From Inside the House

Found this in my un-posted archives… seemed appropriate after reading this weekend’s NY Times article on the US report on climate change… Now, will anyone in power care that we’re doomed if we do nothing?

June 2, 2017:

Last night I was listening to Marvin Gaye radio on Pandora. Happy hour had started a little on the early side. Gin and tonics for me, straight vodka for him. Fancy local cheese, fresh bread. The weather was beautiful and we decided to blow off the outside world and enjoy our own backyard, literally.

Oh and, we’d just gotten the news that our “president” would be pulling out of the historic Paris Climate accord.

Marvin Gaye radio seemed like a smooth, mellowing agent to our anger and the perfect antidote to all of the NPR I’d been absorbing since the news conference at 3pm.

I used to go out to parties… and stand around. ‘Cause I was too nervous… to really get down.

They started with Marvin, followed by The Reverend Al (Green, not Sharpton) and some Smokey Robinson, Etta James, Ray Charles, Otis Redding. It was like being transported back in time. To the days of cultural revolution and the civil rights movement, a time when people cared about issues. When young people were trying to change the world. I was on my second gin and tonic when…

Oh, oh mercy mercy me… oh things ain’t what the used to be no, no. Where have all the blue skies gone? Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east.

We looked at each other. “Ironic”.

People have been advocating for the environment since before I was born and yet, here we are. When I was a kid we’d say, “It won’t happen in our lifetime”. We were wrong. It’s here. It’s happening now. My garden proves it.

The discussion launched back up. Two liberals drinking on a porch and agreeing that we’re doomed. “We’re living at the beginning of the end.” Cheers!

Throwing our fists in the air and quoting Meatballs,”It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” Cheers! 

“What in the hell is wrong with people? Don’t they see that these things matter?” Cheers!

After that, we solved all the problems of the world. Gin will do that. It will also blur the details of said “solutions”.

But, to the best of my recollection, (I sound like a Trump appointee testifying before a Senate Committee) it all distilled (pun intended) down to one simple idea.

America is the doomed babysitter on the couch in the living room oblivious to the fact that “the call is coming from inside the house”, and Trump is the psycho “man upstairs” with his finger poised over the speed dial.

 

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Equi-F***ed!

I’m really trying to be on the side of the media these days, but in light of the recent Equifax hack, I must implore them to stop referring to those affected by this massive security breach as “customers”. No one chooses to be reduced to a number by these credit reporting bureaus. It’s not possible to opt out of this “service”. These companies are there to cull your personal information from companies you actually do business with and use it to rate you as a consumer – and by extension as a human being – so that they can tell other companies how trustworthy you are.

Federal law only requires these bureaus to give you free access to your reports annually. If you want to check more often than that you have to pay, unless you meet specific criteria. Other than that you can enlist the services of a credit monitoring agency.

Um, it’s my personal data and you’re keeping me at arms length from it? Charging me money to see it? Not cool man, not cool. 

I’ve been a victim of identity theft. It is serious. A serious pain in the ass, a serious disruption to your life and in the worst case scenario it can seriously affect your credit. It can follow you around for years, hiding in places you didn’t know it could be. Just when you’ve secured one account, you find out your SSN has been compromised. Deal with that and then years later you go to change banks and they tell you you’ve got a judgement against you for passing bad checks. Huh? Oh yeah, that’s the jagoff that lifted my info from some shady office to start their own fake plush toys company and run up a fortune in unpaid debts. True story. And who were the least helpful folks when it came to sorting this out? The credit reporting bureaus.

A person’s credit score has become their most important number. A whole industry has sprung up around it. Of course, if wages weren’t completely stagnated maybe we all wouldn’t need so much credit. But I digress…

My favorite part of this whole debacle (which is putting it nicely – I wanted to say “clusterf**k” but something told me I should keep it clean) is that they are not going to inform the victims of this most serious breach that they are victims. They’re advising people to sign up for fraud watch. Through them! Of course, this service is free – for a year. Then what? I’ll bet there’s a fee starting on day 366. Oh, and to qualify for the free year of monitoring the victim-customer must agree to have any and all disputes with Equifax settled by arbitration. That’s right. You can’t sue them or participate in any class action law suit. These bureaus were created to hijack our information and keep us from it and they can’t even keep it secure. I’ll hold on to my right to sue thank you very much!

In addition, Equifax is not spending the time or resources to contact those affected by this breach, they’re asking their unwilling “customers” to login or call and give them even more information about themselves to find out if the original information the bureau failed to protect has been compromised. Smooth. Potentially 143,000,000 people had their personal data compromised (which is more than voted in last year’s election, but don’t get me started on that travesty), but Equifax doesn’t feel they should be proactive here?

