Life comes with a series of passages. Some we recognize because they are grand and glorious — like high school graduation. Others are more subtle, almost hidden. These are the necessary losses and gains we traverse as we struggle through each decade. Today’s micro memoir is about one such subtle passage.
In the 1980’s I loved Billy Idol — so much so, that we went to see him at Music Hall in downtown Cleveland in the winter of 1984. It was a bitter cold night, and I wore my blue fox jacket with my jeans because that’s how I rolled. Jim came straight from work and was dressed in gray flannel slacks and a camel jacket. When we got to Music Hall, security was checking everyone; I guess because this concert was considered on the “punk” side, they were worried about objects being thrown. We waited in line as they checked bags and coat pockets. When they saw us, the security guard said, “Come on in.” No check. We just walked right on in based on our appearance.
All I recall about the concert is that I loved the sound and the energy. Billy is a true showman. But at the same time it left a lasting impression in more ways than one. We were seated in the center lower balcony, and Billy kept being backlighted — brightly. Those glaring lights pierced my eyes repeatedly, leaving a sandy feeling for a few days afterward.
I also knew that something else had changed. From now on I could be viewed as a “responsible” adult — one that wouldn’t cause a problem at a rock concert. I was too respectable to be a punk or a rebel. If that isn’t a right of passage, I don’t know what is.
During the weekend of the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference, I attended a flash memoir workshop with essayist Leslie Jamison. She offered up the “Dear Stranger…” prompt. We were encouraged to find in our memories a stranger that has crossed our path — someone we don’t really know — and write our ways into the mystery of why we have remembered them.
The stranger in question for me showed up immediately. He was a man I saw while on vacation in Toronto in 1981 with my first husband. I knew this particular person was “loaded” since my immediate reaction was to find someone else to write to. Then I knew by my resistance that he was the one.
Here is what transpired:
Dear Gruff Little Man,
I came across you and your family while touring the Casa Loma in Toronto, Canada. You were scolding your wife publicly for having dared to wander away from you, to perhaps discover the castle in her own revelry, amazed and engaged by the grandeur of it all. As you scolded her, she stood in front of you, her head bowed down, surely feeling she deserved the public tongue-lashing. Your boys stood nearby viewing the familiar scene, quiet and wide-eyed, another vacation mom had ruined by doing the wrong thing. I wanted to grab your wife and pull her away from your monsterousness, to take her to a safe place. But it was impossible. You, Mr. Gruff Man, were vocal and demeaning in your castigation of your wife. You did not choose the passive aggressive approach — the one I had gotten familiar with in my own marriage, the one that was about non-communication and shutting down, or shutting a door, or getting high so the discomfort would go away. Conflict was not my husband’s forte.
And within a year from that vacation in 1981, I would have taken advantage of his lack of willingness to engage in conflict. It became an escape hatch for me when I knew that I could no longer live with the subtle put downs and unspoken lack of support. When I decided I deserved more, I would walk away with my head high, leaving him to his marijuana, paranoia, and closed doors.
It’s my husband Jim’s birthday. I decided the best gift for him today, besides a yummy Mexican dinner at Cantina Laredo, is a little “through the years” tribute to my man. I’m not trying to hit every dimension of our lives –that is too long for a blog. Here is just a sampling.
Jim’s birthday makes me think about our romantic dreams when we were young. We talked of growing old together and now, well, we are. One thing about aging that is certain: as we get closer to the end, we treasure every moment even more.
Just as I was preparing to insert the photos here, a song from Don Henley’s new album came up with these lyrics. So fitting:
A long long time ago when we were young and pretty We ruled the world, we stopped the time we knew it all, we owned this city running with the crowd, carefree and proud I heard Somebody say Take a picture of this, take a picture of this.
With great love and devotion, this photo journey is for Jim:
In 1987, Jim was given a special bonus for raising sales at his company. The bonus was a trip to Cancun, Mexico for the two of us.
