Thursday, November 30, 2006

New League Record

Last year, it took me seven months and three weeks to exhaust the prescription drug benefit under my primary insurance.

This year it took four months on the dot.

It's not often that you achieve a nearly 50% improvement in efficiency in just one year.

And here's another stat for you:

The breast-cancer drug that caused me to max out my prescription coverage costs, gram for gram, five hundred times more than powdered cocaine. It's more than two hundred times as expensive as crack.

I take this drug every day.

I guess that makes me a non-steroidal-aromatase-inhibitor-head.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Piss and Vinegar

I don't often see my dad angry.

He's a pretty mild-mannered sort—the kind typically described as amiable, agreeable, or easygoing. He makes friends easily and has been known to develop relationships with a token-booth clerk at his subway stop and a waitress at the diner he frequents. He got to know the waitress so well that when she quit to go back to school, he took her out to lunch.

Even at the hospital, he's endeared himself to more nurses, doctors, and technicians than I can count. He charms them, jokes with them, and even proposes marriage to them. Well, to the single women at least—but only in front of my mother, as he's quick to point out. He's not trying to get away with anything.

He's sweet and good-natured and funny.

But 19 days in intensive care is more than anyone should have to bear. Especially when Diet Coke—the kind that comes straight out of the bottle or can, with no thickener added—is verboten. To an outsider, that might seem like the least of the indignities perpetrated on my dad in the ICU, but to him it is everything.

And today he'd had enough.

I think it's fair to say that he threw a fit. Pounded his fists and thrashed around and shouted as much as he is able to shout given that his voice is incredibly weak and he had a special breathing mask strapped to his face.

I honestly don't think I've ever seen him that mad in my entire life.

And while I did not for one second enjoy seeing him that way, it was heartening to have unequivocal proof that his spirit is intact.

That he's got the strength to assert himself and the will to make his wishes known.

That he can give as good as he gets, and then some.

That behind the mask and the IV lines and the catheter and anything else that might come between him and the world, he is still undeniably my dad.

Because tomorrow is Day 20.

Monday, November 27, 2006

And Just to Prove My Point

Without going into details, it was a tough day for us—my dad, my mom, and me—in the ICU today. Fortunately, Kelly, our very favorite nurse, was on duty today. Even more fortunately, she was assigned to my dad.

In the midst of the toughness, when there was nothing much to do except D-14, Kelly walked in and told my mom and me that today happened to be the birthday of the ICU clerk, a great guy who has been a real ally for us these past two-plus weeks.

She knew there wasn't a whole lot she could do for us that she wasn't already doing—taking great care of my dad, that is—but there was one small thing.

She brought each of us a piece of birthday cake.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Almost 10 years ago, when Zach and I hosted Thanksgiving for friends out in California, one of our guests asked that we go around the table and each express something for which we were thankful. I remember it vividly because this friend is a recovering alcoholic, and he gave thanks for Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the men who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous.

It was a very moving speech, and it has stayed with me ever since. Most years, especially if we are hosting the meal, Zach and I try to continue the tradition of going around the table and giving thanks. We missed doing that this year, so I'm going to take my turn now, a bit belatedly.

I am grateful for every small kindness that is done every day in every big city and small town around the world.

I am grateful that amid war and famine, amid disasters both natural and human-made, amid illness and crisis and calamity, people cling to their humanity, reach out to strangers and friends alike, and commit acts of selflessness every single day.

This has been an inordinately difficult year.

It's actually been two inordinately difficult years.

And when I think back to what has carried my little boat along, what has supplied wind to my sails or, more aptly, strength to my oars, it is the tiny gesture that comes when I am all but spent, overwhelmed and overloaded and seemingly overmatched.

People ask me all the time what they can do to help, and most of the time there isn't anything specific or concrete that I can suggest. Most of the time, I've got the grocery shopping and the cat-feeding and the laundry covered.

What I tend to need, I now realize, is a psychological respite—even a brief one. An emotional pit stop, if you will. A little tune-up for the spirits. Something that, for a few moments at least, washes away the grit of the day and steels me to go back and face that grit again.

