What Price Joy?

Today is my birthday. As we do, I attempted to start celebrating my birthday weekend on Friday night, when Eric and I went to Marie Callender’s for a fancy dinner of buffalo chicken sliders and Happy Hour pepperoni pizza. A good time was had by all. 

We got home and took the dogs out for their evening walk and, long story short, Millie got stung by a bee. Actually, I’m pretty sure she got stung by a bee and then she ate it. All of this is information we have pieced together in retrospect. 

Before I go further, let me say, Millie is fine. As I type this, she is underneath the bed, chewing on her toenails. 

Anyway, it took us a few minutes to figure out what had happened. One minute on her walk she was fine, then she was chewing on something, then she seemed disoriented and couldn’t walk well. When we got inside the apartment, she threw up and then I was pretty sure she’d been stung by a bee. We called our vet, they were closing and they directed us to a 24 hour clinic. 

200 dollars and two hours later, we were at CVS, trolling the aisles, Millie happily wagging her tail as her fathers searched for Benadryl tablets.  

I guess it’s a little indelicate to talk about money, but I wasn’t super excited about spending that much money on my dog. Probably, we could have gone to CVS when it first happened and bought the Benadryl and probably she would have been fine.

As we were hurriedly leaving the apartment, a shaken Millie in my arms, unsure of what lay ahead, with as much victimized passive aggression as you can imagine, I muttered, “Happy Birthday.” And then Eric said, “What?” And I tersely said, “Nothing!”

I fretted all the way down Beverly as Eric drove and Millie burrowed her snout into a blanket and my hands trying to alleviate an itch that had developed from the bee sting. 

But like I said, she’s okay. They gave her a couple of shots, we had a fun little visit to CVS, and then we took her home. 

Update, Millie is no longer under the bed. She is now on top of the bed, inches from me, licking the sheets. 

Anyway, when we got home, Brokeback Mountain was on tv. That’s a fun movie. I felt like maybe I’d had enough sadness for one day, so I went in the other room and read a book. Ricky snuggled next to me. After a time, Millie and Eric came to bed too. 

And then this morning came, and I woke up next to Eric, Ricky between us, Millie sprawled at my feet, all of us in our assigned positions. I checked to make sure Millie was okay. She was. And, I don’t know, either you get it or you don’t, but I was so happy this morning. My little family, we had weathered another challenge, and we lived to tell, or bark, the tale (or tail). 

Update: Millie is now rooting around underneath the duvet cover, trying to settle in for the night. Actually, she just came out and rested her head on Eric’s legs. I took a picture that I’m going to use for this blog post. And now she’s licking sheets again. 

It’s crazy when you think about it, how something as mundane as a licky dog, or a morning cuddle, can bring you so much joy. I am 49 now, today, and I have gained some sense of what moments in life hold the most value.

Now she’s giving me a kiss. 

Good night, happy birthday.

For You Are With Me

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According to family legend, in the weeks before my father’s mother died, she had a conversation with my mother that changed the course of our lives.  At that time, my parents did not attend church.  I was still a baby so you know how long ago this was.  “Find a church,” my Grandma said, “Any church, I don’t care what denomination, but find a church and become a part of it.”

And in the months after her passing, my parents did just that.  They found a church.  As long as I can remember, church was always a central part of our spiritual and social lives.

When I was in my twenties, I left the church and in my forties, I returned.  A very long in the tooth prodigal son.

Last night I wrote about the events of the last week.  As I published the post and ran out the door to my friend’s party, I felt a lightness.  Eloquent or fumbling, I put into words what I had been feeling.  I tried to approach it with kindness, not always the easiest task when talking about polarizing subjects.

This morning,  I looked forward to church.  I got there early and sat in my pew.  There is a thirty minute organ concert that precedes every Sunday’s worship service.  You can judge me, you probably should judge me, but I tend to spend that time on my phone, checking Instagram, texting and emailing.  As the prelude began it’s final chords and the organ began to swell, I put my phone away.  In the time that I had been looking down on my phone, the sanctuary filled up.  This morning, it wasn’t average Sunday in November full, it was practically Easter full.

We stood to sing the opening hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.  The oft-mentioned beauty of my church comforted me and yes, even surprised me a little.  Every Sunday, I can’t believe how at home I feel on my little pew in this grand, old sanctuary.  I was grateful to have a place where I could bring the sadnesses of the last week.

I touched on it in my last blog, this complicated navigation many of us are attempting with family members who did not vote the same way we did.  Like I said, my parents voted for Trump.  I voted for Hillary.  And for the last week, I’ve tried to figure out what these opposing positions mean about our relationship.  How can we see life so differently?

