Friday, August 17, 2018

Look, Ma!

I feel like the kid in the old Crest toothpaste commercials: "Look, Ma, no cavities!" I just managed to survive a six-month dental checkup without any request for a pre-six-month return.

"You look good," said Dr. Wang, he of the "difficult extraction." Since the almost botched wisdom tooth debacle four years ago, I've been through three crowns and one root canal with the guy. He's grown on me.

When he suggested the root canal, a last-minute decision, I said, "Are you sure you can do this? Remember the difficult extraction."  He smiled. "No, really, I can. I did three just last week." This is how comfortable I am with the guy.

It's like anything else. We went through something together, several somethings. We survived. I've watched as his skill has caught up with his confidence level. His compassion, too. Now he will touch my arm in the middle of a procedure. "We're almost through. Hang in there."

And somehow, I always do.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Driving Home

Yesterday I drove past the house of the woman who watched the girls for a year or two when I was writing a book. Her name was Eva; still is, I imagine. She's moved back to Hungary and we've lost touch.

Eva was reserved and all business when we met, but she proved loving, dependable, creative and quirky. The girls loved her rice pudding and began pronouncing words with a slight Hungarian lilt. "Quintan" (the name of a little boy she also watched) became "Quintone."

Suzanne was in second grade then so she didn't got to Eva's, but most days I would drop Celia off in the morning and Claire mid-day, after picking her up from the kindergarten bus. It wasn't a perfect system, but it's what I had.

What I was remembering yesterday, though, was how it felt to be driving the girls home in the afternoon. Suzanne would ride with me to pick up her sisters, and as we chugged home in the ancient blue Volvo wagon, I would have moments of perfect contentment: a good day of writing behind me, the promise of another to come, and most of all, the girls and I together again. Dinner was yet to be cooked, homework yet to be checked, bedtime stories yet to be read. But even then, I knew — told myself — hang on to this moment, it's as good as it gets.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Floating to the Office

I'm back on the Pentagon bus for a couple weeks, cruising into Crystal City on the early side, hopping off before my stop, hoofing it through south Arlington before 7 a.m. It's pleasantly cool this morning, and already a hustle-bustle on the streets.

Joggers, yoga-goers with mats slung across their backs, the caffeine-starved piling in to Starbucks and, of course, the dog walkers.

I notice a new restaurant, a crane where there wasn't one before, an empty lot with an abandoned grocery cart. The smell of croissants or French bread baking. Traffic noise, especially on East-West Highway.

It's a 15-minute stroll to the office from the first bus stop, and I listen to the same piece all the way, Sleepers Awake, Bach's cantata, times five. By the time I got here, I was floating.

(Photo from another city walk, in Philadelphia)


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Historical Aroma

One of the fringe benefits of working at home is catching little household emergencies before they become big household emergencies.

I'm stretching the term "household emergencies." Today, while pulling cereal out of the pantry closet, I was met with an aroma that was only slightly less putrid that a decaying animal. It was a rotten potato. This was not a problem last night, but it would have been an even larger problem by 6:30 p.m., which is when I usually roll back in here. Today, though, I could remove the offending vegetable and compost it before too much damage was done.

The point of this post is not to highlight my less-than-stellar housekeeping skills, but to ponder whether there is such a thing as an ancestral aroma sensitivity.

This potato smelled so noxious that I wondered if it had something to do with my Irish ancestry, with the fact that Mom's relatives mostly came from the west of Ireland and were driven away by the potato famine.

Could I be especially sensitive to this because my great-great-grandparents smelled it all too often?  Putrid potato PTSD?  You never know.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Park Avenue Beat

For the last week or so, I've been watching old "Perry Mason" shows while exercising. It's a fun distraction. The show has enough twists and turns that the rowing machine minutes speed by. I find myself comparing legal justice then and now, marveling at the cut of the men's suits (which they wore at all times) and the women's skirts (and white gloves), pondering the world that produced this show as much as the show itself.

There's only one problem: I can't get the Perry Mason theme song out of my mind. It's with me when I walk, when I cook dinner or empty the dishwasher.  It's even with me in the office.

It has a lot of moxie, this theme song. It's decidedly tabloid, with a detective-magazine feel. Called "Park Avenue Beat," the song was written to exude sophistication and toughness, Wikipedia informs me. It was composer Fred Steiner's most well-known work.

All I know is ... I wish it would go away.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Smelling the Roses

In the last few days, summer has caught up with itself. Mornings have been cooler with that steady thrum of insect noise that you don't notice until it goes away in the fall.

To be able to work outside with the heat building, cicadas crescendoing and every so often a stray idea making its way into my brain ... well, it's very good indeed.

When I need to take a break, I dead-head the roses, lean down and sniff the ones that are still blooming. Then I let my gaze shift to blank and stare out at the green and oh-so-weedy backyard.

