To B or Not to B

Scarlette Begonia

When my children were in middle school and high school, we lived quite a ways out in the country. I was commuting into Sacramento, over an hour away, for work and then providing afternoon and evening transportation to various extracurricular activities for the kids. I drove in excess of 3,000 miles every month. I had this uncanny ability to arrive to pick my kids up, wherever they happened to be, at the precise moment I estimated. Whether inclement weather, road construction, unpredictable traffic conditions, mattered not, if I said I was going to be there at 3:02, I pulled up at exactly 3:02. It bordered on spooky.

I plan.

I have spent the past quarter decade in a career I sort of half-wittingly, and unwillingly, fell into. It was only ever to pay the bills, just until I figured out what I really wanted to do. And it still is. I’m an accountant. An auditor, more specifically. Not an I.R.S. auditor, I’m a financial statement auditor, the kind of auditor a company hires to come in and audit their financial statements for compliance with certain standards and expectations. I’m a friendly auditor. Or I was. Now I teach audit software skills. I teach audit methodology. I teach audit.

Auditors plan. Auditors plan like military strategists. Don’t think for a moment I’m joking. If you are ever involved in a financial statement audit, be aware of the fact that every number, every variance, every interview, every document examined, goes into developing the most strategic, most detailed, most well documented plan. Just be aware of the fact that if you offer the auditors a donut with chocolate sprinkles, it will probably trigger an action in the audit plan different than if you offered a donut with rainbow sprinkles, like perhaps assigning more experienced staff, or altering the nature, timing or extent of testing of a certain financial statement area. I’m kidding. But not. There are plans and they are detailed.

So, I plan.

My question, though, is whether for every plan, should there be a backup plan, a “plan B”?  You know, in case things don’t work out, there is a fall back plan. I’ve decided not.

Five years ago, I embarked on a quest to lose weight. I had recently left a long, fattening, and increasingly unhappy marriage. I traveled extensively for work, which meant eating in restaurants for every meal while away from home, not having a steady routine for sleep or exercise, and only being home a couple days a week, and so, celebrating, by eating out or indulging in “comfort food”. I looked to food for comfort, for solace, for celebration, for boredom. I wasn’t obese, but I was unhealthy, miserable, and uncomfortable.

I adopted a fitness guru, Jillian Michaels, and thought her books and materials were clear, practical, logical and would, more than any others I’d read in the past, be most likely to offer lasting, lifelong, life-changing, results. I ate more healthy selections both in restaurants and at home. I paid attention to portion size. I found a way to exercise every day. I adopted a mantra, “WWJD? What would Jillian do?” The sizes dropped, one after another. In the course of a year, I found myself swimming in my wardrobe four different times. I had to buy four completely new wardrobes in the course of a single year! It was awesome. I jettisoned every piece of ill-fitting clothing as it was replaced. I remember the shock and horror expressed by most of my friends and family. “Why would you get rid of the clothes that became too big? What if you gain the weight back again?”

I tried to reassure everyone, this thing I was doing wasn’t some “fad” diet, this was a lifestyle change. The weight was gone with my old behaviors. It had been a year. I was confident with my new self and had no intention of ever allowing myself to return to my old ways, or shape. I figured, by donating all my too large clothing to charity and not having them to slip back into if I slipped up, would put more impetus on watching my “p’s and q’s”. If my new jeans were beginning to feel a bit tight, it was an indication to take immediate action. Having a “plan B”, a whole wardrobe of roomier clothes, would make it easier to stray from the original plan. It was a plan for failure. It facilitated failure. It resigned to it, made failure an expectation, an eventuality. That was five years ago. I’m still the same, smaller, size, my weight and shape has fluctuated some, but very little. Not once, in five years, have I had to replace a single item in my wardrobe with a larger size. There are currently, out of two dozen pairs, only two pair of jeans in my closet that are a wee bit too tight and, so, my plan is to be a bit more careful with portion size and second portions of certain things I’ve been allowing, lately, like beer. And wine. I’m watching my “p’s and q’s”.

As an auditor, when we plan an engagement, as we gather evidence and information, if we discover a risk we hadn’t planned for earlier, we don’t have a “plan B” to revert to. We don’t abandon the original plan for some lesser plan. We edit the original plan to include steps to address the new risk. The rest of the original plan remains in place. We enhance the original plan, we shore it up, make it more robust. We simply adjust.

I believe this is how we should manage all the plans in our life; from career plans, to plans to improve relationships, to plans for activities or vacations, to plans to learn a foreign language, whatever the plan. Make a plan for exactly how you want things to go. Don’t have a plan for failure. If the original plan doesn’t work out 100%, and, truthfully, few do, simply adjust the plan, enhance the plan, make it more robust, shore it up.

