Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Ah, what Schmirnoff hath wrought!

Cat in the box
Originally uploaded by Elvira Black.
Punked again! No outing to the Botanical Gardens yesterday to see the Haunted Halloween walk. However--thanks to my web research (and it wasn't easy) I located the address of a liquor store in Bronx's Little Italy that is open on Sundays. Rather a shameful accomplishment, but I can be the queen of enabling when I put my mind to it. Seems like BG is determined to make this his lost birthday weekend.

After 14 months in AA, BG went "out" one day back in Jan. or Feb. We'd been attending meetings together, even though I'm not an alchie, but there was a time when I was really throwing them back, and I do like my herb.

BG doesn't do anything by halves, so when he was in AA, he strived to be a perfect little member. As I've detailed elsewhere,he threw himself into the program with a vengeance. We didn't go every day, but probably at least 5 times a week. We also developed a healthy routine--walking at least an hour every day and doing things in the Bronx and the "city."

As for me, after awhile I too started participating and getting to like the AA members from our Bronx groups. Yes, most of them had their quirks and then some, and could be annoying, but I started to come out of the shell I'd crawled into and get a little more social and comfortable around this group of people. Many of them were really warm and caring and friendly, and I could see with my own eyes how much AA had helped them. Quite a few had quit for years; even decades, and literally turned their lives around.

But BG, I think, got himself too far into it. We'd gone to Manhattan meetings before, but early on we perused the AA directory and found some meetings near his place in the Bronx as well.

So we began going to one Bronx group on weekdays, alternating with the downtown Manhattan group in the city. The Bronx group was very nice, but they had no Sunday meeting, so one day we headed over to another meeting that met only on Sundays.

This group, which maybe 10 years ago had been filled to capacity and was actually the oldest AA group in the Bronx, was struggling along now with only a handful of members. Others would come, but there weren't a lot of regulars, and the members had become rather lacksadaisical. There was an 80 year old man who later became BG's sponsor, and for years, he had been coming in early each week to the church where the meeting was held and setting up--sweeping, bringing in the folding tables which were heavy and awkward, setting out the iiterature, putting out the coffee and the cookies. He did the same at the weekday meetings as well. No one thought to help him, and no one seemed to even know what was involved.

When BG and I walked through those doors, the other old timers did the hard sell. By the second meeting, a woman I'll call B with about 19 years of sobriety asked us if we wanted to make this our home group. She had us write down our names, addresses, and numbers, saying "we're anonymous--except among ourselves." Looking back, this should have raised a red flag--there was no good reason for having to give all this info to another AA.

Soon this same woman asked us if we could help J,, the 80 year old guy, set up each week. I think it was less out of concern for J and more about the fact that if J ever got sick or passed away, they'd lose their workhorse. As it was, their 12 steps and 12 traditions banners were so old and ripped up that you couldn't even read the 12th step. BG soon decided that not only was this discouraging for a newcomer, but someone might actually want to see what the 12th step said, so one day we went into the city and hunted down the AA central office and bought new banners.

The more BG got into it, the more "service" he did. In addition to coming in an hour and a half early to help J, BG also insisted on bringing cookies and cake and hot chocolate each week--which we paid for--brewing real coffee instead of instant, and even getting a little hot pot for those who preferred tea. We soon became the designated cake buyers for anniversaries as well.

The thing that really disturbed us is that although every other member's AA anniversary was written down and planned for and celebrated with speakers and a cake and fanfare, when J's anniversary came around no one "knew" about it. We went out and got him a cake ourselves. In retrospect, it seemed pretty reprehensible that they would forsake the only person who was keeping the meetings going every week.

Then, at the meeting in the city, BG was asked if he could take over a weekly commitment and chair on Fridays. When his term ran up, he volunteered for another. But the Manhattan meeting, although it was multicultural and very well attended, had a lot of younger people we soon dubbed "white whiners," because they kvetched about seemingly trivial things despite typically having an immensely more privileged background than the Bronx members. Here, as in the Bronx, there were a few people who got under BG's skin in a very big way.

He'd tried to squelch his resentments, as AAers were supposed to do, and take a moral inventory of those he had wronged and plan to make amends to them. But in BG's case, he started to get resentments over his fellow AA's, and despite praying on his knees (yes!) twice a day for those he didn't like, this just didn't work. He wound up being super nice in the meetings, and very cranky with me. Plus, he really didn't have many amends to make--others who had wronged him over the years should have been making amends to him. And there were always those old timers who would "volunteer" to tell him how to do his program.

So one Friday, we came into the city as usual so BG could chair his meeting. Suddenly, he declared that he wasn't going. I pleaded with him--saying he'd made the commitment and shouldn't break down and go "out" after staving off the bottle for over a year--but when BG makes up his mind, there's no talking to him.

So he went out, and I of course, did too.

The results were mixed. At first, we both got into quite a rut. But eventually, BG would drink for a day or two, then stay sober for awhile--sometimes a long while . And it did seem as if he was better able to "handle" it--he wasn't drinking nearly as heavily as he once had, and instead of moping around, he eventually forced himself to get up on morning after, work out at the gym, and walk over to the Botanical Gardens--hangover or no.

As I said, BG is not the kind of AAer who had a lot of character defects to overcome. He'd never ripped anyone off--if he didn't have the money, he just didn't drink or use. Arguable, the only person he really hurt was himself.

One time about 2 years ago, before we started going to AA, BG was very drunk and lost his balance and fell backwards onto his weights. He wound up with a broken coccyx bone which took quite awhile to heal. It could have been much worse, though.

Lately, the drinking episodes have been more benign for the most part. At some point in the evening, BG may get restless and decide to call family members drunk. The thing is, when BG is drunk he often dominates the conversation completely, or turns the stereo up very loud and sings into the phone which makes a two-way conversation very difficult. And sometimes he (or we) will get impulsive and make stupid plans--like the time we decided to book a weekend in Montauk in the middle of winter to party and we both wound up with the flu. Although our room overlooked the ocean, we never even got to walk down to the beach.

Anyway, yesterday, while BG was out hunting down a new bottle, one of his tattoo guys called to see if BG wanted to get a Halloween tattoo for his birthday. I gave BG the message, and he declined--he'd just gotten a tattoo recently from another guy who's better anyway.

But later that night, I had to talk him out of calling the guy and setting up an appointment today to get a tat. I said, you'll regret it in the morning--when you're hung over, the last thing you're going to want to do is shlep into the city and sit there getting needles inserted in your skin. He finally listened.

The usual routine with BG is at the end of the evening, just before he eats, he likes to take out his guitar and sometimes his harmonica and play a few tunes. He's always loved Dylan, so he plays a lot of that. He's quite good, but I don't much like Dylan and didn't always feel in the mood to listen. But one day I brought over my viola, which I hadn't played in years. After a little practice, I was able to play along with BG quite nicely, and that was more fun for both of us.

Anyway, last night BG was at the wobbly stage and decided to get out his guitar. He has a beautiful Washburn that he bought ages ago, and it's still in mint condition. He has another cheap guitar that a friend bought and later gave him. So I suggested that he use the cheap guitar so he wouldn't risk damaging his good one.

He went into the bedroom to get it, and suddenly there was a crash. In his drunken state, he'd knocked over and broken the table lamp--for the second time in the past month.

He was very upset about this, but I for one was grateful that it was only the lamp and not his guitar or, even worse, his back that got broken this time. But now he's very remorseful and will probably shlep out and get a new one today, hangover be damned.

