Monday, December 13, 2010


I now have photos of parts of me I have never seen nor will ever see in person. 

Last Wednesday I underwent a colonoscopy and an endoscopy, both of which were filmed.  The wonders of digital photography!  These are truly what can be called close up shots.   Inside shots?  I'll let you look at them if you really want to.  I’m talking about this event because of the statistic my doctor gave me.  Six out of 100 people have colon cancer.  If it’s detected early, it can be zapped.  If not, you’re a goner.

All went well and I've been checked out top to bottom.  Or bottom to top.  I wasn't aware enough to know the order of things.  At any rate, it appears that, with the exception of a hiatal hernia and diverticulosis, both of which I already knew I had, I'm fine.  No ulcers.  Parts of me were clipped for biopsy and those parts came back negative.  That’s good news.

If you’ve never had a colonoscopy, here’s how it goes.  The process is so much more streamlined than it was nine years ago when I had my first one.  Three days before the procedure, you stop eating nuts, seeds, berries, and red or purple food.  I learned that most of what I eat is food with seeds, nuts and colored red or purple.  Some green.  Do you know how boring white food is?

The day before the procedure you eat no food at all.  You may have bouillion or beverages except coffee (no coffee) or jello, but not red or purple jello or beverages.   I think you can wear lipstick, though.

The day I didn't eat any food, only liquids, I thought about how at least three/fourths of the world every day has no food.  My head ached and my brain was foggy.  I knew why school students who don't have a breakfast can't think.  I'm so glad for people like my friend Georga who coordinates the summer Lunch Buddies program in my town, the ones who make sure kids get something to eat when school's out.  I wondered how actresses and ballerinas don’t eat day after day.  A day of fasting puts abundance in perspective.

At 4:00 p.m. you swallow two Ducolax pills to start the cleansing procedure.  At 6:00 p.m. you begin drinking 64 oz. of Gatorade mixed with 238 grams of Miralax.   For the next four hours you spend most of your time in the bathroom, so have a fascinating book ready.  I read Steve Martin’s new book, The Object of Beauty.   I learned all about the buying and selling of art over the past 20 years.   The Gatorade helped with my headache.  I slept very well despite getting up four times during the night.  The last time I had this procedure, I endured two days of fasting and a more violent cleansing, so this time I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s all relative, remember.

You can drink something the morning of the procedure, up until a certain hour.  No coffee, remember, and you should lay off the caffeine, too, so the nurse can find a vein.  Nurses have a difficult time finding a vein on me.  You’re already dehydrated and caffeine shrinks your veins even more.  I drank green tea, forgetting about the caffeine.  Then I started to worry because once in the past I got poked eight times by a needle and then was sent to the hospital where I think the expert there opened an artery or aorta or something similar.  I don’t like getting poked even once.

Once you stop fluid intake, you wait until time to arrive at the clinic.  Waiting is boring and for me with an overactive imagination, my muse on overdrive, nerve wracking.  I worried about the vein issue and the minute possibility the procedure could cause a tear. 

Finally we went to the clinic and I had to read and sign a waiver form that said in many different ways that if something bad happened, the clinic would not be held responsible.  Of course, all the terrible things were listed, just so I could worry even more.

While we were seated in the waiting room and I was worrying, a nurse came to get a gentleman also waiting.   She told him that the nurses could not find a vein on his wife and they couldn't spend any more time trying.  He was to come inside to a conference room where the doctor would talk with them both.  The man gathered up his things, softly saying, “Shit.”  Nurses walked the wife out of the preparation/recovery room.  When she saw her husband, she screamed and fell to the floor.  Several more nurses came running.  She flailed about and screamed for at least 15 minutes before she was upright again, calmed, and escorted into a conference room.  I saw it all right over the top of the receptionist’s head, happening in the hallway.  I recommend a wall be constructed there immediately.  (Hello? HIPA?)

I told my husband, "This is not what I need to see (or hear) right before I go in there."  I was already, with my vivid and overworking imagination, worrying about everything that could go wrong and thinking how pissed I'd be if they couldn't find a vein so I would have done all that fasting and pooping in vain. 

As soon as the door closed on the screamer, a nurse opened the door and said, “Karen?”  Why would a person want to go into that chamber of horrors after witnessing the scene that had just played out before me?  I didn’t want to, but I stood up, kissed my husband good-bye, not for the last time, I hoped, and followed her.  I was absolutely valiant.

We entered the preparation/recovery area.  The nurses’ station was centered in the large room, and curtained cubicles covered three walls.  A true ASS-embly line, I know my friend Jerry would say.  The room reminded me of those swimming resorts in the 1930’s, with their little changing rooms and the pool in the middle.  No swimming today.

The curtains drawn provide visual privacy, but every conversation up and down the walls can be heard just fine.  Everyone agrees that you can’t hear but you can.  We all got the same questions from the nurses who typed into the computers our answers.  Our blood pressure was taken and we removed our clothing and put on the cotton gowns.  The first nurse tried to get a vein.  Poke, poke, poke.  Nope.  Wasn’t happening.  I wondered if she was the one who had tortured Screaming Woman.  She left and returned saying that another nurse would come to give me an anti-nausea shot and insert the IV needle.  When she arrived, I told her to just use the vein in my hand.  That’s exactly what she did and my vein worry evaporated. 

Of course I was so nervous I had to pee, so I traipsed over to the restroom and back, holding on to the back of my gown.  I knew someone would soon be seeing my butt, but I didn’t want it to be just yet.

Back at my cubicle, I lay down and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I don’t wait well.  I used all the meditation techniques I knew to try to calm myself down.  Chanting works best for me because I can focus my mind on the sound.  Silence never works because I have trouble shutting off my blathering mind.  I tried to chant the holy harmony chant I know, the most powerful healing chant that is the name of Jesus, but I was so nervous I forgot one of the words.  I began softly singing "Amazing Grace" but then I thought I'd better shut up because everyone can hear everything from every cubicle and that's a song usually sung at funerals.  Nothing else would come to my mind, so I lay there blankly.  FOREVER.  Almost.

Finally, a woman who looked too tiny to move my bed and me, transported me to one of the procedure rooms.

One funny thing that happened was that when all my tubes and wires were being hooked up by nurses, the song playing was, "Knock, knock, knockin' on Heaven's Door."  I told all who were assembled I surely hoped that wasn't prophetic.  They changed to another song and apologized.  Somebody there needs to do some deleting from his i-pod.  :-) 

Electrodes were placed on my chest and one under my heart, so for a couple of days afterward, my chest read, “OO.”  If you read from bottom to top, my torso read, “OOO.”  Ghostly.

Jeff introduced himself to me, saying, “I’ll be assisting the doctor today.”  He wore the blue smock and cap.  My doctor came in to talk with me.  He wore regular street clothes.  Right then I figured who really would be doing the dirty work.

The doctor told me what they would be doing, which I already knew because why would I be there otherwise?  He walked over to his computer and another death and dying song came from the speaker.

I removed the plastic device that held my mouth open so a tube could be inserted and told them they needed to get Elton and Leon's "Union."  Jeff said, “Thanks for the recommendation.  Now put the plastic piece back in your mouth.”  The next thing I knew, I woke up in my cubicle.

