The Best Places to Pee

Our roads are crumbling, people are concerned about their safety from terrorist attacks or crazed people with guns, our weather has been acting unpredictably, our food is laden with questionable stuff, the environment is compromised, we all still can’t afford health care and college, and Americans are mad at our politicians in Washington and their own states. Yet what are we talking about? Bathrooms. Are you kidding me?

I expect this to be a major topic of conversation with my grandchildren, not our politicians. Children are fascinated with all the fun playthings in bathrooms like the water, the ability to flush things away, and the process in general, but why, I ask, is the focus of some legislatures literally in the toilet?

As you all know, I have a lot of opinions on public bathrooms. In fact, I judge them using a detailed point system I invented. (Each item is weighed equally for simplicity.)

  1. Cleanliness- Nothing is ickier and more disgusting than a dirty bathroom.
  2. Neatness- As we know, a bathroom can be filled with an overflowing wastebasket of paper towels, yet still be clean.
  3. Pocketbook hanger. How annoying it is to close the door to the bathroom stall to discover there is no hook from which to hang one’s purse.? Doing one’s business while hovering over the toilet and holding a pocketbook is a challenge.
  4. Filled Soap Dispenser- It is never enough to wash one’s hands in a bathroom with only water. We must have our soap. Also, one must wash long enough to sing the ABC song to be clean.
  5. Clean changing table with garbage container nearby. When changing our precious cargo, do we want to expose them to ick, and then have no place nearby to toss the dirty diaper?
  6. Plenty of paper towels. I used to think that having the super duper dryer, also known as the Vortex, was the best, until my friend, Mary, explained that they spread far more germs than paper towels. A study by the Mayo Clinic says paper, blowers and the ever-so-gross towel-on-a-roll all are equal in drying your hands and staying germ-free. I never knew this was a controversy, so given the choice, I say choose paper.
  7. Doors that open out. Who wants to wash their hands while singing the ABC song, dry them on paper towels, and then have to touch a germ-infested door handle?
  8. Locks, Locks, Locks. Having a door with no lock is awkward. End of discussion.
  9. Room to spread out, particularly at airports. Newark Airport scores a zero here as compared with Columbia and Charlotte, where there is plenty of room to maneuver my suitcase and me. And in Charlotte, there is a nice lady dispensing mints and a friendly “have a nice day!”
  10. A tight door. This is crucial and, according to Casey, having a large door gap, where people can theoretically “peek while I take a leak”, is worse than having a LGBT person in the Ladies Room, and I must agree. This is an obvious no brainer!

So my all-time favorite bathroom is located at the North Charleston outlets. Not only do they score a perfect “10,” but they also score two more points. First, because they have a roomy handy dandy shelf behind the toilet to store my packages, and second, there is a private area with rocking chairs for nursing mothers. How thoughtful!

The bathrooms in London and Paris had full length doors (no gap at all) with an indicator on the knob so you do not need to bend over and twist your head to see if the stall is occupied. And the bathrooms on the streets of Paris get cleaned after each use. How cool is that?

So there you have it. My ten-point rankings of public bathrooms. That should be it, but it’s not because bathrooms have gotten political. This is nuts!

It started in North Carolina, when the governor signed the bill to require their restrooms be used only by people whose biological sex at birth matches the sign on the door. That leads to the question by everyone: “What’s your plan, Governor?”

Is this his answer to unemployment—bathroom police? Will the police be receiving a rash of complaints from individuals who were just trying to tinkle and then approached by fellow tinklers, who question whether they should be in “the other room?”

What are the determining factors: too tall, too manly looking, not enough muscles, a mustache on Grandma, hair too short, hair too long? How does it go down? Does the accuser quietly step outside and report to the “pee police,” and does that mean that we must all carry papers to prove we are where we should be? I see the potential for lots of punches in the face.

This sounds like the world Grandpa lived in when he was a young man in Russia, and he was required to carry papers to prove he was in the correct place. And this is why his sister was ultimately imprisoned, where she ultimately died, because she didn’t have her papers.

We can make jokes, and get offended or mad, or for some people, feel happy. But is this really the USA we really want to live in now? This is a very slippery slope. I hope it stops.






Out of the Mouth of Babes

I have been enjoying watching Bryce learn to speak, and we never know what he will say next. I have started writing down some of his words and expressions when I realized that, sadly, I don’t remember much of your earlier conversations and interesting expressions.

