Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Day of Remembrance

     For people living in the United States, today, December 7, marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on a U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1941 which sparked the blaze that announced the U.S. decision to enter into World War II.  Both my father and maternal grandfather fought in WWII in the U.S. Army- my grandfather in Okinawa and my father in the Burmese jungle with Merrill's Marauders where he received a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for taking schrapnel in his leg.  Before he died in July 2002, sometime while I was in high school, I think, he gave me his Purple Heart in an old, hinged and cracked, plastic display box.  For me, today also marks the one-year anniversary of our house fire.
     At about 3pm, I arrived home from spending a lovely afternoon with my mother.  We had our hair done together at our favorite salon, she a color touch-up and me, a great cut by the only person I will ever trust my hair to again, Anthi (call her, she's amazingly talented). Easing slowly down the winding street on the way to my house which sits nearly a mile back off the main road, I spotted my best neighbor waving to me from her driveway, and as I peered to the right, there was my next door neighbor standing between our yards also waving to me.  Smiling, thinking how fortunate I am to be close to such wonderful people, I pulled into my driveway, eager to chat with my older and ever-wiser neighbor ladies.  "Hey guys!"
     "Gaby, your house is on fire!" My neighbor yelled from across the street, "Your house is on fire, you can't go in..."
     "...You can't go in, Gaby, you can't go in the house!" my next door neighbor cried, entering into the yelling like singing a round of "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat".
     "What? What? My house is on fire? Where?"
     "The front, near the front- Gaby, you can't go in.  The fire company is on its way! Listen Gaby, listen, can you hear the sirens? They're coming now, Gaby!" My across-the-street neighbor said.
     I noticed that a man was also there working as a general contractor across the street, in the house directly across from mine.  Running over to the front door, I could see smoke in the wall to the right of the door and between the large bay window.  It didn't seem very bad and my instinct was to open the front door, but my neighbors and the man were yelling that the house could explode, which only made me more confused.  It was all happening so quickly and I just couldn't process the totality of the moment, it was fragmented and weird.  "Did you use my hose and try to wet the house?"
     "No, we wanted to, but it's electrical, you can't wet it, you'll electrocute yourself!" one of the ladies said.
     "Fuck it," I thought, "I'm not going to die, not today."  My house is wood and I didn't care about the possibility of my house burning down and being electrocuted.  I just thought that it made sense to wet the wood.  The fire had already burned a hole in the lower part of the wall and was working its way up, so I sprayed the outside of the house and jammed the hose between the wall for a split second, just enough time to dampen it, but not long enough to stand around and get zapped.  I ran to my neighbors who were standing across the street as sirens roared closer.  I was in a panic and all of this that I've described only happened in a matter of about 2 minutes.  And then, I realized, "My cats! My cats! The bird! They're in the house, they're in the house!"
     "No, Gaby, you can't go in the house!"
     I don't know what took me so long to remember the pets, but at that moment, I spotted a state police cruiser coming up the street and I panicked, knowing that I had to act, because once he parked, he would have prevented me from going near the house.  So, I did what I think anyone would have done, I ran toward the house.
     "Gaby, no!" They told me for what seemed to the 1000th time.
     I charged passed all of them and looked to the right at the young trooper pulling up, I remember his face well and met his eyes in a way that said, "I'm going in to that house.  Yes, I see you and I don't care, because you are going to prevent me from saving part of my family."
    Running around the left side of the house, I shuffled for my key to the back door.  There were too many keys and I was wasting precious time. Trying two keys, I gave up, realizing that there was no more time to get it wrong.  So, I used the outer side of my right fist to smash through the door glass, reach in, and unlock the deadbolt.  "Cats! Cats!" I prayed that Fudder, the beautiful Lynx Point/Turkish Van/orange Tabby was outside, playing in the woods, which he loves doing.  He prefers being outside, except in the very cold weather, but I've seen him trek through ten inches of snow.  He has very long legs, a thick coat, and his body is muscular and sleek- he's fast and graceful when he runs.  He's bright for a cat, pays attention to the world around him, making certain that everything is copacetic.
     The smoke billowed, thick, black smoke was throughout the house.  I had no idea it was so bad.  I also didn't realize, despite all my elementary school training, that there was just no oxygen in smoke, at least not enough to safely breathe.  A cat cried, it was Duchess, the chunky, gray, silky kitty and she sounded horrible, like wailing- a deep, awful ouch sounding cry.  I yelled for her to come, but she was too afraid to move.  So, peering in, I spotted her in the corner of the kitchen near the window.  She was pressed against the glass.  She was smart enough to know where the exit is and got as far as she could, she wasn't going back in to run to the door.  I ran in and accidentally took a breath, "Uh!"  The smoke stung my chest and throat instantly, choking me.  Duchess kept wailing, mrrroooowwwwww, mrrroooowwwwww.  I grabbed her by the scruff with my left hand to get a grip on the sixteen pound cat and put my right hand under her legs to scoop her up into my arms and I dashed out of the house.  I tried yelling for Marlin, the more fluff than meat, squishy, orange Tabby who has an oral fixation and licks everything and everyone.  I was most worried about him, because he is an aloof and lazy fellow who prefers sleeping in the comfort of my bed to the outdoors and I knew he was likely in my room hiding, too afraid to come out.  Then, there was Kaka, my nine year old daughter's cockatiel who hates all of us because we are nice to the cats and it makes no good sense to him.  I figured he would be okay, as her bedroom door was always kept closed.
     I said goodbye to my house and walked back around the side to see the trooper walking toward me.  "That's some cut you have, " he said, "Let's go have that looked at, okay?"  I mumbled something incoherent and he put his arm around me.
     I looked down at my right hand and saw there was bright, red blood covering the sleeve of my snow white ski jacket, bright green shirt, and could see drops of blood on my jeans and Ugg boots, "Shit, I had no idea I cut myself.  But my house and my pets, there is a cat, maybe two in the house and a bird in the bedroom that's in the back bedroom with the closed door!"
     "I'll let them know."  He delivered me to a waiting ambulance and in the five minutes that passed, there were two fire companies, five police cars, and a neighborhood full of people looking on.
     Not knowing if I'd have a home to come back to, I said goodbye to all of my stuff in a moment.  I thought that there was nothing I could do except pray to the universe or to the firemen, or to God, or whomever could help to please save my house. The EMTs took one look at my hand and I knew from their reactions that it wasn't good.  "Oooh, that's gonna need more than stitches."  They laid me back, but I refused and called people while they wrapped my hand in a mountain of gauze.  Just then, the school bus pulled up behind all of the emergency vehicles- my girls were home from school.  I sprang to my feet, crying out for the kids.  My neighbor came over and said she'd take care of them until one of our family members arrived.  I felt somewhat relieved, but I wanted to cry.

