Monday, June 20, 2011

My luck, it is a’changing

By now, we all know that bad luck follows me around like a sea sponge. Insistent, unyielding, determined. This is particularly true when it comes to anything auto-related, judging by the fact that I don’t even commute for work, hardly drive at all, yet in the last 3-4 years, I’ve been rear-ended twice (once on my birthday!), had my car completely totaled by an assclown (and convicted felon with no driver’s license and no insurance) on I-290, and have had my share of flat tires. Three, to be exact, though none of those have left me stranded in remote places leaving me wondering how to use that weird jack they include with the car.

That is, until yesterday. Kind of. It wasn’t remote per se, but getting a flat while driving on I-90 out in the general area of Bumblefuck ain’t so great either.

Aha, but here’s where the luck comes in! Because somehow once I heard the thunk-thunk-thunk and realized I in all likelihood had a flat, I did not pull over willy-nilly and decide to check out said flat on the side of the highway, where I in all likelihood would have been flattened. Mayhap even by the classic predatory yet ironic bus? Hey, a girl can dream.

But no! Instead, I calmly and wisely figured (hoped/prayed) that I could make it on Bad Tire to the next exit, my mom’s exit which is where I was heading, since it was less than a mile away. So I bumped along slowly on the shoulder – and did NOT get squashed by a semi! I know, shocking!

But wait, there’s more!

So I get off and manage to make it to the first turn, and pull in behind the restaurant that’s there on the left. And call my mom to see if she has any kindly neighbors who know how to change a flat. Yes, yes, I theoretically know how this is done, but given that it probably would have been dark out by the time I figured out where to place the jack and how it actually works, this seemed the more prudent course of action.

She finds a neighbor who can help, and as they’re headed over, I find the tools, get the spare off the back, etc., all in between taking Kona for walks in the field behind the restaurant. Oh yes, he’s insisting on “helping,” of course.

Needless to say, the fiasco that ensued was very much in keeping with the style to which Miss Tasha is accustomed. And as always, because I am all about helping my alert readers, aka “the little people,” I’ve gleaned some keen observations regarding the whole process that should be heeded by those to whom they apply. To wit:

To manufacturers of those flimsy tire changing kits: M’kay, do you think you might be able to have those jacks go up just a tiny bit higher, say an inch or so, just in case the person trying to get the tire changed managed to park the car on a slight tilt, such that the jack won’t lift the car high enough to get the new tire on? Thanks.

To the brain trust people who design the cars: Your helpful note in the manual that “the exact tiny divot where the jack should be placed – or major catastrophe will ensue when the jack slips and the car comes

crashing down on you – is noted by a small white arrow underneath the car” – is in fact not at all helpful.

To wonderful good Samaritans: I thank you so so much for stopping to help us after stopping for drinks at the restaurant, mother and son, living in Sun City (the retirement community cough resort that my mom also lives in) – truly I do – but the next time you do so after having more than a few cocktails, please be a bit more careful? Because I think if we hadn’t noticed that you were turning things the wrong way, you might have wound up decapitated.

To The Kone: Momma loves you dearly, HRH, to pieces! Forever and ever! But I want to assure you that when I disappear into the restaurant to get bandaids (for good Samaritan) or ice water (for tire changing helpers), I will come back. I will always come back to you. A 2-minute absence does not necessitate yanking the leash out of my mom’s hand and running insanely to the front of the restaurant looking for me, almost running in front of a car in the process.

Things got progressively more absurd, of course, from the realization that the car was on that teeny-weeny slant and we had to reverse the whole process and move the car….to The Kone running wild and free! Looking for his momma. Sigh. To my having the following conversation with Lita, the mom, while her son was still working at changing the tire.

“Say….do you like tomatoes?” I ask, out of the blue. Somehow she didn’t think this was an odd question.

“Oh yes,” replied Lita. “I love them!”

“Great! Expect to get a bushel of them on your doorstep in August,” I said, beaming. “Mom! Write down her information!”

Why, we were having so much fun chatting that the whole thing would have been downright festive had there not been that danger of my teetering car drunkenly decapitating someone. Ech, but what is a lost head between friends, really?

In the end, the tire got changed, no one was decapitated, my mom made a new friend, the helpful neighbor got wine and T-bones as a thank you, and The Kone had yet another adventure. And then there was the next day, when I went to the Costco tire center where I had gotten all new tires a year before. My mom’s neighbor had warned us that unless I had specifically purchased a Road Hazard Warranty, I’d be stuck buying a new tire unless there was a defect.

Young Costco Guy: Okay, the tire wasn’t repairable, there was a gash in the sidewall.

