To Share in the Shearing

A good friend of mine has cancer.  She recently asked me to take her to the hairdresser to have her hair shaved off, or what remained of it. After weeks of chemo treatment, and as the poison is hard at work in the fight, she seems to take the many side effects in stride. The pragmatist that she is –  both down to earth and far from vain –  the hair loss thing is the least of her troubles. “I cover my head now mostly for other people’s sake,” she said with a smiling but tired face the first time I saw her wearing a colorful knit hat, made by a friend, enveloping her balding head. She was sprawled on the couch under a cozy blanket, pellet stove going, with yet another friend visiting. She doesn’t have to say it. We all know she has bad days, followed by awful days, and then a few decent days; maybe even a good afternoon here and there.

The day of the scheduled “shearing” I know she rallies to find the energy, since she told me the night had been restless and spent partially on the loo – her body telling her the new anti-nausea drug did not go over as well as hoped. Comfortably installed in the barber’s chair, the clippers turned on to make that familiar buzzing sound (I have three boys, I know this sound but with such other associations), the hairdresser is herself a cancer survivor and handles the situation with such grace I feel I am observing an angel at work. Her hands running swiftly and gently over my friend’s head, she speaks candidly and quietly about her own ordeal from hair diva to hairless warrior. Just quietly enough for it to be a private conversation, but loud enough to include me, as I sit in a chair on the side watching the remaining thin locks gently fall from my brave friend’s now well defined round fuzzy head and down to the floor. They agree it feels better like this. Bald. Honest.

Bald is beautiful

It just so happens that there is a wig store next door, five feet away. “Will you get a wig?” the hairdresser asks after telling the newly hairless warrior her new ‘do is on the house. “I wasn’t planning on it,” my friend replies, looking at her, then me, seeming perfectly open to any and all suggestions. “Your insurances covers a chunk, so why not see if you find one you like?” the pro offers, adding that she herself found it had come in handy on what might have been called “bad hair days” other times, but now were just days when it would be ok with some hair. Sure enough, after a brief visit next door and some fun modeling of every style from “your husband might like this long blonde one”(coming from me), to “absolutely not,” and “no, no, no, this one makes me look like so and so”(coming from her), the perfect fit finally found its new owner and we stepped out into the warm spring afternoon, mission completed. She even got some colorful bandana head wraps for balmy summer days, thanks to the owner of the wig-salon’s deft insurance knowledge and helpfulness; another lovely spirit so obviously sensitive to the her clientele’s situation.

Wigs

Thinking all this shearing sharing and wig-sampling might have exhausted the now hairy warrior, I ask if she feels like some lunch or if she is totally pooped after our successful hit on hairdo-row. “They fill me up on drugs to counter the horrible feelings caused by the chemo, but some times even these ‘good’ drugs make me feel terrible,” she offers with a sigh. “But today, I think some soup would be good. I feel like Thai.” I pull away from the curb and gladly head toward my favorite Thai place a few blocks down, and we start to compare notes on different Thai restaurants in town, getting our shared foodie palates into an excitable mode. Smacking our lips, we decide to hold off with the pedicures until next week.

One day at a time, of counting the blessings of such simple things as being able to enjoy a hot bowl of soup, of perhaps sleeping comfortably through the night, and feeling the longed for warmth of the spring sun while sharing a laugh or two with a good friend. Of course, I too count those blessings with my friend, being privileged to have shared such a meaningful afternoon, otherwise just a regular spring day.

Thai soup

 

 

Announcing the Express Window!

It takes a good friend to tell you the truth, even if she knows it might sting. One morning Anne said to me “I love your blog and reading your stories, but the problem is I often open them and begin to read, only to realize I don’t have time to finish. They are a little long.” She has a full life – kids, job, dogs, home, pet rats – you know, the usual.

So, because I don’t just write to humor myself, I decided to take the challenge: write shorter posts (some of the time) so that readers dealing with lives interrupted (like most of us do…) might read them too.