At the hospital with a fresh wound
     One of the EMTs, an older woman in her early 50s, asked me to sit back so she could administer oxygen.  The ambulance was old, but the ride was free, thanks to our amazing, tiny community of volunteers.  I was cold and shivering, they said I was in shock and had smoke inhalation.  They brought me to an urgent care center where the attending doctor consulted a hand surgeon at a larger hospital via phone.  I heard her tell him that I had no nerve damage or tendon damage, but that I had severed an artery that they had to cauterize.  They stitched me and sent me on my way with an appointment to see the hand surgeon.

Zorro left his mark, five days post-op
     When I arrived home, finally at around nine p.m., the night darkness was met with a giant hole in the front of the house the size of a door, but my house was there and it was fairly habitable.  The front door was open and my family had a giant shop vacuum sucking up mud off of our laminated floors.  I remember passing my brand new, beautiful, huge, cream and baby blue Aubusson-style wool carpet in the driveway, partially rolled and soaking wet on the open end and thinking it was likely ruined.  I wanted to go back to the hospital rather than walk into that disaster.  The kids were still at the neighbor's house and I asked about the cats and bird, "Kaka, Fudder and Duchess are all okay."
     "Well, where's Marlin?" I said, desperately.  I was tired of crying and didn't think I could handle anymore upset for one day.
     "We can't find him."
     I immediately began searching the house.  "Marlin! Marlin!"  I ran into my room and dove under the bed, not caring about my hand being in excruciating pain and wrapped like a mummy.  There was Marlin, cowering behind storage boxes.  He wedged himself in and was stiff with fear.  Marlin and Fudder were rescue kitties, Fudder was a kitten and doesn't recall his homeless days, but Marlin was almost two and spent nearly three months cooped up in a cage at the Humane Society.  When we adopted him, he had forgotten how to jump and was fearful and shy.  We spent a long time getting him over his fears, and in a flash, all of his trauma was remembered and I had to pry him from under the bed where he lay, burying his face in my arms.
     Two days later, I went to the surgeon for consultation.  Through a battery tests, he determined that I required hand surgery, as I had, in fact, severed a nerve and was unable to feel any sensation on my little finger.  He loved the fact that I ran in to save the animals and thought it made for a great story, seeing his face in my mind still makes me laugh.  So a few days later, on the 15TH of December, I went in to a little outpatient surgical center for nerve repair.  X marked the spot and was signed by the surgeon to indicate that we'd discussed that this was the right hand.
     Being guided into the operating room by a warm and welcoming nurse, I entered the icy room with where the walls, floors, and high-tech equipment made me feel like I was on some other planet in the future between the stainless steel and cool color scheme.  Laying down on the table, I had to stretch my arm perpendicular to my body, placing it on a rest, palm-side up.  My left arm was being prepped for anesthesia.  My doctor was peering into the neatest-looking microscope I had ever seen.  He was noticeably more serious than when we met and even a half-hour prior in pre-op, he was still pretty mellow and jokey.  He looked away from the scope, glancing over at me, and said hello with a nod.  I was very nervous, which is not unusual, as I'm kind of a nervous person in general.  The nurse saw me shivering and brought me a toasty, warm blanket from a smaller room.  The anesthesiologist entered reminding me of Ken Kesey and making me feel a little better, in an odd way.  He let the anesthesia begin dripping and warned me that I'd feel a sting.  It wasn't a sting, it was like someone pouring molten steel into my vein.  The pain was greater than my injured hand was experiencing and I yelled while wincing, "Ahhhh!"  Within ten seconds, I was out.
     The surgery was to take about an hour, but instead, it was a two-and-a-half hour procedure.  "Gabrielle, Gabrielle..."  I opened my eyes and shut them again, "Gabrielle, not in my wildest dreams did I expect to see what I saw when I was able to take a look," the surgeon said, as my glazed eyes tried desperately to stay open and focus.  I really hate the feeling of coming out of general anesthesia, it's like being awakened from the dead- all the senses come flooding like calm water whose dam has been lifted.  I just wanted to sleep.  He continued, "So, the surgery took a little longer than expected because I also had to repair your tendon.  I did not expect to see what I saw which was that about ninety percent of the tendon was severed."  I looked on with my eyes crossing back and forth into my head with my ear resting on my left shoulder.  "The tendon is made of these tiny, little pieces that are like super-thin leaves that all connect together.  Yours was being held by one leaf.  If it had completely gone, it would have meant a whole different ball game.  You're very lucky, I can't believe it, it's just amazing."

