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

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

Valentine’s Day and 100 Days to Go

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I read an article about all the things you should and shouldn’t do when you’re over 40. Exercise every day, but not too much. Don’t eat the junk food that sustained you in your 20s. Your body doesn’t like it. Don’t drink too much. Apparently your body doesn’t like that either. Make sure you get enough rest, but not too much. Don’t stare at your cell phone before bed… it affects melatonin. Sex is important. Spend time with your friends. But not while having sex. Well, unless that’s how you roll, but that’s none of my business.

Let’s see how we’re doing so far in 2019: Um, 1) not so good 2) reasonable food choices 3) failed 4) mostly 5) failed 6) none of your business and 7) yes. I can’t speak for Todd.

The T ~n~ T house hosted two parties the last weekend in January. The first was Opac’s… a crowd of about 17 downstairs playing pool, poker, and darts, and standing around the firepit outside. I stayed upstairs in the living room, stone cold sober, and watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey because I’m a classy bitch. Todd left the house for his usual bowling night. I finally broke out the wine around 11:30 as most of them were dispersing.

The following night was our quarterly poker party that in its infancy began as a group of about 6 guys, with beer and brats, pulled pork, and buffalo chicken dip. It has grown to a mixed crowd of about 22 including spouses and children, only a handful in the poker game and the rest playing pool and darts. Because I grew up “in the business,” I put out a spread I slaved and worried over all day and felt was adequate, and then was surprised that anyone was impressed.

Side note: Cards Against Humanity – Funniest. Game. Ever. Make sure you are properly sauced and have emptied your bladder. This is not for the faint of heart and definitely NOT for children. Shout out to Jonathan for knowing exactly how to entertain me.

Got my first round of injections in my L4-5 and L5-S1 which, I later learned, was a “test run.” WTF?? I woke up 5 days after with pain topping a seven, and Todd said, oh yeah, it’s been five days, right? That’s good – that means it worked. And I said, what do you MEAN, “it worked?” I repeat, W.T.F.

I’m going back next week to repeat it bilaterally, and then the week after to burn the nerves. Injections in the spine must be horrible, you say? Not so much. No one is more surprised than I am, that I have willingly submitted myself for injections ANYWHERE. No one likes needles, but when I was young I took it to a new level.

I’ve stopped wearing heeled shoes/boots. I’ve been wearing flat shoes or sneakers in an effort to curb some of the more intense pain. This new development for me is temporary, I assure you. My love affair with a chunky heel will not be curbed by back pain, numb toes, or my husband’s height.

Social life continues. Todd overbooked us last weekend and I spent the better part of Friday at work trying not to resent him focus on the lack of rest I was staring down over the next two days.

Friday night is always bowling night. It depends on my work schedule and my level of fatigue, whether I go with him. Last week I did. Friday morning he had “reminded” me of the tournament Saturday night that he’d never told me about. Saturday afternoon was a long-planned meetup with friends in Federal Hill to watch the Bayern soccer game. Which was great. We ate Schnitzel fingers and drank Stiegl Grapefruit Radler (light, refreshing, 2% alcohol).

We came home and rested a whole twenty minutes before we had to leave to meet friends for dinner an hour and a half away, before the tournament. Which, by the way, is roughly an hour and 45 minutes from home. The tournament is held in a firehouse bowling alley that has to be the only place north of Alabama that still allows smoking in the bar. But the drinks are cheap and the bartenders friendly. I was everybody’s drink bitch, since I was only spectating. We got home sometime around 12:30 a.m.

Sunday was a Dean-and-Mrs day; the college had an afternoon of music and fine arts presented by the faculty in Todd’s division. The music was great, but I was thoroughly distracted by the musicians’ shoes. Have you ever looked at musicians’ shoes? This led me down the rabbit hole of my thoughts until I was snapped out of my reverie by a lingering, and particularly foul, fart. What is WRONG with people?

Another weekend is approaching and there is a fundraiser that involves bowling and so here we go again. Somehow bowling has become my life and I don’t even bowl. Years ago I tried to make it fun, hanging out with the other bowlers and drinking, and cheering when they’d strike, which apparently is not something you do so I’ve learned to curb my enthusiasm and just stick to drinking.

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Meanwhile, today – 100 days before my 50th birthday – is Valentine’s Day. Veruca was buzzing last night with the glow only a 13-year-old can have… hoping her crush would finally ask her out today. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d bet my life he isn’t going to be thinking, it’s Valentine’s Day, I think I finally have the balls to ask her out.

Back in school I remember Valentine’s Day carnations… white, pink, or red… available to buy and send to whoever you wanted… and the hoping against hope that you’d get one. And I’m not talking about Todd. Valentine’s 1986 – I filled his VW bug with balloons that blew all over the school parking lot when he opened the door. I gave him cards. He gave me cards, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a tiny bottle of his cologne, and a pink gold heart necklace. I tried to give him something else but – relax Dad – he didn’t take it.

I’m refocusing my energies on goals in the coming year. Not the least of which is writing that damn novel. There – I said it. Accountability is a thing, right?

 

Miscellaneous:

There is no vaccine for the stomach virus. (Oh yes, they did.)

If you’ve ever wondered if your hippie parents still smoke grass, the answer is yes. Also, if you walk into their house at the right moment, expect to be accosted with pleas to “just smell” this peanut butter cracker.

Leopards don’t change their spots. Shame on you for believing those days might finally be over. (Those unfamiliar: I’ll elaborate in another post, once I recover from the whiplash.)

