Commencement

The editor who took me to lunch during my tryout week.

The editor and the reporter I met during orientation, when he asked me to take a look at her story and tell him what I thought. Later I would work for him for two years and edit her for 15, and come to regard both as friends.

The copy editor who polished my last story (and the copy chief who pushed the button on it). The one I worked with on the metro desk and the style desk and maybe even the culture desk somewhere along the line. Another one who helped me on Oscar nights and auction nights and many in between for the better part of two decades (and now sends me students).

The veteran news assistant on a section I helped edit for five years. And our boss on that section.

Oh, and the editor to whom my kids have been addressing cover letters, seeking summer internships.

These are just a few of the 100-plus people walking out the doors of The New York Times this month in the latest round of buyouts and layoffs (some sadder than others). Theoretically, Dec. 19 was to be the last day for most of them, although some are staying until the end of the month. The main newsroom farewell is Friday at 12:30, I hear.

I left the building six and a half years ago, but despite a few remaining stalwarts, this round of buyouts is really the passing of my generation from the Times newsroom. Once, we looked up to the bylines in it as role models for our future; now, we don’t recognize half the names.

Coincidentally, I’ll be back in the building at the time of the party. The commencement ceremony of the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, where I coach the international students, starts at the Times Center at 11 a.m.

Last year I didn’t go. Faculty members were told by e-mail that seating was so tight we would have to sit onstage, and as a relative newcomer, I felt that would be presumptuous. This year when the e-mail came asking if we planned to attend, I responded: “I’ll come if I don’t have to sit on the stage.” Christa Noelle, assistant director of student services, responded in the only sensible way: she assigned me to usher. Thus converge two parts of my post-New York Times life.

The Class of 2015 is the first with which I have been involved from the beginning, having interviewed some international applicants to assess whether their English was up to the program’s demands. Since those interviews two years ago, I have seen a dozen of this year’s graduates though orientation, introduction to newswriting, neighborhood beats, business strategy stories, capstone projects. I’ve coached them in writing ledes,structuring stories, asking follow-up questions and meeting deadlines; I’ve advised them to make friends with AP style. I’ve taught them English idioms and how to say “Long Island” properly; when to use articles, and when not; the rule that, in English, periods and commas go inside quotation marks; and a lot more.

“Is there life after this?” That e-mail could have come from any of this year’s CUNY graduates, who’ve barely lifted their heads from their laptops for three semesters. In fact it was written by that Times editor I met on orientation when I congratulated him on taking the buyout — who’s barely lifted his head not for 18 months, but for 30-plus years. My answer: “More than you can possibly imagine.” (If you have any doubts, just read this blog.) I suggested he might “join our merry band” — his words, 1995 — down the street at the J-school, which, I’ve decided this semester, offers all the fun of working in a newsroom and little of the stress.

I don’t know what new lives any of the Times people are commencing — nor, I suspect, do they. Six and a half years ago I had glimmers of mine, but nowhere near the whole picture. My best advice: it takes a full year just to decompress. Get some rest.

But I do know what’s in the graduates’ futures: media careers that many in my Times generation can’t even imagine. Last year, two of my students had to cancel the post-graduate semester they had planned because they were offered jobs. Two others, Natalia Osipova and Sofia Perpetua, are already working in the Times video unit, which has expanded into the space where my cubicle used to be.

Your turn, kids. Good luck, and get it right.

Learning outcomes, continued

Ula disappeared in the middle of class when her mother had a heart attack. Wiola and the kids were sick a lot this winter, and now she has a new job. Julie will soon be off to Southeast Asia to ride the elephants. I didn’t hear from Ihsan for weeks. Michiko, are you still there?

My online course in “English for the Media” has sputtered to a halt.

When I wrote a business plan as part of last fall’s entrepreneurial journalism class at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, I was far too optimistic. Ten-week pilot class starting in January! Refinements! Rollout to paying audience in fall 2014! More classes and more teachers by 2016! Onsite classes worldwide starting in 2017!

The course is based, for now, on the one I taught last summer at my academic second home, the University of Lower Silesia in Wroclaw, Poland. My target students, I reasoned, need to be able to study on their own schedules, whatever their jobs and wherever in the word they might be.

So I designed a course in which students could do most of the assignments on Pathwright.com, a platform recommended by Jeremy Caplan at CUNY. Actual class meetings — vital to the course, since students need practice communicating in English — would be kept to a mere hour a week.

The pilot class was smaller than I’d hoped. Journalists in India and Iran, who had found me on the Internet and e-mailed me to the effect of “Gee, I wish I could take your course,” completed a market research survey but never responded to invitations. In the end, the class consisted mainly of people I already knew: Ula and Wiola, students/colleagues in Wroclaw; Ihsan, whom I had mentored in UPI Next’s recent Pakistan project; and Michiko, a CUNY student last year, now back at work in Tokyo. The exception was Julie, a French career-changer I pounced on when she introduced herself on LinkedIn for Journalists.

As it turned out, even a three-hour-a-week commitment was a lot to expect of people with many other claims on their time. Then there were the technological problems: it’s not easy to round up six people in five countries spanning 13 time zones, with varying degrees of Internet reliability. France and Japan were fine; Poland was sometimes sketchy, as I well knew from the biweekly Skype lessons I teach. As I learned in UPI Next, whether Pakistan has electricity, let alone Internet, on any given day is a toss-up.

We held our first class meeting via Skype Premium. It started well but ended after half an hour when we lost Julie and loud noise took over. Still, it was mind-blowing to hear Ula introducing Michiko, and Wiola introducing Julie (whom I’ve never met in person), and everybody interviewing Ihsan — to have all these people from various parts of my teaching life connected.

“This was really great,” Ula e-mailed me right after class. Ihsan soon followed: “It was good first lecture and congrats on this. Pleasure to see you delivering lecture . . . good teaching style. We may have troubles in the beginning but we will overcome them through our consistent efforts.”

Skype didn’t seem sophisticated enough for what I wanted to do: write and maybe even draw onscreen during class. For lesson 2 I switched to Blackboard Collaborate on a 30-day free trial. Only Julie and Michiko managed to connect, and I couldn’t get the whiteboard function to work, even though it had worked perfectly in a test with Ula the day before. Still, I managed to teach an hourlong lesson.

The next week, no one could connect. Blackboard tech support talked down to me and lost me when I learned that the software wouldn’t let me move materials I had accidentally put on a “private” page to “public.” Next I tried switching to Vyew.com, which seemed a lot like Blackboard, only simpler; importing my files actually worked. The next Monday at 9 a.m. New York time, Ula, Michiko and Julie all signed in. But we had problems talking, and then Vyew froze, on three different browsers. That’s when Ula disappeared.

