Archive | October, 2015

The Rattly Old Skeleton

29 Oct

In the last post about my very own Schrödinger’s cat experience, I referenced a story called “The Rattly Old Skeleton,” which I’d told T a few days before. It’s one of the only scary stories I know by heart, so even though it’s a children’s story I continue to tell it anytime a likely occasion arises. I even used to tell it to my college roommates, lying on our XL twins, the dorm dark and hushed.

This story originally came from an audio tape of spooky stories we got from the public library when I was a kid (yes, a tape. It’s called history.). I wanted to link to the story in my post, but after scouring the interwebs I determined that it is absolutely nowhere in print.

This cannot stand. As a graduate of the Theatre & Performance Studies program, I am acutely aware of the paramount importance of oral history, stories being passed from one generation to the next. This is one that, no matter how slightly silly and strange, I really don’t think should die. So in honor of Halloween, light up a fire (or at least turn up the sound effects; I love A Soft Murmur) and gather round for the only (as far as I know) publication of the story of:

The Rattly Old Skeleton

Once upon a time, there lived a Little Old Man and a Little Old Woman, deep in a dark forest. That winter, the cold was so harsh and the snow so deep that all the game animals moved on. So they had very little to eat. The Little Old Man and the Little Old Woman watched their food and firewood slowly dwindle until one day, they had no food left at all and only enough kindling for one more fire.

The Little Old Man said to the Little Old Woman, “Little Old Woman, I must go hunting or we will surely starve. I know it is cold in the cabin, but you must not light a fire. We have only enough kindling for one more and we’ll need it to cook the food I shall bring back.” Then he shouldered his rifle and left.

The Little Old Woman sat as long as she could in the cold, dark, house. But soon she was so freezing that her hands and feet were going numb and turning blue. And she was so very hungry. Finally, with the last of her strength, she used the last bit of kindling to light a big, roaring fire.

It was so warm. She stretched her frozen hands out closer to the fire to thaw. Closer, and closer she put reached, vainly trying to warm her chilled bones until — OUCH! — the fire burned her finger. She quickly drew it to her mouth to quell the pain. And found…hm.

It tasted good.

Tentatively she took a little nibble. A queen’s meal could not have tasted finer. But she was still so very hungry. So she took her whole hand and put it in the fire, and ate it. Then she put her whole arm in the fire and ate that too. Little by little, she put her whole body in the fire and ate herself down until she was nothing but a

Rattly

Old

Skeleton.

But. She was still hungry.

By this time the fire had died down to embers. The Rattly Old Skeleton heard the sound of The Little Old Man shuffling back through the snow dragging something heavy. Quickly she positioned herself behind the door and made to hide. As she moved, her bones made a terrible rattling sound: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

The Little Old Man slowly opened the door. Creeeeeeaak.

The cabin was empty. But he saw the embers of the dying fire and cried out, “Little Old Woman! You’ve lit the last fire! How we will cook this deer I caught?”

A shadow fell on the room as the door slowly swung shut behind him. Creeeeeeeak. The man slowly turned around, and there she was…

The Rattly Old Skeleton. And she was still hungry.

She made to grab for the Little Old Man with her long bony arms, but he managed to slip from her grasp and run back out of the door.

Through the snow he ran, getting slapped by branches and pelted by falling ice, and all the time he could hear the CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW of the Rattly Old Skeleton following close behind.

The Little Old Man ran and ran and ran until he came to a huge, gaping gorge. It was so deep there was no way to climb down, and there was no bridge–no way across. And he knew the Rattly Old Skeleton would be upon him in moments.

Looking around in despair, he suddenly noticed a tiny cottage half hidden by trees at the edge of the gorge. Heart pounding, he raced to the door and knocked upon it, THUMP THUMP THUMP.

The cottage was the home of an ancient enchantress. She opened the door and saw the Little Old Man upon the step. “How may I help you?” she asked.

“Please,” the Little Old Man wheezed, “there’s a Rattly Old Skeleton chasing me, she wants to eat me up. I must get across this gorge so I can get away.”

