Comcast and Living like it’s 1950


I’ve been connected to the Internet since the early nineties—like 1991. I used QModem with a 300bp modem. I thought a 2400 was screaming fast. Screaming, I tell you. I had to make decisions every day, telephone or Internet? I used AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve. I was excited about Verizon’s new-fangled DSL; it was so fast! My system and connection were always cutting edge. Always. Hell, I got my first cell phone in 1998—when they were still “cellular devices.”

Yes, I did.

People would describe me as connected, plugged in. So, when Comcast came along with newer, faster cable Internet, it seemed a logical choice. It took them three months, and more snide, frustrated, and angry phone calls than I care to recall before they ran the line from the pole in my yard to the house. No, I’m not interested in cable TV, thank you, just Internet. Three months.

I am Irish, not patient.

Later, phone service became a choice. We all have cell phones, so I declined. I have a handy-dandy Airave from Sprint. Cool device. It is a small modem-like box that hardwires into the actual modem and provides cell phone service to people who live in dead zones. We live in such a zone (although it has gotten better over the years). I had no need for Comcast phone services. Nor did I need cable TV. I have had a Netflix account since Netflix started. Watching what I wanted when I wanted, discs delivered right to my door. Thank you very much.

But then my connection slowed. Pages loaded ever so slowly. I called Comcast. “Oh, yes ma’am, we have a newer, faster connection. But you have to have triple play.”

But I won’t use the other services.

It’s the only way to speed up your connection.

Hmm. Ok. So, I have triple play. I have a phone, no clue what the number is because we all have cell phones. I have a cable box, with a DVR. I watch Doctor Who. Both seem extravagant, frivolous. But my Internet screams.

Then came spring 2016, Noah’s spring. Deluge after deluge. Rain for twenty-two days straight. More rain than anyone could remember. And we started rebooting the modem more often. Internet and phone (house and cellular) dropped. We suddenly had no way to contact the outside world.

I called Comcast. Drove places to sit in my car and talk to them.

After a 55-minute wait on hold, I was asked, “Did you reboot the modem?”

After remarks that may have been…edgy…it was decided I should replace the modem. They’d ship one right out.

Cool.

It arrived and Jamie swapped it out and returned the old one to the local Comcast store. This was in early June.

But no joy.

The new modem did—does—exactly what the old one did. It would randomly stop connecting and then reboot itself. It did this at random times, such as in the middle of posting grades, or writing a blog post. At that one critical moment during which a connection drop meant you lost work. Oddly, the cable TV has remained constant throughout.

As previously mentioned, patience is not a virtue my ancestors possessed. It’s not part of my DNA. I possess none. So, I turned to Jamie, please call Comcast, have them send a little man out to fix the Internet connection. She did that. But because of our schedules, we didn’t see each other after she made these arrangements.

So, on Thursday, June 23, at 7:20 AM, while I was drinking coffee and preparing to go to work, I have an early class on Thursdays, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, so I ignored it. I looked out the window at the driving rain. It rang again, so I answered.

Mrs. Jones?

Ms. Jones, yes.

Mrs. Jones, I’m somebody-or-other from Comcast, is your Internet working?

Yes.

Oh, good. Then I don’t have to come.

 

Wait, what? No if my daughter made an appointment for you to come, you shoud do that. My Internet is intermittent. It is working right this minute—but could stop at any moment.

Right, but it’s working now, so it’s fine.

Do you know what intermittent means? You need to come to my house and fix my Internet.

Ma’am, what do you want me to do?

Your job?

But, ma’am…

At that point, I handed the phone to Jamie, who made arrangements with the not-so-bright-clearly-didn’t-want-to-work-in-the-rain Comcast technician. Dude, if you don’t want to do your job, find a new one!

I left as he was pulling into the driveway. He parked behind Jamie’s running car. She too was going to work, leaving JL and Ryan to handle said Comcast technician…

Two hours later, I called Ryan and was met with dead air. Why? Because without that Internet connection, without that Airave, we have no cell service. I found the house number in my contacts, called, right to voicemail.

I tried again at noon and connected. So, says I to Ryan, what did the cable guy do?

He rebooted the modem and left.

What?

He rebooted the modem, looked at the wires that connect to the house, and then he left.

Rebooted the modem? Like we hadn’t thought to do that! Like the problem wasn’t that that was the problem—the modem randomly rebooting itself 10, 20, 50 times a day!

Now, if you have ever heard the term—go all Irish on your ass… Comcast was about to discover exactly what that meant. Exactly.

I called—from work—and was told my wait for a customer service agent would be 45 minutes. That’s not service! Fists and jaw clenched in frustration, I sent Jamie a text: call Comcast, they need to send someone with a brain, perhaps someone who would do his job to fix the internet and reintroduce us to the twenty-first century.

I might have been snippy. But as I said, I’m connected, plugged in. Without my Internet connection at my home here in rural Virginia, I’m living in 1950.

