Bad Mom

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Halloween night. Veruca didn’t want to go out, so she stayed home with me to hand out candy. And then she just watched from the window.

V warned me that her friends that live across the way had joked about ringing the door and dashing (these are the same 3 boys that raided my basket and replaced it with things they didn’t want a few years back) and she told me to NOT answer the door.

Now – let’s just take a minute to point out the obvious. If they dash, they don’t get candy. How dumb is that?

Anyway, I had the exterior camera (on my phone) with the intercom on when they showed up. For fun. They did not dash. They were polite and friendly. There were four of them, and only one lives here. I know him. I also know one of the other boys who used to be V’s crush.

So she’s hiding in hallway around the corner from the door, AS IF they don’t know this is her house. I asked them how they liked high school so far (they said it’s good) and told them to stay out of trouble tonight (with a smile). I closed the door behind me and they were halfway down the driveway when I said – out loud – ooh, Ava’s old crush was here! And no sooner had the words left my mouth that I realized I still had the phone in my hand and the intercom ON.

The aftermath wasn’t as violent as expected. She was instantly mortified, and ran over to the Mac on the kitchen counter and pulled up the Ring history. And saw the whole footage and my big mouth on the intercom. BUT. Those boys were halfway gone and talking to each other and not one of them turned around.

Still. She was furious. I know they didn’t hear me, but she was having none of my adult wisdom. She didn’t speak to me the rest of the night, the morning after in the car at the bus stop, or all weekend at her dad’s. (For the record, I did say goodnight to her and apologized for what happened.) Four days later, on the way home from her dad’s she said she knew I didn’t do it on purpose and she knew they didn’t hear me.

Midweek she mentioned that she wanted to make her dad an apple pie for his birthday and could I help her? Those of you who have been on the ride with me since 2011 might know what I wanted to say but didn’t actually say. Nevertheless, we didn’t really have time to go to the store and the next day I worked a 12-hour shift.

And then, around the 8th hour of my 12-hour shift, she called and asked me if I could pick up poster board (so she could make him something) and apples ON MY WAY HOME. I told her to ask Todd if he had posters – he’s an artist for God’s sake and has supplies for just about anything. And I also told her I’m not stopping after a 12-hour workday, at 8:30 or 9:00 at night. Not to mention that she wanted me to help her with the pie at that hour, too. A great big, Hell No.

Well, she didn’t ask Todd. And then Friday morning she asked me if he had any. Nevertheless, she came home from school and made that pie with the apples we already had. With the recipe I gave her. And, after a minor glitch with the crust process, it turned out fucking beautiful.

Now it’s Friday night, and I’m driving her and the pie to her dad’s house. She referenced a You Tube video she’d shown me and mentioned how she sent it to Opac. And then she said, I miss [him]. I knew she did, but hearing her say it really impacted me. I sometimes forget that she must miss his presence in the house, felt more acutely at home than at her dad’s (as he often didn’t go with her).

And I don’t know how this segued into the next slapdown but she started talking about him drinking and how she doesn’t like it and he shouldn’t be doing it and blah blah blah… and then she asked me if I would let him have alcohol at home if he asked for it. And I’m an idiot for even engaging in the conversation at all. I told her how I’d grown up – how at family holiday gatherings I was allowed to have wine with everyone else and it was no big deal. Controversial or not – I believe that it kept me from going apeshit over alcohol when I encountered it as a young adult. It was, to me, no big deal. (Never mind college – that’s a whole other conversation.)

Well, that’s illegal, she said. He’s not 21, she said. You shouldn’t be letting him have alcohol, she said. Would you let me have alcohol?

To be the devil’s advocate, I engaged. I never said I would pour him a glass of wine, but I said if he wanted one it would be no big deal. It would be because he was home, and staying home, and none of his friends were there. I said there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of wine. Well that’s wrong and you shouldn’t be letting him do that, she said. You could get arrested, she said.

At this point I was wondering where all this fuckery was coming from at the end of a very long week. She, like someone else in her family who shall remain nameless, is relentless in cross examination and accusations. I maintained a calm that did not reflect the fluctuation in blood pressure I was experiencing and played along (which, obviously, was the wrong thing to do) and then I was accused of being “like Nannie.” Being too much like my mother has never bothered me before, but now I have to wonder. What has she done that I don’t know about? Now I have questions.

And the whole conversation ended abruptly in her dad’s driveway and she announced that maybe she just wouldn’t come back home for Thanksgiving. Well, okay then. More wine for us!

 

 

*Disclaimer: I am in NO WAY advocating for or sponsoring underage drinking.

*Disclaimer: I am a lot like my mother. Except for those things she did that I don’t know about. I am not like that.

Where We’ve Been

It’s been a busy month or so. September – a friend’s 50th birthday celebration, a living history event with Frida Kahlo, two wine festivals we planned but bagged out on, and dinner with Todd’s parents.

We, on behalf of the college, attended a fundraiser for families of children who passed suddenly. The mother of a 19-year-old boy who was killed in a car accident on his way to work spoke first and I sat there trembling with tears. A fellow dean and friend also attended and he, like a true Gemini, tried to lure me onto the dancefloor for one of the newer line dances I don’t know and I – unlike a true Gemini – refused on merit of self-preservation. I did, however, buy $40 worth of auction tickets and Todd and I deposited them in various bags and won – NOTHING. Typical.

Opac came home for fall break – Todd picked him up and he was already gone by the time I’d gotten home from work. He couldn’t wait to drive the Mustang again. But he did pop home around 9pm between visiting friends to see me and gave me the biggest hug. God, I love him!

The next night we had friends visiting from out of town and went out to dinner and then hung by the fire pit for the rest of the night. O came home around 11 and sat with us for a while, entertained by Greg and his whiskey-fueled musings. I don’t know what time “we” called it a night but the next morning Leila told me she yelled at Greg for being so loud at 3 a.m. and he said someone was a real pool shark, which prompted me to say – wait, WHO is a pool shark? And Greg said, Todd. The two of them were playing pool until 3 0’clock in the morning. Apparently very loudly. And I slept through it all.

Sunday was our JDRF fundraiser and I was so proud to have O there with us (V wanted nothing to do with it) – friends and family were there and he got to talk about school and how he’s doing, and I just stood back and took him in. My heart just swells when I look at him. He amazes me and yet he is exactly who he has always been. Yes, I’m gushing. Deal with it.

He spent the night at my mom’s because she offered to drive him back to school the next day, so I had to say goodbye to him in front of everyone and after I hugged him I ran away and burst into tears. I was so not expecting to have that reaction to saying goodbye this time. My heart wanted to explode. WTH is this? This is me. In a nutshell, I have always, always had this separation anxiety that feels like fear. But I refuse to have either of my children feel this.

So the following weekend was Homecoming for V. She got the last hair appointment at the salon that was at EIGHT THIRTY IN THE MORNING for… are you sitting down?… SIXTY-FIVE DOLLARS. For a set. And spent the rest of the day trying not to lay her head down. This was $30 more than a wash, cut, and style. I’m shocked and more than a little pissed. I guess I’m too told to know that this is normal for special events, but for lord’s sake, it’s not a gad-dang wedding.

So her girlfriend came over and they got ready together, we took some beautiful pics of them and, on the drive to the school, friend was gushing about some boy from the private school who’s Russian and has an accent and “he’s so pretty.”

I left early to pick them up so I could park close to the building and watch all these girls walking out barefoot in dresses just long enough to cover their underwear. When my two got in the car they told me those girls have “spandex” on underneath, but I still don’t know exactly what “spandex” entails unless it’s just shorts. Nevertheless, WAY too much skin showing and now I know I sound old. I will take comfort that one day they too will know the betrayal of middle age.

Oh! And there’s this “new dance” called “grinding.” I had to laugh because it’s so NOT NEW and to V I said, you know that Prince was singing about this in the 80s, right? They were chatting in the backseat about who was doing it and, “did you do it?” “No! I didn’t do it.” “It’s disgusting.” And I’m still wondering how those other girls were doing it in those shirts disguised as dresses. Oh right – spandex.

The day after, V went to another friend’s house for a birthday party. I went to the door with her to talk to the parents and I mistook mom for V’s friend when she opened the door and then I really felt old. I swear they’re making parents younger and younger these days.

