Sin City – The Climax

Day 4

We drove down the Strip to see the long-awaited Venetian. This is the one casino I wanted to see most. And it was stunning. Italy-inspired facades …the ceilings were painted like sky and clouds (which is exactly what Caesar’s and Paris did too) and the “sidewalks” were glistening like wet stones.

I was looking forward to seeing the gondolas. The line was as long as Space Mountain in Disney and it was $30 per person. Gondola on a 3-foot deep pool, inside, the gondolier’s singing echoing off of the storefronts…. meh. Gondola in Venice? Hell yeah.

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Anyway, designer stores like Barney’s, Kate Spade, Hugo Boss, Tory Burch, Bottega Veneta, Pandora, Coach, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Michael Kors. I took a pic of these butt ugly MK sneakers that looked like wrestling shoes for V and she said, ooh, can you buy them for me?  Ha. Aint gonna happen. A new handbag featured in one of the window display boxes was actually designed for me and so we went in to have a closer look. $358. I’m in love. I NEED this handbag.

In summary – the Venetian was another stunning playground but no more special than the others and it wasn’t paying out either. We left The Venetian and drove to Fremont Street to meet the gang, who was already there.

Fremont Street is a strange and bustling not-to-be-missed sideshow which is like the B-side of the Vegas album. It’s a closed street under a roof that produces an overhead light show set to music that’s supposed to be really spectacular. I don’t know if I was all Vegased out or just slipping into the stoned side of a week’s worth of mindless drinking, but I was not impressed. It was cool, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t feeling all, this is the best light show ever!

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People were zip-lining overhead under the ceiling all night long, which looked cool but I wondered if anyone has ever thrown up while on it? The line was massive for that too and I had no interest in holding my bladder that long.

There were these black circles painted on the street in various places designated for street performers – like cast members stuck in a surreal limbo between a homemade freakshow and a bad audition – not beautiful or talented or freaky enough to work on the Strip. Many of them just stand there and hang out. Impersonators like Deadpool, Heisenberg, and Jack Sparrow. Scantily-clad girls offering to “whip” people – in plain view of hundreds of passersby for a small fee. I was literally feet away from some guy who got down on his hands and knees for this. Twice.

A dude in a cowboy hat with no shirt offering I-don’t-know-what. Two “military hunks” who picked people up on their shoulders for a picture. For a fee. Another guy, who was not standing in one of those circles, in nothing but a g-string with his pitifully small package (yes I did look and don’t judge because a train wreck is a train wreck) and a cowboy hat, smoking a cigarette. He was easily in his late 50s and I wondered if he just did this for his own kicks.

A topless girl in a nun’s habit with long droopy breasts and what looked like black electrical tape crisscrossed over each of her nipples. She attracted a lot of hilarious, shocked stares and giggling. Rob said she looked like Macaulay Culkin, which might have been funny except she was disturbingly serious and dejected looking. She carried a black leather whip in her hand, I’m guessing so she could whip people too. Moments into her stint, a much-older, angry looking Native American man on an electric scooter with a sleeping infant strapped to his chest wheeled circles around her, talking to her, and then he wheeled away into the crowd. Her expression never changed. When he returned two more times it became apparent they knew each other. I wondered who he was to her and if that baby was hers. The whole scene so disturbed me and I’m still not able to fully articulate what I was feeling.

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Oil application begins. Note the child in the background.

She was replaced at some point by a guy with an Ace Frehley wig and makeup on, who appeared out of nowhere with his duffle bag and proceeded to strip down to a thong and put on “the boots.” He rooted around inside his bag and pulled out a bottle of baby oil and slathered all over his chest and body, and then stood there dancing and staring people down. Two ladies came over and took their picture with him and all I could think of was that that oil was now all over their clothes. He caught me videoing him with my phone and I have him pointing at me and motioning to me with an uncomfortable stare. Big Mistake. Anyway… total earnings on my watch…. Ace: $10, Nun: $0.

 

We walked around some more, bought two frozen drinks for $38 – probably for the souvenir cup BOTH of my kids thought was a bong which invites a whole other list of questions for another post. I took photos until my phone died, and played some slots in these ancient casinos and actually won some money. I rubbed Buddha’s belly in the California Casino when we arrived, so maybe that accounts for my first win in 4 days?

Summary: Fremont Street is worth a visit, but again – not a place for children. And there were plenty of them, witnesses to the depravity that exists in a vacuum for most people. I felt dirty after being there.

Total walking distance on this day: 5.65 miles.

 

The Last Day

Copyright Taraka, 2019.

Hoover Dam. About a 50-minute drive through elevated desert and mountains. Acres of windmills in the hazy heat. More brown and dirt and dust and sand but for the few scrubby green plants that have defied the desert sun and dared to grow up without a lick of water.

We arrived at the security checkpoint where all windows must be down and a guard peers into your vehicle and asks if we have firearms. We drove through, parked on the Arizona side and then walked over to the Nevada side. It was another hundred-degree day of unforgiving sun and there were hundreds of people here. All nationalities. We each took a ton of photos and stared in awe at this monstrous manmade structure. We walked across the Pat Tillman bridge which seems miles above the dam.

We drove back “home” and changed out of our sweaty clothes, and then drove back down to Old City to visit the Neon Museum. This outdoor museum has curated old neon signs and has placed them throughout a “Neon Boneyard.”

There are signs from old businesses, casinos, motels… some dating back to the 1930s and 40s. They’re huge. Some are only parts of signs. One as recent as 2015. Many are famously recognized.

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The whole thing is outside in blazing sun – and they’re only open until 7 p.m. so you have to go during the day and it’s supposedly most busy around 5 or so. We got there around 4 and had the place to ourselves. They offer umbrellas you can borrow and there are employees stationed here and there to answer questions, although the one woman Todd spoke to acted as if he was bothering her and then disappeared. Everything is sort of leaning against a wall or propped up, stacked in staggered rows, and leaves you feeling like it’s haphazard – which is the intentional feeling they’ve created, of a neon scrap and recycle yard.

The museum shop you actually enter and exit the Boneyard through. The two folks in there were friendly and talkative, probably because they – unlike their counterparts outside – had the benefit of working in air conditioning. I could have bought a lot of stuff in there, but we settled on two t-shirts and a small aluminum sign for the bar we don’t have yet.

That was our last stop on the Vegas tour. We were absolutely DONE. For me, there’s only so much casino-ing a non-gambler can do. I was so over the scene, the heat, the refrigeration-grade a/c, the cigarette smoke, and people. Our flight departed at 5:30 a.m. the next morning so we spent the rest of the evening at the condo packing and relaxing.

Total walking distance: 4.47 miles.

 

Miscellaneous:

 

Neon Museum: Hours, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission: $22. Don’t miss! Side note: women’s t-shirts run super small – I’m thinking there was an error and these were actually children’s size t-shirts. I bought an XL (I’m normally a size M) and it’s still tight as a compression sock.

Fremont Street: Fremont Street, which dates back to 1905, was the first paved street in Las Vegas, in 1925, and received the city’s first traffic light in 1931. As I always do, I did some research on things to do and see. I made a list:

  • Viva Vision Light Show
  • Vegas Vic
  • Happy Buddha’s Belly (statue @ California Hotel and Casino.) Rub his belly for good luck. Coins left at the statue are donated to charity.
  • Binions – free photo with $1M
  • Golden Gate Casino – historic artifacts like gaming ledgers from the early 1900s and vintage chip racks.
  • Main Street Station – antiques all around the hotel plus there’s a huge slab of the Berlin Wall in the men’s restroom (ask to be escorted by security to see it). I REALLY wanted to do this but just ran out of steam.
  • The Shark tank at the Golden Nugget

 

Slotzilla Zipline – at Fremont Street. Fly seated seven stories high for $25 or “superhero style” eleven stories high for $49 ($45 before 5 p.m.)

