It was totally not my fault.
My sweet great aunties bear all the blame.
I was fifteen years old when my parents moved crosstown and I changed high schools. It was just under 2 miles from our new house to the school, so by a distance of about one block I did not qualify for the school bus. A public bus made the rounds though, and picked up everyone in our neighborhood for a small monthly fee.
Getting home was a bit more difficult. The city bus left the high school immediately after school got out at 2PM. So if you wanted to stay for a club or event, you were on your own. The two mile walk wasn’t too bad in good weather, so often I walked.
But there was another alternative. My father’s aunts – the sisters of my grandmother – lived not too far from the high school. And I could walk over there and my mother would pick me up when she left work at 3:30.
So once or twice a week I did that. I walked over to my aunts’ little house.
Lillian and Lora were the sweetest ladies in the world. And they were always happy to see me. And they would give me a cookie and a ginger ale.
But they did not allow conversation.
Not at that time of day.
I’d knock on the kitchen door, and Aunt Lil would let me in and she’d say,
“Hurry up. Come in quick. The STORIES are on.”
Yes, Aunt Lillian and Aunt Lora were addicted to the Soaps.
All 4-foot-nine of her (including her 4-foot-nine bosom) would hustle back to the living room, so as not to miss a word. The cookie would have to wait for a commercial.
I usually caught the end of Days Of Our Lives and a good part of Another World. The aunts informed me that they used to watch the stories on CBS but had switched over to NBC recently in protest to some terrible storyline, which was too upsetting to talk about. (I believe a contract dispute resulted in the untimely death of their favorite character). But now they thought Another World was absolutely the best of “The Stories” on “The TV” – as they always referred to it.
My aunts especially loved Another World’s triangle of Alice and Steve and Rachel. The best thing about Soaps is the clear-cut lines between good and evil. Alice was an angel. Rachel was a conniving bitch. My aunties loved them both. (By the way, Steve was a pompous ass – but my aunties didn’t share that opinion.)
I thought it was all rather silly. But then..
Well, you know.
On those days when I was on time for the bus, and got home about 2:20 – well, I might just happen to turn on Days Of Our Lives – just to, you know, not be so bored at Aunt Lil’s.
And if we had a fresh bag of potato chips, I just might forget to turn the TV off and catch a bit of Another World before my mother came home from work. Mom did not (and still does not) approve of The Stories.
Then I went off to College. I had a little 12-inch black-and-white set that sometimes allowed me to tune into a grainy version of something that I could almost see and sometimes hear. And although the girls in the dorm often watched on the big set in the common room, it was too embarrassing to be seen watching Soaps. (And besides, they liked The Guiding Light – object of my aunties’ wrath.)
So I gave it up.
But …well…. you know.
I finished school eventually (really eventually… I stayed as long as possible). And once in a while, I’d tune in to the stories on a sick day. A five-year absence is nothing in soap opera time. Mostly the characters were having the same conversation.
Then in the early 80s two remarkable things happened.
- Luke and Laura.
The Luke and Laura romance on General Hospital made soap operas cool. And I even switched for a year or two, so I’d have the right cred at the office.
And my God… VCRs! Videotape with a timer was like the miracle of the loaves and fishes to the soap opera world.
Did you know you could watch a whole week’s worth of Days Of Our Lives in about 75 minutes? Not only because you could fast-forward through every commercial, but also because you could skip all the storylines about boring old people and focus in on just your favorites. And even with your favorite characters, you could save about eleven minutes a week by fast-forwarding through all the long lingering looks.
And I continued to watched Days and Another World occasionally for more than 20 years. Finally, I had to admit that I had seen every star-crossed lover, dastardly villain, and incurable illness in every possible combination. And so many cases of amnesia and total facial plastic surgery that it was a miracle that any character ever knew who the other guy was.
And so, at about age 35, I gave up The Stories.
Besides, no one could ever give me a better story than 1981-82’s Day of Our Lives story of Tony and Renee.
