Thursday, August 31, 2006

How not to name your pets

Several years back in Chicago, I rode the bus to work every day. My bus stop had a sewer cap right in front of it, and every day I read the words on the cap because there was nothing else to look at. I’m quoting that sewer now, “Neenah Foundry, Wis.” I loved the word “Neenah.” I hadn’t ever been to Wisconsin yet, but that was a good name. A name I later found out actually came from the town of Neenah, for which the local foundry was named. Still a good name.

A few years later, a woman unknown to me was walking down Foster Avenue (a busy street, like Frankfort Avenue during rush hour back home). The woman was approached by a ferret. Really, a pet ferret danced up to her on the sidewalk. She looked at it and knew this was no wild animal and that it was someone’s tame pet, so she scooped it up and walked it into the nearby police station.

An officer at the police station said, “My daughter has a pet ferret, I’ll take it home.” The officer called her daughter at work and told her, “Someone turned in a loose ferret to the police station. I’m taking it home, and we can try to find a place for it.”

The daughter happened to be my employee. She hung up the phone and turned to me, “Do you want a ferret?”

I was anguished at the dilemma. Of course I wanted a ferret! But we already had such a zoo in our small apartment. There was Pikachu the chinchilla, Shiva the sugar glider, and Loki the cat, and they took a lot of our time for care and affection, but we loved our little menagerie like a family. We always joked we wanted to get tax status for a charitable organization because we were running a no-kill animal shelter.

I called Matthew. “Honey, I know it’s your turn to pick a pet and you wanted a ferret when I got Pikachu. My employee’s mom just had a loose ferret turned in at the police station, and they need to find it a home. I don’t think we can handle it though. We’ve got a zoo already.”

He said, “That’s OK honey. If you don’t think we can handle adding a ferret, then we won’t do it.”

“All right. I feel better. I just feel so bad that it needs a home and that you wanted one.”

“I know. It’ll be OK.”

After two days of not finding a home for the ferret, my employee asked me to ask my friends if anyone wanted a ferret. Another phone call was in order.

“Matthew. I really don’t think we have room for the ferret.”

“I know sweetie.”

“I want the ferret.”


“Yes. I really want the ferret.”

“Well OK then.”

The next day we bought a ferret cage with exercise tubes and researched the best ferret food and talked to our vet about ferret care, and that night we went to go get the ferret from the police officer’s house.

“What are you going to name it,” they asked.

And the pronouncement came: “Little Spike if it’s a boy for my favorite wrestler, and Neenah if it’s a girl.”

They laughed, “Our ferret’s name is Spike!” But he was huge, and this ferret was little, so it seemed “Little Spike” might be the right name.

The next day at the vet, the next pronouncement came: “It’s a girl!”

“Well then her name is Neenah.”

The perfect name for our little escaped ferret. From the streets she was rescued, and from the streets she was named.

Neenah was the perfect little frisky companion. She’d bear-hug our ankles and look into our eyes and make silly ferret faces, she’d play-attack our feet as if we didn’t tower over her, she’d steal my socks and my shoes and my unopened mail and make nests to burrow into under the couch. She was a busy little girl.

But Neenah passed away when we moved back to Kentucky. She lived to a ripe old undeterminable age, then she got tumors in her belly. Her surgery was successful, but she was never the same. She tired easily and didn’t like to play any more; she just burrowed and made nests all over the living room. We laid her to rest in my parent’s back yard with our family’s childhood pets, knowing we gave her the best life a foundling ferret could ever have.

Reminders of Neenah are sadly all around us. We find pictures of her at odd times when we’re cleaning our apartment. And every day there’s thousands of “Neenah Foundry” sewer caps looking up at me. I can hardly look at the ground without seeing “Neenah” somewhere to make me miss her. And amazingly, for a year Matthew worked at a place on Neenah Avenue. Every day he turned his car left down Neenah, a street we never thought of before since it was so far from our neighborhood. I cried when he took me to see his office. He couldn’t speak about.

