Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Have Buzz, Will Travel


My stepmom used to say that if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his ass. Kind of a head scratcher, I know.  I say that if people had wings, air travel would be obsolete, and the makers of tranquilizers and booze wouldn't be filthy rich. Instead, our lack of birdlike evolution means we common folk fly commercial, curled in the fetal position and chasing sedatives with vodka – or maybe that's just me.

My recent trip to visit family in Connecticut further cemented my bias against air travel. Because the drive would have been twenty hours each way, I had to fly. Bad news for me, as I hate flying and would rather sell one of my kidneys on Craigslist to pay for the gas required to make the trip than get on an airplane.  Credit the Valium I ate or the anticipation of seeing family, but I handled my flights (changed planes in Atlanta) to Connecticut rather well.  

It was getting out of the first airport that made me question the bucks we shell out for beefed up airport security. There we all stood, a line of shoeless and jacketless drones, pushing plastic bins of our stuff down a roller belt. Let's all pause for a collective sigh/eye roll.

My first trip through metal detector: unsuccessful.

"Please empty your pockets." A female airport security agent stopped me.

"I already did that (along with removing my shoes, artificial nails, hair extensions, temporary tattoos, false eyelashes, bellybutton ring, etc). Why don't you just have us all run through here naked? It would be a real time saver."

She motioned me forward with latex-gloved hands. "I'm going to use the backs of my hands to pat you down."

I shrugged.  "Pat away, sister. This will be the most action my ass has seen in months."

After determining the metal studs on the back pockets of my jeans (everything's Bedazzled these days) as the problem, she ushered me along to the next agent, who zeroed in on my bottle of contact lens solution. He plucked it out of the bin and produced an important-looking chemistry set. Hoping for another free feel-up, I watched in amazement (and disappointment) as Beaker tested my contact cleaner for a national security threat. Nice to know he found work after The Muppet Show. While he waited for the results, another guy walked over and dusted my hands with some giant airport Swiffer swab thingy, checking for who knows what.

After the stupid human tricks concluded, I went on my way and wondered how many actual freaks got past security while time and money was being wasted on me. Thankfully, my Valium veil and the pat-down afterglow kept me calm for the rest of the way to Hartford. During the return trip, however, I developed a strong sense of appreciation for being an earthbound creature.

We have all heard about flying being safer than driving, but that can be hard to believe at thirty thousand feet. A friend advised me to sit at the wing, so I upgraded my seats, which meant sitting at an exit. Sitting in an exit row means you must yank off the emergency exit door in the event of an emergency. As luck would have it, a rather buff, clean cut gentleman sat next to me on the flight from Hartford to Atlanta. I leaned over and briefed him on my version of emergency procedure before my Valium kicked in and after the flight attendant mimed her part.

"Excuse me. Hi."  I flashed him what I hoped was a sane smile. "Just so we're clear, here's how it's going down should things hit the fan. You're going to tap into your Herculean strength and rip that door off the plane. As for my part, I'll be clinging to your back like a wild koala bear. We good?" I gave his arm a little pat.

"We're good," he laughed, and turned back to his iphone. A more intuitive man would have seen the red flag and feigned an urgent (and permanent) trip to the restroom. Bless his heart, this man had no idea how that flight would make him go Greyhound the next time he traveled.

As we sped down the runway toward impending doom, my grip on the armrests tightened and my body stiffened to the point that I wouldn't have been surprised to see a picture of myself within days on the internet, the caption reading "Planking on a Plane." I turned to my new neighbor and sent him a pleading look as the nose lifted and we began our ascent.

"Oh, boy, oh, boy…I do not like this part. Not at all," I panted. Fear clenched my intestines. The higher we climbed, the more my stomach made me of aware of its desire to descend.

"You're not a fan of flying?" Gee, what gave me away? The wild-eyed look of terror on my ashen face? The shaking and erratic breathing? Tough to say.

"I'll b-be okay once the Viagra, uh, I mean Valium goes to w-work. If you'll just keep talking t-t-to me until we l-level out, I'll be fine." I offered a brave smile and tried to ignore the grey fog that threatened the edges of my vision.   

We chatted, or mostly I forgot words and babbled my way through my anxiety attack until we reached cruising altitude. When I had calmed to a coherent state and extracted my fingernails from Delta's blue economy seat, I tried to engage this tolerant man in some type of conversation that didn't make me look like the frantic mess I was.

