"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Monday, December 7, 2015


Some years ago one of my doctors suggested I have a sleep study done. I forget which doctor because I have quite a few, since I have several things wrong with me, most of which involve curious maladies which are quite uncomfortable albeit hard to get a handle on. I have a lot of “ologists.” A rheumatologist, an immunologist, a neurologist, a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, a gynecologist (of course) and if my insurance covered it I'd damn sure have a psychologist, too. I think a big mistake a lot of us made in high school was that we didn't make plans to be an “ologist.” We should have all striven for this. We'd make good money and meet interesting people with interesting illnesses (like me). I am not sure I'd want to be a proctologist, but maybe they make more than everybody, who knows. No reason to scoff at proctologists.

Anyway I think it was my cardiologist who suggested the sleep study to see if I stop breathing in my sleep. I guess this can affect blood pressure and mine was starting to creep upward. I know for a fact I snore; when I was a young kid living at home and my mother was messing around in the kitchen right below my bedroom, she could hear me through the ceiling. And I've spent months at a time out in my sister-in-law's brother's one room adobe and straw bale house in the California canyons driving him insane with insomnia. I slept in a fold-out love seat on the ground floor and he slept in a little loft. Therefore he could not poke or kick me. He tried ear plugs but they didn't really help, though he noticed that if he yelled “Quiet!” I would stop sometimes, except he got bored yelling “Quiet!” after awhile so he just started yelling out random things like “Karen Carpenter!” and “Phuket, Thailand!” and whatever else came to his mind. I never heard it, not consciously. But it did help the poor bastard get some rest, I guess.

Anyway I had no quarrel with getting a sleep study so they set it up and around 8 PM I made my way to the hospital. They suggested I immediately put nightclothes on and get comfortable. I had brought an old pair of jogging pants and a thin sweatshirt. The night started out on an inauspicious note when I went into the bathroom, saw no shelves to rest my things on while I got undressed, and draped the pants across the top of the sink, not realizing that would trigger the handle-less faucet. By the time I finished using the toilet and taking my outer clothes off the jogging pants were soaked. I put my jeans back on and wondered if there was a clothes dryer anywhere nearby and if I could use it. A nurse came into the room (it was a nondescript bedroom) and took them and said she'd put them on top of the sterilizing machine, that was always warm. Shortly thereafter a sullen young woman came in to hook wires to my head. This took forever. She had to use some sort of sticky stuff and I could feel my hair getting stickier and my head getting heavier with every minute. I figured there must be a load of wires (there were).

I tried making a little conversation with the girl because it vaguely reminded me of being at the hairdresser's – well, it was nothing like that, but it was the only association I had – and when you're at the hairdresser, chatting with the stylist is what you do. This woman was having none of that. None. She answered my questions in monosyllables and initiated no talk at all. Maybe she was just concentrating. Who knows. The nurse who had taken my pants came back in with them after an hour or so and said they were still too damp, so would I mind just wearing my jeans? Nope, I didn't mind.

This is NOT ME, of course, but this is pretty much what you look like
 after they finish hooking you up.

So they want you in bed by 10 PM and you can watch TV until 11. I don't know why I did, but I watched it until they finally came in and told me to shut it off at around 12:30. I was watching one of the late night talk shows, Jimmy Kimmel or somebody. I don't watch any of these shows at home so I thought it would be a little treat. After that I fell asleep very quickly (I'm pretty good at that) and they said push the call button if I found I had to use the bathroom as they'd have to unhook me. They would have me on closed circuit TV all night and there would be a film taken of me sleeping as they watched from another room. Maybe that's why the girl was sullen, because I'm not sure I'd want a job sitting in a room watching some doofus like myself just sleep, roll around and snore.

Seemed like no time at all I hear the girl's voice on an intercom saying “Okay, you're all through and you can get up now.” I was really conked off and found this very unfair. What harm would it be to them to just let you go on sleeping till a halfway decent hour? Not like they need the room because they don't do daytime sleep studies, I don't think. I was so groggy I don't even remember them pulling those wires off my scalp. Anyway, here it was the crack of dawn and the hospital cafeteria wasn't even open yet so without coffee I drove to the nearest Dunkin Donuts for some grub. I felt really odd. Later I realized I looked pretty odd too, with my hair sticking out in all directions full of dried goo of some sort. But they probably see all kinds in Dunkin Donuts.

The sleep study revealed that I did have mild sleep apnea but did not experience a reduction of oxygen during the periods of apnea, so there'd be no need to pursue any treatment other than plain old blood pressure meds. I found all this out later. That morning I drove home (18 miles, all highway thank Heavens since I was dopey) and got in bed for awhile. The cats, who had no doubt slept all night just fine without me, got in too. Then we all slept some more. Piece of cake, a sleep study. I feel my eyes getting heavy now just thinking about it. Probably won't stay up for the late show tonight.

Monday, November 30, 2015


Tomorrow is December 1st. We have had worse years in this family but by gosh, I have to say we've damned sure had better ones. To begin with, my mother (“our mother,” as my father refers to her) lost her balance during a stupid power failure in August, fell backward, banged her head and back on the kitchen radiator, and couldn't move. My father crawled on the floor to get the flashlight, dialed my brother and his wife on the rotary phone, and they hurried over. By then the lights were back on but everybody was really scared for Ma, so they called 911. The ambulance took her to the local satellite emergency clinic where she spent SEVEN HOURS on a stretcher, very uncomfortable, but I have to say they did some pretty thorough testing.

There were no breaks or fractures, but Ma couldn't stand up by herself or breathe without supplemental oxygen. Why, we don't know. They shipped her off to the hospital where she spent three days in observation having even more tests. They still couldn't get her to use her legs or, for that matter, get her off the oxygen, then it appeared she had pneumonia, so they transferred her to the rehab wing of a nursing home here in town. They tried like hell getting her to get in and out of bed by herself, up from and back into her recliner by herself, and back and forth from the bathroom by herself (with a walker). They tried to wean her off oxygen. Neither effort succeeded. Why, we don't know. No one really knows, except that (long story VERY short here) the hospital was only giving her ONE THIRD of her prescribed dosage of Lasix (a diuretic, for congestive heart failure) causing her legs to become so waterlogged and heavy they looked more like logs.

Anyway, she's still there, still needs 24-hour-help and it's more than any one of us can do, but we have been there so much I think they are ready for us to become volunteers of some sort (my father can play the guitar...maybe I can do arts and crafts?) and we decided too that nothing was going to stop us taking Ma home for Thanksgiving. For the past several years Dad has been ordering Thanksgiving dinner at one of the local supermarkets. Then everything just has to be heated up, and people can bring side dishes if they want different ones, and desserts. That is not how we used to have Thanksgiving dinner in days of yore, but it works well for us now. My brother and sister-in-law host it. They decided we would eat at 2 PM. Here is where it all starts going downhill fast.

Two o'clock seems like a reasonable time to eat Thanksgiving dinner. Gives everyone enough time to travel, do the last minute meal preparation and settle in for cheese and crackers. By 4, 4:30 you're done, having dessert, getting ready to watch football if you're into it, and you can get home at a reasonable hour. My father does NOT think 2 PM is a good mealtime. In his opinion, this is eating much too late. I personally don't care what time I eat if someone is willing to feed me, but that's just his preference.

