Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Magic Act

Anthony is six-five, nearly two feet taller than I. But as he steps into my Lilliputian-sized apartment, he does not seem to be dismayed by the ceilings he can likely touch on tip toes with an outstretched arm, or the walls he can reach a few feet away in either direction.

In fact, this young man seems pleased at the condition of my place and the scenic view from my expansive windows.  But when I reveal the bedroom, which is concealed behind a sliding door, he folds his arms and says, "I'll have to switch out the bed for king-size."

"That's a shame," I tell him, "it's only a year-and-a-half old." We both stare at the full-size box spring and mattress, with Anthony envisioning how to fit in a new larger one. As for me, I'm conjuring the one I left behind when I moved from the Dakin St. house I shared with Tommy, to this River North high rise.

In that transition, I used an estate sale to dispose of most of my furniture and the contents of closets, drawers, shelves, and cupboards. Poof, 14 years of marital accumulation gone, as if a magician had waved a wand, making all disappear -except for memories.

With my upcoming move from Chicago to Los Angeles, I am the sorcerer. Faster than you can say "abracadabra," via a Craigslist ad, I found Anthony to take over the remaining six months of my lease, thus avoiding a two-month penalty. The slight-of-hand I used to lure him simply involved accepting the suggestion of my designer friend, Karen, and changing the listing from  "rental" to "furnished-rental."

"A cross-country moving truck would be too expensive," I explained to those still reeling from my announcement that I not only decided to move to L.A., but it would take place in one month's time.

Of course, Anthony isn't concerned with my logic; he had been seeking a temporary residence until a nearby condo he is rehabbing is finished, so our quick-change act works out well for both of us.

When we turn to study my mini office with the sapphire blue desk and bench, Anthony laughs as I say, "you'll never fit there."

My friend Chris, an artist, not only painted the two pieces a bright color to disguise their country-style provenance, but he cut the legs to make it fit my four-nine size.

That same blue color transformed our coffee table -- the one that stood between Tommy's and my facing couches, home for the pencils he used for his cross-word puzzles, TV remotes, and the Post-it notes that conveyed our chatter in the last silent years of his life. In this downtown apartment, the table has held the same props, except for the crossword puzzles. Now, the Post-it notes are only used for reminders from my buzzing brain.

In that previous move in April 2013, I stood at the living room window early in the morning awaiting the arrival of the truck that would cart away my small load. This time, there will be no window watching for I am using a large grocery cart to transport boxes to a UPS store two blocks away. Cartons of photographs, previously stored in garages, or basements, lockers, and closets have already gone to my daughter Jill's home in Los Angeles.

"Do you want my china?" I asked in a text to her. Six dinner-sized and six salad-sized Wedgewood were rescued from the set I had left for the house sale. I've had them for 54 years, 24 longer than the marriage that brought them.

"Nah," was Jill's first response to my offer. Then this, "I think I do want those dishes. Yom Kippur realization!" (Some spiritualism at play here?)

Recently, a neighbor came to my apartment to pick up a scarf she had left behind at an event we both attended. Because I was in that neighborhood for a lunch date, I was able to retrieve it for her. "How can you leave all of this behind?" she said, her eyes tearing as she scanned the space.

"It's just stuff," I said.

"But, you did such a great job putting it all together."

Later, my therapist suggested that what my neighbor really meant was, "How can you leave me behind?" 

Does my neighbor speak for all of my dear friends whom I'll soon hug goodbye? Could they really believe I'll allow our relationships to vanish? Through the magic of airplane travel, e-mail, Facebook, and cell phones, our ties will endure. We are tightly bound; even the famous Houdini would fail to separate us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Leaving Home

The voice was familiar, but I was having trouble placing it. In past conversations that occurred in my head, the participants were deceased, but still chatty. There were talks with my husband, Tommy, and with my parents, Min and Irv. While all of these episodes were tinged with the sadness of loss, I relished my brain's ability to bring these characters back to life, even if briefly.

I was narrowing in on identifying my imagination's latest speaker: it was a woman's voice, young, and definitely not coming from the afterlife. When she continued talking, I felt as happy as if I were welcoming home a long-lost relative.

"I know that emotion you're feeling," she said. "It was the same one we experienced in other parts of our lives. Think back."

She was my 25-year-old self who had evidently decided to reappear at a critical juncture in my journey.  How odd that a youngster like that felt it necessary to counsel the 76-year-old she had become. But, I was delighted to see her. I took a moment to bring her full force into my vision: her brunette hair, her pretty green eyes covered by dark-framed glasses, her sweetheart-shaped face, and her welcoming smile.