 

 

 

Joy Among the Chaos

I remember sitting in Chemistry class, at my desk by the windows overlooking the courtyard, and I could see the reflection of the trees on the surface of my ring. And then a squirrel would catch my attention, and Mr. Garman would snap me out of my reverie to ask me what was so fascinating outside. He then regaled the class with his squirrel pot pie recipe.

This is how my mind works most days. I start with one idea and something (squirrel!) distracts me. I’m so busy right now that it’s difficult to imagine how I sleep at night when there are still too many tabs open in the brain. I worry about the things I’ve forgotten.

Busy weekend last weekend that included a funeral an hour away at a Baptist church where I burst into tears at the sight of the open casket, and the family entered the sanctuary wailing. The music was uplifting, but the preacher screamed at us through a microphone that left my ears ringing, sermonizing the path to heaven and leaving out any prayers for the deceased. I am certain he saw me wincing at him every time he looked my way. But really. I’m hard of hearing folks, and MY ears were bleeding.

So on the ride home I posted a quote: that we should love the people that God gave us, because one day He will want them back. I got an IM from a friend who wanted to know if I posted it “because of Pittsburgh,” and my reply was like, What? And that’s how we heard that news. And then five minutes after we got home, Todd got a text that a former colleague had passed from his battle with cancer.

I snapped into auto-pilot at that point, and the next 36 hours were filled with company and celebrating Opac’s birthday, several trips to the grocery store, some tomfoolery, and more stress.

This past week was filled with work, a typical Monday from hell, trying not to drown in the pool of work that has to get done between 68 phone calls and an endless stream of patients and parents who need school letters and eleventh-hour PIAA forms (state sports forms), kids who have to have their driver’s permit form signed today, small children running circles on top of the waiting room chairs, referral requests missing diagnosis and procedure codes, people trying to get sick appointments today who aren’t our patients, and one IRATE dad who wanted to know who does the research on these HPV vaccines that we’re pushing and did I know how dangerous this vaccine is??? Some days it really is a blessing to NOT be clinical. Sorry, I can have a nurse call you.

After work, home to make dinner and then go to PT, which I really don’t want to do because it’s painful and I just really don’t want to. Home by 8. Fall asleep on the couch before 10. Up again the next morning, off to work the long day. Home by 6:30. Try to make the kids eat something, but they mostly handled it themselves before I got home.

Wednesday. Halloween. Annual doctor’s appointment and mammogram, an hour and half away, because I happen to love my doctor and as long as there are no health issues I’ll keep going. It was also Senior Skip Day, so Opac took advantage and jumped at the chance to be my chauffeur. I wore my Star Trek blue doctor’s dress. He drove like a boss on three major highways of my youth; struggled a bit on a very short merge on one of them that’s also under construction, and some asshole in a big white Audi behind us laid on his horn for a full minute. Wish I had a sign with me that I could hold up for times like these.

We drove through the King of Prussia mall complex which has evolved into an unrecognizable mass of multi-level garages. I was all – wow – and, wow – and O was like, Mom! Help me get the hell out of here. Because he swears like his momma and he was so not impressed.

Anyway, the appointment went quick and, as he was armed with a brand new Five Guys gift card from my mom for his birthday, I suggested we go to another mall a little closer to home where I KNOW where the Five Guys is and I can also get a salad. We popped into the Spirit Halloween store there for a last minute mask – surprise, he likes Deadpool. But not before Don-ning a rubber Trump mask (see what I did there?) just so I could say, Hell. No.

It was a great day that was totally unexpected. He drove a total of 3-1/2 hours round trip, and after we got home I went to PT. I finished my DIY floating Harry Potter candles because I love to put extra pressure on myself, and Veruca hung them on the tree out front. We lit up the firepit in the front yard and my neighbor came down to hang with us and hand out candy. This year was unseasonably warm and probably has nothing to do with the fact that we had less than 10 kids come. Last year there were at least two dozen kids at my door. It was nonstop, which is why I thought a firepit would be better than opening and closing my front door seventeen hundred times.

Thursday morning I took V for her blood tests at the hospital where they are repaving the lot and so we had to walk across the sticky freshly laid side and it was just generally a clusterfuck because everyone else coming and going had no idea where to go either. I dropped her at school and had two conversations there before excusing myself to go to the bank. Then went to the EZ Pass administration because my transmitter wasn’t working. By this time I was like, hell no, I am NOT going to one.more.place. today. So I called in sick to PT and I’d like to say I’m sorry but I’m not. I needed to go home and rest. Because O’s last drive time was that evening at 5:30. I was already toast.

So today I woke up with a nasty sinus headache and decided to skip the college tour. A) because I know he’s not going to go there, B) because he’s not going to go there.

Todd and I went shopping for clothes where there was a ridiculous sale going on and people everywhere. He found some sweaters and more dress shirts and insisted he needed ties to match the one shirt, and I insisted that I could find him a tie to match it in his closet right now. This went on for a bit before I decided I needed a bathroom break, so I boarded the escalator to the second floor. I wandered around looking for it, noting the candy counter and all the displays of holiday gift crap (because Halloween is over and Christmas shopping has commenced), and the lone salesman in the furniture department standing sentinel at the convergence of three aisles.

I came out of the restroom and squirrel! A display of serving pieces and Christmas decorations and ornaments and I got lost looking at everything before remembering I had a husband downstairs. I walked down the down-escalator which wasn’t moving. Found Todd and told him I needed to get that other hateful job known as bra shopping done, and he disappeared into the shoe department where the sale was buy one pair, get second pair for $1.99. What in the actual f—? The place looked like a going out of business sale.

