Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bottom Feeding

On Sunday, as I was driving to WalMart, the store I love to hate -- but the only place in Clarksville selling my favorite flavor of ramen and therefore a necessary undertaking -- I noticed a person on the side of the road in front of Pier 1, holding a double stacked sign about Borders Bookstore’s closing sale -- with savings of 50% to 70%. It is more accurate to say this person was wielding the sign like a giant shield and hiding behind it, as if anticipating a barrage of incoming firepower, or more likely afraid of being seen by someone they knew in the traffic at the intersection. I’m not sure holding a sign outside a mall entrance would be my favorite job either. But it’s a job, right? And lately they are pretty hard to come by, I don’t care what the highly-paid big economists declare about economic recovery. I have seen nothing of the sort.

National economy aside, the point is I was headed somewhere else, saw the sign, and changed course into the mall at the next entrance. The sign holder accomplished his or her purpose. Marketing objective fulfilled.

I hadn’t been to Borders in months, so I felt a little guilty showing up for the closing sale. The place was more packed with shoppers than I ever saw it in regular times. It brought tears to my eyes.  I figured many of us were occasional shoppers bottom feeding off the going out of business sale. It made me sad, because if this many people shopped there on a regular basis, maybe they wouldn’t be closing. Then, to make myself feel better,  I rationalized my own presence -- it’s not my fault a single hard cover book costs the equivalent of my weekly grocery budget and the only time books feel affordable is at a half-off sale. If things weren't so expensive or if I made more money maybe I could afford to be something more lofty than a bottom feeder.

Instead of strolling the grocery section of WalMart for my weekly supply of $1 frozen microwave dinners for lunch, granola bars for breakfast, and tomato paste to finish off my spaghetti sauce already in progress, I spent over an hour browsing the racks at Borders. Even the bookcases and fixtures were for sale. I fantasized about having one of the really tall wall units with the rolling ladder, and how that might FINALLY provide enough room for all my books. It was a lovely reverie, but then I woke up and remembered where I live, the height of my ceilings and size of my rooms, the reality that I really do plan to move someday, and that $600 for a rolling wooden ladder is NOT the wisest alternate use of September’s mortgage payment and I should send it to Bank of America as planned, thus keeping the book collection dry for another month, though still “organized” in piles on far too many horizontal surfaces.

In my wanderings, I picked up books -- eight, to be precise, at saving of 50% and 60% depending upon genre -- plus a blank journal, an installment in the graphic novel series I’ve been reading for the past year, two magazines (70% off) and a new pair of reading glasses in the strength recommended by the eye doctor at my recent $300 eye exam (including 6 months worth of contact lenses) which is unfortunately not covered by my $200 a month health coverage. About halfway through my hunting and gathering of books with titles as varied as  “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Religions (Fourth Edition);” “Becoming a Life Change Artist: 7 Creative Skills to Reinvent Yourself at Any Stage of Life;” and “Crazy Aunt Purl’s Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair: True Life Misadventures of a 30-Something Who Learned to Knit After He Split;” and somewhere in the law book section strategically located next to the books about sex, the figure $100 popped into my head. I don’t know where it came from, or how it landed in my cranium, but after it arrived there I thought, “Ok, this little side trip is going to be the equivalent of the month’s grocery budget.” Maybe that's when I should have visited the financial management section.

Standing there at the intersection of books about legal defense and wills and “Secrets of a Call Girl” and the Illustrated Kama Sutra, I considered the sum of $100 and what it represented -- the number of hours at my desk ... the slightly more than two tanks of gas to get me to that desk and everywhere else for a two week period  ... three months derby league dues plus a six-pack of pricey beer ... a third of the current cost of a round-trip plane ticket home. And then I said “screw it,” yes, out loud ... followed by a silent “I have a VISA card, what’s another $100 owed on top of the seven grand piled up in the three-and-a-half years since my divorce?” It’s that sort of thinking that got me back into credit card debt in the first place. But I kept shopping, grabbing a novel featuring a Jack Russell Terrier (half Moose!) and two books based in New England -- a novel set in colonial Andover, and “The Gardner Heist -- The true story of the world’s largest unsolved art theft;” a craft book about recycling wool sweaters into new creations .... another graphic novel, this one from the biography section. On the way to the register, I grabbed a copy of Cesar Milan’s magazine and one on Gothic Style and Beauty.  No, I am not going goth .... it just amused me there was an entire glossy, full-color magazine about goth style and the challenges it can present in the workplace. The topic matter interested me as much as the expense undertaken for color ... I mean, really ... most of the pages are black! But hey, the red lipstick and tattoo ink really pop in the photos. I was proud of myself for completely avoiding the Self Help section, where I have already 'invested' far too much money on books telling me all the new and modern ways in which I am defective.

