Henry got away from me today at a local nursery. One minute I was holding his leash, the next, he had slipped out of my hand and was zipping gleefully through the trees in the back lot, a little speck of white among the evergreens. I knew from past experience the last thing you want to do when something like that happens is start chasing. Henry knows the protocol at the beach. He runs off, he chases birds, but at the beach he comes back. At the beach there aren’t trucks and cars going in and out. At the beach there’s usually a pack of dogs he’s running with. Here at this strange nursery where none of us had ever been, he was in all new territory.
Even though my husband is the only one who can make Henry come when called, I knew it was fruitless when he started shouting, “Hen-ry! Get over here, right now!”
It was a dank cold day, and a drizzle was coming down. The huge evergreens were rich and fragrant, and Henry was getting lost among them, peeing on one, sniffing another.
I stood on the edge of this seeming primordial forest. Each tree must be worth tens of thousands. I saw white, I saw his little brown head. Then I didn’t see him at all.
“Here Henry!” I called out as nonchalantly– as sweetly– as possible. I squatted down to ground level. Pretty soon, my little dog appeared in front of the trees and inched closer. I continued to squat, blessing my yoga practice, holding out my arms.
From behind me, my husband hissed, “sit Henry!”
And of course, being Henry, the little anarchist ran away back among the giant trees and bushes for sale. Henry sits very nicely for his morning and evening meals. Or when he doesn’t want to be left behind at home. But there was no bowl of food anywhere in sight. I could see him leaping among the trees, a quick moving spot of white bigger than a rabbit, reminding me of theRoad Runner.
Lord, I didn’t want him to run for the road.
I looked behind me. My husband looked panic stricken, pale and his mouth was trembling. He swore softly. It occurred to me why the almighty had chosen women to run the small being show. We have more faith. We have more patience. And let’s face it: we’re totally used to this sort of shit. Toddlers toddle off down the street unaware of danger; dogs go chasing anything that moves or smells. When we’re young and taking care of our babies and little ones, we’re in the presence of death on a quotidian level. Even an hourly level. Minute by minute women have to sit there guarding their offspring: from the street, from the bullies in the playground, from the ocean or swimming pool. Men have to join gangs, ride motorcycles or traditionally go to war to create that kind of awareness. Stay at home Dads of course are the exception to the rule.
By now, the rain was really coming down; my feet were numb with cold. It’s been the frostiest May I can remember. I wondered how I was going to find my little dog among the tall evergreens at the Whitmore nursery. I wondered how long it was going to take. I didn’t really panic, because I felt confident Henry wouldn’t forsake me. Henry didn’t want to die. Henry was smart.
But he wasn’t coming out. From the front of the nursery, I could hear my husband calling, “Henry! Henry!”
I looked among the trees. It was getting harder and harder to see with the grey mist and rain. I prayed to the gods who rule the canines. Don’t take Henry! Send him to me.
In the end total submission was required. Often that is the case when you love another being: a child, a husband, a friend,—you have to just let it all go and say, I submit. I’ll lay down and let it all go, if only you’ll come back.
This is my love and I’m proving it!
So, I squatted down, put my head on my knees. And, thanked my yoga practice. I was in traditional Child’s Pose. Quads folded, arms out, head down. I was wearing my raincoat, but still I felt the drops on my back. Under my face, was wet earth, the earth smelled rich and sweet. I waited. I breathed. I have seldom felt so utterly in the present moment as I did in the mud in the back of the nursery, waiting for my dog. Certainly not in most child’s poses in the controlled calm of the yoga studio.
Presently, as I suspected, (or had been instructed by the gods who control canines) Henry was upon me, licking my hand. I could picture his little face, with its grin of hilarity. Nothing Henry likes better than a prank. I grabbed him. He was covered in mud as I was. His leash was solid brown, just as the front of my coat was.
I hugged him to me, kissed his head, then set him on the ground and grabbed hold of his muddy leash, and we went and found my husband who was in front, still shouting, watching the road…
An olfactory hallucination (phantosmia) makes you detect smells that aren’t really present in your environment. The odors detected in phantosmia vary from person to person and may be foul or pleasant. They can occur in one or both nostrils. The phantom smell may seem to always be present or it may come and go. Phantosmia may occur after a head injury or upper respiratory infection. It can also be caused by temporal lobe seizures, inflamed sinuses, brain tumors and Parkinson’s disease.
My mother in law whom my son named Nia is haunting our house in Springs, the shabby arty part of East Hampton. I can smell her.
