Hot Air: The Author & The Racehorse

At Last

An embarrassing admission: I’m just now reading Nancy Hiller’s memoir, Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life.

I know, I know. I’m a dope. I hosted a fabulous book signing for her at the Book Corner in March. In March! I had her on Big Talk in February. February! The book’s been out almost a year and is still selling like gangbusters. Everybody who’s anybody has read it and they’re all — to a woman and man — gushing over the thing.

Oh sure, I skimmed it at first, just to gain a familiarization, but only within the last few days have I sat down and begun, seriously, to devour it. Now I’m going to gush. Making Things Work is terrific! It’s better than I ever expected it to be — and I figured it’d be damned good. If you’ve ever heard Nancy speak or engaged her in conversation, you know she knows how to get a point across quickly, efficiently, strongly, and interestingly. Well, the stories in MTW are delivered in such manner, but times three — at least.

I’m struck, BTW, by Nancy’s recollections of being harassed as a woman three decades ago in a carpentry shop at a royal museum in England. Not every woman has the confidence, the iron, that Nancy has. Fewer men do. The way she reacted to the adolescent haranguing and the boundary-annihilating pranks won’t stand up as a model for all women to follow in similar circs.; I’m not recommending that at all. I prefer to recommend that men simply stop acting like dickheads. Nevertheless, Nancy emerged from the crucible with humor and bonhomie intact and won the old boys over by dint of her innate strength.

More important, she emerged with her sense of self intact. If only I were as tough as Nancy Hiller.

If you don’t want to swoon over her after reading MTW, I don’t know what I can do for you.

Pee Panic

I take a diuretic, furosemide (generic for Lasix™), every morning. Let’s just call it Lasix from here on out, for convenience’s sake.

If you’ve heard of Lasix at all, you’re probably a gambler. Lasix is used to dope horses, legally in most states, before they race. Owners must declare that their horses are on Lasix before every race they run. Pick up today’s Daily Racing Form and you’ll probably find an L next to a horse’s carry weight (how much her/his rider weighs). That means the horse will be dosed today. Most horses are. Some estimates of dosed horses running on North American tracks range as high as +90 percent.

Trainers dose their horses because they believe it’ll prevent internal bleeding, specifically leading to pulmonary edema. Racehorses are pushed so hard and bred so specifically, that their ability to run fast exceeds the physiological limits of the rest of their bodies. Horses that repeatedly bleed into their lungs after races will break down sooner and, consequently, not make money for their stables. Medical evidence on whether Lasix prevents pulmonary bleeding remains inconclusive but trainers continue to dose their horses because everybody else is doing it.

…Like A Racehorse.

I’m no racehorse. If you’ve ever caught me dashing toward my car on a rainy day, you’d know that to be one of life’s most incontrovertible truisms. I take Lasix because I have a congenitally deformed heart. By the time I hit my 40s, the improperly arrayed cells of my ticker grew my septum wall so thick that my heart was unable to pump out enough blood to support my tissues and organs. The fix? I was given a surgically-induced heart attack wherein the appropriate portion of my enlarged septum wall was flooded with medical grade alcohol, killing it. That part of the wall shrunk, thereby allowing more blood to come out of my heart. Neat, huh?

Anyway, my heart still is not capable of supplying my body’s cells with enough nutritious blood. This also leads to water to build up throughout my body, mostly in my extremities. I take Lasix because it makes me urinate. During the hours immediately after taking my daily pill, I hit the head a dozen times, expelling enough fluid to put out a forest fire. The whole process makes me breathe easier — literally.

There is a problem, though. For the duration that the drug is working, I have to be around lavatories. I can’t, for instance, be stuck in the middle of a traffic jam on SR 37. When the Lasix kicks in, I get a hint of a sensation that I’d better skedaddle to find a porcelain fixture. If I ignore that little hint, ten or so minutes later the need for a facility will become, in the snap of a finger, an emergency. One of the several ways Lasix works is to turn off the the ability of the bladder sphincter muscle to operate. Holding it in, consequently, becomes the most excruciatingly difficult act of will imaginable. If I’m stuck in the car with no bathroom in sight, it can be disaster.

