It only took a miracle.

I quit smoking twenty seven years ago today.

I loved smoking. I reached for a cigarette as soon as my eyes opened in the morning, and usually went through half a pack by the time I got to work. I smoked at my desk for as long as it was allowed, and joined the huddled masses puffing outdoors when it was no longer permitted. I was out there in the rain… in the snow… on days so hot your body temperature could have lit your cigarettes.

I smoked in my car. I smoked in the house. I smoked on planes and in auditoriums. I smoked backstage in the theater, especially if I was due to sing a solo.

I always carried my accoutrements with me… my monogrammed Zippo lighter… the gold-plated portable ashtray I bought in Spain… even the delicate pink cigarette holder my mother gave me, humoring my delusions of sophistication.

I stopped smoking reluctantly during my pregnancies, but asked my husband to bring me a carton of Dunhills as soon as the babies were delivered. How I loved to watch as the flames reached the gold crest printed on those fine cigarettes, transforming Her Majesty’s imprimatur into a silver ash!

i never thought I’d quit smoking.

I never wanted to quit smoking.

But I did… and with good reason.

In 1990, God blessed my husband and me with the most gloriously beautiful baby boy imaginable. He had the face of an angel, framed with caramel colored ringlets that eventually reached his waist. Like his remarkable sister, he was a late talker, but he formed full, coherent sentences as soon as he started to speak.

He had boundless energy… inexhaustible energy. Unless he was in his highchair, he was in constant motion, as though he were unable to stand still.

Then we realized he had a real problem. He could not flatten his foot. He was always on tippy toes, and like the ballerina in The Red Shoes, he just couldn’t stop moving.

I was horrified. “He’s going to need medical care,” I thought. “He’ll probably have to wear a brace. He might even need surgery.”

I was so selfish that I barely thought about the discomfort my poor little fellow would suffer, focusing much more on the inconvenience and the expense of correcting a small anomaly.

I picked up the phone book and found a pediatric orthopedist, who agreed to see him.

I wasn’t prepared for what he told me.

“This goes way beyond my area of expertise,” he said. “There’s an orthopedist in Little Silver, Andy Bowe, who takes in cases like this, but you’ll also have to contact a neurologist to find out what’s causing this.”

A neurologist?

I went home and told my husband what the doctor had said. He asked me to confer with my father, who was also a physician.

“I don’t know the man in Little Silver,” he said, “but I have a friend who teaches pediatric orthopedics in New York. Let me give him a call.” The two of them spoke, and decided the friend would see our boy after my father arranged for some xrays. They were duly taken, and we made an appointment to see this guy. We also made an appointment with Dr. Bowe for the following day, knowing we’d need a second opinion for our insurance company in the event that surgery was needed.

So, twenty-seven years ago yesterday, we marched into the office of my father’s eminent friend.

“This is very serious,” he said. “Look at the X-ray. The bone structure is incomplete. I can operate to help him walk now, but he’ll need follow up surgeries every two years or so. As a result, his legs will be stunted, and will probably not reach the same length.”

I looked at my beautiful baby, and watched him morph into Toulouse Lautrec.

“What’s the reason for this?” we asked.

“Well, that will require neurological tests, but my guess is that this is cerebral palsy. It will take at least six months to make a determination.”

The braces I’d feared now seemed as inconsequential as a Band Aid.

My husband and I left that office like zombies.

Wordlessly, we put the baby into his car seat, and sat in the front of our little red Geo.

I reached into my pocket, pulled out a cigarette, and put it into my mouth. As I lit it, my husband asked, “what do we do now?”

I took a long, slow drag, then pulled the cigarette out of my mouth, and stared at the sky.

“St. Jude, tell me that man is full of shit, and I’ll never have another cigarette again.”

“But what should we do?”

“I don’t know. Let’s take him to Little Silver. We’ll figure things out after that.”

And on January 23rd, 1992, I smoked as we made our way to Dr. Bowe’s office.

He examined the baby. He looked at the Xrays.

“I’ve seen this,” he said. “The baby’s heel cords are too tight. We’ll put him in physical therapy for a year to see if that will do the trick; if it doesn’t, I’ll operate.”

“How often will you have to operate, doctor?”

“Just once.”

“And his legs will be the same length?

“Of course! Why wouldn’t they be?”

As we walked out of Dr. Bowe’s office, I crumpled the pack of cigarettes I was carrying, and I’ve never smoked again.

Physical therapy didn’t do the trick, but Dr. Bowe’s operation was completely successful. We did wind up seeing a bunch of neurologists, whose diagnoses ranged from hyperactivity to PDDNOS, a form of autism that is no longer recognized.

