I’ll stick to the high road (call me a doormat if you want)

The other day, I was in one of my favorite local markets, Piedmont Grocery, paying way too much for groceries. I realize that in itself is a privilege, a luxury, a splurge, whatever you want to call it. I could have saved money at a big supermarket but I hate big supermarkets generally. Living in a city plagued by food deserts, I know what a privilege it is that I can choose where to shop. If you don’t know what a food desert is, you might not be paying attention to issues of social justice and access to basic resources.

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 9.11.24 AM.png

 

But that’s beside the point.

As the checker was scanning my items and politely not saying anything about the amount of chocolate in my cart, the courtesy clerk, aka bagger, was pondering how to get my purchases into my tote bags and back into the cart in the best way. He seemed to be putting an inordinate amount of thought into it, and asking me my opinion. As I’ve gotten older, I am much more prone to chatting with the people helping me in stores. I used to shy away from it, but I actually find those conversations easier sometimes than ones with family and friends.

bagger

Many of the stores in this area hire those with intellectual disabilities, which is pretty cool. When I was growing up, baggers were called bag boys and were usually teenage boys working for tips, and they always pushed your cart to your car and loaded them in the trunk. My mother had a terrible time when tips were no longer accepted for this job. For years she kept trying to tip the baggers, and when one finally politely told her he’d get fired if he took the tip, she finally got the point and quit trying to give them money.

Anyway, the gentleman bagging my purchases compared packing the bags to playing Tetris.

tetris

 

I used to play Tetris back in the day on my old black and white Mac, usually when I should have been writing my master’s thesis back in the early 1990s.

mac.jpg
You can buy one on eBay if you really want one!

 

I said something about me not being that good at Tetris, and that he was probably a lot better at it than me, when he said something to the effect that he could do Tetris with the groceries really well but if he took too long he’d have angry customers. To which I said, without thinking, “I don’t get angry.” He looked at me in astonishment and asked me if I really never get angry. In the moment and in that situation, I honestly replied that I don’t get angry.

Maybe because it was my day off, or maybe because I started the day having coffee with a dear friend, or maybe because I went to get my flu shot prepared to wait for hours and I only waited about 5 minutes, but waiting to have my groceries nicely packed seemed like a no stress situation in which I could wait a few seconds here and there so as not to the tomatoes smashed.

tomato-smashed

 

Yes, I get angry. Angry at the world situation, angry at particular people in power, angry at injustice, angry at animal cruelty. But angry in my day to day life? Not so much. That wasn’t always true. I’ve fumed and sworn at the silliest things.

fuming

I got it in my head at one point that I needed to learn to stand up for myself, which was true. But my first foray into that was to send my food back to the kitchen at a restaurant because my veggie enchiladas were in red sauce, and not the green sauce I ordered. I thought I would be being a doormat if I just accepted it and ate it. That’s what one of my companions did; he’d ordered the red sauce and gotten the green on his chicken enchiladas. A simple mistake in our orders. He took it in stride and graciously ate his enchiladas. I like red sauce. I had a hankering for green sauce that day, but I could have eaten the red. I’ve briefly (thank goodness, only briefly) worked in food service, and I know how hard it is, and how picky customers can ruin the day. I also hate to waste food. For about a minute I was proud of myself for sending the plate back, but ever since I’ve felt like a jerk.

 

So is accepting delays and small mistakes taking the high road or being a doormat? I’ve also fallen into the doormat category. Not as much anymore. In a weird way I’ve achieved a balance between accepting life as it comes and standing up for myself.

doormat

 

There are lots of refrigerator magnets and other stuff that reflect what I am trying to say. Numerous people have written self-help books that may or may not have helped anyone but probably made the author some money.

 

You want to pass me on the highway to get where you are going a few seconds ahead of me? Fine, go ahead. Training a new cashier at the coffee bar and it might take a little longer? Great, and congratulations and good luck with the new job. I’m not in such a hurry that I have to glare at you and mutter at you under my breath while you are trying to learn on the job. At the end of the day, I have to live with myself, and I don’t want to be the angry customer, the a–hole driver, the person who causes a scene or holds up everyone else while counting my change or arguing with courtesy clerks. And I do live a life of privilege, a fact that I try not to take for granted.

fawlty.jpg

I have more important things to worry about. Like saving the world. Or at least making my little part of it a better place.

IMG_0290
My doctoral dissertation, distilled to a memo pad.

Peace and hugs.

