I’m in Love with My Plastic Surgeon

I’m in love with my plastic surgeon. Well, maybe not in love, but something verging on wanting to eat dinner with him every night, and if that’s not love, what is?

Sure he’s older than me … by a lot. How old? If we must get technical, he’s old enough to be my father. That is, if he knocked my mom up in college. (Not pre-med college. Pre-med would have gotten me out of the, “weird, he’s too old zone.” But if I were a medical school knock-up baby.)

I picture dating him. We’re in his car, and it’s no doubt fancy and made in Europe. This is when the age difference becomes a problem. (Even in my fantasies I allow reality to sneak in.) I point out he’s driving too slow, or that he can cut in front of that car ahead. I ask him for medical advice. He tells me to make an appointment to see a doctor. I remind him he is a doctor.

Why do I love him? Could it be his Spanish accent? Perhaps the way he oozes class? Is it how he examines my body so intensely that I can practically see the artistic wheels of his brain turning? His eyebrows dart up, and an expression that he just witnessed something extraordinary flashes across his face.

It’s none of those things that make me love him, though they do help make the visits more bearable. You see, he is giving me back something that was taken away. Four days after my 40th birthday I was told I had invasive cancer in my right breast. The angry tumor had infiltrated blood vessels, all the while encouraging other cells to start multiplying in different areas.

Mastectomies are amputations of sorts, and how very fortunate we are that (if a candidate) our breasts can be reconstructed right away.  Before we even wake from the anesthesia initially given to use for the breast removal, plastic surgeons slip into the operating room and take over.

This does not make the process any less traumatic, though. The day before my mastectomy, I said farewell to my right breast. I apologized for wanting it larger in junior high and high school. I thanked it for nursing my two children when they were infants. It did its job and served me well. It was a fine little breast, and now it was sick and needed to be removed before it made the rest of me sicker.

The first time I met with my plastic surgeon, I wept gulping messy sobs. All of the biopsies, tests, and other doctor visits I could detach from, but not this. As he showed me where my breast would be removed and what he would do, panic set in.

“But I like my breast,” I said weakly (as if that would change the course of events, as if that would make him say, “Never mind then! Let’s call this whole cancer thing off!”).

“I understand,” he said. “But it has cancer.”

We sat in silence as I digested this, until I was ready to gather myself and listen.

Then he started measuring my shoulders, chest, and my other breast. His eyes lit up. He got that look he gets. He told me how he would take skin from one part of my body and use it. He was confident, and his confidence made me feel confident. I went from despair to hope.

It has been three weeks since my mastectomy. Seeing my body for the first time after was unsettling. I looked lopsided and unfamiliar. I felt less feminine. I still feel less feminine. But my plastic surgeon understands this, and he quickly fills the uncomfortable contraption inserted under my muscle and skin with saline. I watch in fascination as a new breast is formed right before my eyes. I look at him and we smile.

Cancer tries to steal dreams. It tries to infest our healthy body parts with its angry, jealous cells. But we can fight back just as viciously. And we can fight back beautifully and artistically, something cancer cannot do.

My plastic surgeon’s work is pristine and I am overwhelmed. I tell him he is a magician and he agrees (he does not lack pride in his artisanship). It was then I realized I loved him. Not that kind of love, but a love of gratefulness and appreciation.

But I’d still have dinner with him every night, too.

 

 

 

What Do YOU Advocate For?

Save the Children. Save the Planet. Save the Whales. Greenpeace. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Habitat for Humanity. D.A.R.E.

Chances are, you have heard of one – if not all – of the aforementioned advocacy groups. These groups use various forms of advocacy to influence public opinion to hopefully bring about change. Some actions used by advocacy groups to gain support and further their cause are mailings, fundraising, phone calls, and radio/television commercials (who doesn’t remember the infamous 1987 Partnership for a Drug Free American commercial: ” I learned it from watching  you, Dad!”)

learned-it-480x330

“I learned it from you, all right? I learned if from watching you!”

Yet, what about lesser known advocacy groups? The ones who don’t have the manpower to make annoying phone calls during dinnertime? Who haven’t partnered with large scale grocery stores that ask for a donation after you have recovered from the shock of your grocery bill? These groups are just as devoted and passionate about their cause as say, Doctors without Boarders or the SPCA. But they are just too small a fish in this great sea of thousands of advocacy whales (which, apparently, are being saved).

This is when The Underground Writer steps in to offer these start-up groups some assistance. After much internet perusing, I have decided to shine the spotlight on 5 groups that are lesser known … and for a reason.