Scarlette Begonia

I was on a vacation to the east coast lately, to visit my daughter and son-in-law, in upstate New York. When I began to plan my visit I told them I wanted to do two things, for certain, during my week there; I wanted to see the horses race at the Saratoga Racetrack and I wanted to summit Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York state. I was so certain about summiting Mt. Marcy, I’d actually drafted the witty social media posts I would make memorializing my accomplishment. It was all but in the books before I even boarded the plane. I planned for it. I packed my hiking boots, my hiking socks, my day pack and hydration system, my trusty water-wicking wool shirt, my emergency trail items; headlamp, knife, cord, multi-tool, etc. I brought with me everything I’d bring on a day hike up to the top of a far higher mountain, here, on the west coast. I’ve summited a few west coast mountains, some over twice as high as Mt. Marcy, in the past few weeks alone. I had a solid plan.

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

As the week in New York unfolded, my daughter and I fell into our usual pattern of behavior; do, see, eat, drink, repeat. We went to the horse races, we went to a polo match, we went shopping, we dined, we wined, we revisited our favorite spots in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she lives. We had so, so, so, so, much fun. The night before our planned trip up Mt. Marcy, we stayed out a bit later than we should have. As our plan to summit Mt. Marcy fell on the last day of my trip, before flying home, the week’s activities were taking a toll, I’m sure, on our physical, mental, and emotional ability to perform at our peak in such an endeavor. As we stayed out entirely too late the night before, and had put off accumulating and organizing all the necessary provisions for our planned task until the morning we were to depart, and, because my alarm went off only a couple of hours after managing to drop off to sleep on my somewhat less than perfect, though free, air mattress on the basement floor, we got off to a very late and groggy start. We’d planned to get gas the night before, while out, but neglected to do so as the evening wore on into late night.

Scarlette Begonia

Further, this plan, perhaps, not as solid or well-executed as most of our plans, failed to adequately research the drive time or to check the weather for the day in the vicinity of Mt. Marcy. You see, originally, our plan included my son-in-law who would have painstakingly organized all those last bits of details. He had to adjust himself out of the planned trip the day before the trip because of a sore knee. So those last details were kind of dangling and, truthfully, were kind of in the way of our plan to enjoy that last night in town.

Scarlette Begonia

We set out a full three hours later than planned. We detoured into town for gas and some additional snacks. We made our way to the interstate and headed north and drove and drove and drove, the navigator telling us the trip was a full hour or so more than we really imagined. Or had planned for. As we drew closer and closer and closer to Mt. Marcy, in the Adirondacks, in upstate New York, the sky grew darker, cloudier and more and more ominous. About three quarters of the way there, my daughter asked me if I’d brought my packable rain gear. Um. No. I’d meant to, I’d planned to, but in the last moments of packing, I’d forgotten. She had extra rain gear at home, but we hadn’t thought of the necessity for it, for both of us, until now.

Scarlette Begonia

She asked me what we should do, as in, should we devise a “plan B”, like hike somewhere else, less challenging, not as far away. I’d thought of this, too, but figured the time it would take to research another, lesser trip, would be better used in attempting the original trip. That was my plan, it was our plan. She’d hiked to the top of Mt. Marcy, ill-prepared, before, she knew the challenge, the trail, the conditions, and had tried to communicate them to me, but perhaps I didn’t listen as carefully as I should have, or I was cocky at my ability, emboldened by all my recent, successful, mountain ascents.

Scarlette Begonia

We passed through a couple of mountain towns in the last miles before reaching our trailhead at the Adirondack Loj. One town boasted a very popular appearing outdoor store. I considered detouring in to purchase some rain gear, but the parking lot was completely full, we were totally late, and I’d asked my daughter if there was a similar store on sight at the Loj. She said there was. We adjusted the plan accordingly; I’d just pick up a rain poncho at the Loj store and we’d be set, according to plan.

Scarlette Begonia

As for our timing; we knew the approximate mileage up to the summit, we knew when the sun was likely to set, and we knew our historical, average, hiking pace. It “mathed” out. Given the number of miles, even with the ascent, the hours of daylight available, and our hiking pace, we should be able to summit and return to the car by just about dark. Our original plan had included dinner back in town, but we were willing to adjust it for this.

Scarlette Begonia

We reached the Adirondack Loj. We committed to our revised plan by paying the ten bucks to park for the day. The sky was dark, cloudy, damp and ominous. It had rained off and on during the entire last hour of our drive. My daughter brought Aston, the pup, to accompany us, and was tending to his needs as I went shopping in the Loj shop. I looked like a California mountain summiteer; I wore running shorts and a tank top. I still had my flip flops on, with plans to switch to my full-on, lace up, ankle supporting, mountaineering boots. I’d been told the trail was more rugged than the west coast trails I was used to and had planned accordingly. Unless backpacking and bearing a significant amount of weight, I usually opt for old running shoes over full-on hiking boots when I hike. Running shoes were not part of today’s plan. But, entering the Loj store, I looked, admittedly, like a goofball. Everyone was bundled up in layers of technical clothing; pants, shirts, jackets, rain gear, gators, hats, ponchos, pack covers, the whole deal. I looked on every rack and every display in the shop. I squinted at the labels hung next to empty hooks on the displays, but, as I didn’t bring my glasses, couldn’t make out the letters for those missing items. I looked and looked and looked, all while trying to look casual and competent, I couldn’t find any rain gear. I finally asked, and was informed they’d recently sold out. Those blurry labels adjacent to those empty display hooks were, apparently, where rain ponchos would have hung.