I patted the empty side of my bed, inviting young Elaine to take a comfy place next to me. She slid in and I sighed as I took note of the extra inches of height awarded to the younger me. "What brings you here?" I said.

"Well, I could see you struggling with your decision to leave Chicago for Los Angeles. I watched you tossing each night, and wrestling with second thoughts. It was painful for me to witness that, so I thought it wise to reappear and help you out."

"It's not really second thoughts," I told this cutie pie sharing my bed. "I know I want to be closer to my daughters, and it's important to do it now, when I'm untethered and in good health. But after I enjoyed lunches and dinners with close friends, I felt sad, and wondered how I'd get along without these people in my day-to-day life."

"Yeah, I saw that," she said, "and I felt your sadness. You may not remember, but you've experienced the same emotion several times over the years. It's called 'separation anxiety.'"

"Hmm," I said, "that's interesting. I thought it was the separation from my daughters that was pulling me towards the West Coast. Now you're telling me the same feeling is tugging me back?"

"Think 1963," she said, pausing a moment for me to envision calendar pages flipping to that year. "Your -- or should I say 'our' -- first husband was called up to serve in Fort Devens, Mass., and you accompanied him. Remember how you cried at the thought of leaving your mother behind? Separation, sweetheart, separation."

So that's why it was my 25-year-old self who had volunteered for this lecture. She was present. Married just three years earlier, leaving the home she shared with her widowed mother. No wonder she felt so vulnerable.

"I have another," I said, grateful I could contribute to our memory bank. "There was the time when he and I left our daughters behind with sitters and travelled to London. We were supposed to stay for two weeks, but I missed the girls so much, I insisted we return after one week."

"Separation," she repeated, "separation. You felt it with Faith and Jill when they were toddlers and you've continued to have a hard time with their absence. But the important thing to remember, dearest, is that these feelings are natural; they're what make us human. We love, and become attached to people, and we feel pain when we leave them."

"Another thing to keep in mind," said my guru "is that in those earlier experiences, you didn't lose the people you left behind. When you moved to Massachusetts, and said goodbye to your mother and best friend, you phoned them regularly. This time, along with calls, Skypes, email and Facebook, you can periodically fly back to Chicago for reunions with special pals."

"Thanks, sweetheart," I said, "You've really made me feel better. Is there anything I can do for you?"

Young Elaine contemplated my question, then said, "I do have one request." She grabbed my hand as if to insure my attention.  "Don't let separation anxiety interrupt forward moves. I -- and all of your younger selves -- would be so bored if you suddenly decided to just stay put."

I gave our clasped hands a shake, kissed her adorable forehead, then turned over to sleep peacefully the rest of the night.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Walking Distance

In 1981, my first husband and I, and our two daughters, were living in a townhouse on N. LaSalle St. in Chicago. Our zip code was 60610. My mother Min liked our location; so with my encouragement, she submitted an application to move her and her second husband into a senior citizen building that was walking distance from my home.

In December of that same year, as relatives and friends sat somberly in our living room with its vaulted ceiling that rose two floors up, I told of Mom's plans to those who had gathered for her Shiva. "She was so excited that she'd be living close to the kids and me," I said, "but it wasn't to be." The mourners nodded their heads and wiped away tears.

Through all of my essays about possibly moving to Los Angeles to be walking distance to my daughter Jill and her family, I hadn't thought about this long-ago scene. But now, when I recall my mother's untimely death from a heart attack at 67, the line that reverberates is this: I never got a chance to tell her how I felt; to mend things with her.

If you've read my first memoir, "The Division Street Princess," you're aware I spent most of my childhood, and a good deal of adulthood, hoping to persuade Mom to love me for the person I truly was. And more importantly, to overcome my feeling that she was disappointed I wasn't taller, slimmer, and prettier.

When my aunts -- her sisters -- read my book, they were shocked to learn my dim assessment of the relationship. "Your mother loved you. She was so proud of you. How could you believe otherwise?"

But, our own truth often veers from what others perceive. And while her sisters likely heard Mom kvelling about me, I instead stored these childhood directives: Stand up straight. Comb your hair. You don't need that cake, and other orders that seem innocuous now. How could those words wound me so? Why have I carried them, like backpacks filled with rocks instead of school supplies, all these years?

Although Mother never made it to the apartment down the block from me, I may get to move across the country to a rental walking distance to Jill. And, if my other daughter, Faith, is fortunate enough to win another months-long writing assignment in L.A., my firstborn and me could possibly be roommates or neighbors.

