Seniorland

Nomadland is coming soon.  I’ll give you a sneak preview of the film.  When I picture Nomadland, I see Frances McDormand walking across a desolate land.  It’s the same scene I see in the place I am now, the place I call Seniorland.

I qualify chronologically to live in Seniorland.  I qualify functionally because I’m blind.  In Seniorland, they are uniformly kind and caring.  They talk about the grandkids.  I don’t have grandkids.  In Seniorland, they sound like my parents, not like my generation.  Does this make me an ageist?  Steeped in denial?  Fixated at adolescence?  If I seek differences rather than similarities to make me feel superior, then I practice a dangerous habit…unless I simply don’t care to have friends in Seniorland.

“People my age,” sings Neil Young, “they don’t do the things I do.”  I bet I’m the only senior in Seniorland who plays Pink Floyd LOUD through speakers that cost more than my first car.  I walk marathon distance each week.  I weigh what I did in college.  I don’t bake cookies.  I don’t sound old.  People tell me I don’t look old either.  My friends say I don’t act my age and neither do they. 

What I share with seniors is loss.  My wife, my brother and my motherwithin the year.  Mortality stares me in the face and, though I don’t see it, it weighs on me.  Is this how it will be from now on, loss upon loss?  In Seniorland, they agonize over giving up their car keys.  I gave up mine when I was 39.  I’m 70 years old and I’ve lived half my life sighted and half my life blind and I say for a laugh, “Too bad the blind half’s the half I’m in now.”  Then laughter stops.  Long and tortuous is sight diminishing to the vanishing point.

Here’s what would help—if my wife or my brother or my mother were with me in Seniorland.  But I can’t make my well-being conditional, especially with conditions that never will come true.  And, in Seniorland, we learn how few conditions ever will come true.

So…where do we go from here?  Seniorland is not longitude or latitude or altitude.  It is attitude.  It is a state of mind and a place in time.  I see myself falling into step alongside Frances McDormand.  I take her arm and she guides me through her land and my land.  The desolation becomes promise.  We are a part of, not apart from.  We talk of prepositions, of getting through rather than getting over.  We speak of surviving.  We speak of planting seeds.  We practice gratitude.  We endorse optimism.  We sing.  We share a laugh.  We invoke The Serenity Prayer.  We choose to take pleasure in the mundane.  We do what we need to do to keep moving forward.

Playlist:

[This blog came to life as I walked slowly up a steep incline on my treadmill.  This playlist contains the songs I heard while climbing that stairway to…well, you know where…at 2.5 mph.]

“Driveby” by Neil Young with Crazy Horse, from the album “Sleeps with Angels” (1994)

“Heart” by Rockpile, from the album “Seconds of Pleasure” (1980)

“Holiday” by Weezer, from the album “Weezer (Blue Album)” (1994)

“I Found Love” by Lone Justice, from the album “This World Is Not My Home” (1998)

“I’m the Ocean” by Neil Young with Pearl Jam, from the album “Mirror Ball” (1995)

“Planet Telex” by Radiohead, from the album “The Bends” (1995)

“The Way That It Shows” by Richard Thompson, from the album “Mirror Blue” (1994)

and, thematically:

“My Generation” by The Who, either the radio version or, ye gads!, the long version from the album “Live at Leeds” (1970)

“I Wanna Go Home” by Holly Beth Vincent, from the album “Holly & The Italians: The Right To Be Italian” (1981)

“Prom Theme” by Fountains of Wayne, from the album “Utopia Parkway” (1999)

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Tundra Explores the Frozen Tundra

The blizzard was forecast to arrive Saturday.  When it didn’t, skeptics said the forecasters got it wrong.  When the blizzard hit Sunday, forecasters said it was the skeptics who’d got it wrong.  But everyone agreed the blizzard was bona fide: heavy snow, high wind and low visibility.  The snow and wind came courtesy of Mother Nature; I contributed low visibility.

Sunday into Monday, the blizzard raged and we hunkered around the fireplace.  Tundra the guide dog required occasional relief outdoors, during which, glad to say, neither man nor beast became unleashed, lost their way or blew away.

