Saturday, December 31, 2011

Doesn't this make you want to own a laundromat?


Second Avenue beween Fifth and Sixth: All it lacks is cocktails, crudites and dip.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why the young hate the old

So on Christmas, I asked my kids why young people hate old people. The consensus: Old people have no sex appeal. When they squint, it makes them look mean. They fumble with their change in the checkout line.

They're right. I'm hateful.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sloth in the first degree

My friend S told a funny story that will resonate with any parent of a teen. S’s cousin accidentally left her door open. The open door prompted a visit by police, who entered the house and filed a report that one room appeared to have been “ransacked.” 


Not ransacked, it turns out. Just the usual condition of her teenager’s lair.

Bamboo outside the bathroom


Sometimes beauty can be found in unexpected places. The bamboo on our deck serves as a surprisingly lovely screen

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I think I'm a stegnersaur

Most novels are about love or betrayal or both. So it has been refreshing to read Wallace Stegner these past few months. I picked him up because he’d been a neighbor of ours decades ago when we lived in Silicon Valley, and my dad had mentioned that one of his novels featured an incident involving a houseguest of my parents’. I wanted something to talk with my parents about besides doctor visits and groceries and politics—the first two because they’re objectifying and the third because I can’t keep up.


But reading Stegner has had intrinsic pleasures too. I know much of the geographical terrain of “All the Little Live Things” (Los Altos Hills) and “The Spectator Bird” (Denmark). And I know some of the emotional terrain of “Crossing to Safety,” a fictional memoir of friendship and marriage, and I can vouch for their authenticity. 


And—uniquely, in my reading experience—they skirt sex almost entirely. Other says sex is the driving force behind every human activity. And judging from popular culture, he’s got a lot of company. I disagree. Call me prim and old-fashioned, but I feel driven by other forces. And it’s comforting to have so strong an ally in Stegner, who explores intergenerational friendship, intellectual fanaticism, and long and loyal marriages, and finds in them as much drama as the tawdriest tale.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Streep smarts

The opening paragraphs from an article in the L.A. Times:


Meryl Streep shuffles down a London street wearing a kerchief, a drab beige overcoat and enough prosthetic wrinkles to pass as an octogenarian in the opening scene of her new movie about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "The Iron Lady." For Streep, shooting the sequence provided a jarring taste of a specific kind of invisibility.


"There is no more dismissible figure on the street than an old woman," Streep said over a mid-December lunch with her "Iron Lady" director, Phyllida Lloyd, in a cavernous suite at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. "I would search for people's eyes, and I would look people full in the face, and they would assiduously avert their gaze. It was really interesting. You represent everything that is terrifying."


That's how I feel every day.

Valley girls

I was reading Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, this morning and came across a passage about a craze for pet tortoises, and I suddenly remembered an exotic fad from my junior high days.

In my little town in Silicon Valley, many girls wore Pendleton skirts and Peter Pan collars decorated with circle pins. But the fashion forward bejeweled themselves with chameleons yoked with tiny gold rings and tethered to their blouses with fine gold chains. The girls claimed the lizards changed colors, a prelude I guess to mood rings, which came a bit later. Looking back, I wonder how these elite girls felt about the need to feed their finery with live prey. Or perhaps they didn’t do it. It was a passing fancy, as I recall.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mussels vs. muscles


A family dinner at a nice restaurant—anyone would find that a treat, no?

No, not I. I realized that last night as I sat on a hard wooden bench with a vertical back in the boit-du-jour Joe’s Grocery. It wasn’t just that the seating was uncomfortable or that the air was ringing with overloud voices or that the menu was pricey or that the food was overflavored and meaty or that the presentation was pretentiously unpretentious or that the conversation at our table was tinged with an air of judgment about people’s culinary tastes. I’m just not that into eating out.

But then, what amounts to a special treat for me would be a chore or a snore for my family. A great yoga class, a long walk, a good read. I was just mulling this over when I clicked on the New York Times app on my iPod this morning and read that sweatworking is the new networking. Businesspeople are wooing clients by inviting them to spin classes and the like.

