Somewhere In Time– The Beach Bag (Coney Island)

 

 That infamous madeleine that had Marcel Proust spinning tales of yesterday… the modern penny that slammed Somewhere In Time’s  Christopher Reeve back into the future… and my grandmother’s beach bag with the sand in the bottom. 

I was getting ready to go to the grocery store yesterday and realized that I didn’t have any “green bags” handy in the house. I wasn’t sure if there were any in my car– maybe they were all in the other car– so I decided to bring a black plastic leatherette bag that my sister Lois had driven to Florida from Brooklyn last month, filled with Depression glass that my mother was sending me. 

The pieces are in the lacy, complex Madrid pattern, which they used to give out at theatres back when they awarded you prizes for actually going to the movies; I’m not sure if my grandmother got them before a showing of some hot Lana Turner problem drama, or if she bought them at the five and ten, but Depression glass they are: grill plates with built-in sections for different foods; delicate oval serving bowls; custard cups in two styles in which she used to serve us tapioca pudding; a platter… it’s beautiful stuff. 

Thinking that I would one day bring them back to Florida with me on the plane, I had wrapped all the pieces in newspapers a few years ago, which I heartily scanned before recycling. Then I plunked everything in that black bag, which arrived intact with Lois. 

So there I was on the way to Publix to buy dinner, and something compelled me to look closely at it– there was an anchor emblem on its side that caught my eye– and then I looked deep inside the bag, and I was immediately transported back when I noticed grains of sand all along the bottom. 

Sand from the beach, and probably Coney Island. I’m sure she hadn’t been there since the late 1960s… possibly the early 1970s. This was definitely her beach bag, in sober black, which matched her bathing attire. All the old Italian ladies in those days wore black bathing suits, and white rubber bathing caps; the more daring ones sported headgear festooned with rubbery daisies. Mary Santola was one of those rare few who actually had a cabana at the beach, which she’d use practically every day. You’d see her walking proudly down the street, brown as a nut, carrying a beach chair and a pocketbook. 

Many, many times my grandmother took us children to the beach by bus. It seemed to take forever, involving– I think– three different buses. I remember a transfer point at Stillwell Avenue under the elevated subway that you had to cross the busy street to get to. Those buses were always crowded during the weekday: grandmothers, kids, beach chairs, beach bags… we were always so encumbered! In the beach bags were usually egg salad sandwiches, which no amount of  foil could succeed in keeping the sand from; sunglasses; towels; toys; and, possibly, “suntan lotion.” (Nobody knew about sunscreen in the 1960s… it was the beach! Why avoid the sun?!) And somewhere in all this was a beach blanket, usually an old bedspread from the 1940s. 

We looked like refugees leaving Pogromstan ahead of the latest Cossack raid. I’d see boys my age, or slightly older, carrying nothing but a rolled beach towel, unlit cigarettes in their mouths and behind their ears, nestled close to their Brylcreemed hair. And their female counterparts with the Connie Francis hairdos would be clogging the aisles, and yet the bus stopped at every stop to take on even more beachgoers. 

One time a large lady fell backward and ended up sitting on me for a few blocks because there was no room for her to get up. 

We’d all pile out of the bus like clowns exploding from a miniature car at the circus, but we were allowed one amusement before actually staking a claim to a patch of sand. One time we insisted on a ride through a haunted fun house; one day we rode a coaster-like contraption called the Wild Mouse; and another time we visited the Coney Island Wax Museum. THAT was amazing; I’m surprised they let us children inside, but there we were, ogling President Kennedy’s recreated office, and various scenes (in wax) of horrific murders: the man in the bloody bathroom with the suitcase in which he was stuffing a shredded corpse… the two-headed baby in a big glass box… and lots and lots of other horrifying, gross tableaux featuring strewn intestines and decapitated ex-wives. 

Afterwards we always stopped to eat a knish. 

Finally on the sand, you had to smooth out an area to make sure that there were no buried chicken bones to stab your feet. The blanket went down, all our shoes holding down the corners, and then we’d race for the water as the Italian people found one another and began talking. Now that I look back, I wonder what they talked about: how much better it was in the old country? The price of salt pork at the secret little salumeria in Bensonhusrt that only fifteen thousand people knew about? The state of their corns? 

