Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prime Number Theory or Zombies?

I used to be smart. Not rocket scientist smart, but not the dimmest bulb in the chandelier, either. But given a choice between studying prime number theory or reading about zombie holocausts, I lately seem to opt for spending time with shambling, walking moaning dead.

Maybe I was exposed to too many fumes from old fashioned model glue when I was a kid - I wonder if my parents ever questioned how quiet I was as I put together Zeros, Wildcats, and Mustangs? Or were they just glad I was quiet.

Maybe the mercury I used to play with on my desk in my bedroom, extracted from a broken thermometer I accidentally purposely broke and the pirated from my 10th grade chemistry class play a role in my diminished capabilities?

Maybe the seven or eight diagnosed and undiagnosed concussions play a factor? Beside getting hit in the head of the sledge hammer, I flipped off a second story porch and landed on my pumpkin, got cold cocked walking out of a bar in New Orleans, played football for 8 years, and did any number of stupid and silly things that rang my brain-bell a bit too loudly.

Another possibility -- which is more chilling, frankly -- is that I'm not dumber as I get older. Could it be that that I'm the still reasonably bright guy I was years ago, but that I like -- prefer -- reading Zombie fiction? Is it possible that, while I find prime number theory fascinating, I get more emotional satisfaction reading about dead people eating living people, who become dead people, who then try to eat yet other living people? What's up with that?

But here's my cold-hearted self-reflection for the day. Prime number theory is spinach. Zombies are buffalo chicken wings. I eat spinach 'cause it's good for me. I eat wings because I love them.

I suppose it's also possible that I'm just dummer and like crap that's basically bad for me...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Okay, I never quite got this Cialis ad. What's the point of having perma-wood if you don't touch your wife? And the water in the tub would get wicked cold. Shrinky, shrinky. Frankly I think this would have been much more effective as a plug for Extenze.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Oh, you think that hurts? Well...

Here's a strange little phenomenon I've noticed with the kids I have taught over the years - they like to talk about scars. I've had some great, special moments with kids, magic moments where they have the "Aha!' moment or master some skill, or sometimes let me know that the mom and dad are getting a divorce.

But one universal conversation I have every year - a really fun, everyone-gets-to-play sort of conversation - revolves around getting hurt. Maybe the unifier is that no matter how different we are, no matter what age we are, no matter what our parents do for a living, we all wipe out once in awhile. Good solid, emergency room trips for stitches wipe outs. Medical intervention required. I.V. tubes a bonus. Surgery? Golden.

I mean, we all eventually go ass-over-tea kettle on our bikes, right? That's good for a concussion or 9 stitches on the chin. Half the people I know have walked through a glass storm door and need to be sewn up after. I have students or former students who have fallen out of bunk beds and broken arms, had sisters push them wonky and knocked them off a porch, been run over by a out-of-control snowboarder. Man, they love to tell me about a gusher or a compound fracture or some 106 degree fever they survived.

These revelations always start when some kid makes it back to school after a bout of conjunctivitis or pneumonia, or some overnight in the hospital. I tell 'em how glad I am they are back at school, which I mean whole heartedly. And cause I'm a klutz and stupid and love to do dumb things at least once in awhile, I can always commiserate. "Oh, yeah, I had pink eye in 10th grade." Or "My son, he stuck his hand in a bowling ball return machine and almost lost a finger." Or "Yeah, you remember when I left school last year to have neck surgery? We were playing Flinch, 'member? You were there. It was a rainy day recess!"

I have an ace. When some kid tells about his uncle who fell out of a third floor apartment while trying to fix a gutter downspout, I pull out my card. "Yeah, well I got hit in the head with sledge hammer." Kids love that one. I don't know why, but they do. Maybe 'cause I'm still here. Maybe 'cause they like to know their teachers are mortal and bit stupid. Maybe they like gore, who knows. But most times when I roll out the sledge hammer story, the groups gets quiet and there are a few nods of approval. They rub their arm which used to be in a cast, or scratch their scalp where some E-room doc glued a bleeder closed, or maybe think of Uncle Jimmy who was in a wheel chair all last winter.

And we start to scatter to class or carpool or basketball practice, and I think to myself "Be safe, kids." But not too safe. Scars remind us we are living.

You Using the Whole Fist, Doc?

So, I have a serious medical condition. It's called Fried-Bender Syndrome, and it's very rare, and very painful, and chronic, and non-specific, AND asymptomatic. But just 'cause there are no signs of the disease doesn't mean I don't have it.

I know I suffer from this malady because I self-diagnosed. I'm qualified, you see, to make a diagnosis because my wife is qualified to make a diagnosis. She's qualified because her sister is a doctor. I believe technically that makes me a Doctor-in-Law, but that sound pretentious or distant --off putting -- and I want my patients to feels like I care. Just call me Doctor.

