Tuesday, November 29

matters of the heart

My gym demands, according to Israeli law, that I bring a note from my doctor every year assuring them that I am healthy enough to be let loose on their machines. This is what is known as "ass-covering," of course. It's a word I recently learned from my boss, a champion in that sport, specializing in email, which she refers to as keese-tu-chim -- literally, "covering of the tuches".

This medical form is a minor annoyance, particularly since I rarely have a reason to visit a doctor so it's not something I can piggyback onto some other request; usually it's a special trip, along with the indeterminate amount of waiting, etc. At least it's free -- good ol' socialized medicine: one of the best reasons to live in this country (that, and the weather).

So I dropped in at my doctor's the other evening on my way home from work, and after a blessedly short wait (the weather is warm; we're between flu plagues), I went in and told her what I needed. "Oh, fine," she said, and took my blood pressure. I didn't think to ask what it read and she didn't tell me, just saying its normal.

Then I remembered I needed a referral to see a cardiologist for an echocardiogram. Here's the story: My biological father died at 27, when I was two, of a congenital heart defect (something to do with a defective valve, if memory serves). He had four siblings. Of them, one was definitely a carrier, and one of her sons -- davka the cousin I had a huge crush on, the musician -- died before 30 of the same thing. Another sister was thought to be a carrier and one of her sons was diagnosed in his 20s as well. My brother and I have both been checked periodically over the years but appear not to have inherited it. But until now I'd always believed that this was a problem that would manifest early, if at all. I figured I was out of the woods, and haven't been checked for several years. Now suddenly, I've learned that the mother I'd thought was only a carrier (her son has it, and is managing it with medication so far), has been diagnosed with it too. And she's in her 60s. So much for that theory. So I figured it was time to get checked again.

Talk about TMI: When I explained to my doctor why I needed a referral for the cardiologist, she changed her mind about handing me the medical release for the gym that she'd already printed out. "Uh-uh," she said, shaking her head firmly, "with all these people dying in your family, you're not getting this until I at least get a clean EKG from you."

oops. big mouth always gets me in trouble.

While I was at it, I decided to go whole hog and get some blood work done too, since that's another thing I haven't checked in years. Everybody should know their cholesterol reading, no? I mean, it's such useful information in geriatric company.

So off I went to the Kupat Holim [sick fund/HMO] clinic this morning, handed in my card, received paper with stickers for the blood tests and a blue-lidded plastic cup to pee into. The technician had a lot of trouble finding a vein to stick -- mine are so thin as to be almost invisible -- so I had that rubber tourniquet on so long my arm started to ache. But she told me I was "very brave" so that put a smile on my face. [Biyatch probably says that to all her victims.]

Then two floors up, to the nurses' station, where they do the EKG. I was extremely lucky this time -- I'd come an hour earlier than my appointment just hoping they might squeeze me in, and sure enough, absolutely nobody was waiting. She took my BP again, and this time I paid attention: 106/67 --- nice. And off to the table. Turn off your cell phone. Pull up your shirt. Take off your boots. Gel-clip; gel-clip; gel-clip. Don't talk for a minute. That's it, you're done. Wow. I'm sure this thing used to take a lot longer. Here's a line that shows what your heart's doing, lub-dup lub-dup; take it to the nice doctor in room 407 and he'll interpret it.

This, it turns out, is the same cardiologist who I've seen a couple of previous times over the years, the tall, smiling French, Doctor B. that I found very pleasant, friendly and un-doctor-like. I waited my turn in the corridor, and when he came out he took my EKG as if to look at it quickly and just sign off on it, but came back with the surprising, "It's not normal."

oh shit, was all I could think, now I'm not going to get my release for the gym. I said, "Not normal? Why?" And he showed me the EKG that had looked so innocent a moment before, and with his pen circled a little blip that appeared just after each spike.

"It could be that your normal EKG is irregular, but I can't sign off on this without checking," he said. I told him that I already have an appointment for an echogram on Jan. 3, but now that it's going to prevent me from going to the gym, I'd really like to get an earlier appointment. He told me to call him "in a few days" and he would see what he could do. I'm planning to call him tomorrow.

