Tuesday, December 25, 2018

SOLTuesday: Not a Christmas Story

            This is not a Christmas slice. I traveled this past weekend, which only was only tangentially because of Christmas. My daughter, the librarian, had a four-day weekend, having last Saturday off and Christmas Eve as well. She decided she wanted to go with her husband to New Orleans, where she had never been, and asked me if I wanted to join them. Why not? I had only been there once before, last winter, for five days, and loved it.
            So we reserved rooms at the same B&B I had stayed at, Monrose Row (which I strongly recommend; Cindy, the proprietor, makes fantastic breakfasts). I made a dinner reservation for Sunday night at Commodore’s Palace, supposedly the best restaurant in New Orleans. Christie made reservations for dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse, one of those places where they bring large skewers of many different kinds of meat to your table, and slice off whatever you want. I made reservations for a walking tour of the French Quarter, and Christie made reservations for a tour of a local whiskey distillery.
           But that isn’t the story I was going to tell. That happened today, as we were getting on the plane to come back home. Christie and her husband were sitting some rows ahead of me, so they got on first. Then I boarded and was busy putting my bag in the overhead and tucking my other bag under the seat when there was a tap on my shoulder. I thought someone wanted to get past, but when I looked up, I recognized the young man. He was a colleague from the magazine where I do free-lance work. I knew his family was in New Orleans, but what a coincidence that he was on the same flight returning to New York. And he was sitting right behind me as well.
            So we chatted about the city and our holidays, and we shared a taxi into Manhattan from the airport. It all rounded out a very lovely four-day holiday weekend.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

SOLTuesday: Slice of Memory

Last week I read the obituary of Helen Klaben Kahn, whose claim to fame was that after high school she moved to Alaska for adventure, and a year later, on a flight to California, the small plane carrying only her and a pilot crashed and they were marooned for 49 days before rescue. A few years later, she wrote a book, Hey, I’m Alive, which was made into a TV movie.
            I read the obit because Helen was my age, 76. But what provoked my memory is that she grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I lived in Bensonhurst from ages 5 to 8, and one of my best friends was named Helen.
            What are the odds that these two Helens are the same? I could go to the New York Public Library, where city phone books are available on microfilm, to see whether someone with the last name Klaben lived on 75th or 76th Street around the corner from 20th Avenue in Brooklyn. And if she is?
            It’s too late to make contact with her. But I could write something, fictional or non, about her, and me, and Alice, my other friend. 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

SOLTuesday: Bob Dylan Concerts Past and Present

A week ago I went to a Bob Dylan concert with daughter, son-in-law, and a friend. I went mostly for Jack since I was not a big Dylan fan, but he was. His favorite songs were “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “Don’t Think Twice,” songs I hated; they were break-up songs, so why would Jack think I’d want to hear him sing them? 
     I first heard a Dylan record in summer 1963, in a college dorm room. The raspy, atonal voice was annoying, and because I connect to songs via rhythm and melody, not lyrics, I didn’t get the appeal. Jack and I went to the Dylan concert in October 1965, when he famously did the first set in his usual folkie acoustic style, then riled most of the audience with his electric set for the second half. But it was the electric songs that woke me up: “Maggie’s Farm,” “Positively 4th Street,” “Like a Rolling Stone.” For the next 10 or so years, every change Dylan made in his style fit right in with the zeitgeist and my zeitgeist. Then he hit his religious phase, becoming a born-again Christian for a brief period, and he lost me; “Gotta Serve Somebody” was not a song I could relate to.
     Jack and I had also gone to the Blood on the Tracks concert in 1974 or 1975. Jack had a book of Dylan lyrics, titled “Lyrics 1962-1985,” and Dylan’s “Chronicles, Volume One” (if there was a volume 2, that one isn’t in the apartment).
    At last week’s concert, I cried when “It Ain’t Me, Babe” was the second song and “Highway 61” the third and “Simple Twist of Fate” the fourth (that was one of my favorites, and I cried throughout it). He didn’t sing another of my favorites, “Lay Lady Lay,” from “Nashville Skyline.” And I knew that Dylan did different arrangements for his oldies, but still, “Blowin’ in the Wind” was unrecognizable until almost the end.
    Dylan was the soundtrack of the ’60s, of my ’60s. Looking through the “Lyrics” book, there are more songs I remember and like than I thought. I’m glad I went to the concert, and felt Jack there, singing those songs to me.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

SOLTuesday: Three Years Ago Today...

