Monday, January 31, 2011

A Tightwad Speaks

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My major choices for productive activity this past weekend were between cleaning and saving money. I could either dust my furniture, wash the windows inside and out, scrub the bird poop off the back patio, straighten up my desk area, tackle the filthy sliding glass door track, sweep out the garage…or, save money. Bird poop, save money. Filth, save money. I went with save money.

First I called Cox Communications, my so-called “friend in the digital age”. Any real friend would not take my money and promise me an array of music stations, then make the music freeze up all day, driving me batty. Audio interruptions were taking the easy out of my easy listening station; this had been going on for weeks, but I’d been too busy to complain. For that call I got a $16.72 courtesy refund and my cable box reset. Now Zamfir and Floyd Cramer (my work-at-home friends) can play uninterrupted.

Then I called AAA. Every so often they send me a letter in the mail saying that if I call and ask for a car insurance quote, they’ll send me a $10 Target gift card. What’s not to like about that? I’ve received three $10 Target gift cards from AAA in recent history, and still haven’t switched to them because I already get a smokin’ deal through State Farm. It’s kind of fun to call the nice representative and pretend that I’m really interested in switching to AAA, when in fact I already know they won’t be able to beat State Farm. Some people race their cars in the street or pit their babies against each other in beauty contests; I goad AAA into beating State Farm’s rates and laugh all the way to Target.

Next I pulled a gasoline receipt out of my purse and put it in a stamped envelope addressed to Shoppers Advantage, along with a rebate form. Sometime last year, I joined the Shoppers Advantage Discount Program for a free trial period of 30 days and called back minutes after joining to quit, but not before I was 100% certain that their gasoline rebate forms would be mailed to my house. Now, every three months, I send in a gas receipt and get a gift card for $10 off my next purchase at any Shell station, for a total rebate of $40. All this for three minutes of membership footsie.

And I’m not a joiner, either. One of my grad school instructors used to say, “The only club I belong to is Price Club,” which was funny at the time, but not as funny when Price Club changed its name to Costco (sorry guy). Still, I do belong to Costco, and I went there yesterday to “shop” (is dragging a fifty pound box of printer paper across the floor and onto the bottom rack of your cart really “shopping”? Does one “shop” for a year’s worth of dish soap?). Before I entered the Sunday fray, I waited in line at Customer Service. When it was my turn, I pulled out a baggie in which I had saved the label and bar code from a large multi-pack of raw chicken tenders. Eight packs, to be specific.

“I’m not sure if you can help me,” I began, sliding the chicken-flecked baggie towards the frowning Customer Service lady, “but every single chicken tender in this entire package had a tendon running through it. Either it was a tendon or an empty artery, I don’t know, but whatever it was I had to cut it out of every single tender, which totally reduced the amount of good meat.” The woman wrinkled her nose at the idea that raw chicken wrapping was inside the baggy that she now held.

“It was like doing a biology lab in my kitchen every time I prepared one of these chicken packs,” I added. “I always ended up with a pile of raw chicken waste, sometimes with blood in it.” Before the Costco lady vomited, she credited my account for $17.10 and waved me on my way.

All told, I saved $53.82 this weekend that otherwise would have slipped through my fingers. And now that I have six months to a year’s worth of everything, I invite you all over to my well-stocked house. Lentil soup for everyone! Raisins for dessert! And if you help me scrub the bird poop off the patio, I’ll send you home with a brand new baggie.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Trunk Murderess Lives!

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If struggling with a locked car trunk was not enough this week, I went to put a get-well-soon card in my mailbox the other day and noticed that the box was a little rickety. It was not firmly attached to the post; instead, it perched hesitantly there, like a criminal about to flee. The box didn’t seem receptive to housing my card, so I took it out, but not before making the situation worse: I gripped both sides of the box and tipped it back and forth, lifted it up as far as it would go, making sure that it was broken. I peered underneath and could see that it was only partially attached to the post, that the metal had come apart. I rolled the box back and forth a few more times for good measure, hurrying along its demise; this felt good for some reason. It felt good to wreck the mailbox.

