This is what I wrote my first novel on
Being grateful is a test.
A few weeks ago, my wife was sent to get a CT scan. The doctor thought she might have an obstruction in her gastrointestinal tract. She was having nausea and pain.
Turns out her appendix, which is usually the size of your pinkie, was extremely swollen. They sent us to the hospital. The doctor initially thought the measurements were incorrect, her appendix was so engorged. It had to come out. So my wife had the operation. A scary thing, but happens every day, and in a week she was making a good recovery. Then they called us back in. They found ‘neoplasm’ in the appendix. Neoplasm is a no panic word substitute for cancer. She had a rare form of it. That’s why her appendix was swollen. It was full of mucus produced by the cancer cells.
They said it was a low grade cancer, an oxymoron if ever there was one. The good news was that they were 99% certain they had gotten it all. The bad news was the 1% chance they had not. The only way to be certain was to perform a right hemi-colectomy. That’s where they remove the entire right-hand side of your large intestine, along with blood vessels that feed it, and a lot of lymph nodes. Then they staple the large intestine to the small intestine. A much bigger surgery and a much longer recovery time. Also, an increased chance of bad things that can happen. Like the staples not holding and stomach acids leaking into the body. Very bad. Or worse, when they test the lymph nodes they took out, the cancer was present, meaning it was spreading.
Things got a little more emotional before this surgery. You start thinking about things you don’t want to think about. A lot.
She had the surgery and everything went fine. They tested the lymph nodes and it came back negative. And yes, the road to recovery is looking a lot longer. But we were, and are, very grateful. A lot of people aren’t so lucky.
Like so many facing a nasty situation, we prayed and promised and meant it. We’ll change the way we are living. We’ll strive harder. Take time to do the things we never made time to do. We’ll go to church more. Eat right. We won’t sweat the small stuff. And so on. We will, in short, be better at this gift we call life. And like so many other promises, they’re really hard to keep. I was tested, I believe, almost immediately.
After the post-surgery goods news of being cancer free, I took the elevator to the ground floor and headed for the car. The path consisted of a short walk past some tables situated outside of the gift store and food shop. Then right into a hallway that stretched a distance to a large atrium. After the large atrium, there was another hallway and then the stairs to the car. As soon as I got off the elevator, I found myself behind a group of people. I followed them slowly past the tables, lost in thought. We took a right into the hallway. We were creeping, and I was in a hurry for some reason I can’t remember. I look up and realize the procession in front of me is one family. A grandmother pushing someone in a wheelchair, a father, a mother, and two small children. They are moving really, really slow. They are also spreading themselves out so that they can effectively take up almost the entire hallway. The mother looks back and sees me behind them. She turns back around and does nothing. Nothing. In fact, she lets the smallest girl veer off far to their left. The girl is walking, head down, playing a tile game of some sort inside her head. It would have been cute in other circumstances, but now they are taking up the entire hallway. And when two people in oncoming traffic have to swerve to miss the small girl, the mother does nothing again. We are still not to the end of the hallway. I’m getting irritated.
Then, we finally reach the atrium. I move to the right and immediately speed up, taking long strides to pass. The atrium is about fifty feet across. Big. But about half way across, I realize I’m not going to make it. You see, now that they have hit a wide open space where people can get around them, grandma is doing everything but jogging behind the person in the wheelchair. Much like the same type of people do on wavy county roads. They drive a cautious 45 during the curvy parts where you can’t pass. But when they hit those open spots where passing is allowed, they’re in a fucking dragster. So I realize that I’m not going to make it and I slow down. I’m also aware that I’m racing a grandmother pushing a wheelchair in a hospital. I see how ridiculous, in a matter of seconds, the whole thing has become. I ease off the accelerator and relinquish the road to indifferent mother and grandma juggernaut.
But she spots me from the corner of her eye at the last second and looks back. She slows down slightly and says, “Oh, sorry. Did you want to get by?”
I smile, say no, and head straight for a bench in the atrium. I sit down, stare at nothing, and count my blessings. I ending up doing good. And kept that up for a couple of days even though, as we all know, when it rains it pours.
In no particular order, here are some things that have happened within a week of the surgery.
A fender bender. Although the fender wasn’t bent. I was heading across two lanes of traffic to a small median. I scoot across and am waiting for a car to pass. The car pulls past me and into the median to my left, heading across the two lanes of traffic I just crossed. It’s clear now, so I start to move forward, but notice that the guy who was moving to my left is no longer moving. I punch the brakes. I’m right next to the rear of his car. And although my bumper slid over his, leaving a long paint stroke of maroon, and even though my tire was resting on the very backside of his bumper as we both stopped, I had to lean out of my window and ask him if I got him. I wasn’t sure we had actually hit. We did.
