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Sunday, November 30, 2008

A New Year Begins

December 1, 2008

Today is my first anniversary of living in Hoboken. On December 1, 2007 I moved into an empty third-floor walkup on Hudson Street with big plans about making a new life in an old city. I had sold my car, had numerous yard sales to get rid of a lifetime of collected stuff, and given tons of clothes to the local thrift shops.

I’ve come a long way in this year. Even though I had purged so much of my furniture and onetime valuables, I found that what I'd kept more than filled the 800-sq.-ft. apartment. Luckily there were lots of big closets, and most of the stuff was shoved in. I bought a little single bed since the bedroom was too tiny to get even a double in comfortably. I was also able to use the little room for my laptop. I began my new blog.

Right away I found a doctor, a dentist, and the public library. I explored Hoboken on foot and got a little disoriented looking for basics like the A& P; tried to adapt to the colder climate, and wrote about all my new situations on the blog. A compulsive blogger in my home town, I knew writing about my life helped me clarify things in my own mind.

The enormity of what I had done was slow to sink in. I thought about the climate, the isolation, the difficulties of getting everywhere on foot-the blank slate that lay before me--every morning. There would be no phone calls, no board meetings, club meetings, organizational meetings. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t experience this as loneliness, but rather as a transition to something I couldn’t possibly understand. It seemed like an opportunity, but I couldn’t define for what.

I felt a little uncomfortable in my own skin, as if I were in a dream or on vacation in a place where I could speak the language but nothing else. I would get confused on the city streets, even in my old neighborhood in Manhattan. I took it slowly and didn’t push myself into doing too much too soon. It seemed as if my feet always hurt, from the walking and from minor foot surgery I had endured at the end of summer. I was never sure my clothes looked right--everybody in New York and New Jersey seemed to wear black all the time, not the bright colors and patterns I had been looking at in the South for almost 20 years. It took time to realize that this was less about Hoboken than about myself, facing a new phase of life in which I had to admit the person in the mirror looked didn’t look much like the self I had come to know.

Writing a blog about these things was helpful in surprising ways. Within a few months people were actually reading the blog, which had not necessarily been the case of my blog in my home town, “Finding Fair Hope.” On the Fairhope blog I had had a few regular readers, but most of them were people I had known in the distant past, keeping in touch with me from far flung outposts. I had about five regulars from contemporary Fairhope, and they were all people I knew who seemed a little discomfited by the thought that I might quiz them about the blog the next time I saw them. Hoboken brought me an average of some 40 readers a day, and they began to make themselves known to me by sending me emails and commenting on the blog.

Cristina wrote, after reading a post about me getting lost in the cold looking for the A & P, that she was new in town too and that maybe we could have lunch together sometime. She later told me that my blog posts sounded like a voice in the wilderness of someone who needed help. She is a special and generous person who has meant almost as much to me as my lifelong friends in my few months of knowing her. She and her husband run a company in New York, but she is always available to drive me anyplace either of us wants or needs to go, and we have a wonderful time together. It’s very odd to me that without prompting by me to do so, she never read the blog before or after her first time, yet I can email her for requests like a drive to the airport or the doctor’s, and she never refuses.

Gradually I have learned my way around. Working at it, I don’t find the walking of a couple of miles a day a hardship any more; over and over I tell myself “It’s good for you.” When I moved from a third floor walkup to one that was on the fourth floor, I had little problem with it.

Writing a blog has enriched my life enormously. Old Hobokenites discovered the blog and began to email me with tales from the past--high school pranks, characters they used to know, and desciptions of Hoboken in bygone days. They eagerly shared stories of the waterfront (The Barbary Coast), and On the Waterfront, the restaurants and ice cream parlors, the fabulous Fabian Theater, and Palisades Park. I learned about Mr. Stover, the high school principal, and the day some adventurous boys trapped a flock of pigeons in the piano before assembly, only to see them released onstage by an unsuspecting pianist. I learned about Eddie the Criminal, who worked as sort of a bouncer at Abel’s Ice Cream Parlor where the high school crowd hung out. I learn about Alan Freed’s rock-and-roll shows in Hoboken and Jersey City. I've written blog posts about most of these tales; if you're new, feel free to browse.

I’m glad to be here. After a year I know that I’ve made a good decision. I’ve experienced a lot of milestones so far and I've seen many sides of Hoboken and myself during these days. I’m closer to my daughter and grandsons and they all love to visit Hoboken. I'm part of the boys' life now. I've reconnected with old friends who remain in New York, and I can get there in a few minutes. Thinking about Hoboken, I know it holds more adventures for the years to come.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another Day, Another Turkey

November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving in Hoboken is a little different for me, partly because I’m not cooking. I’ll leave tomorrow afternoon for a visit with the family in upstate New York and come back Friday by noon for a little Hoboken day-after-Thanksgiving party. This will be my first Thanksgiving in the Northeast in a long time. Have you ever noticed that the day before Thanksgiving always seems like Friday, Thanksgiving Day always seems like Sunday, and then you get Friday the day after again followed by Saturday. No wonder we’re confused!

