NJ

In less than 48 hours I will be back in my home turf – cruising around the streets of Leonia, gazing at the NYC skyline, and eating White Castles.

Hell, eating a lot of things if we’re going to be brutally honest. I just hope that all the walking I will be doing will counter balance the massive quantities of Hiram’s hot dogs, Donna’s Pizza and sack after sack of murder burgers that I’ll be ingesting.

To celebrate our 20th wedding anniversay hubby and I decided to take a quick trip up to our old stomping grounds to revisit where it all began. We are taking the kids with us, because quite frankly, I’d feel guilty going without them. We don’t get to travel much, and the thought of heading off for a fun weekend in New York City without our two girls seemed like a shitty thing to do. We are a family and we do everything together…why not this?

It’ll just be the four of us – no outsiders. The last time we were up north everybody monopolized our time and left us with few opportunities to do the things we wanted to do. So we vowed that this trip would be free of family and friends, with one exception for each of us. Hubby is seeing one of his six brothers, and I am going to visit my friend John – my very best and oldest friend who I have not seen since I moved from New Jersey in 1997.

Other than those two planned events, we are going to play it by ear. Yes, we want to visit the Central Park Zoo, and Ground Zero, and the Statue of Liberty – see my family name on the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island. But you know the old saying – time flies when you’re having fun. If we get to do half of those things I’ll be amazed – especially with a family of late sleepers. I’ll be setting the alarm at 6 am – you can be sure of that.

But aside from Times Square and the big city, I’m also looking forward to just poking around my old home town. Walking the streets, looking in the shop windows, and remembering the places that were there when I was a kid. I’ll walk through Wood Park and remember the countless softball games I played in the spring league. I’ll go into the public library just to smell the heavy scent of books and paper that always permeated those rooms. And if there’s time, I might just make the walk from Fort Lee Road all the way to Oakdene Avenue – my old route home from school.

I can’t wait.

Screw it. I’m setting the hotel alarm for 5 am. Sleeping is a waste of time anyway.

Young woman smoking cigarette

Five years ago today I was pulling my hair out, gnashing my teeth, and eating everything in sight.

Because five years ago today I quit smoking.

I’ve blogged about this just about every year, and I might continue to do so until my time of death is called. Because the fact that I was able to quit smoking is nothing small of a miracle.

I smoked a lot, and I liked it. My husband and kids would complain about it constantly. But heading outside for 90 seconds of solitude while I got my nicotine rush was my little escape. I smoked 2 packs a day – I switched from Parliament to generic brands when the prices started to go up. But when my state announced that there was going to be a significant price hike in cigarettes, I knew I had to quit.

We are not a wealthy family, and the money I was spending on cigarettes already made me feel guilty. But the thought of spending more? That was enough to make me try quitting again.

I’d tried tons of times before. I’d made it 9 months back in 2009 or so, but while visiting the Waltons Museum on a photo shoot, the guy that ran a small tourist offered me a smoke while I was asking him questions. I don’t know why I took it, but I did. We smoked while looking at a bench with the words “Goodnight Jim Bob” on it. On my drive back home I stopped and bought a pack. Fucking Jim Bob…

For some reason, when I tried to quit in 2009 it stuck. I remember getting a prescription for Chantix but when I found out it was more than $100 a month, I was ashamed. Here I had become addicted to a substance that was going to cost my family more money than we could afford just for me to quit it. Ugh. It was there and then I decided to give the patch, at a $30 per month cost, another try.

And here I am 5 years later to the day.

I see people smoking now and I feel so utterly sorry for them. I know how hard it is to quit. I know so very well. Somehow I was able to muster up the strength to resist those slender white mothers. I hope they can find the strength one day too.

And now? I don’t have to worry about buying them anymore. At 10 pm I’m not driving to the store to buy a pack because I only have 2 cigarettes left. I don’t have to stock up if a storm is coming. I don’t have to make my family pull over on long trips so I can hot box 2 smokes in the span of 4 minutes.

And I really don’t miss them either. But… I will walk through a cloud of smoke if I’m behind some dude smoking a Marlboro. And I inhale deeply and say “aaaaaah.”

table n onion

I realized this past weekend that certain folks out there don’t understand how things work in this world.

For instance, if you are looking for a parking spot at the grocery store, and you see someone backing out of their space, you stop your car and put on your blinker. This signifies to the entire world that you have claimed that spot once it has opened up. Anyone who takes that spot from you is a d-bag.

Plain and simple.

Something of a similar nature happened to us at King’s Dominion on Saturday. I almost always pack a lunch when we go there – a burger with fries is over $15 in the park, and it’s not even very good. I also park right next to the small pavilion where they have 6 picnic tables, so it’s easy for us to get the stuff from the car to the table.

Yeah, I got this lunch thing down.

So, after a morning of coasters and carousels, we were all ready to head to the car and chow down on our sandwiches. The last time we were there we could not get a table, and we had to eat out of the back of our car – but it was only three of us then. This time we had friends along, and we really needed a table.

