Closer To Fine

How the hell did my life get to this?  I asked myself while lying in bed (alone) last night.

It’s been over three months since I have written any kind of story and I have been working like a dog. This has led me to that nasty place where I start to play the movie of my life in my head over and over and over again and try to figure out where I went wrong.

Could I try to rewind the film and find THE MOMENT where I “chose” the life I am living????

Let’s see……

I am having my 20th class year Optometry reunion this year. I don’t have any regrets about living four years in the beautiful state of Oregon and meeting the people who are still my best friends. We had a blast and the physical landscape of that state remains a part of me. So, that is not the moment. The being an optometrist part has had its ups and downs but I figure that must be the way it is for all occupations. (Please say, “Yes, GGJ that is the way it is for all occupations.”)

After graduation I had to figure out where to live next. That was a real bitch to figure out.   In hindsight, I didn’t really want to leave my friends and the greater Portland area- but almost all of us were leaving- and I was like a little bird who was getting kicked out of the nest.

Optometry at that time was a little backwards and you graduated and then took your last board exams and then you waited all summer to get a license to practice. You then had to go to the individual state you wanted to practice in and take their own test and wait for their results to get a license. What??? This basically means that you have no way to make a living and your student loan payments start coming in… and there were a lot of stressed out optometry graduates.  Medical doctors have long ago figured it out and they basically have one test and if you pass you are in…. you pay the fees and get your license the next day. But, no. Optometrists do it the hard way.

My Mom was a super Mom and helped me drive a U-Haul truck that was leaking oil from Portland to Wisconsin.  Then we went on a road trip to Austin, TX and I took and passed that test. But, I wasn’t sure about TX. I liked Austin a lot. But, it’s really hot there and I am a fair skinned, blue-eyed part Irish gal that would burn to a crisp.  Can you say melanoma?

One of my best friends was living in Winston-Salem, NC and I went out there and took that test. That test was well known for being impossible to pass. They don’t let in a lot of doctors to the great state of NC.  Luckily, I had to bring a “patient” to the test and my girlfriend agreed to be the guinea pig. She just happens to be gorgeous and was wearing a lovely little sundress. The exam building was freezing and she was clearly uncomfortable. The head examination guy took off his crisp, blue blazer and hung it around her shoulders. She wrapped herself up in that jacket and we went from station to station and I examined her eyes….

I was convinced I had failed because the test atmosphere was not exactly warm and fuzzy. I cried a lot and we went to the beach for a few days.  I was a complete train wreck and not an easy person to be with- I owe my friend a vacation (and possibly my NC license- thanks for wearing that dress)!

I drove back to Wisconsin in complete despair, certain that I had failed. I hadn’t failed any tests up to that point so I was freaking out. I waited another six weeks and the letter came….. I opened the letter…. and….. I freakin passed! Yay!  In the coming weeks I got a whole bunch of letters from doctors looking for associate doctors. It was manna from heaven.

I ended up accepting a position in Charlotte, NC.  Is this the moment you ask? No, not this one. But, this one was a test.  You see, I was stupid.  I picked the wrong city in what possibly could have been the right state. I went for the money. I should have either picked the city where I actually had a friend, or the city where I would have like to have lived. Had I chosen Asheville, NC – my life may have been completely different.

North Carolina is a tough state to move to when you have just spent four years in the Pacific Northwest.  North Carolina, and specifically Charlotte, was a banking empire- conservative in all areas of thought/politics/living and was definitely an alien place for this Yankee.

It has its perks though.  Any state that has both mountains and coast is one to be considered as a desirable place to live. I still love Asheville.  I keep my NC license active (just in case) and go to a conference there every once in a while. It’s at the Grove Park Inn which is a place that deserves a drop by if you are ever in the area. The Biltmore is also a fun place to see. It’s like Downton Abbey only in America.

North Carolina was a close call- but not the moment that could have changed my life forever.

I have to go back further.

While an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin I was a pretty good student.  I could have been a lot better of a student if I actually went to class or studied.  I think we are getting warmer…..

I was such a putz though. No one tells you that when you are 18 years old and have just left your friends and family for the first time that you are on THE PATH for the rest of your life. I really wish someone had told me that and that I would have actually listened.

I lucked out a little bit. Freshmen year I was hanging out with some hippie types. There was a lot of listening to the Grateful Dead -American Beauty CD.  I just happened to be stumbling through a calculus problem not understanding one bit of it when one of my hippie friends sat down and explained the whole thing to me. I learned that one problem.  Lucky for me- that was the problem to solve on the test… and I got a really high score! Yay for me.  Everyone was stunned, including myself.

