Tuesday, December 13, 2016

He's All In

“Heath,” my friend, Nancy laughed, placing a hand on my arm “Hank’s the Mayor of Soul Hollywood.”

This past Sunday morning at our regular 9:30 class with Heather, we were standing outside the classroom waiting to clip into our bikes. Nancy’s husband, Jon, was close by. They are good friends and ride in Malibu.

Hank was deep in conversation with one of the instructors whose partner had been in a serious motorcycle accident.

“I know,” I said to Nancy.  “Look at him. He knows everyone. It’s like Bruin Woods,” I said. “Remember his itinerary of events for the week? He’s always been that involved guy.”

Nancy and Jon smiled, knowing Hank well after spending ten years with us at UCLA Family Camp.

Hank’s a joiner. Loves the schedule. The plan. The people.

As I write this on a Monday flight with Hank to New York, Hank, on his laptop, just leaned over…”Did you want me to book any bikes this week?”

“I’m good,” I reply.

“I’ve booked Danielle at 5:00 on Friday…Then, on Sunday, we have that brunch, so I’m thinking 4 o’clock….”

I smile and return to my laptop. Hank’s an insurance guy. It’s all about the relationships, he tells me, about his business. On this trip, he will be working the room. I’ll hang back.  I’ll find that interesting person and never move.

He’ll do a debrief on the ride back to the hotel. I’ll nod. Probably forget all the names…

I should have known he’d embrace this SoulCycle thing.  It’s an activity. And, Hank loves an activity. When I took him that first time, I never thought he’d like it. He’d been curious after I’d come home, loving it – and the people.
Hank, participating in the Mannequin Challenge
I tease him, now, about it. He’s all in. 

When he’s in his Orange County office, he rides after work in the Newport SoulCycle. If he’s in the LA office, he’s at Soul DTLA at the end of the day. On Friday afternoon, it’s Pasadena Soul. Rounding out the week, it’s Hollywood Soul on Sunday morning. 

And in a way I’m embarrassed by his exuberance. But, truthfully, how wonderful for him to embrace a healthy thing - to care, to know the names of the desk staff.  “Did you see? Lindsey’s back from Boston…”

I love that ... Never too cool to be that guy.

I keep coming back to my eighty-nine-year-old mother’s wise words….”Consider yourself lucky,” she says.  “He could be like my first two (husbands) boozing it up in the bar.”

I lean back over to Hank now on a project on his computer.  I tap him on his shoulder. His eyes are glued to the screen. I give him a smile, a squeeze to his arm.  He looks at me questioning. He’s intense and in work mode now.

“Sign me up for the 4:00 o’clock Sunday. I’ll go with you.”

He softens. “Ok.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

Twenty-three Days and Counting

And so it begins…the Holiday Season is on us. “Black Friday,” "Cyber Monday,” “Shop Small (stores)” and “Free Shipping.” It’s all about the rush to the finish line on December 25th.

Our outdoor lights are up. Today, Hank and I will haul out the fake tree from the garage, wrestle with it down the hall to the living room and remove the heavy canvas cover like a tight dress without the Spanx.

No more worries about the Christmas tree drying out and keeping the thermostat down to the likes of our refrigerator to make it last. No more mornings to check the water in the base, feel the branches to check for dryness and dropping an aspirin in the water below to prolong that fresh evergreen feel and smell.

Yes, we bit the bullet two years ago. I thought I’d never go fake, but oh how merry it is.

Christmas is like final exams.  I cram for a month. It’s the cards, the gifts, and the festivities. The endless trips to the market… It’s as if I was back in college before the big test. Did I miss anything? Anybody?

One year I did. After assessing the final tally, I’d forgotten to get my husband, Hank, a nice gift. It was five o’clock on Christmas Eve. No problem! I was downtown to Brooks Brothers and back to serve the goose (which nobody really likes) by seven.

“Where are you going?” Hank had asked as I dashed out the door.

“Don’t ask. I’ll be right back!”

It’s the jolly season of did I remember to send a gift to … Did I tip fairly? Is my kid-like-on Christmas- morning-husband, Hank, going to like the little nothings in his stocking?

Each year, I keep receipts in a big envelope that grows fatter by the day while my bank account gets thinner by the minute. Crazy…

My oldest son, Allan, teases me when I get uptight at other times of the year. “Hey, Mom, have you bought the tree, yet?” It’s code for…you are such a bitch at Christmas.

