Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes

I hedged posting this piece after burying teeth and so many matters of loss and death. I was talking to a commenter on this blog, "Home Before Dark," and we swapped some e-mails back and forth about degree of loss to the point it seems bottomless, half joking, "When does it end? When does a period of happiness ensue?"

I have never wanted happiness more than now in my life. Mentally and physically I have had enough. So I write this next bit with tongue in cheek, since, well, "Here we go again."

Over the weekend, I had a lot of errands to run. I had switched handbags from the very chi chi Mark Jacobs to the "seen a few years" Kenneth Cole, thinking it would be fun to carry a red purse during the holidays, but it needed a bit of touching up, so I went scouting for saddlesoap and red shoe polish. Trust me. Red shoe polish? Not easy to find. I knew of a few sources: the shoe repair shop at White Flint Mall (wonder if it's still there?), Fortuna Shoe Repair in Bethesda, and a tiny hole in the wall shop run by this Greek man named Joe. I can hear Velvet saying, "Go to the Greek."

I ran my errands. It was a long day and one heading for dark, stormy thunderheads. I did go to Joe's, and that's when it hit. An older obviously Greek woman was in there. The rest of the staff, Hispanic. They had my red polish from England, and the saddlesoap. I asked the old lady if she was married to Joe and how was he? She immediately teared up and held up one finger to make me stop. She was choked with tears. My eyes welled with tears. We stood there staring at each other with tears in our eyes.

She told me he had died a year ago. She was "all alone." I know she had had two sons, at the least, but I swore she told me one died in his teens. I'm still not sure about that. She was very emotional when she was talking to me. That and a language gap and who knows. I told her that I had loved Joe: his wonderful work ethic and business, and what a great personality he had--tons of charm. I said all of the right things. I did not have enough to cover the two items I was buying; falling 35 cents short. She debated about it. Quite a while. Finally, a Hispanic woman said, "That's ok," but I could see it bothered Mrs. Joe to let it go. I know. 35 cents. Yet, I understood.

I told her I would be back tomorrow with the money, also bringing a friend so they could express their sympathy to her about Joe. As soon as I left, I drove to the bank, not only to get some money, but another roll of quarters, (God bless you D.C. parking meters,) and...the money to pay Joe's widow. I drove right back to Joe's and gave her 75 cents. At this point, she was waving it away, telling me, "That's okay," but I insisted and she took it, telling me, "You and I are the same. I cannot sleep knowing I owe someone."

I agreed I was the same and that is why I had gone to the bank and come back. Finally. She smiled at me. I again reassured her that I would be returning with someone to let them pay their respects to her, and she told me to come back at any time.

Home? Are you reading this? Are you laughing? I mean right after our discussion?

I was up and having coffee yesterday morning, purusing The Washington Post, and reading the obituaries (a habit since childhood.) You are born and grow up in Washington, you read the obits. You know people. There was a period, during my parents prime years, where someone was always showing up. Now. Not so much.

There she was. My mother's old church friend: a lady whose family I grew up with, whose daughter I played with, and a woman I had been meaning to call for the past few weeks.

About a month ago, I made a call to one of the "church ladies," the few remaining who were part of my family's social circle at church, and I had to track them down because they had shifted residence. In fact, in calling another woman who had also lost touch with "the group," I found she had moved as well. So now with two women found, I told them both I would make two more calls. I knew where woman #3 was, as well as #4, but I wanted to tell them the plan on the telephone: that I would be writing them all a group letter, and then have a separate sheet of current names and addresses. They all loved the idea. I knew Mama was smiling down, saying, "I brought you up right, and thank you for helping my friends."

There's also this whole issue of social groups. The church group had splintered when a massive, old church with history in Washington had sold the church for millions, then moved to the suburbs. Demographics changed. People weren't happy. People left. Networks were broken. People were angry, too. The church's pastor had wanted to preach to college students, somehow overrode everyone and gotten the church moved to a piece of land my father had rejected ages ago for NASA due to it's problems, and the millions went into the bad soil and were lost. Then to make it even better, the pastor sought transfer and went to a parish in Florida with five churches. Money gone, church hanging by a thread, and long gone (those with money) parishoners. So the church will die, I am sure.

