Woodstock, NY folk-rock band Cows and Thunder has released a new EP, ‘Sessions.’
The band hit its stride in the summer of 2014. After a fun gig at the Woodstock ‘Concert on the Green,’ the group decided to record some new songs and a few unrecorded favorites during two days of live recordings in the living room of the band’s singer-songwriter, Steven Capozzola. The resulting EP, ‘Sessions,’ is a candid snapshot of a peak period for the band.
Recording took place in Saugerties, NY on August 20-21, 2014, and features:
Steven Capozzola: Vocals, acoustic guitar.
David Andersen: Bass.
Josh Tyler: Drums.
CLICK HERE for a free listen/download of the new EP.
I was 29 years old, living in San Francisco, and playing full-time in a band. We had been invited to play an outdoor rally for one of the candidates who was campaigning in the 2000 presidential campaign. Our manager, Dianna, thought the rally would bring us some helpful publicity. So we agreed to play the gig and, on the appointed day, arrived at the Ferry Building to begin setting up our gear. I unloaded my bass amp from Dianna’s jeep and plugged it into an electrical outlet near the outdoor stage. Then I plugged my bass into the amp, switched on the power, and tried to play a few notes.
Our keyboard player, Bernard, had plugged his amp into the same outlet, but he wasn’t getting any power. A technician came over and unplugged both of our amps. He plugged us into a different outlet and said, “Try it now.”
I picked a few notes on my bass and heard that my amp was working. Bernard pressed a few keys on his keyboard; piano notes rang out of his amp. I picked a few more notes on my bass and said to Bernard, “They’re both working.”
A moment later, a bolt of electricity tore through my arms, shoulders, and neck. The impact of this bolt of electricity seemed to make a deafening sound, like the rattling of an earthquake. My teeth clenched together. For a fraction of a second, I had a feeling of infinite discomfort– not even of pain, but of such staggering impact that my brain seemed to switch off and restart.
In that same fraction of a second, I thought I could hear someone yelling into my left ear. There was a huge explosion of noise; I tried to yell that I was being electrocuted.
And then I found myself lying flat on my stomach, staring at the black ground. I didn’t know why I was on the ground. But I seemed to remember that I’d been electrocuted, earlier in the day. Or maybe the previous day. My jaw was resting on the ground. My neck ached. I couldn’t move my head.
I moved my tongue inside my mouth and noticed that I was missing a tooth. I saw a small white speck of pebble resting in front of my nose. It was my tooth. Surrounding my tooth were several flat orange-red marbles. I looked at the marbles. After a few moments, I noticed that they were clumps of blood.
I began to hear yelling. People were shouting. I could hear Dianna’s voice. I called to her, “What happened?”
“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?”
“THE LIGHTING TOWER FELL ON YOU.”
Someone else was kneeling beside me. It was a man. He said, “Don’t move. Just don’t move.”
Dianna was yelling something at me. I shouted to her, “I have my tooth, I’m gonna hold my tooth.”
I felt nauseous. I rested my cheek on the ground. I could hear a siren. People were yelling.
An ambulance arrived. Someone told me not to move. There were legs, shoes, pants. There was a paramedic in a blue shirt kneeling next to me. Then there was a second paramedic. They put a wooden board on the ground next to me. They told me they were going to move me. I said, “Nooo…,” but they began to roll me onto my back. A blinding pain stabbed through my neck. Then I was lying on my back. I was puffing and panting. A paramedic put a white collar around my neck and began bolting me to the wooden board. A second paramedic pressed a belt across my forehead, strapping my skull against the wooden board.
Then they were loading me onto a stretcher. There was a slight bump as they loaded the stretcher into an ambulance.
Dianna climbed into the ambulance. I told her I had my tooth. The paramedic asked me to give him the tooth. I said that I wanted to try to use it again. He said he’d wrap it in gauze and hold it for me.
The paramedic asked me what my name was. He asked me what my age was. I remembered that I was 29. He asked me what day it was and I said I wasn’t sure. I asked him if it was Thursday. He said yes. He told me to move my feet. He leaned over me and asked me again to move my feet. I wriggled my toes. He said, “Can you move your feet?” I wriggled my toes harder and moved my shoes. He asked if I could feel my arms and legs. I said, “Yes.”