Gondola at The Venetian – Regular pricing is $29 for a shared gondola, or $114 for a private gondola. The pricing varies based on dates and month, apparently. There’s also photo packages starting at $22. There are indoor and outdoor gondola rides.

 

The Happy Buddha, another performer at Fremont Street, and a random photo of the landscape around Henderson.

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Todd and Tara Take Sin City: Part 2

Day 2

Sunrise. Todd made coffee and I made a smoothie for breakfast. The singles/doubles tournament was at 2:30 so we had several hours to go down to the Strip. High of 99 degrees. I was really looking forward to this.

We were greeted by the world-famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign as we drove in, which was a lot smaller than I expected, with a LINE OF PEOPLE in front of it waiting to take their pic. We drove to The Tropicana and parked the car. If you’ve never been to Vegas, there are escalators outside that take you to a sidewalk overpass every couple of blocks or so. We took the one next to the Tropicana to get to Excalibur. Note: Do NOT touch the handrail.

We passed two homeless people engrossed in conversation in the shade, and another woman lying under the escalators with her dog (also lying on the ground). Homeless people, unlike San Francisco, are a surprise in Vegas, just by sheer design – the place appears very clean and is hotter than Satan’s bedroom. I felt more sorry for the dog than I felt for the people. Why was this dog lying outside on the sidewalk at 9 a.m. in 98 degrees?

So Excalibur is the casino that looks like a castle. For those folks in Southeastern PA, it looks a lot like Dutch Wonderland, only bigger. Inside was delightfully cool and I loved the atmosphere. I love the medieval/Renaissance period… so all you have to do is drop me into a story from that period or a room decorated accordingly and I will stay all day. We decided to collect club cards and play in each casino we visited, just for fun.

We left there and walked next door to Luxor, which is – hands down – my favorite casino in Vegas. Luxor is the shiny black, 30-story pyramid with the giant, towering sphinx out front. At night there’s the sky beam – a beam of light from the apex of the pyramid one can see for miles on a clear night. We walked in the front doors and there was this enormous entryway and a view all the way to the ceiling where you could see the lighted rooms/hallways. It was gorgeous inside. And, at this early hour, not terribly crowded yet but plenty of parents with children.

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Copyright Taraka 2019

Which is what also surprised me. Las Vegas has been pushing the family-friendly vibe for years now, but after 5 days there I honestly cannot understand why anyone in their right mind would WANT to take their kids there. It’s hotter than hell, even by the pool, there’s smoke everywhere, and there’s no shortage of scantily clad showgirls on the streets. And then there’s Fremont Street.

Anyway. The Luxor also has The Titanic Exhibition that I REALLY wanted to see, but we never made it. Tickets run $32, but I found if you’re buying same day tickets the price was $19. The Bodies Exhibition is also there. El Diablo and Rice & Company were two restaurants I noted but never made it to.

From Luxor we walked the indoor passage to Mandalay Bay. It should also be noted here that these three casinos I visited are all connected via a free tram. Mandalay was also pretty spectacular inside, very decadent but then I think they all are. I really wanted to see the pools there, but again – never made it – and there is a$20pp daily cost if you aren’t a guest of the hotel. Todd played the slots in all three – from old favorites to a few new ones – but never hit for more than a few bucks.

We headed back to the tournament. Todd drove the entire Strip so I could see it. There’s so much to see! There’s a two-story Coke bottle with an elevator inside. I decided to hang back at the condo while he bowled; I didn’t really feel like freezing my ass off for three hours. We’d already walked four miles today. We ended up staying at South Point for the night…. had junk food at the Del Mar Deli and Todd played some slots, where some dude asked me, ma’am, could you watch my machine for me (while he went to retrieve his beer at the machine he’d moved from). Fucking MA’AM.

Really feeling my age lately. I mean, I look in the mirror and I see me – the Tara I’ve always known – but I know intrinsically that people are seeing a middle-aged woman and not the me I think I am. It hits me hard and I don’t like it.

Total walking distance: 5.7 miles, which means that we racked up a MILE AND HALF just walking around the South Point casino. Kill me now.
Day 3

We drove down the strip again. Parked at The Flamingo, an old-time casino with a tremendous history linked to the mob in the late 1940s. It’s been through a lot of changes, but still retains the old-time feel. There’s a flamingo habitat in an outdoor courtyard, which we visited and Todd, as always, got the best pictures. I always think I’m being artistic, and then I look at the product and it looks like a two-year-old with no muscle control took it. Like, MY picture has the back of the flamingo, bending over. I don’t even know why I try.

As we were passing through, an employee pulled us aside to offer us some deals and led us over to the wheeler-dealer bitch who wanted us to pick something for free. NOW. We had just arrived and it got to this high pressure point where you wanna slap a bitch, and when she whipped out the 3-ring binder with pictures of our options my old New Yorker instincts kicked in and I just held up my hand and said, I’m done. I just got here and I’m not making decisions right now.

We left the Flamingo and walked across the street to Caesar’s, which was really decadent. I swear, every casino is more decadent than the last. This is Disney for adults, on steroids. One of Caesar’s employees approached us to ask if we were staying on the property and I just put up the hand and walked away, and Todd was the one being Mr. Nice Guy, which is all kinds of ass-backwards. I literally have no qualms about flat out ignoring somebody and unapologetically walking away.

The temp went up to 106 degrees. We walked 6.54 miles. I was impressed and a bit proud to experience 106 degrees.  The sun was blazing hot and I began to feel a bit schizophrenic going between the wonderfully cool a/c and the blistering heat on the street.

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Doesn’t look like 106, does it?

We walked along the street to Paris. More people on the street selling shit. I saw Elvis in an electric wheelchair, which caught me off guard and I must have looked happily surprised… and then the damn bastard stopped and muttered something about a pic for x dollars. What… I’m going to sit on his lap for a picture? Fuck that and his shitbrand polyester suit.

Paris, too, was gorgeous inside. I’m being redundant. We just walked through without playing anything. Took pictures. Enjoyed the air conditioning before stepping back into the frying pan on the street. Remember those news reports where the reporter would cook an egg on the hood of a car? Yeah. Anything that was spilled on the street here looked like it had been welded to the blacktop.

We walked back to the Flamingo,  passing several half-naked showgirls including two from the Flamingo with a heart-shaped pasty over each nipple and nothing else, and there are adolescent boys and little kids walking by. We ended up having lunch  … as it turned out, at Carlos and Charlies. We shared an enormous plate of nachos and drank margaritas.

Todd played the Game of Thrones slot machine afterward, and hit for $40. Which is when Tara quits playing, but Todd keeps rolling the dice until the money runs out. The difference is, he wins. I rarely do. He says he doesn’t like playing on the Strip, because the machines just don’t pay out. I could be wrong, but if you keep playing you might just lose more???

Later, after resting at the condo, we returned to the Strip to see the Cirque du Soleil show Mystére at Treasure Island. It was phenomenal. I never in my life thought I needed to see one of these shows. I actually had tears in my eyes. I highly recommend seeing one of them. You will not be disappointed. And we had fantastic seats.

We puttered around the casino afterward, thought about buying a Mystére t-shirt for $40 and decided not to. Of all the casinos we visited on this trip, Treasure Island was the most disappointing. It was remarkably small and the machines Did Not Pay Out. At All.

 

 

The Bellagio and Luxor at night

Ended up back at South Point where Todd took to the slots again and I sat at one of the centrally located bars and ordered a margarita and dropped five bucks into the tabletop card game. The bartender called me “Miss” and all was right with the world again.

