Spin Cycle

laundry piling out of the washing machine. what a drag.


Admit it. You had a reaction when you saw that word. While thoughts of laundry could conjure the sweet smell of clean and the warmth of a towel pulled out of the dryer, that’s not the conjure that hits me first.

When I started doing laundry as a Young Doc, it was about moving piles to the basement in the dorm, waiting for the machines and returning at the end of the cycle to see someone had pulled your clothes out and put theirs in. Grrrrr.

Absconding with the community car, a few of us discovered the wonders of the laundry assembly line, the laundromat. We’d hit it up Sunday morning, slightly hungover, filling up three or four washers at a time. To save coin, we’d combine the wash into two dryer cycles. The big dryers were more expensive per cycle, but not per load. Completely done in two hours.

Fast forward to daily laundry. Doing one load every day kept the piles at bay. Mondays towels. Tuesdays jeans and tees. Wednesdays whites. Thursdays perma-press. Fridays sheets. Saturdays whatever’s left. Daily meant that while you were never done, the piles didn’t grow. Family laundry tamed. I think I only stuck to it a few months. Although, it could have been a few years since there was so much laundry that needed to be done for so long and memories get muddled like that.

Next phase was roll your own. The every-man-for-himself model spread the burden family wide. The Boys had uniforms for school and sports. There were specific soccer socks, then baseball socks, then football socks, that needed timely cleaning. Mixing with household laundry slowed things down. Happy to say I had no blame for a game-day fail. Sometimes they wore dirty jerseys. So be it.

All last week I was searching for three tees. They were long-sleeved and I needed them for our unseasonable weather snap. I couldn’t find them in the drawer. I looked on top of the dresser, nope. I went in the hamper with the folded clothes that never make it to the drawers. Not there. I put the folded clothes in the drawer. I looked in the other hamper with the clean clothes that I didn’t fold. While I was there I folded some of the bigger items. Did find those wool socks. No tees, though.

As I sorted clothes for washing today, I found the tees. How could they be dirty?  I hadn’t worn them in like six weeks. Going through my clothing pile, I’m thinking maybe I haven’t done my laundry for a while. Like a long while. I’ve done household laundry, but haven’t touched my hamper. Oopsie. I’m now thinking I need to cut the laundry lament.

Laundry and it’s process could be a metaphor for cycles in life, for picking yourself up, for cleansing, for mindfulness, for handling with care, for studies in timing, for sorting things out.

I’m not feeling any depth in the lessons of laundry, today. As I walk up and down the stairs, reading labels to catch the line-dries, all I can think of is spin, lather rinse and repeat. Not much there but the task.

Eau de Toilette

Mint tea. And a sprig of mint.

So before, when I was having chemo, some days–some days at a time, to be honest–I would feel like I had to throw up. They call it a “side-effect.”

Now, let me be super clear. Feeling like you are going to puke, even for hours, even for days, is much better than being dead. So, my statement above is just conveying a fact. I am NOT complaining. [Please note if there are any cancer gods reading this, I am super grateful. This is not a post about tweaking you all. You did great by me!]

So that clarified, feeling like the contents of your stomach will soon be leaving via an overpass from your mouth is not great. It stops you from eating. It stops you from talking. It encourages you to roll up in as little a ball as you can, and to sit very, very quietly because you believe that if you move it would cause the volcano inside you to erupt.

There’s a difference between feeling like you have to barf when you’re hungover, for example, and feeling like you have to barf because of chemo. If you’re hungover and you let it go, you almost always feel better. Nausea gone. Eat a hotdog and drink a fountain coke and be on with your day. With chemo-induced queasiness, there is no such relief. You just feel like crap. Always. Seriously, so much better to have had too much whiskey last night. And for those of you keeping score at home, I can’t tell you how this compares to pregnancy-induced nausea. I feel quite blessed by that ignorance, thank you very much.

So here I am, curled up like my own little Poké Ball, giving a whole new meaning to Squirtle. Someone gifted me a handfull of a fluffy white bear. Let me tell you, new fluffy stuffed animals are amazing and surprisingly comforting. Anyway, holding that bear close, next to my chest,  under my chin and not moving a single muscle seemed to help keep the upchuck at bay.

