‘It Must Be Around Here Somewhere’

Is the above statement the story of your life? It’s the mantra for those who constantly misplace things. Are you one of them?

Today I murmured it when I couldn’t find a shopping bag filled with costumes that I promised to alter for an upcoming school play. They showed up in my car’s trunk after my husband had moved it from the back seat. Yesterday I said it when I couldn’t find the cottage cheese, which was right in front of me on the top refrigerator shelf, and the peanut butter, which was not on its usual shelf. Last week it was my wallet, which had been left at my desk when I ordered a book from Amazon.

Not long ago I was talking with our daughter Rachel from California, and I was trying to wrap up the call so I could get to an appointment. While I talked I bounced like a pinball around the house, searching every room, drawer, pocket and countertop for my cell phone, cursing my absent-mindedness. “It must be around here somewhere,” I kept saying. My frustration mounted, and casting aside my vow to keep my language clean in front of my kids, I blurted out to Rachel, “I can’t find my damn cell phone!” again and again — before I finally realized that the cell phone, not the land phone, was stuck to my ear.

A few years ago another cell phone went missing, this time for a solid week. The last time I had used it was when I was mailing a pair of shoes that my son Ryan had sold on E-Bay. I checked my pockets, my car, the garage floor, even called the Post Office. I was ready to report it as missing but I knew “It must be around here somewhere.”

Then one day the land line rang. “Hi,” said an unknown voice, “I bought your son’s shoes on E-Bay and a cell phone was in the package with them.”

Other things that have gone missing — thankfully temporarily — include bills due this week, hefty checks from my husband’s business clients, important school paperwork, school projects, notes for my work projects. Most of these disappear from the Bermuda Triangle of our house: the kitchen counter. I have a pathological aversion to cluttering it because I am fearful of appearing disorganized to random visitors, so any piles left on the counter migrate to a bigger pile of stuff that has been cleared from it — only I forget where that pile is.

“I can’t be responsible for anything that is left on the counter!” I’ve been known to thunder to my family. So my countertop may look like a pristine tundra but our closets, drawers and cabinets look like an episode of “Hoarders.” My mother-in-law, a compulsive organizer, is the yin to my yang.

I try to conceal my absentmindedness from my husband Bob, who always teases me by quoting our favorite line from that raunchy old TV cartoon, “Ren and Stimpy”:

“You eee-diot!”

Of course, Bob has his Stimpy moments as well. At least once a week I hear him scream, “Where the f*** is my g**-d*** (fill in the blank)?” For some reason I have no problem coolly tracking down any item that Bob can’t find; my absentmindedness somehow kicks in only when I am responsible for misplacing it. Indeed, Bob’s missing item is usually staring us in the face, a fact that I always relish pointing out. Bob is outwardly messy but is a human GPS for every scrap of paper, mysterious computer cable or obscure widget under his purview; his problem is that he melts down on the rare occasions when his tracking system breaks down.

That reminds me: We once had a magnetic word kit that let us make witty phrases on the refrigerator door, and our son Ben once affixed the words “no” and “patience” to a photo of Bob. Those words anchored Bob’s photo to the refrigerator for years and provided countless hours of family mirth. The rest of the magnetic words disappeared a long time ago, although I know they must be around here somewhere.

Most people raised Catholic will appreciate that my patron saint is St. Anthony, heaven’s version of Allan Pinkerton, who can make anything lost re-appear. He seldom fails me but usually makes me sweat first. I have a frequent buyer card with St. A., and it has been stamped often enough to redeem for Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

Am I losing my mind? Maybe…but it must be around here somewhere. How about you?

Excuse Me While I Wine a Bit

I gave up wine more than a month ago, just before all those great studies that announced how great it is for you and how you should have at least a glass a day for optimum health. Red wine is just part of the alchemy – along with fruits, veggies, olive oil and fish – that is part of the Mediterranean diet. A glass each day promises to make you as sturdy, robust and long-lived as a Greek goatherd.