1. Americans for Common Cents

Don’t I mean “sense”? No, actually, I don’t and for several reasons. Americans for Common Cents (Click HERE if you don’t believe me) is an advocacy group for the penny. Who knew the penny needed an advocate! Have no fear, you little copper coin, because there is a whole group of penny lovers devoted to your preservation. Consideration has been given to stop producing the penny since it costs more money to produce each penny than they are actually worth (2.4 cents per penny, according to the Citizens to Retire the U.S Penny – a group advocating to STOP penny production). For many, this seems logical. All one has to do is dig deep into their winter coat pockets, couch cushions or car seats to extract errant pennies. Pennies can be found easily most anywhere. But for others? A coalition to stop the killing of the penny’s creation was necessary. Hence, Americans for Common Cents was born.

2. Save the Pigeon: New York City Pigeon Rescue Central

Established in 2004, Save the Pigeon: New York City Pigeon Rescue Central was established to, well, save pigeons. Volunteers (or Pigeon People as they call themselves on their website) care for wounded or sick pigeons. To quote their Facebook page, “New York City pigeons have a very hard time … New York City makes no provision for their care.” For shame, NYC!  With all of that real estate, I would think a pigeon hospital would be a viable option. Complete with little pigeon ambulances. If you, too, wish to be a Pigeon Person, click HERE.

3. Use Plastic Bags, Save Trees

Not only is this group hugging trees, they are hugging plastic as well. Per “Use Plastic Bags, Save Trees,” plastic bags take up less landfill space than paper bags because plastic bags weigh less. (Never mind that paper bags are biodegradable and plastic … isn’t.) To quote this fascinating advocacy group: “Our mission is to let people know how good plastic is for the environment.” Clearly in its beginning stages, “Use Plastic Bags, Save Trees” was established as recently as August 2014. Should you want to help support the cause of furthering the use of plastic and not trees, click HERE.

4. The Flat Earth Society

Ferdinand Magellan schmellan! Who says the earth is round? Not the Flat Earth Society, that’s for sure! After a rocky history that included several presidents and one big house fire, the Flat Earth Society was resurrected in 2004. In October, 2009, the society opened its big flat doors to new members. (Should you want to join, but you MUST think the earth is flat.) Their mission? “To promote and initiate discussion of flat earth theory and to encourage free thinking and debate.” If you have always had an inkling that the Earth is not shaped like a globe but instead, a pancake, and want to advocate for this belief, click HERE.

5. Save Pink Bathrooms

About to swing a sledgehammer to that nightmare of a grungy pink bathroom in your 1960s-era ranch with plans of replacing the stained, cracked tile with something modern? Well, don’t let Pam of Save The Pink Bathroom know! According to this group, fifty year old pink tile is something to be savored. Whether it is considered a part of the home’s history (to quote their website: “Pink bathrooms are a wonderful part of our home design heritage”) or now en vogue, this group encourages you to put that sledgehammer away. Supporters of pink bathrooms can sign a pledge to preserve these bathrooms, and can also purchase a “I Saved a Pink Bathroom” t-shirt that announces their bathroom altruism by clicking on THIS LINK.

Perhaps in a year or two … or twenty, Americans for Common Cents, Save the Pigeons, Use Plastic – Not Trees, The Flat Earth Society and Save Pink Bathrooms will be large scale endeavors that are as prominent as the American Heart Association. Stranger things have happened.

 

**”I learned if from watching you, Dad!” photograph is property of Google Images.*

Charlotte

Charlotte was dark with large eyes and long legs. When she walked, she held her head up high. She was also fiercely jealous – becoming enraged whenever anyone came into close proximity to my father. When my parents went for walks and held hands, Charlotte would barge between them, causing their fingers to separate. She would proceed to press her body against my father’s leg, pushing him away from my mother.

Charlotte was a Nubian goat, the kind with long floppy ears. She was actually very pretty … for a goat. Her coat was made up of blacks, browns and whites. When my father brought Charlotte home to our little farm, my brother named her Charlotte after his favorite book Charlotte’s Web.  

But our Charlotte was nothing like the kind, demure spider E.B. White created. She was aggressive with a rather sadistic streak. Whenever my father would let Charlotte out of her pen, she would scan the lawn for me, lower her head and charge. More than once I had been obliviously playing, minding my own eight year old business, only to be whacked by Charlotte ramming her head into my body. (Thank goodness she was de-horned.) Another time she sniffed my hair before proceeding to grab a mouthful and pull it out by the roots. I was scared to death of her.

When not occupying herself with terrorizing me, Charlotte enjoyed showing off for my brother. It was as if she sensed testosterone was near and was suddenly overwhelmed with circus-like energy. Charlotte would run up the side of the barn and do a backwards flip, which resulted in much clapping and yelling from my brother. This would encourage her to do more tricks.

As much as Charlotte adored my father, her sentiment was not reciprocated. Her purpose was for breeding and not as a pet. This meant she was loaded into our Jeep and we drove her to a farm where she could have a “date” with a male goat. This did not go over well. Even though Charlotte was technically in heat, (meaning, she was fertile and should have been in the romantic mood) she did not approve of the male goats that were presented to her.

