Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Because It's Cathartic

I am reading - no, I’m re-reading a book. It’s a book by one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen, whose work I have been following since the summer of 2000 when I read a novel she wrote about spousal abuse, a book called Black and Blue. Looking back, I remember how it felt so familiar. Like the woman she was writing about was someone I knew well.

Now, as I pick up the book I am re-reading, Every Last One, I wonder why I have returned to it. It's about a woman to whom something egregious is about to happen. How does she not see what’s about to happen? I wonder. How can she be so oblivious? (And, as I think these thoughts, I think, momentarily, of the pandemic and the way things were a little more than a year ago.)

Why am I reading this book? I wonder for perhaps the third or fourth time since I picked it up. I plow my way through the first half of the book and then, holding my breath, I get to the climax, and finally to its aftermath of grief. Why am I reading this? I wonder for the last time as I put my head down and cry.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Father

The last movie I saw was a terrifying horror movie. Not terrifying the way people kept disappearing in the movie Get Out, or the way the home invaders in the movie Us turned out to be all too familiar. It was terrifying because of its brutal – and brutally honest - depiction of an elderly man’s descent into dementia, and because I am at an age when dementia may be looming on the horizon.

The movie, Florian Zeller’s The Father starring Anthony Hopkins, is a story about an independent and stubborn elderly man who is, at least in the beginning, living in his own flat in London. When his daughter, Anne, arrives he refuses to accept the help she is trying to provide in the form of a live-in caretaker. Hopkins, whose character’s name is also Anthony, tells his daughter the caretaker won’t work because, among her other faults, she has stolen his watch, an instrument he obsesses over throughout the movie as though knowing the time is something that can secure his (and our) grasp on reality.   

After Anne leaves, Anthony emerges from his kitchen to find a strange man sitting in his living room, a man who tells Anthony he is Anne’s husband and that they are living, not in Anthony’s flat but in one that belongs to the couple. When Anne returns to the flat, Anthony (and I) fail to recognize her. That’s not the same woman, I thought as I gaped at her in confusion. What’s happening here?

My confusion intensified when an entirely different man is introduced as Anne’s husband (and I was left to wonder if Anne has divorced and remarried). This man cruelly accuses Anthony of ruining Anne’s life and his treatment of Anthony deteriorates from there. (When the same man appears in the background of another scene close to the end of the movie - this time not as Anne’s husband, but as an employee in a nursing home  - a chill ran through me.)

In the final scene of the movie, I watched as Anthony fully realizes the horror of the situation he is in and, as he begins to cry out for his mother, I became aware of two things simultaneously. First, of this man’s extraordinary acting ability, of how, as one critic put it, “all of the magic happens above his neck,” and second, of a real-life man who, with a knee to his neck, also cried out for his mother.

As the credits rolled, I got up from my seat (Did I mention I was the only person in that theater that afternoon?) and walked toward the lobby where I sought the eyes of anyone who would return my gaze, needing at that moment to be, not just fully present, but also seen.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

By the Sea


I can’t tell you how excited I was as I headed for the Ninth Street Bridge. I had a day off and decided to take a trip to the beach. I drove across the bridge, passing the visitors center, the fishing pier, and the exact spot where an enormous American flag had hung on a construction vehicle high above the bay the summer after 911.

I entered the city, parked my car, got out, and then backtracked wanting to be sure I knew exactly where I’d left my vehicle when I returned to it later that day. For a moment, a trash truck backing up into a driveway, blocked my view. I hurriedly walked around it and climbed the steps to the boardwalk where I saw the sight I hadn’t seen in almost two years - the Atlantic Ocean stretched out before me. I held my breath, taking in its beauty, and its breadth - its steel-blue color, and the silver sheen the sun left on its surface.

For the next couple of hours, I walked first the boardwalk, then along the beach, determined to exceed my daily 10,000 steps. Feeling as though I wasn’t close enough to the water (and maybe daring myself a little), I climbed up onto a rocky jetty. 
Two thirds along it, wondering why I had subjected my almost 80-year-old body to this precarious path, I turned and started back.

“Are you okay?” a woman with a little girl asked.

“I am,” I said. 

And I was.

Back up on the boardwalk, I was tempted by a sign featuring an enormous ice cream sundae. Knowing that to indulge would negate my 10,000 steps – today’s, yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s, I kept on walking.

After lunch I headed back to my car aware that as beautiful as the ocean was, its vastness had not done for me what it usually did. That is, it hadn’t caused me to see myself and my problems as smaller and less consequential than they seemed before I arrived.

But maybe I thought, as I unlocked my car, I didn’t need the ocean for that. Maybe the events of the last year – the virus that threatened everyone on this earth - had already helped me to see how inconsequential I and my problems were.   



Saturday, February 27, 2021

What Thomas Wolfe Said

I went back
To my childhood home
Last night,
Remembering the first time
I drove there. 

Like l was going back 
To my childhood -
Like all it would take

Was a matter of distance, 
And not 
A reversal of time. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021


I sent this picture of the snow falling in our backyard to a friend of mine on February 2. 

