IN THE ZONE AND OUT AGAIN

In 1965 when I was first married, we lived in an apartment in one of two identical brick buildings. Our flat was 2 Q at the far end of the hall. A corner apartment, nice because we had better than average light.

I didn’t drive yet, but it wasn’t a problem. There was a bus stop right in front of our building and the university was just a 5-minute walk. When I wanted to go into town, I just hopped a bus. No parking problems, either.

One sunny day, I felt like going shopping. I did. Had lunch, bought a few things. Having taken the bus home, I took the elevator to the second floor, balancing my packages. I walked silently down the long carpeted hallway to apartment 2Q.

I tried to put my key in the lock, and it didn’t fit. Odd. Hmm. A nameplate was firmly attached to the middle of the door.

2 Q

KINCAID

My name was not Kincaid. I didn’t even know anyone named Kincaid. It was Apartment 2 Q. But not my place. Or maybe it was, but what was with the nameplate? Hmm.

Feeling increasingly dazed, I made a quick u-turn and walked back to the elevator. I pressed the button and rode back down to the lobby. I stood there for a few minutes, breathing. Then got back into the elevator back to the second floor. Should I have taken the stairs?

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Ding! I arrived. Clutching my packages against my chest, I — slower than before — walked down the hall. The pattern in the paint on the wall paint seemed cleaner and brighter. I was feeling a bit light-headed when I got to the end where that pesky nameplate still read “Kincaid.”

There was no question in my mind what had happened. I’d expected it all along.

I had slipped through an invisible wormhole. I was now in a parallel universe, another dimension. Everything was identical in this dimension to the world I knew except that in this place — I didn’t exist. Where I had been, someone named Kincaid was living. Maybe Kincaid was my husband. Perhaps I did exist and Jeffrey had gone missing.

I stood there. Breathing. Staring at the nameplate. Pacing a little down the hall and coming back.  Until finally, I looked out the window. And realized I was in the wrong building.

I’d made a simple mistake and gone into the wrong building.

I have forever since harbored a sense of disappointment. However weird, I wanted the magic to be real. I wanted an adventure in The Twilight Zone.

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BEWARE OF FLYING UMBRELLAS

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Once upon a time, my father had a business partner. I don’t remember his name, but he was a big, bluff Russian who used to come over the house and make gallons of cabbage soup. He must have thought there were a lot more of us than there were, because my mother couldn’t figure out how to store so much soup, even though we had a full size standing deep freezer in the basement and a huge fridge in the kitchen.

He and my father would go into the kitchen and produce these gallons of soup and laugh a lot. We all had to eat it for weeks until we were sure we were turning into little cabbages.

Bob (or whatever his name was) was accident prone and an enthusiastic teller of stories, most of them about his own misadventures.

“So I was at the beach, at Coney Island” he says, almost shouting because he never said anything except very loud. “Very sunny. Blue sky. A nice day to take my mother to the beach, let her relax in the sun by the water. She is just settling down with her chair. And she asks me if I’ll set up the umbrella for her. I mean, she didn’t have to ask. I always do it, but she always asks anyway, like if she doesn’t ask I won’t do it. I took her to Coney Island, what did she think, I’m going to leave her to cook in the sun?”

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We all nodded dutifully. Because he was my father’s partner and we were kids, so what else was there to do?

“It’s a big umbrella. With stripes. Red and yellow. I got it myself, on sale. Umbrellas are expensive and this was a good sturdy one and I paid bupkas for it. If you ever need an umbrella …” and he paused to remember what he was going to say. “Anyway, this was one of the good ones, with a heavy pole so it would stay put.”

We nodded some more. Our job. To nod. Look very interested.

“I opened the umbrella and had to find the right place to put it because, you know, if it’s in the wrong place, the shade isn’t going to be where you want it. So I walked around a bit until I found just the right place. Then I took the pole and a jammed it into the sand as hard as I could and it went pretty deep. Seemed good and solid.”

We were still nodding. I must have been — maybe 10? — and had been taught to be polite, no matter what, to grown-ups. We did not call adults by their first name. I think my teeth would have cracked if I had tried or my tongue would have stuck to the roof of my mouth.

“What with everything looking okay and my mother settling down in her chair with a book, she looked happy. So I figured it would be a good time to get something to eat and I told her I would go get us some hot dogs — and something to drink. She said that was good, tell them to leave the mustard off because — she’s always reminding me but I know, I know — she doesn’t like mustard.

“I walked all the way over to Nathan’s — pretty long walk, all the way at the end of the boardwalk — because they have the best hot dogs” at which I was nodding with enthusiasm because Nathan’s does have the best hot dogs, “And fries. I got five, two for her — no mustard — and three for me. I was hungry,” and he paused to pat his substantial belly, “I started walking back. I could see where to go — I could see our striped umbrella all the way from the boardwalk.”

