I’m Trumped!


In the summer of 2015 sitting on the deck overlooking the lake we happily mused over the latest invective Donald Trump had spoken. We had house guests staying for five weeks who left for the city at daybreak and returned at supper. So after I had scoured the national pages of the New York Times each morning over tea and toast I set aside the morsels of Trumpisms I had discovered and read them aloud after dinner. This was shortly after his Mexican as rapists and anti veteran comments.

“No, wait…wait…listen to this one,” I would howl with tears running down my cheeks. ‘Hey, I’m not saying they’re stupid. I like China. I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?” Trump was there for our amusement and we only prayed that it would last as long as our guest’s visit so we could enjoy the show together. But as I mentioned that was last summer. Those words seem tame now. The incendiary, insensitive, hateful and misogynistic language and commentary has only worsened.  Who needs fiction when reality is so unbelievable.

Donald Trump became the only GOP horse in the race because the media and I let him. The media chased him, licked his bootstraps and begged for more. More ratings, more viewers, more people like me, hating him and loving it. Each time Donald Trump called into a news show they gave him unlimited time, free press and rarely challenged his ludicrous applause lines that he followed up by asinine non sequiturs that spun the talking head. Whenever anybody looked the other way even for a second he said or did something more outlandish so we would come back .We loved it and wanted more and Donald Trump was only too happy to comply. He was rewarded with 2 billion dollars in free air time.

We have blamed the followers who pour into his rallies cooing and cheering this monster, because that’s what he has become, a multi-tentacle monster. Crowds that seem to feed off of his hatred and vitriol and spread that hate out into the world like a plague. They’re convinced that Hillary Clinton is the devil-incarnate and Trump is here to slay her once and for all. There is nothing you can argue to sway them away from feeding their monster. It reminds me of Larry Rhodes in the classic 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd starring Andy Griffith. Griffith plays the charismatic Lonesome Rhodes who adlibs his way to a menacing popularity.




My neighbor around the lake boasts a large TRUMP banner off his deck that promises, each time I walk past, that Trump will make America great again. I see into the future and know that my neighbor’s white, and Christian vision of “great” isn’t ever going to be possible due to our changing demographics. At the same time I feel helpless to show him what I know to be true. I overheard him explaining to another neighbor that Trump is going to clean up this country and throw all the deadbeats out. He ranted that the deadbeats are people who take take, take, take from the government. I shuddered thinking about the holocaust.

“The government gives it all away,”my neighbor shouted at another neighbor as I passed by.

This neighbor is a senior citizen entitled to and probably receives Medicare and Social Security. Not things being discussed very much in the campaign right now. I also doubt this neighbor is listening to the drumming assault against women. And who can blame him, there are women not listening to it. So many of them.img_0401

Last night with Friends we discussed this horror show playing out in real time. Someone constantly checking their phone to see if another woman had come forward or better yet a new tape revealed.

“There’s tapes out there.”

“They’re waiting till it gets closer so he can’t have time to defend them.”

“I took a break from thinking about the campaign for two hours yesterday and I felt better.”

We nod and then slip our phone under the table hoping something bad has happened to him. We try not to think about Hillary’s shenanigans.

“What really worries me is if Trump loses what happens to the angry mob?”

“If, you said, if.”

“I meant “when” when He loses.” Pause. “I hope.”

But this isn’t 1930 and there’s more of us than there are of them. We’ve even joined forces with some of the GOP for heaven’s sake.

David Brooks said on the PBS News Hour this past Friday, “This is a sort of psychological question,… say he loses what happens the next day? Is there all the Trumpians saying, no, we were robbed, we are robbed, we are sticking with our man, and we’re going into some sort of revolt? Or is it, like, I was a loser and I’m putting that behind me. My intuition about the psychology is the latter is more likely. That people are just going to throw Trump to history, and then a lot of the sense that mass revolt, this is not legitimate, this is not legitimate, I don’t think that’s likely to happen.”

This is in fact what happened to Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd. When he was caught on tape disparaging his fans, he was left alone with just his butler pushing a button on a machine that cheered him on. Like Rhodes, Trump’s fans will only turn when they overhear him turning on them. Because when Trump loses he’ll turn on everyone. Unfortunately me and the news media will probably still be paying attention. At least for a little while.2016-05-01t205655z_1_lynxnpec40135_rtroptp_4_usa-election-trump-protest-800x430



I’ve been dropping my phone lately. This habit was preceded by the thought that maybe I didn’t need a cell phone. Rob countered that just having a long commute requires one. I argued that I commuted for years without one and it worked out okay. Then I dropped my iPhone in a parking lot and the glass shattered. It still worked and I pressed on with the idea that I’d trade it in soon enough. About a month later it fell into the toilet. I learned no amount of time in rice would save a wet iPhone with a cracked screen. I was due for an upgrade and went for the cheapest solution. Ninety-nine cents for a 5S. I ordered the phone online and paid in advance. When I arrived at Verizon they had other ideas.

“You want a 5S?” he asked incredulously.

“Weeell,” I demurred. “I had a 5 and now I want a 5S, so it’s an upgrade.”

“The phone is already four years old.”

“Three and a half actually.”

“By the time you get a new one it will be six years old!” Saliva was gathering at the corners of his mouth.

I held my ground. “I like that phone. It fits my wallet, my pocket and I like the cover.”

“We have a lot of covers for the 6.”

I dug in. “It’s already paid for and that’s what I want.”

He shook his head and went to retrieve one from the back. After a bit of back and forth on the service and connections he asked if I wanted to buy insurance for eleven dollars a month.

I didn’t flinch. “No.”

“Well you broke the last one.”

“It took me three and a half years—I’ll risk it.”

“Look,” he sighed. “This phone would cost you over five hundred dollars if you had to replace it.”

“I thought you just said it was old and not worth much.”

“I never said that.”

“You implied it.”

He was finished. He couldn’t get me out of the store fast enough.

I drove home with my new–old phone wondering why a store would offer a product they didn’t actually want you to buy. It made me think about phones in general and how they’ve become far too complicated. What I didn’t tell the hip, young sales associate was that I spend most of my time on a land line. But some things are better left unsaid.

