Shaker or Freezer?

While picking up dry cleaning at the New Spring cleaners in Brooklyn, I told them I will be moving to Philadelphia and thank them for the good work they have done over the years. The seamstress came out and said goodbye as did the owner and her husband.

“Here,” the owner said, handing me a Chinese wall calendar for the next year, “for you. Why leaving New York? “ She asked, concerned.

“My husband has Parkinson’s. It is hard here with the subways,” I explained. All three of them nodded. They knew Hal.

The woman behind me in line, a stranger, spoke up in a Brooklyn accent. “Is he a shaker or a freezer?” (With accent: shakuh or freezah?)

I had a puzzled look on my face, wasn’t sure what to say.

“You know, with Parkinson’s you’re either one or the other,” she explained. ”My father was a shakuh but my brother is a freezah.”

I had never thought about Parkinson’s in quite that way. The symptoms were very different for each person but I hadn’t realized that if you were a shaker then you usually weren’t a freezer. But I knew what she meant; I had never seen anyone both shake and freeze with this illness.

“He’s a freezer,” I answered.

Of all the years I’ve known Hal I have never seen him shake with tremors but he does freeze when he walks. Freezing is the term used to explain when someone with Parkinson’s tries to move their feet but can’t, they become glued to the ground. With Parkinson’s you can become a human statue, unable to move, grounded to the ground.

“It’s a hard disease,” the woman behind me continued. “I wish you and your husband the very best out there in Philadelphia.” (Every place outside of New York City is often referred to as “out there.”) Out there in the abyss.

“I wish you well too,” I said, waving to all, taking my dry cleaning and heading out the storefront. As I walked home, past all of the other stores I will miss, Terrace Bagels, the Kim Family’s Food Mart, the used bookstore, I think about how, in a minute long conversation at the corner dry cleaners, I learned something about Parkinson’s I had not known.

Sometimes it’s the everyday people you learn the most from, the ones who are also living with this disease, who speak of things matter of factly. We both knew there was a whole lot more going on than shaking and freezing but we didn’t say anything else. After all, this was small talk in a Brooklyn dry cleaners.

(Another version of this essay was previously published in the March 2015 issue of Wordgathering)


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