Well, That Was Nice While It Lasted

I should have known it wasn’t going to be good when almost as soon as I got into the Trader Joe’s near our house, some brat in a the seat of a cart started that circle-breathing number they do where they screech mommymommymommymommy without, apparently, ever having to pause to inhale. Because an adult woman can’t put her attention on anything other than her brat for ten seconds. All I can say is, duct tape has many uses.

Unfortunately some of the brats are wandering around on two legs, and running the register. There we were on a Sunday when every headline in every news outlet worth the name was blaring about the extra-contagious Omicron variant, between two cashiers with their bare faces hanging out and a third at the register right in front of the manager’s box.

Yes, I asked to speak to the manager. Sooner or later it had to happen.

Who told me that “Corporate has decided that we go by the rules of the state we’re in, for instance DC still has a mask mandate but Virginia doesn’t,” blether blah witter, and “I wish I could do more,” natter babble.

I was really enjoying picking out my own produce and sampling those interesting cheeses and pasta sauces. First World problems, I know. I have to assume that it’s only a matter of a couple of weeks before we get confirmed cases of the new variant in the region, so I guess it’s back to ordering groceries in restaurant-sized quantities from Costco. At least, I won’t miss the screaming kids.

Oddly, the state-run liquor store requires masks. I have heard that for two weeks of a siege during the Indian Mutiny, the surviving officers of a garrison subsisted entirely on brandy, but I don’t think it’s a long term strategy. Seriously, does it hurt that much to wear a piece of cloth over your face?

Natasha, or, I Can See Dirt

“When,” I asked the Engineer as I reached the top of the staircase with a long-handled duster, “were you going to tell me that there were cobwebs in the first floor shower enclosure that belonged on the set of a Vincent Price movie?”

“Ah,” he replied. “I thought you would enjoy discovering them for yourself.”

(Later, he admitted that he just hadn’t noticed. I hope I am not being gratuitously sexist but this is probably something on the Y chromosome.)

You have to understand that it is two years since it became apparent someone had to operate on my eyes or I’d go blind. Two years of everything looking increasingly blurry because I was not getting this job done in the middle of a pandemic. Once one could go back in the grocery store armed, quite literally, with a vaccine (about June, for us), I discovered that I could not make out, standing in the middle of the aisle, what in the eternal fuck was actually on the shelves. Last Friday, I got my first pair of new glasses for my new eyes.

I can see dirt.

That faint blur next to the cat dish in the cellar that I thought was just a random stain on the concrete floor was a dead cricket. A dead cricket that’s been there for weeks. “Agatha was probably saving it for a snack,” said the Engineer.

I opened the casement windows at ground level in the finished room next door to the Cricket Mausoleum and washed two years’ of mud off them. I Windexed every mirror in the house.

There were a lot of cobwebs. “I hate to clean them out,” the Engineer explained when I suggested he had to have seen at least some of them. (The ones in the unfinished ceiling of the laundry area rivalled my neighbors’ Halloween displays.) “I feel bad for the spiders.”

Cobwebs are dust that collect on abandoned webs, and there is no reason not to clean them up, but he said he was concerned about Natasha.

I bit. “Natasha?”

“You know, on the lamp,” he said. I never kill spiders — they are holy, and eat icky little mites and such — and he had pointed out to me while we were lifting that one had made her home inside a lampshade in the finished room. When my eyes were finally fixed, I could see her. I was not aware he had named her Natasha.

After the Black Widow, apparently. Natasha Romanov, the Scarlet Johannsen character in the Marvel pictures. Oh.

(She is not a black widow. I think she is what is called a Common House Spider, with ridiculously long legs surrounding a pale body the size of a pinhead. She gives no trouble.)

On the one hand, seeing dirt is always going to be up to me. I accept that people have different levels of tolerance for this kind of thing (I have clients, for one, and we have a running joke about how if he takes a utensil or bowl out and sets it on the counter, I have washed it before he can use it).

On the other hand, he cares about Natasha. How can I not love this guy?

Better Than A Fork In Your Eye, But Only Just — Part Deux

When we last saw our heroine, she was at the end of her patience with a surgical scheduler who had clearly been mainlining Perky Pills.

It gets better.

You may or may not know the cataract drill. They come in and drench your eye with three rounds of five drops, so that after a half hour or so your pupil is dilated to roughly the diameter of a basketball hoop. Then they stick in an IV line, and then you wait behind the curtain, in this case listening to another patient narrating a lengthy, inane anecdote at just enough volume to upend your thought processes and hearing the nurses at the end of the waiting area asking if there have been any “sightings” of your surgeon (quotha).