My total at the register? $100.01. Seriously. Almost dead on the money of my random price, save for one cent. I would actually have been under the amount if not for standing in line waiting and eyeballing those reading glasses at half-off. And then it was off to Walmart to stock up on that ramen I’ll be eating for a good long time, thanks to my spontaneous shopping trip, because even though it was on the credit card, I'll pay extra when I send in the payment. (At least that's what I tell myself now.) Bottom feeding at the bookstore means bottom feeding in the nutrition chain. But my soul will be nourished for a while with all these new books.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Butt Kickin'

Ahhh, hindsight. If I could just roll back the day by 6 or 7 hours. But the daisy chain of decisions really begins a few days earlier when I returned from vacation.

I was excited to see my fur baby Moose. I thought about him the whole ride from the airport (an extended drive from Nashville due to getting lost), imagining him on the other side of the front door, just like when I get home from work each day. Unfortunately, I have to fantasize that he was happy to see me, as there was no greeting upon my entry to the house. Heck, I couldn’t even find him. In spite of me calling his name, he failed to appear or even utter a sound. I started to think he was on an outing with his dog sitter.

Turned out he was shut in the bathroom and being as quiet as a statue. When I let him out, he slunk directly to the couch, hopped into the corner, buried himself in the pillows and cowered and trembled as if expecting something very bad to happen. I don’t ever hit him, so his occasional fearful behavior mystifies me. I know most of his signals and behavior -- the way he stands next to the office chair and looks at me when he wants to go out; how his eyes shift to the direction of the treat jar when he wants a cookie; the route he takes down the hall and into the living room when he needs to go out versus the detour through the kitchen when he is attempting to extort a treat; his growing agitation as I dress for work each morning, which he knows means I am leaving soon.

I calmed, petted and hugged him on the couch, as much for myself as for him, because I missed the little guy. That’s when I noticed the rash covering his belly from his throat to his neutered boy parts. His sensitive skin requires special food, oatmeal shampoo and conditioner. He has Benadryl for allergies and when he is sneezing a lot. He has sprays and ointments and gels to soothe his practically bald belly skin. Yes, he’s got some maintenance issues. But I’ve never seen his skin look like this.

Over the next couple days, it improved to a smaller area of pink. And worsened to a larger red area. And improved again. And worsened. By Friday at noon, I had decided to take him to the vet Saturday morning. It was hugely improved by the time I got home from work, so I decided to re-evaluate in the morning. Saturday morning he got me up at 8, and it seemed we were in the clear -- the rash had remained pink and minimized for a solid 14 hours. I opted out of the vet trip, drank coffee, continued unpacking (yes, I’ve been home for a couple days by now, but really, what is the rush?). I went shopping and to lunch with Caitlin. When I got home three hours past the vet’s closing time, I witnessed the folly of my decision.

I took Moose outside (he seems to like company -- or an audience -- when he pees) and he splayed himself on the ground and dragged his belly across the grass, dirt, rocks, sticks, whatever was there. His belly skin, (when I could finally get a look at it) was dark, splotchy red again. Back inside, he laid himself on the floor in the office, pushing and pulling himself along the carpeting. A Benadryl tablet, oatmeal shampoo bath, Cortisone 10 ointment treatment and 1.5 hours later, he was back to dragging his belly on every surface he can find.

I feel horrible. If I had stuck to the plan, I might at least know what the problem is. Every time he looks at me with his tender brown eyes I feel guilty -- like I gave him the rash myself.