I asked Dianna what happened. She said that a lighting tower had blown over and fallen on my head. She said that she heard someone yell something and, as she turned, she saw the tower land on top of me. Our singer, Jethro, and a few other guys had lifted it off of me. I told her that I didn’t know what had happened, that I’d thought I’d been electrocuted. “No,” she said. “The whole tower fell over. The top of it came down on your head.”
The ambulance was moving. The paramedic was kneeling next to me. I told him that I could feel my legs. I asked him if that meant I was okay. He said, “We’re gonna go right to the emergency room and they’ll check you out.” I said, “But I’m okay, right?” He said, “They’ll check you as soon as we reach the emergency room.”
I could feel something wet running down the side of my face. The paramedic was pressing a large piece of gauze against the top of my head. He pulled away the piece of gauze; it was red. He reached for another piece of gauze.
Then we arrived at the hospital. Someone rolled me into a hallway. There were bright fluorescent lights. The paramedic talked to a doctor. They lifted me off the stretcher and placed me onto another stretcher. Then I was resting on a stretcher in a hallway. People in green hospital clothes were hurrying up and down the hall.
A few minutes later, a doctor came over and began asking me questions. He asked me what had happened. I told him that a lighting tower had fallen on me. He told me that I was bleeding from a hole on the top of my head. They were going to take some X-rays. He walked away.
I rested on the stretcher in the hallway. People hurried by.
A few minutes later, I felt the stretcher being moved. I was being wheeled into an X-ray room. Some people moved around. I asked them if I was okay. Someone said they were going to take some X-rays. Someone else put an X-ray bracket next to my head. A technician placed the X-ray machine next to my right ear.
Someone yelled “X-ray” and everyone ran out of the room. The X-ray machine made a grinding sound. Then everyone ran back into the room. Someone adjusted the machine. Then someone else yelled “X-ray” and they ran out of the room. The X-ray machine made another grinding sound. Then everyone ran back into the room.
The doctor who’d examined me in the hall said “It might be a broken finger” and the X-ray technician moved the camera down to my right hand. He lifted my hand and slid a film cartridge underneath it. Then he said “X-ray” and everyone began to run out of the room.
I looked down at the X-ray machine, which was hovering over my waist, aimed at my right hand. I remembered that whenever I’d previously had dental X-rays, a nurse had always covered my chest and groin with a lead apron. I shouted, “Wait, wait…” The doctor came back into the room. I said, “Wait…please, don’t you need to cover me with a lead pad or something?…” The doctor squinted at the X-ray technician. The technician turned and went into a side room. He came back with a yellow apron. He placed the apron over my chest and waist. Then he yelled “X-ray” and ran out of the room.
The X-ray machine made a grinding noise. The technician came back and collected the film cartridges. He removed my lead apron, cradled the film cartridges in his arms, and hurried out of the room.
Then the room was quiet. Several minutes passed. I could feel something wet collecting on the side of my face, near where my head was resting on the wooden board.
Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. The back of my round skull was being pressed into the hard flatness of the wooden board.
A doctor appeared in the doorway. “We’re going to take some X-rays just as soon as– oh…” He spun around and walked out of the room.
Five minutes passed. The back of my head was flattening into the wooden board. I listened to the in-and-out gasps of my breathing. If I breathed too deeply, my neck would move, pressing my head further into the wooden board.
A doctor walked in and said, “Someone will be with you soon.” He turned and hurried out of the room.
Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. A doctor walked in. “Your X-rays were negative.” He turned to walk out of the room. I said, “Wait, wait…” He turned back. I tried to turn my face. “So they were negative?…I’m okay, right?”
“We checked your spine and skull for fractures. They were both negative.”
“So I’m all right?”
He turned and walked out of the room.
Five minutes passed. I could feel something wet collecting on top of my head. It was collecting and collecting. Finally, it grew too large, and pushed over the side of my face. It began running down along my ear.
The doctor who’d initially examined me in the hallway came into the room. He began wheeling my stretcher into the hall. He said, “We’re just going to patch up your head and then you can go.” He wheeled me through a brightly-lit hallway. Then he rested my stretcher along the side of the hall. “I just have to find you a room.” He parked my stretcher and walked away.
Five minutes passed. People hurried by in green hospital clothes. The doctor came back and said, “We’re just waiting for a room.” He turned and walked away.
