Category Archives: Outings

Female Troubles

Maybe there is such a thing as womens’ work.

I had a doctor’s appointment recently—a long overdue physical at my Pasadena-based internist’s. It’s not a great practice, and the doctor, a broad, pink man of great bulk and humorlessness, is far from a whiz at his job. But it’s clean, convenient, and suffices for my basic check-ups.

In the past, the female nurse practitioner there performed any PAP smears I’d needed. I hadn’t had one last time, though, and I knew I couldn’t put it off again.

So, when the rest of my exam was done, I told Dr. Bland as much.

He was facing away from me at the moment, putting an instrument away. I thought I saw his back, clad in a white medical jacket, twitch. For a moment he froze, then he turned and said,

“A —I’m sorry?”

“A PAP smear. You do those, right?”

He hesitated, his expression fixed. “The nurse isn’t here today. Can you come back when she is?”

I frowned. This place was sort of far. I really didn’t want to make another trip.

“I’d prefer to do it now. Is that—can you do it?”

There was a beat. He cocked his head in an odd way, as if he was trying to recall a long-lost song lyric, then said “Sure.”

He told me he’d be right back. His large body moved with surprising swiftness as he left the examination room.

I leaned over and grabbed my phone out of my purse, my paper dress susurrating against my arms. I’d barely begun to check my texts when the doctor was back, a female receptionist in tow.

“Oh, hi,” I said to her, like it was a question.

“She’s here to observe,” the doctor said gruffly as he rooted in a drawer for a speculum. “Or help. Abby, we’re going to try…a….PAP smear, here.”

I shot Abby a glance. She smiled wanly and looked down at her feet.

“Is everything OK?” I asked the room in general. Neither of them would make eye contact with me.

Abby reached over and pulled the stirrups out of the table with a clang.

“It’s fine,” she said.

Dr. Bland strode across the room and yanked a tissue from a dispenser. Folding it carefully, he used it to mop his brow, then dropped it into a sterile bin.

“Right, here we go,” he said, in a falsely jovial tone. “I said a little prayer out there, so it’s all going to be OK.”

I half sat up, which isn’t easy when your feet are in stirrups. “You what?”

He chuckled. “I had to pray. I haven’t done one of these in a while. Maybe a year or two. And I’ve got these darn new glasses. The distance…well, the cervix sits right in the blurry spot.”

The blurry spot.

“But we’ll be fine.”

He pulled on a rubber glove with a snap.

I know. That was when I should have left. But when your feet are in stirrups and two strangers are staring into your “blurry spot” it’s hard to make good choices.

I leaned back slowly and tried to relax as the doctor first lubricated and then inserted the speculum. It felt normal, which is to say, weird and extremely uncomfortable.

Abby watched quietly, shifting from foot to foot, as Dr. Bland adjusted the instrument. I would’ve killed to know what she was thinking. Or maybe not.

Moving his face down to the speculum, Dr. Bland peered in. There was a long silence. I winced slightly as it moved, shifted once more, and then opened. It’s a yucky feeling that you never quite get used to; fortunately it’s over quickly.

Usually, that is. But not this time. The seconds ticked by, and then the minutes, and the room remained completely, funereally quiet. Abby stared at her arm hairs. I stared at the ceiling. Dr. Bland stared at my groin.

Finally I couldn’t take it. I crooked my head up again. “How’s it going down there?”

He grunted. “I’m just—“ the speculum shifted again, and I gasped slightly. “Sorry, sorry. I’ve almost…got it….”

Again, the silence. Craning my neck, I could see sweat droplets forming on the doctor’s head. It was cold in the room. I lay my head back, resigned. I’d never leave this table. We were here forever, the doctor, Abby, and me. Like “No Exit,” but with cramping.

And then, all in one quick movement, Dr. Bland withdrew the speculum. He straightened his posture and looked at me sheepishly.

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. ” You’ll have to come back when the nurse is here.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”

“I couldn’t find it.”