"So, what kind of work do you do?"

He turned to me and smiled. "I'm an army psychologist."

"You don't say."

Changing planes at the airport in Atlanta played out like an episode of The Amazing Race.  Without a moody, unreliable sidekick for support, and a mere forty minutes before my next flight, I had to haul myself from gate T to gate D to catch my next plane. Advertising one lie after another, a series of arrows led me to what the airport calls an "Automated People Mover," or an indoor tram, similar to a subway. Riding on the APM feels like being blasted out of a cannon from gate to gate. I hugged a vertical pole for dear life, or I'd have blown out of my Skechers. Twice.

The final flight home looked promising until I learned that our flight attendants were trainees.  Another Valium, another exit row, and another unsuspecting male passenger for me, thank you. This young man and I chatted for a bit, before he turned to his Bible and began muttering something about casting out demons and sending me furtive glances.

Once my mind reached a pleasantly altered state I tried to engage him in intelligent conversation. Note to self:  Your ADHD brain-to-mouth filter has an even higher failure rate under the influence of prescription medication.

I leaned over and pointed to the bald flight attendant trainee seated in front of us.

"Hey, ya think if we connected the dots on his head they'd make a constellation?"

Where are those do-overs when you need them?

By the time I got home, I was too miserable to whine about the heat and what the kids hadn't accomplished in my absence. Grateful for solid ground and crappy laminate flooring, I dragged my luggage to my room and flopped on my bed in exhaustion. I don't care what anyone says. Human beings should submit to gravity and stay on the ground. It is what nature intended.

 

 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

All For a Pimple and a Chicken Leg


“Would you please repeat that, Arthur? It sounded like you said you want me to cook you some crack.” 

“Now, why would I want you to look at my crack?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve asked.”

“What did you say about my ass?”

“Forget it. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Why don’t you look for that new hearing aid you lost while you wait for me.”

“What?”

The madness of the grocery store right before a holiday weekend makes a phone conversation near impossible.  As a rule I avoid shopping around holidays, but Arthur sucked down the last of his Pepsi so I have been assigned to restocking duty. I load my shopping cart with ten large bottles of Arthur’s swill of choice. I should have biceps like Mr. Universe. Instead, I have the beginnings of a nasty hernia.

Libra Coletti, sucker for seniors and diva of adult diapers at your service.  Most people work normal jobs and spend their time with normal-ish people. I shuttle around neurotic blue-hairs who have exceeded their expiration dates and exist for the sole purpose of pushing me closer to a life with twenty cats and a two-pack-a-day habit.

I hear Fox News blaring from Arthur’s television well before I reach the door of his nicotine-encrusted cocoon. Inside, Arthur, sporting khaki shorts and swollen ankles, slouches in his beige leather recliner. A cigarette dangles from his lips. He rolls his portable oxygen tank aside so I can haul his precious Pepsi into the kitchen.

“Now what did you want when you called me at the store? I couldn’t hear you,” I say to the top of Arthur’s sparse, white buzz cut as I pull Pepsis from plastic grocery bags and begin lining them up on the floor near the refrigerator.

“Oh, yeah. There’s something on my back I need you to look at.  It feels like a melon’s growing out of my shoulder.”

Why do these geezers always have me looking at abnormalities growing on various parts of their bodies?  Things that should really be donated for scientific research?  I roll my eyes and blow out a sigh of resignation.

“Fine, but you’re gonna have to come into the kitchen where the light’s better.”

Arthur hauls himself out of his recliner. I watch him walk through a haze of Doral smoke that would make Philip Morris proud and the Surgeon General shudder. Arthur enters the kitchen, turns, and presents his back to me. Amidst a relief map of moles, sunspots, and those weird little red dots that old people get, my eye is drawn to Arthur’s bony right shoulder blade. 

“What the hell is that?” I lean in for a closer look.

“Do you see it?”

“Do I see it? I think it just waved at me and offered me a smoke.”

Some scary, evil looking, parasitic precursor to a second head had found its home on Arthur.  Being no stranger to his regular ailments, I know that whatever this bizarre looking growth is, it should be seen by a doctor.

"So, what is it? A bug bite?" Arthur's hand flaps over his shoulder and he tries to scratch. I swat his hand away.

"Only if the bug was sent from the mother ship.  You're going to see Dr. Fields."

"Whatever." Arthur plods back to his recliner and takes a long drag from the cigarette that went out in his absence.