By the time I was done he’d gone upstairs on the elevator, because you can’t take carts on the escalator, DUH. He was busy shopping in tabletop and I found him next to a display of ceramic owl canisters, and so we now have an owl canister and four owl mugs. And I got my Lennox ornaments too, but not before backing directly into a display in the middle of the aisle and all I could think of was thank God I didn’t back into it full force, or I’d have toppled a thousand dollars’ worth of Yankee candles.

Todd wisely took over the cart and I warned him to stay away from the furniture department because – I shit you not – the same guy was still in the exact same spot, and nobody was buying furniture when they could get crocs for $1.99. By now the down escalator was completely blocked off while one man worked to repair it, and all I could think was, Why NOW? It’s 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon and there are 300 people in this store and some of them are trying to get downstairs and there’s ONE ELEVATOR. And a line twelve people long. Not very good planning folks.

I will take my leave here – with me coming home to find my dog’s ass covered in shit and guess who got to wash it off? Because there will never be enough shit.

I’m Okay, But I’m Not

At 12 weeks post-op, I was back to normal. I was feeling great.

There’s been a lot going on in our lives lately. A lot. I’m now officially working more hours and I’m grateful. Work is where I can be normal, and not think about my personal life. I’m making more money and I’m grateful for that too. The kids are busy and back in school. Opac is a senior now, and has this thing called senior option where he goes in late some days and leaves early on others. He still doesn’t have his license, but we’re one behind-the-wheel lesson away from being allowed to take the driver’s exam.

I’ve been working on letting him go in the ways a normal parent would. Like going with friends to places and trying really hard not to worry about him until he walks back in the front door. He’s good – he texts me regularly to let me know what’s going on. I’m grateful for that. I know that will one day have its end too.

On workdays, I count on him to see Veruca home safely from the bus. In the first few weeks, it caused me significant anxiety. They both text me when they’re home so I can stop worrying. Surprisingly, I am not worrying about my type 1 daughter being home without me. But then when I think about it, I have anxiety about whether I should be worried.

I’ve been letting Veruca go too – with friends after school, walking to nearby food and coffee joints so she can hang out for an hour like a teenager. I worry a bit, but I’ve exhausted the lectures about sticking together, not walking alone, and never, ever approaching a stranger in a car who might beckon. She’s crystal clear on this. Maybe a little too much.

In case you missed the clues, I have anxiety. I can conjure up just about anything to fray my nerves and raise my blood pressure. I’ve forgotten how to pray and leave it all to God. And THIS causes me anxiety too. I take medication for anxiety. I know that anxiety is chemical and biological and that it is also genetic, so I come by it honestly and [abnormally proudly] from a beloved relative who is no longer with me.

Nevertheless, I was feeling good. The lingering post-surgical stuff was gone and I was returning to life feeling confident that surgery can be a good thing, and that I’m ready to start running again.

Until September 19th.

It was a beautiful day after 40 days and 40 nights of rain in most of our region. The sun was bright and the air was warm. You should take the convertible out, he said. The 2001 Mustang GT convertible hadn’t been out on the road for a while and I was weary of driving to my mom’s an hour away and back. Instead, I took the 2012 Mustang (nicknamed the V6), so I could do a little stick-driving on the beautiful back roads in my hometown area. I learned to drive stick at 16, and there is nothing more satisfying than shifting gears and letting go that clutch and letting the car do what it was made to do.

It was a great ride, but my spidey senses were tingling all the way – people were driving recklessly all around me. It made me hyper-alert and I took my time on the ride. I got back to our area shortly after 1 and drove directly to the high school to pick up Opac.

I’d just turned onto the main roadway a half-mile from the school. The speed limit is 50, there were a lot of cars traveling in both directions. I saw this car begin to make a left turn right in front of me – I mean, RIGHT in front of me, and there was no time for me to do anything other than brake as hard as I could. I was trying to avoid hitting her and realized she was following through on her turn anyway. I veered right, sort of into the road she was heading into, in an effort to avoid her hitting me.

She kept going and slammed into my driver’s side door, hard, spinning me around until my rear bumper on the passenger side hit the guard rail, effectively stopping the car. My driver’s side airbag deployed. I don’t remember turning the car off and removing the key from the ignition. I sat there stunned a moment, and looked through my window at her in her car and she was looking back at me – and I was trembling and raging inside. Did you know that when airbags deploy the ignitor emits a smoky smell? Neither did I. I panicked, tried to open my door, and then moved the seat back enough to climb out and over the gear shift and opened the passenger door.

At this point I had no idea how old this girl was, or the condition of the driver’s side of my car. First instinct was to flip out on her for causing this accident, but by the time I’d actually gotten myself out of the car, I’d lost the desire. Todd would’ve been so proud.

I looked directly at this 17-year-old child who accused me of speeding, and bit my tongue for all the things I wanted to say – because I’m 49 and I know waaaay better, and also that less is more. Hysterical, screaming people are generally viewed as just that. So I said to her, you need to step away from me right now. I repeated myself twice.

The state trooper arrived. The ambulance arrived. One of the drivers insisted I sit down. Apparently people in accidents act normal all the time and then boom, they go down? I called Todd, who said, you ARE going to the hospital, right? I honestly thought the car was just going to get towed to our auto-body shop and I was just going to go home. But the EMTs said, you’re going. And the trooper said my car was most likely totaled.

Todd: Well, at least you had the dash cam. Which made me want to cry, but I guess some people in shock don’t cry – because …. I’m not driving the Edge.

Oh, he said. Which car were you driving? But he didn’t care which car it was.