Me, sighing: Of course there was. What would have caused that? I was on the highway! Are you saying a rabid nail went leaping off the road to its death in the side of my tire?

YCG: Umm, maybe? Sometimes these things happen.

Me: Okay, so how much do I owe you for the new tire?

YCG: Eleventwentyfour.

I look at him and tilt my head. Eleventwentyfour? Is this some kind of New Costco Math? It doesn’t compute.

Me: What was that again?

YCG: Eleventwentyfour.

Me: Eleventytwentyforty?

YCG: No, just eleventwentyfour.

I think to myself, hmm, this must be what they’re teaching kids in school these days. They’re so used to texting and shortening words, that now they’re shortening numbers too. Could it be $1124? No, of course not. $110.24? That makes more sense. I try to coax him out a bit, using my excellent communication skills, to mayhap get him to use non-texting language.

“So,” I say craftily, “if you were me and you were going to write this out on a check which you probably wouldn’t do because you kids do everything online these days but let’s just pretend, and say there were no mobile devices anywhere in existence so that you couldn’t send a text, what would this figure look like?”

I for one think I’m being very astute in picking up on these younger kids’ hep lingo and all that, but for some reason, he looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind.

YCG: Umm……..eleven dollars and twenty-four cents?

Now, I’m not saying I wrote out and slapped that check down and bolted out of there before he could figure out they had made a mistake……but hell yes, that’s exactly what I did. Okay, so I did discover that Costco has some insanely amazing service plan in place whereby all tires come with a 5-year Road Hazard Warranty, which is prorated based on how many miles you’ve driven on the tires. But still! Yet another reason to love this place. Costco, aka Mecca, will you hire me? Please?? Now?

And yes, this is what passes for really good luck around these parts. Car got a flat tire on the highway but close enough to an exit? Sweet! Par-tay time!

Clearly there should be a picture of me in the dictionary next to the word “super easy to make happy.” It’s a gift.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Our band of sisters

It’s a rare sunny day in Chicago today, and somehow, that just feels wrong. The world should be weeping with us, me and my sisters, as we mourn the loss of our beloved Tracy Santos, known as Tink.

Our beautiful Tink, gone at the age of 30.

I, as many others did, got to know Tracy better through Facebook. She was a fierce animal lover, with a varied collection of rescued animals, from dogs to cats and everything in between – her furbabies as she called them. She was devoted and passionate about everything in life, including her husband Romeo, and their desire to have a baby, and her Baltimore Orioles. Being a Bat Girl last year was one of the greatest days of her life. She and I laughed about my own Bat Girl experience – my perils, as she called them – yet that was just something else for us to bond over.

When our sisterhood was rocked last week by one bit of bad news after another – Sally finding mets, our other Stage 4 sisters not doing so well – this was what Tracy posted on our Facebook page:

I know there's been a lot of crappy news here lately and I know how easy it is to get angry and discouraged (been there recently,lol), but I thought we all could use a little pick me up. Just to remember that we're all here, holding each other up, sending love, prayers, support, friendship, etc. That we can all get through all of this crap together and how lucky we are to have found each other. A French Proverb says "One may go a long way after one is tired", I know we're all tired, I certainly am...but I'm also amazed at how far I can keep going. Hang in there ladies...much love to you all!”

I looked up that proverb so that I would remember it always, because it seemed so profound. Tracy was diagnosed as Stage 4 right off the bat, yet you’d never know it by talking to her – her focus was always on others, her husband, her pets, animal rights in general – everything that she believed in so fiercely. She posted the above just 9 days ago. Nine fucking days. And now she’s gone.

Some of our non-cancer friends wonder how and why we do it – why do we maintain these friendships if we know that inevitably they’ll cause us so much grief?

Yet I ask, how can we not? Some of us are lucky enough to have had the support of friends and family throughout, but there are just as many with heartbreaking stories of friends AND close family members who “couldn’t deal” with the cancer – it was “too hard” for them to visit their sick friend in the hospital, and all sorts of other bullshit excuses. So how can those of us who know what it’s like and how important it is to have that support and comfort turn away?

Yet this isn’t to say that we do this out of obligation. It’s a duty in a way, a sacred one, to shepherd our sisters all along this shitcan journey that is cancer. A duty and a privilege – to me it’s an honor, to be allowed into these women’s lives as they’re facing their toughest battle, their darkest days, their most scary moments. This is when we turn to and need each other.

