Bowler Hats and Walking Canes

We all need an angel or two.  My guess is that they sometimes nudge us in the right direction; other times, they throw up their hands, or wings as the case may be, and simply step in.

I met two of mine when my friend Ann and I arrived in Paris.  Over my morning coffee and her morning tea morning, we looked at each other and agreed we both needed some time alone.  It comes with living with yourself for too many years.

We headed off in different adventures.  I wanted to go antiquing.  It didn’t matter that it was August and most shops closed with everyone on holiday.  I would find what I could find.

I strolled down past the Notre Dame, following the Seine and a guidebook and walked miles to find a small, tucked away little antique area.  I found the area right where it should have been and it was a delightful as I’d hoped, even with the majority of shops closed for the month.  Narrow streets meandered through the antique district and small shops with window boxes overflowing with vibrant pink geraniums decorated the walkways.  Most of the window displays had been emptied for the August vacation, but a few remained, showcasing the shop’s wares.  I walked around, enjoyed the scenery, wandered in and out of a shop or two that were open and then headed back to meet Ann.

About halfway back to the hotel, I realized I was the only pedestrian on the street.  But, it was Paris, a lovely day, and any intuitive thoughts that started to darken my adventure were pushed aside. That worked a while until I realized that across the street was a young man, looking all the bit a petty thief.  He tried to engage me in conversation.  I ignored him.

That didn’t work, as the young man became more animated and more agitated. Actually, he was hassling me although I pretended not to understand which was quite easy, because I really didn’t understand him despite his animated gestures. My French had not improved during the trip. He wanted something, probably money, but because I did not speak French, I was at a loss to reply.  His tone, however, made it obvious that this was not a friendly conversation. As there weren’t many options, I continued to walk back towards the center of Paris.

I knew a lot about not playing the victim role, so I walked with conviction, trying to look like I was not going to put up with any nonsense even though by now my feet were killing me.  It didn’t work, and the young man started across the street towards me.

Then, out of thBowler hate blue, two older very distinguished, very tall and very gay British men, dressed in three piece dark suits complete with bowler hats and walking canes, appeared out of nowhere.  The flamboyant duo swooped in, each taking one of my arms and loudly announcing to me and anyone else in the immediate vicinity, 

Darling, where have you been?  We have been searching all over for you. It’s far past time for tea. Shall we go?

The young man immediately disappeared into a side street.

And, with that, my two angels escorted me back to civilization, chatting the entire time and even insisting that we stop for afternoon tea, which after the long, long walk was even more appreciated.

Autumn Leaves

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Autumn is one of the most beautiful times of the year, but, given our mild weather, it is not a season we Californians fully celebrate.  We seem to slide from summer to Indian Summer and then suddenly, it’s overcast and rainy.  Well, sometimes rainy.  We’ve been in a severe drought the past few years and are beginning to forget what rain is.

A long time past, I lived in Pennsylvania for almost a year.  They definitely embrace autumn.  I have a vivid memory of stepping outside to retrieve the mail, an apple in hand.  I could smell the dampness of an early rain as I walked into the crisp fall air, surrounded by flurries of falling orange, red and yellow leaves. Walking down the long drive to the mailbox, I bit into the crisp, cold, so very sweet apple and in that moment knew that it was the taste of autumn.

Last spring, I moved to the Sierra foothills, an area that does believe in autumn despite the drought.  With the lack of water, the leaves are struggling to change colors although, as you can see, there are still some very vibrant red, yellow and orange leaves decorating the landscape. While I haven’t found an apple quite as crisp as the Pennsylvania one, the memory remains and surfaces now and again as I walk amid the color and dried leaves swirling to the ground.

For me, autumn brings the end of another cycle and another year.  It’s a time of quiet reflection and review. Am I on the path I supposed to be walking or simply wandering in the woods enjoying the view?

This is the first time in my life where there has been little drive or passion. No to-do list; no have-to list. A blank piece of paper.  I always assumed there was a reason for one’s existence, une rasion d’être, but now, at this stage, that too seems to have gone missing.

There’s an admitted calm and bit of disconnect from the more grueling aspects of life.  Perhaps it’s a function of age; perhaps a function of location.  Nonetheless, the mind wanders and wonders although, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what about.

