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Saturday, January 19, 2013


Looking from the window of the train,  I thought of my dear friend who was going to have her first surgery and I hoped her last. I visited St. Francis Church near Penn Station when I reached the city. I lit a candle for her in the intimate urban garden that was tucked away on the side of the church.  On the stone wall, there were rows of flickering votives, not electric and individual kneelers with prayer bars. There were a couple of benches and white chrysanthemums were strewn about in this holy place. I prayed for my friend's speedy recovery.  It was 11:50 and in ten minutes the noon bells would chime. Ahhh, such a lovely sound. I rarely hear church bells anymore. After the glorious resounding of the bells, I toyed with the idea of attending the 12:15 Mass but I was hungry. The thought of a Hale and Hearty pesto avocado sandwich was tempting. I thought that the Mass only lasted twenty minutes, so I knew my stomach could wait.

 I found my way to the lower chapel and chose my pew. I didn't feel like praying while I waited for Mass to begin. I had already read the Psalm of the day on my iphone app and I had read a page in Jeremiah at home before I said some prayers on the train. I opted to play Solitaire. I thought maybe I shouldn't be playing with my phone in church but I continued anyway. Suddenly,  a young woman in the pew behind me leaned forward and tapped me on my shoulder.  "I am filled with the spirit", she said, "and I have the need to tell you this. Please pay attention. You must listen to this Mass with your whole heart. This could be your last day."  Instantly I thought that this was one of those religious nuts, so I turned my head away from her and fixed my eyes on the fourth station of the cross. This zealot could have just told me to stop playing Solitaire.  She didn't need to get so dramatic about it.

Within minutes, Friar Paul entered the altar and began reciting Mass. After the gospel, he told us about his calling earlier that morning.  He had a sermon planned but when he saw the extraordinary sky, he was compelled to speak about something else.  He revealed to us that on days when the sky is an outstanding clear, vibrant blue he is reminded of,  and I knew he was going to say, September 11th. I often remember that particular sky as well. He proceeded to tell us that those people who died that day were going about their routines not having a hint that this was their last day on earth. He looked at us sitting there in our pews on yet another beautiful day and said, "some of you will die that way too. You will be going about a regular day and suddenly you will be struck down without knowing what hit you. Some of you will die of an illness and others, if you're lucky, will die in your sleep. None of us here today will know how we will die. This could be your last day."

 I felt a shiver down my spine and I lost my appetite!

Mass ended. I walked to work. I looked straight ahead. I looked to my left. I looked to my right. I waited for the lights. I had a watchful eye and a keen ear. I knew the message was to live each day with our eyes open to the divinity in ourselves and everyone around us but I couldn't stop hearing that singular message to me from the girl with a great passion and the priest on the pulpit, "this could be your last day."

Fortunately, the bright, beautiful day had turned into night. I arrived at the train station. I walked down the stairs to the track. I entered the train. I found a seat. I had five hours to midnight. I turned on my iphone. There was the game of Solitaire just as I had left it in church. I could complete it and win. The balloons would rise. I would see "Congratulations!" on the screen.  I was ready to hit "resume," when a voice inside me said, " hit new game." I thought, "yes, I better hit a new game because if I hit resume I will die right here in this seat on the Trenton Express!"

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Quiet Car

New Jersey Transit began its "Quiet Commute" on express trains. The first and last cars were designated as "quiet cars."

The first time I rode in one of these cars there was a young woman who unleashed her screaming child on the rest of us as she continued a cellphone conversation about her case in court.  When the conductor came to collect our tickets, I notified him about the woman and he said, "we are self-policing." Whose self? Certainly not his self. Why didn't he take his self over to her self and tell her to shut up?

As the months passed, the policy was catching on. Self-policing went the way of the old bounty hunters and conductors stepped in to enforce the rule. Once the cars became quiet, a new annoying thing emerged. It seems that even the slightest noise in a quiet car is worse than overall noise in a regular one. The rustling of a bag, a cough, or a clipping of a nail (yes, people do clip their nails on the train) can spark a primitive emotion in me to crush the enemy.

