Musings of a Viking/Wiking Wannabe
I admit, most Americans don’t often think of Iceland as a vacation destination, but now that Iceland’s WOW Airline is servicing Cincinnati’s airport and advertising $99 tickets, I expect travel north, far north, will become more common.
It seems, though, that it’s seasoned travelers who are motivated to go there. In our Iceland Overseas Adventure Travel group, all 16 were experienced travelers—in fact, so experienced, that Rick and I felt like we never get up off our couch. Our compatriots had been to such far flung places as Morocco, Mongolia, Thailand, Tibet, Polynesia.
It takes very little to inspire Rick to travel, but I’m a harder sell. I only agreed to go to Iceland because (1) two of our friends were going (2) it’s a two-hour flight to see our daughter in Norway, and (3) I wanted to put a push pin in a country at the top of our map.
Iceland was so much more interesting than I had imagined. It is a cold place with warm people. It has a diverse
landscape with deserts and beaches, geysers and glaciers. As I reminisce about our tour, here are some thoughts that stand out.
You may not need a suitcase.
There is Celsius. There is Fahrenheit. There is Icelandic. We did our research, really we did. Multiple Internet resources assured us we could expect temperatures in the high forties and the low fifties. So I packed a sweater, windbreaker, sweatshirt, sweater parka, poncho, gloves, long underwear, and umbrella.
What I didn’t understand was that the Icelandic wind and rain make 50 degrees feel like 10. Every day I filled my backpack with outerwear to fit the weather forecast. I soon ignored the forecast, knowing that rain and wind would probably be part of the day. By the third day, I had transferred nearly everything from my suitcase bag to my backpack. However, there were large parts of many days that were sunny and crisp. (more…)
Teaching years are like dog years. I taught for 196 years.
Conversely, retirement years speed by like a guppy’s lifespan. I have been retired since Spring 2010, and while it doesn’t feel like yesterday, it doesn’t seem possible that I’ve been going to sleep for seven years without an alarm clock.
Retired teachers often say they “miss the people” or they “miss the children.” I will honestly say that, while my colleagues and students enriched my life in profound ways, I do not miss the necessary diplomacy of dealing with educators or the responsibility of guiding and corralling youngsters.
If I’m not a teacher, what am I?
The last year I taught, I was the librarian. I gave it my all. I facilitated eight book clubs, organized seventeen field trips, found the right line in my bifocals to shelve thousands of books, and nagged my principal, up to the last hour, for an increase in my budget. (more…)
I don’t get migraines very often anymore, now that my ovaries are the size of Tic Tacs. But sometimes, a confluence of circumstances—my husband, heat, bright light, my husband, stress, lack of sleep, my husband—will bring on the spots before my eyes that signal an impending migraine. Yesterday, it was all of those circumstances, but I think the tipping point was trying on plus size bathing suits on my plusser size body at Dillard’s in unforgiving fluorescent lighting. Let’s just say, that dressing room made my thighs look fat.
If I catch a migraine early, I can sometimes head it off. Yesterday I took two Excedrin Migraine, splashed cold water on my face and neck, donned my sunglasses, and went to the purse department, which doesn’t have dressing rooms, mirrors, or judgy saleswomen who call over the half door, “Don’t be hard on yourself.” (I guess she heard me weeping.)
The headache wasn’t getting worse, but it wasn’t getting better, either. I felt far from the toss-your-cookies climax, so I decided to run one last errand: get my seven-month old, electric blue Toyota Camry washed. (more…)
When I was a teen in the 60s, these were “things”: madras purses too small for two Kleenexes; Izod crocodiles on breast pockets; fluorescent-haired troll dolls; hip hugger jeans, white gym shoes with tan-colored stockings (held by thigh-grinding garter belts); shocking pink paired with lime green; Bob Dylan.
I embraced these things in hopes that some day I would sit at the cool kids’ table, but I never thought about how these things became “things.”
When I was a middle school teacher, I was forever trying to puzzle out how adolescent things became “things.” Trousers that sagged and revealed underwear; Gothic black; frayed, holey jeans; UGGs and Crocs, Avril Lavigne.
And here I am in my very adult life, still wondering, “How in the heck did this become a thing?”
Here are a dozen modern day “things.”
1. How did small bites in expensive restaurants become a thing? I don’t recall any time in my life saying, “Let’s get dressed up—I’ll even put on a bra–and go spend a lot of money on a little bit of food so I’ll be hungry enough to come home and eat my leftover meatloaf? (more…)
“Hark, how hard he fetches breath.” ―William Shakespeare
There are a couple reasons I keep my husband. First among them is that he keeps the secret of my snoring. When we’re in a plane, in a movie theater, or lying on the beach, he is there to nudge me if I, uh, breathe heavily. He doesn’t even have to say the word “snore,” nor would he ever. No, never! He just looks at me lovingly in a way he reserves for just such occasions, and I know that I’ve been sighing, loudly.
