The Waiting Room

Unfortunately I’m sitting at the dermatologist office for my second bout of skin cancer irradiation.

If someone would have told me five decades ago that Cocoa Butter wasn’t the best method to obtain a sun tan, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. However I’m not so sure I would have taken their advice. I love the smell of Cocoa Butter! Just the thought of it takes me back to my carefree childhood, when a day seemed like a hundred hours. I had nothing to worry about, no one to be responsible for and nothing to fear. I smile just thinking about my friends at Hermosa Beach who’d hold onto the sides of the blanket and catapult me high into the sky. I never thought for a moment they’d drop me and they never did! If they had, I’d probably be sitting in an Orthopedic’s office instead of the Dermatologists.

Being the smallest member of my group, I assume my friends thought I was their personal toy. They’d bury me in the sand or put me on their shoulders when they surfed. Oh those were the days, lying on the blanket for hours at a time, taking in the smell of the ocean and listening to the sound of the waves. Basking in the sun with the wind in my hair and the sand in my crotch. Ah the memories!

The doctors office was decorated with a dozen or so chairs lining the walls. No magazines or piped-in music, only a table displaying enough carbohydrates to choke a horse. A doctors office with fruit and glazed donuts? Really? Something about that just seems wrong, especially since my newest untimely decision was not to eat carbs. However, I do have string cheese and seven peanuts in my purse to look forward to if I get hungry later. It’s excruciatingly painful looking at the chocolate covered, glazed donuts. Even with my eyes closed, I can still smell the sweet sugar in the air.

The majority of the occupants that filled the room were in their sixties with a few hipsters in their seventies and eighties. Someone must have given them the wise guy advice about Cocoa Butter and Baby Oil too. Were there no doctors in the 60’s for God sakes?

I sat down next to an attractive woman dressed in modern looking running gear. She was diligently working on her computer but took the time to move over to give me some room. She introduced herself as Suzette. Just when I was about to introduce myself, out of nowhere Mr. Grumpface bolted out of his chair and barreled across the rug to the receptionist desk. His voice exploded into the otherwise silent room. “I CAN NOT STAY HERE!”

“Why, Mr. Grumpface, you know that you have to wait your turn.” Ellie, our receptionist responded in a calm voice. “Right now you’re number five and if you would like to walk or wait in the hallway we would be glad to call you when it’s your turn.”

“I HAVE THINGS TO DO! He shouted back at her as he plopped back into his seat looking at the rest of us for assurance.

I closed my IPad slowly and glanced up over my glasses in anticipation of some excitement. I said nothing, just watched to see how this story would unfold. I was number nine, I had plenty of time.

Several new patients came into the office. Each time the door opened everyone would look up to check out our new compadre. Finally the last patient entered the room, it was a man wearing a Hawaiian print shirt, khaki shorts and slip on deck shoes. He checked in and joked with Ellie then sat down in the only empty chair that was available, right next to Mr. G.

The old man winced and scooted over so the last member of our clan wouldn’t touch him. I named our newest friend Jimmy Buffet. Jimmy smiled, looked around the room at the dozen misfits that filled the chairs around him and asked “Are you all here to go under the knife too?” He laughed out loud, slapped his leg and turned to Mr. G expecting a smile. He didn’t get one.

“Okay” he said. “So have any of you been here before? We all nodded. “Okay then, let’s get this party started!”

“I’VE BEEN COMING HERE FOR TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS!!! ” Mr. G shouted. “EVER SINCE THEIR OTHER OFFICE OPENED AND THIS IS RIDUCLOUS!! WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO WAIT! WE’RE TREATED LIKE CATTLE HERE! WE NEED TO WALK IN, GET IT DONE AND WALK OUT….. I CAN’T SIT HERE!!”

“I get it!” Jimmy said to Mr. G in a compassionate voice. “What are you in for?”

My ears perked up, halfway expecting him to say, Killing my wife! Instead I watched as Mr. G’s shoulders began to relax and a slight smile began to show in his eyes.

He replied, “Well, I had a little dark spot on the back of my hand and my wife told me to get it checked out, and when she says to get it checked out, then I damn well better get it check out!”

Just a few kind words from Jimmy, I thought. It changed Mr. G in an instant, but I didn’t change his name.

As they chatted quietly, the door from the inner sanctum opened and Suzette’s husband walked out donning a bandage that wrapped around his entire head. It started at the top of his scalp and came down around the bottom of his chin and back up again. From what I could see the mummy was a good looking man of about sixty-five. He too was wearing shorts and a Luau shirt. I began to see a theme here…I named him Brian Adams.

