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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Let the Good Times Roll

There’s always one.

That simple statement. That obvious observation. That epitomizing epiphany that encapsulates and validates the reasons why you feel compelled to spend money you don’t have, consume calories you can’t afford and belt out easy listening-lyrics at piano bars with people you don’t know.

And sometimes it’s a conglomeration of uh-duh’s that confirm what you’ve known all along. 

When we turned 40, I gathered a dozen buddies for a Break-from-Babies trip to the Bahamas. At 45, ten of us Made Mischief in Mexico.  At 50 and 55, we were way too busy, way too poor, or way too foolish not to go on an epic excursion. At 60, I said enough is enough, and bullied them back into submission.

Last week, eight of us rallied for a four-day Celebrate Your Sixties sitcom in New Orleans. We all went to Shippensburg State College, a school in the middle of nowhere that once it got rid of us, elevated itself to a university. We all grew up in Pennsylvania and all have our stories of how we ended up at Shippensburg, as well as how, when and why we left. We have long since dispersed and now hail from North Jersey, Atlanta, Nags’ Head, Boston, Denver, Florida and two different towns in Pennsylvania. But, college roots run deep and our friendship has persevered for the last hundred-and-fifty years.

My namesake, Betsy, flew in from Boston. She detoxed every morning on the treadmill, while the rest of us felt that a meandering six-mile trek through town was more than sufficient to count as exercise. As we popped  ibuprofen and Celebrex and multi-vitamins in futile attempts to tame our aching bones, backs, hands and hearts, we collectively marveled how, "at her age," Betsy's knees were still fully intact.

“I run because I still can,” she said, knocking on wood.

When I graduated from college, I took a Trailways bus to Arizona to spend the summer with Ann. We went on tons of side excursions, one of which was to Las Vegas. For Christmas the following year, she presented me with a Golden Nugget silver dollar mounted in a shadowbox. You’ll always have one more silver dollar, she said, just as Gregg Allman had. Ann is generous, is always the first to pick up a tab and refuses to let money rule her life. 

The morning after a 12-hour stint in back-to-back-to-back bars (including, but not limited to, aforementioned piano bar with my new best friend from Charleston), we got to giggling and gasping over crumpled receipts.

“Who cares?” Ann said, sagely. “It’s only money.”

Jeanne gets a kick out of life. But, and note the but, she doesn’t drink. At least not like the rest of us. I may be overestimating if I say she had three drinks in four days. Jeanne laughs loudly. Talks boldly. And remembers every minute of every minute we forget. 

“You sure you don’t want a drink?” we coaxed.

“Nope,” she said, tossing dollar bills into the piano player's tip basket between American Pie and Brown Eyed Girl. “I really don't need one. It’s enough for me just to be with you girls.”

Kathy, on the other hand, knows that liquor licks wounds, warms hearts and wins hospitality awards. She had a bottle of Tito’s, a bottle of Maker’s Mark, limes, lemons, ginger ale and buckets of ice waiting poolside when I finally Ubered my way to the hotel. She upgraded her room to a suite so we’d have a place to pre- or post-game. And was never content to sit in one spot for hours on end.

“There’s just so much to do. So much music to hear,” she said, grabbing Sue and whisking her off to the jazz clubs on Frenchmen Street while the rest of us sat and sat and sat some more listening to background music, eating overpriced cheese platters and drinking copious amounts of wine at Bacchanal, an outdoor bar in the Ninth Ward, filled with kids half our age. And younger.

Sue has long been the friend to whom I turn when I need reassurance. No matter how bad, no matter how wrong. She will always find the light. She will never, ever place blame. Find fault. Or wish away what we’ve got. And so, naturally, I glommed (my new favorite Kathy word) onto her as we zig-zagged our way through the Big Easy.

“You think …?” I started.

“Stop. Relax,” she said, in a completely different tone than the ‘relax’ I get from the daughter. “Everyone is fine. Everyone is having a great time. We always do.”

And we were, indeed, having a great time. So much so, that the next morning I said to my cellmate, Ann, “When I think back to last night, I find myself alternately shaking my head with shame and cracking myself up." 

“That’s what makes it a good night,” she responded wisely.

