NOT GETTING A NOSE JOB – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t remember how many times my mother told me this story, or how many times I have told it to you. It bears retelling especially since racism and bigotry are the words of the month and maybe, the  year.


My mother, like many young women of her generation, had wanted to attend high school. And college. But the family was poor, and there were many mouths to feed. In the end, she had to quit school after seventh grade to take a job. She worked as a bookkeeper. At 14, my mother was respectable. Also naïve and innocent.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The first place she worked was in a music publishing house on the Lower East Side where she had grown up. She was there for seven or eight years and finally decided to get a better job.

Immigrant children had trouble breaking into the workforce. Of course, my mother had the additional burden of being female at a time when women were not considered equal. There was no “political correctness” to protect them. My mother was blond and green-eyed. At 5 foot 7 inches, she was tall for her generation. Her English was better than most of the family since she had been born “on this side” of the Atlantic and had all her schooling in New York.

She was ushered into a room to be interviewed for the job she wanted. A few questions were asked. A form was handed to her and she filled it out. When she came to the box that asked her religion, she wrote Jewish. The interviewer looked at the application, said: “Jewish, eh?”

He tore the application to pieces and threw it in the trash in front of my mother. She said that from that day forward, she wrote Protestant so no one would ever do that to her again.Finally, I made a leap of understanding. I connected this anecdote to an aspect of my mother I never “got.” My mother wanted me to get a nose job. When I turned 16, she wanted me to have plastic surgery to “fix” my nose.

“It’s not broken,” I pointed out.

“But don’t you want it to look ‘normal’?” she asked.

“It looks fine to me,” I said. I was puzzled. My sister took her up on the offer. I continued to say “no thanks” and my nose is the original model with which I was born.

Since the last time I told this story, I realized my mother wasn’t hinting I wasn’t pretty enough. She was asking me if I wanted to not look Jewish. Remarkably, this thought had never crossed my mind. Until a few weeks ago.

I know many children of Holocaust victims refused to circumcise their sons because that’s how the Nazis identified little Jewish boys. I know non-white mothers frequently sent their light-skinned children north hoping they could “pass” for white. But never, until recently, did it occur to me my mother was trying to help me “pass” for non-Jewish.

I never considered the possibility I was turned down for a job because I was, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, “too Jewish.” I always assumed it was me. I failed to measure up. I was too brash. My skills were insufficient.

I told Garry about my revelation. It was quite an epiphany, especially at my advanced age. I needed to share. It left me wondering how much I’d missed.

I told him I’d finally realized my mother’s persistent suggestion to “get my nose fixed” was an attempt to help me fit in, to not look so obviously Jewish. I had never considered anyone might not like me for other than personal reasons. I said I thought perhaps I’d been a little slow on the uptake on this one.

Garry said, “And when did you finally realize this?”

“Yesterday,” I said.

“Yesterday?” he repeated. Garry looked dumbfounded.

“Yesterday,” I assured him.He was quiet and thoughtful. “Well,” he said. “You’re 73? That is a bit slow. You really didn’t know?” I shook my head. I really didn’t know. Apparently, everyone else got it. Except me.

‘CAUSE EVERYTHING’S FINE RIGHT NOW – Marilyn Armstrong

We all know that everything isn’t fine right now but this song reminds me of times when everything was fine. I hope I’m still around when they are fine again.

Music triggers memory for me as nothing else can, transporting me backward like a time traveler to a world and a “me” I sometimes forget existed. I love this song. I like the words and melody, but mostly, I love it because it’s the song I sang to my son in the wee hours while I nursed him. Night and day lost any real meaning; sleep was catch-as-catch-can.

I was nursing, so my baby was hungry. He needed feeding every couple of hours. Sleep could wait, my baby couldn’t.

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For the first few months, I almost never went to bed. My son lived on my hip, in my lap, next to me on the sofa … wedged just slightly between the cushions so he wouldn’t fall if I drifted off watching old movies, but ready to wake when he next needed feeding.

Mothering was less structured in 1969. I didn’t know there were rules I should follow, so I made it up as I went along. I was only 22, not much more than a child myself. Being a young mother was natural and unlike other things in my life, I didn’t over-think it. I was playful, young enough to enjoy playing patty cake with a giggling infant.

This was a good lullaby in 1969. It’s still a good lullaby, performed by John Kirkpatrick.


