The Goddess

She stretched her long legs on the towel and coated them with Johnson’s Baby Oil. Her sun-streaked hair went past her freckled shoulders and when she wasn’t wearing her glasses, Patty was the sexiest girl at the Elk’s Club pool. She let my big sister and me tag along. Paige was thirteen, but I hardly remember a time when her figure and demeanor weren’t an all access pass to the older kids. But at age 11, I was little. I hung on every word Patty spoke—to Paige, and to Patty’s friends who were also exotically adult with their bikinis and bits to fill them. I wanted desperately to understand what they thought was so funny, learn the words to their favorite songs, and smoke those menthol cigarettes that filled them with a cool worldliness. I wanted to be both giggly and blasé about Boys. But I was still so little.

I was 11. Patty was… a Goddess.

I was twenty–home from college with one of the boys I encouraged for probably too long– when Patty and John drove up to show Mom and Dad the new baby. Chelsea was still at the put-her-on-a mat-and-stare-at-her stage. And over a few bottles of celebratory wine, I got a glimpse into newly married life. Patty and John made it look ambitiously easy and fun somehow, with their combined smarts and steadfast love. The baby seemed like a drag, but even that they did well: Chelsea was plump and adorable and mostly happy on her little mat. Sitting on my parent’s breezy screened porch behind their plenty big house, Patty said she and John wanted all the same things. I stared at my older, wiser cousin and her handsome husband and perfect child and I knew Patty would have it—all of the good stuff.

It was close to seven years later when Paige called. John was gone. John– Patty’s forever boyfriend who became her forever husband– gone. One hundred thousand no’s. THEY HAVE THREE SMALL DAUGHTERS. Because everything felt sad and helpless and impossible, we got on planes. And when we got there, Patty made all of us feel better. To date I’ve never witnessed a eulogy so full of love and promise and hope and forgiveness. Patty who had every right to be a keening, catatonic widow instead hosted us in the plenty big home we always knew they’d have. John died happy, exploring every passion, achieving every goal; this is a life to celebrate, she taught us. Patty lost her best friend, partner, and husband and she instructed us to honor a life well lived over mourning a life too short. It was Chelsea who broke our hearts, toddling around saying how this uncle or that cousin was “just like her dad” and then growing up to be an aerospace engineer… very much like her dad.

Always the overachiever, Patty found true love twice. Over the years, I have used My Cousin Patty as an example of how Love surrounds us, how Love is always possible, how there are Second Chances for Love. But that isn’t fair. Were any of us very surprised that Patty would find true love twice? No. Not really.

Patty is a Goddess.

I’m 44 now. Once so young I could never dent her rarefied sphere, now we’re essentially the same age. Seventeen or seventy Patty will always be that gorgeous girl with the oiled legs who graduated early and married young and had it all and lost it all and then found and curated something beautiful all over again. Along the way she has brought two loving, awesome men into our family fold and created five incredible goddess spawn who mirror her intelligence, determination, stubbornness, luckiness, and beauty. Today, on Patty’s 50th birthday, I offer this outsider view of her charmed and cursed and blessed and difficult and gorgeous life. Patty has inspired, impressed, and encouraged me in ways she cannot know. Happy Birthday to the sexiest girl at the Elk’s Club… our Goddess… our Patty.

Patty, on her second wedding day.

Patty, on her second wedding day.

Goddess Spawn

The Goddess Spawn… all five of them.

The Chemo Nausea Pizza Scale, by Steve Safran

How much pain are you in right now? On a scale from 1-10? Probably none, right? Now– and this is for the sake of science and also my amusement– put yourself in some pain. Any pain. Pinch yourself. Bend your finger back a little too much. Stub a toe. Now how would you rate your pain? A one or a two? What if someone stepped on your foot really hard? Bet that’s a four or five. Step on broken glass? A six.

What if you had a tumor in your back?

