Tuesday, December 30, 2008

not myself

“This is not me,” I tell my husband. I have been crying, loudly, with choking and spasms and caught breath, for an hour, since he came home to tell me that no one called in my pain prescription refill.

These days it’s hard for me to solve problems without first sucking lots of air through my teeth, turning red, and shaking. Yesterday, I got a lab work bill for $300—something that should have been taken care of by my insurance. But a computer glitch defaulted to some ancient policy, despite my having given the tech my card and license and waiting for him to make a copy. So I went through a few histrionics before calling the billing department. The problem was solved easily, painlessly, and immediately.

This inability to deal without a prodrome of drama began the other day, after I had my staples removed. Thanks to the marriage of technology and networking sites, I was able to gross out a few of my closest Facebook friends with Serena’s home video of the procedure. But I haven’t been the same since. Maybe it was the subsequent car ride that wrecked me. Or perhaps I twisted excessively while trying to put on my underwear. Never take for granted the putting on of underpants; you never know when you will need to enlist your mother, husband, or daughter to help you pull them up.

The beautiful progress I was making, back when I was annoyed by a bit of leg pain and a lot of nerve damage in my left foot, has now given way to excruciating stiffness. I’d stopped taking pain pills during the day, going ten hour stretches with not so much as an Ibuprofen. By the end of the first week, I could pick up my guitar and sit in a straight chair for twenty minutes to strum it. I could pour a glass of water, and stand up from sitting on the toilet without holding onto my legs.

Now I can’t lean slightly to raise a glass of water from a table. My back is arched excessively backward. Today I missed my first walk around the block in a week because I just couldn’t make it. And I’m back to taking one step at a time, both up and down the stairs, which I haven’t done since day two.

Instead of weaning off the meds, I take my maximum allowable dose. Anyone who knows me knows that this is not me.

Yesterday morning, I called my surgeon’s office to ask about a refill. I was nearly out of pills and had begun rationing them, bargaining with myself about how to manage the pain. I know that it often takes two days for the office to call in a prescription, so I sent Marty today. He returned at 4:45 without pills, telling me that no one had called it in.

The teeth sucking and shakes began while I tried to figure out what to do. I sent Marty for the phone and my pill bottle so that I could call the doctor’s office. They were closed, so I pressed zero to reach the on-call physician. A woman answered. I calmly explained that I'd had surgery and had called in a prescription, but no one refilled it, and now I'm out. She replied that if my medicine had been so important, I should have called earlier in the day. She could not write me a prescription, and what did I want her to do about it? "I want you to call the physician on call," I told her, and she said, “Yes, ma’am!” as if I were the one with the attitude. A man came on. I told him I'm in pain and out of meds, and he said that pills are not an after-hours emergency. He has strict orders to ignore patient requests for refills. If doctors can’t manage their time well enough to approve prescriptions at the end of each day (or keep patients from having to wait two hours in a waiting room), they don't want to be reminded about it at 4:45, when their office hours have ended. I can hear the conversation when he hung up from me: fuck that crazy crying bitch on the line who’s insisting that the doctor is actually supposed to work for her.

My home care nurse was furious on my behalf and tried to charm the answering service, but he had no more clout or luck than I.

So between pain and fits of ferocious spasms of tears and breaths, I tell my husband that this is so savage, so undignified: for patients to go through what doctors insist is “major surgery," which requires we suck up our disdain for mind-altering meds and ease our pain, because pain is dangerous to our mental health; and those same patients to be treated like criminals by the doctor's answering machine, the pharmacist, and the insurance company.

My hydrocodone prescription calls for 1 to 2 tablets every four to six hours. My doctor allows only sixty pills per refill. But the pharmacist, without any knowledge of the patient or her condition, determines how long that prescription should last. My first prescription, three weeks prior to surgery, contained sixty pills and instructions that would have the pills gone in seventeen days. After surgery, when Marty took my new prescription to the pharmacy, they refused to fill it for an extra week, because that's when the pharmacist determined I should be finished with the first bottle.

That's right. A pharmacist can refuse to refill a bottle of pills that, had I taken even the minimum amount in the maximum time, would have been depleted half the time, even when my condition has changed, and I am now a post-op patient. When we finally got our refill, the pharmacist decided it should take me ten days to use them, even though the instructions allow me to finish them in five, if that's what I need.

Marty says they just don’t give a fuck because it’s not their job to care. There are a million other patients out there with the same story, so they are simply indifferent. And he’s right—frankly, my dear, I don’t want them to give a damn. But that means I can take 12 pills a day, without being subjected to their judgment. As long as I'm not taking more than the doctor allows, it’s none of their business whether I’m swallowing them or stockpiling them for a night of partying when I’ve recovered, a year from now.

“I am not me anymore,” I tell Marty, sniveling, while he massages my head. I have to go to the bathroom, and I reject his offer of help, maybe stubbornly. But when I get to the top of the stairs, I see the most amazing sunset in months. I call, but he's gone downstairs, and I can’t wait. I take those one-at-a-time steps quickly back down, sling my camera over my shoulder, and pull myself back up, crying with every painful yank, until I am in the attic, and the window is open, and I’m shooting up. It's no hydrocodone, but capturing that beauty helps in other ways.

So maybe I am me. A little.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

doable things

    yesterday they carved a space in my bones
    dug out pieces of me that my own body
    had already evicted
    and now these fresh cut nerves
    can feel you on the porch
    knocking the mud from your boots
    they buzz with the open g of your guitar
    rattle with the wind
    and hum with the dog’s snore
    your breath

    I recline in the electric chair
    a post-op sentence exclusive of verbs
    except knit, purl, sit, stay, and ponder
    today the demeanor of a stuffed seat
    the way its open arms call to me
    the way its lap pats itself
    come here, bubbala
    implores me to rest awhile
    secure in a gentle
    upholstered hug

    today NPR celebrates Keith Richards
    older than my mother and still jamming
    while I can only rock a size 12
    circular Susan Bates needle
    pink plastic soundlessly
    whipping moonlight mohair
    and variegated bouclé
    into scarf-ness
    cutting lengths of yarn
    into yards of lunatic fringe.

    soon they will come for the chair
    a bittersweet goodbye
    so tomorrow I will lay down
    this comfortable wool and practice
    navigate the dogs and lighted tree
    inch closer to the miles of steps
    I’ll traverse to climb back
    into the skin of the sunset chaser
    and crow spier and the fierce doer
    of all her doable things.

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    goodnight nurse

    Note: photos are for illustration purposes only and are not depictions of actual nurses, night or day, described in this essay.

    Maybe nurses are like refrigerators. During visiting hours, when the quality of your care is on display, they are a pleasing mix of pep and sympathy. They check your IV fluids on time and change your dressing gently. And before they even walk into your room, they know your name and which leg’s been amputated.

    The night nurse is special. And morphine, while not particularly kind to the colon, is kind to the night nurse; it makes you lax when it comes to taking down names.

    But I could never forget Kathy, who entered my room with that cheery, plump smile and said, “Let’s see, you had a knee, right?”

    “Yup,” I said. My mom’s eyes bugged out. She knew what I did not: that Kathy wasn’t just pulling my leg; she had the wrong leg entirely. Mom gave her the wet fur. “No, uh, my daughter had back surgery—a laminectomy and discectomy.”

