Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sometimes I really hate irony

I’ve been hearing for months now from my physical therapist, my doctors, every book I’ve read on fibro that one of the best things I can do to soothe my aches and pains is get into a hot bath for 20 minutes every night.

And I’ve been bemoaning the fact that there’s no way I can get into a bathtub in this house. We have two tubs – one is your average built-in model, and one in our “master” bathroom (which the previous owners never quite completed). This one is a wonking big Jacuzzi monster that while lovely to lounge in previously, it takes all the hot water in our tank. And, the sides are too high for me to get into safely. So I’ve been confined to showers.

Then, it dawned on me (actually it was my mother’s idea) that I could put a grab bar into the wall in the “small” bathroom, add a padded mat, and that way I could kneel down and twirl about onto my back the way I’ve been taught to get onto the floor.

Sounded logical, right?

So I’ve been hounding Husband for weeks, months about this grab bar. And he’d counter with all these reasons why I didn’t need one. Why couldn’t I just grab onto the wall, this is only a temporary condition, just put a chair next to the tub, etc. My feeling is 1) he didn’t want to put something into the wall that potential buyers wouldn’t like; 2) he didn’t want to look at the thing and have a reminder that his wife isn’t physically perfect; or 3) he just didn’t want to do the work.

I might never get an honest answer to that.

But I bugged him and my mother bugged him and my brother called him and offered to help install it…

And then I did our taxes.

And I reminded him how much money it was saving us and how complicated it all was and how long it took and this would be my payment: a grab bar, a shoulder massage and a nice dinner (I’ve yet to get this dinner).

A week later a grab bar was sitting on the floor of the bathroom.

And there it sat.

“What’s up with the grab bar?” I asked.

“I need a stud finder,” he said.

So that became another project.

And then he found one. And on Friday, a shiny new grab bar was mounted into my bathroom wall.

I couldn’t try it out on Friday because I had acupuncture in the afternoon, and for some reason I’m not supposed to take a bath 12 hours after a treatment (will I soak up too much water?). I don’t know why.

So on Saturday, with my muscles still aching from the demanding physical therapy session I’d had on Tuesday, the trigger point massage I’d had on Thursday, and the two days I went into work, I looked forward to finally, finally, taking a bath.

I thought about it all day. Sinking into the hot water. My muscles relaxing. Getting out and putting on lavender oil, then my penguin pjs (don’t get your hopes up, this isn’t one of those soft-core blogs).

I’d even, when I made my list of positive things in my life (I do this sometimes when I’m feeling down), included “I can take a bath!” as one of the items.

Around eight last night, I let in the water. It had been a long time since I had a bath; I was mostly a shower person, so the drain thingy was a little stuck and I needed Husband to unstuck it. I also asked him to stay and spot me in case I had any problems.

The tub filled and I stepped in. Grabbed my shiny new grab bar. Knelt into the water.

The temperature was perfect. And then, as I was starting my “drop and roll,” I realized that the tub was a little small for that maneuver. But I did the best I could and twizzled around onto my back.

“What’s that?” Husband said, glaring at the drain.

I heard the noise too. The water was draining out. And he started fretting, and jiggling the drain lever (no, that wasn’t a double entendre; you should be ashamed of yourself) and I told him to cut it out, we’d just go to the hardware store and get one of those stoppers, don’t worry.

But my bath water was rapidly disappearing. And then I realized that I had no back support. I could either put my legs in the water or my back, and either way, my muscles didn’t like it. And now with the water down about five inches, I figured I should just try to get out and shower instead. And maybe I tightened up too much or was just kind of tense about the whole thing, but I felt a whole lot of things pull.

And I spent today doing Commando Physical Therapy – walk ten minutes, stretch, ice; repeat every 2-3 hours, so I’d stand a better chance of being good to go for work on Monday.

And I crossed “I can take a bath!” right off my list.

For now.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Snow falls on Washington

Say you’re George Bush (I know, you want to vomit and go kill yourself now, but please, try to remember, it’s just hypothetical). Your approval numbers are in the toilet, you grasp onto any potentially spinnable fact of good news like Wile E. Coyote clinging to that last leaf of the branch keeping him from falling splat off the mesa and onto the desert floor. You’re a little late getting to that second-term changing-of-the-guard and while you’ve accepted the resignations of some people who wanted to “step down so they can spend more time with their families,” so far you’ve only kept the people who tell you what you want to hear. You can’t make your agenda believable (or even comprehensible) to the media or the American public to save your life.

Time for a new Press Secretary. Which makes sense. These guys burn out fast. And Scott McClellan? While he’s not as whiny and confrontational as poor Mike McCurry who had to answer questions about blue dresses and the meaning of the word “is,” McClellan could be a little quicker on the draw, could look a little less like he’s on the verge of a panic attack when the White House press corps descend upon him. But why on earth would Bush want to replace him with someone not only more charismatic, articulate and better looking than the president (OK, insert your own joke here. I’ll wait. Dum-de-dum-de-dum….ready now?), but someone who has clearly and very publicly been on record as critical of your decisions?

And why on earth would the guy take this job? Tony Snow has a wife and kids and just beat colon cancer. He’s a regular anchor on Fox News, he’s got a syndicated radio show. Why take the pay cut? Why take on the pressure?

That stuff Colin Powell used to say about “when the president calls, you go,” is a bunch of crap. This isn’t Cuba. This isn’t Hussein’s Iraq.

Snow didn’t have to take the job.

In several interviews, Snow has said that we are in such fascinating political times that the challenge was too exciting to turn down. And (my opinion here) possibly the chance to make news (abandoning the journalistic tenet of never becoming the news) and to even have some advisory power could have a little sway. And the appeal of having a veteran pundit who knows the ins and outs of Washington politics (and who can probably handle the White House press corps without losing his cool) on his front lines was too good for Bush to pass up. (Or I’m sure Karl Rove told him so.)

However the decision played out, the result is going to be interesting.

Already I’m seeing Snow’s influence. His fingerprints were all over that last press conference. Bush, having more fun with the press than usual. Coming down firm on the question about the “new” National Anthem in Spanish (pre-Snow, I am sure he would have equivocated about his respect for the immigrants who made this country great, and maybe he would have even said it in Spanish). Now he just said, “no way.”

Now if only Snow could convince Bush that Rumsfeld and Cheney need to spend more time with their families….

Friday, April 28, 2006

How work works

To all of you who have jobs, this might sound like one big old “duh.”

But I haven’t worked outside of my house for a long time.

And I realized, as I was getting ready for my first day, that I’d forgotten all the basics.

Like, you have to get to a place on time. And they will expect you to keep going there. And you have to do stuff. And you have to think about things like lunch and snacks and where the bathroom is and what to say when the phone rings, if it’s your job to pick it up at all.

And you have to choose different outfits every day, at least ones that are somewhat coordinated and look like you’re going somewhere respectable and not to the gym or the doctor’s office or to Wal-Mart.

And it can’t be the same thing you’ve been wearing around the house for the last three days, even if it’s really comfortable and doesn’t smell too bad yet.

It depends upon your line of work, of course. Strippers can’t be expected to wear Ann Taylor suits (unless they’re playing Naughty Executive that day), but heels are definitely mandatory. And for guys who will be climbing the electric lines to fix the transformers, something comfortable and non-conductive would probably be best. Plus, you wouldn’t want anyone looking up your skirt and inviting all sorts of sexual harassment suits.

My mother used to tell me that the best “thermometer” of expected corporate dress is to see what everyone else is wearing, paying particular attention to your boss. And while my new boss doesn’t exactly look like she’s off to a Grateful Dead concert, she isn’t in buttoned-up corporate black and matching pumps like my former boss. She’s somewhere in the middle. She looks nice, and approachable, and recently showered. Which is always good in a person who goes out to meeting and tries to pitch new business.

So I, who will probably only be contacting clients via phone or e-mail, opt for sneakers. The same knit pants I wear everywhere (I’m into easy shopping these days: go on the Lands End web site and order the same thing in six colors), a clean top, another Lands End favorite, a casual sort of jacket with removable shoulderpads (depending on if I’m into power or not that day, or expect to be drafted for the Giants training camp). A couple of pieces of jewelry. And, if I have that extra burst of energy, a little makeup.

This way I’m ready for all occasions. A lunchtime walk. Stretching on my exercise mat afterwards. Navigating the scary basement stairs to the restroom. I should probably keep a nicer pair of shoes in my desk drawer in case I’m called upon to go somewhere where such things are important, but we’ll see how it goes.

I’d also forgotten about Corporate Culture. That each company has its particular “personality.” Like, do people eat lunch together? Or only certain people? Do your colleagues leave their office doors open? Actually get up and go ask questions in person or e-mail them instead? Is the boss infinitely interruptible or do you have to go through an intermediary? Is everyone out the door on time or would you feel like some kind of slacker slinking out at five? Can I play the radio? Swear at the computer? Put a Gumby on my desk? That sort of thing.