It wasn't until a Wednesday morning about six months into the policy that I finally got the nerve to tell a group of matinee ladies that they were in a quiet car. They were on their way to New York for a Broadway show. There are lots of women on the train every Wednesday morning heading to the Great White Way. I politely suggested that they move into another car so they could enjoy their journey. The leader of the pack bitterly defended their position and made her companions stay in their seats. "Who do they think they are, telling us we can't talk? What kind of a world are we living in?" she muttered to her sheepish flock. I thought, " a world where unfortunately we have to share with you."
All the way to Penn Station the rest of us had to tolerate their whispering. Every time they uttered an "s," they hissed. This could have replaced water boarding, let me tell you! I swore I wouldn't alert anyone else to be quiet ever again.

In no time, I broke my own rule and took the risk to tell a man that there was no cell phone use in the quiet car we occupied.  I left my seat and went over to him so I could say it softly. He held his hand over the phone and firmly let me know he was aware of the rule but I was in the wrong car. And indeed I was. Oops.

That was it, no more telling anyone to be quiet. You can imagine, how exasperating it was for me to be sitting in the quiet car one night with a family across from me who had a screaming baby with them.
This family had a lot of luggage that was stored above them and they looked so comfortable, settled in, you know. I wasn't going to be the one to tell them to move. Fortunately, a man approached them with his plea to move their seats to another car. He wasn't a bully about it either. Good, this torture would soon be over. But no, they didn't do a thing. The baby kept screaming. The noise continued past Secaucus and on to Newark. When we neared Newark Airport, a woman stood up and demanded that they quiet the baby or leave the car.  Again, they did nothing to adhere to the pleas of their fellow commuters. Unbelievably rude. No response whatsoever. Outrageous. "Didn't the screaming bother them too?"

Then another woman approached them but this time, she took a card out of her purse, went over and showed it to them. It took a few seconds for the father to read it and then he used his hands to communicate with the rest of his family. Immediately all their hands were moving feverishly. You didn't need to know sign language to see that they were embarrassed and completely apologetic.
I asked the women if I could see the card she presented to them.  QUIET COMMUTE was printed on it with the NJ Transit logo and a tag line "this is a quiet car." 
We passengers certainly got what we desired that night when the deaf family picked up their belongings and moved to another car. I watched them go through the door to what would be for them another quiet car, always a quiet place,  always quiet.  It saddened me that they had to leave because we didn't want to hear anything when all they wanted was to hear everything.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Power of Ignorance

