W & M Play Poker and Go Shopping

Day 2 of checking in on the kids. I discovered the first day that commuting from USC to Kitty Hollow was fraught with bumper to bumper traffic. I decided that W & M could wait for my ministrations until after traffic slowed, so I went home first and came back later. The upside was that Jimmie came with me. I will say W seemed quite skeptical about Jimmie’s scooter. When we came in, she gave it wide berth, retreating to her window perch.IMG_0448

What a thoughtful girl W is. We arrived to discover that she and M had gone to Petco, because there was a bright pink litter scoop on the counter when we arrived. Though she might have utilized Alexa to get it, she and M also might have padded off to downtown to hit the Petco on Hope and 9th.IMG_0441

Also, the kitchen counter was covered with playing cards, two hands laid out, and some matryoshka measuring cups had been displayed on the counter, along with a tiny little hors d’oeuvres plate with a Russian theme. It looked like Russian appreciation night. W looked shocked that we’d caught her and started mewing very loudly, but in all caps – NO COLLUSION! WITCH HUNT! I’m not sure what that was about but she was insistent.IMG_0444

Jimmie stayed with W while I went to see M in her ground floor kitty condo. I must say, M keeps a tidy home. She might want to get a grip on her eating however. IMG_0463She is quite single-minded about the kibble. I had to withhold her dinner for a moment so I could get a slightly different view. She must have been hungry from the shopping.

Meanwhile upstairs, Jimmie was entertaining W with a new white bird which he added to the fascinator. IMG_0450I asked him what they’d talked about while I was gone. He said he’s a little rusty with his kitty conversation.

In spite of that it was a good visit.

 

 

The Adventures of W & M

W & M have known each other for ever. From back in DC where they worked as interns for some Capitol Hill pols, carrying their bosses’ lunches back to the office, purses over their arms, chattering like magpies.

WAIT! Did you say magpie? Where?

No, W & M, it’s a figure of speech. Let me tell the good people the story.

Last weekend, I was assigned the job of checking in on W & M while their parents were away. I think it’s a wedding – unclear. But W & M live in two cozy apartments near our downtown cozy apartment, and we know the “checking-in-on-the-kids-while-the-parents- are-away-for-the-week” deal. At one point, our policy was to only leave a live person in situ so that things didn’t get out of hand. So I’m an old pro at this. I went to check out the lay of the land on Sunday.

Keys. Check.

Food. Check. Really, they only eat kibble?

K-litter. Check. No scoop?

It’s okay – shakeable tray.

Oh, okay.

Moms and Dads left last night. So I went to check on the girls after work this afternoon. I opened the door, catching W with the game remote in her paws, cigarette hanging lazily out of mouth, Ark: Survivor Evolved blaring away on the TV. She was busy fighting T-Rex when I opened the door. She dropped the remote like a hot potato, cigarette falling perilously to the floor. I ran across the room and stomped it out, tried to look stern, but she was so nonchalant I didn’t know quite how to handle it. I was completely dumbstruck. Then she dropped to the table like she’d been doing her nails.

You know how tough it is to yell at someone else’s kids, so I just went on checking her food and water, then grabbed the fascinator (I know it’s not really called that, but its such a great descriptor and so current) just to let her know that I wasn’t mad. After all, I don’t set the house rules, her parents do.

I bid W farewell and made my way down to M’s apartment. I am pretty sure W had called her about my coming because by the time I got to the door, M was wailing. I mean on the guitar in the living room. She was wailing. Sounds came out of that guitar like you’ve never heard. I mean I knew she was good. W’s parents had told me, but I had no idea. 

I put the key in the door and turned the knob only to find M sitting demurely by the door, no guitar in paw, looking up at me with ennui. Which is hard for a cat to master. Usually they have the imperious thing down, but ennui is a real affect that they have to master. Ennui, that is, until she realized I was her meal ticket. Then the caterwauling started for real and she wrapped herself around my legs.

I scooped her food and filled her bowl and backed away.

What can I tell you? I know they were both up to something before I got there and then when I arrived, almost all evidence was gone. I’ll have to wait and see what other shenanigans they pull the rest of the week. I bet it will be good. Kids always misbehave when their parents are away.

For now, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that W & M are living the high life.

Mother’s Day

I always find myself a twinge sad on Mother’s Day. In recent years, I’ve always attributed it to missing my mom, who passed away when I was thirty-six and she a mere sixty-five in the volcanic aftermath of her voluptuous love affair with cigarettes.

My mother was a force of nature. This might surprise anyone who knew the ladylike self-effacing woman she presented to the world, but my brothers and I know her fierce tenacity in all things she did throughout her life. For the first 20 years, she was a loving daughter and sister, growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania in coal country. The next twenty shaped her as a Mom, as she married my father straight out of Wellesley, foregoing a possible career in something that remains unclear to this day. My dad tells the story about how he hitched a ride back to the naval base in Boston after visiting Mom, a senior at Wellesley. He got into the car with one of her professors who went on and on about Shirley’s aptitudes as a student, and became forlorn to learn she would be marrying and not carrying on in some pursuit of the mind.

