Saturday, October 31, 2009

fungi, holidays and burak

It turned cold. Suddenly, everyone at the Westside Community Market wants to hurry up and be done with it – the shopping, the selling, all of it.

I’m thinking of turning on the truck to warm up. I have three layers of socks and still my feet are cold – this from the mushroom man. I call him that because he is the one vendor who’ll always have some form of fungi on his table. Beautiful oysters and shitakes. Ed likes oysters and so we always buy oysters. Today I buy shitakes. Such an empty act of defiance...


It’s Halloween. I’m scheduled to work at the shop and if I am lucky no one will trick the place or show up in a gloomy costume. I’m only mildly amused by this day. I think holidays that weren’t yours during childhood continue to escape you when you’re an adult.

You would conclude, therefore, that I would have become like Ed – scornful of all celebrations. My grandparents had no time, nor use for them, and my parents attempted repeatedly to cut out Christmas and birthday fuss once I reached what they must have believed was the age of reason (thirteen). But actually even then I fought them on this and I continued to haul trees into the house and my sister and I took over hosting birthday parties for each other. Both Christmas and birthdays remain as important for me as any milestone out there. I’ve added Thanksgiving, too, even though we did not ever celebrate that one in my Polish childhood home. Another empty act of defiance...

[I do have to give my mom credit: her sense of duty forced her to drag in a holiday tree in those early years. And the few birthday parties she organized for us in that first decade after the war, were full of pizzazz – she was good at that. Her friend would bake us a cake (my mom, to my knowledge, never baked) and we would play the very American games of pin the tail and musical chairs. I laughed so hard and with such merriment at my own seven-year-old birthday party that I bit the glass with kompot in it (kompot was the drink of choice in postwar Poland; it’s a juice made from cooked fruits). I remember that the adults screamed in horror. In an empty act of defiance, I continued to laugh...]

My only photo attesting to the spirit of this Halloween day comes from the market. Here you go, the colors of October 31st :


Otherwise – what can I say... It was cold and so I hurried. It wasn’t hard to zip through the market. I have seen enough squash and pumpkin to satisfy me for a long while. Not much else by way of color. Oh, wait, excuse me. I did buy this. For the name alone. Rainbow swiss chard.


No, that’s not true. Not for the name. For the taste, the hope, the health – yes, na zdrowie! For the childhood memories of botwina and burak. I write this with a smile. Burak – beet – is absolutely the only food I refused to eat as a child. Ah, defiance...

Friday, October 30, 2009

played on a solo saxophone

A mood is like the economy. You’re not really sure if you’ve bottomed, or if there’s a way to go before you can start the climb.

I say this because I find myself in a year of great challenge. And I knew it would be thus. Or close to thus. As my teaching load has skyrocketed, my earnings have plummeted and so I spend free time trying to compensate for both.

At the same time that life at home has been extraordinarily demanding (see previous posts).

Of course, it could be worse. I could be sick, my kids could be sick, I could lose my health insurance, we could all be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and the insurance policy could max out. Or, any one of us could be in a car collision. So I do know this: it could be worse.

But it could be better.

I reel back tonight to summers spent at my grandparents’ village home in Poland. There was an orphanage not too far. I used to watch these kids and think – should I reach out? Eventually I understood that this kind of imaginative benevolence was pointless. There is an insurmountable chasm between those who feel loved and those who do not.

And I wonder: could it be that the trial I had been following in New York has elements of this? It's sad (oh, oops, this post is already about being sad; let's say especially sad) to think that there are ravines and chasms, and one day one person tries to cross them and another day another person tries to cross them, but they never seem to be exerting an effort at the same time, and so it all sort of falls apart.

Things worked backwards today. I had enough to do a home that I did not go to campus until late.

The rain had stopped. My bike slid across a pavement covered with wet late autumn leaves.


Half way to campus, I came across the band practice. Usually I hear them when I am pedaling home and so I associate their music with the joy of returning home. Today, they are merely trumpeters and tuba players and who knows what else, playing (better than yesterday!) tunes from Miss Saigon. Song, played on a lonely saxophone... (played on a trumpet).


I’m doing a lot of thinking these days. Everyone does this when they feel pushed and plummeted, right? So I leave you with the photo of a heron that I spotted on my late ride in. My buddy. My solo friend.


Thursday, October 29, 2009


At 4:25 p.m., the pressures of the week let up. No, let me correct that: they disappear. I had accomplished all that needed to be done, against all odds and, if I may say so (because I am proud of this) – without a mental breakdown.

But, here's an admission of failure: I did not bike to work this morning. At home, at 9:02, I understood that things were getting tight for a 9:30 class. I chose the bus.

