#35 Russian Adventures Part III

When I wrote #33 Russian Adventures Part II, I was hours from Moscow and following my Russian friends out of the dacha into the dark. We followed Nadia and the two men to a muddy dirt road with no lights. After they warned us not to look American, I was glad to have mud covering my shoes. All they said in a whisper was, when we got to the train station, be silent. They’d get tickets for us to Moscow. There was no clue about how far away it was.

The woman I’m calling Blanche and I had already spent a day completely lost in Leningrad and laughed every step of the way. Maybe it was the sweet wine back at the dacha, but the more serious we tried to be the more laughter would escape out of our mouths. We couldn’t look at each other without wanting to laugh. After a few minutes of trudging in the dark, we were quiet and didn’t even want to smile.  We saw no one. Not one house had a light. I haven’t looked in my journal to check how far we walked, but we were hiking from the country to a village with a train stop. Let’s say 30 minutes.

When we got to the train station, the men motioned for us to stop. Even though there was very little light they didn’t want us anywhere near it. We didn’t budge. We couldn’t look at our American watch or smoke an American cigarette. We stood trying to look natural. This was anything but natural. Try to look inconspicuous and you are conspicuous.

The men returned and spoke to Nadia in Russian. Something was wrong. The last train for Moscow had gone. What now? We followed them to a paved road. If we walked we wouldn’t get to Moscow for our flight in the morning. Or the morning after that. Or the morning after that. Pretty sure hitchhiking was out of the question on Russian roads.

And suddenly a taxi swooped in, literally out of nowhere. The dark-haired artist spoke to the driver, opened a door and motioned for us to get into the back. I started to speak and Nadia put her hand over my mouth. These gregarious effusive people were cool customers that night.

The men rode up front talking occasionally with the driver who for all I knew was KGB. By now it seemed according to Nadia, that at least half the population was KGB, and I wasn’t going to doubt her. I’d been told many stories about people turning one another in for a minor infraction. Being an American that night was no minor infraction.

Even with very little traffic, we rode for nearly three silent hours. Just before dawn the taxi stopped in front of our big glass and metal hotel on the outskirts of Moscow. We got out and when the driver had gone the artist told me he would bring the slides to the airport in the morning. They each hugged us. There were always hugs everywhere we went on that trip. We left them and went inside. Just another evening out in Moscow.

There was never a moment when we didn’t feel watched back then. In Russian hotels, there was a key lady in every hallway of every floor. The key was left with her instead of the front desk. So we kept quiet all the way back to the room. When we shut the door, I bowed to touch the floor.

Were we near a military base? So what happened? Or, what might have happened?

After hours of silence it was time to burst. But we were all told about listening devices. This was a “citizen diplomacy” trip. To our group that meant peace through people rather than governments. The man who led the trip was devoted to that notion. Chiefly we didn’t want to cause problems for friends. Though I was there only to get to Moscow, I admired the notion.

So we chattered in a very low voice. The longer anyone talks about any subject, the more negative and detailed it becomes. After reviewing the events of that day, and night, we began to get a little indignant. What had they done? How could they have put us in this position? “Did you see Nadia shut me up?” “Did you see their look when you got out the tape recorder?” “Where do you think we were?” “Maybe there was a military base.” “Why did they go to so much trouble?” “How could there be a taxi in the middle of nowhere?” “Didn’t they know there was a last train?” “What was the point of all this, if he had slides in his studio in Moscow?”

As much as we chattered on about all the drama, the next stage tempered it with the harsh reality of their lives. How could they live where they weren’t allowed to write or paint what they wanted? Lives so severe that they put themselves in danger. We were glad we didn’t have to live that way. Phew! We might be exhausted, but we weren’t in a Russian jail.

On another trip I made there in 1991, a friend who was leading an art tour was detained by police with a few members of the group. We all bought paintings from artists in city parks. That was okay by then. But some were also buying what turned out to be black market souvenirs. That wasn’t okay. But back to this story.

