#62 I Can Always Make More Money

That’s what I wrote and believed at the end of #59 The New Venture Part II.

Licking my wounds and lying low after having to shut down a business and divorce my partners, took all my time. My vocation was sleeping late, watching late movies, eating macaroni and cheese and doing anything but solving what was next. Then I met the Russians traveling in America. #12 Russian Adventure.

I didn’t have much savings left but as the title of this essay screams, no big deal. I was healthy, with plenty of time to do something about that. Not only did I believe that “I could always make more money,” I also had a mantra when I left New York. “I can always work at Wendy’s.” Really, that’s what I’d say to myself. I could work hard. I always had. I always would.

Traveling to Russia took a chunk out of a year getting a visa. My Russian friends had me busy here. I wasn’t trying to go back to New York to work. Not yet.

When I returned from Russia a friend in Pennsylvania suggested that I stay with her and her daughter until I made a decision. I don’t think we were clear about how long. What a shock. Me with no plan. My furniture was in storage except for personal items. I was just beginning to work with some people in Ohio theatre. I was also writing a first clumsy screenplay about my Russian adventures. Though I had no income I was healthy and knew I could generate income again.

On a Monday I was a skier, tennis player and I jogged or walked 5 miles every morning.

On Tuesday, I woke up and couldn’t walk across the room. I couldn’t stand in the shower. I couldn’t raise my arm to comb my hair.

I went to a friend’s doctor who did interminable tests. This wasn’t a simple flu. He didn’t have an answer or if he did, he wasn’t sharing. He did more tests. He tried B12 shots. He tried a variety of drugs. My energy was about 10%. On a good day it was about 30. There was nothing I could do but continue to share a house, fortunately with good friends. Some days I’d have energy but it was never dependable or predictable. And the only time people saw me was on a good day.

If you ever consider taking in a houseguest for a while, remember this story.

More tests. It wasn’t Lime Disease. I didn’t have MS, although it seemed like it.  It wasn’t Lupus. Finally the doctor thought it was something he’d been reading about with many names, mostly Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. What? That’s just humorless.

It took time to adjust and here’s why. There was no cure. If he had said almost anything else, there might have been something to try. It was 1987 and 1988 and most physicians didn’t even believe that “it” existed; impossible to understand and out of the question to explain to friends.

I found a doctor who specialized in this mysterious disease. But all he ever did was talk about how wonderful he was and how many books he’d written. I found another doctor who preyed on people with this illness. He kicked me out of his office because I hadn’t gotten better. He was kicked out of medicine: something about drugs.

I grasped at any possibility. I was in a six month study at NIH. Unfortunately it was inconclusive.

I joined a support group. That seemed like an okay idea at first, but I didn’t want to sit around talking about it. I was by then dating the man I didn’t name in #56 It Takes Two. He went with me to one of the meetings for spouses, and dominated the conversation trying to find out if HE had the disease.

What was that mantra? “I can always work at Wendy’s.” I sent my furniture for auction, sold jewelry and furs to live.

This was a debilitating condition and still there were no answers. It didn’t kill people, at least not directly but they defined it as an immune dysfunction. I was in a second study at NIH. They thought they were on to something, an overactive immune system. Great! That sounds fixable. But it was not.

So get this. I decided to contact my mother. Not for help. That was NEVER an option. The last time I had seen her she had her husband whack me with his cane. I never knew what caused her cruelty and had little tolerance for her. But I had been carrying an emotional bowling ball around all my life. So I composed a letter to Alice. Here we go. A friend, who was both a college chaplain and a psychotherapist, checked the letter so that it was in no way negative or threatening.

I hoped that if I could get answers about choices she made with me, it would go a long way toward my beating the mystery disease. Yes, I was going to beat what no doctor could.

Basically my letter asked for the reason she had left me in a hospital alone for two weeks. That was it. I just wanted and had always wanted to know why. In 30 years, I never asked.

I could not know what monster it would awaken in her. I wasn’t asking her why she hated me. I just wanted to know about the one decision.