I’ve since seen the neurosurgeon, had a repeat MRI and x-rays (hardware is still well-positioned and I have no acute changes to my spinal cord or surrounding discs). The pain in my neck has returned, depending on my activity and/or work, and it travels down my right arm and encircles my shoulder, just like before my surgery. It’s uncomfortable and I’m upset about it. All providers are in agreement that my pain is muscular, and the efforts now are pain relief and return to normal function without this pain. I’m in PT three days a week now. I’ve had two rounds of trigger point injections at neuro and considering going back again.

I’m sad and angry some days. I’m sad that I can never drive that car again. I’m sad that it all changed in an instant, and I’m angry that it could’ve ended so differently. Todd told me the reason he bought that car is for this very reason, that it’s solid and designed to protect you. And protect me, she did. No part of the other car touched me, and no part of my door touched me. It was intact on the inside, and the only thing different in an otherwise pristine cockpit was the telltale airbag.

I’m an emotional person. I feel things. I think sometimes it’s over the top and that most normal people don’t react to things like I do. I want my car back. When we went to the lot to clean it out, I couldn’t sit in it. Todd went with me and I ran my hands over the hood and felt its warmth and the smoothness of the metal, and stood there thanking her for what she did for me that day with tears in my eyes. It’s been a month. I won’t get in Todd’s other Mustang, or drive it.

It’s been a month. The girl has a new car already. This makes me so angry. Did she learn anything? I want justice in some way that I cannot articulate. Maybe I just want her to tell me she’s sorry, and mean it. But, Todd told me to let it go. I can only live My life, and keep moving forward. But I don’t want to let go of it yet. In a 10-second decision, she destroyed a 2012 Ford Mustang, somebody’s beloved car that cannot be easily replaced, and she’s already driving around in a new car.

Meanwhile, I’m alternately angry and sad. I have moments behind the wheel where I panic, especially when there are other cars around. I’ve seen my counselor. We’re working through this. And then last week a minor infraction by the truck in front of me…I was nowhere near having an accident, but the thoughts racing through my head brought spots before my eyes and I pulled over until the lightheadedness passed.

We’ve begun the college touring with Opac, which also makes me emotional. He’s already been accepted at his first choice, which is thrilling but we need to see that financial package soon. He turns 18 tomorrow, and I’m feeling the acuteness of that milestone.

There’s more. But I think this is enough for now.

Where I’ve Been: Recovery & Coffee-Mate-Gate

First, a technical update: Six weeks post-op two-level cervical arthroplasty. The post-op x-ray shows a textbook-perfect cervical spine with two shiny new titanium discs “well-placed.” The pain is mostly gone, except when I wake up in the morning or I do too much (still). I can’t remember the last time I felt pain radiating down my arm, or the last time I took a muscle relaxer (well, except – last night). The incision is healing, but still looks like I got caught in a street fight. I am cleared to live my life.

I went back to work. I so needed to get back to a purpose that didn’t require hours of “healing” rest and endless, useless doses of Tylenol. First day back I was feeling the pain by mid-afternoon, but Todd and I still wanted to go out to dinner. One – because it was the plan we’d made, and two – it would be the last night for two weeks that we’d be able to dine outside.

ICYMI: The east coast was pummeled by rain and thunderstorms for two solid weeks, widespread and flash-flooding. Hershey Park and Knoebels were under water. The restaurant Todd and I went to that night is in a small, old waterfront town that was later under voluntary evacuation.

So we went to dinner. They don’t take reservations so we had a 40 minute wait. Todd had a beer and I had a club soda, while we stood on the deck overlooking this band of middle-aged white men playing top-40s who had the audacity to play Let’s Go Crazy and everybody who knows me knows this is NOT something I want to hear. But – I listened because I couldn’t escape it and noted that the guitar skills weren’t half bad. Still – please don’t.

After dinner we walked back up the hill to the car and my legs wouldn’t move. I was literally breathless and taking two steps at a time and stopping. The only other time I ever had that happen was when I arrived at the hospital in labor with V and I got halfway across the parking lot and couldn’t move. Kind of scary.

Anyway. Weeks 4 & 5: I worked a full-time schedule. It was a BEAR. One was an 11-hour day that I came home from and hugged V and just started to cry. That is what happens to me under extreme exhaustion and [unnecessary] emotional stress I put on myself.

Opac had senior pictures taken. It was in the high school auditorium, and I sat there all tense trying to hold back tears. Am I handling my son’s rapidly-approaching adulthood well? Ask me again in 3 months, when he turns 18. Or at his graduation – I’ll be the red-faced, swollen one clutching a handful of wet tissues and blind with tears. I’d…. say…. No. I cried at his preschool graduation. He was five.

I worked my last Saturday morning for a while (new schedule means I don’t work weekends anymore, except for one in rotation). Todd and I went to an antique store in Havre de Grace. It was crammed with so much vintage stuff, I was just turning around and around trying to take it all in. Todd lasted about 20 minutes and went outside to break the itching from the dust.

We drove to Concord Point Lighthouse and walked the decks lining the Chesapeake hand-in-hand like tourists. I don’t think of Havre de Grace as a touristy place, but Todd schooled me: Historically, it was considered for the state capitol, but lost to Annapolis. We took pictures and saw residents walking their dogs, an old woman in a wheelchair under the shade of a tree overlooking the Bay, and a 50-something couple blasting music from an iPhone, dancing like they were all alone at a  Dead concert.

