Monthly Archives: October 2009

Down the Toilet

Listen up, you in your 20s, 30s, and 40s….Your time for this project is approaching… 

Sampling Errors


             I passed by a large white plastic basket, about the size of a children’s wading pool, on my way out of Kaiser’s Flu Shot Clinic. Thinking it contained sample soap bars or skin creams, I jammed my hand into it and found I was clutching a Fecal Occult Blood Test Kit, the one that tests for blood in your poop.

            Before I go any further, I promise not use the words “stool,” “feces,” “b.m.,” “poop,” the “s” word, or even technical terms like “caca” and “doodoo” in this post. For the sake of gentility l will call the substance to be tested by the occult blood test the arbitrary name of “Lester.” I’m not trying to denigrate anyone named Lester who might be reading this, though I’m alarmed why my mind instantly jumps to the name Lester, the 291st most popular name in the U.S. and the sum of whose alphabetical letters in the name equals 79. This is a significant find, since 79 is the population of Epping, North Dakota (2000 census).

            After bringing home the test kit, I avoided using it for a few weeks, particularly after I read through the instruction sheet which, like all instruction manuals, was best ignored to stave off panic. My first reaction to the list of instructions was how cumbersome it was. After all, fraternity boys in college have a long history of collecting samples of Lester in a paper bag, setting it afire, and leaving it on the doorstep of a friend. By contrast, I was provided a large collection tissue paper to lay inside the toilet bowl on top of the water. There was no assurance the paper would not sink, but I presumed the manufacturer of the kit knew what it was doing.

            I’m certain, before the product was even released to healthcare practitioners, the company CEO, president and vice presidents all took a kit into their private bathrooms and, with their administrative assistants taking notes and explaining the seven-paragraph procedure, tested the kits. This is how the modern corporation operates, always for the good of the consumer. Officers are personally involved in quality control whether we’re talking mortgage-backed securities or condoms.   

            In addition to the large tissue paper and a small absorbent pad that, the instructions warned me, wasn’t to be confused with the large tissue paper lest Lester be sunk, I was provided a sampling bottle that looked suspiciously like an emasculated syringe. I was to open the bottle and not spill the interior liquid identified as a preservative to keep Lester around for 45 years or so.

            Next I was to use a three inch green probe attached to the sampling bottle cap to scrape across Lester. The instructions specified that, BEFORE taking the probe with Lester and putting him back inside the sample bottle, I must “flush the toilet.”

            I only have two hands, manufacturer.  You want me to hold onto Lester—by now on the tip of the probe, held aloft and uncovered—and flush the toilet BEFORE I put him away?  When you were testing the kit, gentlemen (and I KNOW you were gentlemen because no woman would have devised this kit), did you ask your administrative assistants to hold the probe with Lester and then flush your toilet? Or did you in reality give them permission to first jam Lester into the sample bottle with all deliberate speed? 

            But o.k., I go along and first flush the toilet.

            Suddenly I’m stunned to realize that the opening of the sample bottle where I’m to insert the probe tip covered with Lester is the diameter of two toothpicks. I’d previously chased Lester (and parts of Lester) around and around the sinking collection tissue paper to collect him, and now I’m holding the green plastic probe with a much larger quantity of Lester than will fit through the miniscule bottleneck.

             An ethical crisis arises: do I try to delicately remove more Lester from the probe tip? Dump Lester and end up chasing him around the bowl again among the flotilla of Lesters? Dump the entire kit? This was already, I’m ashamed to admit, my third try at using a Lester kit. When I’d asked Kaiser for two additional kits, I’d received a long stare. I know they were thinking, “Yes, here at Kaiser we want our patients ‘To Thrive,’ but in your case we’ll make an exception.”

            This is the part where, in a film, they jump to another scene so you can only imagine the barbarism that just occurred. I did manage to do an editing job on Lester and pushed him (protesting) down into the sample bottle. The instructions next requested I wipe off the outside of the bottle before mailing, although it didn’t specify what to use. Ultimately I used a handful of Kleenex followed by three packets of Cottonelle hygenic cleansing wipes; anti-bacterial Dial hand-pump soap; cotton balls soaked with alcohol; a paper towel immersed in Betadine, and a Q-tip dipped in Frontline.   

             I filled out an accompanying form with the date of Lester’s collection and other information. The instructions insisted I write the same information on the sample bottle. This was taxing since that sample form wrapped around the bottle resisted several pens, then intentionally smeared my scrawled words. All this time I could make out Lester clinging to the side of the bottle, pleading.

            When I finally assembled the kit and sealed it, I drove at excess speed to the closest post office, leaped out of the car and shoved the envelope with its enclosures into the mailbox. Then I remembered I’d forgotten to write the return address on the envelope. What if the lab wanted to send the sample of Lester back to me for, say, additional postage because I exceeded Lester’s weight limit?

