27 degrees with 98% chance of drowning

Mei Mei, the Dog 1’m caring for, woke me up from a short nap after dinner, barking like crazy. Earlier in the day, deer had been in the yard, which we had ignored (well, 1 ignored, she barked). So 1 rose, put on my walking boot, coat, and proceeded to bundle her into a 3 part jacket. It didn’t go on as 1’d been shown. But finally, after struggling for five minutes, we left the house with one part of the jacket on, and one small part dragging through the snow.

It was dark. No driveway lights were on, only twinkling Christmas lights. 1 was unsure what was wet road, and what was black ice. Mei Mei took off running to the right. When 1 corrected her, she’d slow down, then race to the left, to the right, straight ahead, and finally, down her own street. 45 minutes later, she dashed into her side yard, and led me through pitch black darkness. There was about 4 inches of very sloppy wet snow that we walked through. And as 1 let up on her leash, she paused, stepped forward, paused, and suddenly 1 felt the earth gulp, sucking me down into a freezing vortex of water. Not two feet, not three, in the end, probably five to six feet. A goddamn pool? A sinkhole? An old well?  A well?!! What the hell?

1 was very lucky the hole wasnt deeper. With the foam rubber and hard plastic cast on my left leg, water quickly soaked it, adding ten pounds to my weight. The cast worn to save an inflamed Achilles was instead turned into an anchor, threatening my life.  Hell to the No! Right away 1 struggled to get out. 1 refused to freeze to death. My right knee was injured in October, and to lean on it was painful. Neptune called my name and 1 shouted back,”Not yet! In this survival of the fittest, 1 choose to be fit. Sink or swim, 1’ma swimming.”

So first 1 leaned back in the snow, attempting to use the walls of the hole as an anchor to bolster me up and out. 1 thought 1 could use the boot as an anchor against the walls of the hole. Instead, its weight pulled me down, not up and out. So 1 changed position, and using my hands to pull on bush limbs, 1 was able to snake out on my stomach. Fear had made me agile.  It it Hadn’t been 5 hours yet, and already, as a pet sitter for a week, crisis had struck. No neighbors knew 1 was there, my cell remained on the kitchen counter, recharging, yet 1’d followed the Petsitters’ Creed to a fault.

“The Pet’s very being is in your hands. never let go of the lead, this dog’s life is more important to its owner than you are.” Harsh, but true.

1 could have broken 1 leg or both, my hip, gone into cardiac arrest, or, simply been stuck in that hole all night.  Surely, 1’d Be Dead by dawn.  Be Dead by dawn.

This wasn’t my first tangle with a canine client. And, 1’m sure it wouldnt be my last. But as each one occured, 1 sobered up a bit, and took stock that the idea of running a sitting business wasn’t all kisses and fun, like my friends think.

1 Sleep with Dogs is a bonded business, and 1 take all my promises to heart. Dogs vomit, cats choke on fur balls, dogs have diarrhea all through a wall to wall carpeted home. Beige carpeting, in fact. Owner tells me not to allow her 3 dogs – a yellow lab, baby Rottweiler weighing in at 130, and a black lab into my bed – so, yes, it’s my fault when Rotty poops on white carpet in living room, and 1 immediately have to run soiled carpet to be cleaned. At my expense.

1 own a business, but 1 also own my Job. That means 1 take full responsibility for the safe care of my canine clients. Lost dogs, accidental deaths, and dog fights are not part of my language. 1 believe in myself as both caregiver and smuggler. So while thankfully 1 don’t fall often, each canine client in my care’s life is irreplaceable, 1 too matter as the chief water bowl filler, and Dog feeder.




writing, Writing how-to

Sometimes 1t’s Time to Give Up

After 6 years of trying to finish writing my novel, I’m giving up. It’s gone through 20 or so rewrites, 10 plot changes (as many as there were plots), 5-6 character developments of the main character, a study in Juvenile Onset Type 1 diabetes, and lessons in diabetes medical terminology, signs and symptoms, insulin types and dosages. 1 took 2 writing workshops, there was a name change for another character, and 2 of the plot changes were for the mother. At this writing, she needs to change character yet again. I’ve sent out only 4 queries to agents because of the many plot changes, while 1’ve entered contests using some of the stand alone chapters (chapters that are in itself a story), and won one contest.

