IMO: Life’s Eventful Extremes

What a difference a day can make.

My mother visited for a week and escaped the 15 below zero temps in Illinois. Jim and I hosted her before my children and grandchildren arrived later in the week to see her. On the first night of her visit, with supper finished and the evening open for entertainment, my mother chose the movie, Richard Harris in A Man Called Horse (1971). On the second night, I picked Battle of the Sexes. On January second, it was Jim’s turn to pick a movie.

What a surprise that he picked Moonstruck. The consummate chick-flick? Maybe he was inspired by our own Bella Luna, the Super Moon going on outside? January has two full moons this year and it has started several conversations about the differences between a Wolf, a Blue and a Super Moon. He loves the silly Dean Martin song, “That’s Amore”. I suspected he was trying to be a good sport and pick a film that would make my Mom happy. I hadn’t seen Moonstruck in decades. Sure, why not? So the music played, and I swooned with the luscious music of La bohème. Nicholas Cage was young and a sexy scene-chewer. Cher was gorgeous and almost convincing while Olympia Dukakis deserved her Best Supporting Oscar win. When the credits rolled, we all stood up and smiled. The ending was touching with the punctuation mark celebrating the family and validating the vows of love.

Jim left the room and returned. With the music still in the background, he got down on one knee and opened up a box with a silver wedding band. “I bought this for myself, but it won’t mean anything if you don’t accept the other ring I bought.” He opened up another box and in it was an engagement ring. “Cindy, will you marry me?”

That he asked me in front of my mother meant the world. That he did it in front of this romantic movie was a masterstroke. I remember when we were in Santorini, I wondered why hadn’t he asked me to marry him in arguably the prettiest place in the world? Instead, he asked me in our living room with my mother in attendance. We were all moonstruck.

I have been divorced for 26 years. What a strange, lovely state-of-being to be now engaged.

12 hours later, at noon, I felt a twitch under my upper rib cage. The twitch turned into a poke which turned into a gasping stab that became a constant companion. By three in the afternoon, I was in the emergency room. Jim was by my side, my children arrived that morning and were entertaining my mother. To breathe jiggled the knife in my chest as we waited for doctors and blood tests and sonograms and EKG results to whittle down the possibilities.  They found a baseball cyst connected to my liver, and the cyst was bleeding. Until the blood was absorbed, I would be in pain. Two doses of Dilaudid (stronger than Morphine) laterthey sent me home. I did my best to be calm and quiet, but by 3 a.m., the pain was still strong as ever and poor Jim had to take me back to the ER.

A few days have passed, my Mom has returned to the tundra. The house is quiet. I am feeling better. I looked at Jim and realized I was still engaged, and he was my fiancé, and I hadn’t thought about his question to marry him for days. He just walked by my desk just now.
“Why the living room instead of on top of a Grecian Island?”

He replied, “Home is where the heart is.” Good answer.

I asked him, “We don’t believe in bad omens, right?”

“Of course not.”

“Okay, good. It must have been the Belle Luna.

The ironies of life fascinate me. How about you? How extreme has a day been for you? 

IMO: The Guitar

Dear Son,

I saw the movie Coco the other day, and a major theme of the movie was remembering your dead loved-ones so they wouldn’t be forgotten. While driving home alone, it was dark and the vivid stars flickered. I imagined the people I had loved and lost throughout my life were the brightest ones saying hello. I began with the first person I had lost, my best friend way back when I was seventeen, and I remembered the special days and the unremarkable ones. I recalled his goofiness, his serious expressions as his fingers tapped on the piano keys, and I thanked his star for introducing me to classical music. Then I recalled the next deceased person in my history and the next. I recalled their faces and told their stars what I had loved best about them until your Dad was next. Do I remember the bad or the good?

For years in my mind, it was too easy to recall the ugly times and feel righteous for my decision to divorce him. I see now, decades later, that it was an attempt to ease my guilt for the breakup of the family. In the beginning, when we loved each other, during our happiest times, it was so because of music. After a shift of work, we’d sit at the table playing a board game that simulated a baseball season while we listened to new artists.  He’d sing the lyrics he memorized with a clear pitch. We’d listen with speakers loud, and I remember dancing around the room to Genesis’s “Turn it on Again.” I always think of your Dad when that song comes on. We were stationed in Scotland at the time and visited the record store frequently. Every paycheck he’d pick out a new album to buy. We studied the groups he was obsessed with like The Beatles, Yes, and The Who. We both discovered new groups together and bought their albums as soon as they were released. Groups like: Tears for Fears, U2, the Police, Dire Straits, Depeche Mode, and a hundred others. His tastes were all over the place. I thought that was one of his best traits. That he shared his passion for music with me was the best gift of our marriage.

