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June 2018

Not So Funny

Author/comedian David Sedaris has written a new book of essays called Calypso. I haven’t read it, and I probably won’t although it is guaranteed to be a best seller. Nevertheless, I was curious enough to go to his reading from it at Politics and Prose, our favorite bookstore. The program was scheduled to begin at 8:00, but when Peter and I arrived an hour early there were no seats left.

Scrambling to find the best place to stand, we were approached by a lovely young woman who claimed that she and her partner couldn’t bear to see us stand for so long and insisted we take their seats.

David Sedaris is very funny and a very successful author.   The audience laughed non-stop as he read from his book. I distinctly remember chuckling twice, smiling occasionally, but mostly thinking that Peter and I are not his audience.

I was amazed and impressed to learn that when he is not traveling, he spends four to eight hours a day picking up trash from the roads near his West Sussex home in Britain while listening to podcasts and books. He told his audience that there is a garbage truck named after him and that he was invited to Buckingham Palace as a result of his single-handed efforts to rid the highways of trash.

Walking in our neighborhood the next day, I saw a metal object in the middle of the street. As I often do when I see something on the road that might cause a flat tire, I picked it up. I thought of David Sedaris and was impressed.

Turning the Page Bookstore II

I’m not an expert bookstore clerk yet, but I am learning on my volunteer job, mainly from our customers.

For example, last week a young boy suggest that we shouldn’t be selling our used comic books for a dollar before someone who really knows the value of comic books has had a look. So I checked it out. In 2014, a ten-cent Superman comic book sold for $3.2million. Of course, that’s unusual, but you never know, and since all of our sales go toward helping families in the DC public schools, why not charge a bit more for the more valuable comic books? I passed his suggestions on to my “boss.”

A woman on her lunch hour break, thrilled to find a new bookstore talked with me about what she reads. We ended up recommending authors to each other because our tastes are similar. She plans to come back often.

Another customer asked if we could change a $20 bill. It seems she had just had a haircut and needed change for a tip. Well, she had a gorgeous haircut, praised her hairdresser and gave me his name. I called and made an appointment.

And of course, it can’t all be good news. A couple came in with four cartons of books to donate to the store. As we unloaded them, the wife became angry at her former-professor husband and was in tears. “Why are we giving away so many of my books and so few of yours?” she asked.

Just another day at work…

Dinner at Old Age Central

Daily dinners with our fellow retirees can be tedious. The elderly (and that includes us) tend to repeat stories of their not always-interesting pasts. But sometimes I am amazed by what I hear.

Last week, we had dinner with a statuesque 89-year-old named Elizabeth. She knew about my long career at Harvard’s Kennedy School so for starters, she told me that she had just given a eulogy there for Francis Bator, an economist who had advised the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and was one of the School’s founding fathers. His office was down the hall from me. The memorial service was held in the School’s Penthouse where I had attended hundreds of events, including my own farewell party!

Elizabeth told us that she had got to know Bator while working for Walter Lippmann, newspaper columnist and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, but said little about herself.

Curious to learn more about this modest woman, I Googled her. Turns out that she was a producer for CBS News for years and the first newsperson on the scene after the 1972 Watergate break-in.

That evening, I couldn’t persuade her to write her story, but I’ll keep trying.

Division of Labor

On Tuesday, November 30, 1999, The Boston Globe published a personal essay under the headline “Wife’s Ailment Brings Out A New Side of Husband.” In it, the author told how the division of labor in her marriage worked well until she was on crutches. Then she found out that her husband had no idea how to do the laundry so she had to stand at the top of the basement stairs and yell down step-by-step instructions for the washing machine. He couldn’t load the dishwasher efficiently either.

The wife went on to say that she’d better learn how to start the lawn mower, and un-jam the garbage disposal to be prepared if he should “step off the curb the wrong way some day”.

That article was written by me.

Nineteen years later, Peter “stepped off the curb the wrong way” and broke his leg. It’s my turn to take on his chores, and although I wish he hadn’t fallen, it’s my pleasure to return the favor.

I'm Famous?

This is the 1100th post of When I wrote the first one more than ten years ago, I thought I would stop when I turned eighty. But somehow it’s become part of my DNA and so I keep going, at least for now.

I write to document my life and how it changes over my “bonus years”. I do it for me. Happily, I now have a lot more subscribers than the seventeen I started with.

Which brings me to a recent visit to Sumner Fitness, the gym where Peter sees a physical therapist. Because it is far away, I bring a book and sit in the waiting room during his forty-minute appointment.

Imagine my surprise when a fit, older woman approached me and asked if my name was Judy. An 81-year-old, she has been working out at the gym for years. More important (to me), she has been reading this blog for ten years. She knew that we had moved to Washington, and she recognized me from my photo on the website.

We chatted for a few minutes and she went on her way.  

I was delighted.

To Sneeze or Not to Sneeze

Peter and I have been classical music fans forever.  Occasionally, while listening to music on the radio, we’ll hear a “warhorse” we recognize but can’t name.

The other day when we couldn't decide who had written a very familiar piece playing on the local classical music station, we decided we’d have to wait for the announcer to tell us.

I then had a vivid childhood memory.

I lived in a small two-family house in Cincinnati, Ohio from ages four to nine. Every Saturday morning I would lie on the floor in my parents’ bedroom listening to “Let’s Pretend” a then-popular radio program. At the end of each broadcast, the announcer would say “Next week on Let’s Pretend…” at which point, my older brother Don would magically appear, and fake a huge sneeze so that I couldn’t hear what was coming next.

It infuriated me.

So the other day, when the announcer was about to name the piece of music we had been listening to, I gave some thought to sneezing à la Don.

I didn’t.

It was Brahms’ Second Symphony.

An Afternoon in "France"

The torrential rain on Sunday flooded nearby streets, but thanks to my childhood friend who offered to drive and knows DC like the back of her hand, Peter and I were able to attend a benefit concert for Friendship Place at the French Embassy.

This was Peter’s first major outing since he broke his femur in February, and it felt very normal to have him by my side at a chamber music concert. Members of the National Symphony Orchestra donate their time to this fund-raiser every year.

The concert was preceded by an inspiring talk given by a vibrant and upbeat, formerly chronically homeless man who credits Friendship Place with saving his life. Drug dependent, homeless and despondent for years, he is now employed, has an apartment, a car and credit cards in his wallet. That morning, he reported, he had run five miles in the rain

The French Embassy is modern and vast. The barricades and security checks at the entrance were sad to see, but once inside, it didn’t matter. The players charmed the audience with their introductions to each piece, and their performances were delightful.

A wine reception followed the concert with beautiful fruit and cheese platters and a smattering of French being spoken.

Peter and I came home and wrote a check for Friendship Place.

Turning the Page

Last week I spent four hours sorting and shelving mystery novels at Carpe Librum, a new bookstore. Like me, you may have said that when you retire, you’d like to work surrounded by all those books that you wished you had read. And now I am.

I am volunteering for Turning the Page, a non-profit organization that sells donated books in pop-up stores for a fraction of their cover price. The proceeds fund programs that bring parents and their kids into DC schools for enrichment programs. Turning the Page is the creation of a charismatic Georgetown Law School graduate whose talk about the organization’s remarkable accomplishments got me to volunteer.

During my weekly four-hour shift, I am surrounded by wonderful books, all donated, none selling for more than $5.00. Customers in this newly-opened store say how thrilled they are to see a book store opening in the same mall in which a chain bookstore had closed a couple of years ago.

After my first day, I noticed that my thigh muscles were complaining about having been used in unaccustomed ways as I sorted and shelved books.

A small price to pay for the pleasure of working for a good cause.