The Fish Who Hated Me

“Do you have anything you would like to say to Oscar?” my husband asks.

“He knows how I feel.  To be respectful for the near dead, I am going to be quiet.”

This aquatic pet came into our family about three years ago. My husband bought him, and the two formed a brotherly bond in the pet store.  Just two manly guys living in Brooklyn, Oscar thought on the ride home.  Boy, was he surprised when he saw me sitting on the living room couch! When my spouse dropped him in his new home, his eyes bulged and he cocked his head at my significant other, who’s the bitch in the living room?

He made his intentions clear on our first night together.  My son and husband go to bed before me. So, I get to hang in the living room, alone. Aaaah.  Tap, tap, tap. What’s that noise? Is there someone at the front door? Nope. Oscar who is about the size of a bag of coffee is sucking up the pebbles on the bottom of the tank, rolling them in his mouth, and spitting them out against the glass. What kind of monster fish did my honey bring home? Is Oscar trying to break the glass so he can escape and murder me?  

My enemy finds another way to menace me.  I pee quite a lot during the night which means I have to pass the fish tank to get to the bathroom. Just as I am nearing Oscar’s home, I hear splash, and feel drops of water on my body.  Oscar is diving to the bottom of the tank and propelling himself up with such force that water comes out of the tank making a puddle on the floor and sprinkling me in aquarium water. Is he trying to drown me in his own twisted fish way?  Is he attempting to scare me to death? Going to the bathroom has become so frightening that many nights I “hold it in” until morning.

I ask both my boys, “Does Oscar splash you?”  They say no.

The evidence is clear: Oscar is a misogynfish.

As my foe resides in the living room, he knows I am the first person to get up.   In the morning, I am horrified to find the catfish, Oscar’s tank mate, splattered on the floor.  Did Oscar push his tank mate out? Was he sending me a message? Did he watch the Godfather last night?   

I decide to fight back. It’s on.

I keep washcloths near his tank. Protecting my legacy, I tell my husband that if anything should happen to me, suspect  the fish. When I walk by the tank, I yell “I hate you.” We reach an understanding.

Then, a few weeks ago, Oscar does not look good.  My husband, tries everything: changing the water, cleaning the filter,  and googling Oscar ailments. Nothing works. The big water guy is not swimming anymore, just laying on the bottom of the tank, bobbing on the gravel.

Every morning, I hope I am going to see a dead fish.  Upside down looking like death finally caught him, he turns over and swims like Mark Spitz when he sees me.  He is hanging on just to irritate me. Hate and spite are very strong emotions and they are keeping him alive.  

We have a fish tank to provide a sense of calm to the apartment; but, having an almost dead fish with labored breathing bouncing around the bottom of the tank is bringing the apartment down. No one sits in the living room. I propose euthanasia but my kid– who rules the house– wants Oscar to die naturally.  With my open loathing of the fish, my motives are suspicious. I give my version of last rites, yelling at the tank, “Jesus, would you die already?”

Our second catfish nips at Oscar (karma is a bitch) which is not a good sign.  When my kid sees this, he agrees, it is time.

We say our goodbyes and Oscar’s human buddy does the deed.  

We replace Oscar with two small fish who are indifferent to me.  The nights are lonely, and I miss the big guy.

 

A Love Story

For the sake of an informed meeting with a doctor, many write down a long list of questions to prepare for the appointment. I am not one of them.  I have just one essential inquire that will answer my concerns.  Whatever medication the doctor prescribes or procedure the medical professional recommends, I ask “can I have wine with that?”

Because I love that beautiful bottle of alcohol —  red, white, or bubbly, I adore them all.  After my alarm goes off, my first thought is what kind of fermented grape, in which glass, and in what room will I imbibe my good friend tonight?  It is the wine version of Clue.  Bonus bet, will I take my coat off first?  

It’s not just the actual high I get from a drink that makes me come back for more.  I also get a buzz romancing the wine —  entering the store, pacing the narrow aisles, checking out the inventory.  I feel loved;  the bottles stand in attention hoping I’ll bring one of them home.  Pick me! Pick me!  

While I am no oenophile, I like to pretend I am.  In this role, I engage the salesperson to see whom he will set me up with on a blind drink.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I am looking for a sweet white wine from upstate New York.”  In this performance as wine connoisseur, I am also a supporter of my home state.