Hiding from the horrors of life

California is on fire, and I am hiding in my guest bathroom.

california-wine

Not from the fire, but from the despair I feel about the world right now. I’m not just sitting in the dark on the floor in the bathroom. I have the current foster cat family in with me. Or they are letting me hang out with them. It gives me comfort. But still, I consider it as hiding.

 

I want to help, but I don’t know how. My anxiety keeps me from making a move. I can easily donate money (not much, but some), but I want to DO something. Yet here I sit, playing with kittens, feeling defeated. The most I’ve done is obsessively share Facebook posts about resources for help. Cooking also gives me comfort. But instead of volunteering my services to help feed evacuees, I cook for the 2 of us, and we eat in front of television.

The things I “should” be doing today seem so unimportant. Folding laundry, who cares? I could be writing scholarly papers for school; my PhD is important to me of course, but I can’t focus on anything. It seems trivial when people are losing everything, some even losing their lives.

People do come forward to help in emergencies. Volunteers are helping at evacuation centers. Animal rescuers are helping find shelter and foster homes for displaced animals. Others are organizing donations of supplies for the evacuation centers and animal shelters. I want to be one of those people.

evac
Evacuation center at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga.

The world seems like it’s falling apart. The hurricanes and the continuing devastation left behind, especially in Puerto Rico. The Las Vegas shooter. The never ending issue of racism and inequity in this supposedly civilized country that treats its own people like garbage. A “president” who couldn’t care less about anyone but himself.

trump-paper-towels-701x478
Trump throws paper towels at the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

It’s like the modern-day Fall of the Roman Empire, or how I imagine it.

fall-of-rome_2184860b

I was already feeling it. Whenever I drive around Oakland and Berkeley, I see more and more homeless encampments. Oakland is turning into Tent City. I despair for my own city and its people.

 

We’ve been watching the Ken Burns series on Vietnam, which I am finding so painful to watch. I am ashamed of how ignorant I am about the times in which I was born and raised. It hurts me to see the the death and destruction, not just of the American youth sent to fight a senseless war, but the countless civilian deaths of the Vietnamese on both sides of the fight. Children killing children. Hate mongering. Old white American men thinking of lives in terms of numbers and “kill ratios”, and continuing a war for their own egos.

Ken Burns.png

 

Vietnam PBS

And now a place I hold dear to my heart is being destroyed by fires. (Why can’t the idiots in power face up to climate change? It’s for real and the effects are being felt right now.) I lived and worked in the Napa and Sonoma areas not so long ago. I didn’t want to leave to live in Oakland, but life doesn’t always work out the way we think it will. I still have friends in the area, some of whom I know are safe as I write this. Others I haven’t heard anything about, and it scares me.

my backyard
The backyard of my former house in Napa, circa 2005.

And lest I get complacent thinking I’m safe, the fires continue to spread. I never think it couldn’t happen here. It did happen here. There was a fire not so long ago that destroyed a large swath of the area where I live now–the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991. It’s only about 40 miles from Oakland to Napa, and the fires are now approaching the rural area around Fairfield, among other places.

Oakland hills 1991
The Oakland Hills Fire of 1991.

I don’t have an emergency plan. We’ve never prepared any kind of earthquake kit (the usual recommendation in California) or thought through how we’d get all of the animals and ourselves safely out of here.

My heart is breaking for the world, but I bury my head in the sand. I care, and caring is a good first step, but sometimes we have to do something with that caring. It’s is too close to home this time.

Stay safe.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother (okay, he’s heavy, but still, he’s my brother)

I never understood what the song that goes “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” really was about. It just sounded kind of cool back in the day (1969). You know, he ain’t heavy, but he’s groovy, man.

The phrase originates, as far as I can tell, from a story about Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska, founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan as a community for homeless and troubled boys. One boy wore leg braces, and the other boys would take turn carrying him on their backs. One of these boys is reputed to have said, when asked, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.” A lovely story. True? I don’t know. But there are several statues titled Two Brothers at Boys Town, and the line made it into the movies in which Spencer Tracy portrays Father Flanagan.

 

photo for statue
Photo that is said to have inspired the stories.
statue
Two Brothers, Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Boys Town
Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town.

This isn’t about my brother. I wrote about my own brother not so long ago. This is about 2 brothers, Ringo and Tiger, and their special relationship and what they’ve been through together. Ringo and Tiger are, of course cats, not humans.

human brothers
No, not these goofballs.
brothers 1
Yes, these goofballs.

