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The Traveling Umbrella

My name is FiFi and I am a traveling umbrella.

I was born in a Totes factory 10 years ago. During that time I have traveled all over and have had many different owners, each with a different story.

When I came off the assembly line I was shipped to Macy’s with all the concomitant hopes of acquiring an upscale owner, preferably a liberal, since it was Manhattan. I figured this human would realize my quality and take good care of me. But since I was not the only umbrella on the shelf, it took many months for someone to notice me and to fall in love. It was such a sad and nerve wracking time for me and I thought it would never happen. Each time I saw someone perusing the isle I wanted to jump up and say, “Pick Me, Pick Me”, but I guess that was impossible. I probably would’ve caused a heart attack or stroke if I had done that.

But one day, when I had given up hope of ever getting a home, a fine young man named David recognized my intrinsic value and glow on my face and said, “That’s the one!” I was literally (at least in my mind) jumping for joy. But the joy was short lived because he didn’t really love me, no—he was gong to give me away. Not even one hour after rescuing me, I found myself practically smothered in giftwrap. With a heavy heart, I knew I would have a new owner. I could only hope and pray that she was responsible and would properly care for me. A few days later, I had a new owner named Camille, David’s girlfriend. She seemed very pleased at the time and in the beginning took me with her anytime there was rain or even a threat.  But one day, while riding the subway, she left me on the seat. I tried to call out to her, “Wait, wait, you forgot me,” but she couldn’t hear my silent scream. Suddenly, and without warning, I was alone again—on the subway, no less, with all kinds of undesirables and that dirt.

I sat there silently crying when another miracle happened—just the right person sat down and, seeing nobody claiming me, came to my aide. His name was Mark and he was an investment banker. Wow, I thought, I hit the jackpot. Yes I was broken up about losing Camille, but this guy was wealthy and I definitely could live with that. I had visions of a penthouse on Central Park West, with a doorman and a nicely furnished, well organized closet for my home. But, unfortunately this guy was a total slob, and I was carelessly thrown into a plastic tub at the bottom of the closet.  I felt hopeless, not knowing how I would get out of this predicament. Was there a foundation that dealt with abused umbrellas—I didn’t think so—and how would I even let anyone know. But luck shined on me again, when my captor decided to clean out his closet and donate junk to Goodwill. Now, although I was glad he was doing this, I was insulted that I was being categorized as junk. Nevertheless, it was a blessing because within a few days, Sara, who was planning on moving to Augusta, GA, paid $4.00 for me. Granted, that was ridiculous for a fine Totes umbrella like me to be sold for so little, I was happy that I seemed to have acquired a new home. In addition, I would be leaving Manhattan where I could easily be left on the Subway. No subway in Augusta.

Within a week I was in a nice warm climate, with my new owner. Her house was lovely and, for the first time in a while, I felt content. She usually kept me in her car for those sudden downpours. I was beginning to feel settled and, dare I say, relaxed, when she visited her favorite coffee spot, Starbucks. It happened to be raining that day and for some reason I felt uneasy. I knew it was predicted as intermittent showers so there was the risk of forgetting me if it became sunny. My fear came to fruition when one day, she left me on the seat. I was bereft and felt my life was over. Someone put me in the newspaper rack where I sat, feeling abandoned and alone, for weeks. I began to see a woman every day and I telepathically pleaded with her to please adopt me. So one day, Marilyn who had gotten my message, realized that nobody was going to claim me, and being the brash New Yorker that she is, took me home. That was three years ago, and we have been through so much. She is not perfect, but she loves me. She keeps me in her car and takes me into the gym periodically. The problem with her is that she has “lost” me so many times I cannot count, but somehow always finds me. It seems that we are meant for each other and maybe, just maybe, I have finally found my forever home.

Moon Tales

We were a real family that night—just like any other.

It was four days before my birthday, July 20, 1969, and my most wonderful memory of that famous day was that my crazy, dysfunctional family, came together as one.

