Category Archives: History Lessons

Something’s coming…

A friend recently blogged a Facebook note about how old habits and routines break down and fall away to make room for new habits that more directly align with whatever is coming next. She said the Black Eyed Peas’ current hit kept playing in her head –

I got a feeling
that tonight’s gonna be a good night
that tonight’s gonna be a good, good night…

– and that she had a feeling of anticipation, that she was on the edge of some great change.

Reading her thoughts brought to mind something I’d written to my friend Penny long ago. Penny moved away to California while we were still in our twenties and we began to write to one another. One night I saw an episode of thirtysomething and got an idea. Two of the characters had written a poem together over a long distance, passing a notebook back and forth through the mail, each adding a stanza before mailing it back. Why couldn’t we do that, I thought. So I bought a notebook and we began to write.

Lo these many years later, I read my friend’s “I got a feeling…” entry and decided to make a foray into The Box. Out came Volume V of the books that got mailed back and forth between New York and California for so many years. I didn’t have to turn too many pages before I found what I was looking for. I was surprised to see that my handwriting, usually so anally neat, was a bit scraggly-looking, but then I realized I’d been on the train when I wrote it, so I forgave myself 😉

Thursday 22 December 1994

6:40 PM

Just passing through Hicksville…

I made a note to myself to tell you about the “something’s coming” vs. “something’s missing” phenomenon.

“Something’s Coming” is a feeling I used to carry with me while growing up. I had this feeling until very recently. I realized it was gone when I started last summer (1993) to get the stage fright thing and the paralysis dream.

“Something’s Coming” is actually the name of a song from West Side Story – you recall, I’m sure, the line that goes, “Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, but it is gonna be great!”. That’s the feeling, right there in that one line. There was nothing I couldn’t get through because I knew I was destined for “something”. Whatever it was, it would be wonderful, exciting and totally awesome. It would have a staggeringly positive impact on my life and maybe even the world. Whatever it was, it was BIG.

Now, I am horrified to suspect that it may just have been cancer.

I am rather upset that I have been deprived of feeling special and significant, however self-delusional that feeling was. At certain times in my life, it was all I had. It saved me, I am sure, from sinking into the abyss. In its place, there is now a big, fat nothing. “Something’s missing”.

I am not certain that I have ever stopped to articulate this so clearly before, even to myself. Reality really sucks, for it was a mega-dose of reality that wiped out my conviction that “something’s coming”.

So, how now to fill up the hole? I just bet there’s some sort of long, drawn-out, sucky mourning period involved here, on account of my profound loss of “something”. Yes, I know I’m being sarcastic, and no, I don’t care that I am. I prefer my world to be filled with peace and love, with equal doses of joy and wonder and excitement at the mere thought of life. And mostly, that’s how I am. I really detest all this negative shit that comes up in therapy, and I often wonder if the source of all this crap is endless or do I just keep manufacturing it anew?

I remember those years well, when my secret knowledge of “something” had me living on the giddy precipice of anticipation. What happened?

I was just thirty four when I wrote that letter to Penny. December of 1994 was two years post-diagnosis and about a year and a half post-treatment. I was floundering and resentful of the intrusion of catastrophic illness into my life.

It’s possible that life events had beat the crap out of me and I could no longer muster up the strength to sustain the illusion. Or, for a quasi-mystical point of view, it is possible that cancer really WAS what was “coming”. Or – and I think this was more likely – it was possible that I didn’t need it any more.

“Something’s coming” had gotten me through some grim times. I’d just proven that I could survive being gravely ill and all of the physical and psychological torment that had entailed. What need did I have for “something”?

Well, maybe I don’t need it, but I want it. I want that feeling back. The dream-giver DOES still wait for me. I’ve been on the smoothest course for a while now.

Time to shake things up 🙂

My “cougar” days, part one

IMG_0917What a ridiculous term by the way – “cougar”. 🙄 Where the hell did that come from? I’ve been googling around to find out how a woman who pursues relationships with younger men has come to be known as a “cougar”, but no one seems to know. I even looked up some facts about the actual feline known as “cougar”, also known as puma, panther, or mountain lion, depending on if you live in Texas, Florida or Wyoming. I found no evidence that the female cougar prefers younger male cougars for mates, but did find reference to adults being more or less solitary and meeting for one reason and one reason only – mating. Perhaps this is the basis for the terminology – hunting for a mate, then going home alone. I know, it’s a stretch, but aside from that I got nuttin’ !!!