Everything’s Fine Right Now

Who’s that knocking on my door?
Can’t see no-one right now.
Got my baby here by me,
can’t stop, no, no, not now.

Oh, come a little closer to my breast,
I’ll tell you that you’re the one I really love the best,
and you don’t have to worry about any of the rest,
cause everything’s fine right now.

And you don’t have to talk and you don’t have to sing,
You don’t have to do nothing at all;
Just lie around and do as you please,
you don’t have far to fall.

Oh, come a little closer to my breast,
I’ll tell you that you’re the one I really love the best,
and you don’t have to worry about any of the rest,
’cause everything’s fine right now.

Oh, my, my, it looks kind of dark.
Looks like the night’s rolled on.
Best thing you do is just lie here by me,
of course only just until the dawn.

Oh, come a little closer to my breast,
I’ll tell you that you’re the one I really love the best,
and you don’t have to worry about any of the rest,
’cause everything’s fine right now.

 

GIVING UP, NOT IN – Marilyn Armstrong

I almost quit any number of times. I didn’t smoke a lot. Less than a pack a day and eventually I got it down to five or six a day and sometimes less. The problem with cigarettes is that one day, for no special reason, you realize you smoked an entire pack. You just sort of forgot you had quit.

In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew because he told us. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.

“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies, and the world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was relatively easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in even more than the drugs.”

“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “It was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.

“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out back and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’

“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He did soon thereafter, quit. He decided having kicked narcotics, he could kick cigarettes too. So he did.

I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction that lured me. I understood how bad it was for my health, disastrous to my budget and getting more costly each day. It made my clothing and hair smell like a dirty ashtray. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.

I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky.

I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.

Smoking-Burning-CigaretteIt took me years of quitting, backsliding, and quitting again before it finally “stuck.” Years before the smell of tobacco brought back memories without triggering a desire to smoke.

I am sure today, after more than ten years if I were to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker. Again. It’s not unlike being an alcoholic. One drink and you’re a drunk again.

It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to cigarettes.

It would probably be easier to quit now since most offices are smoke-free. That being said, it’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.

SUMMER FRIENDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about old friends; people who knew you when you were a lot younger and who shared a part of your life that doesn’t exist anymore. That got me thinking. Why do some people become ‘old friends’ and others drop by the wayside? Why do some people stick with you over decades while others drift away?

I believe that most people start out as situational friends. You meet and become friends because you’re sharing an activity or a stage of life. Examples are people you work with and parents whose kids go to school with and/or are friends with your kids. Also, people you meet through hobbies, like at a golf or tennis club, a knitting circle, a book club, etc.

What makes some of those friendships ‘take’ and become permanent? I have no idea. Many friendships seem to end when the shared activity stops – you change jobs, your kids graduate or find new friends, you leave the club, whatever. I’ve had so many friends like this it blows my mind. I’ve often wondered why we lost touch. Why was it that that particular person or couple slipped away? We were so close!

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But some friends do stay with you and ripen into wonderful ‘old friends’. I’ve never been able to tell which friendships will last and which won’t. In the mid-late 1980’s I was redecorating my house from top to bottom. I spent two years working closely with my decorator and we became friends. At around the same time, my daughter became friends with a girl in her kindergarten class and I became friends with her Mom (and Dad as well – we also socialized as couples). Those friendships lasted all the way through high school – 12 years. Who am I still close with 30 years later? The decorator. The Mom still lives five minutes away from me and we haven’t even talked in years and years. The decorator moved out-of-state more than 10 years ago but we’re still the dearest of friends.

For many years, Tom and I had a group of friends who shared a dock with us at the marina where our boat lives. We were crazy close. We traveled together with our boats, partied all summer, and had gotten together regularly over the winter. Gradually, boats left the marina, people moved away and most of them disappeared from our lives. Only one friend remains out of at least six or eight couples. I was heartbroken that the ‘gang’ dispersed into the ether.

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I think friendships like these end because of some odd combination of laziness and busyness. When you no longer share that situational ‘bond’, you’re not thrown together. You have to make more of an effort to see each other. Obviously, if you haven’t developed a strong emotional connection that transcends your ‘situation’, that won’t happen.

Also, people are busy. Between work, family, and other friends, time is at a premium. If you’re not at the top of someone’s ‘priority list,’ you lose. The common ‘bond’ was what got you to the top of the list before. Now, unless you have a personal bond or you forge a new one that shoots you to the front of the line – you’re toast. You just don’t fit into the new reality of your former friends’ lives.

