Training

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/43028-my-life-on-the-post-road-training

I went to the city on Sunday to have brunch with high school friends. The unseasonably warm weather made standing on the platform a delightful opportunity to absorb Vitamin D, rather than the desperate attempt to fend off bitingly cold wind that it might have been mid-February.

I welcomed the change of scenery – everyone needs to get off the Post Road now and then – almost as much as the temperate temperatures and the opportunity to reconnect with friends.

While the platform was sparsely populated, the train overflowed with riders. I found the reason for the crowd in the number of passengers clad in blue NY Rangers jerseys. They were heading to the Garden to watch a fight. I mean hockey game.

On boarding, I quickly scanned left and right to see if I could espy an empty seat, but I saw a sea of heads. I just took my chance, followed my instincts, and chose right.

A young Japanese couple cuddled in one three-seat bench, their coats and cases occupying the third, and aisle, seat. I was more reluctant to stand all the way to New York than to disturb their reverie, so I asked: “I’m so sorry to bother you. Could I please sit here?” A conductor with long, crimped blond hair had just arrived to collect tickets. “Please move your things to the overhead racks. The train is very full,” she added.

Now I felt even worse. Not only had I invaded their space, I’d also inadvertently gotten them reprimanded. But they agreed and complied, nonplussed, making quick work of folding and storing their belongings. They demurred at my apologies and thanks.

I settled in and tried to make myself small as the conductor scanned the ticket on my iPhone. As my headphones immersed me in Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound, I dove into Sarah Bakewell’s “At the Existentialist Café” – a Christmas gift from my ex and his wife. A full hour with nothing to do but read felt as indulgent and delicious as a tall slice of chocolate fudge cake.

My sitting there gave them an excuse they didn’t need to fold further into themselves. He had close-shorn hair and rectangular wire frame glasses with lenses whose very concave lenses told me of his nearsightedness. His black, velvet-lapeled suit and pointy-toed nearly patent leather shoes reminded me of the Beatles at Shea. She wore a short black stretchy skirt with above-the-knee cable knit socks, and a flouncy, lacy, ethereal white blouse. Her straight, shoulder length black hair fell loose around her shoulders, and peony pink lipstick punctuated her face. She pushed her silken locks back frequently to get a clear view of his bespectacled eyes, which she stared into with unwavering, intense focus. She groomed him, taking off his glasses to wipe them, running her fingers through his spiky hair, and brushing nonexistent lint off his suit jacket. They giggled, cooed, and snapped selfie after selfie. Their hands never left each other. She covered his face with gentle kisses.

Puppy love radiated off them, and I bathed in its positive ions. I was actually glad that I could not understand their chatter; if they had, in fact, been talking about mundane items like electric bills and groceries, it would have completely burst the romantic bubble that surrounded them.
While they occasionally bumped in to me as they rearranged their configuration (for which they profusely apologized), their display did not offend. It never rose to the level of “get a room.” They simply exuded young, innocent, enthusiastic infatuation.

Their mutual adoration filled me with a sweet happiness that spring air brings. I walked toward Bryant Park to meet my friends, where visitors made languid laps around an ice skating rink that seemed anachronistic on a 60-degree day.

Brunch brought a different kind of contentment that comes from spending time with people who know your history. In this case, 45 years of it. We share a deep understanding, unforced ease, and the ability to be completely ourselves together.

So different from the connection I witnessed on the train, filled with all-consuming novelty and wonder. I miss that feeling and felt envious of them. I’d love to feel that titillated again, but also, I feel so immeasurably fortunate for the connection I rekindled during my sojourn to New York.

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The Storm Before the Storm

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/readers/43018-my-life-on-the-post-road-the-storm-before-the-storm

I don’t take natural disasters lightly and appreciate the importance of preparation and safety, but … C’mon people! It’s winter in New England! Admittedly, the storm last week swept in and dumped a lot of snow, but we collectively indulge in some unnecessary hysteria around extreme weather.