My friend Kay and I attended the annual Ceramics Fair in its new location, The Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street in Manhattan. It was a cold, slushy night, the kind that begs for cancellations but no way were we going to miss this charming affair.
Last year was our first encounter with this annual event that drew a crowd who clearly reached the top of Maslow's hierarchical needs by acquiring that $12,000 ceramic artichoke.
Fascinating as the objects of porcelain and ceramics were, it was the gathering of "old money" that amused us.
We signed in and hurried to the elevator that was heading up to the festivities. Fitting with the old world charm was the addition of an elevator operator wearing white gloves who graciously pointed us in the right direction when the doors opened on three.
Fortunately there was another coat check on this floor since we forgot to check our big black Parkas on the main floor. This year the event was a bit different. Last year appetizers and wine were passed as we viewed the objects of desire, but this year they separated the food and wine in a room away from the other floors where the exhibit was housed. We were eager to load up on the goodies, and then see the show. There was a man blocking the doorway to the reception area speaking to a couple. All three were rather rude to be just doing their cocktail talk in the doorway, so we pushed past them. I did say "excuse me" but, you know in that "excuse you" tone.We dashed to the cocktail table where Kay was brave enough to try the Czech liquor. It seems that the Bohemian National Hall was also the home of the Czech Consulate. It was a nice touch that they blended a bit of the Czech culture with the ceramics fair preview.
The trays of appetizers appeared and we were both impressed. It was real food, not  misrepresentations of edibles that are passed around at cocktail parties Kay and I are accustomed to. We mostly attend design industry events where the appetizers are teeny tiny bits of highly designed morsels that support the environment but not the linings of our stomachs.
It was amazing how the servers appeared at regular intervals just as we were ready for our next bite of something. No need for us to park ourselves near the caterer's prep area like we normally do when pouncing on trays in fear of scarcity.
We also adored another great feature of the reception, the inclusion of chairs. Kay and I took advantage of those immediately. I took the opportunity to take my hairbrush out of my bag, gave myself a quick tidying up, and a new coat of lipstick I happily applied too. We were certainly off to a good start and we hadn't even seen the show yet!
As we were enjoying the act of sitting, we noticed that the crowd was entirely different than last year's. They were mostly men in black suits, nothing like the eccentric garb the patrons wore at last year's show. But then we did arrive an hour late and the true lovers of pottery were already perusing the collections upstairs. It was time for us to get up and see the works of art rather than spending the night stuffing our faces and drinking all their wine.
As we left the room there was that man again standing in the doorway. Maybe he was part of the Hall so I decided to introduce Kay and myself. I immediately went into how wonderful the building was and asked him if he was part of the establishment. He told us that the building had just been renovated and that all the work was done by Czech workers and architects.
I proceeded to tell him that Kay works in ceramics aside from her work at Interior Design magazine where we both work and that we were so looking forward to seeing the show. On that note we moved on. Across the hall was another room where they were serving cake and coffee. Lovely. We would come down after the show and have Czech cake but we did enter for a brief perusal of the space before we continued upstairs. There was a young man there who looked like he worked at the Hall and I asked him if they would be serving wine at the show upstairs as well. He said he didn't know for sure. He then told us that the people at the ceramics show probably were serving just as they were at the Ambassador's going away party here on the third floor. It was at that moment that Kay and I realized that the whole time we were eating and drinking we were at the wrong party. No wonder that man in the doorway didn't know what I was talking about. He was the host and it was his going away party. Well the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the United Nations certainly was diplomatic about Kay and I crashing his party.
Up to the fourth and fifth floors we went and yes there was a wine bar and passed appetizers, not as good as the Ambassador's though. One of the antique dealers, a man of years approached us as we were studying a porcelain medicine bottle and asked, "What do you ladies collect?" I couldn't help but think, "embarrassment," but I was good and refrained from clever talk.
The crowd was just as we remembered, quirky, peculiar in dress, and bored with wealth. Perfect for people watchers like Kay and I. The show was coming to a close and it was time to leave. What seemed fortunate earlier was something we dreaded now, we had to go back to the third floor to get our coats. Just as we were approaching the coat check, the servers saw us and they still had plenty of food left on their trays. The Ambassador wasn't at the door anymore so we decided to go back in and help the caterers get rid of the excess food. This time we felt uneasy in spite of  the servers' happiness to have us back. How could we resist? We sat down again as we were being served. The caterers attended to us solely as we chatted with them. It was nice but it wasn't as enjoyable this time around. Suddenly Kay was turning her back around and hid her face into the chair. She grabbed my arm and told me to turn around too. The photographer was rounding up the guests for the group photo and we were in his line of vision. It was one thing to have the guts to come back in but to be the spoilers in a lasting photograph, that we just couldn't do. I turned around to see if there was an opportunity to escape. The photographer was calling for the Ambassador and that's when I pulled Kay off her chair and we scurried out of there. We watched from the doorway as the Ambassador made his way into the center of the group for what looked like what was going to be a lovely captured memory without the back of those two stranger's heads in it. As the guests were preoccupied, Kay and I realized that this would be a good time to help ourselves to a cup of coffee and a piece of that coffee cake in the room across the way. We figured why not, we came this far.
The coffee was strong and the cake wasn't too sweet, just the way we like it. The china was delicate and the silver divine. Finally we collected our coats and left the building.
On our way to the crosstown bus, we discussed how fortunate we were that the Ambassador was so diplomatic, the way he was trained to be. When Kay told her parents about the night, they said it had little to do with the Ambassador's diplomacy, and everything to do with our power of ignorance that got us in the door and enabled us to enjoy ourselves.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Winter's Tale

