Sunday, December 31, 2006
At Edgar's there are balloons on the backs of chairs. Infants are entranced by them. A passing waitress gets caught up in the string. She's not the one in the party hat. Her Happy New Year tiara is on again off again. Starting the party a little early, but what the hell. Everyone wants the year to end.
He's on oxygen even at home now. He stopped walking five miles on the Boardwalk each morning over five years ago. No more walking stairs. She recalls, for as long as she can remember, things to go up in the attic piled on the sides of the lower stairs until one of the family was headed up. Her husband screeching about books piled up on the stairs in her country house. See, she told him last time they saw her father, this is what I was taught to do. But he's had the attic cleaned out for years now, nothing much left. And things he can no longer use are no longer stored up there. He can't quite understand why she doesn't want them, so he asks again.
This is her father's clutter. She thinks of four years ago, when he was in the hospital, how it took her over two hours to find two checkbooks. Papers piled up on the twin beds pushed together in his study that used to be her room. More on the desk and even more on the dining room table. The day after he turned 90 he didn't want to meet them for lunch because he still had to work on his taxes. No more extensions left. And the day before he went in the hospital this last time he was so proud that the clutter, on the beds at least, had gotten almost manageable. A week in Shore Memorial and it's all piled up again. Papers slipping through the crack between those two beds. Even if she'd wanted to stay in that house there would be no room for her. But this last time it took her less than ten minutes to find his checkbook.
The last day of the year. Were this a mayoral election year, they'd be preparing City Hall Park for tomorrow's inauguration. But Bloomberg has two more years left. The same as Bush, she wants to say. But the presidency doesn't change until January 20th. Twenty days from now, she might well give up her New Years resolutions to keep her desk neat and develop better eating habits. Hours before leaving office, Clinton pardoned 140 prisoners, commuting the sentences of another 36. Some were 70s radicals, but none were actual murders. The count of the dead in Iraq is now greater than those killed on 9/11. And it's another 2 years of Bush, not just another 21 days. Her next move should be to turn away from this computer, pick up a stack of papers, and at least look them over.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
She's back in New York. Saddam's dead. At the Waldorf Astoria the 52nd Annual Debutante Ball took place just a few hours ago. Ashley Bush was among them. Another woman is making her debut for the fourth time. New York's on high terror alert. This New Years, they say, don't try to go near Times Square with a large pocketbook. She was only at Times Square for New Years once, when she was twelve years old, with her parents. But she jammed her huge pocketbook with a notebook battery, two books, and other essentials for the Christmas plane trip, coming and going, so now her neck's stiff. And she didn't even turn on the computer. A lot of catching up to do. CBS has decided not to televise the execution. Twelve years ago friends had a fight at a New Years party and he walked out, headed for Times Square, but couldn't get anywhere near it. They married anyway. She was at a friend's wedding that same day, in Chicago. He's dead now also. Just how many times can one be a debutante?
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
To everyone in our armed forces stationed overseas, get home safe. Know that we care about you. These words from the football broadcaster. And at that very minute a friend calls to let them know she got home safe: 62 miles in just over an hour, unheard of time for her. It's the third quarter and the Jets just kicked a field goal, the first score of the game. The New Jersey Jets, her husband says. Don't call them New Yorkers. He always roots for whoever's opposing them. Person after person wished her a safe trip home. The fourth quarter starts with a Miami touchdown. The announcer predicts a lot of action this quarter, but it's ten o'clock, so they turn Eyewitness News on.
Last year, when they drove to Houston, it was his prescription they were waiting for. Leaving a day later than planned, then another two hours, three hours, four hours. Hanging around for the pharmacist who, for all they knew, might have walked out. This was at Duane Reade, the only place in her building now, the closest non-chain pharmacy eight blocks away. The whole world gone to chains – restaurants, video stores, The Gap, K-Mart, Eddie Bauer, Toys R Us. He hates it.
Midrin. That's the drug she used to take for pain those days when Tylenol didn't work. A half-step before reaching for Percocet. And she remembers one Christmas years ago when there was a small drugstore in her building. The day before she left she brought the prescription in for refill, and they ran out. Her absolute state of desperation, she could not spend the holidays with his family and not have these security pills along. They ended up giving her brand rather than generic, he forking up the difference out of pocket. Back in those days she'd have sold her soul.