To ease a potential departure from a city I have lived in nearly my entire life, and from dear friends and relatives, I'm considering the move a gift and opportunity -- which I never got with Min -- to assure there are no scenes or stings left over from my daughters' childhoods that they lug, or drop on a therapist's couch. And although I believe, and you likely do, too, that my daughters and I have an enviable and uncommon bond, do we really know their truths? Consider how divergent my aunts' opinions were from mine.

And perhaps my mother had her own wounds, inflicted by angelic me, that she kept hidden. What a pity it was that we -- who believed we had all the time in the world -- missed out on having conversations that surely would've resulted in hugs and vows.

Along with this late-in-life desire, to be a blame-free mother to my daughters, the other tasks to be addressed in a relocation would be: To be a better grandmother and mother-in-law, and friend to Jill's machetunim (my son-in-law's parents), and to first cousins living in Beverly Hills. Then there's the crowd of former Chicagoans and current Los Angelinos whom I hope to reconnect with.

This goal -- likely prompted by my recently attaining the age of 76 -- is partially based on a belief that I may have come up short with this far-away group. I could blame it on distance, but it also could be that I lack a certain keep-in-touch gene.

But, it's not too late to improve my mother/grandmother/in-law/cousin/friend relationships. Proximity will help. Desire on my part will certainly up my chances. And, willingness by those on the other side will guarantee it.

So, dearest mother Min, I deeply regret we never had that chance to live in homes walking distance from one another, and to smooth over wrinkles that foolishly left me wanting. Now, I've been offered an opening with my own kin. I hope to take it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Our Time is super excited. "You have 110 new profile views and 15 new messages!" it writes, as enthusiastic as a prospector finding gold.

Although weeks earlier I had dropped my membership and checked "do not automatically renew," the online dating site continues to send me these cheery emails. I imagine it -- and JDate, another of my experiments -- somewhere in cyberspace clucking at my resistance.

"What's her problem?" I hear the OT yenta say. (Naturally, if I were going to use my imagination to conjure my pesterers, they wouldn't be coders using algorithms to find me a match. In my zany brain, the two sites are women wearing babushkas, like old-world matchmakers eager to arrange a shidduch between two lonely singles.)

"She thinks she's so high and mighty," sniffs the JDate version. "I fixed her up with four eligibles, each one a mensch, and did she appreciate? Vadyathink?" (Excuse the ethnic patter; but, I'm Jewish so it's allowed. Also, I can't seem to stop.)

Now, here's where my imagination takes another leap. Although these two figments are in cyberspace, and my mother, Min, is in heaven, I figure she can't resist getting in on a conversation where her daughter is the topic.

"Don't look at me," she says. "I tried, told her to be sexier and younger in her profile. But, did she listen to me? It's just like when she was a teenager and...."

"Min," the yentas interrupt. Evidently, they have easily accepted photo-shopping her into the picture and chat. "Please stick to the subject. It's the present day. Your 76-year-old daughter, who is not getting any younger, is the one we're trying to fix up. Forget about the past."

With that, and without validation for her vote, Mom fades out and we're left with OT and JDate.

"Obviously, we're using the wrong approach," OT says to JDate. "She's not buying our daily e-mails. She knows that if she clicks on them, she'll be asked to rejoin."

"We can't let her get away," JDate says. "We don't want to see our CityGirl go through life without a man."

OT laughs. "She was CityGirl with you? Hah! She was Tiny75 with me."

I allowed this silly scenario to enter my brain because I was also wondering why I had put the brakes on my search for a significant other. As the yentas indicated, I did go on dates with four eligible, honest, and wholesome males. Although sparks didn't ignite, based on this positive experience, why didn't I continue to seek a match?

The answer: I found another passion, one as all consuming, thrilling, and with the possibility of a life-changing outcome. If you are a steady reader of this blog (a shonda if you are not), you're up to speed on my decision to test-drive Los Angeles in November for a possible move to that city.

This current project contains all of the delicious elements I require. It: 1) alleviates boredom, 2) allows me to make a checklist, 3) encourages research; i.e. synagogues, civic groups, salons, and therapists, and 4) entertains friends and relatives who vicariously join in on my flights of fancy.

"She's delusional." It's one half of the matchmaking pair intruding on my rationale. "You know once Tiny75 gets to L.A., and sets everything up, I predict that within a year, she's going to need another challenge."

"Oh, you're so right," says JDate. "And then she'll write about it, just like she did about our sites, mocking our sincere desire to link pathetic singles."

"You know, I've often wondered if the only reason CityGirl visited us was to get story ideas," OT says. "I feel so used."

