Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer, Part One

When I was a kid, summers were a rough and tumble affair.
Each glorious day was greeted with the anticipation exclusive to childhood.  If I concentrate very hard, I can almost still feel it.
After a breakfast of brightly colored and sugary cereal, running high on the ensuing sugar rush, my playmates and I were unleashed upon the sunny streets. There, the stink of yet uncollected garbage collided with the floral breeze of the mock orange that thrived in my tiny front yard, creating a pungent blend of sweet and sour that if I sniff today, rockets me right back to Brooklyn in July.
The memory of the aroma of the Mock Orange brings tears to my eyes.
Status symbol
Contrary to popular belief, our days were not unstructured--we had our own standards and routines. Dressed for duty in cotton play clothes and summer sneakers, some of us sported the distinctive blue status rectangle of Keds on the backs of our shoes. I was a PF Flyer girl—something years of therapy couldn’t erase and, if I’d lost the battle with my mother on a dreaded “pedal pushers” morning, it could be a dark day despite the radiant sunshine.
Unfortunate wardrobe choices were forgotten once the group convened. Lucky to have a household of kids next door, we were often joined by friends from down the street in either direction and we’d choose our games depending on the assemblage. No one would look for us until lunch time. 
Freedom was ours.
When we were very little, time might be spent floating sticks competitively in puddles that had formed after an overnight rain. Or we’d take our “route” which meant climbing over a prescribed course involving ledges, walls and fences. Feet mustn’t touch the ground or you’d be “out” and this game meant lots of injuries. 
Often, by evening, we’d sport a patchwork of bandaids and be smeared with various antiseptics. Most mothers preferred brown pigmented peroxide and Mercurochrome which was red as blood while my mother chose colorless approaches like Bactine and witch hazel. No one used bug spray and we were often bedaubed with Caladryl as the mosquitoes celebrated the succulence of our youth. Sunscreen was also unheard of and by summer’s end, we were well-browned.
We played games called “Johnny, May I Cross Your Golden River” and “Green Light Red Light 1-2-3” as if our lives depended on it and there was never a day without a fresh hopscotch board carefully drawn on the sidewalk using the pavement squares as a guide. 
The configuration we drew
was different but you get the idea.
We didn’t use chalk. We used a variety of plaster chunks we’d scavenged near construction sites, unconcerned that we might be releasing toxic materials into our lungs, tossing pebbles into the squares again and again until it was time for games played with a pink Spalding ball. 
“Stoop Ball” meant tossing the ball against stone steps or we’d place a penny on a sidewalk crack and bounce it back and forth, trying to hit the coin. These games were catalysts to conversation and we’d chatter and gossip about the things that mattered: what flavor ice pop we’d buy later, was Davy Jones was cuter than Mickey Dolenz (obviously) and how, in the name of good God, did Mary Poppins get all that crap into her bag.
When it lost it's bounce, we'd refresh it by rubbing it on the concrete. We'd
have to buy a new one every few weeks,

Interrupted by lunch, we wore no watches but knew when we were due home thanks to apparently innate homing devices and were rarely late for meals. We’d run home to eat, refreshed by strategically placed box fans and linger in un-air conditioned apartments. Window shades might be drawn halfway to block the heat as we washed down our sandwiches with Hi-C or Kool Aid.
“July” will continue after lunch and next time I see you here at “Susan Says….” Until then, enjoy the summer!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Give me Electricity or Give me Death--Almost Literally.

This morning, just as I was about to start making the magical elixir of life, aka a pot of coffee, I heard it.
The click.

Then the beep of my carbon monoxide detector as it lost power. Then the silence. The power was out.

Those who know me are familiar with what happens next. I, literally, flip out. 

When the kids were little and my mother was around, I would control my irrational behavior to a point--participating in the family activities of lighting candles, telling stories in the dark and passing out whatever ice cream treat was in the freezer before it melted.

I could take this up to a point but would soon punctuate the festivities with bursts of hysteria, "What if the power never comes back on?" was a favorite refrain. Sometimes I would actually burst into tears as I suffered almost immediate withdrawal from the busy whirring of appliances. I'd hover by the television, trying to will it back to life like Uri Geller used to bend a fork.

I'd threaten to check into a motel. Run away. Put the house up for sale. Return to the city where this only happens once a decade.

When the kids got older, we'd manually heave open the garage door and drive all over the neighborhood, curious to see where the line of darkness ended and blessed normalcy began again.

