The Injured List

The Injured List

The doctor mouths “four to six” in answer to my question. Her eyes say more: I’m sorry, there’s no fixing this.

“Four to six weeks?” I whisper back.

“I’m ordering physical therapy and pain management at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.”

I tell her I hate that place. The truth is I’ve never been there. The MRI shows a tear in the muscle connecting my thigh to my groin, the gluteus mimimus. Oh, and attendant flexor tendonitis. It feels like all the knives in the drawer have been thrown at my right leg. I look for hope in the word “inflamed” as if it’s a fire to be extinguished. The doctor assures me steroids reduce inflammation, but pain remains until the muscle heals. She arranges for a wheelchair to fetch me. 

“Is this what puts baseball players on the Injured List?”

“Yeah. This kind of injury puts them out for the season.”

Major League Baseball has two Injured Lists: the 10-day IL and the 60-day IL. Players move off the active roster and onto the IL depending on the prescribed recovery time of the injury. NY Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom spends a lot of time on the 10-day IL. He says he doesn’t know what he does to cause the tightness, tendonitis, and soreness in his various body parts. Well, I know! He’s throwing, running, reaching, stretching, swinging.

Not me.

All I do is walk the dog and water the geraniums. 

This is the summer we all break out of our pandemic packaging, swing our arms around the human race and make big, unmasked plans. As soon as we notice our freedom shoes under the bed, we meet the day like it’s Christmas morning. After spending fifteen sheltered months behind closed doors humped over Zoom squares, curled around books and squinting at TV subtitles we’re ready for the party.

I’m supposed to be riding my bicycle to newly reopened lakeside hot dog stands and hip new coffee shops. Instead, the IL calls for friends to share their leftovers and homemade cookies at my table.

I’m eager to get out and do what I did 18 months ago. I ignored the caution to start slow and go slow in reinvigorating muscles that weakened during the shutdown. Kaiser Health News published a lengthy article about “older Americans struggling with physical, emotional and cognitive challenges following a year of being cooped up inside.” Nina DePaola, Northwell Health in New York, warned that getting back in shape may take time. “Pace yourself. Listen to your body. Don’t do anything that causes discomfort or pain. Introduce yourself to new environments in a thoughtful and measured fashion,” she said.

Thoughtful and measured pacing eluded me as the city gardens came into full bloom. I walked farther and faster. I did nothing to injure myself. Neighbors who see me now with a walker offer a simple hello. If anyone asks I say I slid into third.

Now each painful step is involuntarily thoughtful and measured. I shelter in place dreaming of freedom.

Microaggression and Blackbirds

Long ago someone told me pigeons are flying rats and I’ve never bothered to think differently. Pigeons have discovered the bird feeder on my balcony. I shoo them away but they lurk on the ledges of the building across the street and return when they think the coast is clear. A single red-winged black bird, one-fifth the size of a pigeon, will scare a pigeon away from its breakfast on my windowsill.

 Red-winged blackbirds can be aggressive in defending their nests this time of year.

Red-winged blackbirds nest in Chicago parks. The males chase intruders — other males, crows, raptors, and people. I wandered down Michigan Avenue the other day to check on the migrating flock that sets up housekeeping every year in Lake Shore Park. Though I readily observe one or two red-wings at my window, there’s nothing like watching a flock dive-bombing unsuspecting dog walkers who pass under their nests.

On the way, I clutched my bag as I passed the Louis Vuitton store. I funneled myself between the ever-present queue around the store and the narrowing sidewalk. Lines formed outside Louis Vuitton and other high-end stores when Covid Shutdown rules required a limited number of people inside. And for the umpteenth time this year I noticed my silent microaggressive thoughts on Black people. Where do these people get the money for four thousand dollar purses? 

Covid Shutdown coincided with the proliferation of online free programs about white privilege, implicit bias and microaggression. For the first time in my old life I’ve been made aware that my whiteness affords me privileges such as crossing paths with a policeman without fear, a privilege Black people don’t have. I’ve discovered that fear of Black men is an implicit bias that governs where I live, eat, shop and travel. Microaggression is a bit trickier to face. Awareness of clutching my bag as I silently scorn Black people lined up at Louis Vuitton is a start. 

On a recent anti-racist zoom program, I learned about workers in the “informal” or survival economy. These are the bucket boys. The handymen. The loose cigarette sellers.The sex workers. The retail money-launderers. Until recently I thought of informal workers as criminals, and not as resilient, courageous, burdened and traumatized spirits of the survival economy. 

A dapper old pensioner sits in a busy park near my building. I know he’s often short on rent, the way you know these things about the neighborhood. He palms a bill in the hand of every passing informal worker: the Streetwise peddlers, the panhandlers, the street people. He’s the only person I know who still carries cash. I used to think he was not only foolish with his money but that he actually hurt people by providing cash for booze and cigarettes. I now think of him as the buddha, the christ, the manifestation of noble kindness. 

I’m receptive to changing my thinking about people.

