Sounds of Silence

I don’t usually wear headphones in the subway and I try not to look at my emails or texts.  I like to be “in the moment” with the chaos and the subhuman conditions of the New York transit system.

It was Friday evening around 7pm. Maybe the slog of a week of work, the intense cold, the endless winter, the bleakness of the gray-black ice still on the streets were heavy on most of the passengers in the subway car.

Those are my guesses, but I don’t really know why the West Side 96th Street station was quiet and the subway car, too, was quiet.  Silent, actually.  I could feel the silence because I was not connected by headphones to another reality.

It was a rare moment of peace in the City That Never Sleeps (or Shuts Up).  In fact, it was a cosmic anomaly.

And then this bubble of peace was punctured by a man with a nervous laugh and a too-loud voice saying to his co-worker (I was following the thread since 42nd Street), “It is literally so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.  Where did that saying come from?  The quiet is freaking me out a little.” [screechy giggle followed by senseless ramblings.]

Actually, dude, it wasn’t quiet anymore.  But your interruption of it made it so much sweeter by the contrast.

And the co-worker you were hitting on isn’t interested.  Just sayin’.

Memory

Study after study shows that eyewitness testimony is basically unreliable.  Why? Because a witness to a crime, let’s say, has seen a perpetrator for seconds at the time of the incident.  In a highly stressful and scary moment.  The witness then picks the person in a line up or photo array who looks as much like the person he or she saw in those few seconds.  Then at trial, that person identifies the defendant as the perpetrator.

Does the eyewitness remember the person from the crime or the line up/photo array?  Or is it a conflation of the two?  And if the witness were to testify, he or she has to convince him or herself that the memory is correct.  So, is it conflation coupled with rationalization?

This scenario happens all the time.  With eyewitnesses who are conscientious and well-meaning.

My college friends and I joke that whether or not we were at a particular event, it becomes a part of our collective memory and, in short order, we will remember it as if we were there.  And it is true.  When we were all in Cancun two years ago for a reunion, I remember distinctly that the concierge called us, “my lovely ladies.”  Except I wasn’t there; I was home in New York with the flu.

So, memory isn’t a moment in time burned into our brains — it is an evolving yarn that morphs over the years.  And it is our narrative of how we want to tell others about our past.

And we all like to remember ourselves as better than we were, or more courageous, or kinder, or more heroic when in great personal peril.

Mostly, it is our best version of the truth.

What happened to Brian Williams happens to all of us (except those exceptional people with the crazily accurate memories).  Especially as we get older and further away from the events.

Today, when I called Dad around dinner time, he told me about the wonderfully active day he had.

Except he didn’t.  Not today.  Three years ago, maybe.

Brian Williams apologized for a very human exaggeration.  I know he is a reporter and held to a higher standard of truthiness (to use an apt word coined for the G. W. Bush administration), but he probably really remembered it the way he recounted until someone proved to him otherwise.  Even if, originally, his account was accurate.  (Just listen to the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in Ronald Reagan’s stories over time.)

Because memory isn’t a moment in time burned into our brains — it is an evolving yarn that morphs over the years. 

But don’t quote me on this.

Changes

Let’s be honest: hot flashes in the winter do not suck.  Except they rarely come when you are walking in frigid temperatures with howling winds that chill your bones.

No, they usually come at night in your already over-heated dwelling.

Or during a meeting where someone mistakes your sweat for fear.  Hell no, I don’t fear you.

In fact, I don’t fear anything when I am having a hot flash. I don’t have time.

Because I am too consumed by this and other indignities of aging that I wonder who are those damn happy retirees in the TV commercials?

And then I remember that the commercials are about erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure, sleeplessness, heart disease, having “to go” too frequently, not frequently enough, and dry-mouth. Ah, paradise.  Oooooh, dream weaver ad men, how you read my fantasies.  Right down to sitting in a random antique bathtub on the beach. [What is that in the Cialis commercial?]

SO, if commercials are to be believed [work with me here], then, in short order, I will be a diaper-clad, pill-popping, but, otherwise, extraordinarily healthy and vibrant looking, older woman who could wear a bikini if the hot flashes are really too much. No war on gravity; no arms that do the Hadassah-jiggle if I don’t work on my triceps for a few days. And I am driving my sports car.  Now that is the part of this advertisement debacle that doesn’t suck.

And you wonder why I am not responding to you.

Interrupt me at your peril.

 

Being Lunch Meat in the Sandwich Generation

I never thought of myself as liverwurst before, but it does connect and bind the two pieces of bread into a sandwich.  Or maybe vegemite.  Peanut butter is an aspirational concept.

I am a member of the sandwich generation.  The child that needs to provide for her parent(s) and her child(ren). I, and so many like me, are the spread between the pieces of bread.  We keep it all together.

Last week, Dad called, saying he was locked in his art studio and that he needed me to call the police.  He had his coat on and was cold.  I told him I would call him right back on his home line and if he answered that meant he was really at home and just momentarily confused.  He agreed.  But he didn’t actually hang up the phone so I couldn’t get through.  I called the home health aide and we agreed that I should come over and calm everything down.  We are only called in when the episodes lasts long enough to be totally freaky.