I explored Adobe Connect but couldn’t get to first base. Eventually, I returned to Skype Premium, which theoretically allowed screen-shares. They didn’t work, but as I triumphantly e-mailed those who couldn’t make it, “WE HAD A CLASS!”

Triumph was followed by three weeks of cancellations and finally two resignations for personal reasons. Clearly it was time to suspend operations. Two students wanted to continue the assignments on Pathwright, but they fell behind. Now lessons can no longer be viewed because the course end date has passed.

Since then, in classic cart-before-the-horse fashion, I’ve been taking an online course myself: “Innovators of American Cuisine,” a four-week course from the New School’s food studies program, offered free because “we already had a series, and we had a lot of material left over,” said Fabio Parasecoli, the program’s coordinator. “We want to build on what already had, and we came up with the idea of a free open course.”

This is a MOOC — a massive open online course — with more than 1,500 students around the world, and a far cry from my course, whose selling point is personal feedback. On a platform called Canvas Network, it used video lectures (mostly talking heads harvested from panel discussions), readings, YouTube videos (Julia Child making omelets, dissecting lobsters, roasting a chicken), written discussion and quizzes — but no online class meetings. “We use them for smaller classes, with a maximum enrollment of 17,” Parasecoli said. “Not here, because it’s a MOOC; it’s not in the nature of the beast.”

I suppose I’d be called a lurker. I had little to say about the discussion questions. (“How do Julia’s TV shows differ from contemporary food programs in the country where you live?” I don’t watch them, so how would I know? “Do you think that women now play a more relevant role in the food business?” Yes.) Perhaps a lurker is just the quiet person in class who rarely speaks.

I already knew most of the course material, having edited The Boston Globe’s food section in the 1980s. So my real learning outcomes were seeing how someone else’s course works and realizing I cannot run one alone.

The instructor, Andy Smith, had an entire team behind him — “faculty, videographers, a video editor, a graphic designer, Canvas people, Internet people, legal,” Parasecoli said. To make my course succeed, I need the backing of an institution or organization with a teaching system up and running so that I can focus on actually teaching the course.

Well, no one can say I didn’t try, and won’t again. What startup ever ran perfectly the first time? (Ask Kathleen Sebelius.) The “English for the Media” page on this website keeps getting hits — just this week, from Portugal and India. Last week my former student Andrea finally surfaced in China and said she’d love to take such a course. And I’ve started making friends with a media college in Argentina. Watch this space.

Weight-watchers

I wrote this post last fall when I was expecting a more precise diagnosis of my alleged thyroid problem. The doctor never called back after sending me for more blood tests, and I still have no health insurance that pays more than $25 for a doctor visit, never mind an endocrinologist or ultrasound. But last week someone said the wrong thing at the wrong time, convincing me that it’s time to post.

It’s not cancer.

But the furor over my thyroid has been a nearly as traumatic. Not just because of the malfunctioning thyroid itself, but because of what it regulates: weight. If you’re female in America, your weight determines your life. In this culture, thin is beauty; thin is health.

Last fall, Elle magazine provoked a media storm with one of the six covers on its November issue. The one in question featured the actress Melissa McCarthy, who has made a career of being fat and sassy. On this cover, though, McCarthy look slimmed and glamorous in a coat that covered her from shoulders to knees. The outcry wasn’t about putting a fat woman on the cover; it was about a photo that concealed what were euphemistically called her “curves.”

On women who don’t happen to be on magazine covers, those are not curves. They’re fat. I was fat for nearly 50 years and soon may be again, so I know.

Hard as it is to believe, I was a thin, sickly child — a result of the Asian flu of 1958, which poisoned my tonsils, probably compromised my immune system, and left me vulnerable to colds and infections every time I got my feet wet for five long winters. The tonsils were finally removed when I was 8. As an adult I asked my mother, “Why did it take so long?” The doctors said I might be too weak to survive a tonsillectomy, she told me, but I’ve long suspected that my parents had neither the health insurance nor the money.

As soon as the tonsils came out, the weight came on. For the first time, I was eating — the tonsils had also poisoned my taste buds — and at our house food was what we got instead of love. From a diet of hamburgers, chicken noodle soup, chocolate cake and milk, I started eating everything. I had once told the school cafeteria workers I was allergic to pizza; what I couldn’t stand was the cheese. Tonsillectomy fixed that, and many other dislikes.

By summer I couldn’t wait for my first summer out of the kiddie pool and into the big one. When I put on my swimsuit, I had developed a pot belly. “Everybody’s going to think you’re pregnant,” said my mother, from whom I inherited my tact. I didn’t know what “pregnant” meant, but I could tell it wasn’t a good thing to be.

From that moment until she died, a month short of my 40th birthday, my mother never let up about my weight. I could understand her motivation: her own mother had died at 56, severely diabetic and, judging from the pictures I’ve seen, twice my size at my heaviest. She was Pennsylvania Dutch, and that meant a steady diet of home-slaughtered meat, potatoes and gravy, with cakes and pies for dessert and nary a green salad in sight. I am now three years older than my grandmother — but then, I doubt she ever walked eight miles in a day, or regularly swam eight-tenths of a mile. Even at my heaviest, I was the thinnest member of my generation.

When I left home, I carried with me, as we all do, my mother’s voice inside my head. It came to be echoed by my boyfriend of college and beyond, who had once been fat but now felt most comfortable at 116 pounds. (That alone should have told me something.) We stayed together for nine years, and he, too, never stopped monitoring my weight “P.S.: Don’t drink that Coke!” he ended a love letter; when I made light of my weight, he hissed, “You are fat!”

At 23, in part to please him and to get everyone off my back, I went on a diet and joined what was then called a ladies’ figure salon. (Back then we didn’t go the gym.) I exercised five mornings a week and cut back to one hefty meal a day. My goal was to lose 30 pounds, to 124; in 18 months I made it as far as 125, from which the needle refused to budge. But I bought new clothes, and the boyfriend seemed happy. A few years later, he left me for his officemate, who was thin; maybe my weight had inched up a bit. Decades later, when I run into people from that period of my life, what they remember about me is that I was obsessed with my weight.

A couple of years passed. I met the love of my life, who stood 6 foot 1, weighed 250 and had a belly like a Buddha. I know he loved me, in part because he once said when we were out sailing: “Hey, why don’t you get a bikini? You’d look great in a bikini!” Mine was not a bikini body, I gently explained, but it’s the thought that counts.