Nod, nod, nod.Nathans at Coney Island

“The weather suddenly began to change.  Suddenly. Big clouds coming in from the ocean. And getting windy. This was all happening fast while I was out getting the dogs. Funny how weather changes so fast at the beach, you know? So now, I’m almost there when up comes a big puff of wind. That umbrella pulls right out of the sand and flies at me. Whacks me over the head. Boom. I thought my head was gonna come off.

“I dropped the food and fell over. Like a rock I fell and just lay there. My whole brain was like scrambled eggs. They had to come and take me to the hospital. I was completely compost for TWO DAYS! Two days! Compost!”

Be careful of flying umbrellas at the beach. They will turn you into compost. That’s not good, especially when your hands are full of hot dogs.

For the Weekly Writing Challenge: Object – A character sketch and some funny memories.
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BIRTHDAYS AND OTHER DAYS OF JOY

Daily Prompt: Shake it Up

by Krista on February 24, 2014
You’re 12 years old. It’s your birthday. Write for ten minutes on that memory. GO.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us RECKLESS.

- – - – -

And this is as reckless as we ever got. Reckless enough!

And this is as reckless as we ever got. Reckless enough!

Sorry. No pictures of youthful birthday parties. Never had one. I don’t even remember either of my siblings having a birthday party except for my sister when she was … like five maybe? Otherwise, there wasn’t much celebrating in my house. Later, when my life was my own, we had some good times.

And around we go again. I rode the beast with my granddaughter 7 times that day, twice in the morning and five more times in the afternoon. I think she was ready to keep going forever and maybe, she had the right idea.

And around we go again. I rode the beast with my granddaughter 7 times that day, twice in the morning and five more times in the afternoon. I think she was ready to keep going forever and maybe, she had the right idea.

Garry threw me a surprise party on my 60th birthday … and we went to New Orleans for my 50th. I took him to Cooperstown for his 50th. Childhood was a long time ago and stuff that happened to me as a grownup somehow seems more relevant at this age and stage. Twelve, as I vaguely recall, was not one of my vintage years. Awkward, a mouth full of braces, short, half woman, mostly kid, frizzy hair and a general look of dazed confusion at a world that didn’t seem to have anything to do with me.

It got better. Then worse. Then better again. That’s life. Much like the roller coasters I dearly love, life has its ups and downs. The downs are terrifying, the ups give you a chance to catch your breath before you plunge down the next drop. When you pull into the station, laughing and gasping, what do you say? I say: “Let’s do it again!”

This was one of my "am I going to live to see another birthday" years. I almost didn't.

My 60th birthday. This was one of the “am I going to live to see another birthday” years. I almost didn’t.

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A PERFECT DAY

Daily Prompt: Nothin’ But A Good Time

It would take a tiny bit more than eliminating responsibilities to give me that perfect day. I’d also need some decent weather … cool but clear. Think New England, early half of October bright with autumn leaves and just the tiniest bite in the air.

Autumn Cape Cod October

Add a couple of cameras (no problem, I’ll just grab that bag over there, thanks) and one smiling husband. Just for the day, let’s rent a convertible. I’ll tie my hair back and let the wind try to get the clips out. I want to feel that breeze in my face.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

We can go anywhere, right? Stop for ice cream along the way. Discover someplace new, a waterfall we’ve never seen, a brook where heron’s fish or swans are nesting. We’ll capture it and each other in pictures, then on the way home, stop to eat. We’ll gorge on Japanese food and complaining about how much we overate, drive slowly home.

As we relax on the love seat, I’ll fire up my laptop and we can look at our day’s work. Tell each other how wonderful we are and mean every word of it.

It sounds kind of ordinary I guess. Maybe so, but the best days are ones we spend with people we love in the places we want to be. If you are feeling good, that makes it perfect.

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BELL BOTTOMS AND FRINGES

Daily Prompt: New Sensation

by Krista on February 20, 2014

Ah, sweet youth. No matter whether you grew up sporting a fedora, penny loafers, poodle skirts, bell-bottoms, leg-warmers, skinny jeans, Madonna-inspired net shirts and rosaries, goth garb, a spiky Mohawk, or even a wave that would put the Bieber to shame, you made a fashion statement, unique to you. Describe your favorite fashions from days of yore or current trends you think are stylin’.

- – - – -

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From the year my son was born — 1969 — and for the next few years, fashion and I were simpatico.

It was a seriously hippy dippy time and I was as hippy dippy as I would ever be. I wore big bell bottoms — the  patchwork jeans were my favorites though at the end of the day it looked as if I’d been waffle ironed. My shirts had long fringes.

