Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Lost Lifetime

It started innocently enough, with my mother making a comment to me about the 14 boxes of 'stuff' she has in her basement with my name on them. Figuring that there's no time like the present, I pulled one off the shelves and began to go through it. And jumped, with no warning whatsoever, behind the looking the glass.

First there were the class notes. Reams and reams and reams of notes from classes I took in college, as well as during my junior year abroad in Scotland, where I attended St. Andrews University for a year (1984-1985, gulp) on full scholarship. (Greatest year of my life, bar none. Sorry Baroy. Sorry kids. Just the way it is.) All this knowledge, all this intense studying. All of it, gone. I mean, completely. I was staring at a slew of chemistry notes, and realized that not only could I no longer figure out some of the homework problems I used to toss off in five minutes, but I couldn't even figure out the notation that half of them were written in. No memory of anything I learned. Poof.

But that, I'm thinking, is probably true for most people, especially when you're talking about subjects that you never had to use again. I mean, I was looking at a paper I wrote at St. Andrews about the impact of the Varangians on Russian literature, and all I could think was that I not only couldn't fathom ever having thought that deeply, but I didn't have even the vaguest of inklings of what or who a Varangian is! Still, I knew that this wasn't unusual. I do remember a whole lot of the biology I learned, even in high school, despite the fact that most of that information came into my life more than 25 years ago.

What did freak me out a lot more were the letters. Dozens upon dozens of letters written to me that year in Scotland from my friends and family at home. I squealed when I saw them, then started sifting though. And then realized: Shit. Not only are there things in these letters--inside jokes, references to events--that I have no memory of, but there are letters from people who I can't recall at all. Not even a blip. These are people who were clearly part of my life--even somewhat important therein. And yet...nothing.

For instance, I pick up one letter, and it says...

...I'm living off campus this year. During the summer I stayed up here. (Remember the "TC, you really don't want that chair, do you?")...I'm now officially in the 5-yr-MBA in accounting program at U. I'll be graduating with you!...Guess who I 'sawr' in the pub on Friday--I hope it doesn't depress you. J and G. They are getting married in a year or so. You'll be back in time to appear at the wedding so that you don't have to forever hold your peace.
And all I can think is...Who is this guy? What chair? I know who he was talking about getting married, so he must be someone who lived on my floor either during my freshman or sophomore years, but...Shouldn't I know? Shouldn't I remember?

[Actually, it just came to me as I was writing this...Phew. I can vaguely remember him, and now that I do, I think we were pretty friendly. I also think he may have been on my floor both years, but then again, it may only have been sophomore years. Still have no clue about the chair though.]

So I pick up another letter:

The reason that I'm writing now is that not more than an hour ago I decided that I was going to return to U for Camp U so I can say hello to the seniors I know before they scatter like cockroaches throughout the United States. I was hoping that this letter would find you at home and possibly convince you to voyage up to U next weekend yourself, if not for your sake then for the sake of S, as she will need all the help she can git...Truthfully, it would be good to see you and hear about your trip.
This one? Nada. Nothing at all. The name doesn't even ring a bell. Someone who thought his words might get me to travel four hours up to my university to hang out over a weekend with him and one of my best friends. Someone who alludes in other places to "certain incidents involving beer," and yet I'm no more sure whether he's talking about me or S or another of our friends than I am of who the heck he is. Did I sleep with him, this faceless guy? Did I fool around with him? Did one of my friends? Who the hell is he?

The final straw, though, was the poster. If you had asked me two days ago about this poster, I would have stared at you blankly. But when I unfolded it, I remembered--or at least I think I remembered. I think it was something that my friends put together for me to take with me to Scotland. It was full of things cut out from magazines--phrases, faces. I looked at it, remembered what it was, and almost wanted to cry. I can't describe the feeling. There was no feeling. There was no connection. I don't know who these magazine-cut-out faces belong to. I don't know what these phrases mean. I don't know who this person was, this person that so many people seemed to care about and tease and love. I feel like an amnesiac. I feel like I've lost myself, or at least a large and interesting part of myself.

I would say it makes me depressed, but really, I'm feeling nothing at all. No memories, no feelings. How sad and empty is that?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Lucky Seven

Seven years ago today, my baby girl arrived and, like some kind of neonatal fairy godmother, turned me into a parent. It was and will always remain the most remarkable transformation I've gone through. It was and will always remain one of the two most profound days of my life.

