“Whether writing about food, home, football or Facebook, Molly's unique insights and wry sense of humor make her blog a delight to read.”
Tim Bete former director, Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop 

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THE ENUMERATOR

If I had to describe my husband, Charlie, in one word, it would be gregarious.

He can walk into a room full of strangers, stay one hour, and come home and tell me that

  • One woman there had shingles last year and still has the scars across her shoulders from them.
  • Another person has a grandson who lives in Alaska and actually likes the taste of blubber.
  • There was a young girl there passing around hors d’oeuvres who majored in English at Oberlin, has a dog named Grover, and her mother was actually Miss Illinois.

These are just a few examples. My husband has never met a stranger. This is why I think the United States Government has made a huge mistake in hiring Charlie to go door to door asking people who have not yet filled out the census to do so “with him.”

Because Charlie is going to be paid by the hour. A large stipend per hour. And this is where the Government is going to be in trouble. Because in addition to all of the Census information that Charlie will gather, he will also find out

  • Every single individual’s favorite color.
  • If they have ever been to Florida.
  • Do they like their coffee black, or with cream?
  • Does wearing a mask fog up their glasses?
  • Are they dog or cat people?
  • What are they having for dinner?
  • Have they ever seen a bald eagle in real life?

He will track his mileage, he can’t work over 40 hours a week, and he has to observe all the proper pandemic safety procedures. But none of the trainers at the Census Bureau realize that when they send Charlie out there, they will be getting so much more than they bargained for.

Charlie has already bought a stapler and three boxes of staples. Because all of the reports he sends in will have addendums.

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LIFE FAILS

I envy all the real grown ups out there. Some grown ups I know are barely out of their teens. Others are appropriately mature considering their age. I have been watching a lot of news lately, and I see adulting all around me: Politicians who when asked about the current administration, reply with diplomacy-veiled candor, managing to criticize yet remain within the bounds of decency. Protesters who are gassed, abused, and still continue to address wrongs, despite it all. People who manage to politely ask those crass ones who aren’t wearing masks to put one on, somehow doing this without offending the maskless. People who are given very poor customer service and manage to “talk to the manager” with their inside voices.

As my daughters and husband will attest, I am not one of these people. I want to be one of these people.Yet, time and time again, I have triggering episodes that cause me to

  • SHOUT
  • Threaten to close my account
  • Use goddamnit
  • Honk my horn more than the socially acceptable two beeps
  • Roll my eyes as rudely as possible
  • Ask the offending party “WHAT DID YOU SAY JUST NOW?”
  • Fail to take the other person’s point of view into consideration
  • Assume that the person sitting at the help desk isn’t really listening to me and tell that person so
  • Ask “Are you kidding?” in a very sarcastic tone
  • Turn tail and walk out
  • Give my husband the silent treatment

I would like to think that the pandemic is causing me to sit and reflect upon my shortcomings. I want to take a solemn vow to be more polite. I hope to learn how to mince my words. I feel that this time of solitude should result in me emerging from quarantine a more balanced, sane, and calm individual.

However. The leopards and spots thing…

 

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WHAT TO DO WHEN SHUTDOWN

Oh, man. How many months has it been? A hundred? I am certain that those of us who are still in the “alive” category remain at home for the majority of the time. We don’t participate in the street parties or bar hops. And for those heroic people who go to the marches and get shot with rubber bullets in order to change our sick culture, my mask is off to you, with great admiration.

But meanwhile, back at home, where I have memorized every inch of my apartment, things are predictable and boring. What is my daily schedule, you might wonder? Even if you don’t wonder, here it is:

  • Wake up at six. Check phone for important messages. There are never any important messages. Roll over and go back to sleep.
  • Get up and make bed. Husband is long gone to his workshop, where he can work on projects and play his accordion.
  • Wander into the kitchen. Make coffee. Toast 2 pieces of bread that will ultimately taste like cardboard that is crispy. Low carb.
  • Do a lap around the apartment. Dust something. Put in a load of wash.
  • Go out on the balcony to water the plants. My God, another hot one.
  • Wish it was cool enough to walk outside, but since it isn’t, put on a podcast and walk around the apartment until it is over. Never listen to podcasts that last more than thirty five minutes.
  • Do some online grocery shopping.
  • Pick up curbside groceries and curse (in the safety of my car) at all the people out there not wearing masks.
  • Come home, wash hands while singing “Happy Birthday,” and vow to just start counting to twenty, as this song is insufferable.
  • Put away groceries. Wash hands again. Birthdays will never be the same.
  • Sanitize counters.
  • Wander around the apartment. Put clothes in dryer.
  • Read something on the Kindle.
  • Wander around the apartment.
  • Go out on balcony. Still too hot.
  • Nap.
  • Wonder what to make for dinner.
  • Pet the kitten, who is absolutely the most adorable soul on the earth.
  • Make dinner.
  • Eat it.
  • Watch Netflix.
  • PRAY FOR A VACCINE

 

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IN ROOMS ALL OVER AMERICA, OR MAYBE JUST AROUND MY BLOCK

It’s months into this pandemic. We are all, well all of us who want to remain alive, inside–still. The above is the view from my balcony. All of those windows are where people are living. I like to imagine who they are and what they are doing.

In condo 4c, Chris and Franny have just taught their Pitbull Estelle to roll over. It took two days of intense treats, which Estelle knew exactly what were for, but she stretched the whole training thing out. More treats, you see. Estelle is white, mostly, but she has the most adorable black patch over her left eye. It looks like an eyebrow and that Estelle is giving them an arch look all the time. It’s bonkers. Chris and Franny think Estelle rescued them, instead of the other way around.

In 1A, Howard lives alone. He isn’t terribly sad about the pandemic, because Howard has never enjoyed lots of people. He lives in his head, mostly, and now that he has been working from home, he has really enjoyed ordering succulents online and making a window garden. He has even started water gardening, with hanging globes filled with the iridescent roots of his various propagation experiments. He looks out over the river, and wakes up early, puts on his mask, and strolls along the bank, waving from a distance to the runners and bikers out there. He likes to make these vague inroads into sociability at a distance. That suits Howard fine.

Ruth lives with her teen daughter Simone over on the other side of the building in 10D. They are on the top floor, and I can see their apartment from my balcony. They have fairy lights on their balcony. They look festive. Simone hates being cooped up, and she is getting totally bored of Zoom. She is hoping that she will be able to go back to school soon at least part time, but things are looking grim. Ruth worries that if Simone goes back to school, she will take off her mask and hug all of her friends. Ruth has asthma, so this keeps her up nights. Ruth is afraid that heedless teens might signal her demise.

My favorite is Marva in the first floor apartment facing the water. Marva, who is thanking her lucky stars that she is a retired teacher, has spent her pandemic time planting a perennial garden in the tiny plot allotted to her outside her apartment. Marva put in all kinds of sun-loving plants, and she also tried to plan her tiny plot so that something will be blooming from spring until fall. When she is finished out there and has scrubbed all of the dirt from under her fingernails, she works on the puzzle of Mount Kilimanjaro that her son  Kevin sent her. She has also begun making cheese grits with shrimp for her husband Ron, who so far thinks they are delicious, but need hot sauce.

Steve and Susan are retired. They live in a loft. They have a jetted tub, which they both fit in, and they like to soak in it right before bed. Steve reads poetry aloud to Susan, to help her relax. Susan holds his hand in bed.

Over at the Bright’s condo, Alfie and Rose spend a great deal of time on their roof deck, drinking gin and t’s and playing cards by lantern light. They keep a running score, and so far, Alfie is just barely ahead. If the games go on too long, Rose has the advantage, however, as Alf gets a little blurry after his third drink.

Back over here, in #522, it’s a little different. I am dying to make scones, but damn it, CARBS. The kitten refuses to stop jumping on the counters, and I worry that she might get burned on the electric stove that never looks hot. So I have to lay cutting boards all over it for protection before we sit down to eat whatever meal I cooked out of our subscription box. Last night it was Ratatouille. It required three pans, four different knives, unpitting Kalamata olives, and when all was said and done, it was meh. At #522, the days stretch long. I am here alone a lot, and I have no home projects, as everything here is new. I exercise in the morning, and then sit with coffee and the newsfeeds, which plunges me into despair before noon. Napping happens. Nothing much else goes on, except inside my head.