My lake community is an old, sleepy town transitioning from retirees to young couples trying to find buyer’s relief from the New York City housing market. Maybe the new young buyers aren’t installing land lines but the rest of us have them. To begin with we lose power on a regular basis. Once you go without power for more than two days, charging your phone in the car gets old fast. Your cordless land line goes dead too so you have to keep an older land line that’s connected to the wall so you can call the electric company for an update.

I have a friend at the lake who doesn’t answer her phone. She has a landline and a cell but can never find the cell. When the land line rings she’s usually working one flight down in her studio and doesn’t bother to climb the steps and see who is calling. She does 98 percent of her communication on Facebook. I don’t have a Facebook account so we rarely communicate unless we meet face to face. It was simpler when everyone had and used the same means of communication.

My son owns a hundred year old row house in Baltimore. The entry way has a beautiful hallway leading into the kitchen. There’s a space hosting a small table and chair. He has an old black dial phone resting on the table, but it’s only a prop.

“You should get that hooked up,” I say.

“Why? I don’t need it. I have a cell.”

“Land lines are nice,” I explain and then I tell him all the attributes I can list. “Homey, historical, secure, no battery worries—”

“Unnecessary expense,” he interrupts  and walks away.

It’s easy for him to think any phone expense is unnecessary when he and his sister are still tied to our wireless service and they get their cell phone service for a mere 10 dollars a month. Maybe I have a few unnecessary phone expenses too.

In his entry way, I stand and stare at the perfect little sitting area under the stairs—centrally located for the only house phone. It’s charming and inviting and I can imagine the pace of life in this house and on this street when the first line was installed. I picture family members racing to answer before anyone else could.IMG_0601

This reminds me of my own childhood, when we fought our way to the telephone to be the first to pick up the receiver.

“Make it snappy,” someone would inevitably order when I received a call. “I’m expecting an important call.” All of my mother’s calls were deemed important but none of mine were. Eventually my parents added a second children’s line so one line could always be free. It wasn’t. I often kept a friend on each line while I skipped between them making plans. In the early 1970’s I could have been a major deal maker except my best friend Mary trumped me because her father was a big shot at Ma Bell and she could organize three party calls.

Then there’s the whole idea of privacy.

“Excuse me,” I would say, cupping the voice end of the receiver. “Can I have a little privacy?”

“Nobody cares about your dumb call,” one of my siblings might say in response, refusing to leave the room. The only true recourse was to turn your back towards the interloper. It wasn’t a very effective strategy and it often erupted into a fight.

When my mother wanted privacy on the yellow kitchen wall phone she would say, “Go play outside.” And that would be the end of it.

“It’s raining.”

“Take an umbrella.”

In public, people used phone booths. Early phone booths had little wooden seats and counters to lay out your change and louvered doors that allowed for privacy when you were away from home. Today everybody’s one sided cell phone conversation is public knowledge for anyone within ear shot. “Why does that man think we need to know about his divorce?” I might grumble to Rob over a hot drink at the coffee house. Rob shrugs. He agrees but tries to block it out.phone_booth_real

When my children were growing up they shunned the phone. The unknown voice on the other end was better left unknown.

“Pick up the phone!” I would scream from behind a locked bathroom door. They rarely did. Even when Jackson received his first cell phone after his 8th grade graduation—long after his friends had—he never made any calls.

Texts would travel back and forth between our children and their friends about upcoming plans and somewhere along the way it might become muddled.

“Call them up,” Rob or I would say to them.

“No!” they would cry. “Nobody does that.”

“Well it might make things a bit clearer!” one of us would shout back. Occasionally in an act of utter desperation and at our insistence, Quinn might chance a call and firm up an arrangement to meet someone. It usually worked out well but she never converted.

Once Facebook arrived on the scene all bets were off and messaging and texts were the only known means of communication. Even emails were oddities they received from their parents or professors once they went away to college, but never a friend.

Phones today are complicated and instead of offering labor saving means of communication they come with a bundle of problems especially when you buy a new one. You’re told that the process is supposed to be seamless unless of course you drop your cracked phone in the toilet…then you can’t recover anything that wasn’t backed up on the Cloud which, being old school, I didn’t do.

I spent every evening for a week trying to sync my new phone with my iTunes. I became good friends with the people at Apple support who assigned me a case number and pretended to have great affection for the faux-luddite on the other end of their line. However, each solution ended with a new problem. It turned out that even a teeny little upgrade from a 5 to a 5S meant my laptop no longer supported the phone—too old. I have now learned to back up, migrate and restore but it took six support sessions and a trip to the Genius Bar to get me back on track and I still have issues.

I understand things change and when I complain about this stuff I usually get the time honored argument that the eraser was going to send civilization straight to hell when they added it to the end of a pencil. Between my iphone and my laptop and my PC at work I’m inundated with emails and have a whole host of people demanding things in a very short period of time. We’re expected to work away from the job because they can contact us instantly. Parents of my students tread where parents never used to tread. I think because they don’t have to work very hard before they click send—there’s no cooling off period anymore.

“Now that I think about it, maybe you deserved that B- in Art, Johnny. I don’t think I’ll call the school and contact the teacher about it after all.”

Tasks that used to be allowed a week or two to complete are now anticipated in 24 hours. As a society we spend far more time managing all this stuff than we used to, so I don’t think we’re saving much labor except our now defunct perusal of Encyclopedia Britannica. I used to love looking through those books.

Students in my school aren’t allowed to have their phones out or on. It’s sort of like holding a tsunami at bay with a child’s plastic bucket. About half of the school population still complies. A boy in my class recently asked me for the time and I looked at my wrist watch. He marveled at the pie time dial.

“You can read that?”

“Of course. You can’t?”

He shrugs. “I just check my phone.”

It seems pointless to have a discussion about why he might want to learn how to read an analog clock.

“Well a watch might come in handy when you can’t use your phone. Especially in this school where the clocks are all broken.”

“I guess,” he answers, but he doesn’t seem convinced. “An iWatch might be cool.”