So my brother says he will actually pick me UP at 2 PM to go get Ma at “the home.” I have my creamed onions with sherry and nutmeg all ready and a nice French green bean casserole with mushroom soup and dried onions. I'm watching out the door for him and a car pulls into my driveway, next to my car but so far back toward the road no one could pull in behind it. The person is out of the car and into the other part of the house (it is a two-family home) before I can see who it is. Obviously someone connected with the tenants. The tenants have their own driveway but if they are having lots of people over I always let them use mine as well, I just sorta like to be asked...just sayin'? So maybe this person's gonna run in there for something and run right back out. Um, no. My brother comes down the road and with his big Chevy Traverse is unable to negotiate room behind my car and next to that mysterious Other Person. So he has to wait in the road while I haul stuff out and get in. Oh well. No trouble. (Ha ha.)

In five minutes we're at the Home, and Ma is dressed and ready but does not have her shoes on and the portable oxygen tanks are not filled. This takes time. Eventually we get everything squared away and wheel Ma out to the parking lot. We have a homemade wooden mounting block to help Ma get up high enough to get in the car. By now my brother and I have worked out a system: we wheel the chair right up to the open car door, put the brakes on, I stand behind the chair steadying it and holding the portable oxygen paraphernalia, my brother stands in front and 1-2-3 lifts Ma out of the chair and they “dance” to the left until she gets her rear end close enough to the seat to sit down. Then the O2 tank goes between her legs on the floor to steady it, we load the wheelchair and block, and we're good to go. Sometimes it is easier than other times. This time a well meaning nurse thought Ma would do better using a walker to get into the car. With the nurse helping it did work fine. The really tough part is at my brother's house, which, though a ranch, has three narrow concrete steps going up to the front door. With four adults helping (my nephew was there) we managed to get Ma inside and sitting. Dad was already there. The house smelled good. I was starving. It was now 3 PM.

My sister-in-law returned to heat things in the kitchen. My nephew, who had run a road race that morning, started telling me about it. My father started to grumble. “I think I may have left the stove on,” he said. “I better go home and check.” We didn't pay any attention. “Maybe I ought to go see if that timer works that I set to turn the outside light on,” he said. “Getting dark now.” My nephew says “Papa, NO.” My sister-in-law says “Let him go. He wants to go, he can go.” My father sighed deeply and said “I can eat leftovers tomorrow.” I knew what he was really saying. Everybody knew. Eventually everything made its way onto the table and the turkey was carved. Dad was asleep on the couch. We woke him up to go eat.

As with any Thanksgiving feast, everything was delicious but I just KNEW it would be better when this day was over with. I just felt it in my bones. All of a sudden Ma started coughing. She tends to swallow the wrong way very easily (in fact they think the pneumonia she had was aspiration pneumonia). Ma's face turned red. We all watched with varying degrees of nervousness. Ma got kind of a panicky look on her face. My sister-in-law went over with some tissues and water (Ma's on fluid restriction because of the edema in her legs) but though she wasn't choking, Ma could not stop coughing. I knew she was afraid she was going to throw up. She is deathly afraid of throwing up (I don't care for it much myself). It took a long time, but finally things calmed down somewhat.

By now it was in fact pitch black out. Dad does not drive well in the dark. It wasn't a long way home, but I was a little concerned. I worked it out so that I'd ride back to Dad's with him and my brother could follow because I had something for my nephew in Dad's old closet (which was 100% true; a long time back my late aunt had sent for two Hallmark Christmas ornament collections, one for each of her great-nephews, and charged me with seeing that they got them when they got their own home or apartment). We saw my brother's headlights behind us as he followed us out the driveway. However, when we got to Dad's and I fetched the big box of ornaments and was ready to go back to my brother's, we didn't know where my brother was. We looked outside and didn't see the car. “But he was RIGHT BEHIND US,” I said. Dad thought he'd better take me back. “NO,” I said. “Then they've taken your mother back to the home,” he said. “WHO?” I asked. “They haven't had time to get her in that car.” “Don't worry, he'll be back for you,” Dad said. I wonder what my blood pressure was at that point. Meanwhile Dad decided to show me all of the old Christmas stuff he had found and asked when could I come over and go through it?

Finally I decided I'd better call the house. My sister-in-law answered. “I have no idea where he is,” she said of my brother. “If he doesn't show up in five minutes call me back.” Then I realized my brother probably had his cell phone with him so I called HIM. He answered pleasantly. “Where are you?” I asked. “Out in the back yard listening to the car radio,” he said. “I'm waiting for you.” Dad has two driveways. We'd come up different ones. We didn't see my brother's car. Out I went with some sense of relief, matched with even greater relief by my sister-in-law. “Mom thought you had an accident,” my nephew said. “She was getting ready to come looking for you.” I gave him the box of ornaments. He opened one and thought they were nice. (They are all miniature snow globes.) He was glumly bemoaning the fact that his brother, with wife and baby, had not stopped at the house. He said even if the baby was fussy and needed a nap his mother could take him home and maybe his brother could still stop over. He didn't want to bother his brother at the in-laws' house so he didn't call, but you could tell he was glum.

I was hoping we'd have good luck getting Ma back to the Home. I thought it should probably be sooner rather than later. My brother went down to the cellar for something and yelled “What are all these tapes here?” “What do you mean?” my sister-in-law yelled down. “What tapes? I'm trying to clean that cellar out, who's putting tapes down there?” “What kind of tapes?” I asked. “8-track, I think,” my brother said as he came back up the stairs. No one has seen an 8-track tape in my family for decades. “Did your FATHER put them there?” asked my sister-in-law with some vehemence. She sent my nephew down to bring them up. They were not 8-tracks, they were videocassettes and I recognized them as having been in a box in a cupboard in our old house, all right. They were an eclectic collection, to be sure: “Daffy Duck,” “Rogaine-Taking Control of Your Hair Loss,” “Barbados, A Travelogue,” “Bruce Almighty,” and something to do with putting a stop to the fur industry.

I had one nerve left by now and started scurrying around dumping leftovers willy-nilly onto a plate so I could have some later and said we ought to get Ma back. Getting her DOWN the cement steps proved measurably more difficult than getting her UP, even with four of us. At the last minute by the car door Ma, my brother, and my sister-in-law got tangled up in the walker and Ma started sliding precariously out of my brother's arms. I yelled for my nephew to jump into the driver's side and grab her and pull her into the car. She was completely out of breath and wheezing loudly. I was frightened. “You want my inhaler?” I said. She shook her head no. “Let's go,” she managed to say. It sounded like she was trying to breathe underwater. Halfway to the Home the spare O2 tank in the trunk fell over, emitting an ear-splitting alarm which we did not stop to correct. We just got her to the Home and dragged her out of the car and into the wheelchair. I pushed her back to her room and told the nurse she needed her nebulizer. They got it, quickly.

We waited a few minutes. When things settled down a little, we uneasily left. Per usual I had forgotten to leave my front light on and it wasn't easy getting out and unloading the car. At least I would have some leftover creamed onions and that green bean casserole later, right? Half right. I grabbed the glass bowl of beans in the back seat with my left hand, transferred it to my right and it smoothly slid over the sleeve of my jacket to smash into smithereens in the driveway. At least the tenants' guest had vacated the spot. And though I have swept all the glass to the border of the driveway so no one will get a flat tire, I am waiting for it to rain to wash all that freaking cream of mushroom soup away before I clean it.