Miscellaneous:

Cirque du Soleil Mystere If you watch nothing else, skip ahead to 4:42. One of the most breathtaking parts of the show. **I do not own the rights to this video.

The Luxor –  Tupac was staying here when he was shot and killed. Casino appeared in Mars Attacks, Vegas Vacation, and The Hangover. Current shows: Carrot Top and Blue Man Group.

Excalibur – Also featured in Vegas Vacation. Current shows: Thunder Down Under, The Australian Bee Gees, and Tournament of Kings.

Mandalay Bay – Current show: Cirque du Soleil, Michael Jackson: One. (Couldn’t score tickets for this show even a month ahead. For good seats, that is.)

The Flamingo – sits on 40 acres originally purchased for $8.75 an acre by one of Vegas’ first settlers, Charles Squires. Years later the casino was developed and opened by Bugsy Siegel in 1946. Show: Donnie and Marie (soon to be replaced by Paula Abdul in August). Obnoxious salespeople: next to the flamingo habitat.

 

 

 

 

Todd and Tara Take Sin City

This year’s National Bowling Tournament season is in Vegas. I was so excited. Not excited to freeze my ass off at a bowling tournament as a spectator, but because I’ve never been to Nevada and I love adventures. And apparently when you get old there is a crapload of mishaps to make you question your very existence.

The tournament was two days but we decided to stay extra days in a timeshare, at the Grandview of Las Vegas, on the Strip but technically in Henderson, Nevada. We were right next door to the South Point Casino, as in, imagine strolling out your front door and walking across the yard to your neighbor’s house. (Pay attention to this detail – it’s going to matter later on.)

But first, we had to get there…

Our Southwest flight was scheduled for 3:25 p.m. In spite of a very stressful ride down I-95, we made it on time and checked his two bowling bags and one suitcase. We didn’t use the self-tagging system because – we’re old. I always keep my carry-on.* Todd had paid for priority boarding and then we ended up with A60 and B1. I bought a bag of M&Ms and one small package of cheese and pepperoni for $17.

After we all lined up, there was an issue – “a problem with the lavatory.” And then we were getting another plane, at the gate next door – the flight was now departing (over an hour later) at 4:45. And everyone – it was the like the exodus out of Egypt – rushed to the gate. Todd and I got separated. A half hour later we lined up again. THEN… we hate to do this to you, folks….they told us there was an issue with one of the seats and maintenance was called.  The dad in front of us swore audibly and generally looked like he’d rather be anywhere else than here with his wife and two kids. And then someone on line farted the most noxious fart I’ve smelled since that memorable elevator ride with mom-mom.

Finally boarded – separately because … A & B (yes, even if you are last in A and hubs is first in B) – but we didn’t have to share with anyone. We watched Glass on his laptop and then Todd sketched on his iPad Pro (guaranteed to draw attention) and I read my book (draws zero attention). A few more noxious farts followed and, since the aforementioned miserable dad was sitting directly in front of us, I nailed it on him. The rest of the flight was filled with the usual – an onion sandwich, a cologne-soaked flight attendant, occasional wafts of alcohol, and people bumping Todd’s shoulder on the aisle. The flight attendant had lots of questions about the iPad (like I said).

Next up: deplaning, collecting luggage, and catching the shuttle to the car rentals, and I was thinking I had a good sense of where we were going but I quickly learned I was fucking up at every turn so I decided to shut up. It got worse, because I fucked up the timeshare reservation and so at 8:30 p.m. PST I was calling my mother (the owner) to contact RCI to issue a “guest certificate” I never got, at 11:00 p.m. HER TIME. She was not pissed. Todd was. He got 5 minutes alone in the car to “vent” at me and then we decided to walk over to South Point for [free!] drinks while waiting for RCI to fix it. Three beers later and waaaaay past my bedtime, we finally checked into our sweet 12th floor condo around 10.

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See South Point Casino in the background between the two condo buildings.       Copyright Taraka 2019.

Day 1

We both woke up to the sun rising slowly like a sleepy stretch – what do you do when you wake up at 8 but the clock says it’s only 5:00 a.m.? We went in search of coffee and ended up having breakfast, and then drove around until we found the grocery store. LET. ME. TELL. YOU. Anderson’s is the place. The produce department in this store at 6:30 a.m. would put Wegman’s to shame. It was a fucking work of art. It was beautiful.

Henderson is a flat, dusty settlement just outside Vegas city limits, surrounded by mountains – one was snow-capped (for reals). One of the most notable things about Nevada for me (besides hundred-degree weather) was that everything is some shade of brown. The homes are brown. The roofs are brown. The developments are surrounded by high concrete (brown) walls. There’s a stark absence of “green” everywhere but on the strip where small patches of lawn are cultivated by the casinos.

Anyway, we unloaded our groceries at the condo and jumped back in the car to go to the tournament. Todd drove to the convention center, a 20-minute drive down I-15 to the opposite end of the Strip. And there were no signs for the USBC tournament. He called Chris from our team. Are you ready for this? The tournament was at the SOUTH POINT CASINO. Which we could have walked to.

So, in quick summary, I dropped him off at the door and drove the car next door to our condo and then walked over. I waited what seemed like forever for them to come out and get started, while I read my book and journaled in sub-zero temperatures. Soon hunger gripped me and I walked to the end of the lanes where there were beer-soaked hot dogs and margaritas. What could be better?

Todd and the team and I went to one of the casino lounges to wait for brackets results (don’t ask). Todd and Momma B took to the slots while the rest of us had cocktails – I got a PATRON margarita for $4. It took forever which is how I got a really nice buzz going before we all decided to stay and have dinner in the Italian restaurant, Don Vito’s. They had table-side Caesar salads and I was really excited until I saw the waiter dump a bottle of Caesar dressing on the greens in the wooden bowl. The food was good, although I made the mistake of ordering the Penne Bolognese, which is nothing like mine, and it was just okay. (Although it was way better reheated for lunch the next day – probably on account of a hangover.)

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$4 Patron margarita. See the USBC cocktail napkin.

Spent the rest of the night following Todd from slot machine to slot machine and dreaming of the soft bed waiting for me. I just don’t have his stamina. In fact, I can’t match the stamina in ANY of the Sagittarians in my life. (See 6-hour shopping trip with my mother.) They exhaust me.

We had also agreed to maintain the East Coast clock so we’d have less difficulty adjusting at home. Let’s see how long that lasted.

 

Miscellaneous:

My luggage was lost on a flight to Greece when I was eleven (eventually found) and I have been scarred for life. Thank you, TWA.

Body language can be very loud. The above-mentioned dad was standing off and away, nearly with his back to his wife and kids. Like they weren’t traveling together. Mom was handling everything. It made me melancholy and angry, and grateful that this is not my life anymore.

Gas while flying is a thing. Low pressure and a rapid increase in altitude contributes to this. Also, prolonged sitting, drinking carbonated beverages, and eating gas-producing foods (hello, onion sandwich eater). I wish angry-dad had worn charcoal inserts in his underwear (yes, there is) which is supposed to neutralize odors. ~ source, MSN online.

Free drinks at Casinos, while you’re playing. This was going to be a long week.

The sign for USBC was literally 20 feet away from the casino club counter where we got our club cards the night before. Not to mention that the cocktail napkins here have USBC on them.

Quick shout-out to Momma B: She is Chris and Rob’s 70-something-year-old mom. She bowls regularly; she travels to the National tournaments. This year she was in a wheelchair. She gets up to bowl, but otherwise rode in the chair the entire trip. It was awesome. She is sweet, sharp, and funny, has more stamina than me (I’ll have to ask her sign) and she was hitting the slots like a boss. She may have won more than all of us combined.

