Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Monday, December 23, 2013

Free Six-Pack, Anyone?

Free Six-Pack, Anyone?

Life is glorious!  I finally have time to write a quick piece, after being immersed in a new project for a week or so now, ever since I posted a little blurb on f/b about getting feedback on a half-dozen short pieces of fiction I had written in the past.  The response was very generous and I considered each and every comment carefully, as I sifted through what folks had to say.

First of all, why was I asking for feedback? I was instructed to do so as part of the process of finally getting something published in the form of an e-book.  This procedure for cyberspace publishing is fascinating to say the least, but daunting at the same time.  I have been marking time for a couple of years now, as stuck as Ella Fitzgerald’s Santa Clause in the chimney, not able to go forward, and certainly not wanting to fall by the publishing wayside.

So I asked for feedback as a way of beginning the works, and have begun the task of making changes.  I find the process to be enjoyable and fairly effortless, primarily because there is no timeframe.  Having the flexibility to go forward, without the pressure of a deadline for the whole project, is the best of all worlds.

Of course, I needed a conductor, and the time to set aside sufficient pecuniary measures to defray the cost of the first leg of the venture.  I am enthusiastically involved on face/book and have made many invaluable connections, one of them being Jack, who has “dabbled” in writing certainly from back in his middle school days, when he used to delight me with his humorous stories, sprinkling those fifteen spelling words throughout his essays.  I noted particular posts on f/b in the past which referred to specific works of his that Jack had published in cyberspace, and communicated with him over a year ago.

Jack told me about SmashWords, and showed me how to order the free do-it-yourself manual, which I did.  It was informative but when it came to the logistics of formatting work from my computer, to the language of cyberspace, the book required that I be more versed in technology than I am.  As I say to people, I am a self-taught computer person, which means I am totally hands-on, without the ability to speak computerese.  

My plan is to begin with a six-pack of stories, which I will offer for free, with the intention of repeating this step at least twice more.  By the time I have put three of these six-packs of stories out, then I would like to try an eighteen-pack, maybe for the nominal sum of $0.99.  After all, I have more than a hundred of these stories already written, with plenty more available from where those came.  

Having waited for this long already, I am content to allow the process to unfold at its own pace.  I am excited without being manic.  There’s a difference, you know, and I’m glad I have figured that out.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Vacancy at the Pine Street Motel

Vacancy at the Pine Street Motel

This business of maintaining two residences is still quite new to me, and not being one much for adventure, I am still considering all factors.  This does not prevent me from taking advantage of the best each has to offer.  We have lived full-time on this mountain for going on 32 years, and have managed to survive all of the harsh elements that have come our way.  This includes at least ten storms which dumped in excess of three feet of snow, storms which dumped rain on top of heavy snow, and then froze solid, and southwest blowers, dumping thirteen inches of rain-horizontally-in a weekend’s time.

When I think of the countless times I drove a vehicle up to the top our driveway, so as to park on Bell Springs Road, in preparation for potential snow, I marvel at the difference technology has made.  I can monitor the weather via the internet, and at least have a much better idea of both the snow level, and the quantity.  That was always the kicker: How much?  Our Trooper could easily make it out in less than three or four inches, without chaining up, but we could never be sure that we would not get dumped on.

I had a reputation to uphold down at the school district.  I only had to make that fatal phone call twice in sixteen years of teaching: I can’t make it in today.  Once was when a double oil tanker jack-knifed near the Hog Farm, closing the 101 for sixteen hours, and once was when we bottomed out in the deep snow, while packing all the food for the Science Fair judges, one fateful March day.  Sad for them-great success for those of us snowed in on the mountain.

Now we have taken a residence in the center of Willits.  Annie initially took this step when she was first diagnosed with cancer and had one kidney removed, along with a softball-sized tumor.  She had to be near Howard Hospital and she had to be near her healthcare provider.  Now it continues to serve this purpose, while also affording us the opportunity to escape the rigors of the ridge, using that aforementioned technology to keep us appraised of the weather outlook.

When this most recent example of extreme weather hit, we were cozily ensconced in our motel room in Eureka, with Dozer, and no specific agenda.  And when we left Eureka, it was to return to the residence in Willits, commonly referred to by us as the Pine Street Motel, where the water pipes do not freeze, even when the temperature sank to twelve degrees, and the heat comes magically out of a metal box in the living room, requiring no firewood.  What will they think of next?

There was no water at our spot on the mountain for ten days, first because the pipes were frozen, and second because we simply have not had enough precipitation this season to kick-start the springs.  No rain equates to reduced amounts of spring water, with which to run three households.  Normally at this time of year, the creeks are flowing, and we can simply turn on the front faucet and let it run for months at a time, thereby keeping water flowing through the entire system, preventing the pipes from freezing.  Not this year, yet.  We're still waiting for the new pond to fill up.

