Night Crooner

Around midnight there’s a bird in the tree by my bedroom window that starts singing. His timing is intriguing. I thought birds went to bed with sundown and stayed quiet until sunrise. Not this one. He has a repertoire that is impressive. He must be an opera singer preparing for his role. He keeps me awake. I listen to his notes, and not one is the same as the other. He varies his tone and his melody. You’d think others were answering him, but it’s all coming from him.

I did an Internet search for night crooners and found him. He’s the Northern Mockingbird. He can mimic other birds as well as invent his own songs. His is a playlist that lasts well into the night.

Lately he’s taken the night off. I miss him.

“Thank heavens he’s stopped,” Alf said.

“Why? I quite liked him,” I said.

“You’ve always needed a lullaby,” Alf says.

“I know you can’t sleep with noise, but this is music, not noise.”

“I bury my head under the pillows,” Alf said.

“But it’s soothing. You’re missing out.”

“He sounds like a hand bell choir, wind chimes, and a tin drum all rolled into one,” Alf said.

“That isn’t noise,” I said.

“That’s because you’re tone deaf.”

Calvin says, “There needs to be a bay in there somewhere, then it would be complete.”

 

Cutting Up a Little

“You don’t suppose I put the knife someplace I typically don’t?” Alf said.

“What knife?” I said.

“You know, the knife,” Alf said.

“You have so many.”

“No I don’t.”

“You have the one for scaling fish, the one for carving wood, the one for cutting down outgrowth on the bushes, and the one you use for cutting grilled steak,” I said.

“That’s not the knife I mean.”

“Then I can’t help you,” I said.

“Clearly,” Alf said.

“Have you tried looking where you keep the dog’s things?” I said.

“Why would it be there?”

“You take it with you on your walks with him.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You said you never know when you have to defend yourself from rattlesnakes, runaway horses, and lost turtles,” I said.

“I said that?”

“No, I made it up. But it sounded good, didn’t it?”

Calvin says, “And slobbering dogs looking for attention.”

 

 

Real vs Fake

Alf came home this morning with a bagful of bagels.

“Were those bagels boiled and then baked, like the real thing?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They just looked good.”

“Now that you’ve eaten one, what do you think?” I said.

“It was light and crispy.”

“A dead giveaway. I fake bagel, it wasn’t boiled.”

“What’s the difference?”

“A real bagel is crunchy and shiny on the outside, chewy on the inside. There’s weight to it.”

“Since when have you become a connoisseur of bagels?” Alf said.

“Since my first trip to New York, years ago when I sunk my teeth into a pumpernickel bagel piled high with green olive cream cheese that oozed out with every bite. I’ve been spoiled ever since.”

“You’ve been spoiled by more than bagels my dear.”

Calvin says, “I’m soft on the outside and weighty on the inside. I wouldn’t pass for a real bagel, but you could make me one with lots of smoked salmon, thank you, please.”

 

A Chameleon Life

I grew up in three cultures – British, Mexican and Lebanese. Some days I don’t know who I am, which I’m told is normal for someone whose roots go all over the map. The customs and foods and quirks unique to each one requires a passport. Later in life I discovered I was also Jewish, so I added that to my identity profile. Being Jewish explained a lot. It informed my searching for home. My nomad existence. Never feeling I’ve settled down with any one particular place or group of people. It explained my love of Jewish music, especially the minor key.

Over the years, I’ve learned to live with the tension of identity. I’m able to live in a Latin culture as well as a British one. I put them on like a coat. I equally relish a plate of tacos as lamb kebab with hummus. There are days I need a steaming cup of yerba mate tea for comfort, but there are other times when only a mug of cinnamon coffee will do.

I’ve spent more time in the United States than anywhere else now. I understand the language, the people, and the traditions, but there are days when my heart longs to hear Spanish, my native tongue, to feel the slower pace of life, and enjoy the connections to family that go back centuries to when they too came from other parts of the world.

