When I was kid growing up in West Allis, WI, a hard-working, blue-collar community just west of Milwaukee, there was a grouch who lived on our block, who’d keep your ball if it rolled onto his grass.
Our neighborhood was populated by small clapboard duplexes, many of which had been single-family homes until the attics were transformed into little income-producing apartments. People didn’t use fences, hedges or “landscaping” to create “private family retreats” on their postage stamp lots, so a kid could run from one end of the block to the other, across 16 yards, only occasionally having to hurdle a peony bush or two.
Mr. Krabowski lived smack in the middle of the block—a wrinkled, pinched, pointy, bitter and criminally hostile geezer. If your ball went on his grass you’d hear the chain coming off the inside of his front door, and you’d freeze in place, burgundy grape ICEE replacing the blood in your veins. A moment later the old crank would scuttle outside with a look of such utter disdain for the human race—children in particular—that we’d scream and run away, abandoning the ball altogether.
Even my parents wouldn’t talk to the old vulture. “Every block has one,” was all they’d say. My idea to place skateboards, roller skates, marbles and banana peels outside his door was met with incredulity. No one had the nerve to set foot on his property, and as any hijinks superhero will tell you, it is essential to position your props “just so” if you want someone to wipe out in the most fulfilling manner possible. (I had lots of great ideas back then, but I lacked the necessary staff and execution skills to pull them off.)
So we’d hide behind one of the huge elms that lined the street and watch Mr. Krabowski snatch the ball, shake it at the sky like an angry sharecropper with a boll weevil problem, and then shamble back inside clutching the ball as if he were expecting a late hit from Clay Matthews.
By then Jimmy Traut had usually wet his pants. Beverly Grossman was picking caterpillars off the tree bark, and eating them fast as she could, and the Deedie sisters had begun to slap each other across the face in a lively game of hit-you-harder.
No one was laughing at the time, because we didn’t have rich parents, and new balls weren’t a foregone conclusion when one was lost to an ornery crackpot with a nice lawn. We knew better than to complain to our folks over dinner, which often consisted of fried ring bologna and burnt lima beans—a specialty in our house. “Don’t bother him,” was the most they would say on the subject of the cantankerous creep two doors down. So we banded together—a tribe of bug eating, face swatting, pants wetting rug rats, united against a ball-thieving enemy.
There have been many Mr. Krabowskis in my life. Some were teachers, others co-workers, there was a condo board member, and one was a blind date. He was allegedly a “doctor” involved in some kind of “research.” He had long crusty yellow fingernails and a hairy wen in the middle of his forehead. Dr. Nosferatu was not only physically repulsive, he was also, worst of all, a big fat grouch.
He brought up politics almost immediately upon meeting. As luck would have it, my worldview did not align with Satan’s. He told me I was uneducated, naïve, stupid, and much too tall to wear high heels. As if watching an episode of Hoarders, I was powerless to move as he ordered dinner, and separate checks.
He complained loudly about the food, the service, my hairstyle, and “people’s children.” When I looked into his eyes, which was only for a nanosecond—it was hard to look away from the wen—I saw a closet full of balls taken from neighborhood kids.
No one was noshing on Lepidoptera or wetting their pants, that I could tell, but I felt like the waiter, bartender and other diners were all standing behind an elm tree with me, wishing for a bolt of lightning to explode a man’s head off.
Maybe that’s the whole reason natural selection and justifiable homicide haven’t eradicated the grumpy old cuss, the picklepuss, the a-hole; it gives the rest of us cause to stand with people we might not otherwise be friends with. If it weren’t for Mr. Krabowski, I’m pretty sure I would have run the other way from a girl my own age, who ate bugs.
I wish I could say that Mr. Krabowski taught me how to get along with people like Mr. Krabowski, but it didn’t, because there is no getting along with people whose sole purpose in life is to steal your balls, which is clearly a metaphor for something. No sideways glance from a waiter, well-constructed email, or call from the president of the condo association is going to convince a meanie to be nice.
All we can do is hide behind the giant elms of life with our friends, old and new, and laugh at the absurdity. Every block has one.
“He that can have patience can have what he will.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
“Patience is a conquering virtue.” ~ Geoffrey Chaucer
“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.” ~ Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
“Blah blah blah, we’re not getting any younger here!” ~ Pam Ferderbar
I try to be patient. I really do. Many people I know are able to shrug it off, roll with the punches and take it in stride when service is abysmally slow, people are late, and someone uses 100 words to answer a question rather than the five or six that would suffice perfectly.
