Well, dammit, for once, today, tonight, all my ducks are in line. I’m sitting back in my well worn leather club chair in my she-cave, wearing a long violet petticoat skirt, boots with silver tips, up on the ottoman, a snifter of brandy and a good Cuban cigar, all to celebrate the dénouement of a week of being pissy. It culminated with a trip to the ER where I waited six hours on what felt like a long piece of cardboard – commonly referred to as a gurney. Then I was admitted. I was told I had probably suffered a TIA. I knew about them.
There was the endless questioning: “What brings you here today?”
This was the fifth or sixth time the question had been asked, each time by a different doctor. “Don’t they read the records,” I said to myself. The topic of medications was a litany of every pill I had ever taken, this in spite of the fact that I had presented a current list of meds at the time I entered the ER. I started to be stubborn and said “look at your record,” each time I was asked why I had come there, like a waif in the night, plodding through the snow.
With all due respect, the great age of electronic medical records has only brought forth a generation of cross-eyed and bewildered people who wonder why they went to med school and do not read the records or understand them, a field of fake geeks looking to uproot every weed and throw away every rock.
I digress. There was much, much more aggravation. When it was time to leave, I looked at the discharge summary. It was clear, literally. They all failed to understand why I had come to the ER. I fluffed up my feathers, remembering what my mother said in my own moments of exasperation “Carry on, Dear.”
The whole thing was worth a lot of being pissy and I am looking forward to the pithy New York Times Magazine.
Bonnie and Cher
In 1990 I retired from my career in public relations and marketing due to poor health. Several years later when I had improved we decided to get a cat. I went to the adoption center and found myself in front of a cage of kittens. How does one choose? I pondered. The most vocal cat was a tricolored tabby in front who was talking to me constantly. I was immediately enamored of her.
Then I spied a wee little kitten in the back of the cage, barely visible. She was so tiny and barely able to stand, wobbling in her corner. I surmised she had been taken from her mother too soon. Unable to choose between the two, I chose to take both cats home. Thus, quietly began more than a decade of tender love, laughs and tears
Hope City and Camp Runamuck
On a frigid evening last winter a homeless disabled American war veteran died unnoticed under a bridge in Providence, RI. I suppose you could say he died peacefully because he just went to sleep from the cold, but it’s a miserable way to go. He died on a pile of dirt. And he suffered greatly. His obituary did not read that he died peacefully at home surrounded by his loving family, as so many do. After his death and when the frigid weather had abated, a group of homeless persons established a tent city under the bridge near where he died. Thus started the saga of three homeless encampments in the city on state land under the bridges soon to be demolished as part of the new highway system.. Public officials are staging a fight in court to get rid of the establishments. Homelessness is the shame of America, and it has endured for decades. Its roots were the Vietnam War and the nationwide deinstitutionalization of hospitals for the mentally ill in the 1970’s.
The first tent city was called Hope City. Beneath I-95 and the new Iway, its residents numbered up to 100 persons. They gathered for camaraderie and safety. In April after the cold weather had abated another encampment started called Camp Runamuck. The names indicate idealism was gone. There were tents, cooking apparatus, food supplies and a portable toilet donated by a generous citizen. An American flag decorated a column underneath the highway. Their names were ordinary ones: Barbara, Carol, Randall, Michael. One had broken her wrist, lost her job and apartment. Some were mentally ill. Others were drug addicts. But they all were homeless.
One had enough knowledge of state programs to counsel her friends on how to get food stamps and medical attention. Another was a nurse and tended to her new-found friends. Most shunned shelters because they didn’t like their rules and didn’t feel safe in them. There is a long wait for public housing and shelters are overcrowded. The residents pooled their meager resources and bought macaroni and cheese to be cooked on an outdoor stove. Interestingly, the camp had strict rules and those who disregarded them were asked to leave.
The state started issuing eviction notices. Some of the group dispersed to the streets. Another group, asked to leave by state officials, moved to a new site under a bridge by the Seekonk River in East Providence and called itself Camp Runamuck II. Their leader was vocal in the news media about their cause, saying they just needed homes, not shelters which only housed them for the night and sent them on their way during the day.
