Thursday, July 11, 2019

I will remember you ...

Last Saturday was, perhaps, the most awful day of my life.

Always an early riser, I had scheduled an 8 AM appointment for my sweet boy, Toes. We had been dealing with kidney failure for nearly three months, and twice a week I took him in for fluid replenishment, a sort of kitty dialysis. Except, this morning, I was there to see the doctor.

He wasn't eating, and in my ignorance, I thought there was something wrong with his mouth and that's why he wasn't eating. Maybe he had a toothache or something.

When his condition was first diagnosed in early May, I asked the veterinarian how I would know when we had reached "the end." I didn't want him to suffer. I just wanted to give him the best quality of life possible for as long as Nature permitted. The vet responded with a simple statement. "He will stop eating." And, there I was on a steamy Saturday morning in July thinking he had a toothache. How could I have forgotten?

It's been five days since then, and, in retrospect, it was denial. I didn't "forget." I didn't want to remember. I wanted there to be another answer. A simple solution. Even a complicated solution would have been more acceptable that no solution. But. There was no solution.

Upon arrival at the vet, the technician took Toes out of the exam room for the doctor to look at his mouth. I had insisted that something was wrong, perhaps with his teeth. I sat down, scrolled through my email and played a game of Dots. Then the veterinarian came in wearing her white lab coat, holding a sheet of paper with red marks on it. She said things like "kidney failure" and "danger zones" and "seizure." My brain fell down into my stomach causing a great pain. My heart was hurting. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, splashing on the paper she showed me with the red marks on it.

How could this be?

The vet was sympathetic and kind as all veterinarians should be, so, I asked her: "If it was your cat, what would you do?" She had mentioned her own cat earlier, when we first began the exam.

She paused. Then she said the words I didn't want to hear. I wanted to put my hand over her mouth. I wanted to take the question back.

In her gentle, quiet voice with the tiniest Scottish brogue she said, "I would let him go."

Even now, as my fingers dance across the keyboard, I have a knot in my stomach remembering the sick feeling in my chest, the knot in my gut, a sense of reeling as though I was losing my balance. But, I wasn't falling. My heart was breaking.

Toes came to me through my younger brother. Never married, ever the loner, my brother is a cat whisperer. Since we were children, he always had a thing for cats. He loved them.  And, Toes came from that environment, raised from a kitten, knowing only love and pats on the butt and treats. In 2009, the recession cost my brother his job and, eventually, his home. When he prepared to vacate the premises, he asked me to take one of his three cats. I told him I would. "Pick one," I said.

Whenever I visited him, Toes would be the one to sprawl across the coffee table, pawing at my hand to pet him. He was friendly and affectionate, so, I was glad he was the chosen one to come to my house. He arrived by car, sitting in my brother's lap, no kitty carrier visible. Once we were inside the house, we hung out, allowing the cat to get a handle on his surroundings, including our two female cats, Minka and Minipussy.

After about an hour, my brother left, and, in the blink of an eye, Toes disappeared. It took me an hour to find him, hiding between the full length winter coats tucked away in the doll room closet, where he would spend most of the next month of his life.

The thing about cats is that they don't all adapt easily. Toes had known only one home, only one master, and now he was in a strange place with strange people. It was sad to see him hiding, but, every day when I got home from work, I would coax him out to eat and be brushed. He had a thick coat of glossy black fur adorned with a white chest, white paws and white whiskers. The ultimate tuxedo cat. And, he was a big boy, weighing in at 18 pounds. My brother said his father was a Maine Coon and he thought that accounted for his girth. My husband called him Bozo, because, when he ran after the other cats, he seemed clumsy.

He was a lap cat. And, a foot cat. And, he insisted on sleeping in the bed with me. Early on, he would scratch on the bedroom door throughout the night in his attempts to gain admittance, and after a couple of months battling with my husband, Toes won. He became a bed buddy cat as well.

He followed me around the house, from room to room, sitting on my feet when I sat, standing guard nearby when I was on my feet. He was nearly always at the front door to greet me when I came home from where I had been, whether I was gone eight hours or eight minutes. I had never experienced this kind of affection from a cat and his behavior lead to my husband and daughter referring to him as "Mom's dog."


You might wonder what the symptoms of kidney failure are in a cat. Toes ate mostly dry food. Back around Christmas time, we began to notice that occasionally, within 15 minutes after he would eat, he would throw up. We changed foods, offered wet food, and most of the time, things would return to normal. Until springtime.

