2 men from an Agency

And a Woman

Somewhere in somebody’s file, the CIA or the FBI, or perhaps both, there is a picture of a young woman, 24ish holding a cigarette and a latte, wearing a blazer, leather shoes, fake nails, and a scowl.  This woman would be me “marching” in a pro choice march.  Why was I scowling?  I was scowling because I was working full time and putting myself through school.  I had about 20 units left to go.  Even at 24 as immature as I was, I was somewhat pragmatic about money.  Nothing costs societies, across the globe, more money than an unwanted child.  And, and, why did I feel I had to protest in favor of getting health care.  Isn’t everyone pro affordable health care?

I am 60 now and I have continued to participate in pro choice, uhm, gatherings over the years and at 27, I had an abortion myself.  I have often imagined the discussion that might transpire between the two analysts who might have been reviewing my file over the years.

Early Monday morning, Jim and Paul are reviewing tapes:

Paul:  “Oh thanks for the coffee Jim.”

Jim:  “No problem, Paul.  Would you look at the scowl on that young woman’s face.  What is she? 20? 25?  shouldn’t she be out having fun or something?  Why the hell is she even out there on a Saturday morning.”

Paul:  Chuckles and says  “She’s out there because she thinks that she can ‘make a difference ‘.”  

Jim:  “Oh right, like we thought we’d be making a difference when we became analysts or admin in a spy agency.  Now that Suzie’s pregnant I’m just happy for the good medical benefits.”

Both men chuckle and make the appropriate notes in the file.

3 years later.

Jim:   “Wait, haven’t we seen this one before Paul?  Oh yeah, here she is.  She’s been attending protests for years and now the pro life folks are protesting against her as she crosses their line to get into the clinic for an abortion.”

Paul:  “Christ, Maureen was telling me that her friend Deborah went to get an abortion in Tennessee and they had armed guards outside the clinic.  Armed guards!  Can’t these people get jobs or something.  Or, I know!  Can’t they do something interesting that we can monitor?”

Jim:  “I’m not sure which one we’re supposed to be monitoring, the pro life protesters or the pro choice protesters or the ones getting an abortion.  Well, this one, this one’s ven diagram overlaps two of those.” 

Paul:  “I know.  This is not a good day for her.  Hey, who’s that person in the picture who dropped her off?”

Jim:  “She looks like an aunt or something.” 

Paul:  “She looks stoned.”  

Jim:  “Good on her, this can’t be fun for anyone.”

Paul:  “Well, how’s the baby?” 

Jim:  “Justin isn’t a baby anymore, he’s a toddler and doing great!  We tried for a second one but there were some issues with the fetus and Suzie had to go in for a DNC.” 

Paul:  “What’s the difference between a DNC and an abortion Jim?”

Jim:  “Hell if I know, but it’s been really tough on Suzie, losing that child.  Tough on both of us, truth be told.  But we have Justin and we’re keeping it together for him.  We’re going to try again next year.”

13  years later.

Paul :  “There’s our girl again.  Didn’t she get married at some point?”

Jim:  “Yeah, she did, to a Scotsman.” 

Paul:  “Foreigners!  Take our jobs and steal our women!”

Jim:  “Well, the file shows that he had a very flexible relationship with the job thing so he wasn’t stealing our jobs.  Maybe that’s why our girl/woman got rid of him” Jim

Paul:  “Hmmm.  Wonder where he is now?”

Jim:  “Back to his homeland it says here.  Oh!  it appears that she’s ditched the leather shoes and blazer.  She’s becoming a bit of a slacker.  Baseball cap, sunglasses, no more fake nails.”

Paul:  “Shit, Jim, look at this!  she’s working in cyber security, for the phone company no less.”

Jim:  “Paul, maybe we should have gone to work for the phone company.  Maybe we’d get more interesting spy work than watching these protesters on tape, year in, year out.  I wonder what kind of spy stuff she gets to do.”  Jim  

Paul:  “Well, the phone company does feed us quite a bit of our intel.”

Jim:  “Mighty white of them, isn’t it?”

Paul :  “Yeah.”  “Jim?  You know I’m black, right?”

Jim:  “I do.” 

2017

Paul:  “God these people are relentless.”

Jim:  “They are.  I don’t know how they find the energy”

2021

Paul:  “Well, Jim, I’m retiring next week”

Jim:  “Me too, me too.  Thank God we don’t live in Texas.  DC has been hard enough with constant politics but I’m starting to believe that the Texans are crazy!”

