Sunday, October 30, 2005

armed with skill and determination, and grace too

I suppose it should come as no surprise that as the sequel to Bad Period Day, I woke up the next morning, sat up, and blew out my knee. You know, with the sitting up. I have a special gift, all right? So after I made a horrible puppy noise of agony and then sat there rocking back and forth with my lips pressed together for a while, I got up and had coffee. spook, a veteran of knee injuries, poked me a bit and prescribed two ibuprofen and an ice pack. I did still have to go to work, though, at the job where I stand up for eight hours a day.

In a small plot twist, I got to spend part of the day offsite at a book table, at a certain literary event which shall remain nameless. I confess that I hate book tables under almost all circumstances, but this was easily the worst one I have ever staffed. I include in that estimation the one which--surprise!--was at a centre for psychiatric patients and featured one guy who spent the whole day in the corner of the room screeching Prince songs with his earphones clapped to his head because some other guy was bugging him. That one also had many sweet people, most of them patients, who wanted to come by and talk about and/or purchase the books.

This one, not so much. At least I got to sit down.

Now, I work for a big chain retailer, and we're unclean in the eyes of the literary public. I get that, I do. But the tables technically opened for business at six o'clock, and the vendor across from us didn't even bother taking the sheet off of his books until eight. And he was from a tiny independent store who no one could possibly hate on the basis of politics or snobbery. He shambled across the floor toward us, easily avoiding the horde of five readers who had come to stand in the middle of the room and drink coffee.
"What time is it?" he asked.
"Earlier than you think," replied my co-worker wearily, searching for a watch. I should mention he'd been there all week. "Okay. Five to seven."
Other Book Retailer looked bemused. "Actually, that's later than I thought it was." I stared at him in a kind of awe.
"Wow." I said, "You're really correcting for disappointment, aren't you?" He gave me a little nod and drifted off again.

I don't want to be misunderstood. I love books. I love reading. I love talking about books with other people who love reading. I loathe literary events. Seriously, the next time you're at a reading, watch all the people in their hipster garb or their slacks-and-jackets, and then watch how they treat the bartender. Watch them leave the plastic cups of their complimentary drinks all over the room as though they have no idea there's a garbage can. Watch how they fawn over the authors without ever making eye contact with the people selling them the books. The level of intellectual disdain displayed by most of the attendees toward the people who staff said events is amazing, especially since they're not necessarily smart.

Case in point: at this particular unnamed event (guys, I just really don't want to get fired or sued, okay?) there was a table set up with a photo of a man and a sheet of signatures. According to one of the people who'd been attending all week, the man is an author, and he's imprisoned because of something he wrote. Oh, and the signatures are a petition to free him. But you'd never know that, because there's nothing at all on the table to indicate what it's about. I guess that they talk about it at the readings, but look, people, it's just not a good idea to sign your name on any page that doesn't say what you're signing. For all you know, you could be signing a petition to have the nice man in the picture burned at the stake. I suppose it's worthless to point out that the people working or volunteering might also want to sign such a petition (the freeing one, not the burning one) if we only knew what it was, because as we saw in figure A. the help aren't actually people.

I'm not bitter about this or anything.

Anyway I got to talk to my co-workers and eat Timbits, and that part was good, and they sent me home early out of pity 'cause my knee was hurting me and I guess I was starting to look kind of dragged out.

The next day I got to reprise my role as Limpy the Pirate Queen, and people laughed at me, as they were meant to. We might as well get a chuckle out of my misfortune, no?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

too much information

How, you might ask yourself, can a thirty-year-old woman with reasonably regular menstrual cycles be caught completely off-guard by bleeding? I have no real answer. I just kind of forgot.