This is the paragraph in which I should probably try to say something to illustrate their side of the story, but their website is down, so I was unable to watch the likely lame formal apology by the president of the company. I wonder if he’s one of the executives that made sure to sell their stock before news of this months-old breach went public. Equifax seems to have given it’s higher-ups time to get their ducks in a row while waiting nearly six weeks to inform the public that their data is out in the wind. Should they even be allowed to be a company anymore?

I got my first credit card when I was 17. I’ve been playing this game a long time. Back in my Manhattan starving artist days there were times when I needed that credit to live (believe it or not). I’ve worked hard to maintain my rating and to build it back up after my identity theft issues of the early 2000s. My score hovers around 800 and I’m proud of it. Of course, the minute I need to use my credit, that number dips. I recently charged $2000 at the animal hospital on my credit card, not two weeks later I got an email from CreditKarma.com (at the time of posting I was unable to access my CreditKarma account, they’re likely overwhelmed with users checking in) stating that my score had gone down.

So the message is, establish credit, but don’t ever need it or use it. Just allow us to define you by it and run all fast and loose with your sensitive information.

Let’s hope the hackers are planning some Fight Club style debt wipe. Like, next week’s news story is that everyone affected by the breach had all their debts wiped out. House? Free. Car? Free. Credit Cards? Paid.

I wonder what my score would be then….

In closing this rant I would just like to say, the above is clearly an editorialized account of these events. For a more balanced and probably less pissed off report on this story try a real news outlet like, ABCNews.com or The New York Times.

I would try to be balanced and link back to FOXNews too, but their lead story on Thursday was about Michelle Obama edging out Melania Trump for the international “best dressed” list. At least they’re way out ahead on something. Hard hitting journalism at it’s finest.

Scraps

I spent the early months of this year working on a longer piece to submit for publication. In the course of writing it I amassed nearly 2500 scrapped words. I kept these words in their own document. For some reason, they were precious to me even as I deemed them worthless in the grand scheme of my story.

If they were paint, I would roll around naked in them and throw my body at the canvas. They’re not paint though, they’re words. Visual artists use found material or “scraps” all the time.

Here’s my version of an abstract word rendering…

 

Navigating the city

the new adventure to begin

I hadn’t fallen down in months

clearly, my future was stardom

 

on a collision course like a gory flick

spin around, face down, stomach flat against the vinyl top of a barstool

closet so packed with clothing that the door wouldn’t close

I fell for the urban landscape at first sight

 

two guys named John

had no idea what I was talking about, it didn’t matter

real estate is a hot topic in Manhattan, even when you live in student housing

my world was a sliver of corner behind the stacks of speakers

 

adventure was on that side of the river

hanging out at the top of the Empire State Building

all the time playing McDonald’s drive-thru

the first step towards my inevitable top billing on a glittering theater district marquee

 

he glanced up in time to witness my approach

sitting behind the sliding glass security window

engrossed in that day’s edition of The New York Post

completely unaware of how much a simple box of mushrooms would thrill me

 

no one to congratulate me on surviving the streets

continued progress through the market

it resonated within my head as if someone had shouted right at me

the coolest work/study job on the planet

 

more concerned with my safety than my designated “asshole” status

inner voice on the attack

contributing. no longer just a spectator, listener

I could be whatever character I chose

January Stories

I have no January stories. January is a moment lost. Each day seemed to meld into the next, the hours indistinguishable from one another. Morning, midday and sunset all resembled dusk. And dusk was like the dead of night. The dead of night extended into morning.

There are no stories this month. We watched playoff football. We ate wings, burgers; drank beer. We passed the time looking forward or back, not wanting to acknowledge the here or now. Planning trips for months to come, not leaving home for days on end.

We binge watched. I managed every episode of “Felicity” before mid-month. We ran out of oil… again. One or both of us loses track at least once a year. I blamed him.

I started every morning with the news and each day I got angrier and more afraid. The anxiety of wondering what the year will bring, overwhelming at times. We went out to eat. Took the dog to the vet, to the groomer, for walks down the street.

We played music, but not nearly enough. When I sang I did it for the world to hear, but only a few did.

I worked about a hundred extra shifts at the bar. I made small talk about the weather. I reused old jokes. I asked myself what the hell happened to the extra money.

I worried about money.

I worried about the future.

I worried about the dog. The bar. The house. The neighbor’s sidewalk. The government. My weight. My writing and my consistent drowsiness. Our business and our relationship and family drama. And First Family drama.

I hurt my back and I don’t know how. I practiced yoga through a clenched jaw with a closed heart. I went through the motions. I kept breathing, but my mind has been racing all short year long.

I have no January stories, at least none I want to tell.

Blackout: Conclusion

A version of this post was originally posted on September 19, 2016 as part of the “T Minus 40” project.

When I finally made it to Hudson and 11th, I stood in front of the White Horse Tavern and looked up to see the edge of my friend Kevin’s roof deck. I was certain they would be up on the roof. It was the best place to beat the heat. Kevin and his girlfriend, Alexis had tricked out the roof deck earlier that summer with lights, chairs, a table and a cooler. Everything necessary for maximum summertime enjoyment.

