Friday, December 19, 2008

SNOW DAY!!!!!


The snow day is the sick day’s dashing—and less sniffly—uncle. He rides in on slate clouds, turns the world white and muted, and, striped cashmere scarf flapping in the wind, grants lucky students and university employees a free day off. (In my case it’s not so free as I am REQUIRED—as the Human Resources website says in bold red letters—to take vacation time on “Inclement Weather Days.”) This week my favorite uncle (No offense, Uncle Tim) dashed into town. The tally so far is 2 snow days—Monday and Wednesday—and 2 2-hour delay days—Tuesday and Thursday. What will tomorrow hold? It was looking like more snow, but now I’m not so sure. Come back, Uncle, come back!!!

What I Did on My Snow Days

by Kt Crud

• Created missions that required walking in the snow. Sunday I “had” to have homemade Crispix mix. (Cheaper than Chex as one box fulfills all your cereal needs. And no leftover Bran Chex to stare at you from the top of the shelf, daring you to eat it in a non-Chex Mix setting.) Monday I “needed” fresh bread. Wednesday, it was “imperative” that I chow down on my favorite Farm Plate Special, the bahn mi, at New Seasons. Then I got sent to jail by the grammar police for overuse of quotation marks. They let me go with a warning on the counts of parenthesis overusage.
• Made clam and corn chowder. Thank G-d I had fresh bread to accompany it!
• Prayed that the university would close.
• Compulsively checked the websites of the university, the Oregonian, and Oregon Public Broadcasting for closure information. (What is the Australasian College of Health Sciences? Does Aveda really require an institute?)
• Convinced Mr. Crud that taking a walk in below freezing temperatures was a superfun happy time. He bought it. Once.
• Compulsively checked the weather forecast. “Shit, it’s 36 degrees. That snow’s gonna melt if the temperature doesn’t drop. It’s supposed to be 32 degrees. Weather.com says so! Come on Oregonlive, Mama wants some accumulation.”
• Finished the Miriam Toews book I’d been working on. I give The Flying Troutmans a B-. Check out her A+++ book, A Complicated Kindness.
• Fired up the Wii Fit my brother and sister-in-law gave me for my birthday. Turns out I am both overweight and actually 49 years-old if Wii Fit’s assessment is correct. Fan-fucking-tastic. Virtual hula hoping rules. The yoga application? Not so much. Or maybe I’m just bitter that the Wii Fit labeled me a “yoga novice.” Mr. Crud fared better. He’s riding the line between normal and overweight and is a mere 44 years of age in Wii Fit time.
• Made and soon devoured a batch of Crispix mix. Why do I love it so much? Is it the Worcestshire’s Sauce? The crumply chip clumps drenched in melted margarine? The garlic powder?
• Checked out a new yoga class at a nearby studio.
• Worried that my astanga muscles were atrophying. Trust this: even a few days off of astanga will make your return a painful, sore experience.
• Wrote a To-Do List that would take a week to complete.
• Learned that snow days are in fact not any longer than regular days.
• Watched snow fall while Mr. Crud napped in my lap.
• Calculated how much money I was losing thanks to the snow day. $300 before taxes. I am not one to hold onto my vacation time for very long. I was already down a few days thanks to my planned trip back east for the holidays. Please, Santa, big money, no whammies.
• Eyed my folder of Crudbucket 8 material then quickly tucked it away. Why can’t it just assemble itself? (Also, why can’t my novel agent, publish, and market itself?)
• Updated my status way too often on Facebook.
• Drafted contingency plans for yoga. Okay, if there’s a 2-hour delay, I’ll go to Heidi’s Soul Flow. If school is cancelled, Ecstatic Flow at noon. But what if Ecstatic Flow is cancelled too? Oh g-d, oh g-d, I’ll never do yoga again. Should I just bike to Mysore? So what if I get stuck?
• Tormented myself with yoga quandaries, thus creating suffering. Not very yogic.
• Practiced, practiced, practiced my Super Mario Kart skills. I unlocked the Piranha Cart. Very exclusive, yes?
• Decided that King Boo is my Super Mario Kart spirit guide.
• Walked down to Little T American Bakery to buy some more bread. The nub leftover from the first loaf got stale. I recommend the 7-Grain Carrot loaf and the pretzel bread.
• Reheated the leftover clam chowder and got a not-so-fresh feeling in my guts.
• Counted Mr. Crud’s Hanukkah gifts. Wondered if I should buy more.
• Dug out my old red union suit from beneath layers of summer clothes and pants that don’t fit anymore. Walked around SE Portland looking like Santa Claus’ grouchy niece. Maybe the Wii Fit is onto something.
• Watched Battlestar Gallactica and marveled that I enjoyed it so much. Death to the Cyclons!!!! Viva Humanity!
• Prayed for more snow and more snow days.
• Prayed that the snow would end before we fly out on Tuesday to visit the folks.
• Used road conditions as an excuse to avoid the post office thus dooming myself to carting around a suitcase full of gifts. Looks like it will be a reuse-recycle Christmas for the one lucky outfit I can fit in my carry-on.
• Scanned photos of the epic 1993 GollyRocket-CornPopp tour of Georgia and Florida.
• Added photos to Facebook.
• Eagerly anticipated comments on said photos.
• Reflected on snow days past. The snow forts, the frolicking, the drifts that stood taller than me. Good times.

I wish you a humongous, jiggling booty butt-load of (paid) snow days in the coming year! I shall return with more crud in 2009, not to mention Crudbucket 8: The Infinity Issue.

Rock on.

Peace out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Am the Worrier

Despite my attempts to be a warrior, I remain a fretter not a fighter. Take our upcoming trip to the coast where we will feast Thanksgiving-style with some of our closest friends in a deluxe house overlooking the beach. What could be a lovelier way to spend the holiday? I am looking forward to cozying up to a fire while watching my husband attempt Dance Dance Revolution moves after stuffing ourselves on turkey, but my mind keeps jumping to improbable scenarios of terror and woe. For when I break out of my routine, my monkey mind goes into overdrive, jumping from branch to branch while shrieking frantically. Eee! Eee! EEEEEEEEEEEE!!! I know I’m not the only one to slip so seamlessly into worry mode where most other see only fun and relaxation. But I do think that I get bonus points for overblown hysteria. And creativity.

And now a short—and literary—list of things that probably won’t happen during our Thanksgiving trip to the coast, but, which, nonetheless, are haunting me:

1. WoMan vs. Nature

While driving over the coastal range, Mr. Crud and I are socked in by an unexpected snowstorm. In an uncharacteristic move, we decide to veer off the well-traveled highway in an attempt to find a shortcut to the small coastal town where we have never been. (It’s what someone would do in a movie, right?)
After driving a few miles, the road comes to an end. Our car gets stuck. The winding road that we’d been following has disappeared into a nightmare of white. No cell phone service.

“We’re doomed. Doomed!” I collapse in tears into Mr. Crud’s chest.

“Let’s not freak out.”

For a day we live on the bounty of snacks that we had packed for the trip. Eventually our only liquid is wine. We turn on the car for heat whenever we feel ourselves becoming scared or desperate. We sleep snuggled next to each other in the sleeping bags that Mr. Crud ridiculed me for bringing. Who’s laughing now, eh? We have moments of levity but I am terrified, remembering well the man who perished when his family veered from the highway. His wife and kids survived because she ate their snacks and was able to breastfeed her children. If only I was still pregnant. (Reason #543 to be pissed about the miscarriage.) After a few days, Mr. Crud insists on setting out on his own to try and get a signal on his cell phone.

“But they’re looking for us. We have to stay with the car. Remember that man?” I plead.

As soon as Mr. Crud steps out of the car, he is mauled by the bear who has been lying in wait to attack us. I can do nothing but scream and feel my reason for living slip away. All that is left to eat are raw Brussels sprouts. Can one eat raw Brussels sprouts?

See? I was right about the doomed part.

Homework: Can one eat raw Brussels sprouts?
Check the weather on the coastal ranges before leaving.
Charge up the cell phone.
Pack sleeping bags no matter how ridiculous it seems.

What Mr. Crud Will Say After Reading This:
Why didn’t you save me from the bear?
Cracker, please.

Moral: Never ever try anything new. It will only ruin your life and cause your spouse to be eaten by a bear.

2. WoMan vs. Herself

We somehow escape certain death on our trip to the coast and end up gleefully stuffed on turkey and pumpkin pie sitting around a crackling fire with our friends. In addition to our friends another couple, The Strangers, share the beach house with us. The gentleman half of the couple, Johnny, has a wild past. Mr. Crud assures me that he’s calmed down, but I’m still wary. We’re tipsy on wine. Johnny Stranger gets a sly look in his eye. “Hey, you all wanna do some ______________?”

A. Cocaine
No, I don’t’ really want to do cocaine. I’ve never been initiated into the ways of the white powder and 36 seems like too late an age to start. I’m a firm believer in getting the stupid shit out of your system before early middle age. But I’m also a prime candidate for peer pressure. My reputation precedes me. My friends egg me on for awhile, “Come on, Kt, it’s not a big deal.” Even Mr. Crud looks disappointed that I am refusing this offer of free expensive drugs.

“Hon, it’s not like it’s heroin,” he says when we’re alone.

I remember back to the late night/early morning on the eve of my departure from Portland during my first visit in 1995. A stripper friend of the guys I had been staying with grabbed my wrist and dragged me to the bathroom.

“Wanna try some meth?” She asked.

“Uh, sure,” I said so drunk was I that new drugs seemed like exactly the thing I should be doing.

When she pulled out a mirror and started cutting it up, I got cold feet. “Eh, you go ahead. I’m good.”

“Come on, just a little.” She said.

I had lost two friends to heroin at this point. Images of their purple lips and vacant eyes flashed through my head. But that was heroin…not meth! “Sure, okay.”