I started to think I might be in trouble when I realized that in terms of menstrual supplies, I had exactly one tampon sitting in the back of my medicine cabinet. Let us be clear: I hate tampons, but my Keeper is impossible for me on the first day. Too crampy. A brief digression, here; what the hell is wrong with the people who write copy for pads, tampons, etc.? I am thankful to be living in an age when none of the products I'm expected to use involve a belt, but there is no way in hell my period is ever going to turn me into the breezy shopaholic they seem to be targeting. For example, what's with the ad that shows a pantyliner shaped like a deck chair? Much as I might wish it were so, I do not get to spend several days a month lying around eating chocolate while someone brings me margaritas. I get to spend them doing all the normal stuff people have to do--going to work, changing the cat litter, setting the vcr--all the while feeling that there's someone new at the controls in my brain. Someone possibly not cut out for this kind of work. I walk into things. I listen in dismay as every other sentence comes out of my mouth addled. I feel generally crabby worrying that I'm reinforcing all the stereotypes of hormonally incompetent women. I try not to fall down the stairs. All the while I'm forced to listen to oozy voice-overs about comfort and convenience while someone uses what appears to be antifreeze to demonstrate the absorbency of their overpriced, overpackaged, dioxin-filled "hygiene products."

Some of this was what was running through my mind as I made my first trip in years to the lady aisle of the drugstore. The aisle heading listed "feminine paper" as one of the products I might find there. I don't even know what that means. There was no enlightenment to be had in the softly-coloured boxes lining the shelves, either. I stared in growing horror at my options. Everything bleached, of course. Plastic applicators. Lavender-scented pantyliners!? (I think they were pantyliners anyway. I pray to god they're not scenting anything that's supposed to go inside you, but hey, some of the other things they've suggested to women are so spectacularly bad that I wouldn't be surprised.) Just when I thought I was going to freak out completely, I spotted a box of Instead cups in the forlorn bottom corner of the display. I grabbed them and fled.

In case there's anyone who doesn't know, Instead is a flexible cup that sits just under your cervix and catches your blood. If you're squeamish about such things, this might seem pretty gross, but consider: you can leave 'em in longer than tampons without worrying that you'll die of Toxic Shock Syndrome. There is no horrible cotton string. They're painless going in and coming out, at least for me. And they have never once leaked in my experience. Their only drawback is that they're disposable, and that's a whole other post, which I'm not going to get into here.

By ten o'clock, which is when I finished work, I was very very sorry about the policy which prevents my employer from giving me painkillers. "Take a bath," Suzanne said. (One of the things about working with other women is that I get sympathy and good advice.) Because our bathtub takes, no joke, half an hour to fill, I called home to spook and asked him to start running it for me. "Put in Epsom salts!" Suzanne said over my shoulder into the phone.

I should say here that spook has spent most of this week on the verge of a freakout of his very own. This coming Sunday is Canzine, and he was very late this year in starting the latest issue of misfit toy. Between printing tshirts, making sure his back issues are in order, making more copies of his beautiful but extremely finicky memory zine sepia and trying to put together an entire cut-and-paste masterpiece in a week, he's been a little stressed. Did I mention he also hasn't been feeling that well? I want you to bear this in mind when I tell you that I arrived home to discover that he had cleared the bathtub of all its usual flotsam (empty shampoo bottles, cleaning sponge, soap dish), filled the bath with water that was exactly the temperature I wanted, and set along the windowsill and the edge of the sink what appeared to be every tealight in the apartment. It was beautiful in the flickery glow of all those candles, and I think it was maybe magic because it made my cramps go away.

spook said once that he doesn't like to talk about our relationship in public because it's like showing people naked pictures of his heart. Reader, I take the liberty of showing this one to you because I am frankly baffled by the depth of his kindness, by all the things that one act says to me about what I've got here. I hope that ten years from now when I'm grousing about some petty issue, someone will remind me about that bath. I hope to feel a little small and a whole lot lucky.

