Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Voted!

Election Day is coming. Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Election Day. (Full disclosure, my birthday is in early November, so Election Day also means birthday parties!) When my mom and dad would go to the polls, housed at my elementary school, they would go do their voting thing and my sister and I would get to fill out a fake ballot (all the candidates were named after flowers) ourselves. I always voted for Mr. Chrysanthemum.

I Voted
Photo Courtesy of aperte via Flickr

As a kid, it was something fun to do, but in retrospect, it was a great way to teach us about voting and the process. Not that I needed that lesson.  My family has always been civically responsible.  In fact, by the time I was in high school, my mother was a local elected official, and I spent Election Day working the polls on her behalf.  I can honestly say, I have a great appreciation for the political process (vitriol and mudslinging aside).  I remember standing, from early morning till nearly poll-closing, handing out literature.  Most of the time, all of us poll workers, even when we were supporting different candidates, had a sense of comeraderie (how could we not after enough ornery voters had passed us by, refusing our literature and smiling faces?).  Election night meant staying up late, watching the returns come in (or better yet, attending a party somewhere).  I haven't gone to bed on time on an Election Day in 20 years. 

Living in D.C. brings with it a whole different electricity on Election Day.  Without Congressional representation, there's not a lot that we vote for that counts for much, but our local elections really matter.  This year one of the candidates for Advisory Neighborhood Commission in my neighborhood has done the ultimate in voter outreach.  He's hosted mixers, made personal phone calls, and (my favorite) sent out handwritten, personalized letters.  I spent a good 15 minutes talking to him one afternoon a couple of weeks ago.  Needless to say, he has earned my vote wholeheartedly!  Because what really matters, to me and, I would hazard a guess, to many of my neighbors, is constituent relations.  I've already mentioned my love for Jim Graham's staff.  If you want things done in what can be a dysfunctional city, you've got to have someone you can call. 

And frankly, in return for earning our vote, our elected officials owe us their attention.  Even when the person representing you is not the candidate you supported, they still have a responsibility to listen to you.  It's a part of good citizenship to ask much of our elected leaders.  It's also good citizenship to get out and vote.  There aren't many people in my sphere who don't vote, but the ones that I can think of have been browbeaten by me about the responsibility of voting.  (Don't even get me started on what a privilege it is to be able to vote and what people in other countries -- not to mention our own -- have gone through for the right to vote.)

There's a new trend emerging to encourage early voting.  It's a great idea in theory, but there's just something so exciting to me about going to the polls on Election Day.  When I was in college, I had to vote absentee, which was always really depressing.  No proudly pulling the lever (because that's how they did it in those days).  No campaign workers issuing last ditch attempts to get my vote.  No "I Voted!" sticker.  Just a pencil and a stamp. Boring.  That's why I'm not going to vote early (or often!).  This year, I'll be waiting in line at the polls, same as I do every Election Day, filling out my ballot, and proudly wearing my "I Voted!" sticker all day long like a (possibly dorky) badge of honor.  Because Election Day really is my favorite holiday.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Get Rich Quick

WH has been on a roll lately.  Tonight he came up with a plan for us to get rich.  It's elaborate and ridiculous, but it just might work (except that I'm about to blow our cover right here). 

WH: I figured out the best way we can get fast cash.

WT:  Really?  How?

WH:  Jared from Subway is training for the marathon.  So you drive the van slowly.  I'll grab him from the side of the street while he's running and chloroform him.*

WT:  Okay.

WH:  And then what we do is pull up his shirt and take a picture of all of his stomach staples and scars from the surgery from his tuck. 

WT:  Why?

WH:  We contact Subway and tell them that unless they give us $5 million, the pictures will be sent to Quiznos headquarters.  I'm sure they'll know what to do with it.  It has to be a reasonable amount.  Five million is enough for us and it's not enough that Subway will fight over it.  They'll pay.  You know they will.  And if either of us disappears or if we don't hear back, we automatically release the photos to Quiznos and all the news outlets.

WT: Oh.  But how do you know he got work done?

