New Black Box Warnings: FDA

I have a hell of a toothache.  A couple of months ago I broke a tooth, and went to a franchise-type dentist who took emergency cases.  One of the down sides of being a professional vagrant is I don’t have a regular dentist. 

For a little over $1000 I walked out with a new crown and instructions to call if I had any problems.

I did have a problem, before I even left the office.

I felt that I should have had a root canal before the crown went on.  I know my teeth.  They are ornery, pesky things.  They operate in strict accordance with Murphy’s Law:  anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. 

The dentist assured me that the nerve looked fine, and he hated to mess up a basically healthy tooth.

A couple days later, the thing started hurting like a sonovabitch.  I called the dentist, who immediately assumed I was a drug seeker and blew me off, saying that it might take a few weeks to settle down.

It hasn’t.  In fact, it’s getting worse.  Now I have to look for a dentist who will…but wait, it’s Labor Day Weekend!  No dentist till next week, when I have to run up to Michigan to get some warrantee work done on the old brand new RV.  Maybe I’ll find a dentist there, with a lot of luck.

So, in order to buy some time and have at least a few hours out of misery, I took two of my hoarded tramadol tabs.  Now I have maybe 20 left.

Then I opened my email, to find a bulletin regarding a new FDA policy, intended to protect ourselves from ourselves:  black box warnings on both opioids and benzodiazepines, warning that they must not…Black Box MUST NOT…be taken together, because of the potential of respiratory depression leading to death.

A Black Box warning is the strongest labeling there is.  This means that in a time when even being prescribed pain medicine is becoming a remote possibility, those of us who take benzos for anxiety disorders and/or movement disorders, seizure disorders, or insomnia, will have an even more difficult time obtaining effective pain management.  Doctors who prescribe both meds at the same time will open themselves up for censure and lawsuits.  Pharmacists are being given increasing power to simply refuse to fill prescriptions.  They don’t have to, and if the FDA issues black box warnings, they are fully within their rights to refuse to fill prescription A if the patient is known to be taking prescription B.  In fact, if they do fill it and the patient has an adverse effect, the pharmacist is liable, can lose their license, and can be sued.

This is of direct concern to me.  My neurosychiatrist, who unfortunately has retired due to failed back surgery, hammered out a drug cocktail during the course of our 12 year clinical relationship, that effectively treats my bipolar, PTSD, and social phobia.  It includes 3 types of benzos.  All at once.

It also helps with the muscle spasms that cripple me day and night.

Now I fear that when my prescriptions run low, I won’t be able to find anyone to prescribe these lifesaving medicines because they are “too much.”

Worse, the degeneration of my spine is getting to a critical point.  One of the bones in my neck is rotating in such a way that it is pressing against my spinal cord.  I’m going to need surgery soon.  Major surgery, to fuse three of my cervical vertebrae and lift them up off the nerves they’re pressing on.

I won’t describe the surgery, because it makes me sick even to think about it.  I’ll just say that it involves lots of chopping up bone and remodeling.  Very, very painful stuff.

So…in today’s anti-pain med climate, what’ll it be?  Black Box Warning ahead!  Do I get to continue my benzo regimen so I can maintain a semblance of normalcy, and not be a hypervigilant mess, or do I get a modicum of pain relief after having this spinal carpentry fest?  Do I have any say in this matter?

Last time I had spine surgery, I got sent home with zero pain meds.  None.  And that was in 1987!

Why on earth did this happen?

Because I happened to joke to the pre-op nurse who was taking down my then very short med list (one med!) that I took Xanax for the three days before my periods, and that I was addicted to not having PMS.  She wrote down that I was addicted to Xanax!  It was recorded in my chart that I had admitted to being a drug addict.  So when I called the hospital to ask for some kind of postoperative pain relief, the neurosurgery intern scolded me about being a drug addict seeking drugs.  No pain meds.  And that was a relatively minor procedure, compared to the one I’m facing.

I really don’t know what to do.  Sometimes I wish I’d just die in my sleep, so I wouldn’t have to face this surgery and the prospect of being helpless, in agony, without the possibility of comfort.

P is for Passover, and also Panic

There are a lot of aspects of Passover that people panic about.  It’s worse than Christmas.  Much worse.

First there are the elaborate preparations.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There might be people who are not familiar with the Jewish holiday that draws relatives, and any Jewish (or non-Jewish, for that matter) friends, visitors in town, complete strangers….to one’s home and table, to participate in an elaborate ritual celebration of FREEDOM.

The ritual is prescribed by the Hebrew Bible, which commands us to gather at the full moon of the Month of Spring (Aviv), which is the Hebrew month of Nissan, which itself is a variant of the word “nissim,” which means “miracles.”

At this gathering, we are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, when, after ten dreadful plagues, Pharaoh begged Moses to get the Hebrews (whom Pharaoh had enslaved) the hell out of Egypt so they could have some respite from all the different kinds of badness that God was visiting upon the Egyptians.

The Hebrews jumped on this opportunity.  They had just mixed up a batch of bread for themselves, and since they were in such a hurry to leave Egypt before Pharaoh changed his mind, they just stuffed the unleavened dough into sacks, threw it across their backs, made sure it didn’t get wet crossing the Sea of Reeds (even though it split for them, you know how water tends to get into things), and we hear no more about that until we are commanded to sit and eat this stuff for eight days every year.

Since the words “mitzvah (commandment)” and “matzah” are spelled very similarly in Hebrew, Kabbalah teaches that eating matzah is the Number One mitzvah.

Actually, it’s the Number Two mitzvah, number one being “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus learned that in Hebrew School.

Anyway.

What does matzah teach us, to gain such high status in Mitzvah World?

Simple.

That’s it.  Be simple.

What could be more simple than flour and water?

Of course, Jews have a way of making even flour and water complicated, but that’s for another post.

Let me just say that in Orthodox Jewish circles, the object is to cram as much of the Sacred Crunchy Cracker down one’s gullet as possible.

Now, I love matzah.  I mean, I really LOVE matzah.  I could eat nothing but matzah for the rest of my life.

Matzah with butter thinly spread on it, which is a feat in itself because it breaks very easily.

Matzah with horseradish and a sweet kind of relish made of grated apples, walnuts, and wine.  Heaven.

Matzah with pickled herring.  Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.

Yep, I can eat a whole box of matzah without even trying.  Munch, crunch!