The Jane Byrne Interchange.

I was driving up to the Chicago area Tuesday morning to visit a sick friend. The drive up went smoothly with hardly any traffic and no snarls either on SR 37 or I-65. I got into Chi. proper and got off the Dan Ryan Expressway south of the Loop so as to miss the inevitable jam up ahead. It’s quicker to navigate the side streets than go through the Circle Interchange AKA “the spaghetti bowl.” Just as I was leaving the x-way at Chinatown, I got the last of the “hints” mentioned earlier. I ignored it.

Within 15 minutes, I was loathing my very existence for doing so. I descended into what I call Pee Panic. I was doing the I-gotta-go-bad! dance in the driver’s seat of my car. I was howling in discomfort. I was terrified I’d wet my drawers as well as the Prius upholstery. It was an emergency.

I knew of an old Dominick’s near Division Street and Ashland Avenue. It had to have a bathroom. I pointed the car in that direction. About three blocks from it, the urge to relieve self became the single focus of my entire life. I’d never make it to the Dominick’s. An idea: I could dump the water out of my drinking bottle and pee into it. Oh, yeah! Great! Relief! Gotta do it.

Problem was, where could I do it? I was in the middle of a big city. There aren’t any woods into which I could disappear or barns behind which I could hide. I careened off Ashland onto Augusta Blvd. and then up Noble Street. A very hip, dense neighborhood. Despite it being only 5 or so degrees out pedestrians were scurrying to and fro. Storefronts were crowded with patrons. Every second, third, and fourth floor window overlooked me in my car. Still, I had to do it.

I squealed into a diagonal spot outside an art gallery. A pedestrian, hunched over against the frigid wind, crunched by. I waited for him to get safely out of sight. I dumped the water out of my bottle and reached for my fly.

Too Many Windows.

Then it hit me — somebody’s gonna notice me pulling my zipper down. Somebody’s gonna see that I’m fiddling with my junk. The cops will be called and a squadron of patrol cars’ll screech up, surrounding me. The first cop’ll bang on my window, demanding to know what I’m doing. I’ll say, weakly, “Honest, officer, I had to pee so bad you wouldn’t believe it….” And he wouldn’t. He’d slap the bracelets on me and charge me with exposure and several other acts of perversion. I’d be photographed, fingerprinted, offered the traditional bologna sandwich for dinner, and eventually forced to declare myself a sex offender for the rest of my life.

Despite the screaming urge in my urinary tract, I decided not to unload in my water bottle. I slammed the gear into reverse and peeled out toward the old Dominick’s again. I caught red lights at both Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street. I was bouncing so hard in my seat my car had to be visibly shaking. The lights simply never changed for hours! I was hyperventilating. I yelled once, twice…, okay, ten times.

I whipped into the old Dominick’s lot on two wheels. The grocery — no longer a Dominick’s; now a Jewel — was at the far end of the lot. A Lowe’s was nearer. I skidded into a parking spot and dashed for the front door. I swear if some kind of greeter accosted me and asked me if I needed any help, I’d have knocked him or her down. The bathroom had been positioned, mercifully, not ten yards from the entrance.

Good god in holy heaven, I made it. Rarely, if ever, have I found myself feeling so relieved, both physically and mentally.

That was the worst drama I had to experience yesterday. Maybe the worst in a week, even a month.

My sick pal? He’s got real problems. I’m lucky.

One thought on “Hot Air: The Author & The Racehorse

  1. nrhiller says:

    Yikes, Big Mike. I’m not sure how to respond, other than to say that my maternal grandma claimed to have availed herself of her “pocketbook” when stuck in a car. I have often marveled (in my imagination) at the logistics involved in that claim. She had the advantage of being a “nice” white female in a car driven by an equally “nice” white man, in the middle (or perhaps slightly later than the middle) of the 20th century. I get, as you do, that things have changed — I/we [this means you and I] thought for the better. But I would like to think that we live in a universe where it’s OK for anyone to take care of his or her essential bodily functions without harassment (or worse) by the legal authorities.

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