Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy? Memorial Day

Happy has always seemed to me to be the wrong word to adjoin to this holiday.
How about somber? A somber Memorial Day to you.

THIS is what I'll be thinking about today.

And HERE you can listen to a clip of Dennis O'Hare reading the litany of wars and some other excerpts from this play I would love to see.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Two Things that Made My Day/Happy Saturday to You

THIS ARTICLE in the New Yorker about the way a nursing home cares for elderly patients with dementia.

This poem by Jack Gilbert:

Older Women

Each farmer on the island conceals
his hive far up on the mountain,
knowing it will otherwise be plundered.
When they die, or can no longer make
the hard climb, the lost combs year
after year grow heavier with honey.
And the sweetness has more and more
acutely the taste of that wilderness.

And because the name of the nursing home mentioned in the New Yorker piece is Beatitudes, I'm going to toss this into your day, too. 

From the King James version of the Bible:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And because I've spent the last several months living with a person who is very hard of hearing, there's this:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dream of the Black Suede Shoes

C'est moi in a 1975-ish production of the "Madwoman of Chaillot" wearing the real-life black suede shoes.


I was in a car accident in a strange city. I saw it coming but couldn't avoid it. In the far left lane on a one-way street, I was slowing as I approached an intersection. In my rearview mirror I could see the bright red paramedic vehicle bearing down on me. No sirens or lights, just the faces of the paramedics talking and laughing--then crash. They took out a parked car and sideswiped a car in the next lane in addition to rear-ending my Prius. There was chaos as we all got out of our cars in the quickly fading evening light. I didn't have my phone and went into the CVS to call someone to give me a ride. I was shaking and feeling stranger by the minute. When I came out, all of the damaged vehicles had been towed, and there were notices taped to the light poles with information as to where they had been taken. 

I could walk there, I thought, but the first street I had to cross was so wide, it was difficult to make it across. Finally on the other side, my legs could barely hold me up. There was a steep hill to walk down, and my ankle rolled out from under me and my shoe came off. In the dark, the shoe disappeared, and now I was walking with one shoe. The remaining shoe with its high wedge heal made my gait uneven--that and the panic I was beginning to feel made my body pitch and roll. The street signs had turned to gibberish and I was lost. The only consoling thought was that my car had been severly damaged by the paramedics, and probably they would have to buy me a new one. I liked the idea of a brand new car because my driver's side door already had a huge dent. So maybe the accident was a stroke of luck, I told myself. If they didn't have to replace my car and just repaired it, maybe the dent could be part of the repair. But first I had to find my car and go through all the bureaucratic channels, and how could I do that? I was falling apart, heart pounding, arms failing like they were coming unhinged, my crippled stagger nearly sending me to the pavement with each step. And then there he was. The Someone. Our eyes met and held. I nearly stumbled into his arms, but he backed away, a disgusted growl rising from his throat.

Somehow I made it to somewhere. I called my friend Julie and she gave me advice, and I slept in the apartment of one of her friends. The next day, I set off again to find my car, and as I crossed a busy street full of pedestrians there the Someone was again. He was wearing a beautiful cream-colored trench coat and I grabbed the front edge of it. "Why didn't you help me?" I asked, pulling the coat, pulling him near me, pulling his face closer to mine. "Why didn't you help me? I was in an accident." He shook his head. "I should put you out of your misery right here," I said to him as traffic swerved around us. The light had changed and we were in the middle of the intersection. I was still clutching his coat, but I wasn't afraid. "Would you like me to do that?" I asked. I saw all the agony in his face then--his eyes swimming in pools of pain, his mouth twisting. His body relaxed into mine. Was he nodding? The muscles in my arms were infused with super human strength, but before I could push him into the path of a car, I woke up.

The odd part of this dream, I suppose, is not that I dreamed of  murdering the Someone. Stories like that are in the newspaper every day. To me, the remarkable part is the shoes. The shoes in the dream were involved in a real-life drama decades ago.

I was performing in a production of "The Madwoman of Chaillot," and at a cast party, I drank too much brandy. Luckily, I had carpooled to the theatre with a fellow cast member. The drive back to my apartment was torture. In the backseat with a pounding head and roiling stomach, I knew I was going to be sick. How embarassing to ask my friend to stop the car; how awful to perhaps have to vomit out the window. Barely holding on, it was a relief when my friend pulled into the apartment building driveway. I flung open the car door and threw up into the 
street. I believe my friend had to carry me to the door.

