Sunday, September 25, 2011

Green Stone

By the time I had left Arizona in December in 2005 I could barely breathe.

Though my college experience had been rich and rewarding, at the tail end I felt overwhelmed and unprepared. I wasn't reluctant to leave school, just to enter the post grad world without a path or a plan.

I remember dry heaving the night before graduation. I remember looking around on the morning of graduation at my fellow classmates and not recognizing a single one.

What was happening?

So nearly immediately after returning home to New York I fled to Australia.

I needed time to clear my head and my spirit. One big adventure before I became a working stiff with only two weeks of paid freedom a year. I left. Alone. It wasn't until my North American sneakers touched the Australian pavement that I could actually take my first deep breath in weeks.

It felt like success.

I was in search of excitement and experiences in a land that was just different enough from my own. I had left behind my community, a girl, and friends. Friends, which I would probably never see more than once every other year if I were lucky.

My watch told my story. It was an athletic watch with a spinning bezel on top. Sometime during my last semester the bezel had gotten stuck and no longer spun. It was just locked in place. No matter how much I tried to force it, it wouldn't budge.

Some days into my time in Australia I was fiddling with my watch and all of a sudden the bezel spun again. Just like that. My breath and my bezel, suddenly free. The metaphor was not lost on me.

I walked around streets in every city I visited looking for something I could purchase to symbolize or kick start this next stage of my life. A necklace or talisman or other type of iconography native to this part of the planet. An item unique and worldly, both qualities I hoped people would think about me.

I started noticing necklaces. So many people I met or saw had necklaces of a thin black cord with a white or green stone carved into elaborate symbols or shapes.

Several conversations with jewelry wearing strangers told me the green ones were jade and they came from New Zealand, the last stop on my trip. It seemed appropriate and relevant. It would be perfect. It was of the land of this part of the world.

I wanted a story for it too, I didn’t want it to be something I just bought at a gift shop. So I waited until I went to a traditional Maori Hangi. Kind of like a luau for the native people of New Zealand.

I mulled over a couple of different options before settling on this one.

The green spiral meant renewal or rebirth.


I put it around my neck, tied the knot, and never took it off.

When I returned to the states it was my reminder of where I had been. My symbol of growth, of change, or all the things I hoped this next stage of my life would be.

Typically I had worn cheap necklaces I bought for a summer or a couple of months, rarely much longer. But this was different. I had no desire to take it off. It wasn’t until more than a year later that I had to take it off.

I was part of a modeling competition that mandated no jewelry. So I followed the rules. I didn’t win anyway.

After the competition I considered leaving it off but eventually decided I wasn’t done wearing it, absorbing its benefits or channeling its spirit... Whatever it was that I thought or hoped it did.

I put it back on and realized immediately that I had put it on backwards. Instead of leading out from my collarbone, the spiral seemed to be pointing in.

Maybe this would change my karma. So I left it.

And there it stayed for 4 more years.

Once in a while somebody would comment on or ask about it, but it just became part of me.

I didn’t fiddle with it much but sometimes I would play with it absentmindedly. Feeling the cool circular stone between the pads do my fingers.

Good jade is always cool to the touch I had once heard. I wondered how good mine was? Did it really feel cool or was I just trying to convince myself.

Sometimes I would put it to my lips breathing through the spiral in the middle imagining I was breathing new life into myself. Thinking about the word rebirth.

I never really thought about how long I’d wear it. It never felt flashy or obnoxious. I just liked having it on me.

Last week, in a rare moment of clarity in an otherwise clouded couple of months, I realized; it was time to take it off.

It wasn’t completely unfounded, I had been thinking about it for some time now, months really.

I could feel the sensation bubbling up from deep within me that the time had come. The saddest thing for me seemed that I would never put it back on again. Sure I could if I wanted to but it wouldn’t make sense. It represented a period in my life and maybe a mentality.

And for whatever reason, it just felt like it was time to move on. I put my hands on the thin black cord, which had become frayed over time and gave it a quick yank.

