Sunday, August 16, 2015

Trip to The Big Apple

When it comes to technology I'm a total neophyte and turn to three foolproof solutions for any problem: hit Control/ Alt/ Delete, reboot the device, or turn it off. 

And if none of these work? I keep repeating the process until eventually I realize I'm in serious techo-trouble, freak out, and start calling everyone I know for help.  Their advice?

Hit Control/Alt/Delete, reboot the device, or turn it off.

Uh, thanks guys.

So when my iPhone stopped receiving email on Friday and none of my quick-fixes worked, that troubled feeling in my gut started to fester. Then, after my third reboot, my entire history of emails disappeared and I really started to worry. What if The New York Times was trying to reach me for reprint permission? What if The Atlantic Monthly was accepting one of my essays? How could I respond with my overwhelmingly enthusiastic "yes!"?

Trying not to reveal my growing panic, I nonchalantly mentioned my dilemma to a few co-workers. What I wanted to hear was, "Oh, that's happened to me before. This is what I did [enter solution] and afterward my email worked fine."

Instead, what I got was, "Yikes, good luck with that."

It was time for the big guns. The experts. The Genius Bar at Apple.

I arrived at the Apple Store promptly at 10am. They were just opening their doors yet the store was already swarming with excited customers. Really?  Had Steve Jobs come back from the dead or was Taylor Swift making a guest appearance? When I expressed my surprise, the greeter looked at me as if I'd crawled out from under the Stupid Rock.  

"There's usually a line out the door," he sniffed. 

Whatever.  I told him about my dilemma and said I needed help. I needed experts. I needed the Genius Bar. 

"No problem,"  he said, grabbing a skinny, bespectacled boy walking by. "Gerardo will help you."

If Gerardo was wearing a back pack, I would have guessed he was on his way to his first day of school.  Middle school, that is. But beggars can't be choosers and the store was packed. I was desperate. After explaining my mind-boggling problem, he reached for my phone.

 "May I?" he asked.  Such a polite child.  "Go to town," I said.

His fingers flew across my phone: swipe, press, delete, enter, swipe, scroll, scroll, enter, enter, send! 

And voila! Problem fixed."Your carrier changed servers," he explained with a modest shrug. "You just needed to delete the account and re-enter it." 

If someone put a gun to my head, I couldn't begin to repeat the process I had just witnessed. The boy was clearly a genius.

After thanking him profusely, I had to ask. "How old are you?"   He said he was 21 but knew he looked much younger. "Enjoy it," I told him. "One day you'll appreciate it." 

And gratefully equipped with a working phone and Gerardo's business card, I left the mayhem of the Apple store and crawled back under the Stupid Rock.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Dog Sharing

My canine "stepdaughter" Nadeen is staying with me again this weekend while the Pedersens go camping.

I love having her. Love her gentle kisses and stinky breath.  Love the way she pokes her head between my legs while I'm trying to tie my shoelaces because she's knows it means we're going for a walk. Love the way she thinks nothing of jumping on my bed because  "su casa es mi casa, si?"

And I especially love watching Hazel and Nadeen together.  Not so long ago, the two were each mourning the loss of their companions (both, ironically, from bone cancer), so it makes my heart happy to see them spring to life when together. They howl with hysterical joy at the mere sight of the other. Drink from the same water bowl. Share the same chewy bone treats.  Sleep side-by-side just inches apart and walk belly-to-belly, just as Nadeen once did with Jasper and Hazel once did with Olivia.

In fact, the two have so bonded that Nadeen's mom, Nicole, has now invited Hazel for two play dates a week versus the previous one. I accepted her kind offer, even though it adds another hour to my already horrendous three-and-a-half-hour-long commute. I'm sucking it up because it makes both dogs happy and that, in turn, makes me happy.  As I sadly learned with my former greyhounds, the lovely Lucy and most recently, my sweet Olivia, a young age is no guarantee that any dog will live a full, long life. Hazel is just five (as is her BFF), but that means nothing.  