 

The Long Way to Erie, Part 2

We left Niagara Falls – an oddly quiet and yet noisy town, and drove through the fog toward Buffalo. We took 190 to North Street through a quiet area of historical buildings and more churches in a 3 block radius than I’ve ever seen in my life. North Street took us to the corner of Main, and the infamous birthplace of the original Buffalo chicken wings: The Anchor Bar.

Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY

The Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY Taraka, 2019

That’s right – we went to Buffalo for one thing and one thing only. The Anchor Bar, on approach, looks like a small, old house. Until you drive around to the left, where the entrance is and ample parking. The walls in the bar area are plastered with license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada. I loved the atmosphere – betcha it’s a fun place on the weekends too. We were seated at a small table against the outside wall that felt a bit like we were sitting uphill (old flooring = uneven flooring?) The menu is newspaper-format, with lots of options for stuffing yourself. The waitress was about our age and warm and welcoming.

We ordered the original wings, which are “medium” and absolutely delicious. According to the website, they will ship wings anywhere in the U.S., which sounds like a fantastic idea. I also ordered a Caesar salad, you know, for balance, and it was huge! Definitely big enough to share. SO glad we put this on our itinerary – if you’re a fan of hot wings, you must make the pilgrimage. Or even if you just like checking off bucket list things, like me.

There’s a small gift shop inside and so Todd stopped there while I used the bathroom. He bought a f@#%ing t-shirt, so that ups his collection to 84. But he also bought a bottle of the Buffalo sauce and a pint glass for the bar we don’t have. Woot! And then we were off to Erie.

I booked the Holiday Inn Express because we’ve always had good experiences there. It was right off the highway and, it turned out, was a few miles out from downtown Erie. Todd didn’t exactly complain, but when someone mentions more than four times that it would’ve been nice if we were closer to the bowling alleys….well…I guess I should’ve looked at a map.

We had a room at the end of the hall on the third floor overlooking the highway, and I really tried to hide my hysteria when Todd noted the noise from the trucks going by. I really did. But the room was nice and comfy! And ice cold. I’m assuming they save energy until someone checks in. There’s also an indoor pool which is really quite nice, if you’re not surrounded by thirty kids under 12 who are splashing and screaming like howler monkeys. Too bad I forgot to pack our suits. This time there was a Keurig in the room, so we could use our own coffee in reusable k-cups.

We rested a bit and decided to head out to the Brewerie at Union Station for a bite. Erie’s Union Station opened in 1927 and saw many travelers over the decades that followed, from WWII soldiers to FDR and Harry Truman, to Babe Ruth. There’s some really interesting history there, like underground tunnels, if you visit their website. The restaurant opened in 2006 as part of a revitalization campaign in Downtown Erie.

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The Brewerie at Union Station Taraka, 2019

We sat in a back booth and ordered an Erie Brewery’s Railbender Ale for Todd and the Misery Bay IPA for me. We liked them both so much, we brought three cases home (can’t get it here). We shared pulled pork bbq nachos and fried pierogies – both equally delicious. One can also purchase beer to go – including their own craft beer in crawler or growler size. The Brewerie at Union Station’s own HopMonster IPA is excellent and, sadly, I didn’t get to bring any home and they don’t currently distribute. (Side note if you visit: they are not open Sundays.)

The next day, Saturday, we got up early, visited the complimentary breakfast bar downstairs (why are scrambled eggs on a buffet always watery?) and hit the road to Cleveland. When I told my mom that I was excited to add another state to my list of states I’ve been to, she said flatly, “Ohio looks just like Pennsylvania,” which is kind of a pessimistic thing to say to someone.

In keeping with the ongoing theme of haunting fog, the skyline of Cleveland was shrouded in an eerie haze. The museum was easy to get to, and parking was also remarkably easy, overlooking Lake Erie. We walked the short distance to the museum and were approached directly by a homeless man and “former Vietnam Vet” who wanted us to buy a paper to help him support his wife and kids. Okay, so I felt a combination of annoyance and compassion, since I remember the homeless selling papers on the subway in New York and it was generally accepted as a legitimate occupation. But, as Todd said, we didn’t drive 300 miles to be solicited outside a museum for money. He also called bullshit on the sob story.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, Taraka, 2019

So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t even know where to start. The place was crowded, but nothing like the Majestic Theatre so I didn’t complain. Most of the exhibits were comprised of some iconic article of clothing, and other artifacts. I was completely enthralled by the clothes. It sparked something in me I cannot explain yet. There were art posters from the 60s. Tickets from Woodstock. (My mom and dad had tickets to Woodstock. But they decided at the last minute that this was no place for a two-month old, and so dad gave the tickets away.)

Some of the more memorable things: Jimi Hendrix’s brown suede jacket, Janet Jackson’s jacket from the “Control” video, a hand-painted guitar owned by Springsteen, a pair of Ziggy Stardust suits, one of Michael Jackson’s gloves (I’m not so naive to think that’s the only glove), ZZ Tops’ furry drums, Biggie’s Poppa jersey, and a disturbingly small shirt worn by Keith Richards. There was a disappointingly small case of items from Prince – featuring a set list from the only tour I saw and those lace gloves. And then all of a sudden I was fighting back tears. And of course there was little else, because it wasn’t what he was about.

The way out is through the gift shop, of course, and while there were some cool items there, we weren’t even the least bit tempted by the overpriced kitchsy merch … ie… a Woodstock t-shirt for $59. There was a good deal of vinyl for sale: one album I have owned for over 30 years they were selling for $49.99.

We returned to the hotel for some down time before the tournament, which started at 6 p.m. at a BYOB bowling alley. After, five of us went back to the Brewerie at Union Station for snacks and beer. Chris tried a Clarion River Pineapple Under the Sea, rumored to be very sour, but he said it tasted like pee. I don’t often pass up the opportunity to at least taste a new beer, but … no thanks. I didn’t ask how he knew what pee tasted like.

Sunday morning the previous three days of excitement finally caught up with me, about a half hour into the 8 a.m. tournament. I was finishing up The Night Bird (great thriller – should be a movie) and nodding off. I wandered out to the car, started the engine for a few, and then curled up under a blanket until the sound of car doors and voices woke me. The rain returned as we drove the long way home, making road conditions dicey along with monstrous traffic of no particular origin. 6-1/2 hours to home.

 

From top and left to right: Springsteen’s guitar, Keith Richards’ shirt (compare size to the album), The $59 shirt, Cleveland’s skyline

On the Road Again: The Long Way to Erie

It’s PA State Bowling Tournament season again.  Todd and I took a long weekend, originally planning a side trip to Niagara Falls Canada, but the procrastinators in us didn’t get the passport situation handled so we opted for a 4-day tour through five states instead. Starting with our first stop – New York City. (This girl needed to “go home” for a day.)

We had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera, which I’ve never seen. I haven’t been in the city since I brought Veruca for her birthday six years ago. Todd asked me to drive, since he’s not familiar and/or not comfortable driving in the city. I made him promise me you won’t yell at me while I’m driving. Because truly, driving in Manhattan is not for the weak.

I tried to drive around Washington Square Park, which turned out to be partially blocked due to construction and now all I can think is they better move fast because graduation is coming up soon. In fact, there was construction everywhere in the village, making navigation tricky and frustrating and eventually Todd “gently” mentioned finding a parking garage. Forty five minutes later, as his voice creeped up to an edge where he threatened to get out of the car, I circled the theatre district trying to locate the garage.*

And then we sat there waiting to turn into the garage as 400 people continued to walk directly in front of my car halfway into the turn, without so much as a glance at us. AND THEN two girls stopped, right in front of my car, to take a picture. Todd was beside himself. Some things never change, but I curbed my natural instinct to roll down my window and start screaming.