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I have to admit, I’m hypersensitive. I take it at least a little bit personally whenever someone drops out of my life. But, I don’t lose sleep over it either. I’ve learned making and keeping friends has as much to do with timing as anything else. Like romantic relationships, some things are not meant to be. Fortunately for me, many wonderful friendships have blossomed, lasted, and enrich my life today.

Now that we have encountered a world with a plague we never imagined possible, I suspect there will be more losses of friends and groups of friends. There will be people who don’t want to go out. I have heard that is beginning to happen to people my age in other places. I’m hoping we are not among them.

THE BIGGEST GLITCH – Marilyn Armstrong

Little things defeat me. An electrical blip — so brief as to go otherwise unnoticed — knocked out the time and date on the clocks and telephones in my house. It was so brief I didn’t realize it had happened until I went to bed and everything was blinking. Don’t you hate when that happens?

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All our computers are laptops, so we didn’t notice. They all just switched to batteries, so when the glitch ended, everything seemed fine.

Until I got to the bedroom and everything was blinking, each in its own color. Resetting the clock radio was easy, but then there was a telephone. They are all linked, so I only have to set one and all three should automatically reset. It should have been no big deal. But it was.

I was defeated by an AT&T multi-handset system I installed in our home a few years ago. Never had it lost its time, even during a much longer outage. This time, it lost everything including all its settings and sub-settings. All blown away.

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Every time something minuscule defeats me, I am reminded how helpless I am — we all are — in the face of our technology. Even those of us who are technologically savvy have limits. All of us have technical Waterloos. If anything goes awry with any major system in my house, not only am I helpless, so is everyone else who lives here. Three generations of people who use technology constantly and depend on it. If we were without power for 24 hours our world would collapse.

It’s the huge, soft, pink, underbelly of our modern world. The aliens will not have to defeat us in battle. They just have to knock out our communication satellites and blow up a few power plants. Human civilization goes down like a row of dominoes.

The only survivors will be those who don’t depend on technology. Or maybe the survivalists in their compounds. Their lives will go on as before. Not me, though. Probably not you either.

Given what’s been going on these past few months, I think a long power outage might finish me off. I’m already derailed, but one more hit and I’m over the cliff.

EXTRACTION FROM THE MIRE OF THE PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

The endless recitation of woes on blogs I used to enjoy is giving me a headache. It’s not a lack of personal sympathy. It’s more like emotional exhaustion. So many people seem to be stuck in the mire of misery that began in childhood.

Don’t they want to move on? The quagmire of despair has become comfortable. They have moved in and made misery their home. Some of these bloggers continue exploring the depths of their suffering for hundreds — thousands? — of posts. Many are closing in on Social Security yet are still suffering from childhood trauma. So much for time casting a rosy haze over the past.

There ought to be a legal cutoff date at which point you are required to close the book on whatever awful experiences life has dealt you. At some point, there ought to be a law forcing you to come to grips with your rotten childhood and terrible former relationships. Or at least be required to find another subject about which to write.

we are not our mistakes

I know lots of people who were abused as children. I was. My brother was. Many of the people to whom I sold or gifted my book had never been able to talk about it before.  I helped more people to be able to talk about it. It was a big deal for me.

Because we don’t talk about it. We act like we are the guilty parties. It seems that more folks than not grew up in dysfunctional families … and each dysfunction was different than any other. And anyway, who hasn’t had a terrible relationship or three?

I plead guilty on all charges, your honor.

It was my first husband (before you ask, he was the one who died) who gave me a Gibbs slap and got me to get it together. This was before my second marriage, the one in which I managed to step in front of the same bullet I’d previously dodged.


Note to Self: We never get too old to act like morons.


Jeffrey didn’t have a storybook childhood either (who did?), so he had his own issues to resolve. One day, when I was going on about my father he said: “You know, you’ve told me these stories before. Several times. Maybe it’s time to move on.” It was good advice and I wish he’d taken it.

You have to want to move on. It took time and work, but I’m glad I did it. There have been plenty of new traumas and I doubt I’d have survived if I hadn’t cleared the decks. Nowadays, I’m overloaded. I cannot bear to read another angst-laden tale of abuse and emotional trauma. I’m aware is its, was awful.