“We just got a lovely riesling from the Finger Lakes, has a hint of white peach, smooth finish, and floral aroma.”

Like I could ever taste just the dash of white peach.  If you blindfolded me, I could not tell the difference between a California Chardonnay or an expired Mott’s apple juice.  But, I do my best Eric(a) Asimov, “White peach adds such a wonderful bouquet.”  And, I buy it.

How this conversation should really go. . . . .

“Can I help you?”

“I am having a real crappy day.  What wine will get me to feel that I am not that mad at my husband?”

My mom who asked me, “what wine goes with penicillin?” (the answer is Rose, zesty and fruity so it has vitamin C too), shared with me the most important wine-buying information — alcohol content.  That figure should be above 12.5 %.   When I am honest with myself, that is the most important criteria I use in selecting a bottle.

What’s better than drinking and shopping for wine?  Consuming those medicinal grapes with people who share the love of this liquid. I met a group of women who shared my love of the wine when I was in the final days of my pregnancy.  I was taking a mandatory parent to be series; that night’s subject: breastfeeding taught by an earnest lactation consultation.  We were a flock of tired, bitchy, and most important, close to nine months of sobriety, women.  After pretty much the same question was re-asked, the lactation consultant seemed more like a White House press secretary than a breastfeeding guru.  “Ladies, ladies, enough!  Let’s move onto other questions.”  The important inquiries were: how much wine could you safely drink before breastfeeding?  When would you have to pump and dump?  How much time needs to pass after you have a few before you can breastfeed? Can you drink while you breastfeed or is that like driving under the influence, a class A misdemeanor? It was a privilege to be in the same room as this gaggle of pregos.  We went our separate ways after that night but I felt like they were my long lost separated at birth siblings.

Or, there’s my friend that has a glass of wine waiting for me when I am late to meet her at the bar.  I take a sip before I say hello, sometimes.  She is not offended, she gets me.  Or, my pal who actually is a wine connoisseur.  She took me to a wine tasting, and against my seemingly religious beliefs, I was required to spit out the sample of wine.  For one wine in particular, she whispered “don’t spit that one out.”

There are times I wonder if maybe, just maybe, I have a “problem” or I am something that starts with an a and ends with c.  (I cannot even say the word).  I have heard that if you think you are “aromatic” then you probably are.  I also read that it is safe for women to have five ounces of a wine daily.  So, I measured. It’s a sip.  Pretty scarey.  Perhaps, I am an “antarctic”.

In my google search about how to know if you are “archaic”, I discovered that doctors know that patients take liberties in the answer to the question how much do you drink on a weekly basis. I want to have a drink with those people.

I get a lot of joy from drinking. So, I am okay with living in denial. And, I will have a big glass of wine with a high alcohol content in my hand.

 

Watching You Play

Little league rule 101: if the pitcher hits two batters, he is relieved of his pitching duties.

Charlie was selected to be the team’s starting pitcher for the first game of the season.  He earned it.  He throws really hard,  when he warms up, our parent coaches are constantly shaking their mitted hands in pain.  But, Charlie is not too accurate.

While he did well in the first inning, he had gotten himself into a bit of a jam in the second inning – he hit a batter, and loaded the bases without getting any outs.  After taking a deep breath, Charlie winds up and hurls. The baseball smacks the batter. We all know what this means, especially Charlie.  He lowers his head and pulls his cap down, covering his face.  The coach jogs to the mound, gets down to his level, takes the ball, and pats the brim of his cap.  With his head down, Charlie slowly walks to the outfield.

“Hey, left field, you want to pitch?”

The left fielder is my kid.

My guy did not pitch a lot last season although he really wanted to.  He did, however, show promise at the first practice. I could feel his surprise that he was called to the mound.  Me? He trotted to his new position and took the ball from the coach.    

There are many types of parents and relatives watching a little league game.  I am the pacing, loud baseball-loving mom. I am a bit annoying to talk to while watching my kid play.  In the middle of a an intense conversation, I will interrupt with a “ GOOD EYE” or “THAT’S ALL RIGHT WE WILL GET EM NEXT TIME”

I tend to sit alone sometimes.  I am quite aware that it is hard to speak to someone who has baseball Tourette’s syndrome. Eighty-seven percent of the time, I want my only child to endure triumph and failure through challenging personal experiences.  I know successful people are resilient; it is a quality I want my kid to possess. But, thirteen percent of the time, I want him to live in a land filled with bubble gum that whitens your teeth and  vaccines that truly feel like a pinch.  As he approaches the mound, I am thinking maybe we can go for fortitude in the next game, I don’t want him to be the goat of the first game of the season.

