Lightening up

Rather than navel (or hip) gazing, I thought I would try to write something interesting or funny. It may or may not work out.

There’s a creepy video making the rounds of social media today.

I would totally freak out and not have any idea what to do and likely get robbed. But that’s not funny, hence not the subject of this post. Instead, it reminded me of the night I actually did the same thing.

Years and years and years ago, when the planet was new, my hip was organic, and I had not reached the geriatric state in which I now find myself, I was younger and foolisher. I wasn’t actually young when all of the foolish in me happened, and I’d reckon there is foolish to come. But foolish I was and actively doing stand up comedy.

My favoritest place to be comedy-wise was the Walsh Brothers’ Great and Secret Show every Thursday at 10 p.m., conveniently located in my old neighborhood of Inman Square Cambridge. As a side note, in addition to being my most favorite place, it was also a place of butterflies in my stomach, insecurity and some not insignificant degree of anxiety.

But, what the hell, what didn’t kill me made me stronger. And, I got to hang out with two of the best guys I have ever met. People who I hope will be friends to the end. People with whom I have had rambling and brilliant conversations into twilight hours and ate pizza or chicken doner or guacamole depending upon the coast or continent.

Anyway, the scene is an empty urban street in front of an empty urban theater with yours truly between two urban brothers. Undoubtedly beer had been drunk.

Off to the side, a pothole or manhole or other kind of city street hole was surrounded by orange cones. A serendipitous ring of orange safety.

The street is called Cambridge Street, and it’s one of two or three main streets in the city of Cambridge that run through a large length of the city. It’s boulevard wide and mostly commercial with the occasional row of houses breaking up squares of shops. Cambridge Street is the heart of Inman Square.

It was probably David, but it could just as easily have been Chris, who pumped the beer in his veins to his gray matter, took in the orange cones and decided it was time for a roadblock. The three of us moved the orange cones perpendicular to Cambridge Street, straight up blocking all traffic.

It was cold but not unbearable, and a there was a bench nearby.

We giggled as cars approached from either direction. They would slow and then stop, assessing the situation and slowly turn around and head back from whence they came. We were laughing like loons.

Honestly, it was perhaps the only time in my life that I was a full on vandal. Part of my laughter was the liberation from my other self, the completely serious, maybe too serious, woman who by day managed grants and budgets for a large research center within a cancer hospital. My daytime colleagues would have simply been confused by my nighttime beahvior.

Actually, I have to confess. There was another transgression in my life. I was there when a group of elementary school kids surrounded the telephone pole kitty-cornered to my house and contemplated what would happen if the attached fire alarm was pulled. Someone pulled it.

I remember the door-to-door canvass by local law enforcement and the knock on our own door. I sort of remember my mother’s anger. But I cannot recall if I confessed then or ever.

Meanwhile on a dark bench with the Walsh Brothers, our laughing was interrupted. One man who approached the roadblock got out of his car to thoroughly scan the situation. His surveillance led him to lock eyes on a benchful of giggling knuckleheads.

Perhaps in August, when people sit on stoops or benches all over the city to catch whatever errant breeze might waft by, we may have gone unnotieced. But in late fall or early winter, coat weather, too late to be sitting upright on a city bench rather than lying asleep, hopefully inconspicuous and sadly homeless, we were our own beacon under the street lamp.

I wish videotaping on a cell phone was the ubiquitous thing it is now. He was literally hopping mad. Words couldn’t form around the idiocy of why we should do such a thing.

He strode into the street, moved enough cones to clear his path, and drove off into the night, no doubt with steam shooting from his ears. We walked in the opposite direction.

Changes, I guess

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In one of those crazy things that the planet drops on you so your tiny lizard prain can see magic and say “Ah ha. Meaning!” our yard is alive with multiple generations of Gulf Fritillary butterflies. They feast and live and die and transform on the passionflower plant.

Climbing a fence between our neighbors and us, the flowers have bloomed outside our bedroom since we moved here.

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Until this summer, they lived and bloomed relatively unmolested by the insect world apart from an occasional bee.

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Pow. Somewhere the word went out to a gadflying Gulf Fritillary, and she told two friends and like a hot night club, our yard was put on the map. They have been partying it up for months. If you give the lifecycle a month or so, we have grandparents, maybe great-grandparents, fathers, mothers, children, cousins and eggs for the next generation.

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It’s a cosmic hustle for someone lying back with metal and bone filling in for bone and tissue. I’ve swapped one pain for a new pain, and unremarkably it’s all a mind fuck of trying to decide if I made the right move. Does a caterpillar know when it sticks its bottom feet on a leaf, curls up and swaddles itself in silk to form a crusty brown shell what happens next?

