Friday, September 27, 2013

It's Raining Rocks

            I want to go to Death Valley.  Yes, I know there aren’t five people on this planet who have ever uttered those words, but I am now joining that elite group.  To be precise, it isn’t Death Valley per se, but its neighbor, Trona, where all the action is.   


Next month, after the 120-degree heat breaks, they are having their annual Gem-o-Rama, which my son, Richie, tells me is not to be missed.  He is president of the American Institute of Professional Geologists at UC Davis, so he ought to know.  Apparently they shoot gemstones out of the ground in a geyser, and all you have to do is catch them to become an instant millionaire.
            At least that’s how I heard him tell it; I’m not always the best listener.  The way I understand this event, is that perfectly cut emeralds, diamonds, and rubies go flying up into the air, and all a mother of four need do is to show up with a suitcase, open it, and let them land inside.

             Richie says I am not listening, but what does he know?  He’s a student!  He says the gems are mostly halite salt crystals, not precious gems exactly.  Then why is it called GEM-o-rama?  It isn’t gravel-o-rama, now is it?
He also says they come shooting up a blow hole with a good amount of accompanying mud.
            But I like my version better.  You stand there in clean clothes, hold out a handbag or a suitcase or something, and it fills with shimmering jewels, ready to be set in any number of rings and necklaces.  Right?  Better than Trick or Treating any day.  So how do they know when this sparkling geyser of dreams will erupt?

            Richie says they set explosives underground beforehand, then use water to pump out the minerals.  Whaat?  It’s noisy AND dirty?  That can’t be right.  But, remember, this is the son who wanted to make a death ray out of my television set, which you’ve read about here.  I ask him if he’s taking a hard hat because it sounds more than a little foolhardy to stand under a shower of rocks.  There is a long silence on the phone, and then he says you stay back until they’ve all landed. 

            He also claims that you have to camp.  And not just camp, but camp, which means pitching a tent and digging a hole when nature calls.  How can this be right?  Surely there are hotels or motels in Trona, right?  I decide to look it up.  There are places to stay in both Trona and Ridgecrest for under fifty bucks!  One of them says $29!  You can’t even get a pedicure for that.  Bob looks over the top of his reading glasses at me, and doesn’t say anything.
            Richie says you also have to bring tools, which explains his coming over to borrow our 5-foot iron fence post spike.  Apparently this list includes brine, and a 3-tined cultivator.  There are cultivators with various numbers of tines?  What is a cultivator, anyway?  It sounds heavy.  And who travels with brine—isn’t that a liquid?  Won’t it be even heavier than the cultivator?


   I check out the website, and it says you have to dig Hanksite and Borax crystals out of very fine, sticky, black mud.  You mean the kind they charge you a hundred bucks for, if you want it smeared over your back in a spa?  And this event is FREE!   

Whether you find any gems or not, this mud bath sounds like the fountain of youth.  I picture myself relaxing in the blow hole with a lemonade, growing younger by the minute.   Although I’m a little bit leery of the photo showing a pair of jeans someone left behind, which are still standing up on their own.
            I keep reading.  Apparently you wash yourself off with brackish water.  Sounds like a middle step, not a final step to me.  But then, get this:  They have a big warning in capital letters, telling you not to wash your minerals off in water, or they will disappear.  Yes, that’s right—DISAPPEAR.  Like a really bad magic act.  They claim this is why you need brine, because it’s already saturated with the salt that composes these alleged gems.  If you wash salt crystals off in water, they vanish.  Then riddle me this, you rock hound braniacs—how do they survive being blasted in a gigantic stream of water through a blow hole?  This HOLE thing is beginning to sound fishy to me.  Like disappearing ink and pick-pocketed wallets. 

 I am not about to drive out to a spot halfway between Bakersfied and Las Vegas (a.k.a. The Gobi Desert) to have hunks of salt pummel my head and then decide to sue but not be able to find any evidence because it has vanished into thin air.  Or thin water.  I’m staying home and going to pedicure-o-rama.
            Curl up with a good book, you guys.  It’s so much safer.  Might I recommend one of the fabulous reads on the left side of this home page?  Furthermore, you can get my three Kindle novels in hard versions, as well, from  And not one of them will give you a concussion.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Go Big or Go Home

Folks, you cannot make this stuff up. I promise you that everything in Joniopolis is true, and the names haven’t even been changed to protect the innocent. Generally that’s because people aren’t all that innocent.
Take St. Bob’s cancer surgery this last week. I realize I haven’t mentioned it before because it’s prostate cancer and most of our jokes have been husband-wifey jokes inappropriate for a youngster to read. I delude myself into thinking I have young readers from time to time. But now the humor has metastasized and cannot be contained. Here’s what happened.
Bob’s cancer turned out to be in the aggressive, better-do-surgery category, so we booked the operation with a world-renowned urologist at UC San Francisco, two hours away. 