To go back, #4 Straddling the Bumper, I needed surgery. She had made up a fantastic story of my having had an injury as a little girl. But her lie isn’t important here. I only wanted to know why she didn’t even stay with me until I had the surgery. Back then she told me that her best friend, who was about to have a baby, needed her.

The typed venom that the mailman delivered, said that I was so “hateful” I deserved to be sick. And as to the question of why she left me in the hospital, she wrote, “I was a young mother, with a family to take care of.” She added, “And wasn’t it wonderful of me to bring you a birthday cake and on the hottest day of the year?”

I was trying to beat an illness that was destroying my life. That reply just wouldn’t do. So I found a man in Seattle who kept track of weather back to 1957. The average temperature that summer was 68 degrees, not hot. She was 40, not young. My father was away. My brother was 12 and could have stayed with friends. So I put that to her in another letter, something so stupendously stupid that someone should have taken my paper and any writing instruments from me right then.

I’ve saved her letter, and I’m including a brief passage because frankly you’d want to slit your wrist if you read the whole thing. Keep in mind that she learned that her only daughter had a debilitating illness. But, she replied that she “risked her life having a second child” (me). This wasn’t news. She told me that all my life. She often paraded around showing us the Cesarean scar.

She wrote, “I can only reiterate what I said in my last letter, you must cleanse yourself of all the unjustified hate within you – and only you can do that – you will never be a healthy, happy person unless you do. I feel this will go a long way in healing whatever problem you have. “

And she typed, “Love, Mom.”

It was the last I ever had to do with her. That is until 17 years later when my nephew wanted a family dinner. Do you think she asked how I was after 17 years?

Since my mother officially disowned me when my father died, I considered that my remaining a good daughter to her, worthy of my Stupendously Stupid List. That’s piffle.

I’ll tell other stories about her, but only trained people who specialize in specific personality disorders can effectively explain her.

I wondered for decades what her friends thought about her leaving her child in another city for surgery. If I had a nine-year-old daughter in a hospital, I’d sleep on the floor by her bed. But now we’ve guessed that she likely told everyone that I was away at camp. Since the surgery was never mentioned again, she got away with it.

And it turns out; you can’t always just make more money.

 


#61 Car Sense

Like most of us in the 60’s I inherited the family Volkswagen, used by my mother, then my brother. It was a red ’61. On my 21st birthday I was shocked by a brand new ’68 shiny version of the same car. When I say shock I mean shock since my mother had mandated that I would not be given a car or anything else, ever. Along with the shock was, and this is going to sound terrible, disappointment. My car was gone. Gone were the many quarters left in the seats, the trinkets, straws, napkins, keepsakes my friends and I left behind. I’m sure I seemed ungrateful. But I can’t understate the shock part.

I returned to school and work in Seattle in the shiny new VW, lurching as I drove, because that was the year they put the clutch in the gearshift. So every time I tapped to the radio music on the gearshift, the car went into neutral. I couldn’t get used to that. Also out of gear, I managed to roll back into a very low to the ground beautiful Jaguar in the Seattle U district. Fortunately no damage was done.

So here’s the second shock. Home one weekend, the shiny Volkswagen disappeared and a sporty Buick Opel Kadett Rallye unceremoniously appeared in its place. Double triple shock. They took back the VW, which apparently was a problem car, and I honestly don’t know who advised my mother on the replacement but it was great. I never understood because she had never done anything like that before or since. It’s taken decades to realize why she made that one and only gift. Another time for that.

That first weekend speeding the new car back to catch the ferry for Seattle, a deer jumped off the embankment in the dark onto the hood of the car. I really was speeding and it stopped the car. It was the first time in my life I had worn a seatbelt. The front of the car was smashed in, and the deer landed 50 yards behind me. Some people from my hometown were coming the other way and drove me to the ferry so I could get to Seattle. I was told to report at the police station where I had to draw the accident with the other “vehicle.” I drew a stick figure of a deer with antlers. They said the deer was missing minutes after the accident. I don’t know how they fixed that car but they did.