Speaking of which, the daughter, who has lived in New Orleans for four years, was wise enough not to get too deeply involved with us. We met her amazing roommate, Tonia, at dinner one night and her ultra-lovely friend, Kate, for brunch.  Jill, who can procure a free meal for an entire restaurant when one poor soul has been served raw chicken, is the only one of us with a grandchild. At least that we're aware of. The daughter, mine, not hers, is currently in flux over where to live, what to do and whether life is about to pass her by.

“One thing I’ve found,” Jill said in earnest. “Is that things come at you in the most unexpected ways. Don’t worry about boys or jobs or money. Just let life happen.”

On our last night, after barreling into a fairly subdued restaurant where Kate’s husband was bartending (we identified him from collective memories of wedding pictures on his wife’s iPhone), we hoofed it back to the hotel. Or hobbled, as the case may be. I have aching knees on the best of days, but that was not the best of days. I had awakened to an additional shooting pain down the length of my leg. I thought walking would be the best remedy, but found myself limping along like Tiny Tim. (Not the one who tiptoed through the tulips. The Dickens' one.) I shooed my friends away, assuring them that I wouldn’t get mugged or fall down, or cry, preferring, as always to play the martyr. Peggy, who suffers from Reynaud’s Disease, which means that among other nasty symptoms,  she is always cold, shivered beside me.

“Go, Margaret,” I said. “Honestly. I am fine. Catch up to everyone else.”

“I will never leave you,” she responded.

And, before we knew it, another adventure had come to an end. We said our good-byes with lumps in our throats and promises to do it again soon. And, we will. Because each and every one of us had a really good reason why we should continue to spend money we don't have, consume calories we can't afford and belt out easy-listening lyrics at piano bars with people we don't know.

Because we still can.
Because it’s only money.
Because it’s enough just being with the girls.
Because there’s so much to do. So much music to hear.
Because we know how to have a great time.
Because we shake our heads with shame and crack ourselves up.
Because we never know what life will throw us.
Because we will never limp home alone.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Forever and ever, Amen.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mayans, Mormons, Margaritas and Marriages

“Oh, thank God!” Stuart, who we did not yet know as Stuart, effused as Patty and I stepped into line behind him. It was the kind of greeting two 60 year-olds would neither expect, nor deflect, for that matter, coming from a handsome 40-something year-old standing hand-in-hand with a beautiful brunette.  

“We were afraid we were going to be the only two doing this!” he said. “I’m Stuart. This is my wife, Jamie.”

In the middle of exchanging niceties, two twenty-somethings flurried breathlessly into line, donned in bikinis and sarongs. 

“We had to buy Nicole a swimsuit!” Kelly, who we did not yet know as Kelly, revealed. She spoke in South Californian and sported a huge Native American symbol inked on her left thigh. And ear gauges. 

“She missed the bus to the Mayan ruins so I said, ‘Come do this with me!’ So we bought her a swimsuit from one of those Mexican guys for 35 bucks.”

I didn’t even have to look at Patty. We both knew how this story would end. 

When we hit the ports on our annual cruises, Patty and I often book the Most Popular! Most Fun! excursions. We go snorkeling, even though I recoil at the mere thought of a fish swimming betwixt and between my legs. But, I’m a good friend and it’s one of Patty’s pleasures, so I acquiesce, though often swim maskless in the Caribbean Sea to avoid magnification of those brightly-colored, slimy-finned creatures. We’ve done our share of tastings and tours and walking around tourist-made towns buying junk we neither want nor need. 

But sometimes we shake things up a bit. In St. Kitts, we took a rickety ride on a rickety train through defunct sugar plantations with a bunch of senior citizens. In Tortola we went on a motorboat and swam to shore for Painkillers at the Soggy Bottom Bar. In Grand Cayman we rented bicycles and were deposited on deserted seaside trails with nothing more than a ‘See ya in a few hours!’  In Jamaica, we rode a ricketier than the rickety train ski lift up high over the jungle, over the mongooses, to the top of a mountain which we proceeded to zip-line down. Then rode bobsleds like the Olympians do. 