Never having snorted anything but a Pixie stick, I barely got any of the powder up my nose. I got enough to keep myself awake for the rest of the night AND for the entire, crammed bus trip to San Francisco that I embarked upon the next day. Wow, I get to experience my entire hangover instead of just the part I didn’t sleep through, I thought. F-ing great. Needless to say, I was cured of any curiosity about meth. Still, I worry about my susceptibility to pressure, especially when a devil-may-care drunk comes over me.

So, back to the beach house. I cave in and give cocaine a try. And have a heart attack. And there is no hospital for miles. Ironically, I am the only one certified in CPR, but you can’t give CPR to yourself.

B. Mushrooms
Same peer pressure scenario except this time I am being fed the line about how shrooms are a natural high. “These are mellow, not a big deal at all,” Johnny Stranger says.

Mr. Crud gives me the look. “I haven’t done these in years. I never thought I would again.”

“Okay, sure.” I say.

I’ve never had much luck with the supposedly mellow shrooms. The first time I took them, I ended up sitting with a friend in a cemetery, watching her teeth grow into fangs and her cheeks become hollow as we shared tales of body image woe.

“I mean, I know I’m not obese or anything, but look at these!” She pinched a hunk of flesh from her inner thigh.

Don’t worry about your thighs, I wanted to say, you’re face is melting! I ended the night vomiting in my dorm room toilet and calling my then-boyfriend to confess to every time I’d ever cheated on him. I do not recommend admitting infidelity to ones jealous boyfriend while coming down from hallucinogenic drugs.

My last experience with the devil fungi came during a holiday trip home a year after I’d moved to Portland. I don’t know if the mushrooms were bad or if we were simply too old and control-freaky to enjoy them, but it was a bad trip for the group. My friend Pete moaned on the floor. A TV flickered in the corner while we all desperately struggled to keep it together. Our attempts at coming down through chain-smoking were met with spotty success.

“I think I’m okay…aw shit.”

We tried music. We tried food. Mr. Crud (who was just Boyfriend Crud at the time) was across the country and all I wanted in the whole wide world was to bury my head in his neck and feel like myself again. I picked up the phone, but didn’t think I could figure out how to use it or, worse, how to speak coherent English.

I stepped into the snowy night to smoke my hundredth cigarette and forge a path to sanity. The drumbeat of the hallucinatory: “I’ll never be normal again. I’ll never be normal again” taunted me. How had I come back to a place I’d sworn never to go again?

“It’s Amateur Night!” my friend Sunny called from inside the house. I looked through the front window. My friends crowded the tiny television screen. They were bathed in the glow of Showtime at the Apollo Amateur Night. Hope swelled in my chest.

I stubbed out my smoke and went inside. A little girl over-emoted Whitney Houston-style. “I believe the children are our future--“
Something clicked back into place and all was well with the world again.

I swore to myself: never again.

Until the beach house. I’ve always been the friend to shake my head and say “I’m not sure about this, guys,” after some new plot of fun has been revealed. I get weary of my killjoying. I give in to my friends hop down the hallucinogenic path.

All my compatriots are having a fabulous, giggly time but I go insane. I don’t come down. I spend the rest of my days mumbling about Showtime at the Apollo, but nobody understands the curative powers of an audience boo-ing a Mariah wannabe.

Homework: Practice: “No, I do not want to take your drugs. Thank you for offering.”
Locate the closest hospital and Mapquest it.

What Mr. Crud Will Say After Reading This: “Nobody is going to make you take drugs. Nobody is going to bring drugs. We’re old, remember?”
“Cracker, please.”

Moral:
I believe the children are our future. Crack is wack.
Just say no.

3. WoMan vs. WoMan
There are always posses of rednecks with chainsaws lying in wait to hack us city slickers unfortunate enough to stumble into their path. This one actually hasn’t been weighing on my mind too much. Dare I call the absence of this worry, progress? I dare!

A HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's the Hate* I'll Miss the Most


Not exactly timely but not a bad way to pass the time. Somehow this nugget of writing got lost in the summer shuffle.

(* Okay, not hate-hate as in genocide hate but that light hate that brings a flush to the cheeks and a bluster to the soul.)

Last year the city council passed the so-called “duct tape ban,” disallowing the recent Portland tradition of marking your territory along the Grand Floral Parade route. City slickers marvel that anyone respected the chalk/duct tape/lipstick/masking tape boxes that Portlanders and suburban folk (Beaverton, I’m looking at you) drew along the route in hopes of reserving a prime slice of parade-watching real estate. When I moved here 13 years ago, I marveled too.

“Why are those chairs chained to that tree?”

“Parade.”

“Why is that normal-looking dude setting up a tent on the Burnside Bridge?”

“Parade.”

While many things that I initially found strange about Portland—the freakishly polite drivers, ???—soon blended into the fabric of my new and improved Pacific Northwest groove, I never got used to the territorial parade watchers.

“Who the hell do they think they are? Does the social contract include duct tape spots? It’s a public street, for Christ’s sake. It ruins the spirit of the thing, don’t you think?”

Every year Mr. Crud and I ranted and rolled our eyes. In fact the one part of Rose Festival I looked forward to was my Friday lunchtime walk downtown where I marched along the parade route in search of marked territory to deride. A silver box with “Smith family” written in blocky duct tape letters; two lawn chairs with “Robinsons” scrawled on the armrests in thick black marker then chained to an innocent bystander tree.

“Jeez,” I’d snort to myself. “Such dingdongery.”

When Randy Leonard proposed the ban, I was heartily in favor. At last someone with common sense who wasn’t afraid to stand up to the tape lobby. Not one to get involved in local politics much beyond voting, I emailed my first missive in support of Commissioner Leonard and his duct tape ban. The issue was fiercely debated in the pages of The Oregonian. Mr. Leonard was taken to task for his stereotyping of the supposed duct-taping Greshamites as pinky-ring wearing SUV drivers.

After much back and forth, the ban passed. Now parade enthusiasts would be allowed to camp out 24 hours before the parade. The catch is that they had to remain with their site, no marking and running. I couldn’t help but wonder about bathroom breaks, but that is for the police and the parade goers to hash out. I did not plan to join their ranks.

Friday morning, I pedaled in early for my yoga class. A short leg of my trip carried me along the parade route. At 5:45 a.m., a fellow donning Columbia Sportswear unfolded a tent along SW 4th. Tsk, tsk. Not until 10:00 a.m., I almost called out to the man, but a car was edging into my lane and I (for once) had more important business than not minding my own business.

At lunch I walked my normal parade-hating route, but saw only the tent guy and his gathered family along with some “official Rose Parade” flyers holding spots in front of the Hilton. A bit of a letdown all around.

That night I went home to Mr. Crud and shared my tales of my parade hating-less afternoon. Sure, I could still complain about out-of-town drivers and all the tarted up young ladies waiting at the Waterfront for the fleet to come in, but the duct taping was such an integral part of the Rose Festival hating experience. I had to face it: I missed it.

I was reminded of the brown Volvo that remained parked outside the house where we lived 7 years ago. The house was in an industrial part of town so the streets were often used as a dumping ground for unwanted cars, trash, and shopping carts that no longer cut the mustard. Every day over coffee I watched the Volvo, waiting for the young man, a friend of one of a neighbor’s, who slept in its back seat to emerge.

“Still there,” I said to Mr. Crud with a snort.

We walked past the car on our way to breakfast, peering in at the makeshift bed through the sheet and towel-curtained windows.

“Must be kind cramped in there,” I said.

“Oh so now you’re concerned about his comfort,” Mr. Crud said.

Bitching about the car became part of the daily routine, an addendum to the coffee and paper. We saw the occupant less and less. The towel-curtains sagged.

“Do you think he found a place to live? Is he living next door?” I asked.

Mr. Crud shrugged. “Maybe.” Then went back to his own life.

Then it was gone.

“The brown Volvo!” I hollered as I lugged my bike up the stairs after a day at work.

“Yep, they towed it away an hour ago.”

“Oh.” I dropped my bike and unhooked my helmet.

“Aren’t you glad? He’s not taking up a parking spot anymore. You don’t have to worry about his comfort anymore.”

I punched Mr. Crud on the shoulder.

The next day I sipped coffee by the window. I gazed at the spot where the brown Volvo once lived seemingly only to annoy me.

“You miss it don’t you,” Mr. Crud said.

I nodded. Damn straight.

“The brown Volvo” has become shorthand for those things that I once hated and then realized too late that I had found much pleasure in the hating of them.

A partial list of things that I would really miss hating on:

Courtney Love
Hummers (they won’t be manufactured anymore—good for the environment, but bad for my hating)
Plastic surgery
Bad drivers
Fixies
Bad fixie drivers
Young, hip, beautiful writers
Anyone associated with McSweeney’s (am willing to trade hating for loving if McSweeney’s publishes me)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Oh Crud! Jury Duty


I am a patient boy,
I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait,
My time is water down a drain

--Fugazi

(In the Sad but True Files—One can purchase a “Waiting Room” ringtone. The man strikes again.)


Jury duty! As soon as I found out that I would get my regular salary for the day (or 2 or, in the case of a grand jury, 30) that I would miss serving my civic duty, I got exclamatory about the opportunity.

“Jury duty on Election Day, how more civically involved can you get?” became my line of choice when telling people about my impending service.

Most people roll their eyes and sigh at the thought of spending a day with a crush of their fellow humanity. I imagined the experience as an updated version of high school gym class. Gym was the melting pot, one of the few classes where anyone could appear on the roster. A prospect both exciting and terrifying. I was challenged to my first and only round of fisticuffs in my freshman gym class.

“I’m gonna kick your ay-ass,” my nemesis said.

“Oh-okay. Go ahead. I won’t fight back,” I said, trying to sound defiant in my wimpitude.

I met my first sort of boyfriend in my sophomore gym class.

