May 30 2020

First the bell bottoms came back

The crowd on Day 1 of the Woodstock Festival on August 15, 1969. Clayton Call/Redferns

Back in the 60s, my baby boomer generation rode the interstate buses into the south to protest segregation in the southern states. My generation protested at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and were met with the use of extreme violence by the Chicago police force. My generation stood up and called out shady backroom politics. We demonstrated for clean water and clean air. We toppled a dishonest president. We ended an unjust war. We wore our bell bottoms and we changed the world. We thought we had fixed things.

The word Boomer seems to have become a bad word lately, connoting all kinds of unpleasant things about my generation. By now we have gotten old, and people have forgotten what we did. 

I no longer live in New York, the city of my heart. I haven’t lived there for over 30 years. I view America from afar. When I meet someone new and we spend a bit of time exchanging the Cliff Notes of our lives, I usually summarize myself by saying “I’m an old hippy”. Perhaps this isn’t completely honest. Though I went around braless, I never lived in a commune. I didn’t practice free love and have sex with anyone who seemed interested. I attended a few peace marches but that was mainly because a boy I liked wanted to go. While I smoked pot on occasion I didn’t spend my days in a daze. I didn’t attend Woodstock. But I still feel I can nevertheless call myself an old hippy. That’s how I identified back then when I was young, wearing long flowered skirts and sandals (in the summer) and my hair a wild curly mass…for a short period of time. Life is usually lived in short periods of time. We are something for a while and then we evolve. Inside we stay who we are. It’s just our outside trappings that change. I gave up my patched bell bottomed jeans for mid-calf length flowy dresses that were replaced by broad-shouldered suits that became baggy-waist pants that turned into tunics over leggings. But I’m still me underneath.

I still love New York though I no longer belong there. I still love a good argument. I still believe people are fools, all of us, but we should at least be friendly and show consideration and respect. I still love science fiction and hate oysters. And while I believe in the equality of all human beings and their right to be able to live a decent life within a just system regardless of race or gender or social status or hairstyle or clothing choices, I still reserve to right to choose who I like and wish to be friends with. Though everybody is equal I have no desire to love everyone equally.

I read my electronic New York Times subscription from here in Stockholm. I read articles from CNN or the few stories I am allowed from the Washington Post without a paid subscription. I look at the things people share on Facebook and Twitter. And I get very scared. Black men get killed while jogging and a white woman threatens a black man with a bold-faced lie to the police about him endangering her. The only thing new about this is that they are being filmed, live as it is happening, like the reportage from the Vietnam war in the 60s and 70s. Synagogues are attacked. And churches. Men with military grade weaponry feel they have the right to threaten State capital buildings and the police just look on. Right wing fascists are rioting, burning buildings, reminding me of Kristallnacht in the 1930s, though this time it isn’t specifically aimed at only Jewish citizens. But the purpose is the same – to create havoc, to tumble society. Demonstrators are marching again, protesting injustice. And like at Kent State, the police are firing on them. 

I read all this and it worries me, a lot. There is a vacuum in the place where the head of state of the USA should be. Instead there is a man totally unfit to be there, filled with anti everything that is good and decent and humane and sane. There is so much wrong with America now and once again it is all coming to the surface, into plain sight. My generation thought we fixed things. We had that hope at least. We obviously didn’t. Hans Rosling, the Swedish academic, believed that statistically the world was improving for the majority of people. But the things that are still wrong in the world can’t be fixed all in one fell swoop. Perhaps it is up to each generation to stand up and say “This is wrong” and demand change. Time to protest, time to demonstrate, time to march, time to stand up and be heard. Change for the better won’t be able to happen until the current administration is voted out and its enablers in the Republican Party are also voted out.  

But right now, it’s the 60s all over again baby. The struggle is here once more. Put your bell bottoms on and start getting on with it. 

And just for a bit of memory and inspiration…My Generation by the Who.
Photo credit: The crowd on Day 1 of the Woodstock Festival on August 15, 1969. 
Clayton Call/Redferns


May 9 2020

Diet food

I just ate a doughnut with chocolate frosting on it. There were sprinkles sprinkled in the chocolate. I ate it in a few bites. It wasn’t a big doughnut. I felt no guilt for eating it. It wasn’t the best doughnut. Not as good as an Entenmanns crumb doughnut but you can’t get them here so I settled for the chocolate coated one I bought in the fresh-baked section of the local grocery.

