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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Security is in the Mind of the Beholder


I have a dear friend who takes security of his household very seriously. Every night, since I have known him, he would make the rounds of his considerably large house to insure the doors were locked and the windows secured. It was a task he took seriously. Once that was accomplished, he set the perimeter security alarm and went to bed confident that he and his family were safe from intruders. About two years ago, my friend had a stroke that caused his life to be turned upside down and inside out in more ways than can be imagined. Yet, with the regularity of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, he persists in this important duty, albeit from a wheelchair. He does it frequently throughout the day as well.  I have come to appreciate his careful routine.
When I first started living alone in my seaside condo, I was particularly conscious of security. I intended to purchase a fire escape ladder that I might hurl off my third floor front porch; the porch is the only form of egress other than the front door. On the other hand, it would be difficult for intruders to invade my space unless they entered through the front door. In terms of security risk, the front door was fit. It consisted of a lock on the doorknob as well as a deadbolt lock. Every night, sometime between 9:30 and 11:30pm, I would rattle the porch handle with its frail doorknob lock. In the winter, the bedroom slider out to the porch was particularly safe because it was encased in plastic to preserve heat; truthfully, I neglected it. Before I vacuum-sealed the slider behind plastic, I should have cut a wood pole to further impede any possible intruder. I will have to do so this winter. Finally, I would turn on the hall light, walk the eighteen feet  or so down the corridor to the front door, check the position of the doorknob lock - which matched that of the porch's. If the doorknob latch bolt was laying down, it was locked. easy to remember.  Lastly, I engaged the deadbolt by using the thumb turn to position the bolt into the strike on the doorframe. Such an action left me feeling safe. And secure.
I would turn off the hall light, make my way back to the living room, turn off the living room light and feel ready to tuck into bed. I thought of my friend making his (much grander) evening rounds almost every single night. It was a way to keep him in my thoughts
As I was moving out of my apartment, I was fortunate to have the help of a man who was well-versed in the mechanics of my apartment. He had taken care of similar ones in the building when working on the property maintenance crew. I enjoyed talking to him when our paths crossed.  I knew he was from Jamaica.  One day, I asked him to explain something to me. We were both loaded to capacity. He had a handcart to haul boxes to storage and I had put my more delicate things in my wheelchair to get them from the apartment to the elevator to his truck. As we were leaving to bring the truckload to storage, I used my keys to lock up. He commented, ever so politely, that I was unlocking the deadbolt. The simple door latch lock was secure, but so far as the dead bolt, with a simple twist of the wrist, I was, apparently, unlocking it.  I said to him, “Are you sure I am not locking it?” 
In his pleasant lilting voice, he said, “Sorry, no Mam, you’re unlocking it.”
I said, "No way!!"

His eyes twinkled and I could see him struggling not to laugh. If his laughter was introduced into that moment, I just might have cried.  Instead, his very white teeth front and center with his beaming Jamaican smile stretching broadly across his face.
 It was one of those moments that will stay with me. 
“Are you telling me that every night, when I, a middle-aged woman who lives alone believed that I was locking myself behind a fortress, protected from all harm for the past year, I was unlocking the door…..in effect, inviting anyone, EVERYONE in?”
He said, “This is the Vineyard. No Problem.”
We both cracked up laughing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Discovering PROVIDENCE part 1

