remained did exactly that – laughed. The group had been culled and we were ready to start.

The chants are short and simple. We learned the first one by listening to me say it once, then the group repeating after me. Then saying it with me. Then I sing it on my own and we sing it once together. That’s it. No lengthy process. Nothing written on paper until the end of the workshop. The first time I taught this I passed out the chants, with their translations, on paper before we started. Then, with the chants written down, people read them over and over instead of singing, looking at the paper the entire time.

People worried about losing the words. They always do. Don’t worry, I tell them. There is power in the tune itself. Hum, tone, sing dai de dai like we have all heard rabbis do. The tunes have lasted a thousand years. Two thousand years. There is power in the sound. Never worry about the words.

We sang our first chant, all in our circle, four times. It was practice, it was invocation, it was lovely.

Hineyni / osah (oseh) et atzmi / Merkavah l’Sh’kinah / Merkavah l’Sh’kinah

Hineni is “here I am.” Oseh (Osah for the guys in the group) et atzmi is “I make myself become.” Sh’kinah is, literally, the Presence, but a distinctly feminine manifestation of the divine presence, so “Goddess” is a good translation. But not a particular Goddess and definitely not, however, the word for small-g goddesses. That’s what Craig R. Smith told me, at least. And I believe him.

Here’s how Shelly translated it: Here I am! / I make myself / A chariot for the Goddess. I like that. That’s how I translated it then. That’s how I translate it now.

We learned the next chant.

Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. That simple. I sing it once through before telling them what it means. Please / Strong One, Oh Please / Heal The World (all)(Nature) Please.

Here is what Craig R. Smith says about it.

Ana and na’ both mean “please,” loosely. It’s somewhere between begging and pleading and a demand, so it’s closer to “oh please, NOW!” El means strong one. It’s the same root as other strong words. For example, the word “ayil” is a ram (strong one of the flock), “ayal” is a stag (strong one of the forest) and “eyal” is strength. R’fa is heal. Tradition teaches prayer need not be lengthy or elaborate. This is the earliest known Jewish prayer for healing, uttered by Moses as a petition on behalf of his sister, Miriam: “El na, refa na lah, God, please heal her, please.” ‘Lah’ is ‘her’ and the Kabalists say this is to be expanded to all nature.

*****

It is done four times, steady, rising, steady, falling, then starts over again, again, again, again, again. Ten minutes, twenty minutes. An hour. Voices rise and fall. Voices high and low. Melding, separating, harmonizing, combining into overtones no single voice creates. A circle of sound as, one by one, two by two, people come to the center, sit, vibrate throughout, breathe, heal. And all the while, a sound around it all, a tone at once over the overtone and under the lowest voice. It permeates and surrounds and whence it comes we’ve no idea.

An hour. An hour and a quarter. An hour and a half and the chant slows, quiets, takes longer breaths, then ends all at once as if by a cue, unheard and unseen. Silence.

What did you experience? I saw the colour blue everywhere. I could not stop singing. It was not my voice. I felt waves. I was connected. My body sang as I stood. I felt calm. Calm. No time passed.

Water passes around. Some sit, some pace. Some wonder what the sound was, that sound over the sound, that sound under the sound.

I walk to the far window, the window toward the back, for some space. To look out, to look down and see the grass wave through the thick glass and notice something new. Powder. Flakes. Chips on the wood sill. The caulking around the window is loose. The window, vibrating in the frame has loosed the old glazing. The window, vibrating in the frame, sang.

We gather again to say goodbye. A short chant only, easy to learn and in English. We make two lines facing each other, close to each other, holding hands with the person to my right, holding hands with the person to my left, close enough to hug the person I am facing, each line joining hands at each end. We are a circle pressed to a double line. We look into each other’s eyes and chant, then move to the right, look into another set of eyes, sing, move to the right.

Come let us light up our hearts.
Come let us light up our homes.
Breathe in,
And breath out
Making circles of love.
Oh, come, let us light up the world.

Move to the right, look into those eyes, sing, move, look, sing. Her eyes, his eyes, my eyes.

Full circle. No one ends. We go round again. All is quiet. All is done.

*****

The next day we came to the store a little before nine in the morning to discover the phone wasn’t working. In the very back of the building was a large room, concrete floored, with a separate entrance. It appeared to be a machine shop from the old gas station days and one could not get to it from the inside. I walked there now, through the front room, through the large workshop area, past the small office in the back we rented to a fledgling acupuncturist, out the back door and around to the right. I knocked on the door. This was the landlord’s office.

Michael Rose owned the building and the house next door. Actually, it was one property with two buildings. He also owned a new age store not far from us. On top of these ventures, he was the U.S. importer for Blue Pearl Incense. When he was in town he was a good landlord and a more than decent person. Usually, however, he was out of town. Often at an ashram in Sarasota or India or who knows. Today was unusual and he was in his office. But his phone was not working either. Together we walked around the building to look at the lines.

It was a calm summer. There was no storm the night before. And so we were quite surprised to see, before we ever got to the phone lines, a thick black wire hanging from the tall utility pole a few feet from our building lying slack from the roof.

The wires were intact leading to the house on the property, parallel to our store, so Michael knocked on the door to use their phone. The line from their roof was still attached to the poll. It was not long before a gentleman from the phone company arrived.

It didn’t take him long to fix it though he had to run a new, longer line. That seemed a bit strange. Why not just attach the old one? Would making it longer keep it from breaking?

When I asked, with Michael looking up at the new line, the repairman just shook his head. He said the building had shifted nearly two inches and that had put enough strain on the line to pull it off. How it shifted, he’d no idea. He’d seen this after floods or, more rarely, large storms. Our area is not known for tremors and, if there had been one, certainly there’d been more lines pulled off than just ours.

He left. Michael shook his head. Tall, heavyset, usually smiling, he stared concerned up at the roof. I told him I thought I might know what happened and asked if he would come inside and look at a window.

I lead him to it and he immediately saw the flaked glazing and the powder on the sill.

