Total Pageviews

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In my mind I'm going to Carolina...

Charlotte  (9/22/16)

I was born and raised in New York. Born in Brooklyn, raised, mostly, on Long Island.  Over the years, I’ve lived in San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and….a short time in Denton, Texas.  That short time in Texas made me no fan of the southern United States.  I was singled out as a “yankee.”  I owned record albums….yes, this was decades before CD’s came along …..albums by Johnny Mathis.  “Y’all listen to that  N----?”  It was the first time I had ever heard that word said out loud.  And it just flowed from her mouth like water from a stream.  I was shocked and dismayed.  I was a fish out of water as far as that particular stream.  I didn’t stay long.

By happenstance, I had to travel about a year and a half ago, by airplane.  It was February, and it was a brutal one.  I was delayed getting to where I was headed by a day.  I was yet again delayed trying to get home by two days.  Because of blizzards, I was sent to Charlotte, North Carolina. 

I cannot even describe the scene.  There were, I would guess, thousands of people stranded.  The line to get to my “ticket” counter seemed to be at least a mile long. It was getting late.  Very late.  Tempers were flaring.  The young girl in front of me on this ridiculous line finally started sobbing and fell to the floor.  “I can’t do this!  I can’t do this!”  She was clearly in her twenties.  I’m on Medicare.  I frantically tried to call the airline and somehow managed to get my way booked home, but I would have to spend the next day and night in Charlotte.  Meanwhile, my husband, back in New Jersey, was trying to find a place for me to sleep the night.  (What did we do without cell phones?)

He found me a place, but their shuttle was down for the night – it was now past 11 pm.  I could not remember when I last ate.  Even though I was in a major hub of an airport, the place was shutting down.  All of the food establishments and kiosks were going dark very rapidly.  I slipped into one that still had lights on and a couple of people inside.  Not much to choose from, so I grabbed a turkey and cheese on rye prepacked sandwich and a Mexican Coke.  Ah! Mexican Coke, what a find!!!  For the uninitiated, Coke made in Mexico still uses real cane sugar rather than corn syrup.  It tastes like Coke did in the 1950s.  Bowling alley Coke. The Real Thing.  For some ridiculous reason, this made me inexplicably happy.

Outside, there were yet again massive lines for taxis. But I had a sandwich, a Mexican Coke and a place to sleep.  I could do this.
When it was finally my turn, my black cab driver kindly took my bag and hoisted it into the taxi.  I tried to thank him but he was already in the driver’s seat. Off we went.  I tried to make a little small talk.  How far?  Not far.  I got stuck in a blizzard.  Wow.  We got to the hotel.  Again, he kindly took my bag out and helped me into the lobby.  I tipped him and he seemed….surprised.

Behind the lobby desk was a middle-aged black woman.  It was now somewhere between midnight and one in the morning.  This poor gal had the night shift.  I used to work nights at the University of Michigan hospital…….did that for four years.  I know it isn’t fun. 
But, in spite of the fact that people were starting to trickle in behind me, and once again, I tried to …you know, be a person…and talk a little…she was abrupt, polite, business and all business…here is your key. Enjoy your stay.  Never once did she look me in the eye. 

I chalked it all up to me being tired and over sensitive.  This place had a kitchen which had everything except a bottle opener.  I put the coke in the fridge and took a long, hot shower.
Afterwards, near exhaustion, I pried the damned bottle open with a knife.  The pre-packaged sandwich could have been dinner at Le Cirque. Then the curtain came down and I slept for ages.

So, with blizzards in the North, I woke up to a day in Charlotte that was 70 gorgeous degrees.  I went downstairs.  The hotel provided breakfast.  Not just rolls and coffee.  BREAKFAST.  There were scrambled eggs and sausages, waffles, pancakes, toast – I don’t know what else.  I’m not interested in meat.  I had to triple toast my bread….thing was set really low….plus, my toast has to be practically charcoal for me to like it…… And a pile of scrambled eggs.  And tea. Hot, black, strong tea. 
There was yet another black woman supervising breakfast.  She was very sweet and told me where everything was.  She seemed slightly amused that I was hesitant.  I really could not believe this smorgasbord was there for the taking and there was no charge!  But there was something off, yet again.  Something I couldn’t put my finger on.

I was still exhausted from the ordeal of flying and getting stranded… I spent the day watching old “Frasier” episodes and snoozing.  I could have had an equally wonderful dinner on the house that night but I didn’t feel up to socializing with strangers.  Just next door to the hotel was a “Subway” and a gas station with food stuffs inside.  I got a sandwich and a Heineken.  I also bought a bottle opener for $1.29 and donated it to the next weary traveler. 

My plane took off early the next morning, so I had to rise at about 4:30 am to get to the airport.  The same lady that checked me in was checking me out.  All business.  No eye contact.  I waited for my cab.  When he arrived, the hotel lady and the cab driver appeared to know one another and exchanged pleasantries.  My ride to the airport was much like my ride from the airport – silent.  I didn’t even try this time.  I made it home, two days late, tired, bleeding money, and perplexed.  What was it?

When I read and saw what happened in Charlotte the other day, it dawned on me. Oh, no….oh, no.  It dawned on me.  Now I see. Now I understand.  Now I know what it was that I could not understand. I come from the North.  I grew up in a melting pot and never cared what color or anything else anyone was.  And now I see.  I see again what I heard in Texas so many, many years ago…except…in Charlotte I saw it from the other side.

Why won’t he talk to me? Why won’t she look at me?  Is it me?  Am I too loud?  Am I too forward?  It’s because I’m a brash New Yorker…right?  