Fresh from the body shop, I was in a right turn lane in downtown Seattle. A tour bus to the left of me in the straight lane, decided to turn right illegally. I honked my horn and crawled to the passenger side to keep from being crushed. Passengers on the bus yelled at the driver to get him to stop. New car, back in the shop. The bus was on its way to California. The driver kept calling to bribe me not to report the accident.

About that time I didn’t want to feel doomed, but I was developing what I considered a reasonable fear of white panel trucks. They seemed to be the most common delivery truck. They had no side windows and very little view, and always seemed to cut me off. I’ve not been hit by one yet, but I emphasize yet.

One time dashing in the Opel to make a ferry for Seattle, I had nothing but a fist full of coins to my name. I missed the ferry so had to speed to make a different one twenty minutes away. I tossed the change onto the dash. For months every time I would slide the heating lever, another coin dropped like a slot machine.

The Opel was the car I drove with my little dog Sammie when I moved out to New York. It got me through rush hour traffic, to ski areas and commuted for a while to New Jersey. Once when I was out west on business, I got a call from the manager of the radio station to tell me that my car was totaled. What? I left the keys with a friend at the station to start it for me, so was terrified that she had driven it to her death. No, there had been a freak storm and a solitary tree fell on my car crushing it. The company had it repaired. I don’t know how because it was flattened.

It was the Opel that I gave to my friend Ivan when I moved in with the man in my life then. And it was the Opel Ivan abandoned on the Brooklyn Bridge. And it was the Opel I traded with the mechanic for the repair costs. The car was only about 5 years old, but the deer, the bus and the tree were probably just too much.

After my return from Milwaukee I bought a Chevette to get me to the Connecticut train station in my new town. It was a stoic little car for hauling furniture or plants for the yard. At one point police discovered that a thief sat in my car at the train station during the day to watch other cars to rob. I never locked it so no one would break in.

After about five years, Chevette repairs were out of hand. I went to a car show in Manhattan and was guided by a friend to a Peugeot, a lovely boxy car with a simple understandable dash. I went to the dealership in Stamford and bought one. Got home and realized that I had not driven it. I went right back and fortunately it was perfect.

There was a mason doing some work around my house so I gave him the Chevette in return for some of the work. He disappeared. There’s a moral in there, but don’t make me write it down.

The Peugeot was new when I left New York and Connecticut. Unfortunately the area of Pennsylvania where I moved had no Peugeot dealerships. For a while I actually drove back to Stamford, Connecticut to take care of the car but I found a mechanic who worked on Peugeots. He had been a race car mechanic, and for whatever reason liked French cars, so, his little shop out in the middle of farm country was called “Le Garage.” Really.

Back then I was edgy, trying to start a new business with strangers. I still paced at the pace of a New Yorker. To have my car taken care of, I had to spend half a day in the middle of chicken farms and freshly manured fields while the mechanic Jake and his buddies swapped tall tales. I was irritable in his makeshift garage, but he knew Peugeots. Or he was willing to work on them. I’d sit in his little office by the space heater, which unfortunately I backed into one time wearing a fur coat.

But at some point I became less irritable and Jake and I started talking. He took care of my car and in a way was taking care of me, especially when I drove across country. He’d set air circulation and changed oil for different altitudes, things like that. Probably all hogwash but that’s the way we rolled.

I’d tell him my travel stories and he told me his tall tales. I started carrying a tape recorder because the cracker barrel atmosphere with his buddies was too much to miss. I started writing a play. It was my goal to keep that car so that it would be the one on the stage. I think I named Jake, Ike in the play.

It seemed like it cost an awful lot to keep a fairly new Peugeot running. Parts weren’t easy to come by since they went out of business in America. And Peugeots were unusual enough that other owners would stop me and chat. One time a few years into this maintenance routine a guy told me how much Jake overcharged him so I confronted Jake about what he charged for my new tires. We didn’t have quite the same rapport after that. I’m pretty sure I paid for his daughter’s college tuition. Then he moved to Florida. His notion was that I could put my car on one of those car trains so he would still do the maintenance.

