Nov 012020
 

October 31, 2020 — Today was a great day until about 6 p.m. I’ve spent most of the last 48 hours at a (virtual) humor writers’ workshop named for the late great Erma Bombeck. Erma’s spirit hovers over the conference, and like her writing, the speakers are uplifting, inspiring, and wildly funny. Laughter has soothed the heart of this savage beast, who, like most everyone else, is in a quarantine funk and positively witchy.

On the asset side of the ledger, I heard many A-list writers and comedians talk about craft. I learned so much that I can put into my newest project, which, by the way, is not a humor project. But it’s about my family history. Let me tell you. Somebody has to see the humor in it. #virtualerma #centennialfarmfamily

I also reconnected (even virtually) with old friends and made new ones.  I have been bathed in gratitude and love throughout this experience.  I wish I could bottle and share my emotions.

The conference this time was able to reach nearly twice as many writers. Physical attendance is capped around 350, but the virtual world opened up spaces for more writers.  The technology worked surprisingly well as complicated as it was. (Well, except when zooming from Outer Slobovia, Alabama, on a six-year-old phone. There were a few minor technical glitches. Can you hear me?  Can you see me? Is that your vacuum cleaner in the background?)

The long-time emcee Patricia Wynn Brown put together a video for the end of the conference.  Attendees had been asked to submit a picture of our apparel for the meeting. Naturally, I dressed as Snow White, holding an apple. (The sight of a Plus-sized aging Snow White is enough to scare any Halloween goblin.)

And then the conference was over. The grim realities of pandemic life crept back. Despite a respite for two days, all the world’s problems remained. A friend with cancer got a bad report. The country reached 100,000 COVID deaths.  A friend in Miami still suffers from the long-haul version of COVID. Like my father and aunt, older adults I love remained locked in senior facilities, surrounded by the disease in Indiana and Massachusetts, respectively. There was an earthquake in Turkey, prompting me to look on a map and see if my first cousin, his wife, and their two babies were in danger. (They were not.)  Many in our divided country threaten violence around election time.  And others are locked in private horrors of illness, addiction, death of a loved one, and depression, and anxiety.

Even though I laughed until I cried for 48 hours, the real world was still there.

I wanted to hide in the darkness, and unwittingly, I got my wish.

We had decided not to pass out candy for Halloween this year. In the 24 years we’ve lived here; our neighborhood has been a haven for trick-or-treaters. We usually buy those nice mini chocolate bars, the good stuff, and no circus peanuts. The community rule is that if porch lights are on, we’re open for business. If the porch lights are off, a wicked witch lives here and GET OUTTA MY YARD.

I made beef vegetable soup as my husband, Herman, prepared to leave for the store. I told him that I couldn’t turn on the outside lights for his return because that would signal that we were ready for the little goblins.

Herman had chastised me all week, “You’ll be sorry. I’m telling you.”  He thought we should hand out the candy and be careful at the door.  Since we had no candy, he was abandoning me for the grocery.

During a typical year, my husband — did I mention he’s a weirdo — likes to pass out the candy from a Dutch oven? Not an orange pumpkin, but a Dutch oven. Is this tradition from his strange childhood? I don’t know–he doesn’t own up to it.

He noticed I was cooking the soup in our Dutch oven and commented as he left, “What are you going to tell the children? That you couldn’t pass out candy because you were using the Dutch oven to make soup?”

Yes, that’s EXACTLY what I’m going to tell them, you big dope.

Through the trees, the full Blue moon marginally illuminated the outside of the house.  I needed the kitchen lights to chop vegetables. Chopping celery with a very sharp knife in the dark is a bad idea, at least where I come from. And there it was. Shortly after he left, there was a rapping at my door. Oh, nevermore.

Putting on my purple Aetna Medicare mask, I undid the chain lock from the front door and peeked out. About six inches on the other side of my face was the face of the most beautiful pink princess (sans mask).

“Trick or treat,” she said and was echoed by two other princesses, also unmasked,  right behind her. About six feet behind them stood her unmasked mother, smoking a cigarette.

“I am so sorry. We don’t have any candy this year,” I spurted out, almost in tears. And I turned them away. Hadn’t I just seen on the local evening news a warning that people with compromised health shouldn’t participate in trick-or-treating this year?

