When Pamela tells me her two wolfhounds are her children, I believe my casual liking of them is not even a tenth of what she feels.
If we can’t go to Florida because of them, I have to hold my tongue and acquiesce. The logistics and cost of taking Ruby and Prince to Florida makes it not possible. Pamela does not want to kennel them for two months or even a week. One of her favorite dogs, Cassie, died in her sleep at a kennel while we were in Naples, Italy. So I dig in for winter and its shrunken social opportunities, its limits on physical activity and the threat of falls.
Elaine is our condo neighbor on our north side, Julia on the south. Elaine is a 50-something pleasant spinster who works as a nutritional researcher, utilizing small animals as her subjects, at the University of Minnesota. We talk shop now and then and I wish her luck getting grants, the financial means by which she survives. Somehow, Pamela came to dislike Elaine over the years. Elaine, both through the condo association and conversations with me, announced that she will be remodeling her two bathrooms and making them one. The work was scheduled to be done somewhere between February 1st and May 1st of 2019.
Pamela suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD, for which she is being treated with Lorazepam on a PRN (as needed) basis, mainly when her anxiety spills over into full-blown panic attacks. She takes Trazadone, an antidepressant and sedative, to help her get to sleep at night. She also takes Percocet in small amounts for various aches and pains, which also helps with her GAD. To top off her list of helpers, there is champagne. Pamela’s control over her caloric intake keeps her weight ideal and her figure surprisingly youthful and desirously curvaceous. She extends, to my relief, her mastery over her oral intake to the caloric heavy champagne, never drinking before dinner or when driving. On occasions when she over indulges she justifies doing so by claiming, “I am Italian,” which is a half-truth. She also sees a counselor once every three months, likes the lady, shares dog owner stories with her and gains limited insight. She has a multitude of constructive social encounters on Facebook.
What I have so far left out is her support from her animals. Pamela believes animals are often better than humans. They are loyal and, for the most part, not mean-spirited. Her animal world includes her two loving Borzois, Ruby and Prince Georgia Forepaws and a cadre of stuffed animals that include a Panda, a ring tailed lemur, a teddy bear, and a lion (a vegetarian like the ones in heaven).
When Pamela’s GAD is rampant, her memory fails her. “I’m just like my mother. She was 40 or so when she had an attack that lasted a year. She couldn’t remember how to peel a potato,” she told me once. In later life, age 75 or so, her mother couldn’t make new memories. But she always retained her sense of humor, her brash outgoing attitude, her appropriate emotional relationships, and even her captivating letter writing skills. “She couldn’t hear or see, so how could she form new memories!?” Pamela rightfully points out, though concern lingers that she also had some form of dementia. Does Pamela have her mother’s problem forming memories? Does she have dementia? Or, does she, like her mother, simply lose the capability to function when in a severe GAD state? How I hope for the latter. Thankfully, time and time again Pamela recovers from “memory loss” and is sharp as a tack. “Just that darn old GAD again causing pseudo-dementia!”
Two memorable provocateurs of Pamela’s Gad attacks: The first, a yearlong dental reconstruction project involving her whole jaw that caused temporary facial disfiguration. The second, being confronted in public by her long-term piano teacher claiming that she deliberately missed paying him for two lessons. Pamela could hardly find her way home from her piano lesson she was so in shock.
Now Pamela is suffering from premeditated fear of the noise Elaine’s construction will cause. In Pamela’s mind Elaine’s construction project is meant to harm her. A GAD attack erupts and not totally without cause. Elaine’s bathrooms are on the same floor as Pamela’s TV, computer and study room, where she spends an inordinate amount of her waking hours. Her computer time is mostly dedicated to her Facebook friends, most of whom she connected with through Jimmy Swaggart’s Ministry, beamed on TV as Sun Life Television. She has followed Jimmy off and on for some 40 years. Pamela is also a newshound: Fox News used to be her favorite station and catastrophes her favorite topic. Plane crashes and deadly fires beat the band, but tornadoes and tidal waves were okay too. While avoiding all movies with trailers claiming violence, she somehow makes excuses for her magnetic attraction to real life disasters.
Pamela tries to mark the location of Elaine’s two bathrooms on our shared wall. I tell her to knock on Elaine’s door and ask to see the location of the bathrooms. She identifies my irony. It is suspected that the bathrooms start about five feet west of Pamela’s study. She contacts two home remodelers and finds out that there is no effective way to dampen the construction noise. But, in any case, the noise won’t last for more than two days. Pamela is frantic; she searches the internet for suitable sound insulation. Nothing practical shows up. She then searches our condo and locates sheets of foam from G-d knows where, collects all unused blankets, quilts, pillows, couch cushions and sheets and begins constructing a wall made of her gatherings on our shared wall with Elaine, hammering her collection to the wall and the door of her study. Click here for a video of Pamela’s makeshift wall. Still, her anxiety rages, drives her to further magnifying the anticipated noise. “Let’s go stay in your apartment in Manhattan for the next three months,” she finally says. “It’s empty now that the co-op board won’t let you sublet it anymore and Gaby [my daughter] is living in L.A. We can spend the winter there until Elaine is finished.”
My knee jerk reaction to this blast out-of-the-blue proposal is to blow back. “We can’t,” I instantly say.