It was an exhausting night with no sleep. We packed and got ready for the flight. I didn’t speak of this to anyone else on the tour, especially not our two guides from Russia. I did tell our American tour leader.

In the morning Nadia was at the airport. I didn’t write in Part II, that earlier that week, she had hosted at least half the men and women in our group at her apartment, along with delegates from the International Conference of Women. It was amazing to see her blending a life of fear and discomfort with the ease of hosting accomplished people from around the world.  At the airport she continued to charm everyone and they loved her.

We were all still outside the terminal when she pulled me away from the group. She pointed out a man in a floral shirt with a camera. KGB. She pointed out another guy, KGB and another. Just like that. I wasn’t getting used to it exactly, but it wasn’t a shock either.

Then she changed from ebullient Nadia to serious and sad Nadia. She took an envelope out of her purse. She began the “careful” instructions. These were the slides mentioned the night before. I should pack them “carefully.” They were slides of unsanctioned artwork that I was now taking out of the country. No one could take anything out of the country except souvenirs with a receipt, or something you brought in with you. And if you’ve read the first installment of this adventure you know I already had enough drama with customs getting into the country. Now I was packing hot slides.

She told me that I must contact “the German banker.” His name came up the night before in the smoky kitchen. A man from Deutsche Bank in New York City. He was in some way working with them. Apparently he did business in Moscow. That wasn’t at all clear to me. Nothing was clear to me except that they were in danger and they wanted my help. She was begging. She cried. I would do what I could.

It was all just beginning.

To be continued in Part IV

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#34 Quick Like a Bandaid

It’s time to get to the Olympics of poor judgment in men, not that I’d be the recipient of the slut award for volume. I would get decent marks from the judges for improved technique, and at least a nine for consistent ability to be deceived.

Accept that I was raised to believe I was generally ugly and specifically, that no man would ever want me. Those who understand this know that my reflection in a mirror has nothing to do with it. I had no idea until my 20th H.S. reunion that I intimidated boys. Men who were slamming toward their 40th birthdays informed me that they had a crush on me as a teen, but I was too “pretty” or “unapproachable.” Just words.

Reality. By the age of 21, I had only been asked out by five boys. One was just to get me to write his term paper.

My father had been dead for two years and somehow that meant to me, it was okay to have sex if only as an experiment. Can’t count the creep at the card store in Seattle, who tried to hand me his penis. I actually turned and put back the greeting card before going downstairs to report him. Or the sicko at a movie theatre who thought my knee was a female dog.

Then out of nowhere I was pursued by a boy from my hometown. If a boy can be smooth, he was. Not very smart, but he knew I was a member of a group of intelligent witty girls in High School, meanly but accurately dubbed, the V’s. By now, 1969, I was working full time in radio and was still in school. The boy would drive all the way to Seattle to take me to dinner, drink far too much and somehow get to his motel. One night he lured me there but even I knew that would be a lousy memory.

Eventually I had the, “okay, let’s get this over with night.” We were on a double date with an obnoxious couple, and I had just enough wine for courage. We went back to my basement apartment and had sex. Painful messy sex that was over in moments, not minutes. I never heard from him or wanted to again. But here’s the important part, and let this sink in. My mother sent him!

Then there was the boy who was smart, cute and tall. By now the numbness of my father’s death was wearing off and this boy was patient with my glum moments. He had pissed off his wealthy father by dropping out of school and becoming a security guard where he could read to his heart’s content, and smoke a little grass. He gave me Hermann Hesse’s Demian, a book I should probably read again. Unfortunately that boy and I did not have sex before I left Seattle.

When I moved to New York at 24, I still had only technically had sex. I was Miss Fresh Faced Tall Northwest Blonde. One man I worked with asked me to dinner in Manhattan to “discuss an account.” He moaned about his wife leaving him, while he was grabbing at me under the table. I poured a pitcher of sangria in his lap. Maybe it was just a glass.