The next day I was out in the yard raking and the wind came up, toppling by mailbox to the ground where it lay like a severed horse’s head braying silently into the dirt. It’s what I deserved after manhandling it. I tried to set it back on top of the post but it wouldn’t stay. The wheels in my single-lady brain started turning: How do you fix a mailbox? Do I need brand-new everything? How much will it cost? How long will I go with a headless mailbox post? Will the mail lady still deliver my mail? I finished raking and set the mailbox on top of my rosemary bush, where it would have looked decorative and fancy if not for the beheaded post standing next to it. In a burst of energy I wrestled the skinny post to the ground and hauled it back to the dumpster, leaving a gaping hole in its place. That felt good too.

The next day was Monday and I waited to see if my mail would be delivered. No. Tuesday came and still no mail. I wondered what my delivery person was thinking; either she had an aversion to rosemary or she didn’t want blood on her hands. Maybe she was punishing me; to a recovering Catholic, that idea made sense and felt right. However, no matter how much I was enjoying the shame and guilt and mental lashings involved in not conforming to postal regulations, I did want my mail. I called Man-Friend and confessed the whole story; he promised to help me fix it.

On Wednesday morning I put the mailbox head on a lawn chair next to the post and attached a heartfelt plea (see Exhibit A). I did get my mail that day, along with PS Form 4056, dated 1991: “Your Mailbox Needs Attention!” There were two cartoon pictures of mailboxes: one falling apart, one standing tall and proud. The dilapidated one was circled, along with “Fault # 16: A new post for your box should be provided.” Good eye, mail lady.

I’m happy to report that later today, my severed mailbox head will be firmly attached to my new metal post, which is anchored in quick-dry cement just above Jimmy Hoffa’s final resting spot—now that I finally got him out of my trunk.

Exhibit A.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

All I Need?

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Frozen food belongs in the freezer, not in the trunk of your car, a fact that the cruel world threw in my face yesterday. I had just gotten back from the grocery store with loads of stuff—a week’s haul—and was anxious to put my frozen selections away. I can’t pop the trunk from the inside anymore (another broken luxury), so I put the key into the lock on the trunk and…nothing. No turn. A wave of cold fear seeped through me as my hair stood on end, my typical overreaction to dilemmas such as these. Single women always think the worst: There are a thousand splendid pints of colorful sorbet in there that are going to melt all over the inside of my car! And I spent forty bucks on those! Oh my God!

This had happened once before, not long ago, when I had returned from the dry cleaner’s with most of my pants in the trunk. That time I had a dark, foreboding sense that I would have no pants to wear for weeks on end, no access to the pants I wore every day until someone helped me rescue them from the trunk. I would have to wear shorts for the rest of the winter: shorts with long-sleeved sweaters, sandals with socks. My entire personal presentation would change at work and in the world at large because my pants were locked in my trunk, where they would stay until I could find time to see a mechanic.

A man-friend of mine happened to stop by a day after the pants vigil had begun, and when I told him about it, he went to my garage and simply leaned on the car trunk, then turned the key in the lock. Pop! “It just got stuck,” he said. “If this happens again, just press down really hard and it’ll release.”

So there I was yesterday, pressing down on my locked trunk with all my might, in my dark garage (the overhead light doesn’t work…another broken luxury). After much fruitless pressing and self-loathing regarding my lack of upper-body strength, I decided to employ a tactic I learned as a member of my high school track team: the standing broad jump. I stepped away from the car, backing into the rakes and shovels. I crouched down and started swinging my arms, suffering only minor scrapes and bruises from the tools hanging on the garage wall. Bouncing on my toes, I gathered momentum and then hurled myself into the air and onto the trunk of my car, landing on my knees. Ouch.

And even this didn’t work. I tried the key and still no turn. Frustrated beyond reason and unable to accept that my expensive and melting Amy’s Palak Paneer meals were going to waste, I decided that I didn’t care if the trunk got dented or what—I was going press that thing down until it popped like a mo-fo. I stood behind the car facing away from it, my butt just inches from the trunk, and leapt backwards onto it from a crouching position. Crouch, leap, slam; crouch, leap, slam--I did this several times before trying the key in the lock. Pop! Excellent. My body bruised and scratched, my trunk slightly dented, I hauled in my groceries and stocked the freezer first.

