What's Biting You?

Today’s weather does not match my menacing mood, like it always does in those bad British horrors from the ‘60s that I adore…

There are no studio-generated bolts of lightning, followed by thunderclaps of falling stock pots. No buckets of water splashed by a bored film grip against the French doors of Dracula’s virgin victim, asleep in her four poster bed, neck voluptuously exposed. Instead, it’s a cheery June afternoon that leaks into my gloom, the kind of day when brides raise veils to their grooms and graduates toss caps to the clouds…

It’s all wrong, this creepy scene on a breathtaking day. I am walking alongside Washington Cemetery on Bay Parkway, the skeletal tracks of the McDonald Avenue El in the distance. There is no one upright for blocks around, except me. Spooked by my surroundings, I stride quickly in my orange, stacked espadrilles, but there’s no escape…


Awareness of my mortality bites me, like fake fangs to the jugular. I’ve been sensing the shadow of Christopher Lee for some months now, visualizing his widow’s peak approaching my nape:  I turn 50 in a week.


My breath catches under my collarbone. I swoon, my falling form very filmic, sheathed as it is in billowy Dacron polyester. I recover, and peer over the graveyard fence. Tombstones crowded, any which way, like afterthoughts, like Williamsburg architecture. Then, in the way that a phony Hammer Studio storm stops abruptly at dawn, my fear evaporates in the sunshine of my defiance. Arms raised to shield his bloodshot eyes from the rising sun of my resolve, the prince of darkness cowers before the garlic garlanding my rising ire.

“Back up you bloodsucker!” I cry.

But I’m overacting. It’s not so much my mortality that’s bugging me on this spooky stroll. The prospect of death is a familiar, annoying awareness which comes and goes, like a wedgie in my Levis. It’s not death, it’s aging, and specifically, the resentment I have with this term: aging gracefully, that lurks in the catacombs under my hot-rolled heroine’s hairdo.

What exactly is graceful about aging? Diminishing eyesight and incontinence? Trick knees and night sweats? The slow and deliberate break down of collagen?  Granted, cradling my future grandbaby, swaddled in quilted cotton is a graceful vision for sure, as is the image of knitting needles dancing from my fingertips. I don’t knit btw. Not yet. Learning to knit a pancho would be cool, especially in the context of a groovy knitting circle with a barista foaming milk in the background.

But to most things I associate with aging I hold up crossed arms of resistance:  I hate chains on reading glasses, and comfortable shoes that defy all rules of aesthetics. I do find tea culture somewhat cozy, hand-mixed herbal teas in charming, mismatched china cups. But I’d much prefer to continue downing coffee heedlessly, if not for my already fitful sleep, due dwindling melatonin levels and those night time toilet runs...

I staunch the flow at the jugular, compose myself, and seek answers about aging from the family of obelisks I can just make out over the wall:

“Hey Rubins!” I call out. “Any suggestions on living well now, after 50, before I join you in eternity?”

No answer, which I take to mean that I should come up with my own damn bucket list.

So here it is, before I cross my hands over my punctured decolletteand pull the lid shut at dawn:

First and foremost the lofty list:

  1. reduce my carbon, espadrilled footprint.

  2. plant trees in barren neighborhoods

  3. repair ball hoops in playgrounds around the city

  4. plant tomatoes in illegal driveways

  5. repurpose clamshell containers in meaningful ways

  6. Love more deeply

  7. cultivate roses to recapture the real rose fragrance I remember from childhood

  8. close a freezer door so it stays shut

Those are my splashy drops in the pail...

The next three on my bucket list are unoriginal and wholly self-serving:

     9. return to Paris in springtime (and also in August, when the Parisians are    gone)

     10. eat pineapple pork, sway my hips, and swim with the dolphins on Waikiki Beach

     11. drag race on the autobahn

     12. surf in a storm at sea

And finally, number 13, because we have to end on thirteen. After all, this is a Hammer Studio production:

     13. I want to firmly, tenderly, hold the hand of a child, not my own, as she lurches tentatively on ice skates, all around the perimeter of a rink for the very first time.

If I can lose myself in a selfless act of patient love like that one, then I can close my false lashes and lock the lid for good.

Passing graveyards or not, each day presents an opportunity to ask yourself this question: What’s biting you?


Written by Maria Newsom On June 29, 2014

Revised Friday the 13th, 2017