Free to Be: St Ann of the Bridal Shop Window

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One more than pleasant by-product of retiring early (albeit with a meager monthly SSI cheque) is no longer needing to adhere to someone else’s rules, aesthetics, and codes of behavior and appearance.

I really need not shave unless I have a fancy country funeral or somber city wedding to attend. Seven weeks is my current record for not even trimming my goatee. Similarly, my hair seems to get longer and longer in between cuts, although I do have Mullet Prevention Services through AARP.

Yes, I now believe that exercise pants (of the flannel drawstring variety) are appropriate almost everywhere. Beware of a challenge. I’ll proudly wear stripes with plaids, and sole-ful chamois slippers.

I still have limits but they are all mine these days, with perhaps a dash of Jon’s. Thirty years of employee manuals and always obsolete handbooks have been recycled. (The give-away is always the chapter devoted to gloves.)

As Bohemian as I have always been, with the bravado of a Catholic, Southern gay liberal Democrat with a Yankee German heritage, there have always been situations that I’ve spared any taint of post dinner chat. I simply enjoyed a Rusty Nail and politely nodded in accordance.

So when at my desk, I wear my favorite robe, a very tailored Anichini number. Once perfection, and now tattered with grey wool, it sports an intriguing and subtle paisley pattern. It is elegantly finished with long cuffed sleeves, four buttons at the top, and a hem that barely grazes my slippers or my bright chartreuse O-T-Cs … betrayed by a cigarette burn from a melodramatic night in the summer of ’99.

Where is that Marlo Thomas these days? I miss “That Girl” and even refer to Pfluffer as Pfluffer Marie, as in Lew Marie, Ann’s father. Give me a day or two. A have two friends in New York that will help me present the existential values of the ’60’s comedy, and the underlying motivation for the relationship conflicts between Ann and Donald.

Of course, in a new millennium remake, I could wrap myself in a silk kimono-esque robe as this boy has, but I’d have jewel-toned Tommy Hilfiger “snuggies” dotted with anchors on as well. I’d save the tribal but chiefly ornamental head-dress for my beloved. Jon would certainly blurt: “It’s a cranial fit!”

Marie, we’ll toast you with what may be red wine but resembles an Albany attempt at an amber moonshine. (State of the art stills are just across state lines in Vermont.) The bottle leans inward, however, toward that Dapper Benjamin, a mishap-in-waiting. À votre santé!

“Free to be You and Me.” Marlo, my dear, you are an icon.

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Where’s Susan Hayward When She’s Needed?

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Today, I had rather thorough pre-testing for a procedure that is scheduled for this Friday. The dread has been building for months, but it is at least the last real hurdle between me and the ever-elusive new and improved heart. By noon, one might say that I was even a bit excited about Friday. I kept daydreaming about being able to go into the ocean, drive Nigel, and regain the option to leave the house for more than a few hours at a time. I’ll finally be able to detach my IV and secure it in the pantry’s “miscellaneous” drawer. And all the cardiovascular accoutrement can be removed from my chest, and the apertures sealed.

While watching the steady flow of bile-rousing rhetoric on CNN, I noticed I had a voicemail from this morning’s hospital team. They were very sincere but felt that they would be unable to perform the procedure there because of the severity of my health issues and some of the particulars. Mind you, while not huge, Rex Hospital is a leading medical center in the Triangle.

Shocked can only describe the second wave of disappointment after the notion had started to set in as I verbalized it to my beloved. The anesthesiologist suggested I have it done at UNC in Chapel Hill, where I already spend an inordinate number of days and nights. The Transplant Assessment Cardiologists think I should have the procedure done in Raleigh.

Dammit. I just want to do something other than read. With my heart pumping at only 10-15%, almost every part of my body seems affected. It’s reached a point at which, in a conversation, I’ll forget the topic, the purpose, or even who it is to whom I am talking. To avoid frustration and maintain an iota of dignity, I shy away from the phone. Similarly, it is excruciating to write anything. Words do not come easily anymore. Syntax and structure become struggles. I might even need to nap after a few paragraphs.

In light of all of these new developments and criteria, I bet Susan would know what to do. And she’d do it with a song in her… Well, you know.

It’s clear to me that it is probably best that I take a break from Tartuffe’s Folly for a spell, at least until I can remember and write and feel motivated and hear a stronger heartbeat. The pusses and I might post a note every now and then.