Another reason I'm qualified to make this diagnosis is because I made up the name for the syndrome; making up a syndrome name has certain perks, naming rights if you will. Right number one...diagnosis authority. Voila.

So this condition, you may not have heard of it, right? There are random and disconnected symptoms. This is TRUE, I swear. I get disabling stomach pains. Like the feeling of getting kicked in the lemons, but higher. It always comes on at night. This little freight-train of joy -- thankfully -- happens infrequently. Over the eleven years I've had it, I've gotten pretty good at hearing the train whistle way off in the distance. I can hustle the kids off to bed, get some work done, say good night to my wife, and so forth. Then I find the bathroom farthest away from anyone and barf my brains out. It usually lessens the pain. Then I brush my teeth.

I'm not bulimic, but thanks for the concern. I like eating as much as the next guy, may be a little more, if you know what I mean. But after putting up with this weird little ritual for two-three years, I talked with my wife about my concern. Remember, she's almost a doctor. We looked at diet. Nothing. Stress. Not really. Food allergies. Nope. Years went by. The kids grew up and started to noticed that once in awhile Dad puked.

So when my kids noticed my syndrome, I had had enough of putting up with Fried-Bender and set an appointment with my doctor. He actually went to med school - apparently that provides additional skills that my wife and I did not possess - who knew?

This is where it gets awkward for my audience. The fellas out there know that when you approach 40, anytime you tell your doctor that your digestive system is out of whack, they are gonna check the Exit Door. That scares us (the man-boys). And the chicas? Not a lot of sympathy coming my way, given that doctors prod around their pipes from like 13 years old on up.

But man-boys, we are conditioned. Especially if you are old enough to have seen Fletch. I see anyone put on a Latex glove, I hear strands of Moon River in my head. Every time. School nurse puts on a glove to help a first grader with a bloody nose? Moon River. Watching C.S.I. and that chick that used to be on West Wing puts on a glove to pick-up a shell casing? Moon River.

So, in the days ahead of my appointment, The Voices start in. "You are gonna get probed. You are gonna get probed by a 300 hundred pound man with a goatee. You are gonna get probed by a 300 pound woman woman with a mustache. Something is gonna get stuck in the Exit Door and you're gonna end up in the Emergency Room, ass-n'ked, face down, with the hand of some orderly STUCK in the Badlands." Yeah, The Voices can be cruel.

So, I drive on over to the good doctor's office. I'm controlling The Voices and I really want to figure out this stomach pain thing. Enough already, right? I'm sweating lightly. Tell the doctor about my history and the first thing he says is, "We better check your lower G.I." Okay, I knew it was coming, so I shush The Voices. I'm a bit startled by his use of "we" but I'm good, I'm in control. I knew at least he was not gonna probe me. Come one, after years of med school and a successful practice, anal exam have to be the first thing a good doctor delegates. I'm right, because he says to me, "I'll go get the nurse-practitioner." The Voices scream, "Dead man walking. Here comes the pain. Here comes the humiliation." I begin to pray to God. I never pray, so I know the odds that God is listening to my frequency are not good. But I pray nevertheless. "Small fingers, small finger, small fingers. Blind man, small fingers, blind man, small fingers..."

Things go awry when the door opens. Apparently God hears my prayer but he has a very good sense of humor. Very clever guy, this God. Because into exam room number 5 walks the hottest medical staffer I have ever seen. M.I.L.F. Babe. Fantasy material. Sultry. And she has small hands, really pretty hands. The Voices love this! "A hot chick is gonna see you naked. Don't pop a wood..."

I'm married. I like being married. I have never been naked around another woman since I got married. I belong to my wife in really good ways. I'm old skool. But The Voices, they are bastards. "She's hot. Damn, she's hot. She's gonna like you. She's gonna lay her hands on you and you are gonna be naked. You, my friend, are gonna get seduced in exam room number five." The Voices even dig up some cheesy porn-soundtrack music to play in my head.

So, I'm on my side before I know it. Facing away from Nurse M.I.L.F., thank you GOD. She leans close to me and quietly says into my ear, "This will be easy." Oh, The Voices are going bananas now. "Wha-hoo! Bring it on!" And this one Little Voice I can barely hear says, "She sees all sort of asses everyday. This isn't fun for her. This is her job, dude. She isn't gonna find this awkward. Sure, if she has to stick her finger in someone's ass today, you might not be the worst. But NOTHING is going to HAPPEN." I focus on this one Little Voice.

