Thursday, February 22, 2018

“Man’s Faults Revealed,” Alex Schachter and Me

Human brains are mysterious and vast, both your operations center and information warehouse. Electrical impulses flash along well-used and not so well-used pathways.  And, for me, it seems those pathways are lined with memories and I never know when a stray electrical impulse is going to set a memory in motion.

I can be watching a sunset, and suddenly, I am remembering the sun slanting at that same angle on the Brooklyn street of my childhood.  Music is so evocative that sometimes I can’t listen if I am working because I just start drifting off.  Both good and bad memories help us remember the feelings of past times, and better empathize with others going through similar circumstances. Or, they can make us realize that we could never imagine someone’s pain.

I’ve written, and told, funny stories about guns. My father's tale of the Marine on guard duty in Korea who shot up a whole clothesline full of his commanding officer's clothes in the dark, because they didn’t give the password. The time I was handed a gun at the range with no warning, and the kick almost took my arm off, the bullet ricocheted off the walls, and the range officer tackled me while everyone else hit the floor. No one hurt = funny story. And the story of the family member who thought the way to get rid of bullets was to hit them with a hammer in the back yard. Yes, shrapnel wounds, but no serious injury. I’ve put those stories in the archive for a while, and know, as we did after 9-11, that there will come a time to laugh again. Maybe even at my gun mishap stories.

But real gun safety issues are serious. We are at a crossroad, deciding if we, as a country, want to live in an armed encampment or try the road less traveled toward a less weapons-oriented society. I have my opinion, but I don’t have any answers.

What I do know is, I don’t want to ever hear a parent, a sibling, or a friend have to eulogize a gun victim. Each new one that happens brings back the memories of the previous ones. I can’t imagine the pain for those who have gone through it.

Last night, a parent read a poem that his son wrote, two weeks before his death. A poet, in the school band. This was something that hit very close to me. The unbidden memories flooded my brain. A stark realization came to me — I was once this teen, and he was me. I remembered the bomb thrown through the window of the band room when I was in high school. The room was empty, but it was a terrible incident for us. Today, that could easily have been a shooter, or a larger bomb, thrown when the room was full. It made me realize how thin the line is between a safe place and a place of horror; between life and death.  And I wondered, what would be the words, the poem, that would have been left behind if I had been a victim of violence in my school. Yes, there is one, and I see, even then, in 1973, we teens were confused, even frightened by the world we were growing up in. Parkland students, survivors, and those lost, especially you, Alex Schachter, I cannot imagine your pain or the pain of your friends and loved ones. But, because poetry is how I have been able to express both the hurt and joy in my life, I share that poem I would have left behind. I truly wish we had done more about “man’s faults” for your generation.


The snow drifts down,
and covers all,
the hate of man,
his slow downfall.

The snow, when here
is glist’ng white,
but when it melts
in bright sunlight,

man’s faults, revealed,
come back in sight.

©Noreen Braman EBHS 1973

I have just learned that the family has created a GoFundMe page for scholarships for students to study music. Here's the Link

Here is a poem from one of the survivors. Poetry is often the only way to express the deepest hurts. 
Samantha Deitsch's poem

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

True Love Saved Me From Being the Neighborhood Crazy Old Lady – A Valentine’s Day Story

I’ve talked about it before, the choice I gave myself in 2010. Give “true love” one more chance, and if it didn’t work, spend my time polishing up my Crazy Old Lady skills.

One has to understand that I grew up in places that held fast to the theory that there is a crazy old lady in every neighborhood.  I’m sure it was unkind, used to demean and ridicule an elderly person, living alone. For kids it was a kind of mythology. In Brooklyn, it was the woman who lived “down the block” at the corner. Hers was the last of the row houses, secured by a high, chain link fence. Her front door was a long set of steps up from the sidewalk, and we were convinced she used her lofty vantage point to spy on us.

If we were to hang around outside her house too long, for example, playing in one of the huge puddles that often formed in front of her house, she would come rushing out. With messy gray hair and a wrinkled housedress, she would scream at us from on high to get out  of that water and away from her house.

