Monday, June 29, 2009

Sleepless in Manhattan

The first time a baby sleeps through the night is a landmark for its parents. They note it, revel in it, remember it. The earlier the baby does it, the more precocious it is presumed to be. Sleeping through the night is a baby's first real-life accomplishment—assuming it actually happens.

But what about the grownups? I don't think I've ever slept through the night as an adult. I wake up, pee, listen to Other snore, worry about the coming day, think about what I'm going to wear, suddenly flash on the answer to yesterday's unfinished crossword, get hit with the sinking-stomach feeling remembering some task undone or botched at work, listen to the inane drunken chatter of the smokers outside the bar next door, nurse my grudges. In a good night, I sleep maybe six hours in hour-and-a-half dozes.

The chiropractor I've been seeing suggested that since my back pain is worst in the morning, I consider getting a new mattress. He says he wakes up eight hours after he goes to bed, and he wakes up in exactly the same position he assumed when he lay down eight hours earlier. He has never taken a sleeping pill. He told me this three weeks ago, and I've been puzzling over it ever since. Really? Really, someone can do that? 

Or does everybody do that? Am I alone in my sleepless nights?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Beware the Ped Egg

I'm sure I'm not the only woman who has fallen victim to the addictions of the Ped Egg. You start by just doing a little surface buffing, so to speak, only to be sucked in to the flesh-eating pleasures of gouging out those calluses. I was nearly bone deep tonight before I realized there was blood on the blades. Even then, it was hard to tear myself away. And the little pile of sawdust inside the egg—so satisfying! 

Friday, June 26, 2009

Note to self: shut up

So there I was at the rents' house. Some friends of the rents stopped by, and they asked me how my visit was going. "Oh, great!" I said, "I found a driver for my dad and a new doctor for my mom, and I arranged for a notary to come to the house and witness the signing of the durable power of attorney, and I found a barber for my dad and took him to get a haircut, and I got the OT to meet with us and tell us where to put grab bars, and I found a skidproof bathmat, and I think I've found someone to buy their car!" 

Suddenly I realized that the guests were glazing over. 

And that's the weird thing about eldercare. It's not very interesting. I'm sure there are people who would accuse me not just of being a bore but also of valuing my accomplishments over the pleasure of the rents' company. But getting shit done becomes an obsession. The whole rental enterprise seems precarious to the point of capsizing. Going to visit them is like participating in a supermarket sweepstakes, racing against the clock to secure the situation. Stressful and exhausting for the caregiver, but no one wants to hear about it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The golden years

In case you are wondering how you will spend your glorious retirement years, I will tell you. I have seen the future, and it is this: You will spend nearly every waking hour losing shit, arguing with your spouse about who lost it and where, then finding it. You will do this over and over until it drives you mad. And if you subscribe to two newspapers and get a lot of junk mail, your lost-and-found madness will be increased exponentially. It's a little bit of hell right here on god's green earth.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

College, that bastion of learning

Overheard in the frozen-food section of the Key Foods at Avenue A and East Fourth: "Seeing people hurl used to be a regular everyday kind of thing in college. Now if I see someone hurl, it's like, 'What the fuck?' "

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Waiting for a good laugh

I just came across a condolence note I'd written to the daughter of a friend who died a few years ago, and in the letter I recalled that my friend always said, "Remember, a year from now you will laugh about this." What excellent advice! Now if I could just remember it in the heat of the moment. Or perhaps it makes things all the funnier, and I'll laugh all the harder, if I don't remember in the moment.

Shiksa pays a shiva call

Shiksa pays a shiva call—sounds like a joke, doesn't it? Guy walks into a bar ...

I was a little nervous heading off for my first real shiva call—for T's father. Was I dressed appropriately? It's not easy for me to pull together a sober ensemble from my wardrobe of this-and-that rags. But I found some shmattas (!) that seemed to go together—black linen pants, a rayon shirt, a bit of drapery to obscure any infelicities. Hardest were the shoes: I can no longer inflict the sight my discolored, peeling toenails on others, so sandals are out of the question. But I found a pair of flats that matched, and as long as I kept the soles to the floor, no one could tell they had holes. Then there was the fruit platter I had been assigned. I felt sad not making it myself, but the risk of blunder was too great: Are mangos tref? Whole Foods would know the answer to this and other questions—and do a better job of assembly. How long to stay? Too short, and it might be an insult. Too long, and I might be a bore.

