Monday, August 11, 2014

The perfect parking spot

Oh, so you went to the movies? You attended a play? You had front row seats at a panel discussion featuring Meryl Streep, Warren Buffet and the Dalai Lama?

That's nice, but first tell me: How was the parking?

That's how it was in my family, where the subject of parking was, well, a subject.

To locate and inhabit an excellent parking spot was a great achievement; to attain true adulthood, one needed to know how to tame the acres of asphalt of a suburban shopping mall as well as how to conquer an exposed sliver of curb on a chaotic city street.

Understand, finding a parking spot was not the goal; the goal was to find a great parking spot. My brother and I became sensitized to the subtleties of parking at a young age, thanks to the caring guidance of our parents.

From the back seat of the family car, my brother and I would watch manicured, hilly green expanses fly by as our parents discussed whether golf courses should be converted to parking lots.

On summer vacation, we would gaze in awe at the Grand Canyon as our parents calculated how many parked cars it might accommodate.

When my parents entertained, my brother and I would eavesdrop from the kitchen while eating our bedtime snack, and learn that adult conversation included parking reports: "Did you enjoy the art fair?" "The parking was terrible but we picked up a nice watercolor"; or "How was the sample sale?" "I had to fight like crazy in the parking lot but the prices were worth it."

Of course, most of our education took place during actual parking experiences. First course of study: local parking at shopping malls, because if you could handle a shopping mall, you could certainly handle parking lots outside restaurants and movie theaters. City parking was graduate level.

The larger the shopping mall, the larger the parking lot, of course, and the more determined my parents were to avoid its distant reaches, where the alphabet signs started all over again with double letters. With my father at the wheel, my mother was in charge of strategy. The conversation would go something like this:

Mother: Turn here. Here. HERE!!
Father: Do you want me to drop you off while I look for a spot?
Mother: Don't be silly, I'll help you find a spot.

If it was raining hard, my mother changed her strategy: "Drop us off at that entrance; you go look for a parking spot."

But mostly they parked as a team.

"Ooh! There's a spot," my mother would point. My father would begin to turn – and they'd see the motorcycle already tucked into "their" spot. "Dammit," they'd agree. Parking lots are where I learned how to curse, in English and Yiddish.

We were not a family that backed into parking spots. I was taught that people who backed into parking spots were in a hurry to leave and therefore quite possibly members of the Mafia. Besides, one big problem with backing in was that you had to pass the spot first, permitting some farshtinkener driver to swing in behind you while you were lining up your approach.

"That bastard! He knew we were going for that spot!"

This might be said by my mother or father; it was then the other person's job to say: "Forget it, we'll keep looking." This division of responsibility, one in charge of the anger, the other in charge of the calming, seemed a most natural manifestation of their strong partnership, in so many things besides parking; and I believed it kept us safe from physical confrontations with many a farkakta driver.

City parking required discussions in advance: Street parking or a commercial lot? Which to choose depended on so many things: not just where we were going but how long we'd be there, the weather, and especially on those mysterious (to me) street signs that appeared to be written in a secret code using numbers, abbreviations and punctuation.

My parents would start out defiant: "We're not going to pay to park." Paying to park was to admit defeat – unless that was the only option, which I understood to mean it was part of some grand criminal scheme. "You gotta pay for parking here, what a racket." If we chose to park in a lot, however, it was because it was convenient, and a good, smart decision, even though the cost might be exorbitant –because the place was run by crooks, of course; very possibly by those very same Mafia types who parked by backing in.

When we'd find a spot on the street, there'd be another discussion, this time fast: Could we fit? Is it a real spot? Would we get hit if we parked there? Would we get a ticket? If we managed to get in, would we be able to get out?

Parallel parking was certainly a team effort, with my father receiving impassioned advice. "Turn! Straighten! Stop! A little more! You're going to hit him!" "Just a tap," he'd reassure her. My father never hit parked cars; he only tapped them, and only when necessary. And sometimes, "give a tap" would actually be part of my mother's instructions.

A perfectly executed parallel park was a thing of beauty and my father carried out many of them. Others would have remained perfect and beautiful had my mother never opened her door to get out. "We're three feet from the curb!" Then followed another round of discussion on whether they should "adjust."

In time, the definition of a perfect parking spot changed.

My brother's career eventually took him to Phoenix. Upon their retirement, my parents moved out there. Eventually I wound up there, too.

Even though Phoenix is technically a city, it does not feel like one if you arrive here from what is known as Back East. Here in Phoenix, public parking is usually plentiful and free, just like the sunshine. Fully covered parking spots are the best. Spots shaded by trees will do, but so too will the birds (do, that is, on your car). Nearly any spot that offers even a smidgen of shade is better than one completely exposed to the sun, unless it's important that your leftover coffee still be hot when you return to your car.

