Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I’m sure I don’t need to really spell this out, but just in case, here it goes.

If you ever find yourself working at Weight Watchers – as one of the people who checks the weight of others, say – and the weight watcher in question has come in for her monthly weigh-in, and she knows her weight is up from last month (she already knows it!), and she says to you, “How bad is it?”, you can just quietly lean over and tell her her weight. You don’t need to say to her, “Here, I’ll just give you the print-out and you can see for yourself…will you be able to see it without your reading glasses?”

Because when you say something like that to a woman of a certain age – especially when that woman’s birthday is upon her and she will be A Certain Age And Then Some, it hits her in the same way as asking a woman who is a little thick around the middle whether she is pregnant. And I think we all have come far enough in life by now (and by “all” I mean even my 11-year-old son) to know that that is a sentence that should never, ever be uttered unless the thick-middled woman has her sonogram print-out pinned to her lapel.

If you misstep, and you do make a gauche reference to reading glasses, you just need to be prepared for the possible reaction. The Woman of A Certain Age may not actually follow through on this, but what she wants, at the conclusion of your sentence…she wants to reach across the desk and punch you in your fucking face.

Ok, so now you know.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Here's Why I Don't Do Dishes On My Birthday

I’m not sure if it’s a Leo thing, but many of us with August birthdays don’t just celebrate the day we were born, we celebrate the whole week. Sometimes the whole month. For me, celebrating doesn’t entail much more than saying, “It’s my birthday!” To which someone will respond, “Oh, Happy Birthday!” and I’ll offer a big, gushy, “Thanks!” and, voila, I feel celebrated.

I usually keep my birthday expectations very low. Similar to Mother’s Day, if no one ends up in the emergency room and/or I don’t have to clean up vomit, I consider the day a resounding success.

I was not born with this perspective – it’s been acquired.

In my twenties, I spent a bit of time as a PA. PA is short for Production Assistant and can mean many things in terms of skill and responsibility. For me, it meant doing all the impossible things that no one else wanted to do. Keeping someone’s ice coffee cold in a heat wave. Trying to find magenta duct tape. Fixing a broken Xerox machine.

You can often tell which are the PAs at any shoot. They’re the ones running ragged to prove themselves while simultaneously stifling their fury about being the lowest paid, least respected members of the crew.

The first PA job I was ever given was for a Man-On-The-Street interview spot. We were going to shoot at the Willowbrook Mall and we had a call time of 10 AM. I remember all those details, including the exact date of the shoot not because it was my first time, but because it was my birthday.

Most of the crew was traveling from Manhattan, but I already lived in New Jersey, as did Steve, the production manager, so he and I were going to drive to the mall together. I don’t remember what time he was scheduled to pick me up, but I do remember that our plans changed substantially, because early that morning, as I was washing my breakfast dishes, a glass broke in my hand. The sink filled with blood and I could not get the bleeding under control. I called Steve, “I’m going to be a little late. I have to go to the ER.”

Steve offered to bring me to the hospital. Our first stop was the triage nurse who listened to my story and started taking down my information. “Birth date?” she asked. “Today!” I said.

For the first time she looked up from her notes. “Today is your birthday?”

I smiled and nodded like a 7-year-old.

“Honey, what were you doing washing dishes on your birthday?”

At first, I couldn’t tell if she was sympathetic or chiding, but it soon occurred to me that this must be some special brand of ER levity because the admitting nurse, the nurse who administered the Tetanus shot and the Physician’s Assistant who sewed my finger up all came up with the same sentiment.

“How did you do this, young lady?”

“Washing dishes,”

Then, looking at my chart, “What were you doing washing dishes on your birthday?”

An hour or so later, my index finger stitched, bandaged and throbbing, we headed to the mall. My finger garnered lots of attention, which I ended up exploiting over the course of the day.

My assignment was to find “men in business suits” who would agree to be interviewed. It was 11 AM on a weekday. “There are no men in business suits here,” I told the producer. “Men in business suits are all at their businesses.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “Go find me some suited men.”

I scampered off with my clipboard and throbbing finger and boldly approached the one and only business suit clad man in the mall. I told him what we were doing and asked if he’d be willing to be interviewed. No, he wouldn’t, he said. And he walked away.

I ran after him and began to beg. “Please, my boss is going to fire me if you don’t do it. I cut my finger open this morning and I got nine stitches and it’s really killing me and won’t you just give me this one break?”

I could see by the look on his face that I was getting through to him. He was on the verge of saying yes. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do what I was about to do, but it seemed the only way to secure his participation.

“Please,” I whined. “It’s my birthday.”

“It’s your birthday?” he said. Yes, it really is, I told him as I pushed my clipboard with the photo releases just a little closer to him. He took the release and my pen and said he’d be happy to do it.

“How did you cut your finger?” he said while he was signing his rights away.

“Washing dishes,” I said. And, before the words came out of his mouth, I added, “I know, I know. I shouldn’t do dishes on my birthday.”

Does no one wash dishes on their birthdays? Or take out the garbage? Or make the bed? My birthday is coming up and for the most part it’s business as usual. But if my kitchen looks a little more unkempt than usual, now you know why.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Laura the Tennis Pro Moves On

And, Poof! just like that Laura the Tennis Pro turned into Laura the Respiratory Therapist.

I’ve been dreading this day for a long time. The day when Laura the Tennis Pro would really truly not be our Tennis Pro any longer. It was inevitable. She enrolled in a post graduate program to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist and during her studies, she would cram us all in for clinics on whatever day she could keep free that semester. Fortunately for her, school only lasted a finite amount of time. This last leg of it nearly killed her. Not so fortunate for us, though.

