Friday, August 31, 2007

A few notes about death

Many year ago, at the Northwest Folklife Festival, I had my palm read by a woman from the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh community in Oregon (remember them?). She said that I "dance with death," not in the sense of inviting it, but in the sense of being comfortable around it.

In the past few days, I've certainly been around it too much.

Our ancient Himalayan-Abyssinian cat is slowly running out of steam, but determined to hang in there, eating and drinking and demanding attention. She has some sort of tumor that is affecting her ability to breathe, and may have some other issues as well. The vet prescribed pills to stimulate her appetite and help her lungs. So twice a day I get to wrestle with a skeletal but still quite feisty cat.

This makes life at home intense and tiring, although we love Betaille very much and are grateful for all the companionship and pleasure she has provided over the past 17 years.

Three weeks ago, one of my yoga-group friends found out that her husband had a very advanced cancer. It progressed rapidly, and he died at home Wednesday night. She had barely gotten her head around the idea he was sick! I can't imagine a more horrifying experience.

This morning (after I'd had a trying night with Betaille) my mother called with news of a death -- and a completely different perspective on the subject.

My mom lives in a four-unit condo, and for the past few years, she and two other unit owners have been trying to deal with a weird situation in the fourth unit. That unit has been occupied for many years by a reclusive elderly woman who never leaves (unless by ambulance), and who has breathing and mobility problems. She sits all day in her livingroom with an oxygen tank, watching TV, and refuses to consider moving to a retirement community or nursing home. A few years ago, her middle-aged son, who is a schizophrenic, came to live with her. He takes care of her shopping and cooking. Unfortunately, he also brings drunk friends over to stay in the condo's storage unit, and last year urinated repeatedly in the foyer, to the point that the Post Office refused to enter the building to deliver the mail. (He also urinates off the front balcony, to the consternation of the woman in the condo building next door.) The son is a heavy smoker, and often the building reeks of smoke (my mom had her unit sealed off with special paint and caulk) and the ventilation system for the building has had to be re-done a few times to prevent the smoke from getting into other units. A couple of years ago, this guy set the balcony on fire, resulting in so much damage to the stucco that the entire building had to be re-stuccoed. According to workmen and fire inspectors who have been in the unit, it's filthy.

The police have been called again and again, letters have been sent, but the condominium association has been unable to do much of anything about the situation; once they address one problem, another one appears. My mother, who is planning to move to a retirement community next year, has begun to worry that it will be very difficult for her to find a buyer for her unit with such a weird and possibly hazardous situation in the building.

So my mom wasn't exactly mournful when she called me this morning with the news that the elderly neighbor (let's call her Margo) had died during the neight. It seems that the retired gentleman who is the head of the condo association had just gotten a call from Margo's son, wanting to know what to do with the body.

"Did anyone call 911?" I asked.

"No, they don't want to cause a fuss," my mother explained.

I tried to point out that the death has to be reported and checked out by a medical examiner, so a death certificate can be issued. Since everyone was so resistant to the idea of bothering the folks at 911, I suggested as casually as possible that they just call over and ask 911 what they should do.

Now I am trying to let go of the vision of all of them wrapping Margo up in a tarp, putting her in a car, and driving over to the local funeral home...


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Someone gets the big picture

I often wait for films to come out on DVD because movie theaters are, for the most part, disgusting, garish, uncomfortable environments with revoltingly unhealthy food, Neandertal staff, and boorish patrons. (There are, of course, a few that are merely tacky environments offering unhealthy food, with hip, vaguely apologetic staff and resigned patrons. But those are in the distinct minority.)

When my friend Eric blogged about going to an attractively furnished theater in Redmond, at which filmgoers can enjoy mixed drinks and are served popcorn in real bowls (not bags or boxes), I thought he was hallucinating. But, no. Apparently someone gets The Big Picture in Redmond, and in Seattle as well.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A cat winds things down

My yoga class is back from hiatus, and my neck is responding to chiropractic care, which means I was able to burn off some of my tension and worry about Betaille, our 17-year-old cat.

Betaille is old, and so frail that even a few days of ill health could spell the end. She had a secondary tumor removed a few weeks ago, but the vet is unsure where the primary cancer is located. All they can say is that since there was already a significant secondary tumor, her condition is likely to be inoperable. (Her kidney disease makes it impossible for her to handle most strong medications.)

Betaille hasn't wanted to eat much for the past two days, and seemed clearly unhappy. She's not the kind of cat who goes off in a corner to suffer, either. She walks up to you and stares until you take action.

So we took Betaille over to the vet this afternoon, where x-rays indicated that there is something impairing her lung function -- possibly a tumor, but possibly fluid caused by a tumor. Betaille's still alert and energetic, so the vet prescribed prednisone pills to address the lung condition and stimulate her appetite.

