Stop the Shit

“Looks like your birthday was in November.  That makes you 50,” said the doctor.  This was Dr. Caretto, my new doctor.  I’d had health insurance for over a year, but hadn’t had a physical in that time – nor in the six years before.  Going to the doctor wasn’t on my hit parade of the top ten ways to spend an afternoon, but here I was. Silver lining? I noticed that he was kind of cute, assumed he had money, and saw that there was no ring on his finger.

“And that means you’re due for a colonoscopy,” he said.

Oh, hells no.  No way.  I have friends who have had them, and I’ve selectively ignored everything they’ve tried to tell me about the experience.  Nope.  Not me.  Not going to do it.

I stared at Dr. Caretto, the decidedly unattractive, definitely bogged down with med school loans, and likely gay doctor sitting before me.  I wasn’t even supposed to be there.  The only reason I was there is that my health insurance was running out and I didn’t expect to have any for a while.  The internship I’d been working, the brass ring that gave me hours, pay, and benefits, was ending in two weeks.  While I was still covered, I hit all the big ticket items – new glasses, dental x-rays and a night guard, a grueling pelvic exam, and here I was with the GP.  And he’d just told me I’d have to have a colonoscopy.

“But there is an option you can consider,” he said.

Turns out there’s this new thing (new to me anyway, I hadn’t been to the doctor in 6 years). There’s a lab that can analyze your feces to determine if you’ve got colon cancer.  It’s 99% reliable.  There’s no overnight drinking of poison to clean out your colon.  There’s no anal probe, and you don’t have to phone a friend to come pick you up afterwards.

You just have to poop in a bucket and send it to Wisconsin.

Dr. Caretto gave me a Cologuard brochure.  “Read it over, let me know if you’re interested.  If you are, give us a call in a day or two and we’ll call in a prescription.”

I wouldn’t leave the office until the prescription was called in.

The Cologuard kit comes in a cute blue and white box.  The directions are easy to read and make the whole thing seem as simple and as natural as drinking orange juice with breakfast. It’s genius, really.  Kind of like proctologist meets IKEA.  The box comes packaged with everything in its place, the ‘collection cup’, a test tube, a bottle of liquid chemical, and a cleverly folded ‘seat’, that you unfold and place under your toilet seat.  It holds the collection bucket (my words), so that everything goes where it’s supposed to go.

I loved this little kit.  I loved it so much that I kept it on my coffee table for the better part of a month.  Cologuard called once a week to make sure that I received my kit and to encourage me to submit my sample as soon as possible.  I assured them that I’d get to it soon.

Truth told, it was never the right time.  I did know that the right time would be in the morning around 7am, I’m very regular that way.  But I also knew that if I had ice cream the night before, the consistency would be off.  Same if there had been too much rice. And it said on the package not to collect the sample when menstruating, so that ruled out five days right there.  I found the timing to be tricky, tricky, tricky with this Cologuard.

Then this morning I finally went for it.  Well, I ‘went’, such as it was.  Everything was fine.  Seat thingy, collection bucket, perform the task, remove collection bucket from seat thingy (keep collection cup on a hard, flat surface), use little swab thingy to get small sample, put befouled little swab thingy in test tube.  Pour bottle of liquid chemical into collection bucket to cover original sample, close the collection bucket (screw top on very tightly), put it all in a zip lock bag and place in original box.  Fold the top flaps of the box just so and it’s ready for shipping with its own pre-paid label.  Gorgeous.

Executed.  No problem.  Directions state that if you collect your sample on Monday, it has to be at UPS by Wednesday.  No problem there, either.  The reason my health insurance ran out is because I left a job to start my own business.  I’d been in the process of starting my own business for over a month, so making a trip to the UPS store at 10am on a weekday fit right in my schedule.

On the drive over I commended myself.  I’d collected the sample.  Back up, I’d gone to the doctor in the first place.  I’d found a way to be a responsible 50-year-old and get my colonoscopy without the angst.  I’d even called my new insurance company to make sure that they’d cover it.  All grown up stuff.  I drove very carefully on the way over.  The last thing I wanted was to wreck my car and have to explain to the officer why I had a bucket of excrement in a bag in a box on my passenger seat.

The UPS girl was none the wiser when I put the box on the counter.  She gave me a tracking slip, and I got out the door without making the joke I wanted to make about “What Can Brown Do For You?” as it related to the contents of the box.  I might be 50, but poop jokes never get old.

