The Emergency Room

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
– “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

What a trope is an emergency room! Television depictions which remain in the ER maybe for the entire length of the show, short cameos in films, and in our minds, emergency rooms loom large. They mean tragedy, possible death. All we need is one image of a those blues and whites, a few beeps, a little bit of rushing around, and our brains know it’s bad.

For many, though, the emergency room serves as primary healthcare. Without health insurance, seeing a PCP can be difficult or impossible. I, however, am blessed to have health insurance and I have almost no understanding of the health insurance or the healthcare industry. I did find this to be an interesting perspective from a doctor and contributor. I am lucky to be able to be ignorant on these fronts, I suppose.

Earlier this week, Chas and I spent the day in an emergency room in San Jose, California. Chas had/has an infection on the inside of his nose and increasingly resembled Nicole Kidman’s depiction of Virginia Wolf in The HoursWe left Oakland and on the way to points south, I called and was able to book an appointment with an ENT in San Jose, obviously, a benefit of being insured. We had four hours to kill before the appointment so Nicole and I headed to Stanford and gave ourselves a tour while I looked to buy postage stamps. At 12:30, we arrived for the 1 o’clock appointment at the San Jose Regional Medical Center. The ENT saw Chas, gave some tips, asked some questions, and sent him across the parking lot to the ER so that he could “as quickly as possible” get a CT scan. Because of the short notice, the fastest way to get a CT scan and see if the infection was spreading (possibly to his brain) and would require surgery, would be to wait in the ER for a CT scanning room.

Immediately upon entering the ER waiting room, I had two realizations. 1. I am so fortunate (knock on wood) to have really never entered an ER waiting room before and 2. This is what it looks like to use the ER for primary care.

Chas was instantly swooped up by a male nurse checker-inner-man who somehow maintained positivity throughout the day. I watched him swish in and out of doors, speak to non-English speakers, incur rudeness, collect the angry friends of a man who’d been hit by a car, attempt alternative pronunciations of several names, and just continue smiling. I settled into a plastic seat to finish my book, reminding myself over and over again: do not touch anything.

It’s a little bit like a low energy, high anxiety video game. Breathe to the left because the woman to my right frightens me. Dodge the trajectory of that sneeze. And those coughs. Change positions in the plastic seat as a foot falls asleep. Eavesdrop on the man breathing into a plastic bag without getting too close. Listen to each name intently, waiting to hear “Chas Ebb-ee.” Oogle at the baby with the pink cheeks, guess what language I hear, look out the window, and repeat, repeat and repeat.

It was pretty apparent to me that for most of the people in the ER waiting room, this meant going to the doctor. This meant, I’m sick and I’d like antibiotics and so I’ll wait here for five miserable hours to see a professional. From the elderly in wheelchairs, to the infants being clutched by doe-eyed young moms, this was the only option. If I were legitimately sick and had to wait in that room, I think I’d lose it, maybe storm to the back, fake someone else’s name, anything to get out of that perilous purgatory. Because I’ve been lucky and I have the choice.

When a shirtless 20-something man with blood covering the lower half of his face rolled in in a wheelchair holding his side, I had to try hard to not stare. Easier thought, than done. His friends did not want security to call the police.

When we finally left with the news that Chas did not need surgery and we could leave San Jose and San Jose Regional Medical Center forever, it was after 5 p.m. We’d put in a day’s work, knew we’d be covered, and only had to sacrifice a copay the cost of a Wow Air flight. And we got to drive away, knowing that when we need medical care, we can pretty easily get it.

…and the mome raths outgrabe.

“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams…”

Like plastic and cockroaches, at the end of the world, there will be the pain that humans have incurred. Because what we do to one another is never the end. Like a contagious virus, hurt spreads. It multiplies. And expands and splashes and pings off and lands elsewhere, and sometimes it explodes.

IMG_2664

This piece isn’t about me (other disclaimer: it contains way too many competing metaphors). I’ve been so incredibly fortunate with my family, my husband, my friends, my people. I’ve pretty much always been equipped to handle the hurt that’s handed to me, by my kids, strangers, whomever and if it ever felt too hard to receive the secondary trauma of my job, I’ve had yoga, therapy, acupuncture, writing. I repeat–I am so fortunate. But not everyone is.

If you’re interested in crime and social justice and Sarah Koenig’s voice (like I am) Serial Season 3 did not hardly get enough buzz and it deserves your ears. In it, Sarah and her team–all of whom seem to have equally difficult-to-spell last names–go to East Cleveland and cover court proceedings for weeks. Why don’t I know who any of the waiflike musical acts on SNL are? Because who has time for pop culture when there are enthralling crime podcasts to listen to?

In episode three of this season of Serial, there’s one bit of dialogue I couldn’t, and still can’t, get out of my head. It’s spoken by a civil rights attorney, Paul Cristallo, who previously represented the Cleveland Police Department. Sarah and team cover a small core of men who are in the grips of the criminal justice system. “In the grips” honestly feels like the best way of describing it because CPD won’t let them go and none of it feels fair or positive or just or even clear. It’s so damn messy.

In the exchange below, Erimius is the man in the grips and this is the 137 shots case in which Cristallo represented one of the families. What resonates with me in the exchange below is the stickiness of the hate that’s been thrown. Cristallo articulates something I think often–that hurt and hate and injustice don’t just absorb into the earth after they’re flung. And the evils we allow to perpetuate, will do just that.

The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone. 

Sarah Koenig

“Erimius’s case is an order of magnitude smaller than the 137 shots case or the Tamir Rice case. No one’s going to shout his name during a protest. Paul told me, the smaller cases, they matter because they ricochet.

He’s watched a lot of people go through incidents like this. He says, this beating will knock around inside Erimius’s head, and then it will rebound off of him out into the city.

Paul Cristallo

You know, as much as you want to talk about how we need to come together as a society. And Black Lives Matters, and All Life Matters. And the police have a hard job. And you got to listen to what the police tell you to do. And you got to obey the law, and don’t be a criminal.