Ringo and Tiger are very special cats, and I feel privileged to be a part of their human fan club. To put it bluntly, these cats would likely have been euthanized in many other shelters. They are 9 years old, which is considered “senior” in the world of cats, although it is the equivalent of only 52 in human years. So at almost 56, if I were a cat (oh, what a thought!) I would be a senior, even though I don’t think of myself as one at all as a human.

if i were a cat

Ringo is termed “morbidly obese” at 18 pounds. Tiger has cancer, and is not exactly a petite guy himself at 12 pounds. They’ve been together all of their lives. They were surrendered by their guardian to the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida, from where they were evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irma.

Florida

Wings of Rescue (a wonderful organization) flew them out with about 160 other cats and dogs on September 7, 2017. When they landed in Hayward, California, volunteers from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) were there waiting to transport them to the shelter in Walnut Creek, California.

arf-building_95426
Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, California.

 

IMG_6455
Ringo and Tiger arrive at ARF from Florida.

Two very lucky cats indeed. According to the ASPCA, every year 5 to 7 million pets enter the shelter system. More than half of these are cats, of which approximately 70% (yes, 70) are euthanized. And who are most likely to be euthanized? Guess. Older cats and cats with medical issues. Ringo and Tiger are defying the odds.

 

 

 

Ringo is a laid-back cat, loves to sleep on the bed with his people and follow them around, and gets along with everyone! Tiger is sweet, sociable, and loves to cuddle. Those are pretty good dating, I mean adoption, profiles.

Because they have been together all of their lives and are attached to each other as one would imagine they would be, they are a bonded pair, meaning they have to be adopted together. Another factor that means it will be just a little harder to find a home for them.

 

bonded pair

 

Ringo obviously doesn’t carry Tiger on his back. But Ringo could live a long and healthy life if his adopter works with a veterinarian on a careful weight loss plan. Tiger’s potential life span is not known, but his adopter would basically be taking him in for hospice care. It will be a special person or family with big hearts who will take these brothers into their lives. It will be worth it. And I know that person or family is out there.

 

soft_love-heart

 

Best of all, at ARF Ringo and Tiger have a great room to stay in together, they get love and attention from the staff and volunteers, and they have all the time they need to find their human family. I take great pride in working in a system that allows for cats like Ringo and Tiger a chance to start a new life. Please support in whatever way you can your local shelter so they can help more animals in need. And do consider a senior and/or special needs pet. They need love too, and will add so much to your life.

You can help support the work of Wings of Rescue as well.

 

Peace and hugs. And meows and purrs from Ringo and Tiger.

paw heart

In the Blink of an Eye (or, thinking about the father I never knew)

I’ve spent the last few years deliberately redirecting myself to keep on the sunny side of life.

il_570xN.660938534_28sv

It’s not always easy, believe me. And I don’t always succeed.

For instance, last Sunday, driving to work, I was behind a terrible automobile accident on Highway 24. It had just happened; Bob called me as he had heard about it and wanted to make sure I was okay. I thought to myself, “Great, I am going to be late for work and we have a crowd waiting for the shelter to open to so they can adopt those 6 incredibly cute beagle puppies that just came up.” Maybe a silly thing to stress out about, but I don’t like being late for work. And people get emotional about wanting to adopt puppies, so the more hands on deck to handle to crowd, the better.

Unknown

I settled in with my audiobook of American Gods (the mind of Neil Gaiman is a crazy place!), and sipped on my coffee, periodically moving forward a foot. Six lanes were being merged into one. People were getting fractious, honking and not letting other cars move in. It was 11:30 on a Sunday; most people were likely on their way to the mall or some such weekend pursuit.

I was doing my best not to look at the accident. Then the CHP officer directing traffic suddenly stopped the single file of cars with me up front, right next to the overturned car, to allow the clean-up crew to move some final wreckage from the one operational lane. I couldn’t help but see the car. Overturned, destroyed, horrifying. It didn’t look at all likely that anyone in the car would have survived. I started to shake and feel sick to my stomach. In the blink of an eye, lives were lost, destroyed, unalterably changed forever. It could happen to anyone.

life slogan

I don’t know why it took me so long to connect this to the death of my father. Stephen Pierre Cottraux, Jr., aka Daddy, was killed in an automobile accident on November 15, 1962, not quite a full month after my first birthday. I have no memories of him. But I grew up hearing stories about him from my siblings, and wondering if he was watching us from heaven.