We were in the salt water, and we didn’t care about anything else. I’m sure we were being watched from the sand, but it always felt like we were so free because we’d be surrounded by strangers: and all different colors of them, too– white and brown and black, and sometimes Chinese people, all of us standing waist-deep in the brine, watching the brave older boys as they swam out deep. Sometimes there was a cry– “jellyfish!”– and everybody would scream and rush back to the sand. And sometimes it rained, which caused mass pandemonium as all the Italian grandmothers collected their charges and rushed us under the pier or the boardwalk. (If you stayed out in the rain, you’d get wet– or worse, catch cold.) Then for an hour or so when the sun came back out you’d hear announcements from the boardwalk: “Johnny Malatesta, your grandmother is looking for you… Angelina Pomodoro, report to the police booth… Santarosa Benevento, meet your uncle at the top of the stairs in front of Astroland.” 

  

A not-too-busy day at Coney Island. (Thanks, Weegee!)

My immune system is in excellent shape thank sto those egg-salad sandwiches which had been baking in the hot beach bag for hours. And the ever-present sand helped add a dose of roughage, and we’d wash everything down with warm lemonade or iced tea. Men came around in those days selling ice creams or sodas from icy coolers, and I remember loving some sort of ice-creamy treat covered with some sort of shredded strawberry-flavored something. We’d always have to wait a half hour before going back in the water or we’d get horrible stomach cramps, which I realize now was just a Big Lie– that half hour away from the water was so that the grownups could eat in peace without having to worry about little Maris being carried off by the undertow. 

And then the quiet, dreamy, sun-drunk bus ride back home. 

I haven’t thought of half these things in years. It’s funny how just a few grains of sand can open up a whole beach bag full of memories for me.

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Me, My Sister Lois, and the Stepford Wives

I love my sister Lois– we have never been closer than we are now, both of us and our significant others somehow having landed in Florida because that’s what many in our family do– we go to Florida.

Our Tuscan grandparents were Florida trailblazers, actually; they moved to the Hialeah area in the mid-1920s, just in time for the killer hurricane of 1926 and only when real estate subsequently plummeted did they hightail it back to the Midwest. My grandmother used to tell us about standing on her doorstep the morning of the Everglades flood, seeing snakes and all sorts of suffering animals swimming up to the house…

Mom and Dad honeymooned in Miami in 1954. You have never seen a more gorgeous couple than my Mom and Dad, posing in front of their hotel like Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Absolutely stunning.

And, in 1970, I was driven to Florida by my Uncle Johnny and Aunt Joanne, a trip that was instrumental in my moving here in 1978. I mean, the weather was great, and there were palm trees. My sister Lois followed with her husband Michael some years later, and our closeness germinated and grew. After all, we now had something to complain about in tandem.

“What is it with these people? I just wanna smack heads! And the bugs! What’s that all about? And it hasn’t stopped raining since we got here!” (Lois)

“They wear fur coats to the opera… and this is Orlando! It’s a thousand degrees here!” (Me.)

As we’ve both gotten older and settled into our respective lifestyles, we realize we BOTH have a fetish for neatness and order that is probably driving Mike and Kirk crazy– though they are too polite to say so.

Lois became a neat freak very early; she remembers discussing vacuuming with other Staten Island housewives– “the rugs are never really clean unless you can see the tracks of the vacuum cleaner.” Having a husband and child honed her skills; you could eat off her floors.

As for me, I was a slob until I saw The Stepford Wives  at the movies in 1974. Yes yes yes, I know what the movie was all about, but I completely bought into the sub-stratum: life, I realized, could be improved immensely if you cleaned your room. Upon returning home that night, I removed all the crumpled, empty packs of Newport cigarettes from my underwear drawer, threw them in the trash, and dusted my room. I rearranged my books, straightened everything on top of the dresser, and fluffed the avocado rug with the shag rake. I said to myself: this IS more pleasant than living in dreck!