I’m a rule follower, but my heart hurt.

I turned off every light in the house, tripping on my oxygen cord until I sat down in front of the TV, still blaring on in the living room.

My wish was granted to sit in the darkness and ponder all that is around me.

When Herman came home and found me in the dark house, he said, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” I was not impressed with Herman going all Sir Walter Scott on me, especially after this witch had tripped all over my web (oxygen cord) trying to find a safe place to hide in the darkness.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.

Erma Bombeck

 

Happy Halloween, everyone. Pray for those in need.

 

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Oct 042020
 

October 4, 2020 —  Earlier in the week, I walked into our kitchen in the afternoon to find my husband in his pajamas, eating lunch.  I wore the pink flannel nightgown I had slept in the night before.  Two p.m.  I noticed that husband Herman was eating clam chowder out of a saucepan.

“We’ve completely deteriorated as human beings,” I said, “We’ve become animals.”

Herman said, “I did this because it’s one less dish for you to wash.”

Honestly, I couldn’t argue with that.

We’ve now been in quarantine since March 6.  Eight months? A hundred months?  What day is it?  Who am I?  How did we get here?  And like my life in 2020, there’s no narrative arc in this piece, just some ramblings and observations from where we are. We both fall into the high risk category.  He’s the shopper.  I only go out to doctor or dentist.

I know that I am beyond fortunate to have a roof over my head with enough space that my Beloved and I don’t drive each other crazy.  He is now fully retired, having completed his 32-year-career at a  local university.  And just in time, as the chaos of the world hits everyone, including small, private universities that struggled before the pandemic.  Herman has an online antiques business (www.randysgallery.com) and it keeps him busy enough that I get the free time I’ve learned to appreciate since my retirement three years ago this month.

We are cautious, but this week we made a six-hour round trip to a park in Greencastle, Indiana, to meet my father, my father’s girlfriend, and my baby brother.  We had not seen them since January 11th when we celebrated my brother’s 60th birthday and retirement.  My Dad will be ninety in December, God-willing.  In the months since we’ve seen Dad, he is more frail and his short-term memory is somewhat diminished.  But we’ve been quantaintining and he has been doing the same, so we enjoyed two of the best (masked) hugs a father and daughter could enjoy.  I cannot find words to express how joyful it was to see him.  He cried when we left, and my heart hurt.  But I am exceedingly grateful that my brother drove them to the park.

Even on a Tuesday in the middle of October when the park wouldn’t be crowed, I made sure we had shelter. I rented a shelterhouse. There was a sign on the shelter that MY NAME had reserved it..  But when we arrived there were about 10 or 12 elderly women having a Bible Study.  Oh, this could be delicate.  What would Jesus do?  Jesus would kick them out, as I did.  Actually, I gave them the option to stay in the large shelter.  But, they left almost immediately.  Was it the way I looked?   I wore my hot pink Heidi hat, the one with two braids that I bought in Iceland.  I had on clip-on, pop-up sunglasses on my purple, rhinestone-laden, new cateye glasses,  fingerless, arthritis gloves, and an oxygen tank strapped to my back.

This time, and possibly henceforth, I was wearing appropriate Foundation Garments. Now, you must be a woman of a certain age to get what I’m saying here.  This is what your mother or grandmother  call a bra.  Women of a certain age and of a certain size called it a Foundation Garment.  It’s what keeps The Girls of a certain age in line, shall we say.

I have known to refer to my rack as the “boobal region.”  For most of my incarceration in suburbia, I have gone without Said Foundation Garment, and this has caused unfortunate consequences.  I am now back wearing the blasted thing which keeps The Girl in their rightful place, because of the following event.

Last week I went into the kitchen to make a simple turkey and cheese sandwich with mayonnaise.  I put two slices of bread on a plate and covered one piece with mayonnaise.  On the other side, I placed a piece of Swiss cheese and turkey breast. I reached over the sandwich fixings to take out a handful of green grapes to eat with my lunch. At that moment, I created a work of art so fine that Jackson Pollock would likely rave about it.

The creation was a result of my not wearing what I should be wearing and something on the counter that shouldn’t be on the counter.