I found a local gas station owner who could get parts from a guy in Vermont, who  got parts from a guy in Canada, who got parts from France. I saw a lot of that mechanic as the car started to rust.

Move a few years ahead. Life was complicated as it was winding down with the unnamed man in my life. (#55 It Takes Two) I was working long hours as a publisher and knew Peugeot was not going to pass its next inspection which was immediate. A friend took me to look at cars that would be similar to the Peugeot experience. In other words, not American. Then someone insisted that I look at the brand he and his wife had been buying for years. I saw one on the lot and that was that.

The guys at the dealership were still laughing when I asked what they were going to give me in trade for the rusting Peugeot. I saw them tow it away, a sad moment. But I drove the new sort of ladylike van home. I knew I’d be rushing for an early meeting in the morning so I left it in the driveway that night.

In the morning with the predicted rush, I stepped into the brand new van/car and it wouldn’t let me put it in reverse. I don’t even think it would start. This was all happening when I was also about to move out of the house, or as I refer to it running away from home in just days. But the car wouldn’t budge. I was sure I had a lemon.

I had the card from the salesman, so with the new work phone, called frantically. This was like a bad day in New York frantic. I don’t remember who I talked to, someone in the service department with a very calm voice. He asked me one question. He said, “Did you put your foot on the brake?” Well, no, in fact I had not. I didn’t know the connection but apparently there were some changes in cars in 17 years. I put my foot on the brake, and the car started up, went into reverse and back I went. Forward too.

I wasn’t prepared for two things. How rusty my Peugeot was and how frail I had felt, especially driving to New York. For the first two months I was sure an airbag would go off at any moment. And second, the power. When a policeman stopped me, I wasn’t trying to get out of a ticket but mentioned that the car was brand new. He gave me a warning.

That was 14 years ago. The elegant Japanese van just cost five times what I budgeted for inspection. Bad news. I had hoped it would last the same 17 years as the Peugeot. Maybe it will now.

But I still get nervous about white panel trucks.

 


#60 Why I Can’t Watch “Madmen”

I can’t watch Madmen because I lived some of it. It isn’t possible to enjoy the story set in the 60’s because I lived it in the 70’s and 80’s.

A story on NPR recently was about the odious mayor of San Diego and his kind-of sort-of eventually admitted decades-long lack of respectful treatment of women, which was going to be corrected in a two-week sensitivity course. His behavior was admitted because he’s being sued, and every day another woman came out to tell a similar humiliating story.

Women have legal grounds to speak up, though there’s still a stigma. I hope one day I’ll live in a culture when women can speak and have it corrected without going to court.

I arrived to New York business in 1971. In Seattle people knew me. Looking back, I was protected as a hard working innocent. Men may have noticed me but never did anything about it. I landed unknown in the east as breasts and blue eyes. Only married and inappropriate men chased and grabbed at me. I had no training or experience about how to handle this, evidenced in #34 Quick Like A Band Aid. But with the EQ of a seven year old, I gave in for affection when it meant only conquest for them.

At one radio station where I worked, I was preparing for vacation. The manager walked into my office and grabbed and squeezed both my breasts and said, “I’m going to miss these.” He turned and left. I don’t have a vocabulary for what I felt.

At WNBC, the studios were surrounded by glass. I was in the announcer’s booth several times a day changing the schedule or ads. When the mic was off we bantered since they were all funny guys for a living. A manager walked in one day, and in front of a tour group he grabbed me, dipped me and planted an unwanted smacker. Was I going to slap him in front of a tour group? I had no instinct for slapping. That kiss and dip is a movie move, and so is a slap. Apparently I had no sense of humor.

There was an era back in the 70’s and early 80’s advertising and broadcasting when managers still kept pretty complete bars in their offices. More than once I was called to an office for a supposed meeting, when a door was locked behind me and out came a bottle of scotch. At another, I was chased around the desk with his secretary sitting outside at her station. I was just short of screaming when he stopped. I don’t think he stopped because he realized the absurdity of his behavior. I was younger and faster. It didn’t happen wherever I worked, but it happened too much.