I wore granny glasses with rose-tinted lenses. My hair was cut in a shag. I had my baby in a sling on my hip, a Leica on my shoulder and a song in my heart (probably the Beatles). That was a good as it got for me.

I miss that clothing. I really miss the Leica. It was so me!

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DAILY PROMPT: MONEY FOR NOTHING – RUINED FOR WORK

Daily Prompt: Money for Nothing

I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.

To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive.

And they have to look good while doing it. Without a break for lunch or even a bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.

His days off were Wednesday and Thursday. That meant we had barely a few minutes after work to meet and greet each other. Everything else waited until vacation. By which time Garry was exhausted and needed two weeks of sleep to recuperate so he could go back to work again.

The good part of his job? He loved it. I think everyone in the news business is an adrenaline junkie. The thrill of getting the scoop, tracking down the story, coming up with a different angle on something every other station is also doing and sometimes, finding new information to crack open a case. Garry loved his work. He didn’t love every single moment of it, but he loved most of it, loved knowing he could make a difference, shine a light into a dark corner and fix something that had been broken.

When I married him, I married his work. No whining about him missing all the family events, never being around to help with the housework or the shopping. I knew from the get-go I’d be keeping his dinner warm for whenever he got home. That was the deal we made. We didn’t spell it out, but we both understood. We were social equals, but his job came first. Period. End of story.

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One day, I got a call. A large HMO was looking for a technical writer to put together documents for their various computer programs. Aimed at users, this was entry-level stuff. For me, used to working on really complex software, it was a piece of cake — with icing.

I went to the interview. Bad part? It was a part-time job, paying (25 years ago money was worth more) a retainer. I would be paid for 20 hours a week at $25 an hour, less than my usual rate. But it was a retainer and all you freelancers out there know that there’s nothing better than a retainer. I might work all 20 hours, or no hours, depending on what was going on. I would not be required to go into the office. At all. Ever. I would work from home or wherever I and my computer might be, including the back porch of the house on the Vineyard.

It was half the money I’d been earning, but I could take free-lance gigs to make up the gap.

I took the job. This was a job from Heaven. When I accepted it, I figured I’d be working most of the 20 hours. It turned out … there wasn’t any work. Or almost none. Weeks and months went by. I would call to find out if maybe they’d forgotten me and didn’t they want me to do something? No, everything is fine, they said. No problem. We’ll call you. Once in long while, they did call and for a few days, I worked. It was almost a relief. Even though it was writing I could do in my sleep.

For a couple of years, I got a steady paycheck for which I did essentially nothing. I did a bit of free-lance stuff here and there and was obliged to bring a laptop with me when I went on vacation, just in case. It was the dream job: getting paid and not having to work for it.

One day, I picked up the Boston Globe and discovered the division for which I worked was being disbanded. Apparently someone noticed that no one in the department actually worked. So I called my boss, Anita.

“Anita,” I said. “I was reading the Globe this morning. Does this mean I have to look for a new job?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “We all do. But you’ve got three or four months, so you should be fine.”

I couldn’t believe it. They were taking away the best job in the world. I was going to have to go to work, show up at an office. Stay there all day. What a horrible thought!

I went job hunting and found what would turn out to the best real job I ever had. The best colleagues and absolutely the greatest boss. But it was work. I had to think (a lot), learn (like getting a masters in advanced object linking in a couple of weeks), synthesize, design documents, write them. Back to meeting deadlines. My 2-year paid vacation had not eliminated my skills. I was as good as ever. But.

Never again would I feel comfortable in a 9 to 5 job although I worked them for twenty more years. I got terribly restless. Just having to be in one place for all those hours made me itchy. I got my work done and done well, but I was spoiled. No regular job felt right.

I was ruined for the real world.

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MEMORY DOGS

I have to give a nod to Gaupola’s post today, Linda’s Brain Peanuts Remembers Soda Pop. It got me thinking. There’s just one big perk to getting old, other than senior discounts: memories.

Everything reminds me of something. No matter what anyone is talking about, it brings back something that happened a long time ago or maybe yesterday. I may not have money, but I am rich in memories. Or would be, if I could remember whatever that thing is I can’t quite recall. It’s right on the tip of my tongue. Never mind. I’ll remember later. Something will remind me.

Last night was the final night of the Westminster Kennel Club show. It’s the 138th year of the show.

westmisterhotel

“Westminster gets its name from a long gone hotel in Manhattan. There, sporting gentlemen used to meet in the bar to drink and lie about their shooting accomplishments. Eventually they formed a club and bought a training area and kennel. They kept their dogs there and hired a trainer.