The following week, we find ourselves in Dr. Field's crowded waiting room.  It seems everyone and their dog has a health problem. Arthur doesn't do well when we have to wait for long stretches. He gets bored and ends up entertaining himself in some way that usually results in me speaking with management or security, and always apologizing profusely.  This time I am ready.  I have a goody bag for Arthur, packed with things to keep him amused and out of trouble.

"Hey," Arthur whispers as he elbows my ribs. "See that lady over there in the pink shirt? I'll bet you I can guess why she's here." 

"I'm sure she has a good reason for being here. A private reason. How about working a crossword puzzle?" I reach into the canvas tote and pull out the crossword book.

"Nah.  What about that guy sitting across from her?  The one with the cowboy hat? He looks sorta familiar." Arthur squints behind his bifocals.

I glance in the direction that he's looking and jump in my chair as I stifle a gasp.  Oh, yes, that guy looks familiar.  He and Arthur got into it one evening in the buffet line down at the Sizzler.  All of the fried chicken had been eaten except for one scrawny drumstick.  Both men reached for it but Arthur wasn't quick enough on the draw.  Every patron in the place received a refresher course in profanity and things to do with one's mother, courtesy of Arthur. Those unfortunate enough to be sitting near a window were treated to the view of his bare white ass, when, from the parking lot, he decided to moon everyone.  The manager was kind enough to reduce Arthur's ban from the restaurant to one month after I offered to cart his mother in-law around for free.

"You know, the more I look at him, the more I think I know him." Arthur's eyes remain on Cowboy Hat.

"No you don't."

"Yes, I do."

"No, you don't." 

"Yes, I do."

Like a magician, I begin pulling item after item out of my tote bag in hopes of distracting Arthur.

"Hey, how about a game of cards?"

"No, thanks."

"Travel Boggle?"

"Nope."

"Chinese finger trap?"

"Pass."

"Okay, stay here. I'm going to go see if I can find out how much longer we have to wait. Don't move. I mean it."

"Yeah, yeah," he lies, his eyes still glued to Cowboy Hat, who appears to be oblivious of Arthur's piercing stare.

I approach the girl behind the sliding window. She pushes the glass to the side and gives me an impatient/expectant look. 

"Yes?"

"Hi. I was just wondering if you have any idea how long –" My question is drowned out by the sound of loud voices coming from behind me. I turn around to see Arthur and his cherry red walker parked in front of Cowboy Hat. Arthur's cane points at Cowboy's face. A shouting match is underway. I push my way through the gathering looky-loos in time to hear Cowboy Hat threaten to extract Arthur's liver by way of Arthur's nostrils.  

"I wish you'd try it, big man!" Arthur doesn't budge from his position in Cowboy Hat's face.

I step in and wiggle my way between the two men until I stand nose-to-nose with Arthur.

"Did I, or did I not tell you to stay where I left you?"

"I don't know, I can't find my hearing aid."  He tries to look innocent but I know better.

"Nice try. What are you doing?"

"Well, I was just talking with this man."

"About what, Arthur?"

"Uh…chicken."

"Really. Then why all the yelling?"

"Because he owes me an apology for stealing that last chicken leg at the Sizzler and he knows it!" Arthur looks around me at Cowboy, who steps to the side and aims a thick finger at Arthur's nose.

"He's nuts! I had every right to that chicken! All he had to do was wait a minute and they would have brought more out to the buffet! Crazy old coot!"

"You want crazy? I'll give you crazy.  Libra, get out of the way. I'm fixin' to clean this guy's clock!"  Arthur plants both hands on his walker and lowers his head like a bull preparing to charge.  I grab each side of the walker and look Arthur straight in his rheumy eyes. He surprises me by lifting the walker and moving it to the left. I step left to block, my hands never leaving the walker. Same exercise to the right. My patience has worn way past thin.

"We are in a waiting room. You cannot behave this way. Let it go."

"I can't."

"Yes, you can."

"No, I can't."

"Dammit, Arthur, yes you can. Now straighten up."

We stood there, staring, saying nothing for maybe a full minute. Our standoff is interrupted when a nurse calls Arthur back to an exam room. I redirect the walker and give Arthur's arm a little tug. We shuffle on behind the nurse.

 Dr. Fields arrives just as a shirtless Arthur dozes off in his chair. I nudge him awake and Dr. Fields has Arthur haul himself up on the exam table so he can take a good look.