I came over, and Dad agreed to take off his coat, since I was doing the same.  Now, how to convince a scared man that he is really in his home?

“Dad, if this were your home, would you know where you keep the scotch?”

Of course,” he said as if I had impugned his very core.  [Ok, I guess that is good.]

Dad went right for it.  Score 1 for the older generation.

“Dad, if this were your home, where would your underwear drawer be?”

Dad found that, too.  Score 2.  While we were standing in front of his bureau, I asked:

“Dad, do you recognize some of the people in the pictures?”

He did.  Not all but most. Score 2.5.

“So, Dad, if this is not your home, then it is doing a good job of making you comfortable.”

“But you see all of the paintings . . . ” He was referring to the paintings and sculpture in the living room and dining room.

A-ha.  He doesn’t recognize that those are his and Mom’s.  This is a huge downward trajectory for Dad.  “Daddy, those are your and Mom’s paintings and sculptures.”

He seemed to start to understand.  But not yet.

“Dad, if this is not your home, then this is a great art studio.  I am going to have some wine while you have dinner in your dining room.  Join me?”

Dad ate a little and had a little wine (less alcohol than scotch).  We talked.  Mostly non-sense (as in I had no idea what he was talking about) but slowly he was calming down and returning to earth.  Finally he said:

“It is good to be home.  And so lovely to have you over for dinner.”

“Yes, Dad, it is a treat to see you midweek.  Now I am going home.”

We kissed good night.  I hugged his home health aide knowing that she allows me to have a life separate from Dad’s because she only calls in the cavalry when she cannot snap him out of it within a reasonable time and he is a flight risk.

I get home and hug and kiss my son.  We talk about the day and the weekend ahead, during which we will all attend a Bat Mitzvah.

“E-mom, remember, don’t hang around me during the Bat Mitzvah.  It will be embarrassing.”

“No problem, buddy.” What I wanted to say was, “I don’t want to watch you and tweenage friends behaving in a way that will make me skin crawl.  Besides, I am going to hang with the adults and behave in a way that will make you cringe from afar.”

But instead, I took my victory from the top bread and didn’t squeeze too hard on the bottom bread.

Maybe we could be a panini.

Shirley Hirsch z”l (1925-2014)

Shirley could have been in the New York Times year-end edition of the Lives They Lived.  As a tale of lost and found.

She was born into a poor immigrant family and was, as they used to say, “not quite right”.  After her father died (her mother died in childbirth with her younger sister), she was put into a public-assisted halfway house system.  She was thereafter “dead” as far as the family — her surviving siblings — was concerned.  Ultimately, she ended up in a public assistance psychiatric nursing home.

One of her nephews discovered her existence 60 or more years later and began, with his wife, visiting her.  Through their interest and kindness, she spoke for the first time in decades.  And she kept talking, but not like a made-for-TV movie — it was intelligible, although often guttural.

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

We buried Shirley today.  Forgive the non-adherence to the Jewish 24-hour burial rule, but her nephew only found out two years ago that he was Jewish (for another blog) and is trying to integrate that knowledge into his otherwise Christian life.

In most other respects, we followed Jewish tradition.

The usual litany of readings and meditations didn’t fit this particular situation.  I talked with my cousins about what we would say about Shirley during the graveside service.

My cousin showed me the poem he wrote.  There were no better words.  Rest in peace, dear Shirley.  We will remember you.

For Shirley:

She a little left
a little different
and we a little right
perhaps indifferent
but was it right
to let a loved one
cling fast
to family long past?
we forgot that past
while she forgot this present

Finally we unlocked the door
and dove right in
to days left behind
all day into the night
hiding in plain sight
We found each other
Surely we were ignorant
but we were not
we ran away from each other
and surely that was not right

Reunited, we clung fast
she managed soft whispers
of that past long gone
we hung on every word
as we held onto her hand
soaking in precious moments
making up that lost time
when we went left
and she went right
a family come full circle

and surely this is right.

Amen.

New Year’s Day in the Coffee Shop of the Undead

Ah, life in the Coffee Shop of the Undead is, well, hanging by a string.

Back story: http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5641; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4858; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5701; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4435

Maybe not life, as much as sanity.  Ok, not sanity so much as functional insanity.  Life in the Coffee Shop of the Undead is measured by the functionality of those with dementia and other neurological disorders.

I guess it is also measured by physical compromise.  If you aren’t crazy, then you are most likely so enfeebled that, if you make it to the place from your house, you (actually, your home health aide) should do a victory lap around the (tiny) place.

So where else would Dad go to see his friends?  Regardless of Dad’s daily level of crazy, which hit the nuclear contamination levels today, he tips his hat to the elders already seated.  For over 50 years, some of them were just passersby on the street, but now that they are the surviving remnant, they acknowledge each other.  Others, like Marty and Joan (the kids of the group at mid-to-late 70s) get a real greeting.  Dad reserves the warmest greeting for Sam, his old friend.

