Friday, September 30, 2011

My Birthday Surprise, and Mariano Rivera

Last year my birthday present from my husband was a trip to Tampa to see the New York Yankees, our favorite baseball team (and the only sports team we both like: I like the NY Giants and the NJ Devils; he likes the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres). Another part of the treat was lunch at Cheesecake Factory.

We drove over to Tampa and were sitting in the small dining room of the restaurant located at International Plaza. This smaller room had booths around the perimeter, and several tables in the center. We were seated at one of the center tables.

Within our eye line was a booth with a young boy and what appeared to be his mother, grandmother, and great-aunts or grandmother’s friends. They kept the child entertained, and he was well-behaved throughout the meal. When he was finished eating, one of the women gave him a frozen treat they had brought with them, a frozen ice.

It was neon blue, and about 5 or 6 inches long. The grandmother or great-aunt was trying to open it without freezing her fingers (I am guessing here), but it looked odd. I was thinking about how it looked, and hadn’t laughed, but as soon as Ray said, “Why is she playing with the blue penis?” we both just lost it.

We were trying to muffle our laughter, but the more we tried the harder we laughed. We were crying, tears running down our faces, and Ray had thrown a napkin over his head to cover his face. He pulled it down, and says, “Mo!”

Walking towards us, with a who-are-these-crazy-gringos look, was Mariano Rivera. Yes, that Mariano Rivera. He nodded at us, and then sat behind the booth with the young child. He appeared to be in a meeting with his agent or manager. We both had baseball hats in the car, but didn’t want to disturb him by asking for an autograph.

From Cheesecake Factory, we headed to the Salvador Dali Museum, and then to Tropicana Field for dinner and the baseball game. We had a great burger and fries at The Brewhouse inside the ballpark, and then headed to our seats for the game.

My birthday was complete with a Yankees win (including a save by Mo) over the Tampa Bay Rays. Tickets to the ball game: $100. Lunch at Cheesecake Factory: $60. Seeing the frozen blue icy and then Mariano Rivera: Priceless.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Be Careful

I don’t think this is particularly a NJ thing or a FL thing, but I am visiting with my sister today and we were talking about “Be Careful.”

She said she tells her kids to “Be careful” whenever they go out, and they look at her and roll their eyes, like of course, Mom, we’re going to be careful.

Our mother was visiting my sister a couple of months ago and as my sister was going out the door to go to work, our mother said to her, “Be careful.” My sister told her kids that her own mother still tells her to be careful.

My husband and I don’t have kids of our own, but we do have each other. One night I was going to bed after he was already sleeping, and with the lights off I misjudged where my bureau was in relation to the end of the bed. I jammed my foot under the bureau, and I’m not sure if my sudden inhalation of breath roused him, or the thud of my foot hitting the wood and jangling the drawer pulls. He woke up enough to say, “Be careful,” and immediately went back to sleep. Trying not to laugh, I was thinking this was information I could have used five seconds ago. Now we use “Be careful” as our code for anything that would have been better known moments sooner.

The funny thing is that as we get older, we are still kids to our parents. When my 97-year-old grandmother talks about the kids, she is referring to my 75-year-old mother and her 73-year-old brother. I don’t think we’re ever too old to hear “Be careful” from someone we love.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Everyone has a 9/11 story, and everyone remembers where they were when they heard about it. The sight of first one tower, then the other, falling down in some parody of a planned demolition is seared in my memory.

I lived and worked in New Jersey and New York City until 1990, when I moved to Florida. On September 11, 2001, I was at work in Vero Beach when my sister called to see if I had heard that a plane hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. She worked from home and saw it on the television. Cable was available on the television in the break room of our building and I immediately went down to see what happened.

It was horrifying enough to see the first building burn; that first strike was the beginning of the end of our innocence, or maybe naiveté, about terrorism. The first strike was thought initially to be perhaps some random, tragic accident. The second airplane hitting into the second tower let us know we were under attack. The news that a plane had hit the Pentagon removed any doubt, and then there was the report about a fourth plane. Was it heading for another target in DC, perhaps the White House? Was it going somewhere else? Did the plane crash? Were people on that downed plane responsible for foiling would-be hijackers? Yes. No. Yes. Yes.

The technology of the day, specifically cell phones and email, were the bearers of bad news almost as it happened. On that fourth plane, as passengers heard about the three buildings already damaged by planes, they realized their plane was intended to become another such weapon. Taking control, realizing they were going to die anyway, several of the passengers overwhelmed the hijackers and forced the plane down into a field where no other people would be harmed. But that all came out later.