Especially, since, his team, the Fireballs are the reigning champions.  Last year, the kids played in the  Pony League for eight to nine year olds.  Every other year, the last game of the season ended with lots of donuts and trophies for all who played.  In the Pony League, every team played two playoff games.  The two teams who had the most points scored and best win/loss record qualified for the championship game. Only winner and runner-up earned trophies.  And, the winner’s trophy was much bigger than the runner up’s.  Most kids would go home trophyless. You read that right, there would be tears, disappointment, but, still donuts.

As much as we love our little fireballs, nary a mom or dad thought the team would be the champions.  So much so, many parents made plans to go away the weekend of the big game.  We were not terrible, but, you know the team that comes from behind?  We were the other team. While we lost the first game 3 to 2 (as usual, we held the other team scoreless until the bottom of the last inning), we won the second game, 15 to 1 having won the lottery in being chosen to play the worst team in the league.  Unfireballish, we won the championship game in a nail-biting 2 to 0 victory.  

My little guy breaths in deep. And, I hear him say:

This Is  AWESOME.

While he hits the first batter, he strikes out the side.  

I would like to tell you that that was the moment he became the ace pitcher of the team, but, alas, this is baseball, the metaphor for life.  In the next game, he got three easy outs and bonus we scored five runs so my kid was protecting a lead. I was so happy.  The sun was shining, it was going to be a great day.  But, I forgot there are seven innings in a little league game (or two hour limit, whatever comes first).  

In the next inning, he walked the first two batters.  The next batter got a hit and a run scored.  Still, no outs, and a man on first and second.  A few more walks and an error (that really hurt) and now bases are loaded and no outs.  Batter up.  My nine year old pitches and the batter hits a long fly ball that passes third base just where I am standing.  I can see my kid watching the ball and I feel his praying that the ball go foul.  It does not.  It drops  in front of me barely in fair territory.  Worse yet, the ball rolls and rolls and rolls.  Our left fielder is now chasing the ball and not gaining any ground.  My husband/videographer presses stop on the record button of his phone.  This is not a video we are going to play at Thanksgiving for the grandparents. Meanwhile, the  base runners dash around the bases. And, when the batter comes home, the whole team greets him. Loud cheers, baseball caps flying in the air.  My guy puts his head down, the coach sends him to the outfield.  I fight all I have not to run on the field, pick him up, and take him home.  It was a long car ride home.  I would like to say that we used this as a learning lesson but we all felt so heartsick.  We lost the game and my little leaguer felt like he let his team down.

This team feels like his April to June brothers as most of the team has been together for four seasons.  My guy started this league when he was in kindergarten.  These kids knew nothing about the rules of baseball.  A ball gets hit and the whole team, even some members of the opposing team, run after it. The outfielder missed the fly ball because he was busy picking his nose.  The second baseman runs off the field because he had to go the bathroom.  Parents trying to give some form of encouragement, like screaming good eye when the batter does not swing at a ball ten feet over the batter’s head.

The core of this team stayed together over the years and we watched them grow into big boys and pretty decent players.  Now, they are hitting the ball, making defensive plays, and arguing with the umpire.  They developed a love for the game, one player eats dinner wearing his helmet.

Throughout the years, it was fun to watch the families, too. Pregnant one season, chasing a kid the next.  The fedora wearing grandfather sitting  in his fold up chair, not saying a peep until someone asks what’s the score.  Some parents getting a little too competitive: stopping the game to bring out the baseball looseleaf rule book, and arguing the rules to the volunteer umpire, a high school senior.  

When we got home, our baseball player announced that he was no longer going to pitch.  While we did our best to tell him stories of great resilience (did you know Michael Jordan did not make the junior varsity team?), we knew that this experience could potentially crush his desire to play this sport, and we did not want that outcome.  

Next morning, it was time for another game.  It did not help that it was raining but not hard enough to cancel the game.  My kid who is normally pretty happy and hyper was somber matching the weather.  

