palpitating through New Jersey
Sunday, March 24 2013
location: rural Hurley township, Ulster County, New York
This morning Gretchen and I woke up a little later than we wanted to given that today we were planning to drive down to Silver Spring Maryland. So Gretchen took the dogs for a walk, I packed my stuff, we loaded the car (including both dogs, Marie —aka "the Baby"— and a litter box) and then headed out on the highway. Gretchen drove for the first and last quarters of the trip, while I drove for the middle-half (entirely within the state of New Jersey). There was no congestion and driving conditions were good, though I'm always a little on edge when I drive on crowded highways, particularly in our car, the suspension of which has been terrible ever since Mavis Discount Tire replaced the struts (and failed to fix the problem over the course of multiple return visits).
For whatever reason, I occasionally get heart palpitations (something I've noticed since 1994, coinciding with the American coffee revolution), but they rarely bother me as much as they bothered me today. It all began soon after a lunch of spaghetti at the Sbarro in the Montvale service area (near the north end of the Garden State Parkway). While there, we also got coffee from the Starbucks for our travel mugs, and then I took over driving duties. I don't know if the coffee had an unusual amount of caffeine in it or what, but soon thereafter my heart started palpitating. In me, these palpitations take the form of a skipped beat, and they never happen unless my heart is running at very near its lowest possible pulse rate. Because of this, I only experienced the palpitations after passing through an unnerving section highway (in other words, once the pulse-quickening conditions had subsided). But they were as bad as I've ever had them. Sometimes my heart would experience a palpitation only a beat or two after having just had one, a situation that raised reliability concerns. I was able to drive despite all of this, though I found myself compulsively monitoring my pulse by keeping a thumb pressed against my jugular vein. One possible hypothesis for the unusual frequency of heart palpitations was that my body was experiencing withdrawal from pseudoephedrine. I'd been taking 120 almost every other day for over a week, though now it had been three days since I'd last had any and perhaps my heart had come to expect its eventual presence in my system. (I know from experience that my body can develop physical dependence on caffeine even if I restrict its intake to every other day.)
We made good time and it only took us five and a half hours to get to Gretchen's parents' house. Gretchen's brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew were already there. It was the first time we'd seen them in nearly three years, meaning that suddenly our nephew was a relatively-mature nine and our niece a conversant six. It was the first time either of them had met Ramona, who quickly overwhelmed and terrified our niece (though it seemed to us there was an element of insincerity and performance to her fear).
Gretchen, her brother, and the kids all joined me for a post-drive dog walk in nearby Sligo Creek Park. My heart palpitations were still happening at this point, though they gradually diminished in frequency until, by evening, they'd almost disappeared entirely.
Before the evening's festivities, I decided to take a shower in the only upstairs bathroom one doesn't have to walk through a bedroom to get to. It's traditionally been a kids' bathroom, though it is also a handy repository for hotel samples, sunscreen, anti-fungal creams, boot polish, and what have you. So I was surprised to find that it contained not even so much as a blister pack of shampoo. There was something in a shampoo-like bottle that called itself "Philip Pelusi Potion," but I couldn't tell from the salonish gibberish on its label what problem it had been invented to solve. So I ended up washing my hair with some sort of body scrub. I also shaved with an anachronistic single-bladed disposable razor, nicking my face in two places (this never happens with the one Fusion razor I've been using for the past five years). For the rest of the evening I kept periodically ducking into a bathroom to check on whether or not the bleeding had stopped (generally it hadn't).
Gretchen's parents had invited some people over for a night-before-Passover dinner at their place. This group consisted of Dina (Gretchen's childhood friend) and her family (long-time friends with Gretchen's parents). As always, there was an appetizer-and-wine period before the meal, and the appetizer consisted of crackers with two different vegan cheeses that Gretchen had fermented using different biological cultures. They were actually a little weird for me, though the others seemed to like them. As for the meal, it was an oddly multicultural buffet featuring aloo gobi, lasagna, a vegan field roast, and a number of other things. [REDACTED]
After the meal, Gretchen's brother and Dina's brother (as well as some of the kids) were over by the piano making a hell of a quasi-musical racket while the rest of us continued socializing until people gradually began to leave. At some point I got to talking with Gretchen's father about using Adobe Photoshop for fixing problems with photographs (he'd recently been forced to crop a bunch of pictures from his Indochina trip after a camera defect resulted in unsightly artifacts). As we talked, I realized he'd never actually learned how to use Photoshop and could benefit from some easy low-hanging fruit of knowledge. So right there on my netbook (using an old copy of Photoshop 7.0 from 2002) I showed him how to use the clone tool and the magic wand, both of which come in handy when fixing small self-contained image problems.
Meanwhile Gretchen was having a long conversation with her nine year old nephew about things like school and movies and the "girlfriend" he has had for something like five years. She was delighted to discover that he had turned into a bright, sensitive little person with interesting things to say.
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