Non Vulgaris Dies

Those of you who follow this blog will remember that last week was filled with “Vulgaris Dies” (“Ordinary Days”) and that I had nothing very exciting to write about. I ended that blog with this line: “… in my gut I have this gnawing feeling that all H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks will break forth next week.”

Welcome to my tale of H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks.

There was a seminar we, Mary, who is my OCAS Director of Sales, and I wanted to attend in Los Angeles and it began very early Monday morning. So early that we decided it would probably be a good idea to go up there late in the afternoon on Sunday and stay over rather than get up in the middle of the night to be there by 7 a.m. … and as you know, leaving at 4 a.m. doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll make the 55 mile trip between my home and downtown LA in less than three hours, no matter what the time of day…or night.

So we set off on our road trip and other than the fact that Mary’s GPS couldn’t make up its mind as to what was the most efficient route to the hotel and insisted on repeating almost at every corner “Make a legal U-turn” we arrived without incident. (Black Beauty, given her last, very expensive experience in a big city, was left at home to continue recuperating from her ordeal.)

I won’t mention the name of the hotel, but it has a Four-Star rating and was featured in several action movies, the most noteworthy being True Lies and Rain Man. I was able to get a really excellent rate with the help of several discount travel websites so it all seemed worth it.

We checked in, took the glass elevator to our floor, wound our way through the circular hallways to our room.  It was really quite nice. We had a lovely view of  Downtown LA, the sun was setting and we had beautiful colors reflected in the gleaming office towers surrounding us. Since we were in the middle of the business district and it was Sunday there wasn’t much open and we opted to go up to the rooftop restaurant for dinner.

The place was empty but for whatever reason the hostess put us directly next to the only other table with diners, two elderly couples…who were all hard of hearing. They were literally shouting at each other but for them it was just normal tones of voice. We were really not at all interested in the problems they had with bodily functions, the long list of medications they were taking and whose son was getting divorced for the fourth time because he had “…once again married a wh-re.”  I was tempted to lean over and say “Inside voices, please! Inside voices!” but I didn’t think they’d hear me. When the server came to take our order we asked if we could be moved. It wasn’t a problem since there were only six dinner guests. The foursome and us.

We had a great meal and since it was still early we thought we’d go down one flight to the revolving bar and have a nightcap.

Now…about this cocktail lounge and the people who were in it. I am telling you, there was enough blog material for a month to be found there.

First of all, there were these very bizarre looking Alexander Calder-like mobiles that were the lighting fixtures in the ceiling. They were sort of a cross between something in one of the early Star Wars movies and a headpiece worn by Lady Gaga. They must have been very expensive, because there were only a few of them scattered around which made it quite dim. I prefer to think that was so you could enjoy the view outside without lights reflecting off the glass and not the choice of a bad interior designer. Most of the buildings surrounding our hotel were the homes of huge banking institutions and Mary and I laughed. Here we were, sitting in this carousel bar, literally watching our money go by.

The clientele was a mixed bag of people…most of whom should have been wearing bags because it would have been an improvement on their attire. Once again I seemed to have arrived in a city where it was “National Don’t Look in the Mirror Day.”

There were people in jackets and ties that were something Potsie and Richie would have worn during Happy Days; people in mini-skirts who should have been wearing mumus; two waddling women who looked oddly like twin fashion penguins – but instead of tuxedos, wore long gauzy, sparkly shirts over too-short blouses, over leggings with striped anklets and Mary Jane pumpsOne of them had one legging rolled up so you could see the elaborate tattoo of some scary looking snake on her shin. There were also guests in tents. Really. I swear I saw one of the outfits in the Camping Section of Sports Authority and it slept four.

Then there was one obviously European tourist whom I decided was “The Man of My Dreams.”

Despite the fact that it was now 10 p.m., he was in the bar sporting denim cargo shorts that were too short for him, which called even more attention to his toothpick-sized legs, topped by a plaid shirt over a low cut tank-top sprouting a veritable forest of chest hair, grey knee-high socks and black sandals. His only accessory was a fanny pack, placed squarely and tightly (you could see an ever-so-slight muffin top over it) near his belly-button. I decided that this is where Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd got the inspiration for the “Two Wild and Crazzzz-y Guys” they created for Saturday Night Live. It was better than a floor show in Las Vegas.

Mary and I had a grand time people-watching.

Now, an aside. I am a street smart, New York City raised girl. I rode subways and buses with everything I own securely placed in something zipped that I had my hand on at all times. I never leave my purse on an unattended chair, hanging off the back of my seat or anywhere someone could get into it. I learned not even to trust movie house arm-rests as you may recall from an earlier blog. My bag was placed squarely between my feet where I could physically feel it at all times. Even though there were maybe 20 people scattered around the bar and no one was near us.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, Mary got up to go to the rest room and at the same time I ventured about six feet to another table to retrieve a lit candle since ours had blown out and I couldn’t see the check. It took me, at most, ten seconds.

I came back, reached down for my bag and it was gone.

G-O-N-E…along with my wallet, credit cards, license, house and car keys (I remember thinking “OMG! Black Beauty is in danger of being kidnapped!”), tickets for the next day’s seminar, medications I need to take at night, our room key, all my store coupons and the possessions of the homeless person who lives in my bag. I was close to panic. No, that’s not true. I was totally panicked.