And yes, it’s hard. It’s damn hard, and it never gets easier. But we stick together – that’s just what we do. I liken it to what soldiers in wartime must go through – we’ve faced the specter of death and our own mortality, and if we make it through, we’re scarred, mentally and physically. We pop Ativan like it’s candy, we teledrink until the cows come home, we cry and laugh together. And we safeguard the memories of our sisters. This to me is the most important part, to make sure that our sisters are never forgotten. That we let the world know that they mattered, dammit, they mattered. They were here for far too short a time, but they will never be forgotten.

I’m crying too much now to go on, but I will say this – Tink, you went a far far way long after most people would have been too tired to go on. And we thank you and love you for it. Rest in peace now, our sweet sister, rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Life as I know it

A while back, a fellow classmate from Wharton asked me if I wanted to write an essay for a new website of hers called WorkStew. Which is basically a collection of essays from people from all walks of life, engaged in every type of job, career, etc. It's fascinating stuff, though on one hand I don't like it because it makes me realize that there are other good writers out there - other than me, that is.


Well, I finally got around to writing my own essay for it, which I've cut and pasted below, though I highly encourage you to go to Kate's site and poke around, read what's been posted, marvel accordingly. And of course, feel free to leave comments on (ahem) how moved you are by my own writing, like my #1 Fan George has already done (thanks George!) - yes, I'm an attention whore that way. Why is this a surprise to any of you? Sheesh.....


Stuck in a Moment

Damn, I was arrogant.

“Hmph,” I smirked, even with a bit of an eye roll thrown in for good measure. “I’ll never be one of those people trying to sell more cornflakes, or—god forbid—figuring out what color hats the Keebler Elves should wear. I’m going to do something a little more important than that.”

So, with Wharton MBA in hand, I set out to conquer the world, self-styled Master of the Universe that I was. And what kind of important things am I doing now? Let’s see. Today I was out at my garden plot fussing over the tomato plants, because I’m hoping that later in the summer I’ll have enough to sell and make at least a few hundred dollars. Had lunch with my mom, which she paid for. Sent an email to a person I write blog articles for on various topics, for a miserly amount of money, telling her that sure, I’d be happy to write articles for a stripper recruiting blog—why the hell not?

Stripper articles.

When you graduate from business school, you are led to believe that striking out on your own—because you’re so damn brilliant and all—is a great idea, just wonderful. You may not expect to hit it big, as in hawking-schlock-sold-expensively-on-QVC-big, but you do feel confident that you’ll at least get by.

But then something like, say, The Cancer comes knocking at your door. No, forget knocking—the rude bastard comes barreling in guns a’blazing, taking no prisoners, leaving you shell-shocked and stunned, because seriously, WTF is this? You have no family history of cancer, you’ve always been healthy to a fault, you’re training for your second IRONMAN, for chrissake, so really, WTH? Then if you have the really shitty luck, like some of us (ahem), a month later you’ll still be training for said Ironman, and will get into a bad bike crash going downhill at 40 mph that will leave you with a severely broken collarbone, bleeding on the brain, no memory of the crash or the three days in the hospital, and oh yeah, that pesky cancer that still needs to be taken care of.

And meanwhile, back at the ranch, because you’re single and self-employed, you have no income anymore because you’re in a cancer-treatment and brain-injury fog, and while you do have health insurance (whew!), you discover that insurance companies are evil bastards who MSU (=Make Shit Up) in order to get out of paying your bills. So you come home one day, exhausted in your 6th week of daily radiation treatment, and burst into tears when you get yet another bill from BlueCrossBlueShield saying that they’re not going to pay $5K of your surgery because there was “an extra nurse in the room.”

Even I don’t have the creative cojones to make this stuff up.

And at the same time that your life is being totally derailed by The Cancer, you have people helpfully telling you about all the lessons you should be learning from this “journey.” Life is short! Seize the day! Live every day as if it were your last!

First of all, if I lived every day as if it were my last, well, let’s just say that there’s a level of rapacious bonbon-eating there that even I don’t care to contemplate. Second, and more importantly, I would love to “seize the day” and do all the things I’ve ever dreamed of. Visit Mongolia! White water rafting again in Costa Rica! Visiting my CancerChick friends, the group of women who live across the U.S. that I’ve come to know and love as we together deal with the shitcan that is cancer at a young age!

There’s one problem with this, and forgive me for stating the obvious here, but: this costs money. I know, shocking! But true. And to a person, my CancerChicks and I, we’re po.’ The married ones have a bit more leeway, but if you’re single? Forget it. Single and self-employed? Doubly forget it. Do we want to work? Hell yes. I’d like to be able to pay my bills without contemplating how much I could get if I gave blood on a regular basis. Yet for some reason, in spite of my Wharton MBA, my fan-fucking-tastic resume (everyone tells me this) (though okay, I admit I’ve paraphrased slightly), the fact that I’m really good at what I do (shameless plug: marketing, communications/writing), I have yet to find work, even project work.