But not about those pigeons.

___________________________

‘Nature’s A–holes’ Are Back: Red-Winged Blackbirds Attacking People Along The River As Nesting Season Gets Underway

Microaggression and Blackbirds

Long ago someone told me pigeons are flying rats and I’ve never bothered to think differently. Pigeons have discovered the bird feeder on my balcony. I shoo them away but they lurk on the ledges of the building across the street and return when they think the coast is clear. A single red-winged black bird, one-fifth the size of a pigeon, will scare a pigeon away from its breakfast on my windowsill.

 Red-winged blackbirds can be aggressive in defending their nests this time of year.

Red-winged blackbirds nest in Chicago parks. The males chase intruders — other males, crows, raptors, and people. I wandered down Michigan Avenue the other day to check on the migrating flock that sets up housekeeping every year in Lake Shore Park. Though I readily observe one or two red-wings at my window, there’s nothing like watching a flock dive-bombing unsuspecting dog walkers who pass under their nests.

On the way, I clutched my bag as I passed the Louis Vuitton store. I funneled myself between the ever-present queue around the store and the narrowing sidewalk. Lines formed outside Louis Vuitton and other high-end stores when Covid Shutdown rules required a limited number of people inside. And for the umpteenth time this year I noticed my silent microaggressive thoughts on Black people. Where do these people get the money for four thousand dollar purses? 

Covid Shutdown coincided with the proliferation of online free programs about white privilege, implicit bias and microaggression. For the first time in my old life I’ve been made aware that my whiteness affords me privileges such as crossing paths with a policeman without fear, a privilege Black people don’t have. I’ve discovered that fear of Black men is an implicit bias that governs where I live, eat, shop and travel. Microaggression is a bit trickier to face. Awareness of clutching my bag as I silently scorn Black people lined up at Louis Vuitton is a start. 

On a recent anti-racist zoom program, I learned about workers in the “informal” or survival economy. These are the bucket boys. The handymen. The loose cigarette sellers.The sex workers. The retail money-launderers. Until recently I thought of informal workers as criminals, and not as resilient, courageous, burdened and traumatized spirits of the survival economy. 

A dapper old pensioner sits in a busy park near my building. I know he’s often short on rent, the way you know these things about the neighborhood. He palms a bill in the hand of every passing informal worker: the Streetwise peddlers, the panhandlers, the street people. He’s the only person I know who still carries cash. I used to think he was not only foolish with his money but that he actually hurt people by providing cash for booze and cigarettes. I now think of him as the buddha, the christ, the manifestation of noble kindness. 

I’m receptive to changing my thinking about people.

But not about those pigeons.

___________________________

‘Nature’s A–holes’ Are Back: Red-Winged Blackbirds Attacking People Along The River As Nesting Season Gets Underway

Coming Out

NPR reporter Monica Eng posts traditional homemade dishes on Instagram for every holiday. When I spotted her photo of colcannon, I recalled that on St. Patrick’s Day in the before-time I would hop the downtown bus to The Gage restaurant for their annual version of colcannon. Colcannon is a peasant Irish dish of potatoes mashed with butter, cream, cabbage and onions. 

In 2020, Governor Pritzker shut down St. Patrick’s Day and all restaurants for a month to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Illinois. Our watering mouths were abruptly slammed shut not for a month but for the year.

Let’s have lunch! I messaged Mark this St. Patrick’s Day. We entered the same bus at different locations. Pandemic bus culture dictates you huddle in your seat and never look around. We didn’t recognize each other’s masked faces until we lined up by the bus driver at our destination. We hadn’t seen each other since the beginning of the shutdown.

The Gage is near the recently reopened Art Institute of Chicago. Mark and I could have visited the Art Institute after lunch but I dared not mention it. I’m not accustomed to “going out” yet and I needed to take it one occasion at a time. The Gage is only two miles from my home and I already felt like I was on an out-of-town excursion.

I’ve spent as much time in The Art Institute and the nearby Harold Washington Library than almost any public space in Chicago. Long before I even thought about writing my own book, I loved to see and hear authors talk about their writing in the womb-like Pritzker Auditorium at the Library.

In the year before the shutdown, the Member’s Lounge at the Art Institute was my favorite haunt for eavesdropping on conversations. I’d grab a coffee, find a seat and nonchalantly leaf through the delights in the oversized art book from the latest exhibit. I overheard couples argue over lunch plans, strangers flirt with each other and friends gossip about the get-ups of passersby.

Those best of days—lunch, art and authors—flicker in my memory like a moth dancing around a light bulb. The moth, and its cousin the butterfly, are metaphorically overused these days to describe how the vaccinated are acting after the year-long pandemic restrictions are gradually lifted. I get it. In order to get back in the habit of going out, my soul measures future steps, like an inchworm sprung from its cocoon. I loop up, edge forward, look around and take the measure of the awakening world, retreating when un-masked danger arises. Like the metamorphoses of the caterpillar to the butterfly or the inchworm to the moth, I suspect I’ll soon be free to flit about at will.