Been there. Survived. I support all efforts to free oneself from the lingering effects of the past are hard. We are so stubborn about the bad stuff we’ve gone through. Why is pain so much clingier than good times? There’s enough misery to go around without adding more.

For all of us, maybe it’s time to stop defining ourselves as the worst times in our lives.

  • We are not what others did to us.
  • We aren’t our mistakes.
  • As much as we have suffered, we’ve also found fun, joy, friends, love. It’s just so much easier to remember the pain.

We empower misery and dismiss happier times.

Misery is like a piano falling on your head; happiness just creeps up on you. The result? Long after the people who hurt us have disappeared from our lives, they are still beating us up.

Let’s celebrate the good times. Who couldn’t use a few good laughs? Especially now. I was SURE today was Thursday. It’s Wednesday. By Sunday, it might be next month. Who can tell?

AT THIS MOMENT – RICH PASCHALL

Karaoke Night, by Rich Paschall

From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, we spent a lot of time in adult drinking establishments singing various tunes to varying degrees of success. You did not have to be any good at it. You just had to have enough nerve to get up and sing out loud. The truth is, of course, that most people are not listening to you anyway.  They are having conversations with their friends and ordering another round of whatever is making them loud and somewhat obnoxious at their tables or at the bar. It is a lot easier when you realize that few if any are listening or even care what you are singing.

The first song I attempted was Born To Be Wild if my memory serves me at all after all these years of belting out songs I thought I knew. I had heard others do the song. I knew it was rather easy and within my limited vocal range. So I did it a number of times before I had the courage to move on to song number two.

We were friends with a guy who did Karaoke at a local bar. There were nights when I took over for him, either because he was busy that night or because he would rather sing and drink. Since I sometimes had to fill the gaps early in the evening when there were no singers, I learned to do a few other songs.  And remember, no one was listening anyway.

One of the girls who frequented the place wanted to do a duet. We settled on “You’re The One That I Want” from Grease. Nope, I can not sing it that high. Do I look like John Travolta? We did learn, however, that you can adjust the key on those old karaoke machines, so we drop it down 3 steps, and we both sounded a lot better.

After I had been helping out the karaoke host for a few months, a woman who tended bar on occasion asked me to sing “At This Moment.” I told her I didn’t know it. In fact, I thought I had never heard it before. She told me I should learn it. She was quite serious. Since she was bigger and tougher than I, it seemed like learning the song would be a prudent thing to do. The next time I saw her at the bar she handed me a cassette tape. She had recorded the song back to back so I would listen to it two times in a rows each time I put the tape on. It was the only thing on the tape. I learned the song.

As time went on I learned a variety of other songs. There were a few I had in mind for those that wanted to do karaoke with me. It was a strange experience to have people I didn’t know ask me to sing with them, and some could not carry a tune if we put it in a bucket for them with a large handle attached. But I was always a good host and tried to team up a couple of mediocre singers so I would not have to join the fray. Besides, I thought I was creating friendships. If you want to practice, I have the karaoke version of the next song hereYou supply the vocal. If that’s too much, here it is with vocal:

We had our “go to” duets and we also had our group songs for those who wanted to drag up their friends but didn’t know what to sing. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was not one of my choices, although many chose to kill it anyway. Instead of that, I would suggest certain Beatles tunes and this one was always popular:

There was a Frank Sinatra song or two I would like to sing if I got the chance, and someone else did not beat me to it.  “Something Stupid” was a good duet if someone actually knew the Nancy Sinatra part. I liked “Strangers In The Night” but I could never do it well. This one was better (and easier) for me to sing:

Some nights we were busy and I did not get to sing much, if at all. Sometimes I got the chance to entertain myself a lot. When the opportunity presented itself, I would close the show with “For The Good Times,” and they were good times.

Enjoy the music above and don’t forget to sing along, nice and loud.

WORLD SHARING, EXTENDED EDITION, 2-10-2020 – Marilyn Armstrong

SHARE YOUR WORLD BY MELANIE
THIS STRANGE AND WONDERFUL MONDAY


by Melanie B Cee

Questions:

Do you snore? How do you know it, if you do?

I did but I no longer do. It turned out as soon as I lost 100 pounds and started using a movable bed, it disappeared.

I know this because Garry told me. Yes, I snored loud enough for HIM to hear me. That’s a statement! I’m not sure why anyone snores. Most people do, at least a little bit.