A few years later Lois and Mike managed to lose TWO swimming pool enclosures to hurricanes, so that now they sit around their pool in view of the Turnpike, separated from the rushing traffic by a row of bushes and a dog fence. (And If I take out my hearing devices I can’t hear a thing.) Still–their house is immaculate.

At about that time I started a business called Ultra Organizers, which threatened to come into your home and clean and straighten– for a good price. My motto was “Without order there can be no happiness.” People said to me “Jim! That sounds like a Hitler Youth slogan!” No matter; I was interested in straightening out people’s files, and not in creating a master race. I had one client before I accepted a full time position with a mental health services provider, but the Ultra Organizers website lived on for a while deep within the AOL Hometown archives…

These days, Lois and I commiserate about the travails of keeping a perfect house while sharing the space with our more relaxed menfolk. Resorting to passive-aggressive tactics, we try to program them:

1. Silent Pointing. That’s when you, without a word,  gesture them off the couch and into the bedroom and show them a crumpled pair of shorts tossed casually onto the floor. You point at the shorts and then look at them imploringly-yet-firmly. Translation: “I’ll never re-gain the thirty seconds that I just invested trying to get you to do something that I’ve tried to get you to do a million times before.”

2. Shifting. He comes into the kitchen; he tosses a used spoon casually into the sink that you have just Cometed to a brilliantine shine. You shift your eyes at him, the spoon, and then the waiting dishwasher– it only takes half a second, but is as pointed as a laser. Translation: “Thanks for making my time in the kitchen infinitesimally longer than it needs to be, no thanks to you.”

3. Multiple Shifting. He comes into the living room with a bowl of ice cream; you cut a look at him, then at the bowl; then at the blob of ice cream on the floor, and finally at the blob of ice cream on his shirt. Translation: “Not only have you messed up my floors, but you’ve presented me with yet another laundry challenge.”

4. Training. Many of you know that I’m painting the interior of the house, now that I have a lot of free time on my hands. So you unscrew the socket and outlet covers and do custom painting, at the same time noticing how “used” the paint looks around those plastic plates. This leads to a New Rule: “Can we focus our fingertips on the actual switch rather than grabbing the entire wall and leaving marks? Honestly!” Vocal Response to New Rule: “Whaddayou, your sister Lois?”

No matter; we will prevail. The world is in a sorry state and, other than our financial donations, something must be done to keep things percolating along in a comfortable, productive way. The fact that Lois and I both maintain linen closets in which the tags on the towels all face the same way means that SOMETHING in the universe is going well.

After all: without order, there can be no happiness.

Secrets of A Man At Large– Part One

 

  

  

Sanctum Sanctorum

Thursday April 1    So the job ended Wednesday, as written. (Let it be written, let it be said.) All health insurance benefits ended that day as well, so I ask my former employer to look into signing me up for COBRA so that I can see if the rates are affordable. (Interesting that a cobra is a poisonous snake.) Perhaps under the current economic duress the rates will have been eased with federal buffer funds. But oh my God!! Wouldn’t that be Socialism? All those Midwestern farmers with their subsidies… Socialism?? Medicare… SOCIALISM ??!!  But isn’t our money supposed to go back to the tax-paying American people? You don’t hear these teabaggers insisting on sending the money to starving countries, do you? No… better to spend our tax money on weapons.    As for me, I will gladly be a Socialist (though most people have NO idea what it means) if it will ease our the economic burdens that go hand-in-hand with being a capitalistic, materialist, acquisitive society: I work; I pay taxes; I buy all the crap they want me to; so now the leftovers can help pay for my health maintenance.   

Went to the bookstore and removed the cable boxes, as written. Went to Mary, Queen of the Universe and had a nice chat with Father, and then dropped off the boxes, and then home. Holy Thursday Mass in the evening: a nice, intimate service. One of my favorites.     

 Friday April 2     

Good Friday service in the mid-afternoon. They read the Passion Gospel while everybody stands, and I commend all the old knees in the church for not buckling, including mine. The church is completely bare by the end of the service, and we are instructed to EXIT IN SILENCE, but chat-happy Central Florida Catholics manage to buzz like a crowd of penitent bees as they surge toward the doors.   