In the interim during of all of this, another woman died who they all knew, from a sister church. Another one down. I scanned her obituary, in case they had missed it. This is why, when I was talking to "Home Before Dark," I meant what I said, "Where does it end?" I sat yesterday evening and wrote for hours in my private journal what this woman had meant to me, to our family; and how she was one of a very few sources I could turn to for adult sympathy and support. I called the ladies. Some knew. Some didn't. Since they were her friend, as well, I knew they had to be secretly wondering, "Which one of us is next?"

The visit with Joe's widow? The shrinking generational circle? It's all taking it's toll on me. And I have to laugh because the next piece I was going to write was about London and Highgate Cemetery. Do you think you could stand it? Even if I made it funny? Even if I told you that Karl Marx is buried there? I dunno. We'll see. After that, what a deadbeat Lord Byron was, and come to think of it, he left a messy death as well.

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Blogger Gilahi said...

A small touch on The Fundamental Interconnectedness Of All Things: I load up my CD carrier, put it in my car, listen to all the CDs, then empty and reload. When I reloaded this last time, I thought, "Wow, I haven't listened to Elvis Costello & The Attractions in a long time." I just heard your title song yesterday morning after not hearing it for, oh, over a year I guess.

Things get better.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Gilahi: Do you remember when TCM had that ad running for film noir month, and it was a montage of films, but playing over it was Elvis Costello's "Watching The Detectives?" That twangy guitar intro? My friends SWEAR that has to be my ring tone. I've yet to do it. Whenever I need a really serious energy boost, I slap on "Pump It Up," among others.
I know things get least I pray they do. Right now, I'm still in "eh" land, finding my happiness in small things.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Gilahi said...

I do recall that. It was one of the more appropriate popular song overdubs I've seen lately. The bad ones are the jeans commercial which shows a bunch of tough guys (John Wayne, James Dean, etc.) wearing jeans and playing David Bowie's "Jean Genie", which is decidedly not a tough-guy song. Then there's the ads for a recent movie about Woodstock that chose to play a Deep Purple song as the theme. With all of the music they could have chosen, they picked a group that wasn't even at Woodstock. Amazing.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Wasn't David Bowie wearing DRESSES then? Joking, but you get the point.

I remember the uproar when Michael Jackson let Nike use the Beatle's song "Revolution," for a shoe ad. And re: the uproar. Rightly so, in my opinion. That song was about a total cultural and political upheaval going on, not about shoes.

1:42 PM  
Blogger home before dark said...

WC: Loved your story. I turned 60 in October, a watershed moment. My beloved mother-in-law died at 59. Get this: bitten by a mosquito in Kansas December. Died of encephalitis. Our lovely family felled by an insect bite never to be the same again. MY husband's grandfather lived to be 89. He was in his hometown. A place where as a child, he saw horses and buggies driving up the boulevards. Where he as a young boy had the job of delivering "supplies" to the local whorehouse! He loved the obits. Long deaf, the obits brought his people back to life. Of course, he had the familiar joke of reading the obits every morning to see if he had died in his sleep.

Swing that red purse in the spirit of the season which for me, no longer a convert, but what I call a revert, is renewal. After solstice's darkness, light returns. Every nigh I turn the light on the topiaries by my front door at sunset. Each day, one minute each day, light returns. It is the cycle of nature. Nothing lasts in dark too long.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Home: I am a winter solstice baby, so trust me, I am well attuned to that day and it's meaning in the system. I also always joke, "But it's the longest NIGHT!" My former skin esthetician told me a similiar bizzare story about two years ago. She's from Germany originally, but lived a long time in Arizona, so she was used to checking hiking shoes in the garage for scorpions, etc. She was out in her garden, where she had a can of Sprite. She reached for it to take a sip, and a bee landed in her mouth. She spit it out immediately, but she said, "Can you imagine if it had stung me? My throat would have swelled shut and I would have choked to death in my garden!" Ever since hearing that little tale, and being a child who learned to listen and remember--I never drink from an open can or bottle outside. It's always capped off now.