To give you a little flavor of the early 70’s Manhattan environment, a young woman who worked for me did a favor and dog sat one weekend. Many weeks later she confessed that she and a married guy from the news room were schlepping to Greenwich Village to my barren studio apartment, regularly for sex at noon. Besides my bed, they also used my reel to reel tape recorder. It was loaded with eclectic music and one day when they were going at it, so to speak, they were blasted by Seventy Six Trombones. I used to love that musical.

The closest I got in New York to a date was the sangria incident or sweaty guys who rubbed against me on the subway or the time I let the 17 year old son of friends kiss me. Well he was cute. My poor little dog Sammie was watching more sex at my apartment than I was having, which was none.

In my second New York radio job, the married General Manager, my boss, a word I’ve always detested in any usage, was the instigator of after work drinking. He started taking me for nice dinners on his expense account. He drove me back to my apartment and then it was an affair. Now I was HAVING SEX. And I believed with all my heart that this man, nearly 20 years older, was my future. I believed that for a year. He justified his behavior with me, by convincing himself that the dazed look on my face was that of a “free spirit.” I had no such justification. And the look? Just dazed.

Then I went on to a bigger radio station. My original interview for that job was with a man over drinks at a hotel bar. We had sex that night, just the one time. Yes, I took the job. He and I nearly bought a radio station together a year or more later.

I can’t watch the TV show Mad Men. Though it’s set in the 60’s and my broadcast advertising career was ramping up in the 70’s, it’s just too close. Everyone smoked, everyone drank. We had a pretty good idea of all the affairs. Even into the 80’s, well established in my work, I was chased around desks behind locked office doors.

Yes there were three martini lunches. One time, inspired by the martinis over lunch, a few of us didn’t go back to work. We flew to Montreal for a hockey game our station carried on the air. I didn’t even have my purse. No one said a thing when we returned.

Back to the new job, an Account Executive came to my office to welcome me. He suggested lunch some day, I replied, “when?” which started a light hearted friendship that became a heavy hearted affair. Forget the gut wrenching details, for now. Fortunately he was transferred to another market. Yes, I got involved with him twice.

Here’s one I almost forgot. On the trip to Acapulco, mid-70’s, after my No No Senorita experience, I met a young man who lived just miles from me in New Jersey. My friend was with his friend at their hotel. So he and I walked on the beach. We had one date after that trip. Dinner at his father’s where I met his as yet unmentioned daughter. When he took me home, we did more than walk on a beach. I did not hear from him after that until he surprised me by showing up one evening at my apartment with a wilted flower. I was packing for a business trip and never invited him in.

Next, The Air Vent Conversation, where I knew by age 27 that love would never happen. As described, I changed jobs for this one three times, moved three times.

Abandoned in Milwaukee, I informed the manager at the television station that I was offered a job with my former company in New York. His response was to yell at me and then to stop speaking entirely. It worked. I stayed.

When I phoned to tell the manager in New York, he yelled louder. In fact he screamed, “IF YOU DON’T TAKE THIS JOB NOW, YOU’LL NEVER WORK IN NEW YORK AGAIN.” I moved to New York, and, dated that guy. Not so much dated, as had dinner and sex once. He was now my boss. He screamed all the time.

1978, I was busy buying a house in Connecticut, commuting and establishing myself with the new job. Then So I Bought Him a Humidifier moved back to New York. It wasn’t long before he pursued me again. Two and a half years of living together ended with his disappearance and my diminished bank account.

The following winter I went skiing in Switzerland. The young snotty German bartender at my hotel took me on the toughest slopes and I nearly broke my shoulder skiing far too fast. We had a moment (not minutes) at his shabby little place, which disposed of bags of my self-respect.

The “screaming” boss, who by now had married, was a kind and consoling friend after my very public breakup. Kind and consoling eased into an “affair.” I think I was an obsession. What there was between us though was a STRONG connection. After many emotional tries I pulled away, sad, and we were not okay. A chunk of my soul was lost and I was drained of heaps of energy.