In the evening I decide to make some salmon for dinner. I place a good chunk of butter in a glass baking dish, because that’s really all you need. I set the oven at 350, which melts the butter while it warms up. I decide to tackle a sink full of glasses and dishes and, while sponging inside a glass which had managed to develop a deep crack, the glass shatters in my right hand. Immediately I think of expired health benefits. I see a slice of skin part from the outer surface of my pinky and blood begins to flow. The word they use in these situations is “copiously.” I was mesmerized: I’d never seen so much blood come out of me! I raised my arm UP and thought, well, at least it’s clean from the soapsuds, and I place the pinky under a stream of running water for a minute or so. The pain is indescribable, but I gritted my teeth and realized it was Good Friday, after all, and this was a lot less expensive than flying to thePhilippines and flaying my flesh in downtown Luzon. Then to the bathroom, where the bleeding erupts into the sink, and I’m thinking: stitches: $500. So I use the dishrag and SQUEEZE for a few minutes until the blood mostly clots, and then I layer the wound with four bandages.    Back to the kitchen– remember that I’ve got a glass baking dish of melted butter in the oven– the butter has not just melted, it’s practically caramelized. I slip an Ove Glove onto my left hand and gingerly take out the dish; as soon as the cool air hits the butter, there are several minor explosions and I am sprayed with hot grease: my bare chest, my face, my hair, the work-in-progress-so-as-yet-unpainted wallboard behind the stove, and the terra-cotta floor.   

There is NOTHING I hate worse than the sensation of grease on me: if my nose even feels slightly oily, it’s time for a shower! Yet there I was, bathed in grease. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.    

Saturday April 3   

Slept in a bit, and then got up and began compensating for being in bed so long. People keep saying: sleep in for a month! And I keep saying: I’ve got linen closets to organize! Funny, that– the beautiful and talented writer Nancy Imperiale suggested the very thing as a fulfilling chore to address now that I am At Large, but I already did that LAST week, in anticipation. (I’m no fun at all; sorry, Nancy!)

The day passed; we went to IKEA for lunch and picked up some direly-needed necessities: a red metal BORBY lantern for the porch, with three big fat BARFOTA  pillar candles; two red leatherette NOSTALGISK storage boxes; a KAFFE French coffee press to replace the one I shattered on the stone floors; two packages of FANTASTISK paper napkins; and an AS-IS prop book which I got from a display and convinced them to sell to me for five dollars: it’s a book about ancient languages, complete with graphics of their alphabets, written in Swedish! What a find!    

In the evening I considered going to the long Easter Vigil service, but discovered that I didn’t fit into any of my dress slacks– all purchased a few years ago when I worked in children’s mental health services. Canceled Vigil plans, and went to Ross for new jeans, Lee brand, in sizes 34-34 and 35-34. THAT was a pleasant surprise– 35 waistlines! Who knew? Of course they’ll be falling off me as soon as I lose my middle, which I will easily do now that I’m not eating downtown every day; but right now I’m a man At Large, after all. (My friend Mark likes to pinch my waistline to remind me that I’m no longer the svelte creature that he’s had a secret crush on for twenty years.)    

Sunday April 4   

A beautiful 8 AM Easter Mass at Saints Peter and Paul, and then a nap, and then a late afternoon barbecue with friends. Rum and coke… a lot of laughing with our hosts and Donna and Rob. Kirk made devilled eggs to bring, and two loaves of bread that came out SO good that he decided to keep them at home instead.    A nap again… then up… began reading Wilde’s De Profundis; written from prison, it begins as a scathing, extremely clever  indictment against Bosie, his young paramour. This book should be required reading for any older man who falls under the sway of the climbing, needy youths who seem to populate the disco precincts these days.      

