December 7, 2004
Why I Went Door to Door for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Why You Should Too!
I. Know your neighbors
It’s imperative that people know their neighbors. They can help you out in all sorts of situations. And you can help them out, too. When my basement flooded, Charley was over here in a flash with newspapers to sop up the water. He always knows what to do. When I needed furniture moved, Scott and Patrick helped me out. When Diane needed babysitting for her baby, I went over and watched him for an hour. When Nancy needed a rose for her flower arrangement I gave her a deep red one with a beautiful fragrance. I planted the rose garden near my front door so I can smell them on cool evenings from my living room.
When my blue hydrangeas are in bloom, I cut off stalks and give them to all my neighbors. Whoever heard of blue flowers? The color stuns your eye. A nontraditional color for a flower. A misfit flower. Its beauty shines in the neighborhood. And declares: She lives here.
Wherever I go, I bring flowers. It’s a nice thing to do. I bring them to my poetry groups and brought it to Little Patrick Owen’s christening. Only yesterday, I was invited over Bobby and Cynthia’s for lunch and I made them a darling arrangement from winter things in my yard including red berries and a variegated leaf called euonymous. Variegated things catch my eye. They are like the stripes on zebras. They are contrasting things. Because of their contrast, each part looks more beautiful. Bobby and Cynthia are a variegated couple. Bobby and I went on a half hour walk. He has the knowledge base of the World Wide Web inside his 68-year-old head. He and his wife are soulmates. Cynthia doesn’t allow you to walk in the house in your shoes. She gives you slippers to wear. She is a neatnik and has a very neat house.
When I bring people into my home I say, “If you need to raise your self esteem about messy houses, you’ve come to the right place.”
II. Social anxiety. Free yourself of social anxiety by visiting your neighbors. Let your curiosity lead the way. Everyone is curious about their neighbors. Learn to talk to everyone. Say only nice things about your neighbors. But speak the truth. Learn the history of your neighborhood. When was your development or apartment building built? What was there before it? I learned quite by accident that an influential member of the mental health community, Myron “Mike” Sloane, was the developer of my neighborhood, which he named “Moreland Hills.” One of my neighbors, 93, bought the largest plot of land in Moreland Hills, for something like $10,000 –the prices of the lots were the same, so he told me, “Why not buy the biggest piece of ground?” He is a master gardener and his backyard is a certified Wildlife Preserve.
The neighbors around him look after him. He is a widower. I had always wanted to meet him because he has a very beautiful rose garden, and one day, there he was outside, and I complimented him about his rose garden, and we got to know one another. He was putting out in the trash the parts to a riding mower, including little rubber wheels, and I asked if I might have them to make a sculpture with and he said yes. Later on, when my ex-boyfriend Simon saw the parts, he went wild, and conned me out of the motor. My back garden is decorated with discarded automobile parts. It’s quite lovely, if that’s your kind of taste. Also with some big rocks from a quarry that someone invited me down to in his truck so I could pick out big rocks for my garden. It was like going down the Grand Canyon, except it was called Miller Quarry. They have dark brown trucks like the UPS. Those rocks are the love objects of my garden. I paint everything. But one thing I don’t paint is rocks. You don’t mess with God’s rocks.
To make friends, all you need to do is ask about the other person. People love nothing more than to talk about themselves. Just this morning I was talking to 86-year-old George down the street. Older people like to tell you their age. You don’t even have to ask. I never realized how old I was – I never paid attention to it until I printed my age one time in the Compass – I was 56 at the time – and then suddenly I became aware I wasn’t young anymore. It was distressing. This is one form of proof about writers: You don’t know yourself until you write it down and then you can claim yourself.
I was pulling up the street and George was walking a neighbor’s dog with a red Christmas bow on it. George and I adore each other, his smile is great and wide, I could sit here and imagine it in my mind and it makes me so happy, so I jumped out of my car and George and I talked and talked. All of his ancestors’ first names are George. One of them fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. He got a bullet in his leg but refused to have it removed. He gave instructions that upon his death the bullet was to be removed. Guess who has the bullet! My George at the bottom of the street. And it will be passed onto his son who’s name is also George.
One of my favorite things is to trespass with permission, like the mailmen do, onto people’s properties. During the Leukemia drive, I got invited into many people’s houses. I love seeing how other people live. Everybody’s got a tv in the living room. My tv is in my bedroom closet. I hate watching tv although thank God someone told me that Bob Dylan was on Sixty Minutes. It was very interesting seeing him. That man is not going to kiss anybody’s ass. He’s just going to be himself. I’d like to be that way too but I’m not in a position to do so.
