Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just the Wrong Word

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Philip A. McDaniel.

What are the chances of making a fool of oneself over poor word choices twice in one week? It shakes my belief in myself. More importantly, I can never get a flu shot again.

Today at work, we had a health-care worker come to give flu shots. It was my job to stand around and twiddle my thumbs, making sure everyone filled out the questionnaire and heckling co-workers (it is fabulous to be really good at something). One of the ladies, after finishing her paperwork, sidled up to the chair, slid up her sleeve and scrunched up her face.

"Oh, come on. The shot isn't that bad," I said. "You should be fine within a week."

She suffered through the needle and stood, pointing to her arms. "It is just that I have bad veins," she offered as an excuse for being afraid of needles. "When I was pregnant, they had to get blood several times and they would poke one arm three or four times, and poke the other one three or four times because they couldn't find any veins."

"Oh, that is bad," I said, remembering the ordeal my daughter went through years ago when they tried to get blood from her and gave her a huge bruise that lasted for weeks. I glanced down at my co-worker's smooth arms, showing no signs of purple veins. "Well, it is okay to ask for the most experienced lobotomist, you know."

The health-care worker's head jerked around and she stared at me, covering her mouth with her fist and going into a fit of coughing. "Oh, wow, that is just cute," she said when she recovered. "Lobotomist?"

Oh dear Lord.

"Phlebotomist," I corrected. "Right? Phlebotomist." My eyes rolled back and I buried my head in my hands. I can only assume a lobotomist is one who performs lobotomies. And if I were to ever find myself to be pregnant at my age, I'd definitely want a lobotomist as opposed to a phlebotomist.

But still...I'll never be able to face that health-care worker next flu season.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Just the Right Word

As a writer, it is important to supply just the right word at the right time to carry a paragraph, a page, a scene. There have been times I've studied a Thesaurus, called friends, debated with critique members, and rewritten a scene ten times before I realized it was one word, one lousy, detestable word snarling the scene.

I just got back from an extended weekend at the coast with my parents and my sister from Vermont. We went to a Mexican restaurant while in Rockaway Beach and I was wise enough to sit next to my mother. My father tends to elbow the person next to him continually, to gain their attention. My sister was suffering the blows while helping him understand the menu.

"Now, Dad, with this one you can get guacamole. Do you like guacamole? "

"What is that?" he asked.

She explained and so did my mother. He grunted. My sister went on, suggesting some other items she thought he might enjoy. We ordered and when the waitress brought the steaming meals, my mother looked across the table at my father's plate. "Where is his guacamole?"

My sister, little tufts of hair falling from her chignon, and her hand rubbing her arm closest to my father, said, "Oh, that was a different...a different...that was a different..."

Since I've sat next to my father for an entire five hour flight from Massachusetts to Portland, I recognized the signs of distress from the elbow treatment. Certain she was looking for words such as "menu item" or delicious entree" or "burrito supreme," I couldn't come up with anything. I finally asked, "Thing?"

"Thing. Yes, that was a different thing," she said. Her glance reached mine. "Thank you, Melanie, for supplying just the right word."

I curled my fingers over, blew on my fingernails and polished them on my shirt. With an arrogant tilt of my head, I said, "Yeah, I'm a writer."

Thing. Geeez.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cover to Cover Books

Cover to Cover Books

On a Friday in October of 2007 my mother called from back East and mentioned they'd had a fire in the basement. She and my father were fine, and the fire department had put the fire out before it got to the first floor. They were going to spend the night at a hotel, but everything was okay.

The next day, I called her and asked if she wanted me to fly back there. She said my sister was on her way from Vermont and that it was under control. The house looked pretty good.

The next day she called and said she needed help. It was way worse than it appeared.

When I arrived on the fourth day, the stench in the first and second floors of the house was overwhelming. In the basement, not only did wood burn, but plastic shelving, vinyl floorboard, and any number of other chemicals. The entire house reeked and had to be stripped down to the studs and rebuilt. Most of their belongings were a loss from smoke damage.

When a friend emailed last Friday, October 2010, with the news that Cover to Cover Books--where the Vancouver Writer's Mixer is held the first Saturday of every month, and where I had taken a writing class from best-selling author, Lilith Saintcrow--had suffered damage from a fire in the restaurant next door, memories of the dark, soot-filled rooms stinking of burnt chemicals and charred wood, assaulted me. I emailed the owner, but I knew the electricity was off. After work I rushed to downtown Vancouver and found her packing boxes of smelly, sooty books, to be hauled off by an after-the-fire
service company. Some of the books suffered water damage, with no hopes of saving them. All
the book shelves had to be dismantled and hauled away to the ozone chambers where they try to get out the smell of smoke and use chemicals to clean off the black.

Signs, posters, cork-board, displays are all a loss. Upholstered furniture is rarely able to be saved. Even the turkey vulture suffered from the odious smoke. Soot is everywhere. I tried cleaning off the desk top, but without chemicals, the black remains.

