Saturday, March 28, 2009

Okay, It Can Stop Any TIme Now

This has not been a good year so far. I started off with pleurisy and bronchitis and hours in the Emergency Room. By the time that was over, I got the verdict about my mammogram and had cancer surgery. I just had my initial visit with the radiology people to get set for the coming radiation series. Tuesday night, while eating a dish of ice cream, I felt something that was harder than a chocolate chip. It turned out to be a gold crown, from a 35 year old root canal on a molar on the side I chew on. Not relay too bad, since there's no nerve there, but still, dental work ahead.

That night I was awakened by rather severe chest pains which felt like the pains I used to get before I had my gall bladder (is there any uglier named organ in the body?) removed almost 30 years ago. Could it have grown back? I waited it out and it went away sort of. In the morning I had to make a decision: the dentist or the ER? I remembered all the trouble I had there trying to convince them that I knew what pleurisy felt like while they kept checking my heart and telling me that with women heart attack symptoms can be tricky. So this time I knew it wasn't pleurisy, my gall bladder (ugh!) probably hadn't grown back so maybe it was actually a heart thing this time. The ER won out and, since I was breathing normally and not sweating and the pain had pretty much died down, I drove myself over. Besides,poor John had already spent hours over there with me in January.

They took me right in and started doing the usual things. Every test was okay, but they decided I should stay over night and have more tests: echo-cardiogram and stress tests. They gave me a nice room to myself, with cable TV so I could watch movies on the Turner Classic Movies channel. They now have room service for meals and you can order anything you like as long as it's on the heart healthy menu. So I watched the original "Alfie" with Michael Caine - and why didn't he win an Oscar for that? He was brilliant -a rat, but brilliant. Watched "Room at the Top" with Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret. (It must have been rat bastard male week on TCM.) The stress test was very interesting; no treadmill, they just pump you with a drug that simulates a fast jog on your body. The echo-cardiogram was interesting because you could hear your heart beat, which sounds like someone wearing heavy boots slogging through a marsh during the rainy season. I passed them all, of course. My own doctor finally showed up around 9 p.m., checked all the tests and told me that you could still get stones after your gall bladder (ugh!) was removed, ordered some further out-patient tests for the stomach area, and sprang me from the hospital just in time for me to miss "The Scarlet Pimpernel" which is about a man who is not a rat, dear old Leslie Howard.

So, if things come in threes, I should be good for a whlie. Of course, the dental mishap counts, making it a three and a half, or I'm working on the next three and I'm one ahead. But I'd like to wait for that one for a while. There's an old movie, "Four Daughters" starring John Garfield as a musician who has never made it big. He has a great speech which he gives, swathed in bandages, dying, while his wife helps him smoke a cigarette, about how the fates just have never let him become what he should have become: "They said, 'Give him talent, but not enough to be successful. Let him fall in l ove, but fail, etc.'" It's a kind of precursor to Brando's speech about how he coulda been a contender. In fact Garfield was the Brando of his day. But the point I'm trying to make here is that's how all this has made me feel, as if the fates are out to get me this winter.

The above picture has nothing to do with any of this except that I love it and it makes me feel - happy. It's a Christmas card sent to me by friend Chris in California and it's some relative of his, or a family firend, and he doesn't know her story. So ponder it and make up a life for this young woman, standing in the snow with a chicken in her arms nd a slight smile on her face.
I found the John Garfield quote about the "destinies" which and I'll try to put it in here.

Mickey Borden: They've been at me now nearly a quarter of a century. No let-up. First they said, "Let him do without parents. He'll get along." Then they decided, "He doesn't need any education. That's for sissies." Then right at the beginning, they tossed a coin. "Heads he's poor, tails he's rich." So they tossed a coin... with two heads. Then, for a finale, they got together on talent. "Sure," they said, "let him have talent. Not enough to let him do anything on his own, anything good or great. Just enough to let him help other people. It's all he deserves." Well, you put all this together and you get Michael Bolgar.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Is Everybody Happy?

That was the slogan of an old time bandleader from the 30s. His name was Ted Lewis, who was from Circleville, Ohio, where there is a museum dedicated to him in a store front on the main drag. This slogan and a top hat were his signature. He played the kind of music that old people liked: Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk-ish stuff. I think his slogan was aimed at the state of the country at that time, to distract people from the reality of the Great Depression, as it is now called to differentiate it from what we're experiencing now.
We put great importance in "happy" in this country. I mean, the pursuit of it is in the Declaration of Independence, isn't it? When you think of all the melancholy immigrants who left home to come here, I guess happiness was as good a draw as streets of gold in their imaginations. There are best seller self help books promising happiness (through wealth, success, love), TV commercials full of happy looking people, happy talk on news broadcasts, etc. In spite of that, why is it that Happy is the one Disney dwarf that nobody can remember when they try to list all seven?

I have been thinking about the word "happy" lately and what it means. I don't think a normal person could live in a sustained state of happiness. If asked the question, "Are you happy?" most people would answer, "Sometimes," or "About what?" I have come to prefer the phrase "a sense of well-being," because you know when you don't have it and when you do have it. I am going through a time of not having it. That doesn't mean being depressed, just that all's not right with my world at the moment. I know it will eventually be all right again, a bit like the current economy. It's one of those cyclical things, I guess, brought on by a glitch in my physical well-being.

One of the bright spots which gave me a temporary lift was the most recent HDTV opera broadcast last Saturday. It starred two of the most charming, witty and vocally gifted singers, Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flores who were so great last year in "The Daughter of the Regiment." They did "La Sonambula", which is basically a very silly story about a sleepwalking girl and her jealous fiance. It's funny and the music is beautiful. I am amazed at the genius and cleverness of set designers. This year there have been the most stunning sets which are almost like characters themselves.