Short & Sweet II

I am happy to announce the opening of The Viking Jewess “Express Window” – a place to stop by for a quicker read; curiosities from an ex-pat’s observations in life with the same wit, edge and insight you enjoy in the longer stories, but here they’re short and sweet.

Those who know me, appreciate how revolutionary it will be for me to execute the less is more dictum; it may breed some renegade and subversive writing, which could be an adventure onto itself.

Hemingway’s Four Famous Tips on Writing will come in handy here:

1. Use short sentences. (Ha ha!!!)

2. Use short first paragraphs. (Check.)

3. Use vigorous English. (A work in progress, eternally…)

4. Be positive, not negative. (Shit, really!?)

In 1934, he also confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,…I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Just keeping things in perspective here.

So, next time you’re online, stop by the Express Window for 300 words or less.

I promise.

Who knows, maybe I’ll graduate to Twitter next?

Short-and-Sweet

The Old Man and the Porn Movie: A Love Story

Love Story

Prologue:

She asked him what he wanted to do with the time they had left the rest of the afternoon, now that they were done with the errands at the bank and grocery store. “To tell you the truth,” he said hesitatingly looking at her sideways with the beginnings of a shy smile, “I’d like to go see a dirty movie.”

Part I:

The Man

Tiny Marty Finder was a gentle and friendly octogenarian who had a lot more going for him than met the eye. He was a guy you might say was the embodiment of the saying that one should not judge a book by its cover. Or perhaps he was a reminder that what most people think of as “normal” for a guy his age is simply an arbitrary and random, not to mention false supposition that grandfathers don’t want sex and intimacy, aren’t easily aroused, and don’t wake up with the same aching erection and desires as do younger men.

Marty lived comfortably in a suburb of Boston in a subsidized senior living facility, where most of his needs were met. What he required extra in terms of logistical assistance, such as getting to and from his seemingly endless doctors’ appointments, he had hired a driver, a lovely Russian woman named Alina.

Marty was a Holocaust survivor, and had arrived to Ellis Island from Poland via Germany in 1948. Although he had lived a good life in America by all standards, he now spent three days a week at the dialysis outpatient clinic in Waltham, took about 18 different meds a day, and had diabetes. He did what is not uncommon among survivors: he kept meticulous records and minutes of all his medical and personal hygiene needs and events, in a hand written journal complete with columns and rows, additions and averages. This included notes on the size, consistency and number of his daily bowel movements.

Once married to an American Jewish anthropologist with a penchant for art, he had two adult kids who lived far away, and although they loved their dad dearly, they had their own full lives more than a flight away. Once his wife became a Buddhist and divorced Marty, he lived for his kids and the small but solid business he had built, a printing shop in a then bustling downtown neighborhood filled with mom and pop shops, delis and local urban old world flair, the kind he liked, as the ambiance would some times, on good days, remind him of a happy life in Poland before the war. Everyone knew Marty in the old Boston neighborhood where his print shop had been, for he was quick to befriend people, was pleasant tempered, and with his sweet smile and animated face gladly offered details about his fascinating life in hiding during the war. Even if people didn’t need to have anything printed or copied, they would stop by just to have a cup of coffee or chat for a few moments about the weather or the latest Red Sox results. Marty made people feel good, and having people around to talk to made Marty feel good in return.

He was also genuinely interested in hearing about other people’s stories. He had a sense of humor, despite all the horror he had experienced as young boy; the Nazis had wiped out his entire family. And Marty knew how to love. After his divorce, in the second part of his adult life, he had had two long lasting meaningful relationships; one with a Christian woman his age, whose sultry manner would make him grab her from behind as soon as she came through the door. God how he loved to reminisce about those crazy and delicious years they had shared, when they would go with the flow and enjoy the freedom of the empty nest, good health and decent income – life had been good then. They had talked about getting married, but the trouble was, she wanted him to convert to Catholicism. He begged her to leave things as they were; they were so happy, things were so good. But she wanted their partnership blessed by the church. Marty was a Jew, and had no inclination to change. So, it came to an end.

