Last Days

(Somewhat fictional, somewhat factual.)   The ICU was on the ninth floor of the hospital, at the very top. On the bad days, Lisa wouldn’t wait for the elevator, but would take the nine floors without stopping, and arrive in the waiting room certain that she might need to have the bed next to her brother. Steve had been here for the past two weeks, brought from the rehab hospital with a 103-degree fever. Two days after the move, she answered the phone to a nurse’s voice saying, “Steve has gone code blue, and we need your authorization to resuscitate him.” They were able to start his heart, but he never woke up after that.   So Lisa was sitting in a hard chair, staring at a photo of a stone caught in a stream, poised on the edge of a river, and ready to go over into the unknown water. Yep, one never knew when college would come in handy; she got metaphor and simile when she was 14, and finding a deeper meaning soon became second nature. This was both a light and darkness in her life; as an english literature major, everything had to mean something, whether she wanted it to or not.

“Lisa Solozzo?” Lisa made it to the window in a second and a half; the ICU nurse motioned to the door, and she walked over, opened the entrance, and walked in.   The darkened halls were painted white, and there was a light at the end. Just like heaven…or hell, Lisa thought, as she walked down the hall towards the nurses’ station. She knew where Steve’s room was, so she passed by the nurses, and glanced to her left, where he lay in the half-light of the various machines that were attached to his body.

She walked into his room, and looked at him. Steve had lost most of his weight that he had maintained over the years through alcohol, fast food, and dedicated couch surfing. As Lisa stood and watched her brother, she could swear that his hand moved. Nights of not sleeping, crying, and drinking enough gin to numb the pain had scrambled Lisa’s brain to the point that she knew she was seeing things. Steve’s hand hadn’t moved, and it wasn’t going to move. Lisa understood the first part of her thought, but not the second half. Steve would get up, and talk again, and get better, and everything would be all right.

But it wouldn’t be all right. As Lisa left the hospital room, and walked back to the waiting area, she felt as if she was the stone at the edge of the river, with no way to hold on to what she knew; soon she would lose her secure place and fall, and keep falling….and without Steve, she had no safe place to land.

People, people, people!

(I miss George Carlin – he always said what needed to be said.)

As this year moves forward, I find that I’m having a recurring thought about the state of the people in my state (California).  I would really like to get this out in one breath, so here goes:

We have lost our courtesy, our compassion, and our intelligence. We all walk around in the same sloppy clothes, watch the same movies and television programs, read the same books, and think the same thoughts. Rudeness is the new standard of behavior; rewards go to the rudest on television,so we mimic what we see so that we can be rewarded. There is no individuality, no critical thinking, and no creativity. Everything is programmed, curated, and manipulated for our maximum enjoyment by a corporation with a computer program.  Everything is slick, and cold, and neat – no holes, no mistakes, no passion.  Everything is boring, and from the looks of it, Americans have given up on taste, manners, and style.

Ok, back to the post. I am aware that there are intelligent, clever, interesting, fun, down to earth people out there. I am fortunate to know many of them- however, it is a little discouraging to go out into the general population and observe the behavior that is now appears to be acceptable.  It’s not so much what people are wearing, although that is part of it – what you wear is important in determining how you feel, and how you feel can have a huge impact on how you behave.  It’s really more about how people act towards one another; a few weeks ago, I was at Target, pushing my cart up and down the aisle, shopping for…everything, and a woman turned down the aisle that I was in, pushing her cart.  Rather than backing her cart out so I could get through, she just stood there and stared at me, waiting for me to move out of the way for her.  People don’t move out of the way for you; you are always expected to go around them, no matter how many boxes or bags you’re carrying.  And if children are out with these adults, they are usually screaming, crying, or being generally obnoxious (to be fair, the well-behaved children usually don’t capture my attention, so my observation is a bit skewed.)

I was out at breakfast with my girlfriends last week, and we were catching up on our lives, when it occurred to us that there was some background noise that didn’t seem to subside. We realized that there was a screaming child at the next table, and the adults at the table weren’t making any attempts to make the child stop; not only did they not do anything, they were laughing.  This went on for a good ten or fifteen minutes, until one of them finally took the child outside.  I won’t get started on what I observe in the way of , or substantial lack of, parenting skills; I will say this: just because a couple is biologically capable of having children, that doesn’t mean they should.

