The Last Time

Today marks the autumnal equinox and we’ve had a glorious September. Every ushering in of the early fall finds me in a restive state. This year I feel downright restless. I have stayed close to home and spend peaceful hours outside with my old girl, my 16-year-old cat Lizzie, watching her sunbathe. When it’s quiet – no lawnmowers, no electronic sound, we listen to nature. And Mother Earth is loud! The cacophony of crickets and cicadas and their music is mighty. How humbling to know that creatures so small make great noise.

This late summer/early fall I hear them saying to me: “Last time! Last time!” Their refrain fills me with an itchy feeling — it’s time to move on, go put down roots in a quieter cleaner place. The “last time” feeling also makes me think of Lizzie; I wonder is this the last summer we have, the last time we will sit and do nothing in the sunshine. She has days when she mostly sleeps and is low-energy, and then there are days when I find her jumping up on high window sills to watch the birds or the world pass by. It pulls at my heart – we are so fragile and so resilient at the same time. A mass of contradictions.

The clear warm sunny days with turquoise skies also remind me of the last early fall that my mother was still well enough to do things. I traveled to see my parents and we decided to go raspberry picking at a local farm. It must have been a weekday because we were the only ones in the fields, and the rows were situated to provide a wide vista of rolling hills and low mountains. I stood up from picking and looked at the view: my mother and father intent on their task. I knew that that would be our last time. The last time of normal fun activity — our remaining times revolved around sick rooms and hospitals.

I was corresponding with my friend MK who traveled by car cross country to return to college in California. He took his time and had the “experience.” His photographs are a beautiful travelogue. I shared my wanderlust feeling with him, and my science friend wrote this: “I believe everything will work out fine. I trust the universe, and its mechanisms. Ever since my move to the US it has always been by my side, bringing me one success/accomplishment/acquaintance after the other, and you are one of them. The one thing I do to make sure this rhythm stays in motion is wake up and take a few seconds to be grateful: for my feet that get me out of bed, hands that prepare my food, eyes that see, family, roof that houses me, etc.”

Well put. Here’s to a benevolent universe and to last times — and first times.

Clare

Miss Nopee Goes To Washington

I will skip over the scandalous fact that I have not written over the summer with the silence it deserves. Now that’s out of the way.

End of May, I received a call from a friend from church…which I have not attended in two years. I hear from Gail on occasion — she’s amazing — so, when she called, I was eager to oblige her request. Her ask was if I would help a girl who has been a member of the choir for the last nine years. The young lady is in high school and needs help in preparing for the arduous task of applying to colleges, essays, and the rest. Since it was Gail asking, and she told me that Ana was a “sweetheart,” I was happy to help.

The last three months working with Ana have been a delight. She’s super-smart, always prepared, passionate, committed…all good things. The antithesis of the usual characterization of a teenager. I liked her immediately and my affection for her has grown exponentially. Particularly when I discovered she has a sense of humor, and best of all, a sense of humor about herself.

Perhaps here would be a good place to explain the moniker (what dat?) of “Miss Nopee.” Of course, that isn’t Ana’s last name, I am certain she would bristle at the “Miss” for “Ms,” but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. While texting back and forth with Ana to ascertain her whereabouts – she had gone to Massachusetts to look at colleges — I asked, “Are you home?” “Nope” “Have you left MA?” “Nopee” I thought it was cute, started calling her that, and it stuck.

Ana LOVES politics, wants to go into politics, and the law. All brave ambitions at the best of times, and we aren’t in those presently. No moss grows under Ana, she’s active in her school government and clubs, in politics on the local level, state, etc. Her hero is Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez. She drafts referendums for the banishment of plastics, founded the young democrats club, is in honors classes, and works as a waitress at a local restaurant. Her parents are from South America; she is invested in her roots, and in the democracy that we are all hoping to hold onto in her country of birth. Here.

Along with all that (the short version of the list) she has a serious boyfriend who is also super-smart – more in the area of STEM, so I imagine that they complement each other well. Ana is uber feminist, definitely her own woman, independent and on her way. The boyfriend – who is handsome and dreamy – comes from a strict Hindu family. This poor kid does not enjoy the freedom of movement that Ana does, and if his parents found out that he and Ana were seeing each other – that would be terrible. It really would. His dad checks his phone, his texts, calculates how long it takes to drive to school and home, it would be easier to put an ankle monitor on the kid. Since the father works from home there is no respite from the rigid gatekeeper. This is a secret romance, secret in the sense that the parents don’t know, but the whole school, or a good part of it, does.

