Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Another moment of the unexpected. The basement is still a long way from being completed so the dark barn wood walls; the orange plaid carpet ripped, worn, and wet; the single window well with the chipmunk stage show; and the insufficient lighting still persist. This is where Rick spends most of his day, probably not a good thing for someone trying to pull himself out of a three year depression. He set up his computer on a vintage desk we had rescued from one of the upstairs bedrooms. It’s one of those wooden desks from the fifties with a rolled front edge and pseudo inlay on the drawer fronts. This is where Rick was sitting trying to figure out his New York banking information with his online account up on the screen of his G3 24” iMac, the keyboard resting on his lap,  and a Citibank representative on his blackberry that he had cradled in the crook of his neck. Dealing with banks can be very frustrating and this conversation was not heading in the right direction. Just at the point where he thought he was making some headway the blackberry lost its signal and the landline rang. He went to grab the landline, forgetting the keyboard was still on his lap and to quote Emeril, “BAM!” The keyboard caught on his lap, the blackberry fell from its cradle followed by the computer crashing off the desk and making a direct hit on the edge of the chair on its deadly downward decent. When all was done the front pencil door of the desk was missing some of its inlay and the screen of the computer looked like a piece of shattered glass creatively portrayed with crazed lines and imaginary shards.
Rick’s ingenuity rose to the fore. The computer had not lost its ability to turn on. He figured out a way to create his own screen in a tiny corner of the original screen which when looked at with some magnifying assistance actually shows all of the necessary information. It’s a hardship for someone whose eyesight is diminishing but a plus when our pocketbook can’t take the hit of a new computer just right now.
Like our family, the fall didn’t kill the computer but it sure put a crimp in its effectiveness. On the other hand, necessity is the mother of invention and Rick has won a gold star in the book of "making do" for his ability to invent a set of crutches and bandaids to make that computer work.

In this day and age you can’t survive without a computer and an internet connection. If you’re starting over and don’ have basic computer skills but think you’re too old a dog to learn a new trick then think again. Without the ability to connect with the worldwide web you aren’t going to be starting over you’re going to be stuck in an old world watching the new one whiz by. Besides on the web nobody knows your age they only know what you want to show them and that should be your wisdom and your talent.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Emmy pleaded with Rick until he had to relent. She pulled and tugged and got him to walk the eight steps up to the ticket taker and onto the Viking Swing. It's her favorite carnival ride, shaped like a big Nordic boat that propels itself to and fro like a giant glider. The farther to the back you sit the more of an arc you follow and the more it tickles your stomach. With Emmy's encouragement, the two of them went all the way to the back. Emmy beamed, her Daddy by her side. As the pendulum began its graceful journey from side to side the two of them donned smiles of delight. As the arc increased they both raised their arms and their joy made them weightless from the simple act of being together. This image is my gift and the image of their smiling faces, arms akimbo in the air, is the image I'll get to go to sleep with tonight.

Every so often you have to exit through the door marked pain and leave it all behind you. Even if it is only for a few seconds and your only option is to close your eyes and see what your imagination has to show you.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


 It has now been two and a half weeks since we pulled in the driveway at my mom’s house with a twenty-four footer in tow and our life in New York packed away in taped up cardboard boxes. Every day an old link to New York is broken and a new link to Madison is forged.

