POST-OP WEEK 57
week of March 1
I was driving home from improv class one night; it would’ve been 1 or 2am Thursday night/Friday morning… We’d have our weekly class that would end at 7 or 8 and then we’d walk 2, 3 doors down to the Déjà Vu, a grungy, neighborhood bar, have a few drinks and joke around, talk about what kind of comedy career we were all going to have.
It was up on Lincoln Avenue, so I’d come down Fullerton to the Kennedy, then the Eisenhower. That was when they were working on the Eisenhower for 2 years, had it torn down to dirt, first in one direction, then the other, so traffic, even at 2:30 in the morning, was terrible. I take it for a while, then get off somewhere and take some other street I didn’t usually take to get home.
So, I get off the expressway on Austin, in Berwyn or Oak Park, which has a 25, 30 mph speed limit. One lane, either way with a parking lane filled with cars. I’m used to the expressway speed so I don’t even notice that I’m going about 45. Until the cop shoots past me, going the opposite way and flicks his roof lights on and his siren.
I know he’s clocked me but I keep driving, cuz, you know, maybe it’s NOT me he caught speeding… In my rearview mirror, I can see him trying to make a U-turn across traffic. The street’s pretty busy because this is the new detour from the construction; no one’s stopping to let him in.
We’re five, six blocks apart now, I can see him getting smaller in my mirror as I come up on the boulevard they have on Cermak in Berwyn. It’s two lanes either way, shopping, and parking lots that run along behind the shops.
Okay, I don’t know what got into me at that moment, I know I was speeding. I know it’s me he’s coming to get. But I’ve also NOT pulled over and waited for him to catch up with me and write me up. So, I pull into the darkened parking strip, find a space with the other cars, turn off my lights, and scrunch down in my seat. Ten seconds later, the cop car shoots by, past the parking lot, and onto Cermak. He speeds up Cermak, red and blue lights flashing. 30 seconds go by and he shoots back the other way.
I wait a couple more minutes in the dark, quiet. When I can’t see his lights anymore, I slowly pull out of the parking space, lights still off, and creep back through the lot, onto Cermak, and back home.
Spies were big when I was a little kid. TV shows, movies, James Bond, Matt Helm, toys. I had a toy gun that folded up so it’d be “disguised” as a radio. A radio that didn’t work, but it looked like a radio. And another one, a toy pistol, that folded up so it’d be disguised as a pocketknife. I had a spy suitcase that had a camera in the top of it. It was a film camera, you’d load it up with a roll of film. Then you’d stick it in the top of the suitcase so the lens pointed out through a hole in the front. With a switch in the handle, you could take a “secret picture” of whatever general direction you were pointing it in.
I liked taking pictures with it. We also had an old Brownie camera that my parents used to let me take pictures with, sometimes with those silver flash bulbs you’d stick into that silver reflector in the front.
I’d set up my G.I. Joes in fighting scenes: good guys punching bad guys or kicking them, in the corner of my bedroom. Then I’d take a picture of them— a freeze frame of their epic battle. I did the same with my little sister. I’ve got pictures somewhere of her attacking our stuffed toys with a fake knife, making a mean face. When I’d finish the roll, my mom would drop it off at the drug store to get them developed.
POST-OP WEEK 58
week of March 8
My mom couldn’t drive, she didn’t have a license before we moved to the suburbs. She always took “street cars” (as she called them) when we lived in the city. After we moved to our suburb she learned somehow and my dad got her a station wagon. A ’58, ’59 Ford, I think. It was beige. She had three cars in her life, all station wagons.
They all had a front seat, the back seat, of course, and where I spent most of my time, what we called The Way Back. Depending on the model, The Way Back was a bench seat that faced backward or two smaller seats that ran parallel to the sides of the car, facing each other. Whatever the design, it was a great place to dangle stuff out the open window and onto the pavement behind.
