The Human Stain

The title is lifted from a Philip Roth novel about a writer who is accused of making an unfortunate racial slur. It’s also a perfect description of the way I feel about Donald Trump, a man who represents every ugly stereotype he hurls at others.  A man who heaps disdain, racial slurs and insults on every ethnic group in our country, then turns around and calls his opponent a racist.  A man who lies every time he opens his mouth, uses deception in all of his dealings, and tricks his supporters into thinking he’s someone he’s not – yet describes all of his opponents as lying, deceitful and weak people.  He’s a master of projection and trickery and has convinced a lot of people into believing that he means what he says.  This man cannot be our next President.  I have never felt this way about a Republican candidate for President – and I’ve been a political junkie since I was 10 and had pictures of Bobby Kennedy hanging up in my bedroom alongside Tiger Beat photos of Bobby Sherman.  I was dismayed when Nixon was elected (twice), disappointed when Reagan was elected (twice) and incense when Bush was elected (twice).  But there is no comparison to the way I feel about Trump.

It is unbelievable to me how low we have sunk as a nation.  The news media treats us like infants who can only comprehend sound bites and only if they’re wrapped up as entertainment.  The thoughtful, insightful and well researched article published by Newsweek (this week) regarding Trump’s tangled, international web of business dealings was ignored – even though it raises real, legitimate questions about his ability to operate with world leaders in an unbiased way.  Trump’s answer to how he would avoid a conflict of interest was to state that he would put his business into a blind trust run by his children.  This is not the definition of a blind trust but he probably thinks Americans are too stupid to know that.  I shudder to think that he’s not aware of what a blind trust is, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Instead of the media talking about this real, potential conflict of interest, we are bombarded with “stories” about Trump’s appearance on Dr. Oz (who is referred to as a quack by his peers at Columbia University), Hillary’s pneumonia, Jimmy Fallon messing up Donald’s hair on live TV, whether Hillary smiles enough, or any number of dumbed down reports the media thinks we can stay tuned for.

I blame the Kardashians for this mess…

When Trump lies, it’s never called a lie. It’s called “stretching the truth” or a “misstatement”.  This man, who lies about everything, is never, ever called out on it.  You will never see the words “he lied” in the New York Times or the Washington Post or on ABC/NBC/CBS.  Why are they afraid to say that about the man who lies every day?

I don’t (can’t) believe this man will actually be elected President of the United States. How could such a thing even be possible?  All of the work done over the past 50 years in the areas of civil rights, abortion rights, women’s rights – all of the hard-fought work we ALL have done – will be hobbled.  I really believe this.   I often feel as if I need to reassure my children that this isn’t the way things are supposed to work and have never worked in the past.  That we used to have civil discourse on things we don’t agree on. That we used to at least present a semblance of honesty in our Presidential campaigns. That we have never had a Human Stain for a candidate before.

It’s crazy out there, my friends. Thanks for listening.


if it ain’t broke…(or how I learned to say no to the medical establishment)

I had a recent experience with the medical community, and not a very good one I might add.  While not necessarily blaming my grandson for my injury, let me just say that I was holding him when the freakish incident involving my knee occurred.   Now, I’ve never known anyone who’s injured their knee while in the act of simply straightening it, but I’m here to tell you that that’s exactly what happened to me.   “Crunch, pop, crunch” were the sounds emanating from said knee while I was having an otherwise pleasant conversation with my new neighbor and showing off my grandson – AKA the most beautiful child ever born.  “Oh God” I said, feeling immediate pain and almost falling down.  “Are you OK?” new neighbor asked.  “Great!” I said, barely able to maintain a serene façade.  God, I hate showing weakness and wasn’t about to start, even though the pain was excruciatingly intense. 

 My daughter-in-law, who witnessed the whole thing, knows me well and realized immediately that something had just gone terribly wrong.  “Here let me take the baby – he needs to be fed” she said, deftly stepping in and relieving me of the little guy.  New neighbor and I exchanged goodbyes and I turned to high-tail it back into the house.  “Shit. Can’t walk” I squeaked, as my son and daughter-in-law helped me hop into the house.  In the meantime, my accounting brain was quickly tallying up the expense of an ER visit and comparing the sum against my bank account. 