I was so glad when I woke up and it was all over and nothing at all hurt and hasn't.  Glad again when I ate dinner.  Really glad when I got the news Friday of a ten-year reprieve because all biopsies came back negative. 

If there is a medical procedure you should be having, then go do it.  People love you and want you around a bit longer.  Besides, now you get photos.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


We went to see the film Burlesque last weekend.  This, even after I had read review after review panning it.  I don‘t care.  I idolize Cher and I’d go to see anything she was a part of.  I was not disappointed and neither was my husband who normally doesn’t care for this film genre.  I laughed, I cried, I clapped my hands, all the way through the film and at the end—just like everyone else in the theatre with us, including that guy sitting beside me. 
Critics complained that Christina Aguilera sang the hell out of every song.  Well, duh.  She did and her renditions were fabulous.  The moment she opened her mouth to sing, electricity zinged from the screen, transforming into a frisson of excitement and delight pinging up and down my spine.  That’s what musicals are all about.  The dancing was tantalizingly thrilling as well and would make one heck of a workout to do behind closed doors.   I wish I had just one of the glamorous costumes to wear around the house for a day.  Paul Giamatti made a loveable sidekick and got his own little sub-plot whose resolution was probably the most real-life scene in the film. 
Of course, the story was predictable and the characters as well.  Every commercial American film is predictable in that there is a certain formula that must be followed in order that the film be produced at all.  As an amateur screenwriter, I know that formula by heart.  What’s fun for me is to see how the screenwriter makes the story come alive and how it goes from point A to Z.  I know in the last 5-10 minutes every conflict will seem as though it cannot be resolved and then, magically, the writer presents the solution for every single one.  Voilà, the happy ending American audiences expect.
If you’re not paying attention all the way through, you miss the foreshadowing that makes resolution possible.  Who knew the seemingly innocent exchange about retaining air space rights between the seductive bad guy and the good girl trying to make it in L.A. and still retain her morals will have such import by the end of the film?  Writers know.  Nothing is in a well-written film without a purpose.
Besides Cher and Christina, the dancing, costumes and music, what I liked about Burlesque was that this film about a “naughty” entertainment form was not a naughty film.  There was no continually streaming F-word, no violence, no gratuitous sex, no car chases—none of the obligatories I detest, stuck in films for men ages 18-34 which we are told make up the largest movie-going audiences in the United States.  In Burlesque, morality reigned.  I need some of that, living in this chaotic world where often people don’t seem to care about anything or anyone, including themselves.
Here’s another thing.  Cher and I are the same age.  She is like the real me inside.  For a few hours and a few bucks, I can be her.  Cher learned her smarts the hard way, through life’s knocks and without the benefit of higher education, so I like listening to her in real life, too.  She tells it like it is.  She should be writing a book of her philosophies learned.  I know she can write because she wrote one of the best scenes in the film, the one where she shows Christina how to apply her stage makeup.  She works hard to be who she is and to look like she does.  Well, Cher and a few plastic surgeons, and an intense physical workout every day walking in the Malibu hills.  That perseverance and truth-telling inspire me.  I identified with the song she sang in the film.  Most women my age who’ve been through a world of crap would.
Diablo Cody (another wonder) wrote the first go-round script of this film and then it went through two other writers’ hands, ending up with final touches added by the director.  You can find out more information about the film on Wikipedia or at  A sound track of the music is available, songs sung by both Christina Aguilera and Cher.
Like those critics, I have my own prediction.  This film will end up on Broadway and may inspire new forms of burlesque itself.  I’d like that, because being naughty while being nice is fun.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Just sit with the idea.

One of my favorite people, Karin Montgomery Kaser, is a school counselor, who thanks to difficult economic times in education, must work half-days at an elementary school and half-days at junior high.  Everyone knows half-days always turn into a full's day's worth of work to do crammed into a half day's worth of time.  Here's the philosophy Karin has created to help her deal with her life:  "If I frame the daily absurdity with art and poetry, then some days I cry, but mostly I am happy."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Banishing the Melanoma

I am sitting here at my desk illicitly.  I am supposed to have my leg elevated all the time above my heart.  That's OK if a person is lying down, but in my chair watching TV, that would mean my leg would need to be at almost a 90 degree angle and who can do THAT with your knee next to your lips?  I COULD do it, thanks to yoga, water aerobics and zumba, but not for a whole week and all the TV shows would be ruined with a giant leg in the middle of the screen.  A giant leg with a lumpy white bandage right in the middle.  So I'm sneaking a computer break.  I didn't want to get bed sores from lying around for hours at a time.  I do not languish well.
The operation went well.  The needles were the worst.  The nurse tried to get my attention off what she was doing by asking me questions, but Neal was in the room with me then and he kept answering them because he was as nervous as I was due to the fact he had a clear view to the savagery and I had to peer over my chest, so we foiled her plans.  Besides, that trick stuff never works on me anyway.  Most of the time I know exactly why people are doing what they are doing.  Neal told the nurse her tactics would not work on me because I was FOCUSED.  On the needles.
She said her shots would not hurt as much as the ones for the biopsy had.  That was .09% true.  I think I got eight shots all together.  I was busy blowing out breaths as the numbing agent was being squirted in so I lost count.  I was so tense my back was out of the chair and my blood pressure was 132/70 when it's usually 110. 
After the shots started taking effect, she told Neal she would walk with him out of the room, a nice way to say get out of here and he was very, very glad to go because he almost fainted from all the shot giving.  He grabbed up his book and coat and my purse and coat in one fell swoop and jetted from the room.  If anyone gave a prize for room-getting-out-of, he would've won.
The doctor came in and also a resident.  He asked me if I minded if he made the chair go back and relief flooded me.  He said that way I wouldn't have to see his handiwork.  I said I thought that was a super idea.  I could feel it and that was enough.  The cutting didn't take long but the stitching did.  When he was finished, he moved the chair back to sitting and I saw the incision which is about four inches long.  Then he showed me what he took out of my leg.  It's about the size of the plug that fits in the bottom of a bar sink.  I looked at it quickly and said, "Yeah.  Wow."  He left.
The nurse moved the chair down so I could get out of it and then she left to go get something, so I picked up the jar and sneaked another peek at the piece of leg.  Specimens are so interesting, even your own.  I almost dropped it.  I don't know what miracle saved me.  I would have been so embarrassed. 
When she returned, I got all the instructions of what to do and not do.  She said, "You look confused."  Well, duh. 
I said, "I'm trying to remember everything."  She said, "Oh, don't bother.  I'm giving you these sheets so you'll have everything written down.  I just wanted you to hear it all, too."  Whew.  I'm not too good at remembering things after my blood pressure's been up around 132 and a chunk of my leg is floating in a jar. 
I have ice on the incision now.  I have chanted through one healing CD and read the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book so I'm all mellowed and laughed out.   I did not have to cook dinner.  Thank heaven for small favors.
One of the lines on the instructions reads, "This incision should not be painful."  Huh?  I hope to heck that's true.  It itches right now.  Another line reads, "No strenuous exercise."  Darn!  That's what I'd had planned for tomorrow.  Now all that's on my to-do list is 1) lie in bed, 2) read books, 3) watch movies, 4) take shower at 2:30 because I have to wait that long. 
"Have a nice Absolut Ruby Red vodka and tonic" is not on the list because another line on the instruction sheet reads, "No alcohol."  Darn again!
From all indications I have made it through my little surgery successfully and should know results in a week.  I go back on the 29th for inspection.  In the meantime, I am gluing my knee to my ear.  Elevate, elevate.
(Also remember, if you have a mole or skin coloration mark that changes shape or color, hie thee to a dermatologist, pronto!)

