There’s a New Kid in Town: Boston

North-Washington-Street-North-End.Charlestown2You know the expression. “You can never go home.”  Of course that isn’t literal, but returning home can sometimes feel foreign due to changes in the place, the people, or yourself.

Mostly it is a combination of all of those things.

Recently, I went “home” to a part of Boston that I had left back in the early ’80’s. I found a New Kid in Town called the “Seaport District” and it is breathtakingly beautiful.

There are nice shiny buildings, swanky hotels, brand spanking new apartments, thriving businesses, a stunning concert venue, and even an adult playground with swings that light up.

For anyone visiting Boston for the first time, this is a jewel. For people working here, all I can say is that I am envious.

So why do I feel so sad?

Back in the 1970’s the Seaport District didn’t look, or smell, like this, and it sure didn’t have such a stylish name. We calleld it simply the Waterfront or the pier.

The buildings along the waterfront announced its industrial status, just in case there was any doubt. Restaurants like Anthony’s Pier Four and Jimmy’s Harborside were the upscale sea food restaurants on the pier. These places were too rich for my meager budget. But since they didn’t depend on struggling college students like myself, they thrived, and from what I hear, the food was exquisite.

The pier simply had the best and the freshest seafood you could get.

From Atlantic Avenue we walked to the waterfront over an old bridge constructed with wide wood boards warped by time and sea water and metal that was brown with rust. There was no escape from the smell of fish.

Once over the bridge we walked down the street only to stand in a long line with people like ourselves with strict budgets and a love of fresh seafood and large portions. We stood amongst people clutching paper bags containing bottles of beer and wine. And if we were early enough trucks were still making deliveries in the open bays. We stood in the freezing cold as the wind blew off the the harbor forcing the smell of fish up our noses. And the wind always blew.

We stood, and laughed, and talked, and sometimes held our noses, until we were finally brought into the chaos that was No Names Restaurant.

We sat in a crowded and loud open area, we saw people working outside fending off seagulls diving in to steal what they could , and on occasion a rat or two. It was the waterfront – rats happen.

We ordered the best fish chowder on the planet and fried clams or fried fish and french fries. And the portions were huge!

We left stuffed with fish and smelling like it.

So when we decided to take out-of-state relatives, who had never been to Boston, for a seafood experience, I chose No Names. On the Waterfront.

Today, the wooden bridge sits rusting and disconnected in the Boston Harbor, the smell of fish is barely perceptible, No Names is housed in one long non-descript, perfect fascade low rise brick building with several other sea food restaurants. There are no lines of people waiting outside with their own alcohol and no trucks tucked into the bays. There is no chaos.

There is also no personality. Seagulls aren’t swooping in and I didn’t see any rats – which is probably a good thing. The food is okay, at best.

Maybe the food was never as great as I remember (except for the seafood chowder. That is still great), but the whole thing just seemed ordinary. If I closed my eyes I could have been in any restaurant anywhere, and I felt a twinge of something that I couldn’t identify, but later recognized.

Jimmy’s Harborside and Anthony’s Pier Four are gone. The nice shiny hi-rise buildings have replaced the worn brick low-rise industrial buildings.

Swanky hotels like the Westin, that could not even be imagined in that area, now accommodate people coming to the Boston Convention Center, or who are just visiting.

Brand spanking new apartments that rent for $3,000.00 per month for a 600 sq. ft one bedroom are filling up. Thriving businesses, a stunning concert venue, and even an adult playground with swings that light up have all revitalized the area.

And it is beautiful.

But I miss the feel of it.

And that was the twinge.

I am impressed by the new kid and I think we can become fast friends. But I miss my old friend and will hold its memory dear.

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The Lemonade Stand

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I have a rule. If I see kids selling lemonade on the side of the road, I pull over and buy some.

I was driving through the newer part of my neigjborhood, where I don’t know a soul, and saw a group of children, none of whom was older than 10 years old, flagging down motorists trying to sell lemonade.

The ones who weren’t doing the hustling played behind the long table set up at the edge of the sidewalk. On the table was a single pitcher of lemonade, a bowl of snacks and a cash register. I wear to God, a cash register. I was already smiling.

