The Other Side of the Street

From across the street, I can see the rabbi’s ironing board. It is right in front of his second story bedroom window, the iron parked, waiting for the next wrinkled shirt. I’ve never seen the rabbi ironing although I have seen him davening in the other window. When I see the rabbi davening, he is wearing a prayer shawl and holding a book. He rocks back and forth. He is praying.

Like the other Orthodox rabbis in the neighborhood, the davening rabbi wears a white shirt, a black suit, and a black hat every day. He never varies in his attire unless it is high summer and he is mowing the lawn. Then he might take his jacket off and hang it over his porch railing.

I used to regard the rabbi’s constant suit wearing as odd, figured that he must be uncomfortable wearing a suit all the time but I have come to realize that he would be uncomfortable if he wasn’t wearing a suit. This is a lesson I’ve applied in many other areas of life. The opposite of what I presume about other people is usually the truth.

WordPress Discover Prompt #4: Street

Listen Up

Telling the story of hearing loss is tough. It’s a disability thing. An old person’s thing. “Normal” people can find it hard to understand the impact of hearing loss on identity, self-worth, and, probably most important, relationships.

Several years ago I wrote an essay about an encounter – or lack of an encounter – with a young family at the audiologist’s office. A few weeks ago, I recorded the essay for the morning show of our local public radio station, WUWM, and it was aired yesterday.

Both the text of the essay and the link to the audio version are at this link: Wordless.

I’d love to hear what you think.

The Searing Comfort of Layla

Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash

I spent the summer of 1973 sitting on a blanket atop the scorched brown grass behind our Flint townhouse, yards of black cord connected my bagel-size headphones to our stereo inside. I watched my eight-month old baby girl sit and crawl and eat the brown grass while Eric Clapton’s Layla, the screaming, wild, knife in the heart, electric version, roared in my head.

Sometimes, after the seven-minute song ended, I would take off my headphones and go in the house to reset the record needle to the beginning instead of waiting for the rest of the songs to play. I loved Layla that much.

And I doubted my life just as much.

I’d wanted to be a mother, so much so that it had been all I thought about for years, convincing myself that one bad decision or another in my earlier, single days, would make getting pregnant impossible. But when motherhood came, I was at a loss. It was so constant. And it felt so diminishing. While my husband was at work, dressed in a suit and managing people and things, I was in charge of the backyard, too thick around the waist to button my shorts, not his fault, this is just how it was then.

But Layla.

The deafening sounds of Clapton’s guitar, the slide and screech, the gut of his voice, lifted me out of the backyard into the wild place of desire and longing and loss and passion that I’d forgotten I’d ever felt. And that made me feel like freedom was still out there, still possible, that my feeling stuck and anchored and imprisoned was momentary, not permanent.

So I would listen to Layla with the volume turned to the highest our old stereo allowed and I’d hold by baby girl’s tiny hands while she walked across the blanket, the afternoon sun blocked by our townhouse so the backyard was cool and shady.

Layla, you’ve got me on my knees
Layla, I’m begging, darling please
Layla, darling won’t you ease my worried mind.

-Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, 1970-

WordPress Discover Prompt #3: Song

Someday I Will Cast On

Casting on – it sounds so simple.

Red's Wrap

I once knew an older woman, named Sarah Ettenheim, who knitted while presiding over loud, contentious, racially divided community meetings. She would recognize people to speak, insist on proper decorum, and quote Robert’s Rules of Order, chapter and verse, all while clicking her wooden needles and adjusting the ball of yarn on her lap. She was often looking down to watch her stitch but she was entirely present as if there was no place she would rather be than in the middle of a difficult political scrum with her knitting.

She was brilliant and calm.

So it struck me the other day that maybe I should learn how to knit. Maybe it would give me the aura that Sarah wore so well. I could be an elegant lady at peace amidst chaos.

