Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Planning your emergency room visit in ten easy steps

If you think the emergency room is the place for you, here are some handy tips to consider!

1. Health warning. Please disregard all subsequent tips if your health condition constitutes a RIGHT NOW emergency. In that case, these concerns are not your biggest concern; you are. If, however, you are going to the emergency room because your father-physician has determined it would be the most efficient way for you to acquire a battery of tests to find out what ails ya, then I hope you will benefit from these words of wisdom.

2. Getaway vehicle. How are you going to arrive in the emergency room, if your condition does not merit an ambulance? Even if you are an avid public transit adherent, you may want to check out a car service car, or perhaps the car of your parent who drives to work at, coincidentally, the hospital whose emergency room you plan to attend. Alas, public transit is not really so good when you have a fever and chills, unfortunately. Particularly if it will require 2 trains and 1 bus to get to the hospital. PS: Car service drivers may receive bonus points for being entertaining and offering you cough drops while both of you hack your way down the Long Island Expressway (aka LIE).

3. Wardrobe. How are you going to look your best? If you have only two t-shirts, one a newly purchased Yankees jersey from your mother and sister (who went to the game your viral self could not, oh the humanity, attend) and the other a Communist party t-shirt, then you may wish to go with the jersey. However! Woe betide the patient who forgets that the hospital is located, like, in the shadow of Shea Stadium. In this case, emergency room nurses may make such remarks as, "Make sure that one hits lots of bumps!" as your gurney wheels merrily around. While these people appear to be joking, one is never certain.

4. Selective vision. If the ER staff announce they will take fluids out of your body, don't look. If they are going to leave things in your body, such as wires, that do not naturally belong there, don't look. There is no way you are going to be happy about that. If you can't see that IV, it can't see you. I promise. Just make sure you don't accidentally twist up the wire behind your arm such that you sit on it a bit, causing a surprising sharp pain to your elbow, and you will be A-OK.

5. Reading material. Always an essential: How are you going to soothe your fevered mind? Perhaps you should bring a voluminous and absorbing page turner, such as the British paperback copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest you have borrowed from your Britmopolitan coworker. However, you may also wish to remember that it can be difficult to turn the pages of such a volume when one of your arms is hooked up to an IV and the other has some sort of finger clamp on it. Even if you maneuver the finger-clamped hand about, it can still be difficult to hold open a 746-page tome such that you can actually turn more than a few pages. On the plus side, you will kill so much time this way. On the other minus side, it may turn out that this book is so popular that it mysteriously "disappears" from your bedside. When you finally leave the ER, you may find it at the nurses' station, prompting them to reply, "Oh, that's your book? That guy was reading it..."

6. Alternate entertainment. What? A 746-page tome is not enough for you? You want still more entertainment as you languish between blood tests and sonagrams? In that case, let me suggest that you bring a copy of your trusty friend, the Sunday Times crossword. Added time-killer exxxtreme bonus if you are left-handed and the IV is affixed to your left arm! A Sunday crossword's grid never seemed so extra-large as when you filled out the whole thing with your non-dominant hand. You really get an unparalleled sense of achievement here, particularly if you have been tootling through most Sundays absentmindedly on your computer.

7. Cultivate an interest in sports. Even if this interest is as temporary as the duration of your sonogram, it is essential. In today's state of the art hospital, the room where you get a test may have a state of the art television looming you from the ceiling. If you would like the process of being examined to pass as painlessly and absorbingly as possible, I suggest really caring about whether LeBron James is going to be traded to this team, that team, or the other team. Even better if you can fix on something you do sort of know about, even if you can't make out which vociferous opinion the commentator has about Phil Hughes versus Cliff Lee. Pondering concerns such as why the commentators refer to Lebron James as "Lebron" and not "James" is also acceptable, if not as transporting.

8. Play with your food. Sometimes the emergency room staff are nice and will bring you some lunch. Contrary to what people will tell you about hospital food, your lunch will not necessarily be bad! But you can spice it up. Consider: apple juice, fruit cup, turkey sandwich, mustard packet. Oh, what a shame if you don't like mustard. What are you going to do to juice up that perfectly acceptable but slightly dry turkey? Noooo, don't actually pour the juice on it; you need to make sure you hydrate. But! A few nicely redestributed peach or grape or cherry pieces make a nice sort of turkey salad, or even a chutney accompaniment if you are feeling sufficiently imaginative.