And I didn’t regret it, I didn’t question my decision, I just felt good.

Maybe I didn’t need a talisman for this next stage of my life. Maybe I would be enough.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Bun Check

All families have secrets. But as a child you may not necessarily know that they are secrets. They are just part of your life, part of the things your family does, and you don’t find out you shouldn’t share them until it’s too late.

Normally if there was something that was supposed to be just between us my parents would sit my sister and I down and be very clear with us. But I suppose that’s the thing about being a parent, you have no idea what your kids are going to do.

I come from a pretty loving family. As a kid growing up there were no shortage of hugs, kisses and other forms of affection. Every night before going to bed I would give both of my parents a kiss on the cheek before going to bed. It’s something I still do when I stay with them.

We were also affectionate with a family that lived across the street from us. They had three kids who were older than my sister and I. They were as much a part of our lives as our blood relatives. They came to our birthday parties, baseball games, and we went to their weddings, and holidays.

Their kids even babysat my sister and I many times.

Growing up though I was pretty ticklish and a hug from my mother could quickly turn into her tickling me. My neck was especially susceptible to it. For some reason anything that even grazed my neck would make me freak out. I would collapse spasm and wriggle just to get out of having my neck touched.

I was so ridiculous about it that my family and the family across the street started referring to anybody who had a ticklish neck as having a “Richard Neck.” There is something about squirmy little kids that makes adults want to make them squirm even more. I was an easy target.

My neighbors would tickle me too. Any time I was within arm’s reach, there was a pretty good chance somebody was going to tickle the skinny kid.

The youngest of the kids who lived across the street was Lisa. Lisa was babysitting me one day at her house. We were sitting there watching TV when she decided to tickle me. And as I said I am quite squirmy when being tickled. And as she went to tickle my neck, I spasmed and my leg shot out and kicked her.

Lisa never tickled me again.

But it wasn’t the last time anybody was tickled.

We had this thing we did in my family called a “Bun Check.” Typically it was my mother who did it, though I don’t know who actually started it. But she would walk up behind me or my sister while we were washing dishes or not paying attention, grab our tush, and say “Bun Check.”

Really, it was a straightforward process.

We all got in on the action doing it to each other, scaring each other, giggling and generally laughing about the whole thing. In my whole life I’ve never heard anybody else reference this act which makes me pretty sure it was something that only my family did. It wasn’t a trend like high fiving or the hula hoop.

But I didn’t know that, it was a part of our regular life. So as far as I was concerned everybody probably did. My parents never said, “Hey this is something you shouldn’t do with anybody else.”

The oldest of the three kids who lived across the street was babysitting my sister and I one night, her name is Donna.

Now Donna was great. We got along wonderfully and if my memory serves correctly, we were pretty well behaved children. The night had gotten late and it was time for my sister and I to go to bed.

My sister and I’s rooms were both on the second floor. Our house had a staircase with 13 steps that led up to the second floor and the last 4 steps made a left turn to bring you up to the level. My sister led the way to bed that night, followed by Donna, and then myself.

Donna was just about to make the turn up to the second floor when the idea struck me like the most natural thing in the world.

I reached out both my hands, grabbed her butt and shouted:


Well the poor woman let out a shriek and just about fell down the stairs. The look on her face clearly showed that she had no idea what I was doing or what I had actually done.

It was then and only then that I thought to myself… was this something that I shouldn’t have done?

After the scene calmed down I’m sure my sister and I probably explained what had actually transpired, though I imagine my sister (three and a half years my elder) probably had a firmer grasp on the fact that you do not grab the butts of people not in your immediate family.

And I distinctly remember my parents telling me the next day that there were some things that were only OK to do in the house. And the bun check was that the top of that list.

Our families still laugh about that event to this day.

Though needless to say…

The bun check never happened ever again.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

This Is Not a Blog

I remember growing up and hearing my parents complain about bills. Whenever the mail came I would ask what had come and my mom would say;

Ohhhh bills, more bills.

