Who’s a Relic? Me?

Hudson Main Street

My past is older than most of the people I know.

So what does this mean? It means my frame of reference could be hanging in a museum. The antiquities of the fifties and sixties, the skate keys, mimeograph machines, inner tubes, they’d hang next to my frame of reference. Everything would be part of an exhibit entitled “Jan’s Old Things.”

My father who was a musician of sorts n the 40’s and 50’s played his organ every night when I was a teenager (in the 60’s) using bootleg books of sheet music that he’d bought somewhere, out of the trunk of somebody’s car, who knows. These two bootleg books were big binders of music. He’d flip through them, hitting on his old favorites and blasting the organ as loud as it would go, wall-vibrating load, no exaggeration.  (With that sentence I may have discovered the source of both of our hearing loss.)

Anyway, because he loved music from the past, I could never figure out why he didn’t love music from the present.  But he didn’t. He had no use for it. He looked over his paper at the Beatles on Ed Sullivan (right now there are six people in the universe who even know who Ed Sullivan was), shook his head a little and went back to reading about the stock market.

I considered him a relic. Oh, he was an interesting relic and got more interesting as he aged and especially after he died, but he and I did not share the same cultural space.

That’s what happening now. I am getting the message that my stuff, my things, my props are not just from another generation, they’re from a couple of generations ago. It’s been suggested to me for a while. Someone dropped off a relic cape a few years ago thinking it was time I started wearing one and I’ve left it sitting in its box thinking it wasn’t right for me, wouldn’t fit. Me? A relic? When I’m so unexpectedly current and informed? I eschew your cape!

But then I wonder, who the heck is Stacy Dash?




Face Time


I looked at every picture a dozen times. Scrolled right then left, trying to find one that was more flattering, as my mother would say. “That dress is very flattering on you.”

I wanted a flattering picture but there wasn’t one in the bunch. We’d even had a professional photographer come and take pictures of all of us, my four children and their kids and loved ones. It was a tremendously rare event, all of us in one place, and, for once, I wanted it captured. I wanted us to be all together in a family picture, a nontraditional family in a traditional photograph that would hang on my wall until the movers came after the estate sale.

I thought I looked great that day. In the way that I always think I’m thinner and better looking than I actually am, I went to the park thinking I look pretty good, I feel great, these are going to be great pictures. We are all, my whole family, so ‘smart and good looking’ as my father would say. It was his ultimate compliment. Words to live by for me. I want, wanted nothing more than to be smart and good looking.

So when I saw the pictures of me and my husband, I was disappointed. Not only did reality not line up once again with my foolish mind’s eye, I seemed, for the first time, I seemed old.

Right away, I thought to myself, why couldn’t the photographer have taken a more flattering shot. Why couldn’t she have positioned me somehow so my deep wrinkles weren’t so obvious, couldn’t she have smoothed them somehow, made me look less worn, made the photograph match who I think I am?

Then I looked again and thought, looked.

This is who you are now, Jan. This is who you are. There isn’t a thought or worry or decision that didn’t leave its tracks on your face. The million times you laughed at your husband’s songs are there, too. The rebukes and returns of your children, the thousand raised eyebrows, none of it passed without leaving a trail. What did you think would come of all these years?

This is who you are now, Jan. Take a good picture so you remember.




I need me a new basketball. And a basketball net. I don’t need a hoop, though. I have one. It’s bolted to the ancient roof of our garage, the one with the doors that pull open like the entrance to the grand dining room in an old movie.

The doors have little windows getting ready to be broken again.

I can’t wait to stand on our new ladder and hook a new net on the old hoop. I can’t wait to have a new basketball that is clean and just crammed with air, one that bounces with a touch. I can pretend I am careful and cagey, a strategic shooter. The bounce of a basketball is one of Earth’s perfect sounds.

When my boys were teenagers, the three of us played our own version of HORSE. In HORSE, one person makes a shot and then the other people have to make the same shot. The person who doesn’t make the shot gets a letter, like H or O or R. My sons would have wild shots, one would do impossible lay-ups, the other mile-long shots from the next door neighbor’s driveway.

I had only one shot. It was my money shot. I could always make this shot. It was (I just asked my husband for the official description) a ‘short range jump shot.’ The problem was that my sons could also always make this shot. So my superiority was short-lived. No one suffered a letter on account of not making my money shot. Chump change as it was.

I have decided, at the age of 66, that I don’t shoot nearly enough hoops. Nor do I have a sufficient number of hoop dreams. This needs to change.

I need to back the cars up out of the way, apologize to the wee garage windows girding themselves for assault, and get to bouncing my ball and making my shot.

I’ll play HORSE with myself and never lose.

The Day the Truth Saved Her

Once upon a time, there was a woman who practiced fooling herself every day. She was so good at it that she could go months with no firm grasp of the truth. The truth changed colors in her hands like a kaleidoscope dissembled and sprinkled on her palms. It amused her and puzzled her at the same time. Could other people handle the truth like this, likes marbles in their hands?