9. More entertainment. Still? What a greedy little creature you are! But I will indulge you and suggest that if you are almost done with your test battery and feel you can't bear the counterpoint of machine beeps a moment longer, now is probably the time for your ipod. It is always fun to play soundtrack engineer. What is most redolent of the true meaning of Emergency Room for you? Perhaps it is an old comforting yet sinister standard like The National's Val Jester ("should have looked after her better," you moan to yourself plaintively). Or an atmospheric track like Laura Veirs's "July Flame" with its evocation of the outdoors (even if you are slightly off-season). Or just the sheer cussed overoptimism of Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill." Grab my things? You've come to take me home? Sweeeeet!

10. Family. Of course, you cannot choose them, but the family may be an important component of the emergency room experience. It is helpful if they can come by with ginger ale or well-wishes or just a general demonstration of the fact that they remember you several hours later. It is extra-special-helpful if they know all the doctors and nurses and staff and the doctors and nurses and staff reallyreally like them. Your mileage may vary.

This has been your host, ER Eleanor. Safe travels!

Snip, snip

Thanks be to one of eleventy publishers for promising to bike-messenger me a manuscript to work on, thus rescuing me from my ill and waste-away state of yoooouselessness.

Here is a post I wrote up when I was feeling a bit better. Cheers.

I don’t know if you all view the process of getting a haircut with trepidation. But if you do, you have my sympathy. Growing up, my parents were friends with a hairdresser. Some of my earliest memories are of trekking out to her house in Bay Ridge. I have a vague recollection of myself at four years old or so, gazing out the car window at the Christmas decorations that once played a role in a blogpost here. Later, when the hairdresser moved upstate, she would still come back down to cut the hair of her regulars. And I was never exactly pleased with the results …but I didn’t have to think about it. The haircuts came to me.

After she was gone, though, how disastrous! The general consensus about my hair, as far as I can tell, is that, oh, it’s such a nice color but what an unfortunate texture! When it’s long, it gets tangled; when it’s short it puffs out frizzily and raggedly, prompting (as I believe I have written here before) a middle-school classmate of mine to ask if I ever brushed it. So how to know what style would suit me, let alone what hairstylist? There are more hair cutting places than just about anything in New York, except, possibly, for nail salons and Starbuckses. There is one my family tried for a while that was just down the street but I didn’t like it either. They did blow my hair dry all nicely for graduation, but it felt fake. Even now I look back at those pictures of a luminous-haired white-dressed self and wonder who she is.

Then midway through college I got it in my head to straighten my hair. And what wonders came to pass! Except for a peculiar bump on the right side—a headphone line, perhaps?—after an exhaustive expensive tedious time-consuming chemical straightening process, I had pretty glorious hair. I felt much better. I was almost beautiful, instead of a frizzy mess. (I will note that a couple of people have professed sincerely to like this frizzy mess; I appreciate their kind remarks, but I don’t see it.)

But straightening is a process of diminishing returns. All those chemicals are hell on the hair; the treatment’s supposed to last a year but it doesn’t really. At each return appointment, the hair was less straight to begin with. And it doesn’t help that what is probably a four-hour process on the best of days was always protracted by the extreeeeeme inefficiency of the hairdresser (recommended by my parents’ friend; my mom still uses her but she is not quite right for me).

Once I moved to Brooklyn I decided I would strike out on my own, hairwise. But where to begin? I went to that bastion of reliability, Yelp, and found a highly-rated place in Park Slope, and got an appointment for that same day. Again, I have found my haircuts there (I just got the third) to be a sequence of diminishing returns, aided no doubt by the fact that my hair is frizzing and losing its last vestige of straight, clean angularity as we speak. But the hairdressers are quite nice, it is convenient and affordable (a nice walk across the park if I wasn’t feeling comatosely sick like I was Friday), and so I guess I will stick with it. Even if I can’t shake the feeling that my freshly-blown-dry and beshortened hair makes me look like a lapdog, or maybe a Fairfield soccer mom…

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Blog is on hiatus while I recover from what is apparently some sort of virus. Suffice it to say that getting chills in the summertime is no fun! I hope to recover soon and type up some of the ideas I've had.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Growing up, I never read Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books, but I wish I did. I always had it in the back of my mind to try them, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out. Maybe because there are eight books—daunting!—or because the covers just never really spoke to me. But then it happened that the British reissued them and they looked like this. And, feeling a bit foolish, I asked my mom’s friend who was off to London (the same friend who bought me the complete Calvin and Hobbes as a graduation gift) to pick up some copies. And lo and behold she did, and I was introduced to the joy that is Moomins.

