It’s a Sign!

The golden scales

I'm pretty sure I'm a Libra. Like the lady here, I'm often seen carrying scales of my own. It's quite a balancing act.

Curses! Someone call the Zodiac police or, better yet, get the Zodiac Killer on the phone.  Apparently, it’s the dawning of a new age of Aquarius or, should I say, Ophiuchus. (Which, by the way, can anyone pronounce?) I am absolutely beside myself! Livid, if you must know. In fact, I’m nearly speechless!  Simply because I need to know:

Who had the bright idea of messing with my zodiac sign?

Now, I’m no devout follower of astrology, but I’ve always taken it for a fact that I am a Libra.  Sure, I was born on the cusp, somewhere between Virgo and Libra. But most astrology sections of newspapers and magazines have me pegged for a Libra and I believe them.  Clearly, that is the sign that suits me best. Let me assure you that I have more Libra qualities in my little pinky than a genuine Virgo has in their entire body.  Indeed, I take great pride in my Libra-isms!

I am balanced, diplomatic and urbane, don’t you think?  I am sociable, too (as long as no one bothers me in the morning or on weekends).  Here’s what I’m not:  modest and shy, meticulous and analytical—all traits of a Virgo.  So, ergo, I’m no Virgo.

And yet, suddenly I am not on the cusp but, rather, decidedly smack in the middle of Virgo territory.  It’s as if someone has stolen my identity! For, according to some hapless astronomers, who shall remain nameless, I’ve been cut to the quick–snatched from the comfort of my Libra persona. Which makes me persona non grata. See if I continue to believe in what lies in the stars!

As Maureen O’Connor, explains in, these astronomers have restored the original Babylonian zodiac by recalculating the dates that correspond with each sign in order to accommodate millennia of subtle shifts in the Earth’s axis. Whew! Did you get all that?  I certainly didn’t, so I still don’t understand why these astronomers had to change the Zodiac calendar and of all things, add a new zodiac sign, Ophiuchus.  Five paragraphs later, and I still don’t know how to say that!  Anyway, for those who do want to be in the know, here’s the revised calendar:

Capricorn:  Jan. 20-Feb. 16.
Aquarius:  Feb. 16-March 11.
Pisces:  March 11-April 18.
Aries:  April 18-May 13.
Taurus:  May 13-June 21.
Gemini:  June 21-July 20.
Cancer:  July 20-Aug. 10.
Leo:  Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo:  Sept. 16-Oct. 30.
Libra:  Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio:  Nov. 23-29.
Ophiuchus:  Nov. 29-Dec. 17.
Sagittarius:  Dec. 17-Jan. 20.

My kids have been reassigned too.  Sarah went from being a Pisces to an Aquarius and Josh, who used to be an Aries, is now a Pisces.  Which is ironic because Sarah was the fish in our family, spending countless summers swimming in the pool and at the beach.  Whereas, Josh, not so much.

Well, I for one, plan to stick with the old Zodiac calendar. I’m too set in my ways, (though, I must say, I remain as balanced as the Libra scales), to do anything else. So I will be boycotting the new zodiac calendar (and that goes for you, Ophiuchus!), and that means no one better call me a Virgo.

And as for the astronomers who brought back the Babylonian zodiac, well, as far as I’m concerned, they’re all on notice!

Remembering My Father

Today was my father’s birthday. He would have been 99 years old. In honor of the anniversary of his birth I’m thinking of pineapple upside down cake.  For that is the cake my mother would bake, year after year for his very low-key birthday celebration. It was his favorite kind of cake and it soon became mine, too.  How I looked forward to my father’s birthday, just to have a slice of that once-a-year cake, lovingly made for a one-of-a-kind dad.

Circa 1978. From left: My father, Regina, Rafael, my mother, Cesar and me.

And if I learned anything from my father, it’s just how important family is. He loved us with complete devotion and indulged us whenever he could. I’m pretty sure he would have given us the moon if he had figured out a way. And yet, as good as he was as a father, he could also be at times exasperating, frustrating, and impossible.

When he died, almost 17 years ago—and just five months after my mother’s passing—a cousin put it like this:

“Your poor mother. Your father only gave her five months of peace. Now he’s up there with her, surely giving her a hard time again.”

What’s done is done and it doesn’t matter now.  My father is gone and we are left with genuine appreciation for what he did for us, and the legacy he left behind. My brother, Cesar, has put his feelings to words, summing up a life worth living in a way that has humbled me, and given me pause. For me, it is a good reminder of what I once had and I find myself comforted by his remembrances. Cesar writes:

This is how I remember him.

He moved his family to the U.S. to take care of Jose Enrique (my father’s son from his first marriage), who needed hip surgery as a young boy. Because of my father, Jose Enrique got the best medical attention in the world.

He took a job in the States to be with his family.

He loved having us sing in the backseat of the car.  And he would take great pleasure taking us to the beach and then seeing us play on the trampolines, which we passed on the way home.

He attended and studied, and put himself through New York University—at the age of 52.

During that time, he studied the rules of baseball so he could volunteer as an umpire, just so Rafael (our brother) and I could play Little League Baseball.  I think we played Little League for four or five years with my father ump-ing the whole time.

