Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"If I Need Ya, Mom, I'll Call Ya!"

I still remember that title on a poster of a scared little boy about to close the door and submit himself to the dentist, a piece of artwork that hung in the Mouth of Hell, also known as the waiting room of my childhood dentist in Newark, Delaware.

My sister and I still share horror stories about Dr. Collins. He made us fear the dentist so much that I went seven years without a checkup when I became an adult. (When I finally screwed up the courage to go to another dentist in N.C., that doc had to prescribe me Valium for all my visits.)

This was the man who filled my many cavities (my mom distrusted flouride treatments); pulled my incisors to give me braces (yes, I literally gave my eye teeth to this character); inserted painful spacers between my teeth; cemented on braces and then cranked them every few months; extracted my wisdom teeth; and did it all with a poor chairside manner and some foul breath.

Oh, and whenever I cried, he slapped me. Let me tell you, those lame little plastic spiders and whatnot he gave from the prize basket when you left were not worth it.

It didn't help that I had a wicked, unrequited grade-school crush on his nephew. Love -- and dentistry -- hurts.

My current S.F. dentist, who I adore, believes that the roots on my two front bottom teeth are dead because of the force with which Dr. C. "corrected" my overbite. Then again, I do like my smile, so I guess Dr. C. wasn't totally evil. Maybe he had some goodwill hiding in his pinky fingernail.

Anyhow, visiting the dentist for my six-month cleaning yesterday made me wonder: Why do I care so much about pleasing the dentist? I mean, every other doctor you go to, you go because something's wrong. My pee looks funny, I have a temperature, I can't stop coughing and, oh, what's this odd rash on my stomach? But no, at the dentist, you're supposed to show up perfect: brushed, flossed, rinsed. And if you're not, there's the interrogation: "How often do you floss? What kind of toothbrush do you use? Do you smoke? Hmmm."

Hey! I'm paying you! Only my personal trainer gets my money for giving me grief.

But because I seek to please everyone, regardless of whether I hate them, or pay them, or don't even know them, or even if they're dead, mind you, for the past six months, I've been using my Sonicare toothbrush (a gift from my brother for my 40th birthday, don't ask); flossing; and rinsing. I was ready.

For the first time in my life, I could report truthfully that yes, in fact, I do floss daily. And something I've been doing has had some results: my gums have gotten healthier.

Though satisfying, the visit was strangely anticlimactic. Deep down, I think I was expecting a little plastic token of appreciation from the prize basket.

If I need ya, Dr. C., I'll call ya!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Here's to You, BrainHell

Several months ago, I read a book called "Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life," by Eugene O'Kelly, a 53-year-old CEO of KPMG, who in May 2005 -- right before my own father was diagnosed with cancer -- was told he had a late-stage, inoperable brain tumor and just months to live.

He decided to approach his death like any other project in his successful business life: Take control of it, guide it and learn from it.

I am taken with people who chronicle and share their last days like that.

I was fortunate enough to be with my father during his last two weeks, when he amazed me with his grace and humor, saying things like, "A funny thing happened on the way to the barber shop. I wound up in the hospital."

So, I was fascinated to learn of a blogger named BrainHell, who recounted online the last years of his life after being diagnosed with ALS. On Feb. 2, he died at the age of 44. His last post:

ok i'm dead. so what? i partook of much wonder and beauty. you should be so
Here's to you, BrainHell, and all the souls like you out there who share your insights on the final frontier.

I personally believe that embracing the specter of death makes us live life more fully, and infuses our joys with poignancy. I know the reason I get such a kick out of my life is that I've been through my parents' tough deaths. I appreciate everything and take little for granted.

How boring would it be if we lived forever? In grad school, I wrote a short story about a world in which couples could choose to live forever -- and not have kids to replace them -- and never age; or, have kids, age and die. The main characters were a husband and wife who were trying to agree on which road to take.

Yes, I am intrigued by death.

Ever since an anthropology course I took freshman year in college in which we read The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, I've been convinced that every decision we make stems from just that urge, so I'm looking forward to reading this new book: Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death.

On that note, sweet dreams!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Flibbertigibbet Express

I'm at work, and I have to keep a careful eye on the little rear-view mirror I have velcroed to my monitor, so I can quickly act like I'm Getting Stuff Done if I see, for example, the publisher approaching my office. Too bad I wasn't quick enough to keep him from catching me sipping iced tea and filing my nails -- literally -- when he popped in just now. Oh, well, I'm not the queen of stealth. And this is my lunch break, after all.