As the morning progressed we were each called into the ghoulish room one by one where the doctor would attempt remove the cancer one tiny layer at a time. This was the first go round for Brian, as it would be for the rest of the numbered guests sitting in front of the Krispy Kreme’s.

When Mr. G was called in for his turn. I shared with Jimmy that I thought this was the highest and best use of this doctors time and how fantastic that we didn’t have to go home and wait for weeks just to find out we’d have to come back for a second or third appointment. He agreed, but when Mr. G came back into the waiting room, Jimmy told him of my theory. What a tattletale, I thought, now Mr. G’s is going to yell at me. I decided not to talk to Jimmy anymore. I watched Suzette cover her mouth and hold back a laugh but her bouncing shoulders gave her away.

After she regained her composure she began to tell Mr. Whiskey a go-go about the procedure we were all doing. “This surgical technique is called the Mohs treatment, it’s where they progressively remove and examine the tissue until only cancer-free tissues remain. I think it was named after someone named Dr. Moh’s whom I’m sure was a surfer in the 60’s. To make it even more exciting, each patient gets a new injection each time they go in. It’s a piece of cake!”

Easy for her to say, I thought. She was the only one in the room not getting the Mohs treatment besides Ellie.

Mr G had found a common ground with Jimmy and they became so engrossed in their conversation and donuts that he stopped yelling at Ellie who was quite busy escorting one of the dirty dozen in for their next turn at this macabre experience.

There were four small rooms in the inter sanctum. In addition to Ellie, the office had three assistants who administered shots and bandaged the wounds. The High Priest was Doctor Fronkinsteen who sliced, diced and sewed us up. He was magnificent!!!

It was quite the assembly line, Henry Ford would have been proud. We were summoned into the room in the order in which we arrived and by mid morning all twelve of us had a bandage somewhere on our bodies with the exception of Suzette. Some on their face and a few on their ankles, arms and legs. It reminded me of the doctor scene in the movie Beetlejuice minus the shrunkin’ head.

Damn you SUN!

I prayed that nothing would happen to the High Priest before the entire tribe was stitched-up. I wasn’t sure if any of the twelve year old looking assistants had the capability of finishing the job in an emergency. There might have been some possibility that Mr. G could have done the job based on his personal experience. The only problem with that theory was he probably would leave me unstitched because of my radical comments earlier in the morning.

Mr. Whiskey-a-go-go kept us entertained with his wild stories of his owning a bar in Hollywood in the sixties and of his songwriting friend, Dobie Gray. When he was done reminiscing about Beverly Hills he moved on to his escapades as a Basketball Coach at Saddleback College. He kept everyone entertained. He showed me how to look him up on the internet and I was surprised to see his smiling face on my I-Phone. I asked for his autograph, he was in his glory. We were all so engaged that even Mr. G forgot he was so miserable.

One by one we went back in for our review. Some would come out smiling and all stitched up, high fiving and ready to go home – waving goodbye like movie stars as they took their stage exit. Others would shake their head and sit back down to wait for their name to be called again.

All through the morning we played musical chairs and the four hours flew by. It was comforting to know I wasn’t in this alone. The procedure was amazing and also seemed to be a very lucrative business, one of which I should have thought of when I was being thrown in the air on the beach blanket so many years ago. If I only knew then, what I know now!

My last turn finally came and I got to have my personal victory. I held my head high with my badge of courage bandaged on my cheek ready to tell my new friends goodbye,  however by the time I arrived back in the waiting room it was already empty.

What fair weathered friends!! I thought. Oh well, I’ll probably never see them again anyway, unless of course I detect a new souvenir from my days in the sun.

I wasn’t the only person in the family naming people today, when I arrived home from my exhausting ordeal Terry asked, How’s my Little Scarface today?

Evidently, compassion doesn’t run in the family😏

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Short Stuff

I have always been vertically challenged. At the age of four people thought I was a flippin’ genius because of my uncanny ability to walk and talk. I looked like a walking infant. For many years I actually thought my name was, “Ahhh!!”

Friends and strangers alike thought they were ingenious giving me nicknames like Pee Wee, Short Stuff, Midget, Elf, Pygmy, Dwarf. I learned how to fake smile at a very early age.

In middle school my mother bought my clothes from the store windows in the downtown Los Angeles fashion district. The clothes in the storefront were miniature like the furniture that’s used today in model homes to make the rooms look larger. No wonder my friends didn’t like to stand next to me, I made them feel like freakin’ Giants.

I would have given my eye teeth to have been able to wear the styles that everyone else was wearing. That just wasn’t possible, so I was adorned with avocado green plaid skirts, matching plaid shoes and purse. I looked like a store manikin with poor taste only shorter.

