Posted by: Catadromy | July 10, 2017

O Maple Lake, O Maple Lake!

It’s a ritual for upper middle class children in the Northeast to go to what’s fondly known as sleep-away camp for the months of July and August.  Parents load their children onto yellow schoolbuses, complete with their suitcases and bedrolls and ship them off to the wildernesses of the Catskills or the Adirondacks or the Poconos.

Throughout my younger days, I attended these camps as a camper. But it wasn’t until I was hired on to work as a counselor at one that my eyes were opened to the true reality of life at a Camp For Overprivileged Children.

For that is indeed what these camps are (or were—for like many things from my youth, I don’t know if they still exist, at least, not in the same form).  The campers were from upper middle class families, the counselors were college students and the waitstaff were generally still in high school.

I got my job through a family connection the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. This particular camp was in the Catskills, very near to Grossinger’s.  Originally, I was assigned a bunk of 10 year-old girls. When the camp’s Director found out I had my WSI (Water Safety Instructor), I was made the Waterfront Counselor (in addition to my bunk). Meant I was the pool lifeguard, taught swimming and had the keys to the boathouse. All for only $125 for the entire 8 weeks. Not per week—all 8 weeks total. That and all the tips we were able to extort on Palm Sunday. (More on that later.)

The pool wasn’t heated. I hate cold water. Most days found me poolside, wearing a sweatshirt over my swimsuit, bamboo pole in hand, watching the kids in the pool. When I gave lessons, I lay down on the diving board to show them the basics of the strokes. Swimming for the campers was mandatory—big selling point to the parents—so even if they didn’t want to get in the pool, they received a gentle nudge from my bamboo pole.  All of the campers who didn’t already know how to swim, learned. And I’m happy to report not a single drowning occurred that summer.

The cabins or bunks at this camp were essentially made out of tissue paper. Needless to say, smoking in the bunks was totally forbidden, due to the extreme fire hazard.  Unlike today, smoking wasn’t seen in so evil a light; we could smoke, we just couldn’t smoke in the bunks. I, of course, did just that. I couldn’t be bothered to go outside or into the dining hall or sit by the pool. I wanted to smoke and I wanted to smoke now.

I got fired.

But, wait. You can’t fire the only lifeguard. What about the pool? Swimming lessons?

I got re-hired.

At the time, the legal drinking age in New York was 18. There was a small town near the camp that the counselors would go to on our nights off to drink. Lord knows, we needed to drink. There was one particular bar we liked, known as Art’s Blue Room. Quite popular among us.  Monday nights were all-camp meetings, led by the Director.  She was passive-aggressive to the utmost. She would never call people out by name, but rather by the clothing they were wearing. One Monday, it was my turn.

‘You there, in the yellow sweater.’ A roomful of eyes swiveled in my direction. ‘The cream of the crop of Livingston Manor does not frequent Art’s Blue Room.’ In my defense, I wasn’t the only one of us there that night. Maybe it was the sweater that caught her eye. Maybe she was still unhappy about the smoking incident.

I got fired again.

But, I’m the only lifeguard. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

This camp shared a lake with a much larger, fancier and richer camp. With much better waiters. I mean, I had a waiter of my own (wink, wink) but I wanted something better. So, I and several of my friends took out a rowboat (keys to the boathouse, remember?) and rowed across the lake to this other camp for a Night to Remember.  Ah, yes.

I got fired for the third time.

Lifeguard? Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

After all, there’s still Palm Sunday and Color War to get through.

I promised an explanation of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is formally known as Visiting Day. It’s the second Sunday in August and the day the parents come up to see how their precious little darlings are doing, after having been entrusted to the care of a bunch of drunken, hormonal college students. It’s called Palm Sunday because the counselors (metaphorically) stand with their palms outstretched, waiting to receive their tips from the parents of their charges. For some strange reason, my 10 year-olds loved me. I cleaned up.  It’s nice to have rich parents. Not me—them.

Color War comes after Palm Sunday. It’s the Big Finish, if you will. The entire camp is divided into two teams, assigned to either one of the camp’s two colors—in this case, green or white.

I was the water sports coach for the Green team.  Needless to say, we won our events. There’s a point-scoring system; I don’t recall which team won the war. There weren’t trophies or certificates. Back in those days, there were no awards for just showing up, unlike today.

At the end of August, the yellow schoolbuses returned and the process was reversed. Happy, suntanned campers packed up their suitcases, swore to write to everyone in their respective bunks (and their beloved counselors!) forever and went back to New York, secure in their happy little lives, knowing that nothing would ever happen to them to change that.

The counselors swore off working for slave wages ever again and vowed to get a better job someplace, anyplace rather than spend another summer catering to the whims of Overprivileged Children (no matter how well-behaved).