But she did. She threw herself into mothering; both she and my Dad engendered in all of us a love of learning, of reading, of love of the arts, exposing us to frequent museum outings and a hard work ethic and love of our family.

The penultimate chapter detailed her return to the life of the mind, after her divorce,  returning to the work force, a short lived application of her library science degree in an actual library at Wilkes College, followed by the insane application at nearly fifty to the Columbia School of Journalism. She completed that program, and began her subsequent life as a journalist in Bethlehem and Palmerton, PA.

The final chapter was underscored by her tragic demise from lung cancer. The last year or so was predictably sad, and no matter how many good times we had, the residue of the hospice days remains always for me a sober reminder of our obsolescence as humans.

Cut to my own motherhood. Twenty-five years ago, Jimmie and I adopted a toddler through the LA Department of Children’s’ Services. Born in Los Angeles, the fost-adopt toddler came from a medically challenged scenario; he had been born to a young mother, who had been unable to care for him. In addition, there were maternal grandparents were unable to raise him.

Chris was prenatally exposed to drugs. He had an older sibling, born to the same mother. His father was no longer alive, according to what we were told; the exact details were unclear.

The adoption worker explained the upcoming process to us:

1) We would undergo the home study and they would check our home to make sure we would be safe fost-adopt parents.

2) We were not allowed to meet Chris unless we agreed up front to accept him. They described this as protecting the child, which was, understandably, their first priority. We agreed.

3) Through the next year or so, the process to “free” Chris of parental rights would happen and then the adoption could go ahead. I remember being worried all through that first year that his birth mother would be in the courtroom on the day when we were going to complete the adoption – all of which could happen, according to the DoCS.

4) I did a lot of research at the library about pre-natal drug exposure and the sorts of things we could expect in terms of learning delays, behavioral issues, etc. The court offered Chris nine months of rehabilitation through the CHIME program at UC Northridge, where he attended classes once a week and spent time with other children who were receiving state-funded learning remediation. Chris’ vocabulary was extremely limited when he came to us. He had only eleven words. Jeep was his name for anything with four wheels; doggie, ball. He added cat shortly after coming to live with us. He had been in a foster-adopt home in Santa Clarita with an older child who was mute and communicated with sign language. Chris would bang the tips of his fingers together to signify his wish for a bottle. Within about a month in our highly verbal home, his vocabulary had expanded to 50 words. Chris was such a social child that he also thrived at the CHIME program.

Our adoption worker kept in touch with us with home visits to see how Chris was adjusting to our lives together. She continued to warn us that if his birth mother got back in touch and challenged her parental rights, we could lose Chris.

I am sorry to say that her absence was a gift to us. My husband and I were so enthralled with our “son,” though the adoption was not finalized for more than a year.

The day we went to the Children’s Court to finalize the adoption, I looked around the courtroom to see if his birth mother was there. The judge asked if anyone had any reason for this adoption to not move forward; I held my breath, but no one spoke up, and Chris became our son.

We took a picture of the judge with Chris sitting on his lap in the courtroom. The picture has faded to a funky green and orange tint with the passage of time, and Chris has a frown on his face in sharp contrast to the broad smiles on Jimmie’s and mine.

Fast forward to 2015, a Friday afternoon late in March, when, as is the case for many major disclosures from Chris, I received a text message that said simply:

C: I think I just found my birth mother and we just talked.

Whoa. It was a staggering revelation, and the details are his to tell. We shared back and forth extensively the details of his discovery. We were alternately thrilled and terrified. In the days immediately following their online reunion,  I thought about all the information she shared immediately with him, and was shocked at how frank she had been. Chris remarked more than once since then how candid she has been with him and how much “like him” that is. And he’s right – he is very candid and so, obviously, is she. Thank goodness. There are so many ways that an adopted child’s finding his or her birth mother can go. She was not only ready to hear from him, but also let him know that she had tried to find him.

The whole thing happened so fast that I felt more than a little overwhelmed by the process. This digitally accessible world made the following inevitable: within a few hours, his mother had posted on FB that she had found her son, followed by her other child, Chris’ half sister, posting that she had found her brother who had been “lost to the system.” As the “system” to which Chris was “lost,” I initially took gross offense to that statement, as I’m sure she may take offense from my description of the details at the time of Chris’s placement with us.

It is offensive because it is, of course, only half of the story. There is so much we don’t know about each other, and of course, we have all made assumptions. The story is important and I hope that we can tell it together with candor and compassion.

A few nights after they reconnected, I received several pictures from Chris’ birth mother via FB Messenger, pictures of her grown child and her grandchild, and a few pictures of herself as a baby. In addition, she asked to be friends on FB. I was nervous that she wanted to be a part of our lives, too, but I understand the inevitable hunger from 25 years of separation. While she didn’t say it, I think she wanted me to reciprocate with pictures of Chris as a little boy growing up.

