February 27, 2005

Dreams That Go "Ring" In the Night

Though I haven't asked everyone in the world as yet, no one in my small circle of friends or within my extended family has ever received an obscene phone call while laying in a hospital bed. I have, and this is precisely the type of thing that makes blogging worthwhile. No one else in the house is awake yet, so there's nobody to turn to and say "I just remembered something odd, listen to this..."

Back in the early 80s I was in the hospital for a series of tests. Since my last post was fifty three inches long, I'll bypass details here and get to the guts of the topic.
It was very late at night and a very tired me was laying there scheming ways to get my hands around the throat of the person who invented the catheter.
Suddenly my bedside phone rang. As this was completely out of the norm and totally shattered the dead calm around me, I jumped near out of my skin as I snatched the receiver.

"Hello?" I said in a very curious tone.
A deep "guy voice" at the other end said as clear as day, "I want to do you," then the phone clicked over to an in-house dial tone.

Still holding the phone, I looked around me thinking "what the hell?" After untangling my puppet-like wires and tubes and returning the receiver to its cradle, I pushed the "help" button that apparently lets nurses know it's time for their coffee break.

Laying there for the next fifteen minutes or so, I replayed the phone call in my head several times and decided it wasn't a friendly prank thing. Firstly, very few people in my outside world even knew I was in the hospital, and secondly, calls couldn't come in to the hospital at such a late hour. It wasn't permitted.

Now quite wide awake and slightly shaken, I maneuvered my bed to a sitting position. A nurse walked in and asked what I needed, to which I replied in excited tones "Somebody wants to do me!" She picked up my chart and tried to determine if I had been on any hallucinogens and upon realizing that I was not, she simply said, " 'DO' you?"

We kicked around a seemingly insane question/answer session for the next few minutes.
Nurse: "Why would someone want to do you?"
Carol: "I don't know... but I don't want to be 'done' "
N: "But calls cannot come in to the rooms at this hour"
C: "But this one did ~ it had to be made from inside"
N: "But why would anyone inside the hospital call to say such a thing?"
C: "Look, I don't even know why anyone on EITHER side would say such a thing!"
N: "Well do you want a sleeping pill?"
C: "No, I would like to be coherent if someone is going to come in here and 'do' anything to me!"
N: "Well we would never let that happen."
C: "Well you've clearly let the phone call happen!"
N: "You were dreaming."
C: "Bite me."

After this very helpful nurse left my room, I gathered all my thoughts and decided she must be right. No one inside a hospital was going to make an obscene phone call in the middle of the night. It was surely a dream. I eventually felt at ease with this and dozed off to sleep.

The following day was to be my last before heading home. I underwent the usual sadistic tests and left varied specimens throughout the day in the name of medical science. (Someday I'd like to meet just ONE person who actually holds the prestigious position of examining excrement. There's a job to aspire to.)

At the end of the day while I was packing up my toothbrush, toiletries and the obligatory stolen hospital towel, a nurse walked in and said "Well I have to tell you, you're the only patient I've even known to have their phone ring in the night like that ... do you have a friend on staff here?" I looked up and explained with a smile that it had all been a silly dream. She corrected me, however, saying that unless dreams are now audible, she clearly heard my phone ring the night before.

At least I knew I hadn't been dreaming and that someone really did have too much time on their hands at the hospital that night.

February 26, 2005

The High School Experience; No Apologies

(the following is an excerpt from the book I'm currently writing)

It was great fun to finally be moving on to high school. For me it meant meeting tons of new kids, higher levels of learning, riding the New York Public Transit system, being able to wear something other than plaid uniforms with Oxford shoes, and mostly getting out from under the thumb of the nuns. Still there was something unsettling about going to a brand new school and learning the bus routes. The school I was about to attend was just one year old and was built to better accommodate our region of Staten Island. There were strict district lines drawn and as it turned out, my sister was able to remain in the old high school because she was already enrolled there, but I was to venture off to new territory.
The school was beautiful; freshly painted walls and desks and lockers all shiny new. I fared wonderfully as far as traveling to and from, meeting new friends and doing well in classes. The difference between going to a public school and a parochial school is like night and day. No longer was I protected from hoodlums or assured that by praying, I would always be safe from harm. This was the real world ~ and for the first few months, I liked what I saw of it.
Soon after the holidays that Freshman year, there seemed to be a growing number of angry students. I was never quite sure what they were so angry about, and in hindsight, neither were they. The Hispanic community was in an uproar because it seemed the district lines cut off large neighborhoods, almost seeming as if they weren't wanted there. I can't believe this was done with intent. In fact, there seemed to be quite a large faction of Hispanics in the school as it was. Perhaps this territory-control contributed to their rage, but as time has proven over and over again throughout history, what makes the parents angry is probably going to make their children angry as well ~ and soon there was great disharmony within the school. My own parents were uncomfortable with this situation and decided to draw me out of the school and place me into the "old" high school where my sister had never had such a problem.

Though I wasn't crazy about leaving my friends (some old, some new) behind, I was happier to be taking just one bus in the mornings instead of two, and I'll admit I felt a bit more secure attending the school my sister had always raved about. Curtis High School was built between 1902-04 and was styled after an old German medieval castle. It sat atop a steep hill on Staten Island's Northern Shore, overlooking the skyline of Manhattan across the bustling harbor. It was crowded by the time I attended in 1970, but at least it didn't seem to matter what color skin you were born into.

I made some wonderful friends at the school and it really felt like home to me. Occasionally I would see my sister roaming the halls between classes and this added to the coziness I felt there. My classes were so greatly varied… some held in large but crowded classrooms with high ceilings. Huge, old windows provided some beautiful scenery. Other classes were held in the large auditorium just because there were too many students to fit in a classroom. We had a swimming pool, and this was an integral part of Physical Education class. Everyone had to learn to swim. Or, everyone had to appear that they learned how to swim. That was the case for me.

The swimming pool was heated and lovely to splash around in, but I learned a new meaning for the word "cold" on days when this was my last class and it was 10 degrees outdoors. Walking down that steep hill with a soaking wet head in order to stand and wait for the bus in the unprotected harbor area was just no fun at all. I took no comfort at all in the fact that I wasn't alone.

All in all, I loved the school, had some carefully chosen and wonderful friends and the whole experience for me should have been exciting and enriching; it should some day in the faraway future evoke fond and sweet memories.

Shortly into my second year at Curtis, something dreadful happened to society. It was nearing the end of 1970 and there was a great racial unrest in many large cities. The new Civil Rights Act had been passed in 1964 and it was the dawn of a new awakening. As a young teen, I had no idea what all this meant, and I have a feeling if I had known, I wouldn't have cared much at that point in time.

What was quite apparent was that rioting was rampant in the inner cities and people were angry ~ angry to the point of wanting to hurt one another! There were stories on the news every single night about looting, fires and general hostilities. Vaguely, I recall my parents mentioning how glad they were that we lived on the Island and away from the madness.

My sister, then in her senior year, only went to school every other week. She was part of the program called Co-Education. This meant working a job in the city (assigned to you through the school) for one week and then attending classes on the alternate week. On the weeks when she worked, we didn't travel together on the bus and rarely saw one another at all until dinner time at home.

One of those mornings, I dressed and readied myself for school as usual, ran to the corner for the bus and made my way up the unfriendly hill to school. As I approached the crest of the hill, I saw a dozen or more police vehicles complete with flashing lights ~ all set around the various entranceways of the school lot.
Students were milling about outside the huge wrought-iron gates and whispering rumors about what was "going down." I spotted a friend of my sister's and asked what had happened. He told me he wasn't sure but had heard that the black students from another high school were going to amass at Curtis to try to recruit friends of theirs to rebel against the system. "Oh" I said casually. The system. What in the hell was the system? Being that this was a friend of my sister's, I dared not ask for fear I might sound stupid.

The police were keeping students at bay until they scoped out the school. Then we were let in… but watched carefully as we entered the building. This was almost "cool" to us. It was exciting… it broke up the otherwise mundane morning ritual.

That day, we heard many sirens outside and even had a fire drill to see how quickly we could all exit the building. Rumors were spreading like wildfire. A few isolated brawls broke out, but it surely was a bit out of the ordinary. Most of us couldn't wait to go home and tell our friends and families about the police presence. When I did so, my parents looked quietly concerned, then went about it their business. Nothing was said. Not in front of me anyway.

The following day the shit hit the fan. Approaching the top of the hill again, there were double - no, triple the number of policemen there than had been the day before. This time they were dressed in riot gear. We didn't carry backpacks or schoolbags back then, but I'm sure they would have checked them at the door if we had. No one was standing about talking outside. Everyone just looked a bit frightened and was anxious to get indoors.