“I will help you,” the enchantress said. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”

Seeing this as a small price to pay for his life, he readily agreed. When he had picked a bushel of berries and chopped a log into firewood, he brought them back to the enchantress and begged again for her help.

Smiling, the enchantress walked to the edge of the gorge. She reached her hands up and before the Old Man’s very eyes, she began to grow. She stretched taller, and taller, and taller, until at last she was as long as the gorge was wide. She fell down across the gorge in one big flop, creating a bridge out of her body.

Without hesitation, the old man scurried across, over the hills and away to safety.

The enchantress pushed herself back up and shrunk down to her normal size. Then she went into her cottage and shut the door.

Not two minutes later who should come along but the Rattly Old Skeleton: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

Seeing the impassable gorge, and the Little Old Man escaping into the distance, she rattled up to the cottage and scraped upon the door with her long bony fingers. SCREEECH SCRECH SCRRECH SCREEEEEEECH.

The enchantress opened the door and said, “how may I help you?”

“I must get across this gorge!” the Rattly Old Skeleton snarled. “I am HUNGRY. That’s my dinner over there and he’s getting away!”

“I will help you,” said the enchantress. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”

“I don’t have time to pick your berries and chop your wood!” rasped the skeleton. “Get me across this gorge right now or I’ll eat YOU!”

So calmly, as before, the enchantress stepped to the edge of the cliff. She reached her arms up to the sky and began to grow taller, and taller, and taller until at last she was able to stretch across the gorge and make of her body a bridge.

Without hesitation, the Rattly Old Skeleton started across.

But no sooner had she reached the middle of the bridge, she began to feel the Enchantress’s body sway under her bony feet. Faster and faster, and wider and wider went the arc of the swing, until the Rattly Old Skeleton lost her balance and

FELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL………………

into the gorge below, cracking at the bottom into a thousand bony pieces.

So the Little Old Man got away. But to this day, if you go to the edge of the gorge, and put your ear down to listen, you’ll hear a strange sound:

CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

It’s the sound of the Rattly Old Skeleton, trying to pull herself back together.

And she’s still hungry.

*I am sorry I cannot attribute the original author or source. Oral history is one big game of Telephone and I’m sure this version has changed somewhat in the telling. If you know the source, or have heard this story before, please tell me about it at cushioncutblog at gmail dot com. 

9 Lives: That Time my Cat Came Back from the Dead

27 Oct

Buster

Our pets are becoming renowned for cheating death.

This is to say nothing of our beta fish, that actually sleeps, floating belly up, but shakes himself awake as soon as you go to flush him. Or of one of our turtles, who appeared still and pale after her tank light blew while we were on vacation, but turned out to be in some kind of enchanted hibernation and revived as soon as we went to fish her out.

Around this time last year, our beagle Ruby June was about a goner.

IMG_7364

Something in her back had been bothering her for weeks; she’d yelp whenever she jumped up or someone touched her there. We gave her muscle relaxers but it only got worse. Soon she couldn’t manage stairs, she couldn’t reach her head down to her food bowl, and eventually she could do nothing but lie in her crate whimpering and yelping in pain. She was only five years old so surgery was an option, but it cost thousands of dollars. So we prepared ourselves for the difficult decision to put her out of her misery. The dreadful date was set. We prepared T to say goodbye to his best friend. We bought Ruby a huge box of chicken nuggets for her last meal. Some of you may even have seen the farewell Facebook post I dedicated to her.

But just as I was getting ready to leave for The Appointment, P called me at work. Because she is young and otherwise very healthy, a munificent benefactor had offered to foot the bill for Ruby’s surgery at the veterinary school at UGA. She was rushed there that day. The operation went smooth as silk. She came home shaved with huge freakish staples in her back, looking like some kind of cross between Sally the Ragdoll and Frankenweenie.

It was even weirder IRL, trust.

It was even weirder IRL, trust.

She bounced back unbelievably quickly–within weeks she was running, jumping, and playing with T fine as you please, with no evidence of her ordeal unless you feel the odd dip in her back where two disks are missing.

20150708_182134

And enduring the usual torture.