It didn’t look great but then again, I couldn’t walk.

While lying on the couch, I debated the pros and cons of being seen.  It was the weekend and I really didn’t think the local CVS clinic would be able to accommodate this kind of injury.  The ER would probably prescribe some kind of narcotic relief, which in my opinion goes to the top of the ‘pro’ column.   Still, there was the expense.  On the other hand, I really couldn’t walk. 

 I opted for the ER. 

 Now it just so happened that my 75 year old mother had just arrived at the house.  We’d planned on catching “The Help” at the local movie theater, which I’d been trying to see for a couple of weeks.  A friend and I had planned on going the prior Sunday, but when we met at the theater, she sheepishly told me she’d just seen it the day before with her sisters and would I mind seeing something else?  So we saw One Day, which I frankly thought was crappy romance schlock.  Not my cup of tea.  Not that I was real keen on seeing The Help, either, but I’d read the book and thought it was pretty good and all the reviews of the movie version were good too.  Plus I like that feisty little Sissy Spacek.   I’ll bet she’s a real fun grandma like me, assuming that she IS a grandma, but we’re about the same age so she probably is.  So mom and I made a date to see The Help for that fateful following Sunday.  On Saturday the sheepishly informed me that she’d ALSO seen the movie with a friend the previous day but really wanted to see it again and now that both people had gone behind my proverbial back and saw it with other people,  it was my personal mission to SEE THAT MOVIE.

 Of course it was not to be.  Instead, we spent a fun-filled 3 hours at the local ER.   In triage, the nurse asked the pertinent questions:  Current medications, other medical conditions, previous surgeries, recreational drug use, the usual …    I almost laughed when the recreational drug use question was asked, but thought better of it.  Instead, I shot back my wittiest answer with lightning speed: “Uh, not since the late 70’s”.   The nurse laughed andI figured she really didn’t hear that kind of answer except from her Most Fun Patients (like me).

 Mom and I were finally ushered into “the inner sanctum” where the fortunate ER visitors are finally allowed to rest their weary heads, and into our own little cubicle where we settled down for the duration.  The fact that the nurse promptly brought me a couple of Vicodin was much appreciated, not only for the obvious pain relief effect, but for its magical power to make time stand still.     Fast forward 2 hours and several X-Rays later when Dr. Whatshisname (who I mentally renamed Baby Doc) arrived to say I really needed to see an Orthopedist because the X-Rays told them nothing and I probably would have to have an MRI and possibly surgery.  Again my lightning quick brain tallied up dollars and cents and came up with a flashing neon sign that read “WAY TOO MUCH MONEY”.   “And what happens if I don’t do any of that?” I asked.  Baby Doc shook his head sadly at my obvious ignorance of his superior genius brain power and assured me that I would most certainly re-injure my knee and would have to do it anyway.  I left the hospital decked out in a knee immobilizer, a pair of crutches (which, as of this writing have never been used) a script for Vicodin and no intention of calling an orthopedist for follow-up.   I figured out how to walk on my own (right leg stiff, no bending) and spent the rest of the day blissfully zoned out.

 Best of intentions and all, my knee did not heal in the rapid-fire way I thought it would.  At least not at first.  By Day 4 and after a promise to my best friend to make the appointment, my knee was still really, really painful and I was still walking stiff-legged, so I made the call.  The friendly lady on the phone scheduled me to be seen 4 days later by Dr. George – a nice, unassuming name.  One that sounded friendly and old-timey-doctorish to me.     Little did I know that Dr. George would turn out to be just a cog in the ever-grinding machine that turns bad knees and torn rotator cuffs into huge sums of revenue.  Revenue made on the backs of the unassuming ER patients who’ve had slight orthopedic mishaps just like myself.  Dr. George Friendly indeed…

 Of course, just like when you take your car to the mechanic and it flat REFUSES to misbehave, the day dawned practically pain-free.  “Great” I muttered to myself while twisting my knee around to increase the source of the pain, thus legitimizing my appointment.  Dammit, now when I wanted and NEEDED the knee to hurt, it actually felt better than ever.    I twisted my knee a few more times, trying to turn on the pain and made a mental note to park in the back row of the clinic’s parking lot, hoping the walk would screw my knee up at least a little bit. 

