Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Month of Eating


Husband hasn't stopped eating since Halloween.  That's a month.

First it was the Halloween candy.  I had to be the neutral mediator between Husband and the kids in the issue of Who Gets All the Candy?  If the kids weren't willing to give Husband all the Kit Kats and the Peanut M&Ms, he was threatening to take away every bit of candy in the name of healthy parenting.

That candy lasted two weeks.  Then came some kind of pre-Thanksgiving Day sale at his favorite grocery store involving huge quantities of ice cream, again a problem with the kids.  Husband wanted all the ice cream but the kids rightfully believed that the ice cream should maybe involve them.  Again, I interceded.  Although I do think Husband gave in too easily possibly due to a hidden stash in our freezer in the garage. 

Then I baked all the bananas in our house into banana bread.  That was some kind of ape festival around here but there was enough to share. 

Then came Thanksgiving Day itself which, somehow, was all about the desserts.  A little turkey, a lot of desserts.

Through it all, Husband stood next to each food table, a conveyer belt nearly set up next to the food which then ascended directly into his mouth.  There was nothing he wouldn't eat.  He ate and ate and ate and then took a plate home to eat later. 

And then, since there's absolutely no justice in this world, my husband, who should weigh about four hundred pounds, but actually weighs about 155, and should have gained an extra hundred pounds this month alone, noticed his pants - size 32 - were getting a little snug, so he cut back for a couple of days and got back to normal, 152.

And now onto December. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

An Immigrant Thanksgiving

Because we were a family of immigrants, we never got Thanksgiving quite right when I was a kid in Skokie.  It's not that we didn't want to give thanks - trust me, being a family of Holocaust Survivors welcomed to the United States post-war, there was no shortage of thanks.  The problem was the food. We just didn't understand the food.

We understood turkey. We preferred chicken, but, fine.  Turkey could be dealt with.  It was a kosher animal, after all.  No problem with the turkey.  The problem with my family were always the other dishes, like the desserts, which we grouped in our minds as not quite Jewish. 

Pumpkin pie? No. Dessert to us was only coffee cake and it was never actually sliced.  It was served the exact same way it is now:  put in the center of a table of hungry, dieting women all holding forks and, voila, ten minutes later it's gone.  Pecan pie? We were firm about this.  Absolutely the only nuts in our family were humans - all the strange inbred Jews who emigrated as one block, hairnets on their heads, frowns on their faces, purses stiffly carried from room to room, no English. I spent years not knowing whom one woman was who came to every party on my mother's side.  Finally I asked.  She was one of my aunts. 

My mother's now been in the U.S. for sixty years; we should know how to do this by now.  But today, at our Thanksgiving dinner, besides all the other stuff, here's what I saw:  Turkey, Matzah Ball soup, Challah. Is this some kind of immigrant Thanksgiving?  Or maybe we're half pilgrim and half Jewish, half American and half Lithuanian, even after all this time.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hold the Mayo

My mother and I have an ongoing argument going about medical care.  The main topic of our argument?  Mayo Clinic.

Like other seniors, my mother swears by Mayo Clinic.  If she stubs her toe, she goes to Mayo Clinic.  To her, Mayo Clinic, and the Mayo Hospital we have here in Phoenix, are like those one-stop clinics they have in drugstores now.  There's no problem too minute to go shlep out to Mayo Clinic to have an expert see it for her.  She'll pop in any time.   

Our argument always starts with some kind of medical discussion, maybe I need an evaluation of some type or one of my kids do.  Her response? 

"Go to Mayo Clinic!"

"Mom, you know Mayo Clinic isn't covered on my insurance." It's never once been covered on any insurance I've ever had.

"I don't care.  Pay for it yourself.  You have plenty of money."

Why does this make me nuts?  Is it because now I'm in two arguments?  There's the one about Mayo Clinic and then there's the new one about whether I have any money.  To not go to Mayo, I have to prove to my mom that I'm poor.

"Mayo Clinic isn't the only place to go in the world, Ma."

