Friday, August 29, 2008

Ode to a Gallbladder; Kickoff Is So Very Here (Friday Roundup)

A Little Lesson in Healthy Living ... The function of the gallbladder is to make grown women double-over in pain. And then they have this apparently faulty organ removed, and all is right with the world. Until they're out at dinner, bite into a piece of fried chicken or down a half-pizza, run-walk to the car and sit in the passenger's seat and scream, "Drive faster!" Which is far better than the pre-surgery pain, whose origin seems to have neither rhyme nor reason. But I'm no doctor.
My friend, Caprice, of hurricane relief fame in Thursday's post, went under the laparoscope Thursday (FINALLY) to take out her very out-of-commission gallbladder. If you missed this tidbit on your evening news, the synopsis goes like this: She had been lying on the bathroom floor for about two weeks when she decided it might be time to seek medical attention. The ultrasound showed that she was out of her mind and that nothing was wrong with her abdominal region. Her doctor sent her for a second test -- apparently, the first test didn't know what it was talking about. The second test revealed that her gall bladder was functioning at only 2 percent. And at only 2 percent, a gallbladder can only do so much with tamales and cheeses of the world.
"Well, that makes sense," I told her.
"What makes sense?" I then explained that when a person subsists on Hot & Spicy Cheez-Its and refrigerated cookie dough, the digestive system eventually says, "Whoa!" She became defensive and boasted about how she makes wise food choices.
"So, what are you eating now?" I asked.
"A spicy taco from Costco."
A week—and several spicy tacos from the deep freeze—later, the surgery is over, and the prognosis is good. Caprice delivered a very unhealthy gallbladder Thursday morning, and it either resembled a shriveled-up raisin or a rusty grenade. Nobody seems to want to comment on its appearance. No matter how many times I ask.

It's Here! It's Here! ...
Our house feels a little like it does on Christmas. This weekend marks the first kickoff of the '08 college football season. Tonight, our car will be packed, coolers will be on standby next to the refrigerator, and the kids will go to bed early. Ours is a family that bleeds orange and blue, but our affinity for college football is largely color blind—well, not THAT color blind. We may not cheer for every team, but if we're not seated in the stadium on Saturday, we're in our den, watching just about any (and every) televised gridiron match, from early morning late into the night. If you aren't fortunate enough to live in Alabama, you might think we suffer a mild disorder. But this is Alabama, and this is what we do.

A Little Football Fare ... If you are in the deep South and will be traveling to one of two games this weekend -- because around here, there are only two games -- check out my pal Alan's blog about dining options. Please do not consider this an endorsement of any of these fine establishments (except Momma Goldbergs, which everyone loves and where my dear husband and Alan both enjoyed a brief career in food service), but simply a listing. I would not want to be held responsible for any post-Varsity side effects. Alan, however, must have a GI system made of cast iron. Check out his recommendations here.

War Eagle, y'all ...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Katrina, You Big Pain

When you live more than 200 miles inland, hurricanes generally do only one thing: slow you down. It's a nice pace, and you get an excused absence from just about everything. Kids may get out of school early, the boss sends you home, you play board games with the kids, and when the electricity finally is restored, everyone flees the previously candlelit room and retreats to their own spaces like a bunch of cockroaches. "The together time was fun--really, it was--but I must be getting back to ... something else." Cabin fever is a terrible, terrible thing.

Once upon a time, I thought hurricanes were fun because all they brought us (at 200+ miles inland) was some overspending at the grocery store, the thrill of flashlights and new batteries, lots of rain and maybe a little yard work once it was over.

This weekend marks the third anniversary of Katrina's visit to New Orleans and all the crap she left behind. I read one account recently of a travel writer who visited New Orleans earlier this year. His cab driver was in his late 70s, and Katrina took everything he owned. To try to get back on his 70something-year-old feet, he's shuttling tourists around the city. He told the writer, "You know, that Katrina was a real ............" And I can't even type the word, it's so awful. I'll bet (and hope) my kids have never even heard this word. But it's about the most accurate description of a Category 5 hurricane you could imagine. Gosh, I wish I could include it here, because it really does capture the spirit.

Katrina was one of those terrific things that you will spend the rest of your life saying, "I remember when ..." and then you fill in the blanks with the event and what you were doing that day. Like Sept. 11, 2001, when I was having my first mammogram and the tech forgot about me and left me naked in a fifth-floor room for more than 30 minutes because she went to sit in front of the TV. I thought something was really wrong with me and entire teams of specialists must be gathered around my films, but later found out that wasn't the case. The world was falling apart.

As Katrina made its way toward the Gulf Coast, and New Orleans residents were gathering inside the Superdome for shelter and safety, I stood in front of the TV (not neglecting anyone, by the way) and wondered how it was that all this media could get into the city, but nobody seemed to be able to get out. I also remember hearing a reporter ask a New Orleans official what this would mean for the Saints' season opener. (True story.)

Over the next couple of days, I, along with the rest of the country, watched New Orleans drown. Too many days of that, and a person starts to think, "I probably need to get off this couch." Next thing you know, my friend Caprice and I were under the I-59 overpass making eggs.

A quick look at a map will reveal why Birmingham hosted so many New Orleans evacuees. We sit directly on one of three hurricane routes. Coming out of New Orleans, you can go either left, straight or right. Left will take you toward Houston, straight (sort of) will lead you to Memphis, or veer to the right and hey, y'all, welcome to Birmingham.

In the days following Katrina and the levees breaking, Birmingham welcomed thousands of New Orleans residents. And what do you do when you have that many guests? You'd better start cooking something. So Caprice and I joined a large group of Baptists who assembled the most streamlined kitchen in the most meager of circumstances and probably could have pulled off a 100 from the health department. When we reported for duty under the overpass, we were assigned a station.