So last weekend – the highlight of October thus far – was a long-awaited concert with Dennis DeYoung. We got the tickets during a PBS fundraiser one cold winter night by the fire with a bottle of wine, with a meet-and-greet attached. It was held in an old, small, historic venue about an hour and half from us, and we were front row and center. It was awesome. His band was great – the lead singer, August Zadra, a perfect blend of Dennis’ voice and Tommy Shaw’s. He and guitarist Jimmy Leahey were amazing and they were having so much fun up there it was impossible not to smile back and by the end my cheeks were sore.

Dennis is the consummate and most gracious host. And funny. He asked who in the audience was seeing him live for the first time. I raised my hand. And then he fired back at the crowd, well what the hell have you all been waiting for? I’m 72 years old for God’s sake. And then, what? You said to each other, we better go see that guy before he dies, right? And we all laughed. He’s still got it and you know how some long-time rockers’ voices have altered with age? Not his. It’s the same, perfect voice that sang in the darkness of a 7th grade dance long ago.

And we were surrounded by old people. Well, not really, but the average age was easily 55. I was in line for the bathroom before the show, a line about 30 women long so I was texting Todd who was waiting downstairs. Are we really this old? He said, they’re old. We’re not. But, we blend, I said.

But we’re not all old. A woman in one of the stalls: Does anyone see a tampon machine out there? A collective “no.” And then, Can you guess what my next question is?

I do, I said. Because I have these things in every purse I carry, because – middle age. You never know when the body is next going to fuck with you, because middle age is a bitch with a ruthless sense of humor. I agreed to play along once I realized this was a one-way street, so I come prepared in most cases.

After the show we lined up with all the other fossils in the VIP section for pictures with Dennis, who was flanked by his wife of 50 years (Suzanne sings backup) and his lead singer – interesting, we assumed so no one can get too close to him. Dennis said to Todd, you were in the front row. And Todd thought that was cool that he noticed, and I really think it was because he was the only one holding up his phone for two hours (after Dennis, during the concert, remarked about getting away from technology and current shitstorm for a night). Then he asked if we got sprayed with sweat/spit in the front row, and I said, only a little, which was my way of joking but no one really laughed so now I’m wondering if they thought I was serious and now I’m feeling bad.

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Copyright Taraka and The Tara Chronicles, 2019.

The rest of the weekend was sort of anticlimactic – I got up after 5 hours of sleep to do the neighborhood yard sale and, after making exactly 25 cents in the first hour, declared it a waste I’ll never do again. Meanwhile Todd, who was carrying random shit out during the sale, made $10 and a new friend in a half hour.

I leave you with the lyrics to this song recorded by Dennis DeYoung in 1980 and that in-the-moment, nearly-40-years-later revelation of how its timelessness resonates today. (Thank you Dennis.)

Tonight’s the night we’ll make history, honey, you and I
And I’ll take any risk to tie back the hands of time
And stay with you here tonight
I know you feel these are the worst of times
I do believe it’s true
When people lock their doors and hide inside
Rumor has it it’s the end of Paradise
But I know, if the world just passed us by
Baby I know, you wouldn’t have to cry
The best of times are when I’m alone with you
Some rain some shine, we’ll make this a world for two
Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime
We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we’ll find these are the best of times
These are the best of times
The headlines read ‘these are the worst of times’
I do believe it’s true
I feel so helpless like a boat against the tide
I wish the summer winds could bring back Paradise
But I know, if the world turned upside down
Baby, I know you’d always be around
The best of times are when I’m alone with you
Some rain some shine, we’ll make this a world for two
Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime
We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we’ll find these are the best of times
These are the best of times
And so my friends we’ll say goodnight
For time has claimed it’s prize
But tonight will always last
As long as we keep alive memories of Paradise…
Source: Musixmatch

College Boy, High School Girl

It’s been 35 days, or 5 weeks. It already seems like forever. He checks in regularly – at least insofar as I hear from him every few days but not in a predictable way.

He has an on-campus job in, of all things, GROUNDS KEEPING. This is the same kid who mowed the lawn here no more than, twice.  He’s never weed-wacked anything. He doesn’t weed. And, he will be the one getting up at the ass-crack of dawn to clear snow from the sidewalks while everyone else is still sleeping. (To his credit, he has done this at home, though not before noon.)

He’s being courted by a fraternity and asked my thoughts on it. This has actually been an ongoing conversation. Todd, never “that” type of guy, didn’t even consider joining one. The “Dad,” who never even went to college, thinks it’s stupid. And then there’s me.

I do belong to a national sorority. It was a no-brainer for me, at a small college where I started – where nearly everyone went Greek. I explained to him my reservations about him pledging from a mother’s perspective, given all the media attention to bad behavior and some recent deaths in fraternities attributed to hazing. I explained that while you’re pledging, they essentially “own” your time – if a brother calls you up and says get over here and clean my toilet, you damn well better get over there. Make sure these are good guys. Make sure they share the same values. (Turns out he already learned all this on his own by asking them questions.)

They like him and really want him to join. Of COURSE they do. I reminded him about how intoxicating it is to be pursued by someone. He reminds them of an alum, he said, and told me he was blown away when he saw a picture.*

I mentioned more practical considerations, like financial and time commitment. And then I launched into all the good things. The camaraderie, support, having purpose through philanthropy, and of course the fun. How these men will be his brothers for life. Thirty years later, and I would trust my sisters with my life. No reservations. But I made sure to emphasize that it’s not the only choice, and it’s certainly not for everyone. (See? The Gemini speaks.)

He’s tasted alcohol. He’s been babysitter to his puking roommate, in a bathroom for two hours, the details such as vomit everywhere and calling for backup he left out but shared with his dad. This is the same kid who bolted out of the room like his ass was on fire when his sister went all exorcist at the other end of the couch. He doesn’t have the “stomach” for it, all the more notable since he never left his roommate’s side.

And, he is his mother’s son. Vodka straight is not what I’d recommend, and yet that is how he prefers it. Jeezus lord – I told him to mix it with something and make sure he’s guzzling plenty of water too. He said he does drink a lot of water. He’s had Jack Daniels. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Although he says beer still tastes like piss, which is par for the college course.

He’s trying to ignore hometown drama. Some of his friends here have accused him of being “too good” since he’s in college now, and it pisses him off. He acknowledged that they miss him and might be feeling abandoned because he’s not coming home on weekends, but they’re being ignorant about it. He consistently amazes me with his ability to see things and yet remain steadfast to his goals.

Academically, he’s doing fine. Learning how to manage his time, after saving all his homework and then spending ten hours on a Sunday. He called me on Monday to bitch about Spanish, how it’s total bullshit and I don’t want to take [expletive] classes that have nothing to do with my major. Haven’t we all felt that way? But in life, my love, there are things you’re going to have to do to achieve your goals. And sometimes in a JOB, you’re going to have to do things you really don’t want to do.

I saw him three weeks ago, because he needed his SS card to start his job and I had it. I realize that it was too soon, but it was necessary and I brought him some other things he’d forgotten. Plus, because he’s my baby boy, I brought him chicken from Royal Farms (he can’t get it there) and some Otterbein’s cookies.