Kevin didn’t have a doorbell. He would often leave the downstairs door unlocked and rely on his intimidating brindle pit bull, Athena, to alert him to the presence of visitors with her substantial bark. There was only one other apartment in the building, on the floor below. I approached the building’s main door, it was locked. I knocked loudly. I didn’t hear Athena. I knew it, they’re on the roof! 

I pulled out my useless cell phone and dialed Yves to no avail. All circuits were still busy.  I crossed the street so I could get a better view of the roof. I saw movement. I shouted at the top of my lungs, Kevin! I got nothing, so I tried again Kevin! Kevin Brennan! Yves! 

People on the street thought I was nuts. Someone sitting at an outdoor table in front of the tavern yelled at me, shut the hell up! 

I don’t know if I was actually annoying him or if he was just playing the part of “pissy New Yorker”.

Just give me a minute, I spat back. I know they’re up there. KEVIN…YVES!! I tried again as loud as I could (which was really loud).

About 2 seconds later I saw their faces appear over the ledge. They were all smiles and shouted down to tell me they would let me in. I turned to the beer drinking “shut up” guy and said, I told you they were up there! That wasn’t so hard now, was it?

He looked shocked that my old-school ‘hood-girl doorbell had actually worked. We both sort of chuckled. The moment had trumped the feud.

I re-approached Kevin’s door just as Yves was flinging it open. We embraced. He said, I was just about to leave to come to you.

I beat you to it, I said. I didn’t want to hang out with the neighbors so I figured I’d come find you guys.

He said he’d been trying to call me, but the cell phones were dead. 

No shit, I thought.

Did you walk here? he was curious.

I sure did. I’ll tell you all about it once we get upstairs.

We headed up through Kevin’s place to the roof. There was a cooler of beer and a bottle or two of whiskey. Alexis was there and Alfredo, the percussionist from Kevin’s band. They’d been working on overdubbing some percussion tracks when the power failed. Alfredo’s wife Ava had come over when the lights went out as well, she only lived a few blocks away.

We had a party brewing.

I regaled them with tales of my journey southward and was rewarded with Jameson and Yuengling. By nightfall, we were all pretty well lubricated. Someone brought out Kevin’s acoustic guitar and Alfredo had exciting percussion toys for us to play with, soon we had a full fledged jam session going. Kevin and I were the main vocalists. We played some of his original songs and we covered The Band, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Billy Preston, you name it. We rocked it. Our drunken version of “Gimme Shelter” alone was worth the four mile walk.

Kevin’s block housed several small buildings that were adjacent to each other and plenty of other folks had had the idea to head up to their roof for relief from the sweltering heat. It didn’t take long for the party to grow. People popped over from other roofs to join the jam. More guitars arrived. Our little band was growing.

We had our own private club up there, the price of admission was a good attitude, an appreciation of music and a bottle of booze. What started as a “disaster” turned into an amazing night filled with friends (new and old), music and a sense of camaraderie that only comes from sharing a unique experience.

We expected the lights to come back on at any moment (although I think we would have been disappointed if they had). We passed the evening with that expectation right below the surface of our revelry. We rocked that roof party until about 3am, our collective subconscious all the while knowing that any minute now this will end.

Yves and I decided we should make our way back to the upper west side.

Fueled by alcohol and my positive experience on the trip south we walked out prepared to make the trek back north on foot. Once we left the shelter of Kevin’s roof though, that idea seemed daunting and scary. The streets were desolate. Things that seemed so cool earlier like the lack of traffic signals and street lights, were incredibly eerie in the morning’s wee hours. The moon had been full two days prior and so the celestial orb was still casting plenty of it’s reflected light onto the earth below. It lit our way, but also served to exacerbate the eeriness of the empty city streets that were now illuminated by only the occasional set of headlights and the moon’s spectral glow. I was, all at once, exhilarated and terrified.

A cab approached and we flagged him down. The cabbie wanted eighty dollars for a ride that usually cost twenty. I told him to forget it. I wasn’t that scared! I told myself that I’d walked here and I could suck it up and walk back. We headed north on foot for about 5 or 6 more blocks but I was really spooked, so Yves flagged down another taxi. This guy was more reasonable, fifty dollars. We agreed that was fair and got in.

The city was like a ghost town as our yellow chariot cautiously navigated the route to our building uptown. The few cars we passed on the trip had drivers who agreed on their own give and take method of crossing intersections. They had no choice but to be communicative in whatever way possible.

I had never seen the sidewalks so empty, even at that hour. It was like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. We arrived at our building shortly before 4am and walked up the seven flights to our apartment on the top floor. Someone had lovingly maintained a row of supermarket Santeria candles that lit the path to the upper floors all night. The sun would be up soon enough though, rendering their efforts irrelevant.

