Friday, September 27, 2002

Hello, all. Okay, I have tried twice now to tell you all my latest adventure as Hysterical White Girl in Miami, but I have lost it both times. I need to learn to "save," even on computers that never, ever crash, or at least, not until it crashed and I lost this long entry. Twice.

Let me start by saying that this story includes information about my yearly gynecological exam; HOWEVER- (and this is important, Jason, Scott, exhale... and inhale ....Good :) I never even get to that point with this doctor, so you people out there who are only aware of vaginas for their recreational purposes and have absolutely no interest in and are quite nervous about the proper ways to care for one will not have to think about that aspect at all during the telling of this story. Okay? :) Are we all cool with that before I proceed? Okay.

So every September I celebrate Rush Hashanah in my own way. It's the perfect time for a New Year in my mind, especially since I was always in school until the past year or so, and it made a lot of sense for me to think about a New Year, about starting fresh with new notebooks and pencils, etc in September.

So I do all of my "Spring Cleaning"- donating clothes that I never wear to Goodwill, organizing my closets, getting the dog her vaccines, etc. at this time of year. I also have my own physical check-ups, including going to the "gynie" -- a phrase that one of us, H. I think, coined in front of a Certain Someone For Whom All the Grapes Have Been Eaten's stepfather (by accident) about two years ago-- every September since I turned 18.

Okay, so I decided a few weeks ago that I don't really know when I am leaving Florida, and I am going to stop living like a I could leave any day now. I threw out most of my boxes, which have been taking up space in my closet since May, started looking for a Good Therapist, and decided it might be a good idea to get connected with a general medical practice type doctor in case I ever get sick.

So I go through the phone book. I call a couple of places that sound sketchy at best, and I finally settle on the Sunny Isles Family Health Center. Sunny Isles is a nice little beach town just north of Miami Beach, not too ritzy, not too sketchy, so this sounded good to me. The receptionist sounds nice.

I get ready to leave in plenty of time for my appointment when I go out to my car. The car will not start. Period. It has been sputtering a little bit lately, as if it needed a new battery and I had to get it jumped once the previous week, but it was never this dead. It could usually be coaxed into starting. Not today. Dead dead dead.

So I call AAA, and miraculously, they show up in, like, 5 minutes. I get the car started and try to call the doctor's office and tell them I'll be a little late. I have two numbers for them, one of which keeps ringing twice, picking up with a falsely cheerful recorded voice saying, "Thank you for calling!" and then going to a fast busy signal type beepbeepbeep. Okaaaaaay. The other number is for a plumber, so I figure I copied the number down wrong, which is what happened, but isn't that ironic? That I am trying to get my yearly Pap smear and I keep reaching a plumber by mistake? Hee hee.

But I *am* starting to get a little creeped out because directory assistance can't find any phone numbers for this health center, even though I have the exact address. I end up calling my insurance company back in PA (the one helpful thing they have done, ever) ad they give me the number. I call and say I'll be a little late. The receptionist doesn't understand what I am saying. I say it in Spanish. Still no luck, which is odd.

Finally, I just arrive and the doctor's office is in a little strip mall. That's fine. South Florida is essentially a giant strip mall. The vet's office is in a strip mall; there aren't many businesses that have their own little building the way they do other places I've lived, including churches. (Yes, there are churches in strip malls, right down from Blockbuster and the dry cleaners. I am not making this up!) but there are no signs on any of the windows or anything announcing this as the Sunny Isles Family Health Clinic. Riiiight.

So I am in the waiting room, filling out forms, and I realize everyone- nurses, patients, receptionists- are all speaking Russian. I think. So I ask a nurse if the language they are all speaking is Russian, as she has a beautiful accent. She really does. She looks surprised, says yes, they are all speaking Russian, and she asks if I have experience with Russian people. I smile and say "Nyet," which is the only word I know in Russian, which I am 95% sure means 'No." And she says, "Ah! Nyet means yes!" I was really embarrassed, and I was like, "Oh! Oh, I'm sorry, it's the only word I know. I thought it meant "no!" (I think it does mean no, but by my using a Russian word, she thought I *did* have experience with Russian...? I think?) The thing is, my experience with Russian only extends as far as having Spanish 2 with Mrs. Blackman, the woman at HHS who also taught Russian, and she would occasionally grade our Scan-Tron test with the key for her Russian classes, and sometimes she couldn't get our grades out of her computer because her 2-year-old son shoved matches in the disk drive, which, really, begs the question that never seemed to faze her in the least, why did her two-year-old have access to matches?!?!) But anyway.....

Anyway, I go into the examing room and there is this little man in there, sitting at a table. He is not wearing a white doctor's coat, although there is one on the back of the chair. The nurse tells me to get on the scale. I do, and I go to weigh myself, seeing to my surprise that I have lost fifteen pounds. I give her my weight, but then I realize that I didn't have the big sliding thingy pushed all the way into the slot, so i actually weight a little more than that. I say, "Oops!" and try to explain my mistake. I say the actual weight, which is still down about 10 pounds since June, and she repeats what I said, but subtracting a pound. So I say, sure.... and begin to wonder why I am doing this myself.

The room smells weird. And not anti-septic, medicinal weird. Just.... weird. The doctor begins to take my medical history, which is long and complicated and involves delving into my psychological tossed salad of diagnoses, why I am using an inhaler, how that relates to some sinus surgery I had in 1995, the fact that I needed an anal probe at 19 and why I am on medication for bad things that happen when I laughed really hard. Yeah.... this is never fun, but this time, we are really, really not communicating. I am going to skip ahead for a second to explain that when he got close enough to listen to my heart with a stethoscope, he smelled like funky lunch meat, like salami. It could be that he just ate... but.... Yeah, so here is how the dialogue went. For purposes of protection of identity, he will be known as Smelly Russian Doctor Rasputin, or SRDR. I will be "Me."

