Saturday, April 22, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: H Is for Help

I know that anyone reading this who has lived on his or her own for a good part or all of their adult life will find this post pretty much a whine. But bear with me, please.
            I'm 75, and I've lived on my own for perhaps three weeks of my adult life. This doesn't count three weeks here or four weeks there when I house-sat for my aunt in Vermont, or my husband took a trip to England or California. Those don't count because my husband was still part of my life, and I knew I would be coming home to him or he would be coming home to me. They were interludes, vacations from my "real" life.
            Now that he's dead, I am having to learn to be a single person, and it isn't easy. The first few months, coming home to a dark and empty apartment was like entering an alternate universe. It felt wrong.There would be a half-second before I opened the door when I would think, maybe he'll be there. Maybe somebody will be there. What if the light is on? What will that mean? Are there ghosts? (Neither of us believes/believed in ghosts or anything spiritual. He would not have expected to come back to haunt me or reassure me — and he hasn't. But I still understand the impulse, the desire, to believe.)
            After about six months, something clicked. I was riding home on the bus and didn't dread that moment of opening the door to a dark apartment. It would be okay. I went out of town for a week, and when I returned, I greeted myself at the door as he would have: "Welcome home, baby." Before taking another trip, I bought a timer and set it to go on and off at set times, so it wouldn't be obvious no one was home. And after I came home, I kept the timer so there would be a light for me when I came home.
            But I still miss the help. As in, I'm now responsible for everything. Jack and I didn't have a traditional marriage, with me doing all the housework and he doing all the earning a living. Whoever cooked, the other washed the dishes, or whoever cooked also washed the dishes, but neither one of us was the only one who cooked every day. We took turns doing the laundry. And we alternated going to the accountant for our taxes.
            Now I have to do everything. After I bought a new kitchen faucet, I had to e-mail the super to set up an appointment for getting it installed, and I had to be home for the installation. I had to do the taxes last year and this year... And the year after that and after that and after that... I have to call the super to change the lightbulbs in the kitchen and in the bathroom; no longer can I stand on a stool while Jack holds me steady, or vice versa. I have to do all the shopping and all the cooking and all the washing up, although if I decide not to wash the dishes one evening, no one will complain.
            I dread the time when I will be in the hospital and need someone to advocate for me, as I advocated for him in his various hospitalizations and his last month. Or when I will need help after coming home from some hospital procedure and can't take care of myself. My daughter can help in minor situation, like picking me up after my cataract surgery six months ago. But if I can't get to the bathroom by myself and need 24-hour assistance? That can get expensive — and it's not the same as having a partner.
            Yes, I know, many, many people live like this all the time, and in far worse circumstances. But I feel like I need lessons in being a grownup, and it feels a little embarrassing to admit that as an old person.

#AtoZChallenge: G Is for Grief

Locked in

Friday, April 14, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: F Is for Food

