Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Interviewing Santa

This piece was originally published in a similar version in Pathfinder:Guide for the Widow/er's Journey

I assumed it would be impossible to interview Santa Claus so close to Christmas. Why would he agree to talk to poor widow me? He had nothing to plug. He wasn’t starring in a movie; he hadn’t written a book and he was too lovable to run for President.

Since Santa’s toys are basic, wooden and old fashioned (similar to Melissa & Doug puzzles) I communicated the old fashioned way. I called him...from my landline. I didn’t text him because how could he text me back with those chubby fingers?

Santa, THEE Santa did call me back and not from the North Pole. He was in Macy’s Department store, THEE Macy’s on 34th Street – from THEE movie “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Santa suggested we meet in the men’s room during his bathroom break. Really Santa? That’s just creepy. He clarified. He meant the Men’s Department. He needed a new black belt. His was 150 years old. It was time. I guess elves only make toys.

Santa looked sad. I thought it was because Macy’s didn’t have a belt in his size. There was more, much more to this Christmas story.

CS: Santa, there are plenty of stores in the city. One is
    bound to have a size 92 waist with a gold buckle. Can
    you do silver?

SC: It’s not that, Sugar.

CS: You remember that my nickname was Sugar when I was a

SC: I remember everything. Is your mother still whacky?

CS: No.

SC: That’s good.

CS: She’s dead.

SC: (Santa starts to cry)

CS: It’s okay Santa. She’s at peace now and not annoying

SC: No. I’m crying because Mrs. Claus is very sick. I’m   
    afraid I may lose her.

CS: Is that possible? Aren’t you guys immortal?

SC: I thought so too. Apparently, a loophole in our
    contract. Who reads the fine print?

CS: You should give coal to lawyers and the little kids who
    will grow up to be lawyers!

SC: Carol I’m Santa Claus, not Cruella Deville. Anyway,
    Doc from the seven dwarfs warned Mrs. Claus not to eat
    so many of the cookies she bakes, but the smell...she
    can’t resist. Now she’s at risk.

CS: At risk for what?

SC: Cookieitis – Deadly. She’s beginning to have symptoms.

CS: Tell me what you’re most afraid of.

SC: What if she dies? I’ll be all alone.

CS: You have the elves and Rudolph.

SC: Your husband died and you had friends and family around
    you. Did it help?

CS: Not really, but maybe if I had elves. (laughs) Sorry.
    You’re right. I was lonely and it was scary for a long

SC: I’m terrified I won’t be jolly anymore. Kids all
    over the world are counting on me to be freakin’ jolly!

CS: You won’t be jolly for a while, but little by little
    parts of your old self will peek out.

SC: You mean first I’ll shout out “Ho!” and then the next
    week the other “Ho!” and then two days later the third

CS:  And, eventually you’ll put it together again with a
     “Ho Ho Ho!” And your ho-ing will be genuine. You’ll be

SC:  I could never be happy again without Mrs. Claus.
     Anyway, the pickings are slim up at the North Pole.

CS:  You’re a catch, Santa. You work from home at a
     seasonal business, you’re a natural with kids, and you
     drive at night!

SC:  I’m depressed. I should throw myself into my work.
     Maybe I’ll make Christmas twice a year!

CS:  Running away from life isn’t healthy, Santa...wait,
     twice a year means more presents for me! Terrific idea!

SC:  Or, I’ll close up shop.

CS:  A hasty decision. Think of the elves on Unemployment.
     Hallmark will plummet and I own stock!

SC:  I’d hate to disappoint the children, though. Don’t you
     have grandchildren?

CS:  Yes, umm, of course, the children. It’s all about the
     ummm, children. Screw Hallmark. What kind of heartless
     person worries about stock prices at a time like this?
     I was just kidding.

SC: My cheeks will never be rosy again. She pinches
    them...sometimes a little too hard, but I like it, if
    you know what I mean...

