Category Archives: household

Tell Me No Lice

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse.

About a week ago I noticed that my head was itchy. Like, crazy itchy. Particularly around the nape of the neck. This was concerning, as lice had been going around the first grade at MJ’s school for awhile. We’d dodged it so far, but I knew that couldn’t go on forever.

I checked with MJ to see if she was feeling it, too.

“Yes!” She replied. “It’s been driving me crazy forever.”

I looked at her with an alarmed expression. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

She shrugged, and turned back to her game. She’s created a whole imaginary land in a corner called “Fairyarea.” I find her there muttering and singing all the time. There’s something vaguely demonic about it, but also cute.

MJ was off school, and Mike was planning on taking her to work with him. Let them go, I thought. I’ll check my head when they leave. Probably just being paranoid…I’m sure we’re all fine.

Amazing that I could still believe that about anything, but denial is a powerful force.

They left; I showered, and broke open a lice comb I’d purchased months ago. It only took a couple of passes to find that, indeed, I had them. Lice. Because apparently a cockroach infestation and an electoral apocalypse weren’t enough for one early autumn.

When I was done swearing I called Mike. “We have lice,” I announced. “Or I do. Which means that MJ does. And probably you, too.”

There was a surprisingly long silence on the other end. Like, a one-man Quaker meeting. Finally Mike sighed.

“Okay.”

“Don’t panic,” I said. “I’ll come get her and take her to the salon. You’ll have to come, too.”

The salon I was referring to was Hair Angels, one of several lice removal places in the L.A. area. Hair Angels does no cuts, no blowouts, no dye-jobs. It’s just four unflappable women at pink stations banging lice combs into bowls of water. And, lest you think this is too small of a niche for a business, they’re busy all the time. We’ve been there twice for false alarms in the past; there’s always a crowd.

We headed there that afternoon. And it did, indeed, turn out that MJ and I had lice. Mike, even with his long hair, did not.

“The dads almost never get it,” my technician said matter-of-factly. “Doesn’t matter if they have long hair or short. Lice just don’t like ’em.”

“Typical,” I muttered, as she pulled another section of my hair through her comb.

MJ and I were there for over two hours, but when the treatment was done the lice were gone.

“Just like that?” I said.

Our gal laughed and nodded. “Just like that.”

Curious, I asked how long she thought we’d had them.

“You, not so long,” she said. Then she jacked her elbow towards MJ, who was now muttering over an ad-hoc Fairyarea in the waiting room. “She’s had ’em for about two weeks.”

My eyebrows shot upwards. “Two weeks?”

She nodded and shrugged. “Sometimes it’s hard to know until you’re fully infested.”

Once I was done being grossed out I did the math and realized that two weeks prior would have brought us to…election day. How ironic. And how perfectly fitting. Why wouldn‘t the worst day of my life also involve household pests?

But with a bit of time I’ve decided that the lice were a blessing. First of all, they pulled me out of my slough of despond. You can’t mope on the couch all day when the furniture has to be vacuumed. You can’t lie on the floor in a fetal position when there’s eight loads of laundry to do. You can’t stay in bed when all the bedding needs to be washed. You have to get up. You have to get busy. You have to deal.

Because lice suck, but they’re treatable. They have to be addressed; they can’t be ignored. But the idea of them is worse than the reality. Because the idea is that they’re impossible to defeat. The reality is, we have the knowledge, the expertise, and the equipment. We have Hair Angels. We know how to eradicate them. So, one nit at a time, we do.

This is true, I tell myself, for many kinds of unpleasant phenomena. Fear is the greatest enemy. It makes things seem unbeatable that aren’t; immobility ensues. Hysteria is unhelpful; footwork is all-powerful. Most infestations can be cleared; patience is critical, perseverance, too.

And vigilance, as any Hair Angel will tell you, is the absolute key. So I, for one, will be keeping my lice comb handy.

img_4144

Roach Trip

Day 21.

It’s been exactly a week since Corky’s came for their “follow up” appointment. Since then we’ve seen only three or four roaches, all dead. Or mostly all–one was doing a pretty convincing zombie imitation, but he became dead quite fast. After Mike smashed him with a paper towel, that is.

And for the last three days, nothing. Dead or alive.

Except for the imaginary roaches. Pesticides, apparently, don’t work on those.

This invasion has clearly taken a toll on my mental health. Now that the real roaches seem defeated, I’m seeing phantoms everywhere–in the cabinets, on my leg, in the bath mat, at the park. I’m like that guy from “A Beautiful Mind,” but with little brown bugs. Who don’t talk. But still. I’m haunted by the specter of these horrible insects, and God only knows when it’ll stop.

