The life and times of an ethnically ambiguous little lady.

Friday, September 30, 2011

More of Your Emily Performance Needs!

While my website is being baked in the oven, I figure I should probably start listing my shows in one place.

If you're around this weekend, I'm on a storytelling and comedy show in Brooklyn on Sunday, October 2nd.

7 pm at The Bodega Winebar
24 St Nicholas Avenue (right off the Jefferson L stop)

All the rest of the glorious details are here:

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Out of Ideas

Leaving the house these days has become stressful. This is what happens when you’ve mined your life for every possible shred of a story. It’s like I have nothing left to write about. Travel experiences? Check. Childhood? Done. Complicated parental relationship now that I’m a grownup making my own decisions? Absolutely. Relationship drivel? Of course. My fear of getting older, having kids, and possibly having made some bad decisions? Indeed.

I thought about writing poetry but realized I have as much skill in that area as I do in solving quantum physics. I thought about writing fiction, but I’m simply too literal. And for some reason, whenever I try to write something that may not be completely true, I take from my dreams, which are insane. I had an idea recently for a story about female clown who realizes she’s missed out on her calling as a stripper. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Besides, aren’t dreams just twisting your reality? So really, I’m just writing my brain’s version of nonfiction.

So now when I go out of the house, I pray for something amazing to happen or at least for . . . something. Sometimes I wear ridiculous, nonmatching outfits with my skirt as a shirt and my shorts as a hat, hoping someone will engage me in a conversation, but I forgot that I live in New York and no one cares. I’ve gone from hoping to pass a burning building on the way to work just so maybe I can save a baby or a dog, to wondering what it would be like if I tripped in the middle of the street and got hit by a car.

Please don’t be concerned: I’m not trying to kill myself. The thought of having to write a suicide note is simply too stressful to even think about going through with the act. But a possible near-death experience could provide some useful fodder. Just think about it! Say there’s an accident on the subway. A sharp turn, by a haphazard, half-drunk subway conductor throws me from my standing position into some poor man’s lap. I turn to him to apologize and suddenly, we stare into each other’s eyes and realize it’s kismet. Or maybe I fall on an old war injury of his, which stirs up flashbacks from Vietnam, causing him to curl into the fetal position while shouting out military commands. This causes the train to come to a halt as someone has grabbed the emergency break and delays the train for hours. An angry mob attacks us and almost kills the Vet. He’s holding on by a thread. Maybe I feel so horrible that I caused all of this chaos that I accompany him to the emergency room as he keeps thinking I’m his long lost daughter, Consuela, anyway. Maybe when we get to the hospital our doctor is cold and standoffish but his heart is stirred by the Vet’s case because he reminds him of his father. And I am so stirred by the doctor’s compassion, that I decide that maybe I want to be a doctor.

Or maybe I’ll just settle down and have a family. Have a kid, adopt a puppy, start a blog about the magicalness of my puppy and my kid called “Buppy: Why a Baby and a Puppy Is All You Need.” I’ll be so transformed that this is the only right way to live that I’ll go on the lecture circuit. I’ll call my converts Buppies. Maybe I’ll realize that this is all I’ve ever wanted, and then I’ll resent myself for having tried to be different for the sake of being different. And then I’d get sad, because I’d want to tell my grandmother that she was right all these years, I just didn’t realize it before she passed away. Nah, that can’t be it. Maybe I’ll just work on that story about the stripper clown.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Camel for Your Wife

Samet stopped talking to our tour group and simply stared at the boys. He said something to them sharply in Arabic, but the boys only looked back at him reproachfully, one of them sassily cocking his head to the side and narrowing his eyes in what seemed to be a challenge, all the while they continued to record us with their video camera. Tamara, my traveling partner and fellow American, who was standing in front of Samet in the middle of the group pretending to be a pyramid, held her pose with her arms up in the air and her fingers touching, a comical look on her face.

We were in Egypt, an actual stone’s throw from the Sphinx, her noseless blank face hovering behind us, and Samet was our own personal and literal Egyptologist. The sun was hot on our backs, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which might partly explain the 107 degree April temperatures.

