Breathe

My official day began with a flurry of activity as I rushed from room to room in a fury to get ready for work and a morning meeting with our COO. I was up all night with a sick dog who is now on his way to the vet. He’s passing quite a bit of blood, which appears to be associated with HEG. As I raced out the door, shouting instructions to Siri to call Russ and alert him of my 10 minute delay, I simultaneously blew Marne a kiss, while she shoved a protein drink into my free hand, thinking to myself it was going to be a very, very, very long day. Movers arrive in the morning and probably 50% of our faculty offices still needs to be packed. Russ answered. I quickly relayed my whereabouts and approximate time of arrival with an apology for being late. He must have thought I was planning some sort of elaborate commute from Belmont, a mere five miles from the office, as he calmly responded. “It’s 8:00 a.m. and the meeting starts at 9:00.”

I knew that. I’ve always known it. It’s even clearly stated on my calendar. And yet for the entire morning I’ve been living not in the present but in the future. A future of must get there and must get it done.

As I hung up the phone, I noticed for the first time a single bumper sticker on the back of a shiny, blue Honda Fit.

B R E A T H E

I was struck by the simplicity of the word. A fitting and powerful reminder.  Thanks, karma, I needed that.

Hello World, Let Me Present …

I love cards.  I love to give them and receive them.  One of my favorites features a group of penguins perched on a large parcel of iceberg real estate.  All are sporting the tuxedos of their birth.  But look closely and there in the middle, surrounded by Antarctic class, is a penguin who waddles to his own beat.  It’s sporting a very bright red and white, polka dot bowtie.  On the inside of the card it reads, “How come no one here thinks I’m funny?”

I’ve loved this card from the day I set eyes on it.  I’ve purchased it in bulk and distributed it frequently during my first year of employment at UVa.  This image resonated with me not because no one here thinks I’m funny.  Quite the contrary and very much so.  It resonates because the bow tied penguin stands in a huddle and yet knows somehow it stands apart.  Being different is a balancing act.  Unique but yet not so much so that one is parted.  I wear that bowtie daily sometimes more aware than others of its presence around my neck.  And I think often of that penguin when navigating the iceberg that is my life.

I don’t much care anymore what is normal or even funny.  What I care about is whether or not the bowtie fits.  I care because sometimes we become so attached to who we were that we fail to recognize who we have become.  And in holding onto the past, we no longer honor the person we are in the present.  Today, I’m taking off the bowtie and putting on an ascot.  Hello, world, let me present …

A Life Taken

Today you took a life. Your own.

Not literally but figuratively.

I grieve not for you but for myself.

For limited calls.

Shared meals dispensed from vending machines.

A single hug lasting only five seconds.

You said, “I love you, sis.”

What I really want is for you to love yourself.

Not as the convict you believe yourself to be.

But as the man I know you are.

So I am here waiting for your life to begin again.

Continuing to believe, unlike you, that transformation is possible.

Always possible until the end when your life is no more.

Literally.

BB Vibratory Work

I COULDN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP IF I TRIED

 

Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 4:18 PM

Sent: BB Vibratory Work

Propriety would require that I not comment on the email below but what fun would there be in that?  Please note that once I have the dates, I will share.  A bottle of chilled Chardonnay will be made available for those who wish to join me for the joy ride.  Poor Mr. Hole, he won’t soon live this down!

Cynthia D. Smith

 

Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 2:21 PM

Sent: BB Vibratory Work

Please see the email below and let me know if you have any vibration-sensitive equipment in your area. Please provide your response by late tomorrow. I will provide definitive dates for this work in the next few days.

I greatly appreciate your help.