What do you find funny? (credit for question given to Rory and this post in particular):

What I find funny are — well — funny things. You know. Comedians. Wit. Humor. Parody. Satire.

I find THIS funny.

I don’t like anything where people are humiliated or hurt and I’m not fond of physical humor (Three Stooges are not my idea of funny).  A lot of things that other people find funny, I don’t find funny. I hate seeing anyone embarrassed or teased. I don’t find it funny.

What was the last furry thing you touched?

Note that one of his ears goes up and the other down. His muzzle is crooked too.

Hugging my hip is The Duke. I can’t NOT pet him. He’s glued to my right hip and if I let him, he’d be writing this post himself.

How do you handcuff a one-armed man?

Carefully?

Gratitude?

This morning before I’d even gotten out of bed, our washing machine died. By the time I got up (before 11), Owen had bought us a new (okay, second-hand) washing machine AND had it installed. What a guy! Seriously, REALLY what a guy!

THE REAL BEGINNING – GARRY ARMSTRONG

As much as I hate telephones, I loathed pagers. I was, admittedly, spoiled by years of minimal interference in the field. We did the usual schtick on the 2-way. Hand over mouth responding, “We can’t hear you. You’re breaking up. We’re headed to the story. No landlines. Sorry, can’t hear you”.

There was one phone call where I almost blew a major story and probably would have also blown my career at the same time. I was still working for ABC Network in New York. One night, around 3am, having just gotten home from a late shift and making my way home from Manhattan to Long Island. I took the call with an obvious attitude. The voice at the other end was nonplussed.

“Garry, don’t pull any of your BS. You really want to hear this call.”

Heavy breathing from me.

“Garry, don’t be a jerk.”

More heavy breathing.

“This is a good one! They want to send you to Vietnam with the team …” In essence, they wanted me to go as a grunt back-up to the A-list correspondents. President Johnson was in Vietnam and something “big” was expected.

“Are you serious or is this a bad joke?” I finally asked.

“No joke, Garry. They like your ballsy attitude and think you’ll be a good fit with the ‘old guys.’”

“Jeezus H. Christ,” I answered.

“Yeah, Garry, that’s right. Grab some of your old Marine gear and get your ass in ASAP. There’s a debrief and then you’re on a special flight to Saigon.”

“Okay, thanks for the heads up, round eyes.” Laughter on both sides of the call. I grabbed some of my old gyrene gear and headed to the door.

My mom yelled, “Garry, where are you going, NOW?”

“Mom, I’m going to Vietnam. Call you when I can. Love you. Bye.”

I heard Mom yell, “What?” as I headed out the door and into an exciting new chapter in my life. Glad I took that call.

SMILING FACES, SOUR CHERRIES – Marilyn Armstrong

Bad days are like sour cherries. Even in a great batch of fruit, you hit some duds. As you munch, you’re going to get some berries that are overripe, sour, or bitter. You bite into them, make a face, and put them aside. You don’t eat them because they don’t taste good.

Life is like this. Day follows day. Some days suck.

The past couple of years have been difficult. Too many bad days, too many days of feeling helplessly enraged by events far beyond my control. Too much anger in me and in the air and all around. Too many prices going up while our incomes never change.

I suppose I could have smiled on through, but I didn’t want to, any more than I felt like eating sour cherries. I had a right to be angry and saw no reason to pretend otherwise.

Was I wrong?

I don’t think so. People who care about us will cut us some slack. Leave us emotional space to get over what’s bothering us and what’s more, they should. You’d do it for them, wouldn’t you?

The whole “stay positive” thing is out of control. If the proponents of permanent smiles are to be taken seriously, no one will ever frown again. No tears, no sadness, no anger. Ever. There will be one acceptable emotion. Happiness. We will all wear a Happy Face. Happy, happy, happy. No matter what. Has anyone read or seen The Stepford Wives?

Original 1960 George of the Jungle cartoon

So, what’s your problem? Losing your home to foreclosure? Got cancer? Heart Disease? No job? No prospects? Don’t be mad or sad. You’ll be fine. No matter what those doctors are saying, no matter that you don’t have a place to live. Or a life. Or a future.

According to the proponents of Happy Face, no problem is so big it can’t be overcome with a positive attitude and a bright smile. I’m betting most of the people who believe in Happy Face have never confronted an intractable problem. One day, their fake smiles will catch up with them. They will crash and burn. The corners of their mouths will turn down and their faces will shatter on impact.