I have learned my lesson.   I’m moving forward, my career as an artist over.

All three of these incidents happened earlier in the week.  Every day I’ve sworn I was going to write about them.  But in this universe of horror, time flies by so quickly and escapes me.  Today, I said, today is the day, but as someone who wears oxygen for pulmonary issues, I got all caught up in the story about whether POTUS had dips in oxygen.  It’s not often this is talked about and I was interested.  It made me wonder what my daytime oxygen was, so I checked it and it was 89.  Damn, I thought, that’s pretty bad considering I’m on three liters of oxygen.  I did my pursed-lipped breathing and I checked it again, and it was only 92.  Then I started to get upset and worried about it.

At my last visit, my pulmonologist increased me from 2 to 3 liters.  These numbers were freaking me out.  I went out into the kitchen to check on a stew I’m making for dinner.  I passed Big Tanko (the 40-lb machine that I’m tethered to in the house) and noticed THAT HE WAS NOT TURNED ON.  Yes, this is a cautionary tale.  I am slowly losing my mind, but I’m fully dressed, oxygen saturation at 99% (just checked in) and grateful that those are my biggest problems. -30-

 

 

Sep 092020
 

September 9, 2020 —  I huff and puff up white marble staircases of the Doge’s Palace, over-the-top gold ceilings high above. Even on a rainy day, the gold-leaf reflects a shimmer in the mighty stairwells.  We cross over the Bridge of Sighs and see Casanova’s home in captivity, a lightless cell where he likely contemplated his conquests. The tour of the Palace is over, and we want to return to our hotel on the other side of Venice.

Friends told us not to come to Venice.  The Grand Canal, they said, is so dirty. We laughed, reminding them that we live a mile from the Ohio River, with its coffee-colored water that contains everything toxic from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and down river to us. Today is our third and last day before we go to Lake Como.

It’s raining as we step out onto the walkway to St. Mark’s Plaza along the seawall.  There’s a slight October chill in the air, a reminder that colder weather isn’t far away. My husband opens his black umbrella and covers both of us. Bluish-brown waves from the Venetian Lagoon crest over the wide sidewalk, forcing tourists to cling to the ornate outside wall of the Palace. Moored vaporetto’s and gondolas whack against the seawall, boats covered tightly with tarps sealed like plastic wrap over leftovers.

We fan out once reaching St. Mark’s, tourists scattering in all directions for safe places, hotels, restaurants, Harry’s Bar for the original Bellini. The pink lamps – five on a post – cast a spell on the plaza in the light rain.  Did Lord Byron see these same lamps in the rain? Where was his safe place to get out of the weather? Seagulls perch atop each lamp, as if arranged in advance, one bird to one lamp. The plaza itself is devoid of the usual crowds.  Tables are shoved to the side, their accompanying chairs upside down on them, puddles coagulating around each grouping.  A growing mist settles from the lagoon over the plaza, fingers of dampness reaching into dozens of little streets in three directions.

My husband has a headache, and we need to find a Pharmacia.  Which street will we choose? We quickly ascend steps in the rain, steps by now slippery. Most of our fellow tourists have disappeared.  We pass little restaurants, shops selling elaborate masks, crystal-colored rhinestone, and maroon feathers—no Pharmacia.

We cross small canals as we chart our course for the hotel, hoping to find headache relief along the way. We find ourselves near the Rialto Bridge.  Haven’t we crossed this already?  Are we walking in circles?  Asking directions with a language barrier is fruitless.  We follow the signs to the bridge over the Grand Canal nearest our hotel. Weren’t we just here? Three-hundred bridges in Venice, and to us, they all look the same, except for the famous Rialto with its distinct shape.  We find ourselves in a more touristy area – there’s a Hard Rock Café.    Ugly Americans in business also as out of place as the Starbucks at the  Louvre. Why are my expectations for Europe so different from our much younger America?

We find a Pharmacia, and my husband and the pharmacist negotiate his need for headache relief.

Finally, something looks familiar, a big bridge over the Grand Canal.  But we’re on the wrong side. We cross and believe we are getting closer.  A turn and another right beside a smaller canal, and the Hotel Papadopoli is ahead, sanctuary on a rainy day.

 

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