I walked around the pavilion and surveyed what stages of luncheon-ness the groups occupying the tables were at. Having spotted folks who had eaten their sandwiches and were now just picking at chips, I asked if they were going to be leaving soon. They said yes, that they were just about to clean up their stuff. I said great, and put my water and my bag down on the table. I told the kids to stand by and stand watch.

I walked to the car to get our cooler and noticed a teenage girl looking daggers at me. Oh well, teens are known for being bitchy. When I turned to head back to the table, there was a man sitting there.

Hmmm.

He was cutting an onion on a paper plate using a Johnny-on-the-go pocket knife. I approached him and said, “excuse me, but I had my stuff here.”

He glanced at me and said, “Yes, well we’ve been waiting over there a long time for a table to open up, and this one is ours. But thank you!”

Seriously? What is this, a line at the bank where you wait for the next available cashier? That’s not how it works, bub – not in the world of parking spots and picnic tables.

See, I had secured that table – secured it by engaging in coversation with the previous occupants – sealing the deal if you will. All this dork did was sit and wait. That doesn’t cut it in my book.

And I didn’t like the way he had spoken to me. He had told me his side and dismissed me – like, nothing further needs to be said, so piss off. The only thing that kept me from sitting down and refusing to move was the fact that the table right next to us opened up. Otherwise, I would have dug my heels in.

But I was still pissed and so were my kids. I mean, who muscles in and steals a table from two 12-year old girls? I mumbled “douchebag” and walked away to set up our lunch.

He sat there cutting his onion, and taking out bags of cold cuts from his cooler. His dumpy wife and snarky kids came over and sat down. Oh, and the bitchy teen? One of his. No wonder she gave me the cold stare – I’d “stolen” their table.

So while we ate, we picked them apart. We laughed at how idiotic it was to sit and cut an onion at a picnic table – why not cut it at home and put it in a ziploc or some tupperware? Or better yet, skip the onion. Who wants volcano breath while you’re waiting in line to ride the volcano?

My youngest daughter was really mad. I told her it really didn’t matter because we’d gotten a table anyway with no further waiting, but she was still sore that she’d been bullied out of her spot by a middle aged man in too-high shorts and knee socks. She’s just like her dad…

Had hubby been there, there would have been no turning the other cheek. No all’s well that ends well. There would have been shouting and name calling, and stares, and shaking of heads.

So during lunch I schooled the kids on the proper etiquette for commandeering a table, whether at the mall or in the King’s Dominion parking lot lunch pavilion – and I told them loud enough for him to hear.  I also told them not to let grown men push you around when you are in the right.

Oh, and the most important advice? Cut your freakin’ onions at home.

earlybirdI’m a morning person. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I find that I do my best work in the morning, exercise better in morning, and have a better attitude in the morning. Mornings are magical.

Take this morning for instance. The alarm went off at 5 am, and I’ll tell you I did not want to get out of bed. I had just rolled over and became comfy when the clock began its incessant beeping. Ugh…the thought of resetting the alarm so I could get another half hour of z’s was tempting.

But I got up and made my tea, trolled facebook, used my 5 lives in Candy Crush (stupid level 437) and then began my morning freelance work. As I sat there typing away, I heard a bird making the most incredible song. He was singing “Figaro” – those three notes sung in Figaro’s Aria – over and over. Figaro! Figaro! It was so sweet, and nobody up to enjoy it but me.

There’s a smell and a feel to the morning that you don’t get at any other time of day. The air smells clean and cool. There’s a dampness you can almost feel and see as the morning light begins to kiss the earth. It’s the time of day when you see bunnies in search of sweet clover, and some times a turtle or two if it’s been particularly rainy. It’s so beautiful and the best part is the whole day is still ahead of you – filled with possibilities.

I’m one of those people who are up with the sun. Even on weekends, if I wake up and see that it’s light out, I’m out of bed in an instant – I don’t want to waste the morning! It may be because my dad was a morning person. If we were sleeping in late as kids he’d come up and roust us out of bed as if we were committing a horrible crime. I guess I learned that lesson early on.

When we would be vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard each summer, my dad would pick one morning for us to go fishing. When I was a little squirt everyone would go, and I rarely got a fishing pole. But as the years went by, I was the only one who was still interested in this early morning ritual – everyone else opted to stay in bed and sleep. Not me! What a waste!

Beach Road BridgeWe’d wake at 5:30. Dad would pour me a glass of cranberry juice, we’d eat some toast, and off we went! We’d head to the Edgartown docks or the bridge along beach road, and drop our lines in the water. The air would be cool – you needed a jacket – and the water was so still. All you heard was the sounds of the seagulls, the water lapping against the pylons, and the occasional splash of a fish. I always caught sea robins.

When I was in my twenties, I used to go to my friend Paul’s home near Hunter Mountain – what they call “going up the country” in my old stomping grounds. When we’d head up there for the weekend, we’d party late into the night on Fridays, but on Saturday mornings I was always the first one up. I’d dress, and head out to take a walk down the road – not so much for exercise – but just to start my day peacefully. I’d gaze at the scenery, peoples homes, the farm animals that might be out in the pasture.

