Monday, September 1, 2014

Secret Sandbox

"I'm convinced most people do not grow up. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. We carry the accumulation of years in our bodies, and our on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias."  —Maya Angelou

I am often struck by how little changed I am inside from the child I was, the 11-year-old in that picture up top, the 25-year-old who panicked at the realization that people would now think I was a grown up; the 29-year-old standing at the altar with a secret sense that the world was a vast sandbox, and how lucky I was to have a play buddy; the 34-year-old becoming a mother for the first time, incredulous that the people at the hospital actually planned to send this delicate newborn home with me, as if I had any clue at all about what I was doing. I still feel, even now, as I'm just stumbling along. I'm keenly aware of my financial responsibilities, and I manage somehow to slip under the wire every time. I got paid for an editing job last week. Our co-op maintenance was due, and so was rent for our daughter's college housing. I paid both with that check, and when I was done I had $1.98 left. I will probably get another check next week. It will be the exact amount, to the dollar, that I have to send to the college for my daughter's health insurance. My husband also takes care of his bills and commitments, usually with nothing left over. And yet we keep on keeping on. We are either very charmed or skating on the proverbial edge. I'm going with charmed. Play buddies in the sandbox inventing the game as we go.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fall Friday

I took myself to breakfast at Tom's this morning, the diner made famous by Seinfeld. I sat outside and ate my eggs and edited my manuscript and watched the returning students and their parents wander by, the parents with that particular mix of joyful pride and bewildered sorrow on their faces as they prepare to let their baby birds fly. The morning is crisp and blue and the neighborhood is once again buzzing with college kids after the empty sidewalks of summer. Freshmen on group tours of the Columbia environs are blooming on every street corner, their faces eager and rapturous. It's hard not to call back how it felt when I was in their shoes, thirty-nine impossibly swift years ago now. It makes me smile even as it pricks me with nostalgia. Fall has arrived. It used to be my favorite season because I was always excited to return to school myself. It is a sweet melancholy to remember.

End of summer

Yesterday our boy went to work and then came home with three friends in tow, two English boys and one American. The American is often at our house and it's always nice to see him. The English boys, too, are agreeable young men, getting a taste of the good old U.S. of A. after spending summer by the lake as camp counselors and before they head back home. Also last night, one of our son's best friends, his high school and college track buddy Jourdan, celebrated turning 23 in our living room with the rest of the guys. My husband and I were right in the mix of six young men downing a tequila shot in honor of the birthday boy, who plans to get a new tat this weekend, which led to everyone showing off their tattoo art, some of it quite exquisite. I wondered briefly if I was a bad example of a mother, drinking tequila shots with these young men as they bared their torsos to display their body art. Then I decided I didn't care.

Jourdan brought over another friend, a boy he'd gone to college with at the same school where my daughter now goes. A very bright and thoughtful kid. We had an impassioned discussion about whether Jay-Z should be doing more with his millions to help alleviate the inequities in society, and this kid made some compelling points, backing them up with examples from Jay-Z's lyrics and his life, and opining that when Harry Belafonte called the rapper out about being socially irresponsible, he'd had a point. (I'd missed the whole Harry Belafonte-Jay-Z kerfuffle, but hey, now I'm up to speed.) The kid went on to observe that racism is mostly covert these days, embedded in institutions and in the unconscious attitudes of most of us. Aside from the very conscious and deliberate vitriol that comes at our president on a daily basis, I think he's mostly right.

That cop who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri probably wasn't aware of the tapes playing out at a subconscious level that this Black youth was dangerous, even though he was unarmed. The kid had his hands in the air and was shouting, "I don't have a gun! Stop shooting!" Despite subsequent efforts to criminalize him, Michael Brown was somebody's child who was walking home to his grandma's house and was to start college in two days.

And the cops who shot 22-year-old John Crawford in the Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart because he was holding a BB gun that he'd taken from the store shelf, probably didn't consciously process that this Black man was just a shopper like any other. John Crawford cried out, "It's a toy! It's a toy!" as they pumped bullets into him. I'm pretty sure all the cops saw as they squeezed the trigger was the scary construct of Black men that they carry around in their unconscious and now this construct was holding a gun shaped implement and so boom! boom! boom!

But I digress. The evening was a lot more lighthearted than all that. And even though four of the six boys in our living room were young Black men who need to be always conscious of how they move through the world, somehow we managed to engage in the discussion as an intellectual exercise and keep the mood festive. I think if we really took in the full extent of this summer's tragedies, we might implode. Self-preservation is an instinct.

Our son and his friends are all going off for a two-day concert somewhere in Pennsylvania this weekend. My husband and I will be unsupervised and we plan to kick up our heels and belatedly celebrate our anniversary.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back-to-school transitions

I always miss my girl so much when she first goes back to school. She's living in a house with four roommates this year, one of whom is a friend since first grade. Their mothers are very amused because we remember when these two told us one year that when they grew up they would live together. And now they do. The house is huge. And it's not nearly as run down as most of the student housing in town. In fact the kitchen is renovated, and there's a sweet porch swing, so they lucked out for sure. The parents of one of the other roommates were understandably upset that the interior wasn't painted between tenants, but when my daughter told me earlier that the landlord had said they could paint their rooms however they wished, I knew that meant he wasn't planning to paint indoors. My girl did exchange numerous pleasantly persistent emails with the landlord last semester to get him to paint the previously crumbling exterior, and she was successful. Life lesson no. 1. The exterior looks pretty darn good now.