It would be nice to say some platitude about “Neenah lives on in spirit” or something, but really we miss her terribly. My only advice is, don’t name pets after sewer caps.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Walkers and only

In my grade school, there was a custom that kids were released at the
end of the day in a particular order. The first group to be called by
the principal at the end of every day was "Walkers and only." Walkers
were people who walked home from school, of which there were quite a
large number. Onlies were only children with no siblings enrolled in
the school--an incredible rarity in our Catholic diocese.

Everyone was so jealous of the onlies. Who among us knew what it was
like to be an only? No hand-me-down clothes, no reused toys, no
fighting over desserts or seconds of macaroni and cheese, no competing
for your parents' attention. It sounded like a glorious, privileged
life from which we siblings were excluded.

I have no idea what came after "Walkers and Only," I was a walker.
They could have said "Everybody else," "Car riders," or "So long, suckers!" I don't know since I was with the group to be released first.

I'm not much of a walker any more. I regret it. Supposedly walking is
vital to the creative process of writing, and maybe that's why I
haven't been writing as much lately as I should. I look at my
beautiful blue Vespa, my wasp, and I think, "Why should I take the
train to work?" I look at my beautiful blue Schwinn and I ask myself,
"Why should I walk to the train?" There is no reason for me to walk
but to stimulate my writerly affectations.

Charles Dickens was said to roam the streets of London for inspiration.
Being out among the down-trodden and poor activated the story-telling
part of his imagination. And William Wordsworth? Don't get me started
on that walker. He prowled around the Lake District like his life
depended on it. That guy's daily constitutional ranged miles. There's
a great story about Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his wife going to visit
at Wordsworth's Dove Cottage. Coleridge's wife dropped a pot of
boiling water on his foot "accidentally" so that he couldn't go on the
big walk with Wordsworth but she could. He wrote a lamenting poem
while everyone was out walking, but I can't remember which one it is.

I hope not to be motivated by injury like Coleridge, but inspired by
the grit of the city like Dickens. "Walkers and Onlies are dismissed."
I'll re-mount my feet soon.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Some random things about me:

I don’t listen to my iPod enough.
My two favorite bands right now are Shocking Blue and T Rexx.
I’ve been reading memoirs all summer (2006).
I love riding my blue Vespa ET 4.
I love riding my blue vintage Schwinn Suburban with cocktail style pinstriping.
Blue is not my favorite color.
I don’t have a favorite color; I love them all.
I wish I could afford to do the classic 80’s preppy look all the time.
I buy whatever is on sale that fits.
I have a hard time remembering to buy food with coupons.
Generic sugar cereals taste just as good as name brand.
Generic healthy cereals taste like cardboard.
I don't like unusual or exciting flavors in my food.
I watch too much TV, especially bad TV like Flavor of Love and Girls Next Door.
I hate bad TV that thinks it’s good TV.
I like to swim, but I’m scared of the deep-end.
I don’t like wet locker rooms.
I like hats. A lot.
I don’t usually do the self-improvement I say I’ll do, like learn guitar so I can play Heart.
I have too many hobbies already.
My current favorite hobby is photography.
I enjoy blogging as a creative outlet.
I make endless lists and lose them.
I am a member of scooter clubs and chat groups.
I save boxes in case I need to mail something.
I love our postal system.
I love my cat and my dog.
I love my husband.
I hope we’re married forever.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Holy update

The dental crevasse is healing. It no longer feels lasered, just annoying. The toothal region is still sore however, but it's definitely on the path to recovery.

That's it from the mouth!

Friday, August 11, 2006

O holy night

I am not a particularly hale and hearty person. I actually try to minimize my medical complaints, until I realize that I’m saying to a friend over and over, “Actually, I can’t do that because…” “Actually I…” “Actually…” I get tired of the “Actual” saga and eventually spill my guts about the tiny things that aren’t quite right about me that add up to a sum that isn’t at all quite right.

One of the side-effects of medical disquietude is that I am a holy person. I am a person made of many holes. There’s the holes I put there myself, the body piercings that are in or out and their scars. There’s the sinus surgery that made holes inside my nose bigger (but didn’t straighten my septum, a surgery I opted not to do at the time, and a choice that I’ll always regret). And now, two new holes.

