Thursday, May 31, 2007

I Am Dead

I am dead. I died. Who knew it would happen this early? There was a report on the news recently about the West Nile Virus. Last year in the Chicago Metropolitan Area there were one hundred and fifty cases of West Nile Virus reported, of which only ten people died. I thought my chances of not being killed by it were pretty good. I went to bed feeling safe. The next day, I was trampled to death by an ostrich who was delivering day old newspapers.

So, I am writing to you from the afterlife, which is a misnomer. It is not really an afterlife. It is more of a continued existence, as if I had gone somewhere on a bus, never came back and never bothered to write. Except, that I am writing. I’m not sure how I have the ability to do this, but I do. I’m new here, so I’m not sure what is going on, yet. “Here” is another misnomer. Words like “here, there, that, vicinity, parallax, ramrod, etc.” don’t have any meaning here (for lack of a better word – remember, I’m new).

I would like to tell you everything about this “place”, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. It’s better that you don’t know. Trust me. But, I will tell you this – the longer you wait to get here, the better. I kind of screwed myself for letting that ostrich get the better of me. I’ll be alright – I have some catching up to do. That’s all I can say about that, Forrest Gump.

Nobody has told me the meaning of life or anything like that, but I do have a better perspective of life on Earth. Things that happen there make sense. A lot of those things suck, like war and disasters and boy band music, but they fit the vibe of planetary life. So do the good things. Planetary life. It seems like such an odd concept now. I don’t know how you people do it. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I’m glad I went through it (not that I had a choice) – kind of like owning a pig and then selling it after a year to get new brakes for the truck. It is true that things do happen for a reason on Earth (and on other planets), and it’s all for the same reason, which has nothing to do with any of our lives. So quit thinking you are so gosh durned important.

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to write a sermon. Speaking of which, none of the religions or philosophies or speculators or comet suiciders have it correct. Sure, being good to each other is a nice idea and will make your lives better if everybody did it, but it’s not necessary. As for worshiping, your time would be better spent licking paint to make it wet and then watching it dry. In fact, beings here watch worshipers as they would watch sit-coms on Earth. They are actually quite farcical.

Science hasn’t figured it out, yet, either. They (the smart people) may be able to figure it out once they start moving around the Universe. Listen to me, Mr. High and Mighty, like I know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t, really. Remember, I’m new here. And, I get the feeling nobody likes me. It’s so hard to make friends when I don’t know how to communicate or move or eat or sleep or if I’m even supposed to be able to do any of those things. I’m not sure how sleeping or eating would help me make friends. They didn’t give me a manual when I emerged – not that I would read it, or whatever you would do to it to internalize its information. I hope they have bars here.

They’re telling me it’s time for srkimarl fosz cobobobunmnus cobobus il, so I gotta go. I don’t even know who “they” are or even how I know they are telling me this. It’s very confusing here, yet soothing. I don’t see any ostriches so I feel safe.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Real Men of Genius

Two years ago at work they made me switch from my trusty PC to a brand spankin’ new Mac PowerBook G4. Sure, it would make me look way cooler when I whipped it out at the local coffeehouse (and by “it” I mean the Mac (and by “Mac” I mean the PowerBook)), but I don’t frequent any coffeehouses. Furthermore, I had become technically proficient over the years on a PC and would now have to figure out all the nuances of a Mac. (And by technically proficient I mean I know how to eliminate any traces of porn.) I could also knock out a spreadsheet at work in the blink of an eye, but after switching to the Mac the same spreadsheet seemed to take as long as a game of Monopoly at a narcolepsy convention. I do bill my time directly to clients, so maybe it was just a way for the firm to increase revenues. Eventually, with some help from our friendly, hip, college-aged interns, I figured out how to use all the new cryptic keys on my machine as well as how to add a bitchin’ new template to my myspace page. Interns rock.