We are home from the doctor’s appointment, so now it is Mom’s bedtime. If it’s not mealtime or bathroom time or appointment time, it is bedtime. I help her change into her comfy pajamas, ones that are soft and stretchy, but not so slippery that she’ll slide out of bed. I roll Biofreeze onto her shoulder and rub Voltaren liniment on her knees, then a dab of ointment on the pressure sore we’ve been tending for five years. I lift her right leg (by the foot because her legs hurt), and her left, and then swaddle her in a sheet, a blanket, and a spread because the temperature’s only 78. “You good, Mom?” I ask her. “Oh, yes,” she says as if she were settling into a spa day.
She is not really my mom, but I have been calling her “Mom” since I was a teenager. “You’re the daughter I never had,” she told me 48 years ago, three years before I married her son. When my own mother died in 2013, she said, “I’ll be your mother now.” And now it seems natural and absolutely right.
Once Mom is all cozied up, I try to get comfortable for the hour-long storytime. I kick off my shoes and go lie down on the other side of the full bed. The bed creaks with my weight, and it sounds just like Mom’s knees and shoulders. The bed isn’t as old as Mom—97—but I wouldn’t doubt if it’s 50. “Maybe you should buy a new bed, one of those fancy Craftmatic ones, the kind that can incline your head or your feet or your bottom with just a press of a button.
“That would be a waste of money at my age.”
“Well, how about a hospital bed. I think Medicare would pay for it.”
“Not a hospital bed!” She is appalled, as if I suggested we install a ramp or convert her bathtub to a walk-in shower, all things you do for really old people.
I try to fluff up her smushy pillows to cushion my back, to no great effect. I finally just sit up, resting my back on the headboard. More creaking.
I pick up the book I’ve been reading to her for a month, Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV, and ask, “Now where did we leave off?” because I don’t remember, but I know she will. Her mind is so sharp, her memory so good, I ask her for phone numbers and recipes and addresses that she knows by heart.
“Ruth just had a stroke and she was in Holmes Hospital. They told everyone she was suffering from exhaustion. At a photo shoot, the photographer noticed her smile was crooked,” she says.
“Oh, yes. Okay.” And I open the book where it’s marked with a store coupon and begin reading. (more…)
Do not avert your eyes. It is important that you see this. It is important that you feel this. ― Kamand Kojouri
Last night I was sitting by the front window in the Vine Street Skyline Chili, just me with my four-way, book, and phone. Rick was at some sporting event, the one where the players wear long pants, I think.
I was feeling empowered, eating unapologetically alone. I was multitasking, texting with one hand, shoveling food in with the other, when there was a knock on the window. My heart sank when I saw that it was Brady and his girlfriend Chelsea, my amply pierced and tatted young friends.
Brady came in to see me, and we chatted briefly in that surface way you do when someone stops by your table, and then he left to join his girlfriend. I watched as the two, hand in hand, crossed the street.
I had been Brady’s eighth grade English teacher in 2000, so he’s in his thirties. A Millenial. You know, that generation that’s supposedly tech-savvy, civic minded, liberal, and entrepreneurial, or maybe lazy, narcissistic, and selfie-loving?
When Brady was in eighth grade, he was a smart-underachiever. A smart-aleck, too. One of the most frustrating, disappointing kinds of kids to teach. You can see that success is within their reach, but they won’t take their hands out of their pockets in their drooping pants.
Brady was like so many of the kids in my school: No father in the picture. A mom working long hours in a minimum wage job. Brady lived in a little brick ranch with a small, untended yard. These were “the working poor,” people who worked but couldn’t get ahead, or out from under debt, or past the daily demands of life. A broken car or leg or relationship can land such folks out on the street. But Brady’s family managed to stay in their house.
The year I taught Brady, I was doing graduate work, too. As part of my coursework, I designed a research study focusing on aliterate boys—boys who could read but chose not to. Kids who were a lot smarter than their test scores and grades would lead you to believe. I asked Brady and some other eighth grade guys if I could talk to them after school about reading. All of the boys, including Brady, seemed to enjoy the attention and being experts at something, even if that “something” was apathy. I gave them pop and Skyline dip and gift cards, but I think they would have participated even if I hadn’t.
After Brady left the middle school, he returned and visited me for years. Once he sported a very impressive Mohawk, one that stood at attention, thanks to glue, he said. “Really? Glue?” He was pulling my leg, right? Another time he visited, he was cultivating dreadlocks. I think he liked it when I teased him about his crazy hair.