Impossible. I looked under, I looked around at the other empty tables, it was nowhere to be found. Mary came back and she helped me look. It could not have moved anyway because the floor of the cocktail lounge moved, not the outside wall so there was no possibility that it somehow got hooked onto something and dragged away without my knowledge. With where I had it placed, it would have had to drag me with it.

We flagged our waitress who alerted security. They sent up three men, all in blue blazers sporting shiny brass nametags and grey slacks. Two were shorter than I was (perhaps this is where Officer Shortguy, who ticketed me last spring, got his start?) and one looked like the center for the San Diego Chargers. They really had no authority to search every one of the 1,354 rooms and 135 suites that were in the hotel as I suggested. They did provide me with the phone number for LAPD and offered to accompany us back to our room to make sure no one was there and that the purse was also not there. We went back, everything was fine in the room. Except for me. I was now bordering on hysteria. I asked if I could look at the security tapes (too many repeats of Law and Order had led me to believe that every public room, everywhere, in every hotel in the world had cameras) but they declined. I was feeling nauseous with nerves by now and went back into the room to use the facilities while Mary stayed in the hallway with Los Tres Amigos. 

I came back out to find Mary with the two Short Guys. Big Guy had gone down to retrieve a bag someone found at the hostess station at the bar. I was hopeful but not overly excited … until I saw Big Guy coming down the hall with my bag in his hands…then it became a scene in one of those old movies where the two lovers run towards each other in a field and embrace. Only this time it was a hotel hallway and I was running towards a man I’d only met an hour before. Nevertheless, I hugged him and kissed him on his cheek. The trio waited while I went through my things. Everything was intact, except for the cash I’d had. I didn’t care. Black Beauty was safe, my home was safe, even my hotel room was safe. And I now owed St. Anthony (finder of lost objects) a ridiculous amount of money I’d promised him if I could find my bag. I think he will allow me to pay it off over time. He knows where to find me.

So, I’ve decided that I am going to a security store and buying one of those handcuff things that you see bank couriers using? Where they chain the briefcase to their wrist? I don’t know what else I can do.

In my gut, I have this gnawing feeling that next week will be extremely C-A-Single Hockey Stick-M. (And I hope that works as a jinx for this time.)

Vulgaris Dies

You are probably wondering what this title is all about. It doesn’t mean that someone named “Vulgaris” has been done away with. It’s the Latin translation for “Ordinary days.” I took Latin for four years and it has helped me with not only English, but also Spanish and Italian. I liked Latin. It was one of the things that probably made me a really weird teen-ager.

So why use an ancient language, no longer in use, for a title of a piece I’ve written?

It is Tuesday, the day I always start working on my Friday blog.

You wouldn’t think that it would take me so much time to write what I write, but it does. Some weeks are easier than others in that something really bizarre, or at least interesting has happened to me and it is enough fodder for this blogger.

It’s an off week, filled with…get ready for it…vulgaris dies…“ordinary days.”

I really haven’t had too much of anything worth reporting happen but maybe it’s because I was back east and the last few days have been spent catching up with bills and laundry and emails. I must be on every email list in the universe because I blink and there are at least 50 new ones popping up everywhere. I long for the days when I would be so excited as an AOL newbie to hear “You’ve Got Mail!” when I’d sign on. My heart would actually beat a little faster with the thought that I was going to hear from someone I knew…or get some incredibly unbeatable offer to purchase something I didn’t need.

Now when I sign on Hugh Grant says “You look lovely today!” (to which I always respond “Thank you” because obviously he can’t see that I’m in the same sweat suit I had on yesterday with a different t-shirt) and then he says “You’ve got letters!” (to which I always respond in my best sarcastic tone “Reallllllllly?”)

Hugh and I have had this early morning conversation over my first cup of coffee since I was newly single and I realized that I could have some celebrity speak to me through my computer. Nothing can make your day start off right like having this handsome, sexy man tell me I look great. Even though he’s never actually seen me and probably never will. It beat hearing The Ex saying “Are you really going to wear that?” (he never really said that, but it was the funniest thing I could think of to write at the moment.)

So, my daily routine (and it is very much vulgaris although not at all vulgar.) this week has yielded nothing to ramble on about. I get up in the morning, turn on my computer (it has a little trouble getting going just the way I do), go upstairs to my $30,000. one-cup coffee maker and fill my mug, come downstairs, see what has happened overnight in the world, get dressed and go to some form of exercise most mornings. Not without berating myself for signing up for these torturous hours. Then I come back home and start sorting through emails (again), updating the website with new content and writing…a blog or something else. Cocktail hour comes between 5 and 6 and that’s when I catch up with my Facebook friends and my Scrabble games online. A little TV and off to bed. Maybe some reading if my eyes arent already done in from scanning the computer screen most of the day. That’s it.

*Yawn*

So, my “exciting” schedule for the rest of the week includes an added Yoga class on Wednesday (heaven knows I need it; I’m not any more flexible than I was five  months ago when I started) and attempting to find my other People magazine which I appear to have misplaced in one of the piles of catalogues and magazines I think I am going to read.

*Yawn, again.*

I’ve already mailed the Hallowe’en cards to all the grandkids and I’m caught up on birthday cards for awhile. I even called my parents this week so there really is not much left, other than writing, on my to-do list. However, in my gut I have this gnawing feeling that all H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks will break forth next week.

And then I will have a better blog than this week’s.

“Villa il Pozzo dei Soldi”

The title of this blog is a loose translation of  “The Money Pit” in Italian. It sort of means “The Sink of the Monies”…it’s what we called the house I last lived in in New Jersey. It was truly a money pit.