Here’s what I know. Day by day I was ground down by pain that the medical establishment assures me was irreversible and severe osteoarthritis. Through genes or some injury I never knew or remembered or more likely some accident at birth, my left hip wore itself to a wingeing, painful state.

It was gradual enough that for a while I figured I had pulled a muscle or otherwise strained my disobedient body. Then, I figured that I was just an out of shape mess. A little weight loss and a lot of exercise and I’d at least be able to sit, stand or walk without twinging.

And then the pronounced limping started. It didn’t stop.

Exercising was brutally painful. But with the help of a stoic streak forged with the fire of a childhood where crying was weakness and shaking it off was sound medical advice, I perservered. Oh, and of course, over the counter pain and inflammation killers, mostly my favorite vitamin naproxen, flowed in my blood stream second only to natural-born cells.

The long and the short of it — it sucked. Livable, but not optimal. I think the day I just spontaneously tripped on air or a sunbeam and dropped in a heap on the floor of my boss’s office scared me the most.

The future meant only one thing. It would be complaining and lessening my sphere of travel to footsteps. It would be my mother. My whole life she had sore feet and legs and breathed sighs of resignation. The diagnosis, which may have come only through an obstetrician, the only doctor I know that she ever visited, was one word “arthritis.”

My back was X-rayed, and the arthritis word arose again. Degenerative arthritis of two discs in my, I now learned, curved spine.

Resigned I was, too, like my mother. But I exercised more. I lost some weight, I followed exercises outlined by a physical therapist. I played softball only ever making it to first base on an error and then calling in a runner to my place.

If my mother I would become… If my future was to be pain and grimacing with a simple stroll, I’d push it hard and convince myself I could muscle through anything. I had to dig deep and keep on moving.

But I was moving less and less. I managed to walk for distances when I could not allow myself to sit. The funeral parade of my mother-in-law was a slow and deliberate slog in tropical humid heat. My new family arrayed behind us, worrying my every footfall and my pale skin getting beaten down in the midday sun.

Cumulatively, even as I pushed, I could feel my world getting smaller as my achievable distances became shorter.

What had been day-to-day discomfort, became months, then years and growing pain. Doctors told me to keep losing weight and keep exercising.

I began to learn that the language of pain is a foreign tongue. I couldn’t find the right description to impress an array of MDs that there was something more.

Here’s where I’ll toss out a brief tangent on a soapbox — I am certain that the deck is stacked against women when it comes to health. Every doctor’s visit seemed to turn to conversations about snacking and fat and health risks.

Yeah, I get that. Although, I’ve been built like a fireplug for pretty much as long as I can remember. Solid, junk in the trunk, low to the ground and a 36C bra since an incredibly early puberty. Healthy and active and curvaceous.

I never really vary wildly from about the same weight, my cholesterol and sugar are fine and blood pressure normal to low. Apart from the creep of middle age, I couldn’t convince anyone that what was happening — falling more frequently, getting up, sitting down, sleeping, moving, walking with pain — was getting worse and not the least bit normal.

My conviction of pain sucking worse for women is based on not being taken seriously. Every time I described my pain I guess it didn’t sound dire enough.

I wanted to punch the very young nurse practitioner, visited ONLY to take a PAP smear, who went off on hidden calories, bad diets and how obesity makes you uncoordinated. She accused me of drinking sugared soda and eating fast food based on nothing, and certainly not based on the vagina she was hired to swab.

Another doctor, visited when I fell in a hotel shower and weeks later ached in spasm-y pain, talked only about my age and asked about signs of pre-menopause. Pain and advancing age were inextricably linked and both incurable, I gathered.

Statistically, and rather than my linking one place, just Google this fact — Women have more cases of osteoarthritis and ultimately get more hips and knees replaced. But, men, they get their hips and knees replaced YOUNGER. If you’re an 80-year-old women and having trouble tooling around the assisted living complex, boom, you can get a new hip in the time that they recharge your Rascal scooter.

Substitute in a penis and balls, and you’re rocking that new hip or knee in your 50s or 60s. You can become an upright middle-aged man ready to chase a mobile lifestyle again.

Due for a physical, I figured I’d give it another whirl to try to convince a stranger that I wasn’t just another fat, old lady whining.

I read the online bio of a Russian woman that instead of an MD was a DO, a doctor of osteopathic medicine. When I showed up in her exam room, she had me hop off the table and walk around the little room. It was a first.

