Irony and Guns. Turns Out, They DO Mix.

You know when irony just presents itself to you all shiny and dripping with yumminess and you just can’t help but snatch it from its dangly perch?

A coworker had been standing behind me, talking about the guns he owns, and the stores and shows where he has bought them. This particular coworker is a pretty jovial guy generally. He laughs a lot, but he’s one of those guys with a voice like a garbage disposal, a stature reminiscent of Napoleon and a humor that’s only good when you haven’t pissed him off. So, when I posted a status update on Facebook that said I’d overheard a (nameless) coworker talking about all his guns and all the stores and shows where he’s bought them… and that I hoped I never made him mad… I thought it was funny.

Now, I’m very careful about what I post on Facebook with regard to work or coworkers. I never mention any names and I never complain about work. Ever. But sometimes I do make jokes. (You’re shocked, I know.) This coworker and I are not Facebook friends, but I knew he might hear about it. I wasn’t worried about that. Sure enough, another couple of coworkers said something to him about the post. They had figured out who I was talking about without description or name of any kind, and without having been in the room at the time of the conversation I overheard.

But he was very defensive. He sent me a message. “Did you miss the part I ran into two other employees in the store? Don’t worry about me I follow the law and will use my gun to protect you, or anyone else from the guy that doesn’t respect life or law and order. No apology necessary and all is forgiven…” And then he offered to take me shooting, said he was used to this kind of attitude from our coworkers.

Well, I hadn’t missed any parts. Did you miss the part where you own like four times as many guns as the coworkers own? Did I miss the part where we’d talked about whether I’d ever gone shooting or what my general attitude is as compared to our coworkers?

For me, logic dictates that guns exist to kill animals and to kill people, and most of us don’t have to hunt for our food anymore – but if you do, I understand that. And I recognize that the Constitution gives Americans the right to own guns, and I don’t concern myself with taking that right away. I do, however, think there’s such a thing as overkill. That said, I acknowledge that people collect guns for reasons other than madly building a cache of weapons for the impending burst of anger and/or separatist movement. And I know that different guns have different uses, and that sometimes collections are a matter of heritage, and while I might not fully appreciate that, I do respect it.

So I replied to this coworker not with the snarky responses I’d come up with, but rather with four words. “It was just a joke.” And a smiley face for good measure (because apparently we’ve lost the ability to write without using an emoticon to communicate intention. Or is that just me?) And I apologized if he’d felt that I implied he was unstable, and said I would happily remove the post. Which I did. Because I can understand why that would be a concern for him, even though I didn’t name him.

It was at that point that he asked me if I liked shoes or handbags.

Well, now I just had no idea what the hell was going on.

Then I realized he was saying that guns serve different purposes like handbags and shoes serve different purposes. Albeit in a really sexist way.

And I told him I could understand that point.

And you know what he said?

“The offer (to go shooting) still stands even though I had to drag the apology out of you.”

You know when you huff out a humorless, smileless laugh in a single syllable? The kind that means, “Oh, now I’m pissed”? I did that.

The apology from three messages ago that he did not, in fact, have to drag out of me, that was offered out of respect, and that he had said previously was unnecessary? That one? Because that’s the only one I’m offering. I’ve done nothing else to warrant one.

“You know I can’t read your posts because we are not friends, right?” he wrote. “Two people picked up on it and they were not in the room privy to the conversation. We both know that ‘angry’ was similar to ‘postal’ in that context… I am not mad! Your embarrassed you were gossiping with the fb world and I caught you… all the rest is just good fun and a teachable moment as our lecturer in chief would say.”

That last bit was a reference to the president. You’ll not be surprised to learn my coworker does not like the president.

Of course I knew we weren’t Facebook friends. And I wasn’t the slightest bit embarrassed. In fact, at this point I was seriously considering reposting my comment with the addendum that I find it deliciously ironic that those who have attitude problems and collect lots of guns don’t seem to understand that it’s the attitude problem that leads people to joke about them collecting so many guns.

Guns don’t annoy people. People annoy people. People who can’t punctuate or find the proper spelling of “you’re” happen to annoy me. I suppose that makes me an elitist. Guilty. It also makes him fit that much better into the stereotype for which he has already set himself up so well that others can identify him in a comment devoid of his name or any description of his professional position or physical appearance.

Clearly, he is his own worst enemy, here.

Why is it that people who own lots of guns get so worked up about their right to own those guns? It doesn’t happen with the folks who only have one or two. Just the ones who have, like, eight. And who also have tempers. I never said you can’t have them. I never said you shouldn’t have the right. I merely commented that I thought it was funny to hear an unnamed coworker talk about how many he had, and the personalities of the employees at the number of places from which he’s bought them, and so I remarked humorously that I hoped I didn’t ever make him angry. Because we work together. And he has a lot of guns. Work… guns… anger…

It’s a sort of pop culture reference. Commonly understood.