He gets out and his first words are Oh, great. Thanks a lot.
He immediately has his panties in a wad. I say that everybody’s okay and this stuff happens.
Yeah, but this same thing happened not a year ago. Guy demolished my bumper. Tried to get me to not call insurance. You do have insurance, don’t you? Accusingly.
Yes, I do I say calmly. Do you want to look at it and see if you think we can buff it out?
It’s not on me to see if I can fix it.
Okay, I’m dealing with a whiny prick.
He continues on and for some reason suddenly states, like it’s a threat and not something you would normally do anyway, that if need be we can just call the police.
Okay, call them. And why would you not get a police report? He continues to stew and wait for the police, but now he is impatient, as if he wasn’t aware that calling the police would mean he would have to wait until they got there. He asked me, because the median is small, if we should move the cars. I say no, because you aren’t supposed to. I’ve already got my flashers on. I’ve already taken pictures of the paint stroke and two, centimeter chips on his pristine bumper. He goes over and stares at it for the fifth or sixth time and actually says it just gets uglier every time I look at it. Seriously, dude. I’m looking at him and thinking the same thing.
The cops arrive and without going into detail here, the funniest thing was his demeanor. He was already in a courtroom somewhere in his sassy little mind, and was talking and behaving as such. The cops take our information and, after the guy’s calmed his nerves a little, I tell him that he can handle this anyway he wants, but that it would only take about $150 to fix it and never know it was there. If they didn’t try to rip us off, I would hand him the cash and we wouldn’t be looking at a possible rate increase. He obviously didn’t have much experience with cars and explained that they charged him $1,200 last time to replace his bumper. Okay, like I said, however you want to handle it.
He had asked to exchange insurance info earlier, right after his assumption that I didn’t have insurance, and I had not immediately given it to him then. I was outwardly calm, but inwardly pissed at his whole demeanor. After the cops left, I gave him my contact and insurance info. I ask him if he wanted to write his down for me.
Why would you need mine? He asked through narrowed eyes.
Even though he had offered to exchange the info earlier. I put my hands up. You’re an idiot, dude. Whatever. I smiled as best I could and told him I was sorry for the trouble. He finally asks me again where the paint shop was I was talking about. Then he tells me it might be a few weeks before he can get around to it. Makes sense. A guy who is so bent out of shape over a bumper scrape that he was about to wet himself in public, and seems to think of the paint as a symbol of shame and embarrassment, who seemed to have an out of body experience at the thought of someone violating his prelude, is sure to not make it a point to cover up a blemish on his ego.
I handled this one good, too. Inside I was thinking are you fucking serious, dude. This isn’t even on my radar. This doesn’t matter. You sure as hell don’t matter. And I have my wife. The big picture is good, and you’re not even in it.
I signed on as a contractor through a company that had me working for another company. The recruiter was nice and the people at the company were nice to work with. But a while back I was approached by another contractor working there. They had given him a four day notice. Wow. Okay. I start asking my recruiter to find out a hard date for my end of contract. It hadn’t been agreed on beforehand, it was just agreed to last three or four months. But now I could feel the end was near. I have a family to support and a need to know when the end is coming. I don’t need it sneaking up on me like it did for this fellow. My recruiter couldn’t get an answer from them.
A couple of weeks later, I got a congratulation from the recruiter. They had extended my contract. They were happy with my work. Which was awesome, except that I realized my contract, as far as their records were concerned, had come to an end without me knowing it. Yes, they extended it, but they could have just as easily not extended it, and I would have been taken by surprise like the last guy. I continued on for a couple of more months and then another contractor was gone with a one day notice. I start asking again for a hard completion date. They say they are checking on the budget for next year. It’s a month before Christmas. I’m thinking they might ask me on or at least wait until next year. Nope. Unlike the other guys, I did get a two week warning. And when I asked to extend that for a day to get some vision benefits, they did that with no problem. But there really couldn’t be a more horrible time for my job to end than with my wife less than a week out of surgery and a month before Christmas.
And what about tax time? That’s always been a net of sorts in January. But thanks to me not being able to afford a $650 a month payment on both of our student loans, the government, as of last year, began taking out taxes to pay it back. So there’s a $3,000 yearly net gone. Kids, don’t ever take a student loan unless you’re forced to, and even then only take what will get you barely by.
A girl attacked my daughter at school for no reason. Really, she did.
An uncle died from a type of colon cancer. This was before my wife’s second surgery. So we had that very real possibility of an outcome looming in our peripheral.
One of our vehicles is sounding like it may be on its last leg.
The other one needs a part that’s close to $200. We can’t drive it until we get it.