As first-born, Cathy remembers him the most. I recently asked her about the piano we had growing up, which led her to relate a Daddy memory:

“I have a few memories of Daddy playing [the piano], he was really good. They would have band practice at the house (in Macon) and he played the piano a lot of the time. I remember one night, I must’ve been 8, and he was playing and I was sitting next to him on the bench. I hugged him (I adored Daddy) and he smiled and said ‘Why don’t you go in the kitchen and tell your mama that I love her!’ That’s a memory I have carried my whole life.” She also remembers that Daddy liked to dance and he taught her to do the twist. Cathy was 9 when Daddy died.

Daddy with Cathy and Ellen
Daddy with my sisters Cathy and Ellen, circa 1956.
dad band
Daddy, second from the left, and the jazz group he was in.

Here are some writing exercises I did a couple of years ago that say more:

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

   Number one:  

There are no photographs of Daddy on display in the house. Mom keeps one, with an old Valentine card from when they were high school, in the top drawer of her dresser, which I go through looking for jewelry to dress my dolls and stuffed cats with. We don’t ask about him; I’m not sure why but we don’t. But when Mom isn’t around Cathy and Ellen tell me and Steve stories of what they remember. I love to hear the ones about when I was born, of course.

            “He said if they were all like you, he’d be happy to have a house full of kids,” says Cathy.

            “He liked to feed you eggs at the breakfast table and say ‘Is it good?’; your first word was isitgood, all run together in one word.”

            We watch the movie musical Carousel, and I am captivated by the idea of Daddy up in heaven watching down on us. Especially me. I could sit in the dark den with the late show on the television watching that movie night after night, warmed by the feeling that Daddy is with me.

Number Two:

Mom was only 26 when Daddy died, so we are used to her going out on dates. It’s been almost 10 years, after all. We even like some of the men. There is Joe Kellum, who owns Pizza by Candlelight. At first I love going to the restaurant, red and white plaid plastic tablecloths and red plastic water tumblers, candles in old Chianti bottles, the smell of garlic in the air. He has 2 kids, Mike and Angel. They hate me. They are the same ages as Ellen and Steve. They like to remind us that it’s their father who owns the restaurant and we are intruders. I begin to dislike them and the restaurant and their father.

            The one we do like plays the guitar and sings the Mountain Dew song. We don’t drink Mountain Dew, but it’s still fun. We all crowd around him in the living room and ask him to sing it again and again. He quits coming to the house.

            I love to read stories about widowed mothers with broods of children, like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. In these stories, the mother struggles, but dating and men don’t come into the stories and everyone cherishes the memories of dear old dad. The kids do what they can to take care of the mother as the years go by. That’s what we will do.

Daddy and me
The only picture I have of me with Daddy, 1961.

I spent the rest of Sunday in a funk, triggered by the car accident into thoughts of how lives change in split seconds, people leave for work and don’t come home again. Families are left behind. Promising lives are cut short. Perhaps the driver had been distracted. Perhaps the driver had swerved out of the way of something, a deer or a piece of debris in the road. Maybe the driver nodded off to sleep. I don’t know.

And then I got mad at the fractious drivers of the other cars, honking and impatient. Put things in perspective, people! So you’ll be a little late for wherever you were headed. At least it wasn’t you and your car turned over in the road. Your life goes on. Appreciate that. And our hearts should go out to the survivors.

My father was so young, and he left behind an even younger wife and 4 small children. In the blink of an eye.

dance
Mom and Daddy, circa 1953.

Of course, good things can happen in the blink of an eye. Falling in love when you look a certain someone in the eye. Making a new friend who will mean the world to you. A split second decision that will change your life for the better even though it seems crazy (like signing up for online dating even though you swore you wouldn’t, leading to life with Bob). Meeting a beagle puppy and knowing she’s the one.

Be open to the special moments, but be careful out there. Don’t drive distracted. Seriously. That one quick text could be all it takes to end it all for someone, maybe yourself.

distracted

The beagle puppies all found homes that day. I snapped out of my funk eventually. But I’ll aways wonder how my life would have been different if my father hadn’t driven away never to come back.

I love you and miss you, Daddy.

Isn’t it romantic?

 

 

In my dreams, I’m swept off my feet by grand romantic gestures.

 

Snow-White-carrying-her-2c8aeqm-e1415650855346.png

 

As I’ve alluded to before, I have a guilty addiction to the Hallmark Channel and the endless stream of pretty much identical romantic comedies they produce.