So why would I give it up? The reason is simple: it doesn’t do for me what it is supposed to. For starters, once a bottle is open it is very difficult to stick to just one glass like the Mediterranean diet recommends. The liquid left in the bottle beckons. My Italian grandfathers could drink anyone under the table and heartily indulged in heavily fortified homemade wine from unmarked bottles. The Velazquez painting here shows what I feel like after more than one glass.
Wine also toys cruelly with my sleeping patterns, making me sleepy enough to zonk out on the couch during Law and Order-SVU, then waking me at 2 a.m. It toys with my judgment…after a glass or two I feel invincible enough to attack the junk food cabinet, convinced that nothing I consume will matter and that my body will take pity on me since I am too buzzed to be responsible for myself. After a few weeks of daily wine drinking I feel like these gals.
Peter-Paul-Rubens-xx-The Three Graces-xx-Prado

Finally, wine toys with my moods, making me feel as sunny as the Sardinian coast, then stupid as a tottering mountain goat, and finally – after a few days – like this:
Van der Weyden_high
For all of the above reasons – plus the fact that my husband decided to go on a diet six weeks ago – I gave up my daily ritual of pouring a glass of wine (or more) just before dinner. Now I brew tea. It’s not the same. For Twilight fans, it’s the equivalent of the Cullen family preying on animals instead of humans. Or for carnivores, giving up animals for vegetables.

Tea is pinched and disciplined; wine is florid and impulsive. Tea is Downton Abbey’s dowager countess; wine is a young Sophia Loren in a peasant dress. The ritual of setting on the kettle and listening for the whistle is pleasant and relaxing, but can’t compare to uncorking a bottle of Viognier or Brunello. The Zen of Celestial Seasonings will never replace memories of wild nights spent with Robert Mondavi. Going without wine – especially when it’s one of the few vices that has been touted as so good for you – feels like missing the bus that took all your friends somewhere fun. Yet my moods are better and I think more clearly if it’s just an occasional treat rather than a lifestyle, and my husband feels the same.

So now I save wine for special occasions. Those include restaurant meals, dinner at a friend’s or relative’s house, dinners when friends and relatives come to our house, holidays like Christmas and Easter — and what the hell — the ramp-up days before and denouements after, Groundhog Day, Arbor Day, Martin Van Buren’s birthday, etc., etc.

Have any of you had to give up wine? How did it make you feel?

Should We Part With Family Relics?


My Dad’s old flannel shirt, which I’ve kept but never worn.

On Monday the New York Times published a column from a Baby Boomer who was conflicted over whether to part with a mink coat that had once been her mother’s. It sent me upstairs to look at two of my own family relics, which I don’t use but hold onto for totally different reasons. I’m sure all of you have one or more of these!

The columnist wrote that the mink reminded her of how beautiful her mother looked wearing it, the considerable financial sacrifice her dad made to buy it, and the pride he felt when saw his wife. As she savored these memories, the daughter also fretted that she wasn’t tall enough to wear the coat with aplomb, and about the ethics of wearing fur in the first place. While she decided to donate it, she still felt guilty.

Many of the commenters talked about what they would have done (many would have kept the mink, even if it meant altering it into a jacket or blanket), their own family mementos and how they struggled with the decision to keep them or get rid of them.

After I read this I went upstairs to look at two of my own unused family treasures. One is my father’s old L.L. Bean flannel shirt, which we bought him for Christmas at least 20 years ago. I’ve never worn it but it hangs in our closet. He died 15 years ago this month, but looking at it reminds me of him. It is un-showy, sensible and comfortable…everything he was. The shirt was soft enough to cuddle a grandchild against and practical enough to wear for the many work projects that he undertook at our house. He wore that shirt or something similar when he taught me how to put up dry wall; when we took walks together with my mom and my children; and when he gave us common-sense advice, which was often.

The second relic is something I haven’t worn for more than 30 years. It’s a platinum cross, encrusted with diamonds, that once hung on a platinum chain around my grandmother’s neck. While the crucifix is a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice, this particular one reminds me of a woman who never sacrificed. My grandmother was not a good mother; my own mom and her brothers were often left alone while she gathered with friends to play card games laced with smoke and profanity. She never combed my mom’s hair; fortunately a goodhearted neighbor would often give he

This cross, usually a symbol of Christian sacrifice, but not in this case.

This cross, usually a symbol of Christian sacrifice, but not in this case.

r a bath and make her presentable. Strident and cutting, my grandmother would browbeat her family…especially my grandfather, a goodhearted man who loved whiskey and song (often at the same time). Sometimes my mom had to skip school because she did not have shoes, but my grandmother still wore that diamond-studded symbol of Christian sacrifice. As my mom grew older and went off to work in Manhattan, she dutifully turned over most of her paycheck to my grandmother. But every day my mom would visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral, kneel in front of a big cross and pray for a man who would understand her family. This cross listened. Eventually a man who liked flannel shirts would rescue her.

