Follow me down the rabbithole

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

East meets west...and chaos ensues

I grew up on the right coast, somewhere about the middle.  New Jersey, to be exact.  I have very fond memories of the 60's and even into the early 70's of the beaches, being in the water, down the shore.  The pines were vast, silent, creepy expanses of possibility.  Atlantic City, Salt Water Taffy, the concrete boat, Lucy the Elephant...boardwalks, tram cars, diving horses, pork roll sandwiches...

All amalgamated into that East coast lump inside my head.  And that stuff is bottom layer, foundational concrete, unshakable, immutable, solid.

So why is it that whenever I try something that I used to do with ease back east is such a shitstorm out here?

Let's talk BREAKFASTS - at whatever time of the day that we eat breakfast foods.  Like 9 PM.

Making jelly.  Never measured, just poured off and watched, and knew when it was right.  Made gallons of grape jelly, apple jelly, you name it jelly.  Easy peasy.  Paraffin seals?  Snap.

Fast forward to Oregon.  Jelly doesn't.  Jell that is.  It's soft and squooshy...kind of crawls away from the knife when spreading it is attempted.  Tastes decently, but it's not jelly.  And whenever I pour over the paraffin tends to leak.  GRRR.

Baking anything.  I understand, new ovens, learning the timing, increasing or decreasing things according to that oven's quirks - hot spots... but Great Caesar's Ghost-I have been here for 6 years!  Either the damn thing is possessed, or I have to relearn everything I ever knew about cooking.

I am becoming convinced that I need to adjust for altitude.  In New Jersey, I baked at what was said to be the highest point south of Trenton - the high point of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  The Gibbsboro Radar Station was placed there for that reason, at the commanding height of 63 feet above sea level.

Phoenix Oregon is listed at 1,543 feet in elevation.  How much difference can 1500 feet up make?  Although the sites I have been looking at generally invoke high altitude at 3000 feet or so - it is easy enough to make tweaks to perfect the technique out here.  Lower the amount of yeast.  That one I would not have thought of.

Higher altitude means lower air pressure.  Means bread will rise faster and farther with less gas.  Fewer hungry yeastybeasties means less gas, but the gas that they do produce will be much gassier.  A double rise was suggested.  Meh. More liquid.  ABSOLUTELY!  Reduce sugar -again -less fermentation needed,,,

OK.  That all makes sense.  But why are eggs so hard to scramble out here?  What is in east coast eggs that makes them integrate completely when assiduously whisked?  Whites and yolks create a creamy, frothy eggy colored liquid that pours into a hot pan without separating and sliming... what is up with all that nasty slime, western eggs???  Western egg whites NEVER cease to resemble snot until they are within 14 seconds of becoming vulcanized rubber.  Gross.

Bagels are explained by source material.  No one out here makes bagels.  They make hard outercrusted doughy donut shaped baked bready products that do an adequate job of supporting cream cheese...but they ain't bagels.  And if you need to ask me what salt water possibly has to do with bagels - you never ate a bagel.

Sausage with biscuits and gravy - This one I have been cheating with - I have made decent gravy over those frig biscuits.  I'll go back to my own biscuits later this winter.

Pancakes.  What in the 7 hells is KRUSTEZE?  or KRUSTEEZ - or whateverthehell that box says here...

They obviously have no idea just how fundamentally UGLY that combination of letters is.


It doesn't automatically say its name when you read it - you have to stop and sound it out a couple of different ways.

And some of those ways are downright UNFORTUNATE when linked with a food product.

First of all - it does say it is crusty.  That's what scratched-open bug bite wounds became back in the day.  Crusty.  

Then there is that warning in the middle.   R-U-S-T

To me - rust means that fungus that infects grains - and especially ergot on rye.  So now we have a crusty pancake that might cause you to hallucinate more than morning rush hour can.

The name ends with a z.  That's horrible.  In that font, that z at the end could be LOTS of letters - like... KRUSTEAL - great.  It's either blue, purloined, or both.

If bleary morning eyes read the logo with a t - we sit down to break our fast with KRUS TEAT.  A crusty tit.  BLEAH.

Out west - we get blue, stolen crusty wounded tits with hallucinogenic properties to pour maple syrup over.

Pumpkin Spice Flavor.

Of such does great despair spring.   Or a preference for Scotch Eggs in the AM.  Hell Yeah.

I bid you Memento Vitae!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Memento Mori/Vitae...and laundry and other bits and mathoms


If you are disturbed by disturbing images, you better do something else for the next few minutes.  My fascination with the dark side is emerging.  I have looked into the abyss.  It left scars.  This helps soothe them, much like pouring water on an oil fire will spread the fire.  In this case, however, it is affirmation that humans have always looked into the abyss...and survived.  Spreading that pain over larger pools of sufferers does lessen it somehow.  OR in far less wordy terms...misery loves company.

First normal day since the trip started.  Pain at relatively good levels, still that circulation issue in the toes.  As soon as I can get out on Monday, I will have to call the foot doc.  *Pokes phone bills*

Got all the laundry out of the bags, along with all the memento vitae from the trip.  Ah., memento vitae.  Well, those loony Victorian English people (and Gawds knows I LOVE me some Victorian English stuff, so loony is quite affectionately said) went about creating memento mori (those delightful portraits made from dead people's hair, or those pieces of jewelry that incorporated skulls and other body parts...not to mention those post mortem posed formal portraits that are absolutely deliciously chilling in their stark beauty.  Allow me to demonstrate.

This beautiful brooch is made from human hair.  According to this excellent websitethis might have been made from the deceased one's hair.  Imagine the work involved!

Rather a goth look to these very old pieces...sorry, kids.  Ain't nuttin' new under the sun, really.

But these photos?  See for yourself.


Far be it from me to attempt to assess the grief relief that these practices brought to the families.  But posing dead and living children together would require a home atmosphere that would be alien to many of us, who are programmed to accept death as an institutionalized, depersonalized process - calls are made, bodies moved about, services scheduled, and all at a remove from the home in which the deceased actually lived.  Children are taken somewhere formal to view dead relatives, an act which automatically increases the separation and distance.  Good?  Bad?  Hardly MY call.  But I can't help but think that these same Victorians, whose death practices are so different that I felt compelled to post a trigger warning at the beginning of this piece, would view our mechanical, papershuffling, by the numbers death process to be just as horrifying.  Different strokes.

So, all this in explanation of my new motto - MEMENTO VITAE.

If memento mori means remember death - then memento vitae is remember life.  And that is what I intend to do - each and every one of my remaining HUGE BACKSTOCK OF DAYS!!!

So, I bid you, Memento Vitae.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Holy Shite...Literally

There comes a time in every writer's life when the sheer volume of words inside one's head aren't enough to express the way one is feeling.  But, being writers, we are obsessed with trying to find those words anyway.  This is one of those times.

I am comfortable back in my nest, surrounded by all the well loved familiar things that keep me going.  My computer!  A real keyboard with enough room between the letters so that I actually spend more time typing good words, than muttering as I back space through typos.  Whoever designed smart phone keyboards has never seen the marshmallows that pass for my fingertips.  I can mash 5 letters with a single misplaced poke.

My kitties!  Mikey and Spooky...who apparently went walkabout on their own during a hellacious thunderboomer.  Never been outside the house, and venture out during a wild storm, typical kittie behavior.  Thanks so much to Marina, who squirmed under the back porch to drag the Spookster out by the scruff of his neck.  I haven't yet made up the quantity of snacks that I missed giving them they haven't fully forgiven me for disappearing on them.  But they will.  I have lots of snacks.

I feel good.  REALLY good.  Physically, anyway.  I woke this morning with toe pains...just lack of circulation overnight.  As soon as I started walking around, it subsided.  GREAT rejoicing!  I will need to see the foot doc as the left toenail site is starting to look really weird.  It is almost a month since they cut off that toenail - and boy howdy, wasn't THAT fun, scampering all over America's biggest cities, dragging 2 suitcases with BOTH feet bandaged up and those vulnerable toes hanging free to be run over by every wheeled bag within 5 feet!  Both feet?  Ah well, about that...

Readers of this blog might recall that I banged up my left great toenail on the driveway gate...a stupid move that required immediate attention...anyway...

On the morning of my mother's funeral, I was on my way down to the lobby when I tripped over a dust kittie in the hotel hallway.  Managed to hit the floor JUST right with the edge of the sandal.,.and ripped that left toenail straight up.  90 degrees from the nailbed.  Looked just like a Zippo lighter.

Back to the room, unpack the wound care kit, wrap up this NEW issue, then off to the service.  Just another medical day.