When 1 first wrote this novel, 1 was 55, and back then, wrote with a fury in 6 weeks’ time, more a novella than a full length book, 1 thought 1 was done. Even then, my book had 10 plots, and while an English high school teacher told me it couldn’t be, a college professor said the more plots unearthed, the more pages for the reader to turn. Back then, 1 was seated at a great advantage writing about teens because 1 worked with them. 1 spoke with them daily, and heard enough snippets of conversation that 1 felt confident writing dialogue for 2 teens and 1 9 year old. When 1 left that job, 1 entered a college environment, and was still able to continue to work on the 17 year old’s character, and the 9 year old through a working friendship with a creative writing professional who had a 9 year old daughter. And my 17 year old was an Olympic hopeful in swimming (think Michael Phelps and his many wins in Beijing), which occurred in 2008, and proved almost serendipitous, in that a student who worked in my office had been a swimming recruit. She told me about Speedo versus Uglies, and how a truly devoted swimmer would process criticism from a coach, how she’d let nothing get in her way on the path to glory. Like father, like daughter, 1 wrote.

Last but not least is the father, for whose character 1 read 7 heart wrenching novels, including 1 that took me a year to finish, with another still in my car trunk, and where “Generation Kill”, the book, became my Bible. 1 rented movies like ”The Hurt Locker”, “Generation Kill” and “Full Metal Jacket.” 1 specifically wanted my father to be a Marine as they, in my eyes, are the proudest damn soldiers of all the military units. 1 studied characters such as the doomed father, also a Marine, in “The Great Santini”, interviewed a former Marine sniper whose plans to be a lifer fell apart after two deployments because he disliked the character caliber of new recruits. 1 spoke with Marine recruiting officers who told me stories of home life where many marriages too easily skidded apart when PTSD moved in. 1 read articles about how LSD is now an effective drug in treating the effects of trauma among returned Iraqi warriors. 1 joined (briefly) a writing workshop of recent vets who were attempting to grieve through the process of writing. 1 fought, and lost a
war of words with the military writing workshop. 1 memorised military terms, salty language, and lore of the Academy. And, finally, 1 turned to my husband, a former Vietnam vet for info about artillery, rules of the “game”, and how promotions in the marines are harder to earn than in the AF, Army and Coast Guard put together. Little tidbits of information is so important in the crafting of a novel.

William, or Will for short, is a rerun of a character in another book of mine. The name is multidimensional, in my opinion, fitting this protagonist as well as his mother’s sturdy brown shoes.

Haunted by the tragic death of one twin, Will flees to Iraq over and over, lives on base with his men, and distances himself from grief that he’s wordlessly dumped into his wife’s lap. It’s little wonder, then, when he’s drummed out of the Corps for shooting at an insurgent during a stand down policy, that he mistakes Matt for Alex, dead now for a decade. And thus begins the novel, fast paced as each new plot unfolds, takes prisoners, and slowly evolves into a heartbreaking eulogy of sacrifice this nation’s had to bear in its war against terrorism. My hope is that my book is not just “another book about war” written by, no less, a mere female citizen.

I still love what I wrote, and my characters continue to speak to me. That’s important when tasked with completing a novel. If your characters are silent,
it means they’ve left the house, thereby defusing the last light burning. 6 years is a loooong time writing every day of every year. Even when my computer didn’t save a chapter that went through 8 edits, 1 knew every word by heart, and could easily re-insert them with 4 dozen computer clicks. At least no one can claim I’m not a dedicated writer.

1 encountered some great people along the way, soldiers and students, professors and new friends. But now that 1’m 65, 1 hope to write short stories and memoirs. Reinforce the fact that 1 am a writer. Enter more contests. Have fun late at night talking to myself and listening to Hans Zimmer and Nirvana. As different music as each chapter of my novel.


Toilet Talk

Crapper. john. Outhouse. Bathroom. Toilet. Potty. The Throne.

La Toilet du Maison.