Additionally, at least two of the exterior on/off valves had been ruined by the freeze and had to be replaced.  By bailing out, it gave Casey and Lito the time necessary to get the parts and do the work, without the stress of knowing Annie and I were sitting around waiting for something to happen.  And no, my arm isn’t broken, but I am on the disabled list with some kind of lingering muscle tear across my shoulders, rendering me about as helpful as a one-armed man in a wheelbarrow race. 

So what’s not to like about this new arrangement?  I don’t know and I guess that bugs me.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I will get over it the very next time I see that a front from the Gulf of Alaska is heading our way.  Load up, Dozer!  There’s a vacancy at the Pine St. Motel.  Besides, I’ve been wanting to finish up that jig-saw puzzle I have going down there.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Friend, Mountain

My Friend, Mountain

The weather is all the rage these days, with historically cold temperatures and snow, and all that accompanies this nature-sent circus event.  You have only to drive on any public street/highway to gain entry into The Big Tent.  You’ll be reminded you’re there constantly by the antics of your fellow travelers.  Think of it as the main stage in a  Barnum and Bailey production.

The two predominant “acts” we see so regularly that it would seem that reruns are already in style, consist of speed-sters and impede-sters.  There are those who [remarkably] drive so fast they obviously feel impervious to icy road conditions, with or without four-or all-wheel drive. And there are those who not only agonize over their own safety by traveling at a crawl, but agonize over your safety and mine, because they will not pull over.

You’ve heard of David versus Goliath?  Think manic road rage meets grandpas out large.  Bubba is in his monster pickup with tires that are almost as high as the roofline of Grandpa Gus’s Oldsmobile.  Gus is already terrified to be driving in the first place, and is only doing so because he’s more terrified of Grandma Maudie’s driving.  She’s too inexperienced to even realize she should be seriously frightened.

So Gus is dashing along at twenty-five MPH and feeling pretty good about it, when the sun is blotted out behind him by a mud-spattered monstrosity that Gus at first mistakes for a Sherman tank.  His flashbacks to WWII cause him to temporarily close his eyes.  The act of closing his eyes freaks Maudie out so badly, she grabs the wheel and almost solves Bubba’s problem for him, the Olds fishtailing crazily for a full five seconds.

Fortunately for them both, Gus’s right leg cramps up, and in straightening it out spasmodically, has applied enough pressure to the accelerator to bring the Olds nicely back into a smooth rhythm.  Gus gets a kink in his neck from the extreme angle he has attained, grinning savagely at Maudie, as if to say, “Got us out that mess, Missy.”  In the rear-view mirror, the tank looms again.  Time passes.  Gus again glances over at Maudie, triumphantly.

As his eyes shift front again, it is just in time for Gus to witness a Winebago sliding neatly across all lanes, plowing through the snow, into his lane, coming head-on for his Cutlass.  No time to think-just to react.  Gus does the worst possible thing and slams on the brake.  In slow motion, the Olds does a complete 360, ending up facing the correct direction when the spin has stopped, only shifted into the center lane, which is no-man’s land.  The Olds sails past the motorhome in a blur, as Gus shakily nurses it back into the correct lane.  

He’s too wiped out to gloat at Maudie.  Behind him he can see that Bubba has ended up against the righthand bank, after plowing a path a block long.  Bubba, please meet my friend, Mountain.

I try to avoid driving in treacherous conditions, but if I’m forced to, I attempt to reach a happy medium between Gus and Bubba.  I keep distance between me and the guy in front of me, and I pull over for the bullies of the road world.  A bully is going to get his way and there’s nothing I can-or want-to do to stop him.  He’ll meet my friend Mountain some day, and find that there are bigger bullies on the block than he.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pretty Scary Stuff

Pretty Scary Stuff
We ate breakfast this morning at The Chalet, an omelet house in Eureka, a ritual as etched in concrete as the names of the boys in the concrete floor of the generator house, which I built back in 1985.  The same gal-we’ll call her Chrissy-always waits on us, even when we come in as early as six o’clock.  

“Long time, no see,” she greeted us.  “Running from the cold?” 

“More like ambling," I responded, "since we came up before the worst of the cold arrived.  It began snowing on the mountain yesterday morning, and the pipes have been frozen since Tuesday.  We’re just here to escape the big chill.”

She poured coffee and handed us menus.  We did not need to look at them, but it was all part of the ritual.  I always order the vegetable omelet, this time without toast, while Annie gets the #2 special, also without toast.  I am conducting the most extraordinary experiment, trying to eliminate bread from my diet.  I’m not compulsive about it, but I am trying to see what life without sourdough bread is like.
What Annie thinks about first, when we contemplate The Chalet, is that this is the restaurant we were sitting in, when she was attacked by the tumor enveloping her kidney.  At the time we diagnosed her affliction as a kidney stone attack, which is bad enough; losing one of your kidneys, along with that pesky tumor, elevated the stakes to a much higher plateau.  The ensuing “drive” down to Willits was epic.

This morning, however, we were miles away from kidney attacks, as Chrissy returned to take our order.  After she wrote down the pertinent information, she asked, “So what kind of a farm does your son operate?”