I made no secret of my medical condition, or of the cannabis that I am using to cure it.  Train passengers are a captive audience, and I did not waste the opportunity to educate my fellow travellers.  I argued cannabis reform though most of America's Heartland, the Great Northeast, the Deep South, and finally was able to give it a rest westbound once I cleared that last state border out of Utah.  Nevada, California and, of course, Oregon don't need as much homegrown advocacy these days, and it was relaxing to sit back and know that the work was well underway in this stretch, anyway.

I would REALLY like to hear from anyone that met me on that trip.  I will post pics, itinaries, etc.  If you saw me, talked to me, interacted with me, please communicate with me.  I would like to send you a quick and dirty questionnaire about traveling with a cannabis patient...just your impressions.  On some trains, I was bold and brash about cannabis advocacy, on others, I kept my head down and listened.  It was a social experiment on my part...and now I want to gather the data.

Did you see me?  Here I am in Washington DC, keeping a dragonlady eye on our lawmakers.  We are watching you, Big Brother!!!

(And just because I have my back to the Supreme Court Building, don't assume that I can't see what you are doing back there...I am a mom AND a high school teacher.  The eyes in the back of my head work very well, indeed!)

I am closing this entry to get it more item off the to-do list for the day - just leaving you with another link...I finally got someone ELSE to publish me - see Thought Catalog here >>>

Love to all that read this far, and to those that didn't.  Make today the best day yet.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Be careful what you wish for

I have alluded to the idea that this blog serves a therapeutic function for me.  Screw allusion - flat fact statement.  Writing puts things in an order which then is reviewable.  Catching stray thoughts at the best of times is fireflies at treetop level stuff...effervescent, ephemeral, fascinating, but impossible to corral and number and correlate and cogitate.  Writing creates a real about the words.  And the words I need to type next are some of the most real I have ever had to type.

Be careful what you wish for.  Just yesterday afternoon, I was feeling very energetic, positive and excited to tell a friend that I was challenging the universe to 'bring it' this summer - pile up the whole mountain of shit at once, let me get over the top, then leave me alone for the rest of my life.  No nickle and diming me over the next 30 years with one thing after another -  let's get all the shit out of the way once and for all.

The universe answered.

My mother passed away Tuesday morning.  I found out tonight, thanks to a resourceful niece who managed to make enough contact for me to know I needed to call my sister.

Mom died as she lived.  On her terms, in her way, at her convenience.  Betsy, my sister, told me that Mom had been gradually diminishing, developing serious medical issues that should have been fatal by 2012.  Mom was driving herself to dialysis after that deadline.  That's our mom.

She had moved into assisted living when she decided she was no longer able to remain alone.  Betsy and the rest of the family accommodated that, as well as everything that could have been done to ensure that Mom was as well off as her health permitted.  Over and over Betsy told me how much all of Mom's caregivers expressed their love and caring for her.  Mom had that effect on people.  She stuck with you.  She would probably be surprised to hear me confess that I ever actually listened to her - but then again - nah.  She knew.

I am going back.  Bridges to build, if possible, or at least, things said that need to be said.  Whatever the outcome, it's time.  Much to do to get a trip together in a day - but that can be done.  I am sure that there will be lots of Mom stuff showing up here now, along with trip I a Horrid person that the idea of a cross country train trip...despite the reason...has a certain appeal?  Lots of time to read, think, heal, and see things that I will probably never see again.  Silver linings.  Selfish ones, but, forward is a direction that requires impetus to whatever motivates one to accomplish what needs to be done, selfish as it might be, is, in the end, justifiable.  Rather Machiavellian, Mel.  But none the less accurate for all of that.  If I cannot be forgiven in trying to seek a little mental relief and pleasure in a trip with such a sad purpose, then may you find your joy where you best can.  I love trains, always have, and have had a cross country train trip on my bucket list since the time I took the train alone up to see my family graduate from Penn State.  That was a wild weekend.

The train tracks paralleled the Susquehanna River through the Harrisburg area.  It is a beautiful trip, with the mountains and rivers, the forests...and Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant smack dab in the middle of the river.  As you approach, you can see those iconic towers off to the left, long before you actually draw even with them.  On the night I was traveling this way, Three Mile Island had been making headlines for a little over a year - near miss meltdown kind of headlines.  Like Fukushima, the news cycle had long passed, but anniversaries, or new studies, would bring Three Mile Island back to the top of the hour every so often.  Aware of this, and armed with my 35 mm SLR, I was poised for shots of the towers.  My underthinking was, as usual, simple.  If the pictures come back fogged, I have been exposed to beaucoup radiation.  If they come back clear - so am I.  One outcome or the other.  Just the way I like things.

I began shooting as soon as a tower cleared the treetops.  The train was not moving terribly fast, and I saw that I would have plenty of time to set up sampling shots.  I wasn't in this for the art, after all.  Just a DIY dosimeter.  I took about one shot every minute and a half, leisurely shooting, waiting for the moment that we were directly opposite the towers.

The train stopped.  Dead.  No clickety-clack, no hymie mynoosh, no nada.  Directly across from a nuclear accident bad place.  And we are sitting there like...well...I have NEVER been able to look into a rotisserie chicken cooker since.  I kept shooting, since there wasn't fuck else I could do, now was there?  I am trapped in this can, on these tracks, across from that.  And no cell phones, no internet, no gameboys, no radios, nothing what so bloody ever to distract oneself from the view...except the imagination.  DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!

I had some serious anxiety blinkings by the time the train started back up.  Memory (always an unreliable narrator, as I have too oft mentioned) says the stop was 10 minutes.  Memory ALSO remembers those 10 minutes lasting at least 82.  Like the last 2 minutes in football.  Run the tape of JUST the actual plays - yeah - 2 minutes elapse.  But if you need to pee, and the score is close - those 2 minutes can last a lifetime!

The train picked up speed, somehow I learned that there had been a log across the tracks, and we needed to stop while it was removed.  Anxiety wondered WHY a log was across the tracks JUST THERE...overactive imagination ran with that ball for a while, and the wait to get those pictures developed  (OLD SCHOOL DAYS... Take the metal canister to the drugstore.  Fill out the envelope with all the pertinents.  Seal the canister in the envelope, peeling that nasty gummy sealant off your fingers as you drop it into the available slot...and wait a week.  Drive back to that drug store, wait at the photo pick up counter while some kid lackadaisically flips through a veritable mountain of identical envelopes...and all the while you are remembering every radiation PSA you sat through...GAH.)

The pics were fine.  Solid, clear focus, not over artistic, snapshots rather than photographs.

But on to the train station at Huntingdon, where my parents picked me up and informed me that our family dog Pepe had been struck by a car and killed while staying our at my grandparents house.  One of the few times I saw tears in my father's eyes.  He and his buddy.  As I said, a wild weekend - which featured the graduations, with parties, ceremonies, speeches...great Gawds...speeches.  There was a military celebration for my brother in law - impressive, with speeches...the actual graduation...with speeches... and all this undeveloped film can ticking away inside the same camera I am using to shoot graduation photos - which were some of the coolest that camera ever produced, IMHO.

Anyway - that train ride, and many, many others... each year to New York City at Christmas, around the Horseshoe Curve, the East Broad Top (now closed - too sad to link to that final page) ...somehow it is entirely fitting that I travel to my mother's service - 'twas her side of the family who were the railroaders, and from who I derive my passion for them - via train.

Much love to those that read this far, and to those that do not.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Caucus Race

If anyone actually reads this - they might have noticed a particular whimsical theme in these here parts.  Alice, whether in Wonderland or on the other side of the Looking-Glass, faced incredibly bewildering and terrifying situations - and came out just fine.  Home in time to make sure that Dinah got her saucer of milk for tea.  Learned a lot about the world, herself, and her place in it in the process.

I cannot swear that Alice was my first fantasy heroine, but her story has travelled with me for decades now, an old comfortable sweater, worn at the elbows, but warm, familiar and reassuring.  I come back to Alice when the world above the rabbit hole moves faster than I can.

That happened this morning.  I went to the foot doctor expecting to talk about possible surgical removal of my horrid toenails...and the possible became the actual.  He cut off my entire right big toe nail.  It happened so matter-of-factly that I had no time or reason to ramp up the panic machine.  In retrospect - what a blessing!  I did not have three days of build-up, countdown, or any other cliche that implies doing nothing but freaking out about impending FOOT issues.  Instead - the toe was painted with iodine, stabbed with that kind of anesthesia that I was assured did not exist(up in Alaska), and from that point on - I only felt a "presence" at my foot.  I could feel things being moved about, manipulated, pulled at, but no other sensation - no pain, in other words.  However, the lack of actual physical pain did little to decrease the mounting anxiety that SOMEONE IS FUCKING WITH MY FEET!!!!  RED ALERT!!!  DIVE!! DIVE!! SHIELDS UP!!  WARP 6, MR. SULU!  OPEN THOSE HAILING FREQUENCIES!!!  USE THE FORCE!!!  PREPARE TO REPEL INVADERS!!!