As a family and on our own, we all enjoyed many years of trouble-free parking in Phoenix and environs.

Time passed, though, and my mother started getting tired. Shade lost its value. She would dismiss a spot the rest of us considered close enough and tell us to keep looking, drive around again. "Don't you want to keep being able to walk?" we begged her. "You have to walk to stay active!"

When my mother was informed that she needed a hip replacement we realized she hadn't been just tired. My parents applied for and received a handicap sticker (really a placard that hung off the rear-view mirror), and handicap parking spots that had been off limits and met with groans during my childhood were now greeted with cheers. With her new hip and their new sticker, my parents were back in action.

More time passed, though, and my father started getting tired. His persistent cough seemed to take a lot out of him. When he was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, we realized he hadn't been just tired.

Soon even the walk from a handicap parking spot to an entrance left my father out of breath. My mother started driving him to the job he had taken upon retirement, demonstrator at Costco; this way she could let him off right at the door. And she'd return at the end of the day to pick him up. This is how they did it, almost daily, then a few times a week, until he retired again, this time for good.

One day my brother and I were instructed to go out and find one more parking spot.

There was plenty of room at this cemetery, located in an undeveloped area of north Phoenix. Instead of parking levels, the cemetery was divided into neighborhoods, with paved walkways defining rows of monuments and headstones. Like every other commercial parking lot, getting a spot here wasn't cheap.

We picked the section named Ruth. In the Bible, Ruth is the Moabite woman who marries an Israelite. When her husband dies, Ruth remains with her mother-in-law, Naomi, telling her (among other things),

Wherever you go, I will go.
Wherever you lodge, I will lodge....
Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.

But Ruth was known first, to my brother and me, as the name of the street on which we lived as children. Ruth Road was where our family drives began, where our summer vacations launched, and where our parents entertained.

When my father died in July 2011, my mother, brother and I huddled together to work on the wording for his grave monument. "I know what I want on my side," my mother told us. " 'My soul will find yours.' " "Is that a promise or a threat?" we asked. Both, she said, sad but still jaunty, still appreciative of my father's humor, which had long ago taken root in both my brother and me.

Indeed, like Ruth, my mother followed, just two years later. My brother and I had found a good spot – just off the cemetery's main road but not too far; in a friendly neighborhood, with our dear family friend Earl just across the way – but now that my mother had joined my father, it had become a great spot. I won't call it a perfect spot, though.

I am sure that my mother's soul sought my father's with the same determination and success with which she sought the best parking spots when they traveled together on more earthly paths; so I am sure that they have reconnected.

And whenever anyone decides to drive to the cemetery in north Phoenix to visit Plot 507, Section Ruth, they will discover that the parking situation is excellent.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Clueless Grownups

Part One

The winter was a daily torment of rubbery snow pants, difficult boots, and droopy mittens, but now it was finally warm for good.

Changing out of my school clothes so I could play, I asked if I could go outside wearing nothing.

"Nothing?" my mom repeated. "No."

"But it's warm out. It's really spring now!"

"You can't go outside wearing nothing. Where did you get that idea? The other kids will laugh at you!"

"No they won't. Joanne's wearing nothing. It's not fair."

"What did we say about whining? Joanne's wearing nothing?"


My mom took a step towards my bedroom door as if to head downstairs and outside to check my claim, but then she turned back to me.

"You mean Joanne is wearing absolutely no clothes: no shorts, no top, no underwear, nothing?"

"What? NO! She's wearing NO SWEATER and NO JACKET!"

"Shush, no yelling. So you mean she's wearing nothing over her clothes."

"YESSSS!" I remembered to stop yelling. "So can I go outside wearing nothing?"

My mom sighed like she was ready for bedtime. "Yes, you can," she said. And I did.

Part Two

The baby of the family, my great niece, is tootling around the floor and under the table while we adults drink our coffee.

"What's that?" she asks, pointing to my ankle.

"Oh, just a beauty mark."

She is at that age where skin is better than toys and the day's not done until she gets a boo-boo and a bandaid.

"No, not that, that. What is it?" She's pointing furiously and even seems a bit nervous, so I explain to her that people can have bumps on their skin and they don't hurt.

"No, THAT!!!!!"

She clearly isn't going to let this go so I set down my cup and take a look.

Gah! My ankle and shin are covered in crusted rivulets of dried blood, set off by brighter pink splotches created when I toweled dry from my morning shower.

"Oh, goodness!" We all try not to curse around the little darling. "I must have cut myself while shaving and didn't realize it. Don't worry, it doesn't hurt. I'll clean it up."

I get up to grab a paper towel and I catch my great niece frowning at me, her little cupid's-bow lips scrunched with disapproval. The look she's giving me is so filled with scorn, you'd think she had just seen me walk outside wearing nothing.     

