August 27, 2005

The off-White Rabbit, off his feed

The off-White Rabbit, known at the vet as Bunny Boy, staged a hunger strike earlier this week. My much loved and catered-to Boo-Bear, as he's called chez alice, decided he was off pellets, off timothy hay, and off broccoli. This constitutes close to 80 percent of his diet. (The rest is carrots and apples.)

Miss a day, and the off-White Rabbit doesn't pale; he rapidly succumbs to lethargy. At 7:10 pm, I called the vet, and expressed my concern. Could I have him there by 7:30? Twenty minutes? Boo-Bear was so weakened he didn't try to hop out of his carrier.

Back to the church of the big yellow taxi and step on it. The vet could see him that soon. Yes, 7:30 at night. The vet is also available on weekends.

Don't try that with your own personal doctor. He or she is long gone for the day, if not the week (it is August, after all). I wish I could get medical care for me as quickly as I can for the off-White Rabbit.

Those days are history. If I want to see someone who has an M.D. on his or her nameplate and my doctor has departed for parts unknown, it's time to hit the ER. And all an M.D. tag means is, its wearer has graduated from med school. Could be years ago, could be last week.

Unless you are profusely bleeding from a stab or gunshot wound, or you say the magic words ("chest pains"), take a number, take your seat, and take whatever pain pills you're holding.

Now Boo-Bear has nearly as many prescriptions as his caretaker, alice, uptown. Problem is, he must be syringe-fed. (He will drink Pedialyte from a water bottle, fortunately.) Bunny's sole interest in a syringe in his mouth is to chew it. What to do?

Wrap him like a burrito, the vet tech said. Translation? I asked, not recognizing the Mexican food analogy. She demonstrated. Then carry him in a football hold. Once more, translation needed. I don't think I've ever picked up, much less carried a pigskin. My friends supervise me very carefully when picking up a baby is involved. I have never dropped one, but let's just say, my decision not to have one was wise.

The only way to get the syringe to the off-White Rabbit's mouth is to wrap him tightly in a towel, and winch his mouth open, and hope he doesn't splatter medicine all over his angora fur.

Don't ask how much herbivore critical care mix -- once reconstituted in a bowl, and pushed into a syringe -- will end up on your hands, the towel, the rug, and the off-White Rabbit's fur. Think Linda Blair in The Exorcist . Think pea soup. It isn't pretty. I felt like I was force-feeding a suffragist.

It may come down to that again. His appetite is lagging once more, and if he doesn't eat enough tonight, it's back to herbivore mix. It's his only chance. Boo-Bear has reached what were once called "the golden years." I want him to make it to platinum.

August 26, 2005

Buy me some peanuts...

Today's "New Yorker of the Week," per our local all-"news" station is a guy who has formed a nonprofit organization to send baseballs and baseball equipment to the Dominican Republic.

When I was growing up, major league baseballs were all made in Haiti. Every time we left the Port-au-Prince airport to head for the beach, we passed the factories, or, to be more precise, the assembly plants.

You could have thrown the balls over the Dominican border, as it shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti, if you were really interested in propagating baseball as a Dominican pastime.

Say what you will about how the workers were exploited. The fact is, sewing baseballs was a job, a good, steady job, in a country that didn't provide many. In the poorest country in the western hemisphere, plants for assembling baseballs, denim jeans, or racks of cards of buttons and hand embroidery (that being my family's business) all offered opportunities for employment.

That was then; this is now. Political upheaval has taken those jobs and tossed them. For us, the end was Bush the father's embargo on importing Haitian-made goods in September 1991. For Rawlings, the baseball manufacturer, it was pretty close.

Now the baseballs are made in Costa Rica -- one country that the U.S. has never invaded. Soccer is their national sport. Baseball never touched anyone's interest there. It only appears to be a popular sport in countries where the U.S. has intervened.

According to that theory, the Iraqis should be starting spring training in about March.

August 22, 2005

In the church of the big yellow taxi

It is not unusual, in this city of mine, to wave one's hand to hail a taxi, then take a blind leap of faith that the driver will a) follow your directions regarding your preferred route: in my case, take Park Ave. uptown to my street and turn right.

