Running the Numbers (#320)

Everything carries a risk.

Walking outside exposes you to pollution, pollen, an aging population that refuses to give up their cars until they kill people.

Staying inside? You risk depression and poor physical health without sunlight, nature, human contact, and exercise.

Getting married? Well, for heterosexual men it’s a win; you live longer and you’re happier.

For heterosexual women? Your partner is the most likely person to murder you. Even if he doesn’t, your life expectancy is shorter (but that’s okay because you’re more miserable than single women).

I’m apparently something of a risk-taker. I brave the great outdoors on a regular basis. Despite nearly being run over IN THE CROSSWALK by hundreds of old folks in big cars, a dozen moms dropping their kids off at school, and multiple bicyclists.

I’m a heterosexual woman who got married—even after watching the extraordinary marital train wrecks of multiple parental units.  I’m still married (possibly it’s my husband who fears being murdered by his wife and RIGHTLY SO).

I even survived pregnancy. 17 out of every 100,000 American women don’t, which is the highest maternal mortality rate in industrialized nations and a goddamned travesty.

I take birth control pills, which puts me at a 0.03%  to 0.09% risk for a blood clot. (But since I’m not a complete adrenaline junkie, I don’t drink or smoke, which increase the risk.)

Most recently, I got the “risky” COVID-19 vaccine. No, no, not AstraZeneca—that one is super risky, with a .00065% chance of causing a blood clot. I got the J&J shot— which carries a blood clot risk of .00086% (if you round up).

When I got the shot, of course, no one yet knew the Johnson & Johnson vaccine posed that risk. About a week after my shot, the U.S. paused use of the vaccine.

Birth control pills are still being dispensed, as are guns, which increase risk of death by homicide (2%) and suicide (10% for males with guns in the house) .

Despite the above numbers and snark, I’m not opposed to the J&J pause. Treating these blood clots like other blood clots by using heparin can make them worse. All physicians should be made aware of the potential issue and side effects—especially since the clots appear mostly in women. Doctors have a history of not taking medical complaints of women—especially Black women—seriously.

Still, with such infinitesimally low odds, who would worry more about getting a blood clot from the vaccine than dying of COVID-19 itself (.25% to 20% risk depending on age, health, nationality)?

Apparently I would. Last week at 5:30 AM, I was on the floor of my bathroom, certain I had a clot in my left leg. It hurt to move. I was clearly going to die. My child would be motherless. Worse, son and husband would be referee-less! No one would remember to fill the pets’ water bowls and they would die, too!

I reminded myself that if I hadn’t gotten a blood clot when I was pregnant and stupid (.2% chance), I wasn’t likely to get one now. The pain eventually faded.

It was probably a cramp from kneeling on the cold tile floor in order to beat back an ant invasion.

But if it had been a blood clot?

The smart money would have been on my birth control pills.

Vaccination Nation (#319)

I need my vaccination
Want my arm burning
Immune system strong
I need that vaccination
White blood cells learning
That COVID’s wrong…
(Sung to the tune of the Human League’s “Fascination.”)

After my post on my drive-thru vaccination, I’ve fielded questions on vaccine side effects—possibly because I got the newer, less popular Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Here are all the details you could possibly want. And some you maybe don’t.

For the Pfizer vaccine, which both Andy and his mom got, the most obvious side effect was a sore arm. Neither one had nausea for the first shot, just some fatigue. Before his second shot, I warned Andy to stay hydrated; a nurse-friend had told me that she suspected a lot of the fever, headaches, and nausea people experienced with the second shot were either caused or exacerbated by dehydration (especially common in SoCal during our recent, delightful, low-humidity wind events).

Andy stayed hydrated, but he was literally sprinting for the bathroom when he got back from his long drive for shot #2. Not because of all the water he drank, but because he had diarrhea. (Andy insists that he over-indulged in cheese the day before and diarrhea is thus NOT a side effect. I have my doubts.)

Andy insists his only real side effect was being tired for a day or two. His mom just had the sore arm. But since Andy and his mom both have Chinese-American stomachs of steel and almost never throw up, I wasn’t sure their lack of nausea was typical.

