Diagnosis: Dead Butt

A few weeks ago, I found out my butt has forgotten it’s a butt. After I told a massage therapist that the backs of my legs are always tight, he led me through a series of leg lifts, then declared, “You can stretch your legs all day long, but it won’t help. What you’re dealing with is gluteal amnesia.”

Although the phrase pretty much spoke for itself, when I got home I googled gluteal amnesia and learned the condition is also known as “dead butt.” So that’s fun. My butt is dead and has no memory. Hopefully that means it’s unaware of its passing.

When faced with stupid things like gluteal amnesia, I’m reminded of why I write fantasy. As the dragons in my books age, they just get bigger and more awesome. They don’t get dead butt and have to incorporate a million squats and donkey kicks into their already-lengthy daily exercise routines.

I suppose I should do some research to find out if there are other body parts that can forget themselves and expire without warning. It would really suck if my ears suddenly decided they were feet, set out on a hike, and died on the trail. Or my spleen decided it was a pancreas, and…like…bad things happened. 🤷‍♀️ [Note to self: Find out what spleens and pancreases do.]

This situation has been added to my ever-growing life list titled: Things I Never Knew Were Possible And I Guess I’m Kind of Glad About That. Also on the list:

  • I can pinch a nerve in my back just by turning my head.
  • At some point, the date on a penny becomes nothing but a blur.
  • Hairs can grow in the most unexpected places.

The good news is: there are ways to combat gluteal amnesia. Whew. And while I focus on resurrecting my butt, to maintain a general sense of sanity, I’ll trust all my other body parts to remain alive, self-aware, and secure in their identities. Seriously, is that so much to ask?

The Joy of Aging

This morning, I pooped in a box and mailed it to Madison, Wisconsin.

If you’d like to know why, read on. If you’re thinking, Ew, she said poop, I suggest you click away now.

I felt pretty confident going into my physical last month. I knew I’d be referred for a mammogram, but I got my first one last year and learned it wasn’t as big a deal as I’d feared. The next unpleasant scan I’d have to face – the dreaded colonoscopy – wouldn’t be an issue until I hit 50. Or so I believed.

My doctor ran through the regular rigamarole while I sat on the table in a stiff paper gown, swinging my legs without a care in the world. Then, to my horror, I heard the words: “Colon screenings are now recommended beginning at age 45.”

Wah.

All was not lost, however, as she went on to describe a possible alternative to the traditional colonoscopy: independently collecting a stool sample and sending it to a lab. Since that sounded way better than giving myself a bunch of enemas, then having a camera shoved up my butt (that is what happens, right?), I asked her to sign me up for the stool sample option.

The box arrived at my home yesterday. Inside, I found a few pieces of equipment and a 30-page booklet that should have been titled: “Poop Collection For Dummies.” The instructions included helpful hints like: “If you cannot remove the stick from the tube, pull harder,” and: “Do not drink the preservative liquid.” One page featured this lovely drawing and reassuring tip:

As I read the endless instructions, all I could think of was the fact that actual people doing actual things had led to the creation of this booklet. Someone made the decision to drink a bottle of preservative fluid that arrived in a box from a medical lab. Someone looked at their poop and thought, What the hell just came out of me?? It’s obviously not poop! It looks nothing like that drawing!

Somehow, I managed to get through the complicated set of tasks, sealed up the box, and drove on over to UPS to send it on its way. Happily, I was not asked what was in the box when I dropped it off, although I had an answer at the ready: “It is literally full of crap.”

Getting older is a mixed bag. I appreciate the increased sense of calm, awareness, and understanding. I’m far less stoked about getting my boobs squished into a machine by a stranger and having to poop in a box. But I suppose I should count my lucky stars. At least I’m not employed as a box opener at that lab in Wisconsin.

You Gotta Laugh

For obvious reasons, as I think back on my husband’s heart attack last weekend, I choose to focus on the funny parts. I did plenty of crying and screaming already. Now, laughter seems like the best option.