"It's the best!"

There's a pause during which I fume and try to figure out where she got this prejudice.

My mother's history with doctors is unremarkable.  As a young mom in Skokie she treated almost exclusively with her obstretrician, the one who delivered six out of seven of us, and who apparently failed to adequately discuss birth control options with her. Then there was the pediatrician who used to show up at our house and examine all seven of us in a row, mixing up our names. Later, when I became a sickly asthmatic, she used to drive like a bat out of hell to a town two hours north of Chicago and a doctor who had one of the only nebulizer machines in existence in 1973, so huge it took up an entire room. She'd take over the waiting room regaling the other patients with the dramatized Story Of My Asthma while I spent the day with the nebulizer.

No Mayo Clinic. But did Mayo Clinic beckon to her from Rochester; did she think of it as the clinic of last resort if, finally, the gigantic nebulizer didn't work, if, finally, I turned blue with the lack of oxygen?

Then she says, "And anyway, the food in the cafeteria at Mayo Hospital is the best food anywhere. Bob and I try to eat out there at least once a week."

"Ma, it's a hospital cafeteria."

"They have a chef."

Okay, that's it.  The conversation has descended into inanities.  Also, I'm dangerously close to finding out exactly what she ate at each meal and I'm not going to fall into that trap. 

"Well, maybe we'll try it some time."

"The Clinic?"

"No. The cafeteria."

Her turn to fume.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Apple of My Eye

My daughter is very thin. People look at from Husband to me and back again and then declare without any qualms that she gets her thinness from Husband.  Apparently, my body is teeming at its restraints, just waiting for me to overeat one day at which point it will suddenly bulge out and I'll be wearing a wardrobe of circus tents.  When I was fat I used to go to Weight Watchers - twelve years in a row without ever achieving Lifetime Member status - and the leader would say, "You didn't gain it in a month, you're not going to lose it in a month!"  But she didn't know me.  I did gain my weight in a month, each time.

But not my kids.  Daughter's weight, for example, hasn't changed in a couple years, and it's a weird weight, 59 pounds.  Every time she gets on the scale, exactly 59 pounds. And her hunger is odd.  She's not just hungry before meals, that would be too normal.  Instead, she stands up after meals full but then immediately announces that she's hungry again.  I say, "What? You just told me you were full!"  And she says, "I'm full of what I just ate, but now I'm hungry for something else."  The strange, twisted labyrinth of the ten-year-old mind - both full and hungry at the same time.

In the immigrant household in which I grew up, there were none of these nuances.  We sat and ate with our only desire being how quickly we could escape from our mother's constant food pushing.  She stood by the table, waiting for a plate to empty - like a vulture perched overhead - and then swooped in to fill it immediately.  This is how a few of my sisters ended up chubby; the skinny sisters ran from the table as her spoon was descending. And it didn't help that dinner was the standard Eastern European Jewish diet:  anything made out of rendered fat, or out of animal parts that we weren't sure were actually edible.

There was no eating after dinner was done. Mom shut down the kitchen, like it was a store. And anyway, being an immigrant, she didn't understand the concept of desserts.  In her small town in Eastern Europe there were no such fancy concepts as "desserts."  You ate or you starved, nothing in between.  If she was feeling extravagant, fine, we could have an apple.  Wildly extravagant?  Fine, she'd bake some apples.

So Daughter finishes another meal tonight, announces that she's full.  Stands up.  Walks over to me a second later and tells me she's hungry.  What can she eat?  I don't even try to offer her more of our dinner.  I say, "Baked apples?"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hurry Up and Wait

My Mom was going out to eat with my sister's family the other night. I wanted to see if I could swing by and drop off some stuff before she left.

"We're not going to be home."

"But you still have an hour before you have to be at the restaurant."

"We're leaving now."

"But Ma, it takes five minutes to drive there.  What are you going to do with the other fifty-five minutes before they get there?"

"Well, we have to park."


"And walk in."


"That's it."

"How long could it take to park and walk in a restaurant?"