Posted by: Catadromy | July 12, 2015

Above The Clouds, It’s Always Sunny

Spending time in a speeding cigar tube full of people, generally on their worst behavior, is generally not my idea of a good time.  First, as most of you know, I hate people.  Secondly, I’m old and I remember when air travel used to be an occasion.  People would dress up to get on a plane—it was an event.  It was glamorous.  It was also incredibly expensive.

Today, air travel has been democratized.  Prices are low, people rarely give a second thought to hopping on a plane.  Of course, there’s the whole situation with the TSA.  This is not the place to discuss that.  I’m more interested in talking about what goes on inside the plane, after we’ve all boarded.

Lately, every flight I’ve been on is full.  Not just full, but FULL, as in every seat is occupied.  Gone are the days when I would get onto a plane after a hard week’s work in New York, and the flight attendant would take one look at me and gently guide me to an entire row of seats and hand me enough blankets and pillows to make a nest for myself so that I could sleep the whole way home to Los Angeles.

Nowadays, I find myself sitting bolt upright in one seat, hopefully on the aisle, praying that the middle seat next to me won’t be occupied by a manspreader or a fat person.  Before you condemn me for that last comment, please understand.  I paid for one seat.  I wish to have the entirety of that one seat to myself.  When the seat next to me is taken by someone who spills over into my space, then I don’t get the benefit of what I have paid for.  If you take up more than one seat, for whatever reason, then prepared to pay for more than one seat.  That’s all that I ask.  Life isn’t fair.  It was never meant to be.

Way back when, people would get dressed up to fly.  I remember wearing a dress, hose, heels to get on a plane, because flying was an occasion.  It wasn’t just transportation from Point A to Point B.  Flying was the point of it all. Today, flying is nothing like that.  It hasn’t been for some time.  And that’s all for the better.  I can’t imagine taking an overnight flight to Europe dressed as if I’m going to a formal business meeting.  Nope, I want to wear something I can stretch out and sleep in.  Of course, things can go to extremes.  Back in the days of the old Western Airlines, I saw people get on the flight to Hawaii with live poultry—in the passenger cabin.  But that’s a story for another time and place.

Even older people aren’t immune from behaving badly in the air.  It’s as if, when up in the sky (or about to be) all the normal behavioral constraints fly out the proverbial window.  Case in point: Flying back from a long stay in Hawaii, seated on the plane, waiting for takeoff, when there’s an unexplained delay.  I had noticed two couples in the departure lounge, the men wearing matching Hawaiian shirts. Slightly obnoxious, but kind of cute, in a mature way. It turns out that these two couples were traveling with some teenagers and had booked the six of them into an exit row.  Airline regulations do not allow teenagers to be seated in an exit row, something that was explained to one of these couples at some length.  She objected, loudly and repeatedly, and refused to accept being reseated.  At one point, the police came and escorted her off the plane, only to allow her back on, after extracting a promise of further good behavior..  She and her long-suffering husband were eventually seated next to my husband across the aisle from me.  Her husband was furious at her for being so ridiculous about the seating assignment (the seats they were moved to were premium seats—I know because I paid the premium to sit in one) and he pouted the entire 6 hours back to Los Angeles.  She was given two free drinks and then cut off for the rest of the flight.  The flight attendant and I had a good gossip about the whole thing after we hit the half-way point back in the galley. I even got an extra cookie out of the deal.  Yay, me.


Over a two week span in April, I was on 8 different planes, making a total of 2 round trip flights.  While sitting and waiting for one of these, I encountered something I’ve seen before. Two total strangers, sitting next to each other.  One says to the other, ‘Would you please watch my stuff while I hit the restroom?’  I don’t get this.  These two guys had never met before, never spoken while they were sitting next to each other and had zero connection, yet somehow, there’s this implied contract between them that one is going to leave all his stuff under the guardianship of the other for the brief time that he’s going to be spending in the men’s room at LaGuardia.  I (who never talk to strangers) even asked the guy about it.  I mean, I just don’t get it.  I would rather take my stuff with me, before I would ask a total stranger to watch it for me.  What makes this one guy more trustworthy than any other guy in the airport waiting area?  Why him?

Maybe it’s my cynical Brooklyn self talking.  But I would never do this.

After all, I hate people.


Posted by: Catadromy | January 6, 2015

The Call Of The Native

I’m currently reading a collection of essays that have been written by writers who once lived in New York, but felt compelled by circumstance and fate to move out of the city.  The compilation is called Goodbye To All That: Writers On Loving And Leaving New York.  With a very few exceptions, the essay writers came from someplace to New York, spent some time there and then left.

Can you be a New Yorker, a true New Yorker, by any way other than birth?