The car that needs the part was hit by a Jeep. This time it was someone else’s fault. My quarter panel was dented in. But no, I didn’t react like that pecker-wad did when I clipped him. I had my son turn the wheel to make sure the wheel didn’t scrape anything and then we went our separate ways. No drama.
My son’s new thyroid medicine was making his problem worse. Both my wife and son have changed their medications as a result.
We have no health insurance.
During and after my wife’s second surgery, I missed three days of work. So, one of my last paychecks I just got was a fifth of what it would have been.
My mom was checked into a hospital back home for what they told her was a heart attack. Then they weren’t sure. Then they kept her in there for three days. Then they sent her home, unsure of her status.
I’m in such a state of mental fuckedupedness, that when my recruiter gets me an opportunity with a good company, where I can again work from home in my pajamas, keep us afloat, and save us from homelessness, I manage to fuck it up. How?
I hate tech tests. I’m a web developer. And a lot of companies buy into these ridonculous online testing where they ask you silly hard questions or a bunch of irrelevant questions that don’t pertain to your niche. I always, always, do horrible on these tests. I actually got hired based on some of these tests once, but I still hate them. And since I always fail them, I got to the point where I would just tell the recruiters ‘No.’ I don’t take tests. You can get hired without taking tests. There’s no need for me to do something that’s just going to make me feel like less of a developer and not get the job. So I stopped. And this recruiter tells me there is a test.
I panic. I have no choice but to take the damn thing. And so I procrastinate, and wait until late at night and I’m tired, and then I take it. And what do you know? It’s a decent test. No crazy questions you have to know both physics and calculus to figure out. No trickery. Just real-world questions. Except for one. And it triggered something in my head. It opened the flood gates of negative emotions tied to these tests.
The question was what’s the difference between an Interface and an Abstract class? I had researched this question before for these same types of tests, back when I took them. Abstracts are more functionality and interfaces are more how to. There are five or six more technical differences, most subtle. I couldn’t remember them. I got flummoxed. Irritated. I was tired. Saw myself failing. Could see a picture of some nit-picking, test designing know-it-all laughing at my lack of understanding. Feel free to dive deeper into my childlike psychology if you’re a glutton for meaningless emotional reactions, madness, or depression. And since at my very center I’m a sarcastic comedian and writer, I referenced Andrew Dice Clay. That’s it. You read correctly. On a test that could decide the quality of life and welfare for my family in the months to come, I made a reference to the man who is the reason you can’t remember how the Little Miss Muffet rhyme actually ends.
Dice once told a joke about a math teacher who asked him What’s the difference between 9 and 2? His answer was Yeah, what’s the fucking difference?
This was my exact feeling at the moment. Yeah, what’s the fucking difference? And so I wrote something to the effect of wondering how the Dice Man would answer that. A few questions later, there were a couple of questions that referenced an earlier question. One that at first, because of the insanity I had succumbed to, I couldn’t remember. And I thought, you know, if I had short term memory loss I wouldn’t be able to get these questions. So I mentioned that in my answer. I was on a roll. Never mind that a person with short term memory loss wouldn’t be taking a goddamn software test. Never mind the fact of how important this is. Never mind that everything that’s snowballing down the steep incline of dread and helplessness could be stopped in its tracks with one good grade and a follow-up interview. Never mind all that shit. What’s important right now is for me to lash out mentally like a five year old idiot whose time for bed is past. To have an online mini-tantrum. To throw a giant fucking wrench in the middle of all those Life gears and see what happens.
And so I did. As soon as I hit submit, I immediately regretted it. But that was it. Everything that was hope flushed down the toilet in a few keystrokes. And I’ll get that call from the recruiter. I know I will. Um, yea . . . They, uh, decided to pass for now on moving forward. And that will be the floater. The one piece that wouldn’t flush. Come back to stare me in the face.
So you may wonder why in the world I would even confess to something so amazingly stupid. Why not just keep my mouth shut and never tell anyone. Hey, I just failed another test like I always do. No big deal. And the only people who would know would be the recruiter and the few people who grade the test, who print it out and pass it around the office maybe. Reference it as a joke in meetings and such. Well, here’s why.
I’m a writer goddammit.
So you’re a writer. So what? That means that you have to be a crazy person? All the writers who are reading this, by the way, just answered that question silently, to themselves. It’s kind of a prerequisite. But I’m not just another crazy author with otherworldly idiosyncrasies and questionable predilections. The problem is that I’m writing software and not bestsellers.
You see, some people know when they’re 10 what they want to do with their lives. Like four or five people. Then there are some folks who know when they enter college what they want to do, or have some sort of idea. That’s a good bit more. Then there are the people who, even after four years of college, with degree in hand, still have no idea what they want to do with their lives. I believe this is the majority. But I knew at an early age that I was a writer. I started my first novel before I was out of high school. So my parents, recognizing my interest in writing, put me in architecture school. Of course.
