AWKWARD CAN BE CUTE IN A KLUTZY WAY, RIGHT? – Marilyn Armstrong

Awkward?
Photo: Garry Armstrong

Me walking anywhere. More like limping. Me, trying to clamber into the bathtub and hoping, praying, I’m not going to fall down in the process.  Awkward is anytime I have to go upstairs. Worse, slowly and awkwardly going down. I rarely fear falling upward, but I’m always sure I’m going to fall down.

My days of grace have wandered far into the distance. Not that I was ever really graceful, even way back in the days of youth. I always felt like my feet were about to get tangled together and down I’d go. About the most graceful I ever felt was on horseback!

Now, I’m glad if I can get anywhere and not fall on my face doing it! Some of us are just born that way.

WORLD SHARING — ANOTHER WEEK PASSED? – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – May 14, 2018


Time is really whizzing along these weeks. Whoosh and another week is gone. Slow down, please. I can’t keep up with everything.

Complete this sentence: This sandwich could really use some …

Mayonnaise.

What is your least favorite candy?

I don’t like most hard candy. It sticks to my teeth.

What sign are you? Do you believe in astrology?

I’m a Pisces. Don’t judge.

Do I believe in astrology? Yes and no. I have learned much from astrology, but I do not believe it really offers us a “path” to life. All it does it suggest options, likelihood, possibilities.

Much will happen whether we choose it or not and the rest will probably happen too, but maybe we have some way to “push” the process one way or the other. Not change it, exactly … just move it to a different rail … with the ultimate destination always the same.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?  

Garry was a very good speaker at Charlie Austin’s Memorial Service. I was proud of him. He is usually a very good extemporaneous speaking anyway, but he was very much on target this time.

It was a special time and he was a special speaker.

OUR CANINE FAMILY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I haven’t written about our dogs in a while. That’s unusual for me because they are such a big part of our lives.

Our two rescue dogs are my constant companions, or nearly constant. More often than not, wherever I am, they are too. But, they each have favorite spots around the house that they like to go to hang out on their own. So sometimes Tom and I will realize that we humans are the only living beings in the room. When that happens, we usually get up and go looking for our furry pals. I’m embarrassed to admit that we often try to cajole them to come back and hang out with us again.

Lexi

Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. I like that independent streak in our pets. Especially with Lexi, our eight year old. She is generally too attached and dependent on me and has separation issues. She is usually my shadow so I’m thrilled when she goes into another room on her own. It has taken years to get her to this point.

Remy

Our two-year old, Remy, is much more independent. But she is such a lover and a cuddler! She is one of the happiest dogs I’ve ever known. She greets us each morning with sheer joy! She is so thrilled to see us again after a long night. It almost feels like she is excited and grateful to see that we’re still here and so is she. I believe that most rescue dogs have a deep sense of gratitude for being rescued. And also a great appreciation for being part of a family. I see that clearly in Remy, who was eight months old when we got her.

Remy playing cards with one of our friends

Remy exudes doggie charisma. Everyone loves her instantly. People sense her sweetness and take to her like bees to honey. She sits next to our friends and cuddles with them. She paws them gently to get them to pet her. She rests her head on their arm or thigh. She sniffs and occasionally licks their faces and hands. She just charms the pants off of everyone she meets.

Sometimes I feel bad for Lexi. She is a shyer and more obviously neurotic dog. So people don’t realize right away how special she is. But once she warms up to you, she is truly awesome. She is very interactive with people. And she is the most verbally communicative dog I’ve ever had. She ‘talks’ – not just barks. She has a wide vocabulary of distinctive sounds and she responds verbally when you talk to her. It’s delightful to have ‘conversations’ with her.

Lexi, like Remy, as also very affectionate. She elicits attention from people with her paws and her voice. She drapes herself over people she’s comfortable with. Sometimes Remy is sitting next to me so there’s no room for Lexi at my side. But that doesn’t stop Lexi! If she wants to cuddle with me, she’ll just climb over Remy and onto my lap. Or she will climb onto the sofa cushion BEHIND me and wrap herself around my neck. Very creative cuddling!