I was getting a good grok about that my first day. The boss brings her dogs to work and lets people eat lunch at the conference table in her office. Check “no” on the formal atmosphere. I never saw a closed door. Everybody just comes and gets you when they have a question. Or sometimes they just yell back and forth (it’s a small office).

And the Gumby (and maybe even a penguin) would probably be welcome.

No one has said anything about my sneakers, so I’ll probably just keep wearing them until someone tells me otherwise. And I need to go for a walk and a stretch at lunch, so if they think I’m a big giant snob for not getting takeout and eating with them, so be it.

I’ll just leave the giant stained sweatshirt at home, though.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

This is your brain. This is your brain after 16 years of marriage

(Op's note: I'm off to work today. But this happened yesterday. I swear.)


At around noon, Husband rolls out of bed and comes downstairs. (He is a night owl, for those of you who don't know our normal routine). He flops down on the couch to get the headlines from Fox News before he starts his day. At this point, I'm in the dining room, eating lunch and working on the New York Times crossword puzzle (for those of you who don't know our normal routine). He comes up to me with this weird gleam in his eyes and says, "So two people died at Nascar yesterday. How do you think they died?"

"Crash," I say.

"No, they were spectators."

"OK. Tires flew off the cars and crushed them."


"You're not going to tell me, are you?"

From his eyes it looks like he's having too much fun with the fact that two people died in some strange way, which I find a little bit frightening. "Guess," he says. What's the strangest way two spectators could die?"

I am just bored enough or curious enough to play this game. "Uh...a Jeff Gordon fan got tired of a Dale Earnhardt fan razzing him so Jeff's guy brained Dale's guy with a tire iron and a third spectator pulled out his Leatherman and took Jeff's guy out because he's a Tony Stewart fan and hated both of the other guys."

"Nope," he said, but I bet he was damned impressed with my knowledge of Nascar guys.

Meanwhile, I'm getting tired. "Was beer involved?"

He shook his head.

"For God's sake, tell me already."

"Two guys were in the camping area setting up a trailer, and they were hanging an American flag over the top and they snagged some wires and got fried."

"And you find this amusing," I said, totally deadpan.

He looks disappointed that I don't find it funnier. "No. Just strange."

The irony of the joke is in there, I'm sure, just under too many layers for either of us to ferret it out. For me, because I don't feel like bothering, and frankly, it disturbs me, and for him, because he's sleep deprived and as yet non-caffeinated.

Maybe when he's awake for a few hours he'll either realize that what he said was either deeply disturbing or brilliantly ironic.

I'm still waiting.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Here comes the rain again...

And I’ve had enough. Yeah, yeah, I know. It makes the flowers grow pretty. It makes the trees sprout. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

But it makes my life and body miserable. I ache all over and tend to forget that this state is temporary and will eventually pass. Maybe it’s time I went to live in the desert. Or just learned to live with it.

It’s easier when it’s a day at a time. Oh, well, I can say, I’ll get interested in a book or a new project or something and soon enough, the clouds will break and the sun will come out again.

Three days…four days…it’s like slow, steady torture. The steady drip is a drumbeat. The gathering clouds a foreboding of doom. And there’s only so long I can keep my optimism up.

And that’s some heavy drugs…no, just kidding. I can’t take those, either.

So…if anyone has any jokes to share, coping ideas, positive energy left over to throw my way, I’d appreciate it.

Thanks…and here’s to the return of sunnier skies.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Fiction Friday on Saturday (just because I felt like it)

(Op's note: This is an excerpt from "The C Word." What you need to know: Adam and Liza have taken Adam's mother, Estelle, in to live with them during her chemotherapy. Charlie works for a TV program that's like "The View." That should be it, I think)

Adam’s brother, Charlie, is coming from Manhattan for the weekend, and the mood in Adam and Liza’s house suddenly seems to sparkle as if touched by a magic wand. Liza buys the coffee he likes and changes the sheets on the foldout. Estelle spends hours in the bathroom putting on makeup and doing her hair. When Adam returns from the train station with Charlie, the prodigal son has a sack full of goodies from Zabar’s. He’s got a Lindy’s cheesecake, and stories about the four famous ladies and who is fighting with whom.

And before the coffee can finish brewing, Charlie also has Cara from down the street. She’d stopped by after dropping the kids at football practice. As Charlie talks, she leans forward, eyes bright, eating up his celebrity gossip with a spoon. “So that’s your job?” she says. “Keeping the divas from each other’s throats?”

“That. And occasionally producing a television show.” He sniffs. “It’s a living.”

“I read in the Star that Jessica What’s-Her-Name has had so much Botox she can’t even blink.”

“Close to it. It’s pretty freakish.” Charlie puts down his coffee and glances at Estelle. “Mom? You’re looking kind of green. You OK?”

“It’s probably the nausea,” Cara says. “From the chemo.”

Estelle nods.

“Can I get your compozine?” Liza says.

“Doesn’t work,” Estelle says in a gasp. “I took three.”

“You’re not supposed to take that much, Estelle.” Cara turns to Liza. “Does anything else work?”

Liza shrugs. “We tried ginger tea. She threw it up.”

Cara smiles gently at Estelle and pats her knee. “I got something for you, hon. I’ll bring it by later.”


Liza cleans up from dinner, a simple Saturday evening neighborhood affair consisting of several pizzas and whatever she and Cara had around the house. Adam comes in with a fistful of paper plates, and stuffs them into the trash.
He doesn’t look pleased. “She gave my mother pot.”

“It was just a little,” Liza says.

“Cara gave my mother pot. You know she’s not supposed to be smoking.”

“It’s not like she whipped out a bong. We made tea. She’s a nurse, so she knows what to do. And it helped.”

“I don’t care.”

“You don’t care that your mother is no longer puking her guts out?”

“It’s against the law.”

Rolling her eyes into the kitchen window, Liza squeezes out the sponge. “I hardly think they’re going to bust our door down for a tiny little bit used for medicinal purposes.”

“Cara’s got kids,” Adam says. “What’s she doing with pot in the house?”

“Where do you think she got it?” Liza says.

“Oh. That’s nice. Real nice message she’s sending.”

“And the Valium you and Charlie have been pushing on her for years?” Liza says. “That’s OK?”

“That’s different.”

Cara sidles into the kitchen for another beer. She smiles at Adam. For a second his gaze drops to her breasts. But Liza, when she’s sober, can hardly fault him. They’re like a total eclipse of the sun. Sometimes Liza finds herself staring. Adam’s voice is much softer than the tone he’d used with Liza. “Don’t be giving my mother any more pot, OK?”

“But she’s feeling better.” Cara squeezes Adam’s shoulder. “Maybe you could use some, hon. You’re wrapped a little tight. Have a beer.”

He takes it from her. If she’d offered him hemlock he would have probably taken it.

“And that’s different.” Liza flicks a finger against the bottle. “That high can be legal, but a tiny little bit of pot...”

“It’s not the same, Liza.”

“People don’t smoke pot and get into cars and kill other people.”

Charlie wanders in. “So the party’s in here. Mom’s starting to wonder if it’s something she said.”

Adam grabs his brother’s arm. “Charlie. Save me. Talk some sense into my libertarian wife.”

Charlie winks at Liza. “You married her.”


Adam follows Cara’s beer with several more. Shortly after the neighbors leave, he’s sleeping like a bear in January, but Liza is still wide awake. Estelle has been out for hours. Charlie’s got an old black and white movie on the television. A fast-talking dame with dark lipstick is holding a gun on a guy trying to be smooth as Bogie. Charlie’s cell phone is propped on the arm of the sofa. He’s watching it like he’s willing it to ring. Liza makes a show of scraping her slippered feet along the carpet, to alert him.

He turns and smiles. “Come, sit. The bad guy’s about to buy it for being a Nazi informant. Or a bootlegger. I’m not sure which.”

He stretches out a corner of his afghan. Liza curls up beside him as three shots ring out. The Bogart wanna-be winces and drops to his knees, and then the floor.

“I miss the days when people in movies died in tidy, choreographed heaps,” Liza says. “No blood splattered everywhere to prove it happened.”

“I miss hats.” Charlie picks up one of Liza’s long, curly locks, examines it thoughtfully, then lets it go. “I bet you’d look good in a hat.”

“Hardly.” She smiles. She missed this. Late nights with Charlie. Talking through the movie, making fun of the cheesy dialogue and bad acting. Talking about the movie they would write one day. But things change. She wonders if he ever thinks about what he gave up to work in television.

“So Sleeping Beauty turned you out into the cold, dark night?” Charlie asks.