“But you can’t call anyone from an iWatch.”

“I never call anyone,” he said.

“Then why do you need a cell phone?”

“To play games.”

We’d better get a bigger bucket.

As for me I’m shopping online for a working rotary phone. It will never shatter and it couldn’t possibly fall in the toilet.








Pork Roast Again?


Sunrise December 25, 2015

On Christmas morning I stepped outside on the deck to a brilliant sunrise. A warm sixty degree breeze brushed my bare arms and it felt a lot like early spring. A pair of mallards slowly skimmed the surface of the lake looking for breakfast. Everyone in the house was still sleeping and my mind, as a matter of course, wandered from the vista to dinner. Each holiday is the beginning of a new custom and I’m never sure which one will take, so having warm weather didn’t seem out of place. The night before we made our own version of Feast of the Seven Fishes with neighbors instead of extended family.

Last year, we broke another ritual and cooked a pork roast for Christmas dinner, a tradition we duplicated this year. Who wants to eat fish the day after the feast of the Seven Fishes? When I first suggested pork roast last year the only opposition came from Quinn. Quinn hates turkey and eliminated that as an option as well.

“Oh, I’m not sure if I like pork roast,” she said.

“Oh, you like it,” I assured her.

“How do you know? I’ve never had it.”

“Because we spent forty dollars on an organic grass fed pork roast at the farmer’s market and we have almost four pounds of it.”

“Okay,” she answered tentatively over the phone. But what she really wanted to say was, “We’ll see.”

This year we bought a smaller one but we still had leftovers.


Jackson perhaps contemplating the sliced pork Roast sitting between us.

Every year seems to be the beginning of a new traditional meal because what we eat keeps changing. We raised Jackson and Quinn as vegetarians and now that we all eat meat we’re trying to find our footing. This is further complicated by a variety of restrictive diets that my family is now following. Rob doesn’t eat any grains or fruit but if the meal is in front of him he’ll just about anything. Quinn can’t eat dairy so we have to avoid butter, which can be tricky around “holiday” type foods.

I called Jackson and told him the menu.

“No pumpkin pie for me.”

“But it’s paleo, no dairy or refined sugar.”

“Oh I eat dairy now. But I can’t eat pumpkin.”

“Really? Because it’s one of the desserts your dad can eat.”

“Just buy me some berries.”

“Berries are fruit.”

“They’re not cooked. If you cook the fruit it has a higher GI.”

“Okay, well I’m also making Brussels sprouts with chestnuts and squash.”

“Sounds good, but I can’t eat it.”


“Chestnuts and squash.”



Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell

My mother was a New England Yankee puritan who was raised on a farm in New Hampshire. When I asked her about her childhood holiday menu she said it was something of the Norman Rockwell variety. Turkey, stuffing, turnips, mashed potatoes, gravy, pearled onions, and mincemeat and apple pies. That’s what we ate when I was a child. My father was from an Irish family and the only tradition he brought into our lives was storytelling but no special foods. He loved everything my mother ever cooked and almost everything she prepared was homemade. You assume when you marry someone that you’ll merge two traditions together but one family usually pulls ahead.

The first time I celebrated a holiday with Rob’s family was Thanksgiving in 1984. I asked for seconds. I thought it was unusual that someone would choose to serve lasagna for Thanksgiving, but it was delicious so I ate more. I had already eaten stuffed mushrooms, nuts, cheese and a variety of bar snacks so I remember feeling very full when I was finished. I left the last few bites of the pasta dish on my plate and wondered how long I was going to have wait before it was polite to excuse myself. Plates were cleared and a flurry of activity began to what I assumed was going to produce dessert. Then the turkey arrived.

New dishes were laid out and then one by one in a steady succession a full traditional turkey dinner was set before me: stuffing, vegetables, green beans, gravy and mashed potatoes. They also served sweet potatoes covered in melted marshmallows, which was the family favorite. It was one of those moments when I knew I was the only person in the room who was out of step.

As the food made their rounds all eyes fell upon the latest intruder who had infiltrated the family compound. I piled my plate with everything.

“More stuffing?” Rob’s aunt sang out before I had taken one bite.

“Why not?” I said with a smile.

She heaped another scoop on top.

The conversations were loud and disjointed with several going on simultaneously. When Rob’s father wasn’t chewing he was shouting.

“How long are you going to wait before you cut down that tree?” he demanded of his son-in-law. There was a large oak between their backyards and Mario was convinced it was going to fall over.

“I like the tree,” Richie said, continuing to eat.

“That’s not the point,” Mario bellowed. “It’s going to fall and kill someone.”

“Okay, Mario, calm down,” Rob’s mom said. “It’s Thanksgiving, let’s talk about something nice.”

“It might kill me!”

That might be nice,” Richie said.

“Who wants to do Secret Santa this year?” Rob’s sister asked.

“Is there any more gravy?”

Mario stood and called out. “Only in death is there peace and happiness.”

“Who wants to go for a walk?”

About ten of us bundled up and walked for miles through the late afternoon suburban streets of Yonkers until we felt we could return and eat more.

After the walk we were ushered into the living room to be entertained by Rob’s cousin on the bagpipes. If you’ve never listened to bagpipes inside a 12×15 foot living room you don’t know what you’re missing.

Dessert, which followed the concert, was about ten pies for twenty people which meant everyone could have half a pie. All the pies came out of grocery store boxes and the unanimous winner was Mrs. Smith.

“You just can’t beat a Mrs. Smith pie,” Richie said.

“I like Entenmanns,” Rob’s niece said.

“Who brought coconut cream? That doesn’t go.”

“No, Mrs. Smith is the best. Probably because it comes from the oven.”


I thought back to my mother’s delicately prepared homemade pies and knew if I was going to marry into this family I would have trouble forging any of my own traditions into the mix. My siblings and parents were scattered across the globe and Rob’s family was mostly settled into three houses whose backyards touched.

Every year another variation of this same theme unfolded until I started to host these events. No matter what I tried to inject into these time honored holidays the Italian traditions pushed through and took over. I even started to make sweet potatoes with marshmallows and we always started with lasagna. I always baked a homemade pie but it wasn’t received any better than Mrs. Smith.