I was a contestant on Jeopardy! not long ago.  The contestants provide some biographical information, either where you were born or where you live currently, and it gets used in your intro.  In my case, I chose to use the city of my birth—Brooklyn, as in, ‘originally from Brooklyn, New York.’  Being from Brooklyn seems to be quite a trend on Jeopardy!.  I was speaking with the current champion in the green room prior to taping.  He was also from Brooklyn.  So, of course, I asked him where in Brooklyn he was from.  When he replied, ‘Park Slope’, I thought, Oh, you’re one of thoseThose being hipsters, trend seekers, nouveaux, arrivistes.  You know, new-comers.

I, on the other hand, am OG.  Brooklyn born and bred.  I was from Brooklyn well before it was cool, hip or trendy.  We lived in Borough Park (still not a hot area, probably never will be).  My grandmother lived in Bensonhurst.  My parents married at the Masonic Temple on 13th Avenue.  My mother went to New Utrecht High School; my father to James Madison.  I was born in what was called at the time Israel Zion Hospital; it’s Maimonides now.

I used to roller skate (skates that attached to my shoes with a skate key) on uneven sidewalks, go to the candy store, hang out with my friends from the building, visit my cousins.  Got into occasional kid trouble.

But back to my moment in the Jeopardy! green room. When the current champion told me he lived in Park Slope, I asked him where he was from.  When he replied, ‘Woodland Hills’, I had my answer.  He wasn’t from Brooklyn.  He just lives there now.  He’s not a New Yorker.

A New Yorker is something you are, not something you become.

I may live in Los Angeles, but I’m from New York.

Posted by: Catadromy | September 22, 2014

The City That Never Sleeps

New York, the city of my birth, is the best, the most, the everything.  I never get tired of it.  Samuel Johnson famously said, ‘If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’  Dr. Johnson never visited New York.  New York grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go until she is finished with you.  A mere mortal doesn’t stand a chance.

New York has changed a lot in some ways since my last visit; not so much in others.  The new Yankee Stadium is more like a baseball theme park than a place where baseball is actually played.  The old ballpark has been sanitized and recreated in the heart of the Bronx.  It’s still by the El and surrounded by stores selling Yankee-branded gear of all kinds.  Inside the stadium, you can buy designer food, craft beers, and even more Yankee merch.  There’s a gigantic digital screen above center field and electronic ribbons running around the upper levels from the first base foul pole to the third, that carry game stats and ads.  The original scoreboard from the old park is there.  But the famous upper level white columns are recreations.  The sound system is on a par with any concert venue.  The restrooms are clean and plentiful.  And the entire park is environmentally-conscious.  It didn’t hurt that the Yanks won, 3-2.  And Jeter hit a home run in his second at bat.


“There are no bad neighborhoods anymore.”  I met an old friend for drinks.  Like me, a former exile but who had made the move back to the city a few years ago.  He’s right.  New York has been, for lack of a better word, sanitized.  Gentrified, overdeveloped, cleaned up, turned into a Potemkin village.  It’s now a place for the very rich or the very poor.  The middle class need not apply.

Many years ago, when I lived in New York, things were a bit different.  We lived on the Upper West Side and it was truly the Wild West.  A frontier.  We would make plans to get together with other couples and, as soon as they found out where we lived, they would say, ‘You live where?  Can we meet you?’  Today, the UWS is highly fashionable and a much in demand place to live.  Tall, gracious buildings fill tree-lined streets.  There’s not as much new construction and what there is, is designed to match what is already there.

We spent time with people from the old days who still live in the area and have never left.  People we have known for many years, rarely see, but it’s as if we’ve seen each other a million times.  Old friends are the best kind of friends.  And we’ve known these people since college and the Army days–that many years have passed.  It’s so easy to pick up the old rhythms and patterns.  We don’t spend time talking about the past; however, we always acknowledge it and the role it played in bringing us together.  What is that saying?  The past is present.

We went to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.  It’s far from the first time I’d been down to the site; but this was the first time I’d been there since the park was done, the Freedom Tower completed and the Museum opened.  We spent over 3 hours there.  I was in tears when we left.  Not just my country, but my city was attacked that day.  And I shall never allow it to recede in my memory.


The Highline.  Formerly an elevated rail track, it was unused and nature was reclaiming it.  New York is desperately short of open greenspace in this most congested of cities.  So a park was created.  The self-seeded plants were augmented by others, walkways and benches were added; food vendors, Highline kitsch sellers, stairways and elevator access points came next.  The very day we walked The Highline was the day the final section was opened to the public.  I was among the first to walk the entire length of the park.