I don’t want to get all heavy here. I’m just trying to illustrate how relative pain is. Suddenly getting your foot stepped on is, at most, a two. That’s the problem with that smiley-to-full-agony face pain scale that’s ubiquitous in hospitals. They ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 1-10 without any words that describe what a four, six or ten feel like. During my first admission to the hospital for what turned out to be testicular cancer, I was in the worst pain in my life. It was a full 10 on the Steve Scale of Experience. But… I didn’t have a compound fracture or gunshot wound. I imagine those are worse. They sure look worse. Are they two agony faces worse? I bet they’re four agony faces worse. But my pain was more than a four, right?

The numbers needed descriptors like:

  1. Isn’t this a lovely day? Sorry to bother you, but I need a Band-Aid.
  2. Eh… not so bad, but I thought this should be seen

and maybe

  1. This is worse than the time in preschool Kim threw a rock at my head, but not as bad as when she threw the second one because the first one didn’t bounce to her liking

and

  1. That’s not enough morphine and I question your training that you’re only giving me that dosage

I need a scale that is more relatable. During chemo, you have to keep eating. You need to eat so that your stomach stays full and you don’t get sicker. It’s pretty cruel. I’ve shed tears at the thought of having another meal. So with cancer treatment, pain isn’t really the problem. Cancer is a nausea experience. And so every day at the chemo lab, this question: “From 1-10, how nauseous are you today?”

I have designed a system I feel is more precise than the smile-to-agony face sliding scale of misery. It’s the Chemo Nausea Pizza Chart. In essence, “Given the way you feel right now, how opposed would you be to eating some pizza?”

Why pizza? It’s pretty universally loved. And there’s precedent. You eat pizza when you’re drunk, so we’ve established you’ll have it when you don’t feel great. Also, it’s mostly bread, which is pretty easy to digest. You can make it through a slice if you really have to. Here’s the scale:

THE CHEMO NAUSEA PIZZA SCALE

From 1-10 How Opposed to Eating Pizza Are You Right Now?

  1. Pizza? Fantastic. I love this hospital. Another Yelp star for you!
  2. Sure, why not?
  3. Seems like an odd question, but I’ll have a couple of slices.
  4. Yes, but it better be really good.
  5. Well, I know I’m supposed to keep eating. Make it the thin crust stuff with a side of IV anti-nausea drugs going.
  6. Sure, if by “Pizza” you mean “Saltines.”
  7. You have some nerve asking that. Have you ever been nauseated? Force it on me if you must.
  8. Is your degree honorary?
  9. Awesome idea! Why don’t we get a make your own sundae bar and a moon bounce in here, too?
  10. No, and I will never eat again.

painfaces0-6

From the always awesome Hyperbole and a Half  http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/02/boyfriend-doesnt-have-ebola-probably.html

Cartoon credit to the always awesome Hyperbole and a Half 

Oh, the indignity! (An update from Steve Safran)

I smell awful. There’s a sickly, syrupy-sweet smell I give off during these intense weeks of chemo that, perhaps, might be nice coming from a pancake kitchen. But coming off my skin, and combined with its other scents, the smell is terrible. My bodily emanations are mini-violations of the Geneva Convention. Three sets of sheets aren’t enough changes a week to keep up with my ability to insult the very loom that created them.

Or maybe I don’t smell awful at all, and it’s just that my nose has been so wrecked by chemo that I can’t tell the difference anymore. Who brought that wonderful, fresh spring bouquet in here? Get it out!

Smell, taste, sensitivity to sound and light– it’s all different now. I’m two cycles deep in the course of treatment for testicular cancer, diagnosed in May. The hope is that three cycles will cure me, but four cycles is a real possibility. A cycle is three weeks: Week One is chemo Monday through Friday. Weeks Two and Three are chemo just on Monday. So if you can follow that, please call me and tell me which days I have chemo. I’m a writer, not an air-traffic controller.

Last week was the worst. I was scheduled for just two hours. Instead, I got the deluxe package stay at the Newton Wellesley Hospital, spending four of the five weekdays there. The room was spacious and parking was ample, but the pancakes brought my Yelp review down by a full star.

