Scientific interlude

My best friend, as is her wont, called me from the car on her way home from work. She complained about the steamy weather; I told her about the new Swedish study saying that people like me with severe allergies were 30% less likely to get brain tumors.

“You know why, don’t you?” she said. “Because you’re blowing your brains out through your nose all the time and it doesn’t get a chance to back up.”

“Hmm. You know, I never thought of it that way,” I said.

“See? You didn’t know how scientific I am,” she said. “Sometimes I just crack myself up.”

Surprise beach day

I showed up at the house of the guy I was trying to interview for my job, and he answered the door dripping wet and wrapped in a towel. “I can’t talk to you, I’m on my way out,” he said. “You should have called first.”

Well, hey, I was getting time and mileage so since I was already at the beach, I … went to the beach.

It cost $5 for a one-day pass, but considering I haven’t had a vacation in six years, I felt entitled. I threw down a towel (I keep that kind of stuff in my trunk in case my Dead Ex needs something), dumped my sandals and went down to the water, where I stood knee-deep and looked around for sharks.

You can’t be too careful these days.

I wanted to taunt my best friend; I called her at the office but she wasn’t picking up. Finally, I left a message: “Oh, I’m sorry if you can’t hear me. That’s probably because of the roar of the ocean in which I’m standing. Well, talk to you later.” Ha, ha.

I always have something to read in the car – in this case, a May issue of Rolling Stone. I sat on the beach reading about Orlando Bloom, the Iraq quagmire and the Motley Crue reunion tour. Good times!

Where do I get all these fricking magazines, anyway? A copy of InStyle showed up in my mailbox the other day and I was totally baffled. (I mean, I know I didn’t spend money on it.) And a big clump of Rolling Stones showed up within a few days of each other.

Then I vaguely remembered some free-magazine offer from (I think) Salon right before my subscription ran out, and me checking off what were the least offensive titles. (Not much of a selection, as I recall.) Plus, I’m on some journalism mailing lists and people send me lots of free publications, hoping I’ll write about them.

Anyway, I stayed on the beach for maybe an hour, enjoying my Rolling Stone and watching the people. This was a dingy, working-class little shore town and these weren’t exactly the folks featured on Entertainment Tonight! But there was a beautiful little baby playing on a nearby blanket, and we beamed at each other. I love babies.

A nice moment.

The flashbacks they promised me

In keeping with my recent trend of narrowly-averted bad luck, here’s another one.

I’m sitting in the office of the guy who’s interviewing me for a job, and the late-afternoon sun is hitting the slats of the shiny aluminum mini-blinds. The lines begin to vibrate, and I realize the reflected light is beginning to trigger a migraine. Everything starts to melt together, including the man’s face.

I’m beginning to wonder how I’m going to get through the rest of the interview when the visuals suddenly stop.


Dream world

My best friend called me yesterday, and I said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you: I had the strangest dream about you last night.”

“Really? What?” she said.

I told her it was me and her and my friend Cos in a big room “and I was eating this dessert. It was made of marscapone cheese with chocolate, and it was so good, I kept trying to get you to taste it. You kept saying, ‘No, I don’t want to taste it.’ Really weird.”

“R. (her boyfriend) was eating a dessert made of marscapone cheese and chocolate last night, and he kept trying to get me to taste it,” she said. “I kept telling him, no, I didn’t want to taste it.”

I thought she was kidding me. She wasn’t. Hmm.

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I was planning to go out tonight, but it’s very hot and my friend S. called and we ended up talking for so long, I lost any desire to get into the car and drive into town.

He’s trying to find another newspaper job in Boston, near his girlfriend’s family. He doesn’t care at all about Pittsburgh.

“How could you?” I said. I reminded him how hard it is to have any sort of life when you’re working shift work. “God, you can’t plan anything – everyone you know is home asleep,” I said. “You’re in a strange town and you don’t have time to get to know it.”

I think that’s the reason newsrooms tend to be such a hotbed of affairs; more than most people, you only see the people you work with. You don’t even get to talk much with anyone else.

I hated working the copy desk. Sure, it sounds relatively reasonable, working until midnight; I mean, a lot of 9-to-5 people don’t go to bed until then. But your brain gets revved up and it’s hard to slow it down once you’re home. I was often wide awake until 3 or 4 a.m and when I’d wake up about 11, it was already time to start getting ready for work.

