First Job

My first job as a teenager was working as a cashier at Sears, Roebuck and Co, at the local mall. Dallas, Tx 1970s. Most of my friends found jobs at stores where they liked to shop, or partake of the services offered for free (my bff worked at a dry-cleaners, just to get free dry-cleaning). Sears was decidedly uncool - I wouldn’t be caught dead in any of the polyester clothing sold there, but my parents love love loved my employee discount on tools, appliances, and automotive parts + work, back when Craftsman and Kenmore were strong brands.

At the time, I took working there for granted.......just another retail job. Yet all the jobs I’ve had since,  professional or retail, have paled in comparison. Sears had many corporate policies in place back then that created a sustainable life for its employees: every 4 hour shift earned an employee a 15-20 min break. Every 7 hour shift earned one a paid, on the clock, 1 hour meal break. Every year I worked there, I got a raise and contributions, however small, to a pension plan. I was not required to wear Sears clothing while at work, which I have been forced to do at other retail establishments (American Eagle Outfitters, a place I worked briefly upon moving to New York, sucked up entire paychecks every season with that mandate). Older retail employees were given reasonable 40 hour workweeks that were mostly 9-5 Mon- Fri. Their pay levels enabled them to live middle class lives, with healthcare and a pension.

I didn’t realize how remarkable all this was until faced with working conditions at other jobs. It dawned on me one day while teaching - just one of the many interminable school days where, due to state testing, a sub shortage or “other duties as required”, I once again lost both my planning period and my lunch - that the actual working conditions as a cashier at Sears had been better than teaching. At Sears, I could at least go to the restroom as needed, and take a duty free meal break. After 30+ years of teaching, I was still treated like an easily replaceable cog, with no preference in teaching schedule given for seniority, expertise, or experience. I was required to work several hours each day - at meetings, tutoring students, or grading papers - off the clock, without pay. I was required to attend weeks of “training” every summer, again off the clock without pay or recompense.

The most important thing about working at Sears was that I was treated with respect, not just as human fodder for a giant workplace machine that keeps grinding through employees, regardless of an ever diminishing supply of future potential workers reluctant to put up with the dehumanization the job creates, as teaching in a public school does these days. My positive experience at Sears back in the 1970s was partly due to their corporate culture, and specifically due to my boss at the time : Louise. I don’t remember her last name. Louise was a tiny little battle axe of a woman, barely 5 ft tall in heels, chubby, chain smoking, frosted gray beehive hairdo 10 years out of date, alarmingly bright blue eyeshadow that took up an unnaturally large portion of her face (she looked like a smaller version of the drag queen Divine), talked a mile a minute and scared the pants off everyone she met. Except me. She tyrannized a fiefdom of the software lines : women’s separates, dresses, mens, shoes, juniors, sleep-ware, foundations (underwear) and everyone who worked there. Fully half the store was under her management. If she thought you were useless, lazy, lacked gumption, or looked slovenly, she’d cut your hours back to nothing, or give you horrible shifts no one wanted. Sales staff would hear her coming - she was too short to be seen above the sales racks of clothing - by the clatter of her heels on the parquet floor. Sometimes a waft of cigarette smoke would follow her, and you could trace her movements through the carpeted areas that way. Louise would barge into your department, pulling a loaded dolly of bagged clothes fresh from the shipping dock behind her, and start barking orders to move the merchandise onto the floor, change the mannequins’ outfits, re-arrange the entire “floor”, tidy up, make it look nice. Vacuum and wipe down counters. If Louise disliked you, she’d make you clean the dressing rooms, often filled w dirty loaded diapers left behind on a chair.