Monday April 5   

Up at a decent hour; coffee, some of that bread, and laundry drying at the launderette over near Aldi. Such fun! I watched a patron literally STUFF all his dry clothes into cloth duffel bags while I stood three feet away arranging MY dried clothes neatly in the laundry baskets: shirts on hangers, jeans folded, like with like…  After he left I mentioned to the woman in charge that he would have a LOT of ironing to do, though I thought to myself privately that he didn’t seem the type to do any ironing ever. She and I both deplored the whole task of ironing, she after watching her mother iron daily, all day, for YEARS. And I because there really is no need. But soon we will be getting a new dryer; the quarters are beginning to add up.   

Tonight Sammy is driving in from Atlanta to stay with us for a few days; Tyson will join us again (He’s staying with friends locally after being with us for ten days in March, followed by a shorter stay with friends in Tampa; he travels like Queen Victoria doing Her annual survey of the Colonies.)    

Thursday April 8   

We are speeding toward May 1st., when all the world’s Communist children dress up in matching outfits and parade before their leaders, right behind the tanks.    

The beach was very nice yesterday. What you do to get to Playalinda is drive drive DRIVE into the Merritt Island National Seashore, and then you make a left at the ocean and drive drive drive NORTH to Parking Lot Number 13. If you can find a space, you park; if not, Sammy drops you off with the beach luggage and then backtracks and parks in Lot Number 12, and then walks back to where you are waiting. Then you plod along the sand further north until you reach sparser areas, and that’s where you pitch your tent, so to speak. This natural beach’s boundaries have, I noticed, crept back south, well into the unofficial “no natural sunbathing” areas. No matter. There is room for everyone on the vast stretches of Playa Linda Beach and its mate further north, Klondike Beach.    

It took a while to set up the beach tent. It’s an L.L. Bean product, WASPy in its concept, and equally WASPy in the trouble it takes to set up: these hardy people blazed the West, remember? There are three long rods containing small metal collars and an inner stretch wire, which allows them to be collapsed and stored in a handy carry bag; but getting these collapsible rods threaded through the cuffs placed atop the tent is another thing entirely. We looked like Lucy and Ethel. And you have to anchor the thing to the sand with bright yellow plastic spikes, or else everything will become airborne in the high winds.           

Astronaut:    Houston– I’m seeing an unidentified turquoise flying object passing by our right windows.           

 Houston:    Can you tell us anything at all??          

Astronaut:    It seems humanoid but it’s hard to tell with all that cheap fabric wrapped around it… maybe it’s a Russian space experiment gone bad?          

Houston:    No way! We thought that monkey crashed to sea in 1962!   

Sammy is very comfortable with himself at the natural beach, but I am not, necessarily. I stayed suited and ball-capped, but had a good run / long walk along the wet sand, and continued reading Wilde’s De Profundis  in my little tent. I am convinced– WHAT a snotty little twit that Bosie was!    Years ago a bunch of us stayed over night at a NOT natural beach, but after many cocktails one woman decided that we should run like the wind along the ocean’s edge; she pranced and flitted and looked like a gamin sprite, while the rest of us looked like the Lipizzaner stallions; we probably were supposed to take off our sneakers but I for one didn’t want to cut my feet on shells in the dark.    

NEXT INSTALLMENT: A visit to Universal Studios; Gardening; and pasta-making.    

 

  

     

 

 

He Is Wheezing– Easters in Brooklyn

(Photo by Bustem' Down, Maryland)

A lot has been written about Christmas in Brooklyn; in fact, I myself have gone on and on and ON about that holiday as it is performed– yes, performed!– by Italian families in the borough of Fageddaboutit. (You can find some in this blog’s archives.) But not much is written about Easter, probably because it’s usually so exhausting and reliving it all can be a chore.

I figure, since it comes in Spring, it was particularly excitable because the sap was running high in the trees and the snow was almost all gone. The first bulbs were making an appearance in my grandmother’s garden, sometimes poking through a slightly icy lawn, and you knew that school would be ending in a couple of months. THAT was exciting.

We always got new Easter outfits for the Big Day. My little sisters Lois and Gina were usually dressed in something matching, and they looked like little cupcakes when we took pictures of them holding hands in front of the fire hydrant. All the week before, the sewing machine would have been running, a contraption built into a desk that lived in my bedroom. What’s a young guy in the throes of rampant puberty supposed to do when he wakes up because his mother and grandmother are seated six feet away at their economy-sized sweatshop, adding bric-a-brac to Easter hats? He tries to close his ears against the Italian mutterings and says a few Hail Marys, and then gets out of bed, only to step on several straight pins which have lodged themselves into the green shag carpet.