Our tour group started to wonder if there was going to be a fight. And then, just like that, a policeman appeared, oversized gun swinging casually at his hip, and the boys were led out of our sight without another word.

“Sorry for the interruption, SamSemians,” Samet said, using the name that he had given our group, after his own nickname, like he was our conqueror. Retaking his position behind Tamara, “now, as we were saying, the Sphinx—”

“Wait, what was that all about,” I asked. I imagined the boys being thrown into a dark and grimy prison similar to that in the movie Brokedown Palace, where if they ever got out of jail, their only job opportunity would be to become a drug mule.

“It’s nothing,” he said. And then, as if reading my mind he continued, “Don’t worry. I know all the police around here. They’re not going to get in trouble, just be strongly reminded to not lurk like that.”

“But what happened? Were they making fun of us?” I implored.

“Come on, Samet,” Tamara asked, her brown eyes sparkling, her pyramid stance still strong. “You know we won’t let you go on until you explain.”

Samet sighed. He knew it was a losing battle. “Those kids weren’t Egyptian, but they were Arab. They were trying to record us. When I told them to stop, they asked me to move.”

“Why would they ask that,” Tamara said.

Samet continued reluctantly with a smile. “They thought that Tamara was ‘hot’ and just wanted to record her.”


“Hello beautiful ladies. Your husband is lucky man. How many camels to trade for you to become my wife?”

“Where you from? American? Welcome to Alaska, ha ha!”

“I love you!”

The storekeepers were relentless with commentary such as this as Tamara and I walked through the bazaar. Despite wrapping our heads in pashminas and keeping our knees covered to try and be respectful of the culture, it was no use. The men would yell just about anything to get our attention, and then beckon us into their stores filled with colorful scarves, small wood Egyptian sculptures of everything from pharaohs to scarabs, or huge containers filled with saffron, indigo, or lotus flower. If they didn’t say something to us, they’d stand right in our path and drape their wares over our passing shoulders, as if our contact with the goods was the missing link to change our minds. They would never say such things to Egyptian women, but foreigners? We were fair game.

One of our first days on our trip Tamara and I went in to a small store to get water. The shopkeeper was very friendly but respectful. As we handed him our items he asked if he could take a picture of us. “I guess so,” I said, looking at Tamara. She shrugged in agreement. The shopkeeper, a portly, older, balding gentleman gathered me in close first and took a picture on what seemed to be the first camera phone ever invented. He then kissed me rather aggressively on the top of my head. Tamara followed suit, trying to keep a little space between her and the man, but wanting to honor her promise. After the pictures, he gave us lollipops.

“I feel like we’ve been lured into some man’s unmarked white van,” I said.

“I just hope we don’t end up on the internet with a caption under our pictures that we’re his ‘wives,’” Tamara said in agreement. When we got back to our hotel we told Samet and the rest of the group about our encounter, much to the group’s delight. Tamara and I googled “American whores” for a while just to make sure our pictures didn’t come up.

The next night, just as we were about to explore the night markets in Aswan, Samet pulled Tamara and me aside.

“I know how independent you girls are,” he started running his hands through his dark curly hair and straightening himself up as tall as his 5”6 frame would allow, “but…it might it be better if you walk with one of the boys.”

“Why? We can take care of ourselves,” I said.

“Oh, I know that,” Samet said, “but I think you’ll make things easier for yourselves. You’ll get less…unwanted attention that way.”

“You know what—”

“Sure, Samet,” Tamara said, cutting me off, as she escorted me away.

“I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. We’re grownups! We’re covered up! I don’t need some MAN to take care of me.”

“Em, why are you getting all wound up? Samet’s just being protective.”

My boyfriend jokingly likes to call these my “Independent Woman” moments, complete with Destiny’s Child accompaniment, where I assert righteous indignation, not unlike Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, at something feminist-oriented. I wasn’t sure if I was upset that women in Egypt couldn’t just go about their business if they weren’t covered up. Or maybe I was mad because these men didn’t know me, and yet they assumed that women from outside their country were all cut from the same whore-y cloth. Maybe I was just delirious from the heat.

“Maybe I’ll catcall them.”