The anesthesiologist warned me that I might be more aware of things this time. I need to find him and have a talk.

Remember the redheads and anesthesia thing? We need more and it’s slower to take? Wait for it: This time the pain drug didn’t kick in. AT ALL.

The first eye, while not the “mini-vacation” I was promised, was a painless, intriguing little adventure. I actually prefer to be as aware as practical during a surgery; I don’t trust doctors. And I didn’t really mind being aware this time of having my head duct-taped to the table (that peeling sound), or my eyelids taped, although when it came to the kind of rubber frammis they insert to keep your eye definitively open, I could have given it a miss. “You’re going to see colors and shapes,” said the surgeon.

Then he cut.

And I felt every bit of it.

I can state with confidence that I recall the point which represented the corneal border incision, the pressure involved in macerating the spoiled lens and the frantic spasming of all my eye-related muscles saying GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE, the squicky feeling that was probably the tissue being hydraulically flushed out, and the bruising sensation which I imagine was the prosthetic lens going in (another nasty cramp). “That actually hurts a lot,” I heard myself say distinctly with eerie equanimity, because while I was not numb, I was at least sort of sedated. It was like having cramps in the days before Ibuprofen. “Antibiotic,” said the surgeon without responding to me. And I’m pretty sure he shot it right into my eyeball.

The pain stopped about twenty minutes after they wheeled me down to the car. I don’t know if that was just because it stopped or possibly the drug started to finally kick in.

We had three hours to kill before an in-office check fifteen minutes away. The Engineer found a park on the local map on his phone, and propped me up for a rubber-kneed slow walk up and down a short loop trail, trying to blow off the goofy juice.

At the end of the trail we emerged from scrub vegetation and beheld this:

Three vultures. I think that was a rabbit carcass.

“What the fuck,” I said. “Any day the vultures aren’t interested in you is a good day.”

We drove over to the office and an optometrist peered in my eye and pronounced it good, then put in some numbing drops to test the pressure. She waited for the drug to take effect.

How’s your week going?

Better Than A Fork In Your Eye, But Only Just

So they did my left eye yesterday, after an orgy of administrative disorganization that would make Camp Runamuck look like the Prussian Army.

This, mind you, is the office that didn’t practically put me on a conveyor belt, ask a blind woman to sign in on a touchscreen situated for maximum glare, or drive to the end of Creation to get to their surgical facility. No, this is the place I turfed up after I got rid of he obvious assholes and had a medically qualified veteran of eye surgery help me with my homework.

The surgeon is apparently a Big Noise. He lectures on corneal disease and like that. Gee, You’re Wonderful, Professor. Everyone was courteous, sharp, had immediate answers, ducks in a row. I should have looked under the bed.

First eye went great, aside from the pesky nuisance of no longer having glasses that worked for either eye — something about getting one eye clear meant that even my old prescription didn’t correct the remaining eye. But I had an old pair of reading glasses (calibrated for merely legal blindness from nearsightedness; look at it this way, if your +2 reading glasses from CVS are on one side of a line, mine are the same distance on the other and would make you have to prop your book up on Mars). They kind of worked.

Nothing really works at the moment. But I get ahead of myself.

So they scheduled eye #2 for the first Wednesday in October. Before they even did eye #1, I got a call: oh they need me to come back in, the surgeon looked at the imaging that Dr. Frammis signed off on and wants it redone (they use some pretty Star Trek tech to map the inner eye, like a laser camera that realizes all ten cellular layer of the retina; mine was pronounced fabulous, which was comforting, at least one structure in there isn’t fucked up). Great shuffle and panic. Scheduling of a return visit. The phone tag that ensued would have done credit to Abbott and Costello; first the Engineer, who has to drive me to all this shit, had to ask me to reschedule because of work. We find a time. In an hour some other asshole calls back. The first asshole I talked to “doesn’t understand their schedule” and we have to look for another date. Three hours later I’ve lost track of the assholes, but it has to be rescheduled again.

Two days later I play back a message on my answering machine after work hours on a Friday. Surprise! The surgeon looked at my photos (didn’t he already?) and said it’s fine, no need to come in, but oh, he has a professional obligation and they will need to reschedule the second surgery.

Of course I can’t do shit about this till Monday. I get a twerp who coos in her Customer Voice that “we’d reached out to you a couple of times” (memo to Dante Alighieri: in what circle of hell do you put people who say “reach out” in this context?). “Yeah, in the last hours of Friday,” I said. “I don’t break out of patient appointments to take calls any more than your doctors do.” I find I get a little more respect if I refer to “patients” instead of clients. And by this time, I’m over being nice.

