Wednesday, March 25, 2015


A 33-lb. bag of Science Diet costs $48 at the Petco on Hollywood and Bronson. I could skip that store and instead purchase a natural product recommended by the salesperson at Tailwaggers on Franklin, but that food might be more expensive.
I don't own a dog, but lately I've been haunting pet stores and imagining that I indeed have one. Not a large breed like Sasha or Buddy, the Golden Retrievers that once lived with Tommy and me, but instead, a mid-sized rescue. (Our dogs died at ages 9 and 14, their male owner at 77.)
Currently, I am renting a condo in Los Angeles, and my lease states that pets aren't allowed, so my store visits are more like fantasies. But, I have declared that at lease end, I will move to an apartment that permits dogs.
Having said that, I will foster a dog. By visiting the Adoption Fairs on occasional Saturdays at Tailwaggers, I've learned that an organization -- Dogs Without Borders -- "will supply all food, flea meds, leashes, collars, tags, and any vet needs throughout the fostering process. If you are fostering puppies, you will also be supplied with crates/pens and puppy pads. Food and care items are typically delivered with the dog and you are then resupplied at Adoption Fairs."
Doesn't that make you feel better? It did me; it reduces my skittishness at the cost of the 33-lb. bag of Science Diet and doodads that I was ogling. Also, I won't pick a puppy; it's an older dog for me. Tommy and I adopted Buddy at age 1-1/2. He was already housebroken, and I think because he was labeled an adult when we welcomed into our loving embraces, he was the sweetest, easiest dog ever.
Sasha, who was a purebred, was a bit of a handful from puppy to senior. We loved her dearly, but she did not like other dogs. And if you have such a temperamental bitch (allowed language), you know how difficult is to walk that sassy girl without her threatening to harass or bite another pooch. But, I must credit Sasha for leading me to Tommy. You see, he and I lived on the same street. It was 1996, I was divorced from my first spouse, and I was an early morning dog walker. Tommy was a fitness buff and jogged at the same hour. So every time we'd meet in the purple darkness, he would stop and pet Sasha. One thing led to another, and you know the rest of the story.
"Why do you want a dog?" my daughter, Jill, had asked when I was first pitching the idea. "You can come over and cuddle ours whenever you need a fix."
Jill's two giant Labradoodles are indeed lovable, but I'm seeking a mid-sized dog to hang out at my house; one who will welcome me with ecstatic whoops when I enter, and who will jump onto my bed at nighttime. (In my mind, there is no reason to have a dog if he/she can't be on the bed. Same with furniture. But, that's just me.)
My other daughter, Faith, said, "Do you really want the hassle? Whenever you're out, you'll have to rush home to walk the dog. Do you need that?"
I know my kids are trying to get me to slow down and think rationally -- actions completely foreign to my personality. What they don't understand is: despite my moving to Los Angeles to be closer to this family, these dear ones cannot assuage my particular loneliness.
Oh, I can book lunches with new friends every day of the week and I can visit with my concerned kin any time I desire. And, I can hug my grandchildren at will. But if you've experienced the emptiness once filled by a loving husband and a loyal, funny dog, you understand the void.
As any dog owner will tell you, potential spouses aren't the only humans one can attract with a canine at the end of your leash. Friends! At nearly every neighborhood I've lived in, there was at least one new furry friend for dog and one charming person for me. Perhaps we'll meet our duo at my next apartment building?
The only problem I can envision with my plan is the possibility of falling in love with my foster pet. What happens then to my budget? The $48 bags of Science Diet? The meds, leash, treats, vets bills that won't be funded if pooch and I skip from foster to adoption? Well, how about all of us just sitting and staying for now? Good girl. Good boy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


The only sounds I could hear were the clacking of small Bakelite tiles and the calls of "crack, bam, dot" from the four women seated around the table. As I peeked over the shoulder of one of the players, who was allowing this learner to sit in, I studied the designs on the vivid squares filling the center of the table.

The tiles were imprinted with Chinese characters and symbols, and the women's exclamations came as each one discarded a tile she had picked up, or one plucked from the rack facing her.
You may recognize that I was observing the ancient game of Mah Jongg. What you may not fathom is what Elaine Soloway was doing at the table. For wasn't she the gal who swore she shunned card-, table-, and hide and seek- games? Isn't this the former Chicagoan who insisted she hadn't the patience for anything lasting longer than 30 minutes?
Moreover, isn't she the Los Angeles transplant who declared she preferred solitary, rather than group pursuits, especially those not under her control?
So what are we to make of this picture of our Elaine perched on the edge at several Mah Jongg games, her view focused on her teacher's line-up and folder outlining the possible hands.
Sit for a bit, as I pull back the curtain to this recent phenomenon when I (time to switch to first person) decided to discard all of my restrictions, including my previous snobbery about the game.
My conversion -- aptly enough -- came at a weekend retreat for the women of Temple Israel of Hollywood. That's the synagogue I attend for Saturday morning Torah study. My friend Thelma, who chauffeurs me for the weekly lessons, urged me to sign up for the retreat. "You'll get a chance to meet women of all ages and enjoy the Ojai scenery and clean air," she said.
I hesitated before agreeing, because as I have stated, I was a non-joiner; and on top of that, was not a camper. Although there were opportunities to attend summer sleepover camp during my childhood, I was a scaredy-cat. I never wanted to leave my mama; and since I was slightly pudgy and uncoordinated, I preferred for my school vacations the concrete sidewalks of Division Street or the greenery of Humboldt Park. 
Despite all that, something spurred me to sign up for the weekend retreat, which offered exercise classes, Jewish learning, hikes, and Mah Jongg. But the first entry in my journal on the morning after check-in, read: I have made a mistake. I don't belong here. Everyone knows more about Judaism than I. Where will I get my coffee when I wake before breakfast? I can't figure out the heat in this room. I wish I could leave early.
Oy, such a complainer! Even I got tired of me. Then, I said to myself: Would it kill you to get with the program? Go to beginner Mah Jongg! Instead of whining, be game.
So, I did, and as I sat at the table with women decades younger than myself, I imagined my dearly departed mother and her sisters hovering overhead. I could almost hear Min, Rose, Etta, and Molly clicking the tiles. I could listen to their conversations, gossip, and laughter. I could practically smell their perfume. I easily saw their beautiful faces -- pinup girls all of them -- and their smiles as they relished their time together.
Let's pause for a bit of history:  While Mah Jongg originated in China in the 19th century; it became part of Jewish life during World War II. In fact, 12 Jewish women who raised money at tournaments for various relief organizations formed the National Mah Jongg League. The game spread in the 1950s and 1960s to our mothers' card tables. And currently, it's popular among younger women. For example, my Ojai teachers were in their '30's and '40's.
Now, I'm not sure if I'll ever really learn the game or even play it again. But, that's not the moral of this story. It is this: sometimes you can leave your comfort zone and try something you've previously avoided. Sometimes, you can say to yourself: would it hurt you to play? Would it be a disaster to stay awake past your normal bedtime? Could you possibly enjoy being part of a group? Would it kill you to take directions from someone other than yourself?
As for my misgivings cited in my Day One journal, it turned out that I loved the Shabbat services despite not knowing the Hebrew lyrics and melodies, I joined new friends at an early morning coffee run, and the low heat setting in my room kept me toasty.
Crack, bam, dot!