The Tyranny of the Lame and the…DIDN’T I SAY “HALT?!”

I’m a compassionate person. I really am. And I have great empathy for anyone struggling with any kind of disability – be it physical or emotional. But I’m sick to death of that segment of the disabled population that has turned us all on our heads, so we feel obliged to bestow – not equal rights, but excessive rights – on  those who have limitations beyond the normal range.

This particular flavor of rant was brought on by what I just witnessed. While crossing the street on my way home from the supermarket… (Yes, again. No, it’s not the only thing I do.)…I turned to my left to see if any cars were bearing down on me. What I saw was a woman, older (that means older than me), quite overweight and walking haltingly. She had a cane. She and her cane were walking in the middle of the street. No. I don’t mean to say she was crossing. She was walking in the gutter parallel to the sidewalk. A car was waiting. And waiting. She didn’t give a rat’s ass. That much was clear.

Unfortunately, she’s not that unique. And the fact that the driver just cooled his heels and didn’t blow his horn or yell “get on with it” out the window is a by-product of the collusion which has developed between the greedy narcissists who just happen to be disabled and the overcompensating, way left-of-center slant of our public personae. Yes, that was quite a mouthful. And, you’re welcome.

Just because you are in a wheelchair, using a walker, a cane, on crutches or limping, doesn’t entitle you to dominate the streets and other public spaces. We should all provide the necessary support for those who need it, but I’m not giving them my lunch money too.

People who are disabled aren’t automatically respectful and fair human beings. The nasty, selfish folks occupy the same proportion of that population as they do in the world at large.

So, I’ve got my beady little eye on you – those of you who under any circumstances would be trying to scoff up the maximum amount at everyone else’s expense. Our culture has sanctioned the softies who fail to notice that you’re not striving for equality, but something that doesn’t ring with the chime of nobility. You just want more and more. I say, enough! And stop blocking the road.

I’M NOT A STARBUCKS FAN

The ubiquitous purveyor of caffeine and what passes for a local meeting place or hangout is something I find completely repugnant.

The coffee isn’t bad, but what could possibly make a friggin’ 12 oz. cup a joe worth ten bucks? Okay. I just made that price up. But it was to make a point. My prerogative.

The driving force is the sheep-like shared notion that we are participating in a cultural phenomenon. Well, let’s examine it.

Bring your computer and plug in…if you want to. That is, if you’re not cool enough to be fully charged. There’s a sly, unspoken sensibility that one can, somehow, achieve privacy and a sort of cocoon in a cheek-by-jowl overpopulated little space. The amenities – shall we call them that? – are thin. You can garner a piece of a plain vanilla seat and table, sucking down as much java as you like – or maybe a fairly crummy (as opposed to crumby) piece of cake. Maybe you’d like some overpriced tea?

The baristas – and I wonder why we’ve fallen in love with that name – are some underpaid kids who probably get an abundance of second degree burns as part of their daily experience. While you’re there, shop the wall of unnecessaries: Hot or cold cups, take home packages of Starbucks own freshly ground, buy a gift card if you are desperately unable to come up with a present for a friend.

It’s all quite sad, if you strip away the pretense. Let’s get away from home, but we’ve got nowhere to go, so we pretend we are somewhere.

Hey! Let’s meet at Starbucks. Why?

Usually there’s no room in the inn. And, if you let yourself breathe deeply, beyond the aroma of steamy espresso, it’s smelly. A kind of underlying film of flop sweat pervades. I know I’m being a Debbie downer, but that’s my job. Maybe you’ll take a closer look next time.

I don’t mind if you tell me I’m right.

Bad computer. Not my friend.

I must write this fast…before reality changes.

I’ve been a PC person forever. But I was recently thrown into a place I resisted many times: getting a Mac. It’s just one of those things you’ll quickly get used to, said my husband. Mac’s are great, said my son. He’s been saying that for years. But this is untrue. I miss my easily infected PC. It was homey and fit me comfortably like a well broken in pair of old shoes. Nice. I knew where everything was and how to get wherever I wanted to go. It all made sense on that deep organic level which doesn’t require any thought or question.

