November 29, 2004

One holiday down, two to go

I can summarize Thanksgiving in one sentence: my mom's friends got drunker than she did, but fortunately we were in a restaurant (a weird place for a "family" holiday, but here in the big city, it's just me and mom), and behaved reasonably.

Post-holiday, I've been getting ready for the painters. I've been in this apartment for nine years, and the time for another coat of Benjamin Moore linen white -- not to mention plaster repair on my ceiling, due to water damage caused by my upstair's neighbor -- has come.

Bunny and I are going to stay chez Mom while the work is done. The painter said three days, but with contractors, it is hard to tell. They are, as one said to me, the ones who never handed in their homework in high school. It's a hard habit to break.

I turned in all my homework on time in high school; in college, I got to the point of telling my teachers when the paper would be ready, and didn't they already have a pile to grade; in grad school, I returned to timeliness.

More than twenty years out, procrastination is my middle name -- viz the nonappearance of the painters in a more timely manner. For the record, the last time my apartment desperately needed a paint job, I moved. But that is no longer an option, and if I think clearing surfaces (hey, I have a desk!) for the painter is a challenge, I can't begin to imagine packing up my entire household and relocating.

More than one friend has moved within her building: here, when you live in a well-run place, you don't tend to want to leave. New Yorkers are funny that way. The average American moves once every seven years; I know plenty of people who have been in their apartments for 40 years or more, and they are not likely to get out alive.

I do count getting out alive as one of my blessings, at least as this calendar year draws to a close. It hasn't been a pretty year. Ending two relationships, both of which began circa 1980, one with Clover's Companion and the other with The Croquet Player has unsettled my landscape. However, neither CC nor TCP had made lifelong commitments to me. But the idea of dating makes me cringe, so I'm putting it off: at this point in my quasi-agoraphobic life, I'd rather talk on the phone or watch TV. I used to be quite literary, but both reading and writing have fallen by the wayside, and I'm not ready to pick them up just yet.

This is the only writing I am doing these days, apart from letters to clients. (To receive income, you must interact with other people, particularly if your ancestors didn't invent something clever, like air or fire or water.) Mine did create a safety net for me, and it wasn't through the lucky sperm club. In my family, for many generations, the women have had the money, and few had children, so their largess is something I greatly value, appreciate, and know I am fortunate to have.

It has saved me from life in an office, which had a ten-year trial run that got nastier every year. And I have never taken a drug test as a condition of employment. What chemicals run through my body are between the shrink, the pharmacist and me. (Yes, the insurance company gets its notice, but I prefer not to think about them.)

Tomorrow, the Christmas buying season officially begins. My mailbox has been full of catalogs, so I'll do my shopping and shipping from the comfort of my own, soon to be white again, home.

November 22, 2004

Clover's companion

I had a very dear friend and ex-lover in whose wedding I was a bridesmaid -- the kind of offer you can't refuse -- being in a wedding is supposed to be an honor. I felt rotten. I was losing my best friend and her dog, Clover, and I didn't even get to give them away. Call my friend Clover's companion, or CC for short.

Over dinner one night, CC told me that she had gotten engaged. It was the last dinner the two of us had alone. To this day I don't know if the groom knew his bride had slept with her bridesmaid.

It took a while for me to realize there would be no more mornings of waking up with Clover on my head, and CC photographing me, with her nine-pound dog covering my face. CC, wanting to document a funny scene. CC, the self-proclaimed lesbian-feminist of 1983, and I used to travel together, do holidays together, be each other's family.

I congratulated her, then cried my way to the liquor store and returned with good Champagne, to "celebrate." Normally, one glass is all I can handle. That night, between the two of us, we polished off the bottle. I felt stone-cold sober. CC felt it was right to hit on me -- tongue-down-my-throat, hands-on-my-breasts, no-mistaking-this-for-a-friendly-hug hit on me.

Excuse me? You tell me you're marrying a man, and then you lunge for me like there's no tomorrow, when we haven't been romantically involved for 15 years? And you were the one who ended it then, who stopped speaking to me for 5 years, then reconnected, because you called shortly after my father had died, and I thought then, life is short. I did still love her.