And this year, in Mexico, we went for a Mayan Spiritual Wellness Retreat. There was something so marvelously juxtapositional about the over-the-top over-indulgence of a cruise and “experiencing a holistic day of wellness and spiritual cleanse in Costa Maya” that I simply couldn’t resist. 

So, there we were. With Stuart and Jamie, Nicole and Kelly, being stripped of all our worldly possessions and asked to follow a real-life Shaman through earth, fire, wind and water. 

“Oh, come on! I have to walk around in a bathing suit?” I protested, side-eyeing the forty-year-old, not to mention the twenty-year-old bodies beside me.

“Absolutely no judgment in this group,” said Stuart, bless his heart.

I am a spiritual healer’s worst nightmare. I wriggle. I giggle. I resist. I recoil. And I have never relaxed in my life. But, I am a follower. And so, I followed. 

Right into the room with the purification bath. Looming before me were six deep tubs filled with whatever they fill Mayan baths with. Now, on the best of days, I can’t climb a single stair without shooting pain in my knees. And this, while not the worst of days, was worse than usual as I was nursing an infected, gushing wound on the top of my foot. I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d be able to lower my aching body into this pool of water, if that’s what it was, while keeping one foot out, without landing like a Mayan manatee.

I made it in somehow, some way, without flooding the floor. Patty was next to me on one side, Kelly on the other and we closed our eyes while young Mexican girls poured warm eucalyptus water and healing oils over our bodies and massaged our aching shoulders, craning necks and whirling heads. 

I made it out, somehow, some way, without letting my infected foot hit the bath water that may or may not have been pre-infected from the five, or fifteen previous bathers. One-by-one we were led into the Temazcal by a highly-decorated Shaman who was ours for the keeping.

I have never been in a sauna. Nor have I ever wanted to be. I am claustrophobic and not particularly interested in sweating for sweating’s sake. But I was sure in one now. And I was sure sweating. It was a low, round, palm-fronded sweat lodge with a pit of burning rocks in the center and a bench around the edge where we sat in varying degrees of discomfort. Sir Shaman poured water on the rocks, all the while reminding us that Mother Earth controls everything. And we have no control. Especially of the heat.

Jamie was the first to externally panic. I say externally, because I panicked internally the minute I walked in. And when the Shaman wouldn’t release her, my heart pounded harder. But, Stuart held her hand and got her through. She’d been through way worse. After all, she was a Mormon. But, more on that later. 

I was determined not to attempt escape. First of all, I knew I’d have to fight the Shaman to the ground and secondly, to get out, we had to duck way down and crawl out of a little low door. I still didn’t know everyone well enough to risk them witnessing me wrestle with my bend-resistant knees. And a Shaman.

Patty hung in there surprisingly well. Nicole actually seemed to enjoy herself. And Stuart, well, he was the man in the group, so he couldn’t very well crap out on us. 

We chanted. We shook maracas. We screamed. One at a time. Then in unison. 

And then Kelly, the youngest, the bravest, panicked. Really panicked. But the Shaman told her to breathe through it. She re-panicked. And continued to panic. He propped her up by the door, letting her sniff at the outside air like a dog begging to go out. And then, she just up and bolted. 

A good half-hour later, our spirits were renounced or relinquished as the case may be, and we were finally released. We met Kelly on the other side who was now completely recovered, thanks to mystical medicinal means offered up by the Mayans. 

A cold shower and a clay facial later, we were deposited in yet another bath. This time, a coconut bath. Attendants washed us with herbs and massaged our scalps, all the while wondering why the red-headed lady was dangling her left foot ever-so-slightly above the coconutted water line. 

The final ritual was a massage. Covered head-to-toe in what were presumably laundered towels, we were escorted onto brightly-colored hammocks and gently rocked and rolled from above, then elbowed, kneed and kicked from below.

And then, we were done. Renewed. Refreshed. And ready to throw it all to the wind with endless margaritas, pina coladas, guacamole, ceviche, chips and chicken, all delivered proficiently and prolifically by our personal cabana boy to our personal cabana by the beach. 

“Five kids?” I gasped when Jamie told us the size of her brood. 

“We were Mormons,” Stuart laughed. “Of course we had five kids.”