A good many of the Abstract Expressionists came to Springs: Pollock, deKooning, , to name two. They all hung out, my husband remembers being taken to de Kooning’s studio when he was little. The paintings didn’t really interest him—he had enough of that boring shit at home—he liked the painter’s restaurant stove where the he cooked himself lunch every day.
We wouldn’t of course have this house but for her and the fact that she bought land in Springs when it was cheap and gave my husband land to build a house. And the handy, crafts manly person that he is, built himself a house.
They had their house. He had his house. The thick oak tree woods make the places invisible to each other in the summer. The first time I came here, and he and I were eating lunch outside, I saw this pixie person walking across the woods with a basket.
“Whose that?” I asked.
My husband looked down.
Nia had a very breathy birdy voice, a voice as distinctive as her smell.
“I’ve brought berries!” she said that day. And that was the beginning of her intrusions.
I never really minded because she was a trip. And I didn’t have any elders; all my elders were dead. I liked her, she liked me. She read books, she knew interesting people. And she was very nice to me and to my friends. Her relationship with my husband was a wee bit more complex.
Nia died unexpectedly, the day the levee burst in New Orleans just after her eighty -fifth birthday. My father in law, who was way older, died years before. Now, since Sunday (today is Thursday) I’ll be walking through the house and I’ll catch her scent: part old lady, which means (moth-bally), mixed with Christian Dior’s Miss Dior perfume, her signature scent. One minute I’ll catch a distinct whiff, and then in the next instant it’s gone. This is not my imagination. I do not have temporal lobe disease. This is a solid olfactory fact.
She’s here. My husband doesn’t smell her. But I do. So far, she’s only in the kitchen/dining room. She hasn’t wafted into the bedroom, which surprises me, she was hardly discreet.
If I start writing about her at length, I’m worried instead of these rather startling whiffs, the whole spirit will materialize. What will I do then?
Is it because finally her little house across the way is going up for sale? How come when I was there last summer, all by myself, she didn’t come then? Why here? Why now?
When the task of cleaning out her apartment in New York fell to me, the huge run down eight rooms with a view, where she and my father in law lived, held court, and stayed for fifty years, she showed up a lot. And so did he. The feelings were so strong and intense; sometimes I had to sit down to recover from them. I felt then they didn’t want to leave the apartment. (Neither did I—finding a stable place to stay in New York is to say the least: arduous.)
This is something else. This is not a feeling. This is a precise smell, when she walked in the room, there she was Nia and her smell. I could be cooking with her and her Nia smell even transcended the food smells, it was sui generis, completely her.
Odd too, that one of my early novels has a ghost that returns first as a scent. Then completely materializes in the apartment of my main character. First there was the Joy perfume (does anyone wear Joy anymore?) and then the ghost of Annie’s mother Theo is sitting on one of the chairs in her living room in New York.
I never could get anyone to publish that book. But I steal things from it from time to time and put it in other stories and books.
Has Nia stolen that bit from the novel I wrote?
I can smell Nia now. I smelled her just a few minutes ago when Henry and I came in from our last walk of the day.
Do I consult a physician?
This afternoon, my husband caught me sniffing. I was sniffing, and looking around and he said, “What are you doing? You’re like Divine in Polyester.”
“Sorry!” I said…
Sniff sniff. Stay tuned…but in the meantime, enjoy Mother In Law by Ernie K Doe, a fabulous blues singer who I actually saw perform in New Orleans when I was a kid. I used to sing it in anticipation of her yearly visit to the coast.
Henry and I got lost on Easter Sunday trying to get to a beach party in the Northwest Woods: A large track of land owned once upon a time by one person and now, like so much of the land around here, in East Hampton, subdivided into places for the weekend rich to renovate, landscape, and decorate to their heart’s content.
I have a secret yen to participate in the above activities, but I have never so far in my life’s journey given into the temptation.
For years I’ve been consciously working on this issue. I’m optimistic that one day, before I am rolled into the crematoria, I will have a place with chairs and couches, proper window shades, and a magnificent rug and lamps and pictures that all have a certain harmony and forethought and I will be comfortable in that room. It seems far more complex than writing a book, or learning to stand on my hands in the middle of the room as I can stand on my head and on my forearms. The aforementioned takes practice, the other stuff takes a sense of entitlement I’ve never possessed.
Every place I’ve ever lived is bare, except for books, and pictures. Books are one thing, and pictures are easy, even before I married into a family of an artist and his friends, I had lots of pictures. Pictures and books don’t seem to be on my personal index.
