April 28, 2003
Picture it, as Sophia Petrillo would say, Jupiter, Florida, 1995. A police car sits on the side of U.S. 1. In front of it is a sedate black Volvo. As the police officer walks up to the car to issue a speeding ticket, what does he see? A bald woman, wearing large earrings and nothing from the waist up except baggy tennis shirt. Clothing and hair and a bra filled with two silicon boobs are strewn all over the front seat. At a loss for words, the police officer just sort of stares for a moment and then says, "Just go home. Slow down, but just go home." You have to admit, it's rather funny. Even I had to laugh.
Was this a clever ruse to escape a speeding ticket? No. It was just me while having a hot flash on an even hotter summer night. I had been doing a speaking engagement to raise funds for my agency. I was also in the middle of chemotherapy. The church where I was speaking had no air conditioning in August in Florida. I was wearing a suit, silk shirt, pantyhose and high heels. As I spoke, the sweat started to run down the back of my neck, from under my wig. Now, I had no problem being bald, but some people just don't react well to women without hair. It doesn't seem to matter what your hair looks like, just as long as you have hair. Any color, any style just hair. So, I was wearing the wig. I can only describe wearing a wig in the sweltering heat of a Florida summer as being akin to having a dead raccoon on your head. A wig over your own hair is hot. A wig over a bare scalp tends to creep, as the mesh lining shifts with your every facial movement.
The moment I finished speaking, I practically ran for the car. I pumped the air conditioning up to high, but it didn't seem to make any difference. It was late in the evening by that time, and dark. So and this made sense at the time, I grabbed the wig off my head and threw it on the seat beside me. I unbuttoned the suit jacket, but was still suffocating. So I took it off. The silk blouse I was wearing was plastered to my body, so it was next. Ah relief. The prosthesis-filled bra was heavy and hot, and I threw it aside after finding one of my husband's tennis shirts in the trunk. I only lived ten minutes away. I could pull into my garage before getting out of the car, and no one would ever see me. But I guess I was in a little too much of a hurry to get there, with the air blowing on my face full blast, and the radio turned a little too loud. The rest is now both history and some traffic officer's favorite story. When I got home, was my husband shocked or surprised? Of course not. He knows me. He lives with me. He laughed. That is how we have gotten through eight years of cancer. Laughter. Everything you read will tell you that laughter boosts the immune system and relieves stress. I don't know about that. All I know is that it makes life bearable at the worst possible times.
I have read different articles that suggest watching old comedies as a form of therapy. One even recommended The Three Stooges. Personally, I would rather stick a needle in my eye than watch Moe slap Curly one more time. But I agree with the theory.
At the point in my life when I was a single mother with a young son, it saved my sanity more than once. There was a Christmas that pops into my mind. With a limited budget?..and which social worker does not have a limited budget?I wanted to make a nice Christmas for him, as my mother used to say. While at the mall with a friend, I saw the perfect gift. A six foot tall inflatable Godzilla. We had just moved into a townhouse and had very little furniture. It would fill some of the space in his large bedroom, and with his sense of humor, he would love it. It came in a little package, which would be easy to hide. So, along with my other purchases for him, home it went. When Christmas Eve rolled around, it was his first year to spend that night with his father. The house would be empty and he wouldn't be home until 9 AM Christmas morning. We had decorated our tree the week before and spent the morning of Christmas Eve baking cookies. So everything was ready except for the gifts to appear before he got home. I wrapped his little pile of gifts and started to inflate the Godzilla?..trying to blow it up the way you would a balloon. After an hour, I had part of one foot inflated. This was not going to work. I called a friend. Single mothers tend to form a network of other women in the same life situation. Her kids were already in bed, with the oldest being sixteen at the time. She woke the oldest and told him she had to come to my house and help me. I lived two blocks away.
When she arrived with the trusty bicycle tire pump, I thought we would have Godzilla standing on his own feet in minutes. Two hours later, we were still taking turns, pumping away. By this time it was almost midnight. Then I had my brilliant idea. We jumped in the car and drove to the nearest gas station, which was about a half mile away. We stood in the parking lot and used the air hose to inflate Godzilla. Success! Within minutes, he stood tall and proud all six feet of him with a long fat tail for balance. Then it hit us. He wouldn't fit in the car. What had we done? There was no way I was going to let the air out of that thing. It was too cold and icy to walk home. I had some twine in the trunk that I had used to tie the Christmas tree to the top of the car when we bought it. Why not do the same thing?
Some people think of Christmas Eve and think of Santa with his sleigh piled with presents. For the rest of my life when I think of Christmas Eve, I will think of two women, driving through the snow at 1 AM in a Volkswagon Rabbit. with Godzilla tied to the roof. We laughed the whole way home and still laugh about it fifteen years later.
God gave us the ability to laugh. It must serve a purpose. I choose to believe it the most natural form of medicine. Humor is all around us, if we can step back from our own situation for just a moment at any moment in time.