Before I even came to a stop, a boy wearing a NY Jets shirt jumped up and down and yelled, “So you want some lemonade?”

I smiled and said, “Sure! How much?”

Before the word “much” was out of my mouth he said, “Twenty five cents! And we have monster munch, too?”

He was an eager sales person.

“What’s that?”

A taller boy answered and said, “it’s a snack and that costs fifty cents.” He was the serious one, taller than NY Jets boy and appeared to be a bit older.

Mr. NY Jets couldn’t contain himself. And with a huge grin he blurted, “If you buy both its a dollar!’

I started to say something like, “HUH?” when the taller boy put his hand out like a mother protecting her child when she slams on the brakes and said, “No, I’ll handle this. Its both for seventy five cents.”

And suddenly it wasn’t 9/11 and I wasn’t the mother of grown children who stopped selling lemonade at the bottom of our driveway decades ago.

But it was. And I was.

And every one of us was smiling and laughing when I told Mr. Jets that he was wearing the wrong shirt while one of the girls poured my Dixie cup full of sugary sweet lemonade.

I handed them 2 quarters for one cup of lemonade. And they we’re so excited.

Excited over fifty cents. Excited that they made a sale. Excited because someone stopped and paid attention – and overpaid for a cup of lemonade.

So I got out of my car with my wallet.

I asked the kids if they knew what today was.

Mr.Jets yelled out, “FRIDAY!”

I laughed and said, “yes, but do any of you know what else today is?”

A younger boy with glasses said, “Saturday!” and I laughed some more.

By this time Mr.Jets mom came out to see what was going on, so I had to explain that I was her neighbor from the older part of the development.

I continued, and asked again, “Does anybody else want to guess at what is special about this day?”

And Mr. Serious said, “September 11th 2001.”

Hearing that spoken by a child who was not even born at the time, surprised me and my eyes filled with silent tears.

I smiled at him and said, “that’s right.”

I looked at all of them, one by one, and said, “It’s kind of a sad day, but you all made me smile. And making someone smile is very important.”

And then I handed them each a dollar and decided that a NY Jets shirt was the perfect shirt to wear on this day.

I have a rule: I stop at lemonade stands run by kids because I still have things to learn.

I used to know the ages of my children without even thinking about it.

First I measured their brief lives in minutes, then hours.

I looked at the clock in my hospital room after the trauma and triumph that is birth, and realized that at 3 hours old, if I had watched a movie, I would have missed half of their lives.

At the time of each of their births I was 25, 26, 29 and  finally 31 times their age.  It occurred to me that there was nobody alive that was 25 times my age.

I counted the hours until I got to 24 and then I asked each tiny bundle, “How was your day?” which was tantamount to asking, “how was your life?”

I took them home and they were three days old.  The only hours I counted then were the hours between feedings and the hours of sleep I wasn’t getting.

When the days became weeks, even when I didn’t know whether it was Monday or Thursday, I knew exactly how many weeks old they were.

I didn’t start consistently counting their ages in months until they passed the 12 week mark. Even then they weren’t simply 4 months old, they were “4 1/2 months”, or “almost 5 months.”  Accuracy was important, although I’m not sure who I thought was going to hold me to such exact standards. Nobody ever asked me to prove it.

When counting their ages in months became cumbersome,  I knew how old my children were down to the 1/2 year mark.  I no longer concerned myself with minutes or hours, unless it was how many minutes late I was picking them up, or how many hours of sleep I could sneak in. Wait, that was minutes, too.

Years are pesky things.  Even though they are made up of each precious minute, hour, day, week and month, somehow those smaller increments get all smushed together the more the years accumulate.

The minutes I timed them nursing; the hours I watched them play in the yard, read bedtime stories and said our prayers; the days I put them on a bus and waited for the bus to return them to me; the weeks of cleaning summer’s sweaty bodies, dirty faces and filthy feet; and the school months of homework, tests, football, basketball, cross country and piano lessons; are now recalled in years.

I don’t remember how many of them passed before I could no longer immediately recall each of their ages in years, nevermind months. It happened sometime between being 25 times older than my oldest child, to less than half his age.