CS: I do. So it’s Mrs. Claus who puts that twinkle in your

SC: Yes, except one December 23rd when I was up against the
    deadline. We had Chinese food delivered to the
    workshop. The girl who brought it was a doll.

CS: A doll like a toy the elves make?

SC: Not quite. Let’s just say I almost put my slinky in her

CS: Santa!

SC: I said “almost.” Hey, I’m only human.

CS: No you’re not.

SC: Whatever...Ohh... Mrs. Claus is Face timing me! See?

CS: (looking into the iPad and waving) Hi Mrs. Claus. Long
    time fan, here!

SC: (to Mrs. Claus) You look wonderful, honey...And,
    healthy, like the old you! You seem full of energy
    like Rudolph did right after we got his nose to stop

    You are healthy? You’re cured? Doc said so?

    Santa spun me around and kissed me on both cheeks.
    The store’s piped in music played “White Christmas”
    and he began to sing along.

    He winked at me as only Santa could and then he
    skipped away towards the shoe department, holding his
    iPad close to his beard. I think he was kissing the

    Outside of Macy’s, the beauty of the season was unfolding.
    The first winter's snow was starting to stick right there 
    on 34th Street. Even the grownups were giddy; They were 
    gliding and stomping and loving the sound of the crunch under
    their boots.

    Did Santa singing “White Christmas” make it snow? How is 
    this possible with global warming? The temperature here in 
    New York is 70 December! It couldn't be snow! 
    Perhaps some editor was shredding my latest submission and
    tossing it from a building above me. It wouldn't be
    the first time.

    I tasted it. Nope. It was snow all right - Magical snow conjured
    up by a relieved Santa. I was thrilled to be the first person to 
    report this story, however Santa could have warned me. I was
    wearing four inch heels.

    But, hold on, I had met Santa Claus, THEE Santa Claus
    and Mrs. Claus was going to be okay and there would be
    a jolly Santa and Christmas this year!  

    Still my shoes were ruined and my hair was wet and
         Merry Freakin'Christmas!


Tuesday, December 01, 2015


A version of this post was originally published in Pathfinder: A Companion Guide for the Widow/er’s Journey
Holiday time begins with Thanksgiving. It should be mandatory for first and second year widows/ers to shout out “What do I have to be thankful for?” Go ahead. Embrace your bitterness!
While Aunts and cousins are taking turns announcing they are thankful for their husband’s promotion or for their gorgeous new home it is the perfect time to broadcast that your husband has also changed addresses. He now lives with God, a more loving roommate than you were, but not as sexy.
Loved ones never touched by tragedy will insist you have both drumsticks and all the peach pie you can eat. Enjoy because by year three your celebratory spirit will most likely kick back in. The yams with marshmallows will taste almost as sweet as when your family was in tact.
If you’re dating now and you ask the host to bring your new plus one for Thanksgiving dinner just know that this year you’ll have to concede the drumstick to Aunt Edna. Her husband died in August. She's on the front lines. You're a vet, now. And, anyway, your widow card has expired.
Even though nine Thanksgivings have passed since my husband Jimmy has, holidays spark my memories. A turkey on a platter reminds me of the year my husband proudly trotted out the turkey and in full view of everyone seated and salivating, the bird slid off the platter and splattered all over the dining room floor.
My husband picked up the turkey, put him back on the platter and on the way back to the kitchen announced, “I’ll just bring out the other turkey.” Naturally, the ‘second’ turkey was presented to the crowd already sliced. Nice job, hubby.
We tend to eat extra and with greater gusto starting on Thanksgiving and continuing straight through New Year’s. But, hold on here! We lost our spouse. Aren’t we entitled to wolf down 14 potato latkes? And, when Uncle George brings the kids a chocolate turkey so big it’s practically clucking, we have a responsibility to teach them to share, don’t we? After all, we’re the Last Grandparent Standing!
Stuffing our faces is our way of saying we are doing our best to keep up the holiday spirit. Since some of us are back on the market, though, we may resist putting on the pounds. A study from the doctors at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical center has discovered that the music we listen to while we eat may affect the weight we might gain.
They measured the energy expenditure of 20 infants born preterm while listening to Mozart in their incubator. The findings showed Mozart lowered by at least 10% the quantity of energy they used. This means the babies may have been able to increase their weight faster.
This screams out: Do not listen to Mozart! You may be in danger of looking like the ‘before’ photo. Turn on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” even if it depresses you!
So, go ahead and have that fifth glass of eggnog. Just be sure that when you lift your glass to make a toast the background music is lowbrow, like Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. By the way, I used to think that song was funny…until I became a Grandma.