Once upon a time, I had a friend who was the opposite of me in that regard and we were great friends for a long time. I thought of her as Henry and I were getting lost in the Northwest on Easter afternoon. I always got lost going to her house too. She had a nice big house of the kind even if I went to two shrinks twice a day for the rest of my life, I could never feel entitled to—not that I didn’t like going there. It was so comfortable. It was so pretty. It was so luxurious, but in a nice interesting way. Taste, style and an ability to spend money with impunity. I have a modicum of taste and style, what I lack is the impunity part. She knew that about me, and used to admonish me.
And I’m guessing that was what happened to our friendship. One of the things anyway.
Henry and I were driving along this incredibly long tree-lined country road, with no real demarcations, everyone gets lost in the Northwest. No place to buy milk or a newspaper, no mailbox, no signposts…
I was recognizing names of streets. Probably the name of the developer’s children. When I was growing up my friend Janie Davis lived on Janie Lane, a street named by her father in honor of her.
Houses come and go. When I was growing up, as we descended down the socioeconomic ladder we went from big house to townhouse, to apartments… practically nobody lived in apartments in my hometown.
Perhaps that’s why I love New York City so much, because everybody lives in apartments. And too, maybe my lack of attachment to things comes from that time.
Your house is where you are supposed to feel safe. A friendship is a sort of house too, when it’s good you feel safe within it. I didn’t like the big house we had to move out of and never felt safe there. And come to think of it, I often felt in great peril in that friendship.
I was turning left, I was turning right, a jolt of misery, as sharp as a kick in the stomach hit me. For my former friend and our last conversation. For the yard sale my mother had right before we moved out of the big house. My four poster bed went that day. Afterwards my beloved Aline, our housekeeper, told me she would have bought the bed had she known Miz Marcus was going to sell it. How come nobody told me my bed was going? Our silver tea service also went. I had to stop the car and heave a little.
Afterwards, I felt much better. Cheerful in fact! Henry just sat there as dogs do, looking straight ahead, ears up. Dogs are enormously comforting and I’m so grateful to have little Henry in my life.
I decided not to go to the party. I’d forgotten my hat anyway, and set forth without any wine or nibbles for the potluck, and so I wended my way home.
And didn’t get lost!
It was my first experience of competence in the damn Northwest.
Good old T.S. was right when he said, “People change and smile but the agony abides. Time the destroyer is time the preserver.”
Good old T.S. Eliot. I’m not reading him so much anymore.
Maybe because I read so much of him at one point, another few lines kept going through my head on my fifteen-minute escape down the long country road:
… Last season’s fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
It was raining cats and dogs when I went to MOMA today with my friend Mark, who is in town to cover some musical events. The MOMA of today isn’t the MOMA I cut my teeth on, where I knew where everything was. The new MOMA is beautiful. I knew the first time I entered its doors it was beautiful, but it’s not home anymore, it’s just a beautiful place where I don’t know my way around.
Mark was interested in this thing that was going on, a dance choreographed by someone he admires a lot, with a group of musicians that changed every hour. It was in one of those gorgeous big white rooms of many stories with galleries and window spaces dotting the walls. The room was white, the walls were white, the floor was white. The dancer was wearing white. We leaned against the wall, and watched the dancer and listened to the piano music that was strange, hard to process and alienating—but not alienating enough to be awful. I didn’t exactly get it, but I liked it.
The dancer was moving around the room. Mark told me sotto voce that the choreography owed a big debt to Merce Cunningham, someone Mark had known well. Myself, I thought the choreography owed a big debt to yoga. There was an up-dog, a down-dog, a gorgeous upward facing bow, not to mention several Warrior III’s. But that seemed like a stupid thing to say to my friend. Or to anyone else who wasn’t into yoga.
I thought about the old MOMA where there weren’t all these huge public spaces and event rooms. At the old MOMA once upon a time, I had met my beautiful cousin Judith for lunch and did not know it would be the last time I’d ever see her. We hadn’t met in years. I’d always loved her. And I don’t remember how or why we had finally gotten together.
We were eating lunch in the old cafeteria. And she almost let it rip about her father, my uncle, and I almost let it rip about my father, her uncle. It was after she said, sort of sadly to me, “Your father was the nice one. Everyone loved him.”
I started to tremble, as I used to do, when on the rare occasions I met up with any of my blood relations. And they mentioned how my father was the nice one.
“My father wasn’t nice,” I said. “Not to me, anyway. Was your father nice to you?”
Cousin Judith said, “I never knew a single nice moment with my father. Not one. Not a single one. I spent my childhood trying to protect my mother.”
