Make those plans, make those calls

Savannah Morning News

Jan. 21, 2018


In the rush of December, who has time to make any resolutions? We’re doing well if we don’t tell the same story twice to the same person at different gatherings, if we remember someone’s name 10 minutes after we hear it, if we get through the holidays without some major breakdown, if we can keep the days straight. Just this year I heard the term Christmas Eve Eve for the first time. Now it all makes sense.

And what do you do with the leftover sour cream (from Chanukah potato latkes) anyway? Make cheese blintzes? I’ve already turned the carton upside down in the fridge. I’m told it keeps better that way (but to Chanukah 2018? Probably not). Now there’s a resolution: you don’t need that much sour cream for Chanukah.

Here’s another resolution: start thinking about presents before Eve Eve. Some people are terrific gift-givers. All year they listen to something you might say, some hint, some clue you might drop. They’re sleuths. Then they squirrel away the idea. Or the gift. And remember where they hid it.

Some of us are terrible gift givers. I’m one of them. Maybe I can get better. Except it takes more than that. It takes intention. I know about intention because once a long, long time ago, way back when Richard M. Nixon was president and Chicago had four daily newspapers, I got roped into going to an EST seminar, EST, as in Werner Erhard, in Chicago. If you watched “The Americans” you might have heard about EST although by then the name was changed to The Forum. Same thing. This was the height of the self-improvement period, the Human Potential Movement. EST was about learning how to take personal responsibility. It’s about transformation. Of all those silly (or not so silly) things we did or read to “improve” ourselves, one EST phrase stuck with me. It goes like this: every time you hear the word “hope” you substitute the word “intend,” as in “I intend to read ‘War and Peace,’” not “I hope to read ‘War and Peace.’ Or “I intend to walk around the park every morning.” It’s simple. It’s powerful.

Maybe it’s the volume of gifts that seems so wrong. Except people can’t help themselves. I know one family that decided to draw names around Thanksgiving. That way only one gift would be bought and given. Didn’t work. People wanted to buy gifts for everyone. They started doing it on the sly. Now they’re back to the old way.

And that’s where I’m going. To the old way. For my resolution, I’m going to the phone. I’m going to start calling out-of-town friends more. I’m going to initiate conversation. Not that’s it’s easy. I tried a few weeks ago (of course it took three or four back-and-forths before we were both on the phone at the same time. Hello? Hello? Is this a real person?). She was sort of stunned after realizing I wasn’t calling about some crisis, I was just calling to chit-chat. “This is fun,” Nicole said. “Just talking.”

But we don’t call. We text or email first. “When’s a good time to call?” When asked why, someone will say, “I didn’t want to bother you.” Or, “I know you’re busy.”

PS, most people are not that busy.

Another call I’ve started making is to the people who represent me in Congress. Full disclosure: I’ve never made the calls. I’m not proud of this. Cynicism and/or skepticism is a mighty foe. But to quote Oprah Winfrey, “A new day is on the horizon!”

I started this week. I called Rep. Buddy Carter (202-225-5831). I told the woman who answered the phone – it’s hard to tell from phone voices but she sounded as if she were 12 – I was not happy with Carter’s vote on the proposed 13 percent reduction in subsidies to Amtrak.

“Do you know 220 towns would lose service?” I asked. “And that most of these small flyover states don’t have airports or Uber service?”

She did not.

I asked if she knew that we subsidize airlines right and left through a domestic passenger ticket tax, the domestic flight segment tax, an international arrival tax, a Sept. 11 security fee, just to name a few.

She did not.

“I asked if she knew how Rep. Carter voted on this?”

She did not.

So I told her. He voted to eliminate subsidies.

And that was it. I made the call. I’ll make it again. It felt good. It felt right.

“I’ll pass along your opinion,” she said. “Have a nice day.”




Winter? No thanks.

Savannah Morning News

Jan 14, 2018


Before “bomb cyclone” we had “lake effect,” a deeply embedded, highly dreaded phrase recognized by anyone from the Midwest. Remember? It’s amazing how fast you can forget (or suppress) those two words. Lake effect is not good, especially if you’re driving. Your shoulders hunch up, your hands grip the wheel, you start to sweat. Lake effect means there is snow right around the next turn, lots of snow where before there was only grass. It’s what happens when cold air passes over a warm lake, say, for instance, from Lake Erie, when you’re approaching Cleveland. Sometime around December, your Ohio radio announcers (or Michigan or Pennsylvania), your weather people, your newspapers will start using the term. And you will remember and you will cringe.

It doesn’t matter how long ago you heard those words. They’re wedged in your memory bank.

So is black ice, Arctic air, freezing rain, heavy snow, bundle up.

So is driving down a hill in your car, knowing to stay a reasonable distance from the car in front of you, putting on the brakes in reasonable enough time to stop for a light and realizing you are not coming to a stop, so you turn the steering wheel one way and watch the car go another. And when whatever you did works you give thanks to whomever. You promise to do ten good deeds in the next week. You were that close.

Little of winter matters if you’re not driving. Then it’s all snow angels, snow ball fights, s’mores. It’s the quiet after a snowfall or the start of a snowfall. It’s the neat geometric edge of snow on a fence, the blue sky, the sunglasses to counteract the bright, bright white, the crunch of your footstep on the snow, the aesthetic photographs. It’s recognizing (for no particular reason) which side of the street faces north (snow), which faces south (no snow). It’s seeing the red flash of a low-flying cardinal or hearing a woodpecker working the side of a tree. It’s spotting your black dog way far away against the white hills.

It’s walking single file in a city before the sidewalks have been cleared, trying to talk to the person behind you while your words are muffled by scarves and hoods. It’s remembering to cover every inch of skin before you leave the house, before you lock your door. It’s getting locked out of your house or your car because your key won’t turn in the lock. It’s knowing that if a beach chair is ensconced behind a parked car in front of someone’s house that means something (claimed real estate) and don’t mess with it.

It’s the dry air inside your house no matter how many humidifiers you use and then it’s looking for the Carmex lip balm and finding it in last year’s winter jacket. It’s seeing the dirty drifts of snow day in and day out against the curb, a blight that will stay there until spring. It’s watching the spreading yellow of your dog during her business, finding the single mitten, the single glove, the frozen scarf, gnarled, deformed in the snow. It’s battling denial by using the edge of a credit card to remove the thin glaze of ice from your windshield before you break down and buy a real scraper.

It’s waking up in the morning and realizing you are sore but you haven’t done any exercise. You didn’t move furniture or bend down to weed. Then you remember: how you had to catch yourself from falling on a hidden piece of ice, how you threw your arms in the air for balance, twisting your back to keep from falling on your behind.

And then cabin fever hits. Another phrase you haven’t dealt with in a while. But it doesn’t come right away. First there’s cleaning out your desk, straightening up your closet, finishing that Toni Morrison book, listening to Marvin Gaye. La la la. This can go on forever. You think, I love being snowed in, I have enough provisions to last a month if need be. Well, maybe a little chocolate, a little Kahlua. But that’s all. You write letters. You call friends. The holidays are over so you’re out of your funk. The gatherings have lessened.

For some of us restless types it doesn’t take long for cabin fever to hit. That’s when you learn there are other names for this affliction. There’s seasonal affective disorder (SAD), winter blues. How about temporary insanity?

It’s a short romance, more like a snowmance, this infatuation with snow flurries and snow angels. Yes, the mosquitoes are gone, the ticks and roaches are history, but it’s enough already. We want our life back.