Over the years I’ve done many renovations on homes that I’ve owned, some on purpose, others because something happened that precipitated the renovation absolutely needing to be done.

The last home The Ex and I owned together was a contemporary in the middle of the woods. It was actually called a “Calilfornia Contemporary” even though it was in New Jersey. This is a picture of it above. It was a bit of an anomaly in that the town where it was built had roots dating back to pre-Revolutionary times; in fact, the neighboring community boasted that Betsy Ross was buried under the tree in the Presbyterian Church’s cemetery. Virtually every street was lined with Center Hall and Bucks County colonials, Cape Cods, etc. Obviously, this house bore no resemblance to any of those. It was cedar sided with walls of glass, which is what we liked about it because even though it allowed so much light into the rooms it still maintained some privacy because it sat on five acres in Jockey Hollow, which is where George Washington spent that terrible winter of 1777.

What we didn’t realize was that in addition to the light, these windows also allowed even the slightest puff of air to enter the home, therefore keeping it at bone-chilling temperatures during the cold months.  It was almost as if George wanted us to know what it was like for him and his men 200+ years ago.

Anyway, we bought the house and its accompanying wood roof after an extremely dry year.  We’d already started the renovation planning process with a wonderful general contractor and had great ideas about what would be done to bring our dream of what this home could be into reality.

Replacing the sizable and very expensive roof was not part of those plans.

We closed escrow on a Friday and went back on Sunday, during the first rain we’d had in months.  I vividly remember on that third day of ownership standing in the first floor master bedroom and staring up in disbelief at the ceiling which was pouring water from somewhere. There were two bedrooms above this room, but somehow this minor deluge had found its way to the first floor…and to precisely the spot where the bed would be. I started to cry. The Ex, who thought I had performed miracles when we bought the dump that became our beach house and never ceased to praise me for it, looked at me and said, “But look what you did at the beach! You can do this!” I remember wailing “I think I bit off more than I can chew with this one!”

The Ex was very encouraging about the whole thing. He was of the mind set that anything you could throw money at could be fixed in a timely fashion. I was of the mindset that this place we bought had untold numbers of serious problems that we were yet to discover.

One of the worst was “the smell.”

This same bedroom had some sort of horrendous odor permeating it. I thought at first that maybe it was the damp, musty rain smell. But after several days of brilliant sunshine “the smell” was still there.

By now, the contractors had begun their work. A quick aside here: I absolutely loved “my boys” as I called them. I thought of them more as family than people who were just employed by us.  Sometimes they’d even call me “Ma.”

The roof got fixed. They started ripping out the kitchen and the bathrooms. When they got to the master bedroom and bath, they also noticed “the smell.” I kept asking them “What is that?” They’d shrug. I’d shrug. Finally one of them had the guts to say to me “Jude, I think you have something dead somewhere in the walls.”

If there were ever the opportunity to have a cartoon bubble come over my head with a HUGE “OMG!” this was it. But, instead, I practically screamed “Deargodinheaven! FIND IT!

They began by making small holes here and there in the walls…then the ceiling…then the holes got bigger…and bigger…finally, when there was only one soggy slab of sheetrock left, they cut a hole and the desicated body of a chipmunk fell onto the floor.

If I’d had the energy left to scream, I would have. But I didn’t. I looked at its carcass and said “Well, since we found Chip let’s just hope that Dale wasn’t part of a suicide pact and he’s hanging somewhere up there, too.”

But, my favorite episode of this whole fiasco was when my telephone line went dead. I called the company and they sent someone to check out the problem. By the time he arrived, an untold number of other disasters had turned up at our new home. I went to sleep every night counting the hundred dollar bills flying out the window, even though our contractor was more than fair.

The phone guy showed up and spent a considerable amount of time pacing in our woods with some kind of “detector.” He arrived at the house and in front of “my boys” informed me that the problem was between the street (which was 400 yards away) and the house and would cost some ridiculous amount of money per foot to be fixed since it was not the responsibility of the phone company but of the “property owner.”

For the second time since we bought this house (the first time being the day of the infamous Flood in the Master Bedroom) I burst into tears.

Mike, my general contractor, pulled himself up to his full height of 6′ 3″ and “my boys” bulked up behind him. He stood in front of the phone guy and said (and this is a quote!) “This woman has been through hell since she bought this house. You have no idea. She has never shed a tear.” (he wasn’t there that Sunday when I had the first meltdown!) Mike got right in the poor phone guy’s face as “my boys” backed him up and said “You just made her cry. You’d better leave now.”  The poor phone guy took one look and said, “We’ll be in touch.”

Well, I somehow managed to convince the phone company that it really was their problem and they did come and fix it for free…but they sent a different tech.

I can’t imagine why.  Funny, I don’t miss living there. I can’t imagine why on that either.

Buddha and Boot Camp

 

As those of you who follow this blog know, I’ve been on a real health/exercise/eating-right kick for a few months now. Not nearly long enough (or perhaps the phrase is intense enough) to really see any significant differences (although MOTNSO – “More Often Than Not Significant Other” – remarked to me the other day that my “muffin top” was actually now just a “row of mini-muffins.” The nurse at the ER said he should regain consciousness sometime later this week.)