She offers me a time two weeks later than the one on my book. At this point I have just about had it and say “May I point out that [gives narration of past five days of phone tag clusterfuck] and now this, and [voice starting to break] is there anyone there who gives a crap?”

Like I said, done being nice.

Chirpy Asshole finally comes clean that the doctor who did my second pre-op check (measure twice, cut once) has “left the practice suddenly” and that accounts for some of the rescheduling, since she would also be doing followups (you get two for each eye, then a final one a month later). The sudden leaving was not explained, but a week later someone ELSE called to “go over the visit you had with Dr. Frammis” and ask searchingly if I FULLY UNDERSTOOD the surgery and the type of replacement lens I had asked for.

Dr. Frammis must have seriously fucked up. But Dr. Frammis is not my surgeon or even a surgeon at all, so I persevere.

A week before the reset surgical date, Chirpy Asshole calls to say they have to reschedule again because the surgeon has another “professional obligation” but can do it Friday instead of Wednesday of the same week. FINE. “You’ll have to come in for your followup the same day of course because it’s Friday.” (Narrator’s voice. Mama Sled, whose clients do not depend on her for life or vision, would fucking come in on a weekend if she had to jerk someone around this much, but then if she jerked people around this much, she wouldn’t have a practice.) “Thank you for understanding.”

“Actually, I don’t understand how Dr. Wonderful can be this out of control of his own schedule,” I said. “What the hell is going on?” So I get another tidbit of honesty: he’s doing this project with Johnson and Johnson and blather blether… You know, no matter how much moola some pharma giant offered me, I think I’d call my surgery day (clearly, with this guy, it’s Wednesday) SACRED. But that’s just me.

“Anyway, we appreciate your being flexible!”

“Honey,” I said, “what are my options?”

to be continued….

Like This

The purple has faded to a purer white. And the surgical eye drags the other eye along with it, so with both open I see about the same thing as I see with the right alone. But just to give you an idea what it’s like to lose a cataract:


I’m still kinda processing this.

Everything Is Purple

I was warned about this.

So my eye has been forked. They told me I would be so relaxed and spacey that it would be like a mini-vacation, which didn’t happen. Redheads and anesthesia: we’ve been here before. The only thing that happened was that an annoying charley horse in my right ass released and the stitch in my left ribs went away for a while.

They numb your eye with drops, so that was okay. And despite being told that I would experience the whole thing as happening in a few seconds, I got to sit through the entire ten or fifteen minutes, feeling them crank my eye open with a not uncomfortable gizmo and watching a series of pink, blue and green shapes do things in my near field of vision. It didn’t feel like it, but they were making a cut in the cornea, emulsifying the opaque lens behind it, and sucking it out like someone going after the last bits of a pumpkin spice latte with a straw. There were hydraulics, like when you get your teeth cleaned. A short bout of fidgeting doubtless represented settling the replacement lens in place. I am pretty sure I was awake through it all.

The one thing they were right about, though, is that what I can see of this screen through the perforated eyeshield they taped on — it makes me look like the Borg Queen on a budget — is purple.

Apparently cataracts filter light toward the yellow band of the spectrum. Your retinal cells compensate, overproducing the opposite color — remember color opposites in grade school, and the little trick where you stare and stare at a red light or color block and then close your eyes to see a vaguely identical green shape? Like that. My retina is turning everything purple. I don’t know how long this is going to go on.

It’s still normal on the left. Or yellow. I don’t know what the accurate description is. I am resigned to at least some days of a split screen existence.

This happens all over again next month.

The Flying Juror

Not like the Flying Nun, or the Flying Wallendas. More like the Flying Dutchman, doomed to sail the sea without ever finding port.

What happened was, they called me for jury duty. This has happened twice before in my life, on both occasions when I was up for some sort of surgical intervention. The third time, we were in the middle of a pandemic and I was allowed to defer by checking a box affirming that I was over 65.

So in our new Vaccinated States Of America, the deferment expired and they called me for today, two days before my cataract surgery. Someone in Management obviously got the program back on target.