It’s like I was all alone in the world because for the most part, the world hadn’t woken up yet.

That’s why I love mornings. The world gets so busy during the day with cars and people and sirens and radios and screaming kids in shopping carts. Yet when I’m out in the morning, I might only see a handful of people. You pass them on your walk and you think to yourself, “Yep. They get it.”

 

 

Couple-in-bedMy daughter finished her freshman year at college last week, and I for one am glad it’s over. Not only did I miss my little baby girl, but she was living in a sort of roommate hell, and I just wanted her outta there and in her own room again.

It dawned on me fairly early on that her roomies weren’t the most wholesome of girls. The Sunday after Thanksgiving we returned our girl to campus. We had to help her up to her room to drop off laundry and left overs. She opened the door and we walked in on her one roommate, clad in nothing but a bra and pants, in bed with some dude who was also topless.

Hello! Why in the world would you risk being caught like that? It’s a “no duh” that your roomie is coming home – it’s the Sunday night after Thanksgiving! We left the lights off and averted our eyes, while they jumped under the covers. We quickly dumped all of her stuff on her bed and made a bee-line for the elevator. My youngest looked at me and said, “Well, that was a little more than I wanted to see. Talk about getting an education!”

I wish that were the only instance.

My little freshman was also subject to late night invasions. She told me her roomies would often bring home groups of people, many times way after midnight, where they would play music and eat food with no regard for how it affected my daughter. Granted, half the time she was up skyping her boyfriend, but still, for her it was quiet time that was now shattered.

When we dropped her off after spring break, we walked in to find her other roommate in bed with a dude. They were asleep (or pretending to be), but again it was super uncomfortable. And that scenario was repeated when we came to start packing up her room a few weekends ago. When I asked my daughter how often this happened, she said “all the time.” She also told me they would lay in bed and make out – like hard core making out – right in front of her.

Don’t these girls have any self respect?

And then there was the Great Flatiron Episode of 2014. Not only were these girls skanks, but one of them was flat out dishonest as well.

One of her roommates used a flatiron every day. She left it plugged in and draped across the spot where the mirror was. My girl tripped on the cord and knocked it on the floor, breaking it. She calls me and tells me what happened, and asked what she should do. I said to tell her you broke it because she left it in a dangerous spot, and that you’d pay her half of what it cost. Fair n’ square, right?

She calls me a few days later in a panic. Her roommate told her the flatiron cost $200 – which meant we would have to fork over $100. My stomach hit the floor. I figured there had to be a mistake. Short of a professional hair stylist, I couldn’t see the need for any average girl to have a $200 flatiron. I told my daughter that I wanted the make and model – I had to do some research on this.

When she asked her roomie to see the model, her roomie asked for my phone number…and her mom got involved. Ruh roh.

A few days later I was on the phone with her fast talking mom who told me that she was a hair professional and her daughter needed an expensive flatiron because she was left handed and would burn herself with the average flatiron.

What? Left handed scissors? Sure. But I’m fairly certain there is no such thing as a lefty flatiron. I was getting taken.

She also told me that she had looked everywhere on line and could not find this flatiron any cheaper than the original $200 price. I’ll be the judge of that sister.

I politely told her that I needed the make and model of the flatiron. End of chat. To that she said that her daughter had the box in her closet, and that her girl would give my girl the info I needed. A few days later photos of the box were emailed to me.

In less than 10 minutes I had surmised that yes, it was indeed a $200 flatiron. But I also found it new in the box on Amazon for $42.00.

FORTY-TWO DOLLARS. $47 with tax and shipping.

Amazon was having a %75 of sale on selected items, and her flatiron was one of the items. I emailed the link to my daughter, who sent it to her roomie, who never answered the emial. So I bought it anyway. I was not going to risk this sale ending before I got an answer from her.

Once it came I gave it to my daughter to give to her roommate with a note inside saying, “sorry for the delay – just pay the $23 before the end of the year!”

Do you think we ever got paid?

Nope. And get this.

That bitch went out and bought a brand new flatiron – laid it on her bed for all to see. I got her the EXACT same iron as she had before, but I think what she really wanted was the $100.

Not from me sister. Not in this lifetime. You may have ripped me off of $23 bucks, but I stuck to my end of the bargain. I was honest and made you whole, whereas you were deceitful and mean; a scammer trying to make a buck at the expense of your roommate.

Left handed flatiron, indeed.

We are hoping for better next year. My daughter will be living with 3 new gals, but she’ll have her own room.  So if things get crazy in the kitchen or living room, she at least has a place that will be her own.

 

IMG_6295As I stood in the shower on the morning of April 28th, I was the proud owner of two beautiful kitties – brother and sister that we adopted from our local animal shelter on July 5th, 2010. Less than an hour later I’d be crying over a cardboard box holding the lifeless body of my sweet little Olive.

Olive. Otherwise known as n’Olive. That was her nickname. I’m not sure why we started adding on the hint of an “n” before her name, but we almost always called her n’Olive. Except for my husband – he called her “the grey cat” even though she was clearly brown.