The male goats did their male goat thing: peeing on themselves. Snorting. Charging. These wooing tactics usually work like a charm for other female goats, but not our Charlotte. Her standards were higher. She wasn’t interested in any of the huffing, strutting, urinating bucks. For an hour we watched Charlotte dodge one frustrated male goat after another. Even I – who truly had no affection for Charlotte – felt bad for her.

In one last ditch effort, my father tried having a male goat visit Charlotte’s pen. Like a horrible blind date who just won’t leave, Charlotte had an obnoxious suitor in her pen for two days. This was also a disaster. Finally, the rejected buck was sent back to his farm and my father decided Charlotte needed to find another home as well. If she wasn’t breedable – he had no use for her.

Finding a home for a female goat who wasn’t interested in male goats, and could be aggressive, was difficult. But after several weeks, Charlotte was loaded back in the Jeep and we drove her to her new residence. I sat in the back seat, terrified she would rip more hair out of my head. The ride seemed endless. At last, we pulled into the driveway of Charlotte’s new home: a farm that used animal’s blood for medical research. Every day, someone would take a vial of Charlotte’s blood and use it to develop medicines.

I watched as one of the lab personnel attempted to drag Charlotte away from my father. She resisted – her long ears standing parallel to her head. Suddenly, she looked up at the man who was pulling her and all at once she relaxed. Without giving us another glance, Charlotte walked alongside the man, her head held high. She had replaced my father … or she was eyeing this new guy’s hair and planning her next scalping.

 

 

 

Inappropriate Family Photos

Several times a year my grandparents would pack up their RV (including their toy poodle with rust colored fur and chronic bad breath) and travel across the country. We’d learn of their whereabouts from postcards that would arrive periodically in our mailbox. Their destinations were an odd assortment of common tourist attractions and strange places off the beaten path: the Ozarks, Grand Canyon, Virginia Beach (we received a postcard declaring that Virginia is for lovers with my grandmother’s frilly handwriting, “That’s Us!” inside the heart).

Their travels were documented in a photo album that was displayed on the coffee table in their living room. My mother and I would languidly flip through the album when we visited. The photographs were fairly repetitive: my grandmother standing in front of some touristy sign or statute, clutching her purse and smiling as my grandfather snapped her picture. Or the two of them together, their smiles frozen as they waited for a kind stranger to figure out how to work their camera and take the picture.

My mother and I swallowed yawns as we leafed through the pages of this album. My grandparents seemed less interested in taking snapshots of their surroundings and more interested in pictures of themselves.

Especially when they visited the Poconos.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Poconos, it is an area in northeastern Pennsylvania that is known for its mountains and romantic getaways. During the 1970s – 1990s, resorts popped up like gophers catering to couples who were just dying to relax in heart shaped jacuzzis, circular beds and gigantic, seven foot champagne bubble baths. Competition between resorts was fierce. They battled to outdo one another for the most “alluring” room names: Paradise Stream, Cove Haven, Fantasy and Garden of Eden are just a few of the names given to some of these horrendously gaudy rooms.

While we never received a postcard from the Poconos, evidently my grandparents sojourned in one of these atrocious hotels, because they documented it in the photo album they left on the coffee table in their living room.

Nestled between the pictures of my grandmother wearing her floppy sunhat and standing outside of the Alamo, was a photograph of her wearing a blue negligee and kneeling on a white furry rug. Next to this photograph was my grandfather, donned in blue Speedo underwear, sprawled on the same furry rug and smiling mischievously at the camera.

Thankfully, the pictures stopped there. (And thankfully, they didn’t ask some stranger to pop into their hotel room – which was probably named The Love Nest – to take pictures of them together on the furry rug.)

My mother and I saw these Pocono pictures at the same time. My mother recoiled, as though she had seen something strange and hideous.

“Good heavens!” she said.

I let out a whooping holler of laughter as my mother snapped the photo album shut.

“I think we’ve seen everything we need to see.”

But there are certain things you can’t … un-see. My grandparents racy Pocono photographs are forever burned in my brain. Why they would choose to place those salacious photographs in the album is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they viewed them no differently than the other innocuous shots: saying cheese in front of the Liberty Bell, posing next to a palm tree in South Carolina, scantily clad and smiling seductively from a shag rug in a Pocono hotel room.

Or perhaps they snickered conspiratorially as they slipped the risque photographs in the plastic sleeves.

“Just wait until the kids and grandkids see these! And they think we’re just visiting places like Strubridge Village.”