In 1991, as Jimmie and I got ready to welcome a foster child into our home, they asked us to prepare a picture book of pictures of our family that could be shared with Chris so he could “meet his future family”. We included pictures of the two of us, lounging on the grass at our first home in North Hollywood, and pictures of our many pets then – we had three cats and two dogs. We included some pictures of my parents and Jimmie’s parents. They were, of course, at that time, photos that we pulled from photo albums, some of them taken around that time. Excitedly, we drove to the drug store to drop off for processing, then back to pick them up, slipping them between the plastic sleeves of the small 4 x 6 photo book I had purchased for this precious gift for our new child. Not many of us use photo albums any more. We trust our computers and the mysterious “cloud” to store our precious family heirlooms – I worry  sometimes that a simple loss of electricity or connectivity could obliterate lifetimes of images for future generations.

That first Sunday night, when I received those few digital photos shared by Chris’ birth mother, it felt almost like the same exercise Jimmie and I had gone through so many years ago– she was preparing us for receiving the new members of our family. And I was, on Sunday, not ready to receive them, or her into our lives.

IMG_3863
Our first Thanksgiving with Chris. At 2, he had a fascination with doors.

The social welfare system is complicated. I don’t remember now when all the details about Chris’ birth parents were shared with us, but I think it was sometime after we had fallen in love with our little boy. Which happened immediately. From the minute when the door opened at the foster home in Santa Clarita, and we saw his two foot high body with a mop of black curls and a little pony tail, that 300 watt smile, and his enthusiastic embrace of life, it was over for us. We were completely smitten. There is probably very little information they could have shared with us at that point that would have dissuaded us from loving him. The little information we did receive came months later during the process of “freeing” him from his birth parents.

Even now, three years after Chris found his other mother, the psychological tsunami is strong. I appreciate every day that a hole within Chris’ heart that has been filled by finding his birth mother. The fact that he hasn’t known about where he came from was always clearly a painful gap in his life which he has always shared frankly with us, not to be hurtful at all, but to let us know it has been missing. Shel Silverstein, “The Missing Piece,” was one of Chris’ favorite books when he was young.

IMG_0498
Chris on a beach in Spain several years ago.

And Chris has found not only his birth mother, but his birth sister, and her children as well. They met shortly after his discovery, and then he met his birth mom.  Life is rich and full of surprises and I am thrilled that we know more about his roots. Especially now that he’s a father.

So here are a few photos from the journey together up until today. Because we are all only the mothers that our children allow us to be.

Don’t Go

The image above is one of those perfectly encapsulated generational images. On the left, our son, age 2 and 3 months, poised in his dandy finery next to the knob on Thanksgiving, impish smile as he reached for the doorknob, his favorite talisman of the terrible twos. On the right, a photo of his daughter, age 2 and 4 months, hand extended in an eerily familiar manifestation of her DNA. Both photos say “Don’t go.” But in the one on the left, it was we who were saying “Don’t go” and on the right, it is our granddaughter who wears the universal mien of the child who wants her parent to stay. I haven’t asked Chris who took the shot, but I’m assuming from his Instagram post that he evoked this tragic look of loss on her little face.

April has been a month rich with visits, starting with a spring break visit from our son and his wife and daughter, three days full of flurried energy. Our guest bedroom isn’t the comfiest spot for a family of three, but we’ve hungered for connection, so it was great to have them here.  This last visit was taxing because unbeknownst to me, Jimmie was becoming dangerously anemic.

Our second visit was from our dear friend Susan, who resides in South Africa. Her trips are about the clearest demonstration of a friend’s love that I’ve ever witnessed. Two legs of travel, the first 10 hours, the second 16. Each way. I don’t know how she does it, but she manages to stay awake while here to visit, and to watch baseball with Jimmie while I head off to work. The last day of our visit was cut short, when I drove Jimmie to Hotel Good Samaritan to find out why he was so exhausted. Susan, ever gracious, had cleaned the house and left us flowers reminiscent of those she left 34 years ago in our honeymoon suite after executing the Maid of Honor duties for our wedding.

The third visit was Jimmie’s niece, Martha, come to support me through the last weekend of productions in the spring semester. I called her on Wednesday, she arrived Thursday evening and began taking care of us selflessly, as she has done so many times before. She cooked for us, spent time with Jimmie, and still managed to make discoveries around downtown LA, checking in on the progress of the mural in Pershing Square.  She discovered a new dangerous french bakery/cafe opposite Pershing Square, where she picked up the best blueberry scones I’ve had ever. Martha has an enormous zest for life and such style that I am constantly finding myself wanting to emulate her. She was as ever, a good sport, when I cajoled her into participating in one of the spring productions at USC, entitled Don’t Go.

Don’t Go was a devised, exploration in collaboration with the Sojourn Theatre Company, under the auspices of USC’s Arts Initiative, “Visions and Voices” of what happens when strangers meet, form a relationship, then discuss a topic that they may not see through the same lens. For a year, we’ve been planning this artist residency, and for the past four months or so, we’ve cast the seven student actors, and then the Strangers. The rehearsal period and performances were the culmination of this phase of the project, which I suspect will have a future life in the capable hands of the Sojourn Theatre.