“You look beautiful today,” he stumbled over the sentence in his heavy French accent. He’d clearly been practicing.

“Merci,” I replied to show how chic and wordly I was.

I met friends outside of the circle of my normal group of smartypants and jocks, leading me down the marvelous path to suburban punk-dom. French boyfriend-ish boy led to punky skater boys led to me mentally seceding from the high school rat race in favor of alternative horizons. (Well, in theory at least.)

I didn’t think any such revelations would be had during my day of jury duty, but there was a possibility for categorization, alliances, rivalries, especially on Election Day. Would the young professionals smirk in a corner, shaking out copies of the Wall Street Journal and muttering about their lost time-as-money? Would the artsy among us cluster at the opposing wall, comparing our art-writing-music credentials while sneaking glares at the suits? Would there be a geek component talking D & D in the corner? What of the innocent political discussion over burnt coffee? Could it turn into an Obama v. McCain riot? Eh, not too likely in blue as blue can be Multnomah County. The closest we came to any sort of political incident was when the remote control was commandeered from the woman who had turned on the Christian Broadcasting Network. Maybe she thought it was CNN.

In reality, jury duty was akin to air travel except I didn’t know if I’d be departing and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go in the first place.

I arrived at the courthouse just shy of the mandatory 8:00 reporting time. The line at the entrance curled around the doorway and down the leaf-strewn sidewalk. At the sight of the x-ray tube inside the door, I felt a sudden attack of criminal magical thinking. The impulse similar to slamming on the breaks when seeing a police car even if one is driving the speed limit. The x-ray machine started a chain reaction of worry rushing through my brain: Had I ever carried weed in this bag? Did it smell like pot? Were bike lights suspect? Did I stash a balloon of heroin up my ass and forget about it?

Plastic bowls were stacked on a table outside the entrance. A list of suggested uses for the bowls: a place for ones keys, cell phones, iPods sat beside the table. My criminal magical thinking blurred my common sense. Does this mean I have to remove my cell phone, keys, and iPod from my bag and put them in the bowl? It must. Why else would it be there? I rifled through my bag and grabbed the offending items, dropping them in a bowl. I looked around. Nobody else was rifling and dropping. Dumbshit. I plunked the bowl back on the table and tossed the keys and iPod back in my bowl. The jury instructions had mentioned something about putting cell phones through the machine so I set it next to my bag on the conveyor belt. My bag promptly fell on top of the phone. Craptastic. The woman scanning the conveyor belt would think I was trying to pull one over on them, hiding my phone beneath a bag bulging with my water bottle, book, journal, and enough snacks to get me through a weekend on the trail.

After ditching the bag, I had the metal detector to contend with. In my younger days, during my blue collar phase, I set off all metal detectors with my steel-toed boots. Sometimes the underwire in my bra causes me to be wanded by Homeland Security, but my last few trips through airport security were incident-free.

I took a deep breath and marched through the arch. Beeep!

“Try removing your jacket,” the uniform said.

I flung both of my jackets on the conveyor belt and tried again. Beeeep!

“Maybe it’s the boots.”

I kicked them off as quickly as possible, feeling the heat of the eyes of everyone waiting in line on my back. Onto the conveyor belt they went.

Take three in socks on the wet, leafy floor. Beeep!

I was now officially a bottleneck. “Could it be the necklace?” I asked, whipping it off and barely missing the cheekbone of the annoyed woman standing behind me.

The uniform shrugged. Give it a shot. I piled the necklace in a bowl and gave it another go.

Ah the sweet sound of silence.

As I struggled to pull on my boots and throw my jacket over my back, I saw my cell phone on the floor beneath the rollers at the end of the conveyor belt. I dove to get it so quickly that I brushed a woman’s thigh.

“Ha, sorry,” I said, trying my best what-are-you-gonna-do look. She scowled and bustled on her way. “Lawyer,” I hissed.

I glanced at my watch. Almost 8:00. The jury instructions were very specific about arriving on time. Exclamation points were involved. Exclamation points of emphasis instead of jubilation. After the minor security snafu, I felt disoriented, somehow missing the huge sign: JURY DUTY THIS WAY in the lobby that I noticed later in the day. I wandered wide-eyed counting doors and temporarily forgetting numerical order.

I wasn’t the last to arrive. I exchanged my summons for a badge on a plastic necklace. Juror 0007692. Not a snappy ring to that number. The room was the size of half the old gym in my high school. Computers, all taken by internet surfers, lined one wall. At the other end of the room lockers flanked the doors to the bathrooms with a small kitchen tucked in behind a partition. Rows of black semi-cushy office chairs took up most of the room. 6 faux-wooden tables scattered around the area next to the kitchen with a few slouchy blue couches thrown in for good measure. The panic of the cafeteria set in. Where am I gonna sit? Who’s gonna sit with me? What if I choose wrong?

I spotted an aisle seat and made a beeline for it as if I was on an actual airplane and would need to stretch out my legs during the long flight. The 20-something college student in the chair next to me didn’t look up as I situated myself. I pulled out my water bottle and journal and hunkered in to what I (silently) declared to be the Temporary Republic of Kt.

“Greetings. If I may have your attention.” A smiling woman in a white shirt and slim black skirt stood at the podium in front of the 2 sections of chairs. “I’m Judge Bigwig. Welcome.” She gave us the rah-rah democracy-in-action speech to get us psyched up to judge our community members and sit in a glorified airport for a day.

“Even if you don’t serve on a jury, your presence sends a message. Just by being here settlements may be reached. Just because of you.” She said, emphasizing the ‘you.” I am a sucker for rhetorics. I got a little chill at the thought of my compatriots and I being passive thugs of justice.

A few minutes later the HBIC, a bald guy with a 70’s office drone feel, gave us the no-frills rundown of the procedures for the day. To sum up: Don’t be an asshole and don’t leave unless we tell you to leave.

I removed my umbrella from my bag and scribbled away in my journal. I had big plans to purchase a laptop before today so that I could experiment with live blogging. I knew that the audience for my live blog of my day of jury duty would be small, but mountains have been made of smaller molehills. At least I could have been obsessively updating my Facebook page.

My morning as Facebook Status Updates (which are starting to mediate my experience in real life to a disturbing degree):

Katie is writing in her journal.

Katis is writing a letter to Isabel.

Katie is wondering when somebody will turn on the TV. Already 10:00 and no TV? Aren’t we fancy.

Katie wishes the TV would be turned off. Who the fuck turned on Pat Robertson?

Katie is getting up to pee. Should she leave her bag? Is this room secure?

Katie is surprised that the bathroom isn’t so bad. Still, she is praying that she doesn’t have to take a crap. Some things are private.

Katie just noticed her boss’ friend is sitting 2 chairs away. Dang! Even if she gets released early she might be busted out. Must not make eye contact.

Katie is inching her chair away from her jittery neighbor in hopes that she won’t feel the bounce of his chair against her shoulder.

Katie will not be taking a break with the other jurors so as not to relive the security checkpoint badness.

Katie has to pee. Again.

Katie does not know if she wants to serve on a jury or not. Is she fit to judge?

Katie is psyched for an hour and a half lunch break. Woohoo!

After a long lunchtime walk, I did the security striptease and quick-dress and return to the Temporary Republic of Kt. So far two juries had been called. The HBIC assured us that more were to come. In other words, don’t get too excited about leaving early, suckers.

I pulled out a George Pelecanos paperback borrowed from Mr. Crud. Someone finally changed CBN to CNN where Wolf Blitzer and the Dlection Day flunkies toured around their souped up studio. The words blurred before my eyes as Election Day jitters took root. After 8 years of George W. Bush, I feel demoralized. A democratic president seems like an impossible dream, like the Clinton years were a fluke. In the corner of the screen numbers counted down the time until the first polls closed. Announcements about trouble at polls flashed on the screen. Not again!

I turned back to my book. My greatest fear of the day was getting called to be on a jury while I was in the can. I doubted I could holler “Here!” from the corner stall loud enough to be heard. I imagined my compatriots scanning the crowd for the missing me as the HBIC tonelessly said “Kt Crud, Kt Crud, Ms. Kt Crud,” into the microphone. This fear did give my trips to the bathroom a certain drama they otherwise lacked. I was in a battle against time. The fate of democracy weighed heavy on my shoulders. I washed my hands in record time.

A sign on the tampon and maxi-pad dispenser read This Machine Equipped with Audible Alarm. I made a note to myself not to try and beat the tampon machine into submission. Had they really had trouble with menstruating women jacking tampons?

At 2:30, the bald guy, our fearless leader for the day, stood at the podium.

“We’re going to call 40 names. The rest of you are free to go.”

The tension in the room grew taut. TVs went mute. All eyes became laser beams on the podium. We waited with held breath. After each name was read, a dejected “Here” or an annoyed “Present” rang out in the room. Not me, not me, not me was the beat pulsing in the background.

“For those of you who were counting, that was 40.”

Free at last. I stepped into the rainy afternoon, opened my umbrella and trudged up the hill to my office where I had stashed my stuff for the day. The exclamation points from the moment of receiving my summons had faded. I would not be filling out a questionnaire or answering lawyer’s questions or seeing how justice in America really worked. Mr. Crud served on a drunk driving jury where it was so painfully obvious that the guy was guilty it made everyone feel embarrassed for him. I am nothing if not judgmental—working on it, thank you very much—but the thought of declaring someone guilty makes me nervous. They won’t be on the wrong end of a frown or my squinty eyes, but prison. Mr. Crud was sobered and slightly disturbed by the workings of the trial. I’ve had enough disillusionment in the last few years to last a lifetime so maybe I should feel relieved that my number wasn’t picked. Despite all the big issues floating around my world, I can’t stop thinking about that tampon machine. Really, who steals a courthouse tampon?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Cruddy Dentist Appointment


(100% miscarriage free!!!)

