Big Calves

duckpinsIn my next life I’d like to be a woman with calves like duckpins.

I’m seeing a lot of such calves on this cruise that I’m on. The women who own them seem to have more stability and be more stable than the rest of us ladies here on board.  More ‘planted’, sort of, like the legs of the big grand piano at the Schooner Bar where the red-haired Irish lady sings each night.

They kind of roll with the ship whereas the rest of us scrawny-calved gals skitter around like sandpapers on our drinking-straw legs. We seem plain doomed to topple, kind of like these guys below. (Go 18 seconds in to hear the soundtrack. Love it!)



30 Years Today: Christa and Me

christaThis in memory of the events of January 29, 1986 which impacted me greatly since NASA had my application:

When in the Spring of ’86 I became one of the final 40 contestants in the initiative to send a journalist up in space, the loss of the Challenger was still so recent the bodies had not yet been found on the ocean floor.

Maybe that’s why the TV crew who came to my door the day my name was announced seemed so eager. “She even looks like Christa!” said one of them. 

Which I kind of did, though here I’m making a face. (I was standing next to Gandhi in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London, and trying to not smile while mimicking his dour expression.)

me with 80s hair

“Have her children cling to her skirts!” said another.

We were all still in a kind of shock, I think, and maybe that’s why that news crew was trying to frame things in such a dramatic way. We hadn’t yet adjusted to the new reality. Masters of technology that we imagined ourselves to be, we thought we were in control of everything.

It’s a notion we humans cling to fixedly and relinquish with great reluctance.

Picture being on a plane as it taxis toward takeoff, a rolling rec room in most of our minds, in which folks read and doze and look out the window –  until it picks up speed and the trees blur and the tarmac goes fuzzy to your sight and somewhere inside, all your instincts as a land animal cry out in disbelief that this big-bellied metal hull will ever lift and soar in flight. The tiny bubble in the carpenter’s level of your brain leans way over to one side, and a small frightened voice deep inside you asks of your death, ‘Now? Today? This very minute?’ Then the plane straightens and climbs higher and with relief you turn back to your magazine, thinking, ‘Not yet then. Not this sight the last these eyes will behold.’

In the months before Challenger flew, teacher and Mission Specialist Christa McAuliffe said in her motherly and reassuring way, “It will be like taking a bus.” But it isn’t like taking a bus and it never was, as every career astronaut knows. It’s like riding a Roman candle.

Back when this first crew died what shocked us most was that we all watched it happen: one minute, seven hale and joshing Americans; the next, a blank sky. And then between that lost mission and the loss of Columbia in ’03 came that other event when, in an eyeblink, two mighty steel towers gave way to blank sky too.

I was just 36 when I applied to be the first journalist to fly in Low Earth Orbit. In the days just after January 28th I wrote in the Boston Globe that we owe God a death, as Shakespeare says, and that the Challenger Seven had paid their death-debt. They now flew free, I felt, beyond caring about control, or planning, or how many days might pass until a tiny planet tips enough to bring what its creatures call Spring.

I think of them today. “Give me your hand,” the black box caught one of them saying as their capsule hurtled quickly downward and the phrase is lovely, holding as it does all we can offer one another in love, or friendship, or at the Hour of Our Death. All, and perhaps enough.

Watch this, is you can bear to.  And under it, President  Reagan’s finest hour:





More ER Tales: The Good The Bad & The Ugly

IMG_0959More, even cruder stuff happened in that Emergency Room I spent four hours in and wrote about here. I didn’t tell it all in part because I didn’t think I COULD tell it without using the real language that I heard there.

But it wasn’t just the language I didn’t tell about it. 

I didn’t say that for my long, long wait I chose to sit by a man who woke that morning unable to move his leg from the knee down. I sat beside him because of his face, because of the expression he wore, that struck me as so socially ready and amenable in spite of the look of anguish that flashed across it now and then. Like me, he had come a long way to get here, and like me, he was alone. But his wife worked there at the hospital and he seemed to feel comforted by that knowledge and was with communicating with her regularly by text.