Well, some of the things I’ve been doing include going to Boot Camp three times a week. Actually, I am more like a “sneaker” than a “boot” because I really can’t do 50 crunches with my legs above my head or more than 50 push-ups against a picnic table and “planking?” Any pirate who would attempt to “walk” me would be in no danger of hitting the water because my “plank” always goes “ker-plunk” after about 15 seconds. But I try and the ladies who do it with me are absolutely lovely, not to mention our instructor who doesn’t care that I am always last in  everything…although today she did venture to say to me “We need to work on your cardio a little more.”

Could that be because everyone else has gone to have coffee and are back again while waiting for me to finish my circuit around Doheny? and the nearest Starbucks is about a half mile away?

But I keep trying and as they keep saying to me, “Just do it at your own pace. There’s no one to compete against but yourself.”

My “self” isn’t interested in ever winning, apparently.

So, I do Boot Camp on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and in a weak moment I signed up for an exercise class at the Senior Center on Tuesday and Thursday. Again, I was met by an instructor that if I sneezed too hard near her I’d probably break her in half.

This is a much larger class and unlike Boot Camp, at least two-thirds of the ladies (and one gentleman) are older than me. The best thing about it is that they really espouse the rule of doing whatever you can and never mind anyone else. This means, that because most of these women are older, I can beat them out in a lot of the workout because it’s not nearly as challenging as Sneaker Camp. Not that they care, but it does help my self-esteem.

My biggest problem in this class is that, similar to my experience in aerobics classes, from which I have been banned in three states, I am always going left when everyone else is going right…and vice versa. My head doesn’t process things the way others do. I try to stay in the back of the class so I can watch what everyone else is doing, but by the time I’ve figured it out they are on to something else. The poor instructor is always coming up to me and saying things like “No, dear, your other right. Yes, that’s it!”

I feel really strong in that class because I am one of the very few that use five-pound weights for the strength training portion. Of course, none of them know that in Boot Camp, everyone else uses either eight or ten-pound ones…and I think I saw someone take a pair of twelve-pounders out of their trunk but I was too frightened to even consider looking closely at them lest they think I covet them and wish to share. 

Before being black-balled by Aerobics Instructors nationwide, I took a “Cardio Disco” class which was video-taped for something or other.

I am the star.

The reason I am the star of it is because I never even once had my body going the way everyone else’s was which produced people pile-ups as the others attempted to get around me in the coordinated choreography. I think the company filming it did it just to enter it in America’s Funniest Home Videos. I don’t watch that, but if any of you see a slightly chubby Italian woman trying to follow an instructor in a blonde Afro, striped bell bottoms and a glitter shirt open to his belly button, please email me. That was the class and that would be me, under the mound of bodies.

So, early Monday to Friday I am sweating with the oldies or I am the oldie, sweating. Then comes mid-morning Wednesday, when I take a class called “Yoga for Stiff People.”

I am the champ at this one.

I am, without question, the stiffest person in the class. My fingers haven’t touched my toes in 42 years. My knees don’t bend the way they should and forget about my back even hinting at cooperation. It is a challenge just to unroll my mat and get it lined up in the proper place on the floor. My instructor is truly gifted and is one of the tiniest people I have ever met. She makes me, at 5’4″, feel like I should be trying out for the Lakers.

She is beyond flexible; she is pliable putty wearing yoga pants and a tank top. The only thing I find I am really good at in this class is putting my hands up to my “third eye” and allowing my body to “melt” into the floor. That’s because I’m sweating so much from the strain of trying to get out of Downward Facing Dog or the Child’s Pose (and why would a dog face downward, anyway? and what child ever sat quietly like that? none of mine ever did!) that by the time we get to the final “rest” I am literally melting into the floor.

I need some help here, People. Is there any one out there in worse shape than me?

Never mind. I already know the answer to that; I was able to read it with my third eye.

Merger Madness

I’m heading back east in a month to see the grand-kids and go to a couple of functions I’ve not been able to attend since I moved to California.

The first event is called “Irmastock” and it is a barbecue held in tribute to The Ex’s late Aunt Irma, who was one of the finest people I have ever had the privilege to know.

She was a fantastic cook (the absolute best eggplant parmigiana in the universe!) only to be outdone by the fact that she was such a generous and loving person with an absolutely enormous heart. Towards the end she was rather debilitated and spent her last days in a wheelchair and had to use oxygen to aid her breathing. But nothing could hold her back from enjoying life and especially her family!

I remember one of the last times I saw her, she’d rolled her wheelchair over to the stove and even though she had so many difficulties and couldn’t walk, she was stirring a big pot of “gravy” and gave an absolutely huge smile when she saw me.

She was incredibly positive to the very end and the family celebrates her life every year and this year I will get to participate.

The second event is NJ TapFest, which was founded by my late friend Dennis’ daughter, Hillary (who, in the tap world, is known as Hillary-Marie.) She has an incredible talent. Hillary created this workshop and show in 2010 and Dennis was so very proud of her. She is all of just-turned 20 years old. Dennis and his family are such wonderful friends that I decided this year NJ TapFest could not be missed. Maybe I can help fill Dennis’ chair that night, but it is highly doubtful anyone will ever be able to fill his shoes.

Well, now we come to the theme of this blog and the title, Merger Madness.

I fly Continental Airlines. I have flown them since its inception and anytime I have flown another airline, I have always thought that the other airline was not as good as Continental.

I’m on a bit of an austerity drive and since this sudden decision to go to New Jersey was not in the budget, I decided to take whatever measures I could to get the cheapest flight possible. With the surging fuel prices, the ever-diminishing direct routes and the fact that Continental, for heaven-knows-what-reason, has merged with United Airlines, this became a challenge.