Just the other morning, for example, while getting MJ’s lunch together for school, I saw two giant specimens on her snack bag and shrieked at the top of my lungs. They turned out to be pictures of bees. That had always been there. Mike and MJ got a good laugh out of that one, and understandably enough. My anxiety can be quite comical.

But I could tell this morning when I screamed at a hair clip under the toaster that my freak-outs are wearing thin. Even MJ is rolling her eyes. And Mike? He’s going to have me committed. If only Corky’s had a spray for that.

Maybe things will improve when we finally use the dishwasher. Which we can, in theory. Mike has done his checks for days now and found nothing. Still, neither of us can bring ourselves to turn it on. Too soon.

Not to mention, if I’m seeing roach ghosts where roaches have never roamed, imagine what I’ll see when I go back to the scene of the crime. I’m not sure my heart can take it. Or my family’s ears.

So there’s the conundrum: I’ll feel better when we’re using the Bosch again, and I can’t use the Bosch again until I feel better.

Welcome to being in my head.

But not in my dishwasher. Maybe next week.

img_3809

 

 

B-roaching the Subject

So, I’m at work today, and it’s quiet. Reeeeeally quiet. September and October are the dead season in retail. I’ve just returned from lunch at a new restaurant and I’m telling my co-worker about it. There are no customers in the store; we speak freely:

“I just ate at True Food,” I say, leaning casually against the counter.

“Yeah? ” he says, from across the room. “Was it good?”

“Very”

“Everyone says it’s fresh.” says my co-worker, straightening a jewelry form in the case. “Was it fresh?”

I cock an eyebrow at him. “Certainly.”

He keeps talking, flipping his keys in the air. “The freshest food I ever had was salmon I’d just caught. Killed it, cooked it three hours later. BLAM. Fresh.”

I shudder. Savage.

“The freshest salmon I ever had was sushi,” says my boss, entering the room from behind us. “In Hawaii. Ate it right off the boat.” She mimes a knife, presumably filleting a living fish. “Delicious.”

Jesus. I make a face, imagining this. It makes me think of–

“Did you know that roaches cannibalize each other?” I say loudly. “They even eat their own children.”

My co-workers swivel their heads towards me, clearly taken aback.

I go on. “If you poison them they crawl back to their nests to die. Then their friends eat them. Then they die. Then they get eaten. Talk about a vicious circle.”

Silence. No one’s keys are flipping now.

I feel driven to go on.”They eat defecation too. Theirs, I mean. Imagine eating your kid’s poop, then eating him. Then being eaten!”

A customer walks in. We spin towards the door and smile.

“Hello!” we all chorus.

“Just looking,” he snaps, moving past us and into the next room.

A beat. “Guess we should get back to work,” I say morosely.

“Sushi has just been ruined for me forever” my boss mutters under her breath as she walks away.

These roaches are not only going to be the death of me. They’re going to kill my job, too. And maybe my even appetite.

But hopefully they’ll keep theirs. Bon appetite, suckers!

 

 

The Cork is in Session

“OK, OK. Thanks for talking me down.”

It wasn’t my therapist I’d just hung up with. It was David, the Corky’s guy. This was my third time speaking to him since the spraying last week. My third time calling hysterically because we are still. Seeing. Roaches. In. The. Kitchen.

David has an easy way about him. A gentle approach. He uses the phrase “get you where you want to be” a lot.

“We’re going to get you where you want to be,” he says this morning, as he has every time we’ve spoken. “It just takes some time.”

I don’t have time. I will be in a mental hospital soon, knitting my own bathrobe, and then I’ll have time. But now? No.

“I just want them gone, David.”

“I know, Jessica.” We are on a first name basis. We could hang out. We could watch the debates together, throw orange peels at Trump. “We’re going to get you there.”

If David’s voice were an instrument, it would be a cello. He’s good at his job. He does a lot of empathizing. I wonder if he’s taken a course.

“When will we get there, though? WHEN?”

“Yup. It’s frustrating.” This doesn’t answer the question, but I am lulled by the tuneful sound of his voice. Wait. Am I?

“I need a date.”

“We’re gonna get you where you want to be.” Cue the oboes!

“A date. David. Please.”

Sotto voce, he replies.”It’s generally about two weeks after the second visit.”

The second visit. Which is at the two-week mark.  We haven’t even reached that yet.

“So a month? This whole process takes a month?”

We’ve had this conversation before. Every bit of it. It’s like Kabuki theater, but without the makeup. Still, I am not hearing what I want to hear.

“Can’t we make it faster?”

The music swells. “These things take time.”

“I hate them.”

And swells some more: “We’re gonna get you there.”

“I can’t even go in my kitchen!”

(Andante)”It’s very stressful.”(Accelerando) “We’ll get you there.”(Tenuto) “These things take more time than we’d like.”

Show over, I walk across the house to where Mike is checking his e-mail. He looks up. “Did you call them?”

