Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Bad John

So, his name is John. Peter says we're not keeping him.

Zack called the other day, mere seconds after I had hung up with my sister Kris and was slinging my pocketbook on my arm to go out and drive down to pick her up from the subway down the hill.

"Hello, Mom? I found a kitten. He's really skinny. Can I bring him home?"


Yes, shit. I'm sorry, but as a mom, and a mom with two cats in the house already, and a mom who has worked for years to not be a sap and not be a sucker, this is bad news. Because as good as I have gotten at looking the other way when passing the occasional stray ("Well, he looks healthy...well, he's scared and doesn't want to come near me anyway...well, someone appears to be feeding him...well, it's summer and it's warm, he'll be OK") something about the tone of Zack's voice led me to say, with little more than a micro-second's hesitation,

"OK, bring him home."

I had to pick up Kris. I had to pick up my dad. We were all supposed to be going out to dinner.

I mentally changed the plan as I turned to head out the door. I'd pick up Kris, I'd pick up Dad, but we'd come back here for Chinese takeout. Dad loves Chinese takeout. Extenuating circumstances. We'd be fine.

My phone rang again. Zack.

"Mom? There's a lady here who says you should really come to get me. She says it's too long a walk with the cat in my arms. Could you bring the carrier?"

What lady? Now there's some lady in the mix? Some lady telling me what I should "really" do?

"Where are you anyway, Zack?"

"I'm at the corner of Independence and...oh, you know...where the street gets really narrow right before it hits the park...I'm in front of this lady's house." He's a regular Rand McNally, my Zack.

OK. So I have Kris waiting, and I have Dad waiting. I have no time to argue. And I'm glad deep down, because I know what's going to happen once we get this cat in the house, and I know I'm going to use the rush I am in as an excuse later ("I had no time to think!") for Peter, who will undoubtedly be less than thrilled when he discovers we have a new kitty in the house--permanent, temporary, or otherwise. I open the hall closet, rummage around on the top shelf, pull a cat carrier onto my head, and rush out the door.

There he is, Zack, on the side of the narrow part of Independence. He's holding a dark gray tabby cat, and he and a middle-aged lady not much taller than he is both wave me down. I had to drive past them, past the narrow part of the road to pull my big van over.

The lady was smiling. Zack looked a little stressed and quite relieved to see me, as making small talk and answering nosy questions from friendly, well-meaning, middle-aged ladies has never been one of his things.

"Hi, how are you?" I extended my hand as I approached her. Thanks so much for staying with Zack. I'm J."

"I'm Barbara," she said, "Barb."

"Hi Barbara, I mean, Barb." Oops, that sounded a little sarcastic. I was just a little frazzled and rushed. But Barbara Barb didn't seem to notice.

The cat was indeed skinny, as Zack had claimed. "He's about six months old, I'm guessing," said Barbara Barb. I thought for a minute she was talking about Zack... Oh, the cat.

Of course.

"Oh, he's a sweet little cat," I said. "Hey, Zack, how are you?"

"Fine," said Zack. "Mom, can we take him home?"

"He's a good cat, said Barbara Barb. Very calm. We've been standing out here with him for ten minutes, and he's been nothing but a good kitty."

Mom," asked Zack, "can we take him home?"

"You sure you don't recognize him?" I asked her. "Zack found him in front of your yard. Is it possible he might be a neighbor's cat or anything?"

"No, I've never seen him before," she said. "But he's a good cat, I can tell. I'd take him in myself, only I already have four."

Of course.

Well, there was not much else to do. I thanked Barbara Barb again for her help, or maybe just for her budinskiness. We put the cat in the carrier. ("Watch his tail!" she said. Hey, I know these things. I've had cats all my life.) Zack and I put the carrier in the van and climbed in. "We're going down the hill to pick up Aunt Kris at the subway station," I informed him. "Then we'll drop you and the cat home, and go up to pick up Grandpa. Go straight into Everett's (emptied-out) room. Whatever you do, DO NOT let the cat out in the living room. DO NOT try to do anything fancy with him before we get back. DO NOT introduce him to Max and Minnie!" Max and Minnie, the other cats.

We picked up Kris at the curb near the subway. "Hey, get on in, we have a cat here, change of plans," I spouted as she entered the van. Kris is a cat person. Kris is also a lot things you wouldn't associate with a "cat person," including a quick-witted cynical rock artist, but she is a big softie down under. When our old cat Albert was on his last legs, she called me every day to check on him. It took her a full week to call to check on me after I had my foot surgery.

"Oh what?? Oh hey, kitty, kitty, kitty! Oh...hey, Zack. How did all this happen?"

I gave Kris the Reader's Digest version, and as I did, decided that it made much more sense to just go straight to pick up Dad as it did to take Zack and the cat home first. So we drove to Dad's, I waited in the van with the cat while Kris and Zack went up to bring Dad down on his scooter. We introduced Dad to the cat once they got back down, ("I didn't tell him, so it would be a surprise," said Kris. Like Dad needs surprises in his life.)

Once home, we put the cat in Everett's room, as planned. We got in quickly enough that Max the Cat didn't even notice. Minnie, however, did, but after some quick machinations while clunking through with the carrier, we were safely in the room. We gave him some food and water but he barely sniffed it and sat there quietly. "I think the poor thing's a little stunned," I said, and Kris agreed. We left him alone.

Kris and I then drove over to " Chinese restaurant on Johnson Avenue, the one that doesn't deliver , but conveniently has a wine store located a few doors down. Some wine was in order. While our food was being prepared, we walked a couple of blocks down to Riverdale Avenue to the vet to see if they were still open. They were. Wow, what a nice big plasma TV they had in the waiting area. And it was on the Food Network, too!

I complemented the guy at the desk on his choice of viewing, and asked to make an appointment for the stray cat my son just picked up. He had me on the computer already from Max and Minnie, though it had been a while since we'd had either one of them in, hence my surprise at the plasma TV. "Cat's name?" he asked.