We sat together trying to ignore the behaviors going around us – like the fact that the dowager princess lookalike who had tripped on the cobblestones had actually called the city workers she blamed “fucking assholes,” an utterance that shocked me to my boots coming from a lady in her 70s with such an otherwise hoity-toity manner

She was eyeing me pretty good, I noticed and maybe it was what I had on, I don’t know. But when she saw the Gloria Steinem book I was reading she said, “Do you like that?” in a flat level way but then said nothing more when I told her yes.

The man with the dead leg and I really were right by the toilets, as I said, so after an hour or so I asked him if he wanted to move. “Sure,” he said, so with him in his wheelchair and I pushing, we rounded the corner to the semi-enclosed space that held the two tall guys I spoke about – only the chair would fit because an elderly lady wearing a sari and seated in her own wheelchair had been placed at the enclosure’s entrance in such a way that we couldn’t get him by it. It wasn’t my place to move her and I we could both see that. “I’m fine,” he said and wheeled himself back to where he had been.

Here in my new spot the first tall man I told about, who had reddish hair and who had what looked to me like cellulitis on the hand that was attached to an IV, told me they had to keep him hooked up here all night at least and maybe for 24 hours past that.  “It sucks because I have to go to Florida this week on a job!” I agreed that it sucked, which I didn’t say in the last post.

I didn’t say either that the sandy-haired, second, tall man, the one with the gash on his chin, had gone directly on from telling me that Gloria Steinem was a fraud to attacking what he called  “that whole Martha’s Vineyard crowd.” “Matt Damon! Fuckin’ Ben Affleck! You know his brother Casey Affleck? Guy’s an fuckin’ midget!”

I didn’t say that when the ER staffer brought in the homeless-looking man with the long grey hair covering his eyes he had leaned in to him and muttered, “Behave yourself now.” Thus I shouldn’t have been surprised by what followed when the two tall guys started to mock him to his face, calling him “Shaggy” and worse. I didn’t say that he finally sat up from his slump and called them both faggots before the rest of the F words began flying thick and fast.

“Guys!” I didn’t tell you that I said. “Guys, what about this lady hearing all this language?” I said, indicated the woman in the sari and who was 80 if she was a day.

“Oh don’t worry about HER!” snapped Shaggy. “She doesn’t even understand us! She’s an Arab! She speaks Arabian!” Then he shouted enough more bad things that the burly male staffer who had brought him in came flying into the room, took him by the elbow, hissed “I warned you!” and hustled him to a different area.

Just after that they called my name and I got seen.

Thirty minutes later I saw, in an exam room that they were escorted my quickly past, the man who had no ability to move a leg that was paining him terribly.

We waved to each other and though there was no opportunity to get it, how I wish I knew his name. 

Because me, I just fell down while running on wet tiles around a pool and got a compression fracture in my back; but this man? This man I can’t stop thinking about. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to wake one morning with such symptoms and I so hope he’s ok today.





Lord of the Flies at the ER

IMG_0743After a bad spill I took a few weeks back, I spent four hours in a busy ER, where, after being ushered past Registration into the vast waiting area, my main thought was, “Where do I sit?”

I first saw a seat next to an elderly woman with a sort of Dowager Princess accent who was going on and on to her companion about the “horrid” job the city does in maintaining the public walkways. “Hmmm, not beside you,” I thought. Then I saw one by a guy I’d put in his late 30s who was scowling angrily and massaging his back. ”Maybe not beside you either” I also thought.

I walked clear to the end of the row, down by the two public toilets, just happy to sit down and open the new Gloria Steinem memoir that I had just received as a gift. But as time passed and people kept trooping in and out of these facilities not three feet from where I sat, I decided to do my waiting elsewhere.

I spotted a small semi-enclosed area with a television. “TV!” I thought, and entered it to find it occupied by two very tall men.

The brow of the first man furrowed as he showed me his swollen hand. “I have to stay here all night attached to this IV,” he told me, indicating the apparatus he was connected to.

The lip of the second one twisted into a sneer the second he caught sight of my book.

“Gloria Steinem!” he snorted, his hand covering a gash on his chin. “She made all that stuff up, I hope you know.”

“MADE IT UP? Seriously?” I thought, but said lightly, “Oh, I don’t know about that.”