Molting Monarch Caterpillar

It can’t come soon enough. I’ve become an eating machine. If only my outer layers would molt like those of the voracious-eating inchworms and caterpillars. They need all the calories they can chew off.  

I don’t.

Month 11 in the Shutdown Lane: The Shot

Month 11 in the Shutdown Lane: The Shot

Remember “flattening the curve”? By March 15, 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic in Chicago threatened a shortage of hospital beds and medical equipment. The governor cancelled St. Patrick’s Day parades and temporarily closed bars, restaurants, schools, churches and stores. Dr. Anthony Fauci told us not to leave our homes except for groceries or medicine or to walk the dog.

“Look at the curves of other outbreaks,” he said, “they go up big peaks, then come down. We need to flatten this curve.”

Staving off the collapse of the nation’s health care system was dependent on the unselfish actions of the body politic: hand-washing, mask-wearing, not traveling and figuring out how to stay at least six feet from others. We were so afraid we’d end up in the makeshift hospital at the cavernous McCormick Place Convention Center that we followed shelter-in-place orders. The curve flattened. For a few weeks. Then it spiked. And spiked again.

On March 20, 2020, I wrote the first in a series of thirteen weekly blog posts, “Week 1: Life in the Shutdown Lane.” By June, I lost interest. Oh, I wrote about it, moaned about it. But as time shifted into months, I stopped marking the time in weeks.Untitled 2

 “Flattening the curve” left the public discourse. Some embrace staying at home. Some double down on mask-wearing and malign
those who don’t. Some defiantly refuse to be masked and mock those who are. And some pay no attention at all as if the rules don’t apply to them. And now, the only hope for this cowboy nation to fight the deadly Covid-19 virus is the vaccine.

The first vaccines arrived in Chicago in mid-December. Priority was given to health care workers and people living and working in long-term care facilities. When the sixty-five and over age group was able to line up, all I heard about on my ever-present Zoom chats were adventures of the shot.

I thought I’d sign up on my doctor’s automated scheduling system, but when I looked, the web page said they don’t do shots. “Click here” it suggested. I clicked there and nothing happened.

“Go on the Walgreen’s site,” a friend insisted. “If there’re no appointments, keep trying.” He’d exhausted himself getting up at all hours of the night checking for available appointments. He thought I should do the same.

“What’s the hurry?” I shrugged. “My life won’t change. Fauci says I still have to wear a mask and stay home.”

Hounded by the challenge, I succumbed to the bird-dog pursuit and registered on every site, not just Walgreen’s. When I received a phone call from Mariano’s pharmacy, I reacted like I’d won the lottery.

It may be a while before I go to the Art Institute, lunch with friends or linger in a grocery store, but after almost a year of restrictions, it sure is nice to have the freedom to do so.

Just the shot in the arm I needed. 

Shutdown Week 8: What Would Agnes do?

What would Agnes do (WWAD) during the coronavirus pandemic? Agnes had an uneasy way of placing wedge occurrences in her life, like being married, onto the long arc of outputhistory. Her pastimes, smoking and drinking, fit nicely into an imaginative destiny all her own. She believed she was meant to smoke, meant to drink, that they were a sign of the times and not to be missed because of some pollyannaish medical or social admonition about motherhood. Nothing would have stood in the way of her scotch, beer and Marlboros. She was destined to have them.

Along side the subliminal moral compass WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), I act and react from a Pavlovian response to my mother’s teaching, character and personality. WWJD helped replace a lot of the bad stuff with certain social mores, like not stealing and staying sober. Stealing and drinking came so naturally to Agnes that by the time it occurred to me my mother might be setting a bad WWAD example, she’d already shut the door on self-reckoning. And I had to suffer through reckoning of my own.

She would have loved being in the midst of a pandemic, entering the shutdown as if it were a fun house full of reasons to drink jumping out at every turn. If I had said we must social distance ourselves, she would have said, “Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” No earthly situation of hers held destiny captive. She would have known the virus and all that went with it were temporary disruptions to help justify consuming more alcohol, smoking more cigarettes.

It’s not that Agnes was a rule-breaker. It’s that the rules didn’t apply to her in the first place. She would not have adhered to mask wearing, six-foot distancing and certainly not staying in her lane at the grocery store. She would have swallowed up the news, argued over every tidbit, insisting she was right and driven everyone in the house to their corners.

Medical appointments cancelled? School conferences shut down? What a relief! Except for clothes shopping, motherly obligations drove her nuts. Curling up on the couch with her beer, cigarettes, a mystery novel or the New Yorker were her destiny. She raged against anyone who tried interrupting her routine or attempted to rearrange her destined spot in the universe. Being told to stay home would have been the only rule she’d have upheld and savored.

WWAD hasn’t left me completely. Cozying up to the couch reading mysteries and the New Yorker is fine with me for as long as it takes. I love her for that hard-wired legacy.

But thank God I’ve ditched the booze and the cigarettes.