ANOTHER DAY DOWN THE TUBES – Marilyn Armstrong

It wasn’t a bad day. More, it was a day when you don’t stop moving and when it’s over, you wonder if you accomplished anything.  There were so many stops and starts and lots of running up and downstairs.

I never made it to comments. I haven’t opened any emails. I did take quite a few pictures but haven’t had time to process them.  The rain is just starting. It may not hit us as hard here —  not the rain, anyway — but definitely very high winds. With the trees still full of leaves, that means blowing branches and breaking trees.

The animals must know what’s coming. Everything was in a feeding frenzy.

Photo” Garry Armstrong

Our nor’easters are essentially “local hurricanes.” Storms come in from the ocean and start to spin. They don’t move. So if it’s rain, there’s flooding. In the winter, we’ve gotten as much as three or four feet of snow before it finally breaks up.

With the contractor working, there was a strong sense of pressure to get finished before the weather moved in.

Then, there were phone calls. I’m checking out other medical insurance. I should have made the calls earlier in the week, but I had to make them today.

Meanwhile, it’s the world series but I think they are going to cancel the American League Pennant because of the weather. A glitch in Garry’s baseball channel went on for hours and entailed a prolonged wait on hold for tech support. To learn, as I suspected, they were having problems. The baseball channel has a lot of problems, but if you want to watch baseball, gotta have it.

I needed to fix Garry’s broken email too — which wasn’t difficult but took a long time. Warning! Delete old emails! If you don’t, eventually your email server stops serving and goes on strike.

The contractor did a GREAT job on the house. He’s still here. It is a real improvement. No more rot and no more of that sloppy, moldy old door … and the front door is finally insulated and nicely finished. It needs a new painting, but I think maybe it’s too late.


New Surroundings — our contractor — managed to do a good job without bankrupting me in the process. He did a really good job. All neat and sealed against the weather. And we sure have weather incoming. 


Tomorrow, we have to take the car in because somehow, one of the two latches that keep the hood in place broke off. No accident or anything. It’s just gone. It’s not a big deal driving a few miles into town, but a longer trip could cause serious damage.

Meanwhile, since both Garry and I have doctor appointments next week at UMass, their automated equipment calls every day for each appointment. They are such long calls, too. I feel a powerful need to go edit their electronic phone calls.

None of this sounds like a big deal and it wasn’t a big deal, but It was busy and fragmented. This is the only thing I’ve written today and I need to process at least a few pictures. Frozen pizza for dinner because I’m off my meds for a few days to give the rest of me a break. Today is the day I realized what a difference they make.

With the washing of the dishes, the official day is done. I feel like the day never fully started. I knew this month was going to get weird. On my agenda for tomorrow is explaining to the doctor that Garry’s has run out of hydrochlorothiazide because The Duke ate the container. Duke doesn’t (fortunately!) eat the pills. Just the plastic container. And any wood he can wrap his jaws around.

I have a lot of natural antiqued wood furniture. Duke is not the first wood chewer in the household. Only the most enthusiastic.

The Wood-Eating Duke

THE JOYS OF DOORMEN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I lived in New York City for the first 40 years of my life and since then I’ve lived in the woods in a small town in Connecticut. So I have a good perspective on life in the city versus life in the country.

To be honest, there’s very little about city life I miss, except for being able to go to the theater without spending hours sitting in a car, stuck in traffic. However the one major perk of city life that makes me wax nostalgic, is the pleasure of living in an apartment building with doormen. Now, most people would probably not think of doormen as a big selling point for living in New York City. That’s because doormen are the best-kept secret among us long-time New Yorkers.

There’s a special relationship that often develops between friendly residents and chatty doormen. You get to know each other well and become like a family. These men know a lot about your life from the comings and goings in and out of your apartment. And people tend to talk to doormen, almost like they do to hairdressers. Mine knew my kids, my mom and my friends in the building, which created a strangely intimate relationship. They knew when we were doing work in our apartment, like when our upstairs neighbor’s bathroom leaked and our bathroom ceiling fell in. They followed every skirmish in our battle with the insurance companies, which lasted two years.