So the year passes and here we are again. Our cat Buster, a recent convert to the indoor/outdoor lifestyle, hasn’t been seen since Saturday night and here it is Monday afternoon. He’s been gone for a day or so before, but the weather had gone from mild and clear to rainy and cold, and since he’s kind of a snob about that sort of clime (not to mention always hungry), I thought I’d post a casual notice on our neighborhood page to discover his whereabouts. I suspected he was two-timing us with another family in the area–it’s been known to happen.

Not ten minutes after I post his picture, someone responds that she saw a cat matching that description dead on the side of the road, hit by a car. Someone else responded they’d seen that cat too. I felt a stone drop in my stomach. After ascertaining the location of the cat, and a fretful afternoon of clock-watching until the end of the work day, I went searching. Out in the pouring rain, I found him by the bank teller drive-through, on the main road close to our house. I realized I must have driven past him several times. I couldn’t recognize his distinctive Hitler-ish mustache because of the damage to his face, but the fur length and pattern made me sure it was him.

Buster isn’t the best pet by any means. A grumpy, prissy old bachelor, he’s temperamental, doesn’t really like to be held, gets under your feet and then hisses when you step on him, drops his long fur everywhere, has stabbed me in both the ear and eye, and he stinks.

And we had legit fears he might smother the baby.

And judging from our practice doll, we had legit fears he might smother the baby.

But he’s my cat. I had him before I even met P, he was my first adult responsibility. And God help me, I loved that mean, snooty kitty. I was heartbroken.

I called P who left work early to collect him for internment. That had to be a terrible job–despite being technically my cat, Buster liked P best. His was the only lap Buster deemed worthy of snuggling up to. I hated that P had to see him like I’d found him, especially when he has to deal with that kind of thing at work all too often.

But I had my own trying task–breaking the news to T. I don’t believe in lying to children about these kind of things, no matter how young. I was rather shocked at how well he took it, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been (those two interacted rarely and when they did, the encounters tended to be, shall we say…fraught). He was so unperturbed I wondered distantly, between fresh bouts of tears, whether he didn’t really understand or I was raising a sociopath.

Rehearsal was a merciful distraction from these thoughts. I put all my concentration into dancing and it felt good. Anything not to think about the lonely little box I would see sitting in our carport when I pulled into the driveway, the dish full of food he would never eat going stale in the kitchen.

Over the sadness was a layer of guilt. I was the one who pushed for him go from an indoor-only to an outdoor cat. I thought he would be happier, but I was also tired of chasing him down every time he got out. And I was tired of him clawing up the furniture and carpets. I knew there was always a chance something like this could happen, but since he rarely even left our yard I wasn’t too concerned. But I should have known 10 years was too old to learn street smarts. Now it was my fault he was gone.

Lying in bed that night unable to sleep, I composed his requiem in my head. I wished bad things on the driver who’d smashed him and left him wet and dirty on the side of the road. That was unfair of course–he wasn’t wearing his collar so what could they do?–but I couldn’t help it. He would have hated having his beautiful coat so muddy and matted.  I drifted into a fitful sleep vainly trying to comfort myself with the thoughts of how he surely must not have suffered. And how much cleaner the house would smell without a litter box.

Around 3 or 4 in the morning, T cried out for us. He said he heard the crackling sound of the Rattly Old Skeleton outside his window. P got up to soothe him and did indeed hear a strange sound coming from our front stoop.

He opened the door…

And there was Buster.

Wet, pissy, and hungry AF–but very much alive and unharmed.

Lived another to do cat things like this...

Lived another day to do cat things like this…

...and this...

…and this…

...and of course, this.

…and of course, this.

Cats. I’m telling you.

Earlier that night, I couldn’t erase the image of the last time I’d seen him alive. He’d slipped out as we were coming in from a play and hesitated a moment on the doorstep, looking back at me. Even as I shut the door on him, I briefly wondered if it was the last time I’d see him. Maybe it’s only in the clarity of hindsight I had thought, but his posture and look seemed full of portent. He seemed to be saying, should I really go out into the night all alone?

I guess what he was really saying was, Trick or Treat.

Betches.

Betches.