Both cats had been out all night, which happens from time to time, especially when the weather gets warm. Hubby slept on the couch until the wee hours waiting to hear either of them scratching at the door, but he finally gave up and went to bed when no amount of calling brought them in. When I got up at 5 am, I opened the back door to find Dodger waiting to be let in, but no Olive.

I was worried, but not panicked – she liked to make her own entrance. I kept waiting for her tell-tale scratch at the front door, but soon it was time to get into the shower. I thought about her while I was in there – thought about how the last time she didn’t come in after an all night outing, she had come home badly hurt. That wasn’t even a year ago – just the end of last summer.

When the sun came up I walked down the driveway to make sure she wasn’t laying in the road. I’d hate for my daughter to see that. I looked up and down saw nothing crumpled on the pavement, or in the grassy ditch along the side of the road. I even looked at the road behind our house, which is tough because I have to wade through a thicket of trees with about 8 inches of leaves on the ground.

Once my youngest woke up and heard Olive was MIA we decided to go out and take another look. As I was walking up the road, I heard my daughter cry out for me. She’d found Olive.

My sweet girl was laying in a deep ditch beside the storm pipe that runs under the street from our house. She wasn’t moving. I hurried down beside her, but there was nothing to be done. She was dead.

The next hour was a bad one. My youngest dropped to her knees in the road and began sobbing. I got her up and took her back to the house where I woke up Hubby, who came out and got her out of the ditch. We placed her in a box, and I carried her to the garage. There was no way I was sending my daughter to school that day, and then I thought of what to tell my oldest daughter.

She was still at college, getting ready for finals week. Hubby suggested we keep this bad news from her so she could concentrate on finishing out her year. At first I was horrified – she had to know. Olive was her cat. They were like peas and carrots – always sleeping together. Olive would only sleep on her lap, only let her scritch behind her ears for hours on end.

But he was right. So we kept it from her for almost two weeks.

I had to work that day – Mondays are busy for me. I took my youngest into town with me where we moped our way through the day. I lost it when I told my co-workers, but had to keep my cool the remainder of the day. Can’t be answering the phone with a weepy, hitching voice.

When we got home, we found a nice spot, dug a deep hole and said goodbye to our beautiful girl. We laid her on the piece of carpet she slept on, and wrapped her in one of my oldest daughter’s baby blankets. But first we petted her. I scratched her little head, and rubbed her pretty belly and cried, and cried, and cried. We each took turns shoveling dirt on her, and then cried some more.

The next day we had some heavy rains in the area, and on the way home, hubby and my youngest stopped to watch the Rivanna River flow rapidly by. And there, hubby spotted a flat rock in the shape of a heart. It’s the centerpiece of her grave now, surrounded by pavers, flowers, and a light. I plan on making that area a garden over the course of time. Tiger lilies and pussy willows. And black eyed susans.

By the time my oldest came home from college ten days later, we had formed a bit of a scab on our hearts. But leading her to the grave when she asked where her kitty was ripped that scab off like it was attached to the band-aid. And once again we cried, and cried, and cried.

Olive was a weird kitty. Aloof and standoffish, more times than not she would arch away from you when you went to pet her. She didn’t like to be held, and was totally disinterested in her brother, who lived to torment her in his playful kitty way. But to my oldest she was something completely different. Olive would surrender totally to her – they shared a bond that no one else in the family could even come close to having with her.

Yet after her accident last year, she had begun to mellow towards the rest of us. I think she realized that we took care of her…that we loved her, and she began to reciprocate. She’d give us more tail hugs and would endure more scratches. She’d lay on the carpet and roll her belly up to be rubbed. She slept with me from time to time.

And now she’s gone. Just when she was getting good. There are things I’ll miss about that stubby little kitty.

I’ll miss her dainty little scratch at the front door. Dodger? He moves the sliding screen with his paws making a loud clanking sound. But n’Olive? She’d just give a few little scratches and wait patiently to be let in.

I’ll miss how she used to sleep on top of the hot water heater – so much so that I got a carpet remnant and cut it to fit.

I’ll miss her little legs that looked like bowling pins, and her long rabbit feet. I’ll miss how those legs used to walk on the back of mine when she was climbing into bed with me – and how much it hurt.

I’ll miss the little spot of white on her lips – it was wider when she was a kitten, but as she grew older it shrunk into a little area where it looked like she had a dab of cream on her lips.

I’ll miss how when we would come up the driveway, she’d always run to the back door by trotting along the wooden beams that line the driveway, stopping to sharpen her claws at the end.

I’ll miss how she used to sleep in the little space right next to the TV set, and how she’d cuddle up in the in-box by the computer.

I’ll miss her high pitched little meow when I would open up a can of wet food.

Ah my sweet little n’Olive. We miss you.