What a thrill to sit across a table from him and see him. He had so much to share and he will never know how good it felt to be with him, even for an hour. It took all of my self-restraint not to reach out and grab him. I said, let me just look at you for a minute, before he got out of the car. He said, Mom, I’m fine. I think he thought I was going to cry. I totally wasn’t. I was fine. And I was ready for me to leave too.

~~~~~

High school is underway and in full force at day 24 … she’s got upperclassmen friends and plans for Homecoming. She got off the bus one day, talking-shouting at me about what kind of dress she needs for Homecoming and how she wants to get her hair done. The dress is already purchased and is hanging in the closet, picture day is tomorrow, and the yearbook email has arrived with the “lowest price ever” of $60. Which, seriously, IS the lowest I’ve seen in 5 years. O’s was $90. Good God, this girl is going to cost me a fortune.

She’s compared the Homecoming dress to the Prom dress and how they are NOT the same, and all I’m thinking is I sincerely hope no one asks her to the prom this year. She’s hoping someone will ask her to homecoming but that’s unlikely since she shot the poor kid down last year and I can’t even believe I’m talking about this because she’s only 14 and why do we have to live in drama all the time?

She’s got to be the most opinionated teenage girl ever. She knows Everything. Including stuff she doesn’t know but insists she does anyway. It’s maddening. Where did she learn to be so judge-y?? Oh wait – that apple didn’t fall far from the tree either. Not THIS tree, THAT tree. This one’s shorts are too short, that one is rude, [pick any random person] is wrong-wrong-wrong, O shouldn’t be drinking, his roommate is a bad influence, so-and-so doesn’t manage her diabetes very well, why are you having wine again?

Academics – in the midst of all the teenage noise – are going well for her so far. She continued Chinese studies for the first week – whined about how hard it was this year and how terrible the teacher was, and marched her tiny ass down to the guidance counselor and requested and was transferred to Spanish 1. At least she channels some of her moxie for useful things.

I am impressed and proud of how she has transitioned to young adulthood in the last several weeks. She manages her homework without being monitored, she gets herself up in the morning and is ready to go, and – the biggest one of all – she is managing her diabetes all by herself. She is changing her pump sets out By Herself. Completely. I am  mostly a spectator, and a constant nag to fill in her logbook (a work in progress).

How am I doing? These have been dreaded milestones for years – but I am feeling stable and not emotional about it. I’m not feeling the sadness in missing O. Probably because I’m constantly distracted by V’s whiplash brand of in-your-face moods, judgements, and admonitions.

Someone send me a forbidden cocktail.

 

*Being a bit nosy myself, I googled the fraternity and his college and found a pic of a group of guys and – as I looked closely – there he was. The alum who resembles O, and goddamn it IS uncanny.

 

 

To Veruca, On Love

*Update: After posting, I realized there was something else to say. See at end of post.*

It took me a very long time to see love without rose-colored glasses. Don’t get me wrong – love is, as Shakespeare said, a many-splendored thing. I was enamored with love long before it was returned.

I liked a LOT of boys. I ended up “going with” (what we called it in middle school) two that I previously had zero awareness of before I heard they liked me. Lesson in caution: when a boy you’ve hardly noticed turns up in pursuit of you – proceed with caution. Not that you can’t fall in love with him, but it can be fairly intoxicating to be adored by someone.

To that end, beware the boy who pursues you when you’re already involved with someone else. It is one thing to love someone from afar, respecting the relationship you have with another, and it is quite another to make plain to everyone who will listen that he wants to be with you. Further, strategically placing himself where he is most likely to see you, and you him, fermenting a possible triangle which I assure you will not end well (see aforementioned “intoxication” above). If he doesn’t respect your relationship with another, how will he respect any he might have with you?

Leaving one boy for another is quite common and, even if you disguise it with a need to exit a “bad situation,” you have barely enough time to breathe and/or heal the wounds of the previous while you’re embarking on the next. Also guaranteed not to end well.

If you’re just leaving because boy #2 looks way better than boy #1, STILL. Give yourself time. You can’t recognize true love if you keep jumping from one pond to another without time to reflect.

Relationships that are always full of drama are not “real love.” If “we’re always fighting” is part of your relationship, it’s not a healthy relationship. And it doesn’t matter who is bringing the drama. If it’s him, it’s not good. If it’s you, you need to stop and take a good hard look at why. You will benefit and grow from an introspective look at yourself.

Your first real love may very well be the love that will define your expectations for every love that follows, good or bad. Or not. Not everyone’s first love is life-altering. But many first loves will lay the groundwork for every relationship you ever have, and you may subconsciously measure every subsequent relationship against that first, intense love. You may chase every relationship you have, unknowingly trying to recapture the same feelings, emotions, and physical reactions. No matter what, no matter how tempting, be aware – not to mold every relationship into the one that was your foundation. You will fail.

Instead, learn from that first love. Learn how it feels to be loved. Learn how you felt to give love. Learn how it felt to be treated by this person. Did you feel good, or did you feel uneasy? What characteristics did he have that you valued? Which would you choose to avoid? Learn how it felt when that love ended. Were you amicable? Was it ugly? How did you conduct yourself? Did you give yourself enough time to reflect and heal? (These are all relevant questions in every relationship.)

Beware the Rebound. The “rebound” is a relationship you find yourself in soon after a breakup. This person makes you feel good when you’ve been really sad and down. That’s great. Except, it’s not love. (See the aforementioned “intoxication.”) Which also means, you’ve had no time to heal.

Beware of the exotic. Exotic, as defined in the dictionary, is “of foreign origin or character; not native.” Accents are sexy. What is foreign is sometimes intoxicatingly attractive. What I want you to know is, don’t get stoopid over some guy with a foreign accent. It’s not romantic. He’s not different. He will treat you the same as any other guy you meet, maybe better, or maybe not as well. Just keep perspective and have self-respect. If you don’t, you will drown in that gorgeous Italian accent. Or Latino. Or English. Or Afrikaans. Or some form of  Asian.

Never, Ever, pursue a friend of an ex. If he’s good guy, he won’t go out with you. He may like you, but there’s a guy code (as there is a girl code) and that will preclude any attraction you may have to each other. As it should be. If he doesn’t care that you’re his best friend’s ex, you best be prepared to wonder why and what kind of friend he really is. Either way, if scoring you outranks his friendship with [your ex], that’s a serious character flaw.

Next: Long distance relationships are tough. That’s not to say they can’t work out, but be realistic about this distance and the amount of time apart. And more importantly, what are the boundaries of a long-distance relationship, and what are the guidelines? Be realistic in your expectations, and see how they line up with his.

Don’t give yourself up to someone who won’t commit to you. This can look like not calling you like he said he would to excusing an ex-girlfriend showing up, to blowing off your date, to openly flirting with other girls in front of you. He’s “just not that into you.” And don’t you DARE take that shit personal – it’s his flaw, not yours.

“Bad boys” can be intoxicating themselves – but be prepared to lose your heart and soul to this guy. It’s not going to end well for you if he’s drinking and doing drugs regularly. And – this should go without saying – ANY boy who lays a hand on you is abusive and you need to walk, no – RUN, away fast. “I’m sorry” is a lie you will regret believing. And, while we’re on the subject, verbal abuse IS abuse and no less of a crime.

Now for the icky part and I’ll make it quick: Sex is something you will consider sooner or later. I hope you would come talk to me about it, but you might not and that’s okay. Don’t let anyone, even a long-time boyfriend, pressure you into something you don’t want/aren’t ready for. But know that for you, sharing that will change you forever in ways you won’t understand until you’re much older.

To wrap this up before you’ve had enough – guys with girlfriends are OFF LIMITS. Have respect for yourself (and your fellow woman). And older guys are usually no different than boys your age. They aren’t always wiser or more sophisticated and, let’s face it, if he’s 10 years older that’s just gross.*

Finally, you deserve to be loved and treated with respect and reverence. Expect it and you will get it from those who deserve you, and the rest will fade away. Never, Ever settle for less. Never, ever, settle.

Update: I would be remiss to tell you that when you find someone worthy, love with your whole heart. Do not be afraid to love, or to lose love. Sometimes love doesn’t always end the way you want it to, but that is no reason not to try, when it feels right. You will most definitely not get through life unscathed by love, but to quote another famous writer – Alfred Lord Tennyson –  ” tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” It’s all part of the journey, my love, and I will see you through it all.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

                        ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

 

 

 