And now it’s gone. And now I have to adjust to this foreign, not so benign usurper. Mac. Macintosh. Apple. Whatever.

There are some stupidly graphic icons on the bottom of the desktop. How do I get rid of them? They are way too cheery. I don’t want be cheery. I want my computer to be neutral. Things have names like “launchpad.” No. I don’t need a freakin’ launchpad.

I’m going to whine now.

I don’t like it. I don’t like anything about it. I want to return to the way things were. Who is unable to identify with that feeling?

Aren’t there things in life that are perfect as is. No change required. Can’t some things be immutable?

I miss my games. I had collected a small slew of innocent, somewhat challenging word and puzzle games. When I needed a break from interaction, these were often my go-to recourse.

Incompatible. That’s what they are. (A song title comes to mind – but I digress.)

I can’t just reinstall my games. They only work on PC’s. I’m deeply outraged by this unexpected loss.

Hey, universe. First you take away my computer, then you take away my games. What’s next? My fonts? Don’t you dare!

 

New Neighbors: Don’t kill ME! Man and Machine

MAN

My life partner in crime has taken me out to the woodshed over the inconsistency he perceives in my blog. There’s the title, and the posts. He “wonders” if I’m really still writing about my neighbors; haven’t I gone too far afield? It’s metaphorical. Maybe it wasn’t at the outset, but we grow, we grow. Now I see how my neighborhood need not be bounded by Central Park or any other physical landmark. My neighborhood is anywhere I identify with. So, you other purists out there, hold that thought.

In that vein, I’ve acquired, it seems, a whole gaggle of new neighbors. They’re members of an organization you may have heard of – Toastmasters. After many years of gentle but relentless suggestion by three of my dearest friends, I decided to put my toe into the room where people, in a range of esteemed professions and across a wide spectrum of ages, come together to enhance their public speaking ability. I am – genetically perhaps – a devout coward when it comes to talking to strangers…unless it’s within the confines of my office, where I’m already in a power position. This fear of speaking has been with me as long as I can remember. Going to the corner grocer, when I was a nine-year-old growing up in Brooklyn, was always fraught with dread and a desire to run away, far away. The only reason I didn’t abscond was that I knew if I did I’d be dealing with many more unknowns and I would be called upon to encounter even more of my fear.

Back in the present, I’d made several visits to a midtown chapter of Toastmasters, aptly called Roughriders, and the day of my official induction had finally arrived. With profound ambivalence I showed up, received my congratulations and agreed to uphold the tenets of the group. When I sat down, I felt good. The people are fascinating; I need to overcome my fear; and today would be another day for me to observe: I would certainly not have to give any kind of speech yet.

The first part of the meeting is devoted to something call Table Topics. One member is assigned the task of creating a theme for the day and specific thematic elements, which will be thrown out to his or her choice of members, to be discussed for about two minutes. It’s a fully extemporaneous exercise and, from what I’d seen, people are miraculously able to think on their feet – often very amusingly – about an obscure word, an unexpected juxtaposition of issues, or anything the Table Topics Master of the day can come up with.

This day, the subject was the “road not taken.” I’m not totally sure that’s what it was, I was going in and out of focus as a consequence of just having become a member. No, truth. I live a great deal in my head, so sometimes I miss the details. But, the first person was asked to speak to the issue of where would he bring a guest: to a local food chain or to the best restaurant in town. I listened, feeling really glad  I was not one of the lambs who could be led to slaughter this day.

Next topic: if asked, would you sing the National Anthem at the World Series…and then I heard my name. Oh yes, I was it. In this environment, I had already observed the degree to which there is no where to run, no where to hide.

Something took hold of me – and, despite what I would have anticipated (or bet good money on), it didn’t feel like fear. If I had to describe it, I would say I was immediately thrown into the present – or what we used to call “this moment of now.” I rose, I talked without stammering or any umm-ing. I must have said something funny, because there were some laughs. It went on and on. I have no inner clock which tells me when two minutes have passed, so I kept checking the timekeeper’s color-coded card. It was still green. Was that good? Did I need to go on? Was it okay to stop now?