The first is a series of newly recurring holes. In my arms. I have been vaguely diagnosed with an undifferentiated arthritic condition in my knees. It’s not that terrible a thing really, just mildly annoying when the dog wants to go out *again* and I have to trek up and down the flights of stairs at our walk-up flat. But the kicker in the undifferentiated arthritis pants is that the medicine that has worked best for me so far is on an overt mission to destroy my liver. Go figure? Medical treatment, meet medical poison.

So the liver holes. No, the medicine doesn’t punch holes in my liver (yet). I’m constantly getting blood drawn to see how this month’s arthritis-medication-to-liver-enzyme-levels are stacking up. (I could go into lengthy discourse at this point about my ALT and AST levels and how it affects my overall health in precise detail, but that would be either rather dull or medical fetishist.)

The net result of the new hole series is that I want to grow new veins. The soothing phlebotomists at my doctor’s lab are all swell gals, but they need new places to make holes in me. My arms are very tired of the stick and draw. I always come to work with big white bandages in my elbows and then laugh about my liver tests. I look like a medical accident waiting to happen with holes in my arms covered in swaddling clothes. “I was once like you!”

Now the second new hole is one big hole. Or I assume that it is because I can’t see it, but it is obviously present in my life and feels rather gaping. It is a tooth hole. The past few weeks (that feel like millennia), I have been undergoing the Never-Ending Root Canal. One of my “Actually” medical ailments is that certain of my teeth are very unhappy fellows, bent on self-destruction. Many of my teeth are perfectly happy and content to continue on being teeth, but these special teeth, the nihilist teeth, just insist on going under the drill. This tooth, tooth number 2 in the dental chart, has decided to go full on root decay necessitating the endodentic procedure known as “root canal.” I don’t understand that name for the procedure yet, even after my research, but I’m sure if I remember to ask I’ll get a fabulous explanation. “Root canal” sounds like “Love Canal” or “Panama Canal,” something dangerous and politically divisive.

I have endured the Never-Ending Root Canal as gracefully as I can muster, but I have reached a state of mental decay over this last and (pray for me) final hole. I had laser gingivectomy. The decayed root of tooth number two was so bad that it tried to take my gingiva with it. I guess it succeeded, because before my dentist had barely finished saying “I’m psyching myself up for you; this is worse than I thought,” I was introduced to New Guy with Laser. Laser guy was totally nice. He assured me I wouldn’t feel a thing but that I would hear a popping sound. He said afterward my gums would feel like I had burned my mouth on hot pizza, or the area around the Never-Ending Root Canal tooth number two might be sore. But I shouldn’t feel pain.

Let me just interject that when a guy with a laser tells you you won’t feel pain, ask more questions. Warily.

So what laser guy did was remove the affected part of my gum and gingiva. Do you know where gingiva is? According to the chart on my mouthwash bottle, it’s way down there. So yeah, the removed gingiva has left me an interesting new hole. A new hole I struggle to keep my tongue out of, cause trust me, it wants to go there, and I don’t know how long I can stop it from spelunking.

What the new hole feels like is a jagged crevasse that opens up parallel to my tooth. Tiny tooth-men could have an X-treme adventure climbing the terrain on their trip to mount tongue. But the good thing that I keep reminding myself is that the crevasse is cauterized. I mean, isn’t that the surgical benefit of working with a laser? Faster healing time, instant cauterization? Sounds good to me at least.

But the new hole is like the others, much more painful than I’d expected. I fight an hourly losing battle against keeping snack particles from lodging in the crevasse, and it aches awfully bad for a pizza burn. If I got this burnt from pizza, I’d be off pizza for quite a while, resulting in “Actually, I’m not eating pizza now, I got a bad burn.” I think my new medical “Actual” will be, “Actually, I’m not on lasers right now. Maybe some other time?”

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Nose Matters" pilot episode

Chicago knows that it’s a city that stinks. I’m not exactly offended by its odor malfeasance, but it’s not a city that inspires olfactory confidence. There are some great smells to be sniffed in Chicago, but for every suburban Mars chocolate factory, there’s a Dave Matthew’s Band bus dumping untreated human waste on tour boats.