“They couldn’t agree on the name for their new club. But finally someone suggested that they name it after their favorite bar. The idea was unanimously selected, we imagine, with the hoisting of a dozen drinking arms.”

– Maxwell Riddle, from a newspaper story quoted in
“The Dog Show, 125 Years of Westminster” by William Stifel

Westminster is my Superbowl. I love watching beautiful dogs, seeing what the newest “official” AKC breeds are. Watching the show reminded me about the dogs I grew up with. Not only my dogs, but the dogs that belonged to the kids I played with.

havanese

Havanese

When I was a kid — that would be the 1950s in case you’re wondering — everyone owned purebred dogs. Not just rich people, but working people. Even poor people. Garry grew up with a Collie. We had Doberman Pinschers. My friend Betty had a Shetland Sheepdog. Mary had a Chihuahua. Carol had a Havanese. I thought she was making up the breed because it wasn’t listed by the American Kennel Club, but now it is. Sure enough, it’s the dog she had. Apologies, Carol. I shouldn’t have said you were making it up.

People make a big deal these days about purebred dogs being an elitist thing, but they weren’t then and I resent the label now. When I was growing up, if you wanted a dog, you went to a breeder and bought a puppy.

There was nothing elitist about it. It never occurred to anyone we were failing to save doomed dogs by getting the puppy we wanted. Maybe there weren’t so many doomed dogs in the 1950s. Regardless, it was simple. We bought a puppy. Raised the puppy. Kept the puppy until he or she died of old age.

We didn’t abandon our dogs or let them breed randomly … mostly, not at all. We kept them in fenced yards or on leashes, had them spayed, though rarely neutered. It wasn’t something anyone did back then.

I still own purebred dogs. Two are re-homed from owners or breeders who were no longer able to keep them. Bonnie, our Scottish Terrier was a puppy farm rescue who we bought from her rescuer. She is a joy to our hearts and brightens every day of our lives. Amber, the miniature dachshund was the only one we bought “on purpose.” She was supposed to be a birthday present for Garry, but somehow wound up Kaity’s dog. Sometimes the puppy makes the choice, not the human.

DangerDogs

I love breeds. I love knowing this puppy will grow up with this set of characteristics. Will be this size, have this personality type.

All of this came up because watching the dog show reminded me of all the dogs we had as kids. Everything reminds me of something.

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LUNCH AT MISS MENDON

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Miss Mendon was born on the drawing board at the Worcester Dining Car Company in 1950 in Worcester, Massachusetts. After 64 years of traveling, she found a home in Mendon in the Blackstone Valley.

Miss Mendon began life as Miss Newport – Worcester Dining Car number #823. She has been repainted, re-tiled, given a bigger dining room and a modern kitchen. She’s had a long life and seen hard times, but despite everything, she has survived with grace and character.

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A STRANGELY WONDERFUL ROMANCE

Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine?

This could be a very torrid post, but as Serendipity is G-rated, won’t go there. Instead, I’ll tell you a story. You are free to fill in any missing details using your own rich imagination.

I was 18 when I married the first time. I was in my senior year of college, working at the radio station and beginning to get the hang of writing for people other than myself.  Jeff ran the college radio station. He was the Station Manager. Garry, my once and future husband, was Jeff’s second-in-command — the Program Director. The two were coincidentally also best friends. Along with most of the people I count as friends all these long years later, we were having a great time doing weird and creative stuff … a permanent party, or so it seemed.

Gar and Mar in Dublin 2000

It wasn’t just the usual college hi-jinx. Aside from the stuff we did at the station, we were creative party givers. Our Fall of Sauron Day parties became the stuff of legend –scripted, costumed, with special effects. We were young and healthy and could party all night, yet still rise up and go the work the following morning — looking barely the worse for wear. Ah, youth.

I married Jeff in August 1965. I spent the next year finishing my B.A. and having my spine remodeled, so it was a few years before I got on with life. My son was born in May 1969. We named him Owen Garry, Garry being his godfather. Fast forward through a non-acrimonious divorce. I later realized if you just give up everything and walk away, it’s easy to be amicable. It’s also something you will probably regret — eventually.

Off to Israel I went with The Kid. Not too long thereafter, I married in Israel. The less said about this mistake, the better. In 1983, a state visit from the ex and (now) current husband (they rode together), showing up right in time for war in Lebanon. It ruined our plans to visit Mt. Hermon and the Galilee, but created great anecdotes which Garry and I tell after dinner around the fire. I have one (fuzzy) picture of me, sandwiched between Jeff and Garry, all arm-in-arm, the Dead Sea behind us. The picture was taken by husband number 2 (the one I don’t want to talk about).

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

August 1987.

