Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cat Panic: Part 2

The next day, I woke up after having hit the snooze button on both alarms. I had to rouse The Battlefield and deliver it to school by 7:28 am. I had to rouse the Middle Child and deliver it to the train station by 8:24 am. I had to rouse the dogs and walk them up and down the driveway. I did the dishes, fed the cat, and looked at my arm.
Was it even puffier than the night before?    Was it turning red?
It certainly was very tender. None of the wounds themselves looked like anything, but my left arm was painful and swollen.
I cancelled my plans and called the doctor.
Of course, having only moved here in September, I do not yet have a cat-bite-doctor. I have a women’s-parts-doctor, and a dentist, and a dermatologist. I called the Middle Child’s internist’s office. I explained that I had an animal bite on my arm, and that it was swollen and painful, and I wanted to get it looked at that day so I could avoid going to the emergency room.
The nurse on the phone replied, “You need to go to the emergency room.”
To me, the emergency room is for people who were run over by a car, the kid who fell off the monkey bars and broke his arm, the rider who came off her horse, the sous chef scalded by hot oil. You know, emergencies.  “My cat bit me yesterday” is not an emergency, it’s a thing to take care of, today if possible. But not an emergency. An emergency is falling off a ladder, it’s a venomous snake-bite, it’s a tornado, it’s a heart attack, it’s a stabbing. Yesterday’s cat bite is a stupid emergency.
Northern Westchester Hospital (which I passed three times the day before without realizing) is doing some construction in its parking lots, so when you go to the emergency room there these days you get valet parking. Hospital administrators everywhere need to know this important thing: valet parking at the emergency room is the best thing since sliced bread, since the germ theory of disease, since the agricultural revolution, since Skype, since the birth control pill or even since the invention of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.   You drive up. You’re having an emergency! Hurry! You are greeted by a fellow who opens your door, and in exchange for your car he hands you a valet ticket.  You can even leave it running.
Inside, the Northern Westchester Hospital emergency room has a huge waiting area, with chairs for at least 75 people by my estimating glance. Behind a counter sat two pleasant, cheerful staffers, one of whom took my name and summoned a nurse. I sat in a chair and started to wonder how long the wait would be in a suburban emergency room at 9:30 am on a Tuesday. I never got to finish wondering, because Tammy, the nurse, had arrived to take me to a room.
Mine was room 15, though the door never closed. Tammy took my story, my name, my vitals. She told me they were very busy and to be patient.  Within the next half an hour I had seen the nurse who gave me the IV and the doctor, talked about what happened, and heard about other people’s cats. It was agreed all around that cat bites are nasty, and decided that IV antibiotics were warranted. I tried to read the paper, but never really had time. I was out the door again by 11:30 am.
I still say it was not an emergency, and that IV antibiotics could be administered in a doctor’s office.
A day later, my arm was still sore but no longer as swollen.  The cat seems to have resumed a normal activity level, though his toes bother him noticeably.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cat Panic: Part 1

