The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Monday Monday July 30, 2013

I live a mere 5 miles from the cosmopolitan hub of downtown Saratoga Springs, New York. And from The Hillhouse to town, it’s all one downhill shot. Pretty easy: a right, a left, another left and a final right and you’re on Broadway at the Riggi’s place. Can’t miss it. It’s a Disney-esque mansion on the corner. It’ll be on your left hand side. Then you make your final turn (right – and due South) and now you’re on Broadway, ready to do the cruise. Ready to see and be seen…

Right now, at the end of July, we are in the midst of racing season. For some folks, this is a Very Big Deal. There is a lot of money floating thru ‘the system’ right now; one doesn’t have to look long or far to see evidence of it. The Mercedes-to-Honda ratio has risen dramatically almost overnight, and so too has the number of people casually walking up and down Broadway in search of their next shamefully over-priced dinner.

I’d had a full day of appointments and errands, and in that they required I wear ‘town’ clothes (the nitty gritty work will happen tomorrow and will require a much humbler wardrobe) I thought that I might as well take advantage of bein all prettied up and take a walk up and down the strip just to see what was a goin on…. Now I don’t really know too many folks in town these days – my life is a rather cloistered one out in the country – yet as it turned out, the few people I might have run into I actually did run into. Such a lovely surprise is life.

At the risk of sounding like an embittered local, this town has changed. Even though I can agree that it’s a much cleaner, healthier town than it was some thirty years ago, much of the soul of the town seems to have disappeared along with the grit. And while Saratoga still has the overall aesthetic feel of a late nineteenth century town, nonetheless I feel its true charm to be waning with each season; each year it seems the large town moves closer towards the status of small city as it loses some of its most iconic, irreplaceable treasures and enormous new structures edge their way in. The Aldelphi Hotel, the very last bastion of old-world elegance, was Saratoga’s last authentic tie to the culture that gave birth to this town almost two hundred years ago. But it’s gone now too. We can only breathe out and through the pain as we ready ourselves for the anonymizing renovations being done presently behind the blackened-out facade. The gold hand-lettered name on the lobby doors from years past remains, and it gives us hope that the Adelphi Hotel will be back again one day, just as it has been for the past century and a half. But those of us whose hearts have been broken before by far less hopeful signs, we know better. It’s really best to remember the grand Adelphi of yesteryear, to savor those memories and then relinquish that lovely vision into the ether of all fond remembrances…

The grand promenade. Not so grand these days, but an evening’s entertainment, no less.  Not a long walk: four blocks up, four blocks back. I say hello to some friends, watch the people and smooch the dogs. An extended and friendly chat with Jim and Gerry, two very kind gentlemen who belong to the resident motorcycling population, then it’s back to the shadows of the country, just in time to get the chickens secured for the night. A quick call in to mom and dad, a brief and enjoyable conversation with each, and I’m ready for a glass of wine and a quick post before I tuck into bed with a book. As Mondays go, this was a nice one.

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This is the 150th season of racing at the Saratoga flat track. I was born in 1963, and my mom tells me I attended the tracks’ centennial celebration. Me and MaryLou! (Whitney, that is.)

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Just a corner of me – but look! It’s our pal Cecil! At least ONE of Saratoga’s ‘historic’ treasures is still around!!

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The new building’s up – but he’s not playing favorites – he splits his time between the Cantina side and Lillian’s…

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Don’t we love Cecil? Elihu and I sure do; his CD is a permanent part or our car’s audio library

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And look! It’s my buddy, Seamus! I’ve known him since before he was born. His dad and I were jazz-loving college kids who piled into cars and made road trips to shows all over the East… This kid’s doing well in college (pre-med now I hear) and also plays pro-level pipes. Plus he looks damn good in that outfit. Oh the hearts he’s yet to break…

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I’ve seen some twenties in his case at times…

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Handsome, talented young man…

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These guys are having fun across the street. Even the cop (at right, leaning on the column) was digging it.

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Not a lot of coin yet, but there’s a lot of competition too.

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This is Saratoga’s new thing this year. The giant en pointe shoes. Strikes me as kinda silly. Or maybe it might be better to say pretentious; the New York City Ballet was here at SPAC for less than one whole week this year. In my youth they were here all summer long, and this was truly a ballet town. Now it’s just posing as one. IMHO.

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You can see some of the artists’ names…

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And here, of course, you can recognize Balanchine’s name. I remember watching him direct the dancers at open rehearsals. Many of my summers as a youth were spent as an NYCB groupie.

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The beloved Adelphi Hotel. Such an interior – beautiful trump l’oeil paintings on the walls, the coziest, most densely-green walled-in garden patio you could imagine in back. And each floor had its own collection of antiques and treasures. The floors creaked, the stairways leaned. And I smelled the distinct scent of hyacinths one night in the salon by the main balcony. But now its interior is being radically changed. Likely very little of its historic charm will remain. Progress, you say? Hmm. I have another, far different opinion. Could ya tell?

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These are the two final grand hotel fronts on Broadway (the Adelphi’s brown awning in foreground). The one in the background with the white pillars was once the Rip Van Dam Hotel – and as the grand, historic hotels of Saratoga went, this was the lowest one on the totem pole. Appartently is was downright small in comparision with the giants of old, but today it looks fairly regal with its two-story portico. The hotel finally closed a good decade or more ago and became office space. These days it has been restored to a higher station in the city scheme and enjoys its newest incarnation as a high-tag, top-tier restaurant.

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There’s always a cluster of bikes in front of the coffee house. Those are my new pals, Jim and Gerry standing guard.

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I had an enjoyable visit with two of the riders, Gerry and Jim. This lovely machine is Jim’s ‘third last bike’. ! Love it. My last bike was a long time ago. Maybe when lil man’s a bit older I’ll give bikes another spin. But for now, walking the strip on foot is more my speed. And these days I think I’m less about weekends – and more about Mondays.

