I got tired of listening to my raspy voice. If I’m tired of listening to my raspy voice, I thought, what about the poor people listening who are not me? Have you ever just wanted to crawl under the chair to get away from a raspy-voiced friend? We won’t get into the whiny voice or the squeaky voice or the 100-decibel voice right now; they are somebody else’s problem.
“Think of it as sexy, mom,” my daughter said. This from a kid who never even heard Lauren Bacall (Google her) seducing Humphrey Bogart (likewise.) I do not, however, sound like Lauren Bacall. More like a slug calling for help because she’s stuck on a piece of sandpaper. I think I would not get far with a phone porn career.
So I turned to my old friends at Kaiser. There was thumping and testing and X-raying and an excess, in my opinion, of references to my Smoker’s Lungs. Smoker’s Lungs, 58 years after I quit smoking? Well, sorry people, once a smoker, forever a wearer of that scarlet SL tattooed onto your chest. Pulmonologists know.
Thereafter, I visited with the pleasant young ENT guy, who gave me a crash course in Vocal Chords 101 before slipping a camera down for a video of my vocal chords in action. There are repulsive videos and repulsive videos, but I promise you there is nothing more repulsive than a video of your vocal chords from the inside. While we were reviewing the demo Vimeo – I guess repulsive videos are just another day at the office for ENT people – there was further review of the essential message of Vocal Chords 101: your vocal chords are nothing but a couple of muscles. Mine are, shall we say, no longer young.
“The word you are trying to avoid using,” I remarked to Doctor ENT, “is ‘flabby.’”
“I wasn’t going to say that,” he said. But I could see into his soul.
“You can’t reverse the aging process,” he said, somewhat un-gallantly; “but you can make things better!” Whereupon he set me up with a stern-voiced vocal therapist. She was utterly no-nonsense. “Do these exercises” – think warming up for the church choir – “for 20 minutes, three times a day.” An hour a day? When I can’t find 5 minutes to check the #%+&* Instagram feed? And anyway, the church choir definitely does not want me back.
Do I really want to start the laundry back home, in the middle of a lobster dinner at the Ritz? Perhaps.
Or maybe it can wait.
My new Bash automatic washer (names are being changed to protect the innocent) arrived recently, along with an instruction book designed for someone with an advanced degree from MIT. But I got through it (I do have an MFA in Short Fiction,) followed all the instructions, ran the Drum Clean cycle and am now happily doing the laundry that has piled up since my former Bash died of natural causes. In hindsight, I feel it was morally wrong – or improper at best – to have let my old Bash be carted off with hardly a notice.
Here’s what my new Bash can do – I’m still reading the instruction book, but I think I’ve got it. If I scan the QR code, and program everything else – i.e., I’m also going to need to go buy a Voice Assistant – I will be able to call home and start the laundry in the middle of the main course. Do I wish to receive Push Notification when the cycle is done? That would be, say, during dessert. I may pass on the Push Notification.
No offense to the high tech Bash designers, but what’s wrong with getting off the sofa the old-fashioned way and doing the laundry myself?
I have a long history with laundry. Before we got the fancy new washer with wringer attachment that was rolled over to the sink to run the water in – I was about 10 years old at the time – my mother had a washboard* forheavenssakes. Google it.
At the end of the Instruction Book are several pages of Problem/ Possible Cause(s)/ Solution for one’s further entertainment. My favorite is (Problem) Water does not appear to be filling in; (Possible Cause) Water taps not turned on; (Solution) Turn on water taps. I mean, really. They think I’m smart enough to scan QR codes and call the Voice Assistant in the middle of my dinner party, and I don’t know to turn on the water tap? Following the P/PC/S pages are another few pages of further information about the little emojis, symbols and dotted numbers that may light up. I think this is for the protection of the Bash people against claims of mental collapse caused by mysterious emojis blinking all over the laundry room.
Speaking of which. The final pages of the Book are all about Limited Product Warranty and “effectuated warranty coverage,” because of course there are warranties for all these technological wonders. With limits. After a time, “Bash is under no obligation, at law or otherwise, to provide you with any concessions, including repairs, prorates or Product replacement . . .”
