Sunday, March 30, 2008

What is Progress?

At the wedding...
Big head or small hat?

Cowgirl Jax

Cowboy Doug

Traveling alone is a very grown-up thing to do. It begins with the deciding to go. That in itself makes me shake my head with the realization that I can go and do whatever I want - whenever I want.

Not having to 'check in' or 'check with' Jimmy is beginning to feel liberating. In two weeks it will be two years that he's gone. In these last few months something shifted and not to be cliche - the fog lifted. Using a cliche is bad writing, but, until very recently there was an actual fog all around me. These days, I feel more relaxed, better capable of understanding how the world works.

On the other hand, (another cliche) I still can't set my alarm clock. I still get lost even in a parking lot. And, I still smack my side mirror backing out of my garage. But, there's progress. I feel fairly comfortable saying "my garage."

I intended to write today about my most recent trip, last week's Vegas jaunt, but I want to backtrack a bit...partly as an excuse to post those photos. A few weeks ago, on March 14th Jackie and Doug and I flew to Houston, Texas for my cousin's Pam's wedding. That day would have been Jimmy's 58th birthday. We ate dinner in the airport and we clicked glasses - "Happy Birthday."

When we got on the airplane I felt like we were leaving him behind. His family is traveling to an event being part of life's celebrations, but where is Jimmy? Is he back in that restaurant or is he sitting next to the pilot invisible to us all?

I shook off that thought and put my headset on. I closed my eyes and listened to the oldie channel, sentimental music. I can do that now. This is progress - I told myself...although, real progress would be not even thinking that this is progress. Damn.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What a Casino Means To Me

Tomorrow morning I'm meeting my friend Lori in Las Vegas. I've been back a few times since Jimmy died, but I recently realized that a casino represents all the stages of my life. I can trace who I am today and who I was forty years ago by remembering my occasions in a casino.

My first trip to Vegas was with my mother. I was 17 and my father had recently died. He was 57 just a year older than Jimmy was. My mother was much younger. She was a widow at 43.

She was eager to jump back into the dating pool and swim with a younger guy. That was clear to me as she dressed me up to make me look older and legal; her companion and bait. She was like that. There were always strings attached.

Five years later when we were 22 Jimmy and I went to Vegas for our honeymoon. We only had enough money for one of us to gamble. Fresh faced and totally enamoured I stood over him at the blackjack table. As he played craps I convinced myself that I was his "lady luck."

The casino, an atmosphere of chance, excited and energized us. We were grown-ups here; sexy.
He was my James Bond and our incredible life lay stretched out in front of us, a winding trail of pure happiness.

Decades later I'd take note of young couples at the tables with similar body language. I'd smile remembering us. Often there would be an older woman in her fifties, sixties and even seventies, an obvious regular. Both extremes told me I was smack in the middle of life.

I knew the girl's stories but I'd be curious about the older woman. Where was her husband? Did
he leave her beause she had a gambling problem? Had he died? Is her diamond bracelet real?

Soon after our honeymoon we graduated to gambling junkets. Everything was paid for as long as Jimmy played heavy enough. We bet above our means to get a taste of the high life. Once I watched Jimmy play roulette and parlay our last fifty dollars up to nine hundred. Some wives would be horrified. I was proud. "Come on 14. We need a new fence for the backyard" we would yell.

When Resorts Hotel and Casino opened in Atlantic City, just a three hour drive from us, we were practically at the door before the ribbon was cut. Then, we "worked" hard to establish a credit line.

Before long they were sending a limo for us and soon after that the casino offered us 45 minute helicopter rides. This insured we'd get there quicker and spend more money. We knew this but being young and stupid it still made us feel special.

One evening a stormy and fog-filled sky forced us to make an emergency landing. Jackie and Doug were eight and four years old. We made a pact. No more helicopters for us.

But, of course we continued to gamble. Jimmy always played much more than I did. The comps for free rooms, food and transportation were based on his play. We'd begin our gambling day standing on the outskirts of the casino pumped up and ready, like a boxer about to lunge from his corner.

He would hand me cash knowing full well within an hour and a half I'd be down to zero. I'd find him, watch him play a few hands and pretend to be interested. Naturally, I showed up to replenish. Finally, he'd plop a few chips in my hand and I was on my way. I was consistantly unlucky. Jimmy called me his anchor, but not in a good way.