A survey conducted by AARP asserts that 34% of women surveyed responded indicating that they were dating younger men, thereby fitting the definition of “cougar”. The survey is 6 years old at the time of this writing. Spurred on by high-profile romances such as that of Ashton Kutscher and Demi Moore, I imagine that statistic has only grown in the intervening years.

Guess what? There was a time when I fit the “cougar” definition, too. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – I was cougar before cougar was cool 😉 I once calculated it and came up with a startling statistic – I am older than 80-something percent of all the guys I’ve ever been involved with. Age differences have ranged from 3 months all the way up to 8 years.

(As an aside, I also calculated that 80-something percent of all the guys I’ve ever dated and/or married were also Jewish. Yes, we detect a pattern here. No, I haven’t really tried to analyze it. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Queens, so I’m not shocked that I’ve got an affinity for Jewish guys).

I began my auspicious career as a cougar circa 1975-76. Harry was in 9th grade and I was in 10th. He was exactly my height, sandy brown hair, blue eyes, with freckles. A class-clown type, Harry really knew how to make me laugh, and he was just adorable. Soon after we met, he got his braces removed, a fact which relieved him no end. I’d privately thought that they only added to his adorableness factor.

We were both in the high school chorus, and both had 5th period free, during which time we ran errands for the people working in the guidance office. One day, the student body decided to stage a “walk out” during 5th period over some (no doubt) burning, socially relevant issue, and Harry and I decided to walk up to McDonald’s instead of hanging out in the guidance office. I guess that was our first “date”.

Soon after that, he proposed to me amidst the melee that occurs periodically each day at every high school across America – otherwise known as the break between classes. We were passing on the staircase. I was trapped in the throngs heading up, while he was heading down. There’s no stopping when you’re in the crush of humanity on the staircase in an over-crowded New York City public school. He was looking for me; he saw me and thrust something rather sharp and pointy into my hand. As the crowd swept him away, he hollered over his shoulder, “Marry me!”. I opened my hand to find a copper-colored paper clip, bent pretzel-style into the likeness of a ring. Despite the fact that the ring eventually left a greenish tattoo on my finger, I was da shit for the duration of the school year. A boy, a CUTE, nice Jewish boy (all my friends were Jewish – I was the token shiksa) had proposed. With witnesses! It seems like half the school was on that staircase during the first (but not last) proposal of my life. This is how I came to be the sensation of the 10th grade that year.

I received my first-ever kiss – with tongue! – from Harry. I suspect it was his first as well. We were riding in the back of a car driven by the senior boyfriend of one of my pals, on our way to a party. The sun was shining on a fine spring day, and the Beatles crooned All My Lovin’ as we practiced our exploratory maneuvers, entirely neck-up, on each other. Thereafter, just walking down the halls or ambling hand-in-hand down the street, one or the other of us would spontaneously burst into All My Lovin’, while the other harmonized. To this day, when I hear that song all I can think of is Harry and soft, first kisses in the warm sunshine.

When my friends threw me a girls-only Sweet 16 party, Harry and some of the guys from our crowd crashed. The hostess was my friend Denise, God rest her soul. She was rather put out, but I was delighted. They came bearing gifts. One of the boys gave me Wings At The Speed Of Sound and another Endless Summer. Only, they were LPs! You actually needed a record player to play them! These remain staples of my music collection. Harry, however, chose to come bearing jewelry. He’d petitioned his grandmother for funding and presented me with a tiny, perfect sterling silver cross. This was a grand gesture coming from a nice Jewish boy and his bubbie! 😉 I treasured it and wore it always, even after we moved away, which ended our relationship.

Fast-forward one year, which can seem like a thousand at that age. I was a junior at my new high school and a senior asked me to accompany him to his prom. The day after the prom, we went to see a show on Broadway in NYC, and who should we bump into outside the theater but Harry. It seems a senior had asked him to the prom too, at our old high school. We were ecstatic to see one another, but that made our dates antsy, so we had to be brief. A year had made a huge difference – I could tell he was now officially WAY taller than I was, and he was even cuter, if that was possible. His parents had relocated him, too – to California. We wrote to one another a few times, but as often happens with young love, one or the other of us stopped writing and that was the end of that.