I caught the best possible one – number 15. It’s closest to me and it runs without local stops. I always enjoy this morning ride (on days when I do not bike to work). It’s full of Asian graduate students (I live close to a cluster of apartments favored by foreign students, especially from southeast Asian countries). They’re animated and engaged (with each other, in languages that I do not understand) and they mostly disembark at engineering (two stops before mine). During the ten minute trip, I think about how it is to be them – here, in a country that is not their own, in a state that could not be more different from places they would call home. Maybe I see a little of me, the immigrant, in them. Maybe.

In my office, I work with such intensity that I almost cannot imagine pausing for my late afternoon espresso down the hill (on my long days – Tuesdays and Thursdays – that espresso is the highlight. Hands down).

Except that I do stop just before class. And I run down for the espresso, with the lecture notes that I want to review one more time.

But it’s raining. Not drizzling, raining. My notes get wet, I get wet, my camera gets wet.

woman at library entrance

And then, class is finished and it’s over. I’m on the bus, empty now at this later hour...

DSC04222 a dreamy daze. Nothing (except this post!) has to be done before tomorrow. Sure, sure, the transcripts from today’s New York hearings – I want to read those, And I want to talk to my family. And I have emails that I’d like to attend to, but this is my choice. I could go read a comic book at the water’s edge for the rest evening and it would be okay.

I go home and attend to transcripts, student emails and this Ocean post. But I'm okay with that. I know I didn't have to do any of it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

where hunger disturbs clear thinking

Just so you know, you, who remain patient throughout all vicissitudes of this blog and its author, the last time I was so short on sleep for days on end was when it was determined that one of my daughters (I wont say which one) was described by me, by her doctor too, as being very colicky.

No such issues are before me now.

I thought when Ed left for New York that I would “catch up.” You now how it is: you have an occasional traveling companion hanging around, all spare time disappears. Free time (meaning: time not spent on teaching or moonlighting) becomes his time. It’s just the way things work with occasional traveling companions.

But shockingly (or is it really shocking?), with Ed embroiled in never-ending litigation in New York, my free time hasn’t gone up to, say, 20% of my waking hours. It has gone down to zero.

Take today.

I wake up. Four hours of sleep. Damn. Still, I have class preparation and exam grading. I touch base with Ed. We review the forthcoming proceedings. He’s off to the courthouse, I’m off to campus.

And I work on my classes. Thankfully, all three classes that I teach are with magnificent groups of students. Life at school is less stressful than life after school.

Okay. Class is done. No moonlighting tonight! Finally – a free evening.

Free? I’m behind in reading the transcripts from yesterday’s proceedings. I catch up with those as I throw brussel sprouts into a pot. No fuss, no dice, just cook ‘em up quickly because I am hungry.

So hungry that I cannot think about what I am reading.

Ed is phoning on Skype. He has now a new day’s transcript of the court case. I listen and eat the stupid brussel sprouts. [Sorry, but eating a caseload of brussel sprouts reminded me of this morning’s article in the NYTimes, where one person, addicted to a sugar diet, commented that many people pretend they like what is good for them; I considered for a good five minutes whether I was lying to myself about loving brussel sprouts. I came to no firm conclusions there.]

We hang up. I read some more. I call back. We discuss. I read some more.

And now it is near midnight – the time of attending to Ocean. The time of fighting the droopy eyelid, the hazed over mind that refuses to focus. That time.

I know what’s ahead: I’ll fall asleep in the middle of a sentence, wake up with a start at two in the morning and force myself to rework the grammar of a very simple, very ill-constructed thought.

biking to work

Here it comes, I feel it! A dream laden moment of sleep. Don’t wake me if I doze off! Let me drift, let me think I have nothing to do when I wake up. So beautiful. So untrue.


Might it be that the best part of this day (of so many days) is the morning? No? But consider it: there is a mist playing with the low lying areas around me. Maybe mist is too delicate a term. Fog -- there is that. A pocket of fog. I don't experience it at first, when I set out...


...but eventually I see it. By the water. On the other side of the lake, for example.


So pretty! Lake water, sky, ducks, gulls, autumn leaves -- all in the tangy air of the early day.


Sure, on a day like this, no part seems hostile or cruel. On my noon hour walk down State Street, I am struck by how friendly the world is -- particularly that side of the world that walks on the sun-drenched side of the street.


Friendly and kind. On a beautiful day like today, I see the kindness is many, many small and large details. Consider the three sisters who came into the shop late in the evening. A joyous trio, ending a long and grueling day with a meal and then a quick shopping adventure. Their laughter was my laughter.

