The truths about roller coaster rides.

The first truth about roller coaster rides is that it can be scary, exhilarating, fun and vomit-inducing, but, at its end, it delivers you to its starting point and you wobble out onto terra firma.

The second truth is that you don’t need to go to an amusement park to ride one.

Thursday began like any other day.  I was late getting to the office for a call with opposing counsel. I didn’t even try to blame the trains.  I emailed him on my subway ride to push back the call 15 minutes.

When I get out of the subway, I receive a text from Dad’s home health aide (HHA).

“Have your sister call me immediately.”

My sister, SOB (sister of blogger] is a doctor.  This is not good.  I call SOB immediately.

SOB, it’s [Blogger], call HHA immediately.  She just texted that she needs to speak with you.  Call me after you speak to her.”

I am shaking.  Is this the day?  I don’t exactly remember the walk to my office.  But as I start to turn on my computer, my ringing cell phone snaps me back.

“It’s [SOB], HHA had to call 911 because Dad is basically non-responsive.”

Is this the day that Dad dies?

SOB and I know that we have to run to Dad’s house before anyone takes him to a hospital, so we can evaluate the situation.  He is almost 94 years old and has told us, again and again, that he wants to die in his bed.  And, unless there was acute pain or discomfort to relieve, being in a hospital is only torture for a person his age.  Old age is old age.  This is not a curable condition.  It is a fact of life.

I run part of the way there.  SOB is still in traffic.   I look at Dad.  He is now alert and comfortable on the gurney.  He knows me and seems relieved I am there.  He has no pain but looks so tired.  He smiles as he does when family walks into the room.  Our embrace is awkward because he is on a gurney.

“Dad, [SOB] is coming any minute and we will figure out whether you need to go to the hospital.”

“Yes, darling.  Let’s wait for [SOB].”

The EMTs tell me all his vitals are good.  Apparently, Dad slumped over at breakfast and HHA couldn’t rouse him.  She literally lifted him and had him lean on her while she got him to his bed in his bedroom.  The EMTs said he was non-responsive when they got there but with a little rubbing on his sternum, he started to wake up.

Dad hovered between life and death and came back to life.

So, TODAY IS DEFINITELY NOT THE DAY.  Still, the crisis isn’t over until the EMTs unstrap Dad from the gurney and they leave his house.

And Dad had mentioned heart disease, so the EMTs want to take him to the hospital.

“Dad is in mild heart failure.  Who isn’t at almost 94?  There is heart disease in his family, but he takes no medications, except an evening scotch.”

And then Dad says:

“They might not get paid if they came all this way and don’t come back with a patient.”

The EMTs smile.  They understand that my father wants to do the honorable thing.  They are also a little confused by his seeming clarity in one moment and his dementia in another. The EMTs wait for SOB to arrive (G-d bless professional courtesy).

Then Dad said:

“Before we go anywhere, I have to say goodbye to my wife.” 

The EMTs look at me and look at HHA, who is 50 years his junior.

“NO, NO, NO,” I say.  “Look at the wall.  See the painting?  That is Mom in 1967.  He needs to say good-bye to HER.”

341279902308_0_ALBOMG OMG OMG.  This still could be the day.  Oh, SHIT.

The EMTs were fabulous.  One was a little circumspect, probing about my knowledge of Dad’s medical and mental state.  I appreciated his concern and we walked a little away from Dad.

“Look, my father has been exceptionally healthy his whole life.  He is at the end of his life.  If he is not in pain or gasping, why would I want newly minted doctors (it IS July, after all) poking and prodding him?  But, let’s wait for the real doctor, my sister.”

Then that EMT starts to test my knowledge of Jewish culture and Yiddishkeit. The Blogger family name is stereotypically Jewish.  And he was testing me to figure out if I understood the Commandment to honor my father and my mother.

SOB walks in and consults with the EMTs.  Then she says to both of them:

“Last time he was in a hospital, it was for a brain bleed resulting from tripping on the sidewalk.  Although he was in neuro ICU and was watched by a private nurse, he got out of bed twice and fell both times.  Since then he wanders.  A hospital is not a safe place for him.  He has terrific 24 hour care at home.  And my sister and I are each a cab ride away.”

