Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Original Universe

You can't know how much you've got 'til it's gone - parents, certain jobs, skin elasticity and muscle tone, home. Trite perhaps, but true. 

Eleanor Josaitis - my original universe; the portal through which I traveled with four others, has been gone for two years now this weekend.  She lived and died in the city that she served -  Detroit. My mom used to tell me that she planned on living to be 100 years-old. She had a certain way of flipping the middle finger at conventional expectations – in a nice, Catholic girl kind-of way, you have to understand.

In reality, cancer took her from us at the age 79 and the irony of such an “early death” would not be lost on her because she would be the first to say, “Well, Jay, Man plans, God laughs.”

God, I miss her.
She always gave God the glory. Always! She urged her children to heed that gesture, as well. I believe that we all have, if not exactly in her fashion. Ever since she was a teensy kid she pledged allegiance to Jesus and his rag-tag band of radicals who also, according to the centuries-old stories, flipped the bird at convention by defying the Powers That Be.

As an adult, she helped lift up the lowly because, she believed they deserved to enter the Kingdom of God despite the Gatekeeper’s insistence that one should be just right; just tight; just white. That was her story and she stuck to it.  That’s more than I can say for a lot of God-fearing folks who bloody their knees for the pageantry of it all.

I think my mother would’ve been a great nun had she not fallen in with the boy down the street who built model airplanes for fun and liked gadgetry. Marrying him was the more reasonable thing to do in the 1950s. It made more sense than crouching inside the hallowed-fortress of her God trying to be more worthy than she already was. Thank the Catholic Church for that nagging feeling of unworthiness, I say bitterly to myself sometimes.

But, Mother Church taught my own mother a great lesson in duty. She passed that on to most who knew her. My mother was dutiful among all other things. That duty earned her a husband for life; five healthy children; a galaxy of friends; a beautiful home; an awesome career with a certified Man of the Cloth and the chance to serve her Creator. What more could a girl ask for in this crazy, mixed-up universe?

Mom, Original Universe, you’re never gone from me. Thanks for all the love and lessons.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mercy me! Creature comfort

"Tasha," by Ali Denk

Our cat Tasha still sucks my finger like she did when she was abandoned as a kitten. She's not a baby anymore. She's more like Middle-Age. But some things are hard for a girl to let go of, even for felines.

We think it’s a comfort thing, an emotional phantom limb-like gesture to soothe herself because she still needs her mama but never got the memo that the old girl ain’t coming back.

Some, like my kids, find it odd and kind of disgusting. Perfect strangers would find me weird and non-pet people might consider having me committed.

But I don’t really care. I think of it as a selfless gift to her – an act of mercy - if you will, albeit small and slightly bizarre.

The way I figure it, over the years, I've tried to be merciful in my appointed duties.
I’ve cared for kids by changing diapers and picking up messes; worked with drunks late into the night and on “the morning after;” and assisted the elderly, particularly the dying, the most profound of whom was my very own mother.

So when you really think about it, what’s a little cat spit if it soothes a soul?  Particularly when that soul turns out to be your very own.

Sometimes the only place I can meditate in secret is in the confines of my walk-in closet. Sometimes the cat finds me there and roots around my folded hands to find my pinkie finger and suckles. Strange, yeah, okay. I admit it. But peaceful, too. Together we hide out and try to hear the sound of God listening to us.

Coming out of the closet is not all it’s cracked up to be. Especially given all the creature comfort one finds while being still.  But, I’ve learned that I won’t get any comfort, if I’m unwilling to give it away. 

Mercy can be found in the strangest places.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cirque de Charlotte 2012

All photos by Getty Images and Associated Press photographers

“We didn't reinvent the circus. We repackaged it in a much more modern way.” 

Cirque de Soleil founder Guy Laliberte was describing his business model. But, he could’ve been talking about the 2012 Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte last week.

Big Screens. Busloads. Banners. Broadcasters. Bloggers. Flashing Lights. Shooting Stars. Yes, yes. The president and all that.

Who cares about politics?  I’m talking about the pomp, the pageantry.  Oh! What a spectacle it was - with the entire world watching, to boot.

Though I never made it inside the arena for the gladiator show, I absorbed the positive street vibe which is a mainstay of national conventions. Heck, even the Republicans want to throw a party here next time, according to news reports. 

Also according to reports, Charlotte is unfailingly clean and friendly, even if we were over-policed and bedbugs made too prominent an appearance in some rental rooms. Oh, yeah, weather put a damper on the “people’s party” at the last minute.

But, if you’re a fan of human nature, it was worth the price of admission last week to simply stroll the streets. 

