Pain World

Ready yourselves, Sisters and Brothers and Others on the Gender Spectrum (or agender, I didn’t know where to put you ūüėÖ

People of the Pain

Yes, get yourselves ready for the upcoming first installment of….PAIN WORLD, a serial that chronicles a dystopian world, one in which a person’s value is measured by their number on the pain scale (0= none at all, 10= screaming on the floor).  The higher the Pain Scale number they can function at, the higher they are status-wise, across the board. This naturally gives rise to ten castes; but it is possible to move between castes, with proper documentation and proof, of course.  In this way people can be as upwardly mobile as they like, if they’re willing to face the pain, and face it down smiling.

On the other hand, some people would gladly give up fame and riches for a simpler, less stressful lifestyle. No problem there.  Just drop that business suit off at Wardrobing, will you, and tell Alicia to give you a farmer’s get-up.  And Alejandro will pick you up in the garage, level Z, and take you to your new assignment

And oh, please tell Greta, your wife, to gather up her jewelry and furs in a pile on the bed.  Josie will take care of them.  Greta  must see Alicia the Wardrobe Specialist. Then she will join you at the garage.

The Brougham is a magic carpet that will transport you from one dimension to another.  Any last questions?

Yes, you’ll find you know more about this job than you thought.

Well, ciao ciao, I must be getting back to the office.  I’ll be keeping an eye on your absorption process.

Now–er, what was your name again?  Macallester?  Splendid!  Farmer Macallester it is, then.

Now, sir, before we proceed with the voluntary Pain Level demotion, we must fulfill some obligatory formalities.

Do you, sir, fully understand that voluntary Demotion entails losing the rights, privileges, and benefits of the societal level you wish to leave; and that should you wish to elevate your status at a later time, assuming there were to be a vacancy, it would be necessary that you present yourself for Pain Tolerance PlacementTesting, just as you did before.  Is that understood?  Sign here. Date here.  Initial there, there, there, there, and there.

Very good.  Now, while Rosa prints you your copy, let me go over ground rules with you.

Your name is no longer ____  _____.  You are now Farmer Macallester, and your wife here–Missus, I commend you.  Not many wives would follow their husbands DOWN the totem pole.

–As I was saying, you will be Farmer and Missus Macallester.  NO one will call you by any other name.  The folks in Farmersdell will sure be glad to see you when they notice you’ve arrived.  Why dog my cats if there isn’t a barn dance tonight!  I’m sure everybody in Farmersdell will be enchanted to meet you there.

Victor, bring the Brougham round.  Earn your money by doing something besides looking expensive.

Victor turned away and smirked. By the time he reached the garages where the antique cars were garaged, spasms of suppressed laughter convulsed  his body and he was afraid he might pee himself.  He struggled for breath and for self mastery and attained one of those.

The Brougham shoveled its enormous face out of its garage, and stood in a hare’s blink at the kerb where Farmer and Missus Macallester waited to step in.  They had no luggage, because everything would be waiting for them at Macallester’s Farm.  THEIR farm!  They smiled at each other, put their arms around each other’s shoulders and sighed sighs of relief and anticipation.

The Bed Bug Chronicles

Five years ago, if anyone had asked me what I knew about bed bugs, I would have shrugged my shoulders and stared at them blankly. ¬†Now, unfortunately, that is not the case. ¬†I’ve had much more experience with bed bugs than I can stand. ¬†I know that others have had, and unfortunately are still having, far worse experiences than mine; but you have to understand that mental illness makes it much harder to deal with the anxiety and downright horror an infestation of these nasties can cause. ¬†And there is plenty of reason to believe that if you don’t have a mental illness before you get bed bugs, you may¬†very well acquire one. ¬†There are numerous articles in the psychology and psychiatry journals speculating whether latent mental illness can be triggered by the severe stress and distress that bed bugs cause.

In fact, I just read a case study from the National Institutes of Health documenting the suicide of a woman with mental illness for whom a prolonged bed bug infestation was just the last straw.

Any of you who have had to deal with these disgusting creatures will agree: in the “gross!” department, it doesn’t get much grosser. ¬†They bite you in the middle of the night, when you are asleep and defenseless. ¬†You can’t even feel them biting, because first they inject you with a dose of local anesthetic so you won’t feel their proboscis piercing your skin. ¬†Try to starve them by going on extended vacation; they laugh! ¬†They can live up to a year without feeding.

I asked my rabbi who was responsible for the creation of bed bugs, anyway.  His response?




Oh man, do I agree with him.

My first bed bug experience was four years ago.  I was a patient at an Ayurvedic hospital in South India.  I was extremely ill with a digestive malady that turned out to be a rare form of Cystic Fibrosis.  I had lost 20 lbs because all of the food I ingested came right out the other end (sorry), and I was literally starving.  Regular medicine had decided that I was some kind of crank, so I was getting no care from that quarter.

The Ayurvedic hospital was heaven on earth.  Located high in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, the hospital itself was situated in the middle of a vast tea plantation. Did you know that tea comes from a Camellia bush, Camelia Sinensis?  Well, let me tell you, when hundreds of thousands of Camellia bushes are all in flower, the night smells just like the fragrance the angels smell when they come out to sing in the morning.

But let’s get back to the subject at hand.

One morning I woke up with itchy bumps on my neck.  They looked like this:

My First Bed Bug Bites

My First Bed Bug Bites


Note the peculiar proximity to my jugular vein. ¬†My first thought was, Damn, they have accurate mosquitos here. ¬†Then I thought, Hmmm, it said in the brochure that they don’t have mosquitos here. ¬†That’s why you don’t have to worry about malaria like you do everywhere else in India.

The following morning, my neck looked as if someone had taken a pastry wheel (the kind with sharp spokes, for poking holes in pie crusts) and run it up and down my neck a few times–and horrors! my pillow was covered in splats of blood, to match the holes in my neck!!! ¬†OMG.

I ran down to the dining room to see if anybody there could tell me what this was.  A woman from New York gave me a knowing look and pulled some pictures up on the communal computer: yup, no question.  Those were bed bug bites.

I roared into my doctor’s office, panting, and blubbered out my story, spewing tears and snot. ¬†He patted me on the hand and told me it was OK. ¬†It was NOT OK. ¬†I dragged him up the hill to my cottage and showed him the hideous pillow. ¬†He yelled for the servants to come and give me a new mattress. ¬†I barked orders to also clean the bed frame very well, very well. ¬†The staff did not speak English, so I implored Doctor-ji to please, please explain to them. ¬†I think he did, for they grudgingly took their pails full of water and crude eucalyptus oil (I was later to discover why they used eucalyptus oil) and swabbed down the bed frame.

I always travel with my own goose down pillows, because I have two fused vertebrae in my neck, and I have to have the right pillow in order to not be in agony. ¬†So I stuffed my poor pillows into the washing machine (“for the convenience of the guests”) and set it on 90 degrees Celsius, which is just short of boiling. ¬†I won’t bore you with the details of trying to get the pillows dry again, because “for the convenience of the guests” the hospital did not have a dryer, and it was monsoon season, freezing cold and raining most of the time. ¬†Previously, I had thought it entertaining to watch the staff hanging the sheets out on the topiaries to dry, only to snatch them back inside the next moment because it had begun to rain again. ¬†Needless to say, I no longer found that entertaining, now that I was doing it myself.

I fought the bed bug battle for weeks. ¬†Changing the mattress changed nothing. ¬†I moved to a new cottage. ¬†They were there too. ¬†Eventually I learned that ¬†the locally made (and very¬†crude)¬†essential oil of eucalyptus¬†repelled the little bastards, and¬†by soaking the bed and covers every night before retiring, I could get a night’s sleep without worrying about waking up bitten bloody. ¬†Reeking, perhaps, but intact.

Fast forward to August, 2013. ¬†I have just arrived to Jerusalem after a two-month absence. ¬†In June I had rented a tiny apartment, built entirely of Jerusalem limestone quarries, quaint but suitable for my needs. I come and go often, and really just need a place to land when I’m there.

The place came unfurnished except for a large wardrobe, so I brought a large and sturdy camping cot with me from America, to stand in for a bed.  It fit nicely into a golf bag that I used to have for the purpose of flying with odd size objects.

I stayed a few days with a good friend of mine who lives half a block from my new apartment, very convenient, and got everything set up before I moved into my digs. ¬†I’ve stayed with him countless times in the past. ¬†He’s a dear friend whose chief failing is that he is incapable of saying “no.”

And so it was that his good friend, we’ll call him Bob, arrived from a large East Coast city with FOUR enormous duffel bags packed with STUFF. ¬†OK, I get it that he was moving back to Israel permanently, but he was also planning to stay with my friend who can’t say no, and there was simply no room for his stuff and mine. ¬†So I pulled my belongings out from under the pile of his bags, and packed myself off with my few possessions to my little apartment down the street.

Two days later, my friend calls me and says, quite sanguinely, “Guess what? ¬†A big fat bed bug crawled out from under my pillow this morning, full of my blood. ¬†I squashed the sucker.”

I broke out in a cold sweat. ¬†I mean literally, I was suddenly drenched in sweat. ¬†My heart was racing. ¬†I could hear the blood pounding in my ears. ¬†I was having a Bed Bug PTSD flashback! ¬†No, don’t laugh, I mean it! ¬†I couldn’t swallow. ¬†I felt like I was going to faint, or have a seizure, or a heart attack, or die.

“Fuck, Ron,” I managed to squeeze out. ¬†“We didn’t used to have bed bugs at your place.”

“Yeah, I know. ¬†I’m thinking Bob. ¬†He lived in this fleabag room full of roaches and God knows what else.”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“Uh, what was the name of that exterminator you had over to get rid of the fleas?” ¬† My apartment had been full of fleas when I moved in, so I got Sammy the Exterminator and he took care of it. ¬†I gave Sammy’s details to Ron and closed my phone, still shaking.

Shit, all my stuff had been lying at the bottom of the luggage pile, literally, with Bob’s fleabag flophouse stuff on top of it. ¬†Well, all I could do was wait and hope.

I didn’t have to wait long. ¬†A couple of days later I woke up with bites. ¬†Not only that, but my little dog Noga was furiously scratching. ¬†God, I was hoping it was just the fleas again.

But it wasn’t the fleas. ¬†The next day I found a big old bed bug dead between the camping mattress and the cot. ¬†I picked it up in a tissue and put it in the freezer for evidence.

I didn’t call Sammy. ¬†I didn’t like how he had handled the extermination job at Ron’s. ¬†I’m not going to go into the technicalities of bed bug extermination, but it’s a big, long, involved, labor intensive process, and Sammy hadn’t done any of that. ¬†So I called a big extermination company that’s supposed to be the only outfit in Israel that really knows their bed bug business.

The guy showed up in a company uniform, very official. ¬†He took one look at my stone cave of an apartment, and said, “You can’t have bed bugs here.”

“Why not?” I said.

“Because you can’t. ¬†I’m a professional, and I say you can’t have bed bugs here.”

I showed him my bites.  I went to the freezer and got my frozen bed bug specimen out, but when I opened the tissue it fell apart.

“That is not a bed bug,” he stated triumphantly.

“Look at all the cracks between the stones! ¬†Look at that old wardrobe! ¬†Look, I found that bed bug (he snorted a snort of contempt) in my bed!”

He tore the covers off my cot and announced, once again, that I could not possibly have bed bugs there because he was a bed bug expert.  Then he took his little flash light and looked into the sleeve where the tube of the cot goes through the fabric.

“You have bed bugs,” he announced officiously.

“Where? ¬†Where? ¬†Show me!”

He pointed his flash light into the sleeve. ¬†I peered. ¬†There was a whole colony of bugs in there, big ones, little ones, cast-off molted skins….I felt both triumphant and sickened at once.

We had a quick huddle about what to do, and concluded that he would take the cot away and “recycle it,” whatever that means, because if we put it in the dumpster it’s certain that someone would take it home with them, even if we marked it “bed bugs,” because that’s how it is there. ¬†So he folded the thing up, in spite of my fears that he would dump bugs and eggs and everything into the cracks between the stones of my floor, and took it outside, announcing that it would be 200 shekels for the house call. ¬†I shelled out 200 shek. ¬†He stuffed it in his pocket and stumped away with my former bed.

To be continued…..


Riding For My Life: Part One

I just turned sixty.  Can you believe it?  Neither can I.

I look in the mirror. ¬†My face hasn’t changed much, except for a few creases in the jowl line that I’d rather do without, but hell, since I only look in the mirror to check whether I’ve brushed my hair today, I’m not bothered by it.

On the other hand, my skin has gone all weird. ¬†In some places it’s loose and jiggly, and in others it’s tight and thin and fragile. ¬†If I scratch an itch on my forearm, for example, I’m rewarded by a big red-purple splotch that takes weeks to go away. ¬†If I bang myself there, which happens all the time because I still crash through the world as if I were sixteen, my skin sometimes also rips and then I have a dreadful mess that requires bandages and ointments for a couple of weeks, and then I have a scar to remember it by. ¬† Yech.

And then there’s the skeleton. ¬†I’ve trashed most of my joints through overexertion, as I will explain below; and those that managed to survive my athletic excesses are slowly being eaten up by the arthritis that runs in my family, on both sides. ¬†Couldn’t dodge that bullet.

So even though my weight is exactly the same as it has been since 1985 when I had my first and only baby–well, I mean after I lost all I was going to lose afterwards, not WHEN I had him, because in the days preceding his birth I looked like a small house–my body looks just like you would expect a body to look if no one took care of it.

Before I launch into a maudlin description of why my body is in such deplorable shape at the moment, let me tell you some of the back story.

I have always been bipolar.  Unlike many, who discover their bipolarity in their teens or young adult years, I have always had symptoms of depression and passive suicidality on the one hand, and racing thoughts, extreme restlessness, and a feeling of being out of my body on the other.

I managed to funnel my depressive gloom into poetry and art. ¬†Since I came from a family of depressed artists I just thought it was the “artist’s temperament” and considered it normal. ¬†So I did get a lot of good art done, and a lot of bad poetry and maudlin writings. ¬†

I am a rapid cycler.  Even as a child, I would find myself catapulted from states of near-suidical melancholy into a state of restlessness that shot through my body like an electric current, demanding physical and mental activity, the more rigorous the better.

My first and only love was for the equine race.  My parents would not buy me a pony, citing countless reasons: mainly that we never had a permanent home and moved 19 times by the time I left home at age 16. This, coupled with the abject poverty that we lived in.  But I never felt that we were poor, because, well, that was how I grew up.  In fact, I thought that most other people lived lives of shameful excess.

So wherever we moved, it was always somewhere rural because that was what my father liked, and we could always have a garden to feed us.  And for me that was fine, because there was always a neglected pony somewhere in the vicinity: one who had been bought as a Christmas present for the children who enjoyed it for a few months or a year and then ignored it after the shine wore off and all that remained was the constant work of upkeep.

I was thrilled to muck out stalls and sheds, clean and polish tack, clean and polish and feed the pony, doctor its thrushy hooves, and do whatever would convince the owners to let me ride it as much as I wanted.

Pony after pony, wherever we moved, I poured my roaring excess energy into making it spiffy again, spending hours untangling matted manes and tails, getting bitten and kicked in the process. ¬†I didn’t care.

In my depressions I would go and bury my face in the current pony’s neck, inhaling the comforting fragrance of eau d’equine, which is still the most intoxicating smell to me, to this day. ¬†My tears would make a wet place in the unclipped winter coat, and for reasons unknown, the pony wound stand still, snorting but unmoving, and let me embrace its neck, absorbing my sobs.

We moved again when I was 12.

I was beginning to develop then, got my period, and started getting chubby.  Despite the fact that everyone in our entire family on both sides had been chubby at puberty, my mother began a campaign to get me to lose weight by means of verbal abuse.