I’ve experienced this relationship as a child, as an adult and as a parent of young children. Each phase is unique and gratifying. As a child, every doorman knew my name and often the names of my friends who visited frequently. I had severe school anxiety so waiting for the school bus in the lobby every morning could have been a tense time for me if I hadn’t had a doorman to distract me and keep me talking. Jimmy was my favorite for many years, a tall thin man with a missing tooth who made me look forward to the morning wait for the bus. If I was running late, he would make the bus wait for me and would call up to our apartment to tell me to hurry up.

The doormen also helped the kids in the co-op bend the rules so we could play in the street. They let us skate and ride bikes in front of the building, which was strictly forbidden. They were our lookouts, warning us to stop if someone on the co-op board was entering or leaving the building and might ‘report’ us.

When my kids were young, we lived in a different building, all of two blocks away from the one I grew up in. But the next generation of doormen, they were as wonderful to my kids as mine had been to me, and they too developed a strong bond.

Their doormen let them skate, skateboard and practice gymnastics down the long, narrow hallway leading from our elevator to the lobby. I could send the kids downstairs to play on their own and know they were safe and supervised. I had built-in babysitters.

They often let my kids spy on people in the elevators on the security cameras they kept behind the lobby desk. For some reason, that was a huge treat!

The long hallway in my apartment building

Once our doormen went above and beyond for my ten-year-old son, David. David had a pet python and there was a large ficus tree in the lobby. David thought the snake would have fun climbing around in the tree so the doormen let David sneak the snake into the lobby and, when no one was looking, put it in the tree. David and the snake nonchalantly hung out in the lobby for several hours, with people coming and going, until someone finally noticed something moving in the tree. That ended the tree climbing experiment.

The lobby decor has changed but the ficus tree is still there!

As an adult, there are a myriad of other reasons for enjoying the luxury of having a doorman. They accept deliveries for you when you aren’t home and help you with your bags.

Another convenience, beyond mere safety, is they let workmen into your apartment when you aren’t home so you don’t have to wait for them to show up or give them your keys.

\You also feel safe knowing the doormen monitors everyone who comes into the building. They won’t let anyone up to your apartment without your approval. They are your first line of defense against predators and nuisances.

In the country, I’m friendly with the local post office workers, farmer’s market cashiers and with the people at the nearby coffee shop and market. It’s not the same thing. It’s not as personal. These people may like you, but they don’t know your life or have your back like doormen did.

Doormen are a special breed of extended family that I treasured as a New Yorker and I miss as a country dweller.

 

HUSBANDS AND WIVES – UNIVERSAL CHATS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

 

THE TOILET SEAT

ME Honey, you left the toilet seat up AND you didn’t flush!

TOM – I know. I did it on purpose.

ME – What? Why would you do that?

TOM – Easy. Because I knew I was going to have to blow my nose after I took my shower.

ME – What does that have to do with anything?

TOM – Because if I wait to flush until after I’ve blown my nose, I only have to flush once, instead of twice. I’m saving water.

ME – Why don’t you put the seat down and flush after you use the toilet. Then throw your used tissue into the wastebasket.

TOM – (SILENCE)


PAPER TOWELS

TOM – Why do you leave used paper towels lying around in the kitchen? Why don’t you throw them out?

ME – Because I can use them again. I’m saving paper.

TOM – You can’t use paper towels over again! That’s the whole point of DISPOSABLE paper towels. They’re disposable!

ME – That’s ridiculous! You can use regular towels again if they’re not too dirty. So why can’t you do the same with paper towels?

TOM – Because I don’t want to have to look at dirty paper towels on the kitchen counter.

ME – Okay. I’ll hide them so you don’t have to look at them.

TOM – I guess that works.

ME – (Sigh) Now I just have to remember where I put them.


TRASH TALK

ME – Tom, please take the garbage out. The bag is overflowing, as usual.

TOM – Damn it! I hate dealing with these overstuffed garbage bags! Garbage is falling out everywhere! This is ridiculous.