"Hmmmm. John Doe, I guess. Or maybe Jane Doe. We haven't been intimate yet, ha ha."

My appointment was unlaughingly made for the following day. I would bring him in after work.
"Now let me call Peter so he doesn't have another heart attack when he gets home," I said to Kris as we walked back up to the Chinese place.

"Hello, Peter? On your way home? Oh good. Kris and Grandpa are here and we're picking up some Chinese. Yup. Yup, got some General Tso's chicken, yup. Oh, and just so you know, we have a cat here too. Zack picked up a cat on the way, I know. I know. He called in the middle of my running around and he was upset because he was so skinny, and he sure is skinny, so he's in Everett's room eating and resting, and I made an appointment at the vet just now, just to make sure he's OK, and then we can figure out what to do, so...yeah, so when will you be home? OK, see you in a bit." Click.

Kris and I were setting out the food and the plates as Peter came in. Zack ran over to him.


"No, Zack, no. We don't need a third cat. Do we?" Peter shot me one of those pointed, meaningful looks.

"Huh?? Oh I'm sorry, I was scooping out the rice, I didn't hear you. Well go at least meet the cat then come out and eat."

We ate, and I left with Kris and Dad to take Dad home and drop Kris back down at the subway.

"What do you thnk is going to happen with Kitty?" asked Kris. "Do you think you'll end up keeping him?"

"Well, Peter's the biggest softie of them all, when you get right down to it," I said. "He'll put on the biggest show about not keeping him, and 'we don't have room,' and all of that. But he has trouble even throwing a house plant away. So we'll see. On the other hand, we really don't need a third cat."

But third cat, first cat, or otherwise, once the cat's in the house, I am pretty much a goner. "We're not keeping that cat, you know that, right?" Peter said when Zack was in the other room. "Fine," I said, "just fine," and got all weepy. Damn it. I hate getting all weepy. "Then just cancel the vet." I said, "What's the point? I'll just take the cat down to the ASPCA after work tomorrow."

"Well wait, they must have no-kill animal shelters somewhere," Peter said. "Maybe up by Kathy." Kathy, who lives an hour and a half away. "Peter, I don't have time to be ferrying a cat around to upstate New York. And every time I look in that room or touch that cat, never mind put him in my car, I am going to be that much more attached to him, so why don't you decide what to do with him and just do it and keep me out of it. I have my period anyway, and I can't talk about this any more tonight!" I flounced off into the bedroom. Yes, I played the period card. It's my card, and I'll play it if I want to.

A little while later, I poked my head in Everett's room just to check on the cat one last time before I went to sleep. Who was in there but Peter, sitting on the bed and scratching him behind the ears. "I thought he needed a little company...."

Poor Peter.

We decided over the phone from our offices the next morning that I would keep the vet appointment, just to make sure the cat was in good health. "Oh, I thought maybe you would leave him with the vet," said Peter. "No, Peter, you don't just leave animals at the vet, that's not what a vet is for...I'll make sure he's OK, and then we'll put some photos up around the neighborhood. He's not a feral cat. He must have belonged to someone at some point. If no one claims him, then we'll try to find him a home. Sound like a plan?"

"We still agree we don't need a third cat....right?" asked Peter.

"I agree we don't need a third cat. Oh, and we're going to call him 'John' in the meantime."

Poor Peter.

Lovely Everett arrived on the scene in the middle of the John drama, home from college for the weekend. "Can you pick me up from the subway?" she text-messaged me, "I'll go to the vet with you."

It was several minutes before she was able to get a good look at him. We had to get up the hill, park the van, get inside the vet's outer office and into the inner office before we could open the carrier and let John poke his head out. "Oh! He's sooo cuuute!" she cried, as she whipped out her camera phone and snapped a shot. The little bat-eared, roman-nosed kitty puss was prominently featured on her Facebook wall within minutes.

The vet came in and gave John a going over. She ran a fine tooth comb over his back, and found "some evidence" of fleas. She looked at his stool sample and found "some evidence" of worms. None of which was a surprise in a cat that had obviously spent an extended amount of time on the streets. "We can treat the fleas with a pill here, which you can follow up with a bath at home," she said. "Great," I joked, "nothing I like better than giving a cat a bath!" The worms could also be easily treated, and then she started talking about the shots.

"Um, I should to tell you that we aren't sure what exactly we'll be doing with this cat," I said. I want to get him fixed up, so to speak, but I want to keep my monetary investment down to a dull roar, if you can take that into account when you're deciding what to do to him?" But what was I talking about? Why indeed were we there, if not to get him taken care of?

Before the vet did any of the things the was suggesting, she gave him an exam--looked in John's ears, looked in his eyes. Squeezed his belly.

"Uh oh. I feel something in there," she said.

It could be the worms, but it felt "too round" for that. It could be his bladder, but it felt "too hard" for that. She wasn't sure, she said, but it could well be a tumor.

Damn. My eyes started to sting, for this little cat I didn't even know twenty-four hours ago. But I pushed my pragmatic self back to the forefront. "Perhaps we should do an x-ray before we do the shots and the meds and any of the other things you were suggesting?" I looked to Everett, who nodded in agreement. Thank goodness Zack wasn't here.

Yes, indeed, the vet agreed. She took John in the back, and Everett and I went out to wait in the outer area. "I don't know, Everett. If it is a tumor, we'll probably have to make a tough decision right here and now, you know?" She knew. I walked down the street to add money to my parking meter. This was taking longer than I'd planned on. I steeled myself for the tough decision. We'd just have to put poor little John to sleep, right here and now, if it was a tumor. No operations. No chemo. No crazy amounts of money. It would be ridiculous.