This was a wild adventure for me. First, I had never been much of a beach goer, so I wasn’t sure how to cope with that. And second, it was a foreign country! But, Cancun was the new, up and coming vacation spot, and we were very fortunate to have a week there, all expenses paid.
I will never forget when we got off the airplane onto the tarmac at the Cancun Airport that October day. The heat and humidity hit me like a brick — I had never felt anything like it before. It was then I knew I was someplace very different.
On the van cab ride to our hotel, we were talking to other people. One couple had been to Cancun a few times and talked about renting a car and driving around. I thought they were CRAZY. I had no intentions of ever doing such a thing.
Our week in Cancun was great, of course. We took a few interesting tours, spent time at the beach and pool, attended a couple of fiestas — it was all a blast. We also bought into a vacation club while there, assuring our return.
One of our trips was to the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. It was on that bus ride we learned about the Mayan people who live in the Yucatan. In fact, most of the people we were meeting in Cancun were not of Mexican descent — most were Mayan. On the two lane road our tour bus took, we passed many Mayan villages. Some had electricity, some did not. It was made clear to us that the Mayans love their life. It is only when the young people go to work in cities like Cancun they become unhappy without refrigeration or television. This was a new thought to me, but one I embraced. Not everyone has to live like Americans.
One of the most stunning buildings at Chichen Itza is the El Castillo, the Temple of Kukulkan (a Maya feathered serpent deity similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl). This four-sided pyramid has 91 stairs on each side. When the platform at the top is added in, that comes to 365 — same as the number of days in the year. The serpent god is represented by the stairs, and during the spring and vernal equinox, the sunset lights the pyramid in such a way it appears the serpent is moving down the steps. We were not there for that, but it is a huge event twice a year at Chichen Itza.
Anyway, what I noticed was that people were climbing the pyramid stairs, which were extremely deep and steep. It terrified the part of me with the lifelong fear of ladders, and I wasn’t having any of it. What I also noticed was that a lot of people were sitting on the steps, or coming down backwards. The whole thing struck me as unnecessarily risky. Besides, our tour didn’t allow for much time to take the steps, unless we gave up seeing other things. We visited the other temples, the observatory, the ball court, the sacred well.
This Mayan city was active 600-1200 AD, and was very cosmopolitan for the time; I don’t recall everything, but I do recall they knew about seven of the planets. The city was eventually abandoned for reasons unknown. So much knowledge that got dispersed mysteriously.
FAST FORWARD — 1992
By the time we made our fifth trip to Cancun in May, 1992, we were pretty used to getting around. We had pretty much abandoned taxis, and instead used the local transport for most of our adventures. This particular year we rented a car with the express purpose to do one thing — I wanted to climb El Castillo.
In the years in between, I had become a business owner and was active in a lot of local clubs and organizations. My life had opened up quite a bit from the days of sitting in a room operating a computer and doing data entry. I was ready for a challenge.
Jim and I made the two hour drive to Chichen Itza, driving through the various Mayan villages, where children would be standing by the road trying to sell newspapers or orange slices. When we stopped at a rest stop/market, we were approached by a hoard of kids looking for money. There was a large sign in the parking lot begging tourists not to give the children money; the Mayan people wanted their children to go to school.
We arrived close to lunch time, so the sun was hot and bright. Of course, I was no longer a wimp about the weather, having been there many times. Jim and I climbed those stairs! He took pictures of me along the way to document this minor feat of mine. I had overcome a very intense fear to make it happen.
On top of the pyramid was quite a view.
Coming down — well, I could see how people found it easier to go backwards. At first it isn’t too bad, but the height of the steps increases as you get closer to the ground. The steps were each so deep and a bit uneven, so that to step down directly could be painful if your foot landed wrong. We took plenty of breaks going up and down. There was no rush. Instead, it was something to savor.
We visited Cancun about four more times, and then finances no longer allowed for these trips. It was good for the time we had it, and we went on to other adventures in the mountains of North Carolina and moving to Florida. But we will always have great memories of our days in the Mexican sunshine.
I have written a lot about the family cabin we used to visit in the mountains of North Carolina. This is the story of my first trip to North Carolina and how it turned into a better trip than I ever imagined.