We stepped into the apartment and found it only slightly cooler than when I had left it at 4:30pm the previous afternoon. I was exhausted and still sporting a pretty decent buzz, but I went around the apartment and lit every candle in my massive collection anyway. I didn’t want the experience to end. I was prepared to stay up until at least sunrise talking over the evening’s adventure, but after about ten minutes on the couch with Yves I was fast asleep. He blew out all of the candles and put me to bed.

When I awoke the next day the lights were back on. I was disappointed that the adventure had ended, but glad to see that most of my refrigerated goods had survived the blackout. I guess I just really hoped for another day of “roughing it” without the technology that had been dogging me the previous afternoon. Another day of creating radio ghosts with our voices and percussion and guitars that we had no means to capture. That was all left behind on Kevin’s roof though and maybe it was better that it stayed there.

I never finished recording “Crazy”, I never even checked to see if it had been auto-saved to disk before the power failure. From then on out I did my auditioning in person.

Blackout: Part 2

You can read “Blackout: Part 1” by clicking here

Once back inside my building I exchanged a few sentences with my Albanian doorman Marjan, whose brother was the super. These guys knew all the gossip. They were the word on the street. Marjan (who the building’s older residents called “Mike” for some reason) gave me the info he had on the blackout. The whole northeast is out, he said. He went on to tell me that there had been a problem at a power station in Ohio that caused the whole thing and that the authorities didn’t think it was done on purpose or by terrorists.

I thanked Marjan for clueing me in and ascended the seven flights of stairs to my apartment on the top floor and tried to call Yves. He was downtown working on a record he was producing for his friend and bandmate, Kevin. Kevin lived above the White Horse Tavern on Hudson and 11th Street and had a pretty sweet recording set up in his apartment. As far as I knew they were working on vocals and percussion overdubs that day.

My cell phone was useless. No call would connect. Our home phone was a digital cordless handset that relied on power from it’s base to function. There was no dial tone. I went to the hall closet and dug out my old corded, analog, plug-it-right-into-the-wall phone and gave it a shot. Yes! Dial tone! Too bad no one else had an old phone like that anymore. I’d only kept mine because of its late 80s kitschiness. The casing was made entirely of clear plastic, so you could see all of the gears and inner workings of the phone which had been assembled with vibrantly colored parts. It even lit up when it rang! Without a similar piece of antiquated technology on the other end of the line though, there was no connection to be made. The phone just rang and rang.

I stood around for a couple of minutes reviewing my options. It was unbelievably hot inside the apartment, so I certainly didn’t want to stay there. I thought about going back downstairs to hang out with my neighbors and Marjan, but they would just be standing around listening to talk radio and lamenting the loss of their refrigerated goods. Boring. I decided to opt for adventure and head down to the village to meet up with Yves. I grabbed a bottle of water, and packed my messenger bag with my useless cell phone, my wallet, a notebook and a pen. (In case I got any lyric ideas on my journey). I grabbed my pack of Camel lights and my trusty Zippo, threw on some $5 GAP flip flops and took to the streets.

It was a mere four and a half miles from 711 West End Ave to the White Horse Tavern, that was nothing. I’d be there in less than two hours. I was used to taking long city sojourns. Towards the end of my tenure at the studio I used to walk home from Times Square to the upper west side. It was great exercise and not only allowed me to listen to more music, but also to bank enough Weight Watchers points to drink wine when I got home. A win win, for sure.

I headed south on West End, I figured I would take it as far as I could and then cut over to Hudson St. at 14th. I opted to leave my earbuds out so I could hear what people were saying on the street. I wanted to gather as much information as I could about the blackout and people’s reactions and solutions. There might be information I needed for my journey too.

People were gathered in front of their buildings on West End all the way down to the 60s. Kids were playing on the sidewalks. Adults were trying to remain calm, but were definitely on guard. There was a palpable tension. We were living in the post 9/11 New York City, so that was always under the surface.

On my journey I learned that the technical failure at the energy company in Ohio was due to a faulty alarm system. An alarm failed to tell the workers to transfer power from an overloaded system and, zap! The whole Northeast was fried. I remember thinking that it was kind of weak that something so simple could throw so many people into darkness.

More and more people were heading south with me as I crossed out of my Upper West Side neighborhood and into the West 50s.

I met a woman who was walking because she lived downtown and was unwilling to fork over the outrageous fees she had been quoted by several midtown taxi drivers. We talked for a few blocks before she turned to head east.

I walked for about 10 blocks with a man who appeared to be in his late 40s or early 50s and worked in midtown but lived in New Jersey. His commute was usually an easy one, he told me, but today he wasn’t quite sure how he was going to get across the river. He had heard there was a shuttle set up at the Lincoln Tunnel to get folks back to Jersey, so he was headed that way. He told me he had a friend on the east side that he could stay with in a pinch, but would prefer to get home to his wife. We talked about our jobs and our families until we parted ways right before I passed the Javits Center. He told me to “take care” and I wished him luck getting home.

