Cancerous Growths

north korea

“Sure, I remember what you told me,” the old man said. 

His name was Tom.  He wore khaki pleated pants and a collared shirt; his clothes were clean and ironed but hung from his body.  They were meant for a bigger man, a man with more meat on his bones and vitality in his heart.   

He dismissed the woman, who also happened to be his wife and caregiver, with a weak wave.  Clearing an area in front of him, he rested his elbows on the cluttered table and held his head between both hands.  Blue veins ran across the back of his hands and down his arms.  Band-aides covered skin tears and puncture wounds, still fresh from the most recent treatment.  

Wanda crept forward silently in her orthopedic shoes and stockinged feet, bringing a grandmotherly smell cloud of light perfume and hairspray and powder.  She placed her hand on his forehead and her rings spun around, getting looser on her fingers as she also started to shrink with age and disease.  Her hand expertly registered two temperatures, fever and not-fever.  His skin felt cool and clammy, somewhere between fever and not-fever. 

“Get off,” he barked, lashing out as any sick animal will do in self-defense and looked up at her.  If he had fangs, he would have bared them at that moment and then scampered off to hide in the forest. Instead he had to settle for snarl of old, dull teeth, brown with coffee stains.  

She yanked her hand back with a “Harumph!” as though bitten by his sharp tone.  

“Do you remember what you told me?” Tom asked. 

Wanda nodded, “Of course.” 

No self-respecting wife would admit to forgetting a directive given to a husband. 

“You told me to cheer up because things could always get worse,” he allowed for a dramatic pause. 

Wanda waited, she was anxious and hopeful that something nice would come out of her husband’s mouth.  Perhaps something about how he appreciated her dedication and excellent nursing skills, and tolerance of his grouchiness and bad attitude. 

“So, I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse.”

Wanda gasped, that was the lifelong advice that she gave to friends and family, strangers and neighbors.  She said it out of habit; it was a reflex in her desire to help, to say something when silence prevailed and there wasn’t anything to say.  Now here it was, regurgitated and bastardized.  The cancer was killing more than her husband, it threatened to destroy the life they built together. 

Unless she could come up with another helpful saying to boost his spirits and refocus his energy.   

She gave a brave smile and wiped a tear from her eye, “No, things could still get worse.  We could be at war with North Korea.”

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The Neighbors Get a Minivan

van

A sleek black minivan was parked between our houses after work.  It did not leave as expected, rather, it returned day after day.  A paper tag protected by a sleeve of plastic was attached on the back, stating the expiration date at the end of June.  The minivan was here to stay. 

We saw the neighbors boarding their new cruiser and all of the bags and baskets that are apparently required to take a baby anywhere.  The baby was strapped to his daddy’s chest, supervising the undertaking and keeping an eye on his mother who stood nearby in obvious discomfort.  She appeared to be 12 months pregnant.

Hipsters are trying to extend the average gestational period.  Or so I have heard.  It could be fake news.  In any case, our neighbor just had a baby and then was instantly pregnant with another one in a phenomenon that will make their offspring “Irish twins” when the second one is born.  The timeline is unclear but it definitely seems that they have been continuously pregnant for the past two years.

The neighbors started out like us, very cool and modern, engaged in work and exercise, friends, and family. We resolved to share a pizza and a few cold adult beverages but never got around to scheduling a date because all of a sudden, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, they were pregnant and went underground. They emerged this Spring, eyes weak and blinking under the bright sun, pushing a stroller with a round faced ooling, drooling baby boy and with a belly popping out like a snake that just ate Mousezilla. 

We walked up to the new van and B said, “Looks like you are just missing the decals on the back.” 

He was referring to the ever-popular cookie cutter stickers of each family member and pet, usually something like two parents next to a half-sized sticker of toddler or two, with the outline of a dog wagging its tail in familial bliss. 

The couple smiled together in a wholesome unity, clear that they were of one mind, and the man said, “That’s a great idea. We’re just glad we have room for everyone now, even the dog.”

They will leave the neighborhood soon, there isn’t enough room as it is for the current occupants of their home, let alone when the babies start to stretch out and grow.  Already, they are planting petunias and Hosta’s, laying mulch, trimming trees and power washing their siding.  It’s just a matter of time before the FOR SALE sign goes into their front yard and they pack their lives into a U-Haul truck.  When they move, it will be with a family double in size than when they moved next door to us.

Meanwhile, we remain in place, at the same address with the same number of residents, exactly three cats and two humans, as when we came to town two years ago.  We will be just as childless but still happy, healthy, well-rested and living relatively uncomplicated, minivan free lives.  For now, anyways.