"Good news!" said the vet, when she emerged a few minutes later. "It wasn't a tumor! He'd just been holding off from urinating for so long that it was his bladder, which was just that full. I expressed him. He should be fine. I'll give him his shots and the worming medicine, and I'll give you some more to give him at home and then I'll bring him back out."

"I have the bill here, whenever you're ready to settle," said the guy at the counter.

I'm not going to tell you how much it was. Peter might read this. But let's just say, when she heard the amount, Everett said, "Screw putting up pictures around the neighborhood! He's our cat now!"

We washed John that night. Everett and I took him in the bathtub, and Zack and Peter squeezed in the room to "help." If he looked skinny before, you should have seen him wet. I handed him to Peter, who had a towel open at the ready. He took him as if he were receiving a newborn at the hospital. "Aww...he's shivering. Aww...what a good boy. OK everyone, stand back, you're making him nervous."

Poor Peter.

It's still not official, a few days later. Peter still says we have to find John a home. And if we could find a friend who wanted him, we'd all probably be OK with that. But it's hard to find anyone who wants a cat. People who want a cat tend to already have a cat.

I tell Zack it will be helpful to his cause if he doesn't ask Peter "Can we keep him? Can we keep him?" every five minutes.

"Leave Daddy alone," I whisper to Zack. "Daddy will come around in his own time."

If indeed, he hasn't already.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What Goes Around (March 2009)

I have a new parking spot! You wouldn't believe the politics attached to these things around here. You gotta have the right friends.

We live in a two-building co-op that used to be a four-building co-op until the corporation spilt in a fit of rancor years and years ago. You can still find an old timer or two doddering around who remembers this with such vehemence it's like it happened yesterday, this falling-out. Whatever it was. I've never been able to listen to an explanation of it beyond the second or third sentence, it's so boring. It involved the shared parking lot, need I say more? And who cares now, anyhow? They're like the Hatfields and the McCoys, these little old folks.

We moved into the co-op (Section ONE) when I was pregnant with Zack. We had to meet with the committee....oh, what was the committee called? The one that vets you to determine whether or not you are fit you are fit to be one of their neighbors? Peter and I had our meeting one evening and brought along sweet little Everett, four years old, to up our cuteness factor. I lumbered in. Actually, I was fortunate enough in both my pregnancies to not get very big. I did very little lumbering, and I could always manage, all the way through my ninth month, to bend over and tie my shoes. When I was seven and a half months along with Everett, I was still skinny enough that the Ob/Gyn did another sonogram, just to make sure somebody was still home in there. But for the purpose of the meeting with the committee, I wanted to play the part well. We had it on "good advice" that they were specifically looking to lower the median age of the buildings' residents to something below the 79 or 80 years old it seemed to be. So, I kept my hands on my belly, occasionally puffed a bit of hair off of my forehead, and tried to look as 'uncomfortable-but-happy-as-hell-to-be-here' as possible. I, in a word, lumbered.

We passed muster, and soon were residents....sorry... "cooperators." An ironic term, since some of these folks turned out to be among the surliest people I had ever met in my life. The oldest ones, and there were some ancient folks back in that day, had been there since the co-op had formed, some forty years before. "I am an original cooperator!" they were wont to bellow in more disagreeable moments. As if being an "original cooperator" meant they owned their shares more than you did.

Once in, we immediately put ourselves on the list for a three-bedroom apartment, which was the only way to obtain one. You never got a three-bedroom coming in from the outside; you had to get a two-bedroom first, and wait your turn. It could be a long wait because basically you were waiting for people to die. If you were picky, if you wanted a high floor or a river view, the wait was longer still. We just wanted the extra room. We could have been looking out over the dumpsters in the back for all we cared.

A few months after Zack introduced himself to the world, we got lucky and somebody died. We found ourselves in a new, bigger, apartment. Across in the other building of our two-building co-op (Section ONE). But same difference. And a nice enough view, after all. We overlooked the garden in the middle, and could actually see a sliver of river through the trees in the winter. I'd miss my little Alzheimery neighbor lady who asked me seventeen times a day what time it was and whether or not the mailman had come yet, but you gotta do what you gotta do. And guess what? We had a little Alzheimery neighbor lady in our new building! She had her name on a piece of paper taped to her door, so she could put her garbage in the chute down the hall and make it back to the right apartment.

We weren't the only young family in this building, either, and we were greeted with almost desperate joy by Lena and Mike and their two kids who were the same age as ours, and by Joanie and John and their two, also in the same age neighborhood. Allies!

"You know what?" Lena and Joanie and I would observe over coffee in the morning or wine at night, "The playground here sucks!" Our kids were prime playground age, or approaching it. And the little enclosed playground area for our buildings was woefully inadequate. It had old, space-agey looking equipment from the 60s that couldn't have been up to current safety standards. There was peeling paint. ("It's probably lead paint, too!" Oohs and ahhs and concerned nods.) We decided we needed to appeal to the co-op board to update the playground. Not only did we need it to be safer for our kids, but we could also make the point that it would be a good selling point for prospective buyers, who might be pickier than we had been, and want a place for their kids to play that didn't look like downtown Beirut.

The co-op board members, not one of whom was under seventy, took great pride in keeping operating costs low. The monthly maintenance hadn't been raised in years and years, a fact they were proud of. A fact which worried more than a few younger cooperators who were more forward-thinking, and knew that something had to give somewhere down the line. But the oldies were in charge, and were voted in year after year, and they made the decisions. And they didn't want to raise the maintenance since what did they care about the state of the co-op ten years in the future? They'd all be dead.

Keeping operating costs low, of course, meant performing only bare-minimum upkeep on the buildings. The outside of the buildings looked all right, and the insides were kept up well enough to pass the casual muster of most residents. The playground was another story. Not that the playground was a factor in the structural well-being of the buildings, but it was a vital part of the premises, and it was ill-maintained, out-dated, and falling down. Bench slats were loose. Since the old-timers on the board had raised their kids already, renovating the playground just wasn't on their agenda. Lena, Joanie and I, we had to make it our issue.

