Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Category: Phobias

Light Up My Life

I have been very worried for the last few weeks.

As I may have mentioned in the past, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac — and maybe a drama queen. When I was a child, my parents had to take me to the hospital after a fall. I was certain death was waiting to collect my soul, and proceeded to play out a death scene to rival Melly’s in Gone with the Wind. Needless to say, when a doctor tells me I need to come back for “additional tests,” I immediately assume the worst. I try not to play out death scenes these days, but I’m sure my expression sends the message loud and clear.

Last month, Dan and I went for our eye exams. Everything was fine until the doctor said, “I’m seeing some cupping in your optic nerve. I want you to come back to be tested for glaucoma.”

How my brain translated this: Glaucoma?! Holy shit! I’m 42 years old! I’m going blind at 42! I’m a writer! I own an engraving company! I can’t go blind!

I burst into tears, because this is how I react to bad medical news. The poor doctor felt compelled to comfort me. If she’d had a lollipop, she probably would have given it to me. I pulled myself together long enough to leave the office with an appointment for December 4th. That’s right — the optometrist gave me bad news then sent me home to stew about it.

For the last month, every time I enter a room (particularly since my husband has an obsession with turning off lights) I have been certain I was on the verge of going blind. Rooms seemed too dark and my eyes seemed unreliable. I studied my pupils to see if they were opening wider than they did when I was young and healthy. I practiced saying glaucoma without crying — I even got pretty darned good at it!

Today was the appointment. The nurse led me to a small room where she sat me in front of a machine to test my peripheral vision. I could feel my eyes drying out as I tried to focus and see the random dots of light flashing around the screen in front of me. I swear, I could almost feel the blindness latching onto my corneas! We moved to a second room where the nurse administered another test that involved nearly touching my eyeball. Finally, she moved me to the examination room where I waited patiently for the doctor to deliver the bad news.

But she didn’t. It turns out I wasted all that worrying. Yes, I have risk factors — borderline-high eye pressure and a thinner-than-average cornea (great — the one part of my body that wants to be thin) — but I passed the peripheral-vision test with just one missed flashing light. She told me that, at this time, there is no sign of glaucoma. Halle-frickin’-lujah!

So, at least for the next year, if a room is dark, I’ll just turn on the light.

I'm looking at you!

They (whoever they may be) say that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should say nothing at all.

This is a lesson that has been lost in our current world, probably because we generally have at least two screens and many miles between us and whomever we seek to harm with our words. Just as a mechanical war removes us from bloodshed, so a war of internet words removes us from the damage we inflict with them. We say things on Facebook and Twitter that we would never say to another person’s face — at least not without expecting to be slapped. I try very hard to only say things I would say to someone I was eye-to-eye with. It’s the least I can do.

But I have collected a few of Shakespeare’s best insults. Try to read them with a sugary-sweet voice:

  • highly fed and lowly taught
  • light of brain
  • mountain of mad flesh
  • not so much brain as ear wax
  • long-tongu’d babbling gossip
  • thou art a boil, a plague sore

Have a great week.



A Most Unappealing Camping Site

I may have mentioned before that I’m not exactly a fan of RV travel. My parents dragged me on way too many long driving trips when I was a child. For a while, they owned a motorhome in which only two of the seats faced forward. Before that, they had a truck with a camper on it with bench seating along the sides. Riding sideways makes me nauseous; therefore, these vehicles only succeeded in making me dislike camping even more. As an adult, other things have kept me out of the woods: namely, Lyme disease, bubonic plague, and West Nile virus. Why anyone would purposely go where the carriers of these diseases are known to live is completely beyond me; yet, my parents persist in their RV-ing ways.