I hope to have my voice back by early dewberry season.

“Dignity: the doomed man’s final refuge.” (Max Frisch)

(Image: “Monsieur” by Martin Battersby.)

Mondays. Can’t Trust That Day

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Today was rather hellacious but, before I start complaining, I best remind myself that tomorrow is a repeat. Further, it’s still too early in the year to risk taunting the Universe.

Jon awakened early to take Pfluffer to the vet for laser surgery and to get his dressing and booties changed. Before Jon even had his keys in hand, three trucks had filled our driveway and five workmen were ready to replace our back door.

Of course, we were conflicted. I was still in bed. Jon was late to transport the patient. But our back door had started crumbling from water damage years ago and, like our health, had reached critical status. Henry had broken through a panel; the door was eaten away at the bottom; and we had duct-taped the glass to prevent it from sliding further. Frankly, a small child, medium possum, or a large squirrel could easily just push the door in. More likely, any one of a number of outdoor pusses could easily falsify identification, sneak inside, and no one would be any the wiser.

Whenever we had rainfall at Marklewood, the flooring just inside the door would flood, requiring mopping, drying, replacing, and dragging. The backdoor’s shabbiness left the house vulnerable and its occupants often wary (me, not Jon) and nervous.

Naturally, it is impossible to control air flow around such a door when the winds are blowing a chilly -12°F and whistling gust at it. One never adjusts to the rattle when one has an inadequate heating system.

So Henry and I were just in chaos today, barricaded from the downstairs and our daily regimens destroyed. The outdoor pusses kept snooping inside the trucks. They believed they were infiltrating in some guerrilla catfight.

Happily, Pfluffer was the only one to have a doctor’s appointment. Jon’s and mine come later in the week. And it was a gift that Pfluffer could at least miss one day of the noise and strangers. He has quite a few untreated social issues and would hide in the attic for days.

For tomorrow, we’re prepared. Henry, Pfluffer, Claudja, and Hermione will be sequestered safely and securely where we need not worry but yet not know. I will be awake, with my iced coffee, and the hatches will be all battened. Jon, though, will be heading alone to Chapel Hill for a dental appointment, but he promises to bring a legendary BLT.

Back in the eighties, as I devoured life, I had no idea that having a new backdoor could be so epic for two men and their brood of rescues. Fry-up some chicken. It’s time for a shindig at Marklewood!

Vital Signs of Misbehaving

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I am appreciative of home health care for so many reasons. These well-intended, perky nurses answer my questions; change my dressings; and (I feel rather certain) spy. Most of all, along with my daily dosage of Zoloft and Wellbutrin, they keep me safely far away from the bleak black abyss of despair and the chilling snaps of ribs cracking.

That, friends, is my life as this year continues to unfold as if we still believe that humanity deserves hope. I am caught in an unfamiliar dimension or reality between a Heather and a Zenobia. Those of you who have met me will chuckle at the irony of such names and their potential allegory. However, I cannot laugh.

They have recruited my Jon! He takes and records my daily vital signs and questions me if the results skew oddly. I believe he finds it amusing and weirdly satisfying for me to be dependent. Wait. I should’ve said: “for me to be less independent.” Jon, though, would never begrudge me anything (especially care and support!).

So at least until we get that phone call from UNC (“Get thee to Chapel Hill within two hours or forfeit cardiac organ of the previously mentioned second party.” Perhaps, I embellish.), Jon and I can still misbehave a little. As long as I can maneuver that darned IV pump, I usually have a two hour window. At that point, we notice pumpkins and mice, scurrying like the Perrault fairy tale suggested.

Nonetheless, within that time frame, we can enjoy BLTs from Chapel Hill’s Merritt Grill, which rightly boasts to serve the world’s best BLT. Or pizza from Lilly’s with my favorite toppings: artichoke sauce, fresh fennel, Italian sausage, fresh shrimp, and mounds of gooey Gouda. Or a big, comforting, and disgustingly greasy Southern country breakfast.

These foods have been absent from our dining regimen for over three years. Once I can tolerate such dietary unrestrictions, I plan to re-experience them at least once before I receive my new heart. At that point, the Food Channel will likely seem like porno with better plots and acting.