Monday, October 10, 2005

concerning our new pull-up bar

"No, you've got a prop. That's not mime. This is mime." [mimics swinging along, exaggerating all hand movements to demonstrate either 'I'm grabbing a bar' or 'I think you're a moron'--maybe both.]
"Purist. Who knew you'd be a purist about mime?"
"Dude, how long have you been with me? Three years? Long enough to know I'm a purist about everything."
"I know, but--dear god, woman, mime! Surely you draw the line somewhere, and I would have thought it was this side of mime!"

It's funny, he doesn't usually get so worked up about things.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

it's embarrassed 'cause it's lusting after/ a SUNY student with mousy brown hair/ who is taking out the compost/ making coffee in long underwear

Last night, my radiators came on. I could tell by the sound of pipes clanging as though a toddler had been let loose with an eighty-pound mallet around 4:30 a.m. I think they're on to stay now, although you never know when Toronto's weather will get wacky again. Having rescued my plants from the on top of them the last time they came on, I can enjoy the radiate-y goodness and look forward to an entire winter of trying to control my apartment's temperature with a wrench and occasional calls to the superintendant. ("Hey, Jack...we're in our mittens again up here.") Such are the quirks of living in an old building: the single-pane windows hemorrhage warm air, and the heating system is so old that to get it to come on at all on the top floor you have to broil all the other tenants. I love autumn.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

CD4, CCR5, CDC--brought to you by Kleenex. And now, a word from our sponsor.

I'm a big disease geek. In another life, this might have made me a brilliant doctor. In this life, where I experienced the usual amount of girl-discouragement about my interest in sciences and I'm terrified of needles, it pretty much makes me boring at parties. Although I cannot get a dictionary to substantiate this, I remember reading that the definition of an epidemic was that for every person who got better, more than one person was getting sick. If that seems like a weird thing to grab my imagination, I'm not sure any of the rest of this entry will make sense to you either. For the sake of wading through the rest of it, imagine that you're terribly afraid of dinosaurs. You cope with your fear by renting Jurassic Park over and over. In the movie, you might get scared, but you can stop and start it any time you want, rewind, skip parts, make the dinosaurs smaller. And you know how it ends.
Being a queer teenager in the mid-to-late eighties meant that AIDS was flickering on the edge of my consciousness when they were still calling it GRID--Gay Related Immune Deficiency. It meant just ducking a wave of grief, and it meant coming to believe that there is no end, at least not in my lifetime. Enter the Black Death, at a safe distance of about six hundred years. I've read a lot about both.

I was pretty surprised, therefore, to see a PBS documentary last night that told me something I'd never heard about either.

Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes bubonic plague, most commonly gets into the human body via a flea bite. (There's a whole gross thing here about starving fleas' digestive tracts and bacterial replication, but you probably don't want to know.) Once inside, all it has to do is wait for your immune system to respond. White blood cells get sent to the site of infection, but instead of getting squished, Y. pestis invites itself into the cells and hitches a ride into your lymph system to start wreaking merry havoc. That's what you're seeing with the buboes that give the disease its name: swellings at the armpits, throat and groin where the lymph nodes are overwhelmed. Diabolical, i'nt it? So how does it manage?

Why, using your chemokine receptors. At this point it starts to get pretty technical, so I hope that any microbiologists reading my blog will forgive me for minor inaccuracies while I try to make this into, y'know, English. When your body is injured, it sends chemokines as a protein S.O.S. A gene called CCR5 picks up this call, and Y. pestis just sticks its foot in the door. The frustrating thing is that CCR5 seems to be redundant; there are other genes that do the same thing without the added bonus of an excruciating and often fatal infection.

But wait! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a mutation!

Yep. In some people CCR5 exhibits a mutation known as delta 32. And guess what? Y. pestis can't use the mutant gene. Yay, mutants! The interesting part is that the Black Death and subsequent outbreaks of bubonic plague in Europe may have helped to select for this particular mutation. Having one copy of delta 32 slows down the rate of bacterial replication, giving your immune system more time to come up with some tricks of its own. At least in theory, this improves your chance of survival. Two copies of delta 32 makes you the winner of the world's least fun lottery, leaving you unscathed by plague and free to help dig mass graves. While somewhere between a third and a half of the population of Europe died, the survivors passed on their sometimes-wonky genetic legacy.