    Kathy was flustered and embarrassed. How could that have happened? She looked at the room number again, then at her chart, apologizing and promising to return after she helped the lady with the bum knee.

    When she did, I’d been in the same spot for hours, and I was beginning to brown unevenly, so I asked for some help. Kathy pushed me forward on the pad, then yanked me backward, then rolled me over, like I was some kind of stiff gingerbread cookie dough she was flattening. It hurt. I moaned. I asked if I would be getting Neurontin—because it helps me get to sleep—and she said it would be coming at ten with my oral and I.V. ibuprofen, as well as my I.V. antibiotic. The names of the medications were confusing both of us, but I was pretty sure I’d not taken an I.V. and oral version of the same drug. Well, I would be this time, she said.

    Nuh-uh. When Kathy came back, she acknowledged her mistake, said she’d had a long day. She did not have a cup of water with her, and she wanted to save some time, so she added water to the ice chips I was allowed to have, the chips that kept me able to swallow. And with water in my cup, the ice would melt, and who knew when she’d come with a replacement cup of chips? I felt a little scared. “Oh, please don’t put water in that cup. If I have no ice, I can’t swallow.”

    “You’ll be able to swallow. Take two sips of water before you take the pills.”

    “That’s not what I mean. I can’t swallow. In general. And if you put water in my cup, it will melt all my ice chips.”

    She went on and on about how it’s OK for me to have water to take pills, not understanding that my concern was that she’d not return all night with more ice chips. When I’d finished with the pills, she dumped the water out of my cup and returned the remaining ice. “That’s all I wanted,” I said with exhausted breath. “I just didn’t want my chips to melt, or I’d not be able to swallow until you brought them back.”

    Adding to my concerns that night was my insomnia. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep with all the nurse’s and tech’s comings and goings and the noise in the hallway outside my door, but I asked them to close the door anyway so that I could try before the Ambien arrived. Every time I did drift off to sleep, Gerald, the tech, would knock on my door before entering to check my IVs or change the bag from my drain—things for which I did not need to be awake.

    “Why do you knock?” I asked him.

    “Well, I don’t want to disturb you.”

    “But it’s eleven o’clock! I’m trying to sleep, and knocking is the thing that’s waking me up!” (I add exclamation points here, but I doubt my voice could have risen to that level of excitability.)

    Gerald says he can put a note on my door, if I prefer, but it’s common courtesy to knock before entering a closed room.

    Dude, I just had back surgery. I can’t walk unassisted, and I have a catheter. What could you possibly disturb besides my sleep?

    I had forgotten my ear plugs, but I managed to fall asleep for a moment before the IV fluids ran out and started beeping incessantly. I waited a full five minutes before buzzing the nurse. Twice. It had been beeping nearly twelve minutes when a different nurse yelled in to me that my nurse was taking care of something and would be down in a few minutes.

    I started crying. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked. How dare I.

    “Well, let’s see,” I said without a trace of sarcasm. “I had surgery today. I’m in pain. Every time I fall asleep, someone knocks on my door or lets my IV run out, and now I’ve been listing to this beeping at midnight for the past fifteen minutes.”

    Nurse Kathy came in, once again apologetic and full of excuses about her busy day and busy night. She brought my Ambien (if I’d been asleep, she’d have awakened me to give me a sleeping pill) and roughly rolled me over, while the other nurse attempted to remove my catheter. Had Kathy gotten her handiwork in the mix, I’d probably be peeing into a tube for the rest of my life.

    The pair of them threatened to cut off my morphine, too, and would have, if I’d said I was farting.

    Some time in the middle of the night, a new nurse came in. I think she was followed by the clatter and pomp of a marching band. She began erasing my board and announcing loudly that she was Nurse So-and-So, and this was her shift.

    She was erasing my hospital phone number, my room number, and all the information previously written on the white board, where most of the nurses just erased the spots after Nurse: and Tech: to put in their own team’s names. “Why are you erasing that?” I asked in my middle-of-the-night stupor.

    “This is the way I do my board,” she said. She needed to awaken me to announce her exalted presence is all. And I got her just in time to save my PT appointment times.

    In the morning, Lisa and Stephanie, the picture perfect nurses, were camped outside my door in a mini nurse’s station designed, it seemed, to undo all the damage done by the renegade band of evil night nurses and make us all believe we were simply the victims of a bad morphine drip.

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    ol' reliable

    Every day, a squirrel climbs the ornamental cherry tree between my yard and my neighbor’s. I've been spending the afternoons on the living room sofa and am often startled by movement outside my side porch door. The squirrel makes his way down the limbs to the berries at the end of the tree, right outside my window. On the third day, I started noting the time: 2:45.

    Last winter, between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., crows partook of these berries. I remember being astounded by them while Serena and I were decorating the Christmas tree. They would let us watch them from the window— me, every day for a month or so until they'd moved on—but if I got the camera, they'd fly off. The crows have returned; 3:20 is berry time. They shoo away the squirrel, who sometimes comes back when they depart.

    Few things in this world are reliable. Immanuel Kant’s walks around Königsberg were said to be so regular that neighbors could set their clocks by his passing by their homes. But that’s a legend, like the one about Mussolini’s trains running on time.* Swiss watches are more dependable than most. Seasons don't change on time; sometimes spring and winter miss Baltimore altogether. At least the planets still revolve around the sun, which rises and sets every day, sometimes with pageantry. Mankind hasn't found a way to interfere with that yet, unless you count pollution, which makes the skies better but the air worse.

    We want to count on things, but we’re damned if we do. In my old days of cynicism, I kept my expectations low, but even that didn’t stave off disappointment. Because deep down you just want to trust even the untrustworthy things, like weather or your lover. You can rent the gigantic tents, but rain on your outdoor wedding is a bummer (it's not, however, "ironic"). You can prepare to be forgotten on Valentine's Day, as you are every year, but when there are no flowers, you feel both worthless and foolish.

    It’s not your daughter’s fault that she’s sick three days before your surgery or that your best friend, whom you’re counting on to come down from New York to help with recuperation, is coming down with something herself. But it’s still disappointing. It’s disappointing that the B and E strings of your brand new guitar—the one—buzz annoyingly, so much that the guitar has to be returned for repair.

    Right now, I’m still counting on surgery to restore the feeling to my outer thigh, my calf, and three numb toes on my left foot, as well as take the kick out of my butt, the hunch out of my back, and the hesitation out of my bladder. I’m not expecting it all right away, and I’m only asking for the minimum. I know it won’t rid me of all the pain or restore my strength or make me able to run five miles—ever again.

    I’m counting on spending the next two weeks in my living room, perched on my electric recliner, which I had counted on to be one of the most hideous pieces of furniture ever, right down to the tufted back, the antimacassar, and the dark wear spot on the seat. I was not disappointed. Every day around three, I will wait for the squirrel and then the crows. This time, I will be the unreliable one. Instead of chasing the birds and beast away by running to the door with my camera, I’ll only be able to sit there and watch.

    Unlike me, the crows will not be disappointed.

    *False. Though the railroad system was better than ever under his reign, it was spruced up just prior to fascist rule.

