Last week at an outdoor farmer’s market, I didn’t notice this hefty woman coming toward me until she was almost beside me. At the precise second I saw her, she ah-choooooed into her stubby hand. Her sneeze spewed sideways on me like a blast from a fire hose. No social distancing, no sneezing into her elbow, no mask. Oblivious, she lumbered on, enticed by the distant aroma of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, her hand saturated with sneeze goo.
She waddled over to the cinnamon roll booth, fondled her credit card with her wet, germy hand and pointed to the pastry of her desire. The bun lady took her credit card with a hand encased in a vinyl glove, which was instantly contaminated with a gazillion germs. Germs don’t care if they are on your hand or on your glove. They’re happy either way.
The bun lady gave back the credit card with some of the germs riding on it like a fun rollercoaster. Other germs made it onto the paper plate and cinnamon roll she handed to the sneezing lady. Some stayed on the bun- lady’s hand. They waited patiently on her glove, playing charades and canasta, not in any hurry because they had plenty of time (up to three days) to get to a person’s nose.
The lady of the billowing sneeze left, and a nice man in his twenties went up to the counter and asked for two sticky buns. The germs on the bun-lady’s glove slid onto two paper plates. They waved goodbye to their friends left behind on the glove and to the other germs that had hitched a ride on the young man’s credit card.
The young man took the sticky buns to his grandma – she loves those fresh baked buns but can’t go to the farmer’s market anymore because of the virus, so her nice grandson picked one up for her. Neither of them suspects that millions of germs are on their plates, and before long the germs are on granny’s hand. She had washed her hands before eating – at her age she has to be vigilant – but the pollen is just awful this year and without even thinking she rubbed her ticklish nose. The happy germs celebrate – they’re in! Soon they’ll be partying in granny’s lungs.
There’s no way to know what kind of germs that woman sneezed into her hand, whether they are harmless or just mild cold or flu bugs. But if they’re COVID-19’s, granny’s a goner. Death by sticky bun.
Remember when you were a kid and someone held out a beetle or salamander or crab and threatened to put it on you? Usually this was your older brother but it could have been a cousin or someone down the street. As soon as that brat came toward you, you took off running and screaming and crying for your mother.
Those people who believe the corona virus is just another flu, who think they’re strong enough to fight the virus, or, even scarier, say it’s just a conspiracy so they don’t need to practice social distancing or wear masks – they’re the brats now.
Maybe we should run and scream when these care-less people get too close. Or shout “PANDEMIC” like one of my friends does. They can get sick and die if they want to, but why take us with them? Believe what you want, people, but please keep your stupid germs to yourself.
At the end of this morning’s Mass our priest gave us a homework assignment. He told us to think about a person who has been an advocate for us. In his sermon, Deacon Bill defined the Advocate, or the Holy Spirit, as a comforter, counselor, friend and companion.
Lots of people have been one or more of those to me, but if I have to choose just one, it’s my friend Laurie. I’ve dumped my troubles on her in the most boring and repetitious ways and she’s given me support when she’d probably just as soon slap some duct tape over my mouth.
The best thing is she’ll listen and do it quick. You don’t get much phone time with Laurie, she’s always busy, so you’ve got to launch right into your whining – get right to the point about what a jerk someone has been so she can (a) agree with you and (b) pile more on, even if she’s never met the person, and (c) give her tidbit of either advice, “the person is a jerk, you gotta just walk away,” or sympathy, “the person has always been a jerk, I don’t know how you stand it.”
Laurie doesn’t like conflict, so she’s not going to present you with an opposing view – she’s never a “devil’s advocate.” Lots of friends will try to gently inform you that you have something to do with your current misery, and if you simply take their advice you’ll live happily ever after. I know Laurie feels that way about my troubles, I’m not stupid, but she doesn’t kick me when I’m down. She doesn’t want to fix me. She just wants to hang out, although one time after being saturated with my repetitious indignities, she did tell me, “Well, Suzanne, you’re no picnic.”
When I got my first humor article published in The Oregonian, Laurie invited me over. She had congratulation balloons, bonbons, and a jar of Nutella on the counter with two spoons. Yes we’re white trash. There were also generous servings of alcohol to celebrate. Some people are jealous of your accomplishments, but she never is, or else she’s a good actress. I’m so shy and insecure (I’m a good actress!), that when I made a video about my projects I sent it to her for an opinion. She called and said, “Oh my gosh, that video is hilarious. You say, ‘and that’s not all, and wait there’s more,” and you say ‘that fish is about frying pan size.’ John and I are still laughing. It’s so funny.” I asked if I should show it to others. “Oh yeah, it’s hilarious. You gotta show it to everybody.” It’s a couple blogs down from this, and no one else thinks it’s funny. Laurie keeps bringing it up every time I talk to her: “Oh my gosh, that video. Too funny!”
