Sunday, September 19, 2010

Preparing to Party

Ditch day was packed with indulgences and definitely a success. But it was over. So the next morning I caught myself drifting into reliving the details. But, let’s face it, life doesn’t always allow us to remain at the pinnacle of our highs. My retirement potluck would begin at 5:00 p.m. which in translation meant I better get my **** together. I had to get moving. Preparing for a house filled with family and friends, ultimately would reap pleasure, but required WORK. Oy vay!

I fired up my cappuccino machine and decided to skip breakfast. The evening would be a caloric packed excursion through trays of appetizers. No need to start eating early. Then in my pre party manner, I began to spin while a litany of chores nagged me. I couldn’t decide if I should polish my nails or cut up the ingredients to my shrimp and mango appetizer. Should I rake the leaves in the backyard or iron my wrinkle free blouse? Maybe it would be better to trim the flower beds and sweep the leaves. Then clear out the refrigerator. YIKES! I needed to put an end to this. In order to avoid slipping into a walking comma and skipping the essentials or engaging in repeating the same tasks over and over again, I better get organized. So I sat down mid morning and forced myself to make a list.

Like the neurotic Toad in the children’s book, “Frog and Toad Forever”, I focused, gathered pencil and paper in hand and created a list including the following:

• Rake yard, sweep leaves, trim flower beds

• Iron 4 huge table cloths

• Clear out refrigerator debris

• Place Prosecco bottles in refrigerator

• Set out serving platters, napkins, plates, and eating utensils

• Make appetizers

• Iron outfit

• Put CD’s in player

• Relax

Yes, relax was my last item. There isn’t anything worse than a wound up hostess who is a buzz kill. If I didn’t include it, I might get confused like Toad and think I would have to skip it if it wasn’t on the list. Then, after getting dressed, I applied my face “I keep in the jar by the door”. (love those Beatles lyrics) Then I assumed a yoga posture and practiced some Asana breaths.

A shuffle of footsteps on the porch could be heard above my breathing. Then my sister, Carolyn, Judy and Robert entered, it warmed my heart to be greeted by those so dear to my heart. Offering to help, I directed them to the backyard and asked them to set up the tables. Did I mention I have tendonitis of the elbow? Not a convenient ailment to have when you have chores ahead of you. Dutifully they hauled the tables to opposite sides of the yard and under the tree. Snapping them in place, they spread the table cloths and placed a bouquet of spring flowers in the center of each.

I stopped and scanned the garden. Years of labor greeted me which now appeared whimsical and peacefully inviting. The arbors were laden with a peach blossom variety of bougainvillea. Sprinkles of yellow calliopsis surrounded the Saint Francis of Assisi statue, a commemorative to my mother. Wild irises guarded the herb garden while begonias stood at the base of the peach tree. The bathtub, a relic of the original bathroom, sat overflowing with a vine of tiny white and pink flowers. All were interlaced with an assortment of filler ferns, day lilies, and ground covers. Collectively they represented years of trial and error plantings generated by what caught my eye while on a walk or touring a garden. Some survived while others did not.
I entered teaching around the same time as I began tinkering in my garden. Both required long laborious hours. I spent much of my time cultivating lessons that could meet student needs. At the same time, I began to lay brick pathways in the garden to support comfortable walks from the house to the garden and out to the garage. I felt invigorated when planting, weeding, watering, and trimming each plant yet exhausted. I felt similarly when assessing student need and preparing lessons. I grew in my knowledge of how to maintain and care for my garden as well as my students. Sometimes my efforts were thoughtful and well planned. Other times I simply got the job done. I didn’t realize how the garden paralleled my own journey toward retirement. I gradually developed skills to nuture both This garden that looked back at me was now at a maintenance level and so was I.

Satisfied I went back in the house, slipped in a few nostalgic 50”s and 60’s CD’s and prepared to party on with the wonderful family and friends I collected over the years.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Not so Ritzy Ritz

Our next stop was the Ritz Carlton which required a change of clothes. I hoped the silk blouse I brought would blend in with the elegance of our, soon to be, surroundings. We coasted into the parking lot.

