Saturday, December 29, 2018

Palliative Care: Our House and Our Heroic Cleaning Lady

We have a wonderful cleaning lady who appears on time twice weekly and does what she can with us. But now that we have a few days off and I'm trying to do what my daughter calls "deep cleaning," I see that our cleaning lady's strenuous efforts are little more than a band-aid on a gaping wound.  I daydream about the staff of eight or ten that would, in Victorian times, have routinely maintained a home this size. Of course if we'd lived back then we'd be dealing with Victorian drains and antibiotics wouldn't have been invented . . . still, thoughts of a brisk, efficient maid tidying up the bookshelves while another brisk, efficient maid goes for the kitchen and yet a third folds the laundry--ah, these are pleasant dreams.

Part One: The Sofa

Looks lovely and is great to lie on. Folded all the blankets strewn around by late-night TV watchers, dusted the pillows, then pulled the whole thing out from the wall. So that's where two blue crocs that don't match went! I've been wearing their mates for the last six months. Also a pair of green crocs that my daughter may have outgrown, a pair of black crocs, a single multicolored croc whose mate is probably upstairs near my ballet barre, centuries of dust, old Cheerios, and a pair of orange glasses decorated with a dead spider.

Part Two: The Kitchen

Yesterday, one of the teenagers removed eight bags of garbage and indicated the fact on the calendar, where he also indicated that another sibling must now "do it twice!" or more, since he's done that himself . . . my teenagers love to fight about whose turn it is to remove the trash. Oh, excuse me, in my opinion. Meanwhile, the stove is a grease slick, the wok needs cleaning before I make dinner tonight, and what am I doing three flights up in my freezing study typing?

Part Three: The Bedroom

I removed the ancient quilt that was leaving a trail of feathers behind it, removed it as far as the laundry pile in the bathroom. Did I say pile? I meant the laundry mountain. Several laundry baskets of clean folded laundry adorn the bedroom floor. I won't tell you how long they've been there.

But we threw out the paper trash a few days ago!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"I Cannot Tell a Truth"

I wonder what Parson Weems would have done with Donald Trump. Mason Locke Weems, the first biographer of George Washington, invented the charming tale I was taught (or read in my parents' encyclopedia--I can't blame this one on my second-grade curriculum) that young George could not tell a lie. The future first POTUS chopped down his father's prize cherry tree with his little hatchet, so the story goes, and when interrogated said, "I cannot tell a lie," admitting the crime and being rewarded with kisses instead of punishment.
So the first president could not tell a lie--generations of schoolchildren believed--and the last (will America exist after Trump? Does it still exist?) can't tell the truth. He really can't. It's not even that he won't. He is incapable of telling the truth because he has no interest in doing so.

American Myth #1: The president cannot tell a lie. Now, like any other politician, he can. He's gone, in a way, all-embracing, if not upscale. American individualism, American expansionism, American exceptionalism, all express themselves with greatest fervor in the person of POTUS.

American Myth #2: "American history is immigration." It was. For Oscar Handlin, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Uprooted (1951) and the one who summed up American history in that memorable way, the people who brave the oceans and deserts to try to build themselves a life free of narcos and grinding poverty create America. That America now sits in cages at the border. Handlin, child of Russian Jewish immigrants, Harvard professor who directed eighty dissertations, could never have helped create America under the Trump administration. Imagine Oscar Handlin being told to go back where he came from. Or left in a cage to rot.
Maybe grass roots individualism still has a chance. Maybe free speech--which I thought Trump had rendered irrelevant--can get him after all. And if so, Merry Christmas!!:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Discombobulated Cancer Patient, the Ibrance and the Snooty Pharmacy Lady

I am probably known as the eccentric American at my local pharmacy, because I often cannot find the receipt for the medication I've paid for when I come to pick it up. Lucky for me the clerks are all very German and organized: "Ordnung Muss Sein" is the slogan by which Germans live, and they keep their own records and they find my stuff amazingly quickly.
But my personal style is more along the lines of "Chaos Must Be!" I find this sentiment works for many of life's thorniest issues, certainly the composition of essays, an activity in which I engage more and more. Fashion too. I buy a garment because the color grabs me, and later I realize it goes with this and that favorite thing. So I am only accidentally color-coordinated. I'm the same way with food: I buy carrots if they look fresh and four or five other items that strike my fancy and find, when I get home, that they all complement each other in a dish, and rare are the moments in my family when complaints emerge about the food. Maybe you'd call my style "unconscious" rather than chaotic. It's not deliberate, however, and not orderly, so would probably go with "chaos."
 I'm glad my dentist and my oncologist proceed along what seems compulsively careful, rule-driven lines. Less glad when the German bus driver opens the door on which I've just tapped only to howl indignantly, "PAUSE!" (translation: "It's my break! My five minute break! And no, you can't step in from the freezing temperatures and sit in the back of the bus while I consume my Butterbrot. Because I'm going to show you I have every right to my five minutes.") To do otherwise would be to disturb order. "PAUSE!" has two syllables in German, and is pronounced "POW-ZZUH!" although the last syllable is more of a hiss. With the emphasis the bus driver gave the word, it conveys: "PUNCH YOU IN THE NOSE!"
I walked into the pharmacy late on a Tuesday afternoon, having taught two classes, held office hours, and bought groceries. I was rolling a large shopping cart, carrying another heavy bag over my shoulder, and attempting to open my wallet and snag the receipt before the big bag fell off my shoulder. I didn't succeed. The pharmacy clerk, a new one unfamiliar with my lack of organization, beckoned me and I hauled all my bags up to her window and began explaining to her, as I went through section after section of the incredibly thorough wallet I bought at the (German) Christmas market last year, that I couldn't find the receipt.
"Are you speaking to me or to your wallet?" asked the clerk, smiling. It didn't seem to me that her smile was friendly. I apologized, located, finally, the receipt, and handed it to her. She gave me my medicine and as I put it in my bag I was still apologizing and feeling embarrassed.
So it was that I lost I medicine, I hoped not on the way home. I was searching for it for days, to the point where I nearly called my oncologist to request another prescription. I'd begun to consider looking up what I'd have to pay but of course chaotically did not, preferring to hope I wouldn't be spending more than 200 euros.
Now that I've just found the box of Ibrance, safe and sound, and will be able to start taking it as usual, the whole 21-day cycle again for the rest of the time the cancer lies in wait, not developing, being frustrated, I looked up the price on, which says: $11,797 is what I'd pay for a 21-day supply. 
After taxes, I make about 29,000 euros.
Good thing I did not lose that Ibrance, which probably would not have cost more than 2,741.61 euros here in Germany. Thank you, German government, and thank you, KKH insurance company, for saving the lives of women with metastatic breast cancer. 
No thanks to the sales clerk whose snarky moment pushed my normal discombobulation into enough chaos to eliminate my memory of where I'd set down the box of capsules. Bye-bye the two hours it took to find them. So glad to have them right where they belong on my coffee table.