Lucky for me, I was the favored one. Louise quickly figured out that I had a solid grasp of basic addition and subtraction, so I was kept exclusively to cashiering. This was back before computerized cash registers, when cashiers had to be able to make change all by themselves, and count it back to customers. Cranky old men would always demand recounts if you went too fast, so I learned to be slow and loud, in effect, “teacherly”. Your cash drawer was checked when you went on shift and when you went off shift, so the boss knew how accurate you were. Once told, at the very beginning of my cashiering days, that my drawer was 3 cents short, I offered to replace it with money from my own wallet even as I replied, “How do I know you aren't the one who made the counting mistake? “ Louise understood that my hubris was well earned, for I was the only person in all her departments who could ring up a lay-a-way correctly. You had to add all the items up, add the sales tax, then subtract the down payment, and divide the balance remainder by the number of payments, which was variable. It shouldn’t have been difficult, even in the days before calculators, but for most folk, it was. So I was the layaway specialist, and got called in to various departments to ring them up. Same with complex returns. I didn’t mind......staying busy made the shift go by, faster. Let the newbies clean up the dirty diapers in the dressing room. 


So it begins

It begins like this : Your high school or college alumni group for years posts only news of engagements, weddings, babies, people’s big job promotions and accomplishments.....till suddenly, one day, you see an obit. The name catches your attention even though the photo looks nothing like the person you remember.


You read the obit and wonder at small weird typos/ comments, and think: How can he have been the love of her life for all those years, when he was the love of mine for one? We met, sitting next to each other in class at Richardson High School, age 17. He begged me to go off to the same college he did. I did not. How might our lives differed, had we chosen another path?

Like popcorn popping, the one obit here or there suddenly picks up in frequency. 2014 produced Mark Owens, a young man whom I dated in 1979. This past 12 months produced two more:


Eric Maag and I grew up in the same church, St Barnabus Presbyterian of Richardson, Tx. For 18 years Eric was part of a tight knit group of Sunday School, confirmation class, youth group summer camps kids I knew intimately, like brothers and sisters. I remember Eric’s pimply pre-adolescent boyhood self growing all the way up to a lanky 6’2” well proportioned young man, his frame sprawled out in Sunday School pretending to be asleep - no doubt dragged there by his parents, as I had been - pretending not to notice when I wore mini skirts to church. Looking at my legs from under his bangs. I noticed that he noticed. He noticed that I noticed he noticed.


Martha MacGranihan was a friend from my college days, one of a group of smart, cute, fun, sassy girls who changed my alma mater forever by their arrival in 1979. Prior to this, females on campus had been of the chunky “thunder thighs”, greasy-haired nerds who filled my STEM university. Amy Farrah-Fowler from “Big Bang Theory” types. The wave of new freshmen arrivals in the fall of 1979 changed all that. We were beautiful AND smart. We loved to dance to New Wave music, drank heavily, had sex freely w young men we met, sampled drugs, embraced hedonism, were ardent feminists, didn’t take ourselves too seriously, believed we could have and do it all, including academic rigor. We were going to change the world. Martha was an integral part of that.


As 2019 winds to a close, I am still thinking and grieving for my old friends. A little piece of me, of my history, has died, too. My granny used to say that she was sad bc she had outlived all her friends. Once our friends are all gone, who remembers or truly knows who we once were?

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Olde English Version
No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne 


Recent Work

I recently attended a workshop in Sarasota, Fl, to study pastel painting with renown colorist Linda Richichi. We worked on composition, color theory, Notan, finding the dragon, and more. 

Linda and I instantly hit it off, and talked late into the night after dinner on many shared interests : Italy and Greece, past lives, listening to the universe, art music literature, spirituality, husbands, politics, doodling collaging and dream journals, following one’s bliss, and more.

I think she helped me take my work to the next level....and I’ve always been stronger at drawing skills than brushwork. Not to say I won’t continue to study both; it’s just nice to feel competent at something once more.


Let Them Go

Madea says it better than I can:

Madea's Monologue 

This is what I learned all these years on this earth. If somebody wants to walk out of your life, let them go. Especially if you know you've done everything you can do. You sat around and have been the best man or the best woman you can be and they still want to go, let them go. Whatever they're running after, they'll see what they had in a minute but by the end, its gonna be too late. Cuz you sit there and you go half this people you've been sitting around, crying about them, worrying about them, but two or three years from now you wont even remember their last name. How many times have you seen folks going, What the hell was I thinking?let folks go, sonny.

