Stankin’

IMG_3064There are four of us. Julie, Chris, Stephanie and me. We are the Stankin’ Ho’s. People are bonded together forever when they survive a competitive and challenging work environment while enduring the boss from hell. Such was our connection as we tried to survive in a family practice residency program affiliated with an inner city hospital. Humor saved us.

The allegiance between me and Chris began innocently on almost the first day we met and meandered quickly into easy, ongoing teasing. One day, I looked up from my desk to see her standing, lurking really, around the edge of my door.

“You bitch,” she snarled with a grin then quickly walked away. I laughed and got back to work, only to return the favor later when I could catch her off guard. This took on new meaning when Stephanie overheard our name-calling jokes. She said she was shocked at seeing middle-aged white women acting so out of character. Bringing Stephanie into our exclusive cult only solidified our bond. And further elaborated our vocabulary.

“Sometimes its ‘bitch’ and other times its ‘whore.’ Any nasty word will do,” Chris giggled. But Stephanie, as usual, had her own ideas.

“No. You don’t call yourself whores,” she said. “You is ho’s.” From there, Stephanie began teaching these middle aged white women how to perfect their ghetto talk. We learned how it’s said in the hood, that something is out of this world or special beyond belief.

”That’s stankin’ “ Stephanie spat out. Chris and I wanted to be just like her and gave a milquetoast rendition that caused head shaking and a look of dismay. Stephanie jumped into teacher mode, putting more punch on the middle of the word: “st-ANK-in.” A guttural pronunciation with a body language swish added. We finally got it and from then on were proud middle-aged ghetto girls talking trash.

Stephanie became my own Queen Letifah that day, swinging effortlessly from street talk to the high-brow King’s English required in an academic setting. From there, it was an easy jump to calling ourselves the “stankin’ ho’s.” It just sort of happened. This has led to all kinds of variations. When I see an E-mail with the subject line “Hi Ho’s!” I know fun is on the way.

Everyone knows the angst of academic settings and this one lived up to all of those expectations. Add to this the shenanigans of the lady in charge who will be referred to throughout this story as CMD (crazy medical director). This white, Jewish woman who self-identified as Hispanic because she was married to one, deeply impacted our day to day work life; and that only drew us closer. Though we met over twenty five years ago and worked together for only a very short time, our friendship has sustained the separation of age, time and distance.

Stephanie and Julie are young enough to be my daughters and there are times I feel that way toward them. Chris was the program coordinator and second Mom to the residents. Stephanie took over the job when Chris left and Julie was coordinating a program in the clinic. I was the Behavioral Scientist for the residency.

Julie joined our clinic as an MSW student and, even though well aware of the craziness, graduated and came to work with us anyway. Shortly after starting her new job, she was told by CMD that she needed to quit so a minority candidate could have it. That was only fair, CMD said. How can that even be suggested in the 21st century?

In power and authority dynamics, I don’t know what’s worse, the stated or the unstated. I haven’t carried away any hard feelings for my treatment as a second class citizen. CMD hired me, really kind of stalked me because she wanted me in that job, pushed me through, against the wishes of medical school department heads. I didn’t have a PhD so was seen as underqualified. One of the higher-ups in the program told me outright, though tactfully, in what ways I was lacking. The department chair simply ignored me.

CMD wanted what she wanted but I’m the one who bore the brunt of not being fully accepted. Like when it came time to move to the new clinic. I noticed right away that the furniture in my office was different than in the MD’s and PhD’s offices. They had large credenzas and fancy chairs. I had a computer table and standard doctor’s office chairs. Ah, the hierarchy. But that’s another story.

Crazy work environments give ample opportunity to develop new skills. Like when Stephanie became a detective. Part of my job was to see patients for psychotherapy several half days a week and the clinic had a counseling room for that purpose. Imagine my surprise, when preparing for an appointment I had to explain to this clerical staff and her “patient” that they had to vacate the room. Or seeing her patting a person on the back and saying things like “that’s okay, you’ll be fine” as they headed down the hall.

I alerted Stephanie to my suspicions. Since she could more easily blend in and go unnoticed in the clinic she launched an investigation. Hovering. Eavesdropping. Her detective work paid off. It seemed the clinic’s medical patients were actually coming in just to see this clerical staff. She was running her own little out-patient therapy clinic. The ethical issues make me shudder.

Once Stephanie had gathered enough evidence she reported this to CMD who shut it down. Of course this was only after CMD deliberated and worried that she might be discriminating against the clinic staff. CMD also considered this might be depriving patients of needed services from someone like them (read: black).

It wasn’t until we’d all moved on from this work situation, that Stephanie finally shared the details of how she got her job. She’d come as a patient to the clinic for the first time and was seen by CMD for a gynecologic exam.

“Here, I was,” says Stephanie. “My first time visit with this doctor and while I’m on the table with my feet in the stirrups, she starts asking me all kinds of questions about my work experience. After we’re done, she pulled me back to the faculty offices to give me an application. That’s the only interview I had and she offered me the job almost before she’s even taken off her rubber gloves. I guess she liked what she saw down there and just knew from that, I could do the job.”

Chris probably had the hardest time since she was CMD’s administrative assistant. After hours CMD would call Chris’s phone and dictate reports. When the line buzzed and disconnected, she’d simply call again and pick up where she’d left off. Think of the many hours for Chris, transcribing without the forward and reverse of a Dictaphone.