As I finished my Skyline dinner last night, I thought about Brady and what I wished I would have said to him, so I was pleased when I walked out to see him and Chelsea standing on the corner across the street. I wondered if they were waiting for me. “Mrs. Lingo, you would be so proud of me. I read a whole book. A ‘course Chelsea had to talk me into it.”
“Yeah, I had to read it first,” said Chelsea, grinning and rolling her eyes.
“It was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I seen the movie, the American one, but I want to see the Swedish one.”
“That is a really big book, Brady. Way to go!” I said. “And the sequels are really good, too.” (Once a teacher . . .)
“Hey, guys, I wanted to tell you that I think about you a lot. I worry about you two. You need to get jobs. You need to get your little boy.” We were all quiet for a moment. Brady shrugged his shoulders and lowered his head, as if he knew he deserved this chastening, but wished he didn’t have to listen to it.
The first time I spotted Brady and Chelsea downtown was about six months ago. Brady called out to me from across the street. “Mrs. Lingo!” he cried, and he and his girlfriend jogged over to me, even burdened as they were by bulky backpacks. He was handsome and tall, even if he looked disheveled and dusty. His girlfriend was petite, and I tried to open my tiny mind to the multiple hook-like piercings in her pert nose.
Brady told me they had a child, a boy of about two, and he whipped out his phone to show me a picture. And he admitted, without being asked, that his son was living with his mother. Brady said that he was homeless and looking for a job.
He was somber in the telling, but his demeanor lifted as he explained to his girlfriend that I had interviewed him about reading when he was a middle-schooler. “She wrote a book about me,” he said. I didn’t correct him, and I’m not sure it was because I wanted him to look good to his girlfriend, or because I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t finished my dissertation, that I was a quitter. “I picked him to interview because he was so smart,” I told his girlfriend, and that was the truth.
I wished them well, told them I hoped their little family would be together soon, and because he didn’t ask, I pulled a $20 bill out of my purse and pressed it into Brady’s grimy hand. “Go, eat!” I commanded.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that Mrs. Lingo. Really.”
A week later: “Hey, Mrs. Lingo!” and there they were at the same place I’d seen them before. Again, they bounded over, clearly excited to see me. Brady said they just couldn’t find jobs and said, almost in a whisper, that it was because, “they always pick blacks. I hate to say it, but it’s true. While he talked on animatedly, all I could think was How did this happen to you, Brady?
As I was winding up the conversation, Brady looked down. “I hate to ask,” he said quietly, and I could tell what was coming, “but could you give us a little money?”
“I’m sorry, Brady. I can’t. But I wish you luck.” I wanted so much to empty my wallet into their hands, but I was so afraid how that money would be spent.
They never asked for money again.
When you live downtown, you encounter panhandlers every day. When we first moved here seven years ago, we would ask them, “Are you hungry? We will buy you lunch.” We would take the person into the nearest restaurant, and we paid after they ordered a pizza or a sandwich. Sometimes they would say, “No, I just want money,” and we’d decline.
But after going to our first monthly Downtown Residence Council (DRC) meeting, we stopped even offering food.
The police informed us that there were dozens of Cincinnati non-profit organizations that provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day of the week, and encouraged us to donate to the agencies instead of individuals.
Furthemore, most of the panhandlers are not homeless, despite what the signs say.
Most significantly, a large percentage of those begging for money are addicted to drugs, and the kind offerings from “Good Samaritans,” went to feeding their habit. At one DRC meeting, a police officer and firefighter told us that just that morning they had to revive a man who had overdosed in a restaurant bathroom. “And next to him was his ‘I am homeless sign.’”
One woman at a meeting said, “There was a man that was so pathetic. I just had to help! I gave him $5.”
The policeman responded, “Well, I hope he’s alive tomorrow.”
This morning when I was walking to the bank, there they were on that very same street corner. “Hello,” I said. “Here you are again! You are always on this block. Why are you just walking around this same area all day?”
“We’re looking for you,” Brady said, smiling.
I was touched by his words. And burdened.
How to Help:
A PRINTABLE GUIDE you can offer people in need. The Visitors Center at Fountain Square has a handy pocket size version they will give to you to hand out.
WHERE TO DONATE There are so many wonderful agencies, but here are a few I support.
When someone offers to sell you a copy of Streetvibes, buy one, and ask whether the seller is published in that edition. Streetvibes includes creative writing, poetry, articles, photography and interviews written by homeless and formerly homeless individuals. Streetvibes reports the often-invisible story of poverty in our community.
You’ve seen it. The groom takes a piece of wedding cake and smashes it into the perfectly made up face of his bride. This is the message: Ladies will not eat unless they are force fed.
Stop fast-forwarding past the commercials, and you’ll see men scarfing pizza, chicken wings, all manner of delicious cuisine. Women in commercials are mostly eating yogurt with teeny tiny spoons. Finger licking, lip smacking, satisfied tummy rubbing? That is for guys only.