A slice of life from three years ago today.

My husband fell very early in the morning and could not get up. He had taken a sleeping pill the night
before, which probably made him groggy when he got up to use the bathroom, and he forgot to put on his slippers. He wanted me to call the doorman to help him up, but when I noticed there was some blood on the floor, he asked me to call an ambulance, and he spent the day in the ER. Nothing was found to keep him there, and he came home in the evening by taxi. 

His doctor wanted to know how lucid he was, and I told her, as lucid as he could be given that he’d had little sleep. 

And then I wrote these questions in my journal: “How lucid is he anyway? How depressed is he with this inactivity? How long can he stay off his feet without suffering the ill effects of inactivity, weakness in legs, weaker balance?” 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

SOLTuesday: Telephone Hold Limbo

            This morning I spent at least half an hour with a phone plugged into my ear.
            I had to call the Transit Authority about a reduced fare Metrocard I lost a couple of weeks ago, and which I had reported lost a couple of weeks ago. I looked up the number online and dialed what I thought was the right number.
            Of course, I first had to go through the routine recording “as our menus have recently changed,” until I got to the part where I could say “representative” and get into the hold queue. The music wasn’t bad, at first, interrupted maybe every 15 seconds by the recording apologizing for the wait time, but after a while I realized it was only a two-bar riff, repeated endlessly, and it became boring quickly.
            Fortunately, with a cellphone, it’s possible to be on hold and do other things, so I spent this 15 minutes doing necessary stretches. However, when I finally reached a human being, explained my problem (had my replacement Metrocard been mailed?), and learned I wasn’t in her system, it turned out I had called the wrong number. I should have called a city number: 511.
            Dialing 511, however, got me a recording saying it wasn’t a valid number. WTF?!
            Next I tried the all-purpose 311. The recording here misunderstood the reason for my call and sent me to a lost and found person. (Not too long a wait on hold.) She started to tell me how I could go to the website, and when I said I’d rather speak to a human, she laughed and said she was supposed to tell me all my options. She successfully switched me to the 511 number.
            After a brief hold here, I learned that there’d been a “backlog” in replacement cards and mine wasn’t even ready to be mailed yet. (Internal scream of exasperation. With reduced fare, I can only get one round-trip card at a time when showing my Medicare card. This is beyond annoying.)
            Well, if it hasn’t been mailed yet, where is it mailed from? I ask. From lower Manhattan, he says. Can I come pick it up then? Yes, he says. He’ll put a hold so it won’t be mailed out, and I will be called and left a voicemail when it is ready. That should save a couple of days in the Post Office.
            All of this took only half an hour, but it disarrayed my whole morning.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

My Life in 50 Objects: Sewing, part 1

[I don’t know yet whether there will be as many as 50 or more than 50. We’ll how it develops. What I am aiming for is to describe the objects in my apartment and why I have kept them, what they mean to me, so that after I’m gone (which I don’t expect to be any time soon) my younger relatives won’t be able to say, “Why did she keep this old thing?” My mother said she would do that for her jewelry, but she never did.]