The other day, as I was innocently perusing the Internet, I stumbled across the most horrifying use of an RV yet: assisted living. That’s right: if you are so inclined, there are assisted-living facilities  where the “residents” simply pull their RV into a space and enjoy three square meals a day and basic care for about $1,200 per couple. I know some people — including my mom and dad — who actually think this sounds like a good deal. However, I have a few concerns:

  • Is it really a good idea for elderly people who need assisted-living services to be climbing in and out of trailers? Let’s face it — most of them are probably pretty brittle. One false step and *wham!* broken hip. Of course, maybe they get a referral fee from the local hospital. If I were an orthopedic surgeon, I’d put a billboard where the residents would see it everyday.
  • Is it wise to allow Alzheimer’s patients to live in a home that can literally be driven away? Does the facility have some kind of guard at the front gate to stop them from leaving?
  • What about the cramped living conditions? I understand that most RVs these days have slide-out features that make the interior space larger, but you’re still looking at less than 500 square feet of living space in most cases. A few months of that and most couples would be certifiably stir-crazy. I would hope there are a lot of psychologists nearby. Maybe one of them could split the cost of the billboard with the surgeon.
  • One of the few advantages of RV travel always seemed to be the ability to pick up and move when you got tired of a place. Parking your RV in what is more or less a permanent position within a park begs the question: why are you still living in an RV?

Then again, I guess I would always be skeptical of the benefits of this sort of retirement. If I were to go to Hell, I’m pretty sure Satan would send me on a never-ending RV road-trip up that region’s version of Kilimanjaro. Oh…and I’d have to sit sideways.

Satan probably likes to camp.

Don’t Mess with Texas

Dan hates Texas.

Remember Thelma and Louise? There’s a scene in the movie where Louise tells Thelma to get them to Mexico without going through Texas. That’s how much my husband hates Texas: he would rather drive around the largest state in the lower 48 than through it, even if avoiding Texas adds days to a trip. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that tornadoes were pounding the Midwest last week, he would never have considered a trip through the Lone Star State. (By the way, I can’t think of another state so fixated on their flag. There are renditions of it everywhere almost as soon as one crosses the border. Honestly, Texans, it’s a little creepy. Just sayin’.)

Anyway, we entered Texas from the northeast and headed for Dallas. Right away, we noticed that the drivers were less courteous than the ones in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Dan was careful to follow the speed-limit signs; the few times he’s been through Texas, he’s managed to get speeding tickets. Apparently, though, those speed-limit signs are just for the out-of-towners; no one with a Texas license plate seems to be able to see them.

It was in Dallas that I realized I should have let Dan avoid the state altogether; I began to wonder if I was going to see New Mexico alive. We were almost in three collisions before we cleared the city. One would have been Dan’s fault; two would have been caused by Texans. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t relax. I began to think we had a target on the back of our SUV.

After a harrowing drive, we made it to Abilene, whereupon I discovered the true dichotomy of Texas: the same people who will cut you off in traffic feel compelled to tip their hats and say howdy when their feet are on the ground. It’s downright disturbing.

All told, it took us  two days to get through Texas, though we did have a few hours in Carlsbad, New Mexico, on one of those days. I talked Dan into going into the Carlsbad Caverns through the natural entrance — a steep mile-long walk that drops you 750 feet below the surface of the mountain. After hours of driving in Texas, we needed the walk. If you’ve never been to the caverns, I recommend it. And there’s an elevator that will take you directly to the bottom if you don’t feel up for a long hike.

We passed back into El Paso, Texas, about three hours after leaving the caverns. El Paso may actually have scarier drivers than Dallas; we were almost hit by two (presumably drunk) drivers as we made our way toward our hotel. By the way, the Comfort Inn by the airport there was the nicest of all of our hotels along the way, and the night clerk was even more courteous than your average Texan.

We limped into Phoenix late Saturday, tired from the road and glad to be home. Oh — and I saw a buffalo! More about that next time.


The descent into the caverns.


On Vacation

As Dan says, I’m not afraid of flying — I’m afraid of flying coach.

I promise I’ll be back with a longer post on Wednesday. In the meantime, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, and be sure to remember those who came before you and made your life possible.


Is There a Term for “Fear of Yard Sales”?

Dan and his brother are having a yard sale today. They have one or two a year, and I’m always left wondering where our two households come up with so much unwanted stuff in the space of six to twelve months. It’s not like they keep what doesn’t sell; on the contrary, they always load what’s left into one of their cars and take it directly to Goodwill or another thrift shop to donate. Nevertheless, Dan carried half a ton of crap out of here this morning. And this time, some of it was mine.