For most of my life I could eat anything I wanted and as much as I wanted of anything I wanted and never gain a pound. An entire bag of salt and vinegar chips – the large economy size? No problem finishing it off as I sat in my office working on a PowerPoint presentation for a client. Two large pork chops and several small potatoes with 4 or 5 stalks of broccoli steamed just right was an ordinary dinner. My favorite trousers at the time had zipped pockets on the thigh and fit totally flat against my stomach. I could lie down on the bed and the span between my hipbones sank down into a hollow curve.

Maybe I’ll have another doughnut.

I never had to diet, at least not the way so many of the women I know did all their lives. When I was a teenager, my mother would buy me a drink I remember being called Weight-on but maybe that was the wrong name. It doesn’t matter – I drank the high-calorie chocolate flavored one to gain weight. That was my diet. I was that skinny. All arms and legs, like the spider. I used to tell my mother “I only eat to live”. I rarely ever got hungry, then or even now. I wasn’t anorexic. Anorexics are consumed by the thought of food. I didn’t care about food. I ate whatever I felt like.

I was also very tall – that’s part of why I looked so skinny – all elongated. If you just shortened my arms and legs and torso I would have seemed more normal. I wasn’t bony looking with my collarbones sticking out the way people who are skinny in a really sick kind of way are. I was just long.

I sewed most of my own clothes. Clothes off the rack rarely fit me well. In high school we had to wear this one-piece gym uniform. Light blue, it had a stretchy waistband, was sleeveless and had shorts. It was purchased though the school and came in a lot of sizes: extra small, small, medium, large, extra large and extra extra large. No tall skinny size. To get it to fit the length of my torso I had to buy the extra extra large size and then use my sewing machine to take it in about 5 inches on both sides. But the waistband never really was in the right place – too high.

I still have clothes I made during the 70s and 80s hanging in my closet. I don’t wear them anymore. Except for those drawstring pants that were super wide and gathered around the waist. I can still wear them. I made the string longer and they aren’t as gathered as they were before.

One outfit is a bright yellow, jacket & skirt suit. It was a pencil skirt, tight and straight down to mid-calf. The jacket has narrow lapels, hip pockets and it ends just below my butt. I don’t know anyone I can give it to. The skirt would practically reach the floor of anyone who fit the waist and hips. The pockets would fall below their hips and if the width of the jacket fit, the shoulders would most certainly be too wide. And we won’t even talk about the length of the sleeves.

Another is my red and white striped jumpsuit. Last time I wore it was when my son was under a year old. I don’t know anyone but my 28-year younger self who would fit that.

Somewhere in my mid 50s the never-gaining-weight principle seems to have faded away. And has continued to non-exist. When I lie down now, the space between my hipbones, seems more to resemble an arched bridge instead of the low hanging suspension bridge of my younger days. Back then no matter how much I ate my waist never expanded. Now, no matter how little I eat, my waist never seems to contract. During my formative years, I never learned to diet. No one in my family was big on physical activity then or even now. I still have in my head my grandmother Bertha’s half Yiddish admonition, “Ess, Ess. You have to eat more. You’re so skinny.” She was very good at spreading guilt around but never for eating too much.

I am still long and I don’t think anyone would call me fat. But I’m having trouble finding my waist and I am starting to become Big. That’s what happens when you are tall and start putting on the pounds and padding. You get big. You don’t fit in small spaces. I eat less than I used to but still eat what I feel like eating – though maybe not the entire bag of chips at once. My head might tell me that’s a bad idea but I still don’t know how to feel guilty about it. I maybe should look into some sort of dietary regimen. And some sort of exercise program. But I have always been so terrible at following rules.
What am I supposed to do?

There are two more doughnuts left in the bag on the kitchen counter.
I’m going to eat one.


May 5 2020

Over social

I woke up Sunday morning with bright sun shining on the blackout shade. My eyes were all gravely, my voice felt hoarse and my body had absolutely no desire to move. I was totally drained. I looked over at the clock on the wall and saw it was already 10 am but I decided to lay there a while longer and put off getting up. I had time…no plans until the evening. I wasn’t hungry for breakfast yet. I picked up my phone and checked Facebook. After 15 minutes of scrolling through miscellaneous posts, I clicked on my email app. 