We not only didn’t go to someone in a corporation to tell them, we didn’t tell other women. I worked harder and excelled, always hoping my work would matter more and the behavior would stop. I was an idiot.

I applied to a country club in Connecticut, early ‘80’s. No single women were allowed. Someone was decent enough to explain my rejection as a long-standing rule instigated by the wives. No single women, rule number 37. Sometimes I wanted to hate other women for that insecurity. But I didn’t kid myself since a man, a very bad man, had left his wife to live with me. I disliked the insecurity in other women and I totally understood it.

When I was moving out of my house in Connecticut, a neighbor came over to say good-bye. She had never been very friendly but her children swam in my pool. She had waited to tell me something all the time I lived there. Because I was a single woman, husbands on our block weren’t allowed to mow their lawns when I was home. What? I struggled to picture women ordering this edict at their husbands. It was too bizarre. She was explaining why people hadn’t been very friendly. But why did she wait to tell me about other people?

Even in the 2000’s whenever a young associate editor was in my office he spoke to my breasts. I so wanted to say, “My eyes are up here.” But mustn’t embarrass him. I would now.

Maybe it’s being reminded of all the drinking and smoking, or the girlfriends on the side, or watching women in the 60’s struggling to find their voices that make it hard to watch. Maybe it was the same thing in banking in the 60’s. If someone does a well-written show on banking in the 60’s I’ll try to watch. But I can’t watch Madmen.

I have at least one friend who watches enough to make up for my absence.

 


#59 New Venture Part II

As established in #24 The New Venture Part I, my ability to drift into a relationship, project, or a city, peaked back in the early ’80’s. It was in my deep hearted desperate attempt to find a life’s work or purpose when I rode a wave into York, PA.. I should have dropped my life savings into a box at the city limits and kept going. But I didn’t do that. It took a few years to lose everything.

As a long time commuter from Connecticut to Manhattan, exhaustion was my primary asset. I didn’t know anything about my community then. I knew only my neighbor, Archie Bunker who terrified me at first but became a friend. I had no official residency in New York to be part of that world. And I knew that if I stayed on that daily high paying train track, I’d never be part of anything.

I was raised in a pretty small town where most people knew most people. It was comfortable and it was intrusive. Most of all it was stunningly beautiful country. I wanted to belong again. So of course I packed up and moved to where I knew only one family and went into business with two young men I didn’t know at all.

In Under the Tuscan Sun a newly divorced terrified woman on a bus tour takes an insane risk and everything works out like a dream. That book didn’t exist yet, but it’s what I was doing. I was taking the same risk I had done in 1971 leaving Seattle for New York. It was a successful adventure. This move would force me to learn something new and of course it would succeed.

I invested in two very young men who wanted to restore historic buildings in a downtown area. Tax laws at the time made that a pretty good investment. My Tuscan Sun heart followed that investment. I sold my Connecticut house, and bought a stunning historic townhouse in my new town.

I was eager to meet people in many professions besides advertising and broadcasting: new city, no friends, no doctor, lawyer, dentist. I didn’t know where the grocery store was.  But it would be fine.

I put up the money. My partners were to be the brawn and construction expertise. There was an empty building that they wanted to convert into condos. So I pledged the bonds that provided my only income as the down payment on that empty factory. My fingers do not want to type these words because my brain doesn’t want to remember. But that money was pledged before a lawyer protected my personal assets from our newly formed business. I don’t even think it’s possible to count that as knuckleheaded move number one. But it would ultimately be the biggest knuckleheaded move ever.

Among the many things I had not counted on was a cultural difference. In Connecticut I gave dinner parties, nothing extravagant. I was a meat and potatoes cook but enjoyed having friends at my table. I invited some of the new people I was meeting to dinner. One man said, “Why? We eat at home.” I had no reply.

One assumption I made by going into business with two younger men was that they would be more open-minded about a woman in business. Once when we were in a bank describing the project, even though I was wearing a mink coat, the banker assumed I was the secretary. My partners never corrected that mistake. I didn’t either.