Our first task in our new city has been to redo my mom’s basement. This may not seem the most important objective on one’s to-do list given we are flat broke but given our history and our goals this has proved to be a pretty good move. The benefit: It has started the ball rolling connecting us with the Madison design community, revealing a breadth of available vendors, and announcing our arrival here in a smaller pond. The second objective of the renovation project has been to secure our sanity getting us unpacked and out of boxes to the degree we can begin living without having to search for a power cord for the computer or the bag with the clean underwear.
My sister, Bonnie, who handles my mom’s finances set a budget of three thousand dollars to redo the basement which is to include replacing the water softener that blew the day after we moved in. From the remaining money we are going to replace eight hundred square feet of thirty year old carpet, redo a bedroom closet to handle our embarrassing amount of collected clothing, paint the entire downstairs walls and ceilings, replace the awful outdated sliding door leading to the patio with a set of French doors, gussy up a dusty laundry room, and completely overhaul a mildewed bathroom,  a daunting task. Given a budget that wouldn’t have covered the toilet on most of our New York jobs we have been forced to really shop around. This has turned into a good thing. In my mom’s tiny Ford Escort we have been making the rounds to all the local suppliers looking for closeouts on materials and familiarizing ourselves with what Madison has to offer. Most of our searching has centered around Home Depot and another low-end mass retailer, Menard’s, but it has also taken us into some small boutique kitchen and home decorating shops that have simply caught our eye as we drove the Mad City streets. 
Two of our best finds came in the same day. The first one happened while driving down Williamson Street. Rick spied what appeared to be a huge limestone finial in the window of a small shop. We were on our way to the westside to do some grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s but we decided to backtrack around the block to take a look at the finial. The finial shop was a real tribute to the hippiedom of what once was and what still exists on Willy Street in Mad City. But our real find was a kitchen shop next door to the finial den, plucked from the Hamptons and dropped back down in the middle of the Midwest. Tom, the owner, a striking gray-hair, whose real job was as a realtor for the downtown region, had great insight into the Madison market. We talked to him about our ideas for re-establishing ourselves in Madison through our interior design business or in combining or services with a small store. He encouraged us to think about the Willy Street area saying that having New York credentials and being two gay boys would be big pluses to the Mad City design consumers. Stephanie, Tom’s store manager, piped in telling us we should also check out a store on the westside that might give us more information on the higher end design community. We exchanged cards and then headed off to Spirals on Monroe Street and an unannounced interview with Carol, Spirals owner and style maven. If serenity has been our design signature then Spirals would be the slipper we could slid our feet into. The soft lighting, the absence of harsh sounds and Carol’s monochromatic visage soothed our souls. We talked for what seemed like hours about our visions, what we thought design was and how it mattered. We invited her to lunch so we could come back with out portfolio. Today, we made some steps in the right direction.

Trust your instincts. Never fear putting yourself out there. Everyone has value. After coming through hard times it's very easy to have an abundance of self-doubt. Don't go there. Take a deep breath, jump in and knock on every door you can find.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Birthdays, even at my age can have their choice rewards. Penniless and poor I still dreamed of giving my kid the world. Having been raised on the joys and sorrows of rooting for the Wisconsin Badgers, one of my first wishes on moving back to Wisconsin was to share this history with my daughter. Rick was a lost cause where football was concerned. It's an acquired taste and football to him was like sweetbreads to me. On my birthday my sisters came through with two tickets to the Wisnosin - Wofford football game in Camp Randall Stadium.
Saturday morning Emmy and I rose, ate a hasty breakfast and tore through our still unpacked suitcases looking for whatever article of red clothing we could find. She fared far better than me. She came up with a red PaineWeber t-shirt. All I could find was a heavy canvas, long-sleeve, LL Bean shirt in a faded brick color. The forecast was for mid-seventies and lots of sun. I was already over-heating. We dressed as best we could and then headed out, my sister, Ebby, picked us up and dropped us off on the Capitol Square. Madison's illustrious Saturday Farmer's Market was in full swing as we snaked our way through crowds of health conscious, fit, fresh flowers in hand consumers buying organic heirloom tomatoes, fall rhubarb and anything made from cheese. The weaving was slow but we finally pushed our way through to State Street, the street connecting the politics of the capital to the academic halls of the university. About halfway down State Street, the pedestrians began to change from Birkenstockers with carrot smoothies in hand, to students clad in various red and white costumes exposing a much young skin as possible hefting plastic beer mugs at ten in the morning. The day was going to be hot.

The practical side of me had us stop at a hat shop where we picked up three-dollar Wisconsin baseball caps to protect us from the sun. Then the devil-may-care side went into the University Bookstore where we splurged on two authentic Wisconsin t-shirts. Mine said, "Wisconsin Badgers" and hers said, "Jump Around". For those uninitiated in Badger tradition, between the third and fourth quarters of each home game the stadium erupts in a crazy rendition of House of Pain's "Jump Around". Old and young flailing arms in the air bounce around like drunken revilers. Emmy, being the modest girl we raised her to be, went to the ladies room to change into her t-shirt. I, being the boy, just stood next to the cashier, doffed my heavy canvas shirt and slipped on the t-shirt. I had held it up when I bought it and it seemed plenty big but when I slipped it on it felt a little tight. When Emmy emerged from the ladies room I was ready to head on out, we were getting close to game time now, but I stopped in my tracks before we made it two steps from where I had stood. Her t-shirt said, "Wisconsin Badgers", mine "Jump Around". There was a reason the t-shirt I put on felt so tight. Time was a-wastin' so I wiggled out of her t-shirt, handed her the t-shirt she had bought, she slipped it over my t-shirt, maneuvered out of mine without exposing any inappropriate parts of her body, then handed me mine which I  barreled into, all to the giggles of the cashier. Now in our designated attire we walked on to the stadium blending in a bit better than when we started out.
The game was great. Wisconsin won big time. Emmy jumped around. We did the wave in regular, slow-mo and mock speed. We laughed. We bonded over the Wisconsin tradition. Good things can still happen in bad times.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