     A week later, after dealing with managing a soft cast, I went back to be fitted with a splint made from hydrothermal plastic that started out in flexible sheets that looked like smooth cardboard, but which softened to a thick taffy consistency upon heating in water.  Once heated, it was highly pliant and could be shaped and molded in any fashion.  Once air dried in a matter of minutes, the soft material hardens into a plastic shell like magic.  The splint was hinged with metal grommets at the wrist bone, covering the top of my hand to the tips of my fingers with the larger piece extending the length of my forearm.  My hand was positioned so that my wrist was bent at the natural bend with my fingers pointing downward.  I felt like Iron Man.
     On the 4TH of January, I returned to the doctor and had my stitches removed.  Using tweezers, the doc peeled away the Zorro-shaped scab in one, painless piece revealing new, pink, tender skin.
     Tired of the plain, bland plastic splint, I asked the kids if they'd cheer it up and paint it.  My younger daughter painted hearts and rainbows while her older sister wittingly painted the letters O-Z-Z-Y across the place where my knuckles rested, mimicking tattoos that one might see on a burly biker.  It was terrific and completely cheered me up.  For several months after, I proudly brandished my colorful splint.
     Immediately following surgery, I entered into hand therapy and there I remained, going two and three times a week until I was finally discharged in May of 2011.  It was grueling and was unlike the sports therapy of which I was accustomed from my days playing college tennis with delightful massage, cute sports medicine majors stretching my lower back and hot tubs.  This hurt and it was work.  I had to learn to use my left hand for everything, writing was a tortuous feat and forget about going to the bathroom, what a nightmare.  For weeks, I stayed hopped-up on oxycodone, Percocet, because the pain was not manageable with my preferred choice of ibuprofen.  Narcotics are horrible, nasty demons and I have refused pain medicine through out my life because of my aversion to opiates.  They made me feel physically nauseous and emotionally detached.  I stayed in bed most of the time in a drug-induced slump of depression.  After five weeks of drugs and after beginning to need to take the Percocet, they no longer knocked me out; in fact, I would feel stoned and energized.  That scared me, so I went cold turkey and put the garbage away for good. 
     My hand, at first, was stiff from spending two months in a downward-facing position.  I was unable to extend my wrist upward and could neither straighten nor bend my fingers any more than the position in which they'd been kept.  Over time and after many therapy days of crying tears of frustration and pain, I regained nearly all the feeling and movement in my hand.  Apparently, the flexor tendon and small finger surgery, according to my doctor, is one of the most difficult surgeries from which to recover.  The only part of my pinky I can't feel is the outer corner of the finger tip, remarkable, since I had no feeling at all.
     It took a long time for the smell of smoke to vanish from the house and all our belongings.  While the pain was new, I spent weeks washing every clothing item and bed linen.  We scrubbed the walls and ceilings and to my joy, we were able to salvage the carpet.  A couple steam cleaning sessions later and it was brand new again.  It's been a slow recovery for the house, as we were uninsured and have had to do the work ourselves with the constant reminder of the fire.  There's still much to do, even a year later, but miraculously, all we lost was a chair.  This is how my hand looks today:
     It was odd waking this morning and realizing that today marked a day that will live infamously for my family and I.  Typically, I'm not one for anniversaries or sentiment, but this was different somehow.  The day triggered all kinds of horrible feelings of anxiety that I had since put behind me.  The kids were oblivious and I never let on that the day was anything other than Pearl Harbor Day, which incidentally, their teachers did not mention.  
     Tomorrow, my mind will begin to calm itself and writing has probably been therapeutic, as I've been meaning to write about it for sometime, I just wasn't yet able to bring myself to the task of regurgitating events and emotions.  For a moment this morning, I felt a flood of emotion and in writing this piece, I've noticed how much sadness and fear still lingers within me.  It isn't fear of losing my stuff that lingers, it's how lucky we all are to still have a home and our lives- the anxiety comes from the innumerable "what ifs", the immeasurable possibilities that exist in any one moment...
     Like Schrödinger's cat, I believe an outcome is determined by the perceiver- that all possibilities exist, but it's a person's thoughts that create individual reality, internally within the self as well as externally in the physical world around us.  So it's vital that my mind discipline itself, thinking of the positive and releasing Fear.
     The day of remembrance doesn't have to be filled with sorrow, it's only I who has decided to make that one moment or combination of moments more important than any other moment and that just seems illogical and foolish.
     So, on this day of remembrance, I'm shooting for dementia at best, but I'll settle for denial... what, what fire? what surgery? I even bought a pair of rose-colored sunglasses.  The world looks so much nicer when peering through them.     









Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bimbo- It's All in the Name

     Two months ago, my boyfriend walked through the front door holding two boxes of cookies from Entenmann's: Milk Chocolate Chip and Original Recipe.
     "What the Hell is that? You're kidding me- they have two different varieties?" I scoffed, noting that both the cookies and the boxes were nearly the same with the exception of the flashy, red lettering on the "original" box.
     A few years ago, I discovered that the cookies that were a part of my childhood were suddenly missing.  Earlier in the year, a friend came by with a box of the "new" recipe and I was happy to see them back on the shelves.  Not realizing the recipe had changed, I popped the whole, tiny, soft cookie into my mouth and started to chew.  "Pttfffftttttttt!" I spit it out as my head hung over the kitchen sink.  It was a disgusting display of manners, I'm certain.  Especially, I'm told, for a lady. One other fact was also certain, I had never spit out an Entenmann's product in my entire life.
     Making the Elvis lip, inadvertently and to the best of my ability, which ironically, is the same face I make when smelling something awful like the insole of my favorite pair of cozy boots, I tried the "Original Recipe".  Voila!  Perfection! My taste buds were so happy! My once-crushed, fond memory was restored like dry skin to moisturizer.  One after another, the cookies disappeared and between the four of us, the box of about 30 cookies was gone within 30 minutes.
     Logically, I was unable to process why a company would 1) cease production of a product high in demand, 2) create a new recipe that was not time-tested, and 3) then send them both back to the bakery to confuse and infuriate the consumer? So, I went to their website and saw the Entenmann's brand has been sold many times since the 1970s and is now operated by Bimbo Bakeries (click on "United Sates").
     Comparing the two product labels, high fructose corn syrup, my self-declared sworn enemy, rears its ugly head farther down the ingredients list than the new recipe.  The new recipe also adds disgusting potassium sorbate, soy lecithin, more artificial flavors, milk products, and more.  
     Original Recipe-
     Chocolate Chips (SugarChocolate LiquorCocoa ButterCocoa Processed With Alkali Dextrose,VanillinLecithin), Flour BleachedSugar,Vegetable(s) Shortening, Partially Hydrogenated (Soybean(s) OilCottonseed Oil), Egg(s)Corn Syrup High FructoseWheat StarchButterSugar InvertMolassesSaltCorn Starch ModifiedBaking Soda,Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial 
     Milk Chocolate Recipe (NEWish)-
     Wheat Flour BleachedMilk Chocolate Chips (Sugar,Chocolate LiquorCocoa ButterMilk Skim PowderButter OilSoya Lecithin An EmulsifierVanillin An Artificial Flavor), SugarVegetable(s) Shortening Partially Hydrogenated (Soybean(s)Cottonseed), Corn Syrup High FructoseMilk Non-FatWheat StarchEgg(s)Corn Starch ModifiedSaltBaking SodaWaterCarob Bean GumFlavor(s) ArtificialPotassium Sorbate PreservativeLemon(s) Juice ConcentrateCaramel Color
     Mind-boggling, ain't it? 
     I mean, who messes with a good thing but someone who is just asking for trouble?  So, I thought Bimbo should know about it and went to their website to issue my comments.  Concurrently, my boyfriend also decided to comment.
     Mine read something like, "My family has been buying Entenmann's for 50+ years and has trusted the brand.  The taste between cookies is substantial and I can actually taste the high fructose corn syrup which lingers and never satisfies.  Please don't change a good thing because when it comes to the quality of ingredients in the foods I feed my family, I have no product loyalty and will cease buying Entenmann's products."  That's the gist of it.
     My boyfriend commented something like, "I was so happy to see the Original Recipe cookies back on the shelf, blah, blah, blah, kiss your ass, blah, blah, blah. Thank you, blah, blah" That's the gist of it.
     I received an email from Bimbo:
    
We will be glad to document your request for this particular product. We place tremendous value on input from our consumers. Your inquiry will be used to plan our product variety.


You are a valued consumer and we appreciate that you took the time and interest to contact us. We hope that you will continue to enjoy our products.

Sincerely,
Consumer Relations Department
***This email is generated from an unmonitored mailbox. If you have further questions please, contact Consumer Relations at 1-800-984-0989.***


     A week later, my boyfriend received mail from Bimbo.  Inside, there was a nice type-written letter thanking him for his comments, a magnet, and several dollar-off product coupons.
     Why, Bimbo? Why would you not also send me coupons and magnets? Criticism is your friend, Bimbo, your friend! My boyfriend did you no favors by pandering to your ego, Bimbo! I told you the ugly truth, that your milk chocolate chip cookies SUCK.  I bet Warner-Lambert, General Foods, Kraft, Bestfoods, Unilever, and George Weston (all who have owned the Entenmann's name over the years) wouldn't treat a loyal customer this way!  See, all you had to do was send me a few coupons and we wouldn't be having this rant, right now.  I'd be lauding you, Bimbo. Further, my satisfaction comes cheaply with a couple bucks off of my next purchase, but nooooooo, there is nothing for Gabrielle, except the dissatisfying taste of your new cookies.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Do You Know What Today Is? It's My Blogiversary!