I was aware of a cliff ahead – the one where I could no longer think of anything to say. The one where Jackie Gleason (this is an old reference, to be sure) would say “hamma hamma hamma.” I put on the brakes before the precipice and sat down. Then the fear kicked in. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I thought I might be having a coronary. At my age, it could happen . And then the trembling set in. Full body. It lasted for many minutes. This now felt like the near death experience I would expect to have. What had they done to me? What manner of sadism was at work? Why pick on the unsuspecting new girl. I looked around. There were no malevolent gazes, just sort of pleased, accepting looks on faces – and smiles of atta-girl. Okay. So, this was trial by fire. I was still breathing, but not by much.

MACHINE

One of my most valued relationships is with my computer. It’s my source of knowledge, one of my chief means of connection to the outside world, the recipient of my thoughts and words, and just an endless means of exploration and relaxation. So, when it was attacked by ransomware last week , this was a crisis of traumatic proportions.

Some evil-doers have found a way to invade the system and threaten to destroy all documents unless a ransom of 500 bitcoins is paid. I checked just now; one bitcoin is worth about $344. That comes to about $172,000. Nice ask. By the time my IT guy got involved, every file, every photo, my email, were unreadable, seemingly corrupted for all time. He worked for many hours, finally restoring most of my beloved documents and photos and reconstituting my email. Thank GOD! I was saved.

Not so fast. It seems that no matter what you do, this Cryptolocker virus will never leave your computer. I got a second and third opinion and all agreed. The computer had to be trashed and files cleaned up and transferred to a new machine. WHY? I whined. Don’t take my computer from me. PLEASE! I implored. Deaf ears all around. I’ve now been whining and imploring, occasionally cursing or crying, for days as I attempt to adapt to the dreaded IMac which I finally broke down and bought. I’ve been a PC person since my first computer, and I never wanted to transition. But the chorus of “you won’t get viruses on a Mac” had finally beaten me down.

I’m standing firm in the “hate” part of what may one day morph into a love/hate relationship.

I want my old computer back. This new one is killing me.

 

DON’T RING MY DOORBELL.NO. NOT EVEN ON HALLOWEEN

October 31st is drawing nigh. I’m not looking forward to it.

By now I imagine word has spread, among those in-the-know neighbors with children – the ones who have been in the building for more than a year. Don’t ring her doorbell. She won’t give you anything. At least, nothing you want. She might yell through the door. NO CANDY.

I really have never done that, but I don’t mind having that reputation. I hate having someone unexpected come to my door.

Back in the glowy years of pre-teenhood, I recall many an All Hallows’ Eve spent at the home of Dorothy and Larry, my parents best friends and our cousins. They were mythic figures. First of all they were big. Tall. He was six-six, she was five-ten. Giants in my world of just barely over five-foot-tall adults. They had two quirky kids. Also big. These were sophisticates in their worldly tastes and breadth of interests (they would cook Indian cuisine long before anyone in Brooklyn knew what it was.) But they outdid themselves when trick-or-treaters rang their bell.

They dressed in full-on costumes. He would often be something really scary – like a vampire – and use his height and booming voice to freak out the kids at the door. She was at least his equal in the drama department, turned out like a beautiful but malevolent witch, hunched over and gimlet-eyed. But the best part was the way the large vestibule of their apartment would be decked out: it would be like entering a crypt. They were creative folks and every inch of wall, floor and ceiling was covered in clanking, eerie stuff.

I loved it. Each new unsuspecting (or, possibly, suspecting) child was a delight for my sadistic glee. I couldn’t wait until the next ring of the bell. I would peer around the corner, watching with fascination as the staged encounter took place. Dorothy and Larry were extraordinarily generous, so there was an exceptional candy payoff at the end of all the screaming. The night couldn’t go on long enough for me.

Who knew I was going to grow up to be a curmudgeon? It is now always true: I don’t want to be bothered. Never. And certainly not by the expected, outstretched gimme’s of this night of frights.

I don’t like to have unfettered access…to me. And the idea that just because you’ve come to my door I have to entertain some interaction or listen to a question that you have is more than I think I should bear. It’s not that I want to be alone. It’s more about wanting to manage the when and where of it.