We were a family in name and proximity only—four people who just happened to be living in the same apartment, never spinning in the same orbit.  It is something I never really noticed before until my first husband brought it to my attention once.  As an outside observer, he said, “You just live in the same space—like you were just thrown together—and you all don’t even seem related.” That was us—each one going our own separate way.  It seemed perfectly normal for everyone to eat at different times. Nobody waited for anyone else because we were on totally different schedules. My dad worked two jobs and had to eat early to go to his nighttime job at the post office. I would always try to avoid him when he came home about 5 pm. If it were the summer, I would deliberately stay outside until he left. On school days when I was home, a distinct feeling of dread would engulf me when I heard the key in the door and I would think, “Oh, he’s home” and would have to endure an hour of criticism about everything under the sun—nothing was off limits. When he left, I breathed a sigh of relief.  My mom, who worked full time as a legal secretary, would always come home later than anyone so she would leave little notes on the small kitchen counter telling us what was in the frig that we were supposed to heat up for dinner. It was always something different for each of us but we would know who the instructions were addressed to by the title: M (for Marilyn), S (for Sam—my dad), and G (for Gordon—my brother). Those monikers stuck because I still call my brother G and he still calls me M.

I guess I didn’t know any better because my best friend, Janet, had a very strange, dysfunctional family too. In fact there were many parallels. I think living in a large apartment complex in Manhattan did not foster closeness in families. So, I simply thought it was normal to have everyone doing their own thing.

But when I look back on that magical late afternoon on Sunday, I can still feel the excitement. The anticipation was palpable and all our petty differences, and our apartness, were forgotten. I remember not even believing that a man was actually going to walk on the moon and that we would be seeing this on TV—it seemed more like a dream than reality. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this bright mythical sphere in the sky would become real and tangible. That afternoon we gathered together in our living room in front of our black and white TV—a family, an honest to goodness family—sharing a moment in history—awestruck. It brings a smile to my face when I look back at that day and I am still in awe. After many visits to the moon, it became almost commonplace, but in 1969, for that one moment in time, we, and the entire world were united and I had a real family.

Springtime

I still feel guilty for murdering my little friend so many years ago. The sadness pops up periodically out of nowhere, and I have to push it back down to keep from crying.

It was finally Spring in Stuyvesant Town—the yellow daffodils had finally started to poke their way out of the soil, the pink buds on the bushes outside of my building were about to bloom, and the grass was turning from Winter brown to a beautiful deep green. I began to dream of long, lazy school free days where I could indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, digging in the dirt, burying ants and other bugs, and watching them burrow their way out, only to be buried again. Maybe I was a little sadist but it was weirdly fun.

One day, I discovered a large bug, and not being squeamish the way I am now, began to play with it. He crawled up and down one hand then the other and I was delighted. I put it in a little jar and kept him and fed him worms. One rainy spring April day, my friend Janet and I could not play outside, so we decided to play in the main hallway where I lived. I brought out my little friend and allowed him to crawl up and down my hands, when suddenly my mother was standing beside me with a look of disgust on her face. She said, “What are you doing with that big bug, that’s terrible. You shouldn’t be playing with it.” At this point, I considered this creature a pet of sorts and could not understand why my mom did not like him. She went back into the apartment and suddenly I decided to extinguish the life out of this little innocent thing. I placed this poor little guy on the floor and proceeded to smash the life out of him—the crack of his hard shell sounded calliopean to me, although I’m sure nobody else heard it. Then I discarded him as if he was nothing at all, when he was, after all, my little buddy. The feeling of remorse and guilt immediately flooded my little girl mind and I just kept thinking, “Why did you have to do that. You could have just let him go.” I tried to continue on with my day, as if what I had just done was meaningless; as if I had just killed a nameless roach, not my friend, but I couldn’t keep from thinking of myself as a murderer.

All these years later, when I relive that moment I am inexplicably brought to tears. I don’t understand it, but I know that sometimes friends come in all different packages, and I know he is in bug heaven and he forgives me.