Monday, February 6, 2012

When You Get Hearing Aids

"Hello? Hello?"

The nervousness you have about getting hearing aids is nothing compared to how you will feel once you get them. Driving home, feeling as if your ears have been stuffed with fingerling potatoes, you'll discover that your car is falling apart. You will hear every rattle, clunk, hiss and groan that your passengers have been hearing and ignoring for years. You will not be able to tell if your wheels are about to fall off or if you merely have four flat tires -- but you'll be sure one of these is the case, based on the thunderous knocking coming from below the floorboard.

Expect to stay jumpy through the next few days.

Do you need to call a plumber, or has the toilet flush always been so boisterous? Is your computer dying, or has the fan motor always been so persistent?

"What's that?!" you'll yell to your friends, gathered in your kitchen for Sunday brunch.

"Just a truck going down the street," one will answer. (The others will have answered, mystified, "What was what?")

"What's going on? What's happening?!" you'll blurt a few minutes later, your eyes darting to the kitchen window, expecting to see an escaped zoo panther lounging on your back patio.

"That's how the birds always sound," another friend replies, having caught on, just a bit, to your new life.

"Really? Wow, that loud?" you'll murmur, starting to realize that the world might be even more amazing than you'd previously thought. Later, when you are nearly hypnotized listening to the rumbly, layered depths of your cat purring, you are certain of it.

About a week in to your new adventures in sound, you'll realize the audiologist who sold you your hearing aids is a crook. They're broken! They've completely stopped working! You've got nothing but chunks of dead plastic sitting in your ears! The audiologist's receptionist has heard these complaints before.

"Have you changed the batteries yet?" she asks.

No, it didn't occur to you to change the batteries. Batteries will last about four to seven days, she reminds you, inviting you to put fresh batteries into your new hearing aids, then call back if you still have problems.

You change your batteries for the first time. There's no need to call back.


Twenty-five years on, I am still delighted at all the things there are to hear, and I am occasionally still confused. If I turn on the shower before I've taken out my hearing aids (you don't want to get them wet), I am stunned by a sudden cacaphony of unknown origin. It takes me a moment to realize I need to take my hearing aids out. When I do, the sound of the shower returns to its familiar, comforting hum. When I'm driving and see flashing lights in the distance, I immediately punch the radio off and open my window, so I can more easily hear which direction the emergency vehicle is heading. If you look at me as if I just spoke in a foreign language, I realize I misunderstood what you said and came out with a completely nonsensical statement. (But we will discuss your - ahem - poor enunciation another time.)

Cell phones, with their endless variety of ring tones, are one of my favorite challenges. Was that a phone? Was that your phone? Was that my phone? You can catch me, these days, surreptitiously bobbing towards my purse (wherein my cell phone rests), like one of those toy drinking birds. Where my purse is – in the supermarket cart, next to me in the restaurant booth, hanging off my shoulder – determines the angle and depth of my bob. Sometimes I will just hold my purse up to my ear, like an overly enthusiastic shopping channel hostess.

If you really want to see me flummoxed, put a ringing phone into a TV show. How many times have I jumped up to answer my non-ringing phone, while on screen some detective is learning, because he answered his own ringing phone, that another body has been found? Probably as many times as I've missed your phone call, because I was watching TV and ruminating on how much the show's background music sounds like, well, a phone ringing.

What's that? You say I've been missing so many of your calls that you're starting to think I'm screening you? Oh no; I'm sure I just didn't hear the phone ring.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My first time

Everyone has a first time, and you never forget it. Here's my first-time experience.

Wait – before I tell you, I want to mention that I just recently tracked down my high school boyfriend (thanks, Facebook!) after being out of touch for about 30 years. As a result of my mini-stalking project, we exchanged a few messages and updates, and then we each disappeared again. I was pleased to discover that was fine with me. The whole thing felt comfortable enough: friendly, no regrets, no recriminations, no unfinished business, etc. But of course it was this reconnection that dredged up the distant memory of my "first time" to the surface. And since then that memory has been swirling around and around in my brain, sometimes keeping me from concentrating on business at hand as I relived those moments like they were yesterday. Could I have behaved any differently? Should I have? That first time! Never to be corrected; never to be forgotten.

So, my experience. Wait – I should point out that this wasn't just my high school boyfriend; he was my Major High School Boyfriend. Just so you know where MHSB fit into my universe.

Okay, so: MHSB was one year ahead of me. At the end of his senior year, his family held a graduation party at his house. Of course I was invited. And I was a little nervous. I already knew MHSB's parents and older brother, and plenty of friends would be there; but so would MHSB's extended family. Would I be introduced to loads of relatives? If so, how? MHSB was heading off to college and I still had a year of high school left. Had we even determined between ourselves what we each expected from our relationship during the upcoming year of separation? Would I be expected to talk at length to MHSB's family, and be on my best behavior during the entire party?