It felt like swimming through Jello. I was never quite awake and that wasn’t good. Shift work did such strange things to my circadian rhythms; for years after, even a sliver of light in my bedroom made it impossible to sleep.

I may have mentioned this before: I have narcolepsy. Not the extreme kind, where people fall asleep at the wheel of a car, but hypersomnia, which is a state of perpetual sleepiness. I nap a lot but I never feel good when I wake up – only slightly less sleepy.

In order to get to the bottom of this, I once spent a night in a sleep lab with electrodes Krazy-Glued to my scalp; my doctor wondered if sleep apnea would account for my perpetual fogginess. The following day, I stayed in the lab for my Sleep Latency Test. This sounded like a lead-pipe cinch; after all, I’d been trying to stay awake most of my life. From sleeping at my desk in grade school, to crawling under newspaper paste-up tables to catch a quick nap, my life was one long quest for that thing other people told me was normal: waking up refreshed.

Four times that day, the sleep techs came in, drew the curtains and told me to try to sleep for fifteen minutes. I tried, God knows; I tossed, I turned. I could not believe it – for once, I couldn’t sleep to save my life.

A few weeks later, I met with the neurologist to discuss the results. “I already know,” I said as I entered his office. “There’s nothing wrong with me, take two aspirin.” All that aggravation, for nothing.

“Actually, no,” he said. “You have a form of narcolepsy.”

I stared at him. “You’re kidding.”

“It’s actually rather interesting,” he said, pointing to the tracings. “You never seem to get completely out of REM sleep.”

“But I didn’t fall asleep once,” I said.

He said no, I fell asleep during every single attempt. “Look,” he said, showing me the paper record. “Twelve minutes this time, eight minutes this time…”

I was astounded. “How can that be?” I said. “How can I be wide awake and asleep at the same time? I mean, I did not fall asleep once.”

He said it was part of the syndrome, and wrote me a prescription for Provigil, which is very, very expensive. (I had drug coverage at the time.) It wasn’t bad; I felt awake without being buzzed. But it didn’t help at all with the ADD, which was supposed to be the point.

Oh well. It’s not as if I can afford it, anyway. And after my experience with Adderall withdrawal, I’d rather limit myself to the basics – caffeine.

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It’s a small world, after all

By on July 7, 2005 in My So-Called Life, Politics As Usual

The world is large, the world is small.

I called my friend this morning to see if she’d heard yet from her sister in London. She hadn’t heard the news yet but took it in stride. “I can’t see my sister riding public transportation,” she said archly.

I laughed. “Now, if she dies, you’re going to feel really bad. And we’re both going to hell,” I said.

“Oh, come on,” she said. “I’m still laughing over that woman running over her kid with her Volvo. If I’m not going to hell for that, I’m not going at all.” (A few years ago, a soccer mom in an affluent local suburb backed out of her driveway and over her child. And although of course the death was a horrible thing, the irony was irresistible: Every Volvo owner we know is fixated on protecting their children. That’s why they bought the car, after all.)

I turned on some reruns of “E.R.” after I hung up. In this episode, an elderly man with pancreatic cancer was in liver failure, and a surgeon talked him into having a Whipple procedure. Elizabeth Corday ripped into the surgeon, telling him he had a lot of nerve pushing such a risky procedure in someone so old, with so little chance of success. Gulp. I changed the channel.

At least I’m not watching cable news. I don’t want to see Bush again.

The world is large, the world is small.

My sister is waiting for my niece (who’s married to a reservist) to give birth to her third baby. My dad had his first chemo treatment yesterday. We’re worried about how my mom’s holding up.

For the past three days, there’s been a work crew outside putting cutesy Victorian shingles on my building; they start early and finish late. Bang, bang, bang, go their hammers.

I hate my new haircut but at least it only cost $13. I may have a new motherboard soon. What should I defrost for dinner?

Forty dead, 700 injured, 150 seriously. Riding to work in the morning, thinking about what to have for dinner, thenboom. And suddenly, you’re a survivor and CNN is sticking a microphone in your face. How did it feel? What was it like?