It starts with the meteorologists. They hover around their cauldrons and keen “Double, double toil and trouble” as surely as if they were auditioning for Act IV, scene I of Macbeth. They predict impending doom and hook us like the witches did the Thane of Cawdor, and like he, we do some strange things as a result. They make us go out and buy milk that will go bad by the time the storm actually arrives. We fret and worry like Lady Macbeth over likely outcomes. We consider cancelling or rearranging every plan within +/- three days of the event.

I imagine the witches – I mean meteorologists – hunkering down over blipping radar screens in a basements bomb shelter lined with cots and scratchy wool blankets. Neither snow nor sleet nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay these harbingers of big bad weather. They show us charts and graphs and photographs of what the approaching precipitation might look like when it gets here. On screen, I wait for their heads to explode with excitement, like a piñata showering snowflakes instead of sugary candy. As the storm nears, they eclipse all other news as their segments stretch like taffy to cover our screens with flashy graphics and ominous voices: “SnowStorm2017: the latest at Four. Five. Six. And then we will break into other programming frequently in case you cannot stay up to Eleven for our next report.”

We run out in a frenzy to the supermarkets, fighting for parking spaces and elbowing fellow panickers as we race our shopping carts to the milk/bread/eggs. In the 20 years that I’ve lived here, including for Super Storm Sandy, no weather has kept me housebound for more than three days. I, for one, have enough canned soup and cereal to last for a few days without starving. I understand that families with infants have special needs, but really, what are you doing with only a few diapers left anyway? Back in the day, Costco kept me knee deep in supersized cartons of mostly everything the kids needed. What do we all need so desperately that we can’t wait until the morning after?

Once the deluge arrives, intrepid reporters venture out into the messy mix to stand in blowing, blinding horizontal snow. The harder it is to hear them, the more layers of station-logo-emblazoned clothing, the tighter they have to hang on to something to avoid blowing away, the better. Because looking out our windows is just not enough.

They also station themselves at salt storage facilities, Home Depots, and gas stations so they can assault municipal employees, store clerks, and snow plow drivers who would rather actually do their jobs than answer inane, probing questions like: “How will you spread this salt on the icy roads?” “Did you anticipate that there would be such a run on snow shovels and ice melt with a storm approaching in February?” and “How are the roads out there under the 13” of snow?” Pulitzer Prize-quality reporting, for sure.

I went to college in Vermont. When it snowed, they shoveled and plowed, and life went on. It seems like a much saner response.

I, for one, was pretty happy to have a snow day. I slept late, walked on the treadmill for an hour, edited my manuscript (I only voluntarily do this under duress normally, but I was shut in), and watched the snow and frost make pretty designs on my eaves and windows.
And in the morning, the sun shone, and even though it was cold, life on the Post Road resumed. I wonder what everyone will do with all that milk they bought and look forward to insightful reports of people shoveling their driveways on the evening news.

Matchmaking 

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/43007-my-life-on-the-post-road-matchmaking

I recently decided that I would like to speak with a therapist to work through a few nagging but not critical issues. I did what we all do when we need to find a good place to buy shoes or to eat: I polled friends.

One recommended someone he liked who had a conveniently located office, so I decided to give her a try. I went for the first session with the feeling I have on a blind date: hope, anticipation, and trepidation. Would we hit it off? Be a good match?

I sat at attention on the edge of the couch in the empty waiting room, hands folded in my lap. I had arrived early (yes, this will be a huge surprise to those who know me) and watched as the minutes ticked past our appointed appointment time. Maybe her session before me was running over; she will just add the time on at the end, I reasoned.

She emerged five minutes late (and at the prices therapists charge for 50 minutes, that was an expensive 10 percent of my time) with no explanation, apology, or prior client.

I sat on the edge of her couch as she settled in to a matching beige ultra suede Barco lounger and pushed it back fully to recline. I looked around the room as we began to talk. It was cozy but a bit unkempt for a therapist’s office. I’m sure the fact that I expect a therapist to be punctual and tidy reflect my own idiosyncrasies, but there you have it.

