Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New Site for The Rookie Widow Blog


To read the latest posts for the The Rookie Widow and other blogs, please go to www.elainesoloway.com.

I look forward to seeing you there.



Thursday, February 18, 2016


I had to look up the difference between the definitions of "envy" and "jealousy" because those words were creeping into my head. I was curious to learn the specific emotion I had been feeling, when I watched a married couple -- a few years older than I -- exchange easy banter.

"Is that what you're wearing?" she had said, her voice interested, but not the least sarcastic. Her look towards her husband carried tenderness, concern, and admiration shaped during a solid marriage of nearly 60 years.

My new friends live in a condominium with a grand piano, captivating views of Grant Park, prized books and artwork, framed photographs of family vacations, and mementos of foreign travel. But none of this abundance was what I envied. They will grow old together, I thought. I had no ill will towards them, but I wanted what they had, and that is what is called "envy."

"Jealousy" on the other hand, is when you feel the threat of losing someone, a fear you might be replaced. But since I had already lost Tommy, and it was unlikely he had found another me in his afterlife, I could scratch jealousy as the sensation that had me musing about my friends' coupled life, and my single one.

In the three-and-a-half years since my second husband died, I'd occasionally wake with the notion I wanted a new man in my life. There'd be some void, some bit of the blues, and I'd focus on finding a fella as the salve.

"A companion," I would claim to friends, "not a husband. Just someone for an occasional early dinner, theatre, and perhaps travel. And spooning." I remembered how Tommy and I would fall asleep cradled together like newborn pups.

But whenever I'd toss that notion to friends my age, or to those who witnessed the years of my caregiving of Tommy, they'd return the volley with, "Men your age are not in great shape. Why would you want to take on that burden again?"

"You're right," I'd say, recognizing that my male cohorts aren't as sturdy as their female partners. So, I'd check off, "find a guy," and sign on to multiple interests that would replace that entry.

The hiatus would hold for several months until I'd get the itch again, which led to forays on online dating sites: JDate, Our Time, and Match.com. Bright-eyed, confident, and optimistic, I'd create an honest profile, upload flattering photos, exchange a few witty conversations, meet a handful of men for coffee/lunch/dinner, and eventually flee to "Do not renew" on the membership page.

On the first two sites, I fudged my age by five years, and that brought interested would-be suitors, but none with the glue that survived beyond our first face-to-face audition.

With my latest, Match, the sign-in required my date of birth --1938 -- and instead of fibbing; I fessed up, which became part of my profile. The men in my selected age range: 72-82, appeared to have slurped from the fountain of youth, for their desired females landed in the 55-65 age group.

So now I've decided -- despite my love for all things techie -- to forgo online dating and stick to a less deliberate method of pairing up. For example, I met my first husband when I was in college and he was dating a friend of mine. He took a shine to me, my friend never spoke to me again, and our marriage lasted 30 years before we divorced.

I met Tommy in 1996 -- as the song goes -- on the street where we lived. Rather than an online profile, we easily matched when we learned we were both divorced; and loved dogs, TV, and nights at home. We became a couple after just one date. Before he died in 2012 at the age of 77, his thin brown hair was just starting to show strands of grey; his face just barely creased, and his arms freckled by the hours of golfing rather than age.

If he had lived, Tommy would likely complement my current landscape of lined brow, white hair, and beige dots. And, I'd like to think I'd adore all of his matching emblems. I'd be content seeing us both unvarnished, and blessed with the gift of growing old together -- even with its challenges and complications.

But since that is not to be, perhaps God will place a male in my path. I just hope She doesn't take too long. I worry Her script might have us meeting "cute," something like a collision of our metal walkers as we tap our way to an early bird dinner.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Treasure Hunt

My favorite clue was "kitty in a tree." I think Felix liked that one, too, because he asked that the Hello Kitty key fob be used in three more games.

It all started with a text from Jill: "Can you come over and hang out with Felix for awhile?" The previous day, she had hosted a large Thanksgiving dinner, and was hoping to catch up on needed rest. "I'll try and get a babysitter, but are you available until then?"

Her query arrived while I was riding a bus that would get me to a hardware store. I was seeking a garage door opener that my daughter could use to park in the space allotted to my new apartment. Happy visions of her dropping over spontaneously were spurred by long ago memories of the times in Chicago when I'd return home to discover either of my daughters' cars parked outside.

On the bus, I was studying directions to the store and was as focused as if I were a gold rush prospector. But after receiving Jill's request, I shifted to my attention to my iPhone and typed: "Happy to help. On way to Baller's on Hyperion. Will text when done. Pick me up there."

This new plan heartened me, because four weeks into my move to Los Angeles, I was intent on being an asset, rather than a burden. If I could be helpful -- by entertaining my grandson and providing a respite to my daughter -- my immigration could be considered a win-win.

When I completed my purchases, that included a dry mop and a just-in-case toilet plunger, I typed: "Ready to be retrieved."

