Regret

I am standing on a sidewalk in Albany, New York with my father.  It is the late 1970s and I am, loosely speaking, a college student (I spend more time working on the college newspaper than in going to class, reading, writing papers or any of that boring stuff).  My father visits me often, for which I am eternally grateful.  Not only does he remind me of that other world, outside of college, but he takes me out to dinner (Yes!  No dining hall goop for me tonight!  Red Lobster, here I come!), buys me milk and orange juice for my tiny refrigerator, and leaves me with a twenty to stuff into my perpetually empty wallet.

I do not drive.  Driving might be a useful skill to have at this point, considering that the dorms are stuffed full with tripled-up students and I am forced to live five miles from campus on the tenth floor of a downtown single room occupancy firetrap hotel.  This means that there is a particular ordeal involved in getting back and forth to campus or getting anywhere else I might want to go:  I ride the bus.

There are the long green college buses, which are free to use with a college ID card, although the drivers almost never ask for it.  However, if I wanted to go anywhere other than up Washington Avenue to campus or back down Western Avenue in the opposite direction, there was the Capital District Transportation Authority, which went by many names.  The CDTA, the city bus, the shame train.  Back then, the fare was forty cents for a ride.  Most of the time, I didn’t have the forty cents.  But when I did (such as right after one of my father’s visits), I knew that if I were standing on the street corner when it was, say, ten below zero with a stiff wind blowing, it was exactly 30 minutes before the start of my first class of the day, and there was no Green Machine in sight, a glimpse of the #12 chugging up State Street hill would be an answer to prayer.  I gained more than a passing familiarity with the city bus schedule.

A bus blows past us and, staring at its tail lights, I remark to my father that I don’t know which bus it is because it has no number displayed in its rear window.

“Why would you want to know that?  To know which bus you just missed?”  My father laughs.  His son is weird.

Well, yes, Dad.  Actually, knowing what bus you just missed is pretty important.  After all, you wouldn’t want to wait out in the cold for a bus that had already come and gone, thinking that it was running late today.  It was important to know that you missed the bus, dummy, now you’re going to miss your European politics class again.

Seeing that “12” in the rear window of the city bus when you’re still about half a block away would occasion nothing but regret.  Regret that I didn’t wake up earlier, regret that I wasn’t able to walk faster, regret that I was forced to live so far from campus, regret that I was even taking this dumb class.  On particularly bad days (sleet and freezing rain come to mind), I would regret attending college in a city with such ungodly weather or I would regret going to college at all.  I knew I would never survive another 2½ years of this (somehow, I did).

Regret is a tough road to go down.  The older you get, the more the regrets accumulate, piling up like snowflakes in an Albany winter.  To get from one day to the next, you lull yourself into complacency by saying that, all in all, you made the right decisions and that, given the chance, you’d do it all again.  You start singing Sinatra.  “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”

But then it hits you over the head suddenly.  Or it comes stealing over you as a foreboding sense of dread in the middle of the night.  Those two words.  What if.

You never know what will be the trigger for these head games.  It could be a remark overheard from two cubicles down the hall at work.  It could be a story on the six o’clock news.  Or for one such as myself who daily gorges upon the smorgasbörd that is the internet, it could be lurking stealthily behind any URL or hyperlink.

This week, the regret monster hit me not once, but twice.

First, I read the story of fiftysomething Dan Lyons, who, after being laid off from his editorial job at Newsweek (just like me, when I was laid off from the state court system!), braved the culture shock of joining a startup firm full of 21 year olds with their bean bag chairs, foosball table, free beer and workspace décor “like a cross between a kindergarten and a frat house.”  Damn, I want to do that!  The place was presided over by a charismatic leader pushing platitudes that evoke both Orwell and Communist Russia.  I keep hearing that, in the tech sector at least, this is the face of corporate culture today.  It fascinates me, and I wish I were a part of it.  This is the reason that, for the last couple of years, I’ve had a vague fantasy love affair with the idea of working for Zappo’s in Las Vegas.  (I unsubscribed from their emails some time ago in order not to be repeatedly reminded of what I’m missing out on in my gray, government bureaucratic job.)

As if that weren’t bad enough, I then ran across an article about people who make a living (get this) writing dictionaries! Kory Stamper’s new book, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, tells the story of what it’s like to be a lexicographer with Merriam-Webster.  For one who is a word nerd and who has loved the intricacies of the English language since childhood, this seems like the ultimate dream job.  I recall reading Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything, about the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary, when it was published almost 15 years ago.  Not long after, at a job interview, I was asked what would be my ideal job if I could do anything in the world.  The interviewer told me his was “rock star.”  I didn’t hesitate when I told him that I wanted to be the editor of the OED.  Need I say that I didn’t get the job?