I pulled out of the parking lot and resumed congratulating myself for a job well done.  Saw doctor, called insurance, sent sample… although that sample got sent over a month after I saw the doctor.  I didn’t have the same insurance anymore.  What if my new insurance didn’t honor the invoice because the doctor who prescribed the procedure wasn’t on their plan?  What if my old insurance didn’t honor the invoice because I wasn’t on their plan anymore?  I was in health insurance purgatory.  I could not, simply could not, afford to pay for Cologuard out of pocket.  I almost pulled over, but then I remembered that  I was a responsible person who went to doctor’s appointments and collected samples, etc, etc, and decided to drive over to Dr. Caretto’s and get it all figured out.

Not much to figure out.  Neither my old insurance nor my new insurance was going to pay to have my poop analyzed for colon cancer.  Cologuard was going to charge me directly for their service.  Oh hells no.  No way. I had to stop UPS from shipping that box.

Of course I knew that 395 is under construction, and it would have taken an extra five minutes if I got on the that highway, so I defied Google Maps and rerouted to take Braddock Road.  Braddock Road, as it turns out, is under more construction than 395, and I spent a wasted 20 minutes sitting in line, waiting for the construction worker to turn his sign from “Stop” to “Slow”.  Then there were the lights.  And why would anyone pull up to a light in the right hand lane if they weren’t going to turn right on red?  Monster!

It was a different girl at the UPS counter.  I waved my tracking slip at her.  “It’s a cube-shaped box.  It’s white with blue on it. It can’t get shipped.  I NEED IT BACK!”  Girly girl showed me the stack of boxes waiting for pick up.  “If it’s not there,” she said, “then it’s already gone”.

It wasn’t in that stack.  There were white boxes, there were cube-shaped boxes, but none of them were my box.  “Holy crap!” I thought, and that made me laugh a little.  The girl from earlier came out from the back.  “My box!” I said. “I need my box and it’s not here!”

“It’s air,” said my girl. “Your box is going to be air-shipped, so it’s over there.”  I went in the direction she pointed and by the grace of god, there it was.  My box.  I cradled it gently to my chest and took it out to the car.

I called the Cologuard people and told them about my insurance situation.  The agent agreed that neither insurance would cover it, and that I would have had to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket if they had processed my sample. She commended me for intercepting my box. She said I did the exact right thing, and that not many people are as smart and responsible as I am.  That made me feel good.

Now I have a box containing a bag containing a small plastic bucket of my shit in the foyer.  The lady said I should disassemble the kit, recycle the box and the bag, and take the collection cup to the hazardous waste disposal facility.  I guess I can do that.  I guess I can unpack it all and separate it all and go to two different sites to dispose of it properly. That would put an end to the whole business. Although, that box sat for a month on my coffee table, now it’s sitting on the floor. I’m sure I’ll get to it soon.

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It’s the Second Slice that Gets Ya

bundt cake

I’m feeling pretty out of it.

Dizzy.  Foggy. My teeth ache and there’s a peculiar metallic taste in my mouth that I’m not quite sure how I can recognize since my tongue has the pins and needles of being asleep.

They had donuts at work today.  And a homemade breakfast casserole. And homemade granola with fresh berries and French vanilla yogurt.  And lemon Bundt cake with cream cheese icing. I emphasized ‘homemade’ a couple times in there to emphasize the point I’m going to make three paragraphs from now.

I am a firm believer that no foods are off limits to the typical person.  Non-typical being celiacs, diabetics, alcoholics, people with PKU – there are foods those folks should definitely never have.  But for the rest of the adequately-functioning people, the food frontier is wide open.

Wide open, but not with reckless abandon.  There have got to be some qualifiers, some boundaries, some guidelines on what makes a ‘face down in the breakfast buffet’ acceptable.  Among the top of that list, there is Homemade.  A food made from scratch, by an actual person, is more nutritious than the store-bought version of the same food.

There is likely a huge similarity between homemade and store-bought from a macro/micro nutrient point of view, but I’m not a biochemist and I’m not your traditional nutritionist anyway.  Actual chemical composition isn’t what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the kind of stuff that you can’t get in a box.  Caring, planning, preparation, thoughtfulness, kindness – all the things that go into a breakfast casserole or pecan and honey granola when you make it at home to take to the office and celebrate your coworker’s last day.  That’s good stuff.  I’m all for eating homemade food.

You will notice that ‘homemade’ was not a modifier for the donuts nor the cake.  That’s because the donuts came from Dunkin’, and the cake came from Nothing Bundt Cake in Vienna.  The donut I ate was decidedly dry and corporate.  The cake, to its credit, was so moist you could wring it out, but it was technically a store-bought cake.  Now, it did need to be special ordered and picked up by one of the office staff on her lunch break, and it did come with a lovely card signed by everyone in the office, and they did sing “For she’s a jolly good fellow,” so that gained points, and the slice I enjoyed in the breakroom with the adoring crowd was entirely appropriate.  It was the second slice that got me.