The coach sent Paul to pitch and my guy trotted off to left field.  Our pitcher was doing well, got two outs.  But, his luck changed. He loaded the bases, and he was shaking his foot.  The coach went to the mound, checked the foot, and took him out of the game. As the two walked off the field, the coach turned towards the outfield and signaled that my guy should take the mound.

Anybody have xanax?  Is there a cardiologist in the house?

I was so proud of him that he did not refuse to take the ball, and, like in the first game, he trotted to the mound.  But, I still needed a schedule IV narcotic.   Like he was starring in his own G rated feel good movie, he struck out the next batter.  And, lucky for us, the skies opened up and the game was canceled.  

What happened to our team? We found out that Charlie was holding the ball wrong and he became quite the Nolan Ryan junior.  We made it to the championship game, but lost 5 to 3.  In tears, the coach thanked the team for playing so well and added that he felt like he had 10 sons.  Me too.

Eight years from now when my little guy asks, what should I write my college essay on, I know these experiences will be at the top of my idea list.   I am hopeful that after this season, I will be a little calmer watching him next year.   Even so, it is a real joy to watch my kid play in times of errors and hits.

 

 

Trust

We were happy to get the last Tuesday slot; we did not know this was the worst time to go.

My nine year old loves waterslides, sharks, and milky ways.  His career goal is to be a marine biologist focusing on the study of tiger sharks.  So, when a friend told me a place exists that has a waterslide that goes through a pool of sharks, I knew I had to go.  And, you could (for a large fee) sign up for an excursion where you walk with the sharks in that pool.  While I was excited to give this experience to my budding Jacques Cousteau, I had a problem.  Having run out of the opening credits of Jaws, I do not share my child’s enthusiasm for sharks.  Since that summer of Jaws mania, I have not even been able to lay in a bath with the water running —  I have visions that a ferocious baby shark will dive out of the faucet and have me as soup.

As my husband does not have my affliction,  he volunteered to go on the trip.  Because of my galeophobia, I was on the tank’s rim as to whether I would join my boys.  Do I use this as an opportunity to get over my fear? Or, do I pretend that being the photographer and cheerleader is just as good as sharing a potentially life-changing experience with my only kid?  I decide not to decide and wait until we get to the resort to make the reservation.

“I would like to make a reservation for three, 2 adults and 1 child for the walk of the sharks.  Before I sign up, is this excursion refundable should one change her mind?” I am told that this is a non refundable purchase.  Great.  I am tired from the flight.  My kid gives me a look of you’re kidding, you’re not going?  The husband tries not to show his disappointment, but he is doing a lousy job.  Feeling peer pressure,  I schedule the tour for Tuesday at 3:30.  I have a few days until then, maybe, I will be lucky and the excursion will be canceled because of a hurricane.  I am now hoping for a severe weather condition to ruin my expensive vacation, which of course does not happen.

On Tuesday at 3:15, we head to the shark tank and join the other tour goers.  We get fitted for and squeeze into our wetsuits.  The tour guide tells us how to step down into the tank without blowing our ears out.  He confirms with the future shark walkers that no one is flying home that day as that could use you to get bubbles in your blood which could prove fatal.  Why am I doing this again? He also points to the waving scuba divers in the tank who will guide us.  We are warned not to pet the sharks and not to get upset if a sharks rubs against us.  I won’t get upset; I’ll have a nervous breakdown.  My kid is overjoyed with the possibility that a shark might touch him.  Are we related?  I cannot believe that soon not only will I voluntarily go into a tank of healthy sharks, but I will also take my world, my son and husband, with me on this adventure.

To try and relax, I ask what I thought would be an educational question that would calm me down.

“How do we know the sharks won’t eat us?”

“First, these sharks are scavengers.  So, unless you are dead they won’t eat you.”

My sharkologist junior nods agreeing with our knowledgeable chaperon.  Note to self, look alive!

“Second, they are fed on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning.”

Ergo, they are at their hungriest right now, as I chose the last tour on Tuesday.  I wish I knew that before I made the reservation.  I would have scheduled the walk for the first tour on Wednesday.  I don’t care how much these creatures ate on Monday, they have not eaten in over 24 hours.  I know what I am like right before break fast on Yom Kippur.