Alas, nothing is ever as good as it sounds.  Decades ago, I read (mostly while standing in the aisle of a bookstore in Paramus, New Jersey, as I couldn’t afford to actually buy the book) Scott Turow’s memoir of his first year at Harvard Law School.  One L mesmerized me and was certainly one of the factors that influenced me to eventually attend law school.  Yet as much as Turow waxed poetic over “learning to love the law,” I never managed to quite pull off that particular flavor of amour.  I wonder if I’d be similarly disappointed if I were, like Stamper, “falling in love with words.”  The irony that Merriam-Webster is located in Springfield, Massachusetts, the same fading industrial city in which I attended law school, is not lost on me.

Regret returns with a vengeance to bite me in the ass again!  As a third-rate student at a second-rate law school, I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised upon graduating from the big U to the little u (unemployment).  The only employer willing to hire me was Wendy’s (yes, that one, home of the Frosty), and even they were concerned about whether they could find a uniform large enough to fit me.  I ended up going back home to New York to work for a temp agency until I finally found a low-paying job as a typesetter with a weekly newspaper.  I would lay awake at night regretting having wasted three years and untold thousands of dollars, and thinking about burning my law diploma, or tearing it to bits and putting it out with the trash, or perhaps using it as toilet paper and flushing it down the loo (no telling what that would have done to the wonky septic system in my parents’ house).  And all of that when look what I could have done!  I could have just driven my aging Pontiac down to Federal Street and asked for an application to work as a lexicographer!  If only I had known.  How dumb was I not to know what was available right in the very city in which I lived?

I must confess:  After reading the review of Stamper’s book and staring a bit too wistfully at the MW dictionary with the red cover that I’ve owned since junior high and that now graces my desk at work, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at Merriam-Webster’s website to see if there were any jobs posted.  My labor was all in vain.  While the link to “Join MWU” was tantalizing, it was not about joining the staff but about paying $29.95 annually to join an email subscription to definitions to “over 250,000 words that aren’t in our free dictionary.”  There was a “contact” link on the website, but none of the categories on the drop-down menu had anything at all to do with career opportunities.

The fog soon cleared and it all started to make sense.  Stamper herself admits that when she first tells others that she works writing dictionaries, “one of the first things they ask is if we’re hiring.”  Well, it wasn’t long before I came across another article citing that, with the popularity of free dictionaries online, Merriam-Webster, which didn’t have a large staff to begin with, recently laid off seventy employees.

All of which teaches me that you can’t go home again.  Even Dan Lyons soon left the startup for greener pastures.  Scott Turow became a novelist.  And Kay Stamper, while still a lexicographer, no longer occupies an office in the brick building on Federal Street, but now telecommutes from her home near Philadelphia.

Life goes on, but I know that, sooner or later, I will read or hear or see something that will once again have me craning my neck to make out the number of the bus that has passed me by.  As my wife often reminds me, I need to learn to be content, to count my blessings.  To tell that bus “later, gator.”

And it’s true.  Life’s been good, so there’s no need to constantly ruminate about the road not taken.  Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…

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Talkin”Bout My Generation

Big Sky

Montana:  Big sky, open highway

The 2017 Great American Escape

BILLINGS, MONTANA

I have long had an eclectic appreciation of popular music.  During my childhood, my father introduced me to big band music and show tunes; later, I got into ’50s doo-wop and then country music and finally the hits of the ’70s and ’80s.  I pretty much lost track of pop music around 1990.

This can mean only one thing:  I’m getting old.  The music on my iPhone largely represents the days of my youth.  And I guess I’m not alone.  A lot of us Baby Boomers are starting to sport silver hair, serve as fodder for AARP and create commercial opportunities for all things retro.

To verify that my musical tastes are in line with the masses of my generation, I need only to visit a store or restaurant and pay attention to the background music piped in through the speakers.  Last night, for example, as we perched on stools at a casino bar in rural Nevada and stabbed at the video poker machines, I couldn’t help but notice that the house music was the Sirius XM channel 80s on 8.  As I sipped my soda, I realized that nearly every song I heard is on my phone.  Cyndi Lauper?  Check.  Madonna?  Check.  Michael Jackson?  Check.  Bananarama?  Check. Men at Work?  Bon Jovi?  Prince?  Check, check, check.  I guess my age group is supposed to have money and has thus become the target audience to woo.

