Monday, December 20, 2004

Part II - You'd think that after the tour I'd have learned my lesson..

Dog on a stick, anyone?

Oh yeah. I kid you not.

But I digress.

So prior to our trip, Julie actually had a color coded map printed off the computer with vintage clothing stores, music stores, etc. and we spent three hours walking all over the Village. We had a blast and found all of these cool stores she didn't have on her map, bought a ton of Christmas presents, and I notice that the sky is getting darker, it's getting radically colder, and we didn't even make it up to midtown yet. Julie was vacillating between software and a vintage bass for Christmas and of course I was trying to push her toward the bass because, well, buying computer software is just no fun for a hip Mom like me. So even though in theory it would have been cool to buy a bass in the Village, most of the music stores are in midtown at 48th Street and 6th Avenue, and Julie, being a traditionalist, wanted to continue our Christmas tradition of visiting Rockefeller Center, seeing the tree; going to Saks Fifth Avenue, ToysRUs, Macy's, etc. which are all in the same area. I really wanted to get there and buy gloves because of course me being me, I lose them every year with this year already being no exception. The temperature was rapidly plummeting and my hands were turning into ice blocks. But because we pigged out at breakfast, Julie insisted we hoof it instead of taking a cab.

We calculated that between the walk from our house in Philly to the Chinatown bus, all the walking in East Village, and then the walk to midtown, we logged in about ten miles.

My problem in all this is that I have really high blood pressure and take medication. I've been feeling like crap lately, dizzy and light-headed, and I knew pretty much it had to be because of my diet because as I said, since Thanksgiving I've been living on chocolate and cookies due to both stress and their blatant availability in my office. I had a doctor appointment first thing the following morning and I'm always supposed to fast the evening before because I get blood drawn. So it's now like 3:00 p.m. and I hadn't eaten since 10:00 a.m. and I knew I could eat maybe one more thing soon but it had to be small and light.

Anyway, as we neared 48th Street, I was starting to feel weird but I shook it off.

Julie and I went from music store to music store and she tried out a bunch of basses. As you can see from the pictures I posted previously when I wrote The Tour, Julie is more than a little gorgeous and everywhere we went, the guys in the store made a fuss, and then when she played, it was like they'd died and gone to heaven. But nothing impressed her, until we went to Rudy's.

Rudy's is a custom guitar shop and the walls are lined with photographs of Rudy and Eric Clapton, Rudy and Santana, Rudy and Paul fucking McCartney...etc. Their entire third floor is devoted to basses. Julie tries out several and falls in love with a few WAY above my projected Christmas budget for her, especially after spending a fortune on "vintage" t-shirts in the village. (Quotes around vintage because apparently vintage is anything pre-dating 1990 now. Arghhh...)

I can't say anything more about the bass at this point because Rudy made Julie walk outside while we wheeled and dealed since he knew it was going to be a Christmas present.

Rudy's maybe ten years older than I am and the two of us really hit it off; he's a doll, and crap, I wish I could tell the whole story here but I can't because Julie might read it and I don't want to give anything away before Christmas.

In the meantime, I'm feeling dizzier and dizzier. Again, I get pissed at myself because I tell myself I am in New York City with my beloved daughter, we had a fantastic day, and I've got to stop acting like a psycho or worse, an old lady.

Anyway, as I said, I've been making purchases all day with my debit card and when Rudy and I finally make our deal, I hand him my debit card and it comes back "Declined". This is when I have my first mini-stroke. Declined? I have over $5,000.00 in my checking account. I've been using the damn thing all day and I doubt we spent more than $500.00. I'm so embarrassed and freaked out...then I start thinking that someone in one of the "vintage" stores stole my debit card number and is walking all over New York charging on my account. I mean, I didn't know what to think, but who would have guessed this, Rudy tells me I can call my bank from his phone on a Sunday at 4:00 p.m. and find out what's going on.

I mean, I actually made contact with a human!