“We had a chant workshop last night. We wondered what the buzzing was.”

He breathed in heavily and out again, aiming at the window sill and blowing the powder into the air. He was more than familiar with chanting, with sound and with vibration. He also had been invited to participate. But, still I had not expected him to actually be happy.

But happy he was. His eyes squinted and his smile grew wide and he laughed.

“Fantastic. I wonder what other damage you guys did. Other than moving the building. Can you break it?” Can you break the window?”

“I have no idea. Why would I?”

“Do it. Break the window next time. I’ll replace it. It’ll be worth it if you can do it. I want to see.”

And so the next workshop was set but this time we called everyone we knew who would be the slightest bit interested. When they hesitated, I’d tell them the goal.

No, no charge. Just show up. Show up and sing.

Never underestimate the power of promised destruction. People came just for the opportunity to sing a window broken. People brought people. Small folk and thin folk with voices high and piercing. Big folk and squat folk with voices booming and deep.

More than forty people were there, in that room. We were not crowded and had space between us as we stood in one large oval. Four chairs were set in the middle. We were going to do this right.

Dusk came. Held in the air, a red thread could not be told from a blue one and so it was deemed night and we sang our invocation. It was livelier than usual but the invocation quieted the spirits and settled the energy.

Then, on to the chant. Many had been to the last workshop and knew the chant but we taught it from scratch. Why not? It doesn’t take long and I wanted everyone to get as much out of this workshop as possible. If we didn’t break a window, we should still all leave with something we learned and a story to tell.

Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. Ana / El na’/ R’fa na lah. Down low. Ascending. Up high. Descending. Down low. Ascending. Up high. Descending. Voices mixed, changed, created other voices. Forty felt like fifty, like eighty, sounded like a hundred. The space felt vast, the room felt small, people walked to the center, vibrated visibly, found harmonies. The pictures on the walls clattered. The hum was evident. Obvious. It was loud and came in waves, different this time. Higher, oscillating, changing. Was it one of the windows? Was it one of the two large panes of glass separating the rooms? Was it something else? No matter, we continued and continued and the sound gloried in its being sung.

Time past unnoticed, the ineffable cue was felt and we slowed, quieted, stopped. We sang our last chant, each looking into the eyes of the person across in a double serpentine bent at the walls. Again, it was quiet.

So quiet. We just stood there. No one wanting to talk. I asked no one to tell what they saw, felt, heard. I asked no one to share their experience. The silence told the story.

No one rushed to the windows.

But after a while I walked to the front window to look out and see the moon rising. I looked up to see it over the trees, bright and beautiful. I stood, staring through the window.

And what was this? In the high left corner, small small, a crack. Visible if one looked but nothing terribly noticeable. Still, a crack. We had done it. We broke the window. Not shattered, not busted, but broken nonetheless. In the end, I’m glad it was small. The perfect result in all ways. We did what we set out to do but the window could stay, as it had, for nearly a century. We could still see the grass wave, convoluted, from the thickened bottom. The glass, as originally placed, would continue on. Of that, too, I was glad.

Because, if you get very close, if you listen very carefully and very near, on a quiet quiet day, you can hear the recorded hundred years – the rumbling cars and trucks, shoes on raised wood floors, thunder and pelting rain, laughter, the harmony in the broken glass.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on November 20, 2009 in Gainesville, philosophy, Religion

 

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Appledance

I can’t remember having waited in a line this long. And certainly not holding this much. Not in DC waiting to get into the Capitol. Not in New York City waiting to get to the top of the Empire State Building. Not at the DMV. Maybe at Disney World, but I was twelve and that was Thanksgiving weekend. I haven’t been back since.

I am holding five bags containing a total of three pecks of apples while balancing a spaghetti squash and three jars of elderberry preserves. Lee is holding her purse. That seems fair.

Homestead Farms is crowded. With hayrides out to pick your own pumpkins from the fields, stands for freshly made caramel apples, squashes of various kinds still happily on the vines, and trees full of apples – Rome, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Stayman, and who knows what else. Now the apples are picked-clean but the pumpkins are still out there and the lines are crazylong with kids sticky, wheelbarrows full and parents camera-laden. Summer is full of berries, but fall is all pumpkins and apples.

I walk to a window. The sign above it says it’s for hayrides. I poke my head in front of the lengthy mass.

“How do I pick apples?

“All picked-out.”

“Just walk in?”

The gal behind the window, underneath the goat overpass, looks to be sixteen, maybe, and happy to be where she is. She repeats herself a bit more slowly as I might be hard of hearing or, perhaps, a moron, “The apples are all picked-out.”

“What if I pout and make sad eyes?” I draw a line with my left index finger from the outside corner of my left eye, down my cheek.

“Then you will be sad and still have no apples.”

“Good point, but can I go look anyway? I bet there will be at least one apple out there for me. Things are just like that.”

She smiles. “You might be right. Just for you.” And she points the way. No need to wait.

We walk between the barns and weighing stations to the orchards, find it empty of people, walk the rows, smell the fermenting applefall under the trees. Among the Fujis, at one of the trees, I reach my hand in, drawn deep inside. There is an apple for me. Just one. Huge. Monstrous. Forgotten. I pick it. It is red, perfect, without blemish.

As we walk between the rows of trees, the air is cool, the fall hues have set into the leaves coloring the trees and the ground, and I have a fresh apple in my hand, sweet and all mine.

I take a bite. It is hard to do. The apple is so large I can’t open my mouth wide enough, my teeth can’t get a purchase on it. It’s like biting a flat surface and proof my mouth is smaller than people tell me. As I eat the apple, small bit by small bit, feeling, chewing, my chin, my cheeks, my nose become apple-sticky from continued attempts to bite the sweet red crisp fruit. I am pulled in by gravity as much as taste and texture. I dance as I walk with my face buried within the globe. It is all I can taste. All I can smell. All I can see. I am consumed.

Lee, instead of dancing with me, is just watching and smiling. She doesn’t have an apple so she can’t have an appledance.