My cousin Doreen was getting married in Greensboro, and I desperately wanted to make the trip. At the time Jim and I were living together and he fully supported our making a trip down for Memorial Day weekend, 1983. We drove down on Friday, with the wedding being on Sunday.
I had told Jim that I had never seen the ocean, but he said we would be too far away to make a trip to the beach. I put it out of my head.
On Saturday morning we decided to drive over to the Raleigh/Durham area where there was a huge outlet mall. This was back when “outlet” meant a true outlet — you could get real deals.
We spent some time at the mall — I remember I bought a few pairs of earrings — and then Jim said, “Let’s drive to the beach.”
I was so excited! It was about a three hour drive from where we were, but would be longer to get back. We hit the road, driving a highway and then a back road to Carolina Beach. I got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the very first time, collected some shells, saw a live crab hiding in its hole, and enjoyed the sand and the waves. I had never been in anything called a beach town before, so was delighted with the surf shops and beachwear and hot dog stands. It was a long day of driving, but so worth it!
We didn’t get back until well after dark, and the wedding was the next day.
We remain close to Doreen and David, even with the miles and the years between us. Seeing them during the summer is now a tradition, as they now live in Asheville, after years in Tennessee and Virginia. Next year they say they will come to Florida. I hope they do. I would love to show them the Gulf and all the beautiful nature we have here.
I once served on a Federal Grand Jury for two years.
I got called in the summer of 1979. The gig was for eighteen months. My boss was not happy about this and threatened to fire me. I told the attorney general, and he made sure my boss understood the huge fine that would be imposed if they fired me. From the demeanor of my boss after that, I know the conversation had unnerved him. I never got any more grief after that.
It was a convenient journey for me to the Federal Court House in downtown Cleveland. This was my earliest memory of having to go through metal detectors. A year or two previous to that, Federal Judge Battisti had ruled the Cleveland schools had to integrate, causing some serious death threats against the man. It felt kind of weird and exciting to be part of this.
I recall the jury selection. One woman got out because her husband had died and she was all alone running the company that supported her family. Another woman got out because she was a public school teacher. A private school teacher had a harder time getting out of it, but she had a physical disability, so they finally gave in. You can only get out of this type of jury duty if you are over 75 and live over an hour away, unless there were some extenuating circumstances. That is what they told us, anyway.
We were going to be a jury seated to hear testimony in RICO cases — Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. They told us that meant white collar crime. I would soon come to understand that meant organized crime. This experience taught me that the stuff you see in movies and on The Sopranos — all true, true, true.
At the time, there had been a war going on between the Italian mafia on the east side of Cleveland and the Irish mafia on the west. The east had nailed the lead man in the Irish mob — Danny Green — by blowing him up when he started his car in the parking lot of a medical center in South Euclid. That had been a year or two before, yet throughout the various testimonies we heard, Danny Green’s name would come up again and again. A movie was made about Green in 2011: Kill the Irishman.
Our jury group met on an average of three days a month. We were paid by the day, plus our transportation. This actually ended up working better for me financially.
I think we were usually there from 9-3, with at least an hour for lunch. There was a jury lounge and a cafeteria. We all got into watching the soap opera All My Children since it was on during our break. I became friendly with another young woman my age — Shelley — who had a pet skunk. There were people of all ages.
Mostly, it was boring. In fact, one time a witness called out the jury, pointing out that we weren’t even listening. It is true. Some of the elderly ladies knitted. Some people slept or read magazines. I probably zoned out quite a bit myself. No one took notes, like you always see on TV. But there was a reason for that. We would hear testimony on stuff that we had no context for at all. Things about call centers and baseball gambling rings. Most of the time, we never heard about those things again. I recall one young lady testifying who had gone into great debt on the shady baseball betting to help her brother who was going through a divorce. She worked at a hospital, and the loan sharks were calling her boss looking for payment. Another young woman about my age talked about walking with her boyfriend up to her apartment and shots being fired at them — again, connected to gambling debt. It was crazy.