What!!

At the top of my inbox was an email from my friend containing the link to the meeting she had scheduled for a group of us to meet… today…at 11 am! I remembered helping to plan that meeting but I also thought that we were going to do it in the early evening. The meeting was with 2 girlfriends I used to do GNOs with before one of them left Stockholm. Now I had half an hour to get ready. So I threw on the clothes I had worn yesterday (and maybe the day before and the day before that). I hobbled over to the kitchen, made a cup of instant coffee, buttered a piece of toast and sat down at my computer still only half awake and barely mobile. My terminal glasses weren’t helping much to see the screen as I logged in. 

This pandemic that is sweeping the world right now is going to be the death of me.

While here in Sweden, we aren’t under an enforced lock-down, we are nevertheless expected to practice voluntary self-isolation and to stay-at-home as much as possible. This is not a hardship for me since I like staying at home. I don’t go out to movies. I don’t attend concerts or dance recitals. I have no interest to try out the latest new restaurant in the neighborhood either. Did I say how I like staying at home? I am not a complete hermit though. I do go out. And meet friends. Occasionally.

Before Covid 19, I would meet a group of writer pals every other week at a charming cafe; we would chat for a while, then write for an hour and then chat some more.

Before Covid 19, I would attend board meetings once a month or so, at the home of the chair of a small Jewish organization whose board I am a member of. I can see her apartment from my apartment window and it only takes 10 minutes to walk to the meetings. I have been on this board so long that all the other members have become my friends and the chair makes great soup for us to eat before the meeting. 

And before Covid 19, a friend would sometimes manage to talk me into going out to have dinner with them as long as it wasn’t too far from my home. And sometimes I got tempted into seeing a movie (as long as it was sci-fi) with a group of other like-minded friends.

But now…because of this pandemic, no one is going anywhere or at least not anywhere outside of their house, unless it’s to the grocery store to try to stock up on toilet paper. All my board meetings were cancelled.  My writers group…cancelled. The few organized activities that I had planned on attending have been cancelled. I cancelled both a doctor’s checkup and my dentist appointment. My google calendar which is never really all that filled up anyway is now totally empty. Instead of going to a restaurant for dinner, going on a walk with a friend in the fresh air is the new way to hang out…as long as you keep your distance from everyone. 

In spite of all this anti-socializing, I’ve been meeting old friends and even making new ones more now than I usually did in pre-Corona times. I was never this social before Covid19 arrived and I am not sure how well I am going to survive this sudden social upswing even though I’ve been able to do it without needing to travel further than to my living room. I don’t have to put on my shoes because I can walk barefoot to my computer screen. Most of the time I don’t bother with putting on my face. I do try to remember to put on pants. Once I was wearing my nightgown but from the shoulders up it looks like an ordinary knit shirt with stripes so no big deal. My new frenzied social life is all the fault of this app called Zoom.

My recent stress started on Thursday evening in a zoom meeting with 2 of my writer pals who I haven’t seen for awhile because all our writing evenings were cancelled. We spent over an hour discussing plans for virtual writing workshops and we got to meet a very cute cat. Then a few days later on Saturday afternoon I had a zoom meeting with a couple of old co-workers. We used to get together a couple of times a year for dinner but this time we just sat around in our homes and caught up on how things are Coronating in different parts of the world. Later that same night or rather morning, I attended a Zoom party held by a friend in New York City. It started at 7pm NYC time which is 1am my time. She was a friend to both me and my husband. He dropped into the party long enough to say hello and then goodbye. I stayed for the next 2 and a half hours! There was one other person at the “party” that I knew but all the rest were strangers. When I signed off at 3.30 am, I saw on Facebook that one of them had asked to be my new Facebook friend. It took me a while to finally wind down and fall asleep. After a few hours I woke up to discover the unexpectedly early new Zoom meeting that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. By Sunday afternoon my introvert self had had enough.. This was just too much talking and socializing for me. I found that I couldn’t remember what I had said to who and who had said what to me. I hadn’t had enough time between conversations to process everything. I felt like I had gotten hit in the face with a ping pong racket. Five virtual social events in 4 days – I needed to look for a dark room somewhere.

