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What do you call her?

“What do you call her?”

That’s what Rhonda said to me last Friday evening. We were at the synagogue just before the start of services. People were milling about, wishing everyone Shabbat shalom, deciding which seat they wanted to plant themselves in, and just generally beginning to savor the arrival of the day of rest.

Rhonda looked around for Jackie and then looked at me somewhat quizzically. “Where’s Jackie. Is she OK?” I told her that she was fine but that it had been a long day and she needed some rest. And that’s when Rhonda lowered her voice and barely whispered “What do you call her when you introduce her to other people?”

Rhonda and Don were an item. A cute couple who have been totally immersed in each other for nearly a year. So it seemed a bit odd that she was interested in what I called Jackie when introducing her to my friends. Maybe Rhonda was still looking for that special word or phrase that best described her relationship with Don.

I would have thought that the two of them had figured that out some time ago. The uncertainty was more understandable for Jackie and me since our relationship is in a more formative stage, full of mysteries, revelations and history yet to be written.

In various social settings I had used various nouns and adjectives intended to catch the essence of our relationship. And, like many works in progress, I would often find myself hopelessly stumbling, unable to settle on something that would convey the depth of my feelings for her, and at the same time be easily understood by others. “Girlfriend, significant other, sweetheart, partner, and my love” were just some of the descriptive terms that I had used interchangeably as I wandered through a disordered minefield of words and feelings.

“Girlfriend” seemed a bit too juvenile. Like something drawn from my junior year at Chicago’s Von Steuben High School where entertaining a young lady at the second-floor water fountain could be grounds for calling her my girlfriend. Obviously not very meaningful, plus there was nothing that prevented me from immersing myself in multiple girlfriends at the same time. Nothing that is except the wrath of whoever thought she was my one true girlfriend.

“Significant other” seemed a reasonable alternative that has been adopted by those avoiding a more legally binding relationship. Then again, “significant” did not in itself grammatically convey any degree of “exclusivity” and furthermore seemed a rather bland description of a loving relationship. Certainly it was nowhere as definitive as “the only” or “none other.” But these alternatives also seemed to fail at adequately describing one’s status. “Hi, this is Jackie, my significant other.” Significant other what? Were there other women in my life that resided several hierarchies beyond “significant” and was Jackie still on the waiting list for an improvement in status?

“Partner” was certainly worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, due to contemporary usage, it raises the question of the sexual preference of my “partner”. Was Jackie another male, a female or something in between? The gender question answered itself in those instances when Jackie was present during introductions. Even so, “partner” seemed much too business-like. I pictured the two of us sitting behind a traditional partners’ desk, toting up the day’s receipts and then adjourning to separate bedrooms. Unattractive at best, lacking in the beauty of sexual relations and wholly unacceptable.

“My love” has a mystical aura, filled with opportunity, yet leaving the question of the exact nature of that love somewhat up in the air. Or is that intentional?

“Sweetheart” has a nice ring to it but has the same shortcomings as “my love.”

“Fiancee” is a possibility that leaves an expectation of things to come. However, it normally requires a somewhat formal announcement, complete with a ring that tends to remove all doubt about status.

“Wife” is very definitive…but if that were our present relationship there would be no need for this essay.

No, what we need is something that leaves little to the imagination, slides gently over the speaker’s tongue, and provides the listener with a warm, loving image of two people in a very special alliance.

But maybe the true nature of that relationship is best left to the imagination. The imagination of listener as well as speaker. Perhaps that is what love is about. Ever evolving, ever-growing, ever being defined. A relationship that leaves the participants in a state of uncertainty, taking nothing for granted. Striving to make it as satisfying as possible for both parties.

However, if I must find a phrase that best defines our current relationship, so be it. One that expresses feeling rather than description. One that is warm. That is heartfelt. That rolls off the tongue as though it were covered with honey.

“My beloved” sounds like a winner. Wait, far too formal and Elizabethan. “My love” is better. “Hello Max, this is my love”…nope that just won’t cut it. Oh, I’ve got it. “My special lady” says it all. Crap, that sounds like I’ve got another more deluxe model in the back room.

So I guess I’m destined to tirelessly wander through a thicket of descriptive terms, never finding the perfect one. Meanwhile I’ll just look into Jackie’s eyes for that bright light that tells me “it’s ok what you call me as long as you love me.”

She is Woman

When I was a young man I took a photography course at UCLA. Part of that adventure involved the hiring of three lovely women who agreed to pose for us in the all-together. Stay with me, it gets better.

One of my classmates had a large home and an empty swimming pool that was then being decorated with a rather gaudy mural. Although other parts of his garden beckoned us, the pool became the favorite spot to photograph the models. A dozen of us, intent on producing lovely images of the young women, crowded into the pool and shoved each other out-of-the-way as we all tried to get the best view.