So while I’d like to report that as someone with The Cancer who realizes full well the importance of embracing all that life has to offer, that I’m doing so every single day—the truth is that I can’t quite figure out how to spend every day in some whirlwind of fandango fun and excitement, because reality kind of gets in the way. Those pesky bills. The minutiae that make it hard for me to move boldly forward into my post-Cancer life. This is true for everyone I know who has this disease that’s determined to kill us.

The other bit of advice that people like to share with you, whether you have The Cancer or not, is this: do what you love to do—the money will follow.

This, my friends, is a bold bit of complete and utter horseshit.

Me, what I love to do is write. I have a blog that’s sweeping the nation (You’ll laugh! Cry! Rally to laugh again!), that I make absolutely no money from. (Note to IRS: no money whatsoever.) I’ve been working on a book, but in the meantime I need to be able to pay my bills, so the book often has to go by the wayside. Such is life. Working as a strategy consultant post-Wharton, that brought in a decent amount of money. The writing, the acerbic wit, the pandering to the eighteens of blog readers who hang onto my every word? Not so much.

So what are our key takeaways here? I think they’d be along these lines:

  1. Don’t get The Cancer. If it offers to latch onto your life, just say hey, no thanks, I’m kinda busy now.
  2. But if you do, make sure you’re part of a two-income household, or independently wealthy, because…
  3. (to paraphrase George Bailey)…money comes in pretty handy down here, bub.
  4. If you’re the quintessential Schleprock like I am, don’t follow your dreams. Stick with the well-paying corporate gig; do what you love to do in your spare time. Trust me on this.
  5. Realize that if you have the aforementioned crap luck, it makes for some fantastic writing on the blog. Hey, lemons, lemonade, margaritas, go with it.
  6. And if you look at the shell casings surrounding the destruction of your formerly orderly and logical life and are completely baffled as to how you wound up here, it’s important to realize that it’s not all bad, that there are always patches of sunshine hidden among the shadows.

And if I at times sound a bit bitter, well, that’s only partially true. I’m not bitter about The Cancer, because quite frankly, shit happens. Not bitter about the bike crash/brain injury, because that elevated things to an almost sublime level of absurdity that holds up well in the retelling.

What I AM bitter about—or perhaps dumbfounded is a better word—is the fact that I have a Wharton MBA, for god’s sake, yet am willing to write stripper stories for a tiny bit of cash, as I lay awake at night wondering how I’ll pay my bills. Wharton! MBA! Amazing resume and experience! Brilliance all in one neat little package! The mind reels.

I’m bitter that tomorrow when I go for my 6-month checkup with my oncologist, the one whose mantra is “no scans without symptoms,” I’m not going to try to convince her that I should be scanned at least once. Because if they do find a recurrence or advancement, I can’t afford to treat it. “Thanks, doc, but I’ll pass on more of The Cancer today—it’s just not in my budget right now.”

I’m bitter about the fact that I’m being audited by the IRS, because the brain trust over there flagged my returns when I had a sudden drop in income and, oh, huge medical bills! Lawsy me, what ever could be the connection?

I’m slightly bitter about the fact that The Cancer will be back at some point, because the stats for young women with stage II breast cancer basically suck. I wish I could be earning money so that I could in fact be doing the carpe diem-ing I’d like to do in whatever time I have left. But I can’t.

I’m very bitter about the fact that my fellow CancerChicks, who I love dearly and would do anything for, are all dealing with this same shit. And the bitterness becomes black indeed when I think about the lie perpetuated on us all: that breast cancer is so curable, which is total hogwash, especially for young women. Hell, it’s barely treatable, based on the fact that seven or eight of my friends in just the last week have either found out that they’re now stage 4, or have taken a turn for the worse because their treatments are no longer working.

Curable, my ass.

And yet, in spite of the fact that my life is a total shambles, I have amazing women in my life because of The Cancer, and I wouldn’t give up those friendships for anything in the world. Not for all the tea in China, not all the pots of gold in existence.

So to sum up: Money = good. Jobs = good. Cancer = bad. If you measure success by the amount of money one has accrued, then clearly I’m the least successful person from my graduating class at Wharton. A wash-up. A failure.

If you measure it in friendship—I’m the richest woman in the world.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Comments, we get comments….