 

 

A TV Evangelist and A Woodchuck

Everything was yellow: the exterior vinyl siding, the front door, the walls in every room, the furniture and even the shag rug on the living room floor. For a moment I suspected a humongous bottle of French’s Yellow Mustard had exploded, drenching the 1950s Cape with its contents. But no – it was simply the house of my most recent Hospice patient.

Her name was Connie and she was in her seventies. I knew her terminal disease was a slow going one, unlike some of the illnesses that stole the lives of our patients before we even had an opportunity to form a relationship with them. I also knew I could not – under any circumstance – visit Connie between the hours of eight and ten in the morning, and two and four in the afternoon. Those four hours were strictly off limits to any Hospice workers.

“What’s going on between eight and ten, and two and four?” I asked Connie’s Hospice nurse before my first visit.

She laughed and shook her head, “That’s when Steve is on.”

“Steve?”

“Steve Brock.”

“Who’s he?”

“Some TV evangelist.”

“No way! Really?”

“Really. She’s like, crazy about him. Everything stops when he comes on. Once she made me go home and I wasn’t even finished with my evaluation.”

As I followed Connie’s voice through the house, I found her sitting in a recliner chair that was positioned in front of a huge television. Her hair was a mess of white curls and she was wearing make-up. For a Hospice patient, she looked pretty spry. Her eyes narrowed when I entered the room.

“Which one are you?” she barked.

I sighed. Typically, social workers were the duds of the Hospice team. Unlike the nurses who brought comforting medicines, the volunteers who provided respite for the caregivers, or the aides who cleaned and cooked, the social workers were the “talkers” and, generally, our services were deemed unimportant and intrusive to most patients.

“I’m the social work intern.”

Now it was my turn to narrow my eyes. I had noticed the excessive number of picture frames scattered around the room, and they all seemed to contain pictures of the same man. Connie followed my gaze.

“Go ahead,” she said, her voice instantly warming.

I reached and took one of the frames, and then another. They were all Polaroid photographs, and it appeared the pictures were of … Connie’s television screen. Or a man on Connie’s television screen. I blinked. She had taken a Polaroid picture of a man on her TV screen and framed it. And not just one, but dozens.

“That’s Steve,” Connie explained.

“Steve Brock.”

“Yes! You know of him?” Connie sat up straighter in her chair.

“Yes, actually.”

I put the picture frames back in their place and pulled a chair next to Connie. Her eyes were closed, reminding me of a teenage girl swooning over the music of a rock band.

“Tell me about Steve.” I prompted.

Connie’s eyes fluttered open. “He’s so strong and handsome! And you should hear his voice. When he sings I get chills. That’s why I send him money every time he asks … and he writes back!”

Before I could respond, Connie reached into a basket that was half hidden under a folded blanket next to her recliner. She handed me a pile of papers.

“Read them,” she urged.

Carefully, I unfolded the first letter. It was a standard “thank-you-for-your-contribution” letter with Steve Brock’s signature stamped at the bottom. When I raised my eyes to Connie’s she was looking at me expectantly. To her, these were personal communications. She thought this TV evangelist had thanked her personally – many times – for her money.

“These are … lovely,” I stammered.

My freshly minted social work brain knew I was supposed to be doing something social worky. I should ask her about her husband! That’s it! Maybe there was some link between her deceased husband and this intense infatuation with a man on television. Or perhaps her father! What about him? What would make this dying woman latch onto – and give her money away to – some lounge singer sounding, dyed brown haired TV evangelist?

“I have a pet woodchuck,” Connie said, suddenly.

“Excuse me?”

Quickly, I shifted gears from the TV evangelist/dead spouse/father link to a pet woodchuck. I looked around the yellow room, expecting to see the rodent lumber in and sit by my feet.

“I have a pet woodchuck,” Connie repeated, somewhat exasperated, as though she were growing annoyed. “His name is Chucky.”

“I … I’ve never heard of having a woodchuck as a pet,” I stammered.

Connie raised an eyebrow. Clearly, she deemed me a moron.

“He doesn’t live in the house. He lives outside.”

“Oh!”

“Aren’t you going to ask me how I know Chucky is male?” Connie asked.

This visit was not going as planned. I hadn’t even approached the topic of her illness. I could envision my supervisor, shaking her head in disappointment. When would I learn?

“Um … how do you know Chucky is male?”

“I checked and saw Chucky didn’t have nipples.”

Whoa! What have we here? Connie was checking woodchucks for nipples, after giving her money away to a TV evangelist whom she believed was writing her personal thank you notes in return. Either her disease was affecting her brain or she had a history of mental illness – but her medical history didn’t state either. She was simply quirky.

I sat back in my chair and smiled. 

“Tell me about Chucky.”

And she did.

Eventually Connie was discharged from Hospice because her illness stopped progressing. She seemed indifferent to the news she wasn’t going to die within six months, and relieved Hospice would no longer be traipsing through her home several times a week. We left her exactly as we found her: swooning over her TV evangelist, with a pet woodchuck named Chucky.