Here is what I really wish. I wish I could play cards with Alfie and Ruth. If Steve would call and read me a poem, I would be thrilled. Marva could just leave a Tupperware container of  shrimp and grits in the mailroom with my name on it; that would be the best. I would love to tell Simone to shut up and get with the program–she damn well better keep that mask on if she goes to school! I would love to ask if I could walk Estelle, and we would toddle over to Howard’s with our masks on (well, maybe not for Estelle), and Howard could pet Estelle and tell me why my jade plants keep dying.

If only.

Next time, I might tell you about the Breens. They live in that renovated old office building that I see when I look out from the other side of my balcony. I imagine they might be musicians. And Josie Breen might just have two Siamese cats. Her husband might play the marimba and take medical marijuana. Josie might want a parrot.

I might tell you about them.

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STATUS UPDATE

What is the “new normal,” anyway? I have never seen the movie Groundhog Day, but doesn’t it have something to do with a guy waking up every day and doing the same thing over and over?

I think that is what all of us are doing right now. Same old, same old, Staying home. Cooking. Some people bake. Lots of gardening and home projects. Cleaning out closets. Sewing masks. Binge watching things.

None of the above describes me, except for the binge watching. I live in a brand-new apartment. No scope for home improvement projects. I don’t have a garden. The closets are clean, due to the fact that we had a major clothing and belongings purge before we moved. Sewing? That’s a joke. I do binge, but don’t we all?

Here is a list of what I AM doing:

  • Showing up for a socially distanced dinner at our friends’ lovely yard on the wrong night. Three freaking days too soon. Thank goodness these are British friends, because they were actually dressed in street clothes, not pajamas like all of us born in the USA. They were so very gracious to implore us to stay anyway, and we had a lovely pizza dinner in their garden. I did hear the husband whisper to the wife “What shall we do with the dinner you have in the cooker?” To which she shook her head and whispered  back something like “Hush; we can have it tomorrow, go in and turn off the Aga.”
  • Exercising in the COVID way. This entails not leaving the apartment for fear of droplets. Thus, I wait until my husband leaves and walk purposely around the apartment to the beat of my Pandora playlist for 30 minutes every day. While pacing, I pray that the person who lives below us doesn’t wonder if I am being held against my will.
  • Podcasts. Some people listen to podcasts to learn about science, culture, or to keep up with current events, such as which law our POTUS shattered today. But I listen to the murder podcasts. The ones in which Joe Blow  disappeared without a trace twenty years ago and there is not one clue as to his whereabouts.
  • Napping. The Washington Post, or maybe it was The Guardian, said that people who nap during the pandemic have less stress. I am not sure that this is true, but taking a nap in the afternoon does kill an hour, so there’s that.
  • Dinner. My God, the pandemic certainly has dulled my will to live as far as dinner is concerned. What started out as new adventures in the kitchen has turned into tuna salad sandwiches and tomato soup. As a result, I have re-subscribed to Gobble, and those lovely food boxes have saved me. Tilapia with garlic and shallot confit, served over lime cilantro rice, all in 15 minutes. What on earth possessed me to cancel my food box subscription in the first place? It was probably a misplaced attempt at frugality.
  • Reading thrillers. There is nothing better than Harlan Coben and a glass of La Croix to set up for a nice late afternoon–you know, as a prelude to the food  box.
  • A kitten. Training my kitten not to get up on the kitchen counters. This is not going well.
  • Facetiming with my grandchildren. This is an exercise in chaos, with Birdie elbowing Charlie out of the way, Charlie howling at Birdie, Marion yelling at both of them to “CALM DOWN AND TALK TO YOUR GRANDMA,” and me, trying to get a word in edgewise.
  • Impulse shopping on Amazon. I now have an extensive wardrobe of masks in many fashionable configurations, which is pretty ridiculous, as I rarely go out of the house, except to
  • Go to the store in great fear and trepidation for fresh produce, especially watermelon. Online shopping for watermelon has not borne much fruit (see what I did there?).

Life is full. Not.

