Glass half-full. I’m going with that.

The ice cream truck is playing Christmas songs and I’m getting mistaken trash dumping citations. It’s springtime in the city.

The trash citations are supposed to be for the house two homes north of me. Instead, some dolt who works for the city and doesn’t know north from south took all the requisite photos of proof and failed to understand in which direction the house numbers ascend. He’s got the front of my house in with three photos of the back of the house two doors up. He’s also got a photo of the rear of the house in between, which was also inexplicably cited, and it’s clear in that photo that the rear of my house is clean and the rear of the house to the north is where the trash is.

I expect this will be easy to fix, as I know the councilman for our district and I’m pretty confident he knows how to count and which way is north, and he is now in receipt of my email. As is someone in litigation for the city’s code enforcement division. If nothing else, I’m sure I can get the rats to send some emails, too.

Oh, relax. It’s a city. There’s water nearby and the trash gets picked up in the alley. Rats happen. You know you’ve grown impervious when you see one that’s multicolored and have no reaction whatsoever except to immediately characterize it as a brindle. Besides, the alley cats help control everything.

I love fighting the Man. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier when you know people. Of course, I’ll have to take care that city code enforcement doesn’t notice the sections of drywall propped up against the concrete wall behind my house, which are there because my guest bedroom got rained in. They used to comprise part of my ceiling. Those who have been reading me for a while know that this happened right before I bought my house, when Hurricane Sandy menaced the entire east coast. That time, there were stripes down the wall the day I was supposed to close, and I told the builder I wanted him to rip the wall out and redo it. He didn’t, but he seemed to have had a good reason. He said he’d fixed the problem on the roof and gave me a builder’s warranty.

Then he basically ignored me when I actually needed him to do something about water I was finding in the basement. Not a lot, but it’s still water – rain water, to be precise – and it comes through…

…wait for it…

…the electrical panel.

I think I know why it’s happening and how to fix it, but the builder is in the wind. He’s ignored me for 11 months now. He has ignored my realtor as well. I have looked up the records and discovered that he has been sued 40 times in the last 15 years, mostly for breach of contract, and he owes people millions of dollars.

Soooo that’s probably a fruitless pursuit.

Back to the guest bedroom… After a super-fun night of ignoring the paper I had to write so that I could, instead, help my former contractor friend and neighbor rip out an 11 1/2 x 3 1/2 foot section of my guest room ceiling to discover completely saturated fiberglass insulation, we figured we found the problem. The evidence hadn’t shown up in the ceiling, though it was just a matter of time. Rather, it had shown up halfway across the back wall. The water, having saturated the ceiling insulation, then found a path along beams and whatnot, and ran down that way.

Oh, physics. Oh, properties of liquid.

I gave the insulation a little time to dump its continual streams of fiberglass-flavored rain into buckets before I pulled it down. And looky what I found!

0503141430

How nice of them to label it!

Yeah, nobody I know wrote that. That’s from the builder’s guy. Helpful, no?

You might think that, upon coming home from work after a rainfall of several inches and finding a puddle on the windowsill and then following context clues to discover that half of the back wall of your guest bedroom was a sopping mess, you would have a few choice words at this revelation. You might think that I, historically willing to document choice words, would not be at a loss.

I really just laughed.

Because seriously?

Anyway, I got a roofer to come out, and he told me with every bit of stereotypical city Italian affect that the actual problem is three-fold: there were holes worn in the roofing materials around two pipes that vent up through that ceiling to the roof (the one pictured is the bathroom plumbing vent pipe, and the other one, about 18 inches toward you if you’re looking at the picture, is the air vent pipe for the bathroom fan), allowing rainwater to collect there and then drip through around the pipe;. Also, the air vent pipe was not capped.

I’m going to give you a minute to process the fact that an aluminum pipe not fitted for any kind of moisture because it’s meant only for air was left just as open as you please on my roof, so that it could just rain directly into said vent pipe and then leak from the elbow fitting into my ceiling. Probably for a long time, and directly onto my head at one point, as I stood there staring at the pipe marked “roof leaks” during a subsequent rainfall, waiting for the marker’s prediction to come true.

So, yeah. Two leaks. Long time.

Blessedly, that roofer, who is totally legit and came with multiple recommendations, said he’d only charge me $150 for the fix. Which is $9,850 less than I expected. I haven’t gotten a bill yet, so we’ll see how that actually shakes out.

And it appears his fix has done the trick. We’ve had a couple of rainfalls since, and everything’s dry.

My guest bedroom is still rather… rustic. So the next step is to call in a contractor to tell me what it will cost to remodel the room to look exactly like it did before it got rained in.

For now, the door is closed and I’m pretending that room doesn’t exist. Fortunately, I have an appreciation for learning, which comes in handy when you’re standing at the top of a ladder waiting for drops and can instead wax kind of nostalgic about the gorgeous, wide beams that made up the original ceiling, above which, between gaps, you can see the original slate roof. Since my house is about 100 years old on the outside, that was kind of cool.

Glass half-full.