I found a round trip ticket that got me a direct flight to Newark, but was considerably cheaper if I stopped over in Denver and changed planes on the way back. Sounded very doable.

Well, the flight to Newark and the return flight to Denver were both on Continental, but the last leg, from Denver to Orange County, were United Airline’s baby.

I booked it all online, as I always do, but for some reason I could not select a seat on the last segment. I finally called Continental and after being on hold for about 30 minutes (thank heaven for speaker phones although their choice of music is rather poor! How many times can one person listen to Love Potion Number Nine?) I got a person who happily attempted to get me a seat on the UA flight. It wouldn’t “take” as she called it. She said this happens sometimes and I should check back later in the day because it would probably go through. She told me if it didn’t, to call United and gave me the number. I thanked her and hung up.

I “checked” for three days. I was still standing up on the last leg.

Finally I broke down and called United.

Apparently, they “outsource” their call center. After 40 minutes on hold, during which the only music played was the really bad version of the UA theme, Fly the Friendly Skies, I got someone whose name I cannot pronounce and he was not feeling very friendly…nor was I. 

After the preliminaries, he reported that they had absolutely no record of my being on that flight from Denver to OC and I needed to call Continental again, get a new confirmation number and then perhaps he could find me a seat.

At first I was nice. I tried to explain to him that I had spent a ridiculous amount of time on hold with both airlines in attempting to just get myself a seat assignment and Continental told me to call him. He didn’t buy that. I asked to speak to his supervisor. He told me he was the supervisor and he was “backing up” the other agents because they were so busy.  No doubt with other people with non-existent reservations they’d made months ago trying to get a seat assignment.

I am ashamed. I went completely off on him. I don’t even know what I said, and this is so unlike me, but I was crazed. I vaguely remember thinking something like I was going to eat only beef the rest of my life, but I don’t think I actually said that out loud. I finally hung up and thought to myself “You will be holding the bathroom door open for people because you will be in the very last seat in coach. But maybe not, because you will be in the very last middleseat in coach…between two COS’s (“Customers of Size”) who had garlic sandwiches for lunch.”

I called Continental back. On hold for yet another 50 minutes. I now know all the words to Before He Cheats probably since who ever was in charge of supplying the waiting time music was incredibly ticked off with her boyfriend. It looped over and over and over again. Along with Love Potion Number Nine. The young woman who took my call was very apologetic. She pulled up my reservation and attempted to rectify the situation. That was when she explained to me that the problem is that the two reservations systems, Continental’s and United’s, don’t “talk to each other.”

I was getting a little punchy by now and I responded, “I’ve been divorced for three years and my Ex and I still talk. Continental and United are on their honeymoon for heaven’s sake…and you tell me that they don’t talk to each other? Sounds like this marriage is doomed.”

She burst out laughing and put me on hold. Again. It was okay because by now I’d figured out that I could do a sort of wait-time karaoke to amuse myself.

She came back on the line, thanked me profusely for being so patient (obviously CO and UA don’t talk, because she wasn’t aware of how I’d gone off on her counter-part on the other side of the world.) Then she said the most amazing thing and this has never happened before and probably will never happen again.

“If you are willing to take the earlier, direct flight from Newark to Santa Ana, we will put you in first class for the inconvenience.”

Are you freaking kidding me?

Arrive home an hour earlier and get bumped to the front of the plane and go straight through? This was like getting a ticket to Nirvana, not John Wayne Airport. I tried not to sound too excited. It probably was inappropriate that I blew her a kiss and said “I love you” as I hung up, huh?

The EMPTY Bucket List

The other day I thought about my “Bucket List.” I didn’t even know that’s what it was called until the movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out a few years ago. The film has become a favorite of mine. I think what started me thinking about a Bucket List was this great article we just posted on the website called On A Wing and A Prayer. It was written by an “active senior” who went sky-diving on his fiftieth birthday. (Here’s the link if you didn’t see it: http://ocactiveseniors.com/career/too-busy-to-grow-old-gracefully/on-a-wing-and-a-prayer/) It even has a video! I confess I held onto the arms of my chair when I watched it.

Anyway, after posting it I said to myself “That’s definitely something I will never do!”  I passed out on the ferris wheel at Six Flags in New Jersey. I sit on the aisle in airplanes, not only because of my frequent trips to the head, but also because then I don’t have to look out the window. I don’t even face out in one of those glass-enclosed elevators! I face the doors! There’s absolutely no way I’d jump out of a plane. At least, not willingly.

I’ve come to realize that there are probably more things that I will never do…any day. I suppose one could call this “The Empty Bucket List.” Hence, the name of this blog.

Here are a few that come to mind:

In addition to never jumping out of a plane, I will never go rattlesnake hunting.

MOTNSO (“More Often Than Not Significant Other”) frequently tells me that this is great fun and we should do it. I don’t hate snakes…I despise them, abhor them, see absolutely nothing good about them and they scare the bejesus out of me.

I have lost more golf balls because of a sign near the edge of the rough that warns you to be careful of snakes there. It could be a 24 karat, solid gold, diamond-encrusted golf ball and even if I could see it from the edge of the Fairway, kiss that baby good-bye.