If you take Madison, we don't get to go through either the Park Ave. Tunnel or the roundabout traffic-light-free six-block special around Grand Central Station, for example. Extra time in traffic is extra cost on the meter, and even if you are new at your job and ignorant of the shortcuts, I am not.

b) Your driver will be able to follow the speed of traffic (or its lack thereof) without undue lane shifts that send the passenger (me) hurtling from one side of the back seat to the other -- since the seatbelt is buried well out of reach.

And c) your driver will be planning what to have for dinner, not the timing of the next revolution, when speaking in a foreign language on his cell phone while he is simultaneously driving.

Not being traffic cops equipped with computers, we can't verify that your driver's license is valid and of the class suitable for chauffeur; we don't pretend to think you are properly insured; we just pretend that you will get us from point A to point B without undue distraction or accident.

In 40+ years of taxi-taking, I have encountered many drivers who festoon their cabs with that oh-so-odorific imitation-pine tree smell, or with Christian crosses or rosaries hanging from the rearview mirror.

Many choose to listen to politically irritating talk radio or hip-hop music (and refuse to turn the station off, per request, which results in the lack of a tip from me upon arrival at my destination).

There are many infractions that may result in the fare paid being exactly what is on the meter, or to the nearest dollar, as a gratuity, in my book, is reserved for those who meet the requests -- and legal requirements, per the Taxi & Limousine Commission -- of the passenger. Face it, what incentive do I have to pay extra for good service? I've never hailed the same cab twice.

What I found today was a new twist in the hyphenated vocation of taxi drivers: I have met those who also serve as translators; those who are artists of one stripe or another; those who wait tables on the side, and many whose side businesses are too complex or illicit to detail. Yes, in the godless blue state I call home, I have frequently been held captive by taxicab radios featuring preachers of many religions calling on their flocks.

Today, I met my first minister. (As I said, we're a blue state. We're not in the Bible Belt. They wouldn't have us, and we wouldn't have them.) Seems his ministry must be suffering financially: in lieu of being offered a receipt (standard S.O.P.), I was offered an invitation to the driver's ministry. Seeing that I was en route to the 92nd St. YM-YWHA (note the H), I declined.

Given the quality of the minister's driving, I supposed there was, for that moment, a God, or at least a saint dedicated to saving the passenger from harm: there was no other explanation for my safe arrival.

In the church of the big yellow taxi, blind faith lives.

August 14, 2005

Back to school?

Without benefit of statistics, I would argue that the red states -- specifically south of the Mason-Dixon line, from when that line meant something -- have lower educational standards than the blue states north of the line.

It is mid-August. It is 95 in New York, with humidity to match. The public schools here, as I recall, start the Wednesday after Labor Day. Private schools begin a week or so later. In Alabama, my brother's step-daughter, Michelle, went back to school last week.

It is 95 in the shade there, just as it is in Texas, another state that sends its students back to school at the height of the air-conditioning season. The pavement steams, and it's too hot to concentrate on anything more than lowering the thermostat. Michelle's school does not have central air.

The people in charge of the educational system in my brother's town in Alabama seem to think it's just the ticket to try to teach in this weather. I think not. I think it shows a distinct lack of awareness of something so commonplace as how well students learn in different climates -- in short, the inmates running that particular asylum are people who can't comprehend the weather report, never learned what heat stroke was. May all their offspring faint and hit their heads. Darwin, where are you when we need you?

Michelle is, for reasons that are beyond me, enrolled in a ROTC class this term. It counts for "physical activity." The idea of ROTC -- ostensibly leadership training -- for ninth-graders -- for anyone -- scares me shitless, particularly since the principal of Michelle's school is not allowed to so much as censure the alcoholic head of her ROTC class. He runs around swigging Listerine all day, and not for his breath. Nothing exemplifies a better example of Southern minds melted from the heat for me. The synapses aren't moving, not until the weather changes.

Fortunately, there's nothing like a war to keep the ROTC folk from effective recruiting. However, Michelle's high school has a shooting range, and in Alabama, you can join the rifle team before you can drive, much less drink legally.

In New York, everyone who enters a public school must go through a metal detector. Yes, we live differently up here in the blue states.