The lengths to which these two sweet young people in love must go in order to conduct their love affair are both baroque and ingenious. If they “happen” to meet at the dog park…and there’s code phrases (and fake guys’ names — e.g. “Shane”!), like: “Hey bro, where we meet up for the study group?” Once there, they can’t walk the lovely paths and be normal, they have to hover in the back alley — probably where the dumpsters are — to have a minute alone. Ana must have noticed my quizzical gaze, so she explained. In this white bread suburb in which we inhabit the Indian community is not in the majority and is tightly knit – everyone knows everyone. No, and I mean no, Indian person can spot them or it will be reported back to his dad in a New York second.

At the same time Ana is also in competition with her beau. They are applying to the same blue ribbon/IV League schools. We’ll see who wins. I recently made two literary references in a row in a sentence (one of them was Dante), and Ana looked at me and said, “I have no idea who/what that is.” After recovering from my near heart attack and chiding her for not knowing these references, I sent her a list. A list that used to be on Columbia’s first page – but nonetheless the list for top schools of the books one should have read before entering their ivied walls. To Ana’s credit, she admitted she hadn’t read any of them, and true to form, I received a text from her: “I’m on it!” 👍

Bismark said (who he?) …and I’m paraphrasing: “People who are fond of sausages and the law should never watch them being made.” I haven’t shared this sentiment with Ana, nor my reservations of going into a field of endeavor which in theory is noble and in reality, ignoble. Who am I to drop her dreams all over the floor? Her optimism and insouciance may very well transport her magically to the highest office in the land. I have a vision of her skipping/floating with backpack and books in hand, her beautiful mane of hair blowing in the wake of her acceleration, and settling in behind the large desk situated in the Oval Office.

Well why not? Realistically she’s more prepared than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No experience necessary! At least Ana has read The Federalist Papers. And, she has heart, compassion, courage and brains.

I see her as a modern version of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with James Stewart giving his impassioned and moving speech to the U.S. Congress. I see her pointing her finger at those smug well-fed old white guys, who don’t give a shit about anyone or anything, and who are wondering when they can discreetly exit the building in order to get to their restricted clubs in time for the cocktail hour.

There’s more, oh so much more, to Miss Nopee, but I must tie this up for now. Let’s say regarding the further adventures of the indefatigable (huh?) Miss Nopee….to be continued.

“Esteemed” Gentleman of the Congress, start your engines, and brace yourself. The times are a-changin’…for the better, I hope. I truly do. 

Clare Irwin

*Supreme Court image courtesy of Ana. Taken during her attendance of the ACLU’s summer advocacy institute: “Best week of my life yet.”

Now You Are….Three! Happy Third Birthday to Phantom Noise In Ordinary Time!

I nearly forgot we had a birthday! I was reminded because Sunday was Bastille Day, and I recall penning (tentatively) the first entry the next day. I’m thrilled and delighted to celebrate three years of ink and toil. I’m also terribly pleased with the steady growth of readership, fans, and support. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I wish I had time to write more and often – don’t we all wish for more time? I am making a promise to myself to DO IT!!! Not merely fret about not writing.

I want to thank the many friends who have contributed in various ways to our little home here. Especially my wonderful friend, dear Blanca, who has and is getting me organized and sorted out, AND contributes her excellent artistic eye, web-mastery, and overall wisdom. Stay tuned she has more for us soon. Thank you all. And a special thanks to all who wittingly, more often unwittingly, contribute the raw material for what I write here.

So, there you have it: deep gratitude, more and better & Oh, all the places we shall go!

Love, Love, Love…everything in THREE!