In Israel, matzah is even yummier because it’s made by hand, very thin, and it’s round, and you can get it made from spelt, which is delicious.

No, there is no blood in matzah.  None.  That would spoil the whole thing.  Matzah that has any additive beside flour and water is disqualified.  So let’s get THAT blood libel off the table.  Literally.

Now, sometime between my becoming Jewishly observant and my second or third year in Israel, I became gluten intolerant.  I didn’t know what it was, at first.  All I knew was that on the Sabbath, we are commanded to eat at least three meals containing bread made from any of the five grains that grow naturally in the Land of Israel: wheat, spelt, rye, oats, and barley.  In my circle, spelt was the most common, and all women were to be found on Thursday night or Friday morning lovingly kneading their Sabbath bread.

Me too.  I often hosted 20 or more people on Friday nights, so lots of bread came out of my toaster oven.  No one has money for a “real” oven in Israel.  It’s amazing what a toaster oven and a hot plate can put out in a pinch….or every week!

Anyway.  I’m procrastinating.  P is for procrastination.

So I began to notice that every Sunday, which comes after our Sabbath, I was spending in the bathroom.  Since our Sunday, at least in Israel where there really isn’t such a thing as a weekend if you’re a religious woman..anyway, since Sunday is a weekday, and you go to work, I started having to cancel patients because I couldn’t get off the toilet.  Usually by Tuesday I’d be fine, but that really screwed everything up for both me and my patients.

But since eating bread on the Sabbath is the main thing, I ate it.  And if you eat a piece of bread the size of an olive (or an egg, depending on things too complicated to go into here), you become obligated to say a blessing that takes a minimum of fifteen minutes, possibly up to an hour if you make a meditation out of it (then you get extra Heaven points, for being extra holy).  It’s an obligation, and a privilege, to be done with concentration and love.

When Passover came around that year, I ordered my huge box of extra-holy matzah, and munched away for the first few days of the eight day holiday….then my munching came to an abrupt halt.  I was forced to realize the disastrous connection between the bread, leavened or unleavened, and the bathroom.

How could this be???  God commanded us to eat this stuff.  And commanded us to bless him for all the good things he does for us, and bread is the proof!

“Ve’ahalta ve’savata u’veirachta et Ha’Shem Elokeicha…”

“And you shall eat, and you shall be satisfied, and you shall bless the Name of Your God…”  The Blessing After Meals says this…so why couldn’t I say it?

And this is the core, the heart, of Jewish ritual observance…because Judaism isn’t something you THINK, it’s something you DO.  Our observance is centered around what the Children of Israel said at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah: “We will DO, and we will HEAR.”  This means that even if we do not understand on an intellectual level what the commandments are about, we do them anyway.

So for me, the paradox of being commanded to eat bread, but the bread making me sick, was incomprehensible.  Why would God command me to do something that made me sick?  Nonsense.  So I kept eating the bread, and got progressively sicker, lost thirty pounds, became anemic, ended up in the hospital bleeding from my ravaged guts and crying out unto the Lord who led us out from Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm….”  And when I got out of the hospital I realized that my God had either failed me or cursed me or both.

But there was one grain that didn’t contain gluten: oats!

Listen, bread made out of pure oats with nothing added is disgusting.  I did manage to develop a recipe for oat pita for the Sabbath that was edible when washed down with copious amounts of dry red wine.  Fortunately, Israel has a rich and ancient tradition of wine making, and therefore some rich and ancient vineyards that produce gorgeous vintages.  (A friend and I used to make pilgrimages to ancient wine presses, 3000 years ancient!  We always brought a bottle from that region to enjoy…and he brought bread, so he could make the after-blessing…)

Then I learned to make oat matzah, which is super easy, and my Passover blues were gone.

A lot has happened in the meantime, and we’re going to skip over it and fast forward to this year, and this night, which is the third night of Passover, in the year 5776 from Creation.

I wanted to celebrate Passover, so I looked around for a community Seder (the word “Seder” literally means “order,” and connotes the order of the fifteen steps of the Passover ritual celebration, and not just the meal that most people associate with the word).  There was one, so I signed up for it, and got my plans together for making my oat matzah on the grill.  No problem!

But then God got in the way again, by causing someone to steal my camp furniture, and me to ask the management what might have become of it, and them to put me out on the street, quite literally, on the night before the day I had planned to make my matzah, which was the day of the night of the Seder.  I guess I could have made it in the parking lot of the truck stop where I slept that night, but to be honest I was so rattled I didn’t think of it….

That is, until I walked into the huge hall filled with Jews from all over the world who had gathered in tiny Flagstaff, drawn from places like Sedona and Las Vegas, to eat matzah, drink wine, and do the annual spiritual pilgrimage to Egypt and back to Freedom of the Mind and Soul.

I was decked out in a muted version of my Passover finery, minus the outrageous headgear, shoes, scarves, jewelry…since I have lead my family’s Seder for the past ten years, my rule is “I’m running this show, so I get to wear what I want.”

It probably wouldn’t have helped.

The “ikar,” the MAIN THING, the WHOLE POINT, of the Seder, is to eat the matzah and drink four cups of wine.  If you do nothing else, eat the matzah and drink the wine.  And I had no matzah.

And suddenly, with that realization, I became aware of the noise…the smell…the presence….of all these people, all these Jewish people who were all going on a spiritual journey through the medium of BREAD AND WINE, and I was there, but I was not going…the train was leaving without me.

“DAH LEHEM OHNI…this is the Bread of Affliction that my Foremothers brought out from Egypt…” the leader intones while holding up a piece of matzah.

Ohni…an Aramaic word meaning “of affliction…”  but in Hebrew, it translates, “MY affliction.”

MY affliction.  The bread of MY affliction.

Suddenly I knew that if I didn’t get out of there, and NOW, I was going to throw up in my fancy fake silver plastic plate.  I took advantage of it being a point in the ritual where everyone is lined up to wash their hands from special lavers, and I snaked my way through the crowd and out the door to my van, which the rabbi had graciously given me permission to park in the Jewish Community Center parking lot for the weekend.

I am sorry to say that I wasn’t able to make myself go to the rabbi’s home for dinner the following night, either.  I felt terrible, because being invited to the rabbi’s home is a huge honor.  But the thought of dealing with people–ANY people–terrified me.  And especially–ESPECIALLY–the black-and-white Orthodox mode of dress, the segregation of the sexes, the hordes of properly dressed children charging around in a frenzied pack (Orthodox children are rarely disciplined, yet somehow morph into polite and kind young people at the age of 12 for girls, 13 for boys.  This is a mystery).