It wasn't until later in the day when we learned from our teachers that there were threats made against the white population of the school. The story they gave was that these were "outside" threats and were not made by our own black community. The teachers weren't explicit about these threats except to say that we should travel in pairs or more through the halls and should leave the school at the end of the day the same way ~ in groups.

Several students were mildly attacked that day, all outdoors… but it couldn't be determined whether they were instigated attacks or atypical attacks. Allow me to clarify. "Instigated" would mean that someone hit on another's girlfriend/boyfriend or stole a hat or lunch, perhaps, and caused dissention. Atypical meant someone just walked up to another individual and decked them where they stood for no apparent reason.

The teachers assured us throughout the day that the best place to be was inside the building and there was nothing to fear in returning the following day. We believed this, and our parent's in turn, believed us. There was a brief story on television that night about unrest at several local high schools, including Curtis. Still we felt it was under control.

Getting inside the building the following day was like crossing some international border. We ~ the white population of the school ~ were escorted to the doors by riot squad. Yes, we were now the white population of the school. This distinction was made on the news each night for weeks but it was always in reference to some sort of race-riot incident. Funny, I didn't feel as though I was in the white population. I barely knew I was part of any population. I was a school student three days ago; now, I was a white school student. Just great.

Several more attacks took place during this day and they were clearly unprovoked. One girl had her face forced into a toilet bowl… she was nearly drowned in it and had to be hurried to the hospital where she fell into a coma. They had taken her eyeglasses and threw them out the window… then took a retainer clear out of her mouth and smashed it onto the floor. We didn't learn about this one until the next day. But I'm moving ahead too quickly. (Maybe that's because I secretly want to)

As mentioned earlier, my last class of the day was Physical Ed. I was running a bit behind schedule because of all the stops made in the hallway between classes that day. I raced down to the underground basement which housed our locker rooms. I got down into the dimly lit locker area and changed from my street clothes into my gym uniform. I tossed my books into the smelly locker (they ALL smelled) and ran toward the doorway leading up to the gymnasium.

There were five girls standing in the doorway. In my haste, I only half noticed they were eyeballing me as I approached. They were tall and black and very angry looking. The closer I got, the more acutely I could smell their hatred for me. I knew there were going to be words. I wish that had been the extent of it.

The heaviest of the five girls grabbed my arm near the elbow and spun me around as I tried to get past them through the doorway. "I saw you lookin' at me white girl, you're gonna pay for that," she said as she pressed her fingers into my arm. She slapped me, open handed and with great force, across my face. I felt like I wanted to be sick. I knew the lines… I had heard them all before. I know she wasn't angry with me because I "looked at" her. She was just picking a fight; an atypical fight. I said nothing. I couldn't at first, but at one point I almost composed myself and wanted desperately to say MANY things. Still I refrained. I wasn't completely ignorant to this ugly business.

All five joined in hitting, punching and pulling at my long hair. I was being spun around in every direction and I lost my bearings for a moment when they loosened their grip. I wanted to kill this girl and I didn't even know why she hated me so. One of the smaller of the five kicked out at the back of my knees and I fell to the floor, kneeling before the whole group of them. Two were laughing and just having a grand time but weren't really contributing much to this physical side-show. The first one who had slapped me then grabbed me by a hefty hunk of hair and said to me "Say you're sorry, bitch."

Something inside my head hurt terribly and I so much wanted to complain out loud but I wouldn't say a word. She grabbed that hunk of my hair and flung my head sideways into the cement wall, again commanding me to say I was sorry. I wasn't sorry. I had nothing to be sorry for and for damned sure wasn't going to apologize to these animals.

They were relentless and pummeled me in the ribs, arms and legs until I was certain I would faint dead away. This next bit might seem awfully graphic, but it's an important part of my retelling the story just as it happened. They kicked my ass. No, I mean they literally kicked my ass. There is a true sense of this phrase; allow me to describe it ~ hard kicks to the ass, relentless, snapping kicks until there's just enough feeling left to offer burning pain. This hurt me terribly and all I could think about was how long it would take for me to die from this unusual kind of pain. For several months to follow, I had some degree of discomfort in that area. Sometimes, I still remember that exact pain… or maybe it caused some sort of permanent injury (however slight)… I don't know.

Suddenly they stopped and ran. A door was opened upstairs and I'm sure they assumed it was either a teacher or the police. I tried to whisk my hair out of my eyes but it was stuck to my face and encrusted with blood. My legs were weak and sore but I got up slowly and started for the stairway. Two very young looking black boys were standing on the landing and started to descend toward me. I swear they couldn't possibly have been more than 12 years old, if that. I thought they were coming to my aid. Silly, silly me.

When they got to where I was just starting to climb the stairs, they thought it was great fun to pull each of my feet out from beneath me as I took a step. I would falter and go to my face, then get up again and have them tug at my next foot; they repeated this again and again. Finally, they ran off too, though I don't know why … there was still a little more of me left!The entire ordeal from start to finish couldn't have taken more than ten or twelve minutes, yet it seemed as though everything happened in slow, slow motion.

When I got to the gymnasium, I walked in the doorway and fellow-students gasped. The teacher along with one friend of mine (ironically, a black friend), rushed toward me. They helped me to the nurse's office where I laid on a cot with ice packs on my head and face. My mother was called on the telephone and the principal came to the room. He asked me several questions and asked if I needed an ambulance. I didn't have any idea if I needed an ambulance. I did, however, need the safe arms of my mother.

After mom showed up and was led to the room with a police officer, the principal asked me if I knew my attackers. I did not know them, but had seen one of them a few times in one of my classes. I remembered her name but refused to identify her. Oh I wasn't being kind, I was scared to death that she would have every friend and relative waiting for me the next time I tried to come to school! Mom suggested that my records be transferred to another school immediately and that I do whatever I could to help them punish this girl. I gave as much information as I could about her and described the others as well as I could remember. Everyone seemed satisfied.

We were escorted to our car and mom drove me to the hospital where they examined me, cleaned me up and told us my injuries were relatively minor ~ mostly contusions and lacerations. I remember asking myself at that point, "How could minor injuries hurt so very much?"

It was later revealed to me that during the course of that day, several students were badly beaten with two requiring hospital stays. The girl in the coma made a complete recovery but I'm sure she was never quite the same after her trauma. One of the athletes was beaten to a pulp outside near the bleachers on the football field and if not for the keen eye of a student looking out the window at the time, might never have been found.

I ended up going to a third high school in a two-year span of time. This one was clear across the Island and it was so over-crowded that we had classes in what appeared to be old broom closets. I hated every moment of sitting in a classroom. Worth mentioning is that this was a predominantly white school.

The issues in this school were heavy drug traffic and whose family had more money. I was never an athlete so I didn't click with that crowd. I wasn't quite a bookworm, so I wasn't fully accepted by the nerds. I had no time or desire for drugs which left me out of the seventy percent of the student population mixed up in that mess. I was truly a misfit. I never quite fit in anywhere anymore. I missed my old friends and all I could think about, almost obsess over, was to be finished with the entire school system once and for all and to live in an adult world for a change. And so, I quit high school just before the end of my second year. I promised my mother I would work full time and take my work very seriously. I did just that. I have ever since.

It was just one day in my life, but I learned so very much in such a short time. I learned to hate every single black person in the world, but that only lasted about two weeks. I hated that they were fighting for rights when these animals took all of mine away with their fists for ten full minutes. I learned that I was a "white student." I learned that it didn't matter that I grew up in a home where people were people and it made no difference what color they happened to be. I learned that ALL people are NOT equal, and it had nothing to do with colors. I learned that it wasn't my fault and I learned that it probably would have hurt me more to have caved in and apologized for some twisted imaginary crime I had committed in these girls' sick minds. I also learned that being white isn't always a picnic either.

Yes, I went to high school. I didn't have the proms or the parties and didn't make the Dean's List or Honor Roll. I did what I could and took what I shouldn't have had to take… and for all of this, I make no apologies.

February 24, 2005

He's Dead; and NOW He's Still Dead; and NOW and NOW...

I got really really frightened once when I thought the media had lost its collective mind.

Ronald Reagan died. This was newsworthy in that the man served as President to the world's most powerful nation. Now, being the politically ignorant soul that I am, I'm neither here not there about Ronald Reagan's term of office. In many ways, I find his acting career of more interest. I say this to point out that this is not a political gripe, but a cathartic exercise in expelling my fear that pure lunacy had enveloped the nation's media that week.