As I have quoted before, although they are fat and shy, Moomins have the most amazing adventures. They're always going off to sea and having picnics and exploring their surroundings, with the aid of their friends. And I'm hungry just thinking about the parties they throw, the food they eat. Though each of them has their quirks—mostly absentmindedness—things have a way of working out for them.

In addition to the children’s books, there is a hilarious set of comics, which were serialized in the British Evening News. They’ve since been collected by Drawn and Quarterly, and rarely have I laughed so much as when reading them.

Tove Jansson herself is a mysterious, magical sort of character. She lived for many years on a small island with her partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä. And in fact most of Jansson's books are rife with islands, sea storms, the sense of quiet adventure that comes from living in a deserted place. This is also true in the books Jansson wrote for adults; I just finished the wonderful Fair Play, which has to be somewhat autobiographical—it’s the tale of Jonna and Mari, two artists late in their lives (or are they? a ninety-two-year-old visiting puppeteer accuses Mari of being only seventy and not knowing how the world works) who live together and travel. Much like the Moomin family, they’re always getting into arguments, receiving strange visitors, and exploring. The book is a series of vignettes, much like the Moomintroll books, but gives a full picture of a life shared by two women who love their work, their home, and each other. This doesn't mean they don't argue, or that they are content at all times, of course. But there is something perfect about their balance of work and companionship and play. If I can be half so wise when I grow up, I'll be lucky indeed.

Here are some comics; here is Ms. Jansson herself. Do yourself a favor and read some of the books if you want cheering up. Yes, even if you live in the US of A; in the time since I picked up my copies, someone else evidently decided I was right about the appeal of the British covers...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Real magicalism

I just read Lev Grossman's (variously recommended) The Magicians this past week. I have a hard time summarizing it (as you will see from the rambling nature of this post): the best I can get is that it's a send-up of fantasy novels as we knew and grew up with them. It's not a strict satire, though--there are moments where Grossman pays homage to the genre. And his main character, Quentin Coldwater, does grow up over the course of a magical journey, though not as neatly as one might hope. Because The Magicians is not magic or reality or magical realism but something I'll call real magicalism. (I don't read enough sci-fi/fantasy to definitively state that it's unique, but I can't think of another book that would fall into this category.) It examines real (and often real-ly unlikeable) characters who happen to have magical powers. Like most real people, they think magic is a storybook thing, and they believe it will transform them utterly and leave them fulfilled like storybook heroes. But! For real people life doesn't work out that way, as a quick look at the plot of The Magicians will tell you.

In some way the book is a pastiche of other magical and coming-of-age narratives. It starts out with Quentin's mysterious Narnia-esque escape from the real world of Brooklyn. He arrives at the Hogwartsian magic college Brakebills, and proceeds to live a Harry Potter existence...sort of. One doubts that Hogwarts would send its students, in the form of geese, to hole up in monkish cells in Antarctica to hone their craft; and though the magical professors are not as evil as, say, Snape, their casual indifference is in some ways more disturbing. A professor asks Alice, a classmate of Quentin's, to perform a magic trick in their first class. When she makes a glass animal come alive, he crushes it. Class dismissed.

And, unlike the Pevensies or Harry Potter, Quentin et al. graduate from school and enter the Real World, in the form of a dissolute, magic-supported Bohemian existence in downtown Manhattan. But--surprise!--this doesn't fulfill them either. So when they get a chance to go on a magical quest, they leap in... I won't go into the details--to do so would spoil the plot--but suffice to say that the last portion of the book uncovers many of the problems that underlie children's magical stories. What's so great about humans anyway, that they can come in and take over a world? And what's the author's stake in all this? It may not be anything grandiose. And it may actually create the most evil of all.

What's most striking to me, though (and what I suspect, but cannot confirm, is the reason recommendations are making the rounds), is how magic serves so bitingly yet affectingly as a metaphor for intelligence. Brakebills, the heart of so much of the story, is the epitome of college, or at least the small college(s) most, if not all, of this blog's readers attend(ed). Grossman describes how Brakebills is where Quentin and his classmates must for the first time meet others who are just as competitive and academically driven as they are. They nurse jealousies; they form rivalries; but above all, they embody a community. Because of their magical powers, they believe in some sense that they're better than everyone else. They make friends, do work, and contemplate major life decisions all with the understanding that their magical powers somehow set them apart. But, suddenly (about halfway through the book), they graduate. And out in the real world no one knows that they're magical, and no one cares that they're superior.(And are they really superior anyway? Nope. Surprise, surprise.)