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Easy to Hang on to His Clothes If You Don't Need the Hangers!

A version of this piece was in the Pathfinder's Magazine last month. 

My husband used to say, “If it’s a Kodak moment, we don’t need a Kodak.” If that’s true, as long as our memory is still in tact, maybe it's not all that crucial to hold on to mementos.

What we widows/widowers keep or easily toss is as individual and intimate as our marriages were.

That said, at some point I needed more closet space. My wardrobe was expanding because no one was there to sarcastically remark, “Do you really need another pair of black pants?”
I know. You'd think a man who was married for over 30 years would know that women can never have enough black pants or black anything, actually!
Here it was a year and a half since Jimmy died and the closet was jammed with black everything. My daily habit of bringing my morning coffee into the closet and reading Jimmy our horoscopes while I sat cross-legged on the floor, was reduced now to on average once a week. 
I noted that my visits weren’t social, anymore. Our closet - my closet was turning into a closet again. I’d go in and take my clothes out. Period. Sometimes I’d blow a quick kiss and mumble, “Hiya, Jimmy, love ya.” More often, I’d come and go and I didn’t speak to him at all, just like in real life when we were mad at each other.
The day when I was fresh back from Bloomingdales with no room to hang my new outfit convinced me that perhaps I was being much too sentimental holding unto my husband’s clothing and the much-needed hangers they were on. Let’s face it; it’s easy to hang onto stuff when you don’t need the hangers.
Cleaning out the closet to make more room for poor widow me was not as traumatic as I was afraid it would be after my friend told me about memorial quilts, sometimes called memory quilts.
The memory quilt was a wonderful idea because I wasn’t really getting rid of his clothes. I was condensing them into a blanket for snuggling.  
I took all of his shirts and pants and even ties, ones that my husband wore most frequently and had them cut into four-inch squares and sewn together with a backing. Voila! A forever quilt!
Jimmy really wasn’t much of a clotheshorse, so that quilt could have been the size of a napkin or a potholder. Okay. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
I made one for each of the kids. They were thrilled. For an idiotic second, since it was such a magnificent thought and deed, I imagined that that year I could get away with making their “Dad Quilt” their one and only Christmas present.
Who am I kidding? popped into my head. After the gushing stops and the tears dry next would be ‘What else did you get us, Mom?’
My daughter has her quilt over the back of her couch in her family room and my son has it spread on his bed. I visit Jimmy each time I visit them.
I almost made one for myself, but I didn’t. I thought ahead. I wasn’t dating yet, but I knew at some point I would and what if ‘new guy’ sits on my couch next to my late husband’s entire wardrobe?
And, what if ‘new guy’ happens to be wearing the exact same pattern shirt as one of those little squares? Talk about a mood changer...

In my first bereavement group the one and only widower announced to us widows that he “got rid of” his wife’s entire wardrobe the day after her funeral. If ‘stunned’ could make a noise the room sounded stunned.

Collectively, we knew not to be judgmental, but our silence shouted, “What the hell is wrong with you, Mister?”

Cold widower melted right before our eyes, though, as he struggled to express his needs to eliminate all of his bad memories. Her clothes represented the four years that his wife had suffered. 

“There was not one blouse or pair of pants that gave me a good sentimental feeling,” he explained.

“When I looked at her orange top it made me sick inside. She was wearing that the first time she sat in her wheelchair and she called her jeans and blue blouse her lucky chemo outfit. Obviously, not so lucky...” His voice trailed off and he had tears in his eyes.

