Keep Calm and Panic Later


Occasional accusations of being cool-headed in a crisis have been directed at me over the years. I guess it is the one small advantage that comes with not really feeling my life experiences in the moment, but rather in dribs and drabs sometime after the fact.

This aspect of my mental make-up came in handy the time I started blacking out while barreling down the Autobahn at about 90 mph. With only two tiny pinholes of sight left, I instinctively pinched myself in the leg so hard and painfully that it brought me back and I could make it to the next exit. I parked the car and immediately my whole body started shaking.

Cool-headedness also helped in an English class once when a young student of mine tripped and hit his head on the edge of a low table. The kids started yelling and I ran over to him. He was lying face down. A pool of blood was spreading out from under his head.

“Tommy! Can you hear me??” There was a low, mumbled groan in reply.

The other kids were all standing around staring at us. I started barking orders. “Lea! Go get Sandra! (my fellow teacher). She zipped out of the room just as I had an afterthought. “Amy! Follow Lea! Tell Sandra to bring her cell phone.” (I was pretty sure we would have to call for an ambulance.) Amy ran off and I turned back to Tommy.

“Does your neck hurt? Or anything besides your head?” He groaned out a “no”.

“Do you think you could roll over on your back? Carefully! I’ll help you.”

As he rolled over, I saw a fairly deep gash in his forehead with blood spilling out of it. A lot of blood. I looked around for something, anything I could use to press against it. I looked at my own clothes and was about to take off my sweater to use, when I spotted a crumpled up napkin on one of the desks. “Niles! Give me that napkin!” He handed it to me and I said “Now go down to the kitchen and get some clean towels – make one of them wet!” He and another boy ran off.

“Tommy? Can you talk to me? It’s important,” I said as used the napkin to put pressure on his wound. “Tell me where you live.” He answered. “Do you know where you are?”  He did. “What is your mother’s name?” For some reason that made him smile a little and he answered again. Sandra rushed in and then went out again to make the phone call. The towels arrived and while replacing the napkin, I could see that the bleeding was slowing. I thought it would be good to get his head elevated.

“Tommy, do you think you can sit up? Do it slowly. I’ll help.”

We got him into a seated position and then I just kept talking to him. I got him to slowly turn his head to the left and right. Eventually he could stand up and we started our slow walk to the kitchen. The bleeding had stopped, so we cleaned him up a bit, sprayed some disinfectant of his gash and held a moist cloth on it. We talked till the ambulance arrived. They took over and asked basically all the same questions and then carted him off to the hospital for stitches.

As soon as they had left, I sat down and, once again, got those full body trembles.


So what made me remember these events?

Because yesterday, while blogging, I heard a loud scream coming from the basement, then a crash, and then the sound of my daughter tearing up the stairs.

“THERE’S A SNAKE DOWN THERE!!” she shrieked.

“Really?” I asked in a mildly interested tone. “Let’s go see.”

She cowered behind me on our way back down the stairs. I was already 99% sure we wouldn’t find a snake, but a harmless blindworm – which is actually a type of lizard and really common around here. An “anguis fragilis,” as Wikipedia tells me. And sure enough, that’s what I found.

I took the nearest object and used it to poke the worm. It slid an inch, keeping its form. It was not only dead, but dried stiff.

“It’s dead,” I said as I picked it up and waved it in the air. My daughter wasn’t convinced. “Look!” I said as I hit the floor with it a few times. It made a little knocking sound. I confess I found it sort of neat. “Here – do you want to look at it?” I asked. I held it out toward her and she backed away and signaled her disgust. Alas, my enthusiasm was not contagious.

Her anguish over the anguis fragilis was not fragile. She has since declared herself officially ophidiophobic.

And she’s not buying the “it’s a lizard, not a snake” line either.

Forgotten Boyfriend #1


Cringe-worthy – Part 5


First Best Austrian Friend and I once debated the greatest capacities of human nature. He said “love” and “tolerance” and I countered with “generosity” and “respect”. Love – or at least romantic love – I told him, was really a self-centered emotion at its core, not to mention the fact that it has been made trite through overuse. And tolerance was a downright arrogant attitude. “I tolerate you. I tolerate that your existence occurs simultaneously with my own.” Should one be grateful for being tolerated? That might be a good first step, but it is entirely insufficient to truly dismantling prejudice. No, people could do better than that.

I believe in kindness. I believe in giving what you can with no expectation of payback. And I believe that if someone reads this and thinks it is a bunch of sentimental crap and that the world doesn’t work this way, then he/she will have reasons and experiences to back that idea up and they are right. That’s where respect comes in. It doesn’t mean I will change my own views one iota.

I thought I was always this way – that it was in my nature – and that my upbringing and all the luck I have had in life simply reinforced my natural inclinations.  I thought I would get glimpses of this essential nature as I read through my childhood journals.

I didn’t.

On March 21st 1978 (at the ripe old age of 16) I wrote about a silly argument I had had with my boyfriend “C” at a party. (It should be noted here that I had since completely erased this boyfriend from my memory.)

Here’s March 22nd :

C. called me and apologized & I did too. We’re all made up. J
He was in a bad mood because he had just found out that his dad told his mom that after the divorce, (which coincidentally is on C’s birthday), he didn’t want any ties with that house. That is so shitty. C. & his dad are, or were, really close too. It hurt C. so much that he started to cry. The whole thing gets me sick. His family (except for the brother) is so shitty. It depresses me . . . .




