Your Cat is Eating Your Turkey

HAYWARD

In early November, my sister sent me a text message inviting me to Thanksgiving dinner.  She recently purchased a house in the Bay Area and wanted to show it off.  I consulted my wife and then texted her back to say yes, we would come.  Her new home is less than two hours away and we didn’t have any firm plans for the holiday, so I figured why not.

Two days later, Sis texted me again to say that Thanksgiving was off.  My parents had visited her and apparently indicated that they would never return.  It seems that they were frightened off by the winding roads that lead to the mountaintop street where my sister now resides.

An hour later, my sister texted me again.  “Thanksgiving is back on.”  My parents had agreed to drive as far as a supermarket parking lot on the flats, where my nephew would pick them up and haul them up the mountain.

My parents stayed home anyway.  Dad recently contracted a severe case of conjunctivitis and, despite the use of eye drops prescribed by a doctor, he has been unable to open his eyes very far, making driving out of the question.  We offered to drive all the way there, pick them up, take them to Sis’s house in the Bay Area, and drive them home again.  They declined on the grounds that Dad is probably still contagious and no one will want to be near him.

As if it weren’t bad enough that my parents would be spending Thanksgiving alone, the fact that Dad is unable to drive has created much greater problems.  My mother, also age 83, hasn’t driven in seven years and expressed to me that she never plans to drive again.  She says she doesn’t feel comfortable driving, and that it makes her feel a bit dizzy sometimes, and that she’s just too old.  Nevertheless, she plans to renew her driver’s license when it expires in 2020.  She just doesn’t plan to use it.

My parents live in a rural area at the edge of the rangeland where the cattle graze.  I call it “the wild prair-ie.”  The nearest supermarket is about 20 miles away, although there is a small grocery store about four miles from their house.  I’ve been on the phone with my parents on an almost daily basis and they’re starting to complain about running out of their favorite foods.  It’s not that they don’t have food and are going hungry, it’s just that they’ve used up the items they need to prepare the meals they like best.  Not only that, but they need to prepare more meals than usual, as they aren’t going out to dinner several times per week as is their usual practice.

My parents celebrated Franksgiving, eating hot dogs and beans for dinner.  Mom was annoyed that they had no buns on which to serve the franks, although not as annoyed as Dad is that he is out of bananas to cut up in his morning Honey Bunches of Oats.  Yesterday, Mom reported that they are completely out of bread.  “Not even the frozen kind?” I asked.  My parents are famous for freezing many loaves of bread and defrosting a little bit at a time.  Nope, even the frozen stuff is gone, she told me.

I asked whether we should drive down there (seven hours round trip) to get them some groceries.  No, said Mom, they’re not out of food yet.  I offered that, if she provides us with her grocery list, we can probably have what she needs delivered to her door.  Then we checked online and learned that we probably can’t.  My parents’ location is just too rural.  I couldn’t find any online services that deliver to their zip code.  Most likely, the best we would be able to do is to have canned goods shipped to them in the mail.

Sis says she may drive down there on her day off and take my mother grocery shopping.  If not, my wife and sister-in-law will take care of it.  That is, unless Dad is driving again.  Now that Mom is putting the drops in his eyes instead of having him do it himself (and missing), things are looking a lot better.

We thought seriously about skipping out on my sister at the last minute and driving to the Central Valley to spend Thanksgiving with my parents instead.  However, Mom begged us not to.  She told me that Sis was already distraught that they weren’t coming and she’d be truly upset if we were to bag out on her, too.

I had no idea how right Mom was.

My sister urged me to invite all of my wife’s family to join her for Thanksgiving.  Most of them had other plans already, however, and the driving that would have been required is excessive.  Now, Sis has two adult children.  Her son resides in the same town and agreed to come early to help prepare the meal.  But her daughter failed to respond to her invitation.  Sis even called her ex-husband in an effort to browbeat him into coming and bringing his daughter along.  Of course, neither of them showed up.  My niece has some type of ongoing argument with her mother and doesn’t wish to speak with her at the moment.  As for my sister’s ex, well, he’s remarried and has obligations to spend the holiday with his own family.

Traffic on Interstate 80 was terrible on Thanksgiving morning, and it took us nearly an hour more than expected to reach my sister’s house.  At one point, we nearly turned around and went home due to traffic being at a dead stop for close to 15 minutes.  I’m glad we didn’t.  Other than my nephew, my wife and I were the only guests.

Mom called while we were stuck in traffic to find out why we weren’t there yet.  She said that Sis, having initially expected lots of guests, had purchased a 30-pound kosher turkey.  I didn’t know that birds come that large, so I wasn’t at all surprised to find that she had been exaggerating more than a little.

My wife had made a fruit salad the night before and I put together a batch of fresh guacamole.  We transported both in a cooler, along with my almond milk and a few other miscellaneous items.  Well, it turned out that my sister had prepared a feast.  Knowing my food restrictions, she served me sautéed tofu with mushrooms and onions, although it was my wife who actually cut everything up in preparation for cooking.  Sis also fixed me roasted vegetables and a dressing prepared with gluten-free bread and vegetable broth.  Both were delicious, and we had ample leftovers to take home.

After dinner, we retired to my sister’s living room, with its amazing picture window view of the bay, Oakland and San Francisco.  I suppose living on a hilltop does have some advantages.  Sis was stretched out on the sofa, my nephew busied himself watching videos about Japan on his laptop, and my wife and I relaxed in a pair of rocker-recliners while we chatted.  Sis was facing us, while my wife and I had a clear view of the kitchen, where none of the leftovers had yet been put away.

Soon, Sis made up some soy mochas while my nephew sliced the pie.  Actually, there were two pies, both Dutch apple, my sister’s favorite.  One was “regular” and the other was both vegan and gluten-free for my benefit.  The latter cost a hefty $15.  Curiosity got the better of my sister and she decided to try my pie first.  She took one bite, gagged, and spit it out.  She began yelling that it tasted like lemon-flavored sawdust on cardboard.  I assured her that there was no reason to be shocked.  That’s more or less what a commercial gluten-free pie crust tastes like.  Those of us who cannot tolerate gluten can either put up with it or not eat pie at all.  I’m told that there are homemade gluten-free pies that actually taste decent, but I don’t cook and am happy to get whatever is available.  This was the first pie I had eaten in about a year or so.

Sis gave me the rest of her slice of pie and we took the remainder of the pie home in its box, where I promptly demolished it.  It really wasn’t as bad as she described.

I should mention that my sister has two cats.  Butternut (alias Butt, Nut or just Squash) is a rambunctious orange tabby that sheds fur like there’s no tomorrow.  Sis rescued her from a shelter in Albuquerque.  Then there is Macchiato, whose coat features a crazy quilt of every cat color known to man on one side, while being nearly entirely white on the other side.  Macchi was rescued from a shelter in Boise, Idaho.  My sister moves around a lot.

Macchiato is fairly shy and made herself scarce during most of our visit.  Butternut, however, is extremely outgoing and insists on being a part of whatever happens to be going on at the moment.  When not perched on the coffee table or getting underfoot, she would jump up to her cat bed, high atop her scratching post.  There, she could be queen and master of her domain.