It turns out my bank, for my own protection, has a $1,000.00 daily limit imposed on the use of debit cards. In case my card was stolen, the most the thief could charge is $1,000.00 per day. Yeah, well, no one ever told me that, and I'm on the phone with the bank, assuring them it's really me and to please lift the god damn limit. I know high blood pressure is the so-called silent killer, but I could literally feel it rising and I broke out into a sweat as I told the bank rep everything from my social security number to my mother's maiden name to my date of birth to my fucking dog's name (my security question)and then finally, when I think I have him convinced at last that yep, I am Robin Slick, he asks me the exact dollar amount of my last deposit. Now, any other week I could have told him that, but this week I'd gotten my Christmas bonus and with taxes taken out, how the hell could I remember the exact amount I'd deposited? Frustrated and desperate, I started fishing through my coat pockets, and there must be a God, crumbled among the tissues, ticket stubs and empty candy wrappers I find my deposit ticket and am able to give him this information.

He puts me on hold for ten minutes while he gets permission from his supervisor. Do you fucking believe it?

In the meantime, Julie is outside in what is now sub zero weather, and I keep staring out the window, worrying and looking for her.

Anyway, the bank guy finally gets back on the phone and tells me that the supervisor is approving my purchase at Rudy's but after that there is a lock on my account until midnight for my own protection which will be lifted first thing Monday morning, and that if I want the amount raised, I should see a rep at my bank first thing or better yet, he suggested that I carry personal checks around with me instead because it's really not a good idea to have a debit card with unlimited spending in case you lose it because it's used the same way as a charge card and very few stores ask for identification or a PIN number.

So I figure I don't care, I have $18.00 and my bus ticket; plus, Julie has a debit card, too, and she's got around $200.00 in her account, so they can lock my account after the Rudy purchase; I spent a fortune already and basically it was so late now we had just enough time to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, run through Saks, hail a cab and get to Chinatown in time for the 6:30 bus home.

The one thing I didn't take into account was how fucking heavy a bass in a hard case is but shipping wasn't an option - I might not have had it before Christmas and I didn't want to pay $40.00 more in shipping charges. Julie knew she was getting a bass, she just doesn't know which one. So I leave Rudy's with the bass, she sees I have it and her whole face lights up, but Oh my god, it's gotten even colder out and it's snowing! She's so excited I don't want to tell her I think I'm dying. I'm serious...I couldn't catch my breath, I've never been dizzier, and as we walk through the snow, my teeth are chattering, I'm not wearing gloves, and the mass of humanity at Rockefeller Center...I've never seen so many people in my life. Nothing prepared me for it. On a late Sunday afternoon there had to be at least a million people out there. You couldn't get anywhere near the tree; you couldn't walk on the sidewalks which were now becoming icy, and we're lugging 87 bags and a two ton bass guitar.

Julie is dying to go to Saks because it is our Christmas tradition and she wants to use her debit card (which is new, by the way - she just became "legal" with a checking account and card and she's so adorable and grown up I can't take it) and buy some gifts for her friends.

There had to be another three million people inside of Saks.

They did ask us if we wanted to check in the bass and all of our bags but we started to get so worried about the time and missing our bus that we declined.

Within ten minutes, Julie exhausted all but around $20.00 of her funds in her checking account and I can't say anything else about that, either, or ruin Christmas surprises but all I can tell you is that with my $18.00 we're now down to $38.00 total and I remember we have to take a cab to Chinatown to the bus and then a cab home from the bus stop in Philly so we have just enough for that and maybe a bowl of soup if we can find a place and have the time.

I also realize I can't buy gloves, but I figure that's not a problem because we're going to be in a cab, on a bus, etc. now.

So we struggle out of Saks at 5:30 and now the real fun starts.

There are at least a trillion cabs running down Fifth Avenue and every single one of them is full. We stand on the corner of 50th and 5th for fifteen minutes trying to hail a cab and it's fucking impossible. I now have no feeling at all in my hands; the ice and snow are coming down; and my heart is racing out of my chest. Julie starts freaking out that we're going to miss the bus.