Here (in my opinion) is the best soap storyline of all time:
Renee DuMonde comes to Salem to be with her sister, Lee. Over the course of a weird serial strangler plot (in which Days was able to kill off a lot of their less popular characters) Renee falls in love with young Tony DiMera, son of crime boss Stefano DiMera.
Lee tells her sister Renee over and over again to stay away from Tony and the DiMera family, but Renee was so in love. And Tony asks her to marry him.
Lee is distraught and runs away, but leaves a note for Renee, spilling her terrible secret.
Lee is not Renee’s sister after all. She is Renee’s mother. And Renee’s father – horror of horrors – is Stefano DiMera.
Tony is Renee’s brother! She cannot marry him.
She breaks it off, without explanation. Tony will not give up. After many, many episodes of “Why? Why? Why?” – Renee tells Tony the truth. They are brother and sister and they must part forever.
Renee, heartbroken and trying to get past her almost-incest, agrees to marry some other dude (who I don’t remember, but I think he was your standard obnoxious prick).
On the day of Renee and Prick’s wedding, Tony can hardly bear the pain. He ends up at the mental institutional where his own mother has been locked up for years. I think perhaps he had to track her down, because I remember being surprised he had a mother.
Anyway, Tony goes to the asylum and his mother tells him that his father Stefano had her committed years ago to punish her. She is not crazy, but locked up out of vengeance.
“But I had the last laugh,” says Tony’s mother. “I have my own revenge. Because I had a lover all that time ago. And Stefano is a fool. He is NOT your father!” (and she laughs maniacally)
Wait, wait! If Stefano is not Tony’s father, then he is not Renee’s brother. They are not related! He can marry her!
He races back (I remember a lot of running like Godzilla was right behind him, and sweat and dirt, but not sure how much of that is my own embellishment)… Tony runs to the church where Renee is marrying Dickface!
It’s too late!
Thanks, Aunt Lil and Aunt Lora. It was definitely worth 25 years of heavy organ music to watch such a super bad romance.
In April, I retired.
Six weeks later, I un-retired.
Well, not really. Here’s what happened.
I worked for the last ten years as the Controller of a large(ish) mail-order and online business. It was a terrific job, especially after fifteen years at an exciting but extremely stressful gigantic media organization.
For ten years, I had interesting work, but not crazy-stressful. I had a small nice staff in Accounting, and all my co-workers were cooperative and smart and friendly.
But at 65, I was ready to retire. I wanted to spend more time on writing and other creative pursuits. I was just plain ready.
So a very capable replacement was found, and I was finally – after a year’s notice – on my way to my next self-invention.
When I left, the staff accountant was expecting. It’s a tiny Accounting staff – a Controller, an accountant, and an accounting clerk. So maternity leave for one-third of the organization is tough to cover.
Instead of trying to train a temp in a short amount of time -which certainly can be done, but it can be hit or miss – the new Controller called and asked me if I would be interested in covering for the accountant for ten weeks or so, while she was on leave.
And because I liked the organization, and I liked the accountant and the new Controller, I said yes. They just needed me a couple of days a week, since they didn’t expect me to take on a lot of projects – just cover the bases and hold the fort (a mixed metaphor of sports and cowboys, but I like both).
So, just as I was getting used to being home, I went back.
And I am so glad I did.
Because I learned something really, really important.
I no longer have to be in charge.
You see, one thing I loved about being a manager is this: I loved being listened to. For me, the third daughter in a very smart family, I have always felt just a little unimportant. Oh, not that my parents ever, ever treated me that way. It was just my own insecurities. I felt slightly invisible.
I was smart enough, but not brilliant. I was attractive, but not beautiful. I was nice, but not adorable. To me, anyway.
So as I worked my way up the ladder of success (an expression which always reminds me of a lunch bag a friend bought me when I got my first management position, emblazoned with these choice words: ‘As you climb the ladder of success, Don’t let the boys look up your dress’), I found that it was amazingly gratifying to be a little bit “important”. To make a suggestion and have it taken. To make a decision and see it enacted. To find a solution to a problem and see it work. To matter. To be asked what I thought. Most of all – to be HEARD.