Every primary television channel carried coverage of the life and times of Ronald Reagan for nearly eight full days. Along with the complete biographical account, they tacked on the current memorial services taking place clear across the country. Each day, in a different city, we were encouraged to watch a new crowd of camera-mugging politicians and movie stars, an all-new coffin locale or more accurately stated - "stage setting"- and a new schedule for the next day's trek. It seemed as though the man traveled more of the country dead than throughout his lifetime.

Cameras morbidly focused tight shots on Nancy's every expression (or in most cases, non-expression). She was grieving - oh what a big surprise. She grieved more openly at the very end, and I couldn't help but wonder if a small part of that was her way of saying "enough already!"

Please don't mistake this as a cold-hearted rant on the whole ritual of death/funerals/grieving. I take death quite seriously and respect people's varying styles of saying goodbye to loved ones. But this was overkill to the nth degree.

I don't entirely blame the media, as they weren't the ones who orchestrated this week long mini-series. They just provided the key grips, best boys and curtain calls.

After the second night of what I like to refer to as "The Reagan Show," I fully expected him to be put in the ground already. We watched quite a few rented movies that week, not out of disrespect for the former President, but out of GREAT respect for our sanity.

As the newspapers and radios were pushing more and more announcements of upcoming Reagan memorial schedules throughout that week, I truly believed they had all lost touch with any sense of reality. It scared me. I thought it was never going to end and TV viewing as I once knew it was gone forever.

I will admit that when they announced the final "episode" I tuned in briefly toward the very end. The prevailing thought that rolled about in my head while watching the obscene display was "thank God it finally IS Bedtime for Bonzo."

February 23, 2005

I'd Like You to Meet The Cub

Until twenty years ago, my life was filled with adventure, drama, excitement, dreams and wonder. My title changed frequently as I made my way through various rites of passage. In the early days I was a daughter and a sister. I've been a friend and a lover; a coworker and an employee; a singer; a voter, an American and a writer - the list of titles could go on for quite some time. At times I was all of those things simultaneously, and more. Then in 1986, I became a mother, and ever since, no other title really mattered anymore. None.

I did not become a mother in the popular manner - planning and hoping with hubby at my side - as most do. This new life-path was a surprise to me; not because I was ignorant enough to think it couldn't happen, but because I had been medically informed it wouldn't happen. In any case, parenthood was now upon me.

Because I cringe at women who feel a need to sit around trying to convince everyone that they had the MOST difficult pregnancy and childbirth in the history of humanity (why do women do this?), I will spare all those details and get to the big picture.

Enter Sarah Jane. Yes, I live north of the Mason-Dixson line and realize my offspring didn't require two first names, but I liked them both so much that I simply couldn't decide, so I combined them - maintaining a space in the middle so as not to confuse it with Sarahjane which I wasn't too crazy about. Don't ask.

SJ made her debut into humanity weighing a hair over four pounds. Already defying all the standards for such a low birth weight, she had all her parts and breathed room air. At the Special Care Nursery, not one nurse or doctor walked by her isolette without commenting on how absolutely perfect and beautiful she was.

I recall having had fleetings thoughts throughout pregnancy like "holy crap, I have no idea what I'm doing ... I don't even know how to be a mother!" Learning how to "mother the cub" isn't something that comes out of a book, or a class, or even word of mouth. It's one of those things that just happens the split second the little one is born.

In August, Sarah Jane will turn nineteen. She looks nothing like me and has so many of her father's features and mannerisms that sometimes I look at her or listen to something she says and just shake my head at this living proof that some things truly are just "in the genes." Having never met the man as yet, by the time she was six years old her movements in dance were identical to his. Her temperament was always much like his as was her sense of free-spirit.

Sarah Jane has evolved into a lovely young lady. Not only is she naturally comical, she is bright, curious, earthy, sensitive and caring; she leads more than she follows and she usually chooses a crooked dirt path as opposed to a paved lane. She is far more of a risk taker than I ever was, and because of this has managed to learn some of her limitations much sooner than I did by her age - though it's been my observation that the kid doesn't have very many limitations at all! She's an overall natural beauty with hazel eyes that smile constantly.

I think every parent would like to see something of themselves in their children. It's human nature. Though we don't share the same hair color, eye color or skin tone, and she could be mistaken for a facial clone of her father, this kid has an incredible way with words! She writes quite well, she's musical (violin, bass quitar and piano) and generally "artsy." She favors drawing over painting and sculpting, but she's equally as good at all three mediums. I'll take some credit for her writing and musical abilities but have to give her father full credit for her other artistic endeavors. I can't make a straight line with a ruler.

SJ was given a choice to study dance or martial arts. She opted for martial arts and went at it whole heartedly for several years. Finances kept me from allowing her to attain a black belt in Tang Soo Do (Korean form), but only by one level. She showed great promise with weapons (specifically Sais) and I have no doubt that she can take care of herself if she's ever forced to.

Figure-skating was another focal point for her in her early teens. She stayed with it for a few years until, once again, we ran out of funds. *sigh*

Though I've made some mistakes in the parenting process, all in all SJ has become a well-rounded and determined individual. She has a wide circle of friends who treasure her.
I don't mind so much letting her go off some day soon to enjoy her own adventures and learn her own life-lessons. She's ready. I'm ready. Besides, it's the only way I will ever again see the floor in her room.
The one thing that won't change when she moves away is my dominant title. I get to be her mother forever. Lucky, lucky me!
(side note: the small scar visible on her upper chin was from an accident she had a few years back. She had an opportunity to have it surgically removed. Her reaction to this? "NO. It's part of who I am." This was one of the dozens of times in her life when I've thought to myself "Cripes I wish I could be more like her.")

February 21, 2005

Before & After Caffeine

"Don't make me summon the flying monkeys!"
"Aaaahhh ... now that's MUCH better"

The $600 Vacuum

Incase you haven't seen the commercials for this thing, allow me provide the scenario. There's this Australian guy, (I think he's Australian because he sounds like that crocodile guy) - in any case, he has a heavy accent and he sure knows his stuff about the product - he talks about how his vacuum cleaner invention will suck forever; longer even, than you will breathe.

You have to love vacuum cleaners ~ they are the only product we purchase based on how much it sucks.

Anyway, he claims he has worked on inventing this device for years. He explains all the technical baloney and tells you, quite convincingly, how he cannot believe you've gotten by without this thing till now. It swirls, it twirls, it's quick, easy and clean.

I don't know about you but for 600 freaking dollars, it better fix dinner and tell me I'm beautiful at the end of the day as well.

My personal thoughts on this are as follows:
  • accents can be a fine source of entertainment
  • this vacuum dude has no life
  • any woman who would spend $600 on his product needs take off the apron and get out more
  • I'd like to get my hands on this particular "buyer list." Seems like it might be a great means to thin the herd
  • to anyone who has arrived at this post through a search on the word "suck" ~ sorry to disappoint

It's Not Such a Bad Day

I've been in a sort of funk today. Then I heard a news story that reminded me of another news story, that collectively made me realize what a good day I'm actually having. Some people just have very, very, very bad days.

In Arkansas, either today or yesterday, a 66 year-old woman had a heart attack. Her loved one calls an ambulance, which picks her up to transport her to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, the ambulance gets hit by a train. I wish I was kidding. But it gets better. Everyone in the ambulance was killed (three paramedics) but the woman was not. Her loved one, who was following behind the ambulance in their car, scrambled her out of the ambulance at the train wreck scene and drives her to the hospital in their car. She is resting comfortably. Amazing.

The earlier news story landed in my lap about a month ago. This UPS driver (parcel delivery service for you non-Statees) in Keane, New Hampshire was driving his truck and had a terrible accident. An ambulance showed up and hauled the guy to the hospital where it was determined that his head injury would require the use of some sort of very technical equipment to save his life. One problem. The equipment had been out of service and the part they ordered for it had yet to be delivered to the hospital. They tracked the package and you guessed it ... it was on the UPS truck the man was driving to the hospital! The part was retrieved from the scene of the accident, installed into the equipment, and the guy's life was saved.

I didn't make this stuff up. Do a Google search; type in something like "incredible shit that happens to people" and you'll probably find the stories.

My funk is waning. Maybe it's the stories, maybe it's blogging about the stories, maybe it's the CCR that I have cranked in the room here, or maybe a combination of the three. In any case. I'm heading off now to do a little jig.

February 19, 2005

An Ultra-Special Blond Moment

There are blond moments and then there are ultra-special blond moments. I have endured both types, but one will stand out in my mind until I no longer draw breath.