The first thing I think we tried was a toy car. We tied a string onto it and lowered it out the back window (The windows always opened in station wagons, is that great?) and onto the street below, the street moving at 20, 30 miles an hour. It would roll at first, cool, keeping pace with us but then it’d hit something, a pebble, a crack in the pavement. That would send it spinning and bouncing and scraping along which was almost as fun, so we kept it dragging there. Sometimes we’d lower Army men.
I can remember lowering an Army man through the rusted-out hole in the floor of somebody’s old station wagon once. It was either my mom’s or, I think, my uncle Al the artist’s car. It was a hole right over the back tire so my little guy would drop, drop, drop, until he hit the spinning tire going 40 miles an hour! Cool!
My cousin in Wisconsin and I would yell things, too, out the back at people: “Get a mule!” for some reason seemed funny to us, so that’s what we’d yell at kids on bikes or walking along the side of the road.
“Get a mule!” we’d yell and then laugh and laugh as the people would look at us, confused. I’d be confused, too, if some kids yelled, what sounded like “Fftggghutt!” at 35 miles an hour.
We had a lot of pets when I was growing up.
We had the family dog: named Darmo, short for Darmo Yed (it’s Russian for “fee-loader”, so I don’t know if I’ve spelled that correctly). He was part Pointer, part Beagle. The family got him before I was born. Thinking back, he might’ve been around before my older sisters were born, too; there’re pictures of my dad holding him as a puppy and they look quite old.
My dad took Darmo for walks to the Burlington/Northern train tracks which were half a block away. There weren’t any “pick up after your dog” laws back then, but he’d let Darmo run up and down the tracks, pooping anywhere he wanted. One time when he was a pup, Darmo got hit by the Empire Builder train coming out of the city at 60, 70 miles and hour. [FACT CHECK: I found out later, after I wrote this to my doctor, that an El hit Darmo back when the family still lived in the city. The rest of story is true…] My dad said the train clipped him in the butt and he went flying (and, he’d added, crap went flying everywhere!). He was hurt but my dad didn’t take him to the vet— remember, this is the guy who didn’t take his kids to the doctor and didn’t believe in health insurance. He took Darmo home and put him in a cardboard box in the basement, figuring it was just a matter of time until he died. And, as the story goes, they went out to dinner! Nice. When they came back from dinner, Darmo hadn’t died. In fact, Darmo lived another 16 or 17 years…
We had a dog named Tanya while we still had Darmo. She was an apricot toy poodle! My aunt in Wisconsin had a poodle named Babette and her two daughters: Mimi and Fifi. The two daughters were “sired” by the poodle next door (there’s always a poodle next door, isn’t there?) on purpose. He somehow got out and got “with” Babette one last time and so: Tanya. My aunt couldn’t have another dog because of some breeder’s ordinance, so we took her. I wanted to name her Tanya to break the French name chain, and, after all, we were Russian. So everyone agreed on Tanya.
Tanya was cute at first— this little, tan fuzzball. As the years went on, she got less and less cute. He was never housebroken, so if you didn’t get her outside right away if she had to go, she peed on the rug in the dining room by the stereo. Darmo peed there once when he was older and so Tanya started going there, too. Her teeth started rotting, wiggling in their gums and falling out. She got real skinny and real mean. She liked to “ride” my dad’s leg if he stood still long enough. And eventually just stuck with him, avoiding everyone else all together. You’d walk by my dad’s bedroom door at night and see Tanya’s eyes glowing in the dark from his bed where she slept. She’d pick up her head bare what few teeth she had and growl at you.
One morning, when she about 14 or 15, I found her dead on the dining room floor near the stereo where she used to pee on the rug.
The neighbors across the street from our cottage in Wisconsin had a little puppy they had already named Buffy. I don’t think they really wanted her because they jumped at the chance to give her to us when we showed affection for her. (Aww, isn’t she cute? What a cute dog… You can have her.) Buffy was part Scotty, part dachshund— which made for one weird-looking dog. She had longish black fur and a Scotty face. Her front paws were bigger, Scotty paws, but her back paws were smaller and pointier like a dachshund. She had a great personality, though.