 

Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 1:34 PM

Sent: BB Vibratory Work

Wanted to give you a heads up on some work that we have upcoming that is going to require the use of a vibratory hammer.  With our recent excavation efforts, we have unearthed vertical H-pile shoring members that were put in as part of the garage project.  These piles are in the way of the new footings on column line 8 and need to be removed. We’ve tried to get them out with an excavator on site, but have been unsuccessful, and now we must try the hammer.  We expect it to go pretty quickly with the hammer, and vibrations should be minimal as it is only H-pile and we are pulling out rather than putting in.  My only concern is whether there is any vibration-sensitive equipment In 1222 that may require special precaution.  For what it’s worth, we installed the piles with a vibratory hammer back in winter ’07 and did not experience any issues with the neighbors then.  Let me know your thoughts.  We are currently targeting this work for either next Wednesday 6/8 or Friday 6/10. 

My Man Johnny

CONVERSATION WITH “COUNTRY” JOHNNY REGARDING WHETHER OR NOT MY HVAC SYSTEM COULD BE REPAIRED.

‎[Cell phone rings.]

ME: “Hi, this is Cindy.”

JOHNNY: “This is Johnny.”

ME: “Hi Johnny, what’s the word?”

JOHNNY: “What word?”

ME: “On my HVAC system.”

JOHNNY: “Who is this?”

ME: “It’s Cindy. I left you a message about an hour ago.”

JOHNNY: “I don’t listen to my messages.”

ME: “Okay.  Well, I’m the homeowner at 109 Greenwich. We talked yesterday and you were going to drop by to assess my HVAC system to determine if it could be repaired.”

JOHNNY: “Yes.”

ME: “Well, the motor is gone.”

JOHNNY: “Yes.”

[Silence]

ME: “Well, I was wondering if you were going to bring it back.”

JOHNNY: “It doesn’t work.”

[Silence]

ME: “That’s what I gathered.”

[Silence]

ME:  “I was really just looking for an estimate of the repair cost.”

JOHNNY: “You need a new motor.”

ME: “Yes, I understand that. But how much is it going to cost?”

‎[Silence … ]

ME: “Should I fix it or replace it, Johnny?”

JOHNNY: “Well, how much did they say it was going to cost to replace?”

ME: “Um, something like $6,500.”

JOHNNY: “Well, that’s a bit much now ain’t it.”

ME: “Why yes, Johnny, it is!”

‎[Silence … ]

ME:  “So how much will the repairs cost?”

JOHNNY: “I reckon I can fix it for under $300.”

ME: “How much longer will it give me?”

JOHNNY: “How much longer you want?”

ME: “A year or two. Long enough to save up the cash for a new system.”

JOHNNY: “That sounds about right.”

JOHNNY IS COMING TODAY TO PUT IN A NEW MOTOR!  HE SAID IT WASN’T NECESSARY FOR ME TO BE HOME BUT I HAVE GOT TO MEET THIS GUY!

Why I Don’t Work For The Computing Help Desk

 From: Smith, Cynthia D. *HS (MD-INMD Int Med, Admin)

Sent: Friday, October 22, 2010 2:27 PM

Subject: Computing Problems

Hi Deb,

I consulted others here in the office with me.  They had the following suggestions regarding your laptop, which began smoking last night. 

  1. Enroll laptop in smoking cessation program with John Schorling
  2. Apply nicotine patch
  3. Insert nicotine gum into CD Drive
  4. Offer it a martini
  5. Ask it for a light
  6. Tell it the cyber experience was great for you as well

If these suggestions do not address the present issue, we suggest you check your smoke detectors to ensure batteries are operational.  

Your truly,

Cynthia D. Smith

Emergency Vet

Our Cockatiel Buttercup suddenly began acting odd about a week ago.  Online research seemed to indicate that she might be eggbound; a condition which causes death if not immediately treated. When behavior began again in earnest yesterday afternoon, Jude rushed Buttercup to the vet, and I raced to meet her fearing the worst.  Had we waited too long?  Would I need to console a distraught Jude?  Things like this never end well when they play out in my mind.  This story’s ending was to be accompanied by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. So imagine my surprise to find Jude leaving the vet with Buttercup in hand.  “Is she alright?”  I inquired.  “Yes, she’s fine.”  Jude replied a bit sheepishly.  “Your bird’s not pregnant, she’s pleasuring herself.”  