I’m so before my time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

This is the way it's supposed to be?


By the time my cancer treatment was completed, I had been transformed from a youngish-looking middle-aged woman into an elderly-looking crone. I’ve whined about it often enough: the hair that grew back after chemo was thin and gray instead of the thick mass I’d had before; my skin was left sallow and speckled with age spots; my figure, once reasonably good, became peculiarly bottom-heavy with the removal of my breasts; and my once remarkable strength and flexibility became a little less remarkable.

But the thing is, cancer struck me at menopause. And a lot of shit happens to ALL women around that time. O.K., most women hang on to their breasts. But hair thins, skin loses its luster, bodies sag, joints age.

I attend a weekly yoga class with a lot of women my age and older. And lately I’ve been noticing that doughty as they are, they look a lot like me. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to look like? 

Eat the poor


One of the things I admired about Occupy Wall Street was its effort to exemplify the value it placed on inclusiveness. It made an attempt to represent the entire 99%, including the long-term homeless who, understandably, jumped aboard for the freebies: the donated food, clothing, tents, sleeping bags and so forth. The effort was not entirely successful, because many of the long-term homeless have problems beyond poverty—substance abuse, mental illness, criminal behavior—but it was made in good faith.

I remember hearing from my parents that in 1989, after the last Big One in San Francisco, which caused structural damage to many of the luxury buildings of the Marina neighborhood, the city set up special shelters for the flossy residents. Trouble was, the long-term homeless got wind of the comfier quarters and a whiff of the yummier food and tried to move in on a good thing. So the city was left in the awkward position of trying to weed the truly needy from the not-really-needy and give the goodies to the latter.

I was reminded of that earlier this week, when a new Pret-a-Manger appeared in my neck of the woods. I was chatting with the manager the evening before it opened, and he told me that I should come the next day because Pret would be giving everything away—completely free—as long as the food lasted. I left scratching my head. My neighborhood, the Bowery, is a curious mix of the fabulously wealthy and the destitute. I suspected he was going to be inundated with the destitute, not his desired customer base. I don’t know how it all turned out, because I’ve been at work all week.

But it’s not the first time I’ve noticed the tendency in this country, from the government on down, to give the goodies to the rich and withhold them from the poor. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A timely death

My mother left a message on my voicemail yesterday saying she had "such a funny story" to tell me. When I called back, it turned out that the funny story was the news that the wife of my dad's old engineering partner had died at the age of 99. Now that is a little bit funny, but only because this woman had the misfortune to look as if she were 99 years old her whole life. Her husband was a handsome fellow with glossy hair and a charming smile. But she was as ancient-looking and stooped as a fairy-tale witch as long as I have known her, which must be 50-odd years. 


Indeed, she was so crone-like that people remarked upon it with wonder. "How old is she?" they would whisper to each other. He was so robust and ruddy, and she was so crabbed and gray, she looked like his mother, not his wife.


So the funny thing is that she outlived her husband and all her contemporaries and finally died when she got to be as old as she looked.

All the little broken things

If you had asked me a week ago how things were, I would have burst into tears and sobbed that everything—everything!—was broken. The expensive dryer that we bought two years ago was dribbling and clanking. The new boiler that we installed this fall was clogged with sludge and making a noise like bombs exploding. Even the damn cable remote, which had never worked properly, had clicked its last. It felt as if the material world was saying, "Die, old lady, die!"

But I didn't die, and Other and I have beaten back the demons of destruction and entropy that afflict all modern things. The dryer weirdly started working again on its own. The boiler was examined by the installer, the manufacturer and our own plumber, and in a miracle I can attribute only to some kind of mechanical placebo effect quieted down—and, more miraculous, the boiler-insurance company (yes, there is such an entity) has agreed to pay the full cost of the new boiler, which replaces one that was 70 years old. As for the remote, well, I trudged up to Time Warner Cable prepared to wait in line for hours and was whisked to a window where I was handed a new remote, no questions asked.