Paul:  “You know better than that Jim, it’s a few that make the most racket.” 

Jim:  “And the laws.”  

Paul:  “True that.  And here’s our girl.  She’s a grandmother now, you know. ”

Jim:  “I wonder if she still thinks that she’s making a difference.  “

Paul (smiling):  “I hope she does.  If people like her didn’t protest the whole country would be like Texas.  On the other hand, maybe we’d have something more interesting to track.”

    Jim:  “True that.”

Thank God I’m A Man

Indeed, good for you doctor, good for you.  I had emailed because I was having trouble with “vaginal dryness”.  Ugh, vaginal dryness sounds so barren, but that’s what I am now, barren.  Jules had said that there were hormones for this and Dr. J, had concurred but he said it was time for me to come in for a checkup so why didn’t I book an appointment and he’d prescribe the meds then.

There was something else that I had been wanting to discuss with Dr. Jones and this would be a good time to do that.  When I was going through pre-menopause, or perimenopause I had quite a time with being cranky.  I had to end conference calls early, before we had addressed all of the action items because the men were just too infuriating.  I’d hang up and say to myself, was John Pryor being more annoying than usual?  No, he was his usual self.  Was Walt Bingham more “knowing” than usual?  Nope.  Was Cass more pompous?  Not at all, he was his usual charmingly pompous self.  So why?  why? Were they getting on my nerves?  The best I could come up with was hormonal changes.  My period had started to become inconsistent and I was having a bit of an issue getting enough sleep and I WAS CRANKY.  I mentioned this to my next door neighbor and she had been having these issues as well, but her doctor had given her something for it.  I went in to Dr. Jones and asked him to do something for me.  He had me take a blood test and since I was not in *the range* for menopause he had nothing but prozac to give me.  I was already on prozac so it was suggested that I up my dose.  Although I did do this, it wasn’t really the solution.  Anyhow, I’m through menopause now, for the most part, the moods have evened out and I wanted to let Dr. Jones know what had transpired in the hope that he, as “one who caters to the health of women” could use this information to help other patients who had experienced the same thing. 

Dr. Jones  is my age? maybe a few years older.  He’s done quite a bit of volunteer work in the community with abused women.  He owns a halfway house for recovering women.  I had mentored one of the women who had gone there.  A friend of mine had been going to him for years.  I’ve been going to him for years.  He’s usually pretty jolly and goes up and down with being a bit fat.  Sometimes his pants need hemming, sometimes his lab coat has a coffee stain.  He’s one of those comfortable looking people.

Anyhow, I’m in the stirrups, set position for a pap smear if you will, and I start to tell Dr. Jones about how I felt I should have had some  treatment for my menopause symptoms when I was having trouble, something for him to think about with his other patients.  I was matter of fact, not mean, not sarcastic.  I think he had made a bad call and needed to know it. He taps my knee and says “hold on just a second”  he turns towards the window, which I am just now noticing, has the blinds up.  Oh, but the windows must be tinted.  Did that person walking across the street just look up into this window and spill his Starbucks all over himself?  I think he did.  Dr. Jones turns towards the window, arms up over his head and says, “Thank God I was born a man!”  

Oh.

He then turns back to me and says that all of the gynecologists coming up behind him, “I am a dinosaur”, are women and that they should be able to figure this out.  And yes, “Menopause is hell.”

Well.

He then proceeded to tell me what he was doing for Thanksgiving and  asked me about my holiday plans while he continued with the exam.

Time for a new OBGYN.

Tom, my husband, has found this so hilarious that he has taken to spontaneously throwing his arms over his head and exclaiming “Thank God I’m a man!”  on his way to the bathroom, or getting coffee, even tying his shoelaces…

Breasts

Last week was a week and next week is going to be a  week as well.  I will be delighted to have this boot off of my foot.  Just delighted.  A month of no real exercise and I’m a bit stir crazy.  I know that some people just go forever without exercise and they’re all good with it.  I so don’t get that.  I just don’t get it.  And the spoiler alert is that everything did turn out fine.  

On Tuesday, I had a mammogram.  And it was the same gal I’ve gotten a mammogram from for the the last three years.  I’m sure she doesn’t recognize me from year to year, I’m just another set of breasts coming through, but she’s always delightful and chatty and she’s the only one doing my breasts, so of course, I remember her.  Perhaps I was imagining her being quiet, I don’t know, but that night I got a call and an email to make a second appointment with the Martinez clinic.  I was told that I had to go to the Martinez campus because they could give me the results of the mammograms while I was there.