Other doctors looked at my height, weight, age and asked questions as I sat on the exam table in socks and paper gown. They moved my leg for me, asked more questions, tapping answers into a computer screen.

This doctor walked alongside me and looked from the front, back and sides.

For the first time, someone mentioned my hip. Given my not ancient age, this doctor assumed hip bursitis and after years of complaints I had an order for a new X-ray. After the X-ray, she canceled the follow up appointment that would have happened with bursitis and sent me straight to a surgeon.

I wish I had a before and after set of X-rays or even just the X-rays that the surgeon and I went over together. It was a study of black and gray. My left hip looked cavernous next to my right with space between the bones joining up and no cartilage in sight. An ugly, dark space.

I didn’t deliberate long. The surgeon was so certain that I probably was born with a misshapen structure, he didn’t suggest surgery, he only asked when.

This could turn out to be my chrysalis, my future in another form. For as long as I can remember long walks have meant sore legs and feet in a way that other people tell me doesn’t happen to them.

Maybe I have a new fix. I’m learning how to walk again. I was a late walker in my baby years. I am relearning what I maybe didn’t quite get right at like 2 or 3 years old.

At 50 I might creep into a new phase.

And now I’m not myself anymore

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If it wasn’t some kind of movie plot and a deranged madman implant a stick or a snake or a robotic, futuristic control device that will have me goose stepping in locked formation, I’m now standing on something like the photo above. I took the bandages and tape off, and I have a serpentine gash puckering the cellulite in my thigh more than the usual pucker. Hard to say what’s in there.

I seem to be recovering OK. I had hopes that I would be one of the patients the surgeon chattered about who veritably waltzed out of the recovery room. But, I can’t fuckingdance, so no surprise that wasn’t me.

I did leave the hospital with all it’s sterile movie set tubes and monitors the second I could. One night of care taking and I was done.

My favorite part of the hospital was the intravenous drip of narcotics that would ooze more pain-killing goodness at the press of a button. I was watching the second hand wind down in 10 minute intervals when the device would reward me with a boost. Life should have such delivery systems on the daily.

But, alas, I discovered all of that sweet, sweet opiate had a price. My stomach felt like shit with saltine crackers and ginger ale being my only joy. And, that shit will bind up your colon like it’s never been blocked before.

More on that scatological burst in a second, but a side note on why I left the hospital with great haste.

Hospitals are for sick people. I think perhaps the best time to stay. would be in full on coma. Anything short of persistent vegetative state, and it is fucking annoying.

There are a thousand cliches and previously tread remarks. But, why the fuck why must it be 24-hour poking? Can’t they schedule the blood-drawing guy and the drug-dispensing and the ice pack change and the nutritionist to hit you up roughly around the same time? And why does anything have to happen pre-dawn?

I would have rather have died in my sleep, I think, then to be woken out of it to have every tube and whatnot checked whenever sleep did come.

Even though the nurse dithered nervously as to whether I was truly ready and whether I could take care of myself and whether I was really, really sure, when the physical therapist gave me the green light on going the bathroom alone, freedom was mine.

So, the bathroom is what gave me freedom, and it is the bathroom that will likely preclude me from developing an unhealthy bond with the bottle of Norco by my side.

Don’t get me wrong. Hydrocodone, she is a good friend at 3 a.m. when there is no pose or state of mind that will bring comfort. She swaddles you in the numbing goodness that tells the nerves that pain is not of you, not today.

Come the morning, though, the wonderful mistress who gave you comfort and relief has walked away with your wallet and your guts. Left behind is a growing pit of constipation that prunes, softeners and laxatives cannot conquer alone. They each must join a pitched battle for days on end.

I’ll take this away from the image of my personal pooing.

I am obsessed about constipation as a constant side effect of using opiates. Basically, for me it’s a different face on everything perceptively cool about drugs, drug culture, creativity and drug-induced muses.

Rock and roll heroes like Janis Joplin and Joey Ramone couldn’t shit. The notion of all of that soul and pouring out of emotion and capturing their respective raw movements in society and considering that price leaves me even more in awe.

I am a simple simple woman. If I am not comfortable in some basic, bestial ways, I cannot think let alone create. My soul is base. I like good plumbing too much to truly ever be a rebel.

Meanwhile, in 2014, we are all one connected by the internet. So, I could Google my obsession.

Through the computer age, I discovered bluelight.org. There is a whole world out there of people sharing the good, bad, funny, safe and crazy about the whole pharmacology of drugs. And holy shit, as it were, many are out there sharing forums of my own short-term obsession.