I’ve come to appreciate the kindness of Strangers. Both at work and at home. Yes, capital S because the Strangers I met at work this month were many, curated from the USC campus and from among friends, family and neighbors within the larger Los Angeles area. The play demanded participation of seven of these curated souls each night, and finding them initially seemed impossible given the constraints of our other productions and the fact that each day only had 24 hours. Guided by the directors of the piece, Nikki Zaleski and Rebecca Martinez, we reached out to create bridges across the campus and with other theatrical institutions, such as The Pasadena Playhouse, which yielded willing participants to this theatrical and social experiment. Potential Strangers were asked to fill out a brief survey, indicating their availability for specific dates and performances or rehearsals, and some brief questions to unearth issues that they might feel strongly about. Meanwhile, the directors were building a structure for the conversations to take place while guest scenic designer and artist Aubree Lynn simultaneously designed a habitat. Student Costume and Projection Designer Mallory Gabbard worked to create clear instructional projections and a curated wardrobe to support the desired environment.

Student Lighting Designer Abby Light created a flexible plot which could both color and provide movement around the space for the conversations to unfold. Student Sound Designers Jacob Magnin and Noah Donner Klein grappled with the physics of reinforcing sound in unpredictable places throughout the theatre.

Most impressive to me was the ingenuity of the Stage Management team, students Lexi Hettick and Domenica Diaz, who communicated throughout the process with our Props Manager, Hannah Burnham, as the tasks to foster relationships evolved. In tech and performance, Lexi created an improvised tracking system to call lighting, sound and projections as determined by Sojourn artists, Jono Eiland and Michael Rohd, who took us all on the journey each night. It was different each night, because the topics selected were different. Lexi’s and Domenica’s focus in tech was laser clear and sound, live mixed by Noah was integral to the audience’s ability to follow the show.

The take away for me from the month of April is the blessing of generosity in the people around us all the time were we only to be aware. As negative as the current news cycle is, it is sometimes easy to think we are surrounded by danger all the time. My personal visits at home and the circumstances of the Sojourn piece allowed me to appreciate that we can easily share our common humanity with a complete stranger over the course of anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes of getting to know them. We may present ourselves to the world in a way which may be very different from what is in our hearts.

Yesterday, a new visiting nurse came to check up on Jimmie, post-hospital stay. She and I had been playing phone tag a bit, and we were expecting her between 6 and 7pm. Starving, Jimmie and I downed a bowl of potato chips, and I went to see what of Martha’s magical leftovers were in the refrigerator, not intending to prepare them until the nurse left. She arrived, a young woman in her early to mid-twenties, clad in blue scrub pants, a gray t-shirt, and sneakers, a bounce in her stride that jostled her braids. Within the ten minutes of our meeting, she knew that I taught theatre (which surprised her), and we knew that she lived in the neighborhood and had a four year old with brain trauma. How do we know these things? Because we allow ourselves to be interested in each other. To take advantage of the most cursory and peripheral engagements to be curious about who they are. What do they think about this? That?

With our hands on the doorknob, poised for flight, we have the opportunity to say to each other, Don’t Go. Stay a while. Let’s share our common humanity.

 

The Anxious Man

When I was in college, I spent a summer in San Francisco, working for the Field Polling organization, lived with my Dad and his wife in their Nob Hill Victorian flat. That summer I developed two fondnesses which have stayed with me over the years, both related to bed.

The front guest room overlooked a stretch of Chestnut Street just south of the Art Institute in North Beach as well as the island of Alcatraz; on the twin beds there were comforters, which my stepmother, Joan, called ‘doonas’, clad in vibrant orange, yellow and white striped Marimekko fabric. I liked nothing better then or now than to burrow into those cocoons of slumber after a long day at my job.

That was also the summer that I learned to value the morning newspaper, a cup of warm caffeine, and the ritual of reading up on contemporary events and planning outings to movies and plays. On a student budget, I attended many more movies than plays, but each morning, I’d peruse the SF Chronicle’s “pink section” for the distinctive clapping man icons, (designed by Warren Goodrich in the 1940s) to guide me to critically popular films.sf-chronicle-movie-review-guy-2 (Thanks to Austin Kleon for his great post about the origination and interpretation of the Little Man). That summer, I also read the daily installment of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” which my college buddies, Bob and Bill and I  discussed avidly while we roller bladed in the inventory aisles of Macy’s that summer.  Three Princeton students assembling and collating training manuals for bored Macy’s employees.  And I’d finish by reading Herb Caen’s column about all that was politically topical in San Francisco. Herb Caen

 

Recently the Little Man has returned to my life. Except now I think of him as the Anxious Man.  Somewhere between Chair 2 and Chair 3 is the posture I frequently find Jimmie in when I come home from work. Leaning forward, elbows braced on his knees, brow furrowed. This pose is also frequently caused not only by anxiety, but by an arctic chill that he just can’t shake, even when I supply him with a warm cup of tea or coffee. I’ll sometimes get a phone call mid afternoon after he’s awoken from a nap and needs to hear my voice to bring him back to a less anxious place.

We seem to have entered a new phase. Jimmie’s memory frays at the edges like the fringes of my denim shorts when I was a teen, except his fringe is unintentionally extended, whereas I’d obsessively pull the threads to make my fringe longer, the shorts shorter. I cherish our shared memories and strive to minimize the devastation or importance of the loss. Ever helpful, Jimmie puts the dishes away from the drainboard while I’m at work. The other night when I opened the cupboard where we store our glassware, I discovered two coffee mugs. I laughed until I realized that his mistake was actually intuitive – that cupboard is directly over the coffee maker. Doh!