Glove snaps. Moon River. I'm sweating. Nurse Hottie's hand on my hip. I stop breathing. EXIT DOOR breached. I am definitely not breathing. EXIT DOOR exited. Breathing again.

She leans in again and quietly says, "There you go. That wasn't too bad."

Sister, you have no idea.

I've decided to stick to self-diagnosis. The therapy for Fried-Bender is to lay off eating 5 pounds of french fries for my first and only meal at dinner time, add some fiber, and drink more water. It seems to be working. Maybe I am a doctor.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are you surprised? Really? Come on, really?

...Binghamton, New York


...Wampum, Pennsylvania

That's this month. After the Virginia Tech shootings two years ago -- or Columbine ten years ago -- why does anyone express surprise at the horror of mass shootings or demonstrate shock when some poor 11-year old kid kills his soon-to-be step-mother? It is NOT the horror some people feel when they learn of these tragedies that knocks me for a loop -- Christ, these shootings damn well better horrify us. No, what knocks me out is that people actually seem genuinely surprised, shocked by these shootings. What does it say about me that I'm more surprised to learn there is town named Wampum than someone was shot there?

Shocked? Come on, really? What would shock me, what would surprise me, would be when there are no mass shootings for awhile, no stories of inner city kids getting shot inside their apartments during drug-deals-gone-bad, no kids killing their cousins while playing with dear old dad's loaded Glock 17.

Folks, shock should be reserved for shit that happens that doesn't happen all the time. Little green aliens, shock! Jesus among us again, shock! The Cubs win, the Cubs win...yep, shock. 14 people gunned down trying to learn English? Nope, it's just Friday.

If anyone bothers to read this post, I predict two kinds of responses. First, let's imagine the nice folks who have never been around guns or been victimized during a gun crime or just live in some happy suburban bubble. Those nice folks (...and I'm almost one of 'em) are gonna think I'm a bastard (cold hearted bastard, how could he not be shocked?), because they are darned shocked when they learned about some poor town half away across this country that gets ripped inside out when some quiet, shy neighbor goes loco and kills his ex-wife, her mom, her two kids, and the neighbor who came out on the porch when she heard the gunfire. These nice folks are gonna try to tell me they were shocked when they heard that the shooter's neighbors were shocked that the shooter went loco. Come on, you were NOT shocked. Look in the mirror. Fine, you were horrified, but shocked? Nah, you were horrified, turned off CNN, and took your kid to softball practice.

The second response group? Kind of a muddle, this one. An amalgam. I'll be nice and call them the Patriotic Brotherhood of the Second Amendment. The P.B.S.A. has an eclectic membership. Handful of legit hunters, some military guys (retired, active), toss in some angry white guys (...and I am one of those), couple of RNC members, Wayne LaPierre, and some underemployed 20-somethings; like I said...an amalgam. Odd bedfellows. Whatever. Their response will be rather less monolithic. There might be a "enforce the guns laws" comment or two, perhaps a "right to bear arms" thought shared. Even money that one comment cryptically warns the Federal Government is a threat and we need the guns, and I kinda' expect I'll be called a pussy, although it will be misspelled P-U-S-Y. But all of those comments will miss the mark, friends. I'm not railing against guns, kids. I'm simply saying drop the shocked bit, would ya'?

With all of the guns kicking around, shit, people are gonna get SHOT. Duh. Are people shocked when there is a traffic accident? No. Hurt? Maybe. Scared, sure. Not shocked, though. With all of the millions of cars out there, we all half expect to get run over twice a week on the way to work. No surprise when it happens. But with millions of guns in millions of homes, we are going to keep being shocked when random people get shot by other random people? Stop it. You are not shocked. You might be faking it.

So, let's make a deal. Let's retire 'shock' and 'surprise' in this arena. It's unseemly. We come across as posers. Let's focus on being horrified. I think a lot of us are horrified. Maybe not horrified enough, but I think at least it's real feeling. My only real concern about horrified is that it will soon be meaningless, too.

You see, when my brother was shot and killed by a neighbor, I was 'shocked' and 'surprised' for awhile. I have spent a long time being 'horrified', and truth be told, it's starting to wear off. I think resigned is next.

When The Phone Rings

So, parents of young kids, you know that finding time to "get some" with your loved one is pretty hard. Christ, there were times when our kids were very little that finding time to fool around was like orchestrating a landing on the freakin' Moon. Everything-- everything -- had to go right.

Most days, I played it like this. Saturday, mid-afternoon. "Okay, second child is down for a nap (early in sleep cycle, but not too early), first born child perched in front of Barney (early into video tape, but not too early) -- in the basement, where there will be adequate distance from the raucous love making about to occur on the second floor." Sound barriers, check. Better shoot for noise discipline, so I'm going to ratchet down from 'raucous' to 'gentle' or even just 'awake'.