And, of course, I would have to answer thousands of questions.  No, no, and no.  I just couldn’t face it.

So I stayed one more night in the JCC parking lot, grateful for the stand of young trees in the landscaping, since the incoming cold front brought with it a roaring wind.

Now I’m back on the Coconino Plateau, feeling uncomfortably unwashed, since I didn’t have a chance to fill my fresh water tank before being ejected from the KOA.  I’ll be here another night, since there’s a high wind advisory for tomorrow too.  When that’s over, I hope to go Somewhere Else…hopefully to Canyon de Chelly, where I can talk to the Ancient Ones who built the cliff dwellings there….maybe they can tell me why my journey to my roots has brought me so much Bread of Affliction.

Troublemaker

I’ve been thrown out of two places in my life: a leather dyke bar in Provincetown, Massachusetts, because I wasn’t butch enough; and just tonight, the campground I’ve been staying in on and off since February.  My crime: complaining to the manager because my camp furniture had been removed from my campsite; and when they claimed they hadn’t removed them, then I reported my possessions as stolen.

Tonight as I came in to pay for my reservation, they informed me that I was no longer welcome because I had “made a scene.”

Hmmm.

I don’t think asking to speak to the manager because one’s personal effects have disappeared really counts as “making a scene.”  Especially since this was the second time things of mine have “disappeared” at this campground.  The first time I also reported it, and got blank stares for an answer.  This time the blank stare treatment really got to me, because you’d think they would care if their paying customers were losing their camp furniture.  So I said I wanted to speak to the manager, who shrugged and said she didn’t know what had happened to my things.

I tried to think of other reasons they might want to get rid of me.  Maybe it’s because I always pick up after my dog.  Maybe it’s because I’m very quiet, am rarely seen aside from taking long walks with same dog, never play music except with headphones, and don’t make trouble except for when my zero gravity lounge chair and a whole load of laundry disappear.

It would have been nice if they hadn’t waited till I came in, after dark, to tell me I’ve been banned.  I had to scramble to find a place to park my van for the night.  It’s too late to go up to the forest, so I have to make do with the truck stop.  It’s usually OK to park overnight at Wal-Mart, but not here.  Fortunately there’s a truck stop an easy drive away.  Very, very noisy, but any port in a storm.  Time to break out the earplugs…

This is very inconvenient, at this particular moment in time, because I have to make my special oat matzahs for the Passover Seder tomorrow night.  I was planning to make them on my portable grill tomorrow morning.  Cooking in the truck stop parking lot is considered poor truck stop etiquette (!), so I will have to figure out something else.  Maybe one of the marijuana dispensaries will let me get my matzahs baked in their parking lot!  Just kidding.  Sort of.

I Got Carded!

And the good news is, I got carded for the first time in 32 years.

The State of Arizona, otherwise notable for refusing Daylight Savings Time, and for the Grand Canyon, and Tombstone, and Prescott, all splendid ideas–has seen fit to award me my Medical Marijuana card even though I’m not **yet** an official resident.

I think they took pity upon my sorry ass.

And they knew I needed it, because I am in a world of hurt.

My appointment with the Hand Surgeon arrived today.  I got to wait two hours, then saw his PA, who had filthy fingernails.

I find that utterly repulsive.  A health care practitioner MUST have clean fingernails.  Hell, I’m sure Doc Holliday had clean fingernails, even though he was a drunk, a gambler, and a sometime outlaw.

I even clean my own fingernails before I go to a doctor appointment.  When I was in practice, I not only cleaned them every morning before heading to the office, but also used a white nail pencil (which I have not seen in stores for years) under the tips, to clean them further and make them shine.

The PA was not in my life for long, however, as she took immediate note of the way I flinched and yelled “Ouch!” when she pressed on the place where it hurts.  I made it easy for her by showing her the place.

She left the room and returned with the actual hand surgeon, a very nice young man.  He extended his hand, I rose from my chair and shook it, we introduced ourselves by our first names, and he complimented my last hand surgeon on his fine handiwork and inquired how it was done.

“Pins,” I told him.  “He pinned the hell out of those little bones and told me never to move my wrist again.”

He laughed.  But that is true. 

Of course the surgeon had to manipulate my wrist some, just to get his own idea of what is fucked up wrong, so hours later the bitch is still throbbing.

Predictably, he ordered an MRI.  As a bonus, we’re going to have an arthrogram with our MRI.  Half an hour prior to the scan, he will inject some contrast material into my wrist joint, and the MRI will show where the stuff goes.  This will clarify what is ruptured.  I think I know.  I’d make a bet with my doc, but I think we’re both on the same team.

So, after getting all the paperwork done I walked out to the parking lot, stuffing down a scream, and let the Biggess Doggess out to pee.

Aha, there is my phone!  I knew I left it somewhere.

Three messages from the spine institute in Denver (thank you, friend who suggested this!).  Two of their spine surgeons have reviewed the imaging studies I sent them, and both are of the opinion that I need “decompression and fusion at two levels (of my neck)”, just the same as the spine surgeon here in Flagstaff. 

I guess I will be having a busy spring.

It’s hard to do this kind of shit all by myself.  I wish I had the money for hotel rooms and private duty nurses.  I don’t, so there will be some sort of arrangement with hospital security so I can stay in my van in the hospital parking lot for the hand surgery.  The spine surgery recovery will have to be in some rehab facility, ick.  And poor Atina will have her first boarding experience.  Ever since I’ve had her, she’s been with me every single night, even after her own major surgeries.  It will seem really strange not to have her with me, but since I won’t be able to care for her, I guess that’s how it has to be.

It was getting late by this time, so I drove back to the campground, still suppressing screams.  It upsets Atina terribly when I scream.  So I rubbed her head and ears all the way back, driving with my solidly braced up bad hand.  One thing about having a lot of orthopedic injuries, you get pretty good at bracing and splinting, and at driving with one hand.

Back at the old campground, I rummaged in my stash bag and found a strain of legal (I have my card, remember) cannabis called Blueberry Trinity, which I imagine might be named for the “Trinity” nuclear fission experiments.  Whatever.  I inhaled its vapors, then set to work on a few shots of whiskey.  No, not the best coping mechanisms.  Fuck a bunch of coping mechanisms.  I needed oblivion.