Actually, this doesn't worry me. About 20 years ago, a hysterical young cardiologist looked at my EKG and told me something like I was a heart attack waiting to happen and needed to be on beta-blockers permanently. I didn't like what he told me about beta-blockers -- it sounded a lot like a lobotomy for some reason -- and I wasn't in any mood to slow down, so I got a second opinion, which was fortunate. The more experienced cardiologist determined that I simply had an unusual pattern, but that an echo revealed nothing abnormal. And since then it's always been fine. I'm pretty confident Dr. B will determine my heart to be ... if not normal, then at least acceptable.

Sunday, November 27

freiers, they "who only stand and wait"

I live in Israel, I work in Israel, I speak Hebrew and shop in Israeli stores and travel Israeli roads to work five days a week. I'm married to an Israeli, for heaven's sake, and am the mother of a sabra. And yet I seem to float somewhere just off to the side of "Israel". This is the nature of the squarepeg. How is this possible? My life is intertwined yet uninvolved.

Usually I notice the habits of the natives with barely a raise of the eyebrows, and have in many ways probably melted into this pot more than I even realize. But today I was especially struck with how Israelis are inveterate, unapologetic interrupters. Okay, once in a while they'll interrupt with a perfunctory "sorry for the interruption bla bla bla bla...[continuing without a break]," but much of the time they'll just walk in and start talking over the person who's in the middle of talking. As if to say, "my mother taught me that I'm the center of the universe and until proven otherwise, that works for me." Depending on the arrogance quotient of the interrupter, I can get pretty irritated by this behavior, I have to admit. It's one thing that still shocks me nearly speechless. Probably that has something to do with the fact that being interrupted has a tendency to kill my notoriously slippery train of thought.

Today I was just amused, however, when I was in the middle of consulting with our office manager on the best way to bind a large stack of papers, when a colleague came along and, all urgency-and-time-is-of-the-essence, cut off our almost-finished conversation with his own needs. Going directly into anthropological mode (this time), I stood to the side while the office manager turned her attention to the interrupter, only to be re-interrupted after about 30 seconds by a man who she'd just opened the door for. He immediately started telling her something and she gave him her full attention for about a minute, then walked back to her desk with interrupter no. 1 now continuing with what he needed. This only lasted a few more seconds, though, because another colleague then came by and immediately started in on what she wanted, pretend-apologizing for the inconsequential interruption -- after all, we were obviously just wasting time, while her needs were extremely time-sensitive.

At times like this, I feel very Canadian. Canadians are known for their almost pathological politeness -- two people brush past each other gently and both say, "sorry!" where smashing past each other in this country warrants no acknowledgment whatsoever; and don't even get me started on the driving habits -- but it's at least a relaxing sort of pathology. Waiting in orderly lineups is pointedly un-Israeli, but even waiting to speak to someone while they finish a previous conversation is a skill not mastered by the majority.

We may be in the Middle-East, but the manners are all Wild West.

Saturday, November 26

how I spent my time awol

And another ten days passes with only crickets heard from.

Where does the time go? Oh yeah, Desperate Housewives. The first season finally came to blockbuster and I managed to devour it in large chunks over the past 10 days. Very tasty indeed, much more than I'd anticipated. After the ancient agonies of Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, the twisted maneuvrings of Gabrielle Solis are some weird kind of bliss. But why do we not see her even considering abortion? Is it too much for network tv? Now I have to wait a few months till season two arrives.

And although I've spent many hours at work just cleaning out / filing some of the over-400 [non-personal, of course] emails that have accumulated in my webmail, I didn't manage to use any of that ill-gotten time to post here. At the end of the week, when I finally got the urge, I also got a pile of less-ignorable work to do. Yes, I know, "we can do better."

I also spent a couple of days' worth of free time figuring out (with the help of my technophiliac 13-yr-old) how my new iPod Nano works. I wasn't very excited when I got it, I must admit, but I am totally psyched about it now. What an awesome little machine! And by 'little' I mean smaller than a credit card (but about as thick as 3 credit cards, which is still pretty slim, my friends). We are talking miniature -- about a quarter of the size of the kid's "mini iPod". Is she jealous? Oh yeah. Even though at barely 2Gb it's got only half the memory of hers.