Then there was the time he said, “Why don’t you lose a few pounds? You’d be stunning.” Instead, I was stung. My looks are Gibson Girl, and if I’d been born 75 years earlier I would have been a raving beauty. But they will never be stunning by turn-of-the-21st-century standards. There was no mention of his losing a few pounds. He already looked stunning in his concert tux.

He died; I made mistakes. By my mid-30s, with no one to please, I was tired of worrying about my weight and decided I’d eat what I wanted. Guess what? I gained weight.

“When are you due?” a delighted poll worker asked when I wore a big sweater to vote. “I’m not pregnant, “ I snapped, “just fat.”

“What can you do?” said the young man in the elevator to the gym on a fall evening when I was on my way to dancercise class, wearing a swing coat. “Uh . . . everything,” I answered. And then the slow burn: he, too, thought I was pregnant. So, I’m sure, did the people who offered me seats on the subway until I stopped coloring my hair. (Now it’s because I’m graying, if they offer at all.)

The years passed; I waddled around, relatively unconcerned about my weight. Oh, I puffed a little when going up stairs, but I still walked, still swam, occasionally biked. “Are you exercising?” my doctors would ask after a weigh-in.

“Yes.”

“How do you feel?”

“Fine.”

“Then don’t worry about it.” Probably the most sensible words I’ve heard.

In 2010 I taught a semester in China and effortlessly dropped 15 pounds, which I chronicled in China Daily USA as “the China Diet.” In 2012, I taught a semester in Vancouver and dropped another 15, attributed to different foods and lots of walking. I came back to New York, and the weight continued to fall off through a stressful year. By last summer I weighed in at 126. I went to Poland for a month and lived on pierogy and frytki and pork and ice cream. When I came back, I was down to 124 — the figure so elusive 35 years ago.

I had lost a third of my body with no effort, and everyone said I looked fabulous. But a lyric from William Finn’s “Elegies” kept running through my head: “Monica’s losing too much weight too fast.” It was time for a checkup.

“I suspect you’re perfectly healthy,” a new doctor said. “You could be mildly diabetic, but from what I’m hearing, it doesn’t sound like thyroid.” He sent me to have blood drawn, and a few weeks later, he called with the results: “You have thyroid disease.”

For 50 years, I was healthy, and fat. Now I may or may not be healthy, but at least I’m thin. As everyone tells me, I look great, and I’m enjoying that. At least three longtime colleagues from The New York Times have failed to recognize me in public. Thanks to a thyroid in overdrive, I have more energy than I’ve had in years, though as of this writing, I’m up to around 132.

I’ve finally managed to please the people who badgered me about my weight all those years, and it’s because I’m sick. Is everybody happy?

I do not care to hear another word about my weight, ever again.

What the butler didn’t see

This would never have happened to Rose.

Not that I blame Anna. I grieve for Anna.

The Rose I mean is not young Lady Rose, the recent debutante on “Downton Abbey,” but rather Rose Buck, head houseparlormaid on “Upstairs Downstairs.” She is the spiritual ancestor of Anna, lady’s maid to Lady Mary Crawley on “Downton.” The two would have been close contemporaries had they really lived, but in fact they were born four decades apart – Rose in the early 1970s, Anna just a few years ago. Both are honest, straightforward servants who know their place and show little ambition to leave it.

The rape of Anna early in the “Downton” season just ended has shocked and outraged many viewers. It happened to Anna rather than Rose not because Anna somehow brought it on herself — she did not — and Rose didn’t. It happened to Anna because Rose’s creators and audiences in the 1970s weren’t ready for it, and maybe we are.

I wasn’t enthralled with the first season of “Downton” three years ago; it seemed such a blatant rip-off of “Upstairs Downstairs.” (Jean Marsh, who created that groundbreaking series with Eileen Atkins and played Rose, publicly agreed, perhaps not least because “Downton” left her own “Upstairs” update that season in the dust.) But the next season, weekly visits with the Crawley family and their servants, who are at least as interesting as their supposed betters, helped pass winter evenings in Vancouver. By the third season, I willingly joined in the mass mania.

As the fourth season was about to begin in January, media reports hinted that a shocking crime would be committed against a beloved servant. At the beginning of the third episode (second in the United States), a somber disclaimer warned: “The following drama contains scenes which may not be suitable for all audiences.” I prepared for the worst but kept watching.

The rape was among the most disturbing pieces of television I’ve seen in recent years, one of the few that have actually kept me awake at night, like John Lithgow’s Trinity Killer on “Dexter,” or the “Mad Men” episode in which Joan prostitutes herself for a partnership. “It’s only a story,” my mother would have assured me as a child, but that didn’t clear my head.

For the record, I have never been raped (though a date 30 years ago who wouldn’t take no for an answer makes me wonder). But around the time “Upstairs Downstairs” was becoming a hit for PBS on what was then “Masterpiece Theater,” I was the women’s beat reporter for The Daily Collegian, Penn State’s independent student newspaper. As an 18-year-old junior reporter, I contributed to The Collegian’s Roe v. Wade coverage and wrote a three-part series on the status of women — negligible — in the School of Engineering. (A recent feature by one of my students at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism indicates little has changed.) I also wrote a two-story package, published as a full page, on rape. My lede:

Midnight. Walking back to your East Halls dorm from a late meeting, you decide to take a shortcut through Parking Lot 80. In the middle of the lot you hear quick footsteps behind you. Suddenly he grabs you and drags you into a parked car.

After five, minutes, an hour, or longer, it’s over and you realize what has happened . . .

Forty years later, I can see how naive my reporting was. In the ‘70s, rape was considered a women’s issue because we assumed that only women could be raped. (Maybe “Deliverance” hadn’t yet made it to campus.) Rape was a stranger grabbing you in a deserted area; we didn’t think or talk in terms of date rape or acquaintance rape, though surely both happened. Over the years, I’ve come recognize rape not as a sexual act, but as a crime of aggression in which the weapon is sex.

Anna was as blindsided as the hypothetical “you” in my lede. Going about her business below stairs when everyone else was above, she was attacked by a guest’s valet whose response to her rejection was a smack across the mouth so hard it split her lip. In fact, so many elements of Anna’s rape and its aftermath were covered in my articles: her shame, her feeling of dirtiness or being “spoiled” for her husband, her plea to the housekeeper who found her that “nobody else must ever know.” Many cases never reported, read the headline on my second article.

Some “Downton” fans praised Julian Fellowes, the show’s creator and writer; others excoriated him. He publicly defended the plotline, as did the actress Joanne Froggatt, who told at least one interviewer she was proud to have played it. In comments on the Artsbeat blog of The New York Times, viewers’ reactions ranged from “entirely predictable” to “shocking and unexpected.” One complained that it “came out of nowhere.”