The phone rang.

It was my old boyfriend and now for 18 years telephone friend Dick!  That’s not his actual name, but I know he won’t mind.  I spilled my guts to him, which was just what I needed.  He must have got “the vibe” that I needed help!  We talked all the way through his dinner.  His wife put up with it gracefully.  She is a graceful person, and I’m very glad they have each other.

Now the intoxicants have pretty much worn off.  It’s time for Atina and I to take our pills and go to sleep.  She’s lying up against me, upside down.  I’m intermittently rubbing her tummy.  Guess I’d better take her out for the last pee of the day, and call it a night.

So Long, Pluto

By one of those curious twists of the state of time, space, and matter, it seemed good in my eyes on Thursday night to seek the reliable shelter of a State Park, in which to interrupt my trajectory while hurtling across the awe-inspiring hugeness of the State of Texas.
_________________________

A Texan went to visit Ireland.

He saw an Irish farmer out working in his potato field, got out of his rented Cadillac and approached the fellow, and hollered:

(Texas accent): Say, pal, is this your land?

The Irishman cuts the engine on his ancient tractor, removes his battered hat, scratches his balding red head, mops his pate with his tatty handkerchief, jams his hat back on.

(Irish accent, with pride):  Sure and it is, Mester.  Been in my family for a hunnerd years. (Beams, gap-toothed, at the Texan, who is now standing in the dirt road in his cowboy boots, dove-grey Western suit, string tie, rocking with his thumbs hooked over his tooled leather belt with its garish silver buckle.  Door of Cadillac stands open.)

Texan:  Why, that’s mighty fine, mighty fine.  How much land have you got, if you don’t mind my askin’ ? (Chews a toothpick)

Irishman, with pride:  No, I don’t mind a wee bit, sence you’re askin’.  You see that tree stump off there in the distance?  Why, our land goes all the way from that stump, back aways past the house and farmyard, barns, horse pasture, to that stoon fence, ye can just barely see it from here.  (Scratches head again.)

Texan:  I declare.  That’s a right purty leetle piece.  You know, Farmer, back in Texas where’n Ah come from, Ah kin git in mah truck an drahve from sunrise to sunset, and Ah will still be drahvin’ on mah own land.  (Air of superior self-satisfaction)

Irishman: (Shaking head sadly)  Ach!  I had a truck like that meself, once.
__________________________________

The twist of fate is made curious by a happenstance: the first Texas State Park I spied on my map happened to be full, but the sweet and adorable Mescalero Apache ranger at the park office told me that there was plenty of room at the next park down the road, which happened to be right down the road again from the famed McDonald Observatory, home of the second biggest and most scientifically unique telescope in the world.  Yowie zowie, I love space stuff!  And my knowledge base is terrible, so I got all hot and sweaty at the thought of increasing it in such a majestic way.

I scuttled down the ranchy road, reaching the park just about closing time.  Picked myself out a choice spot and settled in, nervous about the javelinas (pecaries, a nasty species of wild pig that stinks and had it in for dogs) and wild boars, that can tusk up a dog or small human faster than you can say “Old Yeller.”  We have seen a lot of their poop, fresh, in our campsite, and if they only come sniffing around of a night, that’s fine, as long as they respect the rules.

The next day I mounted Old Jenny and climbed up the twisty road to the Observatory.  They were having a program on Sun Spots, but since I regularly check the Solar Weather I wasn’t so interested in that.  I wanted Deep Space.  Wormholes, Dark Energy, you know, cool space stuff.  I wanted to see the giant telescopes, but the next available date is a couple of weeks from now and I don’t plan to be here then.  Plus it costs $115, which would be money well spent, but that’s a week’s worth of camping money, so.

But they have “Star Parties,” interpretive viewings of the heavens both aided by normal size telescopes, and with the naked eye, so that one comes away with greatly augmented knowledge of celestial bodies and visible galaxies and nebulae (one, beside the Milky Way: the Orion Nebula.  I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula, but you need a higher power telescope for that).

The McDonald Observatory is located on top of a mountain situated above the Sonoran Desert, and is one of the darkest places in the world (at night, and not a cave).  Thus, I was tremendously exited at the prospect of guided stargazing in that spectacular location.  I bought a ticket for $15 and returned to my campsite to do a bit of dog hair mitigation and await the appointed hour.

We got there early (“we,” unless otherwise noted, means my dog and I) and cooled our heels till show time.

Big tour buses pulled up.  I noted them, then blocked them out of my consciousness.

With the approach of show time, I took Atina out for a potty break and put her in the van, ignoring her rueful expression.  It’s tough being a dog.

When I entered the lobby my heart went splat on the floor, then went into a run of sinus tachycardia.  Panic attack. 

Hundreds of lovely young people wearing Texas Tech and University of Texas and Texas A&M sweatshirts milled and shouted in the lobby.

I bailed into the gift shop, which was geared toward children, with book after book after book on the constellations…fer krissake, how many books on the constellations do they need?

I perused the wall charts, the glow in the dark universes that I stuck on my erstwhile son’s ceiling, to give him something to do while he wasn’t sleeping….and noticed something odd.

There were only eight planets.

That is wrong.  There are nine.  Everyone knows there are nine planets!

Then I remembered: Pluto has been decommissioned as a planet, because it is made of frozen water and no rocks.  You have to be made of rocks to be a planet.

It’s not fair.  Other planets are made of weird shit, so why, after all this time, could they not make Pluto at least an HONORARY planet?

I bought a placemat of the Periodic Table, which has picked up a number of new elements since the last time I studied it, and bolted for my van.

The rest of the evening was devoted to doctoring my crushing panic attack.

It wasn’t merely the prospect of standing in loud lines with droves of college students.

It was the sudden realization that I, too, have been decommissioned, like Pluto, and for the same reason: lack of a solid core. 

In our last bitter conversation, my son made it clear that I am not the mother he wanted…or, in his opinion, needed.  He needed stability.  He needed a rock core, not just some object made of frozen gasses.

Pluto and I are no longer welcome in his universe.

Well.

Since I have cried all the way across the enormous state of Texas, I have very clean eyes.  It seems that tears do not simply run out.  The body just keeps making more.