Of course, when we got home Betaille promptly ate a bowl of cat food. She then took a nap on the sheepskin-covered hassock; Zoe, our big tabby, snuggled up against her. I sat next to them and read a book, because Betaille likes to be where she can see me. Eventually I went out to work in the back yard. When Betaille came out she did something very odd. Although I rarely see her leave the back yard, today she went slowly along the north side of the house, down the stairs to the driveway, around Zorg's car, and up the path in front. She left the path, circled the maple tree on the front lawn, and went back to the path and followed it along the south side of the house, ending up on her usual patio hangout in back.

What, I wondered, was the yard tour all about?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Today my mom put down a deposit to get on the waiting list for an innovative retirement community under construction at South Lake Union in downtown Seattle. If all goes as expected, sometime in 2009 she'll move into Mirabella. The community, which provides all levels of care from independent condo-style living to skilled nursing in private rooms, is run by a well-regarded non-profit that created the Rogue Valley Manor in Medford, OR. My mom and I toured one of the model apartments today, and it was absolutely gorgeous.

So much for today's look into the future.

And now, for today's look into the past:

The date's been set for an unusual reunion at the high school I attended in Northern Virginia. The event is based not on graduation year, but on common interests. Students from nearly 30 graduating classes will be gathering Oct. 27 to honor one of our teachers, a rather colorful woman who taught advanced placement English and journalism, and who sponsored the school newspaper and the cheerleading squad. (It may surprise you to hear that, although I took the journalism class, I was not on the newspaper -- in part, because I'd thrown my lot in with the rabblerousers running the underground newspaper. However, I was on the JV cheerleading squad. At the same time.)

I've had some involvement with the folks organizing the reunion, and it's been fascinating to watch the generations in action. The women from the 1960s classes are very clear about email and conference calls, but are pretty much clueless about how they could have used things like Classmates and Evite to communicate. The folks from the 1970s classes are more digitally aware, but not as eager to take charge of anything. And the folks from the 1980s classes have initial energy, but don't have the patience to do the sleuthing and grunt work the 1960s organizers believe is the way to organize the event.

So be it.

At any rate, we've got a date, we've got a banquet hall, and we've got a invitation list. I've got a fabulous dress, and a plane reservation. This should be a hoot.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A pain in the neck

The good news is that I've found a great chiropractor (my longtime favorite chiropractor, Mike Fuhrman, moved back East a few months ago). The new doc, Lee Phelps, was recommended by an SEO college. He's up at Abrams Chiropractic in Greenwood, so after getting my neck fixed I was able to celebrate with an iced latte across the street at Diva on Greenwood.

The bad news, of course, was the I'd somehow done something awful to my neck -- which had never happened before. The massage therapist who worked on my muscles twice in the past week said they were tight because they were trying to cope with something terribly wrong at the top of my spine. She suggested I get an adjustment. She was right: The x-rays were ugly. I feel better now, but would be curious to know what happened that ended up rearranging three of my vertebrae.

Fortunately, my yoga classes are on hiatus this week, so my neck can rest up while I go walking. And there's a fitness class being taught by one of my fellow Biznik members Thursday night. I'll probably drive over to Kirkland to check this out, since he's a client.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

We feel winter coming on

Much is made about the pull of "back to school" traditions, which have even those of us decades out of academia neatening our desks, buying new clothes and furniture, and signing up for self-improvement programs. Must be ready for September!

Surely the only way that the school calendar could continue to exert such a tug on our souls is because back-to-school preparations sit atop a far stronger instinct: The one that tells us to get ready for the coming of winter. (Or, in Seattle, the coming of rain. It's about six weeks until the nine-month rainy season begins.)

I've been washing, ironing, and sorting clothes, and boxing quite a bit of stuff to take to Goodwill. Zorg is reorganizing his home office. My friend Susan is blogging about cleaning rugs. Neighbors next door are rushing to complete a porch and second-floor balcony; across the alley from us, the roof is being replaced.

I feel particularly unhappy about the coming of fall this year. Our elderly cat Betaille, who loves to hang out in the warm, sunny back yard, is becoming increasing frail. The vet says her outlook is not good. I'm suspect the cold, rainy fall will mean the end for her. Though she comes in and hangs out in various cat beds upstairs and in the living room, she clearly prefers the outdoors. Short of relocating the entire household to Southern California, I can't think if anything we can do for her.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tales of eBay

My first husband used to refer to me as a "world-class shopper." He meant it as a description, not a compliment.

Fortunately, he was long gone when on August 16, 1997 (10 years ago today) I discovered a whole new universe of shopping: eBay.

I can't remember what the first item was that I bid on. Most likely it was a piece of 1930s Stangl dinnerware. (That's because I was still painstakingly rebuilding the collection of family Stanglware that had been shattered in 1986 when a stag party hosted by my first husband got a bit out of hand.)