By the time my son was six, we were done with all the doctors. The only vestige of his condition is exceptional strength in his legs; as a football coach once told me, “he runs so fast for a fat kid!”

St. Jude most definitely kept his side of the bargain… and so did I.

Talk to him whenever it seems your problems are insurmountable. They’re not for him.


A little breath of air

I got a new gizmo yesterday. It looks like a plastic perforated wall plug with two rubber protrusions which go into your nostrils at bedtime.

It’s supposed to keep me from snoring.

Does it work?

I don’t know. There was no one to listen to me last night except the cat, and she never complains about my snoring. I could hardly expect her to praise me for staying quiet all night.

My husband, who does complain about my snoring, was exiled to his own soundproof sanctuary, from which he can’t wake me up repeatedly asking me to be quiet. These complaints are especially annoying when I’m awake and silent; if his own snoring wakes him up, I am automatically blamed.

Serves him right if I keep snoring; he is not the reason I bought my new toy.

I’m just tired of dreaming that I’m gasping for air, or waking up frightened and out of breath.

Now, don’t tell me to go to the hospital and get tested for sleep apnea. I’ve done it and I have it.

I went in about fifteen years ago, and I was fitted with a C-Pap mask that looked like Darth Vader’s helmet. I don’t know whether it would help me sleep, but I knew damn well it would kill all my chances of ever being awakened for sex. In the two or three weeks I used it, the rubber mask ate away all the skin around my nose and lips, which hurt. Furthermore, no matter how often I cleaned the contraption, I always feared the hose and water tank would burst forth in colonies of killer algae. I expected to be found belly-up one morning, floating like an expired goldfish.

So I stopped using it.

I tried other remedies. Taping my nose flat didn’t help, although it did clear up my blackheads. Sleeping on top of a tennis ball didn’t work either… believe the princess, baby, that was no pea!

The best remedy I found was to sleep on a high pyramid of pillows; this worked well if I slept on my back.

I needed a remedy that would also be effective if I turned on my side… and when this new little gadget showed up on my Facebook feed, it seemed to be versatile enough to work in any position.

I decided to give it a try.

I ordered it, then waited for a few weeks. It arrived yesterday in a flowery Oriental-looking box, labeled “air purifier.” This seemed like an ambitious title; the damn thing looked like a small, red cable splitter.

It had no plugs, no water tanks or hoses, and no Darth Vader masks. It also had no directions– I don’t know whether I wore it right side up or upside down, but that seems not to make a difference. For a minute, I thought its rubber protrusions were too far apart to fit comfortably inside my nostrils, but after a little shimmying, I heard a tiny pop and realized the thing was correctly positioned.

My airways seemed wider. I breathed a tiny bit more freely.

After a few minutes, I no longer felt as if I were wearing something on my face. It was inobtrusive, and worked just as well whether I was on my back or my side.

I slept for four or five hours; when I woke up, I listened for my breath. It was less forced than usual, and seemed quiet. I tried to snore and couldn’t.

Does it really work? I don’t know. Did I sleep like a baby? No… but I didn’t wake up gasping for air.

This thing seems to show some promise.

It’s nice to start the New a Year with a somewhat positive experience.

January musings


Happy New Year?

Of course, we wish each other happiness, health and prosperity in the year ahead. We all give thanks for the passing of the previous year, when we were, at least occasionally, sad, broke, and sick.

We forget that twelve short months ago, we welcomed in that year and trusted it would relieve us of the fardels of the year before.

It didn’t.

No year ever does.

But we keep hoping.

At midnight three days ago, my husband and I threw the mandatory bucket of last year’s water out the window and ate twelve fat grapes to symbolize the fullness and sweetness expected of the months ahead. Since he doesn’t like champagne, we shared a bottle of some bubbly apple/grape concoction which looked wildly festive, making no comment about the fact that its taste was foul. We were thankful we had someone to kiss, and even more thankful to celebrate the occasion at home, in our jammies, without any obligation to entertain or feign amusement at the antics of our friends and loved ones.

I think I fell asleep in my chair. He watched reruns until he got bored enough to go to bed.

That’s what happiness looks like at my house.

That’s what it looked like last year and the year before.

Were we happy to see the old year pass?

For once, I really wasn’t.

In many ways, it was a happy year. We had our home and our kids were well. They were loved and employed, with many prospects for continued success. Yes, one of them suffered a nasty romantic hiccup, but it was healed within months.