I’m back! Garry and I are an item. Having been apart for so long brought us closer together than we’d imagined possible. The previous decade hadn’t dealt kindly with either of us and we saw one another with new eyes. I think we’d always been a little in love, but there were an endless number of reasons why it wasn’t the right time to do something about it.  Now, shortly after my Israeli divorce from husband number 2 was finished, Garry and I got married.

And here’s how it really happened.

I’d been away for two weeks in California on business. I had come back early because I got sick, came down with the flu. Just as well, because an earthquake — the one that stopped the World Series — occurred the following day and if I’d stayed, I’d have been crushed under the collapsed highway.

Garry was glad to see me … until I coughed. Then he wasn’t so glad. If you want to know the definition of “mixed emotions,” it’s a man overwhelmed with joy to see the woman he loves — but knowing the first kiss will include influenza. The definition of true love? He kissed me anyway. And got the flu.

So after we both stopped coughing, Garry took me out to dinner. He was nervous. He was driving and we went around Leverett Circle at least half a dozen times. He kept missing the turn off. Meanwhile, he was explaining how he’d had a conversation with his pal about real estate, and how prices were down, and how maybe we should buy something. And live together. Like maybe … forever? Was forever okay with me?

So having listened for a pretty long time, I said: “So let me see if I’ve got this right. You want to buy a house? Move in and live together? Forever? As in married?”

“All of that,” he said, and drove around the loop one more time.

“I don’t know about you,” I said, “But I definitely need a drink.”

The following morning, I asked Garry if I could tell my friends. He said “Tell them what?”

“That we’re getting married,” I said.

“We are?”

“You said we should buy a house and live together forever.”

“Is that a proposal?”

“It is where I come from,” I assured him. Wouldn’t you think that was a proposal? I had to remind him about buying a ring, too but eventually, he got into the groove, realized all he had to do was tell me what he wanted and show up in a tux and he’d be a married guy. Piece of cake.

We got married 6 months later having known each other a mere 26 years.

I declined to have my first ex-husband as best man at my third wedding. We did, however, have the “real” reception at his house. There was the official one at the church, but the fun event, with all the friends, music, wine and sharing … that one was over at the old house where I used to live with Jeff.

Garry and I will celebrate our 24th anniversary next September. When you find the right one, time flies.

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  6. Playlist | Perceptive Pot Clueless Kettle
  7. Fragrant valentine | The Seminary of Praying Mantis
  8. Valentine’s Day Can’t Insult My Intelligence if There’s Snow | Bumblepuppies
  9. Love Surrounds You | ReFreshing Life
  10. Lessons from the Ghosts of Valentines Past | The Femindiary
  11. Day 25: Why I Married a Man who got me a Hairdryer for Valentine’s Day | The Ravenously Disappearing Woman
  12. Validation Day – Valentine’s Day from an Honest Woman’s Perspective | Shoot the messenger
  13. Weekly Writing Challenge| Single Awareness Day | Amy (and The Teddy With Sunglasses)
  14. Weekly Writing Challenge – Valentine – The Hopeless Unromantic |
  15. I Should Have At Least Called | Sam’s Online Journal

MY FAIR LADY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine?

My Mother had a strange smile on her face as she spoke to me. It would be our last real conversation before dementia began closing the windows and doors on life as she knew it.

“Treat your wife decently”, Mom looked at me with her eyes growing larger for emphasis, “Marilyn is a good woman. Make sure you love her. Tell her you love her. SHOW your love!”. It was surprising because Mom never seemed to like Marilyn, never showed any real affection for the woman who’d married her oldest son 15 years earlier. Hey, I was 48 when I finally decided to try marriage for the first time. Mom wasn’t exactly losing her baby boy. But the divide was always there between my Mother and Marilyn until that last conversation. Too bad Marilyn couldn’t have heard Mom. Too bad because Marilyn has been part of my life for more than half a century.

Marilyn 1970

Marilyn and I first met as college students in 1964 when we and our world were young. We worked at the college radio station, seemingly a haven for shy, odd and eccentric people bound together by a passion for creativity.

I was shy. Very shy. I smoked a pipe and tried to look thoughtful. Marilyn didn’t seem shy. She was always talking, always full of life and laughter. She also wore her sweaters very well. I don’t know why but I found talking to Marilyn relatively comfortable. She put me at ease. I couldn’t do that with most of the other coeds I knew. But Marilyn was my best friend’s girl friend and very soon his wife. Somehow, our friendship continued and I became Godfather to Owen, Marilyn and best friend, Jeff’s son.

Matter of fact, the newborn son was named Owen Garry in my honor. Humbling stuff. Our relationships would soon change but remain in many ways. Marilyn would be the constant.