 

Day Away July 28, 2013

Had occasion to visit a new friend in a neighboring community yesterday. It was about an hour’s drive west, and I was excited to visit the town, as I’d known about it all my life but had never been there. Gloversville, NY, was once upon a time the very seat of America’s glove-making industry. Sorry – no historical pics of the town or its industry here. In fact just snapped a very few, but just enough to remind myself that I got out for a day and went someplace new…

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Now this lifts my heart – a good, old-fashioned music store, very much in the style of my beloved Village Music School ‘back home’ in Deerfield, Illinois. Saw four old-timers on the porch and just had to stop by and say hi. The future of joints like this seems a little iffy in our culture of big box music stores. But ya never know. There’s just no substitute for a place like this.

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Such sweetie pies! The men of Dad’s Music Shop invited Elihu and me to come and join em on a Saturday night jam. Our skills are rather primitive (at least mine are on the accordion) yet  I do think we might be able to keep up on a tune or two. It’s on the ‘to try’ list for sure…

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And look, I found myself a mid-century home in town! Hmm, gets me thinking…

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And an old filling station. A 1930s building, a 1950s light fixture. Awesome.

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But here’s the real Mecca. WATER. Plus mountains. Crazy silly awesome stuff of dreams. Man do I miss a lake…. The Great Sacandaga Lake is a river basin that was flooded in the late 1920s. While not truly a ‘natural’ lake, it is nonetheless a very beautiful place, with wide open vistas framed by the Southern Adirondack Mountains. Love driving over the bridge – it almost feels like I’m flying….

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Keeping my eyes on the road, I took a chance that these pics would come out…

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The end of the long bridge ride. The rest of the trip home was made up a steeply graded mountain and over miles and miles of dirt and gravel road. My ears clicked as the altitude changed and a cool mist covered the road in places. I imagine the folks two hundred years ago first carving these roads out of the forest – and I give up trying to even understand what that must have been like. I may still use the archaic flip phone (is it old enough yet to be ironic or cute?) but nonetheless I am a modern woman. While I may engage in some minor farm activity each day, truly, there is no ‘pioneer’ in me. Not sure how well I woulda fared in 1830.

I am eternally grateful for the physical infrastructure all around us, and in awe of its construction and design. All I gotta do is drive and take in the scenery.  Which makes for a very low-key, pleasant day away.

 

Woman of Oz July 27, 2013

When I write my posts, I sometimes remind myself of the Wizard of Oz. Or rather, the man behind the curtain pulling the levers and speaking into a mic. It’s an interesting feeling to sit in my comfy chair, alone in my room, ‘talking’ into the box on my lap. Feeling quite alone as I do (except for the constant crowing of roosters outside my window), it’s nearly impossible to realize I’m speaking to a group. And yet, luckily for me, I’m still able to do my thing, relatively unaffected by my growing and invisible audience. I had wondered recently if this might become challenging as time went on, but I’m happy to find that I can still tap into that universal mind and enjoy a line free of outside interference. As those who create will know, when things are going good and stuff is just coming to you, that’s a spiritual sweet spot. It’s kinda like getting in a canoe and joining the already moving water. Off you go… The trick here is not only knowing that I’m not exactly alone in my thoughts (nor would I want to be; the point of a blog is to share ideas), but that everyone in my life’s wake is privy to these thoughts and observations. Because of this, there are sometimes repercussions. But this is my life’s art for now, so on I go, broadcasting from my little chair behind the curtain.

Keeping one’s voice the same, without modifying its tone or exaggerating the day’s events when they seem a little too common, these are some of the challenges that face me. Thankfully, they aren’t affecting me at present, nor are they really concerning me. I’m surprised at this. Thought by now things might be getting trickier. You know, running out of ideas, becoming bored with what I already got goin. But I’m alright. My mind rolls up and down all day long as I tend to my outdoor work and I make mental notes to examine things more closely when my work is done. The biggest hitch in all of this is just remembering ideas later on. Guess that’s why writers take notes. I have a dry erase board in the kitchen, and a small pad in the car. If I’m lucky I’ll be near enough to one or the other that I’ll get something down in time. And while it aint Alzheimer’s yet, I forget far more than actually occurs to me – and this has me wondering sometimes if it’s not a foreshadowing of the fate awaiting me. But I’ll no doubt write about that chapter too when it descends on me. Cuz no matter how my aged years present themselves, whether it be memory loss or the inability to get around (hopefully neither!), that will be an entirely new adventure that will bring with it its own observations. And as long as I’m able to write, I’ll probably be letting you know exactly how I feel about things.

It seems that from the observations and ruminations I’ve published through these last few and difficult years, I have actually concluded the makings of what might be my first book. In this particular moment, my life has come to something of a stopping – and starting – point. Divorced, the ex married off, small farm chugging away, son just about in his pre-teen years… All of that, plus a recent little explosion of reaction to the blog on Facebook, and I think things are fairly tidily wrapped up. A period has been placed at the end of a long sentence. Life is by no means a static thing, and I am still grappling with some of the same challenges, but I feel a bit more confident these days, thanks to the most supportive readers and loving friends a gal could have. It strikes me as a bit ironic that at the ‘dreaded’ age of 50 my life is beginning again! I feel possibility now. As I watch the new garden outside my door begin to take shape and become real – all from the birth of my simple imaginings – so too I feel the birth of whole new future taking shape. I feel a little relief with the onset of this new chapter, too. A friend had suggested to me recently that this was the start of Elizabeth 2.0. I really like that. Nice way to welcome the new into my life, in all the forms it may yet assume. And with that, I’m think I’m done for now. Off to work in the garden. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain! The great Oz has spoken…

 