It’s particularly true in some of the regions near just about any branch of the Chicago River. Sure, sometimes it just has a healthy marine fishy smell, but then there’s the areas that smell like boat petrol near the tour boat landing docks. And then there’s the mystery factory smells further upstream: the leather tanning facility; the recycling center; that weird place on the North Branch where the water emits steam during winter. Yeck. Each have their own distinctively off odors.

But the downtown chocolate factory—ooh the cocoa joy it shares with my nose. And the tea and coffee roasting plant? Also divine. My favorite day is regular coffee roast day. Honestly, the flavored coffees smell too sweet when they’re at the stage of creation. The air starts to have a distinct burnt “Irish Crème” odor to it. The teas smell fresh and rejuvenating like a hippie ceremony that uses sage leaves to purify the air.

I think I should have a television show called “Nose Matters.” Public access, of course. People could call in and tell me what they smelled, where and what time of day. It could be brilliant. We could compare the morning’s slightly soapy smell outside the leather tanning plant to the evening’s more gore and chemical odor. We could talk about which parks have the best fragrant flower displays. Or what about that place on Grand Avenue where the big shopping mall must have an air vent that ejects errant smells from their perfume counter because it’s always perfectly scented at the corner of Grand and Wabash? “Nose Matters” could sniff out some seriously interesting smells.

I know I’m on to something here. There’s a local television station that has a “Best of Chicago” viewer write-in award series. They do themes like “Best tapas bar” or “Best adult novelty shop.” One of their awards—“Best smell in Chicago.” Brilliant. The downtown chocolate factory usually does very well in that contest. Now imagine if we got to vote on the best and worst smells every week? It would be a smellocracy.

There must be a way to harness the acumen of my sense of smell for good instead of letting my talent languish from fear of allergens. I believe the “Nose Matters” smellocracy is the spirit of my nasal future. Odor onward, scented soldiers.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My grandmother, rock-star of God

Going to church with my grandmother is like hanging out with a really old Catholic rock star. The priest leaves his dais to give her special blessings and deliver her communion wafer directly. He always says, “Peace be with you Kate.” People swim up the tide of departing parishioners at the end of service to give her their hugs and kisses and shake her hand. I get to bask in that reflected glory.

Every time I go home to Kentucky, I take my grandmother to church. It’s mildly sinful since part of me does it out of vanity, but really I just like making my grandmother happy. Escorting her from the handicapped parking spot to her seat in the front, holding her steady at the end of mass, I feel like the handler for a super-star. And she gets to smile glowingly at everyone, sharing the love of communion. Her Catholic beauty makes me feel equally perfect in her glow. But my grandmother really is a special person, and everyone in her church knows it and radiates it back to her. I get to be in the cloud of all that love.

I met someone equally special, someone who used common platitudes in the spirit they were intended, not to just advertise her own piety. There was some soot on my arm, and she said, “It’s OK, we’re all made of dirt. God said it, ‘dust to dust,’” and she wiped off my arm. I found the Chicago equivalent of my own Kentucky grandmother.

This new woman in my life went on to say, “This life is hard enough, don’t do anything that makes you miserable. Do what you love.” She said this in such earnestness and simple clearness that I firmly believed everything she said to me that afternoon. I didn’t think too much of her when I was first introduced, but as she spoke, I felt the power of her religious beauty and glowed from it. Here is another special woman, just like my grandmother.

But I wonder, why do adults in the U.S. only find spirituality in religion? Why must we listen to homilies and discuss the Bible to find a spiritual center in our grown-up lives? Remember in college when you discussed Camus and Sartre and felt so important and brilliant? Why don’t we do that now?

I can’t think of a single philosophical organization in Chicago that gathers weekly to be lectured and to discuss spiritual matters of a non-dogmatic nature. I’m sure there must be somewhere here in this big city, but where? I want to talk about existentialism and being the best person you can be at this moment and think about the great philosophers of the ages and what wisdom I can learn from them. Do I need to go back to college to do it? Do post-college adults just lose interest in things bigger than them when life’s daily necessities insist on being met?

