Accessing One’s Office ~ A Survivoresque Journey


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… 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!


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


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.”

Chews Wisely

Chewing gum has been an obsession of mine since my days of youth. Give me a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy mystery along with a Wrigley’s 12-pack of peppermint gum, and I would disappear for hours on end book in hand and gum within reach. One at a time or sometimes two or three, I would chew each piece until the flavor had dissipated. A 12-pack never lasted long with me.

Not much has changed over the years although I have flirted with other brands and entertained brief affairs with Bazooka, Chiclets, Blow Pops, and even the squirt in your mouth Freshen Up. Nevertheless, my gum of choice for both its ease of chewing, flavor consistency, and sweetness longevity is Freedent.

Freedent was not what I was chewing when disaster struck. The fluorescent green sugar free confection Spearmint Extra had caught my fancy. It lured me away from my chew of choice and came to play a key role in one of life’s “Uh Oh” moments. Who’s to say whether the damage that ensued could have been prevented with the “won’t stick to your dental work” brand. Since no dental work was involved in the incident, I seriously doubt it.

I have many quirks, most for which I make no apology. I like the edges of chocolate chip cookies but not the middle. I like the flavor of cherry pie but not the cherries. Moreover, I rarely turn the bathroom light on when entering for a brief “This will only take a second.” interlude. Why bother? It seems like such a wasted motion.

And so it is that, under the cover of darkness, disaster struck. Now before I continue let me say that I know one should not flush gum down the toilet. The careless and hapless act carried out while I was seated has not been repeated since. Not because I am convinced that it “gums up the works,” but because of what happened next.

I failed to notice that the wad of gum had hit the rim of the toilet seat. It bounced not into the toilet or onto the floor. No, in a feat of masterful flight, it landed on the inner crotch of my slacks where it would remain for the better part of the next two hours.

So imagine my shock and horror when, undressing for bed that evening, I notice a long fluorescent string of gum securely joined to my undergarment and inner thighs and stretching unbroken to the floor where my slacks rested around my ankles.

I’m not quite sure how to spell the sound that emanated from my lips. It was a cross between a yelp and a scream and continued well throughout the extrication process. I’ve since ended my brief affair with Extra Sugar Free Gum but I cannot spy a pack without recalling the rim shot that ended badly.

Eggs Anyone

Those of you who know me well recognize that I am not only capable of great compassion and deep empathy but, beneath my rough-edged exterior, possess the capacity to nurture my closest friends over some of life’s inevitable bumps. And so it is that I recently found myself faced with the true test of friendship–and failed–miserably, I might add. In order to measure how truly my character was compromised and whether the subsequent shame was warranted, you must first familiarize yourself with the circumstances surrounding my test. Enter one accomplished tennis player (Karen) and one overly eager tennis novice (myself).

The week of June 22nd had literally proven to be the first rain free stretch of 2003. With rackets in hand, Karen and I headed to the nearby tennis court to see just how rusty we had become. After all, it had been nearly a year since we had stood on opposing sides of the net, and the last exchange of balls had resulted in a badly sprained ligament and bruised ego. But my lack of skill, child’s racket and memory of weeks with a limp was not about to dampen my spirit. One ball after another sailed through the air, over the net, and into the corner of the tennis court where overgrown bushes, vines and weeds had taken up permanent residence. Some 20 minutes and 6 lost tennis balls later, Karen and I declared the end of our inaugural game of the season, and headed back to the house via the adjacent subdivision where a couple of my errant balls had landed. We pledged that within 24 hours we would be back on the court, I with more tennis balls and Karen with hedge clippers.

The following day, determined that none of our tennis balls would again become lost in the jungle of overgrowth, Karen took hedge clippers in hand and annihilated anything that dared breech the barrier of the chain link fence. It was a proud moment indeed as she tossed vines over the fence assuring us both of a leaf free playing field. The area in which my cross-court tennis balls always seemed to land had been cleared. But lost tennis balls were soon to be the least of Karen’s worries. The lamentable, horrible, and inexorable spread of urushiol oil, better known as poison ivy, began slowly–imperceptibly, at first. Wednesday’s rash hinted at a mild, manageable case easily tamed by a bottle or two of calamine lotion. But by Friday, Karen’s circumstances had changed considerably. And herein enters the food particles that compromised my character and will forever condemn my mouth as a deadly weapon.

