IN THE WEE, SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING

Half the people I know are sleep challenged. I will not use the “I” word – it evokes too much hopelessness. Not that there is much to elicit a jolly optimism in the realm of fractured dreams. Okay – that would be literal, not figurative.

Something has gone wrong with the biology of snoredom. It’s harder and harder to achieve that solid seven or the rare and elusive eight. Is it a general malaise? Or a zeitgeist full of angst? Or is there an English term we can employ here to aid ourunderstanding? Maybe it’s evolutionary; maybe it’s a harbinger of the demise of the species. I’m not going to answer the big questions here. (I know, you were so hoping.)

What I want to address is what to do with all that extra time spent not sleeping.

Write a book? Knit a sweater? How about mid-night dates…for a quick game of half-asleep Scrabble or such. Can we set up Skype or FaceTime meetings for the 3am crowd? PJ’s permitted of course.

I see – in my crystal ball – a trend. Throw away your Ambien; toss your Lunesta. Embrace your sleeplessness. Why not just say, What the fuck? I’m tired and I know it – deal with it. Maybe, just maybe, the long inert state that we occupy so readily when we are young, is not supposed to persist after youth has vanished. Maybe we are just meant to catnap or grab a few less winks. I’m just saying.

When the first post-Midnight at the Oasis opens in Manhattan, a trendy light-fare restaurant and low-key music joint, I’ll know that we are onto a new relationship with our inner clockworks. I can see it spreading to the heartlands (well…perhaps.)

If you’re up at 2 or 4 and you start to panic because you know that tomorrow (which is already today) will be a groggy one, buck up. You are not alone. We’re all pretty zombie’d out. Take a good look into the eyes of the next random person you see and you will know I’m right. No one is home behind those half-lidded eyes.

And that’s okay. We’re doing fine, aren’t we?

 

CHOKING

I’m on the bus…again. Going crosstown on 96th street. I’ve scored a coveted seat in the “accordion” section, between the two halves of the double length bus. All of a sudden, I felt it. That tickle that augers the rising spasm. I know I’m going to start to cough – but it won’t stop. It might be something in the air. I never know for sure.

It’s one of those things that’s more about the inconvenience and intrusion I visit upon others than any particular discomfort I sustain.

It’s happened at the opera. Not good. The palpable death stares were like a volley of knives. I rushed, holding my breath as best I could, trying to convey my apologies while stepping on feet and bumping knees. In keeping with the raw passions invoked by the full-throated soprano, I was sure a stoning was only a moment away.

It’s happened several times in sessions with my psychotherapy patients. For some, I have inadvertently provided a repetition of a painful childhood memory: their mother abandoning them emotionally when they are most vulnerable. Despite my awareness of just how shocking it is for them, I am, when it occurs, only able to croak out “must get hot water.” The cure, and the only one, is drinking some almost-scalding liquid. It doesn’t need to be tea, but now, after too many of these humiliating for me and disturbing for them, moments, I keep hot tea handy when I’m working.

But back on the bus there was no hot tea. I stood and moved to the door, still in pre-choke. I popped a Ricola (which usually doesn’t do the trick) and planned to make a rapid exit. I was in full dread, with that sickening soupçon of anticipatory embarrassment. It had been a while since I was caught in the choke hold, and I guess I had hoped it was gone forever.

I stood, down in the well of the exit, ready to jump, aware that my quick change of position had already brought me to the attention of the other riders. Would they become alarmed and collectively want to throw me off? Not such a rational thought, but I was more than a little freaked out at my imminent loss of control.

For what seemed like an eternity, I kept coughing at closer intervals and then it stopped. I waited. No, it was gone. The gods were smiling on me this day, and the choke never materialized. That’s my idea of a miracle.

 

MAGIC DOG

I sat down next to a woman on the bus. It was a triple seat that ran along the side near the driver. We were headed uptown on First Avenue. It was to be a fairly long ride from 44th street to 96th, and I settled into my internal space, not looking for any incursions from the outside world. That state was impacted almost immediately when the woman picked up a fluffy white dog – that had been unobtrusively sitting by her feet – and placed it (turns out to be a “her”) on her lap.

Well, I thought, I had no idea. Which in itself foreshadowed something a bit out of the ordinary.