I had a very fulfilling year creatively. While I didn’t blog regularly, I did enjoy writing my little essays… transmitting the observations of a chatty mind. I also painted ten or eleven portraits. What a joy it was, after so many years, to pick up my brushes and attempt to replicate the features and expressions of the faces I love!

There were very sad and scary moments, too. We lost our cat Hermione, after seventeen years of delightful and devoted affection. We almost lost her granddaughter, my beloved Pewter, who became suddenly and seriously sick. She has mostly recovered, although she has lost her sight; we are more grateful than ever for her sweet companionship.

We had our ups and downs financially, of course. We always do. We were thrilled and grateful for an unexpected gift, and we were relieved to be able to cover surprise demands on our purse. We had debts we couldn’t pay, and they followed us into the present year. Big deal. God knows we’ve been there before. However, we did experience something new:  professionally, we had such a lousy run that we’ve decided to accept we’re both retired.

This means we will have to fall into new patterns of filling our days, creating opportunities to be both alone and together.

But you know what I like best about the year that just passed?

We didn’t pass with it!

I never used to think about that, but it’s really bothering me now. My mom would have been 100 years old this year; on my next birthday, I am going to reach the age at which she died.

Do I expect to die this year? No. That would be scary and lugubrious. I am, however, aware that it’s more likely than it was last year, and will become even more likely should I see another New Year’s Day.

Once upon a time, that would not have frightened me, but now it does. My Episcopalian conviction in God’s certain forgiveness is increasingly being pierced by my old Roman Catholic fears of eternal damnation. After all, I am not particularly generous, or kind; I am certainly not observant, and too questioning to be considered obedient. I may need to take action in order to earn salvation.

Can I still change my ways?

I don’t know. Gravity pulls on me much harder now. My mind isn’t as quick, and I don’t breathe as well. I find it hard to think about munificence when I spend so much time concentrating on movement.

I also sleep much more than I used to, so any acts of goodness and kindness have to be squeezed into tinier periods of time.

I don’t know if I can do what’s needed.

I’m simply going to have to trust in the mercy of my God.

If He grants me a full new year, I hope He’ll make it a good one. If it’s not quite twelve months long, then I hope to find forgiveness at the end of it.

The breakfast of old champions.

I have three ibuprofen for breakfast

With Synthroid, some Altace and juice

A big metaformin

To kick off the mornin’

Celexa to ward off the blues.

To keep my blood pressure quite steadfast

I swallow a small Microzide

Plus a blue Ramipril

That I believe will

Help my old heart keep beating in stride.

Oxybutinin is part of my repast

To control how I’ll pee through the day

There’s Azo to poop

Estrogen to make whoop

And some Beano to keep farts at bay.

This keeps me alive until nightfall,

When gladly, I will get to choose

What I’ll take to survive until morning:

A strong, healthy glass of good booze.

To my nose, I suppose.

I wish my nose were bigger

And held my specs in place

It’s just a useless button

That sits atop my face

It doesn’t hold much oxygen

Just what I need to snore

And if I felt like singing

I’d have to draw in more.

But it’s the cutest little thing

Though functional it’s not.

I try to keep it clean, you know

And never filled with snot.

I may covet your honker

Or stately Roman nose

But I’ll keep this proboscis

It suits me, I suppose.

A paean to peepee.

We dye our hair

We pluck our brows

We walk and exercise and dance

But though we try to seem we’re young

Old ladies wet their pants.

We don’t wear black because we’re chic

Or buy new perfumes with increasing strengths

Because we hope they’ll bring romance.

We hope, instead, to hide the truth:

Old ladies wet their pants.

I heard a doctor say today

That if we exercise our pelvic floors

Eschewing chocolate and wine, perchance

We may delay the day we join

Old broads who wet their pants.

And since good laughs will trigger leaks

We should be sober, serious crones

And live as though we’re in a trance.

We also should try not to sneeze

Lest we should wet our pants.

I will not give up sweets and wine

I’ll laugh and sneeze with equal zest

Yes, I will bow to happenstance.

But one thing will e’er piss me off:

Old ladies wet their pants.

Copyright A.N.Pikarsky, 2018

Old Hallows Eve

I hate these barren Halloweens

When I’ve no children in my life.

No one who needs me to transform a sweatsuit

Into a cat, or a witch, or a dog;

No one for whom to sneak out of work

In order to watch a parade;

No one with Clark bars to steal,

With pumpkins to carve,

With laughter to share.

I’m saddened no little goblins

Will treat me with the threat of tricks,

And I know that if I see a Grim Reaper knocking at the door

I am to keep it closed, since it won’t be a costumed child.