By now the manager from Milwaukee, the yeller, came to Manhattan on business. We had lunch and talked occasionally. A few years later, when I was living in Pennsylvania, he coaxed me to New York for far too much champagne and one night of satisfied curiosity. I finally realized why he had yelled at me back when I left the TV station. He hadn’t yet satisfied his curiosity.

Even the Psychologist from Milwaukee who had become a friend, I thought, came to NY and we were to meet for dinner. At the last moment he had to make some phone calls and got me to go up to his hotel room. Yup! Never got to dinner and still had a long hungry train ride home. He and the previous man were friends. I was at the very least a contest, maybe a bet.

I nearly forgot and came back to add this next one. A couple of years later, in Pennsylvania, I quietly began dating a man I’d known since childhood. He was the son of very close friends, the boy who kissed me when he was 17. We thought it just possible that we had been intended for one another always. That ended after less than two secret months. It ended with my broken ribs which his parents never knew.

Then,the German banker. I’ll get to him when I write more of the Russian Adventures. In 1987 and 1988 I helped Russian artists become known in the west literally to save their lives. He bought their paintings. He also decided I was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Right. And I have to admit that for some reason, he actually made my knees weak. He pursued me. I let myself get caught a couple of rather pleasant but stupid times. And that was that. No, I was hurt. But he was manipulating the Russian art market, and that’s a bigger story.

Occasionally by now friends introduced me to someone. Those encounters might be entertaining but not stupid.

When I was 44 a friend asked if she could give someone my phone number. I had been alone for a long time. She knew I was ready to meet a man if only to have dinner and get to a movie. He and I did well enough on the phone to have a lunch date. I’ve written a one act play about that lunch because all the red flags were waving. We started as friends, progressed to dating, on and off, lived together, on and off. I embraced his huge amazing family. He asked me to be “betrothed.” That word seemed charming, but its significance became clear when we still weren’t married a few years later. We built a beautiful house together. I left that roller coaster of a relationship once, but went back months later. After nearly eight years I limped away.

A long time later and after considerable consideration, my doctor and I dated. No he was not completely inappropriate. It was actually my idea. Of course it meant finding another doctor first. Too bad, because we only dated for a couple of months. He was a far better doctor than a date.

For those of you who’ve been married forever, starting to date someone now means you get tested for STD’s. After comparing paperwork, you consider romance.

Eventually I was convinced to try online dating. I’d heard success stories, but it’s hard to imagine after my experiences. Since I was expecting to move back west, two men traveled east to meet me. We had been writing and talking for at least six months, but neither was recognizable in person. I met one in New Jersey. He had been witty and self deprecating. In person, he was irritable and mean and thankfully left sooner than planned. The other was a complete lying cad. I had sex with that one. Oddly they were both Swiss.

Then a couple of men, who should have been institutionalized or under close supervision, found me. But now I see the signs.

And that’s where “stupid” ends, with men anyway. Now the band aid’s off, and I’ve looked back in earnest. I’ll tell some of the stories in deserving detail.

I never married any of them, not because I was smart, but because I was lucky.


#33 Russian Adventure Part II

There are scenes in the movie Argo that were oddly familiar. In the movie, when they were getting out of Iran with fake ID’s, and every little check point along the way added tension, I had flashbacks of my first trip to the then U.S.S.R.. Not quite the same but back in the summer of 1987 I walked into something way over my head. As I watched the scene in the movie I knew I would jump ahead on my “Stupid List” to tell more of that story.

When I left off with #12 Russian Adventure, I had just entered Russia with a group of “citizen diplomats” mostly from Ohio and some from California. I knew no one, and wondered what sort of hippy dippy something or other I’d gotten myself into. The only way I could get to Moscow at the request of a friend was to sign on for a group tour through Central Asia, Russia and Ukraine, for about 3 ½ weeks. A dying woman asked me to do this. I did it because I had no life plan then and because I could.