A Capitol View
I had mixed emotions when I chose to relocate to Providence for the summer.  I made the decision because it was prudent. I am beginning to suspect that I am quite often too prudent.  However, in the interest of saving vast amounts of money, I sublet my daughter’s studio apartment when she moved out -- and prepared to make Providence my home for three months.  As it turned out, it will be closer to four.  I have tried to see this as a positive opportunity to meet new people. I have unrestricted access to theatre and can frequent restaurants that are without compare on the Vineyard. Providence has offered me more adventures, insights and lessons than I could have ever have imagined.  I often recite Robert Frost’s line that “The way out is through.”  It may not be a matter of getting through my “sentence.” I am, quite literally, moving through Providence.  I am getting to know the place and having fantastic experiences. Instead of despairing that I am not on my beloved Island, for the time being, I am reaping all the rewards of life in a small, New England city.
An elaborate gargoyle in the financial district.
I first lived in Providence forty years ago.  I attended the Mary C. Wheeler School for Girls.  It was a decidedly formative aspect in building my character.  I have not set foot on the campus (now co-ed and called the Wheeler School) since my return as the prodigal daughter. For reasons I cannot define, I have been reluctant to do so. I am hoping to have a tour with a former classmate in coming weeks.  As I reacquaint myself with the Providence I see today, it is almost as if another city has been overlaid on the one of my memories.  But not quite!! As I was meandering down one street, high above me, I caught sight of a sign with the words “THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL” etched into a block-size building.  I stopped short and took a photo. In some inexplicable way, I felt reassured. It’s kind of like going to college and coming home and finding, phew, my room is still there.  All is not lost!  It is the same building, and same newspaper that I recall. Last week, I walked by one of many indistinct downtown fortresses that seem to just hunker down as bricks and mortar. I was thrilled to discover a plaque affixed to the outside stating of one of these buildings that it was designed by Daniel Chester French. Daniel Chester French!! In case his work his new to you, he is famous, among other things, for designing the Lincoln Memorial.  I felt a particular kinship with Mr. French because I once had quite a fabulous visit at his home and studio, Chesterwood, in Stockbridge,MA.     
 I have heard many rumors about the budget issues here in Providence.  I do not engage in politics here.  I have grown accustomed to the condition of the side roads, the on- ramps to I-95, the many untended municipal gardens and the incessant work that causes bogged traffic and near traffic accident misses.  Providence is, as is the rest of the state, going through some difficult times.  It is evident they are working hard to restore her to her glory.  The Providence skyline was one of the most recognized in early television; it was made famous by Superman.
Look for it...the Superman Building!
In 1941,  when the nation needed a hero, Superman fit the bill. He “was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful that a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. “Superman appeared to leap over what residents call  the Super Man building; 111 Westminster Street. The Super Man Building was constructed in 1872. Despite housing many tenants over the past 140 years, it is virtually vacant today.  Wikipedia boasts that this 26-story building remains the 28th tallest in New England.  The vision of it on Providence’s skyline has been a beacon reflecting the strength and vitality of the city for as long as anyone can remember. Yet today, rumors have it that the electric service was discontinued service because there were no tenants to pay the bills. Local leaders and businesses took umbrage at the notion that the summit of the Superman Building was not being illuminated. The proverbial hat was passed to to raise enough money to pay for the iconic building to have its evening lights switched “ON.”  The Super Man Building may be more façade than substance in Providence these days, but it still projects an image of strength and steadfast hope.
Since I have moved to Providence, every single time I walk out of the lobby of my building, I find myself stepping into some kind of adventure. Without exception, these adventures, have lifted my spirits and imbued me with renewed interest in this city that I had filed in the back recesses of my memories. For instance, a few weeks ago,  I was among the mall-shoppers who were asked to leave the Providence Place Mall due to a possible bomb threat. That was a new one for me! Actually, I was able to witness just how alarmingly poorly the mall personnel and security guards were prepared if that had been a real emergency.  After a 45 minute wait, people had their wallets at the ready and the doors were reopened. Word on the street was that Nordstrom did not allow their employees to evacuate because there had been an alarm the prior week when a vehicle caught on fire in the parking garage. Personally, I was tired from the commotion and walked home. 
The Seekonk River
I have spent hours walking along the canals, poking sticks and skipping stones on the Seekonk River.  I am mystified how a city this small can have so many unheralded treasures and small troves of pleasure.  Often, I am not looking for them. Just a couple of weeks ago, I hoped to buy a used book from the Providence Library that is next door to my apartment complex.  Instead, I inadvertently wandered into the Rhode Island Independent Expo in Publishing.  When I stepped inside of the vestibule and out of the drizzling rain, I was oddly disoriented.  Four polite young men were seated at a long table on folding chairs, handing out brochures and accepting donations. I was utterly confused why there was a marble lobby  -- from which I could glimpse a large marble room -- filled with people sporting colorfully decorated hair in red, purple, orange, gold and black. Their hair, in fact, seemed to serve as an accessory to their tattoos and expressive clothing.  More than 75 artisans of comics and cartoons and manga hawked their wares. . (Trust me, I had to go to www.mangapanda.com to unearth the meaning and market of manga.
I missed the signage upon entering the Providence Public Library.

