29 December 2009

Times Go By

This will be the last neurotic-nostalgic-year-end blog, promise. I'm under the influence of shorter darker days. Colder air. That time of year. I apologize. I don’t do much in the way of resolutions, and try not to become too terribly immersed in soul-searching, but the spirit of Scrooge has come over me like a shroud.

Another year. Another decade. How did this happen? Time evaporates, more rapidly each year. As if everything we do, every activity, every emotion, were sucked into an invisible vortex, jammed together with all the other years, all the other people and all the emotions that go with all that. An emotional black hole.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we celebrated the arrival of the new millennium while expecting the demon of Y2K to wreak havoc on our now nearly obsolete technology? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I sat in my CT home-office fighting back tears, clutching the phone to discover the whereabouts of my husband and friends in downtown Manhattan. Wasn’t it just the other day that my daughters graduated college [2000 and 2003] and now they have completed graduate school – Dana in practice and Julie on her way. Can it really be five years ago that we lost Rusty and four years since I resettled in Laguna Beach? I know it’s a cliché, but where has the time gone?

Time, unlike nature, moves beyond any vacuum in our lives, unobstructed, constantly plowing forward like a high speed train. And, like those trains, speeds also seem to accelerate each year. Something about age that makes the time pass all the faster, we all speak about it, marvel at it, complain of it. No stopping the clock, not in this linear space-time continuum. The only respite is the length of the day and here is where time tricks us. Just as the year winds down and the days have become almost unbearably short, winter solstice kicks in and the process reverses. So in the midst of darkness the light returns. Just a little bit at a time, nearly imperceptible, but there if you pay attention. The days grow longer, as if adding time to our lives, even as we watch the calendar pages turn and memories take on greater prominence than the moment.

The passing of time yet another reason, as my daughters remind me often, to be conscious of each moment, which so quickly slips away. More of our lives devoted to yesterday than tomorrow. I suppose this is why I find myself of late resenting the proximity to senior status. Before long, I will be old. More and more of my life is past and less in the future. I don’t fear dying, not at all, I only wish to live as well as possible as long as possible. If I don’t appreciate each moment as it comes, it will too soon be gone. As so many are. The first decade of the new millennium merely memory now. Fodder for nostalgia. In the blink of an eye, we will find ourselves celebrating the quarter century – OMG!

Happy new year.

28 December 2009

It's Complicated

As soon as the presents were opened, breakfast complete, Julie and I honored the Xmas holiday by going to a movie; before Noon, the theater was packed. No wonder distributors make such a fuss over films opening Christmas Day. Clearly a tradition enjoyed by not just the Jews, but those who favor an outing or simply a less traditional day.

We saw “It’s Complicated.” Always happy to watch Meryl Streep work her magic. Lighter weight films are preferable on a holiday, no need to be immersed in existential struggles or conflicts.

To my surprise, the story is as existential as they come. What does it mean to be married? To be in a loving partnership that never lives up to its promise. To be left behind. To make choices that impact so severely and forever those we love most. That’s what this so-called comedy was about and it hit me hard. Hard for me to hold back tears at several scenes and, once out of sight of my daughter, the faucet blew. I loved my husband dearly from the first moment I met him, sometimes unexpectedly and often irrationally, but love him I did, and he loved me, although our relationship was often tenuous and painful. Not so much opposites attract, as our values were on the same page, but two people who approach life differently and seek different outcomes. What we had in common was our children, our community, our mutual respect and a lovely group of friends. It should have been enough.

His loss was devastating to me. I have found it exceedingly hard to transfer affection and thus have been denied [or denied myself] romance for most of a decade. [Although present me with an architect with the humor of Steve Martin and I'm there.] I still find myself reaching for the phone to call him after I’ve spoken to one of the girls as he was, despite his frequent absences, a co-parent. No one loved our children more nor shared the same concerns as we. I often complained that I was a single parent, and then the reality set in. He’s not here.

Unlike the characters of the film, there is no possibility of communication. No chance for reconciliation. No apologies. No connection whatsoever. I find myself mourning as fully now as I did five years ago, August, when Rusty died and closed the door behind our lives so tightly and so fiercely, as if a vault. Only the memories remain and these grow dim with age.

Sometimes it is so terribly hard to live in the present when we long so profoundly for those of the past. I indulge myself in these moments of sadness infrequently and without remorse, because to live in the hearts of those left behind is to live forever. A psalm. The words imprinted on my mother’s headstone. Gone 33 years and even now, now and then, I wish I might chat with her as well.

Sometimes I so deeply wish I might go back into my past and start again. Impossible of course. The stuff only of movies and fantasy fiction. And then I think: what exactly would I go back to? And would I want to live through these losses all over again? Better to keep moving forward. Stopping only occasionally to remember, to weep, to mourn, to reflect, and to smile in gratitude for the time we had.

That’s all there is. That's all there ever was.

13 December 2009

Harbor House Cafe

I frequently walk down to Harbor House Café for Sunday breakfast. Armed with my favorite sections of the NY Times I enjoy a lazy morning and an indulgence: pancakes, a short stack of course. Harbor House is a large place, with classic counter and booth seating, with an adjoining glassed in patio with patio style glass-topped tables and plastic chairs. I favor that space as the light there is better suited for reading. Open 24 hours, this café, originally called a coffee shop, is equivalent to an East Coast diner. Reminds me of long ago late night dates with the gigantic menu of cheap eats and the slightly grungy ambiance that fits poor students and large families.

Down a dark hallway to the ladies room there is a large framed photo of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke that always makes me smile. This is but one of hundreds of film-related photos and posters that line every inch of wall, and I mean every inch. These are not signed photo’s as at Sardi’s. Nor are they reserved to celebrities who might have lived in SoCal. No rhyme or reason. I once asked a waitress the significance of the film memorabilia and she had no idea. I asked at the counter, a shrug. I can only conjecture that the owner has a passion for film. Perhaps a family member has a Hollywood photo business. Or some poster store shut down just as the café was opening: instant décor.

A clue to the mystery is found on the website: Harbor House was founded in 1939, an exceptional year for film. Gone with the Wind. Gunga Din. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Wizard of Oz. Destry Rides Again. And the year before [one has to look] Holiday and Jezebel, two of my favorites. So I understand the passion for film at that time. Makes sense. Why Harbor House Café? The right of ownership.

The photos, while lots of fun and recalling many of my own favorite movies and actors, creates a real disconnect in this place more frequented by bikers and blue color workers than stars. I need metaphors and I can’t find one here. We are 70 miles from Hollywood. The photo montage covers nearly a century of film icons, well before the café was founded. As far as I can tell, even the wait staff has nothing to do with film production. Now and then I look up to see James Dean or Audrey Hepburn smiling at me and while a pleasant distraction, makes no sense. Of course, a patron with the New York Times in her face makes no sense either [LA Times and OC Register sold in machines just outside the door] so I am just as much a contradiction in this place as the photos. Perhaps that’s the connection in the end – we come from everywhere and end up here.

Whatever. Paul Newman always makes me smile.