The hygienist gazed down at my gaping mouth, nudging a gum line here, scraping at my indomitable cloak of tartar there. Through the scratched hygienist-provided glasses, styled much like the safety goggles I donned during my brush with Chemistry junior year of high school, I watched a frown tug at the edges of her thin lips. She prodded a tender spot in one of my right side molars. I flinched. She withdrew the hooked torture device.

“How often do you floss?” She asked, brown eyes impassive behind her own set of safety glasses.

“Once a day—“

“Oh good.” Her frown eased.

“Once a day, uh, every other day,” I said, not wanting to lay my dental lies on too thick. I should have added one more clarifier: once a day every other day for the past two weeks in compliance with my system. Kt’s Dental System: brush twice a day, floss whenever the yen strikes until one month before your next rendezvous with the dentist, at which time flossing should be increased to once a day. My system brings me mixed results. Most of the time I get away with a lecture and no cavities. Most of the time I am more honest.

This time I lost my nerve. I wanted her to like me, to respect me as a vibrant participant in the health of my mouth. Why the flossing lies? I may has well have ripped a loud fart while in the chair and pretended that the hygienist was the one who had beans for lunch.

As the scraping more intense, as the blood-drenched cotton pads piled up on the tray looming beyond my upturned chin, as the hygienist wondered aloud why my gums were bleeding so much, my house of flossing lies crumbled. This time around I had grown lazy.

“I should really be flossing,” I said to my image in the mirror nightly.

Mr. Crud overheard me. “Why start now?”

“My system,” I said.

“Oh yeah right. Failproof.” He said.

“You made a dentist appointment yet?” I asked.

Silence. Mr. Crud disappeared into the kitchen on an important frozen soy yogurt procurement mission. I took that as a no.

The hygienist nudged a sticky spot on a molar. I dug my fingernails into the armrest. I deserved this pain. Last summer I ignored the postcard advising me to make an appointment for my yearly cleaning and check-up at Willamette Dental, the Costco of dentist offices.

After a brief period of having a crush on the dentist of my youth because he reminded me of Bo Duke*, I developed a distrust of the dental arts. I didn’t have an especially bad time of cavities in my youth. I became acquainted with the burning smell of drilled tooth, the burn of a floppy novacained lip as the numbness wore off, but I wasn’t one of those kids who bit dentists or required restraints. All was reasonably copasetic until one traumatic Memorial Day weekend when I was thirteen.

After breaking a band of my braces on a carrot stick at lunch, an ache took root in my right incisor. As the day wore on the ache turned into a buzzing pain that I couldn’t ignore even as my classmates zipped around me, excited about the three day break from junior high school hell that awaited us at the end of the day. By Friday evening, my tooth was throbbing and neither megadoses of Tylenol nor numbing gel could soothe my pain.

There was no emergency room for orthodontal emergencies so I waited it out, spending most of the weekend crying and unable to sleep, until Monday when my mom got me in with Dr. Zeller.

I explained what happened and the brusque, hairy man tilted me back in the chair and got to work. He gave me nothing to numb the pain, but ripped the broken band off, almost causing me to yelp out in pain. As he shoved the new band on my tooth, silver hot pain flashed through my gums to my face and nose. Tears poured from my eyes.

“Quit crying,” Dr. Zeller said in his heavy Eastern European accent. “It’s not zat bad.”

I cried harder. Not so much because of the pain. I had pretty much hit a plateau with the pain, but because I realized that this was not the solution to the pain that had kept me up at night. (If I could travel back in time right now, I would deliver Vicodin and a flask of vodka to 13-year-old me in hopes of preventing the deep scarring of that weekend.)

After Dr. Zeller finished instilling a deep hatred of all things orthodontic along with a new band around my tooth, I collapsed in my mother’s arms. “It hurts worse,” I wailed.

After another appointment with the John Schneider doppelganger, I was diagnosed with an abscess. I wanted to kiss him more than I had during my long gone days of Bo Duke worship. John Schneider referred me to a specialist who reminded me of Gene Wilder and blessed me with laughing gas while he performed my first—and hopefully last—root canal. Gene was a strange man. His assistant was a super hot lady in the early 80s mold: blonde hair winged and hairsprayed to a crisp with shoulder pads that offset her slim figure. He was my savior but I also couldn’t help but imagine “adult things” happening in the chair after I had skedaddled with my newly renovated tooth.

If I had been reluctant before, the abscess--and youthful belief in immortality even where teeth were concerned—had turned me obstinate. My mom’s grasp on my dental life loosened during the college years. My teeth yellowed from a diet heavy on coffee and cigarettes. As long as nothing hurt or was falling out, I paid no heed. Thanks to all the hard work put in during my youth, I survived with few tooth problems. I still had recurrent nightmares that my teeth were falling out so quickly and forcefully that I was choking on them, but by morning I ran my tongue over my dingy yellows and breathed a sigh of relief.

My next wake-up call came on my first birthday in Portland. The day had been ordinary and a bit depressing. I missed my faraway friends and family. The fellows I knew in Portland offered to take me bowling to lift my spirits. Well, they were already going bowling but decided that it would be no ordinary bowling trip but a bowling trip in honor of my birthday when my friend Rusty heard homesickness weighing down my voice.

To treat myself before the big bowling for Kt night, I dialed up my favorite Thai restaurant and swore to salvage whatever happiness I could from my birthday in the form of culinary indulgence. I got the Pad Thai AND salad rolls even though it was enough food to feed two of me. Damn the expense! It’s my birthday and I’m special.

I bit into the first salad roll and noticed something hard mixed in with the vermicelli noodles and cilantro. I spit the hard nugget out, thinking, “Shit, it’s a tooth.” Then, “Wouldn’t somebody notice that their tooth fell out? Does this mean I can’t finish my salad rolls? Yeah, it would be kinda gross to eat tooth salad rolls. But they’re so delicious.” Then as my tongue grazed my right incisor, “Shit! It’s my tooth!!!” I dropped my salad roll and ran to the bathroom. My previously voluptuous incisor—filled out so gorgeously thanks to a bonding procedure done when I was 10 and my incisor was judged to be too small—was nothing but a pointy nub. I felt dizzy. In addition to being my first birthday away from home, this birthday would mark my last day of being on my parents’ medical and dental insurance. They weren’t here to call up John Schneider and schedule an emergency appointment. I felt small, alone, terrified, and hideous. I was not the independent adult I had claimed to be when I told my folks I wanted to move across the country. I was a dumb little girl who somehow broke a tooth off while biting into a freaking salad roll. The punky bike messenger who I had my eye on would never kiss me now. He might christen me Dracula or something equally sensitive. And I would have to laugh and pretend that it was hilarious that my tooth had randomly fallen out. Well, at least he wouldn’t be calling me fat. (Which I was no longer so there was no danger of that, but once you’ve gone fat, you never forget.) I couldn’t kiss anybody now, not with this tooth-dagger lurking behind my lips.

I sat down on my bed and started to sob. Worst. Birthday. Ever.

My phone rang. I collected myself as best I could, praying it was an uncharacteristically late call from my mom. Maybe she had telepathically sensed my moment of need. Viva the mother-daughter bond!

“Hey Kt, where are you?” My friend Rusty’s lazy drawl dashed my little girl hopes.

“I’m, hiccup, still, sniffle, here.”

“What’s wrong?”

I spilled my tale of broken tooth woe. My hopelessness refreshed, the tears flowed freely.

“It’s okay, we’ll figure this out.” Rusty said, morphing from dude to trusted compadre seamlessly. “You still coming out bowling? I’ll buy you a beer.”

“Sure,” I said.

I took a few minutes to scan the phone book for dentist offices. I remembered an office that had advertised same-day emergency appointments. I left messages at the offices that I was confident I could find. I had lived in Portland a month and barely ventured anywhere that I couldn’t reach by bike. Getting lost on my way to the dentist’s office might shatter me for good, serve as the final evidence that I couldn’t hack this life so faraway from everything I knew.

Feeling better about my prospects of a fixed tooth and very ready for some bowling and beer, I hopped in my car and vowed not to smile. The jagged tooth didn’t look totally hideous, but it limited my hook-up chances, which was really all I wanted for my birthday. Every time I imagined my jack-o-lantern countenance tears welled in my eyes.

The trip to the bowling alley was supposedly straightforward. “It’s at the end of Interstate,” Rusty had said.

Interstate was a new road in my slowly expanding Portland consciousness. Leaning over the steering wheel, I negotiated the rainy night. Interstate was a boulevard of liquor stores, slumping gas stations, and no-tell motels with garish neon signs cutting through the low-rent gloom. I passed one bowling alley but didn’t think it was THE bowling alley. The parade of amazing signs continued.

“Portland, I love you,” I said. It was an oft-recurring phrase in my early days with each new discovery in my newly adopted home.

Maybe I was dazzled, maybe it was the rain but the next thing I knew a sign reading “I-5 Only” appeared in my headlights and I could find no turn-offs in my brief and frantic search.

“Goddamn motherfucking shit,” I screamed.

The tears restarted. I had no clue where I was. I had never been on I-5. I knew enough to get on the southbound highway and felt a wave of relief wash over me when the lights of the city appeared on the horizon. The tears dried as I switched into TCB mode and made my way back to my apartment. As I parallel parked near my building, I experienced a momentary swell of pride in my Portland navigational skills. I didn’t feel so lost and hopeless. Even when I was thrown into a new city, I could find my way home.

Still. Worst. Birthday. Ever.

The next day I called in sick. I could not face punky bike messenger with a dagger tooth. My skeptical boss quizzed me on my improbable story, believing that I was in reality too hungover to come into work after an all-night b-day celebration. My tooth hurt way too much to smile or eat or talk, I claimed. And in that respect I was lying. It was my ego that hurt. I could not be seen with a fucked up mouth. I could not survive a hundred conversations about my lost pearly white.