Me? I tap my foot and sigh loudly, construct and fire off texts about the importance of being punctual, and on occasion I have reached into someone’s mouth and literally torn the words out. The latter may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. I am not a patient person.
It has come to my attention by way of texts, emails, snail mail, voice messages and a note affixed to my front door by a medieval crossbow-type arrow that some people don’t appreciate my particular brand of impatience. I would like to point out that I am the progeny of a man whose motto is “time is money.” It’s really not my fault.
My…let’s call it “eagerness to have things happen in a timely manner,” which manifests in a variety of ways, often upsets the people I care about, so I have decided to become more patient. I made a list of 5 ways to accomplish this goal, because that is what patient people do with their time
1. Focus on the positive.
When someone is late to an appointment, dinner party, or to pick me up on a subzero January morning after I’ve said ten times I am happy to take a cab, but they insist on picking me up anyway, and then they arrive half an hour after they promised to be there, I will simply focus on the fact that I am the high level kind of person who has appointments, there are humans and canines with whom I can dine at will, and I’ve got electric underwear that prevent me from becoming Wisconsin ice sculpture.
2. Go to my happy place.
Next time I ask someone a simple question, such as “are you free for lunch?” or “what time is it?” and the response includes the words gluten-free, microaggression, anthropogenic, Angela Merkel, digital darkness, almond shaming or mommy-and-me it will appear as though I have lapsed into a drug-induced coma. In reality, I will have taken a subconscious sailboat to the South of France, where a waiter named Jean-Luc awaits me with a chilled bottle of Sancerre and a crusty baguette.
3. Practice empathy.
Rather than erupt with homicidal rage the next time it takes three lights for the person in front of me to make a left turn at an intersection, I will ask myself, I wonder what he’s going through in his life that a simple driving function such as making a left hand turn at a light causes him such consternation, and whether my boot up his…nope. Nope nope nope. The new me will walk a mile in his shoes, not ram one of them up his keester. Perhaps he is happily daydreaming of Jean-Luc and French bread, or a kinder, simpler time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and turning at a light was less stressful because there were fewer cars.
4. Take a deep, slow breath.
Off a bong. Just kidding, although once it’s legal in all 50 it is not a bad way to go. I’m pretty sure it’s a lot easier to be patient when you’re giggling like a schoolgirl and shoveling Doritos into your maw.
5. Have sex.
Nothing says “slam on the brakes” like a roll in the hay. No good comes of telling the other person, “Get on with it already! I’ve got a Lean Cuisine in the micro!” Sure, we’ve got our quickies and nooners, but it’s the languid hours of lovemaking and long sultry nights of lust that become literature, make cinematic history and add to the list of “happy places” we retreat to when people use lactose intolerance as an introduction to a much longer discussion about the benefits of high colonics, when all we really wanted to know was whether it came with fries.
Listen to the super awesome podcast, “Perception v Reality” featuring Pam Ferderbar on The Year of Purpose here.
Zephan asked great questions, stimulating discussion about luck v fate, perception v reality, and how we define real happiness. An uplifting half hour! Click here to listen.
These days I feel like I’m being punished for all the times I slept late, took a mental health day, went to the movies, napped, played with dogs/boys/friends, golfed, hiked, swam or made it to the gym for half an hour.
I bolt upright at 3AM, taunted by a to-do list that begins with, “Wake the hell up!” I swear there are fewer hours in a day than there used to be. To quote Rickie Lee Jones, “The world is turning faster than it did when I was young.” To quote myself, “WTF?”
When I take a nanosecond to really think about all that’s lost in the nanoseconds that I toil away, obsessed with “gettin’ it done” and my slash and burn approach to the to-do list, I realize not only am I deficient in vitamin D and fresh air, I am missing an essential nutrient to my well-being. And that element is joy.
My cousin Melanie Roach-Bekos, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin ALS Association, who spends each and every day with people who are dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and who have just tragically been diagnosed, sent me a video the other day, which she said, “will bring you joy.” Immersed in what is the most heartbreaking sadness imaginable, my cousin mines for joy, then she takes that moment to share it, often it seems, just when people need it the most.
The video Melanie sent me is of a college senior who got to play guitar with Bruce Springsteen.
Some day when his to-do list pokes him in the brain in the middle of the night, that kid is going to burrow deeper into his pillow and think about being on stage with the Boss, and the 30,000 people who cheered just for him. He may still bolt upright and decide to get a head start on work, but he’ll be smiling. That, dear friends, is joy.
