Friday, August 5, 2011


Last week, I had my “cognitive skills” evaluated for the second time and as I was walking into the doctor’s office my brain felt like it was firing on all cylinders.  Wish I could say the same for the streets of the city but alas something was going on in Manhattan.  Noteworthy is the caution with which I navigated the forward motion of the car particularly as I approached the crosswalks.  (Conflict avoidance skills fully engaged, no pedestrian exchanges.)  Parking my car was the problem. The first three garages were full.  At 10:30 in the morning??  A Tuesday morning???   It’s always something.

(I am finishing out the week with a theme kind of thing.  Yesterday was all about analogies, today is officially Cliché Day.  Nice ring to that, it rhymes!)

Despite the fact that it took me the same amount of time to drive 25 miles to arrive at my destination as it did to actually find somewhere to leave my car, I was oddly calm.  For the record, it was over 30 minutes of driving in circles.  The one way streets send you blocks away and this “find a garage” detour did make me fifteen minutes late.  I finally learned how to truly and fully embrace an excellent concept.  It’s out of my control and, I know I didn’t talk myself into this non-control nonsense.  I was cool as a cucumber.  If I were forcing it, I would have been a jumping out of my skin, undoubtedly looking to pick a fight with a cabbie.

Perhaps I realized I did leave on time and this really was just one of those things.  The unforeseen.  I built in extra time when calculating how long the journey would take.  Added 15 minutes for good measure.  Still, 15 minutes late.  Better late than never, right?  (My brain is detouring right now.  And I’m going with the detour:  I’d like to know who coined the phrase “New York Minute” and who ELSE thought it would be a good idea to incorporate that phrase into song lyrics.  A New York minute is more like two hours which means the genius that came up with that obviously resides somewhere in cow country where there are trucks containing potable water.)

And my point is?  Oh, the tests.  My five week computer training is now complete.  Water under the bridge.  (Water under the Brooklyn Bridge…. but I’m getting ahead of myself)  The computer games were targeted to strengthen my working memory.   I don’t know if I was using the “real program” or a placebo version.  Only time will tell.  I know I am still dropping words and I can’t stay on task.  I have a hard time getting started and my math skills swing widely.  Either I am capable of acing reports that require the use of complex, multi faceted spreadsheets containing crazy calculations (formulated by ME, BC….) or I can’t figure out how much chicken is on the barbeque.  It’s either black or it’s white.  It’s good.  Or it’s not.  There is no middle ground.

The testing seemed appropriately challenging.  I’m being kind to myself. Appropriately challenging is a nice way of saying I didn’t feel like a complete idiot.  Now that the dust settled for this portion of the clinical study, the second part of my day began to unfold.

As luck would have it, newly married relatives from Italy were in NYC on the first leg of these multi-stop honeymoons that seem to be synonymous with the type of honeymoons we DO NOT PLAN on this side of the Atlantic.  Because timing is everything, I was able to join them for lunch.  I completed my test at the same time they were checking out of a hotel just blocks away (more likely than not, a hotel I passed at least five times in that previously mentioned parking debacle).

A touristy venue at the Seaport, Brooklyn Bridge (told you I was getting ahead of myself) as a backdrop and easy access off the island of Manhattan to JFK Airport.  No better choice than to dine outdoors on such a beautiful day.  Having already thrown in the towel with my attempt to learn Italian, I fully expected there would be a language barrier.  Apparently, I absorbed far more than I realized during those BC car rides when I KNOW people were looking at me like I was nuts.  We still used our cell phones while driving.  “Hands free” was a thing of the future.  I did look like I was talking to myself as I repeated the phrases.  I did resemble a person who was “not all there.”

Come to think of it, I would have the CD player and headphones on WHILE I WAS DOING OTHER THINGS.  I know I really did this and for the life of me, I can’t fathom that I was EVER capable of that level of concentration, retention and multi-tasking.  Wow.  That memory just snuck up on me and slapped me upside the head.   First of all, how did Bluetooth, wireless, iPods and ear buds take over from their predecessors in the blink of an eye?  (I know the answer to that one, so that question was a good example of a rhetorical question: it’s the exponential explosion in technology which far exceeds the medical knowledge thing…..)  Second, how did I get into an almost pity party when, in reality, I wanted to share my exuberance?

(The clichés are beginning to bore me, so all bets are off as to how well I can bring this mess into some sort of cohesive thought pattern with a logical endpoint.  Consider yourselves warned.)