Him: So what medication you take now?
Me: (sitting on examining table, covered with white roll paper): Um, I'm on... Um, are you Dr. Rasputin?
SRDR: Oh, yes, yes... I am he. (shakes my hand)
Me: Yes, so I am on Levbid, Seroquel, Effexor and Detrol.
SRDR: Do you have family history of heart disease?
Me: Yes, actually, on both sides. My paternal grandfather died after a series of heart attacks in 1986, my paternal grandmother needed to have an aortic valve replaced last January, and my dad, well, he had heart problems in 2001, but not an actual-
SRDR: (interrupting) I ask for your family history of heart disease!!
Me: Right. Yes, that's what I- Oh, um, so my dad-
SRDR: You ever have EKG?
Me: No. No, not me, no.
SRDR: Never? You never have?
Me: No.....
SRDR: Why else you on these medications?
Me: Well, the Effexor is for a unipolar depression I had-
SRDR: How long? For polar? What?
Me: Um, it was between November 2000 and around May 2001, a depression, and-
SRDR: Depression? Depression? Uh, depression! For year and a half!
Me: No, no, half a year. 6 months.
SRDR: year and six months?
Me: No, no, only six months. Just six. (I hold up six fingers and begin to count off) November, December...
SRDR: Six months!
Me: Yes. Exactly.
SRDR: Okay. You are overweight.
Me: (laughing nervously, in self-deprecating way) Yeah... ha ha, a little bit...
SRDR: No, no, you *are* overweight.
Me: Right, yes, I'm aware of that (starting to get pissy)
SRDR: how long you been this way?
Me: Well, see, that's not an easy question to answer because I've really been up and down since I went to college, it changes a lot, and I've been on different medication-
SRDR: Look, I am ask for medical purposes, I am not going to tell people. How long?
Me: Well, I've actually lost about 10 pounds in the last couple months, but my weight has been up and down, so..
SRDR: How long?
Me: (picking an arbitrary number and starting to think about running away) Six months (flatly)
SRDR: How long since you had blood work?
Me: A year and a half
SRDR Eight and half years!!!
ME: No! No! One and a half years. One. One (Holding up one finger)
SRDR: One. One?
Me: Yes, one.

Dr. Rasputin listens to my heart. Then he says,

SRDR: I am going to recommend you for EKG.
Me: Oh, my god! Why? Is something wrong?
SRDR: No... You not want a EKG? You no have to have one.
Me: Well, I mean, if I *need* one, I mean... Did you hear a problem?
Me: Oh...

(Alissa tells me that this is routine when you reach our approximate age and have a family history, but I'm not understanding that at this point.)

then he asks me why I didn't go to a gynecologist for a Pap Smear.
Me: (!!!!!!!!) Well, I have always gone to my family doctor for this before, and I wanted to get established with a medical practice in case I ever get really sick...
SRDR: Who is your doctor?
Me: Well, it's a practice of physicians, and I see whoever is available? It's in Pennsylvania.
SRDR: (holds up a pen and gestures to my chart) I take this mean I should give him more info.
Me: It's called Oyster Point Family Medical Center.
SRDR: Oyster? Point?
Me: Yes, Oyster Point Medical Center.
SRDR: Oyster Point? Oyster? this is first name?
Me: (!!!!!! What the hell? Yes! Dr. Oyster Point, M.D. Jesus!)

I notice the peeling paint on the walls. I start to have a really, really bad feeling about this.

Dr. Rasputin, who still isn't wearing a name tag, a white coat, or any of those arbitrary things that reassure us that we are in good hands, pulls out a flashlight, a regular old, "I had one just like that my freshman year of college; it came free with a six pack of AA batteries" flashlight," and looks into my mouth, my nose, my ears. I notice the funky lunch meat smell.

I start hearing this thought in my head that says, "I am not taking my pants off; I am *not* taking my pants off!"

It occurs to me that I have never had a doctor took into my nostrils with a flashlight. Why doesn't he have the little black tubey thing attached to the wall? Why? Wh-Why? AND THEN...

I realize- there is no Gynie Lamp (for you guys out there, there is a big spotlight type lamp that they shine down there during an gyn exam. It's not pleasant, it's bright as the sun, and it's shining in places where, as the saying goes, "the sun doesn't shine.") But there's no Gynie Lamp! WHERE. IS. THE. GYNIE. LAMP? And then, I realize, the flashlight? That was just up my nose? IT'S GOING TO BE SHINING IN MY COOTCHIE SNORCHER IN 5 MINUTES!

There is NO. WAY. I am letting this man near me with a speculum. Not gonna happen.

I take a deep breath, and I do the unthinkable, the unthinkable for me, the person who pays (and tips!) massage therapists who tell me the knots in my back are in my head (They are so real), who buys $40 worth of skin care products from estheticians in day spas who tell me my blackheads are visible "from Mars" and that "latin men will love my meaty body (although I returned the products when they caused my to get patches of dry skin on my chin, and later, like a few weeks later when I got a sales call from the spa, I cheekily told the day spa chick's boss that "meaty" is not a word we "Plus-Sized" women like to hear unless it's about a barbeque buffet- heh, I am such a bitch.)

So even though I usually see doctors unnervously and unquestioningly, I jumped up, told the doctor I was sorry for wasting his time, but I couldn't do this. I told him he didn't do anything wrong, and I hope he is not insulted, but I am just not doing this. He got upset and called the nurse in, who took me out to the waiting room, (one wall was all glass windows, this was a strip mall, remember) and then when more patients came in, she moved us to a different exam room.