Years ago I worked for a small weekly shopper's guide, back on Island. I sold classified advertising and enjoyed the company of a rather cheerful crew in our department. We were all fairly close in age (all between 19 and 25 or so) and frequently socialized outside of work.

One night, one of the girls was holding a "Naughty Nightie" party. Now, there are many of these home-shopping style parties out there. There's Tupperware, Home Decor, Hydroponic plants, and probably 843 more, but this one was to feature sexy lingerie and bedroom toys - put mildly. Incase you've just crawled out from under a rock, the theme of these parties is as such: you all gather in someone's living room and wait for the hostess to show up with her bag of goodies. You eat chips with onion dip, brownies, and if you live in the Midwest USA, a jello mold. The hostess then convinces you that you simply cannot live without a particular item, which you proceed to pay way too much money for. If you are blessed with self-control and do not opt to buy anything, you are then manipulated into doing so after she insists that by failing to comply, you are single-handedly depriving your friend of a "gift" for having everyone to the party. So you end up buying the crap, bringing it home, sticking it on a shelf in the closet and throwing it away next time you relocate.

After attending about thirty of these annoying shindigs, I finally made an across-the-board statement to everyone within earshot that I no longer "do" home shopping parties - so don't ask - or I will have to kill you ... simple as that. But that's after-the-fact. I hadn't had my fill yet.

Off to the party I went.

About thirty minutes into the hostess' presentation, she started passing around something called flavored massage oil. I didn't invent it, I'm just relaying a story here. The first little tube (strawberry) made it's way around the room of about 20 females ... each putting a dab on their finger and tasting it. The whole time, everyone was being quite polite and paying attention to the hostess as she explained each asinine product. I, on the other hand, was fully involved in conversation with a friend of mine the entire time. When the tube of oil was passed to us, we tried it out never skipping a beat in our chit-chat. The second tube arrived (pineapple), then a third (grape) and a fourth (melon). Everyone was passing, tasting and commenting on the oils as Doreen and I discussed the finer things in life - like which club we would play darts at after this insanity ended.

When the next little tube reached me, I opened it, squished a few drops onto my finger and mindlessly placed in on my tongue.
Everyone in the room shouted, "Noooooooooooooo" but not soon enough. I looked around, wide eyed, realizing that this stuff was virtually tasteless. Suddenly my tongue went completely numb, as did my gums, the roof of my mouth and pretty much the entire upper portion of my frigging throat. The girls were laughing too hard to make any sense out of what they were trying to tell me so I looked at the tube and read the label "Prolong Cream." I put Prolong Cream on my damn tongue! Just ducky.

I'll tell you ... the stuff works! I couldn't taste a damn thing for the remainder of this party. Of course, it wasn't designed for the tongue at all, and since this was pre-viagra history, it was as good as it was going to get. I can guarantee, it surely served the purpose for which it was intended.

Of course, the hostess was pleased as punch because there was a sudden rush to buy up her entire stock of this special cream. The oils didn't fare as well next to such a promising (and proven) product. The girls were knocking each other over to get to the table with their money.

And so I earned yet another blond-notch in my belt that night. I didn't mind so much being the highlight of the party, but word spread like wildfire at the entire office the following day. That was a bit hard to swallow ... with or without the product!

So Why Do I Write About Me?

I'm not very good at writing fiction. Perhaps one day I can try my hand at this, but I'm thinking it might be good to get all the real stuff out of the way first. I have lived a rather colorful existence and throughout my various journeys and adventures, on many occasions, someone - somewhere has inevitably said to me "you've got to write a book." True we all hear this from time to time, but I have taken it quite to heart by now. While that is in the works, I'm having a ball tossing snippets out there by way of this medium.

The single underlying theme I'm going for in all my revelations is ~ stuff happens, but ya gotta bounce back or you might as well crawl into a cave for the rest of your days. I know, long theme. Long list of "stuff" that's happened. I've only just begun to scrape the sides of my little adventure-bowl.

As people read my personal stories, they'll see sparks of humor now and again ... mixed right in with the drama. That's what makes my recipe a little unusual. No credit to me, I was born with a knack to look for humor, irony and the lighter side of darkness. Most importantly, I would like people to understand that I'm having a blast recreating situations and reminiscing. I may have the occasional tear in my eye as I write about dark events, but since crying is what separates us from animals, I don't see this as a negative. Besides, as Joni Mitchell said "laughing and crying, ya know, it's the same release."

I've said all this to drive home the point that I'm not looking to gain sympathy or kudos, to incite anger or bitterness toward anyone concerned, or to pretend that my life was either so much better or so much worse than anyone else's. I simply want to get it all out there and gain a sense of accomplishment in this regard.

One might call this a mid-life crisis ... my timing that is. As I sit here in my fiftieth year, I figure it's time to document as much as I can so that one day, my offspring can have some point of reference when she starts to wonder why I view the world the way I do. My writings won't hold all the answers for her ... they can't. They are MY take on life, after all. But all that people experience (or don't experience) in their years is what makes them who they are today. At the very least, it's my hope she can see me in a different light, a brighter light, than she did before. If in the process of enlightening my daughter, I should happen to mildly entertain some friends and strangers, all the better!

February 16, 2005

It's All Her Fault

I married way too young (18) and it was all Donna Reed's fault. For the younger puppies out there, Donna Reed was one of those black and white TV shows introduced in the USA in 1958. It featured Donna, a pretty blonde with a Barbie doll body, her perfect doctor husband, their two perfect children (a boy and a girl, but of course), and their perfect house, homelife, neighborhood, friends and life in general. That Donna wore a dress, pearls and heels while dusting furniture and cooking dinner never fazed me in the least. As if Donna wasn't picture-perfect enough, they stuck Shelly Fabares in as the daughter. Come ON, it just isn't fair! The basic theme of the show was "situations" and "situations resolved" and all were laced with a bit of comedy. I grew up on this shit. I loved it. It felt comfy cozy to me. It inspired me to dream about days to come. Those bastards!

So off I went into my 18th year planning my wedding and believing in my heart of hearts that mine would also be the perfect marriage with the perfect husband and one day, the perfect kiddies. It's not as though I was a completely stupid young lady, I just didn't know enough to allow reality to shake me out of my dream-state.

I'd love to go into every sordid detail about this practice-marriage, but so as not to incriminate myself with my written tongue, I will come to a crashing halt at the end of the honeymoon story (much like the entire marriage did).

The well-planned wedding day turned out wonderful; glorious even! Around 7 p.m. we two took off for our honeymoon, leaving the revelers to celebrate amongst themselves. We had a long drive from Staten Island to Pennsylvania. That's right folks, no early 70s wedding was complete without a trek to that love-paradise in the mountains - The Poconos. We had rented a private cabin ... keeping away from the mainstream hotel at Cove Haven.

Upon arrival, we checked in at the office then drove about a mile up the twisting road to our luxury accommodations. In retrospect, the inside of this place looked like the set of a poorly made, low-budget porn flick. If I had more time, I'd take you on a room by room tour, but I don't, so I won't. Just think red velvet ~ everywhere.

We each showered and changed into appropriate honeymoon garb, he in his skin and me in my flowing whiter than white, lacy and revealing negligee. So many people had suggested that we stay in town overnight and head to the mountains early the next morning but then, people also argued that we should wait a few years to get married too. We simply weren't open for advice. We were, after all, 18 and 19 years old! Who could know better than we did?

We were laying in bed facing one another and talking over the day's events ... both of us completely exhausted. Suddenly, I noticed while I was talking, my brand new husband was staring off behind me at the wall. Just staring, expressionless. I turned to the wall, turned back and said "What?" He just stared, stared, stared. I then laughed and nudged him saying "Hey cut it out, you are trying to scare me" or something to that effect. Without warning, he straightened himself out, went stiff as a board and then went into a full blown grand mal seizure.

I knew he had epilepsy and I knew he had experienced a seizure or two in the past. Until now, I had never seen this happen. I tried turning him onto his stomach but he was a pretty solid guy and it wasn't working. I tried hard to get at his tongue, but his jaw and teeth were clenched tightly and it took me only a second or two to realize this wasn't going to happen either. At one point his outstretched arm came up and clocked me so hard I thought I'd pass right out. I raced to the phone and reached the main office. I screamed at the man to get an ambulance and he assured me that the house doctor would be right over.