Off I went on Thursday, to Martinez, to the Hacienda building.  The appointment was for 11:40.  They had me change into a hospital gown and wait in a room that had a fountain, snacks and a Keurig machine.  I think that they were going for a spa feel: trying to ease the tension for these women who were being tested for cancer.  There were three other women in the, like a spa but not, “Women’s Restorative” room, and they were looking kindof glum.  One of them was an old woman who was very scared.  All that I could get from her mutterings was that a family member had died of cancer and she just didn’t know, just didn’t know what she was going to do if she had cancer.  Fair enough, it’s not the best way to spend time.  

I was called in by a radiologist tech who was lovely.  She had a turban/scarf type of thing with a knot in the front and some lovely tattoos, she was charming.  A bunch of pictures were taken and then back to the “Women’s Restorative” room I went.

It’s 12:30 now.  

I waited and had a snack, lowfat granola bars, and was called back in by another women who took more pictures.  This radiologist was about my age, short red hair and the cut, the cut on that hair was PERFECT.  I haven’t worn my hair that short in a while but it takes a good cutter to get one that PERFECT.  

“Front, left side, right side, lean a bit forward, hold your breath now breathe.  “

Ok, fine and back to the, like a spa, but not, “Women’s Restorative” room I went again. 

1:00

The original appointment was for 11:40 and we’re running past 1:00 now.  I’m getting hungry.

Two radiologists have had their lunch and I’m on my third technician.  The third one speaks English as a Second language.  I can’t tell if her first language is Mexican or Tagalog.  Regardless, she too, has a lovely demeanor and I’m really hoping that this will be the last set.

Lots of pictures being taken and sent to the doctor who is viewing them in another room on a different screen.  At one point the technician, in positioning me, darn near scrapes my sternum up between “the paddles” YIKES!  That’s not part of the breast!  

Extra pictures need to be taken of my right breast and she puts a pink glittery pasty thingamajig on my right nipple and continues to squish and click away.  She’s having me pull my gown back because she thinks that it is causing distortion on the pictures.    

She tells me that something just isn’t quite right,  there’s some sort of shading on the picture, “would you like to take a look?”

“Sure, I’ll see if I can help you out.”

Well, the line, was the shadow being cast between my very squished right breast, and my right shoulder.  Also, the top of my jeans was somehow floating off of the bottom of the xray.

Oh!  and yes, we sure can see the nipple in the picture now, now that it has that pasty on it.  And… keep in mind, I still have the boot on my left foot from the hammertoe surgery from earlier this month.

I was proud of myself for not saying something about how the top of my jeans could not have been distorting the pictures because, after all, the stomach is not anywhere near the breast and has no way of photobombing these photos even if it tried.

I showed the technician how the shadow was on all of the photos (only not as pronounced, as I was not being, uhm, positioned so enthusiastically before)

And, I could only wonder how it would have looked to someone looking in on this.  The patient, pasty clad nipple pronounced, while gown is off of right shoulder, hand on hip, pointing out bits and pieces of my bits and pieces to the technician.

At some point the doctor pokes her head in and thanks me for being a “good sport”.

1:30

I’m allowed to dress and told to go into the “consult” room which is next to the like a spa, but not, “Women’s restorative” room.  The consult room has a lovely couch with throw pillows, a plastic cross section of the breast but no snacks.  I’m really hungry now.

The doctor comes in and tells me that there are calcified cells in both breasts.  One cluster is two centimeters and one is three centimeters.  Because I have fibrous breasts there is not a lot of contrast between the calcified clusters and the rest of the breasts in the photo.  If there were more of my breasts or more fat in my breasts the photos would have been easier to read.  The calcified cells have nothing to do with how much calcium I consume.  When I  tried to make a joke, “so if I had more breast to photograph, if they were bigger had a bit more fat it would have been easier to read the photos?”  The doctor’s response was “no, fat is bad”.  Ok, then.

The doctor asked if I had any experience with lanacane or topical numbing agents and I replied, “like what they use when I get botox and filler?  sure, not an issue”  again, not a smile.

The biopsy technician came in with a basket of snacks, lowfat granola, baked potato chips and bruised fruit.  Yeah!  And tried to give me an overview of what she would be doing, unfortunately all of her pamphlets were in Spanish, but, the gist is, I’ll be lying on a table with a hole in it and they reach under and take a biopsy.  I’ll have this done on both breasts.