Memory #1: I arrive at the ER and am led approximately 2.5 miles through endless, winding corridors to a friendly person who lets me know I’m in the wrong place. I’m then led back to where I started and given a new guide who walks me another 2.5 miles through a different maze of corridors to an empty waiting area where I’m told to sit and await further instructions. I sit and think, Well, I guess I live at the hospital now. Because I will never find my way out of here.

Memory #2: A friend I texted earlier calls while I’m talking to the cardiac surgeon. When I check the voice-to-text interpretation of her voicemail, part of it reads: “It’s just a glitch, and his wife is dead.” I am? I think. Sheesh. What a way to find out. [Note: She actually said, “It’s just a glitch in his life, and…yeah.”]

Memory #3: A nurse is sent to collect me from the waiting area and bring me to JR in the ICU. He introduces himself, explains he was part of JR’s surgical team, then asks, “So, can I call you Mrs. Fox?” I want to tell him he can call me Mrs. Fox if he really wants to, but my name is Kelly Wolf. Instead I say, “Kelly’s fine.” He just helped save JR’s life, after all. He doesn’t need to be subjected to Mrs. Fox’s snarky attitude.

Memory #4: I reunite with JR in his hospital room. He’s pretty freaked out but also on lots of drugs, so he’s in relatively good spirits. There’s a nurse in the room asking questions, and while she records his answers on a computer, JR asks me if I’ll go get us burritos. I don’t reply. He then asks the nurse if I can get us burritos, and she gives me a stern look, as if it were my idea. She then provides a lengthy lecture about the heart-healthy diet JR needs to follow from here on out, which should *not* include burritos. [Pft. Whatever. That woman clearly didn’t know who the hell she was talking to.]

The nurse concludes her battery of questions and leaves. A few minutes later, another nurse comes in, and JR asks him if he can have something to eat. The nurse says he can probably dig up some graham crackers. He then says (and I swear this is true), “But later you may want to have your wife go pick up burritos or something. The food here is really bland.”

😲

But the funniest thing by far, out of all the absurd circumstances surrounding this traumatic event, is the sign posted in the dance studio where it happened:

I guess some folks take that guidance literally.

Toy Story Moments

The first time I saw a toy come to life, I was eight years old. As a child, I was highly imaginative and extremely sensitive, and as such, I was certain my toys – especially the stuffed animals – were alive, had a complex range of emotions, and were simply waiting for the right time to reveal their true nature to me.

As I lay in bed one night, I detected motion in my peripheral vision, coming from the corner of the room where I kept my stuffed animals. My heart skipped a beat as I looked over and confirmed that, indeed, the animals were moving. Then, right before my mystified little eyes, my stuffed unicorn took a step forward! And my eight-year-old brain erupted.

OH WOW OH WOW MY TOYS ARE ALIVE I ALWAYS KNEW IT THIS IS SO AMAZING WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WILL THEY SPEAK TO ME DO I SPEAK TO THEM WHAT SHOULD I SAY?????

But before I had a chance to say anything, my cat Tory jumped out from behind the stuffed animals, sat down, and began licking a paw, casual as could be, as if she hadn’t just crushed a little girl’s dreams into dust.

Hmph.

The second time I saw a toy come to life was much later, when I was in my mid-20s and living in Santa Cruz, California. It was a weekend morning, and I was washing dishes and gazing out the window when I noticed some movement on the windowsill, where JR had arranged a bunch of action figures he’d recently purchased at a yard sale. I dropped my gaze and watched with wide, alarmed eyes as Darth Vader walked along the windowsill, then pitched himself over the edge and into the soapy water.

Since I was no longer eight years old, my initial reaction was more like: Am I drunk? No, I just woke up. What the hell was that? But beneath all the layers of cynicism I’d gathered since childhood, there was still a tiny part of me that gleefully squeaked, See? I always knew toys were alive!