And, as you might imagine, the conversation progressed from there. 

One day, a few years ago, Stuart and Jamie woke up, looked kind of sideways at each other and said, “Hey! Here’s an idea. Let’s question our cult. Leave our religion. Live our lives!” And then, did just that. Ever since, they’ve been caffeinating and cursing, drinking and dancing, showing skin and shedding inhibitions. Just like the rest of us Present Day Saints.

Nicole, the Florida transplant from Rhode Island, courageously went on the cruise alone. She knew she'd meet a slew of other veterinary technicians onboard for continuing education credits at sea and had already Facebook met her roommate, Kelly. But still. And then to be paired up with the likes of us in Costa Maya on an adventure she never signed up for that culminated in hours and hours of circular conversation talking Mormon with the Mormons and marriage with Kelly.

Kelly, the 23 year-old with the thigh-sized tattoo and the finger-sized holes in her ears. Kelly, who I betrothed to my youngest son in a text. 

“Will you marry Kelly?” I typed mid-Margarita. Without typos, I might add. “She is SO not your type but I love her so much. She’s such a good and genuine person.”

To which he responded, “Bring her back with you. I shall marry her.”

Nothing that afternoon, and I mean nothing, was taboo.

There’s not much I don’t love about this life I live. But one of the things that brings me the very most joy is when I discover unexpected treasures in unexpected people. When I come across humans who are unfiltered and unafraid to answer off-colored questions. Who aren’t afraid to expose their imperfections and immoralities. Who share their sagas and bare their souls knowing that they’ve found a kindred spirit who will embrace them and celebrate them, despite coming from a completely different world. 

Perhaps it was sharing the bizarrest of bizarre experiences. Perhaps it was breathing in the sea air or drinking from the salt-rimmed margaritas, or feeling that Caribbean sun beat down on our backs that kept us one-upping each another with the bizarrieties of our real lives. But, perhaps, we bonded simply because when all was said and drunk, we came to realize that our completely different worlds really aren't so completely different at all. 








Monday, March 26, 2018

Mayans, Mormons and Margaritas

“Oh, thank God!” Stuart, who we did not yet know as Stuart, effused as Patty and I stepped into line behind him. It was the kind of greeting two 60 year-olds would neither expect, nor deflect, for that matter, coming from a handsome 40-something year-old standing hand-in-hand with a beautiful brunette.  

“We were afraid we were going to be the only two doing this!” he said. “I’m Stuart. This is my wife, Jamie.”

In the middle of exchanging niceties, two twenty-somethings flurried breathlessly into line, donned in bikinis and sarongs. 

“We had to buy Nicole a swimsuit!” Kelly, who we did not yet know as Kelly, revealed. She spoke in South Californian and sported a huge Native American symbol inked on her left thigh. And ear gauges. 

“She missed the bus to the Mayan ruins so I said, ‘Come do this with me!’ So we bought her a swimsuit from one of those Mexican guys for 35 bucks.”

I didn’t even have to look at Patty. We both knew how this story would end. 

When we hit the ports on our annual cruises, Patty and I often book the Most Popular! Most Fun! excursions. We go snorkeling, even though I recoil at the mere thought of a fish swimming betwixt and between my legs. But, I’m a good friend and it’s one of Patty’s pleasures, so I acquiesce, though often swim maskless in the Caribbean Sea to avoid magnification of those brightly-colored, slimy-finned creatures. We’ve done our share of tastings and tours and walking around tourist-made towns buying junk we neither want nor need. 

But sometimes we shake things up a bit. In St. Kitts, we took a rickety ride on a rickety train through defunct sugar plantations with a bunch of senior citizens. In Tortola we went on a motorboat and swam to shore for Painkillers at the Soggy Bottom Bar. In Grand Cayman we rented bicycles and were deposited on deserted seaside trails with nothing more than a ‘See ya in a few hours!’  In Jamaica, we rode a ricketier than the rickety train ski lift up high over the jungle, over the mongooses, to the top of a mountain which we proceeded to zip-line down. Then rode bobsleds like the Olympians do. 

