Sunday, September 26, 2010

Up and away

The last three installments in My Life According to Up:

At 42: After years of fertility treatments, Other and I had a daughter when I was 40, roughly a decade after the the birth of our son. The goal of the second child's being a playmate of the first was foiled by the 10-year age gap. Instead, the second child has, in effect, three parents. I am exhausted from working overnights closing the international edition of the newsmagazine, but I am ecstatic about Motherhood 2.0. This time breastfeeding went well, even when I went back to work after a yearlong maternity leave, and the baby didn't starve. And my job is interesting. I write a weekly column, Talk of the Streets, on tabloid stories from around the world, and it's fun!

At 49: I'm now working for the domestic edition of the newsmagazine, writing longer stories on education, social issues, even business, traveling occasionally for reporting. From the outside, I seem successful. Inside, I'm exhausted. Having it all is wonderful, but I'm too tired to enjoy it.

At 56: I requested a transfer from the reporting staff to the copy desk when I was 51, thinking I'd return to writing after I had a chance to rest up. But at 56, I'm still at the copy desk, and I don't anticipate reviving my writing career. I am in the last stages of treatment for breast cancer, which resulted in a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, a year of Herceptin infusions. I am old beyond my years: scant gray hair, spavined chest, arthritis. I'm alive! But I don't want to resume the stress that I believe was a factor in my illness.

The deck in fall

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ante-ing Up

In my previous post, I gave the first two installments of my Up-scale life. Here are a few more:

At 21: I had left Sarah Lawrence after a drunken, drugged year to become an au pair in Williamstown to Clara and David Park, whose daughter Jessy was a kind of autistic celebrity, thanks to Clara's detailed case history The Siege and, later, Exiting Nirvana. As an adult, Jessy was the subject of an Oliver Sacks documentary and of a magazine article written by ... me:,9171,1101010416-105619,00.html. So I guess you could say I'm name-dropping here. I spent the spring in Paris when the Parks traveled there for David's sabbatical, and I was about to enter Williams College as a transfer student in the fall. If you'd asked me what I wanted to do for a living, I probably would have said clinical psychology—Jessy was a delight—and psychology turned out to be my major at Williams. At 21, I was in the process of a long-distance breakup with a guy named Bob, whom I'd met at a summer camp in Colorado where I worked as a laundress. And I was definitely going to be a hermit when I grew up.

At 28: Other and I had hooked up my senior year at Williams and after my graduation spent several months traveling through Turkey, Greece, Italy and Britain before settling first in San Francisco (where I did research in a methadone clinic in the Tenderloin), then in Brattleboro (where I started drinking at noon and spent most of my time watching Mary Hartman reruns), then in New York, where we lived in a 350-square-foot, seventh-floor walkup (no exaggeration). I was struggling to write, but finding it hard and lonely, and working as a night proofreader at a newsmagazine.

At 35: After celebrating my graduation from Columbia journalism school by studying fiction-writing with Paul Bowles in Tangiers, I began to hear the tick-tock of my fertility clock. I shouldn't have worried. Within two months I was pregnant. When I was 35, my son J, the smartest, sweetest kid who ever lived, was 4, and Other and I had bought a loft in Noho. I was aching to have another child. Between ovulatory cycles, I worked as a reporter at the newsmagazine. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a stay-at-home mom. Really.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gorging on Up

Recently, at my daughter's urging, I got a Netflix account. When she gorged on Nip/Tuck. I was censorious: "Get off the couch!" "You'll need a nip/tuck if you don't move your ass!" "I'm going to change the password if you don't take a break!" But then I fell victim to Michael Apted's Up documentary series, which follows 14 Brits at seven-year intervals from ages 7 to 49. I gobbled up the whole 14 or so hours in a week.

The slogan for the series is "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man." At some points, some of the kids go off their rails—conventional upper-class Suzy drops out of school at 16, and sprightly Neil in his teens falls into what turns out to be a permanent depression—but most appear to live out in event and experience and character the destiny that revealed itself when they were 7. 

It made me wonder what my life might look like if captured at seven-year intervals. Apted pursued questions that ran roughly: What do you do in your free time? How do you see yourself as an adult? Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Do you want a family?

At 7: I was a garrulous student who was frequently sent into a corner by my teacher, Mrs. Keepers, because of my disruptive chatting. If asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said I wanted to be a ballerina, not because I'd ever had a ballet lesson but because that's what little girls said in 1957. No boyfriend, though I did have a crush on a boy named Chris. Did I want a family? I don't think so. That would involve sex. Eww.

At 14: A competitive swimmer who trained five hours a day but was sidelined by painful and copious menstrual periods five days a month, I was big for my age and shy. My best friend had a "make-out" party and didn't invite me. I was humiliated—and relieved. Still had a crush on Chris, but he was in the regular track, and I was in the honors track. My career goal was to be a writer. I read a lot. I would have said no to marriage and family. I wanted to be a hermit.

Stay tuned for age 21—or rent Up on Netlix.

I love New York

You can hate New York and think about how you can't take it anymore—the noise, the yuppies, the filth, the corruption, the hopelessness—and talk about how you're going to leave and where you're going to go ... and then along comes a day like today, and you wonder why anyone would live anywhere else.

