Saturday, September 11, 2021

 FIRE 01


This morning at 6:20am I was out on the front lawn of our home with our aging puggle, Tucker, when I heard an alarm. Ugh, I thought, one of the neighbors must have forgotten to disarm their alarm and then opened their door. As I went back into our courtyard, I realized it’s our house!


I ran inside. My husband, Hank, met me in the hallway. The alarm panel in our front hall read “Fire 01.” I disarmed it while Hank dashed around checking the house.


The alarm company called. I held on with the operator while Hank finished the search. Nope, no smoke, no heat, no shower steaming around a smoke detector. No fire. No smoke. All clear.


“We’ve sent for the fire department to come but we’ll tell them it’s a false alarm.”


“Yes, I’d hate for them to have to come out for nothing,” I said.


“Something must have triggered the system,” the male operator suggested. “Would you like me to set you up with service?” 


“They’re coming Monday,” I said to Hank after ending the call.  “You were up with Tucker a lot last night. Go back to bed.” 


I went into the kitchen to make coffee when Tucker began barking. I ran to the window. A firetruck! Dressed in a nightgown, my hair a crazy mess, I opened the front door to three firemen coming through the alcove into our courtyard. Hank came up behind me.


“I’m so sorry you guys,” I told them. “It was a false alarm. The alarm company thinks something triggered it.”


“You’ve checked around the house?” asked the larger of the three through his mask.




“And everything’s reset?”


I turned to Hank. “It’s reset, right Hank?”




“Thank you so much for coming. I’m so sorry this brought you out here. I told the alarm company to tell you that it was a false alarm.”


“Yes, Ma’am, they did contact us, but we wanted to make sure and check it out.”


“Thank you so much…” I repeated, as they departed back to their big shiny fire engine out front. I thought of our granddaughter, Grace, who is obsessed with fire engines. She’d loved to have seen this.


“Go back to bed,” I told Hank.


“Those guys,” he said, making his way back down the front hall.


“I know. The best.”


I went back into the kitchen. Pulled out the coffee maker. And stopped. 9-11.


It’s 9-11.


The night before I’d been riveted by a National Geographic documentary on 9-11. The lasting image of those brave men and women. Their faces. Hoisting heavy hoses on their shoulders, ready to go up those stairs to save people. The look in their eyes. It never got old looking at those images.  We must never forget. Bravery in the midst of destruction and death.


I threw on clothes, grabbed my car keys and headed to get donuts. I needed to thank these guys.


The window in the donut shop said: “Cash Only.” I never buy donuts. How much could they be?


“$25,” the kind man told me, holding the big box I had just ordered.


I checked my wallet. I always have stashes. Only, I guess I’d used them all up. I had only $16. “Wait, I always have cash in my car. I’ll be right back.”


Emptying a pile of quarters onto the counter, I began counting. “It’s for the firemen,” I said, riffling through my handbag for random change.


“It’s ok,” he said, handing me the box. I detected a smile behind his mask.


I made my way back to our neighborhood fire station and pulled in the short driveway. The garage was open. The same three firemen who had been at our house, pulled on their masks as I got out of my car with the pink box in hand.


“Hi, you were just at our home – 1350 Lo…”


“Yes,” the tallest one interrupted. Everything Ok?” His eyes showed concern.


The other two held back. One had a rag in his hand, the other looked pensive at the ready to help.


I handed him the box. “I just want to say thank you.”


“Oh my gosh,” the fireman holding the rag said. “We love big boxes!”


I smiled beneath my mask, then, something hit me when the fellow holding the box met my eyes. “It’s such a kind gesture of you to do this,” he said. 


Those eyes. 


“Last night, I watched the National Geographic documentary on 9-11. I was…” I paused.


They stood silent. 


“So moved. Then, this morning you came – even though you got the false alarm – just to check!”


My throat closed with emotion. The flag was at half-mast on the pole beside the station.


“I mean, you guys are amazing.”