Both EMTs understood.  The circumspect EMT (who turned out to be an observant Jew) was more comfortable when we knew some Yiddish and when we told him that we had been through this drill before and we had tended to our mother in her dying days.

He said, “We have to call the supervisor.  I fear Hashem [G-d], my wife, gobblins and my supervisor, and your dad said he wanted to go to the hospital before you both arrived.

“I get that.  Make yourselves to home.  Can we give you something to drink or eat?”

The observant Jew demurred.  The other EMT said, his wife packs food.  So I asked, “you fear both your wife and Ha-Shem on this score.”  He nodded.

The EMTs and Dad start to talk.  They ask how he feels.

“It is the end.”

“End of what, sir?”

“The end of my life.”

Those words hang in the air, until interrupted by the arrival of the supervisor.  The supervisor calls the doctor on duty.  Everyone groans.

“What’s wrong with this doctor?” I ask, thinking the nightmare has just begun.

“He’s been sued a lot.  He will want to enforce transport to the hospital.”

WAIT. WAIT. I have power of attorney.  My sister has health proxy.  We, and our 24/7 nursing care, take excellent care of Dad.  We see him all of the time.  We know his wishes, his medical history and, hell, what eats in the diner and what he hates in a museum.  We speak to him everyday and see him every weekend.  Dad has told us what he wants and he trusts us.  And we love him.

DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT HE WASN’T AFRAID ANYMORE WHEN HIS CHILDREN ARRIVED?  THAT HE PERKED UP? HOW CAN THIS DOCTOR OVER THE PHONE ENFORCE THE TRANSPORT TO THE HOSPITAL?

Well, he did.  SOB and I would not stand for it.  Dad was sitting in a chair talking and feeling comfortable.  He didn’t need to go to the hospital.

“Call the doctor back. NOW!”

At this point the EMTs are rooting for keeping Dad home.  And I was ready to name Dr. [Blank] in a lawsuit.  After the doctor spoke to Dad, he asked to speak to the daughter who is the lawyer. NOT THE DAUGHTER WHO IS THE DOCTOR.  This is some paranoid dude.

“Yes, Dr. [Blank}."

"Ms. [Blogger], BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH” – I made the universal hari kari sign so everyone in the room could feel my pain — “Your father could have any number of issues.”

“Dr. [Blank], he is almost 94 years old.  Can any of those potential issues be prevented by a hospital visit today? We can agree that the answer is no.  And you have our family’s thanks for not compelling transport to a hospital.  I appreciate your advice on guardianship.  Thank you, doctor.”

The EMTs cheer the outcome.  We hugged one EMT and I said to the observant Jew, “I won’t hug you or shake your hand, but I would if you weren’t observant.”

“Thank you.  In this case, I fear my wife first.  Hashem, second.”

SMART MAN, THAT EMT.

All non-essential personnel left.  I went out to get pizza for everyone.  To celebrate success after the two hours that felt like ten.  We ate.  We all sacked out for an hour.

SOB went into Dad’s bedroom to check on him.  He was glad that he stayed at home.  He was glad to have his children around and he felt loved and supported by all of his children, even though our brother lives far away.  He told SOB what a lucky man he is and what a good life he has had.  The drift toward the inevitable is beginning.

We all got up a kibbitzed.  Soon it was cocktail hour.

“Dad,” SOB started, “there needs to be a new rule in the usual [Blogger family] protocol in these circumstances:  If ambulance comes, no scotch at cocktail hour.”

Dad wasn’t so ok with it.  So I had to draw it from him.  The new addition to our protocol:

IF AMBULANCE,

THEN

58128Dad fought it tooth and nail and enjoyed the tussle with his kids.  He was present in a way he is not usually.  His mind was more clear (but still out there).  He was a little pale, but he survived.

The day turned out to be a great day, because:

We met wonderful people — the EMTs — who care about the people they help.

And, Death took a holiday of sorts for our family.

SOB and I stagger off the roller coaster.  The ride was rough but everyone survived. 

Jericho

In the Book of Joshua, the Israelites destroy the walls of Jericho by walking around it with the Ark of the Covenant for seven days, once per day for the first six and seven for last, blowing the Shofar (rams’ horn) and shouting to make the walls fall down (Joshua 6:14-15).  [Courtesy of Wikipedia].