I don’t know what became of the “engagement ring”. It probably disintegrated and went to paper clip heaven. But I do know what happened to the silver cross. Fast forward another year, to the magically golden summer of 1978. Our town sponsored an outdoor summer theater workshop, and during rehearsals for a dance number, the chain I wore the cross on somehow got caught on someone else. The chain snapped and it all went flying into the night. Several people helped me look for it. We found the chain, but the cross was lost forever. I probably would have been inconsolable, had it not been the magically golden summer of 1978 and That Boy.

Oh, and the show we were doing? Fiddler On The Roof – OY! 😉

NEXT TIME: His name was Jeremy…

Further reading: Here’s the article that inspired me to explore my inner cougar 😉

Click to read The Cougar: Progressive or Exploitative? on BlogHer

The choice to be childless

Niece No. 2, aka my God-Niece, updated her status on Facebook this morning and has not been back to elaborate. Her status currently declares that she “never wants to be a parent”.

Never is a pretty long time. I’m intrigued, and looking forward to asking her what brought this on when I see her next. She’s coming to spend a week with me “doing nothing” on the beach next month. I’m sure it will be an illuminating conversation!

It started me thinking, though, about all the reasons I’ve had over the years for not wanting to have children. All these years, I’ve given the impression that it does boil down to that simple, declarative statement – I never wanted to be a parent. But in reality, nothing is ever that simple.

Growing up, my dolls were never really my babies – they were my friends. I never clamored to be the mother whenever the kids in my neighborhood played “house”. I just never had the drive toward motherhood when I was little.

I was babysitter of choice in my neighborhood when I became a teenager.  The kids adored me, and I them.  I wrote fabulous tales of adventure and heroism, and put them in starring roles in these epics.  I played the best games, and kept their secrets while still keeping them out of harm’s way.  I was their friend and guide – but NEVER their mother-figure.

In my late teens, I indulged in a little pipe-dreaming with a particular boy (yes, THAT boy) about “some day” and how it would be when we established our home and our family together – right down to “two cats in the yard”.  The scenario included a vague quantity of children, at least two judging from a sketch he drew for me one time.  At this point, though, I feel it fair to point out that for me, it really WAS dreaming; I felt very little real identification with the possibility that it could actually come true.  At 17-18 years of age, I’d already had a number of experiences that taught me the rug would be ripped out from under me as soon as I became comfortable and happy, so I don’t think I ever actually believed that “some day” would manifest into reality.

Later in life, I had what turned out to be an ill-fated marriage, to someone else.  But in the beginning, when I still had every intention of going through life with him, I picked out names; Julie for a girl (Julianna, actually, like the queen of the Netherlands) and Jordan for a boy. This was a nod to the name of the female lead in the musical Carousel. It was my first role after starting to study with Gloria, a radical departure from the roles I’d been playing – I’d learned how to sing like an ingenue.  I thought it was neat that “Julie Jordan” had two first names instead of a first and a last.  Anyway – eventually, I accepted that I was married to the wrong person, and actively sought to prevent the manifestation of children. I believed he would not pull his weight as a parent; he wasn’t pulling his weight as a partner, and I saw no reason to believe a baby would change any of that.  I already felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being an adult, having a household to tend to along with a full time job and a budding stage career.  I felt responsible for everything, and I didn’t see the sense in adding to those responsibilities.

I recognized, fortunately, that many men want children for the same reason they’d like a Porsche in the garage.  They love being able to brag about having one, but they want nothing to do with the maintenance.  I further recognized that a woman who is married to this sort of man is in for 18 years (minimum) of indentured servitude, self-sacrifice and subjugation of all her wants, needs and desires, always putting the needs of the children first, never getting an assist.

I grew up in a very restrictive environment.  I didn’t get to make the simplest of decisions for myself; everything was controlled to the nth degree.  I had no say in the clothes I wore, the way I styled my hair, the friends I was allowed to have…. no freedom of choice at all.  I was tired of external sources dictating every little detail of everything for me.  I wanted freedom.  The idea of living under restrictions again was not at all appealing.