 Of course it didn’t, but as I entered the Dr’s office,  I had enough of a residual hobble to make things look good.  Before I even saw the doctor though, they needed X-Rays.  Look, this clinic is right NEXT to the hospital and they even said they had access to my previous ER films, but I guess somebody needed a new motor for their boat or something because there I was, posing for more lovely pictures of my 54-year old knees for their viewing pleasure.  Really, I’d assumed they’d skip that and go for the more costly MRI, but it turns out that there’s a step-by-step procedure for stripping cash from a patient and the first step is more X-rays. 

(Enter Dr. George)

 Not the doctor I anticipated.  In fact, Dr. George was the opposite of my mental picture of a grandfatherly man who would listen to me thoughtfully and sympathetically and inquire about my pain level and generally fawn over me and make me feel special.  Not Dr. George.  Dr. George first told me that I had pretty good knees for a 54-year old women (“hardly any arthritis – not what we usually see), but that would be the last compliment he would pay me.  He then wanted to look at my knee, and tried to pull up my capri pants, which he couldn’t do because they wouldn’t go over my knee.  Sighing, he went to a cabinet and pulled out a pair of paper shorts – “here, put these on so I can look at your knee” he said, handing me a piece of clothing that I immediately knew I could not put on.  Before leaving the room so I could change, he added, “you can even take them home with you!” like he was bestowing a gift on me that I would treasure for the rest of my life.   I tried, folks, really I did.  But here’s the deal:  I have a (relatively) small waist and large hips and this makes articles of clothing like pants and shorts troublesome at best for me.  I can literally spend hours trying on dozens of pants and shorts before settling on one or two that actually fit me.  So you can imagine how trying to pull on a pair of paper shorts that look like they’ve been designed for a teenage boy, went for me.  I gave it my best effort but things started looking grim just past my knees .  “Are you kidding me?” I thought to myself.  “Keep your fucking shorts for some pre-pubescent with no hips” I muttered, throwing the shorts back in the cabinet and pulling out a perfectly-suited hospital gown.    

 I think Dr. George was a little disappointed that I’d eschewed his “gift” and it was my suspicion that he was going to hold that against me.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m right about that, since he spent some time palpating my knee on the wrong side and asking “Does that hurt?” No,” I said, “my knee hurts over on the other side and the pain is really deep and I can’t even palpate it myself.”

  “Oh” he said.  “You need an MRI.” 

And with that, he walked out the door and on to what I can only imagine was a much more interesting patient.  Probably someone who would really appreciate a pair of paper shorts as their parting gift.

 So I paid my bill, and walked out the door to await a call from the office regarding where and when the blessed MRI event would take place.

 And here I sit, two doctors, several sets of X-rays and hundreds of dollars later, with no treatment, no diagnosis, and wondering if I’ll even bother with the rest of this medical establishment freakshow.  I suspect there’s nothing terribly wrong with my knee that time won’t heal anyway and that the dire warning from the ER doctor that not following through will mean certain re-injury probably won’t happen in the near future.  Besides, I could die before it happens again anyway.    At least there’s that.      I’m definitely cancelling that MRI appointment.  I’m pretty sure of that.