And so, for however long I'm lucky enough to have Hazel, I'll continue driving out of my way to take her to play dates. Spend money I don't have to buy her quality food and safe treats.  Treasure every minute we share and do everything in my power to give this crazy, goofy, playful canine spirit the best life possible. 

Because at the end of the day, any joy I can give Hazel is just a fraction of the joy she brings me.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hazel's New BFF

Shortly after losing my sweet Olivia to bone cancer in February, I threw out a request on my rescue group's Greyhound list serve: I was concerned that Hazel would be lonely without her companion. Would anyone be interested in an occasional playmate for their hound?

After a few days I got an email from Nicole. She'd also lost her greyhound to bone cancer last year and said her other dog, Nadeen, was lonely too. Let's try a play date on Tuesday, she suggested. Since Nicole worked from home and didn't live far from my office, this sounded like a good plan. 

And so, on the first Tuesday in March, I kept my fingers crossed as I dropped off Hazel, feeling much like an anxious mom taking her toddler to daycare.

"You be a good dog," I whispered in her ear. "We want them to like us!"

When I returned that afternoon to pick up my girl, Nicole told me of the striking change in Nadeen's personality upon meeting Hazel. Quiet and low-energy since losing her companion last year, the black 5-year old suddenly came to life when faced with another greyhound. She started doing zoomies in the yard, playing with her abandoned toys again, and in no time the two became inseparable, walking belly-to-belly on walks and spooning during naps.  That evening when I got home, I saw that Nicole had text me to say that after we left, Nadeen stared out the living room window with a mournful gaze and whined.

I think they liked us.

Since then, we've had a standing play date every Tuesday. When I take the freeway exit toward Nicole's neighborhood, Hazel pokes her knobby head out the window and starts howling like a canine siren, much to the amusement of fellow drivers and pedestrians.   Ten days ago, when Nicole and her family left for vacation, Nadeen was my house guest for a change, making herself comfy on my bed and awakening me each morning with gentle doggie kisses.  She reminds me a lot of my first greyhound, Elvis:  sweet, mellow, and affectionate. I'm going to miss her a lot when she goes back home. Because yeah, I do have to return her. Although unspoken, I guess that was part of our sitting arrangement. Sigh.

But at least we'll always have Tuesdays. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

It's a Dog's Life

One year ago today in Florida, a 4-year old dog named Miss Bessie ran her last race as a racer greyhound. Gone were the days of spending up to 22 hours in a small crate, dining on "3-D" (dead, diseased or dying) food, and living life as nothing more than a commodity. Things were about to change because as of May 23, 2014, Miss Bessie was now officially retired. 

She was handed over to Golden State Greyhound Adoption who spade her, gave her all her shots, and then put her through what basically amounts to a doggie spa day in preparation for adoption. 

And that's where I come in. Just two months later I was visiting friends who were fostering Miss Bessie. I had no intention of adding another dog to my household, but we all know those are famous last words. 

As it turns out, adopting the dog I renamed Hazel turned out to be the very definition of the word "serendipity" because six months later, I lost my other beloved greyhound, Olivia, to bone cancer. She was just six years old. Adjusting to the sudden loss has been a painful journey, but every day Hazel helps heal my heart and soothe my soul. She makes me laugh, brings me joy, and reminds me why I love dogs--and especially--why I love greyhounds.

Which may explain why lately, I'm feeling a familiar "urge." I'm picturing coats--another fawn maybe? A brindle perhaps or a black and white? I'm looking at the "available for adoption" site and playing with names. I'm imagining Hazel tucked in my left arm and another dog tucked in my right. I've learned there's another haul of newly retired greyhounds arriving in October and I'm thinking maybe it's time. Hazel needs a companion and I need another dog to fill the hole in my heart left by Olivia.