      I made this cotton pantsuit in the spring or summer of 1970. Pantsuits had just become a thing you could wear to work, and that change happened between 1967 and 1969 (I know, because I quit work to go back to school full-time to get my B.A. in August 1967, and returned to work exactly two years later. In 1967, no women could wear pants to work; if there was a snowstorm, you might wear snowpants or jeans, but you changed into a skirt in the office. In 1969, pants were acceptable, so long as they were not jeans.)
      This pantsuit has a distinction. I worked on 57th Street just west of Fifth Avenue, and sometimes was too lazy to walk from Columbus Circle, where I got off the C train. On this one day when I was wearing the pantsuit, I was stopped by an elderly woman. She identified herself as Eugenia Sheppard, who had a photo column in the New York Post every Saturday featuring women she saw on the street who looked particularly fashionable. Could she take my picture? How could I say no? When she beckoned her photographer, he turned out to be Duff Gummere, who was a friend of ours, because this was the period when Jack was a new reporter at the New York Post.
      So there I was, one of four women wearing various summer attire, in the New York Post that Saturday. Alas, I have no idea what’s happened to the clipping. Perhaps I can find it on microfilm at the library.
      I said I made this pantsuit. My mother taught me to sew when I was around 12. The first garment didn’t even need a pattern. It was a dirndl skirt, and because my mother was moderately compulsive, she had devised a way to gather the fabric into the waistband so that it would look neat, not bunched up when you followed the method I learned in my high school home ec class.
      We bought a couple of yards of blue paisley cotton, measured my waist, then added six inches where the front and back would overlap. We cut the waistband that measurement long and two and a half inches wide. We stitched the short ends of the rest of the fabric together to make a large tube. Then came the fun part.
      Fold the waistband in half, fold the tube in half. Match the ends of the waistband to the part of the tube with the seam, and match the middle of the waistband to the other end of the tube, which still be the center front of the skirt (right sides of fabric together; if you know how to sew, you’ll remember why; if you don’t, I’d need to make a diagram to show you). Then very careful fold little pleats away from the center front until all of the fabric of the skirt neatly fits the length of the waistband. Laborious, yes, but it makes a neat-looking gather.
      If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll realize that there is a lot of geometry and math involved in sewing. Neither my mother nor I was aware of that at the time, especially since my mother professed to hate math. But I loved the way a large piece of cloth could be turned into a garment with not that much effort. Of course, I used a Singer sewing machine to stitch the thing together. And I did love that blue paisley skirt; I wore it to pieces. 
     There will be more about sewing coming up.
This year there is another essay a week challenge, 52EssaysNextWave. I am way behind, but am trying to catch up with this series. You can read some of the essays that will be linked to the Facebook page for #52EssaysNextWave.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

SOLTuesday: Voting vs. Jury Duty

            This morning, I had to call a company’s customer service line. (The problem easily fixed.) The woman who answered said her name and where she was (Arkansas), so when our business was done, I asked if she was registered to vote.
            No, she said, and it turned out that she wasn’t registered because she didn’t want to be called for jury duty. I’ve heard this “excuse” before, and frankly, don’t understand it. If you are afraid of losing your job or pay, that will usually get you excused.  
         I did try to engage her on the issue, saying that if you don’t want to be on a jury, you can always say something that will get the lawyers to dismiss you—you just have to be willing to say that you don’t think you could be fair on this case. On a civil court jury pool involving a landlord/tenant dispute, I said I didn’t believe in private property so wouldn’t be able to judge a landlord fairly. (I had airline tickets for vacation at the end of the week, but at that time, that wasn’t enough to get me out of the jury pool.)
            The woman said she didn’t want the responsibility of deciding another person’s fate in a trial, and she also insisted, “It’s my choice.” And I apologized for taking up her time and let her go back to answering customers’ complaints.
            Then I posted this episode on Facebook. My daughter and several friends informed me that juries are now drawn not only from registered voters but also tax returns and driver’s licenses. If this is the case in Arkansas, this woman may find herself unpleasantly surprised one day. Maybe then she will register to vote.
            Meanwhile, this fear of jury duty seems to me a way people suppress their own vote. I hope you are all registered and able to vote in two weeks—whichever side you are on.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Friday, October 19, 2018