Once, while just starting the uphill climb near Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point behind the Ritz-Carlton, some wayward slithery sneaky snake decided to make a break for it from the brush along the path. I saw it and passed it running at  60 mph uphill. Anyone who knows that part of the trail knows it is about a 45 degree angle. I got to the top in about four seconds. My legs looked like wheels and MOTNSO, who was with me, still talks about how he’s never seen me ever move that fast, unless there was a martini about to spill.

I will never go camping.

At least not real camping, like in a tent. I often joke that “Camping to me is staying in a three-star hotel in a National Forest”…but the very thought of being outdoors, in a sleeping bag, on the unforgiving ground, with heaven-only-knows-what creeping and crawling around you? Forget it! and coyotes? and bears? oh my? and what about a bathroom? I don’t even like those Port-A-Potties. Unless they are air-conditioned and have running water. No Starbucks within walking distance? C’mon! what can be fun about that? Now, give me one of those big, shiny motor-home RV’s with two HD TV’s, air-conditioning, an ice-maker and a bath and a half…I’m in!

One of the other things I will never do is ski.

I tried it once and then I realized that there was nothing more frightening to me than standing on the top of a mountain and the only way I can get down is with two sticks/fiberglass slabs/whatevers strapped to my feet. And that is without taking into consideration the method by which you must get to that afore-mentioned top of the mountain. A chair lift? with my feet dangling? with those things attached to them?  a small gondola, encased in glass, swinging dizzingly over tree-tops? It ain’t never happening.  I did do cross-country once or twice but even then every so often I’d come to some spot on the course where there was a “hill” the size of a mogul and I would turn and side-step down it. Then breathe a sigh of relief.

Lastly, you will never, ever find me climbing a rock wall.

I don’t think I need to explain why too much. It involves all the elements of things I hate the most: being high up, no visible means of support (other than a rope harness that some cranky teen-ager who hates his job is holding) and rocks hide snakes and both rocks and snakes are generally found in areas where people camp. And frequently camp sites are in an area where people ski. No way!!!!

Yes, I know they are fake rocks on the wall. But suppose the cranky teen-ager thinks it would be funny to stick a fake snake mid-way up just to add some excitement to his otherwise boring day?

I could probably come up with several more things that are in the Empty Bucket. But reading this over I’ve decided that I have some serious issues and I should go research a support group for at least some of these phobias or at least find other people who have an Empty Bucket List.

The First

My oldest grandson is home from college for a bit. We had lunch this week at a local place that we always go to together; it’s sort of become a tradition. It was one of his favorite late night haunts when he was in high school (one of the very few places that is open 24 hours!) and if I was popping in there myself I always had to do the quick eye-rove around to make sure he wasn’t there with his buddies, or even worse, his girlfriend. Nothing would be more embarrassing, I would imagine, than having your Grandmother show up where you are late on a Friday or Saturday night.

Being the very first grandchild of my eight, he’s had the responsibility to set the tone for the rest. He was the one who gave me my “Grandma” name: Amma. When he first started to speak, he just couldn’t get that whole “G” thing so his maternal grandmother and I became Ammas. At the time, my hair was very dark so I became Amma With the Black Hair and the other was Amma with the Blonde Hair.Now we both have light hair but he doesn’t really need to distinguish one of us from the other so often. Hers is natural. Mine is courtesy of my friend, Elfa.

He also has the distinction of being the very tallest member of our entire family. He’s about 6′ 3″ tall. When I go to hug him he has to stoop down and I can barely reach his cheek to plant a kiss. More often than not I wind up getting his shirt collar because even on my toes that’s as far as I can reach. I am always careful to not leave lipstick. His lovely girlfriend would probably not appreciate that!

One of the highlights of my entire life was taking him to Italy for his 16th birthday. We went during the summer after he was off from school and it was his first visit to anywhere in Europe. He is extraordinarily intelligent (no, really…not just because he’s my grandson. He took about a million IB courses in high school) and he was always asking me questions. I’ve been to Italy a fair number of times and know the country pretty well…but he would ask things I just couldn’t answer. If you’ve been to Rome, you know that you will find a post-war building next to something from the Renaissance next to a column from 64 B.C. He always wanted to know what some building was. After awhile I didn’t want to appear stupid and continue to say “I don’t know!” so I just started to make stuff up. He is too smart. He caught me on more than one occasion and then I had to confess.

He was the one who came up with the idea of doing the Angels and Demons tour where a guide takes you to all the places featured in Dan Brown’s best-seller. This was probably my fifth or sixth trip to Bella Italia and I actually went to places I’d never seen. It was enormous fun!

I introduced him to Chianti (my bad; there’s no drinking age in Italy, as you no doubt know.) We went to Sienna but couldn’t find St. Catherine’s head. We went to San Gimignano and I lost my camera but he found it . Poor guy; we had to share a room and he got up one morning and said to me “Amma, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought there were people revving motorcycles outside…and then I realized it was you, snoring.” We ate bad pizza (which is all but impossible in Italy) in a tourist trap near St. Peter’s because we were too hungry to venture any further and just bit the bullet…or, I guess, the pizza. We didn’t wait on line long to go to the Vatican Museum which I think may have impressed him and I discovered that he had a love of sculpture, which I never knew. He climbed to the very top cupola of both St. Peter’s and the Duomo in Florence, while I waited on a bench outside each church with my recently repaired meniscus, admittedly nervous because I didn’t like having him out of my sight. He took great pictures from up there and met some interesting people. I was so proud of him, every single moment we were there.

I have an expression I frequently use: “You make my heart big.” I must say that on that trip, he made my heart absolutely huge.

