What’s your Essential Business?

Standard response to a pandemic health appointment?

First came the email from my doctor’s office. Then came a phone call, instructing me: “Wait in the parking lot with the security guard until the nurse calls you.”

The next day came a second request: “Enter through the side door, off Sweetwater Boulevard.”

Then the third call, command: “You must come alone.”

Rather high maintenance for a little female problem, I thought.

When the nurse called the fourth and final time, she said, “Come up to the 3rd floor and walk straight back in to Room 5.”

She didn’t warn me about what came before the doctor’s hands.

I call it the Full Corona Treatment.

Outside the hospital stood a lone sentry. He eyeballed me head to toe then keyed the sliding glass door.

Inside, a six‐person team stood, sat, and stared. Waiting. For. Me.

Amazed by this focus; my hands shook as I snapped the photo!

Hard to see here (I became too intimidated [yes, me] to snap a closer photo), but each person wore full coverage, a head‐to‐toe white hospital suit.

Faces stayed impassive, shielded behind masks, glasses, AND plastic sheeting that extended past their shoulders. Hands raised skyward, both gloved to the elbow.

Before I could step forward, the tallest responder barked, “Temperature, ma’am!”

He poked my forehead with a steel‐spiked thermometer gizmo. No assent/dissent allowed.

The woman sitting to my right—like a queen behind her table throne—fired away: “Are you having any breathing problems? Are your lungs clear? Have you had any fever in the past two weeks? Have you traveled overseas since March 1st? Have you been around anyone with confirmed coronavirus?”

A second woman, standing near the plate glass window, shook her head “yes” to my every “no.” Questions completed, she stepped forward and banded my wrist with a yellow bracelet.

My body responded “no” to every query. Why did I merit a coward’s color? Don’t ask here! 

Orange barricades block entry/exit for all.

Moments later, I turned the corner and saw massive orange barricades extending across the hospital’s main entrance.

I froze.

My mind raced back to 9/11, ruminating, assembling, connecting.

Full racks of weighted barriers. Six‐person checker teams.

A nasty bug we cannot see.

Coronavirus as terrorist? War? 

What else will I experience in my lifetime?

The doctor did what my body needed and I’m healing nicely.

What did I learn during my CoronaWorld Medical Adventure?

  1. Most people will rise up to your expectations if they understand your ‘why’, — and -
  2. Essential business” applies as much to individuals every day as it does nowadays to grocery stores and gas stations. 

Both involve a choice. 

What better time than a pandemic lockdown to identify what’s essential in your life?

As for me, I’m focusing on my health first, and writing a close second.

How about you?

When a Census Counts…and Doesn’t

Thank the U.S. Census for repeating itself last week.

Such are my days:

  • I received a pair of 2020 census forms: one at our house, another at my sister’s house;
  • Two flashbacks followed: one to 1980, my year as a census enumerator, another to five months ago

I wish my parents had snapped a photo of me as a census girl. We didn’t take many photos 40 years ago. Each print! It costs money! If I had a picture from those days, you’d see a Melanie‐circa‐1980‐Census photo:

**right here**

I prized the homemade outfit I assembled. Over‐coordinated in perfect reds, whites, and blues, I reminded myself, “I’m working for the U.S. government!” 

I also proudly toted the government‐issued shoulder bag, a cheap black vinyl thing that swamped my small frame. It arrived with a massive U.S. CENSUS! sticker slapped on the diagonal across the bag’s front.

If I had a photo — again — you’d see that bag:

*right here**

But I grew to hate the bag’s wide black straps. They bit into my shoulder, the gouges deepening each day I criss‐crossed the streets of my Pampa hometown.

Many of its roads I’d never driven, much less walked. At 23, I was frighteningly young, long sheltered from another side of life in a small Texas town.

When Derek opened his door, I recognized him as a high school classmate and former football star. He now lived alone with his mother in a unpainted shack south of the tracks.

He grimaced, remembering me. I smiled. It was my job.

A day later, I stood on Mrs. Wilson’s porch. Her youngest daughter had been my best friend in first grade. Mrs. Wilson complimented my outfit, validating my sense of style.

But her face remained blank. I didn’t know whether to feel hurt or gratitude.

Fast forward four decades:

My family received two census forms in, yes, two different mailboxes: my house, plus the same form at my recently deceased sister’s home.

I opened Mimi’s first. It read “To Resident at….”

I entered her census ID, expecting questions about her status.

Instead, a plethora of questions gushed forth like a wave, all focused on the structure at her address. I answered that no one was living in the house. The computer responded:

Swallowing the lump bulging in my throat, I asked the screen, “Empty doesn’t matter?”

