Category Archives: conflict

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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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.


Filed under autobigraphy, coffee, conflict, dating, flash fiction, irony, memoir, relationships, single, women

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.”


“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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I’m Ready for My Close Up, Mr. El Paso

It’s all about the lighting.

Good lighting can make even the intolerable desirable. Take my lunch, for instance. Leftover burrito* with carrots and chips- monochromatic, tepid and mushy, should be disgusting. But scroll below** to see what two-o’clock afternoon sun in the northern hemisphere can do. See how the salsa glistens? Delicious, right? Can’t wait to dig in.

Yes, I’m going to parallel this to dating. It’s what I do.

Take that mediocre guy from accounting. As he walks down the alley of cubicles and turns the corner toward reception, you see him eclipse the morning sun as it streams through the window. In his silhouette, you see no pocket protector, no black smear where the pocket protector failed. You don’t see the worn, shiny ass of his Dockers, nor the bit of jelly on the back of his left hand. No, what you see is the dark shape of a man, sun glistening around his tall, narrow form, and your mind wanders…

Then there is that lackluster friend of your sister’s. And here he is, at the family picnic once again, another valiant effort by your sister to orchestrate a Certs encounter between the two of you. And this time, it might just work. The sun is setting, the men are wrapping up their game of touch football, and as your man draws back his arm in what will surely be another botched pass, the setting sun breaks through the clouds, and he is haloed by brilliant rays of gold, azure, and ruby red. Your mind wanders…

And, let’s jump in the time machine for a bit, back to those days of our youth. Was it not lighting, pure and simple, that drove us to make our decisions vis a vis romance? Prom, with its strobe light flashing; roller rink and its laser show; the dusky bar illuminated by nothing more than the neon glow of the Budweiser and Jose Curevo signs. Your mind wanders more than it already was wandering, what with the beer and tequila and all. Yes, it was lighting that made the good look better and the better look great. Never underestimate the lighting.

‘* Yes, I eat leftover burritos every Saturday. I have dinner at Tacqueria Pablano in Arlington every Thursday night, and leftovers are pre-planned frugality.

‘**I put the pictures at the bottom so you can read the good stuff without having to scroll down down down past dozens of glamor shots of food before you get to anything interesting. I hate when they do that.



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stories are everywhere

for example, my life today:

We had a blizzard.  Mid-storm my neighbor shoveled his front walk. He left his shovel outside overnight and it was buried by morning, so he borrowed my shovel and dug out not only his walk but mine, too.  There’s a story in there.

My cat might be bulimic. She ate kibble and puked and then ate more kibble and puked again three times within 25 minutes this morning. A few more adjectives and that story is good to go.

I decided to paint my nails Carolina blue for the Super Bowl, although I  have no allegiance to either team – light blue nail polish was all I had in the closet. But now I see that the color is gray, not blue, so I’m worried what that says about me as a football fan and what my friends will think. Further, the minute I got wet polish on all ten of my nails I had to pee like a fiend. That story writes itself.

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snow ponder

Sometimes I ask myself, why am I so fearful? And of all the things to be afraid of, why these things? My three top fears are: snakes, physical pain, and something bad happening to my cat. Actually, those are pretty reasonable things. I found a fourth fear yesterday: I have a paralyzing fear of the utilities going out. This awareness was brought on by the blizzard, the one that hit the East Coast yesterday, the fodder of countless Facebook posts and the joy of terror-mongering meteorologists worldwide.

It seemed like just another snow storm, until my friend brought up the likelihood of the power going out. I hadn’t even thought of that. A quick check with the National Weather Service confirmed – there would be at least two feet of snow and winds gusting to 65 – they said there was a “high probability of whiteouts and blackouts.” White and black and out. That’s not good.

My friend also mentioned that the last time the power went out, it was out for three days. She told me that her family had already procured provisions including food, water, and a back up generator, to last a week. I have one flashlight, one blanket, one bottle of water I found in the backseat of my car, and a meager amount of cheese. My extremities were going to freeze, slowly, painfully dropping off one by one. My cat would suffer a similar fate. Short of snakes, this snowstorm threatened to be my own personal hell.

