String-Boy and random memories


On the street today I passed a mother and her small child. The mother was carrying several full bags, and a large bouquet of flowers. The child held the hem of her jacket with one hand. With the other he held the end of a string. The other end of the string dragged along behind him. How clever, I thought, a pet string. The boy jumped over each crack in the sidewalk. It was obvious that he’d attained lift-off only recently as his jumping was low and precarious. The string followed docilely.
I envied the possession of a pet string. It was certainly low maintenance and obedient as pets go.
My own children had dogs growing up. The dogs were congenial but required food, exercise, bathing, and medical care. I have friends who have cats, but I feel something sinister about the “domestication” of felines…I do not discuss cats.
I once knew someone whose girlfriend had a monkey. The monkey wasn’t pleasant to be around. Because the monkey had bitten several of her guests in the past, the girlfriend kept him in a cage when she had visitors. There was something disturbing about this woman as well as her pet…Perhaps a bit of her persona had slipped into her pet’s subconscious because they both both seemed unstable. I was happy to slip away from them. I never went back.
The only pet I was allowed as a child, was a turtle. Other kids in our apartment complex had turtles and we amused ourselves by racing them. That’s how desperate we were.
When I was the string-boy’s age, I had invisible friends who may or may not have been human-ish. I know some of them were very tiny and lived in my ear. I took them out to entertain me when I was bored and there were no turtles to race.
I was the sort of child that would have enjoyed a pet string. I see how it could be entertaining. Beside walking it, you could twirl it, jump it, pull things with it, make Cat’s Cradles…use it as whip, fishing line…you see where this is going.
I was a quiet child and liked simple tasks, cutting paper dolls, arranging doll furniture in block houses, composing rhymes. I did a fair amount of threading buttons on yarn or string while my mother sewed. How surprising that I never bonded with the string.