When you’re out legally trespassing, the prize is to look into the person’s refrigerator. So I knocked on the door of a yellow house and gained entry. A lovely young couple lived there. I wrote their names down on my clipboard. I have a thing for clipboards. Have clipboard will travel. I have about 6 of them in my house and keep them in the corner of my living room so I can find them. I’m not one of those people who lose things. I have a messy house but everything is in its proper place.
(Funny story: I did my Christmas shopping at the Huntingdon Valley Post Office. I bought $76 worth of bee-you-ti-ful stamps. I send stamps to people as presents. There’s a beautiful Cloudscape stampbook out now. Breathtakingly beautiful. A postage stamp. That’s how the PO makes most of its money, just like the movies make it with the concession stand. Yuck!!! Sneak your own food in.)
The neighbors in the Yellow House were a very busy young couple and had stuff all over the house including the most awful snack food you could imagine: Little Debbie Snacks. When my kids were little, I was on lithium and was constantly watching my weight. So I stopped buying Tastycakes because they were so tempting (butterscotch krimpets) and bought Little Debbie instead because they were so awful, I mean so really really terrible tasting – and the kids loved them – that there was no danger ever of my eating them.
Well, these people were really friendly especially the guy. It’s fun to find out if people are prudes or liberals. I didn’t even have to beg for him to show me around. He took me right into the kitchen. He was so proud of it. He’d built the whole thing himself including the tile floor. They’d just gotten a new refrigerator. My kids are going to buy me a new refrigerator for my birthday. I told him this and marveled over his stainless steel fridge and ran my hand over the smooth stainless steel.
“This is beautiful!” I said. “A one-piece refrigerator with the freezer on top, just like when I was a kid.”
I have one of those side-by-side refrigerators, where the fridge is on the right, the freezer on the left. The stuff in the freezer is very hard to find. I keep my flours in there so they don’t get rancid for when I bake bread. Same with poppyseed and caraway seed.
In a flash, I made up my mind. “I’m going to buy this kind of fridge,” I said. “May I look inside?”
“Sure,” he said.
So, at one and the same time I was accomplishing several goals (people with clever minds always do things for many reasons) – and I told him truthfully, that I’m going to go to Gephart’s in Glenside and buy a refrigerator like his but with a white front to match the dishwasher I got from there.
The couple was really strapped for money – possibly they could have been even poorer than I am, though that’s doubtful – and they told me they couldn’t possibly give anything to Leukemia. Finally they broke down and gave me a dollar. I tucked it in the Leukemia envelope with their name and address on it.
As soon as the Leukemia Kit arrived in the mail, I regretted volunteering. I was a week over deadline in collecting, but then, I’m not getting paid for it – but I set aside half a day to carry out my duty. I went to all 16 houses I was assigned to. I made up my own rules as I went along. I was to make one trip down the street and was not to leave any envelopes for the neighbors to send back: An envelope left alone is an envelope you will never see again. My goal was to get something from every person on the street. One family was not home except for their kid. I asked him for a dollar. He said he didn’t have any money. I said, Don’t you have any loose change around the house? He said no and I said, “OK, thanks anyway.” And waved goodbye.
Another guy was a Rotarian (that means a person who belongs to the civic group Rotary) – isn’t that an adorable name – Rotarian – it could be like the Brobdinagians in Gulliver’s Travels – and this guy was in one of the first Rotary groups I spoke at. He answered the door and I asked him for money. I also asked if I could peek in his house but he said No, it was messy. I told him I couldn’t remember which Rotary it was. He said they meet at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club, which used to be the estate of some rich person. Whenever I think of the country club – I spoke there twice – I remember the smell of the Sterno under the chafing dishes. I asked him if I could speak again at his Rotary. He said he’d ask. I’m positive he won’t. One chatty manic depressive was probably enough for them to last a lifetime. I brought my CD player and began my presentation by saying, “The mind of the man who wrote this music felt emotions far deeper than the average human being. He was an artist. A composer. And he suffered from The Artist’s Condition.” Then I played the famous first chords of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
It was brilliant.
Bob said he’d bring it up before the Speakers Committee.
I, myself, am trying to join the Huntingdon Valley Rotary. You have to get voted in. I’ve come a long way since I was a shy kid who couldn’t speak up in class at Temple University, when I was taking literature classes and so wanted to comment on Dante’s The Divine Comedy: The Inferno – it is still a metaphor that comes to me – or Milton’s Paradise Lost. Such imagery. But, back then, I was tripped up by social anxiety.