52Essays2018: Eyesight Correction

            When I was 6 or 7, did my parents notice that I tended to watch TV by turning my head sideways and scrunching up one of my eyes? My grandmother noticed and told me to stop. My myopia must have already been starting then. But it wasn’t until fourth grade that I gradually had to move ever closer to the front of the classroom to be able to read what was on the blackboard. When I finally had to stand right in front of the board, the teacher must have sent a note home to tell my parents to take me to an eye doctor.
            I still remember coming out of the optician’s office with my first pair of glasses, looking up and noticing the side wall of the big department store in New Haven, Malley’s I think it was, which earlier had been nothing but a grayish-brown slab. Now I saw windows scattered up the wall. I’d had no idea. I soon lost all memory of what the world looked like before I had the magic of glasses, but living out in the country I didn’t always need to see details in the distance. I knew where the fences surrounding the adjoining fields were, the trees, the big rocks, the hedges along tiny creeks.
            I didn’t wear the glasses all the time. One of my favorite pastimes was to pretend to be a singer or dancer and perform to an imaginary audience. My stage was the concrete slab leading into our basement garage, and the audience was out in the graveled driveway. No performer I had ever seen on TV wore glasses, so of course I took them off when I did my imaginary performances, usually putting them in the back pocket of my shorts. One day, I forgot they were there and sat on the grass after one of my performances. Oops! Broken glasses. They must have been fairly expensive even then, because my mother was quite angry at having to replace them.
            Two years ago I had cataract surgery on one eye, which is now farsighted, while the other eye is still quite nearsighted. My brain has somehow learned to process distance with the right eye, reading with the left eye (at about 8 inches), while working on this laptop is the only task requiring glasses. Driving in bright daylight I can do with only the right eye—amazing. When it turns dusk, I need glasses. But most of the time I am most comfortable not wearing glasses.
            I began to wonder why glasses felt less comfortable if I can see better with them. Eyeglasses aren’t the only way to correct one’s vision. In fact, all through high school, I hated wearing glasses. On first hearing “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” I thought it was a piece of folk wisdom; I was astonished years later to learn it was a poem written by Dorothy Parker. Glasses in the 1950s were pretty hideous, the so-called cat’s-eye, strongly upswept where they met the earpiece. But that’s what everyone who needed to wear glasses wore, so that’s what I wore.
            I first heard about contact lenses when I was 19. A friend of my younger sister wore them. But they were so expensive, more than $100. I didn’t even think about asking my parents.
            But the next year, I had dropped out of college. I had my own job, making my own money. I was going to explore this possibility to toss the glasses forever.
            The first ophthalmologist was sure I wouldn’t be able to tolerate contacts. I had dry eyes, a condition called blephritis. I don’t care, I thought. I’ll try them out and see what happens. I can still remember the thrill standing in the middle of the opticians’ (Nichols and Oldt, in Washington, D.C.—that still remember that shows how important it was to me) and could see my reflection, sans glasses, in the mirror eight feet away. I followed instructions scrupulously: wear for one hour a day for a week, and gradually increase by an hour a day per week until I was wearing the contacts all the time I was awake. To my surprise, I had no trouble putting a small piece of hard plastic, which is what contacts were in the early 1960s, into my eye. Although getting water in my eyes had prevented me from learning to swim, the desire to not wear glasses was powerful enough to overcome the fear of putting my finger in my eye.
            I wore those hard lenses for 20 years, scrupulously keeping them clean, not sleeping in them, wearing sunglasses outside no matter the time of day to keep dust and other mess from irritating the lenses and my eyes. When I started going to a gym, sweating through weight-lifting, or race-walking for exercise, I couldn’t imagine doing any of these activities while wearing glasses; sweat would cause them to slip and slide on my face.
            Perhaps it was the dry eye problem asserting itself. My lenses smudged up more and more frequently. I had to clean them five or six times a day, then every hour, then every half hour. They became annoying, got in the way of my doing my work. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was now copyediting on a computer all day. I was also now over 40, a feminist, less concerned with my appearance.
            I returned to glasses, which were much more attractive. Wore them for four years. Until I met someone who wore soft lenses. Who persuaded me to try them. Soft lenses were different. You could sleep in them, if you wanted. I didn’t tempt fate. I did have one thing to overcome. From my earliest contact lens days, I’d had a recurrent dream: the lens I was about to put in my eye because as large as a salad plate, and floppy, something I could never put in my eye. Soft lenses turned out not to be as floppy or as large as I feared.
            I wore the soft lenses for another 20 years. Then the same smudging began again. Protein deposits, my ophthalmologist told me. At the same time, my aging eyes were beginning to require different correction for close and middle distances. If I read a recipe, I needed reading glasses. Working on the computer required reading glasses. Wearing glasses while also wearing contacts seemed excessive. This time I thought I’d given up lenses for good.
            I’ve worn glasses regularly for only 25 years, a third of my life. I’ve worn contact lenses for 40 years. My glasses now help me see the middle distance, but I’m still most comfortable not wearing glasses when I read or watch TV or wander the streets. It no longer has anything to do with vanity or fear that no man will make a pass. My face just feels freer without any plastic resting on my nose.
This year there is another essay a week challenge, 52EssaysNextWave. I am so far behind that I confess it is week 42, and this is only the sixth or seventh essay I've posted. I doubt I'll get to 52 essays this year, but I will try to do more before the year ends. If you’d like to try it, go to the Facebook page for #52EssaysNextWave and sign up. Or read some of the essays that will be linked to there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