I returned to the car we paid ten bucks to park for the day. I told my daughter the store had sold out of rain gear. We revisited “the plan”. I still was not ready to devise a “plan B”. We’d planned to hike Mt. Marcy, we were here, for better or worse, that was the plan. I was invested, we were invested, and that’s what I wanted to do. I said, “Let’s just go and revise the plan as needed.” I changed into my proper hiking pants, laced up my proper hiking boots over my proper hiking socks. I adjusted my trekking poles to the proper height and made sure my daypack included all of the proper things, with the one exception of rain gear. My daughter prepared herself, properly, as well. We made sure there was adequate water and provisions for us, and for the pooch. She’d planned carefully for his company by bringing a bungee-style leash that secured around her waist, as he was required to be leashed, and she’d need both hands free. The pooch, too, had made this hike before. I was in good company. It was part of my plan. The revised plan. We agreed on a “turnaround time”. If by 3:00 PM, we weren’t at the summit, we would turn around and head back for the car in order to make it before dark. We had headlamps and all that would be necessary to hike at night, but going downhill, in the rain, with the puppy dog, would be more challenging than just hiking in the dark. Our re-revised plan.

Scarlette Begonia

We set off. I observed the signs, the mileage to the summit, the trail, we were in good shape. It would be a long day, but a rewarding one. I’d decided to put my water-wicking wool pullover on to start with. It was raining. My daughter had her rain jacket on. We hiked and hiked and hiked. The trail was wide and soft and sloped upward gently. We met, and passed, all kinds of other hikers. We hiked and hiked and hiked. We conferred, a couple of times, at junctions, trail crossings and water crossings, and made decisions collaboratively. We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. It rained. It was warm, though, and I was very hot with my dampish, water-wicking wool pullover on. The clouds gave way, finally, to broken sunshine and we stowed our outer layers away in our packs for later use, potentially, or not.

Scarlette Begonia

We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. After one stream crossing, the trail took on a new form; boulders. It actually resembled a stream bed, complete with water trickling down the center, making the varying size and shape rocks, slick and slimy. The trail was well-marked with round, blue, trail markers fastened to trees. It was clear we were on the intended trail, though it resembled more a seasonal stream than a trail. The very sparsely spaced mileage markers added additional confusion; after hours and hours on the trail, we seemed to have only hiked a couple of miles. I didn’t let any of this discourage me, but the reality of reaching the summit before our turnaround time seemed less likely. But, still, here I was and with a goal in mind. Had I known the mileage markers were “as a crow flies”, and not in “trail” or “walking” miles, I’d have had better information to apply to the plan.

Scarlette Begonia

The trail became steeper, and rockier, and as morning passed into noon and beyond, there were more people heading back down the trail, from points beyond, like the summit, than there were heading up. I felt, at this point, I was amongst the fools, chasing a folly, of reaching the summit of this mountain while daylight was still available. And I felt like everyone passing us, in the opposite direction, silently agreed with my self-bestowed judgment of “fool”. While it wasn’t raining, there were still clouds, and through the dense tree line, and not really knowing the direction we were headed or the direction the trail would turn, it was difficult to gauge whether the clouds were gathering, or dispersing, would hinder us, or hide from us.

Scarlette Begonia

We hiked and we hiked and we hiked. The trail got steeper, and rockier, and more strenuous. The toll of too many nights without adequate or comfortable sleep, the overindulgence in food and drink, the reckless abandon of appropriate physical activity and pre-hike hydration practices were beginning to become evident in my energy level, or waning energy level, I should say. And I was hungry.

Scarlette Begonia

We’d made so much progress, thus far, and much like negotiating one’s way through traffic on a congested highway, you really hated to stop, for any reason, and get passed up by those you worked so hard to get around. We’d passed groups of hikers who sprayed DEET on themselves, while hiking, creating a cloud of DEET in their wake, which we couldn’t help but inhale as we went. The only thing worse than the smell of DEET is the taste of it! We’d managed to make our way around a couple from Canada who smoked cigarettes. While hiking. Spewing cigarette smoke for us to breathe until we maneuvered our way successfully around them. It was not a good strategy, presently, to stop for nourishment and let these unsavory, poorly behaved hikers regain their positions in front of us.

Scarlette Begonia

But, I was spent. I needed food. And, it was 2:30 PM, a half an hour from “turnaround” time. We hadn’t really verbalized this reality, but it was there, and it seemed, now, time to take a break and revisit “the plan”. We fed the pooch, munched on some of our own provisions, and deliberated for a good ten or fifteen minutes, how we might adjust the plan. It was absolutely clear we would not summit before 3:00 PM. Our choices seemed to be; shun our very prudent turnaround time and just go for it, or turn around and head back now before it started to rain, again, making our descent down the steep, slippery, rocky trail with the enthusiastic pooch pulling us (her) down the trail, or hiking on upwards, until our 3:00 PM turnaround time, likely not making much additional progress, only to have to then negotiate our way down that much more terrain. There was thunder rumbling in the distance. Our nature, my daughter, and me, would be to “just go for it”, so it was with uncharacteristic temperament that we decided not to forge on to the summit, but to just turn at this point and head back down. But, rather than abandon our plan, completely, and call this a failure, or defeat, we altered our plan.