Milwaukee Childhood

Each time I come home for a visit, I go on the lookout for what has changed.  Maybe my sister has redecorated a room, or maybe a new building has gone up. A new restaurant might have opened or there is something new to taste. I am usually either happy or neutral about these things, but sometimes . . . rarely . . . someone decides to muck around with a sacred place/thing – and that is simply a no-go. So it was with some trepidation that I went to the public museum to see the “new” Streets of Old Milwaukee.

That place had a magical quality for me in my childhood. It seriously captured my imagination and I wandered around in my own personal fantasy world whenever I was there. I assume every person who has grown up in this city has some childhood memory of that exhibit – some detail that they looked forward to visiting again and again, or pointing out to their own kids later in life. For my sister it was the eyeglasses, for many others it was the slightly creepy Granny rocking away on her porch. (Does she keep rocking at night when no one is there? Does she stand up and go in the house?) For my daughter, somewhat unfortunately, her strongest memory is the Milk Duds in the candy store. For me it was the kite stuck up in the tree.

(Though here, I have had no success in finding any pictures of it or anyone who remembers it besides me, so I am starting to doubt my own memories. Once again! – My mom insists that we didn’t drive to Florida – as I wrote about in an earlier blog – until after my father’s death, and that I am probably mixing up different trips in my mind.)

So one of our first stops this visit was the museum and I was really pleased with the remaking of the Streets. Cool new additions were the cable car entrance taking you back in time as went through. The old “Bijou” showing black and white silent movies was great too.   More workshop type stores had been added to reflect the city’s industrial past. We slowly worked our way toward the tree on the square. I looked up. There was no kite in it.

I’m seriously considering writing to the curator – first to ask if, in fact, there had ever been a kite, and secondly, to ask them to please put it back.


Unfortunately, my mini-freak-out was intensified this visit when I realized that a second of my sacred places was being blasphemied (blasphemized? blasphemed?)

windowseatThe first time I toured my sister’s house, I fell in love with a window seat. (After reading one of those classic novels as a child – was it Wuthering Heights? Or Little Women? Maybe Jane Eyre? – I decided that every self-respecting house must have two things: a window seat and room under the staircase.) Over the years I have spent hours seated there, reading, writing, or just people-watching. On weekdays, the park across the street was a quiet place with only a smattering of visitors at any one time. There were some usual customers that I got to know: the fat old guy in a baseball cap with his two or three Chihuahuas. The skinny guy who did yoga and meditation in the early morning hours. The elderly couple who always sat on the same bench and looked out at the lake, never talking to one another. The young woman on a blanket, basking in both the sun and her college textbooks . . .

In between them and the street, a constant flow of joggers, bikers, dog walkers, and stroller pushers passed from right to left or left to right. They all added up to a manageable amount and the street stayed quiet until the weekend, when it suddenly became a crowded parking lot for beachgoers.

Well, now, this year, it is always the weekend. Cars everywhere, people omnipresent – all with cell phones in their hands which they hold out in front of them and peer intently into as they walk. They are mostly quiet and docile, but their sheer numbers have chased away all the usual park patrons. Gone is yogaman and the baseball cap with barking rats. Gone are the studiously tanned and the silent lake gazers. Joggers and bikers seem to have found new routes with fewer oblivious obstacles to swerve around. Every night, these pokey walking dead have to be chased out of the park when it closes at 10 pm. This is done with quite a few police cars, their lights flashing and bullhorns roaring, their floodlights sweeping the grassy grounds to find those hardcore gamesters in hiding. Things finally quiet down and a few hours later – sometime after midnight – the first cars start slinking surreptitiously back and parking. You can just make out a little of the faces inside, dimly lit in the glow of the cell screens . . .

  deputy jo   pokey crowds

I know almost nothing about how this game is played and have only seen in on a cell screen once. Deputy Jo, one of the policewomen on this new beat, showed it to me, adding “I can’t believe my job required me to learn this game!” She also filled us in on why so many of the players congregate in this particular park. It is the absolute epicenter of the game in this city for reasons not interesting enough to go into here. But the police are on it now – not that there is much they can do. Basically, it is just a matter of waiting until the fad fades or is replaced by something newer and epicentered elsewhere. Let’s hope it is not something like Harry Potter’s “Horcrux -Hunt” which would surely bring on the masses, leaving us pining for this pitifully small smattering of pokey people.

bubblerThe third insult to my childish nostalgia (of course there were three!) was the new and improved bubbler in the park across the street. It is an abomination and I refuse to even take a picture of it. My second email to some official is in the works. “Hey City People! What’s up? This is what a Milwaukee bubbler is supposed to look like:

Please correct this situation and make it snappy!”


lockerI am happy to be able to end on an up note. After all these tribulations, one element of my childhood nostalgia has stayed exactly the same: the high school locker. When my daughter went to her orientation, we spent quite a while helping her get the hang of those locks. Two turns to the right – stop at the first number, turn to the left – go past the second number once and stop at it on the second pass – turn back to the right and stop at the third number. Then nudge it just a point or two farther and pull up on the latch. It was bewildering for her at first and so utterly comforting to me. When she finally succeeded in getting it open, I discovered my childhood memories stored inside, all snug and safe.  Unfortunately, the drive to Florida wasn’t in there, so I’ll have to get back to you about that question.  But I do know that my own high school locker was yellow and that the combination was 12 – 24 – 38.