ME – Then why don’t you just empty the garbage one of the first three times I ask you to. BEFORE it starts to overflow.

TOM – Where’s the challenge in that?

AN EARLY VISIT – Garry Armstrong

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.

That lends itself to our professional sports teams and our current financial dilemma. Our Boston Red Sox are almost officially eliminated from postseason play. The lamentations about the Bosox lengthy hangover from last year’s World Championship are filling up bars across Massachusetts. But sorrow is mixed with elation for the Brady Bunch aka the New England Patriots’ who opened THEIR world championship defense with a sound thumping of the Pittsburgh Steelers, always a worthy adversary.

Sports is our Rx as we try to deal with an insurance company that refuses to do the right thing. It’s an insurance company that’s had our very loyal business for 40 plus years and paid nary a cent to us. Our home has been battered by recent storms and two sides of the house could cave with the next storm. A storm due within hours. It’s a major league headache for Marilyn and me who, coincidentally, are battling a bug that leaves us wondering — who did we antagonize?

The house and health problems have prompted us to cancel two planned trips we’ve looked forward to with enthusiasm. It’s a bummer. We’re not feeling very sociable these days.  It reminds me of that old Kingston Trio song, “The Merry Minuet” about international social discord with the refrain “… and, we don’t like anybody very much.”

That’s the cue for today’s happening. The welcome sign outside our home has drawn precious few visitors — family or good friends — in the 19 years we’ve lived in picturesque Uxbridge. We almost feel like Lepers.

I was startled when Marilyn awakened me with news this morning that we had company coming — in FORTY minutes! I felt like yesterday’s garbage as I got my act together. Company?  We NEVER have company. Why TODAY? Gee Whiz!

Turns out that our visitors were one of the two families we had to cancel on because of our problems.

Garry and Karin MacMillan

Karin and her business associate lit up our house with amiable good cheer. Karin actually is a good friend of my “Baby Brother,” the noted Dr. Anton Armstrong, head of the illustrious St. Olaf’s Choir.

We’ve been swapping emails for weeks so Karin was up to speed on our problems. Despite our visit cancellation, Karin was determined to meet us and spread some cheer.

It was like sitting with old friends. We rambled on with cross conversations. I, as usual, held court with stories of my celebrity encounters. Our visitors didn’t seem bored so I kept jabbering with one eye on my watch and finally gave myself the hook — time to shut up and let the others share stories.

We laughed a lot. I was the target of some of the laughter but it was just fine. It was good to laugh, taking my mind off the headache, queasy stomach and other gifts from the stubborn bug. I was surprised about how much family stuff we shared. That’s a good indicator of relaxation with newly made friends. It doesn’t happen often with us.

We emphasized our gratitude for the visit. As mentioned, we don’t receive many social calls. You wonder if you’re a leper after extending invitations and no one shows up.

It’s been a special day. One of the last warm, sunny and perfectly golden days of summer. Our front yard has been manicured. It’ll never look better even with the furry kids staking out their territory. If we had smell-o-vision, you’d really appreciate how nice our yard looks.

It can’t obliterate our concern about the sides of the house which are in danger with the next storm on the horizon. An Insurance investigator recently documented the damage but bluntly told us not to expect much from the insurance company. We’ve reached out for help but everything is in limbo right now.  We feel very, very vulnerable. Senior citizens, surviving on social security and puny retirement funds.

For a few hours, on this day, we could laugh and relax – thanks to the kindness of strangers who now are definitely friends.

WHERE IS STEVE McQUEEN WHEN I REALLY NEED HIM? – Garry Armstrong

It must be payback. Karma, hubris – or both.

For more than 30 years, I drove a succession of fully loaded convertibles with Steve McQueen in my brain. Once, I was racing to a story in the dead of night when a State Trooper pulled me over. He asked the traditional question. He smiled when I told him I was heading to a fire. After being cautioned to drive responsibly, I sped on to the scene. Steve McQueen was with me.

Nothing fazed me. Not Boston crazies or New York cabbies. Oh, hubris!

