An American Latte

Old typewriter

“Hi! Can I take your order?!”

The barista was young – with more spring in his voice than ever was in my step. I really doubted that he shaved. Or even knew how.

“I’ll have a decaf latte,” I placed my order.

And then, feeling brave.

“Double shot of vanilla,” I added. And not the sugar-free.

“And your name?” he asked, poising the black marker at the top of the paper cup.

“Darlene,” I said, and then quickly added, not willing to risk another “Darling” scribbled on my order. “D-A-R…”

“I know that name!” he said proudly. And then, finished spelling it aloud as I did, “…L…E…N…E.”

Maybe he did know how to shave.

He took my stare of amazement as a challenge and explained.

“I have a cousin named Darlene,” he told me, with a victorious smile. “She’s 65.”

65? Really?! Who dragged age into this conversation? Of course, my grey hair sneaking out the sides of my son’s old baseball cap might have been a hint or two. Do I politely nod and let the subject drop? Not willing to “date” myself? Or do I keep the ball rolling, possibly revealing my own age?

Gulp.

Aw hell, I took the plunge.

“Your cousin’s probably named after “Darlene” from the Mickey Mouse Club. A lot of us with that name were named after her. So when you see a “Darlene,” we’re usually from around that same period of time.”

“It’s such a great name!!!” he said, scrawling the name on my cup.

I smiled. It wasn’t so bad admitting my age range. I mean, I’m sure he could tell I wasn’t twenty. Even though I must admit that in my heart I am still twenty, especially when a cute young man (guy? dude?) like this takes the time to even talk to me. And when they actually look you in the eyes and smile, well, there’s no difference now at 60-something and when I was really twenty. So yeah, I looked him in the eyes and I smiled my most fetching smile.

“I really love that name of “Darlene,” he murmured, softly. “It reminds me of Old America.”

Ohhh – Kay.

I must admit this made me pause.

I wasn’t aware there was an “Old America,” but I guess there is.

And I’m it.

I’m one of the Baby Boomers who was filled with idealism, hope, and promise. There were a lot of us, and we helped stop a war and impeach a President; we spoke out against injustice, worked for diversity and equity, and stepped up, when it was our time, to do our jobs, raise our families, and run the country. We didn’t always find our way; we might have stumbled trying to do so much, but we tried. And we believed that if we worked together – all of us, Americans – we could make anything better.

Old America.

That’s what the barista called it. Called those of us who grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club and the new medium of television, long hair and the belief that love would bring us peace. And he said “Old America” with respect. He said it with longing. He said it like someone sitting on the edge of adulthood, looking back at that time of innocence when all questions were answered. When we felt safe and sure about the future, and we hoped our children and grandchildren felt the same way.  He said it like he missed that Old America.

I know what he means.

I miss it too.

Everyday People Doing Good Every Day

Featured

holding-heart

(This is part of a series I’m starting here on the blog and I’m calling it, “Everyday People Doing Good Every Day.” There are a lot of folks feeling many different feelings right now.  This isn’t an easy time for many of us. But every now and then someone sends me something special or tells me a story that makes me feel good again. It helps me remember how much goodness there is around us, and when I see this goodness I’ll post it here to share with everyone. Hopefully, it’ll inspire us to do good things ourselves in whatever ways we can to enrich our world.)

Daniel F. Craviotto Jr. is an orthopedic surgeon.

He’s also my cousin and a very good man.

I don’t just say that because he’s my cousin. You can ask anyone in Santa Barbara who knows him and I’m sure you’ll hear the same.

I don’t get emails at midnight from my cousin Dan. So last night when my phone “dinged” at a little after 12, and I saw there was an email from him, I figured it was important. The guy has been getting up at 4 each morning to handle extra patients, and I hoped everything was okay.  Here is Dan’s email…