And since my decommission I have had plenty of time to reflect on the universe of mistakes I have made in my life.  Mistake after mistake after mistake.

And all boiling down to what?

Well, at least I have money, for a couple more years, to pay my expenses.  That’s a plus.

See, me and Pluto just keep going around and around and around, but the end is interincluded in the beginning, so there is no getting off this particular merry-go-round.

So me and Pluto and Atina will go ’round until it all winds down and it’s time to bail out.  That’s what happens to stars before we blow up and become Something Else.

So Long, Pluto

By one of those curious twists of the state of time, space, and matter, it seemed good in my eyes on Thursday night to seek the reliable shelter of a State Park, in which to interrupt my trajectory while hurtling across the awe-inspiring hugeness of the State of Texas.
__________________________________

A Texan went to visit Ireland.

He saw an Irish farmer out working in his potato field, got out of his rented Cadillac and approached the fellow, and hollered:

(Texas accent): Say, pal, is this your land?

The Irishman cuts the engine on his ancient tractor, removes his battered hat, scratches his balding red head, mops his pate with his tatty handkerchief, jams his hat back on.

(Irish accent, with pride):  Sure and it is, Mester.  Been in my family for a hunnerd years. (Beams, gap-toothed, at the Texan, who is now standing in the dirt road in his cowboy boots, dove-grey Western suit, string tie, rocking with his thumbs hooked over his tooled leather belt with its garish silver buckle.  Door of Cadillac stands open.)

Texan:  Why, that’s mighty fine, mighty fine.  How much land have you got, if you don’t mind my askin’ ? (Chews a toothpick)

Irishman, with pride:  No, I don’t mind a wee bit, sence you’re askin’.  You see that tree stump off there in the distance?  Why, our land goes all the way from that stump, back aways past the house and farmyard, barns, horse pasture, to that stoon fence, ye can just barely see it from here.  (Scratches head again.)

Texan:  I declare.  That’s a right purty leetle piece.  You know, Farmer, back in Texas where’n Ah come from, Ah kin git in mah truck an drahve from sunrise to sunset, and Ah will still be drahvin’ on mah own land.  (Air of superior self-satisfaction)

Irishman: (Shaking head sadly)  Ach!  I had a truck like that meself, once.
__________________________________

The twist of fate is made curious by a happenstance: the first Texas State Park I spied on my map happened to be full, but the sweet and adorable Mescalero Apache ranger at the park office told me that there was plenty of room at the next park down the road, which happened to be right down the road again from the famed McDonald Observatory, home of the second biggest and most scientifically unique telescope in the world.  Yowie zowie, I love space stuff!  And my knowledge base is terrible, so I got all hot and sweaty at the thought of increasing it in such a majestic way.

I scuttled down the ranchy road, reaching the park just about closing time.  Picked myself out a choice spot and settled in, nervous about the javelinas (pecaries, a nasty species of wild pig that stinks and had it in for dogs) and wild boars, that can tusk up a dog or small human faster than you can say “Old Yeller.”  We have seen a lot of their poop, fresh, in our campsite, and if they only come sniffing around of a night, that’s fine, as long as they respect the rules.

The next day I mounted Old Jenny and climbed up the twisty road to the Observatory.  They were having a program on Sun Spots, but since I regularly check the Solar Weather I wasn’t so interested in that.  I wanted Deep Space.  Wormholes, Dark Energy, you know, cool space stuff.  I wanted to see the giant telescopes, but the next available date is a couple of weeks from now and I don’t plan to be here then.  Plus it costs $115, which would be money well spent, but that’s a week’s worth of camping money, so.

But they have “Star Parties,” interpretive viewings of the heavens both aided by normal size telescopes, and with the naked eye, so that one comes away with greatly augmented knowledge of celestial bodies and visible galaxies and nebulae (one, beside the Milky Way: the Orion Nebula.  I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula, but you need a higher power telescope for that).

The McDonald Observatory is located on top of a mountain situated above the Sonoran Desert, and is one of the darkest places in the world (at night, and not a cave).  Thus, I was tremendously exited at the prospect of guided stargazing in that spectacular location.  I bought a ticket for $15 and returned to my campsite to do a bit of dog hair mitigation and await the appointed hour.

We got there early (“we,” unless otherwise noted, means my dog and I) and cooled our heels till show time.

Big tour buses pulled up.  I noted them, then blocked them out of my consciousness.

With the approach of show time, I took Atina out for a potty break and put her in the van, ignoring her rueful expression.  It’s tough being a dog.

When I entered the lobby my heart went splat on the floor, then went into a run of sinus tachycardia.  Panic attack. 

Hundreds of lovely young people wearing Texas Tech and University of Texas and Texas A&M sweatshirts milled and shouted in the lobby.

I bailed into the gift shop, which was geared toward children, with book after book after book on the constellations…fer krissake, how many books on the constellations do they need?

I perused the wall charts, the glow in the dark universes that I stuck on my erstwhile son’s ceiling, to give him something to do while he wasn’t sleeping….and noticed something odd.

There were only eight planets.

That is wrong.  There are nine.  Everyone knows there are nine planets!

Then I remembered: Pluto has been decommissioned as a planet, because it is made of frozen water and no rocks.  You have to be made of rocks to be a planet.

It’s not fair.  Other planets are made of weird shit, so why, after all this time, could they not make Pluto at least an HONORARY planet?

I bought a placemat of the Periodic Table, which has picked up a number of new elements since the last time I studied it, and bolted for my van.

The rest of the evening was devoted to doctoring my crushing panic attack.

It wasn’t merely the prospect of standing in loud lines with droves of college students.

It was the sudden realization that I, too, have been decommissioned, like Pluto, and for the same reason: lack of a solid core. 

In our last bitter conversation, my son made it clear that I am not the mother he wanted…or, in his opinion, needed.  He needed stability.  He needed a rock core, not just some object made of frozen gasses.

Pluto and I are no longer welcome in his universe.

Well.

Since I have cried all the way across the enormous state of Texas, I have very clean eyes.  It seems that tears do not simply run out.  The body just keeps making more.

And since my decommission I have had plenty of time to reflect on the universe of mistakes I have made in my life.  Mistake after mistake after mistake.

And all boiling down to what?

Well, at least I have money, for a couple more years, to pay my expenses.  That’s a plus.

See, me and Pluto just keep going around and around and around, but the end is interincluded in the beginning, so there is no getting off this particular merry-go-round.