Then JR’s voice shouted, “Get in the doorway, Sweetie!” and I spun around to see him braced in the kitchen door frame. Only then did I realize it was an earthquake, not a spark of life, that had sent Darth Vader bopping across the windowsill and into the sink.

I searched for “soapy Darth Vader,” and this came up for some reason. Now my life will not be complete until I get to fly in a Vader head hot air balloon.

So there ya have it, folks – two incidents in which my MAGIC IS REAL! bubble was inflated, then popped immediately by a hard dose of boring reality.

(Although I suppose earthquakes aren’t really that boring.)

(Also, I’m still pretty sure toys are alive.)

When Dad Was in Charge of My Social Life

I grew up in the 80s – the age of big hair, Jazzercise, jelly shoes, and landlines.

And yes, the transparent phone was actually a thing.

One of the challenges of landlines was having to rely on the members of your household to let you know who called while you were out. While my mom and sister were reliable when it came to delivering messages, Dad was hit-or-miss. Case in point: I came home one day when I was around 10 or 11, and Dad informed me that Bar had called.

I stared at him a moment, then asked, “What?”

“Bar called,” he replied, his eyes glued to the television. (I can’t remember what he was watching, but it was definitely a Western, fishing show, or football.)

“Bar?” I replied.

“Yup.” As if to drive the point home, he handed me a piece of paper on which he’d written: KELLY BAR CALLED.

“I don’t know anyone named Bar,” I said, but Dad declined further comment. As far as he was concerned, his work as messenger was concluded and the conversation over.

I paused to think. Who could have called whose name sounded like Bar? I ran through my friends’ names, and none of them fit the bill. I then remembered I’d been assigned a class project with a boy named Paul. Had Paul called about the project? Did Paul sound like Bar?

“Was it a girl or a boy?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad replied.

Sigh.

Now, I was in a sticky situation. I’d never called a boy before, and the very idea was horrifying, but if Paul had called and I didn’t call back, he might tell the teacher I was shirking my responsibilities. Argh! So with my heart hammering in my ears, I found his family’s name in the phonebook and dialed the number.

His mom answered, and I squeaked out, “Is Paul there?”

“Sure, just a moment, please,” she replied, friendly as could be. “Paul!”

I almost puked in the five-second interval between speaking to his mom and hearing his voice say, “Hello?”

I swallowed hard. “Hi, Paul. This is Kelly Menser. Did you call me?”

“No,” he snapped, snide as could be. His mom’s positive role modeling clearly had no effect on him.

“Okay, bye!” Utterly mortified, I slammed down the phone, then stomped upstairs as my cheeks seared and mind swirled with furious thoughts about my father’s message-taking abilities.

That evening, my friend Laura called. “I called earlier and talked to your dad,” she said. “He didn’t tell you?”

I closed my eyes and heaved a breath out my nose. Dad knew Laura very well. He had probably talked to her a hundred times. “He told me Bar called,” I grumbled.

“Bar?” she replied.

“Yes. He even wrote it down.”

“BAR?” She burst out laughing.

When she’d quieted down a bit, I added, “And I thought it might’ve been Paul, so I called him.”

“You called PAUL?!” she shrieked. “AH HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!”

So at least Laura got a good laugh out of it. After I got off the phone, I went into the family room to inform Dad that it was Laura who’d called earlier.

“Okay,” he replied. Thinking back on it now, I imagine he had no idea what I was talking about.

A Different Kind of Booster

On a recent walk, I came upon a man standing on the side of the road. He had a pretty creepy vibe, but since I was on a trajectory to walk right past him, I figured I should probably say something. As I passed, I pushed my headphones off one ear, made eye contact, and said, “Hey, good to see you!”

Wait…what did I just say?

Yup. “Good to see you.” That’s what I chose to tell a creepy man I’d never seen before in my life. After two years of limited contact with other humans, my interpersonal muscles have atrophied. I can’t even manage a cliché conversation. At this point, folks, what I need more desperately than anything available from Pfizer or Moderna is a social skills booster.

