Another One Bites the Dust


I embrace technology with reluctance. Answering machine? I swore I’d never buy one in college wondering, why can’t people just call back? Eventually, I caught up with the idea but just shy of voicemail coming into the picture. If I could still be using my childhood black rotary phone, believe me I would. There was nothing like carefully dialing a boy’s number, heart pounding, finger releasing at the silver half-moon watching the disc circle back hoping my finger didn’t stutter a second dial on the way up. You had to be paying attention. Last I knew that black phone was in my brother Adam’s attic. His then young son had lifted it out of a box and asked, “Dad, What’s this?”

On a recent trip to San Francisco, my friend who works for Apple remarked that my cell phone was antique. “It’s only a year old,” I said. “You should have seen my last one.”  When I went to trade my Ericsson up, the AT&T clerk turned it around in his hands like a rare fossil.  Please. Let’s not exaggerate, I wanted to say. It’s not like I passed in a Michael Douglas 1980s cell phone from Wall Street.

It’s not that I don’t like technological advances. (I have an ipod that was given to me.) I’m just slow on the uptake. Why throw away what still works? I donated my mint condition VHS player when I moved in June. And you know what? I regret it. How am I going to watch my rare Peace Corps video vignettes from Eritrea, Africa that fellow volunteer Colin taped in 1995? If I know Colin, he’s already converted it to DVD. I must have thought this thought when I packed up the player (in its original box) as I loaded up the car for Goodwill. Otherwise, poof it’s gone. If anyone wonders whether I am my mother’s daughter, you needn’t look for further proof.

At least I don’t put plastic on the lampshades.

I’m more of use it into the ground kind of person. Enjoy it while you got it is my motto.

My mother used her Maytag for 40 years. It saw so much use, the dial was completely worn to white with only the slightest blue flecks as evidence that numbers once existed. She knowingly turned it to the click, like an expert safe-cracker. This proved to be a great excuse for my not being able to do laundry. It had its curbside exit after a few visits from the repair man who finally had to break it to my mother.

All this came up because today I was thinking about our family stereo. The wide console one with the smoky quartz colored plastic hood. I so clearly remember it in the “Big Room”- our fancy room. The Christmas tree room. The one with an ornate chandelier and crystal filled credenza. It’s also the room that for a time in the late 70s and early 80s got blocked off at the threshold with white chenille bedspread to conserve heat in the house.

I am not joking when I say, that my brothers and I would slip into our snowsuits, carefully slink past the tasseled bedspread just so we could listen to the stereo.  Winter 1980. I am eight years old. Adam had newly acquired Queen The Game album. I remember his careful, no thumb prints handling and the way he put the needle down and moved back from the turntable, palms down in a careful-do-not-disturb way. John and I would dance a jig to “Another One Bite’s the Dust”. Our dancing was a cross between the Peanuts Gang head wagging and some crazy ass kids in snowsuits trying to stay warm. On some nights we could see our own breath.  The crystals on the chandelier were in gentle percussion with our steps. If we bounced too much, Adam still in lotus in front of the stereo would yell, “HEY! Don’t make it skip.” He’d resume his watchful eye, palms at-the-ready to lift the needle up.

We’d read liner notes and learned lyrics.

We listened to one side and then flipped to the other. We studied the album, understanding somehow that it was a work of art. A concept. A poem. Something to be experienced as a whole especially because you saved up to buy it with a special trip to Record Lane or RRRecords.  At some point was it that year? Or later? Adam showed me how to put the needle down with my thumb.

And you know what? You can’t do that with an ipod.

——————-Let me tell you about my Victrola… That baby can pump out some SOUND!


Ciocia Talks Tom Brady

I called home recently. Ciocia Felicia answered. I asked her whether she was planning on watching the Pats vs. Ravens game, even though I already knew the answer would be yes. She interrupted my chain of questions to tell me in Polish, “Brady has a hand injury.”  She was certain he was going to play the game but the outcome of how well he could play was causing her to worry.

Sometimes I wonder if I call the right house.

Brady and Gaga.  Household names.

See, ever since my brothers introduced my Mom and Ciocia to the Super Bowl football squares some years ago and they started betting $20 on the game, they started tuning in. Not because they loved football, but because they wanted to maximize their twenty.  They learned to read the football square grid and somewhere along the way they got hooked.

Adam said to me the other night, “Ma called to ask me about Timeouts.” I told him Ciocia informed me of Brady’s injury and that if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have known.

They’re obsessed. Apparently, my Mom will do her walking-on-hot-coals howl when the Pats are heading for a touchdown.

After the AFC Championship game last week (what a nail biter!), I called home to see what they thought of the game. My mom said, “Miałem highablood pressure.” I had high blood pressure.

Mom never says HIGH. She says high-ah blood pressure, as if what is already high just went higher.

I realized that I’ve been catching the games myself these days.  I have watched games in the past with groups of people but it was really just to have salsa and chips and engage in some conversation.  I have called a quarter an inning before, so there you go.