     

Many Hands Make Light Work

planter

Two large decorative pots stood guard outside of the apartment doors like stone lions, but cheap and temporary. Inside of the pots, weeds grew tall and unchecked with cigarette butts and trash as fertilizer.   This was an embarrassing problem as a volunteer group was currently en route to check on their beautification project from last summer.

The volunteers were a group of well-meaning housewives from the very far north side of the city where they almost certainly did not use planters as an ashtray or trashcan.

“You,” I shouted, “Stop right there,”

A man wearing a pair of basketball shorts with skinny legs froze in action, he was caught red handed or in this case with the glowing cherry of a nearly finished cigarette that was about to be stubbed out in one of the pots. He looked up with wide eyes, aware of his unmistakable culpability in the situation.

“I need your help, Chicken Legs.”

It was not a question but a demand and a sentence for his crime against potted flowers and beautification projects everywhere.

“Hey, Miss Puney. It’s not what it looks like; I don’t usually leave these here but just this one time.  Sure I’ll help; anything you need.”

Walking closer and peering into the pot, there were 15 to 20 white cigarette butts haphazardly placed as though seeds strewn by a careless farmer hopeful for tiny cigarette packs to one day grow.

“Just this once, huh?”

I shook my head at the discrepancy of his words and my observations.

“It doesn’t matter now. The volunteers are on their way and we have to get these pots ready for them.”

“The volunteers?”

Chicken Legs was unfamiliar with the women who were about to descend upon us, leaving a trail of Chanel No. 5 in their wake. They would not be pleased to find a butter knife, a discarded juice pack, a tangle of weeds of an uncertain number of cigarette butts.

“Please help me to clear these pots.”

Chicken Legs heard the anxiety in my voice and nodded, “You got it.”

Together, we set out on our mission under the hot sun of late May. By the time the women arrived, we were sweating and suspiciously dirty but the pots were ready for their petunias, begonias and ivy for a fresh summer look.

I gave wink and a thumbs-up to Chicken Legs when it was all over and released him from his sentence.

Many hands do make light work.

A Seed of Promise

Luck

A  massive apple seed fell onto the floor from under the pillow.  It was brown and flat, still and unassuming.  Perfect for planting. What luck!

However, when the  seed stretched out its legs and started walking, several things became known at once.

The seed would never produce a healthy tree and give shade to weary passerby or a juicy, ripe fruit to satisfy an empty stomach.  It would never send roots down into the earth to bully the worms or stretch its branches up towards the sky for birds to take shelter from a storm.

The seed that held such promise turned out to be a bedbug. Perhaps it was one of many, all living off of the life blood of its gracious host, destined to feed and breed and wait for death.

Isn’t that life?

 

apple s

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A pig is a pig is a pig

tcp

On craigslist, there are an abundance of sugar gliders, pit bulls, exotic birds and other worn-out novelty pets looking for their fur-ever homes. Forever or fur-ever, makes no difference.  It all means the same thing, a peaceful transition from one home, overrun with unwanted people and pets, reeking of urine and hopping fleas to your home, calm and clean, for now.

Papers of authentication, be damned.

After my normal daily review, I was all set on the adoption of a grizzled, one-eyed tom cat, appropriately named “Winks” when a new posting caught my attention for a teacup pig. I almost wrote that the post caught my eye, but it didn’t feel right after introducing and abandoning Winks so quickly.

There was a picture of a creature peeking out of blanket-nest with a pink nose and a pair of tiny, squinting eyes. The photographer caught the piglet at just the right angle and lighting to appear perfectly charming.  It was no bigger than a kitten, fuzzy and pink, certainly no swine.

My heart was won. Sorry Winks, but I’m about to be a teacup pig owner, I thought to myself.  This little guy has all the right stuff.  It is smart, potty trained, likes to cuddle and loves cats.  Could this be too good to be true?

Then, sure enough, I noticed at the bottom of the post a few simple words of warning, “Do your research. While small now, this teacup pig does have the potential to grow larger than a teacup.”

Ah, how the truth set me free.

Teacup pigs are actually baby pot belly pigs.  They can keep growing until they are four years old and can get to be 100 to 120 pounds.  These so-called teacup pigs can live up to 18 years old and cost several thousand dollars a year for food, vet bills, and proper space.  Maybe more than I bargained for?

On a second look at the photo, the piglet was already bigger than a teacup, approaching the size of a mug and soon to be bigger than a gallon of milk.

