Monday, December 26, 2005

Jock Straps for Christmas and the Last Man on Earth who didn't know John Wayne was Dead

'Twas four days before Christmas when I finally attempted to do some gift shopping. Three stores and about $200 later the present score stood at Angie:6, Family:0. I had a bad case of shopper's block, at least when it came to other people, and decided the best route would be a stack of gift cards purchased when I got to my hometown for the holiday.

I had visited the local Target the night I got into town, but still felt like I might let some folks down. My inner-Santa was starting to come out. On Christmas Eve morning I went to the Salvation Army with my Aunt Sheila where I spotted a yellowed package containing a jock strap that was likely older than me.

Antique Roadshow? Maybe. Gift for my brother? Definitely. I threw it in my cart along with a Jane Fonda workout video circa 1983, a bar of soap, a pair of black angels, an onion blossom maker, a mini totem pole, a butterfly thermometer, and a Sesame street doll dressed like a mailman (which by the way still had the tag on.) I took my very special gifts back to my Aunt and Uncle's house and wrapped them happily while a couple of cousins eyed me with suspicion.

Except for my poor 7-year old nephew, who looked a little stunned and confused when he unwrapped a worn story book for someone half his age, my family got a much needed giggle while I passed out the real presents. I then declared I would spend the course of each year seeking out the oddest, and perhaps junkiest pieces of crap for their Christmas presents.

The rest of the holiday weekend was interesting. I'm used to living alone and staying at my mom's apartment where it's just the two of us. We were both at her favorite sisters' house where there's constant chatter, TV's blaring with Spanish programs in the background, and the Christmas tradition of my uncle Ruperto strumming a guitar with his countrymen and singing some incoherent Mexican songs about life on the ranchero.

It was all at once brutal and charming.

On Christmas morning while my aunt slaved away in the kitchen making tamales, my uncle came out of the bedroom wearing a bandanna around his neck. He walked in the kitchen and after spotting me making food (it was breakfast for my mom) he said, actually giddy, "Angela what are you making?"

Even though I've known this man since the age of five, I've never ceased to be frustrated at his old-world notions of what a woman should and shouldn't do. My reply?

"Look Pancho Villa, I know you get awfully excited seeing a woman in the kitchen. I'm out of here in five minutes and I'm not coming back."

"Pancho Villa? No, John Wayne."

"They're both dead, whatever."

"John Wayne's dead?" He was geniunely stunned.

"He died like 30 years ago. You really didn't know?"

He didn't. I had to be the one to break the news. On Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Come for the infection, stay for the kidney tumor

Everyone’s favorite T.V. addict, otherwise known as my mom, unwittingly became the star of her very own medical drama two weeks ago. A diabetic who hates doctors, she had an infection that ran uncontrolled and decided to creep into her blood. Apparently the organs of the human body hate when that happens and will begin to toy with the idea of whether or not they want to continue working.

The community hospital in my hometown kept her for 24 hours, then put her on a helicopter bound for a hospital in Peoria where they could handle more than brain freeze and owies. For four nights she was in the ICU where I, my siblings, and siblings-in-law sat and watched a parade of doctors and nurses poke and prod the woman until she was well enough to be transferred to a regular room.

Wanting to have this most dramatic episode of ER ever turn into Scrubs, I was relieved to finally get some comic relief when she was settled into her new bed. This very old, very crazy woman in the bed next to her took one look at my mom and exclaimed, "Wow, what does she have?" The nurse looked embarassed and told her to be quiet, but I laughed like it was the funniest thing I ever heard.

The next morning when I got to the hospital, 'ol crazy pants had literally been tented in on her bed. The alarm that was set to go off when the lady got out of bed apparently didn't keep her down. I asked my mom if she was able to get any sleep with the freak show next to her yelling, "Give me a knife, I'm cutting these IVs off and getting out of here," all night. She just rolled her eyes and went back to sleep.

Over the next few days my mom continued to get better. Her strength improved, and most importantly, the nurse and I conquered her terrible case of bedhead. I headed back to Chicago thinking she was going to be released last weekend.

Not so fast.

Her doctors (she says one looks like Dr. Green on ER and another looks like Benjamin Bratt, I disagreed) needed to find out why after the infection was conquered her white blood cell count didn't return to normal. Turns out there's something on her kidney that doesn't belong there, and it and the kidney will have to come out. And given her health stituation, the surgery is very risky but is unavoidable.

How's that for a Christmas present?

I'm one person who really didn't need another reason to hate this holiday. With a mother who's just 56, who has about 30 seasons of television ahead of her, I'm feeling a bit angry that this something we're facing.

I'm trying to be a big girl and keep that brave face on that I know she needs. And she doesn't need to know about a couple of friends I've been relying upon heavily lately. One's called Marlboro Light, the other is Sleeping Pill.

Postscript: People aren't kidding when they say everyone should have a healthcare power of attorney in order. Do not assume that if you're someone's child or spouse that you're o.k. Get it done. Also, there's nothing like frantically trying to piece together someone's medical history and medications while they're out of it and an ICU nurse is looking like you're the worst child in the world because you don't know what kind of insulin your mother takes. Don’t be crazy enough to assume that doctors and a hospital someone who had gone to for years, would like write it down somewhere.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Baby, it's mothereffin cold outside

Coldest December in Chicago? You don't say.

