September 30, 2007

The weeks that got away

Difficulty with memory, yes, that was on the list. Dry mouth? Yup. Tremor? Got that. Fatigue? Sure. Lack of appetite? Food, oh, I forgot about it.

I seem to have hit the side-effects jackpot with the neurologist's most recent medication substitution. How else explain, this fog in which I have been immersed and from which I am slowly emerging, now that I've stopped those little white pills at bedtime. After 20 years on one drug, we thought to give the latest, greatest migraine preventive a try.

Wrong move. The effects of this particular molecular combination didn't do anything for me, and seem to have done their share of things against me. It's hard to write when your brain is so slick with drugs, everything you know slides away. That's where the weeks went -- far, far away. I've been so far under the influence, I couldn't see over it.

Note to self: any drug that doesn't have a generic equivalent is overpriced and undertested. FDA approval equals better than a sugar pill, safer than arsenic. That's all. Nothing to do with actual success rate or whether drug works better than its predecessor, against which it will never compete side-by-side in a laboratory. The FDA's main conclusion seems to be, well, we don't think it will hurt you.

Help you? That's not on the FDA menu. Help you is a happy accident, completely unforeseen in any stage of clinical trials, at least where I am concerned. The last great leap forward in pharmaceuticals that are designed to fix what ails me came about 20 years ago, when Prozac rolled off the assembly line and into solid brown bottles by the 100. Penicillin was a wonder drug in its day, too.

How many years will I wait for the next one?

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September 15, 2007

For everything, there is a season

Several years ago, Alice decided to stop spending Christmas with her mother because Mom drank too much. One Christmas eve in particular, Alice and Mom went out for dinner, where the wine was poured very freely, and the service (at a Posh Hotel that used Frette linen) was abominable. By the time we got to dessert, Mom had taken it upon herself to chase down the waiter in the kitchen, to score our sweets and coffee.

When the check arrived, Mom decided to retabulate the sums, so she took the ballpoint pen and wrote down all the figures from the check on the tablecloth. To complete her work, she wrote "FUCK," with a flourish, on the once virgin-white linen.

There was no where for Alice to hide, and no way for Alice to stop her. That was the last holiday meal Alice had with her. Alice has subsequently made other out-of-town plans to save what she can of holiday joy.

However... Mom recently had one of her long-time Closest Friends stay with her for 10 days, and Close Friend drove Mom nuts because CF wanted to start drinking at 4 pm, and was ready for dinner by 6 pm, and in bed, probably passed out, a couple of hours later.

Mom prefers to wait until 7 to drink -- CF loses it somewhere near the end of martini # 3 and the beginning of martini #4 -- and Mom, well, Alice can never be certain when she has left the building, but she weighs 92 pounds, so she's only good for two drinks (Dewars on the rocks, with water, promptly.)

Alice had dinner with Mom and CF one night, and it appeared that CF was going to pass out in the soup, and her conversation wasn't making much sense. Still, when Mom bitched to Alice about it, Alice couldn't help telling her that she got like that, sometimes. Until that exchange, the Christmas-from-hell incident had completely escaped Mom, who never has a clue when she has blacked out. Evidently, however, there is a season for all things. This was Alice's for Truth to Mother about Christmas past.

Alice would prefer it if Mom passed out; then the line of demarcation would be clean. Blackouts, on the other hand, come and go. You can never tell what is real, and what will be a lost memory by morning. Is is any wonder Alice lives in Wonderland? It is the minefield in which she grew up, one which those in less alcoholic families find quite disturbing, but which pass as S.O.P. chez Alice.

For Alice, Truth to Mom was simply one of of the most recent entries into Mom's blackout hit parade, one that began when Alice was 20, in Paris, and Mom inquired one morning, "who poured me into a cab last night?" (The night before, Mom had turned all the do-not-disturb signs on the hotel floor to the please-make-up room side, then stood in her underwear in a picture window in front of the Rue de Rivoli.) That was the dawning of a new age for Alice, the one in which under the influence coincided with leaving the building.

Since CF presented such a golden opportunity for Alice to illuminate Mom's own behavior in a mirror she could see, it was, indeed, Alice's moment.

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September 12, 2007

Feeling Jamesian...

My mind seems stuck on tunes that made me sad 30 years ago, and once again they are exerting a pull toward tears. Responsibility overload, stemming from a myriad of sources, mostly family related and to which I am inextricably tied. Top on my mind's hit parade is Billy Joel's James:

James...we were always friends.
From our childhood days
And we made our plans,
And we had to go our separate ways.
I went on the road --
You pursued an education. you like your life
Can you find release,
And will you ever change --
Will you ever write your masterpiece?
Are you still in school --
Living up to expectations...James...
You were so relied upon, everybody knows
how hard you tried --
Hey...just look at what a job you've done,
Carrying the weight of family pride.'ve been well behaved.
You've been working hard
But will you always stay --
Someone else's dream of who you are.
Do what's good for you, or you're not good for
I went on the road --
You pursued an education...James...
How you gonna know for sure -- everything was
so well organized. everything is so secure,
And everybody else is satisfied. you like your life,
Can you find release
And will you ever change,
When will you write your masterpiece?