This morning, we stopped for breakfast in Twin Falls, Idaho.  As we checked out the menu, we heard “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” followed by the Honeydrippers’ version of “Sea of Love.”

I rest my case.

 

Truck Stop Music

Vegan on the Road

santa-nella-music

A fairly ordinary truck stop at the edge of the interstate gets a musical makeover.

SANTA NELLA

Among the first things I notice in a restaurant or other retail establishment is the quality (or lack thereof) of the recorded background music piped in through the speakers tucked into the ceilings.  At the TA Truckstop on Highway 33 at the I-5 exit here in Merced County, central California, the vibe is decidedly 1970s, presumably to appeal to aging baby boomers such as myself.  Represented were Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Mungo Jerry, Bad Company, Roberta Flack, Billy Joel, B.J. Stevenson, Chicago, Styx, Al Stewart, Abba, Linda Ronstadt, Steely Dan and, of course, the Pauls (McCartney and Simon). We were in there about an hour and a half, my wife working on her Thinkpad and me messing around on my phone, and we never heard the same song twice.  This was a little different than our last truck stop experience, in Reno, where we made only a short visit and still managed to hear Vanessa Carlton’s “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” four times.

The kitschy music theme of the dining room seemed like it belonged in Gatlinburg or Branson or somewhere.  There were fake guitar sculptures and framed photos of recording artists on the walls, giant G clef and music notes above the salad bar and plaques in the booths featuring large type lyrics of a smorgasbord of eras, including songs made famous by Louis Armstrong, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Righteous Brothers, Judy Garland, the Andrews Sisters and Hank Williams.  Snowflake mobiles dangling from the ceiling were probably meant to evoke wintertime, but still seemed like bedraggled refugees from some tacky Christmas display.  I suppose this should come as no surprise, considering that the truck stop Christmas tree was still up in the lobby, repurposed for the remainder of the winter season by the addition of red paper hearts along the fronds and a large Love sign at the top, where the star of Bethlehem or an angel blowing alleluias on a trumpet should be.

The last time I was here was more than three years ago, when I had a go-round with an impatient cleaning lady.  Neither of us spoke the other’s language very well.  I wasn’t yet aware that I am gluten intolerant, and it may have been a good thing for both of us that I didn’t know how to say “diarrhea” in Spanish.

Santa Nella is a convenient rest stop between northern and southern California, but we usually patronize Pea Soup Andersen’s, the faux-Danish overpriced tourist trap with the windmill, just across the road.  However, when we last made this trip, about four months ago, I was inadvertently glutened by a seemingly safe food item I consumed over there.  The opportunity to avoid that and the overpriced tourist schlock led us to try our luck with the truckers.

Even a gluten-free vegan can be relatively happy at a truck stop, particularly if you’re willing to “fudge” a bit, as I tend to do when I’m on the road.  These days, I find that I can tolerate a small amount of dairy or egg that may be hidden in restaurant food a lot better than even a little bit of wheat.  My body is still revolting from an uncharacteristically stupid food decision I made a few days ago. Let’s just say that it MIGHT have had something to do with a birthday and a chocolate cake. Pain!

When I’m on the road, a salad bar is a sight for sore eyes.  In San José last week, we walked into a tiny Italian restaurant that looked and smelled just like one of the mouth wateringly wonderful family-run holes in the wall on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.  Finding no gluten-free pasta or pizza crust, we walked right out and headed across the street to a steak house where, my wife assured me via a visit to its website on her phone, a salad bar awaited my delectation.

Disappointment greeted me.  No salad bar!

It sounds like the opening of a bad joke.  “A vegan walks into a steak house…”  But as every vegan traveler knows, steak houses do have one good thing going for them (if you can grit your teeth and overlook the bloody cow carcasses):  Baked potatoes.  So there we were at dinnertime in a steak house, with my wife choosing a French toast breakfast and me settling for a dish of salad and a baked potato.  We are a strange pair.

santa-nella-salad-bar

Salad bar at the Santa Nella truck stop

Here at the truck stop, it is still early in the day and everything on the salad bar looks fresh, even the melons and pineapple.  I load up on beans for protein and grab some taters from the breakfast buffet.  Lucky me showed up just as the staff was switching over to the lunch buffet, which provided me with carrots, squash and rice.  I ate my fill, then headed out to the car and reclined the seat in preparation for an hour’s nap.