A housecat, when provoked, can make at least three different liquids, and mine did not want to be confined to a crate and driven in the car from New York City to far Northern Westchester County, so he promptly made all three in that crate.  At that point, he panicked, and who wouldn’t? Trapped in a plastic crate with an inch of three nasty cat liquids is horrifying. Schwartz started thrashing and tearing wildly at the metal bars of his crate with his claws. Soon he was bleeding as well.  
I was liberally splashed with the nasty cat liquids while I drove, and so was the interior of my (then) brand-new car.
When we arrived at the Big Red Barn, Schwartz got a bath before I unloaded anything else from the car.  It was early September, so he dried pretty fast on his own.  I was able to clean the dashboard and window and seat and steering wheel of my new car. Schwartz had damaged a nail which ended up taking months to heal, but it did heal after all that, on its own. I unpacked and got busy having this long, bad vacation.
Schwartz was due for shots this week, and even though he is an indoor-only cat, he has a talent for slipping out the door as you bring in the groceries, so I keep him up to date on all his vaccines.  Did I know what I was getting myself into yesterday when I headed out to the vet? I certainly had not forgotten the cat panicking in the car in early September, but I must have indulged in some magical thinking: “He’s been good, he’ll be good,” or “He’s forgotten,” or “It’s not that far.”
I was wrong.
This time, I put the crate in the back of the station wagon. This time, I put an old towel in with him.  This time, I covered the crate with an old blanket, in case of splashing. This time he behaved in more or less the same way he had behaved on his last trip.
It was raining very hard, and in my distraction with the ruckus going on in the way-back, I drove past the proper exit. I turned to my car’s built-in GPS for help, and it disagreed with what Google Maps on my phone was suggesting. Three miles and fifteen minutes later, I stopped in a park to call the vet. “Oh, you have to tell your GPS it’s Bedford Road, not North Bedford Road.” As I drove out of the park to re-trace my route for the third time, I saw a family of Canada geese enjoying a pond that had jumped its banks in the torrential rain.  The adult geese looked like they were having trouble getting the goslings together.
At the vet, it was agreed that they would take Schwartz to the back to do the exam, give him his shots and clean him up. We had brought two stool samples, one planned, and another was Schwartz’s spontaneous contribution in his crate. He had torn out two nails this time, and so along with the planned vaccines, he got a shot of antibiotics and some Buprenex, for pain.  We were late picking up The Battlefield from school.
Wet cat is freaked
Once home again, I felt that Schwartz needed another bath. I was reacting to the third stool sample he had produced which was stuck to him. I scooped him up, and began the bath routine.  By the time I realized that the traumatic vet visit, sandwiched between two terrifying car rides and including several shots and a dose of pain-killer, might induce some unexpected behavior, I was forcibly opening his jaws with one hand in an effort to get his teeth out of my left arm. He scratched my arm and my back, and gave me two cat bites, one of which drew blood, the other just left marks.  The frenzy of his panic and the ferocity of his attack were unlike anything I had ever seen him do.  I left him alone and wet in the bathroom for a couple of hours.
The scratches hurt more than the bites. My shirt was torn. Poor kitty. Poor me.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Landlords: Pruning

I thought I was done telling stories about the Landlords, but I ran into Her on the driveway this weekend and Her look of amazement made me realize I wasn’t done telling stories about them.  We have lived in the house 256 days as of this past weekend, but we persist in feeling we keep surprising them by being here.  Because of more tree planting (yes), His car was parked halfway up the driveway, with about 6 feet of room to get by.  One of their cats was in the driver’s side window, and at first I mistook it for Him. I crept slowly down the drive, trying to understand what I was looking at, and She asked if I could get by in my car (which I couldn’t).  I mistook her question for a joke since it was obvious that I couldn’t.
There is a large mature flowering dogwood tree between the Big Red Barn where we live and the garage where the Landlords live. It is no more than thirty or so feet tall, but broad and substantial. It was damaged pretty heavily by the snowfall in late October, and now shows that removing the broken limbs late last fall was not enough. A ladder was propped in the tree a number of weeks ago now, and it has not moved as He tries to correct with pruning a process which looks to me like an ordinary old tree death. Throughout the weekend I heard sneezing coming from the tree, either because He has allergies or because he has a cold. 
Pruning is a year-round hobby for the Landlords, along with splitting and stacking firewood by hand.  There is a large maple at the top of the driveway growing out from a crotch made by an old dead stump and the piled-rock wall. It is the sort of volunteer tree that grows in an over-looked spot until one day it drops a huge limb and traps your cars on the other side.  It has a lop-sided growing habit, extremely vertical branches, and a rotten-looking core. If it were a tree on my property I would have it removed.  One weekend, the Landlord took it upon Himself to prune it, highlighting its inherent unattractiveness. He then used twine to tie several of the lower, live branches so that they make a better angle with the tree. The result was extremely startling for me, since it suddenly became impossible to see to the left from my car as I emerged from the driveway. Before I had a chance to say anything, though, the deer came along and ate every single green leaf on that branch, so it is now easy to see through.
In between pruning and planting sessions this weekend, a repair was made to the garbage hutch, which is at the top of the driveway, across from the sad ugly volunteer maple, facing the road, for the second time. Within only a few days, the first repair had become a dangerous piece of trim with sharp protruding screws every ten inches along its length. Seeing no new support for the lid, I have reason to believe this repair may remain solid until mid-June.
The garbage hutch stands in front of a large stand of mature bamboo.  This bamboo collapsed under the weight of the wet snow in October, and lay across the driveway like a fully-loaded snow-flinging trebuchet, but stood up again when a willing nitwit (me) shook off the snow. (“Shook off the snow,” dear reader, is a euphemism; it really means, “got a lot of snow down her sleeves and coat.”)  Now, because of the massive root structure established under the bamboo, numerous spring shoots have emerged.  Young bamboo is pointed, and can pass through many layers of leaf litter or simple impale it and carry it up with itself like a hat on its head.  Because the bamboo is at the property line, I am not sure if its presence is the Landlords’ doing, and I doubt it.
I followed Him out this morning, as he sped up the driveway, demonstrating the revision He is making to the shape of the driveway, and I now understand the new path in the grass. He also veered off the driveway at the top, plowing through all the young bamboo sprouts with his car. From behind it looked like He was careening out of control, but in reality, he was doing some more pruning.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why you should love logarithms

