Having followed in Henry David Thoreau’s footsteps once by living alone in a small dwelling, I did it again Sunday when I participated in The Last Gasp, a 62-mile bike ride across Cape Cod, from Sandwich to Provincetown. Turns out Thoreau once walked from one end of the Cape to the other, exploring each town along the way. And though I only stopped twice for a quick PB&J, I too discovered Cape Cod – the place where I grew up – from a whole new perspective.
Under a clear blue sky, with a slight wind (behind us, at first), I saw hidden ponds nestled beyond trees hinting at fall and sprawling cranberry bogs. My favorite sights were the well-wishers cheering from the road, encouraging my sore knees, while a smile sat plastered on my face. Dedicating the entire day to raising money for Spaulding Rehabilitation, I welcomed the rolling hills, of which there were many, that gave me time to think about the people I was riding for, and an overwhelming appreciation for the ability to do this ride.
Arriving at the finish line, we hopped off our bikes as volunteers loaded them onto UPS trucks, simultaneously unloading our tagged bags of clean clothes. Despite my desire of finding a hot shower, the well-oiled organization of the event was not lost on me. Hobbling to a designated hotel room for a brief (and I mean brief) shower, we changed and were shuttled to downtown P-town where, after inhaling a quick snack, we boarded a chartered ferry back to Sandwich. Cruising along the choppy water, the Cape’s shoreline to our left, a pod of dolphins appeared, diving in and out of the waves in unison, having a ball. Kind of like us riders, pedaling together for the same cause.
Back on land, we gathered our bikes and headed to the local American Legion for an authentic clambake. Chowder, little necks, lobster, corn on the cob, all with a smoky flavor, went down easily with the sun melting into the west. That night, sleep came swiftly, images of the day flashing through my memory on a loop, my smile still present. Days dedicated entirely to one cause are rare, our lives so often pulled in many directions. But having set aside my own To Do list to focus on this one task, gave me a sense of accomplishment much greater than crossing a bunch of things off a list. As for those responsibilities, well, isn’t that what Mondays are for?
Thanks again to everyone who donated to the ride!
Last Sunday found me at the bike shop, full of people coming and going with their two-wheelers. While waiting, an elderly man entered wearing red sneakers, cut off khakis, white tee shirt and an old-fashioned baseball cap with no brim, like a beanie. The hat was probably as old as he, the fabric worn, and the words “Little Slugger” stitched on a baseball on the front. He was carrying a bicycle tire. There was an air pump next to me and he bent down to use it.
“Would you like me to pump while you hold it?” I asked.
He looked up, his brown eyes smiling, his beanie somehow not falling off. “Thank you, but I can do it.” He looked back at the wheel, but suddenly back at me. “You know, when I was 12 I fixed a door lock.” He had an accent but I couldn’t place it. “If you know the material, if you know the purpose and if you know the energy of what it is supposed to do, you can fix anything.”
I smiled back and soon my bike was ready. As I walked out, I stopped by the man. “What are those three things again?” He followed me outside.
With the sun beating down on the corner of West 96th Street and Broadway, stories were shared between two strangers. “I was born in Israel, my parents dead by the time I was 11,” he said. “But I could fix things. I worked on that door knob a long time and when I heard that click.” He paused, closing his eyes as if remembering the sweet sound of his early success. “I then knew my purpose. The same principle is true with everything you want to accomplish.”
This 80-year-old had become the number one mechanic in Haifa before going into the army. He came to America in his 20s and had two marriages; the first for citizenship, the second for love. “My wife,” he said, looking in the distance and pausing to allow the wave of sadness to crest and fall, “is alive, but a vegetable. Very sad getting old and what do doctors know?” He waved his finger in the air. “Not much.”
The mechanic, whose name was Mike, rested his hand on my arm, pinching the skin a bit, something my paternal grandmother used to do when she spoke to me, causing now my eyes to tear. Then he nodded to my bike. “That is the best medicine,” Mike said. “And if you ever need it fixed, call me.” And as Mike gave me his phone number, I realized he’d already given me so much more.
“What’s life like after living in a tiny apartment?” asked Duarte Geraldino, correspondent for Al Jazeera America’s Real Money With Ali Velshi, last week in my apartment.
“I have a lot less bruises,” I joked. But the truth is, while I may no longer live “tiny,” I came away from living in those 90 square feet with an appreciation for living large. And I’m not talking about space.
Living in that small studio forced me to cut back on stuff, which as a result taught me that owning less stuff meant fewer hours spent putting that stuff away. I also came to realize that living in a smaller space meant fewer hours cleaning it, not to mention working fewer hours to pay a higher rent. In a nutshell, small space dwellers have more time to do the things they enjoy.
Now that I live in an apartment almost five times larger (though that’s not saying much), I am still living by those same lessons. Sure, I now have a couch and a kitchen, but I have the same amount of stuff that I did in the small apartment. It’s like someone who gets a huge pay increase and continues to live as though they’re making the original salary and saving the extra money. In a sense I’m saving the extra space. For what?
Glad you asked.
In the years I have lived in my new apartment I have had several parties, often filling my (extra) space with over 20 friends and family and never once feeling cramped. At one time living with less was a necessity, now it’s a choice. And I choose friends and family over stuff every time.
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 your 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.
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 remember 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 and 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.
My 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.
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.
“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.
Google, Google, Google.
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.
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.)
This 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.
When 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?
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.
“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.