When Tuesday dawned clear and calm, Tundra and I ventured into the back forty to assess the terrain.  Beyond our covered patio lies eighty-eight square feet of fenced, grassy lawn we call Tundra’s Happy Acre.  Using my fifty-eight inch white cane, I determined the snowdrift atop Tundra’s Happy Acre stood sixty-six inches, thirty inches above the top of the fence.  In human terms, I was up to my neck in snow.

Tundra celebrated her winter wonderland by climbing the snowdrift and slaloming down the opposite slope into unfenced freedom.  I heard her romp and roll, snort and cavort while I shoveled the top foot or so from the snowdrift layer cake.  I felt the warmth of the sun and heard water trickle through the downspout.  Then things got quiettoo quiet.  “Tundra,” I called.  “Tundra,” I called, louder this time.

“She’s over here,” shouted my neighbor.  “And now she’s heading next door.  She’s visiting the shut-ins.”

“Good for Little Miss Sunshine,” I yelled back.  “but now’s not the time to make house calls.  Tundra!  Tundra, come!”

“Oh, hi Tundra,” said my neighbor’s neighbor.  “So kind of you to drop by…but I think your daddy wants you home.”

Eventually, out of curiosity or obedience, Tundra reversed her escape route, ascended the backyard snowdrift and paused at its summit to observe her domain—Queen of the Yukon.

“TUNDRA…GET…INSIDE…THIS…HOUSE…RIGHT…NOW” I snarled and, sensing discipline, or lunch, she complied.

As I dug into a warmed, leftover bowl of my Crock Pot Extravaganza #34, Frosty the Snowman tromped across the roof.  I heard his corduroy pants go “ VOOT! VOOT! VOOT!” before he leapt from the roof and landed with a “THUMP!” onto the recently-reduced snowdrift atop Tundra’s Happy Acre.  As I stared straight ahead and stirred my soup, I calculated that, as twenty-four inches of blizzard snow covering a one hundred sixty square-foot patio rooftop slides bit by bit onto Tundra’s Happy Acre, she’ll keep smiling with the gift that keeps on giving while I keep shoveling the leftovers of this Daylight Savings Sunday blizzard…‘til the Fourth of July.

Playlist (from Tundra’s perspective):

I’m Free” by The Who, from the album “Tommy” (1969)

I’m Free” by The Rolling Stones, first released as the final track on the UK “Out of Our Heads” album (1965). It was also released at the same time as a single in the US and later included on the American “December’s Children (And Everybody’s)” album (1965).

I Am Free” by The Kinks, from the album “Kinks Kontroversy” (1965 U.K.; 1966 U. S.)

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Adjustment Reaction

On January 3, 1994, I was declared legally blind.  Soon after, I was diagnosed with Adjustment Reaction with Depression and Anxiety.  The declaration was uttered by the ophthalmologist who calculated my remaining visual field as less than twenty degrees.  The diagnosis was muttered by the psychiatrist who nodded along to my tale of living eight years with RP.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was the bible upon which my diagnosis was based.  “Adjustment Reaction” was a no-brainerI was reacting to going blind.  Depression implied I had exhibited at least five of nine symptoms for awhile—like losing interest in pleasurable pastimes, feeling helpless/hopeless and/or losing sleep/appetite.  I condensed my symptoms thusly: “I feel like it’s the end of the world.”

Anxiety featured a bunch of clinical symptoms, too.  I zeroed in on fear, dread and doom—like slicing my head open on a stop sign, then falling into an open manhole all the way to China.  Then losing my job, isolating physically, withdrawing emotionally and ending up depressed.

During the intervening twenty-seven years, some disturbances manifested, others didn’t.  Some symptoms endure, others don’t.  In the revised DSM, the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has gained prevalence.  I’ve adjusted accordingly.  I’ve deleted the word, “Post,” because the trauma of progressive vision loss goes on and on.  And I’ve excised “Disorder,” so as not to pathologize my otherwise benign adjustment reaction.  That leaves “Traumatic Stress,” which pretty much sums up my state of mind.

At the holidays, I read of the Two Blind Brothers, entrepreneurs who tout their cotton, bamboo and spandex shirts as the world’s most comfortable.  The inscription on each shirt is in print and Braille.  I see this as the perfect mode for self-expression.  One flaming red hoodie, please, with the extra-large declaration and diagnosis…”STILL ADJUSTING.”