“Fat-ass” became my nickname. ¬†I was a silent, isolated child then, having no friends since we had just moved, and I had no where to go except into the woods behind our house, to lie in the mossy glades and cry.

Then I discovered, not a pony, but a horse, about a mile away.  His owner had gone off to college and left him in his stall.  A hired man cleaned his stall and fed him, but otherwise no one paid any attention to him.

The owners of the horse had a daughter my age, who weighed about 200 lbs, didn’t care who knew it, and menaced anyone who gave her any crap about it. ¬†She kept a pair of parakeets and derived sexual pleasure out of watching them mate, and from surreptitiously watching her big sister and her boyfriend “doing it” on the couch. ¬†She was not interested in the horse. ¬†I was not interested in the parakeets or the boyfriend, but I courted Caroline until she introduced me to her mother, at which point with bated breath I asked her if I could take care of the horse in return for riding him.

She was ecstatic and immediately called the hired man (did I mention that this was a huge estate that encompassed an entire small mountain?) and ordered him to show me around the barn.  I had my first real horse to care for.

That horse became my passion, my savior.   The moment I got off the school bus I would race upstairs and change into barn clothes, jump on my bike and roar off to meet my paramour.  After turning him out into the paddock, I cleaned his stall down to the floor, fluffed it up with new straw, then brushed him out thoroughly, combed his mane and tail, picked out his shod hooves, and swabbed his entire body down with citronella-smelling fly repellant that I can still smell to this day.

I would tack him up with his flat English saddle and double-rein bridle–this I have to give my parents, that they had started me in English riding lessons since I was six, on tall Thoroughbreds, so tall that I resolved that since I must instantly be killed if I fell off, then I would never fall off. ¬†And I didn’t.

And off we would go, down the dappled lanes through the New England woods, all acrid with leaf mold.  The estate covered acres and acres, and I had no restrictions, so we criss-crossed the property for hours every day.

One day we were ambling along one of the many areas of bare granite, scraped clean by some glacier, when he pulled up lame. ¬†I jumped off, wondering how I was going to get back on, since at 4’11” I required a mounting block or at least a fence in order to mount the tall Thoroughbred. ¬†But he needed help, so off I hopped.

He was holding his left front foot as if it hurt him, and when I picked it up I saw that one of the many oval granite stones that populated the area had lodged in his foot, so I dug my hoof pick out of my jeans pocket and went to work.

The stone was wedged in between the two sides of his shoe, so I had to lever it out.

Now, normally a person who is working on a hoof stands with their back to the horse’s head and the hoof securely held between their knees; but the last time I had done that I had been dumped upon my head, so I stood to the side facing the horse’s shoulder and held the hoof in my left hand, working on the wedged stone with my right.

Finally the stone flew out with a “pop,” but it must have hurt the horse because he snorted and stomped his foot down hard on the rock we were standing on. ¬†But my foot was between his iron-shod hoof and the rock, and first I heard CRUNCH and then I felt my tall riding boot start to fill with something warm. ¬†I knew what that was.

Luckily it was my right big toe that had been crushed, because I needed my left foot to mount with and I don’t know what I would have done if it had been my left. Horses get used to being mounted from one side, usually the left, and they are skittish about the other side, and I had enough problems already.

I found a stump to mount from, and had no little trouble getting him to move alongside it and stand still; but I finally got on and back to the barn, untacked him, rubbed him down, and rode my bicycle home.

Then I tried to get my foot out of the boot.  It had swollen so that it filled the inside of the boot and was stuck.  I had to cut the boot off, shedding many tears, because I knew it was unlikely that I would come by another pair.  They are very expensive.

I was relieved to see, after gingerly and painfully soaking the foot in the bathtub, that the source of the bleeding was that my toenail had come off; but there were no bones sticking out. I thought that it would be better not to tell anyone, because that might result in my being forbidden to ride.   So I wore roomy sneakers for a couple of months, and it healed without incident.

To be continued……..