Since the subject had not been raised this morning, it showed she has a pretty good memory, obviously returning to a topic we had bandied about at some earlier time.
“IIt’s an organic vegetable farm, with a CSA component,” said Annie.  “He and his partner Amber run it.”

I joined in with, “See, when we bought our property back in 1975, much of it was covered with manzanita trees.  Casey cleared two-three acres, and formed terraces, some by hand and some by hiring heavy equipment.  Now he grows in the same style as the ancient Incas.  He has around 25 customers a week, with as many as 55 in the summer.”
“Nice,” she said.  “I put a garden in this year, but I had a lot of trouble with bugs.  Aphids ate all my cauliflower.”  She went on.  “It’s just in this era of GMO’s, you want to do what you can.  I cooked up some corn the other night, and my husband ‘bout had a fit.  I wasn’t thinking.”

She bustled off to the kitchen.  I read some of the hype surrounding the football game tomorrow between the Niners and the Seahawks, a contest that featured two teams with no love lost between them.  As Dwight Clark said of the Seahawks, “They’re good players and they’re mean.  That’s a dangerous combination.”  I think the Seahawks have played the best ball this year, but I also know that the Niners have some key players back in the lineup, and there are still four games left in the regular season.  It ought to be an engaging affair.

Otherwise, weather reports and road closures were at the top of the news in the rest of the paper.  Apparently Annie and I were not the only ones who were impacted by the extreme conditions.

Returning in a timely manner with our plates, Chrissy placed them on the table and casually said with a bright smile, “I see the cops have come for you.”  The door had just opened and two of Eureka’s finest had just strolled in.

Without missing a beat, I replied, “It took them long enough.  Well, if they’ve got a warrant, I guess I've gotta go in.” (Sorry, Jerry.)

Later, after boxing up the leftovers for lunch, and leaving some loot on the table, along with an excellent tip, we strolled out the front door, under the baleful gaze of the aforementioned officers of the law.  They appeared mean.  If looks could murder, I was road-kill.

I delivered my most charming smile at them as I strolled out the door.  “You all have a real nice day.”  

Like the tundra outside, their faces remained frozen in place.  I guess maybe they thought I was a thug, or maybe they just recognize an old hippie when they see one, though I reckon it could have been the napkin I forgot to remove from the front of my shirt.  A bib does make for some pretty scary stuff.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Are You Trying To Make My Baby Cry?

Are You Trying To Make My Baby Cry?

Annie and I fled the mountain for the more temperate climate of Eureka yesterday.  The temperature on the ridge the past few nights has been hovering around twenty degrees, only warming up to the mid-thirties during the day, not even enough to unfreeze the pipes.  Though it is raining here in Eureka, we have managed to make our way to the mall, where the only snow we see has Santa in the same picture, and the temperature hovers around 72 degrees.
The “official” reason we are up here is because we are celebrating our thirty-first anniversary, an annual pilgrimage that we first started back around 1985.  North has always been the direction-of-choice for us, the pace down south in Santa Rosa being prohibitively fast for a couple of mountain folk.  Humboldt County over Sonoma County any day of the week, as far as the mellower pace of life is concerned.

Our itinerary rarely varies and includes Christmas shopping, strolling the streets of Old Town, and dining in our favorite restaurants.  It’s early enough in the Season that there are no crowds, and there’s the double bonus of avoiding the extreme weather conditions on the ridge.  We plan on having the big anniversary dinner at Seamus T. Bones tonight, but last night, because it is right next to our dive of a motel, we ate at Appleby’s.

Yes indeed, no holding back when it comes to classy eateries.  We originally set aside our misgivings about Appleby’s simply because of the convenience of being able to mosey right next door; plus, they have a bar.  It’s run by a gal named Kelsey, who asks her patrons their names once, and then remembers them.  Oh yeah, she serves a mean Jamie on ice.

So when we were escorted to our table by Garrett, who congratulated us on our anniversary, we were feeling downright comfortable.  We’d perused the menu while sipping our libations, Annie nursing her cabernet, I my Irish whiskey, so we had our entrees selected by the time Sally arrived to take our orders.  All was well in Paradise.

While luxuriating in the glow (regardless of whether induced by marital bliss or the alcohol) we watched a table for about a dozen people start to fill up, half with adults and the other half with kids, the oldest being probably five years old or so.  And no, they were not noisy or obstreperous in any form.  They were very well behaved, and we would not even have noticed them, except for the youngest child of all, a little blonde-haired boy, no more than eighteen or twenty months old.

This tiny tot was at the head of the table, a man to his right, around the corner of the table, and a woman similarly positioned to his left.  The two adults were engaged in deep conversation, one monopolized by the man.  His voice seemed to blend into the hum of the restaurant, becoming synonymous with the drone of the television.