Our leader smirked as if to say, “I told you to wait and hear him out.” I guess she was relieved that she didn’t have to break up a rumble.

The next week nine horny widows brought him in a casserole.

Please comment below where it says "Comments" duh

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Nude Photos of Me ~ And No, They Will Not Be Displayed Here!

When I was 49 I had a professional photographer take nude pictures of me. Yes. Nude, as in I had no clothes on. 

Also, my hair was fairly short so I wasn’t able to hide myself behind luscious locks like Lady Godiva did. Sadly, these days, sixteen years later, even her length hair wouldn’t do the trick. Gravity can be cruel. 

I took those photos because my husband was always saying “You should be in Playboy Magazine!” Naturally, he added, “the women over 40 edition” but that was fine. It was realistic. 

It’s like I advise my son, “Doug, never tell a woman she’s beautiful (unless she is) Tell her she’s pretty. ‘Pretty’ is possible and attainable so it doesn’t sound like a line, even if it is. 

Although past my prime, Jimmy would regularly say, “You’re so sexy!” He must have had an image of me from 1972 stuck in his head. Those were the days when I could still turn heads, not stomachs, in a two-piece bathing suit.

It was exhilarating to sneak off to the Greenwich village for a rendezvous with Marie, a sophisticated french photographer. 

Our first meeting was a consultation. She assured me that these black and white photos would be tasteful enough that I could hang them in our living room. Some would be headless and no one would ever imagine they were of me. (No, I never hung them. I hid them.)

On the day of the shoot I felt like I was cheating. There I was, naked and mugging into the camera, not knowing where to place my hands. Marie draped me with various strips of lace that covered bits of myself but she was never quite able to cover up my self consciousness

Marie moved from behind the camera to outstretch my arms, turn my face towards an imaginary lover or bend my ankle so that I felt as uncomfortable on the outside as I was feeling on the inside. 

Just as I was beginning to feel less vulnerable and I had semi successfully self talked myself to enjoy it, it was over. 

Six weeks later I picked up 10 finished portraits and many 4X6 proofs of a woman desperately attempting to capture herself before she turned the dreaded fifty and fell apart. I signed a waiver stating Marie could use the headless ones in her upcoming book and was on my way. 

Today I did a brave thing. I brought out the box they were stored in and took a peek. Then, I did an even braver thing. I undressed in front of a full length mirror and compared. 

I discovered:

1. I look better in black and white.
2. Sixteen years does make a difference.
3. Happily my eyesight isn't what it used to be either... 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Guilt Can Kill You ~ Then You're BOTH Dead!

Hi All - Hope you like my new site - this blog was published last month in Pathfinders Magazine, an online and print publication, a fantastic magazine for widows/widowers where I am on staff as a humor writer.  Please check in out when you have a moment. 

Widows and widowers are prone to guilt.  We wallow in it like a bubble bath except it's not as relaxing.

"Why am I still here?"  "Why didn't God take me, too?" "Why did I call him an idiot right before his heart attack?" Sure, I meant it, but still…

Is it my fault that my heart continues to beat and I can still enjoy a tasty hamburger deluxe? I pause to dip my well-done fries in the ketchup.  How can I be devouring this with so much gusto knowing that my husband will never again fork fight me for that last little crispy fry? What is wrong with me?

I wash down my self-discust with a bowl of rice pudding. The coffee is pretty good, too. 

Jimmy would want me to keep up my strength I tell myself.  Wait a minute. Could he be orchestrating my food intake knowing that when I'm bloated I don't leave the house? He's keeping me a prisoner!
If this is "looking over me" I'd rather he spread his angel wings and look over someone else.

I tell my one-on-one bereavement counselor how controlling my late husband is to me lately. One blink is the only movement on her stone face. Mean Jean is tough. I describe her to friends, "She must have studied at the 'snap out of it' school for shrinks."