And now you’ve gone and made me explain the joke, and everybody knows that jokes aren’t funny if they’re explained.

Ultimately, he backed down. He said he was just trying to be funny, that all was well, really.

But I admit, I was still a little nervous when I passed him in the parking lot on the way to my car late that night.

Once More Into the Abyss

Rick Santorum has this face he makes in debates. He made it a lot last night in Arizona. I couldn’t find a picture on the Google machine, which is disappointing because I figure someone has to have shot it at some point. It’s a combination of expressions that sort of add up to “You are such an idiot.” It’s kind of his trademark face, and to be fair, he’s not the only one who has a trademark face. Newt Gingrich has his blank “no, it’s really not that hard” face that immediately precedes a superior, one-word answer to a complicated question. Mitt Romney has his wide-eyed eyebrows-up face that means “I’m going to pretend I don’t really, really hate being questioned.” Ron Paul has his similarly wide-eyed face that means “Just stop fighting wars. How many times do I have to say it?” but, on the street, could be misinterpreted to mean “Just take my wallet, here, don’t hurt me.”

But Rick Santorum’s trademark face pisses me off more than the rest of them (Newt is a close second). Because it is the frequent mark of his condescension and belies his diplomatic approach to most (non-social) issues.

Right now, he’s edging Mitt Romney in national polls. Yes, it’s true, at least per Real Clear Politics and the Associated Press-GfK. Santorum got a bump from the birth control debate and might not be hurt by any of his anti-women in combat, semi-anti-women in the workplace rhetoric… probably because the women who support him are like-minded, and those who don’t support him never will.

Mitt Romney: Tree Hugger. So liberal!

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney just keeps struggling. He opened the debate with his introduction and, when he got applause, he quoted George Costanza from Seinfeld. I guess he wants to prove he’s a regular guy, but mostly, he’s just awkward when nobody writes down his words for him. Last week he declared his love for Michigan in part due to the height of its trees. Apparently they are of exactly the correct stature, as compared to, say, Iowa or Utah or Massachusetts or New Hampshire. Immediately after this declaration, Romney professed his bright-eyed love of cars. And then last night he reminded everyone of how he would not have favored the auto industry bailout, preferring instead to let them all go into managed bankruptcy and work their way out. You can agree with him or not – I respect the approach – but you can’t deny that the bailout did save a million jobs that might otherwise have gone the way of the Pontiac, and that isn’t going to help Romney in his native Michigan, where his father was a very popular governor. He’s trailing Santorum there.

He’s also trailing in Pennsylvania, by a lot. Pennsylvania is the state responsible for Rick Santorum. It’s also the state that kicked him out of the Senate in 2006.

The Crazy Train left the station right from jump, after Romney quoted George Costanza and Newt Gingrich told the country he’d get gas back to $2.50 a gallon.  (He also said BMW, Toyota, Honda and Mercedes plants in the US were all doing fine during the auto crisis. Anybody see a political and economic problem with that logic?) Ron Paul pulled no punches and suffered no hesitation when asked why he’s calling Santorum a fake in his campaign ads. “Because he is a fake,” he said, citing a number of instances in which Paul believes Santorum veered dramatically off his allegedly fiscally conservative course. That’s a set of accusations Santorum deflected with his own proof positive. No points for either side.

Romney tried to explain what on earth he was talking about when he claimed last week to have been “severely conservative” as governor of Massachusetts, as though it was some sort of disease (which some people might actually believe is the case). He said “severe” meant strict, that he was without question a conservative governor. That’s a long way from saying you were severely conservative, and nothing he noted in the answer struck me as being particularly right-wing:

 I campaigned for and fought for English immersion in our school, and had that successfully implemented. My policies in Massachusetts were to — were conservative, and in a state, as Rick indicated, a state that was a relatively liberal state, I stood up and said I would stand on the side of life when the legislature passed a bill saying that life would not be defined not at conception but later.

I said no. When there was an effort to put in place embryo farming and cloning, I vetoed that. When the Catholic Church was attacked, saying, look we’re not going to allow you to continue to place children in homes where there’s a preference for a man and a woman being the mom and dad, I worked with the Catholic Church to put legislation in place to protect their right to exercise their religious conscience.

They’re conservative positions, but not “severely” so. A lot of more liberal people would support those efforts, if only because there is a degree of government overreach in forcing private organizations to do something against their beliefs – whether we agree or not. (For the record, I believe the administration’s efforts to force groups like the Catholic Church to pay for birth control was overreach. It might seem like outdated theology to those who don’t adhere to it, but the government can’t force the Church to directly contradict its own belief system. It’s a violation of the separation of Church and State.)

Santorum in the driver's seat. Only makes right turns. (I put the pic on the left just to bug him.)