His memory isn’t consistently rocky. Sometimes he greets my questions about the events of the day with a quizzical expression. I don’t know, he says with the blissful nonchalance of someone whose day actually isn’t polluted by the toxicity of the current political climate. It engenders in me both envy and sadness, because of the loss of depth in our discourse. And then sometimes he’s completely present, working his crossword puzzles in the familiar pen as he’s always done.

If you see us together, don’t be surprised. I had arranged for a caregiver this Tuesday, when I had tech, but when she arrived, the Anxious Man returned, shoulders hunched, fingers intertwined, sometimes even with his forehead cradled in his hands. The well-meaning woman came closer, making reassuring looks at me. But when she started speaking, her sugary voice lilted as she said “What are some of your favorite things to do? Do you want to take a walk?”

I had to take her aside after a few minutes of condescending chatter. Jimmie looked up at me, rolling his eyes, and I felt him getting even more anxious. Within 10 minutes, he asked me five times when I was leaving, and it became clearer and clearer that I was not going to be able to leave.

This happened once the week before, when I was to assist with house management for the final dress of our spring musical; so we went together. Tuesday night we ended up going to tech together. Jimmie sat quietly tucked into the corner by the door and I popped back and forth between talking to him and listening as the stage manager ran the tech.

The caregivers who come don’t always cue the return of the Anxious Man. We had a lovely woman a few months ago who was easy to be with and inspired confidence in both Jimmie and me. She’s disappeared from the roster, unfortunately.

This week, I think we’re helping the agency break in some new employees. The past two days, we’ve had a couple who surprised us. We were expecting Mrs. Wang, but when I opened the door, Mr. Wang was right behind her. He had come along to “help with translating.” You like to think that the agency has sent someone that your hearing-impaired loved one will have no trouble communicating with in the first place. Now, he had ridiculous exchanges such as “May I have some crackers and cheese?” resulting in a bowl of crackers….. What does Jimmie do? He picks up the phone and calls me at work.

(whispering furtively)

Els, I just want some crackers and cheese. They brought me a plate of just crackers.

(heroically)

Put Mr. Wang on the phone with me, Jimmie.

(As the phone passes, I can hear Jimmie desperately asking Mrs. Wang for water with ice.)

Mr. Wang, Jimmie would like some brie. It’s in the bottom drawer of the fridge.

Oh, brie, okay, says Mr. Wang brightly.

Can I please speak again with Jimmie? Phone passes to Jimmie.

Jimmie, you need to be a little patient. The Wangs don’t know how our kitchen is laid out.

When I got home, Jimmie looked drained. I asked him if he eventually got his cheese. He started gesticulating with his hands, making little chopping cube like shapes in the air in front of his chest. Reminded me of Veronica the other day interrupting me while I explained clearly how Jimmie liked his hotdogs with baked beans and applesauce. (Okay, I’m not proud of the menu, but it’s a 5-7 minute prep time, friends, and it’s all about speed and simplicity.)

Applesauce for dessert?

No, just on the same plate with the beans and franks. (she looks repulsed)

Has he ever tried hotdogs wrapped in bacon?

(Stifling my nausea)

No, Jimmie just likes his hotdogs plain. With some dijon mustard. No bacon!

I went into the kitchen tonight and opened the dishwasher to put some things away, and to check to see if The Wangs had followed my request to put the dishes away. They had!

Now I’m the first one to acknowledge that no one loads a dishwasher the same way, and that I have OCD. But when I flipped the door down, there were three spoons lying on their side on top of the silverware drawer, and the plates and bowls were facing the wrong way. My ridiculous outrage was enormous. So big that I actually made my 91-year-old husband get up off the sofa and roll his walker into the kitchen to come look at how the Wangs had loaded the dishwasher.

I just had them unload the dishwasher, so they saw how I like it!

Jimmie looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I think I actually may have lost my mind. The first day the Wangs arrived, as I was leaving, I texted our son that Mrs. Wang showed up with her husband who is very nice but that’s a lot of company. To which he responded  OMG. This is a pilot in the making.

Maybe that’s what Jimmie should be doing. Writing that pilot.

Taking it one day at a time, friends, one day at a time. Anxious me and my Anxious Man.

 

 

Our Amicable Divorce

GASP! WHAT? IMPOSSIBLE!

Of course I’m not divorcing that darling husband of 34 years. In fact, I’m sitting next to him on our couch watching the umpteenth night of Olympics solo ice dancing. If our marriage can survive that, then we’re home free.

No, I’m talking about our divorce from our bank of 35 years -since we moved out to Los Angeles, in fact. They shall remain nameless, but their ever-loving-initials are B of A.

The trouble began in November, after paying my 2018 gym fees in the end of October. All of the gym members were notified by email that the gym was closing abruptly before Thanksgiving, taking with them (in my case) almost two grand without looking back. The more rational among you are thinking, “Why didn’t she divorce the gym rather than the bank?”