The initial news was sketchy and anecdotal, from people on the ground or in buildings with an eye-line to the burning World Trade Towers. My cousin worked for Morgan Stanley in Connecticut; since Morgan Stanley was the largest tenant in the World Trade Towers at that time, I called his office to make sure he wasn't in a meeting in Manhattan. He wasn’t, although he had been the previous Thursday and Friday.

My uncle worked in lower Manhattan, and I called his office. His secretary answered, and she said my uncle was on the phone. I told her she didn’t need to interrupt him, I was just checking to make sure that he was safe and she could let him know I called. She said they all were safe; later, talking to my uncle, he said the impact of the planes hitting the towers felt like an earthquake. At some point, the buildings in lower Manhattan were put on lockdown until authorities could determine if there was further danger and from what quarter. Later in the day, they were released from the lockdown and allowed to make their way home as best they could. Public transportation was not available in that area; my uncle walked up the FDR Drive to his condo on the Upper East Side. My aunt was safely out of town visiting her sister in the Midwest.

Reassured that family members who might have been in that area were safe, I called my sister to let her know. From that point she was fielding calls from various family members. She talked to my cousin and was able to tell him that while I hadn’t talked to my uncle, I had talked to his secretary and she said they were all right. My cousin could not get through to my uncle’s office because by the time he called the phone lines were jammed and all circuits were busy.

My father and stepmother were driving from Michigan back home to North Carolina after taking care of my stepmother’s parent’s estate. Her father had died several years before, but her mother died in August. They spent several weeks in Michigan wrapping things up and getting the house ready to sell, and told my sister they would be coming home that Tuesday. Following form, they got an early start. My father did not embrace technology: they had a cell phone for emergencies only, none of us had that number, and they kept it turned off in the trunk of the car. They stopped somewhere along the way for gas and food, which is when they heard about the attacks. At that point my father did not know whether his brother, my uncle, was safe. The ensuing long hours of travel were filled with fear and uncertainty. My father called my sister when they arrived home, and my sister called me. I asked if he knew his brother was safe, and she called him back to make sure he did know.

While still at work that morning, someone in another office looked up the FAA website that showed the airplanes in the air. It was eerie, and somehow chilling, to see the air traffic diminish and then end. We knew by then all airplanes were being grounded at whatever airport was closest. Vero Beach has a small airport, and the noise from the planes taking off and landing was always in the background. The quiet as that traffic stopped was noticeable; what shocked was the sound of a lone jet flying low in the area during what was supposed to be a flight lockdown. The only one making what until then had been a normal, benign sound, everyone who heard it looked to see where and what it was. I don’t know if we knew at that point some of the hijackers had trained at Flight Safety here in Vero. If we didn’t, we still were jumpy about any unusual flight activity.

There were many stories of heroism and loss that day and in the days that followed. 2,977 people died, but the impact and ramifications stretched out to everyone within reach of a radio or television set.

When I think of 9/11, the lingering memory I have is about someone I didn’t know but was told about. There is a train station in Branchburg, New Jersey, close to where my family lived at one time. On the morning of 9/11, the parking lot held the usual collection of cars left by commuters taking the train into New York City. As the week wore on one car remained in the parking lot, gradually gathering dust as it became evident the owner was never coming back.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Knew It Was You, The Timer Just Went Off

My mother thinks I drive too fast. When I was single I would call her when I got home after a visit, so she would know I got home safely. I didn’t know she set a timer so she would know if I had been driving too fast.

After one visit to see her in Flemington, I drove back to my home in Old Bridge (New Jersey). I got home, did a few things, and then remembered I hadn’t called her yet to let her know I was home.

“I knew it was you, the timer just went off,” she said.

“What?” I was confused by her connecting the timer and my phone call.

“I set the timer so I know when to expect your call. If you call before the timer goes off, then I know you were driving too fast.” She seemed pretty pleased with her system.

Note to self: Don’t call Mom immediately after getting home, she’ll worry that you’re driving too fast.

After that, I would note the time I left her house, and call about 45 minutes later. Sometimes I had been home for a few minutes, and sometimes not – it depended on traffic. This way she didn’t worry about my driving, and I didn’t worry about stressing her out.

Fast forward twenty years, and we had both moved from New Jersey to Florida. My mother was now living alone in Sebastian, and I was living in Vero Beach (about 16 miles apart). Now I am setting the timer for her call when she leaves my house to go back home.

This is just a little check we do when someone lives alone, because in my case my husband would notice if I wasn’t home and look for me if need be. Since my mother was living alone, no one was home to notice if she didn’t make it back. She would tell me about any stops she had planned, so I would know how much time to allot. Cell phones made it easier because if too much time elapsed I would call to see where she was.

It is interesting to me how the tables turn as we grow up; not that we necessarily become the parent, but as we adopt the habits of our parents we become more like them.