Remy’s favored modes of verbalization are whining as well as barking. I’ve never had a whiner before. Apparently it’s a breed trait of the Red Boned Coon Hound, which seems to be part of Remy’s DNA. (She also looks similar to dogs of that breed and shares their unique and beautiful color).

Her whining can get really high-pitched and shrill, not her best feature. We’re much happier when she just barks at us. But to get Tom to play with her, she whines. She starts softly and then escalates into shrieks if Tom dares to ignore her. This tactic usually works to motivate Tom to get up and take the dogs into the backyard. Or to run around the house with both dogs frantically chasing him and barking with glee.

Both dogs are still skittish, as are many rescue dogs. They startle at sudden noises or movements. They bark frantically when people come into the house and it takes them a while to calm down. Even when we come home after being out for a while, they greet us with frenzied squealing and barking and crazed jumping and running around. They’re a bit over the top, but we enjoy our enthusiastic greetings whenever we walk into the house. It’s a family ritual.

Our dogs sleep in bed with us. All our dogs have. Like most dogs, Lexi and Remy have nighttime rituals they follow religiously. When we first go to bed, Remy lies between Tom and me and cuddles with both of us, in turn. Lexi curls up against my legs or feet. Then at some point towards morning, the dogs switch places. Lexi ends up cuddling with me and Remy takes up her place at my feet or up against Tom.

Sometimes when we get up to go to the bathroom during the night, we get back to find little or no room for us on the bed. We have to push and prod the dogs to get them to move over and create a viable, albeit small, space for us.

Remy sleeping with Tom

In the morning, when the dogs sense we’re getting ready to get up, they pounce on us. Lots of licks and nuzzles. They climb all over Tom and lick him until he finally gets out of bed. What a great wake up call. We start the day with a big dose of love and enthusiasm! Lots of joyful wiggles and wags!

We get out of bed smiling and laughing – which says a lot. We DO NOT like getting out of bed in the mornings!

Dogs playing

We don’t have grandchildren, so maybe that’s a factor in our obsession with our dogs. But, whatever the reason, we love our human/canine family. They fill our days with laughter and love. They provide entertainment and affection. They make us happy. And we can’t imagine living any other way!

SICK BODY, UNHAPPY MIND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I think of myself as a strong, healthy person. When I think about it at all. I’ve had periods in my life when I wasn’t healthy, but that was way in the past. Healthy is my reality now. I’m not athletic, but I can do what I want, when I want to. At least I could until four months ago.

Suddenly I started getting stiffness and pain that would come and go randomly. Then the episodes started getting longer and the stiffness and pain were accompanied by weakness and fatigue. Now I get these several times a week at random times and for varying durations.

The weird part is that on days when I don’t have symptoms, I’m absolutely fine. Totally normal. No sign of any problem whatever. This is making me psychizophrenic.

I went to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with Poly Rheumatic and Fibromyalgia. I’ve been put on medication. But apparently these conditions get better very slowly. I’ve read and been told that a year is not uncommon to suffer before you go back to normal.

I’m going for a second opinion.

But in the meantime, my life has been turned upside down. It’s hard to plan anything because I never know how I’ll feel on any given day or night.

Did I mention that I can’t take much Ibuprofen for the pain? And unfortunately, that is the only thing that helps me weather my episodes. I donated a kidney to my son so I have to be very protective of the one I have left. Anti-inflammatories, like Ibuprofen, are bad for the kidneys. So I can only use them very sparingly. This means that I’m screwed.

So I’m left in this nether world between healthy sometimes and debilitated the rest of the time. It’s doing a number on me psychologically. On bad days, I feel old and decrepit. No energy and no motivation. Then I bounce back to my chipper, active self. But even then, I know that my good health is not going to last long.

This experience has emphasized for me the interconnections between body and mind. When my body is healthy, my mind can stay upbeat and positive. When my body is struggling, so does my mind.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about people who live with chronic pain and/or discomfort from a wide variety of medical conditions. I have a new respect for people who manage to deal with permanent disabilities or illnesses and still manage to lead fulfilling lives and maintain positive attitudes. I’m not sure if I could do it. I’m struggling with sporadic issues I’ve had for only four months!