She lay back so far that all I could see were her boots, which resembled large bear paws. I had to strain to see around them to her as we spoke, but that proved pointless because she spent most of the session focusing on some serious and clearly stubborn issues she was struggling with, with her cuticles.

I felt, for the most part, that she understood my concerns, until I explained that I might prefer to see her biweekly instead of weekly because I wasn’t sure if insurance would cover our sessions and even if they did, with a $6000 deductible I’d be largely covering them myself anyway. I did not feel that my concerns were urgent – just persistent.

“Oh, no,” she said, pretty much completely dismissing my financial concerns. “We need to get traction. You’ll need to come every week, if not more often.” Wait, what?

I thanked her after we’d made an appointment for the next week (without an additional five minutes at the end of our session) and left. I will give it a few more meetings before I decide if this makes sense for me, I thought. But, like with a bad first date, part of me wondered why.
I consulted with my BFF and my sister, who, after they guffawed, said, “No way. Don’t go back.” And with their dispensation, and confirmation of the gut feeling I ought to have trusted, I called her and broke up with her. Or her machine, anyway.
She did not call back for three days. I took the silence as acceptance, and was relieved not to hear from her in a way. But on day three she left a message for me.

“I’m surprised that you have decided not to continue with therapy at this time.” With no questions about why and clear directions of where to send the check.

I called another therapist that a different friend had recommended. She called back right away.

“It sounds like you need to just reframe some of your reactions to these issues,” she said. Yes! She got it!

So we have our first date this week. I am hoping that she’s the one. Or at  least that she’s on time.

Aunt Miriam Rocks

http://blankspaces.alannarusnak.com/2017/02/aunt-miriam-rocks.html?m=1

Aunt Miriam Rocks

by Diane Lowman

“Are we there yet?” we asked a hundred times. Could this scene be any more cliché? My parents sat in the front seat of our black, stick shift, VW Bug, circa 1969. I in the back, and my sister Suzanne wedged into the well behind the rear seat and…the engine. We were on our way from our apartment in Howard Beach, Queens to our small Upper Greenwood Lake, NJ cottage. We’d visited many times when my mom’s Aunt Miriam and Uncle Eddie owned it, but my parents had just bought it from them because he was ailing and they’d moved to be closer to their children.

aunt miriam rocks, diane lowman

As city kids, our exposure to outdoor colour was largely limited to the black asphalt of the playground outside our brick red high-rise, ringed by muddy white and pasty pink concrete. ‘The country’—as we called it—was Eden.

Going to ‘the country’ for the weekend meant lounging languidly by the mushy muck-bottomed lake, exploring the woods for flora and fauna, and savoring Hebrew National hot dogs that my father grilled outside.

Anxious to arrive, the nearly two-hour drive in Friday evening traffic tortured me, 9, and my sister, 6. We were whiny, kvetchy, and hungry. “Are we there yet?”

“Not yet. You just asked three minutes ago. Now stop. We’ll get there when we get there,” my father would say, no doubt frazzled from the workweek, the drive, and the cacophony behind him.

But my mom, hoping to pacify both him, and us, took a different approach.

“Girls. We used to drive up here all the time with Grandma and Grandpa, all the way from Union City. It was a long drive, too, and we couldn’t wait to get up here–like you. Here’s what Grandma Sally told me: When we get close to ‘the country’, you will start to see two very special things—these big greyish-purplish rocks that look like they’ve been splattered with white paint. And bright orange flowers that look like starbursts, with very long stems. We call the rocks ‘Aunt Miriam Rocks’,  because when you see them, you know we are close to Aunt Miriam and Uncle Eddie’s house. And the flowers are called ‘Tiger Lilies’. At night, they close up to sleep, and open again when they wake up in the morning. So keep very quiet, keep your eyes on the side of the road, and let me know when you see Aunt Miriam Rocks and Tiger Lilies.”

We were mesmerized. These landmarks took on mythical qualities. We believed they were put there—like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs—to lead us to the lake. We shut up and looked out, scouring the passing roadside, eager to be the first to spot them.

We’d point and shriek with glee when we did, and sure enough, we’d arrive shortly after they appeared.