Sometimes the holiday gets out of hand. I love the movie Home for the Holidays when everything goes wrong until it goes right—a warm and funny romantic comedy with people like Dylan MacDermott, Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft and Robert Downey, Jr. Rent it—it’ll take you right into Christmas!

Hoboken used to have the tradition of trick-or-treating for Thanksgiving. That’s right, it was a custom in Hoboken and other urban areas surrounding New York (notably Brooklyn) for little kids to dress up in rags and go door-to-door asking for change on Thanksgiving. I think Halloween was more for pranks, but there was some request for candy and handouts too. The costume of the day was “ragamuffin,” a look that was once acceptable for children in Hoboken, especially on certain days. We still have the Ragamuffin Parade, but these days it’s on Halloween.

I like to cook so I’ve always enjoyed Thanksgiving. It’s a nice meal because, for one thing, it’s a feast, and secondly because it’s so easy. Nobody wants you to veer too much from the traditional, especially from their favorites. It’s a menu that is prescribed by law, with the few variations being allowed for occasional modifications of the side dishes or the rather recent admission of wine to the table. As to the difficulty, and the extended preparation time we see taking place over the years, let’s face it, somebody is making much ado where it’s not necessary. All that’s important is the smell of roasting poultry coming from the kitchen. Even as a young bride who had hardly seen the inside of a kitchen I was able to cook a turkey without a whole lot of agony. I was married on October 29 (1960) and prepared not only a roast turkey for the boss and his wife, but also oyster dressing for it. That’s the only thing I remember making, but it was a hit, and there was no flop.

I decided turkey was so easy I should cook it often, and I did, that year. But I don’t any more. I hardly make it for Thanksgiving if I can avoid it; I think duck is better and I don’t get any objections from my guests. I vary the side dishes from year to year, but love the homemade cranberry-orange relish that is made in the food processor (and not cooked). I discovered rutabagas about 10 years ago and love the look of them on the Thanksgiving plate. Pecan pie I mastered at a very young age (I was lying about not having seen the inside of a kitchen). I’ll never forget how, a few years ago, I tried to spring an exciting dessert on the assembled crowd – my own creation based on Maida Heatter’s Polka Dot Cheesecake. Ms. Heatter’s features huge, gorgeous chocolate polka dots within the cake; I made a pumpkin cheesecake mixture and piped it in similar fashion, and my eaters looked as if I had just shot the dog. “Where’s the pecan pie?” was all that they said. I love it, but I hadn’t known pecan pie was a requirement at every Thanksgiving meal.

My daughter is known as an expert baker of pies; this year we’re going to have apple and pumpkin. I’ve seen Thanksgiving turn from a relatively simple family holiday in my childhood (Mama always baked a chicken) to today’s overdone overindulgence pushed by the turkey industry, the cranberry industry, the orgy of television specials on heroes and the needy (and, this year, “going green”), and that old Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover.

My Thanksgiving advice is to do it your way, the less fanfare the better—have a small potluck with favorite family and a few friends, and a little gratitude for your good fortune in having them. Keep in mind what we learned from the pilgrims: Thanksgiving is a beautiful day, but it’s probably going to be a long, cold winter.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Lament for the Soon-To-Be-Late DNR

November 24, 2008
Daily News Record was one of the many trade publications under the Fairchild banner--a small, family-owned trade publisher whose flagship was Women’s Wear Daily. Begun at roughly the same time, DNR and WWD covered the apparel industry, the former being the bible for the men’s wear trade and the latter for women’s wear.

I started my New York career as a secretary to the two editors of DNR in mid-1960s. They were drinking buddies as well as industry scribes—as different as two Jewish writers could be. Mort Gordon was tall, smart and sexy while Herb Blueweiss was short, balding, hyper and sometimes enigmatic. Herb liked to read and attend the theater with Martin Gottfried, Fairchild’s critic, and Mort, a bachelor, was content to attend industry functions and do as much skirt-chasing as time allowed. The two worked so well in tandem that they were referred to by staff as The Bobbsey Twins. It was, all in all, a fun place to work.

At one point Gottfried commented to Pat, my forerunner as assistant to the duo, that it must be great fun to have Herbie as a boss. Pat responded, “You’d think that, but Mort’s better to work for.” Mort was a good editor and a gentle guy with people; he was the one we’d take our stories to if we had a problem.

Fairchild was housed in two buildings, back to back. The front door was at 7 East 12th Street, an entrance into a modern if characterless building where the sleeker publications were produced. A plain lobby housed a front desk and a bank of three elevators. If you took this elevator to the third floor you were in the world of Women’s Wear Daily, full of chicly dressed young women at desks with typewriters, reporting on the future of hemlines, and a few hapless males writing about the business side of the women’s fashion industry.