Ponderous Planet July 25, 2013

Life on planet Earth is certainly not for wimps. And while I may know only the mildest of challenges when seen in the larger scope of this immense world, the tiny events in my own life keep me ever-engaged in an unending process of disbelief, resistance, learning and acceptance. I try not to give my power over to these challenges of mine, but oh it’s tempting. Arthritis sneaks into my hands and begins to cause discomfort, an injury from some thirty years ago blossoms into a full-on nerve problem, low-grade poverty still makes it hard to sleep some nights, and of course, there are the familial concerns. The last Facebook flare-up of my ex and related responses has finally died down just in time for life to present some fresh, new dramas. Like my brother, who when faced with a family intervention for his alcoholism, bled the water line in my house dry, puzzling helpful neighbors and costing my mother several hundred dollars in plumber’s fees. Then there’s my father, who has in this past week decidedly turned a corner. Although he speaks in well-constructed sentences (and highly entertaining ones at that – his use of language still beckons an audience to listen) there is simply no point to his speech. He speaks in a conversational cul de sac, leaving even me feeling confounded and at a loss as to how to respond. Then there’s my mom, whose mobility is so much worse this year than last, and whose work load does nothing but increase – in spite of her having recently retired. And there’s Martha. The other matriarchal figure of the extended family who requires my brother’s help each day to assist with the most basic of tasks. She is not happy about this intervention of my brother’s. After all, if he goes to the hospital (which is highly unlikely at this time), who will tend to her?

This is a good month for my son to be gone. I’m not sure how it all would have played out if he’d been here. I even locked my doors last night for the very first time in my five years here – on account of my brother, and how enraged he became at our suggestion he admit himself for detox. Gotta give him props for his method of retaliation. He simply opened up both hoses and bled out the water line. Pump lost its prime, and without some serious manual intervention of said pump, no water was coming into the house any time soon. Good one, Andrew. It mighta made me laugh if it weren’t for the fact that it inconvenienced two neighbors and ended up costing our mother. Clever though, very creative. Better than a busted window I guess. (Yes, I did move the sledgehammer to a more covert location.) Now the clock starts. In a week’s time, if he still chooses not to be admitted to the hospital, mom will no longer let him use the car. Sure, she’ll ask him for the keys. That won’t do it, of course. So we’ve got our own means of enforcement, which I won’t go into here. Suffice to say the car won’t be starting for him.

Meanwhile, my house and garage are being painted. Which is fine – it’s great, actually (God bless my mom, once again she comes to the rescue) – but the folks doing the job must dodge a cranky goose and fresh chicken poop as they work. They’re a nice bunch, and really, they’re kinda like family. The dad of Elihu’s pal Keithie is running the show. But there’s a decidedly ‘Bad News Bears’ feel to the outfit; cigarette butts lay all over the driveway, and work in general seems a bit stop-and-go. But in the end there’s more ‘go’ than ‘stop’, so it’s all good.

Yeah, I don’t have it bad by any stretch of the imagination. But each day has its hiccups. And I know that for all of our sunny and polite on-the-street greetings, each one of us is a damn lier more than half the time when we answer ‘good’ when asked how we are doing. Are we really doing ‘good‘? Are things all just going swimmingly at home? Ok, so maybe they are for the most part, but there’s always that other part. We humans are so adept at keeping up fronts. I suppose we can’t all just go into it everytime someone asks us how we are, but a part of me wishes we as a culture were a bit less undauntingly cheery about things. Not that I think we should all carry our burdens forefront in our thoughts, but rather that we should all aknowledge that while things might be going well for the most part, not everything is exactly easy. We are all such troopers here on this planet. So much to do, so much to learn, such challenges yet before us. And some days, just too much to ponder.

 

Hitched July 22, 2013

Well, kinda thought it was coming. When I heard on my ex’s last visit that his girlfriend had recently “lost a ton of weight”, I thought I smelled a big day ahead. Women don’t usually just lose “a ton of weight” for no good reason. It’s most likely in preparation for some landmark event. Like turning 50. Or getting married. Whichever. So the idea had been spinning around in my head for a couple months. Not a new idea. But it’s funny how unceremoniously it was that I learned it had “just” happened. Whatever just means.

Elihu and I had finally caught up with each other yesterday, and tonite he called as I was making supper. As we usually do when we we’re apart, after all the urgent news has been shared, we default to a sort of ‘what are you doing right now’ sort of conversation. It’s more a means to keep the tunnel open to each other, more a way just to be with each other in the same room than to say anything new. He was telling me all sorts of little things about his day, and about how many hours they’d been on the road so far – nothing much of anything to tell – when he added, “oh, just so you know, it’s a little thing, but daddy and Jill had to get married. For a technical reason.” A year ago I might have reacted more acutely, but now, a year out, it didn’t quite knock the wind out of me. Didn’t even elicit a tear. But I can admit that I looked over to the microwave clock to note the time I was first given the big news, and I felt my chest contract just a bit. Elihu went on to say that he wasn’t sure of the details – and repeated that they’d done it because “technically they had to.” (I felt myself wondering why they didn’t “technically” need my husband and me to get divorced before they had two kids.)  Elihu told me they didn’t make it a big deal, it wasn’t a fancy ceremony with lots of people (I did manage to ascertain that Elihu had not been present for the big day) but that they were going to have a party later on. He just kept talking and talking, moving on to the next item on his mind, leaving me behind… silent , stuck in my thoughts, just the slightest bit dazed.