I couldn’t drink it, but the smell of peppermint tea improved my stomach roils by orders of magnitude. I soon recognized that making tea that I couldn’t drink was less effective than just holding the peppermint tea bag directly in my nostrils. That was crazy effective. Summing up, if I didn’t move a muscle, held the fluffy stuffed bear under my chin and breathed in the tea bag, I was fine. I could fall asleep, which despite the chemo-exhaustion was blocked by feeling wretched or that I might just retch.

I could reuse that teabag for a few pre-snoozing sessions, but I manhandled my way through the box of Twinings Peppermint Tea. Gah!

“Doc,” said the boys, “you need anything?” Normally, there wasn’t much that they could do, but today, but today! I had a mission.

Almost before I could say, “Can you go up to the drugstore and get me some peppermint tea bags?” they were off.

I sat waiting with my legs tucked underneath me, perched on the arm of the couch. The dog-beast assumed his nurse’s position just on top of my feet. I was vewy vewy still, keeping the bear pressed to my breastbone awaiting their return.

They had gone to the drugstore to find no peppermint tea. Undaunted, they braved the late December cold five more blocks to the organic market. Surely there would be peppermint tea in the hippie-haven. They found many organic options including loose tea by the scoop. Pushing on, they rifled through boxes and boxes of rosehips, camomile, zingers–red and yellow, sleepytime, berry, ginger latte, revive, pomegranate pizazz, I<3Lemon, grateful heart, peach tranquility and citrus lavender sage herbal tea. There might have been more. There were more.

The voila! moment came when they ferreted the Candy Cane. It wasn’t pure mint, but, it seemed to them close to mission fulfilling.

They brought the tea home in a bag and with the story of their explore. When they took the plastic wrap off the box and handed me a fresh bag, I can tell you honestly that nothing ever before was that effective in quelling my quease. I propped the bag under my nose, squeezed the bear and sniffed deeply.

What nice boys. What a fluffy bear. What a scent. What a relief.

I had been told to not eat my favorite foods during chemotherapy. The association of those foods with nausea ruins a good relationship. I skipped some of my comfort foods so that they could comfort me into the future. Fortunately dark chocolate with hazelnuts was not spoiled. And, fortunately, I can still enjoy peppermint tea. Like I did tonight when it delivered this memory via it’s perfumed aroma.


Monkey Shines

Trees at the subway. Washington DC

The boy dropped his dad’s hand at the top of the escalator. He was barely a boy, really, more like just-past baby. It was the end of the day and the rush hour throng was thinning. They, the boy and his dad, had just walked the half-mile from school.

School was what they called where he spent his day. The curriculum was directed by the kids. It included many games that they made up, some reading of stories, much playing outside and eating. The boy liked the eating. He liked the other parts, but he liked the eating.

They would cut through the subway on the way home, coming down the escalator on the west side, walking underneath the tracks and out the other side up the escalator. The boy liked to run through the in between tunnel with his dad.

It was early spring so the shadows were long. The boy wore his green zip up fleece. It wasn’t a bright green, more like a pine green. The cap that he wore over his titian hair was a contrasting blue. This blue was between light blue and aqua blue. More blue than green and more bright and vibrant than light. His cap was also fleecy, but baseball style. It sat on his head with the bill a bit to the left, not centered over his nose.

His nose had the mark of a run-in with a tree. A few days before, he was running–he ran a lot–and forgot to look where he was going. A tree reminded him of where he was. You could still see where the tree stopped him, but the wound was covered with a brown scab on his otherwise smooth, porcelain skin.

He took off down the sidewalk. He ran past the double metal fence that created an unnecessary walkway that only kids used. He didn’t use it today. He ran around it. He didn’t see that the cherry trees lining the walkway were starting to bud. He buzzed past the low evergreen shrubs. They weren’t low to him, though. He couldn’t see above them. Maybe that’s why he missed the cherries behind them.

He ran toward the street, but there was no worry that he would run out into it. He was going to his tree. His dad lengthened his step and reached the tree just as the boy was climbing one of the low branches. The old tree trunk was almost split, so the boy didn’t have to struggle to find his place in it’s arms. This was an apple tree–maybe crabapple–so it was behind the cherry trees in blooming. He perched himself in the tree, about four and a half feet above the ground.

“Daddy, I’m Hans the monkey. And this is my Hans tree.”