She asked me to relax, to sit and explain why I changed my mind. I looked at the exam table where she wanted me to sit. It had the white paper on it, but the white paper had wet splotches on it, strategically placed in kind of a "human was just laying here sweating" sort of way. I looked at it. Then I looked at her. She quickly removed the wet paper. I sat down and explained that I was only here for a check up, that I can wait, that he was a fine doctor, that I just felt we were really having trouble communicating, that I am so sorry, that I am leaving. Now. (big smile)

I offer to pay. She says of course I don't have to. She says she understands and asks if I want to come back and see the other doctor tomorrow. I politely say that I do not. I give her another big (shaky) smile and leave.

this story is so long already, but so I will tell you the very abridged version of what happened next. My car was dead again, I had to have it jumped, I went to the Toyota dealer for the sixth time since June, they told me I needed a $1000 tuneup. I freaked; I called my dad. He ran home and checked our records for the car and most of what they said I needed was all taken care of last April when Alissa and I were down in Miami apartment hunting. I did need a new battery, though. I got one.

Then, I noticed the overhead light was still out in my car. I asked them to change the bulb. They said okay. I asked how much it was and the mechanic started freaking out. FREAKING. OUT. He pointed to my hand. Somehow, (who knows?) I had gotten bright red, chalky stuff on the palm of my hand....?

I tried to say, "It's okay! It's not blood! it doesn't hurt! No es sangre! Esta bien! No me duele!" but the mechanic was so freaked out, thinking I had stigmata (the wounds of Christ that miraculously appear on the hands of a few chosen believers, and more than a few fraudulent evangelists), that he didn't charge me for the new light bulb. So I suppose the moral is, just say, "Nyet! Nyet! Nyet! Dr. Duck Lips!" whenever necessary and walk around regions of the country where many superstitious Catholics live, displaying “the wounds of Christ,” when you need free accessories for your car.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Wow, it's been a little quiet on the blog lately. Huh. "Quiet on the blog" sounds dirty without meaning to, kind of like saying "Otis Spunkmeyer muffins." What sounds dirty to you without meaning to? (This is a shameless attempt to elicit comments and see if I still have any readers out there. Thanks for playing!:)

Okay, this is a story I don't tell too often, because it doesn't reflect terribly well on me or my abilities as a young journalist, but when I was in Prague in 1998, interning for the Prague Post, (which was unpaid and I mostly shadowed staff photographers, which was fine, because I only had one photo class under my belt and had no idea how to shoot with a flash. And I was afraid of photographing people at that point, which is problematic) I got an assignment with a Post photographer, to go to a campaign event where the presient of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, was going to greet voters and give a speech in Wenceslas Square.

I got into what photographers glvingly refer to as a "Cluster F*ck" where everyone is elbowing and shoving and essentially trying to get the same shot. It's never, ever good. Bt it was my first time in one, and a Czech photographer from CTK (pronounced "Che-Teh-Ka") started screaming at me, in Czech, which is easily one of the scarist experiences of my life, to be five feet from the President of a former Eastern Bloc country and have someone screaming in my face in a language that I have just enough knowledge of to know he's really, really, really unhappy. (Surpassed in fright, in many ways, only by being arrested in Heathrow Airport) I got into a verbal scuffle with a photographer who spoke English, telling me to leave that I was taking up space from "legitimate journalists." I was embarrassed and intimidated, but I didn't leave. I also only made, like, a head shot, of the president, because I didn't know any better, really. It was a learning experience, though, one I think about all the time when I am in situations like that.

Anyway, two nights ago, I was working for the Merald, and they asked me to go relieve a sick photographer who was photographing the Czech president meeting with political prisoners. I called P., and he told me everyone was really, really dressed up. Which is standard for the Czech press, actually. They all always wore black, always very dressy clothes (which didn't help my feeling intimidated the day the guy started shrieking at me, as I was wearing a bright green windbreaker). I looked at what I was wearing, realized I had a giant ink stain all over my ass (the first time since May when I was on CNN in a press conference with ink all over my ass), and drove like a bat out of hell to an Old Navy about 7 minutes from where I currently was.

I ran in, like, "I need...PANTS! Dressy pants! Black pants! Dark gray is fine! Size __! Anything! But the shirt has to go with this silk scarf in my hair! Can't take off silk scarf! Bad haircut! Non-negotiable! The scarf stays! I'm shooting the president of the Czech Republic in 40 minutes and I have ink all over my pants!" This really nice saleswoman leapt into action, tossing me pants and shirts, asking (while laughing and smiling) "Who? Who are you "shooting?" What? Who *are* you?"

At this point I'm wheezing, (the Old Navy is on the third floor of a big uber-shopping building), "Photographer ...with...Hiami... Merald... Political Prisoners from Cuba....Vaclav... Havel... YES! The pale yellow shirt! That's good! That goes!" I ran to the register, ran to the fitting rooms, put on the clothes, dashed outside, ran back up three flights, the saleswoman tossed me my cell phone, I caught it, shouted my thanks, ran back downstairs and made it with half and hour to spare.

If this were @(ss) P I would have missed the whole thing, a symbol of my changing luck, I think. :) As I was working, I was totally calm and collected, I got to the front of the Cluster F*ck of Press easily, I even had time to check my exposure and compensate my flash for the ceiling height, and then.... Someone was shoving and muttering angrily in Czech behind me.... and it was him! The Great Screaming CTK Photographer of 1998! I never thought I would see him again. Knowing I had all that I needed, I could have given him my prime position in front of Press Cluster.


Although, for one thing, with situations like that, especially in front of former communist political prisoners turned world leaders meeting with political prisoners under Castro in an effort to dsemonstrate how great democracy is for a former, small communist country with Russian ties, (if you call being invaded having "ties"), about 150 miles from Castro's front door, you seriously never know when someone will dash out of the crowd and assassinate him. I know this is more evidence of the emerging Conspiracy Theorist Angie, but I don't want to have to call my boss and say I let CTK get in front because he screamed at me four years ago.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Hi... (to be read in stuffy, sad Eyore voice)

Nah, actually, the cold is much better. I worked today, as I am no longer feeling too crappy to be among people. Oh, and I'm poor.