My eyes filled. That big, tall firefighter holding that pink box, his eyes, too.  I saw the emotion there. Something a mask can’t hide.


“We appreciate this,” the dark-haired firefighter that had hung back told me. “As my guy over here said. “We like big boxes.”


“Thank you so much for taking the time to check on us. And for not having the sirens blazing as you came up our street,” I laughed. 


The sun was just peeking over the hillside as I slowly drove home. I wanted to take it in. I thought of all the firefighters out there. The ones who’d been fighting all the wildfires. The ones who’d run into flaming homes, apartments, businesses. The ones who put out car fires on freeways. Those who just “check to make sure.”


In the documentary, one of the firefighters spoke through a maze of dust and debris as jet fuel spewed from the elevator shafts, and fires raged many floors above. Carrying heavy gear on his shoulder and back, he looked toward the direction of the stairs. “We just need to get up there to help these people.”













Sunday, July 25, 2021

Chinatown's CORE

    I had vaccine envy last March. A bad case. At that time, the vaccine was available only to 65 and over. At 64, I was frustrated. Mere months away from eligibility, I began plotting how to get it. 

    “We got ours today!” friends told me. “So relieved!”


    “So lucky…” I replied, thinking, I’m so jealous!


    The vaccine had become my “had to have.” It was that access to relief and ultimately freedom from worry about dying from the Coronavirus.


    I had no connections, no way of sneaking under the radar to get that coveted jab. I wanted the vaccine but there was a cost I would not pay – I wouldn’t lie to get it. It had to be legit. My vaccine envy went just so far. 


    I signed up to volunteer to help with the vaccine roll-out. It was not of a pure heart, or to give back to society, or to be a part of the solution. I did it for me. 


    I searched my emails daily in hopes that I would get a volunteer position and may be offered the vaccine as a reward. When nothing came of that, I was like an addict desperate for a fix, showing up at vaccine sites all over the city to see if there were any shots left at the end of the day that they needed a willing arm to take.  I even messaged a friend who is a pharmacist. “Got any leftover’s?”


    I wanted the vaccine, and I wanted it bad.


    Over dinner one night, I leered at my husband as we took a chance eating inside a restaurant in Park City. “Swell, you’re vaccinated,” I said, gesturing at the tables of people clustered around us. I took a sip of my drink and slipped my mask back on. “But I’m a sitting duck!”


    He downplayed it, but he wasn’t the one who’d be awake that night sure he’d caught the virus over a lousy piece of salmon. How could I have taken a chance like that when I’d almost made it to the finish line? What have I done? I’m almost there and I’m taking these risks! 


    But I’d also gotten that other malady – Covid fatigue and its symptoms took over my thinking. I longed for some normalcy, sitting inside a restaurant.  Yet, at what price?


    Two days later, while still in Park City, the vaccine eligibility age opened to forty years-old and older. As a part-time resident of that town, I grabbed an appointment. I had to change my return flight home to get it, but it was worth it.  My eyes welled as the nurse injected my arm. Tears of relief, of thanks, and in the name of science. 


    When I boarded my flight home a few hours later, looking out the window at the mountains in the distance. Everything looked brighter. The first vaccine was in my arm.





    Once I’d gotten the vaccine and its follow up dose, I was contacted by one of the volunteer organizations I’d signed up with earlier, CORE (Community Organized Relief Efforts). Why volunteer now? I’d gotten what I was after.


    Still, I signed up for the Zoom training. Once I was trained, it seemed the numbers of patients showing up at the vaccine sites was dwindling. By now it was May.  “If you still want to volunteer, we’ll send you to our mobile units.” CORE offered.


    I checked the box. I was in.


    What had changed? Why did I still care? I got what I needed. Two shots were in my arm. Done.


    “I want to be a part of the solution now, I guess," I said when a friend asked why I would still volunteer not knowing where my mobile site would be. 

    "But, you'll be around all those unvaccinated people."

    "I'll be masked up," I replied. "Somehow, I feel it's an opportunity to help out where getting the vaccine isn’t so easy to get for people." 