These large multi-family gatherings started to become less frequent as the family started to shrink. First Rob’s aunt, then his dad, then another aunt, and sadly his sister all passed away within a few years of one another. We floundered around trying to make our time together meaningful but we all missed these people and we didn’t adapt well. Rob’s niece started to host and that’s when the menu nosedived. They found ways to take short cuts beyond Mrs. Smith. When we walked in the door we were instructed to write our name on our paper cup so we wouldn’t waste cups. Marshmallows on sweet potatoes is one thing but paper cups at Christmas? Appetizers became Doritos and barbecued chicken wings instead of stuffed mushrooms and antipasto. Once when Richie asked for bread a plastic bag of cold sandwich bread was pulled from the refrigerator and passed around. No one seemed to notice but Rob and my children. At least my traditions were having an impact on my own family.


Having fun alone Christmas 2013 Photo by Robert Forlini

When Rob’s mom died three years ago we stopped going to his family for Thanksgiving. This year we didn’t go for Christmas. Instead we met a group of my cousins for dinner in Manhattan the day after Christmas. We’re having Rob’s family up to the lake for a New Year’s Day brunch. The traditions that we cling to and nurture at the holidays are based on feelings we carry from the past, but they’re always changing—like the canoe ride Jackson and I took this year on Christmas Eve in our shirtsleeves.

For the actual holidays it is now just the four of us and we can do whatever we want. We can eat meat or fish or invite the neighbors but we inject the past into the new. I think of my childhood holidays with masses of presents and artfully laid tables of delicious foods. I think of Rob’s mother’s lasagna scooped out of the Pyrex dish into steaming hot squares of perfection. I think of the Hess trucks we once had to have that now lay boxed up in the attic. I wonder what we may be buying this year that will end up no longer wanted. I see parts of my late father and brother as I listen to my grown son tell a funny story about his life in Baltimore. Maybe one year Jack and Quinn won’t come home and Rob and I will take a trip instead. Everything changes, and serving pork roast seems pretty minor.


Rockefeller Center December 26th 2015



FloridaTaxiCartoonTaxis have been in the news a lot lately. There’s a local battle raging down in NYC between Uber and the Yellow Medallion Taxis. Lots of people need a ride but not everyone agrees on how to manage competing car companies. Uber wants riders to call a cab with their smart phone app. Uber is also more willing to drive people to the outer boroughs. Yellow cabs prefer people to flag them down along Manhattan streets. This way they can pick and choose who to pick up. Additionally, there are lots of private limousine companies competing for business but you usually call them on the phone. Here at the lake, taxi cabs aren’t really an issue. Most people have cars and those that don’t, tend to walk, bike or call Rio cabs.src.adapt.960.high.CagleUbersidebyside_a.1404361338850

A man who lives across the street from me rides to work in a Rio cab everyday. It’s probably a set arrangement and they dispatch a car to him automatically every weekday morning at 6:30 AM. I’m pretty sure he’s not using an app to call for one. During the school months when I’m heading off to work he’s standing at the foot of his driveway like a statue waiting for his ride. We always bid each other good morning and occasionally make a comment about the weather. During the winter I call out into the dark and say, “Have a nice day.” and a deep faceless voice answers back, “You too.” The taxi brings him home again each evening. Other than this I never see taxis around the lake.

On Sunday while attending a neighborhood garden tour, I spoke with a young couple named Chrissy and Mike. They happened to have had taxi trouble the previous evening. As they were out walking, a man driving drunk, the wrong way on their street, stopped his car in front of them. He spilled out of the car and needed a cab. The inebriated man was shepherded into a nearby friend’s home and Chrissy and Mike started calling cab companies. These are the things they told me.

“No one answered the phone!”

“We kept trying.”

“It was only Eleven PM!”

“Don’t people need rides most of all late at night ?”

“I called six people to ask about taxi services.”

“Did a cab ever arrive?” I asked.

“Finally, but it took over an hour.”

“And we had to hang out with this guy!”

“Was he really drunk?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” Mike said.

“I don’t think we got to bed until two-thirty in the morning,” Chrissy added.

Steve Schapiro ~ still from Scorsese's Taxi Driver, 1976

For years I suggested, even begged, my children to call a taxi when they needed to go somewhere if we couldn’t drive them. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was ever urgent enough or important enough to get them to take me up on the idea, not even the taxi tales of my own childhood. They were my version of “…when I was your age I walked five miles to school through sleet and snow.”

“I took taxis all the time when I was young.”

“We know,” they would collectively groan.

“Seven years old and my mother left cab fare for me and my sister to travel to the doctor and back alone.”

“Uh huh.”

“I used to go to girl scouts and if our neighbors the Liermans couldn’t drive me home, I had to call a cab. When I got home I had to tell the driver to wait while I went inside the house to get the cab fare.”

I’m not quite sure why I believed these tales would influence them to want to call a cab. The truth of the matter was, cabs were part of my life growing up but I hated them. I was embarrassed waiting for the taxi while the other children ran out to humming cars outside the town pool. My brother was so embarrassed that when our mother made us take a taxi to school in inclement weather, he made the driver stop a block from the building so he could get out.

Maybe rich kids in the city understand the advantage of hailing a cab over riding the subway but rural and suburban children have never taken to the concept.

When Jackson was in school he avoided cabs at all costs. He saved and eventually bought his own car so the topic became a non-issue. Then, living in Baltimore a year after graduation his car died. He decided to give up owning one and take public transportation. I went to stay with him last summer and after a night at Camden Yards he flagged down a cab for us. If the buses have stopped running he’ll take a cab.

Quinn’s idea of riding in a taxi cab is to have me or her father hail one in Manhattan. She slides in between us and rides in silence counting the minutes until we arrive. Whereupon she scurries out of the taxi as fast as possible while her father or I settle the fare and tip. It sort of feels like she’s doing us a favor by riding along. Last week we drove her down to Virginia for graduate school and moved her into a small shared house about a mile from campus. We drove back and forth running errands along the route she would soon be walking. She followed the sidewalk path with her eyes noting each hill and turn. “I can do that walk,” she said.