Why I Quit Coffee Part II: How I went from seven to zero cups of coffee in 5 days

15 Oct

The day my doctor told me to try giving up caffeine to relieve my GI and vocal symptoms, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I mean, I knew caffeine is an addictive substance. I knew also that quitting such a substance would produce real, physical withdrawal symptoms.

I knew it would be hard. But I didn’t think it would be that hard. My little bro (the one with h pylori) gives up coffee periodically just to make sure he can. He doesn’t like the idea of being dependent on anything outside himself. So it’s clearly possible. Of course, I never asked him how long these coffee-free periods last.

I decided against cold turkey. I’m not a glutton for punishment.  I didn’t really have a plan to taper off, but I knowing me, if I planned too much I wouldn’t get around to actually doing it, so I dove right in. With the information here, if you ever have to (or want to) give up coffee, perhaps you can make a plan of your own.

Note: if you don’t want to read through the nitty-gritty, you can skip to The Takeaway at the bottom.

The First Day

I woke up a little under the weather, another attack of the upper respiratory crap/fall allergies. This would normally suck balls, but in this case was sort of a blessing. I usually don’t even feel like drinking coffee when I have postnasal drip.

So I began the day with a small cup of hot chai tea and honey. Black tea contains caffeine, but not as much as coffee, especially if you don’t have a tumbler of it. I spent the morning intermittently working on projects and researching this so-called caffeine allergy.

tea

I don’t always enjoy colds. But when I do, it’s when I’m trying to quit caffeine.

By 11:00, it was clear one cup would not do. I didn’t have a headache, at least not yet. But I felt very groggy. I made another cup of tea with honey. Something else would be necessary.

Meditation! That would be so totally zen of me. I’d found this Binaural Beat Meditation a few weeks before I’d been wanting to try out. (I sort of got into meditation after reading this book). Plus I had these two tea bags! I could put them on my eyes and lay on the couch (lotus position is for suckers). Because that’s another thing–I’d been noticing lately that I had visible pouches under my eyes all the time, regardless of how much sleep I’d gotten. I suddenly remembered that they can be caused by allergies. You mean…like caffeine allergies?

In the later part of the afternoon, I developed a bit of a headache. I was fully expecting it so it was no surprise. What I wasn’t prepared for was the tiredness–the absolutely bone crushing fatigue I felt the whole afternoon. Also, I was starving. I kept snacking on little things every hour–a piece of cheese, a strip of roast chicken, a cup of strawberry yogurt, hummus on a cracker. I chalked it up to the bit of nasal sumpin’ sumpin’ I had going on.

I was so tired and cruddy I couldn’t manage my daily workout. I tried to imagine that the zen I was getting from the binaural beats was, in its own way, just as good for my body–which was clearly involved in some kind of battle at the moment. I crashed into a dark stupor after two pages of reading around 11 PM.

Day 2

The next morning I still felt a little cruddy. Thus it was difficult to determine whether the dull headache pulsing against my skull was from withdrawal or sinuses. Trying to head it off at the pass, I had my first cup of black tea as soon as I arrived at the office with my breakfast, and the second shortly after.

The headache persisted quietly. I began craving coffee, like, the actual taste of the drink, in the late afternoon too. But it was nothing compared to the hunger. Within less than two hours of eating, the pangs would return.

I did some deep stretching in the evening along with a huge glass of white wine. I felt I deserved it.

Day 3

The third day was a Saturday, PRAISE. Until now I’d been avoiding coffee entirely–even though my doc said switching to decaf would serve the purpose fine–because I was really curious about whether caffeine or coffee was the true culprit. Anyway, we know that decaf still contains some caffeine. But this morning I broke down and had a mug of decaf Starbucks with cream. It was divine.

Later that afternoon my throat burned and I felt extremely bloated. But it was hard to tell if it was from the decaf, or from the postnasal drip, or from the huge decked-out froyo I had for lunch. I tried to drink extra water but I’m here to tell you–water is not coffee.

Day 4

This was the first day of trying an entirely new hot drink substitute: Teeccino.

teeccino

Teeccino is billed as an herbal coffee alternative. It’s completely caffeine free, non-acidic and allegedly nutritious. It’s even supposed to give you a natural energy boost, but without the stimulant effect. The reviews on Amazon were pretty good so I ordered one pack to try it out.  I purchased the vanilla flavor, but only because that was the only one sold in a single pack. I didn’t want to commit to something I might not like.