The office that had advertised same-day appointments called me back. “Are you an established patient?” asked the receptionist.

“No, I’m new to town,” I said, believing this would activate the native Portlanders kindness to strangers gene.

“Sorry. We can get you in next week. Maybe.”

All morning the call-backs were a litany of disappointment. Desperate, I tried Willamette Dental again.

“I think we can squeeze you in at 3:00.”

“Thank you so so much,” I said, drifting back into my teary state. I felt grateful enough to offer up my first born child for the promise of a normal tooth.

A new dental bond was forged. Fate assigned me to Dr. Metz, a dentist who reminds me of a cheesy disc jockey mixed with my high school algebra teacher. “Heeeeyyy Katherine,” he says as I lay there open-mouthed. “How ARE you doing today?” I mumble something that doesn’t involve closing my mouth. “Terrific! Now let’s see what we got here.”

After a long stretch of wearing a temporary crown that was so obviously not my tooth it might as well have been gold, Dr. Metz fixed me up with a proper crown. I heard tales of dentists at fancier offices that gave out laughing gas and Valium to relax nervous patients. I saw advertisements for environmentally sustainable dentists. Sometimes I wonder if I should trade in Dr. Metz’s flat jokes, the smooshed together cubicle-offices, and the workmanlike Willamette Dental for something better. Search for a new John Schneider to inspire enthusiasm for flossing. But my gratitude has not yet run out.

After Dr. Metz finished with the poking and prodding and inspection of my tongue during my recent visit, my hygienist continued with the thankless task of de-tartarifying my teeth.

“No cavities,” she said with a smile, “but you have Gingivitis.”

The shock! The shame!! Wait. Isn’t Gingivitis an invention of Listerine?

“Oh no,” I said.

“Don’t worry. It’s reversible. You just have to start flossing,” she paused, “more carefully.”

“I will,” I said, fully intending to turn over a new flossing leaf.

One week later and I have not touched the plastic box of floss that taunts me every night.

“I really should floss,” I say to my reflection.

Oh, I have 5 months until we need to get started with all that.



* As played by the devilishly handsome John Schneider, a name that baffled my 8-year-old brain. I pronounced it John Skender until a fellow Bo Luke lover, Kim Rannells, blew my spelling and Dukes of Hazard-loving world open by revealing the true pronunciation. I could tell that she thought herself more devoted for knowing how to pronounce his name, but I let the moment of superiority go in favor of sharing pictures of the object of our crush cut out from TV Guide. I bragged to Kim that my dentist looked just like the pictures. On my next appointment, I studied my own personal Duke of Hazard, comparing him with the kiss-worn picture in my jewelry box. I was crushed when I realized that I had overstated the resemblance. He had the hair down, but the face was all wrong. I don't know if Kim ever found out about my exaggeration, but if she did, she did not use it against me in the dog-eat-dog world of the elementary school playground.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bummer in Bummertown

Hello my cruddy friends. It’s been awhile, yes? Sadly, the reasons for my absence do not include such awesome news as a bidding ware over my novel or I was sent on a whirlwind tour of the U.S. in the name of promoting crud. Someday. But for now I am the bearer of bummer news. I got pregnant again. I had a miscarriage again. Crap.

Writing about the pregnancy and just keeping my head above water at work absorbed much of my writing energy for the past few months. I started a new blog about pregnancy after miscarriage and proceeded to keep it a secret out of fear. Fear of another miscarriage, fear of opening myself up so thoroughly to the cold, hard internet, plain old icy fingers gripping your neck fear. But the desire to share the experience is finally overriding the fear. I don’t plan on posting all that I wrote about my second pregnancy—or first for that matter—but will post what I write as Mr. Crud and I continue our journey through post-miscarriage world on Crud blog 2 (electric boogaloo): The Peabody Project Chronicles 2 : Adventures in Pregnancy After Miscarriage. Posts about the non-miscarriage, endlessly fascinating stories of my life will contintue to appear with (hopefully more) regularity here.

In between musing on pregnancy and miscarriage, I hope to get going on assembling Crudbucket 8: The Infinite Issue. The writing is done, but the cutting out of odd pictures and taping to paper has not yet begun. As always, thanks for reading, commenting, caring, and keeping the cruddy faith.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Cruddy Politics


I haven’t gotten overtly political in my cruddy world, at least not the blog one, because there are a million political blogs out there and 9,999,999 of them are better done than anything I could hope to throw together. Why? Well, I’m a little lazy. Outside of school-required research papers, I’m no fan of digging up actual facts or quotes. I much prefer to make things up.

But ever since this Palin shit has hit the media fan, the voices in my head have been shrieking rebuttals to all the hockey moms and pundits and right wingers who have suddenly seen the feminist light and are screaming sexism about every criticism leveled at Madame Palin. Every morning while I attempt to practice yoga to soothe my tortured soul, letters to the editor unspool in my head. What exactly is a hockey mom? Why do we give a shit what kind of mother she is while ignoring what kind of politician she is? (Aside: make no doubt that if one of the Obama children—should they be at an appropriate age—was knocked up that the Republicans would be screaming bloody murder about their parents’ lax morals.) Don’t get me started on Maverick-My-Ass-McCain.

I am depressed at the continuing race to the bottom of the political discourse. Not to mention the short memories of the American public. The Republicans have been in power the last 8 years. The country is in a downward spiral because of their greed and war-mongering. A new set of Republicans will not change a thing but rather accelerate the spiral. They continue to dangle abortion and gay marriage in front of conservatives, using false dichotomies—either you are against abortion or you want to kill all babies—and scare tactics—if gays can marry, you will turn gay. It’s enough to make a gal tear her hair out. Or compose letters to the Oregonian never to be sent (150 word limit? Cracker, please. I can’t even say hello in 150 words or less). A prize of Cruddy Political Excellence to anyone who can edit me down to 150 words.

My Letter to the Editor:
Note to McCain/Palin supporters: unless you are a 7-house-owning member of the Republican elite--the party that brought you the last 8 years of war, economic downturns, and record deficits--you are being taken for another ride. More accurately, you are the horses dragging the McCain chariot towards tax-cuts for the rich, escalating war in the middle east, and continued corruption in the white house while the right wing dangles their usual raft of divisive issues—abortion, gay marriage—and downright lies before your eyes. John McCain has changed his position on issues from abortion to tax cuts to immigration to appease the extreme right wing of the Republican party. Any traces of the maverick he once was have disappeared in his clamor for the presidency. As for Palin, she began her vice presidential run by lying about her supposed objection to the “Bridge to Nowhere,” a project she supported until it was clear it would not receive congressional support. No matter, she kept the money anyway. A McCain presidency would mean four more years of war, economic turmoil, and the continued lowering of the standard of living for the middle and working classes. For true change, consider Barack Obama. Obama and Biden have the right blend of idealism and experience to affect true change for average Americans, us folks who make do with one house.

My short take:
(A feature in the Sunday Oregonian that invites readers to try their hand at pithy, political statements.)
Introducing the new Phyllis Schlaffly for the millennium: Sarah Palin. Two women who have built careers on rolling back rights for all women.

PS—I’ve been reading Syliva Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job, which encourages metta (loving-kindness) meditation. When she asks us to extend our metta wishes to people we don’t like, the manically smiling updo-ed Palin pops into my mind. Not there yet, but working on it. In this insane political season, may you all find ease.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I Quit (Again)




(Sorry for the lag in posts. Vacation, working on the new novel, and a heavier load at work has been keeping me from the crud. May this humble post tide you over until I find the time to get cruddy again.)

Two days ago I bid farewell to my toxic, forbidden love: cigarettes. Again. For the past 8 years I have been an on-again-off-again, casual, 3 cigarettes with a glass (or 3) of wine kind of smoker. I reassure myself that I will not tumble back to my pack-a-day habit because, when not sipping a fine alcoholic beverage, I find cigarettes disgusting and stupid. My cigarette stance is the height of hypocrisy. During the day I step by packs of huddling smokers between campus buildings, tossing off dirty looks like they toss their butts.

“The sign says 20 feet from the door,” I hiss under my breath.

In all fairness, do you know what 20 feet looks like? Me neither, which is why I am an artiste instead of an engineer. And most of those smokers look to fall on the artsy side of the spectrum so maybe I’ll redirect my blame at the campus policymakers who fail to demarcate the acceptable smoking places.

One day the pavement of this country will be striped with fluorescent orange lines marking where each brand of person can stand: the smokers, the overly perfumed and cologned (Iranian fellows who cluster outside Mr. Crud’s office door, I’m looking at you), the body odorific, the Patchoulied. (Is this the seed of an odor-based dystopia? A reason to resurrect the Odorama cards a la Polyester?) But for now, we police ourselves and do a pretty poor job of it. Some smokers are indignant about the limits put on their puffing freedom. I’ve never been one of these. The shit is harmful to the smoker and everyone else in the world. If you don’t feel like a slave for dashing to a designated smoking area in an airport like I used to do, then your denial is too deep for any of the tax hikes or increasing number of cordoned off smoking areas.

Once night falls and I have a drink or two (or 3) in me, I go googly for the smoker set. My people! I huddle along with the other smokers and suck on my sweet cancer stick. Although since experiencing secondhand smoke while pregnant, I feel guilty whenever a lady sporting a bump steps by. The super-smell power of pregnancy makes passing even a single smoker a gag-worthy event. So for the pregnant and small children, I make an effort to hold my cigarette above their heads. More a gesture of “I know what I’m doing is deadly and totally stupid” than an actual secondhand smoke avoiding heroic act.

I’ve quit several times in my storied smoking career. The big quit was summer of 1997 shortly after my doctor threatened to take away my birth control pill prescription if I failed to quit smoking. I weakly argued that the smoking-related blood clot warnings didn’t apply to women under 35, which I was at the time.

