Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hello Incident Report, it’s been a while. How sweet of you to drop by (now get out).

Arty-G came into town from Birmingham this evening. He clearly carried a big slice of the old B’ham in his pocket because I met him for a few drinks at his hotel and suddenly my life is once again party-party followed by incident report and, as a bonus round, an altercation with my neighbor. Seriously, for that kind of fun I should be paying only $550 a month for rent and having Buffalo Rock ginger ale whenever I want. I think the additional $500 a month I pay in Philly, plus the ginger ale deprivation should at least come with a party-party-but-no-incident-report lifestyle.

No such luck. The night started out pretty tame. I have only seen one other B’hamian since moving to Philly so I was pretty excited when I found out that Arty-G was coming up for a short work trip. I’ve been tired, tired, tired, lately and today I found out that while my thyroid is not cancerous, it may be infected from the biopsy and I have to start a course of antibiotics.

Let me pause for a second to say again that the result of my biopsy was BENIGN. I found this out officially on Monday. Now I smile, you can too if you want! Now I frown, and launch back into the rest of my story.

So…I wasn’t feeling well but I managed to slump through the rest of my day. I was looking forward to Arty-G but also a little worried that I would be too wiped to be any fun. He was late finishing dinner and so I was already in his hotel lobby bar (At the Ritz baby! Arty-G does it in style) when he came in. Oh! The happiness of, and on, his sweet face! On my face a big grin as well, reflecting the happy happiness of being known, not new, and loved (or as he would say lurrrved). We chat. We gossip. We eat stinky cheese and honey. We tell the bartender to make us a “Ben Franklin Slamma”, or a “Liberty Bell”, or a “Philadelphia Freedom” or an “Elton John”. We think we’re hilarious because none of these drinks exist on the menu (or anywhere for that matter) and the bartender gives us something that tastes a lot like pez candy, if pez was made with red bull. It costs us a lot of money to be that silly, since we are at the Ritz. I introduce Arty-G to Philly’s local gin, Bluecoat. He takes me up to his suite on the 29th floor to split a split of champagne (Ritz Champagne, Arty-G…naturally) where we can see teeny, far away Philadelphia under a big fat moon.

Yes. A Pez Franklin Slamma (whatever that was made of) followed by Gin followed by champagne. Only with Arty-G. I left the Ritz knowing that I will regret being out late, drinking any alcohol at all and drinking that alcohol in particular. But I also left feeling relaxed and happy to have seen a familiar face and even better, to have been a familiar face.

When the cab dropped me off at home I walked up to my front door and immediately called my mom. My leasing company recently rehabbed our front door and while it now looks amazing, it doesn’t really close. Unusually, both the inner and outer doors to my building were wide open and, as it was past midnight, I felt funny about going in alone. I should also add that to get to my door on the second floor I would have to walk by not one, but two empty apartments, both with open doors. Crreeepy, so I called my mom to ‘walk me to my door’.

I used to do this all the time with mom or B when I was coming home late from work in Birmingham. They would be quiet until I said, “I’m safe!” and then we would chat for a bit. In Birmingham, this was necessitated in part because I had a scary, antagonistic, relationship with my scary, antagonizing (likely drug-addicted, definitely crazy-ass-mean) downstairs neighbor. In Philly, however, I have no such relationships…until tonight.

I made it past the cavernous apartments, gave mom the “I’m safe!”, and we chatted about my evening. She was so happy that I had seen a friend that I didn’t even get scolded for drinking when I’m already sick. “I know I’m going to pay for this tomorrow” I tell her, “but it was really worth it anyway”. On that cheerful note, I said my goodnights and curled up to sleep the (not very restorative) sleep of the over imbibed.

About three hours later I woke up when I heard the downstairs door open and close. I was about to head back into la-la-land when I realized that someone was walking up and down the stairwell. Not up the stairwell, up and down the stairwell. On the third trip up I can hear men’s voices and then oddly, the third floor hall window opening. I got up and quietly went to my door. I could hear duct tape being pulled from a roll? The window closing? I looked out my peephole and saw a man coming back down the stairs while another man was just coming up the stairwell. It didn’t feel right, or it looked funny. I don’t know why I kept looking out the peephole except that mostly I knew if I walked back from my door, the floor would creak.