When I was sixteen I was the size of a ten year old and the adorableness was wearing on me. My friends parents invariably would scoot me out to play with their 5th graders and I’d have to explain my way out of the exodus by convincing them I was a friend of their high school child.

“Nah” they’d say and chuckle at the great humor of it all. So, in puberty my name changed from “Ahh” to “Nahh!!”

I didn’t get to experience the big boy whistles nor the head out-the-car window cat calls of my peers and I darn sure had to learn to swim at a very young age to be able to wade in the ocean with my friends without drowning.

As a teenager my favorite thing to do was go to the movies. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned not everybody had a head blocking their view nor did their legs fall asleep from the lack of blood as their feet dangled from the seat.

For over half a century I scaled counter tops and stood on sinks to reach the dishes, soaps and cereals. I’ve now graduated to a step stool in every room and my swollen knee bones thank me. I also have less cuts and bruises from the myriad of life threatening incidents that comes from suspending from cupboard doors or falling head first from the top of the washing machine.

I once got caught upside down between the wall and the dryer and had to figure out how to unfold my contortionist body and remove my smashed face away from the wall without denting the appliances. More importantly, I was determined not to have my family’s last memory of me be on the floor of the laundry room.

Now, the only time I attempt to do these death defying stunts is when I retrieve my mail. It just seems a little cumbersome to bring a ladder with me when I pay bills.

When I was thirty-three, a bartender asked for my ID after I ordered a Martini. The people I was with were the same age and didn’t get carded. That is the day the table finally turned. Evidently my friends looked a lot older than me because of their height! Ask any child which adult is older and they’ll invariable pick the tall one.

Not so long ago I was carded at Festival Cinemas. It was the first time in over thirty years and I couldn’t believe my ears, so I asked a second time.

“You want to see my I.D.? Really?”

I thought. It must be his first day on the job, then saw his shiny new badge displaying Assistant Manager.

He looked at me in all seriousness and said, “Yes I do!”

At first I was insulted by this young mans skepticism, then realized this was a banner day for me.

I inconveniently reached in my purse making sure he didn’t see the contraband of homemade popcorn, store bought candy and bottled water, then flung out my drivers license and asked,

“What kind of idiot would lie about getting a Senior Discount anyway?”

Well, the moral to the story – I still got it and you can call me Shorty!

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Seven Minutes with Kathy

Making the nine house trek to my mailbox is not usually a note worthy experience, however on this particular day it became one I will remember for the rest of my life.

I walked past mostly closed garage doors on my journey. They’re closed because it’s the rule that is written by our gestapo home owners association. YOUR GARAGE DOOR MUST BE CLOSED AT ALL TIMES IF YOU ARE NOT ENTERING OR EXITING.

I think this rule was created to pull the wool over the eyes of the world and make them think that we are the most organized and tidy neighborhood in the universe.

What most earth dwellers don’t realize is that our garages are so packed that we can’t even fit cars in them. I peered into one neighbors garage and was amazed to find enough gym equipment to start their own fitness center. Further down I witnessed yet another offender. Inside their garage were two Harley Davidson’s an antique truck and an entire living room with an 80 inch flat screen TV hanging from the ceiling.

The HOA must not be aware of these clandestine living habits. I thought. But I’m no informant, unless of course they use water boarding, then I’ll sing like a bird.

The by-product of this hoarding is that we have enough cars parked outside of the garages to start an auto dealership on our street.

When I reached the mailboxes, I was shocked at the insubordination of yet another HOA rebel. I peered into the garage and saw a woman who looked to be in her early seventies. She was hanging on to the side mirror of a chocolate brown Porsche. Her other hand was clutching the antenna of a BMW. Since no one in the neighborhood only has two cars, I assumed the silver Mercedes convertible in the driveway was also hers.

She was wearing a pink colored robe and nightgown that was tied with a sash high under her breasts which revealed a swollen middle area. She wore matching bedroom slippers and her light colored hair looked as if it just left the pillow. I nodded and wished her a good afternoon and she replied softly with a strained smile.

I thought, she’d better close that garage door soon or she is going to be in big trouble and man does this family know how to buy nice cars!

I continued my journey to retrieve the mail. Our box is on the top level. In order to even see my mail I have to stand on my tip toes and hang on to the top of the mailbox with my finger tips. To actually get my mail I balance myself with one hand and scoop out my mail with the other. Most times I drop the advertisements and bills on the ground but on this day I got a bonus. The wind picked up the letters built their own little private tornado around the big black bank of stand alone boxes. I jumped down and ran around stomping the mail with my feet as I watched the envelopes take flight.