I made it through CC's engagement parties, the wedding, in 2001. I left the country the next day. Switzerland is very lovely in the spring.

Cut to the summer of 2003. August. The New York City 30+ hour blackout. I had stopped by CC's en route home from a vacation. I hadn't seen her in months. I expected to stay an hour. Con Edison had different ideas. I am a city girl: I take elevators to the 19th floor, where CC and her husband lived; I need to see the color of the traffic light before I cross against it. I wasn't going anywhere.

I was the one with the cell phone and urban survival skills. CC didn't know cordless phones were useless without electricity. Or that water reached her apartment via an electric pump and hence, was out for the duration. (If you want to flush a toilet in that situation, your bathtub had better be already filled with water, since you will need a bucket of water to flush the toilet clean.) She didn't know how to override the automatic pilot light on her stove, the stove I'd taught her how to use.

So I spent the night. Apparently I didn't dress properly in front of her husband the next day, and CC was so upset by that she couldn't speak to me for months.

A year later, she called. I love you, she said. I miss you. Clover misses you. There's a huge void in my life, and it's you. Can we have a clean slate? Can we be friends? We made a lunch date. I cancelled. I made a list of big-ticket items that need to be discussed before we even think of wiping the slate clean, and I called her. Apologies all around. No date set up.

An hour later she called, wanting a lunch date, as if to seal the deal. I agreed, then a few hours later I cancelled again. She wanted the hours of friendship limited to those when her husband wasn't working, when he couldn't be with her, or else he had to be included in the picture. So much for female solidarity. So much for individuality. Finally I said, "I will always love you, but I cannot be your friend."

This was a few months ago, and while I am sad about the outcome -- all those secrets, all those years of our supporting each other -- I realized my limitations, and, finally, as kindly as I could, I let her go. It's not necessarily the outcome I would have wanted, but it protects me, and I'm proud of the way I handled the situation. It took a long, long, time to get to that place. What I miss is our shared history; what I don't miss is the reality in which CC currently lives.

I do, however, miss Clover.

November 19, 2004

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

Forgive me, but I'm jealous. It's the Great American Smokeout Day, and apparently I've already achieved their goal -- I no longer smoke. This is not to say that I'm thrilled to have lengthened my life expectancy, especially among the anti-smoking fanatics, but that I would rather not pay the periodontist, the endocrinologist, the plastic surgeon, and other fun professionals who would end up on my payroll if I had continued to pursue the one activity in life that never let me down.

I will never understand why large corporations get to trade pollution credits: I'll keep the air clean at factory #1 and you can create a toxic waste dump where your company had factory #2. Yet no one gave me a prize when I stopped generating so-called cigarette pollution. Nicotine used to keep my sanity in check, but that option is no longer one to which I may avail myself. Why don't I get to make a deal, I'll stop smoking if you keep abortion legal and create laws to promote pay equity and equal civil rights for all?

During the last recession, at the tail end of Bush I's tenure, the magazine I worked for folded. It won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence the same day, but lack of profit trumps Excellence when your publisher belongs back in pet food, where he came from.

That day, the nonsmokers were smoking, the nondrinkers were drinking (several establishments we frequented via take-out sent us their condolences wrapped as a case of beer), and all I could think was, this just-say-no stuff is never going to work. When the economy sucks, we take our comfort where we can find it -- and afford it.

In this jobless "recovery," I'm surprised cigarette sales aren't up. I am aggravated by the Parents: The Anti-Drug commercials. I have to laugh at the PSA of the woman rehearsing telling her baby that smoking is bad for you. Could someone say something that the surgeon general hasn't said for the past 40 years?

People used to tell me smoking was bad for me as if they had just heard it on the morning news. I couldn't tell who was stupider: me, for smoking, or them, for informing me of news so ancient as to be common knowledge. Ever try to explain why dope is bad to a junkie?

The thing is, and was, smokers know we are going to die. We're pretty sure of it, and we think that death should be common knowledge to the nonsmoker as well. No matter what, it's going to happen. In a family whose addictive tendencies run as strong as they do in my own, death is a kick in the ass; grief will punch you in the face just when you have your makeup done perfectly; losing someone I love dovetails with the depressive's quick weight loss diet so much that muscle tone is a bad joke, but it's real life.

