Thursday, June 9, 2011

What I Want for my Birthday

Unbelievable as it may seem, I find myself looking down the barrel of my 50th birthday in the middle of June.  I'm still not sure how that happened, but in the normal order of the universe, who does not die grows older. (Put that in your fortune cookie and eat it.)

Over the years--many, many years--I've wanted a lot of goodies for my birthday. I don't know exactly when the want came up, but of course, it may have been amplified by the ads I was subjected to during the cartoon shows I watched every Saturday morning.  Mainly, though, those ads were for toys and breakfast cereal (too little too late, I'd already eaten by the time I settled in for a long morning with the electronic babysitter).

When I was maybe 5-10 years old, I wanted a swing set in my yard.  In fact, we briefly rented a house that had one, but I really don't recall spending much time on it.  I knew then that there are parks all over the place, but the nearest swings were located behind my grammar school.  And who wants to spend any more time in the schoolyard than absolutely necessary?  Another plus would have been that everyone would've wanted to come over to our house all the time.  Of course, my folks took care of that possibility when they installed a pool in the back yard.

Also around that time, closer to ten than to five, I wanted, and got, a Malibu Barbie doll.  Rapture!  She was awesome, with summer-blond hair, almost-normal boobs, and a permanent tan (from all that surfing, no doubt). I used to wash and comb her fake hair all the time; it never occurred to me that since she wasn't actually alive, the only way her hair could have gotten dirty would be if I made it that way.  It's amazing how you sometimes pick toys that are the opposite of what you are: womanly vs. girlish; tan vs. pale; blonde vs. brunette (God, how I wanted to be a blonde!); athletic vs chubby.

At the opposite end of the fun scale, I wanted both a chemistry set and a rock tumbler when I was maybe eight.  I can see now why I never got either one: the chemistry set was probably viewed as an invitation to blow things up, and it's likely that the rock tumbler made too much noise.  It's the same rationale you'd use when you'd refuse to get your kid a drum kit, no matter how talented he/she is: the goddamn noise!

As the years passed, many times my fondest wish was for some LP or other.  My mom, who abhorred rock music as a whole, and from whom I had to hide any new purchases if they were musical in theme, would gladly purchase me whatever I long as it was a gift.  Apparently, it was a waste of money if I spent it, but not if she did.  Hmmmm...I never did quite understand that logic.

When I was turning 19 and in college, all I wanted that year was an SLR camera.  They have these now in a digital version, of course; but mine was an old-school manual SLR that needed a separate flash, telephoto lenses, and all those goodies.  I remember the day I looked at with my folks in our local department store, longing for it, but they wouldn't break down and buy the damn thing, no matter how I pleaded. 
The entire day of my birthday, I sulked, convinced they'd blown it and had forgotten what I wanted.  But at dinner, there it was.  I took hundreds of pictures with it over the next few years and took it everywhere, even to Italy when I did a summer there.  Some years ago, the light meter got dislodged, and I had to stop using it.  Sadly, I've never had it repaired, and it's somewhere in my house now, gathering dust in its case.  But the beautiful pictures I made live on, proving to my kids (and myself) that I once had a life.

Fast-forward to now: I'm a working wife and mom of two.  Sometimes I get flowers, sometimes not; sometimes I get jewelry, mostly not.  Many years we'll go out to dinner.  With my husband's work schedule, a dinner out with him is a rare treat indeed.  More so if it's just the two of us.

So...what do I want now?  At this point in my life, the wants aren't always so easily or cheaply satisfied.   For example, since I have a 60-mile daily commute round-trip, I need a newer, more fuel-efficient vehicle.  I'd love a new front-loading washer-dryer pair; our old appliances are getting tired after nearly twenty years, and the washer usually requires two spin cycles before the clothes are properly wrung out.  It's mostly just annoying.  And of course, I'd prefer a bigger house (and the money to pay someone to clean it), because our rooms just don't have the storage that they should. 