The little guy started off complacently enough, but after five or ten minutes, began to fidget and fuss, seeking some attention.  Mom and Dad were oblivious.  The little tyke began squirming, and the volume went up a notch.  It was as though he were sending out signals, but the transmitter was not receiving.  Annie and I became gradually aware of his antics and turned our gazes in his direction.

He was just the cutest little guy and he really was not being a jerk-he just wanted someone to look at him, maybe get him a cracker or some juice, but no one was paying him any heed-except me and Annie.  When he became aware that we were sitting to one side, apparently more than happy to give him our undivided attention, he paused.  He looked at us; he looked away.  He looked back and repeated this series several times.  His face flitted through a series of expressions, from surprise, to puzzlement, and then rapidly through interest, amusement, uncertainty, delight and acceptance.  He was ominously quiet.

When his mom suddenly remembered that she had a child and turned to him, the little guy seemed startled and burst out wailing.  Simultaneously, she became aware of Annie’s and my existence, took in our beaming countenances, and asked us the most astonishing question, “Are you trying to make my baby cry?”


We were still chortling over the whole incident a few minutes later, as we got up to go.  Mom and Dad were once again engaged in their mesmerizing conversation.  As we passed the little guy, his arm slowly rose and he waved it once, before allowing it to once again settle down on his lap.

Good luck with that little dude.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

You Either Get Old or You Die: or The Pluses and Wishes of Aging

You Either Get Old or You Die:
The Pluses and Wishes of Aging

I have always enjoyed the pluses and wishes exercise and would like to apply it to the aging process, being qualified by virtue of being sixty-one years old/young, depending on how you view yourself.  At any given point, on any given day, I can feel very young one minute, and very old the next.  It’s kind of a mixed blessing.

I will begin with the biggest plus of all, the fact that I no longer have to be somewhere, at a given time, because I was so instructed.  If there is an itinerary, it is because I approved it.  When you’re a kid, with ample time and freedom on your hands, you do not have the life experience to compare it with the loss of that freedom that comes through job and family responsibilities.  I now revel in the idea that I can pursue that which appeals to me most, every single day, even if it involves 12-14 hours of sedentary work.  I get to make that choice.

I wish I could still walk up to the 7.25 mile marker on Bell Springs Road, (eighty minutes, roundtrip) instead of just to Blue Rock, a forty-five minute jaunt.

I love the fact that I no longer have to worry about hurting myself with a chainsaw; no one will allow me to pick up one anymore.  Another tragedy...

I wish the gray in my beard kept the same pace with that of the hair on my head, which seems to be on a slower track to gray.  I hate shaving so my graybeard gives me away.  I can shave ten years off my appearance by picking up my electric shaver.

I love the fact that I no longer am required to keep up with the twenty-something men, when we head out to construct, or out to gather wood.  Anything I do is viewed as gravy, especially if I am able to drive my truck to the site and manage not to hurt myself.

I wish I could still eat sourdough bread, which I have given up in an effort to curb my ever-burgeoning stomach.  I am trying to eliminate processed food from my diet, but some things are so much harder than others.

I love that I am able to see the accomplishments of my three sons, as they choose their varied paths among life’s many options.  All display characteristics of consummate community contributors.

I wish I could take advantage of available senior discounts; unfortunately, I forget to ask for them.

I love that I lived long enough to enjoy the modern technology which allows me to renew friendships and communicate with so many good friends.

I wish I could better figure this darn technology out, so that I could publish in cyber-space.

I love that my life has gradually allowed me to move farther and farther away from the complexities of urban life, to that of the country.  Life can be harsh in either environment, but the hardships endured on the mountain, often do not compare with the kinds of challenges that living amidst countless others, provides.  I’ll take three feet of snow over the smoggy Los Angeles air, any day of the week.

When all is said and done, I still like my old saying, “You either get old, or you die.”  Right now, I love the path I am on, and wish to continue, and that’s the bottom line.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

An Organic, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Lactose Intolerant/Nut-Allergy-Aware, Traditional, Thanksgiving Day Dinner

An Organic, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Lactose-Intolerant/ 
Nut-Allergy-Aware, Traditional, 
Thanksgiving Day Dinner

It’s just one Thursday each year towards the end of November, somehow selected long ago, when folks do nothing more than gather together to share company, dinner, dessert, libation and whatever floats your boat, as Papa used to say.  I like Thanksgiving Day more than any other holiday for that reason alone.  There are no gift lists, no romantic entanglements, no tributes to fallen heros, no fireworks, no religious responsibilities-just a meal.

On Fellowship Street Thanksgiving dinner meant turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, that wretched canned cranberry jelly, and lots of pies.  Papa used to make three or four different pies, always including minced meat pies, something I have never sampled outside of our home.

My job (as it was others’ job before me) was to dice the onions, peppers, celery, garlic, et al, for the stuffing.  Additionally, I chopped the turkey giblets that Papa also found essential for this dish.  He liberally applied the poultry seasoning and the black pepper.  Papa was a fan of a well-seasoned stuffing.

