911, I Have an Emergency

Some basic facts about me:  female, green eyes, 5’5”, needs sleep.  And, head-over-heels in love with New York.  My need to be here is as elemental to me as waking and breathing.  And eating kale.  As you may remember, my NY roots go way back, but unlike many people who’ve lived here a long time, every year I fall deeper in love.

And yes, it’s true that 2010 New York City is not really as fill-in-the-blank as it was in fill-in-the-year, but still….what must it be like to fly in and see it for the first time?  Whenever I return home from a trip, I try to pretend it’s my first visit.  I have a great imagination, but even I’m not that good.

A friend of mine recently moved here.  Before this, he had only ever visited, mostly on business, and I’ve been hoping to experience things vicariously through him. And while he probably doesn’t think of his NY life this way, I’m totally jealous that every one of his moments is magical and new.  Of course his just moving here means he hadn’t been here on 9/11 and a non-New York based 9/11 experience is something I can’t even fathom.  What could that have been like, living through it from afar?

Everyone has a 9/11 story.  And as 9/11 stories go, mine are mundane.

My day started out great.  I had a particularly good yoga class and the crosstown bus which never comes, came, at the precise moment when the coffee guy handed me a freebie.  The sky was cloudless and an amazing shade of blue.  I remember thinking, as I boarded that bus, that it was going to be a fantastic day.

I should have been heading to California.  My friend was getting married a few days later and I had the flight on hold.  And for no real reason, I didn’t book the ticket.  Instead, I told my friend at the last minute that I wouldn’t be coming.  I didn’t have a sense of foreboding or anything; I’m not that psychic.  But something made me cancel.  I was overwhelmed by work and felt the need to stay in the city.  It didn’t make sense: the groom was a very close friend and it was a small wedding. Yet there I was selfishly choosing – yet again – work.

But that morning, I felt too happy to care.  I came home, washed the Bikram sweat off and was about to head downtown when my mom called and told me to put on the TV.  She said someone purposely crashed a plane into the World Trade Center.  I called her paranoid.  On those initial glimpses, I really thought it was a Cessna that someone lost control of.

We were on the phone when the second plane hit.

I’m the most squeamish person you will ever meet.  When I was in 4th grade, I fainted from a drawing of the circulatory system.  The red magic marker veins made me physically ill and my tolerance for such detail has never gotten much better.  I’m the last person you’d ever want in any sort of blood-related emergency, yet that morning, I had an idea.

There’s a blood bank across from my house and normally I can’t even read its awning without feeling dizzy, but I decided that going there and giving blood was exactly what I had to do.  I got there at about noon.  There were already hundreds of people who also had the same idea.  None of us thought the blood wouldn’t be needed.  They gave out numbers with approximate times to return because the crowd was so big.  I went back home to wait for my 6pm time slot.

At 3pm, my dog walker, who lived all the way in Westchester, walked into my apartment.  I couldn’t believe she was in the city, working.  “I couldn’t reach you and I couldn’t bear to leave Reepy unfed and unwalked.”  Wow.

I, on the other hand, hadn’t eaten all day and wasn’t about to.  The stress of the events and my looming worries about giving blood were intense.  I was glued to the anxiety-provoking TV reports until my designated time when I went back across the street.  It was still a madhouse.  I waited there another two hours.  That is to say, two more hours spent watching more TV coverage and getting more nervous.  When they finally called my number, I was brought into a room with about 20 ‘stations.’   They were facing each other in a circle and there was no way you could avoid seeing all the big bags of blood.

Big bags of blood.  Even typing this makes me feel sick.

I know it’s unbelievable, but I thought it would be a tube or two. It’s all I had ever been forced to do at the doctor’s and that was my only point of reference.  I freaked.  I couldn’t leave, so instead I made an overly dramatic announcement to the entire staff and the other 19 donors:

“I’m think I’m going to be sick.  Please DO NOT mention the words ‘blood’ or ‘veins’ or ‘needles’ or talk AT ALL about what you’re doing.”

Everyone immediately mentioned ‘blood’ and ‘veins’ and ‘needles’ and what they were doing.

I have an extremely low resting heart rate which is normally a great thing, but here’s what I learned on 9/11: it’s a terrible thing when you’re giving a big bag of blood.  It took forever.  The technicians kept coming over to discuss how slow my blood flowed even though I begged them not to keep saying it aloud.   All the other chairs were on their second and third bodies and I was still there.

