Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Do You Have Any Friends, Melissa?"

I divided shiva responsibilities last week with my sister-in-law. So, characteristically, my version of shiva was to tell people, "Four o'clock? Okay, sure, I'll be reformatting my databases, but we can talk." Whereas hers was a big, noisy, cocktail party/networking event where half the people didn't even know the deceased.

I arrived there early last Tuesday night, and found myself in the middle of a small group of her boyfriend's business associates. We made small talk for a while, and then one woman asked me, in the tone you use to speak to a slow five-year-old, "Do you have any friends, Melissa?"

Geez, I thought, I can't look like that much of a geek!

I chuckled and said, "As a matter of fact, there are some people from out of town that I owe a visit." Thereby using the same subterfuge I used about boyfriends when I was 25...oh, he's not here because he's out of town. Right.

Except that it's true. There are people, both out of town and in, to whom I owe a visit, or a dinner, or coffee, or a movie, or any number of informal social events that I've been postponing for months with "We'll get together when this is all over." (Remember that one day when you're on your deathbed: To your loved ones, "this" equals "you" and the thing that will be "all over" is your life.)

And it's not as if Jim needed a lot of physical supervision when he was home. But he was often too sick to go out--not just out socially, but out of the house--and when you're a couple, you do a lot of couple things with other couples. So I would be the odd woman out with a couple or two, getting a premonition of What It Will Be Like When I'm Single Again. And not in the good way, folks.

Even without a sick partner, sometimes making the effort isn't worth...the effort. You come home from work, you're exhausted, there's stuff to do around the house and programs to watch, and oh please...not another wanna-be writer workshop at The New School! And besides, there's that built-in companion right there at home and you don't have to bother to clean the house or put on clean clothes or be civil.

The problem is, since you're not a sixteen-year-old who has band practice after school every day, before you know it you're stuck in a reclusive rut, even with the spouse. It was something that would have to have been handled anyway, and having the spouse die is like a cosmic tap on the shoulder that says: Handle It, Schmuck!

Like I don't have enough to handle right now. So it's another challenge: To slowly pick up some of the social threads I've dropped, and add a few more, and despite my anxieties at three AM, try not to go about it like a high school student sitting at the Loser's Table in the cafeteria. So far, there's a dinner and a dinner and a show and a lunch this week, interspersed with going back to my job and with the continued redoing of my little urban space. That's what the New Normal looks like so far, and I can't push it any faster than it's meant to go, or it'll be somebody else's normal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Often books are kept almost like trophies or mounted animal heads"

I'm turning our library into my new, improved Minimalist library. These posts on Zen Habits and Unclutterer have some good advice.

Actually, I don't need their advice. I wanted to do it anyway and I just like hearing that I'm right.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Brunobaby's iPod, A to Z

I'm up to "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" by Blood Sweat & Tears, on the album the group made before David Clayton-Thomas took over lead vocals.

The song I was up to when I got The Call was "I Am Waiting" by the Rolling Stones, from the Aftermath album.

Whatever song it was, I would have found irony in it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Separated At Birth?

Fake wooden shiva boxes from Gutterman's Funeral Home

Morningstar Farms' fake bacon

Friday, July 13, 2007

James Konrad

February 24, 1947-July 13, 2007

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Born on the Fourth of July

On July 4th, we celebrate the birthdays of:
TCM didn't have any tributes to me yesterday, but they did run five Neil Simon movies in a row, followed by "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Other celebrations included joining my husband for a lunchtime cookout at St. Rose's, and then joining my parents for dinner at London Lennie's.

This was followed by watching the Macy's fireworks on their new 43" projection TV, where they argued about switching the picture from 4:3 to 16:9 to "Wide" to "Normal" to "Zoom."
Dad poses for the newfangled camera phone.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Brave, Courageous and Bold

Besides Beverly Sills, two not-famous people died from cancer this week: My former co-worker's 43-year-old son and Sideways Mencken's 48-year-old sister. I'm going out to get a card for the co-worker. I've been doing a lot of thinking about Sideways' post.

...odds being what they are, and medical science being what it is, and with society weighed down as it is by an idiot's-eye-view of "the sanctity of life," the likelihood is that my death, like my sister's, will be a long, dragged out, confusing, humiliating, impoverishing, exhausting experience that will leave me, along with everyone else, thinking: die, already.

"What are my chances, doctor?"

"Oh, you're fucked. You couldn't be any more fucked. But we're never going to tell you that because first, before we let you die, we're going to poison the shit out of you, slice you up like a fucking Thanksgiving bird, stick tubes wherever we can find or cut an opening, make sure that the lasting image your wife and children have of you is as a helpless guinea pig, and finally, take all your money. Then, and only then, can you die."

"Can't I just get my stuff organized, say 'good-bye' and take a massive hit of morphine on a morning of my choosing?"

