What's Biting You?

The weather doesn’t match the scene, like it always does in those bad British horrors from the ‘60s that I adore.

No blinding studio flashbulbs that simulate lightning, followed by falling soup pots (thunder), and buckets of water (downpour) thrown against the bedroom window of Dracula’s voluptuous, virgin victim. Instead, it’s a ravishing June afternoon, the kind of day when brides marry and graduates toss their caps to the clouds…

It’s a creepy scene on this breathtaking day. I am walking by Washington Cemetery on Bay Parkway, underneath the McDonald Avenue El. 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.

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Mortality bites me, like fake fangs to the neck: I turn 50 in a year and change.

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I swoon, my breath catches in my chest, sheathed in a billowy, polyester nightgown. I perch upon the bottom rung of the graveyard fence, and peer over. Tombstones as far as the eye can see, and in the distance, the F train speeding by... Then, like a phony Hammer Studio storm exposed to the floodlights of a studio “morning," my fear evaporates. Arms raised to shield his bloodshot eyes from the rising sun of my resolve, Christopher Lee cowers before my balkiness.

I’m prone to expressing my thoughts out loud, on the street: to the lamppost, the mailbox, the dumpster, compelling passersby to look for my Bluetooth. I don’t own one. Today, I’m not just mumbling to myself. I’m screaming. I’ve been bit hard. “Back up you bloodsucker!” I beat the prince of darkness back to his tomb with a 4-inch espadrille and drive the heel through his heart. (In reality, I’m confronting a line of 18-wheelers parked alongside the graveyard.)

“Hold up Baron!” I offer a blood curdling cry to an unshakable yellow schoolbus, “This bride ain’t ready to cozy up in the coffin with Drac just yet!!”

No one’s around to see me. I’m getting into this, acting out the Hammer Studio formula, overacting it. Swooning, thrashing my arms, lightheaded from the loss of blood. I turn to a cluster of gravestones, all relatives:

“Hey Baums! What do I want to do here, right here, on the streets of Brooklyn?? I’m pointing down to the asphalt, to my toenails, peachy pink and wiggling. What do I want to do here, before I go there?” Now I’m pointing over the fence, jabbing my finger at immobile, grey obelisks.

I compose myself and staunch the flow at the jugular with a vintage hanky from my collection.

What do I want to do before I pull the lid of eternity shut? For starters, I want to:

  • reduce my carbon, espadrilled footprint
  • plant--and nurture--trees in East New York and Bushwick
  • implement battery and clothing recycling in every apartment building in Brooklyn
  • introduce curbside composting boro-wide (not just in neighborhoods amenable to it)
  • broaden block participation in Brooklyn Botanic Gardens’ Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest  
  • build garden beds in every schoolyard and playground
  • plant tomatoes in illegal driveways
  • find a solution to styrofoam clamshell containers
  • open hearts and minds
  • close refrigerator doors

Those are my splashy dreams. I get puffed up over them. The school science lab’s bearded lizard is home with us for the summer. We took him out of his tank today and planted him in the sunshine. He was so happy he pooped and puffed his frill. That’s me when I indulge in my big dreams. It’s good to get out of the tank sometimes.

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Otherwise, my bucket list is unoriginal. Before I kick it, I want to:

  • return to Paris in springtime (and in August, when the Parisians are gone)
  • eat pineapple pork, sway my hips, and swim with the dolphins on Waikiki Beach

Also, I want to try some stupid things like:

  • jumping out of airplanes
  • surfing in storms at sea
  • singing at The Apollo

When I put myself back in the tank, out of the dazzling rays, I think about  the little stuff. The stuff I want to do that no one’s gonna notice but me:

  • I want to have the patience to hold the hand of a child, not my own, as she lurches around the perimeter of a roller rink for the first time.
  • I want to raise sons who treat themselves—and women—well.
  • I want to cultivate roses with real fragrance.

Cemetery or no, each day presents an opportunity to ask yourself  this question: What’s biting you?