After nearly a quarter century together, and Fareed couldn’t have at least communicated this to me in some way? If not before, then maybe right after? Wow. If having children with two other women during our marriage wasn’t enough to show me the true colors of this man, guess this should pretty much seal it, huh. But bad behavior or not, I know that it is precisely because Fareed left that our lives have become so magical now. As our lives were destroyed, so too were they improved. A queer mix, but true. I realize that none of our wonderful new life would have been possible if Fareed hadn’t left. I remind myself this, because I can feel sorrow beginning to grow in my chest. Stop, Elizabeth…remember our new life here… We would never have known our blessed Waldorf School, we would never, ever have known what it was to have homing pigeons, to release them into the air and watch them return to us again…. We wouldn’t have known dear Timothy, our red golden pheasant, the chukkar partridges, ducks Joseph and Josephina, the many chickens, our dear button quail King George – or even our beloved goose Maximus – none of this would be part of our story today if Fareed hadn’t decided that he needed out of this marriage. Yeah, I know. But it still feels unjust, somewhere in my heart I still want answers; I want my husband, and the family that never really was – back. Tears come now. Seems the last time I cried it was over him too. That last, blow up of a visit. Wasn’t this done already? Guess not. More tears. More disbelief. I try to reconcile the dream of us in our Evanston home with this beautiful new life here in the country. We have a wonderful and full life here! We have grandma and grandpa next door…. So why am I still so sad? I certainly can’t say that I didn’t see it coming! Maybe this is why he didn’t tell me himself. Cuz he knew I’d cry. Asshole.

I already had a cold, so when I called my mom up to tell her the news, my stuffy nose didn’t give me away. As I’d expected, first I heard her initial expression of outrage and anger, but then she surprised me – as her tone uncharacteristically softened. She expressed sympathy. She became tender for a moment, as we both silently considered it all over again. Yeah, even with everything that’s happened, it was still sad. But we shook ourselves out of our lull by reminding ourselves that even if things were different, I would not want him back. Absolutely not. So. There it was. We both sighed a “whatcha gonna do?” sort of lament, and a beat passed.

I wonder about the two of them. They seem to have a good relationship. Certainly not the lustful, magical thing it might have once been, but they’ve managed to handle their two kids – plus two ‘others’ – as well as her going to school and his insane schedule – and they’ve logged some seven years now. (That includes two years I thought he was still my husband. !) Who knows. I have lots of friends tell me they’d put money on it not lasting ten years. Some think five, tops. Some speculate he’s cheating on her already. I don’t go there, cuz I just don’t know. And even though I am saddened that my old friend chose not to tell me about his marrying, I still don’t wish him any ill. In fact, I pray she’s still around to tend to him as he becomes an old man, because I can’t do that now. But someone has to. I hope she’ll stay on for the job.

Once, shortly after Fareed had come clean about having a pregnant mistress and wanting to be with her instead of me, we stood in the kitchen drinking gin and talking about things we’d hardly ever talked about before in our twenty-two years together. I asked him how he saw things now. Could he see himself with Jill at the end? I mean, we’d been together long enough that I’d always known how we two would die; one in the company of the other. But now, that sacred plan had been changed. I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be alone. I told him he could always call me. But he shrugged me off and laughed. He told me that he fully expected himself to be alone as an old man, living in a fifth floor walkup in Manhattan somewhere, practicing his guitar. And he said he’d probably end up dying alone – of AIDS, he added rather dramatically – and no one would care, but he’d be happy. Yeah, he probably would be. In a perfect world, a spouse and family are probably the last thing Fareed would ever need or want. Instead, the life that would suit him would be one of privacy; hours and hours spent playing his guitar, hours in which to write, to read, to enjoy a meal alone, a glass of wine alone, to do all this in the coziest of apartments, while far below the bustle of the street continues on, oblivious to the old man playing guitar in the window….

But for now my ex has hitched his wagon up to his lady’s for the long haul, and it doesn’t appear he’ll be living the life of a classical-guitar playing hermit anytime soon. But ya never know. After all, this was a man who told me in no uncertain terms that “divorce was not an option.”  Yup, plans change sometimes. We’ll just have to wait and see….

 

Garden Sky Boy July 21, 2013

This summer will mark the longest time I have been apart from my son in his entire ten years. And in my fifty years. And as of tonite, if fellow mothers may believe it, it’s been a week since I’ve heard his voice. As his father went to Chile for a few days (with not more than a couple days’ notice given to mom), Elihu spent the time with grandpa and girlfriend. But now where is he? Finally, after some unsuccessful calls I check Fareed’s site, and see he’s in Indianapolis (which always gives me pause, as that’s where outside baby #2 – the one I quite honestly have to thank for our new life here – was conceived. Ouch.) So, it’s an organ trio thing. Not exactly the forum for an add-on djembe player. So where’s the kid? I remember Elihu telling me a story about a ghost he once saw at this club (others have also seen the same apparition, apparently), and I wonder if he’s summoned his courage and is walking about, actively seeking a re-encounter as dad swings his thing on stage. Hmm. No clue. Or has he been left with the drummer’s girlfriend in a nearby hotel room? Such are the questions that I, as Fareed’s ex, must ask. I don’t panic. Cuz no news is good news. I think. It’s not the landscape of most post-divorce parenting plans, but it’s the one I have to live with. So I try to push it aside, put it out of my mind, and I keep busy. Which is not really difficult. But still….

In my son’s absence things have changed, both good and bad. How to tell him, when my own heart sank to my knees, that the deer have effectively chomped off every single blessed tendril and stem of our promised bounty – that his beloved sunflowers came so close, only to be clipped short of their blooms… I could weep, only I can’t. I suck it up, plan to lay out some serious 9 gauge frames and massive swaths of remay in hopes of one more shot this year… I’ll keep this one to myself for now, don’t need to break his heart too. Might still save something… At least the new pond and perennial garden will be here to take the sting off of the failed (maybe not quite yet!) garden.