In raising her own four kids, mom used her own mother like a photographic negative — imprinting us with the love, care and attention she never had herself. The cross, once my grandmother passed it on to her, stayed in mom’s jewelry box.

Eventually the diamond cross found its way to me and while I’ve kept it I can’t bear what it symbolizes – misplaced values and miserable mothering. But long ago my Aunt Theresa, my dad’s sister and a woman who truly combines both style and common sense — as well as a delicious touch of moxie — had some good advice about the cross. “Why don’t you wear it as a lesson?,” she asked.

That advice has probably kept me from giving the cross away or selling it. Looking at the cross, and at my dad’s shirt, reminds me of what’s most important. It’s easier to figure it out with the shirt, once worn by a man who was never selfish.  The cross perhaps has to be seen a different way: a symbol not of sacrifice, but of transcendence and forgiveness.

Do any of you have any family relics that you don’t use but can’t part with?

Yahoo! Now We Have To Re-Vamp the Work Wardrobe

Marissa Mayers in her work uniform...

Marissa Mayers in her work uniform…

Me at work, and the guy in the next cubicle.

Me at work, and the guy in the next cubicle.

This week I read two disturbing bits of news. One is that Yahoo! and Best Buy are rethinking their policy on letting employees work from home. The other is a column in the New York Times’ “Booming” section about how middle-aged people have begun to fret about looking old the same way their 23-year-old selves once obsessed over looking fat.

The two stories are interrelated, which I will get to in a moment. But first, the changes at Yahoo! and Best Buy, if it starts a trend, is bad news for anyone who works from home. I remember reading about Best Buy’s highly celebrated “ROWE” (Results-Oriented Work Environment) policy a few years ago and feeling very encouraged…the stories shared how Best Buy employees with young children could work from home, and even mentioned a vice president who closed deals while duck-hunting. Technology has given us ways to stay connected and meet face to face from wherever we are, and metrics for tracking our productivity; why not use these tools and help people keep balance in their lives?

I feel sorry for all the productive employees at both Best Buy and Yahoo! whose lives are now disrupted; who need to deal once again with commuting, child care, parking costs and how to get dinner on the table. As somebody who has done both face time jobs and work-from-home arrangements, and who is far more productive working from home, I can’t tell you how much this news makes me shudder, for two reasons.

One is that I can no longer imagine having to dress up for work every day. Fred Allen, one of the editors for Forbes.com, said recently that anybody with a pair of pajamas can be a blogger. That is also pretty much the truth for people who work from home. I took a look at my own closet to figure what I would wear if I were forced to show up in person for work every day, and the choices were not anything like Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayers’ couture suits or chic little bolero jackets. The few wardrobe items remaining from my last corporate job (I have hung onto them only because they were expensive) have those scary “Working Girl” shoulder pads. Above is a photo of what I usually wear today when I have a work project requiring serious thinking. I am not showing you the top half because I have not yet combed my hair. Also shown is the very noisy guy in the next cubicle, the biggest threat to my productivity.

The second reason, the more important one, is that returning to the office re-introduces all the bullshit that many of us thought we were past – not only how you dress, but also whether you project the right image for the company and whether you suck up to the right people. The New York Times story focused on how people in midlife increasingly worry about whether they “look old.” Appearance should no longer matter for people in midlife who paid their dues for years and whose wisdom, experience and hard-won credentials have earned them respect, trust, and freedom to work from anywhere. But having to do “face time” means that the superficial once again matters.  Marissa Mayers said so herself, saying that she now wants a more youthful vibe for “Yahoo.”  But what happens if you are not youthful? Face time means having to deal with your face, and whether that fits into the image that your employer wants to project. Any middle-aged person who has tried to look for a full-time job recently will know exactly what I mean. I know personally of a few 50-ish job seekers, all extremely qualified and with strong work ethics, who’ve made it past the resume screenings and scored interviews, only to be mysteriously dropped after that, without even a word of explanation.

What will happen if work-from-home jobs are harder to find, especially when the more progressive companies hit hard times and want all hands on deck? What will happen if older people need to return to the office when they are accustomed to working productively from home? Can you imagine squeezing back into career clothes and working for an impossibly driven, impossibly perky boss named Courtney or Josh? How many of us Donnas or Bills could stomach that?