So me and Pluto and Atina will go ’round until it all winds down and it’s time to bail out.  That’s what happens to stars before we blow up and become Something Else.

Welcome to Texas!

image

Do not feed the wildlife, and watch for snakes?

This is the view when you pull into the Texas Welcome Center.

As if the previous night in Louisiana wasn’t enough.

That campground was a simple piece of swamp.  When I got out of my rig to plug into the electric, I sank into mud up to the ankle.  There were signs warning not to leave garbage out, because it attracts alligators.  Bears, I’m used to.  Alligators, no.

So the next morning I balled the jack all the way to Livingston, Texas, which is a couple of hundred miles on barely-paved 75 mph two-lane roads north of Houston.  Got into my campground at 5:32 p.m.

500 miles in 8 hours.  How did I do that?

Drugs.  All legal.

1)  Starbucks Double Shot in a can;
2) I took my Adderal, which I normally hate taking, but it really does help me pay attention)
3) Nicotine tablets
4) There was a fourth one, but I forget now.  I’m having a major crash day.

So I’m watching for snakes.  I never feed the wildlife anymore, so that’s not an issue.  But snakes are important to watch for.

I don’t have a huge desire to hang around in Texas for longer than I have to.  The only reasons I have to are to pick up some mail that is waiting for me here, and to see if I can get my abscessed tooth taken care of.  There’s a place here that advertises crowns made in one day, so I’m going to look into that.

Good thing I’m a traveling pharmacy, otherwise this tooth would have hung me up before now.  As soon as it dawned on me that this pain, swelling, and fever was localized to a tooth that broke in half recently, and was half-heartedly repaired by a dentist who really wanted to do the, “Oh, what you need is a four-tooth bridge, maybe a couple of implants and a time-share on Key Largo” thing, so was put out when I explained that I was short on both time and money…so the shite filling she did ($270) started leaking almost immediately, with the result that the tooth became infected, during the blizzard, of course.

Where was I?

Oh, yes.  As soon as I realized that it was my tooth, I rummaged through my box of random medicines and found exactly the right antibiotic.  After three days the tooth quieted down, but I’ve continued to take the antibiotics, because the tooth is now essentially a foreign body, and until it’s fixed the bacteria will be hiding out in there, waiting for a window of opportunity.  Which I hope not to give them.

Now, there is a dentist in this town who advertises not only same-day crowns, but also sedation!  And takes emergencies!  Does it get any better? 

Yes, not needing a dentist in the first place. 

Lost

After my 30 year old son threw me out the day after Thanksgiving, I sat with the pain until after Christmas.  I thought the pain would fade, but it only intensified.  It was eating me up from the inside out.  I thought we had a good relationship, and then this.

So I wrote him a letter, asking what I had done to cause him to do this thing.

A couple of weeks went by.  He was kind enough to send me a note saying that he wanted to take time to sit down and write me a well-thought out letter.  I waited eagerly, hoping for a positive answer.

What I received tore my heart into even smaller shreds.

He detailed grudges that he held from childhood, that I thought had been addressed during the two years of intensive family therapy at the therapeutic boarding school I sent him to as an alternative to jail after he got arrested when he was 16.  I guess that wore off.

More grudges for things I had done unintentionally, that I did not know had bothered him, or even knew anything about.

Worst of all, he disapproves of my current lifestyle, my past lifestyle, and I got the impression (or maybe her wrote it) that he believes I am irresponsible, and worries that I will run out of money (possible, since I have given so much of it to him, in one way or another).

I waited another few weeks, went through the letter with my therapist, discussed the triggers…

Being thrown out by my own son would be bad enough.  For krissake, I wasn’t drunk or abusive or anything that would merit being shown the door.  But since my mother used to do that all the time when I came to visit her, hoping once again that I would find her transformed into the Mommy that I never had, the trigger was like a hammer brought down on my head.

And his letter, so full of judgement and criticism, triggered my childhood of constant criticism by both parents.  How can I relax if I never know whether what I’m doing will be accepted or considered wrong?  How can I trust him ever again, since he holds grudges even for things I didn’t know were wrong, in his eyes?

And who the hell does he think he is, to judge his mother?  I have never abused him: the opposite.  I have struggled ever since he was born to find ways of helping him to be happy.

As one of my first boyfriend’s Irish mother said to him when he criticized her, “Don’t you judge me!  I wiped your shitty ass!”

I wrote my son another letter, explaining that we are different people with different values, and just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re a bad person (you’d think someone would know this by the time they’re 30, but I guess not).

I also reiterated how much his behavior had hurt me, and how my current financial situation is largely due to the more than $200,000 that ate up my retirement fund, plus having to borrow another $75,000 from my parents, who amazingly mortgaged their paid-for home to save his life.  He has never thanked any of us, nor offered to pay us back even a fraction.  I have never mentioned the money thing to him before, not wanting to lay a guilt trip on him.  But since he brought it up, and since he is behaving like an entitled brat, I let him in on the secret.

I have not heard back from him yet, and I wonder how he will take these harsh realities.

I also told him something of my health issues, both physical and mental, and that since I have no one to care for me and I refuse to go into a nursing home, at some point this life will end, either naturally or, if the pain is too severe, by assistance.

I feel that I have lost him.  This too is triggering, as I had the same feeling when he was a lying, stealing, addicted teenager, running with others of the same ilk, in and out of every kind of rehab, even a stint of involuntary hospitalization that turned out to be a nightmare.

He managed to either fake his way through the programs or get himself thrown out by fighting or otherwise flagrantly breaking the rules. 

Finally his stepmother threw him out, and he ended up in a homeless shelter, where he broke the rules and I don’t remember what happened after that because I was having my own catatonic breakdown and two hospitalizations.

During those times I felt like I had lost my son, but he was still alive, which was worse than having lost him by death in some ways.

If he had died, at least I could have grieved him and kept the good memories.  But losing him alive was unremitting torture, as it is today.

Why, all of a sudden, have I become a villain?

I think I know.

Now that he’s become known in the scientific world, he’s emulating his famous scientist dad.  He’s dressing like his dad, even talking like him.

I’m sure people ask him what his mother does, and he doesn’t know what to say.

He’s not proud of me; in fact, he’s embarrassed, because I am disabled by mental illness, I don’t work, and I don’t even have a home.

He writes that he wants me to settle down and have a real bed for him to sleep in when he visits.