You may all be better people than I, but I know I've felt like I'm pretty smart because of where I went to college. Granted, once I got there, I knew for sure that I wasn't the smartest. But I found there's still some enticing sense of elitism that is fostered by, especially, going to such a small school. Brakebills, with its 20-student class years, is comically tiny. But it speaks to larger truths about college. This book is a perfect post-graduation read because it deals with what happens after you've gotten your diploma, which marks, I suppose, the conclusion of the main quest of your youth. And then life's not all happily ever after. You may live off borrowed money, host dinner parties, engage in ridiculous excess just because you can. But in the end, that's not enough for even a fictional character, and it's certainly not enough for you. What are you going to do with your life, anyway? What if your magic didn't set you up for success as well as you thought it would?

Grossman declines to fully answer these questions, of course: probably because there isn't a full answer. I know I sure don't have one. But as I try to figure out what I want to do with my future, The Magicians feels all too realistic.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Life; Brooklyn; this moment of June

In honor of Bloomsday (har har), I will take the opportunity to write about… flowers. I remarjed to C.— on Sunday that it’s a sign of my old age that I’m beginning to appreciate gardens more. Indeed, you might note that I spend plenty of time describing the loveliness of cherry blossom trees &c. And I have really moved to the place for that. A recent spot on my neighborhood concludes that the best thing about it is, well, the trees. If you have taken a walk down the sycamore (and Sycamore)-laden streets around my house, you will know what I mean.

When I was younger my parents would drag me to gardens. My mom is especially enthralled by the one up in the Bronx; I liked the model trains they had for Christmas but never really got into the rest of the experience at the time. But now I'm pleased to say I’ve chosen to hit up the Brooklyn Botanic Garden of my own free will.

And it does not disappoint. All sorts of mysterious flora and fauna abound in Brooklyn (this is a post about the former, but did I mention that raccoon I saw galumphing along down Rugby last week?). It’s perhaps a bit hot for the rainforest display at the moment, but the air does feel damn refreshing when you step back outdoors. The bonsai exhibit is impressive—tiny architectural masterpieces complete with tiny clovers and moss outcrops—even if some of the trees have leant over in what looks like protest. And all the plants sure have some good names. I enjoyed reading the especially humorous ones to C.—. Almost like a return to ye olde be-arboretumed alma mater.

And while we’re talking flowers, let’s not forget azaleas. Heck, I wrote a final paper (perhaps my best) on them. (True, it's not Joycean, but at least it's Modernist.) Out there in the all-encompassing dump, we move from a to z and back again, all within the world of that little flower.

And so I find myself a garden fan. Maybe one day I will even buy that plant I’ve been failing to pick up on so many occasions… A cactus might look nice on my desk, don’t you think? Or a pretty little bloom in my bedroom window? Maybe I can put some pots out on the erstwhile fire-escape/balcony…

As for Bloomsday, it’s too bad I work for the Manhattan office; sounds like Brooklyn had a good time…

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The wheels on the bus

Though I do not look forward to any of the service cuts the MTA must implement later this month (assuming no deus ex machina reprieve), it’s not my recent experience of crushing crowds at 68th Street that fills me with the most frustration. No, despite the fact that trains and stations will only edge ever closer to capacity, despite my visceral understanding of why a Second Avenue subway would be so great (even though it will never carry me nearly door-to-door for my lost thirteen years of primary education), what I will really miss the most is a bus.

Anyone who’s read this blog once or twice will know what a Brooklynophile I’ve become. And one thing about Brooklyn that frustrates me is how difficult it can be to get to one part of it from another. Not to name any names but: damn you, Williamsburg, hipster home of delicious breakfast sandwiches (biscuit, ham, sharp cheddar, and fig jam), tasty beverages (oh the delicate swirl of a mocha from Gimme! Coffee), and beautiful parks. It is nearly impossible to get to you from my home in more southern lands…impossible, that is, without dipping into Manhattan on the Q then riding the bike-ridden L back out to Bedford. Since I have spent, like, 23/24 of my life in the neighborhood riiight above the nexus of those two trains, I’ve become a bit sick of it. But how to avoid this pitfall without adding two hours to my commute time? The G ostensibly trawls between the two neighborhoods (granted, with a 15-minute walk home), but it twines around so sloooowly.