Fun filled trips to casinos with friends and family continued throughout the years. Whether we won or we lost, we always laughed. Of course, we laughed harder when we won.

I assumed we'd be that old couple in ridiculous bermuda shorts strolling hand in hand on the boardwalk in Atlantic City or on the strip in Las Vegas. Instead, tomorrow I'll be sitting at a table aware that a thirty-something girl next to me is eyeing my diamond bracelet. I'll watch her have a run of bad luck. I'll notice her chips dwindling.

She'll sigh as she gets up and she'll wish everyone at the table good luck. She'll walk in the direction of the high stakes pit area and I'll hear Jimmy's voice say, "Back so soon? You're killing me."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

May Our Friends Be Our Family & Our Family Be Our Friends

Bunny runs in the family...I mean, funny...

Skylar and I often wear our bunny ears. Luckily, it's Easter time. We got, "Oh, how festive!" instead of the usual "Enough already with the ears, you two!"

Holidays are getting easier. I actually looked forward to the preparing. In the 'old' days my preparing was picking out a great outfit and making sure I had a hair appointment. For some reason Jimmy didn't trust me to touch anything food related. I didn't mind. I set the table and ran out for extra ice. We were a team.

This year we celebrated Easter Eve which worked out perfectly since I did lots of last minute shopping and apparently most places close on Easter Sunday. Who knew?

I happen to be excellent at errands. Even with my non-existent sense of direction I manage to
to navigate from store to store logically. I never understood why Jimmy would have five things on his list and come home after doing three "to take a break." As I was leaving the liquor store yesterday I thought, 'Jimmy would come home now for fifteen minutes.'

When will I stop thinking "Jimmy would...?"

We were eleven people and I'm grateful I was able to surround myself with a perfect blend of family and friends. My kids, Sky and Fanny, my mother-in-law was the family.

In the friends corner (I didn't actually make them sit in a corner) were Connie and Terry. Unfortunately, their daughter Kristi and her husband Matt couldn't make it, but my god-daughter Katharine and her fiance Pete were there and so were my friends Debbie and Henry.

We promised to make this a yearly tradition. Still, as we anticipate many more years of happy holidays together that familiar twinge of reality is ever present. It's kind of like our innocence was collectively taken away. Year to year? We don't know from day to day.

Living in the present is the only way for me to live now. Appreciating the NOW seems to work. That's why I didn't repeat last Easter's toast, "Family is doing things you don't want to do with people you don't want to do them with."

I can't deny that's mostly true. And, of course that's why it's funny. Still, as I saw all the people I loved sitting together at my Easter Saturday table I said,

"May our friends be our family and our family be our friends."

Then, Skylar and I tapped our bunny ears for luck.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dancing With the Klutz

These days when people ask me "What's new?" there's a gleam in their eyes. I translate that to:

"So, are you dating?"

My standard answer is "I'm ready for a little romance. It's got to be the right chemistry,

Sometimes I say, "I've gone out to dinner...a few men, but Jimmy is a tough act to follow."

My friend Vera wanted to fix me up with Tom. He's 60 but only dates women under 45. I have two words for him and it's not "Happy Birthday."

Eventually, Mr. Right will come along and as the comic Mickey Freeman says, "I was looking for Mrs. Right...who knew her first name was "Always?" - Hopefully, my Mr. Right's first name will be "You're always."

I'd like to try on easy-going. Jimmy loved the IDEA of being easy-going and he aspired to that, but often when he said, "It's no big deal" it was. He sulked. At my age, I have no time for sulking. I'd say to Jimmy,

"I've never seen a man work so hard to be so easy-going."

In anticipation of meeting someone I had to do something to get ready, but what?

Bathe? check.
Moisturize? check.
Color, straighten and continually obsess about my hair? check
Shop for shoes? check
Play on-line poker? check
Giggle about Spitzer check
Exercise? NO

Hmmm...My friend, Sheri suggested I join her pilates class. It's supposed to make you leaner and taller. Yippee! I pictured those extra inches around my waist stretched up and peeking out of my head. Pretty disgusting, actually.

Pilaties is the movement for ex-dancers. It keeps your body in line. Sheri has great posture or as my mother used to call it, "carriage." I've known Sheri for 20 years and pre-pilates she stood up straight. If she were a chimpanzee she'd walk on two legs.