I smiled…at the dog. Murmured “pretty” and returned to my insularity. The dog gave me nothing back. The women smiled. I return to my own downward dog position.

There was a man sitting to the left of the woman. As soon as he began to speak, I could tell that he was slightly developmentally disabled. In a way that gave him full access to asking any question of whomever he spoke with. For the duration of the trip they talked about the dog. Her name was Kara, taken from the real name of Super Girl. The owner shared about how she had come up with that. Kara was to be a service dog (what was her service? I wondered), and the owner had meditated, asking the universe to provide the right name. In keeping with the expectation that the pup would indeed have super powers, the name Kara seemed appropriate.

I also found out that American dog food is tainted and causes cancer. It could be true. So my seatmate cooks jerked chicken for her pup each day. You can imagine (if you know me) that my eyes wanted to be rolling and my somewhat smug and disdainful self was getting into high gear.

Kara rode leaning on the woman’s shoulder, the way you would hold a small child. (She weighed, I came to know, only ten pounds). While her head was continually turned in my direction, she never made eye contact, and she was not interested when I extended a finger to be sniffed as a prelude to petting her. Now the man on the other side had stroked her without difficulty. Kara and I were having a different kind of relationship.

About halfway through the bus ride, I began to take note of a radical change in the way I was feeling. Benign. Relaxed. Good. I was aware of a powerfully positive energy coming from Kara (Could it have been the owner?…nah.) My sense of well-being kept increasing. I looked at the dog. She continued to not look at me. But it was unmistakable.

I now knew what her superpower was. She was a healing force. Thank you, Kara.

BOUNCING BACK

I am pleased to report that on the first day with temps above 45 degrees, New York City is back. Outside, yesterday, it was one big old bouncy house. My steps were tapping lightly on the pavement and others were hurrying and scurrying without the hunched shoulders of winter.

As with all things, there is the downside to the upside. And with the added infusion of energy that the warmish sun provided, my brethren were up to more of their usual belligerent, umbrage-taking selves. Case in point:

In the market – scene of the full spectrum of neighborly interaction – there was a well-into-middle-aged woman anxiously asking after her cane. She questioned the check out girl: Had she seen it? Had anyone turned it in? No one had. Said checker sent her on a bit of a wild goose chase – to explore the wagons that had been brought outside the store. As if a wagon with an attached cane would not have been noticed. Of course it wasn’t there.

As I was leaving the store, the cane-less woman could be heard telling her friend about the missing property. It seems the plot had thickened. The cane was spotted in the hand of a stranger. The woman confronted her, asserting ownership, but the new owner denied that she had purloined the walking stick.

The friend was a large woman. I mean big and tall. About twice the size of the somewhat older complainant. “What! She took your cane?” the friend replied indignantly. She set her head forward and her shoulders back as she charged in the direction of the entry to the market. I would not want to mix or mess with her. It was going to be a full-throttle take down. Someone was going to produce the cane, or someone was going to pay.

It’s good to have the neighborhood return to its rightful piss and vinegar. Let’s all remember to DUCK!

Priorities, hierarchies and the lack of coherence

This sounds quite erudite, n’est pas? Okay, I’ll knock it off. But the subject matter is an important one. I am not quite sure, but we may all be suffering from a kind of mass insanity. Sort of a folie à all. Two news items came to my attention the other morning – which gave rise to this particular rant.

First, the terrible tragedy in Brooklyn where a house fire caused the death of seven children in one family. The surviving family members were being treated at burn units in Staten Island and the Bronx. Why? Because there is no burn unit in Brooklyn. That seemed unbelievable to me.

Second, on a somewhat less tragic note: There is now a new rule in the City. Because we can’t have too many rules, it seems. Juice (I’ll repeat that) juice is on the forbidden list. Children under the age of two MAY NOT DRINK JUICE during the school day. And those in day care and pre-K who have achieved that magic number will be limited to four ounces per day.

WTF? You might well ask. This is about childhood obesity. Now I know that’s a legit problem. But who thinks the cause is juice? Not French fries? Not cookies? Not Big Macs? I’m sorry. How about turning our attention to getting a burn unit built in Brooklyn instead of big-brothering the intake of juice?

Something is amiss. I think of it as trying to walk across the street while looking down at your shoes. You don’t see the cars coming, but you do notice the small scuff marks on your loafers.