I was reading Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale on the train coming into Manhattan when I reached the end of the tale. The story merged time and space together in the snow-filled mythic city of Manhattan with its darkness and white lights. Those who had passion to punch through time had a pursuit that spanned through space and somehow the mechanism that produced the New York Sun had something to do with it all. The New York Sun, the popular newspaper founded in 1833 was a central part of the story. The main character, Peter Lake was The Sun's master mechanic at the turn of the 20th Century and he is there again a hundred years later bringing back life to the old press. His obsession to stop time and bring back the dead plays an important part in the story. I was thinking about The Sun when I departed the train and walked through Penn Station. I wondered what it would have been like to work there in the 1800's. Outside the station, the air was crisp, the sky was gray, and the smell of chestnuts roasting tugged at the memory of the novel I had just finished.
Ending a book is like living in a remnant of where I just left, the author's world created in my mind. I stay there for a day or two as I go about my reality.
Once I left the station, I decided to stroll through Macy's on my way to work. I longed to continue my nostalgic sense of Christmas. I passed the men's department, climbed the stairs to the heart of the store, then moved swiftly through the perfume counters with their fragrance hucksters, and swept through jewelry, making it to handbags and finally the Broadway exit. Perfect, I could see the windows. And there they were entertaining tourists and fascinating children. They were dedicated to "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." Macy's "Believe" theme was based on the popular front page story printed in The New York Sun in 1897. There it was right in front of my eyes, the newspaper! One of the windows showed the editor, Francis Pharcellus Church composing the piece at his desk in the office of The Sun. The remnant of Winter's Tale merged with my reality, the two worlds collided, just as it had in the book. The Sun was the connection. As I stood there mesmerized, something came back to me. I could hear my Uncle Al's voice from a Christmas Eve long ago as he recited "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." It was a magical night as the winds howled, and the snow fell. I am the only one left to remember that night since my family is gone. Just like in the book, they must exist somewhere, I am not that different from Peter Lake who only wants to stop time and bring back the dead. Tears filled my eyes as I studied the windows and thought of my sentimental state at 34th Street. But hey, I can give myself a break to be nostalgic, after all, I thought, "Yes, everyone, there is a Santa Claus," and at that moment a Michael Jackson impersonator passed the windows and waved to us with his white glove.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whoo's Dat?

Michael and I attended a destination wedding in Jamaica. Long after the festivities of the reception ended, I sat outside our room on the deck to breathe in the sea air and dream. That's when I noticed the fake owl perched on the tree across from me. The owners of the establishment probably thought this would be a nice addition to their guests' experience and you know it actually worked. I sat there for the longest time trying to let my mind wonder but I felt compelled to look straight ahead and into the eyes of the creature before me. The person who carved this thing took such liberty with the proportions of the eyes. I know that owls have large eyes but these were exaggerated, a caricature of an owl. It also had unnatural colors of orange, yellow, and red. It was made of wood just like those parrots that sit on perches in novelty stores. I found myself locked in a staring contest with this inanimate object and just as I thought to quit, the damn thing flew away. I was dumbstruck!
I the fool "whoo" I was could have caught ten flies with my open mouth as I sat there realizing this was indeed a real owl and one that was watching me for a very long time. This turned out to be the best part of my trip since I have never seen an owl, not even a brown one back up in the Northeast.
Six months later when I was at Barnes & Noble shopping for Christmas presents, I stumbled upon another owl, "The Little Owl," a small white one in a box. He was my present to our home for Christmas and he sits atop our stove. I stroke his head often for good luck.
At the same time I was discovering owls so was my friend Peter. He found a vintage crystal owl pitcher that sits across from his sofa. When I visit him I find myself staring at it and making wishes. Recently Peter brought home some more owls. He put the crystal owl in the bedroom and replaced it with a lamp that has a base of three brightly carved wooden owls. These guys look exactly like my buddy back in Jamiaca. Our friend Linda asked if he got it at an "owlet." Actually it was his trip with David to Maine where they shelled out two bucks for this incredible find.
Did you know that in some cultures owls are viewed as evil? Most cultures view owls as wise. This is probably how you think of an owl. The reason owls are considered wise is that for centuries they have appeared in images of the Goddess Diana, the wise huntress. Wise through association. I get that, that's why I like to hang around smart people!
Owls may not be wise but the one I saw in Jamaica was. He actually knew that the woman sitting across from him was real.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

3 Times a Lady

Why can't I control my premonitions? Why do I have to accept that my head is like a radio and I have no control over what comes through, what channel to play, or when to turn it off or turn it on. This is what I was thinking on my way to play the Mega Millions at the store on Park Avenue near my office.