All smart people figure out what to do about social anxiety. “You do the thing you fear.” (Eleanor Roosevelt said that.) You may make a fool of yourself at first. But so what? You keep trying.
Remember, we’re only here on this earth one time and one time only. I’m a Jew and don’t believe in heaven or hell. Our life is our heaven, our life is our hell.
For me, I choose poetry and ringing on people’s doorbells.
I didn’t follow Leukemia’s instructions. They sent me horrible paperwork. I can’t handle paperwork, so I did it my way and typed them a letter on what I did. Their “Kit Goal” was $35. We got $30 in checks, and something like $50 in cash. I didn’t count it.
I wanted every single house to give me something, even if it was only a dollar. Two houses out of 16 refused to give me even a dollar. I just accepted the “No” and moved on.
Best of all, I achieved my dream. I want to have a party of neighbors. It wasn’t even me who suggested it. It was my next-door neighbor, Bill. He’s awfully nice and said he got a pool table and wanted to invite me and my son over for a game of pool. Just then Patrick came walking by with his little white dog, Wesley. I introduced the two of them and they shook hands.
I told each of them how wonderful each of them was – they shovel driveways for the old people – and I said that Bill should invite Patrick and Sue to the pool party and also the new couple I met down the street whose refrigerator I looked in. And also, I said, the 93-year-old man, who Patrick looks after. And of course Scott the man who lives next door who came with me to the automated 24-hour post office in Huntingdon Valley to help me mail in my Pew Grant. I couldn’t have dealt with all that automation by myself. It was like a science fiction movie. I just knocked on Scott’s door and said “Look, you don’t have to do this, but I’d be really happy if you’d ….”
And he did.
It’s good to know the people on your street.
[Vast aside. One time I had this famous local poet meet me at my therapy office in Bensalem and look over my poetry. His name was Chris Bursk. He was wearing a shirt like a flannel undershirt and had thick glasses on. He didn’t look a thing like his voice sounded like on the phone. I thought he was a new custodian.
He wanted to see all of my poetry. I mailed him 35 poems. Then we met in my office at 7:30 on a wintry morning. He’d marked them up and put tiny stars by the parts he liked. We sat at the round table in my office. “You’re always writing about your neighbors,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “I write poems about my neighbors.” He said it as if he thought it was odd. After Chris Bursk left, I wrote a poem about him. I got another poetry mentor who I paid enormous bucks for but he unconsciously plagiarized me and was a misogynist besides, so I fired him. He sure was cute, though. Long hair in a ponytail. Wow!!!
I guess writers have certain themes. Mine certainly include my neighbors. What are neighbors? They’re people. Some of them are like you and some are not. This morning I was in the CVS and I saw this man in a jacket with a whole lot of buttons and insignias on it. I was waiting for a prescription to be filled. I said to him, If I had a camera I would photograph you and your jacket. So I went over and bought a camera and will ask my son how to use it. And I’ll carry it around and take pictures of people and of buildings and of trees. And cupolas. I’m really into cupolas. You’ll have to look that up in the dictionary. Subscribe to www.bartleby.com.
Go onto Carl Yeager’s photography website – www.ShutterCity.com, type in his name and find his photo called Where Father Died. We want to put it on the Compass cover if I can GMAIG to do another issue. Two of our subscribers are already putting pressure on me.
Anticipation is one of the finest of all feelings. The feeling of anticipation.
What, dear reader, are you anticipating?
I am anticipating seeing this thing go up on the website. And also getting a good night’s sleep.
One of the best days of my life was when I went sailing with Janice and George. George was a real character. He reminded me exactly of my husband. He had a miserable personality and was always losing his temper. Everything flustered him. I was watching in great amusement because it was exactly like being with my husband but this guy didn’t have the power to hurt me. He was very bright like my husband and had put in the whole computer system of some institution. You could pay me ten billion dollars and I’d never marry someone like that. He had a massive brain, a big GM truck and a sailboat. You can’t get much better than that except he was a miserable person to be with. On the sea, we beeched over by the water reeds and Jan made the two of them martinis. I took a teeny-tiny sip.
My husband came to visit me a few months ago. I was lying in bed with a bad back so I invited him up into my bedroom and he sat in a chair. He’s remarried and he and his wife go to marriage counseling sessions. I was so happy he got remarried right after I left him because I felt so sorry for him when I left. So he sat in the chair and I lay in bed and we talked for two hours. I saw instantly what it was about him that I fell in love with. It was the way he paused between words to think.
That little pause that gave way onto the vasthood of his mind, that, alas, was too moody for me. He was the son of a farm woman who knew how to take care of herself and a man who was a geophysicist who became a drunk when he worked for the Atlantic Richfield Company in South America.
