Archive for January, 2013

When I was growing up
January 22, 2013

I’ve always been surprised by people who say they don’t like being old, who don’t want to admit their age, who act as if it’s a defeat rather than a victory to be on the right side of 50. I’ve never understood shame over longevity, because while the future is uncertain, the past is the fabric of history.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t believe my good luck. Everything was changing for the better, all the time. Living in the 1960s was like being on a train heading for paradise, in my view. Yes, horrible things were happening. We watched the wars in Birmingham and Southeast Asia on television, so you couldn’t pretend. But apparently bad things always had happened. Our babysitter had memories of Nazi Germany, my father was arrested protesting a Nazi rally in our own comfortable neighborhood. But like the insipid fare, that we knew was insipid, served up on television, everything turned out all right, always in the end. Our father not only got off, and made good friends with the cop who arrested him, but never had to serve jury duty again, because he had been arrested. On a larger scale we saw the arrestees of the civil rights struggle become heroes and examples. And through all of that our world got better. I remember when the newspapers suddenly stopped listing Help Wanted under separate male and female columns because of the Civil Rights Act, when acting on sexism, as well as racism, became legally wrong. It’s sad now that those things had to happen, but it was momentous to watch that, at least, and at last, they did. The Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual, and that women had the right to decide if they saw a pregnancy to term. It was a wonderful thing to grow up and see our world growing up with us.

Then the 70s came, and I’m still not sure I would wish continuing to grow up during the backlash they brought on anyone. The death penalty came back, racism and sexism found new languages and stages to legitimize themselves, the war on drugs began and continues to leave carnage on the battlefields of our towns and cities still. The disillusionment, for a child of the 60s was a train wreck.

But while that was happening, children of the 60s were getting ready to make the world what it should be, instead of what it was. And today we saw the outcome of that, as Barack Hussein Obama, our president, began his second term, praising the heros of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, and making me proud and happy, again, to be here, now and to see where the years have taken us.


The guy with a rat on his shoulder
January 9, 2013

LAKE WORTH, FL — About 15 years ago, when I first moved to this part of South Florida, I used to drive down the two lane stretch of Federal Highway between Lantana’s north end and downtown Lake Worth and have the modest aspiration of one day owning a little cottage there. At the time it would have been a small investment that seemed clever to me, because, surely with its quaint combination of old motels and little winter houses, of working class and bohemian dwelling, it would be discovered, and would be a comfortable and, yes, even enviable spot to make a cozy home.

Other people had the same idea, perhaps; in any case it was quickly gathered up in the real estate boom that swept the area, and little houses were torn down to make room for little faux meditarranean, faux Key West “town home” developments with names like “The Cloisters,” and “The Villas.” In no time — a few years, at most, it became a place I couldn’t imagine being able to afford, or wanting to. Then a few years more, came the crash, and the old remaining places were boarded up, the new ones became “luxury rental communities” that were largely unoccupied, people who looked like they had nothing to do roamed aimlessly along the street, and it became a desolate landscape. It remains that way now, a sad, desolate strip that bore the brunt of unrealized, unrealistic hopes.

I drove down it the other day, and passed two men striding along, laughing. They looked like they were having a good time, except one of them had, riding on his shoulder a big — exceptionally big, about the size of a small rabbit — rat with a long oily bare tail. The rat moved restlessly, and laughing the guy stroked it affectionately.

“How would you feel,” I asked the main squeeze later, “if you were the owner of a “villa,” and you looked out your window, to see that?”

“I would probably be gleeful,” the main squeeze replied, “because it would be the pleasantest sight I had seen all day.”

The anti-Semitic acupuncturist
January 3, 2013

When half my face stopped working suddenly, the morning after the worst headache I had ever had, my first stop was to my periodontist, who had recently extracted a tooth on that side, and with whom I had an appointment with anyway that day, as a hurricane headed for our town. He said I should see a neurologist, and got me a name but when I called, the neurologist’s receptionist, unmoved when I told her that half my face was sagging like a tragedy mask, said if I wasn’t already a patient, tough luck. I told her out the side of my mouth, talking like a gangster by then, that they should be ashamed, and called my regular doctor.