If this is going to go on for seven or eight more months, I’m going to have to put my big girl panties on and get my psych back in fighting mode. I’m going to have to power through the bad days and make the best of the good days. Do what I can when I can and accept what I can’t do when I can’t. This is my version of the serenity prayer. I hope it works for me.

THE RUSSIANS IN LIBERTY – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry and I have been watching “Reilly – Ace of Spies” starring Sam Neill. It’s a really good, long mini-series. Very detailed, complex, and absorbing. Since it’s more or less historical, I know how it’s going to end … which is one of the few things I don’t like about watching history. You know it’s going to end badly. You have to decide if you want to watch that final episode or maybe take a shower.

On this evening’s episode, Sidney Reilly quit the British Secret Service and committed himself to ending the Bolshevik reign in Russia at any cost. Which was when I realized I’d met a whole bunch of these people a long time ago in a world I’d nearly forgotten.

This is a strange story, so bear with me.

Russian Communism was not one or two easily understood “things.” It was an idea that became a revolution that fractured into multiple parts. Americans have typically seen it all as one thing: Communism. Khrushchev. Stalin. Soviet Union. For most Americans, that’s how we’ve been taught to think about it.

It was a lot more complicated than that.

A lot of people fought the Czar to end their reign and bring Communism to Russians. Many of those fighters were very unhappy (and many of them also wound up dead) because the Communist government they got was nothing like what they fought for. They fought for justice and equality, but what they got was tyranny and fascism. The ironic part of the story is that the fight to get rid the world of the German fascists basically cost them the country.

Getting rid of the Germans was pretty much the one thing on which everyone in Russia agreed. Get rid of the Germans. We’ll sort out the rest later.

It turned out Lenin wasn’t such a nice guy and by the end of the war, he was in power … and then, he was dead and chaos reigned. The British didn’t provide the anti-Bolsheviks the weapons or troops they had promised. The planned coup to take over the Russian government failed as did the attempted assassination of Lenin. By the time the Germans surrendered, Lenin and his wing-man, Stalin, owned Russia.

Sidney Reilly, the star of the series we’re watching, left the British Secret Service and dedicated the remaining years of his life to trying to destroy the Russian Bolshevik government. Many of his people — including Sidney — moved to New York where the FBI  stuck to them like super glue. The FBI was not then or now a group who understood the complexities of Russian history.

Eventually, many of these Russians moved to small towns in upstate New York. Monroe. Liberty. Woodstock. Monticello. Roxbury. Places that once were home to huge Jewish resorts like Grossinger’s and where so many stand-up comics got their start. Today these towns are doing pretty well, but there were dark days during which they were nearly ghost towns.

Except for the Russians.

Liberty, New York – the old days

I was 17 in the summer of 1964. My goal in life was to leave home and never come back. My mother still thought she might somehow lure me into staying a while longer … like until I was 18. Or got married. Or had a job. Thus when summer rolled around, she decided we needed a family vacation in the Catskills. Liberty, in Sullivan County, was our destination.

To say that this was not what I wanted doesn’t come close to it. I hated my father and disliked my sister. My brother had married and left home, so my only ally was gone. Family vacation? Seriously? I could look forward to a couple of weeks of being harangued by my father and probably threatened with near death beatings.

I never entirely understood my mother’s reasoning. Why would I want to go to the mountains with the family?

Regardless, that’s what we did. I don’t remember the name of the “resort.” It was old and rundown. The reason mom picked it was because they had a concert pianist. I was a music major with piano as my instrument. Mom apparently thought the music might grab my interest. In response, I brought enough dope with me to stay high the full two weeks.

But the mural was in full, blazing color

That first evening, we went to dinner. Big dining room  intended for a much larger crowd. Two walls were painted. Murals. On the wall facing me (I’m not making this up) was the head of Trotsky. From chin to forehead he was maybe 12 feet high? No body, just a head. I was really stoned and that huge head just hung there on the wall.

But wait. There was more.