Manga is the Japanese comics with a unique story line and style. In Japan, people of all ages read manga; manga does not target younger audiences like american comics”

Apparently I looked sufficiently out of place in my black raincoat, black slacks and red rain boots that I might have needed help.  Eventually, I found an elevator to the first floor.  Somehow, I found myself wending through the stacks. A sense of déjà vu stopped me in my tracks because I had been equally as lost in the Providence Library stacks when I was seventeen.  I was ready to abandon my idea of buying some used books. (My own stack of books continue to suffer the sad effects of being dropped too frequently in bath water as my nighttime muscle spasms subside only when I am immersed in nearly scalding water.  At last, sleep tickles me, my hand drops and dip, there goes another book. That is a topic for another posting.) Back to the Providence Library....
When I located a wide, winding staircase, I descended feeling a bit like Charlotte in Gone with the Wind.  I headed toward a sign for Reference. I thought I saw motion. As in a person?  “Excuse me,” I called out as I kept an eye on the slippery marble floor; it is difficult   to appear graceful though clinging to the hand rail. My cane slid every time I planted it on the marble floor. I was awestruck by what seemed to be a set of helix stairs, but I didn’t dare look up to take it all in.  Falling would not be cool.  I saw a bookish woman, but I didn’t want to frighten her where she stood at the Reference desk.  “Excuse me?” I repeated.
 A bookish woman, my age, jumped slightly. I could see doing that myself.
“I seem to be lost?”
With a perfectly balanced tone of irritation and distrust, she asked, “Where did you come from?” 
That particular question always throws me for a loop.  I was sputtering something about the apartments next door, Martha’s Vineyard, Broad Street, an elevator and my parents’ love for each other.
“I don’t know if you realize it, but we are closed.”  I apologized profusely for disturbing her.  I explained I was simply in search of used books for sale.
Before she could further castigate me for my marked ignorance, we heard the voice of a man as he came from somewhere behind me.
“It’s all right, I will see her out. ”  Feeling a little like I was taking the walk of shame, I followed him to an elevator that took me straight back up to the manga artists.  As I was leaving, the newest crop of volunteers that were installed at the welcome desk wished me a good day and said they hoped I had enjoyed myself.
An unexpected parade with Celtic band.
             Barely having recovered from that diversion, I stepped outside into a parade of about 800 people. The men wore charcoal slacks, white shirts and blue blazers with a tie of their own choice.  Most women were dressed in beautiful salwar kameez; the likes of which I have never seen except in a museum or in a Bollywood movie. An important spiritual leader for the group was being welcomed and his followers were having a parade in his honor.  It took me thirty minutes to figure it out. Sort of.
The flag reads, “Harmony in Oneness.”
I thought it was something of a musical malaprop that a small Celtic bagpipe band led the Eastern practitioners’ parade down the street. (check out a really fun version, thought totally different, on YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eVc2s0_68c ) The people were so kind and harmonious toward me and each other, it felt a little otherworldly.  At one point, I noticed there seemed to be a lot of balloons. Suddenly, the sky was thick with them.  Political correctness, pigeons and jet engines be damned, these balloon were going to take flight. Hundreds of balloons were released. It was only when I was at some distance from the entire parade that I could discern that the balloons were fashioned as doves of peace, rising en masse, over the city of Providence.  Up, up, and over the tallest buildings…..bearing the promise of harmony.