In preparing to leave New York we knew we couldn’t take everything with us. We wrapped up what we could, gave some things away and in the end just left stuff we couldn’t afford to hoist onto the truck either physically or emotionally. But in preparation for the end we did investigate sending what we could to auction. We had a real pension for textiles: quilts, vintage barkcloth fabrics and drapes, Marseilles spreads, hooked rugs, embroidered pillows with sayings like “Home, Sweet Home” and “Forget-me-nots” stitched onto them. I went around to some of the local auctioneers asking if they would like to take them on. They were very straightforward with me, “Now is just not a good time. I got a warehouse full of things and we aren’t pulling in more than ten cents on the dollar. We don’t want to promise you something we can’t deliver.”
I sucked in a deep breath and told them I appreciated their honesty.
One of our friends had a friend at Doyle. They made a very gracious introduction for us and I sent photos of some of the things we had. The contact was helpful and honest. But what we had wasn’t in that $5,000 to $10,000 per piece area. They all thought the stuff was beautiful. It just wasn’t for them. Then as I fished around the Internet I came across a site with an auctioneer advertising their upcoming sale of textiles and clothing. I felt I had found a home for some of our prized and what I hoped were valuable pieces. I sent an inquiry and got a response from Andi, the auctioneer. Now Andi never put a Mr. or Ms. in front of their surname so I was a little unsure of which side of the fence Andi fell on. Our subsequent phone conversations didn’t help to clarify the situation either. A gravelly voice on the other end of my cell phone only deepened the mystery. What Andi did provide was a willingness to come and pick up the carefully boxed goods, take them back to Pennsylvania, photograph them, upload them to the auction web site and publicize the heck out of them to what was to be an extensive client list and a major auction event.
When Andi finally did arrive to pick up the goods, she swung out of the driver’s seat of her van with a big smile. She was thrilled with the pieces and disappointed I was thinking of holding back the hooked rugs. I was just relieved to know which gender I was dealing with. I subsequently sent her the rugs. These were the ones I had thought Doyle might be interested in and when they declined I thought I might as well send them off to Andi.
The sale was scheduled for the middle of September. I would get weekly updates from Andi as she and her crew continued to update their site with more pictures of the pieces we had sent. All day, on the Saturday of the sale, I walked around with all my fingers and toes crossed hoping for some financial relief. I was sooo tempted to call at the end of the day to see how things went, but I forced myself to wait knowing Andi would call as soon as she could to let me know how we had done.
Saturday passed. Then Sunday came. No call. No email. Monday, the same.
On Tuesday the email finally arrived. Deer Lee, Deer John, it didn’t make much difference. I felt like a lover with that note of rejection in hand, tears making the ink run in little rivers blurring the exact words that moments ago had appeared sharp and cutting. The auction went badly. The check would be coming the following week for less than 20% of my lowest estimate. Live and learn

Desperation can cause you to do things you shouldn’t do, but then a penny is better than no penny at all.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Our first real tangible money making venture in our new city has been to turn ourselves into Ginny Pigs, test rabbits in an area run amuck with scientists and statisticians on the prowl for bodies willing to be mentally and physically poked and prodded in the name of science and the advancement of consumer goods. The first of us to jump under the microscope of available candidates in the name of research ended up being our daughter, Emmy. Yes, we're pimping the child in the name of science. We spotted an ad looking for children and adults between the ages of nine and thirty-five willing to have their faces smeared with ointment for an hour and a half and then placed under a medical light source for an additional nine minutes to determine the efficacy of a zit treatment currently used in Norway but not yet FDA approved here in the U.S. of A. When Emmy turned twelve she started having some moderate bouts with acne so we had been trying to find some dermatology help for her, but when we first showed Emmy the ad for the free treatments she shrugged her shoulders with an, "As if". This lasted until we got to the part about the $440 paycheck at the end of the study. All of a sudden her eyes grew to silver dollars and a smile spread like a nineteen ninety's IPO across her face. Never has a child been so thankful for a third eye.
Now Rick and I have added our names to a local consultant firm looking for willing participants to add their two cents on such things as the taste of a new toothpaste, the most recent pizza commercial, or how to operate the next hot video game, all of this at $50 to $175 for a two hour session. This is not going to get us out of debt or provide a down payment on a new house but it will buy us a weeks worth of groceries and that means a lot.
Look through your local newspapers, pay attention to notices posted on your local grocery store's bulletin board for help wanted. The things posted range from part-time elder caregivers to research ginny pigs. During the transition these part-time and one-time job offers can be a lifesaver for paying the basics.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Here's where the real work begins. Of all the nitty-gritty things I'll have to deal with, the one I've procrastinated the most about...going to the DMV to renew my license.

