Wrapping up 2017 in Alabama

I’m not a regular writer of Christmas letters that chronicle the year, but this has been a busy year, and we’re far away from family and many friends.

January

  • I decided not to retire this year, something I’d been considering. But realized that the work that was coming my way this year would require being in shape, so  …
  • On January 4 Lifelongnewyorker started a diet, determined to lose all of the seven pounds gained since the election, plus a few more. Every day began with two scrambled eggs, with a modest protein-plus-salad at lunch, and smaller portions at dinner. The most important part: cutting out what had become my customary two three glasses of wine at night.
  • Mid-month, The Abandoned One’s band, Out of System Transfer, had an open night on their Southern tour between gigs in Atlanta, Georgia, and Pascagoula, Mississippi. We cleared out our garage, invited friends and neighbors, and had a short show. IMG_5668
  • Mr. NewYorker spends lots of time at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, where he is a docent; when he’s not doing tours or attending docent meetings, he’s putting in serious hours building sets, watering the lawn and whatever else needs to be done at the Cloverdale Playhouse. In January, he worked on set for The 39 Steps.

February

  • Mr. NewYorker turned 65. We celebrated with a trip home to New York and tickets to Hamilton.  I was supposed to speak at Fordham, but a blizzard intervened (and I recommend staying at a Manhattan hotel near a subway line during a blizzard) and reminded us of how cold it gets in the city. We got to see old friends, and took a long walk through Carroll Gardens and Red Hook with Lifelongnewyorker’s sister and brother-in-law. On Union Street, we popped into a bakery to buy regina cookies to take home.
  • Little did I know that this trip would be the first of many that added up to 100,000 miles this year. Lifelongnewyorker does not want to hear your airline stories. She has lived every single one of them. Business trips in February included Washington, D.C. and San Antonio.

March

  • Mr. Newyorker was cast in The Crucible and began rehearsing on nights and weekend. During the day, he helped build the set.
  • Because of the Great Washing Machine Disaster we moved, with our three cats, into a one-bedroom apartment at our local Homewood Suites. Here’s the short version: We didn’t notice that the washing machine hose was loose where it connected to the machine and was slowly leaking onto the tile floor. That steady drip saturated the subfloor, which caused the oak floor in the kitchen to buckle. Kitchen cabinets had to be removed and high-powered, loud dehumidifiers ran 24/7 to dry the subfloor.  The kitchen floor had to be ripped up, replaced and finished. Because the kitchen floor is contiguous with the dining room, the living room floor and the foyer, they too needed to be sanded and refinished. Which meant boxing up our belongings and having our furniture moved and put in storage. Oh, and because the seepage traveled in the other direction, too, we needed to pull up and replace the flooring in the hall and bedroom. Lessons learned: 1) turn off the water when the washing machine is not in use; 2) have good insurance.
  • And, if you want to see freaked-out cats, move them into a hotel for weeks.
  • Meanwhile, Lifelongnewyorker went to Austin, Washington DC, San Francisco and Dallas, where she saw an old high school friend for the first time in over 35 years and another friend for the first time in eight.

April

  • Thomas Proctor took over Mr. Newyorker’s life as he rehearsed for his role. Proctor is not the kind of person you actually want to live with. The play opened in late April to critical acclaim and sold-out audiences. With a post-apocalyptic setting, it was not only timely but one of the best productions Lifelongnewyorker has ever seen in community theater.
  • Lifelongnewyorker went to New York and to Lexington, Kentucky, where she observed this lamppost. IMG_0456

May

  • We were very happy to move back home, and pledged to be more vigilant about potential disasters.  Lifelongnewyorker soon became convinced the roof was leaking.  (It wasn’t.)
  • A lifelong dream fulfilled: Lifelongnewyorker spoke at Harvard. Another highlight of that trip: Going into the Legal Seafood in Cambridge for dinner, grabbing a seat at the end of the bar and finding a brass plaque that identified it as Robert B. Parker’s usual seat. IMG_0482
  • Later that month found me in Philadelphia, which is much better than W.C. Fields would have had you believe.  It’s a great restaurant town.

June

  • The garden looked great in June and, when I wasn’t in Washington or New York, I noticed a lot of mating behavior among the lizards.
  • Mr. Newyorker put on his best Southern accent and appeared in a staged reading at Cloverdale Playhouse.
  • We may have to consider a new name for the Abandoned One, who spent the month looking for a new apartment to share with his girlfriend.
  • After six months, LIfelongnewyorker was pleased to have lost 15 pounds.  It didn’t last.