Give my regards to Broadway!  Can’t go to New York and not see a show.  Still not sure which was the more entertaining–the show inside the theatre or the one on the street.  We had some time to kill after dinner, but before showtime, so decided to walk down Broadway to Times Square.  A big section of Broadway is closed to traffic, so there are people wandering around everywhere.  Costumed characters, superheroes, cartoon faves–all out there, trying to make a buck posing with the tourists.  There is an illuminated, red staircase at Duffy Square behind the TKTS. booth, full of people, sitting and watching the parade below.  And the signs!  Oh my Lord, the signs!  Swirling, whirling, flashing neon, digital millions of colors signs!  Digital screens six stories high promoting new Fall television.  The latest movies.  New plays about to open.  Leftovers from Fashion Week.

And all along Broadway, Seventh Avenue, Eighth Avenue and some of the side streets are vendors selling counterfeit designer handbags.  Used to be, you went down to Canal Street and said a few words to someone, who found someone, who brought you to a locked storefront and then his cousin would roll up the gate and let you in to buy what looked like fairly good copies.  But the designers got the police to shut them all down.  Now the purse sellers are all from Senegal.  They set their wares up on a bedsheet on the street and, at the first sign of approaching authority, bundle everything up in a flash and move to another location.  They all seem to know each other and communicate via cellphones.

Don’t get me started on the smokers!  Just don’t.

We had a glorious brunch at Barney Greengrass, recreating our usual New York Sunday morning.  I bought a paper (first checking to be sure all the sections were there) after having to negotiate with a woman standing in front of the rack, staring at the paper.  ‘Are ya looking or are ya buying?’  She stepped aside.  Side note–I still got it.  Then we hopped a cab uptown.  Got seated right away–a bit unusual, there’s always a wait–and ate and ate and ate.  Gave our waiter (note: not our server.  This guy is a professional.) a semi-hard time.  Don’t judge.  It’s expected.  And he gave as good as he got.  The UWS, right by the restaurant, was the staging area for a gigantic parade/protest march against global climate change.  There were huge charter buses, from all over, disgorging marchers of every demographic stripe.  A few of them even came into Barney Greengrass with their signs and buttons and T-shirts to grab something to eat along the way.  Why not?  It’s going to be a long march.  We, on the other hand, skipped the crowds and took the subway back.

Walking in the city, though, is the best way to get anywhere.  I took a walk down Fifth Avenue one afternoon, crossing the street whenever the coast was clear.  Not necessarily with a light and the little white man, but when there was no crosstown traffic to be seen or the traffic on Fifth was blocking the street.  You can always tell the tourists from the locals by the way they gather at the intersections.  New Yorkers step off the curb and look up the street at oncoming traffic to see if it’s safe to dash across the street.  New Yorkers don’t wait for the Walk sign; they go when there’s a space to move.  I’m a New Yorker.  Jaywalking is my birthright.

I miss my city terribly.  But Thomas Wolfe was right.  You can’t go home again.  On these visits, I live an idealized version of my former life.  I stay in hotels where anything I want is attended to, I eat in restaurants, I take taxis, I have a timetable of my own devising.  I’m not tied to anyone else’s expectations.  And when I’m done, I get on a plane and go back to my life in Los Angeles.  And leave behind the noise and the traffic and the expense and the inconvenience of everyday life in the city.  And the smokers!

I’ve been to some of the world’s greatest cities–London, Paris, Rome–and the one I currently live in is pretty OK in my book.  But I am, and will always be, a New Yorker.

Posted by: Catadromy | May 27, 2014

La Serenissima

Venice is an adventure.

We arrived in Venice in grand style, via water taxi from the airport.  Cruising through the lagoon, past several of the islands that are part of Venice—Murano, Burano—and into the Grand Canal, where the city of Venice slowly revealed herself in all her louche, faded glory.

The Grand Canal is like any major street in any large city, except instead of concrete, it’s ‘paved’ with water.  The Grand Canal is bustling with all manner of boat traffic:  water taxis, vaporetti- which are like city buses and run on schedules, trachetti-small stand-up ferries that cross the Grand Canal, gondolas, the boat equivalents to trucks.  And just like Italian automotive traffic, there doesn’t  appear to be any rhyme nor reason to the direction in which all these boats are going.  Yet, somehow, it works.  One of my favorite things to do was to watch the traffic on the Canal from any vantage point, whether it be the top of the Rialto Bridge or the terrace of the Guggenheim Art Museum or the top of the Campanile at the Piazza San Marco.

The first night was completely uneventful—just the way I like them.  Checked into the hotel and got upgraded to a ‘suite’, which turned out to be a room with a lofted bed, up a narrow and very steep stairway.  Interesting.  Tiny little bath, which managed to contain double sinks, a sizable bath, a toilet and a bidet.  Again, interesting.  Also downstairs, wardrobes and a sitting room with a daybed, a chair and a television.  We went out to look for something to eat and walked nearly to the Rialto Bridge and found a small ristorante.  Venice isn’t really known for its food.