Here's Em's birth story, as written just four days later to the moms on my birth-month list. It's not the most skilled writing I've ever done, but it still makes me cry every time I read it.

August 29, 1997:

I know many of you figured out I was in labor from my "show" question in the middle of the night on Sunday/Monday, and you were right...By 6 AM Monday morning, I was having contractions less than every five minutes apart and lasting for over a minute for at least an hour. Baroy had gotten up at 5:30 anyway, so I told him I wanted to call the hospital. They said to come in. We got there around 7:00, and by then the pain was getting intense. I definitely couldn't talk through them, and had to concentrate really hard to keep my breathing going. I get checked by the nurse (WOW, what a rough internal THAT was--turns out this was a wonderful nurse, but not the lightest of touches...) and was only at 2 cm. She admitted me, did 20 minutes of fetal monitoring and then told me I had to walk the halls for at least half an hour before I was allowed back in bed. Contractions were getting awful. I don't know for sure if I was experiencing true back labor, but I definitely had the feeling that my back was ripping open, while my front didn't feel so great either. During the contractions, I tried to keep walking, but mostly just hung myself around Baroy's neck and stumbled until it stopped.

Anyway, we eventually go back to the room, and I'm only 2.5 to 3 cm along, and I'm losing it, big time. It hurt so bad, I couldn't stay on top of my breathing, I just thought I was dying. And if this was "early" labor, what was transition going to be like? As it was, my contractions were off the chart, and coming every two minutes! I asked for help. They gave me Stadol. I wasn't fooled, though. I got really stoned, sure, but the pain was still there. It wasn't long after that that I asked if it was too early for an epidural. She said it was fine, that we'd get me through this. So I got an epidural, and some pitocin. I wanted to cry, I was so relieved to feel the pain slip away. There were so many people in my room (Baroy, my brother-in-law, our
friends W, G and E and eventually the baby's godfather, M) that it felt more like a party than a birth, but I was so sort of out of it, it didn't bother me.

Then the "fun" really started. They had broken my waters when they admitted me (or, actually, my doc did) and found a bit of meconium. So they were already slightly concerned. So they put a contraction monitor into me internally, and it looked like I wasn't having any contractions. So they upped the pitocin, and upped it, and upped it...until finally someone realized the monitor wasn't working. So they put in a new one and checked me, and--HEY--I was having contractions, in fact I was between five and six cm in just an hour and a half. Piece o' cake, I thought. Then at around 2 pm, the baby's heart rate dipped and everyone flipped out. My doc came over and checked me, and since it didn't happen again, said we should just keep going. By then I was at 6 cm, where I stayed...and stayed...and stayed. Four hours later, nothing more had happened, except that I had developed a pretty good fever, probably from the epidural, but of course they were going to have to treat me for it soon just in case it wasn't, and each contraction was pushing out thicker and thicker meconium. My doc came and sat by my bed, and I knew what was coming. She said that any one of my problems--failure to progress, thick meconium, fever, the earlier deceleration of the baby's heart--wouldn't worry her, but she said there was little chance with this pattern that I wasn't going to wind up with a c-section, so shouldn't we just get it going? I got teary, but I said yes. I knew it was coming, like I said. And so, at 7:00, shaved and prepped and filled with epidural and morphine (given to me by the sweetest elderly anesthesiologist ever, who kept kissing my forehead and telling me what a good mother I was going to be), I was on the operating table. Baroy held my hand, and watched the entire operation. I never figured him for doing that, but he was fascinated. I felt everything...very weird. But no pain.

When they got the baby's head out, they stopped to suction some meconium. Baroy was beside himself with how bizarre it was to be looking at his wife's belly with his kid's head sticking out of it!. Then, at 7:15 pm on August 25, they pulled the rest of her out, and rushed her over to a table where a neonatologist from a nearby hospital was waiting (my hospital only cares for "well" babies, so they had called over to another hospital to have a specialist attend the birth when they saw the meconium). I hear someone say it's a girl; Baroy says they actually said "it's a poopy girl!" I didn't get to see her, and because they were aspirating her, I couldn't even hear her cry. It was a tense few minutes (turns out, they were bagging her so that she would get air while they aspirated, and that's why she couldn't cry--too many tubes in her throat, poor thing). Anyway, finally I hear this wonderful, snuffly little cry coming, and they wrap her up and bring her over to me to look for just a second. She was pink and gorgeous and chubby and I just started crying. Baroy was crying. And of course, Em was crying. So it was an emotional meeting. But then they quickly took her away for some oxygen.

