Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"You There, With The Mohawk!" (on forgetting my kids' names)

 Erma Bombeck was the nation’s most beloved suburban humorist when I was growing up.  Today I still love her work, and channel Erma in the same way that author Julie Powell channeled Julia Child, (just without the Ephron screenplay).
   One of my favorite Erma-isms comes up frequently at our house: someone scavenges the fridge for a snack and comes across a leftover that seems to be going bad.  JUST as they try to toss it in the garbage, I throw my body between the trash and the leftover shouting, “It’s not READY to be thrown away!” Erma and I are all about the leftover... with hope.
  My actual life is full of not-ready-to-be-thrown-aways.  And, yes, I do aspire to become a feature on an episode of Hoarders, but that’s not what I mean. 
   I am talking about my brain.  
   It seems to be going bad, but it’s not ready to be thrown away.
  Fortunately, I’ve reached the age where I can blame estrogen loss for losing track of keys, names, entire days, my train-of-thought, an actual train-ticket. Because back in the day, when my word-retrieval issues first started, people suspected crack-abuse.
  In winter of ’94, I was enrolled in several secondary ed courses at a nearby college. One early morning, I drew upon my novice skills as a future English teacher, and impressed my son and his friends with my linguistic prowess.

   “Nick,” I said cleverly, as that is his name. “Aren’t you guys cold at the bus stop without one of those … um--”
  “What, Mom?  We gotta go.”
   “You know. The warm wraps that--”
   “You mean a scarf?”
   “Not that. One of those … you know!”
   “Gloves, Mother?”
   “No. Those…coats for your head.”
   “You mean, a ‘hat’?”
   “YES! That’s it! A HAT!”

   As their little naked heads bobbed toward the bus, one of the tots doused his cigarette sniffing, “How come we never hear about the parties your Mom goes to?”

   I couldn’t understand it.  English was not my second language.  It was something for which I’d acquire a license to teach in another year. Yet language at the most crucial times escaped me.  Never anything tricky like anthropomorphic.  Or cellulite.  I forgot words like plow.
   “Look out for that – wide thing – pushes…white, cold … stuff.”
   “Are you referring to the plow we passed a mile ago with a football field between us?” queried the Master’s Degree-d Science Wiz actually driving the car.
     “Oh.  Plow. Missed it.  Good.”
     It’s fortunate I was training to be an English teacher and not a transplant specialist:
“. . . with seconds to go before shutting down the respirator, the fate of vital organs hanging in the balance, Dr. Given is passed the Tolstoy Articulating Retractor with which she … retracts articles.  She tracts.  She retracts, until the respirator sputters to a halt.  The only audible sound is that of… retracted things: a viscous surgical symphony playing to the petulant tick of time.
   “Okay, we’re ready,” says. Dr. Given.  “Hand me that … oh you know, that breathing thing. No, fool! Not beating.  That thing only pumps. What?? Ah yes, the LUNG, thank you, nurse.  Now did everybody get that? Alrighty, then, let’s –oops!  
    “Well, I hope you’re all happy.  Now the patient is …like, uh -- he’s—“

    And it’s a darned good thing my husband and I pored, for months, during each of four pregnancies, over Baby Name Encyclopedias so I could knowledgeably call each offspring ‘Yo’ at dinnertime.
   “Yo! Dudes. Come eat.  You, there, with the faux-hawk – grab your brother.”
   “Which one?”
   “Six-one, dark hair.”
   “That’s him. And call Zach.”
   I’m Zach. You want Jake.”
   “Him, too.”
   “Should I get Abigail?”
   “You gave birth to her in 1990.”
   “I was there so don’t be fresh.  And feed Frank.”
    “Mom, you had her put to sleep.  The NEW cat answers to ‘Selina’.”
    “And YOU can answer to Wise Guy so just march to your room   --young man.”
    “Forgot my name, huh?”
     “It’s Zach, but I’ll go anyway.  Can I have pizza in my room?”
     “Round cheesy food that your kids – and I’m one – eat for dinner.”
    “Dinner?  Right. Hey, call the rest of the kids, would you? It’s time to eat.”
   While they ate, the kids (Nicholas, Jacob, Zachary and Abigail) voted to forbid me to seek further advanced degrees. They said any new knowledge would “p-l-o-w” away even more reference data about them, and I’d be reduced to calling their names in simple code by tapping a rubber spoon against a drool-cup.
   “You know, Mom,” the one with the braces pouted.  “We never forget your name.”
   “Duh!” I said. “You all call me, ‘Mom’. And I’ve seen your Emergency Contact cards at school.  You list my first name as ‘Mrs.’, my middle as ‘J’ – and, sweetie, I haven’t been 27 since the year you were born, but thanks --
   “Okay, listen up! ‘Mom’ is not my given name, although Given is my surname, not my maiden, which was Smith.”
   I didn’t graduate summa cum brilliant from my English Teacher program for nothing! I graduated for – umm …gads.  Let’s see … Perhaps the income for a copy of Luminosity and some Hormone Replacement Therapy.
  Or simply the right to have finally ‘caught up’ to my “early neural maturity.” Ol' what's-her-name Bombeck would have totally agreed.