Television? Nope, because of crazy work schedules we stream. Scheduled TV doesn’t work for us. Netflix streaming (which I subscribed to the DAY it became available); YouTube through the PlayStation or Roku; Amazon Prime video the same way; or perhaps through the iPad that connects to the TV through an HDMI cable. Only one TV in the house gets reception through an antenna – all three available stations are fuzzy, and in bad weather, not there.

Phone service? Nope. Comcast phone service is dependent upon my Internet connection, it goes through the same modem, uses the same cables. And so does the Airave. So, in an emergency situation, I would have to grab my cell phone (which would likely be dying because it is spending its time and energy looking for service) and drive a mile east for service and call 911. Which then, obviously, would not note my location correctly. I would have to give directions to the emergency. Anything could happen in that amount of time. Anything.

No internet service means I have no TV or phone service – but it also means I have no email, no news, no access to grade books, no ability to download reading materials to my kindle, I can’t blog, submit to literary journals, check the weather, Red Sox scores. It removes my ability to communicate with the outside world. For a writer, this is cataclysmic. The two iPads, the Samsung tablet, the Kindle Fire, my laptop, both of my cell phones – and everyone else’s dies in their never-ending quest to connect and have service…

It’s a problem.

A serious problem. I may have ranted.

Jamie called Comcast and they sent another technician, that Saturday. He rebooted the modem, played with all the wires outside and announced that the wires had water in and around them, he’d done his best. Call if the problem persisted.

And I would have called except—I had no fucking Internet! I called whilst in my car, from work, at every opportunity, whenever I had service. Wait times varied from 45 to 90 minutes. WTF? I took to Twitter every time I left the house explaining to @comcastcares that I was fairly well convinced that they didn’t care.

By Saturday, I was done. I called and a Comcast robot greeted me, press or say 1 for yes, What is your phone number, press or say. What type of problem are you experiencing?

Internet.

Are you having connections issues?

Yes.
Comcast robot: Go online to…

Really? Because if I could go online, I wouldn’t be having connection issues, would I? Representative.

The Comcast robot continued as though I had said nothing: I can reboot your modem from here tell me when you are ready.

Representative.

Comcast robot: I see you would like to speak to an agent, I will connect you now…

At this point, a new Comcast robot announces, the number you have reached has been disconnected.

WTF? Redial.

Comcast robot: welcome to Comcast. I immediately begin pressing the zero.

Comcast ro…

0000

Comcas…

000000000000000000000

Comcast robot: I will connect you to an agent…

The first Comcast agent was from the billing department. She listened to my whole story without telling me that. Told me that Comcast cares and then transferred the call to a technician. The first technician, also listened to the problem, then told me he dealt with cable TV, but he would be happy to transfer my call to an Internet tech…

This is how modern Americans like to spend a Saturday night.

Finally, some 60 minutes later, a Comcast agent, sounding like English was not her first language (which is fine, but when dealing with frustrated, English speaking, Internet-less Comcast customers, at 9:30 on the Saturday night of a holiday weekend, it’s a step too far) asks, What seems to be your issue, Mrs.?

It’s Ms. My Internet is intermittent.

I can fix that for you; let me reboot the modem…

No that won’t wor…

…And reboot…. call drops, because it is dependent upon the modem…

10 minutes later—because that’s how long it takes the modem to cycle—the Comcast agent called back, Somehow we were disconnected.

Really?

We are doing everything we can to resolve your issue, I promise Mrs.—Mel, may I call you Mel?

No, you may not. And clearly, you are not doing everything. Do you people not have notes in your system? Several complaints and two service calls later, you’d think someone would have noted that the problem is the modem is rebooting itself—and that my phone service is dependent upon my modem. Welcome to the twenty-first century – read the notes in the system. And fix my goddamned Internet service – I pay you $200 a month, I expect service for that.

Mel, I will give you an authorization number so you can call billing, and they will credit your account.

I already have three such numbers. Are you going to pay me my hourly rate to sit on hold? Probably for an hour?  Probably not. Why do your systems not communicate? You are a fucking communication company!

To say I was frustrated would be an understatement. I tried to get a supervisor on the phone. No joy. The young Asian woman kept assuring me that Comcast was doing everything it could to ensure I was happy with my service, someone would be calling me back “within the day” to arrange an appointment. Within the day is not the same as within a day. She didn’t know that. But the conversation had become circular and redundant, so I hung up and awaited a call from the service tech, because when I asked will he be calling today, she responded with “within the day.”

At 11PM, when no service tech had called, I called back, hit zero until billing answered, told them I needed to talk to a tech, told the TV guy, I needed an Internet tech…

Who told me a service request had been added to my account in June, but was never followed up on. No shit, Sherlock! He told me he had to cancel the service call, thus deleting the notes – that no one read anyway – and start over. My head hurt.

The people at @Comcastcares, responded to my fourteen tweets, from Saturday, about how I had no Internet saying, DM us, we’re here to help, on Tuesday. Tuesday. Not helpful.

And today, between 5 and 7PM some sad, unsuspecting, Comcast technician is coming to my home, to reboot my modem. He will then file a service request to have someone come and replace the wires outside… because the modem isn’t the issue. I will not be here; I will be at work. This was the first available appointment. Not so customer oriented. Everyone in the house has been informed that the technician is not to leave without telling us exactly when someone is coming to fix the wires – when will I be able to rejoin the twenty-first century? When will I be getting my $200 a month worth of Internet?