Friday, February 27, 2015


The whole thing started with onions. Steve's mother was going to make corned beef hash from scratch and told him to come for lunch the next day. Usually Steve's brother and nephew, who install overhead doors, get through early in the afternoon and show up to eat too.  However, Jane (Steve's mother) changed her mind and decided to make beef stew instead. She told him that morning she needed onions. Steve realized he would have to leave for Big Y immediately if he was to buy onions and bring them over to Jane in time for her to cook stew for lunch. (Jane uses a lot of onions.)

Last time he had been at Big Y Steve had noticed these small whole onions packaged in a bag that read "Vidalia Onions." He honestly did not think they were Vidalia onions but he wondered if they would have a sweetish taste and he thought his mother might like to try them. But, he knew she wouldn't put them in her stew so he needed to get regular onions.  Unless, he said, "don't you already have some you can use until I get more?" "I probably do," Jane said. "Count your onions," he said.  I am still a little confused as to whether Steve's mother ended up using her existing onions or new ones for the batch of stew, but in any case everybody ate it and enjoyed it.

There are often vegetable issues here.  Jane sent Steve for carrots. There's a smaller independent grocery store near Steve's house. They have lovely produce (I've been there). Steve had a dentist's appointment but he was early and thought he would go get the carrots there to kill some time. If you live almost anywhere in the United States you know that this is the worst winter on record and that parking lots are very icy. VERY icy. Steve slowly shuffled, carefully picking his way in from the truck and trying not to fall and maim himself. All they had were those baby carrots already peeled and packaged. He knew his mother would not use those so he would have to look elsewhere.

After his dentist's appointment, where he learned he would be having the rough surface of the back of one of his front teeth filled in (because it was getting thin from him worrying it with his tongue) he headed for a local produce store and, finding the carrots he needed, walked out feeling like a puppy wanting to wag his tail. His mother was happy too.

Steve doesn't mind going grocery shopping and he does usually go to his local Big Y, a HUGE store I was bowled over by when I first saw it. It also has sales beyond the pale. The thing is, he told me, there is very little confusion about shopping in general until he gets to the produce. There he usually gets jittery. Once he could stand things no longer and finally asked a worker what the difference was between sweet potatoes and yams. "HAH!" the worker said, "There is absolutely no difference. But some people want sweet potatoes and some want yams, and so we put them in separate displays and mark them differently." They were, in fact, the same price so this made sense to Steve.

BUT Steve is not one to take things that lightly and the next time he was at his parents' house he dragged out their encyclopedias (this was pre-computer) so he could look up sweet potatoes and yams. Well, one or two yams, he discovered, would take a pickup truck to transport. They are grown in Africa and are about six feet long.  Steve says he sometimes sees people looking back and forth between the two displays at Big Y and he usually looks over and says "HAH!" like the worker did. Sometimes for kicks he will go right up to the display, shake his head sadly and go "pssht" like Ed Bassmaster in these famous skits :

"I just feel like I have to do it sometimes," he said.

There is an issue with green peppers, too. Some are shorter
and rounder and some are longer. Often when he brings her peppers his mother will say "Stephen, those peppers are too big." "What do you mean those peppers are too big?" he asked her. "I got them in my car!" Too big for stuffed peppers, she explained. Steve thought she cut the tops off and stuffed them but in fact she cuts them in half and makes two. Therefore the logic is that she can use a smaller pepper.

There are a few other vegetable considerations in the family. Jane puts "eating celery" on her shopping list when she wants celery hearts because she doesn't like to eat or serve "cooking celery," though she will just ask for celery if she's planning on cooking it.  How often do you cook celery, anyway? What do you put it in? Beef stew, I know. Hey, I'm not making fun of anybody. When I run out of cat food I always say "Well, if worst comes to worst I always have a few cans of human tuna." (Human tuna with eating celery makes a good salad, of course, if you put it with mayo and elbow noodles.)

"You know, I think most people get confused when it comes to cuts of meat," Steve said, "but really it's the VEGETABLES. If you don't understand the different vegetables you can really drive yourself crazy. It's all well and good to know the butcher, but the guy who can help you with the vegetables? That guy? He's like this all-knowing presence. He can tell you everything. He's like a sage."

Sage, I think, is in the next aisle over.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

WHAT GOES AROUND (Some Of The Names Have Been Changed To Protect The Innocent, haha)

The other night I was sitting on the floor finishing trimming my parents' Christmas tree, when my father, who had been relaxing quietly in his recliner looking around, asked, “Doesn't anybody ever get appendicitis any more?” We are quite used to my father suddenly coming out with things that he has apparently been musing about. (Once while he was getting dressed in the hallway he quietly pondered "I wonder how many people in the world have just one leg in their pants right now?") I turned to look at him. “I mean I had it,” he said (he did, before I was born, shingling the roof on a hot summer's day...he seemed to do an awful lot of shingling, I think he likes heights). “Bob got it,” he said with some emphasis (Bob is my brother and he had one nasty case of appendicitis). “Well, I don't know,” I said. “I suppose they do.” “But you never hear of it, do you?” he said.

That night I was discussing this with Steve, my Significant Other. He thought it over. “I think it's because we have so much other stuff now, a lot stranger stuff than appendicitis,” he said. “More interesting to the doctors.” I sighed. “I wish we could go back to those days when the only things you had to worry about were appendicitis and tonsillitis and stuff like hay fever; my uncle had hay fever and he had ulcers for awhile – I remember the doctors telling him to drink milk.” In fact my uncle got in the habit of drinking milk with every meal. “But now they've found that bacteria is the cause of ulcers,” said Steve, “and it doesn't matter what you eat.” True, I said. In fact I'd heard that eating hot peppers when you have ulcers is not necessarily a bad thing at all. The stomach is full of hydrochloric acid, caustic, and if you can trick it into thinking it's already peppered with hot stuff it manufactures less of that acid.  I haven't looked it up but it sounds right.

“And by the way when you have the puke virus, yogurt is good,” I noted, “plain yogurt.” Steve, agreeing that yogurt's good for pretty much anything, wanted to know where I'd heard that. “Well, from this guy Jimmy,” I answered. “Jimmy Westcott.”  "Oh, tell me this story," Steve said.  

Jimmy, I told him, was a guy from New York City who came up to town on weekends. In New York he worked for the telephone company and liked to call the young girls in our town toll-free.  He, his mother, and his brother Alan lived in this big, half-finished house out by the lake. Jimmy and the mother would only come up on weekends; Alan stayed there all the time and didn't go back to New York with the other two. He was a painter. His works were incredible. I have never seen the like. Alan probably could have been very rich; he really didn't show his stuff in galleries, though, and was just an unassuming goofball like us (though of course we thought we were hot shit), and our gang would often go out to the house to party with Alan during the week, when Jimmy and the mother were gone.

The place was primitive – a big wood stove for heat and cooking – a crude bathroom – no TV or phone. It was barely lit at night and seemed a little ghostly but at the same time a little other-worldly cozy, one of our favorite places to hang out, and Jimmy, who fancied himself as somewhat of a pioneer cook, made homemade elderberry wine. Yes, of course we drank it, what do you think? There were jars and jars of it stacked on floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves in the kitchen. We'd rearrange the jars afterward and hope he wouldn't notice.