A bathroom in the U.S. is called many things. In the U. S. military out in the field during a mission, it’s wherever you feel comfortable taking a dump. You can’t take your time out in the field. In Amsterdam, its known as Twalette, but spelled Toilette in the lobby of Amsterdam Square hotel. Whatever you and your children call it, pretty much everyone knows what you mean.

The first toilet was invented by Sir Roger Harrington, who at a party with the queen, heard her remark that there was no real comfortable way, in her layers of gowns, to do her “business.” In collaboration with this queen, Sir Roger was able to come up with the first toilet, crude and non flushing, but more pleasurable for the queen, and practical.

We recently bought a new one at ReStore. It stands higher than our other johns, and cost only $30. Plus, it’s white. Our other toilets are puke pink, and dusky yellow.

Bathrooms, private and public, have become, near and dear to me. Location is a plus, and while I suffered all winter with back problems, I’d search for toilets that didn’t need me to aim correct. No, I didn’t do it on the floor! But I was especially appreciative of johns that met at the back of my knee, versus toilets where I had to perform a squat style – very very painful, and would sometimes necessitate me pulling myself up with the help of a sink.

When I was 28, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Back then, I was constantly seeking out bathrooms, public restrooms, or unfortunately to me, using Port a Pots. I always needed to “go.” Much more than our son ever did when being potty trained. Being male, he didn’t always need more than a pit stop in a field, where he’d try to squirt bugs flying past. I didn’t suffer from faulty plumbing, but instead, as a diabetic, burning sugar, it made me need to pee pretty much every 100 miles, or one hour, whichever came first. That’s what happens when your blood glucose is out of control. Your body, working OT in the burning too much sugar department, forces you to expel some of that mess via urination.

Urinate. Piss. Pee. Wee. Tinkle. Whiz.

The entire time our son was in high school, then college, hubs and I traveled every weekend up and down I-95, Rt.81-83, I295 & the PA Turnpike. We went to every weekend lacrosse game from boarding school through his senior year in college. So I got to know, over 6 years’ time, which rest stops had the best toilettes. And, when we traveled abroad, my son would photograph me in front of every one I used!

It was a family joke.

I95 for us ran north over the Susquehanna to the New Jersey Turnpike. There are a plethora of semi clean, barely clean, dirty, and downright disgusting bathrooms in NJT reststops. I became really adept at peeing without sitting on the toilet seat. Even when I had a broken foot! I don’t know how a mother manages keeping her daughter germ free in any public restroom. In that respect, I’m so glad I didn’t have to look out for anyone but myself. Plus, I didn’t ever use the sinks to clean my hands. I always packed Wet Wipes.
However, in MA, when we’d scoot off I95 over to the Mass Turnpike, I was in rest stop heaven! No more McDonalds or Burger King, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, or Pizza. There, facilities workers were always cleaning those bathrooms, and deodorisers to help with the stench of the not so healthy or clean patrons, would be visible on sinks. Vendors would be Auntie Anne’s, Starbucks, and TCBY among about 6 other food vendors.

One summer I drove up to the Cape for a vacation. The Cape for me, was Hyannisport. I was alone in the car but for my son’s company. I decided to skip 6A and approach from a different route. Hyannisport, is a 10 hour trip barring traffic delays, construction (seemingly ongoing until the end of time), and accidents.

Around 5:30 am, we suddenly were very low on gas. So I pulled over to a Truck Stop. Before pumping, I went inside to relieve myself. I know it was 5:30 in the morning, but I doubted many female truckers would be out and about at that hour. So, no line to use the toilets surprised me. And, wow! Those bathrooms were amazing! There were no looming shadows in the parking lot, or gangsta’s to worry about. Inside, there were waitresses asking “Honey, do you want a sandwich?” or, “Doll, how ‘bout some coconut cream pie? Made fresh this morning.” My son, being tired and a teenager, wanted to eat, but I urged him on, as we had a 8 am ferry to make.