On my way east and in the last few blocks before 11th St. I walked by bars selling discounted beer and restaurants that had already come up with special deals to minimize their losses in the face of the massive cooler outage. By tomorrow they would be out thousands in spoiled food if they didn’t find a way to mitigate the situation. People were out in droves so there were plenty of takers on these deals. It was after work hours by that time anyway, although I’m not sure anyone would have stayed at their desk if given the option. It was like the greatest happy hour deal in the history of happy hours.

Everyone I encountered downtown was calm and orderly, even somewhat celebratory. There was an air of conviviality on the street, like we all sort of knew we were a part of history in this moment and we would deal with the melted ice cream tomorrow. We New Yorkers, as a group, had gotten good at dealing with disaster and it was a relief to know this one was simply electrical. There was still no foul play suspected.

Blackout: Part 1

A portion of “Blackout” was originally posted as part of T Minus 40, back in September. This is part one of the completed story…

For about 5 minutes, I thought I caused the Northeast Blackout of 2003.

I was sitting at my desk in our West End Avenue apartment working on recording a demo to send to the producers of an upcoming production of “Always, Patsy Cline”. It was August and it was hot as hell in our top floor apartment. I didn’t want to be sweating inside working, but I was trying out a new thing called self discipline and I really wanted to be good at it.

Earlier that year I had walked away from my position managing my stepfather’s recording studio in Times Square. After 6 years of dealing with major record labels, tending to the needs of artists, A&R and engineers and stroking all of the considerable egos at play I was really beginning to sour on the music business. I had all but abandoned my own original project which got me close to obtaining the kind of success and adoration I craved, but also held a mirror up to the sensitivity that would ultimately hold me back as a performer. I left partially because of the changing industry which was a victim of new technology, but also because I was 27 (no spring chicken in the entertainment biz) and I feared that my life’s work would become merely about building up others while I watched jealously from the sidelines in either management or A&R. I was not interested in being the woman behind the scenes, so I went back to my first love, acting. I had no family connections in that world and thought that if I struck out on my own it was inevitable that I would find my way. I could be the master of my own destiny instead of having to work how, when and with whom I was told. I had unknowingly abandoned one impossible situation for another.

I had never attempted to engineer my own recording session before. I grew up in the control room watching, but most of the buttons, knobs and faders were a mystery to me. They didn’t interest me. I wanted to be on the other side of the glass, in my mind that was where the real magic happened. I had always left recording to actual recording engineers, but because I had decided to create my own success, I longed for the self sufficiency that this technical knowledge would bring. Frustrated as I was, I was also determined. Yves, who has always been interested in both the technical and the artistic aspect of the recording game (I don’t think he believes there is a distinction) had given me a quick tutorial before he left the apartment that day, so the task seemed doable. I was going to submit an a capella version of “Crazy”, a song that had been in my repertoire since I first heard it in my grandparents Buick when I was 9 years old. As long as the tech part didn’t get the better of me I would be mailing the demo by morning.

At about 4pm I paused to use the bathroom in between takes. The job was taking longer than I would’ve liked. I had no choice but to get one complete take that I was happy with, since my morning ProTools lesson hadn’t included overdubbing and I wasn’t about to try to figure it out on my own. I was sitting on the toilet listening to play back from down the hall when the music suddenly stopped. The lights were off in the apartment already in an attempt to keep the place as cool as possible. We didn’t have the separation of sound necessary to run the AC and record vocals at the same time.

Uh oh, I screwed up the best take with my crap tech skills, was my first thought. Since my only clue to the power failure was the abrupt cut off of the music.

When I went back out to the living room and saw the the computer screen was dark I chastised myself, What did you do you, dumbass? 

Then I answered myself. Um, we did everything right, you were right there the whole time, don’t blame me.

I pressed the power button on the Mac. Nothing. No reassuring Mac start up bing.

I flipped the desk lamp on. Nothing happened. Huh? 

I turned to look around the room and noticed the clock on the cable box was out. Weird. Maybe I blew a circuit. Maybe I’ve got too many things plugged into the same outlet? I’m not really sure how all of this works.

I went to the circuit box in our hall closet. None of the circuits had been tripped. Huh, maybe it’s the building’s fault? 

I went to the front door of our apartment, opened it and peered out. There were no lights on in the hallway, but I couldn’t remember if they were supposed to be on yet or not, I’d never really paid attention to those things. I walked down the hall to the back elevator. There was no sound. No hum. Nothing. I concluded that the entire building was without power. Maybe too many people were running their AC. It was boiling hot that day.

