SOB, welcome home

Welcome back, SOB. You took a jaunt across “the Pond” and all hell broke loose.  Just as I flipped you the keys to the family’s asylum, put my feet up and broke open a bottle of red wine, I got really sick.  So glad you are a doctor, and the prescriptions were wine and soup.  Because I am so much easier when I am mentally lubricated.

Happily, SOB shared her first day back as MOW (medical officer of the week):
  • Lunch with Dad.  He looks good.  He won’t remember though.  I threw out LOTs of solicitations and sweepstakes.  I think we should send those sweepstakes people to jail.

SIDEBAR:  I am thinking death penalty for scammers targeting the elderly.  For crimes against people and against the environment (so much paper).

  • Called Michael’s dad.  He really appreciated seeing you, BOB and Dad at Michael’s funeral.

SIDEBAR: Whoa, can you imagine a father thanking us for paying respects at his 36 year-old’s funeral?  The pain is burning a hole in my heart.  I don’t know if I could breathe if anything happened SOS.

  • ULOB.  No medicare services unless patient needs physical therapy or nursing. So, ULOB’s frailty and general inability to handle life don’t count. Nevertheless I tried suggesting to ULOB he may need help with daily living, even if it costs money.  But ULOB is not really interested help with food, cleaning, shopping if it costs money [sidebar: he can afford it; WE can afford it].  But, he “will consider this.” The dentist wants ULOB to have implants since he teeth are horrible; he is concerned about cost. And he said that he wasn’t sure it was worth it as he didn’t think he would live that much longer.  OY OY OY OY.

SIDEBAR:  We are more concerned that the several month period of wounds, healing from the incisions would lead him to not eat and lose even more weight, which is more of a health threat.

SIDEBAR OF SIDEBARI can’t possibly handle a health threat at this moment.  Please, let us have a quiet period in our family.

Keep going, SOB, you are doing great as MOW.  I am going to a spa for a day and then I will camp out on your couch on Saturday and let you recount war stories.  This is how I like to lead — supine and from behind.

You are doing such a great job, maybe, we will make you UOF (uber officer forever).  BOB, you agree?  2/3 vote carries.

Be afraid, SOB.

SIDEBAR:  I would never do this to SOB.  What we have to do we do together.  Oh, and, SOB? no more vacations until you know when . . . .

I love my family and I am grateful for SOB.

Long Time Passing

North Korea.  Iran.  Chechen rebels.  Others about whom we don’t know but who will make themselves them known in catastrophic proportions.

I am listening to the Peter Paul & Mary’s song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Listen to it.  Don’t turn away.

Our sons and daughters will go AGAIN to Korea and anew to Iran.

The flowers will always blossom.  For weddings and for burials.  Regardless. Nature will carry on, in some fashion, nuclear holocaust or global warming notwithstanding.

But our children?  Our children will not survive.  Because of our decisions.  I cannot look at my child with an easy heart and know this.

Listen to the song and think.

When will we ever learn?


When Life Alert Calls

As I walk upstairs to The COB’s office to consult about a deal, my cell phone rings. It is a California number.  I am suspicious; I assume that it is a spam call.  At the same time, I get an email that I have voicemail on my office phone. 

After some confusion, I ascertain that the “dispatch center” calling from California is Life Alert.  Oh, no.  Dad has Life Alert and Life Alert is on the phone.  My heart is now in my throat.

The dispatcher advised that the fire alarm went off in Dad’s house and he did not answer the Life Alert intercom, his house phone and his cell phone. The dispatcher already called the fire department. I get off the phone with Life Alert and retrieve my voice mail from SOB. Cool as a cucumber, she says, “hey, [Blogger], it’s [SOB]. Hope all is good with you and the family. [Pause] Listen, Life Alert called me and told me [and she recounted the above].  Anyway, call when you can. Bye.”

Wow, SOB could describe the horrors of war and make it sound like a bedtime story. But even before I could call her back, she called again. Because SOB panics gracefully. Even from across the Pond in London.

Dad’s cell is useless; he can’t hear it and, if he does, has no idea what the beeping is for. His attendant doesn’t answer her cell. So, I keep hitting redial until she answers.

I reached the attendant just as Dad and she were rounding the corner and seeing the firetrucks.

