Tag Archives: Humor

Do I Hear Five?

On May 29, 2011, I was fifty-four and a half years old.  And I was seriously irritated at the GOP in Congress.  You see, they had announced that they were going to take away Medicare from those then under 55 years old.  And that meant me.  I spouted off about it to anyone who would listen.

They’re gonna take Medicare from ME!  I’m 54-1/2!  That’s where they’re gonna start!

After the first 528 times I mentioned this fact to each and every person I could corner, I still felt unsated.  I wanted to tell more people of my irritation.  Whether or not I knew them.

And so I heard a voice inside my head (something I rarely admit to):

Go forth, it said,  and start a blog.

Oh and give it a stupid name to keep yourself humble.

And so I did.  Both of those things.  FiftyFourAndAHalf was born with this post.

Blogging has been a completely different experience than I expected.

My original plan was to do a political/humor blog.  But in spite of a never-ending source of fodder, I found that I wanted to write about other things, too.  That part didn’t really surprise me.

What surprised me was that blogging, and Word Press, became a place where I met new friends, discussed topics important to me.  Where I laughed and cried along with folks I will probably never meet.

Thanks, everybody.  And while I’ve been writing less than usual and reading less than usual, I love the special place that is the ‘sphere.  So, yeah, thanks for being out there, for reading, and for giving me stuff to read too.

From Daily Kos.com

From Daily Kos.com

 

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My Life — It’s All Wrong — Again (Still?)

Somehow, I got the story of my life wrong.

I’m really not at all sure how it happened.   But apparently I did.  I don’t like to talk about it.  But I can feel you twisting my arm.  UNCLE!!!!

The thing is, I’ve been telling the story of my life for years.  For my whole life, in fact.  It’s fascinating.  Intriguing.  Hilarious.  Well, it is the way I tell it, anyhow.

It’s the stuff of legends.  Because like every good heroine in every good novel, I had a transformation.  A metamorphosis.  A change of life (no, not that kind).   I went from being a pathetic, shy, “please don’t notice me” sort of person into, well, me.  The person I am today.  And you will agree, that I am not shy, retiring or ashamed of breathing air.  But I used to be.  Really.  You can trust me on that. You see, I was there.

Besides, I can pinpoint the transformation.  I know exactly when the moth turned into the butterfly.  It happened on  January 22, 1977.

As it happened, I’d moved to Boston in October, and truth be told I was horribly lonely.  Living away from home was not the wild time I had dreamed of in my yearning to be an adult living in the big city away from my parents.  There I was living in Boston, a city filled to breaking point with people my age, but I didn’t know a soul.   I had no friends.  No one to talk to.  No one to go out with, and I hated going out by myself. I was miserable.

Actually, I was so painfully shy that I avoided talking to anyone I didn’t have to.  I didn’t know how to make friends.  I was afraid that if people knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me.  So I made sure that no one had any opinion of me at all.  I was pretty much invisible.

In fact, that’s how I had always lived my life.  In high school, I had a small group of close friends, and really didn’t ever try to go beyond them.  I was in Players, but there I could pretend to be someone else.  That’s what we were supposed to do.  But mostly, I was still friends with the folks I’d gone to junior high school with.  I didn’t branch out much.  I kept quiet, kept my head down.  Nobody knew me.  I always worried that if people knew what I was really like that they wouldn’t like me.  So I didn’t let anybody in.  Then if they didn’t like me, well, they didn’t know me.

My invisibility was confirmed a year or so after my transformation when I was parking my car at my hometown’s train station.  My boyfriend Erik was with me, when Kevin, the heart-throb of Players pulled up next to me.  I’d had a huge crush on Kevin all through school.  He played the lead in all the plays, could sing and dance and was incredibly handsome and talented.   In spite of that Kevin was always nice to me – in fact, he was one of the first people to seriously encourage me to sing.

(Google Image)

(Google Image)

I got out of the car, walked over to him and said:

“Hi Kevin, it’s Elyse.  How are you?”

“Ummm,” said Kevin, clearly not recognizing me.

“We went to high school together,” I reminded him.  I mentioned the plays we’d done together.  Erik stood next to me.

“Sorry,” he said.  “I don’t remember you.”  And he walked away.