“Snoring like a buzz saw. It’s not pretty.”

“So stay up. Dark Victory’s on next. I love watching Bette Davis die. She’s the best.”

Charlie’s phone rings. He looks at the ID. Then looks away.

“Waiting on someone?” Liza says.

“I’m playing hard to get.” He looks tired. “Actually I’m playing, ‘there’s very few people I want to talk to right now when I’m not being paid to.’”

“But there’s someone you do want to talk to.”

Charlie doesn’t answer.

“Is this classified information?” Liza says.

“It’s a problem.”


“Worse.” He lets out his breath. “Politician.”


“Could be. He’s on everyone’s short list to run for Congress.”

“So what’s the big deal? You live in New York. Who would care if he came out? It might even enhance his cache.”

“His wife and kids might have something to say about that.”


He sighs. “I know. I’m the poster child for Gay Men, Stupid Choices. But we met when he came to do a segment on the show, and we just clicked. On so many levels. Ah, but who am I talking to? Liza the Practical. You always made sure they were attainable before you fell for them.”

Not always, she thinks. But she’s over Charlie. Mostly. “Maybe he’ll get divorced.”

“I doubt it. She’s Catholic.”

“Too bad,” Liza says. “You’d have made a great First Lady.”

He squares his shoulders and adopts a serene, inscrutable air, a la Jackie Kennedy. “You think?”

It makes him look ridiculous. And completely adorable. “Absolutely,” Liza says.

“Liar.” Charlie’s face sags. “Is there any of that cheesecake left?”

Friday, April 21, 2006

It's society, stupid

I was on the treadmill this morning listening to a snippet of the Today show. Katie Couric was teasing an upcoming item about the Duke lacrosse team, suggesting that the recent alleged rape by two or possibly three players might be a symptom of a larger problem: perhaps, the sport of lacrosse is to blame?

Oh, for Christ’s sake, I thought, and if I had the remote I would have switched to Good Morning America or maybe even thrown it at the damned television. I’m not picking on journalism in general here, but the group lather that some journalists, and mostly the tabloid TV journalists, have fallen into in order to get eyeballs sucked into their 24-hour miasma. How typical of them to blame the forest instead of the tree. No, it’s not that there are terrorists in the world who want to kill us, it’s that we have something wrong with our airplanes that allow them to be penetrated by terrorists. It’s not the poor screwed-up kid whose parents neglected him, it’s the guns. (Not that I’m pro-gun by any means, but come on. Removing guns from the picture would not have stopped those sick kids from Columbine from massacring their school. They would have simply gone on the Internet and learned how to build a bomb.)

And now TV journalists want to blame lacrosse. This is ridiculous. I’ve watched lacrosse. It seems like a fairly innocuous sport, much less violent than football, or even rugby, which is basically football without protective gear. And the few players that I’ve met, individually, seem like OK guys. I didn’t stick around long enough to listen to the full news “story,” so I could only speculate what the theory might be. Not enough supervision? Coaches and administrators covering up for the players so as not to create bad publicity? The sport not sufficiently violent to expend all the guys’ testosterone? But then again, football players and basketball players have had their share of violent behavior as well. I’ve even met a girl who was raped by a bunch of college football players. The coach gave her a ton of money to make it go away, and she was too afraid to make a case.

But I can only speak from personal experience about lacrosse players based on the few that I met. When I was a sophomore at Syracuse University, a bunch of guys from the Hamilton College lacrosse team came to Syracuse to party with some of their buddies one weekend, because basically there is nothing to do at Hamilton. That Saturday night, I was out at Sutter’s Mill with my roommates. We were having a mellow evening, sitting at a table with a pitcher of beer, and eventually the guys drifted over. I didn’t notice the moment when it happened, but suddenly my three “friends” had split and I’m sitting there with a tall, good-looking blond guy who looked a lot like Eddie Money (translation for those under thirty-five: pop singer from the seventies). We were kind of hitting it off, getting into this strange conversation about Firesign Theater and Monty Python, when I felt this sudden pain in my back. I reached around and felt blood. A lot of blood. And something hard that had torn through my blouse and was sticking into my skin.

My girlfriends were nowhere and even if they were, none of them had a car. The guy, whose name was Dave, took me to the emergency room. Even though it was one in the morning and we’d only known each other about an hour and a half. And he was there when I came out, looking worried. I had three stitches about a half-inch from my spine, a large bandage on the small of my back, and a souvenir – a thick shard of glass that could have been either from a beer bottle or drinking glass tossed into a pail and turned into a projectile.

Dave took my arm and led me back to his car, then drove me back to my dorm. We talked for a while, and then he said he should let me get some sleep. He took my name and address and said goodnight with an avuncular kiss on the forehead.

He sent me a get well card and a couple of letters, and then our very brief acquaintanceship petered out.

Even so, this, from one of those “evil” lacrosse players. Who could have pretended he didn’t know me when the glass hit my back. Who could have ditched me at the hospital. Who could have raped me in his car or in my dorm room. It could have happened. He had sixty pounds on me at least and I was a little doped up from the anesthetic. But I was lucky.

But even if I wasn’t, I would never have blamed it on the sport of lacrosse.

I would have blamed it on bad judgment, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Or, horror of all horrors, blamed it on the guy.

But that was twenty years ago. Maybe things are different now. Maybe all our attempts to sensitize young men to sexual harassment and make them sign dating contracts have created a kind of backlash against women. Maybe collegiate athletics are taking too much away from the academic experience, physically and financially, so much so that coaches will do anything to protect their players.

But I’m positive that the solution is not as simple as blaming the sport.

But we do like solutions to our problems to be as simple as the ones on our television shows. Easily identified, and solved in a half an hour, including commercial breaks.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Big Stick

Never in my life did I imagine that one day, of my own free will, I’d be lying on a table with stainless steel needles sticking out of my body and paying for the privilege.

Yes, at one moment in my life, I could have considered it, as part of a circus act, if I’d stayed with a certain ex, (Right this way to the Human Pin Cushion! Watch her leak like a sieve after she drinks a glass of water!) except I was the one who would have been paid. Probably not enough for a grande cappuccino, but at least I’d be in show biz.

Yet there I was yesterday afternoon in Room Number Three, the lights softly dimmed, New Age music drifting from the CD player in the corner, the pointy points of ten two-inch-long needles worked into my skin: some in my ears, the rest in my feet, hands, forearms and calves.

And the worst of it? Not the needles - most of them felt no more painful to me than a mosquito bite, and once they went in, I didn’t feel them anymore. Not the money I was paying (as this guy didn’t take any insurance), not the questions in my mind of whether acupuncture would or wouldn’t work.

No, for me, the worst part was laying still for twenty minutes while the needles unblocked my chi or realigned my meridians or whatever magic they were promised to do.

I have no problem staying in basically the same position for a period of time, if I’m reasonably comfortable and my back and neck are supported. But being asked NOT TO MOVE IF AT ALL POSSIBLE was definitely an issue. I was certain that I’d have to sneeze. Or that my shoulders would start to twitch, which sometimes they do. Or something in my back would complain and I’d have to shift my weight to relieve the pressure.

The second worst part was trying not to fall asleep. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon, the low energy ebb of my day, and the only appointment times he has available. I’m lying down, the lights are dim, the music is soothing, the needles in my ears are designed to lower my anxiety, and they’re working. I’m practicing self-hypnosis so I can not only lay still but soothe the muscles that do not like being laid upon no matter how many pads this princess puts between her tender backside and the pea.

Sleep is good, you might say. If my body needs it I should go with it. Right? But not in my case. Because if I sleep in the afternoon I’ll have trouble falling asleep at night, and isn’t this one of the reasons I signed on for this mishegos? I’m not just letting some guy with a bunch of diplomas on the wall poke me full of holes for my health, you know.

To date, I’ve had three treatments. I’ve committed to four, after which we will evaluate my chi and meridians and sunspots and auras or whatever and see how I’m doing. Meaning, how many more visits (and how much will I be shelling out) before I get measurable symptomatic relief.

So far I haven’t noticed a lot of change. But then I’ve been told by people familiar with my condition that it could take six to eight sticks until I really see a difference.

I do tend to sleep better the night following a treatment. Sometimes I’m a little nauseated for a short time, which is usually relieved by a snack or a cup of ginger tea. I smelled like a burned cigar last night from the moxibustion therapy he added at the end (This is when a cigar-like bundle of herbs is heated and held close to the skin at certain strategic points until it’s too hot to bear. These points were at the backs of my knees and the base of my skull, and designed to loosen the muscles of my lower spine.) But I’m still willing to keep trying. Hey, this has been a staple of Eastern medicine for thousands and thousands of years, and why would they keep doing it if it didn’t work? It’s not the same as some of these less-studied modalities like polarity therapy and color therapy (If they’ve worked for you, great, but don’t be telling me I’m dissing them) that I see advertised in all the New Age magazines.