If you're moving to a new state, check out your driver's license expiration date before you leave. Setting up residency in a new location is no easy task. I waited too long to pull out the license and check the date only to find I had less than two weeks before my New York license expired. Not a good thing when you're sitting in Madison and the New York DMV is more than a thousand miles away.

If you're moving to New York City rather than out of it, the driver license thing is no big deal. Take the subway. If you are moving out of the city to a place like, say, Madison, Wisconsin where the nearest Trader Joe's is a thirty minute ride in off-hour traffic or a midnight snack requires keys and gas, living without your own transportation is not an option and we haven't even gotten to what getting around in winter is going to be like.

Call ahead and see what is required: What do you need to bring with you? Will you have to take a driving test? How long will it take? Then expect most of the information you garnered will be incorrect.

I called. This is what happened after I made it through all of the prompts.
"Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles. How can I help you?" This was delivered in a serious monotone.
"I've just moved to Madison and discovered my New York driver's license is expiring tomorrow. What do I need to do to get a Wisconsin license?"
"You'll need a certified copy of your birth certificate, an original utility bill with your name on it, a copy of your mortgage payment with a Wisconsin address, or a local bank statement more than thirty days old showing local purchases and deposits from your Wisconsin employer."
"We just moved here to take care of my ailing mother so I don't have any of those things. I can't live here without a driver's license. Isn't there anything I can do?"
"You could go back to New York and get a temporary extension on your current driver's license." This was said in all seriousness but it cracked me up.
"Do you think there are any direct round-trip flights today?"

Never, and I mean never, joke with the DMV

I gave up on the phone route, called my sister for a recent utility bill (My mom kept all of her bills in my dad's name even though he died in 1985. Fortunately, we have the exact same names.), and headed on over to the DMV. What the heck, I thought it was worth a shot. I even managed to think far enough ahead to bring a bottle of water (illegal in the waiting room), a pen and pencil and the daily crossword puzzle. I knew the wait wasn't going to be pretty.

Smile at the hefty ladies behind the counter. A little flirtation can go a long way, even at my age.

I went straight to the information desk where you get a number placing you in the queue for confrontation with the person who holds your fate. The lady behind the counter kept her thin lips in a straight line, it was neither a smile nor a frown. She went through the same itinerary as the woman on the phone but seeing my smile she added, "Have you ever held a Wisconsin license before?"
"Sure, but that was a long time ago."
"Well, let me look it up. Oh, here it is, but it says you were born in 1909."
"No, that would be my dad. I haven't sent my info off to Willard Scott quit yet."
"Sorry, here you are. As long as you don't need a commercial license we can put you right through, you're eligible for a renewal."
I didn't even need the bogus utility bill. I sat and waited my turn.
An hour later, "C212 - window 3." I walked up and handed Wanda my paperwork. She looked through it, fiddled with the computer, and wrote her signature on the bottom line of my form. "Thirty-four dollars"
WHAT! No one mentioned it was going to cost money and the eight dollars in my wallet wasn't going to cut it. No checks, no cash, a sign behind Wanda saying no credit or debit cards accepted, I was back out the door plotting my life as an illegal driver until I could find another twenty-six bucks.

Never expect anything to go the way you planned when dealing with bureaucracy.

Monday, September 14, 2009


The op ed in this Sunday's paper announced how Madison was losing its edge and its right to its title of "Mad City". Here is a city that sees its apathy in trying to drum up support for topless sunbathing as a blight on its status. You heard me right. Toto we're not in Kansas. We're in "Mad" Madison, Wisconsin, home of the cheeseheads, birthplace of Kentucky Fried Theater and The Onion, and supporters of everything left of center, and to top it off the city council voted overwhelmingly to name the plastic pink flamingo the official city bird. I love this place. Now to figure out how to make it love me back. We'll have to see how this one shakes out.
That last part sounded way to like Sally Field.