“Good idea,” Tamara said. “Maybe you can get us kidnapped.” Before coming to Egypt, we had both been forwarded lots of information from our overprotective parents about Jewish tourists being kidnapped.

“You think Bill Clinton will come and rescue us, like he did those journalists in North Korea? That could totally be worth it.”

Tamara just ignored me.

As we wandered through the market, I tried to calm down. We looked at knickknacks, took pictures, and marveled at the number of feral cats wandering through the city. (Seriously, Egyptians have a weird reverence for cats. There is a cat goddess. In ancient Egypt, if a cat died of natural causes, it was mandatory for the cat’s human family to go into mourning.)

And then it happened. I noticed a man staring as we walked past his stall of spices. Without breaking his gaze he screamed at us as we passed in fast succession: “You are in my dreams! I love you! You have nice shape!”

That was the final straw.

“Seriously, dude? I like your shape? What is she a cantaloupe? Maybe I’m more of a pear?”

He sputtered and looked at me with confusion. “What is cantaloop?”

“It…it doesn’t matter. Would you talk to your mother that way? Your sister?”

“My mother is dead. And it is a compliment.”

“No, it’s not, you creep. Seriously, if you know what’s good for you, do not say another word.” And with that I turned on my heel, glared back at his speechless face, and pulled Tamara with me.

We walked for a while in silence. “Do you feel better now?” Tamara asked.

“Yes,” I answered. “I feel great. Now let’s go look at some more head scarves. After all, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone’s culture.”

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why I Now Respect Strippers...

I entered the studio tentatively, unsure of what to expect. I had just put my bag down when a girl burst in looking like a modern schoolmarm, dressed in all black, a feathery headband, pearls, and shockingly red lipstick.

“Oh my god! I’ve had such a day. And I haven’t been on the pole in a week. A week! I’m going out of my mind!” she exclaimed.

She meant pole as in pole dancing. And I was here to take my first class.

I went because I like a challenge. I went because I figured it might be good to learn to ooze a little sexuality. But I went mostly because my friend, much like the schoolmarm, loved the pole. In fact, my friend had a pole installed in her apartment. She had gone one step further creating her own Youtube channel, which showed her thrashing and gyrating and doing amazing, sexy, aerial things to a burnished pole. Unexpected comic relief was added when her small, furry dog would fly through the frame, wanting to join in, too.

I had no idea what to wear to such a class. In my head I thought clear stripper heels and pasties maybe, but I was told I’d need a tank top and “booty shorts.” My friend brought several booty short options and I choose the ones that would reveal the least amount of my lady parts. Not knowing what to expect as far as how difficult a workout it would be I had gone to the gym earlier in the day.

“Alright guys, let’s do this,” Kyra, our instructor said, clapping her hands. She started up her iPod and hip hop blasted from the speakers. She was tall and toned and looked serious. In place of booty shorts, she wore loose tear-away cargo pants. Kyra got her start choreographing routines for the strippers at the Hustler club. I joined the other three girls, all well-versed in the pole for some floor work. We sat on the wood floor surrounded by mirrors, the three poles gleaming in the fluorescent light behind me. I was surprised to see that schoolmarm, who’s name was actually Jade Electrica (yes, that’s her real name, not her stripper name) when changed out of her attire, was covered in tattoos.

For forty-five minutes Kyra taught what could be best described as sexy yoga as we did sit-ups and stretches, pushing and pulling our bodies closer to the floor until I was ready to yell out “mercy!” I’d left my hair down, thinking that would help with the “sexy” factor, but by the end it was sweaty and matted to my face.

Just when we were at our breaking points Kyra stopped us. “OK girls,” she said, pausing. “It’s time for some pole work.”

Good God.

I got my own pole and my own instructor because I was about as much of a beginner as one can be. I watched the other girls saunter up to their poles and rub up against them, like a strange animalistic courting ritual. Seconds later they were climbing up the poles like they were part of a sexy covert CIA mission. Then they were upside down. They were twirling around the pole. They were sliding down it. They were, in essence, making love to the pole.

“Um, can you teach me how to do that whirly upside-down thing that looks like a helicopter?” I asked.