Fast forward across several decades. I pursued a career as a TV news reporter with a 31 year run in Boston. I was the free wheeling bachelor from central casting. The only constant was my relationship with Marilyn which had blossomed from friendship into something deeper. We had a frequent flier relationship between Boston and New York. The names and faces changed in my other relationships but there was always Marilyn.

Sometimes it got pretty complicated. Things got more interesting as Marilyn’s first marriage ended. She and Owen moved to Israel to find their roots which included marriage number two for Marilyn. Geography didn’t hamper my feelings for Marilyn. The friendship grew stronger through letters and phone calls. The names and faces kept changing in my life but Marilyn was my life line even if I didn’t realize it. As a regional “celebrity”, I popped up in tabloid gossip columns a lot. I was the carefree guy who would never settle down. Never say never.

I’m still not sure how it happened. (Editor’s Note: Yes you are. Liar, liar pants on fire!) Marilyn and Owen had returned to the States. Marriage number two was history for Marilyn. The revolving door in my bachelor apartment was slowing down. Marilyn was becoming my constant companion. There was a conversation one night about marriage. Apparently I said “yes”. It would be the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!!

96-CoupleCasual007-1Marilyn and I are now a year away from our silver anniversary. It’s hard to believe. It’s difficult to believe because of all the life and death medical crises Marilyn has endured over the past dozen years. As I write, Marilyn is staring down yet another potentially life threatening medical crisis. It might be trite to say she is a trouper. But Marilyn really is a soldier even as she grapples with fear of how I and the rest of the family will survive while she yields to the specialists and surgeons.

Marilyn has always put everyone else ahead of herself. Now, it’s her turn!! Marilyn has seen me through some very difficult times that I’ll never be able to repay. As a guy who has had a life time love affair with classic movies, I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated the best leading lady one could ask for in real life.

This is not the end. I am hoping, wishing and praying that this latest chapter will end in relief, smiles and laughter for Marilyn, My Fair Lady.

MUSIC BB (BEFORE BEATLES)

72-Beatles-Imperial_02

Once upon a time, music was very different. The Beatles hadn’t played yet. We hadn’t heard them. Sure, there was rock and roll … but not like now. Not like it became after the Beatles. They made sounds we’d never heard before, not anywhere.  Maybe sounds that had never even existed on earth.

They didn’t only play instruments and sing. They played a recording studio. They literally introduced completely new sounds, mixing guitar, Dobro, drums, vocals, synthesizers to change music forever.

Younger generations … even my son’s generation, the Gen Xers … they were born after it all changed. They don’t get it, that before the Beatles, music was different. The world was very different.

Music was much more important to us … me, my friends, my whole generation … than music is now. We lived and died with the music we loved. Maybe you had to be there.

The Beatles changed our music and music changed our world.  And we, my generation — we changed everything.

CAMPFIRE WITH THE PRESIDENT – VIETNAM, 1967 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve shared this tale many times in conversation with family and friends, but never written it down. One reason is I have no pictures to go with the story. Another is the nagging feeling it might be somehow disrespectful.

Nonetheless, I am bowing to repeated requests to tell the story of my memorable evening with President Lyndon Johnson around a campfire in Vietnam. Near Saigon, 1967.

1967 and 1968 are blurs in my sense memory. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was just a 20 something kid. Suddenly, I was in the big leagues. My journalism baptism included the 6-day war, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile ’68 Presidential campaigns — and a trip to Vietnam.

Vietnam really is a blur. It was a blur even as it happened. In New York, I was used to receiving reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines that made it difficult to hear. The daily MACV or war front reports were often significantly different than what the Pentagon reported.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still clear almost 50 years later. But, my job required I keep a very narrow focus. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening with the ever-present sound of artillery barrages in the background. We were in what they called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, we all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans and skipped the meat.

President Johnson or LJ as he told us to call him, sat or squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. LJ was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. It was good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, a scene that I would later associate with the movie “Blazing saddles” unfolded. The beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because LJ gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” LJ guffawed and passed the bottle directly back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he probably wouldn’t be seeking re-election given the backlash of Vietnam at home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain. But it wasn’t a movie.

One last encounter with handshakes and a smile about our campfire evening. LJ again was President Lyndon Johnson.

PHOTO INFLUENCES: ALFRED EISENSTADT AND VINEYARD SUMMERS


Garry and I used to vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, sharing a house with other people from Boston TV stations.

In the early 1990s, Garry did a feature about Alfred Eisenstadt and Lois Maillou Jones, both of whom lived on the Vineyard and had been given Presidential Medals of Honor for their work. We became friends with both artists. Eisenstadt was in his early 90s and Lois Maillou Jones was in her mid 80s. It was a great moment when Eisie told Lois she was “just a kid.” We laughed then, but time has changed our perspective.