So, at 2am the morning of the blizzard, I started to chant. I’m hesitant to say ‘pray’ for fear of losing half my readers who’ll think I’m one of those praying-types. Somehow ‘chant’ seems better – y’all might think I’m weird, but it will be in a bohemian, cool kind of way.  So, this chant.  It followed the tune of the kindergarten sing-song, “Polly Put the Kettle On,” and went like this:  “Please God, keep the utilities on, please God keep the utilities on, please God keep the utilities on, that would be so nice.”

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I’m sitting here in the warm draft of indoor gas heat, sipping hot tea from an electric kettle, the only thing that hurts is my back from shoveling snow, and my cat is sleeping contentedly on the desk beside me. In other words, they chant/prayer held it’s own. Now, if whatever animal it is that has taken up a desperate haven in my attic is not a snake, all will be well.

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nuts on the brain

squirrel 2I might be a little off since today is the first day I’ve been off the couch/out of bed since Thursday at noon (I had a cold – might have been the plague), but it sounds like there is definitely a squirrel in the attic over my studio.  Not on the roof, no, this is definitely right over my head on the other side of the particle board and plaster they call a ceiling. Now, I know that with the windchill it is 12 degrees outside, and I appreciate that the attic here might be warmer than a hole in a tree, but I am certain that if that squirrel comes crashing down or worse, sets up a condo-type situation that lasts into spring, that the property management company will deem it my fault.

But maybe I’m making too much of it.

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catch and release

I need a job.  Right now they call me “Budget Analyst,” which is seemingly what government contractors call the lady who orders toner and sets up the auto-attendant for the voicemail system. I should be working with food.

I’m looking for a job.  I’d like to be called “Director” or “Manager” or “The Lady Who Seemingly Knows What She’s Doing.” Any kind of start-up that calls itself hotel, restaurant, catering company, food truck, anything. I want to be working with food. I’m not picky.

I got a job.  They call me “Director of Food and Nutrition,” which is seemingly what public schools call the “Lunch Lady.” I am working with food. I should have been more picky.


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Christmas Carols: A Warning

Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. They tell you that, in a song. And if it’s in a song, it must be true. It is true and you had better just get on board and believe it, missy, because he knows who’s been naughty and he knows who’s been nice and if you’re not giddy with the joy of the season, you’re going to get something a lot worse than switches and ashes. What you’re gonna get will make you wish you’d gotten a lump of coal, little girl.

Now, the songs don’t tell you that explicitly. They are far more clever than that. They’ve been around for decades, remember? Hundreds of years, some of them. Their siren songs have crushed far stronger souls than yours.

Here’s how they work: they’re chipper, they’re cheerful. They have catchy simple tunes that are easy to remember and hard to forget as they wind their way through and lodge themselves in the undulant curves of your cerebral cortex. They push out important things you’ve been saving in there, SAT words like “undulant” and “cortex.”

Having so implanted themselves within your very being, they begin to take root. They’re like that cruel cactus in Arizona, the one that sheds its seeds in pods shaped like tiny needles. The pods fall to the ground and lie there, benign, until some snake or bird or rabbit – rabbits are best– comes along. The seed pod, which has an outer shell that is spiral-grooved like a drill bit, is covered with tiny, sticky hairs which get caught in the fur of the rabbit. The seed pod, opportunist as it is, twists itself through the dense fur until it hits rabbit flesh. Then it keeps going. It bores through skin, through muscle, past veins and arteries until it hits its mark – the moist center of a vital organ. Then the pod begins to expand. It swells until the seeds burst forth and take purchase in the heart of the unsuspecting animal.

If you look closely at the base of one of these horrid cacti, where its trunk meets the earth, you will invariably find the skeleton of a bunny. That marauding plant infiltrated the innocent creature, grew itself up and through its soul, and left him there to wither, to die, in the desert.

So it is with Christmas carols.

Hum carefully, my friends.

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