I envision the SS booster re-instilling basic abilities like:

  • At a store: How to make idle chit-chat with the teller
  • At an event: How to engage in simple, unoffensive group conversation
  • In daily life: How to have a non-mortifying, two-second encounter with a stranger

Given how long the pandemic’s dragged on, I doubt I’m the only socially-impaired person flailing around the world. I recognize a booster shot may be unrealistic, but could someone please open some sort of post-pandemic finishing school?

Kick Jargon to the Curb

Let’s save the world and never say these things again:

  1. Pivot
  2. Warm hand off
  3. Lift up
  4. Deep dive
  5. Reach out
  6. Transparency
  7. Crosswalk
  8. Level set
  9. Resonate
  10. Heavy lift
  11. Course correct

(There are loads more, but I have to stop. I’m about to barf.)

Instead, let’s just say what we mean:

  • Pivot: Let’s try something else.
  • Warm hand off: I’ll introduce you.
  • Lift up: This is important.
  • Deep dive: There’s lots to talk about.
  • Reach out: Feel free to contact me.
  • Transparency: Choose honesty over shadiness.
  • Crosswalk: Let’s merge two things.
  • Level set: Here’s why we’re meeting.
  • Resonate: I feel that, yo.
  • Heavy lift: This is gonna be a ton of work.
  • Course correct: Someone effed up. We’ll fix it.

See? Not so hard. Sure, we need to use a few more words, but it’s totally worth it.

We can do this, folks. I feel it in my heart. If we all work together, we can give jargon a warm hand off straight to hell.

Look Up

Bert Hubley was one of the best teachers I ever had. Tasked to instill a pre-chemistry curriculum into the minds of middle schoolers, he threw in ornithology and astronomy, as well, just to keep things interesting. His sky-high expectations were both intimidating and exhilarating, and even those daunted by his style couldn’t help but respect him.

Mr. Hubley cautioned his pupils not to be the sort of people who wander around staring at their feet, especially at night when there’s a starry sky to observe. To mark the end of each period, he’d ask his signature question: “What’s the word, class?” As instructed, we’d respond, “Look up.” (Granted, that’s two words, but whatever. He didn’t teach English, or math, and the message was sound: Look up, people. Pay attention.)

I am often reminded of Mr. Hubley’s tutelage about halfway through my daily walk, as I plod along ruminating on my workday, conducting imaginary, mental arguments with random people, or generally fretting about inconsequential crap. At some point during this unobserved trudge through the neighborhood, a kindly voice will break through the haze to ask: “What’s the word, class?”

And I remember his lesson, and I look up.

It can be a real gift, breaking out of one’s head.

Thank you, Mr. Hubley, and to all the great teachers out there. Your lessons have the power to make a lifelong difference.

Maybe It’s Just Me

My little family (two humans + two dogs) is staying at a very cool AirBNB on the South Carolina coast this week. The place is amazing – spacious, beautifully appointed, etc. I love it, except for one thing. The only available cutting board is made of glass.

Lots of people like glass cutting boards, even though they are the absolute worst. Last night, as I cringed my way through the process of mincing a whole head of garlic, I generated a list of other things people like that I don’t understand. (Please know this list is in no way comprehensive. I don’t like lots of things.)

#1 – Porn. From my viewing experience, porn is equal parts boring, depressing, and infuriating. Granted, I haven’t watched porn in many years, so maybe it’s improved….? (Just kidding, I’m sure it’s still terrible.)

#2 – Romantic comedies. See “porn” explanation above.

#3 – Also related to porn, calling anything you like blank-porn (e.g., food porn). Blech. Stop equating good things with porn. Especially food. Food is awesome. Porn is dumb.

#4 – Referring to oneself as a whore based on one’s interests (i.e., “I’m obsessed with shoes. I’m a total shoe whore”). This makes no sense. Whores get paid. Did you get paid to buy those twelve pairs of shoes? No. No, you didn’t.