Sixty two dollars later, I am home with a horny bird and a handout that says my pet should never be punished or disciplined for masturbating under any circumstances.  Since matters like these should be handled in private, I’ve given Buttercup a little alone time in the upstairs bedroom.  Meanwhile, I am researching alternative vets since Jude claims it will be some time before she or I can enter the vet’s office without encountering the smirks and giggles of the office staff.

Accessing One’s Office ~ A Survivoresque Journey

EMAIL FROM EMPLOYEE:

Cindy: I guess I will need to come up with a Plan B since the FLU CLINIC for the WORLD will now be located at Employee Health. Obviously, our plan to limit patient contact in elevators & lobby by detouring through Employee Health to access the stairwell will no longer make sense for us. It would be like walking onto a giant Petri dish of Influenza.

In lieu of access to an exterior door to the stairwell, I am going to go search for a link, passage, tunnel, drain pipe, hole or crack that will allow us an alternate route into our office. Think I’ll start by walking over the train tracks and talking to the crane operator over at the nearby construction sight. Maybe we could be crane lifted up into our office or hey the Pegasus rescue helicopter crew across the road could chopper us in. The new parking-garage-that-we-can’t- park-in is only two feet the window — we could put a plank across the gap and shimmy over…..is that dynamite I see over there in the empty lot next door? Must be for the new Nuclear Power Plant. Maybe there will be a nuclear waste drainage tunnel that we could access……. the possibilities are endless!

MY RESPONSE:

There’s another stairwell on the other end of the building, Drama Queen!

EMPLOYEE REPLY TWO HOURS LATER:

You’d THINK this would be a simple solution. My friends, think again.

I have just returned from an expedition to the “other stairwell”. I encountered no difficulties in entering the outer stairwell door on the western side of the building [other than having to push through a crowd of people talking about “evacuating the building” because of the toxic smoke that was permeating the air outside]. I proceeded quickly up the stairs to the 4th floor. As I approached the landing, a large red sign read “Caution: Construction Sight”. I thought nothing of the sign, thinking “oh, probably just a wall collapsed or something”, so I opened the stairwell door leading into the hallway. It was then that I saw yellow crime scene tape everywhere and an even bigger sign that read:
CHEMICAL SPILL.  I’m meeting with crane operator man at 3:30 for cappuccinos. I’ll let you know what he says.

War of Attrition

Most of us know the commercial. A father frolicking with his young son both dressed in stark white t-shirts and blue jeans. The man smiles, as the boy in what appears to be a game of hide and seek disappears under a bed sheet, the sheet starched and surely smelling of fabric softener. These are the images the Cotton Board wants us to remember. And yet how many of us truly starch our sheets or own a t-shirt without at least one stain and perhaps even a teeny, tiny, hole. Oh admit it! Maybe it’s not a t-shirt but a pair of khakis, shorts or pajamas that are soft as a baby’s bottom. The item has seen better days yet it holds memories; of a ride on the back of a motorbike with your first boyfriend or girlfriend, a paint stain from your very first home renovation or maybe just maybe the style of cut has been discontinued. You retain the item as a cherished relic promising your loved ones that the item will make no further public appearances and will be worn only in the privacy of your own home. You hide the article of clothing at the back of your bureau drawer and wear it on occasion with great pride knowing it harbors secrets from years long gone.

Then “IT” happens. It isn’t planned. No, quite the contrary, it’s unintentional. You grab the item from your drawer mistaking it for another or rush out of the house forgetting that the cherished article is adorning a portion of you clearly visible to the public eye. Such was the case recently when Karen boarded a flight to New York. It was to be a short trip; a Thursday night in Manhattan, a board meeting the next day and a return flight late Friday evening following the board meeting. Karen had packed light. The black pants she would wear on the plane would be worn again the next day and paired with the spare top she had stuffed into her carry on bag. If only she had chosen her one pair of pants more wisely.