I wish I were one of the glass-half-full people, but I don't even think I'm with the glass-half-empty crowd. Somedays, I don't see the glass at all.

November 17, 2004

Candid yam's

Not necessarily what I was looking for on a Thanksgiving menu, but there you have it, not three blocks from my house. I don't need my yams to be candid; sweet and flattering are fine by me. And I prefer them plural, not possessive. But it's the holiday season, the beginning of the trifecta, and the easiest part: no presents required, no forced amateur-night-at-the-festivities contest, and all the food you can eat, unbuttoned skirts allowed under sweaters. It's a simple occasion to dress for, and, if you dine early enough, you can forgo the cocktail hour, posttime for the alcoholic sweepstakes that starts at sundown.

As for candid, it's a quality I like in a doctor. Like my orthopedist, who admitted today that he had done all he could, and couldn't fix me. I like a physician who knows his limits. I don't care for the ones who think they have all the answers in five minutes to a problem I've had for the greater part of my life. I want to say, guess what? If it were all that resolvable, don't you think someone with your title would have gotten there earlier in my life? I've gone from "why-do-I-feel-this-way?" to "make-me-feel-better-and-don't-make-me-seek-an-explanation-where-I've-lost patience-for-finding-one."

Did I mention I make a terrible patient? My medical history bores me; why should it interest you? And if I have to explain my drug history in detail, well, you're not the doctor for me. Medicine is not my vocation, it's yours. Perhaps I sound a tad cranky here; perhaps 25+ years of intermittent very ill health has made me so.

I prefer older doctors; they know they can't change the world, just make it more comfortable. Younger doctors tend to think if they follow the managed-care guidelines (and I've edited some of those, scared by what is called these days "a decision tree"), they are gold. I don't care how much you've studied if you've traveled down reductionist lane for the sake of your co-payment. Then there's Eastern medicine, which might work from Candide's sarcastic observation ("all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds"), but I'm a baby boomer, and if I can't have immediate gratification, I want it by Monday. Of this month. Of this year.

At least I'm not a Gen Xer, or Gen Y, or whatever is trailing in their wake. I did not grow up with cable TV, FedEx, and e-mail. I did not grow up with word processing; I grew up with typewriters. The ones at my first job in 1983 were manual, and we didn't have touch-tone phones, much less a redial button or call-waiting or any post-AT&T divestiture options. I could put someone on hold for an eternity, or at least until I'd composed myself with a response that wouldn't get me fired.

I must be getting middle-aged: the "good old days" weren't exactly so, but life did seem easier. Growing up is all about "hurry up and wait." But what were we waiting for?

Maybe the candid yam's will have an answer.

November 16, 2004

the depressive's quick weight loss diet

I went in for my annual physical today -- turns out I have lost ten or twelve pounds in a month, or 10 % of my body weight. Internist happy, shrink sad. You can't satisfy doctors no matter how you feel; the best you can do is get drugs to help out somehow. The jury is still out on the orthopedist and the neurologist.

What I want to know is why, for someone who doesn't even "look her age," I have a medical history that would make my mom wonder how she gave birth to me. Or to my brother, who also has medical stumbling blocks along the way. But not my mom -- she's off in Ireland for two weeks, on one once-a-day pill, and her weight has held steady at 96 to 99 pounds for as long as I can remember. Evidently there were some genes on my father's side that she is proud not to be responsible for. My mother is one strong lady. I wish I'd cultivated that side of the genetic pool, but did I have a choice? We are our DNA.

Or so I've learned from all the TV crime shows I've watched in the past ten years. Hell, I don't even have fingerprints on record. Demonstrates that I've been sufficiently law-abiding not to get busted for anything -- my friends have arrest records ranging from political protests to "quality of life" issues to drunk driving. I've always said, if you need bail, give me a call. As long as they take AmEx or VISA.

I'll get you a lawyer, and then, maybe, I'll find some food for me.

It might help if I took the books out of the oven, where they were being stored in preparation for a paint job that may take months to transpire. Contractors and reliability do not belong, as I well know, in the same sentence. And when you live in a 100-family co-op apartment building, anything more challenging than getting a lightbulb changed may require a special meeting of the board of directors. But that is a story for another day.