A few weeks ago, I went in search of an artificial Christmas tree, as my last one looked a bit too sad last year.  I stood next to another woman, about my age, as we evaluated the artificial forest before us.

She asked what I was thinking.

I was honest.  I’m looking at the prices, wondering how many more Christmases I’ll have, and whether the investment will be worth it.

She smiled and said she was thinking something similar.  I remember my mother teasing about getting too old to buy green bananas. Maybe she wasn’t teasing as much as I thought.

My friend Bill puts things in a slightly different way. He says to get a long measuring tape, measure out one inch for each year you’ve lived and then add another inch for each year you hope to live.  It’s certainly a sobering exercise.

Autumn is indeed a gentle time, and at the same time, there is a chill in the air bringing the promise that the next season is on the cusp of arriving. Sometimes, not often, I wonder what it will bring.

In the meantime, lacking a really crisp, cold, so very sweet apple, I think I’ll put an apple in the oven to bake while I watch the leaves just a little longer.

Grumpy Old Men

I have an old man of a cat, BlackJack.  He took one look at our new home and immediately claimed it as his own, which is good because a happy cat is a happy home, or something like that.  He does love the outdoors, the deer, the space…he even occasionally enjoys watching the golfers trying to navigate the 6th green.

In short order, BlackJack realized that there is a cute grey tabby two houses away and fell head over paws for her.  It didn’t matter that BlackJack is somewhere around 17 — that’s in his 80’s in human years — he was smitten by Gracie’s siren meow and immediately turned into a teenage TomCat.

Things may or may not work out between the two of them, but BlackJack’s plans have now been placed on hold. Gracie has a housemate, Buster, who is orange and about the size of BlackJack — that is, they both weigh in around 18 lbs.  He’s not much younger, so we’re talking about two senior cats that are each very protective of the sweet young Gracie.

I first noticed there was a problem when BlackJack disappeared for three days.  The cat never disappears and has never missed a meal.  Three days was a very long time and I had all but called out the National Guard to find him. We, Gracie and Buster’s mom and I, finally discovered BlackJack hiding in their storage room off the garage.  As I carried BlackJack out of room, Buster leaned over from their second story deck, sporting a gigantic Cheshire Cat grin. BlackJack found enough strength to snarl back.

Two grumpy old men…funny if they weren’t in the process of trying to kill one another.  The two have gotten into a knockdown/drag out fights, complete with black and orange fur flying and high pitched yowls.  Buster’s male owner yelled at the two of them to no avail and finally turned the hose on full force.  The two were soaked to the skin before finally realizing they should stop fighting.  They both dripped their way home, looking a whole lot like drowned rats with tails tucked between their legs.

After a couple soakings, coupled with superficial injuries, the two cats have come to their senses.  At least we think they have. They still are territorial, they still yowl, growl and howl and they still face off but they now pretend there is an acrylic Berlin Wall between them so no actual fighting occurs. And, they make sure that one of their owners is nearby to call a halt should things get out of control. The grumpy old men have pretty much gotten the whole thing figured out.

Now, the two look for one another so another round of chicken can be played.  Gracie is all but forgotten. If BlackJack isn’t outside immediately in the morning or disappears inside for his naps, Buster climbs the stairs to our deck, first peering over the edge of the deck, then sitting with his nose against the sliding glass door, waiting for his nemesis to appear.  I understand BlackJack makes a similar trek to Buster’s deck and sliding glass door.

The other day I thought there might actually be hope for World Peace.  The two grumpy old men were sprawled on the same lawn below our deck, watching each other and the golfers. Every once in a while, one would growl and the other one would snarl, but it was as if they had just run out of steam, too tired to fight and finally willing to get along.

Detente only lasted one afternoon. By the next morning, they were at it again. So much for World Peace.

Rainy Days

It’s raining.puddle

It’s been raining for two days. Large drops of water, not a light sprinkle, but real honest to goodness rain.

This is major news for Californians who have not seen rain in a number of years.

I seem to be spending a lot of time at one window or another, watching the rain fall as though I’ve never seen it before. I’m very tempted to run outside and jump in the middle of a puddle, but I’m still wrapped cozy in my robe and sipping at a large mug of steaming, rich morning coffee so puddle-jumping may be better left to children walking to school.