There was also the woman with the baby carriage, who would go down our alley, and pick through our garbage. The legend was, that she was really very rich and dropped off at one end of the alley and picked up at the other end by a chauffeur. However, we were too scared she would see us to check.

Having already made one foray into the character by chasing potential dog-fighters out of my front yard with a broom, I knew I could do it. But, I still wanted to give that “true love” thing a try.

I’d dated quite a bit after my divorce. The general atmosphere of this period of time was that anyone “my age” was interested in dating, having laughs and adventures, but no interest in commitment.  For the longest time, as I was getting my children through high school and beyond, that was fine with me. But one day, I realized that it was only me, the dog, and the cockatiel in the house. And I began to feel the desire for more. I didn’t want to continue with the casual dating circuit, so, I signed up for an online trial of a dating site.

I specifically stated I wanted to meet someone who lived close, and was interested in a friendship that would lead to a long-term commitment. I was immediately beset by men from distant states, even foreign countries, who professed to falling in love with my irresistible photo. They wanted to come visit and on and on. Scammers, every one.

And then there were the creepy guys. One claimed to be a married, “defrocked priest” who had to be home in the evenings to take care of his disabled wife. However, he was sure we could have some “meaningful afternoons.”

The only person I agreed to meet was intelligent and funny. Two points. He was local to me! Another point. We decided to meet at a Starbucks midway between our homes. The only problem was, it turned out that the Starbucks listed for that location was actually a take out stand in a grocery store. I sat in the parking lot. Tempted to just leave, but not wanting to be rude, I figured we could at least have a laugh and reschedule.

The laugh was long and hearty. The smile was genuine. We noticed a Chinese restaurant in the shopping center, and our first date began. We found some real coffee shops to meet at after that. We went down the shore, toured the Twin Lighthouses and then spent some nervous minutes back tracking to find my bag that I had absent-mindedly left beside a historic cannon.

There were long walks and long conversations. Introductions to the family and in less than 3 months, we were inseparable.

This summer marks eight years since I delayed becoming the neighborhood crazy old lady. Five grandchildren have entered our lives. We said goodbye to the golden retriever I had once looked in eye and said, “It’s just you, me, and the bird.” We’ve weathered a couple of scary health issues, and dealt with car repairs and house repairs. We count our pennies and laugh with friends. It is knowing that “happily ever after” is what holds you together when things are not so happy. It is knowing you have someone who connects with you heart, mind, body and soul.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, and every day, I send love, laughter and gratitude to the Love of My Life. May we have many more years together.


Crazy Ol' Me

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Water Again? With Apologies to Forrest Gump and Instant Oatmeal

Water and I have a love-hate relationship. It started on my first day of kindergarten when hurricane floodwaters cut my Brooklyn street off from civilization and I couldn’t get to school.  It continued through childhood with the famous bubble bath incident that resulted in a cascade of bubbles flowing down the staircase. And over the years water seems to prank me at every turn, especially when any reasonable person would not at all expect water waging mayhem. To paraphrase Indiana Jones, “Water! Why does it always have to be water?"

Every workday morning, I arrive at the office, drop my bags in their designated spot, turn on the desk lamp and boot up the computer. I grab my coffee cup and take a brown, crinkly packet of plain instant oatmeal out of the box and head to the kitchen. A simple, automatic, mindless routine because without coffee, there can be no mindfulness.

I fill the coffee maker with water from the water cooler. While the coffee brews, I tear open the oatmeal packet, dump it into a bowl and fill up the packet to the prescribed line with water from the water cooler. Mix the water into the oatmeal, put it in the microwave, and wait impatiently, sometimes even leaning against the wall with my eyes closed for a few seconds more of mindless-ness.

The first time the oatmeal betrayed me, I didn’t know what was going on. As I carried the water-filled packet to the bowl, I felt a cold sensation on my leg. Water. I must have spilled some water. I continue with my routine.

