A Little Nicer World

I haven’t blogged in ages. Not sure why … maybe it’s been because things have felt too awful in the world, which makes it harder to settle into one’s own private thoughts. But today I feel a little safer because perhaps, just perhaps, the changes in the Washington government may allow for the global warming issue to be squarely faced.

There’s room for honest disagreements and explainable misunderstandings when it comes to issues around jobs, housing, immigration, health, education, even ethnic hatred. But global warming is the one issue we cannot disagree on, though there are always crazy see-no-evil monkeys for whom warm sand is the best place for one’s head. Most if not all scientists agree now that it is too late for some if not all reparations, and that we are much closer to our own destruction than had previously been hoped.

Still I feel better today.  There’s still time to do some good, and I feel good about that.

It’s not our fault, not really. As the scorpion said to the frog, it’s our nature. Even if biblical language had defined “dominion” as stewardship rather than subjugation, once the non-indigenous populations overwhelmed the indigenous peoples, who while far from perfect knew how to get along with the earth, it was all over. Will Shakespeare, Omar Khayyam, Beethoven, Basho, Clara Schumann, DaVinci, Maya Angelou, Simone deBeauvoir and countless others not withstanding, power is the line along which our society has developed, and wisdom, even genius, has only been able to hold its sway at bay for brief intervals.

So I draw far, far back in my search for perspective. A planet with life, intelligent life, is still a sui generis in any given moment of our universe.  I see our earth as a complete fluke whose existence flies in the face of the “whole system.”  And we’ve been pretty lucky (the planet, I mean) for a pretty long period of time.  Four and a half billion years, even in universal time, is nothing to sneeze at.

And yet I do so wish it had been some natural force of the universe that did us in, and not us … not us.

 

Advertisements

Miracles Big and Small

For the past 4 days, my body has been filled with bad pain. The first was from arthritis in my knees that got totally out of hand, and then from my one foot, probably brought on by the strange positions I assumed when struggling to walk on painful knees. In both cases, my ability to walk, hell … to get to the bathroom! … was in grave doubt. Putting weight first on my knees and then that foot was so painful I really didn’t know if I could pull it off.

My doctor returned my call and helped a lot, and eventually the combination of various treatments settled the knee pain down, and the foot pain was manageable the minute I put on my shoes and good orthotics. I’m grateful to be out of pain … I wasn’t at all sure it would happen this time!

Yesterday my friend B. came to visit. We straightened out a misunderstanding that had serious undertones – most misunderstandings do if one is honest, but
before very long we were collapsed in laughter. Warmth rose between us and spread all over the room.

Today, my longtime housekeeper was here after a month’s absence (can you spell dust bunnies that morph into dinosaurs?), and we too had to straighten out a small issue that had come up. Afterwards, our mutual affection was tangible. We joked and exchanged teasing as she worked…

Me: “You always want to vacuum right where I’m sitting…”
She: “Well you’re always sitting right where I want to vacuum!”

Laughter whose base is true affection will cause the warmth in our hearts to spread all over the room.

Right after she left, the young woman who helps me with my paperwork and other tasks my A.D.D. makes problematic arrived. We’re friendly by now, and she talked about some big problems with a roommate she’s anticipating and I was attempting to be of help. I’m 79, and learning, growing and changing has always been a large chunk of who I am, because I hated being the big fuck-up I was …and the lessons I’ve learned along the way can be helpful when I present them in the right way and to a receptive listener.

Anyway, she was here for 5 hours, most of which were spent talking. We got the tasks done we’d set out to do but she felt I was paying her too much. Well I guess I was, but as I explained to her, I missed a therapy session because of my knees, and so even though we were talking a lot about her issues, I was sneaking in a lot of stuff about myself, and it felt good. At that, we collapsed in laughter, as we had been doing throughout the hours together.

The warmth of our caring spread across the room.