Staying in the hospital means visitors. The downside to having hospital visitors is that you are poorly dressed for the occasion. You aren’t “business casual” so much as “hospital humiliated.” Much has been made of the indignity of the “Johnny” that cruelly ties in the back, except that it doesn’t. People, come on— Velcro! However, you don’t have to worry about doing your hair as it has abandoned you, and since your only method of cleaning your body now comes in the form of a giant baby wipe, you don’t need any time in the shower.

Everything about chemo turns your intestines into the Keystone pipeline project. It’s part of Big Pharma’s plan to sell laxatives, stool softeners, and other meds to let loose the dogs of war. And you will smell like said dogs once these things let everything loose. So there you are, visitors in the room, dressed like an extra from “The Walking Dead,” and suddenly the Senekot, well, works. I won’t go on, except to say I cranked the TV on my way to the bathroom.

About the smell, little could be done.

Just me and my hospital pals, heading to the nurse’s station…

I get it.

Most of my social media feeds are full of kindness. Really, y’all are a sweet bunch of voting, do-gooding, funny, and freethinking protectors of the planet and champions of the less privileged. Some get gussied up for countless events requiring large donations to noble causes; others give your time to help an elderly neighbor, staff the local food pantry, create art, and redesign all of our public spaces to be accessible and fun for everyone. A disturbing number of you have a near pathological savior complex for condemned animals and strays. And my how progressive we’ve all become! Two years ago I attended my first gay wedding with a boatload of Republicans shedding happy tears of love and support. Locally, my affluent town has voted to pay higher taxes to fund programs to bolster our vulnerable citizens. And 97% of you didn’t balk–even cheered– when our most iconic Olympic athlete transformed from the man we grew up with into the woman she was all along.

Most of you.

Some of you “will still call him Bruce,” or feel squeamish, or will compare him to a delusional white girl whose tangled web of lies included an impressive, unearned portrayal of a black woman. Indeed, there are few medical, scientific experts who study and treat these exceptional people who are at odds with the gender of their bodies. And unless you are a member of a thriving gay community, or live in New York or LA, or are Anne, you probably don’t have a single transgendered friend in your social media feeds. But armed with only un-peer-reviewed studies, a Wikipedia base of knowledge, and with no first hand experience, I think the only dissenting opinion anyone should launch onto social media regarding Caitlyn is this:

“I don’t get it.”

Of course, mainstream media wants you on board. The liberal masses don’t want your bystander nonchalance; they want full-throttle endorsement! And I suppose those who “will still call him Bruce” cannot stomach the cheers and accolades and awards for this flagrant display against God’s creation or nature or decency. The world has gone loony tunes! It’s OK. Take a beat. Remember our own parents’ opinions about homosexuals in a pre Will and Grace world? Well, regarding the transgendered, we’re still a few must-see-TV moments away. And no one will fault you for not understanding this brave new future of women-becoming-men and vice versa. But fabricating arguments in denial of something scary and true for thousands is unkind. Tying those opinions to religion makes Jesus facepalm.

Because I spent a regrettable amount of time murdering rats with a guillotine in order to study their still fresh brains, I have a small and gruesome credibility to dissuade you from comparing Caitlyn Jenner to Rachel Dolezal. Though it pains my heart to read these articles, my arguments derive quite literally from the noggin. Some of you might be able to dredge up this long forgotten fact about human development: we’re all designed to be girls. The human default setting is Lady. If people had a browser that popped up automatically, it would be called Chyx. Without the effects of boy hormones (androgens) on our brains and bodies at key moments, we’re all going to need training bras and develop a complicated relationship with our bangs.