And now, I must wait for the modem to finish its boot cycle so I might have Internet to post this blog. I cannot even count the ways that I hate Comcast; I long for Fios…

 

 

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The Imposter


Sometimes, oftentimes, I awaken thinking I am the great imposter. Yes, I am. I think I’m not brilliant, not beautiful, not even smart and sexy; I am an imposter. And one day people will find out. Then what?

I mentioned this to a friend recently and her response was, no, not you! But you are brilliant!

No, no I’m not. I have a high—genius high—IQ. I have a photographic memory. A total of six college degrees, But, brilliant’s a stretch. Brilliant is something complete, knowing it all, not needing to learn anything new.

Last night, I was discussing my brakes with Ian. They are behaving strangely. He asked, “Is it the brake pads or the master cylinder?  Do you have disk brakes?”

I have no clue—he might as well have been speaking…Martian. My brakes aren’t working right and someone needs to fix that.

The list of things I cannot do, or do not understand, goes on ad infinitum.  Cars, I can’t change my oil; math; carpentry, I can’t build things, even with directions; music, I love music, but I am completely inept musically; dancing; singing; football (American and World)—well, really athletics in general once I move beyond baseball; science—all of them; engineering; languages outside of Romantic, well and a smattering of Irish (I can cuss in Irish, well I guess I can cuss in several languages; it’s the Irish way); math, did I say math already? I really suck at math.  Ok, so I can do languages that use the Roman alphabet, no I can’t do Teutonic, Scandinavian, or Slavic languages; economics is a foreign country. I can’t knit, crochet, or sew. It took me over a week to figure out how to make the cable box work, seriously!

I could go on, but you get the idea. Brilliant is the last word I would use to describe myself. And yet, people describe me that way. She’s brilliant, a college professor, a published writer, an amazing organizer, cook, gardener!

Well no, not so much. I teach English. I have amassed four degrees in English. If I couldn’t teach that, I would be … mentally deficient. And well, yeah, I can organize just about anything because if whatever it is, is unorganized, my cover may be blown. Cook? I like to eat. Garden, not really, I sort of plant, and let Nature do the rest. I guess I am a brilliant planter? Although I somehow doubt that, twenty-four years of horse manure makes for good fertilizer. I just planted at the bottom of the hill—no genius required: shit runs down hill.

No one told me I was brilliant when I was a child.  No one even told me I was smart.No, not me. I have two sisters, the oldest is “the smart” one, and the next sister is “the pretty one.” So, by default, I was neither of those things. I was the invisible sister, the tomboy, the bookworm, the child who liked fantasy worlds, the problem child. My mother thought I required finishing school—really, that’s a thing.

And so, I took that in. Obviously, unlike my smart and pretty sisters, I was incomplete, less than. I needed finishing school. (In my own little corner in my own little world…) So, if I succeeded at something, I must be an imposter.

I was an imposter when I modeled, I wasn’t pretty enough for that. Too tomboyish. Too hippie-like. Too not what a model was thought to be, at least when I wasn’t working. I wasn’t the cheerleader type. I wasn’t the popular sister. Not pretty enough to date anyone on the football team (which is probably for the best, because I don’t understand football).

My smart sister once told me the only reason I pursued a college education was because I was an imposter, if I had degrees people would think I was smart…even though I wasn’t. Not compared to her, anyway.

 

As a professor, I am always terrified that my bosses will find out that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Some faux paux will expose me. I will say the wrong thing, showing my less-than-brilliant-self for what I am. I will give a student incorrect information, forget an important piece of paperwork, or fill it out incorrectly. And they’ll know!

Um, ok.

I was surprised to discover recently that most people feel this way. We all experience the terror of being found out, of being exposed as less than. It’s not just me.

 

This is an affirmation. Faking it til you make it is a human condition. Fuck you, smart sister! And when I look at my life, I don’t see too much faking it. I did graduate with honors from every program I have ever pursued. Hell, I graduated with honors form William and Mary. I felt like an imposter all the way through, but I did it, damn it.

So, as the new school year begins, I bury the imposter. I tell myself it is human to feel this way. That perhaps this feeling of not measuring up is what drives me to keep learning, keep growing. Maybe it’s what keeps us one step ahead of those who would expose us. Perhaps it is a question of word choice.

Perhaps we are not imposters and frauds, perhaps we are just travelers striving for perfection. And once perfection is achieved, all we learn is that we are simply on a plateau—and we struggle to reach the next level. Maybe because I am always a work in progress, always looking forward, I see myself the imposter. I want to be in that next level. I want to be brilliant. Maybe, that comes after I figure out how to be a human being, and not a human doing.

Maybe.

Willie McBee


I slept in, 8:30, very late for me. I spent the rest of the morning creating an editorial/writing calendar. I work better with a planner. I put headphones on and filtered the world out. I accomplished my task creating a schedule that will carry me through December. I was pleased. I included Cultural Salad postings, the fledgling writing groups with which I am involved; I included my Sci-fi novel, the blog, and essays. I have allotted time once a week to copy and paste my student comments into a word document.