But, since you can't have everything (nor should you, I have discovered), I'll be happy to take what I have, try hard to work for what I need, and hold out with my old car for as long as possible.  Unless, of course, someone feels that they need to get me one.  That, or the washer-dryer pair.  Maybe you can get a deal.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Places that are Gone #2: Pecht's Bakery

When I was a kid, there was only one place where I wanted my birthday cake to be from: Pecht's, located in Brick Plaza in Bricktown.  We used to stop there on Sundays after church, which was quite the feat; there's still only a single-lane road that leads in and out of the main shopping area in Brick, and on weekends it's usually backed up quite a bit.

But oh, was it worth the wait!  The cupcakes were amazing: moist, sweet, perfect.  And the frosting?  With that stuff on top, it almost didn't matter what was underneath it.  Mr Pecht had it all together, I'd say.  The frosting was so divine that I used to eat the bottom of the cupcake first; ever try that?  There's probably a law that says only kids can eat that way, but if I could have one of those cupcakes now, I'd probably attempt it anyway.  I pretty much only ate the vaniila cupcakes/frosting; the strawberry wasn't quite as good, and I wasn't a big chocolate cake fan back then. 

Many years later, I actually worked at Pecht's after finishing college (I Got a BS in Foreign Language For This? my souvenir t-shirt would have read).  I first worked with a young married woman whom I'll identify as Suzanne.  She was not only a born-again Christian, but she and her husband also sold Amway (a catalog-and home-sale company that makes household products).  I kinda knew I was in trouble when her eyes glazed over the same way whenever she spoke about either Jesus OR Amway.  Hmmm.... Suzanne taught me how to clean up the bakery every night (we had the night shift together, since I came in about 1-2 pm every day), how to make the shelves clean and gather up the crumbs, which were incorporated into the bakery's crumb cakes every day.

Mr Pecht, a crusty old German man (FYI, not trying to be offensive; my father-in-law qualifies as same), had lost his wife within a year or so before I started working there, which apparently didn't improve his mood.  I never really saw him smile much, though I did get him to do it at least once.  I'm still not sure what would have made him happy.  His sons worked with him, and they were less dour; but we didn't spend much time with any of them, as we were ringing up customers and cleaning. 

As my time at the bakery went on, Suzanne left, and I met a lovely lady named Joan, who was about my mom's age.  She introduced me to her daughter, whose name I can't recall, and we spent quite a lot of time talking and chumming around.  I mostly remember that my friend Joan wore Opium perfume, which is why I later got a bottle for myself; and that she gave me a lot of shit on the occasional day I'd come in to work hungover, which was okay with me.  She was hilarious.  There were a few others who worked with me in that time I was at Pecht's, but eventually I left there and started working at Spencer Gifts, which was a lot less sleazy in the mid-80s than it is now.

I've been living in the midwest for more than 20 years now, and I'm not sure how long Pecht's has been gone.  Looking back, and knowing what I know now about baking, I think that wonderful frosting I loved so much was made with vegetable shortening.  But we'll never really know: my first co-worker, Suzanne, told me that she'd learned from our boss that he'd refused to leave his recipes to his sons, thus ensuring that when he was gone, so too would the bakery be.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wild (for the extra sisters I didn't have till I was an adult)

In a different lifetime
I would’ve been your best friend
Running through summer fields
Ponytailed and mosquitobitten
Shrieking, avoiding the bees
Rolling on grass
Gathering all the flowers we could hold
Under tents of bedsheets
Sharing secrets of the day, the minute, my life, your life
Watching your blonde hair and my dark
Flow wild as we run.

In less than half a decade
I would’ve been your best friend
But we would’ve lied and told everyone we were sisters
And that your blue eyes and my brown
Were perfectly normal in our family
Giggling, crazy, wild nights in Asbury and beyond
Sneaking what we could
Blue eyeshadow worn with our Levi’s
(not that you needed it)
Getting in trouble, oh yeah
Never telling anyone
Secrets of my life, your life, the minute, the day
Anything at all
Wild as we run.

And when I see you now
Whenever that is
We get to pick up where we might’ve left off
When time and school and families
Pull us apart, unwilling, never really letting go
Each one always keeping one end of the thread
Be it shoelaces, phone cords, guitar strings
Never really letting go
Always wanting more but never getting
Time slips on
But the echo of your laugh, your voice
The memory of your face, your eyes
Keeps me holding on
Sustains me when I can’t
Just can’t, and nobody else knows or understands.