I often tell myself, I don’t need a man; I don’t need anything. Except my pants. My pants, my frozen dinners, my dessert, and a lamp…that’s all I need. Not one other thing. And my cats…

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Friday, January 21, 2011

The Felon Who Loved Me

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I wake up this morning, still tired from the day before. I can’t seem to get enough sleep. I am not desirous of getting up in the bitter 50-degree-cold and puttering through the morning routine: release the cats from their dungeon, stretch my old bones, clean out the litter box, feed the birds, make the coffee, feed the cats, get the paper with another headline about the shooting in Tucson that is still breaking my heart and making me wonder if I really want to live in Arizona anymore.

However, I do all of this and more—I eat my banana and start answering student e-mail—when the phone rings. Caller ID reveals that it’s another old boyfriend, incidentally one of two who are now felons. The other one is in prison for murder, so he can’t call, but this one…this one is the type of person who you’d never suspect had a record: super-bright, avid reader, great cook, sexy and cute in a monkey/cat sort of way. You’d never suspect that he had a bad temper or what kind of brutal assaults he was capable of if you didn’t know him, or of course unless he’d beaten you to a pulp. I got off easy twenty years ago with just a brief chokehold, but not before he taught me how to properly fry an egg (always crack it into a well-heated pan, never a cold one).

I know I’m not the only person in the world who has forgiven a man like this.

As usual when he calls—which is only every few years, never from the same place—he complains about his crappy job that doesn’t pay him enough to afford a decent truck, which in turn prevents him from going to see his kids like he wants. Child support keeps him poor; when he doesn’t pay, it keeps him in jail. He is proud of making it through rehab and a halfway house this time, and has only fallen off the wagon “two or three dozen times”. I can hear him chain smoking and sense that he’s pacing around; the longer we talk, the more he uses the f-word, though he’s quick to apologize because, outside of wrapping his hand around my throat that one time, he’s always been polite to me.

He’s living with a guy who’s a pig, and my felon is a neatnik. He wants to move out, but the only place for work is 300 miles farther away from his children. The world is against my felon, who only wants a quiet life. A f***ing quiet life with his own f***ing house. He’s getting agitated, so I tell him I have to go.

I have to get back to my own life, where I have two kitties who are ready for me to run through the house dragging long pieces of string with earplugs tied to the end: our morning game of chase. There are other phone calls to make, with two loved ones in the hospital, two mortgages that I still hope to fold into one. There’s a student from yesterday whose tears of frustration still bother me; I need to follow up on that.

But first I open the fridge, a reflex that thankfully has taken the place of pouring vodka down my throat in times of stress. Seeing the leftover tuna salad from yesterday comforts me; I’m set for lunch. The marinating chicken makes my spirits rise further; I’m set for dinner. The big pot of oatmeal that I make every Sunday and eat for the rest of the week says “you’re safe,” which is so much more than how other people feel.

The carton of eggs sits there too, glancing around nervously, not saying much. I wouldn’t either if I were them…not right now. It’s still early in the morning, and they know what that means.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Father of My Dead Zygote

As I have said: I don’t forget the names of men who I’ve dated, slept with, loved, hated, or any combination thereof. But sometimes a first name alone—Bill, Mark, Enrique—fails to conjure up the complexity of that individual. Over the years, in conversations with my sisters and friends, I began to refer to particular men by the more fitting nicknames they had earned.

One Saturday night in 1997, I found myself standing on the sidelines of a bar, leaning up against a wall, watching my friend do the YMCA on the dance floor with a bunch of other women. I refuse to dance with other women. It’s against the order of my universe.

I turned my gaze away from the wildly gesturing, letter-forming group on the dance floor directly into the chest of The Father of My Dead Zygote. He was standing very close to me, almost touching me. He wore a tight-fitting, short-sleeved, gray ribbed shirt, under which I could see the swelling muscles of his chest and upper arms. He was tall, maybe six three, dark-skinned, and young.

