Thursday, December 26, 2013

To Be Adored

I winced at my dear friend's words. "Why in the world would you want ANOTHER man in your life right now (or EVER)?" she wrote in response to my blog post about a JDate fiasco. "You would probably wind up being a nurse for him. You should be a caregiver for YOURSELF."

Was my friend trying to guard me from a future I wouldn't allow myself to consider? Why indeed did I -- now happily independent in my new downtown digs -- sign up for JDate in the first place?

And, why have I been spying on physically fit grey-haired men at my health club?

Furthermore, why have I asked my paired-up friends to keep me in mind if they know an older single male who meets my criteria; i.e. strolls without the aid of a walker and drives at night?

"Someone to hug," I shot back, believing my pathetic answer would win sympathy and stall further scathing. My response seemed reasonable, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn't bodily contact I missed. After all, there's any number of friends and relatives who would welcome my arms wrapped around their torsos.

If not an embrace, what then have I been seeking in my attempts to find a date? To find clues, I stretched out on the couch, closed my eyes, and reviewed past examples of familiar marriages. And, what I came up with is this: I miss the feeling of being adored.

In my stroll through wedlock history, I realized Tommy spoiled me for future relationships. When I rummaged the drawers of our house before I put it on the market, I found stacks of yellow-lined notes that I had saved and bundled in rubber bands. Each one a sentiment from a love-struck middle-aged man who paused every day to let me know he felt as if he had won the lottery.

Tommy's heartfelt emotions were a revelation because they were unfortunately missing from my first marriage, and tragically one-sided in my parents'.

In my initial go-around, my husband and I appreciated, admired, and cared for each other. But, did we adore one another? Perhaps in the stars-in-our-eyes early years; but after that, with our own personal struggles blinding us, the word went missing.

My parent's marriage was so impressionable that it spurred my memoir, "The Division Street Princess." As I wrote: Irv loved Min from the moment he saw the 19-year-old neighborhood beauty. But alas, Min didn't return his ardor. It wasn't until her old-world mother urged, "You'll learn to love him," that Min accepted Irv's proposal.

Bubbie, you were wrong! Despite Dad's longing, and his purchase of gifts he couldn't pay for -- like the mink stole cradled in tissue and presented in a white box -- Mom never grasped the lesson.

"Take it back, we can't afford it," I remember her saying as she stared at Dad's present. And bity me, channeling my father's pining, pleaded, "Just try it on, Mom, just try it on." She did and twirling in front of a full-length mirror like a 1940's movie star, decided to keep the mink while Dad paid for it in monthly installments.

I never did learn why Mom couldn't return Dad's adoration. I guess some of it could be linked to her disappointment in spending her pretty young life behind the counter of a grocery store on a tenement street. The neighborhood beauty deserved better.

So perhaps glum childhood scenes inspired me to take the part of my mother in my adult life? I would show her how an adored wife acts. When I would find Tommy's love notes, I'd squeal as if they were hidden jewels. Then, I'd get my own post-it and draw a heart with the words, "Love you, hubber! and tuck it into a gym shoe, golf glove, or some other spot he would later discover.

Among the other mementoes I saved was a letter Tommy wrote to me early on. It was the one I read it to him as I sat on the other side of the metal railings of his hospice bed. It was two pages long, written in pen on yellow-lined paper and began: My Darling Elaine, I don't know what lies ahead but I do know I want to spend the rest of my life loving you and taking care of you. We make a great team. When I think about all the years I was alone I realize now that you were the missing part of the puzzle that makes it all fit together.

That's what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Parties

"Is this seat taken?" The question was from one of two handsome, smiling young men who approached the high table where my friend Diane and I had perched.

We were at a holiday party hosted by the management of our rental building. Both of us are single, and we had jokingly referred to each other as wingmen, encouraging one another if a viable male came our way.

"It's open," we replied in unison, waving our hands across the empty seat to prove there was nothing to stop either one of their nicely pressed trousers taking occupancy.

"Great, then we can leave our coats here," the other said, as he draped his outwear on the empty stool.

Diane and I laughed. Our next encounter was more heartening. "Good to see you both," said our building's chief engineer. He reached over to give each of us a hug and a few of his maintenance staff followed him and the sweet gesture.

Despite the sounds of chatter from the 30-somethings who are neighbors, and the booming music from multiple speakers, the hugs sent me back to another holiday party. And in that long ago celebration, it was also embraces from maintenance men that were springing up in my memory.

It was sometime in the '70s, let's say Christmas 1975, when my first husband and I, and our two daughters, were living in South Commons, a planned urban community on Chicago's near south side. Back then; I was both a townhouse resident and a secretary in the management office.