The next morning, we walked over to the Jewish Ghetto and toured the Museo Ebraico.   From there, we caught a vaporetto, intending to go to the Piazza San Marco.  Alas, being unfamiliar with how they worked, we went the wrong direction and went to the end of the line.  We then had to change boats to get to the other end of the line.  So we got to cruise the entire length of the Grand Canal on a vaporetto.  Once at the Piazza, we met up with friends who are staying in Padova who had trained into Venice to meet us.  We went to the Caffe Florian for coffee.  Fifty euros for a caffe latte.  OK, 1 caffe latte, 1 small bottle of water and 1 small sandwich.  Plus 6 euros each for the pleasure of listening to the music emanating from the bandstand.  At least, the people-watching in the Piazza was free.

The four of us next walked over to the Guggenheim Art Collection, crossing the Grand Canal via the Accademia Bridge.  We got lost looking for the Collection.  But not really.  That’s the wonderful thing (one of them, anyway) about Venice.  You’re never really lost.  Just keep walking and turning and eventually you find yourself where you want to be.  Or maybe not where you thought you wanted to be, but someplace delightful, just the same.  The art was nice, but the high point for me was sitting on the terrace fronting the Grand Canal and observing.  I fell in love with a home, or possibly a small hotel, across the Canal and daydreamed about living there.

We then went back to the Piazza and up to the top of the Campanile for its 360 degree views of Venice.  Up there, I saw a cruise ship being towed into the lagoon from among the low rise buildings of the city.  The scale was so incongruous that the ship looked like it had been dropped onto a movie set.


We ate dinner early (for Venice) because our friends had to catch their train to Padova.

The next day, we toured the Basilico San Marco and the Doge’s Palace and crossed the Bridge of Sighs.  We managed to attach ourselves to a tour being led by a British guide.  Not my first time at this particular rodeo, I can assure you.  We walked over to the Rialto Bridge and climbed to its highest point and watched the traffic.  Stopped at a gelateria, walked back to our hotel and crashed.  Jet lag finally caught up to me.

After nap time, it was time for a gondola ride.  Just as in all the guide books, we found a gondolier, spoke with him a bit and off we went.  He’s a fifth-generation gondolier (but has only daughters) and he had a lovely boat.  We went around some smaller canals, into the Grand Canal and back into the smaller, back canals.  He pointed out various sights–Casanova’s house,  Marco Polo’s house, the workshop for La Fenice (the opera).  Maybe yes, maybe not.  It doesn’t matter.  He even sang…Ciao, Bambino.

At dinner, we struck up a conversation with the couple at the next table. They were from a small town in France, just across the border from Geneva, Switzerland.  The conversation took place in fractured French (mine) and fairly decent English (his).  We  talked about travel, our kids, shared photos and had a pleasant time.  Striking up casual conversations with total strangers became a theme of the trip.  In Florence, we even picked up a couple of stalkers from Vancouver, Canada.  Ran into them again in Positano.

Venice offers lots of surprising views, each one beautiful. A peek around a corner reveals a small canal or a faded palazzo or a glimpse of every day, ordinary Venetian life.  All those canals are crossed by bridges and all those bridges have steps going up and steps going down.  Be prepared to put your climbing shoes on.

The best and most absurdist part of the Venice stay happened the final day.  We were sitting on the steps of the Ferrovia (the train station) waiting for our train when, suddenly, a band of Hare Krishnas came into view.  Complete with orange robes and playing finger cymbals.  Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.


La Serenissima, Baby.



Posted by: Catadromy | December 30, 2013

Relevé! Relevé!

From the time I was little, I’ve wanted to perform.  Sing or dance, it doesn’t matter.  The problem is that I have been blessed with zero talent of any kind.  I am completely tone deaf.  When I was in high school, chorus was mandatory and every year, the Music department would stage a stripped-down version of a Broadway musical.  All the big names–Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, South Pacific and, most memorably for me, My Fair Lady.  Somehow, I made it into the background chorus for the ‘Ascot Gavotte’ number.  We were busy rehearsing and the musical director was not happy with what she was hearing.  No, not at all.

So, she stood among us as we sang and pinpointed the problem to…it should come as no surprise…me!  Not only was I off, I was throwing everyone around me off.  Not wanting to crush my soul entirely and rather than kicking me out of the chorus completely, she pulled me aside and asked that I move my lips, but let no sound escape.  I willingly complied because even with that restriction, I’d still be listed in the program, still get a costume and still be on the stage.

My poor, long-suffering college roommate had to bear with my awful singing for four lo-o-o-ng years.  In my defense, at least it was Motown.