If you are going to start over at a new location make sure it matches your needs. This goes for job opportunities, amenities, and culture shock as well. Look at what you want to get away from and make sure you  aren't running into the same things you hated about the place you're leaving. On the other hand make sure that the things you liked about the place you're leaving aren't going to be too missed in the place you're moving to.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


My mom has Alzheimer. She's somewhere in the middle stages where here short-term memory has faded away. She still knows who we are and can remember events from her past but she'll pick up the salad spinner we put on her kitchen counter, the one we brought with us from New York, and ask, ""Well what the heck is that?"
"Mom, it's for cleaning lettuce. You put lettuce in the basket and wash it under the sink. Then you put it back in the bowl and press the knob on top. It spins out the water leaving you with clean dry lettuce." I give the knob a push and set the spinner spinning.
"You don't need to plug it in? Well how does that thing stop?" I pull the top off and stop the spinner. Mom shakes her head in amazement and walks over to another counter, a rag in her hand, and wipes away some imaginary mar. I remain at the sink rinsing the evening's dishes. Two seconds later she's back by my side staring at the salad spinner, "Well what the heck is that?" and the explanation begins again. Eventually, if we repeat it often enough, she'll remember or become comfortable with the spinner sitting on her kitchen counter. We have good days and bad ones. My mom is now a creature of habit. Everything has its place and change is feared. Thank God for what my family has been  able to provide for her.
For years mom has worked at my brother's stained glass studio. Being idle is my mom's biggest fear. After my dad died she took up residence at at my brother's studio, cleaning new windows, running the till, joking with customers, and keeping the store organized. As the dementia began to creep in, her ability to first run the till, then to clean the windows slowly slipped away. The studio is now more elder care for her where she goes and wanders from room to room, a cleaning rag in her hand, looking for imaginary dirt, proud she has a job. The smiles continue to cross her face as she jokes with customers and tickles the heads of the little kids who come in at the hands of their parents. She still has her laugh and her pride.
I now am the one who takes her to work in the morning. She is still asking, "Do I go to work today? When's Bonnie coming to pick me up?" But lately she's also been saying, "Are you taking me?" She's putting us into her routine, becoming comfortable with our presence in her world.
Yesterday Bonnie had to work late so I picked my mom up from work. First, I had to get Emmy from school and the two of us then drove to Light Haus, my brother's studio, to pick mom up. It was one of those perfect early September summer days in the late afternoon. The beltline in Madison can be brutal at rush hour so we decided to drive home through town. Traffic was slow but moving. We drove with the windows open, the seventy-two degree breeze floating through the car. I drove, my mom in the front seat beside me, and Emmy in the back. Rick was back at home preparing dinner. We had gotten to the corner of Atwood Avenue and Fair Oaks where the traffic had been reduced to single file. We were stuck in line at the red light when this woman approached the car. She had a cardboard box in her hands, "We're just closing and I didn't want these cupcakes to go to waste, would you like to take them home?" She handed the box marked Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery through the window to my mom, smiled and waved good-bye as she walked back to the cafe. We were too dumbfounded to do more than say thank you as the light changed and we moved ahead. Emmy opened the box and inside were four amazing cupcakes, two with raspberry icing swirls, one with blueberry and the last dusted with chocolate sprinkled over its crown of mocha frosting. Why she picked us was what we all tried to figure out as we drove on toward home. Was it my mom's startling beauty, it was Wednesday her day to have her hair done? Was it our newly washed eight-year-old Ford Escort that caught her eye or was it fate that made her hand over four beautiful cupcakes to a quartet of poor souls who wouldn't have had any dessert that night but for the kindness of a stranger.
Karma is real. All good deeds will eventually be rewarded

Friday, September 11, 2009


Dreams seem to be holding sway over this transtion from prosperity to poverty and hopefully back the other way. In prosperity dreams mostly came and went before I could get a real handle on what they were or where they were tying to take me. Like wisps of smoke they came and evaporated before I had a chance to remember their form. Now in poverty they come like beautiful paintings in a museum that I can go and revisit and look at with new insights as I examine their nuances. Last night's dream was one of those instances of clarity.
It was Bloomingdales men's department. I had picked out a pale blue shirt and was now trying to select a tie. The bright lights beat down on the glass topped display counter where I had laid down the shirt. I had picked out about a half dozen ties in various patterns and combinations of blues and browns. Everything centered on texture and geometry. I have never been a big fan of literal inspired pattern. Then this salesman pranced up to the counter flitting around, his bald head gleaming from the same bright lights that had lit the display case. His head cast a shadow on the shirt and ties I had picked out. He was carrying this perfect ochre and cream stripped shirt cradled in one arm like a newborn and in his other hand he held a nubby silk tie, golden with soft strands of silk sprouting out like peach fuzz. My head snapped back in joy dripping with desire. I so wanted this shirt and tie. The salesman angelically curtsied laying the shirt on the counter and then with a sweep of his other hand and a gleam chasing across his face he laid the tie on the shirt and slowly pulled back. The overhead lights revealed the combination of shirt and tie making them sparkle sending glints of light in all directions. Then the price tag attached to the tie slipped from its hiding spot and I woke up.