They finally wheel me into recovery, and in comes the neonatologist to tell me that she had indeed swallowed a lot of the stuff, and that snuffly cry, while cute, wasn't a really good thing, since it indicated she still had some in her lungs. So they were going to transport her to the NICU over at their hospital. I got a little emotional, and insisted I had to see her, because I never even got to touch her. They promised they'd bring her to me before she left. So a few minutes later, here comes my daughter, in an incubator box with a huge oxygen mask over her tiny face, and all these medical people around her. And they open one of the portholes and push me next to her, and I get to run one hand over her body while she stares at me. Then they hand me a bunch of Polaroids they took, and off they go. I make Baroy follow them, to make sure she gets there OK and check up on her. So I'm all alone with my nurse and my Polaroids, and these ghoulish thoughts in which I take a nice thing (that they took pictures for me) and make it into a horrible thing (that they only do this so the mother has something to remember her baby by). Needless to say, I didn't have a good night.

Well, this is realy getting too long, so I'll condense the rest. My doc says the cause of all of this was probably the bizarre way in which she'd managed to get her umbilical cord wrapped around her ankle in a tight figure eight--that would have been the stress that would have caused her to poop in utero, and would also explain the failure to progress (she couldn't go down the birth canal any farther, because she was shackled to my placenta by her ankle, just hanging there).

For now, Em is still in that other hospital's NICU, though she's by far the biggest baby there (she weighed 8 pounds, 2 ounces at birth, and there are preemies in this room that are under a pound). They're giving her prophylactic antiobiotics to make sure she doesn't develop pneumonia from the meconium she swallowed. She was on oxygen until yesterday, when they
took out the nasal canula (YAY). They're still a little worried about her respiration rate, which is pretty fast, because she has an air bubble in her chest which got pushed through her lungs during the aspiration (I think) and while it'll probably resolve itself, they don't want it to wander back over to her lungs, where it could cause part of it to collapse. They're going to do an x-ray today to see how all that is resolving itself. If all goes well, she could--please, please, please--be home with us by Monday.

For what it's worth, she ended up doing us one better: She was home by Sunday, after six days in the NICU. At the time, those days were neverending; now, they're a memory that I only bring out of storage once a year or so. At the time, I thought the world was ending; now, I know that it was only just beginning.

Happy birthday, my Emmy-dem. And thank you.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

It's My Blogaversary!

Wow. I've been doing this for a year, huh? Hard to believe. Hard to remember, too. I can't remember, for instance, what the final impetus was to do this, aside from reading and thoroughly enjoying a slew of other blogs, journals, diaries, what-have-yous. I have no idea what I was--or am--trying to do with my own blog.

Still, it's an accomplishment, I suppose. Now I'm wondering if I shouldn't set the high bar a little, well, higher for myself in year 2. Instead of just having a blog, perhaps I should have a purpose? But what? A post a day? A once-a-week essay that's a little more thoughtful and well-constructed than the usual spewing I do? More memes? More links? More politics? More about the kids? Less about the kids?

Anyone who wants to weigh in here with a suggestion is more than welcome...

Friday, August 20, 2004


Yesterday morning, after I hung up the phone with Em's soccer coach, Baroy looked at me, shook his head, wrote something on a Post-It, walked over to my desk, and slapped the Post-It on my forehead. "Study this," he said. "There's going to be a quiz."

I took the Post-It off my forehead. On it were just two letters: N and O.

See, I had just agreed to serve as co-team coordinator for the soccer team. That would be on top of being the Brownie troop treasurer, serving on the PTA executive board, and editing the school newsletter. Oh, and working 32 hours plus per week and getting ready to maybe write another book and shuttling my kids to daycare and various practices and classes as well as actually spending time with said kids, not to mention trying to pursue my various hobbies (gardening, tatting, cooking, running) and get me some therapy. (Hmm. I wonder where that stress-induced anxiety is coming from?)

Baroy just doesn't understand, though. How do you say no to these things, especially knowing that you can do them if necessary?

Maybe it's just me, in whom resides the Jewish Guilt Gene (heretofore known as the JGG). I hear the soccer coach say, "Well, the other mom got nervous when she heard all the things I needed from her, so she said she'd only do it if I could find someone to share the load with her..." and the JGG starts pumping out its guilt-inducing enzymes, and suddenly I hear myself saying, "Sure. Shouldn't be a problem." Because the kids deserve a team coordinator, don't they? And wouldn't it be a shame if it weren't done right?