I have no solutions for what I’m seeing; it’s like the ATTACK OF THE STUPIDS in 3-D, and it’s playing everywhere, in malls, movie theaters, and restaurants.  I love where I live, and I know I sound a little discouraged about it all; maybe it’s different where you live. I hope so, because there are days when the Golden State seems a little tarnished.  Maybe we can all put down our smartphones (at least something is smart in life these days; eventually all of our intelligence will be sucked into our smartphones, and we won’t be able to make a move without them), and start talking to one another to find ways to be…better, damn it, just better than we are now.

Mom

Mom,

I miss you today, more so than usual, since it’s Mother’s Day.  You left two years ago, while in the hospital; you waited until I walked outside to make a phone call, and when I came back, the look on the nurse’s face as he walked toward me was all I needed to know. If you were still here, you would have been without a foot, as they wanted to amputate it when the sore on it from being bandaged got so bad that nothing else could be done, and it wasn’t healing because you had no circulation in your leg from the stroke, and your skin was so fragile.  I was told that even if the decision was made to amputate the foot, that you still might not make it, as you had an incredible amount of blockages in all of your arteries.

There was no one else to help me with deciding what to do, and when I asked you what you wanted to do, you said you wanted to keep your foot.  I still don’t know if it was the right decision, but it was the one that I made.

My earliest memory is of you singing to me when I was in my crib; you  usually sang “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?” I think I remember that because it had so many verses, and choices; I could be a mule, or a fish, or a pig, and that was pretty neat.

Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be a mule

A mule is an animal with long funny ears
Kicks up at anything he hears
His back is brawny but his brain is weak
He’s just plain stupid with a stubborn streak
And by the way, if you hate to go to school
You may grow up to be a mule

You loved Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, among other crooners.  I grew up with music, dance, art, and books, because of you and Dad, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m all right most days;  and I miss you when the going gets rough, like it has been today. I like to think that you are with Dad, and Steve, and Naomi – give Asia a big hug for me. I love you, Mom.

I shot my cell phone (but I did not shoot my old PC)

I’m at the end of my four-day Christmas break, watching “The Witches of Eastwick” (Susan Sarandon, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jack Nicholson – let’s see, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson both played villains in different “Batman” movies; the family had a couple of “Batman” discussions over the break, including how many stars have played Batman, who were the bad guys in each one, etc. Guess my brain hasn’t moved on, plus I love playing “what other movies have these stars been in together?”).

Spent Christmas eve and Christmas day at the family’s house – the whole family holiday get-together has changed over the last couple of years, and maybe you have noticed it at your house, too – while talking and watching television, and eating, we are also checking email, playing games, checking Facebook, texting, and looking up stuff.  (I’m mostly knitting and chasing the dog, but I’ve also been known to take a peek at my email, and lots of peeks at Facebook – in addition to being ADD, I also have a touch of ocd; just a touch, so it’s in small letters).  Everyone has a cell phone, and there are also iPads and laptops lying around, in case someone gets an uncontrollable Angry Birds urge.  (My husband was startled one afternoon, when, out of nowhere, he heard me yell, “Die, pig, die!”  while sitting on the couch with the iPad in my hand.  It’s not a relaxing game, but it is irresistible).

When in my lap, my dog will actually push my hands away from the keyboard so he can be petted – he believes he is the alpha laptop, and isn’t pleased about sharing real estate with my Mac.  I wonder if any studies have been done on animals who live with families who have no computers or cell phones, as compared to those who live with families who have multiple devices, and if there are differences in health, mental state, and behavior. Might make for an interesting experiment, if the variables were controlled (sorry, my psych minor is showing, or should I say, my almost-finished minor – I balked at statistics, so there you go).

I think one of my New Year’s intentions will be to have more conversations, and limit the technology in my life – the phone is silenced more than before, and now I have to work on curbing Angry Birds and Facebook (not eliminating either, I love Angry Birds, and Facebook has brought some wonderful people back into my life.) We’ll see; maybe you can text me and let me know what you think…ha!

(P.S.  I don’t know if this is obvious, but the title of this post is meant to be read to the Eric Clapton song, “I Shot The Sheriff.”  Yes, I am a little bit corny, and a little bit rock and roll…)

Body and mind, heart and soul

Sometimes (and those of you who know me will bear this out), I can be a ding-a ling. Tonight I am a revelatory ding-a-ling; allow me to elaborate.

