Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ramblin' Rose

Hello, All.  I have no idea what to blog about so I'm just going to ramble.  Woke up this morning feeling good, which is marvelous considering how lousy I've felt for months.  Very glad about all that.  I have some crystals hanging in my window, and the ceiling was dancing with little rainbow cotton balls of light, drifting and fading as the sun played peek-a-boo with the clouds.  What a lovely thing to wake up to.  The sun was shining on my miniature rose bush, looking a big scraggly since I first spotted a bit of fungus and started picking off the damaged leaves.  It's rallying now.  My mom's Christmas cactus is covered with blooms yet again.  When I had the car wreck on the way to New York, that thing went flying from the back of the van and smashed against the front windshield, so it's a tribute to the thing's toughness that it's alive at all, let alone blooming for the third time in as many months.  Last June, on Charles the Man's birthday (my sort of step dad, who's deceased), a strange woman standing in front of her house gave me a rather woeful looking orchid with some beautiful blooms on it.  I commented on its beauty and she asked if I wanted it; said she didn't because it wasn't very healthy.  Delighted, I took it home, researched how to care for it, meticulously followed the instructions and it still looked like hell.  Finally, I just stuck it in the window next to the cactus and splashed it with water and food every day.  It's gone crazy and doubled in size, and I first spotted a snakey-looking thing growing from the center a few days ago.  I'm breathless in anticipation that it might produce some flowers.  As you can tell, I love plants. 

Worked a long night shift at the restaurant this evening.  It was very busy with people desperate to escape shovelling and house arrest from the snowstorm, wanting to get out and have a bit of fun before the next monster blizzard hits in a few days.  I love to watch happy people talking and laughing and tonight was all about that.  Nobody bitched about their food or the service; they were all just a joy to wait on.  God, I love people.  I love to see them happy, I love to see them enjoying their children and the kids giggling and wiggling in their seats, thrilled to be able to order their own pink lemonade and chicken fingers.  Three little kids in particular were a delight.  I drew a picture of a fairy for the little girl and when the two boys looked a bit forlorn, I asked what they wanted.  Shelton said he wanted a transformer and Erik a Super Mario.  I grinned and said okay, I'd try, inwardly sweating bullets because I didn't remember much about how either looked.  I knew transformers were big mechanical robot dudes who could turn into cars and planes and such so I just ran with it and made one as best I could, then went to the young bartender and asked him for details of Super Mario, which he provided.  Both boys were very happy with their drawings but I had to fix the placement of the big "M" on Mario.  Other than that, they were happy.  Isn't it great, how a little thing can make so many people joyous?  The kids were thrilled, the parents grateful to be able to finish their own meals in peace as their children watched me sketch, and the father shyly related the fact that he was a vet.  I shook his hand and thanked him for everything I have, everything my children have, and the very existence of my country, all owed to him and the millions like him.  So the circle was complete and we were all thrilled with each other.  All in all, a wonderful day.  Now I'm pleasantly sleepy without being exhausted.  Going to embroider a bit before I sleep.  May you all have gentle pleasant days here and there, little smile-a-lot 24 hour segments that have no angst, attitude or envy.  Take care.

Love, R

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sacred Wiggly Gross Out Chickens

I have been house sitting for a friend for the past five days, snowed in with no access to a computer.  I am currently techno-twitchy from withdrawal.  Fortunately, I am back home and once again tippy-tapping at my keyboard.  It's a good thing, because I have a magical story to tell; a story of beloved friends and secret gifts, of plastic bags and repulsive chickens, beautiful furry cards and the well wishes of one of my favorite people.

As most of you know, I've been the sicko slob from hell since before last Christmas.  Just can't shake this thing.  Because I'd spent a decade of my past being severely ill, this current inability to be healthy again sent me into a full blown panic.  All the old insecure thoughts came pouring into my brain with their chewy chewy teeth.  Am I getting sick again?  Is this it?  Am I getting symptoms again after all this time?  Am I going to go through that hell again?  I can't take it anymore.  I can't go through that again.  I'd rather BE DEAD!!!  AAAIIIEEEEE!!!!  As you can tell, this insecurity addict had a full blown relapse into negative thoughts and pessimistic self-pity.  I desperately needed something to distract me from all this doom and gloom, something dramatic and sudden, like a bird shit answer to a panicked prayer I had once.  Something perfect.  Something...disgusting.