(I haven’t had any Internet connection for the past few days, so I’m filing F, G, H, I, J, and whatever we’re up to, as fast as I can. Gotta keep up.)
            I love food. Jack, my late husband, loved food. I love to eat. Jack loved to eat. I love to cook. Jack liked to cook—I don’t know if he loved to cook. I love to try new dishes; last week I made a vegetarian chili verde for my writers’ group and had no idea how it would turn out until it was almost done and I tasted it. Jack had his specialties—broiled chicken, black bean soup, tuna casserole, spaghetti sauce, brownies—which were always very good. I often thought of writing down his marinade for the broiled chicken, but never did—and now it’s too late. But it wasn’t really a recipe anyway: juice, olive oil, wine, dried herbs or spices, whatever was handy or he felt like.
            I’m a recipe person myself, wrote about this years ago for a tiny magazine, And/Then. Called “Recipes for Life,” it contrasted two ways of approaching cooking: following a recipe, or sensing what went well together and winging it. At that time in my life I followed recipes. I needed to know quantities: how much juice, how much wine, how much oregano and what if I’d run out of oregano? Then, I was hoping to be more adventurous in cooking, and in life as well. Now I use recipes as guidelines, looking at 1, 2, 3, what ingredients do I know I like, what combos taste interesting in my mind.
          That vegetarian chili verde? I had a chili verde a friend had made, but it was full of pork. One of the writers in my group is vegetarian, so I had to improvise. (I used the basic pork version but substituted beans for meat and added bell peppers and about half as much green chilis.)
            I love to cook, but not every day. Even the few years I was a full-time parent, I didn’t cook every day. We ate out a fair amount, and our school-age daughter had her favorite restaurants: Symposium (Greek), 107 West (new American), Japonica (she liked sushi at age 8). When Jack was the full-time parent, he’d go to the farmers market late in the day and buy a quantity of tomatoes and sale price. Then he’d make a quantity of tomato sauce and freeze most of it. We even had a free-standing freezer, which felt very suburban in our New York apartment.
            My mother didn’t teach me to cook, though she was a pretty good cook. She didn’t have enough patience, she said. She’d been a home-ec major in college (a compromise with her immigrant parents; she wanted to major in biology) and relished modern technology: frozen vegetables, TV dinners. We did have a garden for a few years when I was a child, and I learned the luscious taste of sun-warmed tomatoes and crisp peas right out of the pod. I also read my mother’s cookbooks from college and started clipping my own recipes as a teenager. Perhaps the first one was a tuna melt from Seventeen.
            And I wanted my daughter to learn the fun of mixing ingredients into some new concoction that tasted good. So when she was 4, 5, 6 and had to stand on a stool to reach the counter, I’d have her take a turn mixing the cake batter and frosting, rolling out the pizza dough, filling the dumplings. When she was a teenager, she wanted to make her own meals and start experimenting. I suggested she master some recipes first and improvise once she’d learned the basics. Now in her 40s, she still cooks, makes leftovers to take for lunch, and has found a partner who likes to cook as much as she does.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: E Is for Everything

            I don’t believe in astrology, but my birthday is in Gemini, and I do find that everything in my life has its upside and downside, simultaneously. I also have a hard time choosing among the many things I want to do, on any day.
            I would never have been able to be a real academic, because I would not have been able to keep my attention on my sliver of a topic for as long as would have been necessary to write a dissertation, let alone turn that dissertation into a publishable book, as well as all the papers and talks required to get tenure.
            Everything in my field of interests includes reading, writing, watching movies, going for long walks, seeing plays, going to museums, listening to music of all kinds (except polkas and operas), cooking, eating, writing about my reading, knitting, crocheting, having lunch or dinner with friends, e-mailing my friends, reading Facebook, commenting on my friends’ FB posts,
reading the stories my friends post to FB, tweeting my rants about language misuse and grammatical mistakes, traveling to other countries, traveling to other states, playing the piano, organizing my books, organizing my files, oh, I’m getting tired just trying to think of everything I want to do.
            I wasn’t sure what my E was going to be. Here were some of the possibilities: empty, erasure, enabled, elevated, elegant, effluvial, effort, early, eucalyptus, effect, elephant, easy, ephemeral, ergot, evil, ever, eternal, enter, entire, epic, ears. Maybe I’ll write about each of them at some other time.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: D Is for Death