But going back to my old workplace – but not be in charge – was a revelation.
The first time the President walked past my temporary desk and into my old office to discuss an issue with the NEW Controller, I thought, “OMG. She isn’t going to ask me what I think.”
And then the revelation.
I wasn’t feeling jealous. I wasn’t feeling left out.
I found myself feeling:
Not snubbed, not unimportant, not dismissed.
I do not have to solve someone’s problems. I do not have to be heard. I do not have to be taken seriously. And most of all:
I DO NOT HAVE TO BE RIGHT.
Throughout the ten weeks of this temporary assignment, the sensation of freedom continued to grow. Freedom from that constant need for validation.
And THANK GOD or Thank Karma or whatever.
What a sweet freedom it is.
I’m done with work now. For good. (I think.)
But not done with my new liberation.
How much easier life will be –
knowing that I do not have to
- review every book I read
- rate every purchase I make
- respond to every single post of Facebook
- be clever with every Tweet
- impress with every Instagram
- convert everyone to my political beliefs
- top everyone’s story
- make every decision
- handle every crisis
Unless of course, I WANT to.
But I may never want to again.
My last post was filled with sweet college memories. Because I am still filled with nostalgia for college – as I am every September – here’s a post from three years ago…
Every September, as I watch the kids go back to school, I get the same yearning.
I wish it were me packing up Dad’s station wagon to go off to college.
I’d take my favorite pillow, and those narrow twin-bed sheets and an Indian batik bedspread.
I’d bring my popcorn popper to warm a can of Campbell’s tomato soup. And my old stereo turntable and my scratchy Crosby, Stills, and Nash albums.
And my big Underwood typewriter that I bought used for $12.00 – the kind where you have to pound the keys and then sometimes the spindles with the letters get stuck together in mid-air. With onion-skin erasable typewriter paper and a gum eraser.
I’d need notebooks too – the narrow-ruled kind. no larger than 5X8, so my notebooks are about the same size as my textbooks, making a neater stack to carry. Colored pens too – so I can color-code my notes.
I’ll take my bucket to carry my soap and shampoo and comb and toothbrush and toothpaste back and forth to the communal bathroom.
With my bell-bottom jeans, moccasins, and the sweater I knitted myself that has one little mistake in the shoulder –
I’d be ready.
Ready for my do-over.
I’ll sit in my Literature class and discuss The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. When the professor asks why Binx prefers the movies to real life, I’ll say exactly what I said in 1972:
“Movies are better than real life because unexpected things happen. Nothing unexpected ever happens in real life.”
And that scruffy boy will get up from the back of the room and walk over to me. He’ll lean over the desk and kiss me without touching anything but my innocent unpainted lips. And that boy will return to his seat without looking back. And I will shrug off the moment with a quip:
“As I was saying…”
And everyone will laugh.
And the class will be over and we’ll all leave.
And this time – this time – I will run down the hallway. And I will grab that young sweet man by his flannel shirt-tail. And he will turn around.
And I will kiss him back.
I always have it in September.
I loved school. Not elementary or high school though.
How I loved college. I finally found a place that suited me completely. The atmosphere of learning. The very air charged with intelligence.Living right where you went to school. Walking to classes. The pride of reading. And reading for hours. For days. For years.
I probably should have been a college professor, so I could stay forever.
And every September, I want to go back.
(I think next year I really will… as soon as I decide whether I want to speak French or study philosophy or archaeology or watercolor or….)
But in the meantime, I will reminisce.
I learned so many amazing things in college, but my most precious memories do not concern linguistics or 19th century history. My best memories are of just a few moments in time when I knew I was in the best place on earth.
First up: The best laugh I ever had in College. (I have told my dog story before, but I must include it here too.)
I always liked a window seat in class. It made for better day-dreaming in Elements of English Phonetics. (Yeah, I took that. A snooze-fest.) So a window seat was required.