Right now that unknown dog is still a racer greyhound at a Florida track. Living in a small crate, dining on "3-D" food and living life as nothing more than a commodity. And some day next year, I'll be writing a similar post marking the one-year anniversary of this dog's last race.

The race in which she won my heart. Just like Hazel.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

From the Mouths of Babes

It was a glorious spring day and I was walking Hazel through the park, which was packed with Little League baseball players and future soccer stars. It was from one of these groups that one small boy broke away from and rushed toward me.

"Can I pet your dog?" he asked.  I'm not good at guessing kids' ages, but he looked to be around four years old, his turned up nose just barely reaching the height of my greyhound's needle nose. 

Of course I said yes. He followed my instructions and let Hazel sniff his fist before gently stroking the side of her face. 

"I love dogs," he said, "but I don't like dog poo."  I agreed that dog poo was pretty nasty. "I don't like dog poo," he repeated, wrinkling his nose and shaking his head for emphasis. "Pizza tastes better." 

I didn't even ask.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Uber baby

So I got a new haircut, and it's short and different, and I like it a lot, but that's not why I'm jazzed.

It's because I tried Uber and lived to tell the tale. 

You see, in my childhood household, there were three cardinal rules our parents drilled into my sister and me on an almost daily basis: 
  1. Don't run with scissors
  2. Always bring a sweater or you'll catch your death of cold (not just a cold, mind you, but "death")
  3. Never, ever get into a car with a stranger
So you might understand why the whole Uber and Lyft ride-sharing phenomena escapes me. You mean, purposely GET in a car with a stranger? Heck, why don't I just slash my own throat and be done with it? I'd no sooner engage in this fatal act of folly than I would swallow chewing gum, which, I was warned, would never digest and sit in my stomach for all eternity.

But here is where vanity overruled safety. I had made an appointment with a hairdresser who specializes in dry cuts for curly hair, plus he works Sundays! However, his salon is--according to this East Bay gal-- in the outer boondocks of San Francisco and not near any public transportation. After taking BART, how would I get to the salon?  

As the appointment date drew near, I started stressing.  Hey, I'm a walker, maybe I should just walk!  But City friends discouraged me, saying it was too far and uphill at that. I could take Muni, but was told I'd have to switch here, then switch there, and make sure you get on the southbound bus and not the northbound one or then you'll really be lost. I could take a cab, but they're more expensive, and then I remembered that news story years back about the driver who raped and killed his 24-year old passenger, then ditched her body in a shallow grave. 


Maybe my current hairdresser wasn't so bad after all. I touched my frizzy hair and remembered my childhood nickname, "Cousin Itt" from the 1960s series, The Addams Family. 

I decided to keep the appointment.  

So I downloaded the Uber app and trusted my friend Omar, who himself is an Uber driver. He assured me that the company does rigorous background checks and I'd have nothing to worry about.  Yeah, right, mention that at my memorial.

On the dreaded morning, I arrived at Civic Station and, with trembling fingers, ordered a car.  Within seconds I got my text confirmation: I would be picked up by Evan in a Honda Civic. Evan, Evan.  I tried reading warning signs into the name...Evan the City Strangler, Evan Son of Sam, Evan wanted by police in five different counties. Then my cell rang and it was the Evan telling me he was parked a few yards from the corner.  I turned around and saw an arm waving out the window of a Honda Civic.

It was...(queue warning music from "Jaws")...Evan. Gulp. 

Before even getting in the car, the first thing I did was check the inside door panel. Okay, good.  There was a working handle in case, you know, Evan lunged at my throat and I needed to jump.  Then I looked at the man who held my life in his hands. Evan.

He appeared to be in his late 60s, a well-dressed African American in a snappy vest and bow tie that suggested he might have just come from Glide Memorial Church. He greeted me with a warm smile and spoke with the slightest trace of a southern drawl. During our ten-minute drive he told me he had just started driving for Uber last week and was really enjoying it because he was meeting so many nice people, " you," he said.  I was charmed.  