Santorum’s Achilles heel for the night was earmarks. His voting record does include a lot of bills with earmarks. He’s confessed that he now believes some of them were mistakes. But here’s where his social conservatism is moderated a bit: he has voted to fund Planned Parenthood, which is something that a lot of his more socially conservative supporters might find surprising. It wasn’t recent, since he hasn’t been voting in the House or Senate for years, but it’s still in his record. And his defense was, “Well, they asked for the earmarks.”

That’s stupid.

They’re governors. Governors ask for money. Yes, Romney asked for the earmarks associated with the Olympic Games for which you voted. But you can’t say earmarks are bad and then say your record is all the fault of various governors. The truth is, Santorum doesn’t have a firm stand on earmarks, no matter how much he wants you to believe he does. He has a fairly reasonable approach: some earmarks are bad. Some are good. But on the whole, they contribute to the debt and deficit, so let’s curb them. That’s his real stance, no matter what he says.

A viewer emailed or tweeted or Facebooked or whatevered a question about birth control, and the audience booed it.

The audience booed a viewer’s question.

Audiences. Honestly. Jackals, the lot.

And so began a conversation that included the phrases “legalized infanticide” and “dangers of contraception.” (Two different candidates – you guess who.) In case you’re wondering, the dangers of contraception apparently include the increasing number of children born out of wedlock.

Call me confused… I’m pretty sure that’s a danger of not having contraception.

They also include the number of sexually active teens. I’ll grant that concern.  But I find fault in a logic that says that the problem of “children raising children” out of wedlock in this country is because there’s birth control available. Birth control, by definition, cuts down on the numbers of children raising children. Its availability does not lead kids to have unprotected sex – that doesn’t even make sense. Misuse, miseducation… that might lead to children having children. Contraception’s availability leading to too many babies? Come on.

One thing did come to light, though. Romney said now we know why George Stephanopoulos insisted on the conversation about birth control in a previous debate against which I ranted. Touche’.

Ohhhhhhh. He knew about the thing with the healthcare and the... Ohhhhh.

CNN moderator John King (taking less crap this time) moved the conversation to gas prices, and something strange happened. Mitt Romney punted. Right away, he said that the price of gas is nothing compared to the danger of a nuclear Iran. At first I thought he was saying we have to deal with high prices if we want to keep Iran from going glowing. Strait of Hormuz and all that. But no. Turned out, he was completely diverting onto the president’s way of handling Iran. Clearly, the two items are linked somewhat, but he didn’t make the connection. He just ignored the question about gas prices. This makes me think he has no plan to lower them (which I personally think can’t be done anyway, without a federal subsidy beyond that which is already in place or a calming of all international tensions, not just Iran).  But the discussion went on, about Iran and then Syria, and then Libya and Egypt, without any kind of reference to oil and gas until Newt Gingrich circled it back around (and you knew he’d be the one to do it). It gave him an opportunity to talk about his plan to decrease the country’s reliance on foreign oil and open up the US oil fields. He was the only one who talked about a specific energy plan.

But the point he made that might have landed the best punch was when he said this, almost as an afterthought:  “This is an administration which, as long as you’re America’s enemy, you’re safe. You know, the only people you’ve got to worry about is if you’re an American ally.”

Santorum nodded broadly. The point: the candidates believe the Obama administration has kowtowed to foreign leaders of dangerous states while alienating those with whom the US historically stands firm. Like Israel.

The conversation turned to education, and Rick Santorum again admitted that his vote in favor of No Child Left Behind was a mistake. His reason: he thought it would do good, but didn’t realize at the time of the vote how much money would be spent to go a relatively short distance. He was booed when he said sometimes you take one for the team. But he schooled the audience by replying, “Politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you’ve got to rally together and do something.”

Not wrong.

Mitt Romney talked about Massachusetts’ program for education and charter schools when he was governor, and Newt Gingrich backed up the idea of charter schools and insisted that the problem in education is the teachers’ union. I won’t go into the whole thing here, but it’s worth reading in the transcript. You can search for “education” to find it.

Oh, and Ron Paul flatly stated the Constitution gives the federal government no authority to be involved in education whatsoever. Which I suppose is true, if we’re literal.

One wonders, with everything Paul declares unconstitutional, what he would be president of, exactly.

In the last segment of the debate, John King asked each candidate what he thought was the biggest misconception about him. Ron Paul said it was that he can’t win. Newt Gingrich strayed a bit and talked about what he did as Speaker under Saint Ronald Reagan. Rick Santorum said (albeit long-windedly) it’s that he can’t beat President Obama. Mitt Romney went way off topic and just started reciting his stump speech. When King reminded him of the actual question, he replied:  “You know, you get to ask the questions want, I get to give the answers I want. Fair enough?”

No, sir. Not fair enough. Exactly the opposite of fair enough. What’s fair enough is to answer the question.

Of course, the audience applauded Romney’s line.

Audiences. Hmph.