Another factor in the mix is that BG's mom, who is very religious, can tell when BG's been drinking and chastizes him when she calls after he's had a "few." . "BG," she'll say, "you're a drunkard. You need to get some help, my dear. If you don't want to go to AA, talk to a priest." (Oh, yeah. Like that'll happen). As it is, she constantly sends BG religious literature, books, videotapes, and CD's, and does a lot of sermonizing in her letters. I love BG's parents, but his mom is pretty out there.

So I don't know what we'll be doing today--either BG will stay in bed and rest and watch TV, or we'll party again. We'd planned to go into the city, but I don't know that this will happen. So basically, all the Halloween birthday plans I made have gone by the wayside. But we did have some laughs.

Yes, alcohol can be very dangerous. People get behind the wheel and kill innocent people; some steal or beg, lose their jobs, wreck their marriages, wind up in the loony bin, or shoot their families. My feeling is that pot is much more benign--you're generally too mellowed out to get violent; there's no hangover; and the worst that will probably occur is you'll eat too much. But of course, anything done to excess can be harmful, and BG doesn't like to drink without smoking, and vice versa.

As for me, ever since we quit AA, I've become a vegetable. I got Herman, my trusty Mac Powerbook, back in Feb, and instead of going out with BG for walks like I used to, I blog and roam the internet obsessively and smoke cigs incessantly. Plus, I'm not eating right. This can't go on--I'm no kid anymore and I'm putting my health at risk. Plus which, mental illness and substance abuse aren't the best combo to pursue to excess. So I think we both have some things to work on.

In any case, since I have no cool pix of our Halloween outings, here's another bitchin' tat BG got awile back. If you look at the Jack in the Box box, you can see that there's a jack o lantern carved into the "wood grain," thus making it an official Halloween tattoo. This is one of my faves.

So, should BG take his mom's advice and see a priest, get back on his knees, and start praying again? Anyone else think pot is the lesser of the two evils? Have any partying tales to tell? Any AA horror stories or positive testimonials about the fellowship? Any "character defects" you'd like to get off your chest? I open the floor up to you.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A TERRIFYING night at home!

BGs jack o lantern
Originally uploaded by Elvira Black.
Yep, just as I expected, BG punked out and we didn't go to Van Cortlandt park tonight for the big Halloween blowout.

Me (this morning) "we're going, right?"

BG: "I'm not going up there."

Me: "Why not?"

BG: "I just heard someone got killed there."

Me: "Yeah, right. Where did you hear or see this one? Show me."

BG: "No kidding, it was just on the news. Twelve people got murdered. And...and...a few of them died!"

What a punk.

Instead, we stayed in, had a few drinks, I made a big pot of spaghetti, and BG carved this pumpkin. Keep in mind this is after a few bottles of Guinnesses, etc.

Looks schizophrenic, doesn't it? Even our jack o'lantern is mentally ill.

The following scary tidbits are courtesy of IO Digital cable channel 841, Music Choice/Sound of the Seasons, which is playing all Halloween songs this weekend--like Club Ghoul, Sarchophagus Shuffle, Redneck Dracula, Here Comes the Bride (of Frankenstein), and Boogyman Nights. You know, all the Grammy award winners (lol).

Some ancient cultures believed that bats were the ghost of someone who was not yet reincarnated.

Why didn't the skeleton cross the road? Because he didn't have any guts.

In England, Halloween was first known as Mischief Night.

Werewolf legends date back to ancient Greece and Rome.

Months that start on a Sunday always have a Friday the 13th.

In the year 2000, the largest pumpkin weighed 1140 pounds.

Because of Protestant beliefs, Halloween was not celebrated much during Colonial times.

On Halloween in 1926, magician Harry Houdini died after sustaining a blow to the abdomen.

Trick or treating began when families left food on their doorsteps to keep hungry spirits from entering the house.

National candy corn day is October 30.

Alcatraz prison is said to be the most haunted on earth, with over 100 ghouls reported.

Pretty scarifying, isn't it? I spared everyone the even cornier ones...

A very special Halloween

Pumpkin heads
Originally uploaded by Hourman.
This Halloween will mark the seventh anniversary of the night I first met my boyfriend BG. It also happens to be BG's birthday.

I was in my favorite dive bar in the Village that night back in '98, with my regular drinks on the bar (Stoli on the rocks with a splash of club soda, no fruit, no umbrella--and a pint of Bass) when BG walked in. He had planned to see the Village Halloween parade, but it was still too early, so fate dictated that my soulmate would spot my bar, come down the stairs, and get a drink or three. The bar was especially crowded for Halloween; the bartender was dressed as a mod seventies chick, complete with pink afro.

BG sidled up to the bar, and we started to chat. After awhile, he asked: "Can I buy you a drink?"

"Twist my arm," I replied.

The rest is history.

I always try to plan some special outings for BG's birthday. Sometimes they work; sometimes they are a flop. This Halloween, BG has alternated between having a big blowout and just moping at home.

We finally discussed tentative plans in earnest yesterday. Whether they will all come to fruition remains to be seen. I never know with BG's changeable moods.

Today we plan to make it a Bronx day and cab it up to Van Cortlandt Park for the Haunted Happenings event at the Van Cortlandt House Museum. I've heard tell they have some great Irish bars in the area, so we may stop by one or two afterwards.

Tomorrow we'll go to the New York Botanical Garden, our favorite oasis in the Bronx, for the Halloween on Haunted Walk extravaganza.

Then for BG's birthday on Monday, the plan is to hit the "city" (aka Manhattan). After I go to the bank and get lots of drinking dough, our first stop will be Sam Ash on West 48th Street--THE place to buy musical instruments of all kinds--to get BG a chromatic harmonica. We might take in a movie--Capote is supposed to be great--and maybe head to Tower Records on West 4th Street or St. Mark's sounds to pick up a few Johnny Winter CD's BG has been hankering for.

And finally, to top off the evening, we'll likely do some barhopping down in my 'hood on the Lower East Side.

I plan to bring my camera and post some wild and crazy pix here.

So what are you all doing for Halloween?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...

Bush on the wall
Originally uploaded by Choufi's cameraphone.
Humpty Dumpty
had a great fall.

And all the king's horses

And all the king's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Ah, "progress"....

The Fountain
Originally uploaded by skidder.
Thanks so much, everyone, for your feedback on the last post! One other happy memory I forgot to add was that when I received my master's from New York University (NYU) in the mid-80s, the commencement ceremony was held, as it is each May, in Washington Square Park. Since the University has many super-famous alumni, there are always a stellar list of guest speakers and honorary degree recipients on hand.

Over the past few decades, NYU has transformed itself into one of the finest universities in the country, and Washington Square is still the traditional epicenter of its main "campus." However, one result has been that the University has gobbled up quite a bit of the downtown area by building countless dorms and other structures, some of which have replaced famous institutions and landmarks such as the Palladium club and Luchow's restaurant. One recent victim was the world renowned Bottom Line club, which recently lost its lease with the University and was shut down.

Which leads me to a sad addendum to my previous post: there is currently a controversial plan abroad to renovate Washington Square Park, though opponents have filed a lawsuit to try to stop it. Some feel that NYU is behind the plan, or at least supportive of it--one of the University's biggest donors is contributing quite a bit of money to the project. The plan, if executed, would mean a major upheaval of this historic site, including moving the fountain and elevating the park's sunken plaza. A piece by Lincoln Anderson in a July/August issue of the Villager details some of the objections folks have to this nefarious development, and portions of the text in quotes below are taken from that article.

One of the most compelling objections is the argument that the Square is "hallowed ground"--because the site is a former burial ground which "probably contains the remains of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 vets." The site was a potter's field until 1825, with some 20,000 bodies buried there. The fountain, which would be moved in the proposed plan, was once the location of a hanging gallows.