Photo by Gary Winogrand

“What if it’s raining?” Rob asked.

“I’ll use an umbrella.”

“Freezing snow and ice?”

“It’s Charlottesville, pretty mild.”

“You need to learn the bus route,” I chimed in.

“Hmmm,” she said.

“What about late at night?” Rob said.

“There’s always a taxi-cab,” I said.

She said nothing but in her head I suspect she was thinking, “Not bloody likely.”

In the morning we helped her buy groceries and then left for home.

“Good luck,” we said as we drove off leaving her alone in a then empty house. Her roommates arrived several days later.

The following day she attended a reception for grad students in the late afternoon. She met some older second years who invited her to go have a drink. The group meandered downtown away from the direction of Quinn’s house to a local bar. They settled in for the night and began their writers’ discourse. As dark was setting in Quinn felt the need to leave. She bid them good-night and headed out the door. No problem, just retrace her steps and follow the sidewalk home.

Earlier that day Quinn had had to force herself to attend the reception.

“I’m not sure I should even bother going,” she had said.

“Go,” I said. “Go and talk to at least three people. Once you’ve accomplished that goal you can leave anytime. Who knows you may like it.”

“I guess.”

We made plan for her to call us when she returned home. I knew it ended at six and when eight-thirty arrived and no word came Rob called her. Rob has always had the philosophy that he could swoop in and rescue either child in a moment’s notice if need be. The fact that four hundred miles stretched out between us was a minor inconvenience.

“How’s it going?” Rob asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“Why not?”

She explained the situation and then panic set in. Rob couldn’t understand her through tears and passed the phone to me.

“I don’t know where I am!”

“Go back to the bar.” I screeched.

“I can’t,” she cried.

“Why not?”

Why not? Stupid parent. Because it would be embarrassing. She would appear young and helpless in front of a bunch of smoking and drinking thirty-somethings.

She started to cry. “I’m out of my league,” she sobbed into the phone.

“Just because you’re lost in a new city at night does not mean you’re out of your league. You have to turn around and find a place to wait while you call a cab.”

“A taxi?” she cried.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“No,” she admitted. She looked around and said, “there’s a Staples up ahead.”

“I’ve got a number,” Rob shouted over to me. He had done a search and located half a dozen taxi companies in the area. He texted her the information.

The taxi arrived within minutes.

“Call us back when you get home.”

A few minutes later the phone rang again.

“I’m home.”

“How was it?”

“Fine,” she said. “He talked to me the whole way here.”

“Well some drivers do that,” I said. “The important thing is that you learned it’s an option.”

“But I can’t take a taxi all the time it will get expensive.”

“No dear, only when you’re desperate.”

“Tell her to keep an emergency twenty dollar bill hidden in her wallet at all times,” Rob said.

I don’t entirely agree that emergency taxi money needs to be hidden but it’s one method. Uber is also in Charlottesville and a taxi ride is only an app click away. They also take debit cards. But the taxi service she rode was quick, efficient and friendly. So at the very least she has many options. In the meantime she has made a few friends who own cars and she learned how to take a free bus to campus so the situation is far from dire. We’re now ready to pass the baton over to her. Really.

Back at the lake we don’t have as many transportation choices. Maybe we need our own taxi battle here. Then Chrissy and Mike wouldn’t have had to hang out on a Saturday night with a drunk stranger for over an hour just to see him safely out of the neighborhood. Or maybe there’s just not a lot of taxi territory here worth fighting for.

© Robert Forlini


I am not embarrassed to admit that I love gnomes. That being said I shun most garden gnomes because they’re too cute or sickly-sweet. If I place a gnome in my yard it has to be a certain type of gnome. I can’t really quantify the type I like but I know it when I see it. We have a gnome named Fred that reminds us of a former handyman.



We have a gnome that sits on a bench inside the outdoor shower and we have a small gremlin that guards the front door.P1000778

When I walk around the lake I take note of what my neighbors choose to put in their yard. Lawn art can usually be divided into one of four categories: religious, artistic, kitsch and cutesy. The world can be divided into two types of people. Those who like lawn ornaments and those who don’t. Early this spring we were driving past a neighbor’s house when we stopped the car. There on the street were two cement cherubs.We called down to the owners who were sitting on their deck.

“Do you want these?”

“They’re all yours.”

We could not believe our good fortune.They easily weighed seventy pounds each and it took both of us to haul them in and out of the car and down the steps. We hadn’t owned them very long before our son, Jackson came to visit and took one of them home for his yard. Apparently lawn ornamentation is genetic as well.

When my father-in-law was not working as a house painter he liked to help his wife buy stuff. They rarely took regular vacations. Their idea of fun was to get in the car and drive into the country.

“Let’s take a ride, “ Mario would say to his wife and son and off they’d go.

The day was made better if they stumbled upon an antique shop or a yard sale. I Don’t think Mario ever really wanted to buy anything for himself but he wanted to buy whatever my mother-in-law, Anne, wanted. Money wasn’t as much of an issue as it was the “principle of the thing.”

Photo by Robert Forlini

Photo by Robert Forlini

“Can you do any better on this?” Mario would probably ask, rubbing his hand over a tiny chip on the edge of a Roseville vase. That was how they acquired large collections of Roseville or Rose Medallion tea cups or carnival glass. They picked up a lot of slightly flawed items that were marked down. Anne never really considered the resell value, she just liked the things she picked out.

Mario liked to barter. He never paid the asking price and if the seller wouldn’t come down, even a little, Mario and Anne walked away. He never looked back. There was always more stuff to buy someplace else. Mario was also a sentimentalist. He was a large, very loud, uneducated man that spent his whole life looking for his father’s approval often in the hearts of strangers. For Mario, one of the advantages of having a house full of chipped or scratched antiques was he could give them away.

The first time I met him he was trying to get me to take home two bulky green vases that had supposedly been unearthed years before in Korea.  Mario knew a man who had sneaked the vases  into the United States and then low and behold sold them to Anne and Mario at a loss.

