Monday, January 31, 2011

Love Thy Neighbor… (well, do the best you can)


Today at work, we were talking about tonight’s bad weather rolling in & I decided I’d better do some grocery shopping right after; but as I need the exercise more than the food, I laid the car keys down & walked to the market instead.  So I’m heading down Main Street when someone comes up alongside me and bumps me in the shoulder—“Welcome back, stranger!”

What the—oh it’s Doug Williams, an older gent who lives on the second floor of my apartment building.  “Hi Doug, what do you mean?”  I asked.  (It’s always weird greeting someone with your own name.)  He says “I haven’t seen you since, what, summer?  I see Bill all the time, but when we stopped having all those problems with the mail, I figured you moved out & bought a house or something.”   Y’see, there are 3 of us with similar names in my building—William Morris, Douglas Morris, Douglas Williams.  (Or as our former mailman probably called us, the “Trilogy of Terror”.)   Anyway, I told Doug it was nice seeing him again (yawn) & went on my way, a little surprised that he thought I’d moved out.  Technically we live under the same roof.

I love “apartment building” living—I really do.  And I’ll probably go right on for as long as I’m single.  But I’ve always found the “Rule” a bit odd when it comes to your neighbors; If we live on the same floor, do not look or talk to one another.  Why is that?  I’m friends with Jim & Theresa on the second floor, Bill on 1, and a couple years ago Janice (who lives right below me in #306) and I got acquainted when she knocked on my door, told me she didn’t want to hear my exercise machine past 8pm & I asked her if Mister Bo Jangles was a cat she was hiding from management.   Janice likes me just fine now.


My castle, that I share with around 25 other people; I’m on the top floor, towards the back of the building

However, rules are made to be broken—and in the dozen or so years I’ve been here…


Apt #401:  “I Hope You Like It Here”  Last summer I am doing my laundry (in the basement) when in walks George from 401.  A small, older man, I’ve been told he’s lived here since 1975.  I’ve passed him often enough--I usually nod hello, he frowns back.

GEORGE:  You done with this one? (pointing at a washer)

DOUG:  Er…yes George.

GEORGE:  How do you know my name?  

DOUG:  I’m Doug, in apartment 406?  Right down the hall from you.

GEORGE:  Meet you.  Whaddya do for a living?

DOUG:  Um, I’m a system analyst… computer programming.

GEORGE:  I used to do the same thing—well, before I retired.

DOUG:  Oh!  That’s interesting, when did you retire?

GEORGE:  1970.  

DOUG:  Ah. 

GEORGE:  Well, I think you’ll like it here.

DOUG:  But I—thanks.  (George, I’ve lived down the hall from you for 13 years!)

Apt #404:  “Did I get you at a bad time?”  One morning I’m taking a shower when I hear a loud buzzing sound; someone is buzzing me from the lobby downstairs.  Aw no, if it’s UPS, he’ll wait 10 seconds & take off—with my package!  I jump out, grab a towel, race down the hall, open the door & look down towards the lobby below.  “Hello?  UPS??”  It’s Thomas, my nerdy science teacher neighbor from 404, his finger on my button.  “Hi did I disturb you??  I came down to get my mail & forgot my keys.”  I motion him to come upstairs.  He stays where he’s at.  “I have a photo ID on my kitchen counter if you’d like credentials…”  I shake my head no, water is flying.  He comes up the stairs.  “Did I catch you at a bad time?  Were you sleeping?”  DUDE—I’M SOAKING WET AND WEARING A DAMN TOWEL, DOES IT LOOK LIKE I WAS SLEEPING??

 Apt #407:  “Say it ain’t so”  One Saturday last winter, I head outside to the parking lot to scrape the snow off my car.  I see Vanessa, the quiet woman across the hall from me busily doing the same.  Hmm!  She’s fairly attractive, reminds me of Carnie Wilson from her Wilson Phillips days.  I know she’s extremely shy, but she can’t be that bad—I hear “The Simpsons” on her tv everytime I’m in the hall.

I walk up to my car, smile & say hi, she says nothing.  Is she blushing?  I make some unremarkable comment about the weather; she looks at me quickly & ducks her head down.  The poor thing, she’s bashful.  I decide to lay down the charm.  “Hey I really like your car, do you enjoy driving a Saturn?”  She says “HELL NO IT’S A $%#@%#@*% PIECE OF #$%#@$&*^!!!”  Ulp!  i say “Well, um… thanks for sharing.”    She doesn’t answer.  That’s okay!

Well, I haven’t given up all hope just yet.   An attractive dark-skinned woman just moved in right down the hall from me, and okay, she has a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign hanging from her doorknob (yes, really)  but sooner or later… we’ll talk!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

“The Help” - A great story and it’s all right here in black and white


Recently, my friend Candace asked me where the book reviews were on the teepee, she missed them.  (I tossed them aside when I moved the teepee here in October, I didn’t think anyone paid much attention to ‘em.)  Anyway, I was so surprised & flattered by her remark, and seeing how I just finished this wonderful novel and it’s Martin Luther King Day tomorrow…

I can always tell how good a book is by the length of time it takes me to finish it; the better the book, the slower I read.  And that’s precisely what happened here, with “The Help”, by Kathryn Stockett.  The story takes place in Jackson Mississippi, in 1962.  It revolves around an assortment of self-important Southern women with too much time on their hands, their black (in fact the blacker the better) maids & the times, ‘cause they are a changin’.  While civil rights marches are taking place in Washington, the local Women’s League is pushing an initiative requiring all homes to install separate bathrooms “for their coloreds”.