Clare

Here are three favorites you may want to read: https://phantomnoiseinordinarytime.com/2017/02/12/josh-brolin-a-volvo-commerical-walt-whitman/

https://phantomnoiseinordinarytime.com/2017/04/23/the-house-on-the-hill/

https://phantomnoiseinordinarytime.com/2018/09/19/1942-the-penny-dropped-stargazing/

Baby You Can Drive My Car

It’s the time of the season when I turn in my leased car and endure what I regard as the torture of visiting car dealerships with their attending salespeople…I’m beginning to think it’s a special kind of moron who does this work. After that exercise in futility…I pled insanity and fobbed it off to the men in my life.

I get it! This is a luxury problem and I deserve a nosebleed from being on my high horse! But…yes, here comes the but…it is irritating on many levels. First and most significantly is the cars all look alike – half the time I can’t tell them apart. There are no color choices except for what my friend calls the mud slide – with a couple of hideous new colors that car companies push.

Here in the nouveau uber-burbs the car that is everywhere is Subaru. I am beginning to think all housewives or middle-aged women are issued one upon arrival – a new twist on the Welcome Wagon. There are the upper-end cars which don’t look that different from one another either, except maybe Maserati, Porsche and Jeep. Then to find one that isn’t driven by an asshole you know or see driving one – no options remain! Ever since it was pointed out that the Tesla logo looked like a diagram of a woman’s cervix in a medical textbook…I can’t take it seriously.

Don’t get the wrong idea  – I’m working within a budget, which is fine because I’d rather spend, or save, money on other things. Someone once asked me, “If money wasn’t  an object what car would you want?” My answer was, “One with a driver in the front seat!” Not that I’m channeling my inner diva…well a little…I don’t care what kind of car it is…I don’t like driving. I’ve been driving since I was 15, but I’m not a comfortable driver – especially in the congested area where I find myself living.

If I were asked that question now my answer would be the same but also different. My dream car is a vintage truck that I drive off road most of the time. I’m sitting with the windows open, my dirt-kicked cowboy boots up on the dash (?) whistling with two fingers – or even better no fingers – (a skill I enviably I wish I had), for my junkyard dog who jumps into the bed of the truck or the passenger seat, and we drive off into the sunset. That is what I would like.

Where did I get such a notion? Nevertheless, I find it attractive. The end result is that I will be the owner of a VW…not of the original incarnation, but a newer, sportier…whatever: marketed to Generation Z – a coveted group. And, it’s white! A color that I envision for retirees in Florida or places like Orange County, California. This VW is a year old and has 5,000 miles on it, so be grateful, right?

…”There’s one more thing, I got the pink slip daddy!”

Happy Driving, 

Clare

A Brief Meditation on Mother’s Day

Good Mother’s Day to all! For those who have raised up their own children, for those who have raised the children of others, for those who have loved and cared and nurtured the young….and the old…for those who have taken loving care with loving kindness of those who need tending…I salute you and say a heartfelt thank you filled with love.

These beautiful tulips came yesterday in the arms of a sweet, shining, smiling young one who is on her way to great things. What a joy to see them get ready to fly.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about my mother these past days and weeks. Most likely because I have been clearing out closets, files and whatnot, and I come across her in many forms, paintings, photographs, notes, cards….We lost her too young, while we were too young. 

I am proud of my mother’s accomplishments as well, and her success in her career. In fact, I have been meaning to write — for some time — about my mother and her mother’s (my grandmother’s) marvelous achievements in the context of “feminism.” A word that both would eschew — and I as well — even though they were in every way “liberated” and did exactly what they wanted. And cheers to my dad and grandfather for being enlightened to appreciate them, to delight in their success, and to encourage them. 

Well, I suppose many people are out today taking their moms to lunch, dinner, a play or just kicking back and spending time with them. So to all, enjoy. To my mother, and the extraordinary women in my family, thank you for everything you gave me and for doing so with wit, wisdom, humor, strength, courage, and….quite a bit of glamour.

With Love,

Clare

 

 

 

 

Western Biological

OK! I’m way overdue in replenishing this site with fresh content. I can’t decide if it’s time for a rosy gaze, a bitchfest, or a middle ground. I’ve been rereading Cannery Row which is beguiling and wonderful — sort of a Western version of Damon Runyon’s denizens of the old Times Square. That area near Carmel and Monterey is long gone – too valuable a real estate to stay rusty. I remember the area when I was little – it was gone then too, but there was a lingering sense of the time that Steinbeck so gorgeously captures. 

