Wednesday, June 30, 2010

With a Friend like This...

For a couple of years, Flip and I have attended a support group run by the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California and Nevada. They divide participants into two groups, the diagnosed and their caregivers, which meet in adjoining rooms. Each is run by a facilitator. Flip has complained to me several times that the woman who leads his group has been mean to him. She has scolded him, treated him like an imbecile when he tried to contribute to the group, and on one occasion, said, "Just spit it out already" as he struggled to express himself verbally. One of the symptoms of this disease is the increasing inability to do so.

It's possible that he misunderstood her intentions. Since I was not there, I can't say for sure. But I think she's a bully who believes that those in her group lack the capacity to report her treatment of them. If so, she underestimates them, and perhaps she overestimates the degree of job security she has. I would think very seriously about going after someone's job, but it is unacceptable for Flip and other victims of this disease to be treated with anything less than respect and kindness.

We have not attended the group much the last several months despite our need for any support available. There is something terribly wrong when someone in an Alzheimer's support group feels ostracized for showing symptoms of Alzheimer's by a representative of the organization founded to fight the disease. It makes you wonder.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Move Over, Hallmark

The newest fashion statement for summer is temporary cleavage tattoos with such statements as "Happy Birthday," "100% Natural," or "Paid For," in case they aren't. They last for about a week and are a steal at $12.95. The company founder says, "Ta-ta-toos allow you to express traditional statements in a unique way. They’re for when you want to do more than wear your heart on your sleeve."

Many designers are featuring them in their new collections. Even the venerable House of Chanel has the iconic double "C" logo available so you can look expensive-trashy if you're conflicted about your intended message.

Also available are inks that say "Special Delivery," "Let's Celebrate," "Naughty/Nice" and "Guess What? I'm Pregnant." I would suggest "Since You're Talking To Them Anyway, They Might As Well Join The Conversation" if it weren't so long. I don't know about you, girlfriends, but I don't have room for that much verbosity on my whole body.

It sure beats worrying about oil spills that threaten to swallow North America, the economy (which already has) or the many wars we're fighting. How about "I'm a twit" and "Ditto" on the other one?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Watch Out for Exploding Barbies

It's never too early to become a terrorist. Alyssa Thomas of Ohio, who is six, is on the US Homeland Security Department's "no-fly" list. Her family learned of this while attempting to board a flight from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The purpose of the list is to prevent people with known or suspected ties to terrorism from flying.

Her father said, "She may have threatened her sister, but I don't think that constitutes Homeland Security triggers."

The Thomas family was allowed to make its flight, but later attempts to remove Alyssa's name from the list were unsuccessful as the FBI confirms that a list exists but will not discuss who is on it, or why. Does this not sound a bit Orwellian? Alyssa's parents were told that her name will stay on the list but that the FBI will rely on the common sense of security agents every time she flies. The family flies often and this has never been an issue before because the Secure Flight Program just began for all domestic flights.

This makes me uneasy for a couple of reasons: I don't argue with the need for such a list, but the information on each listed person should be more precise and at the very least, should include a photograph. Since that is clearly not the case, leaving decisions to the common sense of security agents is worrisome. Six-year old Alyssa was allowed to fly, but where will the lines be drawn? How about a twelve-year old? Fourteen? Seventy-three? Also, my first and last names are common, so it is only a matter of time before someone with the same name becomes a security risk and I end up in airport jail.

The other day, Carly Helm, a ten-year old girl flying from Atlanta to Milwaukee with her sisters was forced to abandon her 2-inch pet turtle in its cage before the flight would take off. She dumped him in a trash can by the boarding gate and re-boarded the plane, sobbing. It's hard to fathom how a tiny animal could be a flight risk.

This is not a good summer for little girls on airplanes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Kingdom for a Horse

Or a bag of meth.

A couple tried to sell their 6-month old baby for $25 outside a Walmart store in Salinas, California. Patrick Fousek, 38, and Samantha Tomasini, 20, approached several women with offers to purchase the child, but the women became suspicious and alerted police. Officers who arrested the couple said they appeared high on methamphetamine. The baby's mother told Child Protective Services, which removed the baby from their home, that she had breast fed the infant while under the influence.