If Only

The world of “If Only” is a fantasy world I sometimes live in. It is a very dangerous place and nothing good can come from visiting, especially if I stay too long. If Only is a close cousin to Regret so I try very hard not to say those two toxic words. Yet I still find myself thinking, “If only I had done…..” or “If only I didn’t do such and such, or “If only I were rich”…..—you can fill in the blanks and any way you look at it, you end up with remorse over some missed opportunity, or a regret over something you did that you are sorry for. It’s too bad that we can’t just turn the clock back or hit the undo button on a decision we’ve made. We are all human and sometimes we don’t always think things through when we decide to embark on a journey. A case of the “If Onlys” can also lead to envy and jealousy especially when you cannot afford some material item that your wealthy friend can. Then you say, “If only I had married better” or “If only I had not been so stupid to divorce my husband so quickly”. The thing is that whatever is done or was not done, you have to live with the consequences or live with the reality of a situation you cannot control. Acceptance and the Serenity Prayer go a long way when I am living in that fantasyland of “If Only.” My options are to “accept the things I cannot change” and “have the courage to change the things I can” and to “have the wisdom to know the difference.” Since we know we just cannot press the delete button on bad choices, the sooner we realize we cannot change them, we can move forward and create a better life based in the reality of now. “If only” keeps you mired in the past or keeps you in a perpetual state of jealousy, depression, regret, and remorse. Either way, you are stuck and personal growth ceases.

M & M

A little background: Many years ago (1980) I worked in Manhattan at Blue Cross Blue Shield. At that time, I was a medical claims examiner/correspondent. I was crazy about this gorgeous young man who sat diagonally across from me on the other side of the floor. I had the feeling he was attracted to me too, but he was too shy to do anything about it. My friend I worked with used to say, “He’s just slow on the uptake.” I realized I had to take matters into my own hands. So, one day while at work, I wrote this little fantasy story about the 19th floor and our boss, Barbara. I left this hand-written story on his desk and waited until he returned. I could see his desk from mine and was gratified that he was laughing. The story is a bit dated (CRT – This was the computer that we all used in the middle of the floor), but I think it still holds up. We ended up getting married eventually. Although we are no longer together, we are still friendly.

BCBS Story – 1980

Once upon a time, in the far reaches of the universe, there existed a large corporation named Blue Cross Blue Shield.
In the vast expanse of the 19th floor, a queen emerged named Barbara. Queen Barbara would sit on her throne for hours at a time issuing her imperial orders to her royal court.
In a small section of the floor, there resided a conscientious young man named Mark, better known as M. Now M was a very hard worker who carried out the Queen’s orders to a tee. Whenever she needed something done, she knew she could count on M to follow through.
On the other side of the floor, sat a not-so-conscientious worker named Marilyn, also known as M. Because of the similarities in their names, people often confused the two. The only difference was that one M had a mustache and the other one didn’t.
But, lo and behold, one day M shaved off his mustache and the office was in turmoil. No one could tell them apart.
Queen Barbara was beside herself. She would call for her bowl, call for her pipe, call for her fiddlers three, and call for M. But being unable to distinguish between the two Ms, she became totally confused, often to the point of disorientation.
One day she bellowed from her office, “M, please come here; I need your assistance!” Well, as usual, both Ms came into the office, causing a total look of confusion to come over the Queen’s face. With this, she ran screaming from her office, never to be heard from again.
Now the diligent workers of this vast organization were without guidance. They desperately needed someone they could look up to and trust; someone with the wisdom of a King, yet the understanding of the commoners—someone with a vast knowledge of Special Service and surgical-medical contracts—someone who could be hard yet soft at the same time and could mingle with the lower echelon of the Corporation. Who better than M? But which M was it? Was it M or M?
Since it was totally impossible to tell them apart, the loyal subjects voted to make both Ms King and Queen of the 19th floor, and to have them share the throne.
As the years passed, and people came and went, the two Ms continued to rule wisely but firmly. Their popularity never dwindled. So, if you ever find yourself trapped in a maze of uncertainty about surgical-medical contracts, the CRT, or life in general, visit the humble office on the 19th floor where the sign reads: M & M