The next wave of futuristic drugs will be gentler on your stomach.

I am my mother, Act 2

Caringtoday Somewhere, sometime, some place, maybe in the 1960s or 1970s, my mother was told she had arthritis. That is all I know.
She never had the balled up knuckles of rheumatoid arthritis, and she mostly complained that walking hurt. I think there may have been an X-ray, or maybe just a Marcus Welby-style MD probing her knees and hips and thighs and ankles and declaring that her joints were wearing down to nubs of bone against bone without the juicy lubrication of cartilage.

In other words, she probably had something similar to what today’s modern medicine has declared for me. The doctor’s email called it “severe osteoarthritis of the left hip.” I walk funny, and it hurts as I limp and lurch across the floor.

One could note that it absolutely a cosmic joke that I now have the mobility issues and pain with which Pat soldiered on for many years. She stubbornly got no medical help, popping NSAIDs sporadically and occasionally and begrudgingly using a cane she dug up from some closet and hacked at herself with a saw to whittle it to the right height.

In her final years, I accompanied her grocery shopping, where she maintained a death grip for stability on the handle of a grocery cart. Each year getting in and out of my car was an affront and an admonition to buy a better, more suitable model. Although, the yellow VW Beetle seemed to work OK.

We argued that she should see a doctor. They, the doctors, she said, told her there was no point, there was nothing they could do. A dubious claim, but maybe true in the 1960s. We argued over at least taking over the counter painkillers. For a while I convinced her to stay on a routine of taking Ibuprofen rather than waiting for the pain to get too bad for it to help. But, then, she would forget to eat while taking the pills and the upset stomach would outweigh the pain in her legs, and she would stop taking anything.

She did confide on a regular visit that she was afraid to drive, because the pain in her legs was weakening her ability to control them. I went along with the face-saving story that the car was itself not working correctly.

I was a nag, a scold, a worrier. I tried to help with solutions, like suggesting a walker, a horrifying prop that would scream to the world that she had become an old lady. I would bring over different brands of drugs and did constant reading up on what doses would be the most effective and how to take them. In the end, I would (mostly) allow her to complain of the pain without my comments and try to get her outside in the world to keep her muscles moving. I always let her steer the grocery cart.

So here I am. I am now admonishing myself, when I stubbornly decide to ignore the pain. Because of the years I trailed her grocery cart cum walker, I still use a basket or let M. steer the cart. I don’t like admitting that my walking has gotten pretty bad, rarely without at least a limp.

In turns I hide the pain or I complain, just as my mother before me.

But the medical establishment has shown me the picture of my hip, and it truly is not a healthy looking joint. My right hip shows up on film cheerily with a nice round femoral head curving into the acetabulum of my pelvis surrounded by desirable puffy white clouds of cartilage. The picture of my left hips is dull shades of gray and black shadows without spaces of white and with an uncomfortable looking angle. The surgeon tells me I may have been born this way — slightly off balance and prone to have the cartilage wear away in a grating gate.

Bad genes or congenital deformity or the gods laughing at those moments of impatience when I rushed my own mother along or had her out walking longer than was comfortable.

My future is plastic and titanium. The plan is a total hip arthroplasty, as the medical people say, or a total hip replacement in my world. They will saw off the bone at the top of my leg, and jam in a modern machine. It scares the shit out of me, at the same time I am intrigued by the cyborg dimension of it all and the prospect of walking pain free. The recovery sounds like a bitch, and I will not buy the fanny pack the medical guide suggestions for those dark days when I walk with a walker.

When I become better, stronger, faster, more metallic and unable to travel through airport security, I will not be my mother. Pat was not a robot.

Healthbase Zimmer Total Hip Replacement Implant Components

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I am my mother, Act 1

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I’m not sure, but I think one thing that was crazy about my relationship with my mother, Pat, besides calling her Pat far too frequently, was knowing a great deal about her trials, tribulations and occasional successes at work. Maybe other people write their parent’s job performance reviews?

Because of this knowledge, I know that I am as equally fucked up as her in a distinct way. As employees we are beloved and hated in crazy polar opposites, in melodramatic huge shifts. She had people who were Shakespearean ne’er-do-wells looking to score points with kings (or superintendents) off of Pat’s guileless and unprotected flanks. She championed the good and got hurt by the bad.