Oh gawds.  My worst nightmare.  In broad daylight.  Made manifest and whole by the whim of some incalculably sadistic oppositional force.  Or just the worst fucking luck in the universe.  You choose.
I actually volunteered to let someone cut an open wound into my foot.  That makes my judgement so suspect that I can't decide which fate to blame.  Hardly matters, in any case.

Move on.  Keep running as fast as you can to stay your ground.  Run your own pattern, start and stop when you see fit.  Well, today I started a new Caucus race.  One that started totally randomly, onto which I must impose my own pattern.  Only I will know when I am dry enough to stop.

To mix literaryness...So it begins.  (You knew there would be a Tolkien quote eventually, didn't you?)

I am scared.  No, terrified.  I have a head full of shitty memories, of unrelenting, unremitting pain.  But what I am armed with THIS time - is cannabis.  I had access to it in Alaska,,,but I worked for the police department.  Can't have a dispatcher using medical cannabis off-duty!  FAR better to have her sitting here jazzed to the eyebrows on vicodin, eating 36 advil every day...much superior a solution!

So.  I am building a skyhook, onto which I WILL confidently hang my future mental stability.  And I mean that in the most literal sense.  This is the acid test.  IF I can come through this round of foot shit in relatively normal fashion...I can lay THAT ghost to rest once and for all.  I need to believe that the cannabis will promote that kind of good healing - in addition to cleaning out that pesky little breast cancer issue.  I am asking a lot of a plant.  But I am asking it of a plant that will deliver.  Guarendamntee it.

Make today the best day yet.  Love to all that read this far - and to those that did not.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Better Directions - Look to your Right

Over in the right hand side bar are the new pages that I have been adding.  Please check them out to see what has been happening lately with my cancer, and my cannabis treatment for it.  I am writing this blog as healing therapy.  Sometimes it is just a mind dump.  Feel free to skim that stuff, looking for the good bits.  I got a degree in English successfully doing that.

There are two sets of pages.  One will be a daily log of dosages and effects, and the other will be various pictures that may - or may not - have a whole lot to do with the daily log.  This medicine makes it tough to multitask, and figuring out how to consolidate all this will have to wait until I can spend a couple of hours in this oven of a living room working it out.  Mark your calendars for late Sept. for that to happen, methinks!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The OTHER side of paradise...the wrong side

Let's go back to Bethel, shall we?  Nothing new on the medical front, except that the Medical Industry has figured out a way to distort time - give you a whole week to ponder cancer test results, and that week lasts at least 4 years and 3 months.  Lots of time to think...and remember...

{EDIT:  Now and forever, all names of people not currently here with me are made up out of my ass.  The incidents are all real, although some may be combined for artistic purposes.  In other words, everything really happened, but not to whom I am saying it did, or even that it all happened to the same person at the same time.  I claim storyteller's right to entertain by choosing the narrative.  Unlike some..many...most chroniclers, however, I do assert that all of this really did happen.  To someone.}

I mentioned earlier how disconcerting the Yup'ik language can be to a non-Native.  Here is a short video that samples this odd language - and I mean odd only to my ears.  To a Native - this is right, and what comes out of my mouth is odd.  I tell you three times - this language is really different, just another mind fuck for me.  But, at a distance, I can see other things about Alaska, and I spent some therapeutic time on this blog, and watching these videos.  This is the first time I have sought this kind of thing, and there is loveliness there.  Take a little while, visit some of those videos and look for the Yup'ik STORYTELLER video on that page - awesome way to spend an hour! (And a nice balance for the negativity that I am spewing forth...again, therapeutically.  I am using this time to write down my Alaska stories - some have heard some of these...and getting this stuff out on paper has always been therapeutic for me - no matter what flavor the particular stuff happens to be at the moment.  I still have high school journals - in dwarf runes - tucked away, survivors of a cross continent move - and then a big return to Oregon...only my precious survived that kind of culling)

Weird.  I just scrolled through those videos, and recognize a lot of things, but that was a part of Alaska that was closed off to me.  I was the wrong race, possibly the wrong gender, although things never got to that point very often, and I was a local celebrity for all the wrong reasons.

Isolation is the keyword for Bethel.  Nothing gets in or out easily.  Not people, goods, supplies, cars, firetrucks or entertainment.  There are satellite dishes that bring in whatever stray frequencies are bouncing around the Sub-arctic tundra, but by and large, the entire community of Bethel spent a good deal of the time with a police scanner squawking in a corner somewhere.

We were more than ready for prime time.

Cop shows are silly for many reasons, but communications between dispatchers and cops/firefighters, etc, are a never ending source of WTF on the rare occasions that I get in front of a TV program.  Granted, the usual ebb and flow of code-numbers, international alphabet, inside references would be confusing to most audiences...but not the loyal listeners in Bethel!

A standard radio request was for a "10-27,10-29".  This meant that the officer wanted me to access the subject's DMV file, check his current driver's license status, and also see if he had any "wants or warrants" - wants being a note that someone wanted to make contact with a subject (someone being an official, state trooper type person, or such-like personage.)

The standard response would go = 10-27 returns current, valid, class D, 10-29 returns clear - the subject has no wants or warrants.  This was pretty much an automatic exchange whenever officers contacted anyone for more than a brief stop - whether the subject was being taken into custody, had a traffic stop, or was just drunk in public.

Typical night - Bravo 4 contacted a frequent flier - a villager who was well known for coming into Bethel and spending each night in Protective Custody (PC) - being held in a jail cell for 12 hours to sober up.  Sure enough...he was in need of PC.

"Bravo 4, PD"
"Go ahead, Bravo 4"
"10-29 Last of  Charles, first of Joe"

Before I could acknowledge, a remote voice came from the speakers.

"10-29 returns clear, last of charles, first of joe, last known 20 Kwethluk"

From the back seat, this intoxicated individual had just provided a perfect response to the officer's inquiry.  How many bad guys in Medford would be able to do that - especially since he recorded a BAL (Blood Alcohol Level) of .312 that night?  Most people are barely conscious with numbers that high - not this gentleman.  More on BAL in a moment.

Had this gentleman been present at so many of these exchanges from the back seat that the protocol was drilled into him?  Possibly...but there was something else at work here.  Bethel rules - nothing works as you are used to it working.  Bethel makes its own rules.

Whenever I ventured out of work or the house, I was headed somewhere else, somewhere public.  A store.  The post office.  The courthouse.  And no matter WHERE in town I was, as soon as I said my first two words in public (whatever those two words might happen to be), someone within earshot would whip around, point that freaky Pod People finger at me and exclaim loudly,

 "You work for the Police Department!"  Was it tattooed on my fucking forehead in ink only visible to everyone else in the whole town?  What the fuck!  I knew not one thing about ANY of these people and they all knew me.  And I was automatically down one strike for being non-Native.  Now the knock-out punch - I was part of the non-Native population that was trying to impose itself on the Native culture, with more negative than positive results, AND I was somehow responsible for all the misery caused when police are needed.  3 strikes and the last two were simultaneous.  I am out and never even saw the punch coming.  Excuse the mixed sports metaphors.  Yes, I know better.  Yes, I am deliberately using them to convey the confusion that minds can feel in Bethel.  It's a literary device.

("Said gently and warmly, "Thanks for letting me be a teacher again.")

So now that we are back to DID everyone in the place know me for what - if not exactly who - I was?

My South Jersey Accent and the prolific use of police scanners.  I was the night radio personality - the kind that I used to listen to in my insomnia days - nights in Jersey.  Except they played great music - underground rock in the 70's, etc.  I played life and death dramas.  Earlier radio.  I was The Shadow, Orson Wells, and Doctor Demento each and every night.  But my fans were not seeking my autograph, but a piece of my hide...about the same size as the one taken out of their brother's leg when he charged an officer while under the influence...