"Well, Bob's driving."  Right. Half an hour to pull into a parking spot and half an hour to find the door.  Not that I'm that much better.  Today we went on a high school tour with Bar Mitzvahzilla and I led us to the wrong parking lot, like on the garbage bin side of the high school, not the front door side.  We had to hike a mile to get to the door.  Then we went to his basketball game after school and I directed Husband to the wrong school.  So I can relate to this stuff.

But an hour to drive five minutes? 

There's no arguing with my mom.  I tell her I'll drop the stuff by the next day and agree with her, saying "You'd better hurry up."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cursed Purses

As usual, I'm hiding something in my closet.  Being a compulsive shopper means that I'm always hiding something, normally behind the large, pink-zippered bag that holds my now-seventeen-year-old wedding dress.  That bag is so big and bulky it will hide anything.  Then I wait for just the perfect moment to reveal the newest incredibly dumb purchase.

What's the purchase this time?  A purse. 

It started like this:  I had to go to the rich, snooty mall in town to get my planner refill - one of the stores there is the only one that sells it.  I was only going to get the planner, that's it.  I knew I'd be down in the area right after my writing class last Thursday.  1st problem:  when I left the house I took some cash with me "just in case."  2nd problem:  I had looked up the website the day before to see if any of their new handbag styles caught my eye.

Here's what happened.  I walked in, got the planner.  Cast wistful eyes at the handbags while lurking around the glass display cases.  Asked to see one particular bag.  Tried it on.  Tried it on with my stuff in it.  Clerk convinced me that even my netbook could fit in it since it's the size of a pice of luggage.  Imagined how my life could change from carrying this purse with my netbook in it.  Bought the bag.

I blame this cursed purse obsession on the poverty of my teen years, the majority of which were spent hanging up on collection agents, perhaps a unique experience for a Jewish family.  To have a similar experience you'd have to have a father who died suddenly with no life insurance, a store that went bankrupt, a mother with no income, and a bunch of debt.  Let's put it this way, when I was fifteen I put a coat on layaway.  I finally got it when I was sixteen, just in time for the following winter. It was out of style by then and I had gained forty pounds.

So tomorrow I'll just own up to it, shove over the pink wedding dress bag, and take it out and enjoy it.

Either that or return it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Remember Your Coat

I was at our school's yard sale yesterday.  I'd just taken off my coat and put it inside my car.  Just then I noticed Stepfather walking toward me, having just gotten out of his car. 

He was carrying a coat.

"Hi, Bob. I'm glad you made it over here," I said.

"Here, Linda."  He handed me the coat.

"What's this?"

"Your mother told me to bring you a coat.  She said you wouldn't be wearing one."

He continued on past me while I stood there holding the coat.  How did she know when I took off my coat?

I could be on the top of the Himalayas with a team of other climbers on a six-month climb, but the minute I'd slip off my coat, well, look over there!  Who is that climbing rapidly up the slope toward us?  Why, it's my mother, bringing me a coat.  She has a sixth sense, a cosmic ability, or maybe she's embedded a microchip in me somewhere, to sense my coat-wearing status.

I put the coat in my car.  Later she showed up at the yard sale bundled up in a wool jacket and scarf even though by then it was a sunny 75 degrees.  Obviously, her radar works well.  She spotted me across the field, then yelled at me, "Linda, why aren't you wearing the coat I sent with Bob?"

But then, right before I answered, she saw a new problem - one involving her descendants.  Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter standing there.  No coats.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Car Talk

The four of us - Husband, Daughter, Bar Mitzvahzilla, and me - were stuck in our car for a while tonight driving across town for a play, and here's the interesting thing I suddenly remembered about being in a car with Daughter:  she doesn't stop talking.  If she's got an off button, I haven't found it in the ten years since she was born.

I was talking to Husband about something that seemed interesting to us but which, apparently, was not interesting to Daughter.  So she brought up something that was interesting to her.  Were we aware that she can recite all the multiples of seven, all the way to eighty-four?  And that she can do it really fast?  Faster than anyone else in her class? 