Another objection is that "elevating the park's sunken plaza to ground level would rob the square of its famous 'theater in the round' for performers." Indeed, just as in days of old, performers and spectators still flock to the park each weekend, especially in good weather.

I don't know too many other details of this plan, but it saddens me greatly. Much of New York's character and history are being thrown by the wayside, and one of the only impediments to this perpetual renovation is the work of the Landmarks Preservation Committee, which has succeeded in deeming certain structures historical landmarks. In some ways, the city has changed for the better, but there seems to be a lot more sterility creeping in as well, as one massive high rise after another is constructed. .

Fortunately, another recent Villager article seems to indicate that the more drastic renovation plans may not go through after all, In any case, here's a great shot of the park, showing the fountain as well as the historic Washington Square Arch on the park's north side. The arch was built to commemorate the centennial of George Washington's first inauguration, which took place in New York City in 1789. The original plaster and wood arch of 1889 was replaced with a marble arch in 1892, designed by the magnificent architect--and native New Yorker-- Stanford White.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New York Story #2


"Washington Square was a place where people you knew or met congregated every Sunday, and it was like a world of music... bongo drums, conga drums, saxophone players, xylophone players, drummers of all nations and nationalities, poets who would rant and rave from the statues. You know, those things don't happen any more, but back then, that was what was happening. It was all street. . ."

---Bob Dylan; quoted in Maps and Legends: Positively Fourth Street

From the day I was born, my father was forever taking pictures of me and the city. The photo you see here was taken in August 1957--a month after my birth--in the heart of Manhattan's Greenwich Village, at the fountain in Washington Square Park.

Although my mom was born and bred in Manhattan--she grew up on the Lower East Side, which at the time was home to countless poor and struggling immigrants packed into tenements--my dad was born in Arkansas and came to the city in the 50s. I can only imagine what a culture shock it must have been for him.

Greenwich Village is on the West side of downtown Manhattan. Its layout is unique to the city, with narrow winding streets that diverge from the rest of the Manhattan's orderly grid. For well over a century (or two) , Greenwich Village was a haven for avant garde artists, writers, musicians, and bohemians of all stripes. It thrived for generations as an apex for progressive, alternative culture and political rebellion. Early feminists, socialists, intellectuals, beat poets, folk and jazz musicians, hippies, and gay rights activists all found a home in Greenwich Village. It is here that the Beats of the 50s and 60s hung out in the coffeehouses and held poetry readings, and where Lenny Bruce got arrested for obscenity at the Cafe Au Go Go. The Village atmosphere suffused the writings of such notables as Allan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Keroac in the 50s, as well as generations of writers before them. At the Cedar Tavern, on 8th Street, some of the great abstract expressionists of the '50s such as Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko hung out. In the 60s and 70s, countless performers, including Barbra Striesand, Joan Baez, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Maya Angelou, and Bette Midler got their start in the Village's nightclubs and coffeehouses.

At the time my dad took this picture, folk singers played in the Washington Square Park to hordes of like minded hipsters and beatniks. When Bob Dylan arrived in the city four years later, this is the the kind of scene he likely encountered at the park's fountain.

In the summer of '69, twelve years after this photo was taken, my b/f BG hitchhiked with a friend from Louisiana and arrived in the Village for the first time, with nothing but two rolls of dimes and his guitar. He was 18--a year younger than Dylan was when he arrived in 1961-- and the flower power/hippie summer of love was in full bloom. He hung out in the exact same spot where my dad had taken this picture of Washington Square Park. BG, too, was from another world--born in Oklahoma, though he'd also lived in Omaha and Louisiana--and the Village was like nothing he'd ever encountered before. Unlike my dad, who just took pictures of the Washington Square Park oddities, in the Village of the 60s BG dropped acid, consumed countless other drugs, and made love to hippie chicks.

Although the Village is no longer affordable to most struggling artists and bohemians, there are still plenty of jazz and comedy clubs, off Broadway theaters, bars, cafes, restaurants, coffeehouses, (tattoo parlors--lol), and other gems to visit. The Village Halloween parade, the largest Halloween event in the country, draws two million spectators.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

New York Story #1

Manhattan Bridge
Originally uploaded by olvwu.

There is a legendary New Yorker magazine cover cartoon from March 29, 1976 by Saul Steinberg called "View of the World from 9th Avenue." It comprises a "map" of the world from a "New Yorker's" point of view. Looking west from 9th Avenue in Manhattan is the Hudson River. Beyond that is a flat plane of land with a few vague rocky landmarks depicting the rest of the US. On the outermost edge is New Jersey (from which many NYC workers commute). Also shown are Chicago, Kansas City, Utah, Las Vegas, and Texas. To the left of this is Mexico; to the right is Canada. Then comes the Pacific and beyond that, in the far distance, are a few little lumps of land representing China, Japan, and Russia.

Though New Yorkers may like to view themselves as "worldly" and culturally savvy, the truth is that many residents--especially those in Manhattan--are quite parochial. Aside from the xenophobic notion that New York City is a world unto itself, beyond which lies virtually nothing, many New Yorkers see their own little neighborhood in this fashion. For example, those who live downtown love to say with derisive pride that they never venture above 14th Street. And indeed, each square block is unique in this city. But as far as "snob" appeal, at this point in the city's history, as long as you live in Manhattan, you are at the top of the world.

There is another New Yorker cover of more recent vintage--March 7, 2005 to be exact--that expresses this sentiment exactly. Called "Unaffordable Paradise" by Marcellus Hall, it depicts a nude "Adam" and "Eve" slouching across one of the city's numerous bridges leading out of Manhattan. On the left bank is a mini-Manhattan skyline, bathed in light. Across the river is a dark forboding hinterland. The hand of God is pointing down from the sky toward the outer borough, commanding Adam and Eve to banish themselves to a neighborhood they can afford. Adam and Eve, recoiling in shame, horror, and sorrow at their plight, reluctantly proceed across the river to the darkness beyond.

A prime time version of this horrible plight is familiar to all Sex and the City fans who witnessed Miranda Hobbes' relunctant exodus from Manhattan to Brooklyn. The reason? In a word, adulthood--in the guise of marriage, baby, and mother in law--which translated into the classic "more space" versus "better" location dilemma.

The sharp division between Manhattan and--well--everywhere else is expressed quite clearly by the fact that when New Yorkers say "the city" they mean Manhattan. And if Manhattanites are divided into little neighborhood camps, the same goes double for those in New York City's "outer boroughs" (Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island) and surrounding suburbs. When I'm hanging out with BG in the Bronx, if we want to venture into Manhattan (about a 30 minute ride to midtown) we say we're going to "the City." Similarly, when my ex-boyfriend L and I would visit his relatives on Long Island--perhaps a 50 minute train ride away--everyone there would invariably ask "How's the city?" as if we'd just traveled in from a foreign country.

Although it was nice to visit suburbia for family get-togethers, L and I always breathed a huge sigh of relief when, having said our goodbyes, we boarded the Long Island Rail Road back to Manhattan. Forty-odd minutes later, we'd glimpse a bit of the Manhattan skyline on the train as we passed through Queens. We'd arrive at Penn Station, grab a cab, and race through the glittering nighttime city streets on our journey home.

"Home" for us was, for twelve years, the Upper East Side of Manhattan--where some of the most exclusive and coveted real estate in the country is located. Its boundaries run roughly from the East River to Fifth Avenue (which divides the east from the west side) and perhaps East 59th Street to East 96th Street. We lived in the east 80s between First and York Avenues in a fifth-floor walkup. There was nothing glam about the building itself, but the location was heavenly, except for the 15 or 20 minute walk to the subway. At that time, many young people fresh out of college came to live in the upper 80s on the east-east side. Many of the buildings were old six-story structures, and were still affordable--our rent was about $430 when we moved in in 1979, and some people paid less. It was mostly only as you got farther west, more toward Park and Fifth Avenue, bordering Central Park, that the rents got truly astronomical. However, nowadays, the same semi-dilapadated dump we lived in would likely go for three to four times what it went for then--if not more. Even in the Bronx, a comparable apartment might fetch twice that rent today.