Starting in December, through painstaking documentation of the theft of this money, I thought the Bank would come to my aid and at the very least, front the money so that I could afford my new gym membership. I would call every two weeks or so to inquire as to the status of my claim, speaking with Juanita, then lovely Rebecca (names changed to protect the innocent). Each person I spoke with was ostensibly “horrified” at the amount of time this claim was taking, their small exhortations of breath audible over the phone, with assurances that they would accelerate my claim, sending it up to the next level. Every time I hung up, I felt better. Finally someone would help me take care of this.

The online claim system is horrible. You can’t upload any documents, and you can’t send emails to find out the status. You have to phone in and sit on hold. I’m not saying I’m the busiest person in the world, but it’s really annoying to have to carve out precious time to sit on hold while the purportedly shocked employee mutes their line, and buffs their nails for 10 minutes before coming back to express more despondency about why this claim hasn’t been settled yet.

On a Friday a week ago, I was told by “Sheila” that I would absolutely hear by Monday evening, or Tuesday morning at the latest. That was a week ago.

It takes a lot to make me lose my cool, but when last Tuesday came and went, I was pretty steamed. I immediately drafted a letter to the B of A Claims P.O. Box, in which I cced the president of B of A, BofA Presidentphoto below.

Found this little tidbit online.

Brian Thomas Moynihan’s 2017 equity incentive award has been raised to $21.5 million from $18.5 million in 2016.

I can see that ignoring my claim is incentivized by the award listed above. Alongside the information and mailing address was a many-pages long list of irate comments from angry customers like me, who have been ignored and whose claims have gone unanswered. Other websites encouraged me and others to “kick the claim up the poop hill” to CEO Moynihan.

I’m not going to take it any more!

My letter included my stated intention to begin removing myself and my business from his bank if I didn’t receive any response by last Friday. So I started the process earlier, on Wednesday. It’s difficult to disentangle yourself from a banking institution after thirty plus years. Complex, but satisfying. Every keystroke changing online bill pay and direct deposits to my new Credit Union account felt great.

Except every item I moved I relived the humiliation of being taken by the gym, then being taken by the bank.

Ironically, as I typed this blog last night, interspersed with attempting to change various accounts, I received this message from B of A:

We’re letting you know that you have a new message about your claim in your Online Banking mailbox.

This alert is in reference to an open claim you have on file with us. The account listed in this alert is for verification purposes only.

When I went to check the message, it indicated that my credit was permanent.

Message date: 02/20/2018
Subject: Credit is now permanent. 

We’ve completed our review of your claim.

What you need to know

We’re pleased to let you know that the previously issued temporary credit for $1,750.00 is now permanent and we consider this claim resolved.

We’re here to help

If you have any questions, please visit bankofamerica.com/help. We appreciate the opportunity to serve your financial needs.

A hasty search of the entire account revealed no previously issued temporary credit. I think I’d have noticed that, don’t you?

Ironically, while making lunch today, I received a call from another B of A employee in the Executive Claims Department, letting me know that they had received my letter and that I would have the money by midnight tonight.  I let her know that I was, of course, pleased with the outcome of the claim’s conclusion, but that I would still be leaving the bank. And tonight, I see the money sitting ready to come back into my account.

It felt really good to have someone to give my feedback to about the process. This B of A employee wasn’t buffing her nails while we talked. She was listening. Of course, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking….power of the blog!….keystroke monitoring?…..paying it forward? New Gym! New Bank! What a great way to start the new year!

The divorce, while amicable, will be finalized in the next few weeks.

The Memory Game

My husband and I have an idea for a show. Maybe not a good show, but the idea amused us. We were flipping through Jimmie’s old address book tonight after dinner, a garlic infused pork loin and a salad adorned with some just over the hill avocado that we ended up picking out of the bowl. Poor thing, he’s married to an absolute disaster in the kitchen during the work week. Give me a day off and I can whip up something divine, but drag me into the house at 7pm and expect dinner by 8 and you will probably get something from Trader Joe’s. Could be worse. Could be something from Carl’s Jr. Which has happened, if I’m totally honest. But I digress.

Who amongst us still has an actual physical address book? Jimmie’s is black leather-covered, the yellowing pages holding precious peoples’ names and old addresses scored out in black pen, the newer ones written carefully below. Far too many of the people in the address book are actually gone now, gone to the Big Stationers in the sky, but the amazing thing is how many names neither of us had any recollection of.  Jimmie would say the name, which of course I won’t here because if you’re reading, you’d feel bad. I would cock my head back, close my eyes, and come up with what I think was about 75% of the time, accurate.

Director of the play you did at the Old Globe.

Comedian who lived around the corner on Emelita and…. (Incredibly, I couldn’t come up with the cross street one over from where we lived for almost twenty years.) You went somewhere with him in a limo once. Was it to a hockey game?

Hockey coach

Dermatologist

Psychologist who was supposed to be really good with teenage boys.

Ex-wife. (Just kidding. He always remembers those.)

At one point, Jimmie turned to the page in his book where he’d meticulously listed all of the agents at his agency.

Boy, I had a lot of agents. Why didn’t I work more?

But recently, Jimmie’s memory has become the consistency of tonight’s avocado – soft and just a little dark around the edges. It came on suddenly, this memory loss, within the last 3 months,  I suspect, due to the hormone antigens he’s been taking for his prostate cancer treatment.