Hey, if it works, it works. If not, then I’ve had an interesting life experience and few good, albeit expensive, afternoon meditations.

Monday, April 17, 2006

New old traditions

As you all probably know by now, my parents were brought up in the Jewish tradition but converted to Unitarianism, under whose flaming chalice and bubbling coffee urn my brothers and I were raised. We celebrated major holidays, at least the cultural rituals of them. We celebrated Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, had latkes on Hanukkah. Sometimes the Unitarian Fellowship or a family friend would hold a Seder dinner on Passover and we would participate.

Then we grew up. My parents divorced and remarried. My brothers married and had children and developed their own rituals. We still got together for major holidays, but everything was changing. “Santa Claus” was held at my younger brother’s house, usually not on Christmas, my older brother’s wife made the Seder and after inviting us once, for some reason never asked us back again. I could make latkes whenever I felt like it, and now that I was with my Jewish husband, the Easter Bunny simply stopped coming to my house.

At some point in my thirties, while I still craved the rituals, I felt disconnected from them. It wasn’t enough anymore to go through the trappings just so I wouldn’t feel left out.

I wanted more meaning.

I didn’t feel – nor did I want to become – connected to any major religion. It didn’t feel right for me. Neither did it feel right to go back to Unitarianism, as my older brother had.

But come Christmas and Easter mornings, I felt a palpable hole in my psyche. I wanted a community, a special meal, something to make me feel in step with the rest of the world.

For a while Husband and I tried to develop our own traditions. We’d go to the movies on Christmas Day. Stuff like that. But nothing really stuck.

Then we moved into our own house. And our neighborhood embraced us. Which has been wonderful. These people, who have become friends, welcomed us into their homes and into their families to share their Christmas dinners, their Thanksgiving leftover potlucks, their-any-old-occasion-get-togethers.

But Easter had, at least for me, become a kind of untouchable. Our neighbors seemed to go their separate ways for that holiday. To me it felt like it should be a family time. Those who didn’t have family in the neighborhood (three families on top of the hill here are related; holiday dinners are always at the daughter’s house) went away to in-laws, siblings, etc.

And we were left alone with Easter Parade and pretty much nothing else.

But last Saturday night one of our neighbors called to invite us to Easter dinner, which was being held at another neighbor’s house. Husband took the call. It was 9:00 PM. I was doing my ritual pre-bed routine, reading in the dining room alcove. So I heard about a quarter of the conversation. Part of my heart sank. We’d already made sort-of plans to go to the movies and see “Thank You For Smoking” (a sure-fire Easter Classic).

But Husband is more sociable than I am these days and agreed for the two of us. And asked if we could bring something.


“You want some kind of noodle dish.” I heard him say.

And my heart sank again. I knew the first exchange we would have when he got off the phone:

Him: Can we make some kind of noodle dish for dinner at Diane and Carl’s?

Me: You mean, “Can I make some kind of noodle dish…”

And I’m lousy at cooking under pressure. And we didn’t have anything in the house. And did he even consider that there are probably no grocery stores open on Easter Sunday?

“So I’ll make it,” he said.

Which is another thing I love about my husband. Before my injury, I was the one doing the bulk of the household work. Now that I’ve dropped the Wonder Woman routine, he’s been taking on more responsibility around the house. It’s not always done perfectly, and don’t even ask me the last time our house was dusted or vacuumed (I think my mother did it sometime during the summer), but God bless him, he’s learning how to cook.

And he’s learning not to put pressure on me.

So the next morning, at the full zenith of my mood-swing teary hell, he called his mother. She suggested a few dishes he could make.

“What’s in baked ziti?” he asked me, staring into the pantry closet.

“Things we don’t have in the house,” I said.

“So I’ll go out.”

I reminded him what day it was.

Finally he found a store that was open and got the ingredients.

And he came home and started cooking. And I helped him. And the day was looking up. And the ziti turned out wonderfully (although he complained that it could have used more marinara).

I even had fun at the neighbor’s. If I grumped out and went to the movies, I would have missed it. I would have missed their warm hugs, their hilarious stories, their irreverent humor about what really happened to Jesus’s corpse, and, which would be worst of all, I would have missed watching four really cool kids race around the front yard hunting for all the Easter Eggs their Dads had helped to hide. And all of us grownups standing outside in the sunny, breezy afternoon, making jokes and snickering at the kids for not finding the eggs hidden in plain sight.

I felt involved. I felt like I had a community.

I’ll see the movie sometime, but I wouldn’t have traded Sunday afternoon for anything.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hamlet on the Hudson

I’m wrestling with a decision today that might seem trivial to some but to me is very important and I really need to vent about it.

I was offered a part time job last week, and I’m leaning toward taking it.

The pro-list is overwhelming. Close to home, a pleasant atmosphere in a small ad agency, doing work I know how to do, my own office, they’re willing to accommodate my ergonomic needs. And I can choose my own hours as long as I can give them two full days and two half days each week.

The con-list is, well, not overwhelming but slippery. I don’t know if I can do this. I know I’m supposed to listen to my instincts, that little voice that’s supposed to know what’s right for me. But it’s failed me so many times. The wrong turn at the fork in the road, finding myself deep into situations that seem hopeless.

Can you have a little voice that says your little voice is wrong? That you and your little voice have trust issues, that because you feel you can’t trust your instincts, you’ve simply stopped listening to them?

Am I making any sense at all? No, I didn’t think so.

Basically I want to work. I want to feel useful and productive. More importantly, I want to know if I can work. My return to my old job following my disability leave was such a dismal failure that it’s left me with a skewed perception of my capabilities. It’s left me gun-shy, whatever other clichés mean that I just don’t know if I have it in me to try again.

I felt totally calm about the interview. Not nervous at all. I got up, got dressed, all went fine. Apparently my reputation preceded me, because the woman who interviewed me didn’t even ask to see my samples. Just the fact that I was available seemed enough (we’d worked together before, except as the client I’d hired her.)

And then I started thinking about it. Actually working. Actually working a full day, which I haven’t done in over a year now.

Physically, my whole team of doctors would gladly sign off on me to work. I’m sure my PT would coach me through getting through a full day. Mentally is another story. And, as I’ve found out in so many disconcerting ways over the past year, everything is connected. As I write this, my stomach is in knots, and what was some minor muscle soreness yesterday is rapidly becoming a locked spine.

On some level I might not even know if I’m ready until I try it. But it’s having the faith to try that I’m trying to muster. Maybe I’m like that first little mouse we set free, who got so accustomed to the cage that he just sat there for a minute, until he realized the door was open.

What I’m parsing through is if I’m truly ready, or just truly afraid of failing?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Taxing my patience

There is a reason that the word "tax" is a verb as well as a noun. And I'm sure that the blogosphere is chock-a-block with entries like this right now, so I'm just adding to the noise, but maybe if we make enough noise all together Horton will finally hear all of us Whos.

Unfortunately, I don't think it will help.

Somewhere in my handy-dandy-oh-so-clearly-written tax instruction manual is a little chart (or there used to be) estimating how long each form should take the average Joe or Jane to complete. In the name of the Paperwork Reduction Act. But I'm sure that whatever government schlub got stuck with this job didn't take into account how the forms are actually completed (by those of us who don't have enough jack for an accountant or Turbo Tax). Did they average in the time it would take to figure out how to fill in the damned form in the first place? The time it would take to find all the receipts required to back up your figures, the time it would take to argue with your spouse about whose responsibility it should have been to keep records and which shoebox he or she put the receipt in? The time it would take for your bank to send you a duplicate 1099 form because SOMEBODY put it in the recycling bin by mistake, the time it would take to download the additional form you didn't know you needed, the time it would take to re-configure all of your math because one spouse or the other (usually the one who is not filling in the forms) finds seventeen last minute deductions, all of which go on the Schedule C form, which some of you might know is the one that you must complete first because it's pretty much needed for every other form?

Christ, it's enough to make you move to Canada. I can understand the frustration of the Norwegian gentleman who was the original owner of our house, who, according to neighborhood legend, got so pissed off about his property taxes that he marched down to the town hall and paid the bill in pennies. For which all of the houses on the road got reassessed.

No wonder all the neighbors wanted to come check us out as soon as we moved in. They wanted to make sure we were normal.

Boy, were they ever wrong.

Anyway. I want to be reimbursed. I want to add up all the time it ACTUALLY took to complete our taxes (including the freaked-out but completely-in-vain search I made for my missing W2 form, which I realized I'd sent in with my disability paperwork and never kept a copy...and yes, my ex-employer sent me a duplicate, which should be in our mailbox as I write this), multiply it by my usual freelance fee and send the government the bill.