            I hope my fecal occult blood test comes back negative. This is an important test that shouldn’t be mocked. Next year I’ll avoid the errors I made in this year’s preparation: I plan to bring my collection of Lester directly to the lab’s doorstep, secured in a brown paper bag. If they refuse the sample, I’ll be carrying matches.    

Twitterpated fans

Stretch of the Imagination


            “Tansy Wilcox” is following this blog. Also “Peaches Forney,” “Angel Barry,” “Tawny Du,” and “Cherry Thorn.”

            I know this because I received a separate Twitter from each one of them announcing they were following Tygerpen. This is the beauty of Twitter, that I can be notified personally by my fans, including female fans with exotic names who thoughtfully accompany their Tweet to me with generous photos of themselves in various stages of undress while assuming body-challenging positions that draw attention to their dexterity and other organs.

            While I don’t think these photos are really necessary or informative, they remind me how the bodies of young people are capable of amazing contortions previously impossible for older generations. It can’t be from yoga poses like Downward Facing Dog because these young women probably don’t get their exercise from yoga, and no self-respecting dog has ever been seen with his nose on the ground, legs tilted forward and ass uplifted like a furry telescope. My standard poodle would never assume a position resembling an inverted “V,” even for a jumbo milkbone.

            So how do these partially clothed young women arch their backs, stretch, twist and sprawl in poses worthy of permanent chiropractic care? Credit for must go to corporations such as JanSport, the world’s leading manufacturer of backpacks, for marketing to schools and parents the health benefits of weighting children’s spines with the equivalent of the 32 volume set of Encyclopedia Britannica or any book by Robert Caro.

             After 12 years of backpacks, children’s spines are like supermarket twist ties, capable of being maneuvered in any direction except straight up. They’ve developed either a graceful permanent sway back or an attractive premature dowager’s hump. Their spinal configurations enable them to eventually get jobs that feature heavy lifting like stocking inventory, or sitting for extended time such as working as a glaucoma tester for cut-rate strip mall optometrists, blowing into patients’ eyes.

            Backpacks are one subject where parents repeatedly lie to their children as a way to influence their behavior, consistent with the recent UC San Diego study which examined “parenting by lying.” I’m familiar with this principle: When I was young my mother would tell me we were “taking a drive,” as if to a toy store. A half hour after we began the drive, she’d steer the car to the brick-covered Children’s Clinic and I’d be marched inside for a shot I’d hoped she’d forgotten, like for polio or rabies. Today some moms and dads lie to their children who complain about the humungous backpacks. With straight faces these parents insist the book loads aren’t harmful, that their student will get used to carting around for twelve or more years the equivalent of a wine barrel.

            Fortunately, my two sons cut often school enough so that backpacks weren’t an issue.

           Last week a young man I know showed me with considerable pride his brown Labrador retriever named “Mack” who was wearing a DOG BACKPACK. Mack was to accompany his master on a camping trip to the Sierras. Rather than a carrying a loaded backpack stuffed with dog food, however, Mack was carting his master’s beer.

            This is one more indignity heaped on dogs. It’s bad enough children are told that schlepping backpacks designed for pack animals is healthful. But dogs, particularly poodles, have over the past few years already experienced abuses like bizarre breeding that produces hybrids with tongue-twisting names— Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, PugaPoos, ChiPoos, SharPoos, Bossi-Poos, Bich-Poos, Foodles, Rottles, and Schnoodles (Giant Schnauzer/Poodle mix  sold with sour cream).  

            I recently saw an unusually fluffy dog with the ingenious name of Fluffy coiled under an outdoor table at Starbucks intensely and disturbingly licking its lower quarters as if a mocha frappuccino had spilled there. His master said Fluffy was a combination of Cocker Spaniel, Labradoodle, and Goldendoodle, or as it is better known, a Cockadoodledo.

            With this insane hybrid dog breeding, my standard poodle Nigel has taken to hiding out of fear I will mate him with a beagle to produce a “Poogle,” which looks like the two dogs’ DNAs beat each other up. Nigel also fears an arranged date with a female Saint Bernard that might produce a “Saint Berdoodle,” a hulking though well-groomed 180 pound dog that slobbers, follows directions well enough to prepare its own microwave dinners, but barks incessantly, thinking it hears an avalanche.

             At least with the Saint Berdoodle a backpack makes sense to replace the iconic brandy barrel that hangs from the dog’s throat, like oversized costume jewelry or a chronic goiter. By contrast, you won’t see cats wearing backpacks, even though feline backpacks are available. Yesterday a black cat dashed across the street in front of my car. I didn’t have bad luck because a few hours later a brown and white cat crossed in front of my car, which, by Superstition Law, officially nullifies the first cat crossing. Had the previous black cat been wearing a bulky backpack, for sure it would have been road kill.