Testicular feminization syndrome is a remarkable example of the strength of our ontologic destiny– where chromosomally male fetuses whose receptors cannot respond to dude hormones can develop into completely physical girls. Luckily for some of them, their teeny growing brains are bathing in the same girly milieu, and so develop into women, too. They are able to lead less complicated lives as their brains and bodies respond to hormones in harmony. But for others, this:

Another case is instructive. An [XY] individual who is now living as a woman had been assigned as a girl at birth but was switched by a physician to live as a boy at the age of 3 months when testes were discovered. At the age of 13, her physician recommended that “he” have a mastectomy for his breast development. The surgery was performed and this individual continued to live as a boy although she had felt from early childhood that she would be more comfortable living as a girl. At the age of 22, she felt that she could not continue to live as a man and switched to living as a woman when she learned that she could obtain breast implants to regain what had been removed.1

For the transgendered, this sort of mismatch happens. Somehow the endocrine soup around the brain doesn’t gel with how the body is shaping up. It’s not a choice or a delusion; it’s biology. It’s also devastating, confusing, scary, and rare. For those who want more scientific proof than my watered-down biology lecture, I can point you to any number of rat labs with guillotines. There are also peer-reviewed research studies revealing structural differences in the transgendered human brain.

But despite more credible, kinder arguments, some of you will “still call him Bruce.” Otherwise thoughtful, smart people will keep citing the one doctor who doesn’t approve of gender reassignment surgery, or will make false comparisons to body dysmorphic syndrome, or worse, liken Caitlyn to a white girl using an enviable twist-out to be something she can never be. Caitlyn is a woman because her brain was always female. Rachel was never black because, well… she was never black.

I have another, more personal reaction to those who champion a fierce attachment to The Body the Lord Gave Us. Mine is no longer whole, but I am no less womanly for having amputated my breasts. Also, I’m alive. Like Caitlyn, I removed the parts that were endangering me, forcing me to be something I didn’t choose at all: a person with cancer. When your queasy disapproval of corrective surgery fetishizes a holy beauty of our native bodies, elevating the importance of our God-given bits and pieces over everything, how do you suppose your breast-cancered sisters feel? Well, this one stands with Caitlyn.

I get it.

Hello, Caitlyn

Hello, Caitlyn

1. Gottlieb B, Pinsky L, Beitel LK, Trifiro M. Androgen insensitivity. Am J Med Genet 1999; 89(4):210-7

It Was an Honor and a Privilege to Write This

In the next two weeks, we’re going to six graduation ceremonies and parties. During a dozen years on Bernie’s arm attending black tie dinners honoring future surgeons, I have listened to 192 speeches. I counted. The amount of time these residents donate to difficult training– and what they sacrifice to do it–allows them the honor and privilege of saying whatever the hell they want up at the podium. But that doesn’t mean I might not poke fun of them. Just a little. Congratulations, graduates.

Graduation season is upon us, friends. And it’s all an honor and a privilege! It would have been impossible without your support on the road less traveled. It’s also a lot like swimming with sharks, but Mark Twain probably said something about it best. As a kid I dissected woodland creatures and took apart the toaster! Everyone or no one in my family is a doctor, but most of us have inspiring, dead relatives. I’m from far away (NOT a Red Sox fan, hahahahaha!) or from right here (Whoo hoo! Go, Sawx!) and when I started training something embarrassing or horrible happened. And then incredible and wonderful things happened. And it was all an honor and a privilege to have worked with you, the best people I have ever known, though the sum total of our future friendships will be Facebook “likes.”

The rotation where I was finally treated with a modicum of respect, performed with reasonable proficiency, or the one with the least amount of call inspired me get a job doing that. Or, I’m really excited about my cardiothoracic surgery fellowship and the next paragraph is testimony to the man-crushable cowboy heroes of the operating room. I bet none of us will miss these horrible winters, huh? Hahahahahahaha!

Props to my current/future husband/wife/partner. We made it, honey, but we’re still broke. After a near decade of training there’s only, like, a few more years on the futon. I might get a little teary thanking you–maybe I’ll grab the baby for this part– as inspiration to the junior residents, and to prove I’m not always a condescending, work-dumping asshole. Look guys, they can’t stop the clock!