When you were a teenager and back from the military school, Lincoln’s Challenge, you sat up in your bedroom with your GED waiting for your friends to graduate high school. I’m so glad cell phones weren’t omnipresent then or the stimulation of social media that steals our time today. In the quiet, up in your room, you taught yourself how to play the guitar.  If there was a silver lining during the dark days of your teenage years, I’d say that was it. In college, you played your guitar and sang the songs you wrote and your album for your senior project reflected your ingenuity. How proud I was to listen to your songs. I still pull out the CD and listen to it from time to time. When you performed during your twenties and your guitar chords were precise and your voice conveyed feeling, and the audience clapped for you—did you feel that was the apex of your musical relationship with the guitar?

You are thirty-something now with responsibilities and different passions. A life to share with Laura. A new degree almost completed. Hopes and dreams for a better job. Children soon. I couldn’t be happier for you! I know making ends meet is difficult and the many moves and transitions precipitated your decision to part with your acoustic guitar a few years ago. This year, you did not want me to get you a birthday present because you have everything you need. However, I hope you will accept the guitar I sent you, even though I know it was a selfish move on my part. You see, when I think about your Dad’s love for music, I think of you, because you inherited that passion. As mother and son, we talk about music and share new groups and songs. I still have the many CDs you burned for me, and I listen to the bands you recommended. When you played the guitar at Thanksgiving because I insisted, it made me happier than I anticipated.

I am not suggesting you perform or record or do anything purposeful with the gift that is yours other than to play the guitar as a part of your life. It makes people happy. It is that unique, interesting side of your personality. Play to your family and friends and spread the love of music to the next generation, on behalf of your Dad, and on behalf of me, please, play. Happy Birthday.

DeNiro & Pfeiffer: Wizard of Lies

Watching the recent HBO movie, Wizard of Lies, familiarizing myself with the story of Bernie Madoff was like watching a modern twist on Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy, Doctor Faustus. Madoff’s hubris gets the better of him over a period of eighteen years after selling his soul to begin a hedge fund and fraudulent operation which over time grows into an insidious secret monster. In 2008, he told his sons, and they turned him. Thousands of investors suffered, families, including his own, were destroyed and now he rots in jail with his accusors hoping he suffers eternal damnation. Here’s a timeline of his history if you are interested from CNN, Bernard Madoff Time Line. 

The HBO film directed by Barry Levinson and written by Sam Levinson, Sam Baum, and John Burnham Schwartz, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Diana B. Henriques focused on the relationships of his family and his wife of over 50 years, Ruth. Bernie and Ruth Madoff backstory.

DeNiro gives an impressive performance who manages to portray the human side of the man with varying emotions from bellicose barking to stone-faced resignation.  The strongest moments of the film are when he is interacting with his wife, Ruth, played perfectly by Michelle Pfeiffer. She simply nailed it. Her accent, her dependency on her “lifeguard”, their intrinsic life put her in a heart-breaking situation several times. In fact, if Pfeiffer had not starred in the film or had a sizable chunk of the narrative, it would have been another biopic; a mediocre, flash-back narrative that’s overdone and predictable. Rent this on Amazon for fine acting by DeNiro and Pfeiffer. 4/5. 

Was Madoff evil? A sociopath? When you are on top of the world, with all the power (he created NASDAQ), and are revered by contemporaries and more power than the President, how could one avoid the lure of manipulation and greed? At the very least, invincibility was his cloak and he became larger than life. Madoff said he thought, in the beginning, he could fix his problems, and then smooth over the bending of the rules. That was his downfall. He could not admit he was at fault. He was addicted to power. He was addicted to his Ponzi Scheme–regardless of the consequences.

What exactly, did he do wrong? For almost twenty years, Madoff convinced rich and poor clients they were buying into an elite private hedge fund. He funneled their money to other clients, who believed the payments to be deserved returns on shrewd financial planning. When his escapades were revealed in December 2008, 65 billion imaginary dollars evaporated. Elie Wiesel and Steven Spielberg were victims as well as thousands of “ordinary” folks. There’s a cool moment in the film where his victim’s faces make a montage of Bernie Madoff’s face. A nice touch.

According to the film, Madoff felt relief he went to jail–a self-imposed recovery institution that will last long after he naturally dies. They say money is the root of all evil; Madoff is the personification of the maxim.

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