Print

 

The Prince Charmings in these movies always make the grand romantic gestures look so easy. Et voilà–a room filled with flowers and lit with twinkly lights and an orchestra playing oh so softly and discreetly as the couple waltzes around said room in their designer jeans bought in the adorable boutique in America’s most charming small town filled with lovable, quirky characters.

ches
Abby and Trace in Chesapeake Shores on the Hallmark Channel, set in Maryland but filmed in Vancouver.

 

The movies are mostly filmed in Canada, so those impossibly charming towns aren’t really American. This only fuels my desire to move to British Columbia.

 

victoria-inner-harbour
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

 

After one of these dreams, I woke up feeling a little melancholy. Where were the grand romantic gestures in my life? Then I realized, it depends on how you define romantic.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 10.14.22 AM

 

In the romance department, I’ve received some pretty grand gestures from my significant other and my life is enriched because of him. We may never be the center of a Hallmark Channel movie, but we have a good life. Not that it’s always been easy, but we’ve worked hard and learned along the way.

Bob and Gen

 

Bob is my biggest cheerleader, always supportive and encouraging without being pushy.

 

cheerleader

 

I knew he was a keeper the first time he came to my house and wasn’t taken aback by the fact that 5 animals shared the house with me. I had kind of left that little detail out of the conversations we had had up to that point. Didn’t want to scare him off before he had a chance to meet them!

 

He loved these animal companions, and he loves the ones with us now.

 

collage

 

When I bring home foster cats and kittens, he jumps right in to help care for and socialize them. When I brought Marble home a little more than a year ago, he was the first to say we should keep him with us. Sharing our love for these animals we live with is pretty romantic in my book!

b and marb

 

Bob also acts as Barista Bob, fixing me coffee when he has time in the morning. Seriously, real romance is the smell of coffee in the morning. Flowers are nice but coffee is essential! He spent hours researching espresso machines to get just the right one. She’s been one of my best friends for a few years now. AND he got me the world’s best coffee travel cup–the Zojirushi “super-size me” in blue. One of the better “no ocassion” gifts I’ve ever received.

 

When I was divorced and thinking of dating, one of the things I worried about was finding a guy who loved books and reading as much as I do. Bob! He loves books, we both gravitate to bookstores when we explore new towns and cities. He’s even writing books now! Our bedside tables match in the growing piles of books we each can’t wait to read. Romance!

 

A couple of years ago, on Valentine’s Day, he did the most romantic thing I could have asked for–he installed the Little Free Library in our front yard. I swoon!

 

 

Every night after dinner while we binge watch whatever series we’ve been sucked into (currently Bloodline; intense!), we share a chocolate bar. Bob makes sure he buys the vegan ones that have animals on the labels. Of course, this routine might have something to do with me needing to lose 20 pounds, but he never says anything about that. That’s love!

 

Traditional romantic gestures still abound as well. He took me to Paris, a dream come true. He went up the Eiffel Tower with me even though he’s afraid of heights. He led me on a mission to see the Biblioteque Sainte-Geneviève.

 

 

On our recent trip to Iceland, knowing how badly I wanted to see a puffin, he made absolutely sure I got to see one, getting us on an excursion boat and taking that all important puffin photo. He also stopped the car every time I wanted to get up close to the gorgeous Icelandic horses and picture-perfect sheep.

 

 

I doubt he orchestrated it, but Bob was equally excited to meet the one and only cat we saw in Iceland. We named him Benson (after Ben, who is shown sticking his tongue out above). It was one of the best moments of the trip!

Iceland Benson

 

Next time I have a Hallmark Channel style dream of being romanced, swept off my feet, showered with flowers and stars, I will remember what romance really is to me–someone to share the things I love with, someone who accepts me for who am, someone who makes the gestures that really mean something over the long haul. Flowers fade, twinkly lights burn out. But this smile will always be with me.

Iceland Bob

 

As always, James Taylor has a song for this. Don’t take your loved ones for granted, and think about what true romance really means.

 

 

Peace and hugs.

The Gold Trail Motor Lodge (Little Shit in Gold Country)

Taking a break from scholarly work (I take an amazing number of breaks from it; gotta work on that), I decided to revisit my memoir-in-progress, the Little Shit Chronicles. This episode takes place nearer to the end of the cross-country trip; we were actually pretty close to our destination of Sacramento, but for reasons I’ve never known (and can only imagine as being not good), we spent some long, boring days at the Gold Trail Motor Lodge on Highway 50 in California. It’s only 37.9 miles from the house we were to be moving into. That’s not a typo, either. It’s 37.9 miles.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 4.33.36 PM

The Gold Trail Motor Lodge still exists, and still looks just the same. JUST THE SAME. The Mother Lode Motel is real and still exists, too. In fact, you have to check in at the Mother Lode to stay at the Gold Trail.