A stretcher rolled by. A flurry of people in green hospital clothes hovered over the stretcher. Someone was clipping an IV packet to a post on the stretcher.
A few minutes later, the doctor reappeared. He began wheeling my stretcher down the hall to a side room. We turned into the room and rolled to a stop. The doctor removed my neck brace. Then he removed the strap that was binding my head to the wooden board. I moved my head and felt something wet and sticky under my neck.
The doctor put on a pair of rubber gloves. He leaned over me. “You have a small hole in your head. I’m just going to staple it closed. But first I have to numb the area. I’m going to inject this into an area near here.”
He showed me a needle filled with anesthetic and touched a point on my forehead. “It may sting a little.”
He placed the needle near my forehead and injected the painkiller. Almost immediately, I could feel the top of my head grow numb.
The doctor brought a small light over and placed it above my head. He studied my scalp for a moment, then began pinching together the skin around the hole in my head. I heard the click-click of a staple gun and felt the dull thud as the staple grabbed my scalp. The doctor kept pinching my head and clicking the staple gun.
After the fourth staple, the doctor stood up and removed his gloves. “All right. That’s it. Someone’ll be in soon. We’ll just get your papers and you can leave.”
I looked at him for a moment. “Wait, is there anything I should know. I mean, my head is killing me. I can’t move my neck.”
“You should be able to.”
“No, it hurts so much. It feels like it’s stuck.”
“You should be able to move it.”
I tried to move my head. “It’s not gonna damage anything if I move it? It hurts whenever I try anyth–”
“You should take Ibuprofen. Do you have some Advil?”
“You’ll be sore for a while. Give it a few days.”
He walked out of the room.
A few minutes later, a nurse wheeled me out of the room. She leaned over the stretcher. “So what happened to you? The doctor said you had a light bulb hit you or something?”
“No, no, it was a lighting tower. The whole tower came down on my head.”
The nurse parked the stretcher along the wall in the hallway. “We’re just going to observe you for a little while and then you’ll be free to go. I’ll be right back.” She stood up and walked down the hallway.
Later, the nurse came back with Dianna. The nurse said she was going to check me out of the hospital. I told her that my head hurt, my neck hurt, my back was in excruciating pain, I thought that the swollen finger on my right hand was broken, my right knee felt jammed, part of my ribs hurt, I had a headache, I couldn’t turn my head, my tooth was broken, my right arm felt stiff… Was she sure that I was all right? Was there anything I needed to do. Maybe have a CAT-Scan or something.
“Well, your X-rays were negative. And you didn’t lose consciousness. So we can’t keep you overnight. You’ll probably just be sore for about three days. The doctor said you should take Ibuprofen. Do you want him to write you a prescription?”
“No, I have some Advil at home.”
Dianna looked at the nurse. “Doesn’t he need a neck brace or something?”
“Oh, no, that wouldn’t be good. The neck needs room to travel and recover itself.”
A week later, I was in agony. I was unable to turn my head from side to side. Any time I stood up, sat down, lifted my right arm, lifted a forkful of food, tried to pivot my head, drink a glass of water, climb into bed, climb out of bed– I would feel a sharp, spearing pain in my neck and inside the upper right portion of my back. My right knee– which had apparently been driven into the ground with the full impact of the lighting tower, would buckle if I walked uphill or climbed a staircase. But most disconcerting was a numbness, a lack of sensation in the fingers of my right hand. It had started as a tingling, a dullness in the tip of the index finger of my right hand. Gradually, over the course of a few days, the numbness had spread to the rest of the finger, then the middle finger, then the V-shaped portion of my hand where the two fingers met. As the days wore on, and this numbness increased, I began to feel shooting pains in my neck and right shoulder blade. Even while sitting immobile, the shooting pains would flash down my arm, ringing like a siren inside my elbow.
Finally, my insurance company approved a visit to an orthopedic doctor. I squeezed myself into a taxi and endured the bumpy ride across town. At his office, the doctor brought me into a brightly-lit room. He examined me for less than two minutes before running out of the examination room. “Lynn, Lynn, we need to get this guy an MRI as soon as possible.”
“St. Luke’s is down this week…”
“I don’t care. I don’t care. Find him someplace as soon as possible.”
