EYE CONTACT

Look into my eyes…

We all acknowledge the power of intent eye-to-eye communication. Beyond words, we know another through the conduit of eye contact. It’s something natural which begins in infancy.

Mother and baby form a primal visual bond. What happens when the mother is blind? What is the impact on the child who has to forego this basic sensory means of knowing and being known?

What has happened for all those who are – as adults or even children – acutely uncomfortable when making eye-contact; those who avoid looking directly at anyone? Was it something unfortunate that got delivered via this non-verbal medium? I’m guessing it was shame or disappointment. From mother to child. Or was there something disturbing within the mother herself, which the infant ingested?

These are questions worth being raised and, no matter the answer, it seems essential that the capacity to look someone in the eye needs to be rehabilitated.

What would change if we lived in a world where everyone looked each other directly in the eye? Would we have more empathy, less mindless hatred? Would we be less likely to say the hurtful word, or commit the harmful action? I think we would. When you look into someone’s eyes, you inevitably see the way in which they are connected to you. Unless you’re dealing with someone who is severely mentally ill or deeply emotionally disturbed, their common humanity is present in full force.

Any progress in this realm is likely to move us in the direction of that much desired critical mass; so, take that moment, do what might not at all be reflexive; look the next person in the eye and wait a moment – don’t flee from the connection.

 

HATE ON A STICK, LOOKING FOR A REASON

Some people are just vile. Does that fly in the face of the notion of the “inherent goodness” of humanity? Well, I’m not talking about evil, just nastiness. There’s a Yiddish word: farbissiner. It means: embittered, sullen, mean.

Why am I thinking of these miserable excuses for human beings? Because my dearest friend, my true sister of the heart, was telling me about her farbissiner brother-in-law. His wife, my friend’s sister, is very ill. But because of this man’s inherently nasty nature, people were avoiding visiting her, just to protect themselves from an encounter with him. So, what’s up with someone like that? Did they learn early on, that – like a skunk – you have to spray stink in order to keep yourself safe? Maybe. But, here’s the principle that ought to be operating:

ENOUGH ALREADY! Get over it! GIVE IT UP! No one wants to put up with your crappy personality anymore. Most of us have a less than ideal past, but we don’t inflict it on everyone in our present. And, in summation, I would say to Mr. Farbissner: If you have nothing nice to say, then shut the fuck up.

COOLSTEIN ON THE MOVE

The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 74

 And so, it came to pass, as in the fullness of time it must, that Sylvie and Morris made the pilgrimage to Miami. It’s in the contract: if you are Jewish and of a certain age, you are required to relocate to Florida, and it can’t just be anywhere in that state: it must be Miami, Boca or – at the barest minimum Ft. Lauderdale.

Now, this provided Coolie with a couple of new and important things…

First, he “inherited” a rent-stabilized apartment. Worth it’s weight in Zingary Zingmots (if you’re familiar with the coin of that realm). In the arcane bylaws of New York City housing, you basically have squatters’ rights if you are blood-related. Of course, that’s not the landlord’s interpretation of the law, and he and his heirs began a multi-decade lawsuit, in an attempt to evict Coolie and get their coffers filled with the mind-melting fair market price of a classic six on the Upper West Side. But, that’s just the COB in NYR (that’s New York realty).

The neighbors were up in arms (we’re talking pistols and clubs and other nasty stuff) – when multi-hued shards of light began to emanate from under Coolie’s apartment door. Mrs. Angelinette Corso and Mr. Tuchasoffen Tisch appeared at Cool’s door all harrumphed-out and ready to take their new unwanted neighbor down.

They were thwarted in their intention by Coolie’s charms. He overcame their virulent hatred with a little cuppa TWT (that’s Time Travel Tea for those of you with short or non-existent memories). Mrs. A and Mr. T decided not to return to the humdrum UWS plane of existence. They are (like the truth) still out there.

Second, and as a consequence of the mandatory visitation that now controlled Coolie’s life on a bi-monthly basis, (“When are ya comin’ to see us? Mrs. Litvinstein’s daughter was just here. Sigh.” – a line straight from the How to Induce Guilt playbook…) he was tapped to be a consultant to Jeb Bush in his quest to be President. As a former holder of the office, Coolie’s input was invaluable, but it was his coolness which was the greater draw for Jeb – who appreciates cool…to his own detriment.

Jeb, to his credit, immediately took to his new advisor. They cracked each other up with corny jokes until the other campaign workers intervened.

“I gotta get my brother Dubya to meetcha,” Jeb said. And, we can only imagine (well – I can, anyway) what that encounter would be like. Made in heaven, don’t you think?

I can tell you the very first thing Coolie said to George: “You remind me of one of my fav’s in the whole world – Alfred E. Are you related?” And because, in his own weird way, George Bush the younger was a cool dude too, he said, “Thanks, Coolie, that’s quite the complement.”