I feared that, under virtual single-parent conditions, I would become resentful and miserable. This would leak over onto the children. I’d been on the receiving end of something similar. I knew what it was to really hate being treated that way.

Bottom line: I knew it would break my heart to have any child of mine hurt so badly that they would come to hate me.  I could not bear the thought of it. I’d been trying to prepare myself for a long time to not make the same mistakes my parents did. I started a diary at age 13 or so, for the express purpose of never forgetting what it is like to be a kid. I thought that would help me to be a better parent. Probably, it would have.  Definitely, under the “some day” scenario, with the right partner, it would have worked.  But once I piled the wrong partner on top of my fears that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… there was no way I was going to introduce children into the scenario.  They would only suffer for it.

So, all these years, many of you reading this have had the understanding that I didn’t WANT children.  That is not necessarily the whole truth.  As is typical for me, I knew far better what I didn’t want.  What I didn’t want was to feel used and trapped.  What I didn’t want was to make children who were destined to suffer and to resent me for it.  What I didn’t want was to gift someone with a Porsche that I would then be forced to maintain solo. 

God is good.  Some women who go through chemo lose their ability to reproduce.  I was 33 when they finally decided that those episodes whereby my head felt like it was spinning into orbit were actually hot flashes, and that meant I was entering menopause.  I was not a candidate for estrogen replacement, because that’s what my tumor ate for a living – estrogen.  Therefore, I believe that God picked the right person to visit with this condition.  It would have been a real tragedy if God had picked a woman who would have been devastated by infertility.  From that perspective, I’m glad God chose me.  And it really kind of settled the question once and for all.  Want or not want, it was moot – “can’t” was now the operative word, and aside from a mild twinge now and then, I’ve really been ok with it, with the finality of it.

All of this led to my ability to focus some individualized attention (not to mention disposable income) in the direction of my nieces.  And now I’m wondering if it also led to an example being set for them of an alternative option.  Even growing up in the 60s and being exposed to media coverage of “women’s liberation”, Gloria Steinem, fish having no need of bicycles, etc., I still had some notion that one grew up and got married and had children because that’s what one did.  I’m sure the extremely conservative way in which I was raised contributed to that; my parents often said that a young woman did not leave her parents house unless it was to move into her husband’s house. 

This hasn’t been true for my nieces, thankfully.  They actually get to leave the house and go away to college – without first having to get married!  Although I would never want to discourage them from having a family if that’s what they wanted, I do hope that my life has somehow served to let them know that a person can be legitimately productive and happy leading an alternative lifestyle, that there is another choice besides wife and mother.  There’s the choice to be childless.  When I ask about the mysterious Facebook status update, I might find that this is the case, or I might find that she was just in a very bad mood.  Either way – it’s satisfying to know that there are children in this world whom I love, that I’ve not made them suffer and they don’t hate me 🙂  So maybe it was the right choice after all.

Forgiving Salinger

catcher-coverJ. D. Salinger used to be my favorite author. I first read Catcher in the Rye circa 1973-ish, when I was in 7th or 8th grade; my science teacher was actually loaning it around to people in my class, and I got on the list and read it and loved it. I loved it so much, that by time I got to 10th grade and we were actually reading it in English class, I swiped a copy. I still have it. Ancient, tattered, it bears the stamp on the inside cover, “MARTIN VAN BUREN HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH DEPARTMENT” (watch me get fined now or something – arrested, even!). It’s well-worn because it has been read a bazillion times.

A few years later, someone loaned me a copy of Nine Stories and I fell in love. With Salinger, too! 😉 I liked “For Esme, With Love and Squalor” best, but his favorite was “Teddy”. If I recall correctly, he had to beg me repeatedly to return the book to him. I think eventually I must have, because the copy I have on my bookshelf now is a mass-market paperback from 1991, and my introduction to Nine Stories was circa 1978. I also have a paperback copy of Franny and Zooey on my shelves.