And I was the voice that let them know what was burning, and if they knew the family that stayed there.  (No one lives anywhere in rural Alaska - they stay places, unto the unth generation.  He stays on Mission Road.  He has stayed there his whole life, like his father before him.)  I was the voice that let them know who was coming toward them, and why.  Sirens carry a long way on the Tundra, and people are curious...desperately so in such a bleak and remote place.  I was reassurance and fear, hope and despair, tragedy and comedy.  But the dramas were real, the injuries were bleeding loved one's blood, and intoxicated tempers could flare at any moment, given any spark.  Low and slow were my moves, using the survival skills that brought me through night time Philly alone back in the beforetime.  Wrong.  I went out less and less.  I finally gave up on trying to suss out the proper signals -the nonverbal ones.  What movement, eyecontact, noneyecontact, nonmovement, mouth shape, shoulder position, stance, bearing, etc etc would solve this anthropological problem for me in the next 30 seconds or so?  Nothing worked.  I was still menaced with what to ME were threatening glares, crowding of my personal space, raised voices meaning anger - all of MY cultural signals were sending fear waves on overdrive, and that might not have been what they were conveying at all.  Roger speaks highly and very sentimentally about the Native people, and he was there for 30 years.  He saw other sides of them that I, in my profession, would not.  I saw the criminals, the alcoholics, the ones who would or could not conform to law...which wasn't necessarily theirs, but imposed on them.  Sometimes the imposition was made in order to correct an evil that was imposed by contact with other cultures - the whole alcohol law mess up there.  And alone, in those public places, opening my mouth made all of that happen, right there and then, in real time.  The only places I felt safe were at work, in Roger's cab, or in the house.  Not much chance to interact with people on any basis other than taking their calls for help when you live like that.

(N.B.  That is one reason that I am so fervently against cannabis prohibition.  I saw the futility of trying to legislate that kind of behavior with a substance that KILLS people, their culture, their families...and cannabis would be such a kinder, gentler choice for those for whom alcohol is now the only way out on a winter's night.  The prohibition caught SOME of the booze destined for the villages...but I took the calls when that failed and someone was 10-56 (highly intoxicated) and presenting a danger to himself and others.  If prohibition really worked, I would never get those calls.  I got them on regular alcohol, on pruno, and the most memorable, the Village Peace Officer who called to find out if DUI counted on a snow machine if the subject had been drinking shoe polish.

"Shoe polish?" I repeated, making sure I had heard correctly.

"Shoe polish."  He affirmed.

"Is that alcohol?" I asked, googling as I spoke.  The VPO was faster than our satellite connection.

"It is when you take a can of shoe polish and turn it upside down on a loaf of white bread.  You drink what comes out the bottom.  They say black is the strongest."

"If its alcohol, it's DUI.  Are you bringing him in?  Do you need a trooper?"

"Nah - the VPSO drank the evidence, so I will just cuff him overnight and call the troopers in the morning.  Good night, miss."

It was the matter-of-fact detail about the black that was the worst mind fuck.  He reported it to me totally pro forma - he had called the state troopers, was speaking to a non-Native, henceforth someone to whom one is professional, and reported this just as he had been trained.  To him, this was routine.  To me...Bethel makes its own rules.  Stroke 97 or so.

Rambling on about alcohol, some more to share.

High BAL numbers  (or as we called it) their ETOH, were nothing unusual.  Low numbers were.  More than once, an officer muttered and swore at the machine when someone blew anything under a 2.0.  That number was not possible in Bethel, so the machine must be broken.  But high numbers?

The highest I saw - and I actually handled the tape - was a .666.  I saw the subject walk into PD, not well, but moving his own feet and more or less upright...saw him stagger down the hallway and collapse into the breathalyzer seat, and attempt to converse with the officer.  This was hampered by 2 concerns.  His intoxication, and the penny he had secreted under his tongue to fool the breathalyzer.  But he made a valiant effort!  The officer was fairly fresh from the academy - and to Bethel - and he came scampering up the hallway to dispatch, tape fluttering in his wake.

"Can this be right?"  he enthused as he thrust the tape at me.  (The machine we used spit out the results just like a cash register receipt tape).  I looked at it, and took it to find a better light source.  (Dispatch was always dark, except for the 4 monitors that surrounded the dispatch station)

There it was.  .666.  Fucking amazing.  The subject, meantime, was idly testing his cuffed wrist, and managed to slide halfway to the floor.  I silently pointed up at the drunk cam monitor, and the officer gulped and rushed back.  That subject, once freed, actually got to his feet and walked OUT of PD, got into the squad car and was transported to the hospital for a medical OK before being taken on to the jail to check in for the night.

A most reliable source told me that there is a 700 club on the Delta - a collection of individuals who have managed to blow an ETOH OVER .7 - and lived.  Someone with a more scientific bent can correct or confirm this, but I understand this means that 70 percent of the stuff circulating through those people was alcohol.  That's insane, even when you consider the antifreeze properties.  Especially when you consider those.

Alcohol is deceptive.  Drunks are not able to make good choices.  Mix the two, and you have one reason for the death rate in the bush.  Drunks get lost.  Blizzards can get people lost 5 feet from their own door when they are stone cold (pun fully intended) sober.  Mix the two, and you have another reason for the death rate.  Drunks get nasty.  Weather forced people to remain indoors, in each other's spaces, for extended periods of time.  Nasty drunks that have been cooped up together for a month or so are another reason for the death rate.  Shit sure is interesting in the bush.

"9-1-1, What is your emergency?"

Difficulty factor:  This call came in on the Trooper line - a dedicated phone line that was transferred from the Trooper post to the Bethel PD when the troopers packed it in for the night.  That phone received calls from all over the Delta - and I had NO idea where this caller was from.  The call would have been nav-sat in origin, as there are no phone lines or cell towers out there.  There were some nav-sat rigs throughout the villages, and there might have been other tech that I did not need to know about, since this was essentially the Trooper's turf, and I was acting as the answering service - more or less.

What to do now?  There is no way to trace those calls, no caller ID, no nada.  No name, no location, and an area the size of the state of Oregon to search - in the winter.  Yeah.  Right.

The phone rang.
"GRRRRR  Are the troopers coming?  I can't keep running all night!"
"Where are you?"
"Who are you?"
"Albert Tom"
"Keep moving, I will find some help."

Now with a village name, and a subject name, I could act.  Flip through the oversized rolodex that was the village contact listings, find the VPSO (Village Public Safety Officer), and...

Shit.  The VPSO is Albert Tom.  The only cop in town is being chased by a chain-saw wielding brother.

Flipflipflip - Ah,  Numbers for tribal council members, store managers, elders... I start dialing.  Kwethluk is not all that far from Bethel - not nearly as far as calls can originate (I took some calls that were over 300 miles away - basically someone in Portland calling for help from someone in Medford.  And there is NO I-5 stretching across the tundra!)  If a situation was bad enough to require a trooper there immediately - one would fly out to the village.  There was a bush pilot on call in Bethel 24/7 who would make the most amazing things happen out there.  Frequently, these trips were in darkness from start to finish, and villagers and pilots work together to make it happen.  Every vehicle in the village with a head light is driven to the air strip - which is cleared as best as it can be - and when the pilot approached, all the headlights are turned on to illuminate the strip.  These would be four-wheelers, snow machines, with only the occasional jeep or 4 wheel drive.

But Kwethluk was only 15 miles or so upriver.  A trooper could drive there in half an hour or so.

Drive?  Hasn't this woman been saying that there are no roads out's open tundra...

All true.  But the Kuskokwim river freezes and has its own state highway number.    (Please click that link for the proper visual aids, says the teacher.  The song is the shit as well!)

I called the on-call trooper and relayed the information.  Albert Tom was rescued from the chainsaw massacre, his brother got some punitive action (the usual slap on the wrist, and a "note in your official record") and life, such as it is in Bethel, went on.

It's getting bothersomely hot here in the house, so I will go sit in the quiet corner and let some more minutes tick by.  At least the hemp oil doses are keeping me upbeat and able to remain calm and relaxed.  Without it, I would be drooling in a bucket while my mind raced through every single outcome...and then worried itself to death about the outcomes it could not think of!  Such is life in OCD land.  Once that worm bites, it burrows in until...GAH...the brain implodes, or some shit.  I don'r know, I always manage to detrigger it before it gets to that point.  However, cannabis does the detriggering for me for the most part.  Diverting into better channels is FAR easier when medicated.  Rose colored glasses?  Delusional thinking?

I have been waiting since Tuesday to find out if I have cancer or not.

For the love of all your gods, let me keep those rose colored glasses.  They won't change the outcome of the tests - those results are already in the lab.  I just don't know them yet.  But they are a reality.  Why should I endure the misery of the waiting period by not medicating?  In addition to the physical conditions that the hemp oil is treating, any physician or member of the medical industry will confess that a patient's mental state is a huge part of the outcome.  They will bicker like alewives over the exact percentage of advantage a good mental state is...but the view from inside the patient's head is pretty clear cut.

Positive thinking while facing dire medical news is 100 percent of the battle.  The last time I was looking at a medical situation like this was in Alaska, as noted elsewhere.  I had about the worst mental state that one can have in that environment - harsh weather requiring multiple layers around my feet, which increased all the nasty effects, a sedentary occupation and lifestyle which added lethal pounds to an already obese frame, a lack of sunlight which astonished me...