If it is required that I do this work - and if I can deduct the money I would have spent for Craig the Accountant to take it on, then why shouldn't I deduct the time I lost from pursuing actual work in order to complete this taxing task?

Makes sense.

But I doubt I'll see that as a line item on the 2006 forms.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The indignity....

Several years ago, my ex-boss, who had then just turned forty, was quite perturbed to find that she was holding things farther and farther away in order to read them. Finally, she’d had enough and went to the eye doctor. She emerged slightly depressed, with a prescription for reading glasses.

I, on the other hand, who’d been wearing glasses since I was six for close, far, and any kind of paranormal visual needs I might have needed, felt slightly smug. Well. At least there was one indignity of aging that I would be spared. My eyesight was already ruined.

I felt smug about this until a couple of months ago. When I started wondering why those sneaky typographers were making text for labels smaller and smaller. It must have been some kind of conspiracy. Or a way ad agency graphic artists (most of whom are twenty-something graduates from Rhode Island School of Design) could get back at the older generation for things like the national debt and the need for safe sex and the upping of the drinking age.

Because it couldn’t be my eyes. Because any kind of kindly fate or goddess or the freakin’ luck of the draw wouldn’t be so cruel as to give me just one more health issue to deal with right now.

Either way, the whole thing was starting to bug me. To read the lists of ingredients on some packages, to read drug package inserts, anything smaller than nine point type, I had to bring it right up to my nose and lift off my glasses in order to see it. And there was a new one for me. Taking my glasses off in order to see something better.

So finally I gave in. I went for my eye exam this week. It had been a few years, and I’d forgotten the procedure. I knew my eyes would have to be dilated and I’d need a ride home, but as far as I remembered, this was only because it made them more sensitive to light and perhaps I wouldn’t want to be driving.

First, the pre-exam. Read this line, read that line, which is better, version 1 or version 2; version 4 or version 5, the rules of baseball as originally written or as amended to include artificial turf and the designated hitter?

Then the drops.

Then I was sent into the “dilation room” in order to wait for the drops to take effect. The dilation room was nothing more than an alcove in a hallway running between the waiting room and the examination rooms (this is a very large ophthalmologist’s group). The alcove contained a large, sunny window (thanks, guys), a row of uncomfortable seats and a vertical rack of some really cool and actually current magazines, but due to the drops, as I was quickly finding out, none of which I was able to read. Neither could I do much with the copy of the New York Times someone had left behind, or the book on Zen philosophy I’d brought in case I found myself sitting around a waiting room.

I’d forgotten about the part where the drops really screw up your vision. So I held the Times up at arms’ length and skimmed the headlines, and paced back and forth in the small alcove, feeling inappropriately jealous of husband, who was sitting in an uncomfortable chair smugly reading the biography of Ben Franklin he’d brought, and apparently, from his absorption, was either able to see every word or was simply ignoring me.

Finally my name was called. “Good,” I said. “Because I can’t read or see and I probably look pretty stoned by now.”

For some reason the other patients and the staff found this funny.

“What did I say?” I asked husband.

“Apparently,” he said, guiding his blind wife by one elbow, “you still have a sense of humor.”

So then I waited for Diane, my ophthalmologist, I like her. I’ve been going to her for years. She’s a willowy blonde with a whiskey voice who knows her stuff and doesn’t waste time. She did two minor surgeries of my right eyelid over the past fifteen years or so and did a damned good job. So I still like her when she breezes in, scans my test results and says that although I do need a change in prescription, I won’t need additional glasses for reading, nor bifocals.

Then she looks at my eyes. “You’re, what, 44 now?”


“And you wouldn’t be starting menopause by any chance?”

Crap. “Unfortunately,” I said.

“And you cry a lot?”

Damn. And I’m thinking epithets much stronger. Do the tears leave a stain down my cheeks? Can everyone see them? I sigh, then nod.

“Well, that’s one good case of dry eye,” she says. “The tears are washing away the normal lubrication and it’s like you’re seeing out of a cracked windshield. So you’re going to have to wait on the new glasses until we get you treated.”

I get drops. I get prescriptions. I’m told to try flax seed oil. I get appointment in six weeks, and if not better by then, I get the heavy stuff. Some new prescription drops that are expensive but supposed to work wonders.

Then I’m dismissed to the check-out desk, with my goodie bag of samples and prescriptions and directions. Fortunately, the directions are printed in very large type that won’t require me to remove my glasses. Unfortunately, I can’t see well enough to write the check for the co-pay.

I hope I got everything in the right place.

“How long do these drops last?” I ask.

“Four to six hours,” the receptionist says.

This is not acceptable. I will have a headache long before then.

“But there are reversing drops. Some people don’t like them because they sting for a second.”

I stared at her. Sting. For a second. Hah. Obviously she doesn’t know who she’s dealing with. I’m not some piker. You don’t know the meaning of the word sting until you’ve had anesthesia injected into your eyelid. Not just once, but twice. Or had a doctor stick his thumbs into your herniated disk and ask if it hurt. Or…

“Rack ‘em up, honey,” I said. “I think I can handle it.”

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bird flu...

Note from Opus: I'm having a week of annoying medical procedures, interviews, physical therapy, etc....lots to blog about but no time to catch up. I hope to have something new up here soon.

Meanwhile happy-whatever-is-the-Spring-Holiday-of-your-liking. Safe travels and get your snoots out into the sunshine.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Baby Steps

Nobody told me this was going to be easy.

Yes. Yes they did. My physical therapist, in his boundless enthusiasm early in my treatment, before he knew what or whom he was dealing with, told me that soon I wouldn't need him any more, soon I'd be able to get back to my regular exercise routine of walking 3.5 mph and a half-hour on the elliptical trainer, soon I'd be good as new.

What I failed to ask was, "How soon?"

There are good weeks and bad weeks, good days and bad days, good hours and bad hours. As I write this, it's a bad day and a very bad hour. I hardly slept last night, and when I did, I had nightmares, and this stretch of time on a very bad day (from 3:00 to 6:00) is evil. I'm cranky, dopey, sleepy, as well as the rest of the Seven Dwarfs, except for Doc, because if I had Doc, I'd shake him down for better sleep meds. Yet I'm "supposed" to keep doing my exercises, doing my stretches, doing my walking, and somehow, some way, try to remain positive.

It ain't always easy. And a year later, a year I sometimes want to erase from my life, I can't touch my toes or sit cross-legged on the floor. But I tell myself that these skills are overrated. I can, however, reach halfway down my shins. I also had nearly non-existent abdominal muscles when this all started, now you can probably bounce quarters off of me, so I shouldn't complain too much. But there's one stretch that's been driving me buggy.

I used to do yoga. And I wanted to go back to it; Tom said he didn't think there should be any problems as long as I went slowly and slapped an ice pack on anything that I pulled too far. And in my Gumby lessons (I'm scheduled for another one on Tuesday) he added a basic one. I don't know the name; I don't think it's exactly the Child pose, but it's the one where you're on your hands and knees and sit backward until your butt is on your heels. With heat, with ultrasound, with electrical stimulation of the band-tight muscles that run the length of my spine, I've been able to get close. But still, no cigar. At home I try, and try again, and go too far, and slap some ice on it and try again later.

Maybe this seems easy to you. Maybe you're really flexible and can bend every which way. Maybe you're up out of your chair and trying these stretches right now. Maybe you're trying to get you palms flat on the floor.

Well, good for you.

But I'm having a little trouble getting there.

The process has been making me think of my eldest nephew. My brother was the first of us three biological siblings to reproduce. My friends who had children lived too far away for me to become seriously involved in the developmental steps of their children’s' lives. But my older brother, his then wife and his then one son lived just around the corner. His ex-wife’s was the first pregnant belly I touched (I had no idea the package would be so firm). He was the first baby I saw almost immediately after his birth. And, unbelievably at almost 30, the first baby I'd ever diapered. I watched his gigantic brown eyes grow wide at the first sight of the ceiling fan in our living room ("Dat. Dat, dat," he kept repeating.) I watched him roll over. I watched him take to crawling. I watched his attempts to stand. He had his feet and palms on the floor of his Graco playpen, his butt in the air, and he cried, and cried, and cried, because he couldn't stand up like all the other adults.

Kid, I totally relate to what you'd been going through. I cry a lot less, but Christ. It looks so easy when everyone else does it, so why can't I?

But I keep trying.

I’ll let you know when I get there.

The Luck of the Draw

If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to have cable TV, it would be hard not to notice the sudden explosion of televised poker games on the higher channels – celebrity poker, tournament level poker, who the hell knows what else showing people with chips and cards and, apparently, too much time on their hands. Poker to me used to be what Oscar and Felix played in their smoke-filled apartment, it’s what my grandfather played with his cronies (when they were bored with pinochle). It existed only in movies, cigars hanging out of the guys’ mouths, or at drunken parties, when the inevitable strip poker came up in the conversation. Not that I’ve ever participated in things like that, never.