Race Towards God

I still feel like a fraud going to West Town Community Church, as a Jew. But, I am in transition and it is very difficult to determine if I want to be a Jew for Jesus or actually convert to Christianity. I’m leaning towards the former because I am still Jewish and will always embrace my heritage. I am very confused and envy the devout people who attend that Church who are so very sure of their faith. As usual, things are not so clear for me. One thing I know is that I am slowly but surely heading towards God. Believe it or not, I am actually taking the Pastor’s advice to just at least start reading the bible; something I’ve never done before. I grew up in a very non-religious household, never went to Hebrew school, or studied anything at all about religion. The only exposure I had was on the holidays—Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur—where I either got gifts, went to Synagogue, or fasted dutifully, but I never knew any of the background stories behind why I did these things. Consequently, I ended up marrying out of my faith. But, even the men I married were not religious and I again continued my ignorance about God, the Bible, and faith. My journey has been very slow and fledgling but I truly believe that I will eventually arrive at a place where I belong. Just like a road race, my “pace” is my own and I will arrive at my destination in my own time. This is my “race”—just like a PR in running where you strive for a “personal record”—I must not compare my “race time” with anyone else’s or feel that I am less than the other person because I am so slow. I must just keep walking forward, not looking back, and moving towards the light.

Christmas

When I was a child, December was a magical time of the year. Although I am a Jew, I still felt the magic of the Christmas season, due to my two good friends being Catholic. I guess I just lived vicariously through them. Yes, we have Chanukah, with the Menorah and presents but as a child, it was just not the same as that Christmas tree. I remember helping Janet decorate the tree, and buying presents for my Christian friends. Also, growing up in Manhattan, where the stores are all lit up, and there is actual snow, you really get into the spirit. When I got older, I married two Christian men (one at a time) and had a Christmas tree for my children. I hosted Christmas parties, even inviting my parents, who long ago accepted my “closet” Christianness. Now that I live in Augusta, and although my friend’s family has adopted me for the holidays, I still find I have lost that “Christmas” spirit I had years ago. But, I have recently begun to attend a real down to earth Church, where I can dress in jeans and the music is rock. Somehow it gives me a sense of peace and comfort—something I almost never achieve—and lets me embrace my “inner Christian.” Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, I believe that it is also a state of mind that transcends religious affiliations and is about Hope and Love. I think I am becoming re-infected with the Christmas bug—an infection that I hope I don’t ever get over.

Remembering 9/11

As another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has come around, I find myself remembering that fateful day. It has been 13 years since that horrific day that will be forever etched in my mind, and the minds of anyone who was old enough to remember it. It was especially emotional for me since my office was located in One World Trade Center, the building that was attacked first. Although I was not physically there on that day—choosing to go to Augusta, for a fall vacation—it was nevertheless very traumatic. People always ask me why I moved to Augusta, and if I am being honest, I have to bring up the WTC, because that is part of the story. Inevitably, they ask, “Were you there that day?” and I say NO, even though I want to say YES. People seem to think that if you were not physically present, you have no right to be traumatized, but that is not true. Many people sought counseling to cope with the unbelievable and horrific events, including my brother, who didn’t even work there. But, just the fact that my office was there, watching the 2nd attack and buildings collapse in real time on TV, wondering if my coworkers got out, losing a friend, and realizing that by the grace of God I was away that day, is traumatizing. I cried for 6 months each time I thought about Angela, or when I saw pictures of the twin towers. I kept thinking, “Why was she killed and not me? Why was I not there that day?” I had “survivors guilt” for a long time, thinking, “Angela was such a wonderful person. It should’ve been me instead.” I thought of all those people I used to see in the elevators each morning, some disabled on crutches, and wondered if any of them got out. I think of the bravery of Alex, a security guard who lost his life at 36 because he chose to go back into the building over and over to help people. I think of Abe, a religious Jew, who lost his life because he refused to leave his wheelchair bound co-worker and friend, who happened to be Hispanic. I had been thinking of moving to Augusta for a while, but when I was laid off a year later with hundreds of others, that sealed the deal. I then decided that I would embark on a new chapter in my life. I started something called the “Layoff Log” just to cope with the insanity and bitterness that ensued after being let go from a job that was my “identity”. This journal documents that tumultuous time in my life, and gave birth to the writing I do today. The following excerpt from The Layoff Log begins with the few days leading up to the 9/11 attacks, which ultimately resulted in the massive layoff. This was written in 2001:

Events leading up to the attacks:

September 7 and 8th 2001

I have been working in the World Trade Center for about two years now. I am scrambling to finish the medical policies and send them out for review before I go on vacation to Georgia. I am feeling very stressed and am keenly aware of all the filing that I have piled on my desk that I MUST finally do when I return in two weeks. I e-mail the policies to Carmen so she can send them out to the appropriate people with hers as well.