Although HIV is a virus rather than a bacterium, it uses a similar bag of tricks, binding itself to your CD4 cells and using CCR5 as a co-receptor. Uh, doorway. So having delta 32 may actually confer some immunity to HIV, although I wouldn't go throwing out your condoms any time soon. There are other co-receptors available, and viruses are good at exploiting opportunities. Still, I sat in amazement for a while after the show was over.

How come I have all this free time? Well, I'm sick with that eternal mutant, the common cold. A cousin of the virus I contracted in August, it got the better of me, and don't think I'm not bitter. But I'm also kind of awed, as I drink my appalling amount of water, watch documentary television, and blow my nose, to think about my body ticking away. Synthesizing the right antibody. Kicking viral ass. At least, till the next time.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

home sweet home

Creamy white, yellow-and-blue, a weird teal, black-and-silver, plain white, grey, sunshine yellow, the same damn creamy white colour I used again, green, and at least two coats of a hideous beige--think the old "flesh tone" crayons. This is only a partial list of the layers of paint I have scraped off my kitchen cupboard door. Only two and a half cupboard doors to go.

Why would I do such a thing? I am the Queen of the "so not worth it" reno project, but also there is significant debate about our kitchen decor. So far the only thing we have both expressed excitement about (aside from someday having a different kitchen) is the look of wooden kitchen cabinets. And we have them, somewhere under all of that paint, I'm sure of it. They might not be nice wood--in fact, they are almost definitely not nice wood. But they're the wood we have, dammit, and I'm determined to see it.

Getting to see the various looks that someone believed would be a good idea makes me wonder about the people who have lived in this apartment before us. I've thought about this before, for example when contemplating some former tenant's decision to spray paint all of the radiators silver. (If you're ever tempted to do this somewhere you're living, don't. Spare yourself the bad karma of curses from every subsequent renter.) I know that the colour choices we've made would not be to everyone's taste--all I have to do is say "our living room is slate gray with chili pepper red trim" and I can see the people I'm talking to blanch and reach for a mental paintbrush. Okay, we're all different. I challenge you, however, to explain to me what kind of thinking produces a combination of purple trim and walls the colour of real... live... pigs. In the bedroom. (As a side note, I would like to say that this pig colour is not nearly as rare as one would hope. Anyone who remembers House of Chicks, my former abode, will recall that it was the colour of the hallway and kitchen. It was also considered a good choice for the hospital counselling room at Civic in Peterborough, a decision which strikes me as especially dubious.) Who picked the scary-clown polka-dot wallpaper that Mr. Dave so painstakingly scraped off the bathroom walls? What state of despair resulted in the ashy robin's egg blue of the living room trim in its last incarnation?

In some places you're better able to understand--Sarah and I had the misfortune of actually meeting some of the surly inhabitants of House of Chicks before it became ours, all ours. They were a motley and overcrowded group of depressed Francophone flight attendants, and they had personalized the place with touches like the note taped to the underside of the toilet lid which read "Mens: please wipe your piss!" (I assume the French language version, also provided, was more grammatical.) When I opened my closet door, I was greeted with several cramped magic-marker lines of poetry. "It's Emile Nelligan," Meredith pleaded, "you can't paint over it!" My rebuttal, "it's an ode to misery on the inside of my closet door!" didn't have quite the impact I was going for, and the poem stayed. The whole place was kinda off, but so were the people living there, so at least it made sense. Also, we repainted very rapidly.

As I apply seemingly endless coats of stripper, I amuse myself by imagining the next people in this place saying to each other "Who bothered to stain this awful pine?" The work is worth it to me--we're not planning to move for at least a couple of years. Maybe, just maybe, I'll finish the kitchen by then.