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?







Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tommy Intervenes

"Why wasn't I consulted?"

"You're dead; you don't get a vote."

My late husband had taken advantage of my middle-of-the-night bathroom break to jump in the empty half of my bed. It was just enough time to rouse me from sleep and to get him chatty.

"Since I live in your head, you're taking me with you, right? Whether I like it or not."

"It's an experiment, sweetheart," I said. "Two weeks, in an apartment separate from Jilly, to see if I can live independently in L.A."

"I never liked L.A."

"That's because we didn't drive on our visits; you hated being stuck in her house while I clung to my grandkids."

"So, are you really going to drive in L.A? I read on your blog that you might lease a Honda?"

I paused on the dialog bouncing in my brain. Honda. Did that vehicle stir unpleasant memories for my deceased husband? Was he still rankled because I took away his car keys when his illness made it unsafe for him to drive?"

If so, he didn't bring it up, but went on to say, "The hills in Silver Lake, the 110? Are you prepared to deal with those?"

Boy, my hubby of 14 years sure knew my tender spots. Had he picked up on my own anxiety as I boldly wrote my intent to be a driver in L.A.?

"And, 'adopt a dog'? You sure know how to hurt a guy. I thought we decided that after Buddy died, we wouldn't get another. Too expensive, too much potential for heartbreak. Weren't those your words?"

"I was only daydreaming," I said. "My readers like upbeat. If I had admitted my fears or hesitations, I'd lose the readers who count on my positivity."

"So, why bring me into this conversation that you're surely going to write about?" he said. "Talking to your dead husband isn't a ray of sunshine."

"You're wrong. My readers love it when I bring you back. It lets them know, that with a little imagination, they can resurrect their dearly departed."

"Glad I can be of service."

"So, are you mollified, sweetheart?"

"One more thing," he said. "If my numbers are correct, this would be your fifteenth move since 1960 and your first marriage. Right?"

I paused to count, and as I did a slideshow glided past my closed eyes. See the walk-up apartment in Rogers Park, one- and two- bedroom apartments in Prairie Shores, captain's quarters in Massachusetts, a Glenview bi-level, a South Commons townhouse, condos in Streeterville and Michigan Ave., a LaSalle St. townhouse, an Old Town rehab, a West town loft, a Lakeview townhouse, A Geneva country house, a Dakin Street single family, and now, a River North rental.

Each image carried its own emotional high- and low-points. There's the bright-eyed newly married couple. Two giggly girls born 18 months apart.  Feeling fish-out-of-water in suburban and country homes. A surprise divorce. A happy remarriage. Shocking death. Resilient widowhood.

"Sixteen," I said, correcting his math.

Instead of judging, he said, "Remember I told you I'd only leave Dakin Street feet first?"

"You kept your word."

"But, here I am, with you in a high-rise, where I never wanted to be."

"Couldn't stay away? Miss me as much as I miss you?"

"Of course. And, I saw you during Chicago's last winter. I was relieved you weren't still in our house dealing with icy sidewalks, frozen pipes, and a snowbound garage."

"So, along with me being able to see much more of my family, you can appreciate the advantages of sunny California." I said. "Golf for you, year-round."

"Sweetheart," he said. "Up here, we not only have golf year-round, but also twenty-four seven, no green fees, no reservations, and never a foursome ahead. Why do you think it's called Heaven?"

"Okay, honey," I said. "I apologize for not consulting you sooner. So what's your verdict about a possible number seventeen?"

There was a pause, then this: "I see that the Tommy Bahama clothing store has some cool golf shirts. Can you pack me a few?"

"Done," I said. And with that last word, I drifted off to sleep. The image of my hubber garbed in a colorful, Hawaiian shirt, golf club aloft, and his Cubs baseball cap shielding his brown eyes from the California sun was as soothing as a lullaby.

Monday, July 21, 2014

California Dreaming, Part Two

I was perched on a stool at the bar of Intelligentsia, a coffee shop on East Randolph St. in Chicago. While I waited for my decaf to be brewed, I pulled out a notebook that I had recently purchased in Los Angeles at Muji, a hip Japanese retailer that sells clothing, furniture, and stationary.

While my small ritual was taking place in the city of my birth, and where I have lived for a majority of my 75 years, my mind travelled to the Intelligentsia on Silver Lake Blvd., in Los Angeles, where my daughter, Jill, and her family live. Both the shop, and the notebook -- which was opened to a blank page -- seemed to be omens of a possible new future.

It all started a few weeks ago on a four-day trip. My 17-year-old grandson, Isaac, and I were seated at Sqirl, a breakfast spot in East Hollywood. I was eating "Crispy Kokuho Rose Brown Rice Salad, Lemongrass, Mint, Cilantro, Ginger with a fried egg," while Isaac chose the Sweet side of the menu, "Brioche Toast with Guittard Chocolate Ganache, Nut Butter, and Fleur De Sel."

