Jaws of Life

Earlier today, Dave sent around this disturbing yet strangely funny article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, about a cute little Wheaten terrier named Mandy who was saved by her owner from the jaws of a vicious alligator.  Mandy survived unscathed and with all her fuzz in tact, but the owner lost two fingers during the extraction. Dave’s circulation of the article to the Philly posse and other dog-loving friends prompted a few exchanges about whether or not we would do the same thing if, God forbid, we found ourselves in the same horrible situation. 

I truly believe I would jump in to save Ollie or my god-dogs Howie, LuLu and Dolly, from anyone or anything, instinctively. But what if, I asked myself while procrastinating, I had the choice of losing  a few digits and saving the average dog on the street, or merely calling 911 and hoping for the best? I’d like to say I’d think of this victimized pooch as my own. But the truth is, it would probably depend on the dog in question, the alligator in question, and of course, whether or not I’d just gotten a manicure.

Jaws of Life

Of Caffeine and Chins

Time is ticking. Just not on this awesome Cartier watch, unfortunately.
Time is ticking. Just not on this awesome Cartier watch, unfortunately.

Those of you who know me will find this SHOCKING. I mean really.  Prepare. Assume the crash position. Yesterday, for the first time EVER, I… was … running late.  I know.  Contain yourself.  It’s impossible to picture me, the epitome of promptness, being tardy.  I’m sorry for shattering your image of me.  Please continue to read nonetheless.

I’ve never figured out why, but whenever I’m running late, I find myself uncontrollably compelled to undertake silly tasks that eat up precious time and could sooooooooo easily wait until another juncture. I’m sure there’s some deep-rooted issue associated with this behavior. Most likely, it links back to Jan, who had a habit of waiting to commence her preparation for external family gatherings until about five minutes after we were supposed to be at the homes of certain relatives.  I have several recollections of my father screaming across our ranch house from the den to the bedroom, “JAN! Are you ready? We were supposed to be there already!” And Jan screaming back, “Hold your high horses.  I’m getting into the shower”

I shall refrain from commenting on her use of the term “high horses.” But it’s one of many gems she utters regularly.  Note to self. Idea for blog post: Top 10 Jan-isms.

A few examples of things I have been known to do regularly even though there is absolutely no time and even less urgency:

  • Cut cuticles and/or file nails
  • Shave legs when said legs will be fully covered by at least one layer of clothing and thus invisible to the world
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Conjure  most random person I can and see if he/she is on Facebook
  • Stare into space
  • Caress wedding band worn during ill-fated time with Sloth and pray to one day sport such an item again
  • Inspect muzzles of various stuffed animals (most often Milty, the floppy and myopic moose; Droozy, the feisty but innocent palm-sized puppy; and Horsie, the rogue Texan equine)
  • Attempt to locate t-shirt that I have not worn in at least two years and will continue to not wear
  • Wait to get out of bed until after completely irrelevant Today Show segments have finished.  These include: local traffic (I live in the city and drive nowhere, ever); the Willard Scott/Smuckers birthday announcements (because without the knowledge that Sadie Smith of West Bumblefrick, Arkansas is now 104, an age she reached thanks to whiskey and Marlboro Reds, how can I really do my job?); the importance of early prostate cancer detection (I have no prostate); managing your money (I have no money); and of course, do-it-yourself Christmas decorations (a must for every Jewish girl).

You might think this inability to get the day rolling has something to do with my night owl tendencies. (For a good read on this side topic, see this Rachel Birnbaum essay from the New York Press. She sounds like me in many ways.) And it might. But it doesn’t. It’s just some kind of freakish thing in my DNA. I’m like one of those poor souls in an Oliver Sacks book with no concept of right versus wrong, hat versus wife, or rush hour versus leisure time.

Another frequent but understandable delay involves the procurement of my morning coffee — iced at this time of the year. I don’t know if this act actually CAN wait, so perhaps it’s not fair to include it here, but let’s say it is.  Even if I am beyond late, even if I have the most important meeting in the history of meetings, even if I can hear the subway rumbling beneath my feet or see the bus pulling up to the stop, I MUST stop at the little silver urban coffee cart.