    A week later, I received a text: This is Shirley Phung. I’m the Chinatown Service Center CORE Site Manager. This is very late notice but I’m contacting to see if you can help out at the vaccine site tomorrow. It’s 8AM-3PM. If you can, it’ll be every Thursday as needed. Below the text, a site map of Chinatown pinpointing the address on College Street.


    I’ll be there at 8!


    Yay! She replied.



    The next morning at the mobile clinic in Chinatown, Shirley handed me a neon orange vest and a nametag. “You’ll be the Gate Keeper,” she said. “But, right now, we need to set up,” she said, handing me two white folding chairs. "Let's start in the waiting area."

1st day on the job. Posting signs.


    “What’s a Gate Keeper?” 


    “You see the patients coming in and going out,” she told me. “Check their ID and their CDC card.”


    I looked out at the line-up of patients waiting to take seats. Most were Chinese mixed with many other cultures that make up our city. “What if they don’t speak English?” 


    “Gesture,” she told me. “Use your hands,” she added. “Like this,” she said, swiping her hands in the direction of the check-in table. “Then, point to number four, or hold up four fingers.”


    Inside the glass doors, nurses waited at folded tables, plastic trays of vaccines at the ready. Two pharmacists were madly working in the back to fill the syringes.


    “You’ll do great,” I’d offered an anxious patient. Almost every patient halfway through my first shift, whether they spoke English or not, offered a quick nod, a smile, sometimes even a “thank you." I felt connected to these people. No matter the language or culture barriers, we were in it together to fight this pandemic.


     One vaccine at a time.


    As patients pulled up their sleeves, I noted the looks on their faces: the relief as they passed by me.  I felt like Ryan Seacrest at the American Idol audition exit door as each patient flashed their marked CDC card. “I got the golden ticket!”


    This “golden ticket” might just save their lives.


    I directed the patients, after they received their vaccination, to the observation area to be monitored for 15 minutes. Not one patient in all the time I volunteered had an adverse reaction – and I shepherded more than 700 patients.


    In late June, Shirley came up to relieve me at my post.  “Heather, you can take your lunch now,” she said, pushing up her glasses with her index finger, “Oh, and I’m afraid we don’t need you next Thursday.” 


    I felt sad, though I knew this day was coming. “I’ve never enjoyed a volunteer job more,” I told her, looking at the empty chairs behind me. Just two patients waited to be vaccinated. “The numbers are dwindling. I get it.”


    Shirley, this young woman who kept us all on track. Energy emanating from her tiny frame had impressed me. “It’s been good working with you. I’ll miss you guys.”


Last day on the job. A leak in the building caused the mobile clinic to move outside to vaccinate in the parking lot.


     “What’s your take-away?”  She asked me later at the end of my shift.


    “It’s funny, Shirley, I signed up to volunteer so that I could get the vaccine before it was open to my age group. I was hysterical to get it, and then I did. I reached the finish line. So why volunteer?”


    “And, now?” she asked. “You’ve been here on Thursdays for six weeks.”


    “I kept watching these patients passing through my ‘gateway,’ and saw how we’re all the same despite language, lifestyle, or culture. We’re all just humans trying to fight this damn virus.”


    A young woman with a streak of hot pink in her chestnut hair stood up from the monitoring area, her time complete. Slinging her handbag on her shoulder, she headed toward us. “Thank you,” she said, passing by.  


    “Thank you for getting the vaccine,” Shirley called out.


    The pink-streak-haired woman stopped. “I just think about all those people in India,” she said, adjusting the strap on her handbag. “And, kind of all over the world who would do anything to get this vaccine.”


    We nodded.


    “I feel so lucky,” she said, as she left.


    My shift over, I crossed over to the parking lot. I took off the florescent orange vest.  When I’d tried to turn it in, Shirley had told me to keep it. “We may need you again,” she smiled.


    I placed it in the trunk of my car and before shutting the lid, gazed at it, this flimsy garment, now a prized possession, reminding me of those patients, their faces, doing their part for the greater good.