So thank you for all of the supportive e-mail and phone messages.

For the sweet cards in the mail.

For the hurried cups of coffee between visiting hours.

For the quick cell-phone conversations on my way to and from the subway.

For the lovely Thanksgiving meal and the change of scenery it afforded.

For the early trip home from L.A.

For the well timed text messages.

For the small talk in the hospital corridors.

And for every other tiny, enormous show of kindness that has come my way.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Two days after he was re-admitted to the ICU, my dad was found to have a bacteria called Clostridium difficile (called "C. diff" or "C-diff" or various other iterations for short). C. diff is common in hospitals, but it can spread easily, so patients who have it are typically placed in isolation with "contact precautions" in place.

Isolation is easy in the ICU because patients each have their own rooms. "Contact precautions" means that all visitors, including hospital staff, must wear gowns and gloves when they enter the patient's room and must remove them, and then wash their hands, when leaving.

And nothing that enters the room is supposed to go back into the general population. For example, unopened containers of applesauce or pudding or Jell-o can't go back into the ICU refrigerator—they have to be tossed. By the same token, we're not supposed to bring in jackets or bags or books or anything else that we might want to take with us at the end of a visit, so we have to put all of these things in shopping bags and leave them outside the door.

Yesterday, we were told that the contact precautions had been lifted because my dad remained asymptomatic and had completed the requisite course of antibiotics. This was great news because a) it is a major pain to don and doff gowns and gloves all day long and b) it is a major pain to have to analyze every item to determine whether it's OK to bring it in the room. (How many sections of the paper can I reasonably expect to read while my dad naps? Am I going to want to keep my fleece on under the gown? Will I finish this bottle of water before I leave tonight?)

I, for one, did a happy little striptease with my gown and gloves—and only my gown and gloves—to celebrate. And then I retrieved my bag and coat from out in the hall.

A short while later, we were told that one of the ICU attendings had overruled the epidemiology department and reinstated the contact precautions. He wanted to impose a different standard for lifting the precautions, and it might be several more days before that standard was met.

Back on went the gowns and gloves. Back out into the hall went the bags and coats.

When we arrived today, however, we were told that the contact precautions had once again been lifted. Apparently, someone in Infectious Diseases had overruled the ICU attending. We were skeptical at first, but we were assured that this time the decision was final.

Later in the day, we got word that my dad was finally going to be moved out of the ICU. We were told exactly what floor he was going to be sent to, and his nurse even went up there to retrieve his new bed. (ICU beds are super high-tech, and they stay in the ICU.) Meanwhile, we started packing up his stuff and cleaning up his room.

Not so fast.

About 15 minutes later, we found out that there had been some kind of miscommunication.

My dad wasn't being moved out of the ICU. At least not yet.

The floor to which he was supposed to move has two sections, but only one had an open bed.

The wrong one, as it turned out. So he will be staying put for the time being.

On the bright side, at least we can stop playing dress up when we go to visit.

Monday, November 20, 2006

We All Scream

Now that he is off the ventilator, my dad's number-one priority is to regain all (or at least most) of the weight he's lost over the past couple of months.

The good news is that at his post-op check-up last month, his surgeon said that he could eat or drink anything he wanted—no restrictions whatsoever. Apparently his heart is now in such good shape that cholesterol and coronary-artery disease are of no concern at all.

The not-so-good news is that he is once again being restricted to puréed foods and thickened liquids, at least until he can pass the so-called "swallow test." The concern is that having a tube down his throat for a week may have compromised his swallowing reflex, raising the possibility that food or liquid could "go down the wrong pipe," end up in his lungs, and cause (another) pneumonia, which would be bad.

In the meantime, he has been getting trays of even-less-appetizing-than-usual hospital food, featuring items like "poultry soufflé" and unnaturally bright-colored vegetable blobs. He usually submits to being fed two or three spoonfuls of this stuff before making a face and refusing the rest. Then he moves onto the marginally more satisfying dessert selections—typically applesauce and pudding—which he polishes off with no trouble.