I nod unhappily. “They’ll get us there.”

Mike shrugs. There is nothing more either of us can do, and we know it. Powerless in the face of these repugnant, brown interlopers, we can only wait for the mysterious spell of Corky’s to take effect.

Good thing I have David. I’m going to need him.

And he’s going to need a vacation when the month is up.

A Roach to Hang With

Los Angeles, for all intents and purposes, has only two seasons: a mild, temperate one of great brevity that we refer to as “winter,” and a second, which lasts for about eight months and is known, informally, as “hot.”

Autumn, as one typically understands it, doesn’t exist in these parts. While people in other places get out their chunky cardigans, plan leaf-peeping trips, and shake the dust out of their duvets, we in L.A. gag on forest fire smoke, stagger through week-long heat waves and slather our kids in sunscreen so they don’t fry at the Pumpkin Patch.

And then there are the insect infestations.

Usually these involve ants, but this year Mike and I got a new and completely unexpected kind: roaches. To say that this was unexpected is to put it mildly. One of the reasons I live in L.A., aside from lethargy and a mordant fear of the unknown, is the fact that there are no roaches here. Earthquakes, yes. Traffic? Fine. Stucco, plastic surgery, rampant and vapid fashionistas? I can take all of it. But roaches? Objection, your honor. Out of order.

I’m from Brooklyn, and grew up in an apartment building with a bug problem so profound that you’d consider yourself lucky if you saw only ten or twelve roaches in a twenty-four hour period. On a good day none of them flew. Bonus points if they stayed out of your shower, but that was rare.

I’ve said it before: I am phobic of all insects. But roaches have a special place on the entomological spectrum for me. I think of them as the Devil bug, evil incarnate, the filthiest, most terrifying, most repugnant, and least desirable of all pests on this or any planet with existing life. I would rather have lice. I would rather have fleas. I would happily take lice, fleas, and pantry moths while enduring an earthquake and roasting over charcoal briquettes before having a single roach in my house.

Yet the season of “hot” had different ideas.

Two weeks ago I saw my first. “Couldn’t have been one,” I thought. “Impossible.” It scampered away, and I relegated it immediately to the giant bin labelled “denial” in my brain.

Three days later, a second sighting. “Mike,” I said, shaking my head. “The weirdest thing. I thought I just saw a cockroach…”

“Oh, yeah,” he replied, not missing a beat. “I saw one yesterday. Strange.”

This conversation, too, went into the box. Denial is my friend. Roaches are not. I thought no more about it.

Two days later another, on the pantry door. Then, an hour later, one in the dishwasher.

“Jesus!” I shrieked. “They’re really here!”

Mike looked up from the plate he was drying and considered me, his head tilted questioningly.

“The roaches!” I snapped. “We have to do something about them!”

The next morning at 8 AM sharp I was on the phone with Corky’s. Discerning my hysteria, they promised they’d have someone out the next day. They also told me calmly, as if it were no big thing, that we’d have to prepare our house by emptying the bathrooms and kitchen of every single thing in them. Like we were moving. All cabinets would need to be wiped down. As for the food in them?

“You’d be best off just tossing it,” said the young woman on the other end of the line. “Any of it could be infested.”

I got off the phone looking, I’m sure, like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.” Head spinning, eyes pinned, mouth in a ghastly grimace. When I spoke, it was in a stream of profanities so intense it would have made a pirate weep. Roaches and my house torn apart? This was my idea of hell.

Mike and I spent all that night packing up. It was a nightmare. Not only was it  labor intensive, but I was terrified of running into a roach. Jumpy doesn’t begin to describe it; I was like a meth-head on an eight-day run. Every time a shadow moved I screamed shrilly. Spoon dropped? “SSHHHRRRIIIEEEKKK!” Dog scratched? “AAAAGHH!”

“Do you want me to do this by myself?” Mike asked at one point, palpably annoyed.

I took a deep breath. I had to man up.

“No,” I said, with all the bravery I could summon. “I’m OK.”

But I wasn’t.

Still, Mike and I got everything packed up. Exhausted, I went to bed, visions of brown insects clicking at me furtively as I drifted to sleep. My dreams, I assure you, were not good.

Corky’s came the next morning. That was six days ago, and it’s been four since our last sighting. We’re not out of the woods yet–I’m told it can take a month to kill every roach–but things certainly seem improved. I can be in the kitchen again without cringing in fear. Tonight I cooked for the first time. It’s getting better. It will continue to do so.

But man, it’s been a rough, long, season. Tomorrow it’ll be 103. The air quality still sucks.

The roaches may be gone. As for “hot?” It’s a lot harder to kill.

Stations of the Clock

Usually I discount passing crazes, but it just so happens that an article about a new one arrived in my inbox today at a particularly vulnerable moment. I’d just finished a conversation with Mike about the deplorable state of my office. I was contemplating how to fix it when the link came in.