Judgment or the lack thereof, is one of the primary tells when assessing someone’s mental status. I assess our public judgment as piss poor. We don’t manage our infrastructure, but we spend a fortune on political campaigns. The infusion of dollars into the physical framework of our environment (and that includes protecting the climate – yes it does) would pay off. The political thing has not – not even a little.

Is it the breakdown of society that we are witnessing, or the soft-brained-ness resulting from too much screen-time? Or have we all just gone stupid. Let me know. I need to know.

A DAY AT THE MUSEUM

Not in praise of the American Museum of Natural History.

How controversial is this going to be? I know I’m attacking an icon. We all love the Museum, don’t we? What about those dinosaurs? Didn’t I always keep the AMNH it high on my list of the great experiences in Manhattan? Did I? Why?

Just spent a few hours there (felt like days) with a friend, her two children and my two grandchildren. The kids would still be there if we let them (if I let them!) They still love it. And I think my friend does, too. As a matter of fact, she might have severely downgraded her opinion of me because I started to get cranky and made us all leave.

But, seriously, if you’ve been there – oh, say, 200 times – and you’ve seen all the stuffed animals and the dioramas. And you’ve walked the crazily disorganized halls and gotten lost every fucking time you’ve ever been there. And the new exhibit du jour– that you will be charged extra to see – is a 3 on the 1-10 interesting scale. And you’ve a paid through the nose to enter (and yes, they tell you it’s voluntary but it takes some big ones to just say NOPE, I’m not forking over the $20 plus per person that you “recommend.”)

If all of the above are true – which they are for me – I’m so done with it. And let me add, I it must be a five mile hike if you were to measure all the walking. It’s really tiring, unless you are robustly youthful or in great shape. [Full disclosure, my friend was wearing her usual spiked heels and didn’t complain a bit. How does she do it?]

Now the planetarium is another story. Wish we had gone there instead. It never gets old and, besides, you’re sitting in a great comfy seat, not schlepping through endless halls and unpredictably connecting rooms.

Back to the museum: It is so for me (and I’m sure for many others), from the time I decide to leave it takes about 30 minutes to find my way out. That’s the worst part. You’re already up to here with it; you probably are either hungry or have to go to the bathroom or your feet hurt or all of the above. And there is that panicky moment when you wonder if you actually are lost in hell.

For my crew, there was an extra benefit. The two boys peeled off and got lost for a while. That was nice. They were not even a little bit chagrined when we were reunited, but my friend and I got to be afraid and a little pissed. No extra charge.

Don’t hate me for dissing the Museum. I’m just speaking my truth.

 

 

INVENTION NEEDED: ANXIOMETER

Some feelings are contagious – great gleeful happiness is, as is the depths of sadness. Who doesn’t smile when you hear everyone laughing? And who doesn’t feel their throat constrict when you view a tragedy where people are grieving a loss? The fear-terror continuum is another area where we might “pick up” someone else’s emotion. This is not such a bad thing. It helps us to be compassionate, empathic, understanding.

There is, however, one highly toxic and easily spread feeling that is not beneficial. It’s anxiety. If you are in a room full of high volume stressed out, and tensely agitated folks, you are likely to be invaded by it. Or even if you have a close interaction with one anxiety-ridden person. And let’s just assess anxiety in general: Worthless and torturous. It makes you feel like crap for no good reason. It’s not about actual danger – like fear. It’s just about feeling bad because you are not processing some part of your inner/outer reality all that well.

So I propose an Anxiometer. Just a small thing, maybe a card (like a radiation badge), maybe an implant you get when you enter grade school. (I’m so serious.)

Here’s how it would work. Your badge…no, let’s go with the implant…would be located on the back of your hand (left one if you are right handed and vice versa). All emotional things being equal, it would blend in with your skin color. When you began to feel anxious, the color would shift to a pale orange. This would intensify until it became a bright red – that would be during a full blown panic attack.

How useful is this idea? I say very. I get on a subway and scope the immediate vicinity for orange/red hands. Then I just keep my distance. Or, I’m talking to someone I know and their hand starts to change color. Now, I’ve just remembered I had a prior appointment and I make a fast getaway

True, this won’t work that when gloves are being worn. I know. Nothing’s perfect. But during the non-winter months we can keep away from the anxiety carriers. Look, I’m sometimes one of those, too – so this is not just about “them.” But can’t we agree that others should have a choice about getting an infusion of the mind-spins and the jitters?

