New York, I Love You

This was supposed to be last Monday, 10/15’s post.  But with the mad dash to get ready to go to St. Louis (where I am right now), it just didn’t happen.  Better late than never…

As I lift our new soft-hard sided, half-full suitcase from the floor up onto the sofa, G says, ‘Oooooo…heavy.’

‘Yeeeees,’ I reply, ‘verrrrrry heavy.’

You, dear Reader, may perhaps be unaware that we are leaving our beloved New York City in less than a fortnight. In fact, by the time this post publishes, we’ll be en route to LaGuardia.  We will be gone for 2 months to travel the US with Michael while he directs the 25th Anniversary Tour of Les Miserables. When we come back in December, we’ll leave the apartment we just moved into this past January, to join Michael for a year on the road and possibly longer depending on circumstances that are unbeknownst to us at this time.

If you think this causes me any stress at all, you would absolutely be wrong. I certainly never internalize my anxiety causing it to reveal itself in my body in other ways. I’m absolutely stoic in any and all situations that may involve the upheaval of my life.

I swear.

I even had elaborate plans of how to reclaim New York City before we left—see a show—go to a museum—see the leaves change in the park.

This is what the city gave me instead…

I reach down to roll the antique tool chest (Michael has, of course, on castors) back in front of the couch, when suddenly, without my choosing to do so, I find myself on the floor. After this surprisingly graceful tuck and roll, I feel the slight twinge in my lower back.

No, I whisper out loud to myself, no. Absolutely not.

I roll to my side and climb up onto the chest to do a cat/cow spine.

‘There we go,” I purr to my lower back as if she’s a small child who just skinned her knee, “everything’s going to be fine.”

G looks up at me with a request for an explanation.

“Don’t worry sweetie. Momma’s back just got stuck for a second. This just helps to unstick it.”

I rise to my knees and step off the tool chest.

“See?” I say when without warning, the room swiftly darkens and stars swirl in front of my eyes. Oh my God. I’m going to pass out…or worse…lose my lunch.  Just like that, I’m right back down on the floor as a searing pain jabs itself into the left side of my lower back.

“Wow!” I start to laugh as my eyes widen and my speech grows louder to try and mask my pain, “Wow bud! Ok! Well…I guess Mommy’s back just went out (I’m basically shouting like Will Ferrel now). Ha! Wow! Ho!  So, this has never happened to Momma before.  Well…let’s just hang out down here on the floor for a minute and we’ll figure out what to do.”

Michael is in town, but at auditions. M is at brunch with a friend.

Nuncle Jen. If I can scooch over to my phone, I can call Nuncle Jen.

“Hi! Yeah…so I think my back just went out…
“Yeah well…it’s never happened to me before…
“Yes…well G is sitting here on the floor with me…so I’m trying to keep an upbeat manner about myself…
“No…nope. No one else is here. M and M are out and if it weren’t for the fact that I feel like I may faint or vomit when I stand, I would just wait for one of them to get home…
“Yeah…yeah, I know. It sure does sound like a Tennessee Williams’ play over here doesn’t it?

“Great. Ok, thanks. Thanks so much.”

“Ok, bud!  Nuncle Jen is on her way.”

G calls her Uncle Jen no matter how many times I say it’s Auntie Jen.

‘I’m the Rodney Dangerfield of Aunts,’ she says, ‘I get no respect.’

So while Jen comes and goes, the ibuprofen comes and goes, the day turns into night and night into morning…it’s now 8am the next day and I am still unable to stand.

I have to call Dr Cai.

‘Dr. Cai?’ you may wonder if you’re still even reading this, ‘Now who is this Dr. Cai?’

Well.  Over the course of the last 10 years I have known 3 different people, who do not know each other, who have all seen this amazing acupuncturist, Dr. Cai, when their backs have gone out.  Each one of them claims to have walked out of his office good as new.  One woman even said to me in her fabulous New York accent, ‘You don’t mess around with acupuncture.  That stuff’s ancient.’  I always felt that Kramer from Seinfeld would also go to this Dr Cai and try in various, determined ways to convince Jerry that Dr Cai was in fact the man he needed to see for his various ailments.

Dr Cai can fit me in at 330, so I take enough ibuprofen to completely numb a small pony and drag myself into a cab at 3.  I lie on my side in the back of the cab and start to laugh.  Of course this is happening right now.  Of course it is, how could I ever have even thought to leave New York City without experiencing Dr. Cai for myself.  Shame on me.  I crawl out of the cab, into the elevator and into an office that looks just as I expected. Nothing fancy, just efficient, old school New York.  The receptionist takes one look at me and sends me to the back room.  I slowly lower myself onto the big leather sofa next to the treatment table and stare up at the ceiling.  This is going to be awesome.  I can feel it.

