Friday, March 27, 2015

Sleeping with one eye open

I think the only way my cat could kill me would be by suffocation.  And she probably won’t do that.

I mean, I am a sound sleeper and all, but still.  She only weighs about seven pounds. 

She is a determined little bugger though.

Once, when she was just two years old, she had had it with me.  She put up with my individual failings and only shook her little round kitty head. 

“These humans!” you could almost hear her say.  In her mind, of course.  Out loud she said very little.  The occasional “Yeow!”  That was enough to express her dismay when I blocked her escape from this hellhole of an existence, for example.

She did escape once.  She dashed immediately to the next court over and climbed about 35 feet up a 40 foot eucalyptus tree.  From there she sat like her Cheshire counterpart and observed, ever so quietly, as I made frantic trips up and down the street, back and forth in front of her and to the side, calling desperately, unaware that she perched soundlessly above me the entire time of my anguished search. 

To amuse herself, she kept her vow of kitty silence.  A young man from the neighborhood spotted her and alerted me to her location.  Mr. Plath came and without hesitating, climbed the tree.  He stuffed her into his zip-front hoodie and scrambled down. 

She never even said thank you.

Another time, when Mr. Plath was out of town, she juked me out at the dining room door, ran like I’d set her afire and climbed a redwood tree in the empty lot next door.  She settled onto a limb about 25 feet up.  I did everything I could think of to coax her down, to no avail.

As night settled in, so did a misty rain.  Still she stayed in the tree.  So, unwilling to call the Fire Department – this isn't Mayberry after all – I went to bed, but woke about 3:30 a.m., distraught and guilty.  I stepped out onto our upper deck adjacent to her branch in my sleep-shirt and called her name softly:  “Uma?”

“YEOW!”  She is so loud for such a small creature!  “Yeow!  Yeow!  Yeow!”  OMG!  She’ll wake the entire metropolitan area!  I slunk back inside and got into my cozy, warm, dry bed.

Next morning while she watched, a friend helped me saw away a lower branch so we could prop a 20-foot extension ladder solidly against that redwood’s trunk.  And I climbed up to get her. 

When I arrived and reached for her, she wrapped her little kitty arms around that branch and gripped it as though I were collecting her for a fricassee. 

I steadied myself and pried her loose.  She dug into my shoulder like an osprey into a big mouthed bass.  I didn't have to hold onto her at all on my way back down the ladder, across the lot and into the house where she promptly hopped down, gave her shoulder a couple of cursory licks and went upstairs for a nap.

You’re welcome.

I mention these things as a means of illustrating her attitude.  Why she runs from her sumptuous kitty life defies explanation.  But clearly, things must be just so or she blames me!  The one who bows and scrapes – steps and fetches for her daily.

Eighteen months ago we brought home a playmate kitty specifically for her, to entertain her and keep her company.  We thought she’d be glad.  But for weeks, if that kitten crossed her field of vision, she growled; her ears lay flat and her eyes glowed with hate. 

She punished me by refusing my affection!  If I came close, she tossed her head like a teenager saying, “As if!”

At length and after delicate diplomacy, she and the kitten JJ have achieved d├ętente if not true peace.  She and I are back to our cuddly, purring selves.

But now, the puppy Dewey is on his way and I wonder what precautions I should take.  Not for him – she’ll put him in his place quick enough.  An innocent puppy is no match for her sophisticated maneuvers.

But what about me?  Am I safe?  What price the menagerie?

Friday, March 20, 2015

A blemish by any other name

I have a blemish on my nose.

And, trust me, “blemish” is the kindest, most gentle euphemism I can muster.  Because in reality, the thing is throbbing.  My eye squints in reflex to the imposition.  My face hurts on that side.  The cats, who love me (and my endless supply of crunchy treats), stare in aloof amazement.

More than a blemish or an imperfection, greater than a flaw or a blotch, this fleck began like that thread of smoke on the map in the opening credits of “Bonanza.”  At first you think, what is causing that, that little dark spot?

But then the heated discoloration spreads and suddenly a flame bursts through expanding wildly.  Oh my God!  It’s the pimple that ate the Ponderosa!  All that’s missing is the theme song.

It arose in the night, just at the lower edge of my nose and now its mounded redness extends almost to my lip on that side, giving me a sort of half-mustachioed look.  And it is not a good look.

Normally, this would not be a topic of conversation or column writing, but I’m saying this pimple is of the large variety.  It is so large that one cannot ignore it, no matter the quality of one’s breeding.  One cannot look away.  It is a train wreck on my face.

That’s right.  This thing is of sufficient size to draw the eye of even the most circumspect of acquaintances and coincidental encounters.  Once glimpsed, one cannot resist its hypnotic pull.  It’s mesmerizing.