July

  • IMG_5752We flew to Baltimore to our niece’s house to surprise Lifelongnewyorker’s older sister and her husband and celebrate their 70th birthdays.  Almost everyone was there, except for The Abandoned One, who had other plans.  It was great to see all nine of my parents’ great-grandchildren in one place, a rare event.
  • I went to New Orleans for a two-day meeting, and drove.
  • Mr. NewYorker and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a trip to Hawaii.  We married young.

August

  • We spent the first half of the month in Kauai and Maui. The food was good, and we celebrated our anniversary with exotic cocktails and a lot of dessert. Lifelongnewyorker gained at least five pounds.
  • While in Hawaii, I got my lifetime Senior pass to National Parks for $10, before the price went up to $80. There are rewards to aging.
  • We also met a local restauranteur who hailed from Red Hook and whose Italian chef/husband made great pizza.  This one is artichokes and pepperoncini.  It was unbelievably hot.  But good. IMG_0577
  • When we came home, I decided it was time to replace my 10-year old car.  I bought a Miata with a retractable hard roof which I drove to Pensacola for, yes, another meeting.  We call it the transformer car. IMG_0598

September

  • We joined the Old Cloverdale community garden and planted lettuce and arugula.IMG_0606 (1)
  • Mr. Newyorker continued to hone his set building skills on And Then There Were None. 
  • Lifelongnewyorker went to DC, Boston and Colorado Springs.  In Colorado Springs, I had dinner with two friends from my teaching days.  It was great to see them both.

October

  • Took our annual drive to the Kentuck Arts Festival, one of the highlights of life in Alabama.  Great art, good music, nice drive and, since it’s October the weather might be in the 80s but the humidity is gone.  This year, though, rain threatened.
  • October is cotton season in Alabama. img_0652-e1513551311549.jpg
  • Lifelongnewyorker has no idea what else her husband did in October. She was on the road to: Joliet, Illinois; Clinton, Tennessee;  Pensacola Beach, Florida; New York; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Menlo Park, California. In October, she achieved platinum medallion status on Delta. And yet she’s still somewhere around number 36 on the upgrade list for first class.
  • While in California, I got to spend some time with a former student, who is as smart and funny as I remember her.IMG_0612
  • One of the meetings was at the Alex Haley Farm, which is a magical place even though you’re not allowed to smoke, use alcohol, or swear.
  • Another meeting was at Facebook. The campus is everything you’ve ever heard about it; I can’t say anything else because they make you sign a non-disclosure agreement agreeing not to reveal what you’ve seen inside.

November

  • On a rare weekend at home and one with beautiful weather, we took a day trip to Moundville Archeological Park, a Mississippian culture city that once held over 10,000 people. They built mounds and specialized in funerary practices.  Like Horseshoe Bend, it’s beautiful and haunted .
  • Lifelongnewyorker travelled to DC and San Francisco.
  • Mr. Newyorker help build the set for Little Women.
  • We flew home for our regular Thanksgiving at Lifelongnewyorker’s sister’s house in New Jersey where both ham and turkey are served and bourbon is an increasingly popular ingredient in side dishes.
  • The next day, after driving the Abandoned One to work in Brooklyn, we went to Manhattan where Lifelongnewyorker was scheduled to appear on MSNBC. She got full hair and make-up and then, minutes before going on, was bumped because a holiday crowd panicked at at the Marble Arch Underground station in London.
  • We stocked up on baccala and regina cookies and brought them back to Alabama.

December

  • We returned to New York the week after Thanksgiving so Lifelongnewyorker could do an educators’ workshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we could enjoy some time in the city.
  • We both came down with terrible colds.
  • I brought regina cookies back with me. The woman in the row in front of us on the plane was carrying 20 pounds of Junior’s cheesecake. If I thought they’d stay fresh,  I would have brought back a dozen fresh bagels too.
  • On December 12, we felt a lot better than we have in a long time about living in Alabama.
  • And now, in mid-December, we’re looking forward to a visit from Abandoned One and his girlfriend.
  • And at the end of the year, we’re resting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is that Kid Thinking?

Outdoor refrigerationWith about a month before Lifelongnewyorker heads to Alabama, we decided that it was time to announce the move to the wider world of seldom-seen friends, acquaintances and relatives with whom we have yet to exchange e-mail addresses.  And what better way than via Christmas card?   So this year we ordered up more than usual, and had the following (more or less) printed inside:

We’ve made a few resolutions for 2010:

  1. Accept a new job (Lifelongnewyorker) 
  2. Retire (MrNYer) 
  3. Move to Montgomery, Alabama (both of us) 
  4. Stay in New York (Soon-to-be-Abandoned)

We added a few more details about timing, and gave our email addresses.  Cards in the mail, we congratulated ourselves on having now finally notified just about everyone we could think of who might care, and probably a few who might not.   We thought, too, that the announcement might possibly put some folks in touch and elicit some interesting reactions. 