On the bright side, a friend sent me this reminder: Subject: sure hope history repeats itself:

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over,their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight,restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in themeantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors ofa war and long oppressions of enormous public debt......If the game runssometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, andthen we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we havelost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1798, after the passage of the Sedition Act

November 13, 2004

He's not the White Rabbit...

but we can call him the off-White Rabbit. He is most certainly my Bunny. He doesn't speak, but he doesn't need to. Bunny boo-bear. Boo-ba-lou-ey. Boo-bear-ski. Goofy-boo. And an endless litany of related names. Formally named Bunny Boy; his previous companion called him "Mr. P." Yes, I have a house rabbit. He's grey and brown and weighs about six pounds, part Angora and part Jersey wooly. He gets groomed more regularly than I.

He was billed as agoraphobic, when that is a closer description of me. I will go out to buy Bunny food more often than I will cook myself dinner. Purchasing food, then applying heat to it is not my strong point. Fortunately, I do have an extensive menu drawer and a good working knowledge of the telephone.

Bunny's got a good life: three square meals a day, plus all the hay he can eat (pellets for breakfast, fresh veggies for lunch and dinner), all the water he can drink, a clean cage every other day, and the chance to come out and play whenever he wants.

Nothing is too inconsequential to be considered toy-worthy. I ask, when was the last time you were entertained for hours by the prospect of chewing on a piece of cardboard? Or tossing a beanie baby in the air?

Particularly after this recent election, Bunny seems wise beyond measure. The only things that upset him are the vacuum or a drafty floor, and I'm not too crazy about those either.

Frequently I have been asked, why don't you get a cat? Or a dog? Because I didn't grow up with pets. If I'd wanted to be a full-time caretaker, I would have had a child. Bunny's needs and abilities are juxtaposed well with my own.

November 10, 2004

The Croquet Player

He was my first love. When we met, in a freshman psych class, I asked, have you ever hallucinated? He asked, would you like to join my croquet club? We both thought the other insane. We were both right. Within two short questions, we knew all we would ever need to know about each other, but it took 25 years to play out the whole scenerio.

I blame it on Space Invaders, a video game removed from our local bar in 1980. He wrote to our college newspaper, bemoaning the fate of the game. I thought he would make a great writer for me when I became an editor of said paper. He thought I wanted to go to bed with him. At the time I was so naive as to be emotional virginal. Two days later, I think he believed we had had a one night stand. If so, it was to be a very long night, a night lasting more than 20 years.

Yes, he is and will always be, The Croquet Player. It is his profession, his passion. I am not allowed near the croquet lawn, for fear I will grab a mallet, and the idea of him, me, and a wooden mallet in close range has always been, wisely, considered dangerous. Although we both may have grown out of that somewhere along the line. Somewhere between where he showed up on my doorstep on his first wedding anniversary, wife not included, and where, a couple of years ago, he may have met his match. His match was not me, for which, as an adult, I am grateful. Twenty years ago, I would have had his child. Fortunately for all, I did not.

TCP has been a long chapter in my life. This is part one.

November 08, 2004

On pins and needles

So I there I was again, at the acupunturist, getting my back poked with needles that then felt like pinpricks for half an hour due to electrical impulses, and all I could think was, I'm paying for this? An hour and a half each way on the bus for a cure I have tried religiously for four weeks, twice a week, and felt no better than I did when I stayed uptown and took a couple of muscle relaxers?

I tried. I really did. I wanted to believe in Eastern medicine, but I have the patience of a bunny rabbit. I remain the poster adult for Western medicine (current pharmaceutical intake available upon request). Pills may not always work, but you get results -- or not -- without getting fully dressed and venturing into foreign territory in my own city. And the older I get, the more I like my nightgown and the four-block radius surrounding my apartment.

As for bunny rabbits, they rule.

November 03, 2004

My state is blue, but so am I

Twelve hours later, I am still numb. Enough said. Or, a few words from H.L. Menken that ring true: "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." I am personally suffering from post-election stress disorder. Would that hold up in court?