“Same here,” I replied. We both looked down.
I remember thinking what had happened to me had happened to her. Maybe it was some sort of family pact, a blood oath. All these years I thought I was the only one. But I didn’t ask her about what happened to her in detail. I just kept my head down.
And pretty soon after that we left the cafeteria. And pretty soon after that, I heard my cousin Judith was gravely ill with the exact same thing that had killed her mother, and suddenly she was dead. It is one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t have the guts to take the conversation to the next level. The taboo was just too strong.
Mark suggested we go to something else he was interested in, some thing by a Japanese videographer he admires.
We went into a pitch-black room where images of naked people chasing each other were projected onto the wall. Naked images were humping each other, jumping inside each other; it was very trendy, very arty, and not particularly sexy. Or maybe I was back in my childhood.
We went back to the big white room where more and more people had gathered. Mark and I leaned against the wall, but most of the people in there were sitting down in a circle on the floor. By now there was a flautist, another pianist, a violinist and many dancers.
Mark said he wished he had the time to stay for the whole nine-hour cycle.
Afterwards we stopped by the bookstore/gift shop and I saw a knife rack almost exactly like one my husband had made for us years ago out of two pieces of birch invisibly joined. I took a picture of it and texted it to my husband. In the old MOMA, the one that felt like home, people couldn’t take pictures and send them all the way across the country in the blink of an eye. There were some people who might have known that was possible but I wasn’t one of them.
In many ways it was a simpler world back then. Not so much to remember, not so many passwords and gadgets, not so many things to distract one.
Eliot: distracted from distraction by distraction.
It was raining even harder when we left MOMA and headed to the Pain Quotidian near Carnegie Hall. The wind was blowing like crazy and Mark’s expensive umbrella did that cheap umbrella thing which was to suddenly turn inside out and become useless.
I was ravenous and stuffed myself with bread and butter before my big bowl of lentil soup arrived.
I wished with all my heart my cousin Judith was still alive and we could meet again and this time have the real conversation. I imagined her walking in the door, my introducing her to Mark and the two of them talking about the famous violinist she had a relationship with for many years, who was in the Budapest String Quartet. He was older even than her father, with whom she’d never known a nice moment, like I’d never known one with mine.
Very few of my close friends are on Facebook. I participate to post my blog and do the occasional round of keeping up with the two thousand plus imaginary friends I have, that I “made” in order to promote my work. Though I like the pictures of people’s children and dogs, any and all yoga stuff, the occasional plate of gorgeous food, I think we all spend too much time on line. It’s bad for the eyes, it’s bad for the ass, and I think honestly it’s even worse for the spirit.
I say this about FB with a few notable exceptions. One is my friend Andrea, whom I’m seeing in a few minutes. The other is the wonderful fiction writer Steve Yarbrough who I can honestly say is my real friend, whom I wouldn’t have met but for Facebook. I read his posts the same way I read the New York Times: religiously. Steve plays the guitar and will sometimes make a video of himself playing Bluegrass. It’s great fun. Friend him on line, if you like gentle reader, but better than that, read Steve Yarbrough’s books.
The other person whom I’ve been following (far less sedulously) was a dude named Okla Elliot who was young, taught English and religion at some obscure university and wrote a book about Bernie Saunders during the campaign. And always had a lot of lively things to say about poetry, about the books he was reading, about his life (which sounded weird, frankly), monkish with junk food seems to be the only description I can come up with.
Okla was found dead this morning. And now there are tributes to him on line. Apparently, Okla had a mild case of diabetes, one not requiring insulin, but diabetes is a known culprit in heart attacks. Probably that’s what happened to him.
I didn’t feel very much when Princess Diana died. Sure I felt sorry for her children, she was young, she was pretty, she was compelling, I suppose. I was appalled and amazed at the orgy of mourning her dying set off, not just in England but all over the world. I was running at the time, and the woman I used to run with, a biologist, who had a daughter, a husband and two pet rats, went on and on and had to stop to catch her breath from weeping for a solid week after the pretty princess was killed in the back seat of her limo. Another friend actually stayed up all night so she wouldn’t miss the funeral on TV. I didn’t get that then and I don’t get it now. How does a media star burn her way into your psyche?
But I deeply mourn the passing of Okla Elliot, obscure poet, obscure intellectual, earnest fellow and very very nice; you could see that reading his posts.
And I feel the sense of loss that people must have felt when that young and pretty princess died. I feel like the world has lost a prince of another kind.