Three years have passed, and details are fuzzy, but we discussed this recently and did recall a few vital facts:

* I said I would do anything except scramble eggs. I was assigned to the scrambled eggs station.
* Caprice wore a baseball cap, and I wore a hairnet because I did not have the foresight to wear a baseball cap.
* Caprice doesn't have fingerprints anymore because she suffered serious burns on her fingertips and some nerve damage in her wrists from the chronic rotation of the metal spoon.
* We were separated at some point after the breakfast shift. She claims she was still scrambling eggs when I disappeared across the street "to go chat with people."

To set the record straight, I did not go "chat with people." Breakfast was being loaded up to be taken across the street. I walked across that same street to the civic-center-turned-shelter to see if I might be of better service THERE, where I would not be asked to scramble any more eggs.

Without any credentials of any kind, I walked into the civic center to find something to do, and I stopped cold. The rows and rows of cots and portable cribs surrounded by suitcases. The sleeping children. The groggy grown-ups just waking up and rubbing their faces. The breakfast serving line (with all those glorious eggs) was just getting started, and church volunteers from across Birmingham filed in to prepare plates. I don't know where these people came from, but they ran a serving line like a machine, like they did this every day. But this was only the third or fourth meal to be served, and it wasn't like they had any training or planning. It was a natural disaster.

After getting in their way for more than 45 minutes, I traveled on and found myself in the supply center, a warehouse space about half the size of a football field. Separating the warehouse space from the sleeping area was a long stretch of tables, serving as a makeshift customer service counter. And that's where we took requests, wrote down sizes, brands of baby formula, you name it. And then we'd dash into the warehouse and wander down the aisles of donated items to retrieve whatever was requested.

When I would hand an evacuee a package of diapers or a pack of t-shirts or underwear, I was often asked, "How much do I owe you?" The dad would dig for his wallet, or the mom would rummage through her purse.

"You don't owe anyone anything. These things are for you to have and to use, not to buy."

One mom, with a toddler on her hip, quietly asked for a package of diapers and a box of wipes. When I brought them to her, she teared up. She looked like a person who typically takes care of her own needs, but Katrina had sucked that right out of her. "Can I get you anything else? Maybe something for you, not the kids?"

"Well," she sobbed, "I could really use a bra. There aren't any of those back there, I guess." She gave a half-laugh.

"Guess again. You wouldn't believe the stuff back there. Stand here." I returned with a brand new bra in her size. It was like working at Wal-Mart -- there was nothing we couldn't provide. Except their jobs. Their homes. Their schools. Their neighborhoods. Normalcy.

Meeting Katrina's victims shed a whole new light on hurricanes. And now her crazy cousin Gustav is threatening to pay a visit. Caprice called Wednesday and asked, "Are you making your plans? I know how much you love hurricanes."

"Eh," I told her. "Hurricanes aren't so much fun anymore. Katrina sucked the fun right out of them."

That Katrina was a real ... pain.

Monday, August 25, 2008

You've Got the Wrong Girl

Until now, I've never given much thought to competing on a reality TV show. Without sharing too many details that might give away the dark secrets of television casting, I will say only that "you never know ..."

I received an e-mail from a friend who had been approached by a casting associate. After a brief conversation, the friend offered a very nice "no, thank you," and then gave these parting words: "Please keep me in mind for anything that involves living on an island with a full-service spa and 24-hour tiki bar." After she kindly passed on the offer, she passed along names of other people who might project a personality similar to hers. She wrote in an e-mail to me and a couple of others: Guess whose names I passed on? You're welcome.

This reminds me of the times friends didn't know how to get rid of a Student Trying to Make It Through College By Selling Stuff We Don't Need, so they gave them my name.

"Thank you so much for your time. Can you recommend friends who might also be willing to help me make this quota?"

"Oh, sure! Amy just loves to buy more stuff, to learn about unique business opportunities like this and to listen to woeful tales about hardship. I'll get her number for you. In fact, I'll even tell you where she lives." Next thing you know, I'm standing on my front porch in 98-degree heat, explaining to a Lithuanian why I don't need any more computer games. Or, I'm sitting on my couch across from a hard-up country boy hawking overpriced steak knives that can cut, of all things, paper. (This story has unfolded more than once.)

Say what you want, but this casting person was solid on her follow-through, without being pushy. The very next piece of mail in my inbox was a message from the casting associate, whose name and network affiliation I will not reveal. Her message was a very polite invitation to e-mail her about competing on her show because my blog "is so very funny." I'm no Einstein, but I'm guessing she wants people who can take a joke, or provide some comic relief of some sort. This can't be a good sign. I don't want my joke-taking abilities tested on national TV, nor do I want to be "on" all the time. Because when I'm "off," I come across as somewhat of a turd.

To woo me onto the small screen, a better approach might have come from someone who casts a show like Wife Swap: "You look like you could use a break. How 'bout swapping places with a wife who doesn't have to do anything, whose husband will be out of town and whose kids are away at college? They have satellite, WiFi and a full pantry. Johnny Depp lives next door. And sometimes he doesn't wear a shirt when he mows the lawn."

But this reality show is probably nothing like this. Which is not a fair thing to say because I've never actually seen a full episode of this particular reality show that is being passed around like a hot potato. This is not to say that I wouldn't enjoy this program -- it's just that I don't watch a lot of TV. And that, I suppose, would make me an ideal candidate because I don't know the rules. And that could be sort of funny, I guess.

"Who's the dumb chick from Alabama who doesn't know the rules?"

"I don't know, but she was much funnier last week."

"Well, she's not funny now. She's kind of a ... turd."

Note: For those who are wondering ... while I was indeed flattered, I declined the offer. I'm holding out for the full-service spa and 24-hour tiki bar, too.