Too good to be true, no? 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tales from the hood


There are 8 million stories in the naked city. Some of them involve bare feet apparently.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Low-maintenance woman aims higher



For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to become a high-maintenance woman. It is a difficult undertaking. I’m so oblivious that I’ve put my yoga pants on backward—and worn them that way. Last week I put my underpants on inside out, which wouldn’t matter except that they have a decorative button—and it got snagged.

At the urging of my born-to-the-luxe-life daughter, I got my eyebrows threaded. The procedure made a surprisingly loud scraping sound and hurt more than I had expected. Nobody noticed. Even I can’t tell the difference, and I've looked long and hard at my brows. 

I got a facial. Blood vessels broke along the side of my nose. They look like grog blossoms, but I don’t drink. 

Yesterday I went to the high-end hair stylist my daughter found for me. I was supposed to get cut and colored. But the day before, I had an anxiety attack about the color part. I couldn’t face the questions. I couldn't face the little girls downstairs saying "I liked you better the way you looked before" or the woman who said baldly, "It looks terrible." I couldn’t face the silence that says “It is so awful I don’t want to embarrass you by mentioning it.” I couldn’t face the toxic feeling of a foreign substance on my scalp. I couldn't face poring over the statistics linking breast cancer and long-term use of hair dye among women over 50. I couldn’t face the monthly touch-ups. 

I canceled the color but kept the cut. And when I walked into the salon, I realized that maybe I AM high-maintenance after all. My hair stylist did a double-take and said, “Hey, look who’s had her eyebrows done!”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My brilliant friend S

My friend S was trying to decide whether she should sublet her apartment or let someone use it free in exchange for cat care when S visits her boyfriend in the country. “I couldn't charge very much because it’s kind of funky,” S said, “I mean, I store stuff in the stove.”

Wow! I thought. What a great idea! And ever since then I’ve been eyeing MY stove with a newfound sense of possibilities. Think of all the things I could put in that oven! My 40-year-old college textbooks that I’ve been saving in case I decide to go to grad school and need to study for the GREs. My old tax records. The ergonomic keyboard from the dark ages of the computer era. My 50 fake pashminas that I pick through every day for the one that feels perfect. My 50 batiqued sarongs, too out of date to wear, too beautiful to toss. My dozen pairs of Crocs, which everyone ridicules so that I can’t actually put them on my feet and go outside—though they are hands-down my most comfortable shoes.

I could even acquire more stuff!

How brilliant S was, I thought. The other day, I saw S again. “Just out of curiosity,” I asked, “what do you store in your stove?” Turns out she stores … pots and pans. Which has its own quiet brilliance—and the advantage of being something Other would actually let me do.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stegnerians


Wallace Stegner was a friend of my parents’, not a close friend but a neighbor and fellow traveler in progressive circles. So in the spirit of having something to talk with my parents about besides their health, or lack thereof, I’ve been reading Stegner’s novels about growing old in Los Altos Hills, where I grew up. My parents no longer live in the hills. They long ago moved to San Francisco. Still, there are passages that remind me of their current circumstances:

“I am just killing time till time gets around to killing me.”

“It is something—it can be everything—to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Simple words, stunning truths


Every once in a while someone states the obvious—but in a way that turns it into a revelation. So yesterday I was talking with a friend about some parental concerns that are giving me a good deal of anxiety. And she said, “You know, I think all parents have something about their child they worry about. No one’s children are perfect.” That simple remark just blew me away with its stunning truth. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I Woman


The trouble with living in New York, or perhaps anywhere in the 21st century, is that if there’s anything you want to do, 8 million other people want to do it too. So I waited quite a while before strolling across the street from my office to see the De Kooning retrospective at MOMA. But I guess I didn’t wait long enough, because I still had to crane my neck to see even the big paintings or step aside in response to dirty looks and mutters from people behind me.

But since the paintings have a certain amount of aggression built into them, the experience felt all of a piece. And aren’t there days when you’ve felt precisely like this?