It was too early in the Earth’s history for digital cameras to be even a glimmer in one’s imagination. Kodak still ruled the day and we had what we thought was an ample supply of rolls of Ektachrome, Kodachrome and Verichrome each with a whopping thirty-six exposure payload.

We weren’t twenty minutes into the shoot when I had run through all six of my rolls of film. I was desperate to remain an active shooter rather than a voyeur. So I reloaded one of my spent film spools and proceeded to double expose the entire roll.

When I got home and developed the film, I was shocked by the crude photographs. More like stag film outtakes than elegant female figures, they screamed profanities at me. Visions of being the next Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz or Man Ray went up in smoke…until I looked at the double-exposed film. Beautiful I thought. Perfectly composed. Female figures intertwined in loving repose. Not a hint of crudeness. Really lovely. And then I stopped and realized that this was nothing but an accident caused by poor planning, a rush to judgment, and then maniacally executed without any real thought.

Could I do it again? Maybe, but we’ll never know for I have let the years pass without attempting a repeat performance. As evidence of my prowess with the camera, one of those double-exposed photos taken on that sunny day in the Hollywood Hills was good enough to be hung in a UCLA hallway where, some weeks later, it was stolen by some unknown admirer. Rather than being upset, I felt honored.

My appreciation of the difficulty in properly photographing the female body went up several notches after my experience in that empty swimming pool. Posing, lighting and the demeanor of both the photographer and the model are critical to the success of the adventure.

But something else stuck in my mind that day and since. The beauty of the female body and its transfer to either photographic paper, a painter’s canvas or a sculptor’s bronze is a gift that should not be wasted. And if one is not proficient enough to execute any of those art forms, the human eye is another option. One that I have made full use of as I approach my eightieth decade.

I find myself continually drawn to the beauty encapsulated in every woman. Looking but not leering. Appreciating but not lusting. Well, maybe a little.

I’m fortunate. The woman dear to me is lovely. Body proportions designed to complement each other. Petite but not tiny. A derriere that leaves you hoping it does not pass too quickly. Breasts that demand a second look. Legs that reach to heaven and beyond. And lips that say “kiss me…again.”

And she knows it. Her mind is constantly at work, planning and enticing. I sometimes think I’ve been drugged. So blissful that I want to remain in that state of euphoria forever. Reveling in her presence and sharing her essence. For she is truly woman, doubly exposed and beautiful.

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block. That must be the reason I can’t finish what I start.

I’ve tried so many times to pen my thoughts. Write an introductory remark, something grabby to keep the reader from abandoning my blog to read any one of a zillion others, all seeking fame through writing.

So I start to write. Pretty good intro I think, but what’s next? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Maybe I’ll put the Word document away for a day or so until the mind clears and I can continue to write and…oh crap, who am I kidding. It seems so unimportant. So meaningless compared to other things in my life that yell “Focus on me…me, me…you’re not getting any younger you know. You’ve got limited time and I’m begging you to fill it with me before you fall apart completely, unable to think rationally or perform life’s functions.” Surely there must be something that’s of interest to my legion of readers. The economy, the buffoon in the Oval Office, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the unraveling of our social fabric, the buffoon in the Oval Office.

Oh, wait a minute, the Super Bowl. Dummy. You watched it from beginning to end. You reveled in watching the hated Patriots go down to defeat. You can write about how people take great pleasure in the dethroning of others. But it’s too late, Thousands of others have already written about the game and posted it on the web for the world to see. I’d be repeating their words without even knowing it. Come on, smart guy. There must be something else in your bag of tricks. Or is your life so dull that writing about it leaves an emptiness in your head, a sour taste in your mouth, a lifeless feeling of what’s the use?

How can that be? I went to Rotary, didn’t I? But I didn’t join. I started driving the old folks bus again. But I used my hernia as an excuse to delay my re-entry. I joined a creative writing group but can’t create. My presentations are limited to stuff I wrote months ago. Am I really that dull?

Wait. I love the woman in my life. And she’s far from dull. Always moving, always surprising, always ready to try anything. And encouraging me to ride along. I do so relish the opportunity. It’s changed my life in so many ways. Some frightening, most exhilarating, all new and challenging. Surely I can find something in those experiences that will interest you. Make you smile. Make you part of it. Make you lust for more.

Ah, but it’s so personal. I can’t possibly reveal everything about her. Certainly not in mixed company. It’s just not done. I’d blush and begin to mumble. And then you’d want more of what I really should keep veiled, accessible only to me. Only to pleasure me. To make my words so enticing and so mysterious that you say “Hey Fred, that’s not fair. Trust us, you can tell us anything. We promise not to tell on you. Come on, give us just a tiny bit more. You owe it to us. We all share our stories don’t we…maybe not as exciting as yours but nevertheless meaningful to us. Don’t be a spoil sport. Man up. Show us you can write. We’re waiting. Got other things to do. So come on…before we press the escape key and go somewhere else. You’ll be sorry.”