Scarlette Begonia

A mile or so back, along the trail, at the last discouraging mile marker we passed, at a fork in the trail, there was an arrow pointing to “Indian Falls”. We revised our plan to hike to Indian Falls rather than to the top of Mt. Marcy. It was not a “plan B”, just a wise revision to the already partially completed, original plan. To mitigate any notion that we were, in any way, wimping out, we agreed, had we both had appropriate rain gear, and had not brought the sweet, adorable, rambunctious, pooch, we would have carried on, summited Mt. Marcy, and hiked, like triumphant bad asses, back to the car, in whatever conditions Mother Nature tossed our way; rain and dark and treacherous trail.

Scarlette Begonia

Thunder rumbled, again. We bundled up or snacks, donned our daypacks once more, and began the first steps downwards. The smoking couple met us, still heading upward, we conversed with them momentarily on the likely duration of the rest of the hike, both in time and distance, the likely conditions, the changeable weather, the treacherous descent in the dark. The man wore cotton jeans and a cotton Old Navy t-shirt, his daypack was awkward, askance on his frame, large and purple and looking like it came off the “back to school” aisle at WalMart. His female companion was overweight and wore a way too tight black, Lycra, yoga outfit like you’d see worn at a mall in New Jersey. Her carefully done hair and makeup also did not make her appear to be the more skilled outdoorsperson of the duo. He seemed to seriously take into consideration the challenge that lay before them should they continue on. She, however, as we headed on down the trail, was heard to all but beg him to get to the summit. I still wonder if they made it.

Scarlette Begonia

We slowly negotiated the slippery boulders down, steeply, to the fork in the trail, and took the trail off to Indian Falls. It was a short leg of trail that quickly cleared the trees, opening to a stream that ran across impressive slabs of rock, then tumbled downward, out of view. Across the falls, with canyons between, loomed Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York state. It loomed so large above us, compared to our present position. I craned upward and wondered just how many more miles, how many more hours, we’d have before us if we had chosen to persist. I’ve no doubt we could’ve done it, and would’ve had a lifetime of stories to share for the accomplishment, but, in this moment, on the sunny rock, next to the rushing stream and the cascading falls, I was completely happy, completely content, in our plan. Our revised plan.

Scarlette Begonia

Our trip was not a failure, it was a complete success. We had a wonderful time carrying out our plan, and, as wisdom and acquired knowledge and facts dictated, as they always do, an alteration to the original plan. I am so grateful we didn’t plan to have a plan to fall back on, had we decided not to carry on with our plan. “If we stay out late and wake up late, instead of going to Mt. Marcy, let’s just …” I loved Indian Falls and am so grateful I got to hike there and spend time eating pistachios and sharing a beer with my daughter and the pooch. It is a day I’ll not ever forget, and a “plan B” would have deprived me, us, of that experience, of that joy, and of the lessons we learned that will help us as we devise our plan for our next attempt at Mt. Marcy! Yes, we plan to return, and to summit, and to triumph, and, had we not carried out this revised plan, we wouldn’t have as much valuable information in masterminding our next plan!

Scarlette Begonia

That’s the plan.

Scarlett’s Letter November 15, 2013

A sound night’s sleep last night. I almost don’t have dark circles under my eyes. Bliss.

Today, I am so excited.

I finished up with my client today, a little early, something about the Jewish folks in my class and having to go home and have dinner before dark. It is some certain, special time in Jewish world and I have no idea what. I tried to Google it, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and like all things to do with the Jewish faith, I am now more confused than I was ever before. There is nothing about Judaism that makes a lick of sense to me. I respect the faith, completely, but I don’t understand the first thing about it and any attempt to ask about it, or educate myself, has been futile and has left me more confused than before. All I know, their pizza looked just like ours but came from somewhere else and, we started earlier this morning, worked through lunch and finished earlier this afternoon, and I got to go to the mall. I was excited! I have worked with this client for three years, I have been here a half dozen times or more, their office building is perched at the edge of the mall, yet, I’ve never been. I’ve set foot inside, but I’ve never “been” to the mall. There is a difference, and it was exciting.

Non-koser pizza. A working lunch. Looks just like the Kosher pizza. ??????
Non-kosher pizza. A working lunch. Looks just like the Kosher pizza. ??????

I didn’t go to the mall, Roosevelt Field, to shop indiscriminately, I went with a plan and a mission. I intended to buy a pair of black slacks for work that do not require dry cleaning. I have a lovely black pair of slacks, from Banana Republic, but they can only be dry-cleaned. Who has time for that? Dry cleaning is for people who are in the same city for more than a day at a time. I need clean black slacks and I need them clean and back in the suitcase in twelve hours. I have some fantastic, washable slacks from Express, a nice navy blue with a subtle gray pinstripe and another pair in classic gray. They fit great, sort of a manly cut with a low rise that looks super sexy on curvy hips, a small waist, and a flat tummy. They wash great, iron great, pack great, last forever and I want some in black, and maybe every other color they come in. I’m pretty excited.

