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.

 

Politics As Un-Usual

I’ve never put a political sign in my yard, never. The closest I came was a sign protesting a pipeline that was proposed for my historic neighborhood. The project would have involved extensive digging alongside dozens of historic structures and along the route that children take to walk home from the elementary school around the corner. Everyone in town opposed it. There was nothing controversial about my stance on that issue. This week I’ll be planting my Hillary flag proudly, if for no other reason than to follow suit with Atlantic Monthly and anti-endorse Donald Trump.

I like to keep my political affiliations semi-private. People who know me can tell which way I lean without asking, but generally when I am in mixed (Republican) company I remain silent. My goal is to listen to those with differing views. I want to understand them, to follow their logic. This election year though, logic is under attack. Again.

When I saw the first Trump sign go up in my neighborhood early in the campaign, I was taken aback to say the least. Really? You’ve made that call already? Do you not know who Donald Trump is?

I’m a New Yorker. I’m a country dwelling ex-pat now, but a New Yorker is always a New Yorker. I grew up in a semi-detached row house that can’t be found on google maps just across the Queens border in Nassau County. The Cross Island Parkway was the view from my living room. We were 15 miles from midtown. My parents worked in Manhattan. I moved to that magical island when I was accepted to NYU and stayed until exiling myself upstate among the rest of the artists that had been priced out of the center of the arts universe. Donald Trump has always been a joke to me and to my Republican parents.

His buildings are some of the most hideous eyesores ever to blight the skyline that has been the backdrop of my life. His failures have been epic. His bankruptcies common knowledge among city dwellers and fodder for jokes at his expense. When I was in my 20s I literally collided with “the Donald” on my way into a small club in the west village. He was on his way out and rudely didn’t say excuse me, but hey, at least he didn’t grab me by the pussy.

During my brief stint as a real estate agent on the Upper West Side of Manhattan I fielded hundreds of phone calls and emails from potential home buyers in my territory around Lincoln Center. The number one request I received from people was please, don’t show me any Trump properties! 

I found “The Apprentice” entertaining for a minute, comical. Until Yves and I were solicited by the cast of the second season while on our way into our favorite Riverside Park dog run with Bartoo one day. With a camera in my face, Trump’s crony wannabes attempted to sell me dog grooming and massage services. I said no. No self-respecting dog owner would subject their furry family member to potential torture at the hands of clearly untrained and uninsured “groomers”. Trump had tasked the cast of “job applicants” with starting their own mobile dog grooming businesses in the park. I couldn’t believe that this dangerous stunt would even be considered by Trump and his team of producers. Or that some people wanted to be on TV so badly that they said yes to these fly-by-night reality show morons and then were shocked when their dogs’ claws were cut to the quick causing intense pain to the animals. The whole thing was just so irresponsible on everyone’s part. The idiots had agreed to let the bigger idiots perform services they were not trained to perform on their pets. They got what they deserved, but what about the poor innocent dogs?

This election year, keeping my mouth shut about Trump as a candidate is making me feel like one of those dogs, helpless and at the mercy of those who do not have my best interests at heart but seek only another 15 minutes of fame. Fame without the goods to back it up, without substance. Like most of the endeavors that bear Trump’s moniker the sales pitch has become more the focus than the product, and so we are offered second-rate goods.

There are real issues driving a wedge between the two sides of our clearly divided country, but we have yet to see the candidates truly debate their policies to deal with these issues face to face. Instead we, the voters, have been given a front row seat to the latest Trump reality show. His own alternate reality. The stream of bullshit that comes from the tiny pursed opening in Trump’s constantly scowling face is laughable. There are recordings of him saying reprehensible and stupid things that he just denies having said, or better yet attributes to “locker room talk”. His debate style includes mouth-diarrhea ramblings the likes of which I haven’t seen since… well, ever!

