Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Boss

Meet the new boss at our house.


And let's just say....I don't think it's an accident she likes to rest on a narrow ledge two stories high above a painting of a snow leopard.

I inherited both cats.

Ali was my mother's kitten.....a gift from her Lebanese neighbor... hence the Arabic literary reference.

And the snow leopard was a painting an interior decorator owned and felt would be perrrfect in my foyer.

Ali is 6 pounds of pure spit and curiosity.

She lived in a cat cage in my parent's house since she was 6 weeks old. My mom, with her dementia, wasn't thinking clearly and kept her mostly confined and admired in the family room.

When we set Ali-cat free in our house, she had 8 months of kitten hood to catch up on.

She chases the dogs....terrorizes our old cat and in the morning we find various knick knacks and objects at odd angles or turned over.

Our old cat, Cat, will have nothing to do with her and currently sits in protest under a dresser in an extra bedroom.

When Ali creeps up to'd swear a National G special on African lionesses was on TV.

Hisses....yeowls....high pitched undulating cat cries fill the hallway....but since they're both declawed...when paws flail out.... you only hear a soft dull thud instead of something more serious.

I don't think Ali-cat is mean....I think she just wants to play and sniff Cat....who, as Queen of the Universe, is highly insulted by the presence of this inferior youngster.

When Ali tires of stalking the old cat....she turns to digits and tails.

Last night, I woke up when hub's leg shot in the air. Ali saw something wiggle under the blanket and bit his toe.

When Ozzie....65lbs of dog....naps in the kitchen... she slowly crawls...belly-to-floor...over to him and delivers a couple well-placed swats to his tail.

Because I'm coming and going so often these days....Ali and I have an uncertain relationship.

Sometimes...she jumps on my desk and thumps thumps my fingers on the keyboard and at other times....she curls up in my lap and purrs.

Hopefully when some of the kitten gets spent ....Ali will settle down and the Queen of the Universe will grudgingly make room for her.

Until then......Ali keeps an eye on us....high on her some supreme commander assessing the battlefield strategizing the day's action.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How I started my new birthday year.......

So today is my birthday....and I decided to sleep in...till 7am before tackling more painting and repairing.

At 6:02am, I hear a wet smacking noise.

Damn that dog!

At home Ozzie ventures into our bedroom only if there's an emergency (like a massive thunderstorm or a massive need to go outside quickly).....but here in my parent's house which is one level.....Ozzie the Wonder Dog feels its important to let me know the sun is up an he's ready for breakfast. He doesn't nudge me or put his paw on me....he just stares at me and licks his lips...loudly.

This morning, I refuse to open my eyes....I open them just enough to see his beady brown eye stare....but quickly close them and turn over. I put the blanket over my head to muffle the wet noise.

At 6:10am, a quick electronic chirp goes off somewhere in the house. Ozzie jumps up...alarmed by the alarm. I burrow further under the blankets thinking it's my parent's weird atomic clock or the microwave or stove or something.


Damn....what the hell is that?

I sit up and Ozzie bounces over.... happy that I am alarmed at the alarm which he is very alarmed about.

Chirp. Okay it must be one of the smoke alarms....low batteries.

I sink back down into the pillows and think maybe I can ignore this.

Chirp. Chirp.

Really pissed off, I get out of bed and stare at the smoke alarm in the hallway. It's the only one around and it is now chirping every 30 seconds.

I grab the step ladder and investigate. Okay only two screws are holding this baby up to the ceiling. I can handle this. I grab the flat screwdriver which was in the bathroom and proceed to dismantle the alarm except I see that dad has left me a little nail is for a flat screw driver and the other nails needs a Philips screwdriver.

So I descend the ladder and head downstairs to the basement. Mom's spooky old anti-social cats stare at me with their big yellow eyes from the laundry room doorway.

"What are you looking at? Didn't you ever see anyone in their underwear?"

Apparently not....cause their eyes grow saucer-sized as I poke around the bar till I find the screw driver. I am not in a good fact...I'm in a very bad mood.


I wave the screwdriver at them. They turn and dive under the furniture.

Ozzie the Wonder Dog has remained faithful and sits in the hallway guarding the chirp and the alarm.

I climb the ladder, dismantle the last screw and pull the batteries out.


"What the hell?"


I put the device next to my ear like a sea shell.


I shake the damn thing.


Then I look around....behind me above the bedroom door is a carbon monoxide sensor and alarm.

I get down and move the ladder a couple feet.


"Son of a bitch."

I retreat downwards and grab the screwdrivers. This time dad used one type of screw. I place the extra screwdriver in my bra and dismantle the alarm...then fling it like a frisbee onto the empty bed.

"And what's your problem?" I shout to Ozzie.

He is so in tune to my moods ,he's cowering in the hallway ...which makes me even more irritable because in a weird way I am looking at my own bad mood.