"There is some consolation," JDate continues. "She'll start writing about L.A. and although the first few blog posts will be rah-rah -- the sunshine, her new friends, her family..."

OT interrupted. "Oy, be prepared for her glowing reviews of her grandchildren. How smart! How handsome! How polite! I don't know if I can take it."

"But knowing Tiny75 -- who will soon be Sun-Wrinkled76 -- we won't have to wait long for her beefs to surface."

JDate erupts in giggles. Soon she is rollicking. "She'll be slamming the tall and skinny starlets sipping their lattes at her precious Intelligentsia."

"What about the 20-somethings working on their screenplays? I can't wait to read her critiques of them!"

"Hold on a minute," JDate says. "Those writers are likely to be Jewish, right? Maybe a few will have widowed grandfathers to match with our old girl? What could entice her back into the fold?"

"'Still drives' always works," OT says. "And, if we throw in 'at night;' she's hooked."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I have no husband, no house, no dog, no car and no debt. For the first time in years, I am untethered. When that thought bore into my brain, I had a light-bulb moment. Instead of a two-week experiment of living independently in Los Angeles, as I had originally planned, why not jump in and find a one-year rental?

"I'll sublet my apartment and avoid paying rent on two places and on a round-trip flight," I said in a text to my daughter, Jill. And as I did tiny typing, I felt as euphoric as if I had just come up with a cure for a confounding disease.

When I posited this same untethered and economic reasoning to neighbors, friends, and relatives -- who have been privy to swift decisions and moves in my past -- they responded with either thumbs up or down.

"I'm 76 and currently in good health," I pressed on, hoping to swat away debate. "If I'm going to make a major move, it should be sooner rather than later. I don't want to wait until my daughters are touring nursing homes for their dear old mum."

And despite my assurances that previous hasty steps have always landed me on my feet, I could imagine my worriers trembling, as if I were about to skydive and they were watching helpless from the ground below.

It didn't take long for Jill to respond to my text. "Whoa," she sent back. "Take the expense out of the equation. Instead of moving here, what about extending the two weeks to an entire month? See how it feels to drive our hills, and to experience everyday life here?

"It's your anxiety that has you speeding ahead," she diagnosed. Jill has previously identified this condition, but after her text, I wondered: could she be having second thoughts about my slide from third base in Chicago to Home in L.A.?

I took the preemptive route. "If you're concerned that I'll turn into a crone [Wikipedia: disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing], you needn't worry. When I can see you year 'round, rather than three times a year, I won't be so demanding of your time."

"I'm not worried," she said.

But am I? I accepted Jill's suggestion. Instead of rushing ahead, I will book the entire month of November in Los Angeles as a test drive. Accompanying my excitement, though, is a new internal query: How will I spend the 30 days to prevent becoming a drain on my daughter and her family?

To answer, I perused my August calendar. Penciled in are lunches with friends, a haircut, a therapy appointment, a Mani/Pedi, doctor and dentist visits, workouts at a health club, a party, Saturday Torah study, and client meetings. November already has two major scheduled dates: a reading for my new memoir in Los Angeles at Skylight Books on the 19th and Thanksgiving on the 27th, which gives me a head start.

So, prior to November, I will seek surrogates for many of the above engagements. Along with these out-of-the-house appointments, I'll have my journal and laptop for daily writing, and several books that have been twiddling their pages on my nightstand.

"Whatever you find," I told Jill who is spearheading the November house search, "it must have a deck so I can sit outside with my morning coffee and notebook." This is the image I draw into my brain at 2:30 a.m., when excitement or anxiety (is the kid right?) jiggles me out of slumber.

In an effort to lull myself back to sleep, I take three deep breaths; hold each for a moment, and then release -- just as instructed in my daily relaxation podcast. And, as each part of my body is coaxed to soften, I conjure a still-dark morning in Los Angeles, a deck chair, side table, a cup of tongue-burning Intelligentsia coffee, my journal, and my Extra Fine Razor Point Pilot Pen.

Like a dog with an eager nose (If a permanent move is in my future, I will have a rescued pup at my side.), I sniff the air to catch scents of nearby blossoms and fruit trees. It is early, pre-dawn; no one else is awake. A porch light illuminates my writing. There is no noise, save indigenous birds that chirp me a "good morning."

This image -- serene and soulful -- is embedded in my brain. If any of my fretting friends posit, "what if's," or if my own quivering surfaces, I'll just take my three deep breaths, and as I exhale, replay my imagined scene. I can almost smell the peach trees, can't you?