Okla never had his picture splattered over any tabloid. His sartorial style resembled as far as I can make out, early Boy Scout. Still, I’m willing to bet, he will stay with me forever.
I am profoundly sorry this lovely man died young. And I will miss this virtual stranger. If I knew who his parents were, I’d write them a sympathy card. A real one, in handwriting, on plain thick vellum with a return address and the prettiest stamp I could find in the house.
It’s pilot season here in Los Angeles. If you are married to an editor who isn’t working on something else, that often means, he or she will be gone for seven to nine weeks seven days a week 15 hours a day (not counting the commute) and you will feel like there’s a war going on. Or the spouse has sailed off 18th Century style in a boat with fellow sailors, lime juice to prevent scurvy, and perhaps Captain Bly at the helm.
It’s not a pretty sight, once it gets going. My husband who has the stamina of five horses, two oxen and eight goats, loves these death marches. Me, I wouldn’t last half an hour. I visited him once years ago in one of his cutting rooms during pilot season because I hadn’t seen him in a few days. He was happily at the helm of the Avid, arms out like a concert pianist, with a frazzled writer/producer nearby, running the scene forward, backward, sideways. He hadn’t slept in a couple of days and the bags under his eyes looked like suitcases. But he was happy as a clam. (Have you ever wondered how a clam feels happiness? Let me be the first to say, this is the first time I have wondered….)
That’s the thing editors do: they run the scene (any scene, in real life or in screen time) forward, backwards, sideways, and they try different music and they jump cut. This is, for better or worse, their approach to reality.
To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower, is far different than viewing the world through the Avid screen. In the old days editors wore white gloves and actually handled film. But the approach was identical. You run the scene forwards, backwards, sideways. You splice this. You put that there. You sync up a little music and you show the scene to someone and then if they don’t like it, you try it another way.
It’s actually quite a lot like being a writer. But the hours are much, much worse and if you live in LA, there’s usually an awful commute.
I have mixed feelings about pilot season. On the one hand, it’s good for the husband to be working, because he loves working, but on the other hand, it’s really an ordeal. And I wonder how we are going to survive pilot season.
I only know one two-editor household, and when she wanted to have kids, she had to quit. You couldn’t possibly raise a family if both parents are editors. It’s hard enough if one of the parents is an editor. It’s hard when the kids grow up and leave home and there’s only you and editor and the Avid screen left.
It took me many years to get it. I always swallowed the cool aid: “this is just a fluke! It’s insane. I’ve never been on such a freak show.”
Gentle readers: they are all freak shows.
But I hope the footage is good.
I hope the people he is going to be living with– more or less– will be congenial. And I’m grateful that pilot season, like the Jewish holidays, is only once a year.
The great poet James Tate’s father was an actual pilot. Not a show hoping to attract a viewer-ship and syndication. When I heard my husband was doing another pilot, I reached for poetry to console me. And I remembered The Lost Pilot.
From the end of the poem:
My head cocked toward the sky,
I cannot get off the ground,
and, you, passing over again,
fast, perfect, and unwilling
to tell me that you are doing
well, or that it was mistake
that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune
placed these worlds in us.
We were playing around with the idea of taking a trip without Henry.
Doggy day care is everywhere in the big cities. Every time you turn around in LA, there’s a doggy day care or a Gentleman’s Club, two such places in my neighborhood share the same building with different entrances. Passing by, I always wonder if someone wasn’t paying attention and walked into the Silver Reign rather than the Wag’s Club, could a whole life change within the course of this error? I’m guessing yes!
But Henry because he still has his you-know-what’s isn’t welcome at the Wag’s Club or most doggy day care places. So when I heard about this camp out in the country outside LA, a place described to me as “summer camp for dogs,” I decided to check the place out. It’s so exclusive you need an appointment for the evaluation. And for ten dollars more a day, Henry with his you-know-what’s would be welcome. Provided he passed the entrance exam.
“It sounds like the interview for nursery school,” I told my husband. “Will you go with us?”
“OK, just so we agree we’re not going to leave him there, just check the place out.”
I adored camp the only summer we had enough money to send me there. I was the youngest camper—eight years old—and I got to stay there for two months. I fished, I took nature walks, nobody guilt tripped or terrorized me. I slept in a cool cabin with nine other girls so I wasn’t afraid of the dark. It was an utter contrast to regular life, back in Shreveport, Louisiana.
My husband hated camp.
And so did our son. The former managed to get himself lost on Fire Island, and the later was apprehended as he fled Catalina Island in the middle of the night with all his belongings, trying to get home.