I shared lunch with my fellow writers and returned to my desk. We made guacamole, shrimp, salmon and roasted carrots. Good stuff.

I returned to my room and opened the sci-fi document and began editing it. I spent almost three hours writing. Focused, seeing outcomes in my head, having strong direction. This would be good! I worked for a close to two hours.

The desk faces a window. A bee buzzed outside the screen. Two buzzards floated in the up-draft, hanging in the air, still. The ever-present hum of the cicadas filled the space beyond my headphones. Jackson Browne was singing, I guess we’ll reach some understanding when we see what the future will bring. It was prophetic. Suddenly, the bee was inside the screen. Shit.

2013-05-22 16.02.31

“This can’t be good,” I said out loud. “Shit, shit, shit! How’d you get through the screen?”

It buzzed here and there along the screen, ignoring me.

“You can’t be in here; you have to go back the way you came. Go on now.”

It disregarded me completely and buzzed its way down the contour of the screen towards the block of wood holding the heavy window open.

“Well, shit, don’t do that I don’t want to kill you.” The song in my headphones began to editorialize, She stepped out in the alley with a single shot 410. The road goes on forever and the party never ends. “Fuck you!” I took the headphones off. “Come on, go back where you came from. Do it! Where the hell are my sneakers? If you come on to this side of the glass, I will have to kill you.” The science fiction was abandoned as I moved into self-preservation mode.

2013-05-22 16.02.44I was armed and ready with the Air retrieved from my backpack. I sat down and put my headphones back on. I was going to finish the prologue, damn it. The High Kings were singing, I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen when you joined the great fallen…

The bee buzzed, dancing to music it couldn’t hear.

How long do bees live? We need bees; I don’t want to kill a bee. Did ya leave a wife or sweetheart behind? In some faithful heart forever enshrined? … Shit! …Are you a stranger without even a name enclosed in forever behind a glass pane. Ok fine, Willie McBee, I will just ignore you.

It didn’t move.

Was it playing possum?

I slipped a piece of paper between the glass and screen and nudged it. Willie McBee had burrowed itself into the screen. It was stuck. Really Willie? You’re gonna do this? Guns N’ Roses, on cue, began to sing Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door…Mama take this badge from me I can’t use it anymore. It’s getting dark too dark to see feels like I’m knocking on heaven’s door.

I abandoned my room completely. I walked the property and took some pictures. I just knew that had I stayed the next song would be Tears in Heaven.2013-05-22 16.15.31

Willie McBee expired at 5:28pm just as the buzzards veered off to the west and beyond my view.

I’m sure there is some sort of cosmic message there. I’m sure of it, but as Elton John begins to sing Candle in the Wind, I think I would just rather put the whole thing behind me. Maybe I’ll write a poem, Ode to Willie McBee and then return to my novel.

A half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown…


Where, how do you start? I hear Julie Andrews singing in my head… Start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start…

But which beginning? Doesn’t a beginning imply that something, somewhere must have come to an end?

And so what ended?

Good question. I stopped blogging because there was so much negativity swirling around. So much. A woman I barely know commenting on things on my blog—swiping at someone else, a friend of mine. This woman stirs hornets’ nests. I know because she has tried in my life, in my family.

Another friend…well, not really in the end, I guess, attacked me verbally about a post I made to the blog. A blog about Lee-Jackson Day. Now, I must say, I had been warned. Be careful, she’s a viper. But I try to see the best in everyone until the ugliness spills over like carelessly spilled paint. The colors fall together until only an ugly mud remains.

And a third friend, with whom I disagree politically, tagged someone on his Facebook page; someone he didn’t know. There are lines we don’t cross; lines we shouldn’t cross. In polite society, we don’t manipulate people, drag them places they don’t want to go.

And so, I retreated. Ended. Looked at the half empty glass, half an inch of water…

The winter left me reeling, so many endings: my job, friendships, writing outlets. I am at The Porches as winter surrenders to spring. The lush Virginia landscape explodes in purples and pinks. As I grieve for all that I have lost this winter, I replaced one sort of creativity with another. I planted a garden—that is thriving! I’ve made ice cream with my grand-daughter. And for outward appearances everything looked fine, save the lack of words. But half-empty leaves a hollow in the heart. Hollows that have always been filled with words.

John Prine is singing into my headphones…

That’s the way that the world gores ‘round

You’re up one day, the next you’re down

It’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown

That’s the way that the world goes ‘round.

Good philosopher, John. Who am I to complain about lost friendships or jobs? I look around and I think, my god, twenty children in Connecticut, bombs in Boston, explosions in Texas, factory collapse in Bangladesh. Oklahoma. Ronan, god Ronan! It’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown.

So, it’s time to pick myself up by my proverbial bootstraps and get on with it, and do what I do best: write. If you think you can use my blog to attack others, well that won’t end well for you. This blog, historically, has about a thousand readers and you will look foolish. And if you don’t like what I have to say, just don’t read. Simple, don’t read. Yes, that means you who thinks your gun “rights” trumps a child’s right to safely go to school, and you who thinks the south is going to rise again and that “Yankees” are from another country… We’re all Americans, deal with it! And you there on the fringes pretending to be holier than thou, I’ve got your number. Try being real.  Y’all know who you are.