And this year, in Mexico, we went for a Mayan Spiritual Wellness Retreat. There was something so marvelously juxtapositional about the over-the-top over-indulgence of a cruise and “experiencing a holistic day of wellness and spiritual cleanse in Costa Maya” that I simply couldn’t resist. 

So, there we were. With Stuart and Jamie, Nicole and Kelly, being stripped of all our worldly possessions and asked to follow a real-life Shaman through earth, fire, wind and water. 

“Oh, come on! I have to walk around in a bathing suit?” I protested, side-eyeing the forty-year-old, not to mention the twenty-year-old bodies beside me.

“Absolutely no judgment in this group,” said Stuart, bless his heart.

I am a spiritual healer’s worst nightmare. I wriggle. I giggle. I resist. I recoil. And I have never relaxed in my life. But, I am a follower. And so, I followed. 

Right into the room with the purification bath. Looming before me were six deep tubs filled with whatever they fill Mayan baths with. Now, on the best of days, I can’t climb a single stair without shooting pain in my knees. And this, while not the worst of days, was worse than usual as I was nursing an infected, gushing wound on the top of my foot. I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d be able to lower my aching body into this pool of water, if that’s what it was, while keeping one foot out, without landing like a Mayan manatee.

I made it in somehow, some way, without flooding the floor. Patty was next to me on one side, Kelly on the other and we closed our eyes while young Mexican girls poured warm eucalyptus water and healing oils over our bodies and massaged our aching shoulders, craning necks and whirling heads. 

I made it out, somehow, some way, without letting my infected foot hit the bath water that may or may not have been pre-infected from the five, or fifteen previous bathers. One-by-one we were led into the Temazcal by a highly-decorated Shaman who was ours for the keeping.

I have never been in a sauna. Nor have I ever wanted to be. I am claustrophobic and not particularly interested in sweating for sweating’s sake. But I was sure in one now. And I was sure sweating. It was a low, round, palm-fronded sweat lodge with a pit of burning rocks in the center and a bench around the edge where we sat in varying degrees of discomfort. Sir Shaman poured water on the rocks, all the while reminding us that Mother Earth controls everything. And we have no control. Especially of the heat.

Jamie was the first to externally panic. I say externally, because I panicked internally the minute I walked in. And when the Shaman wouldn’t release her, my heart pounded harder. But, Stuart held her hand and got her through. She’d been through way worse. After all, she was a Mormon. But, more on that later. 

I was determined not to attempt escape. First of all, I knew I’d have to fight the Shaman to the ground and secondly, to get out, we had to duck way down and crawl out of a little low door. I still didn’t know everyone well enough to risk them witnessing me wrestle with my bend-resistant knees. And a Shaman.

Patty hung in there surprisingly well. Nicole actually seemed to enjoy herself. And Stuart, well, he was the man in the group, so he couldn’t very well crap out on us. 

We chanted. We shook maracas. We screamed. One at a time. Then in unison. 

And then Kelly, the youngest, the bravest, panicked. Really panicked. But the Shaman told her to breathe through it. She re-panicked. And continued to panic. He propped her up by the door, letting her sniff at the outside air like a dog begging to go out. And then, she just up and bolted. 

A good half-hour later, our spirits were renounced or relinquished as the case may be, and we were finally released. We met Kelly on the other side who was now completely recovered, thanks to mystical medicinal means offered up by the Mayans. 

A cold shower and a clay facial later, we were deposited in yet another bath. This time, a coconut bath. Attendants washed us with herbs and massaged our scalps, all the while wondering why the red-headed lady was dangling her left foot ever-so-slightly above the coconutted water line. 

The final ritual was a massage. Covered head-to-toe in what were presumably laundered towels, we were escorted onto brightly-colored hammocks and gently rocked and rolled from above, then elbowed, kneed and kicked from below.

And then, we were done. Renewed. Refreshed. And ready to throw it all to the wind with endless margaritas, pina coladas, guacamole, ceviche, chips and chicken, all delivered proficiently and prolifically by our personal cabana boy to our personal cabana by the beach. 

“Five kids?” I gasped when Jamie told us the size of her brood. 

“We were Mormons,” Stuart laughed. “Of course we had five kids.”