Jimmy was definitely Not Right.  He was a Viet Nam vet and whether or not he'd seen combat was debatable, but without question he suffered from something - shell shock, they used to call it.  I'm grateful to all our armed forces members who stand ready to defend us against all enemies.  That's no lie.  But Jimmy...who knows, maybe he had shell shock from childhood. We thought we might embarrass Alan if we asked him though.  And we weren't too interested, to be honest.

Across the street from the Westcotts a family originally from the outskirts of Boston lived in a big brick house which had recently been occupied by a Mr. Thompson – a good guy who once broke up a fight between my older brother and Jimmy who accused my brother of taking Alan out and getting him drunk (like Alan needed help) when in fact my brother had only given Alan, who never had a driver's license, a ride home from somewhere.  (Mr. Thompson had then brought my brother home all bloodied up, which scared the hell out of me as I was alone watching “Creature Features” at the time.) Anyway, this new family – mom, dad, and four young kids – were all hellions and a whole bunch of us started hanging out over there, too, including an old pal of mine, Pete Prentiss.
Pete and I were strictly vertical friends – I was the sister he never had. Though he's gotten somewhat surly of late, back in the day Pete was a hoot. Sometimes relatives from Massachusetts would come to visit and we'd all stay up playing setback until 4 in the morning. I have fond memories of that house; I was sitting in the living room the very first time I saw “Saturday Night Live.” (I was smoking pot at the time and thought Chevy Chase was doing a real newscast.)
Pete Prentiss worked with his father, Mr. Prentiss, doing pest control. Mr. Prentiss had his own business and a good name, and was grooming Pete to take over when good old Jimmy from across the street came to make the acquaintance of his neighbors. In chatting with Pete, Jimmy thought it might not be a bad idea for him to get his exterminating license too. He wanted to sever ties with New York and bring his mother to the country to live full time but he needed a job. He proposed that he would work for Mr. Prentiss for next-to-nothing after he'd learned the trade from him. Instead, after he got his pest control license, Jimmy set up his own exterminating business and began competing with Pete and Mr. Prentiss who had been so good to him. (He also began keeping a large pig in his yard.) There was not much welcome for Jimmy at the brick house any more. Needless to say.

Jimmy had also become somewhat of a political gadfly and once took it into his head t0 run for office against my father, who served our town as First Selectman for 22 years. (Jimmy lost.) Nonetheless he liked my dad and every so often he would bring us a huge braided Swedish coffee cake which he had baked in that wood stove. These tasted great. We didn't have much else to do with Jimmy except he did ask my father, who had grown up in town, to help prove that the Westcotts were actually part Indian and if so, apparently Jimmy would possibly have a stake in the proceeds from the local casino. (He insisted on wearing a bear claw necklace with his exterminating jumpsuit. This wasn't as absurd as it may sound since we do believe that he was indeed part Indian.  Native American, for the politically correct.) 
The Westcotts had lived in town for several generations; in fact Jimmy's father, Jimmy Sr. (no one ever knew what happened to him later) went to school with my dad. They chummed around now and again but not often, because Jimmy Sr. was kind of a “bad actor,” as Dad put it. Once Jimmy Sr. had stolen a pack of Listerine cigarettes from some local store and urged Dad to go with him to some hiding place and smoke them. Dad got very sick. But he did know the Westcott family pretty well and had been to Jimmy Sr.'s house, and knew his mother. “I recall she always seemed to be sitting in a rocking chair,” Dad said. He didn't know how he could help Jimmy prove that he was part Indian, except he did write a letter stating “Grandma Westcott had a very dark complexion.”

I was a little surprised one day when Jimmy asked me if I'd like to go with him to see a play at the local summer stock theater, where big names had often played in the 1940s. Jimmy got comp tickets because he'd gotten the exterminating contract there. I had been to a couple of plays in the past and loved it, so I said sure, why not?
Jimmy and I went to several shows that summer, the most memorable being Sondheim's “Into the Woods” which we gave a standing ovation. There was no debating, however: these were not dates. I never had the slightest inclination to go out with Jimmy on a date. In fact I quite disliked him, though I never acted like a bitch, or anything; but by the same token, not once did I flirt with Jimmy or lead him on. “Maybe we'll go see a few movies when the theater season ends,” he told me. I honestly was not very enthusiastic about seeing more of him, but what the hell else was I going to do, sit home and twiddle my thumbs? Besides, a lot of good movies were out right about that time, not the least of which were “Philadelphia,” “In The Name Of The Father,” “The Pelican Brief,” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” And again I never thought of these as dates. I believed Jimmy wasn't thinking in that light either. Truly.

One night when we were headed to a movie I asked if we could stop for a few things at the local grocery store and drop them at the doorstep of my pal Gary, who was awfully sick with a bad stomach virus and to make matters worse was taking care of his 2-year-old daughter that weekend, who was also sick. I picked up the usual suspects: ginger ale, saltines, chicken noodle soup, tea, and Jell-o. Jimmy then brought up the matter of yogurt. Plain yogurt is exceptionally good for digestive problems, he maintained, and would do Gary and his daughter a great deal of good. Though I didn't know it then (which is beside the point) he was absolutely right – yogurt does replace the good bacteria in your gut that are taken down by infections, viruses and various medications, especially antibiotics. I indeed bought the yogurt. (I also bought some Spam as kind of a joke.)

The night was cold and the winter air was still as we left the store. I pictured poor Gary as I hustled through the parking lot headed for Jimmy's truck. I was glad it wasn't me for a change. I thought how much I missed summer weather and wondered vaguely what the movie would be like; and then Jimmy, of all things, suddenly broke the silence and let one rip. Loud and two syllables.  It reverberated in the still night air and I'm grateful we were outside because in fact it sounded like it would be foul. I had no doubt, in fact.
Well, I was greatly taken aback and quite offended even though Jimmy did say “Oh, excuse me,” in his corncob-pipe-smoker's voice. Excuse him hell. You have to earn the right to fart in front of people, I believed, and Jimmy wasn't familiar enough with me to have been so uncouth. Though I like a good fart as well as the next person (especially if it's my own) I just felt that Jimmy had taken too much license. I was not pleased.

So when Jimmy pulled into the parking lot at the theater, though I was grateful he hadn't done another one in the heated truck, I was not feeling very friendly to him. Unfortunately he was feeling overly friendly toward me. He declared that he had romantic feelings and knew that I had been going through some stressful times of late but he figured that by now I would be more amenable to going further than just a box of popcorn on the seat between us. I was not. 
He tried to kiss me and I leaned away, saying what you always say in cases such as this: “Gee, I'm flattered, Jimmy, but I'm sorry, I just don't feel that way about you.” Smile. Jimmy wasn't happy. He kept leaning over and I kept leaning away. As far away as I could without getting out of the truck. Finally he stopped and we went in to the movie. I forget now which one it was. It seemed to be a regular sort of evening after that but guess what? Jimmy never called me again. I was okay with that. I was tired of always attracting nuts, as a matter of fact.