    A few weeks later, the news reported that the Delta variant was wreaking havoc to those not vaccinated. My vest sits in my trunk, ready to go, should I be called back. 


    I don’t want people to get sick. It would be better for all if the virus would just die out, but that’s not what it’s doing.



















Monday, March 29, 2021

My Soap Opera Pandemic

 You know those people who mastered baking sourdough bread during the early days of the pandemic, posting on Instagram a line-up of top-browned mouth-watering loaves? Or, those who took to the garden, posting a beautiful arrangement of flowers “straight from the soil out front.” One friend posted the impressive number of miles she’d logged on her Peloton. Another, who kept a daily journal. “I’ve got enough to publish a book!”


I can boast of nothing close to these fine achievements during the lockdown. I must admit, I became a crashing bore riddled with anxiety that I’d catch the dreaded Covid virus. Worse, I became a cleaning addict. I mean, crazy time. My mother would say that it beats “hitting the sauce,” but my husband, Hank, might have argued when he woke at 4:30am one morning in April to the sound of me mopping the floors.


“What are you doing?” he asked, standing in the kitchen blurry-eyed.


“I couldn’t sleep, so I’m doing the floors.”


It started with Clorox Wipes. Six jumbo containers of wipes arriving in an Amazon box, twinkling as if they were rare jewels.  To me, they were. Grocery store shelves at that time were empty of Clorox anything. Random weird brands of bleach replaced them and only “1 per customer.” Like toilet paper, it was the big “get.”


Before the pandemic, I was always coming and going. I was at SoulCycle, perusing the cosmetic aisles at Bloomingdales, seeing friends, dining out with my husband when we were in town and planning Sunday night family dinners. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time at home and when I did, I didn’t focus on whether there was dust on baseboards in the living room or hard water spots on the shower door. During lockdown, we gave our housekeeper of eighteen years paid leave to stay safe and I’d walked into her job with gusto. 


Cleaning became my obsession, a way of control in a world that seemed out of control. The virus was raging. News was bleak, and there wasn’t a whole lot of guidance from the powers-that-be. Cleaning was a diversion. It was something constructive to do with all of that pent-up energy building inside me while trapped inside like a rat. Sure, I got outside with the bike, fresh air and all, yet while pedaling away in the neighborhood, I’d plot my next cleaning task. Hmmm, the shutters in the den. Have I tackled that since Sunday? 


Soon, Clorox wipes weren’t enough. It was an addiction. I searched on my computer and phone for stringer solutions and soon cleaning products popping up on my Instagram feed – that sneaky drug dealer whispering in me ear. I’ve got something better for you.


I swiped right up. Click to buy!


First it was the rubber gloves with little silicone spikes, claiming to get the grime with less elbow grease. Next, it was Clean Freak spray, followed by a silicone seal-in-a spray to coat my stainless steel to a shine. “Users claim their appliances “shine for a month; no finger prints!”


Instagram was on to me. New cleaning product ads flooding my feed daily. I swiped up and clicked. More! More!


Ultimately, I came upon what I thought was the couture of cleaning products - The Power Electric Spin Scrubber. “Scrub away, dirt, mildew, soap, burned messes, and hard water stains!”  I was in.


I set to work as soon as the box arrived, hitching up the elongated brush for those hard-to-reach areas in the shower. I was hooked, watching the whirl and the twirl of those pesky hard water spots disappear. Awww. Now, this is a cleaning tool. Three attachment brushes! 


“April,” I called my sister, “you’ve got to get one of these. You can’t believe how it works on grout.”


“Text me a picture of the box.”


Whoosh, off went a picture.


Seconds later, the phone rang.  “Heath, this chick on the box looks orgasmic. What the hell is this thing and what exactly is she using it to clean?”


I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt.


“I’m worried about you,” she said.  “Who gives a s**t if your tiles sparkle and your grout is clean. No one can come over!”


“Cleaning passes the time.”


“You need to calm down before your hardwood floors wear too thin.  This is getting weird.”


