Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kick Me While I'm Down

My broken toe finally got the best of me. It's too swollen to comfortably fit in a closed shoe, sandles don't offer much support, and trust me, dogs don't care about busted extremeties. Olivia eagerly anticipates her daily walks and I can't bear to disappoint her, knowing how much my playful pup enjoys this simple pleasure.

And so, I hobbled to Kaiser's Minor Injury Clinic to pick up a cast shoe-- yup, the Dork Shoe.

The Dork Shoe technician fit me with one size. Too small. My toes hung over the edge, like Godzilla trying to squeeze his boats into a strappy Gucci. But the next size up was too large, with almost two inches of sole to spare above my freshly painted toes.

"You're an in-between size," he said. "Too small isn't comfortable and you may trip with the larger size and further injure yourself."

"How about a men's shoe?" I asked. To which the young man gave me a sheepish grin. "Uh, I didn't want to tell you," he smirked, "but this IS the men's shoe." I heard the other technician snicker.

Talk about adding insult to injury. Fine! I limped off with the larger size. I may be in danger of tripping, but what the heck.

At least my Godzilla's paw will look petite.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gimme a Break

Good thing I have a high tolerance for pain.

Over my 50+ years I've broken wrists, ribs and jaw bones (upper and lower). I've had spinal taps, sinus infections and dental procedures so eye-crossing painful that waterboarding seemed a desired alternative. I once had a shot injected near my eyeball to treat an infected sty, and another time had all four fingers trapped in a slammed car door.

They're all child's play, I tell you, an afternoon of Chutes and Ladders when compared with a broken toe.

I first experienced the excrutiating pain of a broken toe 12 years ago when I was kicking off my pajama bottoms and miscalculated the proximity of my foot from the corner of the wall. Fatal error.

THWAP. I heard the sickening craaack and saw my second-to-last toe flop like an over-cooked macaroni. Oh no. But maybe it wasn't really broken? I tried straightening it and held it a few seconds, then let go.


And then the neurotransmitters kicked in, shooting their damning message to the part of the brain that translates experience into sensation and ohgoodgodinheaven, the pain. The PAIN! I felt faint and saw stars and knew that this little toe was going to be big trouble.

But when I hobbled to Kaiser's Minor Injury Clinic, I didn't quite get the sympathy I expected.

"I can tape your broken toe to its neighbor and charge you $100," the doctor yawned, "or I can give you the tape so you can do it yourself and save the money. Which shall it be?"

And that's when I learned that a broken toe gets no respect.

I was reminded of this on Wednesday when I broke my little toe. I was practicing my pole dancing and slipped during a reverse triple spin when WHAM. CRACK. OUCH! (I may have slammed my toe into a desk chair, but if you believe the pole dancing story, then that's what happened.)

This time I know the drill: no sympathy. No respect. Just Advil, ice, tape and flip-flops. Oh yeah, and a playful young greyhound who's not about to let a little thing like my busted toe interfere with her daily walks. No rest for the weary or lame.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ash Backwards

Due to popular demand, I'm reprinting an essay that originally appeared in BustedHalo and, later, in the San Francisco Chronicle. Over the years, I've received many requests for this essay because it turns out it's a popular piece to read at memorial services. Who knew?

And so, in honor of my Dad and Father's Day, I bring you:


For 13 years Dad sat on Mom's nightstand.

Or at least his ashes did. I'm sure a nightstand from Levitz wasn't quite what he envisioned as his final resting place; in fact, I know it wasn't because 13 years earlier, when Dad learned he had Leukemia and was given just three months to live, he told us specifically where he wanted his ashes scattered.

he problem was, we forgot where exactly that was.

And when you forget a deathbed request, it's not like you can go back and ask the person to repeat their wish. We only realized our fatal faux pax when the time came to scatter his ashes.

"I thought you knew the location."

"No, you said you would handle it!"

And so on. What we did remember was that it was somewhere up in California's Mother Lode Gold Country. Dad's favorite hobby was dredging for gold and he had wanted his ashes scattered in the Tuolumne River. Or was that the American River? Maybe it was the Yuba River?

Good God, we couldn't remember! I could just imagine Dad shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

Finally, on the 13th anniversary of his death, we said enough. We had to accommodate his final request. Maybe we couldn't remember the exact river, but we knew he loved the Mother Lode. Maybe we'd find a quiet, serene place, say a prayer, share a few special memories, then scatter his ashes. Dad would finally be laid to rest.

And so, on a sizzling summer day that would have marked his 75th birthday, we drove two hours north from the East Bay toward Columbia, a charming preserved gold rush town he had especially liked. There we were, a gaggle of Johnnie's mom, sister and me, plus our two best friends whom he had considered second daughters, and the 12-year old granddaughter he never knew.

Now in California, it's illegal to dispose of human remains, and my mother is a person who has never so much as rolled through a stop sign. She was a nervous wreck, convinced an FBI SWAT team was watching her every move, just waiting for her to show some ash.