But Sam wasn’t at lunch today. Always a worrisome sign.  Sam has Alzheimer’s and some other dementia diagnoses, but like any disease, he can function some days and not others.

After we left the coffee shop, we bumped into Sam just outside.  (I am grateful that Dad and he have known each other for so long that, even with his mental disease, he recognizes Dad (and us)).

We greet Sam.

Sam says, “I have some very bad news.  I was going to call.”

SOB and I hold our breaths.  Is it his companion, Norma?  Is it his ex-wife? His daughter? His granddaughter?

Sam continues.  “My brain is not working so well.  I have issues now.”

SOB and I exhale at the same time.  THIS IS NOT NEWS. EVEN TO SAM.  HE JUST CAN’T REMEMBER THAT IT ISN’T NEWS.

Dad — even with his nuclear-level dementia today — didn’t miss a beat, “if you would like company, we will come over or, food, we can bring it over.”

SOB and I marvel at the way Dad can summon the man he was for a friend in need. 

The man he was.  The totally addled man he is.  They live side-by-side in the same body.

That is why it is so hard to handle the bad days.

Because there will be good moments to give a child hope.

And then, a moment later, the child wonders where her daddy has gone.

 

Is a Kippah a Kippah if . . .

it is tattooed on your head?

I was in a museum the other day and a fairly heavily tattooed man was opposite me.  He had a very intricate, colorful design on his head in the shape of a kippah, which conveniently also covered his bald spot.  The design was continued on his neck.

The following doesn’t do it justice (it is not intricate or colorful enough), but just to give you an idea of what was IN this guy’s head:

44711_white_floral_bukharian_kippah_by_yair_emanuel_view_1So, does ink count as a head covering?  Does the pain of tattooing one’s scalp tip the balance?

Or are we all just grossed out?

 

Random Oddity in New York

I was talking a “small” break in my run through Central Park and mini-truck vehicle drove by.  It was official looking enough (only official cars are allowed in the Park on the weekends).

Except it had Geese Police emblazoned on its sides.

Whaaaat?  I looked around for a camera crew or at least Adam Sandler or some reporter from the Daily Show.  No one. This was apparently not a part of comedy skit or show.

In fact, this is for real.  In 2012, “Central Park Conservancy and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation piloted a one-month program using an environmentally-safe method to attempt to reduce the number of geese in Central Park. The first step of the process included herding- but never touching or attacking- the geese with highly-trained border collies.”

Apparently there was too much poop in the Park.

And it needed to stop. 

Watch them in action!!!!  Courtesy of a random person on YouTube

And the program worked.

But I don’t think it is geese season; I guess it is fun to drive around as the GEESE POLICE.

And the band just played on.

Many Yahrzeits tonight for close family.  I am too tired of death.  I couldn’t get it together to buy Yahrzeit candles.  But there are leftover Chanukah candles!!!

Two candles making one flame.  They are Aunt Betty and Uncle Billy.  Intertwined in death as in life.

IMG_1490

One candle for Aunt Roz. [I am now dealing with the actual death of her recently undead sister — more about that in prior blogs.]

One candle for all who have no one to remember them.  IMG_1492No one to remember them.  No one.  It doesn’t need to be family.  It just needs to be someone who says, “I will remember you for all that you were (and weren’t).”

It is important to remember more than just the righteous among us.  Because if that were the test, then I, for one, would become one of the nameless souls who came into and out of this world in the blink of an eye.

AND THEN ALL OF THE CANDLES BLEND AS ONE.

One Nation?

I believe in America, its promise and its endless possibilities.  I also know that, in America,  people live in abject poverty, without adequate schools, and in fear of deportation.

And I know that there are as many Americas as there are colors of skin, nationalities, religions, sexual identity and orientation.

We live in a fractured America.  Some of us cross any number of the shards.  Some, like me, can pass as Christian and straight.  If I even wanted to do so.  I am too old to hide.  But I am lucky; I have a choice.

But is any of us satisfied with this type of America?  Don’t we get tired, after every miscarriage of justice, of assuaging our horror and guilt, by saying, rather apologetically, “but there are good and kind people all across this country”?

Look, everyone has prejudices.  But that isn’t supposed to matter.  The point is that America is supposed to be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Justice.  Justice.  Justice.

It isn’t just a word.  It is the basis of our nation.

It means that even if you steal, or sell cigarettes illegally, you don’t deserve to be tortured or killed.  Even more, you deserve treatment in accordance with the pettiness of the crime committed.  In other words, there shouldn’t be a bruise on you.

I was taught that wrongs will be done, but justice, JUSTICE, will prevail.

I believed in that.  I placed my faith in the systems of “justice” and government.  Because two generations ago, this country took in wretched poor refugees and gave them opportunities for work and their children a free education.  I grew up hearing, “G-d bless America.”

I still say, “G-d bless America,” except now I also say, “G-d save America”.

Because when our systems of laws and order fail, fractures of our nation becomes shards of glass on the floor.  Almost impossible to reassemble, but stronger if we glue the fragments back together.

Let us all glue this nation back together so that it is again: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner.