Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Tuesday, April 26, 2005
    How to Make Vacation Last Forever and a Day

    ...spend it cleaning out somebody's apartment. Preferably somebody that you don't know.

    OK, here we go. The storyline here actually begins back around New Year's, when for some reason I made three resolutions for myself:

    1. Visit Vegas this year. (See previous post.)
    2. Visit New York this year.
    3. Wear different earrings every day. (I buy them, I just don't wear them. I tend to stick to the same pair of studs on a daily basis.)

    Well, then skip forward to late January: I was at home one night when I got a call from V. on her cell phone driving home.

    "I need to talk."

    "OK, talk."

    She told me the story of a close family friend who had no local relatives (never married, no kids), who was in the hospital with a stroke. V. held her power of attorney (and had found this out just shortly before). Purpose of phone call: V. needed help - or, to be more precise, she foresaw the likelihood that she would need help. My response: "Well, I made this resolution this year that I would go to New York. Looks like this is it."

    The friend, Dottie, died about a month later. We decided to go to clean out her place the week after April 15 (tax day). So, we left the night of Friday, April 15 on the redeye flight and arrived early Saturday am. After a nightmarish trip on the subway - nightmarish because we were each lugging 40 lb. suitcases, and good luck getting those things through turnstiles - we arrived in Queens.

    This apartment building was the same one V. had grown up in, and in which her mother had lived until 2000. Let's just say this was not an easy trip for her. Add to this the fact that poor Dottie had clearly been a hoarder and compulsive shopper, and had given up on cleaning the apartment. Clothing was stacked everywhere - the closets were stuffed, clothing was hanging off every doorknob and molding in the apartment, and there was an ironing board in the dining room fringed with hangers loaded with clothing all the way around its perimeter. If it had been me alone, I would have taken one look, turned around and gotten back on the next plane to L.A. But such was not to be.

    "Pitch, Pitch, Pitch, That's All You Ever Do"

    We spent that first day frantically cleaning the kitchen and bathroom so that we could have a bit of room to maneuver without our feet sticking to the floor (so help me God, I am not exaggerating). I will spare you most of the details, but suffice to say that the glass facings of the kitchen cupboards were covered in a thick nicotine film - though Dottie had stopped smoking at least ten years prior to her death - and that V. found two dead mice in the kitchen. We also threw out untold numbers of cans of food with bulging tops that had corroded their bottoms and from which food had leaked. I recall V. waving a bottle of blackened bleu cheese dressing at me, which provoked an immediate gag reflex. I promoted myself to chief cook and bottle-washer so that V. had more time to go through the papers, photographs and personal memorabilia, of which there was no shortage: it was clear that this woman had never thrown anything away, and she had lived in the apartment for more than sixty years.

    On Tuesday, as we were leaving to finalize the arrangements at the restaurant where Dottie's memorial luncheon was to be held later in the week, I found V. wandering around the living room with a trashcan and a stressed look munbling, "Pitching, I'm pitching as I go." I immediately struck an attitude and whined, "Pitch, pitch, pitch, that's all you ever do." I got the laugh I was looking for (my other job for the week: court jester!) Speaking of pitching, rule number one of the week was established early on: never leave the apartment without a bag of trash in your hand. The apartment is a second-story walkup, so you can see why this was so important. It became difficult to approach the door without tripping on the one dozen or so plastic bags of garbage sitting next to it, so every now and then a garbage run or two was required to restore order.


    At the restaurant, there was a TV over the bar. We finished picking the lunch choices and suddenly noticed that there were bells ringing nonstop at the Vatican... white smoke... a new Pope! V. and I hung out for about half an hour, fending off offers of coffee from the owner, to see who the new Pope was. It was amazing to see the crush of people in the square. We drank a toast to Benedict XVI at lunch.

    Julius Caesar

    I was in charge of entertainment, and naturally left this important issue till the last minute before leaving. Fortuitously, I caught a review of Julius Caesar in the "Wall Street Journal" the week before we were to leave and bought tickets - not because of Denzel Washington, but because of his costar, Colm Feore. The review overall was not positive, but gave high marks to Feore, and that was all I needed to hear. (Fangirl that I am.) He was fabulous, and V. and I both thought the play as a whole was pretty good.

    Well, now I'm back and overwhelmed with work, so shall sign off for now. Overall it was a good trip - V. and I both came back with resolutions to clean our homes and throw stuff away!

    Oh, and the earring thing - I'm doing pretty well with that resolution, too. Wow, resolutions I've actually kept... what a concept.



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