I became aware of it one night when I asked him what he’d had for lunch earlier in the day. I wasn’t really quizzing him, since I knew what he should have had, having made it myself before going off to work, but it is always a safe, gentle question to jump start the bigger questions, like “What happened in Trumpville today?”

That particular day, he couldn’t remember what he’d eaten, and since I’d left it in the fridge and it was still there, I worried that he’d forgotten to eat. So did he, until we realized that the sandwich was half of the sandwich I’d left for him that looked like a previously left half of a sandwich earlier in the week. So you see, he’s not the only problem here.

Most of the people in the address book were old doctors, left behind when we moved downtown and consolidated our array of physicians to within 5 miles of us.

A few were actors he’d worked with–like the actress about whom I said,

She did that movie with you, where you played the farmer and she played your wife. Tom Hanks was in it. Started with a P. He came to the farmhouse with a bullet in his shoulder and you dug it out. P. P. P. Aha! Road to Perdition!

That’s when Jimmie got the idea for a show with two people who couldn’t remember squat.

I know we’re not the only couple who play memory tag team when they go out in public. You do it too. You’re at an opening and here comes an ever-so-familiar face and your spouse whispers their name into your ear just as they come up and Euro-kiss you on the cheek, and you say, quite convincingly, “Barbara! So good to see you!” Only when your backup disk fails, as is happening more frequently to me than I care to admit, you’re sunk.

Some people have minds like traps – or systems to manage all the people they meet. My father has always had an incredible facility with remembering the details of the people he’s met. His wife keeps a card file which she updates meticulously with the most current information when they see people. I wish I’d begun that practice earlier in my life. It would be so useful.

Jimmie and I met on a play entitled “Play Memory,” in the fall of 1983 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey. I was his dresser, as well as thirty-three years his junior. I like telling people that to watch them blush. The reality was quite tame. I handed him a sweater in the crossover upstage; but it seems ironic and kind of full-circle now that we are amusing ourselves by playing Memory, rifling through the pages of the address book upon which we relied so heavily only fifteen years ago.

You can play, too. Scroll through your cell phone contacts and see how many people you really remember. Or if you’re lucky, ask your partner for help.

 

The Invisible Life of a College Professor

Lately I’ve become obsessed with what I’ve started calling the “invisible work.” All the non-evident administrative tasks that are needed to the move processes forward. Lest you think this is going to be one big whinge-a-thon, you can relax. I’m gonna peel back the curtain and let you see some of what we college professors really do. Disclaimer: I love my job so those of you sniffing around the edges for a potential job opening, it’s not here. I hopefully have many more years of happy invisibility. But, having said that, it riles me to hear someone say,

You professors have really cushy jobs.

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Disclaimer: Quite old photo of this college professor at her desk and at her target weight.

Continue reading “The Invisible Life of a College Professor”

Puzzling for PMs

Production management is a big puzzle. What are calendars but intricate jigsaws of time, venues, and events, people and resources? Beginning with the broad strokes, the macro edges of a season, building a shape to contain, in our case, twenty shows, and then working in down to the detailed microcosm of who will be on a crew to support the physical needs of each of the individual productions. As I begin, each year seems jumbled and chaotic, unachievable, until I ponder specifically, painstakingly about how it all fits together. What worked the last time? What didn’t? Where do we need to make accommodations for specific dates within the calendar?

I should have known when I was ten, sitting at the folding card table on my grandparents’ plush Persian carpet, sweeping my gaze over the 1000-not-yet-interlocking pieces of that year’s Christmas puzzle, that I would end up a production manager.  There, with my mother’s father, the architect turned bridge-maker, we sat in companionable silence, for hours at a time, hands darting with quicksilver recognition of pattern and color, brushstroke and tone. Typically we puzzled over paintings. I remember well the vexation of Rembrandt’s “The Man with the Golden Helmet.” 1200px-Rembrandt_(circle)_-_The_Man_with_the_Golden_Helmet_-_Google_Art_Project That was a challenge. Sure, the helmet was easy, the sheen on his right shoulder, but the miasma of the dark field around him was unnerving when we started. And yet, in spite of the seemingly impossible challenge, we soldiered on, until the full image lay flat and complete. Sometimes a piece would go missing, lost in the intricate patterns of the carpet beneath our feet. And like the aha moment of my later puzzling as a PM, we would find the piece that brought that particular section to a satisfying whole.

This early exposure to puzzles may be the reason I took up the study of art history in college, finding pleasure in examining the brushstrokes of various painters, languishing in the details of influence and exposure of artists to one another and the formation of schools of painting, or the iconoclasts who broke away in their painting practices. I discovered the elegance of Georgia O’Keeffe, her stout American grace, her standing as a female artist in a man’s world. I relished her heady romance with Alfred Stieglitz, thirty years her senior.

I see you taking this in and assessing how these pieces fit in my life.

The thing about puzzles is that sometimes what you are looking at isn’t really what you are seeing. In your eagerness to find the piece that slides in snugly but not with force, your brain can convince you that what you are looking for is something green when in actuality, it is part green, part yellow.