Today Annie and I will convene to Casey and Amber’s spot for a dinner which-except for the organic turkey from Mariposa’s-will come almost exclusively from HappyDay Farms.  The menu will include turkey, pulled pork (from the hog that was butchered last month) potatoes (which technically come from Irene’s organic farm) gravy, winter squash, various veggies, and an assortment of freshly prepared greens.  For dessert Annie has prepared pumpkin pies from the sugar pumpkins harvested recently, three different kinds of dinner rolls/muffins, and Amber is certain to have some of John’s wine, made locally here in Mendo County.  (OK, the gluten-free flours Annie uses are not produced on the farm…)

Yes, these days there is very little that closely resembles the traditional Thanksgiving meal from the past.  Annie made a vegan meatloaf last year so that everyone had a main entree.  We have only gluten-free food available, Annie had to make one pie without her almond crust, because of someone’s allergy to nuts, and she has to prepare dairy-free dessert for another, because of a lactose-intolerant issue.  It’s all on the agenda for a modern meal.  This is not political correctness-it’s looking after the comfort of one’s guests, and that’s still a top priority.

If there were stipulations attached to Thanksgiving Day, they would revolve around the dual concepts of appreciation for what we have, while acknowledging that there are many who do not have even the bare minimum.  But those who have nothing on a special holiday, also have nothing every day of the week.  I think it’s appropriate to share in the responsibility of this societal travesty on Thanksgiving Day, only if we also share in the responsibility of this travesty every other day of the year too.  

In any and all cases, I think folks should do what feels right, and right now, what feels right, is dinner.  After all, I-as much as anyone-have much to be thankful for and her name is Annie.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Yes, Virginia, Men Can Clean Toilets

Because I am cleaning house today, I thought I would repost this from 2011.  Obviously, the more things change around here, the more they stay the same.

Yes, Virginia, Men Can Clean Toilets
Yes, Virginia, men can clean toilets.  Some of us have peculiar ways, out here in California.  Since I retired from teaching, five years ago, and excluding this most recent summer, I have maintained the household, endeavoring to keep ahead of the dust that descends upon us each day from Bell Springs Road.  I would think of it as the gift that keeps on giving, except when I try to exchange this “gift’ at Customer Service, they suggest I try elsewhere.
Ann has her long-arm quilting machine here at the house, so she is gainfully employed much of the time. I have my pension, but except for plunging back into the world of construction this past summer, for the first time in more than twenty years, I do not work outside our home.  Therefore, it seemed logical that Ann should not have to worry about house-cleaning.  
Having been raised in a household where the four oldest of us were boys, I learned at any early age, that washing dishes and floors, though not at the same time, was not women’s work.  It was work, pure and simple.  Mama used to give each of us a list each summer morning, with a number of tasks which might include cleaning one of the bathrooms, or washing the lunch dishes.  We learned at an early age that if you ate meals, then washing the dishes came with the territory.
If you watched television at any point in time, then vacuuming the living room seemed appropriate.  I tracked dirt into the house, either on my bare feet in the summer, or my shoes in the winter, so sweeping and washing the kitchen floor seemed the only logical course of action.  I never felt as though the chores were demeaning or unmanly (unboyly?).  That doesn’t mean I enjoyed the chores, it just means that I accepted it as a way of life.
Now, I keep the kitchen counters clean, the mechanics of the recycling, trash and compost coordinated, the floors swept and mopped, the bathrooms cleaned, and the clutter on the pool table kept to manageable levels.  I wash dishes, do laundry, clean toilets and feed the cats.  I vacuum, make the bed, empty the ashes from the wood stoves, and get up on a stool to clean the top of the refrigerator.  One of my son Ben’s favorite things to do, at six-two, is run his finger across the top of the ‘fridge, as though at the firehouse, conducting an inspection, and cluck disapprovingly.  If you have ever been “clucked” at, you know what I’m saying/talking about.
I hear all of the men out there muttering, “What do you want, a medal, or a chest to pin it on?” and I say, “Eat a root.”  I’m simply not a macho kind of guy.  Kat didn’t call me Pooh Bear, because I walk around flashing knife scars all over my face.  
OK, there was that incident last summer on the job site, when a one-inch piece of plywood, slipped innocuously into the side of my finger, and nestled there, rendering my finger incapable of bending by its very rigidity.  Was there a tweezers in the house?   Does the shoemaker’s kids wear shoes?
Luckily Casey, who was visibly distressed at my discomfort, had a spanking new razor blade from his pack of a hundred, and I was able to make that inch-long incision in the time that it would have taken to scream bloody murder.  Of course, I may have had to put squeezing out the mop temporarily aside, except that during the summer, I was lucky to be able to water the tomatoes upon my return home, let alone mop floors.
MY point is that washing toilets, is no more women’s work than men’s work, unless the men refrain from using the toilets.  [Be careful what you ask for.]  If someone wants to view my househusbandry, in any other way than an equal exchange of responsibilities, then I say, “Fine, I’ll leave the chain-sawing to you, and you leave the grout-cleaning to me," and I’ll get the better end of the deal, because we don’t got no grout. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lunchtime Dialogue

Lunchtime Dialogue
Annie and I did get caught up in that commute yesterday morning, on our way down to San Francisco, just after we had gotten through Rohnert Park, and I had sent Casey an email saying that it was smooth sailing.  You know how that goes; you hit the send button and look up to a kaleidoscopic light show, all those brilliant red brake lights, flashing on at once, the rain adding beauty and dimension to the scene.