Birds seem to weigh heavily in extreme moments of my life.  There's the bird that suddenly decided to fly down and land on my head during weird animal week.  That's when my ex-husband was still in grad school.  There's the hawk that flew straight over my head, close enough to blow my hair back with its feathered updraft, the countless baby birds I rescued as a child, then again as a mother with my kids to help, the seagull that splat a great splat of poo directly over my face when I was hysterical and begging God for a sign, and the little sparrow that flew onto my head last summer as I was walking to work.  Birds dig me.  And today, I had another bird experience, only this time it was with the most repugnant rubber chicken I've ever encountered.

My friend Selena has always been the giver of the perfect gift.  She has a knack for it.  My favorite t-shirts have all been from Selena, from a gorgeous Elfquest print to a hilarious spin on ET, with Elliot riding his bike across the full moon with not ET in the basket, but Ridley Scott's Alien.  Priceless.  She spent an entire year searching for my favorite children's book, an out-of-print masterpiece called "The Emperor of the Ants."  I have received perfect presents both beautiful and bizarre from this most beloved of friends, but this latest gift was a much needed reminder for me to lighten up.  She knows I've been sick.  She knows I've been really, really scared about it.  So while I slept, she drove to my house and dangled a plastic bag containing a wiggly gross out chicken from my front door knob.  I woke to find a beautiful, velvety card, a pretty box, and this nasty little bastard inside.  He is disgusting: greasy yellow, squishy, vacuous expression, but the kicker is when you squeeze him.  A rotten looking yolk and swirly goo comes out his ass while his legs get all stiff with outrage.  No more perfect present, for weirdo me, could be possible.  I laughed and shrieked and made disgusting noises like "EEWW!" and "Oh, gross!" but I kept squeezing.  Something cracked inside me from all the guffawing; a hard familiar shell I have often grown around myself to shut me in and the world out.  A black and lonely shell that only laughter and determination can break.  So once again, thank you, my dear Selena, for finding and giving the perfect gift.  I am now the proud and slightly repulsed owner of a sacred wiggly gross out chicken. 

And I'm laughing again.

Love, R

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Flop Zombie

Hello, All.  I have been a flop zombie for the last four days.  I pushed myself too far, like a moron, and paid the price.  When I was sick, I got like this a lot, except with excruciating pain.  I should count my blessings.  So I will!  I am quite healthy now, for the most part; I just have to be careful to not over extend myself physically.  A rheumotologist is absolutely convinced I have Lupus, but since I tested negative for it seven times, I refuse to believe that possibility.  Even if I have it, I had a full hysterectomy back in 1997 and most Lupus symptoms are far less severe after you get rid of the girly pipes.  I have no girly pipes anymore.  My daughter Rhianna is healthy and happy and in constant contact with me.  I am back in my beloved New York, surrounded by most beloved friends, I believe I'm falling in love again for the first time in decades (scared to death but optimistic), and my book is coming out in the next few weeks, according to the publishers.  Yee Haa!

One of the interesting things about being this ill for the first time in over ten years is: I am a complete chickenshit about it.  This surprised me.  Few things turn my guts to ice anymore that aren't family related, but this bout of flop zombie weakness has scared the hell out of me.  Last night, I was vomiting so hard I burst blood vessels in my face.  I felt my eyes going (when I was sick, I'd burst vessels in the whites of my eyes and get that Black Swan look) so held my hands over my eyes to try and hold them in.  They stayed white.  I haven't been sick to my stomach from exhaustion for a long, long time either.  I knew I was pushing it; not yet fully recovered from the pneumonia but sure, I'll pick up two double shifts and an open in a row.  It was foolish but I'm not beating myself up about it, as I would have done a decade ago. I'll just be more careful from now on.  In the meantime, there's something to be gleaned from all this gut wrenching terror over such a small thing - I slept over twelve hours last night and am much better already - and that is, it's okay to be a chickenshit as long as I keep going forward.  And that's what I plan on doing.  Life is a series of steps, stumbles and fumbles.  I dropped the ball but I reached down and grabbed it up again.  I'm running forward with a whole mass of zombies from the past trying to get me and have a nice Rebecca smorgasbord.  Fortunately, they're slow as hell and I'm a lot quicker than I used to be.  A few more days of super sleep and I should be right as rain again.  But I'll listen to my body a little more and stop beating this horse when it's dead on the ground.  Sorry I haven't blogged in a while.  Will be back and hopefully eloquent soon.  Take care.

