Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reading is Good for You

I’m alone in an enclosed cubicle not much bigger than an old-fashioned phone booth, trying to simulate the sound of a giant hamster farting. This, after impersonating an eight-year old boy, a Midwestern phone operator, a military general, and an eccentric scientist responsible for said flatulating giant hamster. 

Volunteering doesn’t get much better than this. 

I’m at the Hollywood offices of Learning Ally, a national not-for-profit organization devoted to providing support and recorded texts for those with reading challenges. It was founded in 1948 under the name Recording for the Blind, where it originally made audio recordings of college textbooks for GI’s who had been blinded in the war. Years later it broadened its scope and became known as Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, and then, as its clientele grew to include all those with reading challenges, RB&D ditched the ampersands and rechristened itself Learning Ally. If you have difficulties processing the printed word, you can sign up for membership and download books with accompanying audio. 

Does your text look like this when you read, even when you're not drunk? Then you might have a print disability. 

Jesse at Command Central
I’ve been volunteering there about once a week for the last few months. The space is not by any stretch glamorous, unless you consider Soviet-era office spaces glamorous. The narrow hallways, worn carpeting and gray walls have been made even more forlorn by recent cutbacks and the advent of home recording, which have decimated the staff and left behind clusters of abandoned conference rooms and offices. Of the two remaining staff members, the one I see most is Jesse: stalwart, vigilant, mellow Jesse, caretaker of all those empty rooms and recording booths. He reminds me of a park ranger posted at some remote wilderness way station, scanning for forest fires. It is Jesse who manages the different projects,  instructs the volunteers, and tinkers with the aging recording equipment.

I love this place. 

I don’t know what it is, but I can’t wait to come. Maybe it’s my inner librarian who loves to read aloud. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to stretch out my voiceover skills without any pressure. Or maybe it’s the chance to help out my fellow man without having to, you know, actually talk to anyone. Whatever the reason, for an introverted reader like myself this is the best possible volunteering situation possible. 

No they are not tanning beds. They are recording booths. 
When I arrive for my two-hour shift it’s usually me, Jesse, and the usual contingent of old-timers: graying, husky-voiced, exacting veterans, many of them with more than twenty years under their belts. I give a wave to Jesse, pass the plate of cookies  by the coffee machine, and make my solitary way downstairs to the booths, where I run my own sound equipment and direct myself. There are plenty of textbooks they need read, but because of my younger-sounding voice and experience I have so far been assigned fiction for kids. Believe me, I don’t mind missing out  on intermediate algebra or real estate law. And for a voiceover actor, it is a wonderful way to hone your studio work. 

There is a constant deadline— some of these books are meted out chapter by chapter, as soon as they are done, for students who need them in class. We need to be swift, but accurate. For those who aren’t into reading aloud, there are still plenty of volunteering opportunities: marking textbooks into“scripts,” checking files already recorded and editing any mistakes. Tasks perfect for you anal-attentive completists out there. It’s all really low key but very satisfying.

There are offices of Learning Ally across the country, if you’ve a mind to volunteer. And if there’s not one near you? Judging from the decor and cutbacks, I’m guessing the organization could use some bucks this holiday season. Why not drop them a few bones

And if you have a kid who could use this kind of service? Go to Learning Ally and sign up for their services. They have a huge catalogue of books with audio synchronized to the text. And if you're browsing their library, be sure to check out “Monstrous Stories #2: Attack of the Giant Hamster” by Paul Harrison. My little paw prints are all over that sucker. 

Have a happy holiday! See you in the New Year!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Geekly Paradise

Had my first taste (a small one, admittedly) of geek celebrity-hood this past weekend— was part of a panel at Blizzcon, the gamer convention for Blizzard Entertainment. Those of you who play Diablo or Warcraft or StarCraft will be well familiar with this online multi-player company; everyone else will be completely in the dark. I spent my youth rolling twelve-sided dice and plotting magic dungeons on graph paper in my friends' living rooms: these are my people. 