By Saturday afternoon, the store was empty except for a large pile of sodden rubble the owner must inventory while daylight filters through the grimy windows.

And now the real torture begins. The limbo. Being a helpless cog in a bogged-down, muck of bureaucracy. Although the fire was in the restaurant next door, it was all one building and the smoke and water damage in the bookstore is evident. Will the landlords rebuild? If they do, will it be three months? Six? A year? Will any of the books be saved? Will insurance cover the entire loss of inventory, hardware and furniture? Will it cover the months of closure?

The victim has no control over any of what happens next, and losing that control over one's life is the hardest of all to bear. I'm thankful the owner of the bookstore wasn't hurt. I'm thankful Smeadly the cat is unharmed, but I wonder if there is something we can do to help an independent bookstore owner through the next year of limbo. That is when my parents suffered the worst. It is the life-on-hold that lacerates the psyche.

If you have any ideas of how I (or we as a community) can help, please leave them here. We love our local bookstore owner. There are so few of them left.

Monday, October 11, 2010

We're the Mousecarteers, We Want to Say Hello

It turns out that harmless, little Legacy is a MouseCarTeer Hybrid. I drove the 40 miles down to see my parents in Oregon, at 70 mph mind you (just kidding all you state troopers, I was doing the exact speed limit, never faster), and as I careened into the lot of the senior living complex, a mouse compelled herself out of the engine compartment onto the windscreen by the windshield wipers. I screamed, slammed into a parking space and ripped open my phone.

"Mom, there's a mouse in front of me. On my car, right in front of my eyes." At that, the mouse scurried along the glass, scrambled onto the hood and checked out her new surroundings. I laid on the horn and prayed most of the residents were hard of hearing. The mouse scrambled back up the hood and dropped into the trough where the wipers hide. I threw down the phone, pressed back against my seat and flipped on the windshield wipers. The mouse simply stared at them before her gaze penetrated the window and met mine.

"Eeeeeeek," I said and honked again. The creature dove down between the windshield and the hood and disappeared into the engine compartment again.
Mouse Trail

I called Subaru today. "Yeah, I have to bring my car in for the first oil change, could I bring it in today. Right now?"

"No, you'd have to make an appointment."

"What kind of service will you be doing? Will you be changing the oil, and maybe glancing around
the engine compartment for anything out of the ordinary?"


"I mean, like, would they look for, say, things that don't really belong in the engine compartment?"

His voice sounded suspicious now. "What kind of things?"

When I told him, he said mice love cars of all makes and models (I think they just love whatever car I drive), but that I needed to evict it before it causes the car to overheat.

Evicting it with intimidating back-up sounded good to me, so I opened the door to the engineering department. "Gentlemen, are you ready?"

"For what?" several voices called out from the cubical labyrinth.

"Just grab a pair of gloves and come out front," I said.

It was just my luck that Nelson drives a Jeep and Kyle hadn't a clue what he had volunteered to do. No one knew how to open the hood. First I opened the trunk, then I pulled the fuse box cover off. After consulting the owner's manual, the hood finally popped open. Backing away from the car, I asked the two men to check for mice and mice condominiums. They backed away too.

I glared.

They moved back to the car and stared under the hood, looking for movement. Kyle found the nest and yanked it out, but there was no sign of Minnie. I figure she was off at the hospital having sextuplets. So now it is just a matter of time before she reappears, with relatives.

My gas mileage didn't seem as good on the drive home.
Mouse Nest

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Conspiracy Theory

It is raining here in the Northwest. Hard to believe, I know. In order to make it through the long, grey winters, we look forward to celebrating whatever happens to come our way. That is why, at work, concern surfaced on Friday. Angela's voice drifted over the cubical jungle. "Melanie, don't say anything, but look at October 16th."

I glanced at my calendar, flipped it to the right month and noted the "National Boss's Day" printed at the bottom of the 16th's square. "Saturday? It's on a Saturday?" I asked the world in general, since Angela sits four cubicles away.

"I know." Angela's voice took on a devious tone. "It is odd it would be on a Saturday. It is almost as if they don't want us to celebrate it."

She has a point. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Commuting in the Northwest

My cats are afraid of what goes on outside our windows. On Sunday, I held Hobiecat up to the window and we checked out the squirrels and birds in the small yard. It isn't far to the woods and the leaves are turning. As we watched, a leaf let go of the branch and hurled itself to the ground. Hobie dug his claws into me and then leaped for the safety of the kitchen.

Photo by Alan Vernon

It is such a nice time of year, autumn. Even if I leave work a little late, it is still light on my drive home, so I get to see my neighbors who are out preparing their homes for winter.

This evening I saw Rocky about 3/4 of a mile from my house. I don't mind them living 3/4 of a mile away. It is when they are on my back deck, demanding I feed them that I don't care for the vicious little beasts.

Last night I had to stomp on my brakes to allow Ben to cross the street about 1/2 mile from my house. I think he was checking his mailbox. Ben has also been on my back deck a couple of times, but I haven't invited him back. He wasn't very friendly.