The next morning, one of my beloved black suede shoes was missing. The Someone went into the street to look for it and came back with it dangling from his hand. "Did you lose this in the gutter?" he asked. I had a terrible headache, but the deadpan delivery of his question made me laugh really hard. 

It was the same shoe that I lost in the dream.

Dreams reveal all kinds of things, I suppose. Like which pair of shoes is your favorite.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Crazy Came Knocking and I Didn't Even Reach for the Handle on the Barcalounger

How do you know when when you've left Divorceville for good?

Maybe it's when there's absolutely nothing you miss about your ex anymore. Maybe it's when you read a fabulous short story about the break-up of a marriage and you think to yourself, wow, what an amazing story--I'm going to send it to my ex-husband--and then you stop yourself and say, nah...why would I want to waste an envelope and some cool stamps with pictures of bonsai trees on them to do something stupid and crazy like that.

Joshua Ferris's short story "The Fragments" in the April 29th issue of The New Yorker is a heartbreaking chronology of the disintegration of a marriage. The narrator's wife is a  busy New York attorney and, through a crossed-signals cellphone connection, he learns that she's cheating on him when he hears fragments of her conversation with another man. "That night, Katy came home later than usual. He feigned sleep. With the lights off, she tiptoed into the bedroom, making no effort to wake him. He wanted to give her an opportunity to say something, he wanted her to say something, but she slid in lightly and was soon asleep. What hurt more--her peaceful sleep or the silence that preceded it?"

 As the narrator stumbles through the ensuing days unable to confront his wife, unable to work, unable to call a friend, and unable to confront his distress, he takes in the fragments of other people's conversations. Through these disjointed eavesdroppings on the communications  of others, Ferris weaves a sort of surreal narrative for a narrator who's too flattened to think his own thoughts.

When Katy calls the narrator after staying out an entire night, he hangs up on her and then hauls himself up from the sofa. "He walked through the apartment. He'd done this two nights in a row. He was sick of doing it. Everything that was 'hers' hurt one way. Things that were 'theirs' hurt differently. The last thing he wanted to have to do was sort and divide it all."

In the end, the narrator goes to the window and calls to passersby to come up to the apartment and take whatever they want. Later, as Katy approaches the apartment building, "She recognized the polka-dot roller bag that the first man was pulling behind him. When she reached the landing, he was standing in the open doorway, going through their wedding album with another man."

Yes, that's how it is.

How it was.

While I never gave away The Someone's stuff, I might have if I'd thought of it. But when I packed up and moved out of the house he wanted to keep for himself and his new wife, I did take all the blank CDs and the Sharpies. Crazy, right?

My Mimosa Glass is Half Full

So after the emails to my cousin to figure out if my mother's CPAP machine was hers or a rental, after the phone calls to my brother's girlfriend trying to surmise where the CPAP masks might be, after the phone calls to the east coast medical provider to hunt down my mother's sleep study, after that sleep study was dug out of file storage and made it to the west coast medical supply firm and was lost--then found again, after a dozen of hours of frustration trying to get the CPAP to work, and after four visits from two respiratory therapists who provided two different styles of mask.........the night before last my mother managed to sleep with the CPAP for the first time since her lung surgery almost four years ago. It was eerily quiet when she went to bed. I sat on the couch in the dark petting the ancient cat, waiting. Waiting for yells or curses or for her tiny figure in her pink flannel pajamas to appear in the hallway signaling another night of frustration. But, no. Nothing. I finally gave up and went to bed myself.

In the morning I considered how to phrase the question: "So, how did it go last night?" No, no, no I told myself. That's way too general to yield a cogent answer. "How did the CPAP work last night?" Still too general. The answer could be that it was noisy or that  the machine has always worked just fine--and then a beat later, after I had already squealed a mental victory whoop, she would tell me that the mask leaked again. So I narrowed my question to the most vexing and recent of our problems with the CPAP: "Did your mask leak?" I asked. She told me it didn't. That she'd slept all night with the mask on without a leak. BUT she still had to get up and rub her sore foot, she said. And she still had to get up twice to pee. She didn't seem to be feeling the least bit celebratory. But, dear readers, if I'd had a bottle of champagne, I'd have downed a mimosa before yoga.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Watching The Preakness on TV with My Mother

"So, Mom, did you ever go to Pimlico when you lived in Baltimore?"