A problem involving factoring and logarithms

I was recently in the midst of a pitched battle, waging war against the forces of ignorance  with the weapon of algebra, when The Battlefield (who is 14), opened his unenthusiastic eyes and asked me why he needs to know how to factor polynomials.
I have taught algebra in the high school and college setting. I have tutored people in middle school and helped people study for the GRE. I have fielded the question of “Why do we need to know this?” hundreds of times. The answer always falls into three categories: because it’s on the test, because it’s good for you, because if you learn it you can go learn calculus.
When you are The Battlefield, and as determined to never need much math in adulthood as a landmass could be, being able to recognize the difference of two squares is not your problem. It is an age-old conflict between the forces of chaos and the forces of order. In my endless engagement with the dark morass of ignorance, I foolishly persist in adding another reason to the three listed above: because it’s cool. Obviously, I am an over-educated idiot.
Some educated adults feel free to express disdain for topics in math that they once found baffling, and logarithms is a common enemy for these folks. The logarithm is actually a very handy thing, invented at a time before people understood exponents, back when long division had to be done by hand.  The history of logarithms is a very interesting story, which I will have to tell another day.
I have in my repertoire a story I tell whenever the existence of logarithms requires justification (beyond the four reasons already mentioned).  
Imagine you are a marine biologist, I say,  And you have been asked to survey all the animals you find living in a specific cubic kilometer of  Hudson Bay and record their population size on a graph. What might you find? A pod of 9 Beluga whales,  perhaps a few more arctic cod and sculpin fleeing the hungry whales, but what if there was a bunch of zooplankton, where individuals are millimeters long but there are millions of individuals, or a single Bowhead whale, eating zooplankton? How would you record the numbers in a graph?
Even if you made things simple, such as whales 10, fish 100, zooplankton 100,000,000, you are going to have trouble showing that on a graph. The scale is going to be a problem, even if you have a really, really big piece of paper.
Common log, which is base 10, is a good way to show the magnitude of numbers, and in our example, the log of our population numbers yields whales 1, fish 2, and zooplankton 8. Yes, common log counts the number of zeros, and gives us data we can easily fit onto a small graph. Our only further responsibility is to ensure that we identify the scale as logarithmic. Hopefully our audience understands.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Another Landlord Story: Appliances

While the stacked washer/dryer unit—which never manages to empty itself of water and has ominous signs of mold in its interior—seemed certain to be the first to fail, it was the ice-maker which had to be replaced not long after we moved in. Its replacement was necessitated by the formation of a glacier in the freezer, and if ever I find a glacier has formed inside my freezer again, I will know not to try to pry the thing open. The oven quit the Monday of Thanksgiving week, requiring a new burner unit, and creating the kind of household emergency so mundane it would barely be worthy of a sit-com, though it was pretty scary for me. In general the hot water situation is like an ancient polytheist religion: quaint, unnecessarily complex, incomprehensible, and frustrating. There is a toilet that flushes with a startling violence.  The room above the furnace/hot-water heater is a consistent 82˚F, perfect for rising bread dough. Most showers are equipped with two separate shower heads, controlled by individual levers, capable of spraying at the same time without overlapping the same sprayed body (unless the person is triple the width of any person in this family).  It’s a rental. It’s fine.
New dishwasher is
different from old
in one respect:
red light on floor
shows it's on