I had no choice but to abandon my project, which came as somewhat of a relief. At least now I had an excuse to stop torturing myself with my novice digital recording skills. I’ve always had a hard time following through on things that don’t come naturally to me. Wearing the producer’s, engineer’s and artist’s hats was putting undo strain on my nerves. It was distracting me from the real task of performance. It felt terrible. I longed for the days when I had access to the studio and its eager young engineers during downtime and off hours. It was a privilege I was now kicking myself for taking for granted. I decided to head to Equinox, the gym I had joined when I decided to become a full time actor, for some air conditioning and a workout. I was sure they would have the power in my building up and running again by the time I sweated out some of my irritation.

I grabbed my purple Jansport and packed it with gym clothes. I headed down the seven flights to the lobby of our institutional 1950 apartment house which spanned the entire block between 94th and 95th streets. Several of my neighbors were gathered, but I was plugged into my first generation rio MP3 player, so I didn’t slow down to eavesdrop. The problem was likely minor and would be rectified by the time I completed the circuit at the gym.

Out on the street I noticed more people than usual milling about. Most of them were standing next to or sitting in their cars with the windows open. It was a little odd, since alternate side parking regulations had ended hours before. I didn’t think much of it though and headed up 94th to Broadway. When I arrived at the door to Equinox on Broadway at 92nd I noticed that their lights were out too. There was a handwritten sign on the door apologizing, but they were without power and so were closing for the afternoon until service was restored.

This is bigger than I thought. I took out my earbuds and headed back down the hill to West End.

On my walk back home I caught a bit of what was emanating from the car radios that were tuned in on the block. I caught a few phrases from the newscasters on 1010 WINS. Widespread outages. Entire Northeast. Michigan. Ohio. Do not suspect terrorism. 

Well, that’s good, I thought.

 

 

Untitled 1

She told me to come back to you, but I already instinctively knew.

You are where I find my way. You are where it all began.

Where I found the good, the bad.

You are here and yet you’re not.

You give up the spotlight and hand me center stage.

Or center me when there is no stage.

You help me find my way. You decide what’s right to say. And prioritize what’s sent.

You find the words that explain what I meant.

You turn them back around and show me.

So I come back to you and I do all the talking (as usual) and you stare back and I throw my words at you and you accept. I lay it out for you to take and you relent and I attack and I feel better until I realize that you’ve said nothing.

I, again, am the only actor in the play. You have slipped away, your part portrayed, your goal fulfilled, your silence’s job complete. You’ve gotten me back on my feet.

And do I ever thank you?

Chocolate Cream Pie: A Thanksgiving Story

I was 12 years old on Thanksgiving Day 1988. The one day of the year I could count on to provide me with my favorite holiday treat, chocolate cream pie. I had to have chocolate cream pie at Thanksgiving even though it was in no way traditional. I hated pumpkin pie. I would politely consume a sliver of it, but only to get to the chocolate cream deliciousness. And always with a huge amount of whipped cream.

On the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving, I woke up sometime in the wee hours feeling sick to my stomach. I ran to the bathroom and threw up the pepperoni pizza I had consumed for dinner. I thought for a moment about waking my mother to let her know I was ill, but I had always been an independent child and had recently turned the ripe old age of 12, so I let her sleep. I reasoned that there was nothing she could do now and that I would probably feel better soon, since I had emptied the contents of my stomach. I went back to bed. No sense in troubling mom until morning. I was growing up. I could handle a little puke on my own.

When Mom came to wake me for school on Wednesday morning I told her of the previous night’s purge and that I didn’t think I should go to school that day. I was too sick.

My mother didn’t believe me.

Why didn’t you wake me up last night? Her question was totally reasonable.

I didn’t want to bother you. My response made perfect sense, if only I weren’t 12.

Mom wasn’t buying it. If I was sick enough to throw up in the middle of the night, surely I would have needed her comfort or counsel. In her defense, I was a notorious illness faker. I’ve never been a morning person. To this day I consider 8:30am to be the “crack of dawn”. My hatred of mornings led to many a faux sick day before I learned to get myself to school late with the excuse of an expertly forged note from “Mom”.

I pleaded my case. My mother argued that I only had to make it through one day of school before having four days off to do whatever I pleased. I told her again that I was too sick. She got the thermometer, it would prove one way or the other whether I was capable of attending that day’s edition of seventh grade. I had science on my side, it read 99.8. Not exactly a raging fever, but arguably enough to keep me at home. To ensure that my truancy would be less than pleasurable my mother assigned me a couple of low energy chores. I felt pretty rotten, but I figured I could handle folding the laundry and washing a few dishes. I had all day to do it.

My stepdad, Tom, had slept through the whole exchange. He had had a late session at his recording studio the night before and hadn’t gotten home until sometime after the hurling incident. I was doing the dishes when he came downstairs. I told him what had happened and that I had been assigned chores. But as we were speaking, the unmistakable feeling of rising vomit came over me and I ran to the bathroom to spew out the maple and brown sugar flavor instant oatmeal I’d made myself for breakfast.

Now I had a witness. I really was sick.