Of rainwater, but half-full.

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Local Support

There are moments in life—oh, life, you are so hilarious—when everything turns on its head. And then there are moments, say, five years later, when everything turns again. And yet nothing is the same as it was the before it changed the first time, and you wind up cross-eyed and kinda nauseous.

One of my dear friends, Amanda, has just been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It’s bad, and it sucks, and there are basically no other words. I mean there are—some of them are Latiny medical words and some of them are very bad words and almost all of them are adjectives, but none of them mean anything except cancer. Cancer that has made itself quite at home in Amanda’s body, in a bunch of places, without so much as telling her it was squatting until she bought a house, moved in, thought she’d tweaked her knee, and the MRI showed a tumor. It wasn’t until two weeks and five appointments later that the focus shifted from suspected lymphoma to, “Wait, no… not lymphoma. Breast.”

Everything changed when that word entered the conversation. Suddenly the PET scan that looked “unsurprising” when they thought it was lymphoma was a whole different ball game, and the bases were loaded.

It’s funny, in that not-at-all-humorous way… every time I would hear about someone diagnosed with stage IV cancer, I would think, “How did they not feel something was different?” Now I know the answer. Amanda was diligent about her health; her father died at age 34 from cancer, and she is obsessive about annual physicals, blood work, colonoscopies, and, yes, a mammogram every year since she turned 40. She had one less than a year ago. Clear. But mammograms in women under 50 are much less effective because the tissues are still dense, and Amanda is 43. And though she did notice a change that may indicate inflammatory breast cancer about a year ago, and did go to two or three doctors to check it out, all the tests came back clean. Amanda is also cursed with a useless metabolism, and her weight hid the “very enlarged” lymph nodes under her arm that only showed up in scans. There was just no way to know.

She is feeling every emotion you can imagine. She’s cried so much that she doesn’t think she can cry anymore, and then she does.

Her family is very small and not local, so there are five of us who live within an hour who will be her “on the ground” care team. I asked her, sitting in the car after the watershed appointment where the breast surgeon told her what we were dealing with, who she felt comfortable with knowing all her intimate details and being there even on her worst days. She gave me the names. We’ve already launched a small operation to keep things organized and keep each other informed as we take turns accompanying Amanda to appointments and, going forward, treatments and post-treatment days. We are functioning exactly as we did in our jobs when we worked together: project managing and troubleshooting, thinking of everything we can in the early going so that things might be a tiny bit easier later. There’s a Google Drive and a calendar and a binder and a lot of coordinating amongst ourselves so that everything goes seamlessly to anyone who might observe from outside.

Now there’s a new name on the list, one Amanda didn’t mention at first, but said she was okay with when Liz asked, and while she’s not a full-on member of Local Support (bra logo pending), she’s already the exposed underwire that’s going to poke the shit out of me.

She’s my old boss.

Terri has Hodgkins Disease, and she’s currently in relapse number four. She also has a manipulative personality and a tendency to want to be in charge of, and wield power over, everyone. She’s not Amanda’s friend, but when Amanda thought she had lymphoma, she reached out to Terri for guidance. It made total sense, and Terri still has valuable insight that will help Amanda, and that is all that matters.

But Terri treated me horribly pretty much every day for four and a half years, threatened on paper and in person to fire me, humiliated me, ignored me, called me names, and made me miserable, and I’ve only been away from her for 13 gloriously liberating, rebuilding months. And now she’s part of this.

The whole care team used to work for Terri; Liz still does. She doesn’t have a problem with Terri, but knows my history and was sensitive enough to ask me if it was okay to give her my email address and if it was okay to invite her to a team meeting we’re having Tuesday night at Liz and her wife Molly’s house. I told her Amanda needs Terri’s insight, and that’s all that matters.

And then the chest pains started and I realized I’m going to need to get a new anti-anxiety med prescription, because apparently I can handle my sweet friend having stage IV breast cancer, but I can’t handle having to deal with Terri again. Terri, who emailed me seconds after I gave Liz permission to share my email address, seemingly to say not much of anything, and then, after a few really courteous exchanges, said, “I know it’s a shitty way to reconnect, but I’m glad we are. Still miss you here…”

And then I yelled at the screen and threw up.

(I only actually did one of those things.)

I met Amanda, as well as Alicia and Miriam and Liz, when I started my old job, not quite six years ago. The four of us were like an internal support group in a rough industry, constantly keeping each other laughing, helping each other with the work, or listening to each other’s gripes. I met Molly when Liz, during a snowstorm, offered to have me stay at their place, two miles from work instead of my 50,  because we had to work the next day. Together, we have all been through a raft of ridiculousness.  Of all of us, Amanda left first. I left a few months later; Alicia and Miriam left on the same day, seven months after that.

Miriam (who also hates Terri) reminded me that sometimes the Devil has an answer, so you talk to the Devil about that one thing and you ignore the rest. I’m going to try to keep that in mind. It occurred to me that this is what some families must endure… that sense of being thrown into something awful with someone who has caused a great deal of pain, because someone else needs them both at the same time.