On the right wall was something that looked like a chariot but was probably a troika which is usually pulled by three horses. In this case, it was being pulled by three workers. You knew they were workers because the hammer and sickle was prominently displayed across their laboring bodies. In the chariot — or whatever it was — there was a Corporate Rich Guy (dollar signs painted all over him) beating the workers. With a giant whip.

Holy shit.

That was some dinner. I don’t know what they served, but I ate it all.

That night, I could hear my parents whispering. “Albert, you better get cash. We can’t sign anything. The FBI is probably here. Watching.” Come to think of it, the FBI probably was there. Did they also eat the gefilte fish?

It turned out everyone in the resort except me, my sister, and parents, were in their 70s or older. All of them had been in the White army trying to take down the Bolsheviks — or something like that. Here’s a good jumping off point for the history. It’s Wikipedia, so it shouldn’t be your primary source.

The road to Liberty

These were Sidney’s people. They carried around books of pictures of pictures of them young, in the army. Guns. Boots. Snow. Tanks. If I had been more astute, a bit more into Russian history — and less stoned — I could have asked so many questions. I’m sure they would have told me everything.

As it was, they tried to tell me everything, but I was 17. We all know that 17-year-old girls don’t listen to old people, even when they have books full of pictures of themselves when they were kids, fighting Bolsheviks and tanks. In Russia. In the snow.

Until we started watching this series, I had no idea who these folks were. I knew they were Russian because they said so. They had pictures and they giggled when they talked about it. I remember Greenwich Village. They remembered fighting with the army in Russia.

Ah, memories.

At 17, I didn’t know the difference between one Bolshevik and another and probably, at that stage in life, didn’t care.

Tonight, watching that show, it came together. Those people were the last of the crowd of anti-Bolsheviks who’d come up from New York city to live in those quaint towns in the Catskills — to get away from the FBI and HUAC.

Pity I didn’t get the story. What a story it would have been!

Dad paid cash. He never signed anything. I think he used a fake name, too. I stayed stoned and ate gefilte fish, which I usually hate. How could I say no to fish with Trotsky staring at me while the guy with the whip beat the workers?

AWESOMELY AUTHENTIC – Marilyn Armstrong

At a certain point in life — some people call it old and the rest of us call it “wow, I’m still alive!” — you become authentic. You are really real. Naturally awesome. Totally chilled. You are you

From that point on, you lose the choice of wearing a false face. The faces you needed while you worked, while you “faced your public” — if what you did involved facing “the public.” Garry could no more be a reporter now than I could put on my Working Face or for that matter, remember the millions of details I used to keep in my head.

If I had been the natural authentic “me” at work, I’d never have made it through a job long enough to collect the first paycheck.

Especially those of us who worked in a strictly corporate world, the last thing we could be was authentic — unless we were born in a tailored suit and always talked like a TV-series lawyer.

I suppose what most people mean when they say we are authentic is that we are “natural.” No façade. No game face. We aren’t pretending for the camera or the boss. We are being ourselves for good or ill. Mostly, I think it’s good. Purely opinion, however.

Professional work rarely suggests we be “us.” We are whatever we need to be to “make the grade” professionally. Those of us that never manage to find the right façade generally don’t “make it” to the upper echelons of the work we do.

I was good at The Face for about three months. My first three months at any job, I was perfect. It was exhausting. I even attended meetings! The worse job I ever had was as management when I had to hold the meetings. There was no one I could call to point out I was too busy to make it.

After those three carefully guarded months, I relaxed. Bit by bit. Otherwise, I couldn’t do my job. I became more insistent that others do what they should so I could manage my part of the task. If my first three months didn’t impress them, I was doomed. That was the most “not me” I had to offer.

I was not a good corporate player. The bigger and more formal the organization, the less well I fit into it. I wanted to fit in, mainly because I wanted the better salary and benefits, but mostly, that wasn’t enough.

I was impressed at how Garry had two different personalities for home and work.  His professional game face was not the one he brought home at night. The only truly consistent feature was his temper. If you got him really mad enough, well … you got what you paid for.

Garry gets his first look at the actual award.