If you were going to the Daily News Record office, you had to make a trek through these desks on past the fey characters of the art department on the right and through a passageway to the back building. This structure was decidedly old, housing some geezers who wrote columns called “Words at Random,” and “Cotton Grey Goods,” as well as some serious guys discussing such topics as the necktie market, textile machinery, the staying power of the “mod” fashion in the youth market. You would also see a passel of merry pranksters looking for their next big journalism break. As a secretary, I fit cozily into that latter category.

You could also enter DNR the back way, up the stairs or in the creaky old elevator in the shabby 13th Street building. At that end of the room were the financial desk, the legal reporters, and a smattering of other market desks.

I worked at DNR off and on for some six years from the mid-60’s until the early 70’s when I left for good for the greener pastures of public relations, but I left having made the acquaintance of some of the most interesting characters of my life, and having made some friends I still see today. There is a surreal quality to my memories of the place. Every reporter, every editor, even the copy kids—all were distinct in his or her view of their employment. They took their work with a grain of salt, but basically performed it well. It took some doing for an incipient novelist to call on the little knitting mills producing men’s sweaters and report the company’s financial and marketing plans.

We all weren’t incipient novelists, of course, but I think most of us thought of ourselves as writers. Some went on to become well-known as television personalities, drama critics, columnists for New York Magazine or denizens of city’s night life. This was a stopping off place on the way to a big break, and the hilarity of the lunch hours and after-hours imbibing had little to do with the markets we covered. We liked the company, we even liked our jobs, but we approached everything with irreverence and attempts—sometimes quite successful—at wit. We impressed ourselves and each other. We traded quips with members of the art department and Chauncey Howell, who already had a column with his name on it in WWD.

One of our number got promoted to a management position, the ultimate betrayal. He became in our minds—as put by one left behind—a toady for the Establishment, admonishing us to shape up and keep the noise down, that sort of thing. Once when he gave us a dire warning that there would soon be a salary review, we decided this would be a great opportunity to put on an all-company show, “The Salary Revue,” with songs and sketches from all departments. We were occupied for several weeks dreaming up musical numbers for the non-event to come. For George Washington’s Birthday, we thought a historical pageant would be in order. Who would play George? John Pareti wanted to be Cornwallis “because he made out pretty well after the war.” We fulminated on possible casting until that fantasy project faded away only to be replaced by another.

There was an older lady with a personality column who took her job very seriously. She was really interested in the men’s wear industry, and counted many of its executives as her friends and contacts. She was on the phone all day long, usually talking rather animatedly, and once when she was not at her desk someone answered her ringing phone for her and was immediately sorry. This was before the days of the cleaning staff wiping down such instruments, and the mouthpiece of her phone was green with dried slime.

Maybe it was because we were all young and optimistic that it seemed like such fun to work in an atmosphere of controlled chaos and actually produce a daily newspaper just like in the movies. It was a profound experience in a decidely frivolous setting, and those of us who reflect on it now have mostly happy memories. You had great hours, for one thing, arriving at 10 (or later if you had arranged an appointment in the market), went to lunch at noon; and, because your business of learning everybody’s business was so often facilitated at lunch you might not get back to the office until 2:30. To improve your focus you could take a half-hour coffee break and leave the office at 5.

Talk about a great neighborhood to work in! Around the corner, there was a Schrafft’s on Fifth and 13th Streets, and a Longchamps in the middle of the block. I used to spend some lunch hours trying on hats at May’s on Union Square, I can’t imagine why. David Platt, who later went left the company for a long stint as fashion editor of Playboy, used to fret that I wasn’t checking out the chapeaux for little animals that might have been left there by other customers. Usually the office crowd would eat at a place called The Terrace, or one of the many coffee shops surrounding the building, but for a treat we’d try the sweet little Italian joint called Il Bambino at 12th and University Place. None of those places still exists—Scrafft’s became a western-themed hangout, and the other places were gutted and replaced many years ago. Fairchild Publications moved to the old Ohrbach’s building sometime in the last century. Daily News Record kept the name (or initials, anyway), but hadn’t been a daily for years.

A friend from those days now writes a blog on being retired in New Jersey. He sent me a link to a news article that DNR will cease publication with today's issue and the men’s wear market will be covered by WWD in a special section once a week. I’m sure its time had come, but for many years it was a solid little news outlet for an often overlooked industry. And, like Fairhope and Hoboken, it was a great place come from.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hoboken B & R

November 20, 2008
If you were born and raised in Hoboken, you know what B & R means. If not, here’s what it means: Born and Raised in Hoboken. Jim B., who sent me this picture of Hudson Street in the 1950’s, was B & R, as were Slezak, Dennis (The Rabbi), and probably most of my readers.

I was neither born nor raised here, but I’ve had numerous communications from those who were. They talk of growing up with the smell of coffee from the Maxwell House factory, bread baking at the Wonder factory, Oreos baking and Tootsie Rolls free for the asking. (Little kids would stand beneath the windows of the Tootsie Roll factory and scream for freebies until a soft-hearted worker would toss a handful out the window.)