Arising at the usual hour that Friday morning, I went about my daily ritual. I was surprised that Karen had not yet stirred but her well being took second place to my need to alleviate unrelenting hunger pangs. One skillet, two eggs, a slice of ham and multiple cubes of cheese later, I with a plump, steaming hot omelet on my plate could no longer leave my friend’s slumber undisturbed. The door to Karen’s room was ajar and she appeared to be breathing, but her silhouette seemed to be oddly if not grossly out of proportion–enough at least to cause me some concern.

“Karen, are you all right?”

She rose up slightly from her pillow, and it was then that I realized her profile was compromised by the large bath towel wrapped completely around her face. Only Karen’s lips protruded from beneath the towel; two big puffy lips seemingly enhanced during the night with botox. Bags of melted ice scattered about Karen’s bed should have hinted at the depth of the horror lurking beneath the towel. I didn’t know what Karen was about to reveal and had I a hint, I would not have chosen that moment to take a very large bite of my ham and cheese omelet.

Then IT happened. As the towel fell to the bed in a sodden lump, I was suddenly face to face with a moon-shaped object three times its normal circumference and slits where the blue eyes once had shown bright. It was at this moment of revelation that my partly chewed mouthful began making its way with rocket-like speed across the length of the room. My partially chewed mouthful of omelet had become a dangerous projectile over which I had no control. A confusing mixture of sympathy and shock tempered by the predominating response–a large guffaw at a very high decibel–had raced from brain to egg-filled mouth. With ham now in her hair, cheese hanging from her earlobe and egg spotting her very swollen face, Karen did the only thing she could do. She sighed deeply, thanked me for my concern and recovered her face with the wet towel.

Now lest you think I am an insensitive being, I did recover my wits long enough to rush Karen to the doctor, egg and all! A round of steroids, various ointments, many ice packs and several meals of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia later (Karen claimed it was the only thing that would go down) (I was in no position to argue), “Elephant Girl” is finally on the mend. It seems that the affliction was systemic, caused by her weedwacking zeal, unwitting exposure, the efficacy of a sweat inducing tennis game and the subsequent lack of immediate treatment.

My rent has gone up only slightly despite the fact that Karen has declared I am a menace not only to myself but to others. I’m also eating alone these days and forbidden from partaking of a meal anywhere other than the kitchen. I figure it’s a small price to pay for a roof over my head and the forgiveness of a friend.

Pissy Opossum

Sunday salutations from Charlottesville where May has arrived bringing with it a colorful array of feathers and one very pissy opossum. As I enter the six month of a now planned nine month sabbatical, I am amazed not only by the passing of time but of the wonders of nature that continue to unfold just outside my window.

The Gold Finches were the first to arrive alighting on the tube feeders filled with thistle and jostling among 20 or so others of the same species for a perch from which to feed! The bright yellow hue of the males and pale green coloring of the females make them a delightful vision as one awakens in the early morning hours. Not to be outshined, two Cardinal couples soon followed in a blaze of red. Then came the regal Blue Jays in triplicate announcing their presence with a piercing call!

Regular feedings have become part of my daily ritual and new sightings send me rushing to Karen’s office to announce the arrival of a humming bird, blue bunting, and most recently two mountain blue birds. My love for photography and newly discovered passion for birds has resulted in a photographic series I call Bird Butts! It started with a Mourning Dove warming its rear on my skylight and was followed by a Gold Finch that elected to take a mid-morning siesta while plastered to the window screen. I tend to think the finch actually got tipsy on Hummingbird nectar and couldn’t make it to a nearby tree.

