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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.