I mean, the reality is now, you’ve just created somebody who is, I mean, he’s this walking perpetuation of don’t trust the police. He now knows that that happened, and all he had on him was a blunt in his own apartment complex. In his own apartment complex—not late at night. No drugs, no alcohol, no gun, no criminal activity, but the blunt. And that’s what happened to him.

This will mess with him. If you stick with this story, and we follow him, you’ll see. I mean, it’ll fuck with him. He has family. He has friends. They’re all going to know what happened. They’re all going to see the pictures.

And so for him, now, this becomes part of his life script. This has become something that is going to be retold and retold. And photos are going to be shared and re-shared, you know, on, and on, and on, and on. And this is just one guy. This is just one incident in Euclid, Ohio.”

 

When a person is hurt by some other person, known or not, some circumstance, some situation he or she is born into, that hurt remains.

Hearing about the shooting at Frederick Douglass High School a week ago, obviously I was saddened and angry and hurting for this city. But I also felt what I always feel when something horrendous happens in Baltimore, I feel the past and the future. I feel that ricochet. Because that single incident, is hardly a single incident. It’s the hurt of the student, his family member, maybe the employee who’s “going to live.” How hurt must you already be to go into a school and shoot an educator? How broken? How confused and pained and angry? That shooter was not born that way. Will he die that way?

An English teacher from Douglass wrote an op-ed about the larger picture here and I agree with him. Look at what we are asking our children to tolerate, and then thrive anyway? What?

From what I’ve read, the shooter at Douglass seems pretty terrible, which comes as no surprise. But this story is like root vegetables before they’re picked. What we see are the leaves, the foliage. What’s beneath is utterly different. And it matters even more than the leaves. The potato, the carrot, the turnip. They’re made of the stuff that happened first, to that once tiny seed as it fought to get bigger. Maybe it was inadequate housing, maybe it was abuse, maybe even the trash on the streets bothered him. How can you think you deserve more when you haven’t been shown that? How can you even know what to reach for?

And like the hurt before February 8, 2019, there’ll be more hurt after as a result of the shooting. It’s like a rock thrown in a pond sending ripples and then another rock into those ripples. Circles of ripples are crashing against one another. It’s enough to drive you mad.

Baggage is hard to carry but it’s even harder to drop off. I don’t have the answer, aside from “be born with a good support system and into a great and stable family” or as Wilbur Wright put it in 1910, “If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”

That’s not easy advice to follow.

What I do have though is more unsolicited advice, one of my favorite things to give out right before I put my foot in my mouth. My advice is to put out the good stuff, to get rid of hate and hurt some other way aside from putting it on someone else. My advice is to remember that the ghastly things that happen in long-maligned neighborhoods are incredibly complex and that some people were never given a real shot at something different and to pretend otherwise is what I now think of as “The Ben Carson Effect.”  That it doesn’t mean those neighborhoods and people aren’t capable of more or don’t deserve better, it’s just really fucking hard to obtain it.

So put out the good. Fill others’ buckets instead of emptying them. This might be in complete contradiction of last week’s blog, but why waste breath on something negative? (Thank you to both Erins–Drew and Cyphers-Greenhalgh–for sending me such sentiments.) There’s enough nastiness and ugliness and hurt swirling around, throw the opposite out into the universe.

From my favorite poem “The Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann,

“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.”

…And know that not everyone has been given the same chances, the same hope, or the same treatment. So at the end of the world, there will be plastic and there will be cockroaches, but do not let there be hate.

 

The Weight of What I Could Have Said

ACivilianHeadFormwithEgg

There are plenty of famous and even ubiquitous episodes of Seinfeld. See also this blog. One of the most famous is in the George Costanza collection, an episode called “The Comeback,” though a more ubiquitous name may be “Jerk Store.”

In this episode George, who works for the Yankees organization, is in a business meeting. George, unabashedly eating shrimp, is met with “Hey George the Ocean called, they are running outta shrimp” by a character named Reilly–nondescript white-man-business-type. The whole boardroom erupts in laughter and George, mouth full of shrimp, looks bewildered. On his drive home, George explodes with what he thinks is the ultimate comeback for Reilly: “The jerk store called. They’re running outta you!” He tries out the line on his friends who are unimpressed. Though George is undeterred.

Later, George finds out that Reilly has moved to Akron, Ohio to work for Firestone Tires. George books a flight to Akron under false pretenses of handing out free snow tires at the Yankees games. George, in the Firestone version of the Yankees’ boardroom, shovels shrimp into his mouth once again, recalling the earlier scene. Reilly uses, “The ocean called,” again and receives the same reaction as he had before. And George happily launches into “Oh yea? Well, the jerk store called. They’re running outta you!” to which Reilly replies that it doesn’t matter because George is their all time best seller. Again, the crowd loves it. George replies, “Oh yea? Well I slept with your wife,” and the crowd is silent. Another man says quietly to George, “His wife is in a coma.”

In this fictional story, George’s desire to go back and use his line sends him on a flight to northeastern Ohio where he’s again torn apart. Of course, for most of us, when we think of a great line or speech later on, we do not book a flight in order to say our piece. Maybe we mumble it to ourselves, write in a journal, call our moms, but largely, the thing we wish we could have said, goes unsaid. And in this case, I feel George. Because the weight of what I didn’t say is sometimes mentally monstrous to carry around. The burden of the perfect retort or lesson I could’ve taught that person is often a lot to hold.

There’s a comedy bit I heard on Pandora once (cannot remember who the comedian was) with a real life example of “what could have been said” that goes the way we typically expect. The comedian is on a plane, using his phone when it becomes time to seal the cabin and take off. The woman in the seat next to him, whom he does not know, says, “You need to turn off your phone.” He knows that you don’t have to do that anymore and says that to her. She repeats, “You need to turn off your phone.” Again the comedian says to her, “You don’t have to do that anymore.” The woman says her piece a third time and the comedian complies and turns off his phone, to not create a scene.

He ends the bit with, “And now I think about her every day.”