Her lips crack open. "Did you kill your husband?" She raises one eyebrow and then she hides behind her oversized coffee mug. I suspect her coffee is black, no sugar, no nonsense.  She peers at me above the rim and her eyes narrow.  

My first thought is, "I'm not answering without an attorney present." My second thought is, perhaps 
I should stop binge watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. 

I tell her I know where she's going with this and not to lead the witness. Mean Jean tilts her head and waits for me to crack.  She's a professional. She knows I can hold in grief and guilt for just so long. 

My grief and guilt (or GiGi as I like to call them) burst into the room like a tidal wave. "I should have insisted he go to the doctor!" I cry out. And, then, more to myself than to Mean Jean, I mumble, "Why didn't I?" 

MJ explained that guilt is a useless emotion. This is exactly what I needed to hear although I detect a tinge of 'Get over yourself' tone in her voice. I sit up straighter. 

"Listen, Carol, if you want to keep beating yourself up, be my guest. It's good for business." She added a 'ching-ching' register sound. 

At this point,  I was seeing her twice a week and our three month anniversary was approaching.  I noticed that the couch I was sitting on was new. I looked around. So was the carpet. 

For those reading this and wondering why oh why was I seeing her? After all, Mean Jean certainly was a fitting nickname. Here's why ~ she didn't let me wallow.  I know myself. With a softer shrink I might have curled up on a couch and spent the 50 minutes sucking my thumb. I kept going back because every so often she gave me a gem and my breathing was calmer when I left her. 

This day, as I wrestled with feelings of guilt, she blurted out wisdom, a little ditty, that seemed to come out of nowhere, but it made sense to me and it helped me. She had extremely wise ditties. 

She told me that when widows want to re-marry they often go to the cemetery to ask permission. I nodded my head. "I can understand that," I said. 

Mean Jean lifted that one evil eyebrow again sarcastically. "Really?" she said. "It makes  sense to you to ask permission from a dead man?" 

"Well, I figured that…" I stammered. 
"Just for the record, Carol, none of the husbands ever say no."
"So, you're saying…"
"I'm saying our time is up!" She snorted and slapped the arm of her chair. "I'm kidding, kiddo. You should have seen your face?

Eventually, she stopped chuckling and leaned forward to gently touch my arm.

"Honey, emotionally healthy widows and widowers do what they want to do. If they want to remarry, they remarry. If they want to buy a foreign car when their spouse only bought American they say, "Hey, I'm the one driving it."!

She continued, "It's a process to get to that, of course, but they know that it's their turn now and they know that life can be fleeting. They know that better than anyone. 

"They look back, they regret, they give themselves and their marriage a report card and in some subjects they acknowledge that they failed. So what? Dwelling and it's first cousin, guilt, don't change a thing. It only keeps us stuck." 

When our session was officially over I went home and got violently ill. It was food poisoning, no doubt from that delicious hamburger deluxe. In the midst of my misery I thought I heard a familiar snicker.  I imagined it was my husband saying, "You have the pleasure, but, look, you also pay the price."

That wiped away my guilt. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Not Everyone Has a Chuckles