Learn from the mistakes that got you were you are. If spending was your downfall...STOP! Think about what you need right now and what you need is a bank account with money in it.


Today came the realization that we are indeed really homeless. I never gave our situation a true moniker but the truth is we are homeless. Our home of almost twenty-four years in the country was lost to foreclosure and went up for auction at the end of July. At the end of August we were evicted from our apartment and after more than a decade at our office in Chelsea we had to terminate our lease and walk away. We didn't even have a car we could live in. I think this qualifies as the definition of true homelessness. We are completely at the mercy of the kindness of friends and relatives. Home for the time being will be my mother's basement. It's a difficult thing to wrap my head around but there is a strange clarity that comes from being so completely without. There is no longer any doubt about our circumstances, so come what may we'll start at the bottom and try to climb back up the ladder of life, one rung at a time.

No matter how dark your situation may seem, never give up on your dreams. When dreams disappear the evaporation of hope is not far behind.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Sometimes things happen that you don't plan on and don't want but in the end you see someone had been watching out for you even if you weren't. I decided to turn over a new leaf in my approach to the beginning of this new adventure. I'd actually researched things and looked for the best option instead of closing my eyes and jumping in unaware and unprepared. I got on the internet and began the search for the perfect truck to get us to Wisconsin. I found all of the sites on goggle for truck rentals and began filling in the information for each one getting a printout of their rates and deals. Then I compared what I thought were the best three: U-haul, Budget and Penske. I had done this in advance of the move and since we still clung to the hope of not having to make this move I stoped my search just short of making a real reservation. When the "It's-time-to-leave-New-York" ball finally dropped I got back on the phone with my top two choices: Budget and Penske. I had been leaning toward Penske. They had the best one-way price and they "guaranteed" a truck. I had set my mind on a sixteen footer, being a sissy boy the thought of driving anything larger gave me stomach cramps. When I called Penske back on the way to completing the final reservation the cost of the truck had jumped another hundred dollars. Not happy with the jump or their steadfastness in not wanting to negotiate, I called Budget to see what they would do. Budget was surprisingly happy to negotiate and willing to pull me in as a proud big rig customer. They beat Penske's price by a couple of hundred dollars and in our situation a couple of hundred dollars meant a lot. I rented from Budget and thought I had snuck a fast one past their professional sales force.
When Monday arrived, and we had still not completed all of our packing, my best friend, Jim, and I dashed of to the Budget rental lot on the Westside intending to get our truck. I needed Jim for moral and technical support. There were the normal unplanned for issues to deal with, the insurance, do we need a dolly, or do three foot by four foot packing blankets really cover anything. When all of the decision making had finally been put into place; insurance yes, dolly yes (although we never used it), blankets no, we went out to inspect the truck. I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind all night the night before but I chose to ignore it and instead back-stepped into my former mode constituting leaping without looking. I seemed to remember from past buying trips for our store that some of the trucks had bucket seat cabs meaning only two people could fit safely secured with seatbelts and airbags in place for the ride across country. Sure enough, when we looked inside the sexteen-foot Budget truck it had only two seats. For the briefest of moments I contemplated seating either Rick or Emmy on the consle, or leaving one them behind , or better yet running as fast as I could out of there and away from all of this misery. Instead, I did my best to calm down, walk back into the rental office and declare, "But it's only got two seats!" The salesman replied, "Yup." Putting back on my tough-as-nails negotiating hat I came back with, "Oh please, please, please you've got to help me!"
They had three-seater sixteen-foot trucks but they were only used for local or round trip rentals. There were no sexteen-foot or under vehicles for rent equipped with three seats. Then we spied the looming twenty-four footer, standing there sparkling in the sun, its three seat cab bellowing, "Take me, show 'em all what kind of man you are."
Knees quacking, I turned back in to the office one more time. Either compassion for my situation or an extreme pleasure in seeing me reduced to a whimpering little boy made the salesman offer me the big twenty-four footer for the same price as the little sixteen-footer I thought I wanted and felt I could handle. Providence had stepped in giving us what we really needed even if I thought it wasn't what I wanted. There would have been no way in hell a sixteen-foot truck would have held everything we took to Wisconsin. As it was, we packed the back of that truck from front to back and top to bottom without an inch to spare and I drove that truck from New York City to Andes, New York and all the way to Wisconsin without having to go in reverse once.