Highway 50 is very much busier than it was 45 years ago, and the town of Placerville is a bit more bustling.

gold-trail-motor-lodge
The Gold Trail Motor Lodge, Placerville

 

 

1969mainstreetlookingnorth
Downtown Placerville in 1969.
PlacervilleBellTower
Downtown Placerville, today.

I would not undertake the 2.7 mile walk along the highway from the motel into town that we took then. We shouldn’t have taken it then, but it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it would be now. But we were young, bored, and desperate. And hungry. My teenaged brother needed food. We would get him food.

cartoon-stoners-6

Don’t misundertand me. We weren’t that kind of hungry. Not the poor, starving childrren you see in the news, children of Appalachia or inner city food deserts. We were spoiled middle-class suburban kids who felt like we’d been deprived of a meal, and we had some money in our pockets. We had been eating at restaurants, some very nice ones, for 2 weeks and our expectations were of 3 solid meals a day. At the Gold Trail Motor Lodge, we relied a little too much on vending machine potato chips and Cokes. Fun at first, but eventually you need something else.

 

In 1972, I didn’t know much about Italian food, or American-style Italian food, except for spaghetti and lasagna and pizza. Minestrone and spumoni sounded very exotic and a little scary. But by this point, I’d already accidentally ordered and then eaten escargots in New Orleans, so a little soup wasn’t going to get in my way.

 

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

The Gold Trail Motor Lodge is right on the side of Highway 50. I’m not sure that anyone else is staying here but us. We are on our third day here. There is nothing to do. At least the equally plain and ugly Mother Lode Motel, next down the highway, lets us use the pool. The three of us sit in the water and spend the change we collected in Las Vegas in the vending machines, sipping cold sodas and eating potato chips while the hot sun beats down on us. An occasional car roars down the road that we can see through the chain link fence.

            Steve has taken to studying the road atlas.

            “It’s only 45 miles from Placerville to Sacramento,” he points out gloomily.

            We hardly see Mom and Van.

            “How far is it into town?” asks Ellen as she drags her hand through the blue water. I can’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses.

            Steve uses his fingers as a ruler and tries to figure out where we are on the red line that is the highway in the atlas. “I think it’s about 3 miles.”

            “We’ve walked that far before, going into Emory Village to Horton’s,” Ellen reminds us of the many treks to our favorite dime store and soda fountain. Will I ever see Horton’s again?

            “But there are sidewalks and shade trees there. It’s not safe to walk on the side of the highway,” I say nervously.

            “I could try to get the keys to the car,” Steve says. I can’t tell if he is joking. Ellen can’t drive; she’s afraid to take the drivers’ test to get her license. Steve is only 14, but he drives sometimes. Van lets him now and then when he’s tired or wants to smoke and drink without worrying about keeping his eyes on the road. I think Steve is the better driver.

            “I’m getting really tired of potato chips and Cokes. There has to be a place to eat in Placerville. Or a grocery store. We’ll walk single file and be really careful.”

            In my head I see us straggling down the busy highway, cars zooming past and the sun blazing down and me desperate to keep up with the others. Then my stomach growls thinking of a cafe with real food and drinks with ice.

            “The television doesn’t work,” adds Steve. “I’m sick of this place.”

We go to our room, put on the sneakers none of us have worn for 3 days, and set off down Highway 50, the sun in our eyes. Ellen leads the way, with me in the middle so I will feel safer, and Steve bringing up the rear, singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

            At about 90 bottles, Ellen turns around. “Oh, shut up.”

            “I wish Cathy was here. She knows all the good songs.”

           Some summer nights, we would all pile in the car, even the dog Tripp, and Mom would start driving and the game was to get her lost. “Turn left here!” Cathy would start the sing-alongs. By the Light of the Silvery Moon, with extra made up choruses, Sipping Cider through a Straw, The Chicken Song. Knowing how much my mother hates to drive, I really don’t understand why she was willing to play this game with us. And we never got lost, how was that?

            We can’t get lost on this outing; the motel is on the side of Highway 50 and it looks like whatever there is in Placerville is right on the highway too. Sweat trickles down between my shoulder blades and my braid feels really hot on the back of my neck. Ellen must be desperate to get out; she hates to do anything that involves dust or sweat.