Another assumption I made was that since we were setting out to do such a good thing, surely it would work. A writer for the Sunday paper loved our plans and unique partnership. She did great articles about us, and what we hoped to accomplish in that city.

The guys found an old bank conference table and leather chairs in a country barn. Once again I was writing a check. One of their mothers made curtains.  We looked successful.

The massive building we/I bought to be divided into condos, was attached to a peculiar apartment building in the front. Now I was a slumlord. The two guys would take care of problems there and collect rent. The configuration was so goofy, one person had to walk through another apartment to get to his. One elderly lady had her place filled with dried flowers. All I could think was to get the project done before she burned the place down.

They also wanted a portable computer to use on construction sites. Seemed to make sense so I wrote another check. It looked like a sewing machine case. But at that time I only used a word processor. They were just young enough to have learned in school how to create formulas that we needed to show potential investors, bankers and lawyers. They were not patient teachers and treated me as though I was an old lady who would never learn. I was 36.

We tried to have fun and keep things light. I’d have them over for dinner. But we were not closing any deals on investors so we couldn’t start the project. Also design is tricky to make the most out of what had been a factory into condos, a new concept for that town back then. At some point we’d have to evict current tenants in the front apartments. I wanted no part of that. Our project couldn’t afford to lose that income until we had investors.

And this is about the time you remember all the good things about working for a big corporation.

My two young partners both had fathers very involved in contracting so I felt that they got good advice. But then I learned that the lawyer who set up our corporation and my corporation was also representing my partners separately and their fathers. The games began.

In the beginning I enjoyed meeting new people. I spent a lot of my time with the old family friends there who fed me often. I joined the board of a city commission. I had great neighbors. I went the few blocks each day to our office, but really there was little to be done until we had a prospectus for investors. We made several trips to Delaware to meet with potential investors. We attended conferences in D.C.. We had many people come to our office to look at the new drawings we had commissioned. We were optimistic.

Standing in the old empty building, I could feel the history of people clocking their time cards. Or heard the quitting whistle blow. But one thing to deal with in real time was a huge printing press left behind. The Smithsonian already had one, though mine was in better condition. There was a man in Massachusetts who was starting a printing museum who wanted that press. But he couldn’t afford to get it there.

We were working with the good will of a local law firm. The smattering of rent coming in from the apartment building went to pay bills. There was no income for any of us. The building we/I bought required constant maintenance while waiting to convert it. One night in the dark I stood on the roof with a partner tarring the roof holding a flashlight in my teeth. I was coming from New York business. Though I wasn’t wearing my serious New York clothes, I did bring formality to the group. They had the flannel shirts and the flannel shirt attitudes. These differences seemed like a good idea. I can’t remember why.

One partner had bought his building on a mortgage from a retired couple. He never, and I mean never made his payment on time so they had to come in every month to extract it from him. He didn’t care, and each time they came in I wanted to disappear because it had nothing to do with me. This was their retirement income and they were rightfully bitter. The wife would stand aside but I never spoke with her because I didn’t want to be connected to my partner’s lack of respect for them. But one time I did speak up. I told her that I hoped I’d have stunning white hair like hers one day. Tears formed in her eyes. She said that all she ever saw in the mirror was, “old.” The next time they came in to extract their mortgage payment she brought me brownies, and a smile. We don’t say enough kind things to one another, even strangers.

As time sped and progress halted, we were less and less appropriate partners. One of the young guys was irritable all the time and he chewed tobacco. To chew tobacco you constantly have to have a place to spit. So the office had beer bottles and cans strategically placed for just that purpose. I’m sure my then habit of smoking was no fun for him. But I was surrounded by spit.

They both complained to me about each other. They complained about me to each other.

At last we had an outside client. We converted a building to an upscale restaurant and apartment for a local chef. I enjoyed that project, but it wasn’t getting us anywhere with the original plan. One day at our huge conference table I gave an opinion and was called “uppity.” I couldn’t believe it. Was I living in Gone With The Wind? I make that joke, but how do you answer that? I was to provide the only money but have nothing to say.

