Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The wader

I saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron yesterday.  It was at City Park in New Orleans. I was walking across a little bridge into a part of the park that's especially fine for birdwatching.  I looked down, and there it was.  It was wading in the shallow water, looking for prey.

It was taking slow steps on its yellow legs through the water.  Its steps were delicate and considered, as if it were walking among broken glass, trying to locate the single unmarred spot to put its foot.  

It looked up at me.  Herons seldom look at you purposefully, like a dog might.  You can't be sure they are because in many cases they are stock still and nothing about them moves.  Even if the eye on the side of their head is pointed your way, it's not necessarily focused on you.

In this case it was.  It made me feel oddly uneasy, as if it could see something about me that I didn't want seen. I wondered if it had been corrupted to the expectation of being fed.  But I doubted it.  These birds have a dignified aloofness that seems incorruptible.

Herons are often solitary and seem quite content with that life.  I am not.  I was with someone until a few months ago.  But here I am.

What a beautiful bird, with its painted yellow streak on top and sides of its head, the rest of the head black.  

You are either thrilled by the sight of birds, and especially of some birds like this one, or you are not. You can't persuade anyone to swoon over a bird just as you can't persuade anyone to love a person.  You do, or you don't.

I wished I had loved her.  We were together for about four years.  I called it off.  She lingers with me.  She's part of my body.  I know her so well I can tell you how she would move and react and talk in most situations.  I have an accrued store of experiences we shared that will never leave me.  I hold them preciously, even if, as I believe, she does not.  She won't speak to me. 

Now, I walk on, solitary, treading delicately the path of my existence.

I hold her goodness in my heart. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Getting tested

I live in New Orleans.  Hot spot.  Thought I might get tested.  Until now, though, I didn't want to impede anyone who really needed to be testedthose with symptoms, those in high-risk categories.

But now the city is saying testing is free, and there are no lines at the following locations...

So this morning I go to CrescentCare Health Clinic on Elysian Fields to be tested. 

The test area is in the clinic's indoor parking lot.  I'm wearing a mask.  I'm met by a man wearing a mask who asks me if I have any symptoms.  "Well, I've had a cough for about three weeks, and I get tired in the afternoon," I say.  I feel sheepish saying this.  It's just a damn cough.

I'm directed to the far side of the parking lot where there is a table staffed by two masked people seated with computers.  One gets up and walks to me.  They ask me a few questions about symptoms, take a snap of my ID and insurance card and give me a form to fill out.  I sit and fill it out, answering the same questions I have a zillion times before.  One, though, I have never seen before: "Do you identify as straight, gay...." I stopped reading.  WTF?  I leave it unanswered.

There is only person ahead of me, seated at a discreet distance.  There are three testing areas behind the greeting desk that look like large polling booths.  Blue curtains drawn shut.  A few people in scrubs and cloth masks plus those plastic SWAT team-like shields over their face. 

I'm called.  A man beckons me to one of the booths, pulls aside the curtain and asks me sit down.  It's a simple plastic chair.  There is a mobile AC unit (high today 82 degrees) and a standing mechanical gizmo.

The doctor enters.  He gives me his name, which, unfortunately, I immediately forget.  He takes my temperature (98.6), oxygen (good).  Then he reaches for the infamous long Q-tip, or whatever it's called.

"I assume you know about this," he says, holding up the long probe.

"I do."

"It's uncomfortable."

"It looks like it."

"The best thing to do is to bend your head way back and look up to the ceiling.  I take a sample from both nostrils."


He shoves the thing down my nose to my throat.  No, it doesn't feel great, but it's over in a blink.  I can think of many tests where things are shoved up you that are a lot worse. 

"You'll get your results in two days," he says.  

There's something very likeable about him.  He's concise, cheerful, and he inspires confidence.

The first guy comes back.  "Let me verify your phone number.  Is it...."

"646-267...," I say.

"Oh, a New Yorker," the doctor says.  646 is a New York City area code.  "I have a 917 code," he says, another classic NYC area code.

"Did you do your training in New York?" I ask.

"Yes.  At NYU." New York University. 

"Oh, so at Bellevue?"

"Yes." I can see his eyes brighten even through his plastic shield. 