Then there was CMD’s son. Chris often had to pick him up from school, provide his lunch and do other motherly duties. The story goes that while at a faculty luncheon, he was told by someone, not his mother, to stop brandishing a steak knife. Instead he loudly yelled “I can do anything I want. My mother is the boss.” We don’t have the nerve to check CCAP to see if he has an adult criminal record.

As I said, our time working together was short. We all went on to other jobs and Stephanie transferred to the department offices at the medical school. Since she still works at the same place, we hear the latest news on people we haven’t actually seen for decades. Some of it’s just like yesterday.

As a group, we’ve graduated from lunches, dinner and drinks to road trips. Our trip to Madison was memorable. Stephanie had never been to Madison and I still can see her dancing with wild abandon to a street band in the middle of State Street. I wasn’t sure she’d ever want to go home. We’re planning a casino trip and a train trip to Chicago for a play and shopping. The fun continues.

We are the stankin’ Ho’s. This illustrious group of fabulous women is as kooky as Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex and the City gang. Too bad we never made it to the movies or TV because our stories could entertain the world! A retelling of how we got our name and our many adventures never gets dull. As I am never dull about the specialness of these ladies and how precious their friendship is to me. Hi, Ho’s!

 

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Trip to Bountiful Madison

(June 21, 2015) The conference started on Monday but I drove to Madison two days early since my brother, Kent, had promised me a boat ride. Turned out, he was leaving for a fishing trip on Sunday and the boat was already out of the water. Instead, I got a different kind of ride that meandered unexpectedly, jolting me from past memories to present realities.

Kent and Tami gave me a tour of parts of Madison I’d never seen. We first visited Williamson Street (known to locals as “the Willies”). A throw-back to the 1960’s and featured in local magazines as THE place to live, it was touted as a friendly, walking neighborhood where people actually greeted each other as they passed on the street. Filled with unusual, even quirky shops we’d turned down a side street looking for a parking spot. Lined with small, older homes filled with personality, we’d realized too late it was a “bikes only street.” Feeling guilty, driving very slow.

We had dinner at an eclectic night spot, an old tavern and grill with a new age kind of name that started with an A. I had the most unusual grilled cheese sandwich ever, filled with a kitchen sink of vegetables and sundry foodstuffs. Some I couldn’t even identify.

Then, on to an impromptu stop at the Crystal Corner Bar for a drink (three, as it turned out). It was an out of body experience as I was transported back to my old college days at the B & B Tap in Oshkosh. Tami returned from the ladies room to report there was a chalk board on the door of one of the stalls. It was decorated with drawings of penises.

We asked the bar mistress where the chalk was so we could add something; she said the chalk always seemed to disappear. No further explanation. Just a shrug. Caught up in the mood, I almost bought a Crystal Corner Bar t-shirt. Almost.

On Sunday, my sister Karla and I visited Mom’s old house to see how the new owners were getting on with their renovations. Karla said: “Mom would hate this!” I’m just surprised they didn’t raze the whole thing and start over. The entire first floor had been gutted with all the windows either boarded up or covered in plastic. So it was impossible to see in. The day before, Kent was able to see a little because he’s tall enough to peek through the glass slat at the top of the door.

The front porch, now without the screens and shabby furniture, seemed smaller. We’d often gathered there as a family and knew when there’d been a touchdown due to cheers wafting through the air from Camp Randall. Now a screened-in porch or sun room was being added which took up most of the back yard. Mom’s flower and vegetable garden had been covered over by progress.

The entire second floor had been taken off and then replaced with a larger version. The roof was now covered with the same blue plastic sheets I’ve seen shrouding cars following those massive freeway pileups. An upstairs master suite was being planned according to the building permit taped to the front window. It also listed a family room in the basement. Big plans. I scattered the remainder of Mom’s ashes where her old garden had been.

“There you go, Mom,” I said. “Now you can keep an eye on things.” Maybe she’ll put a hex on it, I thought. Nosey next door neighbor filled us in. And in. And in. I got into the car to give Karla a reason to excuse herself.

He followed her from the yard, then the curb, into the street. When he noticed her new car, he asked if that’s what she’d spent her inheritance on. After Karla’s non-committal response, we pulled way.

“Jerk,” I said quietly.

Afterward, we went to the Laurel Tavern just like Mom and Dad used to do. But we drove instead of walking and reminisced how they’d often stroll down there on Friday night for a fish fry, bragging that the walk proved they were staying in shape.

As we waited for our lunch, we visualized Mom and Dad sitting in a booth across the room, Dad with his beer and Mom with her cup of coffee. We tipped our glasses to them. In my imagination, Dad, the outgoing one, acknowledged us with a tilt of his glass and I could see Mom’s coy grin.

It’s strange to come to town and no longer have a place to go. I guess I truly am an orphan now. Maybe seeing the house gave me the closure so many people insist I must have. I’d always come early and stayed late each year when I attended this same week-long conference. It was a chance to catch up and get some one-on-one time, free of distractions from several siblings and multiple grandchildren.

Mom and Dad are now gone and the house is on its way to a fabulous, new life. I’ve always wondered if once parents are gone will siblings continue to see each other. Will we resolve the misunderstandings that every family endures? Will we get together? My bet is that some will and some won’t. Time will tell.

 

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