As each of them had left, my house was not just cleaner and clearer, it was filled with joy. It’s ephemeral of course. By my age, one has learned the lesson well that everything passes. But also, these days we are all having to face that life on our planet seems more and more ephemeral.

Both pain and the freedom from pain are ephemeral too. Still, when I remember the looks on the faces of these three women – and I know, I honestly know, that I brought joy into the room and they accepted it and reflected it right back – I am amazed at the miracle of how much healing we can give each other, how much despite our real sadnesses and pains, even despite the terrors that lie ahead, the gift of friendship can still reach deep into our hearts, spreading warmth through our souls and our homes.

Independence Day

All these years, and there are many, I’ve shared my birthday with Jeshu’a ben Yoseph, or as he is known to Christians, Jesus Christ.  I never minded much. As a Jewish family we didn’t make too much of a fuss at Christmas, although we did have a tree … which my mother later denied even though I could remember which closet the decorations were kept in.  And we did get presents from Santa Claus, and watched the Macy’s Day parade, and as a child I was taken to B. Altman’s department store in Manhattan to sit on Santa’s lap. But all that never seemed to interfere with my birthday; it just gave it a little something extra, or so I felt. But these last few birthdays I have experienced twinges of resentment, and and more when I read how it’s common knowledge that Jeshu’a ben Yoseph was more likely born in some other month!  

Everything is closed on Christmas and there’s an unaccustomed hush over the city that has nothing to do with snow. I would prefer to feel the specialness of my birthday against a background of an ordinary New York City day. I will hasten to add, though, that there’s been a very nice tradition carried out in the last few years: my step-sister invites me, plus my cousin and his wife, to her lovely home in Connecticut. Some years we are also joined by my step-nephew and when they’re not busy, another nephew and his partner, where we celebrate my birthday, period! We put on a mutually agreed upon movie and have a lovely late lunch … and it’s generally a really nice day.  But this year my cousin was suddenly taken ill, and we have postponed the festivities. I miss them!

Anyway, here in my apartment, I am declaring my independence from that other celebratory event. It did not take place on December 25th. I did, at something like 5AM on a freezing morning in NY Hospital, where I was promptly put in an incubator because my mother had a cold.  My father, a perspicacious man, came and told my mother with a grin that I had the devil in me. He was not referring to “that” devil. He simply meant that I would cause some very interesting kinds of trouble.   

You can see from this blog that he was absolutely right!

 

He Left NYC at Age 3 but I could still hear his accent …

Some of you may know a woman’s clothing store called Coldwater Creek. It’s a little pricey, but every now and then there’s a good coupon offer and they really do have some nice clothes.  I prefer to call stores because I can ask them not to share, sell or rent my info, which you can’t do online.  I placed my order and then gave the promo code from RetailMeNot, a coupon center, for a $30 discount.  The sales clerk tried the code, then said no coupons from RMN were accepted by C.C.  I begged to differ, but it was no use.  Needing time to think what I wanted to do, I canceled the order.

A few minutes later I decided to try placing the order online instead and the coupon code was accepted. However there was some other glitch — the order could not go through.  Doubly frustrated and annoyed, I called C.C. customer service…and got Glenn F.  We hit it off. He had a Queens accent (one of NYC’s 5 boroughs) and Queens working folks can often be (prepare for sweeping generalization) very down-to-earth, efficient, nice. Anyone remember the Liza Minelli character in the movie “Arthur?” She lived in Queens.

He worked with me while we chatted and laughed.  He said that because I was so nice he would help me out with a little extra saving, so I got not just the $30 off but free shipping as well, which brought the whole order into a more affordable zone.  As he was getting off the phone, I said: “Glenn, may I just ask you, did you ever live in Queens, in NYC?”  There was a pause. “I was born there,” he said. “But we moved to Florida when I was 3.  I go back to visit family,” he added.  “Well,” I said, you still have the accent!”  We laughed again.