On this the day of the 2nd anniversary of my blog, I found a poem by Lord Tennyson which I find apropos for the anniversary, the changing season, and also for the spirit of the times, as humankind is embarking toward a New Beginning.  It was found in an old literature book intended for children called, "'round the Year in Myth and Song", written by Florence Holbrook, 1897:



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Immortal













Aching pain drills its way deep to center of her
solar plexus,
burning and twisting like a dull dagger,
thrust and lingering--
no helping hand to
release
agony;
Grasping, gurgling,
choking asphyxiation--
so much pain,
so much pain
pulsating with every broken
heartbeat,
pleading for departure;
Sinking in deep mire,
the floods overflow,
unable to drink from the fountain of
life.
Isis waits in futility for her to come, sit,
be lavished upon the throne,
instead,
eternity incinerates to ashes
when Fear impregnates,
casting torment,
invoking deaf angels
to carry her to Heaven or
Hell,
writhing, shrinking in abandonment--
Theseus found no joy in Ariadne,
and Dionysus has chosen
another.

Gabrielle Cianfrani
September 14, 2011
10:55 P.M.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

B-I-C-I-C-L-E-T-A

B-I-C-I-C-L-E-T-A
I'm your friend bike.

I'll take you to run the parks,
I'll help you grow and glide on two wheels.
On top of me the world is at its mercy
You run into me and the world below you.
Body in the wind, released by the thinking air,
For that to happen you just ride me.

B-I-C-I-C-L-E-T-A
I'm your friend bike.

Am I the company will do so,
Between streets, avenues, in the sea.
I'll buy you and helps you to enjoy
Popsicles, chewing gum, baseball cards and comic books.
The wheel and road wheel and the time it's back,
For that to happen you just ride me.

B-I-C-I-C-L-E-T-A
I'm your friend bike.

It very recently entered the fashion for real,
Executives come to me without stopping.
Everyone is worried about emagracer,
Even your parents decided to adopt me.
A lot of people lately has been riding me
But in a strange way I do not go out of place.

B-I-C-I-C-L-E-T-A
I'm your friend bike.
This song, by Brazilian artist, Toquinho, captures (in a rough and nearly literal translation to English) what bicycles have meant for me. From the moment it dawned on me that a bicycle meant freedom and inclusion, I wanted to ride.  Don't get me wrong, I was a huge fan of the Big Wheel and had inherited one that my grandparents were given as a hand-me-down from Johnny, Chuckie, Danny, and Kevin's mom and dad- they lived behind my grandparent's northeast Philadelphia row home on the street that ran perpendicular to theirs.  Our driveway backed the side of their house but was separated by a common drive.  I drove that Big Wheel that had "YARDLEY", the last name of the family of boys, written in black, permanent ink in the center of the handlebars, until I outgrew it and wanted to be a big kid.  


My aunt and uncle were only eleven and fourteen years older than I and were the first best friends I ever had.  My uncle was already driving, but he enjoyed the leisure of riding bikes.  So, when they started "ditching" me (they weren't really, but I loved them and couldn't understand why they'd want to go someplace without me!) to hang out with friends, I knew I had to learn to ride a bike.  

A couple months shy of five years old, my grandfather sawed two blocks of wood to fit on each of my aunt's banana seat Schwinn bike pedals and screwed them in to affix them.  The weight from the blocks would pull the pedals down, block side and I used to have to tuck my foot under the pedal and spin it in an attempt to catch the wood side-up.  I was about two inches too short to reach the pedals and about six inches too short to reach the ground.  I would ask him to take me outside two or three times a day on weekends and every night after work that summer.  I was determined to ride.

The schoolyard at Samuel Fels Junior High School (now a high school) was surrounded by a high, chain-linked fence.  We would enter from one of the three or so rear entrances.  Typically, a couple games of basketball and one game of stickball were happening at any given time, and there was always someone running their dog in the L-shaped, asphalt-covered yard that ran adjacent to two city blocks and had scarce a tree planted near the fence with glass sporadically littering the ground.  One could see the glass by the reflection of the sun that made it look like diamonds.

Growing like a weed, I asked my grandfather to take the blocks off the bike.  I was also able to balance myself on the pedals, scooting off the seat, pedaling fiercely, always trying to go faster. The blocks were in the way. 

That year, in 1981, my family and I moved to Deptford, NJ.  Amazingly, the house was situated at the border of an enormous community park and sports complex that had a swimming pool, basketball courts, a football/soccer field, a hockey rink, bike loop trail, and best of all- a professional, American Bicycle Association sanctioned BMX track where riders came from all over to race or just have fun.  I was in heaven, but I quickly learned that the pink Huffy was not up to racing standards with its banana seat, chain guard, kickstand, reflectors, and lack of pads. 

When races were held every Saturday, I'd climb over our fence to watch the riders and I stopped an older girl who looked cool to me, she was wearing a GT racing suit and had blonde hair peaking out from her full face mask, "Hey, can you tell me what I need to do to make my bike regulation?" She was kind to entertain my question and told me everything I needed to do.  She should have said, "Kid, get your parents to buy you a real bike."

