Gathering No Moss

Jerry and I are avid gardeners.  (Jerry, truthfully, is a frustrated farmer.)  Sadly, that doesn’t mesh well with our lives forever on the move.  We work insanely to get our gardens laid out and planted just the way we like and we then move before we ever see them mature.  We planted 43 irises in Connecticut one autumn and then moved before seeing them come up in the spring.  At that same house, we hauled in 6 cubic yards of soil and created raised hosta beds under a stand of 75-foot-tall Black Tupelo trees.  The hosta beds were expected to take about four years to reach a respectable maturity.  We moved a year later.  Fortunately, after planting hundreds of daffodils to join the already hundreds of daffodils throughout the gardens, we stayed long enough to see those hundreds multiply into a thousand or more.

A LITTLE BIT OF PARADISE IN SAN DIEGO.

We dug up our 1/4-acre in San Diego, rented a gas-powered two-person auger to drill holes in the hard pan (also known as ouklip, the cement-like soil common just below the surface), so we could plant giant timber bamboo along one fence, hauled in dirt and gravel for the rest, created a mini xeriscape paradise for ourselves, and then moved after only two seasons.  The growing season is long and our plants thrived, so we did manage to enjoy the fruits of our labors during that brief time.  We drove by the house recently and were very proud of our work — the ground covers, miniature bottle brushes, purple hopseed bush hedge, the 15-foot-tall yucca out front, the two giant dracaenas flanking the entrance, and the now-50-foot-tall stand of bamboo out back.  We hope the current owners appreciate what we created.  Sadly, they trim most things to within an inch of their lives (a lollypop jungle); few natural shapes allowed in that garden.

CITY LIFE.

We drove by our old hotel property in Palm Springs a few months ago.  The landscaping we did there is finally lush, enormous and spectacular… 10 years later.

LIKE LIVING IN A TREE HOUSE.

Although we’ve been renting a small apartment here in Irvine for the last couple of years, we filled our balcony with plants — a 6-foot-tall ficus, wax-leaf privet, palm, philodendron, succulents of different stripes (well… varieties).  Inside, a spectacular Ming aralia graced the dining room, a rare fern took over the bakers rack in the kitchen.  Out on the balcony, the table and chairs, the outdoor carpet, and all the statuary (the dancing frogs, the alligator, the pig, the Mexican figures) have all been placed in new homes.   The plants continue to thrive, blissfully ignorant of the fact that they could at any moment be tossed aside, passed on (we hope, to loving and more stable homes).

THE MING ARALIA MINUTES BEFORE WE CARRIED IT AWAY.

Sunday night, we brought those two remaining houseplants to a good friend not too far away.  She has award-winning gardens.  More importantly, she is loyal and steadfast.  She will not desert them.  Our neighbors took the wax-leaf privet.  Their balcony is small, so that’s all they can manage.  Besides, they told me they both have black thumbs when it comes to plants.  The privet is hardy.  Perhaps it will forgive us.

THIS BEGAN 1-1/2 YEARS AGO IN A TINY POT AT ONE END OF THE SHELF.
IGNORANCE, APPARENTLY, WAS BLISS.

We can’t wait to get settled in Spain so we can start planting again. 

What a Dump!

This really could be another Jerryism. 

When Jerry finally gets overwhelmed with the mess in his office and on his desks, he dramatically announces, “What a dump” (Bette Davis in “Beyond the Forest”).  Unfortunately, he always follows that statement with “Stella!!!” (Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”).  He didn’t initially realize that the quotes were from two different movies.  Obviously, he didn’t give much thought to the origin of either quote.  That’s Jerry.

“HEY, STELLA!!!”

But the reason for this post is not to share another Jerryism but to share the “dump” that is Jerry’s home office, along with the recent discovery (revelation?) of Jerry’s second-grade report card. 

When we lived in Santa Barbara, we didn’t have the luxury of a private home office for each of us.  So, we agreed to share one large office.  We had a large L-shaped desk with a computer monitor at the joint between the two desks.  I tend to keep a tidy desk.  Jerry does not.  So, the agreement was that, when Jerry was using the office, he could spread his “crap” all over the desk but, when he was done, he needed to move all his crap to the desk to the right of the computer.  I would not complain about the mess as long as the desk to the left was clear and available for me to work.  If Jerry did not clear that desk, I could simply move everything to the other desk in one stack. 

