Thursday, September 19, 2013

In a Diner Further North

A waitress bellies up to the side of our table at the Blue Line Diner on Route 2. She calls us, “dahlings.”  This isn’t Hollywood effect. It seems more like an accent, so I ask my husband since he has lived in Vermont thirty-five years opposed to my fifteen. He answers, “oh, that’s a Winooski accent” rolling his eyes. She’s a local lady, indeed, who if geographically deposited thousands of miles east, could be a waitress in an Irish pub, not only due to the fun and interesting way in which she speaks, but by her manner and how she gracefully butts into a conversation, a skill unto itself. And she can’t help but call her customers pet names like “dearie,” (we all know this comes with the risk of offending,) but the fact of the matter is she doesn’t care. She’s just being herself.

 Behind the Counter

Without knowing her personally, my husband determines that she  1) Drinks generic beers. And 2) is “a bit rough.”  (He’s the polite sort, ya know, so he won’t elaborate further.) I moved to Vermont in the late 1990’s. The women with whom I worked at my new job told me about Allison, the secretary I had replaced. Full of bad-ass attitude and not really a team player, she’d rather cozy up to the bosses. “She’s from Winooski, ya know,” said Mary, head paralegal, imitating the accent, apparently an essential piece to being “Winooski.” Part Maine, part rural Vermont farmer, and part alley cat – that’s all you need to know.  


This lady’s eyes sparkle as she takes our order, then walks away to fetch our drinks. She’s attentive to every customer, helps her coworkers, and fusses over my husband’s iced tea. And she’s got a sense of humor, made obvious nearly every time she opens her mouth. So right there, I go all soft and Jersey. When we’re finished with our meal, she leaves the check with me. My husband laughs, she catches herself and picks it up, plunks it down in front of him. I look across the table and try to read her name upside down. I see a big “E.”  “Is it Eileen, like mine?” I ask my husband She hears me from behind the counter. “It’s Esther,” she hollers, an old-fashioned family name, why? Your mom name you after someone, too?”

It’s about CONNECTION, about being a REAL HUMAN BEING, and I love it. I’ll take it any time over cool, calm and collected. I love living in Vermont and I’ve met great women friends here, but sometimes I really miss my Jersey girls. A Jersey girl will do anything in the world for you – whatever you need; or if the occasion calls for it, she’ll tell you to go scratch – refreshing. At least it helps you know where you stand. And you’re free to take it from there. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Brigantine, Circa 1963

The smell of oil wakes us some mornings. I imagine a ship sailing the sea by night, spilling a bit of its cargo. Perhaps a weary deck hand or oil company employee fell asleep on his watch. Hey, it happens. We have no concept of the oil’s potential danger. Dirty, yes. Harmful? The word simply isn’t in our intellectual maze-waze. We just assume the oil dissipates and washes away just as the shells and seaweed do with each new wave. We don’t worry about anything at all because we are kids, my sisters, cousins and I, and we are on vacation in Brigantine, New Jersey. Oil spills, as far as I know, are not reported as such in 1963.

All of us love these long weeks spent at “the Jersey shore.” Usually when I wake, my two thoughts are whether there are any Sugar Pops left for my breakfast and how fast can I get my two-piece suit off the line and back on my behind so that I can hit the beach by 10 a.m. when the life guard officially goes on duty. We make our beds, wash our dishes, and sweep up the prior day’s sand that has been inadvertently and liberally sprinkled over the linoleum floors of my Uncle Jim’s cape cod home.  Aunt Anne is our only chaperone, a welcome, go-to adult, who knows how to work behind the scenes lest she ruin our fun. She walks around bra-less, a fact for which I admire her greatly. She suns herself wearing those egg-like goggles over her eyes, nose smeared with Noxzema or Coppertone. She is also the source of the wonderful aroma of fresh-perked coffee, which wafts through the house and wakes me every time. I still think of Aunt Anne when I smell morning coffee. 

 Aunt Anne Early Morning - Peace & Quiet

My cousins, sisters and I tramp up to the beach bare-footed, or wearing cheap flip flops purchased at Jack’s Pharmacy.  $.59 a pair available in an array of colors. Cover-ups tangle with beach chairs until we reach our usual spot far enough away from water’s edge so we don’t have to pull up stakes too soon due to high tide. Blankets are weighed down with carry-all bags stuffed with towels. Buckets and shovels are hauled to the shoreline. We search for interesting shells as we skirt along the eastern side of a continent down to Fisherman’s Pier. Atlantic City skyline, before casinos, frames the view to the south.