My mother sent me off to the party with this advice: "Try all the food, it should be very good." MHSB was Italian, you see. It was expected that MHSB's mother would be a good cook.

What do I remember of the party? Not much beyond the "first time" part. A crush of strangers. Some awkwardness between MHSB and myself when I arrived. But there was the buffet table, so I made my way through the crowd with MHSB at my side.

Heeding my mother's advice, I took a little of everything, even the unfamiliar things. MHSB and I found a place to stand and we started to eat.

I recognized some chicken and pasta. Mmm, good! Mom was right. Then I put a small forkful of something white and mysterious into my mouth, and it was as if stars started exploding overhead. The flavor, the texture, the fragrance! Was it grain, vegetable, or something else? Specialty food imported from Italy for the occasion? A century-old recipe handed down in MHSB's family from the Old Country? (His family's Old Country, not mine.)

MHSB's mother (Mrs. Italian) was making her way towards where MHSB and I were standing, and I couldn't contain myself. I pulled her over and said, "Mrs. Italian, what is this? It's delicious! I've never had anything like it!"

Mrs. Italian peered at my plate. "What's what?"

"This!" I jabbed gently at the white mystery with my fork.

She looked at MHSB, then looked at me. "That's rice."

Rice? I knew rice; that was not rice.

"Rice! But – How is it prepared?"

She spoke clearly and slowly. "With butter." She must have sensed my confusion. "Haven't you had rice with butter before?"

"Yes!" I said. "Well... I guess we have Minute Rice at home."

"Minute Rice!" She patted my arm and her laughter trilled out into the room. As she walked away giggling, I heard her say again, to no one: "Minute Rice!"

Like I said, you never forget your first time. It's possible my boyfriend's mother never forget mine, either. 

A moment out of time

Just spent this Saturday morning – okay, part of the afternoon – sipping coffee and listening to a CD of Artur Rubinstein playing Chopin Nocturnes while reading my just-arrived December issue of Popular Mechanics.

I wonder if a brain scan would somehow reveal how that felt: Like the perfect combination of cozy familiarity (piano music) plus the jolting unfamiliarity of coming upon new technology and advances I don't entirely understand. Add to that the contentment of being doubly nourished, mouth and mind: drinking coffee just how I like it, and pushing my brain to a new level of understanding of the world. Then there was the pleasure of doing three of my favorite things at the same time: drinking coffee, reading, listening to music.

Meanwhile, the daily newspaper sits unread, some pots need to be scrubbed, and the floor needs to be vacuumed. And I don't regret how I spent this morning (okay, part of the afternoon), at all.

I'm back, part two

Where have I been? What do you mean, where have I been? Where have YOU been?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rebecca, Dan and Brett WHO??

It's been days now, and I have not. been able. to get. Rebecca Romijn out of my mind!

But not for the reason given by most males 13 and older.* My reason is because I just learned her last name is pronounced "romaine," like the lettuce.

Oh, you already knew that? Yes, apparently everybody knew that – even people who don't know how to spell knew that, which just seems unfair.

Thanks to her appearance as a judge on Project Runway, I am now much the wiser. Who is this "Rebecca Romaine?" I had wondered idly, attending to my Sudoku, as Heidi Klum once again busily pretended to have talent.

Rebecca Romaine turned out to be that celebrity I'd always thought of, the few times I did think of her, as Rebecca Ro-MIDGE-in. That's Ro-MIDGE-in, as in "rhymes with whoa, pigeon!".

Well, this discovery just bowled me over. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

In the spirit of live and learn, I offer these BONUS PRONUNCIATION TIPS to help you avoid public humiliation:

1. Those Phoenix area restaurants that look to be named "Majorlee's Sports Grill" are actually named after some sports guy.
You should pronounce it "Marley's Sports Grill." Unless you want your family to rename it Majorlee's in your honor, and bring it up whenever the discussion turns to the subject of local restaurants. Or sports. Or a relative, whose name really is Marley. Or whenever they feel like having a good laugh at you, for no particular reason.

2. On the subject of sports, that guy who doesn't know how to retire pronounces his name "Brett Farv."
Isn't that wild? It is not pronounced "Brett Fa-VRAY," even though that is exactly how it looks; and it is certainly not pronounced "Beret Fa-VRAY," which is how I like to think of it when I am feeling especially jaunty.

So speak out now with confidence! No need to thank me.

*That's right, I'm offering you NO LINKS! Do your own search, you lazy good-for-nothing bum – as if you don't already have this staring at you on your computer, or this bookmarked for easy access, or filled out one of these ages ago, and have the resulting stack hidden in your underwear drawer.