Years ago, after I had a stillborn child, and I thought we should have a funeral, Laurie called my friends and asked them to come. One said, “The baby wasn’t even alive, why are they having a funeral? I don’t want to miss work.” I have no doubt that Laurie felt the same way, but she called anyway, and she came to the funeral, because she knew it would comfort me. Funerals are for the living.
So for my homework, I pictured several people who’ve been advocates to me – friends and relatives who have helped me in big and little ways, from the man who pulled off the freeway and changed the flat tire on my rental car, to my neighbor Eric who hobbled down the trail on his newly operated knee to rescue my little dog when I lost her.
So I want to thank all of you, my Mom and Dad, my husband, children, brother, mother-in-law, aunt, cousins, niece, nephew, friends. Wait. This sounds like I’m practicing for an academy award speech. I want to thank all of you who have given me great counsel, been my friend and companion, gone with me on journeys just so I wouldn’t have to go alone, and comforted me in low times and made me laugh. I owe everything to you guys. I can feel the Holy Spirit flowing through you, whether you believe in him or not.
Have I got a fish tale to tell you. Friday morning I got up around 7 and found our 14 year old goldfish at the bottom of the tank, his fins clamped close, his eyes cloudy, his tail ragged – all very bad omens for a fish. I turned his light on and sprinkled food in the water like I always do. The flakes swirled around him like snow but he didn’t move. Didn’t even twitch. In almost 15 years of life, this fish has always wiggled and splashed and opened his mouth wide to snatch at the food – it’s actually kind of cute the way he carries on. I knew something was seriously wrong. The fish is like me – it lives to eat.
I went to Google right away and of course everyone said the problem was dirty tank water. Goldfish eat a lot and excrete a lot, and ammonia builds up, and nitrites and nitrates. It’s what causes most goldfish to go belly up a few days after your daughter brings one home in a little plastic bag all excited crying, “Look what I won, Mommy, look what I won!” Which is how we ended up with this fish in 2005.
That tank is clean. To get the dirty water out, I siphon 25% of the tank into a bucket like some juvenile delinquent stealing gas from his neighbor’s car, and put fresh water in about every other day. The water is crystal clear and debris free. So Google said to use garlic water as a tonic. I smashed three cloves of garlic into hot water and let them infuse for about an hour, and put some peeled, frozen peas in there too. Goldfish love peas.
Meanwhile I sucked the water out again, even though I’d done a water change the day before, just in case. I reached my hand in with the siphon hose and the fish swam slowly away as I got closer, and moved faster when I bumped him a couple of times, which I thought was a good sign. After I strained the chunks out, I poured the garlic water into the tank, and he gobbled up one of the peas right away. A good omen. I figure as long as something will eat, it’ll be okay. The only side effect was the acrid smell of raw garlic wafting through the house.
You may think this is a lot of attention to give to an old fish that has cost me a fortune over the years in food, filters, gadgets, and medicine, and the many hours and much money I spent on the new tank and accessories and the new stand I made (click on https://www.gentlehumor.com/diy-projects-or-am-i-crazy/for my rant about that). You’d think putting the belly-up fish in an unmarked grave in the back yard would be a relief. But I would feel guilty for years. Did I change the water enough? Too much? Did I overfeed? Underfeed? What did I do wrong – the fish looked great yesterday, and now he’s all ragged and mangy looking. I knew I had to fix the fish or suffer the pangs of guilt.
Around 10am I got a call from my husband. “How’s that fish?” An odd question – he doesn’t even like the fish because the tank bubbles all the time in the background while he’s trying to watch TV.
I said, “He’s really sick.”
“I found him on the tile this morning,” he said.
“The tile floor. In the entryway.”
“The fish was on the floor?”
“Yeah when I was leaving about 5:45 this morning, I walked in and saw something on the floor. I thought ‘what the heck is that?’ Luckily the light was on or I probably wouldn’t have seen him.”
“He jumped out of the tank?”
“Yeah he jumped out of the tank. I went over to see what was on the floor and bent down and saw the dead fish. It was as dry as a bone. So I got the dustpan and scooped it up to throw it in the garbage, and its tail moved. ‘Damn,’ I thought – I was happy to see him go. I carried him in the dustpan over to the tank, picked him up by the tail and lowered him into the water. I lifted him up and down a few times until his gills started moving, then I let go. He sunk to the bottom and just sat there, but he was alive when I left for work.”
“That fish jumped out of the tank and shimmied three feet over the carpet and ended up on the tile?”
“Yeah, and there was a little blood under him too, from the gills. I wouldn’t have even seen him if the light wasn’t on.”
“Well, the dog was squirming in bed at 4:30 so I let her out, fed her and left her with the light on in the living room and went back to bed.”