But that’s how rape happens. Except in situations where abuse has been become routine, what woman expects to be raped? Not the high school classmate brutally beaten and raped just months after graduation; not the former colleague raped by a burglar in her own home; not the onetime friend jumped on her lunch-hour walk, who luckily escaped.

Anna’s rape — and notice how we pin the crime to the victim, as in “the Rodney King case” — certainly got viewers talking and thinking. My friend Lois said she was disappointed; Anna, she thought, would have spoken up. I disagree. It would have been wonderful to see Anna walk back upstairs and straight into the private concert by Dame Nellie Melba to face the rapist (who had already returned, smoothing his trousers). But as Froggatt explains, Anna is a woman of her time. The shame she feels is the shame women were still conditioned to feel in 1973, never mind the 1920s.

Rose and Anna would be dead by now. If they had lived, they’d have faced the privations of World War II and the postwar period with the same staunchness that carried them through World War I on camera. They’d have grown old without asking for much, with little if any resentment toward the privileged families they served. It would never have occurred to them to turn others’ crimes against them to their advantage, the way the ruthless Claire Underwood is using her college rape in the current season “House of Cards.”

Before the rape episode, “Downton With Cats,” a Shouts & Murmurs column in The New Yorker, referred to one from a past season in which Anna told her then-fiance, Mr. Bates, “not to worry about her, because she is ‘a trouper.’ ”

Anna is a trouper. She’ll come through, despite the “it” she can never entirely leave behind. And if it turns out that Anna’s husband did kill the rapist, as suggested while the “Downton” season was fizzling to its end? Well done, Mr. Bates.

How to salvage a birthday

As usual, Jan. 25 was not shaping up to be a good day.

I woke up and proceeded directly to my morning routine: juice, tea, read book, wash face, clean glasses, feed cats, open Nook. I answered four or five e-mails before receiving repeated notifications that the Nook couldn’t connect with Gmail. I checked “sent”; none of my messages were there. I checked “outbox,” and there they all were — unsent. Instead of going swimming, I spent a fruitless half-hour on the phone to tech support. And sulked.

I didn’t even have my music. Happy birthday to me.

Historically, my birthday has not been much of a day for celebration (fittingly enough for the accidental last child in a family that didn’t need another one). It’s not the aging I mind so much as the timing. When you’re born in January, you learn early on not to expect too much. You can’t swim in a lake or have dinner alfresco; you will huddle indoors, trying to stay warm. Friends do their best, faithfully inviting me out to dinner, but all too often things like snowy roads or frozen pipes interfere, and I accept them gracefully. When you’re born in January, you’re used to it.

The decade years have been better than most. My 10th birthday brought my first and last full-blown party with school friends, rather than cake and ice cream with relatives giving pajamas. In the mail on my 20th were my first passport and a booking confirmation from the Crescent Gate Hotel in Manchester, England, where I would live during my study-abroad; the world was opening up. My 30th was Chinese food and music with the love of my life at the home of his closest friends; my 40th, with my fellow fellows at Duke University and my friend Gina, who had flown down for the occasion; my 50th at the Peninsula Hotel spa, followed by lobster and Champagne (thank you, Leslie). I have high hopes for next year, not least the pension that will theoretically begin.

But too many years, I spent my birthday doing my taxes or worse. My 39th was spent in flight home from Moscow, being taunted by a crazy man who reeked from the smoking section. The absolute worst: my 31st, when the festivities included a do-not-resuscitate order for said love-of-my-life, who had collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage two days earlier. “Happy birthday!” is still a tough sell.

For many years, though, I had one reliable source of reliable comfort: a 1980s-vintage cassette tape of Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road.” “Getting My Act Together” is an Off Broadway feminist musical of the late 1970s set on the eve of the lead character’s 39th birthday. (39? Ha!) Being a rock musician, she is understandably feeling the terrors of aging. Who knew back then that Mick Jagger would still be strutting onstage as a great-grandfather in his 70s? But for women the rules were, and are, different.

I never saw a production of “Getting My Act Together” until just a few years ago, at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. Cryer herself performed in a York Theater revival and sequel in 2011, and City Center’s Encores! series mounted the original last summer, which I missed. The book is painfully dated, but for many women Cryer’s lyrics resonate:

So many people leanin’ on me,
I’m gettin’ run into the ground
Everybody’s wantin’ somethin’ from me
And there’s not enough of me to go around . . .

And:

I’m doing my strong woman number
Fixing everything myself . . .
I can handle any crisis
I’m so capable I could scream

And:

I have been a lonely lady all my life
And to tell the truth I’m scared of findin’ home . . .

I hadn’t been able to play my cassette for a while; my “new” tape deck (bought for my first New York apartment in 1988) stopped working a couple of years ago. I’ve missed it. Though some of the lyrics could be counted on to make me cry, they were cathartic and cleansing.

The LP of Cryer’s original cast recording is fairly rare, the CD on the Fynsworth Alley label even rarer. (A London recording is available on iTunes, but for me only Cryer’s voice will do.) The night before this birthday, there were a few LPs on eBay, along with a couple of Playbills and a button, but no CDs. I passed. Amazon had a new, factory-sealed CD for $33 plus shipping — ouch. Again I passed.

But then morning came, and I was feeling grumpy and rebellious. So I did the only sensible thing: placed the order with Amazon. The CD would arrive too late for this birthday, but I figured I wouldn’t have to get through another one without it.

And then I had another thought: what if, deep in my CD cabinet, there might happen to be an old Sony Walkman? I had given away my Discman — rendered obsolete by the iPod — a few years ago when a friend, temporarily in a nursing home, needed music. But I had no memory of tossing out the cassette player that had gone along on my pre-iPod travels.

And sure enough, there it was, in the bottom drawer. I pulled it out, along with the cassette — not even the original, commercial tape, but a copy from my two-head tape deck. I checked the batteries, which had corroded, then cleaned out their compartment and replaced them. I plugged the Walkman into portable speakers and pressed “play.” After a few seconds of static, the familiar instrumental intro started playing.

“Gettting My Act Together” is a short show, running only about 70 minutes, and the recording only about 35. Still, it’s an emotional journey, carrying the singer — and the listener — from confusion to regret to affirmation of one’s life choices. Amid a joyous chorus, it ends:

This is the day I was born
This is the day I begin
With the rain still tap-dancing on my head
The sun is starting to grin

Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday!

And I don’t know what’s coming
But this new day feels fine
’Cause I woke up this morning,
And the face in the mirror was mine
.