I regained my composure, gathered my unwanted bills and began my retreat home. I approached the woman in pink and noticed that she had barely moved from where I saw her last. I had assumed because of the length of time it took to handle my mail issue that she would have been back in her house by now and had closed that illegally opened garage door of hers. She was standing at the rear of the cars getting ready to make her approach to the street. I could see that she was having a tough time walking.

“Do you need any help?” I asked.

“Oh no, thank you,” she replied. Her voice was so soft I could barely hear her.

I walked a couple of houses towards home and all of a sudden I felt myself turn around and walk back to her. I put my hand under her elbow and without a word started walking slowly towards her front door. She was slouched over and looked up at me and smiled.

It’s a rare day when anyone has to look up at me, unless of course they’re eight or nine years old.

We took a few steps and she said, “I thought I could make it myself but I think you’re right, I could use your help “I’m Kathy and you are Anita from the corner, right?”

I was so surprised how lucid she was considering her disheveled appearance. She continued, “I just wanted to come around to the front patio and see my waterfall. I love my waterfall.”

She scooted her feet with ever so tiny steps and I held her steady by having her body lean on mine. I opened the gate to the front patio and saw her frown. The decorative cement water fountain was dry and presently held only leaves. Her disappointment was so apparent that my heart ached and I thought perhaps I could help her turn it on. Although I knew that was an impossibility because my “fix it” prowess has always been broken. We proceeded up the walk toward the entrance to her house. She could barely lift her foot the three inches to the landing. Fortunately there was an ornately carved, white bench a couple of steps away. I turned her frail body around and she sat down exhausted.

We stayed there for a while so she could catch her breathe. She then spoke about her cancer and how she and her husband Chuck had thought about getting a one story, but just couldn’t give up living on the lake. She loved her home and told me all about her family.

“We’ll probably go to The City of Hope if this procedure doesn’t work for me she said. “You know, last year at this time I was golfing, it’s hard to believe what can happen in just a year.”

While she spoke her little doggy, Babe was yapping in anticipation of her coming back inside. I had a hard time concentrating with the dogs incessant yelping so I stood up to get the door so Kathy could calm her.

“The door is locked.” I said.

I looked down the pathway back toward the garage. There was no way Kathy could walk back down that step nor the path that led to the illegally open garage door. The only option we had was for me to go inside the house through the garage and open the door for her. I told Kathy my idea and she agreed.

I approached the back door with caution and slowly pushed it opened. I poked my head inside only to see Babe’s gnashing teeth and hear her growling. I shut the door.

“She won’t let me in.” I said to the Porsche. “Oh my God, what am I going to do? I can’t go back to Kathy and tell her she’d have to walk back around the house and through the garage again.”

“I have no choice, I have to go in.” I said to the BMW in a panic. “It doesn’t matter what I have to endure. But what if Babe bites me? What if the bite gets infected? What if I have to get my leg amputated? For God sakes, go in!”

“It’s okay Babe, it’s okay” I was so frightened, but I pushed my way in. I leaned my back against the door. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”

“There is no way that I’m not going to open that door for Kathy.” I told Babe. I was terrified! “I will not abort my mission to Kathy under any circumstance. Do you hear me Babe?”

Trying desperately to muster up enough bravery to take my first step, I held my ears to muffle the her unrelenting barking. My entire dog life came back to me, that is my dog ownership life.

One afternoon in 1960 my brother Michael brought home a very large German Shepard. He came with a dog house and a story. This dog was owned by Adolfe Menjou, a famous Beverly Hills debonair silent film actor. He spoke six languages and was an avid dog lover. Adolfe, was born in 1890 and was ill therefore could no longer take care of Comrade. Michael who was his chauffeur at the time convinced him that he would be the perfect commander and chief to raise his dog. Adolfe was French born which must have been a factor in his bad judge of character. After all at 17 it was already evident Michael was in his early stages of lunacy.

I often sat on the cold concrete of my front porch to watch the older kids in the neighborhood play kick ball in the street. When I saw the limo come around the corner, I knew Michael was coming home from work and the torture would begin. He parked in front of our house blocking my view of the activities in the street, so I switched my attention to him. I noticed a gargantuan house propped lopsided in his opened trunk. I watched him attempt to remove the wooden dog house from the back of his limo. After several failed attempts he ran across the street. I assumed he was conning a friend into helping him.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I picked up my doll Pepper and creeped toward the car to get a better look at what Michael was up to this time. Before I reached the curb I heard the growl coming from the back seat. Then there was an explosion of vicious barking that vibrated the bones in my entire body. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and chills sprang out of every pore. I saw the black nose slam against the window and the sharp nails scratch at the glass. The slobber began to drip down the fogged glass and I knew it was about to shatter. I couldn’t move. I was comatose.