In fact, a friend of mine, upon her inability to look anywhere else in this zip code, told me I might as well put some eye blue shadow and false lashes on it and call it Mildred.

So Mildred it is.  I only wish I had studied ventriloquism so that I could answer the unspoken comments I read on the faces of those manning cash registers around town.  Yes!  We had to leave the house, Mildred and I.  The cats were out of treats for God’s sake.

That poor young girl in the red vest at Target – she did her best to be polite.  But Mildred would not be denied a place in her consciousness.  She demanded a second glance. 

Then the girl forced her eyes upward to mine, desperate, searching for some kind of relief.  “Did you find everything you need?” she pleads, her own eyes watering from the strain of her effort to avoid Mildred’s siren song.

She followed protocol, but I know what that girl wanted to say:  Clearasil is in the Health and Beauty section.  You can find Band-Aids near the peroxide.  Air filter masks in the paint department.  Veils on Aisle 9!

We pressed on to the post office, then Safeway.  If we could, Mildred and I would shout, “What’re YOU looking at?” knowing full well exactly what that guy at Ace Hardware was drawn to:  My Mildred has the gravitational pull of a black hole.

He really couldn’t help himself.

We are now five days in and Mildred shows no signs of retreat.  She has grown comfortable in her new nasal digs.  She thrives on the attention.

I have resisted the adolescent urge to poke and shove, my mother’s admonitions echoing in my ears, “Don’t pick at it!  You’ll only make it worse!”

I am not sure how Mildred could get any worse than the swollen abomination she is, but I am unwilling to tempt fate.  No witch hazel, no Campho-Phenique, no lemon, no ice, no tea tree oil will dissuade her from her full life expectancy.  I’m sure of it:  They would only enrage her and cause her to linger out of spite.

So we have settled into an uneasy truce, which actually means I have surrendered.  My confidence drained.  My spirit wan.  Expectations reduced. 

I am back to age thirteen, furtive and self-conscious, certain that everyone is focused on my flaw BECAUSE THEY ARE!

Mildred prevails.  She has taught me her object lesson in humility.  I have taped a printed sheet over the place where my face would be in the mirror.  It says, “You look fine.”

Thank you Mildred.  Thank you so very much.

Friday, March 13, 2015

In case you were resting easy

Scanning the headlines this morning looking for cutting edge info for you, Dear Reader.  I am always on the alert for items to uplift you, to keep you safe and brighten your day.

And we are in luck:  From the TodayShow.com5 potentially deadly body pains you should never ignore. 

I figure the Today Show staff put this article together a while ago to use as filler on a slow news day – you know, a day where nothing truly awful happens in the world, but they must fulfill their mission of keeping us unnerved.

Or, maybe in their efforts to court the paranoid hypochondriac viewer, the Today Show has doomsday medical personnel on hand to develop a cache of items to stress about, just in case our days are filled with rational assessments and calibrated responses. 

For example, #1 on the list of You’d-better-worry-over-that-twinge-you-just-felt-because-everyday-things-are-just-waiting-to-kill-you! – Leg or calf pain could be: Deep vein thrombosis!

Deep vein thrombosis – A blood clot in a leg vein.  Yikes!  

“If you have a pain in your leg that feels different from a cramp, get to the emergency room!" admonishes emergency room physician Leigh Vinocur, with an urgent tone.

“We don’t want a clot to travel to your lungs and cause pulmonary embolism." 

No we don’t!  And thank you so much for putting me in a state of constant anxiety since I am now at a stage in life where everything hurts sometimes and leg cramps are the least of it!

Now we do not want to make light of a serious condition, but really?  That’s the progression of thought?  From, “Hey, this feels different from a leg cramp,” to “911!  Help!  Help!  My leg hurts!  I’m dying!  I’m dying!  Come get me!”

I’m just sayin’ there must be an interim step or two.

Because if you do go to the ER, it will require a sophisticated analysis of your leg pain.  You want to be sure that the pain you describe to the emergency room doctor is not confused with a garden variety charley horse.  So get your details in order before you pick up the phone:

“No!  This is not just any cramp.  I wouldn’t ask for a gurney for a common cramp!  This is totally different.  I would call this more of a contraction.  On the whole twinge–convulsion spectrum, this would probably rate somewhere in the realm of a spasm.  Not your typical spasm, though, or I would have just rubbed it like I usually do and begged off my Pilates class, like a normal person.”    

Deep vein thrombosis is sometimes called “economy class syndrome” because it affects car or plane travelers who sit long hours in cramped spaces, or people at work, or those who watch movies curled up on the couch or maybe a baseball game from the cheap seats. 

Great.  We’re in the ER, now what?

