imageToday I’d like to talk toilets. Seriously. You okay with that? Not feeling squeamish? Good. Also, please don’t expect any death, snot or philosophizing today. No grief or profundity looms in the paragraphs ahead. What does lie ahead: flushing. And by that I mean not the neighborhood in Queens, of which I am a fan (having been born in said borough and thus qualifying as a NATIVE NEW YORKER, please note caps), but the habit of sluicing human excrement down the tubes.

At issue today is not the usual, old-fangled, do-it-your-durned-self species of toilet, in which one surveys one’s product in the bowl for a moment of quiet and considered reflection before sending it off with a merry wave into the Realm of Unseen Sewage, but the new-fangled, automated, let-the-damned-stupid-machine-do-it variety, introduced some years back into heavily trafficked public restrooms.

A random woman I met in one such restroom once told me in stern tones that she worked in the industry (there’s an industry?) and attended a conference (there are conferences?) and could confirm that automatic toilets were, in fact, invented by men (there are men?). Which I sort of already knew. Because EVERY WOMAN IN CREATION already knew it, having based this knowledge on the maddeningly masculine malfunctioning of said toilets.

If you’re a woman, you don’t need me to explain this for you. If you’re a man, you do. Let’s put it in simple terms. The toilets are designed to conserve water, right? And improve hygiene, right? Minimize contact with germs, icky bits, grossness in general, all that stuff? Yes? No! They do no such things! This is what they do instead: Squander water! Maximize contact with germs! And why is that, you ask? Because WOMEN’S PLUMBING AND ARCHITECTURE DO NOT RESPOND WELL TO BEING RUSHED. In fact, THEY ARE INCAPABLE OF BEING RUSHED. In addition, they involve LOTS OF FANCY AND REPETITIVE MOVEMENT that might be misinterpreted, at least by the automatic toilet, as a session-ending flourish of some sort. And then? When the session is, in fact, finally over? The toilet refuses to flush until the woman leans over and presses the little germy button.

Do you need me to spell this out for you? I hope not. Even my tolerance for scatology isn’t that extreme. But let’s put it this way: Recently, while visiting an airport restroom, an automatic toilet of my acquaintance FLUSHED SIX TIMES before I was done. Seriously.

This was not the automatic toilet pictured above, which I encountered in Chicago and which was SO excessively automatic and prissily hell-bent on keeping my anatomy icky-bits-free that it actually boasted an auto-hygienic-magical-seat-wrapping system. Like, you just waved a hand in front of its All-Seeing Public Toilet Eye, and it lickety-split spread a pristine new sheet of plastic over the toilet seat for your fanny’s enjoyment. Seriously.

Look, when it comes to public toilets, my needs are not complicated. I would like to have access to a fair number of stalls — a goodly number, more than the number of equivalent facilities provided men, precisely because of those aforementioned, time-consuming FANCY AND REPETITIVE MOVEMENTS. (And because, you know, women have smaller bladders. I’m just saying.) Also, I would like to have access to toilets that are 1) cleaned on a regular basis; 2) equipped with toilet paper; and 3) accompanied by sinks that are similarly equipped with soap. These are my needs.

Otherwise, I don’t give a shit. Pun intended. Seriously.

garbage night blues

Once again, it’s garbage night on my street. Garbage night! Hurray! By the sound of it, you’d assume it’s a holiday with a bonfire of some sort, like maybe a Wiccan fertility rite or, assuming we’re all in Latvia, Walpurgisnacht (after the 8th-century Saint Walpurga, though it’s hard to believe her mama named her that).

But tonight isn’t a holiday, alas. There are no pagans rubbing themselves with oil outside my window. And once again, I’m shocked by both the swiftness of garbage night’s arrival and the bafflement of my own response: As in: It’s Monday again?! Already? No way, mister! Why, surely it was just yesterday that I dragged my cracked blue recycling bin and stinky gray garbage can to the curb.

But alas, no one kids. The gods of urban garbage collection have whizzed through the week so quickly that I barely registered its passing. This has been happening to me more and more, this loss of whole weeks. Why, two days ago I failed to file a time sheet at work, because my memory of already filing one was fresh as a daisy. Yup. It only took two editors to observe and explain otherwise; apparently my memory was so stale it had begun to grow mold, although they didn’t put it that way, and no one mentioned the horrifying slab of antique pizza that I once found in my refrigerator.

Speaking of things in my kitchen, I’ve also noticed that time has been racing along at my sink with celerity, and doesn’t that sound like a vegetable? I am not going to post a photo of this phenomenon, but tonight, as is often the case, I stood there wondering what exactly happened to create this towering stack of dishes. Surely my kids and I didn’t actually eat on all of them. Something, maybe an evil overlord, must have reached into the past and transported yesterday’s grubby china into the present. That, or the clock itself is obviously up to some mischief, something beyond the mass hypnosis that led us all to set our clocks ahead one hour despite the fact that everyone agrees it’s a really dumbass idea. And the older I get, the dumbassier it seems.