Sunday, November 7, 2010



I first spotted it as I began to apply make-up before an outing with my Mah Jong group to see a local theatrical revue of the music of Cole Porter. 

AACCCHHH!  What I thought I saw was not De-Lovely.  Was what I saw true?   Or was it a trick of light?  Wrinkly revelations scare me on a regular basis in that larger-than-life-sized mirror. I shuffled to ascertain my reflection from a different angle.  Perhaps only a rearrangement of position was in order.

Ohmifreakinlordy, as my friend Judith says.  Holy fuckanoli as my friend Nancy says.  Shit!  (That’s me.)

That black hair sticking straight out like errant stubble dead center of my chin was real all right.  Thank you, hormone loss.

I fumbled for the tweezers and yanked out the culprit.  I felt no mercy for yet another signpost of my aging self.  Why had no one told me it was there?  I hoped it was because no one else had seen it.  At the same time, I knew that people can be polite when you least want them to be.

Another terrifying thought struck me.  What if there were more lurking?  I checked under my chin but the combination of light and shadow and the trying machinations it takes to see anything you really need to if you wear tri-focals foiled me.  Have you ever tried to look under your own chin?  Or in my case, chin, chin, and dewlap?  I decided to let what I didn’t know not hurt me and set off to enjoy my evening.

I relished the pleasure afforded me by music and the companionship of my friends.

Looking around the table at the musical revue, I reflected upon our assembled group.  I saw one friend who recently had a heart attack scare, one who has raised a son with a mental disability, one who cares for her ailing husband, one who has lost a breast, and two who have lost their husbands. 

 No one emerges air-brushed and perfect, loss-free, from the miracle of having lived.  All of my friends have their own facial hair to deal with.  Yet these women are beautiful.  Me, too.

Why?  When we have problems, we have suggestions, sharing what we’ve learned from life with each other.  Our lifetime acquired knowledge is prodigious, the group of us their own private Google.  We laugh and make each other laugh.  We create beauty with our paintings, sculptures, gardens, and jewelry.  One runs a county-wide program feeding hungry children.  We use our talents to love—our families, our friends, our communities. Yes, life has dealt us loss and our answer back, to a woman, is love.  Women who learn, laugh and love are beautiful, errant hairs notwithstanding.  

Once home, in the bathroom, passing the mirror, I thought, "Why not take another look?"  Late evening now, the ambient light was darker.  Shadows are often more revealing than light.  I notice on CSI the agents always leave the lights off when searching for clues.

AAARGH!  Right away I spotted three long and curly hairs, like three butterfly probiscae, happily nestled in their shaded refuge under my chin.  I could have braided them but instead I grabbed those tweezers again and plucked, plucked, plucked.  Sigh.

Remember that old Chinese curse, “May your life be interesting!”?  What a body does as it ages is interesting, all right.  Furrows and ridges appear.  Parts pucker and sag.  Joints ache.  Hair arrives where it’s never been before.  When you look in the mirror, you see your grandmother and your mother.  As much as you love them, you aren’t ready to be them.  Time travels too fast, especially at this end of life.

But you know what?  Despite what advertisements define as beauty for us, despite the fact the older we become, the more invisible we become to younger generations, despite the various declines we endure, despite our losses, we can take what life dispenses.

So what am I going to do about my hairy chin?  I think I’ll write a musical about the wonders on this side of life and call it Hair—the Next Generation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Marbled Blotch

So I went to the dermatologist because I thought the thing on the back of my
knee was a cancer.  It looked like the ones that my mom gets taken off her
face from time to time.  Nope, it was OK, and I had the whole body check,
ending with what I thought was a lovely dark brown marbled splotch on the
left side of my left knee. 

"That doesn't look good," the resident, Gretchen, said.  Three torturous needle pricks of lidocaine later, she
scraped off that artistic piece of leg for the lab.  Dr. Parker, the teacher doctor, said he'd call within
the week with results, and he did.  He gave me the name and phone number of the surgeon he
wanted me to use.  Same place, OHSU Center for Health and Healing.  5th floor. 

So far in my experience, there's been more slice and dice than healing.  And three
crummy pricks.  (Aren't there always crummy pricks in every story?)  Ariana, the surgeon's receptionist described for me the two methods that could be used. 

One was excision.  I know that means "cut it out."  OK.  The other was the Mohs method, which as she described it seemed like another level to Dante's Hell, one he didn't know about when he wrote
The Inferno.  Cut out, wait, analyze and come back for more of the same, again and again, until there's only clean tissue.  Oh, yippee!  Then Ariana told me I could not wait until December when my husband had a free day at work, that December would be TOO LATE and this had to be done as soon as possible.  So November 16th was the date we chose together. 

Since he's coming with, Neal will have to miss work that day.  She called later
with the semi-good news that after analyzing what Gretchen had scraped off,
the surgeon will use the "excise" method.  There's already a big hole where
Gretchen did her handiwork last week so I don't think that part of my
anatomy will be very happy to be re-sliced.  And I'm not looking forward to
the lidocaine pricks since that's an area always inflammed thanks to my
fibromyalgia pressure point and zumba dance.  And that's the knee that might have
to be replaced.  To Knee or not to Knee.  Going through all that new knee or not process comes next. 

Well, not really.  Having a colonoscopy on the 8th of December comes next.  Girls just
want to have fun!!!
I am calling Ariana tomorrow to see if I can take Xanax before I arrive at
their office.  I get so nervous that the adrenalin rush after-effects leave
me limp, light-headed and unable to control my muscles.  Xanax might unnerve
me enough to sail smoothly through it all.

Complaining is what I do best, as you can see.  Really, I am ecstatic
knowing that I felt I had to see a dermatologist even if it was for the
wrong thing.  I think my friend Frank, who died from this very thing, sent
me the message I needed to go.  So thanks, Frank.  I'm always open to
messages from any dimension.  Anyone have anything to say about my
intestines?  Anyone?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Best Literature Teacher I Ever Had