Nothing is perfect, it seems to say, but look what less-than-pefect gets you.

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Thursday, August 9, 2018


With the purple coneflowers in bloom, the garden is not just a static creation but a marvelously alive place, with birds and butterflies flitting about to sip nectar from the seeds.

Last weekend I captured this swallowtail, which hovered for more than 20 minutes over the flowerbed, landing and feeding and opening and closing its wings.

Where did it come from? How long will it live? I don't know much about butterflies, but seeing this one made me want to learn more.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

To the Corner and Back

After weeks of wimpy walking, nursing a case of plantar fasciitis, trying not to go too far or too fast, supplementing the strolls with 20 minutes on the basement rowing machine, I've realized something I've known all along but recognize more clearly with each passing week.

And that is ... I'm not just walking for my health.

Even a slow stroll stimulates thoughts and ideas more than the most energetic rowing session. When I'm rowing, all I think of is, when can I stop. When I'm walking, I never want to stop.

This link between mind and feet is something I've written about often, and I'm not the only one. A New Yorker article lists fact after fact about how and why we think more clearly and more creatively when we're ambling along a city street or woodland trail.

So if I have to raise my heart rate on the erg, I'll do it. But walking will remain — even if it's just to the corner and back.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Gaudeamus Igitur

At last night's rehearsal we played Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture." It's an expansive piece of music, a war horse, often played, and one of my faves. It ends with the tune known as "Gaudeamus Igitur."

I looked it up this morning and learned that in addition to an academic processional, Gaudeamus is also a rowdy drinking song with a "carpe diem" flavor. It's also known as "De Brevitate Vitae," or "On the Shortness of Life."

Here's an English translation of the Latin:

While we're young, let us rejoice,
Singing out in gleeful tones;
After youth's delightful frolic,
And old age (so melancholic!),
Earth will cover our bones.

I like to think that while I was sawing away at those eighth notes and dotted quarters, the hair rising on the back of my neck as it does when I play, a chorus of ghosts was hovering around us, chanting these words.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Fear and Trembling

The rain has stopped and the crickets are singing. A crescent moon winks between the trees. I've just lured Copper up from the basement, his sometime home this rainy summer. He spent the night in a thunder shirt, which keeps his trembling at bay.

Watching his fear of rain and storms intensify with age has taught me a thing or two about fear, about the way it takes a body over and will not let it go.

Easy enough to say, "Don't worry, little guy. Nothing's going to hurt you." But harder to prove, and he knows it.

I keep all this in mind for my middle-of-the-night wakings, tell myself what I tell him. I don't believe it, either.

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Friday, August 3, 2018

August Greens

Who would think it possible that in this typically dry and dusty time of year we would have such a bounty of green?

On today's walk I tried to revel in it, appreciate it. I tried to ignore the light rain that was falling even as I ambled.

It's not the kind of summer I'm used to, but it's the kind of summer we've got.

And so are the August greens.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Walk Talk

Yesterday, a walk through Arlington. A walk while talking, which is one of the best kind of walks, though you wouldn't know it by the kind of solo walks I often describe here.

The walk talk is wonderful when it's done with someone with whom one is simpatico — even if that someone is on the other end of a phone line, which was the case yesterday.

The walk talk makes the miles vanish and the heat dwindle. It's not until you find yourself in a cool Metro station that you realize that yes, it was a warm afternoon for a charge up Clarendon Boulevard.

But by then it's too late. The walk is over and the talk is too and though you are indeed rather wilted you are also super-charged by the movement and the conversation.

(Scenes from an Arlington walk, in another season.)


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Kiss and Ride

There are quick pecks, long hugs and brief chats. There's that final rummaging in bags for keys or other items that must be exchanged. I see all of this and more as I wait for the Arlington (ART) 43 bus each morning on Clarendon Boulevard.

Without an official "Kiss and Ride" lane, as there are at suburban Metro stations throughout the system, commuters must make do. So, there are last-minute maneuverings, swerves to the curb, double parking in the bus lanes.

But there is always that moment when passenger and driver turn to each other for a word or an embrace before heading off into their separate days. It's a ritual I never tire of watching, the human element of the commuting drama: kiss ... and ride.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Smile Lines

It's the last day of a soggy July, and I'm reminding myself that if we have to have extreme weather, better excess moisture than excess heat. People in northern California wouldn't mind some rain about now, as they struggle with temps of 110 and a fire so intense that it's creating its own winds and tornadoes.

Compared with that, I can easily find something nice to say about the frequent showers and thundershowers, the coziness they impart on a rainy Saturday afternoon. How they nurture the young trees we planted this spring. How little watering there is to do.

Of course, if I really could choose, I'd prefer ample rains that fall at night and leave the days sunny and clear. But since I can't, I'm remembering lines from a Robert Frost poem about reconciling the choices we can't make. They always make me smile.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

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