Jerry was incapable of keeping my side clear of his mess, and he complained that I was always rearranging his papers when I moved them even though his papers were strewn in every direction with no order whatsoever.  I know.  I know.  All my messy readers are going to now tell me that messy people know where everything is.  First, Jerry is constantly asking me where I put things only to find them among the ruins of his so-called order.  Second, Jerry every so often does admit that his office is a mess and he can’t find anything.  But, no matter.  The result was that we were completely unsuccessful at sharing an office.  So, after three interminable months, we bought another desk and set up an office for Jerry in the loft.

ONE OF JERRY’S DESKS TODAY.

While going through and scanning old documents today, Jerry discovered his second-grade report card.  According to Mrs. Kremer, although Jerry talked “a great deal without turn,” he was a good student.  He did, however, need improvement in one important area of his work habits.  His desk was not orderly and neat.  In second grade!  Who ever heard of being written up for a messy desk in second grade?

AND HIS DESK IS STILL NOT ORDERLY AND NEAT.  SO MUCH FOR OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM.

Scanning the Horizon… and Everything Else

LESS THAN TWO MONTHS UNTIL WE SCAN THE HORIZON FROM MALAGA.

I have scanned, so far this week, 361 individual pages.  That includes: photos, my junior high school yearbook, poems, cards and letters, and a variety of other personal and legal documents.  Jerry has been very busy (and very bored) scanning, as well.  He, not being anal-retentive, has not kept track of how many documents and photos he has scanned.  There have, I’m sure, been many.  But, I’m equally sure he hasn’t been nearly as productive as I.  Who could be?  Unfortunately, I repeated this claim to Jerry and he said he plans to count HIS files, too.  I may have to eat my words (or I could just lie when I report the results).  Or, even more likely, Jerry won’t bother counting his files (OK… now that I’ve written that, he definitely will be counting).

We have discarded (recycled) the originals of all those scanned items, which means that I personally have discarded more than 361 pieces of “stuff.” Come to think of it, considering the fact that all those cards and letters came with envelopes, I’ve easily discarded more than 500 pieces of stuff.

A NON-MINIMALIST LIFE IN SANTA BARBARA.

I continue to be amazed by how easy it is to part with things I’ve been carting around for I-don’t-want-to-say how many years.  I think my new obsession may well be minimalism (well in addition to continuing to straighten chairs in restaurants as I pass empty tables).  Don’t worry.  I don’t walk around the entire table; I just give vagrant chairs a gentle nudge back into position.

STUFF EVERYWHERE (AND THE COUCH IN BETTER DAYS)

A rep from our local consignment store was here yesterday afternoon and they’re going to sell some of our remaining furniture.  I should have realized, however, that a posh Newport Beach consignment store wouldn’t take just any old thing.  I had created a spreadsheet with a room-by-room breakdown of what we would like to sell — remember, anal-retentive.  The rep started in the living room, looking slowly and deliberately at the first item on the list, the sofa (I believe the view was down his nose).  He then looked up and quietly said, “We’ll pass.”  I was shocked.  And offended.  But he explained it was simply because of its age.  Admittedly, the matching love seat was so tired that we gave it away four years ago.  He then “passed” on the next two items on the list, our old den recliners (they look like overstuffed wing chairs), not just because of their vintage but because, as he said “the fabric is completely out of date and old-fashioned.”  Well!  But, OK, again he’s right.  We’ve had those for 14 years.  He did like — love actually — our dining room table, our kitchen chairs, and many other things on the list.  He turned down our everyday wine and champagne glasses (as if we actually use them every day).  He said he’d love to take the sets of champagne and wine glasses in the antique cabinet.  Of course he would.  We’re keeping those.

THESE CAN’T BE SCANNED, SO THEY’RE HEADED FOR SPAIN.

Coulda and Shoulda Are Words We Don’t Use

THEY ONLY DEPRESS US AND GIVE US THE BLUES.

CAROL BURNETT AS EUNICE

Words to live by, chanted by Carol Burnett (well, her character Eunice) during her visit to a psychiatrist on the last episode of “The Carol Burnett Show.”

“I CHOSE AND MY WORLD WAS SHAKEN.  SO WHAT.
THE CHOICE MAY HAVE BEEN MISTAKEN. THE CHOOSING WAS NOT.”