We go to the ladder that will take us down into the tank.  We decide to submerge in this order, husband, kid, and mom.  Before we are completely in, a globe is put over our heads and snapped into our suits.  We look like the Jetsons minus Judy and Astro.  Balloons are attached to our suits so we are weighed down, and  my little guy needs several balloons.  He looks like a martian celebrating a birthday.  Slowly, I step down into the tank and join my fellows. Watching sharks swim in arm’s length distance with my family in the background is a once in a lifetime experience.  Hopefully.  I look at my kid, I can feel his happiness even through the fish bowl globe I have on my head.   A scuba diver hands him a shark tooth.

I realize, though, what a submerge of faith I took getting in the tank.  If anything happened to my kid, like a shark going rogue (maybe one shark thinks he is tired of dead food, this kid looks delicious) or my kid’s oxygen tank exploding, there is nothing that I could do.  And, my husband, as good as he is with setting up and programming a smart tv, he does not know much about scuba gear.   We are sunk. I have to trust these two scuba divers who I never met or vetted with my most precious life member.

This feeling of helplessness passes for two reasons: the walk part is only twenty minutes, and I am kind of enjoying my self.   The scuba divers signal time’s up, get out of the tank.  My marine biologist gestures like an English chap you first, to my husband, me, and the rest of the shark walkers  — as he wants to soak in every last second of this excursion.

As a parent, you take so many leaps of faith, small, medium, and large: putting your little one on a bus to camp,  allowing your fifth grader to walk to school, and letting him sort of scuba dive with hungry creatures of the ocean.  I surrender myself to the universe many times in a given day.  It’s maddening.  Some letting go moments you have to do and some you do to yourself.   And, some work out well in the end.

ODE TO OPENING DAY

On the hottest day of the summer of 1976, I fell in love. I was thirteen.

That’s the day I went to a Yankee doubleheader with my father and sister.  Although it was a regular season game on a nothing special day, my father had been noticeably excited about this game.  He figured out that the opposing pitcher that day would be Mark Fidrych, nicknamed the Bird.  Fidrych was the talk of baseball that year, a phenom.  It was close to impossible to get a hit let alone a run off him.  But, besides making pitches that fooled even the most skilled batters, Fidrych was best known for his antics on the mound.  He talked to the baseball, got on his hands and knees to manicure the mound, and when an infielder made a great play, he immediately dashed over and personally congratulated him.  He was nicknamed the Bird because one of his coaches thought that he ran just like Big Bird from Sesame Street.  He kind of looked like Big Bird too: he was tall, lanky, and had bushy red hair.  Before making a pitch, he talked to the baseball, begging it to avoid the batter’s bat.  If he felt a baseball had a hit in it, he’d toss it out of the game and ask for a new one.  “I want that ball to go back in the bag with all the other balls so they can tell him to behave,” he said.  He hugged players after they made a great play.  The crowds adored him.

When my father realized the Bird was going to be pitching when we were scheduled to be at the game, he counted the days.  “Guess, where we’ll be seven days from now?” he’d ask.  Everyday the countdown continued.  While he generally kept the tickets in his wallet, this time he upgraded the ticket space to under the phone.  So, every time the phone rang (which for my sister was right after she got off the phone) we would be reminded of that game.  Finally, the big day arrived.

For several years, my father had been taking us to Yankee games.  I don’t remember my first game, but this was the game I remember that fostered my love for baseball. I was born and bred to be a Yankee fan but ironically my love of baseball originates from an opposing pitcher from the Detroit Tigers.

There was a lot going on that day.  It was Jacket Day; anyone under 14 got a plastic jacket. The jacket was like having your own personal sauna; it was made out of the cheapest plastic and had two vents in the back.  As soon as you put your arm through the sleeve, you immediately started to sweat.  The jacket was particularly suitable to wear at Halloween as a shield for eggs being hurled at you.

The Yankees were on their way to winning their division after a twelve year drought.  Not surprisingly, 52,707 people came to the game, close to the capacity of 57,546.

As the game started, my dad educated us on the players, the positions, and the intricacies of the game.  Unlike the other games, this time I listened.  Something about this Bird guy piqued my interest.

The National Anthem was sung.  The starting line-up was announced.  I watched the Yankees run on the field.  I along with the other 52,706 fans waited anxiously for the Bird’s appearance.