Unfortunately though, after forty hours of prep work at home, seven-plus hours, round-trip in the truck, and three-plus hours in the VA facility itself, including actually having the inserted needle taped to the back of my hand for who-knows-how-long, I did not end up having a colonoscopy performed.

Dang!  Brake lights.  Well, it was inevitable, though I’m always glad to escape Santa Rosa without a battle.  I can’t believe I had to drink that 64 ounces of liquid this morning, between two-thirty and three, and I’m in a car heading for San Francisco.  Last evening's 64 ounces, which I drank between 5 and 6:30 was challenging enough, but at least I was not going anywhere, certainly not to sleep.  So far-so good...

We had given careful thought to when we would depart, and had decided that five-thirty was about right.  I had been up since 2:25, after having lain awake from eight onward, with a brief half-hour nap around 11:30. And Annie had awakened before our agreed-upon-time of 4:30, so we actually got out the door about 5:15.

  This is so excellent.  I don’t mind getting there early, because it’s better than stressing out that we would be late, if we cut it too short.  Besides, you never know; maybe I can get in earlier than my appointed 9:30 arrival.  That’s called looking at the bright side.

I was told to be there at nine-thirty, so they could prep me, and we actually ended up walking in the door at 8:30, a full hour early.  We congratulated ourselves on our successful plan, as I moseyed up to the window to check in.  There were two older gentlemen in the waiting room of twelve chairs and two women, all four seemingly unattached to any of the others.  The two women seemed in that waiting mode, their husbands already in the “chamber,” their minds occupied with some form of reading.  The two guys seemed up to be the next entries into the office.

OK, only two in front of me...I should be in right on schedule.  I knew I could do this.  After the last time, when I was such a whiny little such-and-such, I have to show Annie that I’m over it.  

I had my appointment paper in my hand, along with my VA identification card, as I approached the window.  A heavyset woman was sprawled out on the desk beneath the window, a telephone in one hand, and a piece of paper in the other.  When I say sprawled out,  I mean she had the chair pushed away from the desk, while she leaned heavily forward, her head supported by the same hand which handled the phone, the inevitable elbow anchoring the whole shebang to the table.  Never mind she was not the most attractive sight-she just looked so unprofessional, like a high school girl answering the phones  in the office as a work aide.

The woman never said a word to me as she took my appointment paper and my VA ID, put them in front of her, and thrust a single piece of paper at me with a pen.  When I saw that it was a request for the name and phone number of the person who was going to take you home, I leaned in to ask if this was necessary, if said person was never going to leave the waiting room.  I couldn’t penetrate the telephone, as she simply made a gesture to fill out the paper.  I did so.

This gal at the window-I’m going to call her Dora-does not look that interested in her job.  I should have given her my most radiant smile.  That always seems to do the trick.  I’d have liked to ask her several questions, but she doesn’t seem too receptive.  Maybe I’ll just chill on the Group W bench for a spell, and read some Robert B. Parker, and kind of get a feel for what’s up.

Handing Dora the paper, I returned to my seat, consulted momentarily with Annie, and commenced to read out of Double Deuce.

“Vinnie Morris opened the door on the passenger side and got in... 'I been looking for you,' he said. ‘You alone?’ I asked... 'Yeah...'  I didn't double-check him in the rearview mirror.  Vinnie would kill you, but he wouldn't lie to you."
I read on, for the better part of an hour, still patting myself on the back for a job well done, as I waited for my name to be called out.

Actually, during the hour we sat there, nothing happened.  The same two women waited; the two dudes also.  No one else entered the room.  It occurred to me that I had never asked Dora about a time frame.  I stood and stepped past one chair to the window and waited politely.  When she paused in her phone conversation (I have no idea what the phone calls were about-whether work or otherwise) to inquire what I needed, I asked her what the time frame looked like.  “What is your name, Sir?”  I gave it.  She found my blue folder and set it aside on the counter to her right.  I took due note of it.  “Shortly,” was her succinct response.  I returned to my seat.

How come Dora has yet to refer to some sort of printout, indicating individual names and times?  I see there are other folders on the side counter.  Oh well.  She must know what she’s doing.   When this is over, I’m going to spend an hour just deciding where to eat.  Been over forty hours...

Imagine my surprise when only a minute later, a door opened with a thunderous crash and a name rang out and one of the lucky fellows in the room staggered to his feet and followed the technician into the back, as the door thundered shut.  I was to learn how important an occasion it was-if somewhat rare-to hear that door open.  And then, just like that, another crash, that voice again, another name, and the second of the two men managed to gain his feet, and amble off after that same technician.  Progress!