"A friend of mine who is a doctor says that if she were gravely ill, that's the hospital she'd want to be taken to."

He smiles in agreement.  "It's a great hospital." 

I could write a entire post about Bellevue.  Most people have heard of it, but what they probably think of is a place for the mentally ill.  It has that capacity, but the hospital is far more than that.  It's the oldest public hospital in the U.S., for one thing.  It's a public hospitalnot a private one for the rich.  I lived in New York for thirty-five years, and for most of that time, I had a bicycle.  I would ride my bike past the hospital from time to time. It's at First Avenue, between 27th and 28th Streets, not a very interesting part of the city.  The only major landmark nearby is the Midtown Tunnel.  New York has a few lost areas, little pockets that are sad, featureless, devoid of energy, style, spirit, and a distinct culture.  Not every part of the city is memorable.  I would venture to say not that many New Yorkers, save the sick, have even seen this hospital. 

It always seems, for me at least, that all roads lead to New York.  I only talk to the doctor a few minuteshe has important things to do, after allbut in those minutes I feel like I'm speaking my native language again while for years having to speak another language in a country not my own.  The pull of the city is fierce, still.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The man in the store

I shop at my local grocery, Robert's, in New Orleans, between 6am and 7am.  This time is sequestered for people over sixty.  I am well over sixty, in fact coming upon seventy-five in a few months.  (Holy Mother of God.)  Nevertheless, it's one small perq of being old, and I accept it gratefully.

This particular day, Saturday, I arrive at Robert's at 6:30am.  It always feels slightly ridiculous to shop for groceries this early in the morning.  I pick things dully, and I always forget to get something I needed to get.  

The aisles are full of stacked boxes of produce.  Employees are madly rushing to unpack them.  This is not a normal work pace.  It's impressive to see how quickly and adroitly they work.  There are no excessive gestures.  I don't know how long they've been working, but I suspect even before the store opens at 6am.

I push my cart down all the aisles, picking out things, not really knowing if I want or need them.

Ah, yes, I remember.  I want sesame oil.  I'm going to stir fry something later, and I want that sesame touch to make it authentic.  But I can't find it.  It's not there in the exotic foods section.

I head for the cashier.  A man emerges from an office door and points me to a register.

"I'll take you here," he says. I begin unloading stuff from the cart.  We're both wearing masks.

"Do you have sesame oil?" I ask.

"Yes," he replies, "we do.  It's in aisle one, with the olive oils."

"Can I go and get it now?"

"Sure.  I'll check you out in the meantime."

He's energetic, polite, helpful.  He makes me feel I matter.  I turn and head for aisle one.

Once there, I search.  Can't find it.  Hmm.  Oh, yes, there it is.  Expensive though.  Do I want to spend that much?  I ponder.  Better make up my damn mind.  The man is waiting.  I grab the bottle and head back to the register.  He has come from behind the register and is just about to walk to find me.  He's already loaded my stuff into my cart for me.

"You found it?" he asks.

"Yes, thanks."  He has a name tag that says "Store Manager."  He's probably here every day.  I see a wedding ring.  He probably has a family.  I wonder how he feels, his wife feels, about his being here every day, possibly risking getting sick, even worse. Would I be able to do that?  Probably not.   

I pay.  

"Have a good day," he says to me as I wheel the cart to the door. 

I don't think I've ever believed anyone who has told me thatuntil this morning, in this grocery store, from the lips of this most gracious, sunny man.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Little Richard

I was ten years old when, in 1955, Little Richard's recording of "Tutti Frutti" hit the scene.  I was living in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  The schools were still segregated.  As was much of everything else.

I was trying to describe to my daughter what the music was like before Little Richard and the other rock 'n' roll pioneers saved us all.  The only thing I could come up with was that it was like a lake of tapioca.  America tried to keep it that way.  Pat Boone covered "Tutti Fritti."  This of course was a desperate effort to make this clearly black music white.  For most of us, it didn't work.  Even at ten years old, I knew Pat Boone didn't give me anything I wanted.  Listen to him and see for yourself.  He has the unique ability to take everything important out of a song and leave you with absolutely nothing.