And I was just as charmed by my return driver, a pretty young girl named Oubah.  She was from Somalia and studying conflict resolution at Berkeley City College. "My country is so war-torn," she explained. "I want to return home and make a difference." 

The day ended not only with a chic new cut, but also with a sense of euphoria. I wondered, when did the girl who once hitchhiked in Ecuador, hiked through Ireland, and traveled solo in England become such a 'fraidy cat?  Today I had stepped outside my comfort zone, met two really nice people, and in the process reclaimed the girl I once was. Even if it was just a couple Uber rides.

Who knows where this might lead? Tomorrow I may leave the house without a sweater.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Flipping on the "C" Switch

Ever since losing my mother in 2009, I've been haunted by one question regarding her death. Not why she died, but rather, why she died of cancer.

Now I know that every day millions of people die of cancer, so why should my mom be an exception? Sure, it's possible that, like the aforementioned millions, she just drew the short end of the stick. As her oncologist explained to me during Mom's three-week battle with Ovarian cancer, everybody has potential cancer cells lurking in their body, but for reasons unknown, in some people something, somewhere, somehow, flips the "on" switch. The switch certainly never flipped for that 124-year old Brazilian, a chain-smoking childless bachelor who was tagged in 2014 as the world's oldest living human being.

Seems that dodging cancer is a crap shoot at best.

Still, I've been convinced that Mom's cancer wasn't genetic, but environmental. She came from a long line of relatives notorious for living up to triple-digit numbers and without  a single known case of cancer. A few heart attacks maybe, a stroke here and there, but no word of the Big C.

Mom had a really poor diet. She loved junk food and lived off canned and frozen meals; the more mysterious ingredients and preservatives, the better! And she guzzled bottled water like crazy, two, three bottles a day. When I learned that she stored the plastic containers in her warm garage, I warned her about the dangers of toxins leaching in the water and suggested she keep her water supply in a cool spot.  But every time I went to visit, I'd find a six-pack baking in their usual corner of the garage.

Then there's the notable fact that every single family on my childhood block has experienced multiple cancer deaths. Our 1968 neighborhood was built upon a former walnut orchard...were pesticides to blame? Or was it the 1980 spraying of malathion used to stop the medfly infestation? Perhaps it was the asbestos in our popcorn ceiling or the saccharin we used to sweeten our coffee.  Hell, maybe it was the red M&Ms

The list goes on.  

So you may understand why I've had my doubts about Mom's cancer gene just "suddenly" igniting. Now, I've added yet another contender to my many suspects and it has shot to the top of the list: 

Baby powder.

That's right. The delicious scent that conjures up images of gurgling, cuddly, chub-a-lub newborns. As far back as I could remember, every single day after showering, Mom would sprinkle baby powder in the crotch of her underpants for a clean, "fresh" feeling. When my sister and I entered puberty, we followed Mom's lead because Mother Knows Best, right? However, I always seemed to get that darned white powder all over my blue jeans, and my sister didn't like the feel of it, so we soon quit using it. Well into adulthood though, whenever I'd visit Mom, I'd always see the familiar white container of baby powder in her bathroom, right next to the Jean Nate, and would smile at her lifelong habit.

But I wasn't smiling when I saw a recent magazine headline stating a link between talcum powder and Ovarian cancer. When I Googled "talcum powder and cancer" my search engine exploded with articles from around the world, followed with lawsuits and ads from ambulance chasers.  

Is there a link? The answer appears to be inconclusive, although there's enough concern to motivate the American Cancer Society to address the issue and advise that "research in this area continues." Regardless of what future studies may reveal, I'm glad my sister and I tossed the talcum.

Knowing the answer won't bring back Mom, I realize that. Perhaps it's just human nature to want to assign blame, point fingers, assign a culprit, and say in a loud, sanctimonious voice, "Yeah, YOU, you're the fault!" 

And the incongruous baby powder is as good a suspect as any. At least for this rueful daughter. 
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