Though she certainly did dance with me the night before.

We’re in a partyroom, behind the skyboxes, at FedEx Field in DC. The event is the becoming a bar mitzvah of Matthew Gloger, son of my Sweetie’s cousin, Fran Gloger and her husband Mark. A beautifully well-done affair, comfortable and low-key, set in Matthew’s favorite place. First there was the tour of the stadium and the locker-rooms. I had never been in a stadium before, had never even sat to watch even a moment of a football game, let alone explored a stadium, played in its skyboxes, infiltrated its innards, walked its field. This is where the Redskins play, whoever they are. And this is where the entire population of the city in which I live could sit to watch them do so. After a walk on the field, there is dining and the dancing.

The dancefloor is twenty by thirty or so. Set up in the middle of the long hall, wall to wall, it separates the room in two. Against one wall are a DJ and a large white translucent screen with colored lights behind it. On the floor are two hired dancers – a tall black fellow and a short white gal – to make sure everyone is comfortable and to lead the partiers in line-dances and Thriller dances and whatever dances were popular then or now. Adults seem to congregate on one side of the dancefloor and kids on the other.

Much of the music is selected for a thirteen-year-old and his crowd. Music Matthew and his friends like. That makes sense. After all, it is his day. But through the night there often are slow dances or music of an age or type that calls the parents, who then flood to the dancefloor. Adults flood in from the dinner tables and skyboxes, kids flood out to the kid’s buffet and party-rooms, kids flood in, parents flood out, waves and waves until that rare moment when the music is right and waves flow in from both directions, flood to the floor and dance.

Lee and I dance to as much as we can and each slow song that is played. I dance with Lee, her cousins dance with us, her aunts dance with us, her mother dances with us. As long as I have known Lee’s mother, this is the first time I have seen her dance. Not that dancing with her is strange, though it is, but there is more to it. There seems, in that dancing, an acceptance of my presence I have not felt in the past.

Before one dance, as the music starts, I step aside to wave her through the crowd and onto the dancefloor ahead of me, a normal display of deference and manners.

She keeps her place in line. “No, you go ahead. You’ve been part of this family long enough.”

Is this acceptance? It seems so. It has been only a week since Lee’s father came to the same realization – that I am permanent. Our eighteen year old son, Alek, and twenty-four year old daughter, Sef, isn’t proof enough. Twenty-five years married to his daughter isn’t proof enough. What is? An electric bass and Elie Wiesel.

It is a week earlier and Lee’s mother and father are visiting. Her father, Lou, is taking a look at some of the minor changes we’ve made in the house over the past few months. He looks into my office. A computer desk, a laptop, couch, meditation cushion, bass, dulcimer, uke and amps.

“Is that Alek’s bass?”

“Nope. Mine.”

“Yours?”

Then, seeing the walls of books, he asks me something about “Night” by Elie Wiesel. He had just heard of it and is intrigued. He wants to know if I have read it. I have, and I hand him one of my copies.

“You have this?” One would think the answer was obvious, me just having handed it to him.

“Sure. And a letter from him on the wall. We had written to each other a few years ago.” I walked him over to it and he spent a moment reading. “Sef saw him in Washington but I have the letters. I think we’re each a little envious of the other.”

“Elie Wiesel sent you a letter?”

Again, one would think the answer was obvious. As he reads, as the evening progresses, it becomes equally obvious that, after nearly thirty years of knowing me, of dinners, holidays and occasions, he has just now, just today, at the age of eighty-two, decided he has a son-in law and not an interloper. Lee shakes her head. “He could have had that son-in-law the entire time.” True. True.

And so, as part of the family, I enter the dancefloor ahead of my mother-in-law.

There is Bob on the dancing with his daughter, Emma. Bob Phillips is married to Cheryl Levin, one of Lee’s cousins. Both are artists. She works in stone and finishes and interiors soft and hard, in mosaic and mural. He is a blacksmith who creates fences and gates that give one the impression one has shrunken to the size of an ant and is looking up at blades of grass with an occasional dragonfly having decided to alight and rest lightly. You expect it all to wave slowly in the next breeze. He manages this with wrought iron. Butterflies you would expect to float on the air but are the size of VW Beetles and made or iron. Doors, chandeliers and nearly anything else you’d want, Bob can render in organic perfection so one cannot tell where nature ends and art begins.

Years ago, on a visit to his studio in the Fishtown neighbourhood of Philly, when his thirteen-year-old Emma was five, he made and presented to me, three feet long, five inches wide, a question mark. He could not have known, during my earlier college years, the faculty and staff of Miami Dade Community College, where I was teaching, had presented me with a construction paper question mark and “The Order of the Grand Enigma” during an awards function my final year on faculty. And here was a second question mark to go along with it. Bob has been one of my favorite people since.

How many times have I met her cousins, her aunts and uncles, so much more friendly than mine, so much more accepting, so much more family, but I never was able to accept myself as part of that family, no matter how much they accepted me. Not until this trip. Not until last night.

We’re in the bar at the Marriott, sitting with Lee’s cousins. Her cousin Fran is not there, of course, since she is making last minute preparations for the festivities the next day, but Harriet, Cheryl, Robin and Jack are, along with their spouses, Rick, Bob, David and Lori. Everyone wants to hear how everyone is doing. This includes, to my shock, me. How am I’m doing? I mentioned the book coming out next year and the trial of finding an illustrator for “Bud the Spud.” I mentioned the book currently being worked on, the reprints and reissues, and the success of the practice, how much I enjoy managing it and how happy I am as a massage therapist and how it brought about my delightful extremely-early retirement from teaching.

Robin says she had no doubts and recalls a foot massage I gave her nearly twenty years ago as still the best one she has had yet. Harriet, in a simultaneous conversation I was not fully listening to, mentions a photograph I took of her daughter, Tedra, now finishing college. The picture, taken of her as a baby, is still their favorite, the one that captured Tedra. The one that shows best who she was and the essence that still is. I had been liked and respected and thought of fondly and I had not known. Or not allowed myself to realize it. I filtered it out.