I’m sure there was the smell of longshoremen down by the waterfront, of steel engines near the train station, the cleaning fluids in all the halls of the tenements every Saturday morning. All in all it was a fragrant place to live. It remains so today, but the smells are emanating from restaurants and kitchens, as the factories are no more. In the hall of my old apartment building, the scents of Indian cooking wafted from the apartment below mine; walking down Washington Street, you can still smell coffee (from Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbuck’s, or Panera Bread) or garlic and tomatoes from any one of a number of Italian restaurants.

There were always great places to eat, like the Blue Point or Biggie's or any one of the pizza parlors all over town. Some are still there but aren't the same, at least not the way they are remembered. The Blue Point was at 10th and Willow Avenue, and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé would go there after working on the Steve Allen Show. There were lots of theaters, including the fabulous Fabian, at the lower end of Washington Street.

Boys were employed to hang the clotheslines when one broke. I doubt if they were paid for this treacherous work, but their mothers volunteered them. They carried the lines around their neck, a hammer to secure the loose spikes, and they had to climb outside the building to hang the lines, while watched by the housewives of the neighborhood from their fire escapes. Up on Hudson Street, the clotheslines were out back in an alley, also a great place for playing ball. Each pole had about 20 clothes lines coming from several directions on it so climbing up on it was a hazard. There were spikes on the pole to climb up.

Kids played most kinds of ball in the alley between Washington and Hudson Street. On what is called the yellow flats, all the basements were connected which were great places to play. On Hudson Street there was a basketball net on the Gate at 12th street. Stickball and football were at Bethlehem Stadium (the yard side of Hudson Street).

Teenagers hung out at Umland's or Abel's and listened to the music from the juke box. They danced, fell in love, ate ice cream and had the kind of good time we can only remember. Around in some neighborhoods they were able to get beer from time to time, usually to regret it, and, although marijuana was available, it was not particularly sought. Ice cream was the universal choice.

Almost everybody was Catholic, and the many churches and clubs attest to this fact. There were more bars per capita than in any nearby center of population, and some of them you didn't want to go to. But everybody went to one at least once in a while.

Hoboken's been cleaned up a lot, but a newcomer like me can't help but be a little envious of the earthy, gritty upbringing of anyone who brags about being Hoboken--B and R!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How Not to Fix a Leaky Faucet

November 18, 2008

Ever since I moved to the new place I've been bothered by a dripping faucet in the sink. Such things are common and easy to fix, so I've had it on my mind to do it for weeks. There was a problem with my dishwasher, so the condo owner and her boyfriend came to work on it, both armed with information they had gotten from the Internet.

I should have been somewhat leary, because what they learned didn't really help and she ended up having to buy a new dishwasher for the place. But the idea of learning simple tasks from the Internet intrigued me and I Googled "fix leaky faucet." There were a number of places to go and I found this one which featured an attractive, upbeat lad named Ian who walked me throught the process step by step, ending with the phrase, "Now you're golden."

Over the weeks I began studying his little video. It was so easy. I even had those tools. I tried some of the steps, and found that the old wrench and pliers I had were rusty, not the size I needed, and useless. I bought new ones. I bought a box of all-purpose washers. They weren't the right size for anything. I bought a box of assorted o-rings. They were all sizes, but no two alike, so I bought a second box in case I would need to fix both faucets. I walked myself through the process several times, and nothing seemed to be quite right. I hoped I wouldn't have to replace the "Cold" faucet because I couldn't screw that one off.

Today was the day. I had bought some pipe joint compound which seemed to be the final step in assuring I'd be golden.

I brought a couple of towels into the sink area where I would be working, as Ian had instructed me to. I set out all my tools, taping off those that Ian said to so as not to damage the threads of the screws. He didn't mention taping might make the tools less efficient--in fact, he hadn't mentioned that anything could go wrong.

First off, I turned off the water valves tight. Then I removed the one faucet I had learned in my practice sessions that I could. Disaster. Thinking I was turning the water valves off I was actually turning them on full force! The kitchen was pretty well flooded by the time I got down under the cabinet to turn both valves in the other direction. Luckily I had lots of towels in a bag to give to Goodwill, so I mopped as I went.

When you get the faucet off, its bare bones don't look like those of Ian's faucet. The new washers and o-rings didn't seem to go anywhere, and pieces of the little faucet skeleton were everywhere, none fitting where I had thought it would. I fiddled and fussed and could not get the joint compound tube open. I tried a nail. I called a friend in Alabama who said just to break into the tube and throw the thing away when I was finished. I did that. This joint compound also didn't look like Ian's, which came in a tube too, and looked like spackle or white grout. Had I gotten the wrong kind of joint compound? Mine was runny and grey-green. At last I managed to smear some on the faucet joint, but I didn't make a nice firm seal as Ian had promised.