SIDEBAR They were at the library. Before they left, the attendant put fabric softener in water and heated it on the stove, to freshen the air. Then Dad wanted to leave and she forgot.

The pot was burning on the stove and made a lot of smoke and a noxious smell.  The firemen opened the windows and all was good.  While I was talking to the fireman, I hear Dad’s attendant in the background, repeating: “He didn’t do it.  It is MY fault.”  I love her for making sure that everyone knew that it wasn’t Dad’s fault.

So, I spoke with the fireman who was lovely, with Dad’s attendant who was so upset, and with Dad who had no clue.

Since we love Dad’s attendants, I told her that I would be happy to get an attendant for her as well so the attendant could watch her minding Dad, but we just can’t afford it right now.  For now, she, like Dad, is not allowed to operate any electrical equipment until further notice. 

SOB spoke to the attendant and reassured her as she was feeling so badly about it all.  I called later and she was feeling better.  Dad?  Still confused.  A typical day.

So, everyone was safe at all times, except for SOB and me. Both of us were out on the ledge.

At least I have blog material.



Minding the Elderly Can Age a Person

Today, the paternal side of the Blogger family buried one of our own.  My cousin was not even 37.  Family members spanning nearly a century — 4 generations — were present, as if to beam a harsh light on the tragedy that my cousin would never grow old.

BOB, who flew in from Texas for the funeral, thought that we should visit Mom’s brother, Uncle L., the last surviving uncle of blogger (ULOB), and that he should meet ULOB’s paramour (POULOB).

SIDEBAR:  Why not make it the day a total beat-down?  In for a little hearbreak, in for a trifecta.   Like that penny and pound thing.

This was so last minute.  And I didn’t want ULOB to think that BOB would come to town and not see him (even though that does happen from time to time).  So, I call ULOB from the car on our way back from the funeral and tried to frame the narrative:

“Hi, Uncle, it’s [Blogger].  [BOB] just came into town at the last minute for a [paternal Blogger] family funeral.  We didn’t want to call to early to wake you [ULOB sleeps until noon].  We would like to stop by and visit this afternoon.”

“Can I invite [POULOB]?”

“Of course.  Does 4pm work?”

“See you then.”

Great.  Death. Destruction. Tears. Lamentations. And a visit to the apartment that is gross by the slums-of-Calcutta standards.  I guess I am not getting a nap today.

BOB and I walked [3 miles] to ULOB’s apartment.  It was good to talk to BOB.  I don’t think we have an hour to talk just the two of us in three decades.

But, we were running late.  So I called ULOB’s apartment.  No answer.  Hmmmm.  Odd.

We arrive at his building.  He lives on the fourth floor of a five story walk-up in what is formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen.  We buzz his intercom.  No answer.

I call again his phone again.  No answer.  BOB leans his palm on ULOB’s buzzer.  I go inside the first door (which is never locked) and start buzzing every apartment in the building until someone lets us in.

We walk up four flights to his apartment.  There is a radio blasting.  We go inside his apartment (don’t you mind the details), expecting to find a body.  BOB says helpfully, “you know, bad things happen in threes, so this would be event no. 2.”

SIDEBAR: BOB needs a refresher in the Blogger family protocol, as in “unhelpful comments in scary, potentially life and death situations are punishable by a different kind of scary, life and death situation.”  Rule No. 3, for those of you following in the handbook.

The place looks like it has been ransacked.  BOB is a little rattled, but I remind him that that is usually what the place looks like.  I am still calm.  I start to look around for a body.  The stench of 54 years of filter-less cigarettes would cover any smell of a decomposing body.

No body here.  Thank G-d.  But nobody here either, so he must be dead in the street.

BOB and I decide not to panic.  Instead, we sit at an outdoor cafe doing our version a TV crime drama stake-out, only with cocktails.  I watch his building while BOB looks for him along the street.

We leave countless more messages on ULOB’s message machine in case he shuffled in while traffic was stopped and a bus obscured my view.

ULOB doesn’t have a cell phone.  We don’t have any contact information on POULOB except her address and her phone number is unlisted.  (I tried.)  This is the time when I wish I didn’t avoid information about her and just embraced her, regardless of their relationship’s beginnings.  Sometimes, principles just bite you in the ass.

