Inked In Perpetuity


“Women, don’t get a tattoo. That butterfly on your breast looks great when you’re twenty or thirty, but when you get to seventy, it stretches into a condor.” — Billy Elmer

I recently read an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about Southern Hellfire, a local tattoo parlor that’s raking in money big time. In the middle of a strip of bars, the parlor stays open until the wee hours. The owner explained that his business is slow during the daytime, but, bam! Once the bars close, his place is hopping with customers who decide that ink is the perfect way to cap off the evening. “I’m bored,” a one a.m. patron declared to the reporter. “I’m getting another tattoo, so I might as well pierce something, too.”

I just don’t get it. What will this girl say about whatever red-purple-blue swirl-snake-butterfly that’s still crawling down her sixty-year-old arm decades from now?

The news story made me shudder, thinking about the permanence of the decision to tat. I imagined my nineteen-year-old self in a tattoo parlor. Granted, that’s pretty hard to conjure up. Back then, the only people who inked were Popeye, sailors, and guys who ran the Tilt-a-Whirl at the travelling carnival, so it never would have occurred to me to consider a tattoo. Even in my youth, I wouldn’t have volunteered for needle pokes. On top of that, I had no money, even for a cheap little ”I Heart Mom.” But, just for the sake of argument, I wondered what inky selections I could be wearing today. Then it hit me. Rod McKuen.

Once upon a time, I was enamored with the poetry of the late Rod McKuen. When my friend Marlene and I found out he’d be performing at the then-famous Mr. Kelly’s on Rush Street, we threw down a hefty chunk of our summer job money to be in the audience. The show was in the early evening, before Rush Street’s bewitching hour when all of the horny young Don Draper-types showed up after their tough day in the office. At Mr. Kelly’s, we weren’t quite old enough to order cocktails, so we drank overpriced Cokes, acting like we knew what to do in a night club. We felt so sophisticated, sitting at our tiny round table and inhaling our Newports. Our gravelly-voiced idol enthralled us with his melancholy.

“How can we be sure of anything

the tide changes.

The wind that made the grain wave gently yesterday

blows down the trees tomorrow.”

Wow! We were dazzled by the depth of each gloomy line. Everything about Rod epitomized cool: the unruly blond lock that hung over his eyes, his rolled-up-sleeved shirt and worn jeans, even the way he slumped on the stool. His words were profound, piercing us to the core. We nearly swooned when he recited our favorites, like the one about his lost cat named Sloopy.

We’d given each other his books, Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows and Listen to the Warm, as birthday gifts, and sent copied passages to each other in our weekly letters from different colleges. In my dorm room, my bulletin board was covered with his most angsty lines I’d copied as inspiration about Life with a capital L. And here we were, so hip, seeing him in person.

Had I chosen a tattoo back then, I would have strived for something meaningful, something laced with my version of sophistication. With Rod McKeun as my muse, maybe I‘d have a likeness of his cat Sloopy on my calf. Or, inspired by another favorite, “Stanyan Street,” with its dour line “Only the clock, moving toward rejection tomorrow, breaks the stillness,” there could be a now-drooping clock on my stomach. Or, a line from a poem swirling around my bicep? Maybe this one from “Listen to the Warm”: “For every star that falls to earth anew one glows,” Instead of the whole verse, I might have been more economical and simply had stars encircling my neck.

Fortunately for me, today’s tattoo fad was decades from blossoming, so I was spared the lifelong display of what I once took for creativity and coolness. Rest in peace, Rod McKeun. You’re my reason why I am against getting tattoos.






My Happy Place

“One retiree’s Wyoming is another retiree’s Arkansas.” – Maureen Rogers – Pink Slip blog

My cousin Maureen alerted me to Bankrate’s “best places to retire” list which puts Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota, and Iowa as the top four spots. Knowing that we’ve visited Mike’s dad in Atlantic, Iowa, many times, she dangled that carrot in front of me as an alternative to our Naperville home up North. Sorry, Mo, I’m not biting. I guess Florida seems too clichéd, so Bankrate had to shun the same-old, same-old, but, if I were going to list places I’d avoid, these four would be pretty close to the top of my list. North Dakota, even though its claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of my husband and father-in-law, is my Hell, No Number One.

It seems that every day there’s a new list of the best places to retire. This week, my second home town, Sarasota, made it to the top of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a score derived from a blend of essential elements of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. (Am I the only one who is cringing at the lack of parallel construction here? But I digress.) Sarasota seems to star on the “best of…” lists frequently. A couple years ago, Siesta Beach was named Number One Beach by none other than Dr. Beach himself. This year, TripAdvisor and AARP named it number one. Over the years, Sarasota’s accolades included #1 Small City Art Destination by American Style magazine and CNBC’s and “Best Places to Retire” lists.

So, what makes one place retirement-worthy over another? Depends on who you ask. For me, it’s Sarasota. Sure, weather has a lot to do with it. Warm weather translates into being outside, going for neighborhood walks, hanging around poolside with a book, walking across Ringling Bridge over the Sarasota Bay, and sampling the different vibes at every beach. Sarasota has lots of sunshine and blue skies, in woefully short supply in Illinois, whose days upon end of gloomy winter gray wear me down. I haven’t had a pair of socks on since December, and the lack of wintery layers lifts my spirits.

Sarasota’s waterfront dazzles me. The drive along Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota features gulf waters, boats moored offshore and docked along the marina, and a park shaded by palm and banyans. Each beach has its own personality: scrubby sea grasses and rocks along the shore of Caspersan, white powder under a blanket of tourists at Siesta, a parade of boats and fishermen at the North Jetty. Even a simple trip to T.J. Maxx takes me over the Dona Bay and the Venice Bridge, and I’m eying mangroves and sailboats while out running errands.

I sit in our lanai and watch ospreys, killdeer, and turkey vultures swoop in and out of the palms and pines in the preserve. With our bedroom windows open and unshaded, I’m awakened by the rising sun over the palms in our preserve, and the calling birds are my alarm clock. Pairs of sandhill cranes meander through our neighborhood, and in spring, when their babies hatch, we watch the youngsters grow from fluffy newborns to spunky teenagers in a couple months’ time. Spoonbills, herons, ibises, turtles, and alligators big and small hang out around the ponds right around the corner. Our magenta bougainvillea, orange and pink hibiscus, and creamy white magnolias cheer my soul.

But life is more than scenery and sunshine. Not a problem. We’ve seen eight theatrical performances, including three shows at the Westcoast Black Theater, where we’ve volunteered to usher in exchange for free seats. We’ve listened to live bands play along the shores of the Ca d’Zan (the Ringling Mansion) while the sun dipped down over the bay. Outdoor art shows and farmers’ markets are weekly events. Neighborhood get-togethers pop up often, and no one has an issue with a party on a weekday. There’s hand-and-foot card group on Wednesdays, writers workshop on Thursdays. Some neighbors and I do water aerobics that’s just my speed three times a week. On Tuesdays, I meet with my Sarasota Literacy Council mentee who’s become a good friend. The food is pretty good, too. We had Cuban cuisine on Saturday, sampling the Epicurean Adventure menu at Michael’s on East. At Pop’s Sunset Grill, the grouper reuben and the seafood plate are delish, spiced up by the view of boats big and small gliding by.

What about things that make Sarasota less than perfect? Its popularity, for one. Funny how we snowbirds can grumble about the damn tourists clogging up the bridge to Siesta. The local news channel “Eight on your side” sets my teeth on edge. Jumbo pick-up trucks on swimming-pool-sized wheels, twangy accents, so-so pizzas, a zillion commercials for personal injury lawyers (“Who’s that? Jodat!” “Morgan and Morgan, for the People!”), and the creepy feeling that I’m surrounded by concealed handguns are some of the downsides. Its politics? Dreadful.