WH:  These are the facts.  First, everyone who comes on TV to tell how they lost weight, they always have a body shot.  Females always have a bikini and males always have boxers.  But not Jared . . . he always dresses like Charlie Sheen's brother in "Two and a Half Men." You never see him naked.  Number two, when they show him training for a marathon, it looks like it's the first time he's ever been running in his life. 

WT:  Okay.

WH: We have to do it on Halloween so nobody will even notice that we're wearing masks.  It still looks normal.

WT:  But where will we get a van?

WH:  You can't get it from Budget.  You can get it from a lumber yard or from some dealership with no security camera in West Virginia or Pennsylvania.  Cash only.  And in Hollywood, since terrorists always use black vans and pedophiles always use white vans, I guess we'll have to get a grey van. 

WT:  Well, how do we know where he is running?

WH:  You're going to have to do your homework.  And since he's an ego maniac, when you call him over, "Oh my gosh! It's Jared from Subway!" he won't even think anything is weird.   Technically, he's not going to remember.  Then before he even  knows what happened, he's going to wake up in the grass somewhere, with the last memory of some people in masks on Halloween.

WT:  Oh.

WT:  And if we ever do get caught, our lawyer is going to ask him, "Did they drug you?" and he's going to say yes.  That's when the lawyer is going to say, "So you admit, you were under the influence of drugs.  Then how do you know what you remember?"  I know. I watch Law & Order.
It does make sense.  And I really could use $5 million dollars.  But I don't want to be the one stuck driving the van. 

Happy Halloween, Jared!

*Note: No Subway spokespeople were harmed in the writing of this story.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Witching Hour

Wonderful Husband must be getting in the mood for Halloween, because the conversation we just had could only come from an overload of horror movies.  And we already know he's had deep thoughts about zombies. But tonight, tonight is something special.  It went something like this:

WH: I've been thinking about vampires.  If they're on a liquid diet, drinking blood, don't you think they would have diarrhea a lot?

WT: Uh . . .

WH:  And why, in any vampire movie, does Dracula or anybody always have a nice dining table?  Because, it seems to me, that the only thing they need is a little juice bar.  Not even a refrigerator.

WT: Oh.

WH: I guess they could have nice wine glasses, but no plates.

WT: Maybe.

WH:  At least werewolves eat like humans, and then once a month when the moon is full, they eat rare meat.  As a human the next day, though, the guy probably has an upset stomach because too much meat is not agreeing with him.

WT: Yeah.

WH:  Here's the thing . . . when they eat that raw meat, they have the insides of a wolf.  But the next day, is their colon the colon of a human or the colon of a wolf?  Because that makes a huge difference.  If it's a human colon, I bet the next month they're going to think twice about rare meat.

WT: Hmm.

WH:  And why the hell does a werewolf have a sixpack?  When you look at the stomach of a wolf, they don't have sixpacks, in fact, they usually have a round tummy.

WT: Yeah.

WH:  And what if they already had a big meal before they turn into a werewolf? What then?

WT:  I don't know.

WH:  If werewolves do exist, I'm pretty sure they live in Pennsylvania or in upstate New York.  I don't think they have werewolves in Arizona, because it's too hot there.  They would turn into a were-coyote.

WT: Right.

WH: And you know who was the weirdest werewolf ever?

WT:  Who?

WH:  Michael Jackson.  He decided to go dancing instead of hunting.  Round up a bunch of dead bodies and go dancing. 
You can't make this stuff up.  He went to say that if they do exist, he'd rather be attacked by a werewolf or vampire than having to deal with religious extremists.  I have to agree with him on that one.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Semi-Private Room

I started physical therapy this week for a neck injury sustained ten years ago.  This got me thinking about how I ended up there and all of the delights along the way.  My sister and I were Christmas shopping in late 2000, when some kid on a cellphone ran a stop sign (more on that here), causing the crash that injured me.  Flash forward ten months and I'm getting surgery on my neck. 

For months I had been complaining to my doctor that I couldn't feel my left hand.  My fingers "played piano" of their own accord.  And I was repeatedly assured it was "just muscle spasms." I was only 25.  Finally I was able to convince him that it wasn't just a muscle spasm, so he sent me for an MRI.  If you've never had one, let me tell you, it's a special kind of hell.  I was "secured" to a sliding table, my head locked down in this weird cage thing.  Then they slide you into the MRI, which is what I imagine being locked in a dryer might be like.  It's not for the faint of heart.  Or the claustrophobic.