The NJ Turnpike was another experience altogether. Whether we stopped at the Betsy Pitcher, or the Francis Scott Key gas station and rest stop, there was always a line in the female toilets, no line for men, and another line to get gas. So I’d try and hold it until we got to the last rest stop just before driving on to Connecticut. One time we drove to Yale for fall ball with a 5 mo. Old puppy, and a 5 year old dog. The five year old was Navigator, while I sat in the back keeping the puppy happy. We stopped at the Vince Lombardi reststop and I ran in to pee, while hubs waited with the dogs. Now, all along the Turnpike there were Dog Areas where we let our dogs out to potty. But at this stop, there was no such thing. Instead, there was a propane tank under which sat about 100 stale dog turds. So while Hubs went in to do what I’d done, plus pick up a cup of Joe, I leashed our older dog, and carried the puppy to a small patch of grass near the propane tank. Duncan, the 5 year old, peed in short order. Angus, the pup, peed and pooped. I had doggie bags, but I was surrounded by stale turds. Why should I even bother picking up two one inch fresh turds? So, no, I didn’t collect Angus’ turd. And we all got back in the car, and made it as far as the exit ramp before a state trooper pulled us over.

Hubs was not pleased. The cop kept us waiting 45 minutes while he checked my license. And then he handed me a fill in the blanks piece of paper. No warrant, no ticket, no summons. A warning? I stuffed it in my purse, thinking I’d go online later when home again. That is another story altogether – I’ll have to press it another time. Suffice it to say that there was no website for the jurisdiction of the Ridges in NJ. Judges tried cases ranging from burglary to divorce on a volunteer basis.

As for my need to urinate every hour, at least, hubs wasn’t always obliging. He’d tell me to “hold it”. Now, when someone knows of your embarrassing plight, don’t mess with it. Embrace it! Understand that the person afflicted isn’t crying wolf. So what if you stop once an hour on a 10 hour trip. Rest is a good thing. Wagging your hand through the sunroof for me to hurry when I’m stuck behind 3 elderly women who want to take their time leaving Betsy Pitcher behind, isn’t going to help matters any.

Those, thank God, few times when I’ve been unable to “hold it”, ended up with me peeing, at midnight in one case, in front of the car (so I could see) with high beams on. And as I stood up, being confronted by two policemen asking me was my car broken? Did they watch everything from their squad car across the street, laughing about how they’d caught me with my pants down? This was in Connecticut, where apparently, its illegal to park in a McDonald’s parking lot after they’ve closed. Now I know and will never do that again. Or the time when I was 6 months pregnant, we headed to MV, with a 7 hour wait for standby on the ferry. That bathroom would have been semi nice but for the gypsy family camped out inside. One of their toddlers was crawling around on the floor and suddenly popped up in my stall. “Poopy?” she asked. I shook my head. She nodded hers, and squatted down to enter the next stall.

There were also years when I tried to refrain from drinking any liquids so I could squash the need to relieve myself. But it didn’t work. Though my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth from dehydration, I seemed to need to pee twice as much!

It’s super hard to use the toilet on a moving bus. Bolt bus has changed my way of travel to New York, due to their great fees and cleanliness, but accolades go to Superior Bus for taking extra time in keeping a much used toilet clean, and making sure the door lock locks.

Now that my blood sugars are controlled, I no longer have a constant need to express myself. But when I leave my house, I always top off. And when I arrive anywhere that has public restrooms, I top off again. Better safe than wet, right?




I never broke a bone until I turned 42. As a runner back then, I’d frequently suffer stress fractures in my feet. Each fracture would start at the base of my big toe and then take a sharp left or right in an “L” shape break   across the top of my foot. My right foot suffered twice from such a fracture, and as if saying “Your turn,” it happened in my left.

I began running when my diabetes levels began to rise. I’d been taking Step Aerobics classes, loving every minute, but my doc, whom I’ll call James to protect the innocent, said I had to sweat like a pig for my blood sugars to go down. So, I picked running, a sport for which you only needed a good pair of running shoes, and out the door you could go. I also had an 11 year old at home, and didn’t want to leave him for too long, so I had to be quick. Originally, I could run 3 miles in 30 minutes. I was hooked. I became an adrenalin seeker, searching for that utopia of “being in the zone.” And, yes, my blood sugars went down.

