Monday, September 17, 2007

September 18 letter

Old, deaf, blind, toothless Alice.

Howdy, howdy, howdy...

The first and best news is that my Mom is home. She sounds great, she seems very happy. She's got Brenda and Patience and my sister-in-law Liz looking in in her, and physical therapists coming to the house, and after a long ARGUMENT (Mom hates their food) I think she'll agree to have Meals on Wheels. Even if she feeds the stuff to her cats, it's another person dropping in every day to make sure she's OK.

It's hard to get an accurate picture from so far away. Mom, and the women who take care of her, all say everything is going as well as can be expected, but my brothers are all flipped out because she seems so weak and they're worried she'll get hurt. I think some of this is because of men's innate feeling they are supposed to be able to fix everything--but some things related to getting older can't be fixed. Meanwhile, my mother is pleased to be back in her place, and hopeful that things are going to get better (for instance, she expects she'll get better at navigating with her new wheeled walker). Her state of mind is very good. Give her a call--her number is (517) 655-2609.

When I last wrote, I had just contacted my old college friend, Moncef Majbri, and we had made plans to meet. Susan and Gagik and I went into the City and met him at the subway station. We walked to his house to meet his wife, Monia, also from Tunisia, and I was completely enraptured by his children, twins Amin and Insaaf, who attend a special school at the United Nations. (I love it when you ask a kid what their favorite thing in life is, and they say, "School!") We had a nice cake, then Moncef drove us into Manhattan to show Susan and Gagik some things they hadn't yet seen, like Ground Zero and some shopping areas. I had a great time on the drive, getting a French lesson and a history of New York City from Moncef's kids. I have a great deal of affection for Moncef, who has always been such a sweet-natured, decent, good guy. It was so nice to find out that he ended up so happy, and with such a lovely family!

By a fluke, Moncef happens to live in the same neighborhood where Gagik's father Stephan lived before the incident that sent him to prison. So we walked to the apartment building where Stephan used to live, and a super actually let us into the building's courtyard. I don't know whether it was helpful to Gagik or not. The whole experience of going to the places his father had gone seemed to add to his emotional strain at times. (Susan has just called me to let me know that they had received approval to have Gagik's father's body exhumed, that it had been done today, and that his remains would be flown to California very soon!) I hope once they have him buried in the Armenian cemetery in Fresno, Gagik will finally feel he has done right by his father, and find some peace. I can't imagine going through what Gagik has gone through in the past few years.

Anyway, we ended our visit with the Majbri family with a lovely meal at their favorite local Greek restaurant. The night was beautiful, and it was great to be with old friends. I only wish Robert had been with us! (And Abbas Panjvani! And Ziyad Sha'ar! And Muhsin Akkas! And Patty Finale!) I hope the Majbris will soon take us up on our invitation to visit us. But they'll have to wait a bit, because this weekend, friends Mark and Deb will be here from Michigan.

The job search slogs on. I actually was offered a temporary job selling Hallowe'en costumes, but Robert talked me out of it, because the hours I would be working are exactly the hours I need to be available in case someone decides they want to interview me. I would be working a 40-hour week, and it would take me two-and-a-half weeks just to come up with my monthly car payment. I don't know why it didn't occur to me, but a friend told me I would be STUPID (thank you, Linda Bierniak--sometimes I need to be hit in the head with a sledgehammer) not to apply for unemployment compensation. Because so much of my income while I was working came in the form of a big Christmas bonus, I am eligible to receive almost my usual weekly pay while I look for work. DUH! So I applied. Not a nibble, yet, on any job application. (Sigh.)

So now I am home, scouring the Internet and buying lots of newspapers, looking for my new dream job. In the meantime, I have plenty of time to work on the cat shelter's biggest fund-raiser of the year, the annual goods and services auction, which takes place on November 10. I am co-coordinator. If anybody wants to donate something to be auctioned off, let me know! I hear works of art go for big bucks. My pal Dee Weis donated a gorgeous cat quilt.

Speaking of cats, every day I strain to hear the flutter of the wings of the angel of death--and every day I don't hear them. 21-year-old Alice has lately been soaking her bedding with urine when she sleeps (which is almost all the time). She doesn't seem to be in any pain, and doesn't seem to be very interested in food. According to the websites, these are the signs an old cat is on the way out. Right now she's asleep on the front porch, on a wing chair that we used to have in our parlor and haven't yet bothered to haul out to the curb on junk day.