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slide022_0003In the summer of 1980 my father took me and my sisters on a 3 week trip to Czechoslovakia. I had just finished my sophomore year in high school, and had only been on a commercial plane once before when my friend John and his family took me on a vacation to Jamaica. That’s a blog post in itself…

We were excited to embark on this adventure. My father was going to show us the town he was born in as well as the sights of his homeland. Plus we were going to be introduced to members of our family that we had never met before. And the fact that we were traveling behind the iron curtain added a sense of danger and intrigue.

There was lots of prep work to be done…passports, visas, converters for electricity…oh, and mixed tapes. Lots and lots of mixed tapes. We didn’t know what we would find on the radio over there – we envisioned pop music polkas or accordion themed disco flooding the Slovak airwaves. We had a small boombox to take along, and agreed to take turns listening to music.

Our night time flight on OK! Airlines was uneventful as far as flights go, but my father was fun to watch. He was excited…no, damn near giddy to be heading back to his homeland. When the stewardess brought us our morning meal, he leaned over to us and said in a sing-song voice, “Look, girls! A continental brrrrrreakfast!”

My dad actually rolled his r. We were landing in Prague soon and he was in a glorious mood. It was a side of him I rarely saw, but immediately decided I liked. That mood? It dissipated quickly when we went through customs.

Customs in a block country is no picnic. The guards checking our suitcases went through everything. Our underwear was rifled through, our boxes of maxi pads were opened and inspected (much to my embarrassment and horror) and my father, a health nut, had a much ‘splainin’ to do about the throngs of vitamins he had packed. With nervous sweat soaking through the back of his sport coat, he was frantically yelling “VEETAMINY! VEETAMINY!!!!! as the guards angrily shook the bottles in his face.

Once through customs we were met by a man with a van who had made the long trip to Prague to pick us up and bring us to Gajary, my dad’s home town. We could not make the trip in one day, and we stopped to spend the night in some small town along the way. I remember the quaint cobblestone streets, and getting dinner in an upstairs restaurant. We spoke or read no Slovak, so my dad ordered for us. I remember eating a wedge salad dressed with a simple lemon dressing and thinking that it was the most wonderful salad I’d ever had. The main course was some form of meat and potatoes – simple fare that was marvelously good. My sister, after finishing her meal stated, “I could go for another plate of that!”

THE FOOD

That would be a sentiment we echoed often on our three week adventure. The food we sampled on our trip was simply wonderful, and not just the food we ate at restaurants. The food served to us at our cousin’s homes, and at the homes of the dozens of other relatives we met, was all homey, comforting, and very satisfying.

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Lunch with Stello in Bratislava

I recall one day that we devoted to visiting friends and relatives who lived in the area. Each home we entered had a full spread of meats, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, salads and pastries. Not realizing we’d be offered this fare at every single house, my sisters and I loaded up at house #1. By house #6 we were stuffed, yet still forced to sample something so as not to offend our distant relative who had gone to the trouble of laying out meats, cheeses, salads and pastries.

My cousin Gitka made a kick ass potato salad that I simply could not get enough of. Cousin Anna kept us well stocked with cookies, and we drank pitcher after pitcher of my cousin Stello’s home made wine. But we were not without some American favorites – my dad and Stello were able to procure us bottles of Coke and Snicker’s bars.

THE TRAVEL

We didn’t just hang out and eat the whole trip. We took a couple of days and travelled to the Tatra Mountains. We rode a gondola to the top of the Tatras which I would have enjoyed more if I weren’t so cold. I was not prepared for how cold it was at the top of the mountains, and all I had on was a thin terry cloth shirt. I went to get a cup of hot tea at the little restaurant they had, but the water was only luke warm at best, so it did little to ward off the stages of hypothermia I was soon going to succumb to.

We also visited a cave that wound up getting my cousin Stello very sick. You had to climb up a series of fairly steep hills to get to the cave. Once at the top you were pretty much a sweaty mess, then you entered the cool, dark cave for the tour. Do the math. I’m surprised we didn’t all get sick.

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After the cave expedition we had lunch at a restaurant at the bottom of the hill. My sister thought it would be fun to steal a beer mug from the restaurant. So while dad & Stello were paying the bill, we jammed the mug into her handbag. A waiter must have witnessed us doing this dastardly deed, because our walk to our car turned into a run for our lives as we were chased down by the angry waiter. Dad and Stello didn’t ask questions – they just hauled ass and got us out of there.

We giggled over this caper for years.

We also visited a spa town where one of Stello’s daughters was spending a part of her summer vacation. The only part of this excursion I remember was being assaulted by some drunk Slovak on the street. While we were walking along the sidewalk he lumbered up to me, said something in Slovak to me and grabbed my boob. Hard.

I was mortified, (my sisters were hysterical) and Stello came close to beating him to a pulp. I spent the next hour brooding in the back seat of the car beside smirking sisters with a throbbing titty.

THE BOOM BOX

I can’t talk about the travel without talking about the boom box. We passed the long hours in the car listening to the mixed tapes we brought along. The deal was to take turns, but man, when one of my sisters picked a tape that I didn’t care for, it was 90 minutes of hell.