I realized I had led a very sheltered life.
Most of the mobby looking guys all wore the same expensive looking silk suits, had their hair slicked back, and had the same attorney. I always remember one doofus, who wanted to plead the Fifth, kept saying, “I plead the Fifth so I don’t discriminate against myself.” It was hard to stifle a laugh. Finally, the federal attorney had to tell him he was saying it wrong.
But eventually things started to move in a clearer direction. This was near the end of our tenure, so they got a judgment to keep us on an additional six months. The legal eagles were getting close to seeking an indictment.
And indict we did — one Tommy Sinito — a loan shark and a man who had been involved in a plot to assassinate Cleveland’s mayor at one time. We didn’t hear anything on the assassination, as that whole thing died when the mayor didn’t get re-elected. But Sinito was running a loan sharking business out of an appliance store in Euclid, and he was going down. Read about Sinito here.
The article says: “Sinito was convicted in the early 1980s of federal drug charges, conspiracy, tax-evasion and loan sharking.” I only remember indicting him on loan sharking, but perhaps the other charges were in there as well.
I always feel my two years served should suffice for the rest of my life. Of course, that’s not the case.
A few years ago I got called to jury duty in downtown Ft. Myers. I was surprised to find that public school teachers aren’t on the list of people who can automatically be dismissed. I figured if it was good enough for the Feds, why not for the city?
Eventually we all serve in one way or another. The best we can hope for is for are some juicy stories and a realization that a sheltered life is not such a horrible thing.
The first dance I recall learning was the Twist. It was 1960, I was five-years-old, and I was told I did it well. It reminded me of hula-hooping — something else I was good at. I never had a doubt I could dance.
My mother begged me to take ballet, but I had no desire. I wanted to be a Girl Scout. She wasn’t interested. We had a stand-off. As an adult, I did take a ballet class one summer, as well at tap. Might have been nice to do it when I was young, but, oh well.
Pop and rock music exploded in the sixties, and one of my favorite shows to watch was called “Upbeat” (Later known as The Big Five Show.) It came on channel five at five o’clock on Saturday and featured current national acts along with local teens dancing to the music. This is where I watched and learned the dances that I would practice in my bedroom. This was my ordinary life.
[Side note: the famous Otis Redding made his last appearance on Upbeat before he was killed in a plane crash.]
I also learned dances from friends and family. I distinctly remember my cousin Joni teaching me to dance “the Skate” to “Daydream Believer” which is what Davy Jones is doing in this video:
I remember my friends and I dancing for what seemed hours the same line dance to “Wedding Bell Blues.” But truly my favorite dance was the Pony, seen here at the beginning of this video:
The Pony could be danced to a lot of different songs, which is why I loved it so much.
This was my ordinary life — dancing — by myself or with others.
I spent my entire high school years going to every dance available, as well as going to a dance club called Cyrus Erie. I had all my favorite bands: The Raspberries, Circus, Reign. They could be relied on to provide great dancing music. When the band took a break, then the popular music would come on, along with strobe lights. There are certain songs I hear that take me back…
And it was dancing that made me fall in love with Jim. He, unlike most of the other young men I knew, actually knew how to dance. He taught me how to jitterbug and two-step. I know I fell in love with him when we danced that two-step to Johnny Lee singing “Looking for Love.”
Which reminds me of something else — with all the dancing in my life, I never cared for disco. Yes, I did learn the Hustle once. Yes, I probably did the Bump. But in general I was a disco hater, and felt it ruined modern music for a while, as it seeped in everywhere.
The problem with disco was that it was a lifestyle — and expensive one. I know at least one young lady who was ruined in debt trying to keep up buying the dresses, the shoes, the expensive drinks, not to mention the questionable sexual stuff that went with the scene. I simply could not relate. I listened to Neil Young and the Eagles and Hall and Oates. No disco-ing for this girl.