Well, no, actually, we weren't aware of that, but -

And then she's off and running.  The multiples of seven up to eighty-four.

So we give her the requisite amount of attention for her speed multiplying and then, while she's taking a breath, we try to resume our conversation.  Of course, we're not going to be that lucky because she's not taking a breath just to breathe or anything.  She's taking a breath so that she can start reciting multiples of nine and then fives and then twos.  And the twos she can recite to infinity.

Husband and I give up on our conversation.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just the Fax, Ma'am

My mother and Stepfather are going on a month-long cruise to China.  Ignoring the question of how they will live in a windowless cabin -  they never pay for windows - the size of a closet for a month without killing each other, this trip requires some modern technology that my mother doesn't have.  It seems that nowadays, booking major travel requires two things:  a credit card and email.

So she calls me up in a panic to tell me that she and Stepfather need my help.  My mind courses through the type of help they normally need from me:  house-watching, mail-getting, pill-sorting, doctor-arguing?

But no, it's something much more insurmountable for my mother.  She tells me that Holland America wants to send her a fax.

"A fax, Ma?  Are you sure they said a fax?"  My mom stopped learning about technology after fax machines were invented.  After all, the fax machine was the world's perfect office machine.  Imagine being able to transmit documents over a phone line by pressing a button!  There was a time in the early 80's when that fax machine of hers was screeching day and night in her busiest days in real estate.  How could anything ever supplant that?

But there have been a few inventions since then.  Like the Internet.  I figure out that she needs me to get an email from the cruise line.

I say, "Sure, is that it?"

"You'll print everything they send?"

"Yes.  We have a printer, Mom.  And paper in it."

The next day I call her.  I tell her I still haven't gotten the email.

She says, "Well, they probably haven't gotten my payment."

"How long could it take to get your payment?  Didn't you pay with a credit card?"

"Oh no.  I sent a check."  What, by carrier pigeon?  "Bob and I don't use any credit cards." 

Well at least she's not going nuts out there with her consumer debt.

"Okay, Ma. After they cash your check I'm sure they'll send the information."

"And then you'll give me the fax?"

"Right.  Then I'll give you the fax."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Drive, She Whines

On Saturday, Daughter and I dropped Bar Mitzvahzilla off at his cousins' house far, far, far across Phoenix. It's a multi-freeway drive to get there, but Bar Mitzvahzilla was going to have a complete nervous breakdown unless he got to go.

This is because things are pretty cool over there. Unlike our house, which is like a lockdown prison since we took away his PlayStation, over at his cousins' house he gets to game until his eyes roll back in his head or until his thumbs sieze up in attacks of tendonitis. First he and his two cousins murder and commit mayhem on the XBox or PlayStation 3 and then, when they're done killing on the screen, they grab their Nerf guns and stalk each other down the hallways of the house. This is supposed to be fun.

But once we got there and he flew out of the car, after he and Daughter battled the whole way there, it was just Daughter and I out for the day with a little extra time. I immediately thought, Free time!  No teenager nagging me to death. A world of possibilities opened up.  Should Daughter and I go shopping to a far away store?  Should we go hiking on one of the pretty Arizona mountains?  Should we go for a drive, a walk, have a nice chat?

Instead, here's what happened. I drive, she whines. First there's some vague headachey thing going on. Then she decides she's hungry.  Then she decides she's getting carsick.  There's a little vague moaning. Does she want to shop?  No. Hike? No. Drive, Walk, Chat?  No, no, no. 

So I drive, she whines, all the way home.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Give Me All Your Pop

I go to a party at my sister's house.  My mother is planted like a tree in a chair at the head of the table.  She is not going to move an inch all night. 

It is true that at our family parties, a chair is hard to come by.  Once you get one, you need to stake it out, make it your own.  You leave it at your peril.  Sometimes, annoyingly, the two skinniest sisters will show up and insist on sharing the chair with you. 