I, on the other hand, have a highly reactive stomach. I’m the sympathetic puker and had morning sickness for six damned months (also threw up during labor).

If anyone was going to hurl after being vaccinated, it’d be me.

I’ve also got a delightful vasovagal response when it comes to blood and some shots (i.e., I’m a fainter). I packed ice (for the back of my neck, helps you not pass out) and an air sickness bag for my inoculation road trip.

Andy eyed me dubiously and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you?”

“I’ll be fine. You need to keep an eye on Baby D.”

“I’ll be fine,” Baby D declared. “You’d better drive her, Dad.”

“YOU just want us both gone so you can steal screen time and cookies, mister,” I told Baby D. “I’ll be fine. I haven’t thrown up or passed out since…”

“Since your last tetanus booster? Last August?” Andy offered, with unforgivable accuracy.

“Mom’s gonna faint, Mom’s gonna faint!” Baby D chanted.

“I did not pass all the way out,” I countered. “I just had to lie down and couldn’t see anything. Besides, I haven’t heard about people passing out. Your Engineering Cousin’s husband’s only side effect from the Johnson & Johnson shot was sleeping for two days. Two days! How awesome would that be?”

Sadly, I did not sleep for two days. But I didn’t pass out or throw up after my vaccination, despite the 11% humidity (possibly because I guzzled water all morning and throughout the weekend).

I didn’t get a headache, either. Nor did I get a fever. Yes, I popped some ibuprofen before the shot and several times over the weekend, but even when it wore off, my temperature stayed a degree or two below normal.

My left arm was sore, but the injection site hurt less—and did not hurt for as many days—as it did for other vaccinations (and cortisone shots). I could even sleep on my left side!

I definitely didn’t have my normal energy, though. On Saturday, I let Andy handle the three-mile morning dog walk (which hasn’t happened in years). I wasn’t sleepy, and I didn’t nap, but I was definitely lethrgic.

Sunday the dog and I only made it two miles. Monday morning I was still tired, but we made it three miles.

“So really,” I told Andy, “the only side effects of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccination were a sore arm and fatigue. Which is way better than being unvaccinated and risking a trip to the hospital…or the morgue.”

Still bummed I didn’t get the side effect of sleeping for 2 days, though.

(Note: Andy would like me to tell you all that there was one other side effect. He insists I was super cranky when I came back from being vaccinated. I even “yelled” at him! I would say the crankiness/ yelling was caused less by the vaccine and more by him sitting on his ass for three hours and leaving certain physical chores in the yard for his spouse with a sore arm to do when she got home. You be the judge.)

 

 

When the Drive-Thru Will Save You (#318)

I am not a fan of car culture. I believe in public transportation: trains, the subway, buses. Do not get me started on the lost and lamented Los Angeles Red Car.

But damn, cars came in handy during COVID-19. Cars were a way to maintain social distancing in drive-thru testing sites. There were Ubers and Lyfts for those who didn’t dare brave buses, even with masks. There was Instacart for those who didn’t dare brave the grocery stores. With restaurant dining off-limits, at least you could still pick up a pizza or have it delivered.

Drive-in Theaters became a thing again. Fast-food restaurants brought back carhop service. We went from Escape Rooms to Stranger Things: the Drive-Into Experience. The majority of Americans opted for road trips this Spring Break, rather than risk flying.

Aside from take out, Andy and I mostly skipped the resurgence of car culture.

Until it was our turn for vaccinations.

Andy, being part of some top-secret national defense project, and being asthmatic, was up first. Now, a lot of folks are very pro-Pfizer (the first vaccine out), which requires two shots. But since all the vaccines will keep you from being hospitalized or dying, I’m with the California website My Turn, which says, “the best vaccine is the first one you can get.”

The first appointment Andy could get was the Pfizer vaccine at the LA Forum at the beginning of March. Run by volunteers, Andy drove up on Sundays, three weeks apart. He reported that it was smooth sailing, with minimal traffic and no wait times.