I'm still a little sniffly and hoarse, but I'm out of the Elaine Stritch in Sondheim's "Company" Zone. Yay! I have to say, though, once again, Sars, featured in the "Laughing...." section, see below, has made me laugh so hard I went temporarily deaf until another round of Dayquil kicked in. She, too, apparently has a cold, (those crazy TV w/out Pity people!), and posted "101 Ways To Pass The Time When You Have A Cold (That whole "praying for death" thing is implied)" - parentheses hers- including :

#48-52- Cough some more. Cough again. Continue coughing. Stop coughing, but keep pretending to cough because one of the cats is trying to sleep on your stomach, and it's fun to watch him sproing around. Inspect claw marks on stomach.

#96 Worry about the meaning of a fever dream in which you chased a top-hat-wearing strawberry through the halls of your elementary school.

#99 Hate everyone on TV because none of them has a cold."

I didn't actually have a fever dream about a top-hat wearing strawberry, but I *did* dream I was 8 months pregnant, (impossible), in Miami, alone, and my parents' health insurance wouldn't cover the baby, so I asked the Merald for a job and a raise, they said no, and then my landlord wanted to evict me for not mopping the linoleum, (don't have any lineoleum). In my dream, I met a girl who was in the same situation, but her daughter was a month old and they were making it work, and she asked me if I wanted to see her baby, and I did, but the baby turned out to be a tiny white and black tiger cub.

So, yeah... Fever Dream. Creepy.

And actually, that's it. Things are rather boring for once. Boring is good. I like boring. :)

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Hi. I am sick. I have a nasty cold, mostly from flying while uber-tired and stuffy, which is like begging for a massive sinus infection. I am not nauseous, though, which is a bonus.

Going to Boston was a good thing. Stephen's grandfather's memorial was really sad. I didn't know this before, but apparently he used to sneak his trumpet into church on random days and occasionally on holidays, and then when the congregation would be singing Amazing Grace or Silent Night or something, he would go to the balcony at the back of the church and begin to play.

That kind of spontaneous spirit is what I love about Stephen, and it was so sad to hear his family mourn his grandfather, because they all kept talking about how much they missed him doing the unexpected, kind, funny things. Apparently, his grandfather was always humming or whistling, (which he *was* doing on the one occasion that I met him, come to think of it) and his caretakers said he was whistling on the morning he died.

May we all go as peacefully and cheerfully as he did, with children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who love us, and a song on our lips.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

F*cking Florida.

How is it that no one here can count? We are on the verge of a disasterous election again, my friends, this time for Democratic candidates for governor who will run against Jeb in November. There is already talk of law suits and recounts. Luckily, the entire state switched to new, sleek electronic voting, so at least we won't have to hear the words "dimpled chad" again. Unfortunately, a bunch of the votes are locked in these new, sleek machines, and poll workers are about to start beating them with baseball bats, like in Office Space where they beat the fax machine.

I am not kidding. They are trying to transport them somewhere else where "tech support" can supposedly free the locked votes, but the machines are so big, they can only fit into the trunk of a car at a time, and apparently every vehicle in Florida larger than a VW Bug is othewise occupied? It *is* 2 a.m., but anyway, they are shuttling 100 machines to "tech support" ($10 says "tech support" is Jeb Bush's personal trash compactor) one a time. One. At. A. Time.

I came into work at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. It is now 2 a.m. on Wednesday, and I am shooting a prayer vigil at dawn. My boss wants me to stay, because they might need me to shoot some more stuff in a few minutes. I'm cool with that. I can rest when I die. I went home around 5:30 p.m. yesterday and fed the animals and walked the dog. If I don't get home before the prayer vigil, I can always call Lisa the Uber-Petsitter. I love her; I really do.

Also, they have us on such high terrorism alert down here that my boss suggested we all look under our desks.She was kidding, I think. I am worried that there is a new terrorist cell hiding out in the caves in my left arm. Oh, wait. Nope, I'm good. It's still a Starbucks, right, G.?

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

"Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, ‘cause I built my life around you.
But time makes you bolder, children get older,
I’m getting older, too...”

Landslide, (Stevie Nicks, and now, the Dixie Chicks, too)
Today is September 10th, but it’s 2 a.m. so it still feels like Monday night to me. I am working for the Merald on the 11th. I don’t know what I am doing, but I will probably be covering prayer vigils. I am worried about that, because last year, when I covered the National Day of Prayer, the Friday after the 11th, a bunch of little old ladies screamed at me.

They were upset because I took too many picutres, only about 14 frames. They were upset because I kept taking pictures of the same people, and they didn’t know why I was “picking on those poor people.” I chose to photograph them because I didn’t need to use a flash because of the light coming through the windows they were sitting next to. I asked their permission beforehand, and I only photographed people who said it was okay. This is not standard journalism practice, and it was why I only photographed the same four people.

They just needed someone to rail at, and I was convenient. I tried explain, but I burst into tears. I hadn’t cried yet at all. I worked 18 hours a day, beginning on the 11th. I hadn’t watched TV, except when Tower 1 fell, and I photographed the people screaming. Everything I knew came through on my cell phone from friends, or I worked on a story about it, or I heard it on NPR in my car. The church ladies told me they were sorry I cried, but I was an obnoxious bitch. I didn’t think you were allowed to say “bitch” in church. I tried to wipe away the tears, to explain I had those people’s permission, but in the end, they didn’t care, and I just left. I haven’t been in a church since, except for weddings of old friends, or weddings for work. Then they all called my boss to complain about me. I just cried, shot a portrait of a pro wrestler, stopped for Thai food, sang God Bless America with some ladies outiside the only hair salon in York that specializes in doing African-American women’s hair, holding candles at 7 p.m. with ladies with big curlers in their hair, or half of their hair in braids. Then I went home.