I had $80 saved and made my mom bring me to Kmart where I bought a black pads, an orange helmet that was really for motorcycles, and the most important thing- a Haro number plate: 1.  The helmet was $39.99 and when all was said and done, I was left with twenty bucks.

The next morning, I woke and found a screwdriver and wrench.  Promptly, I began working to remove the kickstand.  It was so difficult and banging my fingers against the metal, trying to loosen the assemblage was frustrating.  After prying it off, I went to work on the chain guard, and then unscrewed the reflectors, put the pads on the frame, neck, and bars, attached the number plate and rode over to the track.  There was a gang of boys and not one girl, none but I, that is. There was a killer starting hill that sat at a 45° and had long planks that created a starting gate.  The kids would take turns, one dropping the gate while the other racers would balance their bikes, front wheel touching the gate with their feet up on the pedals.  Ready, set... drop!  It went something like- Down the hill, over a jump, into a left turn, over another jump, over the whoop-de-doos, into a right turn, over two more jumps, into a left turn, and then sprinting to finish. But I was little, so my memory is a bit skewed.  

I hauled my pink bike up the back of the hill and moved to the gate.  No one noticed me, it seems.  I don't recall them even caring that I looked ridiculous with a giant, adult-sized orange helmet on my head and a bike that anyone would be crazy to take over jumps.  Not sure that I could balance, I went up on my pedals and felt surprisingly stable.  Ready, set... drop!

It took me longer than anyone to make it to the finish line, but I managed not to fall, despite being scared and not anticipating things like the painful force of impact on my little wrists and the fact that the enormous starting hill would propel me faster than I had ever gone and my legs could pedal.  I hated those whoop-de-doos and hit every one with my front wheel.  It would be a while before I was able to master the timing and finesse needed to fly and glide over them.  The Huffy held up well until 1984 when I scored my first real bike after we moved to Philly, an all chrome Mongoose "Expert", an aesthetically beautiful racing bike that never saw real dirt.  The track, unfortunately, had a rather sad ending and was eventually flattened by the township.

Now, I have my own kids and until yesterday, only one of them could ride a bike.  Unbelievable, right?  I mean, I half expected my girls to be riding bikes in diapers, but noooooooo! My kids liked playing with dolls and having their nails polished and had little desire to learn to ride a bike.  It was a tomboy's nightmare.  I just can't fathom that they'd have rather hopped on a friend's pegs than to have the freedom of movement, or that they like their parents enough to want to hang out with us.  When I was eight and lived in Philadelphia, I was riding my bike up to Roosevelt Mall to go to the arcade and that was nearly two miles from our home and riding through the miles-long trails in Pennypack Park.

When she was almost nine, my now twelve year old, under peer pressure, learned to ride a bike with the help of an older friend.  She's now become a fairly proficient rider, though I can't see her taking jumps.  In fact, that thought scares the shit out of me- she'd have to be dressed in one of those Sumo wrestler costumes, you know, they're the ones that blow a person up like the Michelin tire guy.

Well, after trying for the past three years to get her to ride, my now nine year old had me convinced she would never ride a bike.  It bothered me because I thought she was going to miss out on an entire part of childhood independence and lifetime enjoyment.  So, two days ago, I saw the same girl who taught my elder daughter and said, "Hey, if you teach her to ride, I'll give you twenty bucks."

The next day at dinner time, the kids walked over to the teenager's house.  In an hour, one of their friend's came running inside our house, "Gab, Gab! Come outside, quick, she's coming down the street!"

There she was, riding her pink Huffy with it's kickstand, chain guard, and reflectors, with a giant smile on her face.



Friday, July 22, 2011

Over the Quasi-Rainbow





This morning, I awakened and immediately began house work. Before having coffee (blasphemous, I know), I washed dishes in the sink, unloaded the dishwasher, put a load of wash in, and folded clothes that were in the dryer. Even now as I sit, I am only one-third of the way into my first cup, a 16oz Disney mug that shows Tinkerbell in hair rollers and a nightie, holding her own mug with her left hand while her right hand is resting on her hip, appearing as I feel prior to coffee. On the back of the mug, it reads, "Mornings aren't Magical," hm, precisely.

However, something else is magical: Color.

There's time to get personal later, but for now I'll ask the reader to gloss over the fact that I'm about to tell you that I live with my ex-husband, but that I also have a long-standing boyfriend- right, anyway... I digress and now, one may observe how important coffee is for my brain... ramble, ramble... This has nothing to do with anything, but it sort of does, and I'm certainly in an odd mood this morning.

So (echem), the ex (one of my best friends) was looking for a shirt and I said, "Your little, green t-shirt is folded on the sofa, if you want it."

"What green t-shirt?" he asked.

"You know, your soft, green one... it's over there," I said, pointing from the kitchen.

Walking into the living room, he moved to the sofa and bent over to pick-up the shirt. As he lifted it, his face scrunched and he moved the shirt to arms length in a scrutinizing fashion. "This shirt isn't green."

"What? Yes it is."

"Well, if I were to say, I'd say it was colorless. It's grey," he said, confounded.

"Dude, that shirt is green. Hey babe...," I said to my boyfriend, "what color is this shirt?" I said with a bit of an attitude in my tone.

"Definitely not green, it looks grey to me." he said.

