Thursday, October 24, 2013

Aaaaand, I'm back!

Thanks to everyone who reached out to me this week. I have been moving around the the USA since I was 6 and it still discombobulates me. I am in southern Florida now. Clearwater is a big and busy place. Not the bucolic (hey, they used that word on Revolution last night) beach town I had imagined. It is busy with people of all ages but mostly people older than I am, so there is that.

Back to St. Anne's where 90+ girls in various stages of pregnancy live together, eat together, go to school together, work together, and get into as much mischief as possible, together. Was this a happy community where we "all just got along"? Heck, no. We came from all over California and from all different economic and cultural backgrounds. We were like a family, though. Remember, we were living in Southeast L.A. barely ten years after the riots. It was still a volatile place to be. So, we tended to hang out in packs and whoever was in that pack had the back, and sides of whoever else was in that pack. Literally, because at 8 and 9 months pregnant it is hard to get a 360 view. You are pretty much limited to looking at what is right in front of you. turning around was a process. As my grandfather said of his car once, "you gotta swing that baby wide." So, having a pod or a pack of girls allowed each of us to get a piece of the bigger picture. We never had any trouble. The residents were most likely used to seeing herds of girls doggedly walking around the neighborhood trying to do what we were always trying to do, induce labor.

As I mentioned above we worked and went to school. Whatever course of study we chose came with credits that were accepted at any high school in California. Our choices were PBX Operator and Grocery Store Cashier. I chose PBX Operator because of Geraldine on The Laugh-In show. For those of you to young to know what Laugh-In was, I think they still show reruns on Nick at Night.  Geraldine was a character created by Lily Tomlin. I provided a link to a You Tube clip for you. It is hilarious. Geraldine was a "potent with omni in front of it." switchboard operator who would pretty much connect the two ends of the telephone cord wherever she felt like it. She was my hero. I know this is pre-history to some of you, so you are going to have to Google "PBX switchboard", while your'e at it Google Lily Tomlin, who is brilliant. Of course, the world went digital almost immediately and the phone company probably stopped using PBX before I even delivered my son! The Grocery Store Clerks learned how to use a cash register that did not tell you how much change the shopper was owed. They were more like big calculators that showed the numbers that you punched in and a total, but the Cashier had to do the math to figure out if any change was due and how much. Many of the girls who trained on those older cash machines got jobs that provided them training as the technology changed in grocery stores. They got the good jobs.

We also worked. Two hours a week in the laundry was mandatory for every girl, unless the Doc put you on bed rest. You could pick your two hours or have the Nuns pick them for you. I did Saturday mornings and I loved it. I still love doing laundry. There is something comfortingly finite about it. The washing machine starts and stops at preset times that I can choose and so does the dryer. That wasn't true of the industrial size washers and dryers at St. Anne's. Those had to be waited on but early on Saturday mornings before the smog rolled in and the air got stale and humid, it was just lovely in that basement laundry room. I would stand, there were no chairs just big washers and dryers and long folding tables, and look out the window feeling good about myself. Pregnancy agreed with me. I was always oddly pleasant and content, considering the circumstances, but those hormones were working for me and I felt good about myself for the first time in my life. As I said, we moved a lot. Every two years I was the new kid in school. One year I actually attended three different schools in two different states. I was not a happy camper. But, standing under those windows looking out at the dying grass that edged the broken sidewalk, littered with broken glass and cigarette butts, and the small horizon of sky that fit in the frame of the window, I was good and life was gonna be good.

Another interesting aspect of St. Anne's is that the girls who lived there, over the decade of the 1970s were used to make the laughter you hear on old television shows. They would pack us up in a bus and drive us over to Burbank or Culver City or Hollywood and we would make up the live audience whose responses to the show we were watching were recorded separately from the way the actors were recorded or filmed, and then it would be edited all together and put on television. I know that the "canned" laughter or "laugh track" as it is called was recorded separately and used for a number of shows because I remember sitting in the audience for a sitcom that was not long lived and one of us said, "oh no" and started to laugh. I cannot tell you how many shows from the 1970s and 80s have used that laugh. Every time I hear it I remember sitting in this big room with all the seats crowded together. There were usually 25-30 of us and we sat in the dark, freezing to death while the actors said their lines and cameras were repositioned; then actors would say their lines again and the cameras would have to be moved again. It was exhausting. I have never since had to work that hard to make myself laugh.