I found the Express for Women after walking about a mile and a half through the vast mall, and that was the direct route, I just sort of parked at the wrong end. Okay, I admit, I did it on purpose, I wanted to see everything. I went in to Express and found the table with “Editor” style slacks. I found black and began to dig for my size, a six regular. There were about twenty pairs of size zero, twenty pairs of size two, ten pair of size four, and two pair of size eight. A dowdy looking clerk, at least my age, eyed me with disproval and disdain. I know, my son used to work at Men’s Warehouse; I was messing up her merchandise. I am sympathetic to this and was being ever so careful not to cause any disarray, but, finally, she could take no more and impatiently asked me what size I desired. She didn’t say desire, I’m not sure what she said, but it was abrupt and curt and with an air of impatience. I told her and she produced a pair for me from somewhere. I thanked her and browsed some more. I grabbed another style of black pants, just to see if I’d like them even better than the “Editor” cut. I found a polka dot blouse, a gray sweater and a beige blouse, all pieces I could use for work. I haven’t bought blouses for work in, literally, years. I don’t work in the same office every week, I can get away with three or four work blouses. But I do, now, have many repeat clients that I see at least annually, and, truthfully, I think I’ve worn the same four blouses to the same clients for three years straight. Maybe four. It is time for a new blouse, or two. Justified! Bam!

I take my armload of clothes and go in search of a fitting room. I find two empty, locked rooms, but no attendant. There’s a mother and daughter duo fighting in one fitting room, to the point of blows, I think, and the other is unoccupied. I wait a moment, with my “I’m being patient and tolerant” smile on my face. Five minutes later, an employee passes, donning a headset and some blinking, flashing transmission device dangling from her grotesquely tight pants (I think she bought the size zero thinking it said size ten). There was a wire running from the transmission device to her headset, giving her the appearance of a secret service operative. She glanced at me, annoyed, and told me to go to the fitting rooms over by the cash register. I did. I stood for a while. There were six fitting rooms. One occupied. All locked. A clan of women pushed past me and were admitted from the occupant of the one occupied fitting room. Is that how one seeks admission, like an exclusive nightclub? You have to know someone on the “inside”? A line forms behind me, like cattle in a chute waiting for the truck going to the slaughterhouse. Everyone else in line is gazing down at their mobile devices, perfectly accepting of the fact that we are the only people in the store, aside from the six employees, who are all too busy with some urgent, but unseen business to attend to us, the customers, with armloads of merchandise that we’d dearly love to give up our hard earned money for.

An employee scuttles past and says, “a couple of you can go over to the other fitting rooms.” I’m first in line, so I go and am followed by the young woman behind me. I’m back where I started. Both rooms are empty, but locked, and there is no attendant in sight. The lady who “helped” me find the black slacks is folding clothes right next to me, but, apparently, that’s all she knows how to do because she can’t open the doors to the dressing room. I stand for another minute or two. The young woman behind me is staring blankly at the lit display on her mobile device. I think there must be a “pacification” app I don’t know about. Everyone seems content with being herded around and never assisted. I’m adding up dollar value of the pile of clothes draped over my arm, I figure about $200 worth, and I lost it. I dropped the clothes unceremoniously on the floor and strode out of the store. I will spend more, twice even, for better service. Gladly.

My son, Dogwood, sends a text from Hawaii, where he lives. He has an update on his quest for gainful employment. He has a fantastic, unpaid, volunteer, position tutoring kids in a robotics club and he loves it. Unpaid, yes, but with connections that may land him an even more fantastic, paid internship. Yes, studies are first and foremost, but, as I’ve said to him, more than once, “I don’t live in Honolulu because I can’t afford to live in Honolulu, so, no, I can’t afford to pay for you to live in Honolulu”. From birth, practically, I’ve taught my kids the value of networking and connecting, and, as a result, he has some fantastic employment prospects. I am proud. I tell him so. I’m so excited, he will do very well in life, having mastered networking so early in adulthood.

I had dinner reservations at a Cuban restaurant, adjacent to the mall, they had a yummy sounding menu and good reviews on Open Table. My client said it was good, and he is sort of a food snob, too, he just doesn’t take pictures of his food, like I do, but when I get my phone out to snap a shot of my meal, he wants his included in the photo, too. Funny. Anyway. Dinner. Cuban. I’m excited!

Dinner.
Dinner.