He jumps up and heads for safer ground in the kitchen.

I turn around and catch a glimpse of myself in the hall standing up on my head.... half naked with a screwdriver secured down the front of my bra.

I hope this is not an omen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A bit too high......

Whooo weee.....

I had to stop painting and take the rest of the day off.......

I'm trying to apply a base coat of cover-all paint onto my parent's dark wood paneling in the den. It's a bit tricky to work with....and of course you have your face in the stuff....and in a few hours....I was loopy and soaring.

Tried to open the huge patio door for air but dad had screwed it shut for the winter. So I headed off for Chinese food....which I shared with Ozzie the wonder dog ......and actually watched TV for a couple of hours while I recovered.

Now I'm going to make myself a drink ...scrounge up a few pretzels and
continue detoxing....tomorrow I'll try again...gather a few more fans and see if I can finish the two walls without floating up and out over Lake Michigan.

My creative way of keeping the nasty old rug (which has to be replaced) away from the wall and molding while I paint.....fortunately there are a couple hundred rocks scattered around the front yard.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pink and Blue

I'm up here in Chicago with Ozzie the Wonder Dog for a week to begin painting and repairing my parent's house.

I actually forgot it was Memorial Day weekend because my birthday is next week and usually Memorial Day is after my birthday..... rarely before.

I've been up to my elbows in pink joint painter's masking tape and assorted brushes and rollers.

The real estate agent told me to remove the outdated wall paper in the foyer and I did.....however....I was left with an untextured old pitted wall that is part plaster...and part HELL.

It took less than an hour to tear the glittery wallpaper off....but it's taken two days to prep the wall.....filling up 25 nail holes that held family pictures....texturizing .....and discovering plaster molding is delicate and touchy and should only be handled by professionals....which, of course, I am not.

Every hour I cursed at my status.....because I am a woman who knows how to Spackle and paint and prep a wall.

Sometimes I wish I was some delicate little thing who runs off to Pilate's class and never ever scraps paint and joint compound from under her fingernails.

Unfortunately, my sweet dad....taught me all these skills....and sometimes when I'm working I talk to him......

"Shit dad....did you tell me your crown molding was plaster?"

"Geez dad, why did you leave that big lump of joint compound in the corner? Was there a crack under there?"

and of course, the heart-felt....."Dad, I wish you were here."

I use his tools....his paintbrushes...his ladders... and after an unfortunate accident with some paint....I even grabbed a pair of his shorts to wear while working.

I'm okay during the day.....when the wall is Hell and I need to focus on it....but at night....when I'm too stiff and tired to work any more.....the quiet house....the absence of my Hell.

Through it all....Ozzie....waits for crumbs and treats and chances to go outside and poke his nose through the slates of the fence looking for the yippy Russel Terrier who lives behind us.

I drink a big glass of wine....hope I will get sleepy.....and wait for I can concentrate on the wall.....instead of everything else.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Blues....

Restless tonight....tried listening to some music.

Never liked the least New Orleans Blues....but stumbled upon a Mali Blues artist...Boubacar.

African Blues.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Father's Closet

I'm back home right now....but only for a few days.

I'll be heading back to Chicago to work on my parent's house again.

I'm going to try and put their house on the market in mid-July. The real estate agent I'm working with was blunt.....she said I have two options ....I could slowly sort and sell my parent's things and then put the house up for sale....or I could de-clutter and thin the closets... and place the house on the market by mid-July.

I choose the second option. I'm going to work my ass off painting, pulling up carpets to uncover the hardwood floors and doing minor repairs. I'll box up their things, store the stuff in the garage and once the house looks on saving, selling or donating.

I'm not sure it's the right plan....but it's a plan....something I've been lacking.

Since I've de-trashed most of the living spaces....I decided to thin out my dad's closet first.

It took me two days.

Behind the shirts, the suits, the had stored and sometimes hidden his treasures. For example, many of his shoes were stuffed with socks ....not empty socks....but socks full of nickels, dimes and pennies. Change for a rainy day.

Unusual camera lenses were in one shoebox....and in one back corner....a soft blanket protected an old concertina from my grandfather. Thick black trash bags protected caps and good hats from dust on the shelves.

I found my father's army discharge papers stuffed in a frail envelope.....and also a faded newspaper clipping. My dad was a survivor of the S.S. Leopoldville, a ship torpedoed off the coast of France on Christmas Eve during the war. The Leopoldville was a cruise ship commissioned to carry 1200 soldiers from England to France. Once hit, the Belgian crew took off in the life boats leaving the Americans behind to fend for themselves on the sinking ship.

800 soldiers died. My of the lucky and brave ones... jumped from the ship onto the deck of a rescue craft. Many men who tried that jump fell into the sea or were crushed between the two boats. The Navy hushed hushed the incident during the war because of the botched rescue attempt and the unsafe conditions on the cruise ship. Only in the last dozen years....have official stories come out about the death and destruction and this was one of the first newspaper articles that broke the story.