The excitement began for me the moment I stepped off the Lynx Light Rail platform and onto Stonewall Street where vendors peddled everything from pro-life propaganda to pet collars for presidential candidates. There were jugglers, musicians, cops, kids, politicians, protestors and an endless supply of people in funny hats.

As a former newspaper gal, I took great pleasure in watching members of the media trip over each other to cover everything from foreign policy to celebrity sightings. Journalists are not shy about hanging around the  food tents spitting cracker crumbs at each other and swapping notes. 

Media Command Centers were everywhere! Print. Electronic. Everything in between. The air buzzed.

Back home, I enjoyed reading the news stories and watching the coverage from the comfort of my well-worn living room couch. 

Some pundits were  a hoot. Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart taped his show out of my favorite uptown  library with a crack crew of funny sidekicks. "You're all so nice. It's starting to get annoying."

Others were crabby. Charles Krauthammer, despite his self-styled brilliance, channeled Eyeore on a bad day.  

Brit broadcaster Piers Morgan stirred fond memories of old-school newsrooms when he interviewed subjects – highbrow and low – from a bar stool in that boozy, newsy-kinda way that made you feel like you were eavesdropping on your parents’ late night party. Commentators commented from every corner.

Charlotte’s more like a Ghost Town than a Host Town today because the circus came and went.

I don’t know if the bluster on either political sides will settle down and amount to much. 

I continue to pray that we’re going to shake hands and play nice when the time comes to really serve this great nation. I’ll continue, in the meantime, to perform my civic duties, in all their various forms, just in case.

But, I will say this. The party sure was fun.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I'm going in!

My First Born in a Land I'll Never See

“If you want me, I’ll be in Prague.”

This - from a male in my household who, just a couple of years ago, couldn’t find Prague if it arrived on his doorstep. 
But there he was, days later on Facebook with a travel memo and photos ...additional flesh art crawling up his arm, smiling his little self-satisfied grin having just concluded a pub crawl with colleagues.

Me? I’m just the mother with nary a postcard over the last year of my son’s journey across the pond.

I dig postcards and implore him to write. With a pen. Oh, and to use a stamp. It's an old-school thing. He prefers cyber salutations. I harass him. In a good way.

It’s mother-guilt, I know.
It’s mother love, no doubt.
It’s a little envy and a whole lot of “missing him.”

He’s traveling into spots not far from his military duties where he takes advantage of the R & R. Deep down, I know that, despite the opportunity and adventure, he really misses home.  
We tell him to “stay the course, son.” Four years is over pretty quick and there’s not much to come back to here in the dismal United States of Where-The-Hell-Are-We-Going?

The Democratic National Convention is in town this week. I’m going to observe the circus, if for no other reason than, to connect - to feel  less lost, less homesick, less forgotten.

My president’s First Lady thanked my family - and thousands like us - last night in front of millions of viewers. Our Mom-in-Chief thanked the kids serving our country. She thanked military families. I'm determined to find her and hug her for that. It's a long shot but what isn't these days?

So, son – if you want me, I’ll be uptown Charlotte.

I’m going in!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

One-Man Crowd Control

He’s named Thomas the Turtle and I discovered him in my backyard polishing off a discarded strawberry. He appeared one day behind the lemon balm and “liked to startle the be-jeezus out of me,” as my Grandma Reed would say.

Thomas, by Janet Planet

Glaring at me with a combination of disgust and amusement, we run across each other on occasion. He, with his crusty eyes and bad attitude; me, with my skittish nerves and garden tools - two such different beasts sharing the same stomping grounds making our way on an ever-shrinking planet.

Truth is, he reminds me of Bill Hill, an ornery friend from my hometown Detroit whose lessons in survival were never sugar-coated musings. Rather, truthful and annoyingly spot-on.  

I like those kinda guys today.  I’m married to one now. 
They are not for the squeamish. 
But it wasn’t always that way. I used to be more gullible. Denser. Frightened stiff and stupid. You might not have known that about me if we were sharing the same seat on a bus. But smoke and mirrors can hold off a truckload of delusion.

Bill was one of those tribe elders who helped me see the light. When he entered a room, in One-Man Crowd Control fashion, people were relieved to see him because they needed his stubborn strength or they were horrified that he showed up. It was hard to be neutral about him. That's what made his lessons stick.

“Too damn bad,” was a common response to my impatient whinings, back in the day.

That’s what I imagine Thomas uttering when I gripe about bug infestations or stubborn weeds or things that don’t grow. 
“So? What the hell you gonna do about it?!” 

I don’t know what happened to Bill. I can’t track him down. As of late, the same goes for my Eastern Box Turtle friend. But their hard-scrabbled lessons of survival continue to shore me up in wildly uncertain moments. 