"Huh." Dr. Fields pokes and prods the new planet on Arthur's back.

"What? Is it the cancer? I knew it.  It's the cancer, isn't it." Arthur looks at me and throws his arms up in resignation.

"No, it's not cancer," Dr. Fields smiles.

"It's not? Then what is it?" Arthur looks relieved but skeptical.

"It's a zit."

"A what?"

"A zit."

"Dr. Fields, language please! There's a lady present. Besides I already took one of those this morning. I don't see what my bowel movements have to do with my back."

"No, Arthur. A zit! Z-I-T!" Dr. Fields makes a valiant effort at maintaining composure. I just shake my head, roll my eyes, and wonder again why I didn't take that course in medical assisting.

"I'm not an idiot. I can spell, you know. Well, I suppose you're happy Libra. You dragged me down here and made me wait for forever for nothing. I don't know why I listen to you." Arthur crosses his arms and shoots me a look of blame.

"I do. You listen to me because no one else will put up with your butt.  Now here's what's going to happen.  We are going to walk through that waiting room and leave.  You will not so much as look in that man's direction if he is out there. I don't want another security escort to the parking lot. Got it?"

"He still owes me an apology and a chicken leg."

"I will buy you and your zit a bucket of chicken on the way home."

"You're too good to me, Libra, but I wish you wouldn't use that kind of language."

"Yeah, I know, Arthur. Let's get out of here."








Friday, May 25, 2012

Cats in Turkey Just Can't Take it Anymore

Most of us have heard of animals exhibiting strange behavior before major weather events. In Turkey, the bizarre behavior began after a seismic event. Ever since a major earthquake rumbled through the city of Van last year, the number of cats attempting suicide has been on the rise.  Now I am familiar with suicidal squirrels on the roads, and I enjoy every opportunity to call their bluffs.  But cats taking their own lives? I found the concept intriguing.   

How does a cat attempt suicide? Exhaust pipe in the litter box? Catnip overdose? Not the Turkish kitties. Instead of using some of the more common methods of suicide, cats in Van are opting to leap to their doom from high places. Specific locations were not given. Tall buildings, perhaps? Uppermost tree limbs, just out of reach of fire department ladders? Veterinarians say they have treated many cats with broken bones. Are these cats deliberately not landing on their feet? No one left a note, so we may never know.

I can picture an anguished cat, pacing along the edge of an apartment building roof. Below, dogs and mice line the sidewalk, cheering on the cat.

“Just go for it, Fluffy! If you botch this one, you still get eight more tries!”

Nice. Poor suicidal kitty.

What would drive a cat to end it all? Again, we are left to speculate.  Perhaps the litter box isn’t clean enough. Do European cats even bathe every day? Maybe excessive hairballs or a mouse shortage are to blame. Perhaps one cat finally found its way out of a paper bag and ruined the surprise when he shared it with the others. One theory points the paw at psychological effects resulting from the earthquake. Another thought is that being confined in small spaces has prompted the odd activity. Really? Have you ever met a cat who doesn’t enjoy cramming himself into the smallest space he can find? I saw one of my cats, Java, all contorted inside a coffee pot once.  She must have been experiencing an identity crisis. I left it alone.

The other question that keeps clawing at me is how suicide was determined as the cause of death in all the cats.  I suppose the owners were interviewed. Was your cat withdrawn? Hanging out with the wrong crowd?  Was your cat taking antidepressants? Have you changed her food lately?  Was he snubbing you more than usual?  Being cyber-bullied by other cats? Don’t blame yourself. It’s normal to think you should have gotten a dog instead.

I also find it interesting that only cats were offing themselves. Are they more mentally unstable as compared to dogs, fish, or hamsters? I did have a Betta fish that leapt from the safety of a net to a plate of solidified bacon grease.  Needless to say, his act of aerial acrobatics did not end well.  I thought I knew him but I must have missed the signs.

Will action be taken to prevent similar outbreaks? Perhaps cast will be required to undergo psychological evaluations before being allowed to live in earthquake zones. Don’t misunderstand. Animal suicide is no laughing matter (go, PETA) and my heart goes out to the families in Van who lost their cats in this unusual way. My heart would break if either of my kitties bought the farm for any reason.  I know I will think twice from now on when I see a deceased cat on the road. Was it murder, or did something else make him run into traffic? Maybe, just maybe, this time he was too darned curious.