Our check in time was 6 a.m. last Tuesday, which meant getting up at 3 a.m., or staying in San Francisco the night before and sleeping on an uncomfortable bed. Rather, failing to sleep. Turns out you don’t sleep anyway when you know you have to get up early.
But the Sunday before, I am attacked at 1 a.m. by kidney stones. This is like being awakened in the night by a crazed maniac who keeps stabbing you in the side, using a knife made from barbed wire. 

You wish he had a gun instead, because being shot would hurt much less. You realize at once that it must be kidney stones because everyone you know who’s had them swears they’re worse than labor pains and the description is apt. Well, except for having my son, Richie, who was turned posterior and for whom I endured 36 hours of hard, Pitocin-laced natural labor. But most women haven’t had such a birth, so they are comparing kidney stones to regular birth pains. Which are considerable.
Here’s the gross part. Severe pain makes you throw up. For hours. In between shaking and shouting to your husband to Google kidney stones and find out what to do. Turns out most people try to take pain pills, but if you can’t keep anything down, then you go to the emergency room. I could just picture myself heaving in an emergency room with gunshot victims (in far less pain, I assure you), plus people coughing and hacking who knows what germs all over my husband, who’s about to have surgery and can’t risk getting sick. 

And what if they put narcotics in an I.V. and then I’m so loopy I can’t function on Tuesday? I choose to tough it out at home. By Sunday evening, I feel better, and Bob is accusing me of trying to upstage him. Only the Hiltons would manage to have kidney stones and cancer surgery in the same week.
So off we go. Bob has his surgery, the doctors say everything went perfectly, and by 2 p.m. Bob is in recovery. Except that now I am spiking a fever and one of the urologists says my kidney shouldn’t still be hurting so much. Yikes. I am told to go “downstairs to the emergency room.” I can’t believe I have to leave my husband, who has six incisions, but if I don’t, I’m told I could risk sepsis. Marvelous. So, mad at the insane timing of this, I march downstairs and ask where the ER is. “Oh, there’s no emergency room here,” someone says. I pause, not even sure how to ask this, but finally I say, “Then how is this a hospital?” Turns out it’s a cancer clinic. Ah. I go back to Bob and tell him it can’t be done. Someone directs me right down the elevator again, and insists I take the shuttle to the ER on the Parnassus campus, which makes me think of pertussis and pernicious. And pan-fried. But that last one is because I haven’t eaten all day and am hungry now.

I am told to stand outside on the curb, between two garbage cans. This is the shuttle stop. I am wondering what kind of shuttle this is, and if it will stop at Hogwarts. I get on and notice there are 8 other people already on there, not one of whom appears to have a medical emergency. All eight are texting. Every single one. So, since there is no one to talk to, I stare out the window at lovely Victorian homes on Stanyan Street.

 We pass a library where a golden retriever is tied to a bike stand, staring obediently and lovingly at the doors, waiting for its owner to return. I imagine trying this with Mickey, and picture her barking, leaping about, chewing on the leash, and getting tangled in the bike rack. Block after block goes by, and I realize this ER is nearly three miles from Bob’s room!
And I would like a muffin. 

We pass countless corner markets and delicatessens where I can see happy shoppers inside, buying sandwiches and cookies, not one of them starving.
Finally we arrive, and I am shown to my room where I climb onto a gurney and lie down. No one comes in, so I stare at my feet. I am wearing brightly striped socks on the advice of my fashionable daughter, and I discover that if I wiggle my toes I can have a puppet show. Almost.

 And now a Chicken Caesar Salad sounds really good, but unattainable. I remember that Nicole, serving a mission in Norway, has just sent me a Norwegian chocolate bar, and I have it in my purse! I decide to eat it, to survive. I am like those women you hear about on the news, who drive off the road into a gully, and stay alive for three days, eating nothing but toothpaste.
I want to call Bob, but I have his cell phone in my purse since you don’t usually take such things into the operating room. Eventually, they run lab tests, do an ultra-sound, and determine that I have a kidney infection. They give me one pill, and a prescription for antibiotics. The good news is that I don’t have to have surgery. The bad news is that it’s now five hours later, and I am dying to get back to Bob. I am walked to the wrong shuttle stop, finally find the correct one a block away, and get back to the hospital where I dash up to see Bob. He is doing fine and insists I eat something. I go down to the cafeteria, but by now it is closed. I find a vending machine and get a tuna salad in a tiny can, with some crackers. I open the tuna, and it smells like cat food. I am sitting in a hospital with a kidney infection, away from my husband who needs me, looking at a stinky little meal your cat would decline.
I buy some Cheetos that are not on the Kidney Stone Diet, and head back to his room. We take a photo of our matching hospital bracelets.

 I am allergic to morphine and codeine, and I notice the triage nurse has misspelled them both on my bracelet. I am appalled and cut them off immediately.
Bob wants to go to sleep, having just had surgery and not having slept much the previous night. I’ve been planning to sleep there beside him, so I unfold the little chair by the window, which makes into a cot of sorts, and is about the size and firmness of a diving board. Did I mention that my Sleep Number is 15, and that one of our sons thinks my side of the bed is like a bounce house? I cannot sleep on hard surfaces, but that turns out not to matter because we are not going to be sleeping, anyway. We are awakened every 30 minutes, like clockwork. Vitals, trash pickup, clanging doors, beeping equipment, a nonstop barrage of activity.
When I mention to various medical students, who want to pop in and ask the same questions the last group asked, that it’s three in the morning, and my husband could use some rest, they all chuckle and acknowledge that it sure is hard to get sleep in a hospital (oh those silly hospitals, right? Wink wink).