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Several years ago I went through a phase of puzzling 17th Century floral paintings…

Honing that expectation to the reality requires a stillness and mindfulness to see the edges of color, the subtleties of tiny lettering, in the case of this year’s puzzle challenge, the subtleties of dozens of different fonts of lettering.

As an adult, I rarely have the time and, in our downtown aerie, the space to have a puzzle out on a table.  Our table is the dining room table, which typically functions as the breakfast, lunch, and dinner venue. During the holidays, it sports a colorful green cloth with a festive Guatemalan runner down the center, and whatever I’ve thrown together as the centerpiece. This year, two (now desiccating) red roses, some Queen Anne’s lace, a drooping white hydrangea, a spray of evergreen, two perky carnations (death flowers to the Italians) and a festively jeweled red tennis ball on a stick that came with the discount flower concoction I bought at Ralph’s after eschewing the much more attractive centerpiece of pink tulips and evergreens because of the price. That reminds me it’s time to toss my confection.

The convergence of time (a week off between Christmas and New Year’s) and venue availability (a last-minute cancellation of plans for my Dad and his wife to visit) opened half of our table venue to puzzling, providing the pleasure of an extra-curricular puzzling respite, a break from the puzzling as PM that I get paid to do.

And so, I pulled out the puzzle that my dear friend Jennifer had given me for my birthday two years ago. It has sat on my desk at home awaiting some confluence of events as described above, and eagerly, on the 23rd of December, I opened the box and spread out the pieces.

An Antique World Map, on display at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

…originally designed as a frontispiece to Henricus Hondius’s 1630 revision of the long-lived Mercator/Hondius atlas, a work then being challenged by rival map publishers.

Where to begin? Initially confounding, and only when approached methodically, patiently, the edges and corners came together in a few hours, then the images of the portraits of Julius Caesar, and cartographers Claudius Ptolemy, Gerard Mercator and Jodocus Hondius, Sr. followed. What seemed impossible to imagine ever completing, the dual circles of alternating colors around the two lobes of the map, came together on day two. The colorful outlines of South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, clued together by the internal tiny names. The vast, uncharted territories of Canada and the Northwestern United States.

And yes, lest I seem callous, I was devastated by the change in plans and not getting to spend the Christmas week with my Dad and his wife. Sometimes plans are fickle, and unchartered. Happens all the time for us PMs, us humans, us explorers. As disorienting as it was to have our Christmas plans disrupted, we made the best of what we were given. And that, my friends, is the only solution to that and any puzzle.

“EMC gets list of forbidden words: Hematuria, Christmas Cards, Schedule A Deductions”

It’s funny sometimes the synchronicity in the world. I don’t know how or why these things seem to happen, but soon after the CDC received the list of seven forbidden words for future budget documents, I, too, received a list of forbidden words and phrases for future planning purposes.

The CDC’s forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

 December 15 at 6:53 PM

Our list came from God, Jimmie’s urologist and our tax man. The fact that our list’s verbage is verboten is welcome news in our household, and ironically, included some of the same words from the CDC’s list. “Vulnerable” and “entitlement” were also on our list and due to the duplication, leads us to believe that vulnerability and entitlement might very well be an eighth and ninth sin.

My thinking is, (and no doubt the hard-working doctors and scientists at the CDC feel the same way) that if some great powerful bureaucrat or government agency has banned these words or feels they are no longer relevant, then they must no longer exist, right? Now there’s some evidence-based relief!

Also on our list are “hematuria,” “agonist”, “hormones” (because after what we’ve both been through there aren’t any “hormones” left anywhere in the vicinity), “Christmas cards” are disallowed, though a dispensation has been made for reciprocating Xmas greetings to those well-meaning family and friends who have kept the light of Christmas burning by sending photos of themselves with their beautiful children.

Additional taboo topics are “Schedule A deductions;” when the GOP has it’s way, early next week, professional actors like Jimmie will no longer be able to deduct entertainment, union dues, state taxes withheld and all other business expenses they are taking so we can all just tear up that Schedule A paper. Talk about progress! And did you hear? We may soon be able to file our taxes on a post card!

The Post reported that, according to a source, policy analysts were given some phrases to use instead of the prohibited words, such as instead of saying “science-based” or “evidence-based” using the phrase, “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

ABC News Reporters Morgan Winsor and Dan Childs Dec. 16, 2017 2:10PM

This approach certainly works for me. I definitely would not wish hematuria on anyone and as the urologist said the other day, “this hormone shot is the only treatment you’re getting, so you have to put up with it no matter how uncomfortable you are.” Maybe it’s time to add “hot flash” to the list. It’s sort of like a negative Christmas list.

As far as community wishes go, we were informed by our tax accountant that the Schedule A deductions will go away as of Spring 2019. But he also wrote:

No state is required to conform to the proposed new tax law. For our clients, primarily in California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts, we strongly suggest writing or calling your state assembly representatives to encourage filing independent of the Internal Revenue Service, including allowing state and local taxes, employee business expenses, total property taxes and total mortgage interest deductions. Here’s how to contact your representative. Call 844-899-9913. Tell them your zip code and you’ll get connected with your representative. Also, contact your union and have them lobby on your behalf.

Oh, and feel free to include in your letter that “EMC bases her recommendations on science in consideration of community standards and wishes.”