Monday, January 28, 2013

Matchmaking by Robin

After meeting Robin that first trip we stayed in touch and a few months later she called one day and said she was having that cocktail party and would I come?  I knew it was to meet her brother so I said yes.  

The night of the party I walked the five or six blocks to her and her husband's apartment.  I rang the bell, the door opened, and a tall, sandy-blonde guy said "Hi..."

"Hi, I'm Denise...Robin invited me." 

"OH hi!  I'm Scott, come in!" and I stepped into the entry and we chatted for a few minutes and then Scott led me to join the throng of people. Buried amid the crowd was Robin, smiling, laughing, talking and when she saw me she beamed and started introducing me to her friends. 

"Com'on, I'll introduce you to Scott!" she said grabbing my hand.

"Well I met him when I first came in...and he seems really nice," I told her and I thought he was but I thought — and didn't tell her — he's nice, but he's not for me.

I got a drink and mingled, talked to bunch of people, admired the apartment and then ended up in the hallway indentation that was the kitchen where Robin and Scott were talking while she was refilling food.

"Can I help?"

"No, no — Larry 's helping me," she said as she handed a replenished bowl of chip and dip to Scott.

"Larry?" I asked, "Who's Larry?"

"My husband.  This is Larry — didn't you meet?" she said with a puzzled look on her face.

"Larry?  He said he was Scott.  This isn't Scott?"

Larry was trying to suppress his laughter and not succeeding and Robin — she was so mad that she grabbed something and hit him!  Now it's been so long ago that we can't remember if Robin hit Larry with a dish towel or a frying pan, or if the real Scott was there in the kitchen too, but the jig was up. 

The REAL Scott and I hit it off.  He walked me home that night and from then on we were entwined.  Through our six-year, on-and-off courtship and our twenty-six-year marriage, Robin became a part of my life.  And my life wouldn't be what it is without that Robin-intervention.  Wish I could tell her.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reciprocating Receipts

I am sitting here in the car cleaning out my pocketbook for what seems to be the umpteenth time.  I'm finding crumpled up bills, among crumpled up receipts, mixed in with expired coupons, frequent film-goer cards, and business cards of that person I meant to email. Less than two months ago, my friend Linda went through this pocketbook mess doing the same thing.  I feel guilty because the mess is my fault.  Along with the receipts galore are paperclips, rubber bands, cough drops, restaurant mints and cellophane-wrapped toothpicks — all things — I might need one day things that I cannot just throw away because throwing away ANYTHING would make my father turn over in his grave.  

The other day on the kitchen counter by the microwave (another great dumping ground that is forever piling up and forever needing to be cleaned off) I saw this small curlicue of silver and gold ribbon that had come off a package.  I looked at it and thought, ”Why am I saving that ridiculously little piece of ribbon?  THROW IT AWAY.” And so I did.  But last night, I was wrapping a double-pack of Degree “Black Dress” deodorant as a gift to my friend Susan. (OK I know it sounds crazy, but in Manhattan that deodorant costs $7.85 for 2.5 oz and this was the exact same thing but TWO of them for $5.50 in my local Big Lots!) it was tricky to wrap and that ribbon would have been the perfect thing to tie at the top — as soon as I’d pushed myself to throw out that ribbon, within the week I needed it.

This reinforces my absolute abhorrence to throw away anything.  Growing up in a “depression-mentality” family it’s hard enough, but whenever I do get rid of something, inevitably I need it.

Years ago while in California I treated myself to a bracelet made out of typewriter keys. It was fabulous and quirky and even had a “back space” key which was darling as I am old enough to know what a backspace key was and had even used a typewriter.  A REAL typewriter.  A manual one.  In 8th grade when all the girls had to take Typing while the boys took Industrial Arts.  That was before the age of electric typewriters.  The massive and astonishing IBM Selectric a wonder to behold.  The day I started at Random House and was taken to my cubicle there sat that tan machine — very heavy, very impressive, I thought the future had arrived.  It was SO fast it was so solid! Instead of little arms with a letter on each end there was a metal ball that spun around to imprint the letter you struck.  Every typewriter came with "Courier" but you were allowed to order one extra ball in the typeface of your choice! I'm pretty sure if I choose "Century Schoolbook," but whatever it was, you felt SO cool being able to change the font!

