When You Have to Go

It seems ironic to me, all this furor over who can or cannot use a woman’s restroom. At any public event, there are long lines for the women’s, and nary a soul near the men’s. Even in not so crowded places, there is often a line for the women’s. When Jeff and I traveled together, he would stand watch as I used the empty men’s restroom while a line of women eyed me in appalled envy. Even now, in an emergency, I have sneeked into an empty men’s restroom. (If anyone saw me as I left, I’d glance back at the door on my way out, do a double take, and give him a sheepish smile.)

In recent months, during my (so far) 9,000 mile trek, I have used a variety of restrooms and non-rooms. Public restrooms, too many to count. Bathrooms in people’s houses. Campground facilities. Pit toilets. Port-a-potties. Bushes. The verge of a deserted desert road. Yogurt containers. (The best piece of tent camping advice I ever received was from another woman. She suggested I take a quart yogurt container into the tent for late night emergencies. The container easily contours to fit, and the cover made it spill proof.)

In all my travels, the only time I have ever seen a man stand in line to use a restroom was in a gas station convenience store that had only a single bathroom for all comers.

I have been in public restrooms so filthy, I couldn’t bear to touch any part of them or even take a single breath. (In one case, I wanted to go behind the building, figuring it would be a heck of a lot cleaner, but I didn’t want to give a peepshow to the grungy looking folk hanging around. In that particular instance, I was on my way to the strange folk in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I should have taken it as a sign, and kept going north.)

The weirdest restroom I was in had a toilet and a urinal, a condom machine with girly pictures and a tampon machine, atoiletss if it couldn’t quite decide what sort of bathroom it was. (I had to check the door on the way out, thinking I was in the wrong place, but no, it said “ladies” on the door. I was apparently in the world’s only transvestite bathroom.)

The absolute most luxurious public restroom I’ve used was in the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, Wisconsin. It truly was a restroom, complete with comfortable chairs in the ultra-artistic room. (Still, there is no way I would ever rest in a restroom. I can’t imagine what sort of effluvia has settled into that plush upholstery.)

Restrooms right now are a touchy subject, and I know I’m making light of an issue that is causing all sorts of ruckus (because although I feel bad for folks with problems, I can understand people’s worry that if it becomes legal for a man to use a ladies restroom, it becomes impossible to keep predators out. All they have to do is say they see themselves as a woman.)

But that is not my fight. I have no sympathies for young folk or even middle-aged folk of any gender without bladder issues. What we really need are age-segregated toilets. One especially for older women who can rush in, relieve themselves, wash their hands, and then go. No fuss. No muss.

I am temporarily in a place where I have many toilets at my disposal. Two very lovely bathrooms (well, one large bathroom and one vast shower room) for my private use and one semi-public room. But in a couple of weeks, I will be back on the road, and it’s anyone’s guess where I will go when I have to “go.”

Incidentally, the photo attached to this post is one I took at the Kohler Design Center. If you look closely, you will see that the sculpture, which took up an entire wall, was created from dozens of stacked toilets.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

I Need a Vacation From Civilization!

I miss small stores. Miss the individual touch, the smiles, the thank you’s. I realize in many cases these courtesies were coerced, a condition of employment, but still, there was a feeling of one’s patronage being appreciated.

Now, at best, the clerks seem to think we need to thank them for deigning to wait on us. At worst, we are left to wander vast aisles unassisted, with only vague hopes of finding what we need.

I had many errands to run today, and for some reason, each turned out to be a nightmare in its own way. I went to a gas station and pumped my gas, but the pump didn’t turn off when the tank was full. Gas gushed all over my car, puddled on the concrete, dripped on my shoes. They blamed me, of course, saying I wasn’t holding the nozzle tightly enough against the car. They said there couldn’t be anything wrong the pump, that it had been fixed, and the technician had just left. Hmm. A coincidence? I think not. They didn’t want to refund the money for the spilled gas, wouldn’t do anything to compensate for the mess. I cleaned up my car as best as I could, and went to the “hardware” store.