There was a loud bang, there was thick smoke, we couldn’t breathe. People broke windows, some people cried, some people prayed. Body parts, everywhere. We walked over the wounded to get out of the tunnel. No one was there to help us.

Heavy mortar strikes targeting the local government headquarters in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul hit nearby shops, killing at least three people and wounding 46 people, hospital officials said on Thursday.

We kill them there, they kill us here.

Somewhere, everywhere, a child wiggles at his school desk, waiting impatiently for recess.

The world is large, the world is small.

Celebrity time

By on July 6, 2005 in My So-Called Life

I was walking down Lombard Street toward Tangier when I spotted Alberton his way home.

“Hey,” he said. “You have a couple of fans from Boston waiting for you.”

“Really?” I said, incredulous. “No shit.” (You have to understand, it’s hard to feel like a celebrity when all you do is sit around the house half-dressed and blog.)

As I approached the side door of Tangier, Steve from All Spin Zone grabbed my elbow and steered me inside. “Some people are here to meet you,” he said.

“People” were Michael and Priscilla, who are planning to move here within the next year from Boston. Very nice folks. He’s a COBOL programmer and she’s in school for interior design. (Plus, he looks like legendary WMMR DJPierre Robert. “Usually, people tell me I look like Jerry Garcia,” he said.)

Anyway, I can’t tell you how strange it feels to be a destination – like the steps of the Art Museum from “Rocky.” (And did I mention that Steve wrote only last week: “I’m beginning to think Drinking Liberally in Philly will soon become a tourist attraction”? Dude!)

Buy me some peanuts and crackerjack

By on June 27, 2005 in My So-Called Life, The American Game

I finally found the field where my Dead Ex-Husband’s brother was playing ball yesterday morning. (It was tucked all the way in the corner of a township baseball complex I didn’t even know was there.)

Ex-Brother-in-Law had the power, but his swing was off and the most he got while I was there was a single. He had a pop-up that could have been a single, but he didn’t run out the ball. (Fundamentals, guys, fundamentals.)

Anyway, ballplayers are such nosy old ladies. Three or four times, one came over to say, “So, who are you here with?”

I pointed. “I came to see my ex-brother-in-law play.”

One time, this happened while I was behind the batting cage while my ex-BIL was at bat. “Oh, does your brother know his ex is here?” one of them taunted.

“I don’t know. He’s dead,” I said cheerily. “I mean, I believehe knows, but I can’t prove it.”

“She’s the mother of my nephews,” BIL explained. “Whyshouldn’t she be here?”

When his team was in the field, I sat in the bleachers – where someone had erected a screened canopy that covered the seating area. Another nosy ballplayer came over: “Where are you from?” I told him I used to cover one of their tournaments for the league magazine. I don’t remember how it came up, but I told him about watching a bench-clearing dispute in a championship semi-final when one of the pitchers threw underhanded.

“You should have seen the look on the batter’s face,” I said. “The other team cleared the bench: ‘Blue, he can’t do that!’ The ref said, ‘Oh yes, he can.’ One of the funniest things I ever saw.”

“One of the guys was just talking about that,” the ballplayer said with admiration. (To these guys, a woman talking baseball is much like the old saw about the talking dog. It’s not that he does it well, but that he does it at all.)

I said how nice it was to have a shade canopy over the bleachers. “Very civilized,” I told him.

“Well, you know, for a couple of weeks, some of the players had their wives and kids here,” he said. “It was really, really hot…”

I know ballplayers; I could see where this was going.

“And they were in the dugout. So now we put this up.”

“Can’t have that,” I said, nodding. Because you can’t. Other people may call it a game, but it’s serious.

The return of the Uberblonde

By on June 14, 2005 in My So-Called Life

“Geeze, you’re so depressed,” said my oldest friend, Lidaphonic Lee. (We’ve known each other since I was twelve.)

“Whattayou expect?” I said. (Lidaphonic is one of the few people with whom I speak only pure Philadelphian.) “My life is completely screwed, ya know? No job, no money, no house, no savings, no fucking future. Who wouldn’t be depressed?”

“What are you gonna do?” she said.

“What I always do: Self-destructive and flamboyant things to my hair. I’m going to cut it all off and bleach it back to my naturally unnatural shade of blonde,” I said.