We went to a co-op board meeting. The co-op board president, Grandpa Munster, let us speak. Heard our concern. And promised the board would discuss it, and get back to us. OK. They listened to us, we told each other. We'll give them a couple of weeks, and see what they say.

They said....nothing. The three of us answered the lack of response with a strongly-worded letter to the board, which we intended to make sure they addressed before the next meeting. They didn't.

OK, OK....the three of us gathered ourselves. What would be our next strategy? We were certainly more clever than this stale old board, we could certainly come up with something to force their hand. Let's kick it up a notch.

Lead. The lead paint. We had mentioned that as one of our issues. We had other concerns, too. The size of openings in the apparatuses. A child could get his head stuck, his finger stuck. We went down with our cameras and took all sorts of photos, demonstrating the shortcomings of the equipment, its dangers. We ran around with our cameras out there and documented everything.

We called in a company at our expense to test the surfaces for lead. I had the unique pleasure of taking the....lead guy?....around the playground that morning while he took all his samples. A couple of the board members glared daggers out their apartment windows. They knew we were stirring up trouble. Surprisingly, there was not an appreciable amount of lead in the playground paint.

No lead. Rats.

"A petition! We have to circulate a petition!" Lena insisted. I wasn't so sure about this. "What if no one will sign it? What if we look like a bunch of dopes? What if...."

We wrote up a petition. We stood in the playground and got passers-by on their way home from work. We got a lot of the little old ladies, who, much to our delight, were more than happy to sign. Turns out they didn't particularly like the old farts on the board, either. Stories from generations ago kept popping up. "Don't you remember the time that darn Herman wouldn't let you repaint your apartment door, Irma?" They've got long memories, these old folks. But most of them were on our side. With us to the point that there was an unprecedented turnout of little old ladies at the next co-op board meeting to see just what they planned to do for the "sweet little kids."

Grandpa Munster was not happy. He brought up liability. How if a cooperator's child had a little visitor over, then the visitor should not get to play on any new playground equipment to avoid possible injury and potential lawsuits. Which, of course, made no sense, since there was no such restriction currently, and the current equipment was an accident waiting to happen. "Hey," he continued, "perhaps the board should discuss the possibility of banning child visitors from the entire property, inside and out??" The rest of the board harrumphed in unity. They were grasping at straws and getting more and more ridiculous. I pointed out that a visiting old fart was much more likely to break a hip on the front steps, so we should probably ban visitors all together, shouldn't we??

These folks just weren't that bright. And mean. Not a good combination.

But with the encouraging little old lady turnout and crowd sentiment clearly in our favor, the board reluctantly agreed to form Lena, Joanie and me into an ad-hoc committee to scour playground catalogs and weigh our options. They gave us a budget of $10,000 to keep in mind as we did our research. Not a hell of a lot, but it was a start.

They commissioned Jack Link to keep an eye on us. Jack Link, the perpetual short-straw puller on the board. He always got stuck with the fun jobs, like informing people they wouldn't be getting their security deposit back, calling old ladies to tell them there's been a complaint about their cat yowling, and.....well, having to deal with Lena, Joanie and me. He was also voted "Most likely to bellow "I am an original cooperator!"

The three of us discussed what was needed, rifled through the catalogs, found what looked like just the thing that would make all sides happy, and submitted it to Jack. Jack brought it back to the board.

Much to our innocent delight, we came home one afternoon to find our little playground locked up tight, and much of the old equipment removed. Within a couple of days, it was all gone, and the surface had been ripped up and replaced with a fresh layer of blacktop. We rejoiced. We'd have a new playground before we knew it! And then...


Word leaked out that we weren't going to get a new playground. The board had decided they couldn't afford it after all. But "in the interest of the safety of our children," they had removed the old equipment, and paved the surface.

And kept the playground locked. So there was no place now for the kids to even run around.

Mean, I'm telling you. They were just plain mean.

And cheap.

Not-that-bright, mean, and cheap.

Lena and Joanie and I didn't know what to do next. What could we do? Our kids began riding their tricycles and playing in the old-timers' sitting area. There was no place else to play. The nice old ladies were gracious at first, but each time one had her foot run over by a scooter or was knocked in the head by an errant frisbee, the goodwill dwindled a little more.

Then it was summer. Board activity was suspended in the summer, and we three went off on various vacations with our families.

"Gosh," I wondered lazily to myself as I dozed by the pond in Cape Cod, "Wouldn't taking away a building amenity that was there when you signed your co-op contract, taking it away and not replacing it, wouldn't that be a breach of the contract? There was something there that was part of what you paid for, part of the package, and now it's gone. Can they do that?" I asked Peter and our summer friends what they thought. No one knew the answer, but all agreed it was a pretty good question.

I knew just what I was going to do, and I was going to do it immediately. I wrote a letter to the Q & A column in the New York Times weekend real estate section. Amazingly enough, it appeared in the following week's column. And with clarity achieved only by hindsight, I realized what a bone-headed mistake I had just made. Speaking of 'not-too-bright.' Why find out the answer to something privately, when you can do it in front of millions of readers, including certainly members of our co-op board? The board, wrote the Times' columnist, indeed had no obligation to replace the playground, though he agreed with my Cape Cod friends that it was a good question (my small consolation.) He went on to say that the best way to get our playground was to use our power of the vote to ring out the old members and ring in new ones. Perhaps run for office myself.

Gee, thanks.

A true strategic bumble on my part. I'm sure glad Lena and Joanie were four hundred miles away.

But wait! When we all returned home, what did we find, but new playground equipment, under construction! What gives? I found out from one of our elderly "moles" that my letter in the Times had shaken them up.

"Shaken them up?" I asked. "Shaken them up? But I did them a favor! I basically clarified for them, in a major national newspaper no less, that we had no recourse, legal or otherwise, to challenge their position on the playground.....They won!"

