Thursday, October 2, 2014


Apologies to Ella Fitzgerald fans, but this post is not about jazz singing. You could say it's about the usual crap I write about, but I'm not sure that's even definable. So lets just say it's about crap. Crap as in excrement. Dung. Poop. Caca. Feces. Scat. Damn, I feel like I'm four years old and I'm getting a strange urge to finger paint.

Why this sudden interest in waste, you say. Why waste this sudden interest, say I. I swear my recent  colonoscopy had nothing to do with it. (It's OK, I can say that. Katie Couric had one on TV). Re: the procedure, I will step on my soap box for a second and say that if you are hesitating to do this, don't. The worst part is drinking the foul liquid for the prep. The twilight sleep anesthesia is so effective that even though you are conscious in some altered way, you wake up remembering nothing. They should find a way to administer it to you for select portions of your life.

No, what inspired me was walking on a trail that looked like it had just been hit with a shit storm. Shiny little brown beads of goat poop. So not-gross that I had to think for a second about what they might be. I was reminded of a story my grandmother used to tell my sister and me.

When she was a child, "Mamy's"  family would spend the summer in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace. Her father was consumptive, and the mountain air was supposed to have a healing effect. (Alas, all it did was provide him with a scenic place to cough. He died of tuberculosis when my grandmother was eleven.) In order to focus on caring for her husband, my great grandmother hired a temporary nanny, a fresh young peasant girl dressed in traditional Alsatian garb, including headgear in the shape of a giant bow. Her suitor would often stop by with a pink paper cone from the local confectionary, filled to the brim with shiny little round chocolates. This inspired my grandmother to retrieve an empty candy cone from the trash, stuff it with goat turds, and hand it to the nanny with the explanation that her "amoureux" had stopped by with yet another love token. Although it was never confirmed, my sister and I liked to imagine that the poor Nanny was duped and accidentally ate one of our grandmother's "chocolates". Now, as I looked down at the goat droppings all around me, I couldn't help but notice how much they looked like milk duds.

Never mind what you eat, you are what you poop. I notice all kinds of droppings on my hikes. I step around horse pucky on the bridle trails and cow pies in the meadows. I can tell when the deer have been by. I often ask myself, when I pass a particularly large and well-formed turd, if it came from a dog, a coyote, or – jackpot – a mountain lion! I see owl pellets a-plenty, a form of reverse scat consisting of regurgitated fur, feathers and bones. (Apparently, you can get owl pellets by mail order for middle schoolers to dissect in science class and figure out who got eaten.)   But while I think nature is, forgive me, the shit, this is one case where my curiosity has its limits. I won't be developing my excrement expertise any further: There will be no dissecting doody at my house.

Shit show

It's a shitty job, but someone has to do it

Coyote ugly

Big cat scat


My mother is a bag lady.

No, not the street person kind. The kind that has never seen a bag – paper,  plastic, or cloth – that she can't find a use for. Last Winter, my father got hit by a taxi and broke his leg in two places. Mother and I braved a snow storm to go see him at the rehab facility twice a day. On the way out, she made sure I snagged a couple of the  handy dandy umbrella sacs management had thoughtfully provided by the front door. You just never know when you might need to bag an umbrella or three.

Mother's bags are sorted and organized into strategically placed collections. At the bottom of the basement stairs, in the storage closet, is a pile of neatly folded paper shopping bags, with handles. Just right for gifts or to hold a couple of books. At the top of those same stairs, a dozen large paper grocery bags poke out from a hanging metal holder.  A big plastic bag filled with small plastic bags hangs from a knob on the cabinet below the kitchen sink, and a passel of classic brown paper lunch bags are tucked away behind the spice cabinet. In the bedroom closets, all the linens are stored in transparent zippered plastic cases, their content itemized on handwritten labels that only my mother can read. (Despite this high level of organization, she still forgets what she put where). The fancy printed plastified Whole Paycheck bags hang on a door knob in the coat closet, waiting to be forgotten the next time she goes to the grocery store, which is at least once a day.