The new project required sub contractors, and one or two employees to support. I began missing personal belongings, gold cigarette lighters, cases, expensive sunglasses.

I learned to budget my life at home keeping track of every penny. I was living in an elegant home, without income, except from the bonds. I sold stocks for cash to live. My life was about survival.

Destructing the guts of the building for the restaurant was astonishing while retaining the facade. There was little left in the back of the long building. The creation of a professional kitchen was new to us but we had great contractors. Slowly it came together. One of the guys brought in a girlfriend for the interior: a new tension. At last it was opening night. It wasn’t smooth but it was exciting. Many customers were friends and were very patient. It was a little cool so someone turned on the heating system and that created the opening night drama. That switch had never been flicked. All the months of construction dust kicked out like thick smoke from a fire. We opened windows turned on fans and even dusted off plates. We all went from table to table to keep everyone happy. The chef came out and entertained. It worked, and we had finally saved a building for another use. It was also handy to have a chef as a client. He invited us for many late night champagne meals. Many times my car barely made it into my garage.

My partners began talking of a new project their fathers wanted us to get involved in. But they weren’t sharing details with me. “Not yet,” they kept saying.  When I pushed for this conversation they admitted that they had already entered into the other business without me. I was so distressed that I went to see one of their fathers. He was at least appropriately appalled that I had not been told.

It gets better. Tax laws were changing and our project was no longer a glistening investment possibility. I was stuck and didn’t know what to do. I had no skills to deal with any of this.

I wrote in #50 My High School Reunion Stalker, that instead of sitting down with the lawyer or an accountant I got in my car and drove out west for nearly two months. I don’t give up easily. I don’t find a solution easily either. I felt hopeless. And maybe, just maybe the trip would give me energy to solve the business problem.

When I returned I spent less and less time at the office or with the partners. They apparently assumed that I was very rich and could afford to lose a great deal more. We barely tolerated one another. We went from working hopefully on something that mattered to despising one another.

I saw the lawyer who gave it to me between the eyes. Shut it down.  Before I left his office he asked if I was all right. Yes, of course. What else would I say?  I walked home and found myself pacing my very large house. I called him to say I was not all right, so he said to get right back to his office. He told me about losing millions on a real estate deal overnight but now he was thriving. This was meant to make me feel better. He sent me to another lawyer across the street. The city was lousy with lawyers. I signed papers turning over my bonds to the bank and shutting everything down.

My lawyer had to mediate just to get back the computer I had bought. Great, I got it back but had no use for it. I sold it to a friend’s company for next to nothing.  And what would I do with the office furniture? Nothing.

There I was in my big beautiful house. I lost my income producing bonds. At the same time my friend Ivan from #44 It’s Time To Speak Of Ivan, had used me to help him build a Hampton house when it was supposed to be income for us both.  I was so clueless I probably deserved to lose everything.

I had nothing more to do with either of the young men. For a long time I hated to go to that city in case I ran into them.

It was about that time I met and befriended the children and translator from Russia. Looking back I see that she saw that elegant house and assumed I had all the money in the world.

And here was my brilliant thought after I had to shut it all down. “I can always make more money.”

 


#58 An Edited Life

When I was settled in my beautiful new home in Pennsylvania, there was notice of a package for me from my mother. Could she have possibly sent me something for my new house? I still hoped back then. As usual she sent things the easiest and cheapest way possible for her, requiring taking time from work and at least a 20 mile drive for me to pick it up.

It was a metal box with old movie canisters. It wasn’t a gift.

She told me to have the family movies transferred to tape. It was baffling why she sent them 3,000 miles to me when she could have had it done at home or asked my brother or her husband to arrange it.

I had no way of playing the movies so entrusted them to the man at the photo shop to put them in nearly chronological order. My dad had dated some of the reels. But these weren’t all the movies of our family. They end about 1956. My mother had picked what she wanted.

