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Electronic Takeover

I saw the notice on Facebook; The Rocky Mountain News closes after 149 years.

Another newspaper goes down, adding to the list of closed bookstores and publishing houses. As a reader and a writer, I felt especially sad. Books, magazines, and newspapers have been my lifeline for my sixty-plus years. Was it the economy or was something else contributing to the downfall of the written word? Where was I getting my news lately, and how was I communicating with friends?

In today’s technological age we receive our news, and we keep up our friendships, through electronics. “E-mail me, write me on Facebook, text me, call me on my cell,” is the language of the millennium communicators.

My newspaper still is sitting on the kitchen table unread while I am on the computer. The mail, consisting of bills or advertisements, sits next to it. I remember when the morning news was new and exciting, and when I ran to the mailbox in anticipation of a letter from a loved one or from a dear friend who may have lived only a few miles away.

I closed my computer and walked upstairs to my memory closet. Down came four boxes.

The first one contained newspaper clippings, dating back from World War II to one heralding Man on the Moon. Those old, yellowed clips with advertisements for 29¢ gas are a treasure. Oh, I know I can research their content on the Internet, but it’s different holding papers your mother read–and kept.

The second box contained something I could never find again anywhere else–letters from 1960 through 1966, when letter writing was the accepted way of communicating. There were letters from me to my mother, when I went to college at the University of Illinois. Urbana was only two hours away from Chicago, but it seemed like I was a million miles away. The letters reproduce those years when I was a naïve young girl eager to conquer the world.

The third box of letters was from my boyfriend, Sam, who was in Okinawa as an Army dentist, 1964 through 1966.

Reading those letters some forty-odd years later I saw why I married him, and I saw things I missed as a young girl in love. Right in one of the letters he wrote, “Honey I got unbelievable bargains out here. I’m sending home 1,100 pounds of things for our new home.” As I looked around at my crowded house and garage, I realized right there in that letter was the clue that he was a hoarder.

The last box contained letters from family and friends long gone. I was grateful that these loved ones had taken pen to paper as well.

I looked back at my computer, and my cell phone. All those wonderful e-mails, and text messages I’ve sent and received in the last five years had ended up in the deleted file, never to be read and enjoyed again.

The electronic takeover of our lives does offer benefits. But you can’t spend a bittersweet day with a computer in your arms like you can with shoeboxes full of priceless memories.

Milk and Oranges

“Where are my oranges and my milk?” my husband, Sam, asks.

Sam had just come home from the grocery store and was unloading the bags. Agitated because some of his purchases were missing, he was looking for them by scrambling through grocery bags, upsetting things in the refrigerator, and finally moving items around in the car–all to no avail.

“Are you sure you bought them?” I ask. “Where’s the bill?”

He handed me the receipt.

“Yeah, you paid for them,” I say. “You probably left them on the cart again.”

“You go back and get them; you’re better at it than I am,” he says, as he handed me the bill and the car keys.

Are you and your spouse having these kinds of conversations daily? Or are you having this one with your kids? “Mom, you told me that story already. What’s wrong with you?”

Then you must be over 60. These are the years when the wires in the computer in your head are getting rusty, and you begin to wonder if you could be getting Alzheimer’s or dementia.

You’ve been going religiously to a stretch class, walking around the block every day, eating those damn fruits and vegetables, and taking handfuls of vitamins. You’ve been putting up with backaches, sore knees, and sugar cravings just to keep your body young. Now it dawns on you: a young body is no good if it has no mind!

“Are you going?” Sam asks.

Out the door you go. On the way to the grocery store you decide to stop at the bookstore. When you get there, you stand in the middle of the store bewildered. The clerk asks, “May I help you?”

You look at her with a blank stare. Your mind goes through the alphabet, desperately seeking a book title. Suddenly, it dawns on you. You are almost embarrassed to tell the clerk you are looking for a book to improve your mind.

You walk out of the store euphoric. In your hands is a book that will help you keep your mind young. You look around and think, “If only I could find the car, my day would be great.”

Your cell phone rings. It’s your best friend. She has just seen a great movie and she is busy telling you about it. When you ask her the name of the movie, there is silence. Finally, she answers, “I don’t remember.”

You refrain from saying, “You just saw it last night.” Instead you say, “I’m so glad you are my friend.”

You get in the car, and with a smile on your face, you drive home. You walk into the house. Your husband rushes over to you, and has only one thing to ask:
“Where’s the milk and oranges?”

Thank God They Came

Lena stood on the bow of the ship, wedged into place by the crowd of crying, singing, shouting, and cheering people. They gazed in wonder at the Statue of Liberty, and New York Harbor.

It was 1897 and they were a small group compared to the half million people, most from Eastern Europe, who would pass by this way throughout the year. Most were fleeing poverty and political unrest. They were anxious to step on those golden streets of America.