Thinking of your husband's grandfather, it's amazing how fast things change now. I received an email the other day from Friendstr about "new and improved Friendstr." I didn't even remember ever joining Friendstr, and who the heck uses it anymore with MySpace and Facebook out there? And when did Friendstr start? Not THAT long ago. Things are picked up and dropped so quickly, our heads spin.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Ronda Laveen said...

Wow! That is a lot going on. But as far a future posts, when you're on a roll, run with it--good or bad.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Ronda: ...and to be a cliche, "That's just the tip of the iceberg." A few years back, Hammer, author of the recently lamented closed blog "Throwing Hammers," and I emailed back and forth about how tempting it was to really just lay it all out there, in terms of what is going on in our lives, but ultimately we decided not to go there. I have never told all of anything, just portions. Like Thanksgiving. Like this. My former rep stemmed from taking an idea like "Lord Byron" and "poetry," and run with it and factor in snow tires and a recipe for eggplant and Cicero and Bridget Bardot and gingham bikinis and Lord Haw Haw...all wrapped up with a nice bow.

I haven't had enough time to write like that in some time...and that is what I am fighting to get back to. Not all of this sad shoe polish.

6:48 PM  
Blogger home before dark said...

Write your strongest self, then find a rep. Anything less is a waste of your time and talent.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Thanks, Home

10:13 PM  
Blogger Ronda Laveen said...

Ms. Cube: Yes, I knowm Hammer and listen (and am in possession of), thankfully, to his "Hammer's Gone Collection.

But perhaps the time has come for laying it all out there. Really. What is there to lose? A gingham bikini? Bridget? Those things can't be lost.

Do you feel complete with what you are doing? If not, others will notice. If not, others will go there.

1:54 AM  
Blogger Ronda Laveen said...

Sorry, yes, I see the typo. Too tired and late to correct it. You're a smart cookie, you'll figure it out.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Death is heavily on my mind as we sit vigil waiting for my husband's 101-year-old aunt in Chicago -- the one who never married and has very little remaining family -- to die. She had a massive stroke 2 weeks ago and was given 2 hours to 4 days to live. She is in a hospice situation with no food or water, but she continues to breathe on her own. I have the same feeling a pregnant woman who is 2 weeks past her due date must have. Nature has a way of taking its time sometimes. I wish I could be there to read to her or play her out with the slow andante movement from Beethoven's sonata no. 23.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Barbara: I've sat that watch, too, with my mother. It took a week. I'm not sure others would understand, but it was a learning experience and a privilege. The lady I've been writing about lived until age 96, and I marveled at her lack of ills: no pills, very few aches and pains, yet incredibly fragile. She, too, had been a career woman with very little family left. I love the idea of reading to her, or playing Beethoven. With the lady I write about, her hair was brushed just minutes before she died.

Ronda: Yes, I feel complete in what I write. What isn't written on this blog, gets written on another one. What gets left off doesn't alter the intent of the piece. What I didn't add about Joe's widow, for example, was that I wasn't sure how much there wasn't some dementia in place, or that I felt the Hispanic lady may or may not have been married to her son. She did tell me, "Don't worry. She isn't alone." I also wasn't sure that they didn't let her hang out there, just to keep herself out in the world and in contact with people. I could have added more: the letter pendant around her neck with her initial spelled out in diamonds. Or that I thought she was wearing braces, but I realized later it was bad teeth.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

You have taken on a lot helping all of these people to stay connected and helping them in so many other ways as well. I hope I'll be able to give my mother what she needs when the time comes, which means when she's stuck having to receive help from me. She hasn't said this exactly, but all of her gloom and doom seems to come from the feeling that she'll be the last one left. Her friends are, as she puts it, "dropping like flies."

Although it must be very depressing for you to write about these things, I think that your readers probably appreciate being able to learn a thing or two from your always thoughtful and thought-provoking posts. I know I do.

I hope the balance of happy and sad things in your life begin to swing in a different direction soon! That purse put a smile on my face and I'm not even a purse person.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Cyndy: I am aiming for a swing. I can't stay in this cycle. Been there. Done it. I was back over at the underheated house last night, organizing these rubbermaid bins for things to sell online. I have twenty more to do. YIKES! Twenty! How can I sit here and calmly type 20??? I should be hopping up and down like some 1930's Bosco animation character, pulling out the two line hairs on my head.

10:37 AM  

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