Onsecretce upon a time, hardware stores were small operations, selling nails and screws by the piece, run by folk who knew every single item in the store, where to find it, and how to use it. Hardware stores now are gargantuan, with nary a single nail in sight. (Packages of nails, of course, but not bins full of unwrapped items.) Not that I needed nails, just using it as an example. What I needed was a bit of weather stripping for the hood of my car. Every person I asked sent me to a different aisle. One woman finally said I needed aisle number 7, and that she’d send someone to help me. No one came, and of course, there was no weatherstripping anywhere on those shelves. I looked down the next aisle, and when I still couldn’t find the product and couldn’t find anyone else to ask, I stood at the front of the store and all but shouted, “Can someone please help me?”

A woman hurried over to me, shushed me, and said she’d be right with me. I said, “Where can I find weatherstripping?”

“Aisle nine,” she said, and turned away.

“No,” I said. “I have been sent to aisle seven, eight, six, four. I need someone to help me.”

“When I get a chance, I’ll meet you there.”

I finally found what I needed, and eventually she did show up. She told me her name and said if I ever came back for anything, to ask for her. She’d be my personal shopper because, as she said, “We can’t have customers making scenes.” What scene? Asking for help is making a scene?

She also said that before I applied the weather stripping, I’d need to clean the area with rubbing alcohol. She said they didn’t sell rubbing alcohol, so I’d have to go to a drugstore.

After I rung up my own purchase (couldn’t bear dealing with another clerk), I went to a “drugstore.” The drugstores of my youth were completely different from drugstores today. Most were small, individually run stores, with . . . well, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Like hardware stores, most drugstores today are corporate megamonsters, with few sales personnel in sight. I finally had to go to the pharmacy to ask where I could find rubbing alcohol. I went where directed, but all I could find was isopropyl alcohol. Back I went to the pharmacy. “Is isopropyl alcohol the same as rubbing alcohol?” I asked.

“They work the same,” the heavily accented pharmacist said.

“But are they the same thing?” I asked.

“They both disinfect,” he said.

“I don’t want it for a disinfectant,” I explained rather testily. “I just need to know if isopropyl alcohol is the same thing as rubbing alcohol.”

A woman behind the pharmacist counter gave me a dirty look and said, “He already answered you.”

Um. No. He hadn’t. By then I was frustrated beyond belief, so I turned away and did what I should have done in the first place, checked the internet.

Oh, my.

It’s definitely time for me to take a vacation from civilization.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Wishing You All The Great Things This Season Has to Offer

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Oh, My, Isn’t It a Beauty!

I got my car back today, exactly as the mechanic promised, everything new or rebuilt or upgraded— engine, transmission, clutch, firewall, cv’s, alternator, and a host of small parts. He said my VW is now the second best he’s seen, the best being an 2003 bug manufactured in Mexico that ended up in the USA and was somehow made legal. But compared to my car, that one is just a baby. Mine is . . . astonishing.

It is astonishing that the car kept going with only necessary maintenance for so many years. It is astonishing I have owned but one car my entire life. It is astonishing that I managed to find both a great body guy and a great air-cooled VW engine guy to do do the restoration, and that I had the money to pay them. And it truly is astonishing that a car I thought was almost moribund has risen from the dead and is now as new as a 44-year old vehicle can be.

Oh, my. Isn’t it a beauty!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Rebuilt engine and the mechanic who did the work.

Oh, My, Isn’t It a Beauty!

I got my car back today, exactly as the mechanic promised, everything new or rebuilt or upgraded— engine, transmission, clutch, firewall, cv’s, alternator, and a host of small parts. He said my VW is now the second best he’s seen, the best being an 2003 bug manufactured in Mexico that ended up in the USA and was somehow made legal. But compared to my car, that one is just a baby. Mine is . . . astonishing.

It is astonishing that the car kept going with only necessary maintenance for so many years. It is astonishing I have owned but one car my entire life. It is astonishing that I managed to find both a great body guy and a great air-cooled VW engine guy to do do the restoration, and that I had the money to pay them. And it truly is astonishing that a car I thought was almost moribund has risen from the dead and is now as new as a 44-year old vehicle can be.

Oh, my. Isn’t it a beauty!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

***
Rebuilt engine

and the mechanic who did the work.