*This is actually directly from a comment she once made about older guys. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with a 10-year age difference. I’m not against it. I do, however, believe that this difference is felt more acutely and may be harder to overcome, the younger two people are.

 

Remember

The unspeakable has happened. Tuesday morning, while I watched the Today Show with O nursing in my lap, two airplanes were hijacked and deliberately flown into the Twin Towers. I saw the second plane hit live on television, as they were already covering the first crash and all you could see of it was smoke billowing out of the first tower. Then out of the corner of the screen came the second plane, crashing into the other tower with a tremendous flash of light and smoke and orange flame. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were reporting live on the first impact, on the phone with witnesses describing what they saw, when the second impact occurred. It was absolutely unbelievable.

Hundreds of rescue workers, firefighters, and police officers rushed to the scene as people fled the two towers, both aflame as monstrous clouds of smoke filled the air. And, as we continued to watch, one tower and then the other collapsed in what seemed like slow motion in a huge pile of ash and rubble. The streets below were blackened as the sun of what was otherwise a beautiful September morning was snuffed out and replaced with thick smoke and millions of paper and ash fell like gray blizzard. I sat incredulous, my heart pounding, fearful for the city I loved and the thousands who surely lost their lives. Many escaped, but many more lost their lives.

There were cell phone calls from people still trapped in the rubble, begging to be found. I think five or six have been pulled out alive so far – one, a fireman who had made it to the 82nd floor when it collapsed. His survival is an absolute miracle. Another man who was in Tower 2 heard the explosion and saw the smoke from the first tower and heard an announcement that the fire was contained to Tower 1 and they could all return to their offices. He chose to leave Tower 2 anyway.

Many others received calls from loved ones who were trapped, saying they couldn’t get out and that they loved them. Still others were jumping out of windows from top floors, some in pairs and hand-in-hand. Think about that. Imagine jumping out of your second story bedroom window in a fire… what would you break? Would you survive? Now multiply that exponentially… these people jumped from 80+ floors.

News outlets captured that footage. And I cannot imagine what went through those folks’ minds when they made a primal decision. Those news outlets were later criticized for televising the sight, and sound, of bodies hitting cars on the streets below. One newspaper printed a large photo of a man falling head first to his death. There are no words to adequately describe any of this.

Family members of passengers on the two hijacked planes received calls saying goodbye, before they were cut off. There were two other hijacked planes – one crashed into the Pentagon and the other crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Apparently the passengers on that plane, having heard from loved ones on the ground about the previous crashes, tried to overcome the terrorists, thus ending in a fiery crash in PA. Government officials are certain the intended target was the White House.

This is the single most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. It has been compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor. I’ve cried intermittently when O was sleeping or otherwise engaged; it’s all so scary and so unbelievable, and we’re all wondering what’s next? The Twin Towers that defined the New York City skyline, the towers I looked to on my way into the Holland Tunnel as I arrived for school or some other excursion, are gone. Our sense of security – shattered.

All of television is covering these events, engraving the images of horror and destruction into my mind. As I watch my infant son sleeping peacefully on my lap, I am grateful for now that he is too young and oblivious to this attack on America that has halted ALL air traffic in the United States. That night I held him close to me in the darkness of my bedroom, staring at the stars in the eerily quiet night sky, the news drifting to my ears from the TV in the living room. Outside, on the balcony, I hear… nothing. Nothing at all breaks the impossible, deafening silence of the night.

We have not had a reprieve from the constant images. It’s been steady and continuous for 52 hours now. The downtown looks like a war zone. The Stock Exchange is closed. All national sporting events have been postponed. The city itself was shut down Tuesday in the aftermath – no one was getting in or out. The bridges and tunnels were closed in both directions and all rail service, above and below ground, was halted. Thousands of people walked home to Brooklyn and Queens, over the bridges, on foot.

Locally, the King of Prussia Mall was closed and security was tightened at “the highest level” at all nuclear power plants – including our own Limerick generating station, which is scary because we’re less than 15 minutes away.

A third building collapsed – 7 World Trade Center – due to damage from the Twin Towers and uncontrolled fires. Two others are reported to be in danger of collapse.

Friday morning

Raining. Rescuers and volunteers continue to work around the clock, searching inch-by-excruciating-inch for survivors, as they uncover bodies and in some cases only parts of bodies. The rain has turned the rubble into something like the consistency of oatmeal, or quicksand, complicating efforts. We continue to be bombarded non-stop by images of the attacks, the aftermath, and of family members fearfully clutching photos of loved ones they haven’t heard from since Tuesday morning. It’s painful to watch, devastating to behold. Estimates have 4,763 missing.

The news outlets continue to dominate the airwaves, alternating back and forth between local and national anchors, with absolutely no other news unrelated to the terrorist attacks. There have been NO COMMERCIALS – at all – since Tuesday morning before this tragedy. No other programming.

No one has come forward to claim responsibility and, though he has categorically denied any involvement, Osama bin Laden has applauded the acts. Afghanistan, whose citizens were captured on video celebrating the mass destruction, is known to harbor terrorists including bin Laden. This is beginning to sound like the dawn of a new war.

I am frightened. I am angry. I laid down beside my son and watched him sleep, feeling helpless that I could neither explain to him nor protect him from any of this happening again. How can I? It’s scary to think of another war – afraid to watch my son grow up in a world full of such chaos and uncertainty. Afraid of losing friends, family, even myself. How do we move forward after this?

 

2,974 victims died in the initial attacks. More than 1,400 rescue workers have since died from cancers and other conditions caused by the aforementioned exposure to toxins in the dust (asbestos, lead, mercury) from the collapsed buildings.

No one survived at or above the impact in the North Tower – 1,402 people. In the South Tower, 614 died at/above the level of impact; 18 survived by using stairwell A.

125 died at the Pentagon.

245 died on the four airplanes (not counting the hijackers).

 

 

 

 

The Girls Take Cape May, 2019

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Mom, Veruca, and I took our annual girls’ trip to the shore. Mom picked V up at her dad’s and drove here to pick me up (not exactly on the way but Moses was staying with Todd). I was the last one ready and mom was literally threatening to get in the car with V and start driving away. There’s a lot that goes into travel with V – making sure we have all the usual diabetes supplies in spades PLUS those we never use, just in case, like glucagon (rescue med) and syringes and backup insulin for pump failure.

We were less than a mile in and V’s hard case was sliding around in the back. I told mom to pull over and I got out to fix it. She couldn’t find the button to open the trunk. She was pressing the door locks and I had to tell her that was not it. So she got out of the car with me and opened the trunk and V’s suitcase came flying out and landed at my feet, which I totally called before I had even gotten out of the car.

We returned this year to the Marquis de Lafayette, this time in a suite with kitchen and living room with a pull-out couch that V commandeered the minute we arrived after several minutes of me insisting I would sleep there and she could have my bed. The battle to have one’s own space is real.

Our traditional first night dinner is always at Godmother’s – a lovely Italian eatery in a cozy old Victorian house. We stopped at the liquor store for wine first, where these two women rudely stepped in front of me in every.damn.aisle. and I bit my tongue because – first night on vacation and because – vacation. But OMG, it was SO HARD.

What we ordered: Caesar salads and clams casino, mozzarella fritti, fettuccine alfredo, vegetable risotto with lump crab, and good old-fashioned ravioli. For dessert: chocolate gelato. We took tiramisu and a citrus sponge cake to go. Everything, as always, was delicious. V must have looked really dehydrated, as her water glass was kept filled by the busboy, who would ask her if she wanted more water after circling the dining room.

After dinner we returned to the hotel where V and I met up with another T1D-mom (and family) I’ve been Facebook friends with since the MOD Squad debacle several years ago – we live not days away but several hours from each other and this was the first time we were in the same state, if not the same town. How serendipitous! It truly made my day. I’d swear she and I are spawn of the same dragon, and I know how weird that sounds and I’m glad I didn’t say it before we met so she wouldn’t have changed her mind about meeting me.

The Barefoot Bar at the hotel had live music that evening and as V & I paid our bill and prepared to go back to the room, I looked up and saw mom dancing on the balcony like she was at Woodstock. Oddly enough the room smelled a lot like Woodstock too, when we got inside. I said something mildly sarcastic to her and she actually sssshushed me.