Dungeons & Dragons, writ large 
I went in expecting it to be like Comicon, but smaller; it is, in fact, nothing like Comicon at all, but in a good way. There's a lot less splashiness— no product placements, not a lot of costly, no flashy A-list celebrities and movie tie-in swag. There's no corporate synergy going on, because it's all about one company. The celebrities are the game artists and developers, who are for the most part uniformly Asian, uniformed in black t-shirts and jeans. The big draw are the banks of computers—three parking lots worth of them— where you can sit and play the "campaigns" with and against all of those people around you. It looks like a vast war room, but with mages and blood elves and clerics on the screens. There was pure and unadulterated geeky goodness going on at the Anaheim Convention Center.

I was invited to be part of their first voice talent panel, along with some of my World of Warcraft compadres, very esteemed voice actors all. 

I'm a pretty recent addition to WOW— I play a warrior Panda (no, not Po) named Taran Zhu in the Expansion Pack "Mist of Panderia." Here's an earful of what I do:
I'm the Panda Pandaren who comes in at about 1:00.

I think that most of the audience had a hard time reconciling that growly character with the reedy-voiced, bespectacled man on the stage, and, I have to admit, I'm always a bit surprised myself. 

That ugly ginormous brute with whom I fight? Here he is in the flesh;

Patrick Seitz, a kind and gentle man, who specializes in throat-shredding monster voices and doesn't even cough up blood afterwards!

The panel was fun. I got to sit next to the estimable Keone Young, fellow Pandaren and essential guest star on "True Blood" and "Deadwood."  

We talked, did a Q&A, and signed autographs. I picked up my autographed poster, bought a stuffed panda and made my way into the darkness of the gaming floor—once a geek, always a geek.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Adventures in Publishing: The Ecstasy and the Agony

"And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-end of my days and ways
And how should I presume?"
—T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

It is real, folks. I'm hitched. I've just signed my publishing contract with St. Martin's Press. Still Life Las Vegas in Spring 2015— book clubs forming now! Nothing thrills the soul more than thirty pages of legalese in which your name is referred to as "Author." Nothing like it. I read every paragraph and sub-paragraph, excluded territories and all. It was a real page-turner; looking forward to a sequel!

After such wonderful confirmation, is there anything that could possibly knock me from such a giddy height? Ah, enter the Knight of Mirrors, galloping in from an email attachment sent by my editor: the Author Questionnaire. Such an innocous title— the Author Questionnaire— how could it inspire so much pain? The Author Questionnaire sounds like it might be some lovely time filler, a whimsical series of questions that might grace the back of Parade Magazine, next to Marilyn Savant's Mensa quizzes.

Instead, it's a soul-flaying survey of your life. Ostensibly, the Author Questionnaire is a series of questions about you and your book that the publicity department will use to position you in an overcrowded literary marketplace. What about your life can they can use to sell you—er, me (see, I'm deflecting already) to a public who is not related to you me. Who do I know? What have I done? Who can review my book or say something glowing about me?

Oh, it's enough to make an inveterate introvert
"No, I have not yet updated my status… the winters, they are long."
burst into flame. My misanthropic tendencies 
have been laid bare. Is "Social Hermit who lives in Cave and Forages for Acorns" a helpful attribute? Apparently not. Moreover, the negative space surrounding my meagre answers make me keenly aware of all the things I meant to have done by now, but haven't. Conferences? Twitter Feeds? Uh…soon...

What the heck have I been doing? Important things! Here are some of my most recent crowning achievements:

• Reached level 36 on "Simpsons: Tapped Out" on my iPad (that's the HIGHEST level)

How could THIS be a waste of time? Look at the urban planning! 

• Received the prestigious Parent Ambassador Plaque at my son's 
elementary school, for OCD Library Reshelving above and beyond duty

• Completed the Friday NYT crossword puzzle in 14:10 minutes

• Gold Founders Circle Membership at Arclight Cinemas (hey, a free popcorn upgrade 
EVERY TIME and a complimentary birthday ticket!)

• Can recite half of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
Animated by Christopher Scott. Read by the author himself. 
I know, it's an abridged version, don't get all hatin'...

• World Record for shortest recorded time attending a social function, in and out: 
23.5 minutes, INCLUDING drive time (Guinness confirmation pending)

• Three punches away from a free frozen yogurt at at Menchies 

• Have I mentioned that level 36 is the highest level in "Simpsons: Tapped Out"?