And then, amazingly one day we were told we were all getting NEW electric typewriters. The IBM Selectric 3 with, get ready, a self-correcting key!  This new improvement was going to make life incredibly easy.  IF you made a mistake (which inevitably you did about a hundred times a day) all you had to do was press this special key (with an X if I remember correctly) and it would backspace  and whiteout  your mistaken letter!  When those typewriters arrived, I swear we all sat at our desks and just mis-typed so we could see that correction key in action.
Back to the bracelet…I loved that bracelet and wore it everyday until about a month later when one of the keys fell off.  I was horrified and glad that I heard it and had the key. So I tried super-gluing it that night and it held for awhile and then, unbelievably another key fell off and then another when I wasn't looking so I took the bracelet off and started looking for the receipt because I couldn't remember exactly where I bought that bracelet, what quaint little store in which northern California town, and here I was back on the East Coast .  I was so frustrated and mad at myself because I knew, I KNEW I kept that receipt but where?

After awhile I just gave up and had that wonderful bracelet in a zip-lock snack bag laid to rest in a desk drawer.  Then months ago when I was tackling yet another stack of the papers that seem to accumulate and multiple overnight while I’m sleeping and there, there in the midst of tiny little crumpled receipts  was the missing one Mrs Dalloway’s Literary & GardenArts Bookstore, Berkeley California, $60. I cannot believe I paid $60 for a bracelet in 2006.  Well, not one to be deterred by a mere six years, I wrote Mrs Dalloway’s and sent them my bracelet the fallen keys and a copy of the receipt, told them I’d been looking for that receipt for years and pleaded with them to fix my bracelet and even if they couldn't to return it because I wanted that backspace key. I didn't have much hope but I wanted to believe in the kindness of strangers.

Now that I’m leaving my job of the past 4+ years I've been trying to clean out my files and bookshelves and desk and there in one of the drawers I found the note I’d written to Mrs Dalloway’s; I’d completely forgotten about the bracelet so I called the phone number on the receipt and said I’d sent my bracelet months ago and not heard a thing…and after an apologetic response this flurry of email exchanges took place:

Apologies for not writing back to you immediately upon receipt of your letter with accompanying bracelet which you purchased in 2006. Had you contacted us right away there might have been something we could do. At this point it is very doubtful, but as it happens I am going to see the maker next week (have not seen her in months, in fact), and ask her for a special favor for you. I make no promises, but I will try. The first generation of these bracelets had a lot of problems like this; now she makes them differently and the keys don't fall off.

Stay tuned & Best New Year's Wishes,Marion

A week later:

The maker is going to re-build your bracelet. Stay tuned.

And then two weeks later, in the mail came a small package from “Nancy” with a note saying all was fixed. I am once again in receipt of my bracelet.

You are welcome. Nancy is a dear, and she went out of her way for both of us.  Wear it in good health. Marion 

And I will.  "Back Spacer" and all —  —  — 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Meeting Robin

It was 1980 and I was headed to St. Louis on a press check. [A press check is an on-site, last-chance proofing step for the main purpose of achieving color accuracy. The press is set up and ready to run with your project but, before it does, the press operator brings you a proof on the actual paper right off the press.]  It was my first business trip, my first press check.  I was flying halfway across the country to be picked up by someone I didn't know and stay in a motel steps away from the plant because every four hours I was going to be called to “okay” another signature.   [The pages of a book are printed in "signatures." A book signature is a section of pages (1-64) sheets of printed on one large sheet of paper that's then elaborately folded over and over, then trimmed, and ready to be stitched into the books binding.]

The plane was full of males.  Men in every seat, in their pin-striped suits, smoking their cigarettes and talking to one another. 

This was the time of life when women were more and more in the workplace but still trying to think like men, act like men, even dress like men — but with a feminine twist. I was dressed in a pale lavender subtle herring bone suit carrying my big bulky briefcase with way too much paper.  I was trying to avoid eye contact, hoping no one would sit next to me when surprisingly, another female sat down.  The only two women on that whole 727! The gate agent had seated us together, God bless her. Even more surprising, this woman was tall, blond, thin and confident — the exact opposite of me in every way.