The mishap resulted from a war of attrition. Or at least that’s how Karen prefers to reference the resulting incident. I rather like to call it a “BLOW OUT,” which took place on both inner seams of her black pants. She’s not exactly sure when the episode occurred. There was no sudden tale tell sound of ripping as she took her seat on board the United flight or during the 15 minute journey from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C. It was only when she stood and began to advance down the jet way and into the expanse of Dulles International Airport that she realized something had gone terribly wrong. There was an unusual amount of thigh contact being made as she rushed from one terminal to the next and, if she wasn’t mistaken, there was hint of a cool breeze where there should be none. Arriving at the gate for her connecting flight, she attempted not to feign relief when she discovered that the flight had been delayed. After all, this was her chance to survey what she suspected was substantial, irreparable damage to the only pair of pants she had in her possession.

Now, if you’re in the mood to drink beer, purchase a trashy novel, or pick up a postcard for your Great Aunt Lucille, an airport the size of Dulles has plenty to offer. The small shops can even do in a pinch when one needs a pair of sunglasses, a kid’s sized t-shirt or has inadvertently left the toothbrush at home. But a plethora of plus size shopping it is not! Karen had surveyed the damage and it was extensive. The war of attrition waged throughout the preceding years had revealed a sizeable expanse of skin on both legs. Resigned to her predicament the best Karen could do was a $4 bottle of Johnson’s Baby Powder (to smooth the way, if you will). This provided temporary relief as she walked but soon drew unwanted attention as the powder began to pill and then drop to the ground like a blanket of new fallen snow. Since a powder puff she was not and chafing was beginning to set in, Karen took the first seat she could find within sight of her connecting gate and firmly planted herself (legs together) determined that the only thing for which she would budge was a plane that got her out of the airport and fast. But fast was not in the equation.

Two additional flight delays and some four hours later, there Karen sat watching dejectedly as the clock inched later and later. Hunger had set in and her bladder was beginning to demand attention. Furthermore, any hope she had once had of making it to a Manhattan Department store before closing was quickly dissipating. It was nearly 10:30 p.m. before her flight finally landed in New York and midnight before she made her way exhausted to her hotel room where, with the door securely bolted and curtains pulled tightly shut, she peeled off the offending garment and relegated it to a far corner where it would remain until morning when she had the energy and heart to survey the damage from multiple angles.

In the dawn of early morning light, a now rested Karen re-examined her only pair of pants. They were beyond salvage. But she was pleased to discover that if she shifted the front to the back the slight modification would reposition the area of exposure and thus the chafing. It was now 9:00 a.m. on a Friday morning and Karen had just enough time to grab a stout cup of coffee and bagel in the hotel’s breakfast room before boarding the subway and making her way through the bowels of Manhattan to the nearest Department store. With hope in her heart, Karen pulled on her pants, with the front seam at the back and the back seam at the front, grabbed her wallet and descended in the elevator exiting into a lobby unexpectedly filled with Board Members! I’ll spare you the remaining details but suffice it to say that the engaging breakfast conversation prevented Karen from making it to the Department Store. Moreover, having survived the Board Meeting itself, Karen found herself back at the airport where both segments of her return flight were again delayed, the last postponement required an overnight stay in Washington, D.C.! Karen never did find a replacement pair of pants and returned home late Saturday with battle scars that would linger for days. The offending garment was ceremoniously ripped in half and would have been set on flame if not for the fact that the Fireplace had already been cleaned and a charcoal grill was nowhere in sight.

I share this tale of woe not only because it’s too funny to keep to one’s self but also in the hope that you will immediately locate your own “cherished” cotton garment and give it a proper burial … if not for yourself then for your loved ones!