"Many times!"

"Where did you sit--in the infield or in the grandstands?"

"Wherever it was that the poor people sat."

"So you were in the infield."

"Except that time when we went with the bookie. That was marvelous. He kept hinting for me to bet on a certain horse. He kept singing a song that had the horse's name in it. But I didn't get it and the horse won!

"How did it happen that you went to the races with a bookie?"

"Millie and I were always looking for a ride there. Or we'd have to take the bus. He gave us a ride."

"But how did you meet the bookie?" She gives me a look. The look that says I'm a tad bit dense.

"We worked in bars," she says.

I like to imagine my mother in Baltimore. The dirt poor girl from the Iowa countryside. I like the Iowa stories. But the Baltimore stories are a horse of a different color.

 Photo credit: Winslow Townsend USA Today Sports

Friday, May 17, 2013

Books and Brie

Thanks to the presence  of daughter M, I went away for an overnight.

First there was this.

A reading at Flintridge Books by one of my favorite writing teachers.
This book includes snippets of writing by a few of Barbara's students. A half-dozen of us were there last night and we read, too.

Then I spent the night with the man who loves me at his place. 
Dinner was chips and cheese and crackers. After 270-some nights of cooking dinner for my mom with the only respite being three evenings of take-out pizza, and two previous nights away, last night's dinner felt like pure decadence. Cheese. Chips. I think we ate it off of plates, but I'm not sure because there was a lot of wine involved. Maybe we just shoved our heads into the bag and tore at the wedge of brie with our teeth.

I slept with both ears closed, dropping off to the distant yip-yip-yeeeee of coyotes. I sleep well-enough at home with my mom. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm the middle-weight sleeping champion of the world. But there's sleeping and then there's sleeping.

Refreshed, my mom and I tried the various CPAP masks again this afternoon, thinking that we might have better luck if we tried a daytime practice run. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Craptastic Pitifully Agonizing Pieceofshit and....What the Yoga Teacher Said

Also known as the CPAP. Honestly, if I were diagnosed with sleep apnea or some disorder that required me to sleep with one of these fucking asinine devices strapped to my face, I would smother myself with a pillow and be done with it.

Way back when--before my mom decided to have the smaller-than-a-pea non-metastasized tumor removed from her lung--the surgery which launched her onto the planet of the infirm, she was able to manage her CPAP. I have no fucking idea how since she lived on her own then.

After emails and telephone calls and internet inquiries spanning a couple of weeks, I was able to get a copy of the sleep study she had done a couple of years ago, a new doctor's prescription for CPAP accouterments, two home visits from the medical supply firm to acquaint her with the new masks that they thought would work for her. Neither mask has worked out--the first because it does not have an adjustable strap (fucking brilliant), and the strap that's on it is too big. The second mask, I'm pretty sure had its adjustable strap on backwards (do you suppose that guy who came to the house was really a respiratory therapist?) but after consulting the internet and putting the strap on the other way, mask number 2 still does not seem to seal properly to my mother's face. The medical supply place seems reluctant to provide her with the mask she had before. Why? I don't know, but if I had to make a really cynical guess, I would say that Medicare pays them more for the ones they've suggested.

So it's back to plain old oxygen tonight. I just heard the beep of the machine turning on, which means my mom is going to bed. For the next hour or two--or until I fall deeply into dreamland--she will yell obscenities, growl like a bear, and call out as if she's being chased by monsters. I was kinda hoping the CPAP would soothe this savagery--a nice plastic mask over her mouth would not only help her breathe properly, it would muffle the yells.

As for me, I'm going to do a little yoga before I try to sleep. "Find your personal boat," the yoga teacher said this morning.
What she meant, of course, was that we were to adapt the pose to our ability. But the phrase, "personal boat" has been bumping around in my head today. Things are rocky here in Margaritaville. And I  need a boat. Not necessarily to sail away in, but a boat that I can handle. A boat that's sleek and low, perhaps, or brightly colored. A boat that will hold this house and rock us all to sleep.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Last night as I stepped out my front door about to head out for a walk, I was greeted by a blizzard of blooms. 