Michael Ellis DeBakey–or maybe Twain again– said something apt to this moment. I’ll never forget my training here at the World’s Best Hospital with the most Talented Surgeons in the Universe, unless my fellowship institution is a trade up and then you’ll only see me in their caps and sweatshirts. But I can’t wait to reconnect with you again as collaborators on research projects in this exciting field. Until I go into private practice… then please “like” my Facebook page.

As the person who wrote all of my recommendations always says, “blah blah hard work blah blah fun!” Thanks to grandma-on-oxygen or cousin-from-Hawaii for making the trip… and for this awesome chicken-or-fish dinner. It’s all been an honor and a privilege!

Is anyone validating the parking?

It’s your moment… tell us a great story.

Steve Gets Cancer… by Steve Safran

Britt’s blog gave me cancer. OK, maybe it didn’t– the science is still out on the matter. But the facts are this: I am now being treated for Stage 2C Testicular Cancer. I’m not acutely familiar with the shades of the term “irony,” but surely this is somewhere in the vicinity.

Testicular cancer is “a young man’s disease,” and for this, I am repeatedly told, I should be grateful. It is nearly 100% curable. “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one to get,” an oncologist told me. That’s fine and all, but that’s like saying “If you had to be sat on by an elephant, you picked a nice, small elephant. Look – he balances a ball on his trunk!”

There is one question everyone wants the answer to when surgeons are removing your testicle, so I will answer it right now:

They do not replace your testicle with an artificial one.

I have been getting treatment for this since the beginning of May, and this is the first public notice I’ve given. This is a little strange for someone who can’t wait to post whatever ailment he has that day. On this one, however, I decided to go the old-fashioned route. I didn’t take to social media. I called my friends. It’s intimate when something attacks you from inside, and I needed to talk or, at the very least, privately email them. (So, maybe not so old-fashioned.)

Word gets out, anyway, and that’s fine. It’s not a secret. I have tons of great support. I’ve even given Britt permission to enlist her prayer warriors. That’s a first for this Atheist Jew, whose usual reaction to “We will pray for you” is “Please, don’t.” It’s not because I found religion, but because I realize that the faithful truly believe they are helping. I am not going to ask my friends not to do that which they believe helps. I am not going to ask my friends not to turn to that which comforts them when someone they love is sick.

Two weeks into treatment, I was struck with a pulmonary embolism. This is a blood clot that finds its tiny, sticky way into your lungs. The key sign you have an embolism is that you feel as though someone chose to put up a skyscraper on your chest and neglected to get a permit from you. That morning I took a shower and ran out of breath. That afternoon, I was back in the hospital.

As a result, I now get to stick myself with a needle twice a day with blood thinners. This is the fifth drug I have started taking since chemo began to ward off the side effects of cancer and chemo. My medicine cabinet looks like a Jenga tower.

I have many more dates with needles and chemicals. What you’re reading is a cutdown of a much longer rambling at least six times as long. For now, I’m out of breath. Britt’s blog is exhausting.

Me and Stevie:  Cancer-card-carrying pals.

Me and Stevie: Cancer-card-carrying pals.

How many calories does hating spin class burn?

How many calories does hating spin class burn?

These are thoughts I have while pedaling pedaling pedaling nowhere. When I’m not at the gym, I am unfailingly nice. I’m a benefit-of-the-doubt, go-ahead-of-me-in-line, let-me-hold-that-for-you kind of gal. But at the gym, my interior dialogue spews from a judge-y, pack-a-day smoker.

“WE COULD ALL JUST STOP AND GO HOME!” I scream/think at all of the already skinny people.

But recently, after sprinting upstairs to fetch a forgotten phone, I clutched my chest in gasping exhaustion and thought maybe I need more than the occasional cardio of reacting to spiders in the car. So I went back to the gym for a barre class.

I used to love the barre class with its slow movements and focus on stretchy leg stuff and balancing. I had forgotten that it’s essentially an hour-long squat, and I spent most of the time tamping down the bile that threatened to hurl out of my shaky legged body.

“AM I THE ONLY ONE ABOUT TO THROW UP?” I scream/think at all of the already toned women.