That's when I noticed he was losing weight.

I would often pick him up and carry him from one room to another just to get him out from under my feet. One day, I picked him up and he felt different. I called the vet and made an appointment the next day.

You'll never know how much I wish I taken him sooner, that maybe he would still be here. The vet said, "No." It's a part of the aging process in cats, he said. Maybe he was saying that to make me feel better. Maybe it's true. I don't know.

I never knew a love like that with a cat. I've loved dogs in my life. And, more than a few cats. But, this one was different. He was a soul mate. And, I will miss him for a long, long time to come ... maybe always.

I hope it's true what they say ... that when you get to Heaven, all the cats and dogs you've loved will be there to greet you. I sure do hope that's true.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Piggly Wiggly

"Oh, how I long for the days of the Piggly Wiggly."

Piggly Wiggly was the first true self-service grocery store. It was founded on September 6, 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee by Clarence Saunders.  This "new" model of grocery store would change the way Americans shopped for groceries.

For about 15 years now, since around the time the gay community discovered Wilton Manors and adopted it as their own, there's been a drive (pun intended) to change the character of Wilton Drive, the main drag through the central part of the island city. The most common refrain is to "make it more like Las Olas," which is a 7-block stretch between downtown Fort Lauderdale and the beach to the east. East Las Olas Boulevard is peppered with high-end shops, restaurants and bars and it's been a touristy place since the days of Spring Break and "Where the Boys Are."

When I moved to Wilton Manors in 1987, this tiny piece of real estate was just a suburb of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Surrounded by the south fork of the Middle River, it was home to doctors, judges, bank vice presidents and school teachers with a population of 11,000 or so. Mostly middle class, we were neighbors with others like us, young families with school age children.

In those days, there was a Piggly Wiggly in the shopping center on Wilton Drive at NE 6th Avenue. It was accompanied by a Social Security office, a paint store, a small exercise studio and a coffee shop. A bar with a pool table occupied the corner store, naturally called "The Corner Pocket," and the end spot adjacent to the Drive sold sunglasses.

To the south were little strip shopping centers in the blocks along Wilton Drive. There was quite a variety of offerings that regular people might need or want. A plant nursery on the south side of the shopping center offered native and exotic plants cultivated in decorative clay pots along with  advice on how to get things to grow. Next to the nursery was a strip center with an antique store, a record store, a doll shop, a quilting shop, and About Town Lock & Safe, which I think is still in business today. Across the street was my favorite thrift shop, Hidden Treasures. The two women who ran it had big personalities and a whole lot of style and their ever changing collection of merchandise made a favorite spot for many local fashionistas.
Dairy Queen, painted by Nia Nakis

On the west side of The Drive further south you would have found an office supply store, insurance agency, and hair salons. The Junior League Thrift Shop was a fun visit, offering high end women's clothing and accessories for really good prices. There were two laundromats, a Burger King, a camera shop and a few bars and restaurants, the best of which was Wings 'n Things. And, Dairy Queen, which survives today and is a landmark for locals and visitors alike.

Since the Great Recession, a lot of things have changed around town. Taller buildings. More people and more cars. Lots of bars and restaurants. And, not many businesses like what there was when I came here to live.

I get that change is inevitable, but, I don't think all change is good. Sometimes we need to just leave things alone. Humans have the tendency to be short sighted and I thing that's what's happened to Wilton Drive. Many of today's small businesses struggle to survive. With little daytime traffic and the overall impact on retail of the internet, it's a tough go for those selling their wares. Rents continue to climb and local leadership tends toward creating a "tourist destination" rather than serving the tax paying residents in the community.

Wilton Drive is never going to be like Las Olas Boulevard. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Eventually, they will figure it out, but, for me, it's a time gone by. Hence, I long for the days of the Piggly Wiggly, when things were easier.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Life, Art and Fashion Dolls

Since 2012, I have been a part of a team of art lovers running a little neighborhood art gallery we call Art Gallery 21. The building used to serve as the Woman's Club and has now been re-purposed as a cultural center and home to the gallery.

On March 9th this year, we hosted an exhibit titled "The Art of Barbie." The international icon of fashion and style celebrated her 60th birthday and we were blown away by how many people came to the opening and to the exhibit in the weeks that followed.

It's not the first time I've been involved in an exhibit of Barbie dolls, but, this time ... this time, it was art. Beautiful art. Amazing art. Created by amazing artists.