Some people come in your life for a lifetime, some come for a season. You gotta know which is which. And you're always going to mess up when you mix them seasonal people with lifetime expectations. They got people who got married with people they were only suppose to be with for a season and they're wondering why they're having so much hell in their life. That was suppose to be a person that was suppose to come and teach you one thing and you didn't know it so you just fell in love and now you wonder why you ain't got no peace nowhere you go. 

No no. listen. I put everybody that come in my life in a category of a tree. Some people are like leaves on a tree. The wind blows, they're over here, they're unstable. It blows another way, they're over here. Seasons change and they wither and die. They're gone. That's all right. Most people in the world are like that. They are just there to take from the tree. They are only there to take and give shade every now and then. That's all they can do. But don't get mad at people like that. That's who they are, a leaf. Some people are like branch on the tree. You gotta be careful with them branches too cuz they will fool you. They're gonna make you think they're a good friend and they're real strong, but the minute you step out there on them, they'll break and leave you high and dry. But if you find two or three people in your life that are like the roots at the bottom of that tree, you are blessed. Those are the kind of people that ain't going nowhere. They ain't worried about being seen. Don't nobody need to know they know you. They ain't gotta know what they're doing for you. But if those roots are not there, that tree can't live. Do you understand? A tree can have a hundred million branches but only have a few roots down there at the bottom to make sure it gets everything that it needs. I'm telling you sonny, when you get you some roots, hold on to them. but the rest of them, let them go. Let it go. Let folks go. 

Ain't nobody said its gonna be easy. But it'll get easier when you learn how to love yourself. When you get to a point in your life where you look at people and you go Ok, wait a minute. You or me. You WILL make a decision. I've never told nobody Don't bother me anymore, don't talk to me no more. I've never done it. But what I do, is I tell them Look, this thing you're doing right here, that's gonna cause a problem. You need to fix that cuz if were going to be friends and were gonna be cool, you gotta fix that. And if you don't, then were gonna have an issue. If you see somebody fix it or even TRYING to fix it, then that's somebody that cares. Keep them people around. That's a leaf that's trying to grow up and be something else. You understand? But if you tell somebody that what you're doing is hurting me and I need you to stop it and they keep on doing it, they don't care. Move on. Let them go. No matter how much it hurts, let them go. And it'll get easier. I promise you. Everyday, it'll get easier and easier and easier. You just gotta make it through. You hearin me sonny? 

You see, you gotta learn to be by yourself, sonny. People need to learn how to be alone. I don't understand all these people oh I NEED somebody. Lawd where's my man? Lawd where's my wife? That is crazy as hell! If you don't know how to be by yourself, what are you going to do with somebody else? Stop praying about it. Shut up and wait. Go work on you. Hell, that's what that time is for. To get yourself together. I'd rather be in a corner, by myself, with a puppy and a goldfish and be happy than to be sitting around with somebody in my house and I'm wondering, what the hell are they there for? You would be surprised of things people put up with just to have somebody say they love them. That's crazy. I don't understand that. I cant live in dysfunction. I'm sorry. You hear me sonny? Fa sho you better hear me fa sho. 


The Stages of Retirement

The stages of retirement:

1) First 30 days : Fuck you, work! Fuck everyone and everything related to work! Screaming “F-U-C-K !” To the universe. Let it all out. Fuck it to “the man”, whoever he is to you. Fuck societal oppression and random people you feel oppress you in all forms, including traffic, annoying relatives, bathing, going to the dentist, dieting, that colonoscopy you’ve been putting off, and standing in lines.

2) First 6 months : Lots of naps, sleeping in, sleeping longer, staying up late, throwing away your alarm clock, taking a break from anything irksome or time consuming, such as social obligations, showering/ baths and hygiene in general, looking at daily chores you need to do to survive and telling yourself, “I can always do that, later....I don’t have to do it, or anything, right now or maybe at all, ever”, purging everything you own that is related to or reminds you of work including but not limited to: work clothing, office supplies, clocks, briefcases/ messenger bags, sensible shoes, motivational “art”, haircuts and hairstyling/ grooming products, makeup, bras, tweezing/ waxing, travel coffee cups.....then expanding this purge mentality to cleaning out your home, top to bottom, and having a series of ever diminishing yard sales of all the junk you’d been meaning to get rid of for decades but were too busy to do it.....along with tiny amounts of guilt at the friends you left behind, the fact that you can retire at all, coupled with immense relief and a strong wish you’d done this much sooner.....