The next morning, I headed back to the gym for more torture disguised as healthy activity and signed up for cycling to music. Since I could control the resistance on the bike, I could control how terrible it would be, right? I entered the room, adjusted all of the settings, and started pedaling. Slowly. The fit little instructor suggested we “set an intention” for class which, for me, is always the same:

“…don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up…”

The tempo of the music got faster. Apparently, one is supposed to keep up with it. I’m sure the songs varied over the 45 minutes of dyspnea, but all of it felt like pedaling breathlessly and pointlessly to Cotton Eyed Joe. At minute 32, The Who entered the playlist and the effect of nervous, might-puke adrenaline coupled to a classic rock soundtrack gave it the panicky date-rapey vibe of a kegger. Somehow, my cycle-mates were still “getting out of the saddle” and pretending to pedal up invisible hills fueled by their great attitudes and second winds and other whoo-hoo-ness I’ll never, ever know.

The biggest insult of the gym is tackling the giant staircase that descends to the nirvana of the exit door. Clutching the railing with two hands as my unsure, wobbly legs navigate 37 steps to freedom, I remember that I’m paying oodles of dollars for the humiliation of it all. So tomorrow, I’ll swim laps.

See you at the gym, friends. I’m the one scream/thinking the hardest.

The only turns on my resistance knob are fake ones...

How many calories does fake-turning the resistance knob burn?

Superheroes

Anyone rather personally touched by Cancer is forever changed. It’s left me scarred, occasionally scared, frequently sanctimonious, and quite blabby. Everyone approaches it differently. More elegant victims suffer it without blogs or incessant status updating. Me, I’m share-y. But every cancered parent I have met has at some moment uttered this mantra (prayer?) of thanksgiving: if Cancer must happen, then let it be me. No matter how terrifying those early moments during diagnosis, at least this was mine to bear. The children were safe.

But for thousands of parents each year, cancer isn’t theirs to endure, but instead—impossibly– to witness in the suffering of their children. Christopher’s Haven exists for them.

You might have followed a famous sports bet between adorable celebrities who promised to dress up as their superhero alter egos to benefit sick kids in the losing team’s town. But when the Patriots won, so did everyone; and Star-Lord and Captain America made appearances that did quite a bit more than lift the spirits of children with cancer. They brought attention to organizations like the Christopher’s Haven, blowing up their website in mere minutes with donations. These are things superheroes do.

Yesterday, a lovely lunch was held rather quietly in the lower level of the Loews Hotel. Co-hosted by elegant Sue Farrell and eloquent Diana Knightly, and emceed by the charming and even-prettier-up-close Shonda Shilling, this gathering honored Chris Pratt for his social media endorsement and real life contribution to Christopher’s Haven. There was an enchanting pediatric fashion show featuring current residents and alums of the Haven alongside local kids and a handful of adorable toddlers with famous last names from Fenway. And then… and then… a parent.

I’m not sure how you can speak to strangers about your little boy and his devastating brain tumor without sobbing or reverting to stock cancer tropes or feigned optimism. But this is exactly what one mom did: she stood in front of a room full of well dressed ladies and famous ball players and do-gooding Bostonians and told the truth. Daily life seemed impossible in the face of cancer treatment for their son. How would they commute two hours to the only hospital offering the only hope? Would it be possible to afford two homes or maintain some sort of family routine for the care of their other children? Adrift, terrified, and googling, this mom found Christopher’s Haven.

Within minutes this family had options. Even more, they felt immediately like they had a support network of other parents and children who could minister to their fears and hopes, share their tears and prayers, engage in actual fun, and create those forever kind of friendships. For only $30 a day, Christopher’s Haven provided them a home away from home and an opportunity for their son to have the kind of treatment that offers cautious optimism, but aims for a cure.