I looked down and saw the dog looking up at me and realized it was Babe. Her fangs were showing and her high pitched yipping sounds brought me back to reality. “It’s okay Babe, It’s okay, Mommy’s right outside. I’m just going to just walk real slow by you and open the front door. Please don’t bite me.”

Babe was relentless. Her barking continued until I was back where I started with my back to the door of the garage. I looked around the laundry room for something to use to protect myself, but each time I tried moving forward Babe came closer. I leaned against the door in defeat. I closed my eyes and tried to muster up the courage to move again.

I dropped Pepper and ran back to the house screaming, “Mommy, Michael’s got a dog with rabies in his car!”

Michael and our neighbor, Karl ran back to the truck and the dog calmed down. They lifted the house onto the street and Karl laughed out loud. He put his finger on the sign that was attached to the wooden structure.

“Hüte dich vor dem Hund.” He read. “Beware of the Dog!”

No Shit Sherlock, I thought.

My mom headed down the steps wiping her hands on her apron. I was scrunched down, taking baby steps right behind her. I truly believed no one could see me.

Michael yelled, “Snitch! I’ll get you for this, I see you.”

Did he think mom wouldn’t notice an eighty pound dog living in our backyard? I thought.

“I’m no snitch. You’re crazy!!!” I yelled bravely holding on to moms skirt so tight that it began to slip down her hips. She finally realized the severity of the issue when her skirt was at her knees.

“Stop it!” “What’s going on here?” She commanded as she slapped my hand off her skirt.

Her face turned a couple shades of red as she bent over to pull up her clothing.  “Good thing I’m wearing a slip,” she said giving me the stink eye. She looked around the neighborhood to see if anybody saw her.  Michael seeing mom look the other way bravely snatched Pepper from the gutter and pretended to strangle her. I started screaming and ran towards him to save my baby.

Bam! The vicious dog slammed himself against the glass again and this time mom got to see first hand what was really going on. The limo was rocking back and forth as the lunatic canine ran from window to window.

“Really, are you really going to let him keep that dog?” I asked my mom. Even at the age of 10 I knew it was inappropriate for a Jewish family to adopt a Nazi for a pet.

He behaved quite well most of the time, probably because he didn’t understand one word we said. But then Michael decided to learn German. After that he would yell out German words which would set Comrade off running through the house. He ran up and over the furniture and slid on the wooden floors knocking down the dining room chairs like a bowling ball. When Michael stopped screaming, then and only then did Comrade lay down by his side.
I was always cognizant that at any given moment Michael might whisper something to Comrade in German and I’d be a goner. I felt the hot breathe against my leg and then the teeth. I expected to see Comrade coming to take my life, but looked down and saw little Babe. I was so relieved that it gave me the energy that I needed to overcome my present situation.

“Back Babe” I said. “I’m coming through!”

I marched to the front door unscathed, flung  the door open with Babe yapping beside me the entire way. I put my arms around Kathy and she gave me a warm hug as though I had been gone for hours, which at one time was a strong possibility. We stood there hugging for several moments and time stood still. She gave me an endearing kiss on my cheek and went inside.

A few days later Chuck took Kathy and all of their children and grandchildren to a beach house get away and as Kathy enjoyed her family for the last time, she closed her eyes and said goodbye.

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Wind Beneath My Wings

I have a best friend, let’s just call her Georgia because she’s not dead yet and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. Actually, I don’t want to hurt anyones feelings. To tell you the truth, I believe offensive thoughts might place a curse on the person you’re talking about.

Forty years ago I read the book Fear of Flying. I suppose I read it because it was cutting edge and was touted as erotic literature. The only thing I remember about the book was the author, Erica Jong. She was convinced that her consistent worrying for the length of her flight was the only reason the plane didn’t crash. This type of thinking stuck in my impressionable mind for years and I worried much more than I should have. Thank God I only read one chapter. In lieu of worrying I knock on wood, spit over my shoulder and pray a lot. For me this is a much more rational solution.
Georgia on the other hand, says things like “I hope he dies” or “I want to rip his throat out.”
She never scares me because I know her bark is much bigger than her bite and that she’d give a friend the shirt off her back if they asked. She doesn’t say things like that as often anymore, because she wants to go heaven. I’m not sure if she wants to be saved or just would like to hang out with me in the afterlife. That’s a true, blue friend.

She saved my life once while snorkeling in the waters of Mexico. She saw the myriads of jellyfish and turned into the Incredible Hulk, putting herself between me and the school of gelatinous animals that were on a mission to deliver me their venom. She tossed me into the boat risking life and limb.