Well, I wasn’t so lucky.  Or maybe that Jericho was an easy mark.  Jericho, Long Island ain’t no biblical anything.

I was cleaning out a storage room of deceased family friends (don’t ask), in central Long Island.

SIDEBAR:  There is a reason why their remaining worldly possessions are house in mid-Long Island.  That is for another blog (maybe not; too boring even for this blog).

Almost all of the valuables have been sold; I must go through the rest to make sure that there are no undiscovered valuables wrapped together with the bed frame.

[NYCFOB: I could not even ask your help until I gain control of the contents.]

Yes, I am insane to take such a curatorial tact with this stuff.  But they were a very special and wonderful couple, deserving of love and care even with the disposal of the detritus of their lives.

BUT THEN I HAD TO GO TO JERICHO, LONG ISLAND. A decidedly, non-biblical place.

WHYYYYYY?

The nearest Good Will drop-off was along the Jericho Turnpike.

The Jericho Turnpike.

The Jericho Turnpike?

The Jericho Turnpike was a thing a folklore, where 1970s radio advertisements told you to go to get the best deal on 8-Track tapes and Betamaxes and shag carpets [yes, yes, we are THAT old].  It WAS the place for all things advertised on the summer Top 40s radio shows.  Casey Kasem was the king of Pop and the Jericho Turnpike.

Still, still, while I am not “Legally Blonde,” I am the quintessential “Parochial Manhattanite“.

As a proud and parochial Manhattanite, I go through life without owning a car, without thinking before hailing a cab and without wondering that I am lucky that everything I want is within three blocks (or it must be delivered).

So, the CITY GIRL INVADES THE MID-ISLAND.

There couldn’t be a better horror story.

There should have been a travel advisory.

And, my rented minivan (which takes TWO parking spaces on a Manhattan street) didn’t have GPS.

AND, NO, GOOD WILL DOES NOT PICK UP EVEN IF YOU ARE UNLOADING APPLIANCES, FURNITURE, CLOTHES, ETC. IN BULK.

SO I GO TO HEMPSTEAD, ON THE JERICHO TURNPIKE (so why is it called Hempstead and not Jericho?)

And I have to look for the Sleepy’s across from something else and turn off into the mall to get to the Good Will place. [The people there seemed to be out of the good will stuff.  Just sayin'.]

Did the customer service guy ever hear of map coordinates like, say, 56th Street between First and Second Avenues???  NAAAAHHHHHH.

And, so, I have to turn off at Sleepy’s.

As if I know where the Sleepy’s IS.

As if I have GPS.

As if I could tell the difference between the Sleepy’s and the OTHER bed store across the way.

Ok, I unload all of the stuff, valuable to someone but unsaleable in the conventional sense.  Then, back to the storage room to get the rest of the items that can garner some money for the estate.

Except, I am stuck in Jericho.  Prisoner of a Biblical tale.  Without the Ark.  Without a Shofar.  Just a lot of traffic and malls.

Joshua, Joshua, Joshua!!! where are you?  Didn’t the Israelites conquered Jericho?

Then I remembered that I believe that the Bible is a written collection of oral history and legend.

OOOPS.  Bad time to be a Conservative-yet-Reconstructionist Jew

Ain’t Biblical justice a b*tch.

 

And the White Knight is Talking Backwards

What do Grace Slick (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Slick) and Dad have in common?

Ok.  It sounds like a trick question.

Grace Slick’s nickname was Acid Queen.  Dad’s nickname was Nachy, short for his given name Nachum (his older brother later changed it to an American name).

She was the doyenne of Acid Rock and her heyday was the 60s.  Dad’s heyday was the 40s and 50s.

Grace Slick tried to slip Nixon LSD (we later learned that he was on far better stuff).  Dad made a killer Rob Roy — very, very dry, with a twist of lemon.

Grace Slick’s songs had surrealistic, metaphoric lyrics, sometimes using the mundane as “cover”.  Dad, a sculptor, was firmly rooted in realism but sought to imbue a sense of emotion and motion in his work.