“Find what?”

“Your cervix,” he said apologetically. “It’s doing something strange.”

I scratched my head. There was an awkward pause. “That’s odd.”

“I found part of it…” he said, as if this should console me.

I nodded, waiting for more. Had the other half gone missing? Maybe eloped with one of my ovaries?

He pulled off his gloves and tossed them in the trash.“I got almost all the way there, but…no. Not close enough. You’ll have to come back.”

It was quiet again. I could tell he was embarrassed; I didn’t want to make him feel worse. Plus, we women are at such a disadvantage in these situations. Privates front and center. We can’t exactly get sassy.

I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and swung my legs off the table.

“I’ll make an appointment with the nurse,” I said evenly, smoothing the paper across my knees.

“Good idea. Sorry again,” Dr. Bland said, as he shot me a grimace and lumbered out of the room.

I turned to look at Abby, hoping, perhaps, for a moment of solidarity. No such luck. The receptionist busied herself tidying, then muttered “I’ll get your bill ready” and hurried out of the room.

As I got dressed, I wondered what on earth I had been thinking. I should have fled at the first moment of weirdness. From now on I’d only go to women for this woman’s job.

And a week or two later I made an appointment at a birthing center, where a young, knowledgeable midwife not only found my cervix, but showed it to me in a mirror. Perhaps, having heard my story, she wanted to prove it was there. I felt like taking a picture of it for Dr. Bland.  I could post it on Yelp. Next to his no-star review.

Going forward I’m voting with my dollars. I’m switching to a doctor who knows female anatomy. So birthing center? I’ll be back. Dr. Bland? Only in my nightmares.

By the way, the first thing that midwife said to me when I lay down on the examination table in her pretty pastel office?

“We don’t do stirrups here—I hope that’s OK.”

I knew right then I was home.

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.

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Fear Factor

Not to be a spoil sport, but I’m glad Halloween is over. There’s too much fear in the air as it is, without adding zombies, vampires, and a bunch of homemade Pikachus to the mix. Not to mention the scarier stuff, like the slasher victims, Evil Clowns, and Headless Men. I mean, Jesus. When did Halloween get so dark? And I’m not talking Daylight Savings, either. It’s starting to feel like a low budget horror film out there. With a bunch of overly zealous production designers and waaaaay too many extras.

Or maybe it’s the same as always, and I’m just seeing it through my kid’s eyes. MJ hates scary stuff. She was a Mermaid this year. Mermaids don’t kill anything. Except for maybe fish, and that’s debatable. They’ve got to live on something, I suppose, but seaweed probably suffices, as long as they chew it really well.

Whatever the case, my daughter’s Mermaid was definitely of the non-violent type. She had a beautiful, high crown, shells on her “bra,” and a long, shiny, blue fin. No fangs, no blood, no entrails. When MJ marched in her school’s Halloween parade she looked many things—proud, happy, slightly clumsy—but scary wasn’t one of them. Unless you were kelp.

In other years she’s chosen equally harmless costumes: a horseshoe crab, a puppy, a skunk. (OK, skunks aren’t harmless, per se, but as long as you give them space they’re fine. Not something you can say about Jason or Freddy.) Once she was a Nature Fairy and  looked disturbing, but that was because she painted herself green, like a flu victim.

I wish I’d told MJ’s teacher about her fear-averse nature before Halloween came around. She decided to kick October off with a reading of “age appropriate” ghost stories. One of them, a tale of a girl with a severed head held on by a purple ribbon, sent MJ into paroxysms of fear. She cried for hours after hearing it, and hasn’t been able to sleep well since.

“I keep seeing those pictures in my mind,” she’ll say to me at three in the morning when she calls me from my room.

“What pictures, my love?” I ask, whispering hoarsely.

“Of the ribbon girl.”

I inwardly curse her teacher, like an underslept sailor, and imagine, for one moment, beating her on the head and shoulders with her “age appropriate book.”