For all I know, she is still sending Steve Brock her money, cherishing his letters, and checking woodchucks for their gender.

Really Bad Romantic Ideas

Really Bad Romantic Ideas

Romantic getaway. What comes to mind? Is it snuggling by a crackling fire in a cozy bed and breakfast? Perhaps it’s strolling, hand in hand, down a beach that has sand as fine and soft as baby powder. Or, if you’re my father, it’s taking your wife to a tractor museum in upstate New York, or to a rustic lodge in the Adirondacks that serves such fine delicacies as locally caught possum and squirrel.

While tractor museums and lodges that serve animals typically scraped off the interstate as road kill would be at the bottom of most Romantic Getaway lists (or, for that matter, at the top of the Worst Romantic Getaway lists), there are several places that challenge my father’s idea for inciting romance. So, without further ado:

The Underground Writer’s Worst Romantic Outings

1. The Museum of Bad Art – Never mind strolling the majestic halls of the Museum of Modern Art in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. To un-romance your gal, bring her to The Museum of Bad Art in Boston, Massachusetts. The MOBA (and I quote) “is the world’s only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all it’s form.” Most of the art is found in thrift stores and garage sales. Some is even donated by the artist themselves. (I suppose bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity?) Nothing will kill the mood faster then gazing at a floating head in a tornado vortex (at least, that’s what they think is going on in the painting – they’re not quite sure since the painting was rescued from someone’s garbage) or musing over the demon-possessed mother-daughter self portrait. (www.museumofbadart.org

bad art

Aliens? Or a hypoxic mother with severely (and I mean SEVERELY) sunburned, green haired daughter?

2. The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum – For those who have an insatiable curiosity for barbed wire, take your lady to La Crosse, Kansas where there is a building devoted solely to the history and varieties (over two thousand!) of the “Devil’s rope.” Couples can mosey past displays of … well … barbed wire, and see various historical tools used for … barbed wire. If still awake, visitors can peruse the Barbed Wire Hall of Fame, and perhaps pick up a trinket at the gift shop. From their website (www.barbedwiremuseum.com) it appears all of the wire is behind glass. This is for a reason. Wives are prevented from attacking their husbands with the very barbed wire used in the museum’s exhibits.

3. Bible Themed Mini Golf Course – Putt your way through the Old Testament, New Testament and miracles in Lexington, Kentucky. Just don’t slice your ball into the “water to blood” river, or stymie your sweetheart’s ball on the green of Calvary. Hopefully a lover’s quarrel won’t erupt by the time you reach Jesus’ Tomb hole. Nothing sours a date quicker than an out-of-bounds shot into Jonah and the Whale hole … or bringing your date to this place. (www.bibleminigolfcourse.com)

IMG_2877

“Jesus feeds 5,000?! Maybe we can get a free meal too!”

4. Idaho Potato Museum – Don’t spuds deserve a museum to call their own? Probably not. But nonetheless, Blackfoot, Idaho thinks so. Have your picture taken alongside the World’s Largest Styrofoam Potato (take THAT Eiffel Tower!), before stroking the burlap tuxedo worn by the very first Potato Commissioner (be careful not to swoon). If you and your date haven’t passed out from excitement by this point, you can view the World’s Largest Potato Chip before purchasing novelty foods that contain (you guessed it) potatoes as their main ingredient in the museum’s gift shop. (www.idahopotatomuseum.com)

5.  Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix Plant – Want to really depress (and not impress) your date? Bring her to Chelsea, Michigan to visit the Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix Plant. Schedule (yes, reservations are required, believe it or not) a tour of their factory. You and your partner will watch an informative video, receive a product sample, and visit the packaging plant. After this, your relationship will be over in a jiffy. (www.jiffytours.com)

jiffy mix

“This is riveting. I can only imagine where we’re staying tonight.”

The Underground Writer’s Strange/Terrible Places to Stay

1. Dog Bark Park – Un-romance your lady in the stomach of a 30 foot wooden beagle. Cottonwood, Idaho is home to Dog Bark Park, the first and only (for a reason) motel room in a building shaped like a dog. When weary of relaxing in the gut of the hound, couples can scurry up the ladder to the beagle’s snout and enjoy the Idaho views. (www.dogparkinn.com)

Dog_Bark_Park_Inn

“Is it me? Or does this place smell like a wet dog?”