"Isaac's on his way." This alert from my daughter was another perk -- a chance to see my 18-year-old grandson whose words, "Why don't you move to L.A.?" sparked my recent long-distance transfer.

"Can you get Felix off his screen?" were Jill's first words after her welcoming hug. I followed her gaze to my six-year-old grandson who was prone on the couch, his eyes focused on an electronic pad and his thumbs swiftly pressing buttons.

I put my hands on my hips and surveyed the indoor scene. I considered my daughter's challenge as one crucial for me to accept and win. But first, I had to lure Felix outside.

While he continued his game, I took a few moments to contemplate their backyard. It held a lemon tree, Ping-Pong table, hammock, outdoor sofa, potted plants, a coiled water hose, and other items I could foresee as props in a game.

"How about a treasure hunt?" I said to Felix.  He lifted his head to face me -- interested, but not yet ready to abandon his screen. "I'll hide things, then I'll draw a map with clues. You'll have to search to find them. If you collect all, you'll win a prize."

To be honest, I had never devised, played, or completed such a game. Also, I can only draw stick figures and animals that can be identified by humps, feathers, or wings. But, I was undaunted.

Felix must've assumed I was a whiz at this sort of sport, for he quickly rolled off the couch to round up paper and markers. "You stay inside and close your eyes," I said, as I walked around the living room scouting potential treasures. Along with the kitty key fob, in a jumble of small toys, I found a plastic boat, a cotton stalk of celery, and a mini motorcycle with one wheel missing.

I quickly placed the kitty in the crook of the tree, the boat near the water hose, the motorcycle along the Ping-Pong net, and in what I considered a flash of inspiration, tucked the celery behind Isaac who was lounging on the hammock.

Then, I sketched out the map, and listed clues. Along with "kitty in a tree," I wrote, "boat needs water," "cycle gets a paddle," and "celery loves a boy."

"Come out now," I shouted to Felix. He ran from the house and grabbed the map, which looked to me as if one of his kindergarten pals had drawn it. As he raced through the yard, I'd shout an occasional, "you're warm" or a more helpful "turn around."

When he had successfully gathered all of the hidden toys, he raised his hands in triumph, and then continued for three more rounds with new objects and clues.

From the corner of my eye, I could see Jill watching us. Her face bore an expression reminiscent of the one I had when I had spotted her Honda outside my home all those years ago. It appears we all struck gold.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Public Transit

The patch on her right sleeve read "78866." Using the Pilot pen I had tucked into the notebook's spiral, I wrote down the number. "Let me repeat it," I said, "78866."
The conductor smiled as I continued, "I'm going to send a compliment to Metro. You've been terrific."
This was the second operator of a #2 Sunset-PCH bus that I had praised since my arrival in Los Angeles. The first driver, per my request, called out my stop, even though the audio system alerted me several streets prior to reaching the corner of Hollywood and Poinsettia.
The episode with 78866 began when my Tap card was out of funds, but my Senior Citizen Pass could permit a 35-cent ride. "I don't have change," I told her, pulling a dollar bill from my wallet. (The day before, my grandson, Felix, had showed me his treasure chest of coins, so I emptied my change purse into it.)  "Just take the dollar; my fault for being unprepared," I told her.
"Just ask one of the passengers for change," she said. "Don't waste money."
"No, that's fine. My mistake."
But, 78866 insisted; so curbing embarrassment, I called out my request, which was quickly answered by a mother cuddling her baby. She nimbly used her free hand to extract coins, at first refusing my paper bill, but accepting after I pressed it into her palm.
Of course, there have been hiccups on my use of Metro. On Sunday, after alighting from the #704 at Santa Monica and Fairfax, I asked a friendly woman where I would catch the #218. It wasn't until my 35-cents had plunked that I had learned I would've been traveling in the opposite direction of my destination in Studio City.
I relate these experiences because prior to moving to Los Angeles, various people warned me against its public transit system. "Dicey passengers, unreliable service," they cautioned. "You'll need to buy a car."
However, I had received my Carless Basic Training in Chicago and was determined to avoid the expense. Uber had successfully been my option for short trips, but for longer excursions, I turned to Metro.
My initial reasons to go carless in L.A. included: a desire to save money, to get exercise walking to bus stops and coffee shops, to learn its landscape via window seats, and to prove my independence. But I now realize it was my childhood adventures that bonded me to public transit.
It started in the 1940's, with the red Pullman streetcar that stopped on tracks outside our mom-and-pop grocery store. Here are excerpts, via my memoir, that may help you understand our relationship:
"Once on board the streetcar, Mother took a quarter from her purse and handed it to the conductor who made change for the ten-cent fare with the coin holder he wore on his belt. Then, with the car in motion, we lurched through the aisle until we found two empty spaces. After we landed on the cane-backed seats, I tugged at Mother’s coat sleeve and said, ‘Look, there’s Mrs. Schwartz, she’s going into the A&P.’"
Okay, that particular passage is a bit dour because it previewed the coming demise of our small establishment that couldn't compete with supermarkets. But there are other paragraphs that can enlighten.
Here's one from Chapter 7 of "The Division Street Princess":
"I recalled the first time Estherly and I rode the streetcar, on our own, to Wabash Avenue downtown for dance lessons. Dressed in outfits a step up from school clothes and carrying our tap shoes in drawstring sacks, we thought we were big shots.
"My cousin and I had a shtick back then that we ad-libbed every time the streetcar approached the bridge over the Chicago River. 'It’s going up,' Estherly would cry out, as the trolley paused at the water’s edge. While we’d watch the jaws of the bridge unfold and reach for the sky, and the tall sails slip below the open bridge, Estherly would add, 'What if it doesn’t shut back down tight? What if it falls apart when we cross it, and we plunge into the river?'
“'I can’t swim,' I would wail, and clutch Estherly’s sleeve as if I were a starlet in a B movie. 'Save me!' Once the streetcar made it safely over the closed bridge, we’d laugh at our pretend terror."
So, to all those who warned me against Los Angeles' Metro, you should know that once the red Pullman, streetcar tracks, and overhead cables, have been imprinted on your childhood brain, it's useless dissuading the rider from the joys of staring out the window, watching her world -- old and new -- pass before her enchanted eyes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Gold Line to South Pasadena