When I got the tapes back I watched. Unfortunately my father was usually behind the camera so there’s little footage of him. I did as instructed and sent copies to my mother and brother.

Apparently my mother wore a fresh orchid every day, summer or winter, and we were always dressed impeccably and waving the two choices: hello or goodbye. There was no sound so waving and smiling was it. There are a few priceless frames with my father and his buddies at the base. But mostly it’s my mother, her orchids, new hats and our perfect clothes.

One shot has her posing and walking holding my hand, taking my early wobbly steps. She doesn’t notice that I’ve fallen and she’s dragging me on the grass. A friend later edited the dragging part out: my version of perfect.

There were perfect birthday parties, perfect dresses, perfect trips, perfect beach scenes, perfect parades, our perfect dog, perfect poses, like my brother dressed as Huckleberry Finn. There were no torn shirts, or skinned knees or even messy hair. Not even the occasional neighbor kid had a torn shirt or messy hair.

I understood in my core when I first viewed these movies that appearance was, forgive the inadequate word, important, to my mother. Though “Grasshopper’s” understanding can never be complete, “Grasshopper” begins to grasp, that appearance was everything. And was she still trying to prove to me our life was perfect?

I’ve passed the movies on discs to my nephew. Though he doesn’t know who half the people are, it’s a way for him to see the grandfather he never knew and how he moved. Perhaps he recognizes the same way he stands and where he got his smile. He can see himself in his own father as a boy. Maybe in about thirty years he’ll show them to his daughter. They’ll be holograms by then.

 


#57 The Unseen Apartment

It was the summer of 1967. A high school friend and I were both switching from Washington State University, way out east, to the University of Washington in Seattle. She had nabbed an apartment in the U district and I was registering for summer at the last minute. There was no time to see the apartment. It was cheap. How bad could it be?

It was nearly dark when I arrived for my first look. There were two basement apartments and above them was the Hasty Tasty Donut Shop. I think the owner lived upstairs somewhere. I never knew. I’ve not described rooms or colors in any of these essays because I don’t care about the style of a chair unless someone’s breaking it over my head. But here, some particulars matter, like the institutionalesque painted cinderblock walls.

It was a long narrow apartment. At the back was a bedroom with two mushy single beds. And in the front there was a long kitchen with a Formica table. If any studying was done, it was at that table. But I was gone most weekends and I barely remember classes.

My roommate went out while I was getting settled. Okay, here we go again. We had just buried my father the day before so I didn’t feel like strolling the U district that first night.

There was a knock on the door: my roommate’s brother checking on me. I desperately needed to be alone which was especially unfortunate since I had a crush on him. And to get to the apartment door he had braved a very wet hallway. But I was too dull to allow or even recognize his kindness wishing to console me.

The water apparently came from the shower in the hall. In fact it was so wet, boards or planks had been put down like some old oil well movie where people struck it rich in newly created frontier towns, and they put planks over the mud in the streets.

It only took that first spin in the shower to learn to wash while barely moving. The shower stall was in no way attached to the walls or floor. It just stood there over a drain in the concrete. Leaning in any direction caused it to keel over taking you with it. I wore sneakers in the shower and on the planks in the hall. Boots would have been better.

The rest of the bathroom was a toilet and a sink. We probably brushed our teeth in the kitchen since we shared the makeshift bathroom with the guy down the hall.

Our neighbor seemed perfectly nice. I don’t think he was a student. His residency was cut short however when a car sped down the angled parking lot crashing through his brick wall. Fortunately he wasn’t there at the time. We had the luxurious shower to ourselves.

I complained of something invisible itching and crawling over me at night in the bed. My roommate thought I imagined it. When summer session was over, her boyfriend moved in and I was vindicated when he had the same experience. The place was fumigated.

But the true significance of that first apartment experience is that the upstairs Hasty Tasty Donut shop was THE prestigious infamous hangout for University avant-garde, free thinkers, future playwrights, the Seattle youth literate. I had no clue until I read Ken Kesey’s reference in Sometimes A Great Notion.

I was so sick of the smell of donuts I never once stepped inside that shop.