Everything I do in the soil is for us; for Elihu and me. I do love to work outside, and as I work, I hold those visions of this magical property that I hope to create one day; I try to imagine how it might look twenty years hence if I can just somehow manage to get it all done…. Yeah, I work for those faraway goals, but also I work for us, for now. For my son and me, that we might live in a place of beauty (and, of course, an excess of vegetables). Cuz I’m lucky to have a child for whom beauty is important. And lovely things are made lovlier still when they can be shared. But for right now it’s just me, the chickens and Maximus. They’re sweet company, but it is kinda quiet. I really do miss my son. But then I think of how thrilled he’ll be to come home at the end of a long summer away to find a pond with fish, frogs and flowers…  My little nature boy, my singer of songs, my aviator…

As I tidy my computer, tuck away files and make long overdue backups to far-away clouds, I stall a bit, and waste a few moments on a photograph of my baby, just a year ago, maybe just two years ago. Where is my tiny boy now? It seems he’s almost a teenager. Still not quite. He’s still a little boy, and I am grateful, grateful. I only wish that I could hold him just once – to ‘check in’ as he and I say in our own language – then send him back to his father again. But we’ve hardly even reached the halfway point of his summer away. So much longer to go. The photographs help, but they also make progress at my desk difficult. I miss him a lot.

Then I find a piece of Elihu’s writing from the Spring, and I smile. Is he taking after me? I flatter myself. This is nature, not nurture. Well, maybe. Either way, in my head I can hear his voice, reading his newest writing aloud, and he seems a bit closer…

The engine starts, and the propellor whirls around. The cockpit of your spitfire slides into place. Gripping the stick tightly you move across the tarmack of the aircraft carrier. A man waves you on, telling you it’s safe to take off. That is just what you do; revving the engine you speed across the runway of the large boat, you feel your front wheels begin to lift off as you pull back on the stick. You pull up quickly as you reach the end of the boat – and you are in the air. Circling around the boat once you slow down to fly right in front of the boat and make sure you are across from the other fighter planes. Checking on the radio to make sure the other fighters are going to do the same thing as you, you speed off into the clouds, ready for whatever adventures the skies hold for you.

 

Heat Exchange July 19, 2013

Hoo-kay. This is that one week that happens each year in which I begin to think that just maybe I shoulda got myself an air conditioner… Each year, though, I ride it out along with millions of other human beings, and I thank God for my super cool (albeit musty smelling) basement. Usually I can take the heat. Never lasts too terribly long. And even on the hottest of days, it can feel bearable outside as the breezes blow by. The other day, in fact, I gardened in jungle-like conditions, but found that I was enjoying myself. Even marveled at how I was chugging along. (I’m expanding our little pond and putting in a perennial garden. Being such a nature boy, lil man will likely flip when he comes home and sees it all. And I’m going to stock the pond with fish, too.)

I keep checking my indoor/outdoor thermometer, marveling at the phenomenon which happens only at this time of year: the great heat exchange. The time of year when each day it becomes much hotter inside than out. It’s interesting to watch how the two numbers move towards – and then pass – each other. This poorly-insulated 70s ranch quickly becomes a hot box as the day goes on, and it can take hours beyond nightfall until it falls again to comfortable temps. And by comfortable, I mean like 85. And the humidity? Let’s just say that even paper doesn’t behave as it should in moisture like this. It bends in a suspicious way when I hold it, and if I should try and tear it, the fibers reluctantly let go of each other in seeming slow-motion, leaving behind a fuzzy edge.

Another temperature-related fact of life in this latitude (I find Chicago’s weather just about the same, although a tad less humid) is the enormous range of temperatures that we experience in a calendar year. From a nose hair-freezing 40 below to around 100 above, it’s really impressive. And while a bit annoying in those extreme moments, it does sort of give one a feeling of resilience and dare I say pride in one’s ability to continue on in spite of the ‘hardship’. Neighbors raise a hand in greeting across a field, and the feeling of solidarity grows. We are soldiering on; tending to our daily chores (although sometimes with less vigor or thoroughness) and just keeping up with things in general – in spite of the intense heat. “Can you imagine what it was like 200 years ago?” we ask each other incredulously. At least we can jump in an air-conditioned car or pass a few hours at the mall if we really need relief. I think of those folks whose jobs keep them outside on such days (not to mention the horses! Oh those poor creatures running in Saratoga!) and feel great sympathy. And I know that a good part of the world lives in tropical heat and without the benefit of air conditioning. So I know I don’t have it bad. But still.

I won’t be leaving this musty basement for a while yet. My computer’s here, I’ve got a couch, a crappy old tv and tons of filing to do. So I’m ok. For now, I’m going to exchange floors until my indoor/outdoor thermometer shows me some more encouraging numbers.

In an unrelated Post Script: Today I have been divorced one whole year. Didn’t actually learn that I was divorced until months after the fact (pro bono representation, whatcha gonna do?) so can’t say it feels like a landmark really. Yet it is. And I can report that these days I am feeling good about things. It’s taken til the age of 50 and over five years’ distance between me and my married life for me to finally feel free, hopeful…. and dare I say, happy! Plus it’s my dear friend Randy’s birthday too. So happy day to us both, old friend!

 

Guilty Too July 18, 2013

After writing yesterday’s post about the Trayvon Martin case, I prepared myself for some emotional responses. Glad I did, cuz I got a few. And as I worked in the garden today, I got to thinking more closely about it. Then I realized, that I too, had done something that I had been condemning in others. Funny how a person can live with conflicting truths. Double standards. I still stand by my feelings towards extremely conservative attitudes. I don’t think that sort of stance encourages basic human kindnesses, nor do I think it engenders an atmosphere for dialogue. But it’s that other word I used in describing this group that bothered a few people. I had called some of the locals ‘rednecks’. Yeah, I got it, as I sat there pulling weeds and digging holes, that using that word might have been provocative. It might not have been a wise choice of words, yet I think readers might know what I meant to imply by using it. As I’ve said before – it’s dangerous to start lumping folks into broad categories; it’s easy to use descriptors which don’t truly represent what it is you’re trying to convey. And what I had hoped to describe was a population of folks – rural to be sure – who’ve backed into their ideological corners and take a ‘I dare you’ sort of attitude towards anyone who might not share the same values and beliefs. Hell, if having an old toilet sitting outside your front door for two months while you ponder on how to dispose of it, if letting your chickens poop all over your stairs and letting the grass grow thigh-high are any indications of being a ‘redneck’, then I am definitely a redneck. ! I know plenty of people with whom I don’t share a lot politically, but we’re still able not only to be friends, but to talk about things. To have an exchange of ideas and perspectives. But there are lots of folks up here in the hills that would rather escort me on my way – and forbid me future visits – if I were to try and share with them my feelings about some things. Like equal rights. Like race, or sexual orientation. The very basic stuff that we, as a culture (in my opinion) should be well past by now.