2. Budget Inn – Booking a night in a motel with the word “budget” in the name is never, ever a good thing. Take a break from frugality for a moment, please. Budget Inn, located in Parsippany, New Jersey, should really be called Disaster Inn. Reviews on Tripadvisor.com included such comments as, “musty odor”, “stay away” and “straight out of a horror film.”  You know those seedy looking motels you drive by and wonder, “who would ever stay there?” The Budget Inn in Parsippany, NJ is one of those places. (www.budgetinnparsippany.com)

3. Wigwam Motel – Sleep in a Wigwam? Cool, right? Think again. While the outside of these wigwams (located in Holbrook, AZ) may seem kitschy, the inside? Not so much. The novelty of spending the night in a mock wigwam ends once you unlock your wigwam door. Per online reviews, wigwam rooms are said to be in need of a good scrub, one guest was concerned about her safety (wigwam doors are not the strongest, and the wigwams are located near a main highway), and being approached by local riffraff  is not uncommon. However, (and that is a big however), the Wigwam Motel offers beds, and a bathroom, and shelter from the elements that only a wigwam can offer. Want to severely disappoint your date? Bring them here. (www.wigwammotelAZ.com)

Her: How adorable! Him (thinking): SCORE!

Her: How adorable!
Him (thinking): SCORE!

Her: Oh. Him: It's a Wigwam, for crying out loud. What did you expect? Her: I get the bed on the right.  Him: Oh.

Her: Oh.
Him: It’s a Wigwam, for crying out loud. What did you expect?
Her: I get the bed on the right.
Him: Oh.

4. The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast – I have previously written about this rather strange place (click HERE for my review). For those who love a good scare, or for the gruesome, you can sleep in the very room where Lizzie Borden is said to have hacked her mother to death with a hatchet. Forget chocolate dipped strawberries, a bottle of bubbly, or Barry White’s music to set the mood. Try an annual re-enactment of the slaughterings (if your date happened to book your stay during the anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Borden’s bludgeoning), a tour of the house (“… and on your right is the room where Mr. Borden was napping when Lizzie whacked him to death”), and a gift shop that offers ax shaped cookie cutters, t-shirts, and mugs with photographs depicting the scene of the murder. Perhaps after a sleepless night (many guests absolutely swear Lizzie’s ghost still roams the house with her hatchet) you can visit the Museum Of Bad Art and look at terrible paintings through bleary eyes.

*All photographs are property of Google Images*

There Goes The Neighborhood

It took us awhile to figure out that something was a bit … off. Our house was lovely on the surface: a charming 1932 colonial with a white picket fence outlining the yard. Very Leave It To Beaver-ish. We loved our house. Our neighbor’s homes were equally sweet, with manicured lawns and picturesque front porches. Our neighbors were kind, hard working people and we all looked out for one another. We loved our neighbors.

And yet, the signs were becoming more frequent. More glaringly obvious. Eventually, we could no longer deny the fact: the neighborhood was changing.

At first we played cheerfully dumb.

“Will you look at this! Another empty pizza box was thrown on our front lawn!” I said to my husband, “but this time it had a skull cap next to it.”

Or

“Some of the neighborhood kids must be doing an art project! I just found an empty can of spray paint on the sidewalk!” I sang as I placed the spray paint can in our recycling bin.

But you can only look through rose colored glasses for so long. Soon, I started paying attention to our surroundings.

“Does your neighborhood park have its garbage cans chain linked to the trees?” I asked my friend who lives in Georgia.

“Um, NO,” she said.

“Huh. Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Soon the kids will be able to read the graffiti, so we won’t be going there anymore.”

“You have graffiti in your neighborhood park?”

Oh geez. Then there was the issue of our paper delivery. When the paper delivery guy decided to actually deliver the paper, that is. (Delivery was always a bit sketchy.) On days he felt like giving us our paper, he would arrive after nine in the morning, and we could hear the muffler of his car long before he pulled onto our street.

William was another problem. During the winter, our doorbell would inevitably ring on snowy days. I’d open the front door to find William standing on our steps brandishing a snow shovel over his shoulder. (Sometimes. Once or twice he asked to borrow our snow shovel so he could shovel our sidewalk.)

“For ten dollars I can shovel your sidewalk,” he said.

I peered over his shoulder.

“But my husband already shoveled the sidewalk.”

“I can do it again.”

William would proceed to tell me how he needed the ten dollars for gas so he could drive to work. Always a softie (or insanely naive) I would give William ten dollars to shovel our already clean sidewalk. My husband put a stop to William’s visits, however, when he rang our doorbell late one night and asked for an advance on the next snow shoveling job. It was May.

After awhile, picking up garbage from my front lawn became tiring. As did calling the police on a regular basis, only to be told they were “swamped.” When our daughter came home from second grade and called out,

“Hey Mommy! Where you at?”

We knew it was time to move.

Three months later we sold our charming, beloved 1932 colonial and moved into a nondescript ranch in a quiet suburban neighborhood. The only menace are the herds of deer who trample through my flower beds and give me bored stares when I run outside, waving my arms, in a pathetic attempt to shoo them away.  If I find garbage on my lawn, it’s the mail I have accidentally dropped when collecting it out of my mailbox. Life is quiet and simple, and as much as I miss our former neighbors and the charm of our colonial, I recognize this is where we should be.