That self-possessed woman turned out to be Robin. She was going exactly where I was, for the same reason, being picked up by the exact same person, and she knew that I was going to be on that plane.   Quickly, she dove right in and put me at ease by talking shop.   Not only were we both in publishing and knew lots of the same people — we even lived within four blocks of each other!  By the time the plane landed, we were already friends. 

For the next two days we ate all our meals together, crisscrossed going back and forth to the plant to check on our books, and talked, talked, talked before we split off — me to Jefferson City where my book cover was being printed and Robin back to Manhattan.  

But before we got off that first plane, she said something to me.  I didn't know it at the time — didn't know it for years but what she said would alter my life:

“Are you seeing anybody?”

                                          “Not seriously.”

“I have a brother I want you to meet.”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The MIL Question

I was commenting to my friend Liz how wonderful it was that she was hosting a 90th birthday party for her mother-in-law — that it was so much work and still, it was great she was doing it. 

"And let's hope someone does the same for us one day," I said, to which she replied in a way that signaled skepticism, 

"I have boys."  

"But Liz, you will have daughters-in-law and THEY will do it for you!" I encouraged, "And YOU will be a GREAT mother-in-law!"

"I don't know about that," she cautioned.

But she will — because she's so non-judgmental and easy-going, and many more things I am not.  And though I will certainly be cognizant of my flaws in this arena, still — it's hard to curb all those ingrained behaviors that work for us and against us — and make us whom we are. (I hope that's grammatically correct.)

The mother-in-law question.  

This is a question that most women ask themselves at some point or another:

What kind of mother-in-law will I be?

Even though in my case, I'm asking well before that role is even remotely in my future, I do think about. Worry about it. There are only two choices one hopes for in a MIL or hopes to be as one — exactly like your own mother OR exactly the opposite.

My mother was a terrific mother-in-law.  She embraced anyone and everyone who married into the family. Even when they weren't her son-in-law or daughter-in-law — sometimes even more than their own mother-in-law, my mother made them feel welcome.  She didn't feel any competition for affection or attention.  She looked for the good in people.  Some times (annoyingly) she even sided against her child and FOR the in-law!  

Once my daughter (at the age of six or seven) marched proudly up to my mother and announced,


"Oh don't say that," she admonished soothingly, "that would hurt your father's feelings. You don't want to hurt your father's family, do you?"

"M-A-A-H!" I called out from the next room.  "She IS more Armenian than anything else." (The "else" being the fifty percent from Chris' side that is German, English and Irish.) 

"I think it's cute," I said, secretly pleased that she identified more with my side of the family than his.

"That's not right," she said and disapprovingly looked at me in that way that clearly communicated — you know better.  And I did.  If the situation were reversed, I'd be hurt if my ethnic heritage wasn't recognized.

I can't see myself being her way.  I mean certainly I'm my children's best cheerleader and worst critic and while I place a high value on being honest (we Sagittarians are brutally honest) still, I have my prejudices.  

My sister-in-law Robin would make the best fairy tale kind of mother-in-law you could ever envision.  A major shopper, I imagine her future daughter-in-law might mention something and voilĂ  it would appear.  A regular activity between Robin & her someday daughter-in-law would be playing adult dress-up from Robin's extensive closet — a sure thing for this future MIL. 

The great sadness is that being someone's future fairy tale mother-in-law isn't going to be in her future.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Home Alone

When my husband is away I tend to sleep diagonally across the bed with my head on my side and my legs sprawling over onto his side. Or I shift my whole body into the middle of the mattress — the place where there's a hump between the two valleys our bodies have created over the years. I have to set my phone alarm to make sure I get up — cause Chris always wakes me. I reheat leftover coffee or (like today) go without — cause Chris always makes the coffee and brings me a cup.   Though I only drink one cup of coffee every day (really only 2/3 of a mug, the rest is milk) I really need that cup. If I've gone through the leftover coffee (I have) and it's the second morning without, I'll start to get a headache.

I know you're thinking, "Why doesn't she just make a pot of coffee?" Well, I'm not very good at making coffee.  I'm good at a lot of things, but making coffee isn't one of them. I've tried. It seems simple.  It's just water and ground coffee.  But the measurements matter!  There's a secret somewhere no one's telling me!  Just because you put water to the 6-cup measure on the carafe, doesn't mean it's six cups of water! Or that you put six measures of coffee.  OR that those little scoops are all the same size.  I found out that we have three of those little plastic scoops but they're not the same size.  Geez. Why make it difficult?