SOB knows POULOB’s phone number.  Except, SOB is in London. My phone is running out of juice. And I am rattling off phone numbers to BOB as my phone dies.

BOB calls SOB, “Hey, [SOB], [ULOB] is a no-show at his house.  But he isn’t dead IN his house.  We need POULOB’s number.  Oh, I love you, [BOB]by.”

We abandon our stake-out after 1.5 hours.  Police work is not for me, unless lubricated with a nice cabernet.  BOB goes to Dad’s to have dinner with him.  I go home, preparing myself to call hospitals or go to POULOB’s house and knock on the door.

I get home. The doorman hands me a message from ULOB and POULOB. They were here, thinking the gathering was here. The message says they are at a nearby restaurant. I RUN there.  We clear up the miscommunication.  POULOB says ULOB told her we were having a gathering either at 2, 3 or 4.  They opted for 4:15. Ok, I am not so devastated about missing them.

I say, “we were at a funeral, although I could understand the mix-up”.  Wow, cabernet is the opposite of a truth serum.  Because, who, in the world invites guests, who don’t know the deceased, to a post-funeral gathering?

We resolve the following things:

  • ULOB needs a cell phone.
  • POULOB needs all of our contact information and we, hers, because she is here to stay.  And she does take really good care of ULOB.
  • Nobody dies on my watch.  And when I say nobody, I also mean no body on my watch.

I did remember to text SOB that we were really sorry we gave her a heart attack, especially when she would get care in the UK hospital system.  I called Dad to tell him to tell BOB that all is well, but Dad already started cocktail hour, so at some point I ask him to pass the phone to his attendant, because I could not live another moment in loopy land.

This Abbott and Costello afternoon happened on the heels of the real tragedy — my young cousin’s untimely death.  Today I experienced universal grief, elderly confusion and existential anxiety, some at both ends of the spectrum of life.

For now, I am grateful to be in the middle.


In Memoriam Michael Shapiro, Age, Almost 37

Sometimes, life takes a tragic turn.  Sometimes, after the tragic turn, death is a welcome relief from pain for the one who dies, but not for the ones who are left.

My cousin, Michael, is out of pain.  His parents, and his children and his sister have now begun the next stage of grief and searing pain.  Emotions I can’t even imagine.  I wonder how his parents will survive it.  Those of us who are parents just hug our children closer and pray that we out-live them.

In these last twelve years, this is the fourth time in our clan where parents have buried their children.  Two in the last year.

I experienced Michael after he was diagnosed with brain cancer, as a man who re-set his internal compass away from fast money and wealth and baubles and toward family.  He spent time a little time with Dad, his great-uncle.  He wanted to talk with his cousins, including me, at family gatherings and get to know us.  I am the youngest of my generation and Michael and his sister are among the eldest of the next generation.  We were at the kids’ tables in our youth but 10-years difference in age makes a big difference until we were all in our late 30s and 40s.

With our clan, we always feel we know each other, but we don’t really.  I didn’t know much about Michael (except the reports from his parents) until he got sick, and then I knew him just a very little.

But that “little” was enough to grieve his loss.  For him as a person, for his parents, his sister, his children, and for us, his extended family.  And, because one of our number has died young.  Too young.

I am writing this and I look over at my child, SOS.  And I think of Billie Holiday’s singing, “God bless the child that’s got his own” and rises above his parents and doesn’t fall before them.

God bless the child.

Rest in peace, Michael.

Shit People Say

There are some days when I wonder whether people are clueless or sociopathic.  Maybe both.

Take the gym this evening.  I haven’t been at the gym regularly because of work and dealing with the elder generation.  A “well-meaning” fellow gym rat who knows Dad has been declining came up to me and said,

“Has your Dad died yet?”

SIDEBAR: Whaaaaat?

“Um, no.  He is still breathing.  Thanks for asking.”

Or, over the weekend, discussing how to scan photo albums onto our computers. I was asked:

“Does it really make a difference to scan them or have them in photo albums?”

SIDEBAR:  Are you an alien?

“It makes it really easy to share with family and friends.  I have over 5,000 pictures uploaded.”

“Who scanned them for you?  Is it a trustworthy outfit?”

SIDEBAR:  Really, would I tell you about a fly-by-night scam place?

“I scanned them myself.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that.  My time is too valuable.”

