Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Laugh until your heart overflows

This is the quote on the inside of a Dove chocolate wrapper that is wedged under a ribbon on a message board that hangs over my computer, where I see it every day. It’s not the kind of sentiment that I usually hang on to. Normally I would think it’s kind of a cheesy platitude, like “Have a nice day!” or “Live, Laugh, Love.” But this quote, or more precisely, this wrapper, reminds me of two chocolate-loving buddies I used to work with.

It was an unlikely relationship. Not between Marilyn and myself necessarily. She is ten years older than I am, almost to the day. My birthday is two days before hers, so I kid her that I am two days older than she is. And I feel we are the same age. Twins separated at birth. Two very different lives, but we think alike. We bonded very quickly. I started out working with her and eventually moved on to other jobs within the same company, but my desk was always across a narrow aisle from hers. At one point the guy who ended up being my boss suggested he move me downstairs to sit with other people in our group. I told him I would chain myself to her desk if he tried. Nothing more was said about it.

Lue started working with us three months after I started working for the company. She was a college student working part time while she finished her degree. Marilyn and I were... well, we hadn’t been college students for quite some time. But the three of us clicked right off the bat, and I give a lot of the credit to Lue. She may have been 21, but she had wisdom well beyond her age and did not flinch at befriending two women old enough to be her mothers. Lue was an immigrant from Kosovo. Her family won the lottery at their refugee camp after the Kosovo War ended in 1999 and landed in Fort Dix, NJ, courtesy of Bill Clinton and NATO. (Despite the bad press, Lue was always Bill Clinton’s biggest fan. Her country reveres him for his efforts to end the genocide in her country.) She arrived at the age of 17, not speaking a word of English, but she picked up the language much faster than her parents or older brother, thanks to an ESOL program at the Hartford, CT, high school she attended. She rapidly became the grown-up in the family, having to handle everything from employment applications to insurance issues because of her ability to communicate. None of this phased her. She is one of the strongest people I know.

Lue, Marilyn, and I had many good months working together. We worked steadily, and we worked hard. We shared a strong work ethic and a love of laughter. Lue shared stories about Kosovo, her boyfriend (now husband) whom she met in the refugee camp and was still over there, her struggles to learn to live abroad, and her triumph at becoming an American citizen.

Three women, unlikely friends thrown together by a work relationship and strengthened by laughter. It’s been nine years since we worked together. I miss them.

Laugh until your heart overflows.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The California

Growing up in the 60’s, I thought California was the center of the universe. I didn’t live there. I had only visited once or twice, but one of those visits was to Disneyland. Back in the days when it was the only Disney Land. California was a magical place to me; the entire state was Fantasyland. 

As I came of age, some of the best music from the rock era came out of California: The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, Crosby Stills and Nash,  Linda Ronstadt, America, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, to name a few. Even the singer-songwriters who did not hail from California congregated at The Troubadour nightclub in LA: James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Van Morrison, Dusty Springfield. 

Didn’t almost every TV show I watched as a kid take place in California? The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Julia, The Big Valley, The Rockford Files, Barretta, CHiPs, Emergency 9-1-1, Columbo, McMillan and Wife, Sanford and Son?

So unique and quirky and diverse and living on the edge of the San Andreas fault, California is where everything happens first. I came to think of it as "the California." Not THE California, as if it were the original in a slew of wannabe states claiming the same name, but a name that requires a definite article in front of it, like the Mona Lisa or the David. Everyone knows it; it defines itself. The California.

I recently spent a week in the California. Just driving from Reno, Nevada, to Monterey I saw towns on the road map whose names I knew: Livermore, Petaluma, Mill Valley, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Salinas, Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur. How do I know these names? They were featured in countless news stories, homes of research centers, universities, computer manufacturers, celebrities, and surfer dudes. This is where it was all happening while I was growing up, and still is.

Did you know that if the California were its own country, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world? (Okay, Wikipedia says eighth, but fifth is the ranking I’ve heard being tossed around.) In the world!!! That alone requires a definite article. Salinas Valley produces 80% of the lettuce eaten in the United States. The California has an ocean, several mountain ranges and deserts (it is home to both the highest and lowest elevations in the lower 48 states), volcanoes, and some very big-ass trees. It is an amazing state. I am a fan. Would I want to live there? Not really, they also have one of the highest costs of living in the United States. I couldn’t afford to buy a house there - or, more likely, I wouldn’t want to live in the kind of house I could afford there.

If you have any doubt that this is an awe-inspiring state, make the drive from Monterey to Big Sur sometime on the Pacific Coast Highway. But be prepared to stop every few minutes to take photos. I’ve traveled all over the world, and I’ve never seen coastline like that.