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    the one

    My husband is serenading me with “Angel of Harlem.” I tell him how I love this unofficial ritual, this regular Sunday morning worship of the guitar in the Miller Kitchen, as it has come to be known. (On other Sundays, I have taped the two of us doing Springsteen's "No Surrender" and the three of us playing Joan Osborne's "One of Us.) “This is my prayer,” Marty says.

    He can’t think of the words to the U2 song, so he improvises: “Snow fell on the avenue, I stepped in some doggy doo, got that shit all on my shoe, wiped it off on the carpet for you, angel, angel of Harlem.”

    Marty’s good at that—that improvisation of lyrics. He’s as quick as anyone I know and smart, too, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I count on him to replace the words to our favorite songs the way I count on him to poke me and say, “Vanagon,” every time we drive by one on the road and to exclaim, “Oh, look! Some old whore left her workbench in the alley,” every time we pass a discarded mattress. (Don’t tell him you have a weak back; he’ll ask, “When’d you hurt it?” and answer, “Oh, about a week back.”)

    My husband makes me laugh at loud—we make each other laugh out loud—so often, even when life is shit for both of us.

    As it is right now.

    He’s a teacher at a Catholic school, and I’m a stay-at-home writer with sporadic freelance gigs and 2/3 of a book advance already spent. The Archdiocese has announced the need to consolidate due to under-enrollment, so we’re shvitzing.

    The worst part of our lives right now has nothing to do with the economy. It’s my weak back, which has been killing me since summer—way longer than a week back. After three painful cortisone shots, acupuncture, physical therapy, and various forms of hocus pocus, I’m having surgery next week. I can’t drive now or for a month after, and I can carry nothing heavier than a carton of milk. Afterward, I will be able to eat, sit in a recliner, and walk. I think I can go to the bathroom but am supposed to wipe using tongs. (Don’t ask.)

    Marty works about ten hours a day, with six preps, all-day teaching, and after-school commitments. As sole driver, he also must take our daughter to her basketball practice, ballgames, guitar lessons, and show rehearsal. He must walk our two dogs, shop for groceries, and clean our house. I can still cook and do the dishes. I’ve also become an expert kvetcher, moaner, pill taker, and cryer. None of these things has enhanced my appearance, my talents, or my self-esteem, and they don’t pay.

    So I am surprised by the random kindnesses my husband shows me: the impromptu back rubbing, the chocolate donut, the lustful winks. Sure, he’s bitching a bit, but I have to let him. It might be just as awful to be the able spouse of a temporarily disabled person.

    Since I’ve been cooped up for so long—except for doctors’ appointments and Thanksgiving dinner—I decided to join Marty and Serena yesterday on a trek to the guitar store. Weekly fliers are so tempting to them; sales and giveaways and coupons litter our kitchen. This week’s includes a $29 distortion pedal and a free guitar with the purchase of a case of strings. While they were shopping, I could spend quality time with my dream guitar.

    Guitar Center is set up with a big main room full of electric guitars and amps stacked high. Every time they go, my daughter falls in love with something new. This Saturday, it was a bitchin’ black Gretsch hollow-body electric, with dual f-holes and a shiny whammy bar, which my daughter grabbed and dragged around the store with her like a toddler drags his blankie. Behind the open main room are doors to the acoustic room, where the cheap and mid-price acoustics are kept. And all the way in the back is a small, climate-controlled room with the expensive, quality guitars—mostly Taylors and Martins. A few high-priced Gibsons, Takamines, and Breedloves hang there, too (there goes the neighborhood, some would say).

    While my family was out front, I was in the back making time with “the one.” Even if you don’t play guitar, you know “the one.” It’s not exactly love at first sight; it’s more reasoned than that. It not only looks glorious (ebony fret board, mother-of-pearl inlays on the frets and around the sound hole, sexy cutaway style), but it feels good in my lap and sings like an angel. I’ve played nearly every guitar in that back room, and some are nice, yes. But none of them are the Gibson Songwriter Deluxe. I never set out to love this one. Gibson’s not known for sweet and ringy acoustic guitars.

    Ethan waited on me, and I wanted to know if this model was one of the Gibsons on sale for $500 off. It was only 10% off, but he said, “Want me to see if I can do better?” I had no idea that this worked like a car dealership, but I was game. He returned with his offer: $1,900 out the door, tax included.

    I was excited, doing head math, playing with the numbers. With credit, I could have a year, interest-free, to pay it off. I calculated. One hundred sixty a month. Some good tickly stuff coursed through my veins. But Marty was a party-pooper. Number one, he said, I don’t deserve it until I can make a Bm smoothly. Number two, we’re broke. Number three, how many guitars do we need? I’ve already got a decent Guild. And then, of course, there’s the impending surgery.

    I pouted and closed the door to the climate-controlled room. While I was fondling the Gibson madly, Serena was running through her repertoire on a curly maple Ibanez, on which she's had designs for about as long as I've loved the Gibson. She played snippets of “Crazy on You,” “Lola,” “Satisfaction,” “The Kids are Alright,” “Bus Stop,” “Surrender.” But she left in a snit when she learned she wouldn’t be taking it—or the Gretsch—home that day. A man stopped us to say what an incredible guitarist we have in Serena, so I blushed and gushed a bit, then went out to occupy her while Marty arranged to buy her that icky-sounding Ibanez.

    I found Serena kicking the carpet sadly. Never mind that since April, she has gotten a classical Yamaha and a brand new Fender Showmaster, as well as having access to my acoustic Guild and Marty’s Strat. To keep her from chasing after her dad, I brought her the Gretsch and had her plug in and repeat her set list on the electric. I like to listen to her play, but I also like to watch people do a double take when they see that a kid—a girl kid—is at the helm.

    When Marty came out, Serena became dejected once again. And I was moping, too, when we got in the car. Mostly I was tired. I hadn’t been out for this long in weeks. Marty said, “Well, you're gonna be upset, but while I was buying the amp, someone bought your guitar.”

    I knew he was lying. It had been there for months and months, and no one had touched it. Except for some string wear, it was pretty perfect.

    “Here, you wanna see the receipt?” he asked me, tossing the folded up paper in my lap. Why would I want to see that? I knew the total. I had done all the math—a $69 bass amp for my nephew, a $249 Ibanez acoustic, and a box of strings for a hundred bucks, which included a free Silvertone acoustic (which sounds better than the cheap shit Ibanez!). I heard the crinkle of paper as Marty smoothed the receipt and stuck it in my lap while he drove. The first item on the list: Gibson, $1,900.

    I cried my eyes out with joy. The tears just busted right out of my eyeballs. It was like the nicest, most unexpected thing.

    So now we’re in the kitchen on Sunday morning, singing together, and he’s changing the words, and I’m laughing, thinking how much I still love him, a little surprised that after 26 years, we still have this good thing going on. I wonder, in my defective state, how much I deserve it and the guitar. Are they both too good for me?

    I take Serena out with my mom to a craft fair and buy him a chocolate-covered caramel apple and a chocolate chip cookie. He goes out to buy some guitars for his girls. And when we return, it’s there on the dining room table. “Well, aren’t you gonna play it?” he asks. I was going to wait until Christmas. “What for? Play it!”

    I know that trick. He just wants to play it himself, which he does, several times, while I cringe and reach out to protect it as if it’s a baby being held by an ogre. When he goes to work after dinner (which he does frequently, in addition to his other duties), I take out the guitar and pose with it for some goofy Flickr CD cover group. My daughter comes up from the basement while I'm adding the CD title. "Oh my god! You took a naked picture with your guitar already?" she asks, as if I've, like, done this before or something.