The first appointment I could get was last Friday afternoon, for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (Andy reported that his coworkers eligible at the same time couldn’t get appointments as quickly as I did, possibly because they don’t get up at 5 AM. At least there’s one good thing about having a kid who wakes up early.)

The vaccination site was a drive-thru at Cal State Los Angeles, run by the California Office of Emergency Services. In practical terms it meant the vaccination site was being run by the National Guard.

It also meant I would have to brave a fifty mile round trip through Friday afternoon traffic. In Los Angeles.

So be it.

There’s an LA-specific greeting card that says, “I love so much I’d take the 10 to the 101 to the 405 for you!”

True love has nothing on inoculation against death. For the COVID vaccine, I took the 405 to the 91 to the 710 (because the 110 had 3 accidents). The 710 was stop and go, because it was, as always, filled with big rigs hauling containers from the Port of Los Angeles. Those trucks can’t accelerate quickly and thus cannot merge for shit.

About the time I exhausted my supply of swear words, I arrived at Cal State LA. There was a ton of signage, plus literally thousands of orange cones to make sure everyone went the right way. For 5 minutes, we literally followed cones around the campus and through two parking garages.

In one parking garage, we stopped in front of a sign that offered translators in every language I’d ever heard of (yes, including Tagalog). Next to the sign were members of the National Guard (who looked like 12-year-olds-dressed up in camouflage uniforms which is probably a sign that I skipped middle-age and went straight to old ladyhood).

The National Guard member checked my ID (which was my license but could have been a library card or a utility bill) against his electronic tablet, filled out my vaccine card, and had me put it on my dashboard. A laminated card with the time went under my windshield wiper. I drove through another parking garage to the actual inoculation site.

The site had tents and about 20 rows of cars. A pair of National Guard members walked down each row, giving shots. 15 minutes after the last injection in a given row, that row was allowed to drive away, following more orange cones off the campus and practically right back onto the 710 freeway. (Spoiler alert: equally awful traffic on the way home.)

You can check out more snippets of my drive-thru vaccine experience on my Instagram account if you are so bored so inclined.

I probably spent less than a half-hour at the vaccination site, but the whole excursion was over 3 hours in the car.

Pretty much a typical roundtrip commute in Los Angeles.

No wonder I’m still a big fan of public transportation.

 

Waiting (#314)

I am not a patient person. I was the kid in the car asking “Are we there yet?” every 10 minutes. My many siblings were equally impatient. Road trips were an endless chorus of questions about how long it was to the bathroom, restaurant, and destination.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t go on many road trips.

My Chinese-American husband is patient (sadly, he grew up on Oahu, which is too small for road trips). I’m not sure if he’s naturally mellow, or if the tropical “hang loose” vibes worked on his personality the opposite way that the intense, political atmosphere of Washington, D.C. affected me.

Perhaps our different levels of patience exemplify the difference in our cultures. My Western mindset insists that I can control my destiny if I work, scheme, and worry enough. At the very least, maybe I can get someone incompetent fired if I document the crap out of his failings. But Andy doesn’t see the point; people are gonna be stupid and other people are gonna cover for them. That’s life, and you have no control over your own fate, let alone anyone else’s. Why exhaust yourself changing nothing?

Much of my experience reinforced my Western views. After all, if I argued long enough and logically enough with my father, he’d come around to my point of view on everything from childrearing to Black Lives Matter (though it usually takes about a year for him to process, do his own research, and then lecture me using my own arguments).

Andy’s parents? You can talk until you are blue in the face. They don’t hear a word you say if it contradicts their ideas.

Maybe that’s how Andy learned to wait. He had to bite his tongue and bide his time until he got a job 3,000 miles away.

I left home at 18 and stayed impatient. Impatient with waiting for guys to ask me out—so I asked them out instead. Impatient with college—so I graduated in 3 years. Impatient with friends, which cost me more than a few relationships. And impatient with waiting for Andy to kiss me, so I kissed him.