The New Segregation

I am currently renting a room in a modular house in a modular neighborhood, if you can call this 55+ community a neighborhood. It seems more like a ghetto to me, a place where a single group is sequestered, though in this case, “ghetto” doesn’t have the usual slummy connotations, and the people choose to live here rather than are forced by mandate to occupy the area. Still, the place is segregated from the rest of the city, populated by a distinctive group of not wealthy, not young individuals. That these folk are a mixed lot, all colors, nationalities, and opinions, does not mitigate their age-related sameness.

old manOutside the gates of this so very depressing “park” where the manufactured houses seem dealt out like a game of solitaire, there is a high school. And every afternoon, while the aged walk the inside perimeter of their cage, the young folks mill around outside, waiting for their rides. Old. Young. And never the twain shall meet. Or something like that.

When did we become such an age-segregated society? It can’t be a good thing. Don’t the young and the old complement each other? One group bringing wisdom, the other youthful idealism? And yet, I don’t see a lot of idealism among the young or wisdom among the aged. (As the father says in the Kevin Bacon movie, She’s Having a Baby, “People don’t mature anymore. They stay jackasses all their lives.”)

I don’t know what I want from myself as I grow older, but I do know the thought of living in an old folks ghetto (or even in an upscale gated community for “active” seniors) gives me the creeps. Or maybe I’m just denying the inevitability of my own aging, though I don’t think so. I can’t think of anything more depressing than only dealing with old folks (though mostly I’m doing that now — the majority of my friends are considerably older than I am, and in almost all of my dance classes, I am the baby, though I am not so young for all that.)

Of course, since I won’t have the money to live in a gated community, even a downscale one, I doubt I’ll ever have the choice of ghettoizing or segregating myself, but the other amenities that will be available to me seem just as creepy. I don’t see myself joining senior-only groups, going on senior outings, partaking of early-bird specials for seniors, or living in any sort of senior-oriented neighborhood. I certainly don’t want to be one of those old folks who gain cachet from their advanced years, and who make sure everyone knows their age.

When I was young, my mother never told me I did something good “for my age.” If it wasn’t good, I got no credit. On the back end of my life, I want to live the same way. It (whatever “it” is) is good or not good in and of itself, not with consideration for age.

And yet, what do I know? Life changes us. Age changes us. As decrepitude creeps in, as I start making the accommodation for the end of life, maybe I’ll be glad to be surrounded by others of my ilk.

But not yet. With whatever “youth” I have left, I want to live life to the fullest, to experience the world as much as I am capable, to deal with people as individuals rather than as effects of their age.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Live in Peace

Two years ago, a man died. I didn’t know him, didn’t even know of him. His was just another anonymous death, one of the 155,000 people who die every day. But to his wife, he was not an anonymous statistic. His death was not one of the many. To her, his was the only death, a catastrophe of enormous proportions.

His death changed her world. His death changed her.

The effects of his leaving are still rippling in her life and the lives around her. I have yet to meet the woman except online, won’t meet her offline for another few weeks, but because of the shared experience of losing our life mates — our soul mates — we have become friends. Would she have chosen him over me and all the other friends she has made since he left? In a heartbeat. And yet here we are, two of the left-behinds, dealing with life as best as we can, making the most of a situation we did not choose, snatching at whatever happiness comes our way.

I don’t suppose it makes any difference to her that I’ve spent this day thinking of her and how much she still misses him. I don’t suppose it makes any difference that I feel how diminished the world is without him. In the two years he’s been gone, 262,000,000 people have been born, and yet the death of this one man — the death of any of us, actually — diminishes us all.

May he, and all our dead, rest in peace.

May we, and all the world, live in peace.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Ya Habibi!

Ya Habibi means “my darling” or “my beloved” in Arabic, and it’s the name of one of the songs to which we danced this past weekend. The experience was grueling, involving a ten-hour dress rehearsal on Thursday followed by two performances on Friday, one on Saturday evening, and a matinee on Sunday. Mostly we sat (or stood) waiting for our two 3-minute segments. Since the program was almost three hours long, that was a lot of waiting in an uncomfortable costume. Gorgeous raiment, but uncomfortable.

yahabibi

The experience was also awesome. We caused quite a commotion with our costumes, moves, and the whole lot of shaking that went on. It’s really incredible playing to a receptive audience, but truly, despite a few minor missteps, we were fabulous, and deserved the applause, hoots, and whistles.

yahabibi5

A friend took a couple of photos of us dancing (I am the one in the silvery mauve; the rest of the performers got left out of the photo) and even met me at the stage door with flowers. I felt like a star. And, in fact, as we were leaving the theater, the woman who dealt with the lighting said, “Here come the stars.”