Our Sarasota season is winding down, and thinking of heading back to Naperville makes me smile. It’s Home with a capital H. Kids and grandkids, my mother, longtime friends, the Riverwalk, a Portillo’s salad, the chaise in my sunroom, and the flowering crab tree on our front lawn are calling me. Then there’s that beautiful city right down the road, the one with the gigantic bean its front yard. I’m ready for a Chicago fix, too.

Maybe the latest poll shows Wyoming as the place to be, but I’ll opt for Sarasota and Naperville, both retirement homes sweet homes.


Cooling Our Heels

“I took a speed course in waiting. Now I can wait an hour in only ten minutes.” — Steven Wright

I hate, hate, hate service calls. Hate them.

Twice a year, we have our furnace and AC checked. Weeks ago, Mike scheduled an appointment with Southern Comfort One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning, whose logo is a clock and whose TV jingle is “We’re always on time, or you don’t pay a dime.”

So, the guy was supposed to show up on Tuesday sometime between eight and noon. Mike waited; I went out. No one showed up. At 11:45, Adrianna, a dispatcher, called. So sorry; there were emergencies. No one would be coming to our house today. Mike wondered, since they’d known that they had emergencies hours earlier, couldn’t they have called at eight o’clock to cancel? He pointed out that he’d been stuck at home for four hours and might have chosen to put those hours to some other endeavor. Hmmm. Adrianna, bless her heart, didn’t have any answer for that, but she was so very sorry.

Mike was miffed. Adrianna was contrite. They rescheduled for today, Friday, but as consolation for cancelling, Adrianna promised we’d be first on the Friday list. Now it would be my turn to wait, while Mike golfed, but no worries! A guy would be ringing our doorbell by 9:00.

Except he wasn’t. At 9:45 I called. Darn the luck! There were more “emergencies” today, so of course the technician had to go to the “emergency” first. Lucky me, I was next on the list. I felt like I was living in a Seinfeld bit, where Jerry is standing at a car rental counter and the clerk is telling him that they don’t have a car for him. He says, “You know how to take the reservation. You just don’t know how to hold the reservation, and that’s the most important part of the reservation – the holding. Anyone can take a reservation.”

The guy on the phone was really, really, really sorry. Would I like to reschedule for another day? Hell, no. Spare me! No, it would not be more convenient to sit here on a third day and hope that no more emergencies arose, throwing my reserved time out the window again. I stayed put, and waited. Outside, the sun was shining, the temps nearing eighty, but I was trapped.

The tech showed up after eleven, and asked me how things were going. I told him. He pasted on his “Oh, that’s too bad” face and explained that One Hour overbooks maintenance calls, and bumps them when someone’s AC stops working altogether. Huh. How foolish we were to assume that an appointment was really an appointment. It just might be an appointment.  Anyway, he gave us a complimentary drain pan treatment, a sixty dollar value, and was gone around 12:30. Woohoo!

Okay, I get that it’s no tragedy that I couldn’t go to water aerobics at nine, and had to cancel my mani-pedi at eleven. Plus, being housebound gave me the time to write this nasty little rant. But I still hate service calls. Hate them.

Thanks, Southwest Airlines! And Happy Birthday, Mom!

“Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.” — Jennifer Yane

mom SW

Yesterday, Mom’s ninetieth  birthday, was the day that she flew to Chicago after spending three weeks with family in Arizona. Traveling on her birthday was a little weird, but the flight was cheapest on a Wednesday. Besides, she’d had two AZ birthday parties, and one set for May in Chicago, so she was ready to go home. Aboard the flight, Mom chatted with her seatmate, mentioning it was her birthday. When this passenger told a flight attendant, the crew went into action.

First, they crafted a cake from a spare roll of toilet paper and heart-tipped swizzle sticks poking up like candles. Then, a crown, assembled with pretzel snack bags speared together with swizzle sticks.

A flight attendant announced that Mary was celebrating her 90th birthday and asked everyone to turn on their lights to represent candles. Mom stood in the aisle, and the entire planeload sang a rousing “Happy birthday, dear Mary.” She “blew out” her candles and the lights went out. She posed for a photo with the FAs, and one promised to snail mail it to her.