I await the Pulitzer Committee's call.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I will keep this short, and it is oh, so sweet:

I'm living in some kind of Disney fairy tale right now, where dreams do come true.
My book, Still Life Las Vegas, has been picked up for publication.
It happened so quickly I'm still slightly delirious. Deliciously delirious. My most excellent agent Christopher Schelling sent my manuscript out after Labor Day and, after a brief flurry of activity, I met my Prince Charming, embodied by one Sara Goodman from St. Martin's Press. She made an offer, we accepted, and, voilà, I've crossed a threshold.

My book's going to be published! St. Martin's Press!

If this is a dream, please, do not wake me. Ever.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Morning Most Excellent and Fair

There was, oddly, no sleeping last night. I'd doze for a couple of hours, then gradually find myself awake again. In and out, in and out. It wasn't the heat, it wasn't caffeine, it wasn't a snoring husband (for a change). It felt like the sleeplessness that comes the night before the first day of a big shoot, or a new job. It was only upon awakening that I realized what was keeping me in a state of perpetual anticipation: Today was The Day.

My book, Still Life Las Vegas, is being sent out into the world. At last. 

Let me backtrack three months:

We had temporary custody of two boys, schoolmates of Ben, whose lives had been uprooted precipitously with the sudden (and continued) incarceration of their mother. For seven weeks we had been witnesses and agents of their dismantled lives. Every day we took up the tools of destruction: giving away a dog, packing up an evicted household, prison visits, custody hearings, DCFS visits, selling and disposing of their worldly possessions. All the while trying to give them some semblance of stability during their last days of school. Weeks of anxiety and grief visited upon these small boys. The devastation was complete; we had done the best we could to make the fall as gentle as possible, but given the height, it was impossible for it not to injure, and scar.

Our day-to-day lives got put on hold. Existing in constant crisis sweeps most of your to-do's out the window. I had the welcome respite of voiceover jobs, but there was very little meditation, almost no exercise, and creative writing? Except for the notes of the day, my output was almost non-existent. My last act on that front had been 
the day before the boys came into our house, when I submitted my manuscript to an agent whose name I came across on a gay news website. He had just married the author Augusten Burroughs, and on a whim, I cold-queried him. Then the maelstrom flew in, and I completely forgot about it. 

We moved the boys to their new foster home the Saturday after school ended. The next day, Benj and I traveled to Santa Fe for a long-planned visit with my sister and her family. It was a hard transition. We were both a little shell-shocked. The first night in the tranquil house I found it impossible to sleep, partly kept up by the pervasive heat and my flailing, teeth-grinding son next to me in bed, but mostly because of an all-encompassing desire for flight. I needed to get up, get going, Do Something. Living on survival mode, remaining in constant vigilance  for almost two months, I was so on edge that even the sound of the tinkling koi pond outside my room kept shifting into the murmur of boys' voices, threatening war.

"I'd be thrilled to take you on as a client and be given the chance to sell this."

My cellphone had spotty service up in the pristine mountains where my sister lives; the wifi, practically nonexistent—the price you pay for paradise, I guess. My phone finally kicked in during preparation for breakfast the next morning. And there it was, in my email inbox, a letter from that same agent I had queried weeks before:

"I'd be thrilled to take you on as a client and be given the chance to sell this."

He liked my book. A lot. He had some notes, none of them dire, and he had questions, but he definitely wanted to represent me. I had to read the email in parts; 
I was in such a frazzled state I didn't want to contaminate the letter. Never before had there been such a clear demarcation between phases of my life. Here, here, this has ended, and now, here you are, your new direction. Come along. Finding an agent is only one early part in a long, unsure journey, but it came at exactly the time I needed it most.

The agent and I have had a invigorating string of communications since. He's worked with me on some revisions of the book, all of them for the better. My illustrator Sungyoon Choi gracefully contributed more artwork to tie everything together, and it's ready to go. He's sending it out to publishers today. Fingers crossed, shall we?

The night after the good news in Santa Fe, we slept on the roof of the house to watch a predicted meteor shower. It was cold and cloudy, but I was awake at 2:30 in the morning when the clouds finally shredded and drifted away. What was left was night sky and a clear view of countless constellations. It was glorious. That night, I saw three shooting stars and Sagittarius, my birth sign, rearing up over the horizon. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

So I'm Getting a New Kitchen. Boo Hoo for Me.