When I think of the night I fell in love with Jim, it was at a country bar. But this country bar, located in a south suburb of Cleveland, had many incarnations. It started as a dinner theater, then was a disco, then when the Urban Cowboy zeitgeist hit, it became a boot-scootin place. Later it would become a video bar. In the 1980’s when MTV erupted, bars inserted large screens and played videos for music. It was an exciting time, although it didn’t last. Eventually, D.J.’s became the way to go. Much more variety.
I still dance today — mostly at home in the kitchen while making dinner and listening to Miranda Lambert sing “Little Red Wagon.” I 100% relate to Tom Cruise’s character in Risky Business. Leave me alone in the house, and I will probably be dancing.
[Side note: when my nephew Ricky got old enough to stay home alone, the first thing I asked him is if he danced around in his underwear when no one was home. He said, nnnnnnooooooooooo. Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about.]
So even though my dancing seemed like something everyone did, I learned this was not necessarily true. In my 7th and 8th grade year I attended a Catholic school in a new city. I had friends, but definitely was not on the radar of anyone known as popular. In 7th I had spent a lot of time at the home of this girl Cathy. Her dad was a major player in a local grocery chain, and they had a beautiful huge house and always tons of great food. Although Cathy and I didn’t hang out much in 8th grade, at the end of the year she hosted a party and I think every 8th grade girl was invited. It was that night I got the attention of the popular girls.
I could dance.
They were shocked. When the music came on and I did my thing, it was like they saw me in an entirely new light. Of course, we had already graduated by this point, and I never saw most of those girls again. But it was a moment.
I would revisit that moment in high school the first time I smoked pot around some popular girls. But that’s another story.
I had to get a new computer this week. The Mac I bought in 2007 finally just quite booting up, after at least a year of slow moving aggravation and random shutdowns. Enough was enough.
My new Mac has a larger screen and a cooler mouse. We had them transfer all my files over, and most everything made it, I think. There are still so many new things happening with the way to store information with clouds, I am never sure if I understand it. And even worse, I feel like a lot of these files that are transferred just need to be dumped. More purging on the way.
Meanwhile, it has made me think about how computers have been ordinary in my life since I was in my early 20’s. I attended a computer school and learned programming languages and how to operate the computer — which was gigantic, ran on punch cards, and filled a room that had to be kept at 72 degrees or cooler, or the whole thing shut down. My certificate enabled me to get hired running a computer in an accounting firm. Programming language was boring to me, and so I veered away from it.
My work in computers was unusual back in the 1970’s. None of my friends went to college, and most worked as bank tellers or nurses aides or in labs developing photographs. The fact that I was in computers was actually kind of mysterious. I watched over the years as one friend after another slowly got over their fear of computers.
Computers led the way into new areas of my career. It moved me into accounting work and then credit and collections. It was a plus when I decided I wanted to buy the Money Mailer franchise, which required I design ads for clients on a Mac computer. That is what led me to Apple products, and I have never left.
This is my fifth Mac. Jim is on his second laptop. I have three iPods, one iPad, and we’ve had four iPhones.
Having a Mac II back in the 1980’s was a plus. I was fluent in the awesome Pagemaker program, and started an entire side business designing logos and brochures for my advertising clients. It was one of the most creative and fun times of my life. I was involved in my community, set my own schedule, and learned how the creative process worked.
All of it fell apart as Microsoft brought in design software, and my clients were able to do their own work. By then I was on to other things and didn’t care. Yet, when I moved to Florida, it was my knowledge of computers that helped me secure a job in Sony Customer Service, a job I’ve hated more than any other, but did pay for some of my early college years.
Now that I have my new computer, I no longer have an excuse not to spend some time here writing and actually polishing up some pieces. My inner excuse for a long time has been the random shut down of the old computer. What if I lost my work? No worries now. And no excuses.
It started on a Sunday in July. I was at a baby shower for my sister-in-law’s first baby. Throughout the day I felt a pain in my shoulder, upper back, upper chest — it kept moving around. Something just didn’t feel right.
The next day it continued. I was at my friend Lynn’s house. She and her husband insisted I go to the emergency room. Lynn took me. They found nothing except “elevated white blood cells.” They suggested I see my regular doctor for a follow up.