Lee, a former hairdresser whose religion regarding hair is length, thought a moment before giving her reluctant blessing. “I think it’s a good idea,” she finally said. “All this bullshit started to happen to you when you lost touch with your inner Uberblonde.”

The Uberblonde is my alter ego, who indeed fell by the wayside a few years back. The Uberblonde’s hair is a comedically unnatural shade of platinum blonde, and she’s an Unsinkable Molly Brown type who always bounces back. But a few years back, I stopped keeping faith with her and we parted ways.

I was trying to fit into the rest of the world as determined by other, more timid people, and I ended up toning my hair down to what I thought was a more respectable (read: employable, less conspicuous) color. And Lidaphonic’s right; that’s when life really hit the skids.

The Uberblonde isn’t shy. She writes her phone number in lipstick on napkins for attractive men; she thinks nothing of playing eight-ball in a short skirt and high heels. (The Uberblonde also weighed a lot less; she could pull it off.)

The Uberblonde isn’t afraid all the time. (Her life’s motto: “What the fuck, tomorrow’s another day.”) She always knows what to do. She has this compelling belief in her own talent, a clear vision of the future and a determination to make things happen.

In other words, she’s not a fucking pussy. Not at all that whipped, depressed person I’ve been inhabiting for the past two years.

Well, today I invited the Uberblonde back into my life. I took the $6.99 I probably couldn’t spare, walked into the CVS and said to myself, “What the fuck, tomorrow’s another day.” I bought a box of suitably flamboyant color, stripped all the natural pigment from my hair and now a once-familiar person greets me when I look in the mirror.

Welcome back, Uber honey. I missed you.

Shoot the moon

By on June 14, 2005 in Blogosphere, My So-Called Life

Okay, I’m giving this a shot because, well, why not? Technorati is offering an all-expenses-paid trip to the conference:

The selected author will receive a flight to the Bay Area, two nights at the Westin Santa Clara hotel complete with in-room Internet access, and registration for the BlogHer conference.Technorati will pay for your flight from a major air hub in the continental United States (Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle).

Sounds good. What do I have to do?

How has blogging changed your life? Did it lead to a new job, new friends, a new life? How would a trip to Silicon Valley to meet other female bloggers help you accomplish your goals? We want to hear your story!

“Female bloggers”? There are female bloggers? (I kid, I kid.)

Blogging has changed my life in so many ways, I hardly know where to begin. (There’s the weight gain and the chronic underemployment, but that probably isn’t what you mean.)

In a very practical sense, each blog builds a community, and the members share resources with the other members. My readers have helped me over many a rough spot (including covering my bills through a bout with pneumonia and donating money for a new car when my old one died), but it’s really the emotional connection that keeps me doing this crazy thing.

I post some political monkey business that makes my eyeballs spin, wondering if I’m the only person who thinks the world is going nuts, and a few minutes later, ten different people have assured me I’m not. And each of them have offered their own unique take, grounded in their life experiences.

There must be something about my voice people like, because this year they named me “Most Deserving of Wider Recognition” at the fabulous Koufax awards.

Blogging is helping me come to terms with the idea I might not be cut out for the corporate world into which I keep trying to shoehorn my soul.

This is a toughie. I’m a working class kid, born and bred. “You don’t ever walk away from a job unless you have another one.” “You never turn a job down if you need one.” “Nothing’s more important than a regular paycheck.”

And that old favorite, “Just who do you think you are? What makes you think you’re so special?”

And yet. And yet… Can I live with a job that demands I stop blogging, or seriously curb my opinions? I. Don’t. Know. I just don’t. As an editorial writer, I sometimes had to write opinions with which I disagreed with my heart and soul. But this feels different.

Blogging hasn’t led to a job – yet. But I have hopes.

Blogging has re-opened the same world I knew as a journalist – except this lifetime around, I get to take sides. I get to meet and speak (and argue) with bloggers of all stripes. I’m addicted to having such easy access to expertise.

Because female political bloggers aren’t clustered in my immediate geographic area, I haven’t met as many of them face-to-face as I’d like. (Plus, I’m poor; I don’t travel much. See “chronically underemployed.”)

Going to this conference would add that much more depth to the bench of blogging resources on which I so often draw.

Plus, we can do each others’ makeup and shit. So there’s that, too.

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