The availability of a particularly large variety and quantity of food was not lost on Butternut.  I decided that I had better describe what I was seeing.  The squash meister had jumped up on the kitchen counter and was helping herself.  “Your cat is eating your turkey,” I nonchalantly informed my sister.

“WHAT!!!” was her reply, causing my nephew to spring out of his seat and complain that his mother had nearly caused him a heart attack.  Sis sprinted into the kitchen, removed Butternut from the counter and chastised her severely.  Still, she did not put away the food.  Instead, she returned to join us.

We lounged in my sister’s living room, she nearly asleep and me admiring the twinkling lights of the city while listening to my nephew regale me with tales of working in downtown San Francisco. It didn’t take too long before I noticed that Butternut was at the carcass again.

“Your cat is eating your turkey,” I repeated.

“Don’t say it like that!” yelled my sister.  I guess I was supposed to jump out of my seat and make a hullaballoo instead of being calm about it.  Once again, Sis removed her cat, but not before Butternut had lapped up most of the gravy out of the measuring cup in which my sister had served it.  She made growling noises at ol’ Butt that I suppose were designed to teach her a lesson that her behavior was unacceptable.

And then my sister finally began to put away the food.  The turkey, she indicated, would end up in freezer bags and would take her many weeks to use up for her lunches.  Whereupon she began to portion out the remaining turkey meat, totally unfazed that it had been mauled by the filthy mouth of a cat.

 

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Nine Days, or Wound Care for the Clueless

scrabble-cat

Sumi, my first Scrabble partner at last week’s tournament.  I think his name is supposed to sound Japanese, although to me it just sounds litigious.

Monday

It rained most of last night and it’s still raining.  The Cosumnes River is expected to overflow (again) by Wednesday if this keeps up.  The weather people say this will go on all week.

My second day out of work.  I am missing a big conference that I organized.  Tomorrow, I am supposed to train staff over in the Napa Valley, but I have sent a subordinate in my place.  I try not to think about work too much, instead concentrating on what I can do to help my wife.

It’s a lot easier not having to apply those bandages every couple of hours.  The disposable Depends are very convenient and I thank God for them.  Unfortunately, my wife’s feet are starting to swell.  I send an email to her doctor but receive no response.

My wife’s cousin comes to visit, bringing along larger pairs of Crocs and some slippers that make it more comfortable for my wife to walk around.  More importantly, however, she is going to help my wife learn to inject insulin.  At the hospital, they found that her diabetes is out of control and that this was the likely cause of her infection.  We’ve both been on oral blood sugar lowering medication for some time, but we had no idea it had gotten this bad.  I just had my own A1C read a few days ago and was still within a reasonable range.

Typically, my wife checks her blood sugar only once in a while.  I don’t do it at all.  Sharps of any kind freak me out.  I have had nightmares about syringes and needles since childhood.  So now we have two types of insulin on hand for my wife, slow acting for bedtime and fast acting for before meals.  Now she gets to check her blood sugar and inject insulin throughout the day.  I pinch myself but am unable to wake up from my nightmare.

While my wife is getting an injection lesson, I head out to do the errands.  Gas up the car, visit two supermarkets, pick up mail from the post office, return a large load of items to Walmart.  My nieces had gone shopping to pick up some supplies for my wife on the day she was discharged from the hospital.  Unfortunately, most of what they bought turned out to be unneeded or didn’t work for us.

The rain continues to fall and we wonder if the power will go out when the winds pick up.  Insulin, I have learned, must be refrigerated.

I drive around town with the wipers going, getting wet at every stop.  My wife usually does most of the driving, which suits me fine.  I have never enjoyed driving and have never been very good at it.  For decades, this was an embarrassment to my father, who had a long career as a driver education teacher.  My reluctance to drive was something of a family joke in my younger years.  Eventually, I got over it to some extent, even driving across country by myself on one occasion.  But when I think of the number of auto accidents I have had over the years, and the fact that my wife (who has been driving longer than I have) has never had an accident, I am glad that she does most of the driving.  So to head out in the rain, among drivers who are not used to inclement weather and are hydroplaning speed demons, is right on the very edge of my comfort zone.  My limited driving experience in the area inevitably results in a wrong turn that finds me in a part of town with which I am unfamiliar.  I turn around, stop and map every stop on my phone after that.

But I am in luck today.  My niece has called me for help in applying for a job online.  Cantaloupes are on sale for a dollar each at Sprouts.  I find a handicapped spot directly in front of the Walmart entrance, along with a conveniently located shopping cart to haul in all the returns.  I lean against the cart in the lobby, my jacket dripping, while the clerk takes forever to remove each item from the cart and then from their bags, scanning everything individually and issuing red stickers from his handheld point of sale device.  Then, of course, I still have to stand in line at the customer service counter and then wait while the clerk examines each item yet again.

Then it’s back out in the rain.

 

Sunday

8:30 am.  We wake up to the phone ringing.  It’s my wife’s doctor, calling a bit early.  We relate our woes, letting her know that we have only one bandage left, enough for one wound dressing change.  She suggests that we come into the clinic, open until 12:30 pm, no appointment necessary.  The nurse will check the incisions for signs of infection and will supply us with bandages.

Up and at ‘em.  Shower, clean and dry the incisions, apply the last bandage.  Out the door and head across town.  We’ve been to the clinic several times, as this is where I typically have my blood drawn.  We park in our usual place and start searching around for the clinic.  Most of the departments that we pass are dark and empty, befitting a Sunday morning.  We walk and walk, quite slowly, with my poor wife holding onto the wall.  We had no idea that we had parked at the wrong end of the complex.

We stop to rest on a bench, get a drink of water.  Elevator up to the third floor.  Walk some more.  We arrive at the clinic, check in, sit and wait.  Eventually, we are called, only to be told that we were supposed to have an appointment (despite what the doctor told us), that they have no supplies at that location and that there was no one to check the incisions.  Go to the emergency room, they tell us.

Understandably, my wife is angry.  We hoof it all the way back to the car.  We have a folded bedsheet in the car’s hatchback that we use as a liner.  I pull it out so that my wife has something soft to sit on.  I drive to the hospital.  Another car zips into the last available parking space in the emergency room lot.  A man relaxes in the car, cigarette dangling out of his month.  We wait for someone to leave so that we can park.  We spy a Staxi abandoned in the parking lot.  I grab it and give my wife a push across the lot and into the emergency room.  We wait in one line, then another line, then sit and wait to be called.  We contemplate a second emergency room copay in a week.

A nurse takes us in back, checks my wife’s blood pressure and send us back out to the waiting room until an exam room becomes available.  When we are finally called, I try not to be rattled by the moans and groans of the occupants of the other bays.  One woman yells out in pain every few minutes.  We are visited by a doctor, a nurse, a patient care technician.  They agree to hunt around for the bandage size we need.  Their initial search turns up empty, and they agree to check the fourth floor.  A few minutes later and, voilà, a tech shows up with a grand total of four bandages.  We could just purchase them online, we realize, at a price of $83 for eight bandages.  One such package would last us a day or so.