Mellowed by wine, and with Diane conversing with a friend, I closed my eyes and slipped back to that earlier holiday scene, stocking it with my long ago coworkers, and the music and mood of the times.

I was 38 years old, struggling in a marriage where both my husband and I competed for the title of unhappiest. 

"You're never home," was his complaint, and one I couldn't deny. What I understand now was that he really meant, what happened to the woman I married?

I wondered that, too, for after I landed in this social experiment that integrated races, income, and ages, I transformed from housewife to activist. I shifted from a wife who had dinner on the table every night to someone who wrote the community newspaper, produced the musical theater, and volunteered for every alluring cause.

Fortunately, while my husband rebuffed his revamped wife, the South Commons residents, and the staff, treated me as if I were queen bee.

While the 2013 party was held at a sports bar, the 1975 event occurred in an apartment of one of the staff. "You're welcome to come," I had told my husband, "but I don't think many spouses will be attending."

"No, you go, have a good time, be sure someone walks you home." (Despite our friction, at 39 he was very much the responsible man I had married 15 years earlier.)

As I entered the party site, Barry White's "You're the First, My Last, My Everything" greeted me. The lighting in the room was turned low, smoke rose from cigarettes, and muted conversations floated in the shadowy air.

My coworkers were already dancing and drinking; I was eager to join in and shed my winter coat and my conformist life. I sipped JB & Water,  danced to tunes like "Me and Mrs. Jones" by Billy Paul, "Midnight Train to Georgia," from Gladys Knight and the Pips, and White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Baby."

I stayed at the party well past midnight. One of the guys walked me home and at my doorstep, I stretched to give him a kiss on his cheek for my safe passage.

My husband and daughters were asleep as I tiptoed in. As I prepared for bed, I hummed the playlist from the party, and the Stylistics "You Make Me Feel Brand New" was the first tune that popped in my head.

"How long do you want to stay?" It was Diane, possibly misreading my dreamlike state for boredom. I woke from my reverie and looked at my watch, 8:00 p.m.

"Ready whenever you are," I said.

In our building's elevator, before my friend exited on her floor, I kissed her cheek and thanked her for being my wingman. "My pleasure," she said. "Hope you had a good time."

"I had a great time," I said, as the door slid closed. Alone in my private sound booth, I couldn't resist crooning lyrics from Knight's "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me:" I've had my share of life's ups and downs, But fate's been kind, the downs have been few, I guess you could say that I've been lucky.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


If a guy told you his grown children have refused to speak to him for 20 years, or that the wife he divorced was as silent as their kids, wouldn't your first question be: Another woman?

No? Then, obviously you are not as nosy as I, or not the investigator-reporter type.

My query occurred during a JDate phone conversation. (I realize that on these pages I claimed I was dropping the Jewish online dating site, but I decided to give it one more month.) He -- let's now call him by a new screen name, Offended2013, had given me his phone number and recommended that I block my own cell number. This was a point in his favor, I thought, a gentlemen.

According to my iPhone, we talked for 58 minutes. During that time I learned we had some things in common: we both lived in the city, were around the same age (he claimed 71; I fudged 70), we enjoyed plays, and had Spain and Greece on our travel wish list.  Our differences -- he was not a TV addict like I am, he liked being out frequently in the evenings -- might've been possible for me to overcome.

Before our conversation ended, we made plans to meet for coffee. But the following morning, I received this message from Offended2013, i am cancelling our meeting wed . i really was hurt and offended by your quick remark about my devorce having to do with another woman .i felt you were out of line. that was not the case . i just didnt appreciate it . that is far from the type of person i am .

"I apologize," I wrote in a message back to him. "It's your call. Good luck with your search." But he blocked any further correspondence from me, so my attempt to backpedal is floating somewhere in cyberspace.

Daughter Faith (yes, I had to share), responded, "I am offended he does not know how to spell divorce." From her sister, Jill, "The atrocious spelling is enough for you to block him forever."

Perhaps it was wrong of me to jump to the conclusion I conjured, but I speak from experience; my first husband of 30 years left me for another woman. Our clichéd drama began when I noticed he was looking exceptionally fit and well dressed. "I think he's having an affair," I said to my best friend, Judy.

"Don't ask him if he's having an affair," she said. "Just say, I know you're having an affair."

I'll never forget that 1990 prophetic conversation, which was held during one of our regular Saturday lunches at the Bon Ton restaurant on Chicago's Gold Coast. As Judy and I munched our poached chicken sandwiches, we kept our voices low because adjacent diners seemed to be leaning our way.

A few days after my friend's counsel, I put the phrase to use. I had been asleep in our king-sized bed when the phone rang. Because my husband's profession often brought emergency requests, I knew the call would be for him. "The phone's ringing," I said, as I rolled over to rouse him. But, there was an empty space where he usually slept.