If you really love someone, you will (probably? possibly?) stay engaged despite his or her reddening hand. Good for you. Nice one. All acknowledgements deserved. But, I know I’ll head for the hills when hubby is having a surge of anxiety.

The additional benefit is that people will know what THEY are feeling. Haven’t you ever asked someone, Is something wrong? because it’s palpable and their distress hit you like a wave. How often do you hear a denial? Often. And a good deal of the time, it’s because there’s a disconnect between what we feel and what we think we feel. So the Anxiometer will solve that – at least part of the time.

Knowing human nature as I do (and I do), I can foresee gloves making a big comeback as a fashion statement or as a stand for personal privacy. And all that jazz. So, maybe there will need to be tweaks and changes: insert implant in the neck (I know – turtlenecks) or on the earlobe. Anyway – everything always has to be modified, but I begin my Anxiometer campaign here and now. Will you and big brother join me?

NOT MY FIRST RODEO; WRANGLING FOR FOOD

Today was a strange day in the neighborhood. Mr. Rogers would have put his cardigan on inside out.

My first indicator was a kind of hostile run-in at the health food store. Not usually a cauldron of seething energy. I was buying nuts. The array of choices are kept in heavy plastic contraptions which have little doors that you can slide open and then catch the amount you want in a plastic bag. I moved the bag away from the cashews prematurely. And a few fell on the little shelf. I began to scoop them up but before I accomplished this a German-accented bird of prey descended on me. She’s the woman who runs the vitamin counter and I’m not a big fan – but before today, I was fairly neutral.

From across the store she was urgently issuing instructions: Dis is vat you do so you don’t schpill!. And then she gave me a very tightly orchestrated demonstration of just how I ought to hold the bag and hold my hand. She kept asking Do you vant more nuts? No more nuts? I’m sorry, but all I could think of was YOU’RE NUTS! I was so irritated by her patronizing attitude, I clamped my jaw shut – to avoid countering with something that would have created a scene. (One must avoid scenes… ususally.) I have been dealing nuts for a really long time; I didn’t appreciate being treated like an inept idiot.

Okay. I exited the store and calmed down.

My next stop was MM’s. I entered what quickly seemed to be an alternate universe. One where wherever you go, so goes a man with a hand-truck laden with boxes. Each aisle was replete with teetering product about to careen into me and the many other folks who were in the store. There was much backing up and near missing and complex logistics. It felt like crossing Times Square during rush hour against the light. Dangerous. During a brief lull in the action, I caught the eye of a fellow traveler, and said something like: this is crazy. He was exceptionally calm and not as pissed as the rest of the shoppers. In a preternaturally even voice he explained that it was Thursday, the day they restock. In the 15 years I’ve been shopping at MM’s, have I never been there on a Thursday before? Seems unlikely.

I navigated the fraught scene, hoping not to be trampled or crushed. When I got out the door, I was fleet of foot, heading for the safety of home. It had not been a wonderful day in the neighborhood.

I WAS WARNED ABOUT GRAVITY BUT NOT ABOUT ENTROPY

In physics there are all kinds of forces: the weak force and the strong force, the electromagnetic force and good old gravity. I’m not a physicist but I’ve got some meager knowledge in this area.

What I’m talking about here is not the cosmos or quantum mechanics: It’s my body and yes, this is another aging thing. So those of you who are still unfazed by the forces I’m referring to might want to skip this. Please don’t. Be warned, instead.

I first became aware of the effects of gravity on the body when I had the great pleasure of going into the locker room of the Brighton Beach Baths with my grandmother. Holy mother of my father, what was I seeing? Her unfettered boobs grazed her navel. I was just a little girl, no boobs of my own. I looked away as fast as I could, but the image was forever burned into my retina. And, in that shocking moment, was rapid insight (I was a quick study). I understood: When you get old (and she was younger than I am now – ahem), things drop. Things sag. The pull of gravity over time takes its toll.