Announcement: I am awake! And I am woozy! I just coughed and hallucinated a Lucky Charms commercial.  This might be a fun read. At least, I hope so, because if not I’ll be very disappointed in my drugged self, and so will you.

Today was my endoscopy, for fun. For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me until yesterday evening that I might not be able to work today. I asked at the desk: “Yeah, no, you can’t drive today.” So I called my boss, who was displeased.

Get over it, pal. I’m high. You want me there high? You want me to plow into a school bus full of nuns holding babies on my way there because my reflexes are compromised? Do you?

Oh, and thanks for asking if everything’s okay. Ass-hat.

It took about 30 minutes to sign my life away (literally, in some cases) and fork over the 10% co-pay for the outpatient procedure. By the way, in case you wonder: an endoscopy costs roughly $1,110. I’m betting most of that is the drugs.

With Jack in the waiting room, I was led back to a restroom and told to provide a urine sample. Um… well… I haven’t had anything to eat or drink in 11 hours and I’ve already, you know, gone today. So…

“Well,” the nurse replied, “we have to have it.”

“Well,” I countered, “I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Well,” she said in a slightly warning tone, “if you can’t, we can start you on an IV to get you fluids, but it will delay your procedure.”

I think I heard a whistling noise and a rattlesnake.

Lady, did you just sort of threaten me? I can’t, you know, pee on demand. Why don’t you warn patients that they’ll have to pee on demand so they know not to do it voluntarily before they show up?

I managed to pee. Upshot: I’m not pregnant. Duh. But they never take your word for it. I once had a doctor ask me three times if I was sure. He’s lucky I didn’t tell him exactly why I was so damned sure.

Then they asked me a bunch of questions to confirm that I was probably not going to die on the table with a tube down my throat and delay their lunch breaks, and I lay on a very uncomfortable gurney for about 30 minutes trying not to stare at the cute little old lady directly across from me who clearly had left her dentures at home (which I think is actually advised). I also read the paperwork on advanced directives that they’d given me. Interesting timing. “You’re about to be sedated and scoped. Please take a moment to consider what you’d like us to do if we somehow make you a vegetable. No pressure.” I didn’t have to fill it out right then; it was just a “while we’ve got you, think about this” thing. But coming so soon on the heels of my grandfather’s directive-related death, it was a bit of a kick, and I wondered: If they do make me a vegetable and I haven’t filled this out, what happens then? Because I don’t have time to talk to my health agent. I don’t even know who to pick. Not Sister 1. She’s too emotional. Maybe Sister 2. She’s more like me and will have a better idea of what I’d want in the event of gray area. Of course, Sister 1 would be put out that I chose Sister 2…

But I’m not brain dead (shut up), and the nurses were very nice. I love nurses. It’s always the nurses who make you feel calmer and less worried. If you’re a nurse reading this: thank you for what you do.

With a pulse monitor on my finger and an IV in my arm and a blood pressure cuff on the other arm, they wheeled me down a few halls to the procedure room, which I couldn’t see very well because I hadn’t worn my contacts and my glasses were off, but which I sensed was reasonably medical and clean. The anesthesiologist (everybody’s favorite medical team member) and I had already established a rapport by commiserating over bad discs in necks. He’s had surgery, which didn’t help and nicked a nerve, paralyzing a vocal cord. I asked where.

“Here,” he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. Then he told me the name of the doctor. “Don’t go see him.”

I like you, Doctor Feelgood.

He hooked me up to all the wires and stuff in the procedure room, while a nurse put a bite block in my mouth and fastened it. Feelgood started the IV sedation. I remembered the achy, burning sensation from when I had my wisdom teeth gouged out of my head 16 years ago. “Is it bad?” he asked.

“Nnnneeehhh, sss ammsss gahh. Jsss cuuh,” I replied around the bite block.

Dr. Feelgood was fidgeting with the leads on my chest. “I can’t get her telemetry,” he said to the gastroenterologist.

Hmmm, I thought. I’m drugged already. That might be an issue.

“Well, uh…” said the gastroenterologist, helpfully.

Dr. Feelgood pushed down on the leads, because, obviously, when something isn’t working, the best thing to do is to push on it. “Still not working,” he mused. “Alright, sometimes these things are dry…” Rrrip. Rrrip. Two leads came off and were replaced. “There we go,” he said to the monitor afterward. “Alright, you’re going to start getting sleepy now.”

“Uh-huh,” I replied, blinking. I wonder how long this will take?

That was exactly how long it took.

Next thing I knew, I was waking up and the gastroenterologist was talking to me. I was a little concerned I might not remember what he was saying, but I listened and responded. Basically (here’s the payoff), everything looks normal, my bloodwork was perfect, he doesn’t have the ultrasound results yet, but the insides are clean. He removed a small polyp from my stomach and it will be biopsied, but he says those are common. He also took a few random biopsies from the duodenum (the beginning section of the intestine after passing through the stomach) to test for various bacterial issues or celiac disease. But everything appeared fine.