Although he and my mother had been together since I was four, Tom had only officially become my stepdad two months prior and was taking his parental responsibility seriously. He forgave my work debt. He had to go to the studio for a few hours and would take me with him because he was uncomfortable leaving a vomiting child home alone.

At the time, Tom’s studio was located in the retooled and refinished garage attached to his mother’s house. She was home that day and would look after me while he worked. Tom’s mother was the consummate grandma. Just being in her presence could put you at ease. She offered me saltines and ginger ale to settle my stomach. I gobbled up the innocuous treats, but I couldn’t keep the crackers down. We figured I had a stomach bug or had eaten something bad. I slept on the sofa until my mom came to get me a few hours later.

We went home and my mother set me up on the couch and made me some tea. She felt pretty bad now that it was clear I hadn’t been faking. (I still bring this up when I need to conjure some parental guilt on her part). She started preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. We were hosting the whole family the next day and there was a lot to do. There was chocolate cream pie to make!

On Thanksgiving morning I awakened to a dull, but severe ache in my abdomen and lower back. I needed Mom’s help to get downstairs to the couch. She brought me some juice and turned on the parade for me. She offered me cereal, but I had no interest and my fever had risen. When I couldn’t keep liquids down it became clear that this was more than a simple flu bug. I was in a lot of pain, but also bumming hard because I wasn’t able to eat. I was going to miss out on the turkey, the gravy, the mashed potatoes, but most importantly, the chocolate cream pie.

Tom called his mother, Bea, to relay this new list of symptoms. She would be here in a few hours anyway, but no one wanted to wait that long. Bea came from a big family and had raised six kids of her own. She knew a lot about sick kids. She wondered if my appendix might be inflamed. Get that child to a doctor, was her simple, logical directive.

Mom called the doctor’s office. She got the answering service. My doctor was away for the holiday weekend, but the doctor filling in called back immediately. She wanted to see me in the office right away, my symptoms concerned her. My mother left Tom in charge of the turkey. His sister Liz came over early to help complete the cooking. No one knew what to expect. I thought I’d be home later that day with a prescription and a restricted diet of some kind. Likely unable to partake of the pie I waited all year for. I was not happy.

The doctor’s office was a ghost town. There was no one at reception. There were no nurses. The doctor (we’ll call her Dr. Lady) arrived at about the same time we did and flipped on the lights in the exam room as my mother helped me onto the table. Dr. Lady was caring and gentle as she examined me and felt around my abdomen asking about my pain level. I still didn’t think the situation was all that dire. I’d seen on TV that when the problem is your appendix it hurts a lot in just one specific area of your stomach. My stomach hurt everywhere. Dr. Lady’s tone was calm and reassuring, she was very professional when she said, we can’t wait for the ambulance. I’ll help you get her into the car, then you drive her directly to the ER. I’ll be right behind you. OK, that kind of worried me.

I remember the ride. I remember bumping around as I lay across the backseat of my mom’s light blue Ford Escort. I remember the pain. It didn’t take long to get to North Shore, but by the time we did I could barely move. My mother parked and came around to the back to get me. I needed her help to walk. We made our way toward the entrance with her holding me up and me painfully trudging towards salvation one step at a time. We got about half way there. Then I collapsed.

I had passed out, but the ER staff came to our rescue. Dr. Lady had called ahead to let them know we were on the way and so they were ready with a gurney and expertly lifted me onto it.

The next thing I knew I was in an exam bed in the ER. The surgeon was there. An older man with grey hair and a calm demeanor. He was asking me a lot of questions. A nurse was sticking a needle in my arm. Dr. Lady was giving her assessment to the team. The surgeon examined me and pressed on my abdomen again. He asked me where it hurt. Everywhere, I said. He pressed on the spot I’d seen on TV and asked me if that hurt more. No. But when he let go of my gut my whole body convulsed. The pain was excruciating, unlike anything I’d ever felt. I was administered IV antibiotics. A drug called Keflex, which made me break out in hives. Apparently, I was allergic to Keflex. To counteract the allergic reaction, they pushed Benadryl into my IV which made me incredibly drowsy and pretty damn loopy.

As I crossed back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness I heard the surgeon telling my mother that my appendix had ruptured. Most likely in the parking lot outside the emergency room, right before I passed out. They would need to remove it right away. I was too out of it to be scared. My mother must’ve been terrified. I could hear them talking about the seriousness of the situation. They wondered why we hadn’t gotten in sooner. I fell asleep again.

When I awoke I was on a gurney somewhere outside the OR, waiting. I remember laying there talking to my mom (I have no idea what about). I saw blood covered surgeons leaving the OR, which would have really freaked me out if I hadn’t been so whacked out on Benadryl. The nurse told us that there was someone having brain surgery, but we were next in line for the OR just as soon as they were done.

Some time later they came to wheel me into the operating room. My mom kissed my forehead and told me she loved me. She said she’d be waiting for me when I got out of surgery. I asked her to save me a piece of chocolate cream pie. And then they took me in.