Hmm, I thought, as I stared at it. “Bliss Stations?” Sounds moronic. Still, anything’s better than having to actually do something about this room right now…

So I clicked on the link. The article talked about creating an artist’s sanctuary in your home–a place where you feel joy, peace, and inspiration. A place filled with things you love. A place to dream without encumbrance.

The piece annoyed me–self-help stuff always does–but it also fueled my desire to get this office cleaned out. If I’m supposed to feel joy when I sit down in here I’ve got a long way to go. Right now I’m verging on a mid-level panic.

My office, it seems, is on a bliss vacation. The desk is chaotic, the walls peppered with carelessly curated artworks. A wan polyester curtain covers one sliding glass “wall,” unfiled receipts litter the floor, an old jack-in-the-box lurks in the corner. Instead of thoughtfully chosen, meaningful things on the shelves–history books, photographs, bits of memorabilia–there is macaroni art, a bunch of old video cassettes, and a Freddy Krueger Mr. Potato Head. (Don’t ask. It’s a “collector’s edition.”)

Front and center, hanging above my paper-swamped desk, is the big wooden clock that my dad gave me years ago when I got my first place. I had nothing in the way of furniture at the time; he had it left over from a film shoot and donated it to me. It was the first–and for a while only–thing I hung in my new, tiny studio in Venice. It looked appropriate, even nice there; and, ever since, I’ve moved it from apartment to apartment, house to house,  with a real sentimental attachment.

But something has changed since my dad passed away last year. I loved him, of course, but this clock–that keeps no time, mind you–isn’t him. It’s just a round piece of wood with some markings on it, and it’s really not speaking to me anymore. Or maybe it is, and I just can’t make the translation now that Dad’s gone. Without his spirit animating it, it’s just a thing, a bit of ephemera robbed of meaning. Or perhaps its meaning has simply morphed from the personal to the banal. Where before it reminded me of Dad’s support at a difficult time, it now speaks to me only in cliches:

“The end is near,” it intones. “Time is not your friend.”

I know, I respond silently. Your presence is an excellent reminder.

Is a clock in and of itself a thing of beauty? Perhaps, but this one has lived out its time on my wall. If this is going to be a bliss station I’ll have to begin by eliminating anything that doesn’t, well, bring me bliss. This means you, Killer Potato Man, and you, evil jumping clown. And everything that found its way here by chance.

So Dad, I love you. I miss you. But time’s up. The clock goes in the attic.

IMG_3721

Pardon the Delay

OK, so two years is a pretty long coffee break. Especially when you’re a tea drinker.

What can I say? Working part time, raising a daughter, being a wife, having a home, trying to exercise, learn Mandarin, volunteer at my kid’s school, keep two pets alive and have a moment now and then to read a non-first-grade-level book–it’s a lot. This seemed like the lowest priority, and it just fell by the wayside. Fell and broke both legs. Did I mention the concussion?

But I had an awakening recently. It’s not working for me. Not writing–or having any creative output at all–is making me brittle. I’ve got to get back to it. For me. No one else much cares, but a life with all work and no words feels hopelessly incomplete. So I am hobbling back to Thumbstumbler, casts on both legs–figuratively speaking, people!–and a little pink in the cheeks. I suppose I’ve exposed myself as a dilettante.

Or a human. You choose.

Either way, not writing is not an option anymore. Something in me cracked when, the other day, I had to give someone a link to this blog. I hadn’t looked at it in over a year, but just logging in and seeing “No Towel for Owl” all hung out to dry like that, the last post in a series that wasn’t meant to stop, well, it made me melancholy. And irritated. It really doesn’t take much time to do this writing thing. Just a little commitment, some nimble scheduling, maybe one fewer “Grace and Frankie” episode. Still, I’ve been known to be a quitter in matters of personal endeavor, and that lone suspended owl reminded me how much I enjoyed doing this and how much I’d lost by letting it go.

Even then I worried. “There’s just no time. Where will I fit it back in?”

Then today I was at the Natural History museum with MJ–she’s six now–and I had a moment of clarity. I’d just snapped a picture of her, standing before her beloved Bird Gallery, crooning over her favorite taxidermied fowl (the Golden Eagle, in case you’re wondering), and I thought of that dangling, well-loved owl. And all the things that had come before.

And the things that are yet to come.

And I knew I had to find time.

So here I am. Because I do work part-time, and clean my house, and raise my kid, and love my husband, and read books, and jog, and volunteer, and try to be a friend, and watch too much TV, and grocery shop, and meditate. And it’s all a lot, and, as a result, I do none of it as well as I’d like.

But if I’m not writing about it I’m giving up the one thing that can make all of that OK.

And that would be for the birds, indeed.

IMG_3716