Last night I took my LBD (little black dog, in case you weren’t aware) to the vet, because his little eye was was kind of squishy looking, and I wanted to make sure that he didn’t have an allergic reaction to something.  Fortunately, the hospital wasn’t crowded, and while I was waiting, a couple came in with their cat – the woman was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, she had long, straight hair that was dyed pink – may I say here that I love when anyone does anything with their hair that is different from the usual, and this was a very pretty pink.  Second, she didn’t have what you would call a perfect body – she was big, and had some areas that could have been more toned.

After thinking these two thoughts, I had a third one – the first two things didn’t matter. Her boyfriend (husband, significant other) was with her, and comforting her, and her body didn’t enter into how he was treating her, because he was there for her when she needed him.

Now I know that I have long-standing issues with my physical appearance; I like very few photos of myself, and for a long time, I wouldn’t let anyone photograph me without covering up the bottom half of my face.  (More issues, and I’m not going to get into it, because then you will know what bothers me, and you will look for what bothers me, and….let’s just keep it a mystery.)

So what I’m getting to here is that I’m working on taking another little step away from the self-loathing that I seem to wallow in so often, and liking myself a little more, the way that I see other women do so well. It’s hard to erase decades of treating myself worse than my worst enemy, but maybe now that I’m a woman of a certain age –  yes, 50, all right? Happy now? (I’m told that I’m allowed to be cranky after 50; I prefer to wear the cranky pants only on special occasions, or else nobody listens), I will give myself a break.  Just thinking today about living without being self-critical and nit-picky made me feel lighter, like the kid in “Up” with the balloons.  A little lightness sounds good right now —-

On another note, today marks the fifteenth year that I have been without my friend and sister-in-law, Naomi Toma Thorpe. I first met Naomi when I was 13, and she was 17, and friends with my brother at Jordan High.  She and I became close friends, and then she became my sister-in-law in 1980. Naomi was a beautiful, funny, brilliant, silly, strong woman who matched my brother in intellect and talent.  She was my confidante and my touchstone, and I treasure every single second that I was fortunate enough to have known her. Here’s to you, my friend; I’m getting along without you, but it’s harder without you….

Summerized

Before this phenomenal August summer day gets away – some old and new business (and some cross-talk between my left and right brain; it’s OK, just go with it, I do):

The transformation of Club Petaluma has begun:

Vinyl siding – next comes paint and posts and shutters, oh my! And landscaping, fencing…it’s a huge undertaking, but I’m so glad to get it started.  It’s gratifying to see the idea that I’ve had in my mind (albeit an ever-changing idea) finally begin to be realized.

One of my favorite episodes of “Sex and the City” is on right now; it’s the one where they go to the Hamptons for a wedding, and the phrase “za za zew” is introduced (if you haven’t seen the episode, “za za zew” is, as I perceive it, the undeniable chemistry that two people have.  I think I like this one because it combines two things that I enjoy when watching TV, or movies: characters going on the road, and weddings.  And this great bit of dialogue: Samantha: “What do you call za za zew gone bad?” Miranda: “Za za ew.”

This summer started slowly, but has definitely picked up steam – I have such a large number of projects right now, between the house (inside and out), knitting, books (I’m in the middle of four, I’m embarrassed to say), and writing, not to mention working out, cooking, making sure my husband and my crazy dog remember who I am, maybe sleeping once in a while, and taking in the summer before it’s gone.

I’m off; here’s a little za za zew for you!

Family chains

Mother’s Day; I’m home in bed with some sort of stomach evil that started yesterday.  If I hadn’t gotten sick, I would be out to brunch with my good friend, then off on my own to the cemetary with flowers.  It’s grey and drizzly outside – I may go to the cemetary in a bit, just to see her and my dad; even though I feel like someone punched me in the gut, I don’t want to let this day go by without doing that.

Memories have a hold on me today – my mother and father moved to California separately, where they met and were married in 1952 – I think they both wanted to get as far away from their families as possible, and you can’t get much further in the continental United States than California.  I don’t have any proof of this, except that we only went back East to visit once in my entire life, and most of the relatives stopped coming to visit after I was about ten or eleven years old, with the exception of my niece, Brenda.  I never met either one of my grandfathers, as my mother’s father died at 39, and according to my dad, his father was so abusive that his mother asked all of her sons (I think there were four, including my dad) to throw him out of the house, which they did.