The startling difference is the attitude. Hobos and ne’er-do-wells being pretty much okay with who they are. If you had some sort of roof over your head, food and drink – life was good. Now, nothing ever seems to be enough.

The writing is enviable. Two pages on how to repair a Ford Model T — even if you are not a car person it’s engrossing. Steinbeck’s treatment of his characters is forgiving and affectionate: we are all a little, or a lot, broken and that is perfectly okay. Then there is Doc – the somewhat mysterious marine biologist who likes classical music and his solitude. Doesn’t everybody want to know a Doc? I know I do. 

I read Cannery Row when I was a teenager and enjoyed it, but I think you have to be a bit older to fully appreciate it – and to have had some of life’s knocks to understand the characters’ skins. It makes me nostalgic…nostalgic for a time that I wasn’t alive for but can imagine…when the country was uncluttered, unpaved, unchained/unbig-box stored.

Reading Steinbeck had me thinking of a summer when I was 19. I met a friend in Denver and we rode a Honda Gold Wing motorcycle through the Badlands of the Dakotas and other points of interest. How different the landscape is on a bike! Yes, it’s terribly dangerous but I am so glad I did it – it is a beautiful memory. That part of the trip I didn’t share with my mother because she would have freaked out, even though my dad had an old Indian Scout motorcycle which was off limits. It sat in the garage looking beautiful and propping up skis and other paraphernalia. 

I’m sorry we didn’t drive the Pacific Coast Highway into Steinbeck country. I would do it now, this time not on a bike and I think even with the changes, I could catch a glimpse of Doc’s tide pool, the Palace Flophouse, Lee Chong’s emporium, and out of the corner of my eye see the flutter of a girl’s dress as she strolls back to the Bear Flag.

“It is the hour of the pearl – the interval between day and night when time stops and examines itself.”

Happy Reading and Dreaming,

 

Clare

Pâté for the Partay? Or, the Zen of Eddie

I have a cat who is 16 years old, which is 80 in cat years. Lizzie is still fairly active, still makes trouble, and inevitably messes with my head. That’s how I know she’s okay. She’s always been a picky eater and finding wet food that she likes is challenging. When I discover a flavor she will eat, stupidly I buy it again, and she looks at me like, “What the hell is this?” and walks away. A friend of mine, who has five cats, holds to the axiom: the stinkier the better – and that has been true for her royal highness who lives in my home.

The problem with the wise axiom is that we are in the era of “gourmet” “healthy” cat food. Stinky is hard to come by. Rachel Ray’s Nutrish line – phew…Lizzie isn’t having it. Finally out of desperation I went to PetSmart or Petco – I’m not sure. I found many aisles of fancy cat food, bowls, and more nonsense than you’d ever need. My eyes glazed over and I asked the cashier if someone could help me.

I was roaming the aisles when a tall elegantly turned-out older gentleman came walking towards me. I liked him immediately. He had a slightly amused smile and he put on Kelly green glasses to read the labels. He looked like a classical or jazz musician – menthol cool. How had he landed on planet pet store? I told him about my fussy eater and mentioned that she only eats pâté. Shredded, bits – no way. So, this nice gentleman and I looked for pâté in the various brands. He was enjoying the play on words and was saying “pâté for the partay” which was cute. We found one brand which had a picture of a cat wearing a bow tie and a black tuxedo…? I must be an advertiser’s nightmare because I don’t understand what I’m supposed to infer from the image. Is the cat James Bond or a maître d’? I pointed this out to my fellow explorer and we continued goofing on more words and pictures: “Hereinafter called The Pâté of the First Partay…!” We actually found a couple of cans that Lizzie ate. Isn’t it great when you randomly meet people who are enchanting?

I returned the following week to restock and hoped I would run into my new friend, but I did not. The third visit I saw him again and he was working the cash register. His name tag read: Eddie. Eddie was having a good time with the lady ahead of me, and when it was my turn, I reminded him that he helped me and we enjoyed more banter. Eddie definitely  marches to a different beat. Jealous? Sure I am! What is Eddie’s Zen secret? He’s present and enjoys the moment. I am hoping some of Eddie will rub off on me.