            Yes, that death. That thing that comes at the end of life. That thing that causes a person to stop breathing, to stop being alive, to end up buried in the ground or turned into ashes. That thing that modern Americans, at least, barely talk about, let alone think about.
            If you’re religious, maybe doesn’t feel quite so final. If you believe your dead loved one is in heaven, still thinking about you and caring for you, in some ethereal way, and that you will see each other again once you die yourself, perhaps death doesn’t feel so final. So like a thick wall banging down between you and the person you loved and lived with for 50+ years.
            My husband, Jack, died last year, on January 5. He had recently been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. He’d been in the hospital for a month, disabled for the previous two years after a fall, in moderately ill health for the 16 years before that from a clotting disorder and multiple complications. For years, he continued to say, “I can live with this.” On the last day of 2015, he said, “I can’t live with this.” Hospice, then death.
            Those are the facts. But what do they mean? How do they feel? How do I accept the finality of Jack’s being gone, forever? I have no religion, I don’t believe there’s some nonmaterial existence where he might still be. I can only hold onto the Jewish belief that dead people live on in the memories of those still alive. But my memory is weak where my memories of Jack are.
            I feel like I wasn’t paying enough attention. It feels like I need his physical presence to remember. I miss his body, his differentness, his unique thoughts and feelings. I don’t miss the fights we had over my saving things – or maybe I do miss them. In one of my few dreams about him, I was showing off the bookcases I’d emptied, and he laughed because I’d waited until after he died to do that.
            Why haven’t I dreamed of him more? Why is he dying out of my dreams as well as my life? As he lay dying, I told him, “From now on, your story will be my story. Is that okay?” And he nodded. But it’s not okay.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: C Is for Chaos, Confusion, Climate Change...

            I had a hard time coming up with what I wanted my “C” to be. I had written “coffee,” “Cuba” (my daughter, Christie [another C], and I had gone to Cuba last December), but as I lay in bed last night, what floated into my mind was chaos and confusion.
            Perhaps that is my state of mind these days. It’s partly because of the current political state of this country, with a president who seems to think his job is to sign executive orders and show his signature to the camera, whose nominations show an inclination to destroy all parts of government except the police and military, who is at heart a con man and entertainer. I fear only chaos will be the result, chaos not only in this country but around the world. And climate change, which that president ignores, may make all of our futures obsolete.
            But my psyche also feels chaotic and confused. My husband of 51 years died a year ago. I was going to save this fact for tomorrow, when D will be about Death, but this fact is at the root of my personal chaos and confusion.
            We had a good marriage; in many ways, we meshed very well. But we were also quite different. All the ways we were different that caused conflict are now gone, and while I often feel relieved (oh, I can cook whatever I want; I can pile up books and magazines on chair arms), I also feel, yes, confused. What do I do now? I’m 74, soon to be 75, and my life is not as open-ended as it would be if I were 35 or 40, or even 50.
            I’m not looking for another partner. Relationships are hard work, and I’ve already seen one partner through ill health, hospitalizations, rehab, and I don’t want to do that again. When I think of that, I think, it’ll be my turn next. And yes, it would be helpful to have a partner to take care of me, someone I’ve known only a short time wouldn’t be any more comfortable than someone I would hire.
            Do you think I’m being too utilitarian here? What about love? Even sex? I’m confused about those, too. What is love when you’re not young and full of lust? I’m not a romantic (my husband was). I feel more like the uncertain young person I was when my husband and I first met.
            I’m having to learn to be a grownup all on my own, and that is confusing and chaotic. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 3, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: B Is for Baseball, Beisbol, Base-Ball, Puro Yakyu, Yagu, Bangqiu...

