Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Raise that Glass!

Listen to Judith Viorst, author of 37 books and an expert on life, loss and love:

“There is a vast difference between youth and age,” says Viorst, 79. “When we are young, we think there are yes/no, black/white, on/off answers to the big questions of life. One way to understand the complexities of life is to understand that for many questions, the answer is all of the above.

“In other words, life is not about seeing the glass half empty or half full. The point is that you have a glass.”

Viorst told me that when I interviewed her last month for the St. Louis Jewish Light prior to her appearance at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival. I had interviewed her before and would do it again in a heartbeat – she is charming, elegant and smart.

Today is a good day to remember that I do indeed have a glass.

Today is the day after I learned that my company has decided not to keep the promise they made when I retired in 2005 -- come January, they will charge me $580 a month for my health insurance.  

Today is a week after I learned that a friend has inflammatory breast cancer.

Today is a month after I learned that another friend is likely facing heart surgery.

Yes, today is the day to remember that the glass is not half empty or half full. The point, as Viorst says, is that we have a glass.

When I got the news yesterday afternoon about losing the free health insurance – a sword dangling over my head since I left the Post-Dispatch five years ago – I felt as though I had been body slammed by a frozen turkey. Minutes later, G and Amanda (my second son and his wonderful wife) pulled up, visiting from Pennsylvania, and in the back seat was Griffin, their smiling, curly haired 2-year-old.

Seated in my apartment, I said to Griffin, “ You are adorable.” He looked at me for a while and said, “YOU’RE adorable!” And I was. Am. For the rest of the afternoon, Griffin pronounced almost everything adorable – the fire truck I gave him, the server at the pizza place, the sales clerk at the Sports Basement and the slippers Griffin’s parents bought him.

How adorable is that?

Back at home yesterday, after I had waved “bye” to the adorable family, I was on line grousing with other Post-Dispatch retirees about our Thanksgiving “bonus.” Jan, who as a management retiree got cut off two years ago, put everything in perspective: “When faced with a ‘surprise’ such as the loss of paid premiums, I just ask myself if I'm sorry I left in 2005. The answer is always that it would have been nice if I'd left five years earlier.”

On Monday, Shannon Duffy and the Newspaper Guild will spring into action to start the process to try to force Lee Enterprises to give back what they never should have taken. Meanwhile, my insurance agent is looking for options to compare with what Lee is asking me to pay to maintain my insurance through them.

I went to bed mad, mentally clutching tightly to the money I have – about $46 in my wallet and more in savings and investments. I woke up in Fairy Godmother mode. I dressed and kidnapped someone who couldn’t justify spending money on herself to buy something she needed. I drove her to Macy’s and bought the modestly priced item for her.

“This is not about you,” I said when she thanked me. “This is about me. I have learned that clutching money gives way to fear, fear ushers in hysterics and hysterics divert me from bringing in more money. Buying something for you reminds me to have faith in the future.”

We stopped for coffee and guess what? We each had a glass -- and were grateful.

Monday, November 15, 2010

We All Have Tales to Tell

Armistead Maupin lives in Cole Valley, and Danny Glover has a house there. Janis Joplin used to hang out in the Irish pub and what is now a crepe house was once a comedy club where Robin Williams and Dana Carvey performed. Charles Manson and Jim Jones used to live nearby.

I learned all this and more from two men I met at the bus stop, waiting for the 37 to take me back up the hill to my apartment. The Cole Valley business district is two blocks west and six blocks north of my place. Typically, I walk there – it’s all down hill – and take the 37 back up.

Today was a big public transit day for me. Started out heading east on the 37 to see my internist, a follow-up on my recent bout of bronchitis and to find out the results of my annual blood work, which took place a week ago. Great news – every number was completely normal, and all the numbers have dropped in the last year. Thank you Cheerios, Oat Squares and homemade smoothies made with plain yogurt, a banana and frozen fruit!

That good news was so thrilling that I walked six blocks down a big hill, jumped on the M train and went to Stonestown Galleria, a suburban-style mall in the city. At Borders, I did a bit of homework, in preparation for a book I am about to ghostwrite. Had a peppermint mocha latte (decaf with skim milk and no whipped cream, of course). And I decided not to buy Maupin’s new book, “Mary Ann in Autumn,” the latest of his famous tales of the city.

I downloaded in on my Kindle when I got home -- and am zipping through it!

Walking around Borders, looking at the many tables and shelves filled with books, I wondered how they make a go of it anymore when even a book lover like me refuses to buy books. To get home, I took the inbound M train to Van Ness and then had to catch an outbound N train to get to Cole Valley. This sounds confusing, but it wasn’t, and on the ride in I met a lovely young nursing student who was reading a biography of Ida B. Wells, the pioneering journalist, early civil rights activist and feminist. When I saw the book in the young woman’s hand, I wanted to ask if she was studying to be a journalist, but decided to stay silent.