Love, R

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Holes in the Ground

I had the most surreal phone conversation of my life last Sunday.  My mother called.  She's in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer's, the diagnosis of which she has no idea, but she's surprisingly lucid on this new medication.  When she first went in, she was so far gone, she'd forgotten how to eat and even breathe properly.  We thought she had only a few weeks left.  That was a year ago.  As I've said before, we're impossible to kill.  Non-violently, anyway.

My mom isn't a kind person.  She has kindness in her and struggles to bring it out, but perhaps her shattered past caused too many splinters.  She's never been able to glue herself back together.  This phone call was unlike any other we've ever had, the conversations far more open than Mom is used to being.  She talks a lot but says very little.  I thought it important to write down one part of her two-hour long ramble.  When FREAK comes out, a lot of people will view her unfavorably and in many ways, rightly so.  But it was my mom's ability to simply stop boozing, cold turkey, and never go back to it that gave me hope when my own son was in rehab.  She had been a foul and vicious drunk and she simply...stopped.  I clung to that in the dark days of Leland's rehabilitation.

Mom is almost eighty years old.  The Alzheimer's has progressed extremely rapidly because of all the mini strokes and brain damage from decades of alcohol and drug abuse.  The specialist said it this way: "It's like black mold in a house.  If the wall is freshly painted and dry, the mold travels very slowly.  If the walls are damp and covered in soggy old wallpaper, it spreads like wildfire.  Your mother's brain is the latter description."  She feels herself slipping away, knows something is wrong, but can't quite face the truth.  Mom's never been able to face the truth.  Her number one fear was always being crippled like her sisters.  A close second was madness and dementia.  We decided to not tell her about the diagnosis for that reason. 

She knows who I am, although she has a hard time with what year it is and my age.  Sometimes her memory seems clear as a bell, other times she'll repeat the same story over and over and over, having no short term memory at all. 

Sunday was not like that.  Sunday, she was traveling through time.  She didn't simply reminisce with me on the other end of the line; she was actually there, hopping through the past, skipping decades and arriving in her teens, pre-teens, twenties, forties, and back to pre-school age. I knew the story of her dropping her little brother Sonny on his head and his dying soon after.  I didn't know the details.  She told them to me that day, on a blustery winter afternoon, relating everything as it happened.  She was there again, a toddler in high heels, holding a baby almost as big as she was.

Sonny was two-years-old.  Mom was always tiny.  She never grew over five feet two inches.  She was six-years-old when he died.  She was playing dress up in her mother's bedroom, wearing Grandma's high heels.  I'll try to write verbatim, exactly how she described the events that led to his death, and what happened after.  Her voice lost the gravely husk of old age, becoming infantile again as she talked, and the hairs on the back of my neck grew stiff.