But in the end, it was a party! As the friend who by no virtue of her own had been a witness to the death (well, sort of—I was too busy eating to notice that he had died), I seem to have become an honorary family member, beloved by all. Admiring the ladies' hats in old photographs of T's relatives—who could have been my own, so much do '50s styles trump family resemblance—hearing stories, seeing mutual friends, running into an old therapist of mine (T's sister had recommended her back in the days when I was struggling with teen troubles)—and eating all that fabulous food.

Shiva continues for a couple more days. I'm tempted to take my meals there till it's over. But maybe that would be overstaying my welcome.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Living with the wolves

First, let me say unequivocally that I love my daughter C and am thrilled to have her home from college. 

Second, let me say unequivocally that having her home from college is like living with the wolves—the werewolves. She has a special diet that consists largely of ground beef, tortilla chips and ice cream. Offer her a vegetable or piece of fruit, and she will back away in fear. Are you trying to poison her? She sleeps during the day and comes fully alive only after dark, and should you awaken her during daylight hours, you will hear a hoarse growl emanating from her snout. Then there is the hygiene thing—foodstuffs buried amid the designer clothing on the floor, dirty glasses sticky with soda (I hope it's soda) littering the desktop. She has the metabolism of a carnivore as well: no unnecessary movement unless it's dinnertime—or party time. 

I'm tired of being an adult human.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Euphemisms aren't always wrong

I've always hated euphemisms for death like "passed away," but that's precisely what my friend T's 95-year-old father did last night. Remarkably (to me, at any rate), I was there when it happened, but it was so gentle and subtle a death, that neither of us noticed precisely when it happened. Actually, there may have been a reason for that. The flossy Union Square Cafe provides dinners at the hospice where he was being cared for. So T (who had asked me to keep her company) and I went to the "family room" to have a lovely meal of vegetables, rice and polenta while the nurse cleaned her father up. When we returned to the room, we noticed that his head was turned away from us but thought nothing of it. A few minutes later we went back to the family room for dessert (bread pudding with whipped cream and fresh strawberries). When we returned he was in the same position, but this time T had a feeling he wasn't breathing. And indeed, he wasn't. Unless it happened in one of the two 10-minute intervals when we were out of the room, his "passing" was so quiet, we were unaware of it. He "slipped away."

That seemingly peaceful end was preceded by a decidedly less peaceful 10 days of pain, agitation, delirium. When his doctor asked him if he was ready to "let go," he said, "No, I'm not ready. There's no room for me in heaven." Then two days ago, he stopped drinking, a sign that he was in "transition." 

Interestingly, "transition" is a word that's also used in childbirth. It refers to the frantically, nightmarishly painful period before the "pushing" phase begins. Like "labor," it is a word with a neutrality that belies its horror. In birth classes, we were told that labor is called "labor" because it's hard work. Such a lie! It's called "labor" because if they called it what it really is, women would never have sex—with men.

In the case of T's father, however, transition marked the end of his struggle and the beginning of his release. The euphemisms were apt.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A picture worth a thousand words

So I was reading at my desk and had just clicked on a link to a woman's mastectomy-art site when my boss walked in as this photograph blossomed onto my screen. She uttered not a word.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fifty-nine and still wrestling with my outer teen

Middle age is, fashion-wise, the evil step-mirror of adolescence. Just as my poor (and I do mean poor) teen self had to figure out an image to present to the world on a pauper's budget, incorporating cultural grace notes (well, on a good day that term might apply) and tribal insignia into the personal style I was building, identifying who I was and who I wanted to be, what my body could carry off and what I would be wise to give up on, how many ruffles and flounces a tall girl could wear without looking like a giant baby, now I'm monitoring how much skin (I'm down to ankles and wrists now) I can realistically show, whether those puffed sleeves make me look like I'm wearing my nighty, whether it's time to give up the boho look that served me so well and obscured so many imperfections for so long.

It's a tough process, and I don't have the advantages of youth this time. Now it's not just about finding enhancements. It's about hiding the truth—and doing so without the loose flowing garments that now make me look a little goofy. 

I pass some young beauty on the street and think, Oh, I'd like to get that skirt, only to realize that it's not the skirt, it's the girl. Harem pants may look adorable on an art student, but they'd make me look like a lunatic. 

Fashion is like eating. Unlike drinking or smoking, which you can give up altogether, you've got to wear something no matter how high-minded you are, and it's going to say something about you, so you've got to make some choices. And the choices are difficult—and getting more so all the time.