 

Two Completely Unrelated Things That I Find Fascinating…

ZIPPY THE CHIMP IS A DEAD CAT

Does this make sense? No. But it does trip off the tongue, wouldn’t you say? So, I have to imbue it with meaning.

Let’s go back in time. Zippy the Chimp was a staple on television for a while in the 1950’s: The Ed Sullivan Show, Howdy Doody. Those were simpler days when a cute, smart chimpanzee was fascinating to a large part of the American public. Now, we’re all sophisticated and hard to rouse to enthusiasm or even attention. A dead cat might do it: if it’s swung full force over someone’s head and then let fly. We’ll watch that for a minute.

But the days of Zippy were very sweet, as was he (or she – gender wasn’t really at issue). The populace had been through wars and grievous loss and horror, but was still able to find that wide-eyed child within and look with wonder at a simian in a suit.

Postscript. Just found this out…

Oddly, but in truth, my partner in crime has a friend who had a cat named Zippy the Chimp. I repeat, had. Yes. Zippy the Chimp is, in fact, a dead cat. Life imitates art once again. Don’t you just love it, and isn’t it completely disturbing?

THE WALK-IN

There is a trend. You know how it happens – while walking in the street someone bumps into you coming from the opposite direction. Sure. That’s not new. What is new is that there is no attempt – on the part of the accoster – to pull back, and not even a hint of remorse. It’s becoming far more roller derby out there, and I’m recommending knee and elbow pads and a helmet. There’s that shoulder contact you only feel after the couple of seconds of shock subsides; you turn – but the perpetrator is many paces behind you, and he (or she) is not looking back in your direction.

This is one of those things which I interpret and extrapolate from as part of the disintegration of civilization as we know it. It’s always the small things: death by a thousand cuts. One day you wake up, and it will just be feral out there. What? You say it already is? Maybe so.

A Special Woman

My mother is ninety. She’s not sick, she’s not frail, she’s independent and her mind is sharp. Her memory is better than mine. It seems only fair that I write this while she’s able to enjoy the acknowledgement.

There is genetic material that I didn’t inherit, it seems, but would pay good money for. She’s even tempered, doesn’t get overwhelmed or exorcised by life in its many flavors. She’s Florence. Some friends have called her “Florrie” but I don’t think it suits her. Florence is a solid and beautiful name. That’s the one.

She’s quite modern – without being foolish. In a recent conversation she decided it was time that she got a new computer. She wants to become more Internet savvy, more in the groove of the times. Yet, her sense of humor reveals her perspective. She told me of how she talked down a pushy salesperson the other day, one who wanted her to buy a multi-year plan for a product. No, she explained, I’m ninety. I’m just taking it one year at a time.

My mom is never morbid, never feels sorry for herself. I’ve never known her to be depressed. (The opposite of all three could safely be said about me.) I’m an only child but I didn’t feel exceptionally close to her growing up. Now I understand why. We are so different, innately, temperamentally. There were few points of identity for us, and my father and I were basically cut from the same cloth. So, I failed to appreciate Florence’s strengths when I was young. That’s changed.

My mother’s weeks are busy. She always has social appointments: lunches and dinners with friends. She also makes weekly trips to the library – she’s a voracious reader, always has been. Food shopping or any jaunt out of the house requires the hiring of a driver – unless one of the two “younger” men who live with their mothers, Florence’s similarly aged friends, is available to drive.

Oh, I must mention that my mother has been the president of her co-op board. She lives in Florida in one of those sprawling multi-building cooperatives. She is the go-to person for her building. She’s a creative problem solver and, whether it’s plumbing or interpersonal snags, she handles the situation with both understanding and logic.

To add some dimension to the picture – Florence is not a physically robust person; she carries some extra weight, she has a bad knee and, in all honesty, she’s never done a lick of exercise in her ninety years. When she walks, her gait is a bit rocky, which does nothing to impede her ability to continually make foreword progress. It’s mysterious, possibly miraculous.

I speak to Mom most every day. She tells me of the crises, small and not so small, that default to her. Our conversation runs the gamut – from the news of the day to the philosophical. We talk politics, too – but are not that likely to agree.

Oh, did I mention, she lives alone? Which seems to suit her. I feel like in this telling, it’s important to shift back and forth – between the amazing stuff and her serious challenges. The entry to my mother’s apartment is a small step up. Small to me. But because of her knee and general musculature, the step requires a sidewise approach and a bit of the old heave-ho. But she conveys no fear, nor is there whining. Never.