I’d been running 7 years when I took a really bad fall on a large hill near my home. This hill took 20 minutes to climb, but 10 minutes to soar down. There was a thunderstorm coming, and a few flashes of lightning, all behind me, but nonetheless I didn’t want to get caught in a lightning strike. Traffic was heavy all around, and I knew of a shortcut I could take through a few backyards to get home in ten minutes, if need be.

Have you ever noticed that after a paving job, cement trucks purge one final gust of rock and stone alongside gutters? I never did until that day. Almost at the end of that hill, I tripped over a permanent puddle of leftover cement, and skated downhill on my knees. The actual fall onto asphalt was extremely hard, jarring me enough that my jaw became dislocated, and then relocated on its own. The cement puddle was about four feet long, and at the end, somehow, I was able to rise to my feet and see the damage.

I suffered 3rd degree burns on both knees, and should have been hospitalized in a burn unit, on morphine, I was later told by Ben, a new internist, whose name has been changed to protect the innocent. Both my hands were cut too. I gushed blood. But…This “but” is what a lot of runners keep in reserve while running marathons. But, still on an adrenalin high, I took off for home as thunder grew close.  Yes, I used the shortcut, and dripped blood all the way into the den, where my son and Hubs’ eyes grew round when I said, “I had a little accident.” The skies lit up as I glanced out the window, my own fireworks display for surviving a long run, and a bad accident.

Exactly 7 years later, I had another fall while out running. I wasn’t alone that time, thank goodness, because, although I didn’t land on leftover cement, I did fall on asphalt.

A work friend of mine and I liked to run during our lunch hour, and that’s what we were doing when, in front of the tony Petit Louis Bistro at noon thirty, I didn’t notice that we’d stepped into a slight dip where concrete gave way to asphalt. I tripped into that dip, and out again, landing on an outstretched hand, and both knees. Since there was almost no skin on my knees from the fall 7 years before, I bled profusely. But I couldn’t jump up this time had my life depended on it. I tried, but couldn’t make sense of the pain that radiated up to my thighs and into my left hand. I had gone into shock. My friend tried to help me by taking hold of an elbow, but I nearly passed out. Leaning over me, urging to me get out of the way of cars pulling in to Petit Louis, I didn’t understand why no one stopped to help. I knew there was a fire station around the corner, and urged my friend Joyce, whose name will be changed to protect the innocent, to run and get a band aid, but in the end, I limped into the Roland Park Bakery under my own power. And bled all during lunch.

There was a summer camp in session at the school where I worked, and I figured, there’d be a nurse present to bandage my knees. They were on fire, just like 7 years before, only worse because I’d scratched bone too. And my wrist was surely sprained because I could not use it at all. But there was no nurse, and no bandages. I kept applying wet paper towels to my knees, but my blood wouldn’t clot. One hour before the end of that work day, a teacher walked into the office and asked why I was sitting funny. Peggy O, whose name has been changed to protect the innocent, took one look and ordered me to go to Patient First. (My boss wasn’t working that day.) This time, I actually did. I put my life into the hands of doctors and nurses, and hoped for the best.

They used saline solution to clean my wounds and x-rayed my wrist, handing me a splint for “your sprained wrist.” I was also given a tetanus shot, and Rx for antibiotics. The next day, while I could hardly walk, my wrist could not even stand the weight of the splint. I went to work. And the next day, when I was unable to use that hand to wash my hair, I went to work and called Mark, explained the situation, and then reached out to a hand, arm, and shoulder specialist. On the third day following the fall, I saw a very charismatic specialist who bet me lunch that I’d fractured my elbow. He was right, but too busy to stop for lunch.

Exactly 7 years later, I had another disastrous fall. Not while running roads, but while running during a tennis match. I reached down to catch a low ball, put an arm out to break my fall, broke the wrist, fell backwards on my bum, back, and head, then bounced forward on to my wrist. I shattered it, suffered two compound fractures of the ulna and radius, and dislocated my entire arm, for good measure. I also went in to shock. I could hear people asking me if I was all right but the pain was all consuming. My knees were uninjured, but it never occurred to me to worry about them. Off I went in an ambulance.  I was certain I would die, I could barely stand the pain. Once at the hospital, an ER nurse assessed my situation, and by phone, the ortho on call read my xray and ordered morphine to be given when the ER nurse relocated my entire arm. It was then that I called Hubs to come get me, at SJUMMC, because the doctors were finished with me. (That was the Morphine talking.) Instead, I spent 3 days in the hospital while plats and rods were inserted into my left arm. Therapy for 3 herniated disks began in January and ended in June.