I looked to your baby books and Dad for help. Kelly, when you were two, you began to call me “Karen” and Daddy was “my Gene” or “my man.” You loved going to Burger King, which was the “hamburger store.” The living room was the “limling room,” and instead of saying “you’re welcome,” you would say “I- up’ a.”

Jamie, I had less written about your early words, but I do remember your favorite stuffed friend, “Pin-a-dok-eo.”

Casey, when Jamie’s stories got too winded, you blew her off by saying (at the age of just three), “You’re too complicated with all these details.”

It is upsetting that I wrote so little about your first words, so I decided to include some of Bryce’s early sayings to me which I have written in my journal..

Little children and old folks tell it like it is. There is no filter, and at those ages, there is never any evil intent behind their honesty. It’s just the truth as they see it.

Jamie called my house while I was watching him, and when I asked if he would like to speak with her, he responded with, “No, put her away.”

Children are so easily pleased, because even the simplest outings are an adventure. Dad and I took him food shopping and then to the park. On the way home, he said, “I had a nice day. It was fun. I am hot and sweaty. I need to take a shower.” He is funny and honest, so when he says, “I am so happy to see you,” I know he is not trying to be polite.

One day, he was sitting in the back seat of my car and said, “I am a little boy. In twenty minutes, I’m going to be a grown-up.” What was going on in his mind when he said that?

On a nice day, I asked if he would like to have a picnic. “That’s a great idea, Grandma,” and then speaking like Grandpa, he told me, “This is the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich I ever had.” How nice it is to be appreciated, even if it is by a three year old.

I took him to the zoo and he told me that we had to see the penguins. “You will be so impressed, Grandma!” I was impressed and not by just Bryce. He and two other children were standing outside of the penguin tank. They would run to one end, and one of the penguins followed. They would laugh and run in the opposite direction, and the penguin took off swimming right beside them. This game went on for about fifteen minutes. I never realized how smart and playful penguins are.

My favorite was later that day at the zoo when he asked to go to the bathroom. I explained that the toilet was too high so he would need to sit. He rejected that idea saying, “No Grandma. I want to pee like a man!” He solved the dilemma by tell me, “I have an idea. How about I stand on your feet?” So he did and it worked. He is smart, funny, and resourceful!

And observant. He noticed how the moon appears to follow us when we are driving in the car. “Sorry, Bampa. The moon is not toward your house. It’s towards mine.”

I am looking forward to eavesdropping on the conversations between him and his sister. I am so sorry I didn’t record more of your words. I know they would have had us roaring with laughter.




As I write these stories and talk to Grandma, I think a lot about the mysteries of memory. Why does she remember certain things which seem very random, yet forget other events which seem memorable or very recent? What makes me recall particular stories, and why do they sometimes pop into my head for no reason? As I spend more time with Bryce and Lily, I wonder what, if any, of these early memories they will recall in twenty or more years. If the answer is none, then does it really matter if I spend my time with them planning fun-filled outings, or instead, pop them in front of the television and watch the news or the shopping network?

This latest bunch of random thoughts was precipitated by the discovery of a photo of me with Baba, my Russian grandma ,when I was about two or three. You must admit that I was damn cute!

Baba and me

The first thing about me that I noticed were the curls on my head. My hair was not naturally curly, so the question that I ask myself now is whether my cute little ringlets were the result of curlers or a perm. My guess is the latter, because I do not believe I could have sat still long enough through the stinky process of a home perm. (Even though I was definitely the perfect child)

Then look at those bangs. I am sure you have seen the result of Grandma’s bang-cutting expertise in many photos of my two sisters and me many times.. Aren’t you glad that I never did that to any of you?

Then there is Baba. Like me, she looks so serious. When this photo was snapped, she had not been back in this country more than a year, having arrived in January 1957. I was not quite nineteen months old when I first met her.

I have vague flashes of memory visiting her at her home on Boonton Avenue where she lived with my twin aunts, Helen and Nancy. After she came to the United States and for the rest of her life, she was bounced from house to house. She lived in Boonton for a while, and then after my aunts got married and left Boonton, she lived in Somerville with Aunt Helen, and Trenton with Aunt Nancy.

Her move into our house was quite sudden and unexpected. I guess Aunt Nancy’s husband, Uncle John, had enough of living with his mother-in-law, so one day, they pulled up at our house in his flashy green Cadillac, and Uncle John literally dumped Baba at the curb in front of our house . There was no warning and a lot of panicked planning on Grandma and Grandpa’s part to figure out where to put her in a house with five kids and three bedrooms. Grandma cried a lot.