I didn’t understand why we got so many bills. As a child, you don’t get bills. You don’t really get anything. But even by the time I was old enough to get bills of my own (hooray) I could pay some of them online so the arrival of a bill wasn’t really climactic.

Today as an adult I pay nearly all of my bills online so I get hardly any in the mail but there are still some things still come in the mail. They are mostly bills for things that are not recurring, a service rendered or a doctor’s visit. And it is these bills that confuse me.

I was doing my yearly checkups not too long ago; Doctor tests, Dermatologist tests, etc. I’m not a really good patient. I don’t mean I scream and kick and bite, I mean I don’t ask a lot of questions.

Some of my friends question their doctor, asking him or her why they are doing what they are doing, referencing research and studies etc.

I’m not that… bright?

When the doctor tells me he has to do a test, remove something, or stab me with a sharp stick, I pretty much just go along with it because he’s a doctor and I, well… I’m a writer.

Plus doctors don’t really tend to ask you what you want them to do, they just tell you what they want to do. They also don’t tell you the price of things.

Rich I’d like to run this echo cardiogram… and it’s going to cost you 900 dollars.

No. They just do it, bill your insurance, and you don’t find out it actually had a cost until 4 weeks later when you play Russian Insurance Roulette to find out whether or not you’re covered for the life saving preventive test you didn’t even know you needed.

But sometimes you don’t even get a bill, you just get, well… something else.

A couple of weeks after my appointments I got a letter from my insurance referencing some diagnostic lab that apparently processed or did my tests. I didn’t understand the piece of paper except for the bold line at the top that said:


Now that might not have bothered me if it weren’t for the lines underneath it that said:

Amount Billed:
What Insurance Paid:
What I Owe:
You Saved:

OK so let me just get this clear. This is NOT a bill, but you are telling me how much my bill would be if this were a bill (which it’s not) as well as how much my insurance would pay on this hypothetical bill and how much I owe on this non-bill and how much I saved on the non-bill that I don’t have to pay yet.

Oh yea that’s really clear.

Why the hell am I getting a discount? I don’t recall walking into the doctor with a coupon for half off a blood pressure reading. I really resent my insurance company trying to make it seem like they are giving me a deal.

So I just put the piece of paper down (it was 3 pages of non-billdom) and just waited for the actual bill to come.

But it never came.

Instead I got another letter from my insurance that all said in bold letters at the top:


Damn it!

What is so hard about sending me a bill? When I go to dinner and it comes time to pay, the waiter doesn’t drop a piece of paper on my table that says "This is not a bill, but if it was, your dinner would cost." No, they just give me a bill and I pay it, and that’s it. End of transaction.

It’s like insurance is a clingy ex girlfriend that refuses to let you move on with your life. She is going to carry on this relationship until you are both so miserable with each other that the mere mention of her makes me scream like a karaoke banshee.

So I continued to wait for the bill. And of course it never came.

I got another non bill. And another. And another. Until I had received 7 different pieces of paper from my insurance, all 3 pages long. That’s 21 pages of non bills all for different things, all for different amounts owed to doctors I had never heard of!

How do I know this Doctor? Why cant I pay the doctor I know? At least he has seen me in my underwear. How can I trust a doctor who hasn’t seen me in my underwear?

And how come the insurance doesn’t know how much they will cover? It’s not like I have fancy blood or magic urine. It’s the same tests you are running on all of your other clients. Come up with a number, and stick to it.

I can appreciate the insurance companies’ desire to communicate what might happen, but at a certain point it just becomes confusing. Just send me a check, tell me how much I owe, and I will pay that amount.

Or maybe I won’t.

Maybe the next time my insurance company sends me something with “NOT A BILL” written on it, I will take out a small rectangular piece of paper and write in the amount I owe. Then, before I put it in the envelope to mail it, I will write at the top in big block letters.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Window Pain

I spent a lot of time staring out my window growing up. It’s just another thing dogs and I have in common (overeating, drooling, barking in our sleep). And I was reminded of that last week when a hurricane hit New York.