Before it stopped pumping water out, the dishwasher had been making loud, unhappy-pump noises for a few weeks. Its demise was not unexpected from our point of view. I called the Landlords and She and I discovered that the unit would need replacing since it was not worth a repair.  She and I had two separate conversations where I assured her that ten years is a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher.  A replacement was arranged for, and being an updated version of the same model it would fit perfectly, as would the decorative front panel.
The following Monday we had an appointment for a new unit to be delivered and installed. The Landlord had paid in advance. Two guys arrived and got to work, and I did the sensible thing and stayed the hell out of their way.  It was at this point that I heard vigorous, fast-tempo, insistent knocking on the front door, and though I was only a few feet away I was unable to open the door before it burst open.
There is a sit-com scene where the landlord walks in to the apartment right after delivering his quick, signature knock, and the studio audience (or laugh-track) lets you know that he does it all the time. In the sit-com, this drop-in character will be wacky, and a reliable source for laughs.  While our Landlord is wacky, you do not really laugh at him; you might miss something.
First, he wanted to know if everything was going to be okay. He had to shout to get the attention of the two guys, and they did not really understand his question. Next, he asked if ten years was a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher. Again, he had to shout and ask the question several times. The two guys assured the Landlord that ten years was a reasonable life-span for a dishwasher, and got back to work. Lastly, he asked them if there were spare parts that we should keep from the old unit.  At this point the two guys did not answer even after being shouted at.
The Landlord turned to me and with a twinkle in his eye informed me that his dishwasher is 81 years old. He continued and said that he heats the water for dishes on his wood stove and washes everything by hand, because he has an abhorrence of chipping dishes. He may have actually gone on to tell me about brain scans, the strength of his fingernails, and how he had been a sharpshooter as a lad, but I was in such a hurry to have something else to do that I might have stopped listening.  When you don’t like the wacky landlord character on TV, you just change the channel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Landlords: Tree-Planting Mania

You never really see them together, and in fact, the Landlords often arrive in separate cars. There are two ways you know they have arrived: either because you hear the barking, barking or because you see the silver car careening down the hill, driving on the grass across the lawn. It’s a circuit, you see, and it is how He arrives at the property.  We are surrounded by trees on all sides, but there is a track He drives, in a predictable and bumpy loop, mostly just inside the trees, and in all weather, and at any time of day or night. She drives a white one and He drives a silver one. Hers is newer and in good repair. His is battered on both ends, and has bits held onto the body by wire and that special handyman stickum.
Where all our water went
They are of a retired age, but maybe they have professional responsibilities that keep them in the city during the week. They are professionals, and both have advanced degrees. The Landlords usually show up Thursday nights, and stay through Monday. I send the rent check to a nice address in The City, on the Upper West Side.  (You should know by now that “The City” is New York City, which is where we should be living now,  but are not. It is where we will be living in the fall.) The Landlords have a teeny-tiny apartment above the garage, next door to this, the large red barn house.  Everything I know about their building is from the weekend in October when we stole their firewood.  We have no garage privileges, no matter how much we are paying for this house.
Buckets and new trees
Since we moved in last September they have been around on the weekend every weekend, and they have gone from one barking, barking dog to two barking, barking dogs.  Having a Country Place is something people do to survive city living. Our town is an easy enough commute to The City, so is not a bad place to have a Country Place as long as you don’t need to actually be in The Country (because this is actually The Suburbs).  I think it must be a relief for the Landlords’ dogs to come to The Country so they can bark with impunity.  I wonder, though, if they produce the same barking, barking in The City. I also wonder if the second dog was obtained in an effort to improve the first one.
When they are not driving around the property, walking their barking, barking dogs or burning wood in their woodstove, the Landlords have a passion for planting trees. I cannot report on how many trees they have planted this spring, but they were very busy at it for a few weeks there, with new trees going in every day.  We did not pay very much attention to it until the Saturday when we were getting dressed to go to a dinner party and we did not have enough water pressure to take a shower. All of our water was going to a new tree, just south of our house. 
It felt like there was some urgency to the tree-planting mania, what with the hoses needing to be dragged around, buckets requiring stacking, moving, refilling and lining up, holes wanting digging and refilling, mulch having to be purchased and delivered and applied.  The silver car was hard at work all over the property. He was very busy.
Some of the new trees are snugged in next to the driveway at the top.  You cannot see our house from the road at all, owing to the shape of the hill more than the trees.  Now that these new little trees have been planted, it seems clear that there is a plan to put evergreens along the driveway from the top to the bottom. The driveway is a quarter mile long and the trees flank the topmost fifth of that quarter mile. The new pines are perhaps twelve feet from the more mature pines on the other side of the drive, and in just a few years will create a perfect, all-around scrub-brush system for scratching the sides and tops of all entering and exiting vehicles.
There is now a hose stretched from the building where they spend weekends in the teeny-tiny  apartment above the garage all the way up the quarter mile long driveway to reach the new trees. I drive over this hose twice in the morning when I take the 8th grader to school, twice if I go to the grocery store, twice if I go to the post office, and twice if I drop anyone at the train station, and twice if I pick anyone up at the train station. The hose has remained stretched along the driveway for weeks, and soon I will have squashed it flat from driving over it.
I never see or hear the Landlords leave. Sometimes a car remains behind, so it seems like they are still here. The absence of barking is a state of quiet akin to having no headache.