Everything seemed to be going pretty well, although the Mac did seem to take a bit of a beating during my frequent travels. Suddenly the bottom third of my display was blacked out. I was able to restore the full screen if I torqued the display just right and this worked for a few months. Then the display needed to be physically held in the torqued position to achieve a full screen view. The interns complained that their little arms would get so tired, but my schedule didn’t allow me to drop it off for the several days required by the repair shops I contacted. After repeated cases of intern carpal tunnel syndrome OSHA shut down my temporary fix, so I applied my next fix and resized all my application windows to fit the remaining two-thirds screen space. Sure, it required some extra scrolling but it was way less physically demanding on the interns.

I eventually took a leave of absence from work and took the bitchin’ two-thirds G4 with me so that I could look up suggested retail prices and cheat while watching The Price is Right. So with all this crap about Bob Barker retiring, I don’t know if they’re replacing him or if the show is being retired with him. I was going to suggest replacing him with Bert Convy, but just found out he died of a brain tumor in 1991. The things you learn while researching for a dumbass blog. Maybe Gary Coleman is available. Why wouldn’t he be? But I digress. (By the way, Gary Coleman availability was in reference to The Price is Right and not torquing my screen. That would just be creepy.)

After I got tired of kicking studio contestant ass on The Price is Right, I found out there was an Apple Store about 15 minutes from my house. I went online and found out I could make an appointment with a Mac Genius to fix my computer, condition my cuticles and make me a refreshing mango iced tea. I showed up at my appointed time and was disappointed that my Mac Genius looked nothing like the chick in the commercials. First of all, she was a he, and he looked bit like Milton from Office Space. I dared not touch his stapler. I told him the issue and he popped open the hood, and then validated my claim that the bottom third of the display was indeed blacked out. I wondered if that made me a Genius, too. However, instead of using his Genius to fix my G4, he informed me that it would need to be sent to the repair center where they apparently stored the more technically proficient Geniuses. I would also pay a fixed price of $323 no matter what it took to fix it, and I would also agree to not cry about getting my ass kicked on The Price is Right for the next 7-10 business days. Work would reimburse me for the money, and it seemed reasonable to drop three bills on an otherwise well-oiled machine instead of ordering a new one for a couple grand. The Mac Genius used his Genius to proficiently fill out all the necessary information on the paperwork with no errors, and I affixed my signature authorizing them to have at it.

Without the laptop to distract me, I was suddenly exponentially more productive. In fact, I was just moments away from a cure for dry, cracked elbows when my phone rang on the fifth business day. My G4 was ready. I had already made plans to fill the void of not having my laptop for seven to ten business days, and I kept my commitment to teach a class on pine cone decorating at the local community rec center and to write a book called Take Your Play To The Next Level: The Physics of Tetherball based on what I learned by almost passing Theoretical and Applied Mechanics my sophomore year in college. Actually, I just didn’t feel like going to the mall on the weekend to pick it up. I don’t really feel like going to the mall anytime if you want to know the truth. And why would I lie about something like that? Malls have sucked ever since Tiffany and Debbie Gibson stopped performing there. But I digress.

I eventually made my way back to the Apple Store and got a non-Mac Genius to get my G4 from the back room and take it to a licensed Mac Genius to explain what they did. This Mac Genius was also not a chick, but he at least his youth and soul patch exuded more Mac hipness than Milton had in the previous week. He looked like the type that might be dating the chick Mac Genius in the commercial. Mac Genius #2 then told me I got a new display screen, they replaced some defective RAM memory, installed a screensaver of some really cute kittens and I got a new battery since the other has a tendency to explode and rip off your balls but even that wasn’t enough for me to follow the recall procedures. So in my case, I think I got my money’s worth. However, I might have been pissed if all they had to do was tighten the Archimedean screw and send it back.