    Today, while I am at the doctor’s office going over surgery instructions, I note that I can’t pick up anything, but I wonder whether things can be put in my lap—things like, say, a new Gibson Songwriter Deluxe. “Sure,” the nurse tells me. But, as has happened with other guitar-playing patients, I might get a spasm when I try to put my arm over it. Oh, the indignity!

    I give the news to my husband when he comes home from work, exhausted enough to pass out in the chair next to me (which he does). “Guess I’ll take it back and get myself an SG, a Taylor DN3, and some more strings. I’d still have a couple hundred left.”

    “Go ahead,” I tell him. “I don’t deserve it anyway.”

    “OK, I’ll do that tonight,” he says. “I also need some hot Vietnamese chicks who can bend over.”

    “That’s going on my blog,” I tell him.

    “They can be Burmese,” he says. “Or Cambodian.”

    Sunday, November 30, 2008

    goodpill industries

    My medicine cabinet probably looks a lot like yours: analgesics and cold medicines; assorted eye and butt creams (the latter rarely used, of course, and certainly not by me); clippers and cutters; Vaseline and Vicks Vapor Rub; an ear bulb someone might someday need—and where would we be without it?

    Once or twice a year, I throw away bottles of pills, drugs that time finished when I couldn’t. Usually they are pain relievers from migraines or back aches or thoracic outlet syndrome. Sometimes they are anti-depressants that I decided against after the second dose, or they’re prescriptions for a misdiagnosed condition. In the last year, I’ve tossed whole bottles of Roxicet, Percocet, Oxycodone, Flexeril, Nortriptyline. Antivert, and Cymbalta. It’s thousands of dollars in pharmaceuticals—useful to some, I’m sure. Too bad there’s no Goodpill Industries. I’d drive up the alley and whisper, “Psssst…yo, Spike, I got the Percs.” If I could drive, that is.

    The other day, I met with a surgeon to discuss my laminectomy and discectomy (L5-S1, in case you're new). He asked what I’ve been taking, and I complained that nothing worked, that if I take Percocet, I become a zombie. I’ve got five months worth of sample bottles of Cymbalta. I took it for two days and stood drooling in the grocery store, forgetting which aisles had the foods I buy.

    This doctor actually listened to me for a change. He gave me two prescriptions and told me I absolutely must take them.

    Before he wrote down the instructions, I told him I didn’t know what it was about prescription drugs in particular. He could tell me to smoke pot or take Quaaludes, Black Beauties, or mushrooms—no problem. But that mean ol’ Roxicet is scary! My mother tried, unsuccessfully, to hide the look of fear and horror (there was no shock) until I reassured her that once I became pregnant, I stopped taking any of those recreational medicinal risks.

    She and the doctor were relieved as I waxed poetic over my drug of choice: “delicious beer.” I love the taste of beer, yes. And I love the way two beers make me feel. I’ve often wished someone could invent the two-beer pill—something just relaxing enough but not too mind altering. When you’re a control freak in pain, all you’ve got is your brain, and even that gets hijacked by the suck voice. You tend to agree with everything it says when your cognitive ability is equal to that of oatmeal.

    The doc advised me how to take the Neurontin; the hydrocodone was to be taken around the clock, unless I preferred the Percocet, in which case that’s the one I should take around the clock. Whole pills, too, he warned, not the quarters and halves I’ve been taking.

    The first morning, I took half a hydrocodone—just to make sure I wouldn't lose my mind. Not much happened, so I took the other half.

    I’m a few days late for Thanksgiving shout-outs, but I want to thank the Norco people. I can now cross one item off my list of things to accomplish during my lifetime: Invent or discover the two-beer pill.

    Though it hasn't done a whole lot for the pain, I will not be dropping any leftovers into the charity bin.

    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    twenty-six-year itch

    Two days ago, my mother-in-law would have celebrated her sixty-first wedding anniversary, had Marty’s dad not died a decade ago. This Christmas, my parents will have been married forty-seven years. Maybe long marriages are in our genes. My husband and I will celebrate our fifteenth anniversary next May, and we lived together for eleven years before the big day.

    In twenty-six years, neither of us has ever cheated. There was an almost or two, but, unless you count my visibly swooning (and probably drooling) over Bob Schneider, we’re pathetically faithful.

    Certain kinds of people always chuckle when I say I’m certain my husband has never had an affair—either sexual or emotional. Cheaters—they think everyone cheats.

    A few times in our relationship—usually, coincidentally, before or after a Bob Schneider concert—I have given Marty permission to get himself some strange, but he just won’t do it. I know it’s because he loves me—and he’s terrified that it would give me permission. And then someone else might fall in love with me, too.

    I've been thinking about it, and I wonder whether it would bother me, after all these years, if he had a meaningless romp in the hay with some nubile thing. I could say yes with certainty a decade ago, but now I wonder if all marriages shouldn’t come with a Get Out of Jail Free card or a built-in marriage vacation for a week every seven years.

    Marty can't believe I'd give him up so easily, even for a night. “What if you came home and found Catherine Zeta Jones in bed with me?”

    "I would point at her and laugh," I say. "No, really, if you could tap that, you deserve to!”

    Marty looks wounded. “What if she falls in love with me?”

    “Oh, yeah. Because poverty is so sexy.”

    Maybe that’s what makes men’s fantasies so much more unrealistic than women’s. No, I’m not a 24-year-old blow-up doll, but I’m not bad for forty-inaudible mumbling], and I could very well be the hottest offering in a room—like those couple of times we trekked to small rock clubs on weeknights in snow storms. It was slim pickin’s for rockers. I could do in a pinch.

    But even with permission, I couldn’t do it. What would be the point? Who needs the heartbreak, the disillusionment? Who needs to get naked in front of a stranger at my age? And who needs the host of dangerous microbes that only a lead condom could stop? (Talk about a seven-year-itch!)

    What most people need to keep the sparks in their marriage is the knowledge that someone else desires them.

    So, Catherine, now you know that you are at the top of my husband's list. This is my gift to you and Michael. Happy Anniversary.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    they catch bad guys, don't they?

    I have a television in my bedroom. I borrowed it from my sister, who upgraded. I used to bring the kitchen TV upstairs when my husband was out of town; I liked the company. But it was heavy, and I got tired of carrying it up and down the stairs. Besides, I have my own room, and it can have its own TV.

    Back when we were twenty-something, Marty and I had a little black and white TV in our bedroom on 27th Street in Remington. I don’t remember what we watched—LA Law and NYPD Blue, probably—but I do remember that our roommate, an unemployed used car salesman, used to take that TV from our room while we were at work so that he could stay in his room all day, freebasing cocaine and peeing in a one-gallon apple cider jug. Imagine the day I came home and searched the house for that little TV only to find it illuminating the tighty whities of our roommate, a giant bottle of urine next to his bed. He muttered an apology, but he still stole it every day, even rummaging through my things when I hid it from him.

    When we moved, we got a bigger TV, and the little one went in the den. (The roommate did not come with us.)