And then there was one.  This should mean that I am next.  I can see my folder from right here, hanging out on that counter.  This is going perfectly.  After lunch I am going to take a well-earned snooze, heading back up to Mendo County.

The price of poker was going up.  With my nine-thirty appointed time now in the rear-view mirror, I was still optimistic that I was on course, since I figured I was next.  I continued to read my book.  At 10:00, now thirty minutes past my appointed time, I went up to the window to check in with Dora.  I smiled my most engaging smile, figuring I would give that a try.  She looked at me as though she had never seen me.  “Can I help you, Sir?”  My smile faltered in mid-stride.  “Oh, just checking that old time frame.”  “What is your name, Sir?”  I gave her my name for the third time.  

She hollered for the technician again, and when they conferred, the woman came through the crash-door again and beckoned to me.  SHe told me she thought another thirty minutes.  Fine, whatever.  Just so I have an idea.  An older gentleman entered the waiting room, perched in front of the window, conducted business with the surprisingly telephone-free Dora, and asked the key question, “What’s my time-frame here?”  She responded, “Just a short wait.”

Hey, sounds good to me.  We must be rolling into action now.  I can still see that blue folder of mine, though there are others also.  Dora just set that new guy’s down in the middle of the counter.  We’ll just be after keeping an eye on that there folder, as it relates to mine.

When I conferred with Annie, she just told me I was doing great, and to hang in there for a few more minutes.  I waited.  Just then a very tall gentleman and his wife came in, he placing a bag on the chair adjacent to me, right next to the window, while he began to rummage through his pockets, and deposit things into the bag.  He checked in with Dora, conferred with his wife, and went over to check out the magazine rack for something to read.  

That magic door thundered open and a voice rang out with a name, but it wasn’t mine.  It was the gentleman who had come in just before this most recent man and his wife.

What the hell is going on?  That dude hasn’t been here for more than ten minutes, and his name is called? WTF?  

I sky-rocketed to full alarm mode.  The door crashed open again, and another name rang out, and the gentleman still perusing the magazine rack was through the door, before I could so much as sputter.  I had been very quiet and docile up until this point, but when I stood up at the window again, Dora knew that something was amiss.  “Hey, what’s going on?”  My voice was calm, but my face ratted me out.  “Why did the two guys who just came in get called?  I’ve been here two hours now!”  I mean, I know that one of those hours was technically a freebie, but since they were obviously going by first come-first served, I felt double crossed. 

Somehow Dora noted the loss my inner tranquility, my good attitude having now fled the building.  She looked back behind the counter, and shouted out to the medical technician to come up front.  Dora gestured at me, and told the tech that I wanted to know how long.  “What was your name again?” Dora asked me.  Sigh.  For the fourth time I furnished her that information.  She’d only come into contact with a handful of names in the past two hours, but it still seemed a struggle for her to hang onto mine.  The other gal left to seek information.

Is this place mad?  I can’t wait here another hour, before I even get prepped!  I’m keeping it together, but this is making me lose it.  

Returning to the front of the office, the tech person conferred with Dora, looked at my folder, thumbed through it, and departed.  The receptionist came back to me, and said there was a mixup, and that they were trying to find out what was happening.  I waited, actually leaving the immediate waiting room, and going around the counter into the hall, where I could still see what was going on, but would no longer be able to provide entertainment to the rest of the waiting room.  I sank to the floor, my back against the wall, and proceeded to melt down.  Annie stood beside me, her hand resting on my head.  

When the tech person came back a second time, there was another medical tech with her and she asked me to follow her.

Is it possible?  Someone actually has some authority here?

“I’m sorry, Sir.  The mistake is mine.  You got skipped.  I’m very, very sorry.”  I feel bad to this minute, but I gave this poor woman a venomous look, and continued my downward spiral.  

Get a grip, Dude.  You have got calm down.  I can’t do this.  You have to do this.  Do I?  Do I?

“So what happens now?”  I fired at her.  “We’ll get you prepped.  Then your turn will come.”  She took me into a room, long enough to accommodate probably eight bed spaces which could be curtained off, for privacy.  I was issued a bedraggled gown, and the curtain was pulled around me.  I waited.  After several hours, or so it seemed, I started to make disenchanted noises, and the rest is history. 

Honestly, I’m fuzzy on the details from here on.  A man came at one point, in response to my clamor, and brusquely inserted the needle for the sedation.  He asked me the perfunctory questions and left.  I waited. At one point I got up and was standing with my back to the curtain, my buttocks clearly exposed inside my little space, when the curtain was abruptly pulled aside.  Spinning around, I was flummoxed to find a half-dozen people gathered around, just outside the large room, the door to the hallway being wide open.  

How nice for all those lucky people in the hallway.  A show!  How nice for me.