I scoped out a secluded place under a shade tree and pulled into the designated spot. My plan was to change in the car which was, oh so, tacky but reflective of my ying and yang personality. Karen served as my lookout. I began yanking and tugging my t- shirt over my head while attempting to preserve some form of discretion. Once it slipped past my chin, I held it in front of what is commonly called racks, but in my case, would be more accurately described as miniscule shelves. I grabbed my blouse in the other hand and proceeded to clench, squeeze, and pack my flesh into it. It was not an easy job. In my youth I had much less mass to maneuver. At this age I felt as comfortable as an elephant seal attempting to slide across the shore.
We grabbed our purses and headed for the entry. I couldn’t believe that I was about to enter this region of royalty. Considering that the dining experiences of my youth consisted of eating at Newberry’s faux marble linoleum counter, I was mesmerized. Karen and I were dwarfed by the majestic arched ceilings. To the right and left of us were enormous planters containing larger than life tropical flowers of perfection. We wondered if they were changed daily, such opulence. The carpet was deep and rich in color. I expected that, any minute, someone might tap me on the shoulder and shout, “Imposter”, while escorting me out. Then I caught my image in the floor to ceiling mirror. UGH!!! It had to be an illusion. I know my girth has increased over the years, but not to that degree. Then I looked at Karen’s reflection which clearly indicated the images I perceived were, in fact, the real McCoy.

We stepped up to the hostess and gave her our name. While I felt confident at our previous two stops, here I hesitated. Yet I bravely stepped forward and announced with the same enthusiasm, “This is the first day of our retirement.” The hostess, who could be my granddaughter, responded with a vacuous look and replied, “That’s nice.” Then we were told that our table wasn’t ready yet, but we could have a drink and appetizer in the patio overlooking the ocean.
OK... so I wasn't successful at the not so ritzy Ritz. Who would have thought an organization dripping in obvious wealth could be so tight fisted in the light of our accomplishment. I would just have to drown my sorrows in a martini.
We continued down a corridor in pursuit of the patio. I half expected the Queen might make an entrance at any time. While playing out the details of my fantasy, I realized the pity of it all. Isn’t she still working? And how old is she anyway? Why that broad will never experience the grace of retirement while I am free to live a life of whimsy. So now who has the power?
A cool breeze greeted us as we entered an elegant outdoor patio. A martini seemed the perfect way to celebrate while enjoying the extravagant surroundings. Once we ordered our drinks, waves of pure joy washed over me. Up to this point, my life was locked into meeting my obligations. It seemed unbelievable our day of indulgences truly marked a transition into freedom. Freedom of opportunity and choice. I remarked to Karen, “Oh my god, the only pressure I will feel from now on will be self imposed. I certainly know how to manage that.” Then the waiter returned and set our raspberry and lemon martinis before us. We lifted our glasses and sealed our day long adventure with a customary clink and mouth-watering sip. Perfecto!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On to the Shacks

Once our breakfast was inhaled and dessert consumed, we began the required trek up four rickety flights of wooden stairs to the parking lot.
The sun was now unrelentingly beating down upon us. Karen appeared dry browed and unfazed by the heat. I, on the other hand, was determined not to be deterred by the beads of sweat that were simultaneously pouring down my brow, midriff and underarms. Instead I called upon that steel core reserve of mine and pressed down upon each step in anticipation of the last. Sometimes while on the road to pleasure we have to pay a price. Verdad?
At last we arrived at the top. I took several deep breaths, grateful that I would soon be seated in the comfort of the car and off to our next stop.

Within minutes we approached, what appeared to be, a pocket sized museum.
As we entered, I looked toward the counter prepared to pay our entry. Standing behind it was a young man who appeared to be getting smaller as we approached. A blond surfer type, he looked up. You could almost see a residue of salt from the sea perched upon his upper lip. How could someone this young be employed at the museum I wondered? He smiled. Hmm…My recent experience at the Beachcomber emboldened me. I paused. Then stepped forward, and with my most enthusiastic voice blurted out that this was the first day of our retirement. And, I added, we chose to come to your museum. I swear the salt residue disappeared as he smiled broadly and inquired about our professions. Again we replied that we were teachers. Our response elicited the same reaction as our hostess and waiter at the Beachcomber. He turned to his coworker. They both gave each other a knowing glance, and then agreed that the admittance would be wavered. Once again we rode on a wave of fond memories they held of teachers or members of their families who served in the profession. It was a refreshing welcome after being exposed to years of misguided and unflattering media coverage. Gratefully, we entered with a new sense of importance.