We made paint. We made paper airplanes. Drew walls with bricks. Drew plants. Camped out in freezing weather in cardboard projects. After 3 ½ years, they decided I couldn’t paint good enough and stopped letting my parents give them money. I didn’t even know they could do this. But they did. I was out. I moved to electrical engineering. I hated it. I told my parents I needed a break. I had spent those years in a 12 x 16 efficiency apartment with a fluorescent light above a twin bed. They said no, I had to keep going. So I stopped going to classes. I knew they were important. Knew if I didn’t go, that I would fail. My grades would drop. But I would wake up in the morning and not be able to convince myself that getting out of bed was worth it. I should have withdrawn, but didn’t know any better, so I zeroed out 13 hours’ worth of classes. Drug my GPA down to a 2.98.
Then I spent over a decade climbing up the management chains. I was a manager at a rental company. I figured out, after 13 years, that the title of Regional Manager wasn’t the Promised Land. It was a way to make sure you worked 70 hour weeks and stayed on the road. So I went back to college. Now you could point the finger at me. I went into computer science, and not journalism, like I should have. But I had a family by that time, and knew I’d have to take care of them somehow. I had, by this time, turned into a dad myself. And so like my father, I just picked something that I knew was around to stay and made good money. So twice I took the wrong path. It seems that Father Knows Best isn’t always true. We fathers tend to worry too much, and not always for the right reasons.
The problem with taking the wrong paths in life is that those paths are like the branches of a tree. Here’s a horribly long metaphor.
When you start out, there is no tree. Just a big playground with lots of toys and no worries mate. No path. Just time. Then you graduate high school and you suddenly notice there’s this huge, nasty Oak that’s planted right in the middle of your playground. You try to climb it and realize that the trunk is as big around as the merry-go-round, so climbing it looks almost impossible. The nearest branch is 30 or 40 feet above you. You know there are people up there. You can see them swinging from the branches. But you have no fucking idea how they made it up there. It looks like magic.
You start climbing it anyway. You have no choice. Besides, everyone else is doing it. When you get a couple of feet off the ground, someone walks up behind you and kicks you in the balls really hard. You fall to the ground and begin crying. You look around for some help or sympathy. But there is none. A guy does walk up to you though, with a knowing smirk on his face and says, “Friend, That’s Life.” Then he walks off. And now, at least you know the tree’s name. Life. And you also know that not everybody who says they’re a friend actually is.
It takes a long time to climb the tree and reach that first branch. And when you get to that first fork in the tree, a nice person greets you and gives you a piece of paper. The paper states that you have climbed the tree to the first branch. Then the person who greets you leans forward, smiles, and shoves you backward. You hit the ground, the breath knocked out of you. At least they stayed away from your balls this time. Now there is a makeshift wooden ladder nailed to the tree. You see that you can climb to the first branch anytime you want. As you look around, you also notice that you’re on the same playground you’ve been on all along. Nothing has changed. Except now, you have a piece of paper in your hand. When you look at it, you want to smile, but can’t. Because now, the people who dropped money freely from the trees, the ones who made it so you could go to college without taking 10 years to do it making $10/hr, those guys want their money back.
After climbing back up to the first branch, and after yelling at the branches above for weeks on end, someone lets down a rope for you and you climb slowly up that rope to another branch. You’re making money now. More than you ever made in your whole life, just like you knew you would. But now you realize that the cost of living in this tree is extremely high, and there’s always people around, at least one on every branch it seems, that would like to throw you and your whole family off the tree. As a few years pass, you realize that the branch you are on is weak, and that the same people who let the rope down have chainsaws. And they sometimes trim whole sections of a tree away before they’re finished with their morning coffee. The amount of warning you get is the sound of the chainsaw cranking. Not very much. But you climb and climb and climb. And you see after a while that you’ll never be able to pay the people back that were throwing money at you freely. You see that just existing in this tree is nearly impossible.
You’re a good climber. But you’re tired of falling out of the tree, with your whole family in tow, at the smallest fluctuation in wind currents. You look at a branch you saw long ago. One you really wanted to climb on, but never did. Now you can think of nothing but getting to it. You know that it is your only shot at happiness. But it costs money and time to climb it. You have neither. And when you climb down to the first branch to try and get on your happy branch, there is always a representative from the Department of Everlasting Bills and Trouble standing there. These people follow an evil entity called Policy, a deity that robs its believers of the ability to reason or use logic, and implores them to feed off of your desperation.