But this isn’t York, and the prayer vigils are certain to be different. I hope.

I guess I feel odd at prayer vigils, because I’m not sure I know how to pray. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I am pulling most of this next part from an email discussion with H.

I was saying that I like the way Spanish speakers treat the idea of God in everyday language. Saying “My God!” or “Go with God” are common phrases here. I even like "Ojala" and “Oja que si...” which is more common here. Someone recently explained it to me as stemming from the time of the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, and being an extension of the idea of "If Allah wills it..."  It's used here like, "Ojala que el nino sobreviva la operaccion..." so literally meaning May God (or Allah or extension of Allah as translated into Hispanic Christian Diety) will it that the boy survives the operation”, but without specifically calling upon God by name.

I remember when I was little that saying "Oh my God" was a very big no-no.  I had a Sunday School or Vacation Bible School ( I NEVER liked Vacation Bible School, but that's a whole other story involving sunburn, bug motels, and threats of eternal damnation- :) teacher who told us that saying "Oh my God" when you weren't praying was bad, in large part because of it breaking the First Commandment, but also because it got God's attention, and it made God angry if you said it and weren't talking to him. In my overly developed (and somewhat pessimistic childhood mind's) imagination, I would picture God doing important things like making miracles and babies and having to run out of his "workshop" to come listen when I said it, and then he would heave a big sigh and shake his head if I didn't have anything "good" to say to him.  

I know this is really weird.

I think this is why I am in a very much into using words like "meditate" and invoke "Universal Spirituality" these days.  I've been thinking about all of this stuff since I have been recasting my ideas about religion and patriarchy these past few years. I don't know. I definitely want to sort this out in my head before I have kids someday. I think finding some way to center oneself whether by putting things in a Karma Bank or into prayer is really important, and I'm not sure I've found the way I feel most comfortable doing it yet.  

When I was a very young child, my parents and I would recite the standard children's prayer- : “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take" and the part about "If I should die before I wake" scared me so much.  (I was, obviously, and still am A Very Big Worrier :) After my parents would tuck me in, I would worry about how one dies before they wake- would it be a fire? in my sleep? and if *I* could die before I wake, could my parents? Could Amanda? and so on.  And so, my insomnia was born...

When I got a little older, I tried saying the Our Father before I went to sleep and then asking  God to bless people in my life. But I would feel so bad if I left anyone out, so I would end up trying to bless all my great-aunts and cousins and friends at school and THEIR families because... what?... If I didn't bless them, bad things would happen or I didn't like or love them as much people I did remember? (This was all entirely self-imposed, by the way).  Then I used to fall asleep when I was praying, and I would feel really bad about that, like it was rude to fall asleep on God's time.

Right around that time I was taking my first communion and first reconciliation, and we were memorizing and learning all of these prayers, and I really didn't understand the idea of - how to put it?- penance recipes, I guess. Like, say 10 Hail Marys and three Our Fathers, bake at 350 for 45 minutes, and God will forgive you for "being mouthy." :)

Nanny gave me my first rosary beads, which I liked. I liked the idea of having something to touch and hold. Nanny gave me a pamphlet about how to do it, which was probably easier than explaining it one step at a time.  But, being a Very Literal Person for whom Following Directions was very important, (Hellooo! American public school system training!) I tried to follow the pamphlet to the letter, including the parts where it tells you to meditate on the Mystery of the Annunciation while saying the first set, etc. I was trying to remember the memorized prayers- which was problematic in part because when they said the rosary at my Pop-Pop's funeral, the part in the Hail Mary about having "the Fruit of Thy Womb, Jesus" had me thinking about underwear- (Fruit of the Loom, this when those commercials showed the people dressed as giant bunches of grapes, etc)- which I knew wasn't right, so I just focused on the "Fruit" part, since I knew it was wrong to think about underwear while saying a rosary. But then, since the "Our Father" comes right after the "Hail Marys," I began thinking it was "Orange Father" (Fruit+Our Father=Orange Father), so that was one distraction right there-

Naturally, having all the citrus fruit and underwear whirling around in my head made it hard to even remember what the "Mystery of the Annunciation" WAS, let alone meditate on it.  And I wasn't sure how any of that was going to help me a.) talk to God or b.) understand why Pop-Pop went to Heaven. :)

My parents took a very literal approach to helping me understand Pop-Pop's death.  He had been sick (actually, "all" he needed was double by-pass surgery, but it was too experimental and risky in the mid-80s, which is odd since it's so routine now, although he had diabetes, too, and more than one heart attack), and they explained it as a place where he could go and feel no pain and do all of his favorite things and play Pinochle all day with my Uncle Paul, Uncle Harold and Aunt Helen.

Unfortunately, when Uncle Harold passed away, Aunt Mamie (You've all met Aunt Mamie, right? Nanny's older sister who still dyes her hair jet black at 91 years of age and wears red high heels every other day? Apparently, she also used to keep hair dye in her refrigerator? This may make sense to you, then :) forgot to bring his dressy shoes to the funeral home, and they ended up burying him in his stocking feet. Aunt Mamie was tormented by this, and so, if I remember correctly, we "sent along" an extra pair of shoes in Pop-Pop's coffin, which, really, was very Egyptian of us.  

My grandfather was a gruff, but very loving man who often engaged in a sarcastic, but teasing banter with Nanny, which often started out with a firm, "GOD-Dammit, Doll!"   (I really have to do the imitation for you, and oh, don't worry, Nanny gave it right back to him and then they would laugh and kiss, and he would point to her head and say that she was "pixilated." Then he would point to my head and say the same thing. Nanny and I both have identical little moles on the left sides of our foreheads, which is where he would always point. I thought for a long time that we were pixilated BECAUSE of the moles. I found out when I was writing my college essays that "pixilated" means "to be driven daft by pixies," which suits both Nanny and I rather well, I like to think.)