We had a beautiful day in the city. The weather was perfect. Did some walking, got some pizza before the show. Stood in a monstrously long line at the Majestic, and then stood shoulder to shoulder with a hundred people inside waiting for the doors to our seats to open and I couldn’t help but wonder what the fire code was. A little girl ran in front of me and nearly knocked me down the flight of stairs I was standing on. Her mother grabbed her and… not so much as an apology. And then the two of them were behind us on our way to our seats, mom pushing against us with her bag until she could push past us to go to their seats. Which is when Todd finally snapped.

We had orchestra seats in row E, THIS CLOSE to the stage and it was fantastic. I was amazed by the way the stage and props move, and by how incredibly loud the music was. I’ve been to Broadway shows before but was still in awe of the production. We were also feet away from the closed-captioning/hearing impaired section and I was distracted by the closed-caption screen and the ASL interpreters who were literally acting out the scenes.

Afterward, we went to some non-descript pub for some light fare before hitting the road to Syracuse. I miss the city. I mean, I really miss it. Every time I go back, I tell myself I need to come back more often. For me. Todd, on the other hand, appreciates the city in small doses. It’s too densely populated with people. He’d go nuts here. He asked if I would move back. Most definitely. But I remember how easy it is to get burned out.

So we started on the long journey, but not before yelling at each other over changing “lanes” in the city to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. Todd was yelling at me to get over! And I’m yelling back, I can’t get over if there are cars already there! And don’t yell at me – I know what I’m doing! We had a great time.

I did the drive to Syracuse. It wasn’t planned, but once we were out of the city I just kept driving. It’s a long, lonely road, route 81. The route takes us back down into PA and then up into New York state. Did you know there’s a town in PA called Scotrun? If you glance at it quickly, it looks like scrotum.

Why did we go to Syracuse, you ask? We were there last year (see this post). It seemed a good stopping point from NYC to our eventual destination of Erie, PA. We thought we might make it to Kitty Hoynes – but we did not. We stayed at the Genesee Grand Hotel again, in a king suite which was lovely and cozy – which I only paid $7 and change for thanks to Hotels.com rewards. It’s under new management so no more complimentary coffee in the lobby. (We did attempt the coffeemaker in the room, but those are just terrible.) We ended up at a rest stop for Dunkin coffee a few miles out.

Next stop: Niagara Falls. Todd plugged it into the GPS but spelled it, Niagra – like VIAGRA. I found a single Oliver hair on my hoodie that morning – a hoodie that’s been washed several times since he’s been gone. It made my heart smile.

Niagara Falls was breathtaking. And crowded. It was chilly and overcast, and a little misty. The river is intense. You never think about the body that feeds the falls. I saw a black squirrel! I’ve never seen one before, and there were several, communing with the seagulls (or whatever they are – “rats with wings”). A black lab took off across the grass after a squirrel, and then doubled back to chase a grounded flock of geese. He was running with this big-ass smile only a dog can have, trailing his leash, as the geese took flight. Unbridled joy.

I took a dozen photos of the falls, marveling at the cloudy landscape that was Canada. Another bucket list item checked off.

We walked back to the car and I thanked Todd for bringing me here and for tolerating me lately. He gently stated that he noticed I’ve been edgy and grumpy lately. I told him to buckle up because the ride was just beginning. Welcome to Menopause! I said, I bet you never thought of this when we were 17. And he said, no, I just thought it’d be all sex, all the time.

We talked about bucket lists and doing things we’ve always wanted to do. I mentioned that meme: Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting Holy shit, what a ride! Which reminded Todd of that song from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Death by Misadventure…  face down in some dude’s pool. I prefer the former meme to this possibility.

Next stop: Buffalo.

 

*The Lincoln Tunnel is the way in if you’re going to the theatre district. I prefer the Holland Tunnel. It was always my point of entry, since I lived in the Village. And yes, it’s a thousand miles away from where we needed to park, but I wanted to go through the Village first.

**If you’ve ever driven in the city, you’ll notice that “lanes” are arbitrary.

***You wouldn’t have to pee so bad if you didn’t drink coffee all the way to New York. Just sayin’.

 

Photos copyright Taraka 2019

Cultural Things

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Chinatown Philly 2019

Last week I accompanied Veruca on a class trip to Chinatown (Philly). The Chinese teacher gave the students strict instructions to be respectful, walk no more than two astride, and absolutely “no frog on school bus.” I was given an itinerary with a list of students I was supervising (hey – I did NOT sign up for THAT) and we passed under the Friendship Gate – a beautifully painted arch that marks the entryway into Chinatown.

We split into 3 groups for shopping. The first store had knickknacks, books (particularly one on Chinese medicine, which I would like to explore again), dishes, some Bruce Lee Kung-Fu statues in various stages of combat, and beautiful CHOPSTICKS (which I bought). The second store was a Hello Kitty store – need I say more?

The last was a grocery – boxes of fruit lined up outside and large vinyl refrigerator flaps covering the entryway. I followed V and her friends inside where she snatched up a bag of these candies she’s always swiping from the nail salon. I wandered around, the funky “off” smell burning a hole in my sinuses, looking at the meat cases filled with normal everyday things and then some obscenely long pig legs with hooves still intact. I snapped some pictures of the fish display in the back, which was quite impressive, and no – I am not embarrassed. Someone said the fish area was disturbing but I still don’t know why, unless she was referring to the football-sized bloody fish head, its eyes facing the back wall. I wandered downstairs and bought chili sauce, sesame chili oil, and seaweed wraps.

Afterward, we walked around the block to a very small Asian bakery where we entered in waves. It was hotter than a South Street pizza shop in there, so I bought a butter cream bun and hightailed it back outside. V and friends bought Bubble Tea that resembled a pink smoothie with little black balls floating in the bottom that you’d suck up through the straw. They were oddly, simultaneously slimy and spongy and I was afraid to ask but I did. They’re tapioca balls.

Next stop – the Chinese restaurant that was booked for lunch. I googled this place the night before just to see what it looked like, what the menu was like, etc. and the first thing to come up was a series of Yelp reviews, which everyone knows is just a bitch-board because everyone’s a food critic. HOWEVER. One review pointed out the very real news that this restaurant was responsible for the largest food poisoning incident in recent Philadelphia history. Over 100 people in one day, in 2015. I googled the article and found more – as recent as last summer – meat stored at temps above 50 degrees and black mildew inside an ice machine, just two of TWENTY health code violations in a single visit. Who’s hungry now?

So we sit down. All I can think of is – what is the safest thing to eat that is least likely to lead to explosive diarrhea and vomiting? And – I’ll have water – NO ICE – thank you.

Anyway. The dishes were served family style – pork fried rice, lo mein, some sort of red meat on a stick (that V said was raw in the middle – I didn’t eat it), sweet and sour chicken, General Tso chicken with broccoli, orange wedges and fortune cookies. The two chicken dishes were good. Everything else? Nothing to blog about. Even my fortune – he who is shipwrecked the second time cannot lay blame on Neptune – what the heck am I supposed to take away from this? I’m safe to eat here this time, but don’t come back? Or perhaps a deeper message about watching for my ex’s other shoe?

I will say this – that peculiar smell from the grocery store followed me around the block and into the restaurant. It was also in the underground grocery we went to after lunch. In retrospect, although it isn’t a smell you want to encounter in a food establishment, it is a smell often encountered in city back streets that smell like wet garbage and rotting food.