"Mother called me and told me to play with Sonny.  I always called her Mother, she didn't let us call her "mom" or "mommy," oh, no.  She never let us do that.  It was always Mother.  "Play with Sonny while I make dinner.  Don't pick him up when you've got those shoes on, though.  You'll drop him.  Take them off before you pick him up."  Well, as soon as she left the room, I picked him up in those shoes.  I ignored what she said.  I wanted to be the mommy, I wanted to play mommy the right way and mommies wear high heels.  Sonny was long, he was almost as long as me and he started to kick.  He kicked me in the stomach and he just flew out of my hands.  I couldn't hold him.  He fell on his head.  He fell really hard right on his head and he started screaming really loud.  I kicked those shoes off right away because I didn't want Mother to see that I'd disobeyed her.  She came running because Sonny was screaming so loud.  He was still on the floor and Mother kept saying, "What happened?  What happened?"  so I lied and told her he just kicked out of my hands.  I didn't tell her I had the shoes on and everything she'd prophesied would happen happened just like she prophesied and I didn't want her to beat me.  Sonny stopped crying and Mother just rocked him.  The next day I came home and Mother was sitting on the floor next to Sonny.  He was lying on the floor with a cover on him and she said, "He's dead.  Sonny's dead.  Go get your sister at the Cartwrights.  Go get her.  He's dead.  He's dead.  He's dead."  I knew I'd killed him but I didn't tell her because she would beat me and then the police would come and put me in jail as a murderer and I didn't want to go to jail so I didn't say anything.  The floor under the desk was dusty.  I looked and saw the floor was dusty around the table legs.  "Go get your sister.  Sonny's dead.  Go get your sister."  So I ran to the Cartwrights and I told them Sonny was dead and Missy had to come home with me and they said, "Look at that poor little girl.  Look at her, she's trembling all over.  Look at that poor little girl" and I was scared they could see how guilty I was.  I was scared they would put me in jail because I was a murderer.  That's what they did with murderers, Mother had told me that.  And she would have beat me.  She beat me anyway but she would have beat me really bad so I stayed quiet but I couldn't stop shaking and the Cartwrights saw it and I was afraid.  The next day they got a little white coffin, a baby's coffin.  It was very shiny.  Uncle Tickle held it in his lap as we drove to the cemetery.  The gravediggers had dug a hole, a deep little hole and in those days they let us stay and watch the casket being lowered into the ground.  Everybody turned away to go but I stayed and looked at that hole in the ground and the coffin and I thought, "I killed him.  I killed my brother" and I tried to jump in the hole.  The digger man stopped me and held my arm because I kept trying to jump in the hole because I killed him.  I killed him.  I wore high heels and I killed him.  He died the next day.  He died the next day.  I killed him.  Everybody came back and took me away but that night it was raining and I snuck out of the house and ran to the cemetery and laid on the grave so he wouldn't get wet.  I couldn't let him be cold and wet.  There wasn't a marker because we were poor but I knew where he was.  Every time it rained for months after that, I laid on the grave so he wouldn't get wet.  When Mother died and I got her that big tombstone...everybody thought that was so pretentious to have such a big tombstone but she always wanted a big tombstone and she was my mother and I was going to get her that tombstone, by dang!  I was visiting her at the hospital and she said how she wanted to have a big beautiful tombstone and on the way home that very day I stopped at the stone cutters and I ordered that big tombstone.  Then I ordered one for Sonny too.  I went to the cemetery and the director went with me and he said he didn't know for sure where Sonny was but I knew!  I remembered just where he was.  The director took this long skinny metal pole and he poked it down and told me he didn't feel anything but that was because Sonny's coffin was wooden in those days and it would have disintegrated and only his little bones would be left in the dirt but I didn't care I knew he was down there and he was my brother and he was going to have a tombstone.  Oh yes, he was.  He was going to have a tombstone and I was going to get it for him.  And they put it up and he had a tombstone and it was a little one but it was very nice and it was next to Mother's.  Nearby.  Nearby Mother's.  When I was married to your dad and Ian was born and just a little baby, Mother was visiting and I finally asked, "Mother, what did Sonny really die of?"  She said, "He had double pneumonia."  I just looked at her and I said, "You mean he didn't die from falling on his head?" and she said, "Oh, my no.  What made you ever think that?"  I went all catatonic and your dad had to carry me all stiff into the bedroom and I became hysterical and I started screaming because all those years I thought I'd killed my brother and he had double pneumonia.  All those years I was scared I was going to go to jail for murder and I never killed him.  I carried that guilt all those years and I never killed know, my old boyfriend wants me to buried near Mother so he can come visit me.  He lives down there.  Isn't that sweet?  But I told him oh, no, I'm going to be buried by my son.  I bought the plot and I'm going to be buried in Briggsville next to Ian.  I bought a spot for you too. When I die, you make sure I'm buried next to Ian.  You make sure.  I wrote it all down.  It's in the file next to my desk in your old bedroom.  You have a spot there too.  You can be buried there if you want.  That would be nice, us all together like that."

I laid there in bed, eyes just pouring as she rambled these razor cut words, trying hard as hell to not gasp or weep aloud because she would have clammed up.  That was only one of the terrible stories she told me that Sunday afternoon, and that's the only one I'm going to share with you all.  My mother has done many terrible things in her tragic and absurd little life, but I am glad that I can't hate her for any length of time.  Her strength has always been a fragile house of cards.  This terrible little story helps explain her actions.  Nothing excuses them, but education is the key to everything, even the education of a person's history.  Mom gave me a glimpse into her blackened past and I'm grateful for it.  I hope, as she slides further away, that she finds a safe haven in her checkered and awful past to reside in for the rest of her days.  I hope she spends the remainder of her life in the one summer she remembers with joy, the halcyon days when she was fourteen and in love for the first time.  I don't want her going back to the black memories anymore, the Sonnys and the double barrel shotgun murders and the sight of her father beating her mother unconscious.  And I don't want her to ever go back to Ian's gory corpse and the age of booze.  Let her stay young and pretty, fey and coy forever.  She's been a selfish bitch from hell but she's suffered greatly too.  I just want her to live out the rest of her days somewhere without blood and violence and misery.  With the life she's led, those happy moments are slim pickings. 

Take care of yourselves and be well, my friends. Don't let memories eat you alive.  Don't jump into any holes in the ground.  Choose to live and live well.  You can do it.  I want you to be happy and fulfilled and find a way to heal yourselves.  If I've learned anything, it's that anything is possible, even happiness.  I believe in you.  I even believe in me, and that's something more precious than rubies.

Love, R

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Ballad of the Harp Weaver

You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family.
The phrase "blood is thicker than water" was invented by undeserving relatives.

Those words were ringing in my skull this last week.  My son, who hasn't spoken to me in eight years, came into town last Thursday for a job interview in Manhattan.  The only member of my family he's in any sort of contact with is my mother, who's in a nursing home now.  He called her specifically to tell her about the interview and that he would be moving to New York very soon.  The thing that got me riled up, other than the fact that my beloved but rather sadistic son will be nearby for the first time in almost a decade, is the fact that he asked Mom which restaurant I worked at and what town I was living in now.  So all week, I sweat bullets as I went to and from work, constantly wondering if he was going to just walk up and sit in my station, what he looked like now, would I even recognize him.  I put a notice on the staff bulletin board about it, and all week my dear friends and co-workers were coming up to me with well wishes and congratulations.  I had to explain to them that he hadn't contacted me and there was a very good chance that he wouldn't.  The reason I put the notice up was on the off chance that if he did come in and I wasn't there, to notify me immediately.  So I dreamed and imagined and tried to unstuff my head from thoughts of Leland.  Didn't work.

Thursday came and passed.  I gave up my shift because I was just a weenie; I knew by this time that it was highly unlikely that he'd come in and didn't want to embarrass myself and break down in front of everybody.  I'd already done that last Mother's Day, when a beautiful blonde little boy smiled at me at the restaurant and I fainted dead away.  This after falling on the walk to work and tearing my pant leg wide open.  I stapled the cloth together and used a Sharpie marker on my very white leg so my fish white skin wouldn't show through the tear.  I'd been crying so hard I hadn't seen the crack in the sidewalk.  Very, very embarrassing.  I have come to terms with all the other holidays: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Leland's birthday, but Mother's Day is still horrific, especially in a restaurant, where I see hundreds of people who love their mom enough to buy her dinner.  I felt like Edna Saint Vincent Milay at that moment, freezing to death for love of my kid.

That's the problem with loving someone who hates you.  Since he's still so very young, and the rehab counselors warned me it would take a long time, I still have hope that he'll regain his humanity.  I want him to be a good man, not just rich, like the good little kid he once was, and perhaps someday he'll do that.  He just has to work through all this mess in his head and heart.  My cousin warned me, "He's his dad's kid, you know.  He might never be a decent person."  There's that possibility. But this isn't like loving an abusive husband or incestuous, fist-wielding dad.  When it's your kid, it's a whole new ballgame. 

I was a hard ass mother of an addict.  I stood fast and held my ground and Leland's alive today partly because of that.  He also tried so hard and has succeeded in staying clean all this time.  I applaud and admire him for that.  He has a great job and will no doubt be wealthy before he's thirty.  But I worry for him.  I don't want him to become an Ebenezer Scrooge, gathering coins and nothing else about him as he slowly starves for warmth and love.  I want him to be happy and fulfilled.  I want him to do good for humanity.  I want him to be a great philanthropist.  But in the end, we're all only responsible for our own souls.  You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.  So I'll swallow this newest heartache, let the bruises heal, and keep going forward with my own future, all the while wishing the best for his. Anybody out there who's the parent of an addict, hold on, hold fast, and endure.  Like The Ballad of the Harp Weaver, we're weaving the clothes of a king's son out of thin air.  It's a tough and bloody job but don't falter and don't give up, no matter what.

Love, R   

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Zen and the Art of Capra Corn

I just watched It's a Wonderful Life for the zillionth time.  I missed it before Christmas and was determined to view it before Valentine's Day.  It is, as always, a masterpiece, where what might be a cornball story is spun by a master and a masterful cast into a timeless treasure.  In Frank Capra's autobiography "The Name Above the Title," he writes about how tough it was to convince Jimmy Stewart to take the part.  It was right after World War II ended.  Stewart had been in the service for years and was questioning his career as an actor now that he was a civilian again.  He wanted to do something that would help mankind and feared that movies were too shallow a calling.  Capra finally convinced him to be George Bailey.  In the famous telephone sexual-tension-and-great-kiss-scene between him and Donna Reed, a few pages of dialogue were completely blown by Stewart.  It was his first screen kiss since before the war, and he was so nervous, he simply grabbed Donna, forgetting his lines.  She went with it.  After the scene was over, Capra yelled, "Cut!  Guard this reel with your life!" 

Still uncertain about how a movie star could do good for humanity, Stewart saw the impact of it when the film was released.  Apart from Harvey, he got more mail for It's a Wonderful Life than any of his other movies.  When it first came out, thousands of servicemen wrote to thank him, saying that after fighting in a war and then returning to some dead end job as a gas pump jockey or soda fountain jerk, his role as George Bailey helped them find perspective.  Some even wrote it stopped them from committing suicide.  These kind of letters continued until Stewart's death decades later. 

As for me, I cry every single time I've seen it, and I've probably seen it at least thirty times.  Two scenes get to me the most: the prayer he does in the bar and his hugging his little boy in the Santa mask as the kid puts tinsel on his head.  That's the beauty of great art, that it wrings emotion from a turnip, let alone a blubberer like me.  I am a great film fanatic.  To Kill a Mockingbird, Ikiru, The Burmese Harp, The Fisher King and Spartacus are probably my top five favorites but I love thousands of movies.  But It's a Wonderful Life has become a tradition for me, as it has for a lot of people.  Doesn't seem like Christmas unless I watch it, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Grinch and Alistair Simm's A Christmas Carol. A Wish for Wings that Work is a favorite holiday cartoon as well.  George Bailey makes me introspective about my own life, and the people I've affected by my existence; mostly good, some bad, but all part of the tapestry of life.  Pull one thread and the whole thing looks like hell: something integral is missing.  Strange and wondrous to be part of a massive weave.  A part of me touches so many others, like degrees of Kevin Bacon.  And thousands of others have shaped my life as well, both good and bad but with something to learn from them all if I pay attention.  So you know what?  Despite trials and tribulations, real horror and gut wrenching misery, it really has been a wonderful life.  And Capra's movie will always be around to remind me when I get really low, that there's probably a slightly inept but enthusiastic Clarence hovering around me, just waiting for a bell to jingle when I finally wise up.

Love, R

Monday, January 3, 2011


I have been very lax in writing on this blog.  I have no excuse; I've just been busy and a woose.  So it's time to play a little catch up. 

My New Year's Eve will go down in history as one of the most beautiful and poignant of my life.  I worked a night shift at work and it was insanely busy.  The kitchen manager said he was just staring at all the tickets on the line, like a deer in headlights, overwhelmed.  That's how it was for all of us.  The dishwashers were so stressed, the rest of the staff were taking bets to see if any of them just walked out.  Nobody did.  We ran and ran and ran, and I for one was very grateful.  Because of the pneumonia, I'd missed two weeks of work and was terrified about rent, which I still didn't have yet. 