I just got home from spending much of the day at Amanda’s house with her, her friend Noel from college, and another of our former coworkers. There’s a weird sense of conflict within me about giving non-team members any information on Amanda’s illness. I’m fiercely protective and I don’t want others to know more than she’s comfortable with sharing, but when they ask you point-blank and Amanda’s not yet home from Target, it’s an awkward situation.

I’ve known about Amanda’s cancer, in whatever form it was going to take, for two weeks, and I’ve already learned so much. Some of it is about myself. And it may be uglier and more insidious than triple-negative stage IV possibly inflammatory breast cancer. Tomorrow morning, Alicia takes Amanda to her first radiation appointment to try to get a handle on her somewhat debilitating pain, and in the afternoon, I take her to her first meeting with her medical oncologist, who will determine and order all her chemo treatments and coordinate with the breast surgeon and the radiation oncologist about others. And Tuesday, Terri and I sit down with the rest of Local Support, bra logo pending, and figure out how to hold Amanda up without fraying at the edges.

 

 

 

If I Could Open My Eyes, I Might See the Light At the End of the Tunnel

So, I might hate grad school. Lil bit.

I had a meeting at the end of last month with one of the deans, who happens to be my client. Upon an exchange of pleasantries and my inquiry as to his well-being, he said, “I’m intermittently fine.” I thought that was a genius way to describe my own status and seconded. 

“You’re getting your master’s, right?” he asked.

“Trying to, yes,” I replied, because it was precisely the reason I was only intermittently fine.

“How many classes are you taking this term?”

“Two.”

His eyebrows went up. “Two? That’s a lot, with a full-time job.”

“Turns out!” I replied. 

And then he told me how I might be able to get around taking a 200-level stats course prereq with a bunch of sophomores by taking a special topics course in one of his college’s programs instead. Memo to me: if this works out, buy that man a fine bottle of his favorite liquor.

One of my classes features a six-phase case study. Since it’s done in phases as assigned, you can’t procrastinate and do it all at the back end of the term, which is great… but you also can’t get ahead. Because of that, and the fact that I have to write a 20-30 page research paper for the same class, due the same day as the case study, I decided to knock out the 20-25 page research paper in my other class well ahead of time. I can’t actually even remember when I got that paper done, but I think it was about three weeks ago. Seems like longer. 

Anyway, the case study. Handed in phase one. Aced it. “That’s the hardest part,” said the prof. “The rest is going to be easy.”

The man lied.

Having believed him, I handed in phases two and three on the appropriate date. A week later, he was set to return them. I sat in my tiny little desk like Will Ferrell in the opening scene of “Elf,” listening to him talk about how they were, on the whole, kind of disappointing. I was anxious. My fingers had heartbeats. What if I didn’t do well?

It was worse than I thought.

I didn’t do well. 

I bombed.

“I’m not even going to grade this,” he said. “Just do it over.”

His handwritten notes said, “Wrong,”  “Wrong,” and “This totally misses the mark” in the three sections of the grade sheet.

Do you remember how it felt when you were in high school or college and you got a bad grade on a test or a paper? How the bottom seemed to drop out of your stomach while your throat closed up? Pro tip: happens when you’re 37, too. 

Just do it over, he says.

*whimper* *moan* *sigh*

I had already spent hours – hours and hours – on this case study. And now I had to do these two phases again… and do the next phase. Due in two days.

I had to take a personal day to spend 11 hours working on this thing.

The end of the term is coming. All the stuff is due very, very soon – so soon that I should probably stop spending words on this blog post and write another page or two of a paper, instead. It’s so much harder to write them now! But by the end of this term, I will only have completed three of the 14 courses I need for my degree. The school is only offering one over the summer that can count toward my program. And the no-skin-in-the-game dean says, “Two… that’s a lot with a full-time job.” 

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t do a thesis in my program. I take comprehensive exams. And if I only take one class per term, it will take me 14 terms (4.66 years, assuming I can take a class every summer term) before I graduate. Nine terms (three years – same assumption) before I can take the first comp. I will have forgotten everything from the first classes by then.

Not happening. Gotta double up if they offer two program courses in a term.

I got back the three still-questionable phases of the case study on Monday. Wonder of wonders: I aced them all on the re-do. Now an implementation timeline, a budget, and a package and polish, and that baby is put to bed. I have written seven of the 20 pages required for the research paper. I have bled on the keyboard of this here laptop.

Tonight, I got back the four-question essay exam I had to take in the other class. I had had to completely BS one of the answers; he asked a question about the topic from the only class I’d missed. If I got partial credit, I would have had an 85 and I would have taken it.

I looked at the paper.

95%.

Whoa.

I looked at the question I couldn’t possibly have answered well. “I can tell you read the chapter,” he had written in red, “but be more specific.” And then he went on to talk specifics about the chapter. Which I had, in fact, not read. 

It was the only chapter I had not read, out of 21.

Fooled you, pal.

Maybe I’ll make it to the M.S.