I enjoy sitting beside my grandmother and hearing the priest explain Sunday’s gospel reading. I always find a message in the homily that I can use in my everyday life. But where do the irreligious find their glory? I’ve been searching for the answer to that for years without knowing it. Going back to Catholic mass is like going to a gilded, incensed home. I feel relaxed and welcome and immersed in community as we all speak the same prayers, sing the same songs, and drink from the same glass of wine. But most of the time, I feel like I’m shut outside.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Carry-on baggage

I would like to ask for a Sherpa for Christmas. There’s really only two times of the year you can make a big gift request. New Years’, not a gift holiday. Thanksgiving, food holiday. There’s really only Birthday and Christmas, and my birthday is already recently passed. So I need a Sherpa for Christmas.

The Sherpa are a lovely people living on Mt Everest, in Nepal. For generations they’ve been famous for carting white people’s stuff up the side of Everest. (Which is a terrible name because no one would go to that mountain to rest, ever--unless they were Sherpa, of course.) The Sherpa are renowned for their acclimation to the extreme altitude at which they live, which makes them more able to schlep for sea-level dwelling white folks as they conquer nature’s tallest heights. Tenzing Norgay was of course the first famous Sherpa. Supposedly his descendants still carry baggage for expeditioners. Or I could be conflating my National Geographic knowledge and making things up.

The point of that ramble is that Sherpas are a culture, a society, not a race or a trade. “Sherpa” is not the act of carrying. I remember this story from somewhere about a mountain expedition. White guy turns to descendant of Tenzing Norgay, “So, how long have you been a Sherpa?” The noble descendant doesn’t hesitate at all, “Why, all my life sir.” The white guy is amazed that this little dude has been carrying tents and freeze-dried protein and oxygen canisters since his birth. The joke’s on the white guy. The kid was born into Sherpa society, who just happen to be a group of prodigious carriers.

And so, I need a Sherpa for Christmas. This weekend my friend and I went to a private garden show. It was a big deal. They only open their 7 acre garden one day a year, and this was it. But cripes! I must have ten of twenty toy vintage cameras that I adore to shoot with. And wouldn’t this be a fun expedition for the Polaroid Land camera I’ve never used? All week I agonized over which cameras would make the trip with me. First I pulled out all the functional cameras and put them on the computer desk so I could look at them and Matthew would have no place to work. Then I had to get into qualifications by ease of use, rare film requirements, and portability. How many cameras could I carry at once?

I finally narrowed it down, omitting the Land camera, sadly. The final six turned out to be my dad’s SLR which still had some film in it, my digital shooter for all-purpose photography, my Holga (never leave home without a Holga), the ’65 Brownie Hawkeye that is broken in such a way that it takes beautiful pictures, my generic twin-lens reflex that I can’t think of the name that takes pictures with a surreal clarity considering its ancient technology, and the four lens toy called “Lomo.” The barest minimum I could come up with.

It did prove to be a hassle. I wore two cameras around my neck and had the Lomo in my pocket, but everything else had to be juggled around between the backpack. It challenged my carrying ability.

Now imagine the same trip with my own Sherpa. “Tenzing the Fourth, will you please hand me the Land camera?”

“But of course.”

“Thank you Tenzing the Fourth. Oh, and Tenzing the Fourth, will you please re-load the Holga. There’s 120 Portra film in that pocket. Make sure that you don’t accidentally repair the broken bit inside the Holga. That actually helps make the film look better. And here’s a little piece of cardboard to wedge the film cylinder in tight.”

“I see Mrs. Wy. Thank you.”

“Oh, thank you Tenzing the Fourth!”

How much better my life would be. Now imagine I’m walking to the train station from work. “Tenzing the Fourth?”

“Yes, Mrs. Wy?”

“I need my train pass and I’d like my iPod please.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you Tenzing the Fourth.”

Perfect! My Own Sherpa could be the best thing that’s ever happened to streamline my activities. But, there’s a major downside. Do the Sherpa people, once outside their region, still want to carry things for white people? I’d guess not, but I don’t know. Maybe you can take the Sherpa off Mt Everest, but you can’t take Mt Everest out of the Sherpa.