I may go find a washboard.
# # #
*there’s even a story inspired by the 1940s Maytag washer in forthcoming Marshallville Stories! Publication date: April 19th. Hope you’ll pick up a copy.
As a public service, I have begun a trial regimen of the medication reported to be an answer to today’s needs. In case you have not yet taken such a step of your own accord, I am reprinting, below, the instructions and some minor cautionary details that came with my supply:
Enclosed please find your 30-day supply of Perfecto99. Taken as directed, Perfecto99 will improve your overall energy level, brain function and ability to achieve life goals.
Common side effects may include muscle pain, headaches, nausea and diarrhea. Do not take Perfecto99 if you are or plan to become pregnant..
Clinical trials have shown Perfecto99 to be as good as, or better than all similar supplements currently awaiting FDA approval.
Call your doctor if you have problems urinating, or if you notice involuntary or uncontrollable muscle movement, as these can be permanent.
Perfecto99, now the global leader in extending average life expectancy, has been shown to improve activity and longevity among Caucasian, AAPI, Black and LatinX populations. Even a few Swedes.
Perfecto99 can cause intestinal problems, serious abdominal pain and sometimes fatal bleeding. Also, occasional burning, crawling, itching, numbness, prickling, “pins and needles”, or tingling feelings have been reported.
Don’t drive, attempt to stand on your own or operate heavy equipment within 24 hours of taking Perfecto99. Just stay in bed and feel sorry for yourself.
Before starting Perfecto99, we recommend a thorough examination by the physician(s) of your choice, including but not limited to bronchoscopy, endoscopy, colonoscopy and cross-check by a qualified podiatrist.
Get help right away if you experience swelling of the face, mouth or tongue, or if you notice a rash appearing on extremities. In rare cases, severe upper respiratory tract and chest infections leading to death have been reported.
Perfecto99 contains alphanomaic acid, which has been shown to offer immediate relief for listlessness, joint pain and stressful family arguments.
Do not take Perfecto99 if you are allergic to its ingredients, or if you have Guillain-Barré syndrome, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Bell’s palsy, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or long-haul Covid. We may have left something out here.
Our trained Perfecto99’ers stand ready to take your calls at 999-888-7220; simply follow the prompts and do not despair. If you are dissatisfied in any way, a full refund will be promptly sent to you or your survivors.
Allan, who climbed out the window to escape a sappy birthday party in his Swedish nursing home, is my new BFF. I owe him big time.
I read the book (as have more than five million others around the globe) several years ago, but recently decided to listen to it through my earbuds while walking around San Francisco – something I do most days for three or four miles. So people gave me strange glances, as I burst out laughing in the middle of the crosswalk. It was entirely worth it. My friend Allan lifted me out of the doldrums, obliterated the daily news and generally made life better for weeks.
Hard as it is to choose, here are two favorite messages from my favorite fictional geezer:
Teetotalers (I’m one, thanks to unfortunate conflicts with booze) are generally a threat to world peace. And – this next is a little hard to condense, but until you get hold of the book:
Allan and friends at one point are raking in profits through sales of hundreds of beautifully produced Bibles that they fished out of the trash. Why were they trashed? (Spoiler alert!) Well briefly, the typographer slipped in an extra verse at the end of the book, creating a final sentence (Revelation 22:22) that reads And they lived happily ever after.
I do try very hard not to threaten world peace. But thanks to Allan Karlsson, and his Swedish author/creator Jonas Jonasson, I am laughing more happily ever after.
Well, not totally disappeared yet, although I recognize that could happen any day now. So far, I’ve just been made essentially invisible. It happens. I do understand one should not get one’s feelings hurt by an app, but still. Facebook algorithms, I further understand, are managed by some faceless Facebook Artificial Intelligence machine, and no actual human beings are involved other than the evil cabal sitting in a dark room somewhere setting in motion mysterious controls over the most intimate details of our psyches.
My psyche is in pain.