Dr. Cai, the man, myth & legend himself, walks in, and I am not surprised in the least when he takes one look at me and says, “Your back.”

I was told he was a man of very few words.

“Yes,” I wince.

“Easy,” he says, “my specialty.”

“I’ve heard,” I reply.

“Tongue,” he commands.  I stick out my tongue for his perusal.

“Good color,” he says, “table.”

He motions me to the examining table but I soon realize the only motion I can accomplish without his help is to roll over and drop face first onto the floor like a sack of potatoes.  So instead of carrying out this embarrassing move, Dr. Cai has to move the table closer to the couch instead, slide his arms under my waist and flip me over onto the table like a pancake.  I do my absolute best to not burst out laughing…or crying…or vomiting.

“Spine crooked.” he says after looking at my back for about millisecond.

He grabs my left wrist and pulls my hand behind my back.  Then he guides my thumb down the length of my spine.  It’s a straight until just about mid thoracic when it abruptly veers completely over to the right. This, dear Reader, shocks me. The urge to laugh is completely gone as I stifle the feeling of nausea that wells up.

Dr. Cai must sense my shift in mood as he says, “Easy” again.

How could it be?  I think to myself, my spine is completely crooked!  But he sounds thoroughly  confident so what choice do I have but to believe him?

He quickly and quietly places about 10 slender needles into my back. I don’t feel any of them.

“Feel needle?” he says.

“No,” I respond.

“That’s right,” he says, “lift head, look.”

I lift my head to look, he stands next to me with an anatomy book.  He shows me various renderings of the spine as it’s supposed to look, versus how mine looks. He shows me how the sciatic nerve runs all the way down your leg, so at this point I’m lucky I’m only experiencing pain in my back.  He’s very kind, and very confident.

“Right now,” he says, “pain midtown.  I fix before pain move downtown.”

Then a picture of he and Mike Tyson falls out of the book.

“Ah.  Look.  Mike Tyson. Same problem, crooked spine. I fix.  Now, very good friend. He get me ticket to his broadway show. Very good.  Sing, act, dance, box.  Very talented.  Spike Lee directs.  He says to Mike Tyson, ‘you see Dr Cai before you do show.'”

I can see it as clear as day, ‘Jerry! I’m telling you…you’ve got to go see Dr. Cai. He fixed Mike Tyson’s

crooked spine, Jerry!  Did you hear that? Did you hear what I just said? Mike Tyson, Jerry! Have you ever thought about the size of Mike Tyson’s spine Jerry? Think about it. Dr. Cai’s the man Jerry.  Oh he’s the man, alright. You don’t mess around with acupuncture, Jerry. That stuff’s ancient!’

Dr Cai then abruptly turns to leave the room and just before he shuts the door he pops his back in and says, “Think of ocean.”

I don’t know how long I’m in that room thinking of the ocean before Dr. Cai comes back.  He doesn’t speak, he takes out the needles, puts his hands on my back and literally just rolls me out like bread dough.  He doesn’t massage my back exactly, he just sort of rocks it back and forth, then presses up and down on my lower back with both hands, like the way you were taught to never do CPR.  He grabs my left wrist again and traces my thumb down my back, my spine is perfectly straight.

‘Come on Jerry!  I’m telling you!’

I walk right out of Dr Cai’s office as good as new, just as I had been told I would.  The cherry on top is the cab ride home with a chatty driver, who tells me that he drove John Lennon in his cab back to the Dakota the night he was killed.  That he was, according to his story, the last person to see John Lennon alive.

The next morning, back still feeling open and perfect, I get on the subway and sit down across from a woman who was clearly heading home from Fashion Week or design school or a hazing process at Vogue.

She is none too pleased at the giggles in her general direction.  She gets off at my stop and has to pick up that poor exposed mannequin by her tushie in order to carry her off the train.  So many people offer to help her, because that’s what New Yorkers do, they offer to help you carry your naked mannequin up the stairs.  And after this string of events over the last 24 hours I can’t help but think…

Aw, New York, thank you.  I’ll miss you too.


  • What a juicy post! So many interesting things – I don’t even know which part to address – have so many comments – but let’s just say you almost had me on the floor with that bit of subway photojournalism (that poor poor brave girl). Glad your back is all better! Safe & fun travels and adventures and roaming around – how exciting!

  • I cannot believe what I just read. It is now the 22nd. I just found this in my junk mail. Betsy do you now see why I worry about you? and a big A+ to that miracle Dr. How’d he do that?? I will be glad, I think, when you get on the road with Michael and know hje’s within reach. The Little Man must have been really puzzled to see his Mommy act up like that. I’m so sorry but happy you are back on your feet and not on your back. I was not sure where you were and where you are going next? New Orleans?? and then offf to Chicago?? Wish I could say “I’ve got your back” but no way so be careful. Love to All 3. GG

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