The way my missing the girl is manifesting this time is that I wish so hard that I could be there to help her set up her room, which of course is ridiculous. It's her room, she's 20 years old and entirely capable of knowing how she wants it and making it so. She painted an accent wall a Caribbean blue, and her roommate from freshman year came over to help. She has since hung fairy lights and pictures of friends and family as a headboard, which she says makes her happy. She has lots of storage. In fact her closet goes on forever, wrapping around under the stairs to the attic. It's kind of spooky actually, but she got stick-up lightbulbs to put in there and illuminate everything. She's opted for a serene white and blue decor with pops of pastels and red. She did send me a hint of how it's going in the photo below. Classes started yesterday, however, and she's already very busy, so I don't know when I'll see the finished product. I'm kind of liking the lived-in chic of the room so far, though I'm tempted to send a pair of pillowcases.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Helicopter parents thrill to the new

We are just back from our weekend upstate where we helped install our girl in her off campus housing for the new school year. I am lining up all my ducks this morning and once they're back in a nice OCD row I'll be around to visit and catch up on everything I missed.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from the absolutely wonderful bed and breakfast where we stayed in Ithaca. It's the Argos Inn, a renovated historic mansion with beautiful artistic finishes. It's has a sort of minimalist old world decor—I know, that's a contradiction in terms, but somehow it works. The statement pieces, from the original art on the walls, to the blown glass chandelier in the entrance hall, to the reupholstered Louis XV chairs to the custom crafted zinc-top bar, are timeless. And the staff was just first-rate, especially the woman who checked us in, whose name was Dana. She made our anniversary drinks in the bar extra special just by the easy-going warmth of her manner. The bar is like some well-heeled but very hip person's elegant living room in the family mansion, and cocktail-sipping patrons spill into the sun room or onto the back terrace with its wrought iron railings as graceful as a master painter's brush strokes.

On our 28th anniversary on Saturday, after helping our girl get her things from storage and cleaning her room to my satisfaction, we did some preliminary shopping with her roommates, dressed for dinner with her bf's family, then came back to the Argos Inn and cozied up on a settee in the bar. We took in the scene as we sampled the signature drink, the famous Bagpipe Mariachi—a little too medicinal-tasting for my palate, but I was definitely feeling gently floaty after a few sips. I switched to almond-clove champagne for the second drink and, for my love, the age of sail aficionado, a glass of absinthe, once banned because it was thought to be a hallucinogenic. Don't laugh—we felt so cool and adventurous! Which is a wonderful way to feel when you've been married 28 years and you're ferrying your youngest back to college.

The experience was all about the details: My husband happily jingled the antique-looking keys in his hand as we walked up the impeccably restored stairs to our room at the end of the evening. He commented, "There's something so nice about the feel of a real key rather than a plastic card." Other details we loved: The heated bluestone slab floors in the bathroom with its tumbled-marble walls, the romantic rain shower, the blow dryer tucked in a tapestried pouch and hung next to the basin, the exposed 200-year-old red brick fireplace facing the bed, the black velvet curtains, the Venetian plaster, the abundant outlets perfectly situated for recharging phones and Kindles, the antique armoire, the simple brass bedside tables, none of it overdone, all of it just right.

I should mention that our friend in this little blog community, Susan T. Landry of Pie and Run to the Roundhouse Nellie, is the mother of the architect, Benjamin Rosenblum, responsible for the energy design and sustainability of the property. He and his partners did a fantastic job with everything, visible and not. I'm indebted to Susan for letting us know about this lovely new boutique hotel in Ithaca (they opened last November). We will definitely be staying there again.


Friday, August 22, 2014

28 years ago

The photo was taken at the 50th anniversary celebration of Life magazine, held at Radio City Music Hall in the fall of 1986. My husband and I were newlyweds, not even one month married, and the young lady with us was one of my chief cohorts at the magazine. As reporters together, we shared some wild times. I completely adored her, and she was on hand to witness my meeting and falling in love with the man I would eventually marry. She moved back to her home state of California the year after this photo was taken, so the near constant party that was our lives back then came to a natural end. But this photo, which my husband unearthed last evening, has always been one of my favorites. It shows the friendship among the three of us and the giddy-in-love newlywed wonder between my husband and me. And doesn't he look dashing in his tux? It is the same one he got married in.

Tomorrow, on our 28th anniversary of marriage, we'll be taking our daughter back up to college for her junior year, helping her get set up in her off campus house, doing the supply runs and generally being parents as opposed to romantic partners. But we'll be staying in a new, elegantly renovated inn with artfully appointed rooms, and the trendiest bar in Ithaca is on the premises, which according to the reviewer means our shoes won't stick to the floor. It's a college town scene after all. In any case, we'll raise a glass and toast ourselves once the unpacking is done, and after a nice dinner with our daughter and perhaps also some of her friends.

