Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A leak in my big-girl pants

You’d think that after surviving a cancer diagnosis, a mastectomy, chemo and radiation, I’d have learned to wear my big-girl pants. But yesterday, I needed an adult diaper.

Translation for those who’ve lost their way in this messy metaphor: No, I didn't wet my pants. I had a bad day. And I cried a lot. And there’s nothing more embarrassing than being a big baby who’s 61 years old and 5 ft. 10 in.

It was a trifecta of misfortune that sent me into the slough of despond: hair, cat and computer. After a 12:45 emergency consultation with a colorist, a 1:30 emergency visit with my vet and a 4:30 meeting with an Apple genius, all is resolved except my hair, which remains a weird, tarry, brackish, near-black that I’ll have to live with till it grows out.

I know it all seems trivial, but it doesn’t FEEL trivial.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Decoding the frump scale

My linen skirt is a little long (grazing my ankles). So before I left the house today, I asked Other if I looked O.K. 

"Sure," he said.

"Not too much like a copy editor?" I asked. 

"No, more like an authoress," he replied.

I was happy—until I got out on the street. On a scale of frumpiness, is "copy editor" higher or lower than "authoress"?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dear old dad addendum

On the last day of my last visit with my parents, the income-tax return prepared by their accountant arrived in the mail. My dad opened the big envelope, looked at the filled-out forms and started sputtering. "This is an outrage!" he roared. "This is completely unethical!" 

Oh, shit, I thought. 

"I'm a wealthy man living in a wealthy country, and I'm paying zero taxes this year. That's just shameful."

Dear old dad

Like many human beings, I have a mixed bag of memories when I mull over my parents. And so it is with me and my dad. I remember with admiration his undertaking camping trips. I didn’t particularly enjoy them (unappetizing packeted food, scary lightning storms, smelly sleeping bags, squabbling brothers), but even at the age of 8-ish I knew it took guts to chaperone three cranky kids on long weekends in the wilderness. The ski trips at the Sierra Club held more pleasures for me. But somehow those fairly fond memories were obliterated by the little rage problem that developed when I hit my teens. There was desperation that I take AP math and incredulity that I could not master the simplest concepts. There was the near fatal episode of employing me to help with some task related to income taxes. Let’s just draw the curtains on the outcome of that misadventure. There was the slap that flung me across the hotel room and left my ears ringing after I whined about my malfunctioning transistor radio during a family vacation (it melted as we crossed the Mojave).

The bad memories are the ones I left home with, so it took a few years to see my dad in a more favorable light: his willingness to take my son to wax museums and horror shows, to labor for days making dollhouse furniture with my daughter. But perhaps my best memories are the most recent ones. Frustrating though it is to watch him balk at hiring adequate home care or to see him muddle over his needlessly complex accounting methods, I feel a grudging admiration for his stubbornness and steadfastness. When I hear him repeat or retool an oft-told anecdote, I’m touched by his fertile mind and active social drive. And when I hear him getting up 10 times a night because of his enlarged prostate and then see him in the morning limping around the kitchen to get breakfast ready for him and my mom, I feel pride as well as sadness at his jauntiness in the face of the hardships and humiliations of aging. His last act—his geezerdom—is his best one. 

The loneliness of the long-distance yogini

It might surprise my friends to know that after all these years of doing yoga—nigh on 40 years—I don’t have a real community of yoga friends. I’ve got a few pre-existing friends, very few, who do yoga and with whom I very occasionally attend classes. But I’ve made only one or two friends through my yoga practice. Indeed, I’ve gone to classes for years without knowing the name of a single one of my sister students and without being sure that my instructor knew my name. In a way, this makes me lonely. Other’s sister would walk into her yoga studio in Amherst into what amounted to a sequential group hug. How nice! I thought when I went with her.

But I’m not sure I really, really want an intimate yoga community. I’m afraid it might lead to complications, like competitiveness or feeling overexposed or just distractedness. Although I usually practice yoga in the semipublic setting of a class, it’s an oddly private experience, like therapy or reading. And knowing the other class members too well—or at all—might be counterproductive.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Camera flash?

I acknowledge that I’m the world’s most sexually na├»ve person, but there are two things I cannot understand about the whole Weinergate thing.

1. What made Weiner want to send his wiener to women in the first place? I mean, I get why men like to look at pictures of naked women, but what’s the thrill in photographing and sending pictures of your own naked self? Is it digital flashing? Is Weiner doing to those women what several men did to me years ago in the Paris Metro and the Bois du Boulogne? (Weirdly, it has never happened to me in New York, but then maybe I've just gotten more adept at averting my gaze. Interesting side note: My mom was once sitting in a Paris park and thought the man across from her was holding a baguette, but …) The whole thing—camera flashing and up-close-and-personal flashing—just puzzles me.

2. If this is something that men enjoy, why don’t more women try it? I mean, why don’t Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and even that dreadful Sarah Palin snap their vaginas and tweet those bird’s nests to the world? 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Romancing the crone

One of the most romantic messages I've ever received was an e-mail from Other a couple months ago at cocktail hour, a few days after my doctor had told me my cholesterol was too high. 

The subject field: "Wanna drink?"