Then I did the mature thing ... I opened the door to the cold October mountain air, ran outside and started racing down the side of the mountain in my white nightie, flailing my arms about and yelling "HELP ME HELP ME!" It's okay to laugh, I do every time I recall this. I didn't run far before I realized I'd left him alone back at the cabin, so I turned quickly and climbed back up, just in time to see headlights coming up the winding road. The doctor jumped from his car and ran to me as I stood there in my semi-nakedness trying to catch my breath. The man only spoke German. I did not. Great. I pointed into the cabin and he ran to my foaming-at-the-mouth husband who was still shuddering, though more calmly now.

Within seconds, the desk clerk walked into the room as well. Thank God I now had an interpreter. The doctor worked his magic and injected my husband with whatever it takes to make seizures go away. He stayed to help me clean up a little then offered me a pill. I'm sure he felt I needed it, but I gently pushed his hand away ~ no way was I going to be anything but completely aware for the rest of this particular night! As the two men stood talking and giving me instructions, it occurred to me for the first time that I wasn't decent, but it all happened so quickly that I forgave myself instantly and shrugged it off. Later on, of course, I wanted to die from embarrassment, but at the moment, it just didn't feel important.

My instructions were to let my husband sleep until he woke up on his own. It was important not to wake him at any cost. Apparently this could have brought on another episode. I spent the remainder of that night sitting next to him with one hand on his arm, staring and waiting. He slept quite peacefully.

When he awoke the next day around noon, I was all but delirious. He hadn't remembered a thing. While recounting the whole ordeal to him, I could see him run through an entire spectrum of emotions. He was embarrassed, concerned, and frightened, but mostly angry. It suddenly became my fault that we drove that distance after such an eventful day, that he had forgotten to take his Dilantin for two days that week, that he opted to drink champagne at the wedding, that I couldn't help him by myself without "calling in the troops." Oh yes, and apparently, it was even my fault that he was epileptic to begin with!

The remainder of the honeymoon week was spent worrying about whether or not he might have another attack. Oh we attended the shows at the cabaret, we went horseback riding and we even took a boat out on the lake, we enjoyed some good meals and we socialized with other way-too-young-t0-be-married couples, but there was an underlying stress the entire time.

We came home feeling physically and mentally spent, extremely unsure of ourselves, and quite frankly, feeling cheated.

I will offer you this much in closing, the marriage dissolved completely after a few hellish months and that wasn't soon enough for me. I'm not up to snuff on the legal ramifications of writing nasty, disgusting and vile stuff about a specific person, and so as not to find out the hard way, I'll stop here.

Clearly I must have missed the episode about Donna Reed's honeymoon. Dang.

February 15, 2005

The Smaller Story

Having just read a news article in USA Today, I feel the need to comment.

It seems yesterday, a woman waiting to board a plane at Newark Airport discovered that she had left a butcher knife in her pocketbook. She had already gone through the security checkpoint, and fearful that she might be considered a terrorist, she immediately turned herself in. The security folks promptly removed the Xray guard from his post for retraining. The woman explained that she had forgotten to remove the butcher knife from her purse after she put it there "incase" while going on a blind date a week earlier. She was not charged, the knife was removed, and she went on her merry way back to North Carolina.

Now ... the big story, and the big picture is that the woman got past the security Xray machine with a butcher knife in her purse, and was about to board a plane, post 9/11/2001. But that's not so much what troubles me here.

The smaller story, and the smaller picture, is that this woman went on a blind date, apparently feeling so threatened beforehand that she may require slashing someone's throat, chest, back, or family jewels. Call me stupid, but if I were going on a blind date and was concerned enough to toss and butcher knife into my purse? I WOULDN'T BE GOING ON SAID BLIND DATE! What the hell does this babe bring with her to the dentist office? A howitzer?

I used to carry Mace with me. Well, not Mace exactly ... I carried a small black canister of CS gas, issued by the government to all mailmen. Somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody I knew decided I should tote this stuff around with me because of the area I worked in and commuted from late at night. It seemed like a good idea to me, what with my special brand of luck and all. But that was different. I wasn't heading out the door to be wined and dined by someone I clearly thought might need a shot of CS in the eye over the course of the evening!

The other thing that gave me a chuckle (thank you Ed) about this article is the image of this "security retraining" process. It must be very involved. They probably sit the guy behind a monitor and flash on the screen an Xray image of a purse with a butcher knife in it ... over, and over, and over, and over for about two hours ... then send him back to his post.

I don't know about you, but I feel more secure in the fact that the guard missed the image than the fact that people are going on dates nowadays armed with butcher knives!

Just makes me wonder.

February 14, 2005

Procedure My Ass!

Happy Valentine's Day to all.
Having gotten that out of the way, this post has less than nothing to do with Valentine's Day, so I shall proceed.

I'll admit, I stole my topic today from a blog comment I just read on Beth's site. (sorry Beth ... couldn't help myself)

Let's have a show of hands for anyone who has had the divine experience of enduring a Lower G.I. Series (aka barium enema). Come on, I can't be one of the chosen few. In order to fully appreciate this marvelous ritual, I will explain it to those who haven't been so blessed.

I was about twelve years old and had been dealing with stomach issues for a couple of weeks. I'd get these gnawing pains dead center in my stomach and it didn't seem to have anything to do with eating, not eating at all, or any such thing. After trying various quick fixes, all to no avail, my mother decided to take me to the doctor. Everyone knows that it's almost impossible to detect stomach woes without further investigation, so they put me into the hospital for some tests.

The first day there, I was placed on a diet of clear liquids and given a bottle of very dry lemon/lime flavored "stuff." By the time I finished my dishwater broth at suppertime, I needed a toilet in a major way. Citrus of magnesium will get you every time. They were flushing my system with this stuff in preparation for things to come. Oh joy of joys.

Bear in mind that back in those days, Joe-public wasn't as well informed about medical ailments as we are now, and even less informed about medical treatments. I had no clue what fun I was about to be treated to on the following day. At one point that evening, I was on my way back to bed from my fifth trip to the head when a nurse came in and handed me a small jar. "We need a stool sample" she grumbled and left. Another fine example of vocab ignorance on my part. I looked around the room, shrugged my head and put the little jar on the window sill. We didn't call shit "stool" in our house. Silly us. Had I known what they wanted, I could have given them buckets of the stuff.

With no sleep at all under my belt and a sore ass to boot (no pun intended), I was harshly disturbed at 7 a.m. when a wheelchair was brought in and I was instructed to take a ride. Down in the elevator we went, me in my breezy hospital gown and Cathy-Candystriper in her peppermint garb. As we rounded the corner to the diagnostic lab, arctic air hit me in the face like a frying-pan hits Wile E. Coyote at any bend in the road. I was parked outside a door with a skull and crossbones sign, or something to that effect. "This cannot be good," I thought to myself.

The man to my right was apparently very angry - at everything and everyone. He griped loudly from the moment I arrived until they finally wheeled him off to another area. I kept thinking "please don't let me get old, please don't let me get old" the whole while. Hospitals are SO much fun.

After a brief eternity, a man came out and spoke my name. By then there was ice forming on my blue lips, but I managed an audible signal. He took me inside this room where there was a metal slab with a pole attached and assorted sadistic looking devices all about. Above the table was a large Xray machine attached to a slide-bar on the ceiling. "Ohhh, Xrays ... that's not so bad," I figured. Wrong!

The man helped me onto the slab which any of my bare skin immediately stuck to. Every time I tried to move, I squeaked. Then he explained the procedure to me ... and I sat there in disbelief.

"Okay first we're going to take this tube and insert it into your rectum, I will release the little clip here and the barium will fill your colon, allowing us to take some really good pictures to find out what's going on in your tummy," he said, quite matter-of-factly.
He got as far as the word "rectum" and I was squeaking my way to the edge of the table to make a run for it. It was no use. Frostbite apparently had set in, adhering me to the slab.

Now I was taught (not in so many words) that stuff is supposed to make its way OUT of this particular orifice and NOT the other way around; least of all ... chalky-white, smelly, weighs-a-ton enema crap! So here I was ... in a MOST precarious position ... lying before a perfect stranger ... waiting for the dreaded "click" of the clip. Then, without further warning, there it was. "CLICK"

I swear to you this crap weighs about eighty pounds a quart and just as I was sure to split at the seams, the man said, "let me know when you feel very full and don't think you could stand anymore." I kid you not. "Okay," I answered through chattering and clenched teeth, "Well then that would be about five minutes ago!"

What he didn't tell me was that this doesn't mean didley-squat. He continued to "fill-er-up" for about another 20 seconds, which, when your ass is on fire and you know you're about to explode where you lay, is a very, very long time!
Finally I heard a most welcome "CLICK" and he removed the torment device from my body.

The rest is too ugly a tale to tell. Trust me on this.