He put four kids through college; three of them attending expensive, private universities.

I remember my father driving to Boston, to pick up Regina (our sister) from school, loading her stuff in the car and then driving back to Long Island in the same day.

I remember my father, at age 70, standing on a ladder on top of the inclined roof of the garage, painting the house.

I remember my father, at age 74, driving an hour and a half to my house in Westchester so that he and my mother could visit their granddaughter.

I sincerely hope there’s a heaven and that they got there ok.

Happy Birthday, Papá

The Clown Menace

Get me to a therapist! I have had an epiphany!  While rummaging through a box of old photos, I came across a frightening little gem, which I am certain is the reason for my irrational fear of clowns.  It’s simple, it’s cunning and it’s scary. Reader, be warned, what I’m about to show you is not for the faint of heart.  Small children should leave the room, lest they be scarred for life like me.

The year is 1961. My sixth birthday and my mother throws a party for me.  Among the invitees is Anita, my dear, childhood friend—or so I thought.  She is also my next door neighbor.  Anita brings me a gift (long since forgotten) and a birthday card that is sure to make any child’s hair stand on end. Not just any card, mind you, but a Hallmark card. You know the one that has the slogan,  “When you care enough to send the very best.”  Well, very best, indeed, if your goal is to terrify the birthday girl.

And yet I can’t help but wonder how this card, featuring clowns with maniacal grins, slipped through the Hallmark channels of approval to be green lighted as a suitable card for unsuspecting six year olds.  Ok, Reader, this is absolutely your last chance to divert the eyes!  Still there? Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Here it is:

I am sure that this card was the beginning of the end for me.  No doubt leading me down a path that was anti anything clowns.  No longer would I be able to laugh at a Volkswagen Bug overstuffed with clowns.  Clowns slipping on banana peels would henceforth be lost on me.  Ditto for Red Skelton’s clown persona. And getting anywhere within a five-mile radius of a circus would be simply out of the question, thanks to Hallmark and my so-called friend, Anita.

I am not one to mince words so here it is, this clown menace must stop once and for all!  Wake up, America and cease subjecting your children to clowns. These creatures are neither entertaining nor enlightening.  And, contrary to the sentiment on this particular birthday card, I refuse to “act like a clown, laugh and have fun!”  I will not send in the clowns and I will not fall for their mind games and become one of them.

Learn from the mistake of my friend, Anita.  Unbeknownst to her, she became an innocent pawn in a world that prizes clowns as good, safe fun.  Clowns are good for one thing only, to torment and scare the living daylights out of small kids.  I am living proof and if I ever see Anita again, I will let her know.

In the meantime, know this:  I long ago put clowns on notice, but after coming across this nightmare of a birthday card, I know that just putting these red-nosed harlequins on notice is not enough!  As such, clowns are now dead to me.  The buck stops here, my friends.  So, find another victim to menace. I’m through with clowns!

It’s My Birthday!

Today is my birthday and everyone knows birthdays are very special days indeed. Cause for celebration!  Bring out the cake and light the candles!  Get out the piñata! No, wait. Scratch that.  I’m not a kid anymore. Sigh.

And then I was 5.

There’s nothing like being young when it’s your birthday.  The anticipation of the day.  All the birthday cards arriving in the mail, saying, “Now You’re Five!” Or six or seven! The excitement of unwrapping presents! Who can forget their first Barbie? On my 6th birthday I received two! A blonde and a brunette. Yes, birthdays were so much fun then.  What happened?

Oh yes, I remember. We got old. These days, the only birthday cards I get in the mail are from businesses wanting well, my business.  They write such sweet sentiments such as:  “Happy Birthday! Save $5 off any purchase of $50 or more.” Wow, now that’s a gift.

Technically, I am as old as Disneyland and I’m not going to tell you how old Disneyland is.  I was born on a Friday and, according to Mother Goose, Friday’s child is loving and giving.  I was also born on the first day of autumn. Another reason to party hardy.

Bruce Springsteen has the same birthday as me and that makes us kindred spirits. We were both born to run! At least that’s what I believed in my teens and twenties. Now, I’ve got this bum knee that acts up whenever it feels like it, and I’m taking a statin to keep my cholesterol out of the danger zone. And, no matter how many times I get my hair “done,” and ladies, you know what I’m talking about, those blasted gray hairs keep popping up. I doubt Mickey Mouse has the same problems—and he’s 82!

A birthday party with friends, party dresses and cake. What could be better?

So this year, in honor of the day I was born, I’ve decided I’m only going to celebrate my birthday in years where September 23rd actually falls on a Friday.  For those are the only days when it’s my true, honest to goodness birthday.  Which makes me today, roughly, give or take a few, about seven years old.  Hooray, I’m a kid again!

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Ain’t gonna fly. In which case, I’ll also count the years in which the 23rd of September falls on a Thursday or Saturday because that’s close enough to Friday. That would put me in the ballpark of 21, so I can make a toast to myself since, guess what? Today is a Thursday!  Yay, I’ve reached drinking age!  Somebody, get me a Mai Tai. Make it a double!

Wait, I’m getting tired from all this hoopla. Sigh.  At my age, the best gift of all is nothing more than an afternoon nap. And I’ll drink to that!