The nurse recounts how his wife had a similar incision and drainage due to an infection.  She used large size Depends rather than expensive bandages, he tells us.  Another alternative, he suggests, would be to use sterile gauze pads.  He asks me to glove up and try it out.  The first set of disposable gloves doesn’t begin to fit my distended hands.  He then exchanges them for a larger size that I am just barely able to pull on.  I soon realize that this exercise is for naught, as the nurse intends to apply the gauze himself.  To do so, he uses a large quantity of medical tape, crisscrossing the gauze in every direction.  This is going to be a doozy to remove later, I think, and I am right.  I found myself trying to release her from all that tape quickly when she needed to hit the toilet.  It was a painful experience for her, and I amazed that I managed to avoid pulling her skin off with the tape.

Next stop is Walgreen’s for a box of Depends.

 

Saturday night

9:30 on a Saturday night.  I’m calling around to the few pharmacies that are still open to try to find sterile bandages that are the right size to cover my wife’s surgical wound.  No one has heard of this type of bandage.  No one has another brand in this size.

At discharge this afternoon, the hospital gave my wife seven bandages to take home.  They did not tell us that this supply would not even get us through the night, never mind for the next couple of weeks.

Nor did they show me how to apply said bandages to my wife, nor did they explain how to clean the incisions.  I get to figure this out by myself.  Yay!

I call Kaiser for help, listen to inane recordings (I can now tell you quite a bit about their women’s hot flash and menopause clinic, as well as about their weight loss meal replacement program) and get transferred to three different people before I finally get disconnected while on hold.  I think:  Is this what socialized medicine is like in the rest of the world?

Kaiser calls back, apologizes for the disconnection.  Can we talk to your wife to make sure that we have permission to talk to you?  HIPAA (or “HIPAApotamus,” as one of the hospital nurses put it yesterday) has got to be one of the most annoying laws ever passed by Congress.  The nurse attempts to troubleshoot, seemingly aghast that, in all her years of service, she has never been asked such a question.  She suggests we return to the hospital floor from which my wife was discharged to ask for more.  (They had told us that we were given all the bandages they had.)  She suggests checking a medical supply store.  (On a Saturday night?)  We settle on a telephone appointment with a doctor in the morning.  By happy serendipity, it’s my wife’s regular doctor.

My wife points out that we have nothing to complain about, reminding me that we just talked to a health care professional on a Saturday night and will have a consultation with her doctor on a Sunday morning.  I step down from my high horse.

 

Thursday

My wife has been in the hospital all week.  I have been attending mandatory offsite training all week.  This turns out to be quite a combination.

I arrive at the training site across town an hour early to avoid traffic.  I dump my grits packets into my bowl and head to the break room to apply boiling hot water.  Then back to the training classroom, where I have some Earth Balance vegan margarine stashed in my bag for application to said grits.

I text a good morning to my wife.  She has had a bad night in the hospital, vomiting due to medication being pushed on her when she hadn’t eaten anything.  I can’t say that I blame her.  The so-called food there looks and smells positively disgusting.

When the trainer sends us on a break at 10:30, I check my phone and find that my wife has texted.  She has to have surgery tonight.  I try not to panic.  What kind of surgery??  She does not respond.

Lunchtime, I text my mother-in-law.  “Mom, are you coming???”  Yes, she says, along with my sister-in-law and my niece.  When class lets out at 4, I inform the trainer that I will not be present tomorrow for the last day of training due to my wife’s surgery.  She tells me I can make it up later.  I head straight for the hospital, where I learn the nature of the surgery and the plans to do it between 6 and 7 pm.  My wife’s family shows up, but when 8:00 arrives and still no surgery, they are ready to leave.  They have a 90-minute drive home and have to work tomorrow.  They disappear.  High-ho, the merry-o, the cheese stands alone.

The surgeon has been delayed, we are informed.  The previous procedure has taken much longer than expected.  The surgeon has to rest a little before performing the next one.

At 10 pm, orderlies arrive with a gurney to take my wife off to pre-op, all the way across in the other hospital building.  They walk fast and I can’t keep up with them.  It’s okay; I have a general idea of where I am going.  Turn right, turn left, turn right.  I am used to this part now.  Head outside.  Cross a bridge, then a roadway, then back inside near the emergency room.  Turn right, walk through a long ward, turn left, turn right.  Now I am lost and at the mercy of signs directing me to the appropriate elevator.  I make it to the surgical waiting room.  There is one other person there.  High overhead, near the ceiling, the TV is on.  I am unable to locate a remote to shut off the noise.

I check my phone periodically, but leave it off as much as possible, as it is quickly running out of charge.  I do not want to have a dead phone if I have to contact someone fast.  I should have had the forethought to take my niece’s phone charger, left back in the other hospital building, plugged into my wife’s IV pole.

Midnight.  I don’t know what to do with myself.  I have been up since 5:00 this morning and try not to fall asleep.  I try to ignore the idiotic drivel on the TV.  I walk down the hall, walk back.  I flip through the magazines.  TimeNational Geographic.  Most of them about a year old.

There is a cart full of books and I peruse the titles.  Mostly Reader’s Digest condensed novels (which I refuse to read as a matter of principle) and paperback romances.  I settle for one of the few other items, a legal thriller by Brad Meltzer, The First Counsel.  I move to the other side of the room and read the first couple of chapters.  Some guy is dating the president’s daughter and they go tearing up D.C. on a Saturday night in an ultimately successful effort to shake the Secret Service detail.  A lot of reckless (but not wreckless) driving is involved.  Also a visit to a gay bar and a drop-off of a big stack of cash in a manila envelope out in a remote area.  Poorly written and boring, I think.  I set the book aside.

About the time that Jimmy Kimmel appears on the tube, the phone rings at the deserted information desk in the corner of the surgery waiting room.  My sole companion rushes to pick it up.  He listens for a moment, then starts yelling.  Something about that he should have been informed earlier that they were going to transfer his wife elsewhere.  He slams down the receiver and storms off toward the elevators.

Now I am alone.  Just me and the year-old mags and the romance novels and Jimmy.  At one in the morning, I get the bright idea to use the info desk phone to call the recovery room and see if I can find out anything about what’s become of my wife.  After all, the phone number is right there, laminated for all to see.  Sure enough, they tell me my wife is in recovery and that I can come down.  They give me directions, which are either lamentably poor, or perhaps I am just a dunderhead who can’t follow directions.  I try several wrong doors and hallways before I find the right place and knock on the big double doors.  A staff member comes out to get me.  I ask why they hadn’t called the surgical waiting room and I am told that my wife just came out of surgery a few minutes before.  She looks pretty good for just having been cut, I think.  The anesthesia has not made her sick.  A doctor comes by and gives me the rundown.  My wife asks for water, and it is a while before I can get anyone to bring some.  We are told that she can be wheeled back to her hospital room in about half an hour.  It is now two in the morning and I have been up for 21 hours.  My wife tells me to go home and get some sleep.