The Father of My Dead Zygote couldn’t stay long at the bar that night because he had to work the late shift, but he wanted me to know, before he left, that he thought I was beautiful. I informed him that I was at least ten years older than he was.

“You excite me,” he said.

I handed over my number like it was on fire.

He called me the next day and asked if he could take me out for dinner that night. I jettisoned my 48-hour-in-advance rule for dates, gave no thought to the fact that I knew nothing about him other than his physical characteristics, and said yes. I’d been too well-behaved for far too long. In my mind.

I learned several interesting things about The Father of My Dead Zygote that evening. I learned that he was the type of man who turned heads, both men’s and women’s, but he was not the type of man to look back. I learned that underneath his short black hair, behind his straight, perfect nose and almond-shaped eyes, there lie the brain of a beautiful hospital custodian. I wondered how the nurses could work.

I also learned, later that night when my clothes had ripped themselves off of me, when I found myself lip to neck, hand to rib, knee to thigh with this young, young man, that he had the most enormous wiener I had ever seen. The biggest one I’d encountered up to that point had belonged to a boy I’d known in high school who was forever moving from one girlfriend to the next because—common knowledge, we all knew—he couldn’t fit inside anybody, myself included.

Things change.

As I leaned against the pillows, watching The Father of My Dead Zygote unwrap a condom and attempt to put it on, I distinctly remember thinking that there was no way it was going to fit. No way. I watched him grab onto himself and use fingers from both hands to unroll the condom, working it down, stretching it so thin even the little pouch at the end was filled out. Plus, it only reached halfway, like a short sock. I watched, wide-eyed and a little apprehensive.

“Ready?” he said.

I threw myself down.

The only words I have for what happened in the next minute or so are simple: it broke. The condom broke, which I can’t blame it for because I would have done the same thing under that kind of pressure. Happily, The Father of My Dead Zygote had another one, which he struggled into in short order, and all was well.

All was well until about six weeks later when I was sitting in my doctor’s office, having what I thought was the World’s Longest Period. I thought it best to get things checked out. When the doctor asked me if there was any chance I might be pregnant, I laughed, waving my hand in the face of that absurdity. No, I said, no chance of that. I’m always very safe.

But even as I spoke, visions of the condom-breaking incident loomed inside my head, and I knew that in fact I was lying. And what was the benefit of that? A urine test is not your confidante. So I confessed, and five minutes later the test results came in: though I was not pregnant at the time, I certainly had been pregnant, and was now undergoing a miscarriage.

Whew. I tried to mask my relief with concern, which seemed to be the appropriate and expected response there in the doctor’s office, but I was cheering on the inside: I didn’t want to be pregnant, nor did my body. We were selfish by nature, plain and simple.

I never mentioned the incident to The Father of My Dead Zygote. I only saw him that night, and I haven't seen him since.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pigeon Man

In the criminal dating system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the women who investigate crimes, and the men who commit them. This is one of their stories.

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I met Pigeon Man at a country music dance club. I was standing on the sidelines, watching couples twirl by, and noticed that one guy in particular kept looking my way, smiling every time he and his partner circled past. He was tall, dark and handsome, with nice white teeth. I felt sorry for the girl in his arms who was obviously having a hard time keeping Pigeon Man’s attention. I hoped that he didn’t drop her.

When the music ended, Pigeon Man steered through the crowd towards me, smiling and waving. Friendly enough, and confident too. He bought me a beer and told me he hung billboards for a living. I’d never met a billboard hanger before, and wondered briefly what I might have in common with a billboard hanger, but what the hell—a job was a job. Pigeon Man and I began to date.

One evening maybe a month later, as I sat on Pigeon Man’s couch waiting for him to get ready for our night out, he bounded into the living room. Grinning mischievously, he told me to guess what he’d done that day at work. I didn’t know, so he proceeded to relate the following: One of the worst parts of a billboard hanger’s job is to get rid of the pigeon shit left by the pigeons that roost on top of and inside the billboard. Pigeons—“rats with wings”—were a disgusting nuisance, nothing more. But there was a guy on Pigeon Man’s crew who had earned the reputation of being a pigeon coddler. Instead of spraying batches of pigeons and shit and nests directly off the billboard with hard blasts of water from a power hose, killing as many birds as possible, the pigeon coddler would spray around the pigeons, allowing them to escape unharmed, only to fly back one day and shit again.