This may already be more information than you want, but there’s a wee bit more.  Tom was working from home that day and when I came home he was concerned that it had taken soooooo long.  Fair enough, it had taken long.  His response was that of an engineer, problem solving male.  

“You know what?  that might be good for you!  the no breast thing!  and  I love you!”  he then enveloped me in a  bear hug and then went back to work.

I think I”ll be fine, no cancer in my family history, but next week the schedule goes:

Monday – botox/filler

Tuesday – pins taken out of my foot and boot comes off

Wednesday – lots of bubble baths

Thursday – biopsy (no bubble baths for 3 days)

Friday – hair cut.

I should have the results sometime the following week.

After surgery

Went to the oncologist today.  They really treat you with kid gloves in that department.  It’s as if, as if, they have to give quite a few people really bad news.  The stationary in the the cancer packet they gave me was decorated with confetti, like the invitation to a little kid’s birthday party, but it still, just didn’t get to that party feel.

The doctor came in.  I’m pretty sure she was from China.  She had on some ballet flats with no show socks that showed, alot.  She had a little kid’s barrette in her hair.  She was accompanied by a Physician’s Assistant, who was gorgeous and dressed, well, like a professional.  They both greeted me with the double hand handshake.  You know, the handshake with a comforting hand on top of it?  that one.  The doctor opens up my file on the computer and she squints at the screen and then she looks at me and back to the screen again and says “this is a horrible picture!  I wouldn’t even be able to recognize you from this.  Get another one taken.”  The PA winces and I say, “Ok”.

The doctor then goes through the different proactive medical treatments that I can avail myself of, if I wish.  The mass was benign and no cancer was found but just by virtue of having that mass puts me in a higher risk category for having cancer and there are some, steps that you can take if you want to be more proactive.   The medication she mentioned had some severe side effects and I can’t remember all of the details.  It didn’t seem to me that her heart was really in it for these treatments either but she had to make sure that I knew about them.  She then looks up from my chart and says, “you don’t take much medication.” 

I replied, “no, the bulk of what you’re seeing is wrinkle cream”

She asked “does it work?”

Not So Zen

I knew the day would come when I would not be able to run anymore.  I was a long distance runner for forty years.  It was my go to for handling stress.  Bad day at work?  I went for a run.  Argument with my boyfriend, husband, mother, shopkeeper?  Go for a run.  A new promotion and barely able to contain my excitement?  Go for a run.  Newly engaged?  run; Newly divorced? run;  A couple of years ago I had to have surgery on my left foot and I can’t run anymore.  The knees, the hips and the feet complain.  So the day has come and I’m a mature woman now.  I can deal with life’s little ups and downs without literally running around. Right?

We are coming up on a year into the pandemic and I really want to go for a long run.  The last twelve months have brought, out of control wildfires, a coup attempt and the very real risk of losing our democracy.  I retired six months ago and Tom, my husband, retired four months ago.  We like each other and somehow, our portfolio has continued to grow during this turbulent time in history.  So it doesn’t all suck, but I continue to have some anxiety which I thought would be 100% relieved once the new administration came into office.

Things I have done during the last year to keep my spirits up.  I bought eyeshadow.  I wore eyeshadow as a young woman but rarely wear it anymore as an “adult”.  I had to use  a magnifying glass in addition to my reading glasses to read the back of the color palette before I could apply it.  I bought some new perfume from Avon.  Don’t laugh, Avon has good perfumes and they’re affordable.  Tom came through the living room the other day and looked at his perfumed well made up wife reading on the couch with her dog, her dog who smells literally like a seal, and just gave me a startled look.  “What?”  I asked.  “Oh nothing, nothing,” he responded, giving me a backward glance as he passed through the living room. 

Now, I walk a lot.  Tom and I walk 8 miles three days a week and then I walk at least 4 on the other days.  Walking is a “safe” way to socialize during the pandemic.

I’m in a writing group with some very talented writers and this has been wonderful and awful at the same time.  It’s harder work than I realized and even when I’m not writing anything of substance it seems to be a slightly soul wrenching exercise.

I’d like to go see the grandkids in New Jersey.  I’d like to have coffee with Julie and P.  I’d like to josh around with Julie’s boys and go backpacking with Frances.  I’d like to take a trip to celebrate retirement with my husband.