"All they saw was the suggestion that one of you girls run for office yourself. They were scared to death that one of you girls might think it's a good idea and do it, and make their lives a living hell!"

As if the thought had never crossed our minds, however briefly. As if Lena, Joanie, or myself could not have come up with this idea on our own. I guess when you're simple and small-minded, you think everyone else is that way, as well. But whatever, we achieved our goal, our quest for the grail, bass-ackward. Which is usually the way things are achieved when I'm involved.

Hey, we all have our personal style.

That was years ago. Lena's kids, and Joanie's and mine are all teenagers now. They enjoyed the playground for a surprisingly short time, then left it for good. More young families have moved in, and they enjoy the playground. Now they're lobbying for updates and improvements. We nod sagely and wish them luck in their endeavors. Been there, done that. Draw up a petition, we'll sign it.

Most of that board has passed away. Cigar-chomping Grandpa Munster died about five years ago. Jack Link, a year or two after. I almost miss the bile they used to stir up in me, to be honest. They've been replaced over the years by younger cooperators, ones who haven't yet outlived their investment in the property, and have made hard decisions regarding raising monthly maintenance and imposing assessments for building improvements. Only one little old board member remains, Estelle.

Estelle heads the parking committee. Never cracks a smile. I'm afraid of Estelle.

I came home one day after work to a voicemail from Estelle, announcing that a parking spot right in front of the entrance to our building has come open. Would I like it? I wasn't on any waiting list, hadn't asked for any parking spot other than the one I already had, wasn't looking for any favors. She called me. I took it.

I guess now....I'm one of them?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fourth Down and Prom To Go (June '09)

It's prom night. And the past two hours of my life could not have been more manic if Mack Sennett had directed it.

Last weekend, Everett decided that she really must have her dress shortened. I tried to warn her off of this, if there even proved to be time enough to carry it off between Monday and Wednesday. She knew what she had--a beautiful long black dress, and you never know what might happen when you get something altered, especially at a place you don't really know. We don't get things altered much. We're jes' folks.

But the long black dress, which had been a long teal dress before it was exchanged, was no longer going to stand out as much as she had hoped. One of the reasons she got it was because most of the girls were planning to wear cute little babydoll numbers. So Everett was of a mind to make an entrance like Angelina Jolie. Then, in their pack mentality, the other girls decided to "go long" too. This, of course, foiled Everett's plans, hence the last minute search for a tailor.

The dress came out all right. The tailor did it quickly, and Everett picked it up the following day. At least I thought it came out all right.

"It's a little bit longer than I wanted it," she griped, walking out in the dress and her socks. "They probably did that Everett, because while you can shorten a long dress, you can't lengthen a short dress. Better to err on the side of too long."

"But there's no time to fix it now, they should have made it shorter!" I reminded her that the tailor did the dress for her in one day, and had it ready on the eve of the prom.

"It also makes me look fat," she frowned, turning sideways. "Oh Everett, it does not!" I sighed. "This is the same exact dress you bought, only now it comes down to your knees instead of your ankles."

Trouper that she is, she worked her mind games on herself and made herself like the dress again within the space of five or ten minutes. "Don't worry, I'm ok with it now," she called in from her bedroom.

What a relief.

No, really.

She was annoyed with Josh, though. She "let" Josh go to the tux place by himself and pick out his own vest, which was a promotion from last year, when she dogged him every step of the way. She told him he could select what he wanted, but that "light blue might be good." Josh, unfortunately, didn't catch the medicine-ball sized hint, went off on a slight tangent and picked dark blue. "Mailbox blue, do you believe it??" Everett huffed. She rolled her eyes to the heavens, "Why do I let him go out and do anything??"

Hair. Up? Down? Sideways? Long and loose? An updo? She'd look nice with it any way...

Prom Day!

All the seniors at school were allowed to leave after third period, either after being signed out by a parent or signing themselves out if they were eighteen. Like a vast herd of cattle, they all stormed the main office to sign the book, with the secretaries manning the counter. "Out! Everybody out already!" Blanca hollered to keep things moving so we could all get back to normal.

Everett went to the catering hall with Sue, the student affairs coordinator, to do a last minute check of the place. She was pleased when she called me at my desk to report back that the place looked beautiful, and that it was a good thing she went, so she could make a last-minute shuffle of a few of the place settings. She had already done the seating arrangements herself. "Sue," I had warned, "you're giving Everett waaaay to much power. She's like the hand of God, for Pete's Sake!"

"Sue is going to drop me off at the salon, Mom, can you come over and pay?"

"Um, Everett, I'm at work," I reminded her. "I can't go over there now."

"Hunh. We'll do you know when you can come over?"

"Yes, I can come over at four, when I get off. When do you think you'll be done?"

"About four."

OK then.

I got there about four as the rain started to fall. Rain for the prom. Bummer. Everett was nowhere near done, nor was her friend Nikki, though at least Nikki was no worry of mine. Zack called to tell me he had brought a couple of pals home.

"Oh no...noooo, no!" I said. "You and your buddies have to get out. You thirteen year old nitwits cannot be there while your sister is getting dressed for the Prom!" I told him to get some money out of the jar in the kitchen. "You guys go out and get some pizza and stay away for a while. You can make one face at your sister through the beauty parlor window, but that's it!"

"So, I guess you'll still be ok to get there by 5:30," I was thinking out loud. "No, it's 5:15," Everett said. "I thought it was 5:30, but it was 5:15. Oh, and I told Josh we'd pick him up."

What?? OK, time to kick it into gear a little. "Where is Josh?" I asked.

Home taking a nap was where Josh was. Men, you gotta love 'em. I guess. "OK Everett, call Josh and make sure he's up." She called. "He's up Mom, he wants to know what time he should start getting ready." Start getting ready. Men, you gotta love 'em. At least you gotta try. "I think you should tell Josh he should start getting ready now, Honey, because I am going to run up there and pick him up in fifteen minutes!"