But both believed in change; both were against Vietnam.  Grace protested on stage.  Dad marched on Washington.

I loved Jefferson Airplane as a kid because it spoke to my as-yet-unidentified angst and different-ness.  When things didn’t make sense, I would think of the lyrics of “Go Ask Alice” — “and the white knight is talking backwards. . . .”

And when, as a preteen and then a teenager, I knew I didn’t fit into the heterosexual world and felt let down by everyone and by G-d because I was different, the first lyric of “Somebody to Love” reverberated in my head:

When the truth is found
To be lies
And all the joy
Within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love?
Don’t you need somebody to love?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love?
You better find somebody to love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug32SjIWfKs

So, what does any of this have to do with Dad?

Well, it is complicated.  As little as Dad understood about the turmoil in me, he was my champion.  He held me once in what was almost my rock bottom and said, “hold onto me.  And nothing bad can happen.”  He held onto me then and so many times thereafter when I thought I would have otherwise been consumed by my demons and by my different-ness.

Over these few years, Dad’s mental capabilities have diminished.  Most times, in person or on the phone, he gives me enough reality so I can make a conversation around it and maybe even garner a laugh from him.

In the last week, it has become almost impossible to identify something in what he says that I can’t spin back to reality and bring him back to us.  And I keep thinking, “Oh shit, the white knight is talking backwards and I hate Alice in Wonderland.”

And Dad probably hated Alice in Wonderland.  We are too logical.  Which makes this most recent decline even more difficult.  He is still razor sharp on some things, but those things have become islands in an archipelago, where once the archipelago was a seamless land mass.

And so Dad is talking backwards.  And he lost his love, my Mom.  And he lives a psychedelic existence that is not tethered in reality or surreality.  But is not just a “bad trip” in 60s and 70s parlance.  It is old age and the vagaries that come with a life (maybe) too long.

But he is truly happy when his family is around him, even if he cannot follow or contribute to a conversation.  I feel it in the hug and our saying, “I love you” to each other.  And through the haze, he sometimes says that he knows we are here and he is grateful for our love and support.

And I cry.

Because he lives life like a Grace Slick song.

Because my white knight is talking backwards and it is my turn to save him.

 

FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT

Early last week, before the city emptied out for the long holiday weekend, the west side subways were few and far between during the height of morning rush hour.

Apparently, our ancient and under-maintained system is sensitive to heat and humidity, just like its average rider.

When the train finally arrived, there was barely any room to squeeze on, even to this experienced native.  We were so packed in that no one could feel the air conditioning.  And I was too close to someone whose bathing rituals are far too intermittent for a New York City summer.

The car started to clear out a little at 96th Street, as people ran across the platform for the express train.  I moved into the middle of the car, where there was a little room to breathe (other than in someone else’s arm pit).  There was even more room than usual because I was standing in front of half a seat, you know, what remains after “spill-over” from adjoining seat holders.  A regular size human could not wedge into that space with a crow bar.

An old woman boarded the train. She looked like the kind grandmother of a Hallmark TV movie (and not the hatchet-bearing psycho nana from a “Lifetime Original” one.  And I am not talking about a buxom Yiddisha bubbe.  She was frail, diminutive and wore a sweater she could have knitted.

The half-seat was just right for the old lady.  I motioned to the people closer to Grandma to get her attention.  Only one man in his early 40s saw me and asked her if she needed a seat.  She smiled in gratitude and maneuvered in front of him.  He looked up and pointed her three more seats down to the half-seat.

DUDE:  ARE YA KIDDIN’ ME?  REALLY?  AN OLD WOMAN MISTAKES YOU FOR A HUMAN BEING AND YOU DECLINE THE COMPLIMENT?

OK YOU ARE MARGINALLY BETTER THAN THOSE WHO REFUSED TO LOOK UP FROM THEIR GADGETS, ETC., OR DIDN’T CARE THAT SOMEONE NEEDED A SEAT.

Luckily, the old lady made it to the half-seat.  And, it turned out that she was more of the hatchet-wielding psycho nana than the sweet old doting kind.  (She got a little nasty about the train not going fast enough and the appointment she had.)

BUT IT ISN’T ABOUT WHO SHE IS.  IT IS ABOUT WHO WE ARE.