He said to me once, when he was all of about three years old, as we were about to play a game on what was then my new computer (which I confess, even as a pre-schooler, he knew more about than I did!) “Amma, you are more funner than anybody!”

I think that was one of the most beautiful things that anyone has ever said to me. Those few words are treasured in my heart forever. Is it any wonder that they are called “GRANDchildren?”

The Police Blotter

I love reading the police blotter in our local paper. I am not in a high crime area by any means; quite the contrary. I love reading it because it does two things: reaffirms my faith in human nature that some people look out for each other and reaffirms my gut belief that some people are idiots.

Last week’s report in the local weekly had me rolling on the floor laughing. I’ll just give you a few peeks at the perps.

There were the usual complaints about homeless people, whom I have always had a soft spot for in my heart. I was glad to see that some were from people concerned with their safety. Personally, I can’t imagine what terrible things may have happened to these poor souls to have them out on the streets, toting what little worldly possessions they have with them. They aren’t all alcoholics, mentally ill and/or dead beat Dads.

In New Jersey I used to help out on occasion at a soup kitchen in Newark but I always felt I got much, much more out of it than I ever gave. I’d hear some of their stories; many were abused women who had to get out or get dead. Others were tossed out by ill-tempered  parents or siblings. Sometimes I’d bring bags of clothes that my kids had outgrown or I’d outgrown and leave them with the Sisters. I remember how odd it was one day to see someone come through the line in a too-trendy coat that lost it’s style and I’d given away. She seemed to wear it with pride, its faux fur collar framing her thin face. Well, it was warm and it made my heart warm to see her wrapped up in it on a cold winter day. But, as usual, I digress. On to the funny stuff.

I think if I had to pick a favorite this week it was the one headlined “Indecent Exposure.” Apparently the local police were called when a man was found “mooning” a children’s birthday party. This one falls under the category “What was he thinking?”

MOTNSO (“More Often Than Not Significant Other”), who was a teacher for 36 years and still subs in elementary schools,  upon hearing this, roared with laughter and said that no doubt the kids thought it was part of the entertainment! I tend to agree. Little kids wouldn’t see anything but the fact that it was funny. Anything involving “butts” is hilarious until you are, oh, say, 50 years old?

Next two fall into the category of “funny, but not funny.”

First was captioned “Drunk in Public.” People reported a man falling down drunk from having chugged down a large bottle of vanilla extract. He was in an alley next to a restaurant. I just hope he wasn’t one of the chefs and that all the desserts offered there that evening were sorely lacking in that hint of vanilla.

Last was titled “Unknown Trouble.” A man called the police in a bit of a panic because he believed a group of fugitive men whom he’d met in Hawaii were attempting to kidnap him. This sounded like one of my bad dreams and I was sympathetic to him. Then as I read on, apparently the poor man’s brother got on the line and explained that his brother is schizophrenic. I have to admit, though, that I hoped the police did follow up on him and make sure that he wasn’t being abducted. One of the reasons I was concerned was because the address reported in the article was very near where “The Aliens” lived that I wrote about in the blog on knicknames.

Lastly, “Traffic Stop” had a man arrested on outstanding warrants. The man was a pet trainer. No comment on this one. I can’t even imagine.

I once had an anonymous appearance in a police blotter article. But that’s a story for another blog. Let it just be said that I had not mooned any children, not chugged any extracts of any kind, did not believe that I was about to be taken away by fugitives I met on vacation and I am most certainly not a pet trainer. It involved a neighbor, barking dogs and a friend who’d had too much wine that day.

Dream A Little Dream

I have been plagued by bizarre dreams of late.  I’m not sure why; I usually only have really strange, off-the-wall visits to Neverland when I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t too close to bedtime. With my recent rebirth of counting calories in and calories out, there have been no late night nibbles.

 Pizza? I have midget zombies chasing me through the streets of downtown LA.

 A cheeseburger? Every nun I ever made fun of behind her back appears with a detention pad in her hand with my name actually printed permanently on the “Name of Student” line. And there were a lot of Sisters who were always happy to have me catch the late bus after school.

So, these dreams of late seem to be of the “losing something” variety.

In one, I couldn’t find my mother in a shopping mall. I was my adult age and she was her age and we were shopping in a kids’ store for the grandchildren/great-grandchildren and she wandered off. Now, it doesn’t take Freud to figure out that I worry about my Mom, who will be 91 in July, going to her heavenly reward. But what troubles me is that in the dream I can vividly describe every shop I went into looking for her and finally wound up at Mall Security and had her paged. I mean, really?

Last night I dreamed I’d lost my love for perfect weather and palm trees and moved back to New Jersey. I know this will offend my friends and family in the Garden State, but I woke up yelling “No! No!” I was so relieved to find out I was in my little bedroom in Dana Point with the sun peeking through the shades that I literally jumped out of bed and ran to make sure that the Pacific Ocean was still out there. I am pleased to report it is despite the prediction of The Rapture non-event. I did, however, refrain from dashing out the door and kissing the first palm tree I saw.

I’ve mentioned this latest aberration in my sleep patterns to several friends, all of whom not only have a theory as to why this is occurring, but also a cure. Here are their comments:

“You’re anxious.” (Duh! ya think?) “Best way to take care of that is have a glass of warm milk before bed. It will relax you.” (Yuk. I don’t even like cold milk. Why would I heat it?)