My head, Drusilla, my heeeeeaaadd!
There is a constant pounding, pounding in my head, inescapable as guilt in an Edgar Allen Poe story. All day, this endless cacophany--I  feel like John Hurt as Caligula in "I, Claudius." But it's not impending madness which comes my way, oh no, it's something much more momentous, and, in the short term, traumatic:

Home improvement.

I made this mistake, a couple of years ago, of dismissing an idea of Doug's about getting a second dishwasher. Aparently, his Royal Highness had a problem with five straight hours of kitchen duty in exchange for one of my multi-course cooking events (this does not even include Thanksgiving, where cleanup sometimes lasts well into the sixth day of Christmas). I dismissed his request as ludicrous. "What's wrong with the dishcloth and Brillo pad I got you last year?" I demanded.

I thought he was being way too extravagent, but little did I know how far he could go. To exact his revenge he instead began lobbying for an entire new KITCHEN. Somehow, this idea passed through both houses of Congress and was signed into law before I was even aware of it happening. Theoretical! I thought we were talking theoretical!

So, here's the before:


And here, after a few days of banging and destruction:

Ruh roh...
Don't get me wrong, it's gonna be gorgeous. We have a designer who does amazing, beautiful work with wood, and our counters and cabinets will be a thing of beauty. The redesign will also eliminate the physical contortions we undergo every time there's more than two people prepping in the space. 

 It's just that it's gonna be six to eight weeks of construction noise, and me without a kitchen. Me. I'm the kind of person who can't feel comfortable in a place until I've found the nearest grocery store and mapped out the floorplan. I'm the one filling mini-eclairs for my son's birthday party when I could have just BOUGHT THEM. This is going to be a challenge.

I've created a  makeshift kitchen in the playroom, storing dishware and bowls amid the boxes of board games and bins of Legos. I've raided Costco for a toaster oven and a hot plate, and my friend Denis wisely gifted us an electric kettle. Here's our petite cuisine, in all its glory:
Hungry yet?

It's kind of like a cross between a camping site and a kitchen in a typical New York City apartment. Just the barest of necessities: microwave, hot plate, toaster oven, and an electric kettle. And a blender. And a coffee maker. And a SodaStream bubbler, Well, we can't live like savages, can we?

There is one problem with this setup, which I discovered when trying to cook my first dinner: you can't use more than one appliance at a time, or it blows the fuse. Surprise, surprise. That's why it took me an hour to make green beans, warm pita and microwave bowls of soup. ("This hot plate is taking so long to heat up the water...oh...") So much for multi-tasking.

And then there's the matter of the washup. We're using the shower in the small downstairs bathroom. After every meal I kneel like a Carmelite nun on the threshold of the shower and scrub dishes in the bucket, then Waterpik the hell out of them. The worst part is the liquid mess—what to do with the remaining lentil soup or watery oatmeal? They can't be disposed of  down the sink or in the shower drain, so for now... into the loo it goes. It's all so very, very appetizing. 

I know, I know, there's such a thing as restaurants and frozen meals. But cooking gives me great pleasure, invigorates and centers me. Can this situation be made better? Campers, college students and NYC apartment dwellers: suggestions? Any favorite meals made in a toaster oven? Tips on not setting off the smoke alarm with your unvented hot plate? Recipes for cooking veggies in the microwave? 

Or perhaps it's time to get on to that raw food trend...only then I'd have to plug in a dehydrator.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Baby Talk

It is 8:30 in the evening at our household, the Cuddle Hour. It's the time when Ben, loathe to go to sleep, will actually acquiesce to having a conversation with us, as long as we stay in the room by his bed. This is the time when he sets his charm on stun, the better to get his back rubbed or his leg massaged ("And the heel— don't forget the heel.") Sometimes we read books, but more often these days we just chat. On this particular night, he initiates the questions, which surprises and delights me. This delight, along with general sleepiness (on my part), renders me oblivious to the ambush about to come.

"Your sisters--what did you do with them?"

"Do with them?"

"You know, like, did you play games or what did you do with them?"

"Oh." I think. "Well, my older sisters, I didn't do too much with them. They mostly just tormented me, or endured me."