Still more years later, there came unto us the internet, and Salinger was one of the first of those seemingly day-long searches I used to conduct back then with my CompuSpend oops I meant to say CompuServe account. I found out lots about him that day. He was reclusive. He refused interviews. He’d published short stories prolifically, in such prestigious publications as Colliers, Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker, to name a few. There are many pages on the internet devoted to lists of Salinger’s “uncollected works”, nearly all of them mentioning that he doesn’t want them “collected”.

And then came that fateful year I picked up a copy of Dreamcatcher, Margaret Salinger’s memoir of growing up in the orbit of her famous father. Ah, FINALLY, some good and detailed information about my favorite author! I took the book with me on vacation to Sanibel Island and devoured it. After finishing it, this is what I had to say about it in my trip journal:

“I have to say that up until finishing this memoir, J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” was my all-time favorite novel. However, now that I know that he was such a pitiful excuse for a husband and father, my enjoyment of his writings has become tarnished. This man and his wife were classic examples of those who should not breed, for they steadfastly failed to comprehend their responsibilities as parents. If even half of what Peggy Salinger has written is true, both parents needed institutionalization followed by a swift kick in the pants to straighten their sorry asses out.”

Yes, the bloom was off the rose. I’d spent happy decades revering the man whose mind invented Holden Caulfield, only to discover that he was a whacko. No wonder he was hiding. He might be sick, but he’s not stupid. If a life-long fan can become turned off by the truth about him, think what would happen with casual readers. Think of all those unpurchased paperbacks. Think of all those 10th graders whose parents are having a hard enough time with the fact that they’re reading a book spattered with the F word and various other expletives. You wanna see books burning? Just wait until they find out what a horrible father he was!

And so, for the last 6 years, I’ve sulked, refusing to do the annual pilgrimage into the mind of the teenager that is Holden Caulfield. A few of those 6 years, my books were in storage, anyhow, so I didn’t really need to sulk those years, but probably did anyway. I did lay hands upon my Salinger paperbacks, though – twice. I’ve moved twice in that time period, and so I actually touched them without reading them, once to pack them up into storage, and then again when I got to the new house and unpacked them.

I had to do a book purge when I got here. I don’t know what possessed me to own so many books, never mind pack them and pay to move them from Long Island to Florida. I knew it had to be done, but it still felt like an amputation. I posted the titles online to various forums and lists, and mailed out the ones that people wanted. The rest went to Goodwill in Lehigh Acres, where the manager of the place was grateful to receive them.

Interestingly, I gave away Margaret’s hardcover, but kept J. D.’s paperbacks. Oh, I was still mad at him, but somewhere inside, I was still deeply attached to ol’ J.D. and his stories. There are other items I’ve dragged with me from pillar to post over the years, items that I keep in a certain Box, items that I have not wanted to read but not wanted to part with, either. But that’s another post for another day.

My recent run-in with personal history, compliments of Facebook led to a raid on that certain Box… (when I can face The Box again, I’ll let y’all know). The raid on The Box led to remembering Nine Stories in ways in which I had not indulged in many, many years. And so I left The Box and proceeded to comb the bookshelves in my home office, whereupon I found the book, turned immediately to the last chapter where I knew I’d find “Teddy”, and read it through.

J.D. is a talented, sensitive, brilliant writer. These attributes coexist with ineptitude as a husband and a father. Margaret Salinger commented something to the effect that she’d expected the man who thought up the role of the catcher, the guy who keeps kids from running off a cliff, to be that for her. Given that she is his child, I’d say she had a right to expect that, and has a right to be disappointed about it. I hope writing the book has helped her to cope with that disappointment, at least somewhat. I know that such profound disappointment in a parent is not something you ever really get over, but you can’t let it cripple you for the rest of your life, either.

So I read “Teddy” and I enjoyed it. And remembered. And shed a few tears. I’m not sure I’m ready to forgive ol’ J.D. yet, just as I’m not quite sure that I’m ready to forgive myself. All this time, I thought I’d abandoned Salinger in solidarity with his daughter, because he was such a poor parent. But now… now, I think I realize that it may have less to do with his sins than it has to do with my own. Like a lot of things associated with that time in my life, J.D. now makes me feel like that 17-18 year old fuck-up I used to be, flailing around on the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy, so desperate to survive, so heedless of the wounds I was inflicting upon others. And, let’s face it – upon myself.