Grandpa then had an unexpected project, which was converting our dining room into a bedroom for Uncle Mart and Uncle Dave. The two openings into that room were originally arched entries, which Grandpa had to reshape to fit two doors.

That was the end of Grandma being able to host her fat club, which was a group of ladies who got together at each other’s houses to chat and eat dessert.

Now the two boys were sleeping adjacent to the kitchen and living room, and we had to squeeze an extra person around the kitchen table. It was not a good time for our family..

It was a very hard transition for both Grandma and Baba. Without warning, these two women, who could not speak to each other, were abruptly stuck with each other. Grandma was not happy having her mother-in-law who could speak only Russian sharing her days with her, and for Baba, she was literally thrown out of her daughter’s house. After all those years of living apart from her children, now she was discarded like a worn old shoe.

The only way we could talk to her was when Grandpa acted as a translator. So we would sit at the dinner table, and Baba would listen to the babble of the seven of us but would have no idea what we were saying. Grandma would continually be reminding Grandpa to tell her what we were discussing.

One day, Grandma went upstairs to change the sheets. After she removed the dirty sheets, she was interrupted by a telephone call. When she left, Baba saw the sheets lying on the floor or the bed, so she decided to help Grandma by putting them on the bed. Needless to say, Grandma was not pleased when she returned to discover that the bed was made with dirty sheets, and she could not explain to Baba why she was removing them. It is funny now, but it must have been frustrating for both of them.

I don’t know what she did all day. My uncle Pete bought Baba a short wave radio, which enabled her to listen to Russian stations, but I am not sure how much it worked.

She enjoyed certain shows such as I Love Lucy, which got a lot of its laughs with visual comedy. Aunt Ar told me recently that Baba hated Cher. I’m not sure why.

She had some Russian friends who lived near Mt. Carmel Church on Birch Street. I have no idea how she met them, but since Boonton is such a small town, I imagine they found each other or Grandpa dug them up for her.

Baba made the best bread, so she decided to teach Grandma how to bake it. As Bryce would say, “It was a disaster.” As someone who lived many years sharing her living space with another family and then sleeping at railroad stations during the war, her sanitation standards were at a different level than Grandma’s. She didn’t wash her hands enough, and if she had a runny nose, then, oh well, she used her sleeve or back of her hand and then continued kneading the dough. She measured nothing, and because of the language barrier, she could only demonstrate, but not explain. It was not good, and as a result, there is no family bread recipe.

She eventually moved one more time, which was to Aunt Helen’s Florida Gulf Coast house where she died in 1978. I often wonder if she would have been happier if she remained in Russia where she had family and friends. She had such a sad life.

Another Year, Another Baby

March 20 or 21st may be the official start of spring, but to me, when I saw my first robin romping on my lawn and I turned the calendar to April, that is when I felt like the worst of winter was behind me. Now it has moved up a month to March, but still, April 1st was always a happy date. It was also a fun date—April Fools’ Day.

I look back on that date now and have only adult memories of that day—all of which I am sure is not news to any of you. (But the grandkids may read this someday.) There were the multiple calls to me from a “doctor,” informing me that Dad/Bampa was in the hospital with a broken bone. The man, a real doctor it turned out, got two telephone hang-ups from me because I truly believed it was a joke. Well, the joke was on me when the doctor persisted in calling me, and I finally realized that Dad really had gotten hurt while playing basketball with the boys.

Then there was the snowstorm when Grandpa called and asked how much snow we had gotten and wondered if our schools were closed. I was initially confused, and then remembered the date, so I thought it was his joke when he informed me that he had over a foot of snow on his back deck. We had just a dusting to maybe an inch. Yet that difference  above sea level between our house and his, not even five miles away, made the difference between “Boonton public schools are closed today,” and “it’s just another day in Montville, kiddies!”

For years, after Aunt Ar passed her baby birthing years, I would fall for her joke year after year: “Hello, how are you. I’m pregnant!” Every year, I would forget that this was her April Fools’ Day joke and always believe it. Finally, when she realized that there was no way that she could pull it off again, she instructed Jamie to tell me that she was pregnant. Same joke, different characters. I think that for the briefest moment, with a sick feeling in my stomach, I believed it. This was not the time for me to be a grandmother.

So this year, knowing she does not read these posts, I think it’s time for me to make a phone call. Who should be the lucky mother-to-be that she just may believe this year?