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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Around the Corner

  For a play that I claimed not to love, I certainly thought about The Humans for days and weeks after my trip to New York. There is a line that I’m sure I’m butchering in my memory. I’ve probably actually recreated the way the character said it. But at some point, someone said, something like, “You can go through life lonely alone or lonely with someone.” And the way I remember it, the line got a laugh and a bit of a tear. Like, either way, we are all a little lonely. I was a lonely kid, a lonely teen, a lonely adult, and now, as a middle aged man, I am still lonely. And you know, I have a partner, dogs, great friends, but I’m still, like Lenny Kosnowski, a lone wolf

Granted, I like being alone. And maybe I even like being lonely. 

After my friend and I left the play, that Friday night in NYC, we went our separate ways. Michael asked me to go to Joe Allen with him and his college friend, but I wasn’t up for it. Eric was back at the hotel. That morning, he woke up sick, so sick that it threatened to ruin the entire vacation for him.  

We really needed this vacation. Our work lives had been frustrating in the weeks before the trip. There had been health issues with one of our dogs. In a two week period, every day, something bad descended on our little home. A dog bite that became infected. A betrayal from people I thought had been our friends. Money woes. If we could have backed out without the money we spent on plane tickets, we would have.

Anyway, after the play, I took the subway down to the Lower East Side to visit my friend Jon who was bartending. The teeny restaurant  was packed with New Yorkers, young and oldish, all glamorous, enjoying their Friday night. Jon poured me a drink and let me stand off to the side of the bar. His co-workers were all gracious to me, but the whole time, I felt like I was in the way. Also, that if it weren’t for the fact that I was in the way, no one would have even noticed my presence.

I finished my drink and thanked Jon and headed out. Contemplating a bus or a subway, I opted to walk awhile. I walked north, up 1st avenue and turned left onto 6th street. I passed a building that seemed to be the architectural embodiment of what I was feeling. Old, sad, weathered, crowded in by happier buildings all around. Garbage piled in front, on top of the melting snow. Twin porch lights flanking the door way. 

Had I ever walked by this building before? I couldn’t remember, but probably I had. Probably I had passed by and not noticed. 

This time I took a picture. I googled the address hoping to uncover significant history, like maybe Eliza Hamilton died there. (She did not.) I started to Instagram the picture, playing with filters and shadows and saturation but each time, what I captured didn’t seem Instagram-worthy. 

I walked a little further north and grabbed a slice of pizza on 14th street and sat in the corner and charged my phone. After, I got on the 6 which went to Grand Central. I got out at Grand Central and walked through the terminal, then up a couple blocks back to my hotel.

The next morning, miraculously, Eric felt better. I’m glad too, because I didn’t want more nights like the lonely one I’d endured. If my favorite time to explore Manhattan solo is early weekend mornings, late weekend nights, is the worst. As I walked by every crowded bar and restaurant, gay, straight, mixed,  I expected to look through the windows and see 20-something me, standing in a corner, alone, hoping someone would come up to start a conversation. 

Sometimes it seems I spent the first half of my life trying to make friends and then the second half, trying to keep a safe distance from relationships that have asked too much of me. 

As I said, the next morning, Eric felt better, and with our friend Michael, we packed weeks, months, into our few days in New York. Roosevelt Island, Central Park, John’s Pizzeria, The Met, Gramercy Park, Eataly, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Brooklyn Bridge, Staten Island Ferry, Shake Shack, Flaming Saddles. 

Every day, I posted Instagram pictures and went through my phone’s camera roll, deleting certain shots from the trip, #latergramming others. Again and again, I would return to the picture of the loneliest building in all of the lower East Side, maybe the entire isle of Manhattan. I couldn’t bring myself to post it,  nor could I delete it either.

And maybe you get this, maybe you don’t, but every time I look at that picture now, months later, it is a source of joy, no sadness at all. Well, maybe a happy sadness. Like somehow, as if appearing magically, on a crisp January night, when everyone else was light and gay, this lonely old building saw this lonely old soul, turning a corner, lost on his way home and shined the light to guide his way.

I Love L.A.

