Thursday, February 13, 2020


My teeth chattered wildly; I shook all over.

I jumped on the Internet to find out why.

"You're cold," it told me. 

Hah. Far from cold, I sat almost on top of a heater turned on high.

"You're stressed out or panicked," the Internet said. 

About my teeth clattering, yes. Otherwise, no.

"Side effects from medication." No.

"Withdrawal from drugs." No.

Then there it was: "Parkinson's Disease."

Oh my God! I'm going to chatter and shake like this for the rest of my life! I couldn't believe how rotten that would be.

I called the UNMC nurse and told her "PD." She told me to call the neurological department. That nurse told me to go to ER. I went. By then I'd stopped chattering and shivering. 

"Urinary infection," the ER doctor announced. Then he shot me and pilled me and sent me home, saying: "It couldn't be Parkinson's coming on so fast. PD comes on gradually."

That was a relief!

The moral of this story? Don't be your own doctor? Don't trust the Internet? Or perhaps just don't believe the worst of old Parkinson's.

Thursday, February 6, 2020


That summer of '56, I rode squashed in the back seat of a 1947 two-door Ford Coupe between my boy friend, Stan, and some kid who chewed gum. I encouraged Stan to hold my hand, but he preferred to grasp a brown paper bag that embraced a bottle.

We drove 60 miles from Alma, our hometown, to a Nebraska city, Kearney, population 12,000, farther from home than I'd ever ridden without a parent behind the wheel. I felt excited.

In Kearney, we planned to visit the 1313 Club. I'd never heard of it, but the older couple in the front seat, Patsy and Vernon, explained its name: 1300 miles to the West Coast and 1300 miles to the East. There we would hear some jazz. Jazz. My mom listened to jazz, things like "Over the Rainbow" and dozens of Frank Sinatra's songs.

Cars jammed the 1313 Club parking lot but Vernon found a space and we walked in surrounded by the sound of horns and drums and even a piano. The air seemed electric. 

When I entered the big, bare rectangular building, I spotted the jazz band spread all along the far wall: saxes and trumpets and trombones plus a piano, bass, guitar, and drums. The band was huge.

Vernon nudged me, "Look at that Satchmo!" 


He pointed to this black man singing a familiar song in an incredibly gravelly voice: "When The Saints Go Marching In." The whites of his eyes rolled as he sang, and sweat covered his broad forehead. His huge mouth, filled with big white teeth, opened wide. 

"Satchmo," I tugged Vernon's sleeve, "what kind of a name is that?"

"Oh, it's a nickname for 'satchel mouth' because of his big jaws." Vernon looked at me. "You don't know who he is, do you?"

I shook my head.

"He's Louie Armstrong, one of the most important jazz artists, that's who. His trumpet playing, with his dazzling high notes, and his singing in that distinctive gravelly voice has revolutionized the world of jazz."


Satchmo belted out "Mack the Knife," following it with another familiar song, "When You're Smiling." I felt my skin crawl. Patsy and Vernon danced. Stan and his paper bag had disappeared, but I didn't care. I danced, too. And it wasn't ballet. I strutted, I turned, I twisted, I kicked.

At intermission, most of the musicians exited. Vernon laughed, "Muggles break." 

"Muggles, what's that?"

"Oh you know. Marijuana." 

I'd never heard of marijuana, either, but I didn't ask. Eventually the musicians returned, Satchmo singing "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You."

This might be jazz, but not Mama's "Over the Rainbow." It sounded like nothing I'd ever heard. I'd taken piano lessons since grade school so I knew the greats like Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, and Mozart. I even knew Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. But this music sounded nothing like that. It flowed, it hit dazzling high notes, it laughed.

By the time we left, I'd fallen in love. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Ruby & the Electric Blanket

After I bought a Queen-size bed, I needed an ample electric blanket to warm it. So I bought one, installed it and used it overnight.

The next day I read the instructions. "Keep the cat off the blanket," it warned. "A cat's claw can connect with the electricity, kill the cat, and ignite a fire."

Well, just how did the manufacturer expect me to keep the cat off the blanket? Lock Ruby out of the bedroom? Hah. She howls and scratches for hours when she doesn't get her way.

Stubborn, I continued to use my new covering. 

Then one night, the most god-awful screech woke me. Oh, damn, Ruby must have clawed into an electric wire.

I sat up and looked. Ruby seemed curled into her usual sleeping ball on the foot of the bed. I grabbed my glasses and looked again. She wasn't moving. Was she dead? But when I turned on a light, she stretched and curled up again.

Ruby seemed okay. But what was that screech? 

I searched the Internet on cats and electricity. "If you must," said one authority, "buy a UFL blanket." But I didn't buy a new one right away. Instead, I considered using my old single-bed electric blanket that had warmed me for many years with no problems.

Then an odd thought struck. What if I didn't use any electric blanket? What if I just piled more regular blankets on my bed. Could I sleep warm that way?

Turns out I could. I had to wear socks to bed, but I could. And did. For  several months now.