I asked to speak to his manager so I could thank him or her for Glenn’s good service.  The manager was one of those (prepare for next sweeping generalization) efficient, pleasant-sounding African-American southerners (I’m a musician — I detect accents and this was Georgia) who took my compliment and then asked for my name.  I gave my first name, and then she said in the same efficient voice:  “and your last is the same as Glenn’s, I assume.”

My turn to pause, and then burst into laughter. In general, managers don’t usually indulge in humor over the phone; the surprise element added charm.  I will chuckle about Glenn and his manager all day.  My faith in the working people of Queens has    been validated!

In Which I Take Pictures and Talk to Strange Men

Yesterday was heaven with its cool, strong breezes and I was outdoors—with time before my physical therapy session. I was in the sweet zone of the Upper East Side – the 70’s. For you non-New Yorkers that’s a section of streets, not an age. I lived there a long time ago with my mother and new step-father, after  I’d dropped  out of college. I was miserable, floundering all over the place. One thing that helped was walking over to Madison Ave  to the Soupburg, a tiny hole-in-wall with the best burgers in town.  It was lively in a grown-up way (are you with me?) — I’d even made friends with one of the counter guys, who’d taught me 2 or 3 phrases in Greek that I still remember.

The Soupburg isn’t there. I didn’t really expect it to be. New York City flips over every few decades and on the new side are the “impatient” stores where servers and sales folk are young, white, pleasant, fast-moving. But my body remembered where the old place had been.  There was a tiny coffee shop with a bench outside. On it, a man in his early 70s in a newsboy cap was contentedly drinking coffee. He looked like a certain type of older Manhattan guy: satisfied in his own skin, fitting in, ready to talk (not listen).  I asked about the Soupburg I’d known 55 years earlier, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. He corrected me about where it had been and told me it had closed not long ago. He filled me in on some other neighborhood-y stuff and I walked off, happy to have had a chat about an unhappy part of my youthful past with a cheerful  stranger.

As I crossed the avenue, there was a beautiful church I didn’t remember ever seeing. That’s the thing about Manhattan — it’s only 13-1/2 miles long and maybe 2-1/2 miles wide, but just when you think you know everything about it, you see something great you’ve never seen before. It was cream-colored, with lots of turrets and towers and designs and as I looked up, I saw an amazing configuration of buildings — one of those special city sights we often miss when we don’t look up. I took some photos with my cellphone.

Only I realized after a few that I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just don’t use the phone much, didn’t know the icons and couldn’t make out the words on my screen in the daylight. What images I could see there seemed to be in reverse!

I kept walking, and on the corner of Park Ave, I spotted a young, red-haired guy on his device and gently asked if he could help me.  I told him about the reverse thing and that I couldn’t even see the home page words. “Sure,” he said, “I can fix both those problems.”  And he did.  And he took his time — no hurry up about him.

We chatted a bit and laughed … it was one of those moments — I’m sure you’ve had them — that shows you what’s really important. The hustle of the city disappeared and we stood there with a gusty, cool breeze, reveling in this first day after a bad heat wave, somehow transported into a slightly different perspective.

Me: 70’s (age) lady. him: 20’s guy. Both of us happy in our slo-mo moment … real in the midst of a fast New York end-of-summer Friday.  We said goodbye, smiled, walked off.My physical therapy went fine.

But how could it miss, when the view I had while wobbling on the balance machine was way over the tops of Manhattan to the quiet NJ Palisades, and a sliver of blue Hudson River with white clouds drifting above in slo-mo.

Last Visit to the Good Doctor

I should have bought a cookie. I was at the perfect place for it, Eli’s — a Zabars family store — buying fruit and veggies, passing pastry shelf after after pastry shelf. After 20 months on Jenny Craig, my training is strong. But now I’m home, having bade farewell earlier to one of the best doctors in NYC, and I can’t cry — and one of Eli’s cookies would have been the perfect answer.