I also realize that part of the allure of living in our former neighborhood was the plethora of entertaining stories I always had on hand. Whenever there was ever an awkward lull in a conversation, all I had to do was mention the time I hid behind our fence and blew bubbles that floated over the street and surprised cars and pedestrians. And there was always Dave, our white, elderly mailman who had gangsta rap blaring from his mail truck.

Stories about flower-eating deer don’t make people perk up and lean forward nearly as much as when I tell people about the time we were relaxing in our screened in porch, and someone drove by and threw a Boston Market chicken carcass out their window. Until deer learn to drive, the old neighborhood will always win.

A Place For Who?

Perhaps you have seen the advertisements on television for A Place for Mom, “the nation’s largest FREE elder care referral service.” According to its website, A Place for Mom can direct you to elder care resources and living arrangements in your area. Despite its title, A Place for Mom is a service for anyone who is elderly and needs help – it’s not just for elderly moms.

It’s rather interesting that the company’s title singles out moms. Why not mention dads? Maybe they’re just cutting to the chase and saying, “Listen, we all know that mom is the most important, and no one really cares where dad goes,” so they decided to name the website solely after the matriarch of the family.

Who on earth was their marketing consultant? A place for mom. It sounds like they are trying to find a spot for chipped China dishes or old sneakers they’re not quite ready to throw away. I envision the company’s title stemming from three squabbling siblings, sitting around a computer arguing over what to do with their ailing mother.

“I’m not taking her! Hell no. I had her for the past five Christmases and you know how THAT turned out.”

“Well, she can’t live with us! I simply don’t have the room now that Jake moved back home and converted his bedroom into a studio so he and his rock band can practice.”

“Someone has to take her.  Here, hand me your laptop. Let me Google ‘where to put your mom’ and see what happens. There has to be someplace for her to go.”

“A place for her to go … hmm… a place for mom. You know, that kind of has a nice ring to it.”

While my stint in medical social work was fairly brief, I can tell you with full certainty that the elderly do not like moving into  assisted living facilities. It means losing their last shred of independence; it’s the final step before the big NH (nursing home). Now picture the situation being made worse by referring to a company called  A Place For Mom.

“Uncle Tom, you know it’s no longer safe for you to live home alone. Karen and I are worried about you, especially since the last kitchen fire. We really think it’s time for you to move into a facility where you will be cared for.”

“I’m not moving into any nursing home. Those are for old people.”

“Now Uncle Tom, it’s not a nursing home. Karen and I used the services of A Place For Mom and we found the best -”

“A place for Tom? It’s named after me?”

“Not a place for Tom. It was called A Place For MOM. Not TOM. MOM.”

Mom? I’m not a woman! Why are you putting me in a ladies place?”

Need I go on?

In reality, the company’s intention may not have been to exclude dads or other people. The original name could very well have been A Place for Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Crotchety Neighbors and Elderly Family Friends. Or A Place for Mom, Dad, et al. I suppose they also  figured So They Don’t Have To Live With You would not only be crass, but equally wordy.  End result? The name A Place for Mom was chosen.


Nice Try

“To invent,” said Thomas Edison, “you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Many people took those words to heart when perhaps they shouldn’t have. Below are a few examples.

In 1941, a Mrs. D. M. Ackerman of Hollywood, California designed a Vacuum Beauty Helmet. Also known as the Glamour Bonnet, the Vacuum Beauty Helmet was supposed to improve your complexion by sucking air out of the helmet, resulting in decreased atmospheric pressure and thus glowing skin. (And I assume: fainting ladies.) Shockingly, the Vacuum Beauty Helmet was not a success and was quickly declared a failure. 

"You can't WHAT? I can't hear you with the vacuum running!"

“You can’t WHAT? I can’t hear you with the vacuum running!”

By 1963, people were bone tired of answering their phones. Just think – this was way before caller ID and answering machines. Whoever was on the opposite end of that ringing phone was anybody’s guess. Thus the Phone Answering Robot was invented. How lovely! Or … not really.  Would you want this thing in your home?

No thanks. I'd rather just answer the phone myself.

No thanks. I’d rather answer the phone myself.

Not only was the Phone Answering Robot rather large and downright creepy, it didn’t talk. This left its tasks to nothing more than picking up the phone, and not so much answering the phone. Thus, no one was waiting in lines on Black Friday hoping to purchase the Phone Answering Robot (that really didn’t answer the phone). Everyone had to wait until the 1980s for answering machines to be readily available.