But I got it all back in place and turned on the water. It spewed from the faucet without my turning it on, and would only turn off by using the valve under the sink. I'm sure I did everything right. It would have been easier to have called the landlady, which I must do now anyway. She and her fiancé will simply watch Ian and come over and fix the faucet or maybe she'll send a plumber which is what I really need.

Look, nobody is good at everything, I tell myself. If Ian has a blog, I'll bet somebody else writes it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Polar Opposites

November 15, 2008



This political season has brought us a pair of females who ask to be taken seriously. They rose like cream toward the tops of their respective tickets, and, although they are polar opposites, they may have changed the landscape of presidential politics forever.

Hillary Clinton is serious, intelligent, demanding, competitive, perhaps more than a little strident. As the wife of a favorite president, she garnered support for her own run as a U.S. senator and took the post as a stepping stone toward her dreams of higher office for herself. I said no to her all along, but after her fierce and relentless primary campaign for her party's nomination, I came away with some admiration for her along with increased conviction that she has as many political liabilities as she has strengths, the main one being an inability to work with people or see them clearly. Her campaign was a shambles almost from the first, with her operatives dropping along the wayside like flies as she became more determined to topple Barack Obama, himself a phenomenon in many ways not unlike her husband.

It was a painful campaign to watch, yet Obama held steady and gave her as good as he got, albeit with more restraint and grace. Pundits on the tube hounded him to turn ballistic, make the horse race more exciting (to them) and give the audience more fire. Instead, he worked directly with the American people and with his own organization in building a constituency based on respect for him and desire to have a brave and wise person as president of the embattled and weary nation.

Then came John McCain's choice as Sarah Palin, governor, to be his vice presidential running mate. We all made her acquaintance one night when she appeared as brightly as a shooting star on the horizon, making a sarcastic, bitter speech with a plastic smile on her face and in her voice. Here was a new political creature, pretty and with no baggage, the polar opposite to Hillary Clinton. She bragged about being a soccer mom, and told us that was like being a pit bull. She denigrated the Democratic candidate as being inexperienced compared to her, although the more we learned about her the more we saw what a lie that was.

By now Hillary was on the sidelines, and we had a couple of months to examine the Palin resumé and find it wanting. Day after day my email contained heaps of communications from women all across the country, all with more information about the ineptitude of Ms. Palin and her colorful dealings and family in Alaska. There was a certain amount of fear in these notes, fear that this interloper might actually win. She was too much like the women we had known in our youth, those clever incompetents who liked nothing so much as proving the advantage of looks over intellect.

Clinton's whole life has been a testament to her brain power. She famously met the coming young star of Harvard Law School, Bill Clinton, in the library, having been the smartest girl in her class everywhere she had ever matriculated. He has often called her one of the smartest people he has ever known, and few have disputed that. Her personal style, however, has needed an overhaul from time to time, and she has endured it for the sake of her ambition. She did not share her husband's enormous skill with people, although she was not without wit and a certain charm as she cultivated an impressive career in the wake of his.

Sarah Palin went from beauty contestant to sports news wannabe and on to the office of mayor of a minor town in a state quite remote from Washington, D.C. Defensive about appearing ignorant, she took neutral questions to be an attempt to insult Alaska, all the while looking like a million bucks (or at least $150,000) and allowing her party to play that up with a wardrobe to match. She was a lot of style with very little between the ears, while over in the Democratic Party there was still Senator Clinton, an example of the contrary.

The country has rejected both these women for the posts they were seeking, marginalizing them at least for the nonce, and I think that's a good thing. Clinton will surely find a solid place in President Obama's coterie (as long as it's a place high enough for her comfort), and Palin is not likely to go away in the near future either.

Neither of these contenders has the potential to be a great leader. But in a weird way both have blazed a trail for women of the future. And their participation in the process has prepared us all for the bumpy ride toward a real hole in the glass ceiling.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Your Inner Doctor

November 13, 2008

Last April I checked out a book from the Hoboken Public Library called The Art of Aging. It must have been a breakthrough moment because I remember about 20 years ago reading a book called Stop Aging Now! and I thought I had it nailed. The right vitamins, a regimen of exercise, a handful of blueberries every day and the occasional glass of red wine, a happy attitude--and age would never catch up to me.

Then little things began falling off my body. Gradually my hair went from an attractive streak job to a rather unflattering grey (which I found cosmetic ways to defeat), I ached in places I'd never ached before. The inevitable leaves of the calendar rapidly fell away, as in an old movie, and the changes caught my attention. Aging was indeed beginning to happen, and I'd better make the most of it.

I relocated from my hometown, which was aging me more than I wanted to admit by being flooded with people who in the name of "improvement" only sought to tear down the old and replace it with the tacky. Like so many, I fought against the tide of development as long as I could. Unlike many, my choice was to ameliorate my agony by relocating to a place in which I had no history, but one which had a history of its own I could latch onto and enjoy.