I was about as eager to do this, two days ahead of getting a fork in my eye, as I was to get a job Simonizing seals, but I filled out the questionnaire, dutifully read the handbook and watched the fifteen minute video about court procedure. Most of this shit I already knew from a spree of true-crime reading in my 30s and a couple of locally set murder mysteries I churned out the year I hit 50, but it’s been a while. Then I had several meltdowns considering that I am already terrified about the eye operation and my most recent memories of the local Justice Center involve a bitchy deputy nearly yanking my arm out of the socket during a routine fingerprinting for my professional license, apparently under the impression that I was a garden variety arrestee (who shouldn’t be treated that way either).

Also I no longer have any “business casual” clothes to speak of, considering I do my job in a tee-shirt and gym baggies and have for 35 years, and made space in my closet years ago by getting rid of all the dress-up crap. I finally cobbled something with a maroon L.L. Bean tee, matching baggies and an old Deva Lifewear jacket left over from my spell of guerilla street theater as a protest campaign manager, which sort of feeds back into the county government thing, but that tale is told elsewhere.

The Engineer dropped me off at the Courthouse (it’s been over a year since I became too blind to be behind the wheel of anything) around two-fifteen, a solid quarter hour before I was required to check in. The usual drill: deputies screen you through a metal detector, which I set off shriekingly. Twice. It is a credit to my hip surgeon that I completely forgot until the end of this adventure that I am rocking a set of titanium tuchus, but apparently wanding me down satisfied the guy. I double checked where the jury coordinator could be found (my e-mail said 10th floor, but I find these things often lie). Two people gave two different answers. I set off on my quest.

The tenth floor was as echoing and empty as if it were after hours. A large neon-pink sign with large black letters — which, to my horror, I realized were the only signs in view that I could read at all — pointed me to the JURY ASSEMBLY ROOM.

Which was locked and, viewed through the glass of the door, dark and unoccupied.

I poked into an unmarked adjacent door. Utility closet.

A door on the other side of the lobby was marked as a courtroom. A police officer sat in the vestibule. I caught his eye and waved.

He waved back, and disappeared somewhere.

Finally a live human passed. I presented my plight and he told me to go to the Clerk of the Court’s Office on the sixth floor. “Does anyone know where Toni is?” yelled the genial young woman at the counter. Toni is the Jury Coordinator now, but back in the day when I was writing mysteries about the county government she was the secretary of the Board of Supervisors and had a minor supporting role. I decided not to mention it.

I was told to go to the 11th floor and report to courtroom 11A. I did that. Trial in progress. Hard nope.

A sheriff’s deputy makes an appearance and tells me to go to the sixth floor. I try to tell him that’s where I just came from. He starts to get in my face — “you asked me, I’m telling you” — because he is Law Enforcement and we are all there to make trouble for him, right? Finally he calls someone on his Bluetooth and tells me to go back to the tenth floor and someone will be along shortly.

I go back. There are benches, empty halls, and utter silence.

Finally Deputy Dawg shows up again. He is looking a little chastened by now and makes another call. Go back to the clerk’s office, he says. Nice Girl asks and I tell her. By now we are half an hour past my reporting time and I am envisioning citations and fines and possibly a mental health eval when I melt down. Finally someone finds Toni.

“Oh,” she said. “I sent a text about one-fifteen and told people not to report, they selected a jury from the pool that was already here.”

She texted my landline. In this great 21st century it is apparently assumed that all God’s children go through life 24/7 with a mobile phone up their asses.

At least I made thirty bucks on the deal, for showing up. “And,” I remarked, feigning affability, “I read the handbook and watched the video, so I learned something for if I ever write another crime novel.”

She didn’t drop a stitch. Probably didn’t read them.

The Millennium Falcon

I don’t think the Engineer has adopted the name yet, but I’m settled on it. I mean, it isn’t shaped vaguely like a Stealth fighter and it doesn’t actually fly, but when we were bringing it back up the Interstate I said “I bet this thing can do the Kessel run in under eight parsecs.”

(You did see how they ret-conned that in the last trilogy, right? A parsec is a measure of distance, not time, and someone helpfully explained that the Falcon’s drive warped space or something so that the actual distance diminished, like a tesseract. I only waited forty years for that.)

It’s got a touch screen that tells you who’s texting you and lets you answer calls hands-free (he doesn’t, too much of a learning curve), when it’s not displaying what you’re about to back up into. This can be annoying because our driveway tilts down a little and it screams bloody murder every time he backs out, warning him he’s about to run into… the street. Oh well.

It has a Sport mode that corners sharply and accelerates like a jackrabbit, and he kicked that in and cruised over to the next neighborhood where they have a lot of traffic circles, beguiling several minutes with executing tight turns and doing donuts in the church lot.