Frankly, I suck at poker. I never know what to hold onto, what to throw back, how to look like I’m holding a pair of threes when I really have straight flush, ten high.

But I’ve been thinking about the game lately. Because more and more, when I have lousy days, or read some self-help book written by a person who has never really been in my situation (or has but never conquered it), the phrase, “you’ve got to play the hand you’ve been dealt” pops up.

Depending on the day, my hand seems to range from that pair of threes to a full house. But I suppose I should consider myself lucky. My life now would have been a royal flush if I lived in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where a woman could get her hands cut off for reading, if not worse. Or rural Africa, where ritual female circumcision still exists as part of their cultural norm. Or Nazi Germany.

I should count my blessings. I have a house that nobody is trying (actively) to bomb out of existence, enough to eat, a family that loves me, a wonderful husband. I’m not running from Nazis or begging in the streets or picking the detritus of my life out of a pile of rubble in Tennessee or New Orleans.

Hell. I could compare myself to any disaster anywhere. But this is still my hand. My disaster. And people keep trying to tell me that God (or whatever reasonable facsimile of a dealer is up there) won’t take my cards back.

In the bigger picture, what does this say about us as a culture that we find watching other people play poker entertaining? That “Deal or No Deal”, the game show hosted embarrassingly by Howie Mandel (Oh, Howie, how could it have come to this? Did you learn nothing from Louie Anderson?) that hinges entirely on luck is suddenly such a big hit?

Maybe we want to sit back with our pair of threes or straight flush and see if someone else can do better? Or secretly do we want to watch someone else crap out so we feel better about our own fate?


But I’m throwing this analogy back into the pot. Oh, Heavenly Dealer, take back your stinkin’ cards. I’d rather play chess. I’m better at it, and even though in the cosmic picture I know I’d be up against Garry Kasparov or that giant computer, but at least I’d have the illusion that I have some kind of control.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Fiction Friday

(Note from Opus: A little background into this excerpt from “The Role Model.” Diana, a weight loss counselor chosen to be the company’s national spokesperson, and her salesman husband, Ted, are separated (Ted had broken his leg in an auto accident earlier in the book, which led to Ted’s mental downslide and Diana’s finding out Ted had been unfaithful again.) Both Ted and Diana are now seeing other people. Jeff, the man Diana is seeing, is someone from her weight center group. With her coaching, he’d lost over a hundred pounds, is becoming a national celebrity in his own right, and he occasionally accompanies Diana on her publicity tour. Previous to this scene, Ted had begged Diana to meet him for dinner.)


One thing Diana and Ted did have in common was a respect for punctuality. As a couple they could be depended upon to arrive at dinner parties and events on time (never a case of one dawdling and the other standing by tapping a foot or jingling keys), they were asked more frequently to bring appetizers than dessert, and they prided themselves on never missing the beginning of a movie.

But at 6:45 Diana sits alone in the bar of the steak place next to the mall, nursing a mineral water with lemon and checking her watch for the fourth time. She thought waiting here would be easier than sitting alone at the table he’d reserved in the dining room, amid two sets of shiny silverware, two cloth napkins folded into origami swans and two sparkling wine glasses, each item a reminder that they were no longer two. But this choice is proving to be equally uncomfortable. The bar is dimly lit and smells faintly of mildew and burned meat, and a round-shouldered man sitting alone at a small table near the television looks about three sips away from offering to buy her a drink. She wonders if she should call Ted’s cell. No, she tells herself. He’s doing this on purpose, and to call would only give him the satisfaction of knowing he was getting to her. She would take a deep breath and sit tight. If the bartender asks again, she would order a glass of wine. Then she would give him until seven and leave, certain that is what Ted would do to her.

She knows his lateness is not for lack of transportation. When she came home yesterday, his BMW was gone from the garage. There was no sign of forced entry, so she can only assume he either defied his doctor’s orders or had been downgraded into a type of cast which would permit him to drive.

At 6:47 she hears his voice.

“Table for two, Blisko,” he says to the hostess. “My wife has already arrived.”

“She’s at the bar, sir.”

Smug bastard, assuming she’d already be here. Of course, she thinks, mentally rolling her eyes. He saw her car. She should have parked farther away. Let him wonder if she would show up or not. Why hadn’t she thought of that? Why wasn’t she the type of person who would think of that? Ted would.

He walks in. Or, more accurately, hobbles in, assisted by a cane, with a new, smaller cast on his foot. When he sees her, his face registers a pained-looking smile. At least it’s an emotion. Possibly he might have put his weight down wrong, but she wants to believe their separation is having some kind of effect on him. His phone messages have, for the most part, been so calm and controlled.

“Were you waiting long?” he says.

She narrows her eyes. He knows exactly how long she’s been waiting. Then she forces what she hopes will look like a casual smile. “No, actually I just got here myself.”

He glances down at the bar, smirking at the evidence that gives her away. The empty glass, the dollar tip she’d left peeking out from beneath the napkin. Diana feels the blood rush to her face. For all she knows he might have felt the hood of her car to see if it were still warm. Or called ahead to ask the hostess how long she’d been there. He looks up, like he’s about to make some smart remark, but then his face softens. He turns toward the bartender. “Two more of these,” he says. “We’ll take them at our table.”


He looks pale, she notices, as he peruses the menu and asks the waiter for the rib-eye special, rare. He needs a haircut. And the untucked shirt hides nothing from Diana’s trained eye: she can see the extra weight in his face. But then going from five hours of racquetball a week to nothing will do that to a person. It’s a mean-spirited thought, she knows, but she hopes part of it has to do with her. She wants a picture of him in her head drinking beer and eating pizza and laying around on Mike Smith’s couch, despondent.

“Yeah, I know.” He sips his mineral water and sets down the glass. “I look like crap.”

“I wasn’t going to say that.”

“You were thinking it.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“You on the other hand. Why do you get to look so great?”

She touches a lock of her hair, re-highlighted for this most recent leg of her publicity tour. Heat rises into her face before she can tell herself that this is Ted, the grandmaster of charm, and to be on her guard.

He’s smiling at her, his eyes warming. He once told her that he loved when a woman could still blush. But how do you stop it? She couldn’t stop it. She tries deep, slow breaths. Biting the inside of her lip, hard. Anything to make the demon flush go away.

The waiter sets down their plates.

“You wanted to talk,” she says.

“We’re talking now.”

“About us.”

He sighs. “Could we eat first?”

“But you’re the one who wanted to talk. Over dinner. Talking over dinner means talking. Over dinner.”

“OK. We’ll talk.” He picks up his fork. “Nice weather we’re having.”


“Well, it’s hard to, you know, jump into this stuff! Cut me some slack here. I was working up to dessert.”

“Fine. Then I’ll start.” But she can’t think of where. She pokes at her dinner. Realizing she didn’t really want grilled chicken; ordering it in restaurants was just a habit from her years with Weight Away. And now as their national spokesperson, appearing in a series of commercials currently airing in every major market, she could hardly be seen ordering most of what was on the menu. “So how does this work?” she says. “I’ve never been separated before. Are we supposed to get some kind of legal agreement? Lawyers?”

He cuts into his rib-eye, the juices oozing out onto his plate. She can almost taste it. “We don’t need all that,” he says.

“We can do it ourselves? Like with one of those legal kits from the stationery store?”

“I don’t want a kit. I want...” Ted puts down his fork and looks squarely into Diana’s eyes. “I want to work this out.”

He can’t be serious. “You mean...”

“I want another chance. That’s what married people are supposed to do, right? Work things out?”

She blinks at him. There are so many things wrong with those three sentences that she can’t even begin to itemize them. “Ted. It’s not working. Our marriage isn’t working.”

“Because we haven’t tried hard enough!” Ted lowers his gaze. “Because I haven’t tried hard enough. Look. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Believe me.” He gestures to his foot. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. And I understand. About you and that guy. It’s my fault. Totally my fault, and I had it coming. You had every right to turn to someone else. Not a jury in the world would convict you for that. So maybe now we could, you know, just put it all behind us and start with a clean slate. I’ll go to counseling.”

“I really don’t think that’s going to help—”

“But that’s what you wanted, for us to go into counseling, ever since we lost the baby, and now I’m offering, I’m the one bringing it up, and you—“ Ted’s expression suddenly goes slack. “Christ. You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

In her mind she sees Jeff’s olive green eyes smiling at her. She thinks about this weekend, when finally she would have him all to herself. A glorious stretch of unscheduled time between their Saturday morning appearance at a regional Weight Away meeting in Madison, Wisconsin and Sunday afternoon’s radio interview. She’d planned every detail, and had told Jeff nothing. She’d even hired a private car to whisk them away to the romantic-looking inn she’d found on the Internet. “Maybe.” Diana swallows. “Maybe I am.”