I was not immune to fashion, though my clothes came off the rack– one year I was sheathed inside a brown wool Nehru jacket that made me look like a miniature version of  one of the Smothers Brothers while appearing on the Johnny Carson show.

We colored eggs, though they never quite looked like the examples pictured on the boxes. Dad would get adventurous and mix colors, and by the end of the session we’d end up with a lot of softly-tinted gray eggs. We pre-dated Martha Stewart!

Dressed and off to a packed Mass, I would notice that all the people would be whispering indignantly in the pews: “Look at her! You never see her in here except fror the holidays, the old cow. And she’ll leave right after Communion so’s she can be first in line at the bakery.”  “It’s about time she got her hair done, but why bother if she was gonna wear that stupid hat?”  “Willya get a load of that perfume? What’s she doing, keeping away horseflies?”  It was comforting to know that I was surrounded by such freewheeling Christianity; I would have been suspicious if suddenly everyone had been on their best behavior. And if I was lucky, I’d get to sit behind someone with fox furs dangling in front of me.

We usually had the Big Meal at my grandmother’s upstairs; a lot of people from her side would gather there, which meant the Magnanis from Sunset Park and further out Bay Ridge. These were our quieter, Northern Italian family, diametrically and culturally opposed to my father’s louder and more boisterous Neapolitan family. My second cousin John and I didn’t know about cultural divides, however, and usually ended up fighting like Sicilians on the linoleum floors.

One year we went to the Magnanis instead; the whole lot of us piled into cars and drove to Sunset Park, which is the neighborhood my mother’s family started out in when they moved to Brooklyn in the 1930’s.   [A couple of years ago she and I went to visit my Uncle in the hospital, a few blocks from where Mom lived. I asked if she wanted to see the house again, and she said “not really, but I know you want to.” So we drove to 50th. Street below Third Avenue, and there it was. Mom stared, and was very quiet. I’d never seen her so transported into the past like that. And I knew the instant it was time to drive away.]

The Magnanis lived a block up from the actual Sunset Park, where my friends and I used to bike ride to swim and where I had my first dose of guys my age who were remarkably advanced in terms of growing up bodily; let’s just say that my little pink buddies and I felt terribly inadequate next to these brown Puerto Ricans.

The Magnanis had a rabbit for Easter dinner that year, an animal dear to Italian hearts. I don’t remember that any of us children actually ate any; we were sitting at a table to ourselves, probably having chicken pot pies. I can’t remember. What I do remember is cousin John taking me downstairs to his basement lair and showing me a little white box wrapped in tape and rubber bands. I had to guess what was inside– earrings? Money? Like a young Frankenstein, he dramatically opened it up and revealed two marble-shaped objects: “These are the rabbit’s eyes.” I remember knocking the box out of his hands and then running back upstairs to the safety of the pot pies and my Easter candy. And later that evening I accidentally knocked over my grand-aunt Nella’s lava lamp, all all hell broke loose. Suddenly that Tuscan woman was acting VERY Neapolitan.

I was an allergic child, suffering through years of needles and scratch tests and bearded doctors in faraway offices (Flatbush). One of the things I was allergic to was chocolate, and so I only received WHITE chocolate at Easter– which everybody else coveted. [Yes, Carol– we’ve discussed this before. I don’t get it either; they were only trying to make me happy. But I never wheezed when I ate white chocolate!]

When you think of Easter, you’re supposed to think of the risen Christ, and renewal, and the promise that life goes on regardless of the horrors called to mind on Good Friday. That’s the idea, but when I think of Easter I immediately picture my two little sisters dressed in matching blue coats with patriotic piping sewn around their tiny white hats, waiting patiently to open their baskets to find real, dark chocolate– a treat that they were forbidden to share with their staring, wheezing older brother.

“What’s next for you, Jim ?”