Not that I didn't know Alaska was dark a lot.  In fact, before going there, that was a positive factor in my decision.  I have always loved the night, taking night shift jobs whenever there was that option (and not just for the late shift bonus - that really was bonus for me!) and being in so much MORE darkness was really appealing.

Holy shit.  THAT much darkness was unceasing, neverending, abysmal, depressing, frightening, miserable, nasty... darkness of epicshitstorm proportions.  It never fucking ended.

I chose the midnight shift whenever possible as a dispatcher.  The best shit happens in the middle of the night - which is a much longer period of time in Alaska than it is down here!  And, nights are my best time.  Or so...

I discovered my first year that the sun only rises for a few dim hours midday in Bethel.  You might get a 20 minute stretch when headlights would be optional, but it's dusky, darkly lit.  As a night shift worker, you are asleep when this occurs.  You get up in the dark, you work in the dark, you go to sleep in the dark.  For 9 months at a time.

I had done a lot of reading on Alaska before I boarded the first jet.  I knew about Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I knew a lovely woman who suffered dreadfully from it during winters in New Jersey.  But even at my age, I still retained some of that youthful belief that desire equals invulnerability.  If I want something badly enough, it can't hurt me.

I wanted work at night.  But I NEEDED sunlight.  Natural sunlight.  Working at night automatically means artificial lighting during your entire waking period.  And night shift workers soon learn the folly of reverting to day time activities during short breaks - weekends with the family kind of thing.  Jet lag sets in that first night back and it's a MISERY.  Far better to miss part of the family dinner than suffer through a 12 hour shift from hell.  So getting up to get some sun, if you are even aware that this is an issue, (which I wasn't for a long time), is right out.

Sunlight.  I realized my severe deficiency in this area the summer that I was sick.  I had gone to Anchorage for training, and was not able to get the insurance to incorporate any medical care on that trip.  So I took the one and only non-work leave that I took in 5 years, and Roger and I spent a few days north of Anchorage, in the Mat-Su Valley.  Gawds.  It was wonderful.  Normal houses, TREES, real roads, farm markets, local vegetables...civilization.  And lots to do outside, and lots of outside and sunshine to do it in, and money to get good food, and relax, and even go get my poor wounded feet soaked in the KNIK River.  It was ice cold, fast moving, clean, clear, and full of the most wonderful rounded pebbles.  I was not thinking.  I failed to collect any, and that is a shame.  They were beautiful.
This is a screenshot I snatched from Google Earth Street View.  The black beach to the left was where we went to the water edge and waded.  It was what the doctor and the insurance company SHOULD have ordered.

I think I may have some pictures on an old hard drive somewhere - PROJECT LIST.

(N.B.  A project list is one of my shield plans.  If the diagnosis IS cancer, then having an already established project list will just give me that much more reason to keep moving forward.  OCD and unchecked boxes.  Shudder.)

After the Knik river treatment, my feet were far better.  Whether it was the water, the sun, the exercise, it was all good.  Then we boarded the Bethel jet, and as soon as the cabin pressurized, neuropathy returned with a couple of souvenirs from its trip abroad, renewed vigor and intensity.  Pressurized aircraft are HELL for me.  Everything is magnified.  Especially the pain.  But since I will never fly again, that is a moot point.

After a month back in Bethel, it became September with snow and darkness returning right on bloody schedule - and so did my lethargy, my lack of energy, and I lost the bit of health I had recovered back in the real world.  At that point, I grokked two things.  Sunlight, despite my preference for night, is as necessary for me as air and water, and I should have realized this all along.  Stupid hat to the third power, please.  A want is NOT a need.  It's that simple.  Take some day shifts during the summer, make sure EVERYONE does, and at least break up those winter months as much as possible.  Yes, shift changing is tough - but SAD is the pits.  And far longer effecting than the shiftchange shit.

The other lack that I grokked on that trip was trees.  I know.  Seems a bit foo?  Fey?  But out on the tundra, there is nothing taller than a good sized bush anywhere - and there is a SHITTON of anywhere to look at.  Not a goddamn tree between me and the horizon.  I grew up in woodlands and forests back east.  Dappled sunlight on leafy paths in the late afternoon...dear GAWDS where are all the freakin trees???  I got back to Bethel and looked for anything like a tree.  I found a few, WAY down at the other end of town - might as well have been the moon for all the chance I had to get down there.  In the 6 block radius that my health, size and job limited me to 95 percent of the time, no trees.  No tree shadows, my favored method of timekeeping when life permits the luxury.  And that would not have worked in Alaska anyway - no shadows were right up there - just another patented Alaskan mind fuck.

I filled the need as best as I could - I grabbed every decent tree wallpaper that I could and rotated through them on the worst nights.  I would put some New Age instrumental with wind in the tree sounds, turn out all the lights, and watch trees on the desktop slide show.  Of such things are survival wrought.

Speaking of survival - tis now late afternoon, and really warm.  Love to all that read this far, and to those that did not.  Extra indulgence for today's length.

Make today the best day yet.

Kuskokwim Ice Road - Bethel to Akiak, Alaska 2010.mp4

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Just this side of paradise

Southern Oregon of a morning - just this side of paradise.  Walking here is a blessing, living here is a dream come true.  People you meet on the roadside are friendly, welcoming, about as normal as anyone could imagine...and almost never encounter.  A far cry from the Right Coast, where people move about in their own envelopes, isolated from each other and the glories that they pass through mindlessly.  Sigh.  If people would just slow the fuck down for one morning, get out and really see what is around them, there would be far less discontent in the world.

"With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

Get out and take a look at it sometime.  Beauty can be found in the smallest, least obvious places, but you need to look for it!

Where are all the bees?  Here is one...thistle bee a great memory ... winter is coming, after all.

Yes, the sky really is that color...once the chemtrails all fall to earth...  *WEG*

A friendly neighbor, even though I arrived appleless - this beauty came right to the fence as I walked up, fully expecting a sweet treat.  Next time, lovely one.

This shot screams "You ain't in Kansas anymore, Dorothy!"  Never see anything like this in Jersey, that's fer damn shure!

More friendly neighbors, the noisy ones from upstairs.

Why do people do stuff like this?  Cause it is way cool to just come upon it sudden-like.  Thank you for the delight!

Why do I think this would look better as the lid to a puzzle box?  Lots of blue sky to sort out.  That can be fun...

Christmas in July?  This majestic tree has already started decorating!

And finally - the Oregon Department of Transportation unveils their stunning new plan for pothole repairs.

Fill the pothole with rocks and encourage the populace to drive over it frequently.  In a scarce few millennia or so, the rocks will be crushed into gravel - for FREE!  Your tax dollars at work!

In health issues, no changes worth reporting - still struggling to feel "right" again - still sore, bruised and uncomfortable most of the time -but no true pain, thank gawds.  It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Love to those that read this far - and to those that did not.

Make today the best day yet.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Back in the horse, but back in the saddle!

This morning went far better than yesterday.  Morning inventory...5 out of 10 pain, mainly toe and rib where I have been lying all cattawumpus.  Biopsy site feels fairly dry, stiff and sore, bruised feeling, but nothing deep.  Very encouraging.

Bruises are still an issue, especially when trying to find a bra that will work.  Fortunately, I have one fat lady bra remaining.  My tits wobble around like lumps of coal in the bottom of a yule stocking, but better than squeezing the Charmin (apologies for anyone under 40 who does not remember Mr. Whipple).  (Google it).

I noted this morning that the kittie boys are most considerate lately.  I have not had to argue for bed space, my chair, or any other inconvenience for a couple of days now.  They are not even their usual speed bump selves, but seem to be hyper-vigilant and get out of my way long before I reach their snooze spot.  I appreciate that, since those last minute scrambles to avoid a cat who is avoiding me is usually a disaster on multiple levels.  Of course, some of this could be explained by afternoon temps well into the 90's, making them even lazier and more somnolent, but I really think their 6th sense is letting them know that the more space I have right now, the better.  They are still loving and head butting me frequently for attention, but the bed is all mine now.  Such great owners I have!

The sneaky looking cutie on the left is Spooky, and the face washing sweetie is Mikey.  They own us body and soul.  They were born on the same day that we said farewell to PD, our Alaskan import.  They chose us in a parking lot, came home with us, and have ruled the roost ever since.  Spooky was named for his most obvious characteristic...he gets spooked by everything.  Anything.  Whateverthing.  Not to mention that he is pretty spooky himself, watching me from across a dark room, when the only visible evidence of his presence are those eyes...glowing in the monitor light...

Mikey is actually Mycroft.  When the kittie boys got here, Mikey was out of the carrier and exploring as soon as the latch unclicked.  He finally coaxed Spooky out of the carrier, out from under one bed, out from under another bed, showed him where food, water and litter were to be found, and in all ways, seemed perfectly suited to be the "smarter, older brother."  First impressions, and all that...