The MRI took place the next morning. I was given earplugs and fitted into a white plastic tube. For twenty minutes, the machine made loud jackhammering sounds, graphing images of my spine.
The next day, the doctor had the results. I was lucky: I didn’t have any herniated disks– nothing that would require surgery. But one of my vertebral disks had been shoved out of alignment by the impact of the tower. The disk had been worn away as it scraped against the adjacent vertebrae. As it traveled, the disk had struck an adjacent bundle of nerves, bruising them, which explained the numbness in my fingers.
The doctor ordered a neck brace, which I needed to start wearing immediately to relieve some of the pressure on my neck. After I had purchased the neck brace I could eventually begin a series of Physical Therapy sessions to rebuild my neck and arm.
For an immediate measure, though, the doctor had prescribed steroids. The nauseating cortisone-steroid pills would help reduce the inflammation along my vertebrae.
I read the possible side effects of cortico-steroid treatment:
“This medicine makes you more susceptible to illness. If you are exposed to chickenpox, measles, or tuberculosis while taking this medicine or within 12 months after stopping this medicine, call your doctor. Check with your doctor as soon as possible if you experience swelling of feet or legs; unusual weight gain; black, tarry stools; vomiting material that looks like coffee grounds; severe nausea or vomiting; changes in menstrual periods; headache; muscle weakness; prolonged sore throat, cold, or fever…”
I began the steroid treatment the next day.
EPILOGUE: I didn’t work again for nine months.
The nurses called around 10:30 at night to say my grandmother was going downhill rapidly. She was 92-years-old and had been suffering from pneumonia. Her color wasn’t good and the nurses said she wouldn’t make it through the night. I got in a car and raced over to be with her.
When I got to the nursing home, the nurses were standing around my grandmother nervously, pacing the room, trying to make her comfortable. I walked over and kissed her and said, “Hey, Nanny, it’s Steven. I’m here.” I touched her hand and brushed her hair. She opened her eyes and looked at me. I told her I was there and I was going to stay with her. She nodded. I took off my shoes and sweater in the stuffy, hot hospital room. I settled into a chair next to her and began to softly rub her neck.
The nurses left the room. Nanny asked me to switch off the bathroom light. It took a moment for me to understand what she was saying in her faint, whispered voice–that she wanted the light off in the bathroom. I got up and switched off the light. The room became dark–lit only by the light from the hallway. I could still see Nanny’s face. She rolled her head toward me and said faintly, “Not good.”
I kissed her on the cheek and said, “I know.”
I stood up and walked over to the right side of the bed. I stood over her and looked into her eyes. Her right eye was mostly closed–just a little bit of blue eye showing. Her left eye was still open, but was slightly hooded. It vaguely looked up at me. I began rubbing her shoulder with my left hand and stroking her hand with my right hand.
I stood like that for a while, just looking at Nanny’s face, rubbing her shoulder and hand. Occasionally she tried to shift herself slightly. Then she said something. At first I thought she was asking me to shut the small fan that was blowing cool air on her face and pillow. But then I realized it wasn’t “fan” but “leg” that she was saying. She hadn’t been comfortable all day and she was asking me to lift her leg by the ankle, to ease some of the swelling. I pushed aside the bedsheet and lifted her leg. I massaged her knee for a few moments. Then I put the leg down and lifted the other leg.
I put her leg back down and drew the sheet back over her feet. Then I stood over her again and rubbed her shoulder and hand. I asked her if she wanted water. She said no. I kissed her on the forehead and told her I loved her. I said, “You are the best, Nanny. I love you very much.” She tried to move her mouth, the left eye vaguely looking up at me. I told her that I wanted her to drift off. I smiled at her and brushed her hair lightly.
I continued to stand over her, softly rubbing her shoulder and hand, hunching over and studying her face. I could see her blue eyes clearly in the dim room. She seemed to be half-sleeping, with her eyes partly open–the way she’d looked for the past two days. She moved her mouth slightly and looked up at me.
Ten or twenty minutes passed. I stood over her, softly rubbing her shoulder and neck.
A nurse came in to check on her. She turned on a soft light above the bed and took my grandmother’s arm. The nurse began saying my grandmother’s name. “Ruthie…Ruthie…” Gradually, Nanny opened her eyes. She focused vaguely at the nurse, squinting against the bright light. “Whah…?”