I was in a jam trying to figure out what my major should be. I always thought I would be a writer. But, then I took a whole bunch of science classes and got good grades. My Mom and Dad really, really, really wanted me to become “something.”  I finally settled on being a History of Science major.  My Dad said, “What do you do with a History of Science major?” and I laughed and said, “Oh Daddy, nothing!”

Not to poo-poo history or science. They are both interesting subjects to learn and to possibly learn from… you know that whole thing about history repeating itself?? We are certainly in an interesting historical/scientific period right this very moment.

Living in Oshkosh is working out in that department. We have a couple of really nice museums here in town. For artsy fartsy stuff the Paine is excellent and the Oshkosh Public Museum has a lot of good traveling exhibits. My favorite is probably the EAA museum. It doesn’t get much cooler than to see the how the invention of flight has changed the world. History of Science, baby.

Many years ago I went to a D-Day talk at the EAA museum. It was a dress up kind of thing where we were supposed to wear period attire.  Looking back at it now, I was border line inappropriate. I went with my now ex-boyfriend/still friend and his Mom. They put together some outfits from his Dad’s gear from WWII and I rented a little blue air force jacket from the crazy lady down the road who does Halloween costumes. I wore the jacket with a blue mini-skirt….definitely NOT up to code. But, my legs were good so it didn’t matter too much. I don’t think I wore anything under the jacket…. Oh my!

As we were leaving a bunch of young active duty soldiers asked me if I would dance “half a dance” with their superior officer (who had a really good outfit).  I said, “Ok.”  We danced half a dance and then he sent me on my way. The ex-boyfriend/still friend and his Mom took it in stride and danced half a dance too.  When a soldier asks you to dance, you dance.

I had a chance to be brilliant while being a student at Madison.  I had applied for a position to help a professor with research to cure (I can’t remember what we were trying to cure) something. I accepted the position. When I returned to our rental house on Pinckney Street I was super excited and told the news to my housemates.  They asked me what it was all about and I told them. Then I got to the part where I would have to inject dogs with stuff and then take blood samples.  Silence. Then came, “There is no way you will ever be able to inject dogs with anything.  You have to call that professor and quit.” I came to my senses and called the professor. Sorry, gang. Maybe we could have cured something like diabetes- but I just don’t have it in me. I would have let all of the animals loose and gone to jail.  Dodged a bullet on that one.

The moment that changed my life forever was Thursday April 23, 1988.  That was the first day I was a bartender at Clearwater Harbor in Waupaca, WI.  I was barely 19 years old and did not have a clue.

Opening day is always crazy and that first day (or actually night) was a lesson for the record books. I got my ass handed to me- both figuratively and literally. At that time it was still a beer bar (the liquor license would come sometime in July of that year) and we were a bunch of newbies playing full contact bartending – shoving and pushing to get our cold beer into our thirsty patrons sweaty hands.  I happened to be standing in front of one of the bottle openers that are screwed on the front of the beer coolers. An old timer stuck his hand between my legs and opened a bottle of beer to serve to his customer.  Should I have been horrified? Or, was it okay that I liked it?  There goes the nice, sweet GGJ and here comes the fun….

I learned a lot of important life lessons tending bar. I had to toughen up or get run over like a freight train. I learned some common sense.  I learned a lot about relationships – both good and bad. I learned a lot about friendships- all of it good. I learned how to handle cash, drunks and myself.

My first day, I sucked. Year after year, I got better. I learned a skill.  I figured out when you should talk and when you should stay silent.  (Talk when someone is low and needs a laugh. Shut the hell up when a big shot walks in the door with a girl who is not his wife…)

The best lesson I learned is to look up.  Yes, look up.  A lot of new bartenders have their heads down- because that is where the booze is, where the glasses are, where you store stuff…. But you have to look up in order to see who needs you.  You have to look up to see if someone is low on their drink and needs a refill. Don’t make them ask. Go to them and ask if they are ready for another one. Look around, see who has been waiting first.  Go to that person, not the big loud mouth who just muscled his way in and thinks just because he knows you from that one weekend last summer that you are going to wait on him first. Take care of your patrons, and they will take care of you.

Life is like that too. Look up. I have seen a bunch of bald eagles and other neat birds.  Some people say that they have never seen one.  Well, if you live around here you should have.  But, you won’t find them if you don’t look up.

I used to bartend Sunday mornings with Bender.  He was and still is a great food and beverage person.  We would be getting the bar stocked and cleaned and would listen to this Indigo Girls song….

I’m tryin’ to tell you somethin’ ’bout my life. Maybe give me insight between black and white. And the best thing you’ve ever done for me Is to help me take my life less seriously. It’s only life after all.