We wiggle our way past the lifeguard stand several times a day. Jay McDonald resembles 1960s tv actor, Glenn Corbett. Tan and moderately muscled, Jay stars in my earliest romantic fantasies. We know where he lives and in the evening we purposely walk past his house on 36th Street hoping to catch a glimpse of him dressed in shorts and Hawaiian shirt, headed out on a date with an unknown, imaginary bleach-blonde. Maybe he and I will make eye contact and when we do, he’ll smile and realize I have a crush on him just as my cousins, Mona and Nan, do.  My sister, Peggy, loves him, too. After dinner, we walk back to the beach. We climb up into Jay’s stand and scrounge for mementos.

 Jay's stand - modern times

Around 3 p.m., the seven of us traipse back to the house, only a half-block away from the dunes. Sand in our suits, sunburned skin – we head to the outdoor shower and rinse off.  The private shower is up on the back deck. We use soap, it feels so good to get clean again. I wash my hair with Johnson’s baby shampoo. We pull out the new short sets my mother has given us for our vacation. She stays at home with our little brothers. She must love the break from routine. Her daughters are well cared for and out of her hair at the same time. It’s a deal most mothers can buy into.

After clean-up, we play cards, or we go off, either in pairs or by ourselves, to the pharmacy to buy Teen Beat magazines. We bring them home, plop into the wicker chairs in Uncle Jim’s outdoor cabana, where we read from cover to cover -  stories of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and American Bandstand. I marry Paul. Peggy marries John. Denise Liebowitz of Philadelphia dates Danny Epstein – they’re a regular couple on Bandstand. The article says that Denise hates that she must cut her fingernails for typing class. I empathize despite the fact I bite my own nails.

Aunt Anne makes spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Though I managed to sneak away to Dairy Queen for a vanilla cone dipped in chocolate, I am ravenous. The cone costs me a dime, and the time to walk home allows me to finish before I return to the house. Sometimes, my cousins come with me. We leave our ice cream trash on the steps of the Christian Science reading room. We must think no one will notice mostly because no one ever seems to be there.

 DQ Love

After dinner, the bunch of us pick up assorted sunglasses lying around the house.  We don them, cool cousins. We form a conga line, make beatnik sounds and snap our fingers as we move through the house in unison, singing to Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips”   We are happy and carefree, oblivious to oil spills and everything else that life will ultimately bring our way.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Tribute - Another Jersey Guy

A Tribute – Another Jersey Guy 


The news reports poured in from Italy. James Gandolfini - actor, husband, father, and Jersey native, died of a heart attack at age 51.

As one of the legion of Soprano’s fans, I have currently been viewing the series for a third time, and adore Gandolfini and his work. I realize he’s a celebrity; and I didn’t know the man.  So why do I feel so stunned and saddened by his passing? Moments after the news broke, my daughter texted me the news; then another daughter. Then, my son called. (All original Jersey folk, by the way.)  Facebook posts began to appear emoting tender responses. Several of my women friends have come out of the closet, declaring their attraction to this man whom most of us know as Tony Soprano, mob boss.  Tony – with a vicious, irrational temper. He killed people with little or no remorse. He was a glutton who abused women – a lout and unreasonable to an extreme, declared a sociopath by his psychiatrist. Yet we were drawn to him and into the drama of his life.

Amidst the self-loathing and “shit storms” in which Tony surrounded himself, we related to him due to Gandolfini’s acting genius. He convinced me that seemingly lost human beings are capable of goodness. The character’s love for his children cannot be denied. Though at times impatient and nasty, still his passion came through for the kids and his wife, Carmela. I swear it seemed Tony spent more time with his kids than real-life dads often do with theirs. Tony and Carmela’s volatile relationship reeked of condescension and disrespect, but I can say right here, that after watching the series a third time, they also, for whatever it is worth, loved each other. According to Edie Falco, Gandolfini’s co-star, “He (Gandolfini) was a man of tremendous depth and sensitivity, with a kindness and generosity beyond words. I consider myself very lucky to have spent 10 years as his close colleague.  The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I've ever known."