Monday, November 14, 2011

IOU OWS


I know everyone else has already visited or taken up residence at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Square, but I didn’t make it down there till yesterday. I was surprised by what a small encampment it is. I had assumed there were thousands of people pitching tents. After all, the OWS effect has  spread around the world. In fact, however, there are—maybe—a couple hundred people there. It’s a grubby but industrious little enclave. It reminded me of a scene from the civil war: lots of dreaded hair, bare feet, blankets worn as outerwear.

For all its modesty, it’s a remarkable gathering. It has managed to keep its message pure and clean and uncluttered and consistent. And perhaps more exemplary, it has become the community it wants the world to be: it uses sustainable energy like solar and bicycles, provides protective housing for women, embraces all levels of humanity including the long-term homeless, polices itself humanely, engages in spirited debate that leaves no one out. And best of all, it’s still there. Yes, it’s been a mild fall, but no, it’s no picnic sleeping on the ground and living without plumbing. I felt a surge of gratitude to these young people who are making a statement for us all.    

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My so-called life report

David Brooks, a New York Times op-ed columnist, called on 70-somethings to send in a “life report” evaluating their mistakes and accomplishments. He got his idea from the alumni life reports published by Yale at 25 and 50 years after graduation. He remarks, “The most common lament in this collection is from people who worked at the same company all their lives and now realize how boring they must seem. These people passively let their lives happen to them.”

I’m not 70 yet, but Brooks’ contempt for ordinary working slobs rankled me. Yes, those of us who have worked for the same company our whole life probably do worry that we seem boring—to people like Brooks. But my steadiness under pressure, even the pressure of boredom, is what I feel proudest of. I took on the scary challenges of adulthood and never (or rarely) backed down. I got up every morning and went to work, even when the job was tedious—or intimidating. I was modest in my consumption, resisting the temptation to splurge on luxuries, and I put away savings for my children’s education. I paid my taxes and never cheated. I bought a home and took good care of it. I helped my friends when they needed it. I tried my best to be a good parent, staying awake worrying so often that my friends mocked me. I handled horrible illnesses—my own and those of relatives—not gladly but with care and concern. I showed up when I was supposed to, and always tried to do the right thing.

And yes, there are moments when I feel my life has been a modest one of the sort that Brooks would dismiss as a passively led one. And yes, I wince at the idea of swapping life stories with my more illustrious classmates at a college reunion. But sometimes the biggest challenge is to act like a grownup and do the boring thing. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Troubling information

A friend of mine who owns a country house in New England told me an interesting fact the other night. He said that you can haul away all the boulders and rocks in your fields, but more will appear. As water seeps into the earth and freezes, it pushes stones to the surface. Hey, I thought Mother Earth was on our side.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Step away from the edge


In my yoga teacher training, I was encouraged to “play the edge,” to stay just inside the limit of my strength and flexibility. As I get older and deal with more injuries, perhaps incurred by adhering to this maximalist approach, I’m finding that I get way more benefit if I “play the middle.”

I’ve always resisted props: chairs, blocks, straps, bolsters, folded blankets. They clutter the room and take away from the purity and beauty of the poses. But these days, I’m finding that using the damn props works better for me.

Playing the middle and using the damn props are allowing me not only to avoid injury but also to focus on form. Form used to be just a lot of blah-blah-blah to me, especially since I used to set up my sticky mat at the back of the room and didn’t actually hear the teacher’s precise instructions, taking my cues instead from watching the people in front of me. Now I’m inching closer to the front of the class so I can catch every word.

There have been times in the past few months when my injuries made me think I’d soon be rolling up my mat for the last time. But using the props, backing away from the edge and focusing on form—maybe there’s some stickum left in my life.

And where there's yoga, there's hope. Because one of the things I've always valued about yoga is its influence on other areas of my life. Work on strength-building poses, and suddenly I've got emotional fortitude. Work on flexibility in class, and suddenly I'm able to roll with the punches at work. So without yoga, I'd be a menace.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Magic words


My dad has a favorite saying: “There are no heroes.” And lately I’ve been finding that it explains a lot. Example: Watching the George Harrison special, “Living in the Material World,” I felt perplexed by his contradictariness, his saint-abroad-devil-at-home aspect. (The secret to a long marriage, his widow said wryly, is not getting divorced.) Suddenly, the explanation came to me. “There are no heroes,” I said to myself. And immediately it all made sense. Ditto with cranky but otherwise sterling domestic partners and children, and cherished friends who let you down. Double ditto for charming cats with disgusting bathroom hygiene.