“Some of these other things, might not be worth too much, “ he said as part of his argument for me taking the vases home. “But these two vases…they’re valuable.”

“Really?” I asked wondering why they would want their son’s girlfriend to own them. We ended up taking one ugly vase back to our studio apartment in Brooklyn. It was always easier to do at least part of what Mario wanted than it was to dismiss his requests entirely.

His own father had a large cement donkey in the front yard of his house on East 233rd street in the Bronx. The donkey had two cement baskets hanging across his back that served as planters. I don’t know what happened to the original planter but years later Mario bought a decorative donkey planter at a flea market. This donkey was meant to stay indoors. The small, white, ceramic donkey with big Bambi eyes was so utterly kitsch that I immediately liked it.

When my children were young they liked to sing a song called Dominick the Donkey. It was an old Italian song that Mario knew and hummed along to when they sang it. Dominick also happened to be Mario’s father’s name and maybe the little statue became a substitute for his own deceased father. In any event this particular flea market ware was regarded as something of a pet.

Not the original

Not the original

After Mario died, the house was sold and Rob and his sister divided up the things his mother couldn’t use in assisted living. Rob and I held yard sales for two consecutive weekends. We sold furniture but we also tried to unload a lot of antiques with flaws. I took the donkey. We had just bought the lake house and I wanted the statue as a memorial for Mario. I placed impatiens in the donkey’s two wee baskets and planted his hoofs into the garden soil so it looked like he belonged. I didn’t care what anyone thought.

“That’s Mario, the donkey,” I told anyone who visited.

“No, his name is Dominick, “Rob would say.

“No, Mario. It was Dominick. Now it’s a memorial to your father.”

“But his name could still be Dominick.”


We left it at that. We brought the donkey inside for the winters but the years in our lake yard had not been kind to him. His baskets had both been broken and re-glued several times and he lost a leg. I propped him up against a tree and that worked until he eventually split in half and we had to throw him out. But by now Rob’s sister and my father had died and we had placed lawn ornaments out in their memory too.

Marlene's memorial

Marlene’s memorial

Rob’s sister, Marlene was memorialized with a cement cat. Marlene loved cats even though she was allergic to them. She once rescued 5 feral cats had them spayed and neutered and they lived in a cat house on her back deck. They made a path across the lawn between her house and her parent’s house because Mario was feeding them cheese everyday on his front step. Who knew that cats ate American Cheese Singles?

Mario showing us how to hold a cat. Notice the cheese next to him. Photo by Robert Forlini

Mario showing  how to hold a cat. Notice the cheese next to him.
Photo by Robert Forlini

The cement cat is positioned between two bushes on our patio and if you forget the statue is there you can be caught off guard and think it’s real. We always try to choose tasteful pieces that blend in so no one will be able to tell how utterly tacky Rob and I both are.

During my father’s funeral, just as the first person began to speak a few words in memory, a terrific wind blew around us in the cemetery. We could see the wind wasn’t blowing across the lake in the distance, just around this small party of mourners. The wind was so strong, we held onto hats and pressed our skirts down and struggled to hear the words being spoken. When the last speaker was finished, the wind cut off like a switch.

“Wasn’t that strange,” I whispered to my aunt.

“Leave it to Steve to have the last word,” she said.

My father’s yard memorial is wind chimes that call out from the lower yard. We kept moving them around to new locations because the chimes were temperamental and it didn’t always chime when it was windy and sometimes chimed when it wasn’t. The new spots didn’t change anything and we’ve pretty much given up control to my dad.

When my brother Chris died late last August we were feeling very low and Rob suggested a drive.

“Let’s take a ride,” he said.

Photo by Robert Forlini

Photo by Robert Forlini

We arrived at a rundown garden shop in Newburgh, New York. The grounds were littered with cement statues in varying sizes and states of decay. We trudged along searching for a donkey replacement along with a garden memorial for Chris. The owner spied us and came over.

“Everything’s on sale.”

“How much is this one?” Rob asked pointing at a weather-worn cement donkey.

“One hundred.”

“His ear is broken.”

“Okay, seventy-five.”

“It’s a little worn.”

“That’s how they age.”

“Do you have any other donkeys?”

“No,” he said. “Let me know if you have any more questions.” He walked back inside.

“Let’s leave,” I said.

“Let’s just go around back first.”

We made our way past some really ugly, painted statues and a variety of cupolas with weather vanes. “Maybe we should put a weather vane on our house.”

“Maybe,” Rob said.

As we headed to the car we came back around to a cluster of small cement statues arranged on shelves. A small angel was sitting on the end.

“What about him?” I asked.

“We’re not religious.”

“Chris was.”


The man showed up again. Perhaps determining we were cheapskates he said, “Sixty-five.”

When we brought the angel home we were tired and placed him in the front lawn between two large plants. “We can move him later,” I said.


Memorial to Christopher

Now, coming up on the one year anniversary of his death the angel is still in the same place. He greets your arrival on the way down the steps and makes me remember Chris on a daily basis, which is precisely the point.

Our quest continues to find a replacement for Mario’s memorial. We’ve been online and searched numerous statue shops but nothing seems to be a fit. The donkeys are too big, too cute or non-existent. We found a small bronze bird on top of a red glass ball that seemed perfect for Rob’s mom, Anne. We planted it near the cat.

I found a pig that I really liked at an art museum gift shop. The pig had two baskets strapped across his back for planters. I texted a picture of it to Rob. “How about this instead of the donkey?”

He texted back. “No.”

I didn’t press the point. In the end we both knew that only a donkey would do. And a particular sort of donkey at that. You see when it comes to lawn art there’s no accounting for taste.


  family-dinner-1When my mother was raising children I remember she was great at marking time. She understood ceremony and held up a barometer about what mattered to her. Dinner was the most important meal and a lot of tension and energy went into each one. Tables were always set with dishes—never paper—unless you were picnicking. No glass jars or cartons were ever allowed and meals arrived on platters with serving spoons. Time seemed to stop for a few brief hours after all the preparations were over, and everyone took a collective sigh and soaked in the moment or occasion. Holidays and birthdays were magnified under this same barometer of marking time, as if to say: notice this, before it passes for good. Just because another one will follow doesn’t diminish the importance of this one. If you ignore it, knowing that the moment will soon go by, you won’t necessarily miss it but you’ll never understand how you could have appreciated it.