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Ah, the joys of the limelight! I will be eternally grateful to my dance teacher for giving me this priceless opportunity.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Good Luck in Any idiom

The origin of “break a leg,” meaning to wish an actor good luck, has many possible derivations. Some researchers believe the term comes from vaudeville days where curtains were called “legs.” Since not all actors were able to get on stage, you wished each other well by telling each other to “break a leg,” or to get on stage. Breaking a leg is also an archaic term for bowing, so perhaps the term refers to curtain calls. And in Shakespearean days, the stage was often built on legs, and sometimes the folk crowding into the cheap seats would be so numerous, their raucous enjoyment broke the legs of the stage.

Whatever the meaning of “break a leg”, it doesn’t have any relevance here because it does not refer to dancers. In the case of dancers, you wish them “Merde,” short for “Merde à toi,” which apparently is an old French slang term for “good luck.”

Since I’m a UnitedStatesian What’s wrong with plain old “good luck”? It might not be traditional, but it’s an easily understood term if one speaks English, and I need all the luck I can get.

I have dress rehearsals the next couple of days, then four performances this weekend, and for some reason, I’ve been feeling a bit of trepidation. Not sure why exactly. I know the dances as well as anyone and better than most, though I seldom get through a dance without some small error, a costume malfunction if nothing else. (We are wrapped in veils ready for an unveiling at the end, and sometimes the veils unveil themselves prematurely. So not cool!)

My dance teacher seems to think I’ll do okay and attributes my trepidation to the unsettled nature of my life, which is entirely possible. And she reminded me of something else. However well or poorly we do, we are still dancing on stage. How cool is that, to be doing a belly dance (actually two belly dances!) before an audience even though most of us have no dance experience and none of us are young anymore. (I’m the youngest, come to think of it.)

So despite the harrowing days ahead, I will try to concentrate on the wonder of it all. Me. On stage. Dancing with my class. Swathed in veils and glitz and glitter and (hopefully) a brilliant smile.

Wish me luck in whatever idiom you choose.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Lonely in a Crowd

I spent most of the past three days alone, and I made an interesting discovery. It’s not being alone that makes me feel alone and lonely. It’s being with too many other people that makes me feel alone and lonely. Every grief upsurge I’ve had recently has come after spending too much time with people who don’t enrich my life. (I don’t mean you, of course!) So often when I am with others, I sit and listen. I can’t contribute anything to the conversation because they talk about things that have nothing to do with me or my life, nothing to do with anything but their own insular and insight-less agendas. So I sit. And listen. And slowly disappear.

ReadingA friend invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner with  her five-generation family, which was very nice, and I was invited to dinner and a movie Friday evening, but the rest of the time, I was alone. (Didn’t even have to see or hear my strange roommate because he’s gone for the week.) Yesterday I did nothing but read. Just lolled around with a book in one hand and fruit in the other, which made it a doubly fruitful day. Today was a repeat of yesterday, though I added a hike in the desert to round out my solitary festivities.

And I never once disappeared. Never had a single pang of loneliness.

As it turns out, this isn’t such a great discovery, this realization that other people make me feel lonely, because there’s not much I can do about it. Obviously, I can’t spend my life alone. (People need people. Isn’t that the general thrust of life, love, and happiness?) I suppose I could make an effort to talk more when I am in a crowd, maybe even try to steer the conversation to make it more about me, but if I had anything to contribute, I would already be commenting. The sad truth is, I have nothing to say. (Which is why I so seldom blog any more. No insights, no interesting observations, no emotional highs or lows to ponder makes for mighty boring reading.) Admittedly, most people have no problem talking when they have nothing to say, but I have never quite mastered the art of talking to no purpose. Pointless conversation seems . . . pointless.

Anyway, this is not the week to worry about such things. My belly dance class will be performing a couple of numbers in a dance program at the local college this coming weekend. I’ll be with people most of the time — dance classes in the morning, rehearsals in the afternoon or performances in the evening, so I’ll set this conundrum aside for another time and simply enjoy being part of this special event.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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