You climb back to the end of your branch. It’s cold out. All the leaves are gone. Your family huddles around for warmth. You hear a chainsaw cranking. In a few moments, you will all fall to the ground again. And when you do, you will march right back to the same fucking branch you’ve been climbing forever. Because that’s the only branch you’re allowed to climb. And you’ll stare up into the cold, dark recesses of the branches. And you’ll hear a faint, but repetitive voice asking you questions that might get you back to a branch, one that looks exactly like the dreary one that was sawed out from under you a few days before. The questions will all seem reasonable enough. Except for one.
And you won’t know the answer. You won’t even really give a shit what the answer is at this point. But you’ll know that there are people out there who could answer the shit out of that question and then stand there, proud and glowing, on their pedestal of Giving a Shit. And you’ll know that they are there because they love this branch. And you’ll know that you’ll never be there, at the top of this particular branch, because you’ve grown to despise the branch. Not because you really hate it, but because the one path you should have taken two decades ago is lost forever. And you know that branch is the only one you could reach the top of. And because a total loss of hope is always overwhelming, you scream back up into the tree.
“YEAH! WHAT’S THE FUCKING DIFFERENCE?”
I was talking with my daughter the other day and farts came up. Not literally, just the subject. And she mentioned a term that we’ve all heard and used – Silent But Deadly. I thought for a second and asked, “Why is it but ?”
But is a conjunction, used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned. So by using the expression silent but deadly, you’re inferring that the first word – silent – is in contrast with the last word – deadly. That although the fart is silent, it is also deadly. That the fart is silent, however it is still deadly. Logically, it is an assumption of a primary expectation that somehow silent farts are, by definition, implicitly docile. That a noiseless, cheeky tune observed only by canines cannot stimulate the olfactories. That if a blind man three blocks away doesn’t think a death metal song just erupted, there’s no danger. That silent exhalations are not inherently deadly. Is this true?
Come now. Think about it for a minute. You’ve whiffed many an air biscuit in your day. Don’t say you haven’t. I know you have, because I know human nature. What’s the first thing you do when you think that someone has produced farticles? You sniff, gently. Oh, you can make a show for everybody about how disgusted you are, and how nasty the whole affair is, but in the end (no pun intended), you take a whiff. Why? Because we have to know. We can’t stand not knowing. Did they fart? Are they just craving attention? And if they did, just how bad was it? Is it evacuate the room, or shelter in place? Did they just create a new bacterium, or faking the nether belch for show? So tally them up. The noiseless and the jet engines in the ponds. Which was the worst bratwurst bugle? I say it’s a close call. But not on a whim. I have a fartpothesis.
If you think about the psychology behind the moment itself, it’s very telling. When someone delivers a message from the Interior in such a manner that suggest they were attempting to lacerate the person’s leg behind them and incinerate everything within five square yards, it’s a decisive measure. This person’s exuberance is a forthright exclamation. I am ripe. Hear me roar. They want you to grimace, take cover, and wave your hands like you’re being attacked by African Killer Bees. They are proud. They claim it with pride. Perhaps they wish for an award of some type. And although they have given you warning, it can certainly be deadly. Perhaps this is even more psychologically harmful, as it fills victims with increasing anticipation and dread.
Then there are the silent ones. And perhaps we should examine exactly why it’s silent in the first place. Was it born this way? Or did the perpetrator design the effluviate with no ripple on purpose? Was it a shameful display of stealth, perhaps? Anonymity in the elevator? A nameless execution in the name of unbearable pressure and stigma? Or was there something darker and more sinister at work? We’ve all been there. That moment when you get ready to let one and the viscosity alarm goes Defcon 4. You tighten. You’re adrenaline kicks in. Eyes dilate and calculations are made that are not part of one’s daily, mathematical routine. How many feet to the bathroom? What are the odds I can pull this off without complications? Where is my closest pair of backup underwear? When was the last time this happened? Is there a horrible pattern developing here? And so, depending on these calculations, you begin a delicate procedure of anal osmosis, ever watchful of something trying to slip through unannounced. It is a time for uninterrupted concentration. You are skillful and desperate. You are . . . silent.
When all is done, you may be as proud as the next guy, but you don’t flaunt this win. It was too close. You are happy to count your blessings and be done with it. And this is why a silent one might be considered a little more deadly. It was more likely that it had help on the way out, it’s solid neighbors chipping in as it passed through the hot gates and entropy took its hold. So is a silent one always deadly? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably more often than not, though. And for that reason I say that the phrase silent but deadly holds no weight. It should be silent and deadly. We should give the silent ones their due, and stop letting a cliché expression continue on its illogical course without question or contemplation.