We’re like day and night. Georgia is my Bette Midler and I am her Barbara Hershey. Her motto is, “If one is good, then five is better.”

I, on the other hand have a meltdown every time I shop. I ask myself, “Do I really need this? Is it going to be this cute when I get it home? Is the quality worth the price? “Can I use this money for something else? Will it be versatile, will it shrink?”

Georgia thinks I am as nutty as a fruitcake and mockingly commands me to “Just buy the damn thing already,” and I usually do.

Speaking of fruitcake, she’s a gourmet cook. Everything she prepares is stunning. She spends days shopping, prepping, and creating dishes fit for a king. My specialty and claim to fame is a loaf of bread and pre-made spinach dip.

Spending money has always been a love affair with Georgia. If I were to buy a bottle of wine, she’d buy a case. In her heyday, she traveled abroad as often as possible, coming home with bags and boxes of glorious artwork, cookware, food and memories, reminiscent of a leading lady of an Oscar winning show.

Georgia is a long time successful business woman and has the luxury to come and go as she pleases. She offers wine to friends in the afternoons, has been known to take her staff on cruises. She’s given me a standing offer for a job. I came close to taking her up on it many times, but never acquiesced.

I was chicken, never wanting to leave the nest egg of my 401k, insurance and retirement. I wasn’t willing to take the risk. I admire her ability to throw caution to the wind. Her longtime mantra is, “I will die at my desk at 99.”

She’s still working on it and may very well meet her goal.

I’m retired now, because evidently that was my goal.

We met almost 30 years ago and she still laughs at my jokes and makes me feel like I can do anything. It was love at first sight.

She’ll always be the wind beneath my wings.

Happy Birthday MW

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One More Time – A Sisters Love

 

He’s gone, I can’t believe it. He always thought he was dying, but I never thought he was serious.  Michael was a story teller; one would never know if his tales were real, embellished or entirely fabricated.  So why would I have believed him this time? As a little girl I would listen intently to his outlandish ideas.

“Is that really true Michael?

He’d look me straight in the eye, “Sure it is Sis.”

He was five years my senior, a dark skinned, good looking guy.  I thought he was a couple bubbles off plumb, but loved him just the same.  As a kid, he’d hold his breath until he turned blue to make a point and write beatnik songs that made absolutely no sense. He played the flute and drums since he was a ten.  It’s a wonder the entire family didn’t go deaf from the practicing. His claim to fame was taking lessons with Cubby from the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950’s.

When he was a teenager I’d peer into his darkened room through a crack in his bedroom door and spy on him.  He slowly and methodically worked his snare drum with the spotlight set on his face and drumsticks as he recited his poetries.

“Life is a drag man”…sha shoo…sha shoo

“Life is a drag.”

“Known not to conformity”, sha shoo, sha shoo,

“Life is a drag man.”   

“Man, life is a drag.”

Michael was the host of the family shows we staged for the grown-ups. I was the singer and dancer and would insist the family turn around and not look when I was on stage; I was the shy one.  When the show was over and Michael told every last joke; the aunts and uncles would throw coins to us.  He was a brilliant showman and storyteller.

He talked my cousin Francine and me into sneaking out of the house at dawn one Sunday morning. I remember it being a Sunday, as his Saturday was spent studying the Torah for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. We grabbed our homemade go-cart and walked the half block to Imperial highway. He set the rickety wooden cart at the top of the treacherous hill and made sure the wheels were tightly mounted to the axle and the steering rope was working properly. I waited patiently for all the testing to be done. 

Twisting my hair around my finger I asked my big brother, “Are you scared Michael?”

“Nay Sis, there’s nothin’ to be ‘fraid of.”

Francine was adamant, “I’m not going!”

I sang, “Francine’s a sissy, Francine’s a sissy.”

In our family it was always two against one.  Most times it was Michael and me against Francine. She and my Aunt lived with us for most of our childhood.  She got straight A’s, so we figured it was okay to hate her.

Michael slung his leg over the plank of wood, sat down and placed his red Converse Tenny’s firmly on the ground to make sure the cart wouldn’t head down the hill without us. 

He grabbed the rope and commanded in his sternest voice, “Francine get in or I’ll sock you.  Sit down behind me and hold on tight.”

She stuck out her tongue at me and got in.

Michael yelled, “Now it’s your turn, sis grab on to Francine.”

I jumped in the back and leaned into her barely getting my legs wrapped around her when Michael yelled, “Hi Ho Silver Away!”

We held on for dear life, screaming all the way down the hill.  Our shouts reverberated from the vibration of the rickety cart making its way over the sidewalk cracks. We bumped and rattled until we hit a rut, flew off the curb and into the street.