"You're both fucking nuts!" I yelled, in disbelief. It was like some bad dream or crime story where one is blamed for a murder and must prove one's innocence.

"No, we're both color blind."

"It's all you other, crazy people just making colors all over the place that are confusing things," said the ex.

Ha! Now there's a twist!

Burnt sienna, cerulean, magenta, mulberry, forest green, maize, peach, apricot, tangerine... while the absurdity of his statement was clear, so too was his logic. He was right!

It reminded me of the movie, Pleasantville, where a brother and sister in modern times are given a special remote control that thrusts them into a 1960s family sitcom where the world is black and white, and shades of grey. The world gradually becomes color-filled as the teens' influence and "new" ways of thought spread through the minds of the colorless.

Certainly, this is all metaphor for spreading the concept that free-thinking and creativity, unbound, are perceivably positive characteristics- the tell-tale signs of a healthy, societal constitution. So, I wonder whether there is some sort of real, psychological effect on those individuals whom many colors escape? Does the world judge the 10% of people who are considered "color blind" as being narrow-minded?

It's not logical to say that this judgment is consciously directed; rather, it may be unconscious. What I have noticed is that those afflicted with the inability to physiologically see all the colors that exist in the world feel a sense of inferiority to some degree.

"Hey, your socks don't match."

"They don't? Well, it doesn't matter, I'm colorblind. I'm like the comedian, Steven Wright, who says that he doesn't match socks by color, he matches them by thickness. If they feel the same, that's all that matters."

Yeah, okay, make excuses for the fact that you're wearing one army green sock and one beige sock if that makes you feel better...

Or, maybe they've got it right and life is just simpler where one so bedeviled just let's it all go and says, "Screw it! I'm wearing this shirt because it feels soft and these pants, because they're comfy. I know in my heart that the shirt is lilac and the bottoms, orange, but my color confusion matters not, and you colorful folks can all hang!"

Have we color-seeing folks complicated the world, or is not such a Wonderful World for the color blind?

I see trees of green, red roses too  (No, you really don't... and I'm not sure you can see this either! hahahahaha, just kidding)
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shakin' hands, sayin' "How do you do?"
They're really saying "I love you"

The Rainbow Connection by Kermit The Frog
True Colors by Cyndi Lauper
Color My World by Chicago
Silver, Blue and Gold by Bad Company
Rainbow in the Dark by Dio
Rose Colored Times by Lisa Loeb
Rose Colored Glasses by John Conlee
Karma Chameleon by Culture Club

The list goes on. In fact, here's an entire webpage dedicated to providing names of songs that have a color in their titles.

You color blind people, I hope this article doesn't make you see red, with your blue eyes cryin' in the rain, by the light of the silvery moon...


































Sunday, July 17, 2011

Putting the "Hysterical" Back in Hysterectomy

Last week, my mother had a necessary hysterectomy. Several weeks prior, I was made aware that the procedure would take place and it made me a little nervous, because no one likes seeing one's loved one being hospitalized for even the most minor of reasons.

I began thinking about the surgery, not obsessing, but it was firmly planted in the back of my mind as being somewhat troubling. So, I did what I generally do with all of life's affairs, no matter how mundane or upsetting, and tried to find humor.

Hysterectomy sounds awfully like "hysterical". I wanted to look up the etymological origin, as the thought of tying the two together was a bit puzzling. The word comes from the Latin hystericus "of the womb" and " from ek "out" + temnein "to cut". Oh, okay. Well, that makes sense- still, I wasn't understanding the relationship to the word hysterical, Greek -ikos "in the manner of; pertaining to the womb." Well, I should have guessed:

Hysterical comes from the 17th C. when craziness or neuroticism was thought to be an affliction of the womb.

Evil women- yeah, we get blamed for everything: drought, famine, war...? women.

The days leading up to surgery moved quickly and on the morning of surgery, I went as a support person to my mom, who I had only seen in the hospital once when my brother was born. After about an hour of seeing two pre-op nurses, two O.R. nurses, an intern, and a resident, the surgeon visited to discuss the procedure (we later met the anesthesiologist). The surgeon said, "We're going to attempt to go in vaginally and hopefully with the two c-sections you had previously, there will be few adhesions to the uterus. I will remove the uterus and the cervix."

"Oh, you have to remove the cervix?" she said.

"Well, they're attached, so...," he paused, "Then, I will have to re-attach the vagina."

"Oh?!" My mother's eyes grew wide. My stepdad was with us and he's a relatively modest man with puritanical values, so I imagine he would rather have his intestines eaten by vultures while alive than to have to sit in that room with me. He looked away and I looked at my mother, then the surgeon and simultaneously, my mouth and eyes opened wide.


The surgeon continued, making a gesture with his right hand where his palm was facing up and his fingers were spread open, but were curled up like a basket, as if he were holding something and then said, "Yes, the vagina has to be re-attached, otherwise, it'll just..." he motioned, moving his arm downward, but retaining the shape of his hand, "...fall out."

OH MY GOD!

At that moment, I joined my stepdad and together, we shared a moment of instant, torturous embarrassment. I mean, holy shit! Not only wasn't I nor anyone else aware that this information would be shared with everyone, I had no idea one's vagina could just fall out. I gotta say that this has caused me an entirely new form of worry. I've become quite attached to my vagina and can't fathom such a horror.

