Sunday, February 22, 2009

Room Service

I just returned from a few days in Boston, a couple of which I spent at a hotel in the Back Bay. I love Boston, and the Back Bay, and on occasion when I visit I like to splurge to stay in the middle of it all. For me it most closely mimics the life I had there when I was a resident, when I park my car in the hotel garage and spend a couple of days without it--walking, taking cabs and the T-- since my life now depends on a car and I can't get from point A to point B without it. Of course the similarity ends there, as the luxury of eating out three meals a day and staying in a luxury hotel is nothing like my life there at all, although the business trips I used to take from Logan trained me well.

Truth be told, I didn't stay in a hotel until after college. I never went away on spring break, and I didn't vacation with my family during the summer. I took to it quickly, however, and my comfort level with room service and concierge queries has been a frequent source of laughter at my expense, especially with the late, great Jimmy J (father of my brother-in-law, Liz's husband, also named Jim), who knew that staying in nice hotels was an acquired taste. Mr. Johnson (I called him Jimmy J to make him chuckle, but it still seems more respectful to call him Mr. Johnson) always got a huge kick out of my room service stories and my credo that time is money. I'd tell these stories and he'd laugh. "Oh, Herself!," he would chuckle, and as soon as he would regain composure, would ask me to repeat the details of my high school employment at Roy Roger's, where in the drive-thru I would have to say to customers--while donned in pseudo-denim wrap around skirt, red polyester shirt and straw cowboy hat--"Howdy partner, may I take your order?"

Jimmy J/ my brother-in-law's late father/Mr. Johnson was a great man. It was serendipitous, really, that I knew him at all and that he had the affect on me that he did. He kept me humble and made me proud in the same breath. He enjoyed living and faced every day in a way my brother-in-law emulates and tries to pass on to my niece and nephew. I have more than once seen a note Jim has left for my niece that says "Pay attention, I want you to get ahead," his father's credo. How I would love now to sit at dinner with him and talk to this man who devoted his life to his family and to education, but died shortly after retiring as grammar school principal. Among the dozen things I'd tell him, all sure to evoke a Herself! response, I'd also ask him for advice on how to talk to Meredith and Charlie about him that would celebrate his legacy without being morose. Maybe I'd simply ask him for the strength not to tear up when I tell Meredith that when she lights up with genuine excitement I see her grandfather in her.

This February vacation marked another anniversary of Jimmy J's death, but I believe I thought of him more because of my stay at the Hilton and my room service order than because of the passing of another year since his passing--as I'm sure he would want it...And which why I am trying to coordinate an afternoon in La Jolla this April vacation--for Liz and Jim and Meredith and Charlie and Jill and me--where Mr. and Mrs. Johnson visited on my recommendation after his retirement during a trip west. "Oh, Joanne, George's at the Cove!" he said when they returned....

If you look close, Meredith, I'll say, you'll see those rocks aren't rocks at all. They are sea lions. We can take a walk down later, if you want. And see those trees? Dr. Seuss used to see them when he wrote his books... Your grandfather liked it here too. I wish he could be here with us. He'd be so proud of you. He'd be so happy to see how happy you and Charlie are; he was a happy man, too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


As I grow old--gracefully, I hope--I wonder how I ever lived on 5 or 6 hours of sleep. Or why, for that matter? Did I need less sleep in my 30s? Or was it a passive-aggressive expression, a way to extend the day as long as I could as a denial of my work self, because going to bed acknowledged that I had to get up for work again the next day? How silly is that? I love sleep. I don't go into 12-hour depression hibernation or anything, but I love getting 8 hours of sleep. I love feeling the restorative power of sleep. I love that I know myself well enough to understand my sleep needs, and that I honor myself enough to meet them.

I know a lot about myself these days, and it pleases me. The arsenal of facts is not replete with prettiness, but the self-knowledge and self-acceptance I appreciate. I know that despite my mother's urging to wear my hair short again, I look better with longish hair that I maintain in its original, God-given shade (which I also think looks good), with the help of my stylist. I know that I don't look good in khakis and would rather not provide an opportunity for someone to make a game out of counting the dimples in my thighs if I wear them. Nor do I look particularly good in jeans--at least the ones hanging in my closet at present (but I'm trying). I know that spiked heels hurt the balls of my feet after only a few minutes and from the get-go make me look like an orange on toothpicks, so I get a height boost from wedge heels these days; they balance me a little better. I know that if I eat late I get a bad night's sleep--especially if it's a restaurant meal that is typically more rich than anything I might make myself at home. And I know that I should never eat caramelized onions unless I'm going to be home alone later and not sharing a car ride to get there.