Now I see.  They are afraid.  Black people are afraid. In the 21st Century in this so-called “democracy,” they are afraid.  They are afraid of white people. They are afraid to look someone in the eye.  They are afraid to engage in conversation.

As I write these words, I weep.  How could I have been so blind?  Yet, how can this be the truth of our contemporary America?  It isn’t a truth I care to know, but I have heard it and I have seen it.  And I am ashamed and dreadfully, profoundly, deeply sad.

I Am Afraid I Will Be KILLED By Police....

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Summer’s End

Every time September rolls around and another summer comes to an end, my mind is always drawn back the summer of my twelfth year.  

It was a quiet summer for me.  Being a shy child, I rarely, if ever, called anyone else to come over or even worse, invite myself to their house.  Besides, my house wasn’t much fun.  My father worked nights and slept most of the day, so quiet had to be maintained.  We had nothing fancy…no pool or a finished basement or even a color television.  What could I offer, anyway?  It was just a summer.  Everything always went back to normal once school resumed. 
If I was lucky, someone might call me, but it didn’t happen often.  I do remember one time, in the late afternoon.  I was looking out the front door and all of a sudden two of my friends pulled up on their bikes to invite me out with them.  Sheer happiness.

But the majority of that particular summer was spent up in my room.  I was writing even back then, filling up yellow pads with whatever a twelve year old girl would fill them up with.  Back then I could listen to my little green and white transistor radio at the same time.  It didn’t annoy me as something like that would today.  Leslie Gore, Bobby Rydell, "Little" Stevie Wonder, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee.  Ricky Nelson was the most adorable thing on the face of the earth and I looked forward each week to “Ozzie and Harriet,” to have the chance to see him on our little black and white, and hear him do a song at the end of the show.

Next to me, on the nightstand next to my bed, I would have an entire box of Entenmann’s cupcakes, yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  No worries, I was thin as a rail, although I don’t believe I ate the whole box, I just didn’t want to leave my room and have to see anyone or talk to them.
It was one hot afternoon, and there I was, peacefully listening to my radio and scribbling pages and pages of I don’t know what, when my door opened and both of my parents peeked in.  “Are you alright?”  “Uh huh.”  That’s all I remember.  Besides, I was quite stunned.  Unbeknownst to me, my parents, at that time, were on the brink of divorce.  One of my oldest sisters (twins) was mentally ill and had been shuffled from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital.  I felt like an anecdote in my family.  Hence, my complete surprise that my parents were concerned about me!  I realized, of course, that they feared I might have a mental illness, too.  So, wow.  They “cared.” 

My mother and I became estranged years later.  Then, years after that, we had a small version of a reconciliation.  I was in Michigan.  We began writing….I had had a child, a daughter.  I sent her pictures.  She sent me one of myself as a baby, feeling that there was a strong resemblance.  In one of her last letters to me she said, “You try to tell your children you love them.”  You try?  Why not just tell them?  Knowing my mother as well as I did, though, I knew that this was as close as she had ever and would ever get to telling me she cared.  Of course, she failed to tell me she had terminal cancer.  I found out she died when I got a letter from my sister. 

Yes, my mind goes back to that summer of my twelfth year every autumn.  The year my father would leave and I would not see him again for twenty-nine years.  The year my mother would retreat even further into her self-made cocoon. The year I would discover The Beatles and retreat into my own world.  The year my parents showed me, in their sad and dysfunctional way, how much they cared.

It seems amazing that no matter how old one grows, no matter how many years go by, it is not possible to truly get over the sins of our parents. But we can learn from them.

My daughter, even though she is now grown, is still told that she is loved.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Been high in the rockies, under the evergreens....

I do believe I just finished what I am calling my last children's book.  I have more adult fare to get to work on.

Tomorrow I will call the gal I hope will be the illustrator.  Fingers crossed.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Try to remember...

Dear Peter,

I never thanked you.

I wanted you to know that I remember.  I remember slow dancing in the bowling alley.  I remember having lunch in the college cafeteria.  In retrospect, I realize that perhaps you were encouraging me to be a better person, to fulfill my potential.  But, at that point, I was so very young and afraid. 

I also remember seeing “Funny Girl” with you and having dinner in a local restaurant.  I remember that you brought me a bouquet of flowers (my first!) when I had my wisdom teeth extracted.

And, of course, I remember your other gift.  My birthday gift.  The one you sent by mail.  Because, by that time, I was being courted by another young man.  And I fell for him.  He didn’t encourage me to go back to college.  He had a house and a sports car.  I was only seventeen…..and I wanted so desperately to get out of my mother’s house. He offered me the quick and easy solution.

But you were correct.  It was a huge mistake, the first of many that I would continue to make for years to come.  I wonder what I would have done if you had tried harder?

I remember the brown paper package.  Opening it to find a square box wrapped in pink and red rose printed wrapping paper.  Very pretty.  Rose is the flower of June.  How a propos.  I remember opening it and finding the stuffed toy animal – the donkey.  The jackass, to be more precise.  I was horrified.  You were such a nice, sweet young man.  How could you do such a thing?  I could feel my face burning.  

You can see that you left a lasting impression.  I never forgot it or you.  As I said before, I wonder if you might have swayed me if you had persisted just a bit more?  But it was so long ago……
I do thank you.  I knew, from your “comment,” that I was heading toward disaster, and yet I continued forging ahead.  Thank you for telling me what you really thought, albeit symbolically.  I wish some more people had said, one way or another, “June, you’re being an ass.”  No one did.

Somehow, eventually, I managed to land on my feet.
So, thank you, Peter.  I hope all worked out well for you. 

With (mostly) fond memories,