I get it. This is me. If I don’t say what I needed to, or like the comedian, I do, but I am not understood or really heard, I will quite literally think about it forever.

One of my favorite pastimes is to say in my head, what I wished I had said out loud. See also this post. Do we all do this? Live an experience and then later plan the perfect response, a killer speech, or the best comeback. It’s amazing what a little space and time to think can sound like aloud…in my head.

A few weeks ago I taught a “candlelit” yoga class. I taught the “candlelit” at a different studio for a few months and was familiar with the setting of the dimmed lights and the battery-operated candles. I set everything up in the studio and went back to the desk to check people in. I always left the front dimmers on for the first 40 minutes of class–I liked the ambiance and it allowed people to see their own balancing in postures.

But when I returned to the room, the lights were off. I turned them back on and began to teach. About 30 seconds into Sun A, a male yogi whisper-yelled to me, “The lights are supposed to be off! This is a candlelit class!”

Stunned, I ignored him and continued teaching the class. About a minute later, the same man followed me across the room and said it again as I adjusted someone else’s spine in downward facing dog. Again, I ignored him and continued to cue the class. Like a child throwing a hissy fit, he marched over and turned the lights off himself. I spent the subsequent 56 minutes considering whether or not to turn the dimmers back on and planning what to say to him after class.

I was a little trippy over my words that class because I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy’s gall and because I was in my head thinking about how to address him on his way out. He had undermined my method, interrupted our flow, and weirdly approached me as I had my hands on someone else’s hips.

Class ended. The man headed to shower, came out, snidely thanked me for the lavender towel, and then left. It may have just been me but he had the smuggest look on his stupid face. And I did not say anything. So much like that nameless comedian, and like George before him, I cannot stop thinking about it.

It’s like I’ve got my own little court of justice in my head and my mind will not rest until what’s deserved is delivered. I spend a lot of energy with my girls encouraging self-advocacy and reminding them to ask for what they need. And sometimes, I just don’t do it myself.

I think what’s worse than the perpetrator, Reilly, the woman on the plane, the guy in the yoga class, getting away with something–quite honestly something he/she might never think of again–what’s worse is the weight of what I could have said.

I am not advocating for going around throwing insults at people, saying “Yes you do look fat in those jeans,” or openly telling people their way is the wrong way. But when someone else steps into my territory and disrupts my peace, I think it’s best to speak. We spend a lot of time tip-toeing, apologizing for standing in the way, mumbling “sorry” when what we really mean is “excuse me.” In this era of lies and misleading statements and alternative truths, I think it’s best to live unburdened, to unload the weight of what we could have said. And just say it.

Seacrets in January (in February)

img_2276

Once upon a January Friday night, back in 2009 when we all had less bags under our eyes and less baggage in our emotional closets, I sat scheming with Lauren and Chas in the living room of the apartment we lovingly called “Four Reasons.” Lauren and I had many a raucous event in that disproportionately large living room in Mt. Vernon, Baltimore but on this particular weekend, we were bogged down by January-ness. We needed to do something, something irrational, something adventurous. And in that scheming session, “Seacrets in January” was born.

A week later we gathered some of our most irrational, yet lovely friends and hit the road for Ocean City, Maryland with the goal of spending a January Saturday at Seacrets. Also known as Jamaica, USA, Seacrets is a bar that spans several blocks, spreads likely numerous easily contractable diseases in the heat of the July sun, serves a few palatable alcoholic slushies, and attracts a crowd of summertime twenty-somethings, looking to sin. Seacrets’ Tagline: “Find us and get lost.” We figured the pits of January would be less contagious, less offensive, but just as much fun. Maybe we’d find the spirit of summer.

At the time, the Ebys had a beach house (they don’t anymore) and my dad had a Honda Odyssey (he still does). We snagged the key with directions on how to turn on the water and the heat. Without any expectations, we had a few liquids at the house and then cabbed to Seacrets.

We were greeted by a live band, not good, not awful, but live and entertaining enough for some early-twenties wanderers from chilly Baltimore with an agenda that contained only “fun.” There was confetti and there were balloons and there was perspiration. And a tradition ensued.

On February 9th, we will make this trek for the 11th time. We were scheduled for last weekend but Seacrets is mysteriously “closed” which we can only guess means that they are doing their annual cleanse–scraping chlamydia off of the toilet seats. Seacrets in January has, in the past few years, become “Seacrets in January in February,” which is fine. We will adapt. However, this last minute reschedule has cost us some loyal soldiers–Tim and Maddy, who are both valued core attendees.

Over the decade of Seacrets in January (in February), we have gained and we have lost. We have gone from the Ebys’ house on West Way to the Sea Bay’s finest accommodations on 61st to the Best Western in the 50s.

We have had drinks and we have brought a pregnant (read: the pregnant put up with us). We have danced and we have stood awkwardly to the side of the bar. We have eaten late night pizza and we have wrestled strangers in the hallway. We have remembered and we’ve certainly forgotten. Some have fallen asleep at the bar and others kicked out. We have stood on a “bouncing” dance floor and allowed confetti to tumble into our drinks. We’ve welcomed balloon drops at midnight and stayed until the very last one was popped ceremoniously. And we have always eaten breakfast at Layton’s on 92nd, where they have that good ice.

People have come and gone, the tradition has been adjusted, revised, and adapted. Each year, we wonder, will this still be fun? Are we too old for this yet? Valid questions, but fortunately, Chris Eby, our archivist, has kept track of attendees. Although, 2019’s was created for the January 26th date and is subject to additions and subtractions.

Because Chris keeps this note on his phone, pay careful attention to the alternative ways of writing Chris L’s name (my own spelling: Lochdawg) and do not pay attention to the capital letters, or lack thereof. Blog continues below the list.