Today, upon hearing the dreaded click of disconnection and then the ensuing silence that settled about the house like a heavy blanket, I stood and blinked in disbelief. My cable box, dead and unlit, stared back.

The sun is brightly shining. There is no ice storm. No gale force winds. No lightening. Why, I asked the universe, WHY????

Since the phone goes dead when the power is off, I must resort to using my cell to call the power company. Since I forgot to recharge it, the cell is also dead. I do more staring. What to do?

I tear out into the garage and--get this--turn on the engine of the car to plug in the phone and make the call with the motor running. I never said I was smart, remember?

Of course, I have opened the small door (can't open the big doors since they are electrically operated) but by the time I get through to the cheerful automated whore on the other end, I have used up every combination of foul word mathematically possible and am, literally, starting to get nauseous from the carbon monoxide.

Usually it's a simple phone call.

Years ago, a caller would receive a little good-natured sympathy from a human at the end of the line but, lately, it's an electronic voice.

Today the voice has all the info wrong---address, phone number--so I wonder if I have been turned off as a result of mistaken identity. But I can't stay on the phone much longer. If there had been a parakeet in the garage, he would have already been feet up.

As the fumes build, I call Seth and ask him to make the phone call from work, running out to the driveway where I breathe fresh air to clear my lungs. I realize that I won't be able to post my blog, flush the toilet or wash my face (the water pumps are all electric) or brew coffee. I feel the old hysteria rising as I head back inside.

Just as I am about to start chewing on coffee beans and sniffing Sharpies, I start to feel calmer.

Suddenly the quiet of the house is less a threat than a tangible peacefulness. I am confused by this as rarely do I react to anything with calmness. My personal immaturity is legendary.

But the rage continues to dissipate and I pick up a book that I've been reading half-heartedly since last week.

Buzzy climbs into my lap and we sit for about an hour. The book transports me as Buzzy makes little running motions in his sleep (he is chasing a mouse-sized Justin Bieber in a dream, no doubt).

When the electricity clicks back on, I am startled. Back to my routine now, the enforced dreaminess of the power-outage is over....

Thank God. It wasn't as bad as I thought but this ain't Little House on the friggin' Praire, now is it?? Time for Cash Cab and coffee.

What? Did you think I was going soft on you, people? Not likely.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Small Town Fourth

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July meant hiding in your house all day.

Firecrackers were a popular projectile in the 70’s and my mother was firm about not going far from home but we had our own anticipated traditions.  

Though way too “off the boat” to grill,  we still made sure to have hot dogs and other things American to enjoy until it was time to sit on the stoop in the evening and watch distant (therefore, safe) fireworks over the apartment building across the street. 

We ate ice cream from bowls as the smell of gunpowder hung in the sultry air over 55th Street. The next day the garbage trucks would rumble through the neighborhood  and tired men would sweep up the thousands of fire cracker wrappers that had collected against the curbs.
Here, many miles and years away from childhood, the Fourth of July is more as I imagined it should be: smiling and waving at familiar faces in a local parade, hot dogs on the ball field with home-town politicians making speeches and grills getting fired up in too many backyards to count—the combined aroma of sausage, steaks and burgers forming an aromatic haze over the entire town. 

Though I tend to be more inclined to feel estranged from the mainstream, I get into it on the Fourth whether at my house or yours and proudly scratch my mosquito bites the next day, happily confident that the ketchup stains on my jeans and the sunburn on my nose make me as American as anyone whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower.
My sons are home for the weekend and, since it’s been a cherished tradition since our very first year in New Fairfield, again they sat—side by side—on the curb, watching their town parade go by. We knew what to expect once the festivities began. 

There would be local teams and scouts, political hopefuls, fancy cars, gleaming fire trucks and my favorite part— the veterans, visibly older but carrying their colors, some proud, some sad, but all determined to be counted on this day. Each Fourth, of course, there are fewer who remember World War II, their numbers thinning as the years fly by.     

One particular gentleman caught my attention as he approached. Straight and handsome in the passenger seat of an open Jeep, this veteran of the Second World War noticed my boys in the summer heat and looked at them very specifically, his head turning towards them as he rode by. Tom and Charlie were unaware but my husband and I both took notice.  

Whatever this fellow may have been  thinking as he looked at my sons, his actions many years ago—whether he served stateside or on his belly in a muddy trench across the ocean, laid the groundwork for their presence on that curb, squinting into the sunshine, enjoying hot coffee and bacon, egg and cheese on a roll.  