I’ve heard this question a lot lately, thanks to my now-official state of post-bookstore managerial duties. Ironically, after all the emotions and cocktails yesterday, I went into the store this morning to unhook the two cable boxes, which I then brought to the Bright House offices on Curry Ford Road. That’s the kinda guy I am– who in their right mind would even dream of bringing a car to that traffic-choked neighborhood? But I did; also, it saved me from having to meet the cable guy in person at the store– you know how uncertain THEIR windows of opportunity can be. And I have a life to live.

Speaking of which, here’s what I have planned:

1. Ring  up Tallahassee and tap into the abundance of unemployment funds they offer. Why not? We pay enough taxes; though the amount they give you is nothing to retire on, it provides a buffer. And I’m in very good company– the best-dressed people line up at the unemployment agencies! (It’s the latest thing in corporate chic.)

2. Finish my stories. Some of you are privy to my stories, and some are not. For years I have been working on a collection of shorts based on my early 1960’s experiences in Italian Catholic Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Everyone I ever met from birth through 1965 stars in them– family, friends, lunatics up on the Avenue– everyone. The lady in the bakery with the carefully-powdered goiter on her forehead; Mr. Gargiulo the fruit man with the permanent bend in his neck; Grandpa with the bastone; vomiting choir boys, mean dogs, the ladies in the beauty parlor… nobody is spared. These stories will propel me onto Oprah’s couch as one of her last guests, and I will be able to buy a house in Key West. Yes– I envision it. It will happen. One big editor has already seen them, and ALMOST loved them !!

3. Go to the beach. I haven’t been down the ocean in years. Key West doesn’t count; the only ocean there is for tourists. The rest of us avoid it. Maybe I will go to the naturel  beach over at Playa Linda. Sssh! But I don’t have wrinkles at my age, nor do I want any, so I will enshroud myself in protective towels. I won’t look like a healthy, middle-aged man strolling the shore; I will look like Helena scanning the horizon as she awaits the ships from Tarsus.

4. Paint. I used to paint a lot when I was younger; my father showed me how, and then I took some classes in college. Remember, Carol? Remember the life-sized nude study that I had to paint? The canvas blew off the top of the taxicab on the Gowanus and I had to retrieve it– with the meter running!! The hairstyle made my subject look like Patty Duke circa 1963– and it was a man! What a class that was– all those young Hadassah lovelies, and me. And when my teacher saw my oil painting of some gnarled trees backed by a sunset, she said “maybe you can get a job painting landscapes for Woolworth’s.” Bitch. Just because she had one painting in a gallery somewhere.

 5. Clean and organize. I’m not happy unless all the sheets and towels in the linen closet are arranged by color, pattern, warp, and woof. It’s nice to be able to look in there and know that at least one thing on Earth is as it should be. And I also have to replace all the baseboards, and paint the entire house.  And plant vegetables and herbs. And get ready for an onslaught of company this year, The Year of the Visitors: Michael; Carol and Matt; Sammy; Matthew; and Nicola from Italy. God forbid they should have to do without baseboards!

6. Dust off the resume. I haven’t used it in many, MANY years– never had to! Remember in that book Sheila Levine Is Dead And Living In New York?  Sheila didn’t get her job through the New York Times– she got it through Rose Lehman’s sister! That’s how I always got my jobs– through knowing someone. As a result, my time-warped resume has things on it like “assisted Moses with parting of Red Sea.”  “Escorted Marie Antoinette up the scaffold.”  “Helped Mr. Roosevelt forge the New Deal, even though Eleanor tried to take all the credit.”  It’s time for an update, don’t you think?

 7. Etc. This is what I’m most afraid of, because, in the past, etc. has consisted of roaming the house in tired pajamas; checking eMail every five minutes; opening the refrigerator every three minutes; drinking coffee all day; staying up all night reading mangy copies of Mildred Pierce and The Nun’s Story; driving to small towns and browsing through the petrified offerings in the local five and ten cent stores; and more! Etc. is the most fun of all, though guilt usually lets me indulge for just a few days. We shall see… but I do have this very clear, very good feeling that I’ll be on Oprah’s couch in a few months… stay tuned!