all of the selves we Have ever been
During the COVID crisis, my naturally wavy hair grew. And grew.
Unchecked by professional shears, it grew to my collar bone and then below. Befuddled by this new freedom, the dead ends looked up and flipped out. A new hair style was born, or more accurately, re-born, in the image of Patty Duke or the bewitching Samantha Stephens, symbols of 1960s glamour.
My hairstyle became a new flip for my friends to poke fun at. The other flip is my old flip phone, that relic of the 1990s. I now top the list of the scorned--a walking stereotype of the uncool, incompetent older adult---a dinosaur with big hair. Fashion dictates that if I were smart, I would have a phone to match. But neither scorn nor style weakens my resistance. I persist with the flip.
I keep my flip phone for many reasons. I grew up in a mechanical age when things were built to last. We did not discard functional items that remained useful. New technology is constantly updated and expensive. I lack the interest, stamina, and financial resources to engage in the constant pursuit of upgrades. While I still can, I don’t mind getting up off the couch to turn on the television, lock the doors, and do internet searches on my desktop computer. I still love studying a map and planning ahead when I travel. Also, I see people addicted to their phones and unable to put them down in order to connect with the very real loved ones sitting next to them. I realize that I could easily fall prey to such an addiction along with the accompanying loss of privacy and dangerous distractions. My small flip phone meets all of my needs, and it is the perfect size. So, I stick with the flip. But those aren’t the only reasons. My persistence is strongly influenced by sentiment.
Our family was late to the mobile phone game. A forever memory is the day my son and I drove to the Verizon store to purchase our first family cell phone plan. When we got into the car after our purchase, Sam used his new flip phone to make the first call to his big sister, a junior in high school. Bursting with pride and delight, Sam said, “Em! We all got cell phones!” I could hear my daughter squeal with her own delight as I sat behind the wheel, my tear-filled eyes on the road ahead of me. As a single mom on a tight budget, it was a joy to be able to give this gift to my children. For years, they had been gracious and uncomplaining about the things that others had that they did not.
During the flip phone heyday, people still talked to one another. There seemed to be a seismic shift in connectedness when the smart phone took hold of our attention. I recall a more recent day when I and my colleagues gathered around a conference room table to say farewell to a retiring co-worker. Plenty of people showed up and there was an abundance of good food, but instead of visiting, reminiscing, and offering good wishes, almost everyone in the room played on his or her smartphone. The youngest ones made fun of their parents and others who still used flip phones. This precious time together, the last day with a beloved colleague, was spent asking silly questions of Suri and mocking Suri’s ridiculous answers. As members of the work group had a good laugh, someone we knew and cared for walked quietly out of our lives.
I recall learning that Alexander Graham Bell’s first words on his newly invented telephone were: “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” I take his words as proof that the telephone was not meant to be a shield to keep us apart, but a device to bring us together. It is in my old flip phone, that I can still see my children, locked in time, my son calling his sister on that joyful day. When I pick up my phone, I am summoning the people I love, “Come here. I want to see you.” When I pass people on the street with their earphones in place, talking into the wind, their side of the conversation overheard by strangers passing by, I mourn the loss of privacy and intimacy in our relationships. Have we become too casual, perhaps careless, with our people and our things?
As I write this, I think of all of the words that have reached through a telephone receiver: good news and bad, friendships grown and relationships ended, emergencies addressed. I remember a time when not everyone had a phone in her home much less in her pocket, a time when an operator was necessary to place a long distance call. I still remember the number to my grandmother’s ancient party line: KI6-5416, and yet, today, I do not know my daughter’s new cell phone number. I rely upon my contact list to dial it for me. And I think of my dad. I was seven years old when I picked up the phone and heard the international operator say she had my father waiting on the line. I pictured a long invisible thread stretching from our home in Ohio all the way to his duty station in Pakistan. “Will you accept the call,” the operator asked. My father had been gone long enough that I could barely remember what he looked like until I heard his voice. Come here, I want to see you.
For most of my life, my fingers did the walking—through the Yellow Pages and the White. Today, they dial and text, skipping across the keypad of my old flip phone. I know that it is a matter of time before my phone breaks or otherwise fails to magically transmit the voices I cherish. And still, I drag my feet like a reluctant witness for the prosecution, weighing my options, waiting for a better deal, keeping my eyes on the alternatives to a life of solitary confinement. Daily, the mockery and the pressure build…
But will I flip?
When we were teenagers,
"poise” belonged in the world of well-spoken valedictorians, reigning beauty queens, and spokesmodels, people who went to elocution classes and debutante balls. Awkward as most of us were in adolescence, poise remained painfully elusive.
Decades later, it turns out that time did not heal those old wounds. It created new ones. Just when we were finally beginning to feel more confident, the toilet was pulled out from under us. Poise no longer describes a person who is gifted with grace and elegant bearing. No, it means a person’s pipes are leaking, and not the ones under the sink. Poise is now the word used to describe the damp but “discreet and worry-free” older adult.
A friend recently described her efforts to cultivate this new form of poise. Off to Target she went for what she thought would be a quick trip. Little did my friend know, but a poise-seeker needs to come to the incontinence product aisle armed with a tape measure, graphing calculator, and an urban dictionary. And just a word of warning: do your homework. Some measurements should not be taken in the aisles of Target.
Poised to purchase, my friend surveyed the options: micro-liners, daily liners, light pads, original pads, moderate pads, maximum pads, ultra-thin maximum pads, original maximum pads, ultimate pads, ultra-thin ultimate pads, original ultimate pads, overnight ultimate pads.