She shot me an icy glare, “35 comes faster than you think. Quit by your next appointment or we’ll have to reevaluate your birth control options.”

I left the office with tears of anger spilling from my eyes. Who the fuck was she to tell me what to do with my body? Bitch. I whipped out a smoke and puffed heroically as I stomped up Burnside towards my charming and smoke-stinky studio apartment. After the initial anger faded, I realized that this was as good a time as any to let the cigarettes go. They did make me feel like a slave to the habit and the evil companies that had the marketing wisdom to hook me in my teen years. Every time I lit up, an annoying voice in my head who I call “the Puritan,” castigated me for doing something so bad for me.

“So you think you’re healthy? Ha!” the Puritan sneered.

“But I exercise and eat right,” I whimpered.

“But I exercise and eat right,” the voice mimicked me like a 13-year-old. “Tell that to your tar black lungs.”

I resolved to quit. This was not my first try. A year earlier, I went the Nicotine gum route and promptly lost my shit from all the Nicotine coursing through my system after my first day’s allotment of gum. I got jittery, dizzy, and felt like I’d been drinking too much Robitussin. The next day, smoking a cigarette seemed like the healthier option than returning to the gum. Later while enrolled in the Free and Clear program paid for by my insurance, I realized that I had actually been taking in more nicotine with the gum than I did while smoking my light cigarettes. I also realized that most of my addiction was not physical but rather psychological. I wasn’t sure if this was better or worse.

With the Free and Clear program I successively switched to lower nicotine brand cigarettes until I was smoking Virginia Slims Ultra Lights, which felt like smoking polluted air. The day that I threw my last pack of the embarrassing Slims away, I awoke and tossed on my hiking shoes for a walk around the city. Change your habits. Do something out of the ordinary, the brochure urged. I rewarded myself for quitting cigarettes by getting stoned and buying a bunch of Adam Ant records before splurging on a huge pile of books at Powell’s and Pad Thai from Bangkok Kitchen. Baby steps.

As the novelty of quitting wore off, I got antsy. Walking by the convenience store around the corner from my apartment became a Sophie’s Choice chore. I was still on summer break at the time and not working thanks to the insurance settlement from a car accident in June that left my car “totaled” but drivable. In lieu of a real job, I took a few temp gigs and lived off the proceeds of the insurance settlement. Thus my days were yawning empty holes of lost chances to smoke cigarettes.

Since I was also a newly proclaimed WRITER, I decided to funnel my cigarette-deprived pain into my art. I wrote a vengeful horror story in which a young girl—could that be me?—attends a junior high school dance at her swim club and dances with one of the popular boys that is out of her social reach. The whole time they dance a crew of rat-faced popular girls chant insults at her, insinuating that cute, popular boy #1 is only dancing with her as part of a prank. The queen bee of the rat-faced bunch is drunk (of course) and ends up drowning during an illicit deep-end swim while our protagonist watches. Chaos ensues. The protagonist gets away with her inaction and after a bout of mild guilt, decides that bitchy popular girl had it coming. It was God’s way.

Killing off popular kids through fiction helped me quit smoking. Could this be a new method? I should probably suggest it to the artsy college lurkers.

After a few months of no cigarettes at all, I slid back into having a few when I went out to shows. A couple with a beer here and there. Mostly I bummed off the folks who’d been bumming off of me for years. All was well in the kingdom of occasional smoking. I was big into cardio kickboxing at the time so I would pay dearly for too many cigarettes with shooting pains in my lungs and an instructor barking at me to work harder. For years I remained a truly occasional smoker.

“I thought you quit,” my friends said at parties and rock shows.

“I did. I only smoke when I drink.”

And then at some point I started to have a few glasses of wine every night and the cigarettes came along for the ride. My limit to feel as if I hadn’t smoked was 2. My intake went up and down, stopped and started, but it grew into a mostly daily habit. My new doctor wasn’t super concerned about my cigarette habit. Overall I was healthier than 90% of her patients (thanks again, yoga), and she saw the cigarettes as more of an annoyance than a ticking time bomb. I’ll quit when I get pregnant, I reasoned.

And so I did.

In fact I quit when Mr. Crud and I started trying. But then after I started feeling what I thought were pre-period cramps, I purchased a pack to go with my martini post-haste. The next day I decided to take a pregnancy test to be sure that I was right with reverting to old bad habits. Oops! Positive. After sharing the news with Mr. Crud, I tossed the rest of the pack in the trash. Won’t be needing these for awhile.

I didn’t miss the cigarettes or wine while knocked up. I had no taste for them or 80% of food. When we got the diagnosis that I had miscarried, my mind found its initial consolation in “Well, at least I can smoke, drink, and eat sushi again.” Not a real consolation as we were devastated by the loss, but a lifeboat to grab onto while the reality sunk in.

“Do you think you’ll smoke tonight?” The nurse asked me before the D and C to end the pregnancy.

“Uh,” I blinked away tears.

“We’ll just say yes and not worry about it.”

I know that she meant it would be understandable to have a smoke or two while under such stress, but I took that as a green light to smoke my ass off. I’ll just smoke until this pack is done, I reasoned. My first few cigarettes after the pregnancy break were horrible. I felt dizzy and nauseous. If at first you don’t succeed…so I kept smoking and drinking until it was fun again. I didn’t stop at that pack. Or the next. I used the three months between the miscarriage and the potential try-again time as a no-holds-barred smoke-a-thon. Yep, I started smoking 4 cigarettes a night. Mon dieu!

Last weekend Mr. Crud and I attended a BBQ party at the abode of two of our oldest P-town friends—and old smoking buddies. Most in attendance had small children who zipped about the backyard in various states of undress and sugar rush. I sipped my wine and looked around for a corner to call my own. Where are the other smokers? At the parties of yore, even the backyards would be thick with smoke. After another glass of wine and eyes searching for anyone whipping out a lighter, I realized that I was the last smoker at this party. True, most of the attendants were parents or small children, but really? I cajoled Mr. Crud into joining me in the front yard for a furtive smoke. I puffed away on the front porch until a wee one joined us. I feared the wrath of the organic mother, a species common to Portland, and decamped to the sidewalk in front of the house. As I grow older this has (thankfully, as I want my friends to live to ripe old ages) become more common.

I declared I would quit Monday. Then I came eye to eye with the half-pack of smokes still in my purse. Okay, Tuesday. Still a few left. I put out my last cigarette on Tuesday night and thus far have successfully evaded the convenience store where I once purchased my poison.

My sweet sweet poison. Over the years I have contemplated the hold cigarettes have on me. I have tried the yoga route of being aware how I feel at every moment of the cigarette. The best part is undoubtedly the five minutes before I smoke, when the anticipation for the evening treat builds to a fever pitch. I sip my dinner wine and eye the remnants of Mr. Crud’s dinner plate.

“You done yet?” I ask, hoping beyond hope that he’ll say yes so I can tear out to the back patio and read the paper while I puff away.

The first drag always gives me a slight buzz, reminding me of my OG cigarette at the Catholic retreat where my ex-high school boyfriend and I briefly reconciled over Camel Filters. Part of my attachment to cigarettes is their tie to my youth. When I smoke I feel young—while making my skin more wrinkly, how ironic—and rebellious even though I consciously know that smoking is about as rebellious as wearing Guess jeans. Both are sold as rebellion while lining corporate pockets.

I love the smokers club, that I can have common ground with a stranger by virtue of a bad habit. I love the ritual, the flick of the lighter, the sweet burn of the first inhale. Shit, now I’m making myself want to smoke.

Even as I realize that the rituals of smoking, the connection are all my (and Phillip Morris’) creation, that any puff after the first one doesn’t feel like anything but a sore throat, I still struggle. I still think, I could just buy a pack, as I walk past the Plaid Pantry. Just one more pack. And one pack begot a second pack and so on and so on.

During my lunchtime walk, mere minutes after writing this, I passed the Plaid. Just one, I thought. For once I opted to not add another layer to my hypocrisy.

(Not so fast, lady. A week after penning this missive I returned to my smoking ways, but I’m back among the non-smoking now. 1 month, one week and counting.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sucker!



(A lovely view of Mt. Tabor)

During the long dark teatime of the acute phase of my sprained sacroiliac joint, I rediscovered the joys of cycling. Instead of my morning yoga routine, I rode the long way to work—which happened to send me by the yoga studio where I tried not to lust after my mat as I pedaled by—to get my heart pumping. One Sunday the need for a cycling challenge bubbled inside of me. Although my bike is my primary form of transportation to work and around my hood, I am wimpy when it comes to cycling challenges. I will ride 10 blocks out of my way to avoid a hill. I call the final two-block incline to our house Hate Hill and am often muttering “hate, hate, hate” as I huff and puff the final yards. I have been known to dismount at the first sign of a steep incline. My years of living near the top of the West Burnside hill helped me to make some peace with riding uphill—and to lose 10 pounds—but still I flinch.

As I pondered my cycling options, my mental voice morphed into Chairman Kaga, the eccentric pepper-biter from Iron Chef who commands the battles with a dramatic “Allez cuisine!” (At least that’s the Kt translation.) The Kaga voice told me “For your next challenge, you must conquer Mt. Tabor.”

For those who do not live in Portland, Mt. Tabor is an inactive volcano nestled in the southeast part of the city (the only volcano within city limits in the US, trivia lovers) and also serves as a much-loved park. I tell you this because I don’t want to claim more credit than is due. Tabor is a bit of a slog but it’s no Mt. St. Helens.

My past attempts at riding up Mt. Tabor all ended in the dismount and walk method as soon as I reached the base. The ride to Tabor involves a steady uphill climb, which turned my wimpy leg muscles to jello before I could even take a bit out of the mountain itself.