This journey had taken her over a month, with Lena traveling from her home in Kovna, Lithuania, then a part of the Russian Empire, by carriage and train to Brendan, Germany, where she boarded the Sustaneau to sail to New York. She had traveled basically alone, though there were others from Kovna on the ship. She had to lie about her age in order to be allowed to travel alone. One had to be at least 16, and she was only 13, but mature for her age.

When her mother died, Lena became an orphan, with siblings in South Africa, Australia, and America. Being the youngest and the last of the five brothers and sisters to leave home, she gathered the little money her mother had hidden, packed two garment bags, and started on her journey to Chicago where her sister Rachel lived. Traveling second class made the journey tolerable.

It took hours before the immigrants were allowed off the ship. Finally, small ferryboats took them to Ellis Island where they reluctantly left their luggage in a baggage room and each person’s identity was reduced to a card with a number on it. The already tired but anxious immigrants then were forced to stand in lines for hours while doctors examined them, and American officials asked questions. Lena answered politely, even though she had trouble understanding the interpreter.

Finally she was waved free, handed a landing card and sent to a ferryboat that would take her to the mainland. She was lucky her two suitcases still were in the baggage room. Some people had had their luggage stolen. Weary, exhausted, unfamiliar with the language, Lena lugged her suitcases, dodging people, horses, carriages, and garbage to her destination. She was able to make it to Grand Central Station because she was smart enough to have the interpreter write directions in Yiddish and in English.

Lena sat in the station for 14 hours before her train left for Chicago. Twenty-four hours later a tearful and happy duo, Rachel and Lena, were united after a five-year and 8,000-mile separation. The sisters chatted non-stop as they headed for Rachel’s home near Maxwell Street, the area where most of the new Jewish immigrants lived.

Granted, Maxwell Street was not great, with its tenements, push carts, and crowded dirty streets, but there one could always find someone who spoke your mother tongue, and offered a helping hand. Anyway, in America you were free to move out of Maxwell Street, to a nearby better neighborhood or as far as the White House. Try that in Russia!

Chicago was an exciting place to be in the 1890s. The city was still basking in the glory of the Colombian Exposition. It was a city of lakes; rivers; straight, large, well-paved streets; bridges; and new buildings. Chicago loved to brag about her Auditorium, the largest building in America if you didn’t count the Capitol itself.

The Union Stock Yards gave the city a nasty odor, but it also gave it the distinction of being the Hog Butcher to the World.” Along with this, Chicago was the railroad capital of the United States, serving a country that was moving westward.

Because Lena and Rachel took that lonely and brave step to migrate to America the United States has been blessed through their descendants with lawyers, doctors, scientists, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, teachers, writers, designers, nurses, businessmen, and even a Supreme Court Justice. Besides those special relatives, I have been blessed with three beautiful granddaughters who will carry on the Glovitz, Teiman, Packer, Wexler, Marovitz, tradition of strong women.

Lady Liberty lifted her lamp beside the golden door, and the women of my family are all-too-happy to continue carrying the torch.

Violet’s Revenge

I began planning my next move, as this one wasn’t working–even though I stood with my shiny black fur on end across my arched back, my tail held straight up, and my mouth open to show my long, sharp eye teeth.

The large, short-haired brown dog was not leaving. He still was barking, jumping, and stretching his front paws across the bathroom sink in an effort to attack me.

He panted constantly, exposing a mouth full of his own sharp teeth, and a black tongue that hung out.

I could reach out and claw his nose, I thought, but I might miss and he could grab my paw, or I could hurt him a lot, and my human family would be angry. I think I will try using my most fierce hiss, instead.

I narrowed my eyes and closed my mouth slightly to produce an angry “hisssssss!”

It didn’t work. He jumped at me anyway. Good thing I backed off.

How did I get myself into this spot? I thought. I moved my eyes around my surroundings, checking every which way. I was stuck on the top of the sink with no place to jump–except down into his waiting jaws.

The room was small, but the door to my young human’s bedroom was open. If only I could escape into that room. The humongous paws on the dog were getting closer to me with every one of his jumps.

That‘s it–he gets it on the nose! Quickly, I stretched out my right black paw. With claws fully extended, I struck the dog’s snout. Whimpering like a puppy, he jumped down and slowly left the room.

Good, he backed off. Now I must get out of here and hide fast before he comes back. With lightning speed I jumped down from the sink, and flew through the door into the girl’s bedroom, where there were bunk beds. I quickly surveyed the distance between the floor and the top bunk, so I would know exactly how high to jump.