Sugar is addictive, no doubt about it.  I had that donut, and the granola, and the Bundt cake and then I went back to my desk and thought obsessively about all of them for 3 hours.  I’m not even exaggerating.  My brain was completely consumed with the cake, in particular.  The cream cheese icing, the so-fresh-it-was-cool-to-the-touch cake… one slice wasn’t enough.  So I snuck (snuck!) to the breakroom, stealthily hacked off a chunk (stealthily!), stood by the sink alone (stood! alone!) and shoved cake down my throat.

And now I feel like this.  Crashing off sugar and miserable.  I’m drinking gallons of water on the off chance I can flush it out of my system (you don’t have to be a biochemist to know that’s not how it works).

The day was mostly good. I had some delicious homemade food with a wonderful group of friends.  That’s the lesson.  Indulgences taken in community, in celebration, are truly sweet.  It’s that handful you grab when you’re bored, that forkful you stab and stuff when you’re angry, that bag you polish off in the dark when no one is around, that’s when indulgence becomes illness.   The line isn’t is fine as some would like to have you think.  And think is exactly what you have to do when you’re staring down that second slice of cake.

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The Players

I only date chefs, musicians, and writers. Here is a retrospective, although I haven’t included the one night stands (neither one of them).

  1. Writer. Every bouquet of flowers came with a limerick.
  2. Musician. Bass guitarist in a ska band. I’ll give him points for being a Writer, too, since he wrote several pages of brilliant prose to tell me he preferred sleeping with my best friend.
  3. Chef. Pesky cocaine problem.
  4. Anomaly. Engaged two years.
  5. Chef. Bad habit of stealing from the company we both worked for.
  6. Musician. Said he wrote a song about me, but I heard the Muzac of the original playing in an elevator.
  7. Anomaly. Married seven years.
  8. Writer. Well, his autobiographical statement on Match was compelling, anyway.
  9. Musician. Said he didn’t write a song about me, but that one about the daffodils definitely was.
  10. Chef-ish, Writer-ish. He had a way with figs, and he once wrote a blog post that moved me to tears.
  11. Musician (opera); Chef (first breakfast: pancakes with real blueberries); Writer (wrote a haiku for me every day for sixty-seven days). He was the trifecta. Alas, it just wasn’t a good fit.

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Coffee Clutch

for David

Coffee. That’s how it starts. “Buy you a cup of coffee?” “Meet me for coffee?”

Plastic to-go cups of iced coffee on a hot summer evening, you wondering how it’s going to turn out. You know that if it goes badly, your second cup will be a decaf and you’ll go home. But, if it goes well, you’ll go home with him, so that second cup will be regular. Maybe espresso.

Coffee in steaming mugs, the two of you cocooned by shared blankets, watching the leaves fall and float from the trees in the cool autumn air.

Delicate cups of gourmet coffee in the bistro where you had your first real date; you gazing out the window as the snow piles up outside. He plunges the French press and pours. Taking a sip, he says, “I’m not feeling it.” You laugh. “Maxed out your caffeine tolerance?” you ask. “No, it’s not the coffee,” he says. “It’s you.” He pushes his chair back from the table and sets down his cup. “I thought I’d be feeling something by now, but I’m not. Sorry.” He leaves, and you stare at the widening stain on the tablecloth where his coffee sloshed out of the still-full cup.

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Crushed.

I’ve known him for years, he’s the flirty guy with the perfect teeth and a penchant for giving hugs. Big hugs. The pick-you-up, squeeze-you-tight, and swing-you-around type of hugs. The kind that are just a few moments short of being inappropriate when bestowed upon me, a woman who is nine years his senior and in a committed relationship.

So, I have to ask myself, why would a woman, nine years his elder and in a committed relationship, allow herself to be picked up and swung around by this other man? Why haven’t I told him to stop, if not after the first time, then why not the second? Or the twentieth? The answer is simple. It’s the reason most people do most everything they do. I keep letting him hug me because it feels good.

True, I have a crush on him, but who wouldn’t? It’s nothing more than that. I have a boyfriend; I certainly couldn’t date the hugger. Once, when no one else showed up to supper club, it was just the two of us for sushi, but that wasn’t a date. I did put on lipstick, but it wasn’t a date.