But I keep going back to the beginning of the day, when I woke up, unchained my bike and set out to campus. The forgiving mood was born then. On that snappishly cool ride along the foggy water's edge.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

the sweetness of potatoes


Dark outside. Even though here, in Cambridge, the promise is of a brilliant day. No matter. Not my brilliant day. I can only realize perhaps a modicum of brilliance if I get to where I have to be on time.

And so I hurry.


And I'm okay. I make it. To the airport, onto my flight, out of Boston.


Sadly so. And it continues: goodbye coastline, hi Detroit, hi cloudy drizzly Madison -- thank you for not delaying anything. I'm in.

Well, "in" is relative. I'm in Madison, but out and running. To class. Out and onto another bus and quickly to the little shop where I moonlight.

You know what's the definition of a good, kind boss? One who thinks to bring you some potatoes from her uncle's farm, because she remembers that you like the fresh and honest bit.

Quiet evening at the shop. Not really surprised. cold drizzle outside, Monday night.

A sad night, a tired night. An okay night. A transitional night.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

a working Sunday

For someone who favors combining colors of golden yellow and sky blue and who favors warm over biting cold – this day could not be more perfect.

But, there was the matter of work. My daughter had meetings, Ed had notes to make on his trial transcripts and I had an endless list of work items to attend to. The most important (because it was also the most time sensitive) was the drafting of a memo with my take on issues before the court in Ed’s case.

And so we spent a good part of the day indoors.

Ed and I did break for a late morning espresso at Simon’s (a favorite in the neighborhood where my daughter lives)…

(If there were to be a poster boy for Simon’s wouldn’t you think he’d fit the bill?)

On that brief walk, I could only marvel: that sky! Is it even a Boston sky? (Stolen for sure from the Midwest!)

Finally, in the afternoon, we have to stop work. Ed has a NYC bus to catch. My daughter is done with her tasks, I put mine aside. We walk with Ed to the subway and send him off.

My girl and I walk through Cambridge neighborhoods. If I can just soak in those colors, all will be well.




We make our way to a favorite ice cream shop. Is there any late October day back home that makes me want ice cream? In the shade of yellow and blue...


Pumpkin and cinnamon please.


In the evening we opt for a pizza dinner. Not just any pizza, Cambridge, 1 pizza.


And a Burdick’s hot chocolate. Intensely rich, dark dark hot chocolate, in tiny paper cups. The markers of a good Cambridge week-end, coming to a close.


We head home. Tomorrow at dawn I’ll be catching my connections to Madison. To school, and then to the wee shop on the corner. Refreshed? Yes, that, but mainly pleased that I have had this moment to ease things a bit for people who, whether they admit it or not, could use a little break from a tough time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

boston breaks

It's as if you had to hurry. Any minute, the storms would hit the city. I mean, we had a night's break, so that my daughter and I could run down to the South Station area, to eat dinner at the magnificent O Ya...



But after, we prepared for the worst. We contemplated leaving town, watching triple features in local theaters -- anything to stay out of the impending storms.

I should note that just past midnight, Ed arrived on a bus from New York. The trial halted for the week-end and we suggested he come up north and take his mind off of litigation. He came up north alright, but I can't say we took a break from discussing the details of the proceedings. In fact, halfway through the night I tuned out and dozed off, but even then, I would still pick up telltale snippets: could you repeat the question... on voir dire... on cross exam.... and then she said -- just one more thing...

Saturday morning. Everyone slept in. Nothing tunes out the noise of your beastly enemies as well as a whole morning given over to sleep.

Later, much much later, the three of us set out for a walk. The rain seems to have emptied much of Cambridge, and certainly the chairs colorfully scattered across the Harvard campus were empty...


But we were spared. Though the sky remained threatening, it was an empty threat. Our umbrellas stayed tucked in our bags.

We paused for a very very late breakfast (can 3:30 be properly regarded as the breakfast hour?) at the Friendly Toast, near MIT...


After, we decided to take a chance. Ignoring the dark clouds, we hiked downtown. All the way across the river...


toward the lively Back Bay area, and eventually to the Public Gardens.


Ed was clearly unwinding. Only on the subway ride back to Cambridge did I notice how tired he looked. The face cannot hide the strain of a a tough week.


Late at night, the storms finally came, breaking the silence of the skies. We made our way to a local place (French? Cuban?), Chez Henri, where the atmosphere is boisterous and cheerful, drowning out the pounding rain outside.


We ended the day with a pear tatin. And ice cream. Defiantly, spiritedly. Matching the temperament of these late October days.