I was hoping Henry would be like me in this regard. How great would it be to send him to the country whilst we went to some interesting city!
The trouble with modern pet-hood, is the same thing that is the trouble with modern parenthood: there are a multitude of experts, theories, and because a lot of people treat their pets as children (I certainly do) there’s a spill over.
On the one hand, we speak about dog issues the way we speak about young childhood issues: we speak of separation anxiety, we speak of discipline issues, we speak of transitional objects, proper diet, we buy them little coats, healthy treats, the list goes on and on.
And on the other hand, we want them to be dogs.
We got in the car with Henry and drove way past the valley. We exited, and we drove up a small mountain. We turned this way and that. And finally forty-five minutes later, there we were at the gates to the pet spa.
We were met by a pretty young girl, and a handsome dark haired man with an accent and a beret, who took Henry off our hands. We were invited to observe him by camera from the waiting room.
My husband and I were staring at the screen at three dogs plus Henry walking around in a circle. Things looked like they were going pretty well. Henry didn’t leap. Henry wasn’t barking his head off. He seemed cool, calm and somewhat collected.
Then Henry disappeared from sight. And we were given a tour where we saw big dogs frolicking in a fenced in area. There were small dogs doing the same.
“Every dog has it’s own private room,” said our tour guide.
The private room turned out to be a cell. The cement floor, I thought was wise, but I didn’t like the jail bars. In back of the cell was a small exit for the dog to do its biz. But on questioning, I learned the dog door wasn’t open at night. The dogs were locked in from five in the evening till seven in the morning.
I imagined Henry in his usual spots at home: in my workroom on the silk comforter I bought in India some years ago. Or on the fake shearling in the corner of the couch where he sits at night. Or on the orthopedic pillow meant to cure my neck that indents in the middle that he took as his own minutes after I brought it in the house. I could not see him in a cell by himself, even if they gave him a pillow.
“Could I bring his pillows and toys?” I asked.
“No! we don’t encourage that.”
We returned to the waiting room, and presently Henry stood in the doorway with his captor, who had attached a small noose around his neck.
“He did ok,” said the captor, and then he demo’d the noose. Henry who had been jumping up and down excited to see us, immediately calmed down. And sat obediently. Nothing like a noose around the neck to make any living creature behave itself.
“I don’t think he’s ready for the overnight yet. If you leave him with me for a day, I’ll see if he can join the pack. He just needs a little training. You should get him a collar like this.”
Once again he pulled the noose tight and Henry sat obediently looking straight ahead. He looked serious, resolute and utterly cowed. I’d never seen him this way before.
We got back in the car the three of us. Henry collapsed in my lap after a head to toe shudder. We drove in silence toward the Pacific Coast Highway.
Presently I said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m depressed.”
“I thought you liked camp!”
“I loved camp. But it didn’t remind me of camp, it reminded me of my childhood.”
My husband nodded his head. “I know what you mean.”
There’s a good chance that if you have left your house, talked on the phone or used the computer in the last twenty-four, you’ve been asked to rate your experience about the experience.
Feedback. It’s a hungry world out there with big brother and big biz walking hand in hand—not for the first time–but in a way that because of the internet and the instantaneous nature of the modern experience here in the developed world, is unique and mind bending, and now, totally pervasive. We take it in with our daily bread, our morning coffee, as we read the newspaper, the newsfeed, or feed our pets. Most chillingly of all, is now the reading of books, which once at least pretended to feed our minds, is now a mercantile experience symbolized by stars on Amazon.
Rate this experience! On a scale of one to five, have the previous two paragraphs given you anything to think about? On a scale of one to ten how would rate what you’ve just read?
Boring in places, but not in others?
Heard that before? Thought that before?
Won’t you please shut up!
At the same time that we are being watched by cameras doing everything from taking cash from a machine, to standing in a crowded elevator, to entering an office building, standing on a street corner, walking past a school yard—never mind the rigmarole we go through at the airports—we are expected to endorse what’s happening to us. Like us on Facebook. Yelp about us. But whatever you do, even though your opinion matters to us, don’t express individuality. Anything but that.
Customer satisfaction is not a new field. Way before the chain store, merchants were competing for the return customer. But never in such an all-consuming way.
Just as killing Jews wasn’t anything new in eastern Europe, in the mid twentieth century, the technology finally married the ideology and the Final Solution was born. It’s the same with marketing in the twenty-first century. We’re plugged in and on twenty-four hours a day. We have reached the point of no return.