Dr. Mike. He sat behind his desk in a sparkling white shirt, with his peppery gray hair and 70-ish, trustworthy face comprised of intelligent, mischievous blue eyes and a surprisingly shy smile — looking calmer and more relaxed than I remember from previous visits. His retirement, still 2 months off, must have that effect.

He took blood and as always, I felt absolutely no pain. Not a prick, nothing. He gets into my worn-out veins the way a lifelong sailor hops into a boat … no wasted motion.

There’s so much to be said about Dr. Mike — how thorough he is in his hands-on exam, all the things he considers and looks at, how he always presents his best medical advice and information but then listens to my ideas — at least once he realized I read things and had half a brain.  We compromised. He could have tossed me out saying there was no point in my coming if I didn’t follow his recommendations.  But I think he liked that I didn’t go behind his back — I always told him what I was doing and why and I always took his advice very seriously before making my decisions.

We’ve been through a lot together.  There were emergency hospitalizations, heart flutters, spiking blood pressure episodes, disagreements about medications.  But with time, we gained what I saw as a mutual respect.  He might have seen it as a standoff not worth fighting about! I also believe there was some fondness.

Today I read him 2 of my poems. He’d never heard any and I told him I wanted him to know more of who I am. I raised my eyes once quickly as I read and saw the most delightful expression … head tilted, eyes warm and an enchanting half-smile. I repeated after that I hoped it helped him know me a little better, and he said sincerely that it did. And so we hugged goodbye, and I felt kicked in the heart.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going downstairs to the deli under my building and buy a poor substitute for a cookie, and an even worse substitute for Dr. Mike.  But it will help, and I have learned that change is — if not always wonderful — important to weather, more tolerable then I expect, and often growth-producing.  Sometimes it even leads to something good.

I’m back upstairs now.  They carry rice crackers covered with dark chocolate!  Who knew there were such a cookie? If not for Dr. Mike, I never would have found them.

 He just keeps giving!

How My City Works for Me

Where I live, there’s an apartment building across the street whose windows face mine. At one of those windows sits a woman, big as life, staring out.

She’s there a lot. I can’t miss her because she’s exactly at my level, eight floors up. I’m nearsighted so I can’t see her face clearly, big though it is. But it looks as if she’s looking right into my kitchen or bedroom — watching me, making me nervous in my own home.

Finally one day I decided to look at her through binoculars at a time when she seemed to be peering into my bedroom. I wanted to catch her in the act and then decide what to do about it.  But I was surprised to see that she wasn’t looking at me at all.  She wasn’t even facing me. She was looking down at the life on the street below her.

Her building is part of a large complex of several buildings. There are benches in front where people always congregate, and a bus stop where folks are always standing or sitting as they wait the long, long wait for the #15 bus. Everyone coming and going has a dog or a kid or a wheelchair or something…so there’s a lot for her to watch.

But knowing where she’s really looking doesn’t help — because whenever  I glance at her with my nearsighted eyes, I’d swear she’s looking straight at me, all day, every day.

So, now, here’s how the city works for me.  Pay attention, fellow city-dwellers!

Below me the street is full of traffic, with lots of police cars, ambulances, buses and fire engines.  It’s a major Manhattan thoroughfare, so it’s also a nightly egress for hundreds of interstate trucks. I sleep through it all, so I’m OK with that…

But my windows are filthy!

Somehow, one of the two panes remains pretty clean in both bedroom and kitchen. So what I do  now is slide the other pane, the dirty one, over so that it covers her view. I can still see the river through the other pane, but her view of me in a bizarre kitchen outfit  licking a plate, or me making my bed still in my nightie (or less), is blocked.

And that’s how my left NYC pane washes the right NYC pain!

[P.S.  Speaking of washing, you should know that despite the round of nor’Easters we’ve had here in NYC, with hurricane-like winds and lots of pounding rain, my east-facing windows remain filthy. This has enormously down-graded my respect for storms.]