September 10, 2001

I am finishing up some last-minute packing before my friends pick me up to take me to the airport. I am happy and excited in anticipation of seeing my friend and her family again. I arrive uneventfully and enjoy a relaxing dinner at Macaroni Grill with Janet, her husband Bill, and daughter April. I am feeling very mellow and can’t wait until the next day when we will be heading to Hilton Head for a few restful days.

September 11, 2001

My world and everyone else’s is changed forever. The Twin Towers are attacked and thousands are killed. It is approximately 8:46 and I am blissfully running that morning in Georgia, when I hear on the radio that there is “something going on at the North Tower of the WTC.” They were not sure but thought that there was a fire or some sort of terrorist activity. I quickly try to think if my office is in the North or South Tower and pray that it is not the North—later I realize it is. I am shocked and almost get run over by a car when I cross the street. I am on my way back anyway and race to the house. Janet is descending the stairs and I tell her to turn on the T.V. We watch in horror as we see the gaping hole in Tower One, my building, and I almost lose it. I note that the hole is high up and hope that my co-workers will be able to get out. I think of my ex-husband who works there too. Then we see the second plane hit the South Tower and I turn to Janet and ask, innocently, “Were there people in that plane?” She says grimly, “Yes.” Before long, we watch in disbelief as the South Tower collapses. We are crying and shocked. Then about a half hour later, Tower One collapses too. I pray and pray that my friends got out. I then realize that I have not told my parents that I am on vacation—they must think I am in the building. I am frantic and Janet takes charge, calling, calling, calling, and finally gets through to my Mom, who is crying on the other line. She said she and my Dad thought I was dead. Janet finally gets through to Mark who says he didn’t even go into work that day—he had a doctor’s appointment that morning. He said he didn’t know anything about other friends in the building and he would contact me later in the day. We sit and watch all day long, shocked and numb, but yet unable to tear ourselves away from the T.V. The disbelief is palpable and I feel that I am in a dream state. We cancel the trip to Hilton Head. We finally decide to go out to dinner and wherever we go, we cannot escape the horror. It is all over the T.V. and I am totally amazed that some people seem to be going about their business as if nothing has happened. I feel compelled to tell people that I used to work at the WTC. I eat but barely taste the food and feel guilty that I am even able to eat at all.

Mark calls me later in the evening to tell me Angela, our friend, his close friend—did not come home at all and nobody can get in touch with her. Elliot thinks she is dead. I am shocked and sick, sick, sick. I go to bed and pray but, in my heart, I know she is gone.