The JGG is definitely responsible for my Girl Scout position. Treasurer. Hah. I despise doing bookkeeping. I won't even look at our bank statement at home. But the girls needed me. And so I said, "Sure, if that's what you need me to do, I'll do it."

The JGG is also the reason I'm single-handedly putting out a monthly newsletter at the elementary school this year. Because, hell, I do this sort of thing for a living. And if I don't do it, it might not be done 'right.' Besides, I can still hear the PTA president's voice: "There isn't anyone else who wants to take it on, TC. Please?"

I hear other moms say no all the time. Of course, I also know the names of all the parents who don't say no, and I've used them just as I get used. And so, when I hear myself saying, "Sure, I can make a bean salad for the back-to-school teacher's luncheon," I just chalk it up to the JGG, hit the grocery store for supplies, and put it on my calendar. Because it's my job to be the sucker. Someone has to do it.

I have a feeling I'm going to fail Baroy's pop quiz.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

What Would Be Here

If I weren't suffering from a chronic lack of motivation and time and sanity, I would right now be spewing out a bunch of witty and thought-provoking posts.

One of them would be a hilarious retelling of my foray into the Time-Life building to visit with my brother-in-law, and the ridiculous security features therein. It would end with a contemplation on the current culture of paranoia in New York, and how differently the people who lived through 9/11 there see it than do the people who weren't there. It would be funny and poignant.

Another would be a book review of This Damn House, by Margo Kaufman, which I finished reading on my plane trip back from New York. It would tell you all about Margo, who I happened to have been acquainted with In Real Life for a short while, and it would tell you all about the book, which is hysterical. It would be persuasive, and make you want to read the book.

Then there would be the post about how my daughter turned into my mother on the phone the other night. (And I thought it was bad when I heard my mom's words coming out of my mouth.) And then there would be the post about how I've lost almost 10 pounds since starting Weight Watchers two months ago, but feel kind of guilty about it, since I've been anything but true to the plan. And then there would be the post about sitting with my father for about 45 minutes in a Starbucks in Manhattan and seeing him for the first time in almost four years. And then there would be the post about how I'm switching psychiatrists for completely mundane scheduling reasons and how this whole trying-to-get-better process has really sucked so far. And then there would be a post about the play reading Baroy produced just before I left for New York, which featured one of his own early plays and got a great response but no promises of money or support, and my mixed feelings about all of it.

These posts, too, would have been by turns emotional and light, introspective and amusing.

It's too bad. I think you would have enjoyed them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Driving Me Crazy

N was stuck to my side in the kitchen tonight as I tried to make dinner, and it was really starting to get to me. At one point, he was throwing a million demands/requests at me at the same time, and I raised my voice at him. "N! What do you want from me?"

Baroy was passing through the kitchen at the time and picked N up and said something to him I couldn't hear as he carried him to the living room. I didn't care what he said; I was just happy for the intervention.

No more than five minutes later, N comes marching back into the kitchen and climbs back onto the kitchen chair from which he'd been surveying my every move earlier.

"I back!" he announced with a huge, bright smile. "And I not driving you crazy any more!"

Hee! How could anyone not just eat that boy up?

Monday, August 16, 2004

My New York State of Mind

Just back from my trip to drop Em off in New York with her grandparents and an entire battallion of doting uncles, aunts and cousins. I'm wiped. I don't know if I'll ever get l to do a whole travelogue--and really, why would I?--so here are the highlights:

1. Visiting with Anna Rose. My friends' 17-month-old is fresh out of a Russian orphanage and has gained three pounds, grown an inch and gone from not being able to crawl well to walking several steps (right into my arms...giggling with glee...it's almost too sweet for words) in the two months she's been with her new mommies. The best moment: Anna in my 8-year-old nephew's arms starts to whimper, and someone suggests that she wants her mommy. My nephew, without hesitating, says "Which one?"

2. Dinner with my sister last night. A huge pot of mussels, a big stein of microbrewed beer, two straight hours of real talking. I can't remember the last time we got to do something like that, just the two of us.

3. Lunch with some of the folks I did my bipolar book for. (See obscure and unsatisfying mention of how that went below.) They sure did wonders for my ego.