They were boarding up their windows against the oncoming storm by then, but said I could come — one of the major moments of my life, along with finding out I got jobs and fellowships I wanted. My doctor took one look at me, which is all he ever takes, whisked out his prescription pad, wrote me a prescription for the antiviral drug acyclovir, told me I had Bell’s Palsy, that it would be all better in a couple of months, and sent me off. If there wasn’t a hurricane coming, he added I could go get a brain scan, “just to play it safe” — but there was a hurricane coming and the brain scan place was closed.

So the next day I went to work, which people in my business were then required to do when there was a hurricane, and everyone winced when they saw me, and when I told them what I had they inevitably told me who else had it — the Crazy (with a capital C) boss’s noncrazy wife, the cross-eyed, high-strung photographer who, if he were an inch shorter would be a midget, the really nice, calm, pretty woman who got it when her father was dying. The common denominator amongst all my fellow victims seemed to be stress. The last was the one who told me she got acupuncture for it, and she thought it helped.

So two months later when I still couldn’t open and close my right eye without using my hand, I looked up an acupuncturist. He offered an introductory set of four sessions as a package that was cheaper than two, or something like that, which made it hard to do any other way.

He was a stocky little guy with black hair swept back with a little height, had a broad purple satin tie, a white shirt and creased black trousers that looked like they were part of a suit, all of which stood in contrast to the faux Asian — rattan screens, bamboo — windchime-driven decor. He took a medical autobiography, that had a police interrogation feel to it. I told him about my succession of petty ailments: tonsilititis, headaches, menstrual cramps, one succeeding the other, and now this. “Good, you get it then,” he said at one point, in one of the last remarks indicating approval of my mental status that I heard from him.

I hastened to assure him that sometimes I do very well — walked on the beach daily, am limber at yoga, and that when the job made extra demands — 12-hour days, travel with multiple 12-hour days, spending months staring at a screen for a database project — that I met those demands. He looked at me with pitying disgust.

“You give it away,” he said.

Well no, I like succeeding at the  . . . I tried to tell him.

This didn’t translate well. In fact, later it was returned to me in the course of discovering that my outer thighs were sensitive to having needles stuck in them to a connection to an over-active adrenal gland common amongst the original hunter-gatherer types, whose mission was to “go out, kill it, bring it back . . .” Something like that.

“What’s your favorite color?” he asked early in our initial interview. I told him I didn’t have one — I like all of them. He didn’t believe me, it became clear, in our two remaining appointments, when he would ask suddenly, while sticking needles in my back, ” What’s your favorite color?” like if he caught me off guard I would confess that it was  — God Knows .. . the color of sandpaper? sharp metal? Perhaps something to do with one of my chakras, in retrospect.

At the same time, he taught me a few things, that perhaps equally connected to new age psychobabble as the rest of his leanings, were things I latched onto, and that helped.

He told me about the Eat Right For Your Blood Type book, which has some potentially silly things in it, but also coincided with my dietary leanings, and when I followed it, I became stronger and lost some weight I had been wanting to lose for a while. He mentioned that it did me no good to stare at a computer screen all day long, and I should take breaks frequently when working on a project that required that. He told me to pay attention to how I felt, and instead of trying to over-ride exhaustion and pain, stop and rest. He taught me, in those few sessions, things that you probably shouldn’t have to teach anyone, but I’ll guess I’m not entirely alone in ignoring in pursuit of some greater attainment than health and peace of mind. For all of those reasons, in spite of the new-age psychobabble, adversarial, and, to some extent just plain old snake-oil salesman bullshit quality of some of our time together, I remain the better for having seen him.

During our last session — our third of the paid-for four — he suggested I get one of those bead-filled microwavable shawls to warm the neck and shoulder area in the event I overdid. I asked, as I left, where to get one.

“You can get them online,” he said. “or at the mall.”

“Thanks,” I waved, as I walked toward my car.

“If you get one at the mall,” he called out, across the parking lot, “you can Jew them down on the price . . .”

I never returned for the fourth session. When I called to cancel it, the receptionist asked me why. I said if he couldn’t figure it out, he could call himself and ask. He didn’t, so he never got to learn that, in my family, when we talked about negotiating for a lower price we called it “gentiling down.”

I got one of the shawls, and for the fun of it, since I am equal parts gentile and non, asked if the price was negotiable. It was not. I got the thing anyway, and use it whenever I feel a twinge. I think it helps, and I think of the acupuncturist, and all I learned from him, every time I use it.