Category Archives: WTF

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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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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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.

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The Battle of the Bosch

It’s all come down to the dishwasher.

Ironic that this, our highest-end appliance, the one I swore would change my life when we upgraded from our Soviet-era clunker, has become the final holdout of our entomological invaders. Bosch dishwashers may be rated four-and-a-half stars on Amazon, but it turns out they get an abysmal score for being pest-repellent. To the contrary, roaches, like everyone else, seem to prefer German design, for we are now seeing the little bastards there, and there only.

“It’s the warmth and the moisture,” Dave explained when I called him about it. “Totally normal, to be expected.”

If we live in a world where it’s normal to open the dishwasher and see roaches racing across the silverware tray then sign me up for intergalactic travel now. Because I am out of here.

We’ve stopped using the thing, of course. Except as a giant roach motel. Twice a day, now, Mike grabs a paper towel, approaches the Bosch, opens it quickly, and kills any roaches he sees. I, meanwhile, get as far across the house as I can and enter a mewling fetal position until he’s done.

“How many today?” I ask, my head still between my armpits.

Mike likes to preface his answer with the word “sadly.”

“Sadly, one,” he’ll say. Or “Sadly, two.”

We haven’t had more than that yet; he’ll have to come up with a stronger adverb if we do. “Horrifically” would work. “Catastrophically” sums it up nicely, too.

What is sad to me is that we don’t have none. Abandoning the rest of the house, the roaches have dug in to this final stronghold. Strategically speaking I suppose it’s good–we’ve got them surrounded, like the Romans were at Cannae. But our foes are better defended; the Romans weren’t encased in steel.

In my darker moments I wonder if we’ll ever get them out. Assuming this is a siege, they could go on in there for years, living off of the crumbs in the filter and the moisture in the bottom of the drain. Roaches, after all, can survive for months on a single drop of water. The average enemy can’t. We may be looking at a new Empire, here. And all run out of my long-coveted appliance!

Tomorrow, thankfully, is Corky’s follow-up visit. It can’t come soon enough. Especially since Dave won’t get on the phone with me anymore. I think he’s burning out. I know I am. I need my kitchen back. I need my dishwasher. I need my life.

And who knows? I may need siege engines.

In the meantime? We’re cleaning our plates by hand, keeping the kitchen spotless, and praying for a turn in the battle.

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!

 

 

Butt Why?

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No. I wanna betta bus bench.

Nothing like having a daughter who is just starting to read to fire up your feminist leanings. Do we really have to look at this crap? Does she? This particular ad is ubiquitous in the East LA neighborhood I live in. I passed it three times on my way to Trader Joe’s this morning.

“No,” I muttered each time, growing more caustic-sounding with each sighting. “No, I don’t. No, my butt is fine. No, her butt is fine. All of our butts are fine, you idiots!”

This last bit I yelled. A lady waiting for the bus shot me an alarmed look.

“Sorry,” I muttered apologetically. Then I rolled up my window.

Another turn, another bench. I pondered the model’s ass, which she is dutifully raising for us to inspect. Annoyed, I moved on to her face. So vapid, so anodyne. What is she really thinking? Impossible to say beneath the exuberant airbrushing. Maybe she’s calculating how much she’ll make on this shoot. Maybe she’s thinking about sushi for lunch. Maybe she’s trying not to pass gas. Butts do that too, you know.

What’s for sure is that she’s not thinking about my kid, and neither  is the company whose jeans she touts. But I am. I’ll have to explain this ad, and every one like it, to her. No billboard, placard, or sign escapes her notice now that she can read. We’ve discussed “Little Caesar’s” at great length (perhaps she was too young for the Ides of March?) We’ve learned about STDs (as I said, this is East LA). We’ve dissected watch ads, liquor ads, car ads, ads for things even I find disturbing.

And now we’ll have to start dissecting this. The pouty-lipped, unnaturally posed, slightly hostile-looking girl on billboard concept. And allllll that it entails. Oh, MJ. How can I explain?

I want a better bus bench. I want a better world. Or I want my kid to forget how to read.