Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dental Awkwardness

I had a dentist appointment yesterday, just a routine cleaning, but the actual dentist cleaned my teeth instead of a dental hygienist. He did not do a very complete job; he didn’t do any scraping at all and only very perfunctory polishing, flossing and stain removal. I drink a lot of tea, and like my teacups, my teeth get stained. My normal hygienist Irina does a very thorough job. She is patient, meticulous, and hardworking. She will keep me in the chair for an hour if she has to. Dentist had me in and out inside of 25 minutes, and only deigned to remove the stains from the front of my teeth, and not the back as well. Which will make my next visit that much more unpleasant. I do not cherish the whirring grind of the stain removal tool.

Spacing visits out every six months ensures the stains don’t get too bad. But it was my very insistence at my last visit upon returning in six months that landed me in the chair with Dentist in the first place. For the last few years I’ve noticed the intervals between scheduled appointments creeping up, from six months, to seven months, and eventually all the way up to ten months.

I finally complained last time, asking Dentist at what interval the ADA recommends cleanings. I admit I was leading the witness, because of course he answered "six months." I then pounced, and asked why I would have to wait ten months to get in for my next cleaning. Basically it boils down to them having too many patients: Irina and the other hygienists are all booked up ten months in advance. So they granted me the privilege of coming back in six months, but having Dentist clean my teeth instead. Foolishly, I accepted, and look where it got me.

The other negative consequence, aside from poorly cleaned teeth, was actually spending 25 minutes with Dentist. Eeep! I have always thought he was a little creepy, but never really wanted to blame him per se. Isn’t everyone a bit of an anti-dentite, when it comes right down to it? No one likes going to the dentist, after all. It is an unpleasant environment, so I’ve always tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he merely seemed icky by association.

I have been going to see this particular Dentist my entire life. He gave me umpteen dreaded flouride treatments as a child; he pulled four molars before I got the braces he recommended; he did a great job capping my front tooth to prevent further damage when it chipped. He has a daughter exactly my age, and a son exactly my sister’s age, and we all went to high school together.

Having said all that, I really don’t know him very well. Most visits, the hygienist does all the work and he pops in for five minutes or less at the very end. But this long history must make him feel some sort of non-existent closeness, because he is forever asking personal questions and passing judgments. For example, SodaBoy and I shouldn’t be living together, as we’re not married. Scandalous! Never mind that it’s none of his business, or that we're more than old enough to make our own decisions.

Yesterday Dentist sank to a new low. He started off by asking me how old I am, fairly innocuous. I politely told him 32, leaving the still the same age as your daughter part of the thought unsaid. He then proceeded to tell me I need to hurry up and have some babies, because I don’t have forever. There is apparently an expiration date "down there." I steered the conversation away from me at that point, asking about his daughter and her fecundity, since he was so enamored with the subject of spawning.

But holy WTF? I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around how very inappropriate this line of inquiry is. Am I supposed to thank him for pointing out my declining fertility? Why does he think it’s any of his business? Couldn’t this line of questioning be very painful for some people? What if I couldn’t ever have kids? What if I chose not to have kids? Why should I have to justify anything to him? Would he hassle a 32 year man about hurrying up to have kids? Or is it just women who are subjected to this bullshit?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

We Love You: a Tribute to Meshoe

You come into my life in 1994, while I’m an undergraduate student. I am working a summer job in Michigan, staying in temporary Woodland Agency housing, right behind the garages and office buildings. You are homeless, a tiny little orphan with mysterious origins. A fellow employee heard piteous cries one morning while driving to work, and pulling over, discovered you trembling under the hood. Your small size allowed you to survive the experience, but you retained a life-long horror of motorized vehicles. You cannot be returned to your mother, as no one knows where you came from. You are living in the garage with the heavy equipment, fire trucks and backhoes, subsisting on bits of turkey begged from sandwiches. You are “the baby kitty.”

I am instantly charmed. I want you to come over to the house and live there, with me. My boss wisely says that we cannot break the rules and have a pet in housing unless we really mean it; leaving you alone after a summer of company would be too cruel. But you are so tiny, you need a home. You can comfortably sit in the palm of my hand, with room to spare: you don’t even need the thumb or fingers for balance. I call SodaBoy. He is already living in the big off-campus apartment we’ll be sharing with other friends come fall, and has long been planning on getting a cat. I tell him I’ve found you, you’ve found me. It’s too late, he already picked out his kitten, just days ago. No matter. I cannot resist you. We decide since one cat is OK with the landlord, two will be OK, too.