I knew of the love. She had friends who became my teachers. She had students who were my peers. They adored her (albeit weirdly brisk and aloof) warmth. They gushed about how great a teacher she was and how she had transformed lives with patience and care. She literally gave clothes and peanut butter sandwiches to those without them. If her version of history has any accuracy (she was not one for laser focus in her storytelling), she helped boost the career of a new teacher who was labeled by the aforementioned ne’er-do-wells as an odd duck who maybe shouldn’t be near kids. That teacher turned out to be one of the most memorable science teachers in our town, ultimately still remembered by her own grandchildren years after his initial hazing.

Pat had enemies, though. There were fellow teachers who hated her focus on old-school techniques that had proven successful and took draconian steps in enlisting administration to force her to conform to new education trends. Both her shyness and her quirky sense of humor made her colleagues uncomfortable, I gather, and they would relish opportunities to make fun of her. She was also for many years a sole representative of what is now a normal state, a single, working mom.

As an absolutely unwavering advocate for the children she taught, she also had a fair amount of complaints from parents. The saddest case was when she was brought into court to testify that a junior high student told her that something was wrong, and she and her friend the school nurse helped him get treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. She was devastated by the rock and a hard place of saving a kid from child abuse at home, but then helping the courts send him into the chaos and uncertainty of foster care.

On bus duty, she was thrown into a shouting match with a threatening dad, who resorted to dirty names, because she wouldn’t let his spawn off the bus. A fact of modern life with a prevalence of custody battles and other perils is that parents must notify schools if they are to change the routine or pick up their children outside of the prearranged plans. Pat took the name calling and the screaming unwilling to be bullied into sending a kid into the hands of a screaming maniac without knowing for sure if he was indeed dear old dad. At least in a calmer moment, he called to apologize.

So, right then, what the fuck is the point I am feebly making about myself?

I have enemies. Well, I don’t have enemies, since I’d have to give a bit more of a fuck to gin up the passion to hate certain people. But enemies have me. Some people just don’t dig the groove I be laying down.

My true exemplar of attracting the wrong kind of attention in the work place was, of course, the great employment drama of July 2004. July is now and forever a wonderful month of the sweet trumping the bitter. In 2004, I found out scientifically from a therapist that I am not a psychopath and essentially got a paid year off from office life, and now I live in a town that does July 4 like it’s 1970. Eventually, I even got to hear the end of my own story and of my vindication. Done in by a co-worker who wanted me done in, who himself was ultimately found out and done in. Karma is a good thing, and one of us now sells real estate.

But all of the above is history, and with the Grateful Dead coming up in iTunes while I sit in a surfer town down the coast from the city where hippies once ruled, I must be here now!

Modern day Silicon Valley is where I have had the privilege of meeting my first Californian-flavored antagonist. Better yet, I got to find out how hard she was gunning for me as she exited the door, moving away to a place in which our paths likely will never cross again. In the grand scheme of things, I weather the dark side much better now. Still and all, some people just don’t like me and what stands me apart from the crowd, they have the need to tell me.

Like my mother before me, I took it. I listened. I refused to assume the worst until the worst was done. Thankfully, and perhaps because of Pat’s and my own stories, over the past couple of years I never quite got sucked into the dark vortex. I mean for me I full on walked a path that Gandhi himself would have said “holy fuckballs, you are have saint-like patience.” OK, he probably would have said something wise in Hindi or Gujarati, and he might not have said holy fuckballs or made a saint reference, but he could have. (My computer spell checked that as duckbills. Oh ‘puter, you don’t know me.)

In the end, the final act, right before the credits rolled, I thought we had come to a late in the movie understanding, a cathartic understanding that bygones could and would be bygones. That life had moved on and there would be a golden sunset, as enemies hugged and forgot why they had ever fought.

I am an idiot.

The last scene was instead a monolog of vindictiveness. I was told that I am a manipulator extraordinaire, a genius of subterfuge, flatteringly the only person in a long and storied life and career who had ever acted unkindly or stabbed a back so deeply. I am clearly super human by the amount of credit for cruelty I was given. My favorite line, since it was one of those moments when someone is talking that you just have to not burst out in laughter lest you get cracked in the face, was the following bit of twisted logic:

I figured out who you are. You’re the kind of person who makes themselves indispensable, who really works hard to get management to like their work, and then you can do know wrong. You are indispensable and they trust you and you then use that to get to them and they listen. You used that against me.

So, wait, I almost blurted, you fucking hate me, because I’m competent?

For a little while I have sat with this tale and the criticisms lobbed that were lobbed at my head. I weighed it all and felt sad that a fellow human was clearly hurt and had misunderstood so much so completely. Chump that I am, I tried to explain myself while effusing out piles of empathy.