One day the woman went to her closet to find the finest clothes to wear to an important gathering. She flicked through her dresses, her suits, her shirts, until she found the perfect pants to wear. The pants made her young, she thought, chic. If she wore the pants, she would hide the truth, cover her age, keep the most telling marble in her closed fist. And so she reached for the pants.

Just as she did, a purple moth flew from deep in her closet into her mouth.

She opened her mouth to let the moth out but there was nothing. She coughed but still nothing. Then she felt the moth gathering up the sides of her throat, braiding the flesh into a chain and twisting and fluttering. She could feel the wings of the moth and the chain tightening and pulling, strangling her. She hacked wildly, brought her hands to her neck and begged the room for air. Air, please air, she thought. I can’t live without air.

She saw herself in the mirror over the dressing table. Choking. She thought this could be how she dies. This would be the way and the day. A purple moth that no one had ever seen before or since will have killed her and she would have no way to tell them the truth even though this was the one time she truly knew the truth.

And then the moth was gone, dissolved, evaporated, vanished, and she could breathe. First, just a little and then more and more until her breathing was just as it was when she was looking at the pants that would make her young and chic.

And then she reached for the shirt, the one she wouldn’t wear because it reminded her of her mother and her aunts and the women at church when she was growing up, and she remembered the line from the famous poem, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple.”

And she knew that day had brought her the truth. She was happy for that and glad to be holding nothing in her hands.

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple” is the first line in the poem When I Am Old by Jenny Joseph.

Written in response to a prompt from The Daily Post to write about something that happened this week using the style of a fairy tale.

Once Upon a Time

What Do You See?

We walk past their room on the way to ours up the stairs. He is eating grapefruit and she is sorting photographs. They are very old. He is thin and tall and wears a white dress shirt, rumpled and soft as if he’d saved it from his long days at the bank. She is wearing a knit top with a tropical print. When she stands up, it’s only partly. She is hunched over and must look at the floor when she walks.

I imagine for them a wedding 60 years ago, I give them children who are new grandparents. I decide that he has been eating his grapefruit just that way from the first one. But that’s my fiction.

Maybe they just met in Miami or have been planning their tryst for decades behind the backs of trusting partners. Maybe the photos she is sorting were the last things she managed to grab before she made it out the door to her lover’s waiting cab. Maybe it’s his first grapefruit. Maybe he’s eating it because of how she cut it. Perfectly. Like no one else.

Who could know?

I think it’s a mistake to assume we know things about people, to decide what their lives are like or were like just by looking. I want people to be a surprise sometimes, be a mystery.

Everyone ought to stay a mystery in some way for as long as they live.

I’m hoping our downstairs neighbors are plotting right now, figuring out how to catch a boat to Cuba, disappear deep in Central America where they can lounge about for long steamy days with their grapefruit and photos forever.

They could be talking about that this very minute. We have no way of knowing.

Button Up Your Pod

Stories of people my age forgetting which is the business end of a pencil make my blood run cold.

That wasn’t always the case. When the people who got the mental flutters were a lot older than me, I could relax. I was in the clear. Putting the car key in the cigarette lighter wouldn’t be a mistake I’d be making any time soon.

But when the stories start being about people my age, maybe even younger than me, I feel like a person with mountains of undetected cancer in my gut.

Tonight at dinner, I asked a friend if she ever wanted to ask people if they had any symptoms yet. She laughed but she didn’t ask symptoms of what. Because, of course, she knew. Every person over the age of 60 is afraid of the same thing.

Remember the Body Snatchers? One by one the residents of a nice little town just became ‘gone,’ alive but unreal. It happened while they’re sleeping. They were snatched and replaced by beings who looked just like them but were vacant. It’s more complex than this, don’t let my little quick synopsis here minimize the terror. Giant pods were involved. I’ll stop there.

Lately, I’ve developed an exceptional fear that I will drive the wrong way on a one way street. I’ve done this only twice in my life, once with a young man who was working for me, who lurched for the dashboard when I braked and made a hair-raising u-turn and then again last year when I motored the wrong way about half a block, only stopping when it finally occurred to me why other drivers were waving. Hello. Hello back.

So now I find that every time I make a turn from one city street to another, I check five times to make sure it’s a two-way street.

What is this about? Is it a symptom?

The whole notion of going the wrong way on a one way street is so emblematic to me – a metaphor that could fit practically every decision I’ve ever made – that I worry that this apparent leap that the metaphor is making into real life is a sign of big time trouble. Park the hyperbole, so to speak, she really is going the wrong way on a one way street.

Of course, nobody ever really talks about this except in a joking way. Every single person the Body Snatchers come for bobs and weaves and denies the existence of any symptoms until they are swimming in forgotten things. At least outwardly.

In their heads, they had to have known something was up. Is it like the lump in your breast that you touch a hundred times until you convince yourself that it’s always been there? The spot on your leg that could be a freckle but looks just like the melanoma picture on WebMD? I don’t know.

Does it all come without warning? One day you’re fine and the next day, there’s a pod with your name on it?

The people who know the answer to this aren’t telling. They didn’t know when they saw it and can’t remember looking back.

That’s some scary shit.

#56/100: 56th in a series of 100 in 100