I haven’t seen an ‘Aunt Miriam Rock’ anywhere since. I wish I knew what they were. But every summer, in late June and early July, the tiger lilies sprout along the roadsides where I live. They close up to sleep, and open up when they wake up in the morning. And when I see them, I know I’m close to my mom, wherever she is, and I’m close to home.

Clipped

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/42997-my-life-on-the-post-road-clipped

I volunteered to be a hair model. My salon offers the stylists continuing education, and a regional Bumble+Bumble representative would present a class on razor skills. I jumped at the chance to have a free cut by the high end, well-known hair empire expert. I’d be unlikely to make the pilgrimage to New York on my own to visit B+B. Ever. It’d take several trains, the better part of the day, and a small fortune. I just don’t care about my hair that much.

But, I thought, maybe I should care more. My styling routine consists of applying whatever anti-frizz, curl-enhancing goop I find at Bed, Bath, and Beyond using a 20 percent off coupon, and hoping for the best. Sometimes it looks okay, sometimes not so much. Sometimes I surrender and succumb to the butterfly clip upsweep. Maybe a change was in order. What was the worst thing that could happen? Asymmetry? A buzz cut? Hair grows, I reasoned, and thought about the Buddhist concept of impermanence. It wouldn’t be forever.

So I leapt into the hot seat at the epicenter of a semicircle of staff cradling razors and waiting to learn how to use them. The tall, lean, and most lovely Christiaan towered over me, running his fingers through my hair, massaging my scalp, twirling my curls… but I digress.

He talked as he worked, describing attributes of my hair of that I didn’t know myself. Its texture, its weight, its width, and its distribution on my head. How it related to my hairline, the direction it took on my scalp, and how it grew. Who knew that my strands held such a wealth of information? To me they just looked like (dyed) brown hair. All the while he wielded a straight-edged razor, whose blade he’d just changed to be sure it was super-sharp, inches from my jugular vein. He sliced, and sliced, and sliced. With what felt like wanton abandon, but he described with, well, razor-sharp precision.

He coated my tresses with a pre-cut hydrating mask, and added mousse, leave-in conditioner, and anti-humidity gel oil after the shearing. He slathered, scrunched, and jooged. And advised me to only shampoo my hair once a month. In between, he said, I could just “go through the motions” of shampooing in the shower with just water, or use conditioner in lieu of shampoo to “co-wash,” or “co-poo,” in the lingo of the cognoscenti.

The convened coven nodded and murmured as they walked around me to get a look from every angle. He lifted my locks vertically and let the blade drop like a guillotine toward my pate. The customers who had begun to arrive to let their stylists try their newly acquired skills out on them oohed and aahed. I felt like a shrub in the spell of Edward Scissorhands, and just hoped I wouldn’t end up looking like a giraffe topiary.
When Christiaan felt satisfied (I felt vaguely like we should cuddle and smoke a cigarette) – and he took no more than 12 minutes – he spun me around toward the mirror, and looked at me expectantly, as if asking “was it good for you?”

“Wow,” I said. “It’s great.” I looked like, well, me.

The audience clapped, and I resisted bowing as the artist deserved the kudos. I was, after all, merely his muse. He escorted me out of the chair and thanked me with a double-cheek air kiss.

“Wait,” he said, “I need to give you your prescription.”

Disappointed at the salon’s lack of official B+B “prescription pads,” he wrote mine out on the back of an envelope. It took up the entire surface thereof and listed about $3000 worth of products, which I did not, and would likely never, buy. I am not sure that six ounces of anything could do enough to my hair to be worth $34, even though he’d intimated to me what crap the drugstore brands I was buying were.

I had a blast. It was fun, and I felt special, and I have an adorable new friend at B+B. Two days post-cut the style has held up quite well, but of course the acid test occurs when I attempt to style it on my own and recreate the magic. No matter how much yoga I do I never seem to be able to get my own arms around my own head to reach where that no man’s land that stylists access so easily from their vantage point. I’m not sure how much effort I will put into the new do anyway; I have better things to do.