In my  neighborhood, there is such a little silver cart on the corner right by the subway entrance. The man inside the cart is very kind, but very slow, and also very hairy.  I have no reason to believe he sheds during coffee pour-age, and in fact, he always wears a hair net and gloves. But I have to admit, it leaves me a smidge grossed out. His elaborate system for pouring in the half-and-half, then the coffee, then the ice, THEN inserting the straw and removing the paper from all but the very tip allows me to focus on the hirsutism for a few minutes every day. I try not to let it get to me because I really don’t want to change my routine. For almost three years, I have been able to purchase and drink coffee from this man without incident.

Yesterday, there was a disheveled middle-aged woman standing next to me as I waited.  I don’t know if she too was waiting, or if she was just loitering because she has the hots for the barrista or something.  But at the exact moment he handed me my iced coffee, I happened to espy two long, gray and particularly disgusto whiskers sticking out of her chin.

Big fat EW! Thanks for the whisker latte, lady! Blech! (Please note, I am not judging. I merely find it ew-inducing.)

In what I can only assume to be a case of transference (not wanting to think ill of the cart man, I thought ill of the chin), I was completely  unable to drink the iced coffee.  The woman hadn’t gone anywhere near my cup, but I remained convinced that somewhere inside lurked one of her chin hairs. And even when I was able to put that possibility aside for a nanosecond, I found myself haunted by the sight of them.

Frick on an unwaxed, untweezed, unthreaded, un-Naired stick.

The damage was done. It’s over.  It was a good run while it lasted. But now I have to break up with the cart man. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, I arrived at work not only late, but uncaffeinated.  I am 90 percent certain this was some sort of cosmic lesson about the importance of promptness.  And it’s true. If I had just put my shoes on during instead of after the Ensure commercial, I would have missed the chin.

Of Caffeine and Chins

From the Happy Ending Sundae Story Files …

Shortly after finishing my last post about the sad characters who torture me from time to time, I encountered yet another one who deserves to be included as an addendum. Or sad-dendum, as the case may be. 

Welch'sI was on my way to work the other day, listening to some retro music on my iPod, when a disheveled and malodorous gentleman appeared in front of me, out of nowhere.  He was carrying a giant box of candy that appeared to be a generic version of the Welch’s chewy fruit thingies pictured here. I am familiar with said thingies because my dear friend Kelly has been known to eat them for breakfast, on account of their being fruit and all.

“Buy some candy! Support [insert name of charity I’d never heard of]!”

I kept walking without responding, but am not sure whether it was because he startled me, because I didn’t fully hear him, or because I found his alleged charity – whose name included the words children, shelter, hospital, clinic, cancer, homeless, Katrina, asbestos, September 11th, AIDS, Basque separatists, Darfur, puppy mills, dolphins, fur, veterans, diamond mining, gay rights, reproductive rights, seatbelt laws, child labor laws, bottle-fed children, migrant workers, little people, exploited reality TV stars, Paris Jackson, and of course, recombinant bovine somatatrophin – highly suspicious.

I thought and hoped the man would see that I wasn’t interested in his wares and move on to the next passerby. But no.

He shouted the following after me: “Miss! MISS! COME ON! They just fruit treats. They not gonna hurt you!”

Frick on a tax-deductible stick.  Why did he have to say “fruit TREATS?” Of all possible words – why THAT one?

The question I really should have been asking myself was why the word “treats” made struck me as so sad, but I was too caught up in the epic drama of the moment to be introspective. I was also too caught up in the epic drama of the moment to actually purchase a bag of the harmless fruit treats. Instead, I continued on my way and sent 10 emails describing this interaction. I was comforted to know that many of my friends found the word “treats” touching as well. But still … it is I who must bear the burden of this man alone.