When he responded, “Oh, Toni, I can’t survive that,” I laughed.

“Lol,” I wrote back, “I’m inside. Besides, it will all be gone in a couple of days.”

It wasn’t.

My friend, who has never experienced snow, is a Catholic priest studying Canon and civil law in Rome. He is originally from Malawi, the country called the heart of Africa because its people are so warm and friendly. Kondwani, who told me to call him Kond - because that’s what all his friends call him, certainly is. He and I have been texting back and forth for almost a year now and I have promised myself we will meet in person as soon as his studies are done. 

But in Africa, and not in Italy because when I spent six weeks in Italy back in the early ’80s, visiting the tiny town where my father was raised, I understood not a word that was spoken to me. (Believe me, there is no point in speaking more loudly or enunciating more clearly!) Instead of interacting, I used to enjoy going to a nearby beach on the Adriatic Sea where one day when I was midway between sleeping and listening to the waves, I heard a dog barking and thought: That’s the first thing I‘ve understood since I got here.

While my knowledge of Italian is restricted to one or two words, Kond, who is one of the most intelligent persons I’ve – well, never met, is taking all his classes in Italian - even though his native language is English. The only words I know in Italian are “arrivederci” and something my parents used to say whenever they were upset with someone. I used to wonder what ‘a mitigon” meant until one day when I realized what my parents were saying when they threw their hands up in disgust was not "a mitigon," but  "American!"

Fortunately, Kond does not feel that way about me! I was only a couple of paragraphs into this post when he sent me a text. It was like he was reading my mind! 

Well, my friends, I am going to watch all the snow falling again outside my window. Arrivederci and may it be soon!    


My memoir, Dear Elvis, can be found at http://amzn.to/2uPSFtE.


Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Water Dancer

"Trauma erases memory,” our instructor said during our most recent zoomed Literature/Discussion Class. The book we were discussing was The Water Dancer by Ta-Nahisi Coates who is also the author of the memoir Between the World and Me and of a Marvel Black Panther comic book series. 

The Water Dancer, Coates’ first novel, is the story of a slave named Hiram Walker, who was born on a tobacco plantation called Lockless in antebellum Virginia. But Hiram is, as one critic put it, no ordinary slave. Let me rephrase that. Hiram is no ordinary human being but is, instead, a boy who can listen to others speak and transform their words into " pictures, chains of colors, lines, textures, and shapes” and can then translate them back into the exact words with which they had been spoken. Hiram has the gift of perfect memory. The only thing Hiram cannot remember is his mother who was taken from him at an early age when his father, the white master of Lockless, sent her out “Natchez way,” putting her on an auction block to be sold.

When Hiram’s incredible gift of memory is brought to his father’s attention, the boy is taken from the fields and instilled in the house as his half-brother’s slave until a cold and rainy night, when the brothers are traveling by carriage over a bridge and an unfortunate accident occurs. Both boys are pitched into the ice-cold river below. Hiram, and only Hiram, survives and is able to survive because at a moment just before impact, he is given an image of his mother, an image that is surrounded by a blue light that leads him to safety.

Hiram realizes the blue light came from somewhere inside himself and that his ability to “conduct” himself to safety is another valuable gift, but not one he is able to understand or control. He also knows that the memory of his mother is fleeting and is once again gone.

It is not until after Hiram has undergone a series of horrendous events, not until after he runs away, reaches Philadelphia, and becomes an agent of the underground railroad, that he returns to Lockless and finds, among his father’s possessions, a necklace that belonged to his mother.

And, with this, Coates shows us how, although trauma erases memory, a single object – a necklace, a hairbrush, a vehicle, or even an intersection, can trigger memory, can transport and connect us to an individual who was lost to us. And, finally, if what Coates wrote in the novel is true - that “to forget is to truly slave,” then to remember is to be truly free. 


My memoir, Dear Elvis, can be found at http://amzn.to/2uPSFtE.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Funny Valentine


You may not know his name, but you would probably recognize his voice if you heard it. 

Born in Brooklyn on February 10 in 1893, Jimmy Durante was an actor, singer, comedian, writer, and Jazz pianist who began his career in vaudeville in the 1930s, appeared with Buster Keaton in silent comedies, and starred in his own radio show. But it wasn't until 1954 when he got his own television show that he came to my attention.  

If you are young, you know Durante’s gravelly voice as the narrator and singer of “Frosty the Snowman.” In The Notebook he can be heard singing the immortal “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and if you are a more recent movie-goer, you have probably heard him singing the classic “Smile” in the 2019 movie and trailer for Joker.

But what I remember most about Jimmy Durante was the way he ended his weekly television show. Standing at the stage door, Durante would put on his coat and hat, turn to his audience and say, "Goodnight, Folks. And good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

No one knew who Mrs. Calabash was. For years people, including me, guessed at her identity. It wasn’t until 1967 when Durante revealed that “Mrs. Calabash” was a pet name for his first wife, Jeanne, who died suddenly on Valentine’s day in 1943.

Now, if you're wondering why I am writing about this man, it is because I want to imitate him, just once, with this: 

Be well, my great, good friend, wherever you are.

God bless.