Friday Night, ER, NYC



The EMS guys arrived quickly after Howie’s hysterical 911 call. Perhaps they were kind and patient, but i was in no condition to acknowledge that at the time. They did not wear masks, but I didn’t complain. I’d been in pain for hours and extreme pain for over an hour. They lifted me onto a stretcher/chair. I may have screamed. The pain in my abdomen was one long labor contraction with no remission, no time to breathe. I may have screamed again when they “eased” me on to the stretcher. They weren’t allowed to give me anything for the pain until the cause was diagnosed by a doctor. One of them told me it might be my appendix as my lower abdomen was warm to the touch.
Mt. Sinai is only 20 blocks from my house. I’d never been in an ambulance, let alone one with the siren blasting. I couldn’t appreciate it. I could only hope to survive the bumps.
I got nothing to ease the pain from the EMS, nothing in the ER, nothing when I was moved to the annex ER. My Lamaze breathing technics from forty years ago had kicked in but they were no help. I huffed and puffed. I hoped Dr. Lamaze died a painful death. I moaned and willed the pain to stop. I looked forward to losing consciousness. Aren’t you supposed to lose consciousness in such pain? It didn’t happen. I was stuck in a fetal position in the center of a world of pain.
No one paid attention to me in the ER and I could hear snatches of why, as we were packed stretcher to stretcher. Someone pulled their IV out. A nurse asked someone else, “Have you hurt anyone? Do you have an urge to hurt yourself? Another nurse talked frantically on a cell phone, begging someone to let his mother stay in the hospital overnight. “She needs observation and tests.” A woman (not me) screamed. I clung to the bars of the stretcher, trying to blow away the pain, rarely opening my eyes.
After five excruciating hours, I realized I was no longer blowing as hard. I was panting. I opened my eyes to a wall clock that read, seven thirty. Was the pain decreasing? Seven forty-five I stretched one leg out, stretched the other. I sat up carefully. Could I trust that it was gone? Or was this the eye of the storm and my appendix would burst like Fourth of July fireworks.
I had no shoes, no phone, no glasses, only the plastic hospital bracelet for ID (which I couldn’t read without my glasses). The pain had passed and two young female doctors finally arrived. I attempted to describe the agony of the last five hours. Why was I apologetic that it had subsided—I looked around me.
“Sounds like you may have passed a kidney stone,” one of the doctors said. “Have you seen any blood in your urine? Or stool?”
“No, but it’s not like I look…”
She gave me a cup to pee in. She told me some particles might be visible. I tried to see, but without my glasses there was no chance.
I made my way back through the maze of stretchers, clutching the cup of pee, sat on my stretcher and tried to think…there was no way to get ahold of my husband. I had no idea which of several doors in the ER might be an exit, and which might lead me into the maze of hospital corridors where I might wander endlessly. Was escape conceivable without shoes? Surely someone had accomplished it in the long history of Mt. Sinai. But what about my panicked husband waiting…somewhere out there.
I looked about me. On my left was an east Indian woman, barely conscious, swathed in silken sari. She was beautiful. To my right was a Muslim woman, exotic dark face peeking out of a stylish hijab, clothed in meticulous fashion. We nodded and gave each other compassionate smiles. I looked down at myself. I had on a bright red and grey calico shirt, red and grey striped socks. I’d worn jeans in the morning, but when my stomach started to hurt I put on an old pair of faded grey petal pushers. I looked like “Where’s Waldo.” And I remembered that had on my “laundry day” underwear. Oh my god!
A woman came to register me, but I couldn’t read the forms without my glasses. She patiently read me the questions: address, phone, next of kin. Health care? “You have to find my husband,” I told her.
“You have to sign these forms,” she said.
There were several. In the end, I couldn’t make her read them to me…I just signed where she pointed.
I held up the cup of pee clutched in my hand. “Who do I give this to?”
“Someone will come for it.”
A tall hairless young man came to insert an IV. “My name is Sol,” he said. We chatted while he carried out the procedure and I learned it was his first day. Luckily my skin is thin and my veins prominent (I never thought I’d be thankful for this peculiarity). Blood was removed. Nothing was put in but the needle and wires had to remain “in case,” Sol told me. I was no longer a “wireless Waldo.” I held up the pee cup. “Do you take this?”
“Someone will come.”
I watched nurses attend to the agonies of others. I was too embarrassed to complain. Finally my husband appeared. He brought my phone and a bag he’d packed for my hospital stay. I eagerly went through the bag. I found three jackets, a bottle of water, my wallet (with health care cards, thank god) a pair of green shoes that brought my outfit up to the status of “clown-Waldo with wires attached,” and no glasses.
Someone came for the pee.
After a long while, the two female doctors returned. They were young and attractive. like actresses’ on TV medical dramas. I’m sure it hadn’t been long since they’d read “Where’s Waldo.”
They told me they saw no blood in the urine, no particles. All I needed was an x-ray and I could go home. A handsome young man in pink sneakers wheeled me up to x-ray.
I waited.
Finally a young man took me in for a chest x-ray. “But the pain was in my lower abdomen.”
“The order is for a chest x-ray.” He looked at his papers and seemed concerned. I knew I might be in for a longer wait if he checked, so I said, “Just do it; it’s OK.”
Back in the ER, my son had changed places with my husband. Thank goodness it was Travis that was there for the discharge. He knew what questions to ask, took photos of forms they didn’t give me, carried the heavy bag of jackets. He was calm and capable.
I waved to the Muslim woman, still on her stretcher. The Indian woman was asleep. Neither had anyone with them yet.

Travis and I had a fine time teasing Howie about the three jackets and no glasses. And Travis stayed to entertain us with stories about the grandkids first weeks of school while I ate buttered toast. When he left at midnight, I took a shower and tried to sleep, but that wasn’t happening.
The next morning, I logged into my Mt. Sinai portal (with much effort) and read through my record and test results. It wasn’t conclusively established that it had been a kidney stone. I remembered the glamorous doctors telling me that if it had been a stone, there might be more.
Wait! What?

The Visit

After the long quarantine, a gaggle of grandkids take over the house. We go from quiet isolated desperation to complete chaos. I lose control within the first few hours. Lights are unplugged to accommodate electronics. Blocks, miniature vehicles, and random objects are unearthed, furniture moved, shelves rearranged.
Amazingly, I find that someone’s untangled two snarled extension chords.
Every dish is dirty, every towel smudged. It looks as though wild animals raided the kitchen cabinets and fridge.
I cry when they leave. Quiet is impending.