I’m a grump. I’ve got boundaries for years. And I’m sensitive to a fare-thee-well to any potential intrusion. Chalk it up to only child-hood. Perhaps. I suspect it’s more hard wired than even that.

So BOOOO and EEEEE and all those fun sounds kids make on Halloween. Just don’t make me engage them. I will be in my pajamas ignoring any erroneous knocks. I won’t be here. Just go away.

 

Back in the Market

Before you get all excited, thinking this is going to be about the somewhat psychotic stock market – it’s yet another tale from my neighborhood supermarket.

The guy checking out in front of me was trying to get some very strict rules agreed upon. Nothing absurd, just: Make sure the delivery man is careful with the eggs and bread and, what is the maximum time it will take for delivery? He sounded like an ex-Marine. There was a take no shit or prisoners manner that impressed the hell out of me. But the girl at the register couldn’t have cared less. She half responded and he kept repeating his “demands.” Then she said something he couldn’t understand. It was her soft Spanish accent that didn’t register on his 60+ year-old strictly anglo ears.

At first I watched with bemused interest. But, after a while, I found that I had strong feelings – but conflicting ones. I knew why he was making an issue: Sometimes there is a carelessness about handling the packages; and the deliveries appear to be dispatched by Madame Flora and her Magic Eightball. The timing is always stated, but never adhered to. There’s a mystical sense that directives are coming from the Great Beyond, not a logical progression of priorities.

On the other hand, the young woman checker was in no way able to assure him of proper handling nor commit to even a relatively reliable delivery time. She had no hand (remember Seinfeld?) So, she was getting a hard time for no reason.

The drama continued. Mr. Marine wasn’t capitulating. I had the feeling he never did. How long for delivery? Thirty minutes was the stock answer each time. It was pretty much the answer I always got. And then, sometimes, it took two hours. He drilled down. Yes, but what is the outside time, the latest time I can expect my delivery?

Finally the immovable object was referred to the manager, Emily. Ask her about delivery. Okay. But where was Emily? Now I understood that the check-out girl was messing with him a bit. I piped up, Where’s Emily? A woman standing in the adjacent fruit department, who had apparently been listening to the interchange, pointed out a blue-jacketed thirtyish woman. That’s Emily. That’s the manger.

Strangely, I wasn’t even a little irritated by all this. I was fully engaged. What would Emily say? With only a slightly more buttoned-up air than the checker, and without any noticeable facial expression, she told the customer: Yes. We’ll make sure your bread and milk are okay. And it will take 30 minutes. That was it. Her final answer. And, perhaps for the first time, the Marine surrendered the beachhead.

 

THE BEST DENTIST IN NY

You know if I make that claim, I’m going to back it up. Put my money where my mouth is—so  to speak. Tuchus offen tisch. A favorite Yiddish phrase which literally translates to: ass on the table. Gotta love Yiddish.

I bestow this title to my dentist of many years, not just for his superb technique, vast knowledge and flawless competence, but for his (as we say in my business) interpersonal and communicative skills.

With all the bad press dentists get—and they are, after all, sadistic at their core (I’ll just let that statement land with the thud of did she really just say that)—they must be able to connect with the often fearful, usually uncomfortable and sometimes (that’s a bit of soft-peddling) in-pain patient. To guide and empathize, at best.

I’ve been to more than a few dentists, orthodontists, endodontists, periodontists, et al, in my long career as a person with teeth. A few have been nice enough. Some have been devoid of humanity. But no one is as quirkily connected and reliably responsive as Alan Blondman DDS.

He is, above all a tolerant man.

Before we get too far down field, let me say…I’m a difficult patient. No. I’m pretty much a nightmare. It began when I was twelve and I chhuched (how do you spell that sound you make when you expel saliva from the back of your throat with force?) in my dentist’s face. And when I pried off the expensive braces my parents had paid for and presented them to my father after summer camp when I was thirteen, there were no smiling faces.

As an adult, I whine, complain, obsess, demand and flinch. Occasionally, I cry. And so, I need to take a moment to consider what it’s like on the other side of the drill. Today’s experience will illuminate.