Oh crap. There it goes again. Thought I had something of interest to say to you but it’s slipped away. So many great words to share and I haven’t a clue what to say. Maybe tomorrow.

Are Banks Worse Than Phone Companies?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending my synagogue’s monthly finance committee meeting. Not a particularly mind bending event you say? Well you don’t know what seven Jews can find to make mischief about.

The highlight of the meeting was the general lack of customer service provided by our current banking establishment. This led to my innocent remark about the quality of the electronic payment system offered by my bank. This in turn led one of our committee members to research the comments about my bank on the Yelp website. Not good.

Have you ever seen positive comments about banks? A lack of comments is considered a badge of honor. Beleaguered branch personnel are generally trying to understand and implement lengthy and incomprehensible rules made at the corporate level…rules that seem intended to drive customers to the breaking point with anguished calls for help like “are you crazy?…or, does the person making the rules even have a bank account?…and my favorite “I’m going to switch banks.” Sure you are…if you have a death wish.

While all this was going on, my monthly phone bill arrived from the usually clueless Frontier Communications. My Frontier land line and wi-fi have been missing in action since the fiery holocaust that descended on my home town on December 4, forced me to evacuate my home and mercilessly destroyed telephone polls, fiber optic lines and cell towers.

Obviously, expecting Frontier to send a nice condolence card and a note waiving all charges was too much to expect.  So I thought I’d better give them a courtesy call. I called Frontier’s “we’re here to help” number and settled down for a nap while my call moved ever so slowly toward the end of a very long line of angry customers.

Click…”I’m Matt and how can I help you.”  Matt, a pleasant “customer service” guy based in a red state wasn’t aware of the Southern California fiery holocaust. I asked him if he watched TV. “No, I don’t watch anything that might make me unhappy.” It got better.

I suggested that it might be appropriate to put collection of my debt on hold until they restored service. And a refund of a portion of the prior bill might also be in order starting with December 4, the day my house nearly burned to the ground.

After being on hold for an eternity while Matt searched every available record at Frontier, I was informed that I had to pay my bill and that I would get a refund after service was restored (he had no idea when that might occur.)  I said something like “you’ve got to be kidding.” I suggested that the worst thing that could happen would be that Frontier would cancel my account for non-payment. Since I didn’t have any service anyway, it would make little difference in changing the earth’s rotation or inclination. Matt had no idea what I was talking about.

Matt said he would escalate the call.

Maybe banks aren’t so bad after all.

Life begins…again

The change has been breath-taking. Little more than three months ago I lost the love of my life. Ila’s passing left an enormous hole in my heart and my life. Merely calling it “grieving” is an insult to the nearly sixty years that we loved and held each other, living life, rearing a family and knowing what each other was thinking without saying.

Nearly eight years ago, Ila fell ill with what may well be the worst malady of our times. Losing ones  mind and appetite for life is a tragedy that leaves those watching and caring with a feeling of helplessness and a progressive loss of hope.

Good friends, loving children, religious support and bereavement groups do much to soften the sense of loss and emptiness that fills the hours. The silence of the home is heavy and slow. Time seems to stand still. Music of any genre is a welcome respite from the quiet that envelops me. Phone calls from strangers who would otherwise be unwelcome break the monotony that depresses. I say always say “yes” to “would you like to…?”

And then, gradually, life returns and starts to normalize. People begin to look at me without the sympathy that formerly preceded a chance encounter. I try to fill my hours with an appetite that recognizes that the way out of sadness is paved with a renewal of old activities and an adoption of new ones that were never considered in a past life. Rough edges give way to periods of happiness. Accompanied by a feeling of guilt that says “is it too soon to be happy?”

Funny how things happen. Out of the blue and without warning.  A lovely woman, caring about my loss, suggests that a yoga class might help to work through the darkness. And maybe a hike would be a way to fill the time. And lunch would be a good idea to help replace the pounds that were lost due to an absence of the pleasures of eating. And slowly a relationship develops with her that both recognizes my loss and offers a new sense of being alive.

Suddenly Jackie is an indispensable part of my life. Hours are spent marveling about my luck.  I continue to attend the bereavement group and I incessantly ask if it’s ok to feel alive again. “Maybe you’ve spent enough time in purgatory” becomes a mantra. “How much time do you want to spend before embracing what has been delivered to you by fate, God or happenstance?”

So life has returned with a vengeance that leads me in directions never contemplated. Jackie has shown me the way and I grasp it and her with an urgency that recognizes the indisputable passage of time. I devour it and I’m happy.