Big surprise, I cried in church.  Believe it or not, it was my first cry this week that was about the election.  Yes, I am disappointed that Hillary lost, but my tears were not really sad ones.  Well, maybe melancholy.

See, I cried this morning when I realized here I was in church again, after a twenty year break, because my parents showed me the value of it.  That church is a place to bring your heartache.  That church is a place to look at your heart and see what you need to change.  That church is where you have a moment to acknowledge what you are grateful for.

I thought about my ailing Grandma Avis who asked my Mom to find a church, any church, 46 years ago.   And maybe the ANY part is what I was thinking about in February, when I attended a worship service solely on the basis that I thought the church looked pretty when I drove by.  And when I walked into the church courtyard, I saw a poster that read, “Inclusive.”

The Scripture reading today was David’s Psalm 23.  When the man read, “I will fear no evil for you are with me,” I thought about how, like God, my parents are always with me, even when I feel there is a distance.

On Friday, when I spoke to my parents, my Dad stated that if someone ever asked him to deny Jesus, he would let them kill him.  He would die defending Christ. I assured him that that would never happen.  “You never know,” he insisted.  “If I die tonight, I have no regrets.”

Today was the first day that I prayed for Donald Trump and his impending presidency.  I prayed that God would give him wisdom and compassion and guidance.  With my head bowed and my eyes closed, it struck me that I have more in common with Trump than I’d like to admit.  I sometimes say cruel things. I sometimes make bad decisions. I can be self-serving. I grow my hair longer than what is ideal for my age/weight.

I loved that my church was packed today.  I looked around and saw faces I’d never seen before.  I imagined that maybe, like me, they had grown up in conservative churches in the Midwest or the South.  Maybe they had left the church in a huff or snuck out a side door.  But maybe, this week, this crazy week, affected them in a way that they said to themselves, I’d like to go somewhere to find comfort, healing.  Maybe they thought the church looked pretty.  Maybe they had a Grandma who begged, “Find a church, any church.”

That parable of the prodigal son, maybe it resonates because some of us feel like we’ve squandered riches and long to return home to a father that welcomes us with open arms.  Today, I thought about the time when my own Dad was a prodigal and the events that drove him back to church. Surely there are differences, big differences, but for now, maybe it’s best to hold to what we have in common, to cherish what we share.

Make a Wish

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Yesterday morning, I went to the mall with my Mother.  I am in California and she is in Kansas, and yet, unbeknownst to her even, we found ourselves walking the corridors of Metcalf South Shopping Center, in Overland Park, Kansas, circa 1973.  I don’t even know what spurred the memory, as I swam my morning laps, but that recollection stayed with me for the rest of the day.

It was an autumn morning, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the date was September 28.  My mom brought me to the mall, we walked around, she bought me a popcorn jack-o-lantern at Topsy’s Popcorn.  I think there might have been some toy that came with it.  We got in the car and we drove home, me elated by my new acquisition.

I think of this day from time to time.  I don’t know why, other than it’s just a pure, happy memory.  My Mom was the center of my world when I was 5.  She was the prettiest, the smartest, the best singer, the best dresser, the funniest.  I loved my Dad, I loved my brothers, I loved my grandparents and my aunts and uncles and my cousins and my dog Pee-Wee, I loved God and Jesus and church, too, but my Mother, she was my favorite.  My Mommy.

I tried to unearth more details from this 43-year-old outing.  Did we make other purchases? Were we preparing for some special occasion?  Was it definitely 1973?  Am I sure that it was even a popcorn ball and not some other candy or toy that brought me delight on that day?  Did I beg for this treat or was it her idea?  Was it something we could easily afford or a small extravagance? And while I arrived at no answers, I luxuriated in the speculations, the recreation of the scene.

Because I am a bit of a history buff, I decided to google Metcalf South Mall.  When my Dad had his surgery in 2012 and we were based in Kansas City for three weeks, I once drove by the mall and could see it was not the mall of my memories.  The intervening years had not been kind.  According to Wikipedia,  Metcalf South closed its doors for good in 2014.  Sad, I know.

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Metcalf South Shopping Center opened in 1967.  If some of its nostalgic Pinterest fans can be believed it was “the place to be in Overland Park” in the 1970s.  All that I can remember from those years affirms that observation.

Because we lived in nearby Merriam, we went to this mall often, at least once a month, probably more.  I’d forgotten the centerpiece of the structure, a three-story fountain.   In scrolling through internet images last night, the memories flooded back, of all the times my Mom or Dad would give me a penny so I could add my hopes into the collection and make a wish.