Naturally, I was mortified.  It was proof positive, in front of a witness, that I had been invisible.  That nobody had noticed me.  That this guy who had really actually given me my first smidge of confidence on the stage didn’t remember me.  (And we won’t even get into the fact that he could have just said, ‘oh, yeah, how are you doing, it’s been a while.’)

Now, back to my transformation.

Being shy was fine as long as I was at home – my few friends were still nearby.  But when I moved?  I didn’t know a soul.  Worse, I didn’t know how to make friends.  And I had no idea how to learn a skill that I believed you either have or don’t have.  I didn’t have it.

In January 1977 I found myself in the hospital.  Sick, miserable, far from home and family.   My boss, on his way to visit a sick colleague, stopped in to say hello.  He was embarrassed as I was sitting in my hospital bed (appropriately) in my nightgown.  He didn’t stay long.    Nancy, my office mate, came too.  But she was older, married with kids.  She too could only stay a minute.   My parents came up over the weekend.   Otherwise, my only contact was with doctors and nurses.  People who got paid to talk to me.

Cambridge Hospital

(Google Image)

It was pathetic.  I was pathetic.  I had no friends.  Nobody cared.  I cried myself to sleep for the first two nights I was there.

On the 22nd, a light bulb went off.

Maybe if I talked to other people, if I took my nose out of my book, well then maybe, maybe I could make a friend or two.

And really at that moment I decided that being shy was stupid.  All it got me was loneliness.  And being lonely for life, well, that didn’t sound at all appealing.

So I forced myself to be not shy.  I made myself talk to people I didn’t know.  To let them get to know me and decide, based on knowing what I was really like, whether they liked me or didn’t.

But talking to strangers is really hard.  So I developed a fool-proof strategy.  Whenever I was with someone I didn’t know, I’d say to them:

“Don’t you hate trying to figure out what to say to people you don’t know?”

As it turns out, everybody hates trying to figure out what to say to people they don’t know.  And they all have something to say about just how hard it is!

I’d stumbled onto success.  And then I went further.  I was nice to people.  I made them laugh.  I asked them about their lives.  Let them tell me their stories.  Let them help me develop my own.

I was a different person.  A completely different person.

I even have a witness to this transformation.  You see, I was in a play that winter/spring.  Rehearsals started in January, just before I went into the hospital.  And at the first couple of rehearsals, I sat next to Howard.  Howard kept chatting me up, being friendly to me.  I had my nose in a book, grunted my answers and really was too shy to be more than polite.

OK, so I was a bitch to Howard.  He remembers.  He would testify to the existence of the shy Elyse.  After my metamorphosis, Howard became one of my closest friends.

It’s a great story isn’t it?

But, you ask, how did you get it wrong, Elyse?  You know I’m going to tell you.

You see, about 3 years ago, I went to a reunion of my high school acting group, the Players.  It was the 50th anniversary of the start of the group, which is well-known in Southern Connecticut.  There was to be a tour of the completely renovated school building, a review show starring Players from all the different eras who still lived in the area, a dinner and many, many drinks.

My old, close friend and fellow Player Sue and I decided to meet and share a hotel room.  I picked her up at the train station, and we drove through our memories together.  It was great – we caught up, laughed, acted like 16 year olds who were allowed to drink.  We had a blast.

At some point, I mentioned to her how shy I was in high school.

Shy kid

“You weren’t shy in high school.”

“Yes I was.  I was horribly shy.  Afraid of everyone.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“Well, you were one of my best friends,” I responded.  “Of course I wasn’t shy with you.”

Sue looked at me skeptically and the conversation went on to more interesting topics.

The next day, the day of the reunion, we linked up with other friends from our era.  Of course my close friends remembered me.  But so did people I didn’t remember.  In fact, most people from those days remembered me.  I was shocked.  How could people remember  invisible me?

I mentioned my surprise to Karen.  Now Karen was someone I looked up to.  She was (is) smart.  Funny.  Talented.  She’s someone I would have liked to have been close to in high school, but, really, I was way too shy.  And she was really cool.

“I would have had a lot more fun in high school if I hadn’t been so shy,” I said to Karen.

“Elyse, what are you talking about?” Karen said, her eyebrows furrowed and her entire body leaning towards me across the table.   “You were exactly like you are now back in high school.  Talkative.  Funny.  Vivacious.  You weren’t shy in the least.