He hugs all of us, all of the women in supper club. But lately he’s been texting me, inviting me over to his apartment to watch football, or offering to buy me éclairs. Éclairs are absolutely my favorite pastry, he knows that. I don’t know how he first found out that I like them, but when he showed up at Carolyn’s picnic with a dozen of those Bavarian cream-filled, chocolate ganache-drizzled delights, I knew he brought them just for me. He insisted it was a coincidence, he claimed he only got them because the bakery was out of brownies, but I don’t believe it. He also said he didn’t know I was going to be at the picnic, but I don’t believe that either.

I’ve been having sex with the hugger. He doesn’t know about it. Whether I’m with my boyfriend or by myself, I think about the hugger every time I’m naked. He’s the one racing through my brain while my body soars and sighs. I don’t know when that started, but I can’t make it stop.

He texted me this morning and asked me to meet him at the bakery. I wanted to say yes, so I did. I lied to my boyfriend and told him I was meeting Carolyn, and then waited until I had pulled out of the driveway before I put on my lipstick.

When I walked into the bakery I was enveloped by the warm, musty smell of sugar. I wondered how long my coat would smell like that if I took a few steps backwards and walked out the door, if I just got in my car and drove home to my boyfriend.

The hugger was there, standing at the front of the line. As he turned and took a step toward me, I felt my heart skip and sputter, like a drop of water in hot oil. “Don’t!” I said. “You’ll lose your place in line.” He smiled and reached out to me.

“I can get back in line later,” he said, pulling me to his chest. “But what I want now is a hug.” It was a seven-second hug. I counted. Seven seconds is a wonderfully long time to be hugged, especially in a crowded bakery.

He bought a box of two éclairs and a bag of brownies, and I followed him outside to a picnic table. He sat down on the bench beside me. I ate my éclair while he told me about last week’s Cal State game, and predicted how they were going to win this afternoon. “Fourth quarter, fake punt and thirty yards to score.” He stood and extended his leg to kick at his outstretched hands. He looked strong and confident, like the MVP of a championship team. I didn’t mean to, but I sighed out loud.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Kick-off is in ten,” he said. “Gotta head out.”

“Aren’t you going to eat your éclair?” I asked. Beads of condensation had puddled on the chocolate, and the cream had oozed over the sides of the pastry onto the cardboard box.

“No, I got those for you,” he said. He shook the bag of brownies. “These are for me. Are you ready to go?”

I rose to my feet but then thumped back down on the wooden bench. “But, I thought we were hanging out,” I said. He cocked his head to the side, leaned over and smiled as he brushed his hand across my cheek. I closed my eyes and lifted my face up to his. “You have chocolate on your lip,” he said, then turned toward the parking lot. I swiped at my mouth with a napkin, smearing the chocolate and my lipstick with the paper, then stood and followed him. When we got to my car, he took me in his arms, picked me up and swung me around, just like he’d done dozens of times before. He didn’t say “This was fun,” or “Let’s do this again,” or “I’ll call you.”

I don’t know why I’m so spun up about this. It’s not like I ever had a real crush on him. That would be ridiculous. I am a grown woman in a committed relationship. The hugger and I are just two people who hug and happen to like baked goods. If I had a crush on him, replaying this afternoon over and over again in my head, like I am doing right now, would make me miserably unhappy, but I’m definitely not. I’ve hardly even noticed that he hasn’t emailed me. Since I don’t have a crush on him, I’m not mortified that I sent him a selfie of me eating the second éclair and he texted back a one syllable acknowledgement. And not having a crush on him means that I’m not at all hurt that my follow up text celebrating Cal State’s win got another one-word grunt. It’s okay. He’s probably busy. It doesn’t matter. I never really liked him in the first place. I’m telling you, seriously, it’s no big deal if he never hugs me again. It’s not like I’d be crushed, or anything like that.

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Smoked Him

for Everett

“You mean, on a date?” she asks.

“Well, if that’s what you want to call it,” he says. He kicks at the grass growing up through a crack in the sidewalk. “I was thinking I’d pick you up, we’d get some dinner, see a movie, and then I’d bring you home. Yeah, I suppose that is a date, if that’s what you want to call it.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she says.

“Why not?”

“Because of the smoking.” She leans back against the white picket fence that lines the sidewalk and exhales from of one side of her mouth to avoid clouding his eyes.

“But I don’t smoke,” he says. You’re the one who smokes.”

“Yup. That’s the problem. I’ve been through this. I know exactly how it’s going to go down.”

“What?”

“Okay, see, I’m going to end up liking you, probably a lot. Enough, I’m sure, to quit smoking for you, and that will ruin everything. Now, don’t get that look on your face and try to argue with me. I know for sure that I’m going to systematically ruin our relationship, in three succinct phases. Want me to explain?”