My convertible days are behind me. Thanks to retirement, an income adjusted to social security, “wonderful” pensions and too many tickets from my Steve McQueen days, I drive like a normal guy, more or less. You’d think I’d paid my dues, atoned for my sins.

Not hardly, Pilgrim.

I’ll admit I still drive too fast, even if I’m doing the speed limit. That’s because I wasn’t born in the Valley and I don’t have Valley in my blood, so to speak. You see, in the Valley, driving is a leisurely business. Very leisurely. Twenty miles an hour is fast for a lot of our local people and not only in school areas. We are talking normal stretches of road with no special considerations or construction.

Not a racing car exactly!

I’m convinced there’s a legion of slow drivers waiting for me to pull out onto the street. I’ve been targeted. Wherever I go, they are waiting. It’s particularly frustrating when I’m heading to an appointment. These days, it’s usually a doctor appointment for my wife or me. We usually allow extra time for possible traffic jams, construction, weather delays, and accidents.

The X-Factor is the slow driver. (Drum-roll.)

They usually appear just as we are pushing up to the speed limit and think we’ll be able to make good time. We’ll get to our destination and have time to relax. I’m beginning to think about playing some music for the drive.

That’s when they show up. In the blink of an eye, they appear. The dreaded slow drivers. A whole conga line of slow drivers. No way to maneuver around them because our local roads are two lanes. One in each direction and narrow to boot. I can feel the anger and frustration beginning to boil up inside me.

If I’m driving alone, I allow the profanities full volume. If my wife is with me, I mumble, tighten my wrists and think evil, vile things. The slow drivers sense this and slow down even more. It is torture. What would Steve McQueen do?

Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com
Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com

Sanity and common sense kick in only because I know we can’t afford accidents with me as the culprit. That makes it more infuriating. They slow down, even more, sensing my plight. Could it be worse? Never ask that question because the answer is always yes!

It gets personal when I realize nature is calling. Home isn’t that far away but it could be an embarrassment if I don’t get there in time. The drivers drive even slower.

I whisper a prayer, forgiveness for my wild days on the road. I turn onto the road home. I can do this. I can make it. Traffic slows to a halt. What would Steve McQueen do?

Gritting my teeth, I see two cars ahead of me. They are staring at the road. They are texting. They are not old but rather part of the legion of slow drivers targeting me. All seems lost as I swing and sway to delay disaster, traffic begins to move again.

Slowly.

Minutes that seem like hours go by until I reach home. I pull down our long driveway. I race into the house with personal shame just narrowly averted. I calm down before returning to the car to collect my things.

I look up at the street. There’s no traffic. The slow drivers have disappeared. Is it a conspiracy?

What would Steve McQueen do?

NOT QUITE THIRTY – Marilyn Armstrong

We are about to celebrate our 29th  wedding anniversary. As I ponder the upcoming 29th — a year short of the big 3-0 — I hear distant bells.

I remember the wedding. The thrill of ultimate victory, the agony of getting there. How, by the time I got to the altar, I was a nervous wreck, but Garry was cool as the proverbial cucumber and looked dashing in his tuxedo.

After it was clearly established that we were definitely, unquestionably, without any doubt, getting married, it came down to details. Dates. Rings. Caterers. Bakers. Flowers. Music. Photography. Videography. And (trumpets) a ceremony.

I had been married twice before — okay, three times because I’d been married in a registry office in London, then the whole Jewish medieval ceremony in Jerusalem. Having been there and done that. I wanted to elope or maximum, go to city hall, have the mayor marry us. He would have. We knew the guy and still do.

We could have been married at City Hall, I’d toss a bouquet, someone would throw some confetti, and voilà. Married. After that, we and our actual friends could all go out for Chinese.

Garry wanted a Real Wedding.

He was 48 years old. Never married. This would be his one and only wedding and by golly, he was going to Do It Right.

“I want a real wedding. In the church in which I grew up. In New York,” says Garry. “And I want my old pastor to officiate.”

“Pastor G. is retired … like fifteen years ago.”

“I’m sure we can work it out.” When he said we, I thought he meant he and I would do this thing together. Because where I come from, that’s what “we” means. I was delusional.

