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

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/

Deadline Alley

“City Desk? Clare Irwin speaking. Don’t bother with a rewrite, man, take it direct! Ready?”

It’s the end of June and I haven’t much to show for it, so here goes nothing…’cause I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Truthfully, I have too much and my brain can’t decide what’s next. So for the feeble sake of getting one more post in under the wire — my “writing more” self-imposed rule — here goes not much.

May and June, like last year, marked my return to people and places for rites of passage: graduations, proms, and this year weddings! A wonderful addition. Actually one wedding. The other was mysteriously, via text (a real etiquette violation in my book), cancelled due to a “family emergency” with no other information forthcoming. This wedding everyone was instructed to wear pink which was annoying until my dear friend, who has lots of gorgeous clothes, came up with this little number to borrow: 

My friend pointed out that Joan Crawford would not approved of the wire hanger!

The other wedding went off without a hitch. Unfortunately for me, it was in Miami and I could not attend. It was small, intimate, on the beach, barefoot, good food, close friends – perfect! And two of the sweetest people I know. So that was lovely.

As were the graduations of my favorite teens and early 20 somethings. And prom! This year all the rage was something called promposal. Promposal was explained to me by three different attendees and I still don’t get it. What I do get is that it’s an exhausting amount of work (and an inordinate waste of time), with the added opportunity for public humiliation. So we’re down!

Let’s see what else: You haven’t lived until you listen to an 18-year-old recount his group trip to Disney World, with minor adult supervision, which was a mix of endless discussions over EVERYTHING, heaps of drama, and peppered with who threw up on what ride. They’re planning a day excursion to the nearest Six Flags/Great adventure…a Zagat’s guide of the best rides on which to “blow chunks?”

Various: college trips, preparing to leave for college for the first time, vacations: Ireland, Wales, a cruise through Mitteleuropa, the Hamptons, Vermont, and Ohio…well why not?

“City desk? This is Clare Irwin, take it direct! I’m staying put and looking forward to hearing everyone’s excellent adventures.”

Be Magical & Love,

Clare

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

Cleaning a House – My True Ghost Story – II

My second paranormal encounter happened years later, about two miles from where I saw the ghostly apparition on Halloween night. This patch of town is charged with stranger things. I had a friend, actually he and his mother were friends of my family for years. Not quite sure how they met, or what sustained the relationship because they were so unlike my parents. They were secretive, tightfisted, aggrieved. The mother, Eleanor, had a sense of humor, but her son Thomas, not Tom, always Thomas, was a bundle of ticks and neuroses. They were not unkind people just troubled. Part of the glue that held this friendship together was, I would guess, that they and my family were residents of the area for a long time. I’m harping on this, but the relationship between mother and son, I believe, is key to the creepy things to come.

Thomas’s mother passed away after a long illness, and I was living at my folk’s place sort of in-between things. By default, Thomas and I would occasionally go to a movie, meet for a meal. I think I felt sorry for him, he seemed so dissolute without his mother – they were uncommonly attached – and he had never lived on his own. He remained living with Eleanor. He never seemed to have a girlfriend, had never married. What he did with his time was a mystery. Eleanor was quite wealthy and the property spanned 40-50 acres of prime real estate. Neither worked yet they lived well, traveled extensively. There must have been a significant coffer from which money was drawn.

During my time of hanging out with Thomas he asked if I would house-sit for him. He was going to Paris, Zurich, and Turin – for “business.” He had four semi-feral cats, to whom, he was uncommonly attached as well. I agreed to house-sit. Dumb.

Thomas’s house was traditional – I don’t know the style – it was attractive and there was a cottage (unoccupied) on the property. The house was situated on a hill with a beautiful view. No neighbors in sight. It was decorated tastefully yet fussily, a lot of white and Biedermeier. During Eleanor’s reign, if you were allowed into the living room for tea or a drink, you couldn’t relax for fear of spilling on the white damask and brocade, wriggling under Eleanor’s hawkish gaze. Good times! What’s the point of having stuff if you don’t use or enjoy it. More often, to my relief, we would congregate in the kitchen which was the only room that had any degree of warmth. It was spacious with an oak table by a stone fireplace.

The house had a strange vibe. It was hollow and a little sad – devoid of personality. Thomas told me that there had been a fire years ago and most of the house was rebuilt. Thomas’s mother was gone nearly ten years, but he tentatively moved around the house and agonized over moving or changing anything. He was an only child and had inherited the lot, but acted like he still needed permission from mom.

I go to get instructions on the care and feeding of cats and house. After all this time of “knowing” the family I had only seen the first floor. Neither upstairs nor down. When I got the tour I was barely allowed to see the upstairs but did get a tour of the basement which should, had I been a sensible girl, have sent me running. It was unfinished and ramshackle with many stone and dirt creepy crawl spaces wherein the cats would mysteriously disappear. The basement was the truth – the main floor the lie, and I was to discover, the upstairs was the awful truth.