I also found things in the closet.... I couldn't box up and put in the garage....things I needed to take home...things I could never sell.

In a large old Stetson box ....I pulled out a hat and fell immediately in love. It was so small and could dad fit into it? Was it meant for someone else? I put it on and played with the brim in the mirror. I could see myself wearing the hat in the fall with a leather jacket. I visualized myself taking a walk on a crisp autumn day in NYC....perhaps in Central Park with the leaves whipping by....I could see myself pull the brim down to protect myself from the chill. I am not a hat it's strange to fall in love with a man's soft hat....but here it is home with me.

I think it's an East Coast hat.
On day two of closet work, I found a gun belt tapped shut in a box. My mouth fell open when I peered inside the box...not because I found a gun belt but because it confirmed a story was not myth but truth.

My dad told me he had ran away from home after high school and headed out to Arizona and California. My mom told me he worked at a dude ranch and had to wear a gun belt and guns to deal with cattle rustlers. I wasn't sure about the story and dad was rather tight lipped about the dude ranch part. One day mom showed me a had a pearly handle and looked heavy. When I asked dad where he kept the gun....he said they weren't real.... it was a joke....and the gun was just a BB gun....a toy. So when I pulled out a real gun belt in heavy black leather with real bullets in the notches....I knew it was not a toy and was meant to hold real guns. Trouble pistols in the box....which makes me wonder what happened to them.

Damn was skinny as a young guy.....this belt just fit.

And the last thing I took home.....a picture I dubbed "Cheesecake little Gina."

Never saw this picture before. I've seen one with me in this swimsuit holding a beach ball....but not this reclining little bathing beauty.

Someday when this is all past....I've got to find Gina and the cheesecake in me again.

Cheesecake Gina.


Saturday, May 09, 2009


I felt like a wall hit me....a wall of pain....when I opened the door to my parent's house.

I fought to get by it.....then stood in their family room. How could they both be dead? And dead so soon? Not even 90 days have passed since dad's stroke....and they are gone. I can still see their faces, especially my father's.....I can still see us holding hands...and watching TV in his room or going outside to listen to the wind chimes and watch the birds.

All this stuff.....the pictures...the slippers under the couch...the books....the coffee...the microwave.....all belong to people who don't exist anymore.

35 years in this house.....35 years of life and living and memories and it's gone. The lamp they placed on the end table is no longer the lamp my dad liked but just a lamp. The couch from the old outdoor porch is just a couch....the clothes....are just clothes... not the favorite comfy jacket or the warm hat. The people that bought these things, cherished these things...loved these things are gone everything .....even things I know ....feel aloof and alien. My mother's recliner is not my mother's has all become past was her recliner not is her recliner.

I am not doing so well up here... I don't want to poke or clean or go through the house. I often find myself sitting on the bed...or just staring into a room....forcing the idea into myself that both my parents are gone. I wish I could turn my house keys into someone and just walk away....but all this stuff demands attention.....and now even if it's alien's my stuff.

I guess it's the last thing I will do for my parents. The distribution of the things they lived with...and cherished. It's so final.....and so disorienting to realize the stuff they loved and cherished is nothing without's like dealing with a million skeletons.

I'm glad I'll only be up here for a few more days. But I will have to come back ...and stay here a while and move things along.

Maybe it will be easier next time.

Friday, May 01, 2009

This week......

Two car loads.
Orange, red, purple, burgundy, white, hot pink, even yellow.

Hours after my father died, I asked my husband to drive me to the hardware store.
I needed flowers.
I needed to fill all the empty clay pots surrounding my house.
I needed big...bold ..and bright flowers.....outrageous flowers... an army of color....a defense shield of life....against the dull ivory color of my father's face.
We filled up the car....driving home with plants in the trunk ...on the seats...leaves dangled over our heads.

The next morning I went back for more.....wrestling a giant Bird of Paradise plant into the Subaru. The plant so big.....the leaves embraced me as I drove home.

I have tried and failed to write my father's obituary.

I have picked through only a tiny fraction of the papers I need to sort.

I have not faxed any death certificates to agencies waiting for the documentation that will officially end my parents' existence in their system.

I have not even made all the phone calls I need to make....unable to dial again....long distance cousins....and neighbors..... to tell them once again.....there's been another death.

All I have been able to do is plant flowers.....pulling withered stems out of pots....and putting fresh greens in..... slowly watering bold arrangements of orange and purple and red.......not rushing.....returning again and again to make sure all the soil is saturated....all the roots are covered....all the pellets of fertilizer are spread evenly.

And sweeping....sweeping all the debris and dust and dried leaves away from the newly planted pots.

This is all I have been able to do this week.