And so I am grateful to learn this, to see them all here, to dance with them, to be part of this family. And I am glad to see Bob, on the dancefloor, with his Emma. He is dressed more comfortably than I, though I have removed my coat and tie, as have nearly all the men. We have removed enough garments to end up in the state of dress Bob started in, except he has on much more comfortable shoes. I make a note that I must give my shoes away before the next occasion. Emma is in a dress she made herself. All fruit – the top a print of raspberries, the middle strawberries, the short skirt blackberries. The shoes, Converse, are black and white. It was a formal function, after all.

The next dance is one for all the ages and I grab Sef’s hand.

“I’ve never seen Mom dance.” I can’t believe that, somehow.

“You’ve seen me dance.”

“Contra and English Country Dance. But I’ve never seen you dance without specific steps. You’re really bad at it.”

Lee butts in. “Everybody is. Just dance and don’t worry about it.”

A few years ago she would. Maybe a few years from now she will. But right now, at twenty-four, she won’t. She can’t. What she can do is still be embarrassed by her parents. It is an unsettled age when one may be more comfortable with oneself but one still cannot quite grasp aging, that one becomes more and more like one’s parents. Sef can certainly dance but dancing with me reminds her there are things she cannot do, things she isn’t as good at as she’d like. Perhaps.

And so she dances not quite with us, not quite apart from us. She dances with Lee’s sister, Fran, who dances no differently than Lee but is neither her mother nor father.

The song ends.

I walk over to Bob. “You guys are so cute. Dance with her while you can. She won’t be dancing with you long.”

“That’s what I figured. Maybe another year or two, God willing. Then, who knows?

We talk about our daughters, passing time, fazes and fads. People join and leave the conversation, Lee’s aunts, her cousins, Sef, Lee. Another song comes and we dance. Dinner comes. Dinner ends. We dance.

The next day we are at Fran’s house for brunch. A large comfortable home in Potomac. The gathered are mostly family. We nosh on eggs, lox, bagels, fruit. We talk. Sit in the back yard in the cool October air. Sit inside at the kitchen table.

Sef had left early that morning, taking a cab before seven to the Metro, the Metro to DC and an Amtrak to New York City. Then another train an hour and a half north to Beacon. She calls to say she arrived. It is a few minutes after one.

“Your mother isn’t budging.”

“Leave her alone. She never gets to see her cousins. She’s happy.”

“Oh, trust me. I wouldn’t say a thing. We’ll leave whenever she decides to or when she discovers the time.”

“Good.”

Of course, Sef doesn’t have to drive from Maryland to Central Florida.

But looking at Lee, she is happy. She glows. The entire time here she glows and from this happiness I will not move her.

Our plan was to get to Fran’s about eleven and stay for two or three hours. To leave by one or two, drive until seven or eight. That would put us in South Carolina and leave us an easy day’s driving tomorrow. It is now after three. The crowd has thinned. It is now after four. People have left for airports, for drives to Philly and New Jersey. It is now after five. Only a few of the cousins are left and we all sit in the kitchen. Lee talks about how much she likes the area, how much she misses the North, how we plan to become bi-locational, someday, somehow.

Some understand. Some don’t. But it’s cold. But it’s crowded. Who would not like Florida?

Fran mentions the time over iced tea and apple slices. Suggests that, as much as she loves having us, we have a long drive. Or we could at least leave early enough to go do something on the way we can’t do at home. Why not pick apples?

Pick apples? Well, yes! Lee loves the idea. So do I. Fran looks up the address for us. She goes there with her kids to pick berries, apples, pumpkins, squash. It is close by. I look at the time, say nothing.

We say our good-byes. This takes about half an hour while Fran reminds Lee that daylight will end sooner than she thinks.

As we drive, the parks are full of people playing. The sidewalks are full of people walking. Late on a Sunday evening and people are out being social, being active, being a community.

Turn by turn, we arrive at Pooleville, follow the signs and pull into Homestead Farms. It might take a while to find a parking space. But that’s ok. There are apples in my future.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2009 in Culture, Family, Religion, Social, Travel

 

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Nor’easter, Part 3: Goodbye Monks, Hello Dalai

Nor’easter: Being a Whirlwind Snowy Trip to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City or How Van Gogh and a Herd of Alpacas helped Lee get her Groove Back.

Second day: Morning. Goodbye Monks, Hello Dalai.

We rise a bit before seven and the first thing I do is look out the window to see the cars, pavement, roofs, covered in snow. I noticed, last night, the car had an ice scraper in the trunk. We may well use it soon.

We shower and pick out the day’s dress. Long johns for Lee under a shirt. Special thin long johns under her dungarees. For me, a long sleeve charcoal long john shirt with buttons, looks like a jersey, and generic long johns under my dungarees. Each of us has a leather jacket. We wanted our longer coats but there is only so much we could take on a plane. Slowly, surely, car travel seems much more the luxury than travel by plane. The luxury of time. The luxury of space.

We dress, all the while marveling, as we do when we travel, at the TV. Not so much the TV, of course, but the regional differences that can still be found in the programming. Different accents, different emphasis on different stories, more of one type of commercial than another. Local flavor can still be seen, though it is often subtle.

Of course, one of the big differences is not just due to the area but the area at this time of year. The weather reports suggest several inches of snow. There are ski commercials, farm commercials and commercials for various animal-related fairs as well. No idleness during the winter months.

We eat breakfast. Apples. Bananas. We know Rachel will be here at eight and we don’t want to be late. Today, we are hers for wherever she wishes us to be. And the first place to be is outside at eight.

And so we are. Gloved. Scarved. Hatted. I have leather gloves, a newsboy hat with a brim just big enough to keep the bright sun out of my eyes and a cashmere scarf I never get a chance to wear. Lee has gloves we just purchased for her, Thinsulate within, leather without, and a stocking cap. I tried to find her better gear, and find I did. But the interest was lacking. At least I managed to get her into a pair of hiking boots.