But to make a long post just end already, the laptop is running like new and I’m back to kicking ass on The Price is Right. Come on down!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yahooey Dating Advice

Every now and then Yahoo serves up some life changing hooey. I’m exposed to this hooey, the life changing variety and the not so life changing variety, because I use My Yahoo as my window to the Internet. Unfortunately, that window is smeared with marketing chum feebly disguised as information as it rotates on the cyber-spit display of the login page. There are times you want to lick that chicken roasting on the spit, but you are afraid to burn your tongue. Instead you decide to continue eating the caramel apple dip with a relish fork, but that relish fork disappoints because you expect to consume in spoonful doses, not diminutive tine drips. Sometimes I accidentally write too figuratively, and I forget what the hell it is I am talking about. But this is not one of those times. That relish fork makes a good point. I may have to hire a relish fork to be my lawyer.

I licked a chicken named 5 Things Never to Say on a First Date and it did not burn. It did boggle, however. When I saw the headline to this article I thought, first dates don’t even last long enough to say five things, why do we need to read about that? This must be non-life changing hooey. Then I saw who wrote the article – David Zinczenko, Editor-In-Chief of Men’s Health, the largest men’s lifestyle magazine brand in the world. Notice I said magazine brand, not merely a magazine, like MAD or Skank Moms. The term “magazine brand” implies that the content means nothing without the image. Since image is everything in today’s world and first dates are nothing more than exercises in personal branding to a limited, yet significant, marketplace, Zinczenko must know what he is talking about. Plus, he was one of People magazine’s 50 most eligible bachelors in 2003, has written both an abs book AND a sex book guide for women to figure out guys (so now you know all there is to know about us, ladies), and he has dated Rose McGowan, whoever that is. Obviously, this dude is a much better babe snagger than I am, and probably an all around better person, as well. I read the article, anyway, hoping to experience life changing hooey. I was not disappointed (which has to do more with my general apathy and lack of expectations more than it does with the quality of the article).

Still, I doubted that these five things could make a difference. Much of Yahoo’s infochum consists of lists: Top 10 Wettest Cities (Mobile, Alabama – GET OUTTA HERE, NO WAY!), Top 5 Toe Fungi, 83 and a half Ways to Fold a Fitted Sheet, stuff like that. These articles are all quick hitting nonsense that appeals to the over-active, stressed for time, busy-bodies so prevalent in our society today. They are so busy dealing with pointless issues, like coordinating their diets with their combed to look uncombed hair styles, insipid information seems important to them. I’m not one of those people. I have plenty of time, since I don’t participate in life very much, to read this article and even test its validity. So I did.

Zinczenko begins his article by swabbing our social wounds with a rhetorical balm, claiming that everybody lies on first dates and implying that it is alright to do so as long as you do it properly. Obviously, we all hate ourselves and don’t want our dates to hate us until at least the second date. I’ll buy that. Then he jumps right in to his five point strategy, using the format of SAY THIS, NOT THAT. Not only does he offer what we should not say, he tells us what we should say. What a guy. This made my job as article validity ratifier much easier. I could test each strategy and determine which works the best to determine if Zinczenko is a genius or not. The only way he could be entirely wrong is if neither communication course was effective, which is utterly non-probable.

The first step in my testing process was to find two different women, who are not relatives of mine or prostitutes, to actually go on a date with me. After scouring each page of my little black book to discover that they were all blank, I headed to the bus depot, a veritable hot spot of women dripping with desperation (note: this only applies to my local bus depot. Your results may vary). I met Joyce when she accidentally bashed me in the head with her sewing machine and tripped over me as I was doing a push-up to impress some other woman. She felt bad about the concussion she gave me and agreed to go out on a date with me. Reba wasn’t so easy to win over. I convinced her with a couple of snapshots of Andrew Jackson.