So one glorious afternoon, I’m gazing out the window. I’m watching a dog chase the falling autumn leaves. He’s happy. Running in circles and barking at leaves seems to be a very nice dog occupation. Along comes a guy on crutches, leg in a big white cast. The dog runs up, tail wagging, and grabs the end of one crutch. It seems another favorite past-time for this doggy is tug-of-war. He’s pulling and jumping, and the poor dude is trying to balance on one leg, and desperately trying to get the dog to let go of the crutch. It is great fun – for the dog. I thought I might have to run from the classroom (I wish) and rescue the guy. But finally another student comes along and pulls the dog away and holds him while the crutches guy makes a getaway. I’m smiling.
Four minutes later. Along comes a blind girl with a cane. I’m not kidding. And I’m thinking, Oh NO! And sure enough, here comes Doggy, tail a-wagging. He grabs the cane and pulls and tugs, and the poor blind girl is wrestling and appears to be hollering for help. And eventually a couple of kids run over and save her. Doggy finally – and happily – goes trotting off.
I’m laughing now, as I was laughing then. That dog just wanted to play, and he was one lucky dog. He found TWO people in a row with STICKS!
And here is the most beautiful sound I ever heard in college.
There was a girl in my dorm whose boyfriend could whistle. And I don’t mean the kind that construction workers toot or what I use to call my dog. No. This boy’s whistle was a masterpiece.
And he didn’t whistle some snappy little jingle either. He would whistle classical compositions.
His Schubert and Bach were gorgeous. I felt the melodies in every nerve ending in my body. My fingertips would tremble when I heard him.
He came over almost every evening to study with his girlfriend. He would leave about eleven, and walk past my window and up the hill to his own dorm. And he would whistle.
I am unable to describe the beauty of Debussy — starting out strong under my window, and growing fainter, but just as thrilling, as it rose up the hill and crested and lingered.
I often wept back then, in the dark, at the exquisite and haunting concert.
Part of me wanted to marry that boy and listen to his songs forever, but mostly I was just happy that he existed and I had the privilege of hearing him.
(By the way, his girlfriend did marry him, and they are still married… more than 40 years later.)
And lastly, here are the sweetest words I ever read in college:
UConn offered a Poetry class. Not poetry reading or appreciation, although we did plenty of that too. But poetry writing. It was taught by Marcella Spann Booth, who had worked with Ezra Pound.
There was limited enrollment for this class. You had to apply and be accepted by Dr. Booth. And I was one of the fortunate dozen chosen to participate my last semester on campus.
How those young men and women could write! I could hardly wait each week for the delight of reading something new and fresh and amazing.
And I was not disappointed. But in all that talent there were two students whose words have stayed with me all those years.
One young women, whose name and face I do not even remember, came in one day with a poem that started:
Last year, the blackbirds beat me to the cherries.
All these years later, I still think that is lovely and evocative image. I love the very feel of those words.
And even more memorable, there was a guy in the class whose poetry made me wince – but in the best way possible. His poetry was raw and sharp. He could cut you with his words.
I still remember a whole stanza from a poem I loved right down in my soul. He wrote about his girlfriend’s ambivalent sexuality:
There’s a postcard of a painting
On the wall above the bed.
She put it up yesterday.
Two satyrs lead a maiden off to sex.
The rhythm. The simplicity. It stunned me.
And I think about this too: That we write to preserve our thoughts. To share something that will last. And this piece of a poem was discussed for perhaps half an hour – forty-three years ago.
And I remember it.
I would say it has lasted.
Here is a classical whistler, Eric Aranow, performing Clair de Lune by Debussy. I would suggest you close your eyes and just listen. Imagine this is the last thing you hear before you fall asleep.
PS – For those of you whose eyes do not glaze over at the thought of poetry, I am attaching the link to my poem about my teacher, Marcella Spann Booth, and her rumored relationship with Ezra Pound. Marcella
I am a pretty opinionated adult. Although, I am also very polite, and try not to insult other people’s opinions even if they
are totally wrong differ from my own.