Let's just say there was no shame involved when I gave the man PLENTY to do during the rest of his work shift. It couldn't be helped. They wanted to get good pictures ~ well I hope they got them because they also got a whole lot more than that.

February 13, 2005

A Jack of All Words ... a Master of Nun

Back in fifth grade at Sacred Heart School in Staten Island, my teacher was a nun named Sister Mary Rita. Sr. Rita was every child's worst nightmare. She was about 5 Ft tall and as big around. She had a resounding voice with a hateful tone. When she taught, the underlying message was something like "you WILL learn this and you WILL like it ... dammit!" At that time in my life I was a skinny little platinum-haired beanpole, shy and quiet...the kind of kid who nobody really took notice of. I got good grades and minded my own business. I liked it that way.

One day the entire school was meeting together in the auditorium for an assembly.As we were lining up to leave the classroom, me always at the rear of the line (family name starting with a "W" back then ... I was used to being last), Sr. Rita turned and said "Carol, bring my statue downstairs with you and be sure to turn out the light." Now even for a fifth grader, this seemed like an odd request, but because it was Sister Rita, you just did what you were told.

In the front of the classroom there were three statues on the wall above the blackboard. One was Jesus, one was the Blessed Mother and one was some other guy, I don't recall who... maybe their plumber because he had a distinct crack in the lower back of him.

Everyone who knew Sister Rita was well aware that her favorite of the three statues was the Sacred Heart (Jesus with his heart exposed - ugh). Whenever she was about to clock one of us for talking out of turn, she'd spin around and ask Jesus for his forgiveness. No, seriously.

I had to come up with a way to get this statue off its pedestal, and I had to think fast. The only way I could reach the thing was to drag a desk over to the chalkboard just below it, stack up a few books, and pray. I worked quickly so as not to be late for the assembly. Last thing I wanted to do was walk in there late, try to find my class, and horror of all horrors, be noticed by anyone! I remember thinking while struggling to get this heavy two foot tall statue off its perch "Come on, show me a miracle, jump down." This was no lightweight statue! I had to maneuver it very carefully so that it didn't come tumbling down ~ cripes, I had missed Mass one day recently and had to stand in the back of the room for two hours... what would she do to me if I broke Christ!?

After I got the thing safely into my arms I struggled off the chair and made my way out of the classroom, careful to turn out the light with my elbow. I made my way down two flights of stairs balancing with my hip which was seemingly glued to the handrail the whole way. I could barely see in front of me. I made my way down the long hallway and into the back of the auditorium, quite proud of myself not only for being chosen to deliver Christ but for getting him there in one piece! This thing probably weighed a third of what I weighed.

As I stood at the back of the auditorium, I scanned the large area to find my own class... then noticed Sister Rita's pumpkin-like head sitting at the end of the row about halfway down in the middle section. I made my way over to her and stood before her, trembling from the weight of this Lord-load, yet proud as punch to deliver it her. You could hear a feather fall in this huge room... the assembly was about to begin and everyone was at full attention in their seats.

Sister Rita took one look at me, turned as red as a firetruck and stood up screaming at the top of her lungs "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" I could barely move let alone speak. When I found my tiny voice, I whispered "I have brought you your statue." Even at the sight of her, I still felt proud of my accomplishment in front of all the now-gaping students. Her words that followed were seared into my brain for eternity... "You STUPID STUPID kid... I said my SATCHEL, NOT my STATUE!" And the entire room pointed, stared and roared with laughter. Even the other nuns were doubled over and holding their hands to their mouths. "NOW PUT IT BACK AND BRING ME MY SATCHEL, THE ONE WITH THE LONG STRAP" My face was burning. I remember that much. I'm surprised I did not fall dead right there, clinging to Jesus in the auditorium. And what was worse was that, I was expected to carry the silly thing all the way back down the long hallway, up the stairs and into the classroom, get him back on his pedestal in one piece, then FIGURE OUT WHAT IN THE HELL A SATCHEL IS!" I had no idea. I hadn't heard the word in all my ten long years thus far. The shame of it all!

When I got back to the room, my knees were wobbly and tears were falling out of my eyes. I managed to climb my little book-ladder on top of the desk once again, boost Jesus back up to the pedastal and climb back down without breaking anything; anything but my spirit that is. I looked around the room while I was putting things back in order and thought carefully about what Sister Rita had just said. "...the one with the long strap" ... and there it was, right on top of her desk. A small, black leather bag... a purse, a bookbag, a pocketbook for Pete's sake... why couldn't she have called it by any of these more familiar names? The fact is, I'm convinced I didn't hear her correctly the first time around simply because I had never heard the word before, and said quickly, it could be mistaken for statue - at least when you're a skinny little kid intimidated by the mere sight of the person using it!

The moment I got home from school. I asked my mother if she'd ever heard of a satchel and she said "of course, look it up." And that was the very beginning of my love for vocabulary.

I'll tell you this ~ I don't let the meanings of words escape me for too long anymore.

I assure you from that day forward, I have never let a day go by without looking up any unfamiliar word that came my way. There are still a gazillion words I've never heard, but I still have some time. If I see an unfamiliar word in writing, I take the twenty seconds or so to look it up ... if I hear it in conversation, I rarely hesitate to ask.

Nowadays, one of my favorite leisure activities is a challenging crossword puzzle. Not only have I enjoyed countless hours solving them, I've also created more than a few. The New York Times will always be one of my favorites, but The London Times is a bit too "out there" for my liking. I'll usually try it and get part-way through, but I don't enjoy it as much.

One day while riding the Staten Island Ferry home from a hard day's work, I was completely involved in a crossword puzzle when the word "satchel" appeared as a clue. I gently put my pen down, stared out at the New York skyline and thought to myself "ain't life just grand?"

February 12, 2005

Hypocrisy At Its Finest

In keeping with the topic of big people (adults) rearranging the minds of little people (children) I thought it appropriate to share a less-than-delightful experience I had while attending elementary school. One of these days I will actually post something on a positive note and there will probably be much rejoicing amongst readers ... but until that mood strikes me, I have more junk to get rid of.

I attended Catholic elementary school for eight glorious years. On occasion I will make references to these years in conversation, always referring to it in affectionate tones and saying "back while I was doing time." Okay so it wasn't all that dramatic ... there were some good times ... like the day in seventh grade when Tommy J got expelled for flipping off Monsignor Quinn. Tommy died about six years later after drinking himself into oblivion. But I digress ...

My grandmother was gravely ill for a time, and mom had asked my sister and I to go to the church and light a candle for her. It was mom's belief that by performing this ritual we could summon God so that he would pay grandma a visit and keep her safe. We were eight and ten years old, but off we went, ever hopeful to save grandma's life.

We walked into the huge, dimly lit church and headed up to the front where, on either side of the altar, each in its own alcove, stood larger than life statues behind a bed of candles. There was a long metal stick you could use to pass the flame from an already lit candle to an unlit one. Immediately in front of these shrines, there was a small, padded bench on which one could kneel to pray afterward. I could never figure out how come God wouldn't hear me unless I was kneeling.

The church was quiet, as always, and being a Saturday afternoon, there was no one to be seen sitting in any of the hundred or so rows of pews. You could hear a pin drop ... and my sister and I only spoke in soft whispers to one another as we each lit a candle for grandmother. We knelt together and dutifully stared at the statue of Mary whilst thinking how great those brownies in the oven were going to taste when we got home. Somehow, Mary would translate this to prayer and take our message back to God for us, seeing how we lit the candles and all. I don't mean to be flippant. Wait. Yes, I guess I do.

Suddenly Father Clyne burst through the huge oak doors at the rearmost of the church and screamed at the top of his lungs "WHAT ARE YOU GIRLS DOING?" That we didn't each have coronaries at that moment was a miracle in itself. We turned slowly and watched as Father Clyne (da faddah) came rushing up the center aisle, shaking his fist at us. As we stood there, frozen with fear, he approached us yelling "WELL? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" My sister very meekly revealed our mission ... to which he replied in an angry voice "WELL YOU DIDN'T PUT MONEY IN THE BOX! YOU HAVE TO PUT MONEY IN THE BOX TO LIGHT A CANDLE!"

Now folks, we all exaggerate from time to time, but may the sun never shine again if I am exaggerating in the least here. That is EXACTLY what da good faddah said to, no bellowed at us.