Playlist:

Can’t Stand It” by Wilco, from the album “Summerteeth” (1999)

Ain’t Got Nobody” by Weezer, from the album “Everything Will Be Alright in the End” (2014)

Don’t Let It Bring You Down” by Neil Young, from the album “After the Gold Rush” (1970)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones, from the album “Let It Bleed” (1969)

Oil in My Lamp” by The Byrds, from the album “Ballad of Easy Rider” (1969)

(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by The Kinks, from the album “Low Budget” (1979)

“New Day” by Voice of the Beehive, from the album “Sex and Misery” (1996)

Amazing Things” by Megon McDonnough, from the album “Spirits in the Material World”

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Welcome to The Pleasure Palace

“Hey, Siri, what time is it?”

“It’s 4:05 am.”

“Hey, Siri, what’s the weather in Fort Collins?”

“It’s snowing with a temperature of minus two degrees.”

Roused by sounds of life, Tundra, Black Lab and bedmate, shovels her nose under my pillow and thumps her tail as I curl around her.  Mulligan the cat, born during the Blizzard of 2011, paws at snowflakes floating outside the window.  Hopalong the cat, salvaged from the wilds of East St. Louis, chases his imaginary friend into the darkness beyond the bedroom doorway.

And so begins the day in The Pleasure Palace.  The Pleasure Palace contains reality, wishful thinking and silliness.  It’s all this—and it’s home.  The Pleasure-Dome called Xanadu was home to Kublai Khan and Citizen Kane…and Olivia Newton-John.  But I digress.  In The Pleasure Palace, I listen to rock & roll and entertain.  I write stories on my screen reader-infused PC and read my mail via OCR.  I put mileage on the treadmill parked in my garage.  I dress in color-identified clothing.  I stock my shelves with food ordered online and delivered to my door.  I prepare meals from bar code-identified boxes, following recipes downloaded from Blind Mice Mega Mall and cooked in bump-dotted appliances.  I wash dishes and laundry in similarly bump-dotted conveniences.  The Pleasure Palace is all things at all times—work and play.

This dark and peaceful hour signals transition.  I check my iPhone for overnight emails, texts and voice messages.  At NFB Newsline, I catch weather trends and read newspaper articles hot off the press.  I listen to Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters from an American.”  I peruse stock market futures.  I talk back to sports talk radio and sing along to tunes on my Victor Reader Stream.  I replay the portion of the NLS BARD audio book or Netflix feature I fell asleep to last night.

The mantle clock strikes five.  “Up and at ’em!” I call to the animals—with little effect.  “Who wants to eat?” I shout and the menagerie scrambles toward the kitchen.  As I cross the dance floor-sized living room, I say, “Alexa, play ‘Good Morning’ by The Steve Miller Band.”  The programmable thermostat has taken the chill from the overnight air.  Ah, The Pleasure Palace.  More like The House of Gizmos and Gadgets.  Independent?  Heck yes, with lots of help.  Hey, at least I clean the cat box and water the plants.  Just remind me to ask Google how to keep that ivy alive.

Playlist

*“Feels Like Home” by Bonnie Raitt, written by Randy Newman (1996)

*”Green” by Edie Brickell, from the album “Picture Perfect Morning” (1994)

*“A Well Respected Man” by The Kinks (1965)

*“Shangri-La” by The Kinks, from the album “Arthur, or the decline and Fall of the British Empire” (1969)

*”In the Garage” by Weezer, from the album “Weezer (Blue Album)” (1994)

*“In Dreams” by Roy Orbison (1963)

*“Dream River” by The Mavericks, from the album “Trampoline” (1998)

*“Good Morning” by The Steve Miller Band, from the album “Number 5” (1970)

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This Is Where I Belong

I’ve set my dining table for my friends, Mimi and Scooter.  Instead of crystal and silver, I’ve placed white cane #1 head to foot and white cane #2 perpendicular to its midpoint.  Cane #1 is College Avenue; cane #2 is Mountain Avenue.  They intersect at the epicenter of the city street grid.  They proscribe the four quadrants of my new home town: Fort Collins, Colorado.

“What is this, crossed swords?” asks Scooter, striding into the dining room.  “Are we the Three Musketeers?  Swashbucklers?  Shish-kabobers?”