SOLTuesday: Cooking Fish

            Last night I cooked a whole fish, I think for the first time in my life. Sometime, years ago, I learned how to filet a cooked fish, which is supposed to be so hard. So I thought, why wait for a restaurant meal to do the whole thing myself.
            I bought a branzino (spelled by my local fish place “bronzino”), not quite a pound. Of course the store did the gutting and removing of gills. I washed it off when I got home and did the following: put about a tablespoon of olive oil on a baking sheet. Placed the fish on top. Cut a slice of lemon in half and put the two halves inside the cavity, along with a couple of sprigs of dill. Ground black pepper on top, and added another teaspoon of olive oil. Baked in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
           Then for the “hard” part. I carefully scraped away the skin on the top, from the head down to the tail. I used a cake spatula to carefully lift the filet away from the backbone. It didn’t come off neatly in one piece as it does at a restaurant, but I didn’t care. I just kept peeling the flesh away from the bone and onto a plate. A few bones came with it, but they were big enough that they were easy to dispense with.
            After eating my dinner, which was delicious, I went back to the remainer of the fish. Cut the backbone close to the tail and carefully lifted away from the filet on the other side. Then peeled away the strip of tiny bones (maybe these are called pin bones?) along the spine, and voila, there was the second filet. There are still some largish bones where the fish innards were, but I can get them out while eating my lunch today. 
           I guess I'm still not in the digital generation, because it didn't occur to me to take a picture. Oh, well, next time.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Overnight Train, Part 2

(Weeks ago, I posted Part 1 of this saga, and never managed to get it together to complete the story. Here is Part 2. And here's the link to Part 1, so this has its proper context: http://redemma1991.blogspot.com/2018/08/sol-tuesday-overnight-train-part-1.html)