Fifteen minutes later (which felt like an hour), I asked the nurse: “I know it was 15 minutes ago, but it feels like it’s been an hour… did he say…” and repeated the above information.

She smiled. “That’s normal. Yep, that’s what he said. And it’s all written down here for you.” She pointed to the papers in her hand, which she gave me.


I read the paperwork, asked her about my apparently questionable villous flattening. Then I got to the pictures. Pictures! Woohoo! I wish I could scan them so I could show you. I find this stuff fascinating, and now I know what my distal esophagus, GE junction, cardia/fundus, gastric body, antrum and duodenum look like.

No, I don’t really know exactly what they are. Some of them I do. And I think “gastric body” = stomach. The rest I’m guessing based on my knowledge of Latin derivatives.

Then I re-read the report.

  • Medications:
  • Medication was administered per anesthesiologist
  • Propofol

Holy crap. I’m Michael Jackson.

Now I get what all those experts said after he died. Propofol-induced unconsciousness is not restful. It’s just… blankness.


Hey, where’s that advanced directive again?

Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind

I’m leaving soon for Paris. Or London.

Or maybe Fiji.

I’m going to bake a new recipe for a cake from scratch. Besides the one I made this morning.

I’m going to start that book about Nazi Germany, even though I haven’t finished the book I’m currently reading yet.

I’m going to buy a house.

I’m getting a dog. A black lab or a chocolate lab. Or maybe a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I’m naming it Seamus, or Simon, or Cyrus, or Guinness, or Huck. Or Finn.

I’m going to see if a project I’ve been working on can launch me into a new career.

I’m totally going hiking.

I should figure out what kind of car I want next. Just in case this one conks out. It’s doing fine, no problems, but it’s got a lot of miles and I drive a lot, so I should have something in mind.

I’m going to drive to Jack’s house, show up unannounced and just spend relaxing time with him so he can make all the stuff in my head go away.

This is not a bucket list, or even a list of goals. This is a list of impulsive things I’ve wanted to do that I apparently think will take me out of my current mindframe and put me in some sort of delightful alternative universe.

This is what happens when I get stressed out and don’t realize it.

It seems weird, doesn’t it? That you can be stressed out and not even know it? But I’m pretty sure that’s what’s been happening, because otherwise I don’t generally have quite this many fantasies about how to completely upend my (perfectly fine) life.

There’s been a lot going on, sure, but nothing that’s really a pressure-cooker situation. Mostly slow burns. My grandfather died and my aunt is almost definitely going to get crazier now. I’ve had some minor health concerns: my back, and some sort of GI issue that could be reflux, gallbladder, cancer of pick-a-thing, or a small man messing with my internal organs (though I would have thought he’d show up in the ultrasound the other day… maybe he was hiding behind my pancreas). I’ve lost probably too much weight too fast because of it. There’s also this Something’s Stuck In My Throat feeling, which almost always points to reflux but apparently might not this time, and it has me sort of obsessing over my singing voice. I’m working on a project that will require me to talk to a group of politicians next week, so I’m crafting a speech that’s supposed to be three minutes and right now it’s three minutes and fifteen seconds and I’m sort of stuck for how to shorten it. And lately I’ve felt like Jack and I are kind of far away from each other and like he doesn’t seem bothered by it, and I’ve really missed him and want to spend some serious time with him, which we haven’t done since the beginning of January. And he’s about to run another marathon, with a woman I used to work with and he still does, and she looks like Gwyneth Paltrow and I therefore hate her.

I guess that’s a lot, but really, my grandfather’s death seemed like a relief, and I’m seeing doctors about my back and my gut and throat. The back is getting better. The stomach, as of this writing, is completely on fire, which is super-odd since I haven’t had actual heartburn at all except the one weird attack that started this whole thing two months ago, and I’m now on prescription antacids rather than OTC stuff. But I’m two tests into a three-test week and can’t wait to have a tube stuck down my throat while I’m sedated on Monday, so we can see what’s going on. Plus it’s kind of nice to be a weight I haven’t been since approximately seventh grade.

The speech is on a topic that tends to make me anxious, but it’s pretty good, so either it’s just going to be three minutes and fifteen seconds, or Jack is going to come through with some brilliant and workable edits that will help me out. It’s down from five minutes, so I’m claiming victory regardless. And Jack has made a point of both inviting me to come to the marathon and mentioning that he and Gwyneth will need separate rooms. And I’m stupid because hi, he’s not actually my boyfriend. He’s more like my Person. Plus he’s the one who gets to take me for the endoscopy on Monday, and that will be some quality bonding since I’ll be doped up and very possibly belching a lot afterward.

So I don’t really think I’m stressed.

Oh, and also, I’m completely full of crap.