Friday, October 23, 2009

to Cambridge

On the flight to Boston, I have the pleasure of sitting next to a very beautiful couple (in my estimation). She’s chatty and though I usually prefer quiet, especially if I have been up since before dawn, I find myself sort of enjoying her comments and questions. Eventually I reciprocate and ask what she does.

My husband and I, we’re funeral home directors.

It’s a family business – a fifth generation hand-me-down from his parents. Lucky thing she met her future husband while still in college. Realizing her fate, she quickly switched majors to funeral science.

Did you even know you can major in funeral science?

Somewhere in Oklahoma, in a small town, this 30 year old beautiful woman with her somewhat less beautiful but still cool enough guy and their four children hang around the funeral home. The kids go there after school. We have our home just down the block, but there’s also a little apartment above the business. You know, my husband lived there as a kid.


So what’s trendy in funerals these days? I guess business is steady. People die in spite of the economy,..
That’s actually not true. Data show that during the depression/recession, the death rate goes down.
We speculate why this may be so, but neither of us comes up with a plausible theory.
And the trimmings, so to speak, people buy differently during a recession.

Have you noticed a push toward cremation?
I’m getting really into this. I have never chatted with a stunningly beautiful funeral director before.
Quite the opposite. 90% of the families choose the traditional arrangement (she means plunking the old relative into a cemetery plot). Do you know it’s cheaper to ship your dead relative to us in Oklahoma than to bury him or her, say, in California, where plots cost a fortune?

I did not know that.

And this trip to Boston, is it vacation? I think everyone needs a break – from four kids, from funerals…
Well, yes and no. We’re going to a convention and we’re adding on a few days for fun.
A convention?
Yes, of funeral directors. We’re quite excited to see what’s new out there.

The flight circles a little, over coastal waters and Massachusetts colors...


It’s not raining yet when I arrive in Cambridge, but the predictions are ominous. The great Midwest storms are reaching the coast tomorrow.


I hurry toward my daughter's apartment. We have the eating venues mapped out for the week-end. The great thing about loving good food is that eating it is not weather dependent.

Let the rains come down.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I read in the news tonight that a Northwest flight overshot Minneapolis by about 150 miles. For two hours, they were flying…nowhere. Possibly the pilots were asleep. Typically, not being a fan of delays, I would have, myself, inquired as to why we weren’t arriving where we should be arriving as the clock ticked past the scheduled arrival hour. Perhaps others don't fret about tardiness as much as I do.

I’m not concerned with a rerun of pilots oversleeping the city where we should land. Even though, early in the morning (again, before sunrise) I’m taking a Northwest flight to Minneapolis. I like Northwest. And I think it’s a good thing that their planes fly of their own accord, even when pilots doze off or lose track of time and destination.


My big challenge, though, is not in getting to Boston on time (Boston is my final destination), but in getting all my work done in the way that it has to be done before I scoot off for a (mostly) non working week-end.

Right now, it’s hard to imagine that there may come a day when I will not be counting how much sleep I missed in the past night or week or month. And there will come a day when I will regard this cold and rainy spell as pretty tame weather. For now, I can hardly stay awake long enough to report that today felt awfully chilly.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

notes on a period of more or less twelve hours

Tuesday, midnight. Can’t sleep. It could be that we’re sleeping on the floor and the sheet beneath me is moving too much and the pillow is moving as well, having the whole floor to explore and discover.

We’re actually in a pleasant enough building – a quarter of a block from Union Square. One of these:


We are in a partial basement. In the morning, I see high heels walk by in front of the window.

But really, I am not hugely uncomfortable. I do not need fluff and comfort to sleep. But I need a calm mind.

My thoughts are running through the day’s proceeding. If Ed is experiencing them on an intellectual level, I am on that and ten others. At midnight, there on the floor of a building on east 17th, they’re all clamoring to be heard.

At some predawn hour I finally doze. I tell myself that this is only the second night of no sleep. I can usually take up to three before I break down.

In the morning, Ed and I have some free time. The trial is full of interruptions due to events that suddenly call away this person or that. Amazing, really.

But we don’t really have free time. Not free as in free. Free as in Ed doesn’t have to be in court until past noon.

We walk out and take note of the Union Square market. Manhattan’s big-time farmers market. Not more abundant than the one in Madison. But bigger in the urban sense: each stall is large and the buildings in the background are big and the people – well, they’re not big, they’re just you and me only wonderfully less monochromatic and less frumpy.







We stroll through the market briefly and I remind Ed that I really would like a morning coffee. We go to Starbucks, but I see that he is worried. The small wait at Starbucks pushes him to an impatient restlessness that I never see back in Madison.