She takes Tylenol for the first time since she's been here. The end of Christmas Day. For the most part it's been a good day. Her husband and his brother talking about how much calmer it is in their father's absence. The toddler a delight. They call the other brother. Football on in the background. They call his father. They call her father. Just the four of them in the house now. He massages her head a bit (as he did their first Christmas here, twenty years ago). She massages his stiff shoulder. She eats cookies, pie, homemade praline ice cream, more cookies. This is probably sugar shock. One more day to go. She opens the Tylenol bottle in her purse and sees that if she takes two now there will only be two left. The old panic sets in.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Back here again, the broadcaster says as the game comes back after the commercial break. Second quarter, tie game, 14/14. When she was 14 she was relatively happy. The first half of the year, at least. This is at his brother's house. Over half the visit is over. It's the second half that's always been hard for her. Two days, four hours, one minute, and counting. But they'll board before that.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Another day, another Starbucks. This one on the Strand in Galveston. Her second shot of caffeine for the second day in a row. God help her if she has to go through withdrawal again. But the headaches are under control, she can't wrinkle her forehead, she probably wouldn't suffer at two shots a day forever. They stop for a drink at the hotel in Moody Gardens after viewing the Christmas light show in the rain. Nice lights. Nice lightning. Her husband has his hand out for Tylenol.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Here she is in Houston. Bush land. One of the red states. And she thinks back to 1992, when her husband turned 50. They'd been together about seven years at the time. All she wanted was to surprise him. Making phone calls to people she'd never talked to alone before. Including this brother in Houston. It was July and the city was about to host the Republican National Convention. He and his wife were halfway out the door. They were going to hit all the big hotels, see their displays of red, white, and blue elephants. That was almost fifteen years ago. Her husband's about to turn 65. Another landmark. His brother's retired. This will be their last Christmas in Houston.
A man from Houston plans to visit every Starbucks in the country. And her? She's probably been in fifteen different ones in Manhattan, two in Forest Hills, maybe one in Brooklyn. She's been to Starbucks in Glens Falls, Saratoga, Palm Springs, New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, St. Paul, Amherst, Chicago, Philadelphia, and now Houston. Her husband refuses to go with her. But it's a start.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
sThe blow-up Bush punching bag arrived today. A full seven inches. Except he's not blown up. She tries with the little pump for blowing up pens, which now doesn't even work on pens. She puts it in her mouth. And blows. And blows. She gets it pretty good, but by the time she puts the plug in he's lost it: stands for a minute, then knocked down, he stays down. Especially if hit from the right. Seven inches. She tries holding it closed, carefully, with a very dull scissors. This takes the skill of a mother. Or an intern. Her father in the hospital blowing in bags for the woman who called herself a respiratory therapist. Finally she searches the toolbox for a needle-nose pliers. Or any pliers. The best she can do is what looks like tweezers. But he's blown up now. A day before she leaves for Texas and the family Christmas. By the time she gets back she'll be needing this.
A little girl dressed as a dreidl walks Columbus Ave. Yesterday on 90th St. near the Catholic school she saw a boy and a girl with reindeer antlers. This year, public schools don't get off until the weekend before Christmas. Not what she remembers. She stops at Garlic Bob's for pizza. Not what she remembers. And she's left her pills home.
U.S. Scraps $877M Anthrax Vaccine Contract. VaxGen keeps missing deadlines. Their tests on humans would prove too risky. This company's had trouble since the start. Should have known better than to trust someone already flubbing tests on an AIDS vaccine. Besides, there's already a vaccine out there. So everyone who might be exposed to anthrax gets six shots over eighteen months. That's not too much to ask, is it? Only one more than you need for rabies. Yet people continue to love dogs and rabbits. Also in today's headlines: our new Secretary of Defense visits Iraq for the first time (at first she thought they meant Bill Gates). Bush admits that, with all the insurgencies, there's been a setback.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
She wants to know how many soldiers die in summer. Last summer. The summer before that. Any summer. And how many civilians? In Iraq, in July and August, it's often over 120 degrees (that's 48 Celsius, which sounds better). The man at the senior center who was given a toupe as a gift says he lost his hair when he was fighting in Korea. Because of the heat there. Her husband loves the heat. This summer, when they're going to be in Los Angeles, he wants to take a side trip to Palm Springs. Just to be in the desert, to experience that kind of heat. And he wants her to go with him.
The Internet is everyone's back alley. And she finds several different Bush punching bags (plus one Kerry). Now it's a question of whether or not she wants to take up this much space in their apartment. Whether or not she wants her husband to see this. Whether or not she wants him to know that she's lashing out. But maybe for her house upstate. For the summer.