I head back out the surgery area and down the elevator, only to realize that I am in an unfamiliar location, likely way on the opposite side of the hospital from where I am parked.  I find a hospital map that appears to confirm my suspicions.  I sit down on a bench for a few minutes before I begin my hike.

After navigating a number of corridors, I regain my bearings.  I sit down by a deserted Starbucks coffee station and call my parents.  Mom said to call and let her know how the surgery went, regardless of the hour.  I tell her all about it.  I confess that I hope I can keep my eyes open long enough to get home.

When I arrive at the final door out to the parking lot, it will not open.  “Oh, come on,” I mutter to myself.  This is supposed to be an automatic door.  Who am I going to be able to find to help me at 2 a.m.?  I notice a sign:  “In emergency, push to open.”  Oh, man, I don’t want to do that, I think.  Alarms and crap are going to go off.

But they cooperate.  I am shocked when the doors fly apart and I am outside in the damp, night air, just a few feet from my waiting vehicle.

 

Wednesday

This is my wife’s second hospital stay of our married life.  Last time was nine years ago, when we lived in Fresno and she landed at St. Agnes Hospital (referred to locally as “St. Agony” or “St. Anguish”) after contracting a virulent strain of flu.  They stuck her in the quarantine ward, fearing that it was the dreaded H1N1, which it turned out not to be.  I’m hoping that the script is more or less the same this time, complete with a prompt discharge, some pills to take home and a rapid recovery.  But I know that this time is different.  I can feel it.

The quarantine ward at Saint A’s was annoying for visitors, who were required to don a gown, hat and gloves (an outfit you can really sweat in).  For the patient, however, it was nice and quiet.  The 1 West building at Kaiser Hospital in Sacramento could be described as the diametric opposite.  Daytime and nighttime blend into a haze of 24-hour alarms, beeping IVs, patients yelling, nurses and patient care technicians coming and going.  Always someone talking and some machine going off, demanding attention.

Across the hall, a homeless man with apparent mental issues is giving every staff member a hard time.  He raises his voice, argues with everyone, complains about everything and uses the F-word in place of every comma and period.  Tonight, he is griping vociferously that the staff had promised to put a second dinner tray, cornbread chicken, aside for him.  Now he’s hungry again and he wants it.  Unfortunately, the staff can’t seem to locate it.  He makes his anger known repeatedly and loudly.  It is past dinnertime and the staff attempt to placate him by offering whatever leftover trays they can find.  No chicken, but he can have fish.  Oh, but he doesn’t want fish.  After ten minutes of arguing, he tells them to just bring him everything they have.  When his food arrives, he wants salt.  He’s not supposed to have salt.  He starts yelling, finally accepts some Mrs. Dash.  My wife informs me that, earlier in the day, he had become violent, throwing an applesauce so hard that it caromed across the corridor and into her room.

Days later, after my wife comes home and I find myself struggling to clean the incisions and apply bandages, she asks me if I’d rather that she return to the hospital.  I stutter, not knowing how to respond.  No, I do not want you to still be in that hellhole where it’s impossible to get a moment’s peace and quiet, not to mention a few hours of sleep.  Yes, I want you to go back to the hospital where there are people who know what the hell they are doing.  I am so afraid of the incisions getting infected due to my incompetence.  Maybe I’m selfish because I’m lonely here without you and I’m so glad you’re home.  Maybe I’m selfish because this is so much work and I’d rather someone else do it.  Either way, I’m a terrible husband.

Eventually, hospital staff and the home health nurse tell me I’m doing a fine job.  Talk about dumb luck.

Tuesday

The trainer starts today’s class with an ice breaker.  Everyone is supposed to stand up and tell one thing that’s happened within the past 24 hours for which he or she is grateful.  We hear stories of good news at work, good grades reported by grandchildren, sports victories.  When it’s my turn, I say “I don’t usually drive, so I’m grateful that I was able to find this place today with only one wrong turn.”

I expected that my wife was going to give me a ride all week.  I did not expect that she would end up sick in the hospital.

I leave the house at a quarter after six, having mapped the location on my phone.  I try to remember my landmarks.  Go past the 80 freeway, past Grand Avenue and turn left on Arcade.  Get on the Capitol City Expressway and stay in the far right lane.  Get off at the 160 freeway and then off again at Canterbury.  Turn right on Leisure Lane, right on Slobe, left on Commercial, right on Lathrop.  Yes, I am grateful for having found this place without getting lost.

After class, I head back to the hospital.  I have mapped it, but I find myself in the wrong lane by the mall and have to find a place to turn around.  I won’t make that mistake again, I think.

I know from yesterday’s experience that there is no place to park anywhere near the out building where my wife’s hospital bed is located.  I also know that I don’t want to have to do that big outdoor walk over the bridge again.  So I park near the medical office building, which is connected to the main hospital, but not to the building where my wife is.  It’s got to be the better part of a mile walk over there, I think.  I’ll just have to walk slowly and do the best I can.  Follow the signs.  Too bad Google Maps won’t help me with the inside of hospitals.

And then:  Just as I get out of my car, I hear my name called.  It’s the husband of my wife’s cousin.  Cousin is visiting and hubby decided to take a walk and figure out whether there’s a faster way to get from the car to my wife’s hospital room.  I tell him I need to try to walk inside as much as possible and that I was hoping to find a staff member who would give me a push over there in one of the hospital’s personal transport chairs, known as a Staxi.  “I’ll push you,” he immediately tells me.  “God is good,” I mumble.  We walk to the information desk, he installs me in a Staxi, and in five minutes he has pushed me all the way over to my wife’s room on the other side of the complex.

Late at night, when I leave my wife’s side, I am not so lucky.  There is no cousin’s husband and no staff member to help me.  I get to hoof it solo, slow and steady like the tortoise.

 

Monday

It’s my first day of a pain-in-the-neck weeklong mandatory training class.  You’re supposed to take this class as soon as you’re promoted to manager.  After two years as a manager here (and a couple of decades elsewhere), someone finally figured out that I hadn’t had the class yet.  Busted.

Actually, this is only the first half of a two-week training class.  I am scheduled for the other half at the end of the month.  To make matters worse, we have a statewide conference on the very day that I return to work.  Fortunately, I have set it all up in advance.  Then there are deadlines that I must meet and training trips that I have to take.  The timing is very bad indeed.

I don’t do much driving around town and have no idea how to get to the out-of-the-way neighborhood where the training center is located.  My wife has not been feeling too well, but she is familiar with the lay of the land (having grown up here) and drives me over.  She seemed to be feeling a bit better on Saturday, when we had a big family gathering at a restaurant in honor of my birthday.  Yesterday, she seemed tired, although she woke up with me and cooked some food for me to take to the Scrabble tournament in Berkeley.  This morning, she was upset that I had not woken up early enough and that I might be late to my first day of training due to the traffic.  We just make it in time.

Since my wife was upset with me, I paid attention to how she zigzagged from one side road and freeway to the next to get to the training center.  You know, just in case she were to decide she didn’t want to drive me anymore.  I had no idea how important this would end up being.  I had no idea that she’d be in the hospital for the next week.