The next day: Costco on an empty stomach and I scored one chicken and cheese ravioli in pesto sauce, a small cup of diced pickled beets, and one piece of a Snack Factory Pretzel. It was not a terribly stressful shopping trip, all things considered. (The man who blocked the entire display of blueberries, inspecting every package for Just the Right One.) Sometimes the state of humanity can be summed up in one trip to Costco and, in worse cases, at Walmart. For all that Walmart is and isn’t, I’ve never found anyone there to be nasty. Inconsiderate and oblivious – yes – but not nasty. Meanwhile, more people at Costco are giving the stink eye on the day God rested than anywhere I’ve been recently.

V was in Avalon with her dad last week, and Mom came to visit for a long weekend here. We took her to the Chesapeake Inn for an early dinner – another marvelous restaurant on the Bay with valet parking, live music, and great food. Had two Pain in de Asses, or maybe three? Mom took it upon herself to order us another round while I was in the bathroom.

Opac went out Saturday with friends for a Gym Class reunion. This class was a close-knit group of guys whose teacher baptized them the Mountain Dewds and had t-shirts made up for them. So they went out to dinner and then hung out at one’s house – O spent the night and needed a ride home the next morning. I picked him up around 7:45 – he said he hadn’t slept – and I took a detour to the store for more Coffee-Mate (which we were out of). I was wearing pajamas and he was fully clothed, so I did what any mother would do. I asked him to go in for me.

He is about as cooperative as a tree. First he refused to go in. I pointed out my attire and the fact that I came and picked his ass up. I only needed ONE THING. He didn’t know what he was looking for. I GOOGLED a pic of Coffee-Mate and showed it to him. This! He said, but we’re not at Target (the source of the pic). I told him where to look for it. In the coffee aisle, on the left side, past the cans of coffee, top shelf.

Ten minutes later… he comes out empty handed, looking royally aggravated. That was nothing compared to the storm waiting for him inside the car. He insisted they didn’t have what I wanted, there were all these weird flavors like hazelnut and “some blueberry flavored shit,” I  looked, and you shouldn’t drink coffee anyway, no wonder your teeth are yellow (oh YES he did) and… I’m not going back in there. He hadn’t showered, was covered in pet hair, hadn’t slept, and needed to shave. I told him very matter-of-factly that there was absolutely NO ONE in that store he knew at this hour of the morning on a Sunday, and I KNOW they have Coffee-Mate in there.

He was not going back in there. Well, I told him, I’m not leaving this parking lot without it. The stand-off continued, until my phone rang and it was Todd. I figured he was wondering where we were, since I was gone so long. I explained to him pleasantly that we’ve stopped at the store for Coffee-Mate. Oh, that’s great, he said. I have a favor to ask you.

Now at this point you should assume that my nerves are bristling over the stand-off with Opac, but I’m not letting on with Todd because Opac is still in the car. But I already know that my case is going to go volcanic if I have to ask O to pick up One. More. Thing. But Todd only wants me to stop at the mailbox on the way back, and I sighed heavily which he read only as she doesn’t want to be bothered, and said, you know, nevermind, forget it. I’ll just walk up myself. He had no idea what was going on in that car, at that moment. The twig was just about snapped. We hung up and I tore into Opac.

!!!I’m still recovering from major surgery, I’m in pain, I can’t take meds when I have to drive and I picked you up this morning early because you wanted to come home, my boobs are popping out of my pajama top, and ALL I NEED IS ONE CONTAINER OF COFFEEMATE. He took a loud deep breath and stepped out of the car, pausing to dramatically rest his forehead against the open door to “get some air.” And then he walked back in.

A few minutes later he sent me a pic of the Coffee-Mate refrigerator case – which, by the way – is at the OPENING of the aisle, ON THE RIGHT SIDE. If you’ve remembered the directions I gave him, this is all kinds of wrong. And I know exactly what display he’s looking at, and it’s not the powdered Coffee-Mate I want. I called him. He didn’t answer, little turd. So I start frantically stabbing letters into a text, reiterating the original directions, cause if he comes out again with nothing I will have no choice but to pummel him in the parking lot.

Eventually he comes out, WITH the Coffee-Mate, and all is right with the world again. Don’t mess with momma’s coffee. My mom laughed that I pulled the surgery card, and I told her I also pulled the Nannie-needs-Coffee-mate-for-her-coffee-too card.

There’s more. But my ex just called to ask if he could stop by to drop off some paperwork in an hour, and I need a shower.

As Life Goes On Around Me

As I continue to heal and not complain about it – (I joked with Todd over the weekend that he should be glad I’m not Opac, who would complain about every ache and pain like he was dying and then announce that his funeral was imminent) – life goes on around me.

Not quite two weeks post-op. I’m still doing the same mundane things and suffering a suffocating boredom. My mom was here last week to help, mostly just running Opac to workouts, caretaking my plants, making food, and entertaining Veruca for the 24 hours she came home to be with me. V chose not to stay the extra day until her dad came to pick O up. I’ve reached the pinnacle of boring for her.

My neck is still hurting, and fatigue creeps in like a fog drifting in off the bay, particularly when I’ve done too much – which, if you can believe it, might be unloading the dishwasher or ironing more than 3 shirts. Sunday I was looking forward to going up the street to celebrate my neighbor’s 70th birthday – we drove literally three houses down because a) the last time I walked that far I regretted it and b) it was 97 degrees.

The surprise party was a huge success. Jackie is literally the neighborhood welcome wagon. She is one of the kindest, funniest, craziest neighbors you could ever hope for. The first time we met she hugged me and told me how happy she was that I was there. She goes out of her way for us all, and she deserved nothing less than the celebration we gave her. She also shares my love of chickens and her BFF, who is also a neighbor and friend, bought her a six-foot metal chicken that I am insanely envious of. He’s beautiful. And I joked with her that now she has the biggest cock in the whole neighborhood.

