The night before all of New York City went dark, I accepted a blind date from a guy who owned a motorcycle. I was excited, but careful not to tell my overprotective father. He found out, and as I was applying black eyeliner and red lipstick, the “full metal jacket” of color and shadow, his fierce moonface suddenly appeared next to mine in the mirror.

“I see you’re dolled up with enough paint to join the circus.”

Then Mother stuck her head in: “Is it wise to go on a motorcycle blind date on a work night?”

I was 18, working my first full-time job in Manhattan and enjoying what was quickly becoming my born-to-be-wild status, but my business was always the tribe’s business. A decade had passed since I had polio and recovered, but to them I was still breakable.

“Cover up better or you don’t go out,” my father said.

“How ’bout I wear mittens and a baby bonnet?” I shot back.

If the Great Blackout of ’65 hadn’t occurred the very next day, I might never have recalled this particular date. But one incident that night left its mark: When my date stopped for a light, and I rested my leg against the exhaust pipe, I burned my ankle so badly it practically sizzled.

“You OK back there?”


I would never admit I didn’t know about motorcycle exhausts, plus I was in denial about having balance problems. At the time, I felt I could do anything, go anywhere, keep up with anyone. To me, denial was far more preferable than despair.

The next morning my back ached in a way it never had, my ankle was swollen and puffy, and the burn had turned dark red and was beginning to ooze. Mother flipped when she saw it.

“Idiot! I knew it — ga-head, miss work, get yourself fired!”

“Is that your motherly concern voice?”

She insisted I see the family doctor right away, but I hated doctors, vowed never to go near a hospital unless they took me unconscious, by ambulance.

Ignoring the pai