Ten or fifteen years ago my granddaughter created a Facebook page for me because, she said, it was imperative that I get into the 21st century and besides, this was how I could keep in touch with my grandchildren. They, of course, have now moved on to Instagram and Twitter and who knows what other wondrous technological barriers to personal interaction. But meanwhile I have come to enjoy Mark Zuckerberg’s toy. Long lost, faraway friends have become friendly and familiar, friends and nodding acquaintances from other pieces of my convoluted life have arisen, even some current friends and (older than the grandkids) family members reappear on my merry page. And try as I might to avoid patronizing the maddening ads I’m satisfied that I spend enough on its sponsors to keep Mr. Zuckerberg in the style to which he is accustomed and thus have repaid my free-space debt a few zillion times over.
So now I resent being disappeared by his algorithm crew; it seems an undeserved case of disinFacebookfranchisement.
Here’s what does show up on my feed – after “Fran, we care about you . . . Your memories on Facebook . . .” In order of appearance:
Something posted by a nice young woman whom I did like (in the original sense of the word) when she waited tables in my building six or eight years ago.
Something re-posted by a distant friend of my daughter.
Something else re-posted from a 4-year-old post by someone whose name is vaguely familiar so I must have Facebook friended him sometime in the distant past.
Something posted two days ago by a woman who lives in Borneo and whom I must have Facebook friended at some point because we do have a few things in common even if we’ve never met.
Two more ads. At which point it’s time to give up and quit scrolling.
Here’s what does not appear in my feed: Anything posted by my children or other family members, anything posted by good friends, Facebook ‘Close Friends’, or by others with whom I’ve been happily, frequently interacting over the past 10 or 15 years.
I assume Facebook is sharing my own posts with one or two people who are Facebook Friends but don’t really remember who I am – since part of my disappearance is the total absence of comments or emojis of any sort on the three photos I have bravely posted over the past week. This, of course, is the final blow to one’s fragile ego: Nobody likes my posts!
It is very dark down here in the dungeon of the disappeared.
What is it with dark airplanes? Those of us addicted to sunlight, open air and cloud-watching may have to establish our own airline. Or unionize in favor of at least a passenger area dedicated to open window shades. We might, I fear, find it slow going.
I am a confirmed window-seat person. I have nothing against aisle-seat people; endowed with a better-than-average (I’ve been told) bladder, I generally don’t bother them. Middle-seat people, unless they are part of a devoted couple, simply had the misfortune to book their tickets late; for purposes of this essay they count for very little. What power do they have, anyway, poor squished-in things.
On settling into my window-seat corner, the first thing I want to do is raise the shade. More and more often it seems there’s a rule against this until we are at least airborne. Which is OK with me; I’m a cloud-watcher, not necessarily a greasy-runway-watcher. So once we level off above the clouds I am eager to slide my shade up.
That’s when I get the frantic motion from the aisle-seat occupant who wants it shut. If window shades were open elsewhere in our sardine can I might be emboldened to resist. But no, a glance around reveals nothing but gloom. Every shade drawn tight. We might as well be in a submarine.
“Folks,” I want to shout, “it’s 10 AM!” But I do not. There’s enough hostility loose in the land as is.
So we travel across the country in darkness. Outside are rivers and plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, too many cloud formations to name. Sunsets. Weather conditions creating phenomena we may never again see. What can I say?
Naps, you argue. Well OK, I’m a #1 proponent of naps. But what’s wrong with eyeshades? We’re all masked up; we might as well be fully hidden from sight. I’ve tried napping on airplanes myself. You can take this to the bank: approximately 45 seconds into a deep sleep the captain will come on with some 80-decibel announcement about how grateful the crew is for our loyalty, and how he (it’s always a he; she-captains at least generally speak at an acceptable decibel level) wants us to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. We are supposed to enjoy being rudely awakened just to be reminded we are being held captive in a dark-grey tin box for five or six hours? Lacking any other announcement excuse we will encounter rough air that mandates an interruption about tightening our seat belts. My seat belt was already tight.
Small children whine loudly. Who can blame them? There’s no glimmer of daylight into which mommy can point to say “Look at the pretty puffy clouds.” Or even rain. We drought-weary Californians would so relish the sight of rain on the wings – but no, everybody wants to plunge westward in solemn gloom, back to the wildfires without even a small memory of possible salvation.