And those are just about all birthday wishes I need. The cassette has now disintegrated after being played twice, but next time I’ll have a pristine CD, and probably listen on my iPod. Thanks, Gretchen. See you next year.

The Scottish play

“And now I will vanish, like the sisters in that Scottish play, which we don’t mention,” says a playwright’s wife in Edna O’Brien’s short play “Triptych.” I happened to read “Triptych” a few weeks ago while ushering the Scottish play at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.

Theater people call it “the Scottish play” because it’s considered bad luck to speak the name inside a theater, except in the context of the play itself. It’s set in Scotland, it’s Shakespeare’s shortest play (though not in this production) and its name begins with an M.

Why is it bad luck? One theory, heard more than once during the run, is that Shakespeare plagiarized the incantations spoken by his three witches from an actual coven, thereby making the onstage curses real. Some sources date the superstition to the play’s premiere, when, legend has it, an actor died. In one story, it was a boy actor playing Lady M; in another, an actor stabbed with a real dagger instead of a prop. Over the last 400 years, productions have been riddled with deaths, hauntings and various other instances of bad luck. Opening night of a 2012 Australian production was canceled after three cast members came down with severe food poisoning.

In New York, this was the play that sparked the Astor Place riot in 1949, when fans of the English actor William Charles Macready battled those of the American Edwin Forrest over whose M——, and by extension whose country, was superior; 25 people were killed. The playwright Richard Nelson imagined that night in his play “Two Shakespearean Actors,” produced on Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater in 1992; it ran less than two months. Last fall Nelson mentioned the superstition in “Regular Singing,” the last and best of his four Apple Family plays at the Public Theater. It’s even been parodied on “The Simpsons.”

My Australian friend Beth Child seemed to have had no qualms about saying the name when she directed “M——: The Rock Opera,” to what she said were the best reviews of her career. Nor did the actor she sent to sleep on my sofa for a week:

“You were in ‘M——: The Rock Opera’?”

“I was M——-.”

That was a few years ago, and back then I wasn’t afraid to say the name. Now, being employed in the theater and having had more than enough bad luck in the last couple of years, I was taking no chances. As soon as this production by Jack O’Brien (no relation to Edna, I assume) was announced, I resolved not to utter it during the run, or maybe ever again. I don’t pick up tails-up pennies, I don’t put new shoes on the table and I don’t say the M-word.

But a 12-week run is a long time. Twice, I slipped.

One afternoon before previews began, I was heading to the ballet at another Lincoln Center theater (whose name we don’t say for political reasons) with an acquaintance who said she had bought tickets. “So maybe I’ll seat you for ‘M——’!” I said, before realizing what I had done. We were still outside the theater doors. Surely that didn’t count?

Then there was the evening early in previews when I was chatting with a patron about our interpretations of the title character, and I spoke the name. I excused myself to perform one of the cleansing rituals associated with this particular curse: leave the room, turn around three times and spit over your left shoulder. An usher may not leave her station during seating, but it was early and I was at the top of an aisle. So I slipped out into the smoke ring and discreetly make amends.

After that, I was vigilant.

“AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH! You said it!” I shrieked to Mim Pollock, the chief usher, more than once. She waved me away. Mim was born into the theater, and if it still holds any terrors for her, I don’t know about them. She has her own “M——” stories to tell.

One well-read colleague launched into a detailed discussion of the plot, frequently speaking the name; I did my best to respond without. Another surprised me when she said it, but she just shrugged: “We’re not in the house.”

Some people might have said this production was bad luck enough; the reviews were less than encouraging. A friend of mine who’s seen a lot of productions in her time came away from a Saturday matinee furious: “That’s not ‘M——.’ ”

But I heard of few disasters during the run, possibly thanks to the mandala on which Scott Pask based his set design. (It became the show’s logo.) Oh, sure, there was the night before Thanksgiving, when the stage elevator broke down during Act I and the show did not go on — but not before M—– himself, Ethan Hawke, entertained patrons with his guitar before sending them home. Two members of the ushering staff did suffer medical problems at the end of the run; here’s hoping their bad luck is over. I seem to have emerged unscathed.

Though the Beaumont is dark until March 20, the banners are up at Lincoln Center for its next production: “Act One,” an adaptation of Moss Hart’s memoir about his lucky life in the theater. I can now put my “Double, double, toil and trouble” spoon in the kitchen and breathe again. Let the ushers at the Park Avenue Armory worry: Kenneth Branagh’s Scottish play is due there this spring.

Marking time

The calendars I receive at Christmas are of course welcome, for what they say about me and the people who give them: last year, the cats of Rome, the Pacific Northwest, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania; this year so far, Australian Aboriginal art and a tiny floral desk calendar. But the one I live by, the one I cannot live without, is the New Yorker Desk Diary.

At $37.95, this calendar is something of an investment. But what that $37.95 buys! Vintage New Yorker covers in color, and a cartoon every week. “About Town,” this year 12 pages of phone numbers for airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, restaurants, theaters, museums and galleries, and still a dozen bookstores, all with color illustrations. In past years, maps of Manhattan (up to 125th Street, as if we in the Heights did not exist), the city and vicinity, the transit system, U.S. time zones. International dialing codes and currencies. For those who like to get a jump on their planning, the diary includes most of the preceding December, plus the first few days of the January to follow. Spiral-bound, it lies flat, and instead of letting bills and papers pile up on my desk, I can insert them into the weeks they’re needed.

Last year I procrastinated. Did I really need to spend the money? How often do I look up information in its pages? In an age, when my laptop is on from morning to night, I’m much more likely to Google. So I delayed until it was apparently too late.

The Conde Nast Collection (condenaststore.com) was happy to sell me one — which would ship around mid-February. When I called the 800 number in mid-December, I was told late orders would have to wait until bookstores shipped back their leftovers. On Dec. 26 the wait was down to 10 days, but I decided to try the bricks-and-mortar Barnes & Noble at Broadway and 82nd Street. “Sold out,” I was told, so I hightailed it back to Conde Nast and hoped for the best. On the 27th, I ordered, figuring I could last until mid-January. My diary landed on the 3rd.

In the meantime, I had decided to join the 21st century and try Google Calendar. My only previous experience with it had been in Vancouver the winter before, when my new-media teaching partner in Arts and Culture Journalism had decided it would be a good class project to compile an online arts calendar. The project was not a success; after a strong start, students stopped posting, and the calendar languished.

On Google Calendar, you fill in blanks on a form, much as you might on a paper calendar, but more neatly than in rushed scribbles. The calendar knows who I am because I’ve signed into Gmail. I click on a square and a box pops up, telling me the “when” — the time slot of the square I’ve chosen — and asking for the “what.” When I create an event, I can add the “where” and maybe the “who.” I’m never asked “why.”