So, since my mother is ensconced on her throne, she needs to be waited on hand and foot.  Someone who doesn't have a chair to maintain and occupy needs to get my mom's food.  Later, another chairless person needs to get my mom's dessert.  Suddenly, she eyes me up.

"Linda, give me some of your pop!"  She pushes a coffee cup across the table at me.

Of course she's using a coffee cup because, to my mother, anything is a drinking vessel.  In Skokie we never had a matched glass in our house.  We had drinking glasses that were one of two things:  either they were yahrzeit candles - memorial candles - after the wax had been burned off, morbidly being used by the living, or they were from the S&H green stamp catalogue and we had broken most of the set.

I dutifully pour her some pop.  Suddenly, she screeches, "Stop!  That's too much!" after I pour an inch.

Then a minute later.  "Linda!  More pop!"  She thrusts the coffee cup at me.  I give her a baleful glare.  I only have the one can of pop and I also can't leave my chair.  I'm guarding it.  But, she's my mom so I pour.  Again she shrieks for me to stop.

And then a minute later she does it again.  "Linda!  More p-"

My head whips around.  This is worse than taking care of a two-year-old.  I take my can and put it in front of her.  Finally!  She got the whole thing away from me.  She happily empties it into the coffee cup.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pharmacist Amnesia

I'm at the pharmacy. I've spent a lot of time here over the years. I'm not only on the auto refill program but normally when I get up to the counter the pharmacy tech needs a hand truck to get my prescriptions from behind the counter to me.

But there's one thing always interesting about me and my pharmacy experience:  they never know who I am.  Everyday is a new day of pharmacy clerk amnesia.

I could stop by there every day of the week - and I'm not exaggerating - to pick up medicine and each time I am asked for my name. Then I'm asked to spell my name. Since I apparently have a lisp of some type - a surprise to me - I am asked over and over again to repeat the letters S and F that may be in my name or address. There are five.

This is all done by Nice Clerk. Nemesis Clerk handles the customers before me with a friendliness that makes me get a little enthused about getting up to the counter. I'm ready to banter! I'm ready to commiserate! I'm pretty much ready to bark like a dog and roll over, anything to keep Nemesis Clerk happy.  But when I get up there, his demeanor has changed. He looks at me with dull eyes, a flat mouth. "Spell your name," he says. Then, "Is that S as in Susan or F as in Frank?"

It's like Communist Russia here in the tundra of the pharmacy counter. There's no arguing with Nemesis Clerk. He's got a mean streak and I know which side of the counter I'm standing on. He's on the side with my medicine.

When I was a kid in Skokie, we had an excellent relationship with the mom and pop pharmacy near our house.  If anyone in our family experimented with shoplifting, the eagle eyes of the owner's wife would spot us doing it, make a note of the item stolen, and quickly add the item onto our mother's charge account.  My mother, oblivious, paid and was probably happy no police were involved.  We grew up in the aisles, moving from chocolate bars to Kotex pads to cigarettes as we got older.

Once I got asthma, if I ran out of medicine, the pharmacist would spot me a few pills till I could get a new prescription instead of letting me die.  That was nice.  Especially because my mother wasn't so good at this whole thing - like figuring out when I was going to run out of medicine and stop breathing.  This was a good arrangement.  So much easier than arranging my funeral, that is.

This pharmacy?  I've gone here over twenty years.  They have no idea who I am.  I spell my name, lisping through the letters.  Nemesis Pharmacy Tech heaves over my package.  I leave clutching my medication.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Amateur Doctor

I'm on the phone with my mother - do I ever see her in person? - and she starts coughing. It's a disrupt-the-phone-call cough. Finally she gets back to me. I say, suspiciously, "Are you okay?"

"Sure I'm okay. Why?"

"You were coughing."

"That wasn't coughing."

"It was coughing. I heard it. You nearly made me deaf."

"It was nothing. A little mess up on my inhaler. I'm supposed to take two puffs twice a day but I decided to take one puff three times a day and then I forgot the second puff so I went back on it and decided to do two puffs in the middle of the day and none at the start or end of the day. Once I straighten it out, I'll be better."

