Monthly Archives: February 2011

When the great outdoors isn’t

Last summer, in the Adirondacks, we hiked up to a swimming hole with a waterfall. It was as storybook a spot as you could hope to find, except for one thing. While we were there, a couple, a man and a woman, both lit cigars. Now, there are a lot of odors that repel people that I quite enjoy; gasoline, nail polish remover, magic markers and wet paint, to name a few. Outdoors or in, I love the smell of smoke from a fire or a joint. I’ll even admit that under just the right circumstances a passing whiff of cigarette smoke can send me into a reverie. However, I draw the line at cigars.

The smell of cigar smoke is in the same category as dog poop on your shoe, a dirty litter box, rotten fish, too much chlorine and lutefisk. It is neither romantic nor evocative. In a word, it stinks.

When the smoke wafted toward us, my mother-in-law and I exchanged horrified looks. And yet, surprisingly, neither one of us, both women who are known to talk to complete strangers everywhere we go, said anything to the cigar smokers. There were lots of other people at this swimming hole (which is what kept it from moving up the scale from storybook to idyllic) and none of them said anything either.

I’d like to claim that I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter, but that’s never stopped me before. It could be that I didn’t want to start an international incident (I don’t know what language the couple was speaking, but it wasn’t English). But I think the real reason I refrained from saying anything is that I figured I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I anticipated that they would say that the great outdoors is something we are all supposed to share equally and I wouldn’t have a good comeback. While their behavior was certainly ruining my experience, I wasn’t convinced that my right not to breathe their smoke trumped their right to expel it.

There are a lot of things that I find abhorrent that others tolerate, ignore, or (gasp) enjoy. I’m not fond of other people’s children and there were plenty of them there. Clearly I couldn’t ask the parents to remove them. I don’t like it when people let their dogs run loose, but several dogs were enjoying the swimming hole as much as their oblivious owners. The only rational choice seemed to be to remove ourselves from the vicinity of the cigar smokers, which, ultimately, we did.

Recently, I’ve been reading about a movement afoot to ban outdoor smoking in parks and other public spaces. I was going to end this piece with how I feel about that, but after half a dozen tries I give up. I appreciate the dangers of second-hand smoke, and there are lots of restrictions on what you can do outside, but if the offended party can simply walk away, why do we need to create another law? Discuss amongst yourselves. I’m out of here.

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What’s it worth?

I collect empty plastic bottles in a box in the garage. When the box overflows, I transfer the bottles to a thirty-gallon plastic bag, put it in the back of the car, and head for the bottle recycling station at Stop & Shop. After I park, I re-stuff the plastic bag with the bottles that have scattered and, already slightly annoyed, haul my unwieldy burden across the parking lot.

There are three machines for returns; one each for cans, plastic and glass. I walk up to the one in the middle, for plastic, and my blood pressure skyrockets, because the display reads, Error, contact service. On the rare occasion that the error message is not displayed, and I am able to start recycling my bottles, I make barely a dent in my collection before the display informs me that the machine is now full and I must contact service.

There is a phone next to the machines for these times, but it dangles false hope. Last time I was there, it was dead. The time before, it was missing altogether. Without a way to summon help, I am in a quandary. Do I walk across the parking lot to put the bag of bottles back in the car before I go into the store to find help, in which case I’ll need to retrace my steps yet again to retrieve them, or do I drag them with me into the store and risk upsetting the more fastidious shoppers? This past weekend, I went into the store, bag and all.

When I saw the line at the customer service desk, I almost cried. A sympathetic, or perhaps nervous, bagger located someone to help me. That person tapped someone to send out to the machine, but then had to track down the employee who had wandered off with the key. Once back outside, I waited while my new best friend removed unprocessed bottles from the maw of the machine, and then emptied the full bags of shredded plastic, tying them very neatly. By the time he was finished, I had been at the store for twenty minutes.

For my aggravation, I claimed one dollar and fifty-five cents.

I don’t think I can bring myself to go through that insane dance one more time. But even though I can afford to sacrifice one dollar and fifty-five cents, it would be a shame not to get that money to someone who needs it. So, next time the box in the garage overflows, I will spend the twenty minutes I would inevitably devote to shredding them at Stop & Shop, to search the web for an individual or a charity to give the bottles to. And the next time I go to the supermarket, I will resist the urge to glance at the display on the plastic bottle machine.