“He’s 95 now and still has that smile. I’ve known him for 20 years.  Operated on him twice. And always the same question: How’s Charlie?  You see he’s forgotten that my Uncle Charlie passed away quite a few years ago, but he still remembers him. They played basketball together in the 1930s and 1940s at the Rec Center on Carrillo Street.  It is when he asks how Charlie’s doing when I remember that my Uncle shared the story of how his good friend was sent away to a Japanese Internment Camp during WW II.  Uncle Charlie said he was a helluva nice guy and even at 95, even now I can see that.  Humble, soft spoken and always smiling.  My uncle, who served in WW II, took a flesh wound and saw his platoon decimated in the Battle of the Bulge, always said, “It’s the shits what they did to our Japanese Americans, putting them in internment camps.” So my uncle’s friend – in spite of all the memories that he’s lost because of age – still remembers Charlie.  And for the first time today I tell him, “You know my uncle shared these stories with me about you.  About your family and the internment and how it wasn’t fair.  How you were such a good friend to him and how they carted you off.”And this man, with tears rolling down his eyes, but still with a smile on his face, just looked at me and said, “What were we to do?”  He reached his hand out and shook mine, told me he missed Charlie and my father, Danny, and he thanked me for taking care of him. What a sweet man.  Dignified. Full of grace. Always a kind word. I love that guy.”

Dad always felt badly that he couldn’t do anything to help his friend or his family.  “They lost everything,” Dad told us. “Their business, their house, their friendships.” In fact, Dad was the only friend who went to the train station to say goodbye to the whole family as they were being transported to the camps. No one else wanted anything to do with the family – a family that had lived in Santa Barbara for many years.

When Dad showed up at the train station, it meant the world to his friend. He gave him a gift, something he’d made at school:  a set of black ceramic coffee mugs. They were a parting gift of thanks to a good friend.

We never used those cups growing up; they were always hidden away. I think they were a reminder to my father of something terrible, something beyond understanding, a time that made him feel helpless.

One of those cups sits prominently on my desk.

I keep it there to honor the man who made it. And the friend who didn’t follow the crowd, but who still remained a friend.

Maybe my father couldn’t have done more.

But at least he did something.

dads-black-cup

Hello? Can You All Still Hear Me…?

It’s been three years since I’ve regularly posted here.

I’ll be honest with you — I’m not sure I remember how to do this.

I just finished writing 99,000 words, locked in the 1700s with characters who speak another language, live in another culture, and who are traveling on horses and mules 1500 miles to the promise land of California. I’ve just lived this amazing adventure, and I’m not sure how to come back here to my blog.

I’m having a hard time returning to the 21st Century.

But do you blame me?

This 21st Century isn’t easy to live in. There’s lead in the drinking water in Michigan. People are getting shot every day. There are hurricanes and Zika-bearing mosquitos in Florida, wild fires and earthquake warnings in California, 24 hour coverage of the nastiest political race that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime…and when I try to look away, to seek some solace in the words of my fellow 21st Century travelers on Facebook, Twitter, and in the blogs, I find sarcasm, snark, and insults. Sometimes even threats. It’s hard to stay positive with everything going on in the modern world around us. Harder still for a recovering agoraphobic to want to step out there into the middle of it all.

Some days I ask myself: Why aren’t there more agoraphobics in this 21st Century? After all, there’s nothing you can’t order online and have it delivered to your home. There’s no reason to go to the grocery store, the mall, the movie theater, or anywhere you need to purchase goods or content as long as you have the internet to do your shopping for you. There’s telecommuting for work, online courses for school and college, religious services, and dating. What’s the reason to ever step outside of our homes? To go out in the middle of such heartache and angst? Shouldn’t we all be hiding underneath our covers, cowering with fear and disgust? What pushes us out there every day? What gives us the faith to keep looking for the good in our world?

While writing this, I asked myself those questions. What makes me go out my front door every day, when I could stay warm and protected inside my house, with my imagination keeping me company, and without risking some unknown danger lurking outside?

The answer came easily – I didn’t have to look far.

Brown eyes.

These brown eyes…

stokely-headshot

This is my grandson, Stokely.

He was born in April, at the same hospital where my own son was born. It wasn’t planned that way – it was just one of those sweet quirks of Fate that make you smile and say, “Awwwww.”

If I stay hidden in my world, I will never have the chance to experience Stokely’s world. What I see when I look into those deep brown eyes are what make me forget about all the bad things that go bump in the night. This crazy-at-times 21st Century is his century too. Together, we have to navigate it. He knows no other century, no other world, and this crazy-by-my-terms 21st century is where he will be the most comfortable. Where I hope we can always make him feel comfortable. And above everything else—safe.

I’m working on that.

And that’s what gets me out the front door. Every. single. day.

What gets you out of your front door?