It’s true; hope floats.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Downsizing 101: Skills Inventory

Downsizing 101: A Self-Inventory of Skills
A new job?
           Over the past ten years or so, I have had numerous friends who have been caught in corporate downsizing, reconfiguration and possibly, wrongful termination.  They have all been over the age of 50.  For the most part, their former employers made available to them outplacement services that included an office to go to each morning, secretarial help for all those letters and resumes, and important messages swamping their voice mailboxes.  For six months or one year, their jobs are to find a new employer. Then their clients had better have found a job, started a business or opened a little B & B somewhere in the Caribbean.  The golden parachute was neatly folded up and put away.  Part of the work the placement firm does on behalf of the severed employee is an extensive skills inventory. Counseling is available as well.
          Well, I started thinking about it. In May, 2013, my youngest child graduated from high school and headed for places rich in possibility and promise. In May, 2014, my youngest daughter graduated from college; in less than three weeks, she had a desk on Madison Ave. working in her chosen profession.  In June, 2014, my oldest daughter relocated to Philadelphia to begin work on her doctorate in Psychology. The fact is my job has been down-sized. My career for twenty-four years has been to raise three children who are independent, self-reliant and invested in pursuing dreams consistent with their unique skills.  I believe that has been accomplished. My children let me know how much they appreciate what I have done for them.  They tell me weekly, in fact.  However, they all agree that it’s time for me to work strictly as a consultant in that capacity – at least, for the time being.  Each of them has inventoried my various skills and encouraged me to work on my resume because it holds such promise.  In their own ways, they urged me to overlook the obvious limitations.
          The downside: I am not the most energetic, mobile or predictable worker.  I do not travel without some careful planning.  Doctor’s appointments take precedence over most other meetings.  Sitting and pain are synonymous. Moving and pain are synonymous. I am extremely impaired when it comes to making multiple copies on a copier.  (I actually have a certain Fed. Ex. employee that would be willing to attest to this!) Okay, so much for full disclosure.
On the upside:
I make really good chocolate chip cookies.
I am organized and diligent about completing a task.
I have reawakened my dormant “Relocation Goddess.”  I moved 11 times in 13 years when I was growing up.  Since October, I will have moved four times in one year. A not-too-minor subset of that skill is resiliency.
I am au courant on media drivel.  In particular, I am a skilled surfer on most of what NetFlix offers. I am not parochial about television. How can I be a snob and still love “Orange is the New Black?”
I am loyal to a fault.
I seem to maintain a sense of humor in the face of unlikely odds.
I am exceptionally good at removing stains of all sorts. Including, gum, grease and blood.
I care deeply about people and their lives. They matter. Every single one.
I see magic in everyday moments.
I am creative across many mediums. Who would have thunk? Sing-along anyone?
I can write in a way that represents my thoughts fairly well.
I can frame a photo and have the patience to wait to shoot it.
I am good at managing a reality that includes persistent physical pain.
I am a dedicated student.  Of life and of love.
I have learned to use the computer to my best interest. Doing so has given me new freedom. 
I have become something of a techno-geek.

            When I leaned back and looked at my self-inventory, it struck me.  Apparently, entering this next phase of life, unbridled to my children’s daily needs has not led to my downsizing.  Rather, it has provided me with a magnificent opportunity to spread my wings. It is as if I am standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. It stretches out before me in all of its glory. I am coiled, at the exact moment before taking the leap. I am poised, filled with intention, certain of the knowledge that I have all that I need to do to step off and begin my flight.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Snow day in August