10649791_10152729980567755_6169964462608463712_nOn Saturday, I started feeling a little guilty about how much I’ve been writing about my recent visit to New York. I’d written two very NewYorkophilic (new word?) blog entries and was on my way to writing a third when I stopped myself and decided I needed to step away from the computer and you know, stop spreading the news…

I had the afternoon free, my morning swim done, a backyard barbecue to attend in the early evening. And I know this sounds nerdy, but I wanted to go on a little date with my other city love, my main squeeze, Los Angeles. So, I drove downtown to one of my favorite haunts, the Central Library. I parked my car in the garage, since parking is only $1 all day on Saturday and Sunday, during library hours. And lucky me, as I was stepping into the grand entrance, I saw a sign that said a free tour of the Maguire Gardens was starting in front of the gift shop at 12:30. I looked at my watch. 12:28. I scurried to the gift shop where I found a petite woman, a little older than myself, in comfortable shoes and a sensible straw hat. She was standing alone.

“Are you here for the tour?”

“Yes, I am.”

“It’s going to be a good one because you’re by yourself.” And we were off, and her words were prophetic. We toured the gardens for some 45 minutes while she shared the history of the library, pointed out key architectural and artistic features, including the friezes of Herodotus, Virgil, Socrates, Da Vinci and Copernicus, the Ceramic Fountain, Jud Fine’s Spine Sculptural Installation, the Grotto Fountain, the World Peace Bell, and much more. And because I was an eager student of one, she took me inside and gave me a little history about the Rotunda, the card catalog elevator, and the Therman Statom chandeliers, too.

While we were walking around, I asked her how I might find some old pictures of my neighborhood, Larchmont Village and specifically, the street I live on. “Oh my goodness, I used to live on that street.”

“Which building?” I asked.

And she gave me my own address. “That’s my building!” She told me that she had lived there 11 years in the 70s and 80s. She remembered Mae West living just down the street. I told her that I’d lived there since 1998 and she said, “Wow, you’ve been there a long time too!”

And our bond deepened, she asked where I was from and I proudly told her I was from Kansas. She told me that she had been raised in Pennsylvania. As she told me more about the Central Library’s history, I must confess, I was probably equally interested in her personal history. I mean, she didn’t paint a mural or build a fountain or import Italian tiles or anything, but I sensed that her story was part of the fabric woven into the story of the Central Library, too. Here it was, Saturday afternoon, and this kind woman was giving the tour of the century to an attentive party of one.

Later, she took me to the section of the library where I hoped to find old pictures of Los Angeles and specifically my neighborhood. She introduced me to a gentleman (“He’s supposedly retired, but this place couldn’t function without him.”) who kindly set me up on a computer and instructed me how to find photos with specific search words. My friend the tour guide told me I was in good hands and disappeared not unlike a fairy godmother.

And I spent another hour or so, sleuthing the library’s databases, finding old pictures of the El Royale and the Ravenswood, and Wilshire Country Club. I hoped to stumble across a picture of my old building, but alas, I did not unearth one on my first effort. I kept sending pictures to myself and pictures to Eric, who was at work. He’d text me, “Love the photos!”

And reluctantly, I had to leave, I had that barbecue to attend and I had to go home and walk the dogs first. I paid my $1 at the kiosk and drove down a quiet Wilshire Boulevard, past MacArthur Park and the Talmadge and the HMS Bounty, on my way home.

I walked my dogs and put on a white linen shirt that flattered my summer tan and I went to sit in a leafy backyard with old, dear friends where we ate grilled meats and drank my friend Traci’s signature cocktail.

Really, not a bad way to spend a Saturday. It was a quintessentially Los Angeles day. And you know what, you might be reading this and thinking, that’s not MY ideal Los Angeles day! Well, that’s one of the magical things about the City of Angels, it really is whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t take it personally when you complain about traffic or come back from vacation tittering about how amazing New York or Cabo or Portland is. It’s always changing, evolving, but also, always distinctively it’s own. It welcomes all, our crowded freeways remind you of that. It’s everything and nothing like the city you dreamed about when you grew up watching The Brady Bunch and Beverly Hillbillies and Knots Landing. And I love it, I do.