     High school Junior English was a drag. Because I’d chosen not to take chemistry or Latin, my schedule placed me in the English class to accommodate those students who had failed the class once or those whose skills were below par. Performance expectations were low.
     To make matters worse, our instructor, Mr. A., had that very school year moved from teaching elementary school students to high school. He was not skilled in judging how much time students might take to complete an assignment. He sat at the front of the totally silent classroom, waiting. And waiting. The students struggled to finish reading the short stories; some of them reading the same stories they’d struggled with the year before. As the year drug slowly on, Mr. A must have realized there never would be a cogent, lively discussion on tone or mood or character from this bunch. He must have been bored to death. No speculation on that point necessary concerning me. Spending two or more days on a single short story until Joe across the aisle could finish reading it was painfully boring.
     Some students felt they’d lucked out to have been placed in an easy class. Not me. And not Susie Workman, who sat in front of me and who turned out to be the best literature teacher I ever had, high school, university or grad school.
     From somewhere, perhaps an older sibling, she procured popular novels, some of them banned, and she shared her bounty with me, passing to me a novel as soon as she finished reading it.
     After reading our required short story or poem and answering the requisite three to five questions following, Susie and I’d prop our huge textbooks open on the front of our desks and stick the delicious, new, forbidden novel in the middle of it and read the REALLY GOOD books.
     No other students ever noticed our clandestine reading. Still, given our conservative town and school administrators, I tingled with fear of exposure as I read Catcher In The Rye. Had we been discovered with this book in our possession, we’d have been expelled. The excitement I felt was the same as I fantasized it would be when the lips of the boy I’d been dying to kiss were coming to touch mine any second now. Joe across the aisle could have read this book and understood it, too, as it utilized much of the same vocabulary he employed.
     We read Lord of the Flies, and Franny and Zooey and To Kill A Mockingbird, among others.
     Choosing great literature wasn’t Susie’s only talent. She so impressed me when she said she’d memorized some Shakespeare. We’d had to read Julius Caesar the year before and never did it occur to me to memorize any of it other than “Et tu, Brutus?”
     During the remainder of passing period one day as we were settling in our seats, Susie remarked how this class reminded her of a soliloquy in Macbeth. She began reciting to me, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time.” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, 19-28) I’d never even heard of Macbeth but felt the poetic music of the speech and understood what a 16 year-old can of the meaning.
     The actress in me set straight away to learn that piece. The thought that life signifies nothing—how luscious is that to a girl full of teenage angst who wanted nothing more than to escape her crypt of a classroom and get on with real life before she turned to dust?
     Today, I can still recite Macbeth’s soliloquy, at this end of life when the meaning becomes more evident daily. Whenever I’m full of pent-up emotion, I act it out for myself and I feel better.
     Not only that, I later memorized and still have with me Hamlet’s advice to the players, “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue.” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2, 1-36)
Thanks to Susie, I have found memorable segments in novels and plays I’ve wanted to keep with me forever. If I have not memorized them, I have written them on scraps of paper and tucked them into drawers and file folders where I can take them out at my leisure to enjoy anew.
     WWSR? What Would Susie Read? became my mantra as I chose reading material the rest of my adult life—my feminist and science fiction phase (which curiously occurred simultaneously), my Black Lit phase, my Native American phase, my spiritual/alternative lifestyle phase, my memoir phase.
     Although I haven’t spoken with her face to face for 47 years, I am certain she read Bright Lights, Big City when it first appeared. I know she’s read authors James Frey, Augusten Burroughs, Margaret Atwood, David Sedaris. I’ll bet she’s read the titles Middlesex; Eat, Pray, Love; The Glass Castle; The Help; and Little Bee.
     How fabulously ironic and a measure of Susie’s ability to choose what constitutes good literature that all those books we read, banned and contraband, eventually showed up in high school classrooms across the U.S. as required reading. I had the joy of introducing them to thousands of students. Mr. A., from whom we kept them hidden, may have taught a few of them himself before he retired.
     When I read yet again a list of books parents want banned in schools, I am heartened in knowing one truth: Kids will get their hands on good books, the ones that speak to them, the ones that are about someone like them, no matter how parents or schools finagle to keep the child separated from the book.
     I am so grateful for Susie’s early guidance in the language arts and for the lessons she taught me: When your friends recommend a good book, check it out. When you come across a lovely, meaningful chunk of language, memorize it to keep with you forever. And remember what you need to learn can come from the most unexpected of sources, sometimes only one seat away.

Monday, September 27, 2010



He stood on the shore
at the Lake of Life
and threw pebbles,
stones called Service, Compassion,
Aid, Wisdom, Patience, Peace.

Even when he found himself
he threw anyway,
knowing the tiniest ripple
finds a target.

Then, through the fog of Apathy
the mist of Me Only
there’d be another
kerplunk and another
and soon,
under Charity’s sky of blue and sun,
a whole chorus.

Ripple after ripple
found its mark.
Waves crashed upon the shore.

Tides might turn.
Through landslides and thunderstorms,
the darkest hours,
he threw his pebbles,
holding faith
others would find the path
in their own way.

Always his ripple prevailed
guiding the way
to the tsunami
of Unconditional Love
he hoped for,
believed in,
made happen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Particular Talent

Have you ever stood up in the WC after using toilet paper and found it still cloven onto you or into you as the case may be, lodged betwixt your two degrees of separation?

Somewhere along my genetic history, I have attained this uncanny ability to pick up paper with my buns and so has, I found upon inquiry, one of my sisters. My other sister was struck dumb when we inquired whether she had inherited this family trait. Her eyes narrowed as she waited for the punchline. When we said we were serious, she said, “NO!” not like NO! in one huff, but in an undulating No-o-o-o-o-o the intonation of which meant I think you both are idiots and now I need to erase the last minute from my memory bank. She beat at her ears to knock the inane question from them. I have not asked my brother. The most opportune moment has not introduced itself yet. Asking my other sister scared me. Knowing my brother, though, he would ask, “What’s toilet paper?”

I wanted to know if this trait is indeed genetic or if my sister and I are savvy mutants who have added a new strand to our DNA, so I researched toilet paper.

When was it invented? My research, all done on the internet so I know it’s valid, stated that in 1391 toilet paper was first produced for the Emperor in two feet by three feet sheets. All sorts of questions came to mind when I read this. Did he use it all at one seating? Was he a prodigious defecator? Did he perhaps use the sheets like a diaper? Did he share with his family? Wife number one, you get five inches, wife number two, you get three inches, wife number three…I could sit here all day pondering. I’m sure you have some ponders of your own.

Common folk like us got to use stones, moss, leaves, corn cobs, sponges, our left hands, and later, the Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs. I know my grandparents used the latter in their two-holer, hence the term “Rears and Sorebutts.” I myself have used S & R pages.

Fast forward to 1857 when Joseph Gayetty sold the first factory-made toilet paper in sheets, loose and flat. Knowing that could take up a lot of room on a Costco shelf, on July 25, 1871,Zeth Wheeler put the paper on a roll, and patented it, #117,355 (US). He called it wrapping paper. Evidently, the Victorians had trouble knowing exactly what the proper term for such a product should be. Wouldn’t it be fun to go back in time and see the list of crossed-off possibilities before “wrapping paper” was decided upon?

The next invention, formulated, I’m sure, just to appease my father who allowed us three squares a day, occurred in 1879 when Walter Alcock (What a great name for a guy!) introduced the perforated toilet roll.

Later improvements came with splinter-free toilet paper and two-ply in 1942. Except for the public bathrooms in the University of Nice where I went to school not so long ago. There, the toilet paper was pink, rough as crepe paper, and full of visible splinters.

My research also revealed that an average American uses 57 sheets a day. That makes 20,805 sheets a year. My dad owes me 78,840 sheets for my high school years alone. My sister can do her own math.

So, my googling has informed me that toilet paper has been around longer than my sister and I have. That means our ancestors could have passed our special “pick-me-up” knack on to us. However, we haven’t just stood up with dangling toilet paper wetting the back of our undies and been happy with that. In fact, we have perfected the art in our generation to include toilet seat covers as well.