From the Happy Ending Sundae Story Files …

Freaks and Geeks

“They” say that everyone has a special gift, and I have several: the ability to sleep Indian-style;  a Rain Man-like memory; an uncanny awareness of strange genetic diseases; and a freak radar that empowers me to hone in on the most upsetting and disturbing individuals within my five-mile radius.  On an alarming number of occasions, those individuals have been my friends and boyfriends.  Most of the time, they merely leave me temporarily unable to eat or sleep.  Other people seem able to block out or quickly forget about these unfortunates, but I remain haunted by lost, lonely-looking elderly people; spinsters; handicapped, retarded and cancer-stricken children; people eating by themselves in public;  people riding the bus by themselves at night; mentally ill people;  the homeless; and anyone I deem to be oppressed (Muslim women in burkas, Hassidic women toting eight kids and wearing itchy wigs, women who are 9 months pregnant in the middle of a heatwave).

This “gift” has plagued me as far back as I can remember.  The earliest and most definitive example I can give you is the man from the Friendly’s on South Avenue, whose image is causing me to tear up even decades after the last time I saw him. Every single time I dined there – whether it was after school with Jan and Jamie, for dinner (the Early Bird Special) with my grandma on Saturdays, or late at night after a high school cruise through the Watchung Reservation – he was there too, alone.  He was roughly middle-aged at the time, with dyed black hair, a dark complexion and a severe limp for which he used a cane. 

It was bad enough that Friendly’s seemed to be the mainstay of his diet.  It was bad enough he was crippled and bad enough he was always eating his sad little sandwich or hamburger by himself.  But the clincher came at dessert time. Without fail, the smallest of the Friendly’s sundaes – the Happy Ending Sundae – would arrive at his table a few minutes after he finished his entrée.  For reasons that I still don’t fully understand, this memory of the sundae’s arrival is among my most poignant.

Since then, anytime I’ve witnessed something of this nature – something sad to me but not tragic – I’ve referred to it as a “Happy Ending Sundae Story.” This  categorization is often misunderstood, because its inclusion of the word “happy” does in fact imply an element of “happiness.” But make no mistake:  there is NO mirth in a Happy Ending Sundae Story.  

Jan claimed that she saw the man from Friendly’s driving around town with a wife and children, but I think she just told me that to make me feel better.  I do wonder though, from time to time, if he ever went home to this theoretical family and said, “Every time I go to Friendly’s there’s this creepy little girl there, staring at me with a look of pity on her face …”

Another tale from the ice cream freezer … in the next, slightly more upscale town over from where I grew up, there was a brand- spankin’ new ice cream purveyor called Haagen-Dasz. And Haagen-Dasz, being all foreign and shit (or so we thought in 1982), was faaaancy. I mean people, they sold BOYSENBERRY ice cream.  This town also had its own resident schizophrenic. I didn’t know he was schizophrenic – I just thought he was odd – but that’s what Lew told me when I’d sadly watch him lumber around the town center.  The man was bearded with pocked skin, had a very clumsy gait and always wore too-tight, too-short khakis, black orthopedic shoes, a short-sleeved plaid shirt, and Coke bottle glasses.

One day, my friend Bethany and I were partaking of a frozen afternoon treat when the man got on line behind us. At the time, the custom-ordered ice cream bars, dipped in warm milk or dark chocolate and then coated with your choice of crumbled candy toppings, were all the rage among the tween set. But for an adult?! Unheard of. Yet that’s what he ordered. This in itself wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world – it was the way he ordered it. I can still hear him to this day saying, “Uh … uh … a vanilla bar please.” Needless to say Bethany enjoyed both hers and mine that day.

At the Bagel Chateau in the same town, a soft-spoken college girl with a severe under-bite and noticeably skinny wrists worked at the cash register. Snotty customers were always snapping at her, and she would get flustered, which made me feel sorry for her. Her cash register post also called upon her beverage preparation skills. Every day that summer, Jan requested a fresh-brewed ice tea, so finally, the kindly girl poured said beverage ahead of time and had it waiting for Jan when it was her turn to pay. That, of course, was the day Jan wanted a Diet Coke. 