I was waiting for the bus this morning hoping my eyeballs wouldn't freeze solid when a dog sled pulled up instead of the 60. I had to get to work and Eskimos smell way better than the homeless and junkies so I hopped on.

I'm telling you, I don't care how cold it gets next month, I'm not going to eat whale blubber and I'm not sleeping with short, slanty-eyed, caribou fur-clad butterballs.

Coming soon: Why it took me nearly two weeks to post. Thanks to those of you who noticed. I appreciate it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mom, me, and too much T.V.

Friday night I took a little time off from my super-glamorous and always exciting life as a single urbanite to sit home, fight off the Avian Flu, and watch the long-awaited Knots Landing Reunion. The moment I got home, I called my mom to make sure she knew it was on.

A needless call. Of course she knew. This is my mom, afterall. If she had her way Aaron Spelling will be canonized the moment he goes to the big casting call in the sky.

Like many men who use sports as a way to relate to their fathers, my mom and I have decades of television watching to connect us. Knots Landing was a big favorite. And of course there was Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Fantasy Island, Love Boat, a slew of sitcoms, and every police drama to hit the small screen. In a time before VCRs and TiVo it's a wonder how we fit it all in.

My mom's addiction, long thought as a way to unwind or pass time, came to a head during the O.J. Simpson trial. It was during my requisite post-college year to live at home that I figured out that my mom watches way too much T.V. She kept up on every little detail of the trial and gave me a daily update, whether I wanted one or not.

One day some forensic screw ups came to light. Nobody besides the prosecution was more frustrated than my mom.

"Quincy wouldn't have messed up like that," she said, clearly pissed off.

Was she for real? I was hoping against hope she would start laughing. But there was this scarily long pause. I was going to have to go in and pull her out.

"Ha, ha. Good one. Yeah, well Trapper John M.D. and Gonzo would have saved Nicole in the first place! They wouldn't have needed a stinkin trial then," I replied in earnest, then waited.

Mom? Mommy?

She snapped back to her old self and smiled. I breathed a sigh of relief. Crisis averted.

"Gonzo was cute," she said.

"Oh, yeah. Sure was."

Like a child of an alcoholic who knows to tread lightly with booze, I’m aware that I have the genetic predisposition to watch an unhealthy amount of television. I can be a half an hour into Trading Spouses: Meet your New Mommy before I know what hit me. I haven't had cable in 8 years, only because I know I'll become a shut-in 10 minutes after the Comcast guy leaves my apartment.    

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Your cat is never coming back

At 18th and Blue Island there's a sad little sign with the headline:

Donde Esta Jeffrey?

Jeffrey is a black and white cat who went missing a couple of days ago. Judging from the sign (and the English translation) Jeffrey's owners are beside themselves with worry after the little guy decided to bolt out the door the moment they took off his collar to give him a flea treatment.

As an outsider, it seems to me that this cat wasn't too happy in the first place. Why else would he make a break for it just as winter hits? Was he plotting this moment for weeks, or even months? Maybe playing the nice little house cat role was too much for him. He wanted to see what the gritty streets of Pilsen had to offer.

If you're a cat or a dog, I think you'd have quite a time.

One of the first things I noticed when moving here from Little Italy is the number of stray cats and dogs hanging out. And I was struck by how tough and aloof these animals acted.

The dogs scared me a little at first. But when I got closer to a group that was crossing the street up ahead of me one day, it kind of reminded me of something out of Lady and the Tramp. Regardless, steering clear of them seemed like a good idea. I'm also careful never to walk around with a pot roast in my purse, just in case. I'm not taking any chances.

The cats are a different story. They're enormous, rude, and they act like they own the alley when you go to throw away the garbage. I've yet to see a rat; I'm convinced the cats swallow them whole. And they steal.

Really, they do.

The day after the telethon for Hurricane Katrina I realized I couldn't find my debit card. I had taken it out the night before to make a pledge (only because I wanted to see if I could get Brad Pitt on the phone to tell him how skanky Angelina is) and threw it on the coffee table where a bunch of newspapers sat waiting to take their rightful place in a landfill. That morning I was doing my usual Saturday cleaning and must have thrown the card out with the papers.

Hours later when I realized what I did, I went to the alley and got my bag, which had been CLAWED open. I didn't find the card, but I was greeted by a cat giving me a look that said, "Bitch, I got your card and you ain't never gettin' it back." I might be mistaken, but I think he flashed me a gang sign with his paws.

I glared back for a moment and then bolted upstairs to call my bank. If I hadn't acted quickly, I'm convinced that this gang of street-tough cats would have been halfway to Mexico on my hard-earned dime.

So yeah. I think Jeffrey was lured to the streets and is probably caught up in some illicit activity with his fellow strays. Hopefully his owners will come to accept that he wasn't theirs to have in the first place.

Watch your back, Jeffrey. And don't take any wooden nickels.