I don’t love Hillary Clinton, although she has my vote. That is to say, she doesn’t thrill me the way Barack Obama did in 2008, but this is not about love, this is not about thrills and it shouldn’t be about the show that reality has become. This is a job interview. The most important job interview in the world. We, the American people, are the hiring committee. We should be asking ourselves which one of these potential employees will benefit the company the most. Who will be ready for the job first thing Monday morning? Who will be more likely to listen to their employer’s needs? Who can work together with a team of other employees to further projects to benefit the company? Who is the most qualified? That is the bottom line. The rest of it is entertainment. Donald Trump is good at entertainment, but at this point the show has morphed into some kind of Halloween horror-fest that I need to watch through the tiny slit between my slightly spread fingers that I have slapped over my eyes to protect myself from the hulking blob of orange monster on the screen. Face it, Donald Trump has never been on a job interview. He’s never had to answer to anyone but himself.

I try daily to process the endless parade of public misogyny that I have been witness to during the last several weeks. I thought the Trump horror show had culminated with the revelation of his grotesque remarks to Billy Bush about his uninvited groping of women’s genitals and his abusive actions and feelings of entitlement towards young beautiful women. But, as if taking a page from the reality TV playbook, Trump has taken us further down into the gutter, just when we thought there was no lower point to which we could sink. By denying that he has ever actually behaved as he described himself behaving on that now famous recording, he has caused several women to break their silence about his unwanted advances. But Trump’s response to his accusers makes me sick. Just days after he accused Secretary Clinton of “blaming and shaming” women who accused her husband of sexual misconduct he publicly called his accusers liars. Trump even went as far as to say some of them were not attractive enough to be sexually assaulted by him. As if sexual assault is about the victim’s looks and not the perpetrator’s power.

Trump’s behavior is not presidential. His behavior is barely human.

On the other hand I am grateful to Donald Trump’s candidacy for exposing just how commonplace sexism and abuse is in our society. Because of Trump’s campaign, women’s issues are at the forefront of our discussion as a country and it’s awakened a lot of us to something that’s been in plain sight for decades, but that we just refuse to see.

I’ve been groped. I’ve been objectified. I’ve been underestimated. I’ve been paid less than a man for the same job. I’ve been lip kissed without inviting it. I’ve been cornered in my own office and made to fear for my safety. These are things I buried over the years and thought of as unfortunate, but par for the course as a female. But this is not something that society is growing out of. This issue does not belong to our mothers and our grandmothers, it is ours to address now. I was never physically hurt, so I choked down my anger and moved on, but future generations of women should never be told that that’s “just how it is”.

Hillary is stiff. Hillary is cold. Hillary is measured, calculated, a politician. I don’t care. Hillary is prepared. Hillary is smart. Hillary has experience. Hillary has made hard choices her whole life. We’re not electing her to feed us lasagna and be America’s grandma. We’re electing her to be our commander in chief. So when people tell me they just don’t like her, I hear nothing. That is not an argument. You don’t like her? Fine. If she ever invites you to dinner at the White House you can decline the invitation. In the meantime I want someone that the rest of the world takes seriously in charge of our country.

It’s ridiculous to consider putting someone with no political experience in the oval office. It’s an important job. You should have Washington experience to do it. You should have world experience to do it, and I don’t think building a golf club for overprivileged white men on international soil counts as experience on the world political stage. If you fuck up a clubhouse, no one dies in a nuclear holocaust.

So yes, once I click “publish” my next stop is hillaryclinton.com. I’m buying myself a lawn sign and some buttons, whatever she’s got. I trust her with the job. I trust that she knows what to say and when to keep her mouth shut and listen to other people’s thoughts and opinions and try to find common ground to achieve the things that the majority of Americans want. There is no perfect candidate. There never will be, but we must start by denying our vote to the bloated, bragging, over-hyped, under-educated man-child with ADD that seeks to degrade reasonable public discourse to the point of baseless, foul-mouthed, angry, sexist, racist sound bites that leave people wondering how the hell we got here.

The president should endeavor to unite the people, not further divide them.