Pigeon Man looked at me and said, “So you know what I did? To get even with this guy?”

I shook my head no.

He leaned closer to me on the couch. “I nailed one of them to the wall.”

I looked at him blankly. “A pigeon?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, grinning. “With its wings spread out like it was flying, man.”

My brain worked to understand the concept, to conjure up the image that went along with this description. “A live pigeon?” I said.

“Uh-huh,” he said. “It wasn’t alive for long, though. I nailed him once through the mouth, too.”

I stared at him. I thought about the crucified pigeon. I imagined the disgust of the co-worker who couldn’t even bring himself to spray water at a pigeon. I saw myself sitting next to a grinning man who had impaled a live, flapping pigeon on a wall with a nail gun.

That was the end of Pigeon Man.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Spanking Beanie Baby Boy

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I don’t forget names, especially of men who I’ve dated, slept with, loved, hated, or any combination thereof. But sometimes a first name alone—Joe, Dave, Ron—fails to conjure up a full image, a clear memory…a real person. Somewhere along the line, in conversations with my sisters and friends, I began to refer to these particular men by the more fitting nicknames they had earned:


I met Spanking Beanie Baby Boy years ago at the Japanese restaurant where I was a regular. I happened to get seated next to him at the sushi bar, and—because he was the best looking man I’d seen in a long time—I gave him my number when he asked. We went out a few times—to a hockey game, a movie—before he invited me over to his house. When he showed me his bedroom, I couldn’t help but notice the array of small stuffed animals on his dresser.

“What are those?” I asked. They were all quite small, brightly-colored and limp. They draped over one another in a large pile, like a tired zoo.

Spanking Beanie Baby Boy looked at me like I was insane. “Whaddya mean?” he said. “Don’t you know?”

“Stuffed animals?” I said. I could hardly believe that he had them, let alone had showed them to me voluntarily.

Beanie Babies,” he said. “Beanie Babies. I collect them. They’re going to be worth a lot of money someday.”

“Oh,” I said, deciding right there on the spot that I would never have sex with this man. It became a non-option.

We went out one more time after that, back to the sushi bar for dinner, where we downed far too many beers and sake bombers. I had learned by then that it was more fun to drink with Spanking Beanie Baby Boy than it was to talk. Back at my place, we decided to play a rousing game of Yahtzee over a bottle of wine. Four games of Yahtzee and two bottles of wine later, I couldn’t count the dots on the dice anymore. Ever the gracious hostess, I invited Spanking Beanie Baby Boy to stay the night. He certainly shouldn’t be driving, after all. I decided that he could sleep in my bed, as long as we kept some clothes on and did not have sex. Those were the rules.

When we awoke in the fog of the morning, me in my t-shirt and shorts, Spanking Beanie Baby Boy in his boxers, I could tell that my guest was ready to change these rules. He rolled towards me; I rolled away. He pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me; I rested in his embrace but kept my hands open in thwarted high-fives, unwilling to fully relax. I did not want to have sex with a man who collected stuffed animals. Who would?

After about a half-hour of small talk and surreptitious groping on his part, I decided that enough was enough. I told Spanking Beanie Baby Boy that I was getting up. It was time. I disentangled myself from his arms, turned over, and raised myself up on one elbow as I began to exit the bed.

That’s when the spanking started.

Before I was able to swing my legs out of the bed and onto the floor, Spanking Beanie Baby Boy began to spank my butt, and not all that gently. Spank spank spank—he wouldn’t let up! I continued to lie there, propped up on my elbow—it took me a wild-eyed moment or two, a casting-about of my senses, to determine what was happening: as far as I could gather, Spanking Beanie Baby Boy had become frustrated with my sleeping rules, and was acting out.

I leapt out of bed and turned to stare at him with the same look he gave me when I failed to recognize a Beanie Baby.

“What?” he said, all innocent.