 

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GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT

The pandemic has become my nemesis. No, I don’t have COVID. Thank God. The reason I don’t have COVID is that I am in this house nearly every minute of every day. I take no chances, because I am one of the old ones, as we all know.

Moving on, it has become more and more apparent that I need something to do. My next novel has stalled, probably because I am stressed. We are all stressed, for God’s sake. So writing is just not something I want to do. Hell, blogging isn’t even something I want to do.

I needed to broaden something other than my waist. I need to expand my mind. I like art. I do some sort of art. Heck, I have even SOLD some of my art. So, I thought to myself, why not learn more about art? Maybe become a bit more skilled at it? I looked around online for free courses, and I found this one: POSTWAR ABSTRACT PAINTING. It had to be excellent, because it is put on by MOMA, and I love MOMA. I go there whenever I am in New York. Since I am not good at representational drawing, have no idea how perspective works (therefore all my drawings are one dimensional), and I use my finger to draw, this looked like it would be right up my alley.

I have heard of Willem de Kooning. Who hasn’t? Right, and Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollack. So this would be familiar territory. I thought.

The first lecture was a video about the New School that lasted one hour and forty minutes, I think it was. Not the school–the lecture.  I dutifully watched the whole thing. It was very detailed. Erudite. Boring. It covered things that I did not know, and actually, I was surprised at most of it. These artists, who many still think just threw paint all over the canvas or drew perfect red squares that somehow ended up in famous museums, actually had a deep philosophy and need to express their existential theories on canvas. They were dead serious, most of them tremendous intellects, and they all lived in Greenwich Village and went to one another’s houses to talk art. They also had a club where they met and talked art. I think they all drank a lot, and if drugs were involved, I wouldn’t be surprised.

My eyes and ears glazed over during the first “lecture,” but I remained aware enough to pass the first quiz with a 90%. I was proud of myself. However, at the onset of the second “lecture” and accompanying videos, I realized that this course was dead serious, and the other students commenting  on the art used to illustrate the points being made about the society at the time, the cultural shift that was occurring after the Second World War, and some other stuff–these comments were deep. The first slide asked how standing in front of  a work  of Barnett Newman affected one. The comments were wide and varied.

My comment was: “I have never stood in front of a work by Barnett Newman.”

Perhaps I was in the wrong class. I scrolled through a few more comments, and then moved on to the next lecture. It was about how to set up one’s studio, how to stretch a canvas, and the importance of semi-viscous media. Since I draw on my iPhone with my finger, I skipped that segment.

By the time I got to the third module, I skipped all of the lectures and went directly to the quiz. Hell, why not?  I failed the quiz, so I went back to the lecture. But Vir Heroics Sublimis just looked to me like a big rectangular canvas divided into three sections. They represent the void, I learned.  Yup. It looked like a void to me.  The more the lecturer talked, the less I listened. I knew how to draw a square using my app and the “ruler” feature. I could bisect it with straight lines using the “grid” feature. It would look just like this Newman work. How much roiling did Newman have to go through to paint this thing? So, my question: Was the emperor wearing clothes or really, was he naked?  I voted for naked and dropped the class.

What I really want, I now realize, is a class I can take online to learn how to draw better cats.

 

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DAY TO DAY

Life is so different. The new “normal.” Some of us have more courage than others; some see risk as just part of life. Others, those in the “vulnerable” category, see risk as life shortening. When the remainder of life is already short, risk is, well–riskier.

What is today’s life like? It is constrained, solitary, a little boring, and full of judgement. I can’t help getting angry with the people I see in stores not wearing masks. I have been to a few stores, and backed off from doing that very quickly. Too scary. Sometimes I feel like rolling down my car window to yell at maskless people. But I don’t.

Will this pandemic mean that many of us will remain leery of others for the long term? Will we become scared of human contact from now on? I don’t know. The situation with vaccines, not knowing if there will be one soon, if a vaccination will actually last for at least a year–all of that is uncertain. So in the meantime, those of us with a lot to lose by getting sick remain mostly at home, wistfully looking out of windows or thanking heaven for yard work. I am one of the window lookers, since a yard is no longer an option.