    After sleeping fitfully, we arrived in Szczecin at our scheduled time of 8:18, even though we’d left Krakow over an hour late. After finding some breakfast (yogurt granola fruit jam parfaits), we went to the assigned platform, which made it obvious that the train was originating in that station—its track was a dead-end. Maybe 20 people got on when it arrived, and I promptly dozed off. We had a two-hour trip to Berlin. 
   After about an hour Christie woke me to say that everyone had gotten off the train. I thought that meant we should also get off. We were at a platform in the middle of nowhere, but all the passengers were also there. After a while the train pulled out back in the direction it had come. We approached a young German woman we had spoken to before getting on the train to ask if she knew what was happening, and she said that another train was coming and going to the main Berlin station; our ticket was for the station in the former East Berlin.
   (in retrospect, I wonder if we were at the border between Poland and Germany, a border where there used to be passport control and other hindrances to travel, but with Poland joining the EU, that no longer matters.)
   We got on that train, not sure whether we would have to pay an extra charge, but the conductor said we were fine. And indeed this train did stop at Berlin Lichtenberg. I had previously e-mailed our Berlin hotel to ask if they could have a taxi meet us at Lichtenberg, and she’d said they couldn’t but there were always lots of taxis at the station. Guess what, there were no taxis at that station. A woman at a nearby kiosk said we could call for one, but our phones had no service outside the US.
    So, we eventually decided to buy S-bahn tickets for the length of our stay and take the S bahn to the main Berlin train station, where hopefully we could find taxis. (No S bahn went near our hotel.) After first getting on an S bahn in the wrong direction, and then getting on one that didn’t go all the way to our destination, eventually we found taxis! One of which took us to our hotel. Which was very nice indeed.

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

SOL Tuesday: The Overnight Train, Part 1

(This actually happened a week ago Sunday night, but I couldn't figure out how to post to the blog from my phone, so saved it up for now. Part 2 will come next Tuesday.)

My daughter and I were traveling in Poland and Germany. Our overnight train from Krakow to Berlin was scheduled to leave at 10:23 p.m. We got to the station more than an hour early since in my experience strange train stations in foreign languages take some time to navigate. When our train (to Szczecin Glowny) appeared on the train board, there was a note that it was 4 minutes late, then 5 minutes late. These two times oscillated back and forth for the next hour. This train also had an assigned platform: 5. (Platforms were above the station waiting area.) 
        Under platform 5 we noticed that another train, with a later departure, had been posted. Meanwhile, the train board still had our train leaving at 10:23. I decided to ask a ticket agent. (There was no information desk with a human.) The agent informed me that I needed a train to Swinoujscie, which the train board said was on Platform 1 and leaving at the same 10:23, which by this point was already more than 10 minutes in the past. I was panicking, wondering whether this other train would honor our sleeping compartment reservation. Fortunately, Christie had noticed that both trains had the same train number. (Why were they on the train board as two separate trains? Just to confuse me?)
        We rushed over to platform 1, where we found most of the seats in the waiting area taken. It was getting later and later, and after 11 pm, the train for Swinoujscie was gone from the train board. What did that mean? Around 11:10, a train pulled into the station and the ID board on the platform said it was going to Swinoujscie. We rushed to get on because I had no idea how quickly it would leave. (Not quickly, it turned out.)
        I was looking for car 32, with berths 41 and 45, but could not find it. We wrestled out suitcases through car after car, most with compartments holding six seats, and one with two by two seats like an American train car, and at the end of that car racks of a couple dozen bicycles. People were standing in the narrow corridors. Where was/were the cars with sleeping compartments? Where was a conductor? Were we going to have to stand for the next 10 hours?
         Finally we came to a car we could not enter, but a passenger standing at the end of the car spoke English. While I was using the toilet, luckily at this end of the car, the conductor arrived, and it turned out that the car we couldn’t enter was the one with sleeping compartments. Once we were settled in, Christie decreed this was an adventure, not a horror show.

