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Driving Me To Think

At sixteen, Driver’s Ed was nothing more than sitting in a stark classroom, fluorescent lights glaring overhead as the instructor drummed into our heads the dangers of drinking and driving. While his words were effective, the class would have been more useful had it included hands-on learning like changing a tire on the side of the road at night in the rain.

Fast-forward a few years to Defensive Driving courses available to get a discount on road rageyour car insurance or reduce points from your license. Sitting in yet another anonymous classroom or now conveniently at home online, while this class covers the repercussions of drinking and driving, it has changed with the times and spends more time on the dangers of texting and driving.

Both warnings are valid, but it’s Road Rage, that while covered, seems more dangerous, and lately, more prevalent.

Early one morning this summer, walking with my niece and nephew, a station wagon (who knew they still existed?) drove by. On instinct I put my arms out to shield the kids. The car passed and as it turned the corner, the female driver screamed out her window, “It would have been nice if you waved back!”

“Who are you?” I said, but she’d already driven away.

Then one Sunday my sister and I went for a 20-mile bike ride through quaint local towns on Cape Cod. As we neared a grassy airport offering bi-plane rides, some guy in an SUV yelled out his window, for no other reason than because he’d been forced to slow down to pass us, “Get on the sidewalk!”

This past weekend, while I was driving in Westchester, a truck came up close behind me flashing his lights and trying to pass. “Geez,” I thought, “what’s your hurry?” He soon passed me on a narrow stretch. “Jerk,” I thought. Then, just as I was thinking of some other choice words, he pulled into the fire station. And that’s when I saw it, his bumper sticker, the one showing he was a volunteer firefighter. All the anger I felt immediately flushed out of my system as I realized mixing anger and driving is more dangerous than any cocktail you can swallow.

“I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Waking up in my New York City apartment the other morning after a blissful several weeks on Cape Cod, I felt like Dorothy waking up in Kansas after a long, delicious dream. Everything was back to black and white. And as my eyes adjusted to the smaller bedroom, it took me a few seconds to birdremember where I was.

I got out of bed and looked out the window. Instead of seeing green grass, trees and robins snacking at the bird feeder, I saw rows of buildings, water towers sprinkled on top with a clear view of my neighbor who never bothers to close his blinds nor put on clothing.

While preparing breakfast I thought of what had become my summer morning ritual – walking into the kitchen to find my parents seated at the table, sections of the Wall Street Journal spread out like seashells, hearing them say, “Good morning” to me as I made a peanut and banana sandwich acanalnd laced up my bike shoes. That routine was gone. Long gone.

I left my apartment and headed south, 30 blocks to work. Traffic and construction were already at ear splitting decibels and it wasn’t even 8 a.m. Walking down 9th Avenue I pictured the Cape Cod Canal where I’d biked almost every day and could still see the water at my side, seagulls gliding overhead. But that image was quickly erased as I was brought back down to reality having to step over a pinkish pile of someone’s dinner from the night before splattered on the sidewalk, dirty pigeons fighting to get a bite.

In a storefront window I caught my reflection. Black shirt and jeans; an ensemble I hadn’t worn in weeks. I thought of my colorful shorts, the ones with the red lobsters on them, neatly folded and put away for the season. I looked at my hair, blown out and pulled back, the soft curls replaced with the more sophisticated city style. Then there was the one accessory I hadn’t worn since before the Fourth of July – my New York City mask. Part scowl/part “Don’t even think about messing with me,” it’s one of the first things I put on in the morning and the last thing to come off at night. Then I laughed. I was back in the Big Apple. There’s no place like home.

“Can I? Please?”

kid wantMy niece and nephew ask for things all day long; it’s part of being a kid. They can’t just hop in the car and drive to where they want to go. They need adults. Which is why they ask, “Can I have ice cream?” “Can I go to the arcade?” “Can I have this new toy?” While they don’t get everything they ask for, occasionally (especially when visited by a doting aunt) they do. Whatever they get is better than the nothing they would get if they didn’t ask.

Take it a step further.

One evening last year I was waiting for a friend in the lobby of the Time Warner building when a well-dressed man approached me. “You’re beautiful,” he said. “Can I take you to dinner?” Sure I was flattered, but as I kindly thanked him for the compliment and said no to his offer, I realized this guy probably approached several women with the same line. Maybe he asks 10, 20, even 100 women. His odds are such that one woman is probably going to say yes. Even if he asks 1,000 women, his odds are better than the zero percent he’d get if he sat at home watching another episode of House of Cards.