To young people who are voting for the first or second time and are upset that they don’t have a charismatic icon like Obama to cast a ballot for, I say that it’s time to consider what’s actually in front of you. Hillary Clinton, who maybe doesn’t thrill you, but is an experienced and reasonable adult who has spent her life navigating the rough terrain of DC (and has the scars to prove it) and crusading for women and children in need. Or Donald Trump who has flailed, failed and underpaid his way to a place he swears is the top, yet refuses transparency on his end while denigrating the female population and inviting our enemies to mount cyber attacks against our political system. A man you grew up laughing at (yes, “at”, not “with”) on TV, when you weren’t at Macy’s thumbing through racks and racks of his shoddy made-in-China suits and ties. And to vote for a third party candidate in an effort to “vote your conscience” is a waste of your vote, particularly when you consider Gary Johnson’s ignorance on, well, just about everything and Jill Stein’s relative obscurity.

On November 8th I will cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. Not because she is a woman, but because she has the experience and the temperament that befit a leader. She is the best person for the job.

T Minus 40: Birthday…

The events surrounding my birth have long been shrouded in mystery, mostly due to the fact that my mom was doped up beyond belief. I asked her to write the story as she remembers it through a forty year old looking glass of memory and the haze of pain killers that she was under when I was actually delivered. I give you, guest blogger… Mom!! Now I’m off to the spa. Peace out, yo.

The Night before the Blessed Event

It was Tuesday night, September 21, 1976. My husband and I were anxiously awaiting the birth of our first child. We didn’t know the gender, but I was secretly hoping and praying for a little girl; a little girl that I could dress up in frilly things and bond with as my “bestest” buddy. This was in contrast to the hopes and prayers of my Italian in-laws, who seemed to place a little more attention on first-born sons. Those same in-laws kept feeding me and telling me, “you’re eating for two” which may have been why, over the course of my pregnancy, I gained 88 pounds. Yep, that’s what I said, 88 pounds.

I had no clue that this might be a bad idea. My own mother was more than a thousand miles away, and when I asked questions like, “What is it gonna feel like?” I got answers like, “Pooping a watermelon.” You’ve got to love Midwestern colloquialisms.

My obstetrician (we’ll now refer to him as Old Doctor Quack) had no objections to my weight gain and assured me that I would drop at least 30 pounds at the hospital. That may be why, on the night of September 21, I felt free to eat half of a pan of baked ziti and a dozen cookies. When I went to bed that night feeling a little twinge in my tummy I chalked it up to baked ziti and cookies.

Labor Day

The next morning, September 22, 1976, I woke up feeling pretty good but when I stepped out of bed, I immediately felt a little puddle at my feet. “Oh no, my water is breaking! Bobby, it’s time.”

We were both so excited. The long awaited time was near. He immediately went into action, called Old Doctor Quack, and began making preparations for our sojourn to Smithtown General. That included a shower for him, hairdo and makeup for me, and dressing up in nice clothes. After all, when we met our little bundle of joy, we wanted to be presentable.

(editor’s note: I envision this moment looking a lot like the scene in Saturday Night Fever when Travolta gets ready to go to the club)

This was a far cry from my mother’s reaction to going into labor with me. They tell me that when she arrived at the hospital, she refused to get out of the car. She had changed her mind about the whole baby thing.

The pains continued and intensified. The whole “watermelon” thing was far away, but even still, I was thinking, “How does anybody do this?” By the time we got from Ronkonkoma to Smithtown, I was sure no one but me had ever endured such excruciating torment.

I started to focus my uncomfortable feelings on my poor husband. After all, it was he who opted out of going with me to Lamaze. (Truthfully, I wasn’t all that gung ho about it either.) He said to me, “Why would I want to see you in such pain?” Well, he was getting a front row seat now.

Once we were in the labor room, I could hear other soon-to-be-moms, screaming and yelling in vain at their husbands. Wow! That added to my concern.

The first setback was that my water had not completely broken. Oops, here comes a long stick-like wand to finish the job. Ouch!

Then, because of the massive amount of weight I had gained, my veins were extremely hard to find. Stick, stick, stick.

The pain kept getting increasingly intense. My husband didn’t want to leave (so much for the “I don’t want to see you in pain” thing). On top of all this, I was suffering from the revenge of last night’s ziti and cookies. The nurse said, “I’m sorry, I can’t give you anything for the pain as long as your husband is here.”