The underground grocery is quite well-known but could easily be missed because it’s through a set of dirty glass doors and down a flight of gray concrete steps with fluorescent lighting reminiscent of old subway stairwells. There are live crabs and jellyfish, and FROGS in a Rubbermaid tote (presumably where last year’s student bought the live frog), and purple (black) packaged chickens that drew everyone’s attention. (They are Silkies, according to my birding friend Dave.) The kids bought a shit-ton of candy and I bought a 5lb bag of sushi rice.

In all, we had beautiful weather and no one got sick. I watched the folks who live and work in Chinatown, the tourists popping in and out of the stores, the men seated in the back of the bakery, looking like Asian Goodfellas and speaking in the hushed tones of their native language, and the boys in Veruca’s class all wearing those ridiculous Chinese straw hats (that screamed, tourist!) looking like they were headed to the rice fields. The boys – all of 13 or 14 years old and varying degrees of tall and short – the tallest boy seated at our table muttering about propaganda on the television and the shortest boy giggling like a chimpanzee.

*****

***Trigger Warning: The following is NOT kosher but (I think) hilariously funny, and may also be offensive to those without a sense of humor.

Friday night was Seder. Todd and I drove down to Baltimore to his parents’ house. Just a couple of their friends, Aunt Marilyn and cousin, Michael. We went through the motions like a drive-thru version of Passover, and got to the eating. Someone started talking about pigs feet and Michael said the hind legs aren’t kosher. But the front legs are, because they’re split-hooved.

I leaned over and said to Todd, I bet all the pigs in Israel only have back legs. Father-in-law’s shoulders started shaking, and then Michael said, they have to put them in those little carts so they can get around. Which in turn made me burst into red-faced laughter. But he wasn’t done. Because he said, but then they’d get stuck in the mud… so they have to put them in all-terrain vehicles, and I had an instant picture of those big all-terrain tires they put on monster trucks, which is where Michael was going and now there are tears running out of my eyes. Aunt Marilyn and I are falling into each other and the whole thing was monstrously inappropriate but we’re a fun family and if you’re offended you don’t have to join us for dinner next time. Oh – and YES – I KNOW that Orthodox Jews don’t eat pork.

 

I Bought An Indoor Plant & Life Goes On

I did. I haven’t had a true indoor plant since I killed the last one in over 7 years. I say “true” because I do occasionally keep a basil plant inside, until summer, unless it dies before I can move it outside. I have one presently, and it’s still alive so – so far so good. I also currently have the rosemary plant that I brought in for the winter, but those things have to be supernatural because I had a rosemary plant years ago that I left outside all year long; it turned brown and dry – all the symptoms of a dead plant – and then bounced back like it had nine lives.

Anyway. It’s a palm. I saw it and thought – yes! We need plants in the house. I won’t say why we haven’t had them for so long, but it’s not just because I’m a serial plant killer. Veruca saw it and exclaimed, wow! Because it’s way bigger than it looked at the store. And then she said in all seriousness, don’t kill it, mom. And then she said she can’t wait until it drops coconuts. It’s not that kind of palm, but she wasn’t hearing it. Kind of like when she says she’s Chinese even though it’s plainly obvious she has not one percent of Asian in her.

I’m trying to find the emotional balance again. The grief hits me from time to time, when the thought drops like an empty bomb, clearing the hollow of my stomach and reminding me of his absence, and that it is permanent. The stages of grief always catch me by surprise, you know? Like they talk about the stages and it’s like yeah, yeah, that’s what they say. But it’s real. I found myself feeling something other than sadness when I saw others’ posts of their cats. WHY OLIVER?

Anyway, I am busying myself with completing the tasks of tidying, a la Marie Kondo. I have packed up 12 boxes of miscellania and 7 bags of clothing to be donated to Purple Heart. I organized the junk drawer, and the kitchen cabinets are shaping up slowly. No – I’m not following her program to a “t.” But I’m getting the job done and it’s bringing joy.  I folded my clothes Kondo-style and my drawers look like a work of art and I can’t stop opening and closing them. I did Todd’s too – would you believe he owns 78 t-shirts? SEVENTY EIGHT. I told him no one can use that many t-shirts. And this was after we purged some. And then went out shopping and doesn’t he buy 3 more? So that ups the count to 81. (And no – I did NOT buy him a t-shirt at Opac’s college a few weeks ago. Sue me.)

Anyway, emotional balance. I go to work and it’s pleasant and we laugh a lot (well, except for the absurd. More on that later).  At home, this perimenopause business makes me edgy and impatient. It’s probably partly because we have a canine houseguest, and he’s big and hairy and licks his paws. A few people know this makes me absolutely nuts. There’s hair everywhere, something I am not fond of and one reason why poodles are perfect. It’s no secret I have a threshold for tolerance when it comes to changes in the household dynamic.

Other things that make me stabby: slow internet connection, parents who think the student drop-off rules don’t apply to them, really – anyone who thinks the rules don’t apply to them, someone throwing a cigarette out their car window at the grocery store, and everyone who continually undermines my Kondo house. On a larger scale, the horrific lack of justice in the world and the fact that it’s not illegal for evil people to reproduce.

So I’m focusing on my own habits and making healthy changes. I’m back on the self-imposed wagon again, and truth be told: your body will tell you what you need and what you don’t, IF you pay attention. I have a story about that too, for another day.

I have breakfast quinoa simmering on the stove this morning. I made $80 hummus yesterday. It’s $80 because we had to buy a food processor on Sunday (old one crapped out months ago). I started a new 21-day exercise program because I am almost-50-going-on-25 in my head and my body is all like, hey, feel this.  I took a bikini pic yesterday and recorded my weight and intentions in my journal. It’s only 3 weeks. I can do this.

V is running a 5k in a few weeks, and I was aiming to run it with her. Or, rather, at the same time – since she doesn’t think we can keep the same pace. And she’s right. At this point I am not ruling it out, but I’m also not very optimistic about my knees holding up.

In spite of all the dumbfuckery of the present day, Todd and I have confirmed plans for New York and Phantom of the Opera, another trip to Erie for the State Bowling Tournament, and Vegas over the summer, coinciding with the National Bowling Tournament – because, apparently, very little happens without bowling balls. And, to that end, let me say now that also apparently – in case you didn’t know – all balls are not created equal. This was born of a conversation with Todd about how many balls he needs for the tournament, and the answer is four. He needs four balls. Seriously. Because all balls are not created equal. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The Absurd (as promised)

*These can also be classified under the “what not to do” tab.

People going through divorce are not normal. (I can say this because I was once one of them and fully understand the crazy.) Sometimes mothers call up tearfully sharing their shitstorm. Others, like the one a couple of weeks ago, forget their manners when they come into the office and turn on us – like, “why don’t you use your knowledge and figure it out?” while attempting to get her child an appointment for “she-doesn’t’-know-what.” (Oh yes, she did.) *For the record, she later called and apologized.

There are also – and this is a fun one – a handful of acrimonious parents who spend their time transferring their kids to other practices, while the other parent is trying to keep them in our office.

What not to do: do not involve us in your custody disputes. Unless there are court documents on file, there is nothing we can do.

Patients in the 16-17 range who arrive for appointments alone. FYI: children under 18 need a parent with them, or at the very least, parental consent to be there alone, and not all offices will even allow that. This situation requires us to call parent and get a verbal, taking up valuable time for other things and not to mention the amount of time said patient is with the provider.                                                                                                           

What not to do: Do not send your minor child to the doctor’s office alone.   I’m all for leading them down the path of adult responsibility, but at least accompany them for it.

And now, my personal favorite:

Parent who calls our office for an appointment Today. Today translates as a “sick” appointment. Child has not been seen in our office. I ask if we have records (this is a requirement to schedule any kind of appointment, as well as what insurance they have and whether or not they have to choose a PCP, which is a whole other story for another time), which is when I find out that child is a patient of another office in our network. I mention this to the parent, as well as the fact that I can see he is scheduled for a well appointment there in less than two weeks (which is going to matter A LOT as the conversation continues).