My memories of my early years on eBay include:

  • Several nasty bidding wars with a fellow from Washington D.C. who collected green Stanglware. The "fellow" turned out to be a woman, and she turned out to be a friend of a friend from journalism school. We started buying large lots of china together and spitting them. When I visited D.C. in 1999 for business, she took me out to lunch.
  • Running 10 blocks from Green Lake to our old house because I'd forgotten that an auction on a Stangl cigarette box was about to end. I didn't make it in time, and lost the item.
  • Winning one of the few Stanglware pie plates still in existence. Unfortunately, our cat Sheba later used it as a toboggan in the kitchen; it didn't survive.
  • Helping my mom, then in Cape Cod, sell my late Aunt Helen's frou-frou collection of antique European tea cups. My dad took, printed, and numbered the photos; I scanned them and uploaded them to eBay with coordinated descriptions. (This was before cheap digital cameras.) I had carefully impressed upon my parents the need to pack each teacup and saucer in oodles of bubble wrap for shipping long distances. So we were all surprised when the first sale was to a woman who turned out to live a mile away from them on Cape Cod. She drove over and picked it up.

My more recent sales on eBay have involved old technology (cameras, Treos, etc.) while my more recent purchases have been clothes. If I like an item I've purchased from Nordstrom, J. Jill, or Eddie Bauer, I find I can usually pick up a second item (new with tags, or in like-new condition) for less than half that price on eBay. This works particularly well for buying seasonal clothing off-season, for getting a style of jeans that has been discontinued in the stores, or for tracking down an obscure designer label. I conduct and refine a search, then save the search so eBay sends me email whenever the item appears in my size.

According to eBay, I've bought and sold 456 items in the past 10 years. Forty-five transactions a year is not much in the world of eBay power sellers, of course, but it's really worked for me. In that whole time, I've only had one "problem" transaction, and that was fairly easily resolved.

My favorite eBay purchase? That would have to be the electronic locator beeper systems we use on Sheba, our deaf cat. Discontinued by the manufacturer because they were so fragile, they turned up in a liquidator's shop on eBay. After a few bidding wars with some guy from Atlanta, I was able to snap up 44 of them. We figure those should last Sheba for a lifetime. But just in case, I still have an active eBay search for them.

Monday, August 06, 2007

10 seconds to noise-cancelling iPhone headphones!

Macworld's Rob Griffiths, who kindly posted the detailed photos and instructions for this hack, said he was able to convert his Bose noise-cancelling headphones to fit the iPhone's proprietary recessed jack in "less than a minute" using a box knife.

I did it in 10 seconds. The good news is that you're just cutting a very soft plastic ring off a hard metal plug that no box knife could possibly damage...

And now, for a delightful flight to Las Vegas Wednesday, watching a movie on the iPhone.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Red alert (no zombies) at Pacific Place

In the last few minutes of the space thriller Sunshine, a supernatural being is stalking the remaining crew members, threatening to sabotage the spaceship's mission to re-ignite a dying sun to save Earth. On the big screen, lights are flickering, alarms are blaring -- and thus it took us a moment or two to realize that some of the alarms were in the sixth-floor movie theater we were in and the whole Pacific Place mall was being evacuated. When the lights came on, we realized it was time to go.

Zorg and I headed down for the exit at the side of the screen, which brought us to a stairwell near the outside of the building. We found ourselves in the lead as the theater rapidly emptied and everyone trotted down six flights. (I wondered if already being in an "emergency" mindset from the film accounted for the smooth, rapid evacuation of the theater.) At the street level, we saw people crowding out of the mall shops, and they looked quite a bit more confused.

A bomb threat? A fire alarm? Fire trucks came. It couldn't have been very serious, though, because they allowed people into the bottom floor of the mall to pay for their parking (!) and then into the basement parking garage to get their cars.

The parking payment line we were in got clogged up by some nincompoop who was throwing a hissy fit with the clerk, insisting that he shouldn't have to pay for parking because he hadn't seen all of his film. Of course, the attendant who takes the payment had no authority to waive the fee. Fortunately for all of us stuck in the long line behind this nutcase, and somewhat anxious to get out of the building, the fellow standing behind him tossed $3 to the clerk and told the whiner to please consider all the people waiting in line and just leave. That cheered me up considerably.

I Twittered the evacuation. Someone else sent photos to Flickr. It turns out that by going down the outside stairs, we missed the mall's officious evacuation announcements, described here by a LiveJournal blogger. And not just any blogger, but fantasy author Cherie Priest, who briefly wondered if the emergency was a zombie invasion, and proceeded accordingly. She reports that, in the midst of flashing strobe lights and booming announcements, their waitress at a sixth-floor mall restaurant advised them to ignore it all. They ignored the waitress, headed directly for the parking garage, and discovered the exit barriers were up and they didn't have to pay. Oooh! I'll remember that, next time. (Leaving the clueless waitress to be mangled by the zombies, of course.)

Still no idea what was going on. I read in the Flickr comments that the theater provided free tickets; we still have our ticket stubs, so should be able to turn those in for freebies.