Hey, under different circumstances, I might have thought it was funny.  I’m sure no one was particularly interested in my buttocks.  I just felt the lack of professionalism, not to mention compassion, acutely.  I actually had to ask the person who had opened the curtain, if it could be pulled back so that the people in the hallway could not see me.  When he tried to accomplish this, the curtain got stuck.  In his efforts to get the job done, he drew the attention-once again-of the folks in the hallway.

You can do thisCan I?  That ain’t the question.  The question is, Why would I want to?  I can just take this needle out, and hit the road.  Bad decision!  Work on it.  Lie back down, Dude.  Use your tools.  What about Annie?  What about all the work?  Stop and think.

Didn’t work this time.  Nothing worked.  No one cared.  People passed back and forth.  I despaired.  I got dressed.  I removed the tape. I took out the needle.  I tried to remove the wrist band.  It resisted.

One of the medical techs finally noticed what I was trying to do.  She came quickly to my side, saying, “Wait, a minute, Sir.  Let me get a scissors.”  I continued to tear at the wrist band, flecks of blood from the needle opening splashing on the wrist with the band.  “Sir!  You are scratching yourself!”  She was there a second later, and paused in my frantic efforts, long enough for her to snip it off.  I walked out the same door where those folks had been gathered, oblivious to anyone and everyone in the arena.  Something for them to discuss later.  Lunchtime dialogue.  Or not.  No one seemed to much care.

That’s about it.  I am at fault as much as anyone.  As I said later to Annie in a calmer moment, “I tend to forget that I have a mood spectrum disorder, which I keep in check 99% of the time.  This was just a “safe” way to allow that disorder to manifest itself.  Who knows what that means?”

However, I also hold those in that circus of a medical arena accountable.  Dora?  Hopelessly unwilling to surface long enough to oversee the one element for which she was responsible: those in the waiting room.  The only person with any integrity was the gal who admitted it was her fault that I got skipped.  I saw one doctor, one time, as he escorted a patient out of the inner sanctum.  

My enthusiasm for the VA has been hammered.  I am deeply distressed over the entire incident and wish there was a way to turn back the clock.  All the way back to when Dr. Mulligan reminded me that it was time for this procedure.  Had I to do it over again, I would have smiled sweetly and said, “No thank you.”  Compassion is a precious commodity, especially in a ward where the patients-all of them-have been starved for forty plus hours, not to mention minor details like no coffee.

The reality is, this department of the VA Hospital is run as though one of two principles applies:  Either the people who run this facility are inept, or they are callous.  Neither one speaks well for the facility.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pause for the Cause

Pause for the Cause

At last the pace is beginning to slacken, so that I can squeeze a few minutes in to write a few words, a pause for the cause if you’d prefer.  Annie and I returned a few days ago from the follow-up, full body-scan, to determine if the radiation treatment had successfully eradicated the remainder of the thyroid cancer cells.  

There was a somewhat suspicious conference, as the test technician called in another specialist for a consultation while examining Annie’s results, but as I said to Annie, clarifying questions need not be undue cause for alarm.  Annie has since received a copy of the results herself, and will soon be able to consult with her doctor, to find out the definitive results-or as certain as is possible in these instances.

We are very much looking forward to Thanksgiving Day, at Casey and Amber’s this year, an auspicious venue if ever there was one.  There are a couple of logistical details to be taken care of first, one of which is my ten-year colonoscopy the day after tomorrow.  Funny how something could have impacted me so extremely, ten years ago, and be so insignificant, this time around.   I am downright nonchalant about the whole thing, including the need to travel down to San Francisco for the experience, at that nice VA Hospital.

I attribute four reasons to this shift in my thinking, the first being that I have since acquired a basic set of tools for dealing with the minor anxieties of life.  I refuse to speculate on “what-if?” questions, or to engage in catastrophizing, the irrational thought process a lot of us have, in believing that something is-or may be-worse than it actually is.  If obstacles arise, I deal with them, without undue stress before the fact.

Secondly, I have been through the experience already so the mystique is no longer there.  I could regale you with my tale of woe and misfortune, and then you could detail the indignities of your past experience, and we could all weep and wail together.  Or not.

Then there is perspective.  Having been a part of Annie’s frenetic battle against kidney cancer and thyroid cancer for the past year, for me to whine about an inconvenience, designed to prevent the ultimate inconvenience-death is rarely timely-would be somewhat callous.

Finally, there is that concept of choice.  If you want to have a specialist render an opinion as to the current state of your colon, then you go through whatever process the doctor orders.  By the same token, if you do not want to endure all that this test entails, then pass on it, and take your chances, as we all do in life.  Whatever blows air up your skirt, as me father used to say.

Meanwhile, I prefer to dwell on the fact that, except for the organic turkey we will order from Mariposa’s, everything else planned for Thanksgiving dinner, will come from Happy Day Farms.  

Five will get you ten that Casey and Amber will acquire some turkey chicks, sometime next spring, and by Thanksgiving?  All organic-all from Happy Day Farms.  

Well, maybe not the Jameson’s.