#5 – Glass cutting boards. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY DO THESE EVEN EXIST? The last thing any cook needs is a cutting surface that’s abrasively loud, ruins knives, and provides a continual stream of nails-on-a-chalkboard heebie jeebies. If I believed in Satan, I would blame him for creating these evil pieces of shit.

#6 – Kombucha. All I have to say about this rotten tea is 🤢 .

#7 – Reality TV and talk shows where people act like complete idiots and scream at each other. Again, see “porn” explanation above.

#8 – Shopping. In theory, I don’t mind shopping. Even knowing myself as I do, when I need to purchase something, I can psyche myself up for it. Right now, for example, I’d like a new pair of waterproof sandals, and I am delusionally telling myself it will be a fun experience to shop for them. But what I also know is this: shopping has a wholly soporific effect on me. As soon as I walk into a store, I want to curl up on the floor and go to sleep. Therefore, in an effort to remain conscious, I spend as little time in stores as possible. My husband is the opposite. He loves to shop, but not with me. On the rare occasion when we do shop together, if he sees me approaching, he’ll run in the opposite direction. This is because I only ever have one question for him: “You ready?”

All right, that’s enough. This type of exercise is a slippery slope, leading inevitably to the land of I Am All Alone in the World, which, I realize, is not true.

I just really, REALLY hate glass cutting boards.

Rise Up Screaming

Ever since I took a job with a heavy lean towards bureaucracy, my dreams have been utter crap. Because a big component of the dream world is “cerebral housekeeping” – essentially, our minds kicking out anything from the previous day that is deemed unworthy of brain space – my dreams consist of subject matter like populating spreadsheets, navigating government databases, crafting cumbersome contracts, and trying to coerce people in leadership positions to respond to repeated, urgent inquiries. In short, it sucks. None of that shit is acceptable fodder for dreams. Or real life.

The other night was different, though. For starters, I wasn’t even in my own dream. Instead, the protagonist was a retired professor in a virtual meeting with a group of former students. Their interactions seemed sinister somehow, then became innocuous and conversational before the scene shifted entirely, now featuring two people closed in a room, watching two other people through a window in the door. When it became clear to the folks in the room that they were imprisoned and their captors were getting ready to abandon them, one of the prisoners put his mouth up to the window to scream for help. The scream wouldn’t come out, though. It was just a muted, slow moan. He tried again. It was a little louder, but no scream. He took a deep breath and tried with all his might. Finally, the scream came forth, low at first, then rising in pitch and intensity: “ooooooOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

And that’s how I woke myself up. As I lay in the darkness, I came to the embarrassing conclusion that I had most definitely been vocalizing the crazed cries of the guy in my dream. This was confirmed as my dog Daisy ran into the room to nuzzle me with clear concern, and my husband tapped my shoulder, then shook it gently.

“I’m awake,” I muttered. “I’m sorry.”

“That sounded scary,” JR replied.

“I’m okay.”

I lay there in silence, imagining JR and the dogs’ sudden shock into consciousness by my strangled moans-turned-screams. As the scene rolled over in my head, including Daisy’s valiant rush to my aid, a burst of laughter exploded out my nose, and that was that. I could not stop laughing. Of course, that woke everybody again.

“What’s up?” JR mumbled.

“It’s just so funny. The sounds I must have been making…”

“Oh, yeah. It was like ooooooowwwwww aaaaahhhhgggg…..”

And then we were both laughing. Titus, the 100+ pound dog who sleeps in our bed, decided these nighttime shenanigans were pretty awesome and started to wriggle all over and lick our faces. Daisy stayed put wherever she was, probably shaking her head and wishing everyone would shut up and go back to sleep already.

To me, there is something so incredibly hilarious about losing physical control of oneself. I’ve written about this before, recounting another time I rocketed myself and the rest of the household out of sleep by wrenching dream behaviors into the waking world. At least this time, I didn’t kick JR full-force in the shin. 🤣