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Last week, I wrote a piece about my parents where I alluded to some health challenges.  What I didn’t say was that my Mom was diagnosed with macular degeneration three weeks ago.  While she had told a handful of people, I did not want to say anything on a larger scale before she wanted to share the information herself.  On Monday, before she met with a specialist in Wichita, she posted on her Facebook page about her diagnosis and asked for prayers.

The doctor gave my Mom a shot in each eye that we hope will improve her sight and/or slow down the degenerative process.  As she faces some uncertainty about what the future holds, her spirits are good and she remains hopeful.  On Monday night, after they had returned home from Wichita, my Mother told me how, as they sat in the waiting room, my Dad comforted her by reading to her all the loving comments friends and family had written in response to her Facebook post.  And even though I was in California, and they were in Kansas, I could see it.

I don’t know what I wished for when I stood in front of that grand fountain back in the 70s. What we dream about when we are young isn’t always what we dream about when we get older.  And yet, here I am, on my way to old myself, and my wish is as pure and simple as if I was still a five-year old.

Yesterday was a bit of a gift. For a couple hours anyway, I was 5 and I was at the place to be in Overland Park with my favorite person.  And because memory can be kneaded and stretched in any way we want, I created a new one, or maybe just added onto the old one. I saw a little boy walking hand in hand with his young mother.  When they came to the sparkling fountain with millions of coins lining the pool’s floor, he asked his Mom if he could make a wish. She dug in her purse and found a penny, maybe it was even a wheat penny.  She placed the coin in his small hands and he closed his eyes and somehow he, miraculously, made a wish for something decades into his future, something his little mind could not possibly imagine in that moment.  He didn’t say it aloud, not even to her, but as he sent the currency into the air waiting for it to fall to its splash, he hoped.  The little boy hoped his wish would come true.

 

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More Than We Deserve

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Last summer, at a family reunion, my Father was asked to say grace before the evening meal.  Even though it’s my Mom’s side of the family, he is always the one who is called upon to pray.  He is a godly man and a good man. As our heads were bowed in prayer, one of the things he said to God was, “You’ve blessed us.  Some more than others. Some more than we deserve.”

I was glad we all had our eyes closed, so no one could see me crying.

Because I live several states away from them, I only see them a couple of times a year.  When I am in California and they are in Independence, in the house where they raised me, I can imagine them still being the couple in the pictures I have displayed in my home.  I can see them as high school seniors, or a young 1970’s Kansas City family, or the way they  looked when they visited me while I lived in New York and we went to Atlantic City for the day.

And then I go to them or they come to me, or sometimes we meet in the middle.  Within minutes, my Mom will tell me whether my hair is too short or the appropriate length.  And I will be shocked with the reminder of something I manage to forget when we are only talking or texting to each other from 1500 miles away: they are old now.

This weekend, I met my parents in Denver.  After they picked me up at the airport, we went to lunch at a Panera Bread.  And as we sat in a corner and ate our food, they told me about all the doctors’ visits they had made in the last few weeks.  They both retired this summer and now, like so many others, their days are filled with negotiating doctor and dentist and optometrist appointments.  As casually as they could, they shared the news of these visits and I sat there, with concern and sadness, as I gobbled up what might possibly have been the worst turkey club sandwich I’ve ever encountered.

For the rest of the weekend, as we drove around Denver and went to the Museum of Nature and Science and to dinner at my cousin Valerie’s house and services at historic Trinity United Methodist Church downtown, I tried to take as many pictures as possible, to document and memorialize our time together.  I’m not the biggest fan of the way I look in pictures these days, but I tried not to judge my wattled neck or squinty eyes too much.  Each moment together is something to be treasured.

I’ve tried to dissect why my Father’s prayer last summer has stuck with me in these last 14 months.  Part of it, I know, is that he reminded me of all of the challenges we have been through as a family, and the challenges he’s been through and the challenges my Mom has been through, and somehow, we are still here.  They are still here.

Maybe it’s the Kansas in us or the church in us, but I fear that we go through life worrying that we don’t deserve the blessings we have.  Or that suddenly all those good things might go away. I know that I am lucky that I know my Mother and Father love me.  I know that I am lucky that there are still things to laugh about, still things to see.

When I got home on Monday, and I presented Eric with the butter pecan cookies my Mom made for him, it struck me what a gift those cookies were from her.  Even something like making a batch of cookies is not as easy as it used to be.  And it doesn’t means she won’t make them anymore, it just greater reflects the deepness of her love. Also, probably a day will come when she won’t be able to make me cookies and a part of her will wonder, how does he know I still love him?  But I’ll know. In the 48 years I’ve been on this planet, everything she’s ever done for me has revealed that love. I’ll always know my Mother loves me.