Funny about that: when I did have a real home with a real guest bed, he never visited.  Of course, my real home was in Israel, and although I offered to pay his fare countless times, he always had an excuse why he couldn’t come.  But he was happy to go to Hawaii with his dad.

I told my mother, who is not the greatest role model; nevertheless I told her, and she said, “Let him go.  He’s never been a part of our family anyway.” 

That hurt me even more, and made me wish I hadn’t said anything.

Thirty years ago today, I was great with this child.  I have a photo of myself in profile, naked and glistening with oil like a wrestler.  I am very short.  I looked like I had swallowed a giant watermelon.  I was so happy.

Now, I wonder whether having him was the right thing.  He has never been happy.  He screamed constantly for years.  He started seeing a child psychologist when he was three.  My ex-husband started sleeping with him when I started my internship, because otherwise he just screamed all night.  This child drove a wedge between my former husband and I.  I’ve observed, during my 20 years practicing pediatrics, that a sick child will either cement or destroy a marriage, depending on the health of that marriage to begin with.  I consider the child to be a symptom of family dysfunction.

Usually divorce will help the stricken child; in our case, that was not to be.

Anger, and more anger, has been this child’s life.  I thought he had developed coping skills and self awareness.  I was so proud.

Now I am lost in a sea of pain.

If I had known then what I know now, I believe I would not have conceived him.

A Coupla Bummers and A Miracle

Well, it was Thanksgiving in America, again.

A friend of mine calls it Shabbos Hodu.  (“Shabbos” is the Eastern European version of the Hebrew word “Shabbat,” or Sabbath).  “Hodu” is the Hebrew word for both “turkey (the bird)” and the imperative form of one of the many words for “to thank.”  Thus, “Shabbos Hodu!”

In Orthodox Judaism there is no “Thanksgiving Day,” because we formally give thanks to God at least six times a day, and sometimes more often.

The three daily prayers, which take up to an hour each, contain 19 paragraphs of blessing.  Each of these blessings opens and closes with a verse of thanks.  There is a separate blessing expressing thanks in general, and when there is a quorum of ten people, a special very beautiful paragraph is sung that describes the praises of the Angels.  There is a verse in every prayer beseeching the Creator to rebuild Jerusalem, our Holy City.

The other three “Thank you’s” are contained in the Blessing After Meals, said after any meal containing more than a certain amount of bread (the exact amount is part of Jewish Law), and a shorter version that is said after eating any non-bread product containing one of the five varieties of grain that grow in the Land of Israel: wheat, spelt, rye, oats, barley.  The long version takes me 45 minutes to say, because I say each word with concentration on its meaning.  I learned this from my teachers.

In these prayers also, the rebuilding of Jerusalem figures large.  Both sets of prayers were codified while the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon, after the Babylonian conquest had razed Jerusalem.

However, I no longer live in a Jewish community, let alone Israel; and to tell you the truth, I’m not really practicing Orthodox Judaism these days.

It was so wonderful living in our little country, being able to practice my religion in an unfettered way.  We could wear our special religious items–you know, the ones we are prohibited from bringing to the Temple Mount–right in the street, in the buses, anywhere, without people screaming epithets and other unpleasantries.

I once had a conversation with a black woman from New Orleans who had converted to Islam, married a Lebanese man, and moved with him to Saudi Arabia.  I met her in India.  She wanted to know why we Jews had to have our own country, when we could be Jewish anywhere in the world.

I was so taken aback by this question that I had to sit and think for a minute.  At last I got hold of my senses and asked her,

“Were you able to practice Islam in America?”

“Well, of course!”

“Then why did you move to Saudi Arabia?”

“Oh, because it’s an Islamic country!  Saudi Arabia enforces strict Shari’a Law, so it is the purest Islam…”

For a moment, understanding dawned in her eyes, but it faded just as quickly.  I developed something that needed my urgent attention, and left my friend wondering what went wrong.

Oh yes. I was talking about Thanksgiving in America.

Since I’m in America for the foreseeable future, I am doing some things American style, like Thanksgiving Day and gifts for Hannukah (our Festival of Lights, coming up next week).  In Israel, Hannukah is a time for celebrating miracles.  Gifts are not really a central theme.  It’s all about the light. ( More on that next week.)  The American practice of giving gifts on Hannukah seems to have arisen in order to keep Jewish children from being bummed out because of Christmas.

Since my son’s father is Christian, my son goes to him for Christmas.  For the past few years, my son and I have been “doing” Thanksgiving together.

While my father was alive, my son would come to my parents’ house and he and I would make a kosher turkey, and we would all get gorked on the usual T-day dishes.

Last year I was still in shock from my father’s death in early October, so my son and his then-girlfriend made a huge feast at his house.  People dropped by, roommates who had stayed in town for their own reasons cruised by and partook, we all smoked a lot of weed, and generally had a good time.  My mother was not invited, because she has made herself unwelcome by her delight in shaming me in front of my son.

This year my mother decided to fly to my cousins and have Thanksgiving with them.  I was not invited.  My cousins, who suck up to her for their own reasons, did not invite me either.  That being the case, I felt no pangs of guilt when I accepted my son’s invitation, party of one.

Then my mother decided to cancel her Thanksgiving plans, for her own reasons.  Since she knew my son had invited me (party of one), she got herself invited to one of her many friends, who has a big family, so my mom could feel really angry that her own family had not invited her.

For some reason my son did not invite anyone else to dinner.  His own reasons, I guess.  It was a little weird having just he and I, especially since he was in one of his dark moods, brooding and irritable.  I really wish he would start taking lithium again, but he angrily rejects the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder that, in his opinion, was foisted upon him as a teenager.

So that was Thursday.

I slept in my camper van, in the parking lot of his apartment complex.  One of his neighbors, who had clearly been watching out for me, accosted me as I headed out to go to bed, demanding to know if I was visiting someone in the complex.  Surely he had seen me exiting my son’s door…

My nerves were already frazzled from dinner with my glowering son, so I fired back,

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because I think you’re just camping here.”  Whoa, let’s just get some holiday spirit of giving on here, hey?

I wanted to say to him, “Listen, Mr. Nice Guy, even if I was ‘just camping here,’ there’s a whole fucking empty parking lot because everyone has gone elsewhere for the holiday.  And what are you angry at, anyway?”