You put it through your regular machine like coffee. It looks quite a bit like coffee when brewed. It smells nothing like coffee. The taste? Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s full bodied, definitely sweeter than coffee, which makes sense since because what isn’t? It’s rather nutty overall. But it’s not at bit like tea, which is what comes to mind when you hear the word “herbal.” My first impression was that a) it would take some getting used to, but b) I could definitely get used to it.

The only real caffeine I had was a few swallows of P’s sweet tea. We went white water rafting in the afternoon, which as it turns out, is a great distraction from headaches, hunger, bloating, or anything else that ails you.

I went to bed very tired.

Day 5

For the fifth day in a row, I was starving. I began to suspect that my body, so used to be sustained with caffeinated glory, was looking for a replacement energy source. The Teeccino was slowly growing on me. I was able to work in some squats and planks in addition to my deep stretching (I’m finally set on achieving my splits, now that I’m in my 30s–as if one lofty goal wasn’t enough).

We had a work reception that day and I mentioned to a group of people that I’d gone off caffeine, and they all took a step back like I might bite them. So are you super irritable? They asked. I stared back at them dully. I wasn’t grumpy–that would take way too much energy.

I fell into bed utterly exhausted, about 30 minutes earlier than usual. I didn’t realize until the next day that it was my first day completely and totally caffeine-free.

The Takeaways

Decaf, sigh…just not quite the same.

So what can you expect if you decide to break your own caffeine habit?

  1. The headache is not bad. If you taper off instead of going cold turkey, and replace your coffee intake with another liquid (even icky water), headache shouldn’t be a problem. I’m almost certain that what little headache I did experience was the result of having a cold.
  2. You will miss coffee. Make no mistake. no matter what sub you use: decaf, herbal tea, hot cocoa, or my new fave Teeccino–this is like breaking up with a good friend. And like a break up, every time you accidentally run into each other it will be a little painful.
  3. You will be starving. Lock up the Doritos and gelato and stock your pantry with healthy, filling foods that you can grab quickly, like nuts, beans, bagged salads, avocado, popcorn, hummus, peanut butter, protein shakes, whatever your thing is–because the hunger machine is coming and it’s sucking up everything in reaching distance. If you drink your coffee with cream and sugar, expect the sweet tooth to come out swinging as well.
  4. You will be tired. I think the thing that surprised me the most in that first week was realizing how heavily I leaned on caffeine for daily energy. I have never felt so tired in all my life, and I’ve had walking pneumonia. It ranged from being a little slow on the uptake to all out head-on-the-desk sleepiness. And, as you will see in the next installment, this symptom lasted the longest.

Why I Quit Coffee Part I: The Symptoms

8 Oct

The chest pains were what took me to the doctor in the first place.

Six years ago I was doing my first production as an officially married woman: Sweeney Todd, The Demon Musical Barber of Fleet Street. I mention the show because it’s difficult to sing. Sondheim is a lover of dissonant chords and screeching harmonies. I was on mezzo soprano. Sometime during the harried weeks leading up to opening, I noticed my voice was sometimes cracking, and it felt thin and reedy. Sometimes it was like singing through pudding, or perhaps through a sieve–like my voice was trying to pour out through thousands of tiny holes. Then came the chest pains.

I hate going to the doctor but I’m also a hypochondriac. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was probably dying of congestive heart failure. So I saw my doc and got an EKG. I remember that day because I had to strip for the test and was really glad I’d worn a matching underwear set. I also remember it because the EKG was clean. Dr. Maxa suspected heartburn.

I really don’t want to bore you with the minutiae of my health history. (For reference: I wrote the entire saga down and brought it to my new PCP a few weeks ago, and I could see her visibly shrink when I whipped it out. And she’s my doctor!). But suffice it to say that since that time, I struggled with what I thought was an inherited case of gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD.