What would he be like?  Would he look like a Bird? What would it be like to watch a legend in the making?

Unlike the other players who calmly jogged on to the field, he bolted to the pitcher’s mound.  He was in his own private world.  He got on his knees, patted the mound so it was just right, jumped up and down, and pointed to his teammates who made great plays.  He looked funny and did things that other players simply did not do.  He did not care what he looked like.  And, he looked pretty weird.  Despite the fact that the view from our cheap seats was not good, I could still see that stick of a man with a bushy mound of flapping red hair.

We watched the bird with utter amazement.  You could feel how impossible it was to get a hit off him.  His pitches zoomed by my Yankees.  They were stumped.  When they approached the plate, they looked like they were hoping to be walked.  The Bird was simply invincible.  All his weird movements were working.  He did not allow the Yankees to score a run.  He struck out five and allowed only nine hits.

The Yankees lost the first game 6-0.  It wasn’t even close.  The day was not a total disaster for the home team; the Yankees won the second game 6-5.  It was a perfect baseball day.  I saw a phenomenal pitcher and I got a free jacket.

And, that was the day I fell in love with baseball.

Since then, I have followed the Yankees religiously.  Because the season is so long and games are played on a daily basis, I can always catch a glimpse of them: a quick flick on the remote control, taking a peek through a big window at a bar to get a score, or simply reading about the game the next day.  And, they have become my friends in good and bad times.  Doc Gooden pitched a no-hitter when I got stood up on a date.  David Cone pitched a perfect game on my birthday after I had been in a bike accident that temporarily disfigured my face.  (I still think he pitched that game for me).  When there was an awkward silence with colleagues, bosses, and distant relatives, the talk of baseball helped me start a conversation.

And, my baseball knowledge helped me in my dating life.  I got married to surprisingly, a Met fan; we joke that we have a mixed marriage.  Our little guy, halluejah, is a Yankee fan.  His first little league game starts on the same day as opening day 2016.

So, whatever happened to the Bird?  Did he make it to the Hall of Fame?  Win a World Series?

Sadly, no.  I saw Fidrych pitch at his best, his first year in the majors.  In fact, he won the Rookie of the Year Award.  In the following season, however, after winning six of his first ten starts, he seriously injured his arm and virtually could no longer pitch.  He pitched in three games in 1978, four in 1979 and retired in 1980.  He owned a trucking asphalt and gravel company in Massachusetts while doing a little public relations work.  He also had two seats at Comerica Stadium (that is where the Detroit Tigers play).

I cried when I found out that in 2009 he died tragically in an accident on his farm: he was 54.

In writing this article, I started my research with the Bird.  I went to the public library to find articles about that game.  However, because I could not remember what the exact date of the game was and how to find it, I sought help from the twenty-year old looking librarian at the help desk.

“I haven’t done research in years.  Would you know how I can find a story about a game when Mark Fidrych pitched?”

“I’d do anything for the Bird.”

I guess I wasn’t the only one affected by him.

PLAY BALL!!!  And Go Yankees!!!

 

MRI

At an inconvenient time, I found out I was claustrophobic.

A few years ago, I noticed a small lump on the side of my face, had it checked out, and found out it was a lipoma. It sounds worse than what it really is, a fatty deposit. Most people get them in their legs or arms. I got one on my face. Because my new appendage was small and probably resting near a nerve, the doctor recommended that we leave it alone. His parting and foreshadowing words were if it gets bigger, come back.

Like a rolling lipoma gathering fat, the bump grew from do you have a pimple to did you have wisdom tooth surgery in just two years.  I tried very hard to conceal it, growing my hair long and leaning to the right (as the lipoma was on the left side of my face). I had a constant look of what?, for nearly twenty-four months. As these tricks became too burdensome and I enjoy wearing my hair in a ponytail, I went back to the doctor.

“Oh, yeah, it got bigger,” he diagnosed as soon as he saw me.

To make sure this unwelcomed guest was not resting on my facial nerve, I had to get a magnetic resonance imaging test better known as a MRI. If it were resting on that nerve, then taking it out might cause facial paralysis.

While writing out the directions to the MRI center, the doctor casually asked me how I tolerated enclosed spaces. I did not think much about it, and wanting to sound tough, I said I was pretty good. How I later regretted not giving his question more thought.