Ben's brow crinkles. It doesn't seem to be the answer he wants. "Rub my ankle," he commands gently. Then: "What about your younger sisters?"

"Oh, well, I did a LOT with them. In fact, they always asked for massages, just like you." That was true. My sister Michelle, with her migraines, and Allison, with her growing pain legs, gave me plenty of practice, years before I became an actual certified massage therapist. "And I played a bunch with them. We put on shows, and ran around, and I read to them..."

"Exactly!" his emphatic tone surprises me. Wasn't he about to fall asleep? "That's why I want to have a sister or brother. So I could do that. I would read to them and play with them... so can we?"

"W-w-what?" I am so taken aback by this shift that I can only sputter. This request has been tendered, and denied, so many times before I'm surprised it's coming up again. 

Ben presses onward, sensing opportunity. "If I had a brother or sister, then when I wake up in the morning, I won't have to be so alone." 

Aaaaaaghh. How long has he been saving that one up for? With one exquisitely aimed stab at the heart he has rendered me paralyzed, much like how a pepsis wasp stings a tarantula before laying an egg into its abdomen. "Oh Ben..."

He sits up. "Please? Please?" His plaintive request makes it sound so simple, as if I could simply type "Baby" into the Amazon search box and one would be sent, easily, two-day shipping, along with our Go Lean cereal and Clif Builder protein bars. I am not ambivalent at all about my desire to not have another child, but he has played it so well I almost hesitate.

I assume an air of light jocularity. "Don't you think I'm too old to take care of a little baby?" I ask. 

"No! You're just fifty! Fifty!" he shouts. "That's only halfway!"

"Yeah, but I'd be too tired to take care of another kid." 

"I'll take care of him! I swear!"

I gain foothold on the sturdier grounds of logistics. "Benj, you'll be in school all day, sweetie. How could you?"

"On the weekends! And at night! I'll put him to bed and read to him and take care of him..." He is becoming more animated, and adorable, the more he imagines the scenario. "All you'd have to do is cook us a delicious meal."

Ooh! A hit! A palpable hit! One must admire his wiliness. "Benj, I think if we had another kid, I would be much more yell-y. A LOT more yell-y. You wouldn't want that."

He looks at me earnestly. "That's okay. It wouldn't matter. I would protect him."

"Yeah, but, I don't want a kid to be frightened of me—" and then I realize the ingenuity, the utter genius, of the trap I have been advancing on. He has slowly drawn me in further and further, speculating about a theoretical child, and, by imagining scenarios and drawing parameters, has given it form, a dotted-line silhouette of an infant with an arrow pointed at it: Baby Goes Here

I try to go on the offensive: "Hey, you already have a dog."

Benj looks at me pityingly. "It's not the same."

Desperate, I fall back on an age-old tactic, muttering "Well, let's just see if you can take of yourself. You can barely get yourself ready in the mornings—"

He springs. "Okay, and if I do get myself ready, then...?"

I have to backpedal immediately, so blind to the precipice I hadn't seen until I was practically flinging myself into it.  "No. No, no, I... I don't want to lie to you. That doesn't matter. It's just... no." I have to go back to simple truths. "I know you would be a really really good big brother, Benj. I know that. You would."

There is nothing to push back against. My resigned tone tells him that it's over, for now. He hunkers down under his sheets and I give his forehead a kiss and beat a hasty retreat. I've escaped, but barely. Another round and who knows? I might have been wheeling in a bassinet. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Giant Wave Goodbye to 2012

Looking back, perhaps it wasn’t so great an idea to visit Tulum, Mexico, a place replete with Maya ruins and relics, during the exact time when said Mayans were allegedly predicting apocalyptic disaster. 

Nevertheless, thence we hithered at the end of December. What was my favorite moment of the end of 2012? Oh, could it be rattling down the bumpy Mexican roads, my broken clavicle trying its best to poke out of my skin, as we searched for a hospital? Or was it that hilarious New Year’s Eve post-surgical ride to pick up our sick kid, which culminated in me peeing in a jug in Doug’s new Volt? God, it’s so hard to choose! 
And to think— the Mayans predicted it all!
Let me just start by saying: Tulum, Mexico is a beautiful place to vacation. We stayed in a cabaña just steps away from the beach, yet far enough back to feel private. The beach was one of the most beautiful I have ever visited, with pristine, fine white sand and clear azure water. Good friends came with us, there was a kitchen, I got a chance to practice my Pimsleur Spanish, Benj found a friend— it was the perfect place to be for a birthday vacation. 