My sister Judy had a Joanie Mitchell tape. While I can take a song of hers here and there, an hour of listening to her folksy, too-high voice while crammed in the back seat of Stello’s small blue car was close to maddening. I was thankful when the tape broke halfway through our trip. My sister insisted it was sabotage…

I can’t remember one song that I brought along. Isn’t that funny? Not one. But I do remember hearing “Psycho Killer” and “Sultans of Swing,” courtesy of my sister’s tapes, over and over again. I can’t hear “Sultans of Swing” without thinking of that trip and Stello’s car.

Even is there was no music playing (dad would demand radio silence during intervals so he and Stello could talk), it was wonderful to watch the scenery. Each little town we’d drive through held my interest – the buildings and the people; who were they? What did they do for a living? Sometimes we’d spot a small castle nestled into a picturesque mountain side. Other times, we’d drive through a small cluster of homes – not even a town – and I’d wonder what life inside those walls was like.

JOE, JOSHKO, STUK & THE HOTEL MALACKY

When we weren’t combing the Slovak countryside, we were getting to know our cousins. They were fairly far removed – 3rd or 4th cousins – I’m not even sure what the genealogical connection is. My sisters and I were introduced to my cousin Gitka’s children, Joe, Lubka & Peter. While Peter was a bit young, Joe and Lubka were around our same ages.

Joe was urged by our parents to take us American girls out on the town. This was somewhat of a difficulty for him; we spoke no Slovak – he, no English. What was a fellow to do with three girls he could barely communicate with? So, he rounded up a few of the local fellows to act as escorts for us, and to give him someone to talk to.

Joe was mine…we sort of hit it off right off the bat. My sister Judy got paired up with Joshko (pronounced Yoshkoh) who was tall and fairly attractive. Wendy got stuck with Stuk (pronounced Shtook) who was short and not so attractive. We headed out of town to party down at the disco in the basement of the Hotel Malacky.

My first warning bell was the fact that they locked you in. Yes – once the quota for the night was reached…maximum capacity…they locked the doors and forced you to dance the night away to stale disco intermingled with the occasional polka. And the drinks? Red wine mixed with Pepsi. I think you could order other stuff, but that’s what most people drank.

It was an interesting experience to be sure. We were Americans in a block country – we may as well have been celebrities. People stared at us and came up to our table to ask the fellas who we were. I remember I wore a white ribbon around my neck during that trip – for no good reason – and girls would ask if that was the American fashion.

But I felt bad for my sisters that night. While my Joe was a perfect gentleman, Joshko and Stuk got pretty drunk and kept making the moves on my sisters. They tried to coax them with wine and loaves of bread they got from the kitchen – it made me wonder what it took to get one of the local girls. While they were fending them off, I was starting a little Slovakian romance.

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mladá láska

Ah Joe. We never did anything but kiss…I was only a sophomore in high school at the time, but it made what could have been a boring trip very romantic and fun. We would spend the days drinking wine huddled over a Slovak/English dictionary trying our best to communicate with one another. Back in the states I wasn’t known for my luck with the fellas – I never got asked to school dances, and never got asked out on dates. Me? I had to come to a block country to find love…typical.

Joe and I wrote to each other over the years; I still have a stack of his letters in a box somewhere. I’ll tell you, Google translate would’ve come in handy back then! We saw each other again during the summer of 1984 when I studied in Vienna for a semester. Then, a few years later, I got news that he had gotten married and I have to admit it made me a tiny bit sad – he was my first real romance. We are Facebook friends now, and exchange greetings a few times a year.

When our 3 weeks came to an end, I was sad to go. I’d grown to love my new found Czechoslovakian family. We had to drive back to Prague, and cousin Stello decided to bring his two sons along. It was a thrilling trip for them to make, and we were glad for a few more days spent with our cousins.

Pissed off in Prague...

Walking in Prague

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Is this the only shirt I brought with me?

After a day or two in Prague we flew home. A funny thing happened when we landed at JFK – our high school guidance counselor was working as a customs agent over the summer and just happened to be assigned to our flight. He brought us to the front of the line and waved us through without opening a single bag. And you know what? He was there when I got back from Vienna four years later. Isn’t that bizarre?

I’ll always have fond memories of that trip to Czechoslovakia. Not only was it fun to bond with my sisters in a strange new land, but I saw a side of my father that was so entirely different than how he was at home. Come to think of it, he was almost always that guy when he was on vacation. I totally get that.

vintage-teacherMy oldest daughter is in the home stretch of her freshman year. She will be home in her own room for the entire summer in 7 days – 7 short days. But first she needs to survive finals.

I found spring finals to be harder than the ones right before Christmas. Perhaps it’s because it’s not only the end of the semester, but the end of the entire school year. In addition to taking your tests and handing in final papers, you leave your room and your friends and come back to an entirely new scenario the following fall.

When I was a freshman my spring semester was a toughie. I had two classes that took up most of my time – American Art History and a basic dunce math class. By the time finals came around I was ready to throw both books into on-coming traffic on I-95.