Seacrets in January Attendance List

I (2009): 8 total
chas
amanda
lauren
kyle
girl kris
pj
chris
eric

II (2010): 9 total
chas
amanda
lauren
kyle
girl kris
pj
chris
mike g
jamie antonious


III (2011): 13 total
chas
amanda
lockdogg
eric
sam k
pj
mike g
brittanie stuber/g
kyle
katie
lauren
caitlin schultz
mike (caitlin's bf)

IV (2012): 19 total
chas
amanda
lockdiggidy dogg
aubrey
kyle
katie
chris
amanda b
lauren
sean
brady
sam d
jimmy
dustin
girl w dustin 
jon manger
brendan
alex o
aiello

V (2013): 18 total
chas
amanda
chris
amanda b
lockdeezy
aubrey
lauren
jesse
jimmy
brady
sam d
brendan
alex o
tc
phrank
aiello
robbie
kelly


VI (2014): 21 total
chas
amanda
chris
lockdog
aubrey
mike g
brendan
kyle
katie
jimmy
matt tozzi (jimmy's friend)
brady
sam d
robbie
kelly
tc
phrank
maddie
beth
eric
sam k


VII (2015): 20 total
chas
amanda
chris
gabby
lock
aubrey
jesse
lauren
robbie
kelly
brady
tc
maddie
phrank
beth
hanley
jimmy
laura
aiello
sara


VIII (2016): 23 total
chas
amanda
chris
gabby
lock
aubrey
lauren
jesse
tc
maddie
phrank
beth
hanley
aiello
sara
brady
karen
mike
kayla
alice
tri
matt
stacey

IX (2017): 17 total
chas
amanda
chris
gabby
lock
aubrey
lauren
jesse
tc
maddie
hanley
aiello
sara
eric
sam k
alex keller
pj

X (2018): 15 total
chas
amanda
chris
gabby
lock
aubrey
lauren
charlie
tc
maddie
phrank
beth
sierra
jimmy
hanley

XI (2019): 16 total
chas
amanda
chris
lauren
charlie
tc
maddie
phrank
beth
miguel
kathleen
brendan
sam d
jesse
jasmine
anna

On this trip, Chas first told me, “I love you” (SIJ ’09). A participant smashed his face on a curb and had to spend the early morning at Atlantic General (SIJ ’16). Another participant decided cops were after him, ran from them, went to the wrong hotel where he, for reasons we do not know, left his wallet, and lost his car keys in a construction site on Coastal Highway (SIJ ’15). It was his 27th birthday.

We’ve seen burst blood vessels in eye sockets (SIJ ’17), enjoyed many early morning prank phone calls (SIJ all years), and watched as someone booped a security guard and charged the stage (SIJ all years).

We’ve tracked the growth and orthodontia of The Benderz. We’ve heard one participant sing Greek pop music to an audience of extremely ungrateful ears (SIJ ’18). We have encouraged a pregnant to tolerate us (SIJ ’18), permanently banned consumption of Double Dog IPAs (SIJ still standing), and watched a new couple form (SIJ ’14)–they’re getting married this June.

Seacrets in January is not normal. It’s magical, it’s lovely, it’s bananas, it’s absurd, it’s irreverent, and it’s so much more. And in the morning, we eat at Layton’s on 92nd. Consider joining this year, find summer in the middle of January in February, and make your mark on the list, and on history.

dsc00894dsc00895dsc00897

No photo description available.

20170212_112048image128129image1image228129

seacretsx

SIJ ’18. Hanley  snuck out even before the prank phone calls in the morning so we superimposed him in (with hooves).

img_2667

seacretsgroupshot2015

seacretsstd

img_2486

seacretsseacrets2

301img_0820

aiellolaytons2017

jimmy26doubledog2018

Note: these are no longer permitted.

chascrazyeyes2013

Note: somehow this is still permitted.

 

 

Ms. Renee Means Peace

This is hardly a summative piece about Ms. Renee Buettner who is worthy of a volume of books, it’s just my own take on an incredible woman. Here is her obituary. And there have been and will be many more tributes to Ms. Renee. 

When I think of Ms. Renee (pronounced REE-nee with two long e sounds), I think of eye-squinting laughter. I think of “There but for the grace of God, go I.” I think of El Salvador with liberal nuns and sneakers labeled “New” and a ponytail adorned with a ribbon. I think of “rosaries coming out of our ears” and all things Jerry, Mary, Katy, Molly, and Christine. I think of Oscar Romero. And the Super Selectos, a grocery store by the side of a San Salvador road–how she didn’t want to go but the group’s American desires won out. I think of raisin bran and fasting on Mondays. I think of the rabbit on the back of the toilet. I think of the story she loved to tell about seeing an old nun who exclaimed, “You MARRIED JERRY BUETTNER?!” But most of all, when I think of Ms. Renee I think about peace.

img_0646

El Salvie 2008.

At the start of the new year, I chose a one-word intention of sorts. Peace. I am working to find peace in my thoughts, my words, and in my actions. Of course, on January 25th, its lost its sting a bit. Many of us could probably use a reminder of the resolutions or intentions we set to be better versions of ourselves. Maybe for some of us, it was to be more Renee-like. Celebrating Ms. Renee this weekend is a great reminder of the intention of peace. Because in a word, Ms. Renee was peace, rather, Ms. Renee is peace.

I met Ms. Renee probably many times before I really met her. Aubrey and I were not “cool” at Swan Lake Swim Club, in that we had no friends there aside from one another. Mary Colleen and the Buettners did have friends at Swan Lake. I’m certain over the summers we splashed and tanned along that craggy concrete path, I stared longingly at the large family, including Ms. Renee, that grew even larger with friends.

But when I really met Ms. Renee, I was on the way to my first high school dance. I wore a glittery black dress and a gold necklace that my boyfriend had gotten me from Disney World–it read “Amanda” next to a Mickey Mouse head. I was with that excellent gift-giver boyfriend and my mom must have been with us too. Mary, by some stroke of luck, had been named my high school “big sister” and I was terrified of her. To spend an evening with someone so popular and loud and celebrity-like, I was probably shaking in my shiny shoes.