I know you're now thinking one of two things: Starbucks. Keurig.  

Not up for getting dressed and driving anywhere for coffee — don't understand it.  I never buy coffee out. NEVER — unless it's for Chris.  I realize I'm in the minority.  And there's something about making a cup at a time that doesn't sit well with me.  But I think that's what I'll do tomorrow when I get to work.

Lucky for me — my husband is coming home tomorrow night and I won't feel so all alone on that mattress.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The West Wing

During the past few weeks when I've been low and crawled into my bed and stayed there,  I found comfort in food and The West Wing.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, The West Wing is an award-winning television drama that captures a behind-the-scenes look at life in the Oval Office. Originally aired on NBC from 1999-2006, the writing — creatively masterminded by Aaron Sorkin and others — is spectacularly entertaining and addictive.  Fascinating enough for its inside view of politics at the top, the dilemmas that permeate the storylines of show are just as compelling as the cast of characters.  President Josiah "Jed" Barlet (Martin Sheen) is at the helm of a fictional White House staff of fast-paced, quirky, smart, and compassionate political novices who struggle to do right and keep their President in office. 

There's Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (the late John Spencer) who's older and wiser and tries to reign in the overly exuberant and youthful group of Keystone Cops — first and foremost his deputy, Josh Lyman played by the dashing and adorable Bradley Whitford who, besides running to and fro to the Hill to corral errant legislators, plays a cat-and-mouse game of attraction, season after season, with his delightfully refreshing and persistent uber-assistant Donna Moss (Janel Moloney).  In one show, the Surgeon General’s reply to an online chat question sends the media into frenzy. Pressured to resign and refusing, she asserts, "As a doctor, I have an obligation to tell the truth. Come to think of it, as a person I have that obligation, as well." Josh says, "The truth is different if you're a GP or a member of the Stanford Faculty Club than if you're the country's chief medical practitioner." And we're led to ask ourselves, is it?

Then there's the communications arm of the posse, Toby Ziegler played with sarcasm and sadness by Richard Schiff, his deputy, Sam Seaborn — handsome and smart in that preppy, nonchalant, Ralph Lauren model way, except right out of the gate, he has a nice one-night encounter with a lovely law student — who happens to be putting herself through law school by working for an escort service.

Allison Janney embodies Press Secretary C.J.Cregg as she uses every inch of her six feet to keep up with the non-stop demands of her balancing act juggling reporters, her colleagues, and the ever-escalating avalanche of news, events, and catastrophes like this: 

As a result of his recent act of heroism at an elementary school, a police officer is to be recognized by the President during his State of the Union address. But the Press Secretary has just discovered that seventeen years ago this same officer was charged with using excessive force in a bust, allegedly breaking a teenager’s leg.  Should the Press Secretary break the story first to “get ahead of it,” even though it’s against the police officer’s wishes and will destroy this man’s present by exposing this incident in his past?

Whether it’s questioning why the White House isn't implementing the standards recently issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to lessen the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome or the case of a seemingly comic group of “Cartographers for Social Equality” who actually turn out to be advocating for maps in classrooms that are not only more accurate but also, and more importantly, fair to all peoples — The West Wing is filled with gems for debate.  

Even the characters voice their concern about all the “ethically gray areas” they’re faced with day in and night out.  Whether or not you agree with the show, The West Wing will get you (and your kids) thinking and talking about the complexities of government, politics, and the often-unfortunate reality we live in. (Some stories are eerily prescient of things that came to pass in our real-life politics.)

If you haven’t seen the seven seasons of this superb show, there's hope.  Someone could gift you the complete boxed set of all 154 episodes  the way my kids did for me one Mother's Day and the way I just did for my nephew's Christmas present  or you can catch it on Netflix...cause this is one series that deserves to be watched.  Over and over  the way I just did when I needed the comfort of the chaos in other people's lives.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Red Barn Plates

The huts we saw that day were far more rusted and rickety
It started on a motorcycle trip to upstate New York.  We weren't married yet and it was in either Poughkeepsie or Peekskill that I found the mother lode of junk. Three Quonset huts stacked to the rim with stuff, stuff, and more stuff. Open steel shelving, plastic etageres, bookcases lined up row by row with barely space to walk between, loaded down with pots and pans, glasses and knick-knacks, books and batteries, coffeepots, crockpots, boxes of cutlery, postcards, costume jewelry and just about any other thing you could think of.  Shelf after shelf after shelf, bowed by the weight of all those glorious "one-man's-trash-is-another-man's-treasure" objects.

