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:

Here's the link to her blog: assertive

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."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The secret to getting a job is an Electrolux vacuum cleaner

Resumes, interviews, cover letters—they’re crucial to getting a good job in publishing, right? Nah.

I’ve worked in different positions in the same publishing company for nigh on 35 years. One of my daughter C’s friends recently asked me how I got my first job. Well, it was like this:

Back when Soho was thick with starving artists, before it had turned into a vast retail-therapy spa, I had a friend who lived in a loft in a building on Mercer Street that was actually occupied by artists, and she had a neighbor whose husband was a performance artist. He was putting on a piece in Central Park involving gigantic black weather balloons, and he was desperately seeking a vacuum cleaner that could blow air as well as suck it, so that he could hook it up to a generator and fill the balloons. He also needed about 20 volunteers to hold the balloons.

It happened that I had an old canister-style Electrolux that had reverse air flow. It also happened that my father was returning to San Francisco from Egypt, where he was using his engineering skills to design systems to protect the tombs in the Valley of the Kings from water damage, and would be stopping over in New York with a mass of English Egyptologists. He asked me if there was anything interesting for them to do on their layover. It was a beautiful day, the Electrolux did its thing, the English Egyptos were delighted to participate. And my friend’s neighbor was so appreciative of my role in helping pull it off that she put me up for a job as a night proofreader at the company where she worked.

(Side note: A later project by the same artist encountered difficulties. He installed himself in a cage in Washington Square with a bushel of tomatoes outside it and a sign that read “I DESERVE TO BE PUNISHED.” Police had to rescue him from an overenthusiastic crowd.)

I was telling the story of how I got my job to a friend of mine who recently retired after a long career at the same company. She said she got her first job there when she was an aspiring singer, and a belly dancer at the club where she worked told her about a proofreading position.

So I don’t really have a lot of advice for today’s young job seekers. I’d lend them my Electrolux, but it died long ago. And what with computers and spell-check, the proofreading positions at the company have all dried up. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wisdom from my dad

Over the many years (88!) of his life, my dad says he has winnowed all the wisdom he has heard and determined that two pieces are worthy:

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." —Yogi Berra

"We have found the enemy, and he is us." —Pogo

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Homeless memorial

The homeless are back. Perhaps they never went away but just hid in crevices for a few years. In any case, the old alkies and druggies and crazies and down-on-their-luckers are everywhere. They hover over half-eaten plates on the tables of the luxe outdoor cafĂ© that now line Bowery and ask diners, “Are you going to eat that?”

And the younger set, known as crusties, are interspersed among the oldtimers, fighting for space on the pavement, staking out territory with flattened cardboard boxes and sprawling on them with their dogs.

When they move off, they leave behind graffiti and mysterious runes letting us know they’ve been there. This tableau, looking like a makeshift memorial, sat outside the building next door all Sunday.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The bad-hair month has ended

It has been a rocky summer for me. And largely because of vanity.

I had been looking forward to wearing sleeveless shirts, revealing my last remaining asset: good arms. But suddenly a giant, tentacled keratosis surfaced on my left tricep. My dermatologist couldn't fit me in for a month. To avoid scaring small children, and amusing older ones, I had to hide it under long sleeves. Last week my dermo froze it off. Free at last!

To top off the grotesque, I accidentally dyed my hair an unpleasant shade of maroon a month ago. Yesterday, a very talented stylist cut my hair in such a way as to blend the coppery tones with the incoming gray. I don't know how he worked this particular brand of magic, but I look great!

Such humiliations shouldn't matter to a yogini. But they do to this one. I'm glad the punishment is over.

And as a lovely topping to this excellent day, my daughter's boyfriend made us dinner—fish tacos! Icelandic chocolate!

I never sleep well, and last night was no exception. But in the wee hours, as I lay awake yet again, instead of letting my mind wallow in my worries, I savored the pleasures of the day and woke up happy if not rested.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Womanhood 101

I've never mastered the womanly arts. I do my best to wear matching shoes and right-side-out blouses—though sometimes I fail even these modest standards. This week I hit a new low, however.

In my effort to put breast cancer behind me, I've been wearing prosthetic breasts—or foobs, as they are called in certain circles—to work. Because bras rub me the wrong way, grating against my scars, I buy extra-large camisoles and fold them in half to form a pocket to hold the breast forms. This works great and makes me look much more like other women you might encounter.

Unless, of course, I happen to lie down on my side to take a nap on my couch and the forms slip and I fail to notice when I get up that I have two boobs on one side of my chest and none on the other. Then I look considerably less like other women.

Being a woman is hard!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mouse tale

Not long ago, a department head confided in a horrified tone that evidence of a mouse infestation had been spotted in the airwell of the skyscraper where we work. "It's because people eat at their desks," he sniffed. I feigned disapproval. But the truth is, I lunch at my desk every day, and I drop a lot of crumbs. And his revelation didn't faze me a bit. I'm secretly relieved there's any sign of life in this hideous old closed-up midtown monstrosity. I was afraid that breathing the air might be fatal.