What a cool concept this is: Connect the iPod to a USB port. This launches the "iTunes" software interface. When iTunes is open on your screen, you insert a cd you want to "rip" (new jargon for the benefit of previous generations, which here means copy to your computer so that it can be quickly transferred to your iPod). iTunes goes right to work ripping, and you can go back to reading your mail, or whatever. In my case, this is a slow process -- maybe I need a hi-speed USB port, which may be worth looking into -- but it goes on in the background. Once the music is copied into the computer, it appears in the iTunes list, and all I have to do is drag it into the "squarepeg's iPod" folder. Then I click on "update" and iTunes proceeds to synchronize what appears in its folders with what I've got on my teeny tiny sound machine.

Of course the ridiculously small hardware belies the iPod's incredibly big sound. It comes with a pair of teeny tiny earphones, along with teeny tiny black foam rubber ear pads that require the dexterity of barbie-doll sized fingers to put in place. The whole concept, in fact, is reminiscent of an intricate doll's house where you would have a fully-equipped livingroom set up with a fully-functioning home cinema inlcuding surround sound. It just all looks too small to be possible.

But I guess this is just the beginning of the wonders of the evolving nano world.

Wednesday, November 16

a very decent birthday

Since I've been in Israel, and particularly since I've been married to a guy who grew up with almost no family birthday tradition, I've either been depressed by the lack of birthday fanfare or simply made sure I took care of myself and ignored the sound of crickets.

Even a year ago, I was pretty much a birthday Scrooge. I just read what I wrote back then, and this year there is significant improvement, thanks both to the employment factor and to my daughter being old enough now to make her mark on the occasion.

Strangely, two of my siblings (10 and 7 time zones away, respectively) bookended the day by phoning to sing happy birthday too early in the morning and then too late at night, thus waking me up from sound sleep twice. Thanks, you guys! I know you love me, but just send money next time, ok? ;P

My boss organized a small collection from several people and they surprised me, late morning, with a fudgy/creamy store-bought cake, a balloon, and a beautiful pair of earrings. Then OB (office boyfriend -- doesn't every girl have one?) took me out for lunch and gave me a silver necklace from the same store the earrings came from. (No, he doesn't expect anything in return -- just continues to hope.) After lunch, I brought out the cake I had made (chocolate with Grand Marnier-flavored butter icing) and invited my office mates to partake. It was like throwing a party without most of the work, and I got lots of warm-fuzzies and "mazal tov"s out of it. In the evening, more food: Mr. Squarepeg and the young Ms. took me out for Chinese dinner at a classy place and gave me an iPod as a gift. She also wrote a crazy little poem, which started, "Some have ideas; others have the cash" -- referring to herself as the creative genius and her father as the patron of the arts, as it were. "Some go to school/Others you will find at work. You have a birthday today/ And we don't." And finally, concluding in her free-verse style of oxymoronic couplets, was "Happy birthday Mom and Wife/We hope that you enjoy your life" which made me snort the beer I was drinking. And then the footnote: "***We love you even when we fight!!!!" My 13-year-old is coming along nicely.

However, this iPod thing is a bit problematic, being much more of a gadget than I actually wanted. My daughter has become an iPod freak and I think she talked daddy into buying it because she has designs on it. Right away she started in with maybe I'd like to trade with her (she's had a mini iPod since the summer, but the minute she bought it she already wanted an upgrade). Actually, all I wanted was a basic mp3 player to listen conveniently to a series of lectures I have on CDs. The iPod may end up being pretty much wasted on me, but I was dumb enough to open the package right away (the kid wanted to see it and was insisting) so there's no way it's returnable. It was very generous of the mister to spring for such an expensive toy, when something half the price would have done me fine, but I'm a little uncomfortable about it. Although, who knows? Maybe I'll start listening to music more because of it. It really does have amazing sound, nothing like listening to a discman. I hardly ever listen to my music now, because of all the noise I live with (two very noisy individuals who need radio/tv/computer sounds on all the time), but maybe I'll just go into my own little iPod nanoworld and bliss out...