Then I take a breath. “There’s no ribbon girl. That story is made up. Those things don’t happen.” I try to sound cheerful, without being unduly perky. It is, after all, three AM.

Myra-Jean clings to me pathetically. She cries some more. And then ends up in our bed.

If only we could afford private school.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to see November come. No more cockroaches, nor falcon parties, no decapitated lasses trussed like chickens…

Except…oh, God. In six days…deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Well, December could be nice.There’s Christmas to look forward to…

We’ll wrap without ribbons, of course.

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Fondant Memories

The next time I agree to spend three figures on a birthday cake, someone douse me with ice water.

But that’s what happens when you combine a weird party theme, no time, and a bit of extra money.

Unable to find a professional falconer to give a talk, or a “bird guy” with a folding table and a few parakeets, or even a teenager in a bird costume, I decided to splurge on, well, the pastry. If we couldn’t have a live falcon we’d have the best fondant version you’d ever seen. On a custom made theme cake! From a highly-Yelp-rated bakery! Sure, their quote was astronomical, but they delivered! Plus, the local grocery store didn’t do raptors on their sheet cakes. No one did. I wasn’t in a position to haggle.

A huge price tag. A cake ordered sight unseen. Fifty people in a park. How could it go wrong?

“It’s a little small,” Mike told me on the phone when the cake arrived. It was the day before the party–I was at work, trying to sell yellow diamonds to people who really had money to burn.

“What do you mean, small?” I asked irritably, mouthing “just a minute” to my customers with a forced smile.

“I mean, it’s small. We may need a backup dessert.”

I felt my cortisone levels start to rise. “That makes no sense.”

I hadn’t told Mike how much I’d spent on the cake, and I didn’t intend to. I quickly changed tack. “Is it gorgeous, at least?”

I imagined something ornate and intricate. A skyscape, perhaps, with clouds, a vast mountain range. Stunning falcons soaring majestically over wide savannas. One diving, perhaps, towards a tiny rabbit on the buttercream “ground.” Multiple tiers, some scattered trees. A small village, stonework, haystacks–

“It’s…cute.”

I didn’t like his tone, inflected, as it was, with forced positivity.

“It should be amazing.”

There was a long pause. Mike cleared his throat. “Anyway. We might want to bake some cookies for the grownups.”

I took a deep breath. Stay calm. Mike tends to see the glass half empty. It’s probably fine. A work of art. And plenty big. Even if it’s not, kids don’t eat a lot of cake. They just rub their faces with frosting and then run amuck, like dogs with roadkill.

But that night, when I took the cake out of the fridge, I saw that Mike was right. It’s design, such as it was, was minimalist. Two falcons and a mountain. Period. Neither bird was flying—one was perched on a branch and the other was standing with his arms behind him, which is anatomically absurd. MJ had added a playmobile person and a toy hawk to the top to”dress it up” a bit. This irritated me unreasonably. For that much money additional set dressing shouldn’t have been necessary.

And it was tiny! I calculated the price of each slice in my head. Jesus. I may as well have just taken the kids to the Russian Tea Room. Including flights. We were looking at, like, thirty dollars a bite, here. I should trade a slice for a trip to Cabo.

I turned to Mike. “I’ve been had.”

He nodded kindly. “Looks tasty, though.”

“We’ll never know, will we?” I grumbled, stalking to the refrigerator to get butter out. I had cookies to bake.

It turned out the cake was good, and, thanks to the paper-thin slices Mike cut, there was even a tiny bit left for us to try. Everyone liked the decorations. MJ got a slice with mountain on it; it was her special treat.

I kept the cake’s cost to myself, of course, so no one laughed uncontrollably or yelled “suckah!” That was my special treat.

Still, next time I’m going to Vons and getting a plain sheet cake. It turns out MJ has a real talent for decorating, and God knows she has enough plastic birds and Playmobile people to populate an entire continent of pastries.