Vivacious?  Me?

According to everybody there, which constituted most of my high school universe, the story I’d told for decades is wrong.  I was not shy.  I did not transform.  I am probably not even a damn butterfly.

I am so confused.  How do you get the story of your own life wrong?

*     *     *

I decided to re-post this piece from last year after a fun discussion about introverts and extroverts over at Gibber Jabber.

So what are you, an introvert, an extrovert, or as brilliantly suggested by Glazed suggested in yesterday’s comments, an ambivert?

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Everybody Hates Birthdays

It’s Duncan’s First Birthday!

There are presents!

There are treats!

There are new things that squeak!

And there are these damn hats.

What’s with these damn hats?

 

I am going to bite that woman.

I am going to you, Mom.  Hard.  Really, really hard.

 

Now that he’s a year old, Duncan is no longer a puppy.  So he has to behave.  Right?  Right?

Actually he’s started behaving better already.  He didn’t eat the hat.  That’s a start.

 

 

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Earth Day/Birthday — Recycled Recycled Post

Today, April 22, is Earth Day!  It’s the 45th Anniversary of the very first Earth Day.  Here is Walter Cronkite’s report on the first Earth Day, 1970:

It would also be my late sister Judy’s 63rd birthday.

Whoever made the decision to turn Judy’s birthday into Earth Day chose wisely.  Judy was a born environmentalist and recycler.

On the first Earth Day, Judy was a new, very young mother who believed in saving the planet.  She was the first “environmentalist” I ever knew personally, and well, I thought she was nuts.  There was a recycling bin in her kitchen for as long as I can remember.  And this was back when recycling took effort.  She believed in gardens, not garbage, and she made life bloom wherever she was.

I’ve got kids,” she’d say.  “It’s their planet too!”  

But years later, Judy took recycling to a whole different level when she helped people recycle themselves.  In the 1990s, Jude, who was then living in Florida, began working with the Homeless, assisting at shelters.   Then she actively began trying to help homeless vets find food, shelter and work — to enable them to jump-start their lives.

When she died in early 2000, the American Legion awarded her honorary membership for her services to homeless vets.  A homeless shelter was named in her  honor.  So she’s still doing good works, my sister is.  That would make her wildly happy.

Jude also gave me the Beatles.  So it is very appropriate that they wrote a song for her.

You see, the night the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, it was MY turn to choose what we were going to watch.  And we were going to watch the second part of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh starring Patrick McGoohan on the Wonderful Wide World of Disney.  My four (all older and MUCH cooler) siblings were furious with me.  But I was quite insistent.  You might even say that I threw a Class I temper tantrum over it, but I wouldn’t admit to that.  But hey, I was seven.  And it was my turn to choose.  Fair is fair, especially in a big family with only one TV.

Somehow, Judy talked me out of my turn.  She was always very persuasive.  Thanks Jude.

Hey Jude, Happy Earth Day-Birthday.

*     *     *

If this looks/sounds familiar, it’s because I recycled this post from last year.  Because you should never use fresh when you can reuse something already written.  And you can never get enough of “Hey Jude.”

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Dog in a Box?

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m a dog lover.  Even when I want to throttle my own dog, Duncan, I love him.  So I don’t.  Throttle him, that is.

If you know anything about dogs, you know that they are bursting with personality.  Each and every one of them.  But until you get to know a dog, you don’t often get to know what they’re all about.

So Guinnevere Shuster, a photographer who works for an animal adoption organization in Utah, found a creative way to capture the personalities of several dogs who were up for adoption.  She put them in a photo booth.

Here are my favorite photo groups:

I need someone with a good sense of humor to humor me

I need someone with a good sense of humor to humor me

And this one:

Seriously.  You can't go wrong with a guy like me

Seriously. You can’t go wrong with a guy like me

There are more photo series at this article.  Thanks for this one go to my son Jacob who sent it on to me.  Thanks, kiddo.

And since I can’t do a dog post without a new picture of Duncan, here you go:

Duncan 4-19-15

Camera Shy Duncan 4-19-15

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My Silver Lining – Shining Again

It’s Easter Sunday.  On Easter in 1997, my Mom passed away.  It was a relief for her, I’m quite sure, as she’d been ill for many years.  For the rest of us, our sadness was soothed, knowing that she was no longer suffering.