At this juncture, it might be helpful to mention one of my flaws. Although I am oblivious to them, my closest friends and family can easily point them out. I tend to deny most, but have recognized and learned to live with others. One, in particular, is incurable. There is something in the core of my essence that creates an aura of expectation that far exceeds reality. In essence I am a dreamer. Before our jaunt down the coast, I anticipated a colorful vibrant display of paintings much as one would encounter in the Jeu de Paume. Yet as we began our trek through the postage stamp museum, a flood of disappointment shrouded me. These were not the anticipated Impressionist colors flashing before me. In fact this exhibit was quite dull in comparison. My eyes scanned several rooms filled with shacks. That’s right. SHACKS!!! Shacks as in shanties. A collection of wood strewn debris reconstructed into dwellings of various themes.
Which brings to mind another flaw, my attention span. It is fleeting when faced with obscure art. I struggled to focus while my internal dialogue became fixed on, “What is this? Is there a point? I don’t get it” Eventually I gave in and climbed the steps into another wing which surely would feature a different theme. Instead I stumbled across yet another SHACK!!! I paused and noted that this one was different. It held my attention. A postcard of donkeys, emblazoned with the word Administration, was displayed above the entry. I laughed out loud. I had something in common with this artist, a shared opinion of management. I held the same visual of the upper echelon of the school district. I noted each artifact the artist used to build his dwelling was a collection of discarded objects. Then I stopped in front of the placard of the artist George Herms. Apparently he was the creator of Found Art during the beat generation. His love for the discards of society, trash, resulted its reassemblage into a work of beauty. I had been under the impression that Found Art was a contemporary art form. Instead I discovered it was a by product of his association with the Beat Generation. I walked away from the museum with a new appreciation for this art form. In fact I contemplated contacting the artist to offer my self up as a found sexagarian who wished to be reassembled in to a new improved object de arte.  It was well worth the entry fee.
A Hermes Creation

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Two Cheshire Cats

Karen and I climbed the wooden steps and on to the deck of the Beachcomber. We were seated at a corner table that overlooked the ocean. I paused for a moment and watched the rhythmic crashing of the waves and their slow retreat. It was a clear day. Glancing up and down the coast, I delighted in the view of the shallow tide pools and jagged steep bluffs.

The hostess set our menus down before us, but the glare of the sun sent me scrambling through my purse in search of my sunglasses. Clutching them between my fingers, I slipped them on before scanning the breakfast choices. Conveniently I forgot my obsession with losing weight and decided upon the, everything on it, Beachcomber omelet.

Then a tall lanky young man with a shock of dark curly hair introduced himself as our waiter. He was polite but impersonal. His tone couldn’t penetrate my glow as I reflected upon the fact that my colleagues were now working in their classrooms while I sat in the sunlight contemplating whether or not to order champagne. He quickly took our orders including my request for champagne at nine o’clock in the morning.

Just before he turned and left, I looked up and announced with a lilt in my voice, “This is the first day of our retirement.” He looked surprised. Then with such warmth, he asked us our professions. When I responded, teachers, his previous indifference diluted completely. His mother was a teacher too he replied with obvious pride. Then he congratulated us. Shortly thereafter he returned with the hostess and introduced us. They both stepped closer and set a slice of their famous cinnamon French toast with a single candle in the center. I didn’t think anything could heighten my sense of joy, but this gesture from strangers who delighted in our passage into leisure brought me to a higher level. Sometimes our southern California culture with its impersonal walls creates a sense of remoteness reinforcing our separateness rather than our commonality. Moments like this remind me of our connectedness with others.

After making a wish and blowing out our candles, Karen and I sat perched on the edge of our new adventure looking like duplicates of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.

It caused me to recall the exchange between Alice and the cat. “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree, ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go,’ was his response. ‘I don’t know’, Alice answered. ‘Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.’” And so it seemed as we sat in the afterglow of our breakfast. Indeed it didn’t matter. This freedom offered more opportunity than I ever imagined.