On the train coming back from Washington just last week, my Spidey sense located TWO Happy Ending Sundae stories. One was the geriatric woman sitting next to me. She slept most of the way, but woke up every 20 minutes or so, pulled out a Tupperware container, took two bites of what smelled and looked like blondies and zucchini bread, sipped from a Tupperware/Rubbermaid water bottle, then went back to sleep.  Someone had obviously put her on the train and made sure she had sustenance for the whole ride. The other was a man, also with a severe underbite, who couldn’t close his mouth all the way and chewed extra loudly as he ate a giant bag of generic Dorito-esque Party Mix, most of which ended up in his beard. He, obviously, couldn’t afford name-brand Doritos and had probably saved up his whole life for this one train ride.

There was the girl in my class who had no bladder control. I don’t mean she was a 1st-grader still having accidents. I mean she was 10 and had some sort of condition – involving a third kidney, it was rumored – that left her unable to know when she had to go to the bathroom. You can imagine how nice the other kids were about this.  To make matters worse, she chose to go by a nickname that just about HAD to be paired with “Wetsy.” The kids truly tortured her, and one day, it got to me. I guess I couldn’t help but feel there was a little bit of her in all of us, and while I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for my picked-on self, I could do it for her.  So I stepped out of line on the way to the playground and told one of the 4th-grade bad asses to shut up and leave her alone. It was the first and only time I ever had detention.  The next day, the girl came up to my desk and asked, “Would you like a green apple jelly bean?” I remember being very touched by this gesture and accepting the bean, but then being afraid to eat it because I thought it might have had pee on it.

My sensitivity to the sad-sacked didn’t always result in kindness or appreciation.  Around the same time that Peegate went down, a particular group of girls took to ganging up on me for no apparent reason.  Let me tell ya – it’s real nice when girls gang up on one another. Real nice. I’m just thankful we didn’t have Facebook back then.  They took turns being “the boss” and declaring who in the class should be ostracized.  It was always me.  (Remember, this was pre-braces, flat-iron and undereye concealer.) One time – ONE LONE TIME – they turned against a girl named Susan instead. Recognizing the pain and horror of Susan’s position, I disobeyed the “no talk” decree and made an extra effort to be nice to her. It was great for about two hours, at which point the gang reinstated Susan and returned to their hatred of me.  I assumed that Susan would stick up for me, now that I’d stood up for her. But I remember her running away from me and saying, “I don’t know what to tell you Traci. No one likes you now.”

I’m quite sure that not one of the Happy Ending Sundae Story victims I’ve described here has any recollection of me.  But I’ve never been able to forget them. And there are MANY more.

I saw these in person yesterday.
I saw these in person yesterday.

But every now and then, almost always in New York, it goes without saying, I’ll witness someone so odd that the rest of the world notices too, and for whom I just can’t conjure any feelings of empathy. I don’t like when this happens, because it makes me feel like a terrible person, but it’s beyond my control at times. Yesterday on the subway, I sat across from the creepiest man I’ve ever seen in my life.  He was in his late 60s or early 70s, thin, muscular, and bald on top.  The hair that he did have, on the side of his head and in back, was silver and very long.  He had secured it in a ponytail with a leopard-print scrunchie, and his fingernails were freakishly long.  The set of his lips made him look like he’d just tasted a really sour lemon.  He was sporting the following: a skin-tight, polyester tank top with images of Marilyn Monroe silkscreened all over it.  A polyester, skin-tight Speedo-shaped bathing suit or undergarment, black, with a neon polka dot motif.  Knee-high running socks with stripes at the top and vintage sneakers. A dozen colored, plastic bracelets and rings. And ginormous Dame Edna glasses like the ones pictured here. He really wasn’t bothering anyone – in fact he was intently reading the New York Times – but the two women on either side of him got up, preferring to stand than be contaminated by his creepiness. I could see that everyone in the car was looking at him.  I wished that I could feel bad for him. I certainly wouldn’t want people to run away from me like that.  But I just couldn’t.

Freaks and Geeks