Days later, as I reached for my latest package of Swiffer Picker-Uppers to get a microbe of dust under the upright piano in the sunroom, I stopped myself. At this rate, I’ll be taking a Q-tip to the baseboards by next week. I put the package back. 


I stood in front of the cabinet, gazing at the plethora of cleaning supplies, my new Cadillac of a broom beaming back at me. All the disinfectant in the world wasn’t going to be able to clean up what was going on. I shut the cabinet door. My obsession was losing its luster. My sister was right. I was getting weird.



A year later, I remember the early days of the pandemic and wonder what I learned about myself. When I had time on my hands, did I really choose to while it away with a tile scrubber? Was my claim to fame a shiny floor that no one besides Hank would ever see?

I look down at my phone now. The Instagram ads have changed.


Interiors. Lipstick. Shoes. An occasional cleaning ad, BUG MD (to get rid of larvae) slips in, reminding me of my obsession during those months of Spring 2020.


But, the shallow me is back. Preferring pretty things to cleaning floors at 4:00am. 


Nope, I have no merits to boast of from my early days of the lockdown. Nothing besides sparkling tiles.


What I did learn, though, was that humor helped to heal my anxiety.  It was that tile scrubber box and April’s comments. I pulled the box out again the other day. She’s right: the woman looks like she’s on the verge of an orgasm. That moment was the game changer for me.


Thank you, April.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

What Happens Next



I pull into the narrow driveway leading to the entrance of the Westwood Memorial Cemetery. They’d been closed to visitors during the height of the pandemic but had recently re-opened. What’s with the locked gate?


I slip on my face-mask, grab the flowers I’d picked from our garden and step out of the car.  In life, she only appreciated flowers when they came from a man. Well, these would have to do.


I check to see if the gate is really locked and not just shut. Despite my pushing, it doesn’t budge. The posted sign reads: Due to Covid 19, restricted hours…So that’s why it’s locked. Still, according to the sign, the place should be open.


I stand in front of the gate masked with flowers in hand and I can’t get inside to my mother’s slot in the wall of the “Garden Gated Estates.” I feel like the character in the 1937 film “Stella Dallas,” where Stella’s peering through the window of her daughter’s wedding that she cannot attend.


Today is my mother’s birthday. She’d have been 93.


For Mom, birthdays were a big deal, planned way in advance. “I’m celebration-oriented,” she’d say. It was understood. You showed up for the birthday. 


Now what am I supposed to do? I can honor her anywhere on this day, but I feel closest to her here.  Back when she and her last husband, Dougie, the love of her life, got their plots, she was so excited. “It’s the best!” she said. “I’ll be among the movie stars! I always wanted to be one, but I was too lazy to trot the boards. Now, at least I’ll be among ‘em! Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemon, Natalie Wood! Did I mention Fannie Brice is around the corner? Not only her, but I hear Carol Burnett reserved a whole section for her family near us.”


Who gets this excited about a final resting place and their “neighbors?”


“I can’t wait for you to see it,” she said. “That’s our next field trip!”


 “The mortuary? To look at your empty slot?”


“Better when it’s empty, right?” 


After Dougie passed away, I took her to visit his slot in the wall. She always placed a manicured hand on his plaque, her signature long, orange-painted fingernails a sharp contrast to the somber brass plaque. “Love you,” she said. 


Noting her reserved spot beside him, she once turned to me. “Remember, I want ‘Ciao Bello’ inscribed on my plaque.”


“Talking about death doesn’t freak you out, does it?” I asked.


“Hell no. When you’re my age and your number’s up, your number’s up.”


Mom was such a larger-than-life character, such a huge part of my life that I started writing a memoir about her, about us, more than ten years ago.


“Mom, you have a minute?” I asked, back when I was writing the first draft. “I need to read these pages to you.”


She dropped everything. It was crucial for me to have her ear. After I finished each chapter, she said: “Hurry up and write the next one. I need to know what happens next?”