My uncle, one of only two of my mother’s siblings still living, took the bait.  I’m told that he spoke to my sister first, wanting to know,  “What is that kid thinking!?”   As if I had announced a new hobby of wrestling with alligators or plans to vacation in Myanmar.

My sister helped smooth the conversation he had with me later that day by putting it all in a rational perspective.  It’s a great job, she told him.   They’ve thought about it a lot, she assured him.  Mr. NYer is indeed old enough to retire, she attested.  She even went above and beyond, creating a whole future  for Mr. NYer in which he devoted himself to nurturing his already-green thumb, got a job at a nursery, and became a master gardener.   Uncle Dyed-in-the-Wool NYer, a gardener himself, was slightly mollified.

By the time he called me, his tone was less incredulous and more, well avuncularly cautionary.  Not once did the words “crazy,” “nuts,” “lunatic,” or the phrase “take leave of your senses,” enter the conversation.  He allowed time for me to make my case and then, in a tone that was uncannily like my mother’s voice, said, “Well, if this is what you really want …”  

What could he do?  My mind was  set.  Crazy kids.

I’ve gotten similar reactions from others who have a hard time seeing me in the South.  Or perhaps anywhere but in New York.  Some have urged me to learn to speak more slowly, and less directly.  Several have advised me to rent a place for a year, not to rush to buy, “because , you know, it might not work out.” 

Here’s the question:  Is this reaction more about me, or about the place I’m going?  Maybe my uncle is remembering that I was the kid who suffered from such profound homesickness anytime I went to spend a week with cousins that my mother would have to come rescue me by the third day.  Repeatedly.  But that doesn’t explain the reaction of others.  What’s that about?  Do they think I’m inflexible, brash, intense, loud and too pushy for life outside the New York bubble? 

I got some insight when I posted this picture on Facebook yesterday.  It’s the scene right outside my kitchen door  on Christmas Eve.   Like most people who experience real winter, I’ve always relied on the cold to provide extra refrigeration when needed.  Cooking lots of fish?   What better way to make room in the refrigerator than to stick the beer, wine and crab sauce in the snow.  But yesterday, after doing what I’ve done for years, I looked  down and realized that this was not going to be an option in Alabama.  And then I realized why all the kitchens I’d seen in the Alabama houses I’ve been looking at online have such HUGE refrigerators.  They don’t have the outdoor spill-over space.  So I posted the picture and updated my status:  Sudden realization.  I will need a bigger refrigerator in Alabama.

Along came comments about the recent arrival of “e-lek-tricity” and keeping ice boxes on  the porch. (Oddly, no root cellar jokes.) And then it clicked:  Like me, most of the people I know have  no idea what life is like outside New York and a few other places, like Florida.  What they know about Alabama is drawn from movies, television, country music, redneck jokes, and black & white footage of civil rights scenes from the 1960s.  It’s a stereotype, just like New York is a stereotype for people who have never lived here.  

I don’t know exactly what life will be like in Montgomery.  I imagine it will be different in many ways, and similar in others.  It will be unfamiliar, but I’m looking forward to the cognitive dissonance.  I love the idea of suddenly seeing things from an entirely different perspective.  I liked looking at the stuff sitting in my snow and coming to the realization that that’s not the way it is everywhere.  I’m looking forward to seeing lots of things with new eyes.   And yes, sometimes  that difference will most likely be mystifying, frustrating, and possibly disorienting.  I won’t know all the rules of behavior.  I won’t recognize all the produce in the supermarket.  I may not understand the allure of red velvet cake.   But I don’t labor under the delusion that New York’s ways define the norm, or that everything is measured against  New York’s standards.   

My father used to tell the story of serving in the army during World War II with a fellow New Yorker, a real blowhard, as my father saw it.  This guy, a “working stiff,” never stopped bragging and letting the poor GIs from Kansas or Texas know that nothing they had could compare to life in the big city, with its shows, lights and fancy night clubs.  Dad would listen to this for as long as he could stand, and then ask the guy to tell about the nightclubs he frequented.  The guy never left the Bronx, as Dad knew, and the question usually silenced him for a time.   

I won’t be that guy.  It’s true that New York is amazing; it’s singular, not like any place else in the world.  But it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of life.  I’ve long held that every American should try to live in New York for a while, preferably when they’re young.  A corollary to this rule is my belief, too, that lifelong New Yorkers should, at some point in their lives, live someplace else.  Call it a reality check.