On our census form, DH confirmed we still occupied the building as “residents of the address.” Up popped a question about our names. Answering led to gratitude from Uncle Sam: I know, I know. The census exists to count people for many reasons.

But we only matter if we’re living? 

Yes, I’m still grieving my sister’s sudden death. Last week marked five months.

Time does ease the loss. It won’t go away when reminders keep coming.

And 40 years later, I remain sad about those porch moments with Derek and Mrs. Wilson. 

Interesting, isn’t it, remembering what we’d like to forget.

Play Time to Heal a Broad

Flying on a netted saucer?

The week demanded frivolity. Then I remembered last month’s promise.

Six weeks ago, our neighborhood park overflowed with youngsters on Independence Day. No room for free spirits eager to swing, crawl, spin, and leap. (Who cares if she’s 62 going on 8?)

I pledged in my July 7th blog post to return to Commonwealth Park. With youngsters back in school, the neighborhood park returned to me. 

Hmm, helping hands to lift an old broad?

Yikes, this tube was a hard squeeze. And low to the ground.

Creaking bones sent reminders as voice echoed, “you’re living a sixth decade, sweet girl.”

Somehow, I slithered out. With help.

Onward, I continued. The seesaw delighted, especially with its complete recycled construction.

Yabbadabbado!

Old log. Old tire. Old seat.

The latter crept up high. In, shall we say, very uncomfortable places.

Perhaps I can find the builder and suggest a rubber pad for old buns?

The seesaw was the only playground equipment familiar from my childhood. Cough, cough.

You may remember last month’s primo playground piece: this green sponge‐y thing. From a distance, it looks like a larger version of those PacMan creatures that zip out of reach, beyond your joystick’s fastest response. Note: no blame to user’s slowpoke moves.

What IS this thing?

This pole topper was as frustrating as that ancient video game, if only because I have yet to figure out its purpose.

Too high to hold, too big to clasp, even adult hands are forced to hold low.

As for the black stick, you swing around on it. Whoopee. No wonder it was barren on the 4th.

A tight squeeze (in two ways!)

After the pole dance, I climbed Mount Everest like a geriatric monkey.

Scaling ever higher, my limbs became entangled so deep in the ropes, the photographer forced a back‐side emergency rescue.

From all this play emerged several major life learnings:

  1. Body play animates in ways both mind and soul crave.
  2. Joints can bend only so far. In either direction.
  3. Forcing new moves on an old(er) body is not animating.
  4. New meds work; no hyper heartbeat from exuberant playtime.
  5. (Actually #1 discovery): Play like this more often.
Whee!!!

Nothing heals like soaring, flying, and laughing.

Giving thanks for the ability to do all three, especially only one week out of an unexpected hospital stay.

For those reasons, I’ll soon return for more playtime.

Meet me there?

Celebrating Traffic Tickets

Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend. And third time’s not the charm.

Pardon the cliches and my negativity.

Truth is, this particular Monday, it’s hard to be positive about much in the world. But I’ve got a blog post due so let’s distract ourselves for the next 300 words or so.

It happened like it has twice before: the cop sprang out of nowhere. Flashing red lights in my rearview mirror and it’s, well, I can’t repeat what I shrieked. I told Ellen no profanity.

His badge read Youngblood. No Officer Krupke here. You’re in Sugar Land, Melanie, not West Side Story.

I felt ganged up on.

He interrogated me as if I’d endangered lives: “Are you the only person in the car? Are you confirming that, ma’am? Are you? Repeat?”

I winked. It had worked in the last century. He repeated his queries as if wrinkles equal poor hearing. I wanted to ask him if he talked to his mother using this tone of voice.

Then I heard my father’s voice whisper in my ear, “the police are always right — when they hold the ticket. And it’s ‘sir, officer.’ ”

The young man said I was in the HOV lane, not the HOT lane. I replied, “Excuse me, Officer, I mean, sir, Officer? HOT lane?”

My mind raced with the unsaid: I’m not hot? Wait, what is this officer saying? Is it the weather? Did I just teleport to Mars? 

Later, in Defensive Driving, I learned that if you see a diamond on the road, you’re in the high occupancy lane. Meaning there must be more than one RoadBroad in the car. Toll tags don’t save a single in the double lane.

The six‐hour course taught me, too, how little I know about lane markings. As in the meaning of solid lines, double solids, and single dashes.

I missed one question in the exams. This picture illustrates what I still don’t understand: traffic can move left or right through dashes but never through any solid line? What about the far lanes? 

For nearly three years, I’ve driven the HOV every Wednesday for writer’s group. It’s a worthy $2.25 toll charge to drive single and save time in a still‐rush‐hour morning.