            (I don’t know what other languages have a word for baseball, but if you know, please post a comment.)
            Yes, Sunday was opening day for a few teams, but as far as I’m concerned, today is the official Opening Day, and the first game for the New York Mets. The Mets have been my team for the past 30 years. Yes, I became a fan in 1986, the second time they won the World Series.
           The only reason I hadn’t been a Mets fan before is that I thought they were too far away from where I live. We’d been going to Yankee games for about eight years, and though we had to go downtown to get to the Bronx, which is uptown, Queens seemed so far away. Until my daughter started high school in 1986, and her school had a block of seats at Shea Stadium in mid-September. Of course we went, that is, my husband and I went. Our daughter wasn’t all that interested. And it didn’t take much longer to get to Shea than it did to get to Yankee Stadium. And no only were the Mets contending, but they were playing real baseball – that is, baseball without the designated hitter.
            I’ve been an off-and-on baseball fan since childhood. Well, sort of. In 1949, I lived in Brooklyn and was in the second grade. A classmate asked me whether I was for the Dodgers or the Yankees. I had never heard of the Dodgers (surprising, because my lefty parents surely knew about Jackie Robinson), but our downstairs babysitter had mentioned the Yankees, so I said I was for the Yankees. “You live in Brooklyn, so you gotta be for da Dodgers,” my classmate said, in strong Brooklynese. You can’t tell me who to be for, I thought, and instantly conceived a (somewhat) lifelong hatred of the Dodgers: it waned somewhat when they moved to L.A., then returned when they beat the Mets in playoffs in 1988.
            As a teen, I lived in Philadelphia suburbs, so became a fan of the Phillies, the lowly Phillies, last in the National League when there only 16 teams in the two leagues combined, so the Phillies were last of eight. Sometimes they’d end in seventh place. I kept a residual allegiance to the Yankees, since they could be sure to win and balance out my fandom for the underdog.
            I think this is enough about baseball for today. Except to add that the Mets won today, their 36 opening day win against only 12 losses since 1970 (they lost their first eight opening day games). And it was a pretty interesting game, a pitcher’s duel through six, then the Braves’ bullpen fell apart.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: Address Books

            Have you ever found an old address book and looked through it, trying to remember who all those people are who you bothered to keep their addresses and phone numbers? I found one today, back at least 40 years. The A pages are missing, and only two names on the B page, which since it has no B tab means there’s a B page missing too. But I know who those two people are.
            Dr. L. (Lucille?) R. Burns was an ophthalmologist who worked with the eye doctor I normally saw. I think I saw her for some eye problem related to my contact lenses, but no longer remember what it was. She was extremely conservative, and when I found a new eye doctor and asked her for my medical records, she said they were her property and she wouldn’t give them to me. This seemed weird, but I didn’t know what the law was so didn’t fight it. I think it was sometime in the mid-’70s.
            The other B name is Connie Bacher, Connie Callanan Bacher to be exact. She was in my freshman hall at Antioch College, and then roommate in the summer of 1961. At the time of the address book, she was married to a tax lawyer named Don Bacher, and they were living in Guildhall, Vermont; later they moved across the river to Littleton, New Hampshire, where Don became a liberal gadfly, suing the town for putting up an enormous cross on a hillside overlooking his and Connie’s house. We are still in touch; she divorced Don and moved to India to live in a community with a swami. My daughter and her younger daughter went to the same camp one summer, and now both are librarians.
            In the Cs is Ann Constable, who I knew from women’s liberation, most likely New York Media Women, since she worked at Time. But then there’s Norma Clark Budetti, in Wichita, Kansas. This must be someone from Jack’s life, but as he’s no longer here to answer my question, she remains forever unknown. Also a “Cat-lady” ("Marilyn’s friend"; but who’s Marilyn?).
            In the ’70s there was Dial-a-Demonstration (disconnected in 1970, or 1976? can’t read my handwriting), Dial-a-Radical, and Dial-a-Recipe (in 1972). Did I ever call one of those numbers? Dr. Leo Dienstag was our primary doctor until 1992, when he retired. Norm Danzig was a young man in my therapy group in the early 1970s. Catherine De Angelis was one of Christie’s pediatricians; we went through a series of them. One was too far away in the Village, another thought fruit was like lollipops for toddlers, and shouldn’t be fed to them. Dr. Marvin Eiger was one of them, and he also had what seemed like peculiar ideas: fresh squeezed orange juice, not orange juice from the grocery store, and don’t take your baby on the subway.
            I’m not going to go all the way through the alphabet of the address book here, but I am going to see how many others from that period of my life I still remember.

            I just learned about this writing challenge, to write on my blog every day in April on a topic derived from letters of the alphabet, in order. Here's my first one.