I was going to say something; I really was. But for whatever reason, I could not bring myself to say the word “spank.” In fact, I couldn’t bring myself to verbally acknowledge the encounter at all. It was so obviously wrong, and if Spanking Beanie Baby Boy didn’t get that, there was something wrong with him too.

Need I say more?

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Troubleshooting in Arizona

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Last week I went to my beauty spa for a 3:45 appointment, only to discover that I was a whole day early. Organized as usual. Luckily the laser hair-removal technician was able to work me in because somebody else hadn’t shown up. I was lying back on the table getting my mustache burned off when the technician said, “Did you know you only got this appointment because the girl who was supposed to be here is being held hostage at the Chandler Mall? Yeah, there’s this crazy guy shooting a gun off inside. She called on her cell and said she wouldn’t be able to make it because the whole place is on lockdown.”

I couldn’t react with much more than a groan because my entire upper lip was slathered with cold gel and the technician was electrocuting my hair follicles. I made a mental note to avoid the mall area—four miles from my home—until the gun-slinging hostage-taker was caught.

I prayed that a slaughter wasn't going on.

A few days later, I was eating lunch at my desk when news started coming in over Facebook that an Arizona congresswoman had been killed, along with several other people, in a shooting down in Tucson. What? It’s hard to process that information when you’re in the middle of grading another crappy essay from another badly educated teenager raised in Arizona. I hoped that the information trickling in was exaggerated or wrong; I hoped that people were just injured, not dead.

Throughout these days—as the Chandler shooter was arrested before he killed anybody, and the Tucson shooter was arrested after shooting Representative Gabrielle Giffords through the head, killing six others and injuring many more—my own daily work continued. It had to, just like shop owners have to keep their doors open and firemen have to keep putting out fires. In my world, editors and other writers kept up their own work too, hammering me with unsolicited advice: “You use the word ‘I’ too much. Stop focusing on yourself so much; try including your readers more by giving them advice. That way it’s not always about you.”

Okay then. In an effort to cut down on my use of “I” and to provide some words of wisdom, hear this:

Arizona needs to stage a Move-Out. This could be likened to John and Yoko’s Bed-Ins, but would require all Arizona residents…legal and not…to move out of the state. Take your illnesses and try again in a place that doesn’t make organ transplants impossible for people who need them but can’t afford them, where the hospitals have nurses who won’t talk about you like you’re already dead. Find a state where children are actually educated and not just pushed through, so they don’t grow up to resent their college instructors who fail them because they can’t write or do math. Pack up and search for a place where entire families and established communities are not chased across our nation’s border, back into poverty and a drug war. Take your small businesses—your loyalty to local sports teams…your scholarship and expertise, your club memberships and season tickets and love for live music in public venues—and start fresh where there are metal detectors in the right places. Let’s move back to the states we came from, where we used to feel safe and more hopeful.

Or, we can stay here and try to do better.

Get organized. Take an interest in our awful news and push for change in your area, whatever change you think would improve the shameful condition and reputation of this state. Write to your local members of congress and tell them that you’re unhappy, if they’re not in the hospital with a life-threatening head wound. Don't just sit around, complaining and blaming. Get moving and do something...without a weapon.

And if you live in Gabrielle Giffords’ district and lost a loved one on Saturday, or you're sitting in the hospital with an injured family member, or if you're just plain frightened, know for certain that the rest of Arizona and the entire nation is pulling for you. You are on our minds and in our hearts.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

The Choke's On Me

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Yesterday I was talking on the phone with my sister when my throat closed and I started making choking noises.

“Katie! What’s wrong!?” she said.

“I’m having an allergy attack!” I croaked, then ran out of my house as if it was on fire. I needed air! Unfortunately, Phoenix is having a “health alert” due to high levels of pollution, so I dropped on all fours and breathed the air closest to the ground, hoping that’s where the good air was. All the stray cats in my ‘hood use my gravel-covered yard as their own enormous litter box, so I was lucky not to rub my nose in a pile of buried crap.