When the trainer sends us on our first break of the day, my wife texts to let me know that she was able to schedule an 11 a.m. appointment with her doctor.  Same-day appointments are hard to come by, and even more so with one’s own doctor.  She asks me whether she should go.  Yes, please go, I tell her.  I’ve been telling her that the boil that’s come up on her skin looks infected and needs to be checked.

At lunch, I call her.  She tells me she vomited in the exam room and the doctor said she had a fever and needed to go to the emergency room.  She was on her way there.  I wonder to myself whether she’ll be admitted.

When I don’t hear from her for the rest of the day and she doesn’t show to pick me up, I know what has happened.  I call the hospital, endure the inevitable transfers from person to person, and eventually reach someone in the emergency room who informs me that she is still there.  “She’s on the sicker side,” I’m told, and will be admitted.  Problem:  I am in a distant part of the city with no transportation.  As bad as I am with anything technological, I manage to figure out how to download Uber on my phone.  Soon, a ride to the hospital is headed in my direction.

The driver is very kind, driving around the emergency room parking lot until I find our car.  He even helps me load my belongings into the trunk.  I give him a tip out of the few dollars in cash that I have on me.

I check in with security, receive a stick-on badge and am pointed in the direction of the bay where I find my wife.  Due to the fever and infection, she has been admitted.  They are just about to wheel her over to a hospital room in another building.  “We’re going outside,” the orderly tells her.  “Are you going to be warm enough, or do you need another blanket?”  Outside??!!  You mean these buildings are not connected?  What the heck do they do when it’s pouring down rain?  “This is California,” I’m told when I ask.  “We love the fresh air.”

“Idiots,” I think.  “This would never happen back in New York.”

I can’t keep up with the gurney, despite the fact that the orderly stops several times when I fall way behind.  This is quite a walk.  Head outside.  Down a little path, across a bridge, then into another building to wind around more corridors.  About 30 minutes later, my mother-in-law shows up with her daughter, granddaughter and little great-granddaughter.  My wife is hooked up to an IV, on heavy-duty antibiotics, fluids, insulin.  The family tells me to go home and sleep, they have it under control.

Sleep sounds good to me, but it means that I have to find my way back to the car.  I hadn’t the forethought to leave a trail of bread crumbs, Hansel and Gretl style.  I’m told that I have to go outside and walk over a big bridge to reach the emergency room parking lot where our car is.  Now, I don’t do well walking outdoors.  If there is the slightest bit of wind, I can’t breathe.  My agoraphobia kicks in and I panic.  How the heck am I going to do this???

You have to do it, kid, I tell myself.  You need to be an adult and take care of your sick wife, not make a scene.  “What’s the worst that can happen?” I think.  After all, I’m at a hospital.

I head up over the tall bridge, trying not to hyperventilate.  There’s barely a hint of a breeze, which is very much in my favor.  On the other side, I see the emergency room entrance and a large parking lot.  I wonder whether this is where the Uber driver dropped me off.  And I wonder whether I should go sit in the emergency room for a while to fortify myself for the remainder of this outdoor walk.  No, I tell myself, I must be almost there.  I see the edge of a building, and as I come around the corner, there’s the car.  I made it.

 

Sunday

Berkeley is about 80 miles west of Sacramento via Interstate 80.  Eighty on 80.  This will be my second Scrabble tournament there, my first having been just recently, on New Year’s Day.  I performed very poorly on that occasion, having lost every game.  But I’m a glutton for punishment and I’m back for more.

To me, competitive Scrabble is a lot like playing the video poker machines in Reno, another pastime I enjoy.  It’s not about winning or losing.  It’s about playing the game.

Although I’m not a very good driver and am not good with directions, this is one trip even I can pull off successfully.  The tournament is at the director’s house.  Our homes are each about a mile from the freeway.  Only the long stretch of I-80 stands between me and a good fight over a Scrabble board.

Last time, I had to lug two heavy bags up the host’s steep stairway.  One bag carries my Scrabble board and equipment, the other my food.  There is always plenty of food at a house tournament.  When you’re vegan, however (and gluten-free to boot), you know to bring your own.  I had a hard time pulling those bags up, one at a time, step by step.

I didn’t really know what to expect.  I found out about the New Year’s tournament from a bare mention in an email sent out by another director.  It was our host’s first time directing, and she didn’t publish the particulars in advance.

Now, however, she’s learned by experience.  An email went out to participants with all the details.  Last time, there were an odd number of competitors, and most of us had to have a “bye” (sit out a round).  During my bye, I made the mistake of sitting on my host’s sofa in her living room.  I sunk in and couldn’t get up.  Fortunately, our host is a personal trainer who is strong and extremely physically fit.  She grabbed my arm and pulled with all her might.  She nearly fell over backward, but she got me up.

This time, as soon as I entered, our host informed me that she had set up a playing room downstairs in addition to the upstairs tables.  Would I perhaps like to stay downstairs?  Hmm, and avoid lugging everything up that flight of stairs?  Oh, yes!

The host had warned attendees in advance that she has cats, but that they stay downstairs.  One of her feline friends, an amiable orange tabby, took a liking to me as soon as I sat down and set up my Scrabble board.  After the obligatory scratch of the belly and behind the ears, he decided that I’d do just fine as a Scrabble partner.

And so I started off the tournament with a smile, and even managed to win one game this time around.  I enjoyed munching on the soy meat and potatoes that my wife had prepared that morning.  Happy birthday to me!

I had no idea that I’d spend the rest of the week going back and forth to the hospital.

 

Pet-Free and Glad of It

Taffy

MADERA

Taffy was lying down outside the sliding glass door to my parents’ family room, so my mother let her cat in. This cat is in bad shape. Despite the furry winter coat, you can see the outline of bones in the sunken profile. The cat attempted to jump up on the couch, but can no longer make the leap successfully. Claws scrabbling momentarily on the edge of the seat, the cat slides back down to the carpet. Mom picks up the cat and lays it across her lap, where we were looking through old photo albums. The cat promptly pees all over her.

Mom lets the cat out before taking a shower and changing her clothes.

My mother’s cat, now 18 years old, is on its ninth life. Although she has taken her pet in to the vet in Fresno on a couple of occasions, she won’t spend the money now that Taffy is preparing to fly up to that big furball in the sky. Indeed, her raspy, labored breathing reminds me of what used to be known as the rales or death-rattle. I bet Taffy has pneumonia.

My sister in Texas had two black and white cats, Cookie and Oreo, and both of them died recently. My niece, who is an adult, took it hard. My sister stayed home from work to comfort her.

Many people who I meet, both online and in person, are surprised that a child-free couple like us has no pets. Surely we bestow our love on a dog or a cat? A songbird? Not even a little goldfish in a bowl?

Nope, nope and nope. Throughout our marriage, we have been 100% pet-free. Part of this relates to the fact that my wife grew up with dogs and I grew up with cats, and neither of us particularly understand the other species. Not to mention the fact that we tend to live in tiny rentals where no pets are permitted.