And at the end of the conversaton with my husband – he left his jacket here and it’s in the closet and I’m too lazy to mail it back – he said to me, “Ruth, why did you leave me anyway?”
I guess he didn’t see things the way I did. I guess he thought we had a great marriage. I guess he thought that not paying attention to your wife and being inside your own head all the time was the way to make a marriage work. I didn’t know what to say to him. I was lying there in my white nightgown under the down comforter and just didn’t know what to say.
And then later my grown daughter said to me in a fake Texas twang, “I talked to Dad and he said he made closure with you, Mom.”
I am proud to have been married to a man from Texas. So very proud. And even prouder to have divorced him. Believe it or not, I have been through many things in my life. But leaving my husband was the hardest thing I ever did. It was a metaphor for the way I’d live the rest of my life. You put your own good first, and you live your life for the good of yourself. Except when you have young children and then you sacrifice yourself for the first most important years of their life.
Bill, the guy next door, said he had to go to a family function and Patrick, who is tall and handsome, said: “Bill, leave now. Right now. If you don’t, Ruth will talk to you forever.”
I laughed hysterically and my hysterical laughter rang down the street.
Another best was, that very day, I got Scott, the guy who lives by himself next door (he gave five one’s to Leukemia) to come into my house and listen to me read my poetry!
Now that’s some neighbor! He liked it. Said it sounded like the stuff on NPR. He’s got a good mind and studies the stars with his telescope in the backyard. Plants tomatoes and puts up netting so the deer won’t get it. Works nights and comes home when it’s just getting light and says the deer have taken control of the street, and the skunks, too, and raccoons. The animals walk the streets at night like they own it. And do.
That night of the Leukemia Drive, I was on the phone thanking Bill Cardinale for a $500 donation he’d sent New Directions. My office door was closed so the cats wouldn’t get in and knock things over. I was thanking Bill – he’s the guy that called me after my letter appeared in the Wall Street Journal – and we’ve been fast friends ever since.
Patrick let himself into the house and yelled up that he was leaving some steak and a baked potato on the kitchen table for me.
I can’t stand cooking for myself. And never have anything in the refrigerator but eggs, baby carrots, bottles of cold water, including seltzer water. I like how it feels as it goes down.
The steak was still hot, delicious and tender. I ate the food while I was writing some poetry, and sent off an email to Pat thanking him and Sue for the delicious dinner.
See what Neighbors can do for you! And you for them! Always make yourself available to run errands for your neighbors.
You can also learn how the school system is, how your local politicians are doing serving your needs, and you can find out if people are deep thinkers or not. If they think about things. I like to be around all kinds of people, but I especially like to be around people that think.
You learn from everything you see. If you don’t learn, you’re a dead person.
Then I typed up a letter to the Leukemia Society on New Directions stationery so I could promote New Directions. You never know who is reading the letter, and I also enclosed an ND brochure.
Dear Leukemia and Lymphoma Society –
Please find enclosed the results of my participation in your campaign. Thank you for asking me. I didn’t follow precise directions, as I haven’t the patience to deal with paperwork, but, most importantly, I did bring in some money.
In the future, you ought to STAMP the envelope yourself, as it makes it much easier for me, your volunteer, to mail it.
That is extraordinarily important!
Ruth Zali Deming, MGPGP
You put your credentials behind your name to show them you’re a community member of some import, and if you choose, you can throw in that you’ve been in
4-point restraints at Bldg. 16 at Norristown State Hospital.
Do you think I told that to the Leukemia Society? Do you think I told them that? What do you think, huh? Do you think I’m that brazen! I mean, I’m pretty brazen. Lemme know what ya think? [email protected]
SHE WANTS PEOPLE TO SAY ABOUT HER: THAT GIRL KNOWS HOW TO WRITE
Four in the morning
when I wrapped up my work,
the sun crouching behind
the right thigh of Canada
waiting to make its imperial entrance
across the street
behind Charley’s dogwoods
lay down on my couch to sleep
didn’t know if I could
long time mind
long dips into the interior
nevergone places before
would I sleep?
my back began to ache again
put my heating pad underneath
Maybe I’ll go up in fire,
Brunnhilde into the Funeral Pyre
of her beloved
turned my motionless face
to the ceiling fan
and surrendered to the silence
of the night become morning
what thoughts would come
I was ready
a fearless warrior
come through another day
and was surprised
at the honey warmth
spreading through me
the unborn sun
clothed still in sweatpants and
olive green T-shirt
and I was pierced
with the hot breath of
sleeping with God.
I’ll take it.