As the beautician spackled on the final coating of eyeshadow, I asked Everett if she had gotten her panty hose. She grimaced. One fifty-yard dash to the drugstore and back later, I presented her with three pairs, pick your color. We paid and tipped the salon ladies and jumped in the van for the quick ride home in the now-driving rain, I dropped Everett off, and flew up the highway to get Josh.

I screeched to a halt in front of his house. He ambled on out, and looked quite handsome, I must say. And the vest looked fine to me. "You look beautiful Josh, now get in!"

"We're on our way back, Everett, come downstairs, we're late, and please bring my camera!" I phoned as I raced back down. All the students would be congregating under the arcade of the school to keep out of the rain. I wanted to get a few shots; I had been looking forward to it all day. Perfect timing as she runs into Frank the Tutor, going in the building as she's rushing out. "Bella! Bella! Bella! You're beautiful!" He gives her a giant bear hug in his expansive Italian fashion, and turns to give me a big wave and Josh the evil eye as he goes inside.

She looked so pretty. Josh snapped to and remembered his manners, jumping out to help her in the car. Was Everett actually blushing? I think she was, for a second.

"Do you have my camera?" I asked. "Thanks, let me just check it quickly...." Click. Click. Click. Oh no. Oh no. Damn. I forgot to take the other battery out of the charger and switch it. I'm such an idiot. I had been looking forward all day to taking the pictures before they left in the limo. I had thought there would be time after work to go upstairs, get the camera, get my act together, and help Everett get ready. But the salon visit had taken too long, then the time it took to get Josh. The rain.

There was no time to do anything about it now.

"You're not crying, are you Mom?" Everett asked as we waited at a red light on the way to the school. "No, no, don't be ridiculous," I said, but I was, actually. Streaming and wiping as I drove. "Oh don't Mom, please! There will be plenty of people taking pictures, and they'll be posted on Facebook, and Megs will definitely take pictures of me and Josh, and we'll get the best one, and we'll put it in a frame for you, and it will be ok....please don't cry."

I pulled it together. To lighten the mood a little, she turned around and announced to Josh, "I look like a hooker and you look like a nerd!"

"Works for me," he deadpanned.

There were the kids, all dressed up. There were the parents, taking pictures. ("I will not start crying again!" I steeled myself.) They looked so nice. "Don't go, come on, Mom, come on in for a few minutes."

The kids exchanged their corsages and boutinerres. Awwww. We all mingled companionably for a few minutes. The limos idled by quietly.

"Oh my gosh!" Everett's hands flew up to her cheeks.

"What, what??" Josh asked. Heads turned.

"I forgot the money for the limo driver! I left it on Dad's table!"

One more mad dash home in the rain. I called Zack. Back from his pizza, alone at home. I guess I had scared off the other two. "Please bring down the envelope with the money, Zack! And while you're at it, please see if you can find the camera battery in the's black, and about the size of a pack of cigarettes."

Zack came down with the envelope and the A/C adapter and cord to my netbook, something that didn't look anything whatsoever like the camera battery charger or a pack of cigarettes. Oh well, photos were just not meant to be this evening.

But that's OK. They're off under the stars now. It's stopped raining.

They'll have the night of their lives.

And I'll have a glass of wine.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Feel the Fear

Have you ever sat in a busy city playground with dozens of preschoolers running all around? Dashing through the sprinkler, flying down the slide, fighting over shovels in the sandbox. The noise can reach a pitch sometimes--not so much a volume, but a pitch--that can drive you to distraction. To distraction, or to the "Happy Place," that zone you could remove yourself to, if only you weren't a Mom with a kid to keep an eye on.

That headache-inducing drone was no match for my Everett. I remember one afternoon in the playground a long, long time ago, Everett tripped and fell on her knee. She got up, looked down, and let out a screech that brought the entire assemblage to a momentary standstill, like in those old EF Hutton commercials. It was quite an accomplishment when in any random thirty-second period a child could fall and scream or cry over a minor bump or scrape.

Everett's scrape and accompanying droplet of blood was no worse than any other injury incurred by any other child that afternoon. She didn't even cry, either...until she got up and looked at her knee and saw the red.

The shriek had me diving into my pocketbook to look for a band-aid, a tissue, something, even though I knew I was just doing it for show. I was never one of those "good" moms who had wet naps, carried a mini first aid kit in my bag, and always had a water bottle and a ziplock bag of Pepperidge Farm goldfish.

After the initial few seconds of the freeze-frame, a playground dad came over with a tissue. As I gratefully reached for it, Everett screamed even louder and scared him away. Another mom came over who hadn't seen the simple fall and wondered, from the intensity of the ruckus Everett was creating, if perhaps she hadn't broken a bone.

"No, no," I said. "She was just walking along and she tripped."

She wouldn't let up with the consistent, high-pitched wail. After a minute or so more of trying to calm her down, I stood up, tucked her under my arm like a rolled-up towel, and walked the three blocks home with her.

Everett doesn't like blood, I discovered that day. Really doesn't like blood.

Everett doesn't like needles, either.

We were in the pediatrician's office for a routine check-up. Everett must have been about five years old. We met with the nurse beforehand for those things the nurse does--the hearing test, the height and weight check, the eye test, the blood test.

The blood test??

"It's easy, Everett, it's just a tiny poke on your finger," said the nurse. Everett was sitting on my lap, and I could feel the rumble from deep down inside her. Like when you walk down the sidewalk and the subway passes underneath. I tried to hold her without holding her. I figured if I just rested my hands lightly on her arms, she might remain calm long enough to get through it. The nurse took Everett's hand in hers, isolated that one finger, and started toward it with the lancet.