I visit my mother two times a year: New York to Ft. Lauderdale. She can no longer travel to see me. It’s her knees, I believe, and the difficulty she has navigating unknown turf, that are the obstacles. I’ve offered to have her personally escorted by either an aide or my adult daughter – her granddaughter. But she’s declined. She’s fine with frequent chats and the occasional visit. She doesn’t push.

My mother and father had relocated to Florida from eastern Long Island back in 1990. Then my dad died in 1996 and, for the very first time in her life, my mother was living alone. Could anyone have predicted how this apparently shy and dependent woman would find her inner moxie at the age of seventy-one? No. We would all have bet against it.

But we would all have misjudged her; there was an inner repository of guts and spine which we hadn’t seen. I’m not sure she knew it was there either. She had been a hothouse flower, watched over by her simple but fierce mother, growing up in a genteel lower-middle-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. That neighborhood, Brownsville, is now quite different. Back then it was mostly populated with first and second generation Jews with eastern European pedigrees.

Florence had been the favorite of the two sisters: the smarter one, the prettier one. But when she expressed interest in going to college (Hunter College had accepted her) she was not supported in doing so. Getting a safe job with the Federal Government – she worked for many years as an auditor for the IRS – was deemed much more acceptable. And there, sitting a few desks behind her, was a man who fell in love with her ravishing black hair and Rubenesque physique. My father didn’t hesitate to declare his love and make her his wife; then all thoughts of independence were suppressed once more. But they rose to the surface when they were needed, many decades later.

I must tell the truth: I take my mother for granted. I seldom stop to think about what it would be like to be without her. She’s so solid – despite the knees and the joints, which I know are creaky – that the illusion of indefinite permanence has been easy to maintain. But the number “ninety” begs the question. Do I think she’ll live another ten years? At least. But I can’t be sure of that.

When we speak, sometimes I get a little frustrated. Like when she wants to give me chapter and verse about what she had for dinner the night before, or every word of a conversation she had with a friend. But I really need to scrub my perspective and keep the fog of petty irritation from blinding me. What might be somewhat annoying now, would be deeply missed if she were gone.

The counterforce to a good deed

I was scanning news articles and saw a brief bit which mentioned that Hillary Clinton had another coughing fit while speaking in Iowa. In a moment of insight, I understood what the problem was for her – and what the solution would be.

I’m a psychotherapist, and I have sometimes been overcome by coughing during a session. I’ve learned, however, that if I keep a cup of very hot liquid on hand – it can be tea or even hot water – I can immediately quell the coughing spasm.

Now, despite the fact that I am not a fan or a supporter, I felt compassion for what Hillary was enduring and wanted to share the remedy with her. So, I searched around and tried to find a way to email her … not expecting to reach her directly, but figuring someone would forward the information to her. But, no. I was completed thwarted. I couldn’t find anything except a way to contribute to her campaign.

Oh, well. I guess she’ll just have to keep coughing.

Seriously, if anyone has an email address for her, let me know.

POST SNOW – NYC

Here in the City, we have several stages of the snow saga (it’s kind of operatic):

Stage one: Beautiful, glistening, and white. Catch it while you can; it’s fleeting.

Stage two: Dog snow – pee and poop have marred nature’s pristine blanket.

Stage three: It’s all turned to slush – gray and sloshing over boot tops onto socks and feet; disgusting to look at and impossible for many to navigate. Sadly, this is the stage that lasts the longest.

Stage four: When we’re really lucky, a deep freeze comes on the heels of the slush, and then we have deep ice conditions. Daunting and treacherous!!

As I write, we’re up to our eyeballs in Stage three.

THE ULTIMATE TRADE-OFF

I’ve just read a serious article entitled, A Drug To Cure Fear, written by Richard A. Friedman in the Jan. 22nd issue of The New York Times Sunday Review. Like a moth to a flame, the title called to me to stop whatever else I was doing and find out what this was about.

In brief, it tells of a drug that will be able to erase the emotional content of a memory. The advantage for someone with acute anxiety is trumpeted. The author does identify a possible downside – that one might be concerned about – but reassures the reader: no memories will be taken, just emotions.

Well, let’s look at that. What exactly do we have if we don’t have our memories saturated with feelings? What are these records of our past, if they are detached from the way we experienced them? I say they become less than the words on a page of someone else’s story. Even in that context, we would likely attach some feelings. That’s why we read: to construct emotion around the events and circumstances created by the writer.

So, to rid us of our pesky feelings we can look forward to becoming psychological eunuchs. I don’t mean to minimize the traumatic nature of PTSD or any phobia – in those circumstances this remedy would be called for. But do we really want to have the option of amputating any fearful residue we carry forward?

I’m sure the next time I feel overcome by anxiety and just can’t shake it, I will wish for such a drug. I hope it’s not available. Most of our learning – for better or for worse – arises from our emotional reactions to what we go through and encounter. How do we collect and retain the wisdom we need to make better choices, if we can’t recall how it felt to make the last one?