Ban Childproof Lighters and Restore Democracy

For my niece A.P.S. who is Smoke-Free for one week today, which through NO coincidence is as long as this blog existed -- such is the Power Of The Blog . . .

Long ago, I decided to give up smoking.  Oh, sure, it was a glamorous habit, bringing me endless hours of joy through social ostracism and fear of death.  But the one health risk I could no longer ignore – one afflicting millions across the nation – was damaged texting-calluses from operating childproof lighters.

Did you notice that texting came into fashion around the same time restaurants, federal buildings, and the Actual Outdoors  banned public smoking?

 I feel CERTAIN these events are linked:  If smokers fruitlessly flicked away at flame-free lighters, the damage to texting-thumbs would collapse the cell phone industry. (I’m no conspiracy theorist: but does the cell phone industry NOT thrive today??) 

Meanwhile, thousands of ex-smokers’ homes now boast Nostalgia Bowls brimming with childproof lighters…  just itching to be awarded as door prizes at the next religious holiday-gathering or children’s birthday party.

Do you recall how this all began?  It was the year that clerks at convenience stores stopped handing out free matches with cigarette purchases.  The public was told this was done as a safety precaution, under the guise that convenience stores sell gasoline, and that matches and gasoline combust.

Actually, it was a campaign to raise state revenue by making people PAY for matches, which people started DOING. 

That’s when they took away the matches and made people pay for lighters.

So successful was this effort, they took away the flammable kind that folks paid money for, and came up with a lighter that could not produce flame. (The original non-flaming lighter was marketed as a novelty item at Newbury Comics, next to candles that don’t blow out.)

Pharmacies soon got hold of them and sold them to parents as a means to encourage their teenagers to quit smoking.  HMOs gave them away at smoking cessation clinics.

Before we knew it, they appeared in toy stores so parents could give them to their three-year-olds (who are born knowing how to ignite them) to bolster their self -esteem. (Back then self-esteem was a federally-funded project Democrats worked on feverishly until they proved it should be included in public education.  Soon, federal educational grants included a year’s supply of childproof lighters.)

But still, the purchase of childproof versus lighters small children weren’t interested in was left to the consumer.

That’s when the Republican Congress, bored with cutting federal funding to the arts, decided to ban ignitable lighters.

Today Americans have no choice.  Our country’s fourteen remaining smokers are being forced to bolster children’s self-esteems whether they want to or not.

Everywhere you turn, you’ll find self-esteems being bolstered left and right, mostly right, and it’s producing a future generation of smarmy, self-righteous Republicans.

This raises an important question for 2016.   Without two different parties, won’t elections suck?

I say, if this great nation is going to endure, by GOD we’ve got to start selling tiny ice picks to disarm that safety switch.

And GET those childproof lighters -- AND those children -- out of public schools. If adults wanted to be made to look stupid by chubby, overachieving school children, we wouldn’t stop smoking in the first place. 

Anxiety? Depression?? Or a Bad-Day-Cluster?