"You'll have to forgive Grandma," I tell Felix. "I'll be calling you 'Is-felix' for a few days."

My five-and-a-half-year old grandson flips his long hair from his eyes, pauses mid-bite, and waits for an explanation.

"You see, sweetheart, I've know Isaac for 18 years, so I'm used to that name. And even though he and I never lived in the same city, I saw him often enough to plant it in my head."

Felix takes another bite of his buttered French bread, and then patiently waits for more details.

We are sitting at an outdoor table in a bistro in South Pasadena. Jill -- his mother, my daughter -- is on her way back to our table and smiles as she sees up engaged in conversation. Her iPhone is pulled from her purse, and the image of small boy and grey-haired woman has quickly been saved and posted on Facebook.

The three of us have reached this destination after driving to a station in Chinatown, and then boarding the Gold Line to South Pasadena. Felix is enchanted by train rides and induces his mother to indulge him. I have been in town for just 24 hours, and although sleepy from pre-trip insomnia, do not forgo this chance to accompany them on the ride.

Jill places a Salad Nicoise on the table and leans in to hear the rest of my explanation for Felix's temporary tag. "So, until I get used to seeing you often, I'll probably start off by calling you by your brother's name. I'll catch myself and finish with your real name, and soon, you'll just be 'Felix.'"

My grandson appears to accept my excuse. His attention then turns to the trains passing by on a nearby track. Jill smiles; this makes sense to her, too. As for me, I am storing this scene on the plus side of evidence that I have made the right decision. Who could've imagined that two years after the death of my husband, Tommy, I would have moved from Chicago -- the city where I had lived nearly all of my 76 years -- to Los Angeles?

Although living walking distance to my daughter and her family was the primary reason for my move, I had a sense of something more propelling me forward, as if there was someone -- still unmet -- who needed my presence in L.A. I knew Jill and my grandsons were in solid shape and didn't require me, like some comic book heroine, to fly in and save the day. But, perhaps there was a young woman, desperate for a faux Jewish mother, or someone stuck at a decision crossroad that involved me raising the gate?

That Gold Line ride was the penultimate event on my magical first Saturday morning in Los Angeles, which opened with a Torah study at a nearby Reform temple. This attempt to replicate my regular Chicago Shabbat experience turned out terrifically. A group of two-dozen men and women in my age group, some originally from my hometown, welcomed me.

Following that, I joined my grandson Isaac for a deli lunch at Grand Central Market in downtown L.A.  This episode of sitting on a counter stool, eating a thick pastrami sandwich, with my tall, hip grandson at my right, filled me with a satiation that matched my appetite.

Sunday's schedule, two days post arrival, was similarly filled with happiness: a respite at Griffith Park while Jill hiked and I snacked and read the L.A. Times, then a visit to a pop-up restaurant with my son-in-law, Bruce, and my two grandsons.

A blank November calendar, which nagged with the possibility of boredom, is quickly becoming filled in. Along with Saturday mornings accounted for, I've had my first meeting for volunteers at Felix's school and will soon book a weekly tutoring date there.

Then, there's his birthday party on November 15, my book reading at Skylight Books on November 19, Thanksgiving at Jill's (my first ever in Los Angeles!), and tours of rental apartments in contention for my permanent residence.

As I think back on that first Saturday Gold Line train trip to South Pasadena, with my daughter and grandson seated a knee's length away, and all of the happenings of my first weekend in L.A., the identity of the person needing my presence here has become clear.

You've already guessed it, haven't you? It's me, of course.

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.