Standing in the lobby of the Eastonian, we see a car pull up. It parks, driver window open. It’s Rachel. Window open. Open. This is not starting out well.

Out we go to meet her. Her window is broken and will not roll up. Ok, we could have met her at her house. No problem. She tells us she’s used to it. She is dressed in a T-shirt and sweat shirt. Last report was it was 22 degrees. Lee tries to give her another sweat shirt for under it but, no thanks. Rachel says she is fine. Neither one of us believes her.

We walk over to our car. It is covered with a fine powdery snow. I open a door and nearly all of the powder falls to the pavement. We get in, Rachel pulling up the seat to sit in the back, and closing the driver’s door, shakes the remaining powder from the front and back windows. Lee does not want to drive but can’t sit in the back. She never can for more than a very short distance. Rachel is sure she can direct us from the back seat. Off we go. Where to turn? What is that? What does that mean? A new town and I am a kid – curious and fascinated.

The first stop is actually in New Jersey – The Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Howell, Washington County. It should be but a half hour away. It is listed as a monastery and welcomes visitors. According to the website, it is the home away from home, at least in the Northeast, of the Dalai Lama and it is where he does the bulk of his teaching in the US. There is a stupa there I have wanted to see and this snowy day is my opportunity.

But first, we must go through downtown Easton. This won’t take long and I drive slowly, even considering there is ice on the road. The buildings seem odd and it is a few moments before I realize it is simply because they are old. Old. Not in ill-repair. Not at all. But not modern. They have character and a scale more human than I have often seen. We drive by Lafayette College and it is quite a sight. Beautiful, up on a hill in the center of downtown surrounded by trees that must provide needed and appreciated shade in the summer.

At the very center of the downtown area, as per design and practicality, by the grace of fortuitous geography, on one side of the town square, where the Bushkill flows, is the old Crayola factory. Long moved to the outside of town and having significantly cleaned up its act, folks here used to be able to tell what color crayon was being made that day by the color of the Bushkill. Now the old factory building is called Two Rivers Landing. The Crayola Factory, a museum and activity center based on the much-loved company and product, takes up the bottom two floors. On the top floor of the three story building is the National Canals Museum.

The Northeast has the bulk of the navigable waterways in North America. Not the biggest rivers, perhaps, but the most, often the deepest, and easiest to get a ship down. Or, if not a ship, a boat or barge. Goods moved from place to place by water more than most people think. And, when there was no river, a canal could be built. The best known of these is the Erie Canal in New York, but there are many important canals and many still in use. This area long depended on the Lehigh, Delaware, and Morris Canals and the Lehigh and Delaware Canals meet right here in Easton. The Bushkill behind us, two canals within walking distance and the Delaware River but a mile away.

It is the Delaware we are headed toward now. On the way I notice there appear to be many more chiropractors’ offices and tattoo parlors than most places I have been. Any place I have been, actually. Often next to each other. Getting a tattoo must be more rough than I thought.

As we come over a hill, in sight are the Delaware and two bridges less than three blocks from each other. Also in sight, over the Delaware, is Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Rachel has me take the closest bridge, called the old bridge. “Is that its name?” No. I had asked about that the night before as well when first seeing the two bridges. The old bridge to Phillipsburg and the new bridge to Phillipsburg. No one I asked, and I asked quite a few at Tick Tock, knew the name of the other bridge or why there was a new one. And the new bridge cost seventy-five cents to cross leaving people to routinely shun it for the old bridge which crosses the Delaware just as well as the new one.

How can no one know the names of these bridges? There is really the excellent reason for this. The names are horrid. Not exactly names to trip off the tongue or lodge in one’s memory. The old bridge is The Easton-Phillipsburg Toll Bridge and is part of US 22. It does have a toll, it turns out, but only coming into Pennsylvania from New Jersey. The other bridge is The Northampton Street Toll Supported Bridge and it has tolls both directions. It should be noted the new bridge was damaged by Hurricane Diane in 1955 and later repaired so even the new bridge is not exactly new. Still, it is easy to see why the spans are called the New Bridge and Old Bridge.

Just before we get to the bridge there is a steep bank to the south and then to the east again with a rough rock wall to the south as the road circles around Lafayette College and cuts through the solid rock which rises on the sides of us as we sink to river-level. Roads cut through the land are common in this part of the country. They are called roadcuts, as a matter of fact, and are often studied by geologists, who let the roads folk do the work and then come in to study the strata uncovered and material left over. You can even find them in cities such as this one in Easton and right in the middle of Philadelphia. It is not strange at all to see rock walls on either side of the road, and amazingly close stones jutting out as though one sneeze at the wrong moment, one twitch of the hand, will leave a driver without a passenger-side mirror or a passenger side all together.

The rock wall, as we approach the bridge, drops suddenly just as the road curves, just when you think you might hit the jagged granite and slate, there is nothing but drop. Nothing but air and treetops as the land falls away.

“That’s called Cemetery Curve,” Rachel tells us.

“Why? Is there a cemetery at the bottom?”

To my surprise, the answer is yes. There is a cemetery at the bottom of Cemetery Curve.

“Did they name it for the cemetery or did they put the cemetery there because that’s where all the bodies piled?”

“You know, I’m not sure. It was probably easier just to leave the bodies where they landed. Less hauling.”

I’m thinking we might not make it to New Jersey.

Finally, over the bridge, the geography changes instantly as the geology does. Granite and slate becomes dolomite and pegmatite, pinkish in color, and there is less roll to the hills, fewer rocks cropping up. The buildings, as well, are more composed of wood, more clapboard than stone. That we are in a different place is apparent. We continue to head out on US 22 though Phillipsburg to Howell. Among the bedding stores, the auto repairs, hardware stores, marts, offices, shops and restaurants, we pass a foodstand, an old gas station by the looks, white, wood. This is the sort of place one stands outside of and orders while the people inside make the food. The kind of place people congregate round during fair weather. This is not fair weather but I am no less intrigued by Toby’s Cup.