The afternoon of my Kaga command, I pulsed with the manic energy of not-enough-yoga. I felt like a dog who’d been tethered to a pole for weeks, desperate to escape my dirt circle. I kissed Mr. Crud farewell and headed out on my bike. I took the trip to Tabor slow and easy, not blowing my wad trying to keep up with the Lance Armstrong speed demons that whizzed by. The weather was warm for Portland, but did not rate high on the misery index, although I looked forward to finding a cool spot atop the mount and hunkering in for some post-ride writing. (How artsy of me.)

I was breathing heavily once I reached the foot of Tabor. (Doesn’t that sound like an item on a fantasy novel quest? “Bring me the foot of Tabor, or DIE!!!”) Two runners beeped their car locked and started their own plod up the winding road. It took me a few minutes to pass them, which I did ever so slowly, but pass them I did and continued onward and upward, slowing down for some crossing pedestrians and taking in the joyful yelps from the playground near the top, but keeping my legs pumping. Sweat dripped from my arms and legs and I realized how much I missed the sweat-bath feeling of exertion. Once I reached the final climb and pulled into what I called the Victory Circle I could barely catch my breath.

“I….did….it,” I whispered to myself and relaxed into an easy lap around the circle.

Halfway around the circle I spotted two teenage gadabouts sitting on a bench up the hill from the Victory Circle. One sported an oversized Blazers jersey with pants worn just below the ass-line; the other wore a loose Budweiser tee with low-riding jeans.

(Time out: I know I’m old and all, but I really REALLY don’t understand the whole loose pants belted beneath the ass thing. Same thing goes for the ladies version: super tight hip huggers that cause the flesh of the stomach and ass to be smooshed over the belt line into a muffin top. I’ve road-tested both styles in the name of being down with the kids and found both to be unbearably, undisputedly uncomfortable. All theories are welcome. Now we resume our regularly scheduled, rambling story.)

The dudes sat wide-legged, loudly conversing in the whitey hip hop lingo of the day. I caught a “ho” here, a “bitch” there and then they collapsed into laughter and “Nawwwww.”

As I rode past, Blazer jersey hollered, “I’m going to have to give you a ticket for riding on this road.”

I snorted and continued on, but then I swear, swear to G-d, that I heard my name spill from his mouth, “Kt!”

And like a dog, my ears perked up and for reasons that I’ll chalk up to muscle fatigue-related punchiness, I swerved my bike around and headed towards the boys. (Or rather boyz.) Maybe he was a former advisee. In my previous profession I had advised the masses on university academic requirements and helped a few young ‘uns keep from failing out of school. You never know.

“Do I know you?” I yelled up to them, realizing the instant that the words left my mouth that I did not.

Shit. Hadn’t I learned my lesson in the line of duty of being a female in a world of hooting idiots who, for whatever reason be it feelings of powerlessness or superiority or boredom or desperation, feel compelled to yell at women? Hadn’t my junior high school times among the likes of Jim Parrish (where is he now and does he have roid rage?) who built a reputation for yelling at us awkward, self-esteem challenged girls, telling us we were hot/were turning him on/were looking good only to rip the rug out from under us by laughing uproariously should we look up from our heads-down misery march and believe him for the most momentary of moments? Instantly I flashed back to all the times I’d felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment and anger at the hands of Jim and his cronies. I also remembered that my name, Kt, has tripped me up before. If your name ends with an E sound, you feel me.

The dudes perked up at my approach. “What?” Blazer jersey asked.

“Oh, for a second you looked familiar to me. I thought I knew you,” I said. Smooth cover, Kt.

I turned my bike around.

“Do you know us?” Blazer guy asked in a mocking tone? “Do we look familiar?”

“No,” I yelled over my shoulder as I hightailed it to a spot on the opposite side of the mountain.



I settled into my pine cone blanketed piece of the mountain near a statue of one of a former Oregonian editor, and recounted my harrowing tale of junior high school recalling shenanigans to my always understanding journal. Every few minutes I checked over my shoulder to make sure that they hadn’t followed me. I felt silly, like I had fallen for an old trick, but instead of crying into a pillow as I relived the humiliation over and over—while wondering if maybe, secretly, Jim really did think I was hot, but was too caught up in the middle school bullshit to be able to act on his forbidden love*—I laughed.

Chairman Kaga would have been proud.


* This teen movie trope must die!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

This is What Passes for Flirtatious Banter in My Life



On my noontime stroll I detoured by the food cart row on SW 5th. As I reached the end of the line, I heard the sound of small change against pavement. I looked over my shoulder.

“This yours?” A 40-ish mulleted man with hoop earrings and Popeye biceps held up a shiny quarter.

I hit pause on the iPod. “I don’t think so.” I patted down the outside pocket of my messenger bag. A broken zipper had necessitated an evacuation of all quarters days ago.

“I think it is.” He held it up between us like it was a rare coin to be inspected and admired.

“Okay then.” I deposited it in my pocket. “Thanks.”

“So what are you up to today?” He asked like we were old buddies old pals.

“I’m going to get lunch,” I said.

In the moment between the l-sound and –unch, his face lit up.

“I thought you were saying ‘I’m going to get—“ he mouthed “laid.”

Such a gentleman to protect my virgin ears from crude sexual slang.

“-Unch. I’m going to get lunch.” I said , over enunciating the -unch part, as he beamed a lascivious smile.

And so I did. A mediocre bahn-mi sandwich from the same cart where I purchased a bento that had a few pieces of raw chicken mixed in with the rice. Strike three and you’re out, Asian Station.

I wondered if Quarterman staked out a spot in front of the burrito cart during the lunch hour, tossing good quarter after bad in search of that one special lady who would fall under the spell of his wit, who was going to get l-aid. Good luck to you, sir.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pardon M-oi


A short and incomplete list of stuff I’ve written for Crudbucket in the past few months but not posted:

• A way too long retelling of the first and only time I ever broke up with a boy. Bonus: Also includes story of the first time a boy broke up with me. Fascinating!
• A meandering short story about a philandering administrative assistant whose husband is accused of sexually abusing one of his students. This was inspired by a conversation I had with an Office Depot customer service representative who used my name way too much for a one-minute phone call.
• Exhaustive and exhausting account of my ongoing struggles in post-miscarriage/pre-should-we-try-again world.
• Tales of my days as a band lady (the drum and guitar kind, not the tuba and flute kind) and how I yearned to parlay my rock powers into bedding cute boys. Is there a groupie in the house? Ain’t I a bass player?
• A thingy about how I miss hating on the people who used to tape off spots for the Rose Festival parade.
• A theory about how Hummers and uber-masculine stuff is really gay.

As you see, I’ve been trying. And maybe one day soon, one or more of these exciting and enlightening pieces of crud will make their way to your screen. (Don’t hold your breath for that short story though. I have no idea where that came from.) But for the time being, I am letting them marinate in my own secret blend of herbs and spices. I don’t like to use this venue or any venue other than my journal to bitch about how I’m going through a tough writing period, but I gotta be honest with you, my awesome, generous, and forgiving readers: I’m having a tough writing period. Not a block per se. I can always scribble something on a page and later read it drunk and think “Brilliant!” but just a quality road bump of sorts.

Or, dare I say, was having a tough time of the writing?

Actually this last week I have witnessed the emergence of something shimmering and wonderful—an idea for a novel that I actually think I can finish. And I started writing it! And so far so good!! (And oh shit, I’ve probably just jinxed myself.) It’s easy starting a novel. Since finishing my first masterwork, I’ve started three. I’m convinced that I will return to each of them at some point in this life o’ mine, but for now I twirl around with this new idea, write when I have a chance, let ideas bounce around my head when I take my lunchtime walk, and block out the knowledge of the discouraging days ahead. Whenever I have an idea I secretly wish that I’ll sketch out an outline and some other force will write it for me while I sleep. Others have this notion too. Like the guy I work with who loves to tell me about all the “novels he has in him. I just need to write them down.” Well, that would be the trick, wouldn’t it.

So if I’m erratic (or erotic), please forgive me. I feel the tug of my blog and I will not leave it or you in the lurch. I am committed to putting out Crudbucket 8: The ??? Issue in the fall and already have a few nuggets o’ crud set to go. If any of the above ideas sound like something worth 5-10 minutes of your life, drop me a line or a comment. As always, thanks for taking a moment to share the crud.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hambone Days


“Will you still love me if I’m Hambone?” I ask Mr. Crud for the second time today.

“Yes, but you’re not going to be Hambone,” he says.

“You never know,” I say, shaking my head.

“Hambone” is our shorthand for morbidly obese. The OG Hambone was a sweet man so overweight that he could not leave his house. Richard Simmons tried to help him twice. He was on Oprah. Sadly, he died due to complications from his weight. RIP Hambone.

While I don’t believe that I’m going to gain weight of Hambone proportions in my rational mind, the body dysmorphic side of me forever taunts. Last week I injured my back (yet a-fucking-gain) attempting a yoga move that may have been slightly out of reach. I vividly remember thinking to myself Don’t be afraid. Be careful. Just try it. You’ll be fine. Since my first few back-caused time-outs from yoga, I err on the side of caution. When asked to move out of my comfort zone, I, despite the breathing and trusting my teachers, spiral into fear, into belief that I am about to injure myself so grandly that I’ll never do yoga or any other form of exercise again and will gain weight of Hambone proportions. Thus I will become somebody other than myself, I will not be liked nor loved, and every fear about my useless self will come roaring front and center.

Welcome to the Wonderful World of the Modern Woman’s Body Image. Maybe not all modern women, but certainly many of the women I know including some of the most fuck-you feminist ladies on the planet. The Beauty Myth rocked my world and gave words to the vague misery and fear that punctuated my young adult relationship with my body. It confirmed my suspicions that all this self-loathing was lining corporate pockets. In response, I wrote poems about strong, self-loving fat women. (Sadly, these poems are terrible.) I wrote stories. (Ditto.) I wrote an angry spoken word “piece” about my myriad of issues with my temple that I read at a yearly performance happening put on by my feminist buddies. I felt so fearless and hot that I thought it would get me laid for sure. (No dice.) I wiped my hands together. Well, that should take care of that. Not so fast.