Try it. Next time you’re pissed at someone, let the words untangle your snarled brain: “There are no heroes.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Urban oasis

Oases in the desert are earthbound. In the city, they can be high or low:

Broadway, 9 a.m. Saturday

There's a story here, but I don't know what it is:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Glug

If only oatmeal were not so good for you, I wouldn't have to eat it all the time. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

I don't like the new sculpture in Union Square

Department of modern perils

So I stopped by my hair salon to make an appointment to get my hair cut, and I noticed (how could I not?) that my stylist was wearing a gas mask to give a client a Brazilian straightening. And it got me to thinking. Shouldn't the client have been wearing a gas mask too? And maybe she needs to wear it for months, until the formaldehyde washes out entirely? And maybe any customer who walks in should be offered a gas mask as well? Maybe I'll just forget the haircut. Too dangerous.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rule No. 1

Don't sit where the cat slept. 
The back of my nightgown:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Geezer memory

My parents and I spent a good deal of the week discussing the arrival day and time of my brother and his wife. On Wednesday I spoke with my brother, and he said they’d be in San Francisco on Saturday at 12:30. So I told my mother and father and began to plan lunch around their arrival. On Saturday, my mother was upset when they didn’t show up at 11:30, and my dad was surprised they were coming at all and swore he hadn’t been told of their visit.

The weird thing about this is that I had spent the evening before listening to them reminisce about their youth. Not only did they remember the details of big events, but they also recalled with precision tiny throw-away lines from parties they attended 60 years ago. They both burst into laughter when my mom reminded my dad about a woman they had met at a party whose name was Ophelia. She was being wooed by a guy named Bob, but she didn’t want to marry him because then her name would be Ophelia Balsey, which she thought would be excruciatingly embarrassing. “Did she marry him?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know,” my mom said. “We never saw her again.”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Geezing sucks

There are so many things that suck about getting old that it’s hard to rank them. But this has got to be near No. 1: The other night, my mom slipped in the hallway (she was using her cane instead of her walker), and she couldn’t get off the floor. After lots of arguing about whether I should call an ambulance (sample retorts to my urging: Leave me alone! Mind your own business! Go away!), I ceased and desisted. Still there was the problem that she was on the floor and couldn’t get up. Her legs seemed fine, and her hips seemed fine, but her arm was too sore to put any weight on. So she kind of inched herself on her butt along the tiled hallway to one of the downstairs bedrooms. My dad got a carpet-covered bench, and somehow she managed to heave herself onto that and then onto the bed. From there she could kind of rock herself into a standing position and grab the walker, which we had set in front of her. I was shaking my head over this sad situation, and my dad said, “Oh, we do this all the time. I get dizzy a lot and fall and have to slide on my butt to get from one room to the other too.”

I lost a lot of sleep over my decision not to take her to the hospital. But I think I made the right choice. Even if her resistance was the result of dementia, it’s her arm, and she’s willing to live with pain rather than risk hospitalization. And in the end, three days later, she seems to be recovering her range of motion.

Still, now that I know that both of them spend a good deal of time perambulating around on their butts, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t get them padded pants.

Fog lifting

For the past few days, the feet of the bridge have been buried in fog. Today the fog is lifting, and the "gates" are obscured.

San Francisco troll house

Friday, September 23, 2011

View from my parents' dining room table


The Golden Gate Bridge, the base smothered in fog. With sit-down views like this, who needs to leave the house? Except, beautiful as it is, it still gets old.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Oddities on oddities


An odded addity: A prescription-glasses lens found on the floor that no one has laid claim to. This too is greeted as just an ordinary thing. May I say that I have never found a tooth or an eye on my floor in New York?