 So Dr. George, I hope you won’t notice that I never came back to visit you.  I hope you gave your boy shorts to some acne-faced teenage boy or a supermodel with no hips – someone who can actually wear them proudly.  I hope you got a new motor for that boat of yours with my financial contribution to your fine establishment.  Most of all, I hope you develop a personality – preferably something closer to what I imagined yours would be.  That would be nice.

the grandma name

As soon as my daughter-in-law told me she was pregnant I got on the phone to my best friend in Texas. “I’m going to be a Grandma!” I told her, barely believing it myself. When you reach a certain age – or more importantly, when your only child does – thoughts turn to the next logical phase in your life: Being a grandparent. This thought had been churning around in my middle-aged brain for about a year when the blessed event finally happened. “Oh my God!” my best friend said.

An excited exchange of the usual then ensued: “When is she due? How is she feeling? What’s your grandma name going to be?”

 “My what?”

 “Your grandma name. You know, what he or she is going to call you. Like, are you going to be Grandma or Nana or what?”

In the next few days I got asked that question. A LOT. Seems that everyone has a pretty good idea what they want to be called. I actually already knew what I didn’t want to be called because that’s just something you know. Like knowing you don’t want your kid to be named Horace or Grizelda. Certain names just don’t ring the friendly bell. For instance, I know I didn’t want to be called MeMaw, which brings to mind the image of a really OLD grandma with a cane and a Dowager’s hump and a bowl of ribbon candy on the sideboard that’s been there so long it’s formed some kind of ribbon candy blob in the bowl, making it impossible to separate out one piece – if ribbon candy’s something you actually like to eat. Which most people don’t. I also didn’t want some kind of new trendy name like G-mom which sounds more like a suburban female superhero’s name. I am definitely NOT a superhero and besides, spandex tends to accentuate my hips. Nobody wants to see that. .

So I did what any post-modern person would do; I Googled the words “grandma name”. Point 23 seconds gave me 66 million results. REALLY? Seems that everyone in the known universe is now choosing their own special grandparent name, and really when you think about it, this is the only time in your life when you get to choose a name. And foisting it off on an unsuspecting grandchild is really the key to making that name stick.

At least that was my plan.

Earlier, I mentioned my best friend in Texas. Her mom’s grandma name, which was just a continuation of her adult nickname, was Chief and Jean was the personification of the word. When I was 19 years old, she the first real professional woman I’d ever met. Smart, single and successful, she was my role model. All of her children called her Chief because she was the one who could fix anything or solve any problem. I thought about that name for myself, but decided it would be inappropriate. Her nickname died with her and besides, I wanted something to fit my smarmy personality. For awhile, I told people I wanted to be called “The Situation” – after that guy in Jersey Shore who actually named his abdominal area. Or “Winning”, because that was around the time Charlie Sheen was going through his spectacular and very public rant-fest. This was good for a few laughs but of course I wasn’t really seriously considering those names. Well, maybe a little bit. I mean, The Situation has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? But then I imagined all the ways a toddler could slaughter a name like that and really, I’d want the kid to say it properly -not all diced up into unintelligible syllables, one of which sounds like a curse word that just doesn’t belong coming out of an 18-month old’s mouth.

When my brother was young he had a terrible stammer. I mean it was BAD – like speech therapy kind of bad. Poor kid wanted to talk, but the words just didn’t come out like everyone else’s. Saying Grandma or Grandpa…well, that was just a set-up for verbal disaster for him. “G-g-g-aaaaar” he’d say. Whether it was our grandfather or grandmother he was trying to address, it came out “Ggggaaaaar” every time. My brother called all four of our grandparents “Gar” until the speech therapy kicked in.

God, I hoped I wouldn’t end up with a name like Gar for my grandma name.

The Royal Wedding took place in April and as I was scarfing down a Hot Pocket at my desk, I watched the online feed. While wiping a piece of super-heated cheese off my face (they don’t call ’em Hot Pockets for nothing), I stared, transfixed, at the image of Pippa Middleton’s backside in the most beautiful dress I’d ever seen. Being a short, stocky woman myself, Pippa had the kind of figure I spend nights praying to come back in another life with: Tall, long slender legs, fabulous hair. Yup, that Pippa had it goin’ on, alright. And if I couldn’t pull off that look without leg-lengthening surgery and full-body lipo, I realized that she had something I could have – the name. My Grandma name, I decided, was going to be Pippa.