I mean, look. I could be a mother who is constantly worrying about her kids or whether she’s a good enough mom, or I could be losing my job like a bunch of my co-workers, or I could have been out of a job for a year already with no prospects, or I could have to take public transportation to work every day and sit next to a fat guy who breathes heavily and hasn’t showered in a week who finds me no matter how much I try to escape him. Or I could have cancer.

Wait, I could actually (but probably not very likely) have cancer. Hell, everybody could have cancer. Sometimes you don’t feel it.


What I’m saying is that these are really not major things to stress about, and therefore, I do not feel stressed about them. Except that I keep coming up with things to add to my list of Escapist Approaches (oxymoron?), and that makes me think that maaaybe my psyche is a liiiiitttle bit tired.

Ice cream. That’s what I need. Ice cream.

Day Is Done

The funny thing about the days afer a death and before a funeral is that we tend to sort of forget there’s anything happening. I mean, we know what’s happening – why else would I be spending so many days and nights at my parents’ house? But by day three, things started to get a little… odd.

The first day was the day after my grandfather died. I’d said my goodbye to him the Saturday morning before, believing he’d be gone within hours, and I drove the roadtrip back to work. On Wednesday, I’d just gotten to my desk when I got the call. But on Thursday, I’d decided to give my parents some time and space, since they had spent most of the last nine days – and some nights – at the hospital. When I called to let them know my plan, they were at the mall. A 93-year-old needs a new shirt and socks to be buried in.

Shopping for a dead person. Surreal Life Event #107.

The next day, Mom and I ran down to my aunt’s house to drop off some photos for the collage my cousin’s wife was making. My aunt, you’ll know if you read my last post, is just this side of certifiable. She lived with my grandfather and got the house in the will, and there is every chance she will turn full-on hoarder and begin collecting stray animals. Yet, somehow, she was the sanest of the sisters that day. The visit was blessedly brief, but when we got back in the car, my mother began an out-of-nowhere rant against President Obama that lasted 35 minutes. Captive in a moving vehicle, I could not throw myself clear. As we pulled into my parents’ neighborhood, she declared once more her insistent – and apparently persistent – belief that he is a secret Muslim.

I told her that I love her and we would therefore absolutely not be having that conversation, at which point she punted to his un-Americanness as indicated by his refusal to wear a flag lapel pin and the photo of him without his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance in 2008.

That got us into the garage.

There are many layers of madness endemic to families forced together by death.

That night, all my siblings and nephews came to my parents’ house for dinner. Mom liked the idea of having us all there, and since we all potlucked it, she didn’t have to do any work, which was a bonus. As the evening came about, though, two sisters got caught in rush hour traffic and wound up quite late. As it progressed, all three nephews engaged in various levels of meltdown, one of which was inflicted by a Goldfish cracker stuck in the toe of a pair of footie pajamas. By the time Sister 1 was deeply entrenched in a seemingly endless and mostly solo post-meal discussion about high school bullying, I was ready to check out. I was still abstaining from alcohol because of yet-unidentified GI issues, and frankly, I really needed a drink and was beginning to resent all those who were sipping on wine. Wine, I might add, that had come from my wine rack. I was completely socially unlubricated, and it was starting to chafe. It was 8:30pm and I felt like it was an hour that hadn’t yet been invented.

That was when Sister 2 put her head down on the dining room table. Didn’t say a word. Just rolled her eyes back and put her head down in a silent declaration that she was simply depleted of the emotional energy required for a conversation the beginning of which we couldn’t remember and the reason for which we presently could not possibly care less about, anyway.

Sister 1, not always good with the cues, continued the topic, which is a fine topic except it’s too heavy to go with grilled chicken, quinoa, veggies and dead grandfathers. So I got up and left the room to go watch “The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” with the barely-conscious Twin Nephs. Solving color puzzles was about as much mental hurdling as I could summon the will to do at that point.

On day three, Saturday, my father told me that Mom wanted some quiet time to herself, so we were going to vacate the premises. Fine, I get that, and I’m ready to get out, too. We went to the mall to get Dad a tie (the man just retired from upper management, yet he needs a tie?) Then we went to lunch, and then stopped by Target to get Mom a flash drive since her laptop is threatening suicide. When we got back to the house after 2 1/2 hours, Mom hadn’t slept as intended when she went back to bed at 11am, but she was still in her robe. The only thing that got her out of it was Mass.

Mass on Saturday evening meant absolutely nothing to do on Sunday. Sunday was the day before the funeral. I’ve long since decided that the day before a funeral is the most surreal day of all. You know what’s coming, but you’ve sort of pushed the reason for it away from your psyche in the days since the death. It’s a vacuum, a kind of sensory deprivation day on which you realize you feel almost normal, but not quite, and you can’t seem to figure why. It’s a kind of numbness. You’re worn out despite sleep and bored despite company –  company that, at this point, you’d probably just as soon forego. There’s a strange sense of loneliness that settles in, of restlessness, being too long in each other’s space and not enough in your own, that leaves you feeling set apart and out of sorts and longing for the person not in your family who could hold you and comfort you the most and make everything fit in your head again if they were willing.

