Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Waiting Room

I had a wonderful thing happen the day that I went for my laser surgery. Amazing that in the midst of all the angst about loosing half my eyesight that wonderfulness could happen, but it did. See. I'm taking you back to make up for the things that happened in February that I should have posted if I could.

The torn retina was diagnosed in Brandon and my Opthomologist sent me to Lakeland Regional Hospital eye clinic for the laser process. I called Phyllis McEwen to drive me. If you've had your eyes examined, you know the 10-4 on waiting around with the eye drops to dilate, or numb or both. So. There we were in the waiting room with me dilating away. We were in the waiting room with three middle aged women and one ancient charmer.

Miss Connie was 83 years old, she informed us. Her still dark hair was done up in huge Marcelle waves plastered close to the scalp making her look like Josephine Baker from the 1920s. Phyllis began it all by asking Miss Connie what she liked to do.

"Why, I cook, baby!" Miss Connie said. "But not just cook, I like to fix it up, make it look special, decorate it with apples, celery sprigs, and parsely and radishes!"

"Can you cook greens?" Phyllis asked as culinary explorer and emcee. "I've been craving me some greens. How 'bout sweet potato pie?"

"Absolutely! The secret's in the washin' and the seasonin' and what you use for it." A note here to the Northern Provinces - 'seasoning' in the South when greens are in the same paragraph bespeaks meat and fat - ham hocks, pork butt roast or shoulder, streak-o-lean, bacon.

"I'm hungry for soul food, Southern food. What you gonna cook me?" Phyllis pressed on.

"Well, let's see now. 'Sides greens - and what kind of greens you want, baby - mustard, collards, or turnip?"

"Oh, collards, of course, please ma'am!" Phyllis was really getting us all into this now. We Southerners are truly mindful of our manners and respect for our elders.

"Well, 'sides greens, you got to have you a good old ham baked up right so's the crust is dark brown and crunchy and the insides are just juicy as you carve off the slices."

"Deviled eggs!", chimed in one of our group. "I want some potato salad!" , chirped another.

"Corn bread made in a black iron skillet on the top of the stove before you pour in the batter to make a good crust!", I offered for my contribution.

The third woman added, "Buttermilk biscuits, big and flaky and loaded with real butter!"

"Speaking of butter, how 'bout corn on the cob!"
"Baby limas with some of the ham!"
"Field peas with snaps!"
"Or zipper peas!"
"Fried chicken with a good scald on it!"
"Fried green tomatoes!"
"Fried okra!"
"Fried anything without a commercial telling you it will clog your arteries!"

We were all running with it and laughing. We discussed fried catfish and hush puppies with grits, the merits of sweet potato pie, the perfect pecan pie, and other mouth watering morsels women have been cooking in Southern kitchens for centuries.

I asked Miss Connie how she fried her chicken. She stuck out a bony hand, palm up and said, "It'll cost you, honey." Then she proceeded to tell us how she fixed gator tail, "And you do chicken the same way!"

"I sew. What kind of dress you want, ma'am?", I asked Miss Connie.

"Baby, I want a pink frock that fits with an A-line skirt! And a jacket."

"You want sweetheart pink, or bubble gum pink?", I'm getting my details in order, don't you know.

"A good pink, not pastel or baby, not hot and all neon. A good pink."

A design is emerging. "How long do you want the skirt, mid-calf?"

"Laws, no, honey! I want it to come just to the middle of my knee cap. I got some good legs and I like to show them off!" And she did show off extending a still shapely calf. "And I want pretty work on the cuffs of the jacket."

I designed two more dresses for other women and discovered we had a racy sex goddess sitting with us in the guise of a 50 something housefrau dressed in the most sensible shoes you've ever seen.

We all joined in with comments about shoes, hose, girdles, how we never used to leave the house without a pair of gloves or a hat.