The two men stopped on the landing in front of my door. They conferred quietly for a moment and then the downstairs guy turned toward my door. He was looking right at me but didn’t realize it. He turned back to the upstairs guy and gestured to my door. I couldn’t make out his face, but I saw upstairs guy shake his head “no” just a little. Then downstairs guy turned back to my door and turned the handle.

WHAM! I hit the front door so they would know that I knew and RAN to my living room for my cell phone. The men yelled something through my front door but there was no f#@$ing way that I was getting close enough to that door to find out what it was. The police were there in five minutes or less. I watched for them out the front window and saw three cars race past my building. Flashbacks of standing on my porch in Birmingham after calling to report a break-in, watching police cars drive repeatedly past my house for an hour before they found the location.

But the Philly cops come back around quickly and I don’t have to wait long until they are in the building. I could hear them talking in firm voices to someone downstairs and when they came upstairs I called out through my front door. The officer who came to my door was in his 40’s, had a thick Philly accent and I felt instantly reassured. I told him what happened and he asked me to come downstairs.

“Why?” I ask.

“I’d like for you to take a look at somebody for me please” he says.

I knew this already. I could hear a man complaining loudly downstairs and I didn’t want to confront whoever it was. I walked down behind the officer to see…Yes! It’s upstairs guy #1! I hadn’t really made out his face but same bald head, same black jacket. Relief! And then…





My downstairs neighbor.

He’s shaved off his head of thick hair since the first (and only) time that I met him. He’s handcuffed, being held by a second officer, and he’s pissed.

“Man, I live here!” he says.

“He lives here.” I say.

“You’ve got me handcuffed in my own home!”

The last comment was directed at me and I opened my mouth to apologize but here’s what came out instead:

“What the F@$ck did you think I was going to do? What did you think was going to happen when two grown-ass men start messing with my door in the middle of the night when I live alone? If it were your mother what would you tell her? You’d tell her to call! If it were your sister, what would you tell her? You’d tell her to call! If it were your grandmother, what would you tell her? You’d tell her to f@%ing call!”

The fright, and late hour (4:30 am) had turned me into The Great Reverend Doctor, complete with the booming volume. At that moment, I was every single one of my black aunties rolled into one, halleluiah and amen.

He’s still handcuffed, listening to me and politely nodding in agreement. He looks contrite. I ruin my sermon by finishing with:

“Jesus! I’m sorry to inconvenience you.”

I went back upstairs with the first officer. He and the other cop had waited patiently while I stood on the stairs and yelled at my neighbor so I apologized to him as well. He stood in my hallway, politely ignored the pile of laundry on my bedroom floor, and told me that there was nothing to apologize for, that it was the middle of the night, I was clearly sound asleep and that he would have wanted his daughter to do the same thing. He took my name, birth date and phone number for the incident report, wished me a good night, and left.

Meanwhile, I could hear that my neighbor was still talking to the cop downstairs. I heard the officer say that they wouldn’t do anything about one call but not to get called about again. I retreated to my living room and this computer.

It’s 6:30 in the morning now. I’m not sure that I’ll get back to sleep. I hate the thought of living in another situation where I don’t feel safe because of my neighbor. Or where I feel bad for having antagonized a neighbor.

Here’s the thing. It was embarrassing, yes. But a few things are still bothering me. Why didn’t my other neighbors wonder about all the yelling in the hallway? What was he doing with the third floor hall window at 3 AM when he lives on the ground floor? Where did his friend go? What were they talking about on the second floor landing? What did that bartender put in the Ben Franklin Slamma that made it taste so much like pez?

But mostly what I’m wondering is…why were they trying to open my front door?

Monday, April 19, 2010

You can play from the rough with your regulation thyroid

I want to write something happy and really funny here. I want to write something happy and funny but I’m a little stuck in that realm known as pro-fess-shee-unal-ism.
Here’s the problem: A while back I threw all these stories into a book for my mom via an online site. I made the reference public so that a family friend could order one too (yes, I did tell her it was also available for FREE online). Helpfully, Google picked up the reference and NOW when my name is Googled, the book shows up…with a link to this otherwise semi-anonymous site. It is my fault and a stupid mistake. I’ve tried and tried to erase the reference, but it won’t go away.