Extending my body, up I went with no problem. I was a good jumper, never missing my mark. I snuggled up on the top bunk, which was close to the ceiling. I grabbed the small blue cotton blanket, inhaling the fragrant odor of my young human friend, before tossing it around to feel its soft, fluffy texture next to my body. I rubbed it under my chin in order to leave my scent on it. I perked up my ears, as my keen hearing detected the dog running back into the adjacent bathroom. I crouched down low and put myself into silent mode, while that trouble-making dog, with his battered nose, sniffed around the sink and the floor.

I mentally grinned, knowing he had no idea where I had gone. And if he should find out, he would have no way to reach me.

Time for a nap!

Mah Jongg Mondays

BANG. BANG. SLIDE, SLIDE.

Coffee, coffee, water, Coke, and… Tiles are all over the place. Why? Sliders are on backwards.

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

We’re on the second left. No you’re wrong, it’s the first left.

You’re stopping the passing! How could you?

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

You can’t do that. Yes, I can! Someone call the Mah Jongg League for the rules on that play.

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

We can’t concentrate on the game with the stock market report on. It’s too depressing.Where are you going now? Can’t you at least wait until we finish this game?

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

Your dog just ate all the cookies. Oh, my God, the cat caught a chipmunk.

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

You want to play without a charity pot? I can’t do that, I’m on Medicare. Put the heat on. It’s freezing in here.

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

Stop banging the tiles. They will crack. You talk too much. And you are too slow. It’s a game, not a life-altering decision. Throw a tile!

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

Are you crazy? You gave her Mah Jongg with that tile! You didn’t realize what she was playing? She has nine tiles exposed, and we’re playing on the last ten tiles!

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

If I want to eat a whole bag full of chocolate covered raisins, I will. It’s my body. Don’t tell me I’m too fat!

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

You can’t have the tile. I already racked it. You have to be faster. Really, I racked it. It’s my joker! I don’t owe you money. I paid you. If fifty cents is so important I’ll pay again. I don’t want you to starve!

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

You called that tile a three bam, and it’s a three dot. Isn’t there a penalty for doing that? Yes, it’s called the senile penalty, but I forgot what it does. Why are you holding up three fingers. Oh, I’ve told you that story three times? Have respect for your elders!

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

You only want one tile? Just one tile?

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

You need a drink? In the middle of the afternoon? It’s not the middle of the afternoon. It’s 6:30. We’ve been playing six and one-half hours. I need a drink too!

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

Oh, sit down. You know you like playing Mah Jongg with the girls more than you like playing golf with the guys. We promise to let you win the
next hand!

I guess it’s time to introduce our Mah Jongg Monday players. We are friends who have known each other for years, and years, and years. The gray-headed writer is Char, the blond Kalahari tournament lady is Cheri, the auburn-haired one responsible for teaching us this game is Gayle, and our fourth is her husband Lew, who we call Louise, on Mah Jongg Mondays!

BANG, BANG, SLIDE, SLIDE.

The Lost Keys

Standing in the middle of the block in front of my new sports car, digging into my purse and going through my pockets, I mumbled to myself, “Where did I put those damn keys?”

My fingers were turning blue from the ten-degree temperature, and the rest of me was freezing from standing in snow. I walked down the street and entered a small coffee shop. I settled into a booth and proceeded to empty my purse all over the table. Out of that purse fell makeup, combs, a toothbrush, my wallet, pens, an appointment book, candy, wrappers, my cell phone, a compass, rubber bands, cellophane tape, a tape measure, and tissues, but no keys.

I took my cell phone and called the Brills, with whom I had just tried my hardest to get them to love one of the houses I was hoping to sell them. No keys, and no request to see me again. What a wasted trip, and now I can’t even get out of this place, I thought.

I called my husband, Gary. “Honey, I lost my keys and can’t get into the car. Will you rescue me?”

He was less than sympathetic. “Again you lost your keys? Jesus, Susan, I just got home. There’s a blizzard out there. Did you look everywhere?”

“Yes, I’ve been looking for the last hour.”

“Susan, where are you?” 

“I don’t even know. I got so lost finding this place.”

“Just give me an address.”

“OK, 2278 Orchard. But that’s the Brills’ house. I’m really three blocks down the street in a coffee shop.”

“Fine, I’ll get the extra keys and find you.”

I sat down and threw everything back into my purse, and waited. I motioned to the waitress. “Coffee, please.”

About fifteen minutes later instead of picking me up, Gary called about the extra keys. “I’ve been looking everywhere, and I can’t find them,” he said. “I have a meeting in a half hour. Call Audi.

“Thanks a lot!” I yelled, and hung up.

But Gary was right, I thought. We bought this expensive car, and Audi was supposed to give us special service. I called.

“Ma’am, I’m very sorry, but we do not carry keys for our cars. We will have to order one from Germany.”

“What! How long will that take?”

“We should be able to get it for you in about three days.”