Yep, Holiday Season is a trifecta for this Type A personality of mine. Why can’t I just relax and heed the wise words of that wonderful Erma Bombeck, the icon of suburban humor. It’s alleged that, in her dying days, she said that if she’d only known…she wouldn’t have worried about the dust so much.

“Do we have to be the first on the block to put the lights out?” Hank asked, leaving for a business trip last week.


“Well,” he said zipping up his suitcase, “Please wait to do the tree when I get back. I mean, this is supposed to be fun.”


As I watched his car pull out the driveway, I thought about the year when the children were little and I was in my Christmas mode of “getting it done.”

Our son, Allan, had asked why we don’t have a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas.

“Why?” I’d asked, barely looking up as I addressed cards.

“Because it’s Jesus’ birthday.”

I’d put my pen down and looked up at him standing next to me, little freckles dotting the bridge of his nose.  “You’re right. It is.”       

Had I forgotten the meaning of Christmas?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Transforming My View

“You’re doing the Observation Deck?” my husband, Hank, asked.

I’d just finished reading him the itinerary for a walking tour with my friend, Anne, from Connecticut.  She was in L.A. for a few hours with her husband, Bob, who had a board meeting with Hank.

“It’s the one at City Hall. It’s not that high.”

“Ok, good,” he said. Hank was relieved, knowing my fear of heights. “I thought you meant the one on top of the US Bank Tower.

I looked out across from the 18th floor of Hank’s office to the City’s current tallest skyscraper. My eyes slowly scanned to the top. “That one?”

“It’s the one with the glass Skyslide,” Jan, Hank’s assistant, said, stepping up to the tall window.  “It’s easy to get to, just cross over…”

I nodded watching her point here and there, but I’d tuned her out.  City Hall’s deck is 457 feet. I could do that.  But, the U S Bank Building at 1,000 feet?

I looked over at Anne eyeing the building.  She was no stranger to a challenge. This was the woman who when she turned fifty, took on fifty new things in her fiftieth year that she’d never done. “Not a Bucket List,” she told me. “It was more like that someday is today.”

“We can do Beverly Hills and The Ivy,” I said, trying to steer her away from the idea of the Observation Deck. “Or, how about Santa Monica and…”

“No. No,” she said, eyeing the skyscraper. “This sounds great.”

I don’t recall when my fear of heights started, but it got worse about twenty years ago when I found myself gripping the car door handle for dear life along the high cliffs of Pacific Coast Highway on a road trip to Big Sur.

“I’m not real good with heights,” I told Anne. “And I won’t do that slide thing.”

“Whatever you want to do, Heath, is fine with me. Really.”

I thought about my conversation with my friend, Joanie, the day before. We were discussing my sixtieth birthday in two weeks. “How was it turning sixty?” I’d asked her.

“Liberating,” she replied.

I picked up my handbag and the itinerary. “Ok, Anne. Let’s do it.  It’s time I step out of my comfort zone and deal with this fear.”

I started to lose my bravado, though, on the elevator ride up.  It was dimly lit and the small blue numbers in the corner just kept climbing. “Anne, you do know we’re in earthquake country?”

The elevator opened and we made our way to the deck – the enclosed deck.  The panoramic view was magnificent but my mouth went dry as I ventured over to the windows with Anne. I tried to keep my eyes on the view in the distance. A flight attendant had given me that tip once.  It wasn’t working.

“There’s the Hollywood sign,” Anne said. “What’s that to the right?”

I stepped back toward the center wall. “The Griffith Park Observatory.”

As we made our way around and past the entrance to the Skyslide, I tried to put Anne off. “Now, those are the San Gabriel Mountains… and below that…”

I spotted the Well’s Fargo Building. “I’m just going to call my cousin, Jonathan, over there on the eighteenth floor.”

I needed back up, someone to talk to. Channeling a game show, I made a “safety call.”

“Hi Heath! What’s up?”

I watched Anne meander back to the slide.

“Hi Jonathan, I’m across the way with a friend from out of town and she wants to ride the Skyslide. It scares the hell out of me.”

“Oh, you couldn’t get me on that thing. So, where are you going for lunch…”

“Hey, Heath, come on over here,” Anne called out.

Before I could say goodbye to Jonathan, the call was dropped. So much for safety.

Two young male attendants were at the entrance with a scanner. “Oh, see, the sign says that it costs $8,” I said. “I’ll treat you and just hang back.”

“No worry,” the taller one said, “the ride is free the month of November.”

“It’s meant to be, Heather…” Anne said with a smile.