The nurse said, “I’m just seeing how you’re doing.” She took Nanny’s wrist and felt her pulse. After a minute she put Nanny’s arm down. “Okay, Ruthie, you get some rest. I’ll see you later.” Nanny nodded almost imperceptibly. The nurse walked out. I switched off the light. The room was dark again, lit only by the light from the hallway.
I stood over Nanny again and softly rubbed her shoulder and hand. I told her that I loved her. Her mouth moved slightly. Her head lay back on the pillow and her eyes returned to a half-closed position. I could still vaguely see the blue of her eyes. Her mouth hung open as she tried to breathe. For the past few days, she had been breathing in quick, shallow pips. Her mouth would hang down and her face would lift up slightly as she inhaled. I watched her mouth mechanically click up and down as she “uh-huh’ed” with each breath.
I continued to stand over her, softly rubbing her shoulder. Her eyes remained half-closed, looking up at me vaguely. Everything was dark. The hallway was quiet.
Ten minutes passed. Twenty minutes passed. Nanny looked up at me, her eyes mostly closed. There was a rhythmical click in her throat each time she inhaled. I stood hunched over her, occasionally straightening my back and neck. Everything was quiet.
I began to feel that Nanny was going away. I couldn’t explain it. But I was aware that something perfectly rhythmic was happening. It had been at least a half hour since the nurse had left. I was simply standing over her as she breathed each click of breath, the eyes vaguely staring, me rubbing her hand and shoulder automatically. I wasn’t even aware that I’d been stroking her hand, her shoulder. But something had snuck up on me. There was a perfect feeling to my finger touching the soft skin on the back of her hand. I was moving my fingers back and forth involuntarily, looking into her eyes, almost forgetting what I was doing. And Nanny had settled into a perfect rhythm, too, looking off, not acknowledging me anymore.
Something had begun. I could sense Nanny beginning to travel off. I couldn’t explain how I knew. But some imperceptibly distant feeling had crept in. I also sensed that if I really wanted to, I could have shaken her arm, and said her name loudly, rousing her back into the room. But it would have been a distraction, a jarring interruption to whatever process had begun. She would vaguely open her eyes at me, but would then have to close her eyes and start all over again in order to return to this traveling that had begun.
Ten minutes passed. I continued to stand there, touching her hand and shoulder softly. Gradually I became aware of the edge of her pillowcase fluttering strangely in the breeze from the fan next to her bed. The pillowcase seemed hazy, blurry. The rest of the room looked strangely yellow at the periphery of my vision. The walls, the pillowcase, the cabinets were flickering strangely, like images from a TV in a dark room. I looked down at Nanny’s face, but where her eyes and mouth should have been, there was a flat, gray, staticky haze. Her forehead and nose were perfectly distinct. I wasn’t really aware of it, but where her eyes and mouth should have been, I had been absentmindedly staring at this haze. As soon as I tried to look carefully at her face, though, the haze drifted away. I could see her blue eyes again, focused in a faint, distant way.
I straightened my neck for a moment and continued to touch her hand and shoulder. Everything was quiet and still except for the soft fan and Nanny’s little breaths.
Ten minutes passed. I was standing over her, looking in her eyes. Again, I noticed the fan ruffling a strange staticky edge to her pillowcase. Ana again I was looking at Nanny’s face and there was a flat haze over the exact area where her eyes and mouth should have been. Her nose was still distinct, and I could see her forehead and hair. I hadn’t been aware that I was looking at this indistinct gray static in her eyes and mouth, but as I noticed it, the features of her face became obscured. The haze disappeared and suddenly I was clearly looking at the face and head of an elderly woman. It wasn’t Nanny. This was a much squatter face, different, with rubbery lips. Eye makeup. Some lipstick. The hair was thicker and curlier, more gray. I studied the face for a moment, then looked away. Then I was looking at Nanny’s head again. Her face seemed slightly more drawn than I had noticed earlier.
I continued to stand over her, softly touching her shoulder and the smooth, cool skin of her hand. Her breathing was a little slower but I could still hear the definite click of her throat as she exhaled each breath.