At least I can say that he is not as dumb as he seems...I think.  But, he is soft, cuddly, loves to snuggle on cold nights, and earns his keep chasing the occasional bug that gets in.  I'll let him keep me.

Got the bike out and rode/walked/shot photos for an hour.  That was the smartest thing I have done for a week.  It feels GOOD to be sore from actually doing something, instead of being the something that is done to.  Southern Oregon is paradise, at least visually, and we all should pay just a smidge more attention to what glories we mindlessly pass by daily.

Like this beauty, for example

This was just growing beside a fence, over the sidewalk.  Amazing to simply come upon it, like finding fireworks in the noon sky.

For those with curiosity about such things, I have posted an update photo over on the Blood page.  Warning - this is straight out of the bathroom mirror.  No cleaning things up here - this is the real shit.  If blood and the like bothers you - try the FLAG FRENZY page instead.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wednesday Morning at 5 o'clock ...

as the day begins...

I moved something.  So what?  It hurt, that's what.

That curly haired tailor has some bad ass needles...truly.  That is one nasty procedure.  Despite the best (and they were remarkable) efforts by the team to make me comfortable and assured, nothing can overcome the effects of 2 hours on that table.  Lying there with the target breast hanging down through that hole certain achieves a comforting depersonalization, that is to say that it does not matter that you cannot turn your head to see who is entering the exam room.  You are just a tit in a hole at that point, and glad to be so.

Pro tip - when the tech asks if you need to use the bathroom - accept the offer despite what you might think.  I wound up being strapped back together to make the 40 foot walk to a toilet the second the procedure was wrapped up.  No fun.

The procedure requires you to remain still for far too long, IMHO.  Humans get very uncomfortable when we cannot fidget or twitch, and lying around with needles in you - or so I presume, since I could neither see nor feel exactly what was happening, is not the most opportune time to need to pee.  I spent of the time with my eyes closed, holding shallow breaths as directed.  Over and over. "Shallow breath and hold... BEEEEEEEP.... OK, you can breathe. "   Thank gawds she remembered to grant me permission to breathe each time, or I would still be lying there.  A bit colder, perhaps.

On a side note, at least Mel's gawds granted her a bit of a small break - this whole procedure occurred in a typical treatment room - way under cooled (to the point where I had to ask for a blanket for my poor nekkid back) - on a day when the outside temps hit 105.  The inside temp was more like 62.  At least I had a cool place to while away the afternoon...recreating the famous human pin cushion exhibit from carnival midways everywhere.

The doctor was reassuring throughout...explaining things, especially the room noises, before they occurred.  That was very helpful, especially since I can well imagine they don't like it much when the patient jumps half a foot out of startlement.  And that room emitted some fey sounds while I was pinned down in there.  The worst was the actual insertion of the biopsy hollow needle -there is an audible POP and brief pressure feeling - much like a balloon popping suddenly just in front of you.  The first time it happened, I was surprised by it, and immediately flashed on an image of a clown with a balloon animal popping between his hands as he twisted it around.

For those with a taste for the yuckier side - Day 1 post procedure pic here - this is before the 24 hour no showering rule expired, so all this has been here since yesterday.  And it hurts.  Not killing pain, but ergh.  Shoulder movement, waist twisting, even trying to put my elbow into my ear...all remind me that I am in an unusual state of being at the moment.  My right breast feels like a sack of oranges that just tumbled down a LONG steep flight of stairs.  Bulges, bumps and bruises.  New word - hematoma.

Not all that new, had them, seen them before, but, this is bizarre.  Like carrying a sack of marbles around inside your bra.  Center of gravity shifts just a tad, whether to accommodate sore areas or because the extra swelling has thrown off the dilithium crystals, quien sabe?  But this ship is not on a straight course at the moment.  Listing heavily to starboard, and taking on water.

Picking up after another appointment...this time the foot doctor.  Finally.  And, as suspected, foot problems.  The wound is actually healing, albeit slowly.  And I just learned that being hurt in the left foot is far worse than the right - the left leg and foot only have about 50 percent of the pressure that they should.  The right leg is at 80 percent open - far better for healing and other good things.  So, left foot and right breast out of action.  How many hit points did I manage to lose in the last week?  Great Caesar's Ghost!

Tetanus shot.  Good idea.  Would have been an even better idea last week when the injury occurred, but better late than never.  Need to get signed up for one of those...GROAN.  More discomfort.  Oh well, with any luck, I will get that tetanus shot long before they start removing my toenails.  Seems like a logical sequence.

And that was not hyperbole.  If the circulation to my right foot is sufficient, toenail removal is likely.  They are way ingrown, actually curling around the skin.  Needs to be done, but not looking forward to that one, let me tell you.  No idea what will happen with the left foot - I go back in three weeks for that follow up.

Recommendations - stay off it, until I can't.  Keep it clean, stay focused on healing, keep it dry, 2-3 more weeks...

I am taking away the fact that he doesn't want to see it for 3 weeks.  Things cannot be all that bad if three weeks can pass without peeking at it.  Keep telling yourself that, Mel.  Maybe it will help you sleep at nights.

Love to all that read this far, and to those that did not.

Make today the best day yet.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On Pins and Needles

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things... maybe that is my problem.  Maybe one too many midnight flashlight rereadings of Alice.  I just can't help this feeling that the rabbit hole is getting wider and deeper each day - at what point does a rabbit hole become a bona fide Florida sink hole?

It has to be when one gives up hope.  And that isn't about to happen.  Let the rabbit hole continue to swirl about me with its upside down maps and cupboards full of empty jam jars.  I know there is a soft landing down there eventually, and all I need to do is fall far enough to find it.  That should be simple enough for even me to handle.

But for today - I need to handle a small thing - a biopsy.  Six letters.  3 syllables.  Less of a word than swashbuckler, certainly.  Odd word, biopsy, starts off woody, but finishes on an unpleasant tinny note.
I did get an information call, appreciated, but one that has been resonating since hanging up.  I am going to be lying on my stomach with my breasts hanging down through cutouts...and presumable a small tailor in brown clothing with curly hair and a mischievous twinkle in his eye will crouch under there poking at my tits with his shiny silver needle?  I should have left out a saucer of milk last night!

Karma - funny thing, that bitch.  One of the lesser known family stories involves me, lipstick boosted from Mom's purse, age 3, living with grandma until our house was finished/my baby sister was born, and mom napping while I played and 'cleaned up'.  The plug went perfectly into the drain, the water turned on to the right temperature and force, and I scrubbed happily.  Unplugging and turning off apparently would be next week's lessons.  I went on my way, playing quietly, as mommy needed her rest.  Mommy's rest was abruptly interrupted by the unwanted intrusion of gallons of water filling the ceiling paper and bulging breasts on a biopsy table.  Mom and grandma began relieving the pressure by running about stabbing each paper bulge with knitting needles.  Karma - you bitch!

So I will be meeting with the tailor in a little more than 4 hours.  I am less afraid of the results than I am of putting myself at the mercy of the Medical Industry again.  Although each person I have dealt with has been reasonable, compassionate and professional, I am Entering The System.  The last time I did this -they damn near killed me.  I always wondered how people returned to the scene of a I know.  No choices.  Although that STILL doesn't explain Roddy McDowell's character going back to Hell House.  So, Mel, remember.  Fear is the mind killer.  Walk in there and do not let them scare you.  Only your own mind can scare you.  Make sure it is ready for this.

Love to all who read this far, and those that did not.

Make today the best day yet.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The biopsy of a biopsy - pre-op notes

So, today, Tuesday's biopsy news finally had a chance to percolate to the top of my head.  In one very key sense, that is a good thing, because it means that the terror tide caused by the terrible toe has subsided to let other thoughts intrude in their own churlish way.  Bah humbug I say.  Here I was feeling not too badly a'tall, foot comfortable (especially so since using Brilliant Brittney's wonder salve made with beeswax, herbs and cannabis extract) and the biopsy knocked on the door of my contentment.
     "Hi, there...remember me?  Don't know how you really could have forgotten me, y'know.  I am one of those life changing events you always read about on the Internet.  Let me in.  We need to talk."

Yeah.  Biopsy,  big, scary kind of word.  One of those "oh shit, it just got real" words.  Not that I was surprised...I have always done very badly on those physical kinds of tests...morbidly obese people have things others don't...and they are often in the wrong places, or covered over with layers of self.  So having a mammogram repeated was not a new thing.  But....


Processing.  Bio.  Easy one.  Life.  Psy.  Mind?  Ah.  AG (After Googling), I find that psych is mind, and short old psy isn't really anything.  But OPSY turns out to be associated with sight and vision.  So they are looking for life.  Well, shit.  That's exactly what I am all about right now.  Hot damn, there is something I can agree with!