There are months, days, hours, and minutes that I have not forgotten, and once a year I celebrate those exact times and re-live those memories I once counted in minutes, hours, and days all over again:
2/23/85 7:23pm
8/30/86 12:06 am
3/4/89 2:09 am
7/21/91 4:15 pm

On those days I let the weeks, months, and years go and am forever grateful that I was present for the moments.

 

 

My Pants Are Trying to Kill Me

My Pants Are Trying to Kill Me

My pants have been too tight all day confirming that I am, in fact, too big for my britches.

Or am I?

When I hiked these jeans up over my hips this morning and plopped myself down on the bed so that I could button them, I assumed that the material would stretch out in a few hours and they’d be fine.

After all, they were the same size as the jeans I usually wear.

The. Same. Freaking. Size.

But at the moment, I was sporting a muffin top extraordinaire and had to figure out a top that would hide the overhang until this situation got under control. I chose a blue tank top and matching cardigan.    This was a job for Two-Tops. I said a silent “thank you” to the HVAC logic in my work building, which is:  “65°?  Crank up the AC so that space heaters are necessary.”

By 2 pm I was sitting in a meeting and the pants still had not stretched.  Or if they had, not enough.  I could feel my liver, spleen, stomach, and about a mile of intestines creeping up on my lungs.  I started to think about internal decapitation (that’s a thing) and if it’s equivalent was possible in the torso.

Meetings are excruciating enough without having to deal with my pants cutting me in half.

The second I left that conference room, I unbuttoned and partially unzipped my pants.  Oh yes I did.  And my second silent thank you of the day was to myself for having the wisdom to wear Two-Tops.

But this would never have happened if women’s sizes were uniform measurements that all clothing manufacturers followed, like Men’s Clothing. There I said it.

But there’s more!  Of course there is.

Let us not forget the changes in bust, waist, and hip measurements to this Non-Standardized Sizing System through the years, and you have the manipulation of numbers minus logic which can only be the basis for Common Core Math.  Women’s Clothing Sizes are the only real-world application to that convoluted mess that nobody understands.

Because nobody truly understands this mind-bending fool-yourself sizing system.

Here’s an example:  people (I’m not sure who these people are) like to point out that in the late 1950’s early 1960’s Marilyn Monroe wore a size 12.  That is the same size I wear today, including these evil body-severing jeans. And I am no Marilyn Monroe (although I did have a “thing” for JFK when I was 3-4 years old but that’s another story).

By today’s standards, and depending on the designer/manufacturer, Miss Marilyn would wear anything from a size 00 (that’s double zero because zero is too big) to a size 8.

Say it with me folks:  W T F????

Knowing this, I should have known better when I chose to wrestle myself into 10 year old size 12 Lee jeans marked 12L (L for long). These were my “fat pants” after all.  (Fat pants – another topic for another day).  But I ignored all of it in favor of believing in the magic of stretching denim in non-stretch jeans.

I nominate the Levi Strauss company to standardize women’s clothing sizes once and for all.  This is one of the things that men do better than women.  I have never heard a man say that he feared that his pants were trying to strangle the lower half of his body, unless he intentionally wore the wrong size.

Maybe then I’ll start shopping for clothes again.
Just kidding.
In order for that to happen they would have to make a “Garanimals for Women” line.  I would be all over that.

Doobie Doobie Do

Setting:  Downtown Charlotte, NC
Date: Eve of the Charlotte 600, May, 1997

Sam and I walked downtown to attend a free concert the night before the NASCAR race. There was a large crowd already listening to great music.

After a couple of outstanding songs  (that I didn’t recognize) I said:

WOW!  This band is really good!  I wonder why they never made it.

Sam:  You’re kidding, right?

Paula:  No!  Don’t you think they’re good?

Sam: <laughing hysterically> Paula, this is the Doobie Brothers!

Paula: <laughing > Well the only one I would recognize is Michael McDonald, and he’s not up there.

And then they played “Long Train Running”, the first song of theirs that I knew.  If I had waited for one more song, this conversation would never have happened and we wouldn’t have had some great laughs over it for the past 20 years.

Fast forward:  February 4, 2017:

Setting:  Sam’s basement office in the midst of massive rearranging.  On the stairs is a pile of framed and unframed photographs.