I was aware that something had progressed far along by now. Nanny’s eyes were still partly open. But she wasn’t looking at me anymore. There was a cloudiness in her eyes. Something was traveling off. I felt it intuitively. For some reason I found myself beaming an intense, happy smile at her. I was emphatic. I heard myself saying, “Yes…yes…”
I continued to stand over her, occasionally adjusting my back and neck. I touched her hand and shoulder. Time passed. Then, the edges of the room seemed to be flickering again a dim yellow hue at the corner of my vision. I was looking at small flat ponds of gray static where her eyes and mouth were. And suddenly I was looking at a pretty, thin-faced woman in her sixties. He hair was tied up in the center of her head with some sort of jewelry. She was wearing earrings and makeup. Her eyes looked up, alert and open. Though she wasn’t looking at me, she was aware that I was looking at her. As I studied her face, it began to change. Something became amorphous, mixing into a staticky haze. And then suddenly it was the long, narrow head of another old woman. Her jawbones angled down to a strong V-shaped chin. She was aware of me looking at her. Then her face became a man’s head. It was a pleasant, little old man. He was bald. There were sun splotches on the top of his head, thin grey hair along the side of his head. His eyes were closed. He was sleeping. But he had a smile on his face. Then the head was growing staticky, hazy. I straightened my neck and tried to focus on Nanny’s face again. I inhaled. I was able to get her face back. Her head was resting on her pillow, her eyes closed.
I realized that I was still rubbing and stroking her hand and shoulder. I had been doing it in a steady rhythm, even as I saw these different people where her head should have been. My movement was softer, slower, though. I straightened up for a moment and rested my back. I held Nanny’s right hand and squeezed it lightly.
Then I leaned over her again, looking into her faint blue eyes, softly petting her hand and shoulder. The eyes were two-thirds closed. I somehow knew that she was deep and far into traveling. There was a clear rhythm. More than an hour had passed since I’d arrived. The breathing continued in little pips of breath, her mouth still lifting up with each inhalation, her throat making a dry click as she switched from inhaling to exhaling.
I continued leaning over her, touching her hand and shoulder. A few quiet minutes passed. And again, I realized I was looking at a strange yellow flickering static in the room. Nanny’s face was obscured by a staticky cloud. Where her mouth was, everything was purple and cloudy. Nanny’s right eye was obscured by this haze. It covered the right side of her face. Then, suddenly I was looking at the squat apple head of the first woman I’d seen earlier. She was in her sixties or seventies. A chubby, apple face. I was aware of her cheeks, her thick lips. She was looking at me–not into my eyes, but studying me as I looked at her. Then the little round head began to twist and spiral. It was swirling and compressing, surrounded by purple static. Her right eye was rotating around the side of the apple head. The eye became teeth, a nose, a skull. I felt disoriented, dizzy, as if I were being swept up in this fluid, spiraling face.
Suddenly, I felt incredibly cold. I was standing there in my t-shirt and jeans, unprotected from an icy chill. For the first time in my life, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck actually stand up. A fraction of a moment later, Nanny’s eyes flamed open. It was a look I’d never seen on her face before. Her eyes widened brilliantly, perfectly round and blue. But more pronounced even than her round eyes was a perfect, crescent black line above each eye. It looked like a caricature of cosmetics, or of the facepaint of a comic book character. I was aware that her eyes were wide open, staring up and to the right of me at something clear and distinct. It seemed completely obvious to me that she, too, was reacting to whatever icy rush was passing through. There was no need for her to even acknowledge me. We were both aware of each other feeling this rush. But rather than look in her eyes, I found myself instantly preoccupied with the strange ceremonial, curved lack lines above her eyes. It was as if someone had drawn a black ink line above each eyelid, where the eyes joined the eye sockets. The black line perfectly traced the furrow of the eyes underneath each eyebrow.
And then the feeling passed and Nanny’s eyes softened. The black lines eased away and the blue eyes slowly closed. The left eye faded and stared vaguely, cloudily under a hooded eyelid. A clammy sweat had broken out on my forehead. I noticed that I was still rubbing Nanny’s hand and shoulder.
I whispered to Nanny, “I love you.” I kept standing over her, stroking her hand and shoulder. Her breathing continued, incredibly light, with slow, tiny pips of breath.
I straightened my neck and back for a moment, then hunched over her again, touching her hand and shoulder ever so lightly. I could feel the process was almost complete. I was perfectly attuned to whatever the mechanism was. The breathing was fading. Nanny’s eyes were almost completely closed.