Living on the lake offers year-round natural events that fit into this equation of marking time. And nothing is more fleeting or more satisfying than raspberry season. It starts as a few stray berries begin to dot the road or poke through some bramble near the mailbox. This is the beginning of a tiny two week window that offers a bounty like no other. After the first raspberries of the season open, it takes a constant vigil to know when to begin picking. Last week, driving around the lake, it happened.

“Look,” I said, pointing for Quinn’s benefit. “That’s the color we’ve been waiting for.”

“Let’s go tomorrow,” she said.

“First thing.”

Wild-Raspberries-smJust after breakfast we set out on our yearly harvest. After a short walk we discovered an unexplored area next to an old abandoned house down the road from us.

“Are you sure we can be here?” Quinn asked, walking cautiously behind me into the overgrown yard.

“Nobody lives here,” I said.

“That wasn’t my question,” she said.

“Look.” I nodded towards an enormous area of bramble glistening with crimson notes, stretching out along the water’s edge. Quinn stopped worrying and started picking. A warm breeze circled around us as we clutched clumps of deep red berries that fell off the vine into our baskets with very little prompting. We picked in different sections of the large patch, so we couldn’t see each other as we talked about the past and recounted the years we had been continuing this tradition. It did not go unnoticed that this would probably be our last opportunity to do this together. Quinn is moving to Virginia in under a month and probably won’t be back home this time next year.

Some years we had a lot of competition for the berries and we have had to be willing to venture deeper into a patch.

“That man across the street is eating all our berries.” I would say peering out the front window.

“Well technically they’re not ‘our’ berries. He’s entitled to pick some too,” Quinn said. This comment was usually followed by a short pause and a solid plan to get out there and garner our share.

Raspberry picking is not for the faint of heart. To produce a healthy and satisfying yield takes energy and determination, plus a few sensible rules. When we first started raspberry picking fourteen years ago, we stumbled for a while. Jackson, Quinn and I dressed in summer clothing and started walking around the lake in search of the elusive food. The picking was easy and we stayed along the edge, picking one by one. Kaplink, Kaplank, Kaplunk into a small pail we all shared. It reminded me of the children’s book by Robert McClousky, Blueberries for Sal. sal3Quinn was always good for around twenty berries before she fatigued or was scratched. Jackson ventured deeper and produced a bit higher yield but after half an hour he would peer into the pail.

“Is this enough for jam and a pie?”

I demurred.

“Quinn didn’t pick enough,” he cried.

Rule number one: everyone carries their own pail, paper bag or basket.

The first time we brought the berries home we dumped them into a bowl and placed them on a shelf in the refrigerator, only to discover the small pile of red beauties overrun with tiny green bugs that couldn’t quite figure out what had happened to the warm weather.

Rule number two: Immediately fill a sink with clean water. Soak and sort all berries before storing.IMG_1737

Raspberry bushes like to hang out with poison ivy and they grow on branches that protect themselves with sharp needle like thorns. As the children grew our prowess to collect more and more berries grew. We would emerge with scratches around our knees and ankles and the occasional patch of poison ivy.

Rule Number Three: Wear high socks and sneakers, long pants, a light weight long sleeved shirt and a hat.

Wearing long pants and sleeves in July can be quite uncomfortable in itself so always try to rise early in the morning before the sun gets too high and pick for about an hour. Anything longer can diminish any pleasure that might be achieved during the experience. Once you return home, enjoy a swim or if possible an outdoor shower to flush away any residual stickiness.IMG_0212

Once the picking and washing are complete the decision on what to bake fills the kitchen with delicious anticipation. If the berries are picked early and they have a predominate orange color, then jam with added sugar is your best bet. But if the color resembles garnets, then fresh over ice cream or yogurt is the way to go. Having a large colander full of clean wild raspberries can yield two jars of jam, a pie, muffins and several days worth of fresh berries for breakfast. In our house there was initially a bit of a squabble over who picked the most and who was entitled to more.

“Father didn’t help pick, can I eat another piece of pie?”

This comment usually elicited a reference to The Little Red Hen story and Rob would raise his hand in a solemn pledge. “I’ll wash the dishes.” It’s an easy promise to make when the last piece of wild raspberry pie is staring you in the face. But really that’s the best part about picking: sharing. We looked forward to returning home, dumping our full paper lunch bags into the collective pile, and listening to Rob or whoever happens to be visiting coo.

“This tastes so much better than grocery store raspberries,” my sister Susan said once as she closed her eyes while taking a bite of our homemade pie. “It’s like another food.”

“Right?” we all agreed, exhaling our collective sigh, really pleased that someone else understood our efforts.

IMG_1744 IMG_1743 IMG_0201

Rule number Four: Always share your bounty—it makes it all the more rewarding. I’m glad we have house guests right now because you need a willing audience to help you mark the time. In another week it will be gone.

Elana’s raspberry Bars. I have linked the image to the recipe for your enjoyment. You can use the store bought variety.



Today is March 1st and it’s snowing. We’re stuck in a weather pattern that seems unwilling to let go of its hold on us. The thermometer read minus five yesterday morning when I crawled out of bed and headed to the gym for a 7AM spin class. This is my mission- to get ready to ride around the lake on my bike when all the ice melts. I always choose a spin bike in the back row and stuff my big sneakers into the upper clamps on the pedals. As I slowly warm-up before the start of class I look at the shoes of the other class members. Almost everyone has expensive spin shoes with cleats that allow them to lock into the pedal. I recently learned that the spin shoe gives you a better workout . It provides muscle balance, increased power and more comfort but I haven’t made the purchase in part because I’m waiting to see if this spin thing takes. The same way I’m waiting for spring.