I’ll be honest, I have been sad in the days that I’ve been home.  I miss my folks and like a spoiled child, I miss the version of my folks I see when I close my eyes.  And with each step and each breath and each blink, their lives will only become more challenging.  And back to that prayer, but I wrestle with this feeling that my parents deserve more.  I know, deserve is probably the stupidest, most egotistical word in the English language. Nobody deserves anything.  Except my parents, they do.  They deserve every blessing imaginable.

The truth is, God has blessed them.  While aching, weeping, and praying for more for them, I am grateful for every good thing, every good day, every good meal.  And certainly, I must hold to another truth, as I grapple with what our futures hold. If you are lucky enough to know them, you already know this, but I’ll say it anyway.  In giving me these two as parents, God has blessed me beyond measure.  More than I deserve.

 

Are Our Best Days Behind Us?

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I’m reading the short stories of John Cheever right now. Something about his characters and themes taps into traits and inclinations that are at the core of who I am. Cheever had/has a fixation on loss, lost youth, lost money, lost hope.  Yesterday, as I was reading one of his short stories, about a character described, at 40, as a middle aged man, I remembered something I had forgotten.  I am middle aged.  And unless I live to be 95, I am on the downward slope of middle age.  But whenever I get worried about my age, I always think of Sarah Jessica Parker who is three years older than me.  At every age, she is beautiful and fashionable and smart and relevant and the thought of her comforts me.

This morning, I read Cheever’s O Youth and Beauty, about a former star athlete who in middle age has money problems and drinks too much. Again, as I drank my morning coffee and sat on the couch reading, I wondered, are my best days behind me?

I remember that hope we had, I had, in our youth that our adult lives would be filled with an abundance of riches. Not just monetary riches, but certainly including those. We would have many friends, many children, many vacations, many pets, many accolades, many successes.

When I was in high school, I was in forensics, and I was sometimes asked to do monologues or scenes at various womens’ clubs in Independence. A small group of us would assemble in a church fellowship hall and entertain the ladies. My piece was always from God’s Favorite by Neil Simon, always a crowd favorite. Even at 16, I could tap into the Charles Nelson Reilly that was gesticulating within me. We’d put on our little show, they’d feed us cookies and tea and sometimes give us a small honorarium, and then we’d be on our way. I’d drive off in my ratty ’65 Mustang and think this was just the beginning of a rich life. Unlimited promise.

Are all of my best days behind me?

As I walked the dogs a few minutes ago, I asked myself that question. How far back in my memory reserve would I have to go to access a really great day, not just a good day, but a special, think of it for years to come day. Maybe even a remember it on your deathbead, a la Claire Fisher from series finale of Six Feet Under, kind of day.

You can imagine my relief when a fairly recent memory popped into my head, from a mere two months ago. Not surprisingly, I was on vacation. Also, not surprisingly, I was in New York.

Eric and I were in New York but during the day he attended a trade show at the Javits Center. I decided that was the day I would go to Governors Island. I’d never been to Governors Island, when I lived in New York, I do not think it was open to the public.

I took the train to the tip of Manhattan and walked to the Ferry terminal, then took the Ferry to Governors Island. I walked around the island, took pictures, posted pictures to Instagram. I boarded the ferry to return to Manhattan. Took more pictures of both islands. Docked in Manhattan and went to Starbucks and bought a water with a gift card my Mom sent me. I visited a gift store I like where I bought vintage looking dog stickers.

I pondered the possibility of taking the subway back to midtown where we were staying, especially since it was 90 degrees, and also, I developed a stomachache from drinking that water so fast. But I decided I would walk until I got tired and then take the subway the rest of the way. I walked from South Street Seaport through Tribeca and Soho into Greenwich Village then by my old apartment on 15th street. I walked up 8th until about 30th and then I jogged over to 9th Avenue. Somewhere around 23rd, the thought of a flower topped chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe popped into my head. How long it had been since I’d had one of those cupcakes? Ten years? Fifteen? When I got to 9th Avenue, the bakery was not where I remembered it but across the street. Had they moved or had I remembered it incorrectly? I bought my cupcake. I considered eating it at one of the handful of dusty tables, but decided I would take it back to the hotel and eat it there in the blasting air conditioning. I walked up 9th Avenue with the intent to also buy a sandwich at Amy’s Breads but at Amy’s Breads, at 2:30 p.m., the sandwich pickings were slim. So I ambled up and got a turkey sandwich at the French bistro near our hotel. I ate my feast in our room, half interested in an episode of Catfish playing on MTV. I took a shower and Eric texted me to say we would meet for drinks at Soho Grand before our dinner at Balthazar. I had a few hours to kill so I decided to visit a museum on the Upper West Side where an Al Hirschfeld exhibit was ongoing. I walked from our hotel, around Columbus Circle then up Central Park West. I took pictures of some of the more stately apartment building along the avenue. I’d walked by them a hundred times before but I hoped that because I was taking pictures of them now, I would remember the names and the details. Was the Dakota above or below the San Remo?