I stood over her and vaguely sensed the blurry static in her face that I’d seen earlier. But it was faint and diluted now, incomplete. I couldn’t explain why, but I somehow knew that it was pointless or inappropriate now to look for any more faces in the gray static, or to stare and concentrate into it. The moment had passed.
My hand was now barely touching Nanny’s hand. Without trying, I was barely maintaining contact with her skin. It was just the tip of the index finger of my right hand that was following the soft contours of skin along the knuckles of her hand. My fingers grazed softly, back and forth along her shoulder. I looked at her eyes. They were hooded and almost completely closed. Her breaths were scarcely audible, almost exactly as shallow as my faint touching of her hand. There was a breath and a tiny click, and then a pause. Then a tiny breath, and a longer pause. I knew that she was about to stop breathing. Her eyes were almost completely closed. The mouth hung open. A second or two passed and there was a faint breath. A few seconds passed and I could feel that there would be one more breath. Another moment passed and there was a faint inhalation. And then an exhalation. I sensed that there would not be another breath. And then, suddenly, I was aware that the body had become fixed. It was rigid and heavy. She had passed. Without know why, I said to her, “You did it, Nanny.”
I looked at her face and mouth and told her I loved her. I put my ear near her mouth to confirm that she had stopped breathing. But I intuitively knew that she was gone. I stroked her hair, kissed her on the cheek, and told her that I loved her. I sat for a moment, looking at her. Then I walked out to tell the nurse.
Ninety minutes later, the doctor came to certify the death. He felt for a pulse, then put a stethoscope to her chest, listened for a heart, for breathing. He clipped his stethoscope and nodded. “Yes, she’s passed.” He walked out to the nurse’s station to fill out the necessary paperwork.
Then the nurses came in to change and prepare the body. They put the body in a clean hospital gown and began wrapping it in plastic sheets.
I came into the room and helped them lift the body from the bed onto a hospital gurney. The body was completely wrapped in plastic and tied with a string across the middle. Four of us lifted the body onto the gurney. Then we rolled the gurney down the hall to the elevator.
In the basement, we rolled the gurney into a cold room. There were two refrigerated vaults. A nurse opened the bottom door and pulled out a large metal tray. We counted 1-2-3 and lifted the body off the gurney and onto the metal tray. As I stumbled to place the body carefully onto the tray, I could feel the cold, frigid air drifting out of the vault. We finished arranging the body on the tray. The nurses stepped back. I pushed the tray in and said, “Goodbye, Nanny.” I pulled up the heavy metal door and shut it. A nurse placed a tag on the door. It said ‘Ruth Ginsburg.’ I thanked the nurses and went out to the elevator. I walked outside and drove home.
I had just boarded my flight to New York, and sat down in first class, when a stewardess told me I was in the wrong seat. I had taken the aisle seat, 3B, and the stewardess said that I should be sitting in the window seat.
I stood up and pulled my ticket out of my pocket. I showed it to her. “There, it says ‘3B,’ right?”
The stewardess squinted at my ticket. “Well, that is just the darnedest thing.” She turned to a tall blonde girl who was standing behind her. “I’m sorry, miss, but somehow you both got assigned the same seat.”
The girl looked at my ticket, then at me, then at the stewardess. Her eyes started to fill with tears.
I smiled at them both. “No problem. I’ll just take the window seat.”
The stewardess shook her head. “I’m sorry, this is a full flight. That seat is already taken.”
The blonde girl blinked at the stewardess. A tear rolled down her cheek.
I turned to the stewardess. “I could take a seat in the back. Maybe you could comp me or something…?”
“I’ll check. But I believe this flight is sold out.”
A man stepped around the stewardess. “Excuse me. I’m traveling with her.” He gestured to the blonde girl. “I can give her my seat.”
The stewardess shook her head. “Sir, if you disembark, your seat will get turned over to our waiting list.”
He shook his head. “Please. Can’t she just take my seat?”
“I’m sorry, sir. If you’ve checked baggage and you get off now, I have to call the air marshal. And your seat will automatically go to the waiting list.”
The blonde girl started to whimper. A silent tear swelled in her right eye, then slid down her shiny cheek. She wiped her hand across her face.