Today, in a further bit of medical torture, he was told that he was going to have a higher-falutin' version of the swallow test, one that required him to fast beforehand. All afternoon, while she waited for him to be called down for the test, his otherwise very kind nurse refused to give him any food. This went on for hours, and my mother's impatience and irritation grew in lockstep with my father's hunger. Eventually, she walked out of his room and demanded to know when he was going to have the test and, more importantly, when he could finally eat.

After a lot of back and forth that yielded no answers, the excellent social worker on duty ultimately interceded. Through her efforts, we learned that the higher-falutin' version of the swallow test isn't even done on Mondays. Which meant the test couldn't be done before tomorrow. Which meant that my dad had been forced to fast for absolutely no reason.

If this were a comic strip, lightning bolts would have started shooting out of my mother's eyes, and someone, somewhere would have imploded under the force of her glare.

If only this were a comic strip.

Because then, perhaps, my dad's huge appetite would have magically transformed the hospital food from predominantly inedible glop into tantalizing morsels of deliciousness.

Instead, we ended up supplementing his tray (well, supplanting it, really) with one of his favorite foods. When we told my dad that we were going to get him some ice cream, he wasted no time: he asked for a gallon.

We had to improvise a little. There wasn't any straight-up ice cream to be had in the hospital, so my mom bought a Klondike bar and a Ben & Jerry's ice-cream pop from the café downstairs, and I carefully cracked and removed the verboten chocolate coating from each.

Ice cream happens to be my all-time favorite food, but I have to say that feeding spoonfuls of it to my dad today was far more delectable than eating it myself has ever been.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Entrances on Cue

Zach surprised me on Friday night with a text message that said:

See you in about 12 hours . . . mwa ha ha ha. ;-)

(That last bit is the phonetic equivalent of a mischievous evil laugh.)

I was not expecting to see him until Thanksgiving Day, so it was a tremendous lift to know that he was on his way home almost a week early.

When I went to bed on Friday night, he was boarding a redeye from Burbank, and I woke up to the sounds of him walking into the apartment early yesterday morning.

Those are very nice sounds.

Later on, we arranged for him to make a surprise visit to the hospital, and the looks on my parents' faces when he walked in, attired in the yellow gowns and gloves we all have to wear, were well worth the 12 hours of deception.

(Zach may be the actor in the family, but I get major style points for giving absolutely nothing away. I have what might generously be termed not a poker face, so this is a huge accomplishment. Maybe I have a future as an undercover cop. Or an investigative reporter. Hmm.)

Friday, November 17, 2006

On and OFF!

My dad is off the ventilator.

My dad is off the ventilator.


No more Ouija board, no more air writing, no Morse code (although thank you, Cath, for the link—we had a printout on standby).

No Diet Coke yet, but that will follow in time.

And just to give you a sense of my dad's inimitable personality, here's one of the first things he said after the breathing tube came out and he announced his readiness to leave the hospital (I'm paraphrasing here):

Every day, someone tells me that I'm 100% better than the day before. I've been here a week, so I'm 700% better. How much better do I have to get before I can go home??

By that logic, he's actually 6,400% better, but this is probably not the time to quibble with my dad's math.

I'll wait until he's a little stronger.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I have been trying really hard on the eating-and-exercising front. Before my dad was readmitted to the hospital, I think I may even have been succeeding.

But the way visiting hours are structured, it's hard to eat more than breakfast at home, and that means lunch and dinner (and snacks) are generally not as healthy as they could be.

Case in point: Right this very second, I have the following healthy foodstuffs sitting in my refrigerator, not being eaten:
  • asparagus

  • broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • cauliflower

  • spinach
And what did I have as a midafternoon snack at the hospital today?

Three scandalously unhealthy chocolate-chip cookies. Slightly underdone, just the way I like them.

In fairness, I did bring a semi-healthy snack to the hospital: cheese and whole-grain crackers and a little bag of baby carrots.

And I ate the cheese and whole-grain crackers and baby carrots.