I’m hoping by next year, though, she’ll have moved on from falcons. They command too high a price tag, both materially and emotionally.

And clearly I can’t be trusted with a credit card when birthday time rolls around.

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Post No Cards

When I need to mail a package, I generally go to the Glassel Park Post Office near my home. It’s filthy, has only four parking spaces, and sucks a tenth of my soul out every time I visit, but it’s in my zip code and I feel a weird fealty towards it.

Yesterday, though, with an envelope that had to be sent priority,  I decided to try a different branch. I was in Eagle Rock on another errand and thought maybe I’d have a more pleasant experience at their location. Maybe only a twentieth of my soul would be devoured–an improvement! Or maybe none would. Maybe it would be my first ever functional experience in an L.A. post office.

The parking lot had ample spaces, an immediate improvement. And the office itself, when I entered it,  was bigger and cleaner. But there was still an air of numbness; I felt, as I always do in these situations, that I could light my eyebrows on fire and no one would look up from their smartphones. Bureaucracies have that effect on people. So do smartphones.

Me, I try not to use my phone when waiting in line. It’s so cliche. Not to mention, I hear that microboredom is becoming a problem, and I don’t want to succumb. So I try to just look around, take in the scenery.

After running my eyes over the usual “suspicious contents” posters, racks of bubble envelopes, and passport seeking stragglers, I noticed a plastic fishbowl on the counter. It sported a sign that said:

Grow your business. Drop your business card into the bowl.

And that was it. A few cards sat listlessly in the bottom, waiting for an opportunity that seemed unlikely to come.

“Huh,” I said, as the person in front of me got called and I moved up to the front of the line. “I wonder how that works.”

So when it was my turn I asked the clerk–a stolid lady with a plaid shirt and a matter-of-fact demeanor: “So just how does it grow my business?”

She looked at me blankly. “I’m sorry?”

I jacked my thumb at the fishbowl. “Putting my business card in there. How does it grow my business?”

She leaned over and looked at the fishbowl. Although it had clearly been sitting there for a long time, she regarded it as if it were new. She made a frowny face, then shook her head.

“No.”

Now it was my turn to look confused. “No?”

She shrugged. “It does nothing.”

I nodded. “So, it’s just…there?”

She turned to the clerk in the next cubicle down, who, by now, had taken note of our conversation. “Lacy,” she said flatly. “What happens to the cards?”

Lacy was unhesitating.”Nothing. I don’t know why that thing is even there.”

I laughed, and so did they. And so did the person Lacy was helping. So that was good–I felt like I brought a little brightness to everyone’s day. Maybe broke up the microboredom just a micro-bit.

But I think I’ll go back to my regular branch. Clearly there is no such thing as a functional option.

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Back to the Vulture

Holy Carrion, Batman!

Tomorrow is International Vulture Awareness Day at the L.A. Zoo, and MJ is beside herself with excitement. She’s designed a tee-shirt for it and everything. She’s also fed all of her stuffed vultures to get them pumped up for an outing, as they’ll all be coming along. Thank goodness we had some extra coils of the rubber stuff we got with our new robotic vacuum cleaner. Normally it demarcates which rooms our Botvac can and cannot enter. But today a bit of it got snipped off and used as rotting flesh.

Me, I’m sorry I’ll be working. The look on MJ’s face when she sees a California Condor eat a dead squirrel will really be worth witnessing. Take lots of pictures, Mike!

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Doodle Day

Currently at a training for work; it’s sort of my worst nightmare–two full days, eight hours each. PowerPoint presentations, group exercises, too much AC, highlighters, easels with big pads of paper on them, trivia questions to relieve the boredom. Fortunately we’ve been given cardboard and markers so that those of us who “learn by doodling” can indulge our passion. Here’s doodle #1. It started out completely innocent, but when it was done my table mates managed to read lurid content into it. Now I feel dirty. But I like it, too, even if it does look like a pterodactyl fellating a T. rex.

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