My family begs me not to sing around them.  I love hanging out on the beach, plugged into my iPod, singing along with the music.  Bear in mind, we’re outside.  Then there’s a tap on my arm.  ‘Mom!  You’re singing!’  Accompanied by an eyeroll, of course.

So my singing these days is confined to those times when I’m in my car, windows rolled up tight, tooling down the freeway, singing along with the radio or my iPod, beating out the rhythm on my steering wheel.  As if I’m the only one.

When I was a child, my mother agreed to ballet class, something for which I have even less aptitude than singing.  I tried, though.  Oh how I tried.  I mastered all the positions, the barre work, did my turnouts.  But there were physical limitations.  Even for that young age, I was short.  I was (to put it kindly) pudgy.  I was hopelessly uncoordinated.

One day, we were doing warm up stretches and I fell off the stage (such is the nature of life in a small town).  The teacher was not happy.  Not. Happy. At. All.  She called my mother and suggested she not waste any more of her money.  Okay, so I was never going to dance for Balanchine or wow them at the Bolshoi.  I just wanted to dance, not be the next Margot Fonteyn.

Fast forward to current day.  I’m taking ballet class again.  This time, in combination with yoga and Pilates.  And this time, it’s for exercise and not to create a potential prima ballerina.  The old terms still ring in my ears–relevé, élévation, turn-out, first position, second position, arabesque.  I love doing arabesques most of all.  I’m older now, so I can no longer twist myself into certain positions.  Fifth is out of the question and third isn’t looking very good, either.  I can no longer rotate from my hips the way I need to achieve the positions with the proper form. 

But my posture is much improved.  My arms are well-toned.  My shoulders look incredible.  My legs are strong and muscular.  And I feel like I could take on the world.

You know that expression, ‘Dance as if no one is watching’? Honey, someone is always watching.

Posted by: Catadromy | August 18, 2013

You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

My parents died within eighteen months of each other and that got me to thinking about my own mortality.  After all, I’m the oldest of my siblings, my parents are now gone; that sort of puts me in God’s Waiting Room, doesn’t it?  Let me tell you, Dear Readers, those green, faux leather-covered seats are mighty uncomfortable.

I’ve given my Final Party (as it were) a good deal of thought.  I have all my desired arrangements specifically outlined in my will.  Along with the usual bequests and dispersal of my ‘worldly goods’ are the detailed instructions for my funeral.

First, there may be 20 minutes of ‘sad’ and the rest of the event shall be a Par-Tay!

I would like more flowers than at a mafia funeral.  Flowers by the truckload, in fact.  Flowers like in The Godfather.  I have in mind a wreath in the shape of a horseshoe, facing down, showing that my luck has run out.  And another wreath, showing a poker hand of aces and eights, supposedly the hand that Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot dead by Jack McCall.  Sprays of flowers, bouquets of flowers, vases full of flowers…you get the idea.  None of this, ‘In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Homeless Cats of Los Angeles.’  Oh, no.  I want the damn flowers.

I would like a New Orleans Jazz Band to play.  Yes, I want music.  The band may either play as accompaniment to the actual service or later on, when people are back at the house after internment.  You know what I mean.  Think brass playing, ‘When The Saints Go Marching In.’

I want paid mourners.  Specifically, old Italian nonnas with mustaches, black dresses, sturdy shoes and white hankies.  I want weeping.  I want wailing.  I want rending of garments.  Even if I have to pay for it from beyond the grave.

I was so moved by the scene in The Descendants in which the remaining members of her family scattered Elizabeth King’s ashes in the water off Waikiki, that I thought of chucking all my plans in favor of a destination funeral in Hawaii, complete with cremation and the scattering of my ashes, most likely off Maui.  Even after paying airfare for select invitees, a destination funeral would still cost my estate less than the plans detailed above.

Sadly, I had to abandon this idea after consultation with my Rabbi.  Once he told me that I would never find a Conservative rabbi who would officiate, that was that.

So it’s back to Plan A.

See you all there.

Posted by: Catadromy | July 6, 2013

Coastal Latitudes


When I am old, I shall live by the sea.

This summer marks my 30th year of going to Hawaii for vacation.  We don’t go every year; although one lucky year, we went twice.  Of all the islands I’ve visited, Maui is my favorite.  We returned there this trip, after an absence of 13 years.  Things haven’t changed very much, other than the island has gotten more built up and there are more people than ever.  But Maui is still, at its heart, a small town that happens to be spread out over an island.

I’ve been to Kauai, which I love, too.  But it’s small.  Kauai offers lots of diverse climate and breathtaking scenery.  I find that once I’ve done the things that Kauai is known for, I don’t want to go back and do them again.  At least, not that visit.