You really can buy anything at Walmart.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All I Need is a Miracle

Ever since Viagra met blockbuster success in 1998, the drug industry has sought a similar pill for women.

Now, Boehringer Ingelheim, a German drug giant, says it has developed such a pill and is trying to persuade the FDA that its drug can help restore a depressed female sex drive. The effort has set off a debate over what constitutes a normal range of sexual desire among women, with critics saying the company is trying to turn low libido into medical pathology.

It would be the first drug aimed specifically at low sex drive in premenopausal women and includes side effects of dizziness, nausea and fatigue. The idea of women performing normal non-sexual activities like driving while experiencing potentially dangerous side effects makes it sound like the main benefit of this drug would be for men. Also objectionable is making women who already carry more than their share of life's burdens feel inadequate because their libido does not measure up to the imagined sex drives of "other women." I think we would all like to know who those other women are, and how they got so lucky. As far as I know, these libidinous populations have not been determined or at least, disclosed. Or maybe they are in protective custody.

Needless to say, the drug companies are gleefully rubbing their hands together in anticipation of raking in huge profits at least equal to those reaped by the sale of Viagra, Cialis and Levitra.

It is too easy to label women as suffering from sexual dysfunction, especially without taking into consideration other legitimate demands on their energy. The willingness and ability of their partners to arouse them should also not be ignored. Perhaps it's a generational thing, but today's postmenopausal women were often encouraged to feel generally inadequate. It's hard to imagine that the drug companies are not attempting to capitalize on such tendencies to sell their product.

Leonore Tiefer, a psychologist and professor at New York University who has researched female sexual desire for more than a decade, says Boehringer has gone too far with its publicity effort. “Women’s sex lives are often a struggle, a disappointment, an archipelago of regret,” she said. “Is there a small group of women who could benefit from medical intervention — probably.”

But she believes that if the drug were approved, “the much larger group of women without any medical reason for their sexual distress will inevitably be misinformed and misled into thinking that there is a pill that can get them the sex life they read about, the one they think everyone else is having.”

The drug companies have even come up with a name for this brand new medical malady: Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, which will doubtless soon be abbreviated to HSDD as we become more comfortable with the idea that many women are basically flawed and need medication to make them "normal." It's well known that women have a more complicated response system than men, so finding us abnormal by male standards is both impractical and stupid.

I think that inventing a drug to alleviate some of the passion-stealing concerns that consume most women might bring about an amazing recovery in sluggish female libidos. And if treatment consisted of a few weeks in Hawaii or Montego Bay, we could probably be very healthy indeed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Still Sailing to Byzantium

I feel quite wrung out this week. I followed with horror the story of Abby Sunderland, the 16-year old American sailor who attempted to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe but ran into a storm in the Indian Ocean which destroyed her mast. I sat at my computer hours past my usual bedtime, seeking news of her plight as she drifted 2,000 miles from land on any side.

It brought back memories of my family's 32 foot cabin cruiser exploding in the ocean when I was seven.

One perfect August day, we left our boat slip on Long Island, New York and headed out to sea. Our destination was Nantucket, off the Massachusetts coast. My older brother and I were sitting in the fore cockpit with our Irish Terrier, Patty, enjoying the sunshine and salt spray.

My father, who was an excellent swimmer, had taught my brother to swim, but my mother did not know how, nor did I. I owned a child-size life jacket but was not wearing it that day. It was stowed in a cupboard in the cabin, and there was no access to the cabin from our perch in the bow of the boat. To get there required inching around the catwalk holding onto a rail along the edge of the upper deck, above my reach.

The sun sparkled on the waves as we plowed through them, and soon there was no land visible in any direction. We cruised for hours until suddenly, my brother and I heard a loud explosion. Turning, we saw the cabin engulfed in flames and felt the searing heat.

My brother grabbed our dog, threw her into the ocean and jumped after her. I was afraid she would drown but didn't know what to do about it. I didn't know what to do at all, so I waited. The flames leaped higher into the blue sky. The heat was intense and the air looked wavy. It would have been beautiful if I weren't so scared.

After several minutes, my father eased his way around the catwalk holding an adult life jacket. He had been unable to get to mine because the hardware on the locked cupboard had melted. He tried to drape the adult one around me, but his hands were burned and it fell on his new Sperry Topsiders and ricocheted into the water.