I stood at the sink long enough to ask these and/or similar things of myself, but not too long, because I was holding my breath from fear of exhaling and causing my towering pillar of crockery to topple and crush me. Also, had I stood there any longer, I might actually have unloaded the clean dishes from the dishwasher and re-loaded it with dirty ones.

Instead, I walked away. I had take out the garbage, after all.

the skin of life

Lately I’ve been thinking about scars. I have my share of them, both internal and external, literal and figurative. Some I’ve had since childhood. Such as: that half-inch scar on my chin from the time I fell in front of a roaring fire and said hello to the living-room floor.

Then there’s the faint gray spot on a vein in the palm of my left hand, the imprint of a pencil that I dropped in fourth grade and then, as I reached down to get it, hit the floor eraser-first at a precise 90-degree angle and bounced straight up and stabbed me. (And I ask you, what are the chances?) The school nurse at Washington Primary informed me that, first of all, I was not going to die of acute lead poisoning, as pencils were made out of graphite, thank God, and second, I would bear the scar of this traumatic episode throughout my life. Of course she did not in fact use the phrase “traumatic episode,” but the sight of that school-bus-yellow Number 2 dangling from my innocent appendage stuck with me for perpetuity, along with the scar.

Of the marks and defects acquired since adulthood, my favorites trace back to my eight years playing soccer and my three rounds of pregnancy and childbirth, as I’ve derived too much joy from both; I’ll never rue the day I earned those scars.

Another flaw I love is the thin white slice on the back of my right hand, below and between the knuckles of my pinky and ring finger. That one I got in the summer of 1991, just before my wedding to Chris, on the day I lugged all my worldly crap out of my triple-decker apartment in Somerville, Mass., and packed it into a U-Haul for the move to Albany.

While woman-handling a file cabinet into submission, a drawer slipped out and gashed my hand. It was deep. The blood spilled out with fulsome gore. But because I was young and cheap and also stupid; because I had paid the one-way rate; because I had to get the damn truck back to damn Boston that same damn night, dammit; and because the clock was already ticking, and I was already late, and did I mention that I was young and cheap and also stupid, I trundled off into the morning and onto the Pike with a plentifully bleeding hand. I grabbed a bottle of rubbing alcohol from my load of worldly crap and spent the trip to Albany dousing it while driving. Don’t ask me how I managed to drive and pour without the acquisition of a third hand. I don’t remember. I just remember pulling up to Chris’s apartment at the intersection of Park and Delaware in shorts soaked with blood and alcohol.

You can see why I love this scar: It marks the beginning of my life with my late husband. I can’t regard it without remembering that day, that man, that life; I look at the closed wound, and the skin that formed around it, and recall our 20 years together.

My biggest scars show no outward trace. But in the the two and a half years since my kids and I absorbed the sudden blow of losing Chris, a rough but healing dermis has formed around that wound, as well. A whole lot of life has occurred between then and now. The grief is still there. We can put our fingers on it, feel the bone beneath it, see the pucker of skin around its glossy ridge. It never fades, not completely — and it can hurt like hell during a flare-up. But our lives have grown around it. And thank God, they just keep growing.

it’s only wafer thin

no mints for me.

no mints for me.

Some moments, on some days, what I find most baffling in life is exactly what I love about Monty Python: It’s all so surreal, all so reductio ad absurdum, with all its stuff and nonsense taken to the wildest logical extremes.

I often think of that restaurant sketch in “Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life” — when the humongous Mr. Creosote, having gorged and puked through several courses, is approached by a waiter, aka John Cleese, bearing an after-dinner mint. Mr. Creosote grumbles “no.” The waiter insists: “Eet’s only wahffer-theen.”

The scene ends with Mr. Creosote, aka Terry Jones in an inflating fat suit, exploding his voluminous undigested stomach contents around the restaurant while the waiter bolts for cover.

This is life, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I’m always one wahffer-theen stressor away from egesta-heaving overcapacity and detonation. Time gets eaten up by work, by my children’s needs, by the scratching and pecking and blogging I do in my “off” hours (ummm…), by calls to the cable guy, by trips to doctor, by making dinner and tidying up (and by “tidying up” I mean “flinging dirty dishes into the sink from across the room, to hell with it if they break”), by paying bills and juggling whatever other sharp objects and obligations rain down upon me in a frenzied whirlwind.

Like, for instance. Anytime any offspring of mine brings home a form for me to fill out and/or sign and/or append with lengthy vaccination records, I know that three things will happen. One, I will panic and say, sometimes inwardly, sometimes aloud, OH CRAP OH CRAP OH CRAP, followed by I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS RIGHT NOW, I’M FIXING THE @#!$%!! DOORKNOBS, followed by STICK IT OVER THERE ON THE TABLE, NEXT TO THE HORSE (and by “horse” I mean “cross-legged equine salt-and-pepper holder purchased at the Schaghticoke Fair”). Two, I will then postpone the filling-out and signing and vaccination-appending of this form until the last stupid minute, i.e., right when we’re all trying to get out the door in the morning. And three, I will spill coffee on it.