The bottom line for me, however, is that the love bestowed upon us by our pets for years can never make up for the heartbreak of losing them. I realize that we are missing a lot, but every joy comes at a price.  I see what is happening to my sister, my niece and my mom, and I know we have made the right decision all along.

Praying for Rain on Rosh Hashannah

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MADERA
Today is the last day of the year on the Jewish calendar, the dregs of the month of Elul, our new year’s eve. This is a day that always leaves me reflective, and all the more so if I am visiting my parents out in the country.

My elderly parents have an elderly cat, an 18 year old Siamese named Taffy. The furry beast is full of fleas, but my mom wonders whether she should let her pet in the house notwithstanding, since Taffy has been coughing so much. You see, California is on fire. Here, on the cattle-grazing ranch land at the dead center of our huge state, the fires are far to the north and south. The smoke, however, travels for hundreds of miles and scents the air even here. The news broadcasts warn children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions to remain indoors. Mom reminds me not to open any windows.

My wife is not with me for this trip as she has work obligations on Monday. This weekend, however, she paid a birthday visit to a friend who lives high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to our east. She texts me that the smoke-laden air is totally unbreatheable. Even down here on the valley floor, local high school and college football games are cancelled due to the smoke. Everyone hides indoors and runs the air conditioning full blast against the 100 degree heat and uncharacteristic humidity.

Back home in Sacramento, we have to be careful how we enter and leave our home. Open the door, step outside and quickly pull the door shut behind you. Leave the door open for 30 seconds or so to deposit groceries on the counter or haul out a sack of trash and the smoke alarm goes off.

My mother settles for locking her cat in the laundry room with food and water. Taffy will have none of it and meows up a furious storm until Mom lets her outside again. Mom says she doesn’t want to get bitten by fleas. The feline spends the night in the garage.

Driving down Highway 99 through California’s normally fertile Central Valley, I notice a billboard erected at the side of the road. “Pray for rain,” the sign exhorts us.

The epic drought in the West, now in its fifth consecutive year, has rendered much of the state a tinderbox. The grass in the highway median, the citrus groves, the waving rangeland where the cattle are fattened on their way to becoming Big Macs and porterhouse steaks, the stately old growth forests, all are just sitting ducks, dessicating in the sun, awaiting consumption by hungry flames barreling over the ridge. Everything in the path of the blaze is destroyed, leaving nothing but charred remains. Water and red-hued flame retardant is dropped from the sky by helicopter and airplane. CalFire erects firebreaks but can barely get one fire under control before another breaks out somewhere else in the state. Thousands of acres are consumed. Four firefighters are in the hospital after sustaining serious burns yesterday.

And yet the flames remain unsatisfied. What’s next?

The leafy trees in your backyard. Your house.

Dozens of little towns are evacuated. Residents stuff families and pets into their cars, grab what belongings they can, and flee. Horses are rescued by distant farms with spare paddocks, stables and horse trailers for transport.

Heading down Interstate 5 to work on Thursday morning, I saw plumes of smoke off in the distance. The billows were heading in our direction. I turn on the radio and learn that yet another fire, this time in a local park, had been reported at six o’clock that morning. A haze blankets downtown Sacramento and I dash from the car to the door of the office building where I work, attempting not to inhale the smoky air.

Governor Brown declares. a state of emergency.

My parents are fighting off a plague of ants. Desperate for water, colonies of ants enter through every crack or crevice. We spray and spray, killing ants by the dozen as they congregate in the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, even on the toilet seat.

My mother steps outside in the heat for a few minutes to water the few trees on her property that haven’t already died. She lets Taffy in for a brief respite in the air conditioning. Mom says her cat appears to have gone blind in one eye and isn’t seeing too well with the other. When she calls for Taffy, the old cat gropes around trying to find her.

“I’m afraid she’s not long for this world,” Mom tells me.

“We’re not long for this world,” my father quips in retort.

Dad turns 82 in November. My wife and I have made plans to drive down for his birthday.

I wonder how many more times I will visit this big house out in the country to celebrate Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish new year.

Tonight I will don a white shirt and tie, and we will drive into Fresno to attend the synagogue service marking the start of the High Holy Days. Tomorrow morning, we will go again to hear the blast of the Shofar, the trumpet that is supposed to wake us from our slumber, our stupor, the well-worn grooves of our lives that leave us blind to the neediness and suffering of others. We will greet each other with “L’shana tovah,” may you be blessed with a good new year.

And I know I will be praying for the safety of the firefighters, for the evacuees and their homes, for an end to the drought and the conflagrations that are burning up my home state of California.

I will be praying for rain.

The Little House

Little House

Home sweet home

A little over a month ago, we decided we were living a little too far away from my place of employment.  We were spending a little too much on gasoline each month and wasting a little too much time sitting in freeway traffic.  My wife was getting a little tired of spending a little less than four hours on the road each weekday.  In short, we were getting a little sick of wasting our lives commuting.

To be honest, we were also getting a little tired of living in a little parsonage next to a little church in a little town located a little north of nowhere.  Granted, we were more than a little grateful that we had the option of camping out at the parsonage at a time when we had little other choice.  That occurred a little less than two years ago when my former employer found itself a little short of funds and a little long on staff.  After the layoff, we moved a little more toward the northern part of California and were grateful to be a little closer to both my wife’s family and my own parents.  The timing was more than a little auspicious, as our niece had just popped out a little one and we wanted to be able to see a her a little more often than just on Christmas and her birthday.  It all worked out, except for the little fact that I didn’t have a job up here.  It took a little too long for me to remedy that situation, which involved a little too much travel to southern California for interviews as well as a little too much debiting of our little bank account.

When I was finally hired, it was for a temporary position that was slated to end in a little less than ten months and also paid a little less than I had been earning previously.  Nevertheless, I was more than a little relieved to be working again.  In a little while, I found myself promoted to a “permanent” position, although there is still the little matter of passing my probationary period, on which I have a little more than nine months to go.  As luck would have it, our governor gave state employees a little gift of a (very) little raise that will take effect next month.  We are more than a little appreciative of the many little blessings that have been bestowed upon us in the last little while.

Among those blessings is our new place of residence, which we have officially dubbed The Little House.  Originally built as in-law quarters, it sits behind the main house, which is occupied by the family to whom we pay rent on a monthly basis.  Our little corner of paradise consists of a bedroom and another room that serves as kitchen and living room.  There is also a little bathroom tucked a little inside the front doorway.  We have a little couch (courtesy of the owners) that affords my wife and I a little less room than we need to sit comfortably, particularly at time like, say, now, when we are each wailing away at our little laptop computers.  There is too little room for both of us to use a mouse, so we entered into a little compromise under which I sit a little to the left of my wife and use the little touchpad mouse on the keyboard.  Oh, and we also have a little patio just outside the back door that has just enough room for a little chair.