Day 2

The first full day we spent by the pool on a picture perfect day, the sun nodding in and out of the clouds and a beautiful breeze that kept us cool. The hotel has changed since last year – we now have wrist bands to wear at the pool to identify us as guests and we’re each allowed only one towel (mom- WTF? We can’t have more than one towel?). The restaurant no longer has the breakfast buffet and, while probably not the money machine it once was, I enjoyed the nearly-empty dining room and the old-school waitress who treated us like family.

Mom left soon after lunchtime to nap and V and I decided to hit the mall for shopping. Our location is ideal as we can walk to the Washington Street Mall, which is a quaint stretch of brick and paved closed street with shops and places to eat. I found a Cape May hoodie and then we walked to Fralinger’s for fudge (peanut butter and vanilla) and taffy, which you can choose by the flavor. I bought Todd his favorites: molasses, peanut butter, and vanilla, so he can’t say I wasn’t thinking about him.

We had planned dinner at the YB again this year – the restaurant V randomly picked as we walked back from the Kiwanis flag folding ceremony last year. She again ordered the jalapeno mac and cheese poppers. Mom ordered the Greek Salad (real Greek salad) and a crab cake with a lemon parsley aioli. I nibbled on her salad and ordered the yellowfin tuna with watermelon salsa and spicy soba noodles. We three shared the truffle French fries – which, btw, are exceptionally enhanced by dipping them into the lemon parsley aioli. Again, everything was fabulous. The soba noodles were a bit more tender (okay, swollen) than I like them, having absorbed, too much, the dressing. Still – YB remains one of Cape May’s finest. Highly recommend.

Day 3

Woke at the ass-crack of dawn (5 a.m.) and could not fall back to sleep. I gave up trying and went to watch the sun rise from our balcony, which – surprisingly – is THE noisiest place to be at dawn. The hotel sits at such an angle that a full view of the sunrise is obscured by the building and, since it’s on Beach Avenue as all “oceanfronts” are, this means the trash and recycling crew are shouting at one another over the din of the waves and delivery trucks and street cleaners. At 6 A.M. It’s the one thing I love more about OCMD. Oceanfront is just that. The only roar you hear is the roar of the ocean.

Breakfast at the Mad Batter. Another old Victorian home converted into a restaurant. Line down the street for tables, so we choose to eat at a counter overlooking the bar, which was just fine. Crab and eggs benedict for mom, monstrous pancakes for V, and an omelet for me. Fresh-squeezed orange juice and people watching. And then this woman walked by us and the expression on her face changed dramatically/ambiguously and she reached out for mom and my mom simultaneously reached for her and they both exclaimed. At that point I knew this was a non-violent encounter and soon discovered mom catered for her and they knew each other quite well. (Hey – one never knows.)

Tuesday night’s dinner was at the Harbor View Restaurant, which came highly recommended from a friend. It’s between Cape May and the bridge to Wildwood. It was a late dinner – we were seated in the upstairs dining room with panoramic views of the water and sky. Mom ordered a Ketel rocks and I ordered a cabernet.

Another beyond-noshing tour ensued: two orders of steamed clams in garlic and white wine, clams casino (what IS this obsession with this 70s classic?), Seafood Fra Diavlo (mom), Linguine with clams (V), and Crab Cakes with mash (me).  The Crab Cakes came out as balls and I impulsively picked them up and held them chest level and my mom cackled out loud. And took my picture. The waitress assured us it wasn’t the first time someone had done this. We laughed our asses off and Veruca was pissed, which only became funnier as we drove home cracking jokes about balls and the Nav system’s directions (“turn left NOW!”) and she didn’t talk to us the rest of the night.

She quickly stalked off the elevator when we landed on our floor and stormed down the hall, mom and I still sniggling, and I turned to mom and said, I feel like the two bad children and mom is mad at us. The words barely escaped my lips and mom was howling again, which made my own hysteria worse and my bladder threatened to betray me in the worst imaginable way, and in my favorite capri jeans. Which, would have been divine justice in V’s eyes, but thankfully I made it in time.

And then mom made me call the restaurant because she thought she’d left her retainer on the table and, while we’re on hold, I spy the case ON THE BEDSIDE TABLE. So she hung up. And now they’ve got MY number marked as crazy drunk lady.

Day 4

Last day in Cape May. We were up relatively early and mom sent me downstairs to exchange our three “cards” for three towels and place them on our lounge chairs. It is a cutthroat scene poolside every morning to get your seats. The man who manages the pool area smiled broadly at me and said good morning, and continued to do the same throughout the day and asked me how I’m doing honey. I could have chosen to be creeped out by his enthusiasm and attention, but I’m 50 now and I’ll take it. So thank you, creepyhappy pool guy.

Went back upstairs to the room to eat leftovers for breakfast and noticed from the window that some woman had sat down on MY towel and lounge chair. What the hell is wrong with people? Like a tiger charging an antelope, I gathered my shit and raced downstairs to give her what for. Creepyhappy pool guy, who had literally just seen me not 20 minutes before, said good morning and how are you today? AGAIN. Which is good because it gave me time to breathe and his enthusiasm was enough to slow down the freight train heading for pool chair number 8. I approached her and smiled. She was older than she appeared from the balcony and now I’m feeling like an asshole while still letting her know these chairs were reserved, which she didn’t know. She didn’t know why the towels were already on some of the chairs, and was sorry. And I’m still an over-reactive asshole.

We had calamari and chicken tacos poolside with Painkillers – a delightful tropical drink made with Pusser’s Rum (yes, really), pineapple and orange juices and coconut milk, topped with a dusting of nutmeg. Later, I called Todd from the bar as I ordered a drink, glancing over my shoulder at V who was glaring at me in her nasty judgy way because I was having a drink in the afternoon. I smiled at her and turned my back.

Later, she and I went for a stroll down Washington Street to the Emlen Physick estate – the location of the haunted tour we were taking later that evening. We snapped some photos along the way and stopped at Dog Days of Cape May for puppy treats. V had a low of 47 so we popped into a candy store for butterscotch candies, and ended up having a quick lunch together at Delaney’s, where they were rocking to the 80s music of my youth which was great until Parents Just Don’t Understand started and I just lost it. V thought I was nuts and all I could think of was my teen summers in Wildwood.

This post is way longer than I intended, so I apologize. I try to keep them as close to 1000 to 1200 words to avoid being boring and self-indulgent.

We ended our vacation with breakfast across the street at Alethea’s, on the porch inside The Inn at Cape May. Mom had Lobster Benedict, V had Texas French Toast, and I ordered an omelet with cheddar, spinach, peppers, and onion. It was excellent. Another not-to-miss for breakfast in Cape May.

 

 

18 and Life

I did a thing. I packed my 18-year-old up – the sum of his most important belongings stacked in the back of Todd’s Explorer – and together with my husband and daughter drove him to college. It’s been a long road to get here, a road I have long known was coming … some day. The impact of it first hit me over a year ago as I watched him during Senior picture day, and I sat in the high school auditorium surrounded by other students and parents fighting back tears and impending hysteria. The months to follow, he was driving independently and going places with friends and that, I think, allowed me to slowly let go.

I proudly made it through his graduation with only a few tears to dab away from the corners. I watched his friends (the closest of them graduated the previous year) rush the field and pick him up and tackle him, and it made my heart sing. The rest of the summer he spent on the go, with friends and occasional weekends with his dad.  And then the days sped up and the time became shorter.

One night several weeks ago he woke me around 1 a.m. with a hand on my arm, and I followed him out to the darkened living room. I won’t betray his trust by discussing details, but let’s just say he was holding a lot of anxiety and trepidation – as we all did in the days before we left home – and we had a long heartfelt talk. It meant the world to me that he came to me with this, proving that time changes little between a mother and son.

Those first moments I had alone with him, after everyone had gone home, were the moments that would bind us to each other for a lifetime.  The moments every mother never forgets – the first time you really see each other, where you stare into those tiny eyes studying the face he will never forget.  Where you hold him close to you and feel his tiny breath on your face and you whisper all the love and hope and longing you have for him.

It was only the two of us for four-and-a-half years; we joined the Mom’s Club together, and through him I met so many wonderful moms who remain my friends today. His arms and heart were always open – he reached for strangers to hold him and eagerly played with anyone who wanted to. He adored my brother, his uncle only 9 years older than he is, from the first day. He sat down and shared his dump truck with my grandfather, a man he’d only just met, and made my Old Paw’s year. One Christmas he climbed up on a recliner with my bemused uncle Barry and proceeded to remove his socks, handing them to him one at a time, so he could clean the lint out from between his little toes (a two-year-old’s favorite pastime).