I curse myself for being a princess all of these years; taking cabs in NYC and never learning the subway or bus system.

We are so screwed.

I keep hearing whistles and realize like an idiot that the reason we're not getting a cab is because doormen for all the nearby posh hotels stand in the street and hail them for their residents.


So Julie and I hobble to the Waldorf Astoria and stand in the line, pretending we're hotel guests. I watch in disbelief as the people in front of us, dressed in mink and Armani hand the doorman $1.00 for hailing them a cab. I mean, I have a piddly $18.00 left and I have a $5.00 bill ready in my hand. Jesus. Well, I guess that's why they're staying at the Waldorf and I'm taking a Chinatown bus home. Ha!

The bottom line is that we finally get a cab, but we're never making that 6:30 bus.

"Don't worry, Mom," says Julie. "There's another bus at 7:30 and another at 8:30. I just hope they're not full."

"You'd better hope they're not full!" I shriek. This is not good. I'm stuck in NYC with no money and a worthless debit card. It's twenty below zero and I'm sick as a dog and I NEED to be at both the doctor and work the next day.

"Relax, Mom. Everything will be fine," she says.

And I believe her. As usual, I'm probably over-reacting. I just feel so drained and weird...but I know it's got to be because I over exerted myself and didn't eat since breakfast.

Oh, and did I mention neither of us used the bathroom all day, either?

I had to pee so bad it was coming out of my nose, but I figured, okay, I'll bite the bullet and use the bathroom on the bus.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, prepared me for what awaited me in New York's Chinatown.

There is a corner where the buses all line up at Allen and East Broadway. Frantic women sell bus tickets, conveniently only understanding English when it suits their purpose. There are three different bus companies and all compete with each other, holding up signs and screaming and trying to push you physically against a wall to use their buses. They sell tickets willy nilly, whether there's a bus or not. In fact, when a bus pulls up, the driver doesn't even know where he's going until he talks to one of the ticket sellers. If a lot of people want to go to Washington, D.C. then the bus designated for Philadelphia becomes a Washington bus instead.

We learn from the approximate 500 people standing there shivering that there never was a 6:30 bus - it went to D.C., and now the 7:30 bus, which we were promised was headed for Philly, will also be a D.C. bus, only half way through boarding they change their mind and say it will make a Philly stop, so we try to push our way on only there are no seats and they won't let Julie on with the bass...I don't know she isn't behind me and I get shoved and punched and pushed on my way squeezing out while she screams and I mean screams MOM MOM I CAN'T GET ON THE BUS GET OFF THE BUS GET OFF THE BUS.

So it's back into the ice and snow, no bus, no bathroom, no food, and I think to myself: So this is how it ends. My worst nightmare come true. Dead before seeing how my kids turn out; dead before seeing my grandchildren...exactly what happened to my own mother when I was exactly Julie's age. Only I'm not going to die in a nice warm hospital bed like my Mom; I'm going to die in a fucking street corner in Chinatown where a million frozen tourists are going to stomp over my dead body in a rush to get on a bus.


I'm now radically ill and I share the news with Julie because I'm scared shitless and we need a plan. Like, at what point does she use her cell phone and dial 9ll for an ambulance.

I mean, any other time it would have been a no brainer. I'd have gotten right in a cab and gone to Amtrak. BUT MY FUCKING DEBIT CARD WAS LOCKED!

"Mom, you look really awful. You need to eat something," Julie says, more than a little concerned.

I look around my surroundings dubiously. We can't risk sitting in a restaurant, a bus can pull up any time. There's no rhyme or reason as to how these things work and I tell Julie that. It's now almost 8:00 p.m. It's at least a two hour ride home...oh god, I almost start wishing for death. I've never been so cold or so sick in my life.

"Mom, mom, there's a food cart up ahead. Give me some money. Maybe they'll have some soup or something."

I don't argue. I hand her what's left of my money less what I know we'll need for the cab in Philly and pray she finds something.

Oh, she finds something alright.

She comes back with some ominous looking meat skewers.