WHITE OUT NEW YORK

So, first we had the two days of fear mongering: The blizzard is coming! The blizzard is coming! Storm of the century; deadly; get off the roads; power outages to come; state of emergency; invocation of hurricane Sandy.

By the time the first flakes fell (alliteratively lovely, no?) I, along with my fellow New Yorkers, were in high anxiety mode. The demonic media had done it’s dirty dead (it’s my thing today).

Next we had the panicked grocery shopping: because the fear of being stranded without enough of the basics (milk, water, eggs, bread) and those things which make life worthwhile (favorite cheeses, the necessary crunchies or – perhaps – a special pâté…), was in full force.

Once again, the news was full of visuals of stripped and empty shelves. For those who hadn’t been in the first wave of frantic buying, there was renewed dread: What if I missed the boat? What if it’s too late? What will become of me? Will I starve? This then yielded the scoff-up-the-remains wave of buying – feverishly taking whatever canned goods and rejected produce that was left.

And then the actual weather began. Now, I find myself without the edge of sarcasm: it really has been (and continues to be at this writing) a somewhere between daunting and impressive snow event.

My partner in crime and I were out at about 11am – just for the experience. It was quite beautiful – the soft whiteout above our heads and under our feet was transporting. The terrain was just substantially unpredictable enough to qualify for an adventure, but not severe enough to feel dangerous. We walked a few blocks and found – to our delight – that some stores were open (vive Manhattan!! vive the Upper West Side!!) So we stopped in and got some much needed black emery boards in our local CVS; then we bought three dozen clams at Joons – our beloved fish store.

Traipsing home with our scored stuff, we felt enlivened and righteous. Now we can hunker down, without having any unmet yearnings, and watch the rest of the east coast batten and battle.

Unlike those seriously frigid realms (i.e. Buffalo, Rochester), in a few days this will all be a memory and a huge mess of slush. But, for now, we are in the thrall of the winter wonderland, NYC style.

COOLIE MEETS GHS

The Adventures of Coolie Coolstein: Episode 73

Once there was a time before. Before what? Before Coolie Coolstein. Yes, I know it’s hard to conceive of, but he wasn’t always here with us. Well, that’s not entirely true either, because before Coolie was Coolie, he was GHS.

GHS is a mostly human entity with a great big honking side of endless, timeless cosmic personage. He’s quite well known to me, has been – well, for a certain kind of ever (his context, in fact). If this is getting too obscure, I must withhold all apologies. Just go with it…

So, GHS existed pre-Coolstein. That’s clear – right?

He spent his early days hither and yon (mostly yon), and gathered many things: small stones, rosebuds, great insight and wisdom, and a random sampling of all the fried goods in the known universe. (That last part is the part he is most proud of.)

GHS – let’s call him “G” for short, because who has the time for three syllables – decided he was in a New York frame of mind, and spent a fair number of decades in the city that never sleeps and never apologizes and never forgets but always forgives. One day, back in the day, G was out and about (which can only truly be achieved in New York)…

…must interrupt here. It may be that I need to clarify. When I say “New York,” I mean New York City. And when I say “New York City,” I mean Manhattan. Okay. Digression over…

There was G, schmoozing and spatziering around town. He was glad-handing and high-fiving to beat the band (never have known exactly what “to beat the band” means) when he came crashing into Coolie J. Coolstein. (You didn’t know he had a middle name? He doesn’t, but he got a tiny bit jealous when he heard about Donald J. Trump, so he co-opted the “J.”) To this day, no one is sure who crashed into whom, but it was that kind of encounter that makes you go “whoof.”

After the initial shock and awe subsided, Coolie grinned his best and widest Coolie-ish grin. At that precise moment, G smiled his warmest and most charming welcome-smile. Well, they were both so tickled to be in the presence of such fine humanity with an obvious side of more than human, that they skipped all the prelims and jumped right into fast-friend-hood.

Before too long their respective peeps joined them. Hand-shaking, cheek-kissing, back-slapping ensued as Mickey, Blue, Brownstein, Sylvie, Morris and Shtew met Kaysquared, Sheridy-shoo, Bert, Sarah Mac, Becky and Brownstein (yes – there are two of her).

To return to the beginning for a moment: Although, Coolie was most definitely present in this encounter, it wasn’t until the encounter had actually taken place that he became the Coolstein we know and love. You see, he had to meld his Coolishness with G’s …well, let’s just call it “special sauce”… in order to become fully dimensional and fully visible throughout the ENTIRE universe.

Wherever G goes, Coolie is always present in some manifestation; whatever Coolie does, G shares the essential experience. And now you know. It illuminates, does it not?