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear. I wrap my fear around me like a blanket. I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it. I’m crawling on your shores.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive, The closer I am to fine. The closer I am to fine.

 I went to see the Doctor of Philosophy With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee. He never did marry or see a B-Grade movie. He graded my performance, he said he could see through me. I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, Got my paper and I was free.

 I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive, The closer I am to fine. The closer I am to fine.

 I stopped by the bar at three A.M. To seek solace in a bottle, or possibly a friend. I woke up with a headache like my head against a board, Twice as cloudy as I’d been the night before. And I went in seeking clarity.

I go to the doctor, we go to the mountains. We look to the children, we drink from the fountain. We go to the Bible, we go through the work out. We read up on revival, we stand up for the lookout. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source, the closer I am to fine.

 Songwriters: AMY ELIZABETH RAY, EMILY ANN SALIERS

They say (who is they anyway?) everything happens for a reason. You cannot see it at the time… but things have a way of working out for the best.

Is it just a coincidence that I woke up with this story in my head and today also just happens to be the opening day for Clearwater Harbor in Waupaca, WI?  I think not. Everything happens for a reason.

I won’t be there today. I might be there this weekend.  If you get a chance, stop by for a cold one. The sunsets are spectacular. Look around to see which bartenders are looking down. Tip them a little extra. It’s their first day. Who knows? They might end up being your eye doctor someday.

I learned how to laugh at myself and not take everything too seriously. I listened to some great bands. I made some life-long friends. We worked hard and we played hard.

My life hasn’t always gone according to plan or worked out the way I thought it would. That’s okay- I’ll just head over to the Harbor and see what happens next.  Change a thing… not a chance.

GGJ

Harbor 1990-1991 (2)

 

 

 

 

Gypsy Girl Jilly Makes a Friend

Yesterday I moved. Again. It’s been a recurring theme for me over the years. I have never been attached to a property- but I do get attached to the people who make a house a home.

When I first moved into the house over 7 years ago, it was chaos and my place was a total mess. I had spent several months gutting the house and replacing a lot of things… so I had been around but hadn’t been living in the house. One day I was in the kitchen getting ready to go for some exercise. I had some bottoms on but I was topless digging through a laundry basket and putting on a jog bra -with no curtain in the window.

My neighbor Jerry just happened to be returning my garbage can to its rightful spot when ….BAM….he got a full frontal assault of my considerable rack. We both panicked. His eyes got wide and he was heading across the driveways in record time. I knew it was a crucial moment. This would record me as the nutty naked lady or I had to fix it. So, I quickly got some clothes on and yelled out the door, “Hey Jerry, I didn’t mean to give you an eye-full!”

He came back and said he was really sorry, he was just putting the garbage can back for me. He told me he had raised four daughters so he was used to seeing stuff like that. We both laughed. It was going to be okay. Just like that….we were friends. A few days later I come home to a little sign tucked beside the window that said “BEAR AREA”. It hung in my carport shed for the next seven years.

One of the first summers I lived there, we had a mama snapping turtle come up the bank, dig a hole in my yard and lay her eggs. We marked the spot with a stick and waited. And waited. One day, there was some activity and we watched the baby turtles emerge. Jerry and I felt we had an obligation to make sure that the baby turtles made it back to the river without being gobbled up or smooshed. We took our baby turtles named Harry, Hermione, Ron and Lord Voldemort down to the river. I kind of tossed one of mine in the river. Jerry said, “Well, that’s one way to do it.” He put his turtle gently down on a stick and let the baby turtle find its own way into the river. I learned something. When you are trying to save something it is best not to kill it before you have a chance to save it. Patience, little grasshopper. I did better with my second turtle.

It’s not like it happens overnight. But, little by little I would reveal bits and pieces of my past to Jerry. He was a good listener. He had a very successful marriage, so he was pretty good at giving out love life advice. He spent a lot of years in the automotive industry so he would take notice of the vehicles that would sometimes park in my driveway. Sometimes, he would ask where the Honda went and I would say, “He’s long gone Jerry”… and he would say, “He’ll be back.” And then we would laugh. He lost his wife a few years back and asked me if I liked being alone. I told him I liked being alone more than I liked being with the wrong person… but I would like it better if I could be with someone who didn’t drive me nuts. It’s tough out there. When you find someone who doesn’t drive you nuts, I would recommend you hold on tight. I think Jerry would agree with me. See, I was listening.