"Should I jump?" I asked.

"I'm afraid you'll have to," he said. He seemed apologetic, which I noted because I had never known my father to evince any kind of remorse before.

I held his pinky for a second, then jumped into the icy water. The fire raged toward me because I had jumped off the leeward side of the bow. The orange life jacket had already disappeared, so I paddled as fast as I could to get away from the flames leaping off the boat as it burned down to the waterline. Within minutes, there was nothing left of it but smoke and the charred black wooden hull that got smaller so fast it looked as if something were eating it. The water was bitter cold and dark.

About an hour later, just before sundown, three men in an open fishing boat who had seen the flames from afar approached and found me struggling to stay afloat in the water. They held out a long pole with a hook on the end for me to grab, pulled me into their boat and wrapped me in a rough gray blanket. I was shaking violently and burst into tears.

"Why are you crying now?" one of the men chided me. "You're safe now."

I stopped crying immediately, ashamed that I had forgotten I was not allowed to cry. The fishermen took me into port, several hours away, and handed me off to a policeman on the dock. I didn’t see my family anywhere.

The next thing I remember is visiting my mother in the hospital where she was being treated for third-degree burns on both legs. She had been standing above the hatch when the engine blew up. Her legs were slathered in Vaseline and covered with white gauze bandages. My father had kept her afloat until help arrived.

She noticed that I had been washing only the part of my face I could see, leaving the back of my neck gray and grungy. She asked a nurse for a washcloth and rubbed my neck hard until it was pink and sore as the water dripped down my back.

I am older now than my father was when he died. But even from an adult’s perspective, I don’t understand why he couldn’t save me and my mother, too, instead of consigning a seven-year-old child to the deep, to literally sink or swim. I swam.

The next year, he bought another boat. It was a 34-foot ACF, one of very few pleasure boats made by the railroad car and locomotive manufacturing company, American Car and Foundry. Some of the new boat’s appeal was unquestionably its exclusivity.

My parents never mentioned the boat accident or my ordeal again, as if it never happened. I don't dwell on this memory consciously, but as I followed Abby Sunderland's story, hardly daring to breathe or even sleep, I felt like a terrified seven year old in a cold, dark ocean again. I even dreamed of drowning, and yesterday I took a book out of the library about the drowning death of Natalie Wood although I normally eschew celebrity books.

I cannot imagine taking a small child out on the ocean without a life jacket. I also cannot imagine allowing a sixteen-year old to attempt a solo sail around the world. Perhaps most bizarre of all is the fact that this same week, a rare photograph emerged from history's attic of two slave children which was probably taken by Matthew Brady, the famous 19th century photographer of President Lincoln and General Robert E. Lee. The same North Carolina attic yielded a document detailing the sale of one of the children, John, for $1,150 in 1854. Both children are ragged and barefoot, their faces hopeless as they contemplate the short, brutal lives awaiting them.

There are still many children like John and his unnamed companion in the world today. In fact, there are many more such children than those who possess 40-foot yachts to sail around the world in pursuit of a record. Rescue missions from several nations went to enormous trouble and expense and even put themselves in danger to save Abby Sunderland, and while I am glad they did, it makes me wonder why such effort is not mobilized to save other children from slavery, starvation and disease. And it makes me ashamed.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Addicts Have All the Fun

I am hatching a plot to get into rehab. There is a place that advertises on TV which looks so very peaceful with beautiful rolling fields and mountain views. People with drug or alcohol addictions can go there to hang out and eat spa food off trays in the sunshine, waited on hand and foot, day and night. It sounds delightful. The only problem is, I'm not an addict.

I've inventoried everything I do that could be considered excessive. I buy a lot of plants. I really like raspberries. Sometimes I talk too much. I read constantly. Does chocolate count? Surely there is some reason I belong there. I promise I wouldn't be any trouble, plus I am small; I don't eat much. I can even fake it if I have to, not DT's, maybe, but the jonesing. I know I could do that.

Do you think they have massage therapy there? That would be heavenly. They probably have group sessions in which everyone talks about his problems. No problem. I used to wish I could try peyote, or shrooms. I never did, but surely it's the thought that counts. I know I could pass the audition if I didn't brush my anarchic hair for a day.

Suggestions, anyone? I really need a vacation.