It wasn’t until I was pregnant (MISERABLY pregnant) that I learned a modicum of patience. Unless modern science comes up with an artificial uterus, there’s no escaping 10 months of nasty pregnancy side effects. There’s no point in complaining, or crying, and it takes too damned much energy anyway (especially when you’re low on energy because you’re anemic).

I learned to endure nausea, hives, exhaustion, strict bedrest, and then the kid being weeks overdue.

As a reward for surviving pregnancy, I got to endure breastfeeding a growth-spurting giant baby. Welcome, cracked and bleeding nipples.

Followed by an energetic child who didn’t nap.

All the while, I would chant to myself: “Just a few more years until preschool. And then kindergarten.”

Call it patience, or call it endurance, but the ability to hunker down and wait out misery came in handy when Trump was elected. Even as I protested, donated, phone banked, or argued Trump cultists, part of me was simply counting the days, much like Imani Gandy’s thread of GIFs on Twitter:

Then came COVID. Which everyone who didn’t vote for Trump knew was going to be a nightmare, given that man’s ineptitude. There was no way we were going back to normal—and no way my kid was going back to school—until we had a vaccine. A vaccine would take at least a year. We were just going to have to wait out the horror, misery, and death. Which was maddening, because it was avoidable.

But if I thought about how much tragedy could have been averted by a competent, compassionate administration, I would spend my hours enraged. I would fantasize about head-butting Mitch McConnell into oblivion. Or putting up signs with the current COVID body count and the phrase “I’m okay with this!” next to my neighbor’s “TRUMP” flag.

Instead, as I waited, I gradually took heart.

Because we didn’t get COVID (yet).

Because Stacey Abrams created Fair Fight and Wisconsin took advantage of it.

Because Gen Zs is smarter than Fox viewers.

And because Treasonous Trumpers are stupid, and Black Capitol Police officers are smart.

And now?

Tomorrow, the waiting is over.

Fucking finally.

I hate waiting

The Best of the Worst Year (#312)

I know of exactly three people who are loving the pandemic lockdown. One is my Genius Nephew who taught himself to read at age 3 and did long division problems for fun on snow days. Genius Nephew loves staying home with the cats. He relishes having complete control of all social interactions via Discord. In October, as his parents and sister struggled with confinement, Genius Nephew sighed contentedly at the dinner table and announced, “This is the greatest year ever!”

At least someone is happy.

The rest of us who’ve followed CDC guidelines and state stay-at-home orders are…less happy. We’ve turned to baking, crafting, walking, and the arts to survive. Yeah, THE ARTS: books, movies, and television. (So think about just who saved your ass the next time you denigrate liberal arts degrees.)

Here’s the list of the books, movies, and shows that made me laugh and cry. Best of all, they took me somewhere else when I couldn’t leave the house.

BOOKS

Network Effect, by Martha Wells. In the first Murderbot novel after four hilarious, action-packed novellas, would-be introvert Murderbot must team up with a moody teenager and an Asshole Research Transport ship to rescue a human survey team. Murderbot has no problem with a potential suicide mission. But dealing with actual feelings? Gross.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune. The charming, heartwarming story of a repressed social worker investigating an unconventional orphanage of magical children–only to find the family he never knew he needed. Laugh over this island of delightful misfits, but bring your tissues for the end!

In Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots, superheroes cause more collateral human damage than natural disasters. They also protected by their parent corporation and law enforcement. Until one woman, armed with spreadsheets and a super villain, decides those super bastards are going down.

A Song for a New Day, by Sarah Pinsker. Two women. One is a musician who lives to play for the crowds–until a pandemic hits. The second doesn’t remember life before school, work, and even concerts became virtual. It will take both of them to outwit the Virtual Industrial Complex and bring live music back to humanity.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine. Mahit leaves her small mining station to serve as ambassador to a sprawling galactic empire. She discovers her predecessor was murdered. Various imperial factions conspire to consume her home station and its resources. No problem. All she has to do is negotiate deadly intrigue, avert a civil war, and not fall in love with the enemy.