"Next, find wife." Hope she showered since going to work Friday. Don't hold out hope and I'm desperate anyway.

"Apply moves." Given this phase of life, "moves" translates to a head nod towards upstairs. My wife usually obliges -- she likes me. Some days she even takes off her bright yellow rubber gloves that she was wears when she scrubs the kitchen.

"Perform act." No details available.

So this one particular Saturday, we had won the nooky lottery. Our oldest child had goddamn, honest-to-god midday, four hour play date. Our youngest is practically begging for a nap before our Play Date Mom Heroine has even turned the corner of our street. Yeah, she picked up. So second child is tucked in asleep before the front door swings shut and my wife, anticipating the 'moves' has already gone upstairs to primp. Primp! Holy shit, I'm gonna win. I'm a Red Sox fan and I know suffering. This is like my own personal "1918 - in your face Yankees, four game comeback, World Series win" moment, but with sex. I'm gonna win.

So we are at 'it' quick. It's not art, mind you. But it's good. Fun. We are worriers, so the phone is close by and there is an unspoken agreement. If the Play Date Mom Heroine calls to say our child is miserable, we will pick-up. Begrudgingly.

So we are 45 seconds into what promises to be 270 seconds of the best fun we had had together in months when the phone rings. You saw that coming, of course. My wife actually pauses before she lunges for the phone. She paused before she pounced on the phone, at least. She loves me.

"Hello," she answers. She sounds husky. Pause. Recognition. Pause. "Yeah, he's right here."

My wife hands me the phone. Why me? She can tell Play Date Mom Heroine we'll be right over to pick up crying/puking/skinned knee child, right?

"It's Jane W_ _ _ _ _ _ _," is all she says. Jane is my mom's best friend. What the hell is she calling for. I have a conscious thought that I'm not going to get laid after all. I was going to be Billy Bucknered by a middle-aged lady in Maine, for Christ's sake.

"Hey, Jane," I say into the phone. I feel surreal but I don't know why.

"Peter, it's your mom, honey. She's gone." Jane's voice cracked.

So did I.

Beef sticks anyone?

I'm all out of my dirty little secret, so I head to the Mobile station (a.k.a. drug dealer) down the road from my house to stock up.

I go in and ask the dude behind the counter for three tins. Routine. Except it's three instead of two. Nah, I don't have a problem. He asks to check my I.D. For the fourth time. I'm 41 years old. Sure, I'm too old to chew but, Christ, I'm too old to be carded, right?

Odd thing, but I like convenience counter clerks. They are wacky folks by nature. I try to imagine how the hell they ended up working second or third shift at a Mobil Mart. I wonder if I could hack it. Does it require a degree? But the clerks, they are okay mostly. I'm polite, so maybe that's why they warm up to me. They tell me all sorts of shit. One dude nearby has two thumbs on one hand, this little extra digit that sort of protrudes benignly (hey, it might even be angling for jauntily) from his other -- real? -- thumb. Wicked nice guy, though. Last time I was in, he was trying to pick up this hot chick who was buying lottery tickets or some shit. I admired his pluck, but come on, what are the chances she's gonna hang around the pumps 'til his shift is over?

I digress. So I'm at the Mobil Mart tonight, thinking to myself that getting I.D.'d for chew at 41 is either funny or fucking pathetic, when I notice a plastic box on the counter full of meat. Really. When I first walked in, I was checking to see if there was any Copenhagen, and then I eyeballed the 3-pound Reese Peanut Butter nougat ass expander. I didn't notice -- at first -- the black walled and clear top Lexan box with convenient pull-drawer Meat Stick dispenser. But damn if I didn't start to fixate on that little modern convenience. I mean, who doesn't want a Meat Stick from a Mobil Mart? "Yeah, I'll put $20 on pump 4, two scratch tickets, black coffee and ...whoa! a couple of Meat Sticks." They're two for a freakin' dollar, brother. Get four. Then I notice there are two of these Meat Stick magic boxes on the counter. These little babies must be hot sellers.

And the dude, he looks at me and I look at him. He sort of shyly says, "Yeah, I got here today and they (...right, the THEY people) told me to push the Meat Sticks." No shit? No shit.

Chuckling to myself, I left the Mart and headed back to my truck, thinking we are going to Hell in a Prado knock off. I'm mean, what pathetic -- fat? -- fuck would buy meat from a Mobil Mart counter? And right about when I was feeling sorry for -- and a bit ashamed of -- this nameless, faceless loser, I put my hand in my coat pocket and felt the reassuring presence of my three tins of Copenhagen.