The writing was on the wall; the pig would outgrow our small house and likely sit on at least one of the cats. It would break down the flooring and furniture, disrupt the peace, and eat up all of our leftovers and snacks in addition to its own pig-food.  It would have been a gross oversight on my part to ignore the line of caution and pursue the adoption of Teeky, the teacup-for-now, but soon-to-be-regular-sized-sow.

A pig is a pig is a pig.

With such a clear warning, why would anyone ever bring one into their home and expect something different?

pg
Oversight

Like a boss

ant

Much like an ant, I followed the trail of crumbs across the countertop, over the shiny and strange cooking utensils that my coworker brought in to work on his culinary skills at lunchtime, and onto the black stove top.  The stove top was splattered and splashed with an unidentified material that had dried there in cruddy pools, like sea creatures left in the sand after the tide has gone out.

My work was not done as the trail continued beyond the stove, perhaps to an unattended piece of pizza or another plate of spaghetti alla carbonara, my own pot of gold at the end of the crumb rainbow.

I carefully tracked the remaining crumbs and splashes across the kitchen and directly into my co-worker’s empty desk.

He ran out earlier and said, “I’ve got to go and do something somewhere, I’ll be right back.”

His main objective is to remain vague and he’s very good at it, along with disappearing for long periods of time and making easy tasks incredibly complicated and ultimately left undone.

An hour after his departure, there was still no warm body at this desk, just an abandoned bowl with a noodle stuck to the rim, a forgotten or missed relic, and an overflowing trash can with sandwich wrappers, balled up aluminum foil, and Styrofoam coffee cups.

The fruit flies kept me company for a few minutes after I disposed of his rather unsavory trash and went back to my office space, happy for the solitude in which to catch up on case notes and phone calls.

Slowly the door swung open, it was the long awaited return of the missing mess-maker.

Praise the Lord and Hallelujah; now we can both get back to either working hard or hardly working. The details don’t matter much when your grant is about to end or you have lucrative side business hustling used couches.

So here is my sage advice for the day:

In whatever you do, do it like a boss and if your boss asks what you are doing just say, “I’m going somewhere to do something.”

Mudding the Walls

mud

There is great satisfaction from working with one’s hands. However, when one nearly amputates one’s finger, the satisfaction is greatly decreased.

Let me paint the scene, or in this case, mud it.

We had taken down all of the wooden paneling in our backroom and replaced it with drywall. This makes for a short sentence but took several long weekends to actually accomplish.

Generally speaking, once nailed to the walls and ceiling, the sheets of drywall are close but not perfectly flush with one another. Most especially this is true in an unevenly cobbled together house such as the one in which we live. So we use this special tape wherever two edges of drywall meet and cover it with this grey gunk, called mud, to fill in the cracks, seal the seams, and to make the walls nice and smooth.

Easy enough, right?

I had just finished the perfect seam. Smooth and evenly spread with light feathering out on each side; it was the kind of seam that I knew would make my dad proud. Then it occurred to me that my tongue was going numb and my hands were shaking.

“Blood sugar’s dropping,” I slurred out.

I’ve got this, I thought to myself since my usual mode of communication was temporarily disabled. I shook off the shakes with the determination to finish one more seam before collapsing or seeking out a cookie or scoop of peanut butter. In either case, I was not giving up just because of a little hypoglycemia.

Scraping the excess mud from one drywall knife onto the other, I wavered with the thought that I really should stop but continued on anyways. And then suddenly when my drywall knife should have been scooping, smoothing, or scraping, it took on the function of slicing. The edge of the blade cut through the skin on the top of my index finger and stopped just shy of the bone. This was the finger that I might use to point out something interesting, to scoop a sample of frosting from a cake or to squish an ant, a very important digit by all accounts.

As blood spurted from the top of my finger, I stared in shock.  Then, I swore to never be helpful again and started screaming.  Side note: I am not the best at dealing with situations that involve pressure, crisis, conflict, or blood which are not exactly strong talking points in a job interview or when making a few friend.  Subjects such as these are better left to discussions with penpals and counselors.

Fast forward to a new day with a fresh bandage wrapped around my wounded finger.

I am still fervently wishing the walls will come together on their own, possibly through divine intervention, and waiting for my finger to heal.  The fact remains clear that this terrible job is not meant for the impatient or weak of heart.

My utmost respect goes out to the DIY (do-it-yourself) nation.

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
-Aristotle

http://www.wikihow.com/Tape-and-Mud-Drywall

http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/intro/0,,410343,00.html

http://www.familyhandyman.com/drywall/tips-for-finishing-drywall/view-all

take it…

Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.image

-kurt vonnegut

Life

Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.

-Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

boat

On maturity…

Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.

-Kurt Vonnegut

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