It's amazing how strong a five year old girl is. Or can be, if driven by a strong enough aversion. Five seconds after I had rested my hands gently on Everett's arms, I had her in a full-nelson. She squirmed and hollered. The nurse, still holding Everett's hand in one of hers, and the lancet in the other, was temporarily frozen. Everett's shrieks just had that effect on people. Even pediatric nurses, apparently.

"Do it! Do it!" I shouted, as I struggled to keep her in my lap. Now was no time to be stunned into inactivity. I had slipped off the edge of the chair and was now on my knees. Everett had managed to get her feet on the floor, and there was no telling how much longer she could be contained. The nurse regained her senses, tightened her grip on Everett's hand, and gave her finger a poke.

And Everett fainted.

Well, swooned might be a fairer description. She didn't pass out cold, but she stopped screaming, stopped struggling, and fell limp between my arms. The nurse took the opportunity to squeeze the blood into those stupid tiny vials.

In walked Dr. Strassman (or "Dr. Scratchman," as Everett always pronounced it.) "What's all the hub bub?" she asked as she opened the door, then looked down at the three of us on the floor. "Everett! Honey! What happened? You're as white as a sheet!"

"Hi Barbara," I said, as Everett came around and I began to haul us back onto the chair. "Everett doesn't like needles."

"No kidding," she said.

It wasn't the first time Everett had torn up the pediatrician's office. A deer tick lodged itself into her's scalp one time, and I couldn't get it out. Well, I had actually managed to do exactly what the books tell you not to do, which was pull off the tick's blood-gorged body, and leave the head buried under the skin. If you don't get out the head too, you haven't solved the problem. It needed a steadier hand than mine, and better tools than the eyebrow tweezers from my makeup bag, so I brought Everett in to the office.

Dr. Hernandez was on duty that day. He was the "new guy," who had joined the partnership with Dr. Strassman and her female partner a couple of years before. Dr. Hernandez was young, but bald, bearded and rotund. He curled up the ends of his moustache with wax, had little rubber figures of Goofy and Big Bird curled around his stethoscope, and worked very hard at cultivating a jolly demeanor to put the kids at ease.

Everett hated him.

We'd been to Dr. Hernandez before for one reason or another when Dr. Strassman wasn't there, and Everett had developed the habit of smiling happily in the exam room while we waited, then screaming long and loud once he came in, ceasing only when we'd finished and Dr. H had made his exit. He'd dance those little figurines in front of her face, "Oh look at Goofy! Goofy says 'Hello Everett!' Oh, now look! Here comes Big Bird!" Everett never bought what Dr. Hernandez was selling.

Dr. Hernandez thought it shouldn't be too hard to get that deer tick head out of her scalp. He took out some instruments--a long forceps, a scissors-looking thing, and some tweezers. He clinked those around as she sat on the exam table and eyed him warily.

"This will be sooo easy, Everett," he said, too enthusiastically. "You'll lie here and Mom will help me, and we'll be done in a few seconds."

After a couple of minutes, I was drenched in sweat. I had my full body weight thrown on Everett atop that table, as Dr. H fumbled on her head with those tools. "Well, this isn't working," Dr. H said as he threw down his tweezers. "We'll need some more help here." A nurse was called in, who, along with me--after Dr. H and I had caught our breath--threw her full body weight on top of Everett too. Everett bucked, yelled, twisted around, and knocked the three of us grown ups repeatedly into each other and into the walls of the tiny room.

Dr. Hernandez gave up after a few more minutes of fruitless digging. "You know what?" he said with an aggravated edge to his voice. "It'll be fine. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't get infected. Put some of this on it for a few days," as he handed me a tube of goop. "If she gets any weird symptoms, call me." He left the room.

And I had to practically carry Everett home in a basket.

Girls all want to get their ears pierced eventually, and Everett was no exception. When she was ten or eleven, she started expressing this desire in earnest. I was fine with it, though Peter was not. He thought she was too young, he thought it was unnecessary, he thought this, he thought that. I went along with him the first couple of years when Everett asked periodically. I felt it was something that had to be OK, not only with me, but with Peter, as well.

Though by the time she was thirteen, enough was enough. We were up in P'son one weekend, and Everett's friend Annika had joined us. Everett was pressing me again on the issue. I went to Peter and told him I believed it was time Everett should be allowed to get her ears pierced already if she wanted to. I wanted him to be on board, but enough already.

"We're leaving to get Everett's ears pierced, Peter," I announced as the two girls and I walked past him as he ate his sandwich at the kitchen table. I slowed down to a cartoonish pace as the girls sped out the door. "If you have anything to say, speak I go.....we're going...." Peter's silence signaled his tacit approval.

In the car during the twenty minute ride to the mall, Everett suddenly remembered that getting her ears pierced involved an encounter with a needle.

"How much does it hurt to get your ears pierced, Mom?" she asked.

"Oh, not too much, Honey," I said. It just hurts for a second, a nano-second, really. It's over before you know it."

She pondered over this for a few moments. "So you weren't scared when you got your ears pierced?"

"Not particularly, no," I said. "I was more excited, I guess." I remembered the faceted gold posts I had when I got my ears done back in high school. I was even older than Everett was, maybe fifteen. My father held out against it for longer than Peter did.

She thought a couple of minutes more. "Will you get your ears pierced, too?"

Huh? "What do you mean, Honey?" I asked, "I already have my ears pierced."

"I know," she said, "Would you get second holes before I do mine?"

"Oh, Honey," I said, "I don't really want second holes. I only wear earrings now and again as it is. I really don't need a second set of holes for another set to not wear...."

"Well, one then, maybe? Could you get a second hole in one ear, maybe? That's kind of cool. Why not do that? Oh please, Mom, please? Then I can watch you go first and I won't be so nervous. Please?"

Oh...all right.

We went to the earring stand at the mall. Ear piercing free with earring purchase. The same racket it's always been. You have to buy 14-carat posts, too, or risk infection. I've never been sure that that's not a racket, as well.