“This,” I announce, “is a tactile map of our town.  It will help me get my bearings, learn landmarks, feel at home.”

I hand Scooter a loaf of bread.  “This is Colorado State University.  Where does it go?”  I hear the bread plop onto the table.

“Sourdough State University,” declares Scooter.  “My alma mater.”

“I think it should go over there more,” says Mimi.

“No,” says Scooter.  “I cut enough classes to know where I was supposed to be.  And right here is where I was supposed to be.”

“Halls of ivy!” I say.  “Now, Mimi, may I ask you to place the Cheerios box where you and Scooter live?”

“We call it the Ponderosa,” says Scooter.

I hear the Cheerios box hit the table.  After a pause, I hear it slide a few inches to the left.  “That’s where the Ponderosa belongs,” says Scooter.

“Scooter thinks I’m directionally challenged,” says Mimi.  Mimi and Scooter have been married a long, long time.

“OK,” I say.  “My house is that jar of peanut butter.”  I hear the jar tap the tabletop.

“Now we’re getting somewhere.  Three landmarks on the map.”

~~~~~

In Chicago, where I lived until four months ago, I could direct cab drivers along back streets to avoid construction zones.  I knew where to board the #147 bus to get to Michigan and Randolph.  I knew which color ‘L’ line to take.  I’d been given the key to the city by my wife, Mary.  After Mary died, I felt adrift.  Then Covid hit and isolation doubled.  My final six months in Chicago, I traveled no farther than three blocks from home.  The intimacy I had enjoyed with friends was thwarted by necessary distance and plexiglass barriers.  I felt estranged from the city I’d known so well.  I rerouted energy toward people in other places, from other times.  Momentum accelerated westward.  I had known one person when I moved to Chicago; I knew three people in Fort Collins.  I’ve been given three keys to this new city.  I’m betting on this Colorado trifecta.  I’m learning the basics: within my dining table city limits dwell 170,244 souls within 57 square miles traversed by 1922 miles of streets along which we souls call home.  This is my new town.  This is where I am is my declaration.  This is where I belong is my affirmation.

~~~~~

Mimi and Scooter add landmarks to the cityscape.  I roll up my sleeves and, with that spider-finger walk, explore my new home town: CSU, public library, City Park, restaurants, ice cream shop, the corner of Shields and Centre, the Ponderosa, my place.  

“One final touch,” says Scooter, rustling a bag of white cheddar popcorn.

“Snowstorm?” I ask.

“You can think of it as a flurry that becomes a blizzard,” replies Scooter.  “It’s a winter visitor, all right.  And it leaves a mess.  But it’s not snow.  It’s…geese!”

Playlist

*“This Is Where I Belong” by The Kinks (1966)

*“I Get Around” by The Beach Boys (1964)

*“Never No Lament” instrumental by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1940)/“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (1942, lyrics by Bob Russell).  Covered by Mose Allison, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, The Ink Spots and others.

*“Last Good Time in Town” by Eagles, from the album “Long Road out of Eden” (2007)

*“Living in the USA” by The Steve Miller Band, from the album “Sailor” (1968)

*“Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)

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Red Light…Green Light

I’m standing on the corner of Shields and Centre… or so I’m told.  Shields and Centre are only words, place names on a map I can’t see.  Light years from Damen and Diversey, that hot corner in the town I moved here from.  Man, I could tell you stories about Damen and Diversey.  But then I’d be that blind guy at Shields and Centre, muttering to himself.  And who wants to be known for being weird?

One thing I know about Shields and Centre is I’ve got to cross it to get to my exercise class at the Senior Center.  Another thing I know is I’ve got 28 seconds to cross five lanes.  That’s 34 pacesascend to the midpoint, descend to the opposite curb and hope Tundra my guide dog sticks the landing.  More facts about Shields and Centre: cars turn right on red, there’s a left-turn lane and a left-turn arrow and the walk signal sounds like a chirping bird. 

I listen to the cars whoosh past.  They sound like they’re going about 90.  I wait for my turn to cross, wait for the bird to chirp.  I wish I could make out a light, a parking meter, a fire hydrant—anything I could use as a beacon to guide me across.  But so little penetrates this fog of RP anymore.  I didn’t think my eyesight would get this bad.  Neither did the doctors.  But it has.  So, this is progressive vision loss.  I find irony in the word “progressive.”  This is not what I consider progress.