Michael berated us, “Mom and Dad would have never even known we were gone; if you two hadn’t leaned the wrong way.  Your bloody chin and knees are going to give us all away.”

Francine started crying, “Am I bleeding, am I bleeding?”

They looked over at me and knew they were really in trouble, as I was the one bleeding, but too tough to cry.

Francine peered at Michael, “Ooo, you are going to get it, you’re the oldest and Anita is bleeding.”

We didn’t get into too much trouble; it just made my dad want to get into the act.

“You guys want a real challenge?  Next Sunday, I double dog dare you rascals to a skate race with me around the block.  I’ll even give you a head start.” 

Michael and I giggled, “Yay Daddy!”

We had to shame Francine into joining. Come Sunday Dad said, “Here’s the rules; I’ll skate the four corners. Michael you start at the second corner.  Francine you begin mid-block and Neen, you can go to the half-way mark.  I will still beat all of you! 

Francine wined, “How come she gets to only skate two corners and I have to skate two and a half?”

Michael just shook his head, “She’s the baby stupid!”

Skate keys in hand we strapped the roller skates to our Ked’s and took our place at our respective starting line. Michael sounded the horn and we were off to the races. Fast Eddie, as I called my dad, didn’t cut us any slack; he had no problem skating the entire block coming in first. 

He stood at the finish line hollering, “Come on Neen, you can do it!”

I skated as fast as i could with my dad cheering me on. Michael nearly beat me, but I came in second. Francine chose not to skate on the wet sidewalk, so she walked on the grass and one of her skates came off her shoe.  She limped all the way to the finish line crying with her skate dangling from her ankle.  It didn’t matter who won, we all celebrated with a root beer float.

In my teenage years my dad, aunt and brother all smoked so I decided to give it a try.  Michael taunted me with the prospect of giving me free cigarettes; only after I’d stood on my head or guessed who conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Then and only then he’d give me a cigarette. On one particular occurrence, he put the un-lit cigarette in my mouth.

He was up to something, “Want me to light it for you?”

I whispered, “Sure!”

As soon as I inhaled, Michael yelled, “Ma, Needa’s smoking!”

When I turned fifteen my mom and dad got a divorce and everyone went their separate ways. Our home of six suddenly became an apartment for two – mom and me. There was no more beating of the drums, go-carts, or skating races and Michael and I drifted apart.  We saw one another on holidays at our mother’s house. When I was 25 mother died; after that we rarely saw one another. However we never missed calling each other on our birthdays.  My day wasn’t complete until Michael played Happy Birthday to me on his flute. We saw each other only a handful of times over the next two decades.  When we were together he would elaborate on his many illnesses.

“This is the one that’s going to kill me.” he’d say. 

I told my children that their Uncle Mike was dying again. 

“Sure Mom, hasn’t Uncle Mike been dying for years?”

“Well yes but it could be true this time.”

When we were in our fifties Michael and I became friends; in our sixties we became best friends. Our times together always centered on a meal; he had become a real Foodie.  One thing that never changed was his crazy stories and eclectic concepts.

Taking a bite of his beef dip sandwich at lunch one afternoon, he proclaimed, “I love Rubenesque women; not five foot ten and 400 pounds, mind you.  I like them five feet, three and 200 pounds.”

My mouth was open, getting ready to take a bite of food.  I put down my sandwich and said, “Really, really.”

He said, “Yep.”

Before I could take another bite he questioned, “Do you like Risotto?”

Not being sure of what my answer should be, I said, “Why?”

“Well, if you like Risotto, I will have to disown you.”

Perplexed I chuckled, “Do you want to tell me the reason?”

“Its rice for God’s sakes, they charge too much and I am taking a stand.”

He never ceased to make me laugh. One afternoon after a three hour lunch, we decided that we’d try and find the hospital where we were born. 

He announced, “I was born at Lincoln Memorial.”

“I know so was I”

He looked perplexed, “Really?”

Puzzled, I asked, “Why didn’t we know that about each other?”

“Well, we really don’t know that much about each other, but something tells me, we will before the day is over.”

After a few wrong turns we found the hospital where we were born.  We took pictures and shared funny stories.

“Hey, let’s find Grandma’s house, it should be near here.” 

Bobby, as we called her, was a short, stout little lady.  She came to America from Poland in the early 1900’s.

“Michael, Bobby took 4th Grade English at the same time I did!” 

He added, “She used to cheat at cards too, or so Daddy said.”

“Guess what, I remember her address even though at times I can’t even remember why I went into a room.” 

Michael looked at me like a proud brother, “You’re a genius.”