“Well,” Lian, my instructor said, “why don’t we get you acquainted with the pole first.” Like we were supposed to shake hands or something. “Getting acquainted” required me to circle the pole and roll my body down it. And all the while I kept seeing my reflection and realizing that with my tongue hanging out in concentration, I looked anything but sexy. It was as if all “the practice” I had done in my clubbing days had vanished.

Eventually, I started to get it. “Good,” Lian said. “Now let’s try some moves.” She pranced around the pole, her long brown hair swaying at her hips, complimenting her thin dancer’s body, swinging around and then flipping her legs from side-to-side while hanging from the pole in a move called the fan kick. But it wasn’t just swinging around, it was “left leg first, dominant hand at the top, pop your booty, arch your back.” And I did it over and over again because I’m competitive. And soon my hands were starting to slide down the pole because they were so sweaty. All the while Lian never took her eyes off of me or unpuckered her lips. If we had been anywhere else this would have felt like sexual harassment.

My friend, who had been watching me while uttering assurances like “you’re doing it, Em!” and “You look so sexy!” (which always made me lose any sexiness I could muster), ran to her bag. She returned with some kind of ointment that made my hands stop sweating, like we were Olympic gymnasts training for the gold. And so I kept mounting the pole with determination. Soon I had managed to hold myself up and rotate my legs through the air from side to side like a completely unabashed oscillating fan. As I slid down the pole to the floor, I felt a sense of accomplishment and noticed with amusement that Color Me Badd’s “I Want to Sex You Up” was playing. My arms, however, felt like Jell-o. I looked over to the right and saw Jade go from a “fireman pose” to a “no-handed bow and arrow” to a “spinning chopper” to the “teddy bear.” She dismounted the pole and breaking from her sexy face, displayed a huge smile.

“You did great,” Lian said, turning me to face her and giving me a big hug. I half expected us to make out. “We’ll work on the sexy part next time.” I had so much to learn.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

Growing up, Valentine’s Day was never a holiday that my little adolescent heart yearned for. I never had a boyfriend when the dreaded holiday of Hallmark fell (well, except for fifth grade when I was dating Joel Spitalnik), and it was now my senior year of high school. Just once I wanted to get a box of candy from someone other than my parents, even if my parents were careful about my nut allergy. I wanted some cheap-ass carnations! I wanted to bask in the artificiality of the made-up holiday with someone that loved me or at least thought he did for a little while.

This year, I decided, would be different. I would go away, away to a different country where they still had Valentine’s Day. And if I found love, well, all the better. So I went to visit my friend Theresa.

“I think I’m going to go to Toronto for Valentine’s Day,” I announced to my friends at lunch.

“Really? Is there some guy you haven’t told us about?” Allie asked, with what felt like judgment.

“Maybe,” I replied, trying to sound mysterious.

Everyone just looked at me. “Fine, no, I’m just going to visit a friend I met on my trip to England last summer. But you never know. I could fall in love.”

“Well, I don’t think we have anything special planned, at least not that I know of,” Melanie said, but Melanie already had a boyfriend, so she didn’t count.

“Who cares about Valentine’s day,” Justine replied.

“Yeah,” Esther added. “All I’m doing this weekend is getting my wisdom teeth out.”

“You really know how to celebrate,” I said.

And so I bought my plane ticket. “So there’s one thing,” Theresa explained. “I kind of have to go to this big black tie benefit the weekend you come up. It’s for my dad’s Multiple Sclerosis Benefit, but you can come, too!”

It didn’t sound like that much fun, but maybe benefits were different and better in Canada. And besides, I liked to dress up. “Okay! Maybe there will be cute boys!”

“More like old men, but maybe we can get drunk, ay.” I was sold.

A month later, I was in Canada, all decked out on Valentine’s day night with somewhere to go. This was going to be great.

But Theresa was right. There were no cute boys under the age of 60. There was booze, but we couldn’t get our hands on a whole lot of it, so most of the night was spent plotting and playing Do, Kill, or Marry.

The next morning at breakfast, my parents called.

“Geez, you don’t have to check up on me, I’m fine,” I said, rolling my eyes at Theresa.

“Honey, I’m not sure how to tell you this.” My mom paused. “Esther passed away last night.”