It’s enough to drive one to train travel. Or cars. At least you can’t drive a car with all the windows covered over. Uh, oh. I may have given the self-driving car crazies a new idea.
Finally there is the closing announcement. “We’re beginning our descent into San Francisco. Thank you for flying Shut-in Air.”
Should be a very good year. Having just turned 88 on the 8th, I am assured by many of my Chinese friends of an especially fine time ahead: Double joy! Prosperity! Wealth and success! Devin, my extraordinary acupuncturist, tells me that when he was racing motorcycles (a few decades ago) his number was 88 – and here he is, still alive and practicing acupuncture. I may not be Chinese, but I’m a believer. So I hereby embrace it all, the whole cloud of blessings.
With a little help from Wikipedia, the TravelChinaGuide people, and even a few highly questionable biblical reference sources – I offer this look at the year ahead for the Eight-blessed. Even if you aren’t turning 88, surely you can find an association that will let you in.
Lucky number 8 people, it is said, have strong intuition and insight, and thus “the potential to explore things undiscovered.” Can’t argue with that. We are supposedly also able to complete our plans step by step; somehow I missed this trait. It conflicts, I believe, with the Gemini inclination to zizz around from one thing to another before completing any plan at all. But I’m into numerology today, rather than astrology, so am decidedly accepting that insight thing.
Number 8’s are reportedly mild and honest to others. “Their characteristics would never lead to arguing with other people or causing them to be depressed. In order to avoid hurting people around them, they always hide their real emotions.” I’m only partially sure about this one, being decidedly mild and honest and inclined to avoid hurting anyone anywhere. But hiding my emotions? They are written on my very forehead.
The number 888 is a triple confirmation of the biblical meaning of the number 8, one of my questionably reliable sources reports, but I’m going with this too. “It is ostensibly the number of a new creation, new beginning, resurrection . . .” If the world ever needed new creations and new beginnings it’s now; and while we’re at it we could resurrect a little kindness and compassion to spread around. And double joy.
One more strange thing during the dark days of Pandemia was my sense, much of the time outdoors, that I may have been the only person in San Francisco without a dog. Crossing the dog play area while doing my par course thing at Mountain Lake Park, skirting the similar space in Lafayette Park, or walking along any of San Francisco Bay’s limitless varieties of woods and beaches – I have felt acutely dog-less. Despite having had and loved a long list of family canines; I am currently without. And in recent times that has seemed particularly unseemly.
“You want to know how to stay busy in a pandemic?” my daughter Sandy said to me, early on; “get a puppy.” Scooter had joined her household as lockdowns were just beginning. Although theirs is a multi-dog household that leans toward rescues, Scooter was chosen because he was a purebred Catahoula Leopard Hound, and in a sense a replacement for Blue. Actually, no creature could replace Blue, who had been at my son-in-law’s side for 17 years before succumbing to cancer and the vicissitudes of very old dog age. In one of his countless obituary remembrances someone wrote, “Blue taught all the dogs at the lake how to be dogs.” But eventually Scooter, a multicolored Catahoula with one brown eye and one blue, was chosen to join the family.
While I was a continent away from the growing Scooter, I followed his progress throughout the pandemic on Facebook and on countless videos as he learned (more or less) where to dig or not dig, what to chew or not chew, all those niceties of canine upbringing that are far easier to watch online than to teach onsite. But they kept me entertained and Scooter’s family busy.
Two other dogs close to my heart were central to pandemic survival for their human moms and, by extension, me. Unlike young Scooter, Ringo and Delilah are both certified old dogs. I am partial to old dogs. This is partly thanks to my excellent late husband Bud’s book Old Dogs Remembered, but also because, well, we understand each others’ aches and pains and geezerly stuff.