Friday, March 31, 2017

SOLSC 31: Moving, Part 2

            I've lived in my current apartment for more than 46 years, and I sincerely hope to stay here for the rest of my life. But in the 10 years between leaving home and settling in on Riverside Drive, in New York City, I lived at
• Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio (Sept. 1960-March 1961)
• a shared apartment on West 87th Street, between Columbus & Central Park West, in Manhattan (April-June 1961) (Antioch College had a co-op work-study curriculum, in which we studied on campus for half the year and worked at jobs anywhere in the U.S. the other half)
• back to Yellow Springs (July-Sept. 1961)
• a very brief stay in Los Angeles (a couple of weeks; too long a story for this slice)
• so a few months at home in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania (Oct.-Dec.1961)
• back to Yellow Springs (Jan.-March 1962)
• living at NIH (it was a co-op job; I wasn't a patient) (April-June. 1962)
• Irving Place, N.W., in Washington, D.C. (July-Aug. 1962) (I used to remember this address)
• 1612 19th Street, N.W. (Sept.1962-Aug.1963) (here's when I dropped out of Antioch the first time)
• 1835 19th Street, N.W. (a couple of weeks)
• 1833 19th Street, N.W. (Sept. 1963-March 1964)
• back to Yellow Springs (April-Sept. 1964) (here's when I went back to college)
• 70 West 82nd Street (Oct.1965-Dec. 1965) (here's when I got married, and dropped out of Antioch the second time)
• 134 West 82nd Street (Jan.1966-Sept. 1967) (here's when I started back to college, at City College, at night...)
• 101 West 85th Street (Sept.1967-Nov. 1970) (and here’s when I went to City College full-time; rent here was almost half what it was at the previous place)
            After I graduated from City College and got a real job, I started agitating for a real apartment. The kitchen on 85th Street had no counter space, and its sink was half the size of a normal one and just attached to a pipe under the window, with a piece of wood nailed to the wall for the drainboard.
            When we found the apartment on Riverside Drive, it seemed huge. Two good-sized bedrooms. A kitchen with counters and still big enough for a dining table.
           And a childhood dream come true. When we lived in West Haven, we would drive into New York a few times a year to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn. Riding down the West Side Highway, I saw these impressive apartment buildings towering above the hillsides of Riverside Park and thought, I want to live there some day. This apartment was in one of those buildings. It missed the river view, but otherwise... I feel happy every time I leave my building: the park, when I look left, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine when I look right. No other street in New York has this view.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

SOLSC 30: Moving, Part 1

            I got this idea for a slice from Girl Griot, who wrote about all the places she’d lived since leaving home. Since I’ve moved a lot since I was born, I’ll do this in two parts, before I left home, and after.
            My first eight months were spent in Newport News, Virginia. My father had been hired at Langley Field by the National American Committee on Aeronautics (what later became NASA and was featured in the movie, and book, Hidden Figures) as an engineer right out of college in 1939. By 1943, he was transferred to Aberdeen Proving Ground, in Maryland. My brother was born while we lived in war housing until World War II was over. In the summer of 1945 we move to Silver Spring, Maryland, while my father works at the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins, until he’s fired as a security risk a year later. After my sister is born in Washington, D.C., we move into that city to live with my father’s parents.
            In the spring of 1947, we move up to Brooklyn to live with my mother’s parents, on Avenue P. (Yes, Avenue P, just like the song on the Really Rosie album, lyrics by Maurice Sendak, music by Carole King.) My father is still unable to get a job in his field because of McCarthyism. A month after I start school in 1947, we move, along with my grandparents, to another apartment in Brooklyn, in Bensonhoist, excuse me, Bensonhurst (my mother constantly corrected any trace of Brooklyn accent creeping into my childish speech).
            Leases in New York always ran out in October (why? did landlords not have any children? did they not realize how hard it is for kids to change schools a month after school starts?). In October 1950, my nuclear family moved out of the city, leaving my grandparents in another apartment in Brooklyn. My father always said he hated cities, so he moved us to the country in West Haven, Connecticut.
            The longest I lived anywhere growing up was in West Haven, five and a half years. In the spring of 1956, my father got a job at a pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia, and in May, six weeks before I would have graduated from eighth grade into high school, we moved again, to Levittown, Pennsylvania. (I did manage to persuade my parents to let me take the train, alone, back to West Haven so I could attend my class’s graduation.)
            And at the end of my junior year in high school, my parents were perverse once again and moved me around the Philly suburbs, from north to west, to Gladwyne, forcing me to change schools once again at an awkward moment.
To be continued.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