Okay. That was a hard lesson. But I was prepared. Over the past few decades, I witnessed the slow downward descent of certain body parts. Butt, for sure. And jawline. And yes, of course, boobs (I now have my own.) The changes were almost imperceptible, until some critical mass was reached and a threshold was crossed. I’ve had my moments of cringing, denying and considering plastic surgery. But I’ve adapted.

Within the past year, there’s been something different. It seems to be the application of one of those other forces. Call it the weak force, but this is the one that might bring me to my knees.

It seems to be entropy. Decay. Disintegration. Is that a bit harsh? Well, I’m not into the adaptive stage yet; I’m just decrying the unfairness of this “progressive” natural process.

Skin tone changes. I mean it really changes. People certainly have talked about wrinkles, but that doesn’t quite capture it. I know you’ve all seen someone really ancient, whose skin is a mass of lines. But I assure you, I’m not ancient. And, anyway, that still doesn’t tell the tale.

It’s a profound change. Skin as I’ve known it is no longer. Now it’s a thin, fragile organ, which seems to have abandoned its integrity.

You know, I’m not going to be more descriptive than that. Why? Because it’s time to return to the land of denial, a place of peace, once more.

I digress (but just for a moment). Some people start off nearsighted. When their eyes become farsighted with age, they discover that, unlike the rest of their peers, they don’t need glasses. Their old problem is now a compensation.

I’ve spent many years in the thrall of mirrors. Enough said about that. Now, not so much. I’ve moved away from my old obsession and it’s okay. I’ve accrued some internal compensation – in the form of all those mirror memories – that help to balance the scales of the dastardly changes which inspired this little rant. So, I guess I’m ahead of the game.

Be forewarned, so when the force gets you it will be less of a body blow. In the meantime, enjoy yourself as you are. Store those memories.

You know I’m going to say it: May the force be with you.

 

Two in a lighter vein…

I’M AS GIDDY AS A SCHOOLGIRL

Why? You may well ask.

It’s because the construction on my corner, and extending to the full block around the corner, is taking shape. And why is new construction so heart stopping for me? Because it is now clear that there will be NEW STORES.

Since convenience is my true religion, what could be better than – let’s see – a shoe store or a gourmet deli or just about any old kind of retail business, a mere few paces from my front door. Angels are singing and trumpets are blaring – inside my mind.

It’s as if this was all organized especially for me. (No, I am NOT a narcissist!)

Let’s take a step back…I’m in Manhattan, probably the center of the convenience universe. Everything is here in magnificent and mind-blowing multiples. I defy anyone to think of anything that can’t be obtained right here on my little island. But it is still true that sometimes one must get into a moving vehicle: a bus, a subway, a taxi or (for the hardiest of souls) onto a bicycle, and let the wheels cover the distance to your goal. It might even take 45 minutes or an hour to get there. I know. That’s a long time.

But around the corner is the ultimate in the comfort of the close-by. The only thing that could be easier would be to already have what I want in my pocket.

I just had a bit of a darker thought, a damper on my unbridled enthusiasm:

What if…Oh, no, it’s too terrible to think of.

What if the stores, those pristine and as yet undefined empty stores on my corner, are purveyors something I don’t like? For example: Itchy sweaters or perfume. Or what if one of them is a music school where people play the trumpet as badly as my upstairs neighbor. Now I’m scared.

PAT SAJAK MAKES ME HAPPY

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t have a real relationship with him. I’m just a really long-term fan of Wheel. (That’s what those of us in the know call Wheel of Fortune.) Hang in there. The cheese won’t kill you.

Pat has been there every weekday for over thirty years. Chipper, wry, never sappy, but – it would seem – always happy. He appears to be having a good time.

I don’t believe in much, but I do believe in Mr. Sajak. He’s an anchoring presence no matter what bullshit flies across my path on a given day. I can count on his low maintenance countenance, and the mild puzzlement of Wheel.

He’s a man who can offer full-on enthusiasm to each and one of the thousands of hopefuls trying to break the code and win “big money.” When that same contestant goes bankrupt in the blink of an eye, Pat can turn the same slightly sardonic effusiveness to the next guy or gal down the line. He’s a man who will visibly climb up a step so he can appear taller than one of his “guests.” He does it with aplomb and – if my perception is accurate – a twinkle in his eye that says: “I know how absurd my life is, but why should I care?”

I don’t. Thank you, Pat for being there. Long may you reign.