Because I am usually late paying the household bills, I have monthly access to a number of electronic voices (all of which sound scarily the same) urging me to stay on the line and rate the experience of talking to a machine.
Do I like it?
Has it been a positive experience?
How come there is no context in which to express how horrified I am by the extent to which the mechanistic world has taken over? I scream at machines. I want to kick the B Jesus out of these robots. Should I be fortunate enough to get a human voice on the phone to complain to, I can be sure it’s someone working in a remote call center half way across the planet earning two cents a day and consequently has no clout—still less can understand English without the promptings of a script.
Electronic sensors, that’s another one. The near complete disappearance of the parking attendant in lieu of the machine wherein you feed your tired, over-worked credit card. What in the world happened to all those nice parking attendants who smiled so kindly if one merely said hello and thank you? What happened to carrying around cash? Just remember if you pay in cash, there won’t be a record of what you spent, and maybe you can hide from Big Brother for a moment.
I was holding my hand under a flashing red light on a paper towel machine recently and I fully expected it to ask me to rate the experience.
Did I get enough paper? No!
Do I miss the hand crank? Yes!
Why am I writing this?
So someone will notice and read one of my books?|
Yes. And yes again. Why else?
That doesn’t mean I’m not tired of being linked in, networked, marketed to and paying by phone, electronic check, or wishing much of the time, I could simply check my own self out of this madness.
A big crowd of us was waiting for the E train in Jamaica a couple of days ago. They’d opened the doors, unlocked the turnstiles and we poured in diverted from the Long Island Railroad. Though I have passed through Queens a couple of hundred times or more throughout the years, other than JFK, I have only stood on solid ground in Queens three times that I can remember: two funerals and one bar mitzvah.
People were grumbling. I stood next to a tall handsome middle-aged man with a very expensive haircut who was truly pissed.
“I could have taken a limo,” he said looking around him with contempt.
“An hour!” I heard someone else cry out indignantly.
Jamaica, which is a few stops away from Penn Station if you are riding the railroad, is a long way to the city if you are taking the E Train in.
And here it was… The E. We crammed our way in. I saw the handsome man shove someone out of a seat and sit himself down, scowling. When the door closed, I was standing with a group around a pole, holding on.
Six of us: myself, three younger women, in their twenties all chatting with a boy-man, a little pudgy with baggy jeans and very large feet. He was mostly talking to someone behind me.
The boy had the sweetest face, beatific really. When I looked at him and smiled, he gave me a little windshield wiper wave, as children do. I wondered which of the women was his mother. It looked more likely that they were older sisters.
I turned around. Holding on in back of me was, someone who might have inhabited the sideshows of my childhood in the tent next to Mississippi Flo, the fattest woman in the world.
This woman wasn’t fat. She was about my height, maybe a little shorter, and her hair was normal, straight and brown. It was all I could do not to turn away. Her skin looked like it had been boiled. It was covered in welts and powdered to hide its redness. One eye was permanently shut, yet she was smiling. Her teeth were caved in and there was more than one row of them on top. Her one good eye was buried deep in its socket. I knew in a flash everyday people must look at her in horror. The very opposite of the way people look at a beautiful person, but she had great composure, this woman hanging on to the pole. With such a face, she was used to embarrassment, used to God knows what. I was determined not to turn away.
“Is the boy you are talking to as sweet as he looks?” I asked her.
She smiled. “He’s an angel!” she declared. By now I was getting used to the way she looked.
We counted the stops together, the girls, the boy, the woman and I. When we were at ten stops still alas, in the heart of Queens, I remembered an incident in my childhood. I was about the angel boy’s age: the awkward stage when childhood and puberty each have something not so attractive to display in the body. Like the little boy, I had endured a pudgy stage. And my father who was fat, used to tell me I was fat.
One day, things began to change; I sort of had a waist. I went to school in a brand new jumper that buttoned up the front. It was a black watch plaid and I had a nice crisp white cotton shirt underneath it. When I looked in the mirror I was certain I was no longer a freak. Or even close to a freak. My sister had even in a rare show of comradeship rolled my dark curly mass into something resembling real hair. Not dark hay.
I was sitting behind a boy named John, JB he called himself, whom I had a crush on. I sat down and he turned around, and I waited expectantly.
I was nine years old. JB looked at me, glanced down and told me he wouldn’t go out with me if I were the last girl in the world. He said it in those words. And to this very moment, I’ll never forget how it felt.
The woman sharing the pole with me had never outgrown her ugly duckling stage. It would take a certain amount of greatness just to come to terms with that. And not be destroyed.