She had this odd way of sitting straight up on her butt and back haunches, perfectly vertical, putting her two front paws together and “pushing” them down repeatedly to beg at the table for food.
When she was about four, she slipped a disk in her back. She was down in the basement at the bottom of the stairs and couldn’t get up. I heard her whimpering and when I went down to help her, her back legs wouldn’t move. She was up on her front paws, but she’d have to drag her back paws around if she wanted to get around.
We took her to the vet where they performed surgery— that’s when we found out it was a slipped disk. I was the only one home, unfortunately, when they called with the news. It was someone from the vet’s office: Buffy was on the operating table, anesthetized. They told me she slipped a disk in her back that went into her spine, somehow, and she’d be paralyzed for the rest of her life. This happens to dachshunds they said, they have such long backs that they have spinal problems. They asked me what I wanted to do: they could sew her back up and she’d have to get around on a little wheelie cart, dragging her back end everywhere or they could just “put her to sleep” right there and she’d never feel a thing.
I don’t remember if I was in high school, still, or in college, but at a very young age I had to make a fairly big decision, I think: I pictured Buffy wheeling around. It didn’t seem like a great life to me. We’d be taking her up stairs and down stairs. I tried to imagine how she’d poop, stuff like that. I remember not taking a really long time to think of this scenario when I told the doctors to put her to sleep.
When my older sister came over and found out what I had done, she was really PISSED! She yelled at me for killing Buffy, how could I do that? Etc. Etc. Etc.
We had cats, too. We found three outside a church in Wisconsin and named them Harvey, Samantha, and Shorty. Harvey ran away one day (or something happened to him. They were outside cats and he’d come back, routinely, with bite marks across his back). Shorty got hit by a car; backed over by a neighbor, we think. I can’t remember what happened to Sam. She was my cousin’s cat, I wonder if she took her.
My older sister “found” a tiny kitten. A one-week old kitten I named Emerson. A garbage man in the city came into my dad’s place holding this teeny, weeny little thing that someone had thrown into the trash to die and gave it to her. It was so young, we fed it milk with an eyedropper for the first 3 or 4 weeks we had him. This was my second or third year of college.
When I was a kid, besides the dogs, I had a couple of newts, two tadpoles that turned into frogs, and lots of tropical fish— guppies and mollies and swordtails. I had a chameleon or two that I got at the circus, of all places. There was a guy selling them and my dad bought me one (or maybe it was one for me and one for my little sister). They came with a short string tied around its neck that was attached to a safety pin on the other. You’d pin it to your shirt so the chameleon would stay on your chest or shoulder— except every so often they’d slip out.
I had a couple of small turtles, the kind you’d get at Woolworth five and dime, the kind you’d put it a plastic dish of water with an island in the middle and a plastic palm tree. My dad brought home two bigger turtles from Wisconsin that he took out of the lake. We kept them in a washtub outside for a while. I used to feed them dog food out of the can that they actually ate. I seem to remember letting them loose in the Des Plaines River.
I had hamsters, too. Lots of hamsters. I bred them for some reason. I had two “couples” that each had a litter. I brought one litter to school (maybe, fourth grade?) for show and tell and ended up giving them all away to kids in my class. If I remember this correctly, the female of that pair killed the male. I don’t remember what happened to her. I ended up getting another a pair and mated them, too. That female was a tad more “animalistic” and ended up eating a few of her babies (they do that, sometimes) I gave away some of that litter but had two females left. They were fairly grown when one morning I opened their cage (it was a big, rabbit-sized cage) to find that the mother had been killed and partially eaten! Revenge of some sort?
Of all the pets I had, the oddest, perhaps, was the alligator. My oldest sister sent me an alligator from Florida. I don’t know if she was just visiting or she had there by then, but one morning a little box came to the house. No one else was home. I went to the door and got the package. I brought it inside and to the kitchen table. I had no earthly idea what it was when I opened the flaps and a baby alligator sprung to life!