In the quaint and not incidentally historic building that houses Hoboken's library, I found the book The Art of Aging by Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D. I read it with relish, and posted on the blog a recommendation to my readers on May 7. Even today I find myself thinking about what I learned from this eminently readable little book.

One of the points Dr. Nuland makes is that as you age, you have to become your own primary care physician in a way. I don't know if he put it that way, but his theme was that only you really know when little things are going wrong, and it behooves you to address these little things before they become big things.

In other words, you have to become sensitive to your inner doctor. The longer you tell yourself, "Oh, that's nothing, everybody has that," the less likely you are to get a symptom cured or to find a larger cause of it. You can't, on the other hand, bother your doctor with every question or complaint, but if you make up your mind that you're the main doctor, you'll have a better idea when it's time to call in a pro.

I have found the Internet to be a tremendous help in my medical education. For example, I attended a movie in Manhattan in a nice cineplex I knew from the old days, and at some time during the film I noticed painful bug bites on my elbow and arm. Mosquitoes? The itch felt like mosquito bites, but much more powerful, and there was a line of them up my arm! I could hardly concentrate on the movie, I was so distracted by the thought of getting to a drugstore and getting some relief.

When I got home I put my handy search engine to work, and discovered that there is an epidemic of bedbugs all over Manhattan. I had noted upholstered chairs in the theater, and had no doubt that somebody had brought an infestation from home. I read up on bedbugs and trembled in my boots that I may have brought some home in my pocketbook, but I endured the itches and eventually they went away. None of the insects remained in my clothing or my bag. Unfortunately I found there really is no cure for the itch, but alcohol and an over-the-counter cream helped a little.

I had a similar experience with hoarseness. It was at the time I was in the play. I had to clear my throat all the time; my voice was getting weak, and I feared throat cancer or at least nodules on the larynx which might prevent my ever speaking onstage again, or worse. I looked it up phlegm in the throat on the Internet and found that it can be caused by post-nasal drip, which can be cured or at least controlled by using a little "neti-pot" of a saline solution in the nose. I tried it first thing in the morning and last thing at night for about a week, and it cleared up the laryngitis and the sinusitis that had caused it.

I called upon my inner doctor and didn't have to go to an outer one. These were minor symptoms, but very worrying and if the home remedies hadn't worked, of course I would have gone to my doctor. But the art of aging requires a little wisdom and resourcefulness (both of which are supposed to come with age) as well as the patience to endure, which may or may not ever come. If you're going to have to age anyway, you might as well learn the art of it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stranger in the Night

November 10, 2008

I had had a couple of nice days visiting with the grandkids. I missed tv--they don't have one--and was removed from my computer for two days, so I'd spent a few hours catching up on what I could from the reruns of the Sunday morning political rehashes, plus Property Virgins on HGTV. I was ready for bed when that was over.

Fell asleep expecting as good a night's rest as I have described to you in a previous post. I would have achieved this but for a strange chime at about 1 A.M. It was not the alarm clock, as I first thought, but a brief musical sprinkling that I didn't recognize. I lay awake long after it was over trying to identify the electronic source of my disturbance. At length I remembered, it was my cell phone. Not a phone call, but the little sound signaling that I am getting a text message.

I got a series of text messages before when my brother was in the hospital and my sister-in-law, distraught in a waiting room, distracted herself by texting everybody she could think of. At that point I had no idea of how to return a message to her and found her late-night communications distressing. Later, when relocating to a new apartment, I had gotten my previous domicile rented to a young woman who used texting all the time and showed me how to receive and send the messages when necessary. However, I seldom do it and get so little use from my cell phone I can only assume my call is an emergency. I lay awake trying to decide whether to check the text message.

I decided at last to check it out. It was a stranger in the night, and I don't mean Frank Sinatra. Seems my message had come from itusagb@gastrodocs.net and it read, "/yo/hey mate Market Wizard stock African Diamond Co AFDM" Just what I needed to be awakened in the middle of the night to find.

Anyway, I was awake now, and, contrary to my post about how easy it is to fall asleep again, it clearly wasn't going to be easy this time. I checked out a rerun of Meet the Press, channel surfed a little--there was a wonderful show on PBS about monkeys--and turned back into the bed where I lay for hours with my eyes closed telling myself it didn't matter whether or not I fell asleep. At last I did fall asleep, and woke up about 7:30 feeling tired and having no idea how much sleep I'd gotten (or how much I'd missed). I vowed to write a post about the stranger in the night on the blog, get to the gym, and try once more to have a normal day. I'll let you know how that comes out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Here's That New Day Again

November 5, 2008

Every once in a while, a politician ignites his following and convinces them that if he is elected it will signal a new day in America. I've heard it said many ways, and the fact that there are people who buy the whole package and cling to it all their lives, remembering "it was different then," says as much about our need to hope, remember, and dream as it does about the actual time, place and candidate.