“Deal with it!”

So, I do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Polar opposites

Photos courtesy of Ali Denk 

One of the hottest summers on record could not stop Mother Nature from hurling a few hailstorms our way.  Take that, global warming!
By contrast, mere mortals aren't nearly as impressive as they would like to believe.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Keep the coop clean and carry on

Marilyn, far right, as a groovy, young chick, with gal pals. Photo: Robert Schley 

I just learned that Marilyn was mauled last week and didn’t survive. Having just spent the weekend with her room mates, I’m shocked. I am sitting shiva, albeit belatedly, to honor my friend.  God accepts all petitions, I believe, even those for fine, feathered friends from fallen away Catholic girls like me.

Marilyn was an Ameraucana chicken - a lusty, busty hen who lived a cozy little life in the Town of Matthews with her pen-mates until a raccoon invaded their home and, well – that’s that.

Nature is an evil bitch, at times. But we remain calm and carry on. What choice do we have?

Part of my newly-crafted career as a Middle-Aged-Woman-Without-A-Steady-Job includes chicken sitting duties. My friend Jane hired me to handle her menagerie while she and her hubby Brian travel. Our grown sons have been buddies since elementary school.  Jane was a rabid fan of my family’s now-defunct community newspaper, for which I will always be grateful. She’s always had a thing for such newspapers, having grown up with a father – Neal Friedman - who wrote a wildly popular column in the Baltimore Jewish Times.

So, now I feed her animals, where she used to feed me story ideas. It is a fine arrangement, as she pays well, and I get all the chicken poop I can handle for my garden. My finned and furry charges also include a skittish but painfully lovely rescue dog named Delilah; a tank full of fish;  and the coolest cat on the planet, Mr. Kitty, who thinks he’s a dog and has a face not unlike the actor Elijah Wood of Frodo Baggins fame.

Stock photo: Mr. Wood
Family photo: Mr. Kitty

Rest in peace, Miss Marilyn! We’ll keep the coop clean and carry on!

Friday, November 18, 2011

God shots to the gut: Confessions of a woman who's quickly losing faith

Taylor Swift concert, Charlotte, NC
First – my daughter scores primo seats, at a deeply discounted rate, to her first-ever concert.
Then - my husband gets a real live, old-fashioned job-with-benefits following a dry spell.
And this just in!

Welcome back, frogman

The Hula Painted Frog, declared extinct, rears its slimy little head in an Israeli swamp for the first time in 50 years, according to AP reports.

My God, my God. You really do have faith in us lowly creatures. These are small things, I realize, in the big scheme of things. But, little-by-little, perhaps we'll get to know each other again. 

Thank you from the bottom of my cynical little heart.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grateful on Labor Day 2011

Logo courtesty of

I gladly labored in the 90-degree heat in order to earn a small wage this past weekend - volunteered with the “Women’s Club” at a small, southern town festival; babysat two yuppie larvae a couple of nights before; cleaned out a chicken coop and planned a business trip for a new part-time job.

Whose life is this anyway?

I made more money and had greater job security as a copy boy in a northern, big city newspaper in the 80s-90s than I did as the publisher of my own newspaper a decade later.

When I was a toddler in the late-1950s/early-60s at the height of union participation in the U.S., more than a third of all American workers belonged to unions. Last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the union-membership rate was less than 12%.  

Am I anti-union? Heck, no. But I’m searching for the happy medium. Is there such a thing? The pendulum swings, so I hear.
Some argue that over the years unions had become too powerful and in many cases harmed the very businesses that employed its members. 

But, as Time Magazine recently pointed out and many still strive for, unions also helped bring about a minimum wage, a reasonable workweek and rights for employees within the workplace. 

It was tough celebrating “labor” this weekend, with the sickening lack of work in this country, but I’m grateful for the pennies I collect.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wood ‘N Soldier: tribute to a brave husband

tribute to a brave husband during underemployment daze
Source: Family photos

He scavenges the woods for ruined timber, mostly expired cedar trees, then drags them to safety like a well-trained soldier refusing to leave the wounded behind.

Scampering up clay paths lined with scrubby brush, he tosses the pieces over the fence into his suburban backyard and begins to fortify the fallen. 

Some bodies are solid, others are frail reeds.

Surgery ensues at base camp - a brick pad behind the garage.

Blades and beads. String and stain. 
Tools of the trade plied during private conversation.

Some time passes before he heaves the transformed trunk or twigs upon his shoulder to return them to the forest floor. 

Battle-scarred and oddly beautiful.

Mission accomplished.