So back to Leningrad on that trip. After touring a few days, we took the midnight train to Moscow, bunking triple stacked in compartments with strangers. The few of us who still smoked back then risked standing between cars rocking back and forth, trying to flick flying ashes into an old oak bucket.

My friend Nadia, and that is her real name, was at the station to meet us in Moscow the next morning. After some quick introductions I left the group and went off with her. She was healthy enough to work and was translating at a huge international peace conference of famous women. She instructed me to just follow as she led me through the crowds. She didn’t get me into any sessions, but no one asked who I was.

After she emerged from her work translating we made the long trek to her apartment. I knew supplies were sparse and I didn’t want to eat any of their food, but she insisted. I had one suitcase with me with gifts for her family. So we dragged that with us on a cab ride for a long way. We stopped at a little market for apple juice. I think it was less for the juice and more for my education. Here’s part of why their unemployment was so low back then. One person directs you to the department. When you pick out what you want, another clerk gets a jar of the juice. They take it to a counter where they hand it over to someone else who writes a slip with the price. Another clerk takes the money. Another clerk gives you the change. Another clerk wraps the jar in paper. Another clerk hands it to you. Another clerk checks the receipt before you exit the shop. I knew the word for thank you and it got plenty of use.

As we rode in another cab she chattered away about life there. I didn’t know where we were in Moscow. It had a mixture of massive stone buildings left over from the 40’s and 50’s. Everything was gray and it took a while to focus on what was missing. I pretty much detest outdoor advertising, but it’s amazing how it adds color. We arrived at a district with tall apartment buildings, no trees, no grass and no playgrounds. The building from maybe the 60’s had no one at the door and no front desk. Ironically those surroundings describe pretty much where I live now. The building had a tiny working elevator that barely held two people and a suitcase.

When we entered the apartment I was greeted by Nadia’s husband Dimitri, a well known but underground artist/poet, and, their son. Dimitri essentially spoke no English but their son studied it in school and loved to practice it with me.

They insisted that I stay there so their son gave up his room for me. I would have no idea how to find the hotel where my group was staying. She made a call to the man leading that trip to explain. And as a note, I made a few calls on that trip, which was no easy matter. I don’t know how we thought for decades Russia could efficiently obliterate us, when you couldn’t make a simple phone call.

The apartment was a two bedroom, very large by Manhattan standards. The furnishings were tired but had a simple Scandinavian look. And that’s where any resemblance to comfort stopped. I followed Nadia to the kitchen where she fed me anchovy paste on something like a cracker. I hate anchovies but couldn’t turn down what little they had. She then added tomato paste to hot water for soup.

Every inch of their apartment screamed adaptation to lack of comfort. The bathroom was a combination of clean design crossed with the rustic wooden walled bathrooms from summer camp. In every little crack and corner they had tucked toilet paper a few squares at a time that Nadia had collected in her travels.

I had no idea what the leader of the group I was traveling with thought because it turned out that I wouldn’t tour Moscow with them at all. For a few days I went with Nadia to her work and to as many sights as she could take me. She described their struggle, how her husband had to quietly distribute his poetry and his paintings. She described what she called her botched mastectomy of several months earlier and the implant that burst requiring another surgery. She described the rehabilitation sanatorium. Their brilliant son was told he would have to study language in the university rather than his beloved history. Or was it the other way around? For someone who never did know what I wanted to study, somehow not to be allowed to decide was inconceivable.

In Moscow Nadia would nod toward someone and say that they were KGB. Two men would pass by, she would whisper, “KBG.” Then, because I had been in the business of renovating historic buildings, she took me one morning to a large renovation of a church. The practice of religion was not sanctioned but the preservation of craftsmanship was. I got a chance to talk to a craftsman who had come from Paris to work on the church. There were as always at least 7 or 8 guys in bad suits standing around: more supervisors than workers. Suddenly she whisked me out of the site. She said someone had turned us in for having an American there. Our driver got us away fast. I was told that he was a retired army colonel, her friend, now shuttling me around Moscow.