Everything in Manhattan is on a much smaller scale than the suburbs. Our one bedroom abode was, perhaps, 300 square feet (or so L tells me--I'm terrible with that sort of thing)--a size that some realtors would now describe as "huge." As a result, wall space had to be exploited to its fullest potential. It was quite an art form to try to furnish a tiny apartment and still have room to actually walk through it. This meant one had to think vertically--high bookshelves and wall units were a must. Every square inch counted.

This liliputtan alternate universe was further reflected in the small scale of virtually everything in the neighborhood. Most Manhattan supermarkets are shockingly tiny compared to suburban ones--the aisles are too narrow to accommodate more than one cart passing through at a time, and even the shopping carts are smaller. But at such mini-supermarkets as the Food Emporium and D'Agostino's, one could have quite a remarkable shopping experience. In keeping with the demographics of the neighborhood, the shelves were well stocked with expensive "gourmet" items and top cuts of high priced meat. The accoutrements of Manhattan life were both more pricey and exclusive than anywhere else.

As young Manhattanites, we had the typical tiny "kitchen"--no more really than a very narrow little expanse which only one person could pass through at a time. It held a fridge, a sink, and a small stove, with almost no counter space. Pathetic as it was, this was vastly better than studio kitchens, which are no more than tiny areas located in the living room itself. Our "dining" area consisted of a little round cafe table with two chairs in the living room. As a result, we wound up eating out most of the time--and we were hardly alone.

Although I was born in Queens, my parents had both passed away by the time I was 15, and I'd lived with my aunt and uncle on the Lower East Side of Manhattan til I went to college on Long Island. When my ex-boyfriend and I graduated and moved to the Upper East Side, I had a bit of an inheritance, and we immediately went to work spending it and enjoying the city to the max.

In our own little neighborhood alone, there were several restaurants on every block. We soon became international gourmands as we explored Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, Indian, British, Mexican, French, and Italian cusines. We had several movie theaters to choose from; Barnes and Noble for books; a Gimbel's department store; a ton of bars. If we strolled about three blocks east to the river, we could walk along a lovely promenade. If we ventured west, we would hit the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park. On Sunday, we had our pick of brunch spots, or even a good old fashioned diner.

Nightlife in the 80s was incomparable in New York. Most of the music venues were downtown, so we often whisked down in a cab. I still remember one adventure with one of L's friends from work, who had moved to NY from the hinterlands (I can't recall where). One evening, we took him to the Ritz, a large downtown club. Even before MTV, NYC clubs were playing the latest music videos on big screens and monitors, interspersed with the coolest 80s music spun by the resident DJs. The Ritz was a large bi (or was it tri?) level club, with a dance floor downstairs. If you got there early, you could go upstairs and find a seat (there were bars on each floor) and watch the action below. When the place got crowded, you could look down and see the hordes dancing and writhing away all night. The bands didn't come on until well after midnight.

L's friend was completely awed by the scene. He confessed that this was exactly what he had envisioned New York to be like before he'd ever ventured here--like something out of a movie. (He was at that point living in Queens, so it was up to us "city folks" to show him around. And indeed, those from the outer boroughs or the burbs who ventured into the Manhattan clubs were always referred to derisively as "B and T's"--or bridge and tunnels, because they had to traverse them to enter the Emerald City.)

Another time an old school chum of L's who had lived on Long Island (where L was originally from) and had since moved to New Hampshire came to visit for a few days. We decided to wow him with a real Manhattan night out. We fed him pot and booze, and took him clubbing. I recall that at one point he fell out of his chair. Afterwards we went for a bite at a Polish dairy restaurant called Kiev in the East Village. All he could do was gawk at all the hipsters sporting green and purple hair. It was all, simply, too much for him.

Before I bring part 1 to an end, I wanted to expain why I have decided to write about what it means to be a New Yorker. About 14 years ago, L and I moved again--this time to a coop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The neighborhood was not hip back then, but I knew it well because I'd lived there with my aunt and uncle when I was in high school. I was very reluctant to move there, because at the time the Lower East Side was for the most part a cultural wasteland. We were on a waiting list to get into the coop, which at the time was still designed for middle and lower-middle class residents. When we bought the coop, it cost us all of $8,000, with no mortgage. A one-bedroom with a partial view of the river, it's about 800 square feet--a virtual palace by Manhattan standards. Maintance, which included gas and electric, cost the same or less than our rent uptown.

A few years ago, it went private, and now prices have gone up to market value. It should sell for about $425-450 grand--still quite a bargain for Manhattan, where the same space might go for at least a million elsewhere, and that's a very low estimate. Since I co-own it with L, we'll split the difference, and we should both be able to afford coops in the outer boroughs--he in Queens, and me in the Bronx, near BG.

Over the past few months, L and I have been cleaning out and selling stuff, but it has been a long haul. Part of the reason it's taking so long is that L has an enormous amount of junk--an inconceivable amount--which we've been trashing, selling, or boxing. But another reason, perhaps, that it isn't ready for market yet is that the thought of giving up my American dream, Manhattan style, is so very painful to me. The outer boroughs have started to become more fashionable, so it's no shame to live there--most people can't afford Manhattan anymore, although, ironically, in the 70s people thought you were crazy and/or hopelessly poor if you lived here. And although I should be able to purchase a bigger place (approx 1000 square feet) with two bedrooms, it is still a tough pill to swallow to realize that Manhattan will no longer be "mine."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A teeny tattoo tale

Originally uploaded by Elvira Black.
Since BG's birthday (Halloween) is coming up fast, he's been itching to get a new tattoo. I've written here before about his tattoos, and I don't have much to add here, other than that his tattoos are cool, and he is cool about them--meaning, he doesn't flaunt them, and really gets them mainly for his own head.

When we were still going to AA, a certain cretin (see BG's rendition here) loved to show off his tattoos, which were cheap and dreadful. He'd come into a meeting and show anyone and everyone his newest abomination. He and his scag girlfriend were always trying to corral us into hanging out with them after the meeting, and constantly asked where we were headed. One day we made the mistake of telling them that BG was going into Manhattan to get a new tattoo.

Since, like many assholes, they were always quick to give unsolicited advice, they both exclaimed in unison: "Don't go to Manhattan! Go to Webster Avenue!" (in BG's Bronx neighborhood.) Apparently, Skank boy's bro was learning the tattoo trade and practiced on his brother--or something.

The thing is, although BG loves a bargain, there are some things that you just have to pay extra for. Tattoes, in my opinion, are one of them. They last a lifetime, after all. It's not like buying a set of bath towels or even a new TV. BG has a few top notch guys he goes to exclusively. They cost more, but they're well worth it.

In any case, when BG came to the next AA meeting and Skank boy asked to see his new tattoo, BG showed it to him and he suddenly grew very quiet. Apparently, he finally realized that BG knew a thing or two about a thing or two (funny that, considering BG is old enough to be Skank's father, just for starters). Shortly thereafter, Skankie pulled BG aside and asked his advice: "BG, do you think I should cover up this spiderweb tattoo with a dragon?" BG just shrugged. What kind of moron would cover up a dreadful tattoo with another one just as bad?

In any case, BG came back yesterday evening, very pleased with his new acquisition. He had been nervous going in, because after all, there's no refund, no exchange for this sort of thing.