As far as those areas of misbehavior in which a man of my situation can realistically partake: there is only one, oversleeping. My buddies in England may imbibe in my behalf. French friends can fetch the fryers. It’s difficult to be rude or indignant about cigarette smoking since I enjoyed the habit for so long. I did quit and no longer have much of a craving.

To any of my friends or loved ones who are over fifty years old and still enjoying the occasional carnal romp wherever and whenever the urge strikes: indeed more power to you. Kudos! I’ll leave you my Nitrostat.

I must thank Heather, the efficient Yankee, and Zenobia, the quirky Southerner who wears a toboggan with a tassel. They come to Marklewood and rescue me from the clutches from CNN and MSNBC. They draw Jon and me into their wacky world. We laugh.

(Image: Snow Queen by Sergio Mora.)

Reconnecting with “L”: Recalling the Exchange

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Back when I could claim to own both a commute and a recall, I opened Nigel’s door to head home, as my cell-phone rang. As is my habit, since it displayed an unidentified number. I allowed the call to land in voice mail, only to realize that, yes, I did indeed know it. The exchange was one from my childhood neighborhood and the number, certainly familiar. I recalled the seven digits in the manner one might remember one’s address after a few too many martinis (a tidbit I oddly still remember). Instinctively.

I quickly returned the call, comfortable that it wasn’t some clever creditor or inane solicitor. When there was at last a voice to pair with the moment, I knew at once who it was: my friend Lorraine. We had not kept in touch since high school although she was always someone with whom I felt entirely comfortable to be myself. The thirty-five years since had taken us both on quite different paths. She had married, had children, adopted, and raised step children while I was on an eccentric career track that led me to Chicago, New York, Boston, Charlotte, and Fort Lauderdale. The crazy thing was that for a good many years, in the broadest of Southernisms, we both lived in Washington, D.C., ultimately in adjacent suburbs, and all the while “unbeknownst”. God must relish such irony as it relieves stress from guiding the desperate and “talking” often with the maladjusted.

We caught up as best we could in a half hour. Her father had recently passed away from a debilitating cancer. My mother had died prematurely at age 59, over two decades ago. And my father succumbed two summers past to a cruel mix of dementia, stroke, and (as they say these days) a “heart event”. Lorraine’s parents had always been favorites of mine. Her father was witty, charming, and never unnerved by teenagers. Her mother was British, refined, and possibly the loveliest person I had encountered.

It warmed my cockles when she mentioned that her father always liked and respected me … in spite of my long hair and Bolshevik demeanor. Of course, he was always one of the most engaging and challenging adults: he relished both clever banter and testing limits (just shy of the bawdy). It indeed saddened me that he passed away in March and I, in my youthful folly, had allowed such nostalgia and connection to diminish.

Soon, I was again carefully maneuvering the potholes along the driveway into the humble Marklewood. Jon was waiting, after another long dreary day alone, so I needed to regain my focus and go inside. I quickly though told “L” (a nickname “initially” drawn from LaVerne’s bold embroidery) that she was one of the few people that completely put me to ease back then. She chuckled and said: “oh, that was your gift. You always made everyone feel special and important.”

I could say that her words put an easy smile on my face if, in fact, I weren’t already beaming. What a delightful and unexpected evening commute indeed, and one of the last I ever attempted to drive! As I locked Nigel and greeted the outdoor pusses, I suddenly remembered the “probably” thousand times I dialed 288-XXXX back in the early seventies.

As I hurried upstairs to Jon, I felt certain that such a reconnection would carry me through until bedtime. My worries could just wait until the following day. Neither they nor I were going anywhere.

(Oooops. Jon’s Jeep is Nigel. Pardon my transgression. Still keeping tally, Sr Mary Patrick?)

(Image: Print of Design by Jules Helleu, Paris, mid-1860’s, for House of Charles Worth. Actually fabricated, constructed, and finally worn.)

Puss Rejects Disability for Beauty Regimen & Valet

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With less fanfare than either he or we expected, Pfluffer was discharged from the hospital yesterday afternoon. Before we could unpack his overnight bag, he had assumed his usual grand and courtly stance in front of the pillows on the bed. Jon began his dutiful doting and loving pamper, while he and Pfluffer could barely contain the purrs, tears, smiles, and promises. The two, inseparable since Jon’s sudden retirement in September of 2008, were reunited after a very long and agonizing week, with expected clinical separation anxiety for both.