In the end, I told the story to someone who knows us both. Someone who is also one of the least dramatic or prone to hyperbole I know. The final word that hadn’t occurred to me about my situation, but that I had always considered whenever Pat was similarly embroiled, some humans are mean. Just mean, malevolent souls.

And, I happily walk away knowing, I am just not that mean.

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Rolling, rolling, rolling

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Back in the 70s, freedom had two wheels, a chain and pedals. Every day after school and all summer long, grab your bike and go.

My first bike was a pink Huffy, 3-speed road bike. I always have essentially hated pink, but I suppose my mother got a great deal on it. I had a love hate relationship with that bike.

My heart, my coveting, my lust was a Sting Ray with a sissy bar, banana seat, ape hanger handle bars. Maybe some handle bar tassles. My brothers, normal sized boys for their ages, they got those bikes. Orange or green, ready to do wheelies and burn rubber with coaster brakes.

I was a big girl, though, and even at 9 or 10 years old, I could straddle a small woman’s bike frame. I imagine Pat, my mother, also was hedging her investment. If I kept growing, a tiny girls bike could be crushed under my weight.

(Ironically, and looking back, I was big for a kid but I couldn’t have been that big. I’m a short grown up who has to have a small frame and/or crank the seat post low. Sigh.)

The pink Huffy was big and heavy compared to a Sting Ray, but he’ll if I didn’t ride it for miles and miles and miles and miles. In my gel-softened lens memory, it took me places in a hurry and on a hot summer’s day there was nothing quite like pedaling maniacally to a destination, like a friend’s house or the local park, and flinging yourself and your bike into the cool, green grass of the suburbs.

Of course, I have a distant memory of a lawn fling that landed on some dog shit and the subsequent furious rinsing out of my shirt in my friend’s bathroom sink. Life is a bittersweet ride.

The Huffy, though, perhaps because it was not the bike of my dreams and got tossed carelessly onto sidewalks and lawns, suffered an ignominious fate. Without a kickstand, I had dropped it flat on the side of a friend’s grass not noticing the wheels jutting onto the asphalt of the driveway. As we played nearby, her dad’s car ground the wheels under its tires and pulled the frame into a twisted mess.

I waked the pretzel home, crying in shame for my part in the massacre and sadness for the loss. In my head I tried to come up with something to say to soothe the yelling that would be unleashed in Pat. Yell she did, and the Huffy was out out in the trash.

It was a while before I got another bike, and shoe leather was my only transportation. On a bike you can cover ground quickly and work is like play. Walking, on the other hand, in the long streets of suburban neighbors is a death march that feels like hours and days gone.

Thinking back, I thought the reason I couldn’t get a new bike right away was punitive. Probably it wasn’t entirely. The household budget kept by my mother likely only allotted one bike per kid in a multi-year plan.

Finally, my day came, and I was presented with a completely awesome Raleigh sports 3-speed hub gear touring bike with a leather seat. That bike was completely a great bike, and I should have held onto it forever. It rode sweet and lasted for years. I’m not actually sure when it left my life.

I suspect it was a victim of Pat’s damp basement and the tides of changing technology and fashion.

When I was a kid, most bikes were fixed gear or 3-speed. Serious bike riders, people like my oldest brother who had a racing bike of whatever alloy was lightest and super thin, slick tires, had 10 speeds. Mere mortals pedaled around primitively, as derailleurs were pricey and rare.

By the 80s and 90s, that changed to every bike having many gears, different type of shifters, and normal people talking about gear ratios. Mountain bikes with knobby tires and forks and treads to handle any terrain were the bike to have. My Raleigh was a quaint old British gal not torqued up for life in the fast lane.

On my own, a young adult in the city, I needed a ride to cover miles when cars and public transportation were not on track. My Specialized Hardrock was a basic mountain bike with semi-slick tires for the urban jungle.

That red machine covered all manner of terrain from potholes to sandy ditches in every neighborhood of Cambridge and a good chunk of Boston. It was my commuter ride to more than one job, when I was relatively fit and the subway and busses too slow. It saved me hundreds in parking fees had I driven.

It was on that bike I was flipped over a car door, sprawled on Mass. Ave. directly in front of Harvard Law’s Pound Hall. It was also that bike that often took me to the Walsh Brothers Great and Secret Show.. And, it was the bike I has when I met the man who would become my husband, who cruised town almost exclusively on two wheels.

That awesome bit of freedoms was sold for the great move west. I’m sad I don’t have a picture.