A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik. There’s nothing warm and cozy about this magical boarding school. Instead of mentors, murderous creatures make hourly attempts to infiltrate the school and eat magical teens (the younger the teen, the tastier!). Can a girl named El survive without allies…or without resorting to dark sorcery? (Note: This book is a total page-turner, but it has some racist/ colonial characterization issues. The biggest is that the heroine El is mixed race. But while her heroic white mother is all things good and supportive, her non-white family gave in to superstition and decided El was evil and should be destroyed. As a child. Yikes.)

MOVIES

The Half of It. Remember “Cyrano de Bergerac?” Okay, how about Steve Martin’s Roxanne? No? That’s fine. This film by Alice Wu borrows the conceit of a genius ghost-writing love letters from a himbo, but it’s deeper and funnier than previous versions. This time, the Chinese-American girl is the writing genius and a Latina is everyone’s love interest. The growing friendship between the genius and the jock gets solid screen time and is equally delightful.

 The Forty-Year-Old Version. Once upon a time, NYC playwright Rhada was dubbed, “young, hot, someone to watch.” Now she’s forty, she’s tired, and she still hasn’t had her big break. Trying to navigate everything from her mother’s death to rich, white theater gatekeepers is exhausting (especially when the old white guy really, really needs to be punched). Rhada finds her voice rapping; Andy and I found her story compelling and pretty damned funny.

 The Old GuardI thought this was going to be another one of Andy’s ubiquitous guns/ car crash/ explosion movies. Instead, I got sucked into a tense, bittersweet story about the joys and horrors of humanity and immortality. Great cast with good banter, too.

MidwayAndy and Baby D picked this one, but I can’t argue (because we didn’t watch many movies). There are cliches galore and the segregation/ rampant racism in the Navy is ignored, but other historical details are spot-on (rarely do filmmakers bother to get the helmets right). The subject matter is inherently dramatic and had us all on the edge of our seats. The special effects were also pretty damned special.

TV SERIES

The Good Wife.” Andy and I never watched this show until COVID. Then we binged through it every night for about a month. Great cast and just enough witty banter to break up all the drama (and there is SO. MUCH. DRAMA.).

Star Trek: Discovery.” I’m a nominal Trekkie at best and thus lack the hangups  many die-hard Trekkies have with “Discovery” (which generally boil down to white men whining about “canon,” i.e., why isn’t the cast all white men and why aren’t all the white men heroic anymore?). The first season has a helluva twist and the third season finally sends the ship into exciting new territory. Andy is enjoying the show so much he hasn’t complained about paying for CBS all-access.

The Expanse.” I love Sci-Fi, but I did not like this show when Andy first started watching it. It was Sci-Fi film noir and I hated most of the characters: way too much screen time for morally questionable white guys (with one obvious, obnoxious shining white knight exception). Gradually, though, the mystery sucked me in. Later seasons had more women; the banter between the Martian Marine and the President of Earth is a show highlight.

The Right Stuff.” Disney’s series based on the Tom Wolfe novel kept us coming back every week to see which astronauts would excel in training while fucking up their personal lives with liquor and infidelity. As one character says, “They’re all great. And they’re all terrible.” Plenty of critics hated seeing their white male heroes being de-glorified, but we enjoyed the realism.

Selena” is a surprisingly funny series. I expected good music and solid drama in this rags-to-riches American story. But the show’s unexpected comedy was my favorite part, especially when the Quintanilla family members and band lovingly roast and mock each other.

Ted Lasso.” This one is my most favorite of all my favorites. Good comedies are rare. Rarer still is one that doesn’t throw in at least a few racist or sexist jokes.  Instead of wandering into that minefield, “Ted Lasso” mines our changing societal expectations for unexpected, delightful laughs. Combining the best of British and American humor, the dialogue is littered with seemingly throwaway lines that land as comedic gems. Brett Goldstein made us laugh out loud as both a writer on the show and on screen as the angry, aging soccer star, Roy Kent.

If you’re looking for more book recommendations, here are my earlier posts on SFF and Mysteries. Feel free to put your own favorites in the comments, too.

