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’.


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.


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.