I made Cuban sandwiches and coleslaw (with Todd’s help) and I thought I took it easy, sat most of the time, drank lots of water, and actually ate more in one sitting than I have in nearly two weeks. We were there just over three hours and my neck was killing me. I guess this means I overdid it a little?

It’s weird and disappointing, that I want to do stuff and then the energy gets sucked out of me like air in a deflating balloon. My neck still hurts and my throat is still tight. I wonder, casually and half-seriously, if I’ll ever feel normal again. Which is, of course, a bit melodramatic.

And, speaking of melodramatic, the kids came home yesterday morning by way of their dad, which we had previously discussed. That is, until Sunday afternoon when Veruca called to tell me Nannie was bringing them home. This was after Todd told me my mom couldn’t come down because she had too much to do. OKAY.

Opac literally called me while I was saying goodbye to V, wanting the 411 on next weekend because he was trying to make plans with “someone.” He didn’t mention anything about Nannie or the next day, and I didn’t ask. Two hours later he called me AT THE PARTY all pissed off because the plan as he knew it had changed and V was “running the show.” I said to him – I don’t even know why – I’m sorry you’re upset but I Can’t Talk About This Right Now. He continued to rant about how he needed to get home and something-something about dad and lack of communication, blah blah blah… and I cut him off mid-sentence and told him I’M AT THE PARTY and I cannot have this conversation right now.

Apparently V and mom were taking Mom-mom to the doctor and then out to lunch which, by the way, left O waiting at mom’s house because he didn’t want to go with them, which he called me about later because he didn’t want to sit in Nannie’s house for hours and just wanted her to come back to his dad’s house to pick him up.

So he’s very unhappy with the plan because he just wants to get home and dad can bring them home but won’t just bring ONE of them home and not the other. And O can’t wait until late afternoon to get home with Nannie because he has to “prepare” for workouts at 5:30. So, he wants it his way and Veruca screwed everything up. And I’m wondering how I fell into the middle of this since I’m the one recovering from surgery and there’s now a clusterfuck of convoluted misinformation and I’m failing to see what ANY of this has to do with me.

FOUR phone calls. Mom called to explain the plan. Followed by Opac calling to bitch about the plan and tell me that dad can bring them home since he has an appointment nearby – which makes perfect sense to me and why drag my mother into it? Then he called back to tell me dad WAS bringing them home in the a.m. and that he tried to call Nannie but she’s not answering, and I suggested that probably it’s because it’s NINE-THIRTY AT NIGHT. And then fifteen minutes later mom called me (after she spoke to V) about the change in plans and said she felt guilty about letting V down. Jesus H. Christ.

At 8:41 a.m. I got this text from Opac: V’s in a bad mood so beware.

Yay. Can’t wait. How much of this is she blaming on you? (Asking for a friend.)

I braced myself for tropical storm Veruca, but she came in smiling and huggy and chatty. And O was of course his chatty happy self (read: got what he wanted). So, reentry was peaceful and without incident. No need to reach for the pill bottle.

Speaking of pills, Hell Week for dogs has returned. It started Saturday night. Sabra jumped over the ottoman and me, clawing my leg and stunning me awake, to run over the cat to the opposite end of the couch – WHICH she could have easily gotten to from the other side. She stood there panting and trembling, and ignored my command to lie down. She walked back over to me and the cat, who casually got up and sauntered into the kitchen like he’d just remembered something he had to do, and stood over me offering her best impression of an earthquake. I’m not sure whether it was the seismic motion on the couch or her hot breath on me that made me more nauseous.

Todd started a new job yesterday as a college dean that we are both thrilled about. It’s a big career step but he’s SO the man for the job. My little brother, always MIA, is in Michigan at some big music thing and not answering my texts again. My dad is home again but I can’t text him because he dropped his phone in the pool and it’s fried. I’ve had flowers and well wishes from work and others to brighten the days.

What will today bring? Surely another round of neighborhood fireworks, three more shirts ironed, Veruca’s eighteenth plea to go swimming next door, a new book started? More loosening of the Steri-strips?

 

 

After

Today is day 9. There’s a boa constrictor wrapped around my neck, and the muscles are tight around my cervical spine. Do I feel better than last Saturday? I’m going to say yes. Todd said I’d forget the pain at some point, and I do think he’s right. Last Saturday I was 24 hours into recovery and I remember thinking I f**king hate this. Never again.

I went in for surgery on Friday the 22nd at 6:30 a.m. I was back in pre-op in no time and my nurse, Stephanie, was kind and patient and introduced me to Buffy, the venipuncture slayer. Seriously, Buffy made me nervous at first, the way she kept slapping at the veins on my wrist while Stephanie collected the exact same data I’d given three different people by phone in the last seven days. This was probably a lame attempt to distract me from Buffy’s overtures, but Buffy’s tapping and slapping left me feeling quite unconfident in her abilities.

I have big veins. I mean big, juicy veins that aren’t difficult to tap. Was she blind? Unsure? A trainee? OMG. Anyway, she popped that IV in like a mosquito and Stephanie turned around and said, wow, you didn’t even flinch. And Let Me Tell You. A week later and you still can’t see where that IV was. Buffy IS the Boss.

A minute later this man who appeared to be in his late 50s popped into my room and said, “boo!” And of course, I’m like, WTF? Who is this dude? He warmly introduced himself as my anesthesiologist, and assured me he’s done so many of these, for 500- er- he’s even put dinosaurs to sleep. He also remarked that I looked like a deer in the headlights. My neuroses clearly is not easy to conceal. Buffy started cleansing my neck until it turned beet red and apparently a reaction ensued, so the two of them decided I’d had enough. He told me he could give me something to relax me, but only after I’d spoken with the PA or the surgeon or both.