I know that I cry easily. I'm not talking about when my feelings are hurt or if I'm in pain. Play the national anthem and see me weep. Show me again the passengers on the flight that went down in the Hudson meeting Captain Sully and his crew, I'll cry again. Extreme Makeover Home Edition? Exactly. I know my feelings are hurt more easily and often than I like to show. I know that I will struggle for longer than I should before asking for help. And I know I will spend the rest of my life trying not to be a Marshmallow Kid.

Somewhere in my life--in conversation, perhaps in a college course in Psychology--I learned of an experiment in which children were tested for impulse control. From what I remember, the primary investigator or research assistant, i.e., some soft spoken, friendly grown-up, would sit down with the child subject at a table on which sat a plate of marshmallows. The adult would say, "I'm going to leave the room for a few minutes, and I'm going to leave these marshmallows with you. You can help yourself while I'm gone, but should you not eat them, I'll put another treat on the plate when I get back." Well, I don't even like marshmallows, but I know that those marshmallows would have been in my mouth before the door was shut behind the tricky grown up who then would have watched me chew them from behind a two-way mirror.

I know that being a Marshmallow Kid, among other things, has contributed to my life long battle with weight. With being overweight. Fortunately, as an adult, I have learned that when I exercise I am more successful at feeling better and losing weight, and am happy to report that I have been exercising again. Most recently, in an effort to keep on top of current research for the my A&P class, I have learned that sleep deprivation has been linked to diabetes and obesity and a myriad of other conditions.

On that note, I think I'll skip the marshmallows tonight and head up to those comfy sheets.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Past Perfect

My years in Boston often feel like another lifetime to me. If I refer in my classroom to an experience from another career, I'll joke "in my past life, before I was a teacher." For the decade that is my past life, I tried new things and experimented with new careers. I would even joke at interviews, which occurred approximately every 2 years, about my checkered past, taking poetic license with an expression meant to convey a shameful past in order to relax myself and my interviewers.

That I have been teaching for more than ten years (notice I didn't say "over ten years," which was one of the usage-error-pet peeves of my executive editor when I was a textbook editor) still astounds me, especially since my job satisfaction waxes and wanes. Life was easy in my twenties when, if Boredom came knocking, or Disinterest tempted its evil twin: Poor Performance, I looked for a new job, or it looked for me, which is--in fact-- how I came to be a textbook editor after a stint as a Coordinator of Adolescent Services at a health clinic in Boston (a "settlement house" in Dorchester, to be more precise).

I loved that job. I loved the physicians with whom I worked and ordered pho from the Vietnamese restaurant across the street during Thursday night clinic. I loved the doctors who chose to practice medicine there and do rounds at Boston City Hospital rather than at one of the hospitals in the Longwood medical area. They were some of the most intelligent and compassionate people I have ever met or had the pleasure to learn from and work alongside. I loved also the nursing assistants who taught me how to take blood pressure readings and liked to order from the Irish deli down the street. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the adolescents I tried to help I still think about. One patient in particular, I wonder about often.

Looking back on that lifetime ago makes me nostalgic. I shared an apartment on Beacon Street between Cleveland Circle and Coolidge Corner. I didn't own a car and took the T to work. Not surprisingly, I read more than 50 books that year, all purchased from the Brookline Booksmith to which I would walk often--especially on Saturday afternoons, where I would spend hours but only a few dollars, mostly on hardcover bargains. I discovered new authors and great books while standing on those creaky floors, checking out the shelves of employee recommendations. I went to readings and sat rapt, then waited in line to meet some of those authors, in the basement there. If I had extra money after my book purchase, I might stop for a falafel sandwich to go from Shawarma King that would take the rest of Saturday to eat.

My Friday night treat was even simpler. Although I was younger then, I was still tired at the end of the work week. Thursday nights our adolescent clinic ran until 9 pm and I didn't get home until at least 10. I'd watch ER, and start all over again at 9 in the morning and be exhausted on the T ride home. If I had an extra 10 dollars in my messenger bag I'd ride past my stop and take the T all the way to Cleveland Circle. I'd walk in my favorite Thai restaurant and would order 1/2 pint of white rice and a side of peanut sauce. In the five minutes I was asked to wait, I'd walk to the end of the block and buy a six pack of Rolling Rock. When I got home, I made it through half the rice and sauce, stopping occasionally to wipe my brow and sip 3 or 4 of the beers before going to bed happy. Especially if my roommate wasn't home.

Last night, on my drive home from a great dinner with a great friend at a great little Thai restaurant, as I worried about my missing brake light (I wonder if that would bug by former supervisor; should we call it a broken or non-functioning brake light?) and reminded myself to record the $40 debit in my check book, I couldn't help but think that a brown paper bag with a $1.50 worth of rice and peanut sauce and a $6 six pack of beer used to do the trick.

At least I don't have a roommate to worry about anymore.
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