    I never used to watch the tube a lot, though I confess to having a thing for the various incarnations of The People’s Court. Winter nights for the past fifteen years have always been capped with an hour-long soak in the tub with a good book. But since I put my sister’s TV in my bedroom, I’ve all but stopped reading and bathing. Instead, I get in bed and watch the cop shows—CSI, Law and Order, Without a Trace, Cold Case. If it’s got a bad guy and airs between nine and eleven, it’s on in my bedroom.

    My husband hates it. He wants to be the only bad guy in my bedroom. Instead, he comes in to say his passive-aggressive goodnight before filling the adjacent room with hurricane-force snores.

    You’d think that all these shootings and robberies and rapes and murders would keep me up nights, but I actually sleep a little better. In the past few weeks, in fact, something odd has happened. I can’t seem to stay awake for the ends of the shows. I’ve been falling asleep at quarter of ten and quarter of eleven, just before they catch the bad guys. I’ve seen magicians die, their killers disappear. I’ve seen kids get lost but never found. I’ve seen cops almost get their man. Then it’s all blank, and I wake up in time for the next show’s theme song.

    You’d think this would have some kind of effect on me—that I would have begun to lose my faith in law enforcement or that I'd be worried all the time. Nuh-uh. The fact that TV shows no longer resolve has not made a

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    I ba-ROCKED the vote—and I'm proud of it

    When I awoke this morning to what I consider good news, I logged on to Facebook to change my status message to something appropriate for an injured person who wants to express delight: “Leslie F. Miller is cheering, gently.”

    This afternoon, I logged on and found an acquaintance’s status message: “[so-and-so] thinks seeing your politics in your status update yesterday is like seeing you naked -- in most cases, we'd be better off if it hadn't happened.”

    First of all, that’s awfully presumptuous! Seeing me naked could have any number of positive results, not the least of them a determination to lay off the cake and beer!

    Second, what’s the secret? Sure, voters have the right to privacy, but few people find it necessary or even desirable to hide their beliefs. Some post choices on their lawns or slap them on their bumpers. Others, like me, wear t-shirts in honor of our candidates. A political party affiliation is certainly no more sacred than a religious one, yet Orthodox Jews don’t hide their yarmulkes, and Christians don’t hide the crosses around their necks. Telling someone you’re a Jew is probably more dangerous, in fact, than telling someone you’re a Democrat.

    Third, a Facebook status message is very much like a bumper sticker on a car, but it’s a car that you drive around a parking lot full of your friends and acquaintances. You choose who sees that sticker.

    Finally, I’m proud of my vote. I made my informed decision based on my core values. That’s what people do. It’s how we pick our spouses and our friends; if we have the luxury of means, it’s how we decide where to live and where to send our children to school. And while we don’t always agree with our neighbors (close friends and family members voted for “that other guy”), we usually have other, more important things that unite us—like our love of music, our appreciation for art, our children’s friendship, and love.

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Ho v. Slut*

    I have had my costume for a year—since Halloween Spirit marked down their black wings. Add a big-schnoz mask and black clothing, and Corvus corvax is your uncle.

    Since slut-ness is still all the rage, I considered being a Slut Crow—maybe fashioning a Madonna-esque bra out of golden beaks to wear over my shirt as an ironic expression of disapproval. (For one day of the year, beautiful women ought to look forward to wearing comfortable shoes!) But it’s hard enough just to be a crow.

    At the first costume party, I wore the full regalia for about thirty minutes, but I was having trouble fitting through doorways. I couldn’t sit, and I was knocking over drinks and empty cups and dragging my feathers in the macaroni and cheese. At least the slut costumes don’t mess with people’s junk. I mean their stuff. How many Slut Catholic Girls poke their husbands in the eye with a beak?

    I like a clever costume. I was fall, once, with fabric leaves glued to my pants and shirt, sparser toward the top, in a mask with tree branches sticking up, a few leaves waving in the breeze.

    I have been a heavenly body (ironic unless you are really, really into sagging boobs and wobbly thighs), with a moon/sun mask and the solar system painted on my clothing. And I have been Medusa, with green skin and snakes sewn into my wig.

    But Halloween was just not into me this year like it was my daughter, a petite Sarah Palin, a glittery, ketchup-bloodied Miss Maverick sash draped across her Target dress. Though the dress was expensive ($35!), it can be worn again to any spiffy function—with her tights and eight dollar red snakeskin boots. I popped the lenses out of some +3 dollar-store readers, put her hair in a bun, and stuck a rifle in her hand. And JimBob was her uncle.

    At our first party, Serena's Sarah met up with my friend Kim’s Bristol, pregnant belly popping out of designer clothes, hands full of shopping bags. She put some of her son’s game balls in her bra, which upset the ten-year-old boy so severely that he vowed never to touch the balls again. (Pardon all the double entendres.)

    If you’re a ten-year-old tomboy, being Sarah Palin is like being a pretty girl in a dress. And I like seeing my kid in a dress, even if she exemplifies wretchedness. But although it’s something she is not for at least 360 days in the year (my problem with the first half of Slut Witch and Slut Cop and Slut Majorette), it’s not enough for her to be an instantly recognizable star; she has to be an instantly recognizable zombie version of that star.

    Enter Sarah Impalin.

    I’m not an off-the- rack-costume fan anyway, so no way was I wearing those wings to yet another party. An hour before the Halloween dance at school, I was standing in my kitchen in a messy-hair wig, ironing a just-designed Cherry’s Liquors decal onto a ripped t-shirt. I added red Converse high-tops and exercise pants, and I made up my face with a black eye and a wad of sugar pasted below my nose. That's right, beyotches. I was a crack whore—and not just any crack whore, either. I was a Harford Road crack ho.

    Maybe you're trying hard to find the difference between a whore and a slut. Here it is: sexy. There is no sex in the Harford Road crack ho—not even with the red bra exposed. I spent the entire night wandering from Beatnik to Goddess, Verizon Network to Zombie, Lucy Ricardo to Flapper, asking for "corters" for some "Pampers over Cherry's." While scratching myself. Crabs, lice, drug DTs—you name it, and I acted the part.

    Marty accompanied me as my Harford Road pimp, a yo-boy wannabe, in size XXXL sweat clothes and sideways baseball cap, an outfit he found on three separate trips to the park.

    I guess my inner beauty shined through, because Christopher Reeve felt something when I sat on his lap. And a devil whispered to me that he had just gone to the change machine and had a whole pocket full of "corters."

    So, hey, listen up, my slut compatriots: Leave your thigh-high boots in the closet with your bustier—just for one night. Because you may turn heads with them, but I made a buck fitty.

    *Ho. This time.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    at traction

    “I don’t know you well, of course,” my physical therapist says as she pulls the traction belt tighter, “but within the first few minutes of meeting you, I knew you were a control freak.”

    That trait is hard to hide.

    Control freaks are an interesting breed. We don’t need to control everything; we just need to control ourselves. For instance, I can’t do much about my back pain, but I can be prepared for it; I can work toward making it disappear as soon as possible. I need to be able to control the management of the pain. During my first shot, for instance, as my back was being wiped with cotton and liquid, I had to know what it was. And when the doctor began his work, instead of telling me what was happening, he tried to have a conversation, take my mind off of it. You can’t do that with a control freak. You must narrate: “I will now stick this ginormous needle right inside your spine. First the Novocain will go in. Now you’ll feel the medicine—the sensation of rubbing alcohol being poured over a cut. Now it’ll hurt for just 30 seconds longer.”