My fashionable grandson had selected Muji and Sqirl for a morning we were spending together. I was relishing his company -- and wasn't even miffed when he recoiled as I combined our leftovers into one take-home container.

"Grandma, you can't do that!" he said, as he watched me place the egg concoction and sugary bread in a Styrofoam nest. Isaac looked appalled, as if I were a peasant who had wandered into this chic spot.

"I can't leave them behind," I said. "Besides, you don't want your brioche, and I'll be eating both of them."

"Use two boxes!" he said, and closed his eyes at his gauche grandmother.

Isaac shook his head and didn't press it further, but our affectionate repartee made me realize how much I missed him and the rest of his family. And during that particular visit to L.A., I not only got to see Jill's crew, but also my other daughter, Faith, and my 12-year-old granddaughter, Betsy, who were visiting from Boston. For me, those four days on the West Coast were precious, something to be savored as much as my meal.

Isaac must've felt a similar tug, because during our walk to his car, he said, "Grandma, why don't you move here?"

"I did consider it last year," I told him, "then chickened out. Maybe this time I'll experiment, rent a place for a few weeks and see how it feels to live here independently."

He brightened. "That sounds like a good plan."

And with those words, wheels began to spin. "I'll come for the whole month of February," I told Jill. "Rent an Airbnb that'll be walking distance to your house. This way, I'll miss part of Chicago's horrible winter."

Both of us went on the website where people lease their spare rooms, coach houses, or furnished apartments. "Here's one just seven minutes from me," Jill said, in an email that accompanied a neighborhood map.

Although other L.A. sections would likely house people nearer my age, I like Silver Lake because it's similar to Chicago's Wicker Park -- with restaurants and boutiques in easy walking distance. Any eventual move wouldn't make sense if I couldn't easily trot over to Jill's, or to Intelligentsia.

After I researched her pick and was about to book it, another communiqué came from my co-conspirator. "Why wait until February?" she said. "Come sooner."

"How about two weeks in November, with Thanksgiving included?" I said. "The holidays are hard without family."

Jill gave the idea her blessing.  And then the experiment seemed to morph into something more permanent, with each of us positing advantages: "I've already downsized," I said. "It'd be one truck load going cross country."

Then, "If I lived close enough and you get delayed at work, I could go over and start dinner."

"You're an early riser," Jill said, warming to the concept. "I can sleep in and you can come over in the morning to start Felix's breakfast." The image of my 5-year-old grandson's sleep-tussled head upped the ante.

So is it Chicago's past brutal winter that sparked this second, more serious pull to sunny California? Or, is it the realization that the luscious visit with Isaac and his family could be repeated weekly, rather than three times a year?

And maybe Faith and Betsy would move to L.A.? Perhaps my Chicago friends would be frequent visitors? Maybe I'll adopt a dog, lease a Honda? Oh, there's no end to positive scenarios I can dream up.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Full Disclosure

I got weary of all the peppy profile suggestions from online dating sites, which go something like this: What makes you happy? What do you most enjoy doing? What are some things you can't live without? Their upbeat eagerness -- likely penned by 20-somethings or techies in India -- was beginning to rile me.

So on my latest attempt, on a site called JPe*pleMeet.com (the asterisk is subbing for a Star of David, just in case you weren't hip to what "J" stands for), I decided to experiment and swipe starry-eyed for wry, impolite, and honest. Then, see if anyone would bite.

In the paragraph that asks for "A little about me..." I wrote:

"Full disclosure: I'm an early riser and fade in the afternoons. I exercise regularly but need someone to open jar lids. I gave up my car when moving downtown, so if you still drive, including "at night," you're my hero. Sorry if you're down in the dumps, but I'm looking for someone upbeat. You should be able to text. Please have a smart phone and know how to send messages. I love quality TV. If you haven't heard of Netflix, we're likely not a match. And if you don't have a sense of humor, we have nothing in common."

Also, in this third dating site that I've visited -- JDate and Our Time are the other two -- I made my desired age range 70 to 80, and location, Chicago. Despite my specified criterion, you can bet I'll get responses from 65-year-olds living in Denver, or 87-year-olds that "Like" my profile. Proof to me that most men don't read any of the physical descriptions beyond "athletic and toned." (Some jerks go so far as to warn us women not to message if we're overweight.)

While my "A little about me..." is on target, I omitted some other truths. But at some point, when I truly get burnt-out on these virtual experiences, I'll add: "I go to bed at 8 p.m., so if you're seeking a dance partner or a party girl, step away from the screen. I have a short attention span. If our lunch date lasts longer than one-and-a-half hours, I'll make an excuse to depart. It will either be boredom that sends me scurrying, or a need for an afternoon nap."

Based on my above bitchiness, you might assume I've had dreadful experiences with online dates. Au contraire. Through Our Time, I've gone out on four lunch and two dinner dates with quite pleasant men. They were all nice looking, well-dressed, smart, stable, sane, and impressively, all picked up the check for my meal.

Here's a little about them. But instead of disclosing their screen names, I'll call them by my labels.