“OK.” Ted pats a hand atop the table, and says calmly. “That’s OK. I thought I was in love too. But it was just, you know, the adrenaline rush of it clouding my vision.”

Diana nods. So that’s what this is about. Lucy had dumped him. Ted doesn’t really want Diana; he just can’t stand being alone. But instead of smirking with self-righteousness, Diana finds herself feeling sorry for him.

“It wasn’t real, what I had with her,” he says. “It wasn’t like this. You’ll see. You’ve known this guy, what, a year?”


“Two years and you’re still not sure. Diana. You and I, we knew after just a few months that we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. Doesn’t that tell you that maybe this is something worth fighting for?”

She tries not to think about those heady first few weeks. When they were shiny-eyed and hopeful, making promises. They simply were not those two people anymore. “Ted, a marriage isn’t something you can just waltz in and out of whenever—”

“But that’s what I want to change! I don’t want to be like my old man. I’ll get help. You’ll be there with me...”

“I think this is work you need to do on your own.”

He stares at her a long time. “If I do it, you’ll think about giving us another shot?”

“I won’t promise you that.”

“Because of him.”

“Because of him and because of you. And because of me. And because—”

Ted puts up a hand as if to stop her. “I don’t need your answer now. I can wait. Just tell me you’ll take some time to think about it.”



She toughens herself over. “I don’t need more time. This isn’t going to work out and I don’t see how—”

“But we haven’t even tried! Look, I’m giving you something, here. You’ve always wanted us to work at this and now I want to work at this!”

Diana doesn’t answer.

He snaps a business card down on the table in front of her. The understated gray font spells out a name, with degrees after it, and underneath, “Family Therapist.”

“This is how serious I am.”


His voice rises slightly out of his usually careful control. She sees his hand tighten atop the table. “Just give me a chance to prove this to you!”

Diana takes a deep breath.

“I made an appointment,” he says.

“Ted. Stop. Yes, this is great. For you. I think you should have done it years ago. But if you’re doing this for me—it’s too late.”

He makes an attempt to smile. “Don’t say that.”

“There’s someone else now.” Diana squares her shoulders, hearing her own voice, her voice on all the commercials, the voice of the woman who looked clear-eyed into the camera and said, ‘I changed my life, and you can, too.’ “And even if there weren’t, things haven’t been very good between us for quite some time.”

Ted’s face falls. “How long have you felt this way?”

“Well.” Diana wipes her damp palms on the napkin in her lap. “I can’t exactly pinpoint it...”

“No. Tell me the truth.” He speaks slowly, his voice low. “How long have you wanted out of this marriage?”

“I don’t—”

“Did you ever love me?”

“Oh, Ted. Of course I loved you.” The past-tense had come out of her mouth before she could stop it and it just hangs there between them like very large piano on a very thin rope.

Light drains from Ted’s pale eyes. Then they ice over. “Does he know he’s just your ticket out?”

“That’s not fair. It’s not like that at all.”

He leans forward, boring into her. “Maybe it’s the other way around and he’s using you. What do you really know about him and his wife?”

“ read the interview?”

“The magazine was mixed in with my mail. So she took their kid and left him because he was too fat. She’s bound to find out he lost the weight, Christ, that commercial with the two of you is on TV, like every ten minutes. If she and the kid come back into the picture, is he going to drop you like a hot potato or what?”

It’s like a punch in the stomach. Again she sees the look on Noreen’s mean little face face when she tracked down Diana in the banquet room at the Albany Hilton. ‘I’m still his wife,’ she had said. “He...he wouldn’t do that.”

The corner of Ted’s mouth turns up in a cruel smirk. “I don’t know. A hundred and twenty eight pounds...that’s a hell of a lot to put yourself through for a woman. He must have really loved her.”

“Why...why are you doing this?”

Ted smiles thinly. “You’re such a brilliant student of human nature.” He drops three twenties on the table and reaches for his cane. “You figure it out.”

And she watches him leave. The business card is still on the table.

“Will there be anything else?” the waiter asks.

She sighs. The money Ted left would more than cover their bill. She might as well order dessert. Maybe two.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

If We Must Die

This is courtesy of an AP report picked up by the New York Times:

"A man fleeing sheriff’s deputies sank waist-deep into a mud hole and died, apparently of exhaustion and cold, as the authorities tried to pull him out. The chase began when deputies stopped a vehicle driven by the man, Shawn E. Leflore, 33, for having an outdated registration sticker. When deputies discovered that Mr. Leflore had given them false information, he ran into a field....[deputies] tried for several hours to pull him out."

Apparently the expired registration is all they had on the guy. But you've heard similar stories. Someone in the wrong place at the wrong time who made the wrong decision. Like people who just happened to wander into the deli for a Diet Pepsi the moment it was held up. Or, tragically, like the family who took a wrong turn in downtown DC and was killed by gang members. But I'm not talking specifically about these.

I'm talking about the stupid deaths. I like to think I'm a smart person, but everyone does dumb things from time to time - locking keys in cars, underestimating the friendliness of random dogs, thinking you have enough space to pass the car ahead of you.

Or the guy in Pennsylvania, a radio talk show host, who felt sorry for a female caller and sent her a dozen roses, only to be stabbed to death by her jealous husband.

You know the stories. They always come at the end of the news. Or show up as a little blurb in the "out of town" section of the paper. It usually begins with a guy who was drunk and said, "Hey, watch this," And it ends with a nail gun driving a 4" brad through his skull. Many of them involve stupid criminals, many of them make it to the Darwin Awards.

I know the odds are small, since I'm more cautious than most, but please, God, or whoever is control of such things, don't let me go like that. Or, if I do happen to meet up with a piece of unexploded ordnance from the Civil War while hikeing in the woods, go off my meds and try to outrun the border police, or get my foot stuck in a toilet and starve to death, please don't let it make the news.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Today’s Zen teabag fortune:

"Wisdom becomes knowledge when it becomes your personal experience."


At a writer’s conference a few years back, I met a woman who, Hemingway-esque, believed that you couldn’t possibly write about a thing unless you’d shaken its hand. For example, if there was a bricklayer in her novel, she learned the craft. I forget the other jobs she’d taken, but the list was long and varied.

This met with the overwhelming approval of Pat Carr, a long-time workshop leader, writer and college professor, whose impetus for teaching, it seemed, was to instruct women writers never to write as men, because this does not, in her opinion, produce authentic writing.

I’ve been fighting her for years. I was educated in the “use your imagination” school of writing. Yes, Hemingway wrote lousy women characters, but how else could Arthur Golden have written so effectively as a geisha, or even more fantastically, how would science fiction and fantasy ever get created if we couldn’t cross a line here and there? I’ve met a lot of odd ducks in my writing “career” (and I use both terms with the greatest of affection), and I’ve yet to see a Martian or a Cyborg among them.

I’ve thrown every argument in the book at her – my male characters judged authentic by other authentic males, etc. – but it doesn’t wash. If I were to write according to her dictates, which are not only that women should not write as men but should also not write about ages, races, and ethnicities you have never been, then I could only write in the point of view of a white, left-handed female Unitarian agnostic Jew up to and including the age of 44.

Which is too damned restrictive for comfort, if you ask me.

Yes, I wouldn’t dare write as a black woman. Nor would I feel comfortable writing from the POV of a woman with children.

But writing based on actual experiences I have had? Yes, and especially from living through the past year, I can get behind that.

If I was not familiar with a place, or a character’s profession, or whatnot, I used to just write the thing based on what flowered out of my brain, and then do the research on the rewrite. And that worked out fairly well for me, or at least that’s what I told myself. It seemed that I’d get it about 80% right, then go back and pick up the other 20.

But I’ve seen a little more of life lately. People used to tell me, with each new shovelful landing on my shit pile, that one day all this suffering will make me a better writer. While this wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time, I think in the long run it’s true. I’ve been given the chance to experienced human fallibility and frailty in a deeper and more compassionate way. The novel that reflects this is still percolating, but I’m already finding (and I hope I can express it well enough) that these formerly flat characters are gaining new depth.

I’ve also realized that if I go back to edit the previous ones, many things have to be changed, just for the practical things I’ve been learning. The ins and outs of HMOs. What separates a good specialist from a bad specialist. The effects and side effects of more prescription drugs than any human being should have to experience in a lifetime.

Hey, if nothing else, I could probably write a pretty good medical thriller. From a woman’s point of view, of course.

Just so I can tell Pat I let her win. This time.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Shots Heard ‘Round the World

Mark McGwire said it best: “You still have to put the bat on the ball.”