Also, singers are now expected to be like athletes. In one scene in this opera, the two singers are standing on a bed which is being twirled around by a couple of hefty guys, while the singers are doing a very intricate duet. I am waiting for either one of them to fly off in all directions, but they managed to do the singing and the balancing - you hadda be there. It was amazing. Later the sleepwalking soprano had to walk out on a very thin looking section of the floor which slowly moved out over the orchestra pit, singing her head off ( in the story she's supposed to be on a swinging bridge - I guess the set designer couldn't quite manage that.). She was then joined by the tenor, and while I waited for both of them to pitch headlong into the cello section, they were joined by a rather large mezzo, creating a lot of dramatic tension unforeseen by Belini, I'm sure. The old days when the singers just stood in place or moved stiffly toward each other while belting out their arias are long gone, I guess. It was great fun to watch and wonderful to hear. Next year they are doing 9 of these HDTV transmissions, including my favorite "Der Rosenkavalier." Good times.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Kindness of Friends

This is Harriet. She will soon be 88 years old. I have known her for over 40 years. She has been a community activist for even longer. She started the Kent Environmental Council, served on the boards of a number of non-profit agencies and has twice been a delegate to the national Democratic political conventions. She reorganized the local Democratic Party when it was being strangled by political bossism. For the last two years, she has had to use a walker to get around and had to give up driving because of hearing loss and general aging.

A while ago, I asked another friend who lives in Philadelphia if she could possibly make some sort of bag my friend Harriet could hang on her walker to carry odds and ends around her apartment and on her trips to the library (which is across the street from her apartment) or when she picks up a few things at the natural food store nearby. This Philadelphia friend is a demon quilter and one of the most generous people I have ever met. She made me a beautiful quilt last year out of the blue. She makes quilts for people 's babies, for newlyweds, graduations, and just for the heck of it. I call her the Quilting Addict, which I mean in only the most positive way.

Saturday, the mail brought the bag pictured on Harriet's walker. I took it over to her on Sunday and she is just delighted with it. She has already used it to fetch her mail from the post box down in the basement of her apartment building. Since it has rained everyday since she got it, she hasn't had a chance to show it off yet on one of her walks downtown.

Now the Quilting Addict does not know Harriet, but she used yellow and blue materiel, both of which are favorite colors of the recipient. (Actually it could have been orange and purple and it would still have been happily received.) I know this is not the first time my Philadelphia friend has made someone' life brighter with her handiwork, but it is a real treat to see it happen in person.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Who Are These People?

It's that time of year again - the endless begging on the PBS channels. I have access to two of them, one in Cleveland and one here in Kent. When I was working, we were once recruited to sit at long tables and watch phones not ringing. I think we had the graveyard shift or something, or maybe it was during a previous recession. I don't envy the people sitting there right now.

However, on this side of the TV, we are regaled with fare for people who no longer exist, people like my parents, who would be in their 100s. I was in my 20s when Lawrence Welk was big (and alive) on TV, and my parents were in their 50s. They were lovers of classical music, but for some reason, they loved Lawrence Welk and all those twinkly people with big hair and lots of teeth. Their courtship days were around the time of WWI, and I think Welk's music seemed familiar, the kind of thing one could do the Turkey Trot to. I used to dread their visits, because instead of Sid Caesar or George Gobel , we had to watch the Welk show and hear my father say, "That (some name) can really tickle those ivories," while my husband and I would find excuses to step outside for a cigarette, even in the midst of January. It was that or throwing up.

I hated Welk then, I hated Welk when I was in my 50s, and I hate Welk in my 80s. (I didn't actually hate him, just his awful show.) Now those people my parents age are mostly, I expect, dead, so who are the people who enjoy that show which PBS insists on running every week and a lot more during Pledge Week (which is now really Pledge Month and seems like Pledge Year)? I don't know anyone my age who could stand it when we were in our 20s, so what happened to some of those former youngsters that makes them supposedly like it now? Will people who now dig rap music suddenly turn into Welk aficionados when they're old? Will there still be a PBS? And Lawrence Welk has been dead forever, even though it was hard to tell for years. They had to put a mirror up to his nose to be sure.

It's not just Welk, of course, during Pledge Week. It's Andre Rieu, Andrea Bocelli, any hoked up Irish group with amplified strings and pale girls with long hair, Suzie Orman (what money? Was she a Bush advisor?), self-help gurus, John Tesh and - gasp - Yanni! Yanni! You've got to wonder what is the demographic for public TV. Dead people? Deaf people? Do the same people who like Nova, Frontline, Bill Moyers and Masterpiece Theater actually listen to Yanni? Does anyone?

To top it off, friend David visited this weekend and informed us that next week, the NPR station in Cleveland where he works will start their begging next week. It only lasts 10 days, but the local NPR station, which plays grerat music almost all day, always stretches theirs into at least 2 weeks and all of this goes on at the same time. Oy! Would anyone like to bail out public TV and radiio?
I am doing well. Saw the surgeon Tuesday. Will be seeing the radiologist in a few weeks and get the radiation scheduled. I will be getting back to my water aerobics class soon, which I am really looking forward to, since I have been pretty much a slug for the last month. Friends and family have been great, which is a big help to making me feel cared for. I am almost back to normal and I mean almost because I have to think about this and absorb it. I don't think very often, not being much for reflection, so that's why I say almost. I need to get back to not thinking,