The cup in Toby’s Cup is not for soup or coffee. The cup is a bun and this is a hot dog stand. Not a bun in the sense most people think of one. It is a steamed bun without opening at either end, forming a long cup, a trough, for the hot dog and a slice of pickle, sauerkraut, onions and various other condiments to be loaded into. The hot dog is not broiled, not boiled, not baked or steamed – it is deep fried in peanut oil until it screams and splits. A Splitter it’s called, not surprisingly. I saw this on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations special show on New Jersey and decided, if I found one, I’d try it for sure. Once. Just once. I would stop for one now, regardless of the early hour, if Toby’s was just open. Once. Just once.

As we drive, Rachel points to the north at a gap, a wedge cut in the mountains. Wind Gap. Wind Gap is where the Delaware used to flow, she tells us, dividing the mountains for millions of years millions of years ago until acted upon in a manner so startling and violent, the flow shifted miles away to the present location, now called Water Gap for clear enough reason.

But this is not correct, alas. This is an area where the North American and African continental plates meet. Many streams once flowed from the north to the south through this area. One by one, the streams eroded wider and wider beds through the soft lime leaving the harder rock, sandstones and conglomerates, much less eroded and formed these old, now rolling, mountains, part of the ancient, even by mountain standards, Appalachian chain. The widening creeks and rivers, one by one, found the crack, the cleft that divided the plates, and the rivers were “captured.” Over time, more and more rivers joined them, eroded the crack to a bed to a cleft to a gap.

As it is now, Water Gap is a mile wide from New Jersey’s Mount Tammany at 1,527 feet to Pennsylvania’s Mount Minsi at 1,463 feet. The Gap is about 1,200 feet deep from the tops of these mountains to the surface of the Delaware which, itself, is, at this point, 290 feet above sea level and fifty five feet deep.

And Wind Gap was and is for wind.

After a while we come to the monastery road – a sharp, sudden left turn on a snowy steep hill, and pass it hearing “there it was” from Rachel. Another quarter mile and we find a safe place to turn around and slowly make the right onto the road, winding up and up, my wife wincing at the drops and occasional small skids, past farms and stables and homes and then, on the left, Tibetan prayer flags. We turn in.

There are two buildings. One looks like a large home, in the back of the property. Perhaps in the back. There may be more land, much more land, behind it but I cannot tell. To the right is a large hall. At least it looks to be a single large open room, with a wrap-around porch atop stairs atop a hill.

But this is all dwarfed by the stupa, high, round and white in the middle of the icy field. It is the first thing we see as we enter the gate and it dominates the scene. We park in front of the hall in the gravel spot large enough for only half dozen cars.

It takes us a few moments to gather our warm things and, in the meantime, Lee notices, out loud, this place appears to be empty. We leave the car and carefully walk to the one hundred foot or so gravel path to the hall steps. In the distance, the door to the distant house opens, closes loudly echoed on the ice and down the stairs, across the field, a short, many-layered lady approaches, calling to us. She introduced herself as Diana Cutler. Later I would find her to be one of the first American students of the center and the one to whom administrative duties were passed when the monks, when the monastery, moved to New Brunswick and the Center, called Labsum Shedrub Ling – simply, The Learning Center, was gifted to the Dalai Lama.

In thick sweater and coat, jeans and hiking boots, Diana has crampons under her soles. “We don’t get visitors here in the winter.” She can’t say that anymore. She worries about us falling on the icy gravel and asks us to walk on the side where it meets with the dead grass. There are no monks here, she tells us. And she is headed into town to see her acupuncturist. But she has a little time and we can see the study hall and learning center. We walk carefully where she instructs us and hold the railing up the wooden stairs. The double colonial doors are not locked and she bids us leave our shoes outside and we enter.

Fifty by thirty feet, I am guessing. Doors to the left and the right. Meditation cushions stacked against the wall through which we just passed. In front of us, a large alter spans the center half of the wall we are facing. Next to it, on the left and the right, from altar to wall, are bookcases. It is cold in here. There is no heat. There is no provision for heat.

The altar has flowers, statues, candles, pictures, iconography, tankas, incense stacked in tall cans, all in a profusion of color and texture and the closer we get the more interesting, the more fascinating, the more diverse and complex it becomes. There are tiny household statues of stone and pewter. Small necklaces and strands of malas sent to spend time on the altar. Coins cover much of the surfaces that, from further away, seem empty. Much of the color and texture comes from cans of food, boxes of cookies, toiletries. Much of the altar is composed of mundane household items and, along with the statues and candles, it all fits, it is all beautiful and serene and holy. The canned peas are holy. The toilet paper is holy. The toothpaste is holy. The cookies are holy cookies. The razors holy razors. Sacred are the Ritz crackers. Sacred is the cheese. Holy is the mundane. We back up again and it all blends and all is holy.

I sink to my knees, prostrate, allow my forehead to touch the floor once, twice, thrice. I walk up, take incense, light it. Offer it. I leave a few dollars in a box. I fold myself again, to the floor, on my knees and sit. I am quiet.

Lee asks Diane where the monks have gone. Gone they are and gone they have been for quite some time. Once it was home to Tibetan Monks and Mongolian monks in a culture that was mixed so both would feel at home. Then Americans started to enter as well. Americans like Diane and her husband Joshua. Now everyone is gone but them. Gone. Gone by death. Gone by attrition. New monks heading to the cities to be engaged in the compassionate work of the world, easing suffering with hands as well as hearts, to work as well as meditate. Only Joshua and Diane Cutler remain. And, in 1984, the Dalai Lama asked the monastery in Howell, NJ to change the name to The Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center. Now, this is where the lessons are taught when the Dalai Lama is in the NE United States. But not in the winter. In the winter, it rests.

And so do the texts. They rest. The massive shelves hold them. A full third of the wall is covered by them with half one side of the altar and half on the other.

