Can We Talk?

After college I moved to Massachusetts and began to work my way through the single Jewish men of the greater Boston metropolitan area.

In due course I started to go around with a fancy shmancy boy from Connecticut who had a home in New Hampshire and a subscription to the symphony season.  I had a rusty old Mustang and a subscription to the Cosmopolitan magazine.

Anyway one day this guy asks me if I ever considered to take accent reduction lessons.
I had no idea what he could be talking.  I am born in this country.  English is my first language.  What kind of accent?

Shortly after this conversation and our consequent breakup, there was an incident that suggested maybe he had a point.

The co-worker who usually provided the vocal talents for the various media productions was on vacation.  There was a rush job and I was asked to replace her.  Who else could be relied upon to talk for three days consecutive?

Well, it turned out that there were an awful lot of comments about the narrator’s — that is, my — style of expression.  In the end, they decided it was too big a distraction and re-recorded the whole thing with a speaker from the more neutral-sounding mid-Atlantic region.

So, many years pass and now it’s this morning.  I need to file a document.  Some government thing.  You can’t do it on the web.  You have to call a telephone number.  You can’t speak to a real person.  You have to spell your name and address.  So they can mail you a paper form.

I use my regular speaking voice.  I get a message saying “Sorry, I can’t understand you.  Please try again.”

I try again.  It’s the same message.

I try again.  I use my best diction.  Again with the same message.

I try again.  I speak slowly and carefully.  Still with the same message.

I try again.  I enunciate each letter.  Here we go the same message.

I try again and again and again.  It’s no use.  I give up.

The machine just doesn’t understand me.  Even the numbers, it doesn’t understand me.  I wish I could speak with a customer service agent from Bangalore.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

We Got the Beat

In his new book The Anatomy of Violence, Adrian Raine discusses the relationship between physiology and behavior.

It turns out that people with a very low resting heart rate are actually the most fearless among us.

Sometimes the absence of apprehension can lead to extraordinary acts of bravery.  The specialists who diffuse explosive devices in war zones tend to have unusually lethargic heart rates.  Obviously this is a job requiring superior cool, calm, and collectedness.

But sometimes a lack of trepidation can lead to heinous acts of violence.  Ted Kaczynski, aka “The Unabomber”, ticks in at a modest 54.  Guess a person would have to be pretty composed to get away with a serial bombing campaign for almost twenty years.

At my recent EKG, I scored a 49, well below the normal range of 60-100 thumps per minute.  Seems my heart rate is the only thing about me that could possibly be construed as “athletic”.

Anyway, the theory goes that we slow beaters need an extra large dose of excitement just to feel normal.  This explains a lot about my makeup.  I have frequently said that if I don’t feel my heart race every day, I simply do not feel alive.

The crave wants satisfaction.  The heart wants to hammer.  But what to do?  No excess of exercise will nudge the needle.  No overdose of caffeine will prime the pump.

Even an out-of-this-world experience is not guaranteed to make the heart take flight.  His cardiac monitor showed that Neil Armstrong’s sinus rhythm did not rocket the moment he set foot on the moon.  How can those of us confined to life on earth expect to top that kind of adventure?

These are desperate days.  Even so, I am not inclined to seek the dangerous sort of thrill.  Fortunately, the stimulant that works best for me doesn’t cost a dime, is completely legal except maybe in some of the Red States, and is even a mitzvah when practiced on Shabbes.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Stanford B & B

With movies and television, the people who are getting the IV drug treatments all sit together in one big room.

Perhaps this gang-drip is a creative liberty taken by the writers because it allows us to watch the characters interact.  And when they do, they invariably say things that make us laugh and cry.

In any case, by Stanford, each patient gets their own “bay”, a medical cubicle with curtains for walls that provide a limited privacy.  You can hear, but not see, the other people on the unit.

Normally, there isn’t much to see, and what action there is, well, mostly it’s the kind you didn’t really want to see anyway.

Besides, any real excitement that is going to happen is going to happen in my room.

This morning, the bottle containing my medication broke.  An extremely spontaneous event during an ordinarily monotonous routine.  Shards of glass.  1000 ml of fluid.  Everywhere.  Good thing it wasn’t blood.

Fortunately, I am the relaxed type.  My heart rate didn’t spike.  My blood pressure didn’t rise.  We know this for the sure because there was actually a machine monitoring my vital statistics at the very moment of the spill.

Not everyone is so easy-going.  Some people can be annoying.  They give other people a hard time.

Today there was a woman who didn’t like her bay.  She was checking out all the bays like she was checking in to a B&B.  Scrutinizing every room to make sure she got the best one.  And giving a rather rude commentary throughout her inspection.

I just go wherever they put me.  The rooms all serve the same purpose and we’re only there a few hours.  They all have the same medical equipment.  They all have the same TVs and headphones.  They all have the same internet wi-fi.

But the rooms are not all the same.  Some are a bit larger.  Some have windows.  Some have chairs with heated seats.  Heated seats!  There are few things that give me more pleasure than heated seats.  And windows!  Everyone knows I bought my apartment strictly for the greenhouse effect.

Still, even I should see that one of the nicer bays is vacant, I would never ask to move.  It is not my way.  It might make inconvenience on the nurses.

When we were growing up, we were not allowed to ask for anything.  We were told that we should be grateful for what we had because we didn’t deserve even that.

My mother had two standard responses for any inquiry, no matter how urgent, no matter how paltry.

If she was in the rare good mood, as soon as you said “Ma?” she would respond, “Whatever it is, the answer is no” so you never even got to ask the thing in the first place.

If she was in her usual foul mood, she would let you ask and then respond by screaming, “How dare you?  How dare you?  You ingrate!  If you think for one minute —”

[Edited for content.  Unsuitable for readers of any age.]

In any event, we never learned how to ask for what we want.  We only learned we should never ask, we should never want.  But now, I am thinking the woman reviewing the bays, well, she was just asking.  She could have been more polite, but the worst they could do to her was to say no.  Maybe this is what it means to be assertive.

It could be that there is something for me to absorb at the clinic that doesn’t come in a liquid form.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.