There. Now I will start that blogging thing again. I have three books in the works, look out world, I’m gonna do this thing. As I finish writing Bruce Springsteen sings one of my favorite songs ever…

 

I aint been to heaven,

but I been told the street up there are paved with gold

Keep your eye on the prize.

Hold on.

I love it when WGOD plays in my headphones.

 

 

 

Lee-Jackson Day


Yesterday started as any normal day; my daughter Jaime and I took the boys to school, as always. My grandson Ryan, ten, goes all day and my son Ian, fourteen, only part. The remainder of the day he is home-schooled. So, we dropped the boys off and then we took the trash to the local transfer station, did our recycling, and went to the library. I go to the library every school day. It is not economically—or environmentally—feasible to drive fifteen miles to drop Ian off, fifteen miles home, then back two hours later to pick him up. It was raining, so I broke from my normal routine and did not walk laps.

At 9 AM, another patron, a woman, who had gotten out of a four-wheel-drive pick-up truck, beat us to the automatic doors – that did not open. We all stood there rather puzzled.

“Ain’t open,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked, “Why?” We, all three of us, continued to stare at the locked door. I was running through scenarios in my head: Gerald Ford? No, dead too long—even though, locally, flags were still at half-mast. Perhaps the librarians were going to the planned war protest? I thought about the women who worked in the library; they all sported right-wing political bumper stickers on their SUVs. Confrontational sorts of stickers: Work harder millions on Welfare depend on you, Welcome to America, Now Speak English, Bush/Cheney 04, and my personal favorite, Insured by Glock. Frankly, I could not see any of them at a non-violent protest against a war—no matter how unconstitutional or morally corrupt this war happened to be.

We had driven kids to school, we had passed banks, and county offices—everything was open. The dump, well the county’s equivalent of a dump, the Transfer Station, was open. We stared at the door.

The pick-up truck woman looked at us, and, with a completely straight face, replied, “It’s Lee-Jackson Day.”

Of course it is. Now, there are those of you who may reside in more cosmopolitan, or rather, less…Southern places who, for years, have missed Lee-Jackson Day, and perhaps don’t even know its rich history, let me enlighten you.

Lee-Jackson Day is the memorial day for Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson, Confederate, Civil War generals. You know that war the South lost. That’s not to say they weren’t great men. They were. Both of them had great, perhaps genius, military minds, even if Stonewall was a little eccentric. But, come on now, a holiday? Public buildings closed? They lost the war – in my mind it borders on disrespect to the Union—the nation of which the South was and is now a part. How did this holiday make it beyond Reconstruction? Do the liberal-ass Yankees in Washington know this is going on here?

There was a big to-do some years ago when the federal government made Martin Luther King Day an official federal holiday. People in the South were up in arms. State governments refused to acknowledge it – particularly since it fell on, or close to, Lee-Jackson Day. Couldn’t have that. It seemed poetic to me: let’s pair up two men who fought to keep the institution of slavery intact (although historians agree Lee was not pro-slavery) with the leader—icon—of the Civil Rights movement. Southerners were outraged. Federal funds were denied to states that refused to accept the holiday.

But there is still a Lee-Jackson Day in Virginia and libraries are apparently closed to honor this obscure and fading Southern tradition. After all, who better than book-geeks would venerate old dead generals who had lost a war?

I was annoyed.

Jamie and I decided we would go out for breakfast; after all we had to wait for Ian anyway. It didn’t make sense to go home. We had two choices: McDonalds or the little local place that was rumored to have good breakfasts that we never went to. Neither of us are fans of McDonalds, besides this McDonalds never—ever got an order right. We opted for the local place.

This was a mistake.

We pulled into the parking lot full of over-sized pick-up trucks. I began to feel conspicuous in my fade-into-the-crowd gray Mercury Sable. Of course, my bumper sticker betrays my politics too. Would everyone here be celebrating Lee-Jackson Day? Was there, perhaps, some sort of obligatory confederate bandana we were supposed to be wearing? An official button of some sort? Jamie said I was being silly and I reluctantly parked the car.

We entered a room filled with men in flannel shirts and cowboy hats. The few women patrons were dressed in a similar way. I felt out of place in my black mid-calf knit skirt, wool blazer and linen scarf; a work-day sort of outfit. It didn’t help matters when it seemed that everyone stopped to look at us when we came in. The waitresses looked like roller derby queens, all four of them. I would be afraid for my life if I were to meet them in a dark alley. I think one of them may have had a pistol in her belt. But I can’t be sure; I didn’t want to stare. We sat in the farthest corner of the place and were brought menus by a beached-blond-gum-chewing (or was it tobacco?)-bomber in jeans two sizes too small and a sweatshirt that read “The one and only” (to which I thought, oh thank you God for that!).

Everything on the menu came with grits. Everything. There was toast and grits; eggs, toast, and grits; bacon, eggs, toast, and grits. “Y’all kin replace yer grits with taters, iffen ya have a mind.”