Finally the big bag was filled.  l must have looked terrible because they insisted a “walker” take me home.  No way!  I live right across the street!  I have to take the dog out!  Finally we struck a deal.  They’d let me leave by myself if I’d eat a granola bar.  Done!

So, ‘squeamish’ should also be added to the list of basic facts about me.     And here’s another:   I would normally adore to be on the news, as long as it wasn’t in ‘victim-found’ sort of way.  I walked out of the blood bank and lights were thrust upon me.  Gabe Pressman (Gabe Pressman!) shoved a microphone in my face.

“We’re doing a story about the goodness of New Yorkers….can you tell us why you decided to donate blood?”

I could not form a sentence.  For real.  He was nice and tried again.

“We’re doing a story about the goodness of New Yorkers….can you tell us why you decided to donate blood?”

And again.  And again.   And again.  Then someone else more articulate came out and I was forgotten.

There was round-the-clock 9/11 coverage for days and there wasn’t a lot of new information.  I saw Gabe’s Goodness of New Yorkers piece about 200 times.  Each time I felt annoyed with myself.  And queasy.

As far as the rest of the time-line goes, it’s a blur.  I’m not sure what happened that initial week or what was subsequent weeks.  I remember every single minute of the day itself as clearly as if it just happened, but the rest of the month is totally hazy.

I volunteered at St. Paul’s and somehow got brought down into the pit itself – in the middle of the night, sans hard hat – by a policeman who didn’t know or didn’t care that that wasn’t allowed.

I calmed a friend down when her boyfriend found a small piece of bloody scalp and hair in his backpack and the police had to come to their house and seal it in a plastic bag.

I was devastated by all the missing person flyers posted everywhere, yet compelled to pour over them constantly.

It was such a strange time.  I actually loved Giuliani for awhile.  My mom even named a dog after him. Eventually things got back to what became the new sense of normal.  And of course she ended up regretting the name, but by that point the dog already knew it.

I miss 9/10.  It’s crazy how much things changed.  Maybe the only thing that 9/11 didn’t change was how much I love New York.  Well that and the fact that I need to sit down for a minute.  I typed ‘blood’ one too many times.


Working Girl

I’ve been thinking lately that I work too much.  Way too much.  Even the job title itself seems pack mule-ish:  Producer.

For years I worked on staff at various ad agencies and lived and breathed each production. Freelancing, it’s even worse.  I’m always thinking that whatever project I’m working on will be my last, so I never let myself take days off or have a proper vacation.  And, I never say no.   I have to work while I have it, I think.  And it turns out, I always have it.  (Must knock on wood!  Can’t jinx it!)

Financially, it’s great.  Life-wise, I’m not so sure.  I actually love what I do, so it’s not a drag, but there comes a point, when I’m putting in yet another hour, that I have to wonder if all this is worth it.   I used to joke that when I died, my epitaph would be “She had a great reel,” but these days those five words don’t seem so funny.  Even loving what you do, how much work is just too much?

A few years ago I was going through a particularly rough time and a friend recommended I go to a psychic she knew.  I managed to remain tear-free long enough one cold winter’s day to do it.  The guy was amazing.  He told me a lot of stuff about my past that was completely accurate and I had no doubt that he was for real.

Yay!  I was excited to hear what he’d have to say about my future.  Things would have to get better.  And then he pulled the rug out.   “You will never worry about money.  Ever.  But you will never find love.”

What?!  How could he say that?  Even if that were true, didn’t he want repeat business?  Who would ever go back to him after hearing something like that?  I was in a fragile state as it was, but this news just made me crumble.

He continued.  “Oh, don’t let that bother you; you can always buy a bauble to distract yourself.”  Whoa.

As soon as I left his place, I burst into tears.  And two seconds later, I hailed a cab up to Tourneau and bought myself a watch I had been stalking for months.  And he was right; it did make me feel better.  Sort of.  It’s the perfect watch – so beautiful, so simple and I love its weight on my wrist.  But I look at my watch a million times every day and there is at least a quarter of a million times every day that my heart stings a little.

Constantly working allowed me to buy the thing that was supposed to distract me from the fact that I didn’t have anything in my life really worthwhile outside of work?  Hmmm.

This wasn’t the life that I was supposed to have.