Everybody pulled together; other servers walked my food to my tables, I emptied the ginormous garbage bags in the dish ring as often as I could, this person made coffee, that person got ice.  In the midst of all that turmoil, I felt a smile coming, the kind that starts in your belly and grows into a ridiculous Cheshire cat grin.  I caught glimpses of stressed out expressions, half of them irritated that I had this zen-like glow during the tornado of angst and panic and fragrant feasting all around us.  But I couldn't help it.  I was struck on this night of new birth, the beginning of a whole new year, by the beauty of these absolutely precious human beings I work with.  They are the salt of the earth.  They bitch and moan and gripe, crack off color jokes and fence with snide wit, but they are wonderful, big-hearted people.  On that night of nights, I was reminded of that lovely truth, even as I was being jostled and bumped and splashed with cocktail sauce.  Right there, in the Penn Station rush hour that is the typical kitchen of a busy restaurant, I thanked all the gods that be that I was there, with these people and living the life I'm living.

When I first came to New York, as many of you know, the back tire of my van blew from rocks on the Pennsylvanian highway.  The van was totaled.  I was unhurt, but the tiny wad of money I had for the move was eaten up by the accident.  Instead of an apartment of my own, as I'd planned, I had to settle for a rented room in a house.  It had to be walking distance from my job because I had no transportation.  I got sick then too, probably from unloading my belongings from the wreckage in a freezing downpour, and missed four days from my first week at work.  Two friends on the staff, whom I'd known from before, vouched for me to the skeptical managers, and I was lucky to keep the job. These are generous, loyal folk.

One of the older waitresses fell a few months ago.  Osteoporosis had turned her bones to chalk, and she broke her wrist, shoulder and pelvis.  Staff members went to BJ's and bought cases of candy and cookies, which they brought to work with the sign "Candy for Sarah. $1 Each."  Every night since, we've all bought something, and an envelope of cash goes to Sarah's house once a week.  I have half a dozen candy bars in my night stand table I still haven't gotten to.  When one waiter's sister died unexpectedly, we got together a donation and everybody signed a card.  When a kitchen staffer lost her mother, everybody pitched in.  With such hard times and tips so below average, all year, the people at this restaurant still dug into their own almost empty wallets and gave anything they could.  We're having a charity drive to donate a tiny percentage of our paychecks to help anybody in need and so far, almost eighty percent of the staff has signed up.  New wait staff, wide-eyed and shivering with terror at how hard a job it actually is, are brought into the fold and protected by senior staffers, and we all have a kind word and a bit of patience for them.  A Christmas party was given for the children of all the employees.  Every kid got a present and an ornament they could decorate themselves; little bells made from old sauce cups and ribbon.  They also donated dozens of toys and books to a children's charity for the holidays.  On Christmas Eve, the managers had concocted a feast for us all.  On New Year's, it was the same.  Sacred kindness in such a silly place; my own breathless miracle of a Dickensonian Christmas and golden New Year.  I had no resolution for 2011 except to keep the ball rolling on my memoir Freak.  I didn't care about losing weight, or making more money, or finding a mate.  I had my miracle, and my lovely, lovely wish to find the beauty in people.  It was right here, among the sour cream and squeaky, slip-resistant shoes.  So I grinned like a Cheshire cat and hauled thirty pound trays of food until right before midnight, when I was finally closed and could go home.  I walked across the street to the bar where my co-worker Rose was waiting.  A bunch of them had gone over to have a drink together.  Rose had offered to give me a ride. I dislike bars, so texted her from outside.

As we got in her car, both of us punch-drunk with exhaustion, I said, "I never got champagne.  I've had such an incredibly wonderful year, I wanted to get champagne for tonight."  She laughed wearily, said, "Well, it's too late now," and started the car.

Somebody tapped on the passenger window.  It was Valerie, a rowdy, hilarious staffer.  I rolled the window down and she said, "Ya wanna toast in the New Year?  I got champagne in the trunk of my car."  It was a tradition with Valerie.  She told us she did it every year.  So we tapped on various windows of different cars and they all opened their doors and came out into the damp cold air.  We toasted in the New Year with pink champagne in paper cups and I thought I would never know a more precious, beloved night that this one.  We were all bone weary and grinning like chesires, swaddled in cheap coats and thick mufflers, swilling $4.95 a bottle strawberry champagne like the finest Dom Perignon.  I slurped mine and yelled, "Wait!  Everybody, we have to toast my book.  We have to toast Freak!"  So we jammed our arms high in the sky and everybody shouted, "Rebecca's book!  To Freak!" as the clock tolled in the New Year.  Sophia added her own spin: "I'm RICH, BITCH!"

As I said, priceless.  Happy New Year.

Love, R