There's one picture in their apartment that's been driven into the concrete wall over their kitchen window: a still from White Heat that she gave her husband for Hanukah years ago. James Cagney drives the car, his mother seated next to him, the two of them beaming at each other, while his wife is pushed against the far door, pulling her fur coat tight around her. Or was she his girlfriend? Black and white. This is her husband's second favorite movie.
During the last election, the novelty store two blocks away had Bush and Kerry punching bags in its window. As a child she had a Dennis the Menace punching bag. She has nothing now. She's trying to cut back on medication. She's trying to lose weight. She wants to pound her fist against the one wall in her apartment which is concrete and so firm (though covered over with paint) she can't even drive in a picture hook. Her pictures are worthless. She thinks, maybe if she looks hard, she'll be able to find the Kerry punching bag in some store's back alley. She doubts that simplistic child's toy would aid in weight loss. Not enough effort to get the blood flowing. Better to pound her head against a wall, and she can no longer blame it on a headache. She wakes this Saturday morning to find herself alone. It's the second night of Hanukah. She has to, she knows, use this time well.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Leaving teaching, her arms filled with Christmas wrapping paper. She puts the bag down on a car so she can zip her jacket, then walk a few steps and see that it's not zipped properly. So she tries to put the bag on the hood of an SUV splattered with bird shit, but it falls off. There's a copy of the Holy Bible, title facing out, above the dashboard, clearly visible through the windshield, all tattered, the pages just hanging loose in it. It looks like those bibles one finds in hotel rooms.
At the first rest stop on the Parkway, a midget in red shirt and red elf cap fills her gas tank, the tip of his cap window-high. This is New Jersey. There's no self-service here. She's going to see her father, alone, for the first time in years, and not happy about it. She feels small.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Her father's in the hospital again. He left a message on her phone yesterday morning. She was teaching. She was helping a woman with Alzheimer's remember one particular gift she gave a childhood friend. This was in Sweden. This was on a farm. She remains in touch with that friend, but is glad they're not on the farm anymore, it was too much work. From here she moves on to help a former butcher write about the woman who wanted to buy him a toupe as a gift. He said if she loves him she'd love him as he is. Her father had a friend take him to the emergency room. When she finally gets him on the phone late that night he tells her he was in the hospital a few days ago but checked himself out because he wanted to get his will finalized. He probably shouldn't have left. He's had a stroke, a heart attack, high blood pressure. He's certain he'll be in the hospital several weeks. His doctor hasn't been to see him. She probably ought to write down these words.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I want to park the car, but that's not a real parking space. I want to pull over, double-park along the curb, but I'd be late. First I think he's one of the most affluent homeless guys I've ever seen, four shopping carts filled with what looks like baskets. Then I see they're drums. Three carts are piled high with what looks like African drums, small bongos, assorted other drums. And in the middle is one cart that looks like a homeless guy's cart. This is on Fifth Ave. around 79th St., right near the museum. As I'm stopped for the light here he's counting them, using his finger to point, counting and recounting them.
There's a car driving in front of me, a red car with a US Army sticker on it, and also a Kennedy/Johnson bumper sticker just below the rear window. It looks like it's new, doesn't look weathered at all. It just seems so funny to see this, it makes me think how innocent we were then. Of course this same car, turning into 81st St. to go across the park, tries to get past some other cars and ends up blocking traffic in the other direction.
Monday, December 11, 2006
A headline this morning about Obama's visit to New Hampshire. The primary's over a year away but he's begun officially exploring. As has Hillary. Hillary – do they always have to acknowledge a woman by her first name only? Posters all over the lawns upstate – Hillary. She recalls a bumper sticker from ten years ago: Impeach Clinton. And her husband. But now she's driving around the country also, just exploring, possibly even in a Ford Explorer. That bumper sticker would have deteriorated years ago, that car probably in the junk heap. Her 1990 station wagon totalled in 1999, while Clinton was still in office. She didn't exactly total her car, it saw a guard rail it liked and wandered over. And even then the engine kept purring. Hillary. Bill. Barak. Osama. Guard Rail. The world seemed safer then.