    When I walked in today, Jennifer was leaning over an email by some right-wing friend of a right-wing client. He calls Obama, “B. Hussein.” How mature. He went on to describe “Markism,” which set her off. She read her literate, intelligent response. “But why do you bother?” I asked. I should have known the answer.

    It’s the same reason I flinch when she yanks the pelvic belt tighter.

    Jennifer’s a control freak, too. And she likes that in a client. “Some people come in and lie there and say, ‘Fix me.’ I don’t have any patience for that.”

    Control-freakism has not served me well in the areas of sleep, meditation, and massage—any place that requires total relaxation, trust, and an abandonment of the self. (Orgasm is different—probably because the moments up to the loss of control are controlled and deliberate.) And it’s far less easy to be a control freak when you’re disabled. You need something to do, something over which to lord—like a physical therapy routine.

    My at-home PT is my new religion: I do the knee tucks and spine rotations and hikes and alternate swims and camel humps and leg lefts. If I’m supposed to hold my position for fifteen seconds, I hold for sixteen; if I need ten reps, I do eleven.

    As I lie strapped to the table, I reach for my camera and try to take a shot; a self-portrait only counts if you shoot it yourself.

    But sometimes you can’t get the full picture unless you’re outside yourself. And to get there, you have to let go. Jennifer takes my camera out the door to get the whole contraption in the frame.

    My heart beats hard in my throat, and she takes my pulse. Fifty-four. “It will serve you well,” she says. I am stretched at 75 pounds of pressure. The E-stim is sending jolts into four spots on my back. The belt slips, and the traction machine readjusts to 75 pounds. Appliances buzz and hum and tick.

    For fifteen minutes, there is almost nothing I can do about it. Beside me is a kill switch, a red button with hair-trigger sensitivity. "Think long and hard before you press it; all of Russia will disappear," she says, closing the curtain on her way out.

    I look for something to control. Words. I control my thoughts, arrange the words, these words. This is what I write.

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    hot for teacher

    My husband is a little starved for affection. His Catholic school teaching job has him working all the time—including various Friday night socials and random Sunday morning masses and open houses. Seems he can't escape his West Virginia coal-miner roots, only company scrip is now company scripture. The hours are long. Marty has seven preps a day and goes to bed at 9:00 so he can wake up at 4:30 to plan classes.

    Consequently, he’s tired all the time. Sometimes, even when we can squeeze past our daughter's open door, he's too tired for some nine-o’clock nookie. And last night, when Marty got home from the school dance at 11:15, I was asleep.

    We just can’t seem to find any time for—you know.

    Last night, I reluctantly installed my two-week heart monitor. This morning, in the kitchen, while my daughter was upstairs playing Twisted Sister's “I Wanna Rock” in her bedroom (her electric guitar and practice amp are up there), Marty said to me, “Show me your titties!”

    I grimaced as I lifted my shirt to reveal the electrodes and wires and pads. But this is how long it's been. He said, “Hey! You look good with medical stuff hooked up to you. Maybe we can get you an IV!”

    Hot is great. But hot without humor doesn't last for twenty-five years.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    on the interwebs again, my friends!

    When I showed my husband the new gigantic interview with yours truly, "Breakfast with Leslie," at Creative Construction: Life & Art, he said, "Yeah, so you're on the Internet again."

    I've made a lot of contacts over my four years on Flickr and various discussion boards. I learned when I was fourteen and had a lot of pen pals that knowing people from all over gives you a place to stay when you travel. Seeing the world was a goal of mine in the olden days, when I slept naturally, all the time, and didn't have to think about it. My husband still likes to go, though, and I like that I'm able to hook us up with Stewart Green, a writer and climber living in Colorado; or Penny, who lives in the West Kootenays, off the grid in Canada (she has a pet crow); or cybergeek and runner Steffen, in Vienna; or the lovely Gabi, who's trying to be in Rotterdam most of the time; or the insanely funny Martin, in County Cork.

    And I love that Fran stayed with me and has sent me her book. I love my friend Derek, who is so thoughtful that has sent me cards for every occasion, including my birthday, Halloween, my book, and no reason at all. And I love that I can visit Sarah Bloom an hour and a half away in Philly (and even take in a Bahhhhhhhb show together in November). And one of my best friends in the whole wide world is Jennifer König, who thinks all my thoughts at the same time; we have visited each other, with our families, and we work in virtual cubicles next to each other—and next to one of my all-time favorite humans, Patrick T. Power.

    This cultivation of friendships with faraway people is selfish. I feel like I get everything, even when I'm commenting on blogs and photos, emailing them when they are sick; celebrating with them when something cool happens, like when Cory got her new tattoo; and supporting them in times of crisis, like when my Jackson Heights friend, Jodi, lost her beloved Molly, or when Susan in Jersey and David, a Canadian teaching English in Korea, lost their fathers. Being their friends is rewarding, and I spend a lot of time doing it.

    My husband works hard at his job. He's a middle-school teacher, and sixth grade is his homeroom. Do you remember sixth grade? It was the worst year of my life. I had breasts. I got my period. The boys at my table called me "Moose Miller," after the comic, and I was teased because, well, I guess I had "it" goin' on. The hormones are insane in sixth grade. Marty teaches Catholic school, and many of the families are conservative, so add that wrench to the psyche of the unreligious, left-leaning, peace-loving man. Then throw seven preps a day in math and social studies on top of the mix, and you have an overworked dude who's not going to be too thrilled when you show him the gigantic interview about you, which appeared because others felt your Internet presence.

    This morning, I gave him an example of why it's so important and why he should be pleased about this news. Fellow Goucher Gopher, and now Flickr friend, Kimberly Hosey, told me that she was so excited about my book that she would buy 100 copies. I reminded her that even on Amazon it would cost her $1,700. She agreed she'd probably only buy one or three, but she'd make 100 others buy the book.

    My husband thought this was a good thing. He'd like nothing more than for me to be a successful writer and sole breadwinner, while he home-schools our daughter and takes her on field trips to Korea. (It's not likely to happen. But that will be our little secret.)

    In the meantime, though this may just sound like the politics of P.R., I want everyone to know that when I talk about my 120 Flickr contacts or my twelve Square One-ers or the people on Facebook, 37 of whom wrote me Happy Birthday greetings the other day, I start every sentence with "My friend...."

    And, my friends, when I say, "my friends," I actually mean it.*

    *Unlike that other one.

    P.S. Thank you, my newest friend, Miranda, for the awesome interview at Creative Construction.

    * * *

    Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    It's my birthday, it's my birthday, it's my birthday


    So when you've written a book about cake—when you've baked a few yourself, had them declared delicious, had men kneel before you and women kiss your hand after partaking of your confection—who bakes your cake? Who makes the best, to-die-for cake?

    That's what they ask me.

    I'm not quite a kid at heart, but when it comes to my birthday, I want it to taste like childhood. I want a break from my strict avoidance of hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup.

    So if you're asking me for a recommendation, I'd tell you to go to your neighborhood bakery, the one up the road, where the line forms on Saturday mornings and Sundays after church. If I need an unfancy cake that tastes delicious, that's where I go. For a fancy one that tastes delicious, I call Patisserie Poupon. (Ask for the Grand Marnier cake. Mmm.)