I hemmed and hawed. Most decisions are difficult for me except for
"Should we stop for Carvel?"

Then, something wonderful happened. My friend Connie's mother went to the hospital. Yes, she died soon after, but that's not the wonderful part. Connie called me from the car on her way from seeing her dying mother. Naturally, she was sad. Suddenly, she perked up,

"Hey, today's Monday! Dancing With the Stars is on tonight!" she said.

Her enthusiasm was a ten out of ten. I thought, 'Gee, any show that can lift her spirits like that is a show worth checking out. '

As I watched that night I felt myself smiling. Tony almost smiled, too but that was because I was rubbing his tummy. Anyway, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, he has no lips.

Epiphany! Rather than take a class for ex-dancers, why not learn to dance? It's exercise with a skill. I may never go out dancing, yet I do go to weddings. And, at weddings I'm known as the Elaine from Seinfeld dancer. Remember that episode where Elaine thought she was such a cool dancer? After she saw the video of her arms and legs going in different directions she was mortified.

Jimmy was light on his feet and loved to dance. He would throw me around like a Raggity Ann doll. He thought that was funny. He'd almost be surprised when I stumbled back to his arms only to toss me out again.

We were carefree when we danced. Often I was looped. That may have contributed. Not to be morbid, but one of the last things he said to me was,

"We should have danced more."

That's why I kept his tuxedo and patent leather shoes. And, maybe that's why I'm taking dance lessons. So far I love it. My "carriage" is improving. I'm still a klutz, though.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Back to Blogging

Tony Bologne Scibelli

I've missed blogging. I've missed the immediate response from readers. So, here I am...back to blogging. If anyone has an objection blame it on Alison Grambs. I ran into her last night at the Friars Club and she said,

"You MUST get back out there! While you're writing your memoir "Poor Widow Me" you can still keep your blog fresh. How lazy can you be?"

I'm assuming that was a retorical question because I sure can be lazy. Alison is the author of two must buy books, "The Smart Girl's Guide to Getting Even" and "The Man Translator" so she obviously doesn't understand the irresistible pull to leave the computer mid-sentence to tweeze her eyebrows.

It's a good bet, too that she doesn't disconnect from a thought because she hears pretzels calling to her from downstairs. Alison gets the job done and from what I can see her eyebrows are in good shape. She must leave a bowl of pretzels near her workspace.

As I write this, Tony, the new man in my life is laying at my feet...and I can tell you this - Jimmy never stooped so low. Of course, Jimmy never pooped on the carpet either, unless you count that time when he was prepping for a, wait...that was me...
Back in August my gardener GAVE me Tony - he came from an unhappy home with two huge dogs who didn't understand that he wasn't their chew toy. (Tony, not my gardener)
Since Tony was already a year and a half he had a name - Bones - Well, I couldn't live with that so since Tone and Bone rhyme I changed his name to Tony. He responded immediately. I took that as a sign that either he was gifted or he never really knew his old name.
Everyone was thrilled that I got a dog. Luckily, I kept in mind what my nephew, Roby wisely said immediately after Jimmy died. He whispered, "Remember...People mean well."
This sage advice helped me to deal with comments that otherwise might have made me feel pathetic.
1. "Good for you! Now you don't have to come home to an empty house."
2. "He sleeps with you? Sweet - On Jimmy's side of the bed?"
3. "Tony's so affectionate. You must miss that."
I have Tony for 8 months now. We recently celebrated his 2nd birthday. We had a little party for him and I invited my good friends Debbie and Henry for cake. My daughter, Jackie came and my granddaughter Skylar helped to blow out the candles since Tony doesn't have lips.
Not to keep quoting nephews, but right after Tony came to live with me I thought about how my other nephew, Chuck told me I should get a dog. But, he told me this about five years ago.
He was about 40 at the time, but he nagged me like a six year old.
"Why don't you get a dog?" he asked.
"Someday I'll get a dog" I said.
"Someday, Chuck..."
"You love dogs. You should get one."
"I know. I know. I will."
"When? When?"
Finally, his eyes opened wide as though he'd solved a big mystery and he said,
"Oh, I know, when Uncle Jimmy dies, right?"
I nodded sheepishly. So, I guess, deep down I thought he would die first. I just took it for granted it would happen 20 or 30 years from now.
So this is life...bottomline...I couldn't love Tony more and yes, he is wonderful to come home to.