I just supplemented them with slightly underbaked chocolate-chip cookies.

And in further fairness to myself, I only purchased one slightly underbaked chocolate-chip cookie, along with a bottle of water, at the café I pass every day in the lobby of the hospital.

The other two were waiting for me when I got upstairs.

Actually, the other three were waiting for me when I got upstairs.

Because my mom, well, she knows my proclivity for slightly underbaked chocolate-chip cookies. And so she bought a trio of them at the very same café on her way into the hospital today.

It took remarkable self-control to let that last cookie go begging.

And it's going to take even more self-control to go completely cold-turkey tomorrow.

But it must be done.

I've already beseeched my mom not to buy any more slightly underbaked chocolate-chip cookies for me.

But I'm also putting up this post to keep us both honest.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Not Exactly a Séance

My dad is still on the ventilator, which means, of course, that he can't talk.

As it happens, he was a Morse code operator in the Navy back in World War II, and when you have a job like that for the better part of 25 months, 27 days, 16 hours, and one minute (his exact length of service, as he has been telling me all my life), you don't soon forget the dots and dashes that make up the alphabet.

Therefore, if he were so inclined, he could easily tap out just about anything he wanted to say.

But although he taught me the whole alphabet once when I was a kid, this is a case in which I appear to have the polar opposite of total recall.

I can't even tap out SOS with confidence, because I can't remember which is the S and which is the O. One is three dashes, and the other is three dots. If I were stranded at sea, I could easily see myself sending out a nonsensical OSO message, over and over again.

In any event, since Morse code is not an option, I devised a simple alternative. I wrote out the alphabet in big block letters on two facing pages of a journal that my mom had brought to the hospital. My dad spells out messages to us by pointing at the letters one at a time. (We tried having him write, but it's hard for him to hold the pen and even harder for us to read his handwriting. )

Observing this variation on the hunt-and-peck method is oddly like sitting around a Ouija board—there's an air of mystery and anticipation because we never know what the next letter might be.

But sometimes the messages are both straightforward and heartening. For example, here's one from today:


Soon, Dad. If there's any justice in the world, soon.

Monday, November 13, 2006

5 Signs That I Am Stretched Awfully Thin

  1. I did not get to send out an e-mail or put up a post about Zach's appearance on Without a Trace last night.

  2. I accidentally locked one of our cats outside all day yesterday (aka the day of unceasing rain), only to discover her pressed up against the sliding glass door when I got home from the hospital last night.

  3. I did not have time to take a shower today.

  4. In a grand show of journalistic professionalism on my way to the hospital today, I bobbled the cell phone, disconnected the source, and then conducted a phone interview that began on a city bus, continued on a city street, and finally concluded in a vestibule after rain and traffic noise drove me inside. I think I apologized something like six times.

  5. I have thousands of dollars' worth of medical claims just waiting to be filed, which is a bit like keeping a stack of uncashed checks around for decoration. (If the bank only gave you 60 cents on the dollar and made you wait four weeks for the funds to clear, that is.)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

No, I'm Not Over It

My dad is still in intensive care and still on the ventilator but much improved. Even the inexcusably uncaring doctor from yesterday—and I am choosing my words very carefully here—grudgingly admitted that he was doing better.

Why she has a stake in his not doing well is so far beyond my comprehension that I am unwilling to sacrifice any more brain cells in trying to figure it out. It's as if she's pissed off that he proved her wrong.

Here's a piece of unsolicited advice for every doctor on the planet:

If you ever get to the point at which you are doing anything short of rooting wholeheartedly for your patients' health and well-being, take off your white coat, hang up your stethoscope, and go find another job.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Tin Women

I am so tired that I would have gone to bed an hour ago, without dinner, except that I'm not supposed to take my anti-inflammatories on an empty stomach.

I sat here for a good half hour trying to decide whether to make myself a salad or fix a plate of cheese and crackers and apple slices or just have a glass of milk. I had promised my mother that I'd have a decent dinner, and I had every intention of keeping that promise. I even stopped at the grocery store on the way home and bought some baby spinach, the last ingredient I needed for a hearty salad.