Do your research and do it in advance. Ask questions. Negotiate. This goes for truck rentals and everything else you need.

Then rent Budget. They're really nice.

Monday, September 7, 2009


The packing began in earnest today with me as team captain at the studio and Rick back at the apartment. Without insurance, his Zoloft prescription is running out and he has decided it's time to wean himself off of the medication. The side effects for him have been very debilitating and he feels as if he has reached a plateau where he doesn't feel he is getting any better from the drugs. The weaning has had its own problems but our hope is the weaning side effects will subside as the medication leaves his body. In the meantime, there has been a great deal of sleeplessness, dizziness and upset stomachs. The upside has been a new outlook on life. This puts everything on the plus side of the balance sheet for me.
About halfway through the day Rick came into the office to deal with some plans for a cleint he was going to have our assistant, Amy work on in his absence. At one, the door to the office flew open and in bounded our cock-a-poo, Buddy, off his leash and madly making the circuit of everyone in the office. Rick was right at his heels, sweat dripping from his forehead but a big grin careening from ear to ear across his face. Outside it had turned into one of those ninety-degree days you butt into in the dead of August. Inside the blue of Rick's eyes danced with a cool joy I haven't seen for years.
After his meeting with Amy we discussed what we needed to do next. There were some packing items we wanted to get at Home Depot. We decided to take Buddy, get the plastic wrap and the construction bags we needed and then put him, the purchases and Buddy in a cab and send them home while I went back to the studio to finish packing up. Living in the city we have to travel with a carrier for Buddy whenever we have to take a cab or the subway with the dog in hand. He knows when the carrier comes out it means it's his time to travel and he hops right in.
I'm not sure if it was the heat of the day or the reduction in medication or a combination of all of this and the stress of our situation but by the time we finished at Home Depot, Rick had reached his limit. The shine in his eyes when he arrived at the studio had been replaced with a dullness that told me he needed to get We hailed a cab and Rick, our cock-a-poo and the purchases all piled into the backseat of a cab and off they went.
An hour, maybe more, had gone by. I had told Rick to call when he got home. When the phone rang I was hoping it was Rick.
"Well, I guess when it's time for me to leave New York I have to do it with a bang," The pixie had returned.
"So, what happened?"
"Well, the minute we stepped outside at Home Depot I knew I wasn't feeling well. My stomach was starting to get queasy and the energy was draining out of me." Fortunately, the cabbie was very understanding. This was the cabbie's first mistake. If he had taken the time to look in Rick's eyes he would have seen trouble a brewin'.
"The cabbie and I talked about the pros and cons of leaving the city and getting around with a dog in tow." Rick felt compelled to let the cabbie know he wasn't traveling alone as soon as he got in the taxi. Many cabbies might have told him to get out. Most cabbies don't like to let dogs into their cabs. This one seemed fine, so in a spurt of compassion Rick decided to unzip the top of the carrier to allow little Buddy to stick his head out...mistake number two.
"About halfway down Seventh Avenue I knew I wasn't going to make it. I had to tell the cab driver he had better pull over to the side of the road because I didn't want to throw up all over the inside of his cab. He pulled over just in time for me to open the door and lose my lunch without getting a drop on his black leather interior, but I had forgotten about Buddy. Sure enough, the screeching halt of the taxi, the door flying open, and my concentration on vomiting into the curb gave him the idea he was home and with the unzipped carrier he was out of the cab before I could even wipe my nose. All I could think about was how was I going to explain to Emmy I had killed her dog the day before we were to leave New York. Before I could utter that first cry of despair, the cab driver was out of the cab chasing poor Buddy down the street and catching him by his leash before any car had a chance to turn him into road kill. "
Rick and Buddy are safe at home along with our Home Depot purchases and the cabbies safely on his way with a vomit free taxi and a twenty dollar tip, one we could hardly afford but one that karma wouldn't have looked kindly on if we hadn't handed it out. Rick definitely does know how to leave the city with a bang.