Another dud invention was the Cigarette Umbrella, for all of those cigarette smokers who like their cigarettes dry but didn’t mind getting wet themselves. Because otherwise, wouldn’t they just use a regular umbrella? That way, they would stay dry and so would their cigarette.

I may be soaking wet, but at least my cigarette is nice and dry!

I may be sopping wet, but at least my cigarette is nice and dry.

Perhaps that is the very reason why the Cigarette Umbrella didn’t fly off the shelves and regular umbrellas did.

The last sad invention is on a personal note.  My father had some strange inventions of his own. Or rather, just really bad ideas.

His first invention was a type of chimney cleaner. My parents had recently moved into their home and the only form of heating the house possessed was a wood stove. As my father stood in the living room, surveying the home’s primitive heating system, he realized that cleaning the stovepipe would be wise before its first use. However, that was when common sense stopped. Deep within the recess of my father’s brain a voice told him that hiring a professional chimney cleaning service was unnecessary. The only thing those men would do – he reasoned – would be to clean the stovepipe with a scrub brush. A scrub brush that is similar in shape and form to a … pine tree.

Off my father went, chainsaw in hand, into the patch of woods behind the house and returned with a small pine tree. He proceeded to climb onto the roof and lower the pine tree into the stovepipe. He intended on scrubbing the pipe with the pine tree, but there is a reason professional chimney cleaners don’t use trees to clean chimneys. (Bert in Mary Poppins danced on the London rooftops with a Chimney Brush – not a Blue Spruce.) Tree branches aren’t flexible. Trunks don’t bend.

When my mother returned home from grocery shopping, she found a pine tree suspended from the stovepipe in her ceiling. The tree was stuck. Ash and soot were everywhere. The white curtains she had hung on the living room windows were now a dull gray. My mother put down the grocery bags, summoned me and my brother, and packed us in the car where she proceeded to drive to her sister’s house in Rhode Island. She said it was the only action she could think of to save their marriage.

So I would like to add to Mr. Edison’s famous quote: To invent, you need a good imagination, a pile of junk, and some common sense.

All photographs are property of Google images

Growing Old

All I could see was the top of her silvery-blue hair. She was creeping her boat of a car inch by inch into the parking spot, like a barge navigating its way on a canal. I sighed and glanced at the time. So far she had been working on this arduous task for three minutes. Several cars had lined up behind mine.

In true New York fashion, someone laid on their horn. Silvery-Blue Hair’s car came to an abrupt halt and she looked in her rear view mirror, confused. I should have given her an encouraging smile, but I too am a New Yorker, so all I did was raise my eyebrows hoping she could read my thoughts of, “C’mon lady!”

Silvery-Blue Hair faced forward. The car moved a millimeter. Progress was being made! I could almost fit my car around hers if she would just –

Wait! Oh no! What was she doing? Why were her reverse lights on? It doesn’t need to be straight honey! Just. Park. Your. Car.

The jerk laid on his horn a second time. Someone else joined in. This time, Silvery-Blue Hair was not daunted. She was too focused – too determined – to get her Buick Lesabre in the spot. Her little hands were putting the car’s power steering to the test. Suddenly, the car lurched forward and she turned off the engine.

Hurray! I stepped on the gas and sped past her, only to stop behind another car.  This time an elderly man was reversing out of a spot.  Where was I? On the set of Cocoon? Painstakingly, the gentleman eased his car backwards. He looked straight ahead, as though he was assuming – trusting- other drivers to give him the right of way. We did of course, but not without groaning, throwing our arms up in the air, or banging our foreheads on our steering wheels.

At last, he was out of his spot and gliding ahead. He looked ridiculously small in such a huge car, his hands positioned at ten and two. I was now able to drive around him, and I did so deftly. Wasn’t I just the coolest, spunkiest driver ever?

Then it struck me. Decades ago, Silvery-Blue Hair could have been me: impatient, patronizing in thought, in a hurry to run to the grocery store before having to shuttle her children to an activity. Likewise, the elderly man could have been just like my husband: working long hours to provide for his family, young, strong and handsome, driving a sporty car with ease.

All this meant, of course, that someday we would be them: frail, uncertain, and slow. In a few decades, I could be trying to maneuver my car (a car that used to be easier to drive) into parking spots that now seemed much too small – while irritable, young drivers like myself beeped their horns and rolled their eyes. I was ashamed.

Feeling sentimental, later that day I asked my ten year old daughter if she would take care of me when I was old.  Suddenly, the idea of growing old seemed very near and real.  I pictured my daughter as she is now, only taller, cradling my arm as she eases me into the passenger seat of her car.

My daughter was quiet for a moment before answering.

“I’ll be too busy with my own family to take care of you,” she said, “but don’t worry. I’ll visit you in the nursing home … as long as we’re not on vacation.”

Move over Silvery-Blue Hair lady, I just may need a ride.