All this virtual viewing reminded me of a book by Isaac Asimov that I had read way-back-when as a teenager – The Naked Sun.  It was the second in his sci-fi detective trilogy staring Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, a human-looking robot. While the first book in the trilogy takes place on an overcrowded Earth, most of the action in this book happens on a planet named Solaria that has a small human population and a huge robot one. People live isolated on huge estates that are hundreds of miles from each other and are taught from birth to avoid personal contact. They almost never meet in person. Even married couples who live on the same estate have their own parts of the home so they also rarely meet in person. Face-to-face interaction, referred to as “seeing” is considered dirty and the idea of being in the same room as another and breathing the same air makes them almost physically nauseous. But the inhabitants of Solaria are not hermits.  They socialize by “viewing”, a kind of 3D two-way teleconferencing that was so advanced that you can go out for a walk on your property, contact a friend and view/talk with them as they are walking on their own estate and barely notice the difference in backgrounds. 

We aren’t there yet. The quality of the Zoom app experience depends to a great deal on the quality of your WiFi and the state of your computer or smart phone. Mostly people just sit there in front of their video camera and hopefully you see their whole face and not just the top of their head. One friend did take me on a tour of her new house and neighborhood but as soon as she got out of reach of her WiFi the picture started to break up. 

I have been video Skyping with my best friend Roz, from college, for many years now. Our Skype calls have become as humdrum as a phone call. The fact that it was free made it even better. However the use of Skype just never seemed to catch on with anyone else I knew in the States. Zoom on the other hand, with a kick from Corona, seems to suddenly be everywhere and used by everyone. Timing is everything, I guess. 

I admit that the appeal of being able to sit in my pajamas and meet a friend without leaving my home has its charm. Just being able to see everyone while Zooming with a group of friends who all live scattered around the world is really fantastic. But what happens when all this virtual socializing runs its course? Humans are touchy-feely. We need to breathe each other’s air, pat a back, give a hug. When these Corona times let go of us and we can go out once again a Zoom call will pale in the face of a real face-to face date. And even this introvert will put on her face and some clean clothes and go out into the world again. Occasionally. 


Apr 27 2020

Life and Death in the Country

Its morning. Full daylight. I can see white edges of frost along the back of the deck chair through the corner of the bedroom window. I’m in bed, barely awake. My eyes feel dry and teary at the same time. The sun has not yet risen above the eastern treeline so it must still be very early. I want to stay in bed but I have to pee so I open the bedroom door and go out into the main room of our country house. On my way to the bathroom I note the absence of cats.

I close the bedroom door on my way back to bed. The barely visible sun is silhouetting the trees now. The clock on the living room wall said 6am. No need to get up yet. I lay back in bed, calmly tallying up all the little aches and pains that seem to have become my normal. My eyes are closed but my ears are awake. A cat is softly meowing on the other side of the door. I try to remember if their food bowl was empty. The meowing continues. It’s probably Coco, she’s the whiner. Do I want to get up? We keep the bedroom doors closed because we don’t want the cats to run in from outside and transfer all the ticks they have picked up on their fur on to our bed. Or to deposit dead animals onto the bedroom rug at our feet while we are still asleep.

I drag myself out of the warm blankets and open the door expecting to see a cat lying down in front of the door jamb waiting for me. Nope. A sleek brown shadow scuttles past my feet into the bedroom and immediately pushes her way behind the door, searching. We store a large window screen and an insert that enlarges the dining table there. Coco is very determinedly trying to poke her nose behind all this stuff.

Shit!! She is hunting!

Custard and Coco on the hunt

I carefully move the screen to the other end of the wall. I move the top of the table insert a few inches away from the wall and look down behind it. A tiny grey shape is crouched next to the baseboard, equidistant from each edge of the insert. I didn’t even see him run in. I hear the cat door open and Custard saunters in, joining Coco in looking behind the door, one on each side of the insert.

“We have a mouse!” I yell.

My husband is still in bed, staring at his phone. His poor hearing means he is completely oblivious to all the excitement.