And, as you might imagine, the conversation progressed from there. 

One day, a few years ago, Stuart and Jamie woke up, looked kind of sideways at each other and said, “Hey! Here’s an idea. Let’s question our cult. Leave our religion. Live our lives!” And then, did just that. Ever since, they’ve been caffeinating and cursing, drinking and dancing, showing skin and shedding inhibitions. Just like the rest of us Present Day Saints.

Nicole, the Florida transplant from Rhode Island, courageously went on the cruise alone. She knew she'd meet a slew of other veterinary technicians onboard for continuing education credits at sea and had already Facebook met her roommate, Kelly. But still. And then to be paired up with the likes of us in Costa Maya on an adventure she never signed up for that culminated in hours and hours of circular conversation talking Mormon with the Mormons and marriage with Kelly.

Kelly, the 23 year-old with the thigh-sized tattoo and the finger-sized holes in her ears. Kelly, who I betrothed to my youngest son in a text. 

“Will you marry Kelly?” I typed mid-Margarita. Without typos, I might add. “She is SO not your type but I love her so much. She’s such a good and genuine person.”

To which he responded, “Bring her back with you. I shall marry her.”

Nothing that afternoon, and I mean nothing, was taboo.

There’s not much I don’t love about this life I live. But one of the things that brings me the very most joy is when I discover unexpected treasures in unexpected people. When I come across humans who are unfiltered and unafraid to answer off-colored questions. Who aren’t afraid to expose their imperfections and immoralities. Who share their sagas and bare their souls knowing that they’ve found a kindred spirit who will embrace them and celebrate them, despite coming from a completely different world. 

Perhaps it was sharing the bizarrest of bizarre experiences. Perhaps it was breathing in the sea air or drinking from the salt-rimmed margaritas, or feeling that Caribbean sun beat down on our backs that kept us one-upping each another with the bizarrieties of our real lives. But, perhaps, we bonded simply because when all was said and drunk, we came to realize that our completely different worlds really aren't so completely different at all. 







Friday, March 16, 2018

Mom, I Need Your Help!


“You home from your cruise?” my college student son texted, the day I returned from the Caribbean. “I need your help.”

As a seasoned mother, I have, at long last, learned to leave well enough alone. Sure, I’ll send a hand-wave emoji if a month or two has gone by without communication, but as long as a kid is not living under my roof, I’m not going to go looking for trouble.

I don’t ask for their grades. I don’t check on their finances. I don’t visit their apartments. However, I will admit to off-handedly asking if they are on track to graduate. If they are paying their bills. If they remembered to take out the trash before leaving for a week. But, I don’t really care.

Until, of course, it affects me.

And since my kids rarely send out an SOS, I had to assume that the college boy who voluntarily solicited my help was indeed in serious distress. And whether or not they live at home or live away, by pure parental definition, once I’m aware, I’m affected.

A zillion scenarios floated through my mind as I imagined what was yet to come.

“What kind of doctor do I go to if I have oozing sores on my private parts?”

“I got caught cheating on a test and they won’t let me graduate.”

“I borrowed Jordan’s car and totaled it.”

I put the kibosh on my brain before it delved into the resulting deaths and damages of aforementioned crashed car.

I took a yoga breath and typed, “Fire away.”
                                 
But quickly deleted it, thinking how inappropriate that response would be if, in fact, the help he needed was somehow the result of an apartment in flames.

Instead, I just sent a string of question marks.

I waited.

And waited.

By then I was convinced that he’d been arrested and had used the one phone call he was allowed. Which he traded for one text. I pictured him being strip searched, cavity checked and thrown into a cell with a street thug.

I waited.

And waited.

And wondered how it is that these kids who constantly, and I mean constantly, have a phone in their hands, can’t give an immediate response when they know their mother is waiting frantically, expecting the worst.

Of course, it never occurred to me that perhaps he was in class and maybe even had his phone in his pocket. Where it belonged.

Half a day later, I got a response to my response.

“We got a new landlord who doesn’t take Venmo.”

Which was a bigger problem than one might imagine.

Because, my  college student son doesn’t have any checks. And, if he did, wouldn’t know how to fill one out.

I paused.