(editor’s note: you’ve gotta love the ’70s. Stingy with the drugs in the hospital, but at the disco…)

Desperate times called for desperate measures. I took matters into my own hands. I promptly leaned over toward him, and heaved up the aforementioned ziti. Like a real trooper, he caught the ziti vomit in the green hospital gown he had been given when we entered the labor room. He left the hospital to go home and get cleaned up, and I was able to get the much needed pain medication. Victory was mine!

Delivery

Always be careful what you wish for. The much awaited pain medication knocked me for a loop. I was not aware of anything. Where am I? Why am I here? I think I’m having a baby. As out of it as I was, the hours crept by. My husband not only went home, but he went to pick up his mom and took her to lunch before returning to the hospital.

Meanwhile, labor was progressing. I vaguely remember the nurse mentioning something about it being time or crowning or something similar. The next thing I knew, I was floating down a hallway, with bright, white orbs passing over head. I could feel myself being placed on another bed of some sort, and my legs being raised upward. Just as I was regaining a modicum of lucidity, I heard Old Doctor Quack’s voice, “Jeri, can you count backwards from 100 for me?” “100, 99, 98, 96, uh, 85, um, 60, zzzz.” I vaguely heard voices, but I couldn’t make out what they said.

When the fog started to lift I felt nothing, but was becoming aware of my surroundings. A kind female voice said, “Jeri, you have a beautiful little girl.” She was holding my baby close to my face. Through my haze, I saw this bloody, screaming little face. “Oh, she’s so beautiful!” I said through my tears.

My long wait was over and I had gotten my wish. This tiny little beauty was mine and I felt total amazement. Later, I learned from my husband that our beautiful little bundle of joy weighed in at 7 pounds, 12 ounces, and was 21 inches long. I could hardly wait to get her home. We had already picked out our preferred girl’s name, Amy Ann. My brother, who was a thirteen-year-old wise aleck at the time, thought we should name her Amy Sue; he thought Amy Sue Serrago would have a memorable monogram.

As soon as I could get a nurse to help me to the scale, I weighed myself. I was anxious to see that 30 pound reduction I’d been promised, but Old Doctor Quack had lied! I left the hospital having lost 8 pounds. 8!

There were other issues as well. My beautiful little girl had a large, cone-like bump on her head. Because of my position on the delivery table, her head had come in contact with my coccyx bone. The bone was broken, but due to my inexperience, I didn’t realize that my inability to stand without pushing off the floor was abnormal. In fact, I wouldn’t be aware of this until my mother came into town a few days later.

It really didn’t matter to me. I had my beautiful little girl and we spent countless hours dressing her up, being very careful to hide the bump under little pink bonnets. She was our precious jewel. My first and only baby (why mess with perfection) and the first grandchild on both sides.

Interesting Princess Factoids

(editors note: my mother has never actually referred to me as “princess”)

1. Amy is the oldest, of the oldest, of the oldest, of the oldest. Meaning, her great grandmother was the oldest child, her grandmother was the oldest child, her mother was the oldest child, and she is the oldest child.

2. Amy and I were both born in the Chinese year of the dragon (1976 and 1952, respectively).

3. Amy was born on the cusp between Virgo and Libra. Her daddy was a Virgo, and her mother a Libra.

4. Amy actually met her great-great grandmother (Mother Mable) and we have the pictures to prove it. One picture shows an inquisitive little Amy, face to face with blind Mother Mable. In another picture are the five generations, Amy, me, my mother Janet, her father Edwin (Papaw), and Mother Mable.

(editors note: our family takes terrible pictures, there I said it. Thank God they invented digital photography)

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5. Amy comes from a long line of musicians. Mother Mable graduated from DePauw University where she studied music. Then she attended the American Conservatory in Chicago. Amy’s great-great Uncle Cliff (her grandfather was named after him) was a trumpet player in big bands during the 40s and 50s.

6. Amy was born with a slight dusting of dark hair and dark blue eyes. The hair fell out and she was a baldy until about 2 and a half years. Her eyes became the most beautiful hazel we had ever seen.

7. Amy is the most precious gift I could have ever received. And now, through her marriage to a wonderful man, I feel like I also have a gift in him. Corny I know, but true!