We had reached Manhattan by this point. Civilization! East 50th. I remembered from other lives that I could walk across the platform and get the B train and not even have to go to Penn Station where I’d just be heading uptown once again.
I said goodbye to the happy group discussing where they were going to have dinner before the Billy Joel concert.
I thought then, the pitiful looking woman was the real angel. I can see her in my mind’s eye, her boiled face, her three rows of top teeth, and what shines through is her good spirit, her calm vibration.
In my mind’s eye she’s flapping her puffy angel wings.
I fell off the sugar wagon in September, after a two-year hiatus. Not in any kind of bing-y way. Yet, to this very minute, I feel the siren call of cane and fructose that doesn’t really happen when you avoid the stuff and limit your consumption to fruit, and not too much dried fruit either, and the natural sort that comes in yoghurt, kefir, milk, and all lactose products. It started at my friend Mae’s wedding in September. A big piece of wedding cake, not ordinary white and gluey, her and John’s was spice cake with raisins and nuts and a beautiful white icing. Months later, I can still recall that cake which was proffered after the ceremony with a cold glass of good champagne (more sugar, alcohol and sugar—whoopee!). Next came a piece of iced gingerbread imported from home by my German friend, Andrea! Eaten with a hot cup of earl grey on a cold afternoon. Paradise! But alas, once you get that sweet taste of cane or fructose, your mind’s pleasure centers want more. And more. Tell me about it. I used to smoke. It was a years long battle to get that monkey off my back. And sugar is the same: dope, a signal to the nervous system and the pleasure centers to go into zing mode. Soothe me! Feed me! Once you get the taste, it’s hell to turn off. I’m guessing it’s like booze if booze is your thing, and thank God it’s not mine. I want to shovel the stuff in my system. And if you’re skinny like I am, everyone looks at you like you are some kind of freak if you don’t stuff it in. If you ask for the cookie without the flour and sugar, I’m labeled a Miz Priss; I’m told a cookie would do me good; I could use a little flab on my bones. What’s wrong with me, I look unhealthy. It’s getting a little ridiculous.
Recently my husband, who has always been able to eat anything he wants and remain relatively slender told me after I gave him the look at a holiday dinner party when he reached for a second slice of cake: “My wife is the reincarnation of Cotton Mather. In her last life, she sentenced people who ate cake to the stake, men, women and children burned!”
“Chill out!” He concluded and everyone at the dinner party in turn gave me the look and nodded their heads.
No I won’t chill out. And neither will gentle (informed) readers whilst perusing the pages of The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes, an eminent science journalist who links the worldwide pandemic of Diabetes to the consumption of sugar, with the US in the lead—both in sick men women and especially children. We started this whole damn thing. We gave the world high fructose corn syrup, soft drinks and Donald Trump who my son told me is a big Oreo freak. Imagine with all he gets to choose from, and he picks Oreos as a treat. It says everything about him. Everything and more.
I was raised in the south on coke cola, pronounced as one word. It was everywhere and consumed hourly by everyone. Babies drank coke cola from their bottles.
Our bodies were not meant to consume the sugar that we feed it. The pancreas can’t take the onslaught. The result of which are epic rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, the lamentable list goes on and on.
Read this remarkable book. The author, I have to say, looks a little stern and gaunt in his author photo. I bet he never falls off the wagon. I bet he’s way worse than Cotton Mather or me at dinner parties. I don’t even like to think of what a treat around his house might be. Or how he punishes his significant others not to mention his offspring if they are caught using the stuff.
My mother, who was diabetic, and who died of the disease started me on the lifelong fear of sugar. I’m way older than she was when she died. And why? She wasn’t obese, she didn’t look like a wild sugar freak, but her drug of choice (apart from dex, opoids and seconal) was sweets. She ate hamburgers, French fries and washed the whole thing down with milkshakes followed by pie. A fried one if she could get it.
She’d chow down. Shoot herself up with insulin and often as not go into shock. After years of this, her body shut down, she was half blind and had to sit in a wheelchair. And then she died, poor mother, and never got to meet my darling son.
I fear that fate befalling me, if I eat more than one cookie. Yes, I am a true phobe. An Uberphobe.
But according toThe Case Against Sugar, I’m far from nuts. I don’t need biofeedback or a nice slice of pie. What I need is a megaphone, because all these years I was right! Don’t go near the stuff. Avoid it like the plague.
I’m about to get down on my hands and knees and pray for release from the devil’s food: SUGAR.