Upon walking in, it was definitely “corporate”. You can tell, instantly. Meh. Oh well. I was seated next to a woman, also a single diner. You know, the bench seat on one side, little table, chair on the other? That’s where they always put the single diners. Sure, couples sit there, too, usually, one on either side of the single diners, isolating the single diners from the other single diners so there is no chance of striking up a conversation. Couples just try to pretend the single diners don’t exist, that they aren’t there, right next to them, with nothing better to do than listen to what they’re talking about. Oh, it’s true. It’s totally impossible to NOT hear every word, every whisper and every murmur. Tonight, though, I was seated next to the other single diner. In fact, since it was kind of early for dinner, we were the only diners in that half of the restaurant. All the “normal” people who dine in small herds, were seated in the other room. I guess that would be the room for people who have people with which to eat and this would be the room for those who dine alone. The Latin host showed me my seat and pointed at the lady next to me, made a remark, pointed to me and made the same remark, in some Latin language. He translated, “alone,” he smiled, “you are both lonely”, he smiled broader, “single!” I smiled, tolerantly, and took my seat.

The lady next to me made small talk, she’d been to a movie at the theater next door. She downed her elaborate looking cocktail with a foot tall stalk of sugar cane protruding from it and ordered another. I tried to order a beer, but my waiter seemed perplexed by the fact that I might actually want to select a beer from a menu. There was a big, glossy, bound book of adult beverages, and he wanted to show me all the margaritas and sangrias. I asked again about beer. More about margaritas and sangrias. Finally, he let me handle the book, I flipped a few pages and found the rather pedestrian beer list. I was hoping for something exotic, perhaps even Cuban. Negra Modelo is fab, but I buy it by the twelve pack and drink it like some folks drink milk. It’s a staple.

The waiter returned with my beer, and a glass. He asked if I wanted the glass, which was nice, because I didn’t, I prefer the bottle. The lady next to me ordered a glass of Riesling. When her waitress brought it to her, she tasted it and didn’t like it. She got another crazy looking cocktail with the hunk of sugar cane in it. She asked me about my beer and said she’d like to try one. I assured her it was good. She said she really didn’t like beer, so I headed her off, “Oh, I love beer, the darker the better.” She crinkled her nose and thought better of ordering one. She worked on the sugar cane cocktail some more. By the time my dinner came I knew her whole life story; she’s an attorney, educated at USC. Her dad’s birthday is next week, on the 18th, and she always gets him a shirt or a sweater. She’s going to shop for him after her dinner. I hope she can manage. Dad may end up with something really different this year. Her mom is deceased. She is 38 and unmarried, no kids. She wants kids, she’s not so sure about the marriage thing. I smile knowingly. She had an asshole boyfriend that she’s known since school, he’s been married before and has kids, but it didn’t work out. They’re still friends. Her brother is an accountant with a knack for computers and works for Fannie Mae, now. He never passed the CPA exam and she doesn’t understand his success, except that he’s super good at networking is well connected. She had a falling out with her brother, though, because his wife has no teeth and doesn’t know the difference between a proprietary lease and, oh crap, I forgot, some other kind of document. Now she won’t like me, I don’t know the difference. At least I have all my teeth. She’s still talking. She has a friend in California who is getting a divorce and she’s handling the case even though she is licensed in New York and practices employment law, normally. But her friend isn’t good about getting the paperwork done on time and hasn’t even filed her taxes. Her birthday is the same week as her dad’s, though she never mentioned the date, and she wants another Mont Blanc pen. She has lots of expensive pens because she likes to write and her mom “groomed” her that way. I wasn’t sure what that meant. By now, my meal is finished, my beer is empty, my bill is paid, I’m wearing my coat and my scarf, my cross-body bag is slung across my body, I have one foot positioned in the space between our tables, leaning over, like a runner in the blocks waiting for the pistol to fire. I desperately want to leave. She is still talking, and I have so tuned her out, I now have no idea what she is talking about. Finally, she stands, shakes my hand and stumbles out. I wait for her to get, hopefully, out of the parking lot, before I head for my car. So, a lawyer and an accountant go into a bar … the lawyer talks incessantly and the accountant makes note of all the details. Typical.

I exchange a text or two with my friend, Miles. We went to high school together and ran into each other at a Catholic church in the Sierra foothills some twenty plus years later. Now we keep in touch. I joined a running club he belongs to, on his recommendation. He’s a good friend and he’s checking up on me to see if I’ll be running this weekend, in preparation for the C.I.M., the California International Marathon, in a few very short weeks. My first. I’m excited, in a scared and petrified sort of way. This is his billionth marathon. He’s also checking on me after reading some of my posts from earlier this week. I got a virtual hug. A good friend, like I said. I assure him, twenty miles on Sunday, and, yes, I’m fine.

I also exchange a few emails with “the girls”, in light of the good news yesterday, we are conspiring to find a day to visit, a day when we are all motionless just long enough for a visit, two of the girls returning from Spain, me from New York, another off to Hawaii, and me to New York, again. Visits with friends are a nightmare to orchestrate, but are so, so, so important, and necessary, rare, and enjoyable. Like air to breathe. I’m so excited!

I stop at the liquor store, buy a bottle of red wine and head for the next hotel. A quiet night to write, with wine and a small piece of my Mast Brothers chocolate bar, made in Brooklyn and bought at Shake Shack the other night. I’m super excited!