Pfluffer, however, after medication, surgery, and several cold laser treatments, his heels are finally heeling. His feet, though, are bandaged and booted and will stay that way until he is fully heeled, or rather “well” and dancing a jig. He’ll see Dr Grant each Thursday for a check-up, bath, and new dressing.

He wanted us to thank everyone for their kindnesses and tell Dr Bob that the Get Well card he sent looks tasty enough to eat. No, really! Pfluffer cannot wait to return to his daily birdwatching and his Ornithological studies. The card just made him drool and crave chicken, although Dr Grant has limited Pfluffer’s intake to broiled with a squeeze of citrus. As is true for me, Popeye’s is no longer a valid destination in that puss’ GPS. (Don’t ask.)

Whenever shopping in the neighborhood (perhaps at the Olde Bait Shoppe) Pluffer plans to go undercover to protect his identity and his heavily booted paws. Dr Grant has featured the case along with photographs on Facebook. Rather than become the face for new technology, Pfluffer would rather convalesce quietly and perhaps return to his watercolors and his beauty regimen. At age ten, he’d rather leave celebrity to the youngin’s.

The hiatus will also allow Pfluffer a small window of time to apply for disability benefits as well as some medicat coverage. As it was, his seven day stay was almost equivalent to one of my humble disability checks. Oy.

“The beat goes on”, just at a slower tempo. “T h e b e a t g o e s o n.”

(Image: “Le Chat Botté” by Elena Makarova-Levina, 2011.)

“What Hump?”: Another Time-Trodden Puzzlement

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A mere whisper of humps jams the already heavily trodden corridor of even further nostalgia that is thus prompted for an evening stroll. Kings and camels. One not-so-scary “scary movie” henchman and our Dear Aunt Ruth. And, of course, a moist and playful libidinous romp. As one gets older and vacillates on the continuum of maturity, that game of “Vocabulary” takes on different meanings, rules, and objectives. I tend to visualize these days in great detail and color, like those of a huge and masterful mural.

Naturally, my academic persona which once took deep breaths and challenged lions might recall Richard III and the many amusing film interpretations I’ve seen over the years. The Richard Dreyfus “pretty in pink” and lisping Dick 3 was altogether irreverent but still evokes a howl whenever I watch the “Goodbye Girl”. It’s been over three decades and I can still see him crossing stage right, dragging his leg, with that huge hump on his back, all while he tries to famously negotiate a horse in barter.

Camels, like a cup of Darjeeling’s finest, require little explanation. Mostly, we ask one lone query: one hump or two?

1974’s “Young Frankenstein” spoofed Mary Shelley’s classic at every turn. In the Marklewood Hall of Fame for Outstanding Denial, surely Marty Feldman would be a first round honoree for his performance as Igor, the hooded and jovial lab assistant. “What hump?” became a two word sentence that could make someone giggle, if they had seen the film.

Such was the case a few years later, at my Aunt Ruth’s funeral in Washington, D.C. My mother, sister, grandmother, cousin (Aunt Ruth’s daughter), and I were in the limousine on the long drive to Cedar Hill cemetery. Though she never mentioned it, Aunt Ruth had a rather profound hump on her back dating back over half a century. (We had always assumed it was from the habit of stooping to minimize her breasts as was the custom in provincial late 19th century Michigan.)

Polly kept whispering “What hump? What hump?” attempting to goad me, but naturally I had to suppress my unexpected amusement instead. Then, out of the blue, Polly thew a question out to all of us: “How did she sleep on her back? In fact, how is Aunt Ruth upright in the coffin without falling over?”

Thank God, at that point, we had just arrived at Cedar Hill and its snow-painted landscape. Polly and I would return to the subject alone, without any of the others, that evening at “Mr Henry’s”. We discussed such logistics for several hours.

As for the carnal humps, again I believe we all understand them and have enjoyed them, perhaps even on a frequent basis. If that window has indeed closed and the draperies unfortunately drawn, may your memories be full and satisfying … at least enough to cause a little congestion in your imagination.

And please. Do not. Ever. Mention. That Black-Eyed Peas song. 2005.

(Image: “The Theatrical Atlas” by George Cruikshank, 1814.)