Then the leader was arrested for failure to register as a sex offender. The state was determined and arrested the leader as he sought help at a local VA hospital. The best way to break up a group is to go after its leader. To disperse the remaining residents the state sent in mental health workers and social workers to talk with each group member. The counselors wore mesh jackets not unlike the FBI that had the word “counselor” printed on the back. Residents were intimidated, as well they might be, and the jackets came off. Tempers flared and one resident threatened to pitch his tent on the lawn in front of the State Capitol building in view of the governor’s office.
And then a minor miracle happened. Chief Wilfred “Eagle Heart” Greene, chief of the Seakonk Wampanoag Tribe invited the residents of Hope City to move to tribal land in Cumberland. It could not be more ironic. The very beings we have tried to eradicate and discriminate against are offering a helping hand yet again. At this writing the mayor of Cumberland insists the land is not a recognized reservation and is also part of a federal superfund site. Another door is closing. The remaining residents of Camp Runamuck II are awaiting court action next week. In the meantime a building contractor in Massachusetts has offered jobs to the residents of Hope City. One of three lawyers for the tent cities’ residents reminds the state that it has a moral obligation to the homeless in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.
Why does it have to come to this upheaval and drama to fix the problem of homelessness? Yes, we are embarrassed by those living on the street or in tents and turn the other way when we see someone in the center aisle of a road with a sign begging for food and work. We dismiss them because some are addicts and alcoholics. What would Jesus do? I think we know he would help them, just as he helped the sick, the lepers and the poor. I know a moral obligation when I see one .My son tells me that some of his friends in the technology field have lost their jobs, apartments, homes. Some are living in their cars. Others have just disappeared into the fabric of cities. My son has five children. Were he to lose his job, he and his dear family would be in similar straits. They would live in the homes of our family. Homelessness is just getting too close, too real to ignore. When I think of all the money that was used to bail out the banks and” too big to fail” companies, I wonder what would have happened if just one institution’s bailout had been used for the homeless. A superfund could have been created for them, accepting and campaigning for donations from large corporations and individuals who still live in luxury homes, hire gardeners and maids and cleaning companies, drive luxury cars and take exotic vacations.
There is something wrong with this dichotomy of the rich and famous and beautiful aside the homeless. There is something wrong when we send billions of dollars in aid to other countries and we can’t feed and house our own. There is something wrong when we ask a soldier to defend his country with his life and then bring him home to nothing.
There is something terribly wrong with our country.
Home, Home on the Thames
I’m a self-admitted good news looker. Every day I read the local paper, The Providence Journal, looking for good news midst mayhem, murder and general malaise in the culture. I want more than sending food and shoes to Africa, another space shuttle, more than an uptick in the stock market. Some days I find a tidbit here and there, usually in Marmaduke or Peanuts in the funnies. So it was sheer delight this week when I read a really good story, one that tickled my fancy and lifted my spirits. It went beyond the local environs, across the pond to England, home of the wonderful royals and their fickle citizenry. The swans on the Thames were to be counted.
In Medieval Times the swans in the rivers and lakes were deemed the property of the sovereignty. Kings and courtesans feasted on the graceful birds who people believed sang only one song, that being at their death. Living near a pond I know these giant birds are of great vocal spirit, so I don’t know how this belief came to be. More recently, British citizens were outraged when it was discovered that a local gentleman made a terrine of a dead swan he found in his yard. Who could do such a thing to the lovely swan?
The counting of the swans has a 39- year history. Days in advance of the “upping” the Queen’s chief swan engineer ( not his official title) starts 70 something miles down the Thames from London looking for cygnets. He shepherds them upstream to London, this year some 1000 of them, to be formally counted, inspected for good health and banded for conservation and protection purposes. In earlier times the cygnets were branded on their beaks with a royal symbol. Let it be known the sovereignty maintains a dispensary for caring for sick and injured birds. Anyway, the Queen’s swan marker takes his job very seriously even though he has a regular job in addition to his marking and protection duties. He says it’s a full time job, something my mother-in-law once said about caring for my twin babies and two-year old son.