The art history class was tough because the teacher spoke so fast. You wrote in a frenzied panic as she flipped through slide after slide. By the time the 90 minutes was over you were exhausted – and your writing hand felt like a club. Then you had to go home and make sense of the 23 pages of cat scratch you took down. Add to that the memorizing of names, dates and periods of at least 100 paintings, sculptures and architectural masterpieces.

I got a 99 on that final. The teacher actually wrote me a postcard saying she took the point off just because she hates giving 100s.

But Math? That was a totally different story. It was an idiotic freshman math class that everyone who didn’t place out had to take. And it wasn’t so much that the math was hard, it was the way they had the class set up that really messed with your brain.

The course was set up like a game of Russian roulette. There were 3 tests and a final. If you failed any one test, you failed the course. Even if you got 100s on every single test but you failed the final, you failed the course. And failure wasn’t your typical below 60 score. Anything below a 75 was considered an F. Most of the tests were 20 questions, so if my remedial math skills are correct, if you missed more than 5, you failed.

I saw kids drop like flies over the course of the semester, having been handed their “F” on one exam or another – I somehow managed to pass them all. The math final was the very last test I had to take that semester. As I solved each problem, I wrote my answers down on a sheet of scratch paper. After all the exams were handed in the professor revealed the answers on the overhead projector. This way you could know your fate without having to spend a few agonizing weeks waiting to get your results via the US postal.

As I worked my way down the sheet, I was putting an “X” next to my answers at an alarming frequency. By the time I’d gotten through checking half my test answers I’d already reached the dreaded five wrong. My stomach churned as I imagined my father’s wrath at me failing a course – a course that he’d shelled out good money for – and that I’d have to repeat.

Could I possibly have gotten the last 10 answers on my test right? There was no way…no way…wait, wait…WAIT!  As I checked my answer to question 20 and realized it, and the 9 before it, were all correct, I knew I’d passed the exam – and by the skin of my teeth. I whooped a gleeful cheer of victory, ran out of the building and drop-kicked my math book across the lawn. I stomped it and ripped pages out and made confetti and threw little tiny bits of x + y = (who gives) (a fuck) in the air over my head.

I was so incredibly relieved I almost cried. I walked back to my soon-to-be empty dorm room with the sun on my back and a smile on my face. My dad came to pick me up later that day and the ride home to Jersey was one sweet trip.

For ahead of me was a three month chill-pill. Ah, childhood summers…

Letting Go

The neighborhood we live in is not really conducive to a free-wheelin’ get out and play lifestyle for my kids. Our road is a busy one, so playing in the street is out of the question, and even taking your bike out causes me to sprout a few hundred grey hairs.

Oh yeah, you need to know that I am one nervous Nellie of a mom. And dad? He’s neurotic Nathan. We make a great team.

But, I got tired of seeing my youngest daughter just sit around the house on sunny afternoons. We are not lucky enough to have friends who live around the corner – just a younger boy who lives next door. However we do have a community park about six blocks away. Six blocks away…it might as well be six miles away. I thought back to my own childhood where at my daughter’s age I spent endless hours on my bike traveling everywhere, my parents absolutely clueless as to  my whereabouts. Ugh. Something had to change.

So, I suggested she take  her scooter and ride over to the park one day – maybe kids from school were there and she could have a little fun. At first she was like, “I don’t know,” and dad was like, “are you crazy?” But after a little cajoling, she agreed to go with the boy next door. I made her take her watch and promise to be home by (x) o’clock. As she glided off down the road, I took a deep breath and said to myself, “it’ll be okay.”

And it was. She had fun – there were tons of kids there from school and now trips to the park are a commonplace thing. She abides to her “home by” time and she’s getting fresh air and exercise. Win-win. And I’ve loosened the strings just a tad…win-win-win.

I wanted to do one better for my girl – I still felt bad that she has no friends that live nearby, so I suggested she have a movie night with the girls. She had wanted a sleepover, but the thought of 5 giggling girls in my small house for hours on end left me with little to no enthusiasm, so I suggested a long afternoon/early evening party.

She invited 5 girls, and 4 were able to come. There was the usual shy awkwardness when they first arrived…”this is my room, these are my cats, what should we do…”

But before long, they were playing music, eating snacks and dishing dirt on the kids at school. And while I thought my daughter would be awkward, she was actually the life of the party. She had these girls laughing and they were all having a really good time. And I let them do their thing. I let them order their own pizza. I let them make their own cupcakes. I retreated to the back bedroom and caught up on episodes of “Game of Thrones,” checking up on them from time to time.

And for the most part they were good – I had to step in once, though. They were all in my daughter’s room with the door closed and I heard one girl say, “let’s all take off our shirts!” Nope, not in my house ladies. My daughter, of course, was mortified that I made them all come out into the living room.

But not her friends. They loved me. I think it was because I didn’t hang over them and try to micromanage the night, And for the most part I liked the girls too. But one girl…one girl could be trouble. She was loud and cursed and talked a little too much about boys. I wasn’t sure if I was happy about Sasha being friends with her, and then I thought back to Patty.