Just a bit ago, I came across this poem by Jack Gilbert:

What do they say each new morning 
                                               in Heaven? They would 
weary of one always 
singing how green the 
green trees are in

Surely it would seem convention
 and affectation
 to rejoice every time 
Helen went by, since 
she would have gone daily by. 

What can I say then each time 
your whiteness glimmers
 and fashions in the night? If each time your voice
 opens so near
 in that dark 

new? What can I say each morning
 after that you will
 believe? But there is this
 stubborn provincial 
singing in me, 
O, each time. 

And tomorrow I will take a workshop with one of my favorite writing teachers.
And after I will see the man who loves me.

Somehow, in my brain this all fits together wonderfully.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I'm over here.....

Hey there, those of you who've stopped by Margaritaville for a drink, come visit me HERE.
I like to drink, and I'm a blogaholic, too.
Or maybe you can just think of me as organized---these thoughts here, those thoughts there. Everything in its place, right?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sail Away

Was it the mention of water that launched the story? Electricity? Refrigeration? Somehow, when these stories start, it's as if we're on a boat tied up at the dock, and then without realizing, we set sail. "The water from the well was only for washing," she says. "We had to carry water from the spring for drinking and cooking." I imagine her and her twin sister carrying identical buckets and setting them at their mother's feet, but before I can ask how the water was carried and by whom, she tells me that the spring was their refrigerator, too. "My dad kept his beer cold there," she says. "And it was a great place to chill a watermelon."

"How did you keep things from floating away?" I ask.

"There was a big tank," she says. She tells me the goats and horses drank there, too.

"I guess they never bit into the watermelons," I say.

"They never drank the beer either," she says. She laughs her old lady laugh then. This laugh is different from the way my mother used to laugh. It's a succinct "Ha. Ha. Ha." Slightly unnatural. Which may have something to do with keeping her upper plate adhered to the roof of her mouth. Somehow we get onto the subject of the horses then. Babe and Vince were their names, she says. Only her brothers could ride Babe. Temperament troubles, she tells me. That left Vince for the girls to ride. But mostly the horses were meant for work.

"What happened to the mules, Duke and Nancy?" I ask. I'm referring to the glossy black animals in my favorite photo of my grandfather where he stands smiling into the camera in a white shirt and tie, a fedora cocked just so, a mule on each side of him.

"The mules came before," she says. "That was when he had the farm. Before the crash. Millie and I were babies then." She remembers hearing how he loved those mules. And I recall my grandfather's sister tell me years ago how proud he was of them. She was the one who told me their names. I want to ask if they were lost with the farm, or did he sell them, one by one, trying to hang on as long as he could. But somehow the story bobs and weaves again. I've heard this part before. How the kids used to play in the attic in the house they moved to, crawling after one another in the narrow dark spaces. "I fell through the ceiling," she says. "Fell right next to the stove where my mother was stirring the soup. It's a wonder that she didn't have a heart attack!" In this re-telling I learn that my mother was only five years old when she fell.

"Didn't you get hurt?" I ask. She tells me that she was perfectly fine, but that she was always clumsy as a kid. But not afraid. It was her twin that was afraid of heights. If she climbed a ladder, someone would have to go up and bring her down, my mother tells me. "The attic was boarded up after I fell," she says.

I'm on my second glass of wine by then, and we are sitting in the unlighted dining room, the light outside beginning to fade, the boat dock lights reflecting off the water. Now my mind has set its own course. I remember how my father boarded up the clothes chute in our second floor hallway the very same day we moved into the hundred-year-old house my parents bought when I was five. I remember the horses that grazed just beyond our garden fence--land that, I only recently learned, was owned by my parents and rented out to the guy with the horses.

My mother and I watch the huge clouds stacking up over the mountains. The evening blue beneath the towers of white make us wonder if it will rain again. We talk about the recent wild fire south of us, mostly subdued by yesterday's rain. I thought I'd have to argue with her about staying indoors due to the air pollution when the fire was at its worst. "I wouldn't think of going out," she told me then. "I hate fire." That night I heard  about the grass fires during the dust bowl. How the whole family would be sent outside to rake the dirt over the grass as the winds blew the fire closer.