SOLSC 29: Yet Another Political Protest, This One Local

            Today I stood among 25 others in front of Governor Cuomo’s New York office. We were urging the governor to support an abortion bill called the Reproductive Health Act. The bill would repeal the current law (part of the criminal code that permits abortion only up to 24 weeks or when the woman’s life is in danger), and create a new section of the Public Health Law permitting abortion up to 24 weeks, if the fetus is not viable, or the woman’s health or life is endangered.
            This now gets very complicated. The RHA has been passed by the state Assembly three times, but the state Senate, controlled by the Republicans, hasn’t yet allowed it to come to a vote. One complicating factor is that Democrats actually have a one-vote majority in the state Senate, but a group of Democratic state senators have formed something called the Independent Democratic Conference, and it voted with the Republicans to give the Republicans control.
            There’s so much more to this story, but enough politics from me. Instead, what was exciting for me about this protest was that my daughter, CM, was there with me. And she not only led became one of the leaders of our chants (in a call and response: “What do we want? The RHA. When do we want it? Now!”), but she came up with a fresh chant as well (“Ho, ho, hey, hey, Cuomo, sign the RHA.”)
            After almost an hour, the protest disbanded, vowing to return in a week if the bill hasn’t been enacted and signed. I expect we’ll be back next Wednesday. 
That's CM, second from right

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

SOLSC 28: “The Sense of an Ending”: First Movie, then Book

            I saw the movie  The Sense of an Ending this afternoon. It’s drawn from a book by Julian Barnes, which I became interested in reading after seeing the movie. But after reading a review of the book, my  interest is even more piqued because the details in the book review are so different from comparable details in the movie.
            The movie (and apparently the book) centers on Tony Webster, a man in his 60s, suddenly brought back to his youth by receiving a letter notifying him that he’s been left a legacy by an old girlfriend’s mother. (The contents of the legacy is one of the details that differs, so I must read the book to see whether the book review left out the movie detail, or the movie detail is wholly made up by the screenwriter.)
             Switching back and forth from the present to memory, the film shows Tony as a young man in which he remembers pivotal relationships, with that girlfriend, and a new boy in school, then relating his memories to his divorced wife, stories he’d never told her before, while in the present their daughter is about to have a baby, on her own, with her parents as birth coaches. But perhaps he is an unreliable narrator, as we see him think he’s realized what really happened 40 years earlier, and then learn that he’s quite wrong
            The movie is quite well done, captivating, and in its quiet way suspenseful. But because the focus is so much on Tony, as though the movie has a first-person narrator, we see the women, both the old girlfriend and the divorced wife, only as Tony sees them. Movies give you the illusion that you are an omniscient viewer, so the lack of detail for the women – why they liked or loved Tony within the context of their own lives – is for me quite frustrating. I wonder whether the book will reinforce that first-person viewpoint, or give the women somewhat more depth. (And Jack would have loved this movie.  Domestic dramas were his favorite.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

SOLSC 27: Envious Relief? or Relieved Envy?