Now I wonder which one of those ancestors is responsible for the time at an all-day jazz concert I walked down the grandstand stairs in view of 10,000 people, all the way to the third seat from the bottom, with toilet paper dragging behind me, just the way one sees it done in humorous skits. That was when a kind woman, during a quiet moment, yelled, “Ma’am? You have a parade of toilet paper following you.” When it happens to you in real life, it isn’t that funny. I would rather have laid the blame for such a gaff at the feet of Great Aunt Fanny than been mortified on my own behalf.

I understand there are certain establishments where our sisterly talent could make us money, especially if we appeared nightly and in some form of undress. I don’t know about my sister but I just don’t have the stamina anymore for theatrics, so I shall continue to be a rapt audience of one during each of my surprise performances.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Scary Photo in My Wallet

I need to warn you all about renewing your driver's license. Changes have been made here in Oregon (and in other states as well) and luckily, the state DMV sent me a postcard outlining what was required a month before my birthday.

First, you have to take every official paper you have concerning yourself from birth to now, if you can find them. Finding them if you have not lived in the same house all your life may prove to be difficult. More difficult will be finding proof of your various names and marriages, if those things have changed in your adult lifetime. If you cannot find the necessary official documents or are sure you never had them to begin with, you must order them, which costs money and takes time.

Although I found what I needed pawing through various piles and files, the most difficult for me was finding something to prove I live at this address. Most of the bills come in my husband’s name and we use a post office box, not our house address. The house belongs to him so not even the tax bill is in my name. Finally, I found the PUD (electric) bill with my name on it and our house address. Whew!

Next, after showing the clerk all your papers, and he or she verifies each one is valid, he or she stamps the additional form you have filled out while waiting for your number to be called. I didn't know about the additional form until the clerk started yelling at everyone for not have one filled out and told us all where we could find one.

After paying your $40, then you must sit in the special chair facing a camera lens and remove your glasses. I asked why I had to remove my glasses and was told for the face recognition software to work. I didn't understand that my picture would actually be taken that way and was startled by the 1-2-FLASH!

Scary ugly photo.

In it, I look like a felon with a Shar Pei face, chicken neck and no teeth. No way do I look like that in real life and no police person stopping me will think so either. I hope.

I remember writing years ago to one of my favorite columnists telling him I thought the sketch accompanying his by-line made his neck look like it belonged on a chicken. I got no response but I noticed that soon the sketch had improved. Now it’s me with the chicken neck and no staff artist to fix it. Karma?

I am going to have to show that for ID for the next--how long is it before the next photo?—four years? ten years? Great. After seeing that photo, I came home and ordered some makeup.

Just warning you.

Here are the facts, straight from Oregon DMV:

Even if you've had your driver license or ID card for years, or even decades, you must bring documents that meet new state requirements each time you renew or replace your card.

All applicants for Oregon driver licenses, instruction permits and ID cards will be required to show DMV the documents that provide:
• Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in the country – such as a government-issued birth certificate or U.S. passport, or foreign passport with U.S. immigration documents. DMV will electronically verify U.S. immigration, naturalization and other U.S.-issued documents that non-citizens and naturalized citizens use to prove lawful presence in the country.
• Proof of Social Security number – such as a Social Security card, employment document or tax document. DMV will electronically verify that your Social Security number, name and birth date match the records at the Social Security Administration.
• Proof that you are not entitled to a Social Security number, if you do not have one and are not eligible for one – such as immigration documents that do not include permission to work in the United States.
• Proof of full legal name – such as birth certificate, or a combination of documents that create a link proving current full legal name, such as a birth certificate and government-issued marriage certificate.

Facial recognition software

Since July 1, 2008, Oregon DMV has been using "facial recognition" software, a new tool in the prevention of fraud and identity theft. The law, created by the 2005 Oregon Legislature, is designed to prevent someone from obtaining a driver license or ID card under a false name or under multiple names.

In order to use facial recognition, DMV has changed from over-the-counter issuance of cards to centralized issuance in 2007. Customers who qualify for driving privileges or ID cards get an interim card at DMV and then receive their final card in the mail within five to 10 business days.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How to Shower on a Small Cruise Ship

How to Shower on a Small Cruise Ship

Open the door in the corner of your stateroom. See a sink, toilet, and shower situated in a space the size of your real shower at home. Realize that to use the bathroom, you will have to take turns with your traveling partner. Notice there is a three-inch lip around the shower portion of the bathroom, er, bathcloset. Think, “Good. At least the floor won’t get wet.”

Change mind when you actually take a shower. Make sure the cloth curtain is pulled snuggly to the wall on both ends of its quarter circle track. Reach hand through teeny open space you have made to turn on water. Turn dial to select correct warmth. Feel wet feet. Realize shower water has sucked the curtain into the shower and several inches above the shower lip so that entire bathroom floor is covered with 1/8 inch of water. This includes the bath mat.

Quickly pull back curtain, step into shower, and pull curtain back shut again. Turn around to access water and realize your butt has pulled open the curtain. Raise arm to pull curtain shut again. Put arm down and realize shower curtain is raised above shower lip again because curtain is clinging to your arm. Remove shower curtain from left arm with right hand. Realize you barely have enough room for such a maneuver. Realize, in fact, you are half an inch away from the wall in every direction and the shower curtain is hugging you on the open side. Try to adjust the shower head so it is not flowing directly into your eye. Curse because shower head does not move. Adjust your head.

Soap up and realize water does not reach any part of you below the chest because you are shaped like a mushroom. Rinse off top of mushroom by mincing steps in a circular motion. Re-adjust shower curtain which has twisted with you, close as a slow-dance partner.

Back out of shower except for one half of your lower body. Wash that side. Turn body the other direction. Exchange legs, keeping shower curtain pulled close as much as possible. Wash the other side. Turn around, bend over and stick butt in shower. Realize as you look at floor it is now covered with ¼ inch of water.

Remember you have to shave your legs. Turn off water. Soap and shave your legs while standing on soaked bath mat. Turn on shower water again and repeat the one leg at a time procedure. Forget armpits. No one will see them since you will not be in a classroom answering questions. Remind self not to raise hands if volunteers are requested for any matter.

Remember you have to wash your hair. Stand in middle of the shower and move your head in a circle until your hair is wet. Remember to shut your eyes because water jetting into eyes hurts as you found out at beginning of shower. Try not to fall down when ship moves back and forth. Grope for shampoo. Find it and estimate how much you are pouring in your palm because you cannot open your eyes to see for sure. Put head outside curtain to apply shampoo. Place head back inside shower stall and rinse.

Wash shampoo off your body once again by the circular motion of mincing steps, then hokey-pokeying your legs in and out of the shower while you stand on soaked bath mat. When you feel totally rinsed, turn off shower water. Open eyes. Pull shower curtain closed again and off you.

Find bath towel on opposite wall shelf by extending arm to finger-tips level above your head and marvel that one thing in bathroom is not wet. Dry off, except for feet which are still standing in water covering the floor. Step outside bathroom into stateroom, throw down towel to floor and dry off feet. Hope stateroom window curtains are closed. Lean over and sop up shower water from floor with your bath towel.