Never give up your sense of humor.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


August 15, 2009
"Where'd I put the scissors, has anyone seen the scissors?" Instead I find the bottle stopper Stefania gave us on our last trip to Italy. I wanted to pack it in the black leather box it belonged in, the one she left on the dining table in our room as a welcoming gift, but I have no idea of where the box went. I run from one end of the room to the other looking for everything and finding nothing.
Rick told me to sit down, take a deep breath; "You're driving yourself crazy with all this worrying." This is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. He walked over to the desk and dug out two tiny notebooks, mine was green. He handed it over and said, "Okay, write down everyhing you think you have to do. Put it down on paper and then start crossing out what you've done." In less than three minutes I had filled three pages. I could have gone on but I decided the probability of completing even a small portion of the list was highly unlikely, why add insult to injury. For the next thirty minutes I seemed more focused, a little calmer, a little richer for Rick's thoughtfulness, but after thirty minutes I misplaced the book and still couldn't find the scissors. Chaos is endemic to moving and when you're trying to load up a house you've lived in for over twenty years, an apartment that has been your home base for two and an office you've inhabited for over a decade, chaos is inevitable. I just want the next forty-eight hours to be over.

During the beginning stages make sure to allot time to sit down to discuss what's really important and needs to get done that day. Talk about what each of you would like to accomplish. Set aside time where you work together to formulate a schedule for the day and designate tasks that can be accomplished together or individually. Then don't fall apart when the plan doesn't work out because something unexpected threw everything out the window. Pick up the pieces and start again. It's always two steps forward and one step back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Numbness. A lack of animation. Loss without tears. A rush in the beating of my heart concealed by my outward calm. I took down the mirror in my bedroom so I could no longer see the dullness in my eyes. Friends rushed through the house collecting furniture, loading it on the back of pick-up trucks, hauling it off to storage in a neighbor’s barn. A group of several women stood around the dining room table wrapping collections of stemware and vintage pottery, putting it in boxes and labeling it for storage on shelves in the barn. They talked and laughed and joked about the number of depression glass tumblers or the quantity of jadite plates. Things collected over the past thirty years all going into hiding behind reams of newsprint shrouded in boxes labeled Roseville and cream pottery. Pieces of glass and ceramic that once stood proud on the mantle in the snug or in the china cabinet Rick had designed and built with arched leaded glass doors my mom and sister had built back in Wisconsin and delivered one Christmas in the back of their car. Each piece carried a memory and it wasn’t until you held it in your hand and rubbed it like Aladdin’s lamp that the memory appeared. It’s the magic a piece of stemware, a toy, a family photo tucked on a shelf can possess. I watched the ladies’ nimble fingers picking up each piece and swaddling them in wrapping paper before gently placing them in packing boxes and closing the lids on a life lived. Packed away were the green glasses with the swirled pattern Emmy used to serve lemonade the summer she turned six. The ironstone bowl I used to make my watermelon salad with the black pepper, Bermuda onions and feta cheese was packed away with the pair of pitchers we bought at an antique store located down the street. A portrait of Emmy I had a street artist draw one sunny afternoon on the crowded streets of Montemartre got carried out to the truck with a painting we bought in Montelcino, a Tuscan hill town, near where we stayed on many a summer holiday. We had insisted that the airline allow us to carry this painting on board with us and store it in the closet designated for coats, an advantage to traveling business class. Rick loved the painting. We hung it at the top of stairs suspended by a lavender ribbon.  The memory it held was ours, a memory of driving through the Tuscan countryside lined with poplars casting dramatic late afternoon shadows across the dirt roads. A little line of dirt remains outlining the wall where the painting hung. I know I should be packing with everyone else but instead I go to the scullery to get a fresh bucket of water to wash off the line of dirt on the wall,, the telltale reminder of what once was. I feel as if everyone is staring at me, wanting me to grab everything, take the house apart. I can hear the undercurrent,  “don’t bother to clean, let the new owner deal with that” but I can’t. I’ve spent my life searching for beauty and this house was the result. It is a part of me. It represented who I am. It’s where we played hide-and-seek with a bunch of thirty-year-olds at a surprise birthday party Rick threw for me. It’s where we made dinner for sixty in a ramshackle kitchen when JoHannah and Adam got married on our front porch. It’s where we huddled together for a long winter waiting for the phone to ring with calls from desperate young women looking for someone to adopt their child. It’s where we brought Emmy for the first two months of her life. The bassinette still in the attic filled with pillows waiting to come down with the rest of the things on their way to storage in a neighbor’s barn.

Know that friendship goes a long way. No matter how far you think you have fallen, there are friends who will be there to break your fall.

If part of starting over involves moving and you really need to watch the budget get your boxes after dark from the back of your local grocery, liquor or drug store. Then buy a roll of plastic wrap to wrap around loose items. The plastic wrap was a Godsend. It cut wrapping time in half.