I also remember that we were taken to see Cathy Rigby, at that time a fairly recent winner of the Olympic Gold medal in Gymnastics, play Peter Pan. As I stood at the basement laundry room window I would imagine myself being drawn out through the window by sturdy theatrical wires to Catalina Island where I would live forever in peace and quiet. Yeah, my imagination has always served the pragmatic. I had never been to Catalina, so it was a magical place to me and I knew I would never fly like Cathy Rigby but those heavy duty wires we weren't supposed to be able to see could take my weight for a quick trip over the Pacific to, the unknown to me and therefore magical, Catalina Island, where living was something that came naturally; not necessarily easy but open and accepting.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Jena Avogat as in, "Avogat to take my pill" as many of her classmates would call to her across the quad, in the caf, in the hall, everyone in her school knew she was "preggers" as she put it before she was even showing. She was amazed, she explained while preparing to demonstrate the newest "labor induction maneuver" she had heard of, that her parents did not know before she told them. Growing up in Little Armenia CA left little room for secrets. Everyone knew everyone else's secrets either by blood, marriage or religion. Her parents had such high hopes for her. She figured she had pretty much blown her full ride to Stanford. As a Junior at Hollywood High School, yes, that Hollywood, and because she was just brilliant, and she was, she was on the fast track to a Media Studies degree before there was such a thing. Jena would not divulge her FOB. She didn't want to harm his career; he was just graduated and was already picking up small movie parts here and there. His parents were very upset that he did not go directly to university, but he figured there was plenty of time for that when he was old and ugly. I'm not sure if those were his words or hers. Jena just wanted this "thing" out of her. Hand it over, sign off on it and move on. Every so often, I read the credits of movies to see if I can find her name. I just know she went on to pursue her dream of producing and directing. 

So, Jena was preparing to demonstrate the labor induction exercise so we could all try it. We were in the room that she shared with Angel and she was. I have never known anyone since who so perfectly fit her name. How did her parents know? She was the human equivalent of the angel in DaVinci's "Virgin on the Rocks" painting. Literally, her hair just naturally made these tiny curls around her face, which looked as if it had been etched out of milky Quartz.  She was very quiet. I rarely heard her speak and when people say that pregnant women are beautiful, to this day, her image comes to my mind. I never asked about her FOB. I just wanted to believe that she was filled with the Divine. She really wasn't real to me. Unlike Avogat, as we called her, who was the most mischievous elf-like figure I have ever seen. She was a very round version of Moaning Myrtle (Shirley Henderson). She had packed on the pounds once she told her folks. The whole thing had to be run through a family meeting. She explained and then a meeting with the Priest who felt Jena would be forgiven for her poor behavior but he did not want her walking around the neighborhood like anyone approved of it either. So, Jena had arrived at St. Anne's just two weeks before I had.  

Back to the labor induction. Avogat's labor was over due. The deal she made with the kid, she told us, was that she would do everything in her power to provide "it" with a good healthy start in life. Her five foot nothing height and the way she wore her pregnancy was visual confirmation of that promise. She looked like a geodome, one of those round houses that run on solar and use green energy and encircle those who live inside. Her due date was a long week gone by and she figured her end of the deal was complete, so now "it" had to vacate the premises. Jena had slid the two twin beds that every room held, together to provide a wide flat space. She had pushed them up against one wall to provide a backstop and was poised up against the opposite wall. She was standing on her toes and leaning forward inasmuch as a ball can lean forward before it rolls forward. Both hands were bent behind her as both counterbalance and once she extended her fingers as a spring to push herself off of the wall. There was about 6 feet between Jena and the bed and she aimed to build as much momentum as possible in the space afforded her. There were five of us in the room: Jena, poised on the wall; Angel, who was peeking around the doorway of the adjoining bathroom, two girls whose names I have forgotten (apologies), and me. We were watching this action closer than Olympic judges. Jena seemed to bob forward just a bit and then she launched herself off of the wall and in about 15 tiny steps she increased her momentum, somehow got her feet about a quarter of an inch off the floor and did a pounding belly flop on the beds.