Now even more agitated, I started to yell: you’re kidding” into the phone, but instead I knocked into the waitress who was trying to serve me my coffee. Into the hot coffee flew my phone.

I pulled the soaking phone out of the coffee, wiped it off, and tried to use it, but it was dead. I put my head down on the table as the tears started to run down my face.

Suddenly, someone shook me and cautiously asked, “Suzi, is that really you?”

I looked up into a face I hadn’t seen in over thirty years. Standing before me was my high school sweetheart, Ron.

I got up and gave him a big hug. “Ronnie, you are the answer to my prayers. I need my car broken into, and hot wired. I lost my key!”

He laughed, as he put his arm around me, and led me to his car. “I would have done that in the ‘50s when I was young and wild. Today, I’ll drive you home, and I’ll get someone to open the car and make sure it gets back to you. I happen to own a garage.”

“Grandma, grandma, Tyrone brought a chipmunk into the house.”

“Was it a dead or a live chipmunk, Lily?” “It was alive, and it ran upstairs.”

Grandma looked skeptically at her excited granddaughter, and then at the sleeping cat. “Lily, she said, “If there was a live chipmunk in the house the cat would be chasing it, or I would have seen it. I’ve been in the kitchen all afternoon preparing dinner. The screen door is still open. I bet the chipmunk ran out again.”

Lily pressed her lips together. She was angry that grandma didn’t believe her. She went over to the sofa, and pulled on her sister Bella’s arm.

“Bella, help me find the chipmunk,” Lily said.

Bella pulled her arm away from Lily, and said “Leave me alone. I’m watching television.”

Lily wouldn’t let her younger sister alone. She grabbed her again. “Come on Bella, we need to find that chipmunk,” Lily said.

Reluctantly Bella followed Lily up the stairs. They weren’t sure where to look first. They were on vacation in grandma and papa’s house, and weren’t familiar with all the rooms.

“Let’s start in our room,” Bella said. So they l walked around the bedroom in which they were staying, opening drawers, looking under beds, pulling away the covers on the bed, pulling things out of the closet. They found some wooden bats, an alarm clock that looked like a rooster, lots and lots of dental and bicycle things, but no chipmunk.

Next they started to open the bathroom door, when they heard something squeak. Lily and Bella jumped up and yelled in fear and delight, as they were sure they had found the chipmunk. Slowly they moved into the room, cautiously looking for the chipmunk. It was not there. The door had opened onto one of Tyrone’s toy mice. They sat down disappointed.

Bella asked, “Lily are you sure you saw a chipmunk in the house?”

Lily stood up, put both hands on her hips, and pressed her lips together. “Yes, I did. I know that chipmunk is in this house.”

“Okay, Lily, let’s look in grandma’s room.”

While searching grandma and papa’s room, they became distracted. In grandma’s closet they found four wrapped presents. They knew that one had to be for papa because this evening the family was coming over to celebrate his birthday. They wondered if the other presents might be for them and their sister Sage. After all, grandma always bought them gifts, and they had been visiting for two whole days without grandma giving them anything.

Forgetting the chipmunk, they went back downstairs and into the kitchen. “Grandma, we found some presents in your closet,” Lily said. “Are they all for papa’s birthday?”

Grandma’s face broke out in a smile. “One is for grandpa, and the other ones might be for my little girls.”

“May we open them now?” Bella asked.

“Not until dinner.” Grandma answered.

“When is dinner?” Lily asked.

“Everyone should be here soon. I need help setting the table, girls.”

Lily and Bella helped their grandmother set the table. Grandma used her best china, and her special crystal glasses. The girls were very careful handling everything. When they heard the buzzer on the stove they anxiously moved into the kitchen. Grandma had promised that both girls could be in charge of decorating the birthday cake.

Lily wanted chocolate frosting, and Bella vanilla, so they divided the cake, each decorating one half. Grandma put happy birthday letters on the cake, and Bella and Lily added pink and yellow flowers.

Soon the doorbell rang, and family and friends filled the room. The dinner went well. Grandma always had too much food, so everyone was leaning back in their chairs comfortably waiting for dessert.

After clearing the table, Lily and Bella went into the kitchen to help grandma bring the cake out to papa. Aunt Bobbi turned off the lights and grandma lit the candles on the cake. Everyone opened their mouths ready to sing happy birthday when a very frightened small brown saw-toothed chipmunk, followed by a very excited large black and white cat, jumped onto the dining room table, and ran across it from one end to the other.

Chairs dropped back, knocking occupants on the floor. The cracking sound of dishes and glasses flying everywhere was heard and seen, while the birthday cake landed on papa’s lap almost setting him on fire.

Everyone was in shock except for Lily. She turned to grandma who was trying to get up from the floor, and in a very loud voice Lily said, “I told you there was a live chipmunk in the house!”

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