I don't think any American today is without some of that feeling now that we are going to have to get used to saying "President Obama" after last night. There will be some who regret his victory, but I expect them to be hoping right along with the rest of us. We were at such a low point, there was really no place to go but up.

And the vast majority of us are more than up, we are way up. I tried to say as little about my political leanings as possible, on the blog or anywhere, with an almost-superstitious fervor based on the knowledge that few of the candidates who had won my heart in the past ever won enough others to get elected. It looked to me, after seeing the crowds flocking to hear him every time he spoke--even overseas on his brief visit there--that it was going to be an Obama landslide. Others told me that the people going to hear him speak weren't voters, which made no sense to me. You'd get dressed and go out at night to park in a crowded parking lot and hear a politician speak for an hour but not bother to go cast a vote for him?

Those eloquent speeches, with his lilting cadence and that occasional upward inflection ending his crystalline sentences, were worth the nagging worry that there might somehow be a madman with a gun in the crowd, as in the movies or in the memories of those of us who lived through less-controlled times. Again, I tried not to talk about it. At times I did talk about it some in order to warn the evil spirits that we were onto them.

It's been a tense 21 months at best, from the beginning when he looked like a simple dreamer, an upstart who didn't understand the political process, to night before last when he looked wise, as brilliant as ever, but seasoned and Presidential, still crafting his speeches, still delivering them with the illusion of the first time.

And then there was yesterday, the glorious day when it all came to a head. Long lines at the polls, smiling people on the street, and a late night when we watched the returns holding our breath. The grace in his acceptance speech, and his theme that he expects something of us, individually and together now, and that he will take care of the big stuff while expecting us to take care of the small. I feel as if I'm awaiting orders from a superb commanding officer. What will he ask of me? Shall I write something for him? Shall I put on a play? Would he like a little more money?

This morning there was an email from him on my computer. He wrote it last night before he left for Grant Park. He thanked me and assured me that it was I who won this thing, and he wanted me to know that he knew that.

Wasn't that nice of him? I'm not the one who went out there day after day for 21 months, endured the outrageous slings and arrows of lesser mortals, had my name dragged out constantly by the chattering classes on television, second-guessing my every move and utterance. He was. ("Why doesn't he get down and dirty? Why doesn't he fight back? Why does he always look so cool?") I'm not the one who was able to ignore this and show my true self, calm and considerate, using my mind to process the chaos around and simply move toward a goal. He was. I'm not the one who organized millions of people, young and old, to work in whatever way they could with a promise of little more than "change." He wa. I'm not the one who made the run for the Presidency meaningful to a cynical and discouraged country. He was. I'd like to think I helped, but it was damned little compared to what he did.

And I can't wait for his new day to start. It's looking better already.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting Lines in Hoboken

November 4, 2008

It's 4 P.M. now and I've noticed a lot of hits on the site meter with the search words "Voting Lines in Hoboken." Worry about whether or not they'll be able to get into the polls brought people to my blog, but in my previous election-day post I haven't addressed the voting lines in Hoboken. I voted at 7 A.M. and the lines were no problem at all. I'm in Ward 5, District 5, which may be a light area, but all day long I've walked past polling places and seen a few people going in, but no off-putting lines.

After work, say in an hour or two, there'll probably be more traffic. But I don't think Hoboken will be one of those places in the country where it takes hours to get to the voting booths. All this pre-voting drama kind of reminds me of Y2K at New Year's in 2000, when the whole world was supposed to shut down because the computers stopped their counters at 1999. It didn't happen. There are some places in the country that may not have been prepared for the huge voting turnout, but most saw it coming and got ready.

Let's just hope voting is this thrilling from now on!

The Big Day Has Arrived

November 4, 2008

Last night I was just wishing it would all be over. Surfing the channels I heard expert after expert expounding on the horse-race possibilites, "If McCain carries Pennsylvania..." "If Obama carries Ohio and Indiana..." and on and on into the night. I am so tired of such blather that my head aches, to say nothing of my cardiovascular system and my blood pressure. Study their positions, listen to their speeches, and make up your mind. Try to accept the possibility that the person leading the party you usually oppose may have something to say other than the one your knee-jerk impulse tells you to support. We've had 21 months to think about this, and sure enough, some people have changed their minds, but today's the day to go stand in line and vote.

I've already voted. Polls open in New Jersey at 6 A.M., and I was in the line at about seven. A nice, healthy turnout, but not discouraging because it was a quick vote and everybody seemed upbeat if not downright excited. At my polling place, it was mostly white people, but a handsome young black man, looking for his line, smiled at me and said, "Look at this!" and I said, "It's great!" and he said, "It sure is! It's awesome!" A couple in the line next to me had a stroller with two little kids in it and one kept saying, "Is Daddy going to vote? Is Mommy going to vote?"