Clearly, I am in need of redemption. Got any ideas, anyone? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between the covers of Nine Stories. Perhaps I should read the whole thing. Just to find out.

Why Facebook = suckage

There is someone who friended me on Facebook who is unfortunately associated with a period in my life that was characterized by emotional upheaval and bad decisions that amounted to bad behavior on my part. I have huge regrets about the choices I made back then, which resulted in pain for someone I loved, who loved me. Casual reconnection with this person on Facebook has also served to reconnect me with those emotions. I would have much preferred to keep them in the past.

I’m aware that this would have happened as the result of a high school reunion too, but there’s a major difference. This stuff was MEANT to fade, and if it surges to the forefront again briefly as a result of a class reunion, well that’s a finite event that has a beginning and an end. The end facilitates the fading of these feelings into obscurity once more.

Facebook, however, has become a 24/7/365 reminder that I’m not his forever best girl, that there will be no “some day” for me – he’s been having “some day” with someone else for lo these many years. And regardless of whose doing that was – or perhaps because it was my own damned fault – it still hurts. It hurts as much as it did one night in the summer of 1979 when I realized, too late, what I’d done and what it had cost us both.

Since I’m otherwise enjoying Facebook as a fun and efficient way to keep up with my posse, I am loathe to abandon it simply because this one thing about it sucks. An unfriending might cause drama, which I’d rather not do. Barring those two options, I don’t think there’s anything I can do, any action I can take, to alleviate the situation, to push back the flood of emotions and stuff them back into the dark recesses of memory from whence they came.

Maybe this is one of those things that I just have to let suck until it doesn’t suck any more.

—————-
Listening to: Little Texas – What Might Have Been
via FoxyTunes

“Must see TV” of yore

“thirtysomething” to be released on DVD on August 25, 2009.

In the 80s, we had TV nights.  Early on, it was Wednesday Night Dynasty parties at the house in Saint James.  I’d come home from work, and there’d be people in the house already, making dinner and stuff.  I think like a bazillion people had a key to our house.  Later on, after the separation, it was Tuesday night Thirtysomething parties.  Even after Pooh and Rowdy moved so far away, the tradition continued with just me and Mikel.  At some point, we expanded the repertoire to include China Beach as well, but I don’t remember if that was on the same night or a different night. Now, that was some good TV! Nothing like those shows on the wasteland that is network television nowadays.

—————-
Listening to: Buffalo Tom – Late at Night

A song from long ago

sunshine“Daisy Jane” by America
I believe it used to remind someone of me.

Flying me back to Memphis
Gotta find my Daisy Jane
Well, the summer’s gone
and I hope she’s feeling the same.

Well, I left her just to roam the city
thinking it would ease the pain
I’m a crazy man, and I’m playing my crazy game
game

Does she really love me?
I think she does
Like the stars above me
I know because
When the sky is bright
Everything’s alright

Flying me back to Memphis
Honey, keep the oven warm
All the clouds are clearing
And I think we’re over the storm

Well, I’ve been picking it up around me
Daisy, I think I’m sane
And I’m awful glad
And I guess you’re really to blame
blame

Do you REALLY LOVE me?
I hope you do
like the sars above me
how I love you
When it’s cold at night
everything’s alright

Does she really love me?
I think she does
Like the stars above me
I know because
when the sky is bright
everything’s alright.

Formula: The Quest For Strawberry

from a Manic Monday prompt

Once upon a time, I lived on The Loverly Isle of Long, and I would get my roots done every 4 weeks with the PERFECT shade of strawberry blond. Not too blond, not too red, not too dark, not too light, the formula was the product of several years of trial and error with my hair stylist/colorist, Nancy. The final formula is comprised of three different shades from L’Oreal‘s professional line called Majirel, using 20-volume developer.

To say that I was obsessive about the appearance of gray brown roots is to understate the anxiety that would grip the core of my very being at the least whisper of new growth. I did some unusual things in order to preserve the color as much as possible until it was time to get it done again. I would refrain from using actual shampoo for 2 or three days after coloring. I used a conditioner called “Strawberry” every day (made by ARTec, which had been bought by L’Oreal). I would only use COLD water on my hair to discourage fading from heat, and would not use shampoo more than every other day. All of this, because red hair color shades are notoriously difficult to maintain. I did everything I could to ensure that the color remained fresh until it was time to beat the roots into submission once more.