We returned to Kauai after 20 years last year, not having been since the island was devastated by Hurricane Iniki.  Things were much changed, as if business used Iniki as an excuse to clear away a lot of the old ways that were no longer working.  But the old familiar favorites were still to be found, as well.

In the past, I used to love to go to Shipwreck Beach.  The only way to get there back then was to drive through a cane field.  The beach wasn’t safe for swimming, due to the strong currents and riptides.  There was a very large rock that I used to lie on and watch the water.

Now there’s a Sheraton and the ocean has been somehow tamed.

But Spouting Horn and the gimcrack gift stands are still there, unchanged.  Waimea Canyon is as breathtaking as ever.  Hanapepe is untouched by the passage of time, as if preserved in amber.  Not usually ones for touristy types of things, we took a cruise, up the Waimea River to the Fern Grotto.  We’d done it before, on one of our earlier visits, when it was still possible to go inside the grotto.  It is no longer.  Recent heavy rains collapsed the hillside and it is now unsafe to do so.  We had to comfort ourselves with standing on a wooden platform about 40 feet in front of the grotto itself.  But it was a nice day for a ride on the river and there was a bonus hula lesson.

Then, there’s the Big Island—the island of Hawaii.  There’s a stretch of road that runs through fields of black lava just south of the turn to Waimea, where there are no street lights and everything is pitch black.  The sky is like velvet.  One of my favorite things to do late at night when there are no other cars around is to turn off the headlights and the interior lights of my car and sail, as if invisible, through the inky blackness.

We have a friend who works at one of the resorts on the Kona coast; she gets us the kama’aina rate there.  She even got me a staff badge with my name on it so that I could go pretty much anywhere I liked within the resort.  My favorite beach on the Big Island is Hapuna Beach.  It’s wide and shallow a long way out, so it has no waves, no rocks and the water is usually warmer than at the other beaches on the island.

Ka Lae.  Ka Lae is the tip of the Big Island and the southernmost point of the US.  The beach is covered by green sand, due to the olivine that was formed by the volcanic eruptions and then eroded into sand by the ceaseless action of the waves.  There’s nothing but open ocean at Ka Lae, no land until you get to Antarctica.  Being there is like being at the End Of The World.  The ocean shows its power and might.  Standing there, on the green sand and watching the majestic waves, I felt so small and insignificant.  I wanted to spend a lifetime there, just watching the ocean.

I think of Oahu as more of a transit point; in the old days, we used to have to change planes in Honolulu to get to the other islands.  Once, coming back after a hurricane, there were no direct flights back to the mainland so we spent some time touring Honolulu waiting for our next flight.

There was one trip when we stayed in Waikiki for some nights.  I settled into a routine—I would have my breakfast in the open-air lobby of the Hilton and then go to the beach, where I would rent a beach chair and an umbrella from the beach boys there.  I would speak pidgin with them, much to the chagrin and utter embarrassment of my teenaged daughter.

I would set up my little encampment on the beach, equidistant from the hotel and the water and read and people watch.  There were pasty-faced, fat-bottomed tourists from the mid-west carrying on loud conversations on their cell phones.  And the subject matter—Aunt Myrna’s hernia, Uncle Henry’s hemorrhoids.  I wanted to scream at them as they marched down the beach, ‘Look around you.  You’re in Paradise.  Talk on the phone later.’  But I didn’t.

There were 20-something white males with large tribal tattoos covering their arms and shoulders.  What tribes do they belong to, I wondered.  Epic beer consumption does not a tribe make.

I don’t much care for Honolulu.  It’s just another big city with horrendous traffic, but really nice weather.  Except for the hurricanes and tropical storms.

This brings me back to Maui.  My first return in some time.  It was comforting to do the things we’ve always done on our frequent visits there.  We even stayed at the place we stayed when we first began visiting.  Although much upgraded and refreshed, it’s still familiar.  There are more conveniences—a market across the street—but things are pretty much the same.

We went to my favorite beach.  Not just my favorite beach on Maui.  My favorite beach in all of Hawaii.  Disappointingly, the foliage has been groomed so that the high-end villas that have been newly-built facing it may have uninterrupted ocean views.  But the basics of the beach are still the same—sand, water, waves, available rocks to weight down the blankets.  And limited parking to control crowding.  My favorite time of day is the late afternoon, when most of the crowds have gone, the heat has dissipated and the sun sparkles on the water like diamonds.

We like being on Maui for July 4th.  Lahaina is like every other small town on that day.  The main street is closed to traffic, there’s a fair in the park, rides for the kids and public fireworks from a barge in the harbor.  We ditched the car and took a bus.  Parking was near impossible that night.