I’ve taken up playing tennis again.  This has literally been hit or miss, no pun intended.  Fewer courts are available than I remember from when I played so many decades ago and my game is quite rusty.

I took a tennis lesson last week and it was really great.  Bam! Bam! Bam! I was hitting balls and the young instructor was responding with a guttural “Yes!” each time I hit the ball correctly.   I’m 59 years old and I really thought that I would have developed a more zen approach to anxiety than literally running around and or hitting things by now…

So it’s all good, all good really.  The coup didn’t materialize.  I have money in the bank.  A vaccine for the covid 19 has been developed, and in less than a year!  And it is being administered.  But still.  

The hammertoe on my right foot is starting to bother me.   I went to Kaiser on Monday to get my second shingles shot and have the right foot x-rayed.  As I’m leaving the building a man, about 45, white, is giving two young nurses, one Black, one Mexican,  both darling, a hard time for taking his temperature and asking him the standard questions they must ask before letting him into the building.  He’s laughing and saying, ‘fine, yes, I’m fine, how are you?” in a snarky way.  He’s bullying them.  “Oh, ok, sure” he responds as they ask him, “Sir?  could you please pull your mask up over your nose?”  I’m watching this dickhead as I leave the building and I’m thinking.  I should just stop and give him a good kick up the butt.  I’m wearing cowboy boots, I have strong legs but I can’t remember which foot is my good foot for keeping balanced.

I knew the day would come and I really thought I would be more mature by now, that I wouldn’t feel compelled to run around and hit things when I’m under stress or feeling free floating anxiety.  That’s what I thought.  But, I’m not.

Little Red Riding Hood

Fairy tales are… horrifying.  About five years ago, my Mom sent me a print of little red riding hood facing off with the big bad wolf.

In the print, little red is about ten years old.  She has on a dark red peacoat and a dark red knit cap with a little white pom pom on it.  She has dark hair.  She is wearing ankle high hiking boots with red socks.  She is wearing an expression on her face, not of anger, not of fear and not of defiance but merely of acceptance as she looks over her shoulder at the wolf.  She is holding an AK47.  

When I opened the print I laughed out loud.  Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.  Don’t be mad if the wolf threatens you, that’s what wolves do.  Just be prepared.

When I called Mom to thank her she said,  “Well, it is your color, that red.”

I ordered a t-shirt with the print on it and gave it to a friend of mine who was working at Homeland Security at the time.  She loved it, of course.

I showed the print to an engineer I was working with.  He is a right wing and he lives in North Carolina and in spite of our differences we had always worked very, very well together.

When he saw the print he said,  “Martha that is so you and did you notice she has a secondary?”

“What”?  

“A secondary in her basket.  She has a Glock in her basket.”

“Oh my GOD I missed that! Thanks Chris for pointing that out.”

“Well, thank you for sharing the picture with me Martha, it made my day.  Really, always a pleasure.”

“You as well Chris, you as well.”

This year, I couldn’t believe that Mom actually sent up a Christmas box.  There’s an awful lot of crap in the box, always, and a few Christmas decorations. The usual assortment of paperbacks that she’s already read, my favorite, and this year there was an extension on the little red riding hood theme.  One was a pen and ink print of a baby red riding hood sleeping safely in the tail of the wolf as the wolf howls at the moon.  The red cap is the only thing in the print with color.  There was a pair of fun red riding hood socks as well.  The capper was a refrigerator magnet that had little red riding hood and the wolf enjoying a picnic tea on a blanket.  There is a rose in a bud vase and they are drinking tea from a cup and saucer.  Red riding hood has a little bottle of poison off to the side, out of sight of the wolf, just in case…

I know that there have been theses written on the symbolism of Little Red Riding Hood.  The loss of innocence, the dangers that young girls face.  I delight in the depiction of little red taking her power.  The AK47 and the Glock, the little bottle of poison.  But I still miss, in my heart, that the loss of innocence has to come so early for so many.  

You didn’t Actually Say that… Did you?

“But of course, you didn’t really say that, did you?  You wouldn’t”, says Maris.

“Well, yeah, Maris, I did.” I respond.

This is the second time in as many days that someone has said this to me.  Granted, it was in reference to two completely different situations.  I was driving home from playing tennis and I had to stop behind Maris on Jennie Court as she had stopped her car to chat with another neighbor.  Maris finishes up her chat and pulls forward to the top of her very steep driveway.  I park in my driveway and we’re both in our cars hollering across at each other when I decide perhaps I’ll get out and we can converse like civilized people.  Maris is about 5’8” and today she’s wearing, olive green capri pants with little buttons at the cuff, penny loafers, a puff vest and a black knit t-shirt underneath.  She’s let her gorgeous short curly hair go grey and she has that lovely mediterranean olive complexion that I would kill for.