So, I have been neglecting this space. I've been glued to Shaken Mama all week, wondering when she's going to pop out Baby V. At least this time, I don't have to be there to witness the horror movie that is natural childbirth (not that there's anything wrong with that). Or listen to the moo's or the horse whinnies she employed throughout her hours of painful labor before Chebbles emerged into this world. Still, I'm strangely hyper-aware of SM's imminent childbirth, and worried to the point I have dreamed about it. Mother Hen, that's me. At least she's packed her hospital bag this time.

Other random musings from the woman who dressed up as Flibbertigibbit along with Shaken Mama (Maria) and friends for the Castro Theatre's showing of The Sound of Music a few years ago:

* Only in SF?: On the way to retrieve lunch at "Pumpkin's" (so-called because the proprietor calls everyone "Pumpkin" or "Cupcake"), I witnessed a homeless man, with two shopping cars of belongings, talking on his iPhone.

* I am inordinately tickled by the fact that Cuba now has a president named Raul. I think this comes from the time I was an extra in the film Bedazzled. If you saw this ill-advised attempt at comedy, you may recall Brendan Fraser's stint as a bumbling Colombian drug lord of that name.

* I have beome addicted to two shows: Chelsea Lately (I want to BE Chelsea Handler in another life) and -- don't judge me -- Paradise Hotel 2, with that ho' Tanya. Oh, and Lipstick Jungle, though I must say I liked the book better; it's always a mistake in my opinion for the dramatization to fall under the authority of the author (in this case, exec producer Candace Bushnell).

* I sent a very difficult letter to my brother and sister this weekend. It dredged up a lot of anger and sadness, and now it's in UPS's hands. Wish me luck.

Oh, and if the "good" friend who hasn't talked to me for 12 days is reading this: "What's up YOUR butt?"

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Adventures in Singlehood

With Moam having given birth (Welcome, Noah Caidin!) and ShakenMama about to burst, I must admit I've been feeling a little domestic. And alone.

At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

You see, on Saturday, I caved. I signed up for

This marks my second foray into the online dating scene; about three years ago I was on eHarmony for a brief while. I had lunch with one man. He spent the whole time talking about himself, in particular about his ex-wife and how he had caught her cheating on him after he bought a GPS device and covertly attached it to her SUV.


Shortly after I signed onto Match, a tall drink of water from Florida "winked" at me. I "winked" back -- and received a barely literate e-mail from him asking to correspond outside of Match, due to a "computer glitch" that was interfering with his Match e-mail. Um, no. Today I tried to check his profile, and it's been yanked.


I forgot the nail-biting, paranoia-inducing, self-esteem-questioning involved in the virtual meat market. On eHarmony, I would obsess over my "matches" who -- before I even contacted them -- would close our match for such reasons as "lack of chemistry." Grrr.

On Sunday, I scrolled through some of the available men on Match and screwed up my courage to "wink" at some of them. Why haven't they all winked back?!


Sunday, February 17, 2008

He Married Me, But Would He Friend Me on Facebook?

Because I am the editor for technology news at my newspaper, I felt it my duty to find out just what this Facebook thing was all about. I created a page and fooled around with it a bit, but failed to find any application that performed a function more efficiently than tools already at my disposal. (For ex., I could "throw a snowball" at someone, but then that someone would e-mail me and say, "Did you just do something to me on Facebook? I don't want to click on the e-mail if it's spam." To which I would reply, "Yes! I threw a snowball at you! Isn't that exciting? Click on it!") And said friend would click on the link to find that he had, indeed, been struck in the face with a virtual snowball. And lost 3 minutes of his life he will never get back.)

Regardless, the whole thing is addicitng. I've searched old playmates, lovers, colleagues, family members, only to find, tonight, my ex-husband. My first instinct was to friend him. But then I thought, what if he doesn't accept? So I simply examined his friends list, stared at the tiny picture of him and his girlfriend and her three kids, and logged off.

Damn that Facebook!

Valentine's Day: Can't Kill It; Can't Use Its Bones for Soup

When I was married, my husband ( gave me an automatic pencil sharpener for Valentine's Day. Not surprising, as this was the same man who had gifted me a dictionary for my birthday. (For Christmas? A CD he wanted.) Need an impeccable pencil point or have a hankering for Sean Colvin? I'm your gal.