Doug pointed this out to me, and I said,
"Yeah, good luck with that." 
Did you know rats LOVE thatching?

Well, except for the rats. And the Montezuma’s Revenge the day after my birthday. And the lack of internet service. And the giant spider. (This reminds me— need to write my review for TripAdvisor). 

Other than that, it was idyllic.

Until the day before we left. 

Perfect for kids... perhaps not so much for middle-aged men.
We were on the beach. My sister Allison and her husband, who had surprised us by coming down for my birthday a few days before, had just departed. We spent our last moments on the beach with them, talking about how perfect the water was, how warm and shallow, how regular the waves—perfect for kids. And then they left, oblivious to the ironic horror about to transpire. 

I turned to Ben. “Come on, let’s go in the water!”

He looked hesitant. “Nah, not now… I don’t want to go out without the group.”

“But it’s our last full day! And I’ve got to return these boogie boards this afternoon.”

“But… the sailor’s not here to tell us stuff.” (He has so dubbed my brother-in-law Orin, who is of a nautical bent, and has instructed Ben on riptides and jellyfish and such.)

I get a little impatient.“Ben, don’t be silly. We’ve been in the water by ourselves before. We’ll be fine. Come on! It’ll be fun! (When, oh when will adults learn to heed the uneasy premonitions of innocent children? Haven’t we seen enough of those movies?)
"James isn't coming in from the water,
Mrs. Torrance. Not in one piece."

I cajole him into the water, and we have wonderful time catching waves and taking pictures with Ben’s underwater camera. Insert Boogie Board montage. 

Then, picture me standing in thigh-deep water, boogie board strapped on to one wrist, camera strapped to the other, looking at my adorable son hooting in the surf. Then, imagine a wave, tawny with sand, rising close behind me. I turn. Normally, this would be no problem. I would dive into the wave and emerge unscathed on the other side. But I wasn’t used to being so encumbered, and I hesitated.

"Uh, Dad, you might want to turn around...?"
I thought of turning and riding the wave with my board. I thought of driving the board right through the wave. I thought of maybe slapping the board down onto the crest and and plowing through.

It was one thought too many. The wave plowed into me, whisking the boogie board away like a kite in a stiff wind and jerking me off balance. The wave behind (Benj was sure he saw a second wave) slammed me into the ocean floor, and my shoulder made the acquaintance of the hard, packed sand. Being as there was very little water to buffer my descent, the meeting was quick, sharp and injurious. I remember feeling my shoulder hit the bottom and thinking, “Oh that’s going to hurt tomorrow.”

I rose from the surf and found that I could not corral the boogie board with my right arm without a searing pain shooting near my shoulder. “That’s not good,” I thought. My right elbow reflexively clamped tight against my ribs, my left hand felt for the pain near my shoulder. It encountered a large protrusion at the collarbone. “Oh,” I thought, “that’s really not good.” 

Hmm.. maybe taking that tiki statue
was  not such a great idea.
Did I mention this was December 21st, the day the Maya calendar ended?

I must have looked bad as I staggered out of the surf, because even Benjamin noticed something was amiss. “Are you all right?” I grimaced and shook my head, eyes clamped shut. “Get out of the water! Get out of the water!” he yelled, then ran screaming up the beach. “Dad! Dad! Call 911! Call 911!” Doug was eventually roused from his dozing in the lounge chair and came to my aid. 

“Grab the boogie board,” I mumbled, “they’re due back today.”

And so we made our haphazard way by car to find the hospital in the center of town. The drive was enhanced every quarter mile by the jarring presence of topes, large concrete speed bumps that were impossible to avoid. What fun! We got lost twice. 

The hospital itself was an oasis of quiet and calm. I was seen immediately by a doctor who spoke perfect English, and got my x-rays taken within minutes of arriving (granted, the x-ray technician was later seen sweeping the floors, but still, he did a fine job— at both!). It was discovered that I had broken my right clavicle in two places, one small fracture and a more serious break that compressed and made the pieces overlap like a good Boy Scout campfire setup. 