We were blessed with the donation of two photographs from Sharon Wright, who I have the pleasure of knowing personally and whose career I have followed since she first took pictures of Poppy Parker. She's an Emmy Award Winning film maker, actress, model and all around terrific human being and the proceeds from the sale of her photos went to support the art gallery. I think it was extremely generous of her to donate her pictures and I love her for being so kind.

And, she wasn't alone. We also received a donated photograph from Rebecca Berry of "Inside The Fashion Doll Studio," which sold the first night! The artistic talent I've discovered in my journey as a doll collector continues to amaze me.

Which just goes to show you ... doll people are the best kind of people there are. They ARE artists. And, doll lovers. And, generous of spirit. And, I'm so lucky to have been a part of this. Thank you, Universe!

Friday, December 1, 2017

The first day of the last month of the year ...

Being a grownup is hard work. The responsibility of a job places time constraints on how we get things done and I've been lucky to have a boss who tolerates my tardy arrivals when I try to cram too much into the early morning before I leave my house. But, I grow weary of the long commute. When I began working at my current job back in 2005, it took me 25 minutes to get from my house to my office. Today it requires 40 to 45 minutes to make the same journey. That is 7.5 hours per week spent in my car getting back and forth to my job. Or, 16.25 days per year. Insert a sad face here. Why? There are just too many people in southeast Florida where I have lived for the past 41 years. And, the rich developers keep building high rise condominiums priced for the wealthy. Affordable housing? Not in Florida. Not anymore. So, my long commute may well grow longer.

I've always worried about money. I never had enough of it.  As I move closer to retiring from my full time job with benefits, I'm getting butterflies in my stomach. Will my meager retirement income be enough? Will I be able to find part-time and/or free lance work to fill the gap? Will I grow into one of those sad old ladies at the nursing homes whose families have abandoned them because they had to sell everything they owned to be able to qualify for Medicare to get into the nursing home in the first place? Now, THAT is a frightening prospect, for sure. Should I work til I'm 70? What do I really want to do? Why am I so anxious about this?

The current proposed tax bill making its way through the Senate this week scares the bejesus out of me. This could change the way we live in America. I think of "The Hunger Games" and the division of classes and I fear we are hurling toward a time when the rich have everything and the rest of us just survive. I am stunned at how the dynamics of class division is being manipulated in the media today to prevent oppressed groups from joining forces into a united front against the government's actions to rob from the poor and give it all to the rich. Apathy runs rampant. Where do we go to to protest? Our legislators aren't listening to us!

My escape from all these tough issues is, of course, art and fashion dolls. They are way more fun and way less stressful than all that other stuff, but, I cannot ignore what is going on in this tiny life of mine. My struggle to survive is nothing compared to those in Yemen, for example. Yet, a struggle it is at times. I've kept my tongue in my head for a long time now. That's over. I'm writing. Finding these words has been a real effort this morning, but, there they are. My thoughts. My truth. My joys and my fears. Mostly my fears today because the Senate is voting on that fucking tax bill that will make the rich richer and richer. Insert another sad face here and let's call it a day. Time to start decorating for Christmas!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Around here ...

I haven't been here in awhile. Did you miss me?

That's what I thought.

There's lots been going on around here. Just to catch you up on things ...

... hosted five ... count 'em! 5! ... art exhibitions at Art Gallery 21 at the Woman's Club of Wilton Manors between October 2015 and May 2016.

... finished my eleventh year visiting fourth and fifth grade classrooms and talking about living in the Everglades. (Yes. We live IN the Everglades, on drained land.)

... preparing to install a museum exhibit which I have titled, "the Barbie story," using my personal Barbie doll collection to show her #evolution as a social icon and popular children's toy.

... working with the City of Wilton Manors Leisure Services Department to bring the "official" Wilton Manors Visitors and Newcomers Welcome Center to the art gallery.

... getting stronger in Jazzercise classes, increasing my weights by one pound and jumping for the first time in two years!

What have you been up to???

Friday, November 20, 2015

Reflecting on Road Rage

This morning, on my drive to work, I had a most remarkable experience. I stewed over it for more than two hours, then posted this to Facebook:

WARNING! If you get behind this car and the woman driving doesn't proceed because she's chatting on her cell phone, whatever you do, do NOT blow your horn to alert her to the situation. Otherwise, she will jump out of her car and yell at you and threaten you. That's what she did to me. Jeez! What a grump!