How do I know I don’t have Eddie’s Zen? A couple of days ago I was telling a friend about the “decor” that my neighbors “adorn” on and around their front door. This situation is worthy of its own post, at least for me, but I’ll leave it for now. I realized that I was ranting way too long, and my friend, Blanca, is just wonderfully calmly and understandingly listening. God bless tolerant friends! She is definitely closer to Eddie Zen than I.

For me, I have a long way to go.

Exhaling,

 

 

Clare

“Cat Yelp” cartoon by Paul Noth, The New Yorker. 2018

Cancel My Subscription

Greetings and salutations! Forgive the absence – November and December were a blur. I feel so rusty, and I’ve been indecisive on which topic to write. My folder is full of ideas, but I can’t get it together.

The last months were great – busy and productive, and the holidays were peaceful, non-materialistic, simple and not overindulgent. Amid feelings of bliss I am forced to encounter people who are…not happy…or confused?

Some incidents occurred, which at the time peeved me, but I had my outburst and it was over. Now, I am grateful because these nothings were so absurd, they offered up a treasure trove for me.

During my down time I caught the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. A line, from Larry, came up more than once: “I don’t subscribe to…” referring to a belief/custom/social norm – fill in the blank. The one I remember is he’s asked to take a house tour because Susie and Jeff move into a new home. Larry refuses. A screaming match ensues. Regarding house tours, I’m with Larry. Unless you’re showing me around Chatsworth or Highclere Castle, I’m not interested. We have to see the matching curtains and bedspreads – whatever (a major interior design violation in my book) in your daughter’s bedroom? What is the message we are supposed to receive – wow you have great stuff, you can recognize various hues of pink and put them together? What am I’m missing?

I wasn’t asked to take a house tour, but I’m citing Curb because I feel that the “I don’t subscribe to…” can fill a lot of ellipses in my observations of the world as I watch people go crazy or reveal some weird neurosis that is obnoxious.

Let’s start: “I don’t subscribe to your desperate need to be flattered, nor do I care how many people think you are amazing.” This is for an 86-year-old woman who is related to me by a misalliance of marriage.

“I don’t subscribe to baby talk or cutesy talk unless you are under the age of five.”

“I don’t subscribe to the use of the word ‘metrics’ in a sentence when talking about a person.”

“I don’t subscribe to complaints or bitching without a solution (no matter how half-baked), or trying to help (no matter how inept).”

“I don’t subscribe to your identity/victim don’t hurt me schtick, which you think is a hall pass for your shitty behavior.”

“I don’t subscribe to feigning interest in the description and explanation of your tattoos/piercings/Manic Panic hair color, etc.”

“I don’t subscribe to the notion that a person will have apoplexy or syncope if I say ‘fuck.'”

“I don’t subscribe to the contagion of business speak – speak in plain English!”

Example: “Utilize historical and predictive analysis to inform media decisions, develop media approach and strategic direction for various initiatives, define target audiences, create and execute plans designed to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, and use data and tech advancements to drive corporate and network goals. On-boarding new employees, training, growing and supporting direct reports and colleagues.”

I speak four languages aside from English, and I recognize the above words, but the arrangement baffles me. What does this MEAN?!!!

Maybe I don’t want to know. The list goes on, but I will end here and declare that I do subscribe to apologizing when required, while simultaneously encouraging the refusal to “buy in.”

Contritely,

Clare

PS. After writing the new post: “Pâté for the Partay…” I realize I have another “cancel.” I don’t subscribe to the “I’m a cat person,” or “I’m a dog person.” Why are humans so self-limiting? We have to chose sides? Can’t we love both…or better…all the lovely creatures?

Thanksgiving Wishes

Wishing everyone a loving, sweet and joyous holiday weekend. I hope we take time to reflect on all for which we are grateful. And, more than a thought for those who are ill, alone and suffering and managing on so much less. Less excess and more giving.

New post coming soon.