For all of the ten or fifteen minutes it was to take to have a fitting for a crown, I was full-on in need of anesthetizing. Dr. Blondman carefully described the possible, likely, and expected level of discomfort and pain I might anticipate. He said he could give me what I still think of as Novocain but probably hasn’t been for decades, or he could crank up the nitrous oxide. Those processes would each take time to bring up to speed. The whole procedure, on the other hand, could be over quite rapidly—if I wanted to just tough it out. I’ve never intentionally toughed anything out in my life. So, instead, we had a somewhat metaphysical conversation: Must I choose between numbing or gas? Between being pain-free or anxiety free? I asked this as if I were Meryl Streep facing the horrible dilemma of Sophie’s Choice. Quite a bit of drama was laden onto my words.

After a brief silent pause which I’m certain indicated he would like to have told me to grow up, the good doctor simply responded: Have both.  That’s how it inevitably is; he calmly accepts my insanity. Thinking who knows what, but bearing it all with good humor.

In response to my telling him a little more than he really needed to know, that I was not a happy camper on this given day, he said, “Well, this is a happy place.” Is it audacity that allows him to so describe a dental office? I might have thought so, but, strange as it seems, I felt far better emotionally when I left, than when I arrived. It’s something about Dr. Blondman’s range of humanity. As he completes— with virtual perfection—the necessary precision work, he chats about family, travel, odditities, things and people which have moved him; his authentic self is fully on display. I’m someone who has a nose for inauthenticity, so I’m pretty confident about who this man is. He’s someone special. And, despite, the occasional hissy fit that I make him endure, he treats me with respect but not with kid gloves. He’ll crack a fairly arch joke now and then. He’s no namby-pamby. Just a really nice, smart and sensitive guy who’s in—maybe not the oldest profession—but one of the most reviled.

I’ve failed to mention two things: his creativity and his staff. He’s fashioned “appliances” for me (they are mouth pieces/guards, to be worn at night) which are of his own design and fabrication, far better than anything I’ve seen or heard about. He always has multiple approaches to a problem. Through the years, and despite several changes in personnel, the people who assist him, do the dreaded teeth-cleaning, and hold the fort at the front desk, are uniformly exceptional. Once, a long time ago, a personnel professional at an advertising agency told me that people recruit in their own image. True.

And, so, as always, whether it’s a quarter of an hour or two hours long, the work is completed, I survive, and Dr. Blondman retains his grace under fire.

He’s quite a mensch. No translation necessary.

Forever

There’s a wonderful novel (now made into a puerile television show), written by Pete Hamill, about a man—Cormac O’Connor— who has been alive for more than two hundred years; he can’t be killed. There’s one catch to his potential immortality: he can’t leave the island of Manhattan.

Now that’s one concept I can fully embrace. I also intend to go on indefinitely. And I do connect my own continuity with my connection to the City. As I have mentioned before, New York time is the real time. Just like correct pronunciation is east-coast-speak. I shamelessly declare where I am to be the center of the universe. Not that there’s anything wrong with other places. They just aren’t— how shall I say this— central, legitimate.

By what standard do I make this assessment? You mean, aside from the right of self-involvement— the first of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. No, wait. I’m mixing my contexts. It’s the first law of Karen’s Sense of Entitlement: KSE. And it’s being sorely tested by the new demand to accommodate a three hour time difference in my communication with stray family members. I say “stray” to convey that they are somewhat lost.

Please don’t tell them this is how I’m thinking. I’m putting up a brave front. Supportive and mature. Of course, I’m neither of those things. I’m upset in the most childish way. Which returns me to my thesis: HERE is the center of things. THERE is just elsewhere. Temporary quarters, a diversion, a detour.

They will return to their senses, won’t they? Can the lure of clean air, redwood trees and no water really surmount the dictates of living la vida loca where loca all began?

Can I just get an amen from other diehard New Yorkers, those of you who couldn’t conceive of abandoning the metropolitan area under any circumstances? I am thinking of granting you all immortality—just to solidify your position. It is true that living here sometimes feels like eternal damnation. But I choose to continue on, no matter how dark it gets.