Nobody knew where the name Hans came from. There were no monkeys named Hans in his books or in his songs or in his movies. None of his friends or relatives had the name Hans. But there he was, Hans the Monkey, nesting in the tree.

He was close to face level with his dad, as his dad sidled up under the tree and placed his face near his. They shared some nonsense and then his dad started to walk up the rise to the street.

“Come on, Hans.”

The little monkey scampered down the tree and grabbed his dad’s hand. They walked the rest of the way home.

Nobody ever asked who Hans was. That would break the spell.

Clifden, County Galway

Clifden, County Galway.

“You’ve never been out drinking before with the Doc.” Spake the Big Guy to Baby Bear.

We had driven our longest stretch, from Belfast to County Galway. We bid our proprietor, Joe, goodbye. We had no idea what he said in return. Didn’t have a clue what anyone said in Belfast.

Except when Joe kept asking the other B&B guests if they “carikikeee reedeey.” We pieced together that he was asking about the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge that was closed due to wind the day we were there. The young woman getting her tea did not understand and batted the old man away.

Joe the Proprietor asked us if we wanted him to take our picture. At least that’s what we think he said, since he motioned to the camera. He took a great one. I wish we got a photo with him.

He waved us away early that morning, after a full Irish, for some.  Not for me. Too much food. Seriously, who can eat that much?

We had a day’s goal to cross the country and make it to Kylemore Abbey for an afternoon view. Legs were folded and bodies curled in the back of the bitty car. The soundtrack was the white noise of light snores.

We drove across green rolling fields spotted with bright yellow bushes that over the miles was recast into the brown mountains of the West. The road was a taupe ribbon on the flats that looped around the feet of the brown peaks. Some turns unveiled blue and green flecked water pocked with a flurry of little white waves.

We had a map and a better than decent idea of where we we were headed. GPS was spotty, but based on our Belfast wifi’d  maps, we made it to the Abbey for an explore. The castle and formal garden were charming, but, oh, the wild grounds. The Victorian era lord planted a zillion trees and brought in pheasants and foxes and stag and a gamekeeper so he could host hunting parties. I’m thinking The Rules of the Game.

Long day. We followed the coast on mission for dinner and a bed. Leenane was behind us. We followed the coast through delightful Letterfrack and pressed on a few miles to Clifden.

Still hugging the coast, we pass some green covered ruins and roll into the nominal capital of Connemara. The main street is a ring, but we didn’t follow it to infinity. As we were making the first lean around the loop I saw the name of a B&B that The Spouse found in his Kindle Fodor’s.

“Go straight!”

The overtaxed, driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road operator rolled down the hill to the sought respite. We were welcomed by the glance of a fluff of a mostly sleeping dog  next to a stoked fireplace. Fire. Pup. Good signs.

The host came out and gave us two rooms. We gratefully walked the steps and put our bags down. The Spouse asked me about the price. I hadn’t asked. I just made the deal. Two rooms with breakfast. Host gave us the keys. It wasn’t like a real transaction. Nobody asked for a credit card. It was friendly. We would pay.

We made friends with the host who spent a decade a decade ago in D.C. environs. Small world. He returned to Ireland, developed the guesthouse and was raising his family with the white fluff dog, Roxy. He pointed us to dinner options 93 steps away. We stepped.

The season was just beginning and all the pubs and restaurants were open. We walked up and down the main drag and settled on a dining room that was beautiful and beautifully delicious. I still don’t understand how such a small town could support quality fine dining. But fine it definitely was.

The non-drivers wanted to spend time listening to music with a pint. The driver had had enough good craic and walked the 93 steps back to the guesthouse to settle for the night.

And that’s how Baby Bear had his first time out drinking with the Doc.

We sat at the bar at the pub with the chalkboard promising live music. We ordered a pint. The joint was shyte. We finished and moved on.

Two storefronts down we found a young man singing and playing his guitar in a window bay, opposite a bulky bar and next to a fireplace hearth. We sat in front of the hearth and ordered more pints. We had the type of talk you have when you’ve eaten a great meal, consumed a few pints, are surrounded by good music and have no place to be.

As we walked the 93 steps back to that night’s headquarters, we crossed a street to see a beautiful moon hanging over the street lamps, watching us from a comforter of clouds.

It had been building all afternoon and evening, but at that moment, when I saw that moon, I fell utterly and completely in love with Clifden, County Galway.