But eerily enough, there was a strange little story on the local news station today that I thought was quite ironic.

Those of you who've seen the movie Spinal Tap may recall that in addition to their other problems, the band had gone through a slew of drummers over the years because they all seemed to....well...die on them. One of them expired following a "bizarre gardening accident." One can only imagine.

In any case, one of New York 1's top stories today involved a bizarre tatooing accident at an unlicensed parlor in Brooklyn. Seems a young guy had just finished getting a tattoo. He got up, passed out, and fell over into a plate glass counter. The glass cut into his throat and he died. The tattoo he took to his grave, by the way, was called "Last Rites."

Anyone else have any bizarro tales to share?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hi, my name is Elvira, and I'm a blogoholic

First and foremost, I wanted to thank you guys for your comments and messages. It really means a lot to me.

I'm starting to come to terms with my ex's condition--although I can't help but do a mini-rant here about the horrible docs he's been dealing with. Over four months ago, L's sis and I took him to the doc and told them that in addition to depression, he had some sort of neurological damage that had been getting worse as time went on. We'[d noticed the symptoms--including poor manual dexterity, falling, etc. for quite some time. The docs just looked at us like we were crazy, and scheduled him for physical therapy. Their ideal of "treatment" was, as BG likes to say, like a couple of monkeys trying to f&#k a football.

Finally, they figured out something else might be up, and scheduled the neuro testing, where they discovered his condition. The guy who delivered the news to him was very abrupt and cold. I wasn't there, and it's lucky for him, because I don't know if I could have been trusted to contain myself.

Anyway, on top of all that, I caught a very nasty case of the flu, and was completely immobilized for the last several days. Didn't even turn on Herman the Mac--imagine that!

In any case, while lying around moaning, I started to think very dark thoughts. I felt like I had hit bottom, and this latest bit of news was just the tip of the iceberg. For one thing, I realized that I've become addicted to the internet, and that although I love it to death, it might be time to assess where I was going before I did indeed love death.

The blogging bug has been affecting my relationship, my health, my stamina. I have neglected a lot of things; a lot of my normal routines; a lot of everyday activities that are necessary to live some sort of "real life." My eating habits are terrible; I'm not getting any exercise; I'm smoking so much I don't even want to think about it; and certain crucial things that I need to do have been put on the back burner.

So does this mean I'm going to give up blogging? Hell no! I just have to figure out how to fit it in more reasonably--devote x number of hours or days a week to it, and take care of my other shit as well.

I was joking with another blogger awhile back about the blogging/internet fixation thing. I said I guarantee that soon enough there will be support groups springing up for internet addicts. And, of course, they will take place--where else?--online.

The next step, of course, will be a new malady listed in the upcoming edition of the DSM--something like blogging addictive disorder. I can only guess what kind of drugs they will come up with for that one.

Do any of you guys have this problem? If so, I'd love to hear about it, and how it affects you--and if you've managed to "cure" yourself of this obsession, I'd be very interested in that too.

Once again, thank you for your comments and kind words. I will respond to all comments, old and new, if at all possible, as soon as possible.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The pause that depresses

In case anyone hasn't noticed, I sometimes write about mental illness. After all, I AM bipolar II, and BG is schizophrenic--or so the docs say.

But lately I've also been tossing around a lot of diagnostic terms willy-nilly: obsessive compulsive personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and so on. And of course, there's a world of difference between me playing psycho detective with Robo-dentist and other wackos, and a shrink making an "official medical determination." (Or is there?)

For quite awhile, I've been contemplating a piece on the DSM,or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders--aka the bible for the psychiatric profession. This unwieldy tome of mental malfunctions is the tool shrinks use to diagnose patients and assign them a handy numerical code useful to all involved--including pharmaceutical and insurance companies. Let's take--oh, for example--attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Funny how so many American kids today seem to have it--and lucky they are to have a wonder drug like Ritalin available to treat them all, hmmmm?

In any case, there certainly seems to be a steady rise in the number and type of disorders to be found in the DSM. I like to joke that nowadays, everyone formerly known as an asshole or oddball now has a DSM diagnosis to call their own.

But right now, I have a problem very close to home that involves a physical as well as psychological disorder. My ex-boyfriend of 20 years has just been diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy. It is genetic in origin, which means that other members of his family might also have it. Although symptoms and severity vary, sufferers can be at great risk for heart or respiratory complications. Some eventually wind up in wheelchairs; life expectancy is often shortened. Symptoms can include nerve/muscle problems, heart problems, and behavioral disorders and even facial characteristics which are thought to be caused by the disease--in other words, they are likely organic in nature. Some suffer from a diminished IQ--even retardation--particularly children who present with the illness.

I could write a lot at this juncture about my ex-b/f, but suffice it to say that I am very distraught over this. I spent most of yesterday trying to find out everything I could about the disease, and in doing so I stumbled across some links and studies that indicate that people with myotonic dystrophy can develop a certain cluster of behavioral traits which seemed to fit L, my ex, very well. Another study went even further and categorized these behaviors as often fitting the criteria for certain personality disorders, including passive aggressive personality disorder.

I have always felt that my ex was passive agressive, in the offhand sense one says someone is anal retentive. But when I looked at the symptoms for this disorder, it fit my "x" to a "t". Many of the behavioral and personality patterns that had caused so many problems for him, myself and others over several decades were described there to an UNCANNY degree--and had worsened in later years. These included his negative attitude toward work and authority which caused him to be fired from a job he'd been able to hold onto for 15 years, albeit with difficulty. Just as some of the physical symptoms (such as cataracts in his 30s) had been present for a long time, certain aspects of his personality that I'd lived with for many years were now spelled out for me in black and white. Aside from the bare-bones link above, another site went into much more detail about the disorder, and this also fit him perfectly.

Although it is probably wise to be skeptical about the fact that virtually everyone can probably fit at least some of the DSM criteria for something--and thus, perhaps, find an "excuse" for their maladaptive behavior--advances in brain studies have begun to show that many criminals seem to have organic brain damage. For example, sociopaths may have deficits in the part of their brain which regulates impulse control and empathy for other's suffering. So what kind of moral/existential dilemma does this present us with? When it comes to our brains, is there such a thing as true free will?

In any case, this situation has made me think even more about the nature/nurture dichotomy in mental illness, and wonder how much of the difficult behavior I'd experienced with L over the years was really "himself" versus a disease-- in a very real, undeniable sense. I also recalled that his older brother, who seemed to share some of the same personality traits, had died quite suddenly several years ago. Since an autopsy was never performed, the cause of death is pretty much of a mystery.

I think It is only human nature to try to explain and categorize human behavior so as to make some sort of sense of it--while at the same time trying to determine if a given trait is preordained or can be modified--or both. Religious people might explain homosexuality as a sin; some may feel the person is possessed by an evil force, while others may view it as a wholly deliberate and voluntary choice . Astrology, which I happen to believe in at least to some extent, categorizes people according to the time and place of their birth. Each sign has traits which can be embraced in a positive or negative way, according to the individual's self-awareness and will.

In psychology and psychiatry, there is also a conundrum concerning nature (and hence, more pessimistic determinism) versus nurture. Although psychoanalysis tended to focus on environmental factors, especially early childhood experiences, now the pendulum has swung around to the point where the answer to many disorders seems to involve drug therapy--and thus the presumption that one's disorder is a least partially beyond one's control.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that I had recently done my own little psychoanalytical analysis of L's behavior. I thought I'd figured out why he was the way he was--it all had to do with his family and childhood experiences, or so I thought.

I will probably post more on this, but I just wanted to say that I appreciate everyone's comments here to date, and I will go back and respond to all. Right now I'm a bit distracted though, so please do excuse me.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Autumn in New York...