Seven years from now, I’ll be 72. Will I be playing tennis when I fall, or God forbid, will I fall downstairs onto the tiles below, lying there while my dogs kiss me to death? Never say never, because I swear to God, it’ll always come true. But, I have said, bad things for each bone in my body only happen once, given the laws of nature. Unless Mother Nature herself gets in the way and rocks the boat.



Faux Pas

Today Hubs and I went to a memorial of a good friend of ours, Xxxx xxxx, at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. There were almost no places to park, which I thought nothing of, as my friend had worked for many years in development at an exclusive private school. I’d stopped at home to change from dog sitting clothing to a nice blue and white outfit in a large size. skirt and brand new navy blue shirt from ATL, plus navy and white flats. I also wore my summer hat, a straw number with an attached navy blue ribbon. I’ve taken to wearing this hat a lot lately, as it can hide a number of bad hair days, or give me the appearance of being organised, which I often am not. Hubs has lost about 30 pounds of my gained weight, and looked even more slender in his sharp black suit.

At the church, there sat a super long limo, and a hearse, of course. So we walked in and both of us got programs. We sat close to the front, and after seeing no one I knew, I decided to read the program. On the cover, in large print, was “Virginia Xxxx”. Didn’t make sense. I wiggled the program at Hubs, and after putting on his reading glasses, he whispered, “maybe she went by another name?” Another name? What, did he think she worked in espionage? Try this, instead. Not wrong name, but WRONG FUNERAL As we departed, the mortician said, “Happens all the time. You’d be surprised.”

Out in the parking lot, Hubs pulled up the obituary on his phone, and it stated, merely “please join us for a celebration of her life at 11 a.m. Wednesday. ” Well, the obituary was in the paper last Wednesday, and who in the world would be able to attend a funeral without prior planning? So Hubs and I took that to mean the celebration of her life would be the following Wednesday, July 12.

Anyway, we went to Cross Keys for lunch in their nice new deli, and then Hubs wanted me to visit Talbot’s. I didn’t really want to because of my weight gain. I haven’t yet been able to keep said weight off (no resolve), despite trying the Keto diet twice. You see, it’s my birthday on the 15th, and Hubs once again, had not gotten around to buying me a gift. Even though back in May, I’d asked for 2 polo style shirts from LL Bean. Perfect proof that he doesn’t listen when I talk. So after trying on a size 12 in a sheath dress and not being able to hide my belly, he bought me a necklace. Isn’t that pitiful? I’m too fat for clothing, but a necklace fits?!!

Oh my God! When had I let myself “go?” That is a direct quote from my mother in law, now deceased, who regarded my ever changing figure with disdain. She, of course, was a size 2, sometimes a 3, and never really dieted once in her life. Nor, other than walking across the street to the Gulf of Mexico from her Floridian house, did she ever exercise, while I play tennis 3-4 days a week, and walk dogs for a living!

As if the day had not gotten off to a stellar start, it ended with a visit to my primary doctor. I shall call him Mark, so as to protect the innocent. He is a low key internist who’s afraid of germs, but can expertly diagnose you while standing in the doorway of the examining room. The reason I was seeing him was because 3 Wednesdays ago, I’d fallen on my head while playing tennis. I might note here that almost all of my injuries have stemmed from exercising, whether merely running, or as of late, playing tennis. Falling on your head my friends asked, visualizing that, wondering did I jump in the air for a ball and land directly on my head? Exactly how did it happen? I’m sure they wondered. Well, okay, I hit my butt on my way to the floor, but it was my head that hurt. I think I blanked out between the act of falling and hitting ground, and then pain was what I remembered best. Like someone took a 2X4 to the back of my head.