I was recently at a ladies’ luncheon. You know what was served, right? Chicken salad on a croissant, with a side of field greens, that salad that tastes like it arrived at your plate directly from the dirt. And it’s dressed with a squeeze of lemon and angel tears.
I was ladylike in my manner of consumption. I cut the croissant in 4 bite-size pieces, and took 3 bites out of each piece, blotting my mouth before sipping my saccharine-sweetened iced tea. I ate my field greens with gusto, because ladies can. When I threw in my fork, you could have blown the crumbs off my plate and used it, unwashed, for tomorrow’s luncheon.
It was then that I examined the plates of the seven other ladies at my table. One woman’s plate was, as seen with the naked eye, completely untouched. A few other women had scraped the filling from their croissants, leaving those buttery, flakey puffs of lusciousness on their plates. Another woman was eating just the seepage around the croissant, and another consumed the ends, leaving the juicy elbow of the sandwich on her plate. Most of the women had consumed every leaf of the swamp grass salad. (more…)
I suppose it’s not fair that I blame my mother for ruining that Christmas. I must have been eight or nine, old enough not to “believe” anymore, old enough to understand that whatever my mother bought would be hidden somewhere in the house. I was just being a normal kid, curious, with hope in my heart.
But if my mother had been a normal mom, she would have hidden that doll better. In fairness, it couldn’t have been easy to hide a three-foot baby doll, with the size and proportions of a real child so it could be dressed in toddler clothes.
But really, Mom, in the bathroom cupboard barely covered by the stiff, gray bath towels? I was sorry right away that I had found it, and I learned what happens to delight when surprise is erased. About the dread of faking surprise on Christmas Eve when we opened our gifts.
Maybe that Christmas was also the one when my mother used needles as fine as toothpicks to knit Barbie Doll clothes. It is only now, remembering those clothes, that it occurs to me that my mother must have waited until I went to bed to knit them so they would be a surprise, but I remember that I was surprised, and disappointed, that I didn’t get the slutty black strapless sequin dress I saw at Woolworths, the one that came with the microphone.
But, oh, the anticipation of opening those presents on Christmas Eve afternoon when Dad finally got home from his foundry’s Christmas party. No matter what was in those packages, it was more than what I had. We weren’t poor, but middle class kids just didn’t have much.
My mother often made me something. The Christmas I was sixteen, Mom made me a grey fur-trimmed maxi-coat that had a Dr. Zhivago hood going on, and it closed with metal frogs. It never fit exactly right, because of course Mom had to sew it when I wasn’t around, but I loved it and felt very sexy and sophisticated when I wore it to Rick’s uncle’s Christmas dinner.
After I opened my gifts with my parents and brother, we headed to my grandparents’ two doors down. First we had our mock turtle soup dinner, and once all of the dishes were washed and the tables were set for Christmas breakfast – this took forever, it seemed – the door to the family room was opened to reveal the bounty of a very generous Santa. You had to sidle in to find a seat; the entire center of the room was mounded with packages.
Most gifts you received in those days were surprises, but not too surprising. You might ask for a sweater, but you never know what color or pattern you’d get. Or earrings, but you didn’t know if they’d be silver or gold, studs or dangles.
Back then, you rarely returned gifts, unless they were damaged or the wrong size. You loved the gift because you loved the giver, and you always made an effort to use the gifts in their presence.
My crazy–in-mostly-a-good-way aunt really didn’t care about your wish lists. She bought what fancied her, like the year she bought all the adult children gingham nightshirts. My dad and his siblings and their spouses with the ankle-length nightshirts on. Wish I could find that picture.
My grandmother had an algorithm for determining her budget for each gift—a certain amount for children and their spouses, another for her grandchildren, and the smallest amount for her great-grandchildren. She would always buy a gift from your wish list, but if the gift did not cost the budgeted amount, you might find a pair of stockings or knee socks or two dollar bills in the box to make up the difference. (more…)
So, we’re on a road trip. We’ve spent five days in the car together. Fortunately, we have a Bill Bryson audiobook, and there are plenty of weather changes and road construction to lubricate our conversation.
We (that would be I) decide to stop for a nice dinner at Smoke and Porter, a restaurant that’s a half-step above Applebee’s. After I criticize where he chooses to park, we unfold ourselves and get out of the car and perform our synchronized choreography of stretching frozen joints.
He looks at me and says, “Uh, are we going to …”
“Talk?” I shake my head and wave my paperback novel at him.
Talk? Whatever could we talk about. We’ve been together for 47 years. There is not one damn thing left unsaid. If it hadn’t been that monsoon that swelled up over the highway that afternoon, we probably wouldn’t have said a thing to each other all day. (more…)