    But if you're asking me what cake I'm eating right now, right this very minute, I am not ashamed to tell you that I picked one up for $15 at Safeway a little while ago. I might be 4[inaudible mumbling], but I want it to taste like seven.

    Monday, October 6, 2008

    untrue blue, misbegotten moon

    If you were into astronomy, and you knew that this photograph was taken at 6 p.m. in October in the eastern United States, you might find it deceptive. In real life, the moon was farther to the left, out of the frame, sitting just above the point in my next-door neighbor's roof.

    In a true story about the moon, I wouldn’t mention my next-door neighbor’s roof. Even if this were a story about how I see the moon in October in Baltimore, Crista’s roof would only be in the way. That is the luxury of editing.

    When I look out the window of my attic to watch the sun set in the east, my peripherally adept eyes see the moon. Nudging it a few inches closer to the glowing clouds and delicious sunset is deceptive, as is erasing that nasty electrical line that always messes up my skies. But I wouldn't mention those wires in the essay about the moon*.

    The photography that accompanies nonfiction, especially when it’s in the newspaper, is held to some strict standards. And the issues seem as divisive and polarizing as politics. You’re likely to find nonfiction writers on the side of accuracy, rather than artistry—even those who practice what is called “creative” nonfiction.

    But nearly as soon as there was photography, there was photo tampering. In fact, photo developers tamper with film all the time—with the slightest over- or under-development altering the so-called actual appearance of people, places, and things. Sometimes these are as serious as putting someone’s head on another’s body. Other times, it means enhancing someone’s skin or the low-lights in clouds.

    Last year, I got into a big debate with my creative nonfiction group over a photograph by Allan Detrich that appeared in the Toledo Blade. It was deliberately altered. While all the other photojournalists were shooting from the same spot, only Detrich’s photo was missing a pair of jeans-clad legs in the background. Detrich, an award-winning photographer, removed them because it detracted from the photo.

    Ron Royhab, the executive editor and VP of the Blade wrote in his editorial:
    Readers have asked us why this was such a big deal. What's wrong with changing the content of a photograph that is published in a newspaper?

    The answer is simple: It is dishonest.

    Journalism, whether by using words or pictures, must be an accurate representation of the truth.

    ...Details of the incident unfolded gradually in the days after Mr. Detrich's digitally altered picture was published on March 31. The dramatic photograph showed members of the Bluffton University baseball team kneeling in prayer before playing their first game since five of their players died in a March 2 bus crash in Atlanta.

    We did not know at the time of publication that the photographer, using a computerized photo-editing tool called Photoshop, had removed the legs of a person wearing blue jeans and standing in the background behind a banner.

    It’s been a year and a half since the incident, and my contention is, still, that if editing is allowed in writing, it ought to be allowed in photography. I hold writers of nonfiction to strict standards. All of it must be true—from the color of the car to anything with quotation marks. It bothers me that David Sedaris exaggerates. It harms nonfiction when James Frey makes things up. A photo accompanying nonfiction must not make a blue car red. It must not add something that did not happen. It shouldn't be an outright lie.†

    The subject of the photo in question was a baseball team kneeling in prayer. It was not about a jeans-clad leg, even peripherally. The writer of such a story would not have mentioned the leg in the story. And were the photo simply cropped, we wouldn’t be discussing this at all. Why didn’t Detrich simply crop out that last banner? Instead, he straightened the poles and erased the legs. He turned an average photo into a piece of art. As a writer of nonfiction, creative or not, I appreciate the beauty of his work. And it’s still honest.

    I can see the argument for absolute truth, exactly as the camera caught it. But that means no crops, ever; it means no color correction, no resolution adjustment, no saturation. Frankly, it means no black and white. What in our world is black and white? Using black and white film is an illegitimate choice in the first place. And shooting color digital and changing it to black and white afterward—heresy!

    So what about the photo was harm or foul?

    I think the fact that we can do this at all—that we can make a ball appear where it had appeared just a split second earlier, that we can erase ugly wires, that we can move the moon—scares people. What else can be tampered with? If a photo isn't the exact truth at that moment, then what is?

    Nothing and everything. My brain sees color more vividly than your brain, maybe, and my camera's white balance isn't always perfect. And my lens distorts straight edges. My vision is wider than my camera's. Editing will always be necessary. What writer of merit doesn’t craft his words? What newspaper editor doesn’t put his mark on a writer’s copy? Why should we expect less from photographers and art directors?

    Sure—some people want to know where we draw the line. More important, where do we erase it? And why must there be hard and fast rules in the editing of a photograph? I’m not suggesting our photographs be lies. But editing—cropping, straightening, and even erasing an extraneous power line—does not change the truth into a lie.

    We all have our causes. I would never tell a defender of animal rights that he ought to be working for human rights. But I do wonder about those supporters of truth in photography. Why aren’t they as riled up when it comes to the alteration of portraits? Where’s the truth in the Sports Illustrated centerfold or the Time Magazine cover? Every model you see is airbrushed to the point of plasticity. And if the subject is a detestable figure, every flaw and blemish is highlighted.

    Which does more harm—a team prayer minus some distracting legs or flawless models against which our young girls will compare themselves? Who will develop an eating disorder from seeing the moon the way I saw it on that October evening in Maryland?‡

    *This is not the essay about the moon. This is the essay about the essay about the moon.

    †Not everything Detrich has done would pass my muster. Adding a basketball where one had just been isn't acceptable in a newspaper, where, if you miss the shot, you miss it. In art, it's fine.

    ‡I wouldn't necessarily use my sunset with moon in a nonfiction newspaper story, but the edited photograph of the mime should be perfectly acceptable!

    * * *

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008

    want some whine with that, bitch?

    As if we needed to devote any extra time to complaining, October 1 is the “official bitch day.” Don’t we bitch too much—about cellphone users and language abusers, political creeps and carb creep? Don’t we whine enough about our aches and pains and pounds we gain? And ugh! All that bad grammar we have to put up with! Like sentences ending with prepositions!

    Sometimes we just want to let it out to the people who’ve been there, get some affirmation for our daily struggles—in the express lane, where the sign reads an illiterate “15 items or less” instead of fewer, behind the lady with 30 items. We want to commiserate, which breaks down to being miserable (miserate) together (co).

    When I woke up this morning after a delicious night of sleep, which was preceded by a riveting episode of Law & Order SVU, which followed good sex, there was nothing for me. My daughter came downstairs wearing the right, clean school uniform, her hair brushed. The air was cool and gorgeous. My handsome husband was pleasant.

    And then my Internet, which ought to be called Intermittentnet, screwed me, turning on and going off every few minutes.

    And then I got cut off on the way to my appointment with the back doctor. The car was some fancy yellow thing with JACKIES on the tags.

    I arrived to my 9:30 appointment ten minutes early. At 10:30, when I was not the next patient to go back, I complained. Of course it’s not the receptionist’s fault, but she does need to do more than look at me with a squinched up face and tell me she doesn’t know what’s going on. She needs to get up and find out, even though doing so changes nothing.

    A woman who arrived a while after I did is also a patient of my doctor, so she wasn’t happy when she realized how long I had waited. Our discussion in the waiting room—about how it is obscene to make people wait like this, especially people in pain, and how we should not stand for it, and how we consistently have to pay $5 for parking that ought to be free, were we in and out of there on time—was loud.