I haven't had a real Valentine since 2005, when my sheriff's deputy boyfriend at the time sent me a dozen red roses -- after I told him to please not send me red roses, as I don't really care for them (unimaginative, sorry), they generally don't smell since they're forced to bloom in hothouses, and he should save his money. (What did he do for my last birthday? Yes, roses. Two dozen this time. At least they were fragrant. Nothing from him for Valentine's Day, alas, as he has taken up with a woman 12 years his senior who counsels couples on using S&M to improve their relationship. How can I compete with that? After all, his computer mouse was always sticky, if you know what I mean. A shame, as without my contacts in, if he doesn't speak, he could pass for Julian McMahon. Sigh.)

True to form, this Valentine's Day was pretty crappy. Though I did get two bags of awesome loose tea from my friend Dave at work! I, myself, passed around chocolate hearts (dark, light and Reese's filled) to the masses.

My only Valentine's phone call? From an ex-boyfriend, ex-convict and current member of the California sex offender's registry. (Not to be confused with my Fed Ex stalker.) Yes, I like a man in uniform, even if it's a jumpsuit.

Having nothing to do after work, I took the time to finally clean up my office and remove the mildew-scented life-size dolphin, complete with red cowboy hat and talk bubble reading "For the love of God, help me!" to my boss's desk chair for a nice surprise.

Then I got my sad, Valentine-free self into my car and headed to my neighborhood corner store for some consolation wine.

When I emerged a few minutes later, a scene greeted me: The gangbanger couple who had been in the store with me had backed into my car and fled, witnesses said, leaving me with a $500 insurance deductible as my V-Day gift.

I toted my newly expensive wine home and cracked it open -- only to slice my finger on the foil.

But hey! At least two of the young male "witnesses" I spoke with said I had a nice smile!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Election Day and Ants

I was quite virtuous today. I dropped off my absentee ballot at the fire station (how odd is it that my old polling place across town also was a fire station?), then ran for an hour on the beach.

I watered the back yard, did the laundry and cleaned. Oh, and found MOLD on the wall in my bedroom, ack.

And I thought more about ants. I am told having ants in San Francisco is a given, at least during the rainy season.

But I can't help but take it personally. (Nancy Kerrigan voice: "Why?!")

Growing up, I never saw more than a spider or silverfish indoors. My mom would sooner have died than let anyone see a roach or other unsavory insect in her house. Once, she spotted a roach in the roll bin at the Acme. She told me about this in a hushed tone and it was Not to be Spoken of Again. Apparently, it was equally as embarrassing to come across a roach where you shopped as to have one in your house.

I was fortunate enough to continue this bug-free streak until I rented an apartment on the top floor of a building at Eighth and Harrison streets in Wilmington, Del. A very unpleasant old Greek woman and her daughter lived below me. They hated me. If I so much as dropped my deodorant on the floor, one of them would take a broom handle to their ceiling. Other than that, the apartment was cute; it had a window seat whose lid opened up to store linens; hardwood floors and old-fashioned appliances in the kitchen, complete with a Frigidaire that opened and locked with a long silver handle.

One day I was in the kitchen and came face to face with the biggest roach I've ever seen, on the stove. For a minute, I thought it was cute. I called it Fred. Then I turned on the gas on the burner and fried Fred.

When another took Fred's place on the stove the following day, my first, irrational, thought was, "But I killed him!"

Ha ha ha ha ha. Ah, youth.

So I called my landlord, who sent over some fumigators. But being a landlord, he was cheap, and only fumigated my apartment -- not the six others connected to it. Thus ensued the Death March, in which Fred's family would crawl out of the woodwork -- literally -- and give up the ghost, belly-up.

Once the massacre cleared, new, lively Freds moved in. I persisted in bugging my landlord, and another "expert" phoned me. "Describe the bug," he said. "It's huge. It's brown. It's about, um, 4 inches long." He proceeded to tell me that, in fact, what I was seeing could not have been that big, or if it was, it could not be brown. "It's got to be a waterbug," he said. "It's black." "Sir, I assure you, my roaches are brown. And they are huge." "Can you catch one for me?" he asked. I killed one, put it in a jar, and left it for him in my apartment.