I know I should have gone to a Minute Clinic that day, but once I’d applied ice to my head, I felt better. I wasn’t nauseated, bleeding, feeling dizzy, or drowsy. So I skipped a look-see with Mark for 3 weeks. But what I did experience two days after the fall was definitely signs of a concussion. Drowsiness while driving to the beach, and inability to retain my balance while in the Bay. Mark sent me for a CAT scan, but not before asking him if my arms looked swollen. Answer? “No, they are just fat.” Great. I need to embrace my total full figure.

So much for this faux pas. Not that I haven’t endured others. Like the time when I was in the Junior League, and a group of us had to be at a meeting at a certain person’s house on Roland Avenue by 6:30 p.m. We knew her house but not her address. This neighbourhood, Roland Park, is one where no two houses look alike. Some houses have porches where families gather all night long, and others are surrounded by brick walls knighted by matching finials. And, this group of us knew for sure that this house had a circular room which bowed out on the right side. Bath. The circular room was a bathroom with a ceramic floor and beautiful stained windows.

We knocked on the door, holding our potluck snacks in both hot and cold dishes. Well, actually, we knocked on the door frame, because the inner door was open. And, after about 15 minutes, in we went, calling our hosts’ name out loud. No reply. Some one, being officious, began to tidy up the coffee table which held a filled ashtray, and unfolded newspapers. Some one else got out a Hoover and vacuumed the rug. While I used the circular bathroom, for a much-needed potty break. And, as I sat on the toilet, my eyes dropped down to a pink trashcan. In it was discarded mail addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Peter Xxxxx.”

I flushed the toilet but ran away from the circular bathroom with lovely stained windows. Yelling, “Y’all! Listen up! We’re in the wrong house! We need to be gone yesterday!” As good Junior Leaguers, we left no mess behind, minus one Pyrex oval dish filled with Spinach balls. To this day I can’t help but wonder if the incorrect Leaguer ever noticed how clean was her living room, and had a poltergeist moved in, doing good instead of bad.










I spent the last 2 nights and 3 days with a pit bull, an adorable and loving pit bull rescue. Who knows what situation she was born in to, but now she is living in a loving environment, where her sometimes aggressive behaviour is duly noted by an animal behaviourist. No beatings, starving, or tortures are a part of her daily routine. In addition to caring for this pit bull, I sat for a rat. Rat, as furry four footed rodent. A noun. Calling someone a Rat, is a very old word that is similar to the F word, what I use as a last resort, when extremely flummoxed or angry. The F word, in my opinion is a poor excuse for good English. Not to be mistaken for a creep, someone I know who I can’t stand. Not an adjective, as in Lee is a stinking rat. Not another noun as in “As soon as I get these rats off my back…”

The rat was an unwitting member of my dog sitting gig. It didn’t really need to be cared for, as it came from the wild, having been born under a bridge, and needed a return to any bridge. Thank goodness it didn’t need feeding, which the pit bull did, three times a day. And, thank God, the rat did not require petting, as that would have been unnecessary as, 1) it, being a wild animal, it had never once been petted, and, 2) I would have died on the spot had said rat come begging for a pet.

There are zillions of phobias most likely unknown to man. In fact, I myself am a phobic, many times over. If you want to know which type of phobic you are, go ahead and Google phobias. There are phobias that I’ve never even heard about! Fear of meat, fear of breathing bad air, fear of men, fear of the Northern Lights.

Phobias are learned, as well as taught. Not taught in school, but rather by a family member, or friend who cannot leave her house without unlocking locks 10-15 times. This act, being excessive behaviour, can be learned by a young child as the only way to leave a house. A woman who cannot stop smoking is not coined as being phobic, rather as being an addict to the calm feeling smoking brings. For those who are germphobic, their behaviour is totally outside the realm of normal. Often in germphobic cases, a person will take a 3 hour shower after seeing a “germ” fall in her lap, or never using public toilets.

In my childhood, many phobias were taught to me. I didn’t create them on my own, as everything in my childhood pre-empted a clean slate. My mother was fanatically afraid of driving over bridges. Yes, she liked to travel, and sometimes it was a demand of her job..Did you know that at the Chesapeake Bridge, toll takers were once on hand to drive people over bridges? Fortunately, being phobic of bridge driving was not passed down to me.