I had been an admirer of Eisenstadt’s work as long as I’d been taking pictures. I took my first ever roll of film on Martha’s Vineyard in 1966. I had stayed at the Menemsha Inn where (it turned out — a wild case of serendipity) Eisenstadt lived from late spring till Labor Day. Books of Eisie’s work — that was what everyone called him and he preferred it — were all over the inn, in bookcases and on tables. Most featured Eisie’s landscapes of Martha’s Vineyard.

I was using my first camera, a Practika with a great Zeiss 50mm lens, but no light meter, nothing even slightly automatic. It had a crank film advance, a barebones camera. Perfect for a beginner. I had to learn how to take pictures, how to take a light reading with a handheld meter. I had to focus it myself.

No zoom lens — no other lenses at all. Just a single f2.8 50 mm prime and no flash. My feet did the zooming, God did the lighting. I learned the basics of photography many people of the digital generation never learn. Most of today’s photographers have never used a non-automatic camera much less a hand-held meter. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But maybe it does.

The camera was a gift from a friend who had moved on to more modern and expensive gear. With that Zeiss lens and a good eye, I followed Eisenstadt’s path. I discovered where he’d taken each picture, figured out how he’d gotten the perspective, framed it, and not only duplicated his shots down to the clump of grass he’d crouched behind to create a foreground, I also added a few ideas that worked out well. Surprising because I was winging it.

My first roll of film was declared brilliant. It was, except that the photographs were Alfred Eisenstadt‘s pictures reproduced by me on my camera. I learned photography by following his footsteps and seeing what he saw. By the time I was done, I’d gained a whole education. The technical stuff took … is still taking … the rest of my life. I was good in a darkroom with black and white film, but Photoshop has been an ongoing challenge.

When I actually met Alfred Eisenstadt, it was the most exciting moment of my life.Alfred Eisenstadt

As we got to know Eisie better, I asked him to autograph his books for me and he did, but he didn’t merely autograph them. He went through each book, photograph by photograph. He was in his early 90s and forgot many things, but he remembered every picture he’d taken, including which film and camera he was using, what lens was on it, the F-stop and most important, what he was thinking as he shot it. He could remember exactly what it was about the image that grabbed his attention. It was an education money could never buy.

For example, the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, he said he was walking around Times Square with his Nikon and he saw them, the dark of the sailor’s uniform against the white of the nurse’s dress and he shot. He knew it was what he wanted. The light, the contrast, perfect. Great street journalism looks accidental … but it isn’t. It’s, in my opinion, the most difficult of all the various types of photography because you have to see your shot and grab it, get it right the first time. If you miss it, it’s gone. No second chances.

Were we close friends? Close enough I guess, considering the late date at which we entered his life. At that point in his life, he spent most of his time in the company of Lulu, his former sister-in-law who took care of him. She was a lovely, warm, sweet lady who sometimes needed an afternoon off. We were happy to Eisie-sit and let her go to town for an afternoon. Eisie was interesting and funny, but high maintenance. He did not suffer from a lack of ego.

We spent time with him every summer for about five years until he died, and we were honored to be among those invited to the funeral which was closed to the public. Although it was sad because Eisie was gone, we also found things to laugh about. Knowing him was special and some memories are worth a laughter. I don’t think he’d have minded.

ANOTHER MISERABLE YEAR

Let’s talk about funny. Like who makes us laugh. Do happy people make us laugh? Are comedians people whose lives are running smoothly, easily?

No way!

Funny people have problems. The funniest people are often depressed. Yet somehow, they can see a sparkle amidst the darkness.

Laughter is not so much a celebration of good times as a shield against despair. Humor is borne of irony, the realization that life is not merely imperfect, but frequently dreadful. So we turn our disasters into laughter because the alternative is endless weeping and wailing.

mistakesdemotivator
Another demotivational poster from one of my favorite sites, Despair.com.

The first time my world crashed and burned, I walked away from a dead marriage, gave everything to my ex and moved to another country. The joke was on me. I promptly married a guy so much worse I get dizzy thinking about it 30 years later. When that fell apart — though it lasted longer than it should have because I wouldn’t admit what a horrible mistake I’d made — I staggered — bloody, dazed and penniless back to the US.

When I finally stopped feeling like I’d gone through a wood chipper, I married Garry which I should done in the first place, except he hadn’t asked. Minor detail.

All that seemingly pointless pain and suffering was not for nothing. Stories of hideous mistakes and horrendous outcomes are the stuff of terrific after-dinner conversation. A few drinks can transform them into hilarity. Misery fuels humor. It’s a fact. Calamities, crises and disasters are high comedy.