Then, when we all got to Mary’s house to “take pictures” (like you did), there was Ms. Renee. She immediately calmed me by being silly, and sweet, and by being peace. And it was like my mom had found a counterpart. Another Baltimore social justice worker who was her height (ish) and radiated so much love like she does. If I had to guess, they were both wearing hand-me-downs from one of their daughters. The way Mary was my “big sister” and I was her “little sister” at Mercy, Ms. Renee started calling herself my mom’s “big mom.”

After I got over my fear of her, my friendship with Mary grew into more of an actual sisterhood and Ms. Renee, who mothered everyone but in the gentlest way, welcomed us in too.

I remember running with Ms. Renee around Lake Montebello talking about my then-boyfriend who also happened to be a closeted drug addict. I remember charades in the family room and Katy’s frustration that no one could guess her clue, “My breasts are the size of Europe!” Ms. Renee would just laugh and laugh, so used to her ridiculous daughters who used language she never would. I remember handing out rosaries and “Mouth Under Contruction” shirts to tiny El Salvadoran women and their same-size children. Swimming in the Pacific and practicing yoga outside the kitchen in our temporary home. Sleeping 14 in a room in Central America in July–I’m sure Ms. Renee and my mom were the only ones who wouldn’t have complained.

Ms. Renee might be sainted someday. She may already be an angel. She is and was a friend, a mother, a Gee, an advocate, a voice for those who didn’t have one, a home, a sister–biologically and Catholically, and on and on her ripples continue circling outward.

Now that she is not physically here in her body that betrayed her, her presence almost looms larger as her family and friends gather memories and photos. We remember a woman who couldn’t speak a bad word about anyone, who allowed her actions to talk, who lived by loving, a woman who gave peace to so many. We remember Ms. Renee.

Five Years Ago, on Kennewick Road (by my mom, Nancy)

This is a guest blog written entirely by my mom, Nancy Papa Doran. For another guest blog see: https://writingamandy.com/2018/06/15/whats-in-a-name-by-my-dad-dick-doran/. 

It was Thursday night January 23, 2014. After another long day of working at the Baer School and writing notes, I went to sleep around 11. It was 12 degrees outside. It had snowed a little bit a few days ago before, we were in a cold snap and it was not melting.

At 12:30 a.m., (technically, Friday, January 24, 2014) I was awakened suddenly from a deep sleep. There was an odd aroma. I thought it smelled like burnt toast. I noticed that my husband, Dick, was not in bed. I wondered why he was downstairs, making toast. But then I heard him calling me calmly from the bottom of the steps.

“Hey, Nance, Come here.” It didn’t sound too important the way he said it, but I got out of bed, put on shoes but did not even put on eyeglasses. I thought I’d be coming back to bed soon. I dazedly walked downstairs and realized that our smoke alarm was beeping like crazy.

Dick said, “I think a neighbor’s house is on fire.” Aubrey was sleeping upstairs and I called up the stairs for to get up, which she was doing anyway. She came down and was astute enough to grab Joe our dog’s leash and to put it on him. We didn’t know where our cat Kramer was. We got coats and opened the front door, realizing that it was our next-door neighbor’s house on fire–attached to ours, as you know, we live in rowhouses.  Our dear-forever next-door neighbors, The Braceys, Mabel and Clyde. Smoke was pouring out of their house. And they were sitting on their front porch. Mabel was wearing a coat over her nightgown and Clyde was wearing a bathrobe and no shoes. They were in their 70s, both had mild disabilities—cane, walker.

Mabel told us that her land-line phone didn’t work, so Aubrey was trying to call 911, although I think they had gotten the signal from the smoke alarm which was attached to a security alarm. None of the other neighbors were out yet and Dick and I realized that we had to help Mabel and Clyde to get off of their porch. Clyde asked me to go in and get his shoes from the living room. I opened their front door and smoke flooded out. I told him I couldn’t get the shoes. Their car was out front and Mabel had the keys. We walked them down the steps, one at a time, Clyde in bare feet (12 degrees out) and got them into their car. Mabel sat in the driver’s seat, started the car and turned on the heat. They sat and watched their home of over 40 years, being destroyed.

There was a brief moment of silence, except for the smoke alarm. But the fire was getting worse. We thought we should hear sirens. Aubrey got a busy signal from 911 at first but then got through. It felt like 15 minutes, but it was really only about seven, and then there were sirens… lots of them, loud, several trucks. The firefighters were very professional.

Aubrey, Joe and I watched and sometimes went into a neighbors’ house to get warm. Dick was pacing all over the block. The firefighters dragged their giant hoses from the trucks. There was a problem with the fire hydrant on the corner because it was frozen (12 degrees out), but they had other water somehow.  The fire was raging and soon the flames were coming up out of the Braceys’ roof. The firefighters used their equipment to squirt up there.

We had just gotten our solar panels up there on the roof. I thought they would burn up. (They didn’t, the panels were fine.) The firefighters realized that the fire was also coming out of the back of the Braceys’ house. The next thing I saw was the firefighters carrying their big hoses up onto our porch, opening our front door, and going into our house.  I thought the fire was coming through our wall. Dick had several hundred of his favorite books on shelves against that wall. I said to him, “There goes your books.” He surprised me by saying, “They’re only books.”

A little while later, one of the firefighters came out and said that there was no fire in our house. They went through our house so they could fight the fire that was coming out of the back of the Braceys’ house. (With rowhouses, you can’t just walk around to the back.)  After a couple of hours, they were finished putting out the fire. Some of them were still in the Braceys’ house, throwing all of their furniture out of their windows. Crashing, sounds, loud banging, broken glass. Chairs, tables, suitcases, beds, clothes, photos, all being thrown out of their windows. Mabel was a meticulous dresser and had some beautiful clothes.