Those of us watching cringed in unison, "oohs and aahs " were expressed and we stood frozen in position until Jena, squirming like a turtle on a rock yelled, "Get me up"! We all moved to grab a limb and after a fashion pulled her backwards off of the bed until her round little feet could touch the floor and she pushed herself back up into a standing position. For the next hour we reviewed technique, considered influencing variables, and watched for signs of labor or maybe injury; then we all shuffled back to our own beds to consider our own options for labor induction once the time came. This one was not all that enticing. She said it did not hurt but it sure looked like it hurt.

Jena's labor did not start in that hour or in that evening. She waited almost another whole week before she tried her next theory. To my knowledge there were no witnesses to this event. The last time anyone saw Jena she was waiting for the pizza she had ordered to be delivered. More accurately, she was waiting for the pizza delivery boy. Back in the day, as they say, pizza delivery persons were almost always teenaged boys. We don't know if Jena actually ate the pizza but we do know that she went into labor and delivered her baby within 24 hours of the pizza delivery. What man starts another man finishes. As we gathered to receive the news of Jena's delivery via the "back track" we all weighed the options of this last technique. Seduce the pizza boy. Some of the women who were repeat clients at St Anne's swore by it. The rest of us weren't too sure. After all, that is what got us here in the first place. No telling what kinds of complications a pizza boy could bring to the party. 

The "Back Track" was made up of veterans of the St. Anne's experience, and there were several. They had been here before, and in a couple cases before and even before that before. They knew the full layout of the building, most of the nurses and all of the nuns. They never introduced themselves, they just waited until us frightened newbies gathered in the community room to discuss someone's absence, this usually meant they had been "taken up" in the elevator to the hospital floor of the building to deliver, but we did not know that for sure. "Going up" was both heaven and hell. It meant the end of your stay at St. Anne's but the veterans told horror stories about what happened "up" there. Usually, once a discussion got started in the Community room a veteran sitting off in a corner of the room would clear her throat and say, "well, the last time I was here..." This always derailed the conversation as we all shifted to look at the speaker and then migrate, in our little shuffle slippers, over to where she sat to listen to the tale she had to tell.

Friday, October 4, 2013


I think the word retire needs to be considered as a Derridean term that forces us to consider the multivalence of the word. Retiring means , in common use, to stop working but lately everyone I meet who says they just retired also says they don't know how they got anything done while working because they are SO busy. This leads me to think about retiring as just getting tired all over again but in a different way. I think of this because as I have mentioned, I am seeing a specialist about my Chronic medical issue IC. He is in Knoxville Tennessee, that is a firm 2 hour drive one way, I also have Physical therapy twice a week and I visit my therapist once a week. For the past 3 weeks I have been trying to stay afloat in an online class offered by the Wharton School at UPENN in Financial Accounting AND THEN the International Storytelling Festival started in Jonesborough, Tennessee on October 4-today. I tried to go. I managed to see two awesome storytellers but my pain issues would not allow my to spend more time trudging across lawns and up hills. I highly recommend the Storytelling Festival. These are international top quality story tellers who are talented beyond belief. Check it out

The food, the fun, the history, Jonesborough is the Oldest town in Tennessee and it was the only "Southern" state that did not sign the articles of secession and yet it remained a slave holding state until the end of the Civil War. Lots of complicated history here.

I love hearing stories about the complications of others because I just get tired of listening to myself. I hope to see more voices on this blog. I am doing my best to increase its profile so more people can find it. More St Anne's stories are coming up and if you are a girl who spent time there who happens to stumble upon this blog, please post and give a shout out. We lived through some stuff in that place, not all bad but definitely different. It was a long day and I am once again (re)tired. More Later.