For several hours, I worried about my mom in surgery and my stepdad and I did what any normal person would do after having to hear such information, we went to the bar. It was quickly realized the alcohol had no effect- nothing could penetrate the vagina, the thought that is.

At around 5:30, we were allowed to see my mom and the surgeon spoke to us and said that the surgery went as well as he had hoped and everything was great. I was a bit emotional, internally, but just sat silently and remained peaceful, waiting for my mother to open her eyes. Finally, about thirty minutes later, my lovely mom's eyes opened and I softly said, "Hi mom, the doctor said everything went great! How do you feel?"

"Where is my vagina?"

I looked at my stepdad, his eyes caught mine and then he looked down at the floor, shaking his head with his eyes wide, "What?" I said.

"Where did he put my vagina?" my mother asked, in a halfway coherent state.

"Um, I don't know, Mom. He didn't say."

Staying with Mom until visiting hours ended, while she mostly slept, I drove home to my kids who were very excited to hear the news as to how "Gram" fared. I told them everything went well and then, bursting with inner laughter, I just had to tell them what the surgeon said about the vagina needing to be attached.

My nine year old daughter stood up and said, dramatically, "Oh my God, my vagina just fell out in the shower... and it went down the drain!"

I almost peed my pants.

Life is wonderful, it's just so damned funny and I thought that I immediately had to blog the experience. So, I began thinking of possible article titles:

"Waiter, There's a Vagina in My Soup"

"Pardon Me, Have You Seen My Vagina?" and my personal favorite-

"Nothing Could be Fina'h Than to Locate My Vagina"

Ladies, take care of your vaginas and Mom, get better soon!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Stream

     In 1995, at nineteen years old, my life was guided by a continual need to question authority and structure.  The disassembly of scaffolding of self was often manifested into forms of societal rebellion.  As a young writer and poet in high school, I was accustomed to writing in set rhyme scheme and meter.  My favorites were and still are, works written in the Romantic and Victorian periods of English literature- moving from the wild to the tame.

     In 1994, a creative writing class at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) was being taught by a renowned local poet, Michael Fallon.  He was somewhat of a sensation and seemed like the guy to cozy-up to if one wished to grow as a poet... Why waste time? I had little desire to learn from academics with no real-world experience, so I vied for a seat, as a freshman, in his hugely popular class.

     Fallon ripped me apart after the first week of class when I brought one of my sonnets in for him to read, "This is antiquated writing, nobody writes this way in contemporary poetry... rhyming, hmm. You have to get rid of the rhyming."  I was devastated.  I was a rhyming machine and damn proud.  My ego was smashed to bits and at first, I thought Michael Fallon was a jerk.  I mean, he didn't like my poetry? What the Hell was wrong with that guy?  But I sucked it up and thought that maybe, just maybe he knew what he was talking about.

     I started writing with no rhymes.  Fallon told us, and I've never forgotten, that a single line of poetry must stand alone as its own poem.  Meaning, that in the few words that comprise a single line, the words must be descriptive enough that it causes the reader's senses to ignite, without any other lines to support it.  Glancing back over assignments marked by Fallon, I still think he was a bit harsh and too fond of succinctness.  Everything had to have a point and flowery language was not tolerated; however, his lessons helped me grow and learn to be more bold, stepping out of imprisoned form and embracing the free.

     After leaving UMBC, I moved back to New Jersey and my parents found me a little condo in Smithville.  It was my first experience living alone and the Internet was a fantastic new way to gather information, including the Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide.  So, I ordered psilocybe cubensis spores from a place in Washington state called Psylocybe Fanaticus and after several weeks, played guinea pig and tried them.

     They were good.  And while journeying with myself one day in 1995, I decided to write in a stream of consciousness and here's the result.  I'm not sure Michael Fallon would like it, the words are too chaotic for his taste, but he'd definitely dig it a lot more than my sonnets and iambs:

Ask me can you feel the pain
shadows across the wall flightless in my outside into my conditional wipeout of dreams and reality gushing with the secrets of life's endless battle of wits and to which I am is no more isolation into the darkness of solitude binding hearts to souls in the seductive sensation of hope and wisdom allocating thoughtfulness every-other-day time and punctuality are not allowable partners in this relationship time is of the essence and ethical standards remain hostage to other people's inquiries into what life is truly about giving into the game of rules of the establishment forgoes and leaves us to guess in endless mind trances into the canker sores of life's twisted design for truly freedom rings its bell in the cracking embraces of the feeling misery incorporates dividing truth from a bunch of desolate desires and ambitions giving into the threshold of puzzle parts that the greatest artist in the world could not put back together again if destiny conducted assessments of each and every one of a hieroglyphic anecdote of symbolism and incongruities that would like to end its time amongst the white plains of the flower trees and apple blossoms in springtime amidst a retreat of the conscious and a festival of the senses delighted by the frequent sounds of laughter and weightlessness of the everything... 


p.s. I still love writing poetry in form and find the discipline to be an art.  It is much more difficult to write a line of descriptive, metered poetry than it is to write in free form.  After having a discussion with a friend, we agreed that poetry is supposed to make sense of the chaotic, wild world, not add to it.




Photo by Katrina Mayo