I did get a chance to meet my dad’s mother a few times, and liked her a lot.  My other grandmother was committed to a hospital shortly after her husband died, and it was there that my brother and I were first introduced to her. Not what you call a great family get-together – Wasaleke Sperou lived in Kalamazoo State Hospital until her death, and I think my mother never quite got over that, since she was blamed for not being more “caring,” and made to feel guilty for moving across the country, by my uncle Paul, who, ironically, was the only relative outside of my family who I knew well, since he moved to California about the same time that my mother did.  I also had another uncle on my mother’s side, Uncle Stan, who I never met and who my parents never talked about – I knew that he lived and died in Chicago, and that he died with no money, and that’s it.

You figure things out when you’re a kid; I was eleven when I met my Grandma Sperou, and even though nothing was said about why she was in a hospital, and how this was a different hospital than others, I knew. I knew when they put us in a conference room with a long table, and they brought her in, and locked the door behind her.  I knew when she mumbled and I couldn’t understand anything she was saying – and I knew when my mother was hysterical as we were leaving, telling my dad, “She didn’t even know who I was.”  And even now, I don’t know why she was in that hospital – I called once, and they said they couldn’t release the information, even though she had been gone for 20 years.  If I really got the paperwork together (and I have her death certificate, so it could be done), I may be able to find out the reason – whatever it was, my mother could never tell me.  She may have been in denial for 40 years, who knows?

I guess today is the day for me to think about these things.  This is the way I grew up…with a wise-cracking uncle at the end of the kitchen table  during holidays and on weekends, who took four hours to eat, when the rest of us were finished in thirty minutes, and with a mother and father who worked until they dropped, and who alternated tired and angry on a daily basis, and a brother with whom I became allies as I grew up, and finally, friends.

Lately I’ve been hearing about families in which members haven’t spoken to one another in years, and that makes me sad for them.  Even with all of this (and there’s more, but I’m saving it for the bestseller where all of the names will be changed),  it wasn’t an option for me to give up on any of them, no matter how mad I was, or how badly any of them made me feel.  I won’t presume to know anyone else’s pain – I will just say that I miss them all today, and I wish they were here so that we could yell and fight and be together – sometimes it’s just too quiet in my life.

Steve

It’s ten years this month that my brother has been gone, and looking at this photograph floods my heart with memories…

It was the summer of 1983;  My parents thought it would be a good idea to have some photographs taken, so they hired a photographer to come to the house.  This particular one was taken by my mother, and I like it more than the photos that were taken by the guy we hired. I never did like the blouse I was wearing, but my brother was fond of the vest, and wore it out a lot.  He was 26 here, and I was 22. I remember being so unhappy during this time, and as I look at this photo, I remember that hanging out with my brother made things better, because even if he couldn’t help me with my life, he was good at offering distractions – telling me about a movie that he knew I would like,  or a concert that he thought we should go see, or making me laugh at the stupidity that was all around us.

So much has happened in the last ten years that would have thrilled my brother – iPods, blogs, TiVo…Steve loved gadgets, and any gadgets that were movie- and music-related would have been amazing to him.  He would have started a science fiction blog, and owned a Kindle, but wouldn’t have given up the hundreds of books that he owned, because they were precious to him.  He stopped loaning books to me (a very wise move), because I used to bend the covers and the pages.  This was one of the few things that would make him mad, and I understood; the more I love a book, the more I beat it up.  Steve was a collector, so beat-up books weren’t really what he was looking for to add to his collection.

Steve was enthusiastic about life, funny, sarcastic, and (most of the time) too smart for everyone in the room,which could be entertaining or infuriating, depending on the day; to me, he was never dull, even though there were days where we would say that we needed a big jar of “Never-Dull,” which sent us over the edge (you had to be there, but yes, it was really funny). I miss Steve’s friendship, and I miss having a brother.  There is no replacement for that relationship, and no replacement for Steve. This post feels inadequate; if you knew my brother, I don’t have to describe him to you.  And if you never met him, trying to describe him just sounds lame coming from me. So…I have a favor to ask.  If you knew Steve, write a memory of him for me, and for the people who didn’t know him. That would be a nice way to remember him on this ten-year anniversary.

To finish this, I’ll just say – to absent friends…