In college I gained 80 pounds from my high school weight, or rather the weight I copped to on my drivers license, which was already a generous assessment. I did everything in my power to convince myself that I was beautiful, loveable, and worthy no matter what the scale said. Some days I believed it. But most of the time I caught my breath at the person whose image I caught in shop window reflections. Not the most delicate flower to begin with, I grew even clumsier as my brain hadn’t quite adjusted to my wider girth. I felt like a tank. I grew angry at all the fat-phobic fuckers that I found everywhere. Whenever a guy didn’t like me or want to make out with me, I blamed my weight. The fat-phobic lurked everywhere even in the progressive, punk circles where I moved. Could it be that the fellows and ladies weren’t so turned off about my body as my suspicious, angry attitude? Nah, of course not. It’s all about flesh, baby. Personality shmersonality.

In a fit of self-improvement and wanting to be able to climb a flight of stairs without degenerating into a heaving red-faced jelly of a woman, I turned to Jane Fonda. Her Fabulous Fat Burners set me back on the road to fitness. Over the years my fitness fix has taken many forms: from fat burners to fighting the insanity (I still have a soft spot for Susan Powter) to the weirdly Christian Tae Bo to cardio kickboxing to Pilates to yoga. Through all the phases, one thing remains the same: I gotta move. My weight goes up and down. Sometimes I can fit into the skinny jeans, some days it’s back to the more forgiving 501’s but as long as I have my morning yoga*, I trust that I’m staying within the range of what’s good for me. Not to mention all the spiritual, emotional, etcetera etcetera benefits that come with yoga. (Have I mentioned that you REALLY should give yoga a shot?)

But when I get injured, I get scared. First that I will immediately regain the 80 plus pounds that I’ve lost. Then, after I am again unable to climb stairs or ride my bike or smile without feeling the claustrophobic spread of my 5 new chins, I will lose my shit because my source of calm, my sweet prana conduit will have dried up over the week that I cannot do yoga. In short, I will be fat and sad.

The fear has complicated the most simple of interactions:

“Hey Kt, you look great,” says long time friend who I haven’t seen in awhile.

“Thanks, so do you.” I say while thinking: Does he mean I didn’t look great last time? Have I lost weight? Gained weight? Is he just being nice? Will he say that I look great the next time we see each other after I have become Hambone? Why does it matter what I look like? Oh G-d, I knew it, all guys care about is looks. Even if I’m funny, smart, cool, it’s not enough. Always gotta look great or else. Shitfuckshitfuckshit. Wait, that’s dumb. He’s a cool guy. We’re old friends. That’s what friends say to old friends. I’m married for fucks sake. Oh man, but I wanna look great. I want all people to think I am the most ravishing beauty they’ve ever seen. But they shouldn’t stare. No, that would freak me out.

“So what’s been going on with you,” he asks.

“Well, I hurt my back.”

I hope I haven’t raised the dander of any loud and proud fat ladies in the crud-loving audience. If I could kick my fear of fat’s ass, I would totally challenge it to a cage match. I have my own love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with my fat fear. Where does the love come in? Part of me is glad that I have this fear to motivate me to not fall into the abyss of uncontrollable weight gain. Though if I was okay with myself at whatever poundly state I find myself in then….ugh, I am giving myself a headache. The hate is obvious. I would feel much freer and happier if I could simply appreciate this old house for its health, for being a worthy vehicle of that namaste part of me, you know, the infinite soul part. (Is it possible to have a fat soul? Don’t answer that.)

I blame society. And my mom (“You’d be so pretty if only you lost ___ pounds.”). And my skinny (and later anorexic) childhood neighbor Donna who cajoled me into giving a strip show for the neighborhood kids and then made fun of my jiggles. And all the boys who wouldn’t date me because I was “big.” To their credit, or to the credit of their discrete friends, they never said fat, just big. Big? I imagined my crush boys as tiny Jacks trying to climb a beanstalk to kiss me. Mostly I blame society, the beauty industry, and—what the heck—capitalism for fucking up all people, large and small about their own bodies.

My first post-feminist way of dealing with this fear was denial. No, no, really, I’m fine. I don’t want any ice cream because I don’t like ice cream. Now I’m giving honesty a shot along with all the other Buddhist yoga techniques that I can muster. I will meditate on it, have compassion for myself and (grit teeth) the forces of society that instilled this fear and hatred of fat, and spill a cajillion innocent words over the state of my body and how I feel about it.

Not to mention ask Mr. Crud to the point of eye rolling if he’ll still love the Hambone me.


*Last night Mr. Crud told me about the new yoga class he’s taking. I grilled him about what poses they did, hanging on every word like he was sharing an exciting new adventure. “Oh yeah, warrior, and then what?” You’ve heard of the Food Channel as food porn. Do you know where I can get some yoga porn?

**Hold the phones. I didn’t mean it like THAT. Ew. My mental retinas are permanently seared.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kineahora, M-f-er

I receive an email from a former coworker who I haven’t seen in a few years. Sorry for your loss, it says. Which loss?, I think, my first clue that the last few years have been a bit rough-going for the Cruds.

In summer 2005, my father died after a protracted battle with colon cancer. The entire family was able to say good-bye to Dad even though by the time we were sniffling our good-byes he could not respond. His eyes were vacant, his body a pale, splotchy shadow of parts that had once been so familiar and comforting. The chest where I’d buried my head hundreds of times, the arms that tossed me basketball after basketball while I shot free throws, the almost comically long, lean legs that turned most pants into highwaters. After all the chemo, the slow and cruel loss of his ability to read or make sense of a TV show, and a wasting away so pronounced that he was barely recognizable, we gathered around him, told him it was okay to let go, and watched as the life drained out of him. I wish it had been some spiritual awakening, some moment when I felt the presence of G-d or a portal to another plane of existence, but the image that sticks with me is watching the flutter of his pulse on his neck, the frantic beating as his heart made its last, best attempt to keep doing what it had been doing for 60 years, and then the stillness, the tears, my final kiss on his cheek. He died with his family surrounding him. I read this phrase in obituaries and the scene comes alive to me all over again. With terminal cancer, this is all you can ask for. This constitutes a good death. Pretty fucking relative if you ask me.

Next in the shitty-shitty-bang-bang loss parade came the death of my grandfather last fall. Again, cancer. He’d survived two bouts of cancer: one when I was in high school and wasn’t told that he had cancer until my parents packed my brother and I into the car to visit him in the hospital, and another round at the same time that my dad had entered into what would be his final tango with the metastatic cells of doom. The third bout, after Dad’s death, got him. And got him mercifully quick. Despite a painfully swollen lump on his calf, he put off going to the hospital for fear that the doctors wouldn’t allow him to go on one of the international trips that had filled his life since the death of my grandmother. Finally he relented. He went to the hospital. He was dead within a week. Of course I was sad, sadder still that my final attempts at calling him were a wrong number and I lost my chance for one last “I love you.” But grandparents are supposed to die. I feel lucky that he had lived so long. Long enough to see me grow out of my purple-haired combative phase and long enough for me to see him as a man greater than the sum of grandpa parts.

Sorry for your loss. And they surround me. Losses. Plural.

Last night Mom called. The test results that I had been trying not to worry about since she told me about the test the previous weekend were in. “I didn’t get the news I wanted,” she said. The small lump found on a routine mammogram was malignant.

One parent with cancer is bad luck. Two? That’s destiny. This cancer is somebody I’m going to meet whether I want to or not. I really should quit smoking. Rob the cancer of the home base that would cause self-loathing beyond belief. I picture the satisfied smirks of all those who have warned me to quit throughout the years. (Reality check—people don’t typically smirk to your face when you announce you have cancer, but they engage in some head-shaking tsk-tsking when you’re out of earshot.) Recently I read an essay by a woman whose father died of throat cancer. “Did he smoke?” is always the first question people ask when she shares the cause of her father’s death. Until reading this, it never struck me how fucked up of a question that is. The real questions asked being: Did he deserve cancer? Am I safe from it?

I consider cutting off my breasts, robbing cancer of another potential command center. I can no longer content myself with the belief that Dad’s colon cancer came from a lifetime of meat, that I can escape his fate with the help of diet, yoga, and early colonoscopies. My mom has experienced some bouts of sedentary lifestyle, of less-than-healthy eating but for the most part she follows the guidelines. No alcohol, no smoking, vegetables out the wazoo. Still. Cancer. I am nowhere near the guideline follower that she is. I have a checks and balances theory. Sure, I have a few smokes and glasses of wine but I eat my greens, drink of the antioxidant rich green tea, and overachieve in the exercise department. My theory seems ludicrous now. I feel crosshairs on my cells, and I don’t know how to rearrange them or pump them up with a rousing anti-cancer pep talk to escape the bulls-eye.

Through this entire storm, I’ve remained relatively sane. I cry sometimes but I haven’t crossed over into rage until now. Something is boiling and it isn’t tonight’s pasta water. Thanks again, G-d. This is about what I should expect from the being who let the Holocaust happen. Or Darfur. Or any one of a million other words that signify pain, suffering, and misery. Typhoon, anyone? Tsunami? Taunting G-d isn’t the best strategy. I know this. I’ve seen G-d’s work and know that it can get much, much worse than a first trimester miscarriage and an early cancer diagnosis. A new niece is on the way, my sister-in-law’s due date in July. Kineahora! It’s an old school exclamation to scare off the evil eye. You’ll probably be hearing a lot of it.

PS--News from Mom is relatively good, as good as it can be in breast cancer universe. Also my niece, Lyla Crud, was born on Saturday. See? It's not all bummers in bummertown.