But then whatever energy I had just seeped out of me. I settled for the glass of milk and a couple of crackers.

It was a long day. The good news is that my dad was awake and alert by the time we left the hospital, having shed more than two liters of fluid from his chest cavity. The fluid had been pressing on his lungs, making it difficult for him to breathe.

The bad news is that he had to be put back on a ventilator overnight, and he's not ready to come off of it yet. Fortunately, he seems to be tolerating it well, at least so far.

We're not expecting a lot to happen before Monday. For one thing, he's still being evaluated. For another, it's the weekend (a holiday weekend nonetheless), and even though the ICU operates 24/7, there are fewer doctors around and the pace is palpably slower between Friday night and Monday morning.

And that, you could say, is why I am so tired.

I lay my fatigue entirely at the feet of a doctor whose bedside manner I would proceed to eviscerate had she had the courtesy to actually come anywhere near my father's bedside. Or his room. Or his end of the hall.

She managed, from the comfort of her chair, at a remove afforded by the counter of the nurse's station, to be condescending, dismissive, callous, impatient, defensive, and disingenuous, all within the space of 10 minutes.

This was in response to my request that she—or any other doctor—come to my father's room to brief us on his case, which no one had done in the 24 hours since he'd been admitted, had the fluid drained from his chest, and been put on a ventilator.

I did not demand; I asked.

I was calm, polite, and friendly.

I did not insist that it happen right that very second. I think the phrase I used was "at some point today."

The conversation that ensued was unsatisfying in every way. Her demeanor was completely unacceptable. And when I finally walked away, in tears, neither she nor the resident sitting next to her betrayed one iota of concern or regret—not for me, and certainly not for my father.

These were not quacks. I have no doubt that both women have excellent credentials and amazing technical skills. I am sure they are duly licensed by the State of New York.

But I fail to understand how—in the cardiac intensive-care unit, no less—there can be two doctors so clearly practicing medicine without a heart.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not According to Plan

My dad is back in the hospital.

He's got fluid in his lungs, and it needs to come out. Via a big needle. Wielded by a surgeon.

He's got some other symptoms, too, that we think might all be related to the fluid. That's what we hope, anyway.

His case is complicated enough that he was moved back to the ICU after only a couple of hours in a regular room. This is a good thing, because the patient-to-nurse ratio in the ICU is either two-to-one or one-to-one, depending on the patient, which means he will be followed incredibly closely. But it's still the ICU, and that's a far cry from being at home, in his own bed.

I had to leave even before he was transferred to the ICU because I had a Herceptin treatment today. I pushed it back as late as I could, but eventually I just had to go.

I knew he'd be fine—he's in exceedingly capable hands, and my mom was there, and my sister was en route from Cape Cod—but it was still tremendously difficult to go. When your parent is in the ICU, that's where you belong—end of story.

I got out of the cancer center too late and too exhausted to go back to the hospital. As usual, I'm completely wiped out from the Tylenol-Benadryl cocktail—I slept through most of the treatment and am ready to call it a very early night. My mom and sister are doing the same. Here's hoping all four of us, my dad especially, get a long night of uninterrupted rest.

With that, the orange panties and I are off to bed. Tomorrow I will start looking for orange boxer shorts for my dad.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Me, My Joints, and I

I'm off to see the rheumatologist in the morning. It's just a check-up, but I'm hoping to find out whether there's any way to tell how long it might be before my arthralgia resolves on its own. I'm guessing that the answer is no.

That's the problem with being an outlier—no one can tell you what to expect because you are already a case study in the unexpected.

What I wouldn't give to be a textbook case of something instead of a parenthetical in the small print of a footnote.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Looking Back, and Ahead

It was Election Day 2004 that triggered my decision to upend my life: to leave my job and become the world's oldest grad student (or so it seemed).

Actually, it wasn't so much a decision as it was an epiphany after Zach and I spent a day poll-watching in what was supposed to have been the battleground state of Florida.

The universe doesn't generally choose to speak to me, but it did that day. Or perhaps it speaks to me all the time, but on that particular day I was so depleted and raw that the message came right through. I remember feeling physically and emotionally exhausted after a long day in the Florida sun, having been whipsawed by the mid-day exit polls and the late-night results.

But more than that, I remember the despair I felt as we watched the returns on television, when the coverage seemed like a horrible cross between a game show, a reality show, and Entertainment Tonight. When CNN flashed its "Breaking News" graphic and cut to Wolf Blitzer in front of the gigantic, illuminated U.S. map, I didn't know what to expect. When Blitzer announced, with a straight face, that the big news was the introduction of a new color on the map—white, to designate Ohio as undecided—I had to leave the room.

Elections, especially presidential elections, are arguably the heart of our democracy. To see this one covered with the same inanity that now graces Olympic broadcasts—after everything the country had been through four years before—was more than I could bear.

And somehow that disgust and frustration, coupled with sleep deprivation and borderline heat stroke, propelled me to the realization that I could and should be doing something entirely different with my life.

Cancer didn't do that.

Neither did 9/11.

But Bush and Blitzer did.

It happened on the plane ride home. I was absolutely bawling, and trying to calm myself by watching The West Wing on JetBlue's seat-back screen. Immersing myself in the alternate reality of a fictional administration was the best coping strategy I could come up with. The grief was real: I was in mourning for my country. And for our culture.

There, in my leather seat, wearing a two-dollar headset and watching DirecTV, I heard the word "journalism" pop into my head. And the more I listened, the more sense it made.

It's funny, because I don't now and never did want to be a political reporter. In fact, I'm not yet sure exactly what it is I want to write about. But I think the what is far less important than the how, and about that I have no doubts: honorably, meaningfully, and, above all, truthfully.

In 10 weeks, I'll return to school full-time, and five months later—barring any surprises—I will finally graduate. I have no idea what I'll be doing after that. But perhaps the universe will whisper to me once again.

I only hope I'll be able to hear it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lost and Lost

I don't, generally speaking, lose things.

(I didn't lose my virginity, for example. I bequeathed it.)

But a couple of nights ago, when Zach and I were at the taping of "The Class," one of my favorite earrings went AWOL. I'm sure it had to do with pulling the new fleeces on and off, but knowing that is cold (no pun intended) comfort. We even drove back to the lot and convinced a security guard to take us back to the sound stage so that we could look around, but no luck.

This irritates me because a) I really like these particular earrings and b) I've had them for something like 10 years, so I've gotten rather attached to them.

To add to my chagrin, my e-mail address book up and disappeared about a week ago. My geriatric computer was hobbling along almost as slowly as I do, so I figured I'd try the universal Mac cure-all and restart the damn thing.

Well, that worked not at all. And as an extra bonus, the e-mail addresses I've collected since Internet immemorial leapt like lemmings, en masse, from my hard drive.

Zach and I headed to the Genius Bar at one of L.A.'s Apple stores, hopeful that the prodigies there would work their brand of techno-magic and the addresses would miraculously rematerialize. (We'd just seen "The Prestige," so we had prestidigitation on the brain.)

In a word, no.

Our assigned genius (wearing a shirt labeled thusly) was completely stumped. He tried a few abracadabras and then offered his condolences.

Because, of course, I had made a critical error and NOT BACKED UP.

I think I will be able to recreate part of the address book using my spam filter, but it's at best a partial solution. For one thing, it will not in any way enable me to restore the groups I had carefully create.

And this is extra-frustrating because I was just about to use one of those very groups to send out a message about Zach's upcoming TV appearance.

So . . . if you would like to be included in my new, improved, and religiously backed-up e-mail address book, please click here to send me a message to that effect. If you'd also like to be in the new, improved, and religiously backed-up "Zach Appearances" group, click here instead.

Oh, and if you are smarter than the Apple store geniuses and know how to restore my address book in one fell swoop, please click here to make my day.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Why L.A. Is Like Thai Food

Several years ago, Zach and I went out for Thai food together for the first time. As the resident picky eater in the relationship, I looked over the menu and found the one—count 'em, one—dish that looked like something I might be willing to eat.

Zach, on the other hand, surveyed the offerings and had to narrow the choices down using some advanced algorithm that took into account current mood, relative unusualness of dish, and probability of returning to the same restaurant (because if he is torn between one of the specials and a regular-menu item, he will always go for the special unless we are unlikely ever to be back—if, for example, we are on vacation or are visiting friends in a city from which they will almost certainly move before we return).

I can state with great confidence that my all-or-nothing dish was built around that universal salvation of picky eaters: chicken.

I have no idea what else it featured.

When our food came, I took a bite and immediately grimaced. Something tasted off, as if the chicken had started to go rancid.

I took another bite just to be sure. Yep, it definitey tasted funny.

So I did what anyone would do when dining out with her life partner. I asked Zach to taste it, just so I could be really sure.

He thought it was fine.

I gave it one more shot, then gave up. I probably subsisted on the rice served with my meal and then compensated by having a bowl of ice cream at home.

Fast-forward about six months. We're going out for dinner out with friends, and someone suggests Thai food. Everyone concurs, and off we go.

We sit down, we look at menus, and I find some kind of inoffensive chicken dish to order. Zach almost certainly has Thai beef salad, which is evolving into a favorite dish. He also almost certainly has Thai iced tea. I, of course, drink water.

What happens?

The exact same thing.

I taste the food.

I grimace.

I'm sure it's gone bad.

I ask Zach to taste it.

He's sure it's fine.

I eat rice.

Fast-forward another six months.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Finally, the insight hits.

I don't like Thai food.

Or at least I don't like some ingredient that's pervasive in Thai cooking. (I'm now pretty sure it's fish sauce. The good news is that there is a Thai restaurant back home in Brooklyn where I have found a chicken dish that I really like, and we eat there, or order in from there, all the time.)

So what does this have to do with L.A.?

Well, I'll tell you.

I have been out to L.A., on average, at least once every two to three years since I got out of college. On most of those trips, I have stayed with friends. And every time I come, I am startled by how cold the houses out here get at night. It's like the learning curve has been greased with oil—or fish sauce—and I can't seem to climb it.

On this particular trip, it's not just the houses that are cold. It's the mornings and evenings, too. It seems I arrived just in time for a cold snap. And our plans changed, so we are staying in a relatively cooler part of town than we'd originally expected.

But even so.

We have been sleeping with a space heater in our room for the past three nights.

Even Zach, aka the human heat lamp, has felt the chill.

Last night, we were scheduled to attend the taping of a new sitcom, "The Class," at a Warner Bros. soundstage. The information we received included a warning that the studio is kept cold and a reminder to dress appropriately.

Zach doesn't even have a long-sleeved shirt with him this week, and my thickest garment is a springy/summery raincoat.

What did we do?

En route to the taping, we made an emergency pit stop at Old Navy, home of cheap "performance fleece."

Good thing, too. Because at one point, I had my pullover on with my arms out of the sleeves, huddled underneath, with Zach's pullover over my head and around my neck as some sort of makeshift muffler. And I was still cold.

Then, of course, a hot flash came along and warmed me right up.

I should know better, of course, after living in the Bay Area for three and a half years. There, you can spot the tourists a mile away: they come to San Francisco in July, pack nothing but shorts and sandals and T-shirts, and are reduced to shivering, blue-lipped nomads as soon as the fog rolls in, as it does every day.

I actually had my own brand of Bay Area stupidity. Before we lived there full-time in the late nineties, Zach and I spent a summer there when I was in law school. Every morning, I'd look outside, see the gray skies, and grab an umbrella as I headed off to work.

Eventually I discovered that that's just what the skies looked like out there. (San Francisco weather reports usually start with, "This will all burn off by noon. . . .") In fact, there was a drought that summer, and it only rained once.

But I still carried that umbrella every day for weeks.