Little Richard gave us everything.  He came out of nowhere!  Like a meteorite! It's hard to describe what effect he had on me and on thousands of kids like me.  His singing bypassed all roadblocks and leapt inside you.  It made you want to dance.  It made you want to scream.  How could you keep still?  You couldn't!  And it was LOUD.  He sang the hell out of those songs, "Long Tall Sally," "The Girl Can't Help It," "Good Golly, Miss Molly," "Lucille," and, my all-time favorite, "Slippin' and Sliddin'."  Then we got to see him on TV!  He's one of those great performers who when you saw him you got double your pleasure.  He was wild!  He was insane!  Dig his version of "Tutti Frutti."  (There's a brief glance of Bill Haley in the video.)  Even subdued for American TV, you can feel it.

Did I understand "Tutti Frutti?"  No!  YES!  I understood what was important to understand.  That was that the song was rockin' and rollin' and that I loved hearing it. That suddenly being ten years old was fantastic.  Give me more!  All I'll I had to do was buy his record.  I could play it again and again and feel soooooo good.  

Thank you, Little Richard.  For everything.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Wish you were here

"Mothers are all slightly insane," Holden Caulfield says at one point in The Catcher in the Rye. I always knew what he meant. It was never a quote that I puzzled over. In five words, he nailed it.
My mother holding me, age 7 weeks

Yes, mothers are all slightly insane, some more slightly than others. They're insane because they can never be certain, ever, that their child(ren) is(are) completely without harm. They are on some kind of alert twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Some part of them never sleeps. You can't be that attentive and worried for that long and not be slightly crazy.  Combine this worry with powerlessnessas soon as the boy or girl steps out of the house (out of the room, actually), they can't do a thing to protect them.
Holding her twins with me pondering. She had three children within eleven months

I think of my own mother, of her difficult life, and of her living alone after her divorce. For years. I think of all that she tried to do with that ache and pull toward her children. I think of her carrying that ache of loving me and that love unrequited, and how can you stand that day after day year after year? She used to say to me, "I get lonely for you, Richie.  I think of her probably feeling she hadn't been a good mother, and how that must have devastated her after worrying about us so deeply and so continuously.  I think of her bright, sharp mind, love of writing and reading and of her unblemished soul. 
In Old Greenwich, CT, sometime in the 1970s

It's too late to tell her that I love her. I tied to do justice to her memory in a piece called "The Wheaton Girl". She went to Wheaton College. "The happiest days of my life," she told me. I doubt she'd like it. She didn't want her weaknesses exposed, and who would? I wrote another about watching her hang out the wash when I was a kid. Still not right. I'm not here to say anything silly like, tell your mom you love her before it's too late. I'm just here to say to you, Mom, that you deserved better. But I can't. Because you're dead. I think about you every day. I hope you've found peace.
The only time my mother saw my daughter, Becky

Saturday, May 2, 2020


I went out shopping early this morning.  My local supermarket has the 6am-7am time slot reserved for seniors.  I am a senior.  It's one of the few advantages about growing old.  I would, however, trade that advantage in a second for a few years scratched off my tally and happily shop at noon.

When I walked to my car earlier, about 6am, dawn was at term.  Birth was imminent.  The morning was rife with the anticipation of the sun's arrival.  But it was still below the horizon.  I breathed in the air.  It was as fresh as can be, newly minted, glorious, and it tasted delicious.  This early morning air, uncorrupted by anythingcars, trucks, dogs, peopleis pure.  It's heady, and when I took great whiffs into my lungs, it was as if I were drinking from the fountain of youth.  Three of four deep lungfuls, and I was younger, stronger, healthier.  It wasn't going to last long, this 100% purity, this essence of newcool, sweet and invigorating.  Soon the sun would rise and slowly warm the air, relieving it of its coolness.  Soon cars would pass by, corrupting it with noise and odors.

Not yet.  For a half-hour or so I could breathe in pure optimism, hope, youth.  Better than the rarest wine, a gift to my lungs.

A breath of fresh air.

Somewhere in Walden, Thoreau declares that he never smoked tobacco or, for that matter, had any kind of artificial stimulus.

What, he asked himselfand usgot him going?

Morning air!

Thoreau, you, me, everybody.