Calvin says, “I’m glad my roots only go back to Napa, the beagle-wine producing region of the world.”

Hair Day

On Saturday I went to see my hairdresser. It was a clandestine trip. We parked two blocks away, put on our masks, I looked like a pirate in my red bandana, hair blowing in the wind, and walked to the salon. It was in darkness. My hairdresser had shut the blinds so nobody could see in, he also had the lights turned off. He gave us the secret knock – three and a half raps on the door, like in the movies. He opened up, and we squeezed in. He was wearing a mask and looked thinner than before the quarantine.

“An operation like this requires a drink and a piano,” Alf said.

“And your wife is Ingrid Bergman,” my hairdresser said.

“Of all the salons around here, we walk into yours,” Alf said.

“Play it again, Sam.” My hairdresser turned up the music on his computer.

“We’ll always have Carmel,” I said.

“Here’s looking at you, kid. What do you want done to your hair?” he said.

“Whatever you want, since this is what every hairdresser wants to hear,” I said.

“Ingrid, this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship,” he said.

“And when you’re done, work on my head, we must look good for our transit back home,” Alf said.

Calvin says, “I’ll round up the usual suspects and walk off into the sunset.” 

 

 

Shared Greenery

“It’s time to cut the lawn,” our neighbor told us today. We agreed it was looking a bit furry, but we thought it gave the front of the house some character. Plus it looked like we do, two months without a haircut.

“Let’s wait til May,” Alf said.

“By then you’ll need to hack your way to the front door,” he said.

“Come on, it won’t be that bad,” Alf said.

“Yes it will, it’s all the watering you do every morning that’s causing the jungle to spring up.”

Truth is our neighbor keeps his lawn as short as a barber’s haircut and ours was irritating him.

So after a lot of back and forth, Alf allowed the mower to come across our driveway and into the front lawn.

Our neighbor did a fine job of hair cutting. The equipment made all the right rumbling noies and the blower whined throughout the neighborhood. It was done in less than fifteen minutes.

He was satisfied with the results and took his mower back to his house, went inside and we won’t see him for another month.

We guess this is his way of coping with the lockdown. Every leaf has to be a certain height and no higher. He turns on a fountain every day with a yellow rubber ducky bobbing on the surface. The basket of flowers at his front door are artificial and look grey around the edges. Everything else is real, including a rhododendron tree that explodes with purple flowers every spring.

Three fig trees line up tall between his property and ours. He doesn’t like figs so we get the harvest. I love them. We in turn give him oranges and lemons from our trees. A polite exchange.

Calvin says, “How can he not like figs? I like figs, and that’s crazy because beagles hate fruit.”

Brain Burn-out

I’ve read the phrase Zoom fatigue. I’m feeling it. The symptoms include feeling drained after an online meeting because we’re working harder on the screen. We want to be included and heard and that means we’re using more brain power.

Most people aren’t trained to be on camera, that in itself is stressful. Then it’s learning the technology of the meeting. We don’t have the opportunity to see body language, hand movements or facial signs and that makes communicating more difficult.

Being part of a multi-person screen with everyone in their little boxes like the show Hollywood Squares forces the brain to take it all in without choosing any one person, and that is exhausting. I know. I’ve been doing this for the past six weeks and at the end of the day I’m ready for a nap.

There isn’t an alternative unless you want to regress to letter writing, pigeon messengers, and sending smoke signals. I kinda like the simplicity of that. It would soothe my brain. Of course, I’d have to buy some pigeons and train them.

Calvin says, “Or send me out there with your messages attached to my collar. I charge a slab of bacon per customer.”

 

 

How to Connect. Let Me Count the Ways.

I’ve heard everything now. A friend’s daughter is hosting movie nights with her buddies via computer. Don’t ask how they’re doing it, I haven’t a clue, but they have dinner together and then sit back and relax and watch the movie. I’m sure a lot of people are doing this. What an ingenious way to stay together. It’s like having family when you want it without the drama. Clever.