Just prior to moving to Florida, I went to see Nancy for the last time and she wrote down my formula for me. Clutching this sacred slip of paper in my feverish hand, I also entered it into my Palm Pilot for posterity. Four weeks later, I walked into a local salon here in Southwest Florida, showed them the formula and asked them to replicate it.

Problem #1 – they don’t use L’Oreal Majirel and in fact, they never heard of it. When I said “L’Oreal”, they thought I’d been buying hair color kits over the counter in the supermarket. I had to educate them.

Problem #2 – I had to look at the color board and figure out for myself what might work. They were not at all willing to make a decision and then be accountable for it. Apparently, no one in this shop was the color genius that Nancy had been, and they lacked the confidence that goes along with such a level of genius.

Problem #3 – over the next two years, the stylists in that salon wracked their brains, played mad chemist, adjusted the formula time and again, but it was fruitless. They could not get it right. The color never looked even close to my old shade, and it also never looked natural. Sometimes it was too yellow, other times too burgundy. Yet other times, it appeared that my hair color had come from a box that said “Crayola” on it – amazing shades, but totally inappropriate for the hair of a grown-up businesswoman.

A “woe is me” post I made on a discussion board this past spring was read with sympathy by one of my Sanibuddies (that’s a buddy I met online who loves Sanibel Island as much as I do), who happens also to be a wonderful hair stylist and colorist. She had a vacation already planned for May, so I emailed her the formula and she picked up the supplies as soon as she landed in Fort Myers. Then one sunny spring afternoon, I drove out to the island to see her and she worked her magic. I cannot describe the happiness I felt when I looked in the mirror and saw my old familiar shade of strawberry beaming back at me. Yay!

We decided that I would figure out how much stuff I needed to do my hair for a year, and my colorist buddy would pick it up for me before she left. You have to be a licensed professional to buy the materials – I have no idea why that is but that’s the way it is. So she called ahead to put in the order before picking it up, and tragedy struck. One of the three L’Oreal shades required to make my color was discontinued! No more! THE END! I was horrified. After all this time struggling, to finally reach Nirvana only to have all my hopes dashed to hell. Not fair, not fair, not fair!

My friend did some research, consulted with some professionals and sent me a package when she got home. Inside the package were tubes of what she hoped would be a suitable replacement for the L’Oreal formula. The new company name was Pravana. I called Tootie and we made a Hair Day appointment. We were both plenty nervous. After following the proportions originally set out by Nancy all those years ago, it seemed like we had a ton of formula – too much just for a root job. So we decided that, since I was changing formulas, we might as well do whole-head, to avoid getting a stripe, and I made a mental note to halve the formula next time.

I will never forget leaning over the kitchen sink to wash it all out, and hearing Tootie remark calmly, “well, it looks exactly like a bright copper penny”. OMG, that’s not strawberry!, I thought frantically. What have we done? I could scarecely wait to see in the mirror, but tried to remain calm as the shampooing and conditioning proceeded. Finally, I was standing before the mirror with a comb in my hand trying to detangle. It was definitely REDDER than I was used to seeing after coloring, but it wasn’t horrible or unnatural. It looked even better after blow-drying; something about being wet had made it really bright, but the dryer it got, the better it looked. I took a picture with my Blackberry and emailed it to my Sanibuddy colorist friend, who by this time had long since returned home from her Sanibel vacation.

The next time we decided to have Hair Day, I discovered that althought I still had plenty of color left in the tubes, I didn’t have enough developer to get the job done. This is because we made so much formula the last time; if I had realized and cut it in half, there still would have been enough developer left. I had figured out that a tube of L’Oreal hair color is about half the size of a tube of Pravana. So when Nancy’s formula said, “half a tube of this and a quarter tube of that”, and I follwed it for the Pravana, it actually made double the amount of formula – and took double the amount of developer. A few emails back and forth with my colorist buddy, and we finally had a shopping list for a year’s worth of supplies.