I digress. On a cool summer afternoon in mid-July, Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took to her royal launch with its carved swans on the bow of the vessel, dressed in a delicious melon color suit and matching (of course) tulle trimmed hat. At one point she stood up as the swan marker, flanked by several royal- red dressed oarsmen, presented her with a swan cygnet to be touched, perhaps even petted . Prtocol dictates that the Queen should not be touched , except by husband and Michele Obama. But touch she did. And the ceremonies continued.
Now, the British citizenry balk at such ceremonial display. They are quite simply tired of supporting the royals and their extravagant ways. And I suppose royalty represents an era gone by and will soon be out of business, at least in any great public way. The divorce of Diana and Charles, followed by her untimely death, made the monarchy look very bad. Weren’t they just like the rest of us?
Rhode Island has its own ceremonial muster. Again in mid July there is the Blessing of the Fleet in Narragansett. A flotilla of recreational and commercial boats pass by a cleric – maybe the Bishop – to be blessed for safety in harm’s way. Of a less than ceremonial event is the Waterfire program in Providence. The Providence River, now free of its underground home, is host to an event that is both beautiful and inspiring, full of magic and awe.
It has captured the hearts of Rhode Islanders of all ages and cultures. On select eves in the summer months a myriad of cisterns stoked with wood are lit for hours giving a show not to be equaled. Gondoliers maneuver their craft down the river past Waterplace Park where hundreds of people can suspend their troubles for a time, shed their anxieties and watch suspended in harmony and awe as the fires glow. Best of all, the event doesn’t cost a dime to view.
I grew up in a small farming village in northern Maine just one mile from the Canadian border. The province of New Brunswick was like an adjoining county to us. My parents socialized there, we went shopping for linens and china there and my father was a long-standing Rotarian in Grand Falls, NB. French Canadian was a familiar language in our village. As a young girl I was fascinated by the young British princess, soon to be Queen of England. I collected many momentos of her purchased in Canada, including large booklets full of pictures, hankies with her name, small teacups and plates with her picture. Her coronation as Queen Elizabeth II was a highlight of my young life. So the balance of my favor is in her court. To me she represents graciousness, dignity and dedication not often found in today’s culture. I am touched that she went to the upping of the swans, climbed aboard her launch and did the right thing.
My Smaller, Richer World
I am disgusted, disillusioned and generally unhappy with the daily news. There is nothing good to report. Noting that my mood is declining, I have decided to cancel the magazines and replace them with National Geographic and Country Living. I am going to focus entirely on my family, friends, creative talents and my inner life. No more cable news shows, no more political discussions. There are ways to live a rich life without being fully informed. Does one need to be fluent in world news? Absolutely not.
About ten years ago when I was first disabled I designed a new plan for my life, one that would replace a fast-paced career in marketing and public relations. I did some consulting work, planted a garden, worked in a political primary. As I declined, I had to stop driving and gardening. My plan for daily living called for me to resurrect my painting skills as an artist, fine-tuning my computer activities and writing again.
Then I was homebound and yet again sought new activities. One of these was a desire to be immersed in current affairs nationally and globally. I subscribed to a current affairs magazine and a fashion/essay magazine. My hope was to be a good conversationalist. It was a way of expanding my small world. But there would be yet another turn.
We have a belligerent Congress, a struggling president, media controlled by entertainment and shock value and a plethora of venomous diatribes. I have finally become impatient with the whole thing.? I can engage in discourse on a number of subjects. Who am I entertaining? I believe what matters is one’s inner life, one’s feelings, insights and questions. My resolutions for 2010 center around enriching my inner self and helping others. My world is small and that’s okay; it doesn’t make me a small person.
As I look out the window above my computer I see bare trees beyond the crystals glistening in the frame. It is winter yet I find the landscape of a certain beauty. Nearby are my paints, brushes, folders, books and even my new little digital camera. I finally gave up my 35 mm camera, a loss I was not sure could be replaced. I have taken to lighting scented candles during the day. I am absolutely determined to enrich my daily life.