I’m not suggesting we all walk around sneering, sulking, and grumpy, but we need to be allowed to express what we feel. Otherwise, life becomes a total fake.

PEOPLE SAY THE NICEST THINGS! – Marilyn Armstrong

How often have you wondered whether you should say “thank you” or punch that person in the mouth? Insults I understand, but the compliments that really aren’t, baffle me. Is it personal ambivalence? Is it possible they don’t understand the difference between a compliment and meanness? Or, for that matter, an insult?

As a child, my mother comforted me with her classic lines. Somewhere in my head, I can still hear her. A lonely (probably odd) child, it took me a long time to find my social self. Mom would reassure me in her special way: “There’s someone for everyone,” she told me. “Even you.”

Then there was the clothing my mother made for me. It was gorgeous, fashionable. Far better quality than the other girls wore. The Mean Girls are nothing new and my schools were full of them. “Eww! Where did you get that ugly dress?” In later years, I realized their clothing was totally tacky, but at nine or ten, I didn’t get it.

As a young woman, I put on a lot of weight. Before I got rid of that hundred and fifty pounds, there were some great lines from friends who knew the perfect words to brighten my day: “You dress really nice for a fat girl” and “I don’t think of you as REALLY fat.” And let’s not forget “You are the first person of Jewish persuasion I’ve ever met.” Were they living in a fish tank or was it merely Uxbridge? Needless to say, Garry and I are THE integration for the town.

Later on, no longer fat, compliments have streamed in nonstop: “I thought you were a nun. Don’t you own anything that isn’t black?”

My all-time favorite came from the woman who was unsuccessful in marrying my first husband. Had he lived longer, she might have worn him down. She was baffled by my apparent popularity with men. “I’m very nice to them,” I said. “I make them feel special and loved.” There was more to it than that, but that was plenty. Snarkiest woman who ever trod the earth.

“I do that too,” she whined. (No, she didn’t.) “But,” she continued, getting ever more nasal, “How come they marry you?” I probably could have come up with a good line of my own.

Finally, the clincher. After I published my book, “It was much better than I expected.” What were you expecting?

Classic back-handed Compliments for every occasion:

“You look great, for your age.”

“I love your new hairstyle! It suits you so much better.”

“That’s such a difficult degree, I never thought you’d study that.”

“You look so good in photos, you always pose the same way.”

“That’s a wonderful photograph, you must have a really fancy camera.”

“I wish I could just let my kids watch TV all day like you do.”

“You have such a lovely smile, you don’t even notice the acne.”

In 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to compliment Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (a woman) in a speech at Dhaka University on her terrorism policy.

“I am happy that Bangladesh Prime Minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism,” Modi said.

It’s even better when it goes international.

ONCE IN A LIFETIME – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t envy much. I’ve never needed the biggest house or the fastest car. Fashion doesn’t tempt me and success for me has always meant having enough. Spare would be nice, but enough will do. I don’t need popularity. A few good friends and some companionable other acquaintances are just fine.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

But you, over there? Yes, you. Young person, with your flexible body and the spring in your step. I bet you can sleep a whole night without having to take “something for the pain.” I bet you still have all your original parts too. No silicone implants or valves from other creatures. That must be really great. A spine that isn’t encrusted by calcification. A digestive system that will handle whatever you throw into it … and at your age, probably that’s all sorts of weird stuff. I hope you get over that. Stomachs are important. They don’t stay tolerant forever.

And feet! Oh, how glorious! You can run, jump, walk. Your eyes are clear and bright and you can focus your camera without special glasses. How delightful. I remember when I could do that.

It’s not envy. That would imply you’ve got something I want to take from you. It’s just that you are young and healthy. Your beauty is in your vitality and the joy I see you take in the simple acts of daily life. It’s not envy. It’s more wanting to turn back my own clock. Oh, what I’d give for a single day of being completely healthy and pain-free.

On the horse

I hope you treasure what you have. I didn’t realize how much it would change and how quickly it would happen. I never expected to be what I am now. In my imagined future, I was just as you are now, but with a little gray in my hair. Otherwise, I’d be perhaps a bit slower. I want a day as I was so I can treasure it and remember how it feels to walk with a spring in my step, eat an ice-cream, run across the grass, ride a horse.

Treasure what you have, youngsters. It’s worth more than gold. If it goes away, no earthly treasure can buy it back. Take care of yourself. Hoard your riches. You’ll need them on the road ahead.