Almost to the end of the double sevens. Almost to the end of the bowl of nuts set out for company. Clearing the coffee table for the first time in a year. Or almost clearing it. Cheese, sopprassetta. Green cocktail napkins, since it's almost Christmas. Flat bread. Word Perfect keeps flagging sopprassetta as a misspelled word, but she can still taste it. At three a.m., her blood already soaring, she couldn't resist a few salted almonds and brazil nuts. Then a few more. Then to bed with the usual nut headache. She wakes up with another headache. Dumb luck.
Friday, December 8, 2006
If she ends up tossing and turning half the night, will the time go faster? It doesn't seem to. But maybe her glucose level's going down with all the exercise. Wednesday night she came home from teaching barely able to move, then ended up working (working, not writing, there's a difference) until after two. The sheep won't stand still long enough to be counted and she can't run after them, not the way her legs are feeling these days. Or nights, rather. She lies there instead going over everything she's done that day. Again. Again. Again. If she feels good about herself she's certain she'll get to sleep. How long until she feels good?
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
The Alzheimers writing group has name tags on today. Hand-printed cards hanging from beaded chains around their necks. And some of the men wear the most colorful beads. Like Mardi Gras, she supposes. They put the tag on Murray as soon as he's wheeled in, and even so she calls him Milton. A mistake she's made before. Her father, last year, driving home from cognitive testing in Philadelphia, pointed out that she's as confused as she is. Because of one wrong turn. Because it was raining. She crouches down to help one of the students write, gripping that pencil so hard her fingers ache. Pencil. Hand. Fingers. It's December 5, 2006. This is New York City. George Bush is president.
Monday, December 4, 2006
In 111 days it will be 666. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez jumps the gun. Addressing the UN last September, he shot from the hip, spoke straight from the heart, off the top of his head, calling Bush the Devil. Thinks he's the boss of the world and threatens the world. Three months have passed now. Chavez easily wins reelection, waving his arms as they film him crossing the finish line. The sulfur smell overpowers.
Lucky sevens. At the casino he sought out the progressive slots, but you needed more than three sevens. He always bet the max. That night he lost all he'd brought with him. She, on the other hand, gravitated toward a one-armed bandit that had clown faces spinning on it. She won. And she wouldn't share her winnings. It was his birthday.
They decided, now that she was past her teenage angst (read: self-hate; read: crazy), she should have a full-length mirror in her apartment. So they drove one all the way up from Atlantic City, despite her still-juvenile protests, and knocked it against a car as they carried it up to her door. They covered the crack with tape to stop its spreading. Another seven years.
Lucky sevens? As a child, seven and three were her favorite numbers. She remembers standing with her parents before the wheels at The Million Dollar Pier, hoping to win a stuffed bear or poodle taller than the doll they'd gotten her to dance with. She always wanted them to put the dime or quarter on number seven. And one time seven hit just as they said they had wasted enough money and were walking away. A few summers later found her babysitting her cousins, stopping for ice cream at the stand just across from the Million Dollar Pier. Getting cones, and then the boy's cone dropping. He was seven years old that summer. Visiting from Florida. She'd visit them there that next Christmas. Her parents, who didn't believe in luck, were willing to pay for that.
Sunday, December 3, 2006
He says it's the best day of the year: 364 days until her birthday. And there's no such thing as a dickie that doesn't zip. He breathes and the sugar wrappers fly across the table at her. Their first night together she told him not to breathe.
It's finally winter. Last night, her birthday, even with a heavy coat on, she was cold. (Though 22 years ago, the first birthday of their marriage, it was two degrees out). She should have been happy. She shouldn't have pushed through the crowd like that. She should have stopped and bought a scarf, cheap, on 8th Ave. It was down to 38 last night. Today, sitting at her desk, she has to pull down the shades, that hot winter sun aimed right at her.
Saturday, December 2, 2006
Friday, December 1, 2006
She stopped to watch the news, then to watch a finger bleed. Downstairs, he's sitting at his new electronic keyboard, the earphones preventing noise from rising. All she hears is tapping, tapping, tapping. She doesn't think that's Happy Birthday he's practicing.
Or 1 Hour, 4 Minutes, 12 Seconds until her birthday. And it wasn't hunters – a workman said you could even see the truck tracks driving back there. Several broken lamps, not the one flashlight she thought. He looked closer than she did. Exactly one hour away from her mother's age when she moved to New York, she's too old for this. The clock they got for their wedding continues to chime the hours of daylight savings time. She hasn't strength to change it. The roof fixed out from over her, a much bigger job than she thought, that's what the worker was doing there. And he fixed the light in her study, a two second job with needle-nosed plyers. But she'd tried that herself.