At 14, Michelle recognizes the absurdity of the drunk ROTC situation and so many more: in her high school, she only has to take one semester of "physical activity" in four years. The hallways are laden with vending machines from junk food, inc. No wonder obesity in teens in reaching record numbers. Call me old-fashioned, but isn't school supposed to have a health-ed class? Where they teach about nutrition? Supersize what?

Or is a Southern thing: fry now and fry again later. I'm sure "oversized" is a big department at the local Wal-Mart. I've never found a breakfast consisting of fewer than four courses at the Cracker Barrel, never seen anyone tout low-carb Krispy Kremes from the chain my mom loved as a child in North Carolina or low-cal BBQ.

In my book, the guide to navigating life after 40, vitamins cover a multitude of nutritional sins. Yet even I know some of the basics: the four basic food groups have given way to a food pyramid, which has yielded to some revision I didn't get the memo for.

I don't have to feed children. I don't have to feed a partner. I can pick and choose my foods as I like (or am capable of preparing). But these Southern schools....WTF is going on there? Who's brilliant idea is it to teach children how to shoot a gun?

I don't think there's a city big enough in Alabama to interest terrorists, and if there were, it seems evident from the school system decisions how that encounter would shake down. Any guesses? Or can I hold this truth to be self-evident?

August 04, 2005

Your mind is moving low

Low would be one way to say it. Slid down a slope one day, with synaptic lapses intercepting their pharmaceutically determined roles. One day, I'm fine; the next, I'm weeping at too many people kissing on TV.

Maybe it's the middle-aged, midsummer blues. All I know is it's 95 in the shade, and I don't feel like going anywhere, not even on my annual roadtrip through New England, the friends and family tour.

I'm nostalgic for summers long gone, those years in Lake Placid, my summers in Bennington, where I had a legal release on file so the lifeguards were not responsible when I swam beyond the roped-off area in Lake Paren.

For several years, we made a family in Vermont -- me, Trish, Judith, Bryn, Kai, Mary and Jim, Wyn (in his way) -- but that was when my father was alive and helping to support his daughter the writer, that was when his daughter had more creative support, in the 1980s, when she was a Prozac visionary, not an antidepressant statistic.

Lake Placid? Summers of my childhood, summers of tennis, swimming and afternoon tea; evenings subbing as the glass-washer with my friend Jen at our uncle's hotel, where we stayed.

We had our glass-washing tricks down: busboy leaves tray of half-filled glasses on counter. We taste and swallow all -- wine appreciation for the young teenager -- then insert glasses in dishwasher, run it, and hope we're not too drunk to break anything, but probably not much caring if we do. Uncle Teddy had already fired the glass-washer; we figured free wine was the cost of employing us, and labor didn't come cheaper than that.

Fast-forward to Bennington, five summers of writing, dancing, swimming, talking books, hearing authors read fiction, poetry, prose -- adult summer camp, with plenty of time and space away from the phone, before the fax, before e-mail. People don't live like that anymore. We are way too plugged in as a society, and yet we connect less and less.

But I digress: this sudden mood swing descended, and I was at the shrink two days later, leaving with higher doses of my current medications. The list is long, but the warnings stay the same:

Caution: Medication with or without alcohol may impair ability to drive. Medication may impair your ability to drive or operate machinery. Use care until you become familiar with effects. Before taking non-prescription drugs, OBTAIN MEDICAL ADVICE. May cause dizziness or drowsiness. May cause blurred vision. (No caveats re: driving with blurred vision.)

Take or use EXACTLY AS DIRECTED. Do not discontinue or skip doses unless directed by your doctor. Carry a medical ID bracelet stating that you are taking this drug. USE CAUTION when operating a car or dangerous machinery (repeated on many labels).

Note that machinery is no longer "heavy," but "dangerous." How is this distinction made? How is a car a separate entity? When I'm driving, it could be a golf cart or a Mercedes; either way, you don't want to be near my navigational path.

And my favorite: Do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice within 2-4 hours of taking this medication.

Who paid for the research on the grapefruit/drug interaction discovery? That's the limit of my mind's curiosity at the moment.