            Cats know this. After observing human children with their backpack humps, cats can’t be suckered into wearing this medieval apparatus. Cats also don’t need their spines stretched by backpacks since they go to yoga class where they learn Cat Stretches. These yoga classes foster agility that enable cats to arch their backs, twist and sprawl, just like the young women who send me their revealing Twitter photos.

             But cats, at least, when they Tweet me with a photo, have the good taste not to be wearing a string thong.

The Joy of Extinction

             I’m lying on the padded table with my feet up in the fuzzy pink sock-covered stirrups when my gynecologist, who’s been using what resembles a giant microphone to investigate, declares, “Well, everything looks fine on the ultrasound, except I can’t find your right ovary.” She chuckles.

            She proceeds to explain that as one ages, those little devils, the ovaries, shrink to the size of raisins or similar dried fruit. 

             I know better.

            “Will you please find my ovary?” I ask plaintively. Or plaintiff-ly, depending on whether I decide this is worthy of a medical malpractice suit.

            She can’t.

            She dons her miner’s hat and explores, using a solar-heated speculum on a day the sun wasn’t shining. On my urging she presses on various body parts to see if the ovary is hiding in my abdomen, along my spine, in my buttocks, down my throat. Nada.

            I know the ovary wasn’t very happy with me, since I pumped ten years’ of hormone replacement therapy into it. And many times I would’ve traded it in for a testicle, considering the advantages. But an ovary shouldn’t just disappear, especially since I wasn’t making any more demands on it for baby-making. Why couldn’t it just retire gracefully, appreciate its surroundings, join AARP?

            A chill came over me. The disappearance of my ovary is one more proof that human extinction is occurring.

            Researchers at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) recently reported that vulnerability to extinction runs in certain species and that some human activities threaten “some…lineages of living vertebrates more than others.”  Now I’ve known for years that my body is evolving faster than the average person’s. For example, my teeth are the size of baby white corn. A dentist told me that the evolutionary change in teeth is toward smaller teeth so even though my gums appear to be sucking up my teeth, I’m actually ahead of the evolutionary curve. My eyelashes have almost disappeared as well. I stopped using an eyelash curler after I was routinely curling my eyelids. It’s depressing buying Maybelline’s Great Lash Mascara and realizing it only works for you as a shoe polish.

            Other evidence of my body’s fast-track evolution: my right big toe extends way farther out than the others; my right breast droops lower than the left; and my right arm is an inch and a half longer than my left.  This is when I’m grateful not to be a guy, endowed with a sagging right ball requiring a sling. 

            There is hopeful news about this evolution-leading-to-extinction theory. Within a few generations, if scientists such as at Walnut Creek’s local Joint Genome Institute speed up their investigations and finish sequencing genes (i.e., putting them in order in a giant Rolodex), they might determine which of our unpopular relatives’ descendents will soon be extinct! I think about my Uncle Howard who walked out on my wedding reception because he thought his table seating was too close to the restroom; my aunt Betsy whose hand-me-downs to my sister and me included stained underpants; an uncle who used to grind out his cigarettes on our carpets; a well-heeled lawyer-cousin who gifted us with a used Huckleberry Hound chip-and-dip bowl; my mother’s niece who told my mother to never darken her door again, especially in Sherwin-Williams’ high gloss black.

            The descendents of these relatives do not deserve to continue the inherited policies of their ancestors. I am not certain what Creationists are doing to cull or glean the cadres of relatives who show up to family dinners or drop by to stay at length on summer visits. Praying for an obnoxious or abrasive relative to be a “no-show” rarely works, and it’s only a short-term solution. I’ll take my chances that science will uncover how long these lines of relatives will continue to inflict their special torture, like bringing to dinner the same fruitcake that requires a chainsaw to slice, or demanding personal information (“Your Timmy is such a sweet two-year old. Do you suppose he’s got a good disposition or that he’s gay?”).

            When I consider that, without warning, my favorite lipstick stops being manufactured; my favorite flavor of ice cream (Marshmallow Tuna Swirl) is discontinued; and the one-and-only bra that fits—the popular #78261525552a —is no longer available, I look forward to the time all screwball relatives will have been phased out by evolution. Quietly disappeared.

            Like my ovary.

Chaos Theory

            I’m hurrying down the hall of our home wearing a thin cotton robe when I’m suddenly seized at the hip by an invisible object that propels me back like a human rubber band and slams me into the side of a doorway. Jarred but still with my wits, I carefully lift off the piece of my robe trapped on the door jamb strike plate—the metal plate thingie affixed to the door jamb.   