Now, I head back to my car. What happens next? I send a picture of the locked gate to my grown children and husband, Hank.  “I tried…”


I lean back against the headrest, staring at the gate. These are challenging times. Covid, so many deaths, unrest, job losses. My frustration today is nothing compared to what others are dealing with, but I’m still sad. I’d wanted to just stand and reflect with Mom close by, which is nothing, but it was my something on this day. To just show up for her on her birthday like I always have. Now I can’t. Tears well.


My phone lights up. It’s Allan, my oldest. “Mom, I’m so sorry that you can’t go in, but it’s so Nana! The irony of it.”


I dab at my damp cheeks.


“I mean, Mom, they’re opening restaurants after this epic shutdown and here, the cemetery, that’s outside, is closed! It’s outside! Certainly, a lot of social distancing going on there,” he laughs.


“And, no chance of catching Covid-19,” I smile, looking down at the facemask in my hand.  “Because everyone’s dead!” We both laugh. Mom would have loved that. “Always find the humor,” she told me.


“Don’t worry, Mom. You can still connect with Nana. Go to her favorite newsstand on San Vicente. She loved that place.”


“Oh my God, Allan. That guy who ran it loved Mom. He knew each tabloid she read and always, always, the two packs of Virginia Slim Menthols she ordered.  As soon as I pulled in, he’d see me, and grab the cigarettes and begin snapping up the magazines for her.”


“She made us all take her there.” Allan’s smile radiated through the phone line. 


The newsstand, though, shut down some time ago. I tell Allan this.


“You could go the Hank’s Liquor Store in Santa Monica,” he suggests, “that place on the corner where she’d sneak out of Sunrise Senior Living with her walker to get Advil and wine.”


I’m laughing so hard it takes two tries to click the seatbelt in place. I’m going to drive away and find some other way to connect with Mom. “I was at a business dinner in New York,” I tell him, “when I got the call. ‘Your mother escaped to the liquor store with another resident.’”


He laughs.


“She’d run off with a man, of course. There was always a man.” 


“You could go to her old house on Chalon Road,” Allan suggests.


“Naw, it’s all been redone. Nothing left of Mom there.”


“How about El Cholo, her favorite. You can saddle up to the bar, speak broken Spanish to all the waiters, and drink a marguerita.”


“So her!” I laugh. “Señor! Señor! In her gringo accent. They loved her there. But, it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, Al, I’m not a day drinker.”


I turn left onto Wilshire just like I’d do after I’d take Mom to visit Dougie in the wall. Next, the plan would be to have lunch in Brentwood and take a trip to Vicente Foods. 


“I know. I can do Vicente Foods, another of her haunts. And,” I add, “I’ll tip and compliment everybody like she did.” 


“Good enough.” he says, upbeat.  His voice turns somber. “I remember when I called her on her last birthday.” 


“She was pretty sick by then,” I say. “She died a month later.”


“Yeah,” he says. “I asked her how she was feeling, and she’d said: ‘Compared to what?’  God, she was something.”


“The one-liners, Al.”


“Always. Mom, Nana was the best.”


Later that evening, after an unsatisfying visit to Vicente Foods, an email pings in my in-box. I’ve been trying to find a publisher for my memoir for two years. Talked with agents and experts but little traction. Now, a publisher is writing to me. They want my book.


I’d stare in disbelief then, run into the den holding my laptop. “Hank, my book’s going to be published!” 


I don’t scream, I don’t cry tears of joy. It’s more disbelief. Is this real?


It’s was real, alright. On this day, her birthday, my mother shows me what happens next. 





Saturday, January 2, 2021

A Song for the Lifeboats



Holiday Cards looked a little different this year. Well, everything looked a little different this year. The cards ran the gamut. We received ‘Tis the weirdest season, 2020 Has Been Bananas, stay safe so that we can see eachother back in the jungle in 2021… We hope for a better year, and onewith the card-giver “distanced,” shouting “Merry Christmas!” through a megaphone. We all could use a laugh.