Did she really just say that?

Whoa.  Don’t get me started on what people say in Dad’s presence about Dad.

Wu Fu

Yesterday, we had lunch with Dad and his attendant and then all decamped to the Asia Society.  SOS was interested in the exhibit on symbols of power and prestige in dynastic China and Dad was, as always, game for any excursion (whether or not he remembers the event).

SIDEBAR:  Do I know SOS is not even 11 years old?  Yes, yes, I do.  Do I know where the crazy smart genes come from?  Yes, yes, I do.  And I can tell you the donor’s ID number if that helps in your family planning.

So, we saw some examples of magnificent craftsmanship and artistry in 3000 year-old pottery, and paper scrolls.  Except for my amazement at the intricacy of the designs, this type of exhibition makes my eyes roll back into my head.  SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOZE.

SIDEBAR:  And you all thought I was being modest about referring you to the donor for whence comes SOS’s brains and interests.  Clearly, I am ready to go to the gym and increase my muscle-to-gray matter ratio, rather than look at pottery that is uingapiatchka’d (Yiddish for rococo style on steroids).

SOS was fascinated.  “E-Mom, remind me again about the difference between the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas?”  I obliged, because I am a reasonably well educated, if meat-headed philistine.


I saw it.  The plate with five bats hovering over peaches (not so awesome) and the description of its symbolism (totally awesome).  And the wisdom of the ages and the commonality of human hopes, dreams and desires hit me in a Eureka!! moment.

And then I saw the symbolism everywhere in the pottery in the exhibition.  Wu Fu.

WU FU.  The word for bats and happiness are the same.  Five bats; five elements of happiness:



health and peace,


a natural (good) death.

Happiness is retrospective.  Happiness is a life in balance; happiness is a life, viewed on balance.

So, Wu Fu cannot be measured in a moment.  Even if that moment is hanging out with some of the most precious people on earth to you on the porch of the Camp Wingate dining hall or on the Mayan riviera (even if you are photo-shopped into the pictures because the flu kept you away).

I looked over at Dad, who was leaning in to hear what SOS thinks about the treasure from the Khmers, and, I thought, whoa, Dad has four out of five.  Please, G-d, let him (and us) have his fifth happiness.

And I thought of my dear friend, who is fighting for longevity in the face of cancer.  Please, please, G-d, remember her with all five Wu Fu.  Because if she has Wu Fu, then her college friends’ Wu Fu meters will increase exponentially.

Because Wu Fu is a boomerang.  When you have it, share it. 

And then we will Wu Fu the world.

It can happen.  It begins with us.



Hairless and Fearless

Below is Letty Pogrebin with her friend, who lost her hair to chemotherapy.

tWGdjCO - Imgur I don’t know these women, but I see something in Letty’s friend that we rarely see in anyone — the drive to live.

I have a dear friend who is battling cancer.  She recently had her beautiful black hair (no gray) cut off because it was falling out in clumps.  She was scared to look in the mirror.

I haven’t seen my friend without her hair, but I expect she looks beautiful.  Just as Letty’s friend is beautiful.  Because, when I look at my friend, I won’t see her lack of hair.  I will see her love of life and family and a resolve to live.  Even with horrible treatments that would test anyone’s will.

I used to think, if I had cancer, I would just let it run its course.  I would not go to extraordinary lengths and live in misery for months on end, just for the possibility of a cure.  I would die young and leave lots of life insurance for my family.

But I see my friend now.  And my plan is not so easy anymore.  I see that she needs to live for her husband, her children, her parents and, yes, us, her friends for 30+ years.  My friend is fighting hard and her friends are fighting mad that this happened.

And despite the anger and despair of standing by helplessly, my friend inspires me to love life even though I am not facing an existential threat.

I look at my friend and, all of a sudden, my aging body is not a tragedy of lost youth but proof of life and my vessel into the ensuing years.  If I am so lucky.

And, through my friend, I learned that my clever plan was just plain selfish.  I need to live for my family, my friends and all those I love. And I need to live for me and the joys (and pain) that come with every day on this earth.

To my dear friend:  You are beautiful and the power of your life force resonates hundreds of miles to me here in New York and, in possibly the most perverse twist, gives me strength when I should be shouldering some of your burden.

I love you, my friend.