Never Ask What Else Could Go Wrong… A TragiComic Thanksgiving Post

Which of the following is NOT true:

1. There’s a mammoth yellow jacket nest beneath our side porch, inches from the door.

2. A massive vertigo attack sent me to the ER at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday.

3. A tree fell on my car.

4. I got a summons for federal jury duty.

5. The dog ate my homework.

I’ll give you a hint: I don’t have a dog.

As for the yellow jackets swarming round my threshold, they are definitely there, but I’m cagey. The little varmints have only nailed me three times. Mostly they buzz around in intricate flight patterns that would shame the Blue Angels, but they do add an Olympics-level degree of difficulty to making it from car to kitchen, encumbered by bags of groceries.    

Less painful, but arguably more annoying is the ant invasion that started the end of March, the same week the dryer died. We’re talking zillions of teensy, weensy ants—“sugar ants”, Google informs me—that (ha-ha) supposedly vanish when you wipe surfaces down with vinegar. More than a gallon of vinegar later, I can tell you they do not succumb to such trickery, but watch patiently from some invisible seat on the sidelines until the vinegar dries and then resume their activities.

What’s so impressive is their mastery of teleportation. Swarming over the kitchen windowsill, above the sink, they can—without any visible trail of migration—surface in the cat’s food bowl on the floor eight feet across the room. Commercial ant traps yielded so-so results (I’m thinking about penning a Consumer Reports study on the various brands), but it wasn’t until the onset of cold weather that the microscopic beasties packed it in. I like to imagine them tucked up tight for the winter in their teensy-tiny ant beds, dreaming of summer and cat food.

I wish the yellow jackets would take a page from the ants and fold their tent, but the cold only seems to make them BIGGER. BOLDER. We are saving the can of organic, eco-friendly wasp and hornet spray until we feel the same.

Whacked Upside the Head 

The Vertigo attack—sudden, unexpected, the mother of all nausea-inducing experiences—seems to have been a one-off. The ER doc very skillfully—and with a determination bordering on the manic—twisted my head sharply one way, then the other, using something called the Epley maneuver. And (this is why we believe in science) it worked.  But a light-headed sensation, like someone had peeled off the top of my cranium, alternating with a pressure at the base of my skull, dogged me for several months after.

Now, I’m not given to hypochondria. One of my life goals, in fact, is to avoid the prescription meds merry-go-round until I’m at least 100. I confess to the occasional Excedrin—one tab, never two—for a headache. But, I didn’t want to be cavalier about the state of my head. I need that brain. So I called my doc, hoping to get some sort of test that would pinpoint the source of the floatiness/pressure in my noggin. His pearls of wisdom?  I quote them here in their entirety: “Maybe you should look into Chinese medicine.” 

Okay. Time for a new doctor. Maybe one I could actually see face to face (with masks, of course). Who didn’t respond to my rare medical queries with: “Wouldn’t worry about it. You look fine to me.” So I researched the intersection of local physicians and those my health insurance covers, and found a well-reviewed doc… on maternity leave!

Well, unlike COVID, pregnancy is predictably finite. I signed up for a slot on her return date, and for the first time in several decades, four doctors, and billions piddled away on insurance premiums, I got an M.D. who actually examined me. Who knew about medical stuff. Who ran simple tests that revealed my problems were likely all in my nose. Sinuses.   


However headspinning, the vertigo/doctor snafu was a snap compared to the muddle with my car. The one the tree fell on three weeks ago.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. To get the entire picture, we must go back to August when, a week after the vertigo attack, my car was rejected at a local Inspection Station. Massachusetts’ cars must pass an annual test, or the RMV (it’s rumored the V stands for Voldemort, but it’s actually the Registry of Motor Vehicles) grounds your wheels. Do not pass GO.  

Now, my car is no teen-age hotrod junker. It’s a 2017 dealer-maintained Subaru Outback with low miles and zero rust—a model of automotive perfection that I will be paying for well into the next century. So why did such a paragon fail to get its little “Passed” sticker?

“Most inspection stations don’t have a camera,” the attendant said proudly. “But we do!” (Now she tells me.) And said camera decided my admittedly rather aged rear license plate wasn’t quite up to the cover of Motor Trend. “Don’t worry,” the woman assured me. “Just take it to the RMV and they’ll give you a new plate. You won’t even have to pay. Then bring it back and we’ll give you your sticker.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but since COVID struck, rare is the one hand who has any frigging clue what the other hand is doing. Bureaucracy is a mean crapshoot in the best of times. Now it’s a black hole of impenetrability. You can’t “just take your old plate to the RMV” because the RMV is CLOSED. It has been CLOSED since March. You’d think someone might have tipped off the inspection station. Nevertheless, as Elizabeth Warren would say, I persisted.

Doing Battle with Bureaucracy

My first attempt was only mildly frustrating. Ninety minutes navigating the state website of links that took me round in circles until, under a completely different topic, I found a phone number. Desperate, I dialed and got…a real person. Not only that, but one who knew what he was talking about. How often does that happen?

I ordered a new plate—note quite “free” as promised—but no biggie at $10. I also received an official certificate, documenting the transaction, and a note stating my new plates would arrive in 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, the certificate would serve to assure the inspection station that I was in compliance. In plain speak: It should have been enough to earn my car a Pass.

Only it didn’t.  

The staff at the inspection station just shrugged when I showed them the letter. “We don’t know anything about this,” they said. “We have a camera [I know, I know]. We have to photograph the new plate. We’ll get in trouble if we don’t have the plate. The state’s very strict.”

What the state was, actually, was extremely confused. After my original call with a knowledgeable person, I never found two people who could agree on next steps, or even had a clue as to what next steps might be. I do remember one man screaming at me at 8:30 one morning: They HAVE to give you the sticker. How many times do I need to tell you, they HAVE to give you the sticker. Now I have other customers waiting. [Sound of phone: SLAM!]. Meanwhile I was informed the time until delivery for the new plate had doubled. It seems—I kid you not—that the prisons were just starting to re-open, and the inmates were way behind on their license-plate orders. 

I will save you the details of the more than 18 hours of RMV calls (about half of which was spent listening to pre-recorded messages that ended with: There are no agents available at this time) and the two subsequent trips to the inspection station where people became increasingly hostile.

A Triumph of Democracy

One night, unable to fall asleep for all the chaos in my life, a metaphoric light bulb went on: I should call my state rep. The next day I did. OMG, she had everything straightened out in under an hour. The station would give me my sticker now. She emailed me a copy of the official letter verifying this, just in case anyone tried to mess with me. It was a triumph of democracy—Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. My state rep’s name is Lindsay Sabadosa, and she is a DYNAMO! Vote for her. Even if you don’t live in Massachusetts.

So, Lindsay settled my sticker woes on Monday. Tuesday, I had a dental appointment, and Wednesday was the day off for the inspection station manager Lindsay had dealt with. Thursday—I would get my PASSED sticker on Thursday. I was euphoric.

Well, Wednesday I was at my desk, querying agents, when an ENORMOUS gust of wind blew up. Within seconds, an earsplitting CRACK! shook the house. I ran downstairs to discover that a huge limb from our ancient maple tree—about 50 feet long and weighing several hundred pounds—had broken in the gale. And landed smack on my car, smashing the windshield. If there is a pattern in my life, this may be it. 

My car’s still in the repair shop as I write BUT, when I called the inspection guy that Lindsay had dealt with, and explained the further delay, I got zero aggro. “Just bring it in when it’s fixed. I don’t even need to be here,” he said. “We’ll give you the sticker and you don’t have to pay for another inspection.” Boy, that Lindsay is GOOD!

You Are Summoned…

While I was dealing with vertigo aftershocks and recalcitrant inspection station folks and confused, sometimes belligerent, RMV staff—still dodging yellow jackets and combating ants on the homefront—while all that was in full swing, I received a jury summons. And not just your usual jury summons, where you toddle down to the county courthouse and maybe hear a drunk driving case that lasts one, two days, but a federal jury summons, as in a United States District Court summons, where for two months you are on call, and may serve more than one trial, and the trials are definitely not about drunk driving. Which means they can go on for “some time.”

As the letter cheerfully informed me, our “group” was the first called since the courts had been closed for COVID. As if COVID was now a thing of the past. As if virus cases wouldn’t spike in the fall (the summons being for November and December), which they definitely have, enough to close all public and private schools in Massachusetts. Enough to say good-bye to any hopes I had for holiday visits from our kids. Enough to make it exceedingly dicey to spend hours in a room with several dozen people, breathing the same air, despite plexi-glass dividers and masks, day after day. Enough to make it very precarious for Ed, who is immunosuppressed. I really didn’t feel like risking his life—or mine—as part of the guinea pig team to see “what happens” when we re-open the courts. Then there’s the glassy-headed post-vertigo “zing” I still experience some mornings, a state in which I would not recommend getting into a car and driving a half-hour down the highway.

So, I was a tad worried freak-out-level anxious, basically pretty much the state most of the country has been in since November 2016, and doubly so since COVID landed. I wrote the court about all this, and got the required medical letter to document the danger to Ed.

Then I had to wait.        

And wait.

Weeks rolled by. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Amy Baloney Barrett got skedded for a rush job. A tree fell on my car. It was not an easy time.

And then today, nerves stretched to the max, I dialed the jury-line to learn my fate. And received the good news: I was excused. For the first time in a long space that can only be measured in emotional eons, I drew a free breath.    

Hope Is a Light

So where does Thanksgiving fit into all this mayhem? How to be thankful in a holiday season where I won’t see my kids because the COVID uptick makes travel from one part of the country to another unsafe? In a year when 227,000+ Americans have died, and a racist, homophobic SCOTUS candidate—who couldn’t list the five rights guaranteed all Americans under the First Amendment—was confirmed last week in a blitzkrieg attack on democracy? Where the legitimacy of the election, just two days away, is under threat as the president, the Supreme Court, and Putin all place their thumbs on the scale to steal it for TheRUMP?

Though the last eight months have smacked me right upside the head and consumed my energy relentlessly, I’m still here. Ed’s still here. All our kids are still here. We still have our home. We can still put food on the table. That makes us more fortunate than many Americans.

As a nation, and a world, we are still here. We still have a future, something to fight for, things to discover. That gives me hope. I see people in the streets, calling out for the true inclusive justice that has eluded us for far too long. That gives me hope. I see the miles-long lines of Americans at polling stations around the country, insisting on their right to vote, and that gives me hope. Whatever is about to happen to us, I urge you to keep your hope alive.

 Hope is a light. Darkness only descends when it is truly extinguished.

A Happy Thanksgiving to you, wherever you find yourself on this journey.