This time, busted, cost me $146: ticket fee, court costs, defensive driving course, plus a ridiculous $12 for my driving record.

The latter burned.

I remain a convict in Wyoming, courtesy of DH (see RB post, dated 3/3/19). The brutal black on white offers no hint of truth. Where’s that vital line: sleeping while unbuckled?

I’d say third time IS the charm for defensive driving. Except all I’ve learned is how little I know about diamonds.

But now — courtesy of me — you do. You’re welcome!

Never too Old to Watch…and Play

I became old—officially—on July 4th.

Blame our neighborhood park, where DH and I celebrated Uncle Sam’s 243rd birthday. After 27 years living here, it was past time.

We walked onto the long expanse of green grass and eyeballed the park’s passel of playground equipment.

I recognized only one of the thinga‐ma‐jigs that surrounded us. 

And that understanding came only with the arrival of two energetic boys.

The pair scrambled atop either end of the long pole then immediately began to pump their legs and feet hard into the ground.

See‐saw! 

I looked again, staring and remembering.

Images of childhood see‐saw rides flooded. Austin Elementary School and a little girl trying to ride a thick, wide wood plank, the boards themselves mirrors of a homebuilder’s two‐by‐four. What followed those rides, inevitably, were the curses of splinters left behind. Pun intended. 

But this century’s log‐saw comes sweetly repurposed, offering redemption for old recess injuries.

A long piece of wood—either a skinny tree trunk or a thick oak branch—lays balanced and centered, atop a funky H‐frame lever device (sorry, an engineering lexicon never married my vocabulary). There’s a metal disc for sitting so today’s riders suffer no more splinters. A recycled steel bar and tire remnants support hands and feet.

Then there’s this gizmo.

Can you explain what this is?

How do you play with it?

The green topper reminds me of what sits in my kitchen sink.

What the…? My mind races through all sorts of possibilities. Zilch. Nada. What the…? When I repeat myself, trouble looms.

I walk closer, zooming in the camera. Then I notice no children are playing here, a comforting thought for this oldster.

Less than a handful of youngsters ventured close. Fewer still stepped up and touched the pole. We all figured out, from brave demonstration, the thing swings around but none could reach Green Sponge‐y. I didn’t care to try.

Eventually, even I turned away.

This round swing‐a‐thingy elicited belly mounts and familiar cries.

Higher‐higher‐higher! came the youngest voices as parents and older siblings obeyed commands.

At last, I smiled. It felt nice to understand.

Throughout the afternoon, my neck craned then ached from watching endless activity throughout the park. I counted eight permanent pieces of playground equipment, recognizing only three. See‐saw/Log‐saw, the swing set, and a kiddie tunnel.

I’d post pictures of the other five structures for you but then I’d have nothing to report next week.

I’m going back. Gonna ride all eight of these and figure them out.

After all, playgrounds are for adults, too.

Flick ‘n Fling at the Courthouse

When people take pictures of your shoes, it’s time to write about them.

Especially when Photo Time occurs at the courthouse.

We three women sat next to each other, awaiting the outcome of round one: would we be picked for jury duty? Bailiff updates droned on through rounds two and three. We began to chat.

After a few minutes, the woman sitting two places to my left eyeballed the shoes I’d worn on this road trip:

Both women erupted in surprise when I mentioned the paint job was mine. A cacophony of non‐stop questions and amazement followed. While secretly delighted, I finally said, “they’re only shoes.”

The first woman asked to take a picture. For her daughter, she said. The other, sitting next to me, noticed the faux gemstones.

I explained the white dots are not gems, only sticky white dots. Stand‐ins for old stones that disappeared who knows where, when or how. 

The picture‐taker leaned in and whispered, “so, how do you DIY shoes?” 

Why are you whispering? I wondered. Are these creations too weird? Am I?

I paused before the directions rolled like warm honey off my tongue. My fingers followed along in an artful sign language.

Easy‐breezy: shoe paint, leather shoes, and your fingers. Only four: index, middle, and ring fingers plus a thumb. All you do is flick and fling!”

I giggled at the ad‐lib, morphing it into Flick ‘n Fling Fun. then added, “Best part? No one in the universe will ever own shoes like yours. Who wants to be like everyone else?”

My two new friends nodded in agreement. Our shared middle‐to‐senior ages encouraged that collective attitude. We talked more nitty‐gritty details of painting shoes. Finally, we exchanged our names.

Sheila.

Melanie.

And Melanie.

Jury duty with a namesake.

Who also wished her mother had named her Scarlett.

Who parked two places away in the parking lot; who sat two spaces away in the courthouse.

Four synchronicities for the price of one.

Who says jury duty is a chore?

And, no, none of us was picked.