"I wear me some hats! I spray paint them ole straws and glue decorations on them. If it ain't tacky enough, why I just glue on some more stuff until it is. Then I wear it to church." Miss Connie animated all of this in mime and finished with a flourish, hand on hip, a remarkably spry and flirty sashay as she walked down the aisle to her imaginary pew.

Then we continued designing dresses in our minds until we were gotten to continue the process, one by one.

This is a familiar phenomenon I've observed throughout my life: Women get together as strangers in a laundromat, at the doctor's office, the hospital waiting for news of a loved one's surgery, and we talk. We seem to know from some long entrenched gene that we group together and pull the wagons in. The chatter helps entertain us, passes the time, let's us know we're not alone in this Cosmic Cottilion. We usually touch topics that tribe us up - cooking, kids, the drill.

And Phyllis did exactly what she'd set out to do with this ancient custom. She distracted me from the worry I was feeling with a baked ham, fried gator, and a hat.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Brushing Starz

Wearing sunglasses a lot while recuperating from this eye business makes me feel a bit like a movie star, going incognito among the nameless people who haven't a clue who I am, and could flatly give a damn. And sometimes, I wear them inside trying to disguise myself from my cat, who knows who I am and doesn't give a damn either. Movie Star.

I've brushed up against a few in my years. Some of them were before your time or just names barely recognizable except to the few aficionados of Hollywood hoopla and hype. When I say I brushed against them, I'm talking close encounters of the third kind without much interaction for the most part.

I spent the night talking to Fran Allison of Kukla, Fran and Ollie fame telling her story about how she lost most of her face on the windshield of a car when she was younger and how she became the doyenne of the toddler set during the 1950s with her puppet cohorts. She talked about radio and mourned it's passing. We talked about how radio made the listener being entertained use their imagination. She said it was often more inventive than anything that t.v. had to offer by showing you the action. I was a make up artist in Las Vegas at the time, living in a house on the Sahara-Nevada golf course owned by the president of the company I worked for. Buddy Hackett was the next door neighbor. Jerry Lewis hit errant golf balls out of the back yard by the pool, there were stacks of painted canvases by Leroy Neiman, Chris Rosamond, signed Norman Rockwell prints. My boss who owned the house, had a wife who was a serious art dealer and atelier back in New York. Various celebrities would stay at the house in one of the many bedrooms.

Rock Hudson was perfectly groomed, very polite, generous when he tipped and surrounded by a bevy of the most beautiful men you ever saw when I was a cocktail waitress in Atlanta during the late 1960s. The Midnight Sun restaurant was a posh and exclusive restaurant with a Scandinavian theme, since closed. When I served drinks to Forrest Tucker , he was flirty, funny and stood up next to me so the restaurant owner could take his picture to add to the celebrities wall. I remember how big and tall Tucker was.

When I was a make up artist based in Las Vegas in 1976, I was invited to do a demonstration of chiaroscuro makeup for a local T.V. show. The guest was Bob Crane, best known for his role in Hogan's Heroes. I 'aged' Bob, 'broke' his nose, turned him slightly femme and then stuck a makeup brush in his eye for a finale. He was murdered a few years later.

I got to go back stage to the Green Room and hang with Tom and Dick Smothers. Tommy bit my bosom in a bit of vaudeville shtick. I got to meet their father - a rather rakish ancient specimen with a girlfriend a fifth his age.

Bill Cosby stuck his nose in my face at a Las Vegas hotel lobby. My ex-boss thought it would be funny to get me stoned on some hallucinogenic drug mixed into a cocktail to see if I'd 'relax' a little. He didn't bother telling me what was done. It wasn't funny and it wasn't relaxing to watch pancakes in the restaurant get up and dance on the plates to Camelot music.

I also met Jimmy Carter before he was President of the United States at a barbecue fund raiser in Marietta Georgia. He tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around. I had to look down a few inches because I was a bit taller back then and had on ridiculously high platform heels. He looks you straight in the eye when he talks to you and his face becomes mostly teeth when he smiles.