“Well, it’s a good thing, because I probably wouldn’t have seen that fish.”
After I hung up, my feelings went from relief that it wasn’t my neglect, to pity for the poor fish hitting the hard floor and flopping around for who knows how long, to irritation. Stupid fish. He had to be lined up just perfectly in order to get out of the small opening I leave in the lid so he can get plenty of oxygen.
Here’s what I think happened. Lots of trees grow around our one-level house. Branches fall all the time and they sound like someone dropped an anvil on the roof, and for the last couple of days an east wind has been howling. I’d cleaned the fish’s filters and put in fresh water the day before, so the water was very high. That fish has always been extremely skittish. I think a big limb dropped and made a boom when he was in the perfect position, and because of the higher water, he flinched himself right out of the tank. Then he flopped three feet across the carpet to the tile floor, which explains why he was so dry, and then he was just about dead when my husband found him.
That evening when Scott came home from work we had a few laughs about the fish, and marveled at the coincidences that caused his life to be saved. If our 19 year old dog had slept in, the light would have been off and he might have even stepped on the fish and slid across the tile like he’d stepped on a banana peel. Or if he had left for work a few minutes earlier or later, the fish would be dead. After we’d explored all the scenarios that could have happened, he said, “Somebody around here is cooking something. Can’t you smell that? It’s making me hungry.”
“It’s the garlic,” I said, and explained about the tonic. He’s used to the “natural” remedies I’ve always used on our kids and pets, so he just shook his head and laughed.
PS: It’s been 48 hours and the fish is still alive – though he looks pretty ragged, but his appetite is as robust as ever. Always a good sign.
This fish tale is my Happy Mother’s Day present to all of you Mothers of both children and pets. Bless you all!
I took my dog for a walk on a quiet street today and came to a fenced yard that corralled three rambunctious children. As soon as I came into view, the three blitzed me with questions and “watch this’s.” They reminded me of baby birds clamoring for worm-gooey from their momma.
A pie-faced little girl in a flowery sweatshirt and tan leggings galloped over to the fence like a horse wanting a sugar cube. She had long blond hair wrapped in a black nun-like veil similar to ones I’ve seen on immigrant Russian women in rural Aurora. She climbed on the bottom rung of the fence and hollered, without taking a breath, “I don’t live at this house, I’m having a play date, I live down the street, I get school at home because of the corona, I like your little dog, I’m five and a half, how old are you?”
At the same time, two skinny boys on the side-yard jungle-gym just behind her shouted like an unholy, discordant back-up choir. “Watch this. Now watch. I have superhero pajamas on. I’m a superhero pajama man. Watch me do this. See, I can climb up here all by myself. Watch now. Watch and I’ll swing. Look at me, I’m swinging. I’m swinging. I’m Superhero Pajama Man.”
I was about the legal social-distance away – six feet – and had stopped walking to give them my full attention, but all three still shouted.
“How old are you,” the girl said again, completely ignoring the bellowing behind her. With typical kid etiquette, she’d given me her age and wanted to know mine.
The boy called out, “I’m six and a half. So is he.” He pointed to the boy beside him, dangling from the other trapeze rings.
“How old are you?” the girl persisted. She was still on the bottom rung of the fence, squirming and wiggling, bending knees, stretching toes.
“I’m pretty old,” I said. I didn’t want, who knows why, to reveal my age.
“We have the same birthday. November 7th,” Superhero Pajama Man said.
“Are you twins?” I called out. They didn’t even look like brothers, much less twins. The quieter one was small with blonde hair; Superhero had dark hair.
“Yes,” they sang out simultaneously, “We’re twins!”
“That’s pretty cool,” I said but don’t think they heard me. They never stopped chirping. The only thing I could hear was, “How old are you?” from the little girl.
“Pretty old,” I said.
“My grandmother is 73.”
“I’m not quite that old.”
“How old are you?”
I finally divulged my age, and she said, “Oh, you are way younger than my grandmother.” Not really. But in these days of staying home, not bothering to put on make up and cutting my own hair, I took it as a compliment.
“Watch this,” Superhero called. He hung on the bars and pulled himself up like he’d been doing the entire time.
“Amazing,” I said with gusto because I figured that would make him happy. I started to leave and told them goodbye. “Watch this,” both boys begged.
“When is your birthday?” the girl said.
I laughed. “I bet you all miss school, don’t you?”
“We’re going to school across the street,” Superhero said. He pointed to a house at the end of a long drive.
“That must be interesting,” I said.
“Because of the corona,” the girl said. “How old is your dog?”
“She’s 19. That’s over 100 in people years.”
“Wow,” came the chorus.
I started inching away. “I have to go now. Have fun!”
“I wish you were little like us and could come in and play with us,” the girl said.