So when Pop-Pop died, we went to close the coffin and say our final good-byes, and Nanny, who was standing on some phone books, or a "kneeler", I think, knocked the coffin when she leaned in to kiss him. This huge bouquet of flowers that was resting on top of the coffin fell on her head and covered his entire body. It was silent in the room, and then someone started to laugh, which really was the best thing that could have happened.  

This was 1985, and the Dust-Buster had just been invented, and the funeral home director, who is a close family friend, actually, just helped Nanny up and then Dust-Busted all the petals and leaves and babies' breath off of Pop-Pop.  Everyone was laughing this huge, relieved laugh, and then someone imitated him- my Dad, I think- saying, "GOD-dammit, Doll! Would you get these flowers off of me!!" and then everyone really rolled with laughter.

I read in a book once, I think it was something by Robert Fulghum, that when he was little, he spent a lot of time with his mother's family. His mother's maiden last name was "Howard." Everyone called his great-grandfather, "Grandpa Howard," and he was very old and had a long white beard. He died when the author, maybe Fulghum, was very young, and they told him Grandpa Howard was in Heaven. Shortly after that, he learned about Heaven in Sunday School, and the Sunday School books had pictures of God with a long white beard. Somehow, Grandpa Howard and God became one and the same in his mind, which was solidified when he learned the Lord's Prayer. Apparently for years, he believed the opening line was "Our father, who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name." Hee.

When I first began my work documenting practicioners of magic in Syracuse for an anthropology class, I was interviewing a witch named Willow, a round, middle-aged woman with kind, sparkly eyes, in Denny’s. She ordered a milkshake, and she was talking about the pagan belief that there are many gods, but all gods are one, and you may call Him, but usually Her, anything you choose. She said, “You can call your Goddess Shirley for all anyone cares!” Hee.

Anyway, when I am shooting these prayer vigils on what is technically tomorrow, although I will be covering the primary elections what is technically today, after I sleep for 8 hours, maybe I will figure out a way to send blessings for those who died, and those who lived and all of us who grieve, and maybe, just maybe, Orange Father, Grandpa Howard and Shirley will all hear me.

Vaya con Dios(a), mis queridos.

Saturday, September 07, 2002

I made a promise to myself when I first started shooting that I would never let fear keep me from taking a photograph. Within reason, of course. I am not talking about war-zone, hand grenades, bullets-flying type situations. There is courage and passion about one’s work, and then there is just plain stupidity.

But I *have* vowed to myself that I would never let, say, fear of heights or feeling intimidated by a subject keep me from getting a shot, especially a “better” shot. And it hasn’t been easy; my legs shook when I hauled my uncoordinated self and my mamma-jamma camera bag up to the top level of a three-tier scaffold to shoot a drum and bugle corps rehearsal, and my hands shook when I went into a crowd of neo-Nazis to get a better shot of their swastika flags.

But this afternoon... was a challenge for me. I was doing a story about a 4 time gold medalist, world record-holding Olympic Swimmer who is assistant coaching/mentoring a swim team here. (He won a bunch of silver and bronze medals, too, all of which he carries around in a big Zip-Loc baggie, which just supports my theory that you can conquer the world with a towel and some Zip-Loc bags of varying sizes. :)

The head coach pointed out a few kids who are elite swimmers and will most likely compete in the Olympics, but- being somewhat naive, and from Lancaster County, the place that produced an Olympic swimmer from HHS as well as a guy from M99999901 (sorry, that was from Fred who just woke up and leapt off the monitor) excuse me, M. Central, who went to college with me and probably would have gone to Sydney in 2000 if he hadn’t had a terrible bout of the flu and was getting transfused with an IV of fluids on the deck of the pool right before and after he swam in the qualifying races- I figured having a few strong contenders for the Olympics on one team wasn’t abnormal. This is Florida; people swim outdoors year round, yadda yadda yadda.

But what I *didn’t* realize until about an hour into the shoot was that this was the kind of swim team that people move here from Canada to join and leave their families at the age of 9 to train for the Olympics. Hmmm...

Also, when I got out of the pool to change film, I heard a mother chewing out one of the assistant coaches because her daughter wasn’t “working hard enough.” The coach said, “Do you think I don’t know what I’m doing?” and the Psycho Pushy Swim Mom said, “Look, over the summer, she had a month to swim for fun and be in La La Land, but now-” [Psycho Pushy Swim Mom snapped her fingers and pounded her hand onto her other palm a few times in a “Chop Chop!” kind of way] then she snapped, “Let’s Go!” to the coach. The Coach.

Scared of that.

Anyway, I have this underwater camera that I bought a few summers ago when I was shooting kids in pools a few times a week because nothing else was happening at the Rork Yaily Decord. I was buying a lot of disposable underwater cameras at $14 bucks a pop in order to show a different perspective of this predictable boring thing, kids in public pools, I mean, so I got this reusable one, and anyway, I had the camera, a bathing suit and a towel with me this evening.

I knew the stuff I had shot was fine, solid, so-so lighting conditions, and the kids were having fun, which was nice. The Olympic Athlete was- well, he was a mouth breather, which makes for weird photos, and also...? I think he may have been... high...? Because he was sort of... vague...? And he ended a lot of sentences by trailing off in a kind of... questioning way...?

I’m just sayin.’

That aside, I knew this story would really stand stand out if I would just put on my bathing suit and get underwater shots of them diving over and swimming above me, etc. Also, the Olympic Athlete didn’t have any body fat, so he kind of sank (but not enough to prevent him from breaking a world record, mind you.) I saw this portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in London of a world-class swimmer with no body fat standing on the bottom of a pool with his arms crossed. It was amazing, and I have always wanted to opportunity to shoot something like that myself.