My Dad was devastated.  I’ve written about the two of them before, most memorably here (in my best piece of writing, ever).  I’ve been working on another story about the two of them to post soon, but I thought today I’d post this one again.  Because I’m thinking of her and missing her.  This post makes me realize just how lucky I’ve been, even when I’ve been unlucky.

My Silver Lining

Thursday, November 22, is Thanksgiving in the U.S.  It is also the 30th anniversary of the surgery I had for what was then thought to be severe ulcerative colitis.  It was a difficult time for me, but one for which I will be thankful for on Thanksgiving and really every day.  Yes, I got my health back as a result of the surgery, but that wasn’t the best part. The most important part, the silver lining, was that I got to know my Mom, and it started a close relationship that lasted for the rest of her life and that I will feel grateful for for the rest of mine.

Mom was the sweetest woman on the planet.  My friends adored her.  Our house was always open to hoards of kids.  We lived near the beach, and it was convenient for everybody to just hang at our house.  But it was more than that. For years dozens of teens used our house as their home away from home.  There was always room, always plenty to eat, always a welcome.  No one was ever turned away, and the answer to “can So-And-So stay the night” (or “the weekend” or in some cases “the summer”) was always “sure.”

But we weren’t close, Mom and I.  I was Daddy’s girl from the start.  Mom, well, I loved her.  I even liked her, mostly.  It’s just that there wasn’t a whole lot about Mom to make me respect her.  She was completely helpless, you see.  Hopelessly so.  I can’t stand that and never have been able to deal with dependent people.  And “helpless”?  That was Mom in a nutshell.

She didn’t drive.  She didn’t shop without Dad.  She didn’t go for a walk alone.  She didn’t try to take control of family problems and help figure out how to solve them.  She waited for my dad to get home to reprimand, make a decision, to blow her nose, or so it seemed.  She was utterly and totally dependent upon my Dad.  It was incredibly annoying to this girl growing up in the late sixties and seventies during one of the strongest pushes for equal rights for women.  My friends’ mothers were out protesting the Vietnam War.  Mine didn’t even vote.  They burned their bras; Mom ironed hers.  They voiced their opinions ever more loudly.  Mom looked to Dad to indicate which way was up.

After I left home and became more self-sufficient, my irritation at Mom’s inability to do anything without Dad’s help, grew.

So when Mom announced, just weeks before I was to have radical, difficult surgery, that she was going to come to help, well, I panicked.  She was going to help me?  Yeah right.

Her announcement sent me into apoplexy.  It was the worse possible news heaped on a whole ream of really shitty news.  Who the hell was going to help her?

I lived with my roommate, Keily, and my 120 lb. alcoholic German Shepherd, Goliath, in a tiny Washington, DC, townhouse, in a not terribly safe area.  I was sure that Mom would get mugged — she’d make an easy target.  I feared that she would let the dog out and they would both die.  I drove a battered and temperamental VW Bug with a stick shift that Mom didn’t know how to use.  And of course, I wasn’t going to be able to help her because I was going to be recovering from having my guts totally ripped open and reorganized. I couldn’t believe she would do this to me.

At the same time I couldn’t hurt her feelings and tell her that I didn’t want her.  Nope.  I could never have done that.  Not if my life depended on it.  Which of course, it might.

But once she dropped that bomb, I stopped worrying about the surgery, about the recovery, about everything except how I would take care of my caretaker.  Thankfully, my brother Fred came to help too.  He could drive my car; he could help with Mom for the week he took off from work.  My roommate, Keily, was a star, too.  (That’s a whole different story.)  But Mom came for what was a very long recovery, 2-1/2 months, so felt like I’d be pretty much on my own in taking care of her.

It wasn’t long after she arrived before I realized that Mom without Dad was a different person.  Dad loved the caretaker role, and she was happy to let him play it.  Without Dad, Mom had opinions on stuff, could make decisions and could give savvy and sage advice.  I decided quickly that maybe she and I were related after all.