Abby Rufus

Abby and Rufus

Strawberry

Strawberry

Oreo

Oreo, our resident kitty

On the upside, our 600 square foot little piece of air conditioned heaven costs us a little less than an apartment in an urban complex filled with a little too many noisy neighbors.  Here we have peace and quiet, that is, except when the owner’s dogs decide to bark all night, an event which occurs a little too often.  He raises Yorkshire terriers and sells the puppies for a little less than three months of rent payments.  I think people are more than a little crazy to pay that kind of price for a dog when there are so many cute canines sitting in the city animal shelter and waiting to be taken home for the price of getting them vaccinated.  At any rate, we’ve become more than a little fond of the critters, even as we feel a little bad that they’re being treated like factories for creating more little ones.  But money makes the world go ‘round, does it not?

Chickens

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Damned if I know!

We live just a little outside of Sacramento in an area that looks a little like somewhere out in the country.  Across the street is a little flock of chickens that cluck and coo to their heart’s content while they are lorded over by a couple of roosters who are a little too sure (cocksure?) that they own the neighborhood and therefore needn’t be concerned about their little habit of cock-a-doodle-dooing any time they please, like say, a little before two in the morning.  Oh, and there is also a pair of peacocks a little way down the road who come a-visiting every now and then, often with their brood of little ones following behind.  As anyone who has ever visited Casa de Fruta on the Pacheco Pass Road between the Bay Area and the Central Valley knows, the male peacock loves to preen and show off its fancy feathers.  What we didn’t know, however, is that peacocks have quite a little set of vocal cords on them.  When they decide to screech, the blood-curdling yowl can only be described as a little like a call for help uttered by a cat being raped.

In our short time here, we have come to appreciate the many murals, sculptures and old signs that are found throughout Sacramento.  I present a few of our discoveries here for your amusement.

Nahl Satire

Probably my favorite downtown Sacramento mural.  This is a satire of a 19th century painting, “Sunday Morning in the Mines,” by Charles Christian Nahl.  The original, without benefit of the 3-D effect of people climbing out of (into?) the painting, is on display here in town at the Crocker Art Museum.  This mural is painted high on a building, with the man at the bottom (yellow jacket) appearing to stand on the top of a billboard.

Downtown Mural

So, yes, I am a fan of 3-D effects.  We drive by this mural every day and I still can’t get over how real it looks.  The cat is a nice touch!

Scarcity

William Leung mural in the run-down Del Paso Heights/Haginwood neighborhood of Sacramento.  For the text of the Tim Kahl poem above the center of the mural, click here.

Canada Dry Sign

Old Canada Dry sign, 16th Street in North Sacramento.

So, what comes next?  Reno, that’s what!  We have three trips to that ramblin’, gamblin’, broken-down town scheduled for this summer, one each in June, July and August.  The first of these little jaunts is scheduled for this Friday.  I can hardly wait to hit the video poker machines road!

Daffodils Howe Avenue

Daffodils, Howe Avenue, Sacramento

Dogs and Babies

Shelby
Shelby

I have recently discovered that dogs and babies have something important in common (other than being cute, that is):  They both like to vomit in the most inconvenient of places and at the most inconvenient of times.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against either dogs or babies.  I’d probably be un-American or some kind of heartless ogre if I objected to either.  Seriously, they rock our world.  And I believe that both are entitled to good homes and the best of care.  Just as long as it’s not my home or my care.  This is largely a product of the aversion to bodily secretions (and cleaning up same) that my wife and I share.

For 15 years, my wife and I enjoyed a blissfully child- and dog-free married life.  Then I was laid off from my job and we moved in with family, 650 miles away in northern California.  Now we spend a lot of time babysitting for my little grandniece.  As for my two young nephews who live here in town, each one seems to own three or four dogs at any given time, and usually a couple of cats thrown in for good measure.

Among my realizations as a human and canine uncle is that, in both cases, there is a lot of slobber, puke, pee and poop involved.  It looks disgusting, smells worse, and I routinely go running to find someone else to clean it up.

After Pastor Mom opened her birthday gifts on Saturday, many of us walked from the social hall over to the church (where the air conditioning was actually working) to sing karaoke.  This proved to be an interesting experience, as my nephews promised Pastor Mom that they would be duly respectful of the church atmosphere and would avoid singing any inappropriate song.  In this day and age, that pretty much eliminates everything.  My nephews settled on country music, a genre in which there are a few songs that do not contain any profanity, references to drinking or drugs, or overt misogyny.  Okay, very few.

As a technodork, I had to ask my savvy wife how this was going to work.  She explained that it is no longer necessary to have backing tracks on CD because karaoke versions of most popular songs are available on YouTube and can be played directly from a smart phone through the church’s amplifiers.  Mindful of their limitations, my nephews settled on, of all things, Bobby Vinton songs.  For some reason, however, there didn’t seem to be any karaoke versions of “Roses are Red” or “My Melody of Love” available on YouTube.  Undaunted, the boys proceeded to use the versions that were available, meaning that we were treated to decidedly unique performances of Mr. Vinton and my nephew singing over each other.  No matter, however; there were several babies in attendance, and we were soon treated to the distraction of one of them barfing all over Pastor Mom.

Unfortunately, we’ve had no better luck in the canine department this past week.  Pastor Mom’s friend (also a pastor) was here visiting and helping with the birthday party preparations.  Although she lives in the Central Valley, she came here directly from visiting friends and family in Oregon.  Now, Pastor Mom’s friend had her dog with her.  Pastor Mom planned to drive her friend home to drop the dog off with a neighbor, then turn around and come home, only to do the trip a second time after the party.  My wife and I told Pastor Mom that all that driving was just ridiculous and that there was no reason we couldn’t put up with the dog for a week.  <insert laughter here>

Weeeelllll… Um, where shall I begin?  What a cute doggie!  A chihuahua/terrier mix with a face that looks somewhere between a bear’s and a fox’s.  And, of course, she had to come with a cute name, too:  Shelby.  And then she’d jump up on the sofa, curl right up next to me as if I were her BFF and start licking my hand.  Even if you’re not a dog person, how can your heart not melt?

And then I awoke at 3 a.m. for one of my never-ending pee runs (among the many delightful perks of being 55 years old), only to find that ol’ Shelby had beaten me to it.  Only she didn’t bother using the toilet.

And the next night, we moved from liquid mode to solid mode when my nocturnal pee run was met with, uh, well, let’s say I just barely missed stepping in it.  Peee-yooo!

And the next night, my niece, who was also visiting with us, allowed Shelby to jump into bed with her, whereupon our canine friend proceeded to barf all over the nice clean sheets.

Everyone, repeat after me:  I love dogs.  I love dogs.  I love dogs.  Okay, you can beat me over the head now.

Good girl, Shelby.  Yes, I’ll pat your head and scratch your ears.  Please stop begging me for my food.  Your food dish is full.  Besides, dogs aren’t supposed to like pickles.

I suppose I should digress here and mention a little something about my mother’s cat, Taffy.  Now, Taffy is a very old cat at age 17.  She no longer stays outside at night, instead curling up on the couch or on one of the rugs or else just roams the house as she pleases.  We stayed over at my parents’ house two nights last week.  One of their two bathrooms is out of order at the moment (which could itself be the subject of an entire blog post), meaning that if either of my parents needs to pee in the middle of the night, they have to leave their master suite and walk down the hall to the bathroom that is near the front door.  On our second night there, my father did so in the middle of the night.  In the dark.