I decided to take each fine lady to the same places during our dates, in order to help control the independent variables used in the experiment. Otherwise, the APA would never accept my paper. Our activities consisted of rock climbing (at Dick’s Sporting Goods on their indoor rock climbing wall), visiting the Lithuanian Museum of Art in historic Lemont, Illinois and unwinding with a fine meal at White Castles. I chose these places to provide us mix of physical, intellectual and frivolous/gaseous experiences, hoping to stimulate a full range of visceral consciousness leading to truer results. Throughout each date, I employed Zinczenko’s suggestions/caveats. Since I liked Joyce better, I chose to use the “Say This” options, while saving the “Not That” lines for Reba, who asked for another $20 at the beginning of our date. I know this choice was made subjectively and could hinder accurate findings, but I thought I actually might have a chance to touch something with Joyce. Below are transcripts from our date conversations relating to each strategy.

SAY THIS: What do you do for fun?
NOT THAT: What’s your job like?

Joyce and I were each halfway up the climbing wall when I asked her this question.

MR: What do you do for fun?
Joyce: (struggling) I…uh…(grunt)…well…my hands are kind of slippery…ugh…um…well I like to…

At that point she slipped and fell twenty feet to the ground. The clasp on her safety rope was broken. She sprained her elbow and had a giant bruise covering about a third of her face but seemed to be in good spirits eventually.

Reba chose not to climb the wall and talked to the college student, Jake, who was operating the wall activity. He seemed very friendly. When I made it to the top of the wall, I shouted the question to her.

MR: What’s your job like, Reba?
Reba: Jake wants to show me the gymnastic padding in the stock room. I’ll be back in a minute.

SAY THIS: You look fantastic
NOT THAT: Good to see you

After Joyce was treated by the paramedics I thought it would be a good time to use this line to cheer her up.

MR: You look fantastic!
Joyce: Let’s go.

When Reba returned from the stockroom with Jake about twenty minutes later, I initiated conversation with this line.

MR: Good to see you.
Reba: (wiped her mouth off and adjusted her skirt)
Jake: Give me a call some time, Reba.

SAY THIS: Got any cool summer trips lined up?
NOT THAT: What do you want to do with your life?

Joyce and I were enjoying the wonderful displays of Lithuanian art, especially the Easter eggs decorated by Juozas Jasiunas. They reminded me of warm weather, so I thought it would be a good time for the next question.

MR: Got any cool summer trips lined up?
Joyce: I can’t get away. My mom is living with me because she has two broken hips and I need to take care of her. I’m working two jobs to support me, her and my three kids. My son, Hank, bites people and the twins still aren’t sleeping through the night unless I breastfeed them at three in the morning, even though they are five years old. My ex-husband has a restraining order against me to stay at least five hundred yards away from him, and then he follows me around and makes me leave wherever I go. So, no, I don’t have any cool summer trips lined up. What do you think, I live on a tv show or something?
MR: Gee, that’s too bad.

Reba was a little less detailed with her response to the next question. She decided to stay in the car when we got to the Lithuanian Art Museum, so I asked her before I went in.

MR: What do you want to do with your life?
Reba: I don’t know, Phil. I’d be happy enough just to get rid of these pain in the ass venereal diseases, know what I mean?
MR: Yeah, I guess so. Good luck with that.
Reba: Hey, get me some toilet paper from the john in there, wouldjya?

SAY THIS: How’s next Thursday?
NOT THAT: Up to anything interesting this weekend? Want to meet up again soon?

On our way from the art museum to White Castles, the conversation between Joyce and me grew a little stale. She had been telling me her problems ever since I asked her the last question. I thought I’d change the subject.

MR: How’s next Thursday?
Joyce: For what?
MR: I don’t know, Zinczenko didn’t give me a follow up question for this one.
Joyce: Who?
MR: Well, he’s this guy…
Joyce: Oh, nevermind. To answer your question, it’s probably going to suck just like the rest of the Thursdays in my life. In fact, last Thursday I was waiting in line at Aldi and this guy, who smelled like he forgot how to turn the shower on, anyway, this asshole asks me to hold his eggs and then he squirts mustard all over them. I’m like, what the hell are you doing? And then the check out girl says, “Ma’am, you will have to pay for that mustard” and I’m like, it’s not my mustard or my eggs, and then she threatens to call the manager…

Reba and I didn’t say a word to each other on the way to White Castles until I broke the silence when we were almost there.