So we’re yacking…  

“I was telling Moira that I’d use her to refinance if it was something I needed.” says Maris.  Our neighbor, Moira, has just re-entered the workforce as a mortgage broker.

“I know, us too, we’re so fortunate.” I respond.

“Aren’t we?”

“Yes, we really are.”

Anyway, you aren’t there yet but my Dad, my Dad was always so careful and now that he’s paid off his condominium, and he’s in his 90’s you know.”

“I do.”

“So I do grocery shopping for him and I’m on the credit card so I can do that and he says,  ‘Why don’t you take you and Jim out to dinner?’ and I respond, ‘But Dad, no, we don’t need it.’  And I want him to spend it on himself but there’s more than he can spend.’”

“Ah, it reminds me of Margaret,” I say.

“Margaret?”

“Yes.  You know, we’re all naked in front of our accountants.  And Margaret was one of the elderly clients of the law firm I worked for.  I’m in my mid twenties. The law firm had quite a few old ladies as clients.  And Margaret, well, there we were one day and I’m running the numbers and she wanted to know how many years she could afford to keep living. “

 This is where Maris jumps in and asks “you didn’t tell her did you?”

I have Margaret seated at my left and we’re going through her accounts.  I’m right handed and running the ten key with, well, my right hand.

Margaret is talking about whether or not she should/could take her grand niece on a cruise.  

“Well Margaret, we can look at the numbers,” I say as I key in her annual expenses and then multiply that by twenty.

“Margaret, you’re eighty five now aren’t you?”  we both know how old she is.

“Yes Martha, we both know how old I am.”

“You have gorgeous skin,” I say.

“Thank you, I have taken good care of it and stayed out of the sun.”

“You’ve been better about that than I have,” I respond.

“Yes, I know,” she says.

I look over at Margaret, her hair has been set and styled. Her hair, nails, and lips are all a perfect shade of peachy apricot.  Margaret is wearing a beautiful slide bracelet.  I’m wearing one too.  Mine is a watch with a slide bracelet type band.  Mine came from Avon and where mine has rhinestones, Margaret’s has diamonds, rubies and a real tiger eye stone on the back of her turtle charm.

“And you like this grand niece?” I ask as I pull the tape off of the ten key and show her the run rate for the next twenty years. 

“Yes I do but she’s a little man crazy.”

“I understand that, and you know , ‘you will never come this way again’” I say and smile.

“Yes, I’m sure you do. And was that a quote? You made the coffee today didn’t you?”

“Yes, from a song, and yes, why do you ask?”

“Well, it’s pretty strong,” says Margaret.

“Oh, more cream, some hot water in it?”

“No, it’s fine, but I don’t think that you’re getting enough sleep, maybe that’s why the coffee is so strong.” 

“I do like it kindof strong, you’re not the only one who has complained.”

“So was he worth it?” asks Margaret.

Good god I think, she’s going to ask me about my sex life or comment on my sex life.  Not that that’s appropriate but I did just run the numbers on her life expectancy being 105, like, she can go on this cruise and if I’m going to address her mortality well fair is fair.

“Well…” I respond.

“And we both know how old you are as well, so maybe you can be a little more…”  she just lets that one hang.  So not only my sex life but my fertility as well.  Nice!  I am in a constant state of confusion over how and why so many people think that just because someone is old that they’re sweet.  None of the old people I know are sweet.

“And, you will never come this way again either.”

“True that Margaret, true that,” I can’t help but wonder if she has somehow gotten my mother’s phone number.

“So as you can see, Margaret, the numbers are pretty clear and if you want to take this cruise, well, it’s up to you.  All of the investments are doing well.  Are there any changes that you need me to make to the accounts?”

“No, Martha, I think that’s all for today.”

“Shall I call you a cab?”

“No, Vincent drove me.”

“Oh, tell him ‘hi’ for me and let me walk you out.”

“I will and thank you”

“It’s always a pleasure seeing you Margaret, it really is.” 

“You as well Martha and think about what I said.  Time is of the essence.”

“Yes”

Margaret was one of my favorites and when she needed to know how many years worth of living she could afford… I told her.