The other relationship he had was with a Jewish woman, also a survivor, with whom he shared a more balanced and less passionate life. But they spoke the same language – through their shared history – and this made room for such pleasant lightness of being, a sort of beautiful synergy that emanated a serenity he might have bottled and saved some up for rainy days. It surely made up for the lack of fun and raunchy sex, and he felt blessed to have met such a good “shidduch” in his older days. Where he and the Christian girlfriend had fulfilled each other physically in a dreamlike way, he and the Jewish girlfriend completed one another emotionally. Sadly, she died of cancer after they had 14 years together. Since then, he had been single, but remained amorously enthusiastic about women whenever he would meet one he found attractive. This happened often. The older he got, the younger the women would be. His imagination was roaring and his body was telling him he had still much to give in the way of love.

The Woman

The driver he had hired was by his standards a young woman – she was in her forties – and he had fallen in love with her after a few weeks. Alina was a Russian Jewish immigrant who had come to the States in the early 90s with her abusive, former world champion wrestler husband Slava, and their only daughter Sofia. They had gotten special help to come to the States, because Slava was a possible victim from Chernobyl, and showed early signs of Parkinson’s as well as a mysterious blood disorder that was progressively debilitating. She had wanted to divorce him for a long time, but once his illness was a fact, she could not find the courage. She nursed him to the end, and he died ten years after they had immigrated, to Alina’s great but secret relief. The day after his funeral she threw his trophies out in the trash container in the back of her apartment building, together with all the gaudily framed photos of him on top of winner’s stands at tournaments back in his heyday in Russia. Good riddance. She kept one picture of the two of them holding their daughter as a toddler, sitting on a park bench on a beautiful spring day, blossoming trees surrounding their smiling faces. There had once been happy times, and she wanted her daughter to know she had been conceived and nurtured in love.

Alina was tall, had high cheek bones and long, light brown hair that she usually kept away from her face with a comb in the back. Her kind warm eyes would always look straight at Marty, and she was quick to laughter and seemed courageous and brave, something he found sexy. There was something about her confidence that he thought was attractive, but most of all it was the way that she was so cheerful, funny and freely expressed herself that made his heart skip a beat. Like a breath of fresh air in his life. Marty could not help but notice the strong, soft lines of her neck, the round curves of her hips, and he particularly loved to watch her soft hands work as she would do whatever she had to do to help him get ready for their outings. He noticed he began to anticipate the days of her working for him, although the dialysis on those days was not at all anything he looked forward to. Maybe it was God’s way of finally giving him a small reward for all his suffering, by making that whole sickening ordeal tolerable. He couldn’t wait for her to come in the morning.

Three days a week she would show up at Marty’s apartment and help him get dressed, and while she carried his bag to the car, he would do his best to gingerly push his walker next to her, he really only needed it for a little support with balance, asking her how her daughter was doing in school, or how her pottery studio was going. Alina was an artist, and was part of a potters’ coop in Brookline. When she was not working for Marty, or helping her college bound daughter who had just been accepted to the Boston Conservatory with a scholarship to their dance program, she was at the studio, throwing clay, burning or painting, so full of ideas and inspiration she sometimes would forget to go home at night. Sofia would call her mother to ask what was for dinner, or to tell her she would be late because of a social commitment, not knowing her mother didn’t sit at home waiting for her, but instead was at the studio, lost in her own imagination, which together with the endless possibilities of the wet, soft clay was taking her to places expressing the deep creative desires she had repressed for all the years before her husband died.

A-Love-Story-Could-Begin-Anywhere

Yes, a love story could being anywhere.

And it could go anywhere.

And it could be anything.

So, stay tuned for Part II.