Fear, and navigation around fear, were the greatest expenditures of time that I saw. They knew the rules, scoffed at them and quietly found another way, every day.

On the next day the woman who had been assigned as my roommate for the group tour joined us. We were placed together because we both smoked. She was from Louisiana and had a colorful personality. She and her colorful personality had never been out of the country and she loved the adventure of getting to know Nadia and her family. Her name was not Blanche but that’s what I’ll call her to tell this story.

That day the colonel drove us to an underground, meaning illegal art exhibit. Not only was it against the law to hold this exhibit, definitely no American could be there. It seemed like 50’s or 60’s Greenwich Village. I saw art and met artists who had had no exposure to other work in the world. While I had no formal art education, this was primitive to me and seemed stuck in a time warp. But what mattered was that they could be arrested at any moment just for showing their art.

When we emerged from the exhibit, Nadia’s husband joined us, sitting up front with the colonel. Now we were going for a picnic in the country. As the gray buildings of Moscow disappeared, the countryside took over. All the time Nadia chattered on about their life. It was like being on another planet and I had to turn my brain inside out. I had no idea where we were going or in what direction.

After nearly three hours, the colonel finally stopped at the edge of the property to a dacha. There were no lawns or lawn mowers anywhere we had been, and this was no exception with tall weeds everywhere.

We got out of the back of the car. Nadia and her husband took us up the outside steps of the house onto a big balcony to meet a dark-haired artist. There were several of his paintings propped against the wall. I remember wondering why he had the work outside. His paintings were very large panels, each with at least nine portraits of a variety of people all without eyes. What they lacked in style to me, they made up in a statement. After we looked at his work, he took us down to their kitchen, where his wife had tea and sweet wine for us. They sliced sausage and cheese and we all sat around the kitchen table. When I put my little tape recorder on that table, the dark haired artist slapped at it to turn it off.

So they told me stories. If one was not a government approved artist, then they were not allowed to show their work. Dimitri had been what they called “hospitalized” on several occasions. It was a kind of medical arrest. He was drugged, mostly intimidated about distributing his poetry or his artwork. Then, Nadia would find someone famous to bail him out.

I nearly had an out of body experience, hovering overhead in this kitchen. I thought what it must look like from above, the air gray with smoke especially from the Turkish tobacco. It felt more like a movie than any conversation that included me.

Then they said it. They wanted me to go back to America and promote their work to art galleries around the country, to keep the artists safe from inevitable arrests. If their names were known in the west, the state wouldn’t dare arrest them. I was to do this to save their lives. This was the second time someone’s life was in the balance. First Nadia wanted me to visit because she was dying. Now they might die if I didn’t go back to America and help them.

If there was a recording of that evening, I’d have a tape where I told them I knew nothing about, and had no background in the business of art. They didn’t blink. To them I was someone who could help.

The dark-haired artist said he had slides of his work at his studio he wanted to send with me. His studio was back in Moscow. Our group’s flight for Tashkent left the next morning, so he was going to go back with us that night. I don’t know how many hours had gone by. They said that our driver had gone back to Moscow and we’d all have to walk to the train station in the dark. They told us that we weren’t to utter a word in English. Don’t even smoke an American cigarette.

Why? Because Americans were not allowed in that area. “Try to look Russian,” they said. Back then, when preparing to make this trip, we were advised to pack simple clothes. But haircuts, hair color, the most inexpensive of clothes didn’t look Russian. I put my plain travel raincoat over my simple Liz Claiborne dress and followed them outside. For the second time in less than a week, I might be headed for a gulag.

To be continued in Part III.