    The patients were riled up, yes, but not enough to form the army that we needed.

    Not enough to walk out.

    We’re not stupid, after all. It took us months to get our coveted appointments. We couldn’t possibly step out of our place in line awaiting these blessings from our gods. Going all Michael Douglas on their asses isn't an option, either.

    I have one standing obligation: Wednesday yard duty at the school. I relieve three overworked teachers for twenty minutes each at lunchtime. Yet here I am, in the waiting room an hour and a half past my appointment time, calling to say I don’t know when I can be there.

    When I am at last taken back, the assistant yells my name through a window on the other side of the room before she has even opened the door. She walks me silently down the hall and puts me in a room. Then she explains, like I’m a stubborn child, that the doctor is still with the other patient discussing his films. She just wants to let me know that I might be waiting a little more. But she doesn’t apologize to me like she has to the other 15 patients who were seen earlier.

    When the doctor comes in, she says she’s sorry, she knows I’ve been waiting. “An hour and twenty minutes,” I say. Yes, she acknowledges, as if reading it from a card, my time is also valuable. “It’s worse for us. We’re in pain. We’re depressed,” I say. We’re listening to old people complain about their bursitis and last night’s dinner.

    I can understand emergencies. I’ve been an emergency now and again, and I feel bad for all those people who have had to wait because of me. But why aren’t emergencies built into a schedule? When I first visited this back doctor, I waited for just as long before being seen. I couldn’t sit or stand. I had to lie on the floor. I’m sure there was an emergency that day, too, and there will be another emergency when I return in a month. (Fortunately, I had the sense to make myself the first appointment of the day.)

    So why can’t all physicians take an example from my daughter's pediatrician. Block out between one and two hours a day mid-day or an hour each in the morning and the afternoon—just for people who need to be seen right away. Even if they did this two days a week, it would cut down on our waiting time, which would surely decrease our surliness and remedy our respect for them.

    Even still, when I go to a restaurant, I’m told how long the wait will be. When I register at the desk for a doctor’s appointment, why doesn’t someone say to me, “I’m sorry. The doctor is an hour and a half behind. Would you like to reschedule or go shopping for an hour?”

    I was ten minutes late to yard duty at my daughter’s school.

    All the children in the fifth grade cheated at four square.

    Maybe October 2 can be the official Bitching Hiatus.

    If only we could get through an entire day without someone pissing us off. I mean, pissing us off, bitch.

    * * * *

    Getting angry with Bob always makes me feel better.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    Lemon Pounds Cake

    I like to call this a pounds cake because you can make it exactly as you like it and gain several pounds from just a couple of pieces.

    I also like to post recipes for things I will no longer eat. I derive the sensory satisfaction from the list of ingredients (if I read them fast, it's as though they are mixed into cake batter; try it), and I also feel a bit of glee that you might make this, and I will be losing weight while you are the ones gaining the pounds.

    Pounds Cake

    3 sticks of butter
    3 cups of sugar
    1/4 teaspoon of salt
    6 eggs
    1 cup of whole milk
    3 teaspoons of extract (I use 2 lemon, 1 vanilla)
    3 cups of flour

    1. Preheat the oven to 325°.
    2. Grease and flour a tube pan—fancy are harder to unmold and clean.
    3. Cream the butter. Add the sugar and salt. Mix thoroughly.
    4. Add eggs, one at a time, while the mixer is running.
    5. Add flavoring to the milk and add to batter alternately with flour.
    6. Mix thoroughly and pour into prepared pan
    7. Bake for 1.5 hours or until tester is clean.

    Turn out the cake, and let it cool. Pour glaze on top.


    2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
    1/2 stick of melted butter
    2 T extract or juice (I use lemon juice)
    2 T milk

    Mix well. Pour on the Pounds Cake (and pour on the pounds).

    Eat. Completely. Keep thinking that the lemon glaze tastes like a Lemon Cooler cookie. Relive the nostalgia over and over again. Gain some weight. Wear my giant hand-me-downs.

    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Ready, Set—

    Today is the day I slough my summer skin, that sun-dried outer shell, and expose my gooey center, the one that gets filled with cake and challah and buttercream. And then I’ll swear off that stuff for awhile. It’s a pattern.

    I know it’s a pattern because I live a well-examined life. As a chronic chronicler, I know what I was doing last year (and the years before) at this time. I have pictures of the bread I braided and baked. I have pictures of my uncle’s taxidermy, my unhappy self, new leaves I had planned to overturn. My usual post-summer funk, a carryover from my summer funk, was coming to a head like an ugly talking boil. (It speaks with the Suck Voice, which, I imagine, sounds very much like Richard E. Grant.) Rejection, hand pain, fat—the usual.

    It’s a coincidence, of course, that life seems to get crappy just before Rosh Hashanah. But here I am again, with back pain, insomnia, fat, a bit of the suck voice. I’ll overdo it tonight for a fresh start tomorrow.

    The best part about Rosh Hashanah, besides the cake (this year: lemon pound cake with lemon glaze) and the challah, is that if I screw up—if I cheat on the diet or miss a day of exercise or lose my momentum altogether—I get another shot in January with the rest of you.

    This is the perfect time for a fresh start, isn’t it? The air has that crisp newness. The sky is all swoopy with birds. The decorations are orange. And October is my birthday month! I can make myself ready for the shock of having to tell people I’m forty-six (forty-six? It doesn’t even sound right) by getting my roots touched up tomorrow and buying a whole bunch of new clothes that I’m bound to look great in by November*.

    Between today and my birthday, which falls, this year, on the eve of Yom Kippur, Jews will do a lot of reflecting. We’ll ask those we’ve wronged for forgiveness (I try to do that as I go along so I can spend more time reflecting and planning and less time apologizing). We’ll be a little extra nice. We’ll set our goals. And then, it is said, if we were thorough enough, God will write us down in his book for a good year. L’Shana Tovah Tikatavu, the greeting Jews use for this holiday, means, literally, may you be inscribed for a good year.

    Last year, I was written down big-time. I resolved, on my first New Year’s eve to do something with my book, and, in the two months, between Rosh Hashanah and Thanksgiving, I got an agent and a contract. I resolved on my second New Year’s eve to write a page a day, and I did it, finishing the manuscript seven months earlier than my contract required.

    So what’s on my plate right now, besides my last piece of cake? A new book proposal is in the works, and I’ll need some serious charms for this one. And, since I’ve done irreparable damage sitting on my butt writing my first book, I’ll need to spend a lot more time moving around.

    If you could start fresh tomorrow, what would you do? Wake up with a smile, despite how poorly you slept? Work harder, be nicer, eat better? Treat every problem as if it were an opportunity for creativity? We can’t abandon our obligations; on the contrary, we hand-picked these obligations—motherhood, marriage, careers. And we can’t expect to become a new person overnight. I don’t know about you, but I worked hard to become this one.

    But say you have a week-long planning period and dry run. What one thing would you change tomorrow? On your mark, get set—

    P.S. The suck voice says this is a lame post. I tell the suck voice to stick it.

    *Bob Schneider hits the World Cafe on the 13th of November and the Recher on the 14th.

    * * *