When I was a kid, it was part of the family lore that my dad’s first dime store in Detroit failed because it was located in a Jewish neighborhood. Jews were cheap was the primary theme. They were demanding and unreasonable. One Jewish woman, according to the story, had even chased my dad around the the store waving a hammer. So, it was impossible to make a living in such an environment.

My dad broke the lease on his Detroit location, hiring a semi-truck to load up the store’s contents in the middle of the night to move to a new location in Dearborn, Henry Ford’s base, if that tells you anything. No more worries about Jews.

Nothing much was said about Jews after that. Oh, now and then, a comment would remind me that we were to blame the Jews for our financial troubles, the seemingly endless run of 29 cent chicken pot pies for dinner. “He got himself a Jew lawyer” is a phrase I remember from the dinner table and I wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing or an unfair thing which is what my dad’s intonation suggested. A Jew lawyer was going to be waving a hammer, I guess.

I’m remembering this tonight for no particular reason.

When I was 35, I married a Jewish man and my dad was unfailingly friendly and conversational with him from their first meeting until my dad died 20 years later. There was never a whisper of anti-Semitism. By that time, my dad was 70 and all I can think is that he’d just let that piece of his thinking go. Maybe he figured out it was wrong, I don’t know, we never discussed it.

I think people just change for the better sometimes. They aren’t the way they start out, sometimes they aren’t the way they were yesterday. I’m glad for that possibility. It gives me hope.

Ring Out

Surprising no one, we convinced ourselves not to go to the party tonight. Instead we ate scalloped potatoes and ham and watched five episodes of a Yukon Quest YouTube. We could have done that tomorrow night or the night after but it seemed delicious to do it on New Year’s Eve. Don’t ask me why.

I remember going to a funeral of someone I knew and by happenstance ending up in about the third row in this huge, cavernous church and thinking I don’t belong this close to the front, not being family or knowing the deceased all that well. I was trapped, there being no place to flee, and so I let go of not belonging because it didn’t matter.

It’s unreasonable and judgmental but I think it’s dumb for dogs to wear clothing. Today, a bulldog ran up to us at the dog park wearing a hoodie. Why?

It took me all year to realize that Two Buck Chuck comes in smaller bottles than ordinary wine. This doesn’t make me like it any less since I have a dull witted palate and am very cheap but it gives me pause because it suggests that its makers think we’re idiots out here.

I only care about the New Year because it’s an election year. I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions. I’m not going to navel gaze about my 2019 life. None of that. 2020 is about the election. Period. We need a decent president, someone who doesn’t lie and believes in the Constitution. No fairy godmother is going to bring us such a president. We have to do it ourselves – vote by vote, block by block. Sort of a hand-to-hand combat kind of year. Get ready.

End of the Year

How stiff is that drink?

It’s a pretty stiff drink. A couple of fingers.

So why is it you need such a stiff drink?

It’s winter. It’s the end of the day. A friend I used to have just died.

That’s rough. What happened with you and your friend?

It’s complicated.

It always is. Were things made right in the end, though?


The True Meaning of Punchy’s Bath

Punchy has a bow on his collar.

He got it because he went to the groomer and had a bath. Yes, this 11-year old sled dog who got washed only by the rain all his life smells like shampoo and conditioner.

While he was gone we washed his bed and shampooed the carpet underneath it and when it was over we realized that we’d become so immersed in the incredible rankness of our environment that we didn’t even notice it anymore.

Yes, he was rank. The woman at the groomer’s called him “ripe.” He had the mud and grit and flying spit of hundreds of dogs embedded in his double coat. Oh, we noticed it the minute we met him. While we were driving away from his kennel, we rolled the windows down. “Phew, he really stinks,” we both said. But the days passed and we thought, hey, it’s getting better. That feral miasma seemed to dissipate so we settled in for the winter.

But the miasma didn’t dissipate, we acclimated. This is what people do all the time to deal with awful stuff. They get used to it. They accommodate it. They talk about how it could be worse. They imagine that it’s better. But finally they take the dog for a damn bath and that’s when they find out that their situation had been hideous.

I leave this bit of dog yard wisdom for you to contemplate.

Advent 12: At the Garage

That’s my mother, pushing up her glasses. It was, I think, at the very beginning of her very thin years. Her younger sister is looking over her shoulder at her. I remember my aunt’s hair, lush and wavy like a Hollywood star. My grandmother is holding something in her hands and studying it. If it was now, we’d think she was looking at her phone but the phone was in the house, sitting on a tiny phone table with a crocheted doily, black with a rotary dial and a thick cord. The cord didn’t coil. It hung like a lariat off the side of the table.

I remember my grandmother’s outfit even though I wasn’t born when this picture was taken. She kept her clothes a good long time. I remember how the fabric was soft but crinkled, permanently crinkled, not ironed that way and I know I felt that skirt with my own hands like I know I’ve run my hands on the paint of that garage door. I breathed that air. It was just many years later.

My father was there that day, too. Here he is sitting, leaning against the garage door, flashing his argyle socks, and he is his hip self. He worked a regular job during the day and played in dance bands at night and so that part of him, the part of him that could play a song if you hummed a few bars, was always gliding around him. He was a smooth character back then. You can tell by how he’s sitting. He had it going.

My parents before they were my parents. I love seeing them that way.

Advent 6: Foiled

I look out the window at our truck parked across the street in front of our neighbor’s giant maple tree. The light at the base of the driver’s side view mirror is on, glowing like a tiny flashlight. It seems strange to me so I wait and then the light goes out. Seconds later, it comes back on and I take the set of keys by the bed and press lock just to make sure. The lights flash, the lock sounds, and the car beeps. I put the keys down and the mirror’s light resumes its shining.

I decide that someone must be trying to break into the truck so I go outside, open the front door, and stand on our porch. I yell, “Get away from there!” and a man in a trenchcoat and a hat, as if dressed by a Hollywood studio for a thirties noir film, steps out from behind the truck. He is holding a gun with both hands and aiming it at me like a well-trained cop might do when he tells the suspect to “Drop it.”

He threatens me with the gun, motioning me to go back in the house so he can resume stealing our truck. But I stand still on the porch. He walks around to my side of the truck, getting closer, still motioning with his gun for me to turn around and go in the house. He waves the gun around as if to make sure the one streetlamp, dim as it is, shines off the gun so I see that he really has a gun and isn’t pretending.

His taunting makes me angry, so angry that I run off the porch and into the street straight at him and I yell as loud as I can, “I’M GOING TO GET YOU!” And I feel my husband pat my shoulder to wake me up. He says, “You were shouting.” I try to tell him why but he is already sleeping. I slide my arm under his and I try to fall asleep, but my eyes are on the window in case the light is still on.