4. An hour in my brother-in-law's office, just catching up. He and I were very close friends long before he set me up with Baroy, and the years and distance and our becoming part of the same family haven't really been all that kind to that friendship. It was nice to bond a bit.

My least favorite part of the trip? Definitely last night before and after the dinner with my sister. Em, for some reason, felt compelled to cry relentlessly on several occasions, and my mother felt compelled to try to reason her out of it. Sigh. It was painful, and long.

I'll leave you now with some notes I jotted down on Friday, after the aforementioned book-related-people lunch.

Genetics is not destiny. All hail environment, the undersung, underappreciated influencer of personal fate.

I had this epiphany on Madison Avenue, as I walked (ah, NYC, where people walk at MY pace) from 23rd Street to 50th. Oh my god, the streets of that city. Walking down them is like mainlining speed—not the drug, mind you, but the velocity, the direction, the whoosh of it all.

Granted, I’d just had a most excellent meeting with some of my book editors. (Another book in the works for me, perhaps. And maybe some magazine articles as well. More on that later, when and if things gel.) So I was on a bit of a high to start with. But as I walked, it only got higher. I could feel my thoughts start to take off, to race ahead of reality. And then...and then...and then. Anything seemed possible. Everything seemed likely. But it also felt speeded up, pressured, imperative, almost life-supporting. At home, I would have jumped around a little bit, squealed once or twice in excitement, then gone back to preparing the PTA newsletter. Here, I was walking down a street basically planning my takeover of the literary world. At home, I’d have been gleeful but realistic, thinking about what I would do with a little extra cash next year. (Central air, here I come.) Here, I went straight from excitement to grandiosity, from ‘ooh, that could be a lot of fun’ to ‘and then, when we’re living off my royalties...’ From real to oh-so-very-much not. I got so far ahead of myself in such a short period of time, that when I finally stopped walking, 30 blocks later, I could feel the let-down. I could actually feel the disappointment seep in with the remembering that we were talking about one book, one small advance, an unknown number of readers, an unkown amount of royalties.

Yes, you need the genes to be bipolar, or any of the other brands of craziness. But sometimes, you also need the environmental push to reach your full craziness potential. NYC does that for me. It’s a Very Good Thing I don’t live there any more.

Thursday, August 12, 2004


The California Supreme Court can blow me.

Yeah, I know what you're going to say. Legalistically, the ruling probably was a foregone conclusion. But morally and ethnically it makes me want to scream. That legally differentiating between adult human beings based on who and how they love is something acceptable, something people feel proud of, something they don't feel the need to wear a white sheet and hood while proclaiming...The bile rises in my throat. What year is this? What society is this? What the fuck is wrong here?

Motherfucking homophobic bastards. Hate begets hate. And I'm telling you, every time this subject comes up, I feel it. White hot and ugly as all hell. But not as ugly as what's causing my hatred in the first place.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Rain Smoke

As we were pulling out of the driveway this morning, N pointed to the sprinklers going off next door.

"Where DAT water coming from?"

"It's from their sprinklers, honey."

"Like ours?"


A second of silence.

"LOOK! Smoke!"

I look. "Oh, that's not smoke, sweetie. That's just very, very tiny drops of water from the sprinklers that the sun is hitting so they're kind of lit up. It's called mist."

He considered that for a second. "No, not mist. I call dat rain smoke."

I swear that my whole soul leapt for joy when he said that. How wonderful to be a child and see a world where everything is new and beautiful, and needs to be named. How wonderful to be a child who isn't yet constricted by the words and phrases of others. How wonderful to be a child who looks at a ray of sun through droplets of water and sees rain smoke.

And how wonderful to have a child who helps you see it, too.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Letting Go

Em and I are leaving on Thursday for New York; I'll be staying there for four days, seeing family and friends (and my friends' newly adopted baby girl from Russia, who I intend to overwhelm by squeezing and snuggling her way too frequently) and meeting with some of my book editors. I'll return home on Monday, but Em won't...at least not that Monday. Instead, she's going the spend two weeks with my mom and stepdad (and sister and nephew and stepsister and stepbrother-in-law and aunts and uncles...not to mention two of Baroy's brothers and their wives and their kids...). I'll fly back to New York on August 27th--two days after Em's birthday, actually--to pick her up, see the aforementioned folks again and squeeze my friends' baby girl again (if she isn't already running away screaming at the mere sight of me).