Documents to sign, giving them permission to cut me open, put me to sleep, do whatever they do to save your life, etc. And then Todd was brought back, who is always full of funny anecdotes that AREN’T funny when your nerves are as bad as mine.

I laid in the bed with a pillow behind my head for support, because the position itself was painful as always. I was ready a full hour before my surgery was scheduled and trying not to flip out. I remembered this pain I was feeling, and considered that it would be gone when I woke up again. Todd snapped a photo of me in the bed for my mom, so I gave my best bitch face that I knew would get a giggle from her (she knows me well). I’m so NOT a good patient. I’m better than I used to be, but some things go like teaching an old dog new tricks.

The neuro-technologist (because I don’t remember her exact title) came in to discuss the surgery with me, starting with the standard questions. I told her my name, and the surgery I’m having – breast implants. She stopped reading my chart and stared at me momentarily, and then back to the chart. I gave it a beat or two more and said, I’m just kidding. I’m having two discs replaced in my cervical spine. I needed the break more than she did obviously, but she took it in stride and said that’s never happened before, laughed a little while I clarified the REAL surgery and then I secretly prayed she wouldn’t hurt me while I was knocked out. Her job is to test my nerve conduction during the surgery to make sure all is well. And I have the bruises on both arms and one shoulder to show for it. But they don’t hurt.

The PA came in and explained the surgery, went over recovery procedures and medications, etc. and then Dr. Dinosaur returned with his vial of nirvana and that hit me so fast I said, whooooaaaa. And then it was time to go.

Second time for me in an OR, and it’s always surreal. Lots of movement and faceless people, and then there’s the mask over your face and then suddenly I’m coughing like a drowning victim. I’m assuming that was the moment I was extubated. Dr. Dinosaur placed a hand on my shoulder and told me to relax.

Todd said the surgery lasted 2 and a half hours, during which he got a very important call I will share in a later post. I started the waking process in the PACU, where my right arm felt like Grendel was pulling it out of its socket and my legs felt like they were disconnecting from my body. My new nurse, Sharon, asked me my pain level. NINE. Dilaudid to the rescue. I have no idea of time passing, but I felt more lucid by the time we hit a five. She refused to give me more because she thought I stopped breathing several times (an alarm would sound), until I assured her I am NOT sleeping and that it’s my MO to hold my breath when pain is really intense. So, we spent the next several hours with her reminding me to breathe through it or else. (No more pain meds.)

I can’t say enough about my experience at this hospital*. Everyone was very caring, gentle, and they didn’t push me out like we had experienced with Todd’s surgery last summer at an affiliated hospital. They did encourage me to move to a “chair” and out of the bed, where I turned white and felt a violent wave of nausea that turned out to be gas. I guess burping is a side effect of anesthesia? Sharon mentioned I hadn’t been to the bathroom since awakening, and I told her that I’ve actually had to go since I woke up, but was afraid to ask. (Bad patients don’t like bed pans.) So Tara assisted me to the bathroom – I chose to walk – and informed me she had to come in with me. I didn’t give a rat’s ass who was in there with me.

Funny how life and maturity changes you, and your views on modesty. I was ready to go afterward, and the two nurses helped me dress (but kept Todd outside the curtain AS IF he’d never seen his wife naked before) and I was soon being wheeled to the curb by a nice man who said he was getting over pneumonia, which seemed wrong on some level but I was in no position to argue with anyone.

The ride home was uneventful and not painful. And the rest of Friday was lost to fits of sleep and well wishes, one son who announced that I looked like shit, and a phone call from Veruca who had been terribly worried. I took one Oxycontin that night, and continued to feel awful until the next morning, when I threw up. I DO NOT do narcotics. So, my recovery this week has been punctuated by frequent walks around the house, belching, muscle relaxers, a steroid for alleviating swallowing issues, and extra strength Tylenol.

I’ve been out twice – once with mom driving me to the pharmacy and grocery store in my collar of shame that scared small children; and yesterday to the bank where one of the tellers exclaimed, “holy shit!” which made my day and I burst out laughing.

It’s day 9. I’m still waking in some significant neck pain, but the pain my upper back and shoulders and right arm is all but gone. I understand that some pain will linger as the nerves reassert themselves under these new conditions. I had this pain in my right elbow (painful even to the touch) that was terrible for months that I was treating as tennis elbow, though nothing helped. I woke up last Friday and it WAS GONE.

I still feel like someone has their hands wrapped around my throat. I try to be patient, but it’s annoying and uncomfortable, and causes me nausea. I can’t bend over, as it puts pressure against my throat. I can’t look directly down. I’m still getting tired easily.

But, I did it. This is the After. And every day the After is getting better. I can swim after my 6-week post-op, when summer will be more than half over, but I’m doing it. And I made Todd measure me, because the neurosurgeon said the discs he implanted are going to stretch my neck a bit, which is causing the muscles around it to stretch and strain. I gained an INCH. I am an INCH taller than I was last Friday. How about that?

 

*University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center

**I cannot take full credit for the breast implant joke. Todd made a remark while we were waiting in pre-op that “at least you’re not getting breast implants.” Which I still don’t know why he thought was funny, but when the neuro person came in, the procedure just flew out of my mouth. And Todd looked at me appalled, that I’d stolen his joke that not 10 minutes before I refused to laugh at.