A Love Story (Sort of): The New York Rendezvous (Pt. 2)

Featured

(This is the fourth and final post of the Cookie & Marty series.  If you’d like to read the other three posts you can find them here in the order they were written:  A Love Story (Sort of),  A Love Story Continues (Sort of), A Love Story (Sort of): The New York Rendezvous (Pt. 1)…)

It’s Thursday and Cookie still hasn’t called.

I don’t know what that means.

I spoke to her on Monday when she first arrived in New York, and she sounded terrible.  She’s only supposed to be there for five days, so is no news good news?  Or is she just too miserable to talk about it?  My imagination is playing out all kinds of scenarios, and most of them aren’t good.

My cell phone finally rings in the afternoon.

“Boy, do I need a drink!”

Oh, no.

But wait…It’s 2:15 p.m. in California, so technically it’s cocktail hour in New York.  Not necessarily a bad sign.

“There’s a diner across the street.  Maybe they’ve got alcohol,” she tells me as she takes the cell phone with her to explore, with me at the other end.  She’s in luck at the diner and quickly orders a Gin & Tonic.

“Look at me – I’m having a Gin & Tonic at a counter surrounded by people eating tuna fish sandwiches.”

“Has it been that bad?!”

She takes a long sip before answering.

“It’s been wonderful!

After the fiasco of the flight-that-never-seemed-to-end, Cookie awoke the next day feeling that the pressure was off her shoulders.

“We met.  We saw each other.  And we lived through it,” she explained. “The hard part was already over!”

It had been 55 years since the two of them had seen each other, and even though they had shared photos in their emails, seeing one another up close was the real deal.

“I didn’t exactly look 15, but he didn’t look 22 either! So it was a draw.”

Marty had arrived at the motel the next morning, picked her up, and they went non-stop all day. Breakfast at a diner.  Beachcombing at the beach.  A ferry ride out to Ocean Beach on Fire Island.  A sudden rainstorm and lots of laughter.  A walk in the village, window shopping, and ice cream cones.  Holding hands, and arms tight around each other.  Non-stop conversation, and a feeling that they had known each other for all of the 55 years they had missed spending together. They did so many activities that first day, Marty called her up later that night.

“I’m exhausted!  You’ve got so much energy! How do you do it?!”

“I’ve got a big personality,” she explains to me.  As if I hadn’t noticed.

The next day Cookie spent with her New York family: two nieces, their husbands, and all of their kids.  It was an amazing family reunion, a trek into Manhattan for Chinese food, while Marty stayed at home.

“Were you nervous that maybe he was ditching you?” I ask.

“No way! I exhausted him!  He needed to rest!”

Sure enough, on Thursday he picked her up bright and early, and confessed, “I missed you yesterday. You’re under my skin.”

Thursday was filled with more beaches, and a visit to a magnificent old lighthouse.

The Lighthouse at Fire Island

Originally lit in 1858, its light still burns bright and steady –  for decades offering the first evidence of land across a vast, oftentimes turbulent Atlantic Ocean.

In the afternoon, they walked further down the beach, collecting seashells.  Her head down, and searching the sand, Cookie’s attention was on the ocean’s beautiful bounty when Marty suddenly stopped her.

“Don’t walk any further or you’ll be on the nude beach.”

Cookie stopped in her tracks. She knew all about this beach because Marty had told her about it when they had talked on the phone.  He was always a beach lover, and so he would walk along this shore for hours, all by himself. One day when he was strolling along he came across the clothing optional beach. He started meeting people there – from all walks of life – nice people, mostly middle-aged, and he liked them.  So he kept going back.  And one day he figured, what the hell: he took off his shirt, and then took the big step and lost his shorts.

“Where’s your beach? Where exactly is it?” Cookie wanted to know.  But Marty wanted her to be comfortable.

“Don’t look up,” he told her.  “I don’t want you to see something that’ll maybe make you uncomfortable.”

Cookie stopped in her tracks and didn’t look up.  But then something wonderful happened – all of Marty’s friends, the ones there on that clothing optional beach, knew about Cookie and they wanted to meet her. They wanted to meet the woman who Marty talked so much about, and who’d made their friend so happy.  So they did something special just for her.  They put on their shirts, reached for a robe or a towel, slipped into their shorts, and they went over to the other side of the beach just to meet her and to say hello.

“I love his friends!!!”