I’m now on my third California bike. The Cannondale hybrid bought in San Jose, which gave me an extra radius to explore our new neighborhood, is gone and only dimly remembered. It may have been red. Or white. Or a color. It left my possession ironically.

I bought the bike when we were living in a sketchy neighborhood in a sketchy apartment, maintained by a sketchy landlord. The carport where I mostly kept it wasn’t the safest shelter, but it survived the mean streets.

Moving on up to an upscale suburb and a decent neighborhood, we moved to a nicer place. The lock was cut and it was gone.

M. and I both bought Giants. His is red and built for speed. Mine was green and built for commuting.

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A great ride broken in for commuting like none of my bikes before. The green machine now lives with a 13-year-old in Santa Cruz. I was misty as I said goodbye, but my old body couldn’t give the bike what she needs.

And, now the real point of all of this writing. I have come full circle.

I never had Jan Brady’s bike. I never had a two-wheeler built for looks and heading to California beaches. I couldn’t have in the 70s the Sting Ray bike I wanted.

This cruiser is my future and my past. Everything old is new again and I know that there are many miles to go.

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This post is intended to insult your intelligence

Here I am, quietly home alone.  OK, not so quiet, considering the Rolling Stones are playing.  And, I haven’t quite nailed Virginia Wolff’s:

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

For a few hours it is a room of my own.  And, with my lemon trees in constant bloom and fruit, fluttering with birds, it is a room with a view.IMG_3768

The last few weeks of my employment have brought me closer to the employment of others, or their aspirations thereof.  Yeah, less pretentiously, I’ve been interviewing eager hopefuls for a job.  Not all that eager in truth.  Here are some minimum requirements to keep the conversation not the potentially fruitful side:

  • Know the name of the company that is on the phone or inside of which you sit
  • Know the name of the department, as above
  • Have some kind of vague notion of what it is we do and, therefore, what might be asked of you
  • Don’t make me cry with boredom.

The last one is actually much simpler than you might think, even if I am a bitch.  I love stories.  I love imagining myself in other shoes.  I love picking up tidbits of humanity as I chug along.

I only pretend to hate people.  But I just might be the one who smiles at you and shares conspiratorial chatter in a long grocery line or unruly crowd.

In a job interview, I really, really, really want to like you.  I’m incentivized out the ass — there’re piles of work of both the shit and not shit variety that I’m meant to be covering, because we haven’t met you yet.  I already have a full-time job, so doing yours alongside my own is just the reason I want to hug you and squeeze you and bask in the salvation and glory that your hire will be.

I need you for my very sanity.

It’s a pretty minimal bargain this boredom thing.  A low bar, in fact.

But, I’m not going to write about my experiences.  The universe knows that the gods of Google have not always smiled warmly upon my face and shoulders, so I will leave the above as guidelines only.  As they say in movie land, any resemblance to real people and real anything really is coincidental.  My thoughts from my head.

However, I will mention an experience told to me.  In comparing notes with another person doing an entirely different job search, she mentioned a phrase that has stuck with me for weeks.

In response to the worn, tattered, clichéd intro question “why are you looking to leave your current position?” the person’s response was just the kind of philosophical conundrum that rolls inside my echoing skull for hours of navel-contemplation fun.  The reply about her current gig, and despite the quotes, I wasn’t there, so I’m either paraphrasing or making it up:

It’s OK, but some days it’s like it’s just an insult to my intelligence.

Let’s leave aside that this statement was uttered in a job interview.  While I tend to do well enough I suppose in a conference room full of interrogators (well enough to get jobs, it would seem), I’ve said enough monumentally stupid things in the workplace to not feel like casting the obvious stone.

Instead, what’s killing me, the riddle I can’t fucking solve or information I ain’t parsing — What the fuck really is an insult to one’s intelligence?

OK, OK, reader thus far, there is my prose.  I’ll give you that.  Although, it’s less of an insult to your intelligence and more a cry that you could have done so much better with your synapses and your time than to have read this far.

Earlier today, I put spoons and knives and toast plates and coffee mugs into the dishwasher.  It did not challenge me.  The thoughts inside my head were dull and plodding not glimmering and profound.  Was filling the dishwasher an “insult to my intelligence.”

At work some days I tick little boxes.  I collate.  I answer phones.  I do things for other people that I don’t feel like doing for myself.  I remember things like telling my boss that we should have cookies for a festive little reason.  I buy plane tickets.  I cancel plane tickets.  I spent ungodly amounts of time in Outlook calendar moving squares around in infinite patterns.