"Of course not: that would show contempt for the sanctity of life. Not to mention contempt for my need for a sumer home."

I guess Michelle "fought bravely." That stupid locution. No doubt I'll "fight bravely." I certainly wouldn't want to die with the whispered accusations of cowardice following me to my grave. "He fought, sure, but not bravely." Or, "You know, he didn't so much 'fight' as he laid there in a morphine haze watching Simpsons reruns on TV until he fell asleep and never woke up."

Basically, that's what's happening with Jim right now, except it's not "The Simpsons"--it's Turner Classic Movies. The real fight took place over more than two-and-a-half years and consisted of all of the treatments mentioned above, to wit:

And add to this, all of the ways that you accommodate a spouse who is perpetually sleeping off the effects of chemo and radiation and who won't eat, and all of the ways you encourage the spouse to practice their walking, or go out, or make some kind of tentative plan for the future that they can always cancel later, and oh yeah, making sure you get out once in a while to socialize with the two or three people who haven't fled in terror because they were afraid of their own helplessness.

You would think that after all of that, you'd end up with a husband, not a widow.

In some ways, a long goodbye sucks. In other ways, it lets the doomed...I mean, the terminally ill person and their family tie up all the loose ends. And during the rare moments where Jim hasn't been in denial over the severity of his illness, that's been possible.

You could also say that the other advantage is that this way, you know you've done everything that you could have. But that's pragmatic. There's always something you think you could have done even if you were to spend two-and-a-half years in your cubicle at work with a Bunsen burner and a set of test tubes. We should have quit smoking sooner. He should have had a chest ex-ray five years ago. I should have nagged him to go to the doctor sooner. I should have used common household objects to create a drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier.

But even if Mr. Peabody threw me in a Wayback Machine to stop Jim from putting that first cigarette into his mouth back in college, there are so many factors beyond any one person's control, or beyond the control of human beings in general.

So I've been working within what I know, and getting counseling and reading books to increase this knowledge. I'm determined to come out of this stronger than I was when I went into it. Yeah, it's all about me. Well, to me it is. And I feel guilty about that, too. Why should I go get a haircut when my husband can't even handle a fork anymore? Everything else is so shallow and stupid compared to being in a position where your days are numbered and that number can probably be measured in single digits. But that's life: The shallow and stupid co-existing with the profound.

This has to have all been for something, although I can't figure out exactly what right now. So I'll keep coming up with ideas and getting haircuts until I run out of ideas, and hair. When it's me lying there being fed with a spork, I doubt the world will suddenly declare a moratorium from haircuts.

Maybe what this whole thing makes you do is stop and think and then be determined to live a little better. Or at least that's my idea.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Camera, Phone Home

My digital camera has developed clickitis...when I turn it on, it clicks a few times, gives me a "dead battery" signal despite the fact that I've just fed it new batteries, and then shuts itself off. The warranty expired a few months ago, and I didn't go for the extension because it cost almost as much as a newer, better camera.

I Google'd "Camera Repairs NYC" and got a few names. They're of places that close by five and have no weekend hours during the summer. And depending on what's wrong with it, it may actually be cheaper to get a new camera.

My cell phone contract was due for renewal, and with two years you get a free upgrade to a camera phone. It arrived, I snapped a few pictures, and then happily went to my computer to upload them to my blog. Whereupon I discovered that the camera phone company provided me no way to do that.

"You won't be able to do it," my sister-in-law advised. "I spent two hundred dollars on cables and they were the wrong cables and then they sold me this chip that goes into the phone, and you're supposed to take it out and put it in something but I haven't figured out how yet."

She had also asserted a couple of weeks ago that if you have digital cable you can't tape anything on your VCR, so I went to Radio Shack this afternoon and asked their advice.

The girl behind the counter opened the phone.

"This model doesn't take a chip. You have to go to your cell phone provider and get a cable."

I went to Best Buy for a second opinion.

"You have to go to your cell phone provider and get a cable. T-Mobile has a store on 21st."

"Twenty-first?" her co-worker said. "Isn't it twenty-third?" I thanked them and hurried out the door as they debated the point. I went into the store on 22nd Street and tagged the first helpful soul.

"There's no cable for this unless you want to go to Samsung's site and order one for $30. And that one only works with the PC, not the Mac. You'll have to e-mail the pictures to yourself with the phone. I'll show you how."

"What are you going to charge me?"

"I'm not gonna charge you anything."

"What's T-Mobile gonna charge me?"

"Twenty-five cents each."

So we set up the phone and when I got home tonight, the above pic was awaiting me in my e-mail. I also found out that you can send by Bluetooth. The new Macs have it, and I'm in the market for a new MacBook. Meanwhile, I can scrape up a few bucks out of the budget to blog any pictures that are Truly Important until I become Bluetooth-enabled...or until I can get to the camera repair place and find out what's what.

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