We turned quickly as he pointed to a small metal box connected to the bed of candles. We both noticed the tiny slit in the box, but between us we didn't have so much as a penny to right this situation! How could he know we didn't put money in the box? And more than this ... why does Mary charge a fee for her services? "We didn't know," my sister choked out. "WELL YOU SHOULD KNOW... do you think these candles were FREE to the church?" said the good (?) Father. I was only eight, but my mind immediately flashed to the little pre-stamped money envelopes that we (every member of every parish family) had to stick in the basket during Mass each week. Even back then I didn't do Math, yet I knew somehow that in the course of five years or so, all my quarters more than paid for one measly candle! But since I wanted to live, I remained silent.

We were escorted from the church, lectured all the way about church-economics and stealing. Yes. Stealing. My little brain was about to burst by then. I couldn't wait to get outdoors.

My sister and I didn't say too much on the walk home. At least not the kinds of things I can comfortably print here.

Father Clyne died from a brain tumor, but not till he was well into his 70s. Stupid bastard shoulda lit a candle.

February 10, 2005

Oh ... Way To Go !

This post might seem a bit out of character for me but I'm so ... um ... disturbed right now that I might burst if I don't address it in writing.

I live in Cowtown, Connecticut. It's not the real name of my town but it may as well be. We made the news tonight. This is rare because, well, it's Cowtown.

So get this! It seems an eight year old boy at a local elementary school decided today, for whatever reason, to tell a fellow classmate of his (a boy) that he loves him. This set off such a despicable chain of events that there ought to be a movie about it.

After he did this, and as kids will do, a rumor was started that the boy is gay. (He's eight years old - a baby) Now, the kids at the school started to throw things at him and call him names. They taunted him throughout the day. Finally, the child was sent to the principal's office. The principal, pinbrain that he surely must be, took it upon himself to lecture this boy (eight years old) about why he shouldn't be gay, and how homosexuality is evil!

There is so very much wrong with this whole mess that I don't know where to begin. I have three faithful readers on my blogsite and since I'd like very much to keep them, I hesitate to over-vocalize on this matter ... but I simply must say that this principal ought to be shot through his right testicle, and then his left.
This is not, in any way, to be misread as a threat. I don't know the man, and have no intention of getting to know the man ... I'm very glad I'm no closer to this situation than I already am - living in the same cow town.

Forget about taking the poor boy (eight years old) into the shelter of his office and asking if he's alright; let's just get him in there to completely destroy any sense of security or respect he might ever have had in figures of authority outside his home. Let's teach him that something he said, which may not even have the slightest thing to do with homosexuality (he's fucking EIGHT), was wrong, filthy and "evil." Let's make this little kid sorry he's even alive - for today anyway. Let's make this baby understand that he must NEVER express himself, at any cost.

I need to step away now. I think I'm finished. I only hope this principal is - forever.


February 09, 2005

Fingers and Blades

I've always relied heavily on my ten fingers and toes, particularly for Math. But also for things like holding cups and pencils and keeping myself from falling forward (toes). They're pretty neat little tools when you think about it. To show my appreciation, I'm dedicating this post to the fingers on my right hand.

Several times during my nearly 50 years (yikes!) I have had my little world rocked clear off its axis. One such event happened in 1974 while living in the State of New Jersey. I had moved down to the shore in late summer so that I could live there in the off-season and get some writing done. At the time I had visions of becoming the next best author of children's stories. I was nineteen years old. Such dreams!

I worked at a small sandwich shop a block from the ocean. It was the first Blimpie's (you Americans should be vaguely familiar with this chain). I managed the place during the daytime shift and it provided enough money to pay for my small apartment and my then vegetarian diet. I'd come home from work, grab my puppy and my writing needs and hurry off to the beach with a blanket and a radio. By that time of day all the baskers were gone and it left me virtually alone on the sand. I had a routine and I loved it.

Preparing sandwiches was pretty much a no-brainer, unless you're a perfectionist at heart. It has to be symmetrical and it has to look as good as it will taste. Always. Produce has to be clean and sliced, evenly - (hint, key word) - and it has to be placed just so on top of the meats and cheeses or it will just never do.

Part of the job involved preparing the produce in mass quantities so there would be plenty on board for a sudden influx of hungry customers. One major shortcut we took at Blimpie's was to use a professional meat slicing machine to shred lettuce and slice tomatoes. The gauge would be set to 3 for tomatoes as they had to be thicker than most anything else. To give it some perspective, the cold cuts you buy at the deli are sliced at about .75. We would line up four tomatoes against the safety guard of the slicing machine and they'd slice up perfectly every time ... quite quickly filling bin after bin for easy storage.

One evening, I was in the back of the store slicing produce and there was one coworker up front in the shop waiting for customers to start arriving. I had been slicing for about half an hour already, and placed four more tomatoes against the safety guard, flipped the switch and started to walk away. From the corner of my eye, I spotted one of the tomatoes slipping off kilter. I wish I hadn't looked.

I hurried over and in the twinkling of an eye, did the unthinkable. I reached down, directly into the mechanism, to straighten out the tomato. I KNEW enough not to put my hand into this area of the machine while it was running. I KNEW this. I used to show people how to operate the thing and STRESSED this, every single time. It was a knee-jerk reaction and one that sent me reeling. The corner of my elbow was caught up by the safety guard and it literally pulled my entire arm forward setting my hand up for the unforgiving blade.

It all happened so rapidly that there was no time to think at all. Suddenly I heard a dull grinding sound, saw spashes of blood flying up at my face and felt an incredible heat rising clear up my arm and into my shoulder. There was no pain; absolutely none. Just an amazing rush of heat.

Since I've already written an entire chapter (in my book) about the series of events that followed, I'll keep this down to a minimum for the sake of blog readers.

In short, it took about five full seconds for my brain to receive the message that my fingers were being sliced, and that's when I screamed out in a rather ugly, guttural tone. I pulled my hand out from the grips of the machine and looked at it ~ quickly ~ with one eye shut tightly. It seemed surreal; like this wasn't my own hand at all. When you hurt your finger, the first thing nine out of ten people will instinctively do is shake it back and forth with quick little thrusts. It's not a voluntary reaction. What I hadn't realized was that blood was pulsating outward from my index finger every second or so; flailing it about wasn't the brightest move I ever made.

At some point I grabbed at a towel and threw it over the "thing" so I didn't have to see it anymore. My hand was just hideous.

My working partner rushed me into the delivery car and raced me around the corner to the police station where they would call an ambulance to take me ten miles to the nearest hospital. The cops took a look and started placing tournaquets at three places along my arm. I was in a state of semi-shock and no one could get any information out of me as to who to call or where I was from. I did have the presence of mind to ask if I could still play piano ~ which they naturally perceived as a joke. I hadn't been joking at all.

Once the ambulance arrived, they determined that I had lost too much blood already and should be taken to the nearest beach emergency center to try to stop the incessant bleeding. The doctor there was a real bastard and wasn't happy at all to be disturbed during his off-hours. It didn't faze him a bit that I was a nineteen year-old kid for Christ's sake, who was 50 miles from my nearest relative and scared to death!

If you've never had anything cauterized - thank your lucky stars! Cauterization is this neat little procedure where they take a medicinal substance the color, consistency, and odor of roofing tar, boil it in a heating device then apply it directly into the open wound. This sears the skin and stops the bleeding. There is nothing nice about it. I will never forget the smell of burning flesh. In fact, this was the first real pain I felt since the machine grabbed my arm.

The outcome was disturbing. My ring finger lost a tiny snippet off the tip, the top of my thumb had been left dangling by a thread of skin, and my index finger lost a hefty chunk from the top and side. The cops had gone back to the shop to try to find the missing piece so they could bring it to the emergency care center, but it was not to be found. It was probably just disintegrated. Please, no jokes about someone getting a bonus on their sandwich. Ewww.

Somewhere in between, they finally got my parent's phone number out of me and called my mother in New York. While having my thumb stitched back together, my parents walked into the room looking rather disheveled and harried. Could you blame them? They got this call during their dinner saying "This is the Seaside Heights Police Department, your daughter has had an accident and she's going to need you to come here as soon as you can."

I had to keep my arm tilted upward in an awkward brace contraption for quite some time following this event ... and my fingers each remained heavily bandaged for at least a five weeks. It was excrutiating to have the bandages changed every three days to avert infection. Dried blood doesn't help in removal of gauze.

As you might have figured by now, so much for the peaceful seaside setting to get my writing in order. Everything was put on hold for weeks on end. I couldn't work, couldn't dress myself very well, and couldn't take care of the simplest of tasks on my own. But the absolute worst bit was not being able to write. I worked every evening on teaching myself to write with my left hand but it kept arguing with my brain the whole while. Amazing how that can happen, but it can, trust me.

I ended up moving back to New York and in with my parents again. Ugh. There is little about 1974 that I miss. My hand healed nicely - though I was left, as you can imagine, with some scars and mild disfigurement of the index finger.