I talk to strangers all the time – and learn marvelous things about my new city – but for some reason, I stayed quiet. “Excuse me,” she said seconds later. “May I ask you something personal?” I said sure, and we had a lively discussion about eyebrows. We both have palest of pale eyebrows and we both draw them on in the morning. She liked how mine looked better than she liked her own, and wondered what product I use. We started there and ended up talking about journalism and then her desire to be a nurse.

In Cole Valley, I poked my head in the open window of the hair salon I go to and said, “I’ll have a cheeseburger with double pickles and a Diet Coke.” That got a laugh from my startled stylist and her client. Apparently no one has ever done that before! Then I popped into the magnificent Cole Valley Hardware and bought three more Christmas presents. Saturday, they had a huge sale -- 20 percent off everything – and I should have made these purchases then, but better late than miss the opportunity altogether. 

Then I headed for the bus stop, where I joined a lively discussion with two men and a woman sitting on the bench. The woman left soon after to board a bus headed in another direction. When the men learned I was new in town, they began to regale me with tales of the neighborhood. What a lovely way to start a new week!

Last week rocked – first, I heard Placido Domingo sing the lead in “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the San Francisco Opera and then spent four days with Gerry and Tom, in town to visit Patricia and Joel. Tom’s brother Mark and his wife, Cheryl, were here too.

One day, Susan (Patricia’s mom and my friend) played hooky from work and met Gerry and me at the de Young Museum, where we saw the second of two exhibits of treasures from the Musee d”Orsay in Paris, which is closed for renovation. Loved staring at these masterpieces, especially Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” One evening, with Martia and Michael (Patricia’s brother and his wife) and the girls along for the fun, we revisited the scene of the rehearsal dinner held last June the night before The Wedding at the excellent Pauline’s Pizza. On Saturday, we drove to the glorious wooden deck overlooking the sea at Fort Funston, which I first wrote about here on January 1. (Read it now if you missed it then.)  

Tomorrow I get my hair cut, Wednesday I have a massage, Thursday my dentist (who is expecting her first child – two of them!) finishes putting in the new crown and Friday I will have coffee with an old friend from St. Louis who moved here years ago. Saturday, I may go to an art show in Crockett, a town about 30-45 minutes away. A man who calls himself The Peace Guy – I met him at an open-air market across from the Ferry Building when Gail was here – lives in Crockett, and I still think I may need to buy one of his sweatshirts.

Those are my tales from the city this week, with a nod of humility to Mr. Maupin!    

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gone to the Dentist -- and the Dogs

“Everyone my age is being diagnosed with a hernia,” said a 92-year-old friend of mine.

I was ready.

“Everyone my age is being told they need crowns on their teeth,” I replied.

I spent two hours at the dentist this morning, getting one tooth roughed up and ready for a crown. Fine. Worse things have been done to me. Besides, this dentist’s chair delivers a light back massage during treatment, so if you can forget that two people have dozens of instruments in your mouth, you can feel your upper back and shoulders relax.

More good news: Halloween photos of my Earl, favorite dog – he works at the insurance agency on the corner by my apartment – are now available, showing Earl in both his costumes. In one, he is sporting a skeleton outfit. In the other, Earl wears a Hawaiian shirt with a small lei around his neck.  These costumes suited him well, and besides, he did not want to wear the hat with a big spider sewn on it. He made that clear the day he modeled it for me.

In a Facebook post about Earl some weeks ago, I misstated his lineage. (He has forgiven me.) Earl is a perfect blend of German short hair and Plott hound, which is also known as the “ninja warrior of dogdom.” No, really.

That said, I’m not sure Earl is up for the secretive nature of the ninja. He spends a lot of time smiling and looking out the top half of the door to the insurance agency. He greets people and other dogs as well. When he sees me, Earl wiggles and tries to lick my glasses and extends his paw.

Okay, I have bought his love – with Milkbones. But he seems to enjoy seeing me even when I don’t have treats in my pocket. One day, as I stood waiting across the street for a bus, Earl stretched way up, craning his neck to keep me in sight until I waved and got on the bus. That’s a real friend.

After the Novocain wore off from the dentist, I treated myself to a latte at Starbucks (the coffee shop is located inside my grocery – no way to avoid it!) and a package of dark chocolate-covered graham crackers. “I want these,” I said to the barista. “After all, I’ve been to the dentist.” She agreed a reward was in order. Great graham crackers!

When I got home, I clarified a few points in one newspaper story I turned in yesterday and got organized to submit an invoice for an article that will run in Sunday’s Post-Dispatch. (Look for a travel story about shopping in the Upper and Lower Haight neighborhoods!) I ate my graham crackers. I poured myself a Hansen’s Tangerine/Lime diet soda and punctuated the citrus taste with a slice of lime fresh from a friend’s tree. (Thanks, Sue!)

Now I’m going to lie around in my outstanding shirt that honors Tim Lincecum. (Yes, Cardinal Nation, I have committed post-season treason -- and boy was it fun! What’s not to love about these lively misfits?) And I’m going to read as I wait for another outstanding sunset. Love the photo I took last night looking out my window at the Marin headlands and the open sea! (See below.) If I could paint it, I would.

Life is good.