San Francisco dog droppings

Box of rain

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ova and vas deferens


There are always such odd things going on in this house. When I arrived on Sunday, my parents’ refrigerator held 76 fresh eggs. Well, not so fresh actually. Most had passed their sell-by dates by several weeks. Now how could two elderly people have decided that they needed so many eggs? What’s really odd is they seem to find my perplexity odd. After some strategic soufflĂ©- and pastry-making, I’ve brought the total down to the high 60s, and we’re closing in on a carton with a sell-by date that’s only a week ago. We’ve decided that for a social event on Saturday we’ll make deviled eggs. By the time I leave on Sunday, I would guess that I could get the total down to the mid 50s. I’ve expended a good deal of energy and ingenuity on the egg issue, one that perturbs my parents not at all. As soon as I leave, I suspect, my dad will go out and buy more eggs.

And I always learn such odd things about the past. The other night at dinner, my dad mentioned that he had had a vasectomy. He did? Odd that I didn’t know. But odd, too, that I know now.

It's 2:45 a.m.

And the foghorns are blasting like demented tubas practicing the world's longest whale song. Or like a slo-mo traffic jam with lots of horns. This is not quaint. Surely modern technology has a better way?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What would the DSM say about this?


My brother and I have sometimes wondered whether my mother had Aspberger’s or autism. Perhaps all children wonder this about their parents. Or wonder, at least, what it is that makes them so difficult. In any case, my mother had acute hearing and eyesight, and small things out of order could enrage her. That sensory supersensitivity, combined with what seemed to us an emotional insensitivity to our feelings, is what got us to thinking. Add to that her language: she was hyperliterate but distant in her speech, as if she had learned to speak by reading translations rather than the original works.

Lately autism and Aspberger’s have been in the news, including a Time magazine article about why these disorders are increasingly common, along with a detailed description of each. “I think I have Aspberger’s!” my mom exclaimed the other day after reading the Time article. But here’s the thing: Doesn’t the level of self-awareness required to think you have Aspberger’s automatically disqualify you from having it?

The gnosic chronicles


I was born with a very sensitive nose, and years of chronic sinus infections did not dim it—until one finally did. Suddenly, a couple years ago, it went dark. I was diagnosed with agnosia, or loss of the ability to smell. Time and medications restored just a ghost of its former wholeness. If a smell was really loud, I could pick it up, but a delicate melody was lost. I’m hard of hearing, so the metaphor is apt. I became resigned to a slightly duller olfactory life and made an effort to compensate with my other senses: using my eyes rather than my nose to check the litter box, the cake in the oven, the soles of my shoes when I came in from the street.

But suddenly it’s back! My nose knows again! Which is good but has its downside. It’s the downside that announced the return of my former acuity. There was the week, earlier this month, when I was tormented by a strong urine smell that emanated not from the litter box but from our kitchen or the adjacent hallway. I brought it to Other’s attention, but it didn’t bother him. I couldn’t stop sniffing around the house. Finally, I located the source: onions that had rotted to liquification in the pantry closet between the kitchen and the hallway. Then on the plane to San Francisco, a free-spirited young man sat in the center seat and released stink bombs of b.o. every time he rearranged himself, which was a lot. I pressed my nose against the window, but of course that did no good. Five hours of smelling someone else’s unwashed armpits! When I deplaned, I couldn’t resist asking the woman who had occupied the aisle seat whether she had been bothered by it. “I did notice an odd smell!” she said. “But I couldn’t quite place it.” And here I am in my parents’ house, and it seems the mildew that I thought I had eradicated is back. Or perhaps it never left and it is my nose that is back. Could there be hope for my hearing?

No news is bad news

Thank god for the newspaper and the pleasure it brings my parents. Every day it arrives (or rather they arrive—the Chronicle and the Times) looking nearly the same as the day before: the big banner name the same, the march of vertical columns the same, the fold across the middle the same. But in the fine print, lies adventure. And every day, my parents eagerly pick it up and read it and clip it and argue about it. One will lose the section he or she was reading and accuse the other of taking it. And, oh, the joy, when it is found (though the recriminations continue)! The rustle and the crunch are the music of their lives. The sad sorting into recycling (how hard to let last Sunday’s edition go!) is the backbone of their calendar. And even before the daily reading is done, they look forward eagerly to the evening news on TV so they can relive it and savor it. Without the newspaper, I think they would die of boredom.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Wash day in Chinatown

Life in the slow lane

"Is this yours?" my dad asks my mom and me.
My mom and I do a quick tongue-check of our teeth. "Not mine," we both say. 
"O.K.," says my dad and puts it into an old film canister for safekeeping. "I'll just hold onto it."