Smiles are welcome, if warranted.  You aren't laughing at me, or my pain, or my affliction, you are donating to my medicine.  Thank you.  And humor has always been my weapon and retreat when dealing with nasty shit.  Years in the classroom taught me that making people genuinely laugh makes everything around all of you a little brighter, pushes back some of the gloom...I know.  Fuckin Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar... but laughter and merriment ARE healers.  If Hollywood got a hold of a good idea, and fucked it up for commercial reasons, well, it won't be the first time!

So part of this blog will lend itself to my rather dark sense of humor.  I have had one since I first laughed at one of those nasty jokes kids whisper to each other at slumber parties.  No, not the dirty ones, the dark ones.  "What kind of wood doesn't float?"  "Natalie".

Sorry if that slice offended you.  Fair warning, one outlet for my inner darkness WILL be those kind of remarks.  I have withheld them for decades, due to my 'position'.  High school teachers don't ask their students "What kind of shampoo did Princess Di use?"  "I'm not sure, but her head and shoulders were all over the dashboard"

Sorry if that slice offended you.  You had fair warning.  And I GOT the Princess Di joke from one of my students.  He grokked beneath the teacher to the anarchist, as did some others.  They rocked then.  I hope they are rocking now.  I miss all that.

Biopsy.  So what will we talk about?  Biopsy means, right now, today, unknown.  There is a question that needs an answer, and biopsy is the means to that answer.  OK.  Been dealing with that kind of thinking all my life.  NO problem.  Got it.

The fuckin abyss opens up at the next step.  Then what?  Oh Holy Powers that Influence Shit Around Here - Whatever you deem him/her/it/them/us/ or other to be...henceforth collectively referred, for convenience ONLY, as gawds (all typable with the left hand.  cool)

Then what?  Oh Gawds.  Who the fuck knows?  There are three possible outcomes.  The first is another inconclusive test, which means another session, more waiting, more... GAH.  Please gawds, not that option.  I NEED to know the simple answer - yes, or no.  Did I pull the black pebble or the white one?Does my square of paper have the deep black mark on it?  And are those stones in my breast or what?  Suspicious calcifications.  Hard words to type - harder to wrap around in my brain.  Calcifications.  To me - that means stones of some kind.  I have had stones before, gall stones.  Related?  Maybe I just tend to have the calcium crank stuck in overdrive, and the spare calcium winds up deposited all throughout the storehouse.  Which is a lot more cramped, now that I have downsized by more than half, so maybe all that crap stuck away over all those years is finally seeing the light of day - and is nothing more than another memory of twinkies at dawn, cheesesteaks that required two hands to squeeze shut...yeah.  Could be just that.

Or it could be cancer.  Type the word, Mel. Shit is now real.  And if it is cancer?

Praise gawds that I am in the absolute bestest place on earth to have this happen.  The Rogue valley grows the best cannabis in the world - naturally, organically, under just enough sun, cool nights and love and attention to thrive and spread their healing far beyond the valley floor.

The people of the Rogue Valley have hearts as big as those mountains that hold us in, and challenge us at the same time.  There is a special group of cannabis warriors who have been drawn together by something none of us can define, classify, cognify, delineate, categorize, or other wise codify - but it's as fuckin real as each of us is, and we feel it and know it.  Some of us refer to the Goddess, others have other names, some don't need a name, others have very formal relationships with this force, and if you feel this just went off the metaphysical end of things, have another hit.  You aren't stoned enough yet.

Anyway - the group of which I am humbled to be a part are the strongest, most committed cannabis warriors anyone could ever hope to meet.  They have endured calumny at the hands of the city council, criminal charges at the same behest, loss of income, inability to operate a non-profit, and the loss that means the most - the loss of our inability to easily and efficiently help patients - legal, registered, totally state legal patients - get the right cannabis medicine.

That sucks.  But this group fights on, and knowing how they have bulldogged their passion since they assembled beginning in 2010, I tell you three times that there could not be a better krew at my back than these people.  I love all of them, and if cancer is a part of my future, I know that they will be there.  After my first catastrophic illness in Bethel, where Roger was my sole support, rock, anchor, knight in snowy big alaskan teddy bear with the beard of frost and the heart of gold, knowing another friend is 10 minutes away is healing power I am truly grateful for.  Thank you my friends.  Knowing he no longer has to be the one and only prop is a relief I cannot find words for.  This year is challenging enough for him in his primary task, and letting him concentrate on that relieves me tremendously.  Thank you for that as well.

I also want to express my utter astonishment with the medical personnel I have encountered thus far in the process.  From everyone at La Clinica, to the staff at the radiology departments at RVMC and ACH, a most grateful thank you.  I never felt dismissed, demeaned, made to feel as though I was the consciously responsible entity who created these issues, and how dare I walk through their doors and expect them to fix something I had so obviously managed to break all on my own...

Yeah.  When you go to seek medical help and you weigh in at 337... that is what you get, that is how you are treated, that is the attitude, the help, the advice.  I was never a pain patient - I was that fat lady whose poor feet understandably hurt.

I need to make something clear.  The scenario I am describing in no way reflects anything done in 2014.  I am speaking to the people in Bethel - and the people I encountered at La Clinica back then -2009/2010.  Not all, but there were enough fat haters to leave a sour taste in my mind.

Now, at 160, I have had medical people congratulate me on medical progress, unrelated to my weight.  Amazing.  Now that is out of the way, I am being seen as a patient.  Not a fat person.  Way to make progress toward mellowing my hideously negative attitude toward the industry of Medicine as practiced in the West - practiced, I note, because many of them are STILL trying to get it right.  Keep practicing.  Ice it son!

Spent some time in the garden today - watered, cleaned out the butterfly bush...very reluctantly.  It is gorgeous and does draw wonderful butterflies, but the medical garden pests are drawn by it as well, and I had to make the obvious choice.  I will attempt to keep it alive at a very low bonsai level, as it is grandfathered in after that law against selling them was passed a couple of years ago - so these should not be lost - especially since I seem to have an unwarranted and unfounded skepticism about ANY law involving the prohibition of a plant.  Some of those laws are defensible.  Some aren't.  And without the time to research butterfly bushes and their environmental impact...I will try and maintain it until I DO have the time.  I can take it out if I find that is best, but I cannot restore it to life if I do that now, and discover this is another bad plant law.

Shoes were good about an hour today before the toe began being uncomfortable.  Just enough time to get the garden attended to and get set up for a lovely and healing afternoon on the porch - listening to great old folk and cross stitching just feet away from some of the prettiest and happiest ladies in the valley.  How can you NOT sit there and feel at ease?   Here was the view from the porch 2 weeks ago.
Here is where I am waiting out the sunniest, hottest hours of the afternoon.
The brown and beige thingie is actually an led fountain.  Led lights flicker under the water, which splashes down on rocks - which were lost when the fountain was stored.  Lo and behold, I was recently at a fantastic outdoor wedding and found myself wandering a creekbed, picking up small stones, idly, curiously, no real intent other than I was there, and so were the stones.  A couple of days later, Britt and I were discussing our enjoyment of fountains and I remembered this one.  There were no stones, until I remembered those I groundsourced from Humbug Creek.  They sound happy to be wet again.
The purple cup contains mint leaves.  It used to contain iced tea and mint leaves.  It was delicious.  First fresh mint tea of the year - and from my own mint.  The simplest things bring such joy.

I look to my right - and see the ladies stretching toward the sun.  Each day.  Blessed I am.  Yoda, home go.  

And the tour concludes with the view from my corner.  It's a nice quiet corner, where one can collect thoughts, play with quiet things, or just look around inside your own head for a while.  Nothing can hurt you there.  Feel free to stop by and sit a spell.  Anyone, anytime.  Please.  There is peace enough here for everyone.  BYOBeverage, we are down to tea, coffee and water.  Love to all who read this far, and those that did not.

Make today the best day yet.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bethel bits part 1

"9-1-1, What is your emergency?"  So started every memorable night as the only 9-1-1 dispatcher in an area the size of the state of Oregon.  As the Public Safety Dispatcher for the City of Bethel, Alaska, each phone call was another opportunity to learn something else.  All too often, those lessons were harsh, brutal realities.  What can one human do to another when shit hits the fan?  How fast can nature kill you in Alaska?  Sit at the 9-1-1 console at the end of the earth for a few days, and you will have some answers.