I went to my doctor. By then, the pain was gone.
Life went on. I went to Cedar Point and found that some rides made me quite sick — something new.
Then as we entered August, I felt sick again. I didn’t go to work, and my friend Becky took me back to my doctor. He said I had the flu, and gave me some pills. I took the first pill in the parking lot of the drug store and threw up. Neither Becky nor I knew what to do, so she took me home so I could rest. I lived alone at the time, and just wanted to sleep.
I was sleeping deeply when the phone rang. The clock said 7:30. I heard my friend Mary Beth’s voice on the phone, talking about my upcoming birthday. I was trying to figure out why she was calling me at 7:30 in the morning. It was actually 7:30 in the evening.
I was so sick, I had lost track of the world.
I met my friend Carol when we performed together at a show at my church, St. Richards. She had come over from another parish, St. Patrick’s, to be in our show. We maintained contact, and the next year she brought a whole slew of people from St. Pat’s to be in the St. Richard’s show: Mary Beth, Paul, Nora, and two guys named Dan. They were a group to be reckoned with as they loved to laugh, dance, sing, and have fun. They would do things like pile in a car with just chocolate chip cookies in tow and drive to New York City just to dance on 42nd Street or sing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” on the Staten Island Ferry.
I had started a relationship with my now husband Jim, and part of our dating life included going out with the St. Pat’s crew to hear a cover band called Earthrise play at the Westlake Holiday Inn. We loved Earthrise (this is not the Minnesota band that has videos on YouTube). Our favorites were “Celebrate,” “Let It Whip,” and “Old Time Rock ‘n’Roll” — Jim taught me to jitterbug to the latter and it was a blast. It was our favorite Friday night activity.
When Mary Beth called me, it was to firm up plans for my birthday. It happened to fall on a Friday, so it was perfect timing. Jim and I planned to go to dinner, then to the bar to celebrate my birthday further. I told her I was sick, but she wasn’t having it. She let me know I was expected.
I am not sure of the days here, but by early morning Friday I was really having a hard time. I know I was running a fever and the pills had done nothing. I called my doctor. He told me to go to the emergency room. Alone and afraid, I called another friend, Cheryl, who lived nearby to take me to the hospital. I just couldn’t picture the flashing lights of an ambulance coming to my quiet little apartment. When we got there, the emergency room was empty, which was great. But then a guy came in with a heart attack. They left me lying in a room in pain, as they attended to the other guy. Suddenly I felt something let loose inside — I cannot explain it any other way. Cheryl was not one who could handle the pain I was in, so she begged off as soon as someone came to tend to me.
Eventually my doctor showed up and no one could figure out exactly what was wrong. When they pressed on the right it hurt. When they pressed on the left it hurt. Everything just hurt. He said they’d have to cut me open. I said fine.
It was my 27th birthday.
I had surgery. My appendix had perforated and the poison had spread through my system. It must have been that feeling I had when I was in the emergency room. No one has ever come right out and said it, but if I hadn’t gotten to the hospital, I would not be here writing this now. (The pain I had felt the weeks prior was radiating pain from an inflamed appendix. I did not know there was such a thing until this happened.)
The night after my surgery I was lying in the room, all hooked up, and thinking, I have to call my friends. They are waiting for me to show up at my party. I thought about asking a nurse to call, but then I probably just fell asleep.
The next day I did call Mary Beth, and she was MAD. She said they had a cake and the band all ready to sing when I came in, and I never came. Once I got through to her that I was indeed in the hospital, then she felt terrible. The crew came to visit me a few day later, and made me laugh so hard I popped one of my staples. Of course, they made fun of me for having “designer staples” rather than good ol’ stitches.
On Sunday my brother visited me with the news that his daughter, Emily, had been born that morning.
A year later, my birthday was on a Saturday. It coincided with my 10th year class reunion, so we arranged to celebrate my birthday with Earthrise on Friday. When we got to the bar, the band began to sing, “Happy Birthday” and my friends rolled out a cake. The script read: