Miscommunication: Two Tales

My mother recently had a major surgery, and a nurse has been visiting once a day to check on her condition.  Esther is a homey, comfortable young woman, very friendly and solicitous.  Yesterday was her second visit.  She concluded it with list of questions, most pertaining to my mother’s bodily fluids. Then she asked:

“What is your name?”

My mother looked a little surprised that Esther had forgotten so soon, but masked it politely.  She gave her first and last name and began to spell it, voice thin and reedy from the effort of speech.

Esther cut her off.  “That’s fine.  What is the date?”

“The 11th.”

Esther gave her an expectant stare.  “What month?”

My mother returned the stare. “…March.”

“The year?”

Mom looked concerned.  “2012.”

At this point I became aware that the point of Ester’s questions were to check on Mom’s long-term memory.  Mom, however, had not realized this, which became clear with Ester’s final test:

“Who is the Vice President?”

Mom gaped, baffled as to why the questionarre had turned to matters of politics.  The two stared at each other with growing concern, each clearly harboring doubts as to the other’s mental functioning.  The silence stretched long enough Esther became uncomfortable.

“I know, it’s a little tricky, I like to trip people up– They know the President, not the Vice President, right? But it’s okay, it’s okay, you can just tell me the President…”

“Biden!” Mom burst out, “Biden.  I didn’t realize– I thought you were having a stroke!”


When I was young, I was very shy of talking to strangers.  Phone conversations in particular were a dreaded chore.  Here’s one I had when I was 9:

The phone rang, and with some trepidation I removed the phone from its cradle. “Hello?” I whispered.

“Hello? Hello?” responded the caller.

“Hello?” I ventured again, a little bit louder.

“Hello!” the caller replied, and launched into a telemarketing shpeil.  My nerves a little shaken, I couldn’t quite keep up.

“Wait… What…” I mumbled.

The shpeil halted. “Hello?” my caller asked once more.  “Hello?”

Thoroughly embarrassed, I spoke at an even lower volume. “I… can you… you… what?”

“Do you speak English?” demanded my caller.

My stunned and confused silence seemed to confirm her worst fears.

“No. Speak. English?” she repeated.

Panicked, I interpreted her question as a statement.  “You don’t speak English?” I shouted, my voice shrill.

How was I going to get through this conversation if my conversational partner didn’t even speak my language?  And why had she called my house?  What was I going to do?

The telemarketer cut through my frantic interior monologue.  “Let me speak to your mother,” she said soothingly.

And she did.


How To Pretend To Clean Your Home

I approach cleaning the way I would approach a dangerous beast in a fist fight:  Quick, halfhearted jabs, followed by dancing out of reach.  For long periods of time.  By the time I make another stab at tidying (we are talking about  Cleaning now, not Dangerous Beasts), all my previous efforts have been erased by the dropped clothing items, fallen papers, and general debris that I leave in my wake like a slime trail.

Keep in mind that as I write these words, I am wearing a pair of eyeglasses held together by nothing but Scotch tape.  Yesterday morning I woke up to find that my glasses were not on my nightstand, and my panicked search only ended when I heard a heartrending combination of *CRACK* and *CRUNCH* underfoot and found my specs, bridge broken cleanly in half.

This misfortune is due more to my blind-as-a-batshit-bat vision than to the cluttered state of my floor

but it did seem a sign that it was time for another cautious stab at The Beast.  (No, we are talking about cleaning here too.  Bear with me.)


1) Your dwelling is a dorm room.  It has 2 beds, but only 1 inhabitant. That inhabitant is your messy self.  As a result, both beds are covered in crap.

2) The floor is also covered in crap.

3) So are both desks.

4) There is no horizontal surface not covered in crap.

5) Get depressed.  Get intimidated.  Start nervously shredding a scrap of paper.

6) Pause and retape your glasses.

7) Throw out the shredded paper scrap.  (In your paper trashcan. Because you are a committed recycler.)

8) Feel good about yourself because you recycle.  (Good work!  I’m so proud of you.)  Armed with this confidence, tackle something small and of little importance.  Arrange your Mardi Gras bead collection (currently in a pile on a dresser) by color and start making a chain to hang on the wall.

9) Why are you wasting your time on the Mardi Gras beads?  That is ridiculous.  Stop and throw them down in disgust.

10) Now you have Mardi Gras beads in two separate sprawling piles.  Ignore that.

11) Attack random sections of your room in equally random, desperate lunges.  Do this until your friend across the hall comes back from work.