I’m what I would consider a “conservative hoarder.” If you visited my house, you wouldn’t find stacks of things piled precariously through my living quarters, but if you opened a closet or perused a bookshelf, you might find yourself wondering why I am keeping certain items. The simple answer is I’m not done with whatever that item might be. The more complicated one is that I don’t know if I’ll ever be done with that item. I have games that I haven’t actually played since I was a teenager. I have books that I keep just in case I need to refer to them for something obscure in my writing. And I have sets of clothing that are too big and too small for my current body. I keep leftover skeins of yarn from projects long finished (or sometimes abandoned). I refuse to part with DVD sets of programs I can watch on Netflix anytime I want. And let’s not even get started on the boxes of cards and letters dating back to my college years.

Last Saturday night, when Dan began excavating the coat closet, I wasn’t too worried. After all, very few of my various collections reside in there. I basically use that closet for wrapping paper and gift bags. He, on the other hand, had accumulated at least a dozen coats and half a dozen hats. As he loaded down one of our living-room chairs in clothing, I breathed a sigh of relief…a moment too soon. I had forgotten about the plastic tub full of DVDs that waited at the bottom of the closet.

“Susan, come here! We need to go through these!”

As I entered the living room, I was horrified to see that he was talking about my movies — all of our movies. “Why?”

“Because we should get rid of them at the yard sale. We don’t use them anymore. We’ve got Netflix and Amazon instead.”

I couldn’t really express to him the terror I felt about getting rid of them. Thoughts like “But what will we watch when the Internet finally fails?” and “How will we entertain ourselves during the Apocalypse?” flitted through my mind. I know…ridiculous. After all, if the Internet fails, that must be a sign of the Apocalypse, and everyone knows the power grid will blink out when that happens, right?

So I stood in the living room and sorted through the movies, keeping anything that was a musical (because we’ll need musicals when the world ends) and discarding just about everything else.

Today, as I sit inside while strangers peruse two-thirds of my DVD collection and buy my movies for less than a tenth of what I paid for most of them, I know that Dan is probably right to want to de-clutter our lives. But I still can’t help but want to put “Do Not Cross” tape over my closet’s entrance. After all, I’m going to need that stack of sheet music someday…


Sorry, Jim…Dan’s not a fan of your work.


Summer Colds and the Typical Hypochondriac

I am sick.

Actually, I’m just getting over a cold – and summer colds are the worst. However, my good friend Pandora* brought me a green-chili chicken stew yesterday in an attempt to burn the sickness from my body. Since I’m feeling better today, it must have worked. I’m a little scared to have another bowl today – it was hot when my taste buds weren’t working at full capacity.

While this cold is certainly not in my head (well, okay, actually it IS, but it’s real, I swear!), I have to admit that I am an unrepentant hypochondriac. And a bit of a drama queen as well – at least when it comes to being sick or injured.

When I was eight or nine, I was attempting to balance my way across an uneven row of re-purposed railroad ties set on end as a fence. Not being the most graceful of kids, I managed to slip and fall, landing hard in a straddling position. In other words, I bruised my coochie. In fact, I was in so much pain, I was pretty sure I was dying. My parents took me to the hospital, which only served to confirm my self-diagnosis: yes, I was definitely on the way out. I remember telling my Dad that I loved him, just in case I didn’t make it. Apparently, I was playing it up pretty good, though I don’t really remember much other than being completely terrified that I wasn’t going to survive. I can’t imagine how much worse it would have hurt if my parts had been “outies” instead of “innies.”

Dan says it is impossible to tell how sick I am just by asking me because, in my estimation, I am always on the verge of death. I say that’s a little strong, though even a common cold makes me whinier than the average sufferer. While most of the world gets up, takes sympton-suppressing medications, and goes to work, I call in sick. Seriously. Even now, when I work at home, I don’t go to the computer for more than a few minutes. Let’s face it…I’m not likely to produce the next Great American Novel when my head feels like it has been packed with cement.

After several years together, I have noticed that Dan tends to avoid me when I’m sick. Not that I blame him – I’m a whiny bitch. I don’t have any of that “mommy” commitment to the family that keeps sick women everywhere running until they either recover or literally collapse.

Normally, my illnesses are brief – nothing too serious. Yes, I have had a few trips to the emergency room over the years, but no actual hospital stays…until last spring. Over the course of a few days, I developed a cough. I suspected I had a fever as well, but both the thermometers in the house needed new batteries. Every time Dan showed up to check on me, I told him I felt horrible – which years of conditioning had trained him to believe meant “I have a cold or some other non-life-threatening condition.” Unfortunately, this time, I REALLY felt horrible. On the third day, I told him I wished I would just go ahead and die already. That scared him. Recognizing I might really be sick, he bundled me into the car and drove me to a clinic. After a quick x-ray and a temperature check, the doctor not-so-subtly suggested a trip to the hospital was in order.