Eyeing the entrance to the glass chute, my mouth got even drier. “Those things,” I asked pointing to a stack of thin mats. “Do you sit on them?”

“Yeah, it’s easy.” He picked one up and showed me the handles attached. “You hold on to the handles here and off you go. A four second magic carpet ride.”

“How old is the oldest person who’s ever done this?” I asked. “ I mean I’m going to be sixty this month.”

“All ages, Ma’am.”

I peered beyond him at the glass tube, the knots in my stomach tightening. “I can’t Anne. You go ahead.”

Anne started to move to the steps up. “Wait,” I sighed. “I’m terrified, but I’m going to do it. “

I climbed the stairs. Tentatively, I took a seat on the mat that Jeff, the attendant at the entrance to the slide, had laid down. He was young with a clean beard and a soothing voice I swallowed hard, looking down the glass chute. “I can’t break the glass, right?”

“No, the glass won’t break. It’s quick. It’ll be over before you know it.”

“Now, hold on to these handles and sit straight. Don’t fold into the corners. You’ll feel like you want to but sit upright.”

“Oh, god…”

“You’ll be fine,” Jeff smiled. “You can do it.

I put my handbag between my legs, then, sat frozen, gripping the handles. I inhaled deeply, telling myself not to look down.

“Do you want me to push you to start?” Jeff asked.


And, I was off! 

“Wow!” I said, shaking as I stood on the padding at the end of the chute. “Anne, I feel like I had six martinis and no slur!”

My legs felt weak as I stood. I was so high.

I’d faced it. Done it. And had come out the other side. Wearing a cape  - not a bib.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Giver

My mother is resilient. I can always count on her, even at eighty-nine, to have that quick comeback. That wise, intuitive, feral answer to my questions.

Today I visited her. Bringing her lotion. Hairspray. Nail polish. Powder-blue eye shadow…I forgot the face powder. I’ll bring that on Thursday.

She pointed to the black Velcro tennis shoes by the wardrobe. “Take ‘em back.”

“Why Mom? You wanted black sneakers, right?”


I could see her grapple. It was not the Parkinson’s. It was that she didn’t want to upset me. I’d bought them for her. Thought they’d be safe. Easy to take on and off…

“Not sexy, right, Mom?”


I picked up the shoes. Put them back in the box.  “It’s fine, Mom. I’ll return them.”

“Beige,” she said. “Looks better with the Velcro, you know?”

“I do, Mom.”

Yesterday, she dropped her television remote control on her leg. I got a call from the Jewish Home For The Aging where she resides. “She’s a bleeder,” they told me. “We’ve bandaged her three times but she’s fine.”

“Does it hurt, Mom?” I asked her today.

“Not really.”

We turned to the television news on in her room. At the top of the news  - The funeral service for the two Palm Springs officers killed last week.

“Oh, Mom, this is so sad…”

“This world,” she said, “I’ll be dead and I won’t mind leaving this.”

I turned to her. My mother has never talked like this. “Mom?”

“Look at me,” she said. “What’s left? This is it.”

This coming from my mother, the woman always in pursuit of a man, a new piece of gossip, a fresh face of makeup. False eyelashes…

I looked at her hard. Her hair perfectly coifed from the salon below, her elbow resting on the extra pad on her wheelchair, a cacophony of cheap beaded bracelets adorning her wrists. The gaudy chain hanging from her neck.

She pointed to her watch that I had given her last year. “It’s stopped. I need a new…” she groped for the word…

“A battery?”

“That’s it,” she said.

“Ok,” I said, looking at the worn watch. “I have a new one at home you can have. Pretty. Rose gold.”

“I can’t have the real stuff here, remember?”

“No worry, Mom, it’s fake, but looks good, trust me.”

The nurse came in to take my mother to lunch. In a cheery voice: “Mrs. MacDougall, it’s time for me to take you to lunch.”

“One more minute,” Mom said. Then, pointed at her bulletin board at the entrance of her room.  “Those are my Christmas presents to all of you. I have no money, so this is the best I can do.”

I glanced around the corner…pinned on the board, Mom’s artwork. My mother, always the giver…

“Mom, these are beautiful!”

“It’s not the Ritz, but what the hell.”

“You didn’t tell me you were painting again?”

My mother’s attention had shifted. “Isn’t he wonderful?” she said, smiling at the male nurse adjusting the footrests on her wheelchair.

She’s back, I thought. Thank heaven for men.

He stood up to wheel Mom out, his dark hair combed neatly to the side. “We love your mother here.”

I swallowed hard, emotions rising.  “We do, too…”