Now the weird thing isn't that my dad found a tooth on the floor. With three people 60 and over, there's bound to be a crown or a bridge or some kind of artificial tooth lying around. No, the weird thing is that no one seemed surprised that there was a tooth on the floor that didn't happen to belong to anyone. 


Thursday, September 8, 2011

A glimpse behind the mirror

A cyber friend recently asked why bloggers like me use elementary-school photos for our profile pictures. I can't speak for anyone else, but here's my thinking:

I started this blog about four years ago as an experiment in daily writing. Among other things, I wanted to see how honest I could be without betraying anyone's privacy. One way to do that was to obscure my own identity and by extension that of "my daughter" or "my son," say.

So I used the pseudonym Mia. Since I was often writing about the experience of having cancer, Mia was appropriate. It's the name of the Amore microfiber wig I wore during chemo. Other Amore model names: Tatum, Brittanie, Parker, Holli, Kendall, Brandi. Don't they sound like the street names of prostitutes? I certainly felt like a prostitute when I wore Mia—battered, shut down, severed from ordinary society, discouraged from speaking about my cancer life. The name also meant "mine" and "missing in action," two notions that also seemed appropriate to me.

The choice of photo was based on a similar goal: to be myself without revealing the identity on my driver's license. I've always liked this picture of my 7-year-old self, with its impish smirk and its push-pull of shyness and directness. And there was another reason I used a childhood picture rather than a current one. A year out of treatment when I started this blog, I wasn't used to my real-life aged appearance: the sparse, short, gray hair; the mottled skin; the defeated eyes. It's still hard to face myself in the mirror. (But as my friend M says, "Stop looking in the mirror then!")

So "Mia" and the picture of myself at 7 are attempts to be honest without violating my own or anyone else's privacy. And in a funny way, these subterfuges allow me to be a bit more frank than I might otherwise. Behind the hedge of anonymity, I can let the wild things roam free.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How does he come up with these?

The latest in Other's lexicon of ambiguous compliments:

Me [wearing a stretchy yoga top, with foam falsies where my boobs would go]: Does this look o.k.?

Other: Yeah, you look fine, if you don't mind looking like you're wearing a bullet-proof vest.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Channeling Susie Essman

So yesterday morning, I got up as usual and fed the cats. As usual, the big one, Iggy, chased the little one, Ivy, away and ate her food as well as his.

"You fat fcuk!" I screamed at him, as usual. "You greedy asshole! Get the hell out of here!" And I shoved him out the door and slammed the door shut.

My daughter poked her head out of her bedroom: "Shhh." She had a friend spending the night.

(Don't you love Susie Essman's name?)

Washington Square at night


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ides of September


September is a loaded month—freighted with good things and bad.

Good: My daughter was born in September after I spent nearly a decade trying to conceive her.

Bad: On her 15th birthday I found the tumor that sent me into nearly a year and a half of treatment, from which I emerged breastless and nearly hairless.

Good: September has become the date on which I measure my survival. This year is my sixth post-diagnosis September.

Bad: ERROR became TERROR within a few moments on a September morning 10 years ago—and every September since then has carried the threat of annihilation.


Good: Most of us are still here.

Next time



I know this happens to everybody, but next time I’m determined to get it right. I’m going to say what I wish I’d said.

Earlier this summer, after years of making up my mind to do it, I dyed my gray hair, aiming for an unobtrusive brown. It came out a truly hideous tarry maroon. I was mortified and shed many tears. To me it felt as if every ugly strand was a sentence in my pathetic story: an insecure middle-aged woman tries to regain her former attractiveness on the cheap. And every stranger on the street could read my head like a book.