            It’s hard to talk with the cars roaring past so we don’t for a while. After what seems like hours, we finally get to town. I see a lot of bars. Maybe we’ll find Mom and Van if we go in, but then, we don’t really want to find them.

            “Just down there.” Ellen points to a little side street and the neon lights of an Italian restaurant. We trudge forward, no longer in single file. It’s cool and dark and smells of garlic inside the restaurant. An older woman, wearing all black and a big black apron, comes over to us, concern on her face.

            “The 3 of you are alone?” she asks.

            “Oh, our mom is down the street. She sent us to get some dinner.” Ellen acts like we’ve been doing this all of our lives, not just the last few weeks. “We have money.”

            “Of course. This way.” The woman takes us to a scarred old wooden table, and comes back with ice waters and menus. As I sit down, I can feel the muscles in my legs twitching from the long walk.

            There are several pasta dishes; we call it macaroni at home. A choice of salad or something called minestrone. Ellen says it’s a soup. Dessert and coffee are included in the prices. Another thing I’ve never heard of, spumoni. Ellen doesn’t know what that one is.

            The woman I think of as Mama comes to take our order. She looks at me first. I always want to go last because I’ve never made up my mind, but she looks so worried.

            “Min…min…the soup,” I stutter.

            “The minestrone. Good. You’ll like it. And?”

            “Lasagna.” At least I know what that is. “Can I have iced tea instead of coffee?” I’ve learned to add the “iced”; otherwise I’ll get hot tea out here. In Georgia, tea always means on ice. If you want it hot, you say “hot tea”. It’s 100 degrees outside; why would I want hot tea?

            “Of course. And I’ll think you’ll like the spumoni for dessert. It’s an ice cream.”

            “Okay,” I say, relieved not to have make that decision.

            As we wait for the food, Steve brings up again that Sacramento isn’t that far away, so why aren’t we just going there?

            “I have a flight to catch in a few days,” Ellen reminds us. I don’t want to think about her leaving. Or, I don’t want to think about her not taking me with her.

            “The sooner we get there and find a house, the sooner Cathy can send Tripp out to us. “I wish she could have come in the car.” Steve reminds me of how much I miss the pets.

            “Don’t count on it,” says Ellen. “Van took all the other animals to the pound; he might not send Cathy the money for Tripp’s flight out. And you know how Cathy is about the dog. She might refuse to send her.”

            Tripp joined the family before I was born. The story is that Cathy was getting tired of asking for a dog and instead getting a new little brother or sister. So Daddy took her to a neighbor’s house, where they were giving away black lab/Collie mix puppies. All of the other puppies were black and playful, but there was one brown and white one smaller than the others. Cathy picked her up and the pup licked her face and that was that. I was born about a year later, so Tripp is like one of my big sisters. When Mom is calling us in, she calls the names in order, Cathy, Ellen, Steve, Tripp, Gen!”

            Tripp turned out to be epileptic. We’ve learned what to do when she has a seizure. What if she has one in her kennel on the plane? I miss her, but maybe she’d better stay with Cathy. We also had a younger dog, an Airedale named Sunshine, and three cats: Whiskers, the dignified, older long-hair orange tabby; Luke (previously Lulu), the short-hair orange tabby who is not very smart; and Christy, the youngest cat, who had the 4 kittens that all died earlier in the summer. One day I came home and only Tripp was left. “Van took them all to the pound,” Steve informed me gloomily. “He said we can’t take them to California.” I guess even Van isn’t mean enough to send an almost 12-year old epileptic dog to the pound.

            Mama brings 3 little silver dishes of spumoni. It’s not like my favorite ice cream, mint chocolate chip, or the vanilla that Mom swirls coffee powder into. It’s filled with fruits and nuts, and is a pinkish/brownish color. It melts quickly, so I spoon it up as fast as I can.

            Ellen pays the check. “Time to head back up the highway before it gets dark.”

            “Do you think we will get in trouble?” I ask, the worrier of the family even if I am the youngest.

            “I bet they don’t even know we’re gone,” says Steve. He’s right, as usual.

bot99

 

As usual, my apologies to my siblings for any exaggerations, embellishments, or misremembering.

Now, back to my scholarly work, already and always in progress.

Peace and hugs.

Yes, I Was a Fanilow (Kelly, this one’s for you)

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 6.06.47 AM

I first heard the term “Fanilow” from the 2003 Will & Grace television episode in which Will tries to hide from his friends while he stands in line for tickets to a Barry Manilow Christmas concert.