Yes, I’m against steroids. One, it’s a cheap trick that creates an unlevel playing field, (to use a sports cliché that has been embarrassingly co-opted by political pundits) pitting players with the means and the will against those who want to earn their stats cleanly. Two, it’s a terrible health risk. Who knows all the long-term ill effects these things will have, especially some of the new “designer” aids like Human Growth Hormone and the like? Is it a sudden coincidence that more and more athletes are developing cancers at disturbingly young ages? Say what you want about today’s players being overpaid whining divas, but you can’t deny the intense pressure they are under to perform. We of the 24 hour news channel and the ever-dwindling attention span and too often disappointed by the seemingly good guy with the black heart, we want our heroes. We want guys like Barry Bonds and Big Mac and Sammy and Jose Canseco to whack one in to the stratosphere. The game, as echoed by sports analysts and TV commentators and people spoiled by instant everything, has gotten boring. We want more home runs. We want more action. We want the whole damn thing to move a little faster.

But in my opinion, there is nothing boring about baseball. Yes, the pace can be slow, but so is a chess game, and both, to me, in the hands of the masters, can be just as fascinating. The rules were not designed for speed. If they were, then baseball would be metered in measurable periods with time limits, like basketball and football.

Baseball is summer. It’s kick back time. It’s on the radio as the landscape of a hot day working around the yard, relaxing with a cold drink, taking a drive, or just hanging around doing not much of anything. It’s getting all your homework, chores, laundry, to-do lists out of the way so you can watch your team that night, with their ace on the mound, trying to snatch one from their rivals.

Yes, some would argue that they make more money than they deserve. Yes, our society should value teachers and scientists (and writers) more highly. But give these guys some credit for the poetry and magic they create. I give them credit for sticking it out for 126 games. It can be hard and brutal work, especially if, like so many, they are playing hurt. While I’ve never been a professional athlete, I was an amateur one, (I ran long distance indoor track in college, and raced a number of 10Ks before my body said it had had enough). A hell of a lot more goes into your performance than what you bring to the meet. You train every day. Miles more than you’ll ever race in competition. You do wind sprints and crunches and lift weights until you think you’ll be too tired to ever move again. Watch Derek Jeter execute one of his perfect grab, spin and release moves at second. I’m willing to bet you he’s got abs of steel. And this doesn’t come from a bottle. The shot in the ass doesn’t buy you agility, or speed on the basepaths, or a perfectly laid-out bunt. It doesn’t buy you reflexes, or the athletic smarts to know, all in a single second, if you should just hold onto the catch you made while diving face-first into the dirt or try for the out at the plate.

That, to me, is magic that doesn’t come from a bottle.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

House o' Mouse

I wanted this entry to make more sense and be more literary, but I just need to get this out of my body. My sanctuary has been invaded. This is the one place where the furniture is (mostly) comfortable, where my life has been centered, where everything has been tailored to fit my needs.

And it’s been invaded.

By mess, and now, by mice.

One or two critters, we could handle. Set the trap, wait to catch it, drive it away.

But now, they’re everywhere. First they chewed through a brand-new loaf of organic spelt bread I bought at a nearby bakery as a reward for sticking it through a tough physical therapy session. Then they found, two shelves up in a basket on the built-in bookcases in the family room, the stash of food we still had around from our former hamster. It seemed like every time we caught one in the trap, we’d see another running through the family room (where I use my floor mats for post-treadmill stretching), skittering around corners in the kitchen, and once, a tail sticking out from behind the toaster. This morning I woke up grumpy to begin with, because of the time change, because I didn’t get enough sleep, and came downstairs to find that the mice had partied it up big time in the living room. This is the room in which I spend a good part of my day. In the living room is an old twin bed I’ve been using for my exercises and to rest. There were droppings all over it. In the living room are two couches on which I keep various pillows, blankets and other physical therapy accoutrements (lounging about on couches is not good for my back) and there were droppings all over those as well. I picked up what I could with tissues, changed the bedding, then walked into the kitchen to see if I could stomach breakfast. The counters needed another cleaning. Then I made the mistake of looking inside the toaster (full of droppings) and completely lost it. I wanted to throw it out. I wanted to torch the house, get in my car and keep on driving. I tried to remember the scene in “She-Devil” when Roseanne (whatever her last name might have been at the time) blew up the house she shared with Ed Begley, Jr. She put something in the microwave and then--

Almost at the moment this scene filled my head, when I was about to burst into tears, Husband came downstairs. All I could stammer out was, “Mice. Everywhere.”

“I’m doing the best I can,” he said.

I wasn’t having this argument again. The one that begins with “I didn’t ask you to solve it,” and ends with one of us stomping away. I didn’t even understand why he was mad. I did a mental rewind and didn’t see anything in those two stammered words that implied that I thought he wasn’t living up to his end of the household responsibilities. It was probably because he hadn’t slept much either and I was hitting him with this before he could have his coffee. I should have walked away. But instead I said some very unladylike things and then walked away.

Which I apologized for later.

When all was calm, I did a little more cleaning. The kitchen counters have become a staging area for empty bottles and such, so I went into the pantry closet for a bag to stow the recyclables in until Husband could take them to the landfill. And found that five shelves up, about level with my chin, one very nimble mouse had chewed open a bag of wild rice. I took a deep breath. I ran my next words through the husband-mistranslation-filter before I let them out of my mouth.

“We need more traps.”

Apparently this was a more acceptable way to express myself. He’d also by this time had not only coffee but breakfast and had watched a bit of the political talking heads on TV so he was in a much better mood.

“OK,” he said.

Then, eliminating all emotion from my voice, I invited him to take a look.

“Holy shit, those things can climb,” he said.

No kidding. While he was admiring their evolutionary acrobatics, I was making plans in my head. First traps. If that doesn’t work, an exterminator. If that doesn’t do it, I’m sending Husband away for a week and inviting in a neighbor’s cat. (He’s allergic to cats) That sounded too complicated. So we’ll just start with the traps and see what happens.

“Probably we got some mice who got in and started breeding,” he said.

Like this is supposed to make me feel better. Appeal to my maternal instincts or something.

Meanwhile I’m spending most of this afternoon upstairs. And if I find any droppings up here, I’m calling the National Guard.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Zen and the Art of Misdirection

"It is what it is."

A lot of people have been telling me this lately. Usually people who have no stake in anything I happen to be experiencing; meaning, it’s very easy for them to say.

The deeper meaning is something that I’ve been puzzling over. My interest in Zen philosophy has been growing lately, and it goes deeper than the trite sayings on my teabag tags.

No, don’t run away, I’m not going to turn this blog into a Zen-a-thon. Unless that’s what it needs to be.. ;)

I’ve just been wondering about those five words at the top of this post. My take on it is that you just have to play your hand, lie in your bed, deal with what you have, and all those clichés. But where do the cards in the deck play against personal choice and responsibility?

OK, so today I’m tired, I’m having some muscle aches, but it’s going to rain and I had a busy week for me, so it is what it is. Tomorrow might be different. Today, this is the piece of cake I’ve been served so I’m wasting my energy getting angry or depressed or upset that I don’t feel as good as I felt yesterday, or as good as I might feel tomorrow.

But the hellhole of my house – since neither of us has summoned the energy it would take to clean, can I write that off too? It’s a mess and it is what it is until someone decides to do something about it.

And my undone taxes? Since our lives are what they are right now, I’m sure the IRS would understand if we’re a few months late, or frankly, never get around to it at all?

And the hellhole of Washington – since none of our leaders seem to have the political will to stand up against the slow deconstruction of our civil rights, environment and economy, and our protests are in vain because it seems that those who can do something about them choose not to look out the window, should we also then take a Zen-like stance, say it is what it is for now, go home, kick back with a beer and watch American Idol until someone reasonable takes the helm?

God, I hope not. Especially now that the blogosphere has been “officially” allowed to bloviate to its collective hearts’ content about political-speak (like anyone ever had a right to regulate it to begin with?), I hope there’s another Gandhi out there, a Tom Paine, a Rosa Parks. Maybe it will be one of you. Because it won’t be me.

For me, it is what it is, and when I have the energy, there are other fights I need to fight.

But wouldn’t that be a scary thought, the Bush administration suddenly adopting Zen philosophy as its official political line? Dubya getting on TV telling the American public something like this: "The situation we're in is just going to be this way until it isn’t anymore, and you’re only wasting your valuable life force getting upset with all your letters and protests. So why don’t you-all in those blue states make yourselves a cup of herbal tea and meditate, or if that doesn’t work, our wonderful pharmaceutical industry would be glad to give you more information about a number of products that might be helpful.

"Your next good night’s sleep could be brought to you by Lunesta.

"Or just by accepting that it is what it is."

For now.