So here’s me, moved on to Philadelphia and a Postdoctoral Fellow (can I just say that I can never figure out if post doc is one word or two? Anyone?). Having survived graduate school with most of my organs in tact I now find myself facing the semi-real, although still unlikely, possibility of future employment in some sort of scientific/academic field. Even more troubling, I am currently supported by a fantastic teaching and research training grant.

How can it be both ‘troubling’ and ‘fantastic’ you ask? Well the folks who run this grant have provided me with a really awesome set-up: three years of support, lots of money for meetings and supplies, rigorous teacher training and free hoagies about once a month when we have an organizational meeting. So obviously that’s the ‘fantastic’ part. The hoagies are especially fantastic because the veggie hoagies on the platter are essentially raw broccoli and lettuce sandwiches which is both icky and genius. I think about those sandwiches a lot, but I digress.

Anyway, the ‘troubling’ part? They are pretty serious about this program and would probably prefer that I not undermine their efforts by discussing a time when I might or might not have had to suppress my gag reflex while cheerfully encouraging students to dissect cats with gangrenous livers. NOT. That did NOT happen, but if it had, what a great story that would have made for this sad, neglected blog.

So that’s where this stands. Me, stuck with the choice: entertain the two people who stop by here once every two months (yeah, I get a count on the hits) or retain the ability to make almost enough money to pay for a one bedroom apartment and health care in any major city. It’s a tough choice and I do love entertaining you but also, I really need the health care.
Which brings me to another point. The damn lump in my thyroid is now the size of a ping-pong ball. I’m not exaggerating, I put the largest diameter of the thing into Google and I got all these hits about the size of a regulation ping-pong ball. I’m glad it’s not bigger than a ‘regulation’ ball because that would just make me feel so rouge. Still, I’m a little scared and a little overwhelmed. I am not worried about cancer, that’s basically been ruled out although another biopsy will be done this week. Even if the biopsy comes back malignant the survival rate for most thyroid cancer 20 years out is something reassuring like 95%. Nope, I’m scared that I’ll have to wait another six months while this stupid lump gets bigger and then just be put off again:

“Come see me in six months.”

“I’m not too worried. Come see me in six months.”

“I tell you what, let’s check in on this again in six months? Sound good?”
No, it doesn’t sound good. It sounds stupid. Every time they check, the damn thing is bigger and bigger. This last ultrasound it was almost 50% bigger than it was a year ago. I feel it always now and it’s starting to make me feel strangely self-conscious about how I look. This is particularly crazy of me because I’m pretty sure that from a distance my ass (which is slightly larger than a golf ball) is more noticeable than a lump in my neck. But I USE my ass for sitting and the bigger it gets, the nicer it is to sit. The lump, on the other hand, seems to only serve the purpose of making me feel claustrophobic when I wear turtlenecks or drink too fast.
I also believe that Lumpolina (yeah, that’s what I’m calling it as of right now, Lumpolina. I named it. Gross!) is wreaking havoc on my energy levels. I sleep all the time. I’m not exaggerating that either. I average 12 hours a night. That means that sometimes I only sleep 10 hours but other nights/days I sleep more like 15. This was happening to me in Birmingham too but everyone, including me, just assumed that I was depressed or lazy and trying to avoid finishing my Ph.D. Well I’m nearly as happy as a clam here in Philly…a sleepy, tired, washed-out, moderately happy clam, and now I really believe I can say that something just isn’t working. I am also gaining weight at a steady clip, which is weird since I’m too busy sleeping to eat. It must be Lumpolina’s way of compensating for me. Like maybe if my ass gets to be big enough, no one will notice whether I retain “regulation” standards for ping-pong or have to move on to golf-neck. Just 0.26 cm more to reach that goal. Come see me in another six months.
So that’s the update. I’m good. I have a lump in my neck. There was absolutely no gangrenous cat dissection (but can you imagine if there was? No, don’t try. It would have been a terrible smell, had it happened.). I like it here but I’m struggling with growing up. I want to tell you all about it but can’t in case they decide to listen in and don’t like what they hear. Is that what we get for moving on and moving up? More secrets? Maybe that’s why I waited so long to get going. I must have known.
Oh, and I miss you. Yeah. You. Just know that I’m here. Even though I would like to; I just can’t tell you all about it any more, or at least not about the cats, because that didn’t happen anyway. I swear.