But, you know. It goes. The forms find their way to school. I find time to gas with friends, squawk on the violin or watch old episodes of “X-Files” with my son. (We loved that one about the self-elongating mutant who crawls through air ducts and eviscerates people!)

So the whirlwind carries me and all of us day to night to day, and then another night and another day, and somehow, employing some everyday magic of motherly prestidigitation, I and my offpsring make it through the week without exploding. And if anything else falls onto my plate, it’s only wafer thin.

this too shall pass

This weekend, I got a stomach bug. I will not go into any great detail, as I prefer not to offend the tender sensibilities of those I offended with last week’s horrifying mold photo, and if you suspect I’m going to find endless (and endlessly lame) excuses to link to it from future posts, you are correct.

But the stomach bug. Not the worst I ever got, but bad enough. What struck me, early on, was that old familiar sense of abandoning myself to the fates — that what-the-hell, here-we-go, whoop-dee-do resignation as I accepted the fact that I’d be flat-out miserable for the next 8 to 24 hours. And I was. Again: no great detail.

But here’s the kicker: I knew that I wouldn’t be miserable forever. I regarded this stroke of bad luck as finite, and in a flash, I recognized spasmodic abominable gastrointestinal distress as the perfect metaphor for life’s periodic grips of pain. They sneak up and slam us flat and maybe render us useless (or weak and dehydrated and headachy, with that awful, scraping burn at the back of the throat), but we know from that first stab in the gut that they won’t last forever. Maybe they’ll ease off, dupe us into thinking they’ve left, and then come back a few hours later with a fresh dump of agony. But then that’s over, too, and we awake in the morning with a clear head and an irrational swell of optimism. Life is good, right? Fantastic. Primo. Except when it ain’t.

Everything’s finite. Everything cycles in and out. Good and bad, clean health and illness, joys and sorrows: they all come and go, obeying some unfathomable but relentless clock that won’t let us live with anything for long, whether it’s a welcome anything or an unwelcome anything. Stomach bugs seize us and leave (sometimes at our children’s athletic events, no great detail), but so do bouts of wonder. So often we’re clenched by blessings — embraced by a child, caressed by a lover — in moments that feel eternal but end all too soon.

This weekend’s virus didn’t quite feel eternal, although certain moments in certain places hold a certain accursed fixedness in my imagination, and here’s where I really want to explain to that woman in the UAlbany restroom Saturday morning that I really wasn’t drunk. No great detail. But even in the most abysmal throes, I kept reminding myself that I’d feel better eventually, whether “eventually” meant later that day or, as it turned out, Annie’s bottom-dollar-betting tomorrow.

I’m sure I’ll get hit with another stomach bug someday. And when I do, I’m sure it will involve 8 to 24 hours of flat-out misery. But right now, typing these words, all is well. My kids are happy and accounted for; my bills are paid; my house is warm; my stomach is at peace, even downright euphoric with relief, and so am I. It’s just a moment. It will pass. But for now it’s a gift, and I’ll take it.

don’t you take that tone with me

photo (18)


So over the weekend I was cleaning out my fridge — BEFORE it started to smell like a landfill — and found, way, way, way at the back, hiding out like a poor, lost, fuzzy child, or maybe a fugitive from justice who’s been on the lam from Albany County Sheriff deputies for 87 years, the above advanced mold formation.

And when I say “advanced,” I mean it probably talks. In all likelihood it holds a Ph.D in some obscure academic discipline, like the history of peanut farming or Indoeuropean ethnohistoriographic geomorphology. If I asked it how long it had been in the fridge, it would respond, “Umm, twelve weeks, maybe?” and then add, “No, no, more like six months, it was before I grew the beard” before snapping, “Why the hell do YOU care, anyway? It’s kind of late to ask!” I would then turn defensive, saying I’ve only owned this particular fridge since late November, so Professor Snotty Fungus couldn’t be more than six weeks old, seven tops, at which point the mold would roll its eyes and say, “Whatever.”

At first, after liberating this sentient being from the back of my fridge, I wondered what form it had taken in its larval stage — i.e., when it might have been defined as “food.” I tried staring at it really close, but not too close, 1) because I’m far-sighted, and as I bent over my reading glasses slid down my nose into the fuzzy part, which, by the way, was wet; and 2) because it kind of scared me.

Then I recognized it. Do you? If you don’t, I don’t blame you; it looks more like Rip Van Winkle’s deformed lost twin, the one that got half-absorbed into the placenta before being born, than something that might in an earlier era have been consumed by anything other the occupant of John Hurt’s chest in “Alien.” Speaking of aliens, it rather resembles those flying neural boogers that sting Spock in the back in that old episode of “Star Trek,” doesn’t it?

Otherwise, I’m not going to say what it is. If you’re not too grossed out to give it a close look, you can guess.