One more scenario.

As an author, one unpleasant part of the publishing process is sending out your manuscript. Self-publishing has eliminated this most dreaded task, but for those wanting to go the traditional route, it’s the only option. An author may send their work to 10, 20, even 100 publishers hoping that one will love it and agree to publish their masterpiece. But soon enough, responses begin to come in. One rejection. Another rejection. A third. And so on. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and even Anne Frank’s diary were rejected many, many times. The one thing each of these authors didn’t do after each “No” they received, was give up. How different is that from a little kid asking for a candy bar every time they’re in the supermarket check out line?

So sure, while it may get a tad annoying when little kids ask repeatedly for something they want, occasionally getting it may just teach them the value of never giving up.

Vexed by Texts

My cousin Joe says of everyone he texts with, I am the fastest to respond. “Within like ten seconds,” he says. “Amazing.”text mesage

When people send a text, it’s usually with the intent to share information. “On my way. Be there in ten.” Or “What’s Natalie’s email?” Regardless of the message, most texts solicit a response and very often, need to be timely. If I’m meeting someone and they text me, “Running late! Can’t get a taxi!” Of course I’m going to respond, if for no other reason then to let them know I received their message.

At the beginning of the summer I received a message from an old friend asking for information about a store on Cape Cod. Within two minutes I wrote back. Did I hear from her again? No. Not even a “thx.” If someone takes the time to do you a favor, how do you not respond? Are you conserving your data plan? Who today, unless you’re my friend Susan, doesn’t have an unlimited text message data plan?

Emails I can understand a delay, but a text? On your cell phone? Cell phones are like adult binkies; they go with us everywhere. What other excuse could you possibly use for not responding to a text? Dropped my phone onto the subway tracks! I’ll buy that. Lost my phone! It happens. Phone got eaten by a shark! I’ll even concede that one too. There are – I’m sure – a list of legitimate excuses for not replying, but for the most part, with many of us taking our cell phones with us into the bathroom, that list is pretty short.

When instant messaging first began back in the 90s, the first person I ever IM’ed with was my Aunt Ida. She was 98 at the time and was taking a computer course at her local community college. Our conversations didn’t last long, as Aunt Ida tired quickly, but she was so enamored by technology and the ability to reach out to family and friends, that no matter what I was doing, I would stop and chat. As always, Aunt Ida signed off by writing, “Thank you for taking the time. I know you young people today are so busy. It means a lot.”

I wonder how Aunt Ida would feel about the way instant communication happens today. Or rather, how often it doesn’t.

Google This and That

“Let me ask you this,” said the head counselor running the interview. “If your summer campers don’t want to swim because they don’t want to wear a bathing suit in front of their peers, what would you do?”

The interviewee, in her mid-20s, nodded, as if thinking, then said, “I would probably Google it.”

She didn’t get the job.

Google, since its inception, has been amazing. I live on Google. It has the answer to everything. Can’t think of an actor’s name from that movie? Google it. Want to know when the fireworks start? Google it. Need to know how to insert page numbers in the middle of your book? Google it.

GoogleGoogleGoogle.

Google is a resourceful tool when the answer is not readily found in your own head. And while it can be used for almost anything, there are times when the solution should come from the knowledge already in your head. Say on a final exam or, you know, like on a job interview.

What did we do B.G., Before Google? We were, believe it or not, ourselves Google. We found the answers by asking questions (yes, by interacting with real people), looking back at our own experiences or figuring it out by trial and error.

When I was 32 I was hired to be the Chief of Staff to a College President because I knew how to organize and run an office, and had experience in how to manage a crisis. I didn’t use Google. I used my noodle. Instead of typing in, “How do I handle students occupying the President’s office?” I figured it out based on the fact it happened to me when I was a student and an employee at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Maybe this interviewee would have, eventually, on her own, come up with a solution, say give T-shirts to wear over bathing suits. But to her credit, maybe it’s not her fault. As a member of the Google Generation, perhaps she thinks it’s acceptable to find the answer by Googling it. And often it is. The real issue is not that this young woman must depend on Google, it’s that she didn’t realize admitting her dependence on it was a problem. As for find the solution to that problem? Well, maybe she can Google it.

“You Damn Dirty Ape!”