Packing for a trip takes my mother forever because everything in the suitcase must be slipped into individual plastic bags prevent wrinkles. (Warning: don't try this on your face). Shoes are stuffed with tissue paper and individually wrapped in produce bags from the Safeway. I remember when my American grandparents visited, an infrequent childhood event. My mother happened to walk by as Momma Paula was unpacking her unbagged shoes. I heard about this for weeks. Quelle horreure! Scruffy soles black with the detritus of city streets, face down on the underwear and nighties! In my mother's world view, it doesn't get more appalling than that. Needless to say, when I visit my parents, I make a beeline for my bedroom and unpack as fast as I can, lest my mother come upon the evidence of my nonchalant packing style.

After a month in the rehabilitation facility, it was time for my father to go see his orthopedist for a progress report. The home arranged for an ambulance. This being January, mother gathered up some warm clothes and a coat for him to wear. We were about to leave the house when she suddenly  bolted for the stairs. "Where are you going? " I shouted.  "We can't keep the ambulance waiting." "I forgot to get a bag for your father's coat!" she yelled. When I offered to get it for her, I was rebuffed: How could I possibly know what the right bag was, and where it might be? Up the stairs she scampered, on two fake hips and one artificial knee.

After much fumbling and swearing (in French), she finally found the cloth burberry bag she had been looking for, folded my father's coat with a dry cleaner's precision, and stuffed it into the chic plaid tote. We were on our way to see a depressed, just-retired 82 year old whose tibia and fibula were broken just below the knee.  Neither mother nor I had much control over the situation. But damn it, we had a coat bag.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fly Zone

This summer, our just-married daughter took a temporary job in Oakland and moved in with my husband and me. While we were delighted to have her, it was not an ideal situation for a couple of newlyweds. Her sweetie was clerking for a judge in Los Angeles. They spent hours on the phone each night, and she flew down to LA every Friday for the weekend. During the week, I made nice dinners, played mom and pretended she still needed me. Which she kind of did, because summer is spider season in Northern California. Every night, I would be summoned by frantic screaming. "Mom! MOOOOOOM! There's a hamster-sized spider in the shower!" And down the stairs I'd run, the spider executioner, armed with a shoe and a roll of paper towels.

Meanwhile, spiders weren't the only plague of pests besieging us: the roof rats were back and  gorging on my tomatoes. Last summer, I tried every possible eco-friendly form of rodent repellent and learned that gentle, organic, do-it-yourself pest control only works for hippy earth mothers. This year, I went for the big guns: I bought poison traps, euphemistically called "rodent stations". These are black plastic boxes with little rat-sized tunnels in them. At the end of the tunnel is a sky-blue block of poison that looks like it's made of styrofoam. Why any creature would eat something so obviously inorganic is beyond me. Then again, rodents have their intellectual limitations, even if they can outsmart me. 

I waited to find fang marks in the fruit before placing my first trap. The very next day,  the tomatoes were intact and the entire block of bait had been devoured. Giddy with schadenfreude, I danced around the deck. Ding dong, the rat is dead, long live my veggies.

Little did I know I had disrupted the ecology of our habitat.

It took two days for the odor to manifest itself. The poisoned rat had crawled into the walls to die and the entire downstairs now smelled like the Grim Reaper's man cave. Judging by the area of maximum pungency, the rat was decaying behind a wall in my daughter's bedroom. Breaking down the wall was not an option, so we moved her upstairs to her dad's office. Then we set up the dehumidifier in the bedroom and ran it 24/7.

As the smell got steadily fainter over the next couple of weeks, we started to notice a large number of flies buzzing around the house. And not just ordinary flies: these were thick, hairy and really big. How big? So big, you'd think they were part of the NSA drone program.  So big, a taxidermist could stuff and mount them on a wall plaque. So big, they could date Jeff Goldblum. Big but not sluggish: They had the reflexes and speed to drive a human mad. I stalked them nightly with a yellow swatter and mostly missed. Eventually, I realized I was deadlier with a balled up wet paper towel. It was a grim, disgusting task. I could have used a little help. If only I hadn't done such a good job on the spiders.