I was told to sleep in the guest room on the first floor. It was inexplicably freezing cold. Since watching movies and shows about the paranormal that was a sign: cold spots. Teeth-chattering shivering cold. Thomas called from Europe and I told him about the Ice Station Zebra problem. He hemmed and hawed and finally said I could sleep in his mother’s room. Hallowed ground! I knew this was a big concession and something he didn’t want to do. Thomas’s bedroom was also upstairs, which I was instructed not to go into, and by glancing from the open door why would I? It was pitch dark and full of junk. A black hole. Across the hall was Eleanor’s room which resembled a Golden Age Hollywood starlet’s bedroom combined with Rebecca’s bedroom from the movie. Ultra-opulent and feminine. Boudoir. Which was strange because Eleanor was none of those things and quite unattractive. That was sad too. So I slept there. One night. It was slightly less frigid than the room downstairs.

The following morning I woke up and was cold. I hadn’t brought enough warm things so I went into Eleanor’s walk-in closet/room hoping there may be an old sweater handy, and I jumped. Among the rows and rows of negligees and fancy slippers was a mannequin head with a red wig on it. Everything was as if Eleanor would walk in at any moment and need a peignoir to entertain guests. Now I’m thinking Norman Bates.

I had enough and went downstairs to make a cup of tea and devise an excuse to get out of my obligation. I was in the kitchen and the sun was pouring in. Another sign – the sun would come in but it didn’t warm or light the house in the normal fashion. As I turned from the stove holding the kettle I see – Eleanor. Dressed in flowing white – but not a shroud. She glances at me and moves through the swinging door into the dining room. I froze. I couldn’t believe it. I put down the kettle and followed her. The door was still swinging and I caught a glimpse of her back as she turned the corner and vanished.

I got into my car and drove to my dad’s house. I didn’t say anything but I did call the girl at the vet’s office (who was the backup plan) to go care for the cats. I planned to leave it at that, but I called my sister’s Wiccan friend, Helen – I wrote about her in an earlier essay – and told her. I had to tell somebody, and Helen would understand? I made her day because she was amped and told me, “Clare, you have to clean that house! Thomas is holding his mother there and she wants to leave!” How did she know? Helen also had some choice observations about Thomas and his cats, but I’ll leave it at that.

Why did I agree to this “plan?” On the surface it’s pretty stupid, but I was curious and wanted see what, if anything, would happen. I have to say that Helen knew her stuff, she rattled off a list of things I would need which took me a day and half to assemble. Including a trip to Home Depot and a sizable length of thin copper wire which a kindly salesclerk cut into 4″ lengths. He looked at my quizzically at one point and I said, “Don’t ask.”

The day of battle arrived. I drove to the house fully equipped and with Helen’s written instructions because this was complicated business – I won’t go into detail. The first thing she told me to do was to light a white candle in a silver candlestick holder – in the room where I saw Eleanor. I placed the candle and holder on the kitchen table and went to light it and realized I didn’t have matches. I walked to the other side of the kitchen where they were on a counter, and the candle flies out of the holder at me. Like someone whipped it – hard. This was the moment where I should have reevaluated the situation. I had goosebumps but I kept on. I put the candle back and proceeded. The interior cleaning took time because it had to be done exactly as Helen prescribed. After that process, where I could feel myself getting physically exhausted, I was to extinguish the candle, close the door to the house and start on the copper wire.

According to Helen, the copper wire is an energy conduit, and as I had “cleaned” the inside of the house I needed to create a route out for Eleanor. Luckily there was a water source at the end of the long drive, and I was pushing the wire into the soft earth from the house all the way down to the stream. As I was nearly finished, it was a sunny cold October day, I looked back at the house and I heard what sounded like many doors slamming violently. More goosebumps.

Helen told me not to reenter the house, to let it rest at least an hour before returning. No convincing needed! Happy to see the place in my rear-view mirror. Later, when I had to go back to get my things, I talked my father into coming with me. I told him nothing, not because he wouldn’t have believed me, but he would have shaken his head and thought that we – I, Helen, Thomas, Eleanor and the cats – this is what we had time for? So we go, and as we’re walking towards the house glancing at two inconsequential garage doors, my father, who was a marine and feared nothing said, “You know, this place gives me the creeps.” Validation! From a sane person!

As Helen predicted, the house was different – better – and the cats were upstairs. Had Helen’s recipe worked? Still I didn’t stay. The cats were attended to by the vet girl and I went home. When Thomas returned, he called to thank me for house-sitting and at the end of the conversation he asked, “By the way, what did you do to the house?” Nothing, I said, and he dropped it. My guess is that he was weird enough to conjure Eleanor back, but I never returned, so I can’t say.

I didn’t see Thomas much after that. A couple of years later we received a postcard with a picture of a renovated cottage and a charming apartment. Thomas had moved to Geneva, why I don’t know. Maybe they have scarier ghosts there, or in the spirit of Swiss neutrality, ghosts without an agenda? I heard through the grapevine that Thomas had subdivided his sizable landholdings, made millions, and leveled the house.

Shortly after my “white magic” encounter, I was in a bookstore that specialized in theology, New Age and crystals. Something for everybody. It was a delightful store and the staff was knowledgeable. One of the last privately-owned bookshops. I was at the register and the woman who was checking me out did a double take and said, “You just did some major housecleaning!” I was impressed. We became friends until she died suddenly and unexpectedly.

As I close, remembering the experience and Eleanor’s and Thomas’s unhappy backstory – which I had to leave out because of length, I feel uneasy and a little sad. All those people, for better and worse, are gone from my life and so is any semblance of where they inhabited. Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a thing and am grateful I was shown something….unusual? And, maybe in some small way I helped Thomas move on.

Happy Housecleaning,

Clare