They were all different kinds of people. One guy worked for a trucking firm, another guy had the NY Yankee logo on his bicep (with the year of every series they’d won). One of the women worked on bridges, and another woman was a special needs teacher. They all gathered around Cookie, introducing themselves (now fully dressed), meeting her and hitting it off like long-lost friends. One of the women was scheduled to go to New Hampshire to begin her vacation, but she postponed leaving so she and her husband could throw Cookie and Marty a barbecue and the rest of Marty’s friends could meet Cookie.

“Can you imagine?  They all put on their clothes just to meet me!”

It was a great week for Cookie.

“Marty is wonderful!”

A real gentleman, she tells me:  always holding open her car door, and taking her hand. They had long conversations, and even the pauses felt right.  After only the first couple of days.

“I stopped wearing makeup after the second day!” she says proudly.

And Cookie always wears makeup.

“I felt like I had been with this man forever. There wasn’t one moment when I wasn’t having a nice time. We’re like an old married couple.”

And?

“And you don’t give something like that up.”

Amen.

“But I’m sorry about your ending,” she tells me, as I hear her finishing the last of her Gin & Tonic, the ice clicking against the glass.

“What ending?” I ask.

“Exactly! There is no ending.”

Marty is comfortable with his life there on Long Island.  He loves his friends, loves to walk his dog, loves his beach (clothing optional), and he loves going back to his home when the day is over.  Cookie is also happy with her life – 3,000 miles away in L.A.

“There’s no kind of ending to our story,” Cookie explains.

I tell her not to worry about it.  Sometimes the best story doesn’t really end – it just stops.  But what matters the most are the feelings you’re left with when it does stop.

Cookie went back to L.A. on Saturday, and she called me once the weekend was over. Her flight home had been just as hectic as the one going out to New York: the flight was cancelled, and she had to spend hours in line at the airport trying to get another one.

“I’ll never book another flight using free mileage!!!” she wails.

She was ecstatic to be home.

“Are you sorry you traveled the 3,000 miles?” I ask her.

“Not at all!” she says without hesitation. “One of the best things I’ve ever done. If anything, this made me and Marty closer.”

Marty still calls promptly at 8 a.m. every morning, and Cookie calls him a couple of times during the day.  They email each other constantly.  And when the snow globe Cookie bought for her granddaughter at Ocean Beach broke, Marty insisted on taking the ferry back out there to buy her another. What the two of them have now, before Cookie schlepped 3000 miles east, are new shared memories.  Before, the only memories they had were 55 years old, intense, youth-filled experiences.  But now there’s that ferry ride to Ocean Beach, the Lighthouse on Fire Island, the sudden thunderstorm, sharing an ice cream cone, collecting seashells on the beach, the good friends who welcomed Cookie like a member of their own family, holding hands and cuddling, and a comfort they share with each other and no one else in this world.  If that ain’t love, what is?

All animals mate, but few mate for life.  With the divorce rate at 40 – 50%, Homo sapiens seem to change partners like the rest of the animal world.  And yet, we try for something different.  We stand up in front of our friends and family and we take vows – for better or worse, in all kinds of bad times, sickness and health, whether we’re rich or we’re poor.  We say those vows because we mean them and we try to stay together for a lifetime. The lucky ones make it, but even if we fail, we still want to try again. The one quality we have that the animals don’t is our need for intimacy. Not just that physical act of reproduction, but that rare connection that happens between two people, that bond uniting two souls that takes away our loneliness, comforting, and soothing us to make those bumps in life a little more tolerable.  It’s hearing another voice, or looking into another pair of eyes, and feeling more comfortable there than you do within yourself.  That’s intimacy, and it can happen with or without sex, in and out of a marriage, with best friends, and with soul mates.  It’s amazing that it even happens at all, but it does.  And when you find another human being with whom you can share that intimacy, you’ve found your home. You recognize it and say, “Yeah, this is it.  I’m safe with this person, and so I’ll stay.”

In those old Hollywood movies you never really see the end of a love story. Instead, the romance is sealed with a kiss, and the audience is sent home happy. That’s all we need to know – that in this oh-too-painful-at-times world, filled with stress and craziness, two people have found one another. That’s all we really need to know about Cookie & Marty: that these two people, living separate lives on two faraway coasts, somehow connected with one another. And they both lived happily ever after.

Because we want them to.

A Love Story (Sort of): The New York Rendezvous (Part One)

Featured

“Oy.”

