Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mini Meeze

Some people around my neighborhood call me the Mayor because I seem to know and talk to everyone. Hey, I like people. I could probably strike up a reasonable conversation with a lamppost.

Verna, who was very shy especially in larger social situations, often teased me for being too gregarious--and too loud. She often retreated to our bedroom in our first apartment (on 8th Avenue and Lincoln in San Francisco) when I talked to my mother because our conversations were heated at times and Verna needed respite from my booming voice.

But when she, her mother, and I visited Israel in 1992 and found ourselves in a vegetarian restaurant in the south of the country, I was the one who struck up a conversation with the African-American waitress, who belonged to a Chicago-based sect of Hebrews who traced their lineage back to the Bible, lived in Israel now, and also practiced polygamy. As in men with multiple wives.

The restaurant was empty save for us, a group that also included another woman on our tour, Charlene, so the waitress sat with us and answered our questions about what it was like to be wife number three or four. We tried to be respectful but it was hard to fathom how some people seem content to share their spouses in such an extreme way.

"That was fascinating," Charlene blurted as we left the restaurant, and then proceeded to thank me for initiating the conversation. I probably smirked at Verna, but later she admitted she enjoyed the evening immensely.

This blog post is not going to be War and Peace-like in length so I am sticking with the positive, but there have been innumerable times when I have inserted one or both feet in my mouth and said something stupid, foolish, obnoxious, inappropriate, mean, insulting, blah, blah, blah.

Maya is me when it comes to being loquacious. When Tricia, Maya, and I went to see Wynton Marsalis about a month ago, Tricia was amazed (sort of) that Maya could keep up a running stream of conversation throughout the show. Maya was an unfettered version of me that night, not bound up in the normal social conventions of remaining quiet during a performance.

Now, to be clear, she did not disturb anyone and Tricia was exaggerating slightly, but the amount Maya talked was beyond Tricia's normal fare, and Tricia is even more shy than Verna.

Before she died, Verna worried about how Maya would process her death at such a young age so she made me promise to read a book about mothers and daughters and loss. I read it shortly after Verna died, and realized that Maya will ultimately have little trouble adjusting to the horrible reality of life without Verna.


Because Maya articulates how she is feeling all the time. She questions and probes and questions some more and articulates her fears and worries and then questions some more. She is well on the road to being in control of her emotions.

Just like me. I am a rock emotionally and able to share my inner turmoil freely, but being so garrulous is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I just don't know when to shut up. Maya can still hide in the mist of being an innocent nine-year old. I have no excuse for over-sharing and inadvertently making people uncomfortable.

But Maya's ability to be calm and a big sister to all the younger kids in the neighborhood and meet strangers in the park and immediately tell them that her mother died is a force to be reckoned with. Most people don't forget the smile stretched across her face and the genuineness of her extroversion.

As a teenager, I waited to the last minute to do anything connected to school. I'd study 75 words for a Spanish test minutes before the exam and get more than 90% correct. One time in Israel I stayed up all night writing a ten-page paper for a class on Middle Eastern history. When I realized I could only finish the rough draft, I handed it in with illustrations. The professor rejected it and gave me two or three days to type it, which I did and earned a solid B.

I took days to bring in the garbage pails, one of the few tasks my parents insisted I do, and I left my bedroom a mess, clothes strewn on the floor and sharing space with dust balls the size of healthy rats.

Miguel is also my mini me. In temperament, quiet and reserved, he is all Verna, but in his approach to life, he is all me. He prefers to play video games, surf the Net, and text friends to homework. My distractions were different in the non-digital age, but the games I played with sports cards and board games alone in my room with dice were the same escapes from my scholastic and domestic responsibilities as Miguel practices right now as I type these words.

Miguel might take hours to throw out his garbage, days to fold his clothes, and days more to return the folded clothes to his bureau NOT THE FLOOR! I have never seen anyone (other than me) delay writing his college entrance essays as much as Miguel. Well, except me.

I also realize that Miguel, I hope, is a mini me when it comes to being caring and trying to do the right thing. Unlike me when I was his age and hated toiling at Cow's Farm, Miguel truly enjoys his job as a server at the retirement community. He is also funny and engaging with residents. He makes jokes and takes jokes. And, often, he gives up his meal at the end of the night if a resident has requested the same.

Maya seizes life by the reins, as I do, and exclaims how glorious things are. She gets excited and enthused, two qualities I display at both the right and wrong times. Miguel is a teenage boy often looking for the short cut, as I did, and content to park his butt for hours in front of a screen. But he is sweet and has an affinity for people of all ages.

It might be trite and glaringly obvious to say that Miguel and Maya are products of both Verna and me in the best and worst senses.

I would've finished this essay sooner, but...

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