It is the parent’s responsibility to call the other office and cancel that appointment and inform them they’d like to transfer to our office.* The other office doesn’t “give good service.” I say I’m sorry that he had this experience, but reiterated what I said above. He was surprisingly NOT HAPPY with my response. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t go to any location in the network whenever he wanted; I explained that while we are all connected, we operate as separate offices. That’s when he said this was “like a scene from a socialist movie,” and I have a limited knowledge of political ideologies but I think he might have gotten this one wrong?

*Turns out he wanted a Well appointment not a sick appointment. Currently, well appointments are out at least 3 months, which is why it makes more sense for him to keep the one he already has. It also turns out that the other office doesn’t give good service because he wanted one sooner than that two-week one he already had.

What not to do: Oh my, where to start? Expecting the rules to be changed for you? (see my earlier stabby-trigger) Being rude? 

 

Coping With Loss

I’ve not been eager to write. The month of March has passed very quickly, yet [mostly] uneventfully save for the one thing I never thought I’d have to face.

And here’s where I am going to quite possibly write the shortest blog post I’ve ever written.

Friday, March 15th I had to put Oliver to sleep. Oliver was our stray, who turned up on my doorstep almost 8 years ago in a neighborhood full of strays, yet he belonged to none of the ferals we TNR’d and kept fed on our property. He was a tiny little orange kitten and he decided he was ours.

Over the years I’ve shared pictures of him and stories, videos of him “dancing” with Veruca. He was the first pet that was really mine in, maybe, ever. I worried incessantly over him, like I would my children. Worried he’d get outside, and get lost – or beat up by the strays outside where we now live.

Everyone who met him, loved him. He was beautiful, sweet, remarkably tolerant, and – big. He used to curl up next to me on the couch, half his body on my lap sometimes. He also loved Todd. He often curled up next to him instead of me, and I used to joke that he loved Todd more.

At 5:30 a.m. on March 15th, he woke me up howling. He was lying on the floor in the hallway outside our door, which was ajar. He couldn’t use his hind legs. He was vomiting and panting and howling.

Saddle thrombus is a life-threatening medical emergency. A blood clot that has formed in the heart breaks free and travels down the aorta where it lodges in the “saddle,” the point where the aorta splits into two arteries that supply oxygen and blood to the hind legs. This is where Oliver’s was, and why he lost control of both hind legs. I lifted his leg up and it just fell back down with no resistance. The pads of his feet were ice cold.

It’s also known as feline aortic thromboembolism (acronym, ironically – FATE) and is extremely painful. It’s often the first and only sign of heart disease in cats. The emergency vet told me that when they see cats in their facility, it is commonly saddle thrombus.

And sadly, no cure. Blood thinners can be used to try to break up the clot, but meanwhile your cat has no use of his legs and must be on pain medication to manage his pain. This equals long-term nursing care until he “might” regain use of his legs, and a recurrence of saddle thrombus is highly likely, leaving those who love him with the unthinkable decision to face.

The suddenness of this condition is what makes the shock all the more painful. He was not quite eight years old. He was perfectly normal the night before. I never saw this coming. I thought we had years and years left with him, chewing on my plants and sleeping in our laundry baskets full of clean clothes, sitting at the kitchen counter by the computer waiting for us to turn on his video game, and standing by the treat cabinet waiting for his handout.

My heart is broken.

 

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What Silverfox Calls a Clusterf*ck

The day after my bilateral nerve blocks, we had our “snow event.” We were extremely low on propane and the guy couldn’t get the gate open the week before. He was scheduled to come out again so I was watching for him. Todd had fixed the gate and closed it again even though I told him to just leave it propped open so there’d be NO problem.

Well, propane man couldn’t open the gate again because the bottom part was somehow stuck on the outside of the fence. I have no idea WTF happened or how, but I trudged out there with a screwdriver, in the falling snow, slipped and damn-near fell on my ass (already tender from the day before) and unscrewed the plate that holds the door in place at the bottom so it could be opened, all the while cursing the gods and my dear husband the fix-it man who couldn’t just leave well enough alone until after the propane was delivered. (And yes, we have a drill – but God only knows where Todd left it.)

Todd was at a conference in Long Beach, so I roused Opac from his bed midway through the day and told him to start clearing the driveway. So he goes out and fires up the snow blower and gets to work. I sent V out to shovel. It must be noted: there was barely a complaint from either of them all day. I looked out the window at one point and the two shovels were lying on the driveway and no one to be seen anywhere.

Suddenly the two of them came thundering across the back deck… engaged in a wicked snowball fight and both of them soaking wet. Stop the press! They were having fun with each other. I made them hot chocolate and fed them French toast for dinner.

Friday night Opac had friends over and I drove Veruca to her dad’s. When I got home I changed out of my work clothes and decided to take a shower. Our master bath has a [somewhat opaque] glass door that opens out to the deck, which is on the second story. This sounds weird but it’s in a corner and so – private. But it overlooks the side yard and that gate I mentioned above. I was toweling off when I saw a shadow on the fence below – I assumed to be O and his friends. I walked closer to the door, pulled the curtain aside and looked out. That’s when I saw him.

There was a man bent over, creeping up to the door. My first reaction was – Ted! What the fuck! So I banged on the glass and he started to back away. I rushed out of my bedroom and yelled for Opac, who came running from downstairs with all three friends behind him like a herd of elephants. They ran out through the living room sliders and Ted came out of the garage apartment wondering what all the commotion was about.

So. It wasn’t Ted. Some creeper lurking in our backyard, who had been in our detached garage out back. Ted found the garage door half open and tools spread around the table saw. But what’s really alarming is that this person had the balls to cross the yard where he could clearly see O and his friends through the sliders to the family room, creep up the adjacent stairs to do what? Look in my windows? I still don’t know why I’m not having a nervous breakdown.

(Yes, I called the police. Yes, we have taken further measures to protect ourselves and our property.)

The neurotomy went well. It was very nearly painless, though there were a few moments where I think I stopped breathing. When it was over and he asked me if I was doing okay, I told him I was very disappointed because he promised me bacon and I didn’t smell any bacon.

The next day I returned my car to the dealer. While they had the car for two weeks, they were supposed to address a number of issues – most importantly, the grinding, humming noise coming from the front driver’s side wheel. Well. They fixed the anti-freeze leak, replaced some thingy that prevents oil from leaking, and replaced a broken splash plate they said was causing the rattling we hear on the passenger side. Never addressed the most important part we brought it in for.

They gave me a loaner – guess what? The same fucking Taurus, which Veruca had nicknamed “Rosa.” When I picked her up at the bus stop that day, she laughed her little ass off. By the weekend, they said they had fixed the car and so Todd and I drove down Saturday morning. I forget what it was they fixed, but it had something to do with the axle or whatever – I don’t know, I’m not a mechanic.

So we drove to the Costco next door – and once we left there and got the car up to 50 mph, there was the grinding noise at the left front wheel and rattling in the passenger door. BACK to the dealer and oh! your loaner is still parked outside and I’m STILL driving Rosa. Long story short – Todd spoke to the manager yesterday who said the mechanic drove it and didn’t hear anything. I cannot tell you how angry I am. This whole time I think no one ever actually drove the car. Now this mechanic is either not the brightest crayon in the box, or he’s deaf, or needs a new career.

My car has literally been in the dealership for a month, and they can’t diagnose the problem. We’ve had the car for two years. I know what’s next, and I’m ready. I’ve had enough. And, (V says not to say it in front of her), I’m sick of driving Rosa.