It’s one word that can mean either good news or bad.  I was hoping this wasn’t bad news but, honestly, Cookie didn’t sound that excited saying it.  She was calling me all the way from Long Island after twelve hours of an aviation marathon: a 6:30 a.m. flight out of LAX, a change of planes in the Midwest, one and a half hours on the tarmac in Minneapolis, and almost an hour circling high above the five boroughs of New York, waiting to land.

“Somebody gave me five valium to take with me on the trip, thank God!  That’s all I’ve had in my stomach all day.”

“All five?!”

“No, no.  But I was tempted, believe me.”

She sounded terrible. Way past disappointed.

“What happened?” I asked her.

I knew the plan:  Cookie had free miles and was using them for a flight from LAX to JFK, and a trip to spend some time with Marty. Marty was going to meet her at the airport and pick her up. She was planning to spend a week on Long Island, staying at a Best Western located midway between her niece’s apartment and Marty’s house.  It would be a week for visiting her family, and getting to know Marty again after 55 years.  I also knew that if she’d been nervous in L.A about doing this she wasn’t about to disembark from that plane looking calm and poised, like Audrey Hepburn.

“It was horrible!!!” she wailed at the other end of the phone. She was exhausted. “I’ve been up since 3, and I didn’t sleep too good a couple of nights before.” I could hear her at the other end trying to pull herself together.

Who the hell wanted to feel this vulnerable?  She wasn’t a kid anymore; who had the energy for this?  She wasn’t that fifteen-year-old with stars in her eyes coming off of that plane.  And she could see by the look on Marty’s face that was who he had expected to meet at the airport.

“Today was a scratch,” she said, using a term from horseracing when a horse has to be removed from a race. “Let’s just say it was a scratch.”

Maybe this was a bad idea flying 3,000 miles so she and Marty could meet up. There was just too much pressure riding on this New York rendezvous. Who knew it would feel this wrong?  After 55 years the love story of Marty and Cookie was getting another shot.  A chance encounter on the internet (Cookie looked him up on Facebook) connected the two of them for the first time since she was 15 and Marty was 22, when the Army took him away, and the distance and age difference had split them apart. Now, years later, the two had finally reconnected through Facebook, emails, and the phone. Marty and Cookie had rekindled a spark while 3,000 miles away from each other: Marty, living on the east coast, and Cookie (a transplanted New Yorker) now living in L.A. Their new love story (sort of) wasn’t without complications: They were thousands of miles away from each other, and Marty was already taken.  He was married, but it was a marriage of convenience. They were both too old and set in their ways to break apart.  But he had his life, and his wife had hers.  So what did that mean to Cookie and Marty?  They both agreed that they should meet in person and see what would happen.

“I walked off of that plane, and there he was, and I could just tell from the look on his face that he was disappointed,” Cookie told me.

They had both exchanged current photos through email. And both had seemed content with how they now looked in this 21st century.

“Yeah, but it’s different when you’re staring up close, face to face. I didn’t look my best, trust me.”

I tried to cheer her up.  Maybe she was wrong.  Sometimes we’re so anxious our mind plays tricks on us, and it’s so easy to sabotage ourselves when we want something so much.

“Let’s put it this way: It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.”

“What were you wearing?” I asked her.

“Oy.”

There’s that word again.

“Black capris and a white t shirt that was clinging to all the wrong parts of my body.”

Oy.

“My hair was a mess.  My make-up was all over the place. I could just see on his face that this whole thing was one big mistake.”

All Cookie wanted to do was to get to the motel and climb into bed and sleep.  Instead, Marty took her out to a restaurant for hamburgers. They talked, but the words didn’t come as easily as they did when traveling 3,000 miles across phone lines. And when the meal was over all Cookie wanted was for Marty to drive her to the motel. After she had checked in (as quickly as possible), Marty walked her to her room, and Cookie told him she wanted to be alone.

“You’re not expecting to come in, are you?” she asked him.

Marty shook his head no – maybe a little too quickly for Cookie’s taste.  “It was a scratch,” she told me again just in case I hadn’t heard her the first time.

“You need your rest,” Marty told her, and Cookie agreed.

“Maybe it’ll be better tomorrow?” I suggest to her.

“It couldn’t be any worse.”

(TO BE CONTINUED: Tomorrow  (8/10/12) – A Love Story (Sort of): The New York Rendezvous (Pt. 2) 7 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. CST, 4 p.m. PST)

(If you’d like to read the earlier segments of the Cookie & Marty story, follow these links…

A Love Story (Sort of)

A Love Story Continues (Sort of)