Taffy
Taffy

Well, you know what comes next.  “Mrrrooowwwww!”  My father stepped on poor Taffy, narrowly missed pratfalling onto the floor himself (not a good thing when you’re 80 years old), and suffered a lovely scratch on his left foot to seal the deal.

Back on the home front, Shelby had to take her turn playing this little game as well.  I guess she was happy I was home.  After all, it only took two days for her to quit barking her head off every time I walked through the door.  I think she finally figured out that I live here.  So when I entered the house with an armful of bags and took a hard left into the kitchen, Shelby bounded after me and ended up underfoot.  Before I could put the bags down, I heard a sickening yelp that let me know that I stepped on her paw.  I believe I yelled something decidedly uncharitable in her general direction, for which I am truly sorry.  I promise never again to refer to any canine friend as a cur, a mongrel or a bitch.  Honest, I do.

As for babies, toddlers and their stinky bodily secretions, I may also need to take back some of the things I may have said in various fits of olfactory pique.  After all, just tonight my little grandniece finally said the word “uncle” for the first time.

Turn me into jelly and knock me over with a feather, why don’t ya.

Fecal Fried Fish

Warning:  This post is rated D, for Disgusting!

I have a complicated relationship with my mother.

This is a statement that I would expect a teenage girl to express in confidence to her high school BFF.  I, however, am 55 years old.  I suppose this means that I ought to do some hard time in psychotherapy.  When I ring up the mother, however, I tend to feel more inclined to a cheaper and speedier solution, such as breaking the top off a bottle of whiskey with my teeth and flinging the cap across the room as a prelude to shoving the contents of the bottle down my gullet.

Lest you peg me for a hopeless exaggerator or prevaricator, allow me to present an illustrative example.

On the phone with the mother last week, I was treated to an expository essay on why, healthwise, the most dangerous time of life is within the two-hour window immediately following the consumption of a large and enjoyable meal.

Exhibit A, I discovered, is the mother’s late Uncle Aimel.  Apparently, he was an insurance adjuster for Prudential until the fateful evening that he met his untimely demise at a company banquet.  After eating, drinking and listening to umpteen speakers, the poor man stood up, stepped out into the corridor and promptly dropped dead.

Although the mother insists that the body is simply unable to process the large quantity of food in which a person might be expected to indulge at, say, Thanksgiving dinner or a well-catered shiva, I am of the opinion that Uncle Aimel died of boredom brought on by exposure to two hours of dull, droning rhetoric marked by weak attempts at misplaced wit.  The only thing we know for sure is that if Uncle Aimel had begged off the festivities and instead made an early evening of it, he might well still be alive today.

As a glutton for punishment with an overactive sense of filial guilt, I again rang up the mother today.  I swear to you, I will never learn.  Apparently I am an incurable masochist who is unable to resist the opportunity to keep coming back for more punishment.

Today I had the distinct pleasure of being regaled with the story of the mother’s recent abortive fish dinner.  As I understand it, she had purchased a package of flounder fillets at a well-known chain outfit and, back in her kitchen, began preparations for a fish fry.  Upon removing the wrapper from the package, however, the mother could not help but notice the wafting of the distinct odor of — well, poop.  This wasn’t a fishy odor, she clarified, but the pure essence of E. coli.

One might think that a reasonable course of action in such circumstance would be to rewrap the package and return it to the vendor from whence it came at the earliest possible opportunity.  But, no, the mother doubted her initial impression and proceeded to wash the fillets under running water to see whether the vile odor would dissipate.

It didn’t.

So the mother did the natural thing that anyone would do when finding one’s self in possession of a packet of fish fillets exuding the odor of feces.

She squeezed some lemon on it.

Alas, even the lovely odor of cut lemon did little to improve the essence of shit that continued to permeate the now thoroughly clean fillets.  I don’t know about you, but I believe I’d be two miles down the road to the store bearing receipt in hand by this point.  But then again, that’s just me.

So what did the mother do with her stinking fish fillets?  She breaded and fried them.

Personally, I cannot imagine going through all that labor of beating the egg, preparing the bread crumbs (matzo meal, in this case), dredging the horrible-smelling fillets, heating up a pan coated with oil and then actually setting the bacteria-laden mess upon the stove and turning it at intervals so that it browns evenly on both sides.

When the fecal fish was done and piled high upon a platter, the mother continued to detect the distinct odor of putrefaction emanating therefrom.  Fearing that actually eating it could potentially make her and the father ill (ya think?), the mother wasn’t yet ready to actually sit down and make a meal of the fried fish poop.

So she fed some of it to the cat.

Now, the mother has a lovely cat by the name of Taffy who is about sixteen or seventeen years old and has more sense than most people I know.  Miss Taffy, who has never been known to turn down a choice bit of fish, took one sniff of the fecal dish and walked away in disgust.  Even a cat knows that we do not eat anything that smells like the stuff that comes out of the body from beneath the tail.  Okay, I know some dogs that are into eating poop.  But a cat?  Never.

Finally, the mother was convinced that this particular fish fry could only have the effect of sending her and the father to the hospital.  So she threw the whole mess in the trash.  (And the angels sang Hallelujah!)

I am told that the parents plan to return to the supermarket with receipt in their hands and a complaint on their lips.  They won’t have the evidence with them, however.  I am certain that it is currently rotting in the landfill (known to them as “the hole”) that they have created at the rear of their property as an alternative to paying a monthly trash removal bill.

I’d like to say that I was gobsmacked by this story, but really, it’s not atypical.  Which is not to say that the mother is always wrong.  Recently, for example, I was convinced that she was wrong in her assertion that we would qualify for Food Stamps even though we still own an old car and aren’t yet totally destitute.  When we received our EBT card, I was forced to eat crow, a tough dish for a vegan to handle.

And then there is the matter of my upcoming job interview.  I actually have several in the works, including a couple of truly long-distance ones for which the employers have kindly accommodated me by conducting the interview via telephone.  I do have this one in-person interview on Thursday, however, and it is more than 800 miles away, at the northern edge of Washington State, close to the Canadian border.

I initially informed the mother that we are not going due to the expense of such a trip.  This would be one job prospect that I would just have to turn away.  The mother vehemently disagreed with our decision.  “But what if this is the one?” she whined.  Then she rang up my sister, who proceeded to rave and rant about how could we turn down the possibility of a job in as beautiful an area as the coastal Northwest.

After going over the issue with my wife about fourteen times over the last few days, we ultimately decided to bite the bullet and travel to the interview.  After all, it’s nearly 110 degrees here and barely 70 degrees there.  If nothing else, we will cool off, enjoy some lovely scenery and take a break from standing in food distribution lines.

So once again today, I found myself on the phone with the mother, tearing into my favorite meal of crow and humble pie.  I’ll try not to indulge in too much of it, Mom, as I’d hate to fall over dead like Uncle Aimel.  I mean, since I have an interview to prepare for and all.

As I said, I have a complicated relationship with my mother.