Chocolate and wine and a night to write 3,500 words about nothing much, really.
Chocolate and wine and a night to write 3,500 words about nothing much, really.

My TomTom, was on a bender, again, tonight. Armando, that’s my TomTom’s name, he is voice activated and answers to Armando. What can I say? Every now and then, and without warning, Armando decides to avoid the highways and take mostly surface streets, usually in very large cities, like Boston and San Francisco, and usually when I have not the time, the patience or the wherewithal to devise a better, more traveled route. I had the time tonight and saw parts of Long Island I never knew existed. I have a visual on several potential restaurants for my next visit, in just a few weeks.

I ultimately arrived at my hotel, one I stay at regularly, a Marriott, a block away from the United terminal at LaGuardia. I feel like Norm at Cheers when I walk in. Okay, not quite, but I do have a few hotels that I have become quite regular at. I tossed my bags in my room, returned my rental car, and caught the hotel shuttle back. Once in my room, I did what I always do, first thing; look out the window. To my delight, from my window tonight, I see the skyline of Manhattan. I can pick out the Chrysler Building. I’ve worked there before. Okay, for three days, as a consultant, but still. I was on the floor where the gargoyles were perched, it was so exciting, gazing out the window of the conference room, down, on the backs of the gargoyles, only a few feet out of reach on the other side of the glass. I’m sorry, I love architecture and historic old buildings just drive me nuts, especially from the art deco era. I can see the Empire State Building, to which I’ve been to the top, once, and the tippy top another time. I look at the millions of twinkling lights of  “The City” from my window, I dare not turn a light on in my room and lessen their brilliance. I will sleep with my curtains open to relish the view. I love every little light bulb, illuminating that magical skyline, and I can’t wait. I’m excited!

MANHATTAN!!!!! SO EXCITED!!!!
MANHATTAN!!!!! SO EXCITED!!!!

I texted Daisy, my daughter. My baby, my youngest. She turns twenty-one next week, “Are you going to be able to celebrate your birthday in ‘The City’ with me next weekend?” She quickly replied, “Yes! I forgot to tell you, I have Wednesday through Saturday off …” I am so excited! We own Manhattan. It is our place. One of our places. We love the wilderness, too. Wherever we go, we will carry what we need, whether shopping bags and mimosas in our metal “water” bottles, or our matching backpacks, we will find adventure and just have a fab time.

It is Friday, and a good day, the end to an interminable, weird and uncomfortable week. I have nearly four days at home before I am off again, and I am excited.

My lesson for the day; stay in touch, network and connect. I recently read a book on charisma, “The Charisma Myth – How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism” by Olivia Fox Cabane. you know how I love books, most books, anyway. This was a great book, very charismatic, and had some fantastic suggestions. One was to reach out to at least five different people every day, whether through a personal message on social media, a text, a phone call, an email, a letter, a face-to-face conversation, or, I guess, smoke signals or carrier pigeons. However.

I’m also listening to a fantastic audiobook on Audible, “Younger Next Year for Women,” by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge. I am so excited, I can hardly wait to listen to it on the plane tomorrow, and in my car on the way home from the airport. One of the “rules” to being younger next year, to not decay until death, is to connect with people, to be social, to have friends, to be in touch, to be touched.

I am as guilty as anyone, we get busy, we try to find time to just sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat work. Retire, watch TV and die. I retaliate against this plight, I rebel against such a routine and mundane life. I live to connect, I connect to live. How many people have you connected with today? Me? My clients, of course, a chatty and partially inebriated attorney over Cuban food, my friend Miles, the “girls”, my son, Dogwood, my daughter, Daisy, and a quick text with my Sweetie before he headed further north through the vast cellular service wasteland to Prudhoe Bay. It was a good day. Still, I am writing, I have to get up in three hours, I’m going to have dark circles under my eyes, again. Now to sleep, in the soft glow of a billion glimmering lights from a not so distant skyline. I’m excited.

Scarlett’s Letter November 14, 2013

If there’s an emotion I didn’t experience this week, it’s only because it hasn’t been defined yet.

My God.

A bit short on sleep, it is possible I’m really just suffering from good, old-fashioned exhaustion. Go ahead, ask me if I got up at 4:30 AM and worked out. Considering I turned off the light around midnight and flopped around on a ten-acre bed, trying to find sleep until, oh, probably 4:15 AM, your guess, “no”, would be correct. Guilt. The first emotion of the day.

Through a chain of gruesome events leading to the discovery of some unsavory news from the dark ages of my youth, a long-standing friendship with Stanly, a man I knew, and loved for a time, as a young woman, ended. Sorrow. The emotion that accompanied me in my futile attempts to sleep.

In response to the intense sense of indignation from the events noted above, a retaliatory literary grenade was lobbed into cyberspace, and, well, ended up in the enemy camp. Stanly read the article, the demonic one that has since been removed, revised with a more human flair, and reposted.

Stanly, the young man I knew, and loved for a time, as a young woman, fell from a pedestal I’d placed him on, a pedestal he has occupied for thirty some years. The crash from that pedestal was both violent and abrupt, leaving behind a wake of shock and pain. Two more emotions I find myself awash in.