When I got to the museum, I found that they were closing in less than an hour and admission was almost $20, so I decided not to go in. I’ll never know how many Ninas I might have discovered inside the New York Historical Society. On 81st, I turned to walk west, inspired by the thought that it had been many years since my last visit to Riverside Park. On 81st and West End, I happened upon The Calhoun School, famous because the building itself looks like a giant television. I took a picture and sent it to friends via Facebook. On Sundays, when I lived in New York, I attended a church that had services there. I tagged Yvonne and Tania and Sarah in the picture I posted, I would have tagged Dana but she isn’t on Facebook.

From there I kept walking and as I crossed Riverside Drive, I remembered an episode of Naked City that was filmed there. How could the street look almost the same 50 years later? Has there ever been a city as unmoved yet everchanging as New York? I walked into the park. It’s no Central Park, I thought to myself. But I walked south until I discovered the Seventyninth Street Boat Basin. I considered stopping for a glass of wine. I remembered that I’d actually woke up a little hungover that morning. Too much bourbon at Bemelman’s and Robert and the Ritz-Carlton the night before. So I kept walking. I walked down the parkway along the Hudson River, marvelling at the stunning views of the water and the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey. I thought about how growing up (in Kansas) I always pictured New Jersey as an ugly, undesirable state and obviously, now I knew how wrong I was. I grew to love New Jersey decades ago.

I walked south to a new park with a fancy, sophisticated walkway and then I headed back to Columbus Circle. It was 5:30 and after my industrious walk, I was sweaty again. I decided to go back to the hotel to take another shower.

I was a little late to the Soho Grand, but Eric and our friend were enjoying cocktails and Sriracha-coated peas when I joined them. Believe it or not, I did not order a cocktail.

From there we had dinner at Balthazar, which was good. And then I can’t remember what else we did. Did we walk around Rockefeller Center and then up 5th Avenue? Did we go for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton again, then along Central Park South back to our hotel? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Years from now, I might remember it incorrectly, that we hopped into a cab and sang songs around the piano at Marie’s Crisis or that we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. And if that’s the way I remember it, that’s okay. No reason to getted bogged down by the facts.

Besided the hangover, the stomach ache, the pervasive heat, the not getting to see the Hirschfeld exhibit, I also had to contend with moments of melancholy and anxiety throughout this special day. Like a Cheever protagonist, melancholy and anxiety, and self-absorption for that matter, are part of who I am in my core. And yet, I will always remember this day fondly, importantly.

I walked 23.58 miles that day. I know that because I tweeted it that night when I got back to the hotel. I was proud of what I accomplished. I take my visits to New York very seriously, but you already know that.

Already, Eric and I are planning our next visit. I have to wrap this post up in a speedy manner or else I will be late to work. Forgive any mispelled words or dangling modifiers, maybe I’ll go back to fix my errors when I have time.

So off to work, I’ll go. Sometime during my day, I’ll check Kayak for flight and hotel deals. I’ll remember a museum that I wanted to make it to in August and I’ll go to their website and see what exhibits they’ll be showing at the end of January, beginning of February. Maybe I’ll finally make a reservation for us to eat lunch at The Four Seasons or Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court. Still planning a bright future.

We must do what we can to prove that our best days are before us.

That’s What We Do

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September 11, 2015, is a day I do not think I will soon forget. Obviously, every year, on that day, I am reflective about the world we live in and the heartaches that occur and the way we, all of us members of the human race, are there or not there for each other.

On Friday, we here in Los Angeles were in the middle of a heat wave. In my job, one of my daily assignments, in fact my biggest daily assignment, is to find tables for guests that make said guests happy. My restaurant is mostly outdoor space and on most days, most guests want to sit outside. But on heat wave days, most people want to sit inside.

Wednesday and Thursday had been taxing and we all knew Friday would be tricky as well. All inside tables had been allocated by 11:00 a.m. which meant that if a guest had requested outside when they made the reservation, it was going to be next to impossible to find them a table inside.