But wait, there’s more. (next SOL Tuesday)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SOLTuesday: Demonstration

            There was a demonstration in Union Square today in support of Roe v. Wade, from 4:30 to 6. But I had a physical therapy appointment at 2 and had to go to the gym afterwards. I could get there, but I’d be late. Christie was off today and she planned to be there, too.
            I was able to leave the gym by 5 and walked to the Q train. When I got out at Union Square, the first thing I saw was a table and big signs from the group that uses Refuse Fascism as its slogan. It’s a group that’s part of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which some people (like me) think is a cult. Beyond them, however, I could see women with signs proclaiming “Our Body, Our Choice” and other reproductive freedom slogans.
            I got out my phone to text Christie, but saw a voicemail from her 45 minutes earlier. She had just arrived, she said, and it looked dubious (she had also seen the Refuse Fascism table before seeing the women's rally). I texted her that I had arrived, but was sure from her voicemail that she’s gone home—it was hot, after all.
            I walked around the rally of at least 100 people and sat on the steps to get myself some shade. The speakers I heard talked more about voting, both locally and nationally, which got rousing chants from the crowd.
            Then I recognized Christie’s hair, and her distinctive pants, which she got on one of her international travels. She was among a group of women holding signs and standing behind the speakers. I was proud of her for staying and being more than just a bystander.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Essay #6: Cockroaches, 2

            I saw my first cockroach in a New York City apartment when I was 19. Having grown up in the country and the suburbs, I was acquainted with insects: a praying mantis, aka “walking stick,” in the schoolyard when I was 10 (so big, and so oddly human-like); crickets everywhere, with their nighttime trills; fireflies, who we chased and collected in glass jars and mysteriously were gone the next morning, even though we’d screwed on the top. Ants, mosquitos, ordinary flies, deer flies at college.
            The cockroach in my kitchen was ugly. And its reputation was ugly as well. I only knew about them from books, where they were stand-ins for poverty, filth, nastiness. “Is that a cockroach?” I asked my roommates, though they were suburban kids themselves, how would they know? But they knew. In my first apartment a few years later with Jack, we’d leave glasses with the dregs of Coca-Cola or gin and tonic in the living room; in the morning, there would be a jumble of dead roaches who’d gone for the sugar.
            One day Jack was home and decided to exterminate the buggers. He called me at work in the middle of the task; “Call in the air force,” he said. He’d taken the books out of the bookcase between living room and kitchen and disturbed a nation of roaches, who fled in many directions. We didn’t know that cockroaches liked paper.
            I visited a friend one evening after work. As we sat in the kitchen, roaches ran up and down the wall just inches from my head. I pretended I didn’t see them, and my friend pretended she didn’t notice me pretending not to see them.
            One day in another apartment, I was reading a book while lying on the bed. Feeling a prickly feeling on my thigh, I looked down and was horrified to see a cockroach crawling along my leg. I brushed it away, but couldn’t help the creepy sense that the roach thought I was a dead thing.
            Cockroaches are really, really ancient. They’ve been on Earth for 320 million years, while Homo erectus appeared around two million years ago. We’re the newcomers to this planet. But we still try to eradicate them. Sprays, traps, folk remedies, we’ll try anything. It took quite a while for us to try the cleanliness route, making sure we washed the dishes every night and wiped off the counters. In our current apartment, Jack would wake up in the middle of the night and go to the kitchen to get water. Turning on the light caused the brown creatures to run for the walls, where they slipped through invisible-to-humans openings.
            One evening I noticed a large bug (cockroach? waterbug?) meander toward the couch I was on. I dropped a heavy book on it, smashed it dead. But I couldn’t get rid of it. It seemed almost a tiny animal. I called Jack to take it away. We had a succession of cats, but only played with cockroaches, didn’t eat them. Perhaps they had a bad taste.
            Did we get cleaner or neater? Or did our building staff do a better job at extermination? For many years now, cockroach sightings have become rare. Mostly when there is work being done on nearby apartments, anything that disturbs the natural ecology of the building. I did see a cockroach crawl out of a hole atop the bathtub where grout had come loose; it was easy to make sure its family stayed inside the wall. 
This year there is another essay a week challenge, 52EssaysNextWave. If you’d like to try it, go to the Facebook page for 52EssaysNextWave and sign up. Or just read some of the essays that will be linked to there.