The cat, who typically sits impatiently at the door each morning waiting to make his escape, took one long look at the grey, the cold and the wet before turning tail and finding the nearest warm quilt on which to curl up and return to sleep.

In this new home, the cat and I can hear the rain on the roof and throughout the night, the rain serenaded our sleep. Nature’s lullaby. I’ve missed it terribly. 

It’s funny that as everything stops, the daily to-do put aside in order to listen to the rain fall, memories come flooding back. Last night brought an unexpected and bittersweet memory of a fierce midnight rain and wind storm from a few years past, of slipping into sleep while being held close, familiar arms wrapped strong around me, familiar breathing shallow on my neck — all so ordinary but that night, also feeling so safe and protected as the storm ranted and raged around us. There are times that I miss this even more than the sound of the rain.

I remembered the last drought from years and years ago.  When it broke with a deluge of rain, I was in class teaching sophomore English II students.  I looked at the kids, looked out the open door at the rain because there were no windows in the classroom, put down the textbook and walked outside into the torrential downpour.  The kids followed and there we were, thirty of us joyfully and uninhibitedly dancing to the music of the rain.

At the end of the school year, one of the students, a studious young African American woman, came by to thank me.  Your class terrified me because I never knew what was going to happen from one minute to the next. I’ve learned more from this class…

On that note, there is a puddle or two waiting just for me…

The Cat Lady

I’ve received a number of requests to write more about dating, more specifically dating in our more mature years…mature, of course, referring to chronological age, not maturity.  Women seem to find these posts especially amusing.


When I left the classroom to design, build and coordinate a school program linking mental, social and physical health services into a school campus, it was a steep learning curve because I knew little or nothing about mental and social health issues and only a bit more about physical health — typically, what the kids or I had experienced. 

English majors are pretty much equipped to do little more than write, edit, teach or open an English Shoppe.  On the other hand, most of us who teach can bluff pretty well, being only a day or two ahead of our students, so when I raised my hand to take on a new adventure, I sure looked like I was qualified.

uh huh.

First week on the job and I heard the therapists talking about Mr. Man of the Moment or The Sperm Donor — the fathers of the unborn children of the young pregnant teens who had come into the center.  Their dark humor was not much different than what had been found in my old English Office.

It seems that not a whole lot has changed with reaching the senior years, except that if one is dating within one’s age group, the woman is not going to get pregnant.  At least, that was my assumption, evidently an ill-conceived one, as it appears that the only women seriously dating are in their twenties.  I learned that from a number of articles and blogs written for the dating population.

The first bit of advice I found was a list of cautionary notes for dating older men: 

  • The Mr. Set in His Ways, AKA I have my life already scheduled and have time for you two nights a week from 8 to 10 PM.  Do not think for a moment he’ll change: Run;
  • The Mr. Commitmentphobe, from whom you run run as fast as you can unless he’s George Clooney (given he’s off the market,  just run);
  • The Bitter Angry Dude, which says it all;
  • The Flake as in I’ll call you in the morning but neglects to mention which month;
  • The Kid Guy, who uses his kids for an excuse even when the kids are in their twenties.

I’ve dated a few of these men over the years and, fair enough, these are excellent insights, except the article was written for women in their twenties dating older men.  Good grief.  Go date men in your own age bracket. Men wouldn’t consider dating anyone twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years older than themselves and neither should you.

The next article I found was written by a man who warned women that time is a fleeting commodity, at least for females, and it was followed by input from many, many men, all of whom were probably just out of middle school.  The consensus:  women in their early twenties are in their prime and a thirty year old woman who is “hot” could possibly compete, but only for a short while.

After that, it’s spinsterhood.  Women in their forties were pretty much discounted.

That pretty much puts me in the petrified forest category.

Evidently the only women who actually marry are those who might snare the male through conveniently forgetting the pill and getting pregnant.  Or, we circle back to Mr. Man of the Moment, AKA The Sperm Donor, and the conniving woman is with child and on her own.

His conclusion:  If a woman holds out for Mr. Wonderful, she’s going to be disappointed as men are no doubt having fun with (the writer only used one word, not three, although it also started with an “f” and ended with an “ing”)  a younger hot number.  The hold-out woman runs the risk of becoming “yet another 40 year old cat lady.”

Well, that certainly explains everything. 

And, on that note, Where’s BlackJack?