Paula: <bending over to go through the photos finds a 5 x 7 concert photo, holds it up to show Sam>  What is this a photograph of?  It looks like a band, but I don’t know who it is.

Sam: <laughing hysterically>  AGAIN SHE ASKS ME.

Paula: <confused> This is the first I’ve seen of this photo.

Sam:  IT’S THE DOOBIE  BROTHERS.  <continues laughing>

Paula:  <laughing> Well you know that I don’t know what they look like.

Sam:  <still laughing> Or sound like, apparently.

My Fashion (Non)Sense

 

(I wrote this in 2010 before I had a blog.  I’m not even sure that I knew what a blog was back then.  I am now 57 years old and not much has changed).

 

I have fashion non-sense.
After 50 years, this realization finally hit home this past Thursday.  Oh, there have been plenty of hints along the way. For example, friends wanted to call “Ambush Makeover” to have them, well, ambush me and throw my entire wardrobe into a dumpster.  My fashion nonsense is that bad.

Thursday started like any other work day.  I got dressed as I usually do, looked in the mirror, and honest to God, I thought I looked fine in the neutral pair of khaki pants and sheer brown blouse that fell down below my butt.  Because the blouse is meant more for summer wear than the recent sub-zero temperatures , I decided to wear my brown velour blazer over it.

Ahhh, yes.  The brown velour blazer.  My mother handed this item down to me back in the 1980’s.   Well, maybe it was sometime in the 90’s but the point is, the jacket is old and the elbows are starting to wear thin. Do they even make velour anymore?

I then slipped my feet into my well worn (read scuffed and scratched) tan colored cowboy boots and donned the only winter coat I own, a men’s extra-large tan leather jacket with fringe running across the chest, down the arms and across the back. This coat is also not new, having been purchased in smoke filled Colorado pawn shop by my husband.  After a thorough cleaning, I have been wearing it every fall and winter since 2002 because it is the warmest coat I have ever owned.  I’m nothing if not practical.

Because I do not accessorize – no rings, bracelets, watches or ear rings – the only outstanding item missing from this “Vision in Brown” ensemble was my purse. My purse, while caramel in color and matching perfectly with the fringe coat and the tan boots, is really too small to fit all of the junk that I carry with me on a daily basis.  So, I put the purse inside a freebie canvas bag that I got from my employer.  It is not tan and the purse is not visible inside.

I saw nothing wrong with the “Elvis Presley meets Annie Oakley” ensemble until I visited the Ladies’ room mid-morning.  When I opened the stall door, I was faced by my reflection in the mirror, and was horrified by what I saw.  The blouse was hanging down BELOW the blazer both in the front AND in the back. The pants while neutral in color were cool grey and did not blend with the warm browns.  I don’t know why I didn’t notice this in my own mirror.  But the realization hit – I looked like hobo.

I ran back to the office and blurted to a co-worker, “Oh my God!  I look like a HOBO!”

Had I not taken a good look at myself, I would have gone on with my day in “What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You” bliss.  But I could not un-see my reflection.  And I had an appointment to meet with a family to discuss finances.  The irony was not lost on me, but it didn’t make me feel any better, either.

So, having no alternative wardrobe, I was introduced to the family as the “Money Expert,” dressed like I live at the Salvation Army.

“Trust me,” I said, “I will give you options regarding the $ 400,000 – 600,000 your parents have in investment accounts”.  And the funny thing is; they did trust me.  It must be my smile.  It’s not second hand and it is genuine.

Faced with this humbling realization, I decided that this weekend I would go out and buy myself a new coat, new shoes and a new purse. Yes, shoes. I own one pair of shoes that I actually wear, and they have been falling apart for months.  There are holes in the sides and the heels are starting to disconnect from the sole.

Part of the reason I have a nonsensical wardrobe is because I hate to shop.  I have hated it ever since I can remember.

As a kid, Back to School shopping was a nightmare.  Trying on outfits drained me. If I didn’t show  enthuasisum for a particular outfit, my mother would say, “I’m not going to buy it if you don’t love it otherwise you’ll never wear it.”

