Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Boyz gone wild

To their great surprise, Dad and Tony outlived their wives.

This turn of events caught them flat-footed, each with a "Now what?" look on their face. They were men without women.

That wasn't the plan.

The plan had been, the husbands would get the grabber sometime after retirement, leaving money enough for the wives to survive to a ripe old age -- enjoy bridge clubs, shopping, and luncheons, grandchildren and whatnot. Whatever it was wives did.

For a year or so, Tony and Dad digested the news; mourned, in their own way -- called their children with an alarming frequency, bought new cars, took up photography, lifted weights, started listening to NPR. Developed a thing for Sylvia Paggioli.

Then it dawned on them, they were men without women, yes, but they were men with money, men without women with money to burn and time on their hands.

Dad and Mom and Tony and Eleanor had been friends since the 50s. Before me, even before my sister. I believe Tony and Dad forged a friendship based initially on a business-type relationship. Something to do with timber and plywood, buying and selling. By the time I arrived on the conscious scene, there was no business, just the friendship.

While we lived in California, we'd visit the Sommers quarterly, for Sunday dinner. Prime rib -- I remember that, because we never had it at home. Tony would carve, scrape the knives, make a big production of it, at the head of the table. But of the four, Eleanor was the alpha. I think Mom deferred to Eleanor's 10 or 15-year advantage, but Dad and Tony loved her because Eleanor treated them like naughty boys.

Dad and Tony would tell inappropriate jokes at the dinner table, Tony's inappropriate because they included sexual innuendos, and Dad's inappropriate because his grasp of English idioms made his jokes pretty much incomprehensible.

"Stop it, you two," Eleanor would scold in her high breathy voice. A voice I could imitate to this day, should anyone ask, should the request ever arise. "You're terrible, just terrible. Worse than the children." No one messed with Eleanor. Even I didn't mess with Eleanor. And Dad and Tony would look disingenuously abashed, and giggle.

The Sommers were our rich friends. They lived in an eight-bedroom, four-bathroom mansion; music room, conservatory, theater, TV rooms-- one for kids, another for adults. A pipe organ. Peacocks perched on the river rock walls. A terraced lawn led to a two-level stone pool, adjacent to the LA Arboretum. And when left to our own devices, we kids would sneak into the Arboretum, like it was our own backyard.

Aside from the dinners, I remember we all took a camping trip one time, and one time only. While my family hit the trail, Tony set up a hammock, read Life Magazine, and drank cocktails. Eleanor had brought a battery-operated vacuum, so she vacuumed the dirt. Their son John stayed in the tent and sorted through his comic books.

We lost touch with the Sommers at some point, other than a yearly Christmas card. Dad uprooted the family on a regular basis as job promotions required, and Eleanor and Tony were very involved in the SoCal social scene -- under Eleanor's direction, no doubt, still, Tony loved a good party, good food, and expensive booze.

So, ok. The wives died, And after a year of mourning, Tony and Dad became the best of friends, once again. Tony flew to Seattle, Dad to LA, on a regular basis. They took cruises and trips, to Europe and South America. With their girlfriends in tow.

Tony hit the dating scene first, of course. And would set my dad up. Every woman they dated seemed to be in the hair-dressing profession.

This I know, because I'd drive out to Arcadia from time to time to meet them, to do a good deed and my daughterly duty, take the gents out, spring for a nice dinner for three. Instead, I always ended up springing for a nice dinner for five.

"You're lovely," the girlfriend of the day would say, squinting an eye. "But you don't color your hair, and you should."

Whether consciously or unconsciously, I think Dad and Tony chose girlfriends who were utterly different from their wives so any sense of competition couldn't enter the picture, so it wouldn't feel like cheating.