We ate in the familiar spots, drank the usual drinks, marveled at the sunsets, the near-daily rain showers and the rainbows.  I caught up with my former dive buddy.  He’s a lot grayer, but still teaching tourists the fundamentals of scuba.

Time basically stops for me when I’m in the Islands.  I gaze out at the endless Pacific and the limitless sky and think about nothing.  Except this…

When I am old, I shall live by the sea.

Posted by: Catadromy | April 15, 2013

All You Need Is Love

Music has always had a powerful effect on my life and I was especially reminded of this the other day as I attended what was billed as a ‘musical journey…from the ‘60s to the present’.  Maybe because I came of age in the ‘60s, but it seems to me that was the most interesting time in which to be alive.  There was a sea change in America then and the music of the time underscored it.  The music  then was transformative and actually contributed to the political movement for social change.

The two major events of the ‘60s—the push for civil rights and the anti-war protests—shaped the political landscape for generations.  But what stood out for me was the push against the war in Viet Nam.  The Civil Rights movement was a few years too early (LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964) and I was in the Northeastern part of the US.  Viet Nam, on the other hand…

Viet Nam was being fought on the 6 o’clock news every night.  My friends were subject to the draft as soon as their student deferments ended.  As a History major, the internal departmental politics were intense.  The Departmental Chair was a CO during WWII; one of the professors in Western Civilization denounced another to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee; one of my Poli Sci professors was with the CIA and involved in the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. There were teach-ins and demonstrations on campuses all over the country.  And there was the music.  The music of protest and rebellion.

The Airplane, The Band, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Peter Paul & Mary, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Grateful Dead and, of course, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

The music is so evocative.  I hear an old track from then and instantly, I’m transported back in time.  I smell incense, see people wearing tie-dye and see billows of tear gas.  The hippies, the Yippies, the politics of change and rebellion.

Graham Nash…”We can change the world, rearrange the world.

Won’t you please come to Chicago? Or else join the other side.”

Buffalo Springfield…”There’s something happening here.

What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there. Telling me I got to beware.
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down.
There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.

Young people speaking their minds. Getting so much resistance from behind.”

I have seen so much change in my life.  There’s an old curse that says, May you live in interesting times.  I have.  I was born for these times.

Posted by: Catadromy | October 29, 2011

But Wait, There’s More

So, I’m watching the CBS Evening News on a Saturday, no less.  (The story of my sad social life will have to wait for another time.)  These days, the network evening news on the weekends is all about infomercials.  Generally, I find infomercials to be a source of some amusement.  They’re formulaic, pitching some product or other of no or very little practical use for a reasonable price and then the pitch is broadened to include a doubling of the very self-same offer without an additional charge—except for a twofold increase in shipping and handling.  Of course.  And then they’ll throw in something else extra just to sweeten the deal.  A recipe book, a specialized slicing knife, a decorating kit.  So if I want to make a giant cupcake or perfect brownies (without having to get them out of the pan with a wood chisel—which NEVER happens to me or anyone I know) or a fat-free meatloaf or hang up an entire wardrobe of clothing—including purses!—in a teeny little closet, I know I’ll find just the thing I need on some infomercial running somewhere.

But it was the infomercial I saw today that’s moved me to write.  It was for something called the Pajama Jean.  What fresh hell is this?  Apparently, Pajama Jeans are sweatpants done up to look like actual jeans.  They have contrast-stitched rear pockets, contrast stitching on the side seams and where the front fly would be, ‘brass’ rivets and they’re blue on one side and gray on the other, so that you can roll them up to make cuffs, just like real jeans.  And they’re so comfortable, that you could sleep in them, just like pajamas.

OMG!  These are not jeans, Dear Readers!  They’re sweatpants.  As my mother used to tell me, when you wear sweatpants out of the house, it’s a mark that you’ve given up on life.

The infomercial showed a model wearing her Pajama Jeans traveling, shopping, exercising and more.  (More what, I shudder to think.)  The model, well, she looks like a model.  Maybe a size 2.  However, you have to know that the women who will buy these things aren’t size 2.  More like a size 22.  And the shopping they do will be at Wal-Mart.  Sizes for the Pajama Jean range from XS to 3XL.  Do you have any idea how big a 3XL is?  According to their own size chart, a 3XL translates to a size 26-28.  That’s not a traditional jean waist size, that’s a clothing size and that’s B-I-G.

The people who would wear these things outside of the home exist in a universe that is unknown to me.  I’m not the world’s most careful dresser, I’ll admit.  I sit around the house in my Yankee pants, a logo T and a pair of Uggs.  But I would never, ever, NEVER even think of leaving the house dressed that way.  My mother would haunt me to the end of my days if I did.  Besides, I have a minimum of self-respect.  Still.  I do, I really do.

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