Google sends reminders of what’s on it. “Reminder: Joey @ Tue Jan 1, 2013” meant I was booked to usher “War Horse” at the Beaumont last New Year’s Day. The reminders are great for, say, UPI Next conference calls, but sometimes I find them a little disconcerting. “25 years in New York!” on May 6 was apparently a reminder to post my anniversary essay (Milestone, May 6, 2013), but I have no memory of having put it on my calendar.

Google Calendar does come in handy for traveling; the New Yorker calendar weighs a pound or so and takes up luggage space. (When I went to China for four months in 2010, I ripped out those pages and took them along.) Before leaving to teach in Poland last summer, I went through the desk diary and transferred the things I needed to remember to Google. Aug. 1: “Order Elizabeth Grady when August sale kicks in.” It was a little confusing because the calendar initially assumed I was still in New York, moving a 7 p.m. screening of “Parsifal” to 1 a.m. Sunday. That lasted about a week until I received a note asking if I might want to reset the clock to Warsaw time. I did, and everything was fine for the rest of the trip. But the minute I got home, I reverted to The New Yorker.

This year I was taking no chances. I started stalking the desk diary online in mid-autumn. The price didn’t budge. Then, about a week before Christmas, the magic e-mail landed in my inbox: “Now ON SALE — Get Your New Yorker Desk Diary Today!” I did; the 25 percent discount essentially gave me free shipping. I even took advantage of the offer to “have the cover of your diary personalized with your name at no extra charge!” The package arrived before Christmas.

I grew up with the superstition that it’s bad luck to start using a calendar before its time (and I never peek at future cartoons). So 2014 remains tucked away in my phone-and-calendar stand until New Year’s morning, when 2013 will join years past in a closet, stuffed with the cards and letters from the one just left behind. Onward.

Learning outcomes

“Did I give you a headache this morning?” Jeff Jarvis asked as he passed my cubicle one day this fall.

“You give me a headache every Monday.”

He doubled over with laughter.

Yes, that Jeff Jarvis — author of “What Would Google Do?” and other works explaining the media revolution that has changed the way news is consumed and produced, ending a lot of journalists’ careers long before we expected.

He is also a professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, where I coach the international students. The term “entrepreneurial journalism” has also been known to induce headaches. “Entre-what? What’s that?” I’ve been asked more than once when tossing it around in conversation.

Translation: entrepreneurial journalism means creating sustainable new businesses from the journalism we already do, or have done. “Sustainable” is a euphemism like “development” in the nonprofit world. It means making money.

I first heard of Jeff from Steve Pratt of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, my teaching partner at the University of British Columbia two years ago (An Education, Feb. 29, 2012; Finals, April 2, 2012). Steve put “What Would Google Do?” on the reading list for our course. Among other things, he introduced me to metrics — using stats on what the audience is already consuming to determine what it wants, and making editorial decisions on that basis, a concept that still makes me uncomfortable. When I told Steve I’d be taking the basic course in entrepreneurial journalism that Jeff teaches with Jeremy Caplan, Tow-Knight’s director of education, I could sense his envy through the e-mail.

Students come to the course with an idea for a news product or business they would like to create. During the semester, they define their projects, research the market, assess the competition and start working out the financials. At the end, they present their projects to seasoned entrepreneurs for their feedback. (The audience at the spring final in the advanced certificate program includes actual venture capitalists.)

I am not a business person; I spent 35 years at newspapers with firewalls between the newsroom and the business side. Circa 1978, thinking I might enroll in a Columbia journalism program with an M.B.A. component because of course I was going to soar to the top in newspaper publishing, I enrolled in an introductory business course at the University of Rochester. There we set up hypothetical companies with products A, B and C. The way to improve any product, we were told, was to invest more money in it. “But what’s the product?” I kept asking. “It doesn’t matter,” I was repeatedly told. I never did apply to Columbia; business clearly was not for me.

But this summer, after teaching “English for the Media” at the University of Lower Silesia in Wroclaw, Poland, I realized that I had a product: my course needed to go online to serve journalists all over the world. “Entrepreneurial Journalism” seemed like a good first step.

Luckily, I had worked with Michiko Kuriyama of Yomiuri Shimbun, who came to CUNY last year for the certificate program. As we went through her assignments, I coached her in English but didn’t always understand what they were all about, and I certainly couldn’t see myself doing them. Market research? I’m a word person! Balance sheets? Do you think I remember what I learned about those in New York University’s art administration program? That was five years ago! But I got an idea of what the course required. Thank you, Michiko.

So yes, there were headaches, partly from the class’s crack-of-dawn start (9:15!); partly because Jeff’s mind is a perpetual-motion machine that often made my head spin (and Jeremy is no slouch); and partly because I was so far out of my comfort zone.

My classmates were well within theirs; they all seemed to have mastered, and to live in, the new-media world. Their projects were as impressive as they were varied: hyperlocals for Harlem, the Bronx, Staten Island, the Jersey Shore, north Texas; websites on fashion and the LGBTQ community; apps to help sport fans track their teams and social media users their news feeds; and so many others.

I like to think my old-media tendencies slipped out only a few times — when I admitted to using a Windows computer, for example, or when I declared that the early web producers sent to the culture desk at The New York Times around 2005 were not journalists. (I stand by my story; I checked with my friends. Of course, they’re old-media, too.)

Throughout the course, I remained a little disappointed that entrepreneurial journalism seems to be so much about the business plan, so little about the product. But then, while preparing for the final presentation, I made a breakthrough. “Show what it looks like” was the most obvious and probably the best suggestion for our presentations; it forced me to get down to work. Jeremy had recommended a course platform, pathwright.com, and I successfully transferred the first lesson to it just in time. I even produced a decent-looking slideshow, rudimentary spreadsheet and all, without begging my tech-savvy young classmates for help.

Those are just two of my learning outcomes — a category de rigueur on every university syllabus these days. Another is that the course has given me a new way to think. There is no “business side” anymore. Le business side, c’est moi.

“This is something you’re really going to do?” Jeff wondered in our conference a week before the final presentations. (Did he think I dragged myself out of bed and onto the subway for three months for my health?)

“Yes,” I replied. “I am.”

Yesterday, in his end-of-course notes, he wrote: “You’ve convinced me there is an opportunity here.”

And you, Jeff and Jeremy, have convinced me that it’s one worth grabbing. Thanks to you, I have a business plan, a presentation and even a product. The next task is to assemble 10 media professionals around the world with reasonably reliable Internet connections and a strong desire to improve their English for a free pilot class this winter. (Any more takers? E-mail me: dnottle@gmail.com.) Then all I have to do is find a webinar platform, figure out how to hold classes across a dozen or so time zones and make sure my assignments work online.