On Painting a Room
House maintenance hardly ranks up there with the enjoyment of a new home unless that home is a new high priced model wherein one can afford to call whoever is necessary to fix or paint or update. Not so with the majority of us who must resort to our own resources, shovel-ready home maintenance. Much of our basement is adorned with painting materials: buckets, brushes, a gazillion cans of paint and stain and sanding materials and so on. The finish line is glorious, the finishing not so sublime.
About a year ago I decided I would like to have the master bedroom painted a new color, something cheerful and uplifting, but not bold and bright. My husband and I bought our lovely cape home in 2003, our very first home. In the interest of time and the idea that one neutral color would make things seem larger we selected a putty color called nostalgically “Sawyer’s Fence.” I have been content with this color scheme especially since I have a lot of wall pieces that show off with a neutral background. But I’ve become restless now with this monotone. First we painted the small downstairs bath a lovely ocean blue and I accessorized with seashells and glass and white trim with flowing sheers. It does feel like the ocean, airy, breezy in summer, gentle on the eyes.
The next room on my list was the downstairs bedroom. It’s not large, but I spend a lot of time there day and night. I am disabled and homebound and I refer to the room as my “office.” Anyway I have learned not to broach the subject of a major home project to my loving spouse during the work week. Were I to do so, I would get no response or even a negative one. The time to do it, I reasoned, was on a weekend after he had had a chance to relax a little. So one Sunday last winter I said “Let’s paint the bedroom.” Actually I meant “How about you paint the bedroom. I use the divine We to thwart the fact that I can no longer plunge into one of these projects. He was reading the Sunday paper and I got a friendly “Yes, dear” response. “Yes dear” is manspeak for “I don’t care,” or even “Not now, dear.” Or worse, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Not to be deterred, I proceeded to collect paint swatches when we next went to the mega-hardware store. These samples were big ones, and I deliberated them in all kinds of light. I also took note of the names of the colors as if a name carried ethereal meaning.
It turns out the swatch I preferred was “Endless Rain,” and then the name took hold of me. Wouldn’t it contribute to my chronic depression? Back to square one. I often showed these color choices to my husband and he continued his non-committal stance. Then, one cold night in winter, I suggested we hire a painter to do the job. It would all be done in one day, I thought. This idea prompted a more interested response. His male ego stood to the occasion and said, “I can do it.” Well, I thought, I used to be able to do it myself.
By now, months after the initial proposal, I came to call the project the “Bedroom Restoration.” Husband had pointed out dents in the window sills and cracks in the walls. They would all continue to be a problem. In other words, why bother. The Restoration took on a determined resolve on my part. Presently I have chosen a color called “Summer Dragonfly.” I am ready to make the list of purchases to be made for The Project. Husband tends to take a whatever-I-have approach to things. He especially doesn’t like the taping part of prep work. In fact, he states, prep work is the worst part of it all.
I feel like I’m dragging a reluctant, wet dog home. Feet firmly stuck in the dirt, eyes pleading for salvation from the inevitable confinement.. My first color choice evoked a response of “That’s a guy color.” Oh, the plethora of excuses. He is ingenious in his ambivalence. My idea of the moment is to structure the Restoration into four consecutive weekends, one wall per weekend. That gives us four weeks till the leaves fall and the excuse of having to rake leaves comes out. I am dead serious now and The Restoration occupies my every waking moment. Can it really happen? My feet are really digging in now.
The wagons are circling. Conversation number 62: Friday will be a good day to prep – the cracks in one wall and the window sill will be fixed.
The room is done, thanks be to God. It is absolutely beautiful with all the things I love about country style. Paintings have been changed, sheers added to the eyelet curtains. ”Summer Dragonfly” is a gorgeous color that shows a warm blue at night. Husband worked three weekends, about two or three hours at a time. “There” he would say, as if a great painting had been finished. I am so grateful to him for putting up with my continuing prodding and the beauty of the final result. The Great Restoration is done.