I stood there, holding the phone, trying to understand. But Esther had been fine when I saw her on Thursday. Esther couldn’t be dead. “That can’t be true.”

“I’m so sorry, honey. I think you should come home.”

“I guess I should,” I said. “I’ll call you when I get a flight.” I hung up the phone, but kept gripping the receiver.

“What happened?” Theresa asked. “You look completely freaked out, ay?”

“My friend died last night. She had a brain aneurism when she was getting her wisdom teeth out. I have to go home.” A lump caught in my throat but I couldn’t cry.

Theresa reached out to give me a hug, and I let her but it felt strange. She’d never met Esther. She didn’t understand. “Let’s pack your stuff and we’ll drive you to the airport. My mom will call and see about changing your flight.”

I looked out the window; the snow was starting to fall. “But it’s snowing.”

“Yeah, it does that a lot here. It’s Canada,” she said. “You’ll be okay.”

Two hours later, I was at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, clutching my bag and my ticket. I sat at the gate. Theresa had tried to stay with me but I told her I’d be okay. I wanted to be alone.

My flight was in an hour, but the snow was starting to come down harder. And then I saw the announcement go up on the board. The flight was delayed. “That’s okay,” I mumbled to myself. “It’s just delayed twenty minutes.” I continued gripping my bag. Around me a group of what seemed to be about 30 people who were all together were also waiting for the flight. They groaned when they saw the time change.

An hour later, the flight was cancelled. Oh God, how will I get home? I thought. I’m in a foreign country (even if it is Canada). What if I miss the funeral? And that’s when I started to cry. And I’m not talking a few cute stagelike tears. I started to wail.

I wanted to be home. I wanted to reminisce about the time that we all went to see the movie Scream and we were driving home and it was dark and the highway was deserted and we were freaked out because of the movie and Esther screamed out “I’m so glad I’m a virgin!” because virgins never die in horror films.

I wanted to talk to someone about Esther trying out for cheerleading senior year and us teasing her mercilessly because she was small and stocky and all personality and no dance skills. But our cheerleading team wasn’t very good and they needed another member. And how excited Esther was to walk around in her uniform on game days and how she’d come up behind me and tickle my nose with her pom poms.

I wanted to tell someone how brave I thought Esther was when she found out she was diabetic. She said she felt better because now, she explained in her always positive way, “this explains why I can never lose weight!”

I took deep heaving breaths, all the while hugging my luggage. The tears kept coming.

“You okay, sweetie?” a woman said, kneeling in front of me. She was part of the big group that was waiting for our flight. She was probably in her 50s and was very blonde and very well dressed. I realized just about everyone was staring at me.

I took another hyperventilating breath and tried to get a hold of myself. “I have…to get to…Philadelphia.”

“That’s good. So do we.” I noticed she was looking at me both with concern and as if I was slightly autistic. “We’ll help you get there, sugar. There will be other flights. It’s not the end of the world.”

“It’s not just that. My friend just died. I have to get home,” I said quietly.

“Oh, honey,” she said, and surprised me by wrapping me in a big hug. I tried not to cry but I just lay there with my head on her shoulder, sobbing, soaking her shirt through to her shoulder pads. She hugged me until I stopped crying. It took a while. “Well, we’re all here for a family reunion. I’m Lisa and this is my husband, Phil, and my three kids, Justin, Sam, and Phil, Jr.” The boys looked embarrassed and Phil senior waved. “We’re from Manayunk. You know where that is? All these guys,” she gestured around us, “are family too, and they live all over. You want something to eat? A hoagie or wudder or something?”

“Manayunk is about 5 minutes from my parent’s house,” I said, wiping my face with the back of my hand. If I couldn’t be home, at least hearing a familiar Philly accent made me feel better.
And Lisa did indeed take care of me. She got me on the next flight out and I got home 8 hours later. If it hadn’t been for her, I might still be at that airport rocking gently. As soon as I got to my house Justine and Allie and Melanie came over and we sat and cried and hugged each other and talked about Esther.

After finally getting myself under control I looked over at Melanie.

“So what did you and your boy end up doing for Valentine’s Day?” I asked.