I never heard that screech again.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Quintuple Whammy

I woke up and remembered to call the pharmacy, so I picked up my landline phone. It was dead. It had been dead for 24 hours. Yesterday I searched all over the house for an unhooked phone line. I couldn't find one. Cox promised to come in four days, so I used my cell phone even though it's tricky to "Press One."


I went to the kitchen to brew a cup of tea but the microwave was broken. Yesterday I'd made it work by unplugging and replugging it, but today it only stayed on for an instant, then died. I searched for a tin pan to heat tea on the stove.


I got ready to go to Tai Chi, picked up the phone, and clicked Lyft. Nothing happened. Oh yes, I remembered, after two hours on the Lyft tech line yesterday she finally decided she couldn't fix it. I should ask a friend to give her Lyft app to me. I clicked Uber.


I turned on the radio. If only it did what the salesman promised: play for me any musician I mentioned. I'd spent three afternoons with Bose before the tech guy said in his British accent, "What you want is impossible." He offered instead other radio stations, each full of advertising. Then he suggested a Japanese station; either it never advertises or you can't tell when it does. But I'm tired of all that thin flute music. I miss my jazz, my Bach.


Later last night, I sat at the computer writing my novel. My entire book streams 122 pages down the screen. Then, by accident, I hit a green button. My novel spread out all over the entire screen, blocking out everything else. I clicked this and that. Nothing changed. It was 10 pm., too late to call Apple.


I'd love to drop out of this digital world, especially on days like today with its five whammies. I long for life in the plain old 1950s when Mama cooked on a gas stove, when she played music on her red vinyl records, when I walked anywhere I wanted to go, when I turned the handle on the wall phone to get the operator, and when I wrote with yellow lead pencil on plain white paper.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


A friend sent me a Wall Street Journal article, "A Mysterious Balm for Mania." It reviewed a book called Lithium by Walter A. Brown.

The article, a history of the curious development of lithium, showed me how lucky I was to take that drug.

In New York in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, I'd been in and out of mental hospitals, in and out of therapists' offices, but nobody knew what was wrong with me. That's because I had a long cycle; years passed between bouts of mania and depression. Therapists treated one or the other but not  both.

Then, by chance, in a drug store in St. Louis I noticed a cheap yellow paperback about mental illness and I bought it. As it described what was then called manic/depression (now bipolar disorder), I recognized myself. I understood for the first time what was wrong with me. And the book stated that THE medicine for mania was lithium.

Back in New York in the fall of 1986, I showed the book to my therapist. She sent me to a pricey Park Avenue psychiatrist. He prescribed  medicine, but it wasn't lithium, so I went back and demanded it.

"People don't like lithium," he told me. "You have to get blood drawn all the time." 

But I insisted.

I'm glad I did, for the lithium worked. My mania is gone.

No more hallucinating on the New York city bus that I am Buddha.

No more meeting my friend Barry in a mental hospital - Barry who had  "accidentally" toppled six stories out of his hotel room now alive and well.

No more being held to the floor by two burly guys so the hospital nurse could shoot me up with thorazine.

No more refusing to let the cops into my boyfriend's apartment so they had to break down his door in order to haul me to the nut house.

Etc., etc., etc.

All gone.

What a blessing!

Thursday, January 9, 2020


I must break a vow to tell you this, but this won't be the first time I broke it.

It's 1969. I live in a commune near Massachusetts' Quincy Bay with my boyfriend Jon and with another couple, call them Richard and Barbara.

Jon, a Yoga instructor, hung out in Boston's Buddhist world so when he offered to teach me how to meditate using a mantra, I agreed. Soon I memorized "Om Mani Padme Hum" and learned to chant those words inside my mind. This mantra, beloved by Buddhists, means "The jewel in the lotus," the jewel being enlightenment.

One day Jon brought home staggering news. A famous Buddhist master, visiting Boston, had offered to give a personalized mantra to anyone who wanted it. 

Did we want it? All four of us went.

Once there, we waited in a long line. An attendant told us that, when our turn came, the master would whisper the mantra in our ears. That was customary, he said. We, in turn, vowed never to reveal the mantra, also a common practice.

Finally I stood next to the master, a large man with a big head of black and gray ringlets. He lifted the hair off my ear, leaned forward, and whispered: "Om Mani Padme Hum."  

That shocked me. I'd expected to receive a new mantra. Confused, I joined my friends.

We sat in a nearby coffee shop at a round table for four but said nothing. I felt eager to know if my friends received the same mantra as I had, but I'd vowed not to tell. So had they. Coffee cups danced on the table as we glanced at each other.

Barbara couldn't stand the suspense. "Om Mani Padme Hum! That's what I got. What did you guys get?"

Relieved we cried "Om Mani Padme Hum" and burst into laughter.

For a while, I thought the Master had deliberately deceived us. Then I realized that the personalization was his whisper into each individual ear, not the mantra itself. We had fooled ourselves into expecting an individualized slogan.

So I saw no reason to give up "Om Mani Padme Hum." By choice, it has been my mantra for fifty years.