The man Stanly has become, even after reading the scathing, hateful and hurtful account of my discovery of his historic betrayal, apologized. A genuine and heartfelt apology. I think what I’ve experienced from that moment on is the emotion that hasn’t been defined yet. There is relief and remorse, shame and surprise.

The net result, though, is that a lost friendship I grieved over yesterday, breathes new life today. Neither of us, I’m sure, will ever forget what transpired, and that, I think is a good thing. There were a few long overdue life lessons to be learned by both of us. Gratitude.

Stanly, the boy who betrayed me many, many years ago, crashed from the pedestal a couple of days ago. Destroyed. The man Stanly has become ascends from the rubble and reclaims his place. Respect.

At work today, I teach a group of young auditors that I have taught for the past two years. I first met them as brand new hires for an accounting firm on Long Island three years ago, fresh, eager faces, new to their firm and to auditing. I taught them the basics of auditing and some software skills they’d need to embark on their first year of their career. Last year I returned to teach them more advanced skills to carry them on their way.  I return, again, to teach them the last I have to teach them, all it is I know, making them equals, but for a few more years of experience. Pride.

I received an email from a friend I’ve known since elementary school, a friend who has been battling cancer for years, a friend who was told a year ago she’d be dead by now. She, obviously, is alive. She was told that the tumor they found behind her heart, after the initial cancer was treated and cured, was inoperable and likely would not respond to chemotherapy. It did. She was told that the tumor behind her heart would always be there, that she’d have to receive chemotherapy for the rest of her uncertain life. It is gone. The chemotherapy is over. And now they tell her she has a long life to look forward to. Tough, today, she was told that there is virtually no doubt that, some day, her cancer will return, she knows, in her heart, in her mind, in her soul, as do we, her friends, that they may be wrong. And, if it does return, we all know, without a doubt, she will beat it. It is because there is no doubt. Faith. Hope. Joy.

Do not ever underestimate the power of positive thought, yourself, or for those in your circle. Wisdom.

I dined alone for dinner tonight, which I do more often than not. Alone in a different restaurant every night. Sure, I enjoy the quest, finding the great local restaurants everywhere I go, choosing the perfect glass of wine or local craft or interesting imported beer, the most divine salad or appetizer, the perfect entrée, delicious, artful and healthy. I pretend not to see people look at me, at a table alone, I imagine they aren’t wondering why a woman dines alone. In days gone by, in restaurants with my family or friends, upon seeing a “single diner”, I’d often wonder, I’d often imagine, just what circumstances brought them to such a fate. I surmised, probably not incorrectly, as in my case, that they were business travelers, far from home. I somehow understood that dining alone in a restaurant had to be better than a microwave meal in the solitude of a dank hotel room. Or room service fare, both overpriced and low quality, while trying to catch up on emails and preparations for the next day’s meetings. I felt empathy towards those people I saw, as I sat, surrounded by friends or family members, sharing the day’s news.  And I know, as I meet eyes with diners around me, they have similar thoughts, that, perhaps, they feel somewhat sorry for me. Which I can barely stand. Often, the wait staff don’t quite know how to effectively “deal” with a single diner. I am either rushed through my meal and quickly dismissed, or I am forgotten for more populated tables and booths. Rare is the waiter or waitress that knows exactly how to make a single diner feel welcomed, that knows how to engage them in a genuine conversation. I did not have one of those waitresses tonight. I still tipped twenty percent. The really good ones get twenty-five. Loneliness.

I returned to my room, later, and set to writing. A tiny text message and a sweet phone call with my man. Love. But the wind and the snow are blowing there and the phone line went dead in the storm, mid-conversation. Frustration. Another text with those three little words. Happiness.

In my ridiculously large Victoria’s Secret sweatpants and my Sweetie’s “Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling” shirt, I finish this last little bit and ready for a restful night’s sleep. Comfort.

Fantastic mushroom flatbread at lunch with my client. Seasons 52, Garden City, New York.
Fantastic mushroom flatbread at lunch with my client. Seasons 52, Garden City, New York.
Trout. Lunch at Seasons 52, where everything on the menu is less than 475 calories, but you'd never know it, it all tastes so good!
Trout. Lunch at Seasons 52, where everything on the menu is less than 475 calories, but you’d never know it, it all tastes so good!
Dining alone at West End Cafe, Carle Place, New York. Great atmosphere and quite popular, even early in the evening. Great bar, too, but quiet enough for conversation.
Dining alone at West End Cafe, Carle Place, New York. Great atmosphere and quite popular, even early in the evening. Great bar, too, but quiet enough for conversation.
Chandon Brut. Perfect.
Chandon Brut. Perfect.
The small almond and gorgonzola salad at West End Cafe. Excellent.
The small almond and gorgonzola salad at West End Cafe. Excellent.
The striped bass on spaghetti squash with carrots and mushrooms at West End Cafe. Fantastic.
The striped bass on spaghetti squash with carrots and mushrooms at West End Cafe. Fantastic.