Okay, so I swore I would never let fear of something not life-threatening prevent me from making a better photograph, and well, that includes putting on a bathing suit and getting in a pool with an Olympic Athlete who has like, 3% body fat, and 50 kids who turn out to be elite world class swimmers, none of whom have been to college, some of whom have yet to hit puberty.

Ah, college and puberty, the genesis’ (geneses? genesi?) of curves. But I did it. I cracked a few jokes at my own expense, asking them not to dive on top of me because someone would have to haul the unconscious fat girl out of the pool. They laughed in an “Oh, Stop! (aside:) “Jeez, can you believe she actually said it?!?!” kind of way. I told them about the last time I used the underwater camera while white-water rafting, where I ended up flailing about the freezing cold Lehigh River screaming, “Get me out! Get me out! Get me in! Get me in!” with the underwater camera strapped to my wrist. They laughed harder. They were nice, though; they really were.

And it went well. My editors loved it. Oh, and Olympic Athlete knew how to blow bubble rings underwater, like smoke rings, you know? And THAT, in addition to the hits on google that discussed rumors of his brief suspension from the Olympic team for marijuana use, explains a lot. :)

(P.S. Oh, and H? I told him about our plan to compete on the Olympic level for Misplacing Things and Procrastinating. :) He laughed. I asked if he wore a cowboy hat in the opening ceremonies, but he didn’t march, because his event was first thing the next morning.)

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Oh my. This entry is a bit dark, guys. You may want to pass on this one.

I am scared of September 11th. I am scared of this anniversary. I am scared of walking into a newsroom and seeing everyone, all of the editors, watching television. I never want to see that again. It is never good.

I am scared of having to run to community centers, to churches, to schools, to photograph people screaming. I am scared of my cell phone ringing and people I love crying and telling me no one has heard from Erika and telling them, "Oh, shit, I love you, but I have to go, because people are screaming and I need to photograph it," and "Please call me when you hear from her. Please. I have to go. I love you."

I am more scared of having to run to places where people are screaming because buildings are falling and people are leaping, on fire, out into the sky. I am scared, because if that does happen, I will be there, and I won't *want* to be anywhere else but doing this job that I love so much because it's important.

I am scared because I have met or am acquainted with every. single. person who is interviewed for the "post-traumatic stress in the media" portion of the History Channel's documentary. I am scared because I know there are images they made that have never been seen by anyone but the people who shot them and their editors because they are unimaginably horrible.

I am scared of being in South Florida on this anniversary. I am scared because there are more terrorists living in the U.S., and they are probably here, where everyone falls on a continuum from really, really diverse and radical views to boring and plain and "retired," but I don't necessarily mean the people who come here at the age of 65 when they stop working at their lifelong jobs.

The terrorists went to flight school here for a reason. Saddam Hussein's stepson showed up here two months ago yesterday to enroll in flight school for a reason. It's crazy and disorganized and diverse and people can get lost here and no one will know. The mail doesn't get delivered the same way, and national chain pharmacies unquestioningly dispense three months worth of powerful anti-depressants, believing they are intended for a 5-year-old girl in Little Havana who shares my name. No one will know.

I am scared because people are wearing t-shirts that say "God bless America" with pictures of Osama bin Laden and shotgun targets over his head. I am scared because people are defacing mosques here. Not the "75 Virgins for Everyone Who Kills an Infidel" mosques, though those collectives are here, but do not announce themselves. They are defacing the nice, family-oriented Islamic faith communities where half the people wear ceremonial dress on holidays only and have explained and explained that they don't believe in the same vengeful God that the 9/11 hijackers did until they are hoarse, and then they have to scrub off the red paint, even though the people who committed the vandalism spelled "terrorists" wrong. T-E-R-R-E-R-I-S-T-S.

I am tired of being scared.

And I am hopeful.

I am hopeful because on December 21, 1988, I stood on a stage in a faux leather skirt and a gray sweater with fluorescent, geometric shapes on it and played "Holiday Hoedown" on the violin. Wendie Shenburger [sic] and Steffani Livinsky [sic] played along on either side of me. Wendie wore a turquoise sweater with knitted snowflakes on it; Steffani wore a black and white dress. And Pan Am 103 exploded in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland.

I am hopeful because I grew up. I went to college, and I learned about the devastation an act of terrorism brings to a community.

I am hopeful because I went to Lockerbie and found friendship, love, Scottish history, and forgiveness for an act of terror. Women who washed a Mexican-type pullover dozens of times before they returned it to the mother of a guy named Nick, who emulated Ansel Adams, lived in my freshman dorm and shot Nikon.

I am hopeful because Erika *did* call us a year ago, when the phones finally worked again, and last winter, she stood on a stage and read on of the first readings of a play about the Scottish women who washed Nick's pullover.

I am hopeful because I took a lily for a girl who was a lot like me, except she loved volleyball, and when she interned at the @ssociated Press, she enjoyed it so much she went back for another summer. And when I met her mom, I told her about the lily, and she said, "I always take lilies to Alexia."

A Scottish fireman who drives the ambulance, the only person on duty that night, heard something fall outside the firehouse, rushed outside and found a girl. She was gone. He covered her with a blanket, but he couldn't return to her for three days, because an entire street was on fire. Winter turned to Spring, and he planted a pink rose bush for her and vowed to always care for it. He sent a photograph to the girl's mother, who told him that her daughter loved pink roses, her bedroom was decorated in nothing but pink roses, and everyone who loved her called her Rose, even though her name was Suzanne.

I am hopeful because Winter turned to Spring.