            My husband died about 15 months ago. When I see couples around my age or older on the street, I feel pangs of envy; why do they still have each other and I don’t have Jack?
            But when I see older couples and the man is disabled, using a cane or walker, or in a wheelchair, my feelings are more mixed. There is still envy, but also relief. Jack had become disabled enough before he was hospitalized that we both had a sense of what that meant. And it was very difficult. Were either of us ready for, or able to deal with, those difficulties? Jack definitely was not, and he said so.
            Today, as I was leaving my bank’s ATM center, a couple who might have been Jack and me in a possible future were entering. She was pushing him in a wheelchair. He was wrapped up in blankets, head covered with a beret. She was short, maybe about five foot two; he did not seem so short. Someone was holding the door for her. I heard him speaking to her, so it sounded like he was coherent.
            How long had she been caring for him? How did they manage personal aspects like getting him into and out of the wheelchair? Surely she needed home health aides to help with his care; I know how expensive that can be. Maybe he lived at the nursing home a block away, and they were just on an outing. But that too is very expensive. And either scenario is emotionally wearing for both caregiver and care receiver.
            What was I feeling? Envy? Relief? Both? The impossible?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

SOLSC26: The Other Book Group

            I’m in two book groups. Today’s is the first one I joined, almost five years ago, because I was reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63; a friend in my writers’ group was also reading it with her book group, so I asked if I could join them so I could talk about the book.
            We alternate fiction one month, nonfiction the next. Today’s book was nonfiction, Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. It generated way more discussion than any book we’ve read in a long time. While our thoughts were initially very positive, as we went on, criticisms came up. Most of the women in the group are in education, secondary school, literacy  programs, and administrators, so there were heated comments about  Gladwell’s chapter on colleges. One woman who’d read other books by Gladwell thought this was one of his weaker one; another thought it was a New Yorker article that was padded into book length.  
            Despite our reservations, after almost three hours we hadn’t exhausted our thoughts on the book. Will discussion continue the next time we meet?
            Oh, and the potluck? Everyone always brings food, and my contribution was rum cake, from my Hawaiian friend’s recipe and my Cuban rum. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

SOLSC 25: Baseball Season Coming Up

            Opening day is just over a week away. So today I took the train to Connecticut to meet a group of New York Mets fans that has been meeting just before the season starts for almost 35 years. The group started as part of a Bill James initiative called Project Scoresheet.* The Project organized groups of fans for each major league team to score games with its computer database, and those groups met just before the season started to divvy up who would score which games. I joined the group in 1990, shortly before Project Scoresheet disbanded. But our group captain was a sociable organizer, and the group continued to meet every March, to discuss baseball and the fate of the Mets, and play baseball trivia.
            I’m not great at baseball trivia. I don’t remember who pitched, or even won, the first game I ever saw. I can’t tell you the lineups, positions, or numbers of every player on the New York Mets since their creation. But I know enough to guess that it was Tom Seaver who made 11 opening day starts for the Mets. I know that Terry Pendleton of the Cardinals hit a home run that dashed the Mets hopes for winning the NL East for a second year in a row (I was there). I know just enough not to make a fool of myself in a friendly baseball trivia game.
            Today we met at the Cask Republic, a bar/restaurant serving a multitude of craft beers. Everyone but me lives in Connecticut, so South Norwalk is a central location. These occasions are the only time I drink beer, but today I went for a very exotic sangria mix (it included coconut rum). In between eating, entering the Mets 2017 wins pool, and playing trivia (I came in last), we watched the UConn women beat UCLA.
            I donated Jack’s two Mets hooded sweatshirts – too big to fit me – as prizes, and showed around the rookie baseball card for Darryl Strawberry that I was given while in California, by a friend of a friend’s husband who happened to have been Strawberry’s high school Government teacher. When he learned I was a big Mets fan, he gave me the laminated card.
            There was still hulking piles of dirty snow here and there in Norwalk.

But the train station had some very interesting historic artwork, characteristic figures of many eras, from a Civil War soldier (right) to civil rights marchers (left).

*Bill James is a baseball historian and statistician, and Project Scoresheet was a method of scoring games for computer input and collecting the information to sell to fans and teams. It was supplanted by Stats Inc. and the Elias Sports Bureau. I love this scoring method because it counts balls and strikes.)

Friday, March 24, 2017

SOLSC 24: Mammogram Time!