There was a woman who was the first in a reservation for four to arrive. The person who had made the reservation had requested an outside table. She said they wanted to sit inside now and we told her that we would try our best. I told her that I had one high top table that we’d brought in from outside because of the dire heat and that we would be happy to let them sit there. She declined, but after a few minutes, she came to me and said she would take the table. So we sat her there. Forgive the cliché, but sometimes you are just dancing as fast as you can and this was one of those days. I sensed that she understood I was trying to help. Her party came a few minutes later and the rest of the party did not like the table. Two of my co-workers and I tried to explain the scenario as patiently as possible. In the middle of our conversation, a woman at a table inside found out that her guest had cancelled and with that news, she vacated her table. We told the ladies that we could move them to that table and all seemed pleased. They thanked me. I said, and I truly meant it, that I wished I could just magically make it be 74 degrees every day and everyone would be happy. They laughed.

A few minutes later, another party came in and though we had allocated a table inside for them, we offered them the option of an outside table.  Some people were sitting outside and we hoped that them going outside would open up a table inside for someone else. They opted to sit inside.

And as my co-worker went to seat this party, the woman who had made the reservation came to me and abruptly asked, “WHY DO YOU HATE ME?” She told me that she and her friends had overheard our conversation, that this was a special occasion and they wanted to know why I had given them such a bad table. I apologized immediately and told her I would speak to the manager. She told me that I had embarrassed her in front of her friends. I found the manager, she intervened, they moved the party to a more agreeable table and that was that.

I had not been the only person at the host stand, but I was the one this woman zeroed in on. I wondered why it had been me that she blamed for all of this. Perhaps, she focused on me because she sensed that I was the one who had been trying the most to help the table, as strange as that might sound.

They went about their meal, I continued to work, seating people. But in that instant, the energy of the day shifted for me.  Before it had been a little fun trying to make the pieces fit, like a jigsaw puzzle.  Now, I had been called out, shamed even.  And not to be too theatrical, but the whole time, to any co-worker who would listen, I only said things like, “I am truly broken. I will never get over this.”  Dramatic.  I know.

I considered saying something to the ladies as they left, but I wondered exactly what it was that I wanted to say. I work in a very corporate environment, that’s been established, and really, I’ve seen the most innocuous conversations between guest and employee escalate into alarming consequences. After they finished, as they walked to the elevator, I walked over to them. Before I could say a word, they thanked me for moving them.

I said to them, emotion already rising in my voice, “I want to apologize.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” the woman offered.

“No, I do. I am glad that (my manager) was able to get you a better table. The bad thing about me is that I really do try to do my job well and this time I failed.  I won’t forget this day, I won’t forget this moment and, AGAIN, I truly apologize for everything.”

They did not see me cry, but they could see that the tears were close. They reached out to console me, but I knew that I needed to step away from the floor. I turned to my co-worker and told her I was going to take a break.

I found a stairwell in the bowels of the store and sat down and burst into tears. You see, the thing that had stung the most was that I had been trying very hard to accommodate these ladies. I understood their desire for a better dining experience, but I was doing my best. And, at that moment anyway, I felt that I had been attacked because I cared.

A friend and co-worker found me in the stairwell. “Nobody cares!” I bellowed. “You bend over backwards to help people and then they all s#$% on you.” And this person that I was talking to, I know how much they care about me. I continued, “I mean, I know you care. But in the end, nobody cares. Maybe in the end, only three people really truly care about you and that’s it.”

And instead of placating me with a positive platitude, my friend merely offered, sadly, “You know I think the older you get, the more you realize, that’s the truth. You’re right.”

I shed a few more tears and then I wiped them on my sleeve and then I went back to work. Another co-worker who had witnessed my apology said that after I left, the ladies lingered and she sensed that the woman felt bad about what had happened. Either way, I survived the day, damaged, but mostly intact.

That night Eric and I went to dinner with friends. We talked about the day’s events and they all commiserated with me. Everyone at the table knows that I am too sensitive for my own good. On the good days, I think it’s my sensitivity that makes me special. On the bad days, I just see it as a victimizing burden.

But the good news is we had a dynamite meal. We were at an old school French restaurant that our friends have gone to for years. We all had roast chicken and pomme frites.  At one point, I raised my glass of Maker’s Mark and drunkenly toasted, “This is just what the doctor ordered.”

Our server was something special too: professional, efficient, knowledgeable, amiable. One of us ordered a shrimp dish that came with a delicious, impossible to dissect sauce. Amongst ourselves, we tried to figure out what it was in it. Oregano? Thyme? Peppercorns? When our server came to the table we asked for clues to the sauce’s secret ingredients.