I didn’t stay awake long enough to have to count backwards from 100 like I’d seen on St. Elsewhere and Trapper John. I have only the faintest memories of the inside of the operating room. The next thing I knew, a nurse was asking me what day it was. I thought it must be Friday, so much had happened. She told me it was Thanksgiving night. Great! There’s still a chance for pie.

Then my mom was by my side. It was over. I was in a room in the hospital that I would have to stay in for the next 10 days. There were tubes all over me. The nurse explained them. One provided oxygen and was tucked up under my nose above my lip, one went up my nose, down my throat and into my digestive tract to pump out the poison that had erupted from my inflamed appendix when it burst. There was a tube sticking right out of my belly through a hole on the right hand side of the hideous, half-closed incision that made me question whether I’d ever be able to wear a two piece bathing suit again. It was there to drain more toxic fluid from my abdominal cavity. I’ve often wondered if they let the newest intern stitch me up after the operation. A semi-decent seamstress would’ve left less of a scar, but it was a major holiday and the hospital staff was what it was. My mom told me that the surgeon said I would have died had we waited any longer. She was shaken up, but relieved. She looked exhausted. I was still in a lot of pain, but noted a conspicuous absence of pie by my bed.

I wasn’t allowed any solid food. For several days I subsisted on IV nutrients, ice chips and juice. I found myself having bizarre dreams about canned peaches and other cafeteria delights. And of course, that pie. I checked in with my mother about five days after the operation when it seemed like real food was in my near future. She had bad news.

Aunt Patti ate the last piece of chocolate cream pie. 

I was crushed. I had almost died and they couldn’t save me one measly slice of pie? My mom pointed out that the pie would have been nearly a week old at this point and wouldn’t have lasted forever. When I was ready, she told me, she would bring me some chocolate pudding from the hospital cafeteria.

Whatever, I said. It’s not the same.

Candy Season

And… it’s Candy Season again. No matter how hard I try to fight it each year it’s unavoidable. Candy’s siren song begins calling to me weeks before Halloween and though I push back the date on which I gather candy for the annual reaping each year, the gloriousness of (nearly) shame-free consumption gets the better of me every fall.

I lead a relatively candy-free existence for 10 months out of the year, but once Halloween hits, candy and I are pretty much inseparable through New Year’s. The trick-or-treaters come and go. I probably could unload all of my diminutive sweets on the kids but like Gollum protecting his precious, as the level of the giant candy bowl shrinks, my desire rises. I’m an otherwise reasonable adult, but when there’s a bowl of mini Snickers or Kit Kats in front of me I lose all control. I suddenly see the children as a threat to my fix, so I hoard. It starts with just a few pieces, but by the end of the rush I’ve unwittingly held back a fairly significant portion of the treats. And Halloween is just the beginning, there’s some reason or another to eat tiny candy all season long. It’s everywhere you go!

This year’s Candy Season has been compounded by my intense obsession with the Presidential election which started when I was researching Politics As Un-Usual a couple of weeks ago. And now I’m so on edge, it’s a perfect recipe for a Reese’s binge. My stress level is so high that the nightly feeding frenzy hardly engenders even my usual level of candy-guilt. Every time I think of the potential of a “President Trump” I pound another six mini Milky Ways, which leaves me certainly screwed under his possible administration which would no doubt require weekly weigh-ins of the female population. Maybe if I keep gorging myself on M&M Mars products I’ll be too fat for Trump’s America and he’ll deport my ass to Canada where my newly grown layer of candy fat will insulate me from the harsh winters of the great white north. There I can move on to Tim Horton’s and Molson to keep my weight up and ensure I’ll be denied reentry into the United States of Trumpmerica until the nightmare is over.

In the three days since Halloween I’ve left mountains of wrappers beside my laptop while watching hours of YouTube clips regarding the current state of the race. I’m going to have to start making ornaments out of Peppermint Patty wrappers just to save our fragile environment from my increasing faux-foil footprint. If I hear the words “Hillary” and “email” in the same sentence one more time, I’m going to start dunking my Heath bars in Chardonnay. Freaking email! Jeez, ever heard of a phone call, people? Not everything needs to be written down.

Please people, for our future, if you can’t vote “for” Hillary, do me a favor and vote “against” Trump. I need this to go my way. I’ll need universal health care when I candy myself into type 2 diabetes. I’ve tried to deal with my stress with yoga and meditation, but when I close my eyes and breathe I no longer envision my happy place by the ocean in Costa Rica. All I see is our impending doom if the bigoted, illiterate baby-man slithers into office.

The talking heads keep saying the polls look good for Clinton, but it’s not enough for me. I’m a worrier, it’s my nature and so this election seems tailor made to mess with my mind, and my waist line.

I can only embrace Candy Season and hope for the best (and that the sugar crash is not too devastating). Is it wrong to garnish a martini with Skittles? I’ll find out on election night, I guess.