These days, as we age, we are about as real, natural and authentic as humans can get. If by now we aren’t real, we never will be. The best part of aging is becoming yourself all the time.

It doesn’t mean you have to be rude, crude, or mean. Just that you don’t have to pretend any more. What a relief!

HANGING OUT — MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Hanging out is a concept lost to modern youth. I think it’s a tragedy, personally. The best parts of my life were spent hanging out.

I was a teenager in college. Madly in love with my first boyfriend who was seriously into the “Village scene.” He brought me there for my first taste of cold chocolate at a MacDougal Street coffee shop. I took to the Village like the proverbial duck to water.

From the old Italian coffee houses that sold coffee along with a few other non-alcoholic drinks, to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. Everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home.

The world was mine.

It wasn’t only the Village, either. A lot of New York was free back then.

Museums were free. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a magical experience. For that matter, the huge New York Public Library behind the stone lions had basements full of original, ancient documents into which you could freely delve. You couldn’t take them out of the library, but they were free for you to absorb. (I have no idea if that’s true anymore.)

You could spent an afternoon at the Hayden Planetarium watching the stars. If you had just a little bit of money, afternoon plays on Broadway could be very cheap, especially if you could live with “standing room only.” In the afternoon, there were always seats available. A lot of things you pay big money for now weren’t expensive then … and this wasn’t just a matter of the change of the value of money through the years. It was a huge change in culture.

If you were a teenager, New York on your doorstep was heaven, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s on your doorstep? That was the stuff from which dreams came true.

From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton, to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.

Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with other people so we could make the rent and maybe afford food too.

All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat around waiting to see what might happen. You could read or watch people coming and going. Hoping you’d see someone you knew — or maybe wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. And we didn’t sit around with our cell phones because there were no such things. We just sat around. Talking or thinking or reading. It was a quiet place until the music started. That was hanging out. No one told you to hurry — or told you to buy something or leave. It was cool to simply be there.”

Bleecker and MacDougalI often sat with a cup of coffee or chocolate for a whole day. No one pushed us out the door to make way for ‘the lunch crowd.’ No one bothered you unless you looked like you’d like some bothering.

When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. It wasn’t particularly odd to have no money at all. A lot of us walked around with empty wallets. Without wallets, too. Rich was having exactly enough money to buy a coffee and subway tokens. It was okay in the 1960s. Poverty was cool.

Not only were there no cell phones. A lot of people had no phone. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Cars? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I know I didn’t. That was a decade in the future.

People were friendly, funny, and we were sure we were going to change the world. I think we did, though sometimes when I’m in a dour mood, I wonder if all we really did was make denim a fashion fabric.

Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was occasionally attending school and getting far better grades than I deserved, I was a music major and one of the perks were free concert tickets to Carnegie Hall. There’s the “main room” — but there are also a number of “recital halls” where up and coming musicians perform. I’m hope that’s still true.

Meanwhile, one of my soon-to-be husbands and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island. They opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. It was a light-hearted reference to education — AB, MA, and Ph.D. Nobody got the joke.

They brought in the same people who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

Dave Van Ronk (back then)

What did I do there, in Hempstead? I hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Hanging. I also played bridge upstairs in Memorial Hall instead of attending classes, but no one is perfect.

No one was texting, computing, or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the microphones). Nobody’s phone was beeping, dinging, or wailing. No one was going off into a corner to talk on the phone.

If you were going off into a corner, you were either making a date — remember dating? — or buying (or possibly selling) drugs.  All the noise was human. Talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating. Drinking.

It was an incredibly happy time for me, even though I thought I was deeply troubled, probably because I hadn’t really made the full breakaway from home to real life … and also because I’d read too many books about troubled youth and figured I must be one.

I know that whatever kids are doing today, they aren’t having nearly as much fun as we had. I feel sorry for them. We were adventurous, playful, willing to try anything at least once and most of us, more often. If I hadn’t been me during those years, I’d envy whoever had been the girl hanging out. If I miss anything of the “old days”? It’s hanging out. Just being there and doing nothing important.

Being there was enough.