There were, of course, the Merry and Bright’s and the lovely Wishing You A Happy Holiday Season. And a Thomas Kincaid scene with glittery snow, wreaths on the lampposts – an old-fashioned card that brings comfort depicting old world innocence. 


For the first time in forty-one years, I’d planned not to send a card this year.  Why, I’d thought? Let’s just phone in Christmas and just get on with 2021.


Then, I got Janet’s card. It was a cut-out heart with a ribbon to hang as an ornament. I reached out to her to tell her how beautiful her card was and the message Give Thanks. On the reverse side, Count your blessings every day.


“I’m not doing cards this year,” I’d written.


“I hope you do,” she’d replied, “[It’s] a time when connections are more important than ever.”


Not this year, I’d sighed to myself. I’m just not into it.


Each day new cards arrived.  More messages of hope and compassion. We’re still here! So much love this Christmas. We wish you Hope and Peace.  More humorous messages. A picture of the sleeping family dog - Wake me when it’s over!  A picture of a family wearing face masks – Home for the Holidays! Some were spiritual, God’s Blessings to You. Cards from families who had moved and “Burgeoning Broods.” An engagement. A marriage. A water color rendition of a cozy cottage, painted by my artist friend, Betsy. 


And, of course, the holiday letters. Two wrote of many challenges they’d had this past year. “It definitely has been a time to reflect on what is important in life.” From another, after having survived Covid: “At least I have antibodies now. Useful given how far down the list I am for the vaccine, but happy to wait…”


A thick white envelope arrived mid-December from someone who had been on our list since our now thirty-one-year-old was in pre-school. Inside was a neatly tied bundle of our Christmas cards along with a message that they have enjoyed saving their friends cards all these years and (obviously Covid cleaning had gone on here), now they are giving them back for us to enjoy. 


I’d paused, standing at the kitchen island and sifted through the years of our family Christmas cards.  Always the message, Peace on Earth.


Voltaire had once mused that “life is a shipwreck, but that we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”

2020 has been a shipwreck.  


I reached for my phone and called my friend at Landis Stationery on Larchmont.  “Edie, what are the chances of getting a card done for New Years? Like fast.”


“What do you have in mind?”


“Something simple. I just need to sing.”




 “It’s a Voltaire thing,” I laughed. “You know? People have suffered, it’s been hard for so many, I just wasn’t in the holiday spirit.”


“Ahhh. But you are now.”


“Yeah, Edie. I don’t know, getting these cards, they lifted me up. We’re still here!”


The new year has arrived. And, with the ball drop in a very different Times Square this year, we reflect on what has been, still is, and look to the future. There is hope. It’s out there. 


Singing in the lifeboats to land on a newfound shore that is 2021. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Ride


I wasn’t in the mood this morning, forcing myself out there, knowing that I’d feel good after a bike ride. I’d loved my spinning classes, but then Covid happened. How to keep my sanity? My husband, Hank, and I bought bikes and took to the hills around our neighborhood and beyond, but not too far. I ride like I ski - slowly. I don’t rush down hills. I lean hard on those brakes. At 63, I’m happy to even be out there.


Hank, working from home, earbuds in, focusing on two computer monitors on his desk, gave me a wave as he started his next Zoom meeting. “It’ll just be a short ride,” I mouthed, tying the bandana I use as a mask around my neck.


That’s where we all are today. This odd, challenging, scary, uncertain, masked, not-fun-world cloaked in a pandemic that has shaped our lives since mid-March.


Sometimes, I play party-pretend, getting a little respite thanks to a distanced small get-together outdoors with friends or family. “This feels so normal!” I say as we depart to a family outing, silently longing for the real normal.  It’s daunting. Even exhausting. The news is rough. People are at each other. As a country, we are divided. Politically, racially, in every way polarized. And then there is Covid, that little black cloud that looms above. 