But I have an excuse for my many (though adorable) opinions.
I was born that way.
From the time I was in my crib wondering why my great aunt wasn’t more careful with her mascara, I just KNEW what worked and what fell short.
What I liked and what I didn’t.
Television helped. My parents got their first TV right when I was born. We (the Sylvania and I) were equally important to the family. Although being the third girl in a row, I will grudgingly admit that the television might have been saved just a little ahead of me had we ever had the need for an emergency evacuation.
Television is an amazing tool for creating and steering your values.
I knew by the age of six that:
– Colgate was better than Crest.
– Maxwell House was better than Chase & Sanborn.
– Lucky Strikes were better than Winstons.
– Tide was better than All.
– And Alka-Seltzer was better than eating right.
Being able to form these assisted judgments is the first step in being able to make important evaluations on your own.
Although I didn’t need a whole lot of help.
I just knew: (in order of appearance)
– Johnny Weissmuller was the real Tarzan. All others were fake.
– If your anklets were lacy you were rich.
– Trying to build anything with Lincoln Logs was just asking for disappointment.
– An episode of Spin and Marty was way better than a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Except it would have been even with girls.
– Shirley Temple was a much better dancer than singer, but nobody seemed to mind. Which meant that just one talent was enough to get you through life. (If you were pretty.)
– Hot dogs tasted better than hamburgers; chicken tasted better than pork chops. But nothing tasted better than spaghetti and meatballs.
– Christmas was better than your birthday, even though you got all the presents on your birthday. Which meant that everyone getting a little something was a good idea.
– Scraping your knee really hurt, but falling on your ass wasn’t really bad, so when roller-skating, always try to fall backwards.
– Eyeglasses were so cool, it was worth purposely flunking your eye exam, even if it never really worked. (Until that is, I actually needed glasses. Then they were dumb. Contact lenses were very cool.)
– Plaid was for boys.
– Parades were boring, but you didn’t want to miss one either.
– Bobby Rydell was cuter than Frankie Avalon. Fabian was cuter than Paul Anka.
– Donuts were better than cake.
– Patent leather shoes were wonderful, even if they were so stiff they gave you blisters on the back of your ankles.
– Speaking of shoes, doll shoes were a complete waste of money, since no doll would wear them for more than six minutes before one shoe went missing. (Glue did not help.)
– And speaking of money, dimes were the prettiest money. But whoever thought they should be smaller than nickels and pennies was not thinking very clearly.
And finally – and most important:
– My father was the best looking man in the whole world. And he was funny and smart. And my mother was the most gorgeous and stylish person that ever existed. And she was funny and smart. They were better than movie stars. And I wanted to be just like them.
I don’t have a lot of revenge fantasies.
It’s not that I’m such a goody-two-shoes. Well, okay, I’m a little bit of a goody-two-shoes. I believe in the power of Being Nice.
That’s how I was brought up. “Be Nice” – said absolutely everyone in my family.
And, as a corollary – “Don’t wish bad things to happen to anyone.”
Because everyone you know – including those who are mean to you – is someone’s kid. Or parent, or loved one. And if something bad did happen, then you would also be hurting people who don’t deserve it.
Which is why I don’t have much in the way of revenge fantasies.
What I have, though, are apology fantasies.
How I would love the people who have wronged me to see that they have wronged me. And to come and say they are sorry.
Here are the people I would like to hear from:
– The fifth grade teacher who bullied me into tears on a daily basis
– The boy who made fun of me in front of the whole class in 7th grade and introduced me to the feeling of public humiliation
– The friend who fixed me up with a nice guy, and then decided she would take him for herself
– The man I fell madly in love with who forgot to tell me he was married
– The boss who decided that if she made my life miserable enough, I would quit; who forced me into counseling for what she called my “psychological issues” but which the therapist described as symptoms of severe workplace abuse
– The boss for whom I had worked my ass off for twelve years, who saw the above happening and never lifted a finger to help
– The man who I forgave and forgave, thinking he would eventually see how sweet and wonderful I was, who told me finally that I was just not pretty enough for him
– And there there was…
I just can’t think of anyone else.