One look at the MRI and my doctor almost threw up.  I have never seen someone with a worse poker face than me.  "This is not good.  I'm going to get you into see my friend who is a neurosurgeon. Tomorrow."  Nothing like a doctor telling you "it's not good" to instill confidence in your care -- especially after having ignored my complaints for the better part of a year.  I must admit, there was a tiny part of me that enjoyed being right, but before I could even muster an "I told you so," the larger part of me had a conniption fit about having to have surgery. 

When I saw the neurosurgeon the next day (the last appointment on a Friday -- he had stayed late that day because of the urgent call from my other idiot doctor), my fears were confirmed.  Surgery was a must . . . if I wanted to remain able to walk, write, and feed myself.  In fact, the surgeon wanted to admit me to the hospital that night for surgery in the morning.  I had made his top ten worst list, and he performed that surgery several times a week.  But even with that knowledge, vanity was my biggest fear.  He was going to have to slice into my neck, go in past my voicebox and fix my neck that way.  I was going to have a scar.  It was at that point that I burst into tears.  Not when he said, "If you don't have this surgery now, you may not walk in the future." Can you say, drama queen?

I scheduled the surgery for ten days later, a Tuesday.  I assured my friends at work that I'd be ready for happy hour that Friday, neck brace be damned (because I didn't want to impinge on my social life, hello!).  Oh yeah, did I mention that I had to wear a neck brace for 12 weeks after the surgery?  It was hot.  We went to the hospital early that morning and my parents checked me in.  I don't really remember much after that becuase they knocked me out and cut me open.  I woke up in some room with my parents there and these things on my legs that were supposed to keep me from getting a blood clot.  They were so hot, and all I wanted was to take them off.  Then I fell back asleep. 

I woke up next in my room.  I was sharing it with some old lady who had had a hip replaced.  I snoozed in and out, waking long enough to throw up from the anesthesia.  My friend the Policy Lawyer showed up with flowers and sat there while I dozed and barfed.  (It's friends like that who you know you can count on forever--thanks, friend!)  Sometime after she left, the old lady in the bed next to me turned on the TV.  She must've been half deaf, because it was cranked!  I was so miserable, and all I could hear was Judge Judy squawking at someone.  Then she started to moan (the old lady, not Judge Judy).  "Aaah!  Oooh!" And on she went.  Finally I pushed the nurse call button.  They came in to see me and I begged them to get her to shut up.  Or at least to turn down the TV.  There's nothing worse than being in the hospital . . . unless it's being in the hospital in a "semi-private" room.  I can still remember the nurse going over to tell the old lady, "There's a very sick woman in the next bed.  You have to be more quiet."  "Well, what's wrong with her? Is she sicker than me?" the old lady argued.

I think I must've fallen asleep shortly after that, because the next thing I knew, it was morning.  Breakfast had arrived (styrofoam eggs) and my neighbor was moaning again.  She hollared through the curtain, "I hear you're sick over there.  Can I have your breakfast?"  I said she could and a nurse came in to give it to her.  Then she asked me why I was in.  "Neck surgery, " I told her.  Ray of light that she was, she informed me, "Oh, that's too bad.  You know, once they get their hands on you, you'll never be the same again.  I'm having my third hip replacement."  I pretended I was aleep after that because I really didn't need her sourpuss.  I never did move that curtain to see what she looked like, and thank god for that. 

While I was waiting to be discharged (laying there as uncomfortable as can be with an IV and a hard plastic neck brace), the old lady called for the nurse.  And then it happened.  "I can't go," she said, "You're going to have to give me an enema."  I prayed I was hearing wrong.  The nurse tried to get her to wait, but she was insistent, "If I don't go soon, I'm going to get really cranky."  Nobody wanted to see her crankier than she already was, so the nurse went to get the supplies.  On her way out the door, she gave me an apologetic look. 