12) Complain to your friend about cleaning.  Cleaning is no fun.

13) Your friend got a hammer last weekend.  She likes her hammer.  Let your friend convince you that you should allow her hammer nails into your wall.

14) Get out the picture frame you’ve been meaning to hang and figure out together how to align the nails.  Watch friend bang wall with hammer.

15) Only half the nails go in without bending.  Oh well.  Put away picture frame.

16) Retape glasses.

17) More desperate lunges. Oh look!  Those little bottles of food flavoring you bought!

18) Decide to make flavored milk.  Take votes on which flavor to use.

19) Make milk. It needs more sugar. Find more sugar.

20) Write a blog post.  Because that will be of no help to you or to anyone.

Tada!  Your room still looks like crap.  Go to sleep, because it’s late.

Eclectic Light’s Top Graveyards

We (which is to say me) here at Eclectic Light have admittedly not seen all that many graveyards. But we will endeavor to make up for it by talking a lot about the few we have seen.

King Solomon Memorial Park– Clifton NJ.

King Solomon was the cemetery of my childhood.  A grandfather, dead since before my conscious memory, and an assortment of other ancestors are buried there, organized in a “Family Circle,” marked by short square pillars.

All the other nearby graves are similarly grouped, giving the impression of a residential street lined with family homes.  Within each home, generations and in-laws peacefully lie side by side.  (I’ve certainly never noticed any fights.)

My father’s branch of the family tree has been interring members in King Solomon since 1942.  The first to take up residence, sadly, was “beloved baby daughter” Felice, who (according to the research of my mother, in-house genealogist) fell victim to crib death/SIDS about halfway through her first year.  The most recent was my father’s father, brought down by a heart attack in 1997.

My parents would drive my sister and me when we were younger every year or so to King Solomon, to visit my grandfather’s grave.  Often, when we did so, our (admittedly shitty) car would die in the cemetery.  The delicious irony on this occurrence was not lost on us two youngsters: “The car died! Just like the people! The car wants to be dead!” etc.

Equally macabre was the diner across the street — The “Tick Tock” Diner, as in “Tick-tock, tick-tock, your time is running out…”

From theticktockdiner.com. A web search reveals that The Tick Tock is widely revered by diner enthusiasts. So that is nice for everybody.

King Solomon is where I was first exposed the idea of death and the manner in which the living respond.  It is where I first saw people, people who had once lived and breathed and ate crackers and scraped their knees and fidgeted and thought stupid thoughts and been nasty and been loving– complex human beings, just like the rest of us– reduced to a few words on a block of stone. There I first began to wrap my young mind around the question of what it means to be remembered after one’s own end.

Lodz Jewish Cemetery–Lodz, PL

Lodz Jewish Cemetery is large-

but I spent the entirety of my visit here-

looking for the graves of my great-great-great-grandparents.  My mother, using http://www.jewishgen.org, had tracked down the plot numbers of said forebears, the grandparents of my father’s mother’s parents.  Since I was studying in Poland last summer, and since my program’s itinerary included a trip to Lodz, it was the perfect opportunity for me to acquire a photograph of their graves for the family files.

The cemetery's main building.

The day was gray and the air heavy with moisture.  I bought a cemetery map, hunched to protect it from the drizzle, and split off from the group tour.  Translating the JewishGen plot numbers onto the map, and the map to the overgrown wood that was Lodz Jewish Cemetery proved more difficult than I’d expected.  Luckily, a graduate student who’d spent a lot of time searching through Polish graveyards helped me to get my bearings.

The cemetery, I realized while hitting back branches to peer at gravestones, was beautiful.  Lack of money had permitted tree and undergrowth to sprout unchecked, forming a wooded park. Though not conducive to to grave hunting or the cemetery’s long-term survival, the trees lent an otherwordly ambience. They made the graveyard a different, quieter place insulated from the outside bustle of life.


And the stones were much more varied and elaborate than anything I’d seen in the States.

Ooh, aah...


The rain had cleared and the sun begun to shine hesitantly through the leaves by the time I had found both great-great-great-grandma and great-great-great-grandma, who were buried in separate women’s and men’s sections.  I traipsed back to the tour bus to find the rest of the group waiting and hungry for lunch. I hear there are number of sumptuous mausoleums and a tomb that looks like a UFO, but I did not see them. Which is fine.  I thoroughly enjoyed my corner of Lodz Jewish Cemetery.

More graveyards to follow.  Which is good if you like that sort of thing.

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