How much is there to know about a person, I wonder. How wide are the stories? How deep?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Report from Pillville: The CPAP, Blood Pressure Parties, and Oxygen

It's been a bit busier than usual here in Pillville. My mother's blood pressure was too high at her last cardiologist visit. Buy a blood pressure machine, the doctor advised, and check her a couple times a day. Then she pulled out her pen and wrote my mom a prescription for yet another medication. If she has to add anything else, the list may need a second page. I'm happy to report that the medication has had the desired effect, and I've been able to monitor my own slightly troublesome blood pressure as well--and it's been mostly fine, too. 

I'm skittish about hospitals and medical equipment. Where am I going to keep the blood pressure thing-y, I wondered. I didn't want to leave it out in the living room or kitchen, and my mom's room is just too full of stuff already. With the pots and pans? In the armoire in the dining room where I keep the device that checks her INR level? That thing only gets used once a week, but we need to check the blood pressure a couple times a day, so I  relented and keep it on the kitchen island next to the iPad. So, come over. Have a seat and read the newspaper on the iPad and see how your blood pressure is doing. We'll make it into a party. Maybe there could be alcohol involved, and I'll get a breathalyzer and we can test each other's blood alcohol levels, too.

And I'm thinking maybe we should have a Star Wars dress-up party now that my mom is going to start using her CPAP machine again. 

She looks like Darth Vader in that thing, but it's worth it if it helps her sleep without waking up shouting. Sleep apnea is a weird condition. If one is troubled with erratic breathing while trying to sleep, it's no wonder nightmares ensue. Who wouldn't wake up shouting? My mom never remembers any of it, however.

My mom also uses oxygen at night, and the CPAP will soon be hooked up to that machine. During the day, while she is unattached to any medical devices, we could have oxygen parties.

Let me know your favorite flavor so I can have it on hand. Do you suppose there's one that tastes like gin?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Whatever you do, DON'T head for the hills!

the view from my front door

From Joan Didion: I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf. The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called "earthquake weather." My only neighbor would not come out of her house for days, and there were no lights at night, and her husband roamed the place with a machete. One day he would tell me that he had heard a trespasser, the next a rattlesnake. 

I knew the Santa Anas were blowing before I opened my eyes this morning. "Fire and Ice" read a headline from the Los Angeles Times. The photo was of the snowstorm in the Midwest. Here the wind felt like a blast furnace. Reports came over the radio. The 101 Freeway had lanes closed. Later the wind was blowing the fire toward the sea, and the alternate route along the coast had a section about to be shut down, too. Sirens. The university campus and homes evacuated. More sirens and the drone of helicopters. Luckily, this is all "over the hill" to the east of us. 

I was out for a bit this morning, and when I came back, my mom was on the patio eating her cereal.

She likes the sun, and it's seldom warm enough here for her to get a little on her skin. "I had to wear my hat," she said, "to keep my hair out of my eyes and mouth." Stuff was blowing by the boat dock. A large inner tube, a tarp, patio furniture cushions.

Then as I sat here at my desk, the wind stopped. When it started again, it was a gentle breeze from the ocean. But still, the sirens are wailing in the distance, and the helicopters are buzzing like bumblebees.

If you want to read more of the Joan Didion piece it's from "The Los Angeles Notebook."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

One year and two and one-half weeks after buying a house in Margaritaville....

I finally made it into a kayak. A borrowed kayak, but yes--a kayak.  In fact, C is visiting, so we borrowed two kayaks.

We paddled a couple of miles, I guess, from the yacht club where we borrowed the kayaks back to my house so we could prove to my mother that we hadn't drowned. "That looks like a lot of work," she said, as if we hadn't realized there were boats with motors.

Not really adept at anything athletic, I thought I might have trouble getting into the kayak from the dock, but both getting in and getting out went smoothly. Paddling went smoothly, and it was a glorious southern California day. A breeze, brilliant sun, blue herons flying overhead. Perfect.

Now I must pad, rather than paddle, down to the kitchen and create some dinner.