Have I got a story for you!

photo by Heartlover1717

photo by Heartlover1717

A friend of mine came over for a glass a wine the other night and while she took her coat off at the front door, I noticed a creepy looking bug on the ceiling. She volunteered to “remove the bug” if I got her a step stool.

Our ceilings are kind of tall and even on the third step of the stool you have to reach on your tippy-toes to stand a chance at the ceiling.

“I hate heights,” my friend muttered under her breath. She was all pleats, like a paper dragon, hesitating to extend and a little wobbly to boot.

“Why didn’t you say that before, forget the bug!” I wanted to yank her down off the stool, but things were precarious already. Any sudden movements seemed ill-advised. “I didn’t know you were afraid of heights. What do you do when you go skiing?”

“I scream a lot.” She confessed.

“That reminds me of a trip I took to Vail a hundred years ago,” I said to my friend. It was a New Year’s Eve trip I took with my husband when we were engaged. “That was a crazy trip. Did I ever tell you that story? Hmm, I should blog about that story.”

As she backed her way down to solid ground, like it was the last steps off Mount Kilimanjaro, she perked up rather quickly and asked, “How can you possibly blog about something that happened a hundred years ago? You remember the details?”  

“Oh yeah. Of course I remember the details.”

I proceeded to tell her the story and she agreed it was a blog must. That skiing story to Vail prompted three unrelated flashbacks, which fractured into a handful of side anecdotes that fueld a bunch of digressions and a half dozen non-sequiturs, interrupted only by wide-open mouthed frantic silent uncontrollable howling convulsions.

The next morning, at my computer, I clicked onto my blog to write a new post−the story that I told my friend the night before. I lightly drummed the keyboard while the words would come to me−not really engaging any of the keys, as much as it was a little finger exercise to get the oxygen flowing from my hands to my brain and vice-versa.

Hmmm…I lifted my head to stretch my neck and to ponder what it was exactly I was going to blog about.

What the hell was it? What was the story? I crunched my brain cells and condensed my memory and strained for clarity. What was so funny, the thing we howled over, that story that I remembered all the details to? I racked my brains. I thought about how we sat in the kitchen talking about food and eating, and over-eating. Then we sat on the couch and talked about movies, what to see and who might win at the Oscars. Then we talked about work and art and what we wanted to be when we grew up. Hmm. Nothing. I couldn’t remember “the story.”

I texted my friend. “What was that story? The one I was going to blog about? The one I remembered all the details to?”

“Geez. Umm. I don’t know.” She texted.  “Was it about the kids? Like when they were young? I think it was about the kids when they were young. But, that’s all I got.”

Yes! It was about the kids. I always blog about them. They are very funny people. And even funnier when they were young. Hmm…what was it about them?

Maybe I could nudge my friend’s memory. I texted her back.

“We laughed. Remember? A lot. No-sound laughs. Remember? Remember the story now? We thought we were going to pee from laughing so hard, remember?”

“Yeah! No. I don’t remember.”

Darn. Then all of a sudden I remembered a post I wrote months ago on remembering stuff. The post was titled: Memory Retention for DIYers. It gave 19 tips on how to improve memory retention naturally. One of the tips was to retrace your steps. Literally. Like say you were walking through your house and halfway through the living room you thought about taking something out of the freezer to defrost for dinner but by the time you got to the kitchen you couldn’t remember what you wanted to do there. According to this tip, you should go back to the living room and retrace your steps.

What did I have to lose? Nothing. So I got up from my computer and I walked to my front door and opened it. Then I closed it and said, “Hi, don’t you look fabulous! I’ll hang up your coat.” As I waited for my invisible, imaginary friend to take her coat off, I looked up at the ceiling. Don’t ask me why I did. I don’t know. But as soon as I looked at the ceiling I remembered the bug, the step stool, my quivering scared-chicken of a friend cowering on the third step, her purported fear of heights, a question about skiing, her confession about screaming and, and my Vail trip!

About which I remember all the details.