"They will do ultrasounds.  If it’s positive, they’ll give you blood thinners because we don’t want the clot to travel to your lungs and cause pulmonary embolism!" says the doc gleefully. 

OMG!!  Thank you so much for your dark warning!  What else should I be worried about?

#2. Upper back pain?  No!  I get that every day when I hunch over the computer to read this stuff!  Could be: Aortic dissection?!  You mean I could have a tiny tear in my aorta that allows the blood to create a false passage!  A false passage!  I hate that!  Not to mention the fact that all this screen time could lead to stroke, paralysis and kidney failure.  Holey Moley!

#3.  Dental pain?  Could be the popcorn hull that I couldn’t dislodge last night during our binge-watch of “House of Cards,” or: Ludwig's angina; a tooth abscess that has traveled down your neck causing swelling, your voice to sound funny and drooling.  Oh.  That. 

“It can actually track down to your airway and cause airway obstruction” Vinocur said, adding: "Don’t let a tooth ache get that bad.”  Thanks Mom.

Let’s see…#4.  Headache?  I’m afraid to ask…?  Sleeping funny?  “Downton Abbey” is unavailable to stream?!  No!  It could be: A bleeding stroke!  Aaauugh!

#5.  Abdominal pain?  Brace yourself…Could be: Ruptured ectopic pregnancy!? 

OK.  Well.  Some things don’t scare me.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Who's counting anyway?

OK look.    We are only in Day 5 of this whole scenario, so it is a bit too early to say if this is the good news or the bad news.  We remain uncertain at this time.  But here we go…drumroll…

Ladies and gentlemen!  Mr. Plath has retired!

He has left the building.  He is not going back into the building.  No.  Of that much we are certain.  He is staying home.  With me.

And therein lies the tentative nature of our relationship.  After 25 years of marriage, will retirement,with its enforced togetherness, its mandatory glee, be the end of us?

Back in the day – last week, to be specific – we had a comfortable, if one-sided, routine:  The alarm went off at 6 AM and the coffee pot beeped; we turned on the news and had a bowl of granola. 

He got in the shower at 6:15, a warm and gentle human being.  Then, as though the shower stall were some futuristic contraption designed for making Men in Suits, the disheveled and groggy guy who stepped in came out seven minutes later sleek, focused, and standing at the boardroom table – mentally anyway – a working man with his working face already working. 

Hair drying, for him a 20 second operation, was sufficient to whisk all thoughts of life outside the corporate campus from his consciousness.  He barely acknowledged me as I watched his transformation. 

Only moments ago he had been in his dream world of duck blinds and hip waders, but now, as he buttoned himself down, his expression changed with his internal dialogue.  I imagine it went something like this:  “That’s right Joe; we have to trim the fat!  If we want to increase our net end-of-the-year functional profitability equation matrix, something’s got to give!”

But what he’d say was, “Love ya, Honey!  Home around seven!”  And with a whoosh and swoop, I had the house to myself.

How I spend my days is not open for scrutiny just now.  See, I could tell him whatever I wanted.  Maybe I went to movie after movie and ate popcorn all day.  Maybe I had a mani and a pedi and one of those face mask thingies.  He was never the wiser.

So long as the house was clean and dinner on the table, what did he care?  More accurately, how could he care after a 12 hour day of meetings wrapped at both ends with a glorious 40 minute commute? 

At the end of those days, he was just glad to take off his shoes.

So he made his Victory Lap, going to farewell party after congratulatory luncheon.  He played golf and smiled for the camera and got cards and cakes and slaps on the back and affectionate ribbings. 

And when it came time to turn in his laptop and security badge, he had not a moment’s nostalgia.

And now he’s home and there are no more secrets.  No more ethereal answers to, “How was your day, Honey?”  He’s right here.  He can see exactly how my day is.

Suffice it to say that, having retired four years ago myself, I have thoroughly relaxed out of my own time-served in the institutional life. 

Oh, I get up and do things, but leaping out of my cozy Tempurpedic after it has molded to my body creating the best possible sleep experience, disturbing the cats and launching into activity is not the way it goes at 6-the-bleep-thirty, thank you very much.

I expected the worst – a watch-tapping version of my father, to-do list in hand and disapproving gleam in his eye.

But to my amazement, Mr. Plath does not wake up without the alarm.  I can pull out my book and read for a good stretch until … OMG!  Is he going to sleep all day?!

No.  No he’s not.  There he is!  Mr. Sleepy Head.  So sweet. 

We have had five leisurely mornings with coffee and the Today Show.  Granola in bed.  Repeated reveling about this lovely new phase of life and the great big beautiful world around us.

So we reside now in what you might call the Honeymoon Stage of his retirement.  Like newlyweds, we are happy!  So very happy!

And they said it wouldn’t last!