FEARLESS – Marilyn Armstrong

Just as pain warns our bodies that something is wrong, fear warns our brains to be cautious. Excessive or unreasoning fear can cripple us, make us unable to do anything at all. Phobias can eliminate some activities entirely.

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If you are terrified of heights, sky-diving and mountain climbing are likely to be non-starters. If you are scared to death of insects, forget that jungle exploration trip down the Amazon!

But normal fear based on a sensible understanding of a situation keeps us from doing dumb stuff. From climbing that rickety ladder, from diving off the cliff into the rocky, shallow water below.

I think, in the context of my life, I have done many things others might have thought dangerous, but weren’t. All the dangerous things in my life were medical and happened to me, not because of me.

I can’t think of anything I would have done — that I wanted to do — but rejected because of fear. I pretty much did what I wanted. On the whole, it worked out fine. What didn’t work out?

I had terrible judgment about men until I finally got my head together. I was stupidly trusting of people and sadly, I think I still am stupidly trusting. These days, at least I try to do the research before I get ripped off. And, I’ve been excessively generous to people who did not deserve it.

Fear never entered the equation, but maybe it should have. My problems generally involved a failure to think things through. Being smart doesn’t mean you actually use your brains.

A NOSE JOB FOR MOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t remember how many times my mother told me this story, or how many times I have told it to you. It bears retelling.

At age 22

My mother, like many young women of her generation, had wanted to attend high school. And college. But the family was poor, and there were many mouths to feed. In the end, she had to quit school after seventh grade to take a job. She worked as a bookkeeper. At 14, my mother was respectable. Also naïve and innocent.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The first place she worked was in a music publishing house on the Lower East Side where she had grown up. She was there for seven or eight years and finally decided to get a better job.

Immigrant children had trouble breaking into the workforce. Of course, my mother had the additional burden of being female at a time when women were not considered equal. There was no “political correctness” to protect them. My mother was blond and green-eyed. At 5 foot 7 inches, she was tall for her generation. Her English was better than most of the family since she had been born “on this side” of the Atlantic and had all her schooling in New York.

She was ushered into a room to be interviewed for the job she wanted. A few questions were asked. A form was handed to her and she filled it out. When she came to the box that asked her religion, she wrote Jewish. The interviewer looked at the application, said: “Jewish, eh?”

He tore the application to pieces and threw it in the trash in front of my mother. She said that from that day forward, she wrote Protestant so no one would ever do that to her again.Finally, I made a leap of understanding. I connected this anecdote to an aspect of my mother I never “got.” My mother wanted me to get a nose job. When I turned 16, she wanted me to have plastic surgery to “fix” my nose.

“It’s not broken,” I pointed out.

“But don’t you want it to look ‘normal’?” she asked.

“It looks fine to me,” I said. I was puzzled. My sister took her up on the offer. I continued to say “no thanks” and my nose is the original model with which I was born.

Since the last time I told this story, I realized my mother wasn’t hinting I wasn’t pretty enough. She was asking me if I wanted to not look Jewish. Remarkably, this thought had never crossed my mind. Until a few weeks ago.

I know many children of Holocaust victims refused to circumcise their sons because that’s how the Nazis identified little Jewish boys. I know non-white mothers frequently sent their light-skinned children north hoping they could “pass” for white. But never, until recently, did it occur to me my mother was trying to help me “pass” for non-Jewish.

I never considered the possibility I was turned down for a job because I was, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks, “too Jewish.” I always assumed it was me. I failed to measure up. I was too brash. My skills were insufficient.

I told Garry about my revelation. It was quite an epiphany, especially at my advanced age. I needed to share. It left me wondering how much I’d missed.

September 15, 1990 – My family at our wedding. I think most of us look a bit alike!

I told him I’d finally realized my mother’s persistent suggestion to “get my nose fixed” was an attempt to help me fit in, to not look so obviously Jewish. I had never considered anyone might not like me for other than personal reasons. I said I thought perhaps I’d been a little slow on the uptake on this one.

Garry said, “And when did you finally realize this?”

“Yesterday,” I said.

“Yesterday?” he repeated. Garry looked dumbfounded.

“Yesterday,” I assured him.

He was quiet and thoughtful. “Well,” he said. “You’re 72? That is a bit slow. You really didn’t know?” I shook my head. I really didn’t know. Apparently, everyone else got it. Except me.