Back at the Seaport….. I understood the conversation!  May have missed a word here and there but, overall, I wasn’t pretending to know what the hell was going on with that idiotic smile and head nod.  You know, that polite game face while my brain is screaming:  WTF are you TALKING ABOUT?????  I was quite amazed but, I didn’t miss much…. Whether English or Italian or when it was a sentence combining words from both languages, I wasn’t a bobble head.  I did particularly well when hand movement was incorporated into the spoken words.   Hand language is my second language!  And my fluency extends far beyond a gesture involving the longest finger on each of my hands, usually one hand at the time or, when absolutely necessary, both hands in simultaneous synchronicity.

I met these two young people twice.  The first time was six years ago when we visited the town from which my husband’s family emigrated.  BC.  The second time was in New York.  AD.  Last week was the third time.  As we sat around the table enjoying the glorious weather, we were playing catch up……. We kicked around conversation; this parcel of land I have been hearing about since the DAY I met my husband and let’s just say it’s almost as difficult to conduct a real estate transaction in Italy as it is to see a doctor under socialized medicine.  OK….. really really not going into any commentary.  Just think about this, I do believe Berlusconi’s wife was brought to Sloan Kettering for treatment.

The conversation continued, their wedding, what was going on in the lives of some of the other Italian cousins since most of the family still lives in Italy…….. and wham, suddenly, four people were in the midst of a Tip of the Tongue episode.  It was a name.  It was the spouse of a cousin we met in 2005.  It was a person that SHOULD have been known by The Honeymooners. 

We tried word association, I did a visual of a picture that was taken of all of us in a pizza place in Bari very late one night.  I could see his face.  Clearly.  I could see precisely where he was standing in this photo.  I had a mental image of the red jacket AND I remember how well he spoke English.  Amazing detail, but NO name!

Our choice?  Let it go and it will surely come to one of us.  Conversation continued but bear in mind, I have that OCD component so now I was sitting like the smiling, head nodding idiot.  Because I can’t let it go.  I’m chastising myself when I’m sitting with two people who live within kilometers of THEIR cousins?  “Seriously, you have issues, give it up already” a concept, while successful earlier in the “out of my control” moment, my mind refused to embrace.

I’m that proverbial rabid dog.  I continued to picture the photographs, recalled the late night stroll through the waterfront in Bari, the Buon Natale email and the photo of their new baby.  I’m playing mental gymnastics.  I can’t get out of my own head to enjoy the moment.  I think I bobble headed my way through three entire topics of conversation.

“Roberto!”  For a split second, they all turned to look at me like I was crazy before we all burst into laughter.  The only person more shocked than me?  My husband.  Even though I KNOW that was a “tip of the tongue” thing, I THINK I should have kept my damn mouth shut.  Highly likely I lost whatever little credibility I’ve gained in recent weeks.  One step forward, five steps back (sorry, couldn’t resist… the cliché was begging me).  Remember, I read minds.  I’m not getting too clear a signal on this but through the static, I think his mind was saying, “And she expects me to believe this chemobrain nonsense?”

Who cares?  I know the recall ability was due to the fact his name has been in my brain for six years.   And No Matter, it felt pretty damn good.  I just spent two rigorous hours being mentally challenged; my brain twisted and contorted by a battery of tests.  That same mess of a brain was able to retrieve the name, saving  three others from “blurt the word” (previously established only comes MUCH later if at all) or saving one of us the crazy expense of an international cell call to track down someone with a better memory! 

Over a week has passed and I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.  I am stunned that I found the answer. How great was that?  Apparently, at least that day, my brain WAS firing on all cylinders!  I do remember, however, having had my Rocky moment, an unsettling feeling began to creep its way into my head.  You know, that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop?

We finished our lunch, I bid them farewell, promising I would return to Italy for a visit, I was very happy for them, enjoy the rest of your honeymoon.  More hugs and European two cheek kisses as I hopped into a cab.  They hopped in my husband’s car and we headed in opposite directions. 

Damn traffic, damn New York minute, damn TSA and DAMN, they missed their flight.  Yep, It’s Always Something, Come Hell or High Water, somehow, All Hell WILL Break Loose, The Other Shoe WILL Drop.  And they spent three unplanned hours in their finely tuned, every moment planned and accounted for, multi-stop itinerary roaming the corridors of Terminal 5 waiting for the next flight.

Postscript to this, I need to explore this issue of the constant Gaga music streaming through my brain.  Ever since my “Roberto recall” I hear a melody of  “don’t call my name” and something about a cigarette…. Ale Ale Ale Alejandro…..

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