Em's nervous. Very. But she's also excited. She's particularly excited about the four days of "Mommy-Emmy time" that we'll be getting before I leave NYC. Me, I'm...not nearly as freaked out as I would expect to be. Or, rather, as other people expect me to be.

See, I'm not really an emotional person. That's often hard for people who know me to recognize, because I'm generally outgoing, loud, quick to smile and laugh, not at all shy about hugging and touching. But the negative emotions are hard for me. It's taken me years to get to the point where I can dare to disagree with a friend on something, much less get angry at them. (Baroy doesn't entirely buy the, "The only reason I can scream expletives at you is because I love you," argument, but it's true.) And I'm not a cryer. I mean, REALLY not a cryer. Didn't cry at my wedding. Didn't cry at my kids' births. Didn't cry when my grandmother died.

None of these are expressions of how I feel about those people. I'm just not a cryer. Nor is my mother, or my sister. (Baroy, on the other hand, is--as is his whole family. By the end of the weekend of our wedding, my mother was rolling her eyes and saying, "Oh, look. One of the K's is crying again. What a shock." But I'm sure she meant it lovingly.)

So when people keep asking me how I'm going to deal with saying goodbye to Em, or how they can't imagine their children being gone for such a long time, I just shrug my shoulders. I guess I'm just cold-hearted or something, but I really think I'm going to be fine. I mean, I'll give her a huge hug when they drop me at the airport, and I do expect that SHE will cry, and that will make me sad for a minute...but then I'll think to myself, or say aloud to her, that she's going to have such a wonderful time that it more than makes up for any homesickness she might feel, and I'll get on the plane with nary a heart-tug. It's sort of like the way I felt when she or, more recently, N were at the crying-when-mom-leaves stage at daycare, and I really didn't have a hard time prying them off me and giving them to a caregiver and walking away. Not the first time, but once they were settled. Because I knew they were going to have a great day. I knew that by the time I came to pick them up, they'd complain about having to go home. So why waste the energy feeling bad for them? Spending two weeks with your grandparents is such a wonderful gift that I really mostly feel happy for her, excited for her. And I'm looking forward, to be honest, to letting N be an only child for a couple of weeks. Em got 3.5 years of it, after all, and he deserves a little two-on-one time.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Crime and Punishment

My father didn't believe in spanking; neither did my mother. They really didn't have to, at least not with me: I was such an uber-sensitive kid that just frowning at me would reduce me to tears. My sister, on the other hand, was a handfull. They don't come much more headstrong than her, especially in the early years.

Which brings me to a story that, for reasons to boring to recount, I was thinking about just yesterday. In my family, we call it The People Incident.

Do you remember those little Fisher Price people with the round bodies that fit into holes in toys like the Fisher Price School Bus? Well, back in the Stone Ages when I was a child, they were made out of wood, instead of the ubiquitous, light-weight plastic of today. One day, my sister and I were arguing over who was going to get to put one or another of these wooden people into the Fisher Price ferris wheel that had been a present given to one or the other of us. Now, despite being 3.5 years younger than me, J was and still is one tough cookie. And strong. So when she finally wrested the little figurine out of my hands and I howled in anger to our parents, she--completely out of frustration and anger--threw it back at me, hitting me in the forehead and raising a nice little knot. My father, who had witnessed the throwing of the toy after responding to my howls, was incensed. And decided, on the spur of the not-his-best-thinking moment, to go with the whole eye-for-an-eye thing. So he made J--who couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 years old--stand across the room from him. And then he took that little wooden character...and whipped that sucker across the room at her, where it glanced off her shoulder with an audible thunk.

I don't remember if she cried; I don't think she remembers either. We were both just too shocked at the sight of this 6-foot-tall angry man hurling a piece of hard wood at a 4-year-old.

Of course, as the years went by, it became a joke between J and I: "If you don't give that to me," we'd say as teenagers, and even now as adults, "I'll throw a people at you."

And my dad? Like so much of his life, he has only the vaguest memory of the incident, much less what prompted him to think that was a good, nurturing idea.

The moral of the story? If you haven't sent a chunk of wood hurtling toward your child's head or body recently, you're doing a great parenting job. See? Isn't it all so much easier when you just readjust the high bar a bit?

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Blogging for Books #2

[The following is an entry into The Zero Boss's Blogging for Books monthly contest. This month's topic: the worst experience you had working for someone else.]