 At 4 a.m., there is a catheter tutorial. At 5 a.m., the “pretend” urology team pops in to repeat what we’ve already been told four times. At 5:15 a.m. I begin looking for a hidden camera, thinking this has to be a joke. By 5:30 I am ready to strangle the next person who comes in to say or do anything that could wait until morning. But there are five more interruptions, spaced exactly as I imagine them to be at Guantanamo Bay, in the Sleep Deprivation Torture Chamber. One of them teaches Bob how to give himself daily injections to prevent blood clots. I do not strangle anyone, but we elect to come home at noon (we miss lunch, having hoped to get away in the late morning), and with a throbbing kidney and a returning fever I drive at speeds I will not admit to in this blog, just to get Bob home before rush hour hits. Twice Bob tells me to slow down, but I wait for him to doze off and then gun it again.
I pick up 14 prescriptions at the pharmacy, down an antibiotic, and we both go to bed by 5:30 and sleep for 13 hours. Turns out we went big, AND we went home. And that’s how to do it, I think.

Friday, September 20, 2013

My Money Laundering Birthday

            The other night it was my birthday, so we went out to dinner.  “We” means St. Bob and me, plus our only grown child who lives nearby, Richie.  We choose a Japanese restaurant in a seedy part of town (this information will become relevant in a few seconds) because I HAD A COUPON.  Yes, on my own birthday, I chose to use a coupon because I am an idiot. 

            I also picked a Japanese restaurant because Bob and Richie like sushi, and I figured I could order tempura or something.  Once again, the self-sacrificing mother who picks a place everyone else will like.   Someday I shall write a blog about why I don’t like sushi, but not today.

            IRRESISTIBLE SIDE NOTE: Bob gave me the iPhone you’ve already read about here, which he loves and which I am reluctantly learning, and the new Jack Reacher book he is dying to read.  I’m just saying.
            So we get there and are greeted by a tall, Caucasian girl with blond hair, who bows to us, and then speaks with a Japanese accent!  We steal glances at each other, to see if we all pick up on this totally unconvincing act.  We all notice.  She seats us, then leaves.  “Are you kidding me?” I whisper.   “Is she trying to convince us she’s Japanese?”  Bob and Richie are as perplexed as I am.  Richie wonders if she’s a drama student, and we all imagine how dreadful this must seem to actual Japanese people who surely must feel mocked if they eat here, right?
            We see no Japanese people, which is a relief, but also a clue that this is not the greatest Japanese fare in town.  Our waitress comes over, another blond girl whose brains appear to have been extracted and mashed, so as to be inserted into a sushi dish the menu calls “I-80.”  Now, I realize sushi places often name their concoctions after local landmarks, but a freeway?  I try not to dwell on this.  And then, Bob and Richie don’t even order sushi!  They get Bento boxes.

Our spacey waitress keeps coming by and chiming into our conversation, suggesting things to order, reminding us that she invented one of the drinks, and finally insisting we take chopsticks as a souvenir.  We dare not argue, because we all can picture her in the car’s rear view mirror, chasing after us with chopsticks if we should decline the offer.

            I finally spy one Japanese guy, a surly-looking cook in the back. The food is unremarkable, the green tea and black sesame ice creams tasteless (and served with tiny spoons that come apart when used), and we can’t wait to get out of there.  We speculate about the odd behavior of the girls working there—all emaciated, all clueless, all seemingly drugged. 
            “I have it!” I say.  “It’s a human trafficking front.  All the girls act like kidnap victims who’ve been chained to a bedpost in the attic since childhood.  That’s why they have no social skills, and don’t know anything.”

Bob and Richie aren’t so sure about my theory, so, like all women do, I simply offer more evidence.  “That’s why that one girl has a Japanese accent—that’s how she learned English.  The Japanese chef in the back is the kidnapper and has them all working there under threat of death.”
“Maybe it’s a money laundering ring,” Bob finally accedes.  “It would certainly explain the fact that they undercharged us by five dollars, and I had to correct the girl’s math.”  

Aha—see?  What kidnapper is a good Home Schooler?  And if it’s just a front, what do they care if they even make a profit?  And don’t illegal, fake businesses always spring up in bad neighborhoods?
 Richie looks them up on yelp and finds one review that begins, “Let's just start by saying I will never come back,” and another that says, “If there was a half a star, I would have chosen it.”  Nobody, of course, says they came here for their birthday; that takes a special kind of woman with a coupon to do that.  But I’ll tell you this, that new Jack Reacher book should have been a clue.  Just look at the title.

Speaking of books, you simply must read mine!  They’re all available on the left side of this page, so click away.  Just think—you’ll be making up for my birthday, and next year I’ll be able to dine out in style, without contributing to a money-laundering scheme.