Just then a third man with long gray hair over his eyes arrived at the entrance to this area and stood for a moment beside the staff member who was escorting him.

“Jeez will you look at THIS guy!” yelped one of the tall men.

“Hey, SHAGGY!” cried the other. “Get a haircut!”

“Guys, guys!” I whispered. “He can hear you!”

“Who gives a crap?” the first man replied. 

The man took a chair and slumped over an arm of it, cradling one hand against his chest.

“Hey FOOL!” said the second of the two men, at which point the newcomer sat up and let loose a barrage of curse words seldom seen in a family newspaper.

The two tall men cursed him right back. The air grew thick with profanity.

“People!“ I finally pleaded. “Can’t we all just get through this?”

“Come on!” replied the sneering man. “This is FUN!”

And that’s when I realized: Here I was making judgments about what I thought I saw in these others, never imagining that they were very likely making judgments about what they thought they saw in me.

And what did they see? Some kind of book-clutching post-menopausal woman in running shoes, a backpack and an ancient fur coat.

They didn’t know I wore the coat because I had travelled 100 miles, by bus, on an eight-degree day to get to this ER. They didn’t see the holes under its arms, or know that it had once been fiercely peed upon by my cat Abe, right through the bars of his pet taxi. They only saw someone resembling those two Jacquie Onassis relatives from that ramshackle house in the Hamptons. Someone who thought she could teacher-boss everyone into behaving nicely.

So I guess none of us knew very much about anything or anyone in that big ER on that cold wintry night; but it seems pretty clear to me now that no one understood less than the preachy lady in the ratty fur coat.

Hop on the Bus Gus

girl on a busI don’t care about the weather, I’m going out this winter. I’m taking the bus. And the subway. And I’m walking . I’m doing these things because when I take public transportation instead of driving and when I walk instead of riding, I see things I would otherwise miss. The best way to get the sense of the newness of each new day is to get out there and swim in it, I now see.

I did this ten days ago week when I took a bus, and then a subway car, and then walked half a mile to get to the medical center where I receive all my care. On the way, this is what I saw:

  • I saw that people are becoming braver about objecting to the use of phones on public conveyances. I was taking a call from someone in my doctor’s office who was trying to set up an appointment for me. Just then a woman who looked to be in her early 80s rose from the seat behind me and tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I would mind moving to a different seat if I was going to talk on the phone like this. I so appreciated her forthrightness because we all do have to be mindful about everyone’s comfort when we are sharing public spaces – and this wasn’t my only lesson for the day.
  • I also saw that money isn’t the only way to show appreciation when I entered the subway station’ and saw a man with a guitar, his open guitar case holding a few CDs and a flutter of dollar bills. I smiled at him as the last chords of his musical offering died away in that high tiled space.“You missed it!” he called to me cheerily. But the subway car had already screeched to a stop and I knew I had to sprint to get on it. “Next time?” I called, gesturing toward the dollar bills, but he shook his head and smiled that wonderful letting-you-off-the hook smile that people use to indicate that money is much beside the point.
  • Once I was on the subway car, I found myself seated beside a girl toting three duffel bags, and wearing an Army jacket, a lip ring and a wool blanket arranged flying-nun-style atop her blonde curls. We had seen each other twice already, once as we both walked from the bus station to the subway and again when she had shouted “Happy New Year!” to everyone on the escalator so it seemed like a good time to say something. “I love your hat,” I whispered to her. “Oh yeah?” she smiled. “My grandma made it for me.” Then she sighed and said she couldn’t wait to get home, as it had been a long trip and her back was hurting a lot. Funny, I thought, because MY back was hurting a lot too because of the spill I took a few days before. In fact, when I woke up that day all I could think was “Get me to the doctor!” and “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts.”
  • But my best revelation occurred when I cut through the lobby of the fancy hotel next to my destination and saw a woman with arms that ended at her elbows. She was perched on a stool at the bar and laughing in jokey cahoots with the bartender, her shoes kicked off and an elegant goblet of wine before her.