In any case, the "big day" felt very satisfying for a change. Score one more point for the world of work.

Sunday, November 13

there's good pain and then there's migraine

I'm getting to the age where nothing I do seems to make a dent in my weight. Not that I'm fat, but these tires of blubber around my midsection are very tiresome. I would like to make them go away. In fact, I've been wanting to make my pot belly disappear since I was 15. And that was decades before anyone ever heard the word "liposuction."

I did hear of a cosmetic surgery known as "apronectomy" however. It refers not to the removal of one's apron, of course, but to the fat area that the apron usually covers. I don't know if that word is even used anymore [hm, quickly googling...] yes indeed, still used, but more often called abdominoplasty or tummy tuck. The description of it still sounds as gruesome as ever, too: "A triangular area of skin and underlying fat is removed from hip to hip above the pubic hair and below the umbilicus. The umbilicus is left attached on a stalk. A pocket is made underneath the skin and fat of the upper abdomen as far as the ribs and this skin is then stretched downwards to join the lower incision."

Thank god I can't afford to do it, because if I led the kind of lifestyle where I could, I really might. And some part of me really sees putting oneself through that sort of thing for vanity as insane.

But the vanity remains. Too bad I can't get a "vanitectomy" -- that would save a lot of grief. Instead, I must pull up droopy eyelids and imagine gluing them in place, or ironing out the beginnings of jowls, or plumping up a lipline that appears to be caving in inconveniently. Bah.

Although it's very difficult to change my caloric consumption, one thing I do still have some control over is my fitness, and I'm trying to push myself to keep the metabolic rate up. To motivate myself, I recently started a series of sessions with a personal trainer. It's not that I really need this, but working with a trainer forces you to push yourself more than you would on your own.

As a result, I spend 3-4 days following each session feeling like I've been beaten up. Right now, the muscles around my waist are feeling the burn after doing several sets of some exercise where I hang sideways off this machine and then just pull myself up straight, like a sideways situp. Last week, I couldn't straighten my arms for several days without going OWWWWW. The muscles from my forearm, over my elbow and all the way to my biceps were killing me every time I stretched my arms, and I had to cancel the next lesson. The time before, it was my upper legs and the back of my arms, just above my elbows, that made me yelp even if I picked up the phone receiver and put it to my ear -- for 4 days.

I have to admit, though: I enjoy being bossed by my hunky trainer.

That's the good pain. The migraines are another story, and now they're happening every 3-1/2 weeks, for anywhere from one to three days. Lately I've been trying a new supplement, 5-htp, but so far nothing. Although ... it actually might be putting me in a better mood. The jury's still out. On Thursday, well into day 2 of the headache, I left work early and dragged myself home, only to find that young ms. squarepeg was also home early with a fever and other flu symptoms. And that was my weekend laid out for me. Call this scenario, "Being Indispensable While Coping with Migraine."

Well, the fun's over, I'm back at work feeling like I haven't had a weekend, and it's BOOOOOOOOOOOORing!!!

Sunday, November 6

chapters on bloor becomes winners

I get the Toronto Star's headlines in my email box every day, but I rarely find time to read them. So I only just discovered that Chapters on Bloor, the venerable mega-bookstore that once had welcoming overstuffed armchairs on the 3rd floor, far away from the cash registers, and where I worked part-time for a year in 2002-03 while I sojourned in Toronto, closed its doors in June!

The only reason this came to my attention now was that the new resident of that space is about to be Winners, the discount emporium of some higher-class merchandise found most often in big suburban malls. It's about to open up on the two-block stretch of downtown Toronto referred to as the closest thing Toronto has to Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue. The snooty are up in arms.

So that makes one more former employer's establishment I will never again revisit, another metaphorical bridge burnt, as it were, which makes me a bit nostalgic. Working in a megabookstore was a kind of candy-shop dream job until I'd been at it a couple of weeks. But work is work of course, and the reality is much more painful than the illusion. Seven-hour shifts on one's feet, walking customers through the stacks back and forth, wheeling 2-ton trolleys of new hardcover stock to their places on the shelves at the height of the pre-Christmas shopping season, enduring the endless mind-bending torturous loop of Christmas music throughout the decades for nearly two agonizing months -- "not THAT ONE AGAIN!!!!" was all that went through my mind -- answering phone calls, searching the database for titles, finding the book supposedly in stock, but never being able to find the mis-shelved book in actual fact ... and a whole lot of directing people to the washroom, because a lot of people need the washroom when they're in a bookstore and come all the way to the 3rd floor to find it.