A couple of years went by. I saw Jimmy occasionally in the store, sometimes with his mother, who was a beautiful woman with long grey hair. We – Jimmy and I – avoided each other. At least I avoided him. Then, I got a call from my friend Heather, whom I've known for so long it's almost embarrassing. Heather was getting married! Everyone was so pleased for her and her intended, Dan. I bought a lovely wall plaque for them as a wedding gift; it had a pink background (one of Heather's favorite colors, and mine too) and said “Bless This House.” A couple of weeks before the wedding I called to ask if I could drop it off at their house. “Sure, you can come out,” she said. 
Heather and her two grown daughters were sitting at the dining room table. Dan was in watching TV and Heather was on the phone, rather frantic, it seemed to me. When she hung up from whoever it was she said “Listen to this. Dan and I are having a hell of a time getting somebody to marry us. I called Jimmy Westcott because he's a Justice of the Peace, and he won't do it.” I was surprised; Jimmy was a cousin of sorts to Debbie Hammond, who had been a longtime foster sister to Heather and her family after her own parents died. It was only natural for Heather to think of calling Jimmy. “Why won't he?” I innocently asked. “He asked me, is Laurie Blair going to be at your wedding? I said of course she is, she's one of my best friends. And he said I'm not doing it then, because Laurie broke my heart, you know. She ran away with that goddam Pete Prentiss.”

That's right; Pete Prentiss the exterminator, whose father had taken Jimmy under his wing only to have Jimmy break away and become, in fact, his arch rival in the bug business.  (Weasel.) Apparently Jimmy thought there was more here than met the eye.
Heather did succeed in finding someone to officiate at her wedding, thank goodness.  I went.  It was at the house, and the reception was outside.  My skirt was too short, the food was great and Heather, her sister Lisa and I linked arms after a few drinks and sang "My Guy" together.  All went very well.  Of course I never ran away with Pete Prentiss but let Jimmy think that if he wants. Karma, Jimmy! I am just glad Heather didn't hold it against me that I broke Jimmy Westcott's heart  and consequently he'd refused to do her wedding (though I think he drove by during the reception).  I have no interest in whether or not he still has his appendix.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


The other day my father and I went grocery shopping in his pickup truck.  He likes to have company because he hasn't been back in the driver's seat very long due to a shoulder injury which is, in fact, still somewhat painful.  As is typical when you go into the grocery store because you "need a few things" we came out with 7 bags.  Most were his own cloth or vinyl bags, but a few were plastic store bags.  Dad bought two jars of gravy, chicken and beef.  These went into a plastic bag.  Together.

So, we go outside and we're loading the bags from the cart into the back of the truck.  We have no trouble until Dad hands me the gravy bag and lets go of it just before I can grasp it. (I think.  Could be I lost my grip, just to be fair.)  Of course the two jars hit the ground and broke, glass and goo flying everywhere, to our great dismay.  Dad said "I knew it! I knew it!" Then he jumped into the truck because he gets too nervous in these situations and isn't sure what to do next.

I bent to pick up the glass when a woman in scrubs, who had just parked her car, ran over and yelled "Don't touch that, you'll cut yourself! Let me do it! Carol to the rescue!" Well, startled, I let her do it.  "Have you got another bag?" she asked.  Another woman came up to the truck and said "Here's a bag."  She and Carol picked up the glass (and several cans of Fancy Feast and a package of hot dogs covered in gravy) and put it in the bag, and Carol said "I'm going in to get you two new jars of gravy.  They should never pack them so heavy."

So I got in the truck and yelled (Dad can't hear for crap) that she was going into the store to get two new jars.  I felt a little guilty.  "Who is she?" Dad asked.  "I don't know," I said.  "Oh! I think I know," he said, "She's that lady who does acupuncture."  I thought a second.  "Where did you have acupuncture?" I asked.  "No, no - needles! You know, she takes your blood!" he answered.  (In a bit of a tone of disgust with me, I think.)

A few minutes later Carol came out of the store, came over, and told us they were bringing out the new gravy and some cat food too.  "Do I know you?" Dad asked; "I'm Bob Blair."  "Carol Smith," she said.  "You work at the Shoreline Clinic?" he asked her.  "Used to, now I work at Quest," she said.  "Come and see me sometime!"  (Requiring a lab slip no doubt.)  I hugged her, thanked her for her random act of kindness (I actually used that expression) and she said "Just pay it forward."  I said "We sure will."  We always do try to be kind ourselves, but goodness, she went the extra mile I guess. She even had a paper towel with her and sopped up some of the mess.  I'd have said Hell, let the next rain get it.

Anyway a young girl did come out a minute later with a new bag and two jars of gravy and new cans of cat food too.  (I'm not sure why there was a fuss about the cat food, they didn't split open or anything.  But they were awfully nice to replace them.)  "I wasn't sure what kind of cat food you bought but I tried to match the colors on the labels," she said.  See, even young girls can't read small print, hah. 

We got back to Dad's and brought the bags inside to unpack.  "Where's that gravy?" I asked.  I was sure I had taken the new bag (very, very carefully) and put it down by my feet in the cab.  "Must still be in the truck," I said.  I went out to look.  Nope, wasn't in there.  Just for the hell of it I pulled the lever for the seat, bent it forward and slid it up.  There was, in fact, a plastic grocery bag back there.  I checked; it had two cans of soup, a small bottle of Sprite, and a hard roll that wasn't in its own bag and I figured must have escaped (Dad had bought hard rolls that day).

So in I went and unloaded the bag.  Right around that time I decided to dig further into one of Dad's big green bags and there, packed carefully underneath everything, was the bag with the gravy.  "Here it is," I said.  Dad was looking at the stuff I'd found in the truck.  "You bought soup?" he said.  "I thought you bought soup," I said.  "This was in the back of the seats."  "Well, I didn't buy it," Dad said.  "Do you think Bob [my brother] bought it when he was with you the other day and forgot it?" I wondered.  "I doubt that," he said. 

We checked the hard roll and it was fresh.  Dad threw it out to the birds.  I put the soup on a shelf.  I noticed one was chicken and dumplings.  Years ago I ate my mother's chicken and dumplings, which was really good, then threw up because I was coming down with a stomach bug and haven't been able to bring myself to eat chicken and dumplings again. So if I were to buy soup, it wouldn't be chicken and dumplings.

Dad just stuck the Sprite in the refrigerator.  To the best of my knowledge it hasn't been spoken of since.

Monday, March 17, 2014


I used to dislike the term "random acts of kindness."  I thought it was trite and overused.  Besides [she said cynically!] who really does you a favor without expecting anything in return?  Then a while back on Facebook I shared a post about being kind to strangers (and animals) as they may be angels in disguise. Shall I tell you a story about an angel I met when I wasn't, by any means, expecting it? Shall I tell you two?  And were they angels, or were they simply doing a random act of kindness?  I believe they certainly were, in fact, angels.  But I'll let you decide.

Several years ago a friend called me from a town about 30 miles from here (there were phone booths then) and said his car had broken down on the highway. He'd managed to limp it into a closed garage, but was stuck, and asked if I could come and get him. Of course, I said. He tried to tell me where he was, but the town was totally unfamiliar to me (it isn't now!) I got off an exit I recognized was wrong, and, frustrated, went into a convenience store hoping to get some help.

There was a line at the cash register and one customer was a young African-American kid who -- I am going to be very politically incorrect here, please forgive me -- you might get quite nervous meeting in an alleyway or "bad" section of town. Then suddenly he turned to me - specifically to ME, just standing in the line - and said "You're lost, aren't you? Where do you want to go? I'll help you out." It did occur to me to wonder how he could possibly know that...but I was lost, and more than ready to take him up on his offer. I tried explaining where the garage and my friend were. "Gotcha," he said, "Follow me. I'm going right onto the highway - when you see my signal you go straight about a mile and it's on your right.  Don't follow me onto the highway, just keep straight.  When I signal you."