Turkey Day Birthday (#308)

TUESDAY, T-MINUS 2 DAYS

6 AM: Suicidal squirrels dart in front of dog on walk. We go down in a heap on cement, one of us swearing all the way. Badly bruised knee, road rash through pants, banged up hip and wrist. Nothing broken. Unfortunate. Still stuck having to cook up Thanksgiving & Birthday dinner for husband.

12:20 PM: Start on crust for Chocolate Satin pie husband requested. Baby D dismantles Oreos for the chocolate crust while I limp around kitchen.

1:30 PM: Pull pie crust out of oven. Discover sides have slid to the bottom of pie pan. Tell Baby D to quit eating all the Oreo middles while scrambling to find more reputable recipe online. Wonder who the fuck bribed 100+ people to write glowing reviews of crap pie recipe.

2 PM: Settle on Epicurious chocolate cream pie because have all the ingredients. Cook filling and bake pie crust while Baby D sneaks more Oreo middles.

4 PM: Assemble pie and refrigerate. Baby D moans about tummy ache and swears off Oreos forever. Continue reading Turkey Day Birthday (#308)

Turkeys (#307)

Once upon a time, birthdays were a huge deal in my family. Being showered with cake and presents made it the best day of the year.

My Chinese-American husband’s family wasn’t like that. Birthdays were no big deal. In fact, Andy’s grandmother was very superstitious about celebrating, especially as she reached her 90s. “If you have a big celebration that makes a lot of noise,” she said, “you’re just reminding the evil spirits that you’re still alive. They might decide to rectify that situation.” Continue reading Turkeys (#307)

We Stan (#306)

Many folks grow up huge fans of celebrities. One of my sisters had the New Kids on the Block all over her room. We (her seven siblings) were forced to listen to NKOTB on all long car trips (actually preferable to my father’s choice of Johnny Horton).

Big Brother was torn between crushing on the red-headed neighbor girls and Princess Leia.

My Hollywood crush was Data from Star Trek TNG, because what’s better than a super strong, super smart, emotionally unavailable dude? In sports, I will always be a fan of Ed McCaffrey from the Denver Broncos.

Judgmental Genius Older Sister appeared immune to the allure of sports stars, movie stars, and rock stars. She was too busy graduating magna cum laude and crushing it in medical school to have time for crushes. At holiday gatherings, she had no idea who the celebrities de jour were, and she generally she fell asleep by 8:45 PM (sitting straight up, in the middle of the couch). Continue reading We Stan (#306)

Election Night: Then and Now (#305)

Over 70 million Americans have spent the week holding their breath. We remember how confident we were four years ago. How we arrogantly assumed that the rest of the country saw Donald Trump for what he was: a hateful, racist, incompetent, misogynistic narcissist who would run the country into the ground.

I watched the numbers roll in on CNN and compared it with the New York Times website. And by 7 PM PST, it was clear that Clinton did not have the votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It was shocking, but true. Numbers don’t lie. The trend was obvious.

My Chinese-American mother-in-law was visiting. She didn’t understand why I was upset. “It will be fine,” she said.

“It will not be fine,” I told her. “With the Senate also Republican, there will be no checks on that man.” I fled to my bedroom. Continue reading Election Night: Then and Now (#305)

Decisions at the End (#302)

Content Warning: this post deals with burial arrangements. Given that over a million people have recently died due to COVID, alone, and with their families often unable to follow the deceased’s religious or personal wishes regarding their remains, you may want to skip this lighthearted post. If so, I understand. I am sorry for your loss and I hope that your memories of your loved one become more comfort than sorrow.

My Chinese-American husband never worried about death. His only end-of-life plan was purchasing life insurance.

When we had Baby D, I got life insurance, too, and insisted that Andy increase his coverage. Because I am always braced for catastrophe and death, I asked him, “What do you want me to do if you die?”

Andy snorted and said, “What do I care? I’m dead.”

“No, seriously. Do you want to be buried? Cremated?”

“Whatever you want.”

“How about a memorial ceremony with your favorite foods and beer and bourbon?”

“If that’s what you want. Because I don’t care. I’m dead.” Continue reading Decisions at the End (#302)