But that’s another story.

Lead a man to directions, but don’t expect he’ll follow them.

photo by Caesararum

photo by Caesararum

The night of my son’s 14th birthday, he chose to have his celebration dinner at a restaurant in a town about 25 minutes from our house. Typically one would get there by taking the Garden State Parkway for about 10 minutes and exit onto a very busy 3 lane highway for the rest of the trip.

My husband agreed to this choice under one condition: we take the back roads. No parkways or highways. No shopping crowds or traffic lights. No Saturday night crazies. Back roads only.

“But the last time we tried that we got lost and you got irritated and dinner was, well, unpleasant,” I reminded.

“That was before the G.P.S.,” he said. “We’ve got the G.P.S. now. It’s gonna be different this time. Plus, I know these back roads. The G.P.S. will back me up.”

We climbed into the car with rumbling stomachs at about 6. Our reservation was for 6:30. I got behind the wheel as I usually do since I get car sick at the mere mention of a road trip. My husband quickly programmed the G.P.S., or Bev, as we refer to her, it.

Bev chimed in right away. But we really didn’t listen since we knew the way around our own town. My husband told me to drive to my daughter’s school and he would direct me from there.

Early on I had a hunch things would not go well when Bev and my husband spoke simultaneously. I found myself straining to hear what Bev said to see if she contradicted him.

“Don’t worry about her,” he said with a wave of his hand.

(Just a side note. If you were in our car, you’d think this funny, because the voice coming from our nav system is male, though we call her Bev. We actually switched the voice to a female voice for a while, which our G.P.S. allows us to do, but the directions she gave us were horrific. Like when she expected us to drive over train tracks or brought us to the edge of a pond. That’s when we switched the voice back to male and everything was fine. Good directions. It was clear that we got a nav system which identified female, though she’s a factory born male.)

Hubby said, “Just go to the end of this road. We need to go a little farther west before we head south.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Bev did not agree. “Recalculating,” she quickly chimed.

But I stuck to this road, nonetheless, winding through a residential area, dark already yet it wasn’t very late. There were no street lights, no house lights.

The car rattled and bumped causing me to slow to a crawl as I navigated a street whose black top was raked in preparation for repaving.

“Jeez,” hubby said. “This street wasn’t like this on Monday. Alright, let’s get off this street, turn left.”

I turned left.

“Recalculating.” She was now annoyed.

“Take this to the end,” said my husband.

The end came fast and brought us to a dark, one lane stone-covered bridge. It didn’t look like a bonafide street or feel like one either, as I sensed the surface beneath the tires shift to what felt like dirt. There were no cars in sight.

“Should I go through or turn around?” I asked.

“Go through,” he said with certainty.

Bev was not happy with that choice.

“Bev says to go the other way.”

“It’s alright,” implored my husband, “Go through. And hurry. A truck’s coming this way and only one of you will fit.”

“Recalculating.” Bev disagreed. Vehemently.

God, I hate it when they don’t agree.

I shot through the bridge like a shucked pea and tried to keep the peace between those two, bobbing and weaving her “recalculating” and his “don’t listen to her.”

Then, curiously, we drove for a long stretch during which neither of them spoke a word. Odd, I thought. We must be really, really lost. Thank god the kids knew better than to tell us how hungry they were.

After what felt like a couple of miles, Bev’s voice severed the silence.

“Drive one mile. To destination. On left.”

We all cheered.

My husband took out his phone. “I told you I’d get us there.”

“Yes, you did.” I said, sneaking a peek at the dashboard clock. “Who are you calling?”

“The restaurant. Gotta make sure they didn’t give away our table.”

The Carry-On Challenge: a new way to pack travel clothes

photo by Elliot Margolies

photo by Elliot Margolies

The last time I packed for a trip to Europe I was going to Italy to attend a writers conference in Positano. Traveling there from New Jersey would necessitate a flight to Rome and another to Naples, then a drive down the steep, winding, breathtaking roadways to Positano.