My proposed solution was to go to a movie. Dad didn’t want to come. As we arrived at the theater, Sister 3 said to Mom, “Do you know what the movie’s about?”

“George Clooney” was my mother’s answer, and I was satisfied with it.

Handy tip: if someone you love has just died after a tense time full of crazy people, endless communication problems, misdiagnoses and incorrect prognoses, questions about exactly what his advanced directive means, parsing of the difference between a DNR 1 and a DNR 2, and how the hell some total stranger’s signature wound up on an order you didn’t want that changed his DNR 2 to a DNR 1… don’t go see “The Descendants.”

***Spoiler alert*** The whole thing, turns out, is about how George Clooney’s wife is dying a slow and peaceful but tedious death in the midst of intractable family drama.

F@^% me.

I was surprised by how absolutely it appeared that this woman was truly dying, never speaking, never moving, never even with her eyes open, lying in a hospital bed connected to tubes and wires and wasting away, sallow and bent. Even the crust around her mouth looked like what had settled around my grandfather’s. Her whole look was stunningly similar to his. I was okay; I mean, I didn’t cry. Instead, I swore repeatedly in my head about the fortune of this particular film choice at this particular time. Sister 3 and my mother, they cried.

Good movie, though.

But then Monday came, and early rising. Showers and oatmeal and don’t forget the hymnal because “In the Garden” isn’t in a Catholic songbook, and it’s my solo after communion. Nylons and lint rollers and the tricky clasp on my grandmother’s bracelet. The viewing was only an hour, but felt like seven in the cold church. The American Legion representative played Taps from the back of the church. The accompanist was ridiculously late and practicing was nixed when she wanted to play over the American Legion veteran’s pre-Mass eulogy. Sister 3 started the first reading from the book of Ecclesiastes and immediately got hung up on “a time to be born and a time to die,” needing several moments before she could go on. Cousins and sisters presented offertory gifts and Bible verse, and a beautiful, delicate, quilt-pieced eulogy sewn from the memories my grandfather’s grandchildren had exchanged in the days before. It made me realize, only now, just how much I had learned from a man who was always so quiet.  It took me back to the childhood I shared with my cousins and let long-latent memories dawn anew.

I sang, and my mother’s cousins told me at the luncheon afterward how much the hymn choice meant to them – a credit that goes to my mother and aunt.  My grandfather was a gardener. He’d grown the food for his family as a teen and a Victory Garden after he’d returned from war, and he kept on growing vegetables and flowers until he couldn’t do the work anymore. It is because of his garden that I love roses and tulips and hydrangeas. And though his Episcopalian roots had long ago been tilled for his conversion to Catholicism, he had always loved the hymn I was honored to sing for him. I had never sung it before, but I haven’t stopped singing it since.

In the icy wind of a clear winter day, alongside the woman he’d missed so desperately for so long, we laid the last man of his generation to rest.

The next day, at work, my friends gave me a planter as a sympathy gift. They had no idea my grandfather was a gardener. I’ve given it his nickname. No gardener myself, I’m hoping he helps me keep it alive.

Almost Dusk

My aunt was grappling with the cord on the plastic horizontal blinds. The string was basically useless. No, that’s not true. It would pull the blinds up. It would not, however, drop them down. Across the room, my uncle squinted with the full glare of the late afternoon sun in his face.

“That’s not working,” came the obvious from my father, near the corner. My aunt laughed and kept gently trying to jiggle the cord into position. As my mother moved to help her, my uncle suddenly bleated. “There! Phyllis! Just–” he made a tiny motion to the left with his hands as my mother formed a partial eclipse across his face. She smiled and scootched that way as my aunt’s nervous giggle sounded next to her again.

“Perfect!” he said, shaded. “Don’t move.”

“What are wingbacked chairs for?” I asked from my perch in one, lolling my head dramatically to one side. “Are they to catch your head if you fall asleep?”

“Yes,” said my mother. “That is what they’re for.”

“Well this one fails,” I said, rubbing my neck where I’d kinked it from my experiment.

“Do you remember how Josh used to fall asleep as a kid?” my cousin Greg asked, and I nodded. Josh was kind of freakishly sleepy, practically a narcoleptic when we were little.

“In his bowl of spaghetti!” Aunt Jane declared as Josh humbly rolled his eyes and nodded, having heard that particular story semi-annually for the last 30 years or so.

“On the floor outside the shower,” I began.

“–While the shower was on,” my mother finished.

“I don’t remember that,” Josh laughed. “Everybody says I did it, but I don’t remember it.” Josh is affable, instantly likable and quick to absorb ribbing, which, as the youngest of my aunt’s children, he had taken plenty.