Did I mention I had a little bourbon in me? Of the four of us, I was, by far, the most strident. “Please tell us a few more ingredients,” I pleaded each time she visited us. And I thought it was all good-natured, I thought she was having fun with our (MY) enthusiastic questions. And maybe she did enjoy our exchange.

Anyway, after dinner, as we were leaving, as the busboy and a nearby hostess thanked us for coming in, I looked for our wonderful server, to thank her. She was at the bar, talking to the bartender. I stood there a few moments, hoping she would look over at us, so I could wave a final thank you, but she did not. Maybe she saw me, maybe she didn’t.  I’ll never know.

This morning, during my morning swim, I thought about the events of that Friday. What had been done to me and also, the possibility that I had been obnoxious to our server. I could not blame her for not turning to thank us as we left because, sometimes when you have an unpleasant customer, your only recompense is to act like you don’t see them as they walk out the door.  Speaking from experience.

Also this morning, I had the idea that I would write about these events. Does the weight of accumulated cruelties harden us as we get older?  Do I care less about people than I did 10 or 20 or 30 years ago?  I wonder.

I was paying for gas at the AM/PM this morning when a frail, elderly African-American woman walked into the store and asked the attendant a question. I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy writing THIS masterpiece in my head. As she left, the attendant shook his head and gave me a “can you believe she asked that?” look. I think my response was a non-committal blink.

As I drove away, I saw the woman walking slowly along Olympic. I wondered if perhaps she had Alzheimer’s or dementia. I’ve been watching a lot of Friday Night Lights lately, and I was thinking about Matt Saracen’s poor grandma, Lorraine. I considered stopping, but I drove on. She’s someone else problem, I thought.  Also, maybe she’s fine and knows exactly what she’s doing.

But a block after driving by, I turned the corner, trying to find this woman, to make sure she was okay.

I found her and rolled my window down. “Are you lost, ma’am?”

“No, but which way is Wilshire?” She pointed toward Wilshire a few blocks north and asked if Wilshire was that direction.

“Yes, it’s that way. Do you need a ride home?”

“No, I’m just trying to find a Sunday paper. He said they don’t sell them at the gas station anymore. He said maybe 7/11 but I don’t know where 7/11 is so I’m walking to Ralph’s.”

“Do you want me to drive you to Ralph’s? I’d be happy to.”

She hesitated, but said, “No, thank you though. I’ll walk, but that’s very sweet of you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, thank you, have a nice Sunday.”

The second I drove off, I decided I was going to find her a Sunday paper. Driving down La Brea, I saw a Starbucks and pulled in and bought it for her. I raced back to the street she’d been on, wondering if I would even find her.

I did find her, a couple blocks closer to Ralph’s than where I’d left her. I put my car in park and rolled down my window and showed her the paper. It took a moment before she remembered me but then she broke into a grin.

“That is so sweet of you.”

“Well, I got to thinking that if my Mama was looking for a Sunday paper, I’d be grateful to the stranger who found one for her.”

“Can I give you a hug?”

And then we hugged, right there on the corner of Detroit and 8th.

“Are you sure I can’t give you a ride home?”

“Well, it IS pretty hot.” And then we both laughed a little.

I got her situated in the front seat, I turned up my A/C and she told me where she lived, not far away.

On the ride there, I asked how long she’d lived in Los Angeles and she said she grew up here. She told me her name, Anna. She had lived many places, including Japan, because her ex-husband had been in the military. She now lived with her youngest son, her oldest son died 7 years ago.

“What year were your sons born?” I asked. She told me that her oldest had been born in 1968 and her youngest, in 1978. I told her that I was born in 1968, too. That seemed to please her.

Not much later, we arrived at her home. “This is where I live.”  I helped her out and she thanked me again.

“That’s what we do,” I told her. “We help each other out.” We hugged again and both of us, as if we had known each other a lifetime, said to the other, “You made my day.” And then she added, with a giggle, “We said it at the same time.”

“It’s true,” I said, holding back tears, not for the first time in the last 72 hours.

“Well, you made my week,” she countered and sauntered away. I watched her walk up her step, hoping she was okay, trusting that she was.

I might have helped her find her way home, but the same could be said for what she did for me.

That’s what we do.

Dining Out

shutterstock-senior-coupleOkay, I hope you’re going to side with me on this one. I’m not ageist, if anything I believe people should be held accountable for their actions at every age. You don’t get a free civility pass just because you’re almost 80. But, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

After seeing Trainwreck at Westside Pavilion yesterday, Eric and I decided to go to Islands for dinner. We walked in as a host was seating a party. The hostess was on the phone and it took a few minutes for her to see that new parties had come in. Following us into the restaurant was a VERY SPRY woman in her late 70s, her husband in tow. She told him to go sit down at one of the chairs set out for waiting guests. He resisted, she insisted, and then he did as she said, probably not for the first time. 