I make no smoke screen to disguise my otherwise poo-poo to sports attitude I used to have.  I would have rather watched a foreign film than go to a Sports Bar. Actually, maybe that’s still true…BUT I have always enjoyed the thrill of an underdog winning or the drama of a snowy game. Maybe like my Mom and my aunt, I’m slowly finding the joy of watching a game because I’m figuring it out.

Plus, I just bought a football square for the Super Bowl next week and I want to see what happens to my twenty bucks. Go Pats!!!




Lawrence Welk: My Baby Aspirin, My Sedation

I watched The Lawrence Welk Show with my parents when TV’s still had legs and a knob to walk up to. (Insert loud Godzilla sounds and gnashing teeth here.) My brothers and I used to annoy my father by twisting the channel dial as if we were trying to spin a top. Tickticktick. Tickticktick. I’m not so sure what we were hoping to accomplish with the speed of the rotation with only three channels at our disposal, but we made it our job.I think this may have increased my father’s smoking at the time. His Marlboro’s were on the maroon velvet arm rest, with the orange plastic ashtray balanced carefully on the wooden edge extension. When I was 6th grade and he was in the midst of quitting, my mother often came down stairs in her nightgown and stood at the living room door sniffing, eyes in a squint.

But I digress. The Lawrence Welk Show was quiet time. Just out of the bath time. Family time without vocabulary to define it as such. The Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo scent sprang from my brushed-out hair like the potted lilies we had in the kitchen at Easter. When I wasn’t getting my hair coiled in pin curls, I was lying on the scratchy carpet and letting out a once a year scream when I saw a silver millipede scuttle across the room. “It came from the cellar!” I would scream and felt even more reasons to love my footie pajamas.

By the time I was in high school, my parents would be in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV. Pots slid over the electric burners, tea cups hit saucers and spoons caressed the edges of porcelain cups. Their voices were a quiet murmur. I would fall asleep on the sofa. Lawrence Welk on the TV. I feigned indifference to dinner, to the TV as I felt the blanket over the back of the couch get pulled over on me.

I can’t ever remember a time when Lawrence Welk was not on my parents TV. It has been on forever. Even now in 2011, I can still walk into their house and watch an old episode. It’s usually part of some PBS telethon and my mother will take a moment to shush me when I’m in the middle of talking over a Lennon Sisters number. She still says’ Champagne Lady’ in a tone like she’s referring to someone from the Royal Family. She can tell me which Welk Show artists are dead, divorced, remarried, and whose off-spring has gone into the business. All with a little sigh like she’s telling me- look what time did. I can hardly keep track. I only remember Lawrence, Joe Feeney, Myron the accordion guy, the Lennon Sisters, the Champagne Lady and the guy who inspired me to take Tap Dance. Who can forget the mustard polyester, powder blue floor length gowns and Geritol?

I realized when I had the bubonic plague last year, and lay dying on my couch alone, I stumbled across The Lawrence Welk Show. I said Ohmygod out loud and put the volume at the perfect level for someone suffering and fell deep into a comforting sleep.

It’s like I could still hear the dishes, the spoons swirling. The murmuring.

(special thanks to tvcollector71 on youtube from whom I borrowed this link. Check out his other great LWS clips.)

Becoming Mom and Dad

I’m freezing bread. I just noticed today.

I jabbed a knife into the icy crest of some whole grain and recognized the routine of my parents. As soon as I heard the soft suction of the freezer door sealing shut, I panicked that I was eating lunch at 10:30am like my parents. I wasn’t. It was well after noon but here I was, frozen bread in hand. Who am I? I am thawing bread for a sandwich. I have disliked freezing food of any kind. Mostly because I don’t have the patience to thaw.  And yet, next to my ice cube trays I have two loaves of bread. Isn’t this a little too soon? The freezing. The bread. Becoming my parents? I’m not even 40 yet.

There are enough Rye breads in my mom’s freezer to build a dam levy. For lunch, she takes out the number of slices she needs, makes her and my dad a sandwich and puts the tea kettle on. One time I saw my Dad trying to gnaw into a piece. When I pointed out that it was STILL FROZEN, my mom’s response was “wait few minutes.” I looked at my dad and shrugged my shoulders. They eat bread so often that I wouldn’t think they need to freeze it. But my mom buys food at the Polish deli like she has the apocalypse on her mind or that she’ll be suddenly entertaining a dozen of unannounced guests, so I guess it has to stay preserved somehow.

They have a point. Becuase I hate it when on Sunday mornings I reach into the plastic bag and find a rock hard slice of stale bread. Secondly, I have repeatedly learned the expensive lesson that $5 organic English muffins can and will get moldy the day after I buy them. Sometimes I fear they are even molding in my car on the way home from the grocery store. Is that the powdery dust of the flour or the beginnings of penicillin? I started thinking that I ought to take into account the power of the freezer and ‘wait few minutes.’
I rarely have moldy bread in my garbage now.

Although I still don’t know how to prevent a baguette from turning into a baton.