At the turn of the last century, Tony decided Dad and he should take a train trip through Siberia. Apparently, Tony knew someone who knew someone who could get them passage on a freighter. No girls. This time, men without women, on purpose. They made it sound all very Doctor Zhivago-ish, with plank boards for beds, straw on the floor, and gypsies. Maybe I should have worried a little, but knowing Tony's love of luxury, I didn't really believe the description for a second.

In any case, Dad died a month before the trip. So it was men without women, and Tony without Dad.

Tony didn't come to the funeral, and I don't blame him one bit. I don't like any ceremonial rite of passage, I can't explain why -- maybe it's because I see life as more circular than linear, or maybe it's flat out denial. Anyway, I hate funerals the most.

I took Tony to dinner a month or so later. At Dino's, his choice.

My sister, who is every bit as bossy as Eleanor ever was, had given me Dad's funeral pamphlet with the directive, the order, I was to pass it on to Tony. It was in my pocket.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll give it to him."

"Make sure you do."

Tony didn't bring a girlfriend, he brought his son, John. We'd always considered John rather a drip. And for the life of me, I can't remember why. Maybe because he was a year younger than me? Maybe because he had his own TV room? Because he didn't want to hike? Anyway, John was now a handsome man, utterly kind, extremely solicitous when it came to his father's comfort.

We talked, we swapped memories. We ate, and drank a lot of wine.

Tony was jovial; Tony was always and forever jovial.

And yet, I figured Tony knew as much about loss and losing someone as anyone. I saw it in his face, a reticence that I might somehow, or that my intention was, to end the evening on a sad note.

Maybe death, loss deserves an exclamation point, or a question mark, or a period. But not from me. We kissed good-bye and I crumpled the pamphlet in my pocket.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cat Tales

I have no experience with cats, other than a front-porch-here's-a-bit-of-kibble kind of friendship.

We visited the vet today. Well, first it took ten minutes to squish Bro into a borrowed transport box. I felt horrible about that; he felt worse. A chatty chap, he was silent as the grave on our road trip.

I had the checkbook out, ready to spring for neutering, vaccinations, whatever it is cats need. I asked them to scan for a chip, figuring a chip was out of the realm of possibilities, but good-animal stewardship and all.

He had a chip. So Bro, still in his cardboard box, and I waited in the examination room for half an hour as the vet's office attempted to contact the owner.

The first thing that sprang to mind was "Do no harm." Did I do harm? What if they couldn't locate the owner, what if protocol demanded the vet call Animal Control on my little cat in the cardboard box?

If we saw the truck in time, could we make a break for it? I actually considered this.

Turns out, Bro was neutered and vaxxed by a rescue organization. But the chip didn't have a referring phone number for the current owner. So I brought him home, not home-home, but my home. He took off in a huff.

Pretty sure he belongs to someone in the tri-street area. Hope he forgives me. Hope he comes back. We both like movies. Bro doesn't shed, talk too much, laugh too loud, pick fights, break wind, or steal my popcorn. He's the perfect date.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weekday Matinee: Beginners

It's 1999. Hal Fields, a retired art historian, loses his wife of 44 years, tells the world he's gay, buys a new wardrobe, subscribes to The Advocate, takes a young lover, makes new friends, goes clubbing, grows closer to his son, finds out he has cancer, lives it up, and dies in 2003.

That's pretty much the first 10-minutes of the film.

As for the rest of the hour and a half, we play with time. Look at life from the 40s to the early Otts, how people are shaped by history, circumstance, society, parents, personal instincts and inclinations, longing and desire.

It's a film about connections -- between father and son, husband and wife, friend and friend, man and man, man and woman, and people and dogs. Yes, a dog definitely has a co-starring role here -- he's kind of a Greek Chorus with subtitles. Don't worry, it's not twee, not for a moment. Most of all, the story explores communication in all its forms -- laughing, playing, drawing, gestures, sexuality, silence, talking, barking, crying, writing, staying, leaving.

It's a film about the internal and eternal struggle between sharing who we are versus protecting who we are, a struggle determined both by place and time -- where we are and when we're there. And the courage to seek a place in the sun.