Understand now why entire carpet in stateroom was wet when you first walked in. Count six more days aboard ship. Promise to never again take your shower at home for granted. Tell your traveling partner it’s his turn to take a shower. Smile.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Inside Passage Cruise

This is a poem I believe fits with my favorite photo from our recent trip to Alaska:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free
— Wendell Berry

This list of what we saw each day reads like a poem itself:

Tracy Arm Fjord and Frederick Sound
South Sawyer Glacier
Harbor Seals
Wedding Cake Falls

Sea Cheetos (Rock Weed)
Hole in the Wall Falls
Icy Falls
King Fisher
Pigeon Guillemots
Humpback Whales

Bald eagles
Sunflower Sea Star
Stikine River
Wolf Tracks
Moose Tracks
one very necessary state park outhouse

Lake full of icebergs up close and personal
Pink Salmon
Wrangell Narrows

Chewie, the wharf dog
Norwegian Dancers

Pink-hard-hatted women tying up the ship to the wharf
Purse Seiners

Stellar sea lions
Harbor seals
Humpback whales krill feeding and double breaching!
Red-necked Phalaropes
Saginaw Bay
Black bears feeding

Peril, Olga, and Neva Straits
Naa Kahidi Dancers

National historic park
Salmon spawning

Totem Pole Forest
St. Michael's Cathedral
Steller sea lion

Icy Strait
Port Frederick
Lion's Mane Jellyfish
blue mussels
bull kelp
Dall's Porpoise
Brown bear

Glacier Bay
Glacier Bay Ranger Emily
Huna Interpreter Alice
Sea otters
harbor porpoise
pigeon guillemot
Margerie Glacier
Grand Pacific Glacier
Lamplugh Glacier
Johns Hopkins Glacier
harbor seals
surf scoters
Brown bear eating whale carcass
mountain goats
South Marble Island
Black-legged Kittiwakes
Glaucous-winged Gulls
Black Oystercatchers
Marbled Murrelets
Pelagic Cormorants
Steller sea lion
One lone California sea lion
Tufted Puffins
Horned Puffin
Bartlett Cove
Woodland walk
Muskeg ponds

Glacier National Park Lodge and Visitors' Center

All of Juneau, coming and going

Not to mention:
Since this was a cruise specifically for photographers, 50 or so lenses by Howitzer and my one, teensy-weensy Coolpix.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My High School Typing Teacher--1962

I drove my typing teacher, Mrs. Doris Thomas, nuts. Really. She was gone the next year after I took her class. Somehow my spools kept getting tangled. Once she got so frustrated trying to untangle them that she threw them up in the air and emitted a shrieking nuthouse cackle.

All of us students were stricken dumb. We’d never seen any adult, other than our parents, especially not a teacher, lose it like that.

On the Polaroid of my memory, I can still see those spools hanging in the air over our heads, the black tape snaking in coils, and her arms stretched towards the ceiling while she threw back her head and howled.

She also did not wear a bra, so when she leaned over to help a student, parts of her fell forward on the student’s shoulder. Boys were scared to death of her, not her exactly, but what would happen to them as a result of this contact.

The fastest I could ever type without error was 45 words per minute. My friend Kay could type over a hundred wpm. It might as well have been a zillion as far as I was concerned. I got a C in that class, my lowest in high school, but it was way more than I deserved. She may have been nuts, but she was also kind.  Her note on my report card reads, "She is making continual improvement."  There was nothing to get but better.
The next year Glen Hafer, who had a very large nose supporting black-framed glasses, was the new typing teacher. He also taught journalism where my friends Kay and Kathy, the school newspaper editors, drove him nuts. But that’s their story and I’ll let them tell that one.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


My friend Francine, a former French teacher in Colorado, retired the same year as I did. She and her husband Harvey moved to Las Vegas, where they followed their passions. Harvey sells high-performance German automobiles such as Audis. Besides substitute teaching regularly, Francine also plunged into show business. She has been an extra in many films shot in Vegas and if she’s not acting, she is a production assistant. I have watched her in Rush Hour II, The Hangover, and Up In The Air, for example. She’s also a model who recently had a full-page spread in a national magazine. She has learned so much about Vegas that she can give a marvelous tour. My traveling friends and I can vouch for that. Below you can see a photo and the commentary she wrote about her most recent experience:

This is what I was up to last night. Resting up today! I’m the skinny one (wearing gray leggings) in between the blond and the dark-haired gal just before we let the bikini gals onto the pool deck. I was production assistant.

All day yesterday and last night, I worked as a PA on the Cosmo-Nivea 2010 Bikini Bash on the pool deck of Planet Hollywood. There were big wigs all over the place and media coverage from all over the country. Mario Lopez was the announcer and MIDI Mafia was the group that performed. I was hired as one of only seven people to wrangle the hundreds of bikini-clad women at precisely 7:30 pm to form the letters "NIVEA" and then "COSMO." There were photographers on top of the roof filming it all. I was assigned to the "O" and the "I." We "Wranglers" wore headsets and took orders from the director who told us exactly when to get all the gals into position for the photo shots. No easy feat, but it all came off without a hitch. All the other members on my team were with the LVCVA, (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority). It was my fellow-actress friend and colleague who was project manager for the entire event and it was she who got me the job. It was a privilege and an honor to have been hired for such a key position and I hope it'll lead to more jobs with them. Coverage of the entire event will appear in the August issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Can't wait to see it.”

Here’s the link if you want to see the stars and bikini-clad women involved:

Francine is in photo # 10.

I am sharing this with my readers for several reasons. One is that I’m very, very proud of her accomplishments and indomitable spirit. She does whatever she needs to do to get where she wants to be. Secondly, even though life has dealt her some severe blows, she remains constantly positive and encouraging to all she meets. She says thank you for what she receives. She has fun. She makes everybody laugh.

The most important reason for my sharing Francine with you is to show us all an example of what life in retirement can be. When you know your passions and then live them, you are a happy person and you make others happy by association.

Recently, I met a former male colleague of mine by chance at our post office. I asked how he was and he said, “Not happy. I don’t like retirement. You can play with grandkids and play golf only so long, and then what?”

This problem does not compute with me. Before I retired from teaching, I made a list pages long of what I wanted to do with my life once I actually had time to have a life.

Exercise was first on that list. I started with water aerobics and since have added Zumba Dance. I do yoga and sometimes Qi Gong. Moving oneself is such a wonderful celebration of being in a body.

Garden. Our house had nothing when we moved here except a quarter-acre vegetable garden spot and a strip up the front walk and across the front for flower beds. Now there are the west, east, north, shop, and herb flower beds. There are numerous trees. The garden spot now sports wildflowers and a variety of berries besides a plethora of vegetables and a hidden square inside a hedge of giant sunflowers. From the garden I preserve what we eat all year, either through canning, freezing, or dehydrating. From that I make gifts to give throughout the year to friends and family. What we can’t use, I give to our local Salvation Army foodbank.