I gave it my best shot. Made a formal declaration and everything. “My Grandma name will be Pippa” I told everyone. My best friend, being the true-blue-twin-sister-of-another-mother kind of best friend, actually called me that. “How’s Pippa?” she’d ask when I would call during that last, long gestational month of my daughter-in-law’s pregnancy. “No baby for Pippa yet” I’d answer, my feet cooling in 2 inches of tepid water in what became known this summer as The Sled Pool. It was July, it was scorching hot and I liked to talk on the phone outside. Not having a real pool, I drug my son’s old plastic sled out of the shed and filled it up with water. The dog and I would fight for possession of the Sled Pool and he would usually win – stretching out his full length to take advantage of every available square inch of water-filled space. When he was sufficiently cooled to his satisfaction (or a clueless squirrel breached the backyard border which the dog monitored with the diligence of a newly minted Al-Qaeda recruit), he’d scamper off, leaving me with a tepid, somewhat muddy soup mixture. Waiting for a baby to come in the summertime is hot, tedious business and Pippa was READY to hold that baby.

And so it goes. My grandson was born and like every grandparent, I pronounced him the most beautiful baby ever born. And suddenly, just like that, the importance of my grandma name vanished. Poof. People asked me “how’s grandma?” not “how’s Pippa?” I thought that saying the name would make it so. I said I was going to be Pippa and assumed everyone would just call me that because I SAID SO. It was a good way to pass the time this summer, though. I got some laughs and discovered a whole grandparent name subculture.

So I’m Grandma. For now. And that’s OK with me. My grandson hasn’t started talking yet, so maybe there’s still a chance for “Pippa” to rise from the ashes; only time will tell – but no matter what he calls me, even if it’s Ggggaaaar, or even if it’s (do I dare say it?) MeMaw, it will sound like music to my ears.

the return of observant

I’m back…..and I’m a grandma.    Yeah, and I’m rockin’ that shit, too.

separate ways

Disclaimer:  Yeah, it’s been a few months since I’ve posted so my Ticonderoga’s a little rusty – but here goes:

Let me start out by wishing Mr. Ex-Boyfriend a hale and hearty CONGRATULATIONS! on his recent nuptials.  I’m happy report that I was drinking beer, noshing on (among other things) a deconstructed BLT and ceviche in  pureed avocado and making friends with a KC Roller Derby chick and a couple from Boston whilst he was saying “I Do” to the new Mrs. Ex.  It does my heart good to know that it only took him 18 months to locate, woo, propose to and marry the (new) woman of his dreams.   Yeah. This is what I get for violating the Fist Commandment of Facebook: 

Thou shalt not lurk on thy Ex’s Facebook page,
no matter how utterly public his site is

Lest you think I’m bitter, let me assure you I’m not.  I’m in a good relationship with Mr. 2.0 and I’m damn sure he’s not cheating on me.  We like the same things, listen to the same music and have more things in common than Mr. Ex and I ever did.  It’s just that I’m competitive and have this freaky little quirk where I want to excel at everything.    Apparently I didn’t shine too brightly with Mr. Ex or he wouldn’t have seen fit to be a serial philanderer. 

Yeah I know.  I’ve heard it over and over:  “It wasn’t about you.  It was about his weakness (or his addiction, his lack of self-control, his inability to express negative emotions)”   Blah, blah, blah.  When it happens to you, it’s personal, baby.

He still sends me a card for my birthday, you know.  This year, instead of immediately throwing it into the trash with the onion skins and potato peels and used Oil of Olay face Cloths, I actually read it – a semi-religious tome to a special person on their special day!  His handwritten message indicated that he still thinks I’m special.  

Damn right I’m special. 

So now I have Mr. 2.0.  He doesn’t cheat on me or keep things from me or bury his feelings under a Happy Face veneer of denial.  We laugh and cry and tell each other the hard truths about ourselves.  No, I won’t marry Mr. 2.0 either – just like I wouldn’t marry Mr. Ex.  My marrying days are over and apparently it’s something I’m not very good at.  And if I can’t excel at it…  well, you know the rest.   