Granted by the time the hurricane arrived it was more of a tropical storm. But either way, I was pretty mellow until it hit. I kept playing it down about how I wasn’t that worried and it wasn’t going to be a big deal. Nonetheless I picked up some items from the grocery store and settled in for the weekend.

Friday and Saturday brought nothing much but when Sunday morning hit, the winds were blowing like crazy and the trees outside my top floor apartment were swaying and blowing in a way that kept making me worrying about what kind of insurance I had.

The trees kept swaying dramatically. And seeing how my apartment is next to trees that are probably 100 feet tall I suddenly realized…

I have a very good reason to be concerned.

The trees were bending and swaying so severely that I thought I might be a good idea to not sit so close to my window. And that is tough, because my computer is right next to my window. So I just sat on the opposite side of my living room being afraid of what the hell might happen to my window.

But the windows of my life have not typically been a happy entry point.

I remember being in college where I lived on the first floor of my dorm.  It was the handicapped dorm (a story for another day) and there was a window that went from floor to ceiling, about 8 feet high.

My bed was against the same wall as the window and the foot of it lined up just with the edge of the window.

Typically I would stay up late downloading songs from whatever service Napster had given birth to and watching MTV because I had never had cable before and I was absolutely stupid with excitement about it.

Most nights I would fall asleep pretty soundly, sometimes waking up to hear people being loud in the hallway as they stumbled in from being drunk at some frat party or other location that served alcohol to freshmen.

I shared a bathroom with a guy who was also the only person in his room and he was a nice enough kid, an artist who I didn’t talk too much and didn’t think much about.

My roommate had a friend that we’ll call Sara. I liked Sara; she seemed interested in my life and had big nice eyes and an easy smile. We’d interact maybe every other week and that’s about it.

Halfway into my stay at this dorm I was sound asleep in my dorm when somebody started banging on my door like they were part of a S.W.A.T. team. I woke up instantly and pulled my NY Yankees comforter around my neck.

I was terrified. Was it the cops? A robber?

If I had time to actually contemplate I would have realized neither of those could possibly have been true, but when its 2:30 in the morning and somebody is continuously banging on your door all you can think about is whether or not you are going to have to wash your sheets the next morning.

I didn’t move from my bed.

The next morning a kid down the hall came up to me and told me he thought he might have knocked on my door late at night because he wanted to hang out.

I didn’t ask him if he might have been completely out of his ever-loving mind. I just said,

Oh I’m not sure I heard it.

In fact, several people had a predilection for banging on different parts of my dorm room. It was as if there was some sort of notice that had gone out that said:

The Freshman in 1D is insecure and extremely paranoid, please take advantage.

Not too long thereafter I was lying in my bed sound asleep when I somebody started banging on my window like a savage looking for a meal.

Now there is a big difference between somebody banging on your door and somebody banging on your window.

If somebody bangs on your door it could be a variety of explanations. It could be people in danger, police, security, fireman etc.

But when somebody bangs on your window all it can be is somebody who is completely out of their mind or somebody who is trying to kill you.

Mind you it is 4 am. And whoever is outside my window is banging on it over and over again. I am terrified. I am clenching my blanket so tightly that there is no blood left in my hands.

The banging stops and my heart slows down, but just barely.

It is hours before I fall back to sleep.

Several days later I run into my roommates friend Sara. She tells me:

Yea we were hanging out pretty late the other night. I took my friend’s aderall and was banging on peoples’ windows. I think I banged on yours.  Did you hear it?

I panic and not wanting to make her feel bad… for scaring the shit out of me while on drugs at 4 o’clock in the damn morning, I say: 

No I don’t think I heard anything.

Thankfully, those were the only incidences of people expressing high interest in interacting with me late at night. But regardless of whether I am in a dorm or my own apartment, a loud bang or noise in the middle of the night still makes me wonder when I wake up:

Should I change my sheets?