It was then I spotted the first plate.  Even though blue isn't my color, there it was a white plate with a red barn on a mostly blue background.  I sifted through the stack of dishes and all together there were five plates, each representing a different month, each with a different red barn.  Even though barns aren't my thing they were very compelling.  They were heavy china, gold-rimmed, and I really considered getting them but they were two or three dollars each and after all, we were on a motorcycle and Manhattan was quite a ride away. And it was cold.  We had to get back on the road to be where we were going before dark, so I passed them up.  I left the Quonset hut — too soon and empty-handed.  Still, the whole ride back I marveled at this magnificent triple-mounded mausoleum of junk we'd only skimmed and I thought I'd have to go back there one day and just really DIG in.

And then it was my birthday — and my Chris surprised me with four of the plates!

March tilling the soil
July baling the hay

September  surveying the land
December bringing in the tree
They were beautiful! He'd driven back up on his motorcycle and bought me those plates...though I immediately asked, "Where's the fifth?"

"What?" he asked.
"The fifth plate — there were five plates."
"No there were only four."
"You left the other one behind."
"NO! There were only four!"
"Well, maybe someone bought the other one or moved it to another stack where you didn't look, but there were five." [How ungrateful of me!]
For years I mourned that missing plate.

The plates were marked 
The Red Barn, Service Plates, designed by Dale Nichols B. Altman & Co. New York.
made by Adams China in England,  First Edition limited to six hundred sets
I began trying to find out more about my plates. I knew about Altman's because I used to occasionally shop in their flagship store on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York, with my mom.  Then in 1989, B. Altman & Company — which started in 1865 — went into bankruptcy and closedafter 124 years in business.  It was 1989, the year my children were born.
Then I researched regional artist Dale Nichols (1904-1995) who had a penchant for painting barns— stark, realistic barns of his Nebraska youth. And after calling Altman's and asking to speak to the oldest employee in the china dept, spoke to a gentleman who recalled that these plates were sold as decorative plates (not meant to eat on) in the 40s. 

Over the years, a plate at a time, slowly the red barn plates appeared for Valentine's, Christmas, Mother's Day and then the bonanza when the last five all were gifted at once.
August  with its magnificent tree
May  — with the hay crop in orderly rows
June with cattle grazing and dog

October — with its beautiful striped barn and...

January with its gorgeous snow and star

I love my plates, these and many others I've collected over the years.  They bring me comfort and beauty and peace — and always remind me how much my husband loves me.

And — tell me, what do you collect?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Navigating Emotional Terrain

When times are tough (and they are right now) I gravitate to comfort foods. I hadn't been to the grocery store.  There wasn't much in the house — pasta nests from the Chinese market, sausage in the freezer that I could defrost in the microwave, a few mushrooms on their last legs. I started slicing and sauteing those mushrooms in butter, then frying up the nuked bratwurst and adding in the egg noodles I'd cooked separately.  German food can be very satisfying.

The next night I made some small shells, mixed with my absolute favorite bottled sauce, Ragu Robusto Chopped Tomato, Olive Oil and  Garlic.  I took this photo then took a bite and felt it lacked some comfort, so I ripped up some fresh mozzarella into little bits and zapped my bowl in the microwave. Much better.  Even the simplest Italian food can be very comforting.

The next day when it came time for lunch I knew what I wanted to have.  It required a trip to the supermarket.  I reverted to making my childhood favorite — a fried Taylor Ham sandwich on a toasted English muffin with Heinz ketchup. I devoured it with such relish I forgot to take a picture.

But then, the third day,  I had to call in the big guns — it was time for dolma.  Time to channel my mother and mix the meat and the rice, boil the sumac, stuff the peppers and roll the grape leaves.  Cook it all and then settle down to the lemony-sour mouth-watering taste of dolma.  

When it comes to soothing my emotions, Armenian food takes the plate.