These texts are bound in cloth and are just under a foot long, three inches wide and about an inch thick for the smaller ones to four inches for the heftier tombs. Each has a flap on one end of a specific color. It’s the color that tells the reader the language from which the text is derived, and the further information on the flap tells the title and contents. One holds them or, more traditionally, places them on a small slanted stand, with the long axis from hand to hand, and flips the pages up. Tibetan is read from left to right. These are the books Richard Gere has been spending so much on translating and digitizing. These and others like them from other collections are being saved and translated, made available and read more widely than ever. Perhaps not better understood, but certainly read.

And there are hundreds here, at least. They are stacked long-axis-in on the shelves, which are arranged, further, into cubbies. Six to twenty-four books, stacked three to six high, are in each cubby and there are four to seven cubbies per shelf on seven shelves set atop a set of cabinets and reaching within a foot of the ceiling. They are organized by color. These are the sutras and commentary.

On the bookcase to the left are the sutras, all one hundred and eight, in red. Above them, to the top of the case are the Indian commentaries in blue. Those continue to the next bookcase and, then, above those are the books in yellow – the Tibetan commentary on the Indian commentary.

Diane has to get to her appointment so we start to leave and I turn around for a final look. Once out the door, I see the prayer wheels, again. Each like the next like the one before, each a black cylinder bidding us to open like a lotus. Om Mane Padme Om. May I open like a lotus. I go to the first one on my right. I have never spun a prayer wheel before and, as I do, Diane calls to me. “Start on the other side and walk clockwise.”

I start again, on the left side of the front doors, spinning each, walking, allowing my hand to contact the bottom of each, spinning it as I walk, the next, the next. I turn the corner and continue and I can hear the wheels turn, behind me they slow, the next one start, several turning at once. Each one spinning a prayer again and again and again. Coins are left here and there and I dig into my pocket with my left hand and leave a quarter at the next corner before I turn, not missing a beat. The back of the building, wheel after wheel and another coin to leave at the corner before I turn and the other side of the hall and another coin and then the last half side and the door again. Lee is smiling. She knows I have long wanted to do this. And smiling, we walk down the stairs, carefully, on our non-spiked hiking shoes. Rachel in her sneakers. Diane walks confidently, we, slow and haltingly, carefully, where the iced grass meets the gravel. We thank her and Rachel and Lee go to the car.

The stupa sits large and imposing in the field. Not the tallest in North America. Not the widest or most ornate, but it is the one I am at. There is too much ice to go there but I do regardless, slowly, carefully, crunching and balancing the two hundred or so feet into the field. This stupa was dedicated in 1984 to the founder of Labsum Shedrub Ling, Venerable Geshe Wangyal (1901-1983). And I stand at its base for a short time knowing those behind me are cold. So I turn around and tread to the car.

Once in, we head back the way we came, down and around the mountain, slowly on the icy road, to the main road back to Easton. Tony’s Cup is still closed. Over the Delaware, Rachel gives us directions to her house. Her mother wants to take us to see the sights of Jim Thorpe and some surrounding areas. Not having any idea what she is talking about, we happily give in to a new adventure seeing things we’d never heard of. She has a minivan and will drive. An easy day for us.

Arriving at her house, the garage door is open. Dogs are barking and can be heard all over the quiet, snow-covered neighbourhood. We enter the house to wait for her mom who has taken a half day off work. It is loud with five barking dogs that never cease. It is musty with animal, fur, aroma of cage. Lee exits and waits outside in the cold.

She enters again asking for paper. The answering service called with a new appointment for a new client. We had put off getting an answering service because of the expense. This trip made it a necessity and, searching the Internet, found a local one in Melbourne. The cost is sixty dollars a month. Much less than we had anticipated and added one more example of our not taking advantage of something because of our assumption it would be expensive. Before the day of vacation was out, we’d have three new patients. All while enjoying the Poconos. One day and the service paid for itself nine times over. So much for saving money.

Mom arrives. After a few minutes of hellos and explaining why Lee could not stay in the house, after making sure Rachel was dressed more warmly, we are all into her van and off to see Jim Thorpe. The road is leading up and up while the snow begins to fall.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2009 in Culture, Family, Food, Nor’easter, Religion, Social

 

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Nor’easter, Part 2: Eat In or Pass Out


Nor’easter:
Being a Whirlwind Snowy Trip to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City or How Van Gogh and a Herd of Alpacas helped Lee get her Groove Back.

First day: Night. Eat in or Pass out.

After a finger-numbing walk around the car, making checkmarks where indicated, promising to bring the car back with the same amount of fuel it has now—just over three-eights of a tank and why on Earth don’t they just fill the tanks and then ask you to bring them back full—we settle into the car with a plunk as we allow gravity to seat us. Low car. Too low.

We get direction to Easton, but fifteen minutes away according to the girl at the car rental. We ask where to eat, as it is getting late, but she has the suggestions one might imagine for around an airport and not one fast-food joint was more appealing, or less appalling, than any other. She is sure we’ll fare better in Easton.

It is an easy drive. And, as we drive, it begins to snow. Lightly. Lightly. East to nearly the New Jersey border. The roads are good and we make amazing time even in the snow. At nearly eighty miles per hour we are being passed by cars whose inhabitants must be getting younger as they drive, whose speech, if only I could hear it, would sound slower to my ears, whose color shifted strongly to the red. People driving so fast they will have to reset their timepieces ahead when they get to their destination to match local time.

Lee is speaking to Rachel on the phone. Where to stay? If not for her two cats, five dogs, and various other animals, we could stay with her and her Mom. The Estonian is the suggestion. She gives us directions. We follow them and become, after getting off at the correct exit, lost. Instantly lost. While the next day we would see how easy it, in reality, was, in the snowy dark, it is anything but. Finally, after asking several people in parking lots, we are directed to The Estonian Suites. Suddenly, as we pull in, I understand and then, just as suddenly, no longer understand the hotel’s name. The folks here pronounce it East-onian. And, indeed, it is named for the city and is but a few blocks from Lafayette College. But it is spelled as though it is named for the country, Estonia. And, apparent only as we pull up, it is a Holiday Inn Express.