So off we go, into the sunset.  Mr. and Mrs Ex riding one way, and myself and Mr. 2.0 heading somewhere completely different. 

You know, I think we’re both going to be very, very happy.

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Pretty Girls

She’s the kind of woman that has the characteristics I covet:  Bouncy personality, great people skills, and most importantly – normally proportioned legs that actually fit into a pair of knee-high boots.   I imagine she never has fat days, and I’d bet my 401(k) pittance that she’s never had a fat month or (most definitely) a fat year.  She’s the kind of woman who, upon meeting her, makes me feel like I’m riding one of those 200mph Japanese bullet trains back in time: With a wheeze of the hydraulic brakes, I’m dumped off in the year 1972, smack in the middle of my Sophomore year.  I look down and note that I’m also fully outfitted in my old wardrobe of mismatched insecurities, body image issues and terminal shyness.   Walking to school each morning, I’m often passed by cars of Pretty Girls who are being driven to school by their cool boyfriends.  With my books clasped to my chest, I dip my head down so as not to be recognized.  It will be years before I realize that instead of sticking out like the sore thumb of a loser I was, my walks of shame to and from school probably never even registered in their pretty brains.

  At school, I trudge from locker to class until the dreaded noon hour.  High school lunch period is a miniature recreation of India’s caste system and its unwritten rules dictate which table I’m allowed to sit at.   We’re not exactly untouchables, but we’re definitely not A-list Pretty Girls either.  What do they find to talk about that makes them throw their pretty heads back, laughter trilling from their perfectly lipsticked mouths?   These girls are a mystery and we accept the cultural hegemony that they exert over us – not yet aware that come Graduation Day (or as I like to refer to it: The Great Equalizer), their power over us will disappear – as if by magic – and all that’ll be left is a faint scar that will ache only when a set of specific circumstances align themselves perfectly upon our grown-up psyches. 

 After high school, I teach myself how not to be shy, and over these past few decades I gained confidence and what I like to think of as a healthy level of self-esteem.   But once in awhile a Pretty Girl will cause that faint scar to ache and I come face-to-face with my much-younger, shy awkward self.  This happened to me just recently as a matter of fact.  I meet her and Wham! I immediately felt years of therapy and hours of reciting affirmations while sitting at my dressing table (trying not to obsessively stare at my pooch of belly fat because that’s really not going to help me “erase my negative self script”) circling the drainpipe of my existence.  It’s such an uncomfortable thing, this feeling of being thrown back in time.  So, to ward off those icky knee-jerk past-life forays to Insecure Adolescent World, I draw myself up to my full sixty-inch height (enhanced, of course, with 2-inch heels – don’t leave home without them!), smile sincerely, hold out my hand and greet her like she’s a long-lost, A-list lunch table soul sister.  I telepathically channel “See?  I’m just like you!” via my confident handshake and wonder if she buys my ruse. 

  I look at this perky woman and it’s sooo obvious she never had to sit at the Loser Table during lunch or trudge to school during a fall windstorm – and then have to spend most of 1st period trying to fix her hair in the girl’s bathroom with a cheesy pocket comb.   No, this girl obviously had all the perks:  A boyfriend with a car, cool friends, and a full complement of Yardley Slicker lipgloss.  I wonder what it’s like for her to wake up in the morning, throw on something cute and walk around in the world as if she owns it.  .   I, myself, will never be able to leave the house without donning several outfits in order to find the perfect combination that won’t make me look too fat or too short.

Girl-Before-a-Mirror-1932-Posters I guess some of us were just born to sit at the popular table, while some of us will never be able to wear knee-high boots.  The real trick is not to board that bullet train to the past if we can help it.  So once again, I park myself in front of the dressing table mirror and recite the following over and over:  “Hello, so nice to meet you.  I’m just like you!”  Eventually, the Pretty Girl who lives inside of me emerges. 

 And then she smiles.

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