Moshi Moshi

old fashioned rotary phone with the reciever off the hook.

It’s over. I killed the landline.

It was pretty much a waste of budget since nobody has used it in years. We kept the account for Internet–a sluggish DSL service that we never bothered to upgrade because of my absolute HATE for Comcast and because FIOS isn’t an option in our part of Ward 5.

But even after we switched to grown-up Internet, I kept the landline. I said it was because I was being lazy. It was really because I was being sappy.

This was the phone number we had when we we were first married. I put my office number on the invitations to the Spouse’s surprise party and reminded our guests that it would be extraordinarily bad for them to leave a message on our answering machine at home. Only one person did. I don’t think we know them anymore.

This was the line that the Spouse used to tell his Mom that we were going to have a baby. He was instructed to pass the phone over to me. She told me that she didn’t believe him and that she needed to hear it directly from me. Then she whooped.

This was the line that traveled with us from our first house to our current house that delivered more than one conversation with teachers–and more than one conversation with the principal. I dreaded the phone ringing at six o’clock.

This was the line that The Big Guy proudly broadcast his armpit fart version of the ABCs as I sat on the side of the bed in my room on the 33rd floor in a Chicago hotel. The Other Parent had to assist. I pictured the receiver being held inches from his skinny ribs as he went all the way through to X-Y-Z. I don’t remember if that was the call when The Big Guy complained that the Other Parent kept messing up the lunches, but that happened, too. I tucked my boys in via that line every night I was on the road.

This was the line that was attached to the answering machine to which my Sibling delivered a remarkable screed that could be a totally different post except I don’t want to go there. Suffice it to say that I am sorry I wasn’t the first person to hear that message, and I am most sorry that was a very bad turn for us.

This was the line that I would pick up and answer questions about my music preferences, give my opinion of local politicians, take a CDC vaccination survey, test messages with the PR firm for the electric company, and, my favorite, spend time with a stranger talking whiskey. She asked, “When was the last time you drank whiskey?” and I truthfully responded, “about five minutes ago.” The next twenty minutes were hysterical as I asked her to repeat the five choices on the Likert scale almost every time.

A landline is very quaint. It is from a time before we all had our own personal communications devices. It was a shared resource. It created obligations. If I answered the phone I was duty-bound to “take a message.” I had to make sure that it was passed on. My children have never taken a message.

This landline stopped being of any import probably nine or ten years ago. It didn’t bring the news of my parents’ deaths. It didn’t keep me in touch with The Spouse when I was in the hospital. It didn’t participate when someone made the call from the police department. Nobody left messages on it anymore–especially since robocalls don’t count.

I’ve had the same cell number for about fifteen years. I think that everyone who needs to get me has that new number. And now, the old one is gone.

I dialed the old number. I am not sure why. A lady that I didn’t know answered.

The number you have dialed, 2-0-2-2-6-9-3-0-6-5 has been disconnected. No further information is available.


Alas, Poor Robert

RG3 suited up and alone.

Both my boys played football. One played skills positions and the other was on the line. They worked really hard. I don’t think they threw up during two-a-days. I know some of the boys did. No flies on them. Washington is brutal in August.

Neither boy won a Heisman. They didn’t end up the second pick in an NFL draft. Lacked the NFL Rookie of the Year honor, too.

Nobody underwent reconstructive knee surgeries. One did have his hand stepped on by a 300 pound freshman lineman when he stepped up to fill a hole on the line. (Yes, it’s true. There were 3-4 freshman that size.)  He was a 165 pound corner just doing his job. It was a hairline fracture and he was cleared for practice in a week.

I love football. And, after watching many, many, many practices and games, I know I truly love the young men who work hard to make plays, playing a game they love.

When Robert came to Washington, the entire city loved him, a super-athlete with an easy, thousand watt smile. What a C.V.! He was a stellar student-athlete, earning his Bachelor’s in 3 years with a 3.7. He played his 4th year of D-1 football eligibility while working on a Masters. Seriously, that’s baller. Oh, and he loves his folks.

I don’t feel like reciting his career, but know that I was saddened to hear he was released from The Washington Football team. I’m glad that his benched-time is over. I still feel like he was misused and abused.