Some of the firefighters came into our house several times to check our walls for hot spots and found none. But the smell of smoke was overwhelming and all-encompassing. We looked for Kramer in the alley, but found that he had been hiding in our basement. By then it was about 4:30 a.m. Mabel and Clyde went to their daughter’s house on Northway Drive.  We laid down for a little while but it was kind of hard to breathe. For some reason, I got up and went to work. In shock. At work, I was kind of traumatized. I told some of my co-workers about the fire, and they said, “Well, at least everyone is alive.”

part0 8

After work, I came home and met Dick and a fire inspector. The inspector said we had to leave. We had no fire damage, just some water drips from the hoses. But the smoke damage was very severe. We had to leave everything, ALL of our clothes, shoes, socks, linens, towels, blankets, pillows, scarves, gloves, books, papers, everything. We had to go to Target to get some clothes to wear really quick. Aubrey stayed with her boyfriend’s mother. Dick and Joe and I stayed with Amanda and Chas for two nights and then our friend Linnea generously let us stay with her for a while, even Joe. Linnea lives a few streets away so we could walk down and see our house and feed Kramer every day before work.

Our house was then taken over by the restoration company. They placed five huge and loud smoke removal air-cleaning fans all over the house and ran them continuously for more than a week. A team of people came in every day and spent hours and hours wiping off everything with special smoke removal cloths–every book, knick knack, picture frame, piece furniture, walls, floors and steps—they wiped everything. We were able to move back in after a couple weeks. About a month after that, the boxes began to arrive. They delivered all of our clothes, shoes, linens, towels, blankets, pillows and all that other stuff—all clean and boxed up neatly with some type of labeling. There were eventually about 80 large boxes brought into our living room. It took forever to unpack them all and there was no time to do it and that’s why I couldn’t work summer school in 2014. Dick’s sister Colleen came to visit that summer to help us with the house. 

As for Mabel and Clyde—it turned out that the fire had been electrical. They had a refrigerator in their basement plugged in near the furnace and that night, it sparked and caught the furnace on fire. The fire was carried through their house via the heat ducts. Thank goodness,  Mabel and Clyde had excellent fire insurance. They were given a furnished apartment over on Goucher Blvd. in the county as their house was renovated. Over the next few months, their house was gutted and they got new everything. I visited them in their apartment every Sunday while they were waiting for their house. I felt so bad for them having to see all their furniture thrown out and losing all of their clothes and family photos. Mabel said she felt bad about us having the smoke damage but I told her, that’s nothing to worry about. At least we’re alive!

In the ’50s, when our houses were built, builders installed fire walls between each rowhouse, a decision for which we will always be grateful. In the time since the fire, we lost both Mabel and Clyde who were incredible neighbors to us and daycare parents for our daughters. We will never forget them, nor what we went through with them in 2014.

part0 9

Mabel and Clyde Bracey

 

We are Siamese if You Don’t Please

How’s that title to start your day? Good luck getting it out of your head! I had to look up those crazy cats again because the only line I could remember was “We are Siamese if you please. We are Siamese if you don’t please.” Those are still the greatest lines but let me tell you, those bitches are mean.

There’s something about lyrics like “We are Siamese if you don’t please,” that transport you back to another time, another place, another body–one with less hair and fewer worries. I’m thinking that first rhythmic drum beat and base guitar combo at the start of “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World. And Sugar Ray singing, “Every morning there’s a hale-lot (sic) hanging from my girlfriend’s vote crossed bed…” (Which I now know are “halo” and “four post,” respectively.)

Like Jakob Dylan trying to sound British; the piano riff at the start of “All My Life” by Kaci and Jojo; the speaking parts of “Barbie Girl”; and me singing Savage Garden in 5th grade, staring out a window like I had a lover to sing about. There are time-traveling powers to listening your favorite Hanson brother own a chorus (Zack, duh). I hear “No Scrubs” and I’m suddenly back picturing my dweeby blue shirt, blue-pantsed, buck-shoed male classmates all over again–“Ya live at home wit ya momma…” No, literally.

If I catch “Where My Girls At” by 702 I feel like I’m riding home from softball practice covered in both dirt and the shame of being slightly below mediocre at softball. “Gone” by NSYNC and I’m at a middle school dance debating whether or not I am ready to “make out” with my boyfriend yet.

Music is important to almost everyone I’m close with. Mary Colleen Buettner is maybe the only exception, but she has lots of other great qualities. The thing about your childhood music, though, is how it imprints on you. It leaves marks and lessons and the most indelible memories. A few years ago, Alice, Caitlin and I went to a Backstreet Boys and Hanson concert. We became eleven year olds. It was magical. I wanted a choker necklace and Steve Maddens with stretchy band tops and chunky soles and a boy with a blonde bowl cut.

One explanation I have is for this phenomenon is that music can be one’s first taste of having an identity. I remember it being a big deal when Aubrey got the Neil Diamond Greatest Hits cassette and I got Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.” As if I was no longer just Amanda. I was now “Amanda who likes Alanis,” and this is my sister, “Aubrey who likes Neil.”

Liking a music artist went beyond purple as a favorite color or that your favorite food was pizza. Besides, everyone’s favorite color was purple and everyone loved pizza. That didn’t make you special. But music was a whole new world (Yes, I, too, am thinking of Aladdin). You had choices. And likes and dislikes could say things about you. Through those sounds and words and foundation-covered faces, you could now select who you were by which CDs you chose from those Thirty CDs for a Penny clubs.

Then music transformed into a way to connect with friends. You could be a Backstreet type or an NSYNC gal–we were mostly both. Then, listening to those songs thousands of times in a row became a replacement for a comfort object. Ditch the teddy and the blanket for Lance and Justin. They were, after all, singing to us and we didn’t know Lance was gay back then. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t picked out their own outfits, let alone written a single word of their music. They were ours and we were each going to marry one of them. I would have prayed for you if you and one of your friends liked the same one–that was a non-starter.

Then, like many things, as a teenager music becomes a method of rebellion. You can pretend you’re “unique” and chose your own tastes. But it’s just because they’ll slightly upset the adults around you.

We all cycled through this until we finally started to actually like the music we like. The thing is, when I hear those old songs I can’t decide whether I love them because of what they make me think of or if I actually liked them all along. Regardless, it is entertaining to go back and listen. Below you will find actual lyrics from 3LW’s “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right).” I will let them close out this piece the classy way they do. And before you say, “Oh no, not me, I don’t know that song, I’d never listen to that” verify here and see below where I’ve bolded the very best part.