3) First year : I’m gonna do what I always wanted to do, but never had time to do! Who am I ? What are my interests ? What did I enjoy doing as a child? What is something I always  wanted to learn how to do?

New hobbies : above - painting. Below - gardening. 

Garden before ^ and after, \/

4) Second 6 months : I’m going to travel the world! See new places, work through my bucket list, visit all my old friends. You also sign up for everything you ever wanted to do, ever, and fill your life with a new busyness, till a few weeks in to some new commitment, when you are exhausted and stressed out and some of the new bosses you have are jerks just like your old boss and the weather is bad and you ask yourself, why am I doing this? And a “good day / week” is one where you have nothing planned at all, so you start to figure out how to dial it all back.

And that is YEAR ONE.


Living in Texas

......means spending hours in traffic, where it’s 102 F on June 21 at 4 pm. 

Ladies Who Lunch.....

.......also visit art museums. Texas fashionistas at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston “Van Gogh” exhibit.


Living in Texas

 ......means you eat BBQ as often as you can. Above, sons at Black’s BBQ in Austin.

Above, Smitty’s in Lockhart

Above, Goode Co, in Houston 


25th Wedding Anniversary

Backyard garden soiree

The original, 25 years ago (above). The 25th party, below. 


My Favorite Rose

This nameless antique tea rose was on the clearance rack at Walmart, half-dead, when I decided to take a chance on it. That was 15 years ago. The label was missing and I’ve spent countless hours trying to identify it, without confidence or conclusion. It blooms once a year and is just beautiful. 


Living in Texas

.....means neighborhood pot luck block parties 


Out Brief Candle

A friend of mine from college days, Martha McGranahan, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week. Martha was a unique member of a group of strong-willed young women I lived and socialized with over 40 years ago at one of the most rigorous, exclusive top 10 universities in America. We were sassy fearless young women, second wave feminists, gals who helped each other wrangle that difficult passage from childhood to adult as well as build our careers. I remember first bonding with Martha, late one night in the dorm, about how we each hated our first names. There was surely substance abuse involved. Work hard, play hard was our motto. Yet Martha was never mean, always sweet and fun, kind and funky. Martha may have been the purest of the bunch. She marched to the beat of her own drummer, choosing music and arts when we chose business and law. (It was the early ‘80’s, that era of Dress For Success.) I didn’t know her well, but well enough......and I am terribly sad that I won’t get to know her any further. You see, she killed herself.

Martha leaves behind two beautiful daughters, an ex husband all her old friends think is an asshole, a church choir that will never hear her sing again, and a church full of family and friends openly weeping at her funeral. We all questioned ourselves endlessly : What were the signs? What did I miss? I tried to schedule lunch with her awhile back, but had to cancel.....The day she killed herself, Easter Sunday, she carried on as usual, thinking of others, engaged in life and living. Wishing one friend “Happy Birthday.” Going about her business.

Martha and I shared so many interests: arts, the American Southwest and particularly Santa Fe, retro funky fashions and pop culture, and poodles.

I’m going to put this out there, as food for thought : Martha’s passing feels to me like a tragic bookend for the next phase of our lives. I am broken-hearted for her, and for us all. The loss of an old friend. She is the first I’ve heard about from our class who have died; there may be others I have missed. Who will be the last one standing? The other bookend. Yes, funerals are for the survivors, but I believe in the power of ritual, of community, of coming together to mark life’s milestones, good or bad. It’s how we know we are human, by celebrating the memory of a friend, while staving off the darkness of our own demise. Draw the circle ever tighter. My hope is to see as many dear old friends at the memorial as possible. We can convene in a bar afterwards and drink, share memories, laughter and tears. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Living in Texas

.....means old friends retire to a bar to drink and reminisce after a particularly difficult funeral. At the Driskill in Austin, Tx. 


Ladies Who Lunch

......join the local garden club and learn all kinds of cool stuff.