Having minds, that we tried to use on a regular basis, we did just that. We had taters with our eggs. The waitress rolled her eyes at us and snapped her gum as she wrote down our order. It’s not that I have anything against grits. I don’t like Cream of Wheat either. And no restaurant, back home in Boston, would ever serve Cream of Wheat with everything on the menu. But we smiled politely and thanked the waitress anyway.

The food actually wasn’t bad, but we ate quickly and like Lee to Appomattox, we made a hasty retreat. It was not a comfortable meal; I kept waiting for Granny Clampett, or Bo and Luke Duke. Yes, I could easily see this as Boss Hogg’s place. Perhaps it was the ‘holiday’ that created the Southern-country-aura in the place. Perhaps I was reading more into it than was there. But I don’t think so. Two older gentlemen, in Bib overalls, stood up and tipped their hats as we walked out. I’m not sure what they were saying with the gesture. I thought hat-tipping was a dead tradition.

I have lived in the South for twenty years and, in general, politics aside, I love it here. I love that my neighbors take care of each other; that forgetting to lock my doors does not bring me out of bed in the middle of the night in a panic; that I can stop and pick up a hitch-hiker if I feel inclined; the county has three of them, Harold, Butch, and Elton’s no-account-son-who-refuses-to-get-a-goddamned-job, Preston. Harold and Butch always get rides. Preston usually walks. I like the fact that in the last decade I can count on one hand the murders county wide—and I have three fingers left over. I like having a small farm. It’s considered a “leisure farm” which means the animals have a cushy life with nothing taxing or farm-like to do and the humans work their butts off. But I like it. I like having deer and foxes, coyotes, and bears wander through. I like the fresh eggs and the wild blackberries—even if I do have to occasionally share them with bear cubs.  But there are moments when I feel like I have stepped into another dimension and I am not quite sure how to get back.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, a Dodge Charger screamed by us—the driver blew the horn. It played Dixie. Jamie laughed and said, “Well, it is Lee-Jackson Day.”

 

Postscript: This essay was written six years ago…only the political names have changed. All government offices in the county planned to be closed today, and the library too.

 

Tourniquets and Tea


I alluded in my last post that I had been rushed to the hospital last week. I was working with a student, tutoring. She had an English paper due, and we were narrowing her topic. I had to put my head down on the desk, she went to fetch me water.  Alone in the room, I could feel the universe spinning around me. Whoosh!—I needed to get to the floor. It is better to get to the floor than fall to the floor. It is. But it causes as many problems as it solves.

Alone on the floor in a classroom is not where a professor wants to be. It puts a sort of bad spin on the day (ha! No pun intended).  It wasn’t long before well-meaning coworkers, including my boss, surrounded me. The asked what I ate, was I allergic to anything—taking blood thinners?

“Chicken sandwich and three cups of peppermint tea. Aspirin. And no.”

The head of the nursing school arrived with a blood pressure cuff. Lying down my blood pressure was 110/70, damn near perfect, exceptional for someone my age (so everyone said). She asked what I ate, was I allergic to anything, taken blood thinners?

“Chicken sandwich and three cups of peppermint tea. Aspirin. And no.”

But then I sat up. My fingers began to tingle, the room whooshed again. 90/60—and dropping. After three attempts to sit me up an ambulance was summoned.

The EMTs asked me the same round of questions. What did I eat, was I allergic to anything—taking blood thinners? Did the same BP tests, sitting up, lying down. Same results.

“Chicken sandwich and three cups of peppermint tea. Aspirin. And no.”

To say I was testy by the time I got to the hospital would be an understatement. I had a class to teach, students depending on me! It was LOW blood pressure, low blood pressure is a good thing!

A pudgy-faced little woman came into the room. She looked sort of like that fourth grade spinster teacher we all had—you all know the one I’m talking about. She put a BP cuff and pulse-ox on me, and took my pulse. I asked her what my pulse was…and she responded, “Oh, don’t worry yourself about that, honey.”

Honey,” I replied, “it’s my heart, so as I’ve been rushed here in an ambulance, I’m already on the worried side.”

She rolled her eyes, mumbled something about my ability to understand the numbers, and then said, “45.”

“Hmm, readings still low.” I asked for a blanket.

It was about then that Jamie arrived. Her car had overheated on the ride. The ill-tempered nurse scurried away, sort of like an Umpa-Lumpa. She never asked about food or drink or blood thinners or allergies. But I had heard the paramedics tell the doctor in the hall. Yes, the nurse reminded me of an Umpa-Lumpa…or…or a Weeble, yeah a Weeble. Jamie and I chatted, I sent an email to the person covering my class, and watched the machine…BP: 130/80, Pulse-ox: 98, and Pulse: 52. Excellent—flat on my back things looked good.

Nurse Weeble returned to take blood. I explained that my veins roll. “Oh, I’m good at this! It’ll be fine.”

I was dubious.  And she hadn’t brought me a blanket, I asked again.