“Can you Venmo the rent to one of your roommates and have them write a check?” I suggested, brilliantly.

“No. They’re as clueless as me.”

Which made me think that in the grand scheme of things, this might be more of an issue than any oozing sores I may have envisioned.

My children have long been bankaphobics. Their grandparents and aunts have been way more accommodating than they needed to be. There were years when Grandpa just flat out gave me the Christmas money to distribute. Years when Nana sat in her kitchen shaking her head over uncashed checks. Years when the aunts threatened to withhold all together.

I was fully prepared to take the blame for this character deficit. I really was. But, I am finally able to have a little more clarity in my hindsight, despite the cataract that is beginning to blur the lines. Perhaps I could have added “the writing and cashing of checks and how to navigate the inside of a bank” to my long litany of parenting duties, but I was busy on baseball bleachers, at cheerleading competitions, microwaving chicken nuggets and cleaning pee puddles from the base of toilets.

I taught my kids to be open-minded. To help others. To seek adventure. To follow their hearts. To be kind people. But I never taught them about Wells Fargo.

And, I really didn’t have to. Because, just in the nick of time, along came online banking. Where you can deposit a check with a click of a camera. Where you can Venmo cash into an account in a matter of seconds. Where you can pay your bills without ever even touching one.

But, alas, there always comes the time when you have to do things the old-fashioned way. And that's when the hairs on my neck stand up, my insides start shaking and I begin to beat myself up for not raising my children right.

Which was exactly what happened with the overdue rent that could no longer be paid electronically.

The tough parent in me told the soon-to-be college graduate to get off the couch and take a walk to the local bank and ask them, not me, what to do.

But, as usual, the soft parent in me won out.

“Venmo me the money and I’ll write the check.”

“Thanks, Mom. By the way, it’s spring break. I’ll be home tomorrow.”

"Great! Don't forget your laundry."

I was still reeling internally about my parenting fail when another son, the one who is living at home, asked me why my Instagram name was Mabel Madinsky.

Touched that any 24-year-old, let alone my own, even knows I have an Instagram account, I admitted I had no idea how Mabel made it to my profile page.

“You’ve been hacked,” he said. “Just change your password. And while you’re at it, you should probably change your Facebook and Twitter passwords. Your email one, too.”

“OK,” I said meekly.

He held out his hand.

I surrendered my phone.

Three minutes later, I was back to Betsy and password protected across the board.

My son knew I was out of my element. That I was simply trying to survive in a world I would never fully understand or be able to navigate efficiently.

My son didn’t didn’t berate me. He didn’t make me figure it out myself. He didn’t even roll his eyes.

Because he knows as well as I do, in this ever-changing world, we’re all going to just have to help each other out.

Which is precisely why I didn’t berate my non-check writing soon-to-be college graduate. And I didn’t make him figure it out himself.

But, the rolling of the eyes.

Well, that’s a different story altogether.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Stupid Fun



“So, how was the cruise?” my friend, Susan, asked at church on Sunday, shortly after I had completed prayers for redemption.

“Stupid. It was just stupid,” I said. “It was one big gluttonous overindulgence.”

“But you had fun?”

Of course I had fun. Stupid fun. 

I love gluttony probably thrice as much as the other 2,849 other passengers onboard. I love eating six pieces of bread per meal and being served chocolate bonbons after dessert to top off the chocolate mousse cake. I love being encouraged to order two appetizers rather than choosing between truffled risotto and shrimp cocktail. I love eating filet mignon every night with extra bĂ©arnaise sauce and feeling only the mildest guilt because, after all, I had my FitBit on. I love traveling with someone whose only judgment of my alcohol consumption is that I don’t start the day with a Mimosa.

In real life, I rarely have a 23,000 calorie-per-day feeding frenzy, rather am constantly conscious of what I consume. In real life, I may talk a good game, but the unlimited drink package I’m most interested in starts and ends with Diet Coke. In real life, I am an excessive exerciser, so rigid that I keep detailed records of my daily weight and workouts. 

Not, of course, that any of it makes much of a difference. The amount of damage I do on an annual week-long cruise takes the other 51 weeks to undo.