SO, TOMORROW, IF SOMEONE MISTAKES ME FOR A HUMAN BEING, I AM JUST GOING TO FAKE IT. AND IF I AM LUCKY, IT JUST MIGHT BE HABIT-FORMING.

Party of One

Lunch with Dad today.  As he declines, he looks so forward to an activity with family on each weekend day.

I decided that I would run to Dad’s house through in Central Park, and then all the way east to Dad’s house.

As I was running, things seemed a bit off.  I didn’t know why.  There were people all around doing usual Park things — running, skateboarding, picnicking — and East Side things –  shopping and arguing and looking at maps to figure out their bearings.

All the usual sights and sounds . . .

EXCEPT

I was surrounded by straight people — couples, singles or with their families.  Ok, maybe not all straight.  Just not embracing their inner gay.

Where were the other gay people?  WHERE WAS EVERYONE?

Did I not get the flyer?

Wait, ah . . . 

They were downtown at the biggest NYC outdoor party of the year!!!  Celebrating the revolution and evolution of gay rights, which feels a little like this photo:

10488404_10152589639573854_7060073252843280101_n

In truth, I haven’t marched in a Gay Pride parade in many, many years.  Because, to riff on the old ACT UP chant:

I am here, I am queer and I am soooo used to it.

I hope it was a fun party.

And don’t worry, I kept things integrated uptown.

 

Father’s Day 2014

Hallmark holidays suck.  At least on Father’s Day.  At least for this mother of a father-less son.

I block it every year.  I can’t ever remember that it is Father’s Day until we trip over it.  And then I think,

“Oh shit, will SOS be ok?”

Ok, I am not a good planner when it comes to this “holiday.”  I block it because I cannot conjure up a facsimile dad.  There is no vegan turkey for this thanksgiving holiday.

And then I fixate on our aging Dads.  Because it is easier.

SOS was not in a great mood today.  But, thank G-d, he spent some special time with Cousin Gentle.

The clan gathered for dinner.  Still, SOS was in a whiny mood.  I assumed it was the Father’s Day thing, but interestingly, he was very cuddly with me. I could not read the signals because usually when he is feeling different about having two moms, he is mean to me. I was bracing for that treatment all day.

At dinner, we toasted our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, sons and grandsons.  Dad was disconnected and confused.  FOPOB was surprisingly present and engaged.  The world was upside down.

After the ganza mispocheh (the big family) left, I went into SOS’s room to talk.

“Dude, I want to talk about Father’s Day.”

“Why?”

“Because this is one of those days when I regret that you don’t have a dad, because it feels like everyone is celebrating having a dad and, so today, but really only today, I hate that you don’t.”

“Really, E-Mom?  It is ok.  It is like being Jewish at Christmas.  Is that what you wanted to talk about?”

Ahhhhh. I made special note of the “OMG-you’re-so-lame-how-do-survive-a-day-in-the-world” tone.

I smiled to myself.  (I couldn’t give SOS the satisfaction.)  And I thought of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young:

And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

SOS, my best and toughest teacher, in the subject of life.  I learn these lessons because my happiness depends on it.

Happy father’s day to all, whether or not it applies.

The War that had to be fought

It was the war that America won.

It was about good versus evil.

It was about humanity versus genocide.

It was about right versus wrong.

And, G-d was our co-pilot.

And it started with D-Day, our shining hour.

Our Greatest Generation.

Those that did what had to be done and those that paid the ultimate price.

For freedom.

For liberation.

For the fate of peoples they didn’t know in a land they’d never been who were being conquered and killed for reasons they did not understand.

These were the sacrifices of our soldiers.

The soldiers fought the war we remember, commemorate and celebrate.

Our government fought the war, as governments did and continue to do.  And, to win the War, the US:

made a pact with the murderous Stalin; and

dropped the Atomic Bomb.  Twice.

Because “the enemy of our enemy is our friend.”  True for dictators and explosives.

 

*************************************

This is still the cornerstone of our foreign policy.  Only now, the calculations and murderous and duplicitous actions of our “allies” don’t take decades to come to light.  They take mere hours.