There’s nothing like going to the movies in the summer. Everyone rushing to clear the dinner table, filling pockets with snacks and piling into the family station wagon (for those born five minutes ago, that’s an SUV, only elongated.)

ape picThis was the scene Saturday night. My folks, boyfriend and I were excited to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (well, my dad was excited. Having seen Chef the week before, it was his turn to choose). Sitting three rows from the back of the large theater, we spent the first half of the movie enthralled by the apes and their abilities. Then a new dialogue was added. At first I thought it was coming from the film, but soon realized it was people in the back. Heads nearby turned repeatedly hoping to send a signal. Eventually a male voice with a distinct Boston accent shouted, “Would you please stahp tahkin! I’m tryin’ to wahtch the movie!” Of course this was what everyone wanted to shout, but because of recent events, you don’t know who might be packing heat. There was some yelling back and forth, which was fitting really, as they were in a sense aping the apes on screen.

cell talkersWhen the credits rolled and the lights came on, all eyes fell on the talkers now walking up the aisle. I went directly to the manager, channeling my Nana Banana who never met a customer service hotline she didn’t like. I explained how disruptive the talkers were and he apologized, saying that typically there would have been a security officer, but that night they were short.

Walking out to my car, four free movie passes in my pocket, I realized how selfish some people can be thinking it’s all about them: cellphone talkers on buses, walkers taking up entire sidewalks with strollers, and those who never hold open doors for others. From where has this sense of entitlement sprung? What happened to common courtesy? We may never know why people do what they do, but the real puzzler in all this is who would spend $13.50 on a movie ticket only to talk through the whole thing?

The Little Engine That Could. And Did.

shely pic

Mom’s Masterpiece

Remember the story by Watty Piper of the little engine that didn’t think he could make it up the hill? And he couldn’t. But after some coaching, a bit of confidence and a mantra “I-think-I-can. I-think-I-can,” he did it.

How many times has the thought “I think I can’t” kept you from trying something? Kept you from having fun? From living the life you want? A negative mantra ultimately keeps you from trying. Where’s the benefit in that? When you think: “I can’t keep myself organized.” “I can’t lose all that weight.” “I can’t paint.” Well, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you can’t.

But what if you just thought you could? What if you told yourself, “I can bike 60 miles.” “I can write a short story.” “I can get through occupational therapy school.” Then you’d also be right. If you think you can, you can. You may not be the next Picasso or Tour de France winner, but sometimes it’s not about doing the best, it’s just about doing.

For my birthday yesterday I wanted a painting party. My sisters and I were excited, but my mom was hesitant. “I can’t paint,” she said.

“Did you have years of art lessons?” I asked her.

girls pic“No,” she said.

“Then how can you say you can’t paint? Just think you can and you’ll be great.”

Many of us are quick to judge ourselves. One reason yoga is so helpful is that it teaches us to leave our ego at the door. By cutting ourselves some slack, it allows us to fail, and in taking that chance, we just might discover hidden talents or, at the very least, enjoy life more.

My sisters, mom and I arrived at the Cape Cod Art Bar in Mashpee excited to begin “painting.” We tied aprons around our waists and followed Colleen, a talented artist who walked us through the process of painting…a tiger lily. Chatting away, some sipping wine, soft music in the background, we began our masterpieces. Outside the weather threatened rain, and we all got a lovely breeze on a relaxed summer evening.

Two hours later, my mother sat stunned, looking at what she had created. “I did it!” she said.

“Of course you did,” my sisters and I told her. She thought she could.

A Simpler Time

watchRecently I asked some younger kids if they wore watches. “No need,” they said. “We’ve got cell phones.” And they’re not alone. Most folks simply glance at their phone, computer screen or cable box to find the time. But there are still those who get the time from wearing a watch.

I used to be one of them. But somewhere along the way I stopped wearing watches. Except when I’m on vacation. It may seem strange to wear a timepiece during a time that is, more or less, “no-time,” but I’m not counting down the minutes. I’m just conscious of utilizing every moment. Whether the time is spent cycling, buying “lahbstah” (that’s lobster for those non-Cape Codders) or seeing matinees on a rainy day, for me wearing a watch is a throwback to a time when life was simpler. A time when there were only a few TV channels, when kids played in the backyard all summer long and a time when I wore a clunky watch – almost as wide as my wrist – trying to emulate my dad.

A week into my annual Cape Cod “season” and there’s a tan line on my wrist. This tan-line reminds me I’m not on a time clock. I am my own time clock.

Last week, returning from a day trip to Woods Hole with my niece Paige, 10, and nephew Andrew, 7, I played for them my favorite songs, aiming to influence their musical tastes. When the Broadway song “A Way Back to Then” from the musical Title of Show came on, I turned up the volume. It’s a song about remembering being nine years old and fearless and trying to get that feeling back, something I know all too well. After the line, “Dancing in the backyard, Kool Aid mustache and butterfly wings, hearing Andrea McArdle sing from the hi fi in the den,” my niece Paige, without missing a beat, said, “Doesn’t she mean wifi?”