While I'm trying to do this inhaler math in my head, she starts coughing again, right into the phone, enough to bring over a nebulizer, or a ventilator. It ends with the sound of running water. I'm thinking, where is she talking on the phone? In the bathroom?

She comes back on. I say, "You're sick."

"Sick? I'm not sick."

"Ma, you're sick." I know this because, despite the fact that I'm nearly thirty years younger than her, we both have eighty-year-old bodies. We're health twins, asthma twins. We not only have asthma in common but now that I'm getting older we also have arthritis, osteoporosis and cataracts in common. Actually, with some of these things, I'm worse off than her.

And anyway, I'm an amateur doctor. I could have been a great doctor and could have gone to med school if not for that cadaver thing, and my grades in college, and the fact that it took me five and a half years to get my BA, and that even when I got my BA it was in History. But other than all that, I'm a pretty good amateur doctor. Just by the sound of that cough through the phone, I've mentally prescribed an antibiotic for my mother: Ceftin, 500 milligrams, twice a day.

This is a little bit of a switch for us since when I was a kid, my mother was the amateur doctor, but she wasn't a very good one. She only had one thing to cure us with: a whiskey compress. No matter the injury - from psychosomatic ones to broken bones, she puttered around in the kitchen, pulled out a schmatta (a rag), found some whiskey and Saran Wrap, and wrapped up the offending part in a stinking liquor tourniquet. Then she left us to steep in this cocktail on the couch alone, protecting us from further injury by isolating us from our six sisters.

This time, my mom's fighting off my diagnosis. She outlines her own plan, involving an elaborate dance with her inhaler - one puff here and one puff there, like perfume.

Or maybe she'll just make a really gigantic compress and wrap it around her lungs.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Last night was the end of us trick or treating in our neighborhood.

We've lived here a long, long time. As a matter of fact, when Husband and I moved in, childless, in October 1993 there were four occupied houses out of 89 in our subdivision. Of course, there were also about twenty under construction with dirt and nails everywhere, poured foundations, walls rising up built out of two by fours, and debris. It was like living in post-World War II Dresden. So that first year we thought, Only four people live here. Certainly it's safe not to buy candy. No one will come. Of course, the doorbell rang. The mean neighbors across the street showed up uttering the only words I ever heard them say to us in the fourteen years they lived there, "Trick or treat."

Even though I'm the child of two Holocaust Survivors and you'd think that pitch black nights and scary figures banging on doors with sudden demands would bring back bad memories for my parents, causing them to ban Halloween, it didn't. Not to mention the whole death thing. My parents made every decision based on "What are the Americans doing?" So, if the Americans were dressing their children up as ghouls and sending them out begging, that's what we did. Also, it didn't cost any money. To get a costume I was basically sent into my older sisters' room to find one - which meant every year I was a hippy. Also, we came home with this free food as a result of this bewildering panhandling, a definite bonus in Mom's eyes.

Last night our neighborhood was a ghost town, and I don't mean a fun, Halloween ghost town. So we ditched it for a different neighborhood nearby, becoming Halloween crashers. There we found the motherlode: roving bands of kids, dressed up adults, parties in the driveways, hay-filled wagons set up to take kids from one block to another, decorated houses, even cauldrons boiling over with dry ice "smoke." A firetruck came by with all of its lights on and the firefighters came out and passed out candy.

Bar Mitzvahzilla and his friend, on their last Halloween before high school, found a house that was giving out whole candy bars and couldn't help themselves, they had to go there over and over again until the homeowner sent them away. Inbred chutzpah. Daughter, who has a short fuse for just about anything, had finished earlier, but once she saw that whole candy bar, that was it for her. She walked up to the door of the house in a trance, cupped her hand for the candy - she was so sure she was done she hadn't even brought a bag along - and came running back, clutching the candy bar like gold.

And then it was done and the lights went out one by one, the legend of the whole chocolate bar living on forever.