Travel. I took students to France, England and Spain while still teaching, and two graduating students took me to Ireland. I’ve been to Greece with my daughter. I’ve been to Mexico with my son. I’ve been to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia/Cape Breton Island, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California, Nevada, Canada and Costa Rica with my husband. My friend Cecilia and I have been to Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona, South Carolina, and Quebec. With my childhood friend Janis, I have been to Boston and San Francisco. With my Burns, Oregon friend Roseann, I have been to California, Savannah, Mexico (where we learned to speak Spanish), Boston, New Orleans and the Cajun country. I have been to visit my friend Martha in Georgia, and together we traveled to North Carolina. I have visited my friend Jerry in Los Angeles. I love to travel because I learn so much and meet such interesting people.

Hint: a great way to travel is through the company that used to be called Elderhostel: Exploritas. Not only do you see the sights but you are educated about them by experts beforehand. One price takes care of food,lodging, and travel expenses and arrangements for the entire trip. I have met amazing people by traveling this way. I learned about this company from my friend Myrla who went to a music gathering every summer. Because of Exploritas, I looked forward to being 50.

Music was on my list. I could already play a few chords on the guitar, so I decided to try something else and I took up the violin. Then my violin teacher left in the middle of the night for parts unknown and my bow was left dangling in the breeze. Almost two years ago, I saw the local music store was offering mandolin lessons and being someone who loves bluegrass, I signed up to get me some learnin’. I am finally learning music and I have fun. Best of all, I get to sing.

I love singing. My brother and my nephew both have karaoke set-ups so there’s a lot of singing going on when our family gets together for birthdays, anniversaries and general merriment. I’m a believer of sound therapy. I know that singing and chanting keeps me mentally and physically healthy.

Write. I was able to pick up my freelance career which I had to drop in the 90’s due to teaching and I wrote again for small magazines. I also have been writing poetry, short stories, collaborating on screenplays, and just recently, have finished revising my middle grades novel and will be showing it to publishing agents in August.

Pay attention. I don’t sit much, but when I do, I sit with purpose. I breathe. For a year I wrote a poem a day about what I saw when I paid attention and you know what? I fell in love. What a miracle every day is! Now if I see something beautiful when I’m driving somewhere, I can stop and look deeply.

Have fun. Every day. I do.

My “to-do” list is so long, I haven’t even got to the end of it and I think that’s the way life should play out.

For at least ten minutes my colleague and I listened and spoke about his predicament. He had mistaken his career for who he was, and when he retired, he was left with no framework. He had no idea who he was. That’s why I encouraged him to seek out his passions because I know that once he finds them, he’ll know who he is and what to do. In the meantime, I suggested that since he’d been a coach, and I knew the YMCA always needs coaches, perhaps that would be a good place to start. Service to others is always a good place to start.

Francine knows that, which is why she still substitutes, why she is often a production assistant, and why she was successful herding hundreds of women into the letters “I” and “O.” I’ll bet she was hilarious doing it.

Below is a photo Harvey took of Francine when she got home. She had been given one of the bikinis in thanks for her work and so she modeled it for all of us to enjoy.

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come most alive because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Howard Thurman