But wait a minute: I have tried time and time again to get Pamela to stay in my Greenwich Village studio apartment when we go to New York. She always refuses. We end up staying at the Sheraton on 7th Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan, costing us $400 a day for maybe 300 square feet. I have to pay the maintenance fee on my studio—$1,300 a month—and never get to use it. This seems to be an opening, don’t let it slip away, I say to myself. I reverse my previous statement and start building the case for New York. “We could board the dogs for two weeks at Camp Bowwow. Two weeks is better than none. It isn’t Florida, but it’ll be warmer than Minneapolis. Plus no ice so we can walk our hearts out.” Pamela loves walking in Manhattan—shops galore. And Camp Bowwow has a live camera feed of dog play areas for six hours a day. I know it will sway her, and I’m right. Pamela is hypnotized by the opportunity to view her “babies” live on her iPad while we’re away. Secretly, two weeks away from her permanently dependent children is a deserved blessing. She will grudgingly admit it if confronted.
Sure enough, Pamela takes to the two weeks option in my Greenwich Village apartment like a starving tarpon to a hyperactive crab. I start planning our trip to the Promised Land, where my relatives have been ensconced for 100 years. My apartment in Greenwich Village is located at 69 West 9th Street, on the corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue. It was built in 1957. My studio is, with some optimistic exaggeration, 500 square feet, the biggest of the building’s studios. I have owned the apartment since 1994 when another periodic crisis in Manhattan real estate valuation caused apartment prices to plummet up to 50%. My brother owned Apartment 6C previously but lived out of town. He and the co-op board clashed over who was allowed to stay in the apartment in my brother’s absences, and the board won, as they usually do in the world of co-ops. My brother was royally pissed and he wanted out. He put the apartment up for sale. Only a few bottom feeder buyers showed up. I had rented 6C from him from time to time but somehow blocked out the idea of buying it. “Why don’t you buy the apartment from Bobby?” Pamela prodded me at the time.
She always wanted me to buy this or that. One deal was a condo on the beach at Daytona, four blocks north of the city’s landmark pier. I didn’t dare touch it. Pamela thought the Egyptian American builder was cute. He eventually went broke and took all his investors down with him. But this time, regarding New York, she was right. What am I thinking, I told myself. The price is ridiculous. Even if I used 6C as a pied-à-terre two or three times a year, it would be worth it. The maintenance fee is uppity but not that much and I have the cash to do the deal outright. And oh how I love ‘my’ village. Three blocks to Washington Square Park! I can read the Village Voice sitting on a park bench while taking in all the action around the fountain, especially the chicks from NYU! I had been hanging out at Village coffee houses ever since my high school days. I was now coming home to familiar, comfortable territory.
Pamela has taken credit ever since for the decision to buy 6C, and she deserves it. I also point out how many other deals she told me to buy that I didn’t, that could have led to big losses. But purchasing 6C was the best buy of my life. The value of it skyrocketed two years after I purchased it and has stayed up ever since. But I haven’t sold it, so my financial gains are only theoretical. More important are the profound effects it has had on my family. Apartment 6C allowed first my son and then my daughter to live cheap in Manhattan while trying to establish careers in New York. Both made it. Meanwhile, my pied-à-terre has been on hold for 25 years—until now!
After Pamela offers to live for two weeks at 6C, I’m forced to confront the apartment’s demons. It’s essentially one, medium-sized room. Recently, when we travel we stay in suites at motels and hotels, if we can afford them. For three years now, I’ve slept in my hide-a-bed on the fourth floor of our Minneapolis condo. Pamela sleeps in “our” bedroom on the second floor. I snore; I have undiagnosed sleep apnea (holding my breath per Pamela) and occasional narcoleptic episodes while driving on boring highways. I prefer not to undergo diagnostic testing, even though as a doctor I know the downside of not treating the condition, if I truly have it. But I don’t want a C-Pap Machine. Lose 25 pounds and that might cure the problem, I tell myself but I can’t. I used to tell my patients to “lose 25 pounds and grow a third arm,” in cases like this. When they’d ask me what the dickens I was talking about I’d tell them, “Well, at least the latter might be possible.” I do get out walking, biking, climbing the stairs in my four-story condo (I figure I average 15 flights up and down each day). I play tennis and keep my weight at 210 lbs. My BMI is 29.99!
As a six-year-old, I remember sleeping on my maternal grandparents’ couch in the living room of their small apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My grandfather snored and had those frightening apneic spells. I would count how long the spells lasted –1-a-1,000, 2-a-1,000, 3-a-1,000—then a gush of inhalations, finally settling down, preparing for yet another apneic spell. 1-a-1,000, 2-a-1,000—
I also have restless leg and use codeine sulfate to relax my body. It seems to me whenever I try to sleep with Pamela, the odds are greatly stacked against me. Between snoring, sleep apnea, and restless leg, how can we survive in a 500-square foot apartment with one king bed and a couch? I cross my fingers and off we go.
Manhattan in late January? A snowbird’s destination? No palm trees, no salt water beaches with shore birds. No retired Alta Cockers baking their ancient hides, decorated with a wild variety of blotches, colored red, blue and black, along with raised scaly and itchy patches, in the heavenly radiance of the Southern Sun. All have been warned, especially about the dreaded black skin plague, melanoma, but the sun’s atavistic effect on the death chill that permeates into their aching bones makes seniors gamble that they will die before being besieged by skin cancers.
Manhattan is not the home of the snowbird or the elephant burial grounds. It is ground zero for the alive and kicking. Greenwich Village and all of Manhattan below 14th Street, is urban life at its most divine, most entertaining, most delicious, most livable. Even in January, the temperature is 20 degrees warmer than Minneapolis, with no ice on the streets thanks to heated skyscrapers. A light winter coat, gloves, and solid walking shoes and we’re ready for exploration.
Stay tuned for the final section of GV is for Greenwich Village, to be posted next Friday.