(I actually think it was what they called a Caiman, which is essentially a small alligator. In the alligator family, anyway, but bred not to get real big. It looked like an alligator, though. You used to be able to buy them in pet shops back in the day, and, I guess mail them to your little brother in the suburbs with no trouble at all.)
I was probably a freshman in high school and I should’ve known better, but I reached into the box to grab the cute little guy and— he whipped his head over and bit me. He had a mouthful of really sharp little teeth and he clamped down on my hand nice and solid with them. My first reaction was to pull my hand away. Of course, the alligator was still clamped down on my finger so he came with it— out of the box. He let go in mid-air and fell onto the kitchen floor, sliding into the corner. My finger was bleeding but it wasn’t too bad. But now I had a gator loose in the house. He stretched up on all fours, opened his mouth and hissed at me.
I knew I had to get him back in his cardboard box before my parents got home, but I didn’t know how. Obviously he wasn’t in the mood to be touched in any way so I used a broom and a dustpan to scoop him back into his container.
After that, I kept him in an aquarium in my bedroom. (most of these pets, in fact, I kept in my bedroom) It was really pretty small for him but I took him out believe it or not fairly often. I learned from someone, a pet shop owner maybe, how to sneak up behind him with a forked stick, pinning him down at the neck so I could grab him firmly behind his head. Once I had him I could carry him around and hypnotize him, in fact, rub his belly until he was lulled into a very relaxed state. I’d feed him minnows. He lived a fairly long time, although less than a year. Eventually he stopped eating and died.
All my pets died.
Of course, I know they have a finite life span. But sometimes, I think I was the one who killed them. They weren’t meant to be in tanks and cages and I killed them. I tried my best to care for them but I was a kid. I read some books on it but not many. I was okay with fish and dogs, cats, and hamsters, but not so much with frogs and newts.
POST-OP WEEK 59
week of March 15
I saw a guy riding a motorcycle get in an accident with a car. I still remember it; I can see it, still.
We were on our way to my sister’s rehearsal dinner. I was standing up at the wedding, walking down the aisle with my cousin. We had just come back from the church and we were driving down a busy, 4-lane street to a banquet hall. A few cars up ahead took a left across traffic, but I guess he didn’t see the guy on his motorcycle in the far lane. I didn’t either until he came flying over the hood of the car and onto the pavement.
He got up from the ground and tried to stand, but his legs were wobbly, maybe broken. He was missing a shoe. He staggered a few steps, then, unable to stand, fell back onto the concrete.
Everyone kept driving, I guess, because we came up on the accident and my future brother-in-law got out to help and offer himself as a witness.
Someone took us kids on to the banquet hall. When we came in, people kept asking us what was going on. I never found out what happened to the guy.
We used to have a pickle barrel in our basement. It was actually a mid-sized crock where my dad made pickles. He’d mix up water (hot water?) dill, these little black seed things (peppercorns?), and pickle-like cucumbers. He’d pour it all into this ceramic crock and cover it with a circular piece of wood, held down with a 2-pound round, smooth rock.
My dad would be sitting at the kitchen table and he’d send me to the basement to get him a pickle. I’d run down the stairs (turn right) and pull the crock out from under the workbench. I’d take out the rock, stick my finger in the hole in the middle of the circular piece of wood and pull it up. I’d reach my hand into the briny water and pull out a pickle!
POST-OP WEEK 60
week of March 22
One day, when I was out playing in the front yard, I saw a couple of girls, a 6 or 7 year old and a younger one standing on their tiptoes at the mailbox on the corner, two doors down from our house. They kept pulling the little door down and letting it flap shut, then pulling it again. They did that one more time, then ran away.
I kept looking at the mailbox for some reason and noticed there was smoke coming from around the closed flap. Not a lot, just a few wisps but it was enough to make me run in the house and tell my mom.
She came out to confirm my story, then called the police, I guess, because there was a cop there in no time and I guess a mailman or someone from the post office. Between the two of them, they opened the mailbox and took out the big canvas bag where all the letters go when you drop them in the slot. (I’d never seen the inside of a mailbox before, so this was kind of cool and mysterious. I felt special, like the cops and the feds solving a crime.)