Fifty years ago Jimmy strutted into our 8th grade homeroom and announced, “I’m an uncle! I’m an uncle!”
Five years later we were dating. Little Chuckie was a perfect specimen to practice our parenting skills on. He wasn’t fully formed and we weren’t fully invested. Cute, in a puppy sort of way and he was sturdy enough by then that bad things weren’t likely to happen to him on our watch.
We’d take Chuckie and a few years later his sister Susie and our other nephew and niece to amusement parks and on boat rides and back to my tiny apartment in Queens to play board games and let them chase around Herman, my poor pet rabbit until Herman dove into his cage, his eyes begging us to lock him in.
We married, had a daughter and son of our own and because Chuckie looked so much like Jimmy both Jacki and Dougie as babies were easily soothed by him. They snuggled into his pillow top tummy and cooed as this chubby teenager rocked them and sang when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie its amour. 
Chuckie with my granddaughter Sammi 2012
Chuckie and me
 Pizza was not just the subject of the song, but a big event in Chuck’s life, along with White Castle belly bombs and Carvel Ice-cream. Not a tidy sort of guy it was easy to tell what he had for lunch because he was wearing it.
Food and family, possibly in that order, was most important to him until he fell in love with singing. He chose Opera, although he’d say, “Opera chose me.” We’d make fun of how pretentious that was especially coming from a man with marinara sauce on his shirt.
Years passed. Our family fell into calling him Chuckles. It fit. He was funny and loud and silly and he just was a Chuckles. Professionally, he changed his name to Carlo figuring a tenor called Chuckles Pavarotti or even a Chuck Domingo might not be taken seriously.
He married, had a son Jordan, got divorced and traveled the word singing to huge audiences gaining respect from all.
In between gigs when he wasn’t on the West Coast with his son and his Mom, he stayed with us. He literally sang for his supper and he made it too. His specialties were meatballs, lasagna, anything heavy and Italian that could be sopped up with bread.
He was happiest in a casino.  Me and Jimmy too. The three of us  would steal quick trips to Atlantic City and they’d all start the same way. As we got close enough to see the signs for the hotels our hearts would race. “It never gets old” we’d practically squeal to each other.
We’d have barbecues with friends and everyone we knew knew Chuck. Every gather with Chuck was a party.  He began to smoke cigars and wear Fedora hats.
Chuck in his fedora hat
Life was good…until it wasn’t.
In July 2001, his sister Susie died from a rare form of cancer. She left three young daughters, a heartbroken husband and a devastated mother. Chuckie was crushed but he went home to rock and sing to his nieces and help put the pieces of their family together again.

Susie and her oldest daughter Kelsey.

Eventually, he went on tour making friends all over the world. Then, in April, 2006, myworld stopped. Jimmy died. He had just turned 56. Our little granddaughter, Skylar was two.

Jimmy (Grandpa) and Skylar 2005
Chuckie swooped in to stay with me and we became locked together in grief.  My house was his home when he wasn’t away performing. We’d eat muffin tops for breakfast and read our horoscopes out loud. He’d come up with funny little quips that I stole and posted on Facebook as my own. I joked that when he sang in the shower I should open the window and charge admission.
When I ventured out he was my plus one. At home he’d spend endless hours helping me with my computer and then scream at me, “How could you not remember your password?”
Then he’d make me dinner.
He saw Jimmy. I never did. I’d come home and he’d say, “You just missed him.” Then, he’d add, “He doesn’t like the color you painted the kitchen. “ I’d tell him, “That’s because you don’t.’”
He sang Nessun Dorma  at my 60th birthday party and that night my friends and family called him Carlo.
He snuggled with my dog Tony, nicknamed him Tony Baloney and promised me if anything happened to me he would take care of him.

Chuckles and Tony Baloney

We hung out together at the house during Hurricane Sandy even though we were ordered to evacuate.  We figured how bad could it be?  After a houseboat landed in my backyard we took off for our favorite place, Atlantic City and stayed and gambled for six days. We got home just in time for the power to pop on.
After that, I didn’t feel I belonged in the suburbs anymore. As Chuck put it, “It’s like eating leftovers.” Life as a single woman had become easier for me. I sold the house. He got his own place in Manhattan and so did I. Chuckie and I un-clung, if that’s a word, to a healthy emotional dependency, that’s such a thing. I was with Mickey now, my boyfriend, and he and Chuck spent time together playing golf and smoking cigars…a  new civilized chapter.
He was with me and my kids and my grandkids for most holidays, but this Christmas he went to California to be with his Mom and son and nieces. My daughter called him for his lasagna recipe.
Last week, back in New York,  right after the New Year, Chuck had stomach pains and brought himself to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with Pancreatitis. He turned 50 on January 5th and died four days later. He was surrounded by love but only a teeny fraction of the love he gave.
Today I remembered what my granddaughter Skylar used to say. “We’re lucky. Not everyone has a Chuckles.”