When we finally arrived in Columbia, she clutched the box of ashes to her chest, looking furtively about. Coke dealers in the other Colombia have looked less guilty.

"Here," she indicated, anxious to get the illicit act over with before she was hauled off to San Quentin. "This is good. Let's scatter them here."

I looked at her in disbelief. We were standing in the middle of an asphalt parking lot in between a Hummer and a Volkswagen.

"It has to be someplace special!" I insisted. She thought about that for a second, then agreed that, yes, yes it did. So she moved a few yards. "Okay, how about here?" She pointed to a trampled trail dotted with horse pies from the Columbia stagecoach rides.

Oh for God's sake, this wouldn't do. I hustled Johnnie's gals, now hot, cranky and tired, back into the van. "We would drive," I barked, "until we found a spot that felt friggin' special!" A task that we soon discovered appears much easier in the movies than it does in real life. Where is that scenic overlook above a sparkling lake when you need one?

But after an hour of driving off beaten tracks and down desolate roads, we saw it: a doe and her fawn looking at us from a dirt path and thought, hey, maybe that was our sign!

Or maybe it wasn't. But we hadn't eaten all day, had sweltered in 100-degree weather, and still faced a long ride home. It would be our sign, dammit.

So we followed the deer a short way only to find ourselves looking down a hillside of trees and daisies. Hey, it was kind of nice. Peaceful and serene. Dad would have liked this. What should we do now? Hold hands and say a prayer? Share some fond memories? Contemplate the passing of a loved one?

“Hurry up!” Mom hissed nervously under her breath. “Before we get caught!”

Okay fine. We’d forgo ceremony to accommodate America’s Most Wanted who was still convinced that the FBI or John Walsh was skulking about.

Solemnly we began scattering Dad’s ashes. Suddenly our bickering ceased as the significance of saying goodbye one last time dawned upon us. No one felt the need to speak. Until, that is, a strong gust of wind came from nowhere and blew a tsunami of ashes back in our direction, coating everyone with a fine film of dust.

Or a fine film of Dad, to be more precise.

“PFffffffttt!” my niece sputtered, coughing. “I've got Grandpa all over me!”

After the initial shock of wiping Dad off our sweaty faces, slowly we started smiling. Then giggling. And then, for the first time on that hot, somber day, laughing until we were crying. This was an act so typical of Dad, an Irishman with a wicked sense of humor. No doubt he was making his presence known, even if his ashes now lay strewn among California wildflowers.

And Johnnie’s gals, chuckling and dusty, reminisced about this special man as we piled back in the van to make the long trek home.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Do the Crime, Do the (Bath) Time

Silly girl Olivia often enjoys prancing through the wild ivy that grows rampant on hillsides and parks in my neighborhood. I suspect that stalking through the knee-high ivy feeds some deep primal urge that lurks within all dogs. I get a bit nervous when I think about snakes, but she usually stays just long enough to discreetly do her business, and then she joins me back on the trail.

But not today.

As usual, Olivia was
frisking through the ivy, sniffing out a prime spot to heed nature's call, when she suddenly did a Kamikaze nose-dive. She buried her face in the ivy and then proceeded to roll over on her back, rocking back and forth with all four legs waving in the air, a look of sheer ecstasy flashing on her happy face. I smiled and let her enjoy the innocent pleasure until a light bulb flipped on over my head...

...what was my girl rolling in?

So I tugged at her leash and pulled her back on her feet, then leaned over to explore the source of such heavenly canine delight. And almost gagged.

It was a carcass. Something of such decrepit, molten decay, I couldn't even determine what it might have been in its previous incarnation. A raccoon maybe? Or perhaps a bison or woolly mammoth? It was squishy. Furry. And huge. I turned to Olivia and looked at the sweet face that I kiss and body that I hug at least a dozen times a day.

Cool, huh? her joyful expression seemed to say. And I'm covered in it!

Oh yes, indeed. Which explains why my little tiger soon found herself in another "cool" position: at the tail end of a hose.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Men May Come and Go, But...

Curse that first generation iPhone camera because I love these two pictures, fuzzy as they are.

The blurred images capture recent happy moments with two of the most important people in my life: Me with my "baby" sister Jennifer(top left), and below, with my BFF of over 30 years, Pam.

The only person missing is my "there, there" friend Deb; so named because no matter how bad things might be, she's always there to make me feel better with her metaphorical "there, there" love and compassion. Last year Deb fled costly California for a more affordable lifestyle in South Carolina. I know, I thought the same thing: how dare she! Not that we're letting a few thousand miles come between us, although it has messed up impromptu plans.

And the "celebration" card? It's a tarot card that I drew at a recent reading with an "Intuitive" (she doesn't call herself a psychic, but yeah, whatever). This card represents how much I value these relationships, she said. They mean the world to me: they sustain me, nurture me, keep me sane. They make me laugh, feed my soul, and keep me afloat when I feel like I'm drowning.

"This card represents the most important people in your life," the Intuitive said.

Amen, sister. And BFF.
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