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The day after I brought my husband home from the hospital post heart attack, our oven died. First, though, it tried to kill me. As if I didn’t have enough trauma in my life already.
When I touched the “Off” spot on the digital control, a spark flew out and knocked me across the room. Well, not totally across the room because our kitchen is wide, but I flew some distance while shouting “Holy Shit!” an involuntary response having nothing to do with a working brain. Pain and shock delivered in a single WHAM! The control panel’s dark face stared back at me and my finger and hand tingled. I’d just been tasered by my oven. I took umbrage.
Have you ever thought about how much you bake or how much you take using an oven for granted? We lived three months short two days with no oven and I am now well aware that I do not enjoy the caveman lifestyle of supper in a pot night after night. Now that I think of it, I do believe at least cavemen had a spit and they roasted their meat. Since we live on the Oregon coast and the months involved were February, March, April, and May, obviously in the downpours a campfire has not been possible. We couldn’t even get our burn pile of dried, pruned twigs to stay lit for long. So forget the rotisseried roast. Besides, red meat was off our menu anyway, given previous circumstances.
The next day, post-jolt, while I was away exercising and grumbling and complaining about post-traumatic stress, my husband called the local appliance coroner who pronounced the oven control truly zapped and revealed the price of a replacement unit--$600. That was a cruel thing to do to a man recovering from a heart attack. Then, he delivered the second punch. We were 22 days over our year-long warranty. Achhh! Or, “Shit!” without the “Holy.”
However, he redeemed himself almost immediately by revealing this brand and year of stove seemed to be plotting homicide all over the US. Many households have been attacked as ours was and the company wanted to keep the story of these nasty ranges under wraps. The oven coroner suggested that when we contacted the company to order the replacement control unit, we should mention not only that the unit tried to kill me and nearly succeeded, but that we understood from our repairperson the zappance was a common occurrence with this model range. The repairperson lay on the floor and read the model number and serial number to my husband, who wrote it on the blank space for such in our stove manual.
I must insert here an important fact that will later play a major role: my husband cannot hear well without his hearing aids and he probably wasn’t wearing them at the time he was transcribing numbers.
When I returned from my exercise and grumblefest, I was given the number to call concerning the ordering of the part. I must insert here that I also cannot hear well, especially on the phone, even when it’s on speakerphone mode. Also, I despise making calls of this sort but it was one step up from being dead on my kitchen floor and my husband needed rest, having his own sticker shock of the day from which to recover.
I called the customer service number the oven coroner had written. The person who answered was genderless. I could not determine if I was speaking to a male or female, not that it matters, but what did matter was that he or she had been gifted with an accent that I could neither decipher nor understand. I speak three languages and have taught two of them but the accent was more than I could decode. Also, even with the phone on speakerphone mode, I could barely hear hisher voice.
Back and forth went endless repetitions, first, on my part and then,on hisher part. Name, address, phone number, place of purchase. Neither of us was having much fun.
“I am so sorry to inform you that your warranty is out of date and you will have to purchase the part yourself,” I was told.
“Yes, I know we are two weeks past the warranty, but our repairperson told us that these ranges are having the same problem all over the United States. He said that your company would probably want to comp us the part. And I did get badly shocked.”
Silence, half a minute long. The unstated implication of lawsuit understood. Long enough to turn pages in the Manual of Appropriate Response.
“Very well, Ma’am, my supervisor has informed me that the control unit will be sent to you, but you will be responsible for the labor and installation.”
“Yes, I understand that. Thank you.”
“What is the model number of your range?”
I shouted the numbers and letters my husband had written in the manual to the person on the other end of the line and heher informed me that no such numbers existed. He read to me the numbers and letters that he thought should be the correct ones.
“Just a minute, please. I will go look again.”
During this exchange my husband stood in the kitchen in a stupor, stymied by not knowing what to do to improve matters.
“You didn’t write the numbers down correctly,” I hissed at him.
Once he realized that I was going to have to lie on the floor and look in the warming drawer at the numbers through whichever segment of my trifocals worked, if any, he went somewhere and retrieved a teensy, six-inch long,1/2 inch in diameter, paint-spattered flashlight and handed it to me. I know we have bigger, more efficient flashlights in the house like the one I have next to my bed with which to bop a burglar should it be necessary. This trainer-model flashlight was pathetic.
Aiming its feeble light and trying to see the number-letter series, I wrenched my neck up and down to peer through each tri-focal lens to find the one that would reveal the numbers clearly to me. Once I found the correct lens, then I had to remember the series, juggle the paper, pen, and flashlight so I could write, and record the numbers and letters. By this point, I was so peeved I almost cried.
I recited the series to himher and they matched up with what heshe had.
Then I listened to the part number for the control unit and wrote it in the manual.
“We will send this part to you and then your service provider will install it. It will take about four weeks.”
“Thank you so much.”
Ha-ha-ha-ha! That is the cruel laugh of Fate.
We patiently waited five weeks while for meals I prepared soup, stew, spaghetti, ravioli, and sautéed bits of vegetables, fish, and chicken. I used a crock pot. I used an electric frying pan which I had to dig out of a cupboard in the garage and wash. What I could not use was the oven.
At the end of week five, I called the company customer service number.
This time I could tell gender—a woman answered. I explained the problem to her.
“Now what is it you want to be replaced?” she asked.
“The digital control unit for the range.”
“We don’t have units here.”
“I can give you the number.” I read it to her.
“Oh,” she said, understanding. “That’s a part. We don’t have units, we have parts.”
I thought bad thoughts. Something along the line of IDIOT!
“When can I expect my part?” I asked.
“We don’t send the part. You have to give your number to the registered licensed service provider in your area and they order the part from us.”
“I was told it would be sent to me. That’s why we waited five weeks now.”
“Oh, no. We never send parts. I can’t imagine you being told that. Would you like me to look up the name and number of your licensed service provider?”
I live in a rural town on the coast of Oregon. There is only one provider for miles and miles.
“Very well.”
Yep. I was given the name and number of our only licensed service provider. I thanked her, and moved on to the next step, which was like starting the process over again. Sisyphus, I feel your pain. I called the service provider.
I explained the entire proceeding up to this point to the woman on the phone.
“Who came out to look at the stove?”
“I don’t know. Someone from your shop. I wasn’t home.”
“Could your husband describe him?”
“He’s at work and he never pays attention to appearance anyway, so I doubt it.”
“Well, we have no record of anyone from this shop having been out to your house. Let me check around and I’ll get back to you.”
“Wait! Here’s the part number so you can get it ordered.” I read it to her.
The weekend came and went.
Tuesday I called. Again. A different woman. The same conversation.
“We will have to send someone to look at the stove before we can order the part.”
“I gave you the part number to order. Do you have it there?”
“Yes, but we have to have someone look at the stove before we can order the part.”
“Someone already came out here the day after it happened. We know it doesn’t work. We have the part order number.”
“We have no record of being there, so…”
“When can someone come?”
I was given a date and time a week later during which neither of us would be able to be home. I gave instructions for where to find the key. In the meantime, I asked my husband if he remembered the person who came that first time, what he looked like or his name. He remembered the name.
On the appointed day, someone came I know, because little dust blobs were all over the kitchen floor, reminders that pulling out an appliance from the wall to clean under it is not high on my list of housecleaning priorities.
Plus, now not even the top of the stove, the gas part, worked because the repairman had unplugged the stove. On top of the stove was a yellow sticky note with a message to call “Duane.” Oh. I’d thought perhaps his name might be “Godot.”
I called the number but it wasn’t Duane. It was the clerk. I told her the first repair person’s name.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “He doesn’t work here. His wife works where you purchased the range and he’s an out-of-work contractor who’s picking up odd jobs with them.”
One mystery solved. He was not a registered licensed service provider at all.
“Duane found the part that needs ordering is different from the one you were told,” she said. “We’ll get that ordered for you. It will be about a week.”
“And now not even the top part of the stove works,” I told her.
“We have to unplug them for safety issues. We don’t want something to go wrong and blow up. You can plug it back in if you’d like, but we have to leave them unplugged after we inspect them.”
Oh. Great. Our gas stove top with the electric-generated spark could have blown up the stove, our house and us. Why did the first person not tell us to unplug the stove?
A week later, after using a propane lighter to turn on the burners, I called the shop.
“Is the part in?”
“Let me go check,” she said. Returning, she said that nothing was in yet but that she was expecting a shipment that afternoon.
I waited another week. Meanwhile, each time I lit the propane gas burner with a propane lighter, I kept wondering what if the latter ignited the gas in the former? The only thing different in our situation from camp cooking was that there was a roof over our heads. And I was not a happy camper.
I called the licensed service provider once again.
“Just wondering if our part was in yet.” Same song, third verse. Could get better but it always gets worse.
“We’re expecting a shipment today, so we’ll call and let you know.”
That night my husband decided he would go to the actual licensed service provider shop in person the next day. He stands 6’4” and people tend to take notice when he walks up to them. Things happen when he needs them to. He went. Things happened. The part had arrived. Everyone concerned made arrangements. We had to leave for a weekend event, so the key would be left under the mat.
All weekend away we dreamed of what we would do when we walked in the door and saw a working stove top and oven once again.
When we opened the front door, we raced for the kitchen. Nothing.
My husband called the licensed service provider the next morning. Normally even-keeled, he was now not a happy camper either.
“Heh-heh,” the clerk said. “Duane ordered the wrong part part but he thinks he has the right one in stock. We’ll call you back.”
No, the right part was not in stock and would need to be ordered. Why would we think otherwise? This whole oven incident reminded me more and more of that old movie where a couple buys a house only to find everything that could go wrong with a new house does go wrong.
A week later, my husband called to inquire whether the proper part had arrived. It had and arrangements were made. My husband told them distinctly where the key would be, since once again, we would be gone.
All weekend away, we dreamed of what we would do when we walked in the door and saw a working stove top and oven once again.
When we opened the front door, we raced for the kitchen. Nothing.
Yes, I have written those two same paragraphs before.
Immediately, my husband called the licensed service provider.
“Duane looked everywhere for the key and couldn’t find it,” she said.
“Hmmm, that’s strange,” my husband said, “because I told him it would be under the mat and I’m standing here looking at it right now.”
Once again, arrangements were made. I would be gone but my husband took the afternoon off work to receive Duane just in case that pesky key vanished again.
When he arrived home at noon and walked in the kitchen, awaiting him was a lighted digital oven control, burners that lighted with the electric spark, and an oven that worked. Like a Ninja on a stealth mission, Duane had found the elusive key where it had lain under the mat five days in a row and done his work while we were both away.
We did a happy dance all around the kitchen. We celebrated with baked pork chops and brownies that night. All was well with the world, finally. Sisyphus rolled his rock all the way to the top of the hill and it stayed there.
I don’t actually touch the control pad with bare fingers, though. I use the end of a plastic spoon. I’m not going to tempt fate and go through this torture again.
I won’t tell you the name of the appliance company from which you should never buy this model of gas cooktop/electric oven range, but my husband calls it “Friggin’ Dare.” It’s a subsidiary of Electrolux.
And I won’t tell you the name of the licensed service provider shop either because it’s the only one in town and with all the “Friggin’ Dare” appliances we have purchased in the last three years, we need a good working relationship. In fact, Duane has been here so often we actually consider him one of our family. He’s seen our dust bunnies and he knows where the key is. Most of the time.