 

Music and Monsters

Went to the Pasadena Pops outdoor concert Saturday night. First time for me. The theme was music from Universal Studios films. Nancy and Kevin bought tickets that let us to sit on teeny fold-up chairs on the lawn of the Los Angeles Arboretum. Way back from the orchestra. Bless Kevin’s heart, he managed to squeeze his substantial body into the chair and didn’t complain…much.

There were two giant TV screens on either side of the orchestra that played film clips from the movies whose music was being featured. If you squinted really hard you could almost make out Elsa Lanchester as she became the Bride of Frankenstein. A little known fact is that Ms. Lanchester didn’t even have her name listed in the movie credits. No wonder she was an angry monster.

We brought sandwiches, chips and drinks. Other people, with a greater sense of the accoutrements required by such a gathering, brought picnic umbrellas, fold-up tables and all of the other things that make a lawn party fun.

We arrived an hour before show time and found that a sea of people had already staked out spots in front of us. We settled on a space barely on the same planet as the performance. I tried unfolding the lawn chair but, as I have come to realize, I am thoroughly baffled by the mechanics of that process. Sitting is quite another problem. There’s this part of the aluminum frame that rested directly beneath my thighs. The first half hour was devoted to finding the sweet spot for my fanny. The next two hours was focused on the way that aluminum tube gradually forced its way into my thigh. Sort of detracted from the entertainment.

The hour before the show started was prime time for people watching. This was no rock concert, accounting for the relative absence of anyone between the ages of eighteen to thirty. An abundance of older people, most white, roamed the lawn, made multiple trips to the facilities and ate.

I felt singularly single. I did a lot of gazing and daydreaming. Elderly couples were in abundance with the wife generally helping her somewhat challenged husband into his thigh-unfriendly chair. Younger couples shared wine and dessert. Families spent time renewing acquaintances and chasing their small children who were intent on losing themselves in the sea of humanity.

Directly in front of me there were four middle-aged women, all wearing wedding bands. Obviously on a girls night out, they eagerly shared a couple of bottles of wine, laughed and seemed not to care when the show might begin. I thought how lucky their husbands were to have them.

The Bride of Frankenstein seemed pretty good to me.

God, Rabbis and Hummingbirds

Went to temple last night. Rabbi Mike was conducting the first session of Taste of Judaism. I was half there. The other half was somewhere else.

I was invited to Sheila’s home for dinner before the class. Met Jeff who lost his wife six years ago. Sheila lost her son before that. So here we were, comrades in arms. Sheila is such a good cook and an even better host. As big as a minute and a veritable ball of energy, she never turns down an opportunity to do good.

Despite our common grief, we spent little time dwelling on it. For me, and maybe for them, the subject hung in the air begging to be let out of the shadows. Like India Ink, forever permanent.

Dinner over, we went to the temple. My first exposure to a crowd of people since the funeral. Some knew of my loss and stepped forward to greet me with hugs, warm kisses and kind words. Others did not know me, much less my grief. I wanted to make an announcement. “I’m Fred and I lost the love of my life two weeks ago. I’m in need of your attention.” Feeling selfish and needy was not warm and fuzzy. But there it was, something unshakable.

Rabbi Mike asked each of us to introduce ourselves and share our reasons for being there. I resisted the urge to say something like “My wife died two weeks ago and I just felt that I wanted to be among you.” So I said something else, truthful but not satisfying.

This first class in the series was devoted to the concept of God. On previous occasions I had been exposed to the Rabbi’s thoughts on the subject. How the creation of the world and everything in it could not have been random occurrences. How morality could not exist without a framework that defined right and wrong. And how belief in God did not require a definition of the term but merely a leap of faith. Not a micromanager, God relies upon us to do good and help others.

The best part of the ninety minutes was sharing in the delight that Rabbi Mike expressed as he taught us the things he held dear. It was in the smile on his face, the energy as he waved his arms, jumped from his chair and made finger shadows on the wall. A man like this was not to be denied.

I don’t know if there is a God but with Ila’s passing it is a comforting concept. I’ve been spending late afternoons on the patio, watching the shadows spread over Ila’s garden. Occasionally the quail family will hop up on the low wall surrounding the garden. They march to and fro putting on a display that I believe has been choreographed just for me.

To the left is a veritable field of native fuchsia filled with bright red blossoms that should have long ago dried and fallen from the spindly arms of the plants. But they seem ageless and are visited daily by hummingbirds. They dart through the air like rockets, appearing to be in competition with their kind. Pausing only briefly at the nectar filled blossoms, they leave the fuchsia only to return in a display of aerial prowess. On occasion, they will hover close to me as they contemplate their next move.

I’ve adopted the belief that one of those hummingbirds is endowed with some of Ila’s essence. I’m not sure which bird it is but it doesn’t matter. It’s enough that I believe it.


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