And then appeared the light of my life, the B48. Bus between worlds, it traverses much of the same territory that I encountered on my Bedford Avenue walk. But! It doesn’t take hours. Instead, in about 35 minutes I can be at the side of Prospect Park, right in front of the welcoming open-air entrance of the Q. And, 10 minutes later, home. And on the way, the 48 passes by many things I love—Gimme!, the odd zigzagging guard change of Wallabout Street, the delicious Pilar where M.— and I dine, the coffee shops of Crown Heights, and the botanical, museumical boulevard. And, tired after W’burg spelling bees (will I ever win that sandwich?) and theatrical excursions last week, the white knight bus appeared instantly to take me home.

But now the bus (which only runs a couple of times an hour, truth be told) will find its route shortened. I can still take it from the ’burg to Fulton, then wait for the neat little shuttle to the Q. But once you hit two transfers, the ride no longer seems magic and begins to feel more like a chore. You never know how long you’ll have to wait for the shuttle. And, peculiarly, every time I wind up at the Franklin stop I feel sick to my stomach. I guess next time I get invited out to Mexican diner food after a long night of spelling, I will have to crash with my parents or regretfully decline. Au revoir, 48.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

All work and no play

Hey dudes,

I am at the point of the work cycle wherein I decide that the way to deal with the cubicle blues is to throw myself into actually accomplishing some of the Herculean tasks that loom before me. So I am going on blog hiatus for the rest of this week to see if I can hack through this pile of pages to be redacted and assorted other goodies. Speaking of which, my coworker has just intoned, "Noracle, I come bearing gifts," and deposited a whole new filebox in my safekeeping. So, happy trails for now, and if you've got any additional suggestions for combating the cubicle bluse, please chime in.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Comfort food

Sometimes after a tiring crime-filled day at the office all I want to do a mystery novel. Much to my surprise, I've finally had to admit that there is something very comforting about them. When I was growing up, my mother always used to read murder mysteries (and still does); I always found this confusing. Why would she want to read about dead people? Over and over again? And why do so many people--like my roommate, like my sister--watch Law & Order all the time, even when they have seen the episode before?

I seem to have found the answer, or at least an answer. After reading and writing so much at work that is disjointed, after reading so many poems and literary works where form is such an integral part of the experience, it's a welcome change to read a narrative driven by the Russian-doll intracacies of plot. Each novel is self-contained: crime set-up, investigation, resolution (even if, as in the most recent case, the resolution is anything but triumphant). It's nice, too, to commit to a series, to learn a little bit more about the characters and their familiar habits each time you crack open the next installment. To give a couple of specific examples: Ever since A.-- lent me the first Commissario Brunetti novel last fall, I've been working my way through the series, and have just finished the twelfth book. Donna Leon's evocations of the sights and sounds and tastes of Venice--and her depiction of the corruption that lurks within this beautiful touristy city (that I, for one, would like to visit)--are fascinating, absorbing, and even occasionally humorous, despite the darkness of the mysteries themselves. And I love the somewhat less long-established series of Detective Jack Leightner novels by Gabriel Cohen--in these, the pleasure of reading about an exotic-to-me locale is transposed into my own familiar Brooklyn, where I can effortlessly imagine Leightner striding around Prospect Park or checking into police headquarters near Coney Island. And of course there's the previously mentioned ambivalence-inducing thrill of Stieg Larsson's Girl series. What a relief to put yourself in the hands of someone else's plot for a while. And to temporarily visit a world where murders and rapes and assaults are only fictional (unlike the very real reports sitting on my desk).

How about you, readers? What do you read to relax (besides my wonderful blog of course)? Chick lit? Sci fi? Or do you prefer--heavens forfend!--television? Perhaps you only read serious works of Literature. If so, my copy of Borges's Collected Fictions, to name but one of my as-yet-unfinished companions, and I surely salute you...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And now, for something completely different:

A poem. To wit:


you are just a little bit

afraid of the neighbor
‘s tensile dog
in the stairwell

from a revel
or streetlamp
you find
Cerberus gargoyle
knows all
the steps
Supermario villain
style those
bobs and ducks
and bookend weaves

you parry dodge
your way
to bed
but fear
you’ll land one
of those nightmares
that always plagued
your father
the ones
with teeth

When you breathe in, you inspire...

When you do not breathe in, you expire.*

O readers, save me from this ignominous fate! What with work and hot weather and running around saving fair maidens and chasing down fugitives and whatnot, I find myself at a (temporary, one hopes) impasse re: inspiration for this blog. Give me some suggestions and I will take them up!

*From the infinite wisdom contained in Richard Lederer's Anguished English.