His sweetness extended to friendships everywhere he went. I worried over him going to preschool, but he walked in the door and never looked back. He welcomed the new kid in kindergarten by showing him around the classroom. Years later, he did the same for a new girl their Junior year, because he didn’t want her to feel alone. His friends today count on him to be there, and often come to him for advice. He is passionate about justice, what is right, and treating people well.

We moved to Maryland in his 7th grade year, and he was apprehensive and more than a little scared. The day we enrolled him, I sat across the table from him and those same brown eyes that stared at me hours after he was born met mine with tears in them and it felt like I was punched. But it didn’t take very long for him to announce how happy he was to have moved here, and it reinforced what I already knew. He is resilient. He is strong. He is my son.

Two days before move-in day, I broke down and cried. Todd and Veruca weren’t shocked. I half-expected Todd to pull a tough love on me and tell me I can do this. But he didn’t. Instead, he took the day off to come with us, to support me and Opac. He even packed two boxes of tissues.

Move-in day is a well-oiled machine. There were two lanes of cars next to the dorm, where upperclassman volunteers descended on them, emptied the contents, and delivered them to his door. We found our way to the room and I started making up his bed. I needed to DO something to keep myself from jumping out of my skin. We met the roommate and his dad and sister, and at some point the two young men decided to head over to the student center and that was it. We walked around campus so Todd could see it. We passed O and his roommate, now with a young lady in tow, a handful of times. O gave us a jerk of his head in acknowledgement.

We sat in a group – Todd, V, her dad, and the roommate’s family – on the lawn of the quad and ate a picnic lunch prepared for the students and family. I watched O from afar – seated in a circle with new friends eating lunch – and skulked around trying to snap pics unnoticed. After, he walked over to us and we chatted up a bit before a flash mob of First Year Mentors (aka upperclass orientation leaders) broke into the Git Up dance and I watched his eyes light up. His eyes met mine and I knew it was time.

We walked him back to his dorm room and hung out a bit in the cool air conditioning. I don’t remember what we talked about. V sat on his bed next to him and I snapped a few photos of them. She looked so much older suddenly. She’d been mistaken for a freshman earlier in the day, and now I could fully see it. We didn’t stay for the Opening Convocation. I knew it was time.

We made the move to leave, and I walked up to him and hugged him, and he lifted me off my feet – something he likes to do every now and then to remind me he can pick me up now. My heart overflowed. He hugged V and for the first time in forever she didn’t pull away. I met those eyes one more time and smiled my most deceitful, nonchalant, and bravest smile, walked out the door, and that was it.

The tears pushed through as I felt my composure slipping away. I hurried down the stairs with my sunglasses on before we even reached the outside. I gripped Todd’s hand until we were well past campus, on our way back to the farthest parking lot, where we said goodbye to V and her dad. I was fine. I was fine until we got about 20 minutes into the drive and then all bets were off. You know how hard it is to hold in a really ugly cry?

I volleyed between tears and nausea the rest of the day. I had no appetite. The physical feelings that accompanied this are familiar. It feels like a breakup. My heart feels so heavy and my stomach is in knots. Where you know you are grieving and that there is only ONE thing that is going to make the pain stop. But you aren’t going to get it.

I have to walk through. It is the mantra I use for all things difficult and painful and challenging – that one cannot run away from it, one must Walk Through. It is how we become stronger and capable and successful. What I told O that night in the living room.

Veruca, for her part, is acting all, whatever, about this. She quietly accompanied us and didn’t complain about anything. I was too focused on staying calm to notice at the time. But she has to be feeling something. This brother of hers has loved her from the day she was born, although the love looks a bit different nowadays with the capriciousness of teenaged emotions. Still, when V called me at work yesterday morning crying about her laundry, I knew it wasn’t really dirty clothes she was upset about.

Mom called me Thursday afternoon, knowing from my silence that it was comfort I most needed. And then she hit a curb because she was driving and cut a corner too tight in her new car, and exclaimed “shit!” and there was my comic relief. Sometimes success is finding laughter through the tears. I spent the rest of that day on the couch. I fell asleep early. Mom texted me around 10 saying, and I quote, “& DO NOT go into his room & smell his sheets you!!” And I had to laugh out loud, because it was too late.

So today is day 3. Todd and I had a cookout to go to last night after work – former colleagues of his from the old college that I had never met and I dreaded it. I was still feeling raw and just wanting to Velcro myself to his side. I wasn’t sure I was up for being my social self. But I did it.

~~Walk Through~~

I had a glass of wine and got to talking to some people and Todd was somewhere else and I was completely comfortable in my skin again. I sat outside in the beautiful night air that has turned pleasantly cool after a wicked thunderstorm the previous night and listened to these folks banter with one another and found myself laughing like an old friend. Damn Todd for knowing what’s good for me sometimes. And then the totally unexpected happened.

My butt started vibrating. My cell phone was in my back pocket. And ya’ll know who it was.

My baby. Calling me from a lull in the evening to say hi and tell me how great things are going. How he picked up his books and he was featured on an Instagram post from his department. And there it is – the heart swelling with pride, healing, growing, and knowing what I’ve always known. He’s going to be fine. And so am I.

 

The Long Journey Home

……began at 3 a.m. Todd loaded everything into the rental car – a Chevy Equinox that smelled like a brand new car, had that unnerving stop-start technology, and the worst turning radius  since my Volvo. Stop-start by the way, if you’re as unfamiliar as I was, basically means the car goes into this sort of sleep mode when it’s stopped – like at a stop light. The first day we were out in it, it happened and I panicked. Like oh shit, the car broke down. And then Todd stepped on the gas and it jumped back to life.

Anyway, McCarron Airport is really easy to navigate… and the car return very simple. We dropped the car off and caught the shuttle to departures, checked the balls and suitcase again and then stood in a massive line waiting for the security checkpoint to open. And then it opened with ONE guy at the podium checking ID and tickets, and making unnecessary small talk with EVERYone. At 4:00 in the morning (PST). The other guy, the Paul Blart of TSA, was directing people a few at a time to step into the line and walking around puffing his chest and trying to look very important.

We landed in Baltimore. I saw the sign directing us toward baggage claim, but Todd went the other way. I tried to stop him. Nope. Up the escalator to the main concourse and then I told him we needed to go back down. I’ve literally been to this airport twice in my life and I’M telling HIM which way to go.

We collect his ball bags and suitcase and then head to the escalator that takes us to the parking garage. We get on the escalator and two steps up and Todd’s bowling bags fall, rolling down the escalator and there’s Todd, trying to catch them, and of course they keep rolling down as the escalator rolls up. And THEN he loses control of his suitcase too. All three of his bags are out of control on the up-escalator and I’m helplessly watching from above. Some lady who works in the airport is all, just let them go sir, and he’s all  pissed off and NOT letting them go. I hurriedly get off the escalator at the top, drop my suitcase and get back on trying to help which, at this point, is fruitless.

He finally gets it all together as he reaches the top and I help him pull the bags off. He restacks the two bowling bags and then his suitcase falls over, and I am immediately struck with the hilarity of it all and burst out laughing. Except Todd has all but lost his sense of humor and it is NOT FUNNY.

Okay, get serious. So we start walking toward the garage and I’m like, is this the right skywalk? Which of course it wasn’t, and we had to go back down. We decided to take the elevator this time, thank God. Then hurry across the check-in area and get to the correct elevator to our skywalk. Get out of the elevator and hop on the moving sidewalks to make things a bit easier. Easier, until Todd gets off and the bowling bags topple over again. And then the suitcase falls over as he’s trying to right the bowling bags. I’m SO going to hell for laughing.

We get on the elevator at the garage and I just want to say it’s very important to take a photo of the level you park on before you leave because I did, but remembered anyway, and Todd was all, are you sure this is it? and I’m all, HERE’S the picture I took.  Including a pic of the space number we parked in. We get in the car with a huge sigh of relief. Finally.

And…. the car won’t start. Because his dash cam doesn’t automatically shut off like mine does, it was running ALL WEEK. And now we have to figure out what to do about this unexpected ending to the clusterfuck in the airport. And my husband, who always knows the answer and how to fix everything, likely because he is still recovering from the suitcase-gate, is temporarily at a total and complete loss. So Tara – who hates dealing with shit like this – takes over.