Years ago, when I had just met my ex-husband, and we were rapidly growing madly in love, I experienced something incredibly eye-opening about not only myself, but the larger world. First, I myself was surprised that I’d fallen for a man of ‘some’ color – being half Chilean and half Pakistani you can’t exactly say he’s ‘black’ (when you get down to this sort of detail it all really does seem ridiculous) – but at that time in his life, especially with his jet-black hair, he looked a bit darker than your average white person. Yet I, as a dreamy adolescent, had harbored fantasies of falling in love with a Robert Plant type. Blonde, curly hair, strong, masculine…. white. And yet here I was, absolutely smitten with a skinny brown boy! Deep inside I could feel a strange new emotion growing – what was it exactly? I felt a hesitation, a certain hint of something being off, wrong, or at least not at all as I’d envisioned it would one day be. Yeah. I was being a racist. I was. The realization smacked me in the face one day, and I was deeply ashamed and shocked. Me? Having reservations about my new love just because he wasn’t white? Good God! Was this true? I examined my heart over and over, and learned that it was. But I loved him, I wanted to be with him, so I had no choice but to use the situation as an opportunity to learn and grow. Over the next two decades I would come to not only embrace all that his parents’ cultures contributed to him as a person, but these identities also became something of my own. After all, I ate the foods, lived with the languages, wore the clothes, learned the stories. Making my father-in-law’s curry chicken recipe is as much a part of my life’s history as is my own, ‘very white’ mother’s cooking.

One day, as we were filling his car with gas, a car pulled up alongside us and a man yelled out the window “Move your ass, camel jockey!”. Huh? I’d never head that before. “What did he say?” I asked Fareed, as I wasn’t quite sure I’d heard correctly. But Fareed just laughed and explained that he’d said ‘camel jockey’. A moment passed. The question still hung in the air. “I’m your camel jockey!” he said, hardly registering any offense. Apparently, this was not new to him. But to me – it was stunning. If I thought I was being a racist – and I cared about this guy – just imagine the deadly venom of those who truly were racist and couldn’t give one shit about him. How dangerous the world seemed all of a sudden. We’d gone from average people on the street  – to potential targets. I felt truly weak and vulnerable for the first time. Honestly, in that one moment, my life changed.

It’s easier to take things for granted than to stop and examine them. And who doesn’t want easy? Challenges are a pain in the ass. But we as people sometimes need to step beyond our own, familiar worlds. I think of the classic white guy’s response, when asked how he feels about his black friend as opposed the black population at large: ‘oh, but he’s different. He’s a good guy.’ To me that seems pretty outdated thinking, but I’m fairly sure there are some people in my town – right now – who might feel the same. I remember another moment of shock, when a young (white and local) fellow remarked about Obama’s first campaign, saying “I ain’t gonna let no nigger tell me what to do”. Now this is a pretty nice young kid. Helpful, kind, and certainly not what you’d call an abrasive personality. So the very hate embodied in his remark almost shook me physically. I remember wondering if my response had been apparent. I remember wondering if I should just nod politely, or return a volley. I said nothing. Really, I was just too stunned to speak. Once upon a time, before I began to play in R&B bands in Chicago and had begun to count many black people as good friends (in the 80s everyone was emulating Prince and wanted a white girl or two in their band), I too looked on black people at large as a great unknown. And I mean as a larger, overall culture. Because in my white, privileged upbringing on Chicago’s North Shore, I’d known some black kids. Only they were ‘white’ blacks. They had more in common culturally with me than did the guys on the West Side. (Hell, some of the black kids I knew as a kid were stinking rich, my family surely wasn’t.) So if I, as a reasonably tolerant and open-minded white person harbored even the teensiet bit of curiosity – and even perhaps discomfort – with this ‘other’ culture, imagine how far away this local country boy is from seeing dark-skinned people as equals. Scary, really. Just shows how far we still have to go.

Last summer Elihu and I attended the wedding of some dear friends. As we were driving home from our vacation, I prepped him with a little backstory. “This wedding is significant” I started to explain, “because it’s a wedding between two women.” No response. So I continued,”until very recently, gay people weren’t allowed to get married.” There was a pause from the back seat. Good, I thought, he’s getting it. Then he just very matter-of-factly responded “I find that hard to believe.” That sure stopped me for a minute. Amazing. But nonetheless I went on, thinking he was probably missing something important here… “See, this is a very important wedding…” he cut me off. “Yeah, because it’s the first wedding I’ve ever gone to!” To him, the most important thing was that he loved these people, and that he was going to be there for their big day. From the mouths of babes. If only we could all just think like that. My hope is that with each new generation we will begin to put the old, hateful ways of inequality and bigotry behind us. Some might think that’s never going to happen. After all we’ve been fighting and misunderstanding each other since the dawn of time. But something’s changing. I just know it. If for no other reason than the instant, world-wide communication that’s become a routine part of our lives. Now we can begin to finally meet each other, and in so doing, humanize ourselves to each other. And when we can be brave enough, and caring enough, to stop and examine the beliefs we currently take for granted – when we can make even the smallest progress into the territory of new and different thinking – then we will understand that we ourselves as a planet-wide population have been guilty of seeing other people as different – or less deserving – than ourselves. With our eyes finally opened, we can then pardon ourselves those trespasses and thoughtfully begin anew.