Oh, come on, Doc! some of you say. That guy made more in Subway and Gatorade endorsements his rookie year than you will make in your entire worklife. Put your sympathies to better use.

I’m like. So. What are his big faults? He’s arrogant? He blamed his O-line? He made a logo for himself? He wasn’t buds with the other quarterbacks? He didn’t play hard enough <false>? The team didn’t win <true>?

But, also. Did he flip off an opposing team? Get into “massive fights” at his apartment? Show up all over the place drunk? Hit his girlfriend, many times? While driving drunk, by the way? Did he hurt dogs? Drag a woman out of an elevator by her hair? Violate a restraining order? Drive through a hit and run? Get pulled over for DUI, even once, versus more than once? Murder somebody? [Here’s a list.]

No. He did not.

Did he publicly support his team while dealing with the personal public humiliation of being benched? Well, yes. Yes he did. Still, he worked hard running the  practice squad. Knowing that he wasn’t suiting up he still made his team better by prepping for the opposition–and keeping his head and body in the game for his future.

Robert was a young man recruited by older men to demonstrate Einstein’s definition of insanity. You know, repeating the same experiment and expecting different results.

Bottom line, he came to a Washington Football Team franchise that as a habit brought in a star–could be a coach or a linebacker or a QB–to flip the franchise to #winning.

No matter, there were no more wins. It was always the same result. Loss. Former Washington Football Team linebacker LaVar Arrington–who was once one of those star variables introduced into the proofs of insanity–said you can’t just add a superstar, stir and expect a change if the underlying system is a mess.

That seems right. As long as your owner focuses on a star-savior as a solution and manipulates the savior and the universe around that star to try and voodoo the owner’s desires, the system remains blighted. Your superstar bounces off the tense surface of your dysfunction like a penny on a trampoline and beelines a trajectory to the ground.

And, he ends up ignobly packing a cardboard box with his superhero figures and disapparates away.

Robert didn’t earn that. He gave fans much more.

Alas, dear Robert, we knew ye well. It’s time for us to let you go. I wish you much success. Know that when you come back to D.C., with your new team, I will be rooting for you.

Good luck this next round.

Ultimate Battles

Thor versus Hulk or is this Urlacher vs. Shockey?“Who would win in a fight? An orange or an avocado?” So the 13-year old began the discussion.

16-year old: Avocado, definitely. Has a pit in the middle–so if they pulverized each other that would be all that was left.
Me: And the orange is just not a’ peeling.

Batman or Ironman? >> Ironman.

OK, Jackie Chan or Jet Li? >>> Here an argument ensued. Jackie Chan won out.

Kobe or Michael Jordan? >>> Kobe. But Doctor J would destroy them both.

Urlacher or Shockey
? >>> Another toughie, slight edge Urlacher.

Whitney or Beyonce? >>> Whitney definitely tougher, she’s a crackhead.

Lupe or Kanye? Definitely Kanye–unless Lupe kicked and pushed. Lupe or Pharrell? Lupe, since he is from Chicago.

Bush vs. Gore? Nod to Gore unless Bush cheated, there is a precedent. Chris Tucker vs. Michael Jackson? MJ for the moonwalk. Superman vs. Flash? Thing vs. Hulk? Godzilla vs. Charizard? Jason Bourne vs. James (Daniel Craig) Bond? Only Bourne could beat Bond. Nobody can beat Bourne. Billy or Mandy?

Special Guest 16-year-old: Naked Brother Band or the Jonas Brothers? >>> ??? critical stop. Where did this one come from?

Everyone laughed.

Spirit of the Law

You parents out there. You know how your kids can be barristers? You know how they can parse words when it suits them? Like:

Me: I said no online games.
Him: Well, actually you said that you hate online shooting games, and this isn’t a shooting game.

Me: Homework needs to be done before goofing around.
Him: Well, I did finish my homework. I just didn’t show my work, and I didn’t understand problems 3-18, and I didn’t bring home my social studies so how could I read it?

Her: I am having a fundraiser-not campaigning.

In our community (okay, in my house), I don’t accept parsing of words to get around the intent of the agreement. The boys know the right thing to do, and I am not going to have an esoteric argument because I didn’t cover every possible variation of circumstance. Especially the stretch of circumstance which would allow the child to do what he wanted to do DESPITE the fact that it had been disallowed.

The point is: You know better.