I am hopeful because I saw a calf take its first steps, sneezing out amniotic fluid. I am hopeful because a new herd now fills that field in Lockerbie, even though that calf and several other hundred head of cattle were destroyed to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease.

I am hopeful because the family who lives on that farm is happy and optimistic, and I know that the mother, the aunt and the daughter all naturally clap their hands over their mouths when they laugh.

I am hopeful because the little town in Scotland has shown us how to "wring every ounce of good out of the destruction that an act of terrorism wreaks."

I am hopeful because almost every day now, with the anniversary of September 11th almost upon us, I think about Lockerbie and what the people there have to teach us.

I am hopeful because I emailed a woman whose work I admire, who won a Pulitzer at 20 for her work on female genital mutilation, who put down her camera and became a midwife, and told her I heard she got married and congratulations, and hey, I used the locker in the London Centre darkroom that you used. And she wrote back and said, "I don't remember which one was mine, but I remember Alexia's locker."

I am hopeful because she remembers which one was Alexia's locker, too, and she is bringing babies into the world.

I am hopeful because literally everywhere I go, I find someone whose life was changed by Pan Am 103, and because our work there means something to them.

I am hopeful because tonight the Hiami Merald sent me out to do a story about a Children's Bereavement Center. I am hopeful because I met a 17-year-old boy whose father died when he was 4, and he is healing in this program. I am hopeful because his father died on Pan Am 103, and I can tell that man's son, now almost a man himself, that I know, for certain, his father didn't die in vain.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

All has been quiet on the blogs lately . I think that was my longest personal hiatus when I wasn't out of town, etc., and maybe even then. Sorry about that.

Thanks for participating in the Holiday Suggestion Drive. Prizes for all on their way!

The other night I was in the all-night Winn Dixie around 3 a.m., as I keep very random hours now that I am back to freelancing. (Woo hoo!) It's an excellent time to grocery shop as there are absolutely no lines, which can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes to navigate at almost any other time I have tried to shop. As I pulled into the parking lot, I felt a headache coming on so I bought some Tylenol and a bottle of water and began to shop.

I started to feel a little wonky, but I figured it as from taking the Tylenol on an empty stomach as there wasn't much to eat in my apartment (hence the 3 a.m. trip to the store). I was standing the the snack aisle, trying to assess what exactly "felt bad" (headache? dizzy?), and as I was staring absentmindedly at the products around me, I realized I was facing an entire wall of pork cracklin's (you really don't want to ask, trust me), and two things hit me with striking clarity: 1.) I live in the Deep South and 2.) I am going to barf.

I rushed past the puffed pork rinds, grabbed a box of Ritz crackers and made it out of there without having to have Winn Dixie personnel request clean up in aisle 5 in three languages. I did NOT barf after all, which is good.

I have to nominate Scott for the Most Tolerant and Engaging Phone Call Recipient of the Month, as I have called him several times now around 11 p.m. Pacific time, as I have had the need at 2 a.m. , to be reassured that 1.) Florida is NOT indicative of the rest of this country 2.) watching four episodes of the Pet Psychic is bound to make anyone feel sad.

Do you guys know about the Pet Psychic? The Pet Psychic is this British woman who believes, and is somewhat convincing that, she has the ability to communicate telepathically with all kinds of animals. Every show begins with her at a farm, a zoo, etc. where she meets with different animals and their owners. She is invited, I guess, by the zookeepers or whomever, and generally the animals are somewhat exotic. For example, last night she met with this giraffe who was acting sluggish, and the giraffe "told" her that she was pregnant.

This segment always ends with the caretaker saying something like, "I was really surprised when Sonia told us that Zoe/Greek Victory/Fido/ Pregnant giraffe was lonely/gay/still missing the golden retriever we put to sleep 2 years ago/carrying a baby giraffe because we usually monitor the hooved mammals mating habits quite carefully. We didn't know the male giraffe was in heat!" or whatever. But upon further inspection, training, or contacting the animal's former owner, the owners found out that the giraffe *is* pregnant/her pasture *was* struck by lightning, etc.

Then the Pet Psychic meets with random cats and dogs in a TV studio. They tell her things like they don't like their food, they want a mate, they wish they didn't have to ride in a carrier on planes, they want to sit in a seat, etc. I have to say that this part is sometimes a little convincing, the owners often seem really skeptical and are surprised when Sonia provides details they swear they didn't tell her or anyone else at Animal Planet. Heh.

But the REALLY pathetic part is the last ten minutes of the show when the Pet Psychic "helps grieving owners cope with the loss of their beloved animal companions." The owners show her a photo of their animals and Sonia usualy tells them that their dogs are right there with their head on their leg, blah blah blah. The owners always want to know that their animals aren't angry that they put them to sleep, and Sonia always says they say, "Thank you for freeing me from my body; I was in so much pain," and "You were a great mom; I had a great life with you."

Sometimes, though, the owners don't know why their animals died, and Sonia tells them that the cat says it was poisoned by chemicals the exterminator used or that the guy who cuts the grass forgot to let them out of the sunroom and they died of heat stroke. The owners sob, and then Sonia usually tells them the cat was sick anyway or whatever.

I feel like the best way to watch this show would be as a drinking game, as in, everyone does a shot every time Sonia says "You are absolutely *beautiful,* darling!" or every time an animal asks for a mate, there's a social. Anyway, last night I had the TV on as I was folding wash and doing random things around the apartmen like paying bills, and the next thing I knew I had half-watched 4 episodes. blah.

Two solid hours of Pet Psychic is bound to make anyone sad enough to call their friends at 2 a.m., right? :) I am thinking about cancelling my cable. I watch *a lot* of TV these days. There was a time in my life when I probably wouldn't have missed it at all. It's odd how TV pulls you in, and you start getting really psyched to found out what happens between Joey, Rachel and Ross when the new seasons start. Blah.