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Here are two links, the first to a short, documentary-style response to the ‘controversial’ Cheerios commercial. I myself had actually seen the ad on tv and had thought nothing about it. Apparently, neither did these kids…

 Kids React to Controversial Cheerios Commercial

And if there are any aspiring broadcasting students you know in the Chicago area, please check out this scholarship created in the name of the late Les Brownlee, a leading black journalist and pioneer in his field, also my one time neighbor and friend.

Les Brownlee Scholarship 

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Post Script: I encourage folks to share their responses here on this blog, rather than through personal emails. While I think people are just trying to be polite and respectful, I’d love to see the discussions that might evolve out of a post.

 

In Justice July 16, 2013

There’s a strange dichotomy in our country these days between lightening-fast social change and the continuation of archaic and primitive beliefs. Honestly, every last human being on this planet needs the very same things. Not everyone is content to stop at what they simply need, certainly, and much more importantly not everyone will concede that all their neighbors also deserve the very same things; this is part of the troublesome place in which we find ourselves these days. But the flood gates for parity among humans really do seem to be opening; the recent victories for gay marriage gift us hope and seem to indicate a critical mass has been reached. Now, if we could only see the same forward movement when it came to these insidious, deep and invisible biases when it comes to race and color of skin.

While I don’t believe that justice was served in the outcome of the recent Trayvon Martin case, I also don’t believe – deep down in my very core – that throwing his murderer in jail, while perhaps the best by-the-books outcome, would serve to advance the cause which is at the very root of this problem. Also, I find myself rather surprised, when reading all the Facebook comments about the injustice that’s occurred, that the commentors are expressing themselves in a tone of hatred that seems equally as inhumane as the sentiment of the race-based bias they’re objecting to. I understand the frustration these people are expressing – and I share that frustration – but then to blindly swing the other way and demand figurative blood from the other side – that gets us nowhere. A strange feeling comes over me as I take it all in – there’s a creepy, subversive taste to the sentiments folks are expressing. I’m reminded of the book we were required to read as middle schoolers… In The Lottery, a small, all-American town attributes its comfortable way of life to the annual sacrifice of one of the town children. Each year there is a lottery – very much like that in The Hunger Games – in which a child is chosen, and then ultimately stoned to death by his or her own townsfolk. I can’t be the only person feeling like this. Feeling that in our fevered desire for equanimity we’re losing sight of the forest for the trees. Are we not perpetrating the very thing we are espousing to go against? Are we not all feeding into a mass-mindset of eye-for-an-eye? Are we not resorting to primitive resolutions – needless sacrifices – in order to achieve our goals?

I’m convinced that simply incarcerating people guilty of certain crimes does nothing to prevent the said criminals – or others – from continuing to repeat the same or similar crimes. I do now understand, after having become friends with some folks who’ve actually worked inside state prisons, that there are some criminals who are beyond remorse, beyond rehabilitation – criminals whose actions are the result of any combination of nature and nurture – and they truly should be separated out from the population. And while I believe that this George Zimmerman fellow who shot Trayvon (and must deep inside his heart believe that he was justified) would do well to be ‘taught a lesson’, I think the larger issue is not necessarily to punish or incarcerate this man, but rather to begin work on transforming him and those who think as he does. If we can step back for a moment and turn down the heat of our emotions, why is it that we would want to see such a person behind bars? To ‘show’ him? To make a statement? Or to help bring about his remorse? To simply see justice served? Or, maybe, to help re-define for our culture what is acceptable and what’s not? That is my hoped-for objective at the end of the day. I ask those who angrily demand justice: will his incarceration actually do much to advance the cause of equal rights? I understand Trayvon’s grieving family might crave this man’s imprisonment, but what, as a society, do we really gain from it?

I realize too that it’s far too easy for me to make such sweeping assumptions about justice and the futility of our system, but it’s precisely because I’m not emotionally wound up in it that I can dare to give voice to my feelings. I can already feel the grumbling response to this post growing. Yes, some will say I have a naive take on things, that nothing’s as simple as all that. Yeah, I get that. But I also get that our system does little to improve situations. Our comfort with locking people up – and not addressing the reasons or cultural climate that gave birth to the crime in the first place – that is the shit that bothers me greatly. We all love the drama of a good crime story – but one upon another they’re quickly forgotten. We don’t learn anything of substance about why the perpetrator did what he/she did, what socio-economic or mental health issues may have been involved… nothing of substance ever seems to come to light, and if it’s mentioned, it’s certainly not investigated with any rigor. So we lock em up. That’ll show em who’s right. Yeah, ok. But what then? Have we fixed anything? All we’ve done is to take a moral stand. We’ve talked the talk, but beyond that, there’s not a lot of walking goin on.

As I pulled up to the local convenience store today, I saw a small sticker on the wall. On it was the shape of our country, and the text in the middle read “I miss America” (strangely, it was printed in yellow and black.) Given the mostly conservative and somewhat redneck climate of my immediate neighborhood, I got the message. And it occurred to me that those who would put up such a slogan might be feeling as if Mr. Zimmerman was exercising his inalienable right to self-defense in that brutal act. Where I live, there’s just no room for any conversation on such matters. Truths are black and white (or black and yellow) and no one in my neck of the woods is changing their minds any time soon. This breaks my heart. I can only hope that little by little the inevitable changes moving through the cultures of our entire world will soon wash over these people too. And I hope too that somehow, one day – maybe still a century off, but I so hope not – our very legal system will also change to reflect a larger vision of human truth. Because the main issue here is the establishment of balance between every single citizen of this globe. While we bicker amongst ourselves about rules and laws and meting out punishments commensurate with their crimes, we might just be missing the larger point. I realize we have to start somewhere, but I hope we pick up speed as we move towards our common goal. I pray one day everyone sharing this planet might have the peace of mind and heart to know they are truly living in a world of love, respect and justice for all.