Earlier this morning, when I’d opened the freezer to pull out some bread, a frozen half-chicken fell out of the bottom shelf. It slid like a discus on the hardwood floor past my feet. I stooped to pick it up. I hate bone-in chicken, much less a half of one. My god, I remember getting this over six months ago. I’d remembered the day I’d dashed to the market like a mad woman, driven by fear of shortages, buying up things that I thought I could never live without.


By now, this second week of Fall, I’ve learned that I can live without a lot. 


I slogged through my ride, taking a hill or two just to feel like I’d pushed myself a little. Then, on impulse, I took a different street on the way home. 

As I rounded the curve, I came upon a middle-aged man crouched down next to a woman of the same age, lying in the street. Their bikes were cast aside on the curb next to them. Both still wore their helmets. She was trying to sit.


“You ok?” I asked.


“I think so,” the man replied. “We were making a turn when her back caught the algae on the corner and…”


Just then, she lay back down. “I need a minute,” she said.


“You sure I can’t do anything?”


“It’s all right,” the husband said, “I think we’re ok.”


“I hope you feel better,” I told her. She gave me a limp wave.


I hadn’t gone 500 feet before I needed to turn back.  I can’t just leave them.


“I’ll watch for cars as you help her up,” I said. He turned to his wife. She soon became lightheaded and nauseated unable to get up or move.


The husband and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. “Honey, I think we need to call an ambulance,” he said.


“It’s probably nothing, but it’s just a precaution,” I told her.


“My hips,” she said. “The pain is getting worse.”


“They’ll give you something to ease the pain,” I added. 


The husband was already on the phone, giving information to dispatch. I moved closer to her. “Breathing helps calm the nervous system,” I said. “Four breaths in – slow – four breaths out – slow.” 


I took the slow breaths with her, the bandana I carried to mask myself forgotten. All Covid precautions out the door. The husband and wife’s masks were in this wife’s pocket in the back of her shirt, flat against the pavement.


As the husband answered questions, we waved off and reassured no less than fifteen passersby in vehicles offering help. “Thank you! Help is on the way!” 


Waiting for the paramedics, the wife’s pain was getting worse. She and I kept up with the breathing and she tried hard to focus. She was so sweet despite being in agony. I kept thinking what it must be like to be on the hard asphalt, unable to move and terrified. 


Her husband held her hand, kept calm and soothed her. You can tell a lot about a couple in a crisis. These two in their mid-fifties had a strong, loving bond.


The sound of the sirens rang out in the distance. The husband’s face washed with relief.


Soon, the shady suburban street was a scene of firetrucks, sheriff vehicles, an ambulance and a backup in case she wasn’t stable.


The paramedics had lots of questions for her husband, so I took over holding her hand for a moment.  “Thank you, Heather,” she said. She was getting clammy and pale, but the experts were on it, giving her morphine, explaining everything in a calm, informed way that I could tell from her face, reassured her.


One sheriff took over directing traffic away while the other offered to hitch their bikes to the top of his cruiser and return them to their home. One paramedic brought the gurney, and another carried a board with straps to keep secure her.


As they lifted her onto the gurney, I stepped back and looked up for the first time. I was surrounded by people of different races, ages, genders and, likely, sexual orientation and political persuasions, yet there was no discrimination, no polarization. Everyone had one purpose – to help an injured person.

“You ok to ride home? You live close?” One of the firemen asked me.


“Just five minutes away. I’m fine,” I replied.


Pedaling home, I started to cry for this woman injured in the street who gave me her name that I’d already forgotten.  But, in her pain, she’d remembered mine. Once home, though, another feeling came over me. Hope. I pictured the faces, the concern, the support all these professionals gave this injured woman. We were all in it together. 


While I’ve learned that there are many things I can live without, the one I desperately need is hope for mankind. I’d been missing it, and now it was back. 


Her husband called two days later. Her pelvis, he reported, had been crushed. She needed a hip replacement and had broken her femur. “But,” he added, “today, she was able to take two steps.”


“Listen, I told him, "it’ll be rough, but I saw how you both are there for each other. You will get through this.”


“We will…” he answered.


I knew he was right. We all will.