It seems that I’ve suddenly become extremely allergic to my own cats, Sara and Lucy. I already knew I was somewhat allergic to them, hence my allergy pill prescription, but this last week—ever since I got back from the clean fresh air of Minnesota—my nose has been stuffy, my eyes itchy, and my lungs heavy (heavier than normal, since I’m used to hauling around about ten pounds of chest melon anyway). I think my throat is pregnant with a kitten too, who I would gladly cough up and love if I could, and my nose is a squirt gun, shooting out streams of clear snot at the most inopportune times. I am a walking dispenser of Kleenex; I have them tucked into every pocket, sleeve, and all around the waistband of my sweatpants, a cheap ballerina. I have a Kleenex for everybody in the world.

I also have an allergy doctor, but he’s out until Monday, so I’m left to my own devices. I’ve been popping over-the-counter allergy pills in addition to my prescription ones, but the box’s warning scares me: “Might cause organ failure”. My heart already breaks so easily, my gall bladder is gone, and I’m sure there are a couple other organs in there that are not appreciating this new assault. But if I can’t breathe, we’re all doomed.

And it’s only a matter of time before my eye blows up (see figure one below). This happens occasionally when God decides that my life has been going way too smoothly and I need to be humbled. I’ll look in the mirror at night and notice some puffiness around one eye; I’ll get up the next morning and it’ll look like I got punched in the face. I ran to my allergist with one of those black eyes once, and when he came into the exam room I blurted, “People are looking at me like I was assaulted! This makes me want to stay home from work! I can’t be the only one who gets this, but I’ve never seen anybody else with it! What do other people do???

“They stay home from work,” my allergist said. “Nobody wants to be seen with something like that on their face.”

It was one of the first times in my life that I felt part of a community.

This weekend I’ll be waiting for my eye socket to fill with fluid, so pretty. I’ll be a tower of Kleenex; if you need one, come on by. You’ll find me out in the yard with the stray cats, marking my territory with laser beams of snot.

Figure One.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sick in Arizona

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My 87-year-old friend Flossy is in the hospital, scheduled for open heart surgery tomorrow morning. She’s at Phoenix St. Luke’s, receiving questionable care. Are nurses supposed to have birthday parties at the nurses’ station and make snide comments about relatives who call in to check on their loved ones? Are old women supposed to wait 24 hours between meals because of scheduling conflicts? Are Emergency Room staff members supposed to complain loudly about how overworked they are and then refer to their current patient as “this one”? “Oh my God, we were so busy last night, and then this one showed up.” Flossy’s heart might be on the blink, but her ears work just fine.

Her experience is starting to remind me of my own hospital stay a couple years back, when my gall bladder went out. I was in good hands—strong, wonderful, safe, manly hands—until the firemen who responded to my 911 call dropped me off at the Emergency Room at Banner Desert Hospital in Mesa. After lying on a gurney in the ER for seven hours with no food or water or pain relief, I was moved to a private room that was so private, hardly anybody ever came in: a huffy nurse if I pressed the call button enough times, and some church lady who tried to convert me. Since I also have an auto-immune disorder and my physical body hates me, it took this opportunity to wreak post-surgery havoc by shutting down my bladder and wasting more of my tissue, which the nurses took no notice of perhaps because of the ongoing potluck they were having at the front desk. I was there for three days trying to get back on my feet, literally.

One night nurse made me particularly uneasy: she’d had a mini-stroke, so half of her face drooped. That would have been fine—people have asked me if I’ve had a mini-stroke, mini-schizophrenia and mini-elephantitis—however, this nurse came in to sing her own praises. “While I’m on duty, you’ll get walked and fed,” she said slurpily. “I’ll make sure you’re not in pain. You’re lucky to have me.” I lay there immobilized, my organs bruised and bleeding, and thought, Isn’t that your job? It was only a matter of time before Sybil’s mother walked in to draw the blinds and what little blood I had left.

I know there’s something wrong with me, maybe some personal problems that I should address on my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t qualify for decent medical care. Flossy either. Flossy especially. The Urgent Care doctor who I saw three years ago for inexplicable pain that had my students asking if I’d been hit by a bus—the Urgent Care doctor who spoke in broken English, which was fine with me because I was broken too—said, “Sick in Arizona…no good.”

No doubt.