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

Untethered

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.