And as soon as we got to the hospital, I was incredibly glad she was there.  I was admitted and headed up to my room, sending Mom and Fred to get settled in their hotel.  It was about dinnertime, which didn’t matter to me; I’d been on a clear liquid diet for about a week.  And while I was starving, I knew I couldn’t eat.  I had my instructions from my doctor:

(1) Do not eat; (2) Continue taking your medicines just like you are now; (3) Show up to the hospital.  (Always pay attention to the details when your guts are on the line.)

Now Hopkins is one of the best hospitals in the country and it was also one of only two places in the country where the operation I was to have could be performed.  The surgery was brand, spankin’ new – just a smidge beyond experimental.  It was dangerous.  It was highly specialized.   My doctors were to take out my large intestine, rearrange what was left of my plumbing so that things worked normally, and close me up.  Two surgeries were involved – they had to give me a colostomy (ewwww – a bag) in between the two surgeries while my innards healed.  Only 100 of these surgeries had been done in the world.  I was my surgeon’s 7th.  I was scared shitless which is saying a whole lot for a girl with bowel trouble.

But when I got to the hospital, everything went wrong.  They tried to insist I eat; they tried to give me the wrong medicine; they forgot about me and left me hanging out in my room where I fell asleep for several hours before someone wondered who I was.

The grand finale came when two nurses wheeled in an EKG machine, hooked me up and turned it on – and the machine started smoking.   The nurses, trying valiantly not to laugh, had to quickly unplug it and get it out of there.

“MOM!!!!”

I called her at her hotel in a complete panic, hysterical. “I am not going to have this surgery.  What kind of a hospital is this?  They can’t even get an EKG machine to work.  It was smoking Mom, SMOKING!!!!  I’m not.  I’m not. I’m not.”

How is it that Moms know just how to calm down the most hysterical daughter?  I was and she did.  And she didn’t need Dad one little bit.  Yup, she calmed me down, and then, I heard later, called the nurses’ desk and chewed them out royally.  I’m pretty sure that was the first time she’d ever chewed anyone out.  But she wasn’t going to let anybody or anything upset her daughter or get in the way of the surgery that her daughter desperately needed.

And whatever she said worked.  Nothing else got screwed up.  They paid attention to her daughter. In fact, Helpless Mom became SuperMom.  She corralled doctors when they didn’t come in a timely manner, she sweet-talked most of the nurses and they seemed to come around more and more often as they laughed and joked with Mom.  She was on a first name basis with all the residents and interns, knew if they were married, where they were from.  They got a little bit of mothering whenever they came into the room, and she charmed the lot of them.

She was always full of laughter, encouragement and fun.  Except when her sixth sense told her that I was feeling sorry for myself; then she’d tell me to stop sniveling.  Sometimes I needed that.

Back at home, she was great too.  She found the grocery store and walked to and from, lugging bags of food.  She fed me and Keily, gave beer to the dog, helped me get upstairs and downstairs.  Helped me do many things that were totally disgusting.  She helped me be independent again.

We laughed our way through Christmas together and then my birthday in January.  We laughed for two months, barely coming up for air.  We talked a whole lot, too, about everything.  We became fast friends.

There is one incident though, that made me realize that I’d never really known her before.  Could this crazy woman really be my Mom?

We’d driven my VW to Baltimore for a pre-surgical checkup before the 2nd surgery, scheduled for the 9th of February.  It was late January, and there were several inches of snow on the ground.  On the way back home, the VW died in the center lane of a busy highway.  I managed to coast to the side of the road, where the bug sighed once and died.  Shit.  I was still not at my best, and the promise of a long snowy walk was not a pleasant one for either Mom or I.

But a blue Honda Civic two-door driven by a big burly guy pulled up along the roadside next to us.  He rolled down the window and asked if we needed a lift.  I was about to explain that my car had just died and would he please call a tow truck, when, well, Mom jumped into the back seat! I stood there with my mouth flapping. Because I could hear her voice from my childhood talking in the back of my head:

NEVER EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GET INTO A CAR WITH A STRANGE MAN.

THEY ARE ALL RAPISTS

But there she was, the woman who taught me never, ever, to get into a car with a rapist — she was in the back seat of a stranger/potential rapist’s car.  WTF?????  What the hell was she doing?

I didn’t know what else to do, so I got into the front seat.  And there on the floor was something else that shocked me:  A  teddy bear with a green t-shirt that said “I’m Going To Steal Your Love.”