I went downstairs, dumped myself on the couch, and waited. "What are you doing up?" he asked as he entered through the back door. He appeared to be playing a soap opera part. If he hadn't spotted me, he surely would've been toting his Oxfords and tiptoeing in on stocking feet.

Then came my line, "I know you're having an affair."

"How did you know?"

"Your new clothes, your slimmer body, your indifference to me and the kids."

He sunk down next to me on the couch. We both cried. (What can I say? I'm not the pottery slinging type and I held some responsibility for a marriage gone sour.) "Will you come with to a marriage counselor?" I asked.

We had one session. The morning after, he descended the stairs with a gym bag in his hand. "I'm checking into a hotel; I'll call you later." He was glum; I was, I must admit, relieved, and grateful to the other woman for handing him the bad guy role and me the sympathetic character.

Fortunately, in our intervening 23 years, my ex and I have remained good friends. He is my emergency contact and I am his companion for doctor visits.

So, with this history, I stand firm in defense of my question. Now I think Offended2013 doth protest too much. If not another woman, what then?


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bed Bugs, Boston, and Beyond

This is how you apply Clobetasol to the area of your lower back that you cannot reach because your arms aren't long enough, or you don't have a partner willing to pave the ointment across the bed bug bites:

You tug a portion of Saran Wrap from its carton -- a square about the size of the infected area -- and scotch tape it to a wall. Then, you apply the topical to the wrap -- gently, as if you are buttering a slice of freshly baked bread -- until it is covered corner to corner.

Next, you remove clothing from your upper body and smoosh your back against the creamy wrap.  You may add music to accompany the swaying you will do to transfer medicine to the dots that have spread across your back like stars in a night sky.

Over all, I handled the recent plague of my person quite calmly because I was certain it hadn't originated in my apartment. The outbreak occurred just after I returned from a weekend at a Kansas City hotel. I know that hotels -- no matter the number of awarded stars -- are vulnerable to bed bugs.

But, my composure threatened to crack when I considered the trip I would be taking in two days to Boston. What if the critters had decided to travel home with me from K.C.? Could they have hitched a ride in my carry-on? Had they weaved themselves into the threads of the clothing I wore on the trip? Did I bring the terror troop into my sweet apartment where they would soon finish the job on other parts of my body?

"Is it possible you brought them back?" asked my Boston daughter Faith, who was echoing my unease. "Is there a way you can check it out so you, um, don't bring them to my place?"

"Do you want me to stay home?" I said in my perfected passive aggressive voice.

"No, Mom, I didn't say that. Just, is there a way you can be sure they haven't adopted you and won't accompany you to Boston?"

Because I admitted the same concern, I sought advice from Karen, my interior designer friend. "Call your building's management office," she said. "They likely have a protocol for dealing with bed bugs."

Protocol, I loved the sound of that because it meant I was not a pariah. If there was a protocol, that denoted something they teach in building maintenance school.

I called Kendra at the concierge desk. "Uh, I have a problem," I said, as if I were confessing a dead body that needed disposing. "I have a bed bug rash, which I'm certain I got at a hotel. But, I want to be sure I didn't transport any back to my apartment."

The knock on my door came as soon as I hit "End" on my mobile. Roberto and Edward, each bearing a powerful specialty flashlight, trailed Dzenan, our chief engineer. I stood to the side, as the trio flipped my mattress, removed cushions from the couch, poked into bookshelves and floorboards, scanned my carry-on, and combed through closets.

"No, nothing, no," were their findings, words as dulcet as a favored song. "Just to be sure, though, we'll get an exterminator to double check."

"I'm traveling again," I said. "If bugs are here, what can I do to be sure I don't carry them with?" (My daughter's worried voice had infested my brain.)

"Do you have another suitcase you can take?" Dzenan asked. I pointed to a new one I purchased after my dermatologist made the bed bug diagnosis and replacement suggestion. "Let's put the old one in a plastic bag just to be sure," he said, as serious as if he were plotting a military maneuver. "Buy encasements for your mattress and box spring; that'll kill any surviving bugs. We'll put them on for you. Toss the clothes you're taking with in a hot dryer, then, pack them in plastic. Bugs can't survive in heat."

Resisting an impulse to salute, I thanked the staff for their aid and absence of judgment. "No, we thank you," Dzenan said. "If the bugs are in an apartment, and the tenant doesn't let us know, it can turn into a much bigger problem. You were smart."

This was smarter: "Dear Sir," I wrote to the hotel's management. "I spent $487.32, including the two nights, to heal the bed bug rash from my stay in Room 211, Nov. 14-16, 2013." I included the phone numbers of my dermatologist and engineer, along with receipts from Target and Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

Will the check be in the mail? Stay tuned.