We turned onto the small street in East LA.  There were chain link fences around the front yards and bars on the windows that were not there when we were kids. The old cypress trees were enormous and the street was much narrower than we remembered.

Michael rolled down his window and summoned a neighbor that was working on his lawn, “Hi, do you live here?’

“I do!”

“How long have you lived in this neighborhood?”

I queried, “Michael, who do you think you are Huel Howser?”

He smiled and shot me a glance and then resumed his conversation with the older Hispanic gentlemen.

“Our Grandmother lived on this street and our parents met one another here.  We played on these streets over 60 years ago.”

He walked over to the car, shook Michael’s hand and told him how much he loved his home and his neighborhood and enjoyed the history lesson. I looked at Michael and tears welled up in my eyes. 

He turned out to be such a sweet man. One who had respect for people; regardless of their background or their color.      

He surprised me, yet there was no reason to be surprised by his kindness, he was his mother’s son and she was the queen of kind. We knew his lungs were failing and his cancer treatments were not working. The doctors didn’t want to take a chance on surgery because of his weak lungs. This made us treasure these moments all the more.

“The best part about dying, Sis, is living!”

“I know Michael, I know…and eating!”

We waved good-bye to the gent on the corner and headed up the street to 2022 City View.  A young man was walking up to the house that our grandmother had lived in.  

Michael rolled down the passenger side window startling the stranger. “Sir, Sir, do you live here?”

I thought, Oh shit, this is not the best of neighborhoods. Michael has gone too far this time.

The fellow spun around, took off his sunglasses and sauntered up to my side of the car resting his arm within an inch from my face.

“Na, I don’ live here, why?”

Michael leaned over me, “Well our grandma used to live in this house.  We played here over 65 years ago.”

I thought; if we keep this up his story would be 90 years ago by the end of the day.

He moved his face closer to the window and peered in, “Far out man.”

Michael continued chatting as though I wasn’t there.  I didn’t hear a word he said, I just wanted to leave before we made any more of a spectacle of ourselves.  No one seemed to care that we were totally out of place in this neighborhood.  Our Range Rover and white skin didn’t give anyone cause for alarm, except maybe me.

“Hey, want to find our grandparents gravesides?”

“Why not, let’s go!”

We meandered through several cemeteries until we came to one that sounded vaguely familiar.  Michael waited in the car with his oxygen tank and I went into the office for directions. In no time I came out waving a map.

“Bingo! It is the right cemetery and we have found two sets of grandparents not one!”

“You’re the greatest sis, jump in!”

We roamed through the streets until we came to the designated section. I found the sites and signaled for Michael to join me.  We hadn’t even known that our real grandfather remarried until we read the stone. 

We took pictures sitting next to their etched memorial stones. Michael took off his oxygen tank and hid the canister behind one of the headstones.  He wore his oxygen contraption for over a decade and never wanted a picture taken wearing it.  He was styling with plaid tennis shoes but didn’t care that he had no bottom teeth.  He figured that he was dying and didn’t want to waste the money on teeth, as long as he could eat ribs without them.

On occasion he would pick me up at Union Station and we’d head to China Town for Dim Sum and frequent our favorite herb doctor.  Michael loved the doctor and his wife Johanna.  They concocted herbs, plants and teas to help relieve Michael’s myriad of symptoms.  I joined in and bought special teas for whatever was ailing me that day. 

“Sis, I want to buy you a tea cup and some tea.  Johanna, put that on my bill!”

“Thanks Michael, I love you.”

“I love you too. Now let’s go to the train station and scare the Filipino’s!”

He was referring to the parking guards at Union Station.  They took their job very seriously and were protective of the no parking regulations.  The possibility that we might park in a no parking zone made them very uneasy.  They freaked out each time we drove near their kiosk.

“You cannot come in here!”

Michael, would roll down his window and say politely, “Okay, we’ll just drive in and make a U-turn, okay.  I just wanted to show my sister the back of the station.”

“NO, NO you can’t do that.”

Michael rolled up his window and drove in while the guards watched us in fear that we might make an attempt to park. He would laugh as he made the loop and come out of the restricted area. It made him so happy; we did this many times.

On the day Michael died, I took a cab to Chinatown to tell the Doctor and Johanna that Michael had gone.  Johanna had tears in her eyes as she touched my hand. I felt her sorrow as she too had lost a friend.

I miss Michael and wish we could scare the Filipinos or I could hear the reasons why I shouldn’t eat Risotto just one more time. 

He was my gift from God and I will treasure the stolen moments that we spent together.

“Thanks for the memories Brother.  “Hi Ho Silver Away!”

February 23, 1943 – June 12, 2014

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