 

I hadn’t thought about Barry Manilow in years. I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to the Will & Grace episode either, except my sister Ellen called me to tell me she thought I’d get a kick out of the episode.

Why? Because I must confess, I was at one time a Fanilow. A devoted one. Okay, I was a teenager in the 70s. It’s somewhat explainable, but I don’t talk about it unless someone else brings it up. And now it’s out in the open.

Bob and I are in beautiful downtown Burbank, California for a couple of days.

laugh in

 

My “bestest ever” friend from high school, Kelly, lives down here. We don’t get to see each other very often, so I welcomed the chance to hitch a ride down I-5 to spend a day with her. At dinner with Bob she happened to say, innocently enough, “Did Gen tell you about how much she loved Barry Manilow?” I looked down. Bob looked at me with an amused expression. And my secret was revealed.

keep calm

 

It started with Mandy. It’s pretty much always been about Mandy. I didn’t even kow until I started writing this, Barry didn’t even write Mandy! I was so sure he had. Illusion destroyed. I listened to that song on the 8-track tape player in our living room in the house we lived in then in Gardnerville, Nevada, in the Carson Valley, over and over.

 

Carson-Valley
Carson Valley, Nevada

 

Oh, how I loved that song. I sang my heart out. I can still belt out those lyrics from memory.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 5.58.57 AM

 

Tell all, you say. The ultimate story takes place in March of 1977. Newly popular comedian Billy Crystal, made famous from the spoof television show Soap, was Barry’s opening act for a show at the Sahara Tahoe resort and casino. I HAD to go.

soap.jpg

 

 

Seriously. I HAD to go. I would DIE if I didn’t go. South Lake Tahoe is not far from Gardnerville, but it seemed worlds away at that time when I was pining for a chance to go to the show.

LakeTahoeMap

 

Remember, I hadn’t yet turned 16, I didn’t drive, I didn’t have money, and it seemed IMPOSSIBLE that I would get to go. I pinned a picture of Barry on my wall and moped. If you have ever been or raised a teenaged girl, you know how expertly they pine and mope.

I don’t know what my mother did, but she did what it took, and lo and behold, we were going to the show. Five of us, in fact: my mother and her husband Van, me, and my friends Kelly and Michelle.

The only transportation we had was Van’s tiny Datsun pickup truck. I don’t use the term tiny lightly. Two people could “comfortably” ride in the cab of that truck. Not 5. Somehow we did it. It was very crowded, dangerous, and I am sure illegal. But we were determined.

datsun5201965side

 

My mother made my dress. It looked something like the dress here in the lower left. This was a special occasion, remember. It was March in Tahoe; I was very cold.

super 70s

We went to the dinner show, seated at a table in the very back. I am sure Mom and Van smoked the entire time. They could do that legally then. There were maybe 3 dinner options; we all chose the least expensive–Salisbury steak. Salisbury steak is not steak. Nothing near being steak. It’s basically a hamburger patty in mushroom gravy. Chefs at fine restaurants do not make Salisbury steak. I knew it from frozen TV dinners.

Banquet-Salisbury-Steak-Dinner

A girl we knew in school, a girl from a family with money, arrived at the show with her friends. They had a table up front. They more than likely ordered something other than Salisbury steak. I didn’t care. Van probably had a few drinks (and then drove the overcrowded little truck back down the mountain to Gardnerville). I don’t remember how bad the food or how scary the ride. This was about Barry.

barry at piano

Bily Crystal was, to me then, surprisingly vulgar. Lots of jokes about feminine hygiene products. Not funny. Just get him off the stage and on to Barry, people! It was wonderful, all a blur to me now. But I was happy. We made it home. I switched my crush over to Andy Gibb eventually. And then Daryl Hall, who I still have a thing for.

andy
Andy Gibb
daryl-hall
Daryl Hall

Life went on. The 70s moved on to the 80s, etc. Barry is 73 now, married to his long-secret love of 39 years, his manager Garry Kief.

 

barry and hubby

 

Now that he’s publicly out, I don’t think anyone is at all surprised. Even me, his former Number 1 Fan.

number 1 fan.gif

 

But some things never change, like the wonderful feeling of being the company of a good friend. This time with Kelly has been the best; it’s just like we are those 15 year old girls all of those years ago, getting ready to go to a show. True friends are really what it’s all about.

friends

Love you, Kelly.