Nurse Weeble-cum-vampiress put the tourniquet securely on my left arm. Jabbed once. Jabbed twice, and then a third time. No vein. I might have been a little testy when I repeated that my veins roll. “Oh, your fine! I’ll just try in your hand. Looks like you have a good vein on the back of your hand.”

“Hmm. Do you think we should take the tourniquet off? I mean my whole arm is blue and throbbing.”

“Oh no, we’re supposed to leave it on until I’m done.”

Now, at this point, I was tired, hungry, and my arm was throbbing. I had passed out at my job, and the Universe remained a little fuzzy, but nonetheless, I was pretty sure, once you’re sure you have a vein, you untie the tourniquet, right? BP: 120/70, Pulse-ox: 99, Pulse: 40. I guessed we’d get different readings on my other arm.

She stuck my hand twice before she hit the vein. “My veins roll,” I said. She was happily babbling about her sister’s birthday.

“Do you think we should take the tourniquet off?” I asked as she inserted the seventh tube.

“Oh no, we’re fine.” She smiled. She, by her own standard, had done a fine job.

Except we weren’t fine. My vein stopped giving blood—because, you know, the circulation had been cut off some eight minutes before. My arm was blue. The rings on my left hand covered in blood—because when she finally hit the vein, there was too much pressure, tourniquets do that. Jamie shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

Nurse Weeble-cum-vampiress-cum-moron waddled off with all of the blood my body was willing to surrender.  She returned, without a blanket, and hooked me to the ekg machine (eeg?—I don’t know one of those e-machines that checks your heart) and started IV-fluids. I don’t know if she knew, but I knew the best way to raise pressure was to add fluid. Someone here besides Jamie and me had a clue. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wondered if Ms. Weeble got off soon. She finally bought me a blanket.

After the fluids started, She returned with my blanket, and she did my blood pressure lying down, sitting, and standing (so I wasn’t under the blanket long). And because I was being pumped with fluids, all three came back in the low-normal range. I bit my tongue, and asked for my blanket back.  Jamie read on her iPad and tried to be invisible.

Vitals all stable. Just as I began to relax, like a bad penny, Nurse Weeble-cum-vampiress-cum-moron came back to—get this—get a urine specimen. Really? We couldn’t have done that before you wired and tubed  me all up? Really? She handed me the cup and gave me directions to the rest room. Now, because I was a little fuzzy, I didn’t think about it until after I got into the bathroom, behind the locked door.

What if my blood pressure dropped again? Where was the call button? How would they break in? Where was Nurse Weeble-cum-vampiress-cum-irresponsible-moron? I tottered back to my cubical unattended and bordering on angry. What if I had fallen?

Nurse Weeble-cum-vampiress-cum-irresponsible-moron said she’d be back to hook me back up to everything. But she didn’t come back. Well eventually she did, for the sample. She babbled on about how much she loved her sister; her sister’s birthday was, like mine, in September. She didn’t hook anything back up. Jamie shifted.

And then we waited. No BP cuff, no pulse-ox, or heart monitor. I was pretty sure my blood pressure was rising, a lot. Jamie went to get information from the front desk and was told that I would be discharged soon. I think she may have said something snippy to Nurse Weeble-cum-vampiress-cum-irresponsible-moron, but I don’t know. I didn’t see that nurse again. Jamie came back into the room, looking somewhat mystified, with a Styrofoam cup full of water in her hand.

“What?” I asked.

“I asked the nurse for water for my radiator and this is what she gave me.”

“Have you met my nurse? She’s a French fry short of a Happy Meal.”

“No, it wasn’t your nurse—it was a different nurse! We need to get the hell out of here!” We both stared at the cup of water.

“Find the ladies room, fill up the empty jug in your car and fill the radiator. I don’t need you to wait here with me. You can come back when you’re done.”

Shortly after Jamie departed, the doctor arrived to tell me that all of my bloodwork came back indicating there was nothing wrong with my heart, but I had a UTI—so here you go have some antibiotics. No idea why you fainted. Have a nice day.

The blond nurse who did the actual discharge insisted that I had come in semi-conscious, so Nurse Weeble-cum-vampiress-cum-irresponsible-moron had given me oxygen.

“No, no she didn’t.” I said.

“She had to, that’s protocol!”

“Yeah, no she didn’t.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yup, yup, pretty sure. I’m claustrophobic; I would remember something over my face. No oxygen.”

“Oh, well I guess we will just cross that off the list of necessary procedures.”

Good answer. Because a good malpractice lawyer wouldn’t catch that. She did ask me about Jamie’s car, she gleefully shared that she had given her water for the radiator, and didn’t get it when I said it wasn’t enough. I just smiled and signed the discharge paperwork. If you looked up dump blond in a dictionary, pretty sure this young woman’s picture would be there.

I was discharged, and after losing consciousness at my job, was sent out into the night alone to find my daughter. Really? When Ian had stitches over his eye, they made him use a wheelchair to the car—made me pull up to the door in broad daylight. Stitches, needs supervision upon discharge, pass out at work, send out into the night alone.

Got it.

That makes sense.