I’m stumped. Bamboozled, even. I know who to write about--clearly, this distinction belongs to the president of an import-export textile firm for whom I worked as a receptionist for several summers in a row during college. But which of the more-ridiculous-than-the-next incident shall I regale you with? Should it be Boss Man’s obsession with his delicate nasal mucosa—an obsession which led to my writing numerous letters to no-doubt eye-rolling physicians thanking them for their care and concern in cauterizing the errant vessels in Boss Man’s nostrils after his third gushing nosebleed in less than a month? Should it be the subsequent purchase I was asked to make of a crate of saline nasal spray, which was then handed out to all the people in our office, along with a memo ordering them to use it daily to prevent such horrific blood-letting from happening to them, too? No, that one might make you think he was sweet and concerned, when really he was simply so monomaniacal that he assumed the goings-on in his nose were of great concern and interest to the rest of us, mixed with a fear that one of us might spring a bloody leak over a sample bolt of fabric or a contract or a letter to his cauterizer-happy doc.

Maybe I’ll tell you about how this man used to pass my desk, appropriately located just beyond the double glass doors that led into our office, walk into his own office several doors away, sit down at his desk, and then buzz me on the intercom to get up and shut the door THAT HE HAD JUST WALKED THROUGH! No, that one’s too short, and is only the tip of the iceberg of the indignity that was my job those summers.

I could mention that my father also worked for this firm, though in their office in Brazil, and tell you about how whenever he called and talked to me in that condescending bark that he apparently reserves for secretaries and receptions, I would burst into tears. But that’s really more about my relationship with my dad and my inability to grow up, and is much sadder than it is funny.

Ah. I know. I’ll tell you about the U.S. Open tickets. That’s what I’ll do.

It’s the middle of summer in Manhattan, when the air grows thick and positively palpable, and the smell of urine is all around you. Boss Man, as is his habit, purchases a large block of tickets for the U.S. Open tennis tournament, and compiles a list of names of clients who want in. And then decides that, rather than mail them to the clients, they should be hand-delivered. By me. Over 500 tickets, spread out over the entire island of Manhattan, in the steaming, stinking heat.

The first year, it takes me at least two weeks. I walk almost the entire route, because although I’ve been told I can take a taxi between stops, finding one is a near-impossibility in this heat, and besides, each office is only a couple of blocks away. I plan out my route like a military strategist, trying to figure out the best way to get from one place to the other using the least number of steps...but also incorporating frequent walks past major department stores, where I can step into the air-conditioning for a minute while still traversing an entire block. (An aside: this was the summer that little Jessica McClure fell down the well in Texas, and there was that incredible, ongoing rescue attempt. I remember, because while I walked from one end of Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s or Lord & Taylor’s the other, I would go up to whatever floor the TV sets were on, and check in on what was happening. I was mesmerized.)

I return to the office each day sweaty and exhausted. And the worst part, I tell my clucking female coworkers—who are positively appalled that I’m being made to do this—is that nobody knows these tickets are being hand-delivered other than the receptionists at each office to whom I hand them. Sweaty teenagers don’t get to hand an envelope to fashion designers or textile moguls. So the entire thing is for naught.

The next year, I’m rehired for yet another summer of fun and games and nasal spray. But when ticket season arrives, I balk. Oh, not to Boss Man, because he would squash me like a fly. But to one of those maternal cluckers from the year before. And she goes in to Boss Man’s office, and tells him that he’s being ridiculous with this, that if we would just mail the darned things, they’d get there more quickly, and I could actually do some, you know, work around the office, where it’s actually, you know, needed. I don’t trust the mail, Boss Man thunders. With TC, I know that the tickets are getting there.

You’re wrong, Clucking Lady replies. It will take TC a week to get the tickets out. If we mail them, most of them will be at their destination within 24 hours, and the rest will be there within 48.

Prove it, sayeth the Boss Man.

And so began the Great Postal Service Experiment. We mail out a small sampling of tickets, and then I call each office the next day to find out if they had received them. Nine out of ten are where they are supposed to be. Number ten arrives a day after.

If you think I won that battle, you’re wrong. Boss Man still wanted me to hand-deliver all the tickets within a 1-mile radius. The others we mailed, but I had to call each and every office until I had confirmation that the tickets had arrived. Still, minor though it was, I considered it a victory. After all, it left me with that much more time to close Boss Man’s door for him, write letters to his doctors and monitor the use of nasal spray in the office. Yes, indeed. A victory. Go, me.

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