That night I came home and checked my messages. "Ma'am," he said, "You have a problem."

I was strangely vindicated. I might have roaches, but they were the biggest damn roaches he'd ever seen!

Fast forward to the ants.

Luckily, I never had much of a problem with ants in my old place in Noe Valley. And then not much in the Outer Richmond -- until this winter. All right, so it coincided with my first attempt to compost using a cute little green basket that Sunset Scavengers was giving away outside the Safeway the week they discontinued the plastic bags. My sister happened to visit shortly thereafter and can attest to a short period in which every item headed for disposal needed to be duly examined to see whether it could qualify for recycling or compost.

The period was short because I discovered two things: 1) Ants in a long industrious line leading from the window to the green basket, feasting on the remains of some eggshells. 2) Aside from a dead body, there is no stench like the stench of old food in the green bin in our garage.

Soon, I realized that, while I had removed the inviting compost bin, I was now in the ants' Zagat guide, and they were enjoying many a romantic dinner in my cupboard among my honey, spices and other foodstuffs.

Knock on wood, I've pretty much locked down everything in tupperware, refrigerator or ziplock bag, but I still have what my seemingly knowledgeable friends refer to as "scouts." These are ants that you see solo, searching for food. Often, I find them kind of standing up on their hind legs and waving their antenna, as if maybe they can get a better view that way, or sniff something sweet in the air. I feel kind of bad killing these ants; they seem so selfless and adventuresome and good sports, to go in search of food all alone in the land of the giants.

Today, after I had just cleaned up around the microwave, I saw a spot on the wall and looked closer. There was an ant, head facing down, desperately holding onto a crumb at least as big as he was. It was such a valiant attempt to hump food back to his peeps, I was touched. I could just imagine that ant thinking, "Dude! We could live on this for WEEKS! How COOL will I look when I come in the hill lugging this gem? I'm so going to get promoted."

What did I do? Right: I squished him. But I didn't like it.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Stroll Down Moamory Lane

The Moams at their old haunt, Friendly's, 2007*

In honor of this virtual walk, I'm tuned in to Casey Kasem's top-40 countdown for 2/6/88 (could that possibly be 20 years ago?!) via my Direct TV. Now playing: "The Way You Make Me Feel," (video) by Michael Jackson, when he still looked human.

Moam, I apologize for leaving you hanging. But remember, "Jesus would forgive!"**

Still, there's really no excuse for me not to take time from my drinking and whoring to recount the drinking and whoring of old ...

"Just Like Paradise," David Lee Roth.***

So here goes. Gosh, where to begin? A cast of characters, perhaps:

"Push It," Salt-n-Pepa***

Me: Townie; French Club president; editor of the school newspaper; vice president, Honor Society; smart-ass-at-large; youngest of six always trying to get someone to pay attention; writer.

Margaret: Natural blonde; two years younger; funny as hell; called her little sister Bobo and Albino when "Jack and Diane" weren't around; called my female cat Herman for no apparent reason; talented poet; once accused by her father of "bothering the whole household" while she was in a coat closet listening to music on her headphones; I've never thought she was fat; can eat a whole bag of Oreos in one sitting; was always trying to make out with my boyfriends (good success rate).

Chad: (1968-2006) The boy down the block; Margaret's first kiss on the dirt road; continually accused by us of lying; we remember him fondly and still do not know the manner of his untimely death.

Veronica: The friend through which Margaret and I met; boys always thought she was pretty; had pupils that weren't round, but looked like upside-down raindrops; canopy bed; always late -- we were always waiting on her.

Kathy: Mom was 16 when she had her and often was working, so Kathy's house was the place to be; played games there like mixing all manner of ingredients in the kitchen -- including dog food -- and then having someone blindfolded taste it and guess what it was.

"Could Have Been," Tiffany

Bob: A year or two older than me; Margaret had the biggest crush on him, even though he didn't bathe often; nice guy, though; took a lot of ribbing from us with good humor.


* Unfortunately, I could not locate the picture of you devouring a whole bag of Oreos in my room at 837 Lehigh. Also AWOL were the photos of us dressed as cats the Halloween we descended uninvited on Dickinson dorms while in high school.

** 1980s reference

*** In an effort to enhance your multimedia experience, I am peppering this post with links to video of the songs playing as I write.