“Yo Yo Yo
A yo, you promised me Kate Spade
But that was last year
Boy in the eighth grade
And you ain’t biggie, baby boy
So it ain’t one more chance
When your friends around u don’t wanna hold my hand
And now you see a girl stylin’ and wildin’ inside the mix
Hoppin out the whips, the whips, the 5, the 6
Yes fly chrome, so pardon my tone
Here go a quarter, go call Tyrone”

Seven Memories from Seven Years Ago

I miss our photo albums and picking up packets of pictures from the Safeway. Photos were so valuable to us then. Aubrey and I would pour over the albums in the living room, as Mom watched nervously, hoping we weren’t tearing apart years of labeling and organizing. Every once in a while you’d hear a “get your grimy mitts off…”

Sometimes I go through old photos on my phone. It’s not the same. But it still conjures up nostalgia and details so specific that I wonder how I can still remember the lyrics to every song by the Backstreet Boys too. Also, it’s amazing how fast the time moves the older you get. I can’t believe these memories are this old. I can’t believe I am 31. I give you: 7 memories from 7 years ago (though they feel like yesterday).

img_0011

I remember Chas’s roof on Patterson Park Avenue. It wasn’t a real deck but we walked out on it anyway. There was a small black cat who would stop over from time to time and we called him Felix. You could see several Polish Catholic parishes from that vantage point, the buildings downtown, the Natty Boh sign, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the spiky or bushy tops of trees, depending on the season. It was so quiet up there, as if everything down below were frozen because we were up top.

img_0107

When Chas graduated from grad school, the Ebys and I took a road trip up Route 1 with a side trip into Yosemite. Inside the park, Chris, Chas, and I stayed in a cabin. Aside from listening to coyotes, there wasn’t much to do at night. Chas figured out a way of opening imports on the bunk bed metal frame and we played LCR. A few months later two people staying in the same cabins died of hantavirus, the disease you can catch from mouse poop.

img_0265 2

On the same trip as above, when we made it up to Oregon, we spent a night in Coos Bay. I was particularly excited about that because Steve Prefontaine was from Coos Bay (I knew nothing else about it). I remember this restaurant well. There was a band playing that night that identified as “surf country.” I’d never heard that term before but it was pleasant music. Skip ordered a crab cake because he said he “had to know what you get when you order crab cakes on the West Coast.”

After dinner we all drove to the Indian casino. Cindy and I played the penny slots. A woman sucking down cranberry vodkas and cigarettes told me to try “the ones with the pandas on them.” After I won $287 on one of the panda ones, Cindy and I decided to tip her with a five dollar bill (we didn’t know the etiquette). I will never gamble again.

img_0432

Grandmom’s birthday in 2012. She loved to conduct us when we sang “Happy Birthday.” We were on the Papas’ back porch. Someone had made mint juleps because it was May and Kentucky Derby season. I remember Gram really liking it. My cousins Ben and Zack are 20 now. I see them here, tiny and childlike. It’s hard to remember. But Gram and her spirit, it’s like it’s in the palm of my hand still.

img_0524

That Memorial Day we went to Cape May Point for the weekend and stayed in the Murphys’ house there. Aubrey and Chris were somewhat freshly in love. I remember marveling at how cute they were holding hands on the beach and seeing my little sister gleeful and laughing and glowing. Chris also had a mow-hawk on this trip. Now they are parents.

img_0543

My mom bought me this dress. Every once in a while she buys an absurd item for each of us. There was the sequin skirt, the shirt that shrinks to the size of a butt cheek, she can’t resist. This is maybe one of the best ones I can remember. I wore it to Dot’s Bachelorette Party. We rented a gorgeous house in Capitol Hill and had a glorious weekend of girlfriend time. All night my dress reflected on my chin–that’s not something everyone can say.

img_0777

Caitlin, Alice, and I went to see Shar when she lived on Main Street in Frostburg. Another walkable roof, you could see the mountains from this one. In the house next to us, earlier that year a couple had fallen asleep after a night out and died in a fire. I remember traipsing around Frostburg like we owned the town then coming up here and feeling so tiny with the Appalachian Mountains so present and huge and there.

 

I do realize social media allows us to catalog and caption our lives but there’s so much more that we’d never say, because it’s weird to share, or it’s not happy, or it paints us in strange light. All of the realness that make seven years ago feel like yesterday.

F for First

A rare foray into fiction.

NPR used to do contests called Three Minute Fiction, I’m unsure why they stopped. In 2013, I wrote a piece for this and sent it to Tim and to NPR. Round 11 in May of 2013 was “Finders Keepers: Write a story in which a character finds an object that he or she has no intention of returning.” I (obviously) did not win but what’s weird is that one of the winners chose the EXACT SAME object as I did. Here’s that story.

IMG_3639

And here’s mine:

“A S D G H J K L,” Mr. Filbert reads from his keyboard. Its home row had 8 keys only yesterday.

“A S D G H J K L!” he crescendos. Lenore glances quickly enough, she thinks, toward his desk. Mr. Filbert, however, is hardly deterred from drawing her into the 23rd time today he’s bemoaned his missing F key.

“I just don’t see the lure, Lenore! Miscreants, their games!”

He continues his rant, but in Russian. Lenore crouches behind the laptop cart feigning Mr. Filbert’s required power button checks.

“21 – off, 22 – off,” she pretends to scratch on the clipboard he’s provided. Instead, she’s drawing a dog. Her mind replays Mr. Filbert’s accidental poetry. I just don’t see the lure Lenore. Its paws are wheels, five careful dots along each edge. Lure Lenore. Lure Lenore. Lure Lenore.

A student enters the office as she focuses on a cartoonish left eye, her Bic wearing a label pre-scolding: MR. FILBERT. Three years have taught her the cadence of pre-pubescent gaits.