“There’s a mouse in the bedroom!”

“What?”

“Behind the door!”

“You have to chase it out of the room or catch it. Do you have a plan? You have to have a plan.”

I have no plan. Håkan starts to get his pants on and prepare for a hasty exit. While the cats keep watch on the mouse I go and get the broom from the living room. I angle the insert towards the door and start to brush the mouse in that direction. It moves closer to the door but then suddenly does an about-face and runs under the bed, two cats in close pursuit.

“It’s under the bed now,” I say.

“What are you doing about it?”

“Nothing. I’m letting the cats take care of it.”

I hear the tippy-tap of tiny feet and the rustle of plastic bags from under the bed. The cats are making mad dashing sounds. I stand along the wall and wait. After a few minutes Coco emerges from under the bed, the tips of her fur bristling with pride and a still moving clump in her mouth. She carries it out to the big room and puts it down under the dining table, waiting for us to praise her. It lies there, nothing moving except its rib cage, in and out, in and out, a mile a minute.

I stand there, uncertain. Before I can decide what to do, Coco picks up the mouse, gently, like she would a kitten and carries it out through the cat door. I lock the cat door behind her and watch as she brings it down the steps and on to the lawn where she again puts it down. Custard joins her on the lawn. He lies down and makes himself comfortable as he watches her start to play the eternal game of cat and mouse.

I stand on the deck, a heavy fleece jacket wrapped around me, watching them. After about 10 minutes of the Coco vs Mouse match, our tiny prey makes a mad dash past Custard and glides in under the planting boxes, safe from Custards grasping paws. I breathe a sigh of relief. Yea, mouse.

Epilogue
About an hour later, after I have breakfasted on a slice of Håkan’s home-made bread, I hear the cats trying to get in through the cat door. I never unlocked it. I walk over to the door and look through the glass. Both cats are sitting there. A very dead mouse with its head eaten off is lying on the door mat.


Apr 5 2020

Corona times

We are living in strange times now. Corona times.
For many weeks the Corona virus has been traveling – on a world tour – starting in China, spreading through Asia, running around Europe, and jumping the fish pond over to America. And yes…it’s here in Stockholm too.

We are not yet under lockdown like Italy and Spain. But most of my younger, still-working friends have been ordered by their employers to work from home, my son included. Universities and all high schools have been closed & are trying to do online teaching instead. I have no idea how that’s working but I saw a funny video on YouTube about that. Schools for children who are too young to stay at home alone are still open but if their parents are home, often the kids are kept home too, regardless. The thinking about keeping schools open for younger kids is that the government wants the parents who work in the healthcare field & have young kids who need minding, to be able to continue going to work.

All the activities I had written in my calendar, such as writing workshops, board meetings, plans to meet friends and any other miscellaneous events have been cancelled. I cancelled my doctor’s appointment that had been booked over 6 weeks ago because who wants to go to a place all the sick people go to? All activities in the Jewish community are cancelled except burials, food delivery to old people and some Saturday morning services. All the big Seders are cancelled. My annual J.A.P.S. Seder, gathering my Jewish/American/Swedish gang, is also cancelled due to the fear of passing the virus from hand to mouth along with the chicken soup. I went to Bajit, the big new Jewish Center, on Friday to buy matzah. The place was empty and only 1 person at a time allowed in the shop. Me & the other 2 people on line all waited our turn far from each other. Hand sanitizer was everywhere to use while we waited.

And speaking of hand sanitizer, I can’t find it to buy in any of the stores. And Håkan has looked on-line. Nadda, nothing to buy there either. I can understand that. In these plague days it works better than lamb’s blood. But toilet paper? What’s the big deal about hoarding toilet paper? I can not understand that at all – it’s not a plague of diarrhea.
Dare I say it??? People are idiots.

But key words these days are definitely “social distancing” and “self-quarantine”. Or in other words STAY AT HOME!

But I do get out. My friend Barbara, working from home and living on Kungsholmen, walked over to Reimers last week and we took a long walk together on Långholmen. We foot-bumped first, keeping safety in mind. There were other people also out walking but everyone kept their distances. We stopped at the Långholmen värdshus in need of fika. We had the whole place to ourselves and enjoyed coffee and a bulla. There was lots of hand sanitizer there too.