There’s a particular type of sinking feeling you get when your Kickstarter project is 2/3 complete and underfunded. You don’t want to give up. Can’t, really. But you can see the water spilling over the bow as the women and children fill the lifeboats. It’s looking like I’m going to be on the not so wonderful side of that fully-funded statistic. Here is a snapshot of my sadness.
See that plateau? That’s a horrible plateau. If it was a pool of water, you would not want to drink from its stagnant waters. If it was a ship headed to the New World, there would be a mutiny, the captain looking over the edge of his last diving board. If it was a rabbit, it would be a shaved rabbit, with the mange and a Scotty-Don’t haircut, no front teeth, spray-painted yellow and orange by vandals, curled up under a sopping wet newspaper inside a garbage can, slowly gnawing off one of its own front legs. You get the picture.
In one of my last posts, I laid out a few things I had done wrong concerning the project. But it’s too late to fix most of them. So I am going to go post crazy and stoop to the lowest form of selfish, spamtastic, advertising. A slutty form of SEO and guerilla-anti-reverse-subliminal-prodding. I’m not sure what else to do really. I’ve thought of publicity stunts. Like a bomb scare on The Bachelor. No good. I’ve thought of using phrases like California Earthquake gives rise to giant spiders. Don’t panic, I would never stoop that low. I want to shoot this to you straight, like Brandon Knight, and not irritate you like a sprained ankle. Nor would I capitalize on Prom fashion or Mother’s day this year. That would be petty. I just want to do something that cool like Justin Timberlake SNL Saturday Night Live. I want to be like Oz The Great and Powerful and do something beautiful like Danielle Fishel. Nor will I even mention North Korean nuclear threats imminent for fear of giving people a hangover 3 about the whole thing.
And I surely won’t filibuster you like Rand Paul or Google Trend you to death with statistics.
I’ll just say that you should go to Kickstarter immediately and pledge at least $20 to the Sorry, Charlie project. And that’s all I’ll say. Here is the link.
The Pope. The Pope. The Pope. The Pope. The Pope. The Pope. The Pope.
A cool wind brushes my face today and I realize, with a surreal clarity, that today is the first day of Autumn. Maybe that’s not what the calender says, but I know this breeze is the first of its kind this year. A refreshing harbinger of seasonal change and nature’s yearly metamorphosis, the wave of air nudges me slightly, inviting me to be a part of a cycle that has run its course for millions of years.
I close my eyes for a moment and a nostalgia-undefined bathes me in a memory that, though it swallows me whole and I float momentarily in its comfortable bliss, does not lend itself wholly to me but rather reaches out to slight me with its dreamlike tendrils and then fades completely, leaving behind only a whisper of pleasant recollections lost to time.
The swath of wind continues its path around me like a gelatinous parcel of time, plucked from Mother Nature herself just for me, and reforms itself behind me as it mingles with its airy brethren to continue on a never-ending journey.
Though my eyes are closed, I can see. I can see the crimson, water-colored maples sliced in half by the power lines next to our house. The acrylic yellow oaks placed carefully at intervals by a hand more knowing than our own, intermittently scattered to balance a picturesque landscape weighted heavily with evergreens who appear oblivious to Autumn’s protocol. The dry crunch underfoot as small feet wade through ankle high leaves on their way to all the neighbor’s houses with sweet expectations. The blur of color through the backseat car window, the bright canopies mixing together like a spinning color wheel. The orange peel horizon bleeding to a dark red, and then purple, matching the freshly painted forest, tree tops outlining a jagged graph of nature herself as the colored leaves and woods meld into one giant, charcoal landscape, as if the Universe itself had punctured the atmosphere and leaked its heavenly ink down on our world, all the while filtering the stars and keeping them above, something to focus on when the world turns dark. The glassy, upside down reflection of ocher and scarlet leaves on a clam, early morning lake, still sleeping under a blanket of mist, yet to stir.
I have stood in place, feet planted firmly like a statue, and traveled through the mountains of my hometown, the forests of my past, the streets of my childhood on Halloween, the wayside tapestries of youthful road trips, and the colorful horizons of lakes and rivers.
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Carlee and Gavin had been fighting for ten straight minutes. Where to eat, who had to sit in what seat in the back, who was taking a shower first when we got home, who called who a butthole – you name it and they were fighting about it. My wife Melissa had not taken her medicine today, left it back at the house this morning, and it was showing. The definition of malcontent. She was staring out the side window, her mind in some other place far from here.
I told them to please hush for the fifteenth time and then threatened to ground them both when Carlee hit Gavin and he called her the B word. Melissa was ignoring the whole thing, me included when I nudged her on the leg to get her to help. When she finally did swing around, it was to ask what they were fighting about. She hadn’t even been listening and now they both launched into simultaneous tirades concerning the last fifteen minutes of arguments.