I have a friend who tells me most of the people he admires agree with him that "One man, one vote" is an absurd system that will never work. He recommends books on the subject. Another, who writes a Hoboken blog, says it's sad that given the choice, most Americans are going to vote against their best interests.

I really can't agree with this. I don't know how it's going to turn out, and I'll admit that I don't always think the best person in the race wins, but I like the system and I love the process of voting.

No one can deny that this is the most important election of our lifetimes. I grew up with old men in the White House--FDR, Truman, Eisenhower--and was too young to vote in 1960 when John F. Kennedy ran. But I haven't felt the electricity in the air like that on voting day since then. I've watched John McCain carefully and considered the possibility of voting for him because I remember him from the Straight Talk Express days. I decided not to vote for him for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I am genuinely enthusiastic about his opponent. Good reason to take an active part, I'd say.

I don't have time to write a real political entry this morning. I have work to do. I'm off to Obama headquarters to help get out the vote.

My readers may not vote the way I do, but I'm sure they believe in elections and will cast the vote for the person they feel most qualified. As for me, they're waiting for me to take my shift.

Tomorrow will be another day. But this is the big one.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sleeping Well Is the Best Revenge

November 3, 2008

Sleep is good for you, America. I don’t know where we seem to have gotten the idea that it was a sign of weakness.

Over the years I've gone from being the sleepiest child in the neighborhood (the lady next door once found me asleep under a bed in her house in the middle of the day) to having occasional bouts with insomnia, to a regular pattern of waking up at about 3 A.M. and not being able to fall asleep again. Probably the pattern was made worse by having a remote control in my bed and via television enjoying the switchable presence of Jay Leno, ABC World News Now, the choice of a couple of movies all the time, and cooking and decoration shows at all hours.

That all changed when I moved to Hoboken. I only bought one tv. I was removed from the residue of problems of my own and my friends and relatives. I began sleeping heavier and longer than I had in years. I don’t know how to account for it, but from the first it felt good to get all this sleep. I’m beginning to wonder if narcolepsy is a sign of aging. Maybe it’s because I’m still kind of on vacation from my life. Until the move I was fraught with responsibilities and a certain amount of low-grade, under-the-radar stress all day, and at night I had that tv in the bedroom. Almost as soon as I moved here last December, I found myself sleeping through the night again, experiencing heavy dreams, and waking up refreshed.

I’m sure being removed from my daily stress did it, but I have new stuff: I totally fired my old life, live alone in a strange city, have the daily job of learning the ropes and coping with all the new situations of a total upheaval. That’s not stress?

Apparently not so much. I’ve reverted to my old childhood sleep patterns, and occasionally even grab an hour’s nap during the day. I haven’t been found dozing under the neighbors’ furniture yet, but I’m getting a lot of sleep. On the other hand, sometimes I wake up abnormally early, say 4 A.M., but if that happens I make myself comfortable—go to the bathroom, eat a little yogurt, curl up under a cozy throw in the living room and watch a little neutral tv (NO politics!), and when I start to yawn—it might be as long as two hours—I go back to bed. Then I can sleep another couple of hours.

Here’s the thing of it: Nobody thinks they can do that. “When I’m up, I’m up!” they say, and they make it true by leaping out of bed at the first glimmer of consciousness, turning on all the lights, making coffee, shoving papers around and generally acting as if the day had started. This is followed by a day of feeling sleep deprived and cross. Now, I know it's going to be difficult to do this if you're reading this at your desk just before a big meeting, but it will be worth it tomorrow if you start this sleeping-more project tonight.

Falling asleep seems to be a major accomplishment. We get performance anxiety about being able to do it.

My technique on my early-morning wakeup is to give myself the gift of going back to bed happily. Look, it’s still early, still dark, that bed has all those soft covers, and I’ve got a few more hours before the rest of the world wakes up. I’ll just lie down here and close my eyes—and not open them for two hours no matter what. Maybe I won’t sleep, but I’ll take deep breaths, think how lucky I am, and rest my eyes.

It almost always works. Even helps with the Daylight Saving Time nonsense somebody imposed at the wrong time of year (Why make the days shorter in the winter when they are naturally shorter?).

And when it doesn't work--on those nights when it feels as if I'm not going to fall asleep at all, one Benadryl will do the trick. I have a rule not to take more than one a week, and I seldom resort to that. I also remember that in my case it will take almost an hour to kick in so I don't let performance anxiety get in the way. Alternatively, if I detect a few unidentified aches and pains, I allow myself one or two ibuprophen tablets or an aspirin. But mostly I just lie down, review the good stuff of the day and ignore the bad, take deep breaths for five minutes, all the while thinking about how lucky I am to be alive and ordering a good dream by imagining something pleasant like a field of daisies or the breeze on my skin as waves lap on the beach.

Getting more sleep would be better for everybody. Put it on your list of New Year's Resolutions. In fact, it should be on the national agenda. I hope that early in his administration, the next President makes a beautiful speech about its importance. It would put me right to sleep.