I google the airport/help with disabled vehicles, and then dial the number. They say they’re dispatching someone to help and we go back to the car and wait. While we’re standing there, Todd notices the emergency phones that are strategically placed throughout the parking garage for situations such as these. Yellow phones that are clearly visible, that us 50-year-olds didn’t see.

Fast forward to the drive home, which wasn’t terribly stressful until we get to a traffic jam on 95 three exits from ours. Todd decides to get off and take the local roads home, but somehow makes the wrong turn that neither of us notice until I see a sign that says “Welcome to Baltimore County” which I know is all kinds of wrong and when I point it out he actually asks me if I’m sure that’s what I saw. So we’ve essentially been driving BACK to Baltimore after 30 minutes on the road.

Opac is waiting for us to get home before he leaves for a graduation party and so I text him back that I don’t even know and “ima cry,” because we have to stop for gas and Todd again makes a wrong turn. And then he calls and I’m afraid to answer because I don’t want to tell him in front of Todd the extent of the clusterfuck we’ve been in since we landed.

We finally pull in the driveway, two hours and forty-five minutes after we landed. For perspective, it’s roughly an hour’s drive to the airport from our house (based on traffic on 95).

 

 

Sin City – The Climax

Day 4

We drove down the Strip to see the long-awaited Venetian. This is the one casino I wanted to see most. And it was stunning. Italy-inspired facades …the ceilings were painted like sky and clouds (which is exactly what Caesar’s and Paris did too) and the “sidewalks” were glistening like wet stones.

I was looking forward to seeing the gondolas. The line was as long as Space Mountain in Disney and it was $30 per person. Gondola on a 3-foot deep pool, inside, the gondolier’s singing echoing off of the storefronts…. meh. Gondola in Venice? Hell yeah.

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Anyway, designer stores like Barney’s, Kate Spade, Hugo Boss, Tory Burch, Bottega Veneta, Pandora, Coach, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Michael Kors. I took a pic of these butt ugly MK sneakers that looked like wrestling shoes for V and she said, ooh, can you buy them for me?  Ha. Aint gonna happen. A new handbag featured in one of the window display boxes was actually designed for me and so we went in to have a closer look. $358. I’m in love. I NEED this handbag.

In summary – the Venetian was another stunning playground but no more special than the others and it wasn’t paying out either. We left The Venetian and drove to Fremont Street to meet the gang, who was already there.

Fremont Street is a strange and bustling not-to-be-missed sideshow which is like the B-side of the Vegas album. It’s a closed street under a roof that produces an overhead light show set to music that’s supposed to be really spectacular. I don’t know if I was all Vegased out or just slipping into the stoned side of a week’s worth of mindless drinking, but I was not impressed. It was cool, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t feeling all, this is the best light show ever!

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People were zip-lining overhead under the ceiling all night long, which looked cool but I wondered if anyone has ever thrown up while on it? The line was massive for that too and I had no interest in holding my bladder that long.

There were these black circles painted on the street in various places designated for street performers – like cast members stuck in a surreal limbo between a homemade freakshow and a bad audition – not beautiful or talented or freaky enough to work on the Strip. Many of them just stand there and hang out. Impersonators like Deadpool, Heisenberg, and Jack Sparrow. Scantily-clad girls offering to “whip” people – in plain view of hundreds of passersby for a small fee. I was literally feet away from some guy who got down on his hands and knees for this. Twice.

A dude in a cowboy hat with no shirt offering I-don’t-know-what. Two “military hunks” who picked people up on their shoulders for a picture. For a fee. Another guy, who was not standing in one of those circles, in nothing but a g-string with his pitifully small package (yes I did look and don’t judge because a train wreck is a train wreck) and a cowboy hat, smoking a cigarette. He was easily in his late 50s and I wondered if he just did this for his own kicks.

A topless girl in a nun’s habit with long droopy breasts and what looked like black electrical tape crisscrossed over each of her nipples. She attracted a lot of hilarious, shocked stares and giggling. Rob said she looked like Macaulay Culkin, which might have been funny except she was disturbingly serious and dejected looking. She carried a black leather whip in her hand, I’m guessing so she could whip people too. Moments into her stint, a much-older, angry looking Native American man on an electric scooter with a sleeping infant strapped to his chest wheeled circles around her, talking to her, and then he wheeled away into the crowd. Her expression never changed. When he returned two more times it became apparent they knew each other. I wondered who he was to her and if that baby was hers. The whole scene so disturbed me and I’m still not able to fully articulate what I was feeling.

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Oil application begins. Note the child in the background.

She was replaced at some point by a guy with an Ace Frehley wig and makeup on, who appeared out of nowhere with his duffle bag and proceeded to strip down to a thong and put on “the boots.” He rooted around inside his bag and pulled out a bottle of baby oil and slathered all over his chest and body, and then stood there dancing and staring people down. Two ladies came over and took their picture with him and all I could think of was that that oil was now all over their clothes. He caught me videoing him with my phone and I have him pointing at me and motioning to me with an uncomfortable stare. Big Mistake. Anyway… total earnings on my watch…. Ace: $10, Nun: $0.

 

We walked around some more, bought two frozen drinks for $38 – probably for the souvenir cup BOTH of my kids thought was a bong which invites a whole other list of questions for another post. I took photos until my phone died, and played some slots in these ancient casinos and actually won some money. I rubbed Buddha’s belly in the California Casino when we arrived, so maybe that accounts for my first win in 4 days?

Summary: Fremont Street is worth a visit, but again – not a place for children. And there were plenty of them, witnesses to the depravity that exists in a vacuum for most people. I felt dirty after being there.

Total walking distance on this day: 5.65 miles.

 

The Last Day

Copyright Taraka, 2019.

Hoover Dam. About a 50-minute drive through elevated desert and mountains. Acres of windmills in the hazy heat. More brown and dirt and dust and sand but for the few scrubby green plants that have defied the desert sun and dared to grow up without a lick of water.

We arrived at the security checkpoint where all windows must be down and a guard peers into your vehicle and asks if we have firearms. We drove through, parked on the Arizona side and then walked over to the Nevada side. It was another hundred-degree day of unforgiving sun and there were hundreds of people here. All nationalities. We each took a ton of photos and stared in awe at this monstrous manmade structure. We walked across the Pat Tillman bridge which seems miles above the dam.

We drove back “home” and changed out of our sweaty clothes, and then drove back down to Old City to visit the Neon Museum. This outdoor museum has curated old neon signs and has placed them throughout a “Neon Boneyard.”

There are signs from old businesses, casinos, motels… some dating back to the 1930s and 40s. They’re huge. Some are only parts of signs. One as recent as 2015. Many are famously recognized.

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The whole thing is outside in blazing sun – and they’re only open until 7 p.m. so you have to go during the day and it’s supposedly most busy around 5 or so. We got there around 4 and had the place to ourselves. They offer umbrellas you can borrow and there are employees stationed here and there to answer questions, although the one woman Todd spoke to acted as if he was bothering her and then disappeared. Everything is sort of leaning against a wall or propped up, stacked in staggered rows, and leaves you feeling like it’s haphazard – which is the intentional feeling they’ve created, of a neon scrap and recycle yard.

The museum shop you actually enter and exit the Boneyard through. The two folks in there were friendly and talkative, probably because they – unlike their counterparts outside – had the benefit of working in air conditioning. I could have bought a lot of stuff in there, but we settled on two t-shirts and a small aluminum sign for the bar we don’t have yet.

That was our last stop on the Vegas tour. We were absolutely DONE. For me, there’s only so much casino-ing a non-gambler can do. I was so over the scene, the heat, the refrigeration-grade a/c, the cigarette smoke, and people. Our flight departed at 5:30 a.m. the next morning so we spent the rest of the evening at the condo packing and relaxing.

Total walking distance: 4.47 miles.

 

Miscellaneous:

 

Neon Museum: Hours, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission: $22. Don’t miss! Side note: women’s t-shirts run super small – I’m thinking there was an error and these were actually children’s size t-shirts. I bought an XL (I’m normally a size M) and it’s still tight as a compression sock.

Fremont Street: Fremont Street, which dates back to 1905, was the first paved street in Las Vegas, in 1925, and received the city’s first traffic light in 1931. As I always do, I did some research on things to do and see. I made a list:

  • Viva Vision Light Show
  • Vegas Vic
  • Happy Buddha’s Belly (statue @ California Hotel and Casino.) Rub his belly for good luck. Coins left at the statue are donated to charity.
  • Binions – free photo with $1M
  • Golden Gate Casino – historic artifacts like gaming ledgers from the early 1900s and vintage chip racks.