Bethel is just about the end of the earth.  To get to Bethel, you have to be very determined.  It is not somewhere you pass through to anywhere else, unless your ultimate destination is one of the Native Alaskan villages scattered across the Yukon Kuskokwim delta in Southwest Alaska.  There is nowhere to go from Bethel except back to Anchorage.  No roads lead to Bethel.  The only way in or out is by air.  No trucks haul goods to Bethel.  No power or phone lines go out there.  The town is self sufficient in ways that would make urban planners in the lower 48's mutter ceaselessly into their lattes before writing the entire affair off as insane.  A town where 70 percent of the homes have no water or sewer lines?  Where only one road is paved, and all the others get maintained by road graders?  Where taking your honeybucket down to the slough each morning is standard operating procedure?  Where there are three seasons, snow, mud and dust?  Nothing in Bethel works according to any rules you take up there with you.  The third day I was there, I muttered to Roger "This place makes its own rules."  The day I left Bethel, 5 years later, nothing had changed.  Only Bethel rules work in Bethel.  Anything else will probably get you killed.  Shit is real up there.

Imagine a town of 6,000 or so.  Most homes are fairly small, and every building is up on stilts.  The tundra is permafrost.  One does not build directly on permafrost, whether it is a bank, a house, a school, or a good road.  Permafrost melts.  (Oxymorons rule!)  But permafrost doesn't stay melted in Alaska.  It refreezes, but never in the same place from which it melted.  Everything shifts.  If the house is on stilts, these changes take place below the house, and it only needs to be adjusted ever few years.  Oh - how does one adjust a house?  One picks it up and resets it on the stilts.  Or, as often happens, the entire house is loaded on the back of a truck and driven across town, to be dumped off at another lot.   A new set of steps is nailed together, the front door is unlocked, and the family is resettled.  Since homes in Bethel often serve as family hubs, relatives coming in from the villages expect to stay with family while in town.  But they aren't always in the loop.

Cab drivers in Bethel are more than familiar with someone getting into their cab at the airport and saying "Take me to Tommy Joe's house.  It's green with a red roof and he lives down by the police station."  The driver then begins to cruise the area, looking for Tommy Joe's house.  Since this is Alaska, the odds are pretty good that this search is happening in at least dusk, if not full on night.  And if you are mentally ticking over cab fare as the search goes on - well, that's another one of Bethel's rules.  Cab fares are determined by zone, not mileage or time.  If you get a ride from the airport, your fare will be 7 dollars, regardless of where you go, or how long it takes you to get there.  And you will not have that cab to yourself.  Because of the zone system, a cab driver packs in as many passengers as will fit on each trip.  You will be squeezed in along with the stinkhead buckets, bingo bags, unrestrained children, guns, dead animals, etc. that get transported beside people in Alaska.   Tends to make first time visitors a bit unsettled.  You get used to it.  Or you don't.

I was a cab driver for 6 months in Bethel.  When I arrived there, it was with the intention of getting settled, then enduring the process to become certified to teach in Alaska.  (I am certified as a Teacher of English and as an Elementary Education teacher in New Jersey).  However, a month as a substitute disabused me of that notion.  Teaching to the test is job one and only, as far as I can see.  Each classroom was filled with the props that I recognized as corporate packages, designed to sell corporate packages to school systems struggling with problems that go far beyond "Johnny can't tell a verb from a noun."  Fuck real education - let's set up a system where we decide arbitrary measures of achievement, then demand those arbitrary numbers be realized by massive amounts of time and money spent in having kids color in bubbles with number 2 pencils.  And since we want to prove fiscal responsibility - let's grade those arbitrary measures with a machine that can only read well-colored bubbles.  So what we are REALLY testing here is someone's ability to color in bubbles.  But I digress.

Instead of a teaching license, I got a chauffeur's license.  I had to get an Alaskan Driver's License, then be road tested by the Cab Inspector (an employee of the Police Department, who were nominally in charge of the cab industry).  The road test would consist of being given 5 destinations in town, sequentially, and successfully arriving at each location undamaged and unlost.  I have a degree, summa cum laude.  I took many of the standardized tests necessary in this modern life.  That road test was the most difficult I have ever endured.  "Delta cottages", "Flagpole", "Blue door", etc.  I passed, and began driving the streets of Bethel.

I drove the evening shift, 4 to midnight or so.  I began driving in June, so midnight meant as much daylight as near evening down here.  I would often finish a shift by turning on my headlights to drive home.  Most cab drivers in Bethel work like maniacs all winter, frequently violating the maximum driving hours per day ordinance.  They would then "go home" for the summer, returning in the fall like ass backwards swallows to Capristrano.  Home was probably either Albania or Korea.  The Korean population in Bethel is significant.  Koreans own many of the cabs and most of the restaurants in town.  Albanians are fewer in number, but still represent a good part of the non-native population.  With 65 percent of the town listed as Native Alaskan, that meant that English was a decidedly second (if not 4th or 5th) language.  As a cab driver, this was amusing, frustrating, and ultimately just a nuisance.  When I left the streets to become a dispatcher, however...

Anyway, driving cab in Alaska was a joy during the summer nights.  The sky in Alaska is the most amazing thing I have ever been honored to see.  As a life long star gazer - the open sky overhead in Alaska was a dream come true - almost.  Out on the tundra, a little glance goes a LONG way.  On clear days, we could see to the mountains that walled us off from Anchorage and civilization - and they were 70 miles away!  (Of course, on the other side, there were another 300 air miles still to go...but who's counting?)  I saw eclipses, double and triple rainbows, a bolide that still hitches my breath when I recall watching it blaze overhead seemingly just out of reach, then exploding just above the horizon...sun dogs and the aurora borealis.  But again, even the weather makes its own rules.  Thunderstorms are rare in Alaska.  Thunder snow can, and does happen, and is absolutely mind-shattering when it does, but the usual summer evening grumbler is just not on...usually.

One evening, I was taking a grannyclutch to Bingo.  4 older Native ladies, in their kuspuks, clutching their bingo bags, chattering away in Yup'ik (a language best described as the verbal outpouring of 2 half-drunk pissed off cats- at least to this East coast ear).  Suddenly, thunder rolled and the grannies began to wail.  I don't speak a work of Yup'ik, but granny wails are translatable by anyone.  They were terrified!  One begged me to pull over.  I rolled to a stop on the side of the road, and the ladies cowered in the seats, trying everything that they could do to roll up into little granny balls on the floor.  They trembled and wailed while (at best) middling thunder rumbled off at a distance.  These women were survivors.  Their faces were chiseled with decades of life in the Arctic tundra.  They survived floods, blizzards, earthquakes, the loss of their way of life, the devastation of their traditions by the arrival of others, yet a thunderstorm that would not have disturbed a child back East had these ladies gibbering in their seats.  Looking back, I realize that they are a perfect metaphor for anyone trying to make their way in Bethel.  Even the most usual of things becomes outsized, grotesque and fearsome when seen so far from its familiar context.  A simple summer thunderstorm became a monster from the worst nightmares.  A night out becomes a tragedy that lasts through the following spring.  A kid playing games becomes frost food for wildlife, and gets top billing for a few days as "What's new and happening around Bethel?"

For more information on the Yup'ik people of Alaska - click here.  I deeply regret that my time there was not spent in closer personal contact with these amazing people.  There is much there to be learned, but the barriers to getting those stories were insurmountable.  Language was the first and foremost hurdle.  I love words, and languages usually come fairly easily to me, given enough exposure.  5 years was not enough to scratch the surface of Yup'ik.  It is a language shaped by the environment into which it is spoken.  To my ear, it is filled with harsh, bitter, snapping sounds, like the sounds of ice in the winter.  Lots of gurgling and back of the throat noises, the kind you make when you don't want to open your mouth wide (as is usually a good idea when it is minus whatever outside).  When stories are told, there are few common references.  Hearing stories of fish camps, whaling from kayaks, seal hunting and eating... the stuff of fantasy worlds to someone from southern New Jersey.  But the teller of these fantasy stories was right there in the room, demonstrating the paddling moves that brought him to the whale, or miming running an ulu though the salmon in preparation to hang it outside from the drying racks that graced each dooryard area.  Cognitive disconnect sets in early, and lingers far past its usefulness.  Nothing makes sense, and you quickly disabuse yourself of the notion that it should.  The Yup'ik language just adds aural emphasis to this.  Those are people, yes,  And their mouths are moving, and sound is coming out, so they must be speaking, but...what IS that noise?  Add to this the permanent sense of disorientation that you experience when the sun is no longer reliable, and you have the makings of a truly epic chemical free major mind fuck that lasts as long as you are in Alaska.

So, if you have gotten the impression that Bethel, Alaska is a place like no where else on earth, with its own unique challenges, tragedies, and victories, you got it right.  I am going to link a few shots that I did not take, and was not present for, but which I can affirm truly represent life as it was when I was there - FACE OF BETHEL CLICK HERE