It was my wife’s turn to drive.

 

 

New York State of Mind

I moved to California in 1995 after a few years in New England, but I was born and raised in New York City and environs, and will always be a New Yorker deep inside.

I’d be hard-pressed to describe what makes one a New Yorker.  Well, for one thing, we know the difference between the Bruckner and the Deegan and whether it’s better to take the Whitestone or the Throgs Neck.  We love bialies and knishes and how to navigate the subway system.  We’re jaded and take every annoying inconvenience in stride (alright, so I’m not so good at that one).

For many of us who came of age in the 1970s, being a New Yorker meant nurturing a deep and abiding affection for Billy Joel and Barry Manilow.  Now, back in college, I was on the receiving end of a lot of (not so) good-natured teasing about my appreciation of Barry’s music.  But there is something about the hits of Billy Joel that scream “Big Apple” like nothing else.  My sisters and I deconstructed the lyrics of nearly every song on The Stranger, and I managed to have the chutzpah to quote the lyrics to “Allentown” in one of my college term papers after I devoured The Nylon Curtain in all its vinyl glory on the turntable in my bedroom.

There is nothing like hearing Billy Joel croon about The New York Times and The Daily News, “don’t care if it’s in Chinatown or on Riverside” to bring it all back to me in a flood.  Among my favorites is Joel’s early recording, “Summer, Highland Falls,” not only for the melody, but also because the place referred to holds some very specific memories for me.

So it was with great delight that I recently learned that SiriusXM satellite radio has launched, for a limited time, The Billy Joel Channel on Ch. 18.  Aside from the songs sending me tripping down Memory Lane, I am enjoying the interviews in which he explains the influences and inspiration associated with many of his hits.  And I have discovered a number of tunes with which I was not familiar, such as the amazing piano instrumental “Root Beer Rag.”

The timing of this is excellent, as Billy is placing me in the right frame of mind for a cross-country road trip to New York that we are planning to take a few months hence.  (More about that in a later post.)

I will conclude by mentioning that Billy Joel being piped into my ear buds from my trusty iPhone has raised my spirits greatly in the past week or two.  Believe me, I’ve needed it.  We recently switched health care plans through my job, and tomorrow, I get the pleasure of starting all over again with a new doctor at (cough, ack, eek!) Kaiser.  Medical stuff gets me depressed, and I am quite aware that I have plenty of it ahead of me.

I don’t care if you have to do a million tests and then cut me up and put me back together, Doc, just don’t make me use up all my annual leave so we can’t go to New York.  I mean it, Doc.

I’ll sic Billy Joel on you.

 

Ten Christmas Favorites

xmas music

Today I’d like to share a list of my favorite holiday music, in no particular order:

Melissa Etheridge, “Christmas in America”

Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping” (guess I’m a sucker for happy endings)

Carpenters, “Merry Christmas, Darling”

Madonna, “Santa Baby” (clever remake of a classic)

Drifters, “White Christmas” (First released in 1954 and now familiar to many from the first Home Alone movie.  By coincidence, just today my New York City bloggy friend posted a delightful video of her daughter’s school group singing this.  You can check it out on Too Many Spiders.)

Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Linus and Lucy” (from A Charlie Brown Christmas – I love this entire album)

Boston Pops, “Sleigh Ride” (Something about the horses’ hooves clip-clopping and the whip snapping takes you there.)

Dolly Parton, “Hard Candy Christmas”  (Okay, somewhat maudlin, but nowhere near as bad as “Me and Little Andy.”)

Toby Keith, “Santa, I’m Right Here” (It’s hard to believe this is from 1995.  If this video doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, you have a Grinch heart for sure.  Courtesy CMT and YouTube)

Kenny Rogers & Wynonna Judd, “Mary Did You Know?”  (My wife introduced me to this several years ago.  Just gives me chills every time I hear it.)

 

And a runner-up just for whimsy:  “Have a Funky Christmas” performed by boy band New Kids on the Block.  (Thanks, Spotify!)  This tune now qualifies as an oldie, as it was released a quarter of a century ago.  Gah!  Now I really feel old.

Happy holidays!

 

JFK vs. Michael Jackson

JFK Jackson

We were at the post office on Friday when I noticed that the flag was at half-staff.  I wondered why.  Suddenly, it hit me.  Of course!  Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy!