He watches her toss her cigarette to the ground a few inches from his foot. He worries briefly about fire when it lands on top of a wrinkled brown leaf and then relaxes as he watches her grind it into the concrete with the toe of her shoe. She picks up the crushed butt and puts it in her pocket.

“Sure,” he says. “Enlighten me.”

“Okay. Think of it as a bell curve. We start out on the far left, the place where things are new and fun. I fall for you, and this is Phase One:  Dedication. I convince myself that smoking is bad for me, and that you’re a really amazing guy and I’d like to get closer to you, and what the hell, I’ve quit before so this will be easy.

“We’ll get about three weeks of that before we plateau at the top of said bell curve. I call this Phase Two: Elation. We’re having a great time together, everything is sunshine and roses. I have a sense of accomplishment. I’m feeling good physically, I’ve conquered my demons, and I’m happy. The duration of this phase is unpredictable – in my experience it could be a month, maybe even a year, but what’s right over the hump is Phase Three: Resentment and Hatred. This is the phase where I realize that I’ve changed for you, that I’ve lost sight of my personal promise to never change for a man. This is when I remember that I deeply love smoking; that it’s not hurting anyone, and furthermore, I can do anything I damn well please so back off, mother fucker!

“And on that lovely sunlit evening you’ll find me here, leaning against this fence and waiting for you to come pick me up for a date. I’ll have a blazing cigarette clamped between my fingers and a look in my eye that says, “Go ahead, asshole, I dare you to say something.” And, that, my friend, is how it’s going to go down. The end.”

“You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?” he asks.

“Well, yes,” she says, “Yes, I do.” She takes the butt out of her pocket and drags it along the fence in a long black smear.

“Well, then,” he says. He leans forward and kisses her. On the cheek. “As long as you’ve got it all figured out,” he says. His feet crunch in the fallen leaves as he walks down the sidewalk and away from her.

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Cold Chicken, Hot Bun, Not What I Expected.

Why do we assume anything that includes the words “Hot Bun” is going to be about sex? At what point did radiant heat and flour/water/yeast become so licentious? I certainly don’t know, and I didn’t mean it that way.

Today’s lunch didn’t turn out as expected. I made a sandwich of cold chicken, served on a hot bun (stop giggling). Cold chicken is sublime, completely different from warm chicken, and a mini-baguette, hot and crisp, is much better than tepid white bread. Add mayonnaise and a leaf of romaine you’ve got the makings for a tasty and satisfying lunch. But it didn’t turn out that way. The crispy bread shattered upon contact, and the chicken fell out and hit my plate with a mildly wet smack. I got mayonnaise all over my face. It occurs to me that the last sentence, paired with ‘hot buns’, has the more lascivious of you rolling in the aisles. Notice that I used Licentious, and Lascivious to describe you people, as if SAT words could ameliorate your libidinous minds.

So, appearances were deceiving. I seem to have many stories about the deceit of appearances, and I doubt I’m the only one who has fallen deeply in love with someone who turned out to be as hollow as, well, that flaky bit of golden brown bread I tried to enjoy for lunch. I also seem to have a lot of stories about falling and failing in love – but hey, I’m an artiste, we’re known for the angst of our amour and besides, never since Romeo and Juliet has a tragic love story failed to entertain.

His name was Cameron. Six foot three in his bare feet, muscular, quiet in that stoic, brooding way that I can’t resist. There was a frayed denim jacket he wore everywhere. And, he drove a gold Trans Am, white firebird emblazoned across its hood. Everything about him was manly.

Now, you don’t know this, but I have sat here at my desk for an hour and have used over 700 words to explain, in a languorous and extremely boring way, how I finally ended up in that gold Trans Am with Cameron. But life is short; at least I’m sure your attention span is, so I’ll get to it. I strapped myself into that passenger seat, put my hands on the dashboard, and braced myself for the ride I’d been waiting for. I listened for those six cylinders to rev, for the squeal of rubber on pavement and the snug knock of the gearshift as Cameron slammed that thing into second for a mindboggling lurch of a jump start. It was not what I expected. Instead, Cameron carefully set his foot upon the clutch, gently turned the key, and cautiously looked both ways before he eased into the street. There was no ‘foot to the floor’ as I’d dreamed of; there was just a gingerly tap of the gas pedal. I’d thought we were going to race around the hairpin turns of the Asheville mountains, but no, Cameron chose to use the turn signal every time we went around a bend. My grandmother channels Mario Andretti compared to this guy. I have to say ‘guy’ now. I can’t say ‘man’. There was nothing manly about Cameron, he was about as lame as warm chicken on a cold bun.

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