Dale Tyne squeals, “Mr. Iiiillllbert, can I have my computer password again?”

A pregnant pause and Mr. Filbert breaks into his vigorous pacing ritual – desk right, desk left, by the microwave, a loop around the shelf, and back to desk right. Knowing what Mr. Filbert’s disregard means, Dale’s untied shoes scamper past the laptop cart.

Midway into lap three, Mr. Filbert blurts words Lenore has translated herself. Lately, he’s been favoring “bull shit” in Portuguese. Her delicate script leaves “Lure” above the dog’s pointy ear.

“Did you hear that scoundrel? Ilbert? Ilbert?”

At Lenore’s silence Mr. Filbert peers over the cart. Looking up at him, her head hovers above her seated bottom, which spills out around her, coated in polyester brown.

“Lenore, we need to find our villain. Is Tyne on the suspect list?” he asks, his torso flanking the top of the cart.

“I – do think we added him earlier.”

“Well children cannot destroy property and go on their merry ways, Lah-nure.”

“We’ve already called in so many for questioning–it’s become a joke in the entire 7th grade.”

“Oh really, Lah-nure? Well why don’t you just go back to drawing your puppies?” he says under gray eyebrows. “Yes, I will defend the integrity of our equipment uh-lone. Tyne moves up the list!”

“Principal Glick said we can’t profile a student because he has a pas-”

“Profile? I can’t even spell profile right now, Lah-nure! This is about more than F or all the other keys. It’s about respect! And Glick? She has some nerve! She’s on the list!” he exclaims raising a hairy hand above a bald head, index finger protruding.

“Always suspected she has it out for the library. This is our 10th missing key in three years!”

Mr. Filbert huffs to the cafeteria in hot pursuit of his daily cheese steak sub. In 13 minutes he will be seated, dipping French fries into the center of the yellow paint and faux leather scooped from a bucket into a sub roll for his blissful consumption.

Lenore takes note of the time, retreats to the back office, and opens a drawer near the old transparency machines. Lenore unscrews the cap of her E6000 superglue. Chemical concoctions fill her nose as she pulls a small black square from her pants. She introduces the clear goop to the back of a small F key. She affixes both to a wooden board in the drawer.

“F – REELENORE,” she says out loud for finality.

She gently closes the drawer, unsure what step lies next but certain that her backwards project is the first step of many.

Dear Baltimore

IMG_9256

Dear Baltimore,

It’s been a week…again. We lost Gil Sandler yesterday, though WYPR plans to run his Baltimore Stories every Friday for the foreseeable future. We hit 300 homicides on Wednesday. There’s a 7 year old boy missing and someone turned in a rocket launcher through the gun buy-back program. I spent three minutes on the phone being screamed at by a very angry parent and then cried for the subsequent two hours. And in her irrational rant with which I could not possibly disagree more, I hear the plight of this city. I hear frustration and ire and an inability to restore and sadness and resignation and misguided action and biting the hand that fed you and misunderstanding when someone is just trying to make things better.

Poor Baltimore, you’re so tired. You’re old and creaking. Your veins are swelling and exploding, arteries are clogged and rotten. Water main breaks abound and with winter beginning today, that’ll only increase as you get cold and 200 year old pipes freeze, expand, and swell beyond their encasings. It adds up, doesn’t it?

You have an irregular heartbeat in the form of a city government tripping over its own ego and stabbing in the dark at problems that go so deep with blindfolds made of the hunger for power.

The arthritis in your joints, at the intersections of people who stayed apart for centuries, is where the cartilage has worn away but instead of healing together there’s clashing. Your bones click as you try to move forward and layers of synovial fluid pops, a reminder that you’ve been here for hundreds of years and movement and change come with audible reminders of your stagnation, your stuckness, your old bones and natural inclination toward the way things have always been.

Your vision is blurred from tears, being poked in the eyes, and several lost fist fights. It’s hard to see what you need when you can’t actually see. When you can’t see the intersection of Penn and North or the blood stains over east. Do you see the people who are trying? Trying to make their lives better, trying to make your people better, trying to make you better? Not to mention your hearing. Surely it’s past its prime and fading. Is it drowned out by whirrs and dirt bike vrooms?

You’ve had a headache for years. Each murder is another concussion slamming your brain against your skull. Another lost resident. Another person who maybe hadn’t been given a chance at something better.

But Baltimore, you’re not dead yet.

You’ve still got 611,648 souls that look to you to rest their heads each night. Do you need a diet? Therapy? A massage? Antidepressants? A stiff drink? Probably all of this and a lot more. But it’s possible. And there are people who care. People who see your ailments and come up with Neosporin and Bengay and ice packs in the form of nonprofits, ideas, vigor, and optimism. You’ve still got a pretty face in your 19th century architecture, the birds in your parks, the public art that adorns your streets, walls, and most unlikely nooks.

Baltimore, you can’t give up because we haven’t. We the renters, the homeowners, the out of towner transplants, the apologists, the celebrants, the generational residents, we are here. And we need you to be a home. To open up those grandma arms and cuddle us against a fluffy bosom. Make us feel appreciated and welcome and lucky to be yours.

So as we look to 2019, Baltimore, make this year different. Make this a year with a life record rather than a murder record. Make it a year in which you come out of your elderly fog and you start to feel better. We start to feel safer. Make 2019 a year of positivity and love and growth. Make it a year where you don’t let people make fun of you for being “murdery” or backwards. Make it a year in which people proudly say, “I’m a Baltimorean.” Make it a year when the Orioles win the pennant. Okay, that one was a joke.

Make it a year that people look to Baltimore, from around the world, and say, “Look at Baltimore. She has her problems. But she knows how to heal herself and lift up her people.”

I believe in you, Baltimore. Of course, it’s really up to us, isn’t it?

Love,

Amandy

 

PS: How to help:

https://www.thread.org/get-involved/volunteer/

https://writingamandy.com/2017/11/10/let-there-b-more-love/

https://writingamandy.com/2018/07/06/paint-baltimore-kind/