But I didn’t say that, because there’s always the possibility that a poor unhappy fucker like that will call the police, and I was already tired and tense enough.  So instead I said,

“Well, I am camping here.  This (pointing to my camper) is my bedroom.  I’m visiting ____ in Apartment _____.  Would you like him to come out and speak with you?”

As it turns out, this unfortunate fellow has seen my son, who is a weight lifter and quite muscular and buff.  So the sorry sucker subsided, and allowed as how that would not be necessary.  I also subsided, went into my spaceship and slept fitfully, as people constantly came and went, car lights and porch lights flashing.  My PTSD surrounding cops blazed like a tiger in the night.

Friday.  I woke up feeling like shit.  Depression.  Again. Still.

Went in and stood under my son’s excellent shower for half an hour while he went to work for a while.

When he came back, I said, “Listen, I’m feeling really disorganized brain-wise.  Do you mind if I hang out till tomorrow?”

The minute the words left my mouth I saw the twitch in his face that said, Oh No, Not That!

“Um…listen, Mom, to be honest, um, I really need my space.”

My heart hit the pavement.  Then I noticed the spiffy outfit.

Date.

Yeah, I was glad he was able to tell me no, but on the other hand I wished he had seen fit to be honest and say something more like, “Oh wow, Mom, I really wish you could, but since I thought you were leaving today, I made plans.”  That would have sent me off with a smile and a lighter heart.

“Oh, that’s OK,” I chirped, suddenly feeling like I’d been handed the bum rush.*

He graciously allowed me to stay long enough to use his internet to find a campground.  I found one pretty close by, said my goodbyes, and lit a shuck out of there.**

____________________________________________________

I called my mother today, just to see how she is doing, and I wish I had put money on the bet that I made with myself.  I would have won.  She barely spoke to me, and clearly had her victim act all planned out, in case I called.  I laughed.  Couldn’t help myself: it was all too predictable.

Now for the Miracle part.

My sweet Belgian Malinois, Atina, is most certainly an angel.

She sleeps in the right-hand third of my bed.  The left-hand third is reserved for all the computer-related shit that won’t fit anywhere else.

The only thing I had the energy to make for dinner was a cup of gluten-free microwave macaroni and cheese.  While I was mechanically going through the motions of making it, Atina was busy doing something in the bed.

She was pushing my duvet into a nest-like shape toward the pillow.  No, wait.  She was pushing it with her nose, straightening the edge up toward the pillow.  I thought, you cutie, you are making yourself a nest out of my duvet, and you know that’s my spot in the bed!  But I did not scold her.  My heart was brimming with love.  She pushed and pulled at my pillow, fluffing it and making it into a nice continuum with my duvet.  Aha, I thought, now I will see you plump yourself down in my spot!

But that’s not what she was about at all.

When she got my part of the bed all fixed up to her satisfaction, she plopped herself down–on her side of the bed!  She had made my bed up–for me!

I dropped what I was doing and hugged and kissed her for a long time.  By the way she reacted, she knew that I knew what she had done for me…she made a place for me to rest.  She did it with love and care.  As I write this, I am lying in the bed my dog prepared for me.  Her breathing is soft and even as she sleeps in her own third of the bed.

“Friends may come and friends may go, but your dog will always be glad to see you.”

_____________________________________________________

*”The bum rush”: A term dating from the Great Depression and possibly earlier, when many out-of-work men went “on the bum,” going from door to door begging for food, money, a place to sleep…if the man of the house took offense, the beggar would be chased off the place–“given the bum rush.”

**”To light a shuck” means “to leave in a hurry.”  It has its origin in the  Civil War, when dried corn shucks were used as fuses for light cannons and field artillery.  Once you “lit a shuck,” you had to run like hell because not only did the big guns recoil (and could run you over), but also sometimes the cannons would backfire, shooting cannon balls behind instead of in front of them.  The idiom is still in use in the Southern and Southwestern United States.  It is one of my favorites.

 

 

Creepy, Crawly

Anyone want to come help me?  Yes?  I’ll send you my coordinates.

I’ve been gone from The Studio (as you certainly remember, I lived in my late dear Daddy-o’s ceramics studio, without plumbing, for four years, while he was in the process of dying in his house up the hill) since March 4th, and the spiders, as my son so eloquently said, “have set up shop in there.”

Have they ever!

When I first got in–my mother having had her handy man jimmy the lock since I hadn’t left her a key and she wanted to look at my mess, so the lock is now, uh, fucked up–all I could see, as far as the eye could see, were webs, with those charming little sticky balls containing future little baby spiders stuck up in them.

They were everywhere.  Everywhere.  I had to fight my way in with one of those disposable dusters on a long handle.  Ugh!

Think hobbits stuck in spider webs in Mirkwood.  That’s how many webs there were.  Good thing my poor relative, who has a phobia of spiders and their webs, was not there.  She vomits when she sees even a little thread left over from a web.  Imagine the mess!

It is fortunate that at this season, at this latitude, the female spiders have already eaten their paramours and laid their eggs away in spider egg-cases, tucked them to bed in special egg-case-webs, and died, died, died!

Now there are dead spiders everywhere. Ewww!  Had I returned even a month ago, I would have been greeted by 2,000 square feet of–ugh–live spiders!

I HATE SPIDERS!

Yes, I know they have a job to do, and they have been doing it very well, to judge by the piles of empty bug shells piled around the spider corpses.  Some of the bugs are fucking HUGE.  I don’t know what they are, and I have never seen them around here before, dead or alive.  The huge bug shells are lying next to the giant spider carcasses. EWWW!!!!

And the spiders themselves…ranged from the little bitty kind that I used to find in my bed when I lived there…to the horrid Brown Widow, whose bite contains a potent neurotoxin..to the enormous fleshy tarantula-like Wolf Spider, whose dried-up corpse is bigger than a quarter–ugh!   I’m sure there are some Brown Recluses among the remains–why not?  I’m very glad they’re all dead.

Well, almost all.

Even though I set off four bug-bombs that said they killed all types of spiders, I still found several little ones lurking under furniture when I moved it.  That makes me nervous about the larger pieces, like the enormous walnut breakfront and the smallish but very heavy chest of drawers, which I can’t move.

After filling up three large vacuum canisters with dead bugs and spiders and webs, I felt so sick that I had to repair to my camper van to avoid the fate of the above-named relative.  Tomorrow is another day.