I was getting a headache and my back was tensing up. I asked Melissa for four Ibuprofen and she was too busy ignoring the kids’ heated and unruly answers to pay attention to me.
“Jesus Dad, I’m freakin’ starvin’,” Carlee whined.
“Yeah, food would be nice right about now,” Gavin agreed. Then went back to texting.
But they had both agreed and that was like the planets aligning during an eclipse. That’s when I saw the Chinese restaurant down the street behind Kellerton Mills. As far as I could remember, that old place had been abandoned since I was a kid. It had been an ice cream shop, the kind that would slop a big gob of ice cream right in your Coca-Cola. I made a U-turn and headed back. It held a nostalgic attraction.
Nobody was paying attention as we drove up, but when Melissa looked up and saw the brightly colored green and yellow neon sign, she looked around like she was lost, crinkled her brow, and said, “Yea. Chinese.”
The name of the place was New China. We got out and noticed a green VW was the only other car in the small parking lot. It had flowers painted on the side. It made me smile until Gavin slugged his sister in the arm, a little harder than necessary, and claimed, “Punch bug, can’t punch back!” Carlee chased him through the doors, cussing him every step of the way. Melissa rolled her eyes and jerked the door open like she was a hostage.
“I want the pot-stickers and the lobster seafood stuff,” Gavin demanded.
“If he gets that, then I want the cream cheese thingys and the shrimp platter,” Carlee grumbled.
“I’m not eating here,” my wife said, finding another window to stare through while we were here.
I noticed that the Chinese lady at the counter had been watching us all very close ever since we entered. She didn’t seem annoyed, just mildly curious with a poker face of sorts.
“Um, hi,” I offered with a smile. She smiled back. The first smile I had received back that day if I remember correctly. “I’ll have the Lobster, number 8 there, and some wantons and… um, the shrimp platter, number 4 that is, and um… let’s see… how about some Kung Pao chicken, and then a Dr. Pepper, sweet tea, and a Coke with no ice. Thanks.”
She smiled back but did not make a move to record my order. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, perhaps only on my side, and then she looked over at my table. Carlee kicking Gavin underneath the table and Gavin threatening her with bodily harm. Melissa was parking lot catatonic.
“Happy family,” said the Chinese lady with a slight smile.
“Oh, uh, well,” I fumbled. Was she making fun? “We have our days, you know.” I tried to smile.
“No. You try Happy Family.” She pointed above her head without looking up. “Number 11. You lucky number today.”
“Oh, gosh no. Trying to the keep the kids, you know, happy,” I said. I was gesticulating now and for some reason felt like I was apologizing, why I don’t know.
“You like Happy Family,” she stated plainly.
I was tired. “Really… just the original order’s good, I think.”
“You like Happy Family. If you don’t like Happy Family, you no charge.”
I just didn’t feel like arguing any more and this lady wasn’t understanding at all. I could have walked out and told her never mind, but that would have led to even more ruckus in the car.
I shook my head in resignation. “You know what? Sounds fine. Let’s try it.”
“Good man make wise choice,” she said. Then she broke into a smile wider than I’ve ever seen. Her teeth were perfect and white and her eyes seemed, now that I was closer to the counter, dilated like she had been to the eye doctor. I had a very strange sensation on the back of my neck, like I had just walked through a spider web backwards. I reached for my wallet and it wasn’t in my front pocket.
“Sorry. I left my wallet in the car. Be right back.”
I went to the car to retrieve my wallet, noticing on my way out a small women coming out of the bathroom. She smiled at me as she walked to the counter to get her food. My second smile of the day. Upon reentering the restaurant, I noticed that there were other people in there I hadn’t seen before. My table was empty. As I handed the Chinese lady my credit card, I turned to watch two Oriental children quietly doing their homework at a nearby table. My crew must be in the bathrooms, I thought.
There was a very attractive Asian lady picking up some napkins from the front. Must be their mother. As she turned to me, I noticed just how amazingly gorgeous she was.
“Duck sauce, babe,” she asked? She smiled. Smile number three. And a little mischievously I might add.
“Come again?” I said.
The Chinese lady at the counter caught my attention and said, “Sign here please.”
I was still looking at the beautiful Asian woman who had obviously misspoke when I grabbed the pen.
“Oww!” I meant to holler, but felt like I was at the bottom of a dream well. My ‘Oww’ came out softly and without conviction. I looked down at the receipt. It was such an odd looking receipt, this receipt that the blood from my finger was oozing down on. How clumsy of the lady to hand me such a sharp pen. I signed my name with quite the flourish. It was unlike me to do so, but it felt good just the same. I was feeling giddy.