I had my misgivings and I didn't feel totally comfortable. But the kid finished his purchase (whatever it was) and went out and jumped into a low-slung car, and I got in mine. He led me through curving city streets (kinda fast) and I did my best to keep up with him. It wasn't long until we hit "civilization" though, and sure enough we were on a main drag with freeways branching off. A little way down the road his car slowed, and he put his right signal on and stuck his left arm out the window, pointing for me to go straight. I felt great calmness finally, and sure enough, about a mile down the road, there was my friend standing in the parking lot of the
of the garage waiting for me. "Thought you'd never make it!" he said jokingly. I smiled and said "Someone showed me the way."

Angel story two: I was in Walmart the other day buying some new windshield wipers (mine were just flapping rubber) and I didn't see my year of car listed in the directory, so I was confused. I could have asked an employee, but there was a young man in that aisle (along with a VERY pierced young lady with the sweetest smile) and though I know it's sexist, I figured he was just the right age to know something about cars AND he was a GUY. So I said "Excuse me, can I ask you a question?" He said "Sure!" And I asked him whether wipers for a 2001 Explorer would fit a 2000. "Oh yeah, no problem," he said. He showed me the different lengths and explained them. "You'll be fine with these but you ought to get two," he said, "So you'll know you replaced them the same time." I agreed (these weren't the expensive ones); he asked if my back wiper (almost said "rear wiper!) was okay, and I told him I thought it was.

Then imagine my surprise when he smiled and said "If you're going to be here awhile I'll go out and put them on for you." For some reason I was speechless and could just raise my hand up, and I finally said to the girl "He's earned his place in Heaven." She smiled again. "We have a little shopping to do," he said, "And then I'll look for you." "I'll make sure I'm here!" I said. I sat on a bench by the toilet seats and waited about 40 minutes, wishing I could call my mom who was out in the car to tell her I hadn't been killed by a falling display of Ricola lozenges or something.

Finally I decided he'd forgotten or had given me some B.S. so I went to the checkout. The kid was coming in through the front door of the store. He grinned, pointed to me and came over and said "I found your car - I thought you'd be waiting there and I think I scared your friend half to death!" (Mom IS my friend, lol.) We walked out together and I said "You know, you're a very good guy and your parents must have raised you right and you can tell 'em I said so." But "I'm pretty much alone," he said, "I've been on my own since I was fourteen." Why did that not surprise me? Some kids really do come from toxic parents who consider them "disposable" - and some of these are the greatest kids ever. "I've had some misfortune in my life," he went on to say, "And if I can make sure somebody else doesn't, then I'm happy." Sure, this could all be him playing me, for some reason.  I don't think so though.  His good energy was off the charts.

He undid the packages and snapped the new wipers in while I told Ma yes, we DID make that arrangement! I gathered the old wipers and trash from his arms (he was going to take them, too, I think, and looked surprised) and thanked him profusely, of course, and asked him his name - "Brett," he said.   I stuck the old stuff in the back seat and noticed my mother rummaging in her purse, looking for a little something to give Brett for being so kind.  Which only makes sense.  She was still rummaging while I still stood outside -- but that's my mother.
Of course I could have figured out how to put the wipers in myself, or asked my brother to do it. But Brett did it. I couldn't help but hug him. Then he walked off quickly -- very quickly -- as I got in the car, before we could even hand him any money. (And who knows whether or not he would've taken it?  My significant other said that the purity and crispness of this whole story was perfect and money would have tinkered with it and troubled it somehow.)  Anyway I said again, shaking my head.  "He's earned his place in Heaven, that kid!" And then I smiled and thought; I believe, in fact, young as he was, he'd no doubt earned that place a long time ago.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


We've all heard the fable, you probably chanted it in nursery school -- the poem  "For Want Of A Nail." Remember?  "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost," etc.

Well, it really doesn't take much for some things to snowball.  Some years ago when I went out to get into my car in the morning there was a political lawn sign in the hatch-back.  Now I do lean toward the left and this was a Liberal candidate but it was not one of whom I was particularly fond.  Nevertheless, my first thought was not "who the hell put that in there?" (it was my brother, but that's so beside the point) but rather "what can I do with this to cause trouble for somebody continue this little joke?"  I thought immediately of a friend, Jon, who stayed weekends with his girlfriend and whose house was empty then.  Shame on me, I drove down there and stuck the sign in his lawn.  I don't know how I was even able to breathe for laughing so hard imagining him driving up Monday morning and seeing it.

Turns out it never occurred to him that I was the culprit -- he thought it was a pal/crony of his, Chris K.  He told me later he drove down to Chris K.'s that night and furiously tossed the sign onto the lawn.  And he figured he'd made his point.  The next day, though, when Chris got up and saw the sign he figured it had been a neighbor two or three houses down who always seemed to rub him the wrong way.  Chris apparently marched down there with this sign, flung it at the neighbor and warned him that if there was any more trouble he was going to call the police.  In fact the police may have been called; I don't quite remember.  It was a good one though.  Even Jon thought it was.

The thing of it is, things do take off at times.  The other day my father was looking through some books I'd found for him at the dump and out of one fell a photo of a lovely baby girl; on the back, inscribed in shaky handwriting, was:




Dad was DELIGHTED to have found such a thing because now he could play a joke on my mother, whose name is Millie.  He immediately took it to her and with a straight face told her it had fallen out of another book which my Significant Other, Steve, had recently lent him, and it must be a baby picture of him.  (The "S" was there and everything.)

First of all, said Mom, it's obviously a girl.  It's a PRETTY baby, not boyish, and she has pink and lavender on.  Second, it's a color shot.  Back in the 50s, when Steve and I were babies, most pics were in black and white.  I'm sure he just walked away hiding a smirk.  My mother thought she'd put him in his place but she gets a little confused at the best of times, and he knows it.

Meanwhile I had asked Steve if he knew who it could be and he racked his brain.  The books had been his late dad's and maybe his dad had stuck the snapshot in as a bookmark.  However, Steve could recall no Millie on either side of his family.  "I think it was my Uncle Frank who gave Dad those books," he said.  "Maybe somebody from one of his in-laws.  This is a very mysterious thing."  He questioned me a little more and then said he'd ask his 93-year-old mother.

The next day I found out about my father's shenanigans and wasn't surprised, but I was praying Steve hadn't asked his mother about Millie and the baby girl yet.  Even though his mother is sharp as a tack and looks it, I pictured her fretting about this at her age and eventually getting on the phone to call as many relatives as she could think of to ask for help in tracing the mysterious Millie.  Well, I didn't get to Steve in time and he in fact had already asked his mom, but fortunately she was just very matter-of-fact about it and said she had no idea what he or I were talking about and thank heavens, presumably did not care.