I thought that would allow me to put the incident to rest. But. It hasn't worked. I keep seeing her grey Victoria's Secret shirt and her bunched up hair, with that big mouth of hers not six inches from my face, yelling, "You don't want to fuck with me!" and, for a moment, I thought she was going to hit me. I just stared at her, thinking that if I didn't respond verbally, she would back off. And, she did.

I thought about giving her the finger and saying, "fuck you," but, in the nanosecond that it took me to choose NOT to do those things, I considered it would prevent things from escalating. Some folks are just looking for someone to go up against. For this particular individual, it wasn't going to be today and it wasn't going to be me.

The more I thought about what I coulda, woulda, shoulda done, the more I came to realize how vulnerable we are in our cars. Had I not had my window down enjoying the morning air, would she have smashed it? Had I attempted to back up and go around her, would that, could that have resulted in an ugly accident? And, the ferocity with which she attacked me, albeit verbally, and that element of surprise ... are those not the techniques the terrorists used in Paris and other locations around the world? What person thinks they're going to be shopping for bread or having dinner or sitting at a stop sign when some lunatic decides it's time to shoot them, bomb them, attack them, whether with weapons or with words? How are we to respond? Do we just sit there as I did or do we take action? And, how do we know which is the right thing to do?

After stewing over this for the better part of the day, I will make a conscious effort to be kind. I don't feel like being kind, to be perfectly honest. I feel like pounding some bitch's face in. But, I'm going to choose peace and joy and kindness. I'm also going to think about carrying my gun in my car.

If this was karma coming at me this morning, then I must be kind. Think kind thoughts. Do kind deeds. And, hope that wench in the black VW Jetta with Florida license plate 725LMK doesn't cross my path again. Next time I might not be so nice.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Freakin' Friday Fodder

There was a nice article in the Sun-Sentinel earlier this week about how the Mayor and Board of Commissioners of Wilton Manors had directed city staff to find an appropriate location within the city to fly the rainbow flag permanently.  I hoped that my neighbors who had shared their concerns over the flying of the flag in front of City Hall saw the article and that it would offer them some reassurance that they weren’t being rejected for being not-gay. I understood their feelings. More than once in the past week or so I have heard or read statements along the lines of, “It’s like they want to get rid of us.”  I have felt that way a time or two, myself, but, sloughed it off as me being too sensitive.

So, there I was, flipping through the online edition of the South Florida Gay News this morning, and on page 2, above the Table of Contents, the headline read “Wilton Manors City Commission Votes To Fly Rainbow Flag Permanently.” There were little photos of individuals with little quotes under them, so I zoomed in to see what folks had to say.

RJ Petrucci: “Yes the WM community should have an incredible favorable bias celebrating the gay residents and tourists that turned the ghetto slum of 1995 into a world famous upscale vacation destination in 2015.”

And, David Mann: “Str8s have the whole country to feel comfortable in; Wilton Manors gays have a few miles of city block.”

I read those quotations a couple more times, just to make sure I was understanding what was said. And, then, I realized that my heart hurt.

I’ve lived in Wilton Manors since April 1987. It wasn’t a “ghetto slum” then, or I wouldn’t have bought a home here. It was a perfect neighborhood for a family with kids. The elementary and high schools were within walking distance and Hagen Park was a block away. Instead of bars and restaurants lining Wilton Drive, there was a Junior League thrift store, an office supply store, a hair salon, an exercise studio, the Piggly Wiggly store, and Wings 'n Things, along with many other small businesses, all providing services to those of us who lived here. It wasn’t a slum. It was a small town in Florida.

And, as for us “str8ts” having the “whole country to feel comfortable in … “ I’ve been here 28 years. Where the heck am I going to go? I have invested nearly half my life in this city, as have many of my other not-gay neighbors. Where could we possibly go after all this time and “feel comfortable?” What a thoughtless comment that is ...

The word “divisive” was reportedly bandied about during the commission meeting when the decision was made to find a place for the rainbow flag. Now, I understand why. Those gay property owners who think they have somehow saved our city need to realize that all the “str8ts” who accepted them when they came here are as much a part of the city’s revitalization as they are.

I like the word “diversity” much more than I like that word, “divisive.” We're each one different, for sure, but, we're all human beings. It takes all of us, working together, to make our little island city a place of peace and prosperity. I sincerely hope a rainbow flag doesn’t spoil it.