I know I am a certified old fart because I can remember the day it happened.  I was four years old, almost five, living in New York City.  And the whole thing really pissed me off.

Of course, I didn’t understand anything about what was going on.  But what annoyed the heck out of me was that none of my cartoons or kids’ shows were on TV, not even the Mickey Mouse Club.  Every channel just had people talking, talking, talking.  And it bugged me that everyone was going around crying.

Even my wife is too young to remember the day JFK was killed.  She was only an infant then.

I’ve been wondering what landmark events resonate with the younger crew.  This is kind of important because, well, they’re of the age when they’re about to take over the world.

The day Elvis died?  Nope, they weren’t even born yet.  The day John Lennon was murdered?  Ditto.

Elvis met his demise while I was in college.  I couldn’t understand why everyone was making such a big deal about it.  When I was told that John Lennon was killed, I had to ask who he was.  A political figure?  Sports world?  Music?  Bingo.  Oh yeah, I vaguely remembered the notation “Lennon & McCartney” at the top of the sheet music for “Let It Be” that we practiced in junior high chorus.  Hmph.  Whatever.

The day the space shuttle Challenger exploded?  That was in ’86; the twentysomethings still weren’t born.

9/11?  My niece just barely remembers it.  She was five years old when the Twin Towers came down.

Does this leave the Millennials without any personal historical or cultural frame of reference?  Rolling Stone recently pointed out the Gen Y crowd has never heard of Ross Perot, Gorbachev, the TV series “Dinosaurs” (“Not the Mama!”), Cybill Shepherd or Dabney Coleman, and has never taken a roll of film in to be developed (we used to mail ours to Sears with a check and they’d mail back our black-and-white prints) or used a floppy disk, a cassette-based answering machine or a dial-up modem.  Hmm, maybe they lucked out after all.

But fear not!  All is not lost on the young’uns.  I discovered this a few days ago when my 17 year old niece asked me “Where were you when Michael Jackson died?”

Where was I?  The same place I was when Challenger blew up.  The same place I was when the planes hit the towers on 9/11.  At work.

So there you have it.  The King of Pop, who in his life was such a musical influence and cultural icon for Gen X, in his death provided the chief historical frame of reference for Gen Y.

Anything earlier than that exists only on Wikipedia.

 

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Just Another Thursday in Paradise

sunset

November sunset, northern California

My little grandniece is dancing around the living room to Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” on my wife’s iPhone.  Her mother is dancing next to her, but to a completely different song on her own phone over her ear buds.  As she sings along, I am introduced to Andy Mineo’s “In My City.”  Then she asks me about “Black Velvet” and “The Wanderer” and I explain that the currently popular versions are remakes from back in my era.

What a wonderful evening after a full day.

Our homeless friend came by this morning and Pastor Mom served him toast, sausage and coffee for breakfast.  His timing was good:  We were all just sitting around waiting for the exterminator to get here.  Ants, spiders, centipedes — we’ve got ‘em all.  The critters just love visiting us.

We hadn’t eaten yet, as our plan was for all of us to go out to breakfast with my niece and her baby when the bug man arrived.  We were told that we had to be out of the house for three hours after he sprayed.  Denny’s, here we come.  (We appreciate the 20% off coupons they email us periodically.)

Our friend has connected with an organization that helps hire ex-cons, so he’s trying to clear up a parole violation and scrape up enough money for a cell phone and a bicycle to allow him to apply for a job and, once hired, to get there.  We are hoping that perhaps we will be able to help him in his quest to get back on his feet, even if only by providing encouragement (and the occasional bag of snacks).

“Let’s see what I can find to do today,” he remarked to himself as he left.

I noticed a big black trash bag sitting on one of the old pews outside the church door.  It turns out that our friend had left his sleeping bag, some clothes and his wet socks in the church bathroom (he had probably washed them out in the sink).  As the exterminators would be spraying in there as well, Pastor Mom put everything in the trash bag and removed them to the pew.  If it rains, at least his sleeping bag won’t get wet.

At breakfast, I was so pleased that my niece was willing to talk a bit about her experience as a first-semester college student.  She is having a very hard time in math and, despite my efforts to assist, believes she is unlikely to pass.  I reminded her that she can always take it again.

Goodness, it seems that all of us need a shot of encouragement, from a struggling homeless guy to a struggling college student with a baby.  All of us are struggling with something.  Remember, a kind word costs nothing and goes a long way.