I wait for the light to change.  I think about progressive blindness and the progressive cancer that took my wife eighteen months ago.  “Let no one say I lost the battle.  Yes, cancer will take me but it will not take my spirit.  This is not a war.  I lose only if I succumb to self-pity and bitterness, if I fail to accept the hand that’s dealt.”  Way back when, we decided that, if we ever moved from Chicago, we’d come here, to live near our friends in this Colorado town.  So, here I am…standing on the corner of Shields and Centre.  And when the light changes and the bird starts chirping, I hold onto Tundra and say the one word that says it all: Forward!

Red Light…Green Light Playlist:

Handbags and Gladrags” by Rod Stewart, from “The Rod Stewart Album” (1969)

The Story” by Brandy Carlisle, from the album “The Story” (2007)

Leaving This Town” by The Beach Boys, from the album “Holland” (1973)

East of Eden” by Lone Justice/Maria McKee, from the album “Lone Justice” (1985)

Street Corner Talking” by Savoy Brown, from the album “Street Corner Talking” (1971)

Hollywood Nights” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, from the album “Stranger in Town” (1978).  This one goes out to my Damen Ave. buddy, Andrea.

Kansas City” written by Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller, recorded by Little Willie Littlefield (1952), Little Richard (1958), Wilbert Harrison (1959), The Beatles (1964), James Brown (1967) and about 300 others.  “I’m standing on the corner of 12th Street and Vine/With my Kansas City baby and my bottle of Kansas City wine.”

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Sidewalk Cafe

The breeze off the foothills carries the voice of John Denver. He sings of the little pond whose smooth surface mirrors majestic mountains and brilliant blue skies. And the undersides of migrating geese. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. These literal snowbirds flock to my cityscape. They float on the pond. They sunbathe on the shore. They take to the streets. They stroll the sidewalks like shoppers sensing a sale.

My neighbors dislike the geese. They call them noisy, nasty and messy. But Tundra loves them—well, parts of them. Tundra is my guide dog. Each morning, Tundra leads me from our front door, down the path and beholds…ahhh…a sidewalk smorgasbord of goose leftovers stretching halfway to the brilliant blue horizon.

This morning, Tundra and I are joined for our walk by my friend, Sadie. I fasten Tundra’s harness, leash and gentle leader and off we go. I serenade Tundra with a Beatles verse: “Hold your head up, you silly girl…” then improvise, “…’cuz goose poop upsets your tummy.”

“Oh,” says Sadie, “I thought you only wanted her not to step in it.”

“With Tundra, it runs deeper,” I reply. “At base, she’s a food-driven Lab.”

Our little parade reaches the reticulated dome at the corner. Tundra hits her mark and I reward her with a treat. I’m certain she’d prefer goose poop. On we walk.

“I’m afraid I may be distracting Tundra,” says Sadie.

“Thanks for your concern,” I tell her, “but compared to goose poop and dog treats, you finish a distant third.”

“Oh,” she chuckles, but I sense her feelings are hurt.

“Don’t feel bad,” I tell Sadie. “If it weren’t for Tundra’s multiple restraining devices, my pocketful of dog treats and your steadying presence, this practice run could have devolved into sheer anarchy.” As it is, Tundra’s loyalty to training is nearly flawless—betrayed only by the occasional lunge toward goose poop.

Morning stroll completed, Sadie and I remove our shoes and we all adjourn to tea for two and treats for three in my sunlit kitchen.

“I’m curious why Tundra prefers goose leftovers to the real birds,” says Sadie.

“I’m happy she settles for small potatoes on the sidewalk,” I reply. “If she set her sights on the big birds, she’d have dragged me into the pond by now.”

Sidewalk Café Playlist

“Martha My Dear” by The Beatles, from the “The Beatles” (White Album). This song supposedly is about Paul’s dog…or is that “Dear Prudence?).

“Autumn Almanac” by The Kinks. Ask your Smart Speaker to find it. “This is my street/And I’m never going to leave it.”

“End of the Season” by The Kinks, from “Something Else by The Kinks.” A song about winter.