When the plane landed, Mom was one of the passengers needing a wheelchair. “I think we should let Mary get off the plane first,” an attendant announced, and all the passengers agreed. My mother was whisked downstairs to meet my sister, and while they waited for her luggage, her fellow passengers continued to shower her with happy birthdays.

Southwest truly made my mother Queen for a Day, and she savored every second. When the luggage was loaded into the car, some family members took Mom out for pizza, where she proudly wore her crown and displayed her toilet paper cake.

In a phone call today, Mom told me all about it, her voice revealing the big smile that I knew was on her face. She’ll tell her tale over and over, I know. It’s been a tough few years. She’s survived a major heart attack and a triple bypass. Macular degeneration has caused her to give up driving. Her poor eyesight keeps her from reading, doing crosswords, and knitting. Several dear friends have passed away. Yet, she plugs away, lives in her own home, cooks her meals, entertains friends, and keeps tabs on all of us in the family. Her sense of humor and her sharp mind are as strong as ever.

The women on Flight 3661 on April 8 couldn’t have planned a better celebration. My mother has had few privileges or big adventures in her life, and no fame or fortune has come her way. A toilet paper cake and a crown of pretzel packets was a delightful way to celebrate my mother’s ninety years, and our family is grateful that her flight was so much fun.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

“There are some things, I don’t even care if I get them back. I just want to know where the f*** they went.” — George Carlin — Losing Things

Where is the damn key?

I hate losing stuff, and usually, I don’t. Not that I’m so organized or anything, but generally, I follow the motto, “A place for everything and everything in its place” – even if that place is a kitchen junk drawer.

My car key dangles from a ring, along with a house key, in my purse, and I keep it there. Actually, it’s not a key. It’s a keyless remote gizmo, and if it’s near my Nissan (like, in my purse), all I need to do is press the car handle button to open the door, and press the starter in the car to get going.

Things have been a little hectic for the past week with Kate, Rob, and the two kids here for Spring break. One day, I wanted to use the car, and asked about my key. They don’t have it, Mike told me. He’d given them the extra key from the kitchen drawer. “You still have your key,” he said. Except that I didn’t.

No biggie. I took the key the kids had been using and ran my errand. My key would show up, I figured. Maybe I had driven the car earlier and put my key on the counter for Rob and Kate. Maybe they had taken that set, too, by mistake, and now had two sets. Maybe it got stuffed in a beach bag or Kate’s purse. Or a backpack. Or it might have dropped into a suitcase on the floor. Except that it didn’t.

Surely it would turn up, when all of the beach bags were empty, and all of the beach towels were washed, and all of the suitcases were repacked, and all of their gear was out the door. They left yesterday, and with their stuff out of here, the beach paraphernalia put away, and things back to normal, I was confident that the key would make its presence known.

Except it hasn’t. Just where is the damn key?

Not that this is any big emergency, really. We do have the extra set, and only need a spare just in case one gets lost… like mine. But, replacing it isn’t as easy as going to Ace and having them cut another one. This doodad costs around two hundred fifty bucks, and buying a replacement is a crummy way to spend that chunk of money.

Why can’t I find it? I’ve looked in every bag I own, dumped out my purse several times, combed through every drawer, pulled up the couch cushions, crawled around to search under the seats in both my car and Mike’s, and still, nada. The thing is, I couldn’t have lost the key while I was out somewhere, because I wouldn’t have been able to start the car without it. If I’d dropped it in Target, I never could have driven home from Target. So, it must be here, right? This condo isn’t that big, with only so many places where it could be hiding. It’s pissing me off. I can almost feel the damn thing smirking as I rummage through bags and look under dressers. “Dumb ass! I’m right here where you dropped me. Didn’t you hear me clunk when I landed?”

I’m holding out hope that it will just appear – Tada! We all know that one of the early signs of dementia is not misplacing our keys, but in finding that you’ve put them in some weird place, like the refrigerator. Hmmmm, maybe I should look in the vegetable crisper.