“I can’t even remember, it seems so long ago,” she said. “It doesn’t seem all that important either.”

It really didn’t.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Me, Lady Parts, and Mr. Matthews

While watching the Grammys the other night and I caught Dave Matthews’s performance. Seeing him brought back a lot of memories.

When I think about high school, I think of Dave Matthews Band. Sure, most of the songs sound the same. They sound like adolescence, like the hardest decisions I would have to make would be which boy I should have a crush on and whether I should wear my red hippie skirt or my Oshkosh B’Gosh overalls. I had not yet discovered the magic of hip hop or R&B or clothes that didn’t have previous owners. I hadn’t learned about real heartbreak or the frustration of being out on my own.

I went to countless Dave concerts and they were all awesome but all the same. The band would play and we would sing every single word because we knew them all by heart and they would jam for hours. It was like a Grateful Dead concert without the counterculture. I imagined if I ever met Dave Matthews that he probably wouldn’t fall in love with me—I rarely had that effect on people—but at the very least I would make him my best friend.

One summer my friend Jackie and I went to see Dave Matthews at the Mann Music Center in Philly right around my birthday. She had gotten tickets from a friend of hers who worked at the Mann and we were front row center. I remember swaying to the music, looking up Dave’s nose, and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. If he would just play “Seek Up” I could die happy, I thought to myself. During the second encore he did and I can’t remember if I cried or peed myself a little bit or both. The song wasn’t quite finished when Jackie whispered in my ear, “come on.”

“But the song isn’t finished …” I said, exasperated. Was Jackie not the real fan I thought she was?

“Trust me,” she said, pulling me with her. And since she was several years older, and we had had some interesting adventures together, I let her lead.

“So I think we can get backstage,” Jackie said, laying out her very limited plan. “My friend who got us the tickets also got us catering badges. I think we can meet him.”

I tried to focus on walking but I had lost the ability to function. “Meet him? You mean Dave him? Oh my god! Oh my god! What will I say? What will…”

“Calm down, Em. We’re not backstage yet. But if we’re going to do it, I need you to keep it together.”

I took some deep, calming breaths. She was right. The only way Dave could become my best friend was if I could relax.

She gave me a badge to put on and I tried to look like a knowledgeable caterer. It was surprisingly easy to get backstage and we stood together in the back of the room, trying not to seem excited. And then Dave Matthews came out. And I was kind of awestruck. Jackie went to walk up to him and I couldn’t seem to uproot myself from my place. Apparently I was the only stationary one, because all the other people in the room flocked to him, squealing, chattering, arms outstretched with writing utensils and a dream. Jackie pulled me along again when she realized I wasn’t behind her and we wadded into the sea of fans, not getting anywhere. We realized that to the right of where Dave was signing autographs there was some space. So we stood to the side, just close enough to him that it wasn’t creepy and waited patiently for him to finish.

We stood there for a good hour. Every so often he would look over at us and smile and I tried not to faint, but we waited. And when the crowd finally thinned considerably, he turned to us.

“You girls have anywhere to be,” he asked, his strange southern twang drawing out his words.

“Just waiting for you,” Jackie said.

I just nodded, as my voice box had stopped working.

“Well, thanks,” he said. He gave Jackie a hug and she passed him something to sign. She was tall and he didn’t have to bend over to hug her, but he noticed that she jolted a little.

“You okay?” he said to her, as he leaned down to give me a hug. He smelled like sweat and patchouli. I tried not to attach myself to him like a blood-sucking leech.

“Well,” Jackie said, looking a little embarrassed, “I just had surgery, so I’m a little sore.”

“Oh, no! I didn’t mean to hurt you. Was the surgery serious?” he asked.

“Ah, sort of? It was a breast reduction.”

“Nice. Congrats,” Dave twanged. He managed to do this without giving her the once over the conversation called for, which made me like him even more. He leaned down to hug her again, this time around the stomach to avoid any sensitivity.

“If I tell you I had surgery, do I get another hug, too?” I blurted out. “Oh my god, sorry, that was assholic.” And then I was even more mortified because I had said ‘assholic’ in front of Dave Matthews. (Note: My mother argues that that was not the most “assholic” thing I have ever said in front of a celebrity. She felt that the time that Larry Brown, then coach of the Sixers, came into the Starbucks where I working and I told him that I “liked his work” took the cake for idiocy.)