Winter in Wisconsin can be tough. Early on, Jerry showed me how to use his snow blower ‘just in case’. I really never had to do any snow-blowing because he would do it for me. He knew my schedule and I would hear the snow-blower start up around 6 am and he would plow me out. He did my driveway before he did his own. That is a major act of kindness. Last year, I did get to do some snow-blowing because Jerry had a bum ankle from falling on the ice. I would go over and fire up the snow blower and start plowing his driveway. He would yell at me to go do my own and leave his for later. No way! This was my chance to finally reciprocate. It’s a good problem to have when you and your neighbor are yelling at each other for getting the others driveway plowed first. Kind of like when you go out to dinner with old friends and everyone fights over who gets to pay the bill. Those are the days! By the way, snow-blowing in the moonlight is kind of fun in a weird Zen way. Just trust me on this one. I think it may have something to do with sniffing gasoline.

I travel sometimes and would most often remember to give Jerry a heads up about my absence. He hung a little thermometer in my kitchen window (scene of the nakedness) so he could check to make sure my heat worked during the winter so I wouldn’t have frozen pipes if something bad happened. Sometimes, I would forget to tell him about my traveling so he would call my Mom to make sure I was okay.

When you live alone, it is nice to have someone notice if you might be dead or not quite dead laying in a heap at the bottom of the cellar stairs.

I really could go on and on… about the time we took on the City government for giving us tickets for improper sidewalk maintenance and we were victorious, or our many garden projects including the ill-fated asparagus patch or the hornet’s nest incident…. You get the picture.

When I had to leave for the last time, we both got really teary. I told Jerry, “I refuse to say goodbye.” He said, “Okay.” As he was walking down the driveway, I yelled “I love you Jerry!” and he yelled back, “ I love you too, Jill.”

If you are going to yell at someone, those are the best words to use.

GGJ

Baste, Stir, Taste…Repeat

I drive 45 minutes each way to get my dry cleaning done.

I know, it seems nuts right? But here is the deal, I wear a white lab coat at work almost every day. (It is either wear the lab coat or dress up. Let me tell you a good lab coat can hide a multitude of sins.) I like them to be super starchy, almost to the point that they can stand up on their own.

Not all laundries can make that happen.  Stannard Laundry in Oshkosh, WI can make it happen.

I met one of the owners at a 4th of July BBQ a few years ago.  (If you are reading my blog, it is the same party that was mentioned in Nothing, Absolutely Nothing but a different year.) I was introduced to him as his most loyal customer at which point I explained my commute to his business in search of the world’s greatest starched white lab coat.

After a few minutes of general chit-chat and assuring him I wasn’t a total nut, we ended up having a nice talk. It turns out there is a secret…they use real starch. They also have great service, quick turn around and I have become friends with the staff.  As an aside, the owner is also an Ironman.  (I like this as it would seem that to be an Ironman a person must be dedicated, persistent, as well as physically and mentally strong.)

This has me thinking about Loyalty. What makes someone loyal? Is it the test of time? Consistency? Quality?

For years and years I went to the same dentist…Dr. Vu.  Then I moved and it became more difficult to see him.  I would still go but my visits became less frequent. Finally, he told me I should just bite the bullet and get a dentist in the town where I live.  I thought about it and did.  I have been seeing ‘the new guy’ now for a few years.  He is an Ironman too. Weird, huh?

Friendship is a weird loyalty thing too.  I have friends from childhood, school, working at the Harbor Bar, hair salon, golf…

I don’t really know some of these people very well anymore. They could be terrible people. As in serial killers.  All I know is that we have a blast whenever we get together. Some of them I see only once a year or once every two years.

When we get together it is like zero time has passed and we tell each other everything (even deep dark secrets) and have complete trust in each other.  It is an amazing thing.

Family is interesting. Of course like every family, we have our moments…some good, some bad.

Here is the golden rule:

Only I can speak ill of my family. If anybody else does, then be prepared to die a slow and painful death. That my friends, is Loyalty.

It would seem that there is a recipe for Loyalty.

  1. Start with quality ingredients.
  2. Let it age 20-30 years. Baste with cold beer. Stir vigorously once or twice a year. (My batch prefers background music of live classic rock tunes.)  *(The volume may decrease over time, but the final product will be full of flavor.)
  3. New ingredients may be added as desired.
  4. Don’t be surprised if other people don’t like/understand the final product.
  5. This last item is the most important.  Sometimes it tastes better than others. Forgive it. Keep basting, keep stirring. Taste again later. Sometimes taste buds get out of whack. Sometimes the product is missing an ingredient. Don’t give up on it.
  6. Repeat step 1 and so on.

I am looking forward to testing my recipe on Loyalty very soon. I will keep you posted of any new developments. I hope the recipe works for you too. Enjoy.

GGJ