The Libertarian was 72, possibly a hippie in his youth, and lived in a beautiful, homey condo overlooking Millennium Park. We had dinner at an Asian restaurant, and afterwards went to his place so I could attempt to set up his Apple TV. No hanky panky, and no spark for either of us. But we are Facebook friends.

I had two dates with the Chef, 85. The first was lunch at Gene & Georgetti's, and the second was a gourmet dinner at his luxurious condo. Both of us were very staid, the only heartbeats were for his cooking.

At 82, Mr. Fox Valley was a genial caregiver and widower. He was intrigued enough to drive the 30-or so miles to meet me for lunch in my neighborhood. He invited me to spend a weekend at his home, but when I froze, he quickly added, "I have two bedrooms." I considered a day trip, but after contemplating the folly of a city-to-whistle-stop relationship, I backed out. We remain friends.

The Professor was date number four, 72, a widower from Evanston. We met halfway at Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square. We talked ill spouses and bad deaths, computers, and families. We each expressed "had a nice time." I'm not sure who will make the next move.

Knowing you, dear reader, you're already combing my descriptions for your favorite and wondering why romance hasn't swooped up and blinded us. I have a theory: For the men, they're likely being pursued by a gaggle of grandmas and are taking their time to enjoy the attention and dates.

As for me, if you've read between the lines of "A little about me..." you'll see a very ambivalent dater who enjoys writing about matchmaking more than actually doing it. And then there's this: None were Tommy.



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tommy Has Boundaries

An email from Our Time, the online dating site, alerted me to a new message: "How about 2 p.m. at Meinle, the coffee shop at Addison and Southport?"

I was pleased to see these details from my latest match.  In an earlier email, I told him I was going to be on Southport for a 3:30 movie at the Music Box, and since he revealed he lived near Lakeview High School, I gave him the option of naming a place for our first meeting.

"Sounds good," I wrote back. Then, "I'm going to take a chance and give you my real name and phone number." I was aware this was a risk, but our previous messages signaled a safe bet. In those, I learned he was a former journalist and PR guy, kept fit, was divorced, traveled, and had two kids. On paper, he deserved a look-see.

I added: "I'd also appreciate your contact information. This way, we can do background checks and text if there are delays or cold feet."

A few hours passed as I prepared my wardrobe and kept busy with tasks to prevent obsessing about the meeting. Although I had had several dates with Our Time matches, and they turned out pleasant and interesting, I still became anxious about initial sightings. Those opening minutes always felt to me like a Broadway audition, where I'm probably all wrong for the part.

Soon it would be time to get dressed for my 2 p.m. coffee date, but I hadn't yet heard from Match6. Now I had a dilemma: Did he not read my online email requesting his contact information and would just show up at Meinle?

Or, had he read it, done due diligence to check me out and learn that I frequently write about my dates. Did that scare him off? Then, the phone rang. It was a 773 area code, but no caller I.D. It could've been a marketer, but I decided to answer it.

"Hello, is this Elaine?" From the sound of his voice, I knew I'd be exchanging my date wardrobe for everyday clothes.

"I know who you are," he said. "We've met. Tommy and I worked out at the Y together. He used to bring me his old golf magazines. Remember, I'd run into the two of you at Dapper's diner? Tommy introduced us; I remember you being nice."

Match6 told me his real name and I tried to picture him and place him in the setting he revealed. I couldn't get a sharp image, but think he was tall and good-looking. Despite his compliment, I knew our date was in jeopardy.

"I don't feel comfortable," he said. "I hope you understand. It's a little too close to home."

"Of course I understand," I said, but thought: S**t! Why did I give him my real name? If I had waited for our meeting to exchange details, Match6 might have thought me appealing enough to give loyalty a pass.

"Maybe we'll get together at some point," he said. "Trade war stories about online dating."

"That'd be great," I said, knowing it wouldn't happen.

With time on my hands, I pondered why I had sabotaged myself by prematurely revealing my identity. Soon enough, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my dearly departed, moving in my imagination from the past tense to the present.

"Hi Wifey," he said. Tommy was smiling, devilishly. "How's your dating life going?"

"It was you, Hubber, wasn't it? You put the idea in my head to out myself. You knew Match6 would look me up and get cold feet."

"I'm not confessing to anything," Tommy said. His smile grew broader and soon he was laughing.

It was wonderful to envision him joyous, but then I sobered. "Why didn't you want me to meet him? We could've had a date. Not marriage, as I've often promised, but a companion."

"Listen sweetheart," he said. "I know you're trying to find a boyfriend, but I have boundaries. The guy is my friend, off limits. It'll be easier for me if your fella is a stranger."

"OK," I said. "No one in your circle. No Y or golf buddies."

So, on my list of criteria for potential dates -- which already included "must love animals, be connected to his children, be under the age of 85" -- I added, "no one who's a pal of Tommy."

With that, I felt a soft kiss on my cheek. Then, my Hubber was gone.