Before I played the lottery, I stopped by Gregory's coffee shop to get a short dark roast with room. As I was at the counter adding milk, a very hyper lady stood next to me as she added sugar to her cup of unnecessary coffee. Brother, the last thing this woman needed was caffeine. A sedative would have been more in order. She had a raspy voice like a life-long smoker and she spoke to me about something mundane. I remember thinking that she was the kind of person that would be good on a sinking ship...rough around the edges but she would save people, you know the heart of gold who would get the job done.

I continued to my destination where I played the numbers Michael had dreamed the night before. Maybe his premonition would work. He had six numbers written down that he saw clearly in his dream about a drawing that played on television.

As I was filling out the mega millions card the same lady from the coffee shop came into this store and was standing next to me again. This time she was asking for a pack of cigarettes. She looked at me and said, "Are you following me?" I laughed and said, "you caught me."

I was walking back to the office when I thought that if I would see this woman again that meant I would win the lottery. I arrived at my building and stood outside hoping I would see her among all the passing bodies but I knew it was next to impossible. Just as I was about to push the revolving door I heard that raspy voice. I turned around and there she was standing nearby talking on her cell phone and smoking a cigarette. She recognized me and ended her phone call. She said, "you again." We introduced ourselves to each other and shook hands. Then I went into my building and she continued to walk uptown. This was a sign!

The next day I eagerly checked online to see what numbers were the winners. I had three of them, two plus the mega ball. I was excited to see what it rendered... how about a measly three dollars? I guess I could say I did win the lottery, a buck for each time I saw that lady!

It seems that most premonitions are warnings about death, illness, and disasters but once in a while it can happen that they point to financial gain. I am going to keep trying and I will let you know when it really works.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Water Principle

I had a half-hour before the train arrived at Trenton to take me to New York. A cup of coffee would be fitting as I lounged around the station. But then I thought water would be better to drink. I found myself daydreaming and as my mind drifted I focused on the image of water. I imagined a clear pond, still and reflective. I thought of a waterfall and its hypnotic rhythm. I imagined breathing in the ionized air. How clear my thoughts were and how relaxed I became. I remembered learning from a woman who taught a class called, "Brain Gym" that water is a great neutralizer. She believed that taking a sip of water between mind exercises cleared the palette of our brains.
"Yes," I thought, "I will drink water instead of coffee!"
I got up from the bench that had become my meditative sitting area and I walked over to the Dunkin' Donuts portable cart where the bottles of water were stacked in the fridge adjacent to the hot coffee dispensers. Slowly I reached in to retrieve a bottle. Then I walked to the counter to pay for it.
"Don't I have a right to be happy?" the young woman behind the counter said as I handed her my money.
"Excuse me?" I said.
"I can be happy too, don't I deserve that?" she continued.
I hesitantly replied, "yes, of course you do," not knowing what I was saying and wondering what the hell was wrong with her.
"You don't know what I am talking about, do you? You don't know the spirit. You only think about what you have to do and where you need to be."
"You have no idea who you're talking to," I replied. "I am a very spiritual person and in fact I was just thinking about the principal of wa..."
"You don't know anything!" she exclaimed with her eyes ablaze and full of hatred.
Then she gave me my change.
I moved away in a confused state and wondered if I was witnessing someone having a nervous breakdown and soon an ambulance would come to take her away.
I stood to the side of the cart in a spot that was close enough but not too conspicuous so I could watch what she was going to say to the next customer.
When the man paid for his coffee, she said with a sweet smile, "have a good day."
I watched her with more customers and there was no hint of that previous venom I had witnessed. She was back to normal.
I've been to that cart often since that day and she waits on me without any hint of what happened between us. Sometimes I buy coffee and other times I get water. Once I gave in and bought a chocolate glazed donut. But never again will I meditate in a train station or any public place for that matter. I guess that's why the yogis tell us to sit in a quiet, safe place when we want to clear our minds.
Who knows what we could conjure up when we have our guard down?
Maybe there was "something" hanging around the Dunkin' Donuts cart that day, like a nasty spirit with a sweet tooth.