The look on his face while he was livin’ his dream set something off in my brain chemistry that made me scan the databanks for my hidden joy. Where is that thing I can tap into when I need a fix of bliss?
I shut down the mental to-do list, closed the mythical door of “gotta get it done now” and yanked the keys out of the “faster, faster, faster” ignition. The mere act of stopping in my tracks evoked a flood of memories, moments, treasures, plums and nuggets—an entire mine’s worth, of joy.
I don’t remember it, of course, but to this day my parents become overwhelmed with the story of my utter delight upon seeing a balloon for the first time. The joy is in their telling of it.
I recall the kaleidoscope of butterflies that fluttered wildly in my stomach the first time I kissed a boy—the only logical medical explanation for which must be classified…as joy.
It all came back to me. I’ve watched babies being born. Been there for graduations, weddings, and the moment a friend announced she was cancer-free. I’ve seen a scruffy little dog rescued just before she was to be euthanized, witnessed my beloved godson get down on one knee and propose to his beautiful girlfriend, and sat quietly on a beach among my dearest most cherished girlfriends while the sun sank into the Pacific.
Lovely recollections—each of these things, but I’m digging pretty deep for my nuggets here. None of this happened yesterday. Or today. So I decided to up my joy quotient—in the right here/right now.
I had tea with a new friend yesterday afternoon. We sat toasty warm in her art gallery, amid silver gelatin prints and cream city brick walls, mist off the lake swirling around the fire escape just outside the window. We spoke of photography as we spread clotted cream and preserves on scones, which we nibbled off paper plates. Latvian folk music played in the background. For two relaxed and lovely hours, we got to know one another.
Plain and simple. It was joy.
We deserve it daily.
“Everyone knows they re going to die,’ he said again, ‘but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Otherwise entitled How Rock ‘n’ Roll Saved My Life, or At Least Made a Super Sucky Week Less Sucky.
It was seven solid days of wall-to-wall #CharlotteMoments. Friends, whom I was counting on, let me down. Technology went kaflooey, giving every indication my machines had become inhabited by demonic pucks. With a major proposal hanging in the balance, each printer in the house, of which there are half a dozen, decided they would latch onto the wireless signal at the same time, therefore rendering printing impossible. Six wireless printers all said, “printer in use,” and yet, not one would print.
Ever seen the Seinfeld episode (there is one for every situation in life) where, depending on the lighting, Jerry’s girlfriend either looks pretty or completely hideous, like a monster? This was my experience as we shot the video portion of my “major proposal.” Unfortunately, the result was the latter, and I look like a cross between Sasquatch and the original black and white Frankenstein, complete with the black lines under my eyes and odd protrusions poking out of my neck region. It goes by kind of quickly in the video—a tender mercy—but there is a hump on my back, as well. The purpose of the video, I believe, is to show my potential employers that I am not a drooling Neanderthal. My video achieved perfect oppositeness.
Like the wretched smatch of beetle dung or milk that has turned, my entire week was sour, bitter, and in dire need of a palette cleanser—a minty sorbet to take away the putrid, and leave my spiritual taste buds open to something good again. And then, on E Street, it happened.
The Stones said ‘it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.’ On Thursday night, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band hit the stage at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, it wasn’t only rock ‘n’ roll, it was a miracle.
I was 17 again. It’s not as though the years just melted away, fading gently into the night. It was more like they were sandblasted. The excitement that rises up from deep in your soul when you just know something utterly wonderful is about to happen overtook every fiber in my being, and I danced like life would only ever be good, summer would last forever, and rock ‘n’ roll would always be this glorious.
Everyone who writes about a Springsteen show mentions a “revival meeting” quality, calling out the Boss for his preacher-like monologues and innate ability to get “the flock” whipped into a religious-like fervor.
I like to think of the three and a half hours as an ablution during which this man and his music breathed life back into my weary heart, and literally revived me. By the time the show was over I was restored in every way. The suckiness of the week had disappeared, vaporized by something really loud and really powerful: the majesty, the mystery, the ministry of rock ‘n’ roll.
My 89-year old mom went to the show with me, and although she brought earplugs, she never put them in. Her only regret was that the Boss didn’t pull her up on stage during Dancing in the Dark. The bottomless well of good will and vitality never runs dry on E Street. Thanks, Bruce. Rock on.