Patty was a friend of mine in middle school. She was a tomboy to say the least – she wore only t-shirts and jeans, used foul language and smoked. Needless to say, my mother did not like her. She lived with her mom, who was divorced, in a small apartment in town. She was the only kid I knew who lived in an apartment, and one of only a few who had divorced parents.

I don’t know why we were friends – we were polar opposites. Yeah, I did some bad things with Patty, but it was petty shit – walking up to Fort Lee when I was supposed to stay in town. But once we took a bus into the city…the Bronx…to meet some dudes she and her friend Cathy knew. I spent the afternoon fending off a guy named Chucho in Fort Tryon Park while Patty and Cathy made out with their dudes du jour. I think my mom would’ve flipped her wig if she knew that.

But I didn’t let Patty influence me. I remember us hanging out at the rec center and her taking a small brown bottle out of her pocket. She opened it up, put it to her nose and inhaled. I had no clue what it was – I think she said it was speed. She coaxed me to try it, but I said “no way,” and asked her why she was bothering with that shit. Between that and the Bronx incident, we didn’t remain close friends throughout high school.

In the end, my mom had little to worry about because she raised me right. And I remembered this as I spied the girl with the foul mouth who had suggested going shirtless. I hope I raised my girl to do the same. But I worry – I think she could be a follower…

After the party I sat her down, told her about Patty and how I thought her one friend could be what moms would call “a bad influence.” She readily agreed with me – at least she knows to watch out for her. And me? Now I’ve got a Patty to deal with.

Just like my mom.

Rocky Horror

When I was a teenager, I spent quite a few Friday nights ringing in the weekend with a midnight viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. My friend John introduced me to it. I think the first time I saw it was at  the Oritani Theater in Hackensack, NJ, and for the next several years I’d go see it at least 6 or 7 times a year.

The movie would bounce from one venue to another – I guess theater owners got tired of cleaning up the toilet paper, playing cards, wet newspapers & rice and would say sayonara to Rocky and the gang. But we’d find the theater it moved to.

I don’t know what it was that struck a cord in me when I first saw it. I loved the music, that’s for sure. I think I went through two copies of the soundtrack album I played it so often. Perhaps I liked it was because it was somewhat naughty – a dude in a corset, thigh highs and f*ck-me heels? You don’t see that in your average movie. I sat doe-eyed in my seat while the audience yelled at the screen and pelted me with toast and other flying props.

But that’s why I loved it so much. It was so much more than just watching a movie – you were a part of what made the night fun – the more the audience participated, the better the show. Each time you went, you learned a few more lines and brought a few more props. And you did the Time Warp.

What fun it was to get out of your seat, run up the aisle to the front of the theater, and do the Time Warp in a line with a bunch of total strangers! And after that, Frankenfurter would appear, stomping his heel as the elevator descended. Yeah, at this point the training wheels were off and you were in for one hell of a ride.

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I don’t like men with too many muscles.

Every one has a character in that movie they relate to. Me? I was a Janet girl. Innocent and sweet, and thrust into a world of perversion against her will. But underneath that virginal, small town girl shell is a saucy little vixen. She spends half the movie walking around in a bra and half slip, which made it really difficult to dress up as her for Halloween.

I went as Magenta instead.

Certain theaters went beyond showing the movie – it was more of an all night event. When I was in college I used to see Rocky Horror at the State Theater on Main Street in Newark, Delaware. They began by showing a Bugs Bunny cartoon, then you watched Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” video, followed by the Tim Curry videos for “I Do The Rock,” and “Paradise Garage.” By that time it was a quarter to 1 and the main event hadn’t even started.

Rocky Horror at the State Theater also included live performers who would act out the movie on the stage directly in front of the screen. This was an element that most of theaters we frequented in New Jersey lacked. These folks took their performances very seriously, and they were good. Once the lips faded from the screen and the credits began to roll you would stumble home at 2:30 am in a Rocky Horror daze.

After college the Rocky Horror craze began to diminish – less and less theaters played it and I usually had other things to do on a Friday or Saturday night. Then one summer while I was on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard we saw that they were playing it at some town building in Tisbury, and we all decided to go. I had a cousin who had never seen it, and was interested to see what all the hubbub was.

And this was where I had a Rocky Horror awakening. It was the first time I went to a showing just to see the movie. From the start I realized nobody in the small audience was going to be shooting water pistols or yelling “Nice Tits!” And nobody was going to get up and do the Time Warp. We just sat and watched the movie.

It was a shock to my system. I heard lines I’d never been able to hear before because the audience wasn’t  yelling “Asshole,” for 3 minutes straight. But I missed the chaos. And I felt bad for those who had come to see  it. They really didn’t get to experience the true Rocky Horror Picture Show – they just watched a movie about a strange guy in women’s underwear.

Once the movie came out on DVD I bought it, and yes, I showed it to my girls (mother of the year!). My youngest really loves it, and I look forward to one day taking her to a theater at midnight and letting her experience the thrill of yelling at the screen, throwing rice, shielding our heads with a newspaper, and getting up to do the time warp.

After all, it’s just a jump to the left.

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