My temperature topped out at nearly 105 degrees. It took the hospital several days (and what turned out to be an unnecessary spinal tap) to get my temperature back to normal and me healthy enough to leave the hospital. What did I have? Not a clue. No diagnosis was ever made.

So, Tuesday I woke up with a sore throat. Wednesday, my throat was even worse. Yesterday, Pandora brought me the magic, germ-killing soup, which immediately caused my sinuses to open and the draining to begin. And today I’m better. Not well, but better. Nevertheless, Dan isn’t taking my word for it. After last time, he made sure the thermometers had fresh batteries.

I’m going to go check my temperature again.

*Not her real name…I mean, who would name a kid Pandora? But the meaning fits her: “highly gifted.”

Brian Reid Tissue Box_1322

Brian Reid Tissue Box_1322 (Photo credit: Brian Reid Furniture)

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Overcoming Aerophobia

I hate to fly.

I know aerophobia isn’t a particularly unique affliction. I also know that because I suffer from a fear of heights (acrophobia), a fear of flying was almost inevitable.

In the past, I managed to overcome both fears because of my love of traveling. Nothing makes me happier than stepping into a city I’ve never explored before. Be it Chicago or Rome, the prospect of seeing new sights and encountering unfamiliar people is thrilling.

A few years ago, though, my aerophobia got the best of me. On our way back to Phoenix after an amazing Italian adventure, Dan and I found ourselves sitting just in front of an old man who insisted the engine “sounded funny” to him. He even called the stewardess over – repeatedly – to tell her to alert the captain. By the time we touched down in Phoenix, I was a nervous wreck. I got off the plane wanting to kiss the ground. For more than two-and-a-half years, I blanched every time Dan talked about us taking a flight. I all but convinced myself that if we couldn’t drive to a destination, it simply wasn’t worth going. My dreams of seeing London, Paris, and Sydney faded. Even the thought of visiting New York seemed nearly impossible – the drive was simply too long. In fact, the only places I have been in the last two years are California and Nevada.

Of course, I knew my fear was ridiculous. Fewer people die in airplanes than are killed by hippos annually. Admittedly, I don’t encounter huge populations of hippos in Phoenix, but still – the odds seem to be in my favor regarding air travel. So, a few months ago, I booked a flight to Little Rock to visit my friend Emma and her daughter. I hadn’t seen Emma since right after her daughter was born – when she packed up and left Arizona for good.

As the day of my flight approached, I fought off multiple bouts of nerves. I would be sitting calmly, not thinking about anything in particular, when suddenly I would remember my upcoming trip and recognize that tremor of fear at my core. Dan, who was not traveling with me, offered to cancel the trip more than once, but I knew I had to take the flight if I were ever going to overcome the fear. It helped to know Emma was looking forward to my visit – I would be disappointing her if I didn’t go.

Last Tuesday, the day before my flight, was busy. I had every minute scheduled: packing, writing blog posts to cover the days I would be gone, finishing edits on a book, even attending a birthday party for my father. The tight schedule left me exhausted and lacking time to contemplate the horror of flying.

The next morning, Dan drove me to the airport and dropped me off. I made it through the checkpoint without incident and found a restaurant in which to eat breakfast. I had a mimosa, too, just in case you were wondering. By the time I sat down on the plane, I was mellow. After takeoff, I pulled out my Harry Chapin music and slid into a comfortable half-sleep. No one tried to talk to me – of course, the huge headphones I wore definitely conveyed the message that I wasn’t interested in a chat.

Arkansas, which has been suffering a terrible drought this summer, actually had a rainstorm the afternoon I arrived. The landing was a little on the bumpy side, but nothing I couldn’t handle. In fact, the whole flight was fairly anticlimactic.

I stepped off the plane and felt that rush of adventure again for the first time in two-and-a-half years. How ridiculous that I let the words of some old man keep me from traveling! I swear I won’t do that again. Ever.

The Old Mill in Little Rock — just one of the many sights I would have missed if I had let aerophobia win.

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