 

My Left Foot, His Left Ear, & Other Things

Every morning I drive my two up to the bus stop, and every morning they find something stupid to piss each other off with. Usually it’s Opac pushing V’s buttons at 6:57 a.m. and she – being an already moody child who is also in the ugly grip of adolescence – gets instantly pissy with him, telling him to SHUT UP, loudly. And he, grand-instigator-of-instigating who never misses a beat, says something equally biting back that he knows will set her teapot whistling. And then there’s me, stuck in the ever-shrinking space of the car’s interior rubbing my eyes and envisioning how peaceful it’s going to be when I get back inside the house. EVERY morning.

This morning, though, was peaceful enough… Veruca pointed out that she heard me snoring last night. You did? I said. To which O pointed out that my door was open. I asked if it was loud, and she said no, and then demonstrated.

Yes – I snore. I have sinus issues. And currently on antibiotics for a sinus infection. (More on that later.)

Anyway. V continued to demonstrate the sound I made which, for what it’s worth, wasn’t that bad. Opac, in the back seat, ordered her to stop it – it was making his head hurt worse, because he’s congested. She fired back at him something about being stupid, or who cares, or something like that, and now he’s the pissy one.

I might have said something to him like calm down and, as he was exiting the car, he bitched about how he can’t calm down because she was “snoring at me.” He stalked away from the car toward his bus and then suddenly turned back, because in his pissy-ness he’d picked up the tissue box I keep in the car (which is bright pink, btw)… stalked back to the car, opened the back door, threw the box in, and took off.

Meanwhile, back in paradise, we had a snow day after my last post. V’s friend, the Boss, came over again and the two of them shook the roof down. If I ever had my doubts about who makes more noise – girls or boys – I’m sure now. They wanted to play Xbox, which Opac will not share because he doesn’t trust them not to use up all his data or delete something important. I suggested they play on a different system, and of course there were no AA batteries in this house. I sent out a desperate plea to my neighbors, and was soon walking down the street to retrieve 4 AAs so these girls didn’t make me go completely insane.  Opac left the house to go to his friend’s up the street, and I told him it wasn’t fair that he was leaving me alone with these two. He was hardly sympathetic.

Todd had a bowling tournament on the 10th. I worked in the morning and came home to shower and change. I lost my footing in the shower and slipped, doing the Scooby shuffle before my left leg went completely out and my toes broke my fall on the frame of the sliding doors. I was sure I’d broken a toe and I was in this weird juxtaposition of hysterical laughter and pain. I couldn’t wear the shoes I’d planned to wear because now 3 of my toes were swollen and turning black and blue, and I couldn’t walk on them.

Then I burnt the back of my neck with the curling iron. I sat down on the couch to avoid further injury to myself, and texted my bestie to tell her I almost died and I wanted her to know, in case it happened again and I didn’t make it, that I loved her. I sent a similar text to my dad, who was hundreds of miles away in Kentucky (another post for another day) and he called me immediately and made me feel bad for worrying him as I laughed myself silly. I reminded him that if it were true, I certainly wouldn’t text him so casually.

And before you judge me harshly for fooling with my dad that way – when I told him what really happened, he laughed at me. Laughed. Obviously my sense of humor came from somewhere.

So two days later I was back at work because one of my coworkers got The Sick. Hers was the stomach variety and I briefly worried, since we’d worked together on Saturday, if it was coming for me too.

Well, dodged that bullet, but by the end of the day my head was swimming in congestion. I’ve had so many sinus infections I know one before it’s fully arrived, so I called for a doctor’s appointment. I waited for an hour and ten minutes before being called. The front desk people never acknowledged my wait and when I asked if I’d been forgotten, the lady said, oh – they must be running behind. I’d love to try that line on for size at my job, and see how long it takes a parent to spontaneously combust.

So the NP I saw checked me out with the door never fully closed… which I thought was odd and not private, but I hardly cared. I just wanted to go home. She left the room to call in my prescriptions and then I was on my way. Four hours later the pharmacy still had no record of my prescriptions, so I called the office. I was on hold, and then suddenly someone picked up and started talking really fast about Medicaid and so on. I had to interrupt to let her know I wasn’t who she thought I was, and then she asked me if I wasn’t calling about Mr. Peterson – hello! Huge HIPAA violation. This isn’t my first rodeo with this practice and this is just another in a long list of mistakes.

I was supposed to work at the restaurant on Valentine’s Day but was too sick to do it, and I had to work the next day so I needed the rest. Opac woke up that morning with a 102 fever and sore throat, so I gave him Motrin and care instructions and went to work. I checked in on him frequently and he mostly slept. When I got home I fixed a fast dinner, and then he and I drove to urgent care. His symptoms were different from mine, but he felt equally as awful.

I was worried about flu, like so many people are, but he had nothing going on in the chest. His left ear was inflamed and so the PA prescribed him antibiotics. We were there for 2 hours. The waiting room, when we arrived, was three-quarters full of sickly people, and the mask box was empty. When someone restocked, I grabbed two for us. Someone in triage was vomiting violently and the sound was echoing through the entire clinic, and my own stomach filled with dread. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

In other news, Todd lost his glasses on an airplane and they were not found, both pets are spring-cleaning their digestive tracts, I’m drowning in dirty laundry and sleep deprived, there’s a missing drone in the neighborhood, and the car hasn’t been washed since November.

This week, things are on the upswing… the temps reached 78 yesterday and the Bible thumpers took advantage of the sunshine by dropping by my house. I got a hug from my mom and got some major scrapbooking done while bingeing Gran Hotel. There’s also the promise of some Walmart footage from Kentucky by way of Silverfox, who’s taking Bourbon County as we speak.