At the imaging center, I met with Julia and Frank, the MRI technicians who I would later name in my will. Rubbing my hands together, I announced I was ready to go. Then, I got my first hint as to why the doctor inquired about my ability to handle small spaces — the MRI scanner looked like a coffin or crematorium for an overgrown peppermint stick. I lay down on the stretcher that would take me inside and got ready for my next instruction.

“We just have to do one more thing to do.”

Julia snapped a thick mask that had four vertical bars around my head, putting my head in extreme solitary confinement. I found myself involuntarily doing an impression of Hannibal Lecter. Looking over me, Julia put a device in my hand.

“That’s your panic button. Just press it when you want to get out of the tube.”

Why do I need a 911 buzzer for a sophisticated medical diagnostic tool? What was I doing with my head in a mask? Now I knew what it felt like to be the last Russian doll inside a matroyska doll.

“Did you say something?” Julia asked.

Like the calm before the storm of crazy, I re-mustered two words “not happening.”

Julia, my liberator, took off my mask. I popped up.

“Who can survive this? Astronauts?”

“We hear that a lot.”

“What can I do?”

“You could take a valium.”

Could? This should not be a choice. Like mints, there should be a bowl full of valium or a well-stocked bar in the waiting room.

So, here was my option, get the prescription and come back. I live in Brooklyn and the hospital was on the Upper East Side which is the same as going to Denver on some days. Even though my anxiety was pushing DSM-IV TR, I decided to give the MRI another try. I have endured childbirth, orthodox Yom Kippur services on an empty stomach, and Microeconomics Theory class at eight in the morning. I can do this!

Before I flipped out earlier, Julia was about to attach a mirror to my mask. This allows you to see out while you are in the death chamber, alleviating the claustrophobia. So, we tried this technique, but all I could see was a reflection of the bars. I thought I was watching myself starring in the lead role of the “Woman in the Iron Mask”. If Edgar Allan Poe were alive, he would have used this experience as inspiration for a poem. One good thing, I learned the panic button works.

“Maybe I can give it one more try?”

I think Julia felt really bad for me, maybe the fatty growth made me look sympathetic or maybe she lives in Brooklyn and has a disdain for the 4 train. She had one more trick up her sleeve. Saint Julia could hold my ankle during the procedure. Frank would be in the booth, monitoring the MRI, and he would let me know how much time I had left. I didn’t realize that part of a MRI technician’s job description is: hold ankles of claustrophobic patients.

I kept my eyes closed and focused on Julia’s warm hand holding my right ankle. Every now and then I heard banging which sounded like a group of toddlers were outside the tube banging it with silverware. Hard to believe this is an expensive piece of medical equipment. As scheduled, Frank’s voice, staticky and blurry would come in letting me know five minutes had expired and I was doing great! I was back in kindergarten.

Forty minutes later, I was done. I gave Julia and Frank an airport type hug and later wrote recommendations dripping in synonyms of awesome.

Even better, the lipoma was not near the facial nerve and I could have it taken out. I learned, however, another new fact about myself: anesthesia makes me nauseous.

 

 

Pet Shopping

scorpion-23158_1280 (2)I was not drinking at the time I promised my nine year old a pet scorpion.

My fourth grader, after much thought, decided to write about scorpions for his independent study. From the second he made that selection, we were all about scorpions: researching and ordering books from the library, talking about these arachnids, and discussing how to structure his report. In our search, I found a book titled “How to Take Care of Your Pet Scorpion.” As I have perennial guilt for not giving him a sibling, I started thinking maybe we can get him a pet scorpion! We would be the cool family on the block. “Come over and see Frank our pet emperor scorpion.” Without doing any further investigation or consultation with my husband (whoops!), I asked my child if he would like a pet scorpion.

In a millisecond after I enunciated the “en” in scorpion, his eyes enlarged to owl size and his mouth opened to snake aperture before it eats its prey.

“Can we go now to get one?”

It was eight in the morning on a Sunday. So, I had three grueling hours of “what time is it?” until the local pet store opened. More important, I now had the time to do some research.