Among my finely feathered friends, there is the occasional bird that defies explanation! Karen assures me that in the animal kingdom cross breeding does not occur. I am certain she is wrong and a Mourning Dove I have come to call Mohawk is proof. The dark patch of hair standing tall upon his head distinguishes him from his colleagues, who seem not to have noticed that he is an oddity among their breed. Careful observation has ruled out injury or the outgrowth of a tumor and, thus, I can only surmise that his mother had an affair with a Belted Kingfisher.

Fur not feathers fill my nights. As a youth, romanticized images of cool summer nights spent sleeping on a screened in porch filled my daydreams. So it is that I decided to fall asleep with the patio doors open and a floral scented breeze rustling the hairs on my head. Today was not the first morning I have awakened just shy of 2:00 a.m. and usually a bit of television soon has me back in a state of slumber. Reaching for the remote control, I suddenly realized that an un-birdlike creature was stealthily making its way across the deck banister. Quickly, my mind processed the silhouette … too small to be a bear … too tall to be a raccoon … tail too thin to be a skunk … head too pointy to be a cat. I jumped to me feet and snapped on the deck light. Gadzooks, a opossum!

My scream of, “Karen wake up … come quick.” failed to faze the opossum, who continued munching quietly on the bird berries and nuts with only an occasional sniff of the wind. I knew this creature well. It had been the bane of my existence in Redlands where a opossum couplet I came to call Miss Piss and Baby Piss Off had claimed the underside of my bungalow as opossum territory. As if the constant smell of a litter box gone bad was not enough, sounds of a construction project occurring within the walls of my bungalow nightly disturbed my sleep. The final straw, however, was a flea infestation. As Karen stumbled sleepily into the solarium and eyed the stupendous creature with a tail that seemed to reach to the stars, we stared at each other in utter disbelief. I was opossum jinxed! Bird magnet or not, I had lured evil into our very presence.

Daylight has now come and the yellow eyed creature with razor like teeth has taken leave. Today will find me locked safely indoors with a thick partition of glass separating me from God’s creatures. My romanticized daydreams of screened porches are no more, and it shall be a day or two before I fall asleep without the outdoor deck brightly lit. In the meantime, I’m admiring the birds from afar and keeping a watchful eye out for evil on four legs.       

Stop, Drop, and Roll

I admit it.  I am blessed! 

Despite my genuine dissatisfaction with my general proportions, there are a few of my particulars with which I’m more than satisfied.  My eye lashes are long and thick.  My hair is full bodied and manageable.  And, in spite of the fact that they are attached to some rather short and pudgy fingers, my nails are stand outs!  Quick to grow and able to withstand most of the daily challenges that threaten both length and longevity, they are a pride and joy.   Others in the household, however, are not so blessed. 

And so it was that on a recent trip to the drugstore my roommate decided to purchase a full set of nails more fabulous than the one’s I had received by birthright.  French manicure extensions to be exact.  It was love at first sight.  Why hadn’t she thought of this before?  Yes, they would require care and perhaps even a lifestyle adjustment.  After all, her nails could no longer be considered tools.  No scraping, screwing, tapping, picking, or flicking!  These nails were for looking good and look good they did.  At least, that is, until the fire. 

I was not witness to the unfortunate turn of events.  I didn’t smell smoke nor did I see the flame.  Apparently, however, there had been no need to STOP, DROP AND ROLL.  The index finger fire, which occurred while lighting a candle, had done little more than badly color a once beautifully white tipped acrylic extension.  The perfect nails had lasted less than three days.     The fire was soon followed by an escape.  My roommate spotted the detached acrylic extension on the solarium tile floor.  Can you blame the poor thing?  If I’d seen my neighbor go up in flames, I’d make a break for it to.  With some spray glue and a strategically placed band aid, she reapplied the nail and made it through a Sunday church service with the extensions still in place.  Nevertheless, one by one, the nails leapt to their death. 

Before week’s end all nail extensions had been removed and my roommate was bemoaning the now ragged and weakened remains of her finger nails. I offered to share my nail buff and in a true gesture of friendship broke two of my own nails.   I don’t yet know whether my roommate will give the nail extensions one more try but in the meantime I’m pricing fire extinguishers.