But, fear of flying, called Aviophobia, was. My mother was avidly afraid of flying. I remember times when she drank herself into happy oblivion in order to get on board, and other times, sitting stiffly in her seat, she’d be pumping hard at imaginary brakes. This strikes me now as silly, since you could broaden your horizons if you simply boarded a plane. But, in my late teens and early 20s, I too became afraid to fly. I did, and still do, dislike takeoffs, for speed on the runway seemed to determine how high a plane could get quickly. On the flip side, I’m not afraid of landings. I wait to hear the sharp bump of landing gear connecting with terra firma, and know I’m safe.

Nowadays, I still get a flurry of butterflies in my stomach as the plane powers up for takeoff, but I no longer grab stranger’s hands, or whimper. Instead, I put fingers in my ears so I don’t feel bumps in the air as the plane escalates,and close my eyes, a comfortable ruse to use when one doesn’t like what’s happening. And while I don’t exactly like takeoff, I have found a way to keep myself calm. I merely close my eyes, and ears, until the “Fasten your seatbelt” sign goes off. Being airborne, I know there is no escape from ISIS, thunderstorms, or the bogeyman, and that is satisfying enough.

Another way I use to conquer my fear of flying, was to take flying lessons. A neighbor of my parents had license to fly a 2-seater Cessna. My first lesson involved safety rules. But during my second lesson, I was allowed to take the controls from the pilot, and flew solo (while he sat next to me). This exercise helped a lot.

The various techniques my mother and I used while flying, do not however, work with rat sitting. I saw it run past me and make a beeline for under the coffee table. I banged my feet against the top shelf and waited for the rat to emerge in fear. It did not emerge at all. In fact, I think it ran undetected from the coffee table to under the sofa. But what if it had run upstairs to the bed where I would sleep? Upon entering that room,i shouted “GO AWAY RAT!”

To get my overnight case out of the house without possibility of taking said rat home, I literally dumped the case upside down, and then repacked. But I also stored it in my car trunk for two nights. I know of a guy who said he had a rat in his truck that he couldn’t get rid of. That image pretty much stuck in my mind for days. I just couldn’t go there!

My fear of rodents, called Musophobia, began about 15 years ago, while working at a prestigious private school for girls. The rodent invasion started in the summer. That was my busiest time of year, involving 5 large trash cans of paper, mounds of new directories, and office supplies times 10 for every contingency. Mice like paper to build nests in. And, their love of nuts and chocolate is a detail never to be forgotten.

Well, one golden Monday in August, I’d just returned from a two-week vacation, and was powering up my desktop computer, when a mouse ran across my hand. Not the keyboard, but my hand! At first, I thought it would be one incident, but then when multiple mice ran across the floor, and up onto my desk, totally at ease, I realised it was endemic!

Not only was my office infested, but so was the entire school! There was no safety anywhere, anymore. Both I and the secretary 3 flights down, spent at least once a day for weeks, running screaming from our offices! Another morning I arrived at my usual workday time, and was chit chatting with a teacher, when she said, “Em, did you know you have a mouse riding down an electrical wire from the ceiling over your head?”

I have never moved so fast in my life! Students were arriving by then, and I had to tone down my screams, but not without calling Maintenance first, from my personal cell phone, to come help.

Rodents, mice, rats, moles, voles, and squirrels terrify me. If I see a squirrel in the road, I will aim for it. They are really rats with long tails, anyway. I hope that all the lowlife rapists, murderkillers, and child predators are reincarnated as rodents, but I can’t believe it myself. What I can be sure of is that the rodent infestation was dealt with by fall, and not because the school’s employees had a voice in the matter. No. It’s because the cleaning crew could not make any progress in cleaning because the mice would tear up paper (trash) to use as nests, leave droppings everywhere, and were fearless of people. I didn’t quit because I loved the students I grew to know individually, the faculty which 98 per cent of the time were fantastic, and of course, I needed a full-time job with benefits. I also loved Graduation when, as the “Go” girl, I would send them towards the graduation stage with a smile or whisper of how lovely they looked.

My husbands’ phobia is snakes. Some people are terrified of spiders. And, last, but not least, a small fraction of our civilised world are phobic about just living.