Shortened Skyline
Originally uploaded by *Your Guide.
...and 'tis the season for the terrorists who have a hankering to attack our city yet again. I thank the Higher Power that we have Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelley--along with the FBI--on the case.

Magnificent obsession, Part 3

so fresh
Originally uploaded by taniwha.

Let me just start by saying this: I love the internet to pieces. I have a massive hard on for cyberspace. I want to have Blogger's children.

Here's one reason:

In looking up info on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Wikipedia was quick to note that there is another disorder that is often confused with OCD, but is in fact quite different from it--Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). A link was provided, and I clicked on it without further ado. Bingo, bango. Instant gratification for a psycho looking for more symptoms to classify other weird people--or even myself.

I was quite intrigued by what I read about OCPD--not simply because it seemed to (perhaps) fit Robo-dentist, but also because, yet again, some of the symptoms matched behaviors I'd exhibited myself.

Here's what Wiki-poo had to say:

"Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), or anankastic personality disorder, is a personality disorder that is characterized by a general psychological inflexibility, rigid conformity to rules and procedures, perfectionism, and excessive orderliness.

"Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is often confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While the names sound similar, these are actually two quite different disorders. Those who are suffering from OCPD do not generally feel the need to repeatedly perform ritualistic actions (such as excessive hand-washing), while this is a common symptom of OCD. Instead, people with OCPD tend to stress perfectionism above all else, and feel anxious when they perceive that things aren't "right".

"People with OCPD may hoard money, keep their home perfectly organized, or be anxious about delegating tasks for fear that they won't be completed correctly. There are few moral grey areas for a person with OCPD; actions and beliefs are either completely right, or absolutely wrong. As might be expected, interpersonal relationships are difficult because of the excessive demands placed on friends, romantic partners, and children."

"Diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV-TR)

"The DSM-IV-TR, a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders (see also: DSM cautionary statement), defines obsessive compulsive personality disorder as a "pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost

shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met)

is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity)

is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification)

is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value

is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things

adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes

shows rigidity and stubbornness

"It is important to note that while a person may exhibit any or all of the characteristics of a personality disorder, it is not diagnosed as a disorder unless the person has trouble leading a normal life due to these issues."

Once again, my psycho-ego swelled, as I realized that this disorder seemed to fit me to a "t" during the era when I worked in a non-profit publications office for many, many years.

I started in publications when I was going for my MA in British and American lit--in my early twenties. My first boss was about 10 years my senior, and was an exacting workaholic. Although he could be quite charming, he was also very moody, especially when under deadline pressure.

From the beginning my approach to my work was super-perfectionistic. I proofread and checked everything thoroughly. It would typically take me a lot more time to perform my tasks than it would for a "normal" person. I was terrified of making a mistake--the thought of fucking up terrified me. I found it hard to throw away anything, and wrote incessant lists. My file cabinet bulged with reams of paper devoted to ancient projects; when I moved from office to office I lugged around cartons of obsolete crap, most of which I would never have occasion to use. Although as I moved up the "ladder" I sometimes had to delegate, I felt much more comfortable doing it all myself, so it could be done the "right" way.

I had a moralistic attitude toward work, feeling that I was "superior" to those who did not dedicate unpaid overtime--as well as part of their weekend--to toiling away to get everything done perfectly and thoroughly. I looked with derision at the nine to fivers who were not beset with anxiety and the compulsion to put their jobs ahead of their life. I loved to talk shop to whoever would listen. Since my (now) ex boyfriend didn't want to think about work after five, I turned to another workaholic pal to commiserate with. We spent many a long evening after work (when we could tear ourselves away) downing pints of Bass at my fave bar a few blocks from the office, smoking endess cigs, and dissecting fellow employees. I loved to discuss their shortcomings and ways I was being "fucked over" by those less dedicated to the "cause" than I was.

When I had to delegate, it always involved written step by step instructions detailing exactly how I wanted the task to be accomplished. This way, I had it all in writing, so there could be no misunderstanding.

Seven years and a few modest promotions later, I was the boss's "right hand woman." Although he sometimes said I was "too meticulous," in essence he valued this quality in me, along with my fierce work ethic. My job was inextricably tied up with my self-esteem.

The most difficult and stressful tasks for me were those that involved ambiguity and the responsibility for determining the accuracy of what would go into print. We were a small, busy office with numerous tight deadlines, but I couldn't compromise or sacrifice absolute perfection for alacrity.

Long story short, after many years of being the helpmate of an exacting workaholic and trying to be the perfect little worker, I wound up having a "breakdown" and being hospitalized for a four weeks. It took me several months to get over this trauma. It was my first major depression (with extreme anxiety), and was followed by my first hypomanic episode. On the heels of that came another major depression, but the second time I did not have the luxury of checking myself into the nuthouse for a rest cure--I had to work, albeit in a very dysfunctional and semi-vegetative state. Needless to say, my work relationship with the boss who had once admired and depended on me was never the same.

The incident that triggered this breakdown came after I took over the second-in-command position when someone left. One of my new responsibiliites was overseeing two book-length college bulletins. The work involved was immense and quite detail intensive.

My boss had been pressuring me to get this bulletin done. It was way behind schedule, and our client--the grad school dean--needed the book for their students, since it listed all courses and requirements for the new academic year. I'd delegated some of the work to others, but one day became convinced that I'd given incomplete instructions and consequently that the whole bulletin was riddled with errors. I was afraid, for example, that some of the course numbers for prerequisites for a particular class might be incorrect--the end result being that many students' academic careers would be ruined, and that our office would be ruined as well, with everyone losing their jobs--all because of me.

My boss, totally exasperated, tried to point out that a bulletin with some errors in it was certainly better than having no bulletin at all. But I just couldn't see that at the time, and it was off to the loony bin for me.

It was all a delusion, and my reaction was quite extreme (but not unprecedented). But now, viewing the OCPD criteria, I realized that my work behavior back then seemed to conform, at least in part, to the DSM definition provided by Wiki-P. Perfectionism, rigidity, difficulty delegating, reluctance to discard old files and obsolete paperwork, preoccupation with details to the extent that I couldn't see the forest for the trees, excessively devoted to my job, moralistic about perceived "slackers"--here was the younger Elvira in a nutshell.

Years later, I read a book which supported the hypothesis that the glass ceiling for women existed in large part because, being brought up female, they were playing a different work game than their male colleagues. Women were generally encouraged to be helpmates, to be "nice," to put others ahead, to not be too assertive about what they wanted. They assumed that in the work world, they would be rewarded for their efforts in the same way they were at school--you toiled and did what the teacher/prof asked. Your hard work was recognized and rewarded with a good grade--all without stepping on others' toes.

Nevertheless, since expectations and limitations for women were changing, many sought a career rather than just a job. They naievely assumed that hard work alone would get them ahead, and didn't understand the corporate (mostly male-driven) politics of the white collar world--especially the swimming with the sharks mentality.

They didn't realize that when one spends all their time with one's nose to the grindstone, by the time one finally looks up from their paper-laden desh they will likely find that they have been left behind while others who have paid attention to things like networking and schmoozing moved up the ladder. While they might be busy taking copious notes in a meeting as if it were a college lecture, others left their pads and pens untouched and studied body language and the kinds of messages that were so eloquent yet left unsaid.

Here were the women who had worked for many years in a low level position, helping and teaching younger men the ropes--only to watch as these ambitious men moved up and out thanks in part to their help. These were the women whose offices looked like a paper factory, with sticky notes stuck to the computer and bulging files piled high on their desks--while the VP's office was virtually pristine and paper free. These were the women who couldn't understand how inept people could actually retain their employment--perhaps because they helped their boss look smart in comparison or served some other political function that hard working women could not perceive. And so they often found themselves, year after year, overworked and underpaid and underappreciated--figuratively if not literally making the coffee while others made the vital decisions.