“Duck sauce is good, honey,” I told my smiling wife. I grabbed our meal from the nice lady and my children, Yang and Wei, started helping each other get their books together. I smiled back at the most gracious Chinese lady as a cook pushed through the swinging doors that revealed the kitchen. As I glanced into the kitchen, it for some reason reminded me of a glorious painting by Hieronymus Bosch.
As my Happy Family and I left New China, I smiled at the VW lady who for some reason did not look to be enjoying her Pu Pu Platter.
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I was recently swimming through waves of Internet pages, searching for things that measure minuscule energy fluctuations. I think I’m going to replicate some of Dr. Duncan MacDougall’s experiments, but that’s another story. On that note, does anyone have any small animals that are not doing well?
Anyway, I come across this New Age site that offers EMF detectors. You know, the ones the ghost hunters wave around near electrical outlets in old houses before going, “Hey, did you hear that?” And I notice a huge selection of links. Light therapy, detoxification, biofeedback, stuff like that.
They have a listing for a sleep pillow. Hmm, I already have one of those. I suppose with specialization, niche markets, and granular economic taxonomies at work, people now have separate pillows for each quantified function. A fighting pillow. A smother-your-mother-in-law pillow. A dog-humping pillow (our lab has sent more than one of our pillows to the washing machine). At any rate, I have that covered.
There’s a listing for relaxing with CD’s. I’ve got my Manson, Lennon, and Hugo Rock.
There’s a listing for Awakening Through Sound. It’s $69.95. My alarm clock cost 7 bucks. And it has a snooze button.
There’s a Self-Hypnosis Home Study course. I think I’ve already ordered and taken this. I’m not sure, though. I’ll just buy another one to make sure.
There’s a Space Sounds 10 CD Set. This is when I get really suspicious. I’ve never really figured out the whole tree in the forest thing, but I know from high school that there are no sounds in space. Nice try. My momma didn’t raise no fool. And I’m an only child. I mean, just in case you were thinking she might have raised another fool, like I had brothers and sisters or something. What I’m saying is it doesn’t matter to me. Six and a half one way, a dozen the other.
There’s a stress thermometer. I wasn’t aware that my temperature fluctuated when I stress. I guess this makes sense. When I have a temperature of 103, I’m pretty stressed. And they have a Biofeedback Stress Eraser. So . . . I could hook this up to the stress thermometer and voila, I’ve just cured pneumonia.
There’s a white noise machine which sounds like 500 librarians telling you to hush, all at once. I can just record 500 librarians doing this myself. I just have to get 500 – wait – ahh, the genius of it. They’ve done all the work there. Touché.
They have a Healing at the Speed of Sound book. Sound travels at 1,126 fps. That means that if I get a two inch cut on my forearm, I will heal in D = RT or T = D/R . . . so, T = 2/12 / 1,126, = 1/6756 = .00014 seconds. That’s quicker than Wolverine. Hell yeah.
There’s a New History Generator CD, which I guess, as you’re playing it, is by default creating new history. An event horizon for forward moving reality. These guys are probably physicists.
Then, under Behavior Modification, they have a listing for a Happy for no Reason Paraliminal CD. Again, I’m no expert on cause and effect, but if you listen to the CD and then become happy, isn’t the CD the reason for your happiness? The only way to effectively market this product would therefore be to not sell it, and see if it still worked. And there’s that word I don’t understand. Paraliminal. So I looked it up on WordWeb. And the Wiktionary. And Wikipedia. And WordWeb online. And Google. Turns out there are no definitions. Because it’s a made-up word. Like flinginburl. Or scrudulous. I did find another site that explained it. Para means beyond, and they give use paraliminal instead of me that nasty blow word a subliminal job. The sub means below. So one is below the threshold of consciousness and the other is beyond the threshold of consciousness. See the difference? So instead of learning Spanish while you sleep, Paraliminal is based on two, separate voices talking into each ear, one spouting logical things and the other saying creative things. Listen to poetry in one ear and learn sin and cosine in the other. Completely scrudulous, if you ask me. I can just visit someone’s grandparents. Problem solved.
They also state that “You may be pleased to know that there are no subliminal messages on Paraliminal recordings.” They also state that “You may be pleased to know that there are no subliminal messages on Paraliminal recordings.” They also state that “You may be pleased to know that there are no subliminal messages on Paraliminal recordings.”
They also sell EMF protection devices. I imagine this thing would have warned me before I tried to dig out that piece of torn bread from the toaster with a butter knife. That would have definitely been worth the $119.
They have a bottle of pills called Brain Lightening. I would assume you don’t want to give this to an epileptic.
I’m not really sure what I’m going to buy. I’ll let you know.