Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I noticed her first only as a slow-moving anomaly amid the early evening rush. Intent on forward motion, she was bent slightly in her wheelchair; both arms pumped in unison, rhythmically, though as she approached I could see that only one was managing to make contact with the rubber grip of the wheel. The sound of her right foot dragging was soft and muffled by traffic, but the left inched up and down in time with the arms, faintly tap-tap-tapping the ground. Her uneven tracks in the sidewalk dust gave way quickly to the scuffling of other, more forceful footsteps. Her plaid top was limp yet dry, in contrast to the sweat eating through my own clothing. She reminded me of an abandoned powder box, dated and dessicated.

"Would you like some help? Could I give you a push?"

"Yes, if it's no trouble." The tone of her voice made it clear I was merely a potentially useful distraction on the path to a final goal; she looked past me down the street, fingering a space near her collarbone where a string of pearls must once have been. "I'm just going to the 7-11." Repositioning myself behind her chair gave me a clearer view of the white roots of her hair, bounded by dull brown dye. As I pushed, her arm continued to churn the air, gaining vigor as we crossed the two blocks. The sight of the convenience store made it flutter anxiously.

"Yes, yes -- just here. Thank you, that's lovely."

"Should I take you inside? Is there anything I could..."

"No, no; here is fine." Only now did I notice a thin line of sweat on her brow. She grasped a railing and she and the chair pulled out of my hand, darting forward in an amazing show of agility. Exiting customers skirted curiously around her; she was panting sharply, fixated on the glass door. "When they see me, they'll bring me out what I want. They just have to see me..." The left arm she raised above her head, waving and frantic, was devoid of jewelry.

No longer needed, I turned and walked home.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Insurance of the Fittest

One of the cruelest things you can do to your children is raise them outside of the private insurance system -- not because this leaves them uninsured, but rather because when they DO want insurance, they will have absolutely no idea what they are doing. None. Medical insurance turns out to be an experiment in social Darwinism, and they will find themselves picked off the tree like a proverbial pepper moth.

It doesn't help when your child is naturally a bit lazy and predisposed to assume she understands things when she does not.

Insurance manages to engage all the things I dislike: bureaucracy... logistics... forms... I can just about gauge at what point in an insurance negotiation I'll begin to break down. It's somewhere around the $2000 mark. As in when the pharmacist pulls a deceptively small box out of the refrigerator and says "That'll be $2089.88." You stand at the counter with your wallet in your hand and think of everything $24,000 a year could buy. A car. An education. A down payment on a house. Half of your salary in twelve of those little boxes. Half of it.

Then you think of how nice it is to feel the wallet. Really think about it. Run your index finger over the ridges and the seams, over the zipper. How nice is it to walk without a cane? Is it $2000 a month nice? $3000? What would you pay? How could you decide?

"This must be a mistake. It was never this much before."

"You'll have to work it out with your insurance."

I've worked it out, thank God, but it took almost a month. And I still don't know if I would have paid.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Today, as with every day for the past four months, the teacher went around the table inquiring as to events of the previous night. Did we have any news to share with the class in Arabic...yet again?

"President Bush went to Japan for a summit. They talked about the food crisis and the environment. I feel dead inside."

"I read an article about propaganda in Arabic language programs. They talked about Al-Kitaab. This place is a prison."

"My children and I played Wii, and then I cooked dinner. My soul is withering."

"Great," she smoothed out a textbook page. "And did you all make sentences for exercise nine?"

Rudimentary Arabic isn't good for conveying underlying meaning.