 Drawn in by Gandolfini’s talent and genuine warmth, we had no choice but to believe in Tony’s humanity with all its flaws, and rooted for his redemption. I don’t think my friends, fellow fans, and I would have believed in Tony if it weren’t for James Gandolfini’s remarkable spirit, which has now moved on.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cats and Cows and the Road Home

Cows are like cats and horses are dogs. New Jersey is a dog, Vermont is a cat. This is my new metaphor for life.  Cows mosey, they hang out together, they are quiet most of the time. When they do make noise, it’s a soulful lowing. Like cows, cats are often silent.  My cat, Clancy, never meows for his food. Sentinel by the bowl, he stares like a sweet-looking vampire until you are compelled to engage eye-to-eye. I must pull the bag of kibble from the pantry immediately. Clancy would never say, “get the bag of kibble now, bitch.” Like someone from Jersey would.  

Clancy loves me

Even a dog lover will admit – dogs are eager to the point of obnoxiousness. And they slobber.  Dogs bark at everything - the neighborhood kids, the Jehovah’s Witness who come up my drive uninvited, whatever. A dog will bark for hours at a time. Of course, this would probably indicate he is tied up outside, or left alone in an apartment while his owner goes on a movie/dinner date. But cats – whether in adoration or discomfort, remain silent and simply gaze into your eyes.  If a cat becomes upset that you left him to go on a lengthy Italian vacation, you’ll never know.  Yes, he probably missed you, but you'll only be able to tell, telepathically.

Horses gallop around and whinny.  They jump. They’re such high maintenance. Even when they trot, they make noise. And they need shoes.  Cows don’t, so right there, you’re saving a lot of money – Vermont likes to do that, too; or rather, Vermont gives out a lot of money, but at least Vermont isn’t greedy.

You never read stories about young girls destroyed for life over the loss of a cow. You never read young adult fiction with titles such as My Friend, Bossi.  It’s always My Friend, Flicka. They get SO much attention, those horses.  As do the dogs when they bark all night or attack a child.  When a horse falls taking a jump they must be put down and break hearts all over the place. 

Jersey is a lot like a horse.  Look at New Jersey  - it gets way too much attention. There’s Chris Christie (well, he sort of deserves it.) There are those Housewives from New Jersey.  They are called “real” housewives, but I knew about 150 housewives when I lived in Jersey, and although some of them got their nails done regularly and some continue to sport big hair, none of them ever looked or acted like the “real” Theresa Guidice and her dressed-to-the-tacky-hilt little girls. And those Jersey ladies love the attention, just like a horse does. The housewives go to charity events for knock-down drag-outs and swear like sailors. Horses participate with their owners in snooty high-end competitions.  Cows have no need for this type of attention.  Farm kids show their cows at county 4-H fairs, but mostly, cows hide in barns, stay way out in the field with their own kind all day long, and provide food for us without complaining. And the cats hang out with the cows because there's milk nearby, which the cats love. Cats and cows, especially  Vermont cows, have established a mutual admiration society.  But what does a horse do? Oh yeah, right. The horse provides no sustenance to human beings, but once gone to the glue factory, they DO provide food for their own ilk – the dogs.  Ironic.

Big Hair never lets you down

I liken the feline to Vermont. Cats self-groom; so does Vermont. Vermont looks after herself. It’s the norm for Vermont roadways to be litter-free. On the rare occasion, I come home and find a McDonald’s coffee cup thrown onto the grass near my driveway. Vermont sadly has a few citizens who aren’t attached to Vermont’s sense of aesthetic pride, which is not solely related to liberal politics. We have a reputation to uphold.  So when I see this trash, I stop the car and get out. I pick up the used coffee cup  and throw it on the floor of my back seat where it will remain for at least month, or if I’m feeling industrious, will go into our garage trash can. I perform this feat of handling a stranger’s germy cup without gloves, while risking my own health to make certain the Vermont roadside environment remains clean. 

I drove to New Jersey twice this past winter. While on the Turnpike, I noticed trash dotting the roadside like tiny white spring flowers. I’m driving down to Jersey again tomorrow.  I’ll miss my cats and the cows.  But hey, Jersey, you’ve got another chance to redeem yourselves.  I’ll be looking for clean roadsides, after all, it’s spring, perhaps the citizens were out in full force on Green-Up Day last weekend.  That’d be really nice to see.
Jersey Highway - a clean-up effort. Nice, but, so like Jersey to show off. Will it stay clean? We shall see.
 credit Facebook

Here is what will most likely happen.  The Turnpike and Parkway, as much as I have hope, will (mostly) still be lined with litter. Only when I cross the Vermont state line, will there be the absence of trash.  Then, I’ll notice the cows, minding their own business in the fields along Route 22A. At the front door, my cats will greet me, silent as always, but happy - even if they don't show it.

Sweet Gals
credit Faceb