“Wonderful,” I thought, “a rapist with a sense of humor.”

As it turned out, the guy wasn’t a rapist — really!  He took us to a reputable garage where they agreed to tow and fix my damn car.

But the adventure wasn’t over yet — we still needed to get home.  The hotel across from the garage had a shuttle bus that went to BWI Airport.  From there, we were told, there was another shuttle bus that could get us back to DC.  It sounded perfect. Perfect except for the fact that we had hardly any money left  The shuttle to DC only took cash.  No credit cards.  No beads.  No chickens.  Cash.  Shit. We didn’t have enough for the fare, and couldn’t have come up with any more money.  But that didn’t stop Mom. She walked up to the shuttle driver and chatted her up.

“Do you think you can let us both on for $16.50?”

“Sorry M’am, the adult fare is $10.”

“What’s the child’s fee?  I mean, after all, she’s my little girl.”

The driver let us both on, shaking her head and smiling at Mom.  Feeling like she’d done a good deed (she had).

Mom was there for my second operation, and then she headed home with Dad who had come up for it.  When he arrived, Mom didn’t just let Dad do everything as she always had before.  She showed him around — showed him her turf.  She had realized that she really liked feeling in charge, and doing things on her own, for herself and for me.

For the rest of Mom’s life, she and I had a whole different relationship.  I had always loved her, always liked her.  But her care for me, and her resourcefulness and sense of duty and just plain fun let me develop a respect for her I’d never had.

I’ve always felt lucky in a way to have had these health problems.  Because they gave me my Mom.  I would never have known her, never have laughed with her so very much.  I wouldn’t have heard the stories of her life, told with love and humor, the way she did everything. So on Thanksgiving, I will raise a special toast to Mom, my SuperMom.

Could you say “no” to this woman?

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Crazy family members, Family, Humor, Illness, laughter, Mom, rapists, Surgery

Lovely Rita

Lovely Rita meter maid,
Nothing can come between us,
When it gets dark I tow your heart away.
Standing by a parking meter,
When I caught a glimpse of Rita,
Filling in a ticket in her little white book.
In a cap she looked much older,
And the bag across her shoulder
Made her look a little like a military man.

How can you live in America, be named Rita, and have never heard “Lovely Rita”?

It was 1979, and I worked at the office of the International Tax Program. (WAKE UP!!!! I’m not gonna talk about tax, I promise.) The ITP was a pleasant place to work part time, as I was in my freshman year of college. The people who worked there were an incredibly kind bunch of folks.

My desk sat right out front in the area immediately inside the doors to the ITP’s offices. My desk was right next to Rita’s, the receptionist.

Naturally from the moment I met her, and from the instant I walked into the doors of the office every day for a year, I could hear the song.

Lovely Rita, Meta Maid …

I often called her “Lovely Rita” which is unlike me, and was even more unlike me when I was 21. I hummed the song and sang it softly all the time. The ear worm lasted the whole year I worked in the office.

My lovely Rita was an older woman – about 40 at the time, which seemed as ancient to me then as it seems young to me now. She’d emigrated from Germany, some years before, and was not at all familiar with English-language pop music.

It was some months after starting to work there that I learned Rita had never heard her own song. How could that be?

Naturally I went home planning to take the record into the office. But I couldn’t find my copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Anywhere.  It had vanished.

Nobody in the office had it, either. Nor did any of my friends.

I searched a couple of used record stores in Boston, and enlisted the help of my roommate, Elizabeth who was a record-store junky. Somehow, there were no copies of the album anywhere.

Unwilling to be completely defeated, I enlisted some talented friends – folks I’d been performing with in amateur musicals. Together, me, Erik and Terry serenaded Lovely Rita with her song.

We sounded something like this:

Well.  Kind of like that.

My friend, my lovely Rita loved it.  For the rest of the time I worked there, she would hum along with me when I sang it.

*     *     *

This is my entry in Knocked Over By A Feather’s Beatles Contest.  The rules are pretty simple — tell a story using the lyrics to any one of several Beatles songs:  Across the Universe, Baby You’re a Rich Many, Good Day Sunshine, Hey Bulldog or Lovely Rita.  Guess which one I chose.

Go and enter.  It’s fun.

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Filed under Beatles, Boston, Geneva Stories, Humor, Music