Rage

Sudden outbursts of rage have always existed in society and I know that. But, it just seems that I am hearing more and more about this. Maybe it is that it is reported more due to the News literally being 24/7 or is it that people are just in a constant state of frustration and anxiety due to this insane world we live in now. The most recent outbursts have occurred on airplanes due to people being inconsiderate by sitting down and immediately reclining their seats onto someone’s knees or people putting a device preventing them from reclining at all. When I rode the NJ Transit bus from New Jersey to Manhattan every morning, this would happen every so often. I was annoyed but I simply quietly asked the person in the seat in front of me if they could please just move the seat up a little bit because it was hitting my knees. Most of the time they just moved it up and that was the end of the story; incident averted. Conversely, I would do the same if I were the person reclining the seat (although I never put it back where it would hit someone’s knees). But, now some enterprising individual has invented a device that attaches to the seat in front, thus preventing the seat from reclining at all. That is ridiculous because everybody who buys a plane ticket has a right to be comfortable and I think most people are polite enough not to slam the seat back. But, I was not surprised when I heard that a fight broke out severe enough to divert the plane the other day. Then recently another one was reported as well. At first I thought that this was a gross overreaction to something that could’ve been fixed diplomatically but I think the cause is just RAGE; that this was “the last straw.” We live in a society where we often feel like victims of some sort. Most of the time we have no control of situations concerning bureaucracies such as the Healthcare Marketplace, Insurance companies, or other large entities where they call the shots. An example of this is with my own Medical insurance which was inadvertently cancelled last week. Trying to reinstate this has been a monumental chore, having endured endless arguments over the phone and no matter how much cajoling, threatening, crying or whatever I do, nobody can expedite the process without the required red tape. Years ago the famous scene in Network where Peter Finch yells out of an office window, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” still resonates with most people. In the movie, when everybody opened the windows and started yelling out the same thing, I wanted to scream, “Right on.” Every day the average person is bombarded with life’s little indignities, and are often forced to just accept the injustice of it all. But I do think that most people are like “sponges” and can only absorb just so much before the inevitable slow leakage occurs. The media only covers the horrific acts of violence such as mass killings that are often the result of years of “just taking it”, as with bullying in school. But what gets overlooked are the average Joe or Jane, whose years of “just taking it” are manifested in high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and mental health issues. Most people have an edit button that prevents them from perpetrating violence (and there are degrees) but some don’t. How many times have we heard people being interviewed after a hostage or mass shooting situation where they say, “I don’t understand it; he was such a nice person. I never even expected this.” The thing is you don’t know what is boiling under a person’s skin. I think that with all the recent insanity in the world (beheadings, ISIS, plane shootings in the sky, HAMAS) and all the little indignities we face in our own lives, it is not unreasonable to expect to recline your seat in a plane and enjoy the solitude away from LIFE for a while. So when an inconsiderate passenger adds yet another measure of indignity to something that should have been pleasurable, we just explode and in our heads we simply say, “Enough is enough. I don’t have control of the world, or my health insurance, or my job, or much else, but I sure as hell have control of whether or not I can recline my seat.” So, I cannot blame the woman who went ballistic at the inconsiderate oaf who decided that he was more important than she was and took that one little pleasure that day away from her.

Competition

Competition has ruled my life ever since I can remember. Everything from being the fastest runner in the playground when I was a kid, getting the best PR in a race, being the best looking, or whatever it is; I have to turn it into a competition. Although I seem to crave it, competition is also the source of constant fear and unhappiness. Fear that I won’t measure up to someone else or someone will be “better” than I am and the ensuing unhappiness when I feel disappointed in myself. It is a never-ending merry-go-round that I can never win because there will always be another person who trumps me.

For years, I ran races with a very competitive spirit. Of course, not being an elite runner, my competition was other runners in my running club, or often just myself. In running there is such as thing as a PR (personal record) and before any race, especially full Marathons, I had an idea of what my time should be. Sometimes I achieved my mark, being very proud, but inevitably another runner I knew had a better time. Then my pride in my achievement would dissipate. Other times I didn’t live up to my own expectations (there’s that word again) and although I just ran 26.2 miles (something that most people can’t do) doing pretty well, I would beat myself up. It was when one day I decided to totally stop running races and just run for the pure pleasure of the sport that I became free. I never entered another race and I felt happier. The same holds true for anything in my life because to me everything is a competition. All through my working life, I constantly compared myself to coworkers, wondering if they got a promotion, a raise, were liked more by the boss, etc. As a massage therapist, it is almost impossible not to be competitive–always wondering how many clients someone else had that day, how many “regular clients” they have, always jockeying for the boss’s approval. Of course, jealousy and competition go hand and hand. Even in my photo meetings, I want to be the best, instead of just enjoying the companionship and learning from like-minded people. I tell myself that I should just write because it feeds my soul, and not to worry about making money. I tell myself that I should just do photography because I like it and not try to feel that I have to adopt other’s methods, or their style. I want to be creative because it makes me feel good, and not have expectations or have to be accountable to others (which would happen if this became a business). I need to remember my own lesson with running and follow my own advice. For some reason competition is in my blood and although I have my theories, I’m not totally sure why. But, what I do know is that “everybody is a star” in some way; most of us have something we’re exceptional at and I need to recognize my own talents. When I stop comparing myself to other people, and just accept who I am, and not who I think I should be, I am so much happier.