 

Toddlin’ Town July 14, 2013

Man, did we toddle around town. We saw so much in one short week. Still weren’t able to do some things on our list, but we did a lot… Again, might be too many pics for some folks’ interest, but thought I’d share em anyhow. I still can hardly believe I was in Chicago just a week ago. I kinda need these photos to remind me that yes, I was. (Btw – this is my final post on our trip. I promise.)

July 2013 trip B 016First thing we see as we step outside Union Station.

July 2013 trip B 019First thing Elihu does is whip out his drum and join a busker on the station steps.

July 2013 trip B 033Next, our friend Marja invites us up to her office on Michigan Avenue for a look at the city from the 21st story.

July 2013 trip B 042This view has what’s known in my family as a ‘high pucker factor’. I won’t mention which part of the body it is that puckers up at this dreadfully alarming height. I’ll leave the answer up to your fertile imaginations.

July 2013 trip B 091The view South down Michigan Avenue.

July 2013 trip B 101See that pointy building with the ‘bump’ on top? Some locals call it the ‘buglamp’. It’s a giant, blue light that has been part of the skyline since the ’30s. And I’m lucky to have been one of the few to have actually been inside the thing. Another enchanted story of a more innocent time… I had merely expressed my interest in visiting the dome to an employee of the building, and within minutes I was inside the two-story lamp, climbing a ladder to a makeshift plywood floor beside a giant blue light bulb. We swung open a large panel of glass and then sat with our legs dangling out and over the side, while we took in the breathtaking view of Grant Park to the East. In this day and age that sounds unbelievable. But it happened. And it’s a memory I treasure.

July 2013 trip B 109Now we’re looking East. Navy Pier visible just between the buildings on the far left. And speaking of that leftmost building, at 82 stories it’s the tallest building in the world designed by a woman-lead architectural team. “Aqua” has a lovely, continuous curving shape delineated by its balconies, and which gives the building the feeling of a wonderful, twisting sort of movement. I’m a fan of Jeanne Gang!

July 2013 trip B 074It’s the bean! Still think of this as a new part of Chicago, but it’s already been there since 2006. Oh, and it’s actually entitled ‘Cloud Gate’. Just so ya know.

July 2013 trip B 063That’s me and Marja waving. She’s got the bright yellow-green pants.

July 2013 trip B 065One of those classic tourist pics…

July 2013 trip B 753And now, to Evanston. This is my old, beloved home. Miss that living room and its enormous windows. In keeping with the former family’s traditions, each year we put up a giant, 20 foot Christmas tree that could be seen by all who passed. The place has been known to generations as ‘the Christmas tree house’, and in fact that’s how I first knew this place as a young girl.

July 2013 trip B 693Also miss the treasure hunts in those awesome city thrift stores. Dig that telephone!

July 2013 trip B 881We’re at The Guitar Works in Evanston. Owner Terry Straker is a pilot. Planes are more exciting than guitars any day. !

July 2013 trip B 932This is the shit that makes me miss Chicago. Saratoga is nice, but sometimes I really miss all the funk of a city.

summer trip 2013 A 006Inside at the Green Mill. Like coming home.

summer trip 2013 A 002Looking up and seeing Von so unexpectedly made me tear up. Hard to believe he’s been gone almost a year. Bless you, Vonski. Thanks for helping us all to ‘express’ ourselves.

summer trip 2013 A 026Closest thing I have to proof I sang there that night. My kid forgot to snap a pic of Mama. Sure had a good time. A line down the street and around the corner, and shoulder-to-shoulder inside. Fun for a night, but not quite my speed anymore.

summer trip 2013 A 061Back in Rogers Park, the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago, where Fareed and I lived  for 12 years. We had a great little two bedroom co-op right on the beach, with a balcony and view of the city. (Evanston is the next town up the shore from here). The title of Fareed’s album ‘Manresa’ was not inspired by some exotic destination, but rather from the name of this very apartment building. (I have a similarly-posed pic of his dad from the 80s on the same spot.)

summer trip 2013 A 130At Evanston’s beautiful (and expensive!) South Boulevard beach.

summer trip 2013 A 071Ah, wind and water. Nothing comes close to that feeling.

summer trip 2013 A 119Folks who’ve never been to Chicago rarely think of beaches. But some of the very best are here.

summer trip 2013 A 117Just sand, water and horizon. And two pretty seagull feathers.

summer trip 2013 A 133Good-bye for now, dear beach!

summer trip 2013 A 136At our old next-door neighbor’s 4th of July party. That’s Barbara, the new resident of our old home resting on the fence.

summer trip 2013 A 152Chicago’s fireworks on Navy Pier, as seen from the Chicago Yacht Club. Not a great experience when you compare it to Saratoga. In a small-ish town it’s possible to get right up close and under the action. Here, the display was a good quarter of a mile away.

summer trip 2013 A 166But Elihu’s not really here for the fireworks…

summer trip 2013 A 179He was rockin it. Had a big crowd nearly the whole time – and dozens of folks recording him too…

summer trip 2013 A 184Tried busking at the bean but got shut down by the fuzz. We kinda thought it might happen. But they were nice about it.

July 2013 trip B 860Elihu was pooped! Lil man did really well. We packed a lot into a short time. (Note the Ben 10 Omnitrix watch. Elihu is usually so precocious and grown-up that I can sometimes forget he’s still a little boy. He wore that thing day and night for the whole week. So adorable. !)

summer trip 2013 A 214Our final stop in Evanston; the rose garden and crane fountain. Shortly thereafter Elihu and I parted ways, as he went to spend the next month with his father, and I left to catch the train back to New York. This was a phenomenal trip. Elihu will never forget his tenth summer. And it’s still not half over! Chicago’s finished for us this year, but no doubt there’ll be a few more summer adventures to come…