Howie, my husband, hauls out a few rounds of garbage, then collapses in bed. I begin the tasks of laundry and rearrangement slowly, unsystematically: a load of darks, dirty glassware and dishes found in the spare bedroom, reassembling the daybed. This is where I find the extension chords, an unclaimed computer wire and someone’s keys. I text photos of the wire and keys to my children and the wire is claimed. I set it aside to overnight in the morning.
I empty the vacuum bag in anticipation of a massive accumulation. I hate vacuuming. I think it’s unnecessarily labor intensive. I’ve hired a young woman to come in every few weeks to do the soulless repetitive household jobs of dusting and vacuuming. At this age I deserve an occasional pause from the tediousness of such tasks, but she isn’t due for weeks.
I find change and dirty socks between sofa pillows, crumbs everywhere, a quarter of a sandwich (unidentifiable) under the Moroccan bench. Hair.
I collapse after the first day of clean up. Restart the next.
What I wouldn’t give for the distraction of children’s voices, some banging on the piano, and repetitive episodes of “The Simpsons.” A clean house is the sign of…boredom.

Everything is sticky and there are stains…presumably chocolate. All the extra soap, which was stored in the spare bathroom, has been opened and piled into one soap dish. There are six used shower caps. Two plastic dinosaurs are hiding under the daybed.
The photos are in disarray. My teenage granddaughter photographed every embarrassing childhood picture of her father for the purpose of future blackmail. Howie attempts to be helpful but spends too much time looking at old photos.
I soldier on with the vacuum.

Mose is at a standstill because of a baseball game and worry…that the pitcher will injured himself, that his (Howie’s) new shoes don’t fit right and it’s too late to send them back, that his favorite pickles will be sold out at the farmer’s market tomorrow, that there’s nothing left to watch on Netflix, that I will forget where I put my credit card—again. These, among other things too ridiculous to mention.
And then, under the cabinet in the dining room I find it.
The perfect hiding place, low and dark, a minimal amount of dust. I remove a fork and stray lid, crawl in, and close my eyes.

Rats at Night

I’m supposed to use the small light to read in the dark, but often I use it to walk through the house at night, and make sure the rats are in place. The rats are not alive, which is why they have “places.” I would never keep live rats. My stone rats can be cleaned with soap and water. Live rats move too fast to be washed and they may carry diseases.
It’s a wonder I don’t have live rats because I also like to eat when I walk off the bad dreams at night. In the morning, I find trails of rice cake or cracker crumbs—so I know where I’ve been. I have to sweep right away, to dump a dustpan full of crumbs and hair (there’s always hair) in the trash. The stone rats don’t move on their own, of course. We use them to hold doors when the windows are open and it gets windy. They sit on closed toilets while I scrub floors.
The Chinese say, that those born under the Sign of the Rat (which depends on the year of your birth) are clever, resourceful and brave.

Except for chewing crunchy foods, I’m very quiet in my night wanderings. I never wake my husband. I watch him for long periods of time to make sure he’s breathing because he’s a quiet sleeper. Sometimes I put my hand on him to make sure he’s warm.
He’s never quiet when he’s awake. He stomps and stumbles, plays music, mumbles to himself, watches sports and yells at the players on tv. But at night I have to check him for breathing and make sure the rats are out of his way when he gets up to go to the bathroom because he’s not entirely awake and he can be a bit clumsy. My husband was born in a Year of the Rat and, though he’s not Asian, he’s absolutely the Chinese version of Rat.

Outside my windows there are other lights and sometimes in the summer when windows are open, I hear voices from the street—not so loud that I can tell what they’re saying, but loud enough to prove there are people up and about at all hours. It’s good to hear voices and see lights so that you know there are other people awake in the night. I know who’s watching television in the neighborhood because I can see the light flicker in their windows. Are they fending off bad dreams and insomnia like me?
In the early days of pandemic in the city, cars were rare and people huddled inside. Days got quiet except for sirens which were relentless night and day.

When I was awake in the night as a child, I didn’t dare walk around and risk waking my parents. I watched the shadows on my wall and drifted off into hypergolic fantasies. There were few lights outside my childhood bedroom window and only the occasional sound of a car or a far off train whistle. Sometimes I wondered if the world was really still out there, or if it had disappeared and left my family behind.
In the summer there were crickets and sometimes the crickets got so loud I wanted to scream. Then they’d stop all of a sudden, and the world would become alarmingly quiet. I stayed up half the night worrying about what might be out there that terrified them so utterly?

Generally, nights are quieter than days in this part of the city. There’s a smattering of light, sound, movement. I contemplate the darkness and note each hopeful glint. I’m not alone with my little light, my stone rats, and my sleeping husband.