When will I write my masterpiece? That is, as they say, the $64-thousand-dollar question. My friends from college are surprised I haven't managed at least one published volume 25 years out. I start projects -- the most recent being a memoir of my father, Haiti, and our family's careless self-destructiveness -- but it's difficult to maintain my concentration. Life intervenes, day after fucking day.

If you had asked me in 1982, I could not have imagined myself in the position in which I find myself today: putting out all of my family's financial fires, to name one thing that occupies more of my time than I could have guessed. Never seeing my father or Haiti again. Having synaptic lapses made more pronounced by medication I can't change. Knowing my aunt and uncle's hotel in Lake Placid burned to the ground.

They say you can't go home again: between Haitian politics and the demise of where I spend my Adirondack summers, I honestly don't have a childhood place that I could happily call home. My mother sold the house where I grew up 15 years ago, and I was never attached to that house, where I spent a tortured adolescence, then escaped to college, so it hasn't possessed the allure of home that Haiti and Lake Placid have.

My college went on a building spree after I left, so now the campus is strewn with what I presume are considered post-modern architectural gems but which remind me that my architectural aesthetic stops somewhere short of women's suffrage. Any building that has all the charm of an airport lounge and the same amount of character is not one I think of as home.

What no one told me was that as I grew, my brother would grow away from me, from the city where we were both born, that he would marry four times, and with each wife, I would feel he was less and less a part of my life. He has a daughter now, my niece Kayanna, whom I would like to see and get to know. I'm not likely to have another. But this marriage of his is still in its infancy; he lives in Tiny Town, Slow Southern State, and I am old enough to be the mother of his child-bride.

I seem to be more active as Aunt Alice to Clover, my best friend's shitzu puppy. Those of us who don't have children do take out pets rather seriously. Last year, it broke my heart when I had to put the off-White Rabbit to sleep. Clover comforts and entertains even more so than the White Rabbit did, and both pets are considerably more reliable than either of our siblings.

I'm in melancholy mood at the moment. What I have to keep in mind is a lyric from another Billy Joel song, also from the Turnstiles album: "They say that these are not the best of times, but they're the only times I've ever known."

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September 03, 2007

Can't mill around; prison coming soon

Labor Day again -- official end of summer and beginning of the fall season, whether it be vocational, academic, religious, or otherwise. Time to see what's become of my corner of the world while I once again wasn't paying attention.

There's a lot of labor to spare, it appears. This is not a newsflash: textile mills have been closing in the Northeast since between the end of World War I and the 1940s, with jobs moving first to the South, and then overseas; heavy manufacturing has been lost to what is now known as the Rust Belt; Detroit can't build a car anyone with ready cash wants to buy, and every "service" job possible seems to have been outsourced to India, where the workers come cheap, but their English is an abomination.

I suppose our carbon footprint is a little smaller, but I'm not sure who can afford the shoes, much less dress in an entire outfit. Jobs declined in August, and economists are starting to admit it may be time to fasten your seatbelt; it's going to be a bumpy flight.

My best friend from grad school wrote her dissertation on the dislocations resulting from the shuttering of mills in her home town of Lowell, MA: Spindle City Blues. Lowell has since come back to life as a National Park Service historic site. When my friend was in grad school, she worked as a Park Ranger, explaining the history of the town, the labor of the "mill girls," the decline as the mills faded away, and the city's resurgence, however brief, as a tech magnet in the 1970s.

In late August, The New York Times reported on mill days come and gone in a town I remembered from childhood: Berlin, New Hampshire. I remember it because it stank: between the paper mills and the shoe leather factories, I held a bottle of 1006 astringent to my nose every time we passed through the town.

Berlin has come up with what is not a novel twist on turning their town around. As the Times would have it: "Plagued by high unemployment, vacant buildings and a recent string of fires, Berlin trying to reinvent itself, betting that a new 1,280-bed federal prison and New England's first all-terrain vehicle park will be the economic shot in the arm it desperately needs.

I don't know what an ATV park is, but I'm guessing it's not shrinking the carbon footprint. Building prisons, on the other hand, has a familiar ring to it.

Prior to the 1980 winter Olympics in Lake Placid, an event considered an honor by some and a curse by those of us who didn't want any more tourists and tacky T-shirt shops in town, the Olympic folks decided to build the village that housed the athletes about 10 minutes outside of town, on the Sara-Placid Road, halfway to Saranac Lake.

It was a dual purpose facility: when the athletes vacated, New York State took up hospitality rights and turned the village into a minimum security prison. This was considered a bonus to employment in the county surrounding it, the county with the highest unemployment (and probably domestic violence, alcoholism, and whatnot per capita) rate in the state.

What a welcome that must have been for the international athletes: housing for the world's most fit, housing for lawbreakers, same difference.

I don't know where most prisons are located, but I would imagine they aren't considered tourist destinations, and these days, it seems all we have left to sell on our shores is what can be theme-parked into sanitary packages, one indistinguishable from the next. Most of the merchandise sold there is made in China, a place whose quality standards have recently fallen into question.

This Labor Day, there's no parade in Wonderland, just a rally. The parade, I gather turned into a lead balloon.