My niece decided she doesn’t want to go into nursing after all.  She doesn’t know what direction she wants her career to take.  Take your time, I recommended.  That’s what college is all about, an opportunity to try out all different subjects and find out what you fancy.

But she’s worried about her financial aid situation and how many years it will take her to earn a degree at this rate.  Take your time and do it at your own pace, I recommended.  I am so proud of her for giving it a go.

We couldn’t return to the parsonage with the baby due to the insect spraying.  My grandniece, age one, was wearing a heart monitor today.  She has been dealing with heart problems since the day she was born, but they are improving and she has been able to get off her meds.  The cardiologist has to keep checking, though.  Later, we’ll remove the electrodes from her little chest and bring the monitor back to the cardio place to be read.

But for now, we are killing time.  My wife’s sinuses are really bothering her, so we head over to my sister-in-law’s house so that she and my grandniece can take a nap.  While the house is quiet and my niece is off at classes, I take the opportunity to tell Pastor Mom all about my recent experiences with WordPress, the wonderful people whose acquaintances I have made in this medium, and my hopes to improve my writing.

Pastor Mom’s cell phone rings periodically.  A parishioner calls to report that her daughter is doing worse; her heart problems have put her in intensive care.  An elderly friend living out of the country calls to say that she is being abused by her son.  Then it’s a guy who will come over to look at the roof of the church social hall.  It’s not in good shape and may need to be replaced.  If the funds to pay for it can be found, that is.

Done with school for the day, my niece returns and we all head over to the parsonage to begin preparing dinner.  My niece wants to use her nana’s computer to work on a term paper.  The rest of us will take care of the baby for a bit.  While the others are eating steak tacos, the little one is sharing my veggie burgers, potato and broccoli, cut up in tiny pieces.  She seems to like my veggie food well enough.

In the kitchen, my niece moves on to another Andy Mineo tune, “Death Has Died.”  She belts it out with passion, laughing when she forgets some of the song’s many rap lyrics.  “Breakin’ down, breakin’ down, everything here is breaking down…”  References to the Sandy Hook massacre.  26 dead, 20 of them kids.  “You used to make me cry, but one day He’ll wipe every tear from our eyes.”  My talented niece raps away as the lyrics claw at my heart.

In the background, Steve Miller continues wailing “I wanna reach out and grab ya” from the living room.  My wife’s now abandoned phone has been repeating the song over and over.

Another niece calls on Face Time so that she can interact with my grandniece for a while.  The little one grabs the phone and dances over the kitchen tiles, grooving to the music and more or less ignoring my niece’s face.  The little one’s mother gets on the phone and I catch snatches of references to SnapChat and Instagram.  This is a foreign language to Uncle Guac, so I ask for an explanation.  Before I know it, both apps are loaded onto my phone.  Selfies, here I come!  My nieces, the one in the kitchen and the one whose face is on the phone, laugh at my use of the word “selfies.”  Thank you for keeping me current, Le Clown.  I owe you, dude!

We move into the living room, where the music and dancing makes me smile.  My sister-in-law comes by for a few minutes after her long commute from work.  She grabs hold of her daughter and they waltz around the room to the music.  Then my nephew comes by, grabs some of our leftovers, and spends time playing with the baby.  You can see how much she misses him.  He had been her day care provider for months until he got a new job and my wife took over those duties.

The little one has discovered a new game.  These are the rules:  Baby pulls the headphones out of Uncle’s laptop audio jack and begins sucking on it.  Uncle removes it from baby’s mouth and replaces it in the computer.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat 20 more times.

My grandniece has pulled out all of her toys and has them spread out on the carpet.  But she throws all her cars, dolls and musical toys aside.  What she really wants to play with is a lavender plastic colander from the kitchen.

The little bug is up and down off the couch, receiving attention from each of us.  She is an equal opportunity cuddler.  And she has a boundless supply of energy.  My niece and nephew begin duetting on a popular song that I have never heard of.

My nephew tells us that he’d really like to get out of California.  I tell him that I fully sympathize.  How I’d love to return to New England.  “But you know what?” I add.  “My family is in California, so I am, too.”

And it’s true.  For just at this moment, I know I wouldn’t trade being here for anything in the world.

It’s late in the evening.  My niece and grandniece have zonked out.  My nephew has gone home.  As I prepare to lock the doors, I step out into the cool night air.

And I see that our homeless friend’s black, stuffed-full trash bag is still sitting out on the pew.  I check the church bathroom, but he is nowhere to be found.

 

>NaBloPoMo November 2013