Within, it is empty save two people behind the desk. Past this person is a large reception area followed by a larger comfortable lounge. There is also a computer area with Internet and I make note in case I cannot find such in the room. The price is more than I am comfortable with, though, in truth, that is not hard to accomplish, but less than most places we have stayed.

It occurs to me, I have never seen a hotel lobby this empty. So empty, the idea comes to mind that I could easily break out into a Robot Dance right here and no one would notice. No one but Lee, it would seem, who apparently hears the thought and steps lightly on my foot adding just enough inertia to keep me where I am. I think of a waltz instead. She steps slightly harder.

Classes started last week, at Lafayette, the clerk explains to us. Last week, there was not a room to be had in the county. This week, hardly a room is full and we can have our pick. Non-smoking, top floor please.

Like the lobby and lounge, the hallways are lovely as well. The entire hotel is lovely and only the small sign outside under the hotel’s name would give it away as a Holiday Inn. It is clean, nearing elegant, beautifully decorated, large and with a staff than cannot think of enough wonderful things to do for their customers.

We are going up to our room. It is coming on eight o’clock.

Lee calls Rachel again. Where to eat? No worries. She’ll come over and guide us. We’ll have dinner together. She arrives about a half hour later, after we have cleaned up, put some clothes away, changed and we head out to see Rachel waving fro outside of a minivan. Rachel gets into the middle seat, as do I and Lee takes the front passenger seat. After Rachel introduces her to Mom, we head out.

What does Lee want to eat, Mom asks. A cheesesteak, of course. No problem. We’ll go to Giamanies. We ride some twisty-turnies and arrive to a closed deli. Closed at nearly nine on a Wednesday evening. No problem, We can go to The Widow’s Tavern.

It takes us ten minutes or so down roads I could never find my way back on, through neighbourhoods and past buildings I really would like to return to in daylight to explore before we find The Widow’s Tavern. This is not a new building.

It used to be a stage coach stop and an inn of quite little repute. Marvin, perhaps the innkeeper, had an affair with one of the “house ladies” and, later spurned, killed her and placed himself dangling sharply at the end of a rope. As the story continues, he is sighted now and then at the tavern, turning this, dropping that, peeking here and there.

We walk in, have a seat, ask for menus, are told no food is served after eight but we are free to drink, hand back the menus, exit the opposite door and get back into the minivan.

At no time did I see Marvin.

All the while, we are getting the special “it’s too dark to see it but that is the ____ and it was built in ____ and now it is a ____ tour.” Lee and Mom are talking about Alek, of course. I have met mom, but Lee has not, and they seem to be getting along well enough. Rachel and I are busy texting Alek and being, more or less, pains.

Lee wants to know if he is OK. Alek is seventeen, has Dusty the Dingo home with him, transportation and numbers of three people ready and happy to assist in any way he might find useful. Alek sums this up by texting me “Mom’s a pain.”

Lee calls him and asks if he’s OK. She does her mom thing. He does his son thing. The conversation ends.

Alek texts Rachel. “She is a crazy lady.” Rachel laughs and shows it to Lee.

Where to eat. Mom tells us the only place that is certainly open is Tic Toc. It’s the place all the kids go, all the adults go, everyone goes to, it is always open and always has decent food. It’s just rather run-of-the-mill. Fine. No problem. We arrive at Tic Toc about fifteen minutes later and are now two blocks from the Estonian.

Tic Toc is a large diner. New Jersey has, by all accounts, more diners than any other state. We are but a few blocks from the Delaware River and Jersey and, apparently, diners spread. And the Tic Toc is huge by any standards. By diner standards, it is a behemoth. Remember the old Sports Authority commercials? “Rhode Island. It’s a small state but would make a huge sporting goods store. That’s us. Sports Authority.” I have passed though towns smaller than Tic Toc.

We are seated amid the glorious smell of commingled eggs and coffee, toast and potatoes. We each have a menu. And what a menu it is. Five pages thick, front and back and, as always, whenever I am handed a too-large menu, I freeze up and become instantly un-hungry. Lee takes the menu from me, points to a page and says to just look at this one page and order from there. Excellent. She has removed the fried entrées, the sandwiches, the salads for which I am too hungry and the deserts.

I order hash browns covered with vegetables, two fried eggs, a bagel and, and . . . what is this? Pierogies? It has been years since I have seen them—once or twice in a box from the freezer section (Mrs. T’s barely qualify) and it has been ten years since I have made them myself. I order potato pierogies—too many for me—and ask Rachel if she will split them with me, which she happily does. Everyone else has what they want as well. The iced teas and waters arrive and we are set.

It is busy. Teens, adults, old folk, groups and clubs. Packed. And we are served as though we are the only folks here. The food is quite good for such common fare and the pierogies, large, ear-shaped, boiled and then, in this case, fried in butter quite like my grandmother would have done, are wonders. I have two and let the other two go to Rachel.

We make our plans for the morning as we eat. She is afraid we’ll get lost going to her house so she will come to the hotel and we can follow her back, where we’ll all continue on in the rental car. She’ll meet us at eight. Rachel has taken the day off from tending the alpacas and we’re happy to let her take us around as she likes. One day in and around Easton, in the Poconos, with Rachel as our guide. I have a feeling there is much more here than I had anticipated.

Now, well past ten, we are quite full and more than tired. We pay, despite Mom’s protest, let them drive us the two blocks as, in the dark, we do not want to chance the uphill walk on ice, and we hug good night.

Through the empty lobby and up to our room. It is comfortable, quiet. We use two binder clips, we always carry in the suitcase, to clip the curtains together to keep the light out. Lee has her computer open and we take turns looking up various bits of what-to-do-ness. There is the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, there is the Appalachian Trail, Delaware Water Gap. There is Lee’s hand closing the computer. She is, of course, right. It is time to go to sleep if anything is to be seen though open eyes. Especially if we are to be out by eight.

And I am, frankly, more than ready for sleep.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2009 in Culture, Food, Nor’easter, Social, Travel

 

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