I always look for irony in things. For me, the irony here is that while trying to right the silly, fifty cent tomato so that the slices would be symmetrical (damned perfectionism), I was left with permanent disymmetry of my very own hands!

February 04, 2005

Jumpin Jack Flash Isn't the Only Gas

Working at an aquarium is a beautiful thing. As with anything in life that seems all good, lovely and beautiful there are moments when it all turns to shit. I had one of those days this week and my incessant need to keep my "open book life" true to form dictates that I write about this oh-so-special experience. Lucky readers (sarcastic).

As I walked into the back lot and opened the door to our maintenance area where the almighty time clock lives, I was met with a most disturbing stench. Now, there are odors and there are ODORS. At first I detected an almost chemical presence. I even hesitated and looked around for signs of an evacuation ... but people were milling about and taking care of business as usual, so I figured "well, at least it's a safe stench."

People react strangely to odors. Even the most unpleasant ones make us stop first, and instinctively try to identify the source ~ unless it was self-generated. This smelled to me like raw sewage but unless the bathrooms backed up, it didn't make sense to me. Excrement is contained, after all, in tanks at the aquarium.

I made my way around the building and to the hallway stairs leading up to my office. I couldn't wait to get there so that I could stop trying to hold my breath. When I opened the hallway door, there was no relief. All the way up the stairs and into the office, this disgusting smell was all around me. It was so strong it felt like it was getting inside of me somehow!

Everyone in our small office was ready to lose their breakfast. Surely this had to be unsafe! Still, it had been announced (before I got there) that the smell was caused by the pumping of waste tanks from the sea lions and stingrays. It was just a smell and nothing to get concerned about. They said it would dissipate with time, but they didn't tell us how much time!

A brief geography lesson about my office. We're located directly outside of the Marine Theater which features ... you guessed it ... our sea lion show. Now, frequently, "the boys" as we affectionately refer to them, will go through a bout of flatulence. What a true joy this is. Have you ever smelled a sea lion fart? Let me put it this way. The Eumetopias Jubatus' (Steller Sea Lion) diet consists of a delicious blend of chopped up dead fish, squid and octopus. I need say n'more.
At least these fart-sessions don't last much more than twenty minutes or so.
Often times, we in the office sit holding our noses while trying to discuss educational programs or make reservations for classes over the phone. We've all become quite good at it and we're very proud of this special skill.

We took turns going outdoors for a bite of fresh air, but there wasn't much to be had in any hundred foot radius of the aquarium that day. I shot an email off to my fiance from the office as he is an environmental wizard. No really, that's his job title ... except the wizard part is replaced with Engineer. The man knows his water, air and waste. He assured me that most smells are just that. Smells. He did mention Methane briefly ... but said I'd probably have to get my nose right into the shit-tank to really be overcome by it. Good. Now we could all breathe easier ~ figuratively speaking of course.

On one of my jaunts outdoors, I approached one of our maintenance techs and the following conversation took place:

Fisch: So Bob, what's with this stench?
Bob: Pretty bad, isn't it?
Fisch: Yeah, but just HOW bad? I mean, is this safe?
Bob: Define safe.
Fisch: Do we need to be concerned about Methane gas?
Bob: Define concerned.
Fisch: Well, when can we expect a reprieve?
Bob: As soon as we backwash the tanks in the theater it'll dissipate.
Fisch: And when will that be?
Bob: There's a lot going on in there today soooo probably about an hour after you've gone home.
Fisch: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Working at the aquarium sure does have its marvelous perks. But the next time you think your workday has turned to shit, realize that at least you don't mean it in a literal sense.

February 02, 2005

Swanky to Skanky

It wasn't long after Dillinger's opened (see previous post) when word had spread of this lovely high-class nightclub and we were full to capacity every night of the week. I worked every one of those nights, from the beginning to the end of its lifetime. I wasn't a workaholic ~ I was a dollar-holic. I had just moved to the area and had no social life at all, knew only a handful of people and needed a new car sometime soon. From six at night till three in the morning, Dillinger's was my 10-20 (cop talk for "location").

The place was thriving but months down the road, the owner got greedy. It was all downhill from there. It wasn't enough to have couples coming in decked out in their finest clothes and milling about enjoying cocktails and good company, filling the dancefloor and quite often closing the place. Phil (fake name) wanted more. We had a mandatory meeting one afternoon and everyone was to brainstorm ideas for drink specials and/or theme nights. We were a nice blend of people from all walks of life. Everyone jotted down suggestions and they were all tossed into a bucket. Donny (not a fake name) was our resident metal head, so it was no big surprise when he came up with "Metal Monday." Joey (real) was one of our deejays and he thought there should be a "Ladies Drink Free" night. Some bonehead tossed in a carelessly scribbled "Male Strippers Night" and someone else threw in "Jello Wrestling." When "Jazz and Big Band" was read aloud, all eyes glared at me; everyone knew my preference. Thinking back on it now, maybe my idea wasn't such a bad one. There were several other suggestions, some interesting and some pathetic, and Phil decided he'd think it all over for a few days.

As it turned out, he decided to go with several different themes; Metal Monday, Nickel Tuesday (all beer at a nickel a glass), Jello Wrestling on Wednesdays, Male Strippers on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays were regular deejay nights with drink specials to be announced throughout the evening, and Sunday was kick-back night ~ in other words, nothing special at all, just a deejay.

Well, Metal Mondays turned out to be a disaster for me. Being a musical soul, I can listen to almost anything for a certain amount of time... but when the crashing volume picks me up off my feet and carries me straight into a migraine, no thank you. It was a Monday night when someone winged a beer bottle in my general direction. Drug deals were going down in the hallways and bathroom as though there were signs pointing the way. Don't get me wrong ... many good and nice people came solely to enjoy the bands and socialize, but there were also the rowdies. GOD were there rowdies! I can't tell you how many cat fights I had to break up.

Tuesday night became a barf fest. I never pushed so much brew so fast in my life! Our doormen usually had to carry out at least three people during the course of the night and stick them in cabs. The destination was usually quite simple ~ "Submarine Base."

Wednesdays were a particular treat (insert intensely sarcastic tones). I'm not sure where these "ladies" came from, but there were dozens of them lining up in their bikinis to make complete jackasses out of themselves. Some of them were actually beautiful and bright girls; others were as dumb as a bag of nails. Jello wrestling is pretty disgusting when you have to help clean up at the end of the night.
On one Wednesday, I was rather busy at my bar and feeling pretty run down. I walked into the kitchen and was immediately handed a hose (we didn't sell food, the kitchen was our break room, our chill out room, and the place where we stored stirrers, glassware, napkins and such). The bar back raced back outside to hang out with his friends, and in walked two women, covered in jello from head to toe. They stepped into the small pool we had in there, looked at me and said "okay let's go." I can't tell you what a proud moment it was for me as I hosed jello off these two completely drunken dizzballs. Soon after, two more came in and at that point, I placed the hose on the side of the sink, quietly exited the room and headed back to the bar to replace my relief person. I told her there was a surprise for her in the kitchen. From across the room about ten minutes later, I could see her flipping me off with great enthusiasm.

Thursdays were simply amazing. I will admit that the eye candy was somewhat of a brief treat, but watching the way the women were throwing themselves at these buff dancers got old mighty fast. I've never treated paper money in quite the same way since those days. You really never do know exactly where it's been. Think about it. Ewww.

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays fast became my favorite nights to work at the club. Nothing too terribly loud or atrocious was going to be happening, and I could always count on tons of tips. People talked more ... they weren't as preoccupied with a "show" or a performing band.

One trick I learned at the club was how to marry the booze. This is done for one reason, to save money. A LOT of money. Buyer beware! Marrying booze is a simple, underhanded process. The bartenders get into the club about an hour before opening and take bottom shelf bottles and marry them with (pour them into) top shelf stuff, topping off the half empty bottles. Only a well seasoned drinker ever picks up on this. It's tough to tell the difference once it's blended, and without a forensics lab, it's just about impossible to prove. I, personally, refused to take part in this ritual, but most of the crew went right along with it.

Dillinger's died about a year after it opened. A big part of that was the owner's greed. I believe it was ten years later when he finally got out of jail. We employees always suspected Phil's abuse of elicit drugs, but I don't know that any of us knew to what extent he was involved. Apparently he was quite the little kingpin.

Every now and again I'll run into one of the old Dillinger's crew. We did have some fun times while the place was still classy. We made a lot of money and loved the social aspect ... but we're all awfully glad we didn't end up going down with the ship.