There have been others, minor and major names I've brushed against - some literally, like peeing in Hillary Clinton's toilet at a local political rally during an early 2000s visit. Having asked staff for directions to the ladies room in a maze of sectioned off corridors and locked doors, I saw the sign for the women's restroom and went in. Didn't realize it had been specifically set aside, gussied up, and secured for Mrs. Clinton until I was stopped on my way out by three Secret Service men who told me that I couldn't be in that part of the hotel and who let me go when I explained my errand was to search for a restroom. I didn't have the heart to tell them that I had already been there and done that when they told me I couldn't use THAT one.

I haven't had any celebrity's love child, nor have I had rendezvous, my pictures taken with them on the cover of the National Inquirer, intense friendships and communications on a daily basis with them. No one has asked for my DNA in connection with a movie star or celeb. I'm actually not sure of the reason that I've met so many of these people. I believe everything in our lives is put there for a reason. But what I can tell you honestly is that I've never been agog about them. I like to think it's due to my observer mentality.

We're tempted by the siren's song of being entertained by celebrities as a substitute for experiencing life ourselves. What I think is that we really are all somebody already. We're asked by our culture to live outside ourselves in a fantasy of entertainment and media mania where we get to live someone else's lives as voyeurs while hardly ever living out our own. Life by proxy.

Being truly engaged in your own life is something really stellar. When we give up that engagement with life and ourselves for the plastic and ephemeral glamour and allure of the famous, fame and near fame, I believe we are giving up on ourselves. Not dealing with one's own shit while being distracted by the famous may be easy, but in the end it's a paltry substitute for personal growth. And unlike crying at the movies, real tears brought on by real crisis is a 3-D, Panavision and Technicolor experience.

Shine at what you do and do who you are well. Even if you never get to see your name up in lights or win an Oscar for it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Seeing Things

I've had a torn retina since mid-February. Not much fun. A torn retina is when the viscous gel inside your eyeball shrinks and the retina pulls away from the back of the eyeball. A tear sometimes happens and if this tear lets some of the fluid out between your retina and your eyeball, the retina detaches and you're seriously screwed in the vision works department unless it's caught early enough for surgery.

Symptoms are bright flashes of light that may appear as a line, a curve or dots. And floaters of blood that are released into the gel from the tear. Mine was very dramatic, accompanied by pain in the eye, and what appeared to be tiny flakes of pepper between a load of filaments of blood. It's all blood actually.

I called the optometrist the next day and they got me right in, diagnosed the tear and sent me for laser surgery. Not much fun either. I was assured by the doctor that it wouldn't hurt. He had that on heresay and not as a first person experience. The laser welds the tear back together. I've had two followup visits and another one this week. I will tell him that I'm still light sensitive and seeing flashes. The good news is that I can see again and the floaters seem to have settled to the bottom of my eye.

So. Computer was out. Outside was out. OUT was truly IN unless I wore my total wrap-around shades using my hands as goggles. But there are many things that you can see in the dark. Like the raccoon that has become so bold with me that he pulls the dish out of my hands if I try to move it back from the edge of the steps and gets impatient until I fill a bowl with cat food. I do this so that the old outside tomcat, Skitty can eat his evening meal in peace. If I don't feed the coon, he'll take the old man's food.

Skitty is recuperating, too. He borrowed the car and snatched ten bucks to go court some cat woman. Another suitor had the same idea and Skitty came home with a cauliflower ear that was terribly infected and required stitches. I got him stoned on catnip and put him in the cage. Catnip in the cage is a good trick, by the way. My cats really don't care much about the travel to the vet if they're sufficiently stoned on kitty nip.

Anyway. Skitty had a bunch of stitches and a super-douche clean out along with a drain. And several shots. I watched the whole thing. His ear. My eye.
The above brief on retinal tears/detachment is a public service announcement. If you see disco lights and you aren't in a nightclub, see about it immediately.