Eventually the hostess noticed the four of us standing (well, most of us were standing) in front of her. I watched to see if the old lady was going to say, “They were first.” And you know me, you know that if she had, I would have insisted, “Oh no, YOU go first. We aren’t in a hurry.” And then all of us could have walked away from the exchange with hope that there are still at least four, five if you count the hostess, good people left in this mucked up world.

As you might have surmised, that is not what transpired. Instead, she SMIRKED at me then launched into her demands of where she and her husband could and could not sit.  The hostess started to take her to a booth and she snapped, “Are you going to close the blinds??? We can’t sit there. It’s sunny!” 

I don’t like people being rude to me but I also don’t like people being rude to people who work in restaurants. And I do have a teeny bit of a soft spot for old people, really I do. 

I interjected at this point, too loudly, if I must assess my own performance, with, “Actually, we were here before they were.” 

“Oh I’m sorry,” the hostess apologized. 

“You have nothing to apologize for, you didn’t know that she cut in front of us. Go ahead and seat her, she clearly has more ‘requirements’ than we do.” And yes, I did make the quote gesture when I bellowed the word “requirements”.

“I DO have more requirements,” she countered. And then she continued her negotiation to get the best table in all of The Russian Tea Room, I mean, the Islands on Pico. 

The hostess and this woman finally agreed on a table and as they exited the host area, the husband, toddling along after her turned to me and offered his own apology. “I’m very sorry.” 

“Sir, you weren’t the one who cut,” I offered in a tone that I hope was not as terse as I remember it.  And then he followed his wife to the table.

I told Eric I was going to the bathroom and while I was in there, I thought  to myself, I’m not finished with this. I’m going to go find her table and chew her out a little more. Why did she think she had the right to cut the line? Because she was old? Because she was white? Because her husband was frail?

I came out of the bathroom and found Eric seated at, truth be told, not the most ambient section in this particular Islands. He was kind of worked up about what had transpired as well. “I’m going to tell her off!! I’m going to go find her at that table and tell her people can’t act like that!!”  (I’ve said it before, but we are a fairly dramatic household. And our dogs are even more quarrelsome than we are.)

“No, you can’t go there.”

“I’m going.”

“Eric, I mean, she’s horrible, but think of her poor husband. He was so embarrassed, the sad way he said, ‘I’m very sorry.’ You can’t.”

And he didn’t. And we changed the subject, moved on to assessing and praising the movie we’d just seen. (15 minutes too long and a little manipulatively sad, but overall, we liked it.) 

And while we praised LeBron James for his comedic chops and complained about how we really don’t like Colin Quinn, I couldn’t stop thinking about this old couple. And by old couple, I mean me, because really, why did an old lady cutting in line at a restaurant make my blood boil like that?

I know very little about her, even less about her husband. Maybe they’d just come from the doctor, received bad news, and the husband said, “Honey, I want one last mai-tai before I die.” And she said, “Mort, sweetie, I’m taking you to Islands and I don’t care who I have to but in front of to make sure you don’t have to sit at a table with the sun blinding you.” Maybe he said, “You know, honey, I do like Islands, but with this dire diagnosis, do you think maybe we could go to Trader Vic’s?” And because she is planning a surprise 80th birthday for him AT TRADER VIC’S, in just two weeks, which after their doctor appointment, she’s realized will likely be his last, she told him wearily, “No, Mort, I don’t have it in me to go to Trader Vic’s tonight, but I promise, we will go there SOON.” And you know, maybe just maybe, a few seconds before they’d walked into Islands, she gave him a soft kiss on his bald forehead and whispered, “I love you, Cuddles.”

Don’t judge her because her pet name for her husband of 60 years is Cuddles. What makes you think your pet name for your significant other is so great?

And maybe, there is a greater lesson about judgement for me, because who really knows what was going on there? Did she cut in line? Well, yes, but maybe she just did it for love. Also, maybe she’s just a really selfish person. And maybe she’s been badgering that poor guy since Eisenhower was in office. Who really knows? Not me.

What I do know is that, in 30 years, if Eric and I are still kicking and still together, I hope the most ambulatory of the two of us will do everything in his power to attain the nicest table for our dining adventures, whether on 57th or Pico, or any Marie Callender’s in between. There are many things that reveal love and I’d say that is one of them.