I know the relaxation response that is triggered soon after I start browsing in a bookstore is a peculiar phenomenon I've witnessed repeatedly, to my annoyance. As if the blissful perusal of fresh text is a cue to peristalsis. Bummer. Reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where George took a book to the store bathroom (this was discouraged at Chapters, but impossible to prevent) and the staff obviously labelled it as such, so that he could never return it. So I suppose that would make the phenomenon universal, n'est-ce pas?

I was hired at Chapters exactly three years ago, just as the shopping season was revving up, and worked for close-to-minimum wage until the next Christmas began to loom. By then, three-quarters of the store's staff had turned over, including the management. The complex layout of the different sections of books had been changed several times, and the disorder was making specific titles harder and harder to find. My feet were killing me, and the thought of those terrifying musical loops was beginning to make me nauseous.

It had been a fun ride, but it was time to move on. I said good-bye to the long-suffering "lifers" -- two especially smart guys who had been there years too long (who shall remain nameless, but both were tall, thin intellectuals, one a long-haired scraggy type, the other a short-cropped blond Scandinavian), the smart women who would have been in power jobs if it wasn't a recession (and probably are by now), and the harridan boss [insert here the witch-on-bicycle music from The Wizard of Oz] who took over from the mother-hen manager who was in residence when I was hired.

I was tired of retail, and had had enough. But now I'll never be able to return to the scene. And that's a tiny bit sad. Ciao, Chapters.

Friday, November 4

me month

November is my favorite month. My birthday arrives smack in the middle of it, and I make every effort to guiltlessly pamper myself for at least the first two weeks.

On Tuesday evening I'm going for a loooong massage.

Today did the beauty salon ritual. This is not actually a fun thing to do, but I come out feeling much better about myself ... well, the way I look, anyhow. I frequently emerge more bitchy than I went in, on the other hand, having been kept waiting, then been pushed, prodded, moved around, and seemingly made lowest priority for two and a quarter hours while rock music blares and smoke drifts in from the open doorway where someone's always puffing right outside, and then finally gouged as well.

It really took too long today, and because I was getting "the works" --highlights, coloring roots, and cut-- I experienced genuine sticker shock when told what I owed: 540 shekels (about US$117 at today's rate). I didn't have enough money with me (and this is one place that doesn't take plastic, which is very unusual) as I thought it would only be around 400, and I was so upset I walked out without giving the shampoo and other assistant any tip. And I argued with my hairdresser about what he was charging me, which included 140 shekels ($30) for the 5-minute trim. This was ironic, since we'd had a discussion while he was wrapping highlighting strands with foils about how they'd just returned from a big hair expo in London and how ridiculous they'd found the outrageous amount of time some of those posers were spending on the smallest elements of a haircut (e.g. an hour on bangs alone) and I had said that my best stylists (including this one) had always been both fast and accurate. Still, fast for a whole haircut usually means 20 minutes. This was explicitly a trim, not a big deal; it took him literally 5 minutes, if that, and then I told him I didn't even need the blow-dry, as I was going to go home and play with it myself. And then he charges me the regular rate for a full haircut.

Anyway, I walked out pretty shocked, and owing him money, and felt I'd been rude to him, plus having stiffed the helpers. I raged about it all the way home and even though I was indignant I had that awful feeling in my gut that screams what a shit I've been, so I had to call and apologize. I blamed being tired and hungry and shocked at the price, and reiterated that I thought he should have compromised a bit, but admitted it really was a good cut that made a big difference (is it his fault he's fast?), so I would concede the point. As soon as I hung up, I felt much better.

I'm always sorry when I argue about prices. It's so not worth it for a few bucks.

Damn, I'm totally going soft. I just don't handle conflict the way I used to.