What privilege. What plenty. 
A classic--rent it!
I’ve seen enough Jimmy Stewart movies and hummed along to enough Irving Berlin medleys so that this moment was not lost on me. The tears rolled down my face until I was hit by a Tootise Pop thrown into the crowd. Since it was cherry, I gave it to my husband—that’s his favorite flavor. 

So, as they came from other countries to make their home in a new world where independence was eventually declared and later celebrated in countless cities and small towns across America, so we came to our new home here. 

Brooklyn is all hipster-ed out these days. It's likely no one throws firecrackers at kids anymore. They probably toss artisanal pickles at each other for fun. But we, former stoop-sitting city dwellers, sought something better. Whether we found it is not the point. The point is that we sought it—a yard, a parking space, a place to plant a garden, freedom from congestion and lousy air, the kind of place we dreamed of as kids as we hid from firecrackers in Brooklyn. 
Whether we like what’s happening in our country today or not, I challenge you to find a better spot on earth. Since I’m pretty certain that there’s something in the Declaration of Independence  about the inalienable right to be corny, I always exercise that right on the Fourth of July..   

I hope you did, too. 
There's always room for a fart joke.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cribbage, Baby!

If anyone notices Seth looking dazed and unhappy lately, it’s a direct result of a well-deserved come-uppance he has recently endured. 

I know. You’re all shaking your heads, muttering, “That man needs no comeuppance…he is a saint…after all, he lives with that crazy “Susan Says…”  

Allow me to explain........

Despite the fact that I am terrible at games, I have enjoyed playing cards with Seth over the years. A chronic “kibitzer”, I miss points, forget rules and am easily distracted by butterflies and such while he possesses strategic abilities light years beyond my scope. 

Factor in serious issues with basic mathematics and while he wins, I lose. I’m used to it. My kids were better at Go Fish and my mother used to beat me at Old Maid. Even Uno was a struggle. The numbers and colors were tricky and I would often shout Uno for no reason other than the simple joy of shouting.

This all suited (Get it? Card pun!) Seth perfectly since the modest and thoughtful man you meet at the supermarket just happens to be a relentless maniac when playing a game. 

As he is winning, he will crow and exult, leap up to pirouette or do the chicken dance, wag a finger in my face, perform joyful slapstick and call me names like “Loser Pants.”  All that niceness you see comes at the price of this behavior. I have learned to live with it.

Our long-standing game of choice had been Gin Rummy. As cocoa in the kitchen tuned to cold beer on the deck, we’d assume our roles of loser and winner and all was well.  But Seth got greedy. Deciding that Gin was too simple for a mind as clever as his, he became fixated on teaching me Cribbage, a far more complicated card game with a wooden board and pegs for scoring. 

“You’ll love Cribbage, “Susan Says...,” he’d say with a gleam in his eye. What he meant was “I will win every game, you blog writing loser.”

I finally agreed to learn Cribbage. It has lots of rule: suits, flushes, runs, adding anticipating, eliminating and deducing as well as things with funny names like "nobs" and "muggins." I longed for the comfort of a pleasant hand of gin.

I was very intimidated as Seth explained the fundamentals and my general apprehension caused a scene or two as I needed demonstrations repeated over the course of several days. I even visited Youtube for help. 

Seth assured me that I would soon understand the strategy and rhythm of this new game, barely containing himself as he envisioned endless wins. He preened in anticipation while I resigned myself to the glum certainty of loss.

He was generous at first. As I attempted to master the game, Seth mastered the inflections of dripping condescension. He chortled kindly as I screwed up--correcting me sweetly, tossing me an extra point or two but, all the while, basking in the certainty that he would soon be steamrolling his way to victory as I fumbled, my cards spilling this way and that as Buzzy watched sympathetically from his Zappo’s box.

Well, it just so happens that the scales of karma were just back from the shop. Their springs and cogs had been lubricated by a little thing called irony because suddenly I was not only understanding the game, but amazingly,  I was winning

A lot. 

And guess what!! It appears that winning is a lot more fun than losing!! 

Who knew?

Despite my husband’s half-hearted claims that he is “proud of me” and that it's “nice to have a worthy opponent,“ I watched his dreams of conquest turn to hollow congratulations and, eventually, sullen glaring as I racked up the wins. It reached a head on Father’s Day when he suddenly needed a morning nap, stomping off to the couch with his little blankie and itty bitty pillow. 

It was then that I momentarily considered throwing a game or two. The key word there is “momentarily.” I like winning.

He has hopefully suggested that my new found status as a card shark is only a fluke. He may very well be right but, until then, watch out world---I’m a winner!!!

Not a winner.