Jeans

I went online to Costco to see if I could pick up a pair of jeans and I could.  I went ahead and threw them in a cart with one click and then went to check out and realized that the cost of these jeans was $99.  How could that be?  Did Costco have a problem with their website?  Weren’t these the Kirkland brand jeans?  Hold on, hold on, these were “J jeans”  I had no idea if this is a real brand.  I googled it.  It is.  It is a real brand and these jeans sell for over $200.  If I was pissed at ripping a pair of $70 jeans that I had owned for five years I sure as hell wasn’t going to purchase a $200 pair of jeans even at 50% off and then venture into the vegetable garden.  Ok, I’m not even working anymore so let me see what I can find on thredUp, an online used clothing store.  Got it, a pair of straight leg jeans for $16 that will do.  The jeans arrived and fit and looked fine but the front pockets were faux pockets.  Ok, huh.

In my googling for jeans I came across an opinion article in CNN titled “FINALLY, These are the jeans women REALLY need.”  I took the bait.  I didn’t realize that this was a national crisis issue, a crisis being addressed by a professor of communications no less. Come to tell, with the pandemic and weight gain and people just running through their final reserves of fucks to give, that working women, read this to mean all women, are opting towards high waisted relaxed fit jeans.  They just can’t do it anymore, they just can’t pour themselves into skinny jeans to look good to run errands or even eat a meal in.  This is nice.  The author was encouraging women to make comfort the new norm.  Exchange the pencil skirts for flowy skirts.  I’m curious as to how this will work or if it will work.  I remember watching  an interview with Sheryl Saunders and I was distracted by her constantly tugging at her pencil skirt.  The skirt was a gorgeous royal blue with a soft wrap around blouse, she looked lovely but… 

I think that it is facile to say “just do it ladies!”  The woman who famously championed “take a seat at the table!” isn’t even dressing comfortably.  I think that we dress to impress and to compete and attract and make statements.  I think that men do it as well but they are not judged as harshly on their appearance as women are so the bulk of them don’t have to or even care to give it much thought.  

Wait, there’s more.  Slate also had an article on women’s jeans this week.  So much is going on in the world that I’m a little startled by how much print this topic is getting. 
 
‘ “The biggest mistake any brand or retailer can make is to assume that they know what customer product priorities will be when they come out of this period,” a VP at a trend-forecasting company told Harper’s Bazaar of the near future in fashion. 

The New York Times says we’re in an era of high-rise jeans; Vox claims low-rise jeans are cooler. ‘

Since we haven’t dressed for a year so what will we choose?  Just what will we, the consumer choose?  The high waisted boot cut jeans are getting a lot of press.  But wait, those look like flairs to me.  The article goes on to warn you not to confuse these with flairs.  Clothing producers are weary and wary of producing too much of anything but skinny jeans are out.  Everyone is in agreement on that.  How come I see skinny jeans everywhere I look?  

I’m sharing this with my mother and she says, “High waisted flares are in.  That’s the fashion forward look.  Of course traditional cut Levis will always be in.”  she’s adamant.  This from an 85 year old woman who has consistently dressed like a reformed nun, Clarks walking shoes and vests with pockets, for the past 30 years or so.  To be fair though, she does stay au courant in spite of her own sartorial choices.

In retirement I have been sewing and playing with sewing knits, tricky.  I’m enjoying the colors.  I don’t know if I‘ll ever wear black again.  As mentioned, I’m struggling with the knits and I found a website The Last Stitch and it’s hosted by a Swedish woman who swears by these two tools for working with knits, an awl, yes, you read that correctly and a rubber mallet.  She showed how some people use a special walking foot for feeding the knit fabric through the machine but “I, I prefer the awl, Look!  See! More control!”  I’ve tried it, she’s right,  and then the rubber mallet.  To make the neckline or the waistband lay flat, make sure you clip a notch right here” (she clips a notch on where the fabric is folded) and then bam! Bam! Bam!  “see?  All flat! It works!”  I haven’t tried the rubber mallet yet, but I will.  She’s written a book on how to sew jeans.  I mention this to my husband Tom.  “Wouldn’t that be a pain in the ass?  With the rivets and everything?” he asks.  Well, yeah, but I’m thinking that the fun of using a rubber mallet and making a pair of jeans just might be more than I can resist. 

Before I go any further I check in with Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer prize winning writer at the Washington Post.  Ms. Givhan does social and fashion commentary.  Since this appears to be jeans week I wonder what she has to say.  Nothing, her column is on how all lives matter and that was validated by the guilty verdict on Chauvin in the George Floyd murder.  