Not a comedy or drama, "Beginners" is humanity with humor. Streams on Netflix. Probably elsewhere, as well.

PS: You'll wonder where Christopher Plummer has been all our movie-going life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

White Boxer is home (not my home)

Here he is, pre-home. A babe-magnet, right? Took about six women to round him up over at Sam Merrill, and then two of us to get him in my car. Thanks for their help, and yours.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Doing Your Taxes: 45 Essential Steps

1. Check email.
2. Check Facebook
3. Check blog
4. Check blog statistics
5. Stare off into space and wonder why the blog is suddenly popular in both the Ukraine and China
6. Search for 1099's
7. Rifle through desk drawer for a paperclip to attach all the 1099's
8. Find a photo in desk drawer of old college friend
9. Execute google search for college friend
10. Compose a witty note to send to college friend
11. Send
12. Total all the medical insurance payments
13. Query Yahoo as to whether proof of medical insurance is necessary
16. See Bruce Jenner story on Yahoo
17. Click to find out how that gender-reassignment surgery is going
18. Clean dog's ears (it's been months)
19. Clean cat's ears (it's been never)
20. Check email to see if college friend replied
21. Wash dishes
22. Vacuum living room
23. Locate all the interest-paid and interest-received statements
24. Search another drawer for two more paperclips. Find picture of old boyfriend
25. Google old boyfriend; he's the father of two
26. Stare off into space; worry about the children
27. Locate dividend statements
28. Query Yahoo on difference between qualified and non-qualified dividends
29. Notice that there's a Wolf Hall review on Yahoo
30. Click to see if Wolf Hall is now streaming on PBS
31. It is. Bookmark
32. Search glove box in car for registration tax
33. Find a lost pair of sunglasses in glove box
34. Feel kind of good about that. And they look great. Score
35. Search another desk drawer for paperclip to attach car reg
36. Find sweet pea seed pack in drawer
37. Google whether it's too late to plant sweet pea seeds
38. Oh, what the hell, plant them anyway
39. Google how to plant sweet peas
40. Search tool shed for trowel. Find old hedge trimmer
41. Recharge hedge trimmer
42. Wonder why life isn't more deductible
43. Stare off into space about this
44. Check email
45. There's a message from my old college friend

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Open wide and say Ahhhh

I met Nutella last weekend, and now there's no turning back. We're a couple; don't judge us.

Life's important moments are like that. You're at a party, not expecting much in particular, and then you meet the sweet but not too sweet, the bold and saucy, wild and salty. At which point, you just don't care -- about what music is playing, the guy who brung you, or anyone else in the room. You just go for it.

Nutella and I, we shared a spoon and frenched, yes we did, on the first date in the first hour, before God and everyone. I'm not ashamed. It was natural and beautiful.

For years, people tried to set us up. "May I introduce you to Nutella, you're meant for each other," they said. But I resisted. The name Nutella -- rather disturbing. Like some unholy alliance of nutrition, lecture, and possibly meat. Related somehow to that vomit-in-a-jar, Vegemite.

Oh, we're martyrs to our preconceptions.

But that's all in the past. Today, the name is like a poem -- Nutellawwwww.

Apparently in England and weird places like that, they prefer Nutella left in a cupboard, so it's limp and weepy, poured over toast points and crackers. That's the English in a nutshell, is it not?

I say, refrigerate Nutella until what you've got is a candy bar that you can lick straight from the jar. Or, if you put on your party manners, something to excavate with a hammer and spoon.

I don't claim there's nothing better. There's always something better, that's what we live for. But during one of those 3 a.m. moments, one of those dark-night-of-the-soul wrestling matches that apparently you're losing, stand at the base of the fridge and shout, "Nu-TELLAHHHHH!"

You'll get an answer. Not the perfect answer, but better than sufficient; it comes with hazelnuts.