“Colorado” by The Flying Burrito Brothers. The quintessential love song where the guy wants to return to the “woo-mun” he left far behind…in Colorado.

“Get Off of My Cloud” by The Rolling Stones is for my neighbors who find their paradise sullied by geese.

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Living Life One Dome at a Time

Never mind Covid-19, wildfires or Biden versus Trump. No matter my seven-month writing hiatus, my move from Chicago to Colorado or my new guide dog, Tundra. No, the big news is…reticulated domes.

Reticulated domes are the bumpy things found at street crossings, like welcome mats Super-Glued to the sidewalk. Each is a tactile landmark crucial for blind navigation. Each is a mark Tundra needs to hit. When she hits that mark, I know where I am and everything beyond becomes possible.

So Tundra and I are strolling the sidewalk, half a block between reticulated domes, when we are hailed by our neighbor, Hank, who, from the crystal clarity of his voice slicing this mile-high air, is not wearing a mask. I mumble a muffled, mask-filtered reply about social distancing and urge Tundra forward toward our destination, the community mailboxes. Hank falls into step, pushing his wheeled walker and jabbering about how Trump has screwed up the U. S. Postal Service. Tundra and I sprint ahead and reach my mailbox. As I shove my key into the lock, I hear Hank closing in so I snatch my mail and point Tundra toward the less-travelled back route toward the sidewalk, toward the reticulated dome.

“Find the dome, Tundra.” We walk. “Find the dome, please, Tundra.”  On we walk. “Find the damn dome, Tundra.” We stop. Phew! I feel bumps beneath my feet. I pat Tundra’s head. I tell her she’s a good girl. I give her a treat. I take time to celebrate. I Do a little jig on the bumps. But my tap dance sounds hollow instead of that solid and familiar thump of dome on cement.    

“Whatcha doing dancing in the street?” calls Hank.

“What street?”

“The street with the manhole cover you’re dancing on.”

“And the reticulated dome…”

“…is what I’m standing on,” answers Hank.

From the crystal clarity of his maskless voice, I judge Hank, the dome and the sidewalk to be about six feet back toward the mailboxes. Six feet of social distance. 

“Say, Hank, do you know that Tundra will follow you if I tell her to?  So, let’s try this.  You take the lead and you stay about this same distance ahead and Tundra and I will follow and we’ll all get home safe and sound.”

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Fill My Eyes

Last night, in Dreamland, I addressed the Annual Meeting of the Arbuthnot Society, comprised of blank stares atop black suits, white shirts and red power ties. I pitched an idea which gained no traction: the notion I could string together sentences to form a story. I had five minutes to prove my point. So I recited my story of Sherlock in the elevator.

This morning, emerging from Dreamland, I took inventory: two hands, two feet, two cats, one dog, Chicago, May 24, 2020. Sherlock’s birthday…he would have been nineteen, almost unheard of in dog years. And unheard by Sherlock, for on January 14, 2010, Sherlock began his sleep with angels.

Sherlock was my first Seeing Eye dog. We took late afternoon walks in the old neighborhood, Sherlock off-harness and off-duty. He would pause in the open doorway of the Ravenswood Pub until that old rummy named Mickey tottered over with a biscuit. Only then would we continue ‘round the block.

A month after Sherlock died, I tapped my way to that doorway and peered, unseeing but seen, as a female voice, laced with sloe gin and cigarettes, called, “If ya wanna drink, ya gotta belly up to the bar.”

“Thanks…I’m just looking for Mickey.”

”Mickey isn’t with us anymore, sad to say.” That was all she said; her meaning was clear.

They tore down the Ravenswood Pub and put up a six-flat. My wife and I moved out of the old neighborhood and now I’m preparing to sell the house we called home for ten years. “Life is change,” sings Jefferson Airplane, “how it differs from the rocks.” In less than one year, I’ve lost my wife and my brother to cancer. And in less than one season, we’ve all been changed by the virus.

This morning, my inventory includes gratitude for times given, melodies of verses sung and smiles at memories held. I laugh out loud at the vision of that call-to-arms, up-the-organization Jefferson Airplane concert with Persian rugs and hookahs on stage at Beloit College on July 2, 1967, where high school buddy Scott and I wore polka dot shirts (his white on blue, mine blue on white) while Davey sported snow white stretch Levi’s, a poofy-sleeved shirt and a powder blue ascot. Three cool cats dressed for the revolution.