What happened next was like something out of a bad comedy.  As I lay there suffering, the nurse administered what had to be the world's loudest enema.  I heard every gurgle and hiss of the tube.  And then there was the smell.  It was the grossest thing that's ever happened to me.  But at least I wasn't the nurse.  The old lady felt the need to narrate the entire process, which I will refrain from doing here, because even I have my standards.  Let's just say, it was without a doubt the most disturbing part of the whole hospital experience. 

At long last, my parents arrived and the doctor discharged me.  Once I was at my parents' house (where I had to stay for six weeks until I swapped out the hard brace for a soft one), I was happily ensconced in my own private room and my real recovery began.  I never did make it to that happy hour, but lots of friends came by to visit during  my confinement.  I'll never forget all of the support I got from everyone, but I have to say, to this day, I can't hear Judge Judy without having flashbacks. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stink Bug Mafia

We are under seige.  Attack. Invasion.  Choose your ominous word.  It doesn't really matter what you call it.  What matters is that it's happening.  Stink bugs have taken over the Washington area with a vengeance. I know what you're thinking: it's just a little bug.  And you're right.  One is just a bug.  But what we've got is a mafia. 

Stink bug
Image by jcantroot via Flickr
 The Washington Post ran a story a couple of weeks ago that was informative and humorous (at least to me).  The story referenced the smell (sweaty feet--though I disagree, more below), ways for homeowners to remove them (suck 'em up in the vacuum), the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Working Group (really), and Congressional action:

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican who represents Maryland's rural 6th District, sent a letter Friday, signed by 15 members of Congress, asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to take immediate action to limit damage caused by Halyomorpha halys.
You can't make this stuff up.  Frankly, I fear grave danger (to quote Jack Nicholson, "is there any other kind?") for speaking out against what I am certain is an underground, organized effort.  A mafia.  Think about it.  They get in silently when you least expect it.  When threatened, they release the stink to summon fellow mafiosos.  And just look at them . . . you know they have names like Vinnie, Vito, and Nicky the Nose.  What I haven't yet figured out is what they want.  Are they out for money?  Blood?  Global domination?  My money's on the latter, though I haven't been able to prove it.  But I haven't seen this organized an effort since The Sopranos went off the air. 

The other night, WH and I were watching TV when we spied one of these fellows sneaking across our wall.  Just as we became aware of him and were ready to combat him, he took wing.  Exactly what you'd expect of an enforcer.  I mean, he didn't want to be recognized.  He certainly didn't want to be caught.  But . . . like all of the underlings, they eventually do get caught.  I have perfected my stink bug catching tool (because you can't squish 'em, lest you unleash the stink).  It involves a Swiffer mop (to coax the high-up-the-wall bug down to lower ground), a paper towel (for the bug to crawl onto), and a swift walk (with a modicum of girlish squealing) to the toilet for a forceful flush.  This is my method of necessity, even though I'd really like to hit 'em with a shoe.  What worries me, though, is that some stink bug consigliere somewhere is apprising the rest of the family about my technique and they're getting smarter and organizing a counter attack. 

I'm not sure what I did to anger the Boss Bug, but I'm pretty sure I almost ended up with a horse head in my bed one night a few weeks ago.  Thank goodness I'm a light sleeper.  I awakened to a tickle on my arm.  And then that smell.  Not sweaty feet, as The Post suggested, but something more reminiscent of wet paint mixed with fart.  It was all over me.  But I got the last laugh.  I captured Salvatore the Stink and sent him to a watery grave (minus the cement shoes).  I did a quick clean up that involved washing my arm of the offending smell (so as not to summon additional goombahs to the party) and went back to bed. 

I slept with one eye open that night, you can be sure.  But I've started to be lulled into a false sense of security.  That's just what they want.  Because when I least expect it, I'm sure the mafia will strike.  Maybe I'll be summoned to a sit down over cups of espresso, kissed on the mouth and welcomed to the family.  More likely, my fate will include a trip in the trunk of a car.  So if you don't see me for a while, send out a posse, because I really don't want to end up a stone in the foundation of the next monument to be added to the National Mall.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Force of Nature

My friend Karen is something of a hero to me.  She was radiant.  She was laugh-till-you-cry funny.  She was full of life.  She was a mother.  She was an actor.  She was a warrior.  She was a sister. She was a daughter. She was a friend.  And she had breast cancer.  But never once did breast cancer have her.  Even when the cancer was at its worst, her indomitable spirit and zest always shone through. 