So there I was yesterday, all happy because I finally managed to get the pattypan squash planted in between monsoon rains, when I get home and am alerted to a comment on my blog, on the Blame it on the Rain post. Anonymous (of course) wrote:

“one would think that you would be happy to be able to feel, smell and see rain since you are on this side of the grass......”

And naturally, this infuriated me for a number of reasons, even though I suspect I may know who wrote this and by now I should be used to her usual inane blather. Nevertheless.

This bothers me on two levels. One is the fact that how stupid do you have to be to not realize that I’m one of the happiest fucking people out there? You’d have to be pretty damn stupid. Because I’d think that’s pretty obvious. Anyone who can take all the bad luck that’s been dumped on me over the years and somehow turn that into Miss Tasha’s Traveling Road Show of Calamity and Fun – has to have a pretty decent outlook on life, doncha think?

Plus I thought it was basically understood that underneath the mien of bitterness and curmudgeonliness, I’m one of those people who takes almost idiotic pleasure in the simplest of things. Melindy snags me a free pink-ribbon nail file at the November BC conference? Hell, I’m leaping about with excitement. The marabou-trimmed pink ribbon pen the girls picked up for me? Swoon! The rose-breasted grosbeaks started coming back to my backyard this spring, and you would have thought the Pope himself had landed back there, I was that excited.

Then the other day I walk into Starbucks and Holly comes up to me and gives me a big bag full o’stuff. Apparently because I donated a bunch of items for their food pantry drive and volunteered at said food pantry one day, I was entered in to a raffle to win some schwag. And I won! Oh BOY! I snatched that bag up to my heaving bosom and without even looking to see what was in there, I happily walked around proclaiming to one and all that hey, I’m a WINNER! Me, a WINNER – yes that makes you all the losers, but I’m the WINNER. W-I-N-N-E-R! And then later that day when I actually looked IN the bag and saw the over $100 worth of coffee and tea (thank you Starbucks!), my head almost exploded from joy.

But it’s not even that part of it that really pisses me off. Oh no. It’s the fact that essentially that comment is telling me that I shouldn’t be complaining about that pesky rain – why, I should be HAPPY that all my hard work in the garden is being destroyed by storms, because heck, I’m ALIVE!

Apparently just that fact should have me leaping out of bed every morning exclaiming hey, I’m not dead yet! To which I reply, who the hell does that? That maybe I should face every day like Mighty Mouse, proclaiming “Here I come to save the DAY!” Well, okay, maybe I actually do that. But still.

And who the fuck all are any of you non-cancerous folks to tell US how we’re supposed to live our lives? To a PERSON, my CancerChick friends are more about living life to the fullest than anyone else I know. This is because we’ve seen enough of our beloved friends die to know that life can be brutish and short, and you need to enjoy it while you’re here. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to complain about stupid shit - because to say we shouldn’t do that is to relegate us to some second-class status. “Oh, I don’t know what you’re complaining about – you should be happy you’re still alive!” WTH? Yet everyone else gets to bitch about traffic and their bad hair days because they haven’t faced their own mortality? I. Don’t. Think. So.

I’ve never been the type of person to tell people they shouldn’t complain about the little things. Even before The Cancer, my theory was always that you can’t take the lowest common denominator approach, because then no one should ever complain about anything, because it could always be worse, unless you were the starving Biafran refuge with AIDS and no legs.

Even post-cancer, I still don’t tell friends they shouldn’t complain, unless it’s about truly ridiculous stuff. They want to bitch about stupid guys or annoying work stuff? Go right the fuck ahead, I say. That’s normal. The two times I’ve ever said anything to anyone were a) when a friend who has the high-paying job, the happy family life, etc., was complaining about “trying to find the time to paint the baby’s room while (his) wife is planning the TWO parties before the Christmas holidays” – and b) a friend who just had her car towed and told me “my whole life sucks.”

And even in those cases, I refrained from telling them to STFU. No, I just told friend A that he should probably complain about those things to someone else, not me, the unemployed broke spinster, and to friend B, I told her that while having her car towed did indeed suck, her entire life did not and she had a lot going for her. So STFU.

But I do have to thank our Anonymous commenter, because truly, we’ve gotten a lot of yucks out of your comment, along the lines of dear friend Tracy telling me that “Tasha, one would think, given the side of the grass you're on, that you would be thankful just to witness someone extreme couponing.” And of course, I get to march around telling people “Hey, I’m NOT DEAD YET! Whee!” – and that of course has its own type of glee.

Plus, best of all, it gave me the chance to resurrect a classic post, which has me being all chipper and stuff.

Be very afraid, eighteens of readers, be very very afraid….