We searched through the selection. When you're getting a piercing, there isn't a whole lot to choose from really. You start out with the tiny gold balls, and how many of those can there be from which to choose?

As I had promised, I went first. I climbed on the stool as the earring girl loaded up the gold post. It's not quite technically a needle they use when you get your ears pierced professionally. What they do is load the earring into some sort of...gun, for lack of a better word. I've never looked at it too closely, but they load the earring into the gun, and hold it to your ear lobe after they've swabbed it off with alcohol, and you hold still for a few seconds, hold your breath, and....

Boom. Pierced ear.

I didn't flinch, I didn't blink. I sat there with a big grin on my face as Everett stared at me intently. "What do you think, Honey? How does it look?" She thought it looked fine, though she looked a little serious, so I didn't dawdle. "Climb on up, Everett. Your turn!"

"Everett. Climb on up now. Your turn."

"Everett," said Annika, who already had three or four holes in each of her ears, "C'mon! Aren't you excited?"

"Yes, it's your turn now," said the big girl with the nose ring who was manager of the stand and chief piercer.

Everett shook her head. "I think I'll wait."

No amount of cajoling could convince her otherwise. Annika tried. The big girl with the nose ring tried. I didn't try particularly hard. Who was I to talk Everett into poking a hole in her head (as my father described it back in the day) if she didn't want to? Though I felt a little bad that she was too scared to do something she clearly wanted so badly to do.

We returned back home to the P'son house. Peter noticed my second hole and I explained why I had it. "Very fashion-forward," he commented. "So,where's Everett's earrings?" He was wise enough not to laugh too loudly when I told him the rest of the story.

The next morning, after a giggly night and undoubtedly much cajoling on Annika's part, Everett asked to return to the mall. She wanted to give it another try. After lunch, we drove back down, though this time we bypassed the big girl at the earring stand, who I wasn't sure would be as accommodating this time after yesterdays aborted attempt, and went to the girly accessories store way down at one end, next to Macy's.

There was a girl ahead of us, a little younger than Everett. Everett picked out her earrings, then watched the girl carefully as they pierced her ears, while I signed the forms that said I wouldn't sue if Everett's ears turned gangrene and fell off. No hard feelings.

She did better this time. She actually climbed up on to the stool before she decided she really didn't want to do it.

"Yes you do, Everett. Yes, you do," said Annika.

"Yeah, c'mon Honey, second time's a charm. You're up here already, you can do it," even I chimed in. I didn't care if she got her ears pierced or not; I just didn't want her to not do it because of fear.

The girl fumbled getting the earring loaded in the gun. I willed her to hurry up. Annika and I were on either side of Everett, cheering her on, keeping her on that stool. The girl got it together, swabbed Erin's ear lobe and...

Boom. Pierced ear.

Everett blinked hard and jumped noticeably. Then she opened her eyes. She heaved a sigh, smiled, and started to get down off the school. "One more ear to go," we reminded her. Her face clouded once more. "You can't leave with just one ear done, can you?" asked the girl.

Before Everett had the chance to say that yes perhaps she could, and thank you very much, the girl had the other earring in. Case closed.

I let my second hole close. It just wasn't me.

Everett still rocks an extensive earring wardrobe.

Everett's in college now. It's her first weekend home, and boy was it exciting to see her. We talked about her classes, we talked about her roommate and her new friends in the dorm, we talked about the school cafeteria and the telemarketing job she's going after to make a few extra bucks. She came with me to see my dad, and the three of us did a bookstore run and had a nice lunch. Having fulfilled all her familial obligations, she was preparing earlier this evening to meet up with some girlfriends, go out for a little sushi, and see what trouble they could stir up.

She came into my room to use my big mirror to put on her make-up. It's still kind of warm, so she had on some cutoff shorts and a little tank top to take advantage of the few warm evenings left in the waning days of summer. She had her back to me as she applied her mascara, and told me of her plans for the evening.

Her long hair was down, flopping around across her back, as she leaned forward, mouth open, tilting her head first to one side then to the other, as she stroked the mascara wand across her lashes. I saw something on her left shoulder as her blond hair swept briefly past it.

"What's that on you shoulder, Erin?" I asked.

She hesitated for a micro-second, if at all.

"It's a tattoo," she said.

"Already?" I said. I knew you had it in your mind to get one, but I didn't think you could before you were eighteen. Can I see it?"

"I got it on South Street," she said as she sat down on the bed next to me. "It was an OK place. It was clean, I saw the license on the wall, and the guy was really nice. He did a good job, don't you think? Are you mad?"

If it was an "OK place," I'm not sure why the proprietor would give a teenager a tattoo without first checking ID. "I guess he thought I was over eighteen," Erverett said. I don't know about that. Perhaps times are tough, and he wanted to make his fifty bucks, which is what Everett said she paid for it. I looked at it. A butterfly. It looked clean, it didn't look irritated or infected. It was pretty well done, it seemed, as these things go.

"Are you mad?" she asked again. She really wanted to know. Everett hasn't worried about whether or not I was mad in at least a year and a half.

"No. I'm not mad. I mean, what's the point of being mad? It's done, right? I just hope you're as thrilled with it when you're seventy as you are today."

Everett gave me an eye roll at that last slightly gratuitous comment. I couldn't help it. My dad, and Peter, drew the line at pierced ears. I guess my line is drawn at tattoos. And Peter doesn't even know about the tattoo yet.

"Are you going to tell Dad?" Everett asked, as if she were reading my mind.

"Yeah, I have to tell your dad, of course," I said. "But I'll wait until after you're back at school."

But then, I wondered, a few minutes later. "Hey, Everett," I shouted into the other room. "How did you have the nerve to go in there to get that tattoo with the needles and all? Didn't it hurt?"

"Just a little, not much," she said.

"But weren't you afraid?" I asked.

"Not any more," she called back in. "I'm not afraid of needles any more."

Great, I guess.