My father used to call my mother the queen of the I SHOULDA Club and, sometimes, the queen of the IF IDA Club.  Regret is a terrible thing.  If you regret a decision and you are able — or are willing — to do something about it, then fine.  But, regretting choices you’ve made that can never (or will never) be changed is just a tremendous waste of energy.

My mother wastes a lot of energy.  She still regrets buying a new dining room set in 1964.  She hated it the minute she bought it.  She has regretted that dining room set for more than 46 years.  She refuses to replace it, but continues to comment — at every opportunity — that she never “shoulda” bought it.

I, too, waste a lot of energy.

“THERE’S ONLY NOW. THERE’S ONLY THIS.”

I spend many nights working on my attitude — while trying to fall asleep — by singing the lyrics from “Move On” (from “Sunday in the Park With George”).  When that doesn’t work quickly enough, I “move on” to “Life Support” (from “Rent”)… “Forget regret or life is yours to miss.”

I’m assuming that I get to keep my “gay card” for another year by referencing two Broadway musicals (and “The Carol Burnett Show”) in one post.

So, what am I working hard to not say “IF IDA” about?  Everything.

Retirement, our move to Spain, budgeting, and reviewing so much history as we go through our things has me rehashing every major move and every major life change we’ve made over the years.  Twenty-nine and counting, remember?

I’ve mentioned before: We have retirement income.  I’ve also mentioned before that we would have had a lot more retirement income had we not made some of our major moves and taken some of those major chances over the years.  So here goes: 1) if Jerry hadn’t retired so soon; 2) IF IDA held on to my business and waited for the economy to turn around; 3) IF IDA kept my corporate job; 4) if Jerry hadn’t left his position in Santa Barbara; 5) If we hadn’t poured all our money into a hotel (right before 9/11/01); 6) if we hadn’t poured all our money into a niche market hotel — the same one — with a limited following (right before 9/11/01); 7) if we both hadn’t left our jobs at Berkeley; 8) if we had held onto our house in San Francisco; 9) if we both hadn’t left our jobs at UC San Diego; 10) if we had held onto our house in San Diego; 11) if we both hadn’t left our jobs at Yale…

We left Yale in 1993.  I can then go back to buying the money pit in Connecticut in 1988, renovating it, and then selling it when the market was weak.  Years before that was a move from Boston to L.A. to Washington, D.C. (1982/1983) over a period of seven months — all paid for by us.  If only Jerry hadn’t left his huge corporate job in Boston and I my position there to move from Boston to L.A. (and back again). And… then… IF IDA stayed in my position with the graphic design firm in L.A.

And this is when I realize I am nearly back to my mother’s dining room set.

So, no more singing Broadway show tunes (well, I lie), but from now on, any time the words “I shoulda” or “If Ida” pop into my head, I will simply chant “dining room set.”

I am now healed… mostly.

IF IDA SEEN THAT BASEBALL BAT FLYING AT ME IN 1962.

Start Counting

Jerry and I have been together 29 years.

MAY 1982.  NINE MONTHS ALONG.
Well, 29 years, 8 months, 12 days, 22 hours, and some additional minutes.

We’ll celebrate our 30th anniversary in Spain.

When did we start counting? For lack of a better idea, we started counting the moment we met, since we were hardly ever apart from that first day. It was the moment after Jerry squeezed my elbow as he walked by me during Sunday afternoon tea dance at Chaps in Copley Square, just across the alley from the Boston Public Library.

The moment after I turned to find myself lost in eyes the color of clouds and sky.

CHAPS.  MORE CIVILIZED DURING SUNDAY AFTERNOON TEA DANCE.

The moment after I decided I didn’t care if I had only minutes before seen him talking to my very recently ex (and only real) “boyfriend” — I was still going to go home with him.