No, it's not supposed to look like that.
Ninety minutes later we left with my x-rays, three prescriptions, a butterfly brace which gave me the posture of a superhero, and instructions to ice. An amazing ER visit, and, I might add,  incredibly inexpensive. The next day, we left for the States, me in a lovely drugged state, rolling along Benjamin’s small carry-on.

We spent a quiet Christmas together in Los Angeles (getting to Denver for the family get-together was contemplated but wisely rejected; I could barely get on a button-down shirt, the thought of layers and outerwear was unbearable) and, on a rocking New Year’s Eve morning, I checked into Cedar Sinai for surgery. My clavicle was to be aligned the right way and a titanium plate laid on top for support during healing. A simple procedure: the surgery would last less than an hour. I was so sure it was going to be nothing that I arranged for Ben to have his usual New Year’s Eve sleepover with a friend at our house (I had already deprived him of Christmas!) and perhaps we didn’t need to cancel our plans for New Year’s with friends?

Said friend Meryl: “Are you crazy? You’re having surgery. SURGERY.”

I have to say: she was right.

The surgery itself was no problem. Wheeled into the operating room at 10:30, woke up in post-op at 12:30. 
In pre-op. I may have called
the anesthesiologist "Hey you!"

Didn’t remember a thing, and I was on pain-blockers. Good to go! The final thing before checkout: I had to pee before they would release me. 100 ml. No problem! I drank Big Gulp-fuls of water and iced tea, and sat back, waiting for nature to call.
Only, she didn’t. Or, she did, but my body didn’t answer. I’d feel the urge, trundle over to the bathroom, take a deep breath… and nothing. The liquid was right there at the edge, ready to surge into action, but that little… something that kicks it over, starts the flow going, that little synaptical messenger was apparently still narcotized and would not wake up. 

Over the next few hours, there ensued a movie montage very similar to ones you’d see on “Sex and the City,” except instead of coital positions there are scenes of me trying every peeing posture known to urinating man. Leaning, jutting, squatting, running water, hand in warm running water, simulating the sounds of pissing through clenched teeth, imagining Niagara Falls… nothing worked. 

Finally, at 5:30, my nurse, who wanted to end her shift and go home to celebrate, informed me that she has a standing order for an “in-and-out catheter” to be installed in me. I wasn’t quite sure what an “in-and-out catheter” was, but I knew that I didn't want that to be my final memory of 2012. So I locked myself in the bathroom, thought of England, and willed myself to eke out just enough pee to secure my release. 

We weren’t home yet.  It was much later than we anticipated on New Year’s Eve, pharmacies all over were closing, so we had to fill my prescription in the hospital dispensary, which was currently experiencing computer difficulties. We spent another hour waiting for the blessed drugs to be delivered, and it was there in the lobby of the hospital that I discovered another delightful side effect of the anesthesia which no one talks about. Having spent so long desperately trying to pee, now I was unable to stop. Talk about feast or famine. Apparently, my bladder was so distended from the liquid that I pumped into it, that I was now in a constant state of needing to pee. I would stand by the urinal, dribble out a tablespoon of liquid, zip up, wash my hands and immediately have an excruciating need to pee again. Again, and again, and again. This would last the entire night into early morning, where I would have to get up every half an hour. Why wasn’t this in the post-op pamphlet?

I spent the last hour at the hospital in the bathroom while Doug got the prescription filled. It was 6:30, and I was exhausted. We drove to pick up Benjamin (who had a fever; we had to cancel his sleepover, mercifully) and it was the longest forty-minute drive of my life. The fact that I was in Doug’s brand-new electric car did not dissuade my bladder from jamming on the “eject” button. Luckily, I had one of those pee receptacles the hospital so thoughtfully sent home with me.

So, I bade adieu to 2012 struggling with surgical padding and an arm sling trying to get my pants unzipped in a small Chevy Volt so that I could insert myself into a plastic jug and pee, praying for no topes as we made the slow drive up Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Happy New Year!

Note: I am now recovering quite nicely, with a gnarly seven-inch scar. My clavicle should be good to go by the second week of February, which, coincidentally, is is the start of the Lunar New Year. I think I'm going to go with that calendar.