My symptoms weren’t very typical. Hiccups, wet burps, dry cough. A lump in my throat like I was constantly holding back tears. Hoarseness and cracking. I found it difficult to talk loudly or for a long time. Sometimes I would lose my voice completely, even when I wasn’t sick. I also had stomach aches, particularly in the morning, and weird fluttery feelings in my chest. I was sick all the time, struck down with upper respiratory crud at least four times a year.  And the bloating–OH THE BLOATING. Even before I had a baby my stomach looked postpartum while the rest of my body stayed curiously slim. I almost never had heartburn.

The worst of it though, was the loss of my singing voice. The problems I experienced during Sweeney Tard-I-mean-Todd got worse. I used to occasionally get cast in principle roles. In Sweeney I had several solos, and had actually been called back for Mrs. Lovett. Over the years, that all dried up. So did my range. I started singing alto parts.* I stopped getting solos. I wasn’t getting called back for principle or even supporting roles. When I went to auditions, I lived in fear because I never knew how my voice would perform on any given day. Sometimes my voice would completely cut out in the middle of a note. Just drop off–like Thelma and Louise, go-go-going one minute and disappeared a moment later.

*Not that there’s anything wrong with singing alto. But there is a tiny grain of truth to the stereotype that weak voices sing alto, just as there is to the one that people who can’t harmonize sing soprano. As I’ve sung on both parts many times, I can say this.

It got to the point where I didn’t want to sing anymore. I auditioned for straight plays, and fell back on my dancing abilities in the few musicals I did. The last time I sang in a musical, I wasn’t even given a mic pack.

All this I might have been able to stomach, if I wasn’t still having all the other GI symptoms. They cleared up temporarily on the two PPIs I tried, but they’d always come creeping back. In the past six months or so, I even began to have regular heartburn. At last.

As of a few weeks ago, I’d been to two ENTs (one that specializes in voices and had worked with Usher), a vocal coach, and a gastroenterologist. I’d been on experimental drugs that made me violently ill. I’d suffered through two endoscopies. I’d been on four or five rounds of antibiotics and steroids for throat infections. And my voice was still slowly disappearing. Not only my high notes, but also my low notes were fading away. The worst of it was that the most recent GI specialist I’d seen, on reviewing my symptoms, didn’t even think I had GERD to begin with.

But the last straw was when I had to tell my son I couldn’t read him a third book, because my voice hurt too much.

I went to my new PCP armed with those four pages of health history. She seemed hesitant to address my case. If I’d been to all these specialists and nothing was gained, what could she do? To me it was obvious–somebody needed to hear the whole story from the beginning, with a fresh perspective.

I was also direct in asking for an h pylori test, a stomach condition with which my brother was just diagnosed, and my doctor ordered a blood panel for the major food allergies. But when she looked at everything all together, only one thing came to her mind. A man had recently been in the office with almost my exact symptoms and it had turned out to be…

A caffeine allergy.

My head started buzzing (HA) almost as soon as I heard it. Caffeine, my heart! Of all the things I might have had to give up, my most beloved legal mind-altering substance would be the hardest.

Almost not an exaggeration. source

But it kind of made sense.

I used to drink coffee only occasionally, if you can believe that. Then we moved to Orlando. The friends with whom we shared a townhouse always had some made, with lots of delicious flavored creamers. We only lived there three months, but that was all it took. By late 2009–when I was doing Sweeney–it was a daily habit. Over the years I increased my coffee intake and brewed it stronger too. Like weather is to climate change, my daily intake fluctuated depending on outside influences, but the overall pattern was one of increased consumption. As of earlier this year, when my problems really escalated, I was downing 5 to 7 (6 oz) cups a day on the reg–about the equivalent of two Ventis from Starbucks.

It was enough to convince me to at least entertain the idea. Unfortunately, there is no test for caffeine allergies. It’s a pretty rare condition. The only test is to eliminate it and see if you feel better.

I did some research on my own of course, good old Dr. Google. Just as you might suspect, it was hard to find anything on caffeine allergies at all. I did find a couple articles that made me wonder caffeine was the culprit, or coffee itself. I wasn’t sure which would be worse.

Either way, I knew it would be a long road ahead.

Tune in next week when I give you the lowdown on my journey from an all-day coffee drinker to caffeine-free. Warts and all!