Before my trip, the very mention of the word Naples elicited quite a flurry of advice. “Oh dear, the crime,” “be careful of the pick pockets,” “say ciao to your luggage.” Under no circumstance should I check my luggage on a plane to Italy, I was told. They have the highest “lost” luggage rate in the world.

If I decided to heed this advice I’d have to pack a carry-on with two weeks’ worth of clothing, since after the weeklong conference, my family would meet me for a week of traveling.

I was up for the challenge. I laid my clothes on the bed to see how many outfits I could make with the least number of components. All my pieces worked beautifully together. Leggings worn on the plane could become pajamas if I was cold, or yoga wear or thrown under a tunic for dinner. A cosmetic bag could become a clutch purse. A mini dress could become a tunic to be paired with the pajamas−I mean, leggings!

I couldn’t believe I actually zipped that suitcase closed.

I sauntered up to the Alitalia counter to check in. A lovely Italian woman greeted me warmly and asked for my passport. She told me to place my suitcase on the scale.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m taking it on the plane. I’m not checking it–it’s a carry-on.”

Don’t they have the greatest accents?

“You stilla hava to weight it.”

Oh. Why would that be? Shouldn’t a carry-on be more about volume than weight?

Regardless, I did what she said and put it on the scale. I must admit it was difficult to heave up there. They really should build the scale into the floor so you don’t pull your back out.

The lovely lady with the accent said, “Signora, you have to check this suitcase. It is too-a heavy.” She reached for a luggage tag for me to fill out.

“No, no, I can’t.” My hand went up. “I have to take it with me.” Then I lowered my voice. “I’ve been advised not to check bags to Italy. No offense, but I can’t risk it getting ‘lost.’”

I shouldn’t have added the air quotes, in retrospect.

“Then-a you have to remove 4.5 kilos,” she said without her usual warmth.

4.5 kilos, well, that’s easy. I yanked at the suitcase and let it drop to the floor. I couldn’t believe we were quibbling about a mere 4.5 kilos. I pulled a few things out and put them in my tote bag (my one personal item). My dopp kit was first. That thing must’ve weighed at least 4.5 kilos, but just for good measure I grabbed my round brush too, with the solid wood handle, that had to amount to something. Then back on the scale.

I should point out that when I lifted it back onto the scale, I was not impressed by how light it had become. I smiled in spite of that.

She smiled back. Friends again! I understood her boundaries, she understood mine. Everything was buono!

“3.5 more kilos,” she said stone-faced.

What? How can that be? What’s that in pounds?”

“8 pounds.”

8 pounds! 8 pounds! I yanked the suitcase back and threw it on the floor. And by “threw” I mean “kicked.” For obvious reasons.

“You-a will have to move to the side now, senora.” She waved me off, so she could help the next passenger. She was moving on. Without me.

“Fine.” I went through the bag. I wish I could tell you it was the last time. But it wasn’t. She sent me back twice more. Okay! I don’t know how much the fat lady at the fair weighs either! The last time she sent me away with a big plastic bag, into which I could fit my tote bag and my dopp it, my round brush, my jewelry bag and two pairs of shoes. Ironic that this see-through bag was my new “personal” item.

When I finally worked it down to the acceptable weight I was wearing about 30% my clothes. I put a dress on over my “travel” outfit and over that, two sweaters. I cinched that gorgeous ensemble with two belts. I wore a scarf and a few necklaces, chunky bangles, and I switched into my boots. I took out my manuscript and carried it close to my chest−which wasn’t very close since my actual chest was four inches away.

I held my head high as I walked through security. I had to remember, at least all my pieces worked beautifully together.

I Never Lie About My Age, Intentionally

photo by patries71

photo by patries71

Once, for a whole year I claimed to be older than I was. A doctor’s receptionist corrected me. My “birthdate” and “age” didn’t match up.

It’s not that I have a strict policy about not lying; it’s just that I don’t think one’s age represents all that much so I don’t get too hyperbolic about it.