The real headaches — and the real learning — are about to begin.

The dividing line

Circulating in on the Internet these days, at least in my circles, is “22 Signs You Were Raised by Stephen Sondheim.” (Thank you, Dale.) No. 9 might induce a few cringes this weekend: “You know more about former presidential assassins than former presidents,” illustrated by video clip of “The Ballad of Booth” from Sondheim’s musical “Assassins.” At the age of 8 going on 9, I learned about both.

“Where were you when you heard Kennedy was shot?” is the “Where were you on 9/11?” of my generation, though I can answer that one, too. In both cases, the moment of impact is the dividing line between the time when everything was normal and the time when everything had changed.

American kids in 1963 were no strangers to national crisis. We had already lived through the Cuban missile crisis. At Bushkill Township Elementary School, we had practiced what to do in case of nuclear attack: file out to crawl spaces in the school building, where we would have to stay for 55 days, and of course our parents would all be dead. The boys threw spiders at the girls, and I was shocked to see our teacher wearing shorts for the drills.

Nov. 22 was a Friday that year, too. As I left my third grade classroom around 2:30 in the afternoon, looking forward to our weekly trip to the Acme Market, little blond Cheryl ran up to me and lisped, “Kenny got shot! Kenny got shot!”

“Who’s Kenny?” I asked. It took a couple of minutes to figure it out. The flow of news was slow in those days; television was not standard equipment in elementary-school classrooms.

When the school bus dropped me off at home, my mother said we wouldn’t be going to the Acme: “Everything’s closed.” I turned on the TV. “Don’t bother,” she said, clearly exasperated. “There’s nothing on. They’re just showing his picture and playing music.” Oddly, my father, too, was home instead of patrolling the township in his police car.

We and the rest of the country stayed glued to our sets for the weekend and beyond. On Sunday, as my mother fried eggs and bacon for breakfast after church, my father and I witnessed the assassination of an assassin. Monday, as I recall, was the funeral: Black Jack, the riderless horse; “Hail to the Chief” slowed to a dirge; the drumbeats pacing the procession. In their cadence, I heard the rhythm of a cheer for our local high school’s sports teams: We’re from Nazareth/Couldn’t be prouder/ Come on, boys,/Let’s cheer it louder. Only the fourth line didn’t fit that beat; in my head, it became Let’s cheer, cheer it loud.

Thursday was Thanksgiving, a dozen or so people at our house as usual. (We did Christmas at my aunt’s.) I don’t remember much about it, but I suspect it had the same air of not knowing what we were supposed to do as the Thanksgiving after 9/11. That first awkward holiday past, we moved on to Christmas, New Year, my birthday. Life went on.

That summer, my parents and I visited the gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery and saw the Eternal Flame firsthand. I’ve seen it a number of times since — sometimes on school trips, most recently with my German friends, the Muench family, on our way north after a week on the Outer Banks. “Do you remember that time?” I asked, then realized what a foolish question it was. None of them had been born yet, and in any case, what coverage the assassination would have received in Communist East Germany was questionable. (There is now a Kennedy museum in reunified Berlin.)

I can’t say I’m pleased that I remember so vividly something that happened 50 years ago. But having those memories makes me — all of us — a part of history. For another musical, “Pacific Overtures,” Sondheim wrote “Someone in a Tree,” about the boy who witnessed the signing of the pact opening Japan to the West in 1854 from a tree just outside the treaty house:

Without someone in a tree
Nothing happened here.

In our time, that would be “someone watching TV.”

This Friday, Nov. 22, was swim day. As I walked along the Hudson River to the pool, I found myself singing not songs from “Chicago” or “The Fantasticks,” as I normally do when passing Jerry Orbach’s resting place in Trinity Cemetery, but the bitter line “Everybody’s got the right to some sunshine . . .” from “Assassins.” In fact the sun was trying to peek out through a gloomy cloud cover appropriate to the day.

I had left for the pool an hour earlier than usual because it just didn’t seem right to be doing water aerobics at 1:30 when the moment came. I don’t know what I was expecting would happen — church bells ringing? Swimmers pausing in their laps for a moment of silence? Having to stop them myself to explain what this moment in time was all about? The public-address system was tested — preparation for an announcement an hour later? I’ll never know.

When the moment came, I was already walking home, facing the bridge named for a president who had died peacefully in his bed. Once again, life went on. Just after the 3 p.m. news, WQXR played the overture to “Camelot.” And then I went to work at a play about a thane who murders a king.

When I arrived in the locker room that day, a group of little girls had just finished dressing after their swim lesson. They looked about 8 going on 9 — just the age I was on Nov. 22, 1963.

Contagion

Squalor: my work space.

The invasion could have come from anywhere.

Maybe the wash-and-fold laundry down the street. Maybe the lockers at the 92nd Street Y, where I swam in September during my pool’s annual closing. Maybe a bag in the cargo hold on the plane I flew home from Europe this summer. (I’m sure it wasn’t the two private homes where I stayed.) Maybe a sleeve I brushed against on the subway, or something that stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Maybe another apartment in my building.

However it happened, bedbugs have taken possession of my life, and shredded it.

Saturday night a week ago, I was feeling fidgety and having a hard time sleeping. About 2 a.m. I turned on the light to read. A bug ran across the sheet. I pulled it up to find more. In all, I killed about two dozen that night, pressing their bodies into the blue-and-white shell-pattered sheets, leaving trails of blood — mine. I have not slept in my bed since.

In the 2011 film ”Contagion,” a microorganism dropped onto a leaf in the jungle by an infected monkey eventually makes its way to the United States via Gwyneth Paltrow, who dies of it, and brings the world to the point of apocalypse. That’s pretty much what’s happening in New York City, where the inescapable proximity of 8.3 million people makes it easy to pass bugs or their eggs from one to another to another. One bedbug can lay up to 500 eggs in its lifetime, the Internet tells me, so if you carry home even one egg, you can expect 500 bugs and their descendants.

Trying to pinpoint the source of the infestation, I asked experts how long it would take for an intruder to make its presence felt. “Don’t even go there,” more than one told me. “You can drive yourself crazy.”

I notified my landlord, whom I already owe more money than there is in the world, and he contacted Abalon Exterminating, whose motto is “We do it all!” Someone from Abalon called to schedule an appointment for last Wednesday. A few days, and my problem would be solved.