Cancer is around every corner for me lately. Two close friends with new diagnoses of invasive cancer and another who learned hers is metastatic disease followed the still very fresh loss of Lisa Bonchek Adams. The quiet in the wake of Lisa’s death is a daily reminder to many of us that it’s never really over. I cry whenever I learn someone must endure the drastic-surgery-and-go-bald kind of treatment. The scientist in me knows this is an impersonal effect of cells gone rogue, but the Churchy Jesus Girl falls to her knees to pray for miracles. Yesterday, the angry skeptic appeared and wanted someone to make sense of a world where children die because we cannot reliably control tumor growth.

The ultimate salve for these emotions is love. There was great love in that room of lunching benefactors yesterday. With a bit of time and money, places like Christopher’s Haven combat sadness with comfort, replace loneliness with friendship, and attack fear with community.

There is also great love surrounding my friends who in upcoming weeks will face a blur of appointments, mutilating surgeries, and terrifying, 3am googling of side effects and survival rates. For them, there may that tiny bit of relief that this is theirs to bear. But while they endure the Let It Be Me, the rest of us will rally to be their superheroes.

In the meantime, everyone in the Cancer world will appreciate these. If you don’t know what to say to your newly diagnosed friend, well, this gal will say it for you. And if you wanted to join in and help families who are enduring the worst cancers—those affecting their children—then please click on over here and be Captain America fabulous.

Love and prayers, friends.

LEMONS

Flying

Some version of this happens whenever we travel…

She hurled her carry-on into the overhead, plopped down in the aisle seat, and made an announcement:

“I should warn you. I smell like vodka.” Leaning even closer, “I had two martinis. I’m scared of flying.”

Turning her boozy breath from my face, she waved across the aisle at her similarly schnockered sister sitting in the opposing window seat.

“That’s my sister. Hey, hey… hey,” she poked her aisle-mate, “That’s my sister. Could we trade seats?”

The aisle-mate, who was not a poke-able sort of fellow, insisted everyone keep her assigned seats until take off. The flight attendant agreed. Boozy Lady did not.

“They’re all so mean,” she stage-whispered. “SO MEAN. Oh my God, I’m bleeding. Why am I bleeding?”

Boozy Lady’s inexpert bag stowing had taken a small chunk out of her pinkie finger. The anticoagulant effect of cocktail hour plus her inability to locate the source of her wound was a messy combination. I pulled out my purse, located a Band-Aid and offered to wrap up the offending digit.

“You must be a mom. Who has Band-Aids? You’re a mom!”

“Yup.”

Bernie slid the window shade down and feigned sleep a little harder. But flight-averse Boozy Lady wanted it open.

“Hey,” she poked her aisle mate again, “Can I move over next to my sister so I can see out her window?”

“Ma’am, we’re pushing back. No one is moving right now.”

Boozy Lady elbowed me conspiratorially and lamented loudly that she couldn’t see out of the window. With one eye open, Bernie slid the panel up again.

“He hates me now, right?” her vodka-infused whispers continued.

“No, it’s fine,” I answered with rather dramatic not-looking-up-from-my-book body language.

“Hey. Um… do you know him?” she nudged. “Because he’s eating your pretzels.”

MARTINI

Three things…

Ethan advanced the idea that there are three things you don’t like that everyone else adores. I love this topic. I also love the willy-nillyness of social media that can lead me to a boy like Ethan– and in particular, Ethan’s dog, on whom I’ve developed a sincere, passionate crush.

DOG1

I don’t even like animals (there’s my first of three). But who’s a good boy? Who? Who? Yes, yes he is.

Well, not that I don’t like animals. It’s just that cats make me sneezy and I’ll never be a poopbag-carrying sort of girl. The Lee Family pet history is limited to two horrible mini frogs. One tormented and starved the other, and after his acrylic cube companion died, the murderous amphibian was released into the pond. We assured the kids that an unheated backyard water feature was an ideal new home for our lonely African jumper, and that the fish probably didn’t eat him, you know, right away. Though Brodie fantasizes adorably about Dog ownership, I already have two smallish boys with poor aim. I’m immune to all pleas. But not your adorable dog snaps. I mean, seriously. THIS DOG.

Try not to love Charlie.