I asked my friend who knits how to learn to knit. Go to a knitting store, she said…

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I washed the mud off my boots and then set them to dry on the porch railing.

And then I wiped down the porch table and got the camp chairs out of the garage. I put two six packs of beer and a giant bottle of laundry detergent on the floor out of the way and then I pretended it was summer.

I brushed first one dog and then another. I sat in my camp chair and watched the birds coming to our bird feeders. I felt as old as my dad when he died but it wasn’t a bad feeling. I had nothing better to do than to watch the birds. I thought about getting the binoculars out of the closet but I knew moving would spook the birds so I just sat still with my face turned to the sun and did nothing.

It was what I needed to do.

Today was the day I needed to lay claim to my mental health. So that is what I did. The news and the fright and the anxiety were making me sick and so I put a stop to it. I spent most of the day outside, a good share of it with two dogs, shutting my eyes when they did, and not moving unless I had to. I turned my face to the sun and let everything go.

No one is going to save me from myself but me. That’s today’s lesson.


Mr. Tan Shoes and Me at KFC

The other night at KFC, an older guy came in while I was waiting for my order. His hair was completely white and he wore those tan orthopedic shoes that are popular with folks fed up with pretending. He ordered a big bucket of chicken and two sides. Just like me.

I hadn’t been in a KFC in ten years but the idea of fried chicken after a long day of helping a friend clear out her dead mother’s house seemed irresistible, so much so that I drove a mile past the KFC on the corner near her house and then made a U-turn, no mean trick in my husband new F-150 which has a turning radius of about a half mile. I went inside the KFC because ordering at the drive-thru makes me crazy. It’s indecipherable. Summed up as ‘what kind of sauce?’ What Kind of Sauce? WHAT KIND OF SAUCE? Screaming for food, I hate it. One of the queer life impediments of major hearing loss.

So I parked the silver bomber (aka the Chromemobile)  and went inside.

“You know it makes a lot more sense to just get a small soda and fill it up than to get a big one.” He demonstrated by filling his small cup.

“So true,” I nodded, although this lesson has taken me many years to learn. The wisdom of age comes in these tiny droplets. Buy the small soda and refill it. You heard it here. From me on the mount.

His talking about soda made me want to have one. Suddenly, at that moment, there was nothing I wanted more than a small soda.

So I ordered one. The KFC guy handed me a cup, just a tad larger than what one might pee in at the doctor’s. “That is certainly small,” I said. Then he handed me a larger cup. So now I had two cups. There was dialogue that went along with all these cups but I only caught part of it. I’m a week into my new cochlear implant and, man, there is a ton of stuff I don’t get. Which is somewhat a what’s new situation but not.

After I got my soda and tossed the smaller cup in the trash, I continued waiting at the counter with Mr. Tan Shoes. He smiled at me. It seemed like he was trying to come up with another conversational gambit since the soda size topic kind of fizzled out.

You know where this is going. You can see it coming down the highway like a semi-truck hauling one of those mobile homes, big flags on either side and a little car in front warning the world of an “OVERSIZE LOAD.”

“So,” Mr. Tan Shoes said, leaning on the counter like he was waiting for another round of jello shots at the Christmas party and nodding in the direction of the ‘kitchen.’ I waited.

He shrugged and I could feel him wondering if we would have this one thing in common. Maybe it would be the start of something.

“Extra crispy or original recipe?”

Our eyes locked.

“Oh, original recipe,” I answered, frowning and shaking my head like I found just the thought of extra crispy to be beyond the pale. Unacceptable. Unorthodox. Trifling with the KFC brand. “Definitely original recipe,” I added, just to make sure I was in the right column. FOR original recipe. AGAINST extra crispy.

Then my order came up. At exactly the same moment, Mr. Tan Shoes and I said exactly the same thing, making me wonder later if I’d passed on a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“Have a good evening,”we chorused.

And we did, I think, each with our own perfect chicken.



Originally published 12/10/2015