SAN JUAN.  OUR FIRST ROMANTIC (AND VERY AWKWARD), GETAWAY.
We could have started counting three months later when we flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for what was supposed to be a romantic week-long escape from Boston’s cold, damp November winds. The week when we were asked at the guest house, Arcos Blancos, if we were lovers and answered in dissonant harmony, “No. Well, yes. But … Well …” and then smiled and, red-faced, shrugged our shoulders. 
We could have stopped counting during that same trip to Puerto Rico.  When Jerry got cold feet — because it appeared we had fallen completely in love — and told me he thought it would be good for us to see other people.  Or when I very grudgingly agreed before he, back in Boston a few days later, changed his mind.  (And, for a few minutes at least, I wasn’t so sure anymore.)
An appropriate time to start counting might have been six months in, three months after we survived San Juan.  When I sat in Jerry’s tiny kitchen and told him he needed to either say good-bye to his checklist (the one that documented all his requirements for a perfect mate) or say good-bye to me.  And, without hesitation, he said good-bye to his checklist.  (I had met the height/weight requirement… and a few others.)

THE HOUSE ON THE LEFT.  “HOLY CRAP. WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

I suppose we could have started counting one month later — seven months after we first met. The day I gave up my urban-chic, completely renovated top floor in a South End brownstone, and watched the movers squeeze my solid-birch platform bed, Haitian-cotton love seat (purchased half price at Macy’s warehouse in NY), miscellaneous antique pieces, along with the boxes of audio cassettes, books, photo albums, dishes, clothing, furniture, and stuff amassed over a 27-year lifetime, into the last bit of remaining space in Jerry’s one-bedroom, smaller but urban-chic’er Beacon Hill row-house flat.

That first night spent in what had been my, but was now our, bed. A night Jerry spent snoring peacefully while I lay beside him. Sleepless. On my back. Eyes wide and staring dry and unblinking at the ceiling 12 feet above. Thinking, “I’ve given up my apartment. I have nowhere to go. What if this doesn’t work out? What have I done? What have I done? Holy crap. What have I done?”
1985.  I SHAVED AFTER OUR HOUSEKEEPER, AGNES,
SAID WE LOOKED LIKE THE SMITH BROS.

But, we didn’t start counting then or in another eight months when we decided we couldn’t bear the thought of spending one more winter in raw, damp, windy Boston.  So quit our jobs, packed our things, and flew west to L.A. to discover that we had become — in addition to lovers — best friends. And that L.A. was definitely not where we belonged, so moved again seven months later, this time to Washington, D.C.

SOMEONE ELSE’S WEDDING, ’91
If, early on, we had been able to legally marry, we would have started counting on our wedding day. But, we weren’t. So, we didn’t.
If we had not each separately, years earlier, lost our religion, we might have considered having a commitment ceremony. If only to finally have a rite from which to count. But, by the time we began to seriously consider an “official” commitment, we had already been together more than 15 years. And we wondered what it would imply about our first 15 years together to suddenly say, “OK, now we’re committed.”
I didn’t consider beginning to count when, after we had spent only a year together, Jerry’s oldest friend, Joan, asked me why I loved him and — finally stopping to think about it — I realized it was because he was exceptional. And gifted.  And flawed.  And funny.  And abundantly human.  And that, when he let “his South Dakota” come out, he was the kindest person I had ever met.  And I would love him unconditionally for as long as I could imagine.
So, we did not start counting on the day we first referred to each other as “lover” because “boyfriend” sounded silly and “partner” was at the time considered politically cowardly. Nor the day we stopped referring to each other as “lover” and began saying “partner” — because “lover” didn’t say enough (we had both had at least a few lovers, after all) and “partner” had become acceptable.
I still find myself searching for the appropriate word for us. Partner confuses people, which was made especially apparent when we went to Norway in 1998 and met some cousins for the first time.  They thought Jerry was traveling with his business partner. After they were temporarily befuddled by the fact that I knew the names of every family member in their photo album, they finally realized we were “husbands.”  But I sadly cannot get comfortable referring to Jerry as my husband.
LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA, ’93.  NOT EVEN DOMESTIC PARTNERS.
I’m still searching for that word that would define who we are as opposed to who we are not. Sometimes, I call Jerry my “spouse.” Some have called us “significant others.” Until we were legally married in Iowa in 2010, I would sometimes, half-jokingly refer to Jerry as my “domestic partner,” since, in California in 2003 we legally became at least that. Sometimes I say “life partner” or “the love of my life.” Too many imperfect choices for something the straight marrieds in our midst can say so simply. 
But, after all, why do we even have to be defined?
So, what I find myself saying is, “Jerry and I have been together 29 years.” And although I usually don’t stop to count the months, days, hours — and additional minutes — I am grateful for every single one.