The story is told from the perspective of three women—Abileen, a black woman in her fifties, her best friend Minny (who can’t keep from speaking her mind and losing every housekeeping job she gets in the process) and ‘Miss Skeeter’, a young white woman who has returned home from college and aspires to becoming a writer.  When Miss Skeeter discovers her family’s long-time maid Constantine has upped & moved to Chicago (and no one will tell her why), she’s inspired to write a book chronicling the stories of the black maids in her town.    (This will be no easy task; the Jim Crow laws of ‘Separate but Equal’ are in full force here, and the blacks in this town know their place.)

Abileen starts this book by summing up her life:  “Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking & the cleaning.  I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime.  I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying & go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get outta bed in the morning.”  She’s currently maiding for the Lefolt family, loving & worrying over Mae Mobley, the preschool daughter of indifferent parents.  Abileen holds her & tells her “you is good, you is important” and shares “secret stories” of a man from Mars named Martian Luther King who “come to Earth to teach us a thing or two.  He has a head on top and a nose and mouth like us, but sometime people looked at him funny, and sometime they were downright mean.”   “Why Aibbee?” asks Mae Mobley.  “Because he was green.  But we alls the same inside, ain’t we.”

I found this picture online during my reading of ‘The Help’ and it reminded me of Abileen & Mae Mobley

Even though “The Help” is fiction (with enough sudsy drama to qualify as a ‘chick book’) I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the realties of the stories these women share with Miss Skeeter, both the good and the bad.  (Remaining with a family for a lifetime, only to be suddenly let go when some of the good silver turned up missing.)  So I went online & was surprised to read about the number of Southern people who’s primary caregiver was indeed their family’s own black housekeeper. The author herself says that much of this book came from her own childhood memories.

This book is much more though; it’s a curious look at the South in the early ‘60s, the social mores that still existed & surprising reminders of what segregation still was.  (If you were a black woman in a southern supermarket in 1963, you’d better be in a crisp white maids uniform.)   

And to think this was all in my lifetime, too.   (Click right here to go to the Amazon link for this wonderful novel.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011: It’s a good year for turning Fifty



Happy New Year, and welcome to 2011!  It’s the year where everybody who’s somebody turns fifty.  If you don’t believe me, see for yourself—Barack Obama, George Clooney, Michael J. Fox, k.d. lang, Cindy Brady, Doug Morris… need I continue?  

Okay, so last night I’m getting ready for bed and doing my customary ‘last minute check of the internet’ before shutting things down & I see a blurb on MSN’s home page, “Celebrities turning 50 in 2011”.   I take a quick look, no surprises there—don’t we all sort of keep tabs on famous people in our own age group?  (For instance, I’ve always known Michael J. Fox was 6 months older than me and Matthew Broderick was 5 months younger;  I have a lot more in common with Matthew than Michael though, don’t you think?)    Anyway, as I’m scrolling through the faces (oh no, Boy George is there too)  I can’t help but think a couple things—there’s a lot of celebrities turning 50 in 2011, and in ten months, I’m going to join them.

I wasn’t planning to write a blog about turning fifty just yet--I just had my 49th birthday two months ago!  In fact I had every intention of making this one of those tired, lame ‘New Years Resolutions’ blogs where I make a lot of promises to both myself and you.  (Lose twenty pounds, fix up the apartment, make some new friends.)   But with that half-century mark approaching, maybe it’s time to look at things a little differently:

Five things about myself that I don’t see changing anytime soon

  1. I enjoy the great outdoors only when I’m in the great indoors

  2. I obsess about making decisions—and lists

  3. I spend more time in the past and the future than in the present

  4. I overreact & overeat (or vice-versa)

  5. I expect everyone to adore me for all of the above reasons

These are all things I could improve upon, but for those people out there who say “it’s never too late”, yes you’re right but I’m going to be fifty this year and one of the perks is, you pretty much stop worrying about what makes you tick, or what people may or may not think.  What did I do this weekend?  Laid on my couch, watched Season 4 of Rhoda & ate a pot of spaghetti, and yourself?   It’s just easier to be myself…finally.

That’s not to say I haven’t given up on everything.  I still like to work hard, I just want to come straight home & take a nap afterwards.  I still want to weigh less, but I’ve grown rather fond of my stocky build.  And I may not be looking for that swank loft anymore, but I still want my hovel to be a nice hovel!  

Well,I spent last Sunday assembling this nifty new cabinet to store my tv-dvd collection; it’s a start right?   Happy New Year, everyone!