I’m going to buy the men’s Kirkland jeans, they only make them for men, and tailor them with my awl and rubber mallet to fit me.

We’re Mad Miss Martha

But Miss Martha we’re mad! we’re mad all the time and anyhow, we’re nice to you!”

“Kayla, you girls ran your teacher out of the school, off of the job.”

“But we’re nice to you!  We’re always nice to you!”

“That’s because you have to be.  I’m a volunteer.  I can’t come to the school without a teacher here and you just, you just ran her out of town!”

“But we’re mad!”

I don’t blame them.  They’re nine and ten years old and they’re all having their periods and their after school teacher this year, well she really thought a whale was a fish, but still… 

This year’s group of girls have been unmanageable.  I asked the principal, Ms. Zoe, “Is it my imagination?  Or are the girls just AWFUL this year.  I don’t even know what to say.  They’re AWFUL!”  

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she says, “I just want to put them all on a vegetarian diet and make sure they get lots and lots of exercise.  I really don’t know what to do.”

Ms. Zoe is tough and compassionate.  I had been volunteering at this school in East Oakland for six years by then and the nine and ten year old girls were just my favorites.  I LOVE that age.  Each year more and more of the girls in this age group were having their periods, were in adolescence.  Nine and ten year old girls.  This year, I think all but two were in adolescence and they were tough.  I could not get them to sit still and focus.  They had become unruly, even for the seasoned educators.  I would sometimes drum with the girls at the beginning of their after school program to get them all focused and settled.  The drumming periods were lasting longer and longer and they weren’t getting settled.  Not to mention that the drumming kindof scared the 22, 23 year old student teachers.

Something that nobody talks about, is that once a girl’s chemistry changes, the way the world views her changes.  So, she’ll be looking at greeting cards in a drugstore and look up and realize that a grown man is staring at her.  That man, that man, might not even realize he is doing it.  We are animals, pheromones are in the air and you are no longer a child in the animal world.

Most of us, men and women, don’t pay close attention to this.  Once, when I was tripping may way to menopause I was just about ready to cycle into one of my final cycles.  I was at the Y early one morning.  There I was, in my one piece bathing suit, my fins, the socks I wear with my fins to keep from getting blisters, my goggles, and my swim cap.  Really, nothing to see here.  I was swimming laps and some guy,  the guy I was sharing a lane with was like waiting for me when I’d touch off to start a new lap.  He was an ok looking guy, age appropriate-ish.  A little younger than me, but whatever, and he was a regular swimmer.  So, I go to do a flip and he tries to get some small talk in “Nice flippers!” ,  “The water is warm this morning, isn’t it?”  that sort of thing.  At some point I might have stopped to let him yack.  I didn’t take my goggles off.  A couple of weeks later I pass him in the gym and I’m invisible.  I am at the pool and not even a nod.  It was all a chemical thing, nothing to do with anything.  That’s the sort of attention these little girls were getting at nine.  Nine and ten years old and getting that kind of attention.

So the girls were cranky.  I couldn’t blame them.  Oh!  and yes, these girls lived in a high crime area.  The school was regularly put on lockdown because of shooters in the street and the school, an elementary school, had guards who wore bullet proof vests.  The girls were a bit distracted.

Sure, there had always been a cranky few.  

“Ms. Martha, Maria is cranky today because she didn’t get enough sleep last night, there was gunfire.”  

“Maria, did you want to go rest in the nap area?” I ask.

“Yes,” she responds.

But this year, they were all cranky.  And mad.

I’m sitting in my office as I type this.  An interoffice memo just came in encouraging us to all “stand for equality”.  This from the management team that campaigned for the President who promotes inequality.  I digress.  I’m emotionally exhausted.  I have a Masters Degree in Cyber Security Operations and tonight I’m working on a new prototype for my plague pin.

  • A copper shaft because copper’s anti microbial
  • A purple crown – purple is healing
  • A heart because it’s our strongest organ
  • A diamond pave arrow – strongest gem pointing in the “right” direction

Fraught with symbolism is my pin.

It feels like an exercise for a nine year old girl, not a middle aged professional woman.  But I’m mad and I’m sad and I have written lots of letters, made lots of calls, attended lots of protests and I don’t know what to do anymore.

Please message me directly if you would like a pin. Any and all donations will be forwarded to Girls, Inc. of Alameda County.