You and I become fast friends. You wake me up each morning licking my eyelids, climb my pant legs with excitement when I arrive home from work. I can mimic your mews and we conversate regularly. You are insatiably curious about food, sipping from unattended beer mugs, licking ice cream cones, and begging to try all varieties of people foods. This is understandable, considering your circumstances not so long ago. And you are so adorable, the solicitations never become a problem. You are a model cat: you never scratch furniture or door frames, never knock over and break things, use your litter box without fail. You even delight in watching me clean the litter box, getting so excited you jump right in before I finish.

Both just a few months old when I return with you to school, you and SodaBoy’s kitten Phalaywho become inseparable, sleeping together in a little furry mound, chasing each other around the apartment. Phalaywho is a little acrobat, making wild leaps, skidding out on the hardwoods. Even as a kitten you are calmer in your play, prone to stop drop and roll, presenting your belly to be rubbed. You and she grow up together. You disdain the clam juice she adores, but show up to stake your claim whenever D makes his tuna casserole. It pleases you enormously when I sit at my desk to do schoolwork, you love crawling between me and whatever book I am trying to read, walking across every paper, batting pens and pencils around with your little paws, purring like a little engine the whole time.

You never went outside much in Michigan after I took you in, as pets were forbidden, and I didn’t want you to be observed. Our apartment at school is on a busy street, so you don’t go outside much here either, although you are so well behaved you can come out with us when we sit on the porch, and you won’t run off.

You and Phalaywho do everything together: when you go into heat simultaneously, it is a cacophony of yowling. We save up our money, and eventually you go to the vet together, come home with matching shaved bellies. You do well with all the people, friends coming and going. Everyone loves you. You and Phalaywho are quite the team; when B brings over his dog Cassidy, you form a two-cat pack and stalk her, until she cowers in a corner, whimpering for mercy. You get leis wrapped around your necks in a fit of silliness one New Year’s Eve, purple for you and yellow for Phalaywho. You don’t much care for it at first, but soon forget to notice. You get bigger and your kittenish mews develop into full blown squonking squawks. You continue to enjoy meowing exchanges.

Years pass. I finish school. I bring you out to the Cape with me when I move there for work. My apartment on the dunes is on a dead end street, and there is a hole in the screen door. So for the first time, when I am home with you to open the inside door, you have unfettered access to the outdoors. You love lying in the sun, eating grass, playing with bugs, and digging in the sand. Especially eating grass. Seagulls? Not so much. Whenever they wheel overhead (which is often) you panic, and slinking low, bolt for the door. SodaBoy comes to stay for a week between apartments, bringing Phalaywho. We decide you should see the sea, and carry you both over the dunes. We put you down in the sand, and you are like magnets, drawn to each other as you run for shelter.

By now SodaBoy and I are dating, and when I complete my work on the Cape, you and I move in with him and Phalaywho. I go back to school. You are happy to be reunited with your friends. You like our little apartment, with the screened-in back porch over the woods, and the long narrow hall. We are still in the city, on the same busy street, but the hillside behind the apartment was never developed because it was so steep. Phalaywho likes to go explore in these woods, but you get frightened whenever we bring you up there, and run straightaway back to the door, maybe deigning to eat some grass while you wait for us to let you back inside. You hate the kitchen sink, where we give you flea baths after Phalaywho brings them back from the woods, but you love to be on top of the fridge when we cook dinner. You love to go for walks down the hall. You love to be gently smacked on your back with paper towel tubes or empty water bottles.

We get home one evening and find Phalaywho suddenly sick, with no advance warning signs, too sick to even stand up. We rush her to the emergency vet clinic, but it is too late, and she is dead within the hour. We return to the apartment, shell-shocked and empty handed. We do not mourn alone. For weeks you prowl the apartment, looking for your friend, howling at night with loneliness. We think about getting another cat, to keep you company, but never get around to it. Phalaywho is irreplaceable.

You become quite pudgy and the vet convinces us to put you on prescription low calorie food. You love your crunchy little dried food bits. You turn up your nose at the stinky canned stuff, so much that after dental surgery, I have to pour water on you dry food and soften it up so you have something to eat. You love pork chops, and diet or no, always manage to beg a few choice bites.

When I finish grad school, I travel to Minnesota to work, and then eventually back to Michigan. You stay with SodaBoy, and it is the both of you I return to in the winters, year after year. My grandmother gives me a stuffed cat that she bought because of its resemblance to you. I call it the mini-Meesh and bring it with me to Michigan, keeping it along with several framed pictures of you in my room.