So we all have restrictions, it seems, and long days too, some filled with pain. But if we can just get ourselves ‘out there’ we can grow self-forgetful, if only for a time, just by witnessing all the valiant life around us.



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My Homemade Holiday Card, on this 12th Day of Xmas

xmas in the new century phones trains camerasThis year my homemade holiday card offered a cruise through time, starting with this 1909 shot  of my mother and her brothers and cousins.

She’s the sad-looking one holding the toy phone. She was saddish by nature as a small child, whereas her oldest brother James, on the far left, was just plain jolly. His letter to Santa to Santa that year was signed, “from James Sullivan, A Fat Six-Year-Old Boy.”

My card was like that generally, both jolly and  jokey. After this first old picture I fast-forwarded 50 years to an image of David and his cute brothers posed by the their tree in Medford Massachusetts. He’s the one with the nice big smile and the striped shirt.

marotta boys c 1958

He and I didn’t know each other yet of course but here I am not more then ten miles away then, together with my big sister Nan in our front yard on Charlotte Street in Dorchester. Nan is so pretty  even now, and was then too. I was always mugging so you can’t ever TELL what I looked like.

snow fun charlotte streetFrom there the card opened up to show two shots of David and me as a couple,  both in our early 20s, one depicting a holiday-minded Dave with a big red Christmas bow stuck to his head.  I won’t put that up here since he hates having his image going far and wide  for all the world to see. Then the other one showed  me having what appears to be a 99th glass of champagne and wearing a one-piece hot pants getup and once again mugging.

august 70 at nan & jim's

Then further down came pictures of our kids AS little kids and then a few shots of our grandchildren.

Here was little Callie, AKA Caroline Theresa the 5th, named for her mom who was named for her mom who was named for her mom who was named for her mom – tiresome, I know.

callie on a sept saturday

And, here since I seem to be doing a Ladies First thing, was little Ruthie-Roo, born 13 months ago and already one of the funniest people in the room.

ruthie batman two

Young David Marotta came next in the card, a guy who was plain crazy about Nerf Guns for a while there, until the principle of disarmament settled upon the house.

david got his gun

And last but not least there was this picture of Edward, at 11 our eldest grandchild, here dressed for battle for the honor of the Fenn School.

edward football

Finally when you turned the card over to side four, there was this picture of David and me in the late 80s headed to a gala to celebrate the purchase, by its citizens, of a new Steinway for use by our town. The accompanying text basically said that al though WE two sure don’t look as good now as we did then, at least the hall wallpaper has greatly improved.

t & dpm steinway gala '88

So there it was: a card that was funny and fun to make.

And now, with Twelfth Night behind us and Little Christmas here, I’m sweeping away the last of the pine needles and laying those slender self-lighting, self-extinguishing window candles to rest in their attic box. Where one or two of them may well flicker on as darkness gathers and where, until their batteries run down, they will faintly light the gloom up under the eaves, until we pull them forth again next Christmas


Down at Downton

imagesDownton Abby was so delicious six years ago when the curtain went up on the year 1912 and all those “upstairs” folks started carrying on with their speech like butterscotch topping. Then there were the real people “belowstairs” who you always liked better, or I did anyway. I’ve often thought I would find it sort of cozy to live all together in a house like that.

Of course what a lot of us loved most in those early 20th century scenes was the women’s clothing, the silks and velvets, the wide skirts circling like lassos around the ankles of rodeo cowboys And the colors of both clothes and furnishings! I could never decide what I loved more, the outfits Maggie Smith wore as the Dowager Countess or the window treatments in what I think of as her ‘throne room’.

Now, in the year 1925, the younger women we see in that candybox  of a library wear hair that is bobbed and gowns that have evolved into “frocks.” I bobbed my hair once, seven years ago this month, and did it hang straight down in a perfect Lady-Mary-style wedge? It did not. Ten minutes out of the shower it looked like this.chia hair

It took me seven whole years to get it back where it belongs.

welcoming remarks

Moral of the story for me: fashions come and fashions go but you’d do well to know what you look good in. Tell your future undertaker NOW what you like, before it’s too late and they trick you out in a perm and bright pink chiffon ! (And how’s THAT for a dark post in bouncing baby year?)