Dad, who is 91 himself, is a terrible trickster.  I have heard many a tale from those who knew him way back in the day, and he admits it all, including setting his boss's hat on fire once just to see what would happen.  He gets away with this stuff because he is charming.  The most jokes he ever played were on my Uncle Bill Breslin.  He got me involved early on in this.  It was almost automatic that when he changed a toilet seat he would leave the old one in Uncle Bill's yard.  Once, he had me stand on the hood of his car and hammer a sign into a tree on my uncle's property that said said "For Sale By Owner" and then gave the number of the local coffee shop downtown, thereby killing two birds with one stone.  If we found something funny in the dump, there it would go, to the Breslin house where he and my Auntie Mig took it good-naturedly.

The killer dump find was an old accordion.  This was probably a good 12 or 15 years ago.  We could barely get the thing in  the truck.  We got lucky that day and found my cousin Peggy's car parked at the foot of their long, steep  driveway and like thieves in the night - or reverse thieves in the night - we pulled up, jumped out, deposited the squeezebox and squealed away.  HA!  This time the joke was on us.  We found out later that Peggy had put the accordion down cellar, bringing it up one night when someone who was visiting mentioned that he knew how to play the instrument and damned if they didn't have a concert.

I got my brother REALLY good once; it was an incredible stroke of fortune.  I'd gotten a parking ticket for $150 for parking in a handicapped space without a permit, though I do HAVE a permit (Lyme disease), I had just forgotten to use it.  It was all straightened out with a minimum of trouble, but meanwhile, coming back from taking Mom to a doctor's appointment in the city, it was still in my car.  We stopped for lunch at Ruby Tuesday's and who should walk in a few minutes later but my brother and his youngest son, who had been doing something at the DMV and had also decided to stop at Ruby Tuesday's.

We all had a pleasant time, and on the way out with Mom I looked for my brother's car and very surreptitiously slipped the ticket under his windshield wiper.  Again, the anticipation of his unpleasant surprise in finding it made for a very pleasant ride home.  Later I spoke to my nephew.  "Oh my God," he said, "Dad freaked out because he thought he was parked in the To-Go section."  Once he saw what the ticket really said, though, it was "Well played, sis...well played."  

Of course.  Back several years ago I was visiting the aforementioned Jon and another woman, older than us and very pretty, had also stopped by.  I didn't know where he knew this woman from but she was pleasant and we were making conversation when she suddenly stopped and said "Hey - how old were you in 1971?"  "Um, 15," I said.  "Were you tall and skinny with long brown hair?"  I had been.  "Oh my god, I was your neighbor across the street - Elaine!"  I hadn't seen Elaine or any of her family in DECADES and was delighted to have crossed paths with her again.  But before I could say anything else she asked me "Didn't you make a sign once that said 'I AM WOMAN' and stick it to the back of your brother's jacket without him knowing, and he wore it on the school bus that morning?"  My jaw dropped, and then I smiled...it's good to be remembered.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Penny was a Golden Retriever.  She belonged to my friend and employer Gregg Fisk and his partner Wendy Manes.  I worked for Gregg in his flower shop/boutique, Chester Herbworks,  in downtown Chester.   Gregg and Wendy brought Penny to work with them most days.  She was a lovely dog and had her "route," strolling up and down Main Street and stopping here and there to visit other shopkeepers and their patrons.  It was the early 1980s, a fun and friendly time in Chester center.
We often worked into the night with custom jobs and closed up when we could.  One night when we went to close, Penny was nowhere to be seen.  It wasn't at all like her.  We started to canvas the streets, figuring she was surely nearby having a long talk with someone -- or maybe she was getting "treats" at one of the restaurants and didn't want to leave.  However, we couldn't find her, though everyone we spoke to had indeed seen her that day.  Now we were very worried and jumped in our cars, driving slowly through nearby neighborhoods, calling her name and asking everyone we saw if they'd keep an eye out for her.  Sadly, no luck.
The next day we made posters and offered a reward, putting my phone number on them because Wendy and Gregg lived in New Britain, at least a half hour away, and as I lived in town it would be easier for me to quickly follow any leads.  We plastered the town with these flyers.  A day went by, then two.  There were a few apparent sightings of Penny, but she was not to be found.  Then I had an idea.

I had just graduated from Middlesex College and had read their brochure about adult summer education.  One of the offerings was "Learning About The Paranormal," which was going to be taught by a man who lived in town.  His name was Roger Pyle.  I had never heard the term "paranormal," and when I looked it up I was intrigued.  I was debating taking the course myself.  I started to wonder, is it possible that Roger would have an idea that would help us?  Could he "read" Penny and give us a lead as to where she might be?

We called Roger, told him the situation and he said by all means, come on over -- and bring something that belongs to Penny.  We drove to his house; Roger and his wife Nancy greeted us.  We all sat down and talked.  Everyone has potential to be psychic, they told us, and everyone had a sixth sense; the trick was learning how to use it.  Roger took Penny's rubber ball and sat quietly.  Nancy draped Penny's blanket over her lap and shut her eyes.  Suddenly she said "I'm getting something."

Penny was in a black pickup truck, she said.  And she was seeing a man with a cowboy hat.  She couldn't tell if Penny was still close by, but she had another vision of Penny lying on a red tiled floor where it was cool.  We had no reason to doubt Nancy, but the information didn't help; I mean, this is a little New England village, there are hundreds of black pickup trucks around...except we didn't know anyone who wore a cowboy hat.  But the visit was not entirely in vain.  We had met two nice people who gave us support and encouragement.

The next morning, another phone call came in -- another possible sighting of Penny by some folks on Goose Hill Road -- not too far from the center of town.  It was a very hot day.  I drove up with my mom to talk to the woman.  It seems she had seen a Golden Retriever a few nights ago and had just seen the poster.  We drove up and down Goose Hill Road, but we knew most everyone on the road and couldn't imagine they'd have found Penny and not called the Dog Warden.  "Let's drive through the center once more, maybe she's back at the store," I said.  I was keeping my eye out for a black pickup truck and there it was.  THERE IT WAS.  A black and silver pickup truck.  With Texas markers.  And there was a Golden Retriever in the back of the truck.
Wordlessly, I pulled up into the adjacent parking space.  I just sat there.  My mother and I looked at each other.  "That looks like..." she said.  "That IS," I answered.  I felt my heart beating faster as I got out of my car.  The dog recognized me and stood up.  "Hey there," I heard a voice with a southern accent behind me.  I turned around to see a man with a cowboy hat crossing the street, a young boy trailing behind him.

It was all so unreal -- and that's an understatement -- that I was at a loss for words, though I was filled with joy to see Penny again.  "Are you the one who's name's on that poster?" Mr. Cowboy Hat asked.  I nodded.  "She followed my kids up the road the other night," he said.  "Up Goose Hill.  We didn't know who she belonged to, we thought she might be a stray so we kept her.  We just saw the poster today."  Turns out the guy was renting a house you couldn't see from the road, down a long winding driveway.  "And what about the reward?" the boy asked.  "You never mind that," his father said.

I ran over to Herbworks and left a note on the door that Penny had been found.  Then I brought her to my mom's, a place she was very familiar with, and we gave her water and a biscuit from the stash my dad kept on hand for the neighbor's dog.  I called Gregg, but there was no answer so I figured they were on their way from New Britain.  We just waited.  We were absolutely flabbergasted.  Flummoxed.  And every other related adjective.  And Penny, after she got her water and treat, just sprawled out on the kitchen floor where it was cool, and there she lay when Gregg and Wendy burst through the door -- on a floor with the design of red tiles.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


There are certain subjects which, when talked about, naturally invoke strong and often discordant feelings and thus can invite trouble, especially amongst the inebriated.  Politics and religion, for example.  Trust me, I've seen it happen.  Gauge your situation as it is and decide: you wanna spill it or play your cards close to your chest?  All right.  I'll go ahead and admit it.  For all eyes to see right now: when I was a kid, when I was in a moving car, I was a carsick kid.