Dad’s phone rang and he walked out of the room to take the call. Technically he wasn’t supposed to have the phone, but nobody had said anything to him, or any of the rest of us, who had ours too.

“We were going to get married,” I said to no one in particular, gesturing to Josh. “When we were five.” I still have a sepia-toned memory of us holding hands walking down a sidewalk, maybe into – or out of – the little school we went to together where his job was to tie shoes, because he could, and my job was to roll up sleeves for messy crafts. Josh was the youngest of his family and I the oldest of mine, ourselves separated by just seven months, the children of a pair of sisters. He was always a sensitive soul with puppy dog eyes and a sweet, infectious smile, traits which have carried him into his 35th year. Fortunately we fell rather out of love by the time we were seven, at the outside. Plus I had moved away and the distance was a bit of a strain on the relationship, as neither of us had gotten terribly good at writing yet. Also there was the cousin thing – though that had not phased his great-grandparents, a fact which had cursed his father and uncle with what the family referred to as “an imbalance” in the way that folks who still love the Old South refer to the Civil War as “the late unpleasantness.” Fact was, his father and uncle were nutty, sans meds. And sometimes flat-out nasty.

Nutty, too, is Aunt Jane, though not from inbreeding. Countless are the times when Aunt Jane has heard something and from it grown an entirely conjured story full of stuff that was not I mean even a little bit on the mark. Once, ten days after Josh’s wedding, I got a voice message from my aunt, in tears, telling me she had heard only just now about how Josh’s friend Billy had groped me on the dance floor at the reception. My mother’s voice followed hers, saying my aunt had told her, and maybe it was true for all she knew, because I never tell her anything and probably would have handled it myself. It took me a couple of hours to stop angrily muttering to myself about how bats–t my aunt is before I could figure out a way to call her back and tell her, in a manner properly respectful of her elder status, that she was hallucinating. Nothing even close to it had ever happened. Lord, if Josh had heard this confab of fiction before I set it straight, Billy would be dead to this day.

Not surprisingly, that’s a story that never gets told at family gatherings.

Dad walked back into the room just as Greg was telling his girlfriend another infamous family tale: the one in which my father had tied a rope around Greg’s waist when he was a toddler and used it as a leash. Dad was babysitting while Mom and Aunt Jane shopped, and my aunt – very protective of her children – returned home to find her eldest child roped and running as far as the slack would let him go before my father would yank him back into the other room. Greg thought it was great. Thirty-seven years later, Aunt Jane is still touchy about it.

My mother’s brother eats these stories up, laughing his dry, scratchy laugh with blue eyes bright at the pure pleasure of time with family. His shoulders shook listening to the story again, though we’d all heard it many times before. He laughs like my grandmother did. It’s either a chuckle or a full-tilt romp. There is no in-between.

A series of beeps sounded. “Whose phone?” came the question, and for a brief moment there were the lookings left and right of those who can’t quite remember where they’ve put their gizmos. But the direction of the sound became clearer and we all glanced at the monitor over my head, and then at my grandfather lying in the bed in front of me, so much less substantial than he used to be, sleeping the sleep that comes from a steady dose of dilaudid and whatever was happening inside his skull. He is 93. And a half, because I think when you hit 90, the halves count again. I used to tell him he didn’t look a day over 89, and he would laugh. But now he looks every bit of 93, gaunt from two years on a feeding tube. In recent days, he’d lost the ability to speak, and then to see.

We had been told that my grandfather had had a mild heart attack, which caused the fall that left him lying in a heap atop his walker with a shiner, unconscious when my aunt found him. We had been told there was a bleed in his brain, one that would require surgery to repair, which could be a coil through a small hole, or could be a full-blown craniotomy, with no chance of recovering what he’d lost, but with a chance of preventing further damage. We decided against the surgery, which would have required a chopper ride to another hospital. We had been told that he had 24 hours, maybe 48.

He stirred, futzing feebly with a sheet, opening his useless eyes a bit. “Hey!” boomed Greg’s low and distinctive voice as he leaned over our mothers’ father. “Hey, you dreamin’ about pretty women again?” And the left side of my grandfather’s mouth curved up in a lopsided smile.

“It’s like the voice of God,” I said with mock reverence. “Only more smart-ass.”

Later, we would learn that, in fact, the bleed had been on the outside of the brain, the surgery was not even indicated, and that he was not dying. He may regain some motor control of his right side, but with advanced Parkinson’s Disease, that was a crap shoot on a good day. He would not regain the ability to speak, or see. He still could not eat or drink, the result of a paralyzed epiglottis from an undetermined incident two years ago. He could not write, because of the Parkinson’s.

We knew none of this, gathered in his room. Not yet. As my cousin chuckled, my grandfather’s eyes closed and his head rested. The sun still setting, Uncle Alan’s face once more glowed orange, and my dad crossed the room for his turn to wrestle futilely with the blinds.