The body of the message was a link to a Science Daily article headlined:

New Cholesterol Fighter Found In Red Wine

Monday, June 6, 2011

To Other's eyes

Often before I leave the house, I ask Other how I look. It’s not that I’m vain. It’s just that I try to avoid clothing malfunctions and truly infelicitous pairings and accidents of negligence like pants put on backward or shirts put on inside out—not that Other is especially observant about these particular things.

Here’s the thing: He almost always says I look fine—and then produces an addendum that makes it transparently clear that I don’t at all. For example, yesterday he told me I looked fine—if I didn’t mind looking like a lesbian gardener (I was wearing green culottes, a black T-shirt and a blue hoodie). Somehow I knew this was not a good look, even though neither of us has anything against lesbians and we both like gardening. Another evaluation: “You look fine—if you don’t mind looking like a copy editor.” Somehow I DO mind looking like a copy editor, even though that’s what I am (and what he is too).

How does he come up with these damning assessments? 

Kosher cooties

For the past five years or so, our five-unit co-op has encompassed a Lubavitch rabbi and his family. His five little girls, ranging in age from 1 to 12, have taken to paying us visits on Sabbath Saturdays, trooping upstairs in their modest long-sleeved dresses to chase the cats and play MasterMind and read my kids’ old storybooks. Other and I love their visits, but have some consternation. Hospitality is deeply engrained in us, and we cannot offer them food or beverage without polluting them. For nothing we normally keep in the house is kosher. And in any case, our dishes have not been maintained in kosher purity. Even water, when served in our impure glasses, is taboo. We’ve discussed this with the girls, who’ve advised us to buy some kosher cookies to solve the problem, or have grapes on hand, since they require no cutting, as apples would, with one of our nonkosher knives. Anything that touches something that touches something that touches something that touches you can contaminate you. It’s like cooties, an affliction I haven’t had since I was the age of the little girls themselves.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tree bark, the original camouflage

But why would a tree need camouflage?

What's cuter than a 7-year-old?

Last night I had a weird and vivid dream: I woke up determined to change my profile picture from my 7-year-old self to a squirrel. Even at 61, I resemble a second-grader more than I do a rodent, so the identification with squirreldom was a little puzzling. Perhaps the desire for the switch was a reflection that my pace is a whole lot quicker and more impulsive than that of my parents, with whom I’ve been spending the past week. But given the  minuscule  degree of patience I’m endowed with, a flea would have been a better choice.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lies, damn lies and lies you tell your sister

During a layover in Chicago, I overheard a fragment of a conversation between two flight attendants. One asked the other in an incredulous tone, "Why would you lie to your sister?" Now I've never had a sister, but immediately I could imagine an infinite universe of reasons I would lie to her if I had one. Indeed, I cannot imagine a single situation that would call me to complete honesty with a sister.

Old people, old food

For old people, there seems to be no expiration date for food. There’s an evil odor that lurks in the refrigerator and in the cupboards here in the apartment of my parents. And I’ve spent much of the past five days trying to locate its precise source. The search is complicated by local laws that require recycling of “compost,” a.k.a. table scraps, collected in two receptacles open to the air, plus a 4-month-old partially eaten wedge of stinky cheese front and center in the fridge. So a dank aura pervades the kitchen, punctuated by bursts of foulness. When I locate something that’s past “sell by” dates, my parents say, “But that’s when it has to be SOLD by, not when it has to be EATEN.” And should I spy actual mold, they respond, “But mold is GOOD for you.” I curse the miracle of penicillin!

Postwar stories

When my dad got back from the war, his right hand shattered by shrapnel, he was stationed in California. Since he was wounded, my mother, whom he’d been dating before the war and writing to during the war, decided to accompany him to take care of him, and they bought train tickets as far as Chicago. In Chicago, they tried to buy tickets for the remainder of the journey, but individual seats were available for servicemen only. They tried to buy a double berth but were turned down because they weren’t married. Off they went to a justice of the peace, then back to the station. “We’ll take that double berth,” they told the ticket agent. And thus began a marriage of 66 years and counting.

My dad was in and out of the hospital for the next two years as doctors operated 15 times to restore function to his injured hand. Between surgeries, he retook three classes he had flunked at Lehigh before the war, and my mother completed the degree she had begun on the East Coast. To support themselves they worked at the Del Monte and Sutter canneries, my mother on the fruit-cocktail line, where she was responsible for spotting and removing discolored fruit, and my father manning the automatic peach slicer. At some point, when my dad was putting a peach on the slicer, he slipped and cut his finger, bleeding into the peaches. He was fired on the spot. So he moved on to a tomato cannery (I guess blood in the fruit wasn't as conspicuous there). Amazingly, they continue to have an appetite for canned food. Between times, they paid their rent in kind, my mother babysitting and my father slapping up sheetrock.

These stories, told at the dinner table partly by my mother, whose speech is as shattered as my dad’s hand on his return from the war, and annotated by my father, whose burry voice is difficult to hear, cast this ancient, doddering couple as can-do Wild West figures, improvising as they gallop through life. And in a way, that’s what they’re still doing, lurching from one crisis to another, only now with walkers and canes.