Although the office and the organization I worked for was a "kinder, gentler" non-profit, with a fair number of women in power postions and a disproportionate number of women in middle management positions, this more female driven work culture nevertheless rewarded those who knew how to take time out to schmooze with their colleages and superiors--to get themselves known. They seemed to know what women like I did not--that despite toiling away til 9 or 10 pm while the boss and most co-workers had left hours ago, there was no one there to note their excessive toil, which often included crossing every "t" and dotting every "i." . They did not tend to toot their own horns, and didn't realize that they might be sacrificing efficiency for perfectionism--thus wasting their own valuable time and often losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Well, enough about me and onto Robo-dentist. Did she fit enough of the criteria for OCPD to be fit into my little diagnostic box?

From what I'd seen and heard, Robo-dentist did appear to be obsessed with a rigidly followed agenda of strict order and procedure.

She seemed to concentrate on unnecessary details, thus losing sight of the main goal of her job description (i.e., fixing teeth). Instead, she favored admonishing BG about the dangers of smoking, writing furiously at her keyboard about BG's art, and xeroxing entire catalogs where BG had shown her one page of a painting that had been included.

She seemed to be perfectionistic in the sense that she couldn't successfully complete the task at hand for fear it would not conform to her rigid standards (thus the temporary fillings).

And what of the criteria for rigidity and stubornness, and the reluctance to delegate unless her way of doing things was scrupulously adhered to?

BG had told me on more than one occasion how Robo-dentist interacted with her assistant. A typical exchange might go like this:

"M, could you kindly mix me the number 32 and the number 46 adhesive? I'll need these in about two and a half minutes."

This would be followed by the unvarying denoument, delivered in an alarmingly roboesque, sing song voice:

"Thank you so much for your help. You assistance is always greatly appreciated!"

Then the two and a half minutes would expire. Robo would suddenly switch gears and blurt out like a crazed drill seargent. While keeping her eyes glued to BG's mouth, she would abruptly fling her right hand out toward her assitant, and bark loudly:


As far as rigidity and stubbornness, BG told me that in addition to her master plan to separate BG from all his teeth (she spent a lot of time "filing teeth down" in order to fit BG for upper plates), she seemed insensitive to his needs in other ways.

BG might complain that a tooth was cracked. Typically, Robo-dentist would give it a cursory glance, and then say, "And now I'm going to do what I want to do." Then she'd proceed to work on more temporary fillings.

Moreover, the fact that this was a personality disorder implied that the problem was much more insidious and pervasive than OCD. Someone can wash their hands a lot in secret but still be an otherwise "normal" human being. Robo-dentist did not appear to be much of a human being at all. Her personality was not really a personality, but a collection of tics and compulsions. I had little doubt that once she changed out of her surgical scrubs and went home, she did not morph into a wild and carefree party animal. I had no proof, but I believed this as surely as I believed that Dubya had the brains of a lobotomized chimp.

So how does BG feel, in the final analysis, about Robo-dentist? Though I've urged him to ask questions, to complain to her superiors, to do something other than be a victim of her Robo ways, he refuses to do so.

To BG's mind, being "nice" is a quality that lets him forgive a multitude of sins.

BG, being a genuinely nice person, will invariably go out of his way to be "nice" to others. This takes the form of bringing cookies and candies, and other freebies to every encounter with a group, and sometimes as an offering to authority figures.

Thus, when we joined AA, BG immediately proceeded to bring in coffee, cookies, and other treats for the group. However, this did not transform AA assholes into grateful folk. Same situation when he briefly joined an art studio and the Art Student's league, to have contact with other "artists." The result was that predatory people would immediately spot him as a sucker and walk all over him. If he gave a cigarette or spare change to a broken down vet at the VA, his reward would be that henceforth he would function as a human cigarette dispenser or change-distributor. BG used to load his pockets up with change whenever he went to the Bronx VA, in anticipation of all the schnorrers who returned his kindness with constant demands for more. Some of these vets had pensions equal to four times what BG had, but they seemed to always have empty pockets nonetheless.

In the case of Robo-dentist and other doctors, BG would always strive to please. He was friendly and courteous; always on time; always respectful. Although this often worked nicely, it also meant that he was more prone to inferior care since he dared not question the procedures of any doctor.

BG is finally catching on, though, to the notion that being "nice" does not always mean you are nice deep down. Ted Bundy seemed "nice" to a lot of people. Sociopaths specialize in being "nice" for their own ends.

And so it was that when BG came to the dental clinic recently for an emergency visit after yet another tooth rotted out and had to be pulled, Robo-dentist wandered through the waiting room, spotted BG, and said: "Mr. BG, what are you doing here?"

He explained that he had a tooth that was hurting and had to be pulled.

Despite the fact that BG had always made allowances for Robo because she was so "nice," albeit weird, he was surprised to find that Robo didn't seem overly concerned about his plight, but instead advised him to see one of the emergency dentists on call. No "Oh, Mr. BG, I'm so sorry you're in pain. Let me take a look-see." On top of that, I firmly believed that her "temporary filling" schtick might be one of the reasons BG was about to lose yet another tooth.

Despite all this, BG plans to do what he does every year around Halloween (which happens to be his birthday): bring Halloween candy to Robo at his upcoming appointment.

I am helpless to stop this behavior. BG is as stubborn as a mule about these things.

The most I can hope for is that Robo dentist gets cavities from the candy, and that her dentist gives her some temporary fillings in turn. Then, one fine day, when all her teeth have been pulled, perhaps her hubby, who specializes in dentures, can fit her with a nice full set of choppers--which I'm sure will be "greatly appreciated."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Magnificent obsession, Part 2

madhouse, part II
Originally uploaded by *Stephanie.

A few days ago, fueled by vodka and "herbal supplements," BG and I talked deep into the night about Robo-dentist. I was determined to solve the mystery of her eccentric "personality." Together, we probed further and marveled over the repetitive rituals, the odd mannerisms, the unnecessary and time wasting nature of much of her "work" routine.

Then it hit me. Although Dr. U seemed like a visitor from another planet, she suddenly appeared to be shockingly similar to someone I deeply love, cherish, and respect. In other words, me.

Robo-dentist, c'est moi!

As I've admitted before, in addition to episodes of major depression and a history of bipolar disorder (aka manic depression), I also have a third diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder-- courtesy of my shrink. And what might this disorder be all about?

Many people will check their stove once or twice or make doubly sure they've locked the door before leaving their house. Sometimes people will be boarding a plane for a two-week vacation and suddenly be gripped by fear that they have left their iron on. The anxiety is well-founded--leaving the stove on, the door unlocked, or the iron on can cause dire catastrope.

BG and I are both very cautious in this regard. Before we leave his apartment, everything is checked and double checked. Then BG will joke--ok, cig butts smouldering on the carpet, stove burners turned on, oil-soaked rags on top of the burners--we're outta here!

Done within reason, these little double checks can be a very practical habit. My ex-boyfriend (I call him the anti-BG), on the other hand, was so careless and lacksadaisical that he would often leave his wallet or keys behind on top of his desk when he left work for the day. After we broke up, he called me one day and said he couldn't find his keys in the apartment, despite the fact that he'd let himself in, so I had to get a new copy made for him. Last Thanksgiving, he left for the weekend and returned to find that the fire department had broken down the door to our coop because someone reported smelling gas. He insisted that he hadn't left any burners on, and maybe he didn't. But I know the boy way too well to completely discount the possibility.