It’s strange riding in place at the back of the pack in a cold room with a teacher shouting instructions through a head set over loud music that is intended to inspire you. When we’re simulating an easy ride along a flat road it helps if I close my eyes and remember my childhood in Illinois. Bikes were always at the ready as we hopped on and took off in a moment’s notice. We met friends at the park or in front of Petranek’s Pharmacy and leaned our bikes up against the long glass store front before we went inside for an ice cream at the still operational soda fountain.

Petranek's Pharmacy

Petranek’s Pharmacy

When we’re imitating a climb in class I imagine ascending the hills around my lake house on a warm spring day. Each of these hills vary in intensity and in every  fantasy I never have to get off and push the bike to the top.

Our winding and hilly road is so narrow it runs as a one way strip past our house, so if you forget anything you have to drive all the way around the lake again to retrieve it which can easily take over ten minutes. As a driver you have to creep along at 20 MPH to avoid hitting pedestrians walking their dogs or the occasional jogger. Most drivers are slow and careful and almost everyone waves as they pass you. The road has seven hills in total which can be challenging. For this reason, the hardest thing to do here is ride your bike.

Raising children on Lake Drive didn’t offer a lot of opportunities for bike riding. We have a small flat portion of road that runs about an eighth of a mile just in front of the house. Because the house is set below the street we had to haul the bikes uphill to reach the road, so the image of children running outside and jumping on their bikes for a quick spin to visit a friend never happened.

Jackson learned to ride a two wheeler bike before we moved here but Quinn arrived without that ability. As a parent this always bothered me, that I had somehow failed to provide her with this simple and basic skill. Another mother once announced to me that she had done her duty as a parent and the rest was up to the child.

“She can read, swim and ride a bike,” she proclaimed. “Now she’s ready for life.”

We had the reading and swimming part down but the bike part alluded us. I’m also not entirely sure Quinn held great ambitions about bike riding. She owned a variety of bikes over the years that we lugged to the street, loaded into the car and then drove off to a flat area so she could learn. These experiences never went well and they exhausted me so I stopped initiating them. There was always a small voice whispering in my ear that said, “Yes, of course Quinn will learn to ride a bike.” She was fairly athletic, taught herself to dive and was eager to try new things but riding bikes wasn’t among them. It was hard to reconcile since her paternal grandfather had been a champion bicycle racer.

Then, during the summer before eighth grade we noticed an old Schwinn chained up outside Herb’s Auto & Bicycle Store. We pulled over and got out of the car to take a closer look. The bike only had pedal brakes and it was heavy with big tires and a wide cushioned seat. The cross bar was low so it was easy to climb on. Quinn instantly loved it like an old friend.vintage-schwinn-bicycles

For fifty dollars we toted it home and set it up on the kick stand in the gravel drive. Quinn sat on the wall and looked at it for bit then climbed on. “I’m ready to learn,” she announced. All my failings as a parent were about to be mended and erased with time. I procured a helmet and the instructions commenced right in front of the house.

She steadied herself with me holding her seat and we practiced using pedal brakes and tipping to one side to stop with her feet. This concept alone reassured her that safety was just a step away. Back and forth along the allotted eighth of a mile she pedaled. She rode one way turned around and rode back. She did this activity for three days. She had it, but I wanted more. I wanted her to ride around the lake or even part way around. She needed to feel the freedom bike riding could offer, after all hills are a part of life.

quinn bike1I briefly reflected on the time I tried to ride around the lake with Jackson shortly after we moved in. He had a new bike and as we took off down the hill he steered himself and his bike into a neighbor’s hedge with his legs sticking out one side and his head and hands out the other. Lots of people came running over including the hedge owner who was in her yard talking on the phone.

“I have to hang up, a boy just crashed through my bushes.”

As she helped me free him I repeatedly apologized but she stopped me.

“I hate these bushes, I’m going to cut them down.” Which she did about a year later.

I decided Quinn and I  would go the other direction and take on some smaller hills first. Before starting out I drilled her again on the use of her brakes.

“When we come to a hill don’t pedal, just coast and when it starts to feel too fast push back on the brakes to slow yourself.”

“Okay,” she said as if she wanted to please me.

“You can do it!” I said.

“Okay,” she said again.

Off we went slowly and steadily coasting down a slight slope before leveling off. “You did it,” I sang out. Quinn forced a weak smile and we pedaled on and then climbed up another incline. When we reached the top we stopped our bikes and looked down.

“I’m not so sure,” she said frowning.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” I assured her. “Just remember to brake as you gain speed.”

“Can I put my foot down?”

“Well you have to stop to do that,” I explained. “We’re coasting to the bottom and that gives you momentum to ride up the next hill.”

“Oh,” she said.

“I’ll be right beside you.”

She looked straight ahead saying nothing. I took that as a sign and started pedaling slowly as she followed me. The time between that launch and her crash was mere seconds but I always see that fall in slow motion. I watched the panic set in as she lost confidence and her bare knees and palms skidded across the asphalt. I was powerless to stop the thing that I had started.

Once again another neighbor woman sitting on her porch ran to the rescue. She helped me drag Quinn to the curb and offered some damp paper towels to quell the bleeding then she went to call our house. Rob glared at me as he shepherded a crying Quinn into the car and he became the good cop. I was the bad cop who rode my bicycle home alone.

Quinn limped along for weeks with bandaged and scabbed legs. She wasn’t having any part of the old back in the saddle adage. The bike was stored in the crawl space and languished for years. Her brother asked to bring it to college but Quinn insisted she would one day use it. Eventually some friends brought her to a park and taught her all over again. Eventually she wanted the Schwinn at college and we pulled it out but now it needed new tires and we couldn’t locate the proper size in any store so it went back underground. For one whole year- Order Quinn’s tires– sat at the top of Rob’s to do list. She occasionally reminded him and then forgot about it. I mean if she really wanted the tires she could have looked for them herself.

Sort of like me riding in the back of the spin class staring at all the other people’s spin shoes, wondering if this is a hobby that will take or if spring will ever come.

photo by Robert Forlini

photo by Robert Forlini