We've agreed to postpone the real celebration of our 28th year of marriage till next weekend. This is the second time we've been moving a child back to school on our anniversary. Four years ago we were moving our son in for his sophomore year. We treated ourselves to a fancy hotel room that night, too. Happy anniversary when it comes, my love. I have the best adventures with you, even if all we're doing is ferrying our kids back to school.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I just love the picture

Plus I need something happy at the top of my blog after that last post. I'm also missing that impossibly blue sea I just left, and better to focus on bright and beautiful things this morning, when there is so much that is heavy and ugly in the world. This photo reminds me there are still corners such as this on the planet, with loved children safely at play.

Photo: Kevin S. Bourke


I'm having trouble writing about Ferguson and the death by cop of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man who was jaywalking. I am having trouble immersing myself in the details enough to write about them, because the whole thing is so distressing and commonplace that I can't even take it all in. At this moment, Ferguson, Missouri is burning, and journalists have been told at police gunpoint to stay behind a taped off area. There are tanks in the street and more people have been shot, at least one of them killed, and dogs and tear gas have been unleashed. The whole thing is a tinder box that has blown the fuck up.

I'm incensed that CNN reported this morning that Darren Wilson, the white cop who shot the black kid, is said to be "a good guy" by his friends, meanwhile the Ferguson police force is trying to paint the victim as a career criminal who might have reached across a grocery store counter and took something. The store video's not really clear and it's irrelevant anyway. The cop didn't know anything about that when he pumped six bullets into 18-year-old Michael Brown, two in the head, as the kid stood with his hands in the air begging him not to shoot, according to witnesses. The kid was two days away from starting college. I'm sure his friends thought he was "a good guy," too.

Check out this piece from Huffpo comparing how news headlines describe white killers compared to black victims. Here's an example:

What are they really saying? That unarmed Trayvon Martin deserved to be shot and killed while walking home from the store because he'd been suspended three times from school? And here's another more recent example:

The black man in the second headline, by the way, was a shopper in a Beavercreek, Ohio Wal-Mart who was holding a BB gun on sale by the store. John Crawford III had taken the air rifle from the shelf when he was accosted by police and fatally shot. Despite rallies calling for the release of the store video, police have refused to allow it to be viewed.

I'll leave you with this quote from James Baldwin because he manages to say everything there is to be said today even though he wrote these words decades ago. Has so little changed?

“It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy...”

—James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Moon and Stars

We left Kingston on the 1:12 a.m flight last night and arrived back in New York at 6 a.m. this morning. Customs at JFK was a surreal, flights from everywhere converging on the International Arrivals Building as the sun rose. We inched forward in lines upon snaking lines, only to be directed to stand in more lines that zig zagged maze-like with our quarry seeming always to be further away. There was no logic to any of it. My daughter said, "Can you imagine what Ellis Island must have been like after that long sea voyage, the endless lines, the medical checks, the hooks in your eyes, and then being sent back after all that?" I looked around the arrivals hall at the thousands upon thousands of bleary-faced souls in the line for returning citizens, humans of all descriptions, and I couldn't help but recall my husband saying after one such return, "Look at all the colors of the people in this line. This right here is the Republicans' worst nightmare." We were huddled masses for sure, but most of us were not from anywhere near Europe.

When we finally got into the customs booth, the agent, an older Chinese woman, looked as if it was just way too early: She even blinked in slow motion as she rifled the pages of our passports listlessly, and was flummoxed again and again by her recalcitrant stamp machine. It seemed to need to be "set" somehow, a step she couldn't seem to bother remembering. She was so over it. She brightened up a bit when her eyes fell on my daughter's name, which I've been told means "Moon and Stars" in Mandarin, and she smiled fleetingly as she asked my daughter how she pronounces it. By then my girl was doing her darndest to keep a straight face. We were punchy from the long night of travel and everything was absurdly funny. I saw my child trying so hard not to laugh at the wayward stamp machine and the woman's utter indifference to it, and I nearly lost my own composure. As soon as we were safely out of earshot, we collapsed into giggles like silly schoolgirls. My son was much too tired to pay us any mind. Instead he headed for our bags, which were already off the carousel and stacked in the distance.

Everyone is sleeping now, exhausted from the quiet emotional reckoning of saying yet another goodbye to my mom, knowing each one could be our last. Before we left yesterday, my sister in law took us all for Devon House ice cream, a particular treat in Jamaica, so that my younger niece, who'd returned from summer camp that afternoon, could have some fun with her cousins. Outside the ice cream parlor afterward, I snapped a photo of Lady G's grandchildren, all five of them together for the first time in as long as any of us could remember. May there be many more such reunions, with my mom still around and able to enjoy them. It's nice to be back in New York, though. There's nothing in the world like your own bed. In fact I'm about to climb back into it. Welcome home, me.

Photo taken August 16, 2014 at Sovereign Plaza, Kingston, Jamaica. Ages from left are 10, 22, 13, 20 and 24.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

River Wild

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. 
We shall get there some day.”

—A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

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