I think I will be less traumatized when Alice finally dies than I was when my favorites, Claw'dya and Kahuna, died, but it is still hard to say goodbye to a friend who has been with me every day for 21 years. Alice has no teeth and is blind and deaf, but still has a pretty, sleek coat. She can't find the litter box anymore, but she can still jump up onto the washing machine, where her bed is. I took the picture of her at the top of this post, in her "traveling bed" on the sofa (on top of a sheet of plastic! I'm no fool!). Isn't she a pretty girl? I am concerned about her, but as I've been expecting her to die for about seven years now, ever since she got lead poisoning from drinking from the furnace boiler run-off bucket, all I can tell you is, I'm not holding my breath. I think I am going to be extra nice to her, in any case, with lots of extra hugs and pets and ear scratches.

What else? I just got a call from a headhunter who called to say there was no way in hell she could ever place me in a job. So I guess that means I need you all to keep sending me good thoughts! Write soon (to!

F (and R)

More pictures!~

At dinner in Queens, with Gagik, Susan, Monia, Moncef, Amin and Insaaf. A fun evening!

This is a photo of me with Moncef and family.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sunday, September 2

This is a picture of Susan's husband, Gagik, putting flowers on his father's grave.
I don't know how I let such a long time go by without a new letter. I guess I've been feeling overwhelmed with the job hunt, getting my Mom back on her feet, and then figuring out how to get back home to New York. Since returning home, we've had houseguests from California, and I've been driving them around, and doing what I can to make their visit a good one. Here's an update:

The job hunt: I keep sending out resumes and letters. Haven't gotten a blip back yet. I may get a job at a doughnut shop next week if I have to.

Getting Mom back on her feet: Pretty good news on this account! She'd still at the facility, but they are expecting to send her home in about two weeks. I know. That's what said two weeks ago. But they want to assure that she'll be able to do things around her house safely before they let her go. She's making great progress--not using a wheelchair at all any more--and her spirits are good!

Getting myself back to New York: I spent a lot of time while in Michigan looking for appreciative homes for things Mom has collected over the years and no longer needs. In her name I donated miles of fabric to a theater and to a church group that makes crocheted rugs. I gave boxes of A Dog Named Dirt (Mom's funny book about an awful dog we used to own) to two animal shelters (to be used as a fundraiser) and to her vet's office (to be sold to help pay vet bills anonymously for old ladies who can't afford them). I gave piles of clothing to Goodwill and the Salvation Army and donated huge trash bags filled with yarn to a friend who crochets lap blankets for injured veterans. I sent Robert back home with our car loaded to the roof with fabric and stuff I intend to try to sell for her, including a rather valuable antique doll. I sent the doll to a special doll dealer in Maryland, and it is going to be offered at an auction in Europe in about six months. I mailed off packages of letters and other treasures to their original senders. Then I packed my suitcase with everything I could fit into it and (with help from friends Colleen and Mary) got onto a Greyhound bus headed for Philadelphia.

It's been some time since I've been on a Greyhound bus. I had originally intended to take some cartons of stuff home with me, and thought the bus made the most sense, as you can bring just about as much luggage with you as you want. Also, it was very cheap. But I still had to face lugging boxes and suitcases around when I finally got to my destination, and in the end I ditched the idea about the cardboard boxes, and only took two suitcases with me.
As usual, there were a few interesting incidents. For instance, when the snotty driver (who made a little speech everytime we boarded new passengers, "I will not tolerate the use of profanity on my bus! You will be ejected from the bus if you use profanity!") drove in circles around downtown Pittsburgh for forty minutes before getting on the intercom to ask if anybody had any idea where the bus depot might be located. That answered my question about his sensitivity to profanity--I figure he must get sworn at more than most people.

Got into Philadelphia, and to the hotel Robert had procured for our anniversary weekend. It was an elegant place near Rittenhouse Square, a park. It was so good to greet him there--and nice to have a little 'decompression' time together. The weather was either too hot or too rainy, but that didn't keep us from walking all over, anyway. We saw the Franklin Institute, but not much else, because of long lines. It's better to sight see in Philly after school is back in session, I think. It was especially nice to come home! After such a long absence, the only casualties were a few house plants Robert forgot about on his rounds with the watering can.

Our houseguests: My friend from college, Susan Khanzadian, called to say that she and her husband, Gagik Ginosyan, were finally ready to come for a visit. This was not an optimum time for us, of course, but I didn't want to say no. A few years ago Susan asked me for help locating Gagik's father's grave. When Gagik was about fourteen, his father Stephan came to the United States. He lived in Los Angeles. Stephan sent money to the family, then stopped. Gagik's family told Gagik his father had abandoned him, and he never heard from Stephan again. Years later Gagik found out from someone else that the reason his father had stopped sending money was because he had been sent to prison. Every new discovery was a harder blow. His father had received a life sentence for murdering a man in New York. By the time Gagik found out about this, his father had died in prison.

In 2003, Susan called me to ask me for help trying to find out what happened to Stephan Ginosyan, as he seemed to have been transferred around a lot. He had been at Attica for awhile, but was transferred to a prison only about twenty miles from our house! It was ridiculously difficult to get any information, even with a power of attorney. But I finally found out that he was buried on the prison grounds, because no one from the family claimed his body when he died.
I tried to arrange for Susan and her husband to visit the grave, and that was a hassle. At one point someone told me in order for me to get permission, I would have to send them a certified copy of Gagik's Armenian birth certificate. I asked the guy what that would prove to him, as Armenian doesn't use our alphabet and he probably wouldn't be able to read it anyway. But sheer will won out, and permission was obtained. Susan and Gaigik planned to come, but unfortunately, Gagik suffered a heart attack, and they weren't able to make the trip until he had recovered enough.

Susan had contacted the prison to let them know they were coming. People had kept promising her they'd get back to her about the arrangements, but they never did. So we decided to go to the there and wait for an answer. I think the whole prison facility was in an uproar because Susan told them they want to be able to disinter the body and remove it to an Armenian cemetery in Fresno. Everybody kept sputtering and fussing and saying,"Well, we don't know. We'll get back to you on that." They also said that no one ever asks to visit graves there.

At the prison, we sat and waited until a supervisor came out. He was apologetic, and eventually, two other supervisors showed up, and they got in a truck and we followed them around the prison walls, past the excercise yards and watchtowers with armed gaurds. It was like something out of a movie. We then went down a dirt road, lined with cornfields, to a little graveyard. The prison walls were no longer visible, the sky was brilliant blue, the corn was a deep green, and in the sky dozens of blackbirds were reeling around. It was peaceful and pretty, except for the bleakness of the gravestones. They were made of cast concrete with nothing but a number on each one. Susan immediately started rummaging through her purse, looking for a paper with Gagik's father’s prison number on it, but Gagik jumped out of the car and ran directly to the correct one. That was kind of spooky.

It was a very emotional scene. Gagik broke down. He and Susan burned incense on the grave and laid flowers across it and said special prayers. I had to ask permission to take photos, promising the supervisors I would only take a picture of the single gravestone, and nothing else. The three officials were very polite but distant, until I went up to them and told them Gagik's story. I said that his family had lied to him about what happened, what a shock it had been to him to find out, and about everything Gagik had done to find his father. After that they were very nice and bent over backwards to be helpful. As a surprise gift for Gagik, I had a brass plate made up, showing Stephan's name and the dates of his life, which the supervisors helped us attach to the headstone. Gagik was really touched by that.

So, both Robert and I were very glad to be able to do what we could to help Gagik gain some closure, even though this wasn't the easiest time for us to have company. I think the wheels are turning regarding the legal work necessary to move the body. We're glad to have been able to help.

Keeping busy: Sugan, Gagik, Robert and I went to Atlantic City. I tried playing slot machines and was reminded again that I am way too Scottish to be able to enjoy gambling. But it was a pretty day to be at the beach, and fun to walk through the very opulent casinos. Robert and I had our palms read by a gypsy fortune teller. Susan and Gagik had a great time, and Robert won enough money at roulette (about $200) to pay for our travel expenses and meals there. The best part of the trip happened when we were getting ready to leave. Robert pointed to the night sky, where little points of light were swooping around in a column, five hundred feet high. It looked as if the stars were going crazy. But it was really hundreds and hundreds of sea gulls, lit from below by the casino lights. I had no idea gulls flew that high. I suppose they're always up there, but we can't see them against the sun.
Susan and I have been looking at photographs from college, where we both hung out with foreign students, wondering what happened to our old friends. I decided to try to locate Moncef Majbri, a very sweet guy from Tunisia. The last time I saw Moncef was in the very early 80's. He was a translator at the United Nations, in French, English and Arabic, and he took me to lunch in the Ambassador's Cafeteria there. Then he moved and I lost contact with him. Through the magic of the internet, I located a phone number, and called him on Saturday morning. A darling little girl's voice answered the phone, and she said it was the right address. I asked if I could speak with Moncef. There was a long pause, then a PIERCING shriek, "DADDY! DADDY! WAKE UP!" followed by Moncef's mumbled, "Hello?"

So I had to apologize to him for that. He was very pleased to hear from me, anyway, and we made plans to visit him. I've also located some other Saudi friends that I hope to see soon.

Well, that's enough for now. Wish me luck in my job hunt. Write soon.
F and R