I raise my head from my pillow, pet the cats, pat the dog, put my feet on the floor and, with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, greet the day.

Playlist:

She Has Funny Cars” by Jefferson Airplane, from the album “Surrealistic Pillow”

Crown of Creation” and “Lather” by Jefferson Airplane, from the album “Crown of Creation”

Good Shepherd” by Jefferson Airplane, from the album “Volunteers”

3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” by Jefferson Airplane, from the album “Bless Its Pointed Little Head”

Water Song” by Hot Tuna, from the album “Burgers”

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My Mother’s Corona Hairdo

From my childhood, I retain the image of my mother’s date book. It scheduled her days and chronicled her life: Saturday night dinner dances, birthdays of fringe relatives and friends’ cats. One entry was habitual and sacred, expressed by only one mighty four-letter word. Next to the Friday 3 p.m. time slot was inscribed “hair.”

The tone and tenor of Friday dinner was set by the outcome of the hair appointment and ranged from breezy to stormy. And the remaining six days of each week were dedicated to tending to the product of Friday’s main event. My mother pushed, prodded, teased and rearranged her coif, emitting grunts and groans audible through clouds of hairspray. No adult in my home smoked, for fear of sparking a lacquer-fueled fireball.

I don’t know how much of my childhood passed before I realized that washing the coif with soap and water occurred but once weekly—Friday at 3 p.m. Perhaps my biggest clue was my mother poking a pen, pencil or screwdriver far into the hair helmet to scratch a scalp itch, her expression transforming from agony to ecstasy.

My view of my mother’s hair dimmed along with the rest of my eyesight a couple decades ago. Now I rely on reports, which indicate that my mother has retained the quasi-bouffant poofy do with occasional “perms” from Larry, the itinerant stylist who invades my mother’s building. Larry is 90, a contemporary of my mother, and deeply rooted in the Jackie Kennedy model coif. He likely regards the building’s clientele with sixty years’ worth of wish fulfillment.

My mother has a weekly appointment with Larry, not on Fridays at 3, but on Tuesdays at 9. That is, until the Corona virus swept away all that is sacred. Larry unessential? Wrong!

During the six weeks without Larry, my mother occasionally referred to her hair as “needing a little attention.” After five and a half weeks’ contemplation, she sprang into action. When her Monday morning helper arrived for her weekly duties, my mother brought attention to that burning topic with hints, implications and innuendo. She inquired into Kathy’s hair-washing regimen: did she do it herself, with which shampoo, how often and how many times did she lather and rinse? Kathy, in turn, offered to run to Walgreens and purchase some shampoo, which she did. Then the two women sat at the dining table with the shampoo as the centerpiece and…regarded it…as if it were a religious artifact. As Kathy’s three-hour stint wore on, Kathy broke the silence with, “Would you like me to wash your hair?”

The decision made, logistics were evaluated, sinks measured, chairs arranged, surfaces prepared, towels fluffed and, voila, the deed was done. But, without that Touch of Larry, my mother wore the Garbo Helmet rather than the Jackie bouffant. Someone had let the air out of her topping.

But, by God, it was clean! It smelled herbal! It shone! It felt like silk! It didn’t itch like there was an ant farm on her head! Oh, sweet release! My mother removed her pillow case and slipped on a fresh one. Kathy palmed the old one on her way out, intending to boil or burn it.

My mother remains “careful” to minimize any coif damage produced at the intersection of hair and bedding. She has returned her kit of long-handled head-scratching implements to the kitchen drawers and tool box.

Now that the Governor has extended the Stay-at-Home” order for another four weeks, the question looms unposed: when’s my mother’s next shampoo? Has a new frontier been crossed, an old ritual set aside? Is shampooing now “as needed” or does “Thou shalt not touch…except on Tuesdays” endure? Does shampooing remain for the “help” or has my mother seized the power, that Do It Yourself spirit? Or will Larry become an “essential” person in the eyes of the State? Time and personality will tell and, thanks to the Governor, we’ve got thirty more days to find out.

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