Once home, I did a simple Google search for the effects of everything I ate throughout the day on blood pressure and learned peppermint tea lowers blood pressure. The cure appears to be ½ bag of normal saline, and poor medical care—I didn’t get that from Google. So, Google 1, local hospital staff 0.

Maybe I’ll make some tea.

Cycles, TV, and The Doctor


It seems like lifetimes have gone by since I last posted. Lifetimes. Sometimes there are lifetimes in single days. There have been lots of single days like that in the last couple of months. I’ve gotten no writing done.

But the fact is, I think about writing all the time. I teach writing, tutor writing, proof, edit, and format for people. But the actual writing part somehow always gets pushed to the back burner. Don’t get me wrong; I have ideas, so many, many ideas. Whole universes in my head.

But then…

Life intervenes. Bills to pay. Teaching to do (with a schedule that changes every five weeks, and takes adapting to–I’m learning). Grading. I have a full-time teaching gig these days. Organizing, car-pooling, babysitting, groceries, housecleaning, car maintenance, the occasional lunch with friends, repairing computers (Windows machines, obviously), and vacuum cleaners. Tending to animals, and planning my spring garden adventure (expect more about this). Trying to keep up with the whirring political season—who’s bullshitting who today. Trips to the ER, broken cars. Sleep—well, sleep is overrated.

By the time I get home from work, I’m weary. My brain seeks distraction from the hours of student interactions. And I sit, don’t even read, just sit. Sometimes I think, I should blog about this, or that. But I know I can’t. I know it would upset people in my life, kids, and their exes. Not that I care about exes—see there it is, I’d like to add something about current partners here, but can’t without upsetting the delicate balance in my life. But it’s stifling.

I have some TV shows that I like so I’v watched them… Warehouse 13: Really? REALLY? SyFy is going to do half seasons? What is that about? The next episode for this season doesn’t air until April? Fuck you, Syfy! I am going to have to re-watch the beginning of the season to keep it all straight… what the hell? And they missed a week in the first half of the season. Although the addition of Brent Spiner is great. Downton Abbey doesn’t kick in until January. Damn it—but I am excited about Shirley MacClaine. Midsomer Murders, I watched all that iTunes and Netflix have to offer, twelve seasons. I am missing 20+ episodes. MI5? I watched ‘em all. Sherlock and Being Human (the British version) too. I have now officially seen every episode of every Star Trek ever made. Black Books was good comic relief, so was The IT Crowd, and of course, Doc Martin.

I watched Doctor Who as a kid, in the 60’s, on PBS; yes, I was that geek. It was ok. I always thought the British actors were trying to be Shakespearean, trying too hard. Always so very serious, almost dour. I watched it in the 70’s, the Fourth Doctor, and thought it was sort of ostentatious. I liked it, but then, I too can be colorful, in a 70’s sort of way. The Doctor from the 80’s, the Fifth Doctor, seemed ,well, yuppyish. I have opinions, so, I hadn’t watched the new series; my life is too serious, I look for humor—escape—in books and television. But, Neil Gaiman is writing for the show now (the only better writer they could get would be Terry Pratchett). And my son Nick loves it, and so does my grandson, Ryan. We like similar things, so I figured what the hell, right? And so the Who-a-thon began. The Ninth Doctor was ok. He seemed like he was going for the opposite end of the spectrum, definitely not dour, but rather almost giddy. No, I’d say completely capricious. The show was good, albeit somewhat unnerving.

Ah, but the Tenth Doctor…

David Tennant. He does an amazing job balancing all of those expected giddy and dour moments; he throws in just enough emotion and apathy. He’s brilliant, just brilliant.I think, the Eleventh Doctor is going to have to work very hard to impress me more. I mean, I am sort of impressed that a TV show can still be producing new episodes after fifty years. Damned impressed. But the Eleventh Doctor better be at least as good as his predecessor. And then, of course, there’s Torchwood and I haven’t even looked at that yet.

Other than TV, there have been things going on. Kids. Kids’ exes. Grandkids. Homecoming. Teaching Ian to drive. Crazy-groupie-stalkers. I’ve learned a few things in the last week as well.

People with low blood pressure should not drink copious amounts of peppermint tea. Peppermint tea is an herbal remedy for high blood pressure—and after six hours in the emergency room, I’m here to tell ya, it works. Blog to follow about the nurse-from-hell.

I also learned this week that the power steering unit in a vehicle is controlled by a belt, which sounds sort of old fashioned to me; the serpentine belt. And that sounds positively medieval. If this belt breaks, say at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, on the busiest road in town, while you’re in the passing lane you can still drive long enough to get your vehicle to safety—provided you are strong enough to turn the wheel without power steering. And I’m not. I managed to get almost, but not quite, into a parking lot. JL pulled the car all the way in. The tow truck driver just started it up and drove it onto the truck.

The fall is always a low time for me. Every year I say, not next year. Next year, I will write my way through it. But then I don’t. I stop writing in August and pick up in October. Every year. Strange. Maybe it has to do with the election season (which I have not wanted to write about, too much vitriol is already being spewed out there). I will be at The Porches this weekend with an old friend… I am working on a book that collects my lunchtime stories…

Let the writing begin.