I still go to my local grocery. I see people from my neighborhood there – but everyone keeps their distance – this is Sweden after all. Nobody hugs or talks to each other anyway, a simple nod is enough if you meet someone you recognize. Even in normal times, people sit as far away from you as a park bench allows. This is not Italy, France or Spain. Swedes are not huggy types, they are good at aloneness and don’t need much encouragement to isolate.

And it seems neither do we – Håkan, Bevin and I. My little family hardly notices the new societal rules operating now. All three of us are introverts and staying cooped up in our home doesn’t seem to be a problem for us – that’s how we usually live. I am mainly the only one who goes out now and its just to the grocery store. Occasionally I will walk the 20 minutes to Hornstull and go to the large Hemköp grocery there or maybe the drugstore. Once I also went to Clas Ohlson because we needed good glue. Hemköp has started special early morning hours for seniors but the way I figure it, I’m retired, I no longer have to (or want to) get up super early in the morning. Especially not to do grocery shopping! I try to go later in the morning or early afternoon when its not too busy and we customers can keep a decent distance from each other.

Bevin, a programmer at Ericsson, has been working from home now for the past 3 weeks and his longest walk is from the kitchen to his bedroom. He spends his evenings and late into the night socializing online with his pals around the world. No worries about catching anything that way except maybe a computer virus.

Håkan spends most of his time sitting in front of his computer screen, commenting on Facebook or watching TV programs there. He is busy devising all kinds of plans for growing sweet corn out at our country house this summer, ordering necessary things online. For weeks now, he has been bugging me about completely moving ourselves out to the countryside, trying to justify the move by saying that we are supposed to self-quarantine. He is so happy to finally have society on his side. But I am resisting. It’s still too early for me and too cold to turn the water on yet. But we have been out there a couple of times already just for day trips to plant potatoes and to get his corn seeds started in his new mini-greenhouse. Easter weekend will be our first overnight stay.

So this Stay at Home directive hasn’t changed much for us personally. My apartment is not a bit cleaner! I haven’t painted new colors on the walls of any room. My freezer is still mainly filled with ice instead of enough food to last months. And my kitchen cupboards are still cluttered, as are my closets. If I am not laying about on the sofa to read, then I am laying on the bed. And I only have enough toilet paper and paper towels to last for the next week. I spend a lot of time looking at Facebook but that is just a distraction from what I should be getting done on my computer. And just for you dog lovers who have been spreading nasty rumors around social media about cats, our cats are exceedingly happy that we are all home. Coco wants to always keep Bevin company by sitting on his keyboard, so during his working hours he has to close his door. She lies patiently outside, waiting for him to open it.

But as I said we are all introverts here – we need others to plan activities that can entice us out of our homes. And I admit, looking at my empty Google Calendar is a bit depressing. Though, secretly, I am happy not to need to put on makeup or get dressed in clothes I haven’t worn for the past 4 days. Putting on my Extrovert Coat in preparation to leave my home and venture out there in the wider world takes energy. So I have started calling people instead of just texting. I have been using Skype to talk to friends and family in the US. And I have participated in two Zoom meetings! I think a lot of self-isolated folks must be doing that now – there is not a web camera to be found, either in stores locally or even online!

So us introverted folks are coping OK but what about all my extroverted friends out there? You know who you are…all those of you who have kept inviting me to do things with you out there in the world even though 60% of the time I say I can’t (because I don’t want to leave my cozy shell) and yet thankfully you keep asking. Life now is probably harder for you guys. So while this is going on, give me a call and let’s talk…either by phone or Zoom or Skype. Drag me out for a walk in nature too – I promise to keep my distance.  I hope you all are also doing OK and I promise to say yes next time you invite me to eat dinner with you, or even just fika, after this is all over.

I know that a lot of people out there are feeling anxiety or fear due to this pandemic sweeping the world. I don’t really know what to say that could make them feel better. But my go-to advice that I like to keep in mind, is taken from one of my favorite books, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I like what Ford Prefect tells Arthur Dent, when Arthur finds out that the Earth is about to be demolished to make room for a hyper-space bypass.

“Don’t panic,” he says, “and always know where your towel is.”

Stay healthy everyone.