When I first me Karen, we were both playing the same part on alternating nights in this ridiculous dinner theater play.  I wasn't sure we would get along.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  We connected instantly, and when we finally had the opportunity to play different roles opposite each other (she as the evil diva and I as the drunken mess), it was magic.  "I always felt so bad having to be so mean to you, but it really was fun to be so deliciously evil," she would say with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin (she had the best impish smile you've ever seen!).  Not only did we share a love of theater, but also of elephants, good food, and just about anything creative.  Karen had an incredible artistic streak. 

I'll never forget the day she called me to tell me she was sick.  We often chatted during the workday, so it wasn't particularly strange when I saw that she was calling me at my desk.  "I don't want you to worry and I don't want you to get upset, but I have breast cancer.  And I am going to be fine," she declared.  She faced a mastectomy and chemo, but she did it with such a positive attitude that I always said, "If I ever get sick, Karen's the first person I'm going to call."  She didn't just sit back and wait for the doctors to do their thing . . . she sought out an acupuncturist, a healer, and a hypnotist.  And she got better.  She liked to joke that she was the only person who actually gained weight while on chemo, her healer was so good. 

And when she got better, she did the most amazing thing.  She contacted a photographer friend of hers and asked him to photograph her nude in various stages of recovery and reconstruction. The warrior goddess -- that same impish grin, and a tremendous amount of strength.  It was around this time that we started writing together.  We'd meet on Friday nights at Love Cafe with my laptop in tow and work on a sitcom that I'm determined to this day to get made somehow.  The original story was her idea, but it grew organically out of our synergy.  The only way I can describe it is magic. 

Then life happened and we both got busy.  Work, family, hobbies, and all those other day-to-day things got in the way of our regular writing dates.  But we always kept up with each other.  In January, 2008, as I was planning my wedding, I got a call from Karen's sister informing me that the cancer had come back and that Karen had surgery again.  It was like a punch in the gut.  It had been nearly seven years that she'd been okay.  She was a survivor.  It was over, the cancer was gone.  Only it wasn't. 

Karen's friends rallied around her as she recovered at a friend's house in Chevy Chase.  It was at this time when I got to meet Karen's sister ("Doesn't she look like Meg Ryan?" Karen would say with pride), her two sons whom she loved more than anything, and the army of women who were her friends, confidants, and supporters.  And I realized just how incredible this woman was.  Friends clamoured for the chance to spend time with her and make her meals.  There literally were days when the house looked like Grand Central Station.  And there was Karen, feeling ill, but basking in the glow of all the love.  It was powerful -- just like Karen.

She didn't make it to our wedding in September, because though the cancer was gone at that point, she was still going through treatment and just wasn't feeling up to it.  We talked a several more times after that, and again life got in the way.  One night I had a startlingly vivid dream about Karen, which prompted me to call her.  When her sister answered the phone, I knew it wasn't good.  Just a week earlier Karen and the doctors had decided that nothing more could be done and treatment would cease.  I could hear in her sister's voice all that that implied. 

Karen died in March 2009.  Her memorial service was standing room only.  Her army of women (and men) joyfully remembered the force of nature that she was.  That she is.  I talked to her sister that day, and she declared, "You have to get that sitcom made.  Karen's going to haunt you if you don't." And I promised I would. 

After seeing the life force that Karen was able to command in her army of women, I was moved to join another Army of Women.  Army of Women is a nonprofit that provides the opportunity for women (and men!) to take part in breast cancer research studies aimed at determining the causes of breast cancer -- and how to prevent it.  It harnesses the power of the internet to connect women and researchers.  And today is Blog for Your Breasts Day, a day to recruit for that army.  It takes just a minute to sign up -- and you'll be added to a database to learn  about research projects and given the opportunity to opt in to studies that interest you.  The projects are not clinical trials, but are prevention based.  So I encourage you, if you're over 18, to please join the Army of Women -- and tell your own army to join.  It costs you nothing, but could make all the difference in the world.  Learn more.

I did it for Karen.  Who will you do it for?