Ringo, 14, whose official name is Ringo Dingo Django Durango, or RD3, was not partial to me in his youth. He customarily started barking about the time my car entered the driveway, and didn’t stop until he had sniffed and grumbled for at least five minutes. But we soon became cordial acquaintances, and by his middle-age and my confirmed geezerhood we were fast friends. One of Ringo’s primary daily occupations is patrolling the exquisite rose garden spilling down the hillside from his home. The back-breaking daily work involved in keeping the roses, fruit trees and other flowers flourishing perhaps doesn’t require Ringo’s attendance. But I’m satisfied that his company helped get my friend Margaret (the Ringo-namer and chief gardener) through the pandemic and constantly able to post beautiful photos of blooms to get me through.
But briefly back to Scooter. Sadly, Scooter went way too far in providing diversion from the pandemic. Several months ago, just before his family was heading back to the east coast from a winter vacation, Scooter went missing in the Wyoming forests near Jackson. No amount of searching, calling, whistling or pleading to the canine gods could get him to appear. So the family went mournfully home, finally accepting, at the end of the four-day drive (drives with large dogs take time) that he was likely dead of hypothermia in the sub-zero snows. Hypothermia, we all agreed, would not be that terrible because you fall asleep before you die. (Please don’t try to clear that up with scientific fact; it’s a comforting thought.) But the next day came a report of a Scooter sighting.
Thus began the most exhaustive search and rescue operation in this reporter’s long history of tracking operations of every sort. After flying back to stay with generous friends, Sandy took to getting up at 5 AM in order to ski out and fry bacon on camp stoves in areas where a sighting was thought to have occurred – the smell of frying bacon being something most of us, including dogs, as it happens – find worth following. No luck. She left articles of family clothing inside comfy kennels in the snow. Game cameras positioned near foodstuffs got some excellent photos of foxes – but no Scooter. Flyers were posted. Rewards offered. Drones flew around the forests to no avail. Even with the remarkable assistance of a Boise-based nonprofit called Ladies and the Trap, whose fit and determined volunteers devote themselves to finding lost pets and reuniting them with their humans – no luck.
In the end – or perhaps it’s still the late-beginning, or the middle – no one knows Scooter’s whereabouts but Scooter himself. Unless he has a secret admirer and protector. His family has settled into a three-possibility resolution: He did indeed die, quickly and relatively painlessly, of hypothermia in the Wyoming snow country. Or. Someone took him in and began to love and care for him; someone unaware of (or uninterested in) the microchip beneath his skin or the rewards posted for his return. Or. He will, one day, mysteriously reappear. Stranger things have happened, say the Ladies who Trap – and others.
And meanwhile, all along there has been Delilah the Wise. Delilah lives in Southern California with her family, which fortuitously includes my cousin Jan (we have Virginia roots; cousins extend in Virginia to the 7th in-law generation at least.) Jan, a comedian, keynote speaker, comedy writer, and author, was available – thanks to the virus cancelling every gig she had lined up – to help Delilah find her voice.
So. “Good morning, everyone! Delilah here,” said Delilah, brightly, on a regular basis, via Facebook and thanks to the miracle of modern video-manipulation. “I hope you’re enjoying the day.” (Or words to that effect.) Delilah was consistently anxious to get us all through the darkest days. Early on (3/26/20 to be precise,) this was one of her suggestions:
“Today we’re going to play a new game! It’s called Guess What’s in That Zip-Lock Bag in the Freezer! All you do is dig wayyyy back into the back of the freezer and pull out all of the zip-lock bags. So far, Jan has found one full of orange stuff, and another with, umm, chicken bones? Just eat whatever is in it! Enjoy your dinner and relax. Let me know how it goes.”
Thus did Delilah get us through week after tedious week. Sometimes it would seem even too much for Delilah herself – at which point she would scramble to the end of the sofa and commence digging a hole all the way to China. At last report, she had not yet made it through, but if a virus variant returns she may get there. Delilah, who her family says is perhaps a “pugzu” – some sort of pug/shih tzu mix rescued years ago from the Burbank Shelter, is somewhere around “12-ish” in dog years. With age clearly comes wisdom.
So with apologies to playwright John Patrick, to whom the original version is first attributed:
The pain of the pandemic surely made us think; what else was there to do? Thought makes us wise. And wisdom – especially the wisdom of old dogs – makes life bearable.