This resulted in trying on more outfits until I could convince her, somehow, to just buy something.  Eye-rolling was not getting the job done.  In reality, it wasn’t the outfits I was unenthusiastic about, it was the shopping and  I had no idea how to fake that.  Online shopping was decades in the future, but at six years old, I was ready for it.

As a teenager, the thing I liked most about going to the mall was eating at Friendly’s and going to the movies.  The only item of clothing that I didn’t mind “shopping” for was Landlubber jeans at R.H. Whites.  And I use the term shopping loosely.  I knew my size, so I didn’t have to try them on.  I could pick them out of a bin, walk over to the register, pay for them and I was done.  That’s my idea of shopping.

I also hate the cold.  So if I have to go shopping and it is cold outside, the chances that I will actually get out the door decrease expotentially.  So, true to form, on Saturday, I put off leaving the house so long that by the time I decided to force myself into the cold, it was 3 pm. Since it was going to get dark soon, I decided not go.  I ate donuts instead.  Donuts are a separate issue and have nothing to do with my wardrobe or fashion, but have everything to do with me bitching about my weight and not wanting to buy “fat” clothes.  Eating donuts on Saturday served more as a disincentive to go shopping on Sunday.
I did manage to go shopping on Sunday.  I made it to the Burlington Coat Factory and actually bought TWO coats.  I then went to Marshalls and bought TWO purses (one tan and one black) and I realized something else. The winter coat I bought was just like the one I already had – minus the fringe and smoke smell from the pawn shop. The purses were luggage like – kind of like the tote I’ve been carrying.

So I guess maybe shopping isn’t the issue, its taste. I don’t have any.  I continue to look over my shoulder in case of an ambush.

The Truth of Motherhood

 

 

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The greatest and shortest lived relief of my life came at 7:22 pm on 2/23/85.

That was the exact moment, after 36 hours of labor, that I expelled a 9 lb 4 oz baby from my body.

The whites of my eyes were blood red from exertion and burst blood vessels. My biceps ached from pulling myself up to push, contraction after contraction. And when that body I had been carrying for 9 months finally made it’s way out, it created sort of a vacuum and I feared that more than just the baby would plop out.

I heard the doctor say, “It’s a boy!”

And while he was still tethered to my body by the thick blue and white umbilical cord, my immediate response was, “Oh my God! Someday he’s going to drive!”

7:22 pm plus 30 seconds, and I was already terrified.

That is the truth of motherhood.

Alone with him in the hospital room I stared at him while he slept to make sure he kept breathing. I was afraid to look away. When he moved his arms or his legs I felt the echo of him in my womb.

Instinctively I put my hand over my belly to feel him, but he was gone and I was empty.

Even though he was lying right in front of me, I felt the loss of him.

That is the truth of motherhood.

Three weeks later (which seemed like one long day because of the feedings every 2 hours, 24 hours a day), I stared at this oblivious child and thought, “What did I do? For the REST OF MY LIFE I am responsible for this child.” The inescapable weight of responsibility for a life.

That is the truth of motherhood.

The years passed, and the baby, who was no longer a baby, is inching closer to the day when he will drive. Milestones like the first smile, first tooth, first steps, and first words are now just memories written in his Baby Book.

There have been emergency room visits, broken bones, stitches, siblings, fights, triumphs and defeats. And I learned that I can’t protect him from the hurts of life.

And when he defies me, I am surprised at how livid I can get with this child who I once willed to breathe. I feel ashamed for getting angry. But at the end of every day I tuck him safely into bed, kiss him goodnight. And them I pray to God to make me a better mother.

That is the truth of motherhood.

And he grows a bit more, and now he can drive. The fear that has been 17 years in the making is every bit as terrifying as I thought it would be. I can’t sleep until he gets home. I may doze off, but I get up to look out the window whenever I think I hear the car.

I remember him as a baby, and think about how much easier it was back then. But it wasn’t really ever easy. It was just a different kind of hard.

That is the truth of motherhood.

And now he is 31 years old. High school, college, and all those years of playing football are gone. While we were busy living, we forgot to remember that it wouldn’t last forever.

Now he is a man, and he has been living on his own for eight years. So I guess that means that my job is done.

But I will always be his mother and he will echo in my life for the rest of my life.

That is the truth of motherhood.