First, there was the weather: Warm, blue skies.

Then, there was Union Square: An exhibit called "Sukkah City," displaying the winners of a competition to "explore what happens when a structure that is biblical in origin is relocated from the desert to Union Square, from a nomadic past to an urban center." Let's just say these were not your traditional sukkahs. On a grassy area just north of Sukkah City, a young woman was walking a tightrope secured by two trees. She invited passersby to give it a try—and some did! She said the reason she loves walking the tightrope is that it requires total concentration, shutting out thought and keeping her totally in the present, like meditation. And a little farther up in the park, a guy wearing a Duncan T shirt was teaching kids yo-yo tricks.

Now it's clouding over, and we're back at home, feeling very pleased that we live here and nowhere else.

$#*! My Dad Says

My dad has a rant for everything. And often the rants are polished bits of comedy that are quite amusing. His latest has to do with the sentimental and self-righteous attitude about "free-range" farm products, especially chickens and eggs. My dad grew up on a farm, back when all animals were free-range. The chickens on his farm spent most of the day pecking at the manure pile, he says. Occasionally he'd go out and sprinkle some dried corn for them for variety. So much for the purity of free-range poultry, he sniffs.

Since my parents haven't got a lot of mobility these days, and they live in San Francisco and I live in New York, I order their groceries online at For a mere $6.99—no tipping allowed!—Safeway handpicks frozen, canned, baked, bottled and fresh food according to the specifications on the list I submit and delivers it to my parents, often within 12 hours. It's a wonderful service from a company that's often reviled. But I digress. I wince sometimes when I check off the house brand (as my parents request) rather than an organic brand. But after hearing about the manure-eating organic chickens of yore, I think I'll feel a bit better.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday morning wakeup

Because I cannot watch ordinary movies featuring ordinary sadness because they make me inordinately sad, I have been cribbing from my son's Netflix recommendations. Thus it happens that I found myself watching Jackass the Movie this morning at 6:30 after my cat Iggy woke me up by attacking the backboard of my bed (is there a mouse inside the wall?). This is not the best way to start a Sunday.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Enough already

So some friends and I were discussing the annual 9/11 commemorations, which seem to be building rather than tapering off as the 10-year anniversary approaches, and some of us were saying how moving they are, and some of us were saying, Enough already!

I was in the enough-already camp. It's not that I feel people should stop grieving. Or that I don't share the horror. Or that I'm against celebrating the heroism of the "bravest" and "finest." But let's face it: most of those who died on 9/11 were not heroes. They were victims—ordinary people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were the victims of a crime. It's true that the poignancy of the reading of the names comes from the sheer diversity they represent. But while it may make us feel proud that our nation hosts such diversity, we should also feel shame about the raft of racist hogwash that erupts over 9/11: the Koran burning, the nastiness about the Muslim cultural center, the self-righteous demands by victims' families for the future of the site. Indeed, the backlash that has followed the 9/11 attacks has killed far more minding-their-own-business Muslims—here and in Iraq—than the 3,000 Americans killed at the World Trade Center.

Next door to my building is an Irish pub. And every 9/11 since 2001, cops and fire fighters have gathered there to get wasted—falling-down, wretching drunk. There must be a better way to commemorate their dead comrades, who truly were heroes, than making themselves sick.

Maybe they're getting drunk about something else now, the emptiness of their post-heroic lives, the lack of gratitude of the people they protect, the day-to-day dreariness that makes us all crave oblivion.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Noho never sleeps

In case you had an image of Noho as a glamorous downtown scene, here is my stoop.

And in case you thought it was a quiet little backwater, think again. There's partying in the streets till 3. Then the drilling begins at 6 or 7.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Home alone

So, what do parents do when they've deposited their children at college? Well, it's 8 in the morning, and I'm watching Animal House. That's what I'm doing.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The good ol' days, a rant

When I first started using e-mail, back when AOL was not uncool (there really was such a time, briefly), opening my mailbox was exciting. There was actual mail in it from actual human beings. I might get a message only every other day, but it was real. Why does commerce have to ruin everything? These days I get scores of messages every day, and sometimes not one of them is worth opening. It's just like the U.S. mail now. Only the USPS has improved its real-mail-to-junk quotient. I have yet to receive a paper-and-ink ad from that company in Canada with the name in symbols that wants to sell me Viagra. I might actually read it if I got one. At least the snail-mail version wouldn't f*** up my whole computer.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bedbugs and lice and pinworms: how do they do it?

There's a question that has been tickling the back of my brain lo these many years of parasite infestations: How do bedbugs and lice annex a new location and proliferate so rapidly? After all, it takes not one but two to procreate. So two individual lice, one male and one female, must jump to a new head simultaneously and find each other in a forest of hair in order to begin an infestation. Or a single pregnant female must make the leap—but for proliferation to ensue in that scenario, brothers and sisters would have to mate. And isn't there a law of nature against that?

Ditto with bedbugs. There's rampant fear that a friend with an infestation will contaminate your home by transporting them in on shoes or clothing and shedding them on your carpet. But ... what are the odds someone would track in a male and female simultaneously, or a pregnant female?

I don't even want to think about pinworms long enough to formulate a question to express my confusion about them.