Four Mile Shuffle

It was dark outside as the alarm sounded at 5:45 a.m. and it was hard to believe that I was about to roll out of bed and shuffle into the history books even if the book was one of my own writing. Despite my best efforts at sleep it had been a long night as my brother’s words of caution had echoed throughout the recesses of my brain while one wakeful hour passed into the next. You see I wasn’t about to run my first race but I was about to do it with a head cold.The contents of my bathroom hinted at a night of misery … ibuprofen, Nyquil, nasal spray, decongestant tablets and cough drops. And then there were the frozen juice bar wrappers that littered my bedroom floor their contents having provided only momentary midnight relief from a scratchy throat and constant state of thirst.

I was preparing to run my first race, and I was going to do it in spite of a cold. Not that there had ever been an option. My enthusiasm in recruiting others to accompany me through the misery of 12 weeks of training had shadowed the reality of accountability that would inevitably accompany the commitment. I was going to run the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler and they frankly didn’t care one iota if I had to do it while pushing a hospital bed in front of me. And so it was that under cover of darkness I slunk to my morning shower then dressed with the enthusiasm of a six-year-old headed for the dentist to have a cavity filled.

As Karen made a morning meal out of complex carbohydrates and nutrient enriched beverages, I contemplated the significant although temporary boost I would gain from a breakfast of two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Glorying in the memory of smooth chocolate melting away to reveal the velvety richness of the sugar infused peanut butter, I instead reached for the box of Mrs. Butterworth’s Pancake mix adding a bit of ginger for extra kick. Karen and I both ate silently hardly able to comprehend what we were about to attempt. It wasn’t exactly an ascent of Mt. Everest but for one whose sole means of exercise had been reaching for the snooze alarm more than once each morning it might as well have been.

The ride to Foxfield Race Track was quiet, and I reveled in a sunrise and cool morning breeze that was better enjoyed from a stationary position atop a deck chaise lounge with a tall mocha late and the morning paper. Parking the van among what would be some 2,000 vehicles of 1,850 race participants and their spectators, I stepped down into the wet grass and grimaced as my still pristine white running shoes became covered with a vast amount of lawn clippings. The race itself would not be my greatest challenge. It would be the walk across the field every step of which soiled my precious $90 running shoes that until that time had been spared anything more than a dry track and occasional stretch of concrete.

With number 551 securely attached to my shirtfront, I began to make the long journey to the starting line. The serious athletes had taken their position at the front of the pack appropriately attired in wicking material and displaying an obvious body mass index that even the leanest cut of meat would envy. It was somewhere near the back, along about the 13 minute mark that I decided to conduct my now perfected shuffle-trot technique.

I had hardly reached my starting position and taken my “I-could-be-at-the-front-if-I-wanted-to-I’m only-here-at-the-back-to-accompany-Karen” stance when the gun sounded. It seemed nearly two minutes before the ripple of movement reached the back where my gum chewing self was waiting impatiently. I ashamedly admit there was no rush of adrenaline and no enveloping pride as my movements began. Even as I looked ahead enthralled by the snaking throng of women progressing through the rolling hillsides of Charlottesville, my only thought was that I was yet unable to spot a water station where I was certain that it was appropriate to slow my speed and pause momentarily.

I won’t bore you with details of each successive mile of the race but suffice it to say that I set no records yesterday. As I was completing my second mile with two miles left to conquer, the true athlete’s were crossing the finish line with their wicker material hardly showing signs of perspiration. My race time was almost triple theirs at a total of 52 minutes give or take and I think I had another mile in me if for the promise of cheesecake at the end.

There was no afterglow of accomplishment when all was said and done only a cold that had settled in my chest and will keep me bed bound for most of today. But something happened yesterday there is no doubt of that. This was evidenced when, with mocha latte finally in hand, I suggested to my running posse that we continue training for the Charlottesville half marathon to take place in April of next year.

It’s hard to come in last or rather nearly last most especially as I know I gave it my best. Nevertheless, as someone once said, “The miracle is not that I finished but that I had the courage to start.”