Thickness aside, there were length options: extra coverage in three lengths, regular in five lengths, and heavy in five lengths.
Additional features to consider included no-slip wings, built-in side barriers, flex-loc core, fiber distribution layer, and comfort dry cover.
And then there was the leakage spectrum: LBL (light bladder leakage)? Drips? Spurts? Bursts? Surges? Streams? Gushes? My friend took a moment to absorb this new language of science.
On she went to determining the best combination of features…Trying to recall her high school calculus classes, my friend struggled to determine if this problem required the formula for a combination or a permutation. In any event, it seemed like there were thousands of possibilities. If she went too short or too long, she might not achieve the discreet and worry-free self she was seeking. Too short, she might have to deal with an unsightly wet spot, too long, and she might look like she was sporting the back fins of a 1959 Chevy Eldorado.
The ad says these products are designed “with your curves in mind.” Allegedly, they offer “peace of mind” – a new form of mind-body experience “with less bunching in the middle.” Additionally, the products “multi-task like a mother.” Like a real mother?
The good news is that poise can now be purchased which is easier than shaping your character. The bad news is that poise must now be purchased. After an hour in the aisle of Target, my friend completed her calculations and was ready to buy…Unfortunately, what mathematically seemed like the perfect choice was…you guessed it…out of stock.
“What’s not to love?” the advertisement asks.
I am poised to respond. How much time do you have?
I burned my cheek with a curling iron.
Two days later, the area below my left eye had swollen into a squishy lump the size of a baseball. Despite the pound of flesh, my hair still looked like hell.
Of course, this happened on a Friday. There were no appointments available at my doctor’s office. I made two attempts at nearby walk-in clinics. On the first attempt, everyone was out to lunch. By the second attempt, the clinic schedule was booked for the rest of the day.
Employing the three-strike rule, I went back to the bench. By then, the day was pushing into evening. I weighed my odds: the wound would either get better or worse. If it got better, I would save time and money. If it got worse, I would spend a large portion of the weekend and my 401(k) in the emergency room.
I placed my bet on good hygiene and “a tincture of time” as one of my former general practitioners used to say, and I went to the medicine cabinet. After reviewing my arsenal, I selected hydrogen peroxide to cleanse the wound and antibiotic ointment to treat it. These measures did not stop me from obsessively combing the internet instead of attending to my unruly hair. I spent a long, restless night convinced I would die from tetanus. Morning came, and I lived—a small victory for benchwarmers everywhere.
When we were kids, we suffered our injuries and left the sleepless nights to our parents. Back then, I would have slathered the burn with butter and got on with my day. If that wasn’t enough intervention, I would have retired to the couch with a soft striped afghan and an afternoon of cartoons. If my mother felt some sympathy for me, she might have brought me warm tea and cinnamon toast. If the situation escalated, the family doctor would have been consulted by phone or stopped by for a late evening house call. The family physician’s entire arsenal fit into a little black medical bag, a supplement to the basics we all had at home.
Home medicine cabinets contained far fewer germ-fighting, cough-suppressing, pain-relieving, age-reversing weapons than we have now. The first-aid kit of my youth contained a mercury thermometer, baby aspirin, and Mercurochrome. With luck, there might be a Band-Aid to spare if Chatty Cathy had not suffered a boo-boo while we were playing house. Most other healing agents were found in the kitchen: baking soda, a shot of whiskey, hot tea, honey, chicken soup, cinnamon toast, and butter.
Butter was certainly handy in the kitchen where most minor burns occurred, but I discovered that modern internet sites do not recommend butter as a treatment for burns because it traps in the heat and has no antibiotic properties. The exception to the no-butter-to-the-burn rule is when removing hot tar from human flesh. I will keep that in mind in case I prove to be a worse roofer than I am a hair stylist. In any case, I am happy to have a reason to keep butter around in the enlightened age.
Mercury-containing products were quietly escorted off the drug store shelves a long time ago, but my knees are permanently pink from Mercurochrome. I may have experienced brain damage from the mercury-laced antiseptic and from chasing those little beads of mercury around the kitchen floor when a thermometer broke. With all of that accumulated mercury and the trapped heat from so much butter, it is no wonder that I am a woman on fire. I now understand menopause and the stir-fried condition of my hair.
There was a time when health enthusiasts and food manufacturers tried to convince us that a new product, oleomargarine, was better for us than butter. I think the shift may have started during the mercury years. Eventually, margarine went the way of mercury. It proved to be worse for our health than butter.
Let’s face it, butter has staying power. From well-stocked grocery store aisles to ample, soft hips, no amount of fat-shaming or internet advice can turn us against butter. Speaking for myself, I can stand up to the saturated fat in beef and bacon. I eat those meats about as often as I attend a high school reunion. I am willing to remove the slimy skin and fat from chicken which is my diet’s protein mainstay, but the butter stays. I honor it by keeping it an old dish that belonged to my grandmother. I might portion it out in teaspoons like a heroin addict, but I don’t even pretend that I will give it up “tomorrow.”
I don’t need to read a recipe or to perform a chemical analysis to know if a dish contains butter. If the food is delicious, it contains butter. Quite frankly, I am astonished that butter does not require a prescription. Is it possible to be anxious or depressed while eating a soft, chewy brownie? How about the high that comes with eating a flaky, buttery biscuit? I am willing to live with the side effects.
After feeling the burn, my advice is to get a tetanus booster and a good haircut. Don’t put butter on your burns. Save the butter for the big stuff, the internal injuries—damaged egos and broken hearts. In the event of catastrophic injury, increase the dose and add a scoop of ice cream. If I am wrong about this advice, don’t blame me; it might be the mercury talking.