Some days I ab-so-fucking-lute-ly hate it.  I have to remind myself that the first world joy of office work is M&Ms and sodas, mini-cupcakes and the internet.  Dear, sweet, timewastingly infinite internet.

And, there are assholes.  Insulted I have been.  But my intelligence, she is still there even when the assholes try to shake my convictions.

So, if you got this far, do me a favor.  Give me an example of what might in the glare of fluorescent lighting and computer screens be an actual insult to your intelligence.

I cannot rest until I know.

The other Mother’s Day

I was reading that it is never ever St. Patty’s Day on March 17. But, today is March 15, and Patty’s Day it is, the erstwhile day of birth of my old, and not quite sainted mother.

Erstwhile, perhaps, because can you celebrate birthdays when the guest of honor no longer stomps the earth?

So many reasons to think of my mother, Pat, today. Not the least of which is being there for the funeral of M.’s mother. The ceremony, the prayers, the food, the people, the rituals so different. Yet the similarities so deep.

Both M. and I grew up with just one parent. My dad died when I was four. His dad and mom split when he was a kid and then dad died young. Now we are both orphans together.

Like for my mother’s wake, a wave of older people came by for M.’s mother. So many people identifying as friends, explaining who they were, where they lived, how lives intersected. For both women, the presence of these mourners spoke to affections and warmth and relationships that we, as children, did not know. Shading into depth the women we knew only as mom, but they knew as a friend.

Comic relief: My favorite old broad who came by to say goodbye to M.’s mom, walked up to him, and I’m told said to him, “If you don’t remember who I am, I will slap your face.”

I hope a long line of people drops by my remaining body to call me friend in the end. Of course, I hope more to have more years of partying it up and making and having friends.

M. and I have talked about our mothers. It seems to me that they were both gentle people bruised by unexpected circumstances and tragedies big and small. Each woman was shy and reserved, sometimes too passive, sometimes just bound to get the smallest piece of pie, shortest straw or dealt the unlucky hand.

Each of them squirreled away pennies, sacrificing their own wants, for their kids.

Consequently, M. and I each rail against an imagined fate, louder, stronger, more resolute than the women who raised us. We don’t save money for cake tomorrow. We buy cake today and enjoy it with gusto.

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Holy shit, I wanted this one to be funny and light. As the kids say — FAIL.

Here’s the manifesto to put the morose and melodramatic bullshit behind.

Every month of March, every year, hell every freaking day, I want to remember and climb on the hand offered to me. Our mother’s didn’t die in vain. Our mother’s didn’t live lives of privation for no reason. Precisely because our mother’s didn’t have every opportunity and real life undercut their dreams, we will live ours.

Don’t wait. Don’t stop. Don’t allow worry and anxiety to be roadblocks.

Dream and more importantly act.

Hate your fucking job? Leave.

Landlord sucks? Move.

Tired of the cold and snow? Relocate.

Today, and I hope every day, if I don’t fucking laugh at least once, I haven’t done it right.

For both our mother’s, who weren’t given the chances to do it all, we will try to cram in the fun we can in the days we have left. Misery is not an option.

Finnegan’s wake without the whiskey

I’d make a terrible anthropologist, I think. Rather than finding the unique and reportable, my thesis would be “people, right, yeah, pretty much the same.”

As the crow, or maybe a toucan or something tropical flies, I’m sitting just under 10,000 miles from my birthplace. All of the funerals I’ve attended have been in New England. The magic has been brought mostly by courtesy of your Roman Catholic holy and apostolic traditions, with the occasional Protestant mass for flavor.

This time around on another continent I was a newly minted family member, daughter-in-law and wife of the elder son. Just as with every service I’ve ever been, it all started with the family convergence, phone calls, the bustle of professional death handlers, friends, neighbors and relations. And in the ensuing afternoons and evenings, something like a party.

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I’m not James Joyce. And, I don’t speak Hokkien, Hainanese, Cantonese, Bahasa Malay or any other tongue piping up among the crowd. So I don’t have any stories to tell.

A bottle of whiskey wasn’t in the coffin. Nor was it stolen and sent around the crowd. No one evilly plotted a cannibal meal. And, no spare whiskey and beer were passed among the crowd.

Still and all, among the chaos, the scene was familiar. Old friends and extended family wandering in and out. Reminiscing about who was where when and what ever happened and how did everyone get so old. It was a wake, just the same as “visiting hours” in the U.S. Like in a not so distance past in my old neighborhood the guest of honor lay quietly among candles and prayers inside the house. And catered food and handshakes stayed up on the porch.