When we need more space, SodaBoy finds a new apartment, an upstairs flat on the nicest street in the university area. I come back and help with the move. Our first day in the new place, we go for a walk, and make a new kitty friend. Elijah immediately takes a liking to us, following us all the way around the block. Our downstairs neighbors tell us he lives nearby and comes to visit them for the catnip. The new apartment is sunny and bright, and seems enormous. There is a window seat we cover with throw pillows. It is your favorite spot to nap.

There is a tiny walk-out front porch, and you learn to open the screen door by yourself, napping on the cushy patio chairs, going out on the roof to nibble on the box elder leaves, grazing from the flower boxes. You start eating house plants, too, favoring the spider plants. We get a real bed and set the futon up in the spare room as a couch. You realize you can crawl beneath it, the ultimate safe house. You develop a fear of the door bell, and scurry beneath the futon whenever it rings. You discover a great love for boxes, especially the low ones used to package cases of bottled water. You will “get in your box” on command, virtually roaring out your pleasure with great rumbling purrs. You love to be brushed. You love the laser pointer. You squawk along at appropriate moments when SodaBoy and P play video games; P declares you a "quality feline." You love to sleep on things that are on top of other things.

I get sick of constantly moving, of missing you and SodaBoy, and get a job in town. We get a couple of dwarf hamsters, and set up their cages in your room. You are barely interested in them at all, and seem to completely lack the instinct to hunt them. We can place the hamsters right on your back and you let them dig away at your fur, barely sparing a glance. There was a great escape one day, but it was only discovered when you walked into the room, with an unharmed hamster trailing at your heels.

Photo by Sis

The lease on the downstairs apartment seems to turn over every year. The second set of neighbors brings Elijah inside all winter long. When they move away, he comes to us the following winter. You finally have another kitty friend. Elijah does love the catnip. He gets all feisty and fierce while he’s hopped up, occasionally attacking you in a fit of energy. You give it right back to him, even though the catnip doesn’t seem to affect you the same way. Rather than roll in it foolishly like many cats, you have a much more dignified approach, and will calmly and tidily eat small piles of the stuff.

The years are flying by. Rubbing your belly one day, I find a swollen nipple. The vet agrees to see you that day and I know it’s a bad sign. You have mammary cancer, and are operated on immediately. The vet reassures us that we caught it early, probably because of your fondness for belly rubs. You heal up well, and your belly hair grows back, but for a long time don’t want your belly rubbed. I diligently search for recurring tumors but find nothing. You seem well, fat and happy like always.

We finally buy a house. You love lolling on the screened back porch. There is a cat door, and Elijah comes and goes as he pleases, but you are much more timid. I bring you out sometimes so you can eat grass, try to show you how the cat door works. The neighbor girls fall in love with you, asking to see you all summer long. You are terrified of them, of all children, and I often put them off, but bring you out occasionally. We set the futon up as a bed in a spare room, and it becomes your room. You love to nap there. When we get a dehumidifier for the basement, you are scared of it, and we move your litter box upstairs into your room for you. You love thumping up and down the stairs, especially when one of us walks along side of you, and you can stop to squawk for pets every few steps.

Then the sad days come. By the time you are symptomatic and stop eating, it is far too late. Your breast cancer has metastasized, and filled your lungs top to bottom. You cannot breathe. It is horrifying, and then you are gone. You were a happy kitty and we remember those happy times. We love you, Meshoe.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Packaging Pet Peeve

I have lived, worked, and recycled in four states in the last ten years. Municipal recycling programs vary widely, depending on the size of the community. The tiny town in northern Minnesota provided a large dumpster, divided into sections for each type of material. The recycling effort in one small town in Michigan was entirely run by volunteers, who manned their drop-off center the first Saturday of every month. The Massachusetts program was also on a drop-off basis, at a local dump. It’s always one of the first things to do when relocating to a new town: find out what facilities recycle in the area, and what sorts of materials are accepted.

My current hometown has a wonderful mandatory curbside pick-up program that takes all sorts of items the smaller facilities cannot process, such as milk cartons and juice boxes. However, when it comes to plastics, the local agency only accepts types 1 & 2. These are the exact same plastics recycled in every community I’ve lived in. Now, I have a rudimentary understanding of supply and demand economics, which leads me to suspect there is not much of an industry demand for plastic types 3-7. But that doesn’t ease the frustration I feel when I realize I’ve inadvertently purchased a product packaged in one of these dreaded materials.