V and I went to the high school information night, which was a total waste of time for me since I’ve already done this with #1 and V didn’t get to tour the school anyway. But she did get to meet her Chinese teacher for next year and the night was probably more for the kids anyway. I personally didn’t need to hear all the statistics on retention and attendance. It reminded me of the days in PA schools where we parents sat and listened to the principal preach about the legal ramifications of truancy. Every principal has their “campaign promise.”

Opac has officially confirmed his acceptance. The check was sent and we’re going up soon to visit again. I am cautiously optimistic since he still needs to secure a student loan for the difference that he will owe, and I don’t earn enough to co-sign. His dad does, but he had previously suggested that he couldn’t co-sign either. I don’t know where that’s going, but suffice it to say that nothing is ever not difficult with him, when he chooses to make an issue out of something. We had an issue a few weeks ago that had absolutely nothing to do with me and he turned on me like a rattlesnake, and I – like the fool I am – was actually blindsided by the degree of ugliness he can hurl at me.

Meanwhile…Eighty days to 50. And the dog and cat have taken their relationship to the next level.

Always Welcome in Any Gathering

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So the bowling fundraiser thing was last weekend and Todd went to represent the college, bringing along Jonathan (for fun), Eddie (who he bowls with regularly), and Bill (who he used to bowl with). There was an endless of buffet of food – ALL of it was fried food which, if you bowl regularly, you know you shouldn’t eat because all that salt makes your fingers swell. But I ate it, because – onion rings and mozzarella sticks and beer. Paid dearly for it later. It really sucks not being 22 anymore. Sometimes.

So we’re waiting to get started and Bill arrives. He and Todd have known each other for decades, used to bowl together. Bill is 85. He was thrilled to pieces to see me… exclaiming, “it’s the sausage lover,” and Jonathan looked at me and I looked at him like, what the fuck did he just say? I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering what the hell he meant by that. He said something later about my sausage dip (from a party a couple years back) and then changed the subject to my hot stepmom.

Bill is an interesting guy. He sat down with me between turns to chat about life, Todd, that party we had where he thought he was going to score a dinner date with my stepmom until she told him she was married, how my mom was doing, and “Uncle Harry.” He was pretty vocal about Todd’s health, yelling about him getting a colonoscopy because apparently that’s what we old folks do now – talk about health screenings and extreme invasions of personal space.

He told me to kick him in the arse about getting healthy – which, if you know Todd, is about as successful as bathing a cat. And then he went on about his days in the Navy and how he knew Harry Truman and called him Uncle Harry. I really wanted to hear more about this, but – the lanes were calling. Meanwhile, Jonathan texted me a meme of a man licking his bowling ball. I love him. He gets me.

There were raffle tickets for door prizes and by the end Jonathan had cleared off our table and threw the tickets away, not realizing they were still calling numbers. And he did it – he went over to the trash can and went digging for the tickets and I took a picture because some things just must be documented for my amusement.

Eddie, meanwhile, hung back like he always does, a quiet observer and serious bowler, every so often showing me memes on his phone. If he gets me, he never lets on. He tolerates my relentless innuendos with quiet bursts of laughter, so I never really know if he’s shocked or not but I refuse to give up. Which brings me to a story.

About a year ago, Todd and Eddie and Tish were laughing about Eddie’s stats: he kept rolling sixes and nines and so the three of them made some innuendos about it and they were all cracking up. Eddie walked up to where I was sitting and told me about it. I looked at him puzzled and innocently said, I don’t get it. He said, “sixes and nines, …..you know, SIXTY NINE.” I said, sixty-nine? okaaayyy… why is that funny? I don’t get it. He stared at me and emphasized sixty-nine again, and then again, and waited for me to get it. I just stared blankly back at him like I had no idea what he was talking about. He went back to the group and told Todd, “she doesn’t know what 69 means.” Todd said, “she does… she just doesn’t want to do it.” Tish nearly fell over and they all looked back at me and I just sat there grinning like the cat that got the canary. Eddie knew he’d been fooled. This is what I do for fun at bowling.

Meanwhile, I had the EMG which is relatively unchanged in 5 years… which is good although somewhat disappointing in that I have the numbness in my hands which is frustrating and uncomfortable but apparently not even in the “moderate” range where surgical release is an option.

Yesterday I had my second test round of nerve block injections, this time bilaterally. My doctor is this cool, self-described “crazy Japanese guy with a needle,” who plays Hawaiian music in the operative room and praised me for my sense of humor over this whole thing. But that was before he told me that if I smell bacon during the neurotomy next week, not to worry – that’s just my flesh burning. I can tell you today that “some” pain is gone but my back is hurting and right now I’m feeling a bit concerned. I felt great when I left the surgi-center, but hours later after icing periodically, my lower back was hurting like a bitch. I was hopeful that it was just temporary and that today I’d wake up differently, and I did, but now that I’m sitting in a chair my back pain is heating up again and my right leg is achy. I have a script for more Flector patches that most likely insurance does not cover and are ridonculously (borrowing a favorite expression from my friend Jason) expensive. Shouldn’t I NOT be feeling this?

Maybe I shouldn’t have been driving around for 3 hours last night? I don’t know. I finally got to pick up my car from the dealership. They’ve had it for 18 days. I don’t want to talk about all the problems it has had. It’s been ongoing for the two years we’ve had it, and I think it should’ve been replaced but here we are. Nevertheless, today we’re getting 3-5 inches of snow and other icy crap over the next several hours, and I thought it prudent to get it right away. Veruca rode along and we picked up sushi and Chinese food from my favorite place, which meant that it was a nearly 3 hour round-trip excursion. BUT – my car is home. I’m not driving a dad-car* anymore and I’m soooo happy! I beeped the horn when I pulled in the driveway.

We feasted on sesame chicken, moo shu vegetables, sweet and sour chicken, wonton soup, spicy tuna roll, Philadelphia roll, and shrimp tempura roll. This is the second time I’ve watched Opac – the finickiest of finicky eaters – gobble up sushi like candy. I know I’ve said it before… who IS this kid? Meanwhile, V – my adventurous foodie – only tasted the shrimp tempura roll. She doesn’t like sushi, really, though she does like my homemade veggie nori rolls (and so does O, for that matter). She shares my love of clams, but I do not share her love of mussels. Weird kids.

More updates tomorrow.

 

Miscellaneous:

The “dad-car” was a Ford Taurus, which I didn’t even know they made anymore. We were supposed to get a rental, and I texted Todd to get a Mustang. Instead, apparently beggars can’t be choosers or they just wanted to get the ornery customer with “the car that’s seen the inside of garage more times than all of our Fords combined” out of their service department as fast as possible, so we got the demo. It was a base model and spoiled me had to suffer without remote start, heated seats, and no Sirius XM for over two weeks. If you like big boat cars and FM radio with a smooth ride and room for 20 grandkids, this is right up your alley.

The only good part was I rediscovered regular radio, including some county station where I heard Blake Shelton’s Boys Round Here and, heaven help me, I rushed home to play it for my son, who loved it and has added it to his rotating playlist with Pickup Man and some other song about Honky Tonks.

I could tell Todd until I’m blue in the face about the healthy changes “we” need to make and, depending on his mood, the answer is either, yeah, I know or, but I don’t eat that bad. Case in point, Sunday morning I came out of the bedroom for coffee and found him elbow deep in the potato chip bag. He was just having one chip.

More advice from the pediatrics trenches: when you take your child to urgent care or the ER, they will always tell you to follow up with your pediatrician. This does NOT mean you have to have an appointment to follow up. However, DO call. The nurse can ask and answer questions and concerns and reassure you, and let you know when it might be necessary to return.