The following day, the same sensation. Wow, I must really need the coffee, I am spilling water all over the place. On the third day, the coincidence finally made me look at what I was doing. The oatmeal packet wasn’t all the way sealed, and the water was dripping, no, pouring, out.  A slippery trail reached from the water cooler to the counter. A blurry remembrance of overly dry oatmeal the previous day floated around in my uncaffeinated brain. Finally, I understood that someone at the oatmeal factory had pranked me, (at least I took it as a prank, not some oatmeal factory malfunction) and it had taken me three days to notice.

But by the next morning, this realization had vanished, and again I got a wet leg. This explains to my fellow coworkers why, as a reminder to myself, I’ve placed that new sign in the kitchen, “Life is Like a Box of Oatmeal, You Never Know When You’re Gonna Get Wet.” 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Standing Up to 60

I’m creating a checklist for my brain. Not a shopping list. Not a to-do list. Not a wish list. It is a brain-don’t-fail-me-now-list. Now that I am 60—actually, past 60—my email and snail mail are inundated with what advertisers think is age appropriate merchandise and services. Burial plots. Life insurance that requires no physical! (Just a 20-page health questionnaire.) Local restaurants that offer senior specials starting at 4:30. I swear to God I will never go to a senior special price dinner again. Once, we went to a Lenten fish fry at our church, arriving at 4:30 so that we could eat before spending the evening at dance school. The seniors in line actually told us that this was private time for them, that no children were allowed. I protested, was allowed in, and we spent our dinner feeling the icy stares of someone’s grandparents boring holes in out bodies.

But back to the checklist. None of these emails or ads are offering me what I really need; which is a magic medicine, exercise, activity or lifestyle change that is going to keep my brain limber and sharp. Considering there may be some doubt about my younger brain’s sharpness and limberness, this could be a real challenge.

The name of the game is neural pathways. Roadways cut into a previously untouched landscape, paved with snapping synapses reaching out to gobble up the new information like so many brain-based Pac-Mans. (Pac-Men? Discuss amongst yourselves). So, the hunt is on for the best brain bulldozers to keep turning over that gray matter.

I know there is constant digging in my technology brain field, thanks to one office computer whose browser keeps getting hijacked by fake search engines, a daily what-happened-to-my-email/document/server connection gauntlet, and fun messages from every office software about how new versions are coming out, riding a tidal wave of systems updates and security patches that have to happen first.

Last weekend, I surveyed the dance area of the brainscape, and did some path outlining with foot-shaped stepping-stones in the pattern of a foxtrot. Results of the environmental impact statement (other wise know as assessing the body pain index after dancing) have not yet come in.

While the financial area of my brain resembles strip mining, constant attempts to discover untouched areas of financial management, deposits of, well—deposits—as well as the constant detouring caused by robbing Peter to pay Paul keep the brain road crew busy. In fact, there is actually one over used neural pathway—the living paycheck-to-paycheck pathway that threatens to cut right through the entire brain.

I’m walking, laughing, and being grateful to improve my brain health. I’m avoiding a whole list of OTC meds that may contribute to brain traffic jams. And I am seriously looking to try new things. No skydiving or tattoos (but not completely ruled out). Just more like taking some of those things I’ve been dabbling in or interested in but have not devoted enough time to. Things that Yoda might tell me, “Do, or do not. But just your mind make up.” Or my friend Carol, looking down on me still saying “stop making other people look good.”

My brain is still in pretty good shape. After 60, there is never a guarantee about that. So, time to start using my brain. That’s the first thing on my checklist. The second thing is hinted in the title of this essay.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Today's "If You Are Going to be Dumb, You Better Be Tough" House Maintenance Tip

Today's tips:

  • Never attempt to clean you furnace air intake vent with a towel wrapped around a broom.
  • While the furnace is running.

Or if you do:
  • Make sure you know where the emergency shut off switch it.
  • And get there before the towel gets sucked all the way to the furnace.

Bonus lessons:
  • I now know I fit into the air intake vent.
  • I finally have a Safe Room to hide from intruders in. 
  • Wear a mask.