Love,

Clare

“Live simply. Dream big. Be grateful. Give Love. Laugh lots.”* 

 

 

 

*Quote from Mindfulness Wellness @healingMB on Twitter

 

My True Ghost Stories – I

I will describe, as best I can, two events that happened years apart which defy explanation. The common denominator is they both took place in a remote area of New England, in the same town, and they occurred in the month of October. One on Halloween night. It’s Native-American ground up there, you can sense it, and I don’t know if the town’s founding fathers respected that. I need to channel Stephen King; I cannot do it justice. He is the master. I’m thinking about the Mi’kmaq burial grounds in his writings. The names of places in my story are all Native-American. We would find arrowheads in the woods, which we gave to the historical society, or if a tribal elder was passing through or we had an address, what we found was returned.

I was not a child who was afraid of the dark or had any issue with ghosts or monsters or things under the bed, so I tend to trust that my memory is reliable, if not definitive. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about believing, or not, in the supernatural, I am open to the idea and certainly there are things in this crazy world that are mystifying.

The first encounter happened when I was around 10. I had come out to the town to visit a family I knew and Halloween fell during my stay, so I went trick or treating with my friend Sara, her little brother Eddie, and her older brother Andy as our “escort.” There was a fair distance between houses, no lights on the road and it was dark. Halloween began as one would expect, knocking on doors getting candy. Then the weirdness crept up gradually like a music crescendo. By the fourth house, which was rickety looking – the local gossip was that the older couple who lived there were a bit odd – an unearthly feeling fell. No one was home. Candy was left with a note on the porch, but everything was a mess like a creature had run riot. We surveyed the disarray and decided to leave without partaking, when we sensed that someone was watching us – that someone was home in the dark house staring. Even so, we shrugged it off and continued.

Next was a house we knew. A lovely restored barn owned by a glamorous couple who weren’t around much. Above the front door was a beautiful carved horse’s head – smooth and elegantly realistic. We were familiar with the aesthetic because the couple had a marvelous swing that went over a steep hill, and in the summer months we would play there. We rang the doorbell, there was no answer and the house was dark. All at once we looked up at the horse’s head which appeared to be looking at us and at something in the distance; the pale moonlight gave it an eerie cast. That was when we started to get jittery.

We set out to the next house which was far away. The back of the country club golf course was between us and our point of destination. We were walking on the side of the dark road where the soft hills of the golf course were and a fine mist was hovering. On the other side of the road was dense wood. Not a house in sight. We were walking, talking, goofing around. Simultaneously, it seemed, we all looked towards the golf course and saw a silvery tall and slender figure of a man in leather skins – in profile. I can still see the image – no color just the moiré effect of silver/grey that defined him. Andy yelled, “Run!” And we did. As we turned to look, the figure was running parallel to us with long strides and keeping up with ease. As this point we were frightened and we kept on running until we got to the next house (which was owned by a woman who locals claimed was a witch – I think that was because no one liked the family much and they had strange ways). When we approached the house, Eddie asked, “What was that?” No one answered him. As we reached the door it opened and spilled out a flood of light. We scrambled in and were greeted by the witch mom. She seemed to sense we were rattled and she had an slight smile at the corners of her mouth (did she know?). She made us welcome while Andy called their mom to come pick us up.

We never spoke of it. Ever. And we remained friends and in touch over many years, until our parents fell ill and passed. They moved away and started their adult lives. I often wonder what it was we saw. I am convinced it was not a person trying to mess with us, but what was it?

In the last couple of years, I have gone back to visit the town and other people I know there, and I hear from them and the local teenagers that there are still strange occurrences. One girl told me that due north, where the woods are even deeper and there are no houses at all, there is a “Suburban Legend” that has been around for a time. The land is owned by the state and there are reservoirs and nature preserves so it’s virtually uninhabited. Except for one abandoned house. The legend is that a family of “melon heads” lurk there. “What do you mean melon heads?” I asked. A head like a melon with no face, no eyes, nose, or mouth.

She was on the cheerleading squad and told me that they were heading to a game with one of the mothers driving a Suburban 10-seater on this stretch, and the car just stopped. Dead. For no apparent reason. Cell phone service there is spotty at best, but they survived unscathed. I can imagine the piercing screams and shrieks that were coming from the car as they were stuck there.

Now that would have scared off just about anything.

In respect to indigenous peoples, to the land they hold sacred, to the unknown, to the fact that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Clare

Coming Soon – My True Ghost Story II – Housecleaning. And I don’t mean vacuuming!