  • Main Street Station – antiques all around the hotel plus there’s a huge slab of the Berlin Wall in the men’s restroom (ask to be escorted by security to see it). I REALLY wanted to do this but just ran out of steam.
  • The Shark tank at the Golden Nugget

 

Slotzilla Zipline – at Fremont Street. Fly seated seven stories high for $25 or “superhero style” eleven stories high for $49 ($45 before 5 p.m.)

Gondola at The Venetian – Regular pricing is $29 for a shared gondola, or $114 for a private gondola. The pricing varies based on dates and month, apparently. There’s also photo packages starting at $22. There are indoor and outdoor gondola rides.

 

The Happy Buddha, another performer at Fremont Street, and a random photo of the landscape around Henderson.

Todd and Tara Take Sin City: Part 2

Day 2

Sunrise. Todd made coffee and I made a smoothie for breakfast. The singles/doubles tournament was at 2:30 so we had several hours to go down to the Strip. High of 99 degrees. I was really looking forward to this.

We were greeted by the world-famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign as we drove in, which was a lot smaller than I expected, with a LINE OF PEOPLE in front of it waiting to take their pic. We drove to The Tropicana and parked the car. If you’ve never been to Vegas, there are escalators outside that take you to a sidewalk overpass every couple of blocks or so. We took the one next to the Tropicana to get to Excalibur. Note: Do NOT touch the handrail.

We passed two homeless people engrossed in conversation in the shade, and another woman lying under the escalators with her dog (also lying on the ground). Homeless people, unlike San Francisco, are a surprise in Vegas, just by sheer design – the place appears very clean and is hotter than Satan’s bedroom. I felt more sorry for the dog than I felt for the people. Why was this dog lying outside on the sidewalk at 9 a.m. in 98 degrees?

So Excalibur is the casino that looks like a castle. For those folks in Southeastern PA, it looks a lot like Dutch Wonderland, only bigger. Inside was delightfully cool and I loved the atmosphere. I love the medieval/Renaissance period… so all you have to do is drop me into a story from that period or a room decorated accordingly and I will stay all day. We decided to collect club cards and play in each casino we visited, just for fun.

We left there and walked next door to Luxor, which is – hands down – my favorite casino in Vegas. Luxor is the shiny black, 30-story pyramid with the giant, towering sphinx out front. At night there’s the sky beam – a beam of light from the apex of the pyramid one can see for miles on a clear night. We walked in the front doors and there was this enormous entryway and a view all the way to the ceiling where you could see the lighted rooms/hallways. It was gorgeous inside. And, at this early hour, not terribly crowded yet but plenty of parents with children.

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Copyright Taraka 2019

Which is what also surprised me. Las Vegas has been pushing the family-friendly vibe for years now, but after 5 days there I honestly cannot understand why anyone in their right mind would WANT to take their kids there. It’s hotter than hell, even by the pool, there’s smoke everywhere, and there’s no shortage of scantily clad showgirls on the streets. And then there’s Fremont Street.

Anyway. The Luxor also has The Titanic Exhibition that I REALLY wanted to see, but we never made it. Tickets run $32, but I found if you’re buying same day tickets the price was $19. The Bodies Exhibition is also there. El Diablo and Rice & Company were two restaurants I noted but never made it to.

From Luxor we walked the indoor passage to Mandalay Bay. It should also be noted here that these three casinos I visited are all connected via a free tram. Mandalay was also pretty spectacular inside, very decadent but then I think they all are. I really wanted to see the pools there, but again – never made it – and there is a$20pp daily cost if you aren’t a guest of the hotel. Todd played the slots in all three – from old favorites to a few new ones – but never hit for more than a few bucks.

We headed back to the tournament. Todd drove the entire Strip so I could see it. There’s so much to see! There’s a two-story Coke bottle with an elevator inside. I decided to hang back at the condo while he bowled; I didn’t really feel like freezing my ass off for three hours. We’d already walked four miles today. We ended up staying at South Point for the night…. had junk food at the Del Mar Deli and Todd played some slots, where some dude asked me, ma’am, could you watch my machine for me (while he went to retrieve his beer at the machine he’d moved from). Fucking MA’AM.

Really feeling my age lately. I mean, I look in the mirror and I see me – the Tara I’ve always known – but I know intrinsically that people are seeing a middle-aged woman and not the me I think I am. It hits me hard and I don’t like it.

Total walking distance: 5.7 miles, which means that we racked up a MILE AND HALF just walking around the South Point casino. Kill me now.
Day 3

We drove down the strip again. Parked at The Flamingo, an old-time casino with a tremendous history linked to the mob in the late 1940s. It’s been through a lot of changes, but still retains the old-time feel. There’s a flamingo habitat in an outdoor courtyard, which we visited and Todd, as always, got the best pictures. I always think I’m being artistic, and then I look at the product and it looks like a two-year-old with no muscle control took it. Like, MY picture has the back of the flamingo, bending over. I don’t even know why I try.

As we were passing through, an employee pulled us aside to offer us some deals and led us over to the wheeler-dealer bitch who wanted us to pick something for free. NOW. We had just arrived and it got to this high pressure point where you wanna slap a bitch, and when she whipped out the 3-ring binder with pictures of our options my old New Yorker instincts kicked in and I just held up my hand and said, I’m done. I just got here and I’m not making decisions right now.

We left the Flamingo and walked across the street to Caesar’s, which was really decadent. I swear, every casino is more decadent than the last. This is Disney for adults, on steroids. One of Caesar’s employees approached us to ask if we were staying on the property and I just put up the hand and walked away, and Todd was the one being Mr. Nice Guy, which is all kinds of ass-backwards. I literally have no qualms about flat out ignoring somebody and unapologetically walking away.

The temp went up to 106 degrees. We walked 6.54 miles. I was impressed and a bit proud to experience 106 degrees.  The sun was blazing hot and I began to feel a bit schizophrenic going between the wonderfully cool a/c and the blistering heat on the street.

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Doesn’t look like 106, does it?

We walked along the street to Paris. More people on the street selling shit. I saw Elvis in an electric wheelchair, which caught me off guard and I must have looked happily surprised… and then the damn bastard stopped and muttered something about a pic for x dollars. What… I’m going to sit on his lap for a picture? Fuck that and his shitbrand polyester suit.

Paris, too, was gorgeous inside. I’m being redundant. We just walked through without playing anything. Took pictures. Enjoyed the air conditioning before stepping back into the frying pan on the street. Remember those news reports where the reporter would cook an egg on the hood of a car? Yeah. Anything that was spilled on the street here looked like it had been welded to the blacktop.

We walked back to the Flamingo,  passing several half-naked showgirls including two from the Flamingo with a heart-shaped pasty over each nipple and nothing else, and there are adolescent boys and little kids walking by. We ended up having lunch  … as it turned out, at Carlos and Charlies. We shared an enormous plate of nachos and drank margaritas.

Todd played the Game of Thrones slot machine afterward, and hit for $40. Which is when Tara quits playing, but Todd keeps rolling the dice until the money runs out. The difference is, he wins. I rarely do. He says he doesn’t like playing on the Strip, because the machines just don’t pay out. I could be wrong, but if you keep playing you might just lose more???

Later, after resting at the condo, we returned to the Strip to see the Cirque du Soleil show Mystére at Treasure Island. It was phenomenal. I never in my life thought I needed to see one of these shows. I actually had tears in my eyes. I highly recommend seeing one of them. You will not be disappointed. And we had fantastic seats.

We puttered around the casino afterward, thought about buying a Mystére t-shirt for $40 and decided not to. Of all the casinos we visited on this trip, Treasure Island was the most disappointing. It was remarkably small and the machines Did Not Pay Out. At All.

 

 

The Bellagio and Luxor at night

Ended up back at South Point where Todd took to the slots again and I sat at one of the centrally located bars and ordered a margarita and dropped five bucks into the tabletop card game. The bartender called me “Miss” and all was right with the world again.

Miscellaneous:

Cirque du Soleil Mystere If you watch nothing else, skip ahead to 4:42. One of the most breathtaking parts of the show. **I do not own the rights to this video.

The Luxor –  Tupac was staying here when he was shot and killed. Casino appeared in Mars Attacks, Vegas Vacation, and The Hangover. Current shows: Carrot Top and Blue Man Group.

Excalibur – Also featured in Vegas Vacation. Current shows: Thunder Down Under, The Australian Bee Gees, and Tournament of Kings.

Mandalay Bay – Current show: Cirque du Soleil, Michael Jackson: One. (Couldn’t score tickets for this show even a month ahead. For good seats, that is.)

The Flamingo – sits on 40 acres originally purchased for $8.75 an acre by one of Vegas’ first settlers, Charles Squires. Years later the casino was developed and opened by Bugsy Siegel in 1946. Show: Donnie and Marie (soon to be replaced by Paula Abdul in August). Obnoxious salespeople: next to the flamingo habitat.