To celebrate my friend’s 50th birthday (hers, not mine; I’m not fifty) we planned to see a Broadway show. We would try to get discounted “rush” tickets which are offered occasionally by a few theaters, originally for students who were presumably on a limited budget. More select, are theaters which offer “general rush” tickets, available to the general public the day of the show.

We met at the Golden Theater for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The show would be closing soon and got rave reviews. My friend had arrived before me and attempted to buy tickets. Now she stood under the marquee, a look of defeat plastered on her face.

“They wouldn’t sell me the rush tickets,” she groaned. “I’m not under 35.”

“What?!?! Who ever heard of such a thing? Under 35?”

That’s a little random, no? A 34-year-old could get the cheap tickets but not a 39-year-old?

“It’s not general rush like we thought. It’s “youth rush,” she sniffled.

Youth rush?!?! What kind of ageist shenanigans were going on here?

I gave it a moment to sink in. Part of me was delighted to hear that someone in their 30’s was still considered a “youth.” We had a back-up plan in case the rush tickets were sold out, but they hadn’t sold out, had they? They were just not selling them to us.

I wasn’t leaving without a fight. (Not a real fight, I’m a bit of a chicken.)

I channeled my inner young person.

It took a little longer than expected.

Then a silent pep talk. I could pass for 35! After all it’s only a four year differential. I told my friend my plan. I was assertive. “We’re talking about four years for Pete’s sake, I’m not Betty White!” I thought this would cheer her up. I thought she’d get swept up in my enthusiasm, and my “no one’s gonna shut us out” spirit. She didn’t. Her brows knitted together and a look of deep concern washed over her.

What? What’s the problem?” I begged.

“It’s not just four years. You’re not 39,” she informed.

What? I did the math in my head. Dear Lord. She was right. I’m not 39. Not by a long shot. Holy cow, how long had it been, thinking I was 39? Jeez. That’s embarrassing. I quickly reviewed the film reel in my mind. When was the last time I told someone my age? Did they giggle?

Anyway, who cared. Time to move on and take action.

“Yes, you’re right,” I admitted. “I’m not 39. But I’m not leaving without those tickets.”

“You’re gonna lie?!?” She asked.

“No, I’m not going to lie. I’m simply going to point out that selling “youth rush” tickets is clearly biased and that the obsession with the youth of America is passé. And putting them on a pedestal has been frowned upon for years−I’ll show my frown lines to prove it!” I handed her my umbrella. “They’ll come around once they see it in those terms. You wait here.” I told her to stay put. Outside under the marquee.

I sauntered into the theater and up to the window. I asked, sweetly, for two rush tickets. The solemn lady behind the plexi-glass window looked at me stone-faced, with not a glimmer of kindness or even pity. She craned her neck forward to look at someone else. She said, “I told your friend already,” thrusting her chin at the person beside me, “they’re youth tickets. You have to be under thirty five.”

I looked to my right. I told her to wait outside!

I turned back to the staid lady with the frown. “Really!?!” I managed. The steam building inside me.

“And you need to show I.D. to prove it.” She added for good measure.

Oh really? I.D.! Bartend much! I yelled back at her inside my head. And another thing−you should try smiling once in a while; you might look less ancient yourself! I yelled that inside my head too.

We left the theater.

I don’t know what happened to the speech I planned. I couldn’t muster it. These people obviously missed the memo to stop over-indulging the youth. Disappointed, I looked at my friend and almost wished we were 35 again. But then I grabbed ahold of myself. Everything would be different if we were 35. I wasn’t so sure I wanted that. For one thing, my friend and I wouldn’t have even known each other−we hadn’t met until we were both older than that−and she was the best friend anyone could ever have.

There was one thing I was certain of. There was no way I’d trade in her friendship to be 35 again, not in a million years.

Mostly because, in a million years I’d be turning 50, and I’m definitely gonna need her for that.

P.S. The show was amazing!

I told you I wasn’t leaving without those tickets.