Hyacinth Blue of Kate’s dress
Some days rewrite themselves.  That doesn’t happen often in my life.  Pretty much, I have my calendar, I make appointments, show up for my appointments, then move through a punch list of what I need to accomplish to feel like I am contributing to the world in some, perhaps barely measurable, way. 
Today was a rewrite.  My friend, Kate, texted me at 7:06 a.m..  She was going to be off-Island, would I consider seeing her today? She could come to Providence. I felt like I did when I was a kid and heard the radio announcer list the names of the schools that were going to be closed for a snow day…..how I whooped and hollered when I heard my school’s name listed among the school closures. Kate used modern technology to deliver a snow day….in August. 
I scurried around my 550 square foot apartment. I was not picking up. It pretty much stays “picked up.”  I powered through a list of correspondence that needed to be written, bills to be paid and birthday cards to get out on a timely basis.  I had 22 things to do on my TO DO list.  I went back to the sage advice of a checkout girl who bagged my groceries at Stop and Shop once.  Years ago, she told me that you can make any kind of list you want, but you should feel like it was a good day if you finished three things on that list.  This gem of wisdom was something she said she learned in a school that helps developmentally challenged people learn and take on jobs. I told her I would always remember her.  Six years later…her advice stays with me.  My To Do list of 22 was quickly whittled down to 19 with a few phone calls (to reschedule my trip back to the Island), a sharp knife (I made a massive bowl of fruit salad) and twenty-two minutes (I am making a conscious effort to meditate for a minimum of twenty minutes every day and keeping a log to see how Zenned out I really become with devoted regularity to the process).
          When my cell phone rang, and Kate announced she was downstairs, I bolted out the door after throwing my keys around my neck.  Those keys seem to have the capacity to disappear if I do not wear them.  Kate was in the lobby and she looked beautiful. She was wearing a flowing, hydrangea-blue sundress and a necklace to match. Her long. blond hair reminded me of corn silk that is so abundant at this time of the year.  When I think of the word “happy,” Kate comes to mind. She is, without an iota of doubt, the most optimistic, upbeat, “The -Sun -Will -Come- Out-Tomorrow” person I have ever known. And yet – as hard as this might be to believe  -  she is not the least bit annoying or obnoxious with her positivity.  The way she wears her attitude is integral to who she is. It is not forced, feigned, or ever inappropriate.  Well,  maybe once, but really, with a record like that, how could I not treasure her as a friend?  She is able to see things inside out, upside down, from a wholly new perspective. Kate’s ability to do that enriches the way I go about thinking about my own life and the challenges I sometimes face.
Kate is mad about her grown sons – and has every reason to be so. The boys each, in his own way, have followed paths into adulthood  that are consistent with their passions.  Kate and her husband Joe, succeed in raising some pretty special young men.  On the rare occasions that the entire family is together, Kate surrenders to the joy of having the three men she loves most home and within her immediate reach.  Even the thought of their impending departure can make her miss them.
          Kate and I decided to spend our time together by having a light lunch that is lounge –friendly.  I have started to identify restaurants that have sofas, booths or some kind of seating that I can bear for half and hour or so.  We wanted to forego the wheelchair thing because it makes it so much more of an event.  We walked over the Providence Place Mall, chatting incessantly the entire way. We would start a sentence, jump to another, circle back around to finish the first, then bolt for an entirely new topic.  P.F. Chang’s did not disappoint.  When we entered the Providence Place Mall, I had my list, she had hers.