“No sweat. I like hugs,” Dave said, and he leaned down to give me another hug.

And then we stood there for a while and talked about hospital food, and Dave’s time in South Africa, and his funky shoes that were made out of hemp. And I imagined Dave adopting me and we’d have conversations like this all the time.

“Man, do you girls have to get back to work?” Dave garbled, eyeing our badges.

“Not really,” Jackie and I said, exchanging glances.

“Well, I have to go, but it was nice meeting you girls.”

“You, too, Dave,” we said casually, like we hung out with him all the time.

And as we walked away I gave Jackie my own hug around her waist. “That was kind of amazing,” I said. “I can’t wait to see what you do for my birthday next year.”

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Tale of Multiple Grandmothers

My grandmother has been in the hospital for almost 7 weeks now. It happened the way it happens to most older people: a fall which results in a broken bone which results in surgery and then complication after complication after complication.

When I tell people, I keep getting the same question. “Well, how old is she?” Like her age will determine her survival rate. A woman named Nola Ochs graduated college at the ripe old age of 95. Mary Armstrong celebrated her 90th birthday by skydiving. Frank Schearer is still water skiing at 100 years old. Are these people unique cases? Yes. But I’m not encouraging my 87-year-old grandmother to go for that first attempt at bungee jumping. I’m just rooting for her to make it through all this.

Every week I go visit her in the hospital and every week she’s in a different situation. At first it was just her surviving the surgery. Then it was starting her on physical therapy which she was not happy about because it was grueling and she was having a hard time breathing. She was vocal, and adamant, and cranky, and no doubt in a lot of pain, but she was fighting.

Then the real problems started. She developed pneumonia and was put on steroids which made her delusional. I walked into her hospital room, only to find her discussing in great detail the party she was throwing for herself that night. Other then the fact that she was nowhere near being released from the hospital, it made sense until she started reading the menu.

“Where is the menu you’re reading, Mom Mom? I asked.

“Em, it’s on the bed sheet, obviously.”

Then came the list of guests for what she insisted be a low-key affair. “We should invite Bunny and Eddie, and the Pollacks,” she said. “And let’s get some puppies, too. But only the small fluffy ones…”

When she asked the nurse who the green people were, I got really upset. Was she seeing aliens now? But when the nurse confirmed that the nurses now had new uniforms, thus the green, I was relieved but still terrified.

The next week I saw her, she was in a coma. She couldn’t breathe without the aid of a machine and she was in such a deep sleep, I didn’t even see her eyelids twitch. We thought this might be the end and we tried to prepare ourselves.

And then after almost a week, she woke up. Just like that. She couldn’t talk or move her arms; the doctors thought she’d had a stroke. For days she just lay there. And though we were happy that she was alert we wondered, if she survived, what quality of life she would have.
And then just a few days ago, she spoke her first words in weeks.

“She talked!” my mom exclaimed. It was good to hear my mother, who’d been keeping a vigil by her mother’s side, sound so positive.

“Well, what did she say?”

“Her first words were ‘that was crazy.’”

And we both laughed, because if my grandmother could recognize how strange this trip had been, maybe she’d be okay. Maybe she’d gotten her fight back.

When I went to see her this past weekend, I hoped to find her in good spirits. She was alert, looking around, and she had full function in her arms.

“Say hello to Em,” my mom said.

“Hello,” she responded. But there was no warmth in her eyes, no happiness, simply complacency.

I gave her a kiss and told her how happy I was to see her. Then I noticed that her wig was all askew. “Mom Mom, let’s fix your wig,” I said. “You look like Little Richard.”
And my father laughed. And the nurse laughed. And my mother actually snorted. But my grandmother didn’t even crack a smile.

And that’s what really worries me. I know that she can beat this if she puts her mind to it. She’s a tenacious woman who was patient enough to be my piano teacher for almost 10 years, and I’m not an easy student. Even if she can’t walk, I want her to at least wheel out of that hospital with her head held high and her wig on straight. But she has to want it.

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