Funny movies are not about people having fun. They’re about people in trouble, with everything going wrong, lives in ruins. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the ending. Tragedies usually end with a pile of corpses; comedies (usually) don’t. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of timing and style.

Funny stories weren’t funny when they happened. Now they’re funny. After I was told I had cancer in not one, but both breasts (they were having a two-for-one special at the Dana-Farber), I had them removed and replaced by silicon implants, but stopped short of adding fake nipples. Previous surgeries having left me with no naval, I now present myself as a space alien. You don’t believe me? It’s true.

I have a tee-shirt that say “Yes, they are FAKE. My real ones tried to kill me.” It’s a killer at parties and is high point of my cancer experience.

Fake breasts

When life goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket, folks who were sort of friends eye you with suspicion. Is bad luck contagious?. But there’s also a light whiff of satisfaction. They wouldn’t be rude enough to say so, but they’re overjoyed it happened to you, not them. Sorry about your life, really (furtive, smug smirk).

If you are a writer, out of the wreckage will come a book or at least a great post for your blog. See? It wasn’t for nothing!

Our personal traumas are collateral damage in a Darwinian battle of the fittest to survive. No one gets through life unscathed. Mindful of whatever tragedy lurks just over your personal horizon, why not prepare some clever repartee? You can give it a test drive at the next get together with your more successful pals. It will give you something to look forward to. And, as a bonus, you will really appreciate the irony when your friends’ lives go to pieces later on. You’ll be able to give them great advice on how to survive their personal Apocalypse! Cool!

So no matter how horrible things are right now, don’t worry. You will stop bleeding and screaming. Eventually. Black depression will ebb. You won’t always feel you can’t breathe. That crushing weight on your chest will be replaced by a permanent sense of panic and mild hysteria you will call “normal.”

Start laughing right this minute.  No tears allowed. Tragedy is hilarious. Heaven may be droll, but Hell?  Everyone is yukking it up down there.  Remember, it’s the first month of a new year. A fresh slate.  Anything could — and probably will — happen.

MY HEROES WEAR MASKS – THE LONE RANGER RIDE AGAIN!

The original Lone Ranger and Tonto — Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore

I grew up with the Lone Ranger and Tonto racing around my bedroom. Until I got the wallpaper, I was sure he was the Long Ranger … as in “he rode a lot and covered great distances.”

Other girls had Disney Princesses, but I had “Hi Yo Silver, the Lone Ranger Rides Again!” Although my walls did not play music, I could hum well enough and I had many a long chat with Lone and Tonto, Silver and Scout as I lay abed in the evening pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince my mother to let me have a horse.

Eventually, as I rounded the corner into adolescence, the Lone Ranger and his trusty Indian Companion (who had led the fight for law and order in the early west) returned to those thrilling days of yesteryear whence they had come. They were replaced by plain, off-white paint. I would have preferred Lone and Tonto, but felt it was time for a change. The paper was old and getting a bit tattered so it was hard to argue the point.

This did not end my allegiance to the first love of my life. I don’t honestly know what it is about masked men on horses that turns on all my lights, but both Zorro and Lone made me woozy with unrequited love. As the years rolled on, I became very attached to Tonto, not as Tonto, but as Jay Silverheels, the actor, whose career I continued to follow long after the Lone Ranger had disappeared from the airwaves.

I still love the Lone Ranger and I didn’t let Johnny Depp spoil it for me by the simple expedient of not watching the movie when it came out or since then.

The Lone Ranger fought the good fight. He never asked for thanks and would run away rather than have to accept them. He was the goodest of the good guys and whenever I’m not sure what to do in a morally ambiguous situation, I can always ask myself “What would the Lone Ranger do?”

Then, I send Garry to town because when in doubt, the Lone Ranger always sent Tonto, right?

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THOUGH THE WORMHOLE

When first married, Jeff and I lived in an apartment in one of two identical brick buildings — apartment 2Q, at the far end of the hall.

One day, having taken the bus home, I came through the front door, took the elevator up, then walked the long hallway to the apartment. As I started to put my key in the lock, I realized there was a nameplate on the door — “2Q, Kincaid.”

Not my name. The right apartment. But not mine. Hmm.

I took a deep breath, walked back to the elevator, made a u-turn and walked the hallway again. It still said “Kincaid.” Instantly I knew what had happened. I had slipped through an invisible gateway or wormhole into a parallel universe, another dimension where I didn’t exist. I’d been replaced by someone named Kincaid.

It took a while,  standing there, staring at the door before it occurred to me I was in the wrong building. A simple mistake: the two buildings were twins. Oops.

What was interesting is not that I went into the wrong building but I assumed I’d slipped into the Twilight Zone. Does everyone think like that? What would YOU think?