I have to think of something like this with my siblings, but it won’t work. We can’t agree on anything, especially what movie to watch. It’s the same with music. This forced lockdown is making me guilty that I’m not putting aside my differences in order to re-engage with them. But I know better. I spoke with a neighbor today and she’s going through old photographs of herself with her family. That might work, but I’m afraid it would bring up all sorts of things we’d rather leave buried, like the dog that disappeared, and that scar we’d rather not talk about.

One thing that might bring us together is to talk about funny memories we all lived through and see how each remembers them. It might make us realize we lived a totally different life from each other even while in the same house sharing the same DNA. Like the time we almost set the kitchen on fire. Or when we painted the bathroom blue instead of red and who was to blame for the color mix-up.

One thing is for sure. We’d all remember the pets we had. Especially the flamingos.

Calvin says, “Flamingos? Now I know you’re making this up.”

 

Crazy Holidays

Have you noticed the crazy stuff that happens to people around the holidays? Why don’t these things happen other times of the year?

A friend called to tell me she ended up in the ER on Thanksgiving day, doubled over in pain and unable to breathe from an allergic reaction to eating a nut. She knew she was allergic, but she ate it anyway. Does insanity come over us this time of year?

A gregarious, fun-loving, life-of-the-party friend spent Thanksgiving alone. “That’s okay, I’ve had millions of Thanksgivings,” she said non-nonchalantly.

My neighbor’s youngest daughter chose to stay away from the family so she could finish her research paper for school. My neighbor was hurt and lamented the fact her entire family was not present around the table. These are adult children, with lives of their own.

The people I know with kids demand that their children show up for the holidays, no matter how old they are. I find that strange. They say they want their children to grow up, make a life for themselves and build careers, have children of their own, live happy lives. But then holiday time rolls around and the demand to appear over turkey or Christmas caroling becomes law. And the drama that ensues if the law isn’t obeyed is brutal. It takes a year to recover from it.

I think we make holiday time into more than what it should be – a reason to be with friends and family and be cozy with one another. It doesn’t have to be with every relative you have, or every one of your friends since kindergarten. Sometimes it’s with a friend who knows and understands you better than your sister or brother, or your distant relative thirteen times removed who is grateful you remembered her and she brings that joy to the party.

Calvin says, “Do what I do. Everyday is a holiday, a reason to suck on a bone, get your tummy rubbed, and snore under a fleece blanket.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Un)Expected Gifts

There are three Indian families that live across the street from us. They have elementary school age children. At night they come out of their houses and talk with loud voices. It sounds like a party with everyone speaking at once. A friend of mine who visited India for the first time said, “It’s so noisy here, day and night, I can’t think.” The funny thing is they don’t talk to each other. It’s as if invisible walls were wrapped around each house with a no trespass sign. I don’t know why because they don’t talk to me either. It’s a shame because one of them has a prolific tangerine tree in their backyard and I’d like some.

On the other hand, my neighbors to the right have been friends for  years. They have fig trees. Anybody with a fig tree is my best friend for life. As a child, my grandparent’s fig trees were my daily treat. At nap time, I’d climb out the bedroom window with a chair and gobble figs until I couldn’t breathe. My neighbors give me their crop in exchange for my lemons and oranges. To the left of me, there’s not even a hello from the front door. It’s just as well. She has no fruit trees. Two doors down a Portuguese family lives with Sunshine, the American short-hair cat, Nigel, the chihuahua, nameless chickens, and a persimmon tree that is so beautiful it takes my breath away. Every year we receive a box full of those beauties at our doorstep. Across the street from them is a family with teenagers and their revved-up cars that go zoom at midnight, sending me to the ceiling and back. In the front of their house they have an avocado tree. I’ve been tempted to snag a few as a consolation prize for putting up with their noise.

Calvin says, “Lucky you. Sunshine and Nigel bring me nothing but turds.”