 


#32 Bowling Balls and a Chair

This May a pinched nerve in my lower back began to run my life. I’m familiar with deteriorating bones and dilapidated discs, but suddenly and I do mean suddenly, I could only walk bent at the waist with my face parallel to the ground. The pain would go away if I sat with my left leg bent at the knee and my foot flat on the chair. I drove with my foot on the car seat. One evening I went to a movie with friends and drove like that. When I bought my ticket, I practically rested my face on the counter. But when we got to our seats I found relief. The flat of the seat tilted. I could raise it in the front, shoving my fanny to the back. Apparently the angle took pressure off the nerve.

I adjusted controls on my car seat which comes pretty close. I’ve had three injections to relieve the pain. The best of surgeons in Pennsylvania and Maryland described the rods and pins needed in my back. I bought a new motorized mattress and I’ve had months of physical therapy.

The last detail was my desk chair. The pleasant chair that matches my furniture is now torture. So writing was torture. I had to have a chair like the movie seat. I found one at an office furniture store in a strip mall. The woman running the office told me all about her back surgery a decade earlier and showed me the cockpit-like gearshifts on her chair.  Then she showed me the chair of my dreams and I ordered it.

I looked forward to the chair. I visualized how it would feel sitting cross legged in the chair. A week later when it arrived, first I picked up my laptop at the computer repair place and did some errands. The woman who managed the store was alone but assured me she could get it to my van and told me to move it closer to the door. I opened up the back and put down the seats.

When I saw the manager carrying the chair over her shoulders I knew I could handle it. It has wheels doesn’t it? She had already turned back to her office as I asked if there were instructions. With her back to me, she said something like I’d figure it out. One leg of the chair protruded, so I pushed on it to close the back door. It wouldn’t budge. I put my body behind it, and was able to close the van door and headed home.

I pulled into my parking spot behind the building and walked around to open the back of the van and tugged at the new chair.  And when I pulled enough, dragged enough, it slammed on to the pavement in two pieces. Oh crap.

I tried to pick up the seat by the arms. Maybe I could put everything on its side to get the seat back in to the base. Finally I got it back together. The next problem clicked like a light bulb. How would I walk around to the other side and let go of the chair? It was too heavy to get back in to the car. Instead of wheeling the chair over to the passenger door I got it to stay still. Good chair. I rushed to the side door, put the laptop case over my shoulder, grabbed the purse and package to put them on the chair before it started moving. I wheeled it like a grocery cart to the back entrance. Then another light bulb. It’s downhill which only matters on ice or on wheels. Just as I went around the corner trying to remember if there was a curb cut, I knew I should get in front of the chair so it couldn’t get away from me. Too late. It rolled away zero to sixty as I grabbed for it. At about the same time the laptop, my purse, the package and I, hit the cement. The air went out of me with a little scream.

Once I was done falling, I checked for damage. No blood, no rip in my black tights. Not even a scratch on what I thought was a broken wrist. I heaved on to my feet as a young man leaned out of the back of the moving van in front of me and said, “You okay?”

I hauled the chair up on to the sidewalk without losing the top. I didn’t have high hopes for the laptop but slung the case over my shoulder. I put everything else on the seat. The next light bulb clicked. With the van in the loading dock, the freight elevator was busy. I pushed what was now the biggest chair of my life down the back hall into the lobby. I stood in the lobby pretending I wasn’t pushing a chair, and waited for the only elevator working that day. When the door opened, I rolled past the rush hour pedestrian traffic. Feeling like both Laurel and Hardy, I pushed to the back of the car and pressed 19.

The weight of the chair dug in to the carpet. I was the last passenger left, and I shoved the chair down the carpeted hall and wheeled it across my carpeted apartment to my desk. I also plugged in the laptop to see if there was any chance it still worked. It did.

So I looked up the information on the chair. There were no instructions, just pictures of all the levers and detailed dimensions including weight; 52 pounds. I had just wrangled the equivalent of five bowling balls down a paved hill. I might as well have dropped my new chair out the window.

One of the many levers just dangles. But the one that helps my back is fine.