            This mishap occurs every day of my life. When I was younger, I foolishly believed my clothes were chronically catching on door jamb strike plates because at my 5’8 height, my hips are at the same level of every door jamb strike plate across America. Then one day I was bending down in the shower to pick up a bar of soap that had seemingly leaped from my grasp and fallen to the floor. I suddenly remembered, as I carefully reconnoitered the shower stall floor to pick up the soap and not slip, that the phenomena of tumbling soap had occurred with almost the same frequency as the door jamb strike plates’ grabs at my clothing.

            I kept secret what I realized: that inert objects have a lifelong attraction to me, and despite their seemingly dormant nature, they look gleefully for any opportunity to poke at, harass or humiliate me, particularly in my bathroom.

            I’m now standing before the mirror, lit by an upper border of Hollywood lights that peer down on the brown-tiled countertop with its wide sink. Below the tile countertop I’ve meticulously organized four bathroom drawers by contents: ointments (drawer 1), hair products (drawer 2), razors, lint brushes and shower caps (drawer 3), and  new, unused toiletries (drawer 4).

            Six perfume bottles—disdained by my 24-year-old son Jordan and husband Alan who reject all fragrance in favor of Lysol Bathroom Spray—-line up at the bottom of the mirror, smirking. I ignore them, knowing that before I’m finished in the bathroom, one or more of them will have tipped over—even though I never touched them. I’m supposed to believe it’s because the brown tile is slippery. Ha!  

            I lift up my toothbrush from its holder. The toothbrush goes flying and lands in the sink. Gritting my teeth—I know what’s coming—I open a 16-oz plastic bottle of alcohol housed in the bathroom closet, and grab a Kleenex to wipe down the toothbrush. The alcohol tips over and spills down the outside of the four bathroom drawers.

            I open up the first drawer to see if alcohol has spilled onto the ointments. This can be catastrophic if an ointment has thrown off its cap, which ointments often do when they become sickened by the smell of the contents. I also grimly realize the drawer of ointments have been invaded by one of my hairbrushes, which I lift out and slam into the hair products drawer. I never thought the ointments would collaborate with the brushes and combs. You learn something every day.

             In the “new products” drawer I discover the missing tops to my two hairsprays. I lift the tops out and refasten them onto the hairsprays, which instantly fall over, roll off the tiles and crash onto the floor. I bend over and discover two pill bottles hiding under the sink cabinets on the floor.

            From over on the bathroom closet shelves I hear the sharp clink of at least two items—pill bottles?—that have fallen and are being held captive behind the floor-to-ceiling accordion doors. I retrieve the pill bottles and replace them on the closet shelf.

            “Are you through?” I ask all the toiletries, vainly controlling my fury. No one answers. I pick up a pink perfume bottle (“Pollen” by Chanel) and feign throwing it at the bottles, creams, and ointments. “You think I don’t know what this is about?” I shout.

            My blow dryer, hanging high on a hook alongside the sink, has been watching all this. I like to believe the blow dryer is above the fray. But sometimes during the night—for that’s when it’s most effective—the blow dryer will intentionally slam onto the floor, passing itself off as a minor earthquake.

            Alan and I wake up, hearts racing.

            “Don’t bother,” Alan says, as I throw back the covers. “It’s just the blow dryer.” 

            “This is the last time you’re going to pull that!” I shriek, grabbing the blow dryer by its base, what I perceive to be its throat.

            The hand mirror, who’s observing this, tries a diversion. It drops off the countertop with, to my relief, only a sharp rattle. Long ago the hand mirror gave up its neutrality to join the other toiletries in their quest to persecute me. The hand mirror is the most powerful of all of the bathroom inhabitants, because it will, like its predecessors, give up its life to save the others from my wrath. I’m talking about the hand mirror’s ancestors, the other broken mirrors, who purposely cracked themselves when they slipped to the floor and punished us with the legacy of seven years’ bad luck.

            I try to pacify the hand mirror, holding it gently by its water-ski tow-like handle, expressing my concern and asking why, when the mirror starts out the week so clean and sparkly, it always ends up with smudges, smears, and dried drippings. A glass of impenetrable fog. The hand mirror tilts coyly, reflecting the potential carnage around the bathroom. It looks at me. I find myself staring back.

            I put the mirror down and go to the closet. I reach for a bottle of Valium.

            The toiletries are quiet. I gulp a pill and troop out of the bathroom, glancing back.

            I know when I’m gone, the bathroom scale will agree to land on a preposterously high number the next time I weigh myself.

            The toiletries especially love it when I’m fatigued, naked and vulnerable in the morning. They show no mercy. Overnight they’ll have coaxed the toothpaste to switch places with an ointment. They wait with barely-concealed merriment for me, their permanently helpless, outwitted prey, to start brushing my teeth with zinc oxide.