That’s it I guess.
Wait a minute.
There are over 7 billion people in the world. I am 65 years old.
And I can only think of 7 people out of 7 billion over the course of 65 years who owe me an apology?
Well, for crying out loud. That’s about as insignificant as you can get.
All my enemies can fit around my dining room table, and there would still be room for me.
So forget about it. Forget about apologies.
Let’s have dinner instead.
Pass the potatoes.
I love to write.
I love being able to create a world of my own. I love telling stories. I love the feeling when I come up with just the right word or phrase.
I love writing. I love what I’ve written. All of it. The good and the not-so-good. The words are mine and I find great pleasure in them.
And I also love being read. I love an audience. I love making someone laugh. Or touching someone with a heartfelt paragraph.
Of course, when something gives you this much satisfaction – and bliss – you do if for the sheer joy of it.
Recognition is secondary.
But oh, I will confess, I have an egocentric little piece of my brain that would love to be famous for something I have written.
And it has happened!
And not just in my little corner of Connecticut. Last week I became an international sensation.
On August 10, someone who logged on as “Your Friend” commented on my blog,
“You made it to a finnish newspaper”
And this “friend” added a link.
Oh boy, I thought…perhaps they have picked up one of my best blogs – maybe the one about visiting a nude beach (I still get hits to my blog from that one), or maybe one of the posts about my sweet puppy, or one of my pieces about being happier as I age. Or maybe the one I am most proud of – my essay on living with childlessness.
So with great anticipation, I clicked on the link.
And there it was. My tweet from a few days earlier.
Yes, my Olympic tweet.
A fortunate photographer had captured two of the German Field Hockey players standing side by side, and their names delighted the most tasteless and silly the of internet world.
And out of the probably hundreds (or maybe thousands) of the crassest of tweets, Finland chose mine!
What an honor!
I thought about the enormity of my Finnish fame for a few minutes.
Then I googled:
Nancy Roman Butt Fuchs
And OMG, my fame was everywhere!
“Kindisch” — Ja, I sure am.
And the U.K.
And dozens right here in the old U.S. of A.
Can you imagine?
Maybe I am famous all over the world right now!!!
My Dad would be so proud.
Thankfully, I did not use my maiden name.
The political conventions are over. They have left me with sleepless nights and high blood pressure. And there are so many days to go of increasing nastiness and vicious side-taking.
I worry. I want us all to be okay.
I am from the Woodstock generation, after all. I thought – for a very short time – that we could all love each other.
But I will get through August.
I will find some serenity in the simple pleasures of high summer.
Here are 31 of my joys that will help me (and I hope you) get through the next 31 days.
- Corn on the cob
- Johnny Mathis singing “Wonderful, Wonderful” or “Misty” or “Chances Are” – or just about anything
- “The African Queen”
- My dog’s smile
- Chocolate ice cream
- Lobster rolls
- The last page of a great book, knowing another is waiting for me
- Dozing on a comfy lounge chair
- My cat’s frown
- Riding in the convertible on a starry night
- Sharing pretzels with the seagulls on the beach
- Pedicures with lavender polish
- Country fairs
- James Taylor
- Eau de Chloe
- Tomatoes still sun-warm eaten right from the garden
- Beaded sandals
- Putting on warm dry clothes after spending hours in a wet bathing suit
- Iced coffee
- Bronzing powder
- Buying my mother scratch-off lottery tickets
- My husband calling me Angel
- Little boys on bicycles with baseball gloves hanging from the handlebars
- The smell of charcoal and steaks wafting through the neighborhood
- Clean smooth sheets
- Blueberry picking in the late still afternoon
- Putting on Paul Simon’s Graceland and dancing while I dust the house
- Cheeseburgers with a side of Ruffles
- Toddlers (and grown-ups) running through the water sprinkler
- Black-Eyed Susans