I blacklisted a favorite hair care product years ago when they started packaging the shampoo in type 3 plastic. For a while, I continued to purchase the conditioner, which remained in trusty type 2, but after writing to their customer service online and receiving no satisfactory response, I dropped them altogether. Just recently, I discovered that several store-brand products I purchased are packaged in the wrong plastics: another shampoo in type 3, and parmesan cheese in type 5. Obviously, I will cease and desist in buying these products, and go back to the available name brands which are packaged in truly recyclable materials.

But does that send a strong enough message? I’d rather not discontinue shopping at my favorite grocery store. And I’m sure I would run into similar problems with other store-brand products in other stores. How can I convince the grocery establishment that packaging matters?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Spamming the Spammers

I have a fun little thing I like to do when I get my mail each day. As I suspect is fairly common in this day and age, aside from honest to goodness bills, most of what arrives is utter rubbish. I used to actually get real letters from other humans on occasion, but since the internets? Not so much. Anyway, I open everything, even the obvious solicitations. Postage paid envelopes are the big excitement after all. The really fun part is deciding what to stuff in them before I mail them back. If I have nothing interesting laying around I merely take whatever crap came to me, remove anything with my name on it, and mail it back. The selection process does get better though…

To be clear, there are a few rules to my little game. OK, maybe just the one: no harassing the not-for-profits. This is strictly enforced. However, due to various contributions I make, my name is on the sucker list, and I do receive a lot of mail from charities and environmental groups, especially. They provide excellent fodder to send to the mega-corporations. American Express could learn from the Sierra Club; Citibank could clearly benefit from the literature of the Jane Goodall Institute. And so on. I can’t kid myself into thinking my action is doing any "good," but it brings me no end of pleasure knowing that these companies have to pay for my amusement.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My Big Backyard

We went for a long walk yesterday. There are so many delightful places we can walk to directly from our house, no vehicle needed. We started on the little footpath at the southeast corner of the yard, went through south campus, and ended up hiking all the way around the rim of the quarry, perhaps six miles total. We've been hiking and biking and snowshoeing there often, numerous times already just this year. But the vastness of it makes it exciting. We found places yesterday that neither of us knew existed, entire additional networks of trails. Further exploration is definitely in order.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Fair

Yesterday we joined the throngs, over one hundred thousand strong, in an annual pilgrimage to the great State Fair. Ernesto was just the tail end of weeks of lousy weather. Some vendors reported the worst numbers in fifteen years. But it was Labor Day, a holiday, the last day. For all the hordes with presale tickets, it was now or never. So they turned out in droves. I've never seen such lines just to get in the front gate. Once inside, every thoroughfare was jammed. The simple act of walking became a Herculean task. Strollers brought all movement to a halt: I wanted to give a medal to every parent I saw with their kidlet in a backpack.

I'm not sure I've ever seen the fair so crowded. Inside the buildings was no different, with few exceptions. We had room to browse (and breathe!) while viewing the photography and fine arts displays. We managed to get some fair food, Gianelli sausage sandwiches with onions and peppers. We lucked out and saw magnificent dancers perform in both the African and Indian villages. I picked up some maple candy in the Horticulture Building, to enjoy later, and tried a $1 sample of the new fried rice from MaiLan--words cannot describe that divinity. I fought for some chocolate milk at the entrance to the dairy, but missed the butter sculpture, lacking the fortitude to push my way inside. We ended up missing a lot of other stuff, too: the horses, the giraffes, the chickens, the rabbits, the rides, entire buildings worth of exhibits. I'd been warned that the cows are gone by the last day, so they were one thing I expected not to see.

Sure enough, when we entered the cow barn, it appeared deserted. Most people were simply turning around and leaving, concluding there was nothing to see. But deep inside the darkness of the virtually abandoned, cavernous building, we came across a yearling calf, tethered near her mother. There were kids petting her as we approached, and I hung back, thinking perhaps they'd raised and were caring for these cows. But then they bounded off, to be replaced by other children with outstretched hands, and it soon became apparent these cows were appreciative of the attention of strangers.

So we stepped up and joined the fun, treating the calf like a big dog, letting her smell our hands and stroking her fur. Stop for a minute, and she'd butt her head into your hand, demanding more love. The goats were the same way, sweet and friendly, clambering for attention. This is the aspect of the fair I cherish most: the chance for close encounters with animals most of us live apart from. As a child in the country, we had goats and chickens and a sheep, but I live in the city now, far removed from such creatures. It's not just nostalgia on my part, however. The joy I feel is played out on faces all around, large and small. It's biophilia in action, love of life.