Is there a silver lining? I am searching for one. In the meantime, I miss my grandchildren so very much. I worry that I might become a shadowy memory to them, instead of a vital part of their lives. I miss sitting around with friends. Restaurants, our only outing in the past, are certainly not places we want to go to, although we see some of our friends risking it. Masks? A new wardrobe of flowery ones, ones with cats or artful blobs? Those are sort of fun. But the reality of all of this sinks in some days, and I feel both helpless and very sad.

One consolation is that many of us in the “vulnerable” category are in it together. We have solidarity. We can, at least this summer, sit outside at a safe distance and talk. Maybe even share a pizza. Thank heaven for FaceTime, Zoom, and all the other social media. One friend mentioned that our generation hasn’t had very much hardship, compared to the Great Wars, the Depression, the Holocaust. Perspective.

So today, I am making lasagne, looking forward to Netflix, and hoping for the best. And the kitten. There is the kitten.

Stay safe. Try to be cheerful.

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HEALING POWER

What is happening to us? This world is so full of frightening things. I don’t need to list them; you are well aware. Add to all of this the death of a much adored pet; and, well–it is almost too much to bear.

Enter the healer. One tiny kitten, so full of courage, enthusiasm, confidence, and love that I almost cannot believe my luck in finding her so very quickly after we lost McIntosh. She is full of energy until she drops. She purrs almost constantly. She cuddles. Hattie, also known as The Hat, is an answer to a prayer; except for the fact that I didn’t say any prayers. But you know what I mean.

So. Life goes on. I can’t say that I no longer wake up in the morning filled with anxiety and dread, because I do. Are we still “sheltering in place,” for the most part? Yes. Does it fill me with fear to have an unmasked person stand within a few feet of me in my mask? Yes. Do I worry every time my husband leaves the house, that he will somehow catch IT? Again, yes.

But one small being helps. She makes us laugh as she jumps into the little box we got from Amazon and put on the floor for her. She dashes around this place like a small demon. Then she jumps up into my lap for a nap.

Who knows when and if my life will ever go back to “normal?” At our age, it just may mean that my husband and I will live the rest of our lives in masks, staying distant from others. I hope not, because that is such a bleak prospect. But. We have a very small Hat to keep us company, and that is such a hopeful prospect.

Wear your mask. Keep your distance. Stay safe.

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GOODBYE AND HELLO

It was 14 years ago. My daughter Annie watched as a truck rolled over but didn’t hit a small animal running across the country road. She was directly behind the truck, and she wasn’t sure if what she saw was a baby squirrel, or a rat, or a little groundhog. But as she watched it run into the field of weeds, she realized it was a tiny kitten. She pulled over and walked into the field, calling. The kitten emerged from the underbrush, ran right up to her, meowing. She picked it up and put it in her shirt, got into the truck and headed straight for the veterinarian’s office. The kitten was basically a tiny skeleton–it had been out there for awhile, and the vet said it was about a day away from dying from starvation. Welcome, Macintosh. I adopted him that day, and he was the sweetest cat. He loved to peep at us. He would do anything (almost) for treats. He was the last in a long line of cats that we had at the “old house.”

When we moved to the apartment, he loved it. He got to go outside for the first time, and he and I sat on the deck at night (fifth floor; he couldn’t go anywhere) and look at the city lights.

Macintosh developed cancer, and we had to say goodbye last week. My heart broke. However, I thought I might possibly live without a pet. Other people seem to do it.

That lasted one day. One horrible, sob-like-a-baby day.

Then, I began to look up cat rescues. Annie, that same daughter who saved Macintosh, had very recently adopted from LiFeline Rescue in Dayton. So once again, Annie was responsible for saving another cat and her mother simultaneously. Well, I have to give credit to Annie’s husband, Josh, who is the one responsible for finding LiFeline Rescue.

So this happened: meet Hattie, the tiny kitten with a boop nose, beautiful markings, and a combination of confidence and snuggability that won me the minute I saw her push her littermates out of the way and stick her paw out of the cage to get my attention. She purred the moment I picked her up (the purr test; they must pass the purr test–invented by my sister). If a kitten doesn’t purr the moment you pick it up, you must not adopt that one. She passed the purr test with flying colors.

So. Hattie is home now, she is the boss of the place already, and my heart isn’t quite so heavy. I think Macintosh would approve.

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