When the post office guy pulled the bag out into the sun, he turned it around to find a hole burned into the corner and a couple of letters, too. I told them who I saw playing in the mailbox, described the girls, and the cop went off.
I never heard what happened to the girls. Maybe they’re out of federal prison by now.
I went through a climbing phase, I guess you’d call it, in middle school somewhere. Roofs, mostly, not trees, although there was the occasional tree. I’d climb out my bedroom window onto the flat roof of our “TV room/den” right outside. I’d walk around, look over the edge. It was all of one story up. After a while, I’d get our ladder up there and climb up to the second-story roof of the house. It was pretty steep but I used to walk around on it, lying down on the crown so I could look over the edge two stories to the neighbor’s driveway.
I don’t know if my parents knew I was doing this, but I don’t see how they couldn’t, if only from the clomping around noises I must’ve made.
I’d also climb out my parents’ closet window in their bedroom and onto the small, angled roof over our front door. I’d just sit up there, enjoying the view. Sometimes I’d throw stuff off. I only almost fell once.
Actually, I did fall. I had the ladder up against the den wall and I was going to use it to come down from the flat roof. The problem was: it was one of those step/extension combo ladders. You could use it, locked in place one way as a stepladder. Or turn it around and lock the two sides in place as a long extension ladder.
This time I had it stretched out but turned the wrong way, so it wasn’t locked in place. I didn’t realize my mistake until I swung my legs off the roof and put all my weight onto the ladder. This caused the ladder collapse in the middle toward the house, hitting the wall. I fell backward. I tried to grab the gutter to catch myself but kept falling, after slicing a couple of my fingers on the sharp metal. My right leg went between two rungs and, as I continued to fall, pivoted 180 degrees which smashed my shin on the metal edge but stopped me from hitting my head on the neighbor’s cement driveway, just inches away.
I lay upside-down for a few minutes across the ladder, my leg stuck in the rungs, my head resting on the grass. I limped inside the house and treated the cuts on my hands but never told my parents.
That didn’t put an end to my climbing phase, either. A friend of mine showed me how to get on the middle school’s roof by almost literally scaling a shear wall, using the brick décor as a “ladder.” That roof had all sorts of angles and cone-shaped domes that I ran around on.
POST-OP WEEK 61
week of March 29
My mom dropped me off one day at the local drugstore to run in and pick up a prescription. I don’t know how old I was: ten, eleven. My little sister was sleeping in the car and my mom didn’t want to wake her just to run in quickly, so she asked me. I don’t know if I’d ever done anything like that before, run an errand, but this was my big chance.
I’d been in that drugstore before, everyone had, it was the only drugstore in our little town. I used to hang out in the front by the magazines, looking at comic books. It had that great, drugstore smell that I always thought WAS the comic books but I’m sure it’s a mixture of all that stuff in there— shampoos, newspaper print, candy, whatever.
So I run in, past the comic books, and straight up to the pharmacy wall. I can remember not quite coming up to the top of it so I stood a few steps back. The pharmacist didn’t say anything to me and I returned the favor, just looking at him, I guess, waiting to catch his eye.
People came up and walked in front of me, asked him for their prescriptions, paid for them and left. Still I didn’t speak. More people came up, did their business, and went on their way. Still, not a peep from me.
This went on for a while, an uncomfortably long while, but I just couldn’t make the words come out. I don’t know how long it had been, how many minutes had gone by— ten, fifteen, I really don’t know, but my mom finally came storming in, my baby sister on her shoulder half asleep, barking at me: “What’ve you been doing in here all this time?” Something like that. Then she yelled at the pharmacist, something like: “you didn’t see him, standing here? You didn’t ask him what he wanted?” He didn’t know what to say, he thought I was with somebody and just standing there watching him, maybe. He didn’t know what to think because I didn’t say a word to him…
Then he gave her the prescription and she stormed out again.
diary continues in April 2010...