My father drove, and my mother sat in the front next to him, or my uncle drove, with my aunt in the front.  In either case my brother Bob and I were relegated to the back seat -- in my father's station wagon, on the way to visit my grandfather Blair and his second wife ("Pa and Nora") it was the WAY back for me, since this trip involved many miles of road and I ain't talking highway.  Most other little kids would have just watched other cars, dozed, and dreamed for the duration.  I, on the other hand, groaned and moaned and clenched my teeth, curled in abject suffering, while my brother happily chattered away with Ma and Dad per usual.  To make matters worse, my father ALWAYS had one of those green "pine tree" air fresheners hung from the rear view mirror.  I loved pine trees, but these horrid things were so chemically tinkered with that my head would be pounding on top of the stomach flips.

It was the 1960s -- you'd have thought people would have been more hip by then to motion sickness; put a carsick kid in the front seat, and you can avoid the problem pretty much altogether.  However, my lot in life then was a healthy dose of Pepto-Bismol and Dramamine, neither of which did anything to improve the situation.  In fact my mother said that upon our departure we often had to pull over while still on our street so I could get out and throw up.  Needless to say I despise Pepto-Bismol to this day and feel compelled to look away when a Pepto-Bismol commercial comes on the TV.  I'm surprised that the color pink has always been a favorite of mine, but it is.

Wikipedia defines carsickness this way: "A specific form of motion sickness, car sickness is quite common and often evidenced by the inability to read a map or book during travel. Car sickness results from the sensory conflict arising in the brain from differing sensory inputs. The eyes mostly see the interior of the car which is motionless while the vestibular system of the inner ear senses motion as the vehicle goes around corners or over hills and even small bumps. Therefore the effect is worst when looking down but may be lessened by looking outside of the vehicle."   Guess nobody knew any of this when I was, like, 6.  Test pilots, maybe.

Carnival rides made my cousin Cynthia sick, but not me.  I had traveled by train on short trips and that had never bothered me either.  As far as a school bus, well, I walked to school and only took one on an occasional field trip.  But another question loomed; if I got so sick riding in a car (imagine our summer vacations), would I get seasick and/or airsick, too?  In other words, would I ever get out of Dodge??  Well, when I was 10 years old, on one of our (typically, for me, drowsy and hellish) "Sunday drives," my father stopped at the little airport nearby so we could watch the planes take off and land.  His pal Everett happened to be there that day taking his little 4-seater up and invited us along (my brother was not with us, ha ha ha).  Never one to be left out of any sort of adventure, I all but pushed everybody else aside to get in.  It was thrilling and unforgettable, seeing my little town from this soaring perspective, lost in a geometry of green fields and grey roofs.

So no airsickness that day, nor have I ever been airsick since, and I have flown in everything from a helicopter to an 18-seat prop plane over the Everglades to a 747 over the Atlantic ocean, and encountered some mighty turbulence along the way.  Nor have I ever been sick in a boat -- a row boat, a sailboat, a motorboat, a cruise ship.  And I've pleasantly outgrown the carsickness almost 100%.  However.  There is a however to this part.  In the early 90s I persuaded my friend Gregg to accompany me to Prince Edward Island in Canada, a place I became enamored with after reading all of the books in the "Anne of Green Gables" series.  Part of this jaunt included driving from Connecticut to Maine, staying overnight, and then taking the famous "Bluenose" car ferry in the morning, a six-hour crossing to Nova Scotia.  When we boarded, part of the fare went for a generous breakfast buffet.  I had no reason not to indulge in it.  I figured.
The "Bluenose"

Up on deck we went, settling in for the duration.  The sun was bright, the water dark blue, the air clear and the wind fresh.  Occasionally we would see a spot of color in the distance, a trawler maybe.  Suddenly to my horror I realized I was feeling very, very ill and could very easily have puked thrown up over the railing in front of all the other people who were hanging out having a fine time.  Except I sat immobilized, afraid to move a muscle.   "Gregg," I said without preamble, "Will you please go below and get me a big glass of ginger ale?"  He must have read the danger signs.  He simply turned and ran.  He was back almost immediately.  I drank the soda and thank heavens it settled my stomach.  "Another?" I asked.  Wordlessly he accommodated me.  But I never thought "seasick."  I thought, too much to eat this morning; it had to be.  Seasick?  Why all of a sudden?

After driving to the northernmost point of Nova Scotia, we took another short ferry ride to Prince Edward Island and I was fine.  But I felt considerable trepidation knowing that our return, from Yarmouth to Portland, Maine, this time, would be on the "Scotia Prince" and was an 11-hour crossing.  Despite the fact that my jacket was no match for the wind and chill off the water, I stayed up top in a deck chair THE WHOLE TIME.  But I never felt a fleeting moment of nausea.  So I figured that Bluenose thing was a fluke.
The "Scotia Prince"

Several years after that I was visiting my good friend Elaine who lived not 20 minutes from Bar Harbor.  We decided to go to Nova Scotia for the day, this time on the "Cat," a high-speed ferry that bumped along the water at 55 mph and would get us there in a fraction of the time the Bluenose took.  Just in case, I made sure I had some ginger ale handy when we departed.  The trip was miserable.  It could not end soon enough.  Other people were drinking highballs and playing the slot machines while skillfully keeping their feet; I was so sick I found a corner of the upper deck where I'd hopefully get least waterlogged, and when we docked, I knew what the Pilgrims felt like.  On the way back, I thought, I'm medicating myself.  Sadly we had miscalculated our time and taken the wrong departure time -- we didn't have hours on land as we'd thought, we only had 40 minutes!!  My HEAD wasn't back on my NECK yet and here we were on that damned catamaran again.  Oh, death, I thought, come get me now.  What have I done to deserve such wretchedness?
The "Cat"

And then came the "AHA!" moment.  I realized the common denominator here.  It was the goddam BAY OF FUNDY that was making me sick.  My own personal Bermuda Triangle.  If not, wouldn't I have gotten sick on other bodies of water?  The Scotia Prince crossed the Gulf of Maine.  That's why I survived. And just coincidentally?  If you haven't already heard this?   The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides IN THE WORLD.  Don't know if this has anything to do with anything or not...just sayin'. 

Since then I have taken ferries to Port Jefferson, Long Island from Bridgeport, and to Orient Point from New London.  Roughish water on the second one, too.  And as I said I rarely get carsick any more.  Sometimes if I'm crunched in back and we're going hill-and-dale, up-and-down winding country roads (which is about all we have around here) it will revisit briefly and I'll just yell "Somebody let some fresh air in here, okay?" and somebody does, then I feel better.  I can even read in a car from time to time.  Even in the back seat. I guess my brain's sort of caught up with my ears, or vice versa.  But I take no chances.  If there is a pine tree air freshener hanging in the car somewhere I ask to put it in the glove compartment.  And even if they start ferry service again (the Bluenose and the Cat are scrap metal now) I think that should I take it in my head to go again to Canada I plan on staying the hell away from the Bay of Fundy.