"Beef on a stick?" I joke weakly, trying not to gag.

"I think it's chicken," she says. "At least that's what I think the guy said."

I sniff it suspiciously. It kind of looks like chicken but no chicken I ever saw. But I'm so dizzy and hungry and I just pray that if I eat it, I'll feel better.

In the meantime, while she's buying said skewered meat, I strike up a conversation with a very well dressed New Yorker who is going to a conference at the University of Pennsylvania and is taking the bus only because the Amtrak trains are sold out. (So there went that idea anyway, because I did consider getting back on the phone with Citizens Bank and asking them to unlock my account again even though I knew I'd have a coronary trying). He's very cosmopolitan and just appalled at what's going on at this freezing street corner. He's also been waiting since 6:30 to get to Philly and he can't believe he's being pushed and shoved like this; he's dressed in a cashmere Ivy League and so very New York and of course by this time, my hair is a nightmare from the snow, I'm white as a ghost from being sick, no make-up, and hands that are so red and cold I can't even feel them. Not my best fashion moment for sure.

Julie brings back the skewers and after I have a bite or two and am chewing it, I realize the texture, flavor, etc. is completely new to me and I get a little scared.

So what does Mr. New York say to me at this point?

"You know, you really shouldn't eat off the carts here. It's not a rumor they use dog meat."

Oh God. I know that statement is the most racist, cliched, horrible thing a person can say, but you have to picture this. I'm sick beyond belief; I have to pee so bad I think I'm going to wet my pants; I'm chewing on something that isn't breaking down in my mouth, and I'm like the world's biggest dog lover.

I start to feel tingling down both arms, I get sparkles in front of my eyes, and my jaw starts to ache and Holy fucking Christ, these are all the signs of a massive heart attack.

At least I think so.

Whatever the case, I go into a major panic attack. I've had panic attacks before, but usually in supermarkets where I can just walk outside, or even at home, where I shake for an hour under the blankets but in a controlled environment.

To say I completely lost control is putting it mildly.

"Julie! Julie!" I gasp. I can hardly get the words out.

"Mom! What's wrong!"

"I'm really sick. I'm serious. I might have to go to a hospital. Oh my god, I'm so sick."

That's all I remember at this point. I really lost it. All I know is that some really kind Asian guy took my arm and led me to his shop a few doors down. Only it's not really a shop, it's some kind of storefront thing with no bathroom, just a tiny shop with a tiny stool and an electric heater. He sits me on the stool, tells me in broken English to put my head between my legs and take deep breaths, and put my hands in front of the electric heater to get warm.

I look up at him, still in shock, and what the fuck do I say?

"I just ate a dog! I just ate a dog!"

He looks at me not comprehending and then smiles, opens up a cake box and offers me some pastry - bright green and red stuff and is insistent I take one, shoving them under my nose until I almost physically have to push him away.

"No. I can't. I'm going to be sick. I just ate a dog!"

Luckily, he must think I mean hot dog. At least I hope that's what he thought. Oh my god, when I go over it in my head now, I'm so mortified my brain won't allow me to think anything else.

So I sit on that little stool desperately trying not to faint, throw up, or die, methodically rubbing my hands back and forth in front of the electric heater, trying to stay focused by the rhythym. In other words, I'm like a crazy person rocking back and forth.

Yeah, well, now it's confirmed, I am a crazy person, but that's beside the point.

I can't even look around his "store" because needless to say, it's full of all kinds of weird things. Roots and weird fish and...oh god, I can't even go there right now.

Anyway, after what seems like an eternity but is only a half hour more, Julie runs to the window and screams "Mom, Mom, the bus!"

I refuse to believe it but I stand up and with very unsteady steps, manage to make it back outside.

By some miracle, we get a tour bus with a bathroom, beautiful, even with a TV.

I didn't die, I didn't throw up, I pee for like an hour in a shockingly clean bus porta-potty, and we get home by 11:00 p.m.

And that's why, after telling him this story, my doctor didn't feel the need to increase my blood pressure meds.