I laughed. With time passing quickly, a ticking watch may not bring you back to another time, but it just may bring you up to date in the present. And what a gift that can be.

What To Pack. Check. How To Vacation. Check.

Before heading out for vacation, there are checklists I follow. First, there is “How To Prepare Your cc sign_edited-1Home,” which may include unplugging appliances, locking windows and emptying food trash. Next is the “What to Pack” list such as bathing suit, sunblock, sweatshirt. But what about a checklist telling you “How To Enjoy Your Vacation”? I hadn’t heard of that either. But they exist.

During my annual beginning-of-summer drive from Manhattan to Cape Cod, where I spend July with my family, I decided to create a “Sand pail” list of fun things I want to do. This summer that includes: biking from Sandwich to Provincetown, painting an American flag with my niece and nephew’s hands (as stars) and feet (as stripes), and a barbeque campfire on the beach.

bbq spreadI wasn’t over the Bourne Bridge ten minutes when my sister invited me to a barbeque at Sandy Neck Beach. On arrival, the campfire was burning, friends were eating, and kids were digging holes in the sand. I collapsed into a beach chair and stared off at the sun slowly making its way to the water’s edge.

But I didn’t sit for long.bbq 2

“Come, eat!” said Iris, the hostess of this large gathering. As with most beach barbeques, easy is usually the goal – burgers, chips, cookies. But not for Iris. It was her husband’s 50th and she’d pulled out all the stops. Mexican by birth, Iris made tacos, the soft shells wrapped in tinfoil and warmed on the fire, along with swordfish, chicken, grilled pineapple, avocado and various salsas, each labeled (labeled!) on a nicely set table right on the sand. Look out Martha Stewart!

After dinner, enormous lanterns were lit and sent sailing up over the ocean and large skewers bbq 3appeared with even larger marshmallows. I was right there with the kids, huddled around the fire, thinking about waking that morning in the middle of the city surrounded by concrete, and now there I was at sunset surrounded by sand, water and friends.

We left after dark, using the light of our cell phones to locate shoes, bags and the path back to the parking lot. Sitting in my car, skylight open under the stars, I reached for my list and happily anticipated tackling the balance of it.

 

Piece Out

One 1,000-piece puzzle: $5.99
Snacks and drinks: $45.00
Hosting 6 friends for a Puzzle Party? Priceless

Is it any surprise that a professional organizer (a.k.a. someone who loves order) would enjoy assembling jigsaw puzzles? Not really. What is surprising is when folks who are not so concerned about order in their lives love puzzles as much as I do.

puzzle handsSo was the case Friday night when friends gathered at my apartment for a Puzzle Party. Standing around my kitchen island we attacked the puzzle like wild animals, confiscating colors and assembling them together before joining forces to put the entire carcass back together. When the clock crept close to midnight we called it a night, with only about 100 pieces left (which I finished the next morning). Everyone emailed the next day thanking me for the reminder of how much they enjoy puzzles. There’s a quiet peace that fills you up as you concentrate on nothing else but turning that mess under your nose into order. Maybe some of us love puzzles because life doesn’t always fit together as neatly.

20140620_225232I am one of those puzzlers who used to glue puzzles together. At one point I had a stack of 50 in my old bedroom closet. When it became apparent I wasn’t going to frame and hang them, I tossed them. And as I stuffed each puzzle into the garbage, I could almost remember the hours I spent studying their colors and shapes, kind of like how an attorney must feel shredding old files, each case sparking a memory.

At my puzzle party, as arms reached over arms connecting pieces, someone asked me, “What’s the largest puzzle you’ve ever done?”

“Four thousand, nine-hundred, ninety-eight,” I said.

“Not 5,000?” she replied.

In 1987 I began a 5,000-piece puzzle that I completed on New Year’s Day 1988. As ecstatic as I felt, I was devastated. There were two pieces missing.final puzzle copy

“I hid them months ago,” my dad said, as he trotted off to retrieve them from a high shelf in another room. But they weren’t there. Eventually I got over the missing pieces. In the last few years I’ve stopped gluing them altogether, and just break them apart and give them to friends. My enjoyment was never the end result anyway. Whether its puzzles or closets, connecting pieces has always brought me peace.

 

 

 

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