If forever isn’t enough of an inducement, then I don’t know what is. Oh, read my other blog posts; let yourself be seduced by the plethora of possibilities. You know you want it.

 

Shit happens. There’s always somebody. It’s just the way it is.

Stop giving permission via homily! The implication in these “sayings,” which trip ever so lightly off the lips of many of my fellow New Yorkers (even some who are VERY close to me), is an acceptance of the inevitable inconvenience of other’s rudeness, unconsciousness and plain disrespect. If we – that powerful collective – say it’s not supposed to be this way and that certain kinds of shit doesn’t need to happen, then we can impact the world around us.

On a systemic level I saw, at least the beginnings, of such a shift in action.

Those of you who know me (and I mean that even in the most peripheral sense) know how I loathe the cluttering of bus aisles with walkers, stroller and shopping carts et al. Today, as my usual partner in crime and I were seated in the back of the 96th St. Crosstown bus, a woman got on and sat down toward the front. She parked her less than a year old baby in his stroller next to her seat, immediately clogging the aisle so that people walking past had to do that hopping, squeezing, balancing dance that everyone enjoys so much.

Even before my partner and I could fully articulate (to each other) our irritation with this same old inconsiderate act, the bus driver’s voice was heard on the intercom. (Do people still call it that, or is this my failure to keep up with the vernacular of the times?)

He said, “Why is that stroller not folded up?” I all but stood up and cheered.

Yes! I mean, No! We’re not going to take it anymore!! (Network is my favorite movie – no surprise.)

The offender didn’t fold it up. There was an apparently unpaid apologist mid-bus, explaining to the public that the stroller couldn’t be folded – for some incomprehensible reason.

But it was a start. Remember when seat belts were mandated but summonses weren’t yet being issued? Then we were all outraged when we were stopped and ticketed for not having the seat belt fastened. And now pretty much everyone buckles up.

I feel strongly that the driver’s intervention was that first shot across the bow. The public was being educated. I long for the day when everyone accepts the need to fold ‘em up and free the aisles – or risk being asked to get off the bus. That is my dream, infused with a little bit of new hope.

We can do more than just think “no.” we actually can draw some lines, demand that others respect them and issue consequences when boundaries are broken. Do I sound a bit old fashioned? I certainly hope so.

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET

Today I witnessed human hyper drive in the fish store. Yes, yes, you would think it might have been at the roller derby or on a track field. But there he was, a veritable Flash.

I was in Joon’s Fish Store on Amsterdam. Their fish is fresh and well-priced; the bonus of homemade sushi allows me to shop for two meals at once. The young man with black hair and a buzz cut who makes the sushi, had a powerful reaction to my question about whether there was any available. He was activated: arms and body moving almost too fast to see.

Am I inside a movie? It’s sushi, not saving the world… My body was pressed back against the glass case; the wind created by his movement was fierce.

He was a one person production line, and he had entered a zone which would have been worthy of a superhero.

I watched in awe as white rice transmuted into row upon row of tiny loaves, then flattened out, appearing to self-wrap in seaweed. He threw a rapid question over his shoulder. It took me a moment to translate: “Salmon?”

I paused and then said: “Sure…or not salmon” (trying to get my brain up to his speed, it stalled, the word for “tuna” out of my reach.) I settled for muttering something even I didn’t understand. He ignored me and completed his task with the full meaning of alacrity.

Walking out with my lunch in a thin plastic bag, I considered the strange reality that brought a man capable of such swiftitude (I like it – it should be a word) to spend his days producing a delicious but ultimately non-contributory product.

To what use could this ability be put?

If he were a doctor, he could double the number of surgeries performed by any other medical professional. Or, if he played baseball, he’d have a 200 mph fastball. If he had been a ballet dancer, his pirouettes would have burned down the house.

But, this exceptional person, whose innate capacities dwarf the expected pace of mere mortals, has cast his lot with a bunch of dead fish.

It makes me think of all the special folks who are doing “regular” jobs. They don’t receive the adulation of star performers; they just get a paycheck.