            Women, you all know what this is like. Men, if you read this, try to empathize with your wives or girlfriends.
            When my daughter was going for her first mammogram, I had to tell her it wouldn’t feel pleasant. Your breast is treated as a hunk of meat. Mine are relatively small, so I hesitate to think of what it must be like for women with large breasts.
            You probably have to wait, first in the waiting room. Then you are called and shown a changing room with a locker, or maybe the lockers are full, so you’re offered a large plastic bag for your belongings. Undress down to the waist. If you’re lucky, the radiology center will have cloth gowns, not those paper ones. Then you wait some more, in the inside waiting room.
            Then your technician calls your name and leads you to the exam room. She will most likely be from an East European country. I’ve had technicians from Russia, from Azerbaijan, from Ukraine.
            The room will be cold. Very cold. That’s for the health of the scanning machine. Cloth gowns will be marginally warmer than paper. You lower the gown to your waist so the technician can attach labels, first to cover your nipples, then to indicate any brown spots aka liver spots or keratoses.
            Finally, the scan machine. The right breast is placed flat, squeezed down by a plastic frame just to the point of pain. One arm is placed under the main structure, the other up and onto a hand-rest. You feel like a stage set in a piece of choreography. You are instructed not to move, not to breathe.
            Same for the left breast. The machine is moved at an angle, breast positioned. This time your arm is held over your head with your chin turned away, your other arm down and around the edge of the machine. Don’t move, don’t breathe. Other breast, don’t move, don’t breathe.
            Finally, the technician checks the scans to see if she has to take any more pictures.
            When it’s a routine annual exam, which mine was today, I don’t even think about results. I don’t think about my sister’s experience more than 20 years ago, when she had her first diagnosis, or five years later for her second diagnosis, or eight years after that with her third, and final, diagnosis.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

SOLSC 23: Agitating in the Cold

            It was about 34 degrees just before noon today when I set out for a little politicking. Our local state senator was elected as a Democrat, but she is part of something called the Independent Democratic Conference, eight state senators who vote with the Republicans to give them the majority in our state Senate, even though elected Democrats are the majority.
            (Why do they do it? The Republicans promise them committee chairmanships, staff, and funds, which they didn’t think they’d get from their Democratic compatriots. One result is that a single-payer health system, which the state Assembly has passed, is blocked in the state Senate.)
            With IL, a neighbor, we set up a table near the farmers’ market. I handed out leaflets explaining what we were for, and my IL asked people to sign a petition asking this state senator to either come back to the Democrats or resign.
            But it was cold. Really cold. And breezy on the corner where we stood. Most people walking by had their hands in the pockets and didn’t want to take them out. The pen for signing the petition seemed to be freezing. IL managed to get at least a dozen people to sign, and she had some good conversations. I’m not so good at conversing, but I know how to hold leaflets so passers-by can see what it’s about before they ignore it, or take one. 
            When my fingers began to feel frostbit, after about 45 minutes, we decided we’d done enough good work for the day. Packed up our gear and headed home for a warm lunch.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

SOLSC 22: Prepping

            This evening is one of my book groups. We’ve read Hidden Figures, on which the movie was based. I’d say that this is one case when seeing the movie first is better than reading the book first, since the movie covers only about the last quarter of the book. But both are excellent and highly recommended.
            The book also has a tiny bit of personal connection for me. The human computers worked at Langley Field, and the book starts during World War II. My father worked at Langley, first as a lab assistant in 1939, and soon as an engineer. I was born down the road in Newport News, and we moved away, to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, in 1943, just as the first of the women highlighted, Dorothy Vaughan, applied for a job at Langley. Alas, my father died four years ago, so I can’t ask him which computers he knew or worked with. He would have loved this book.
            To prepare for the book group, I usually write a book summary, so I can make sure I make all the points about the book I want to. That needs to be done this afternoon. I also have to bring a dish for our potluck dinner. My contribution today will be a beet salad, with a mustardy vinaigrette, scallions, and pine nuts, and surrounded by sauteed beet greens, the best part. So the beets are cooked, and now it’s time for cutting up and mixing together.
            Looking forward to tonight.