“You’re nervous about something that you have to get done.” (Another even BIGGER “Duh!” I always have something that needs to get done!) “Have a shot of tequila right before you go to sleep.” (Yuk, again. I don’t like tequila, either. Unless it’s in a strawberry Margarita!)

“You must be unconciously worrying about something or other.” (C’mon, people. Even I can figure that out.) “Best, best thing to get rid of the dreams is to listen to Tony Bennett on your iPod when you get into bed.” (Now, I saw Tony Bennett on American Idol this week. His voice is not what it used to be and that’s okay, since he’s 85 years old. Not only do I not like milk and tequila, especially not mixed together, I have never really been a fan of Tony Bennett, either.)

MOTNSO (“More Often Than Not Significant Other”) has yet to weigh in on this whole problem. Knowing him he’ll probably suggest that he alone eats the pizza and cheeseburger and therefore take the fear of food-fueled fantasies from me. Is that sort of like being a “sin-eater” from the Medeival age?

Feel free to share your remedies for ridiculous dreams.

Of Napoleon and Mr. Holland

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled quite a bit. I’ve always been sort of a history nut, so any time I go somewhere I have a plethora of places that must be seen. In fact, I have a bit of a “bucket list” of goal locations. This has been somewhat of a problem to some of my traveling companions since they aren’t always interested in seeing the largest ball of twine or the cow with the two heads.

I have yet to get to China but when I do, walking a mile on The Great Wall is on the list. I always have my photo taken when I accomplish one of these small feats but sometimes getting that snapshot is not as easy as it would appear to be. I offer my experience with Napoleon Bonaparte. The real Napoleon Bonaparte. Not a look-alike mime on the Champs-Elysées.

I always had a “thing” for him and high on the aforementioned list was a visit to his tomb in Paris. For those of you who don’t know or have never seen it, he designated that his coffin be placed on the lower floor of Hôtel des Invalides  with an opening up to the second floor. This was so that when anyone came to see his memorial that they would in essence have to look down and in the process subtly bow to him in order to see over the railing down to where he lays.  A megalomaniac even in death.

It took some research to figure out how to get down to the same level of his final resting place since that was the only way I could be in the picture with “him.” When the time came and I managed to plop myself in front of this huge sarcophagus for my photo op it was difficult for me to figure out what type of pose to strike. Do I smile the smile of victory for getting there?  or do I strike a somber look since it is someone’s final resting place? The actual photo makes me look like I’m smirking. I’m not sure what the little despot would think of my end result standing near his end result. I haven’t had any threatening mail from his publicist about it so I guess it was okay.

I never like asking someone to take a picture for me. I think it stems from the fact that The Ex was really concerned when a tourist would approach us and ask us to snap them in front of some landmark. He just didn’t like the responsibility for someone’s lasting memory of a time and place. I was happy to do this, but if I weren’t available then he would do it. Later on he confessed to me that if the people were really annoying and aggressive about doing them the favor he’d cut their heads off in the picture. He could get away with that before everyone had digital cameras and phones that can do everything but deliver a baby.

Speaking of The Ex, he bears a striking resemblance to the actor Richard Dreyfuss, especially when they both were sporting beards during the Mr. Holland’s Opus era. We always got great tables in NYC restaurants but he was often asked for his autograph, which caused no amount of consternation to him. He frequently would try, ever so politely, to say that he was not the actor, but this was usually met with grumbling and under-the-breath comments that Mr. Holland was just stuck-up and who did he think he was to turn down a fan for a simple thing like an autograph.  Once on a flight to Europe the flight attendant approached him and said “Mr. Dreyfuss, you’re flying with us again so soon?” Apparently the real Hollywood star had just crossed the pond the day before and she couldn’t figure out why he’d be going back again. And why he was now in coach.

Perhaps the funniest episode as a look-alike occurred in New York City. We had a business dinner with another couple at a well-known restaurant frequented by those who didn’t want to be seen, but really did want to be seen. In other words, they “weren’t” there but someone would make sure it would show up on Page Six the next day. That particular evening the likes of Paul Simon, Robert Loggia, Kelsey Grammer and a few other notables were dining. When it came time to leave, The Ex excused himself to use the rest room while I went out front with the clients to wait for him. He came rushing out a few minutes later,  bid our guests a very quick good-bye, grabbed me by the hand and started hot-footing it down the street towards the parking garage. After about a block he slowed up and said “We had to get out of there right away.” 

Apparently while visiting the Men’s Room none other than Tom Selleck walked in and stood right next to him to answer nature’s call. He looked over at The Ex and said “Richard, I didn’t know you were in town!” The Ex explained that considering where they were and what they were doing he opted not to get into the “I’m-not-who-you-think-I-am” mode. He simply said, “Tom, always good to see you!” hurriedly washed his hands and bolted out the door.

Personally, I don’t look like anyone but myself. During my years of fatitude people used to tell  me I looked like Rosann Barr. I’ve never been a fan of hers so I sort of considered that an insult. The professional portrait I use for PR purposes is really good. Amazing what an airbrush can do! In fact, it’s so good when I first posted it on Facebook as my profile picture my older daughter called her sister and said “I don’t know who this lady is in the picture on Mom’s profile, but it’s certainly not our mother!” The MOTNSO refers to it as “…the picture of Judy at 40.”

Frankly, I never looked that good at 40. I looked like Rosann Barr. And for the record, that’s not the picture I had posted on the internet when MOTNSO and I first met. I had one of Josephine Bonaparte.