Try not to love Charlie. Go ahead. Try.

Just this week, Lisa asked me to suggest some fluffy-robe resort destination for her and her lucky husband. This reminded me of my second I-hate, you-love topic: massage. I was flattered that Lisa thinks I’d enjoy a spa day. Maybe my frequent lauding of expensive shoes and brazen champagne addiction does paint the picture of a gal who knows a bit about hot stones and sea salty wraps. But I don’t.

During Zealot Sister’s Wedding Week, my mother gifted me with an hour of massage at the super fancy Victorian Ladies Day Spa. At the time, I was a young, broke graduate student, living in a rodent-frequenting apartment with my excessive revolving credit. A massage? Awesome.

But it wasn’t. No one asked me if I was a massage virgin, and so I faked massage bravado, and climbed naked under sheets nervously awaiting what others had only described with excited, moaning pleasure. But is it supposed to be, like, this chilly? I wondered and waited. Naked. At the Victorian Ladies Day Spa. Finally, my therapist arrived: harried, apologetic, and about 42 weeks pregnant. “Oh my God, it’s so HOT in here!” she gasped along with lots of information about the shenanigans of her furnace fetus. Unwilling to contribute to her preeclampsia, I didn’t mention that I was freezing. She apologized when her hot hands practically sizzled on my frozen feet, but we didn’t call it quits until I started actually shivering.

“I think I’ll just get dressed.”

More apologies and blah blah blah, but no mention of how to remedy my hypothermic, oiled state. So, I pulled clothes over my sticky body and went to find mom, who was perplexed that I hadn’t showered. But NO ONE TOLD ME WHAT TO DO, and so I happily avoided this expensive luxury for the next decade because I hate hate hate being cold and feeling stupidly sticky.

Though Bernie and I often forget our own anniversary, we still totally dig each other and at Year Five escaped small children for a weekend B&B getaway in one of those cute New England towns boasting presidential compounds and spas with couples massages in sweltering conditions. Five years of marriage and hundreds of hours of neck-straining microsurgery were certainly deserving of a dueling oohs and ahhs under boiling wraps in a steamy room! I buried all memories of my polar rubdown and booked a hot room for two. Sadly, a rare plastic surgery emergency called Bernie back to town for most of our weekend getaway. I swapped the couples massage for a single, borrowed an old-timey bike from our adorable B&B, and pedaled over to the spa for my second shot at solo shiatsu.

Again, I approached this with confidence because you maniacs keep extolling its pleasures, only to find myself alone and naked in Maine with NO IDEA who is about to enter the room. Quick prayers for divine intercession that my masseuse wasn’t a dude were issued. Quick retrieval of undergarments just in case. Florid relief when a miniature blonde in yoga pants appears, assuring me I will be warm and comfy. I relax. And for three whole minutes I can stand to be under the freak pressure of her tiny fingers. A massage rube, I’m still quite certain it’s not supposed to, ouch, hurt. But it does. And like the middle-child people pleaser I am, I didn’t say a word… enduring a slow assault that left REAL BRUISES all over my thighs. My quaint ride-a-bike-to-a-massage plan was less charming on the way back to the B&B during which I winced with each incline.

I haven’t paid to be slathered with scented oils by a stranger since. I not so secretly think all of you are nuts at best, adulterous at least to enjoy this nonsense. But, that’s me.

Three is skiing. Yikes and brrr sums it up squarely. Though thousands of tweets and updates attest to a fanatic obsession with all sorts of things assumed to be loved by all, I’m sure all of us are baffled by a few. And maybe we’re sort of quiet about it. How ostracized the furtive few who have only lukewarm feelings about bacon or the Beatles?

Ethan’s confession was Boyhood, tagging it a “three hour menagerie of evolving facial hair.” I could fill a binder with complaints about beer, snorkeling, traveling, and Lena Dunham.

What are the popular obsessions you cannot abide? Before Ethan acquired his dog, I might have complained about over-Instagramming a pet. But I think we’ll all agree that there cannot be too many pictures of Charlie.