This is what I found. According to the Health Code of New York City, it is illegal to own “all bears (including polar, grizzly, brown and black [not teddy]…venomous spiders… and scorpions” Uh oh. I am in big trouble. I rushed back to the source, flipped to the very very very back of the book and found in a small grey box “scorpions are dangerous, check state regulations to assure that you can own one.” Now you tell me. Clearly, this should have been in the prologue or in the title, something like, “How to Take Care of Your Pet Scorpion: If Your State Allows It.” I guess the book would not sell with such a title.

Lucky for me, my kid took it pretty well when I pinched his dreams of being a scorpion owner. I think he knew that New York City would never allow one of its residents to have a pet that could sting causing pain and/or death. (I guess the first rule in getting a pet is: don’t get one that can kill you). I, however, now had double the guilt, and I was desperate to atone for my sin and make my offspring happy. A mantra was playing in my head “I must get my child a pet” and it was on repeat, getting louder by the minute.

On the way to the pet store, we discussed the types of pets to be considered to join our family, and my kid’s first idea was snake. I really hate snakes. My ophiophobia can be traced to my fourth grade year when one of my male classmates brought in his pet snake for show and tell. But, it was not just the snake in the tank; it was temporarily sharing his home with an unsuspecting cute white mouse, aka dinner. As part of the learning experience, we watched the snake and mouse hang in the tank together for a while until the snake got hungry. How terrifying to not only watch the mouse being swallowed whole but also to bear witness to it being digested. When I found out I was having a boy, my first fear, among many, was that he would want a snake. I was now starring in my own horror movie.

I resigned myself to the fact that I just may have to get him a snake to make-up for my broken promise. I now had a new song sounding in my head, on calm whisper, snakes are okay, snakes are okay, snakes are okay. I prayed for a vegetarian one.

We made a beeline to the reptile and “non dog and cat” section (my kid has allergies). Along with the snakes, there was a tank with one gecko. I did not know much about this creature but at first glance I was in love.

“What do you think?” My little guy was slightly intrigued, inspecting the gecko in the tank. Meanwhile, my husband, who was surprisingly and eerily quiet, was checking out the gerbil and hamster selection. I did my frantic mommy wave to come over, mouthing I think I found something good.

Like spidergeckoman, our future family pet was walking all over the sides of the tank taking pauses to look at us, confirming the feeling was mutual. He had great qualities for a pet: loving, playful, and on sale!

“What does he eat?” I asked the salesperson.

“Live crickets. And, worms, mostly”

“Worms?”

“Worms are like candy to them.”

I never thought I would say worms are the least of my problems. Getting back to the crickets, we found out that geckos eat these buggers about three times a week. As you have to buy them live, you need to get about ten on a weekly basis.

“When are you going to get them?” asked my husband trying very hard to suppress his doubts and laughter.

“I’m off on Fridays.” I really wanted this to work.

“You can also store many in a cricket pen,” the salesperson chimed in. So, for the eight inch gecko, I would need a gecko habitat, tank for its live food, and shelf for the worms.

“Is there such a thing as dried crickets?”

“We do carry dried crickets” yay! “but” crap “geckos like to hunt for their food, and they get kind of sad if they don’t.”

Nobody wants a depressed gecko. Then, what would be the next step? Prozac? How do you feed a pill to a reptile? I took a deep breath, meditated for a second, convincing my conscience that I could deal with crickets and worms residing in my apartment that I worked very hard to decorate. There was, however, another issue looming in the gecko feeding process.

“How do you get the crickets in the tank without the gecko jumping out?”

“Easy, some of my customers spray water on the gecko while dropping the crickets in the tank.”

I have caused numerous long lines and hmmphs and eye rolls at several grocery stores with my inability to put away my dollar bills and change at the same time. During feeding time, I envisioned spritzes of water all over the tank and me, crickets hopping, and a gecko geckoing all over my apartment and parts of Brooklyn. Worse yet, signs on our building door, asking has anyone seen Gordon our gecko (with a cute picture) and apologizing for the cricket infestation. We certainly would not be the cool family; we would be that family.

I turned to my kid. “How do you feel about the gecko?”

“I have a problem feeding my pet something live.”

When we got home gecko-less, my husband ordered our little non pet owner several scorpion keychains and doodads and a scorpion necklace for me. And, through a not for profit, I adopted a scorpion in my kid’s name.

Done. Now time for that drink.