   After my spousal unit’s diagnosis with myeloma, it was data that kept our family sane. I addicted myself to the Myeloma Beacon website and their daily, newsy updates about breakthroughs and clinical trials. It was the right thing to do:  myeloma is one of only a few diseases where successful trials lead rapidly to change in treatment protocols.  I actually said to my spouse the other day, “If only you were diagnosed YESTERDAY instead of WAY BACK IN AUGUST.”
   The first time I realized how important information is to one’s mental health… was when I hypochondriacally diagnosed myself as clinically depressed. Turns out I was having a series of bad days:  my four kids ranged in ages from ten to eight months at the time, and most of them were contagiously vomiting on each other. I was simply experiencing a stretch of bad days. WHAT A RELIEF! 
   I love the theory about ‘good versus bad days.’ On ‘good days’ your very own angel makes the sun shine relentlessly just to catch your blonde highlights.  Your bank teller remembers to wear her patch making her SO excited to see you, she notices your highlights and gives you a lollipop the color of the happily shining sun.  You believe that life is good.
   Then there’s the super-ball rubber-check day, the “return of your favorite cold sore” day, a Jehovah’s Witness FINDS you day.
   On Bad Days, even Burger King is out to get you.
   “Sorry.  We’re out of beef.”
   But Stephen Hawking would tell you that good and bad days are scientifically impossible. His computer would say, “From the perspective of dimension-splicing and protonic time-reversal, ‘days’ as we know them do not exist.  They are mythical units of measurement created by man to explain why we wake up one day looking old.  ‘Ahh,’ we say.  ‘The Earth-Sun Thing has happened many times.  Enough to expose my face to radiation so I am wrinkled enough to die.’”
   But Stephen KING would tell you Good and Bad Days are no myth. They are made of bad spirits that led to reality TV.  You can actually see them at work in older movies like Carrie or Backdraft. (In these films, Kurt Russell and Sissy Spacek are ostracized by spouses or cheerleaders, Kurt’s budget is cut, Sissy’s Mom won’t buy tampons, then they both die, finally, blazingly, of thrilling special effects.)
   Some people believe that Good and Bad Days exist for a purpose:  that they are karma’s way of making humans experience polarization.  Like a polar windstorm juxtaposed by a tropical drought -- to prove that misery would get even more boring than the curse of perpetual bliss.  So karma alternates them.  That we may enjoy each to the fullest.
   Sometimes people try to enjoy Good and Bad Days at the same time.  Karma intends this to entertain psychologists, so they get to use the term “rationalization.”   
   “It is GOOD I am working 85 hours per week.  Now I earn enough money to pay a therapist so I can learn to balance my time.”
   Occasionally, Good and Bad Days marry to create such balance, we can’t tell the difference.  Like when our dog is struck dead by lightning, but we win $3,000 on a scratch ticket.  Really.  What do we feel then?
  And when a string of ‘bad days’ cluster up on you insidiously, you, too, might diagnose yourself as “depressed.”  But the only way to know the difference … is information:

   See if you can tell in the following scenarios whether Julia is having a Bad Day, or is simply “Depressed.”
   Scenario One:
   Julia’s very last “retro” glass bottle of Pepsi has a cap that refuses to twist off.  Her church key is broken, her corkscrew is lost, so Julia uses the edge of a mahogany table to lift the cap, but instead lifts off the bottle neck causing a volcanic spray of glass and soda to erupt on a carpet she just had cleaned.  Julia says, “Oh shit.”
   Depression?  Or just a Bad Day?
   Scenario Two:
   Julia goes to the refrigerator for a Pepsi only to discover there is just one left.  Julia screams, “Why ME?” then impales the Retro bottleneck into her chest and falls into the refrigerator to bleed until EMTs arrive.
   A Bad Day? Or Depression?
   If both situations overwhelm you to the point where you have to lie down, you are depressed. If Scenario Two depresses you, you are having a Bad Day.  If Scenario One makes you giggle with self-recognition, you need to put your corkscrews back where they belong. And anyone having a Good Day is having too much fun to read this so I hope my point is clear.
   There are good days, there are bad days, depression is a mythical unit of measurement created by Stephen King, and all of us should only do banking with tellers who wear Xanax patches.
   Truly, life is good.