I continued to take lessons with Laura while she was in school because I knew that at some point (some point soon) the lessons would just end. That Laura the Tennis Pro would take off her Adidas, put on her surgical scrubs and go off to save people’s lives rather than just their backhands.

Still, in some secret place, I wished that Laura the Tennis Pro would find some respiratory work that didn’t require her presence every day. That she could find some special hospital or care facility that had made their patients agree to not have asthma attacks or emphysema on Wednesdays. That on Wednesdays, Laura the Respiratory Therapist would be able to sneak into a phone booth, don her Dri-Fit, and, just for a few short hours, become Laura the Tennis Pro again.

That shit never works and this time was no exception. Not only is Laura the Respiratory Therapist not going to be available for the occasional clinic, she’s not even staying in the tri-state area.

I’m really good at pretending sad things like this aren’t real and that’s part of the reason I haven’t written about it before. She has bequeathed us to another tennis pro who I’ve met over the summer and who I like a lot. But he doesn’t appear to be able to pull off an Austin Powers imitation, and he doesn’t have that same charming quality of being fearful of fire extinguishers. I don’t know if he’ll be a Serve Whisperer like Laura, although he does seem utterly capable of finding the same sort of glee that Laura did whenever Gina got hit with a ball.

I guess the truth is, I don't feel like I've learned all that I'm meant to from Laura the Tennis Pro. And I'm not even really talking about tennis anymore.

Peter the Tennis Pro. It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Maybe he’ll need a moniker all his own.

In the meantime, I just keep hearing this song playing in my head:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Into The Wild

I now know that there is a qualitative difference in reading about teenage boys being mauled by a bear in Alaska when you yourself actually have a teenage boy in Alaska. Even though I learned about this horrific incident after I had spoken to the teenager from Anchorage Airport while he waited for his plane to board, I spent the whole day troubled and distracted, a sinking feeling inside that I just couldn’t shake, as if he were still in some kind of imminent danger.

Thirty days ago, I said to him, “Don’t get killed by a bear,” and he smirked and said, “I won’t,” and then he walked down the Alaska Air jet way and I watched his lanky 16-year-old self until I couldn’t see him anymore. And then I drove home hoping what he told me was true.

Months ago, there was a little joke that emerged when I was making his flight arrangements, between me and the airline representative. I was asking her how close the gates would be on his connecting flight and she said there was no way of knowing and, yes, he might have to ride the tram. I remember saying glibly, “Well, if he can’t figure out how to get from one plane to another, he probably has no business going on a wilderness trip in the first place.” We both laughed, maybe a little harder than we needed to, because we both knew that it’s so much easier to worry about things like trams and gate proximity than it is to worry about placing your beloved little speck of humanity into the unpredictable wiles of nature.

“What about bears?” I had asked the trip organizers a week before his departure.

“We have bear safety sessions,” the woman assured me. The kids go through a whole day of training on how to handle (and avoid) bear encounters. “What about earthquakes?” I’d asked her. “Lightening storms? Tsunamis?” I could feel my anxieties tumbling out of me like a water main break, but I really had no control of myself. The woman was able to address every one of my concerns and was actually doing a fairly good job of calming me down until I asked her about radioactivity from the nuclear disaster in Japan. “Should I be worrying about that?” I asked.

“No,” she said, and I could tell by the tone of her voice that it was time for me to stop.

The first report I read about the bear attack was early on Monday morning. Seven boys on a wilderness trip were backpacking without instructors as part of their leadership training. They were walking across a river when the bear attacked. The first two boys in line were mauled and, according to The Guardian, suffered “life-threatening injuries.” Two more boys were injured badly and everyone ended up in the hospital.

After I read the news, I went to meet some friends for tennis. (I try to stay occupied on the days the teenager is flying.) “Should I tell the teenager about the bear attack?” I asked one of the women. I always regard her as a mommy mentor.

“He’ll know about it,” she said. “He’ll hear about it in the news.”

“He may not, he’ll have been on a plane all day,” I said.

Her advice was to wait until he brought it up himself. “Then you can reassure him,” she said.

Reassure him?

She said I should tell him how sad I am about what happened to the boys but how I know nothing like that will ever happen to him. The other women nodded in agreement. I was completely dumbfounded. “I shouldn’t tell him how freaked out I am?” I said.

“No! You should absorb that fear yourself. Don’t share it. You don’t want him to be scared, do you?”

Well, yes. That’s exactly what I want. I want him to think: Wow, bears are out there ready to rip people to shreds, maybe a nice hotel vacation with black mold and bed bugs would be a more prudent journey next year.

I remember once being rational like my tennis friend, but that seems like another lifetime ago.

I’m not sure who brought up the subject, him or me, but the bear was discussed long before my son and I arrived home from the airport. “Those kids were attacked just a few miles from where we camped,” my son told me.

“How many miles?” I said.


Maybe because Alaska is so vast and such a paean to wildlife, four miles from a bear seems like nothing. It seems like having a bear in your bathroom. Having him in the shower with you. I tried to wrap my mind around what my son was telling me, which was basically, that my month-long mantra, “he won’t be attacked by a bear,” was successful merely because of dumb luck.

I expected to hear some horror in his voice, but the teenager spoke about the incident with uncharacteristic admiration. “Those kids were highly trained to deal with bears,” he said.

“Maybe not so much,” I said.

“Mom, they fought off a bear. The five other kids got the bear to leave. That’s amazing. If it was our group, we would have died. I promise.”

The words tumbled from him as casually as if he were reading a grocery list. Then in the next breath he began to tell me about the wilderness trip he wants to take next year.