A day or two later, I was approached by a colleague, who lambasted me in public: “What on earth have you done to your hair! It was nice before, and now it looks terrible! I stopped dying my hair when it began to fall out!”

My weak response: “Yes, I know. It looks terrible. I’ve certainly learned my lesson.”

Now, I think this woman meant well. She just believes in speaking her mind. She probably felt I was living in a world of illusion, and someone needed to be truthful. Or she may have regretted her words and wished she could take them back. Many, many people blunder over boundaries with every good intention. I’ve done it myself.

What could I have said to stop this marauding woman and save both of us from her cruelty?

1. “I know you’d be horrified to know how upset your words are making me”?
2. “This is not something I want to discuss right now”?
3. ???


Friday, September 2, 2011

Feeling the vapors

For 10 years, I've been mulling over a detail from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. According to news accounts, many bodies were never found because people were "vaporized" by the heat. I just keep thinking, What would it be like to be vaporized? There's something poetic about having your molecules unbound in an instant and dispersed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

For a good time, take the train

If you're hard of hearing and too vain to wear hearing aids, chances are you'll hear people saying some surprising things. Typically, in mild deafness, vowels remain clear but consonants become indistinct. Today, on the subway platform, I was astonished to hear the announcer say, "For S&M service, go to the downtown platform ..." Oh, right, F and M service. Of course.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A sad sight

The other day I passed a truly filthy homeless man washing himself all over—with a little bottle of hand sanitizer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Strong-arming the FDA

I lost 3 lb. this weekend. It wasn't a special kind of diet (I don't need to lose weight). It was a special kind of exercise that's rarely done these days: writing. You know, by hand. 

A cyber-friend and sister cancer survivor, Jeanne Sather, is trying to get expanded access to the experimental drug T-DM1, which has put her metastatic breast cancer into remission. Expanded access would mean she could receive the drug in Seattle, her hometown, instead of spending $1,400 every three weeks to fly 900 miles to the study site in Southern California. She has run out of money and endurance for the three-day trip. 

So I hand-wrote five letters to FDA officials involved in the decision to grant or withhold expanded access. It has been a long time since I hand-wrote anything longer than my signature on a credit-card receipt, and it was surprisingly strenuous—and time-consuming—to eke out these letters. My right arm was throbbing by the end! But it was a soreness to be savored. It isn't every weekend that I spend doing something righteous.




Here's the link to Jeanne's YouTube video about her predicament:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-nai8GCDP4

Here's the link to her blog: assertive cancerpatient.com


Here's my letter:

"If you could extend a person’s life without imperiling anyone else’s, you would do it, right? You can—by granting expanded access to Jeanne Sather for the experimental breast-cancer drug T-DM1.

"Jeanne was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years ago, when she was 43. In the past 10 years, it has metastasized to her brain, bones and lungs. Through her own ingenuity and that of her doctors, she has repeatedly managed to block her cancer’s progression. About a year ago, she ran out of treatment options. Then she began a trial with the experimental drug T-DM1, which put her cancer into remission. Despite the drug’s miraculous effect, Jeanne may be forced to give up treatment. She has no more money to pay for the trips to and from Seattle, where she lives, and Southern California, where she has been receiving the drug. T-DM1 is available only at study sites, and there are no study sites in Washington State.

"Jeanne, who once earned her living as a journalist, now lives on Social Security Disability and is on the verge of losing her home and declaring bankruptcy. Despite her difficulties, she remains a towering figure in the cancer community. Her blog, The Assertive Cancer Patient, is an important emotional and informational resource for women enduring this deadly and terrifying disease. In the pink-ribbon fanfare that surrounds breast cancer, women with metastatic disease are often ignored. But Jeanne has insisted on being visible and documenting in unvarnished detail the reality of living with metastatic cancer. She has become a human switchboard in the cancer community. As a sister breast-cancer patient and a faithful reader of her blog, I take a selfish interest in the longevity of this most generous of women.

"Please help keep Jeanne alive by granting her expanded access to T-DM1 so that she can receive it in Seattle."