In any case, those with obsessive compulsive disorder take this practical habit to the next level, and then some--until it becomes an impractical, time devouring nightmare. Here's an excerpt from a more "official" definition, courtesty of Wikipedia:

"Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological disorder, specifically, an anxiety disorder. OCD is manifested in a variety of forms, but is most commonly characterized by a subject's obsessive drive to perform a particular task or set of tasks, compulsions commonly termed rituals.

"OCD should also be distinguished from the similarly named but notably different obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which psychiatric guidelines define as a personality characteristic rather than an anxiety disorder.

"Modern research has revealed that OCD is much more common than previously thought. An estimated two to three percent of the population of the United States is thought to have OCD or display OCD-like symptoms. Because of the condition's personal nature, and the lingering stigma that surrounds it, there may be many unaccounted-for OCD sufferers, and the above percentages could be even higher.

"The typical OCD sufferer performs tasks (or compulsions) to seek relief from obsessions. To others, these tasks may appear simple and unnecessary. But for the sufferer, such tasks can feel critically important, and must be performed in particular ways for fear of dire consequences and to stop the stress build up. Examples of these tasks: repeatedly checking that one's parked car has been locked before leaving it; turning lights on and off a set number of times before exiting a room; repeatedly washing hands at regular intervals throughout the day....

"Obsessions are thoughts and ideas that the sufferer cannot stop thinking about. Common OCD obsessions include fears of acquiring disease, getting hurt, or causing harm to someone. Obsessions are typically automatic, frequent, distressing, and difficult to control or put an end to by themselves. A sufferer will almost always obsess over something which he or she is most afraid of. People with OCD who obsess over hurting themselves or others are actually less likely to do so than the average person.

"Compulsions refer to actions that the person performs, usually repeatedly, in an attempt to make the obsession go away. For an OCD sufferer who obsesses about germs or contamination, for example, these compulsions often involve repeated cleansing or meticulous avoidance of trash and mess. Most of the time the actions become so regular that it is not a noticeable problem. Common compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning; checking; hoarding; repetitive actions such as touching, counting, arranging and ordering; and other ritualistic behaviors that the person feels will lessen the chances of provoking an obsession. Compulsions can be observable — washing, for instance — but they can also be mental rituals such as repeating words or phrases, or counting.

"Most OCD sufferers are aware that such thoughts and behavior are not rational, but feel bound to comply with them to fend off fears of panic or dread. Because sufferers are consciously aware of this irrationality but feel helpless to push it away, OCD is often regarded as one of the most vexing and frustrating of the major anxiety disorders."

All I can say is, boy, do I ever know about OCD.

Although my symptoms are quite mild compared to what they have been (intermittently( in the past, I first began to exhibit the signs of OCD when I was still a kid. My version of OCD hell included repeated hand washing, stove checking, door locking/unlocking, faucet tightening, repeatedly checking that I'd signed and filled out checks correctly, fear of accidentally scowling at someone and thus offending them, and gazing down subway tracks to make sure I hadn't inadvertently brushed into someone (despite the fact that I hadn't, the obsessive fear would enter my mind), thus causing them to fall and become electrocuted by the third rail or hit by an oncoming train.

Perhaps some of my initial childhood OCD was a result of my father's well-intentioned warnings about some of the hazards of life. He advised me never to eat pork that wasn't very well done, for fear of contracting horribly painful and sometimes fatal trichinosis; not to eat any candy that had white streaks in it, for fear that "dope fiends" were trying to get me hooked; and avoiding swollen or overly dented cans for fear of botulism.

In any case, thanks (probably) in part to antidepressants I take which sometimes also work for OCD, my symptoms are a lot milder now, although they tend to increase when I'm under stress.

So in talking with BG about Robo-dentist, it suddenly occurred to me that she might suffer from OCD as well. Maybe she disappeared for twenty minutes at a clip to scrub her hands raw. Maybe she felt compelled by OCD to repeat the Listerine mantra every time a patient crossed her path, whether it was a new "victim" or one she'd been seeing for years.

BG resisted this notion, and indeed, on second thought, it did seem like Dr. U's behavior was more inextricably bound up with her bizarre "personality" in a more global way. Most folks with OCD are as furtive and private about their rituals as possible. The result is that other people may never be aware of their condition. Typically, OCD characteristics do not infiltrate the gestalt of one's overall persona in the way that Robo-dentist's all-too-public quirks seemed to have done.

So it was back to the drawing board once again. I was absolutely determined to uncover the mysteries of Robo-dentist. After additional research, I believe I finally got Dr. U's number. It was a disconcerting discovery, because--yet again--I, too, had exhibited some of these same characteristics!

Next time: The SHOCKING and RIVETING revelations that finally decipher the bizarre enigma that is Robo-dentist!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

And now, a word about my (non) sponsor

Sherman boy
Originally uploaded by Elvira Black.
Before continuing on to part 2 of Magnificent Obsession, I wanted to write a few words (in addition to the thousands I have written thus far in this blog) about my boyfriend BG, his art, and his attitude regarding my blog.

A few months ago, I began to incorporate some of BG's expressionist portraits into Shithouse rat. On occasion, I also managed to persuade BG to take 10 minutes or so to draw a funny illustration for a blog post. One example can be found here.

Nevertheless, I haven't utilized BG's art here in awhile. As far as the paintings, I generally have to do a post that somehow relates to the portrait at hand--be it Ezra Pound,, Humprey Bogart, Sid Vicious, or other notables.

BG never pressed me to post his art, but I thought it would be a nice addition to my blog. Since he didn't have a formal portrait of Dr. U (lol), I thought it would be funny as hell if he did a quick sketch of her in her surgical scrubs to accompany my latest piece.

But BG is a man of many moods and mental states. Being a schizo, he tends toward paranoia at times. Although I read him the post below during a night of partying, and he liked it, the next day he decided that he disapproved of me using my blog to "cut people down"--especially people he dealt with. He then started railing about the fact that I, too, had complained on occasion about my dentists or doctors. Although he'd told me many VA horror stories, he didn't like me to rub his nose in it. And always beneath the surface was the fear of getting into some sort of "trouble" for things I posted.

Though BG is an artist and I am a writer, I've never pushed my work down his throat. He doesn't know squat about computers, and he likes to refer to my beloved Mac PowerBook (aka Herman) as "that stupid toy." He thinks I waste a lot of time blogging, and is definitely jealous of the time I invest in Herman and my blog. Deep down, I'm sure he understands, but he loves to kvetch nonetheless.

Since I don't take the time to print out most of the pieces I blog about, he hasn't read that many of them. Once in awhile I'll read him one, and though he insists he'd be more than happy to see them all, he's not exactly on his knees begging to peruse them either. Since I often bare my blogger soul here, I've remarked to him more than once that regular Shithouse readers probably know more about me, in a way, than he does.

Nevertheless, I love him dearly--and that is a vast understatement.

So, although it has no relevance whatsoever to Robo-dentist, here is BG's portrait of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, the burner of Atlanta, who coined the saying "war is hell." Since I name a lot of BG's works, I like to call this one "Portrait of the Artist as General Sherman"--not because it looks like BG (though in a way it does) but because something of BG's persona seems to shine through in this portrait, as it does in all his works.

And indeed, Sherman's grim, stubborn, fierce, determined expression is very similar to BG's visage when he refused to indulge me with an illustration for my latest post.

Yes, General Sherman, "war is hell." But the reason I spend so much time on my blog dissecting crazy, weird, nasty, and bizarre folks like Robo-dentist can best be summed up with another quote--this one courtesy of Jean Paul Sartre:

"Hell is other people."