Shut Up and Drive

And yet another great thing about our beach locale is the proliferation of low trafficked roads. Just what the 15-year-old wanted.

Him: Can I drive?
Me: Okay!
Him: Alien, return my parental unit.

We drive standard transmissions, so part one of the lesson is getting the clutch, brake, gas thing together. Oh, and the shift part. He caught on fast.

Next was getting out of the driveway and around the circle in the culde-sac. Not bad.

So we went to the next phase–driving on the road, turning and down-shifting. That went well, too. Even that time when there was opposing traffic–a pick-up lumbering in our direction–no freak out. Smooth sailing.

Next was going more deeply throughout the neighborhood, all the way to the main road where we played a version of the Chinese fire drill to swap drivers. Very well done.

On the way back from town, we swapped just as we got off the main road and he drove back. We were coming up to an intersection.

Me: Hey, that was a stop sign.
Him: Hunh? (hitting the brakes a bit late.)
Me: Back up a bit and let’s try that again. What do you do at a stop sign?
Him: You mean that was for me? I saw it, but I didn’t know that it was for me.

Turns out that he was used to seeing them and ignoring them from the passenger seat.

Next lesson, basic traffic rules.

Unidentified Flying Object

A bird dropped into the house this morning.

Yes, dropped would be the way I would describe it. I must have been awakened by the bird flying through the attic space because I definitely saw it Harrier into the room. Thunk! The dog also noted the appearance of another animal in the house. He also helped with the awakening-thing.

At first I didn’t know that it was a bird. I thought that it might be a squirrel, or maybe one of those rat-fink raccoons that have been known to burrow underneath the eaves and climb their plump/fat selves on the gutter causing the gutters to pull away from the house. Oops, I digress.

Anyway, I saw something fall into the room and then the dog went after it as it whizzed across the hallway. It was smaller than a raccoon, also it was a few feet off of the ground. “A bird!” I surmised.

Then it was in the dog’s mouth. “DROP!” I bellowed. (well, maybe more like screamed, I can’t say for sure.) The dog is amazingly obedient. I saw him fighting with himself. He knew he had to obey orders from the Alpha (me), but dear lord, he had a live animal in his mouth.

“DROP!” I repeated. (re-screamed?)

The bird flew to one window and clunked itself. Bouncing off, it raced to the other window with the dog in pursuit. “Don’t eat the bird!” I ordered.

The bird was, once again, in the jowls of the commando dog. The dog looked at me. “Dammit,” he telepathed. “This is my job. I am supposed to chase birds and return them. Also, I can save you.”

“LET THE BIRD GO!” He did. And the bird raced around as I tried to get the window open. Success, but the storm window was in the way. The bird was to the next room. The dog, once again, made a grab.

“DROP!” I wailed as I got the window in the bedroom open. There was fresh air. The bird was in the corner, next to the armoire, and the dog was going back for another go. I grabbed the dog by the collar and dragged him into the next bedroom.

“There’s a bird in the house, and I need you to keep an eye on the dog.” The 12-year old looked up from his covers. Like he didn’t hear the entire commotion. I bet he was hoping he could skip church this morning if he feigned sleep.

“Okay.” I left the dog in his room and went to see about the bird. I could see the tail sticking out from under the armoire. And he was breathing at about 2 zillion breaths per second. I tried to say something calming, and the 12 year old walked in. The dog, hot on his heels, trying for another mouthful.

“Okay,” I said again. “You watch the bird, and I will let the dog out.” I took the dog downstairs, put him in the room of the 15-year old with admonishments to “STAY THERE,” and went back upstairs.

The 12-year old was spying on the bird under the furniture. “He crawled all the way under.” We waited, prone. What to do next? The wind was coming in the room.

12-year old: Let’s get some bread and throw it out the window.
Me: Hunh?
12-year old: He’ll chase it.
Me: It’s a bird not a dog. They don’t do the same thing.

Whooosh! The bird saw its chance and was out the window.

I was relieved that it could actually fly, after the mouth treatment by the 85 lb. yellow dragon.

It flew to the tree outside the house. Caught its breath for a few minutes then flew toward the spooky church across the street. Three more birds like him streaked after him. I guess they were interested in his story.

I hope he discouraged them from finding out for themselves. I sat down to a cup of coffee. And fed the dog.