I can’t hear you

It starts benignly enough. Someone upstairs calls something down to you. You hear a voice, but not the words. You call back, “I can’t hear you.” The voice repeats what they said, louder, but not loud enough. Once more, you reply, “I can’t hear you.” At this point, they stomp halfway down the stairs to yell whatever it was they were trying to tell you. And now they’re mad at you, the innocent bystander.

Having been both the shouter and the shoutee, I can attest to how frustrating it is to have to keep repeating yourself. By the second or third time you’ve said your piece, you don’t care what the answer is, but the person you’re shouting at can’t hear your never mind any more than they heard the original question.

These interactions are rarely based on anything of substance. Sometimes it’s a question like, “Do you know if…” or, “Have you seen my…” But it’s never as important as, “The house is on fire.”

When I was pregnant, we took a class on administering CPR to a baby. Here’s what I remember from the class. In an emergency, do not call for your spouse by name, yell “HELP.” If you call your spouse’s name, they will typically respond, “What?” That will waste precious time. If, however, you holler for help, they will fly to your side to see what’s wrong. (Do not use this method if what you want is help opening a jar. We all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf.)

It’s possible that we get bent out of shape when someone says, “I can’t hear you,” because our inner child immediately suspects there is a taunt implicit in the reply. They interpret the response to mean, “I’m willfully not listening to you.” If so, we need to tell our inner child to chill and let the adults handle things.

It could be that the person who says, “I can’t hear you,” means, “This is going to end badly for me. If you want to talk to me, come closer.” Maybe they would actually say that if they thought you could hear them.

It can be just as hard to hear outdoors. For instance, when you are cross-country skiing, everything you say to the person in front of you falls onto the ground unheard. If the person in front turns their head to say something, you may catch the first few words, but when they turn their head away you’ll have no idea how the sentence ends. If you call, “I can’t hear you,” you’re off to the races.

The next time someone calls to me and I can’t make out what they’re saying, I’m not going to answer. The worst case scenario is that they’ll think I’m ignoring them, and they’ll get mad, which is where we’d end up anyway. Or, they’ll figure out that I can’t hear them and give up. If they really need my attention, eventually they’ll bring their question to me. I’ll be happy to help, and we’ll all have fewer psychic scars.

I survived my colonoscopy

Colonoscopy is the new root canal; everyone who hasn’t had one yet fears it, and everyone who has had one has a horror story. The people who haven’t had a colonoscopy are afraid of the procedure itself. The people who have had one can tell you that the colonoscopy is a cakewalk. It’s the preparation that’ll test your mettle.

At the appointed hour for my colonoscopy, as I lay on the gurney, a nurse explained the procedure to me. She pointed to a high-definition monitor on which I’d be able to view the inside of my colon. She told me that during the procedure they pump in air and that I’d need to expel it and I shouldn’t feel self-conscious. I can’t imagine why she bothered with all that information, because the one thing she neglected to tell me was that as soon as they started the valium-like drip I’d be out like a light. I did not get to watch my colon on TV, and I was not aware of the need to expel air. For all I know, while I was out they removed a few organs. No matter, I had a great nap.

The preparation is to flush your system so the gastroenterologist can see what they’re doing. A couple of days before my procedure I had to drink ten ounces of magnesium citrate, a saline-based laxative. The day before, I went on a ‘clear liquid’ diet. These things were no big deal. The night before was when things got hairy. If you’re not already familiar with Dave Barry’s piece about his colonoscopy, and you want a good laugh, you should read it. He focuses less on what he had to drink and more on what the end result was. I was more traumatized by what I had to take in than what ultimately came out.

In fifteen minute intervals, I was supposed to drink ninety-six ounces of a solution that was mostly water, had an off-putting, but bearable, taste, and a strange viscosity. After an hour and fifteen minutes, and five glasses of this stuff, it all came up again. I called my father (a doctor) for advice and he said, “Keep going. If you’re not cleaned out the scope won’t work and you’ll have to start over again.” Over my dead body, I thought. I apprehensively drank three more glasses and then took the prescribed hour off. I could only force myself to drink two more glasses after that; sixteen ounces shy of the total. If someone had held a gun to my head and said, “Drink more or die,” I would have said, “Shoot me.”

At the hospital the next morning, I told everyone who would listen that I had not completed the preparation and was scared that I would ‘fail’ as a result. No one seemed too concerned. On my discharge notes, the doctor wrote, “Excellent prep!” I felt like a school girl who’d gotten an unexpected A. Maybe gastroenterologists aren’t sadists after all. Maybe they know that if you’re busy focusing on the horror of the preparation, you won’t worry about the reason you’re doing it. Oh yeah, turns out I don’t have cancer.