On Wednesday morning, I walked the five blocks to the Bug Off Pest Control Center in Washington Heights, which had been recommended to me, to buy casings for my mattress, box spring and pillows ($138). I was visibly upset when I walked in. As the owner, Andy Linares, looked for the casings, he displayed all the finesse of his previous career as a United Nations diplomat.

“What did you do to bring them in?”

“Nothing!”

“Have you been picking up furniture off the street?”

“No! Look, just give me the cases.”

“Hey, I’m trying to help you. It’s not about the money.”

No, it’s about blaming the victim. Bug off, indeed.

When I unexpectedly had to leave home by 5:30, I called Abalon to ask if the exterminator would be finished by then. Of course: “he’s only doing an inspection today. He has to determine if you have bedbugs.” Apparently my bloody sheets weren’t good enough. But then, to Abalon, bedbugs are an everyday occurrence, not a life crisis.

Then I was e-mailed the instructions for preparing my bedroom for extermination if it was found to have bugs:

Clothing and any other items stored under the bed must be removed washed and bagged

Clothing stored in dressers and all other storage areas must be removed washed and bagged


All clothing, linen and any other items in closets must be removed, (at last, a comma!) washed and bagged, all closets must be completely empty


Radiator covers must be removed for access


Smoke alarm, electric outlets and switches must be removed


Furniture must be removed from the wall at least 24 inches for proper access (this in an 8-by-10 room)

Carpet needs to be lifted along with padding and tackles, are rugs must to (sic) be washed

Window treatments must be removed, bagged and washed, all hardware must be removed

All other items listed must be vacuumed before treatment and then sealed in plastic bags

That’s days of work.

It’s times like these when a single women finds out how entirely alone she is in the world. An impossible list of tasks, and there is no one to help. The few friends you trust enough to tell may sympathize, when they’re not making jokes, but nobody shows up. “Could your brothers help?” one asked. My brothers are pushing 80 and live two states away.

Wednesday’s mail included my lease renewal — another increase in an already unaffordable rent. My “rent-stabilized” apartment has gone up $500 a month over eight years. Bedbugs included.

That same day, I was informed that the reason I’ve lost so much weight and look so great — size 8 jeans! — is that I have thyroid disease, possibly cancer. I am a freelancer in the United States of America; you can imagine how much health insurance I have.

But we should count our blessings. A nice young man did arrive mid-afternoon to do the inspection. He lifted my mattress. A bug ran across the box spring. “You have ’em,” he said. Inspection completed.

Even with paid help from my housekeeper and her husband — thank you, Irene and Ricardo — it was going to take at least a day to do the required preparation, so I asked for an appointment Friday. Abalon was very busy that day but granted me an 8 p.m. appointment, after which I would have to be out of the apartment for four to six hours, pushing bedtime to around 3 a.m. on the night before a very long day. I was very tempted to book a five-star hotel room for the night, but Priceline couldn’t supply one for the $100 I was willing to spend. As it turned out, the money would have been wasted.

I completed the preparation as instructed. More than 20 black trash bags now take up the available floor space in my living room and work area. I sleep on the springy mattress of the living room foldout, with no comforter to pad it or sheets, for fear of harboring bugs. The legal heating season has yet to begin, so I’m sleeping cold, which means poorly.

On Friday night, 8 o’clock came and went, with no sign of an exterminator or explanation why. I called Abalon; they called the exterminator, who called me to say he had been looking for a parking place for 45 minutes. Sometime after 9, I called Abalon again to reschedule. “How about tomorrow morning?” Megan asked. “I can have someone there at 7.”

7 a.m. Right.

“How about 10? I have to leave by 12.”

“I’ll have a man on your doorstep 15 minutes early.”

No one showed up, at 9:45, at 10 or after. By 11:30 I had screamed at several receptionists. Finally the manager on call for the weekend phoned me from his car en route upstate for the holiday weekend, promising an exterminator at 10 the next morning. He even gave me a name, Eddie Verso, but refused to give me Eddie’s cellphone number. I went to the theater and seethed.

Eddie was due at 10 a.m. Sunday. At 10:26 I was about to phone the manager when another call beeped in — Eddie, who was doing a treatment at a hospital in the Bronx. (It took me a few minutes to realize that he was doing a treatment — killing bugs — rather than having one. “Treatment” is a euphemism for spraying.) He would be here between 12 and 1, he said. I went out for brunch with a good, stiff bloody mary.

He arrived at 12:56. He came, he saw, he sprayed. He even did some tasks I hadn’t asked him to do, like filling the outlets with diatomaceous earth. Eddie is the hero of this story, one of the very few people who have taken the situation seriously. Thank you, Eddie.

I had to be out of the apartment for four hours after the spraying. To fill the first two, I went swimming. The rest of the time I spent sitting in my lobby, my laptop running on battery, writing this post and quite possibly picking up more bugs. I had actual conversations with two of my neighbors, both named Mark. “Oh, yeah, we had bedbugs, three, four years ago,” said Mark from across the hall.

And that is my life from now on.

The person who’s been the most helpful is the one I expected to be the least: Charlotte, mother of Julia and Skunk, the two wonderful cats I have been babysitting while their home undergoes major renovation. I fully expected Charlotte to whisk them out of my life forever the minute she heard the word “bedbug.” Instead, she picked them up in brand-new carriers, left two giant bags of food, took the girls off to a kennel and, inexplicably, returned them just minutes ago. I have been counting on Julia to warm my sofa bed and Skunk to make me laugh. The two of them have spent three days behind bars for a crime they did not commit. I hope they will come to trust me again.

Eddie may have killed the bugs, but their effects won’t be going away. Every itch or tickle makes me feel under my clothes for a bug. Every speck of dirt I see has to be pressed to see if it leaves a trail of blood. The doctor said I might be feeling a bit manic because my thyroid is in overdrive. He doesn’t know the half of it.

Bedbugs have cost me days of my life and, so far, hundreds of dollars — in bedding replaced, help hired, laundry and dry cleaning yet to be done, lessons canceled, freelance work I’ve had no time to do. The book I’m allegedly writing? Fuhgeddaboudit, as New Yorkers say. I publish this post fully realizing that it may cost me badly needed employment. Would you want someone who might be carrying bedbug eggs ushering patrons to the red velvet seats in your theater? Any more than you’d want her sleeping in your spare room, or sitting at your dinner table?

I’ll be living in squalor for two more weeks, until the follow-up spraying and the cleanup afterwards. I’ll have Irene vacuum the bedroom while I take out the mounds of laundry. When I feel it’s safe, I’ll put a new comforter on the bed, and maybe then I can get some sleep, though I’m not sure I’ll ever feel truly comfortable in this apartment again.

Cancer will just have to wait.