On now to Filene’s Basement. Ed needs shirts. His one shirt wont do for the weeks of trial, and I don’t care how good the radiator is for drying purposes, it’s not the same.

We pick shirts that are under $20. Ties? No. He has one that he bought ten years ago. Still has the price tag on it. $3.99. Will do. [Wince]

And now there is a short bit of morning left. Ed wants to head down to the NY Supreme Court to do some research on previous cases implicating some of these same players.

We do that. The basement, where the records and files are kept, is an amazing place. Rough, shoddy even. But with character. Of the people – from all wakes of life.

But we have to hurry. It’s noon. Ed’s case resumes at 12:15. My flight leaves at 2:29. We head toward the proper court building. Ed's good in his new shirt, funeral suit and never worn tie, even as I may have played a little with the colors and textures, given the chance. But, to me, he also looks amazingly vulnerable. Wishing to be maybe closer to Lake Mendota than to the Verrazano Narrows and the Atlantic Ocean.


I rejoin the trial, but only for a small handful of minutes. I tell myself – I know where this is heading. I know the legal arguments. There will be no surprises. Still…

But, I have a job. Two jobs in fact. By 1 I am hailing a cab. Over the Brooklyn Bridge we go.

By 1:45, I know that I will not make my flight. The cabbie wants to cut the traffic by exiting the freeway. Mistake. We are out of luck. I am out of luck. I should be at La Guardia. Instead, I am somewhere here…


More manipulations that add dollars to the meter, but cut away travel minutes. At 2, he pulls up to the Delta terminal. By 2:15 I am on the plane, ready to head home.

I have work for school and I have to work tonight at the little shop. But right now, on this dinker of a plane, I cannot work. I am just tired. I ask the attendant for a blanket. For a long long time, I sit, wrapped in it, wanting to get warm inside and out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

may it please the court…

I was, of course, mesmerized.

I was also tired. Up at 3, one flight in the dark, one just at sunrise.


I force myself to work in the air and that's good. Like taking a sedative.

In New York, I blow $29 on a cab because I have a chance to get to the Court House for the “all rise” part (i.e. the very beginning).


Why the cabbie gets bogged down in Brooklyn before crossing over to Manhattan is one of those mysteries of urban life, but no matter. I arrive on time. And he gets a fine tip. Make that then $35.

The courthouse has many, many security measures at the point of entry, ones that are at odds with security measures at airports. I wonder which ones are more effective.

I enter. Such an old, old court room...


...And then all assemble...


...and the trial begins. Except not really. The pre-lunch session is a review of motions and objections. I had forgotten about all this. I hadn’t been in court on a client case in nearly ten years. I had forgotten the dynamics. I had, most of all, forgotten how nothing, absolutely nothing beats being sharp and prepared. And honorable.

We recess for lunch and the team of attorneys ushers us to a place where lots of judges and lawyers eat. They then tactfully leave us alone, thinking surely Ed wants to take the time to celebrate his birthday with his occasional traveling companion. (Eh.. everyday's a birthday!)

We walk back amidst a flurry of last minute words about strategy, and litigation, and me asking -- why does the court allow these kinds of lawsuits to go forward?


At the trial, following opening statements, Ed begins to testify. He does well and even manages a wry laugh when asked the date of his birth. Today actually. Really? The judge is surprised. (Wry laugh.) You should have told us earlier. (Boisterous laugh now. Because what -- would they have sang a round of happy birthday then?) The judge, a no nonsense woman, has a sense of humor.

Today’s segment of the trail ended at five. Actually two minutes before five. Mustn’t run the stenographer and guard into overtime.

My older daughter is in town for her own lawyerly work and she sits with me for part of the proceeding. To compare notes and to reflect some more, I think, on the legal process.

She, Ed and I take a long walk and finally settle in for an end of the day drink: me: glass of wine; daughter: half a glass of wine; Ed (stripped now of his courthouse finery): do you have diet ginger ale? (they don’t).



My daughter takes off for DC and Ed and I walk through the Village. You know the streets – Bleeker, Spring, MacDougal, Cornelia.


At Cornelia, we stop at a place I thought he might like – Pearl’s Oyster Bar.

We eat oysters and share a lobster and I can’t say the evening feels celebratory and yet it does.


I’ll leave tomorrow, quite early actually, but I know things are moving forward and I have great respect for the attorneys who have worked so hard on this case, to do well by Ed (and, therefore, by his parents).

On a lighter note, I cannot believe that I had the opportunity to see Ed in a suit and tie (see photos above). Forget the docksiders. I know no sane person would wear brown docksiders with a bluish gray pinstripe suit, but I have to believe the judge never noticed. If she did, she never let on.