“Why can’t we just do something in Boston? New York is 250 miles away. You haven’t lived there in 30 years. Everyone you know except your parents live in Boston or some other part of the country.”

Garry’s face was set and stony. He wanted a hometown wedding in the church he attended as a child. With the Pastor who ran the church when he was a kid. Who was very retired.

Did I mention my husband is stubborn? He is very stubborn.

“This is going to be a lot of work. It’s hard to plan a wedding long distance,” I point out. “And I have a full-time job. in case you’ve forgotten.” Garry is unfazed.

“We can,” he repeats, “Work it out.” There was that we again.

“Fine,” I eventually agree. “We’ll have a wedding. In New York. At your church.”

There were caterers to hire. Music to be arranged. A bagpiper (don’t ask). Battles over the guest list. A cake to be designed. The cake was my favorite part. It went like this. Having settled on a vanilla cake with lemon filling, we needed to decide on decorations.

“Do you want the bride and groom in white or black?”

“Can we have one of each?” No, we could not. In 1990, they do not have a mixed couple cake topper. I offered to take a marker and paint the groom black, but inexplicably, Garry found this objectionable. I suggested they take two sets and cut them in half, but it was deemed too complicated. In the end, I opted for wedding bells, the DMZ of wedding cake toppers.

So, Garry got his wedding. It was (for him) as simple as simple could be. Marilyn arranged the wedding. Garry showed up in a tux.

You see? We worked it out.

P.S. I eventually learned that “we’ll work it out” always meant “you’ll take care of it for me.” That included moving, packing, unpacking, cooking, arranging vacations, airline tickets, mortgages, and car loans. For Garry, it meant “show up nicely dressed and smile.”

RIDING IT OUT – Marilyn Armstrong

For almost two years, I’ve barely used the chair lift. I was glad it was there and it was useful for hauling groceries and suitcases upstairs and that was good for both of us. But lately, I’ve started using it. I realized there was absolutely nothing to be gained by dragging myself up two staircases, gasping, wheezing, with heart pounding.

Although I can —  and do — get up and down the stairs, it’s slow and getting slower. It’s more than a bit nerve-wracking too. It takes me a while to take that first downward step (up is easier) and I’m always sure I’m going to fall. I have fallen a lot over the years, including when I was younger. I can’t seem to find my balance going down.

One step at a time and carrying packages, stairs are impossible and dangerous. Riding up and down the stairs takes the fear and pain out of the process of getting in and out of the house. I’m okay walking on the sidewalk and the floors, but the stairs put such a strain on my lower spine and hips, I went from feeling okay to feeling ready to collapse.

It was time to actually use the chair lift.

Not only is it a way to get upstairs not on my feet, but it ‘s also possible to get someone in a wheelchair into the house and up to our living level. Before that, we’ve had to tell anyone with disabilities that our house was unready for them.

I reached the end of assuming that I’m going to get better and the stairs won’t be as difficult. Asthma is worse, probably because it’s untreated and my spine is worse, especially at the S1 juncture which was never fused — unlike the three discs above it. The pressure on the spinal cord is serious and unlikely to improve. There’s no exercise that will improve it.

It’s my final nod to the realities of my life, the “giving in” to the pain as something that won’t get better. The new drugs I’m taking help quite a bit — as long as I walk on relatively flat ground. I can climb a little bit if I am very careful. I can cook and clean in the house and if the ground is not rough, I’m mobile. To a point.

When I’m tired, I have to take it seriously. I need to stop and rest. When I do that, I don’t fall apart and I stay reasonably well. No amount of goodwill, determination, or optimism will change the condition of my spine. I think not hauling myself up and downstairs will probably marginally improve my mobility.

I cannot begin to tell you how much this isn’t what I envisioned for my life as a senior. I was planning to be a dashing senior. Like in the movies. Gray and wise, but ready to do it all.

Sometimes giving in is the right thing to do. I wanted to force myself to be that snazzy senior I imagined. Overall, I think it’s better if I stay alive and able to move!