We are careful methodical people so last weekend we did a test run to make sure he was smooth with using a commercial car charger before he used it for a site visit. We zoomed it around on the riverside parkway to drain the battery a little, fetching up finally in the parking lot of a Wal Mart south of the city. Suburban strip malls are arid, draining places. Someone had set up a folding chair on the grass verge and was sitting there with an infant (thankfully sleepy or perhaps drugged). I don’t know why.

White science-fictiony pillars stood in a quadrilateral arrangement and we tried plugging the car into the first one. It didn’t like his Visa. Second try was okay. We learned that it charged about 15% capacity in as many minutes and that it slowed dramatically as it reached the 100% mark, I gather to keep the battery from exploding. For hours after we left the scene, he kept getting thank-you texts from Electrify America.

The next day he charged three times on a road trip. “There was a bad moment out near Centreville,” he said. “I plugged in the charging cable, my card got declined again and then the cable wouldn’t unplug.” Confronting the possibility of having to call Cooper’s roadside assistance perk on his first excursion, he resorted to the time-honored male method of “wiggle it gently till it slips back out.” “I still don’t know exactly what I did,’ he said.

Electrify America texted him for the rest of the evening.

As soon as he was back he plugged it right into the Juice Box. He can’t get enough of plugging that baby in. It’s a guy thing.

Die Mad About It

I make it a rule never to talk here about anything personal that clients tell me. Actually it’s part of the professional code of ethics we sign on to. So you are not going to hear anything that would remotely identify the guy I’m starting to hope I never see again, or any but the broadest mention of his life and doings.

He’s been coming for years. Various quirks, but the kind you can work around. Until now.

His work, before he retired, was in a field that would expose him to a daily dose of news. So I got nothing. Maybe he decided to retire from watching the news too. Because throughout the pandemic, he’s been calling every couple of months to ask if I were seeing clients yet. And every time I answered “no, because we’re still having a pandemic” he would hurry to reassure me “But I’m CLEAN!”


So finally he gets vaccinated, and we make a date. He shows up on my porch without a mask. I mime through the storm door window that he should put one on. He makes a disgusted gesture and walks back to his car, returning caparisoned in a mask bearing the logo of his favorite football team. “Do I have to keep this on the whole time?” he asks whinily. I remind him that Delta is running around out there and I am not taking chances.

Almost as soon as he lies down on the table, he lifts it away “to take a breath.”

I retreat to the hallway.

A few minutes later he says “It’s hard to breathe through these things.”

I get a three-ply surgical mask from the courtesy box by the door and say “These are easier to breathe through. Compliments of the house.” Okay, one general fact about him: he dropped a remark once, back in the Before times, that made it clear he was a garden variety homophobe. I made sure to hand him a lavender mask (I have a tasteful selection of pastels).

Not typically for him, he says “I’ll have to call you” when the time comes to make the next appointment.

Yesterday Tina, the colleague who gives me my massage, and has worked on this dude occasionally when I’m loaded up, tells me she ran into his personal trainer, with whom we’e both on chatting terms. “X is pissed at you,” she said. “He told Mike YOU MADE HIM WEAR A MASK.”

A week later this is what’s on his mind. Some people don’t have enough to do.

Not a MAGA, not a science-denier, not a wingnut so far as I can tell. Just someone who doesn’t fucking GET IT.

Yup. I made you wear a mask. Even if we’re both vaccinated, because this is not over. And so will Tina, if you go to her. Even if she’s got asthma and is the one doing the work. You can breathe through it just fine. You’re no more impervious to this thing than anyone else. Die mad about it.

Oak Itch Mites

So apparently this is something that happens after a cicada brood, though I honestly can’t remember experiencing it before, and I have weathered four cicada broods in this here burg. There are these little vandals called Oak Itch Mites which, expectably enough, cluster in oak trees, of which there are something like three or six on every lot in this town that isn’t a postage stamp, and their favorite thing in the world to eat is cicada eggs and so right after the brood breeds they go apeshit.

Why do I care? Because apparently their other favorite dish is humans, and if you are in contact with the ground they will find your ass, and I mean that very specifically.

Most bugs don’t bite me. I taste bad. These fuckers do not discriminate. I have a habit of pausing in my walk to park on a retaining wall here or there and stretch and chug from my water bottle, and every day I come back with another flaming welt on my backside. I could eschew the breaks, but the bionic hip thing still inclines me to leg cramps if I don’t. I just have to remember not to claw at my butt in front of clients.

I really did not need to know this fun natural history fact.

I know I have a bottle of topical Benadryl around here somewhere.