But, while gluttonous consumption certainly plays its part in enhancing conversation, it's mixology of a different sort that leaves me ever-yearning for the next adventure with my high school gal pal, Patty.

It’s the mixology of people. The mixing and mingling of unrelated strangers. Of different backgrounds. Different views. Different reasons for being where we were and with whom. The joy of learning a little something from everyone we meet. And, in turn, leaving better, if not bigger, people than we were when we boarded the ship. 

The ships on which we sequester ourselves are the size of small cities, filled with thousands of people we can’t escape. The drooling man with the bandaided forehead. The proud Philadelphia couple in their Super Bowl shirts. The stalker from two doors down. The man with the NRA baseball cap.

They’re the ones we laughed about. But not the ones with whom we laughed.

Those were our Canadian friends, Gail and Linda, free-spirits who we met as we sailed into the sunset on our very first night. Beverly and Jim, celebrating their 33rd cruise for their 33rd anniversary. Dale and Pat, two girls at least 15 years our senior, who joined us on a pub crawl in Key West, one with a cane, one with a hangover. Glen, the golf pro and Nora, the nurse who assured me I would not die from my infected foot. Mitch, onboard for an onboard wedding, who would have befriended Patty in a heartbeat. In the biblical sense. Had we only allowed it.

Those were Kristy and Mike, long-time office mates, turned life-long mates. Jennifer and Russ, fun-loving friends who we met much too late. Beth and John, classmates from high school (two towns away from where we grew up), who went off, married other people, dumped those spouses, reconnected on Facebook and lived happily ever after.

Those were the Mormons, Jamie and Stuart; the vet tech, Nicole; and Kelly, my future daughter-in-law with whom we bonded over hot coals, cold drinks, stingrays and spiritual healing. But that, my friends, is another story for another day.

Those were Liz and Jeff who we hated at first sight and then, two martinis in, loved for life. They were the beautiful couple; she with the asymmetrical hair, he with the Robert Graham shirts. They exuded wealth and worldliness and everything else I pretend to disdain. But, alas, we all have our stories, we all have our scars and we all have our skeletons. And we all have the capacity to share our true selves with other true souls. And it's oh, so much easier over multiple cocktails over multiple nights. 

Those were Catherine and David, dry and witty and clearly the smartest people on the ship. The ones who took their jobs and shoved them. Into a BBQ pit. They built an empire out of a hobby through Adrenaline Barbecue Company and now have both the meat and the means to leave their boys with Grandma and spend a week swapping stories and sipping bourbons with the likes of us. 

And those were Linda and John. The kindest people on the face of the sea. Of course, they did visit the onboard priest every morning, undoubtedly praying for our sorry souls and for the strength to make it through yet another dinner with us. Because, while it may come as somewhat of a surprise, when Patty and I entered the dining room, everyone knew it. And that’s not easy for people who are more refined at their worst than we will ever be at our best. We met their four daughters and six-and-a-half grandchildren vicariously, learning as much about each other’s families as we dared to admit. John is the cook. Linda, the excel sheet maker. John keeps up with technology. Linda still has a dumb phone. They have their marriage down pat and their priorities in the right place. But, despite the perfection they project, they still welcomed the imperfections of the two crazy girls who were way too old to be acting as crazy as they were.

Those were the people who we serendipitously met who will pop into our hearts and minds a zillion times over the course of the rest of our lives. I'll think of Dave when I break down and buy my spouse a new Weber grill for Father's Day and Catherine next time I'm in Chapel Hill. I'll think of Linda and John when my first grandchild is born and of Liz and Jeff next time I'm slumped in a doorway. I'll think of Jamie and Stuart when Mitt Romney gets elected and of Gail and Linda when my son hands me a book on Buddhism. I'll think of Beth and John the next time I pass through Bucks County and of Nora when my foot finally heals. I'll think of Nicole when my dog gets sick and of Kelly when Leo walks down the aisle with a flat-chested bride. 

As surely as the tides continue to turn, our lives, too, will evolve in a multitude of different directions.  And as they do, I will hold all those gluttonous partners-in-crime in my heart, forever thankful that random strangers can become fast friends. 

If only for a week of stupid fun at sea.