The man tried once again with the stewardess. “Please, you don’t understand—” He leaned close to her. “—This is Taylor Swift. We need to get her to New York. She’s playing Madison Square Garden tonight.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Just give me a minute, please.” The stewardess turned and rushed up to the cockpit.
I turned to Taylor and her friend. “Listen guys, I’m so sorry about this. I totally know what it’s like. I have to get to New York, too. I’m doing an AT&T audition tomorrow. I usually do movies, but my agent thought—”
“Please—” The man cut me off. “Just give us a moment, okay?”
The man started to pet Taylor’s head. Gradually, she leaned her ear against his shoulder. After a moment, the tears stopped. She stared off into the distance.
The stewardess returned and grabbed my arm. “Sir, let me see your ticket.”
I handed her my ticket. She put on her reading glasses and held the ticket up in front of her face. “Sir, you’re not sitting in first class. You’re back there, 3B.”
I looked at my ticket. “Oh, I assumed I was in first class. I’m auditioning for an AT&T commercial tomorrow—”
“You’ll need to get your stuff and move.”
“Oh, okay.” I reached up and grabbed my laptop bag from the overhead. I turned to Taylor and her friend. “Sorry about that. Good luck.”
I nodded to the stewardess and shouldered my bag. I walked into the economy cabin, and found row 3. I stuffed my laptop into the overhead, then climbed over a passenger and squeezed into my middle seat.
I had found a new agent, and one of the first auditions he sent me on was for an HBO series. I would be reading for the part of a father. It was an older, more mature role than I was used to. My agent told me to dress conservatively, maybe wear a suit.
I flew to New York the next day and took a taxi over to HBO’s offices. I checked in at the main desk and rode an elevator up to the 11th floor. The elevator opened and a receptionist greeted me. She walked me into a small waiting area and told me to take a seat.
I was sitting alone in the waiting area when one of the show’s production assistants walked through. She was carrying a stack of scripts. She saw me sitting in a chair and stopped. “Hi, are you here for the audition?”
I stood up. “Yes.”
“Can I get you some coffee?”
I shook my head. “No, thanks. A beer, maybe…”
She laughed. “Right. I hear that.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m a little nervous…”
She started to walk away. “I’m sure you’ll be great.”
I smiled. “Okay. Thanks, baby.”
The girl stopped suddenly. She spun around. “What did you say?”
“Did you call me ‘baby?’”
“Oh…yeah. Is that bad?”
“You called me ‘baby?’”
“I call everybody baby.”
“You’re auditioning for GIRLS and you called me ‘baby?’”
“I didn’t know that—”
She dropped her pile of scripts on a coffee table. “Do you know who I am?”
“Are you one of the PA’s?”
“OH-MY-GOD.” She put her hand to her head. “I don’t believe it…”
I tried to get her attention. “Wait, listen—this is TV, right?”
She was rubbing her forehead and looking at the floor. I waved to get her attention. “This is TV, right? We say ‘baby’ all the—”
The girl stepped in front of me. She stuck out her hand to shake mine. “Hi. My name’s Lena. This is my show. You’re auditioning for my show. Do you know why I started this show?”
“Listen, I really thought you were a PA—”
“Let me tell you why. So that women wouldn’t have to be called ‘baby’ and take crap from guys like you.”
“I call everybody ‘baby.’ Men, too.”
“Well, you must be very proud.”
She was standing very close. Suddenly, I recognized her. “WAIT—you’re the girl who always takes her clothes off, right?”
She was rubbing her forehead. “Listen, just forget the audition. Just pack up your stuff and leave. Now.”
She waved her arms. “Please. Just go.”
I picked up my coat. “But you’re the girl who doesn’t wear any clothes, right?”
“I mean, that’s you, right? You do all the nude scenes?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
I smiled. “Wow, I’ve seen you…”
A man came running into the room. “YEAH?”
The girl pointed at me. “GET HIM OUT OF HERE. NOW.”
The guy stepped in front of me. “Sir, I need to ask you to leave.”
I already had my coat in my hand. “Sure thing.”
I started to walk to the elevator. I could hear the girl stomping her foot behind me. I pushed the elevator button and turned to look back. She was pointing her finger at me. “You will never work in New York again. Do you hear me? I can promise you that.”
The elevator opened. I stepped in, pressed ‘Lobby,’ and rode the elevator down to the street.