Saturday, December 4, 2010

ALONE by Christina Franke

Alone, I look out the window, I look and keep looking, no matter what is in front of me. I have a book, I always have a book, but on the bus I don’t pick it up, or when I do, I put it down right away, and keep looking.

I have three days ahead of me, on this bus, 75 hours from San Francisco to New York City. When I’m moving all that has worried me, all that has made me unhappy, goes away. All that matters is the movement, the movement is enough to occupy me, looking, looking out the window. I don’t care if I’m looking at grey and ugly strip malls, sad, broken-down houses, or desolate farms, I take in everything, every detail. I imagine the lives of the people in these places, I watch the mothers walking with their children, the old men talking on street corners, everything is of equal interest.

And I watch the people on the bus, who get on, ride 100 miles and then get off again. In the Midwest, I see overweight women in thin cotton dresses, burdened with bags and young children, eating sandwiches, feeding their children soda pop as we drive along. I watch the sky, dark, looming, remembering that we’re in tornado country, afraid. We drive into the darkness for hours, days it seems. People get on and off, on and off. I stay in my seat, looking out the window. I eat in rest stops, grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee, pieces of apple pie, I brush my teeth in dirty bathrooms, trying not to touch anything. People on the bus are silent or murmur softly to each other. A child cries, then stops at a sharp word. I talk to no one, sitting in my window seat, looking out the window, never meeting anyone’s eyes, concentrating on the buildings and farms and trucks out the window.

Chicago. I have three hours before the bus leaves that will take me to New York City. I take a shower in the bus terminal, amazed that the Greyhound Bus company has thought of such a wonderful thing, a shower after two days sitting on a bus. When I get on the bus, clean with wet hair and a face that feels shiny from the soap, the driver tells us that this bus will go non-stop to New York. We leave at night and we’ll arrive at NYC’s Port Authority some time the next morning. We’ll only stop at rest stops, not to drop people off or pick people up. We’re all – the whole busload – we are all going to NYC.

Most of the passengers are black, many of them young. They’re thin, full of energy, talk, noise. I watch them, fascinated. They laugh with each other, they talk and talk, and as the night goes on, they all fall asleep, one by one. I sleep too.

In the morning, in the grey light, crossing Pennsylvania, crossing New Jersey, the talk starts again, the laughter, the joking, the stories. This is not the Midwest, these are not Midwesterners, these are city people, people going to NYC! I feel excited, I feel their excitement, and I know that they are the people I want to be with.

Way out on the flats of New Jersey, I see the Empire State Building first, then the other buildings of the Manhattan skyline. I weep with pleasure.

Friday, December 3, 2010

STARTING OVER by Arthur Kahn

My observation is that when most people reach their early 60's their lives have more or less leveled out. Sure, this is a vast over simplification, but let's face it, When you're in your early 60's you've been working for over 40 years, give or take. Many people look forward to retirement as their own private Nirvana. For most, it's a pretty mundane Nirvana. For example, people who sew look forward to sewing for more than 2 or 3 hours a night. Golfers? I'm not a golfer (whew) but the people I know who golf seem to be unable to not golf. I'm not a fan of the sport (although I'm probably one of the few people who enjoy watching golf on TV – go figure) but those I know who golf derive true joy from it.

What I've described could be called “anticipatory retirement”. You're staring at the not too distant future. A future in which you reap the supposed rewards of having earned the chance to step off the whirling dervish that most people think is the whirl of life.

Me? Not on your life. My first (there were many) “mid life crisis” started in my mid-40's and ended right after my 50th birthday with a heart attack and open heart surgery with a pacemaker chaser.
At the time, I was working for a lawyer in Albany, N. Y. His self professed management style was “terrorist”, this all before we knew what terrorism really was. Mind you, I was not the greatest employee. A few days before my infarct ( the technical term for my heart attack was myocardial infarction – which feels really good on the tongue when you say it) I had been berated upon the discovery of hundreds of pornographic pictures on my hard drive at work. Thank God he didn't know, or suspect, that I would stay late at the office and have cyber sex or phone sex. Now, I'll grant you that, as a lawyer, I should have known that there is no right of privacy at the work place. Unfortunately, my life worked on the principle that lust trumped everything.

After initially surviving the heart attack (there were a few hairy moments, such as a precipitous drop in my heart rate after I was brought to Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, NY) it was decided that I needed to be chauffered to Albany Medical Center for a cardiac catheterization to determine if I needed heart surgery. The result was that I was scheduled for a coronary artery bypass graft (CABGx2 – pronouced cabbage), a double bypass. Better than three or four, no?

So, I'm lying in the hospital. I'm not too far from my office. I got along well with the staff, other than the terrorist, so I called and asked if they would mind bringing me a decaf iced coffee from this terrific coffee place near the office, The Daily Grind. One of them showed up a short time later, iced coffee in hand. With a letter “from Dennis”, the terrorist. With that she made an abrupt departure. As soon as I read the letter I understood the hasty retreat. Instead of a note of encouragement and perhaps a check, I was fired. Canned. Terminated. And, of course, no more health insurance.

Sometimes it pays to have other, more serious issues to deal with when faced with a crisis in one part of your life. Since I was about to undergo open heart surgery I mercifully couldn't dwell on what was, in the moment, an ordinary crisis, compared to what was coming. Open heart surgery is pretty serious stuff. What they do is put you on a refrigerated table to lower your body temperature to about 88 degrees. Then they put you into a coma (I had made a pact with the anesthesiaologist that he wouldn't catheterize my junk until I was out) and then they take a surgical steel sawzall and saw your sternum apart. They then take a rib retractor, separate your ribs and expose your heart. Next they hook up your major blood vessels to a pump. Then they kill you.