          My list had eleven items on it. Hers had one.  I received a new magazine (free) in the mail. It touted numerous beauty products that I felt certain could only help.  Mascara, for instance. I do not own any.  A small makeup brush. A gift I saw for a friend last week and I wanted to circle around for it again this week.  Kate had a single replacement needed in her loungewear drawer.  I had a coupon for a free pair of knickers from Victoria’s Secrets.  The line at Victoria’s Secrets at 1pm on a Tuesday was LITERALLY almost out the door. No sale. Two sales clerks ringing up. What is it America? Are we desperate for lingerie? (I did become enamored with some of the softest sweat pants. Soft Clothes – that topic is reserved for another posting) To my disappointment, Nordstrom’s did not have the products I sought. Sephora used to, but discontinued the sale of all of the vendors on my list.  I did get to sample Versace’s Bright Crystal, which Versace describes as “ A sweet floral scent with fruity, musky accents. With scents of pomegranate, yuzu, frosted accord, peony, magnolia, lotus, plant amber, musk, and mahogany.”    A tester of Michael Kor’s Very Hollywood has been kicking around in my travel bag for six months. Now that it is gone, I am missing what Michael Kors identifies as its “ blend of creamy amber, wet jasmine, soft white moss, iced bergamot, gardenia, orris, raspberry, vetiver, mandarin, ylang-ylang.”  I came home and ordered it on Amazon.
My energy was lagging. It cannot be possible to explain how fast and unconstrained our conversation was. As we wove through the mall, our conversation wove through our lives.  Advice, observations, thoughtful suggestions and lots and lots of golden linings were exchanged at record pace.  Frankly, I was plain tuckered out.
The last item on my list was a Ralph Lauren skirt I had eyed for a friend last week, hoping for a sale. No sale.
I found a Medium among the four remaining skirts and took it up to the register. I was concerned because it seemed like an excessively large medium.  A pleasant customer checking out before me attested that she wears medium and the skirt would be too large for her.  Kate went back to look for a small.  She returned with a pin. I said, “What’s that from?”
She said, “There’s a size small on the mannequin. The rest are all medium.”      
I was two minutes away from it being my turn to check out and escape malldom. I was not going to wait in another line this afternoon. I was weary and wanted to go home.  I took the medium skirt and left Kate at the counter.  I thought Kate was trailing behind me as I marched over to the perky-breasted brunette mannequin. In twenty seconds flat, I had disrobed the mannequin. The skirt, full length, was in a puddle on the floor.  What I had not accounted for was her extreme WEIGHT.  For a Barbie-thin figure, she sure had some heft to her.  I couldn’t lift the mannequin and pull the skirt out from under the stand simultaneously.  When I realized my predicament, I laughed so hard that my head was swiveling left and right looking for a restroom.  I just didn’t want to drop Ralph Lauren’s gal. The entire incident was of Seinfeld comedic proportions.  “Kate, Kate,” I called.  Several woman stared at me, laughing nearly hysterically, skirt on the ground, woman on my shoulder.  Kate heard my summons, raced over and helped me swap out the small for a medium.  I returned the mannequin to her position guarding the Ralph Lauren collection. I concede, she might have had just a little bit too much mid-drift showing because Kate lost the pin that was holding up the skirt when the outfit had first been staged. Such are the risks of department store fashion. Presently, I am icing my shoulder because it is protesting the firemen’s carry I employed to obtain the size small for my friend.  I really hope she likes it.
     Kate and I took a cab home (my treat). She was game to walk another mile but that adventure and the raucous laughter we enjoyed were both tiring and satisfying for me. I longed to be back in my little den. Kate realized she had to hit the road in order to catch boat back to the Island.

      Kate is among the wonderful blessings that populate my life. She accepts that I am exactly who I am, how I am. She is not ruffled that I regularly drop books into the bathtub, that I love to bake goods even if I am the only one to eat them, that some days are harder than others for me.  She pushes me to think outside of the box, implores with me to consider the idea of trolling on EHarmony, suggests that I attend moreconcerts, take in new installations at RISD, listen to free community lectures at Brown.  Her point to me is to soak up as much of Providence as I can. She knows exactly how long winters can be on Martha’s Vineyard.  And honestly, best of all, she knows I would welcome her 7am phone call suggesting we play hooky on a mid-summer day anytime.

The day granted us time together; an unexpected bonus was  finding ourselves in a Lucy and Ethel skit that surpassed our best expectations for how a snow day in August might be spent.