So I sit here typing with 6 week old roots, waiting for my shipment. When it arrives, Tootie and I will have another Hair Day. What amazes me is that I have not fallen over from root anxiety yet, even though my roots are definitely beyond the point of screaming. The net result of this new formula is, as Tootie points out, the roots are not as noticeable when they come in. The contrast isn’t as sharp, so they’re not screaming quite as stridently as they used to. We’ve also discovered that after about a week and a half, the color fades a bit to where I want it to be, an extremely close approximation of the L’Oreal shade.

The quest for strawberry led to copper, and not without angst – but all’s well that ends well. These little trials and tribulations are necessary in life. They keep our minds occupied, and keep us off the streets and out of trouble!

Have I ever told you about The Elf Game?

The Elf Game was invented on Christmas Eve in Temecula, California, sometime back in the 1990s, based upon a random Christmas Eve occurrence from my childhood. I had flown in from Long Island that year to spend Christmas with my friend Penny and her family. She’s got two girls, and I think they were about 6 and 8 years old at the time.

Penny decorates her home like a mad woman. Every surface is covered with Christmas “stuff”, which is hauled out and distributed around the house each year, and then returned to the various Rubbermaid bins from whence they came. This particular year, whilst wandering about the house, I discovered two implements of elf were at my disposal – a set of hearty jingle bells (not the namby-pamby type, but the kind you’d expect to find around the neck of the horse drawing the one-horse open sleigh), and a Santa hat. A wicked plan formed within my brain.

Early in the day, the bells were heard at odd moments, coming from various parts of the house and surrounding yard. The first time they were heard, it reminded Auntie Tink *~*~* of a day long ago, a Christmas Eve just like this one, only there was snow and coldness and no palm trees. Ok, not so much like this one, but it was Christmas Eve nonetheless. And Auntie Tink’s *~*~* baby brother Chez Bro was being very, very naughty. He was playing in the basement and had decapitated his teddy bear. He was generally running berserk. He was yelled at, he was threatened, he was pleaded with – nothing worked.

Suddenly from upstairs we heard a jingling sound…

My older brother yelled down the basement stairs that there were elves in the driveway, peeking in the windows, listening to Chez Bro be naughty. He said the jingling sound was elf bells! And that Chez Bro had better be good or else there would be no presents, because the elves would tell Santa on his ass!

(Years later, at a Thanksgiving dinner, a bunch of adults sat around their parents’ dining room table, making confessions. It was at this time that we all confessed to having HATED three bean salad as children, and told of the artful ways we would dispose of it to show clean plates. One method, which may have been a tall tale spun of too much Thanksgiving dinner wine, was to pass it out the dining room window to the first person that managed to escape. However, we did not employ the “feed it to the dog under the table” method, because even the dog despised three bean salad. No dogs were hurt in the disposal of the three bean salad! So anyway, after the three bean salad epiphany, whereby my mother vowed never to serve us three bean salad ever again, big brother confessed that the jingling was my mother’s car keys.)

So I thought back to this day long ago, and decided that the elves could visit Temecula, California that year. I ran around ringing the bells all day at various places, which caused a stampede of children rushing to the spot to search for and gather evidence. They had a whiteboard amongst their playthings, so we set that up as a map of the house and yard, marking it with a big red “X” everywhere we suspected the elves had appeared. Clues like glitter in the grass and bits of green sea glass were found in the vicinity of where it was believed the elves had rung their bells.

“But HOW will the elves tell on us? Santa is at the North Pole!”, demanded one of the older children of the neighborhood. Ah, that’s easy. The elves whip out their little cell phones and leave Santa a voice mail, telling him the date, time, city, and name of the child who had committed the infraction.

Getting close to dinner time, I took the elf hat and snuck outside. I found a stick, and lurked beneath the livingroom windows. When the children came into the room, I bobbed the hat up and down on the stick, just so they could see the pointy tip and pom pom, as though the elf were marching around out there. With squeals, there was a mad dash for the door. I ditched the stick in the bushes and arranged myself in a sprawl on the front walk, still clutching the hat. The door sprung open just as I began to yell, “I almost had him! I almost had him! Look, I GOT HIS HAT!”

They were all gathered round me in a little knot, this wild woman with an elf hat. Their eyes were large in their heads. There was not a non-believer amongst them.

Thus was born The Elf Game.