And even the “good guys” in World War II were not always so good. Still, the monumental evil on the other side silenced even some pacifist.

Had we not carved up Europe and aided Stalin’s brutal rule, would we have won the War?  And if we had won the War without an alliance with the USSR, would we have immediately had to fight Stalin?

Wars since then haven’t been so easily waged.  And they haven’t been won.  Not a one.  Because World War II was the exception: war is so rarely about good versus evil.  War is usually about politics, property and market share.

Recently, radical conclusions are bubbling to the surface: the enemy of our enemy is just as evil as our enemy. And, if we arm the enemy of our enemy, they may become our enemy, too.  And we will have given them the tools of war.

And when that war comes, it will not be a cold one.  It will be a nuclear one.

*************************************

G-d bless the Greatest Generation.  May we learn war no more.

That Moment

That moment when you are bare, when you have nothing else to give, when the walls are closing around you.  When everything you believe in, every milestone you marked, means nothing.  When you are about to lose your foundation and you lie bare in all your awful and selfish thoughts and all that you would never were, but could have been.

All that you are, with all the lumps, with all of the triumphs and with all of the shortcomings.  And it is not your time to answer for your life.  But, almost. It is your mother’s reckoning, which is also in that weird mother-daughter/sister-woman way, a referendum on you.  It is titled, “Mom’s day with G-d’ but it is the start of your days piecing together her legacy, to you, to your children and to the world.  And, oh, yeah, to your siblings and your father.

But a mother’s death is principally a demarcation in the relationship with her mother and her daughters.  And the dialogue doesn’t end with death.  Not even the heated ones.

The joke that your arms are too short to box with G-d is all about how you can’t land a left hook, but your mother has arms so long she can reach your most tender places at will.  Yes, Heaven (or Hell) has a huge advantage over us mortals.  Take the punches, but wear boxing gear.

The judgments don’t end.  They just have this $1.99 halo attached to it.  Don’t be fooled.

But be humbled. A life, perhaps unfulfilled, has ended.

And it is not your job to fulfill that life.  Each life must be lived by the owner. 

But it is your job to pick up the part of the legacy that you can advance.  Not fulfil.  Don’t think about fulfilling.  Just embody it forward.

It may be achieved in your child’s extended hand to a friend that evolved into her changing the world.

But every moment is not a success or failure.  In fact, only with the passage of time, and the graying of your life, will you know whether you advanced your mother’s mission or, in fact, healed the world a little, in spite of your mother.

Life is a journey and death a destination and, if we are lucky enough, we leave a legacy of love, grace and healing.

And today, it is time to redouble our efforts, for our own mothers and for the mothers of our friends who have fallen recently.

May they rest in peace and their memories be blessings for us all.

Snakes and their charms

I envy snakes.  They shed their skins every year (or so).

Sidebar: I have no idea about timing, but I know that some snakes molt at some point in their life spans because I took enough science courses to meet the prerequisites to graduate from college.

Sider-bar:  I will confess to taking “Holes and Poles” (Human Sexuality) and “Oceans” (Oceanography) and, for the latter, doing a project called, “Songs, Jokes and Catch of the Sea,” where I played sea shanties, served the professor a gourmet lobster meal (purchased from a fancy restaurant) and, while he was dining (linen napkin and all), I told him jokes related to water. 

Sidest-bar:  As disgraceful as it is, it would be more disgraceful if I hadn’t been graduated from college and then my parents’ hard-earned money would have seemed like even more of a waste.

SIDEBAR uber alles:  Are you rethinking the importance of an Ivy League education?

[Oh, dear, I even digressed from sidebars!!!!  It will get worse, still, I promise.]

Snakes don’t get younger.  Their skins just lose the scars and damage of the year’s mistakes, fights and punishments.

And the snakes begin again.

Older, and

maybe wiser, and

surely as venomous or constrictive as the year before, but

certainly, EXFOLIATED.

And, when my skin is exfoliated (and, ok, throw in a collagen treatment, just for grins), well, there is NOTHING that this 50 year-old can’t do. (Except afford the next facial.) And I can dust myself off and try again to be all I could be.  

Ok, some boys and girls won’t understand this.  But, those who do, and YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, know that I am right on this.