When I was four, I went to day camp.  Being a Montessori run one, it was pretty cool.  One time, right before Parent’s Day, they gave us each a large piece of wallpaper and some pen and ink and had us draw what we wanted to be when we grew up.  It was a pretty advanced art project for a bunch of four year olds.

On Parent’s Day, they laid out all the pictures with our names covered up.  There were probably 20 or so paintings on the ground.  There were firemen and ballerinas.  Astronauts and police officers.  Baseball players and office workers.  There was a lot to look at.  My mom asked me which was mine, but I refused to tell her.

“Which one do you like best?” I asked.  She tried to tell me numerous times that they were all great, but I was having none of it.  “Which one do you like best?”

She knew there was no way out and pointed to one.  “I love this, but I’m not sure I understand it.”

“Wait, you knew it was mine!” I said.  But I realized she couldn’t have.

“I love it,” she repeated. “But can you explain it?  What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I remember thinking that was such a stupid question.  She was looking right at it. It was a girl, outside,  holding  flowers.  How could she not tell?

She asked again.  “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  This time I answered.


She still has it framed in her bedroom.

The older I get, the more I want to find a way to reconcile the workaholic me with the four year old me.  But, I don’t know know, maybe, just maybe, I’m not as far off as I think.  My work does make me happy, so perhaps I should aim for just a little less happiness in my life.  You know, get a bit more balance.

I’m going to make that painting my desktop image – as a reminder.  Hey, it’s a start.


Remember By Heart

I saw a TED Talk yesterday and they posed the question, “What do you remember?”  It’s an interesting question, because it wasn’t the usual “What do you want to remember?” or “How do you want to be remembered?” or any of those iterations that put free will into it.  “What do you remember?” is an entirely different thing.

I remember things like my best friend’s phone number from when I was six.  (628-1336)  I remember the phone number of the Sarasota chapter of MADD because I loved it when I saw it on a mailing once when I was down there.  (342-4242.)

I remember the way the blue nightlight looked through the steam of my humidifier when I was 4 and had mumps. I remember the color of the sky when I was floating in the ocean for a long time on an uncharacteristically calm day years ago.

I remember a dream I had where I took a bottle of wine off of a shelf.  It had a screw top which fell off and there was only about an inch of wine left and I didn’t know why I had saved the bottle in the first place.  I don’t have any idea why that dream, of all the millions I must have had by this point, is the one I remember.

I remember one time at the height of allergy season when I sneezed and gobs of stuff came out of my nose on to everything – my hands, my shirt, the table.  There was no graceful way to deal with it and my boyfriend just laughed and said, “I love you.”

My kind of Valentine's Day chocolate

I remember the best Valentine’s Day gift I ever got, but not much around the circumstances of receiving it.  It’s a small Whitman’s Sampler.  When you open it up, the ‘chocolate’ is actually Walt Whitman quotes.  Amazing. Incidentally, I remember going to see Walt Whitman’s house when I was a child, but not as vividly as Teddy Roosevelt’s home, which I remember so much that, even now,  I think I could actually give the tour myself.  I also remember the runner-up favorite Valentine’s Day gift.  It’s a rock which is shaped like a heart, naturally,  and was found by the person who gave it to me.  Should the Whitman’s Sampler not be able to fulfill its duties as Favorite Valentine’s Day gift, this rock could easily step in.

Last year around Valentine’s Day,  I was in what I thought was the beginning of a long-distance flirtation with someone but, as it turns out, it was near the end of it.  I wanted to do something fun and romantic but not necessarily Valentine’s Day specific, so I chose President’s Day.  I thought it would be amazing for us to meet in what I decided was the dead middle between us:   Lincoln, Nebraska.  How awesome would it be to celebrate President’s Day in Lincoln?  It was goofy and spontaneous and I made a little invitation that looked like this:

It was met with crazy pragmatism.  “I could fly to New York twice for the amount of money that going to Lincoln, Nebraska would be.”  Um, yeah.  I remember that.

Sometimes I remember that I’ve forgotten really important events or people I’ve loved and that concerns me.  I don’t understand memory.  I wonder if you can control it.  I don’t think you can.  I don’t even remember what the focus was in the talk yesterday when they asked that question.  And that was not even 24 hours ago.

I remembered to update this, though.  That’s something.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Happy Chinese New Year.  Happy President’s Day.