MR: Up to anything interesting this weekend? Want to meet up again soon?
Reba: (picking her teeth with nose hair scissors) Huh? What? Um, I don’t know, Mike, I think I gotta do something, ya know?
MR: Sounds good.

SAY THIS: Where you headed for vacation? What’s on your iPod? Read any good blogs lately?
NOT THIS: Can you believe Sanjaya made it that far?

Joyce can certainly put away the White Castles. I think she had about seventeen of them. While she was munching away, I hit her with the final line of questioning.

MR: Where you headed for vacation? What’s on your iPod? Read any good blogs lately?
Joyce: Are you kidding me? Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve said all night? Yeah, vacation. Right. Oh, I forgot. I’m going to the south of France next week and then to Borneo for some time alone in August. Asshole. Are you going to finish those chicken rings? What’s a blog?

Reba was excited to go to White Castles. She had not eaten them sober in over ten years and thought it would give her a chance to remember what they taste like.

MR: Can you believe Sanjaya made it that far?
Reba: You know, at first I thought the art museum was just a coincidence, but now I know you’re gay.

Before I took this information home to analyze it I thought I would ask one more question to my dates. It would act as a control question, so the same question would be used for both women when I dropped them off.

MR: So, do you want to have sex?
Joyce: I’m really tired and I have to breastfeed in a few hours.

Reba: So, do you want to have sex?
MR: No, thank you.

Dave Zinczenko was only half wrong. One of his strategies didn’t work the way he proposed. Both dates seemed to go better than I expected. I guess it doesn’t matter what you say as long as you are with the right person. The key is to outline your questions and statements and be well prepared before a first date. The most important thing is that I’ve learned that I can feel secure in at least half of the hooey infochum Yahoo serves up, especially if it is in list form. It may just change half of my life.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Lilac Time 2007

I moved to Lombard last summer right after 2006 Lilac Time ended, so I was forced to wait an entire year before getting to experience this vaunted event. I thought it was called the Lilac Festival, but my flyer indicates it is merely Time rather than full-blown festival status. After experiencing it, I can see why.

My official Lilac Time program indicates that things kick off on May 5th; however, the first event listed is the Men’s 12” Lilac Tournament on April 28th. I wasn’t paying attention until May 5th, so I missed this event and have no idea what is was. Maybe it was a contest for guys who have grown lilacs exactly one foot in height. Or perhaps a softball tournament, although real men in the Chicago area play 16” softball exclusively. Twelve inch is for girls and the rest of the country. I suppose I’ll try to find out next year.

Another event on Lilac Time Eve May 4th was the Little Lady Lilac Ball at the Community Building. I considered covering this event, but from the sounds of it I would have likely been put on a sexual predator list since it was for Daddies and their daughters and I didn’t have a date. I stayed clear despite the temptation of the sundae bar.

The Time officially kicked off on Saturday, May 5th with Lilacia Park opening to the public at 9 a.m. This is confusing since the park is open to the public year round 24 hours a day. I guess this just marks the temporary admission fee of $2 for any non-residents that want to look at our lilacs. Oh, what is Lilacia Park? I skimmed a story a while back and I think it goes something like this: Colonel Plum, apparently a cohort of Colonel Mustard of the board game Clue fame, settled in Lombard and hogged a bunch of prime downtown real estate for himself. After he got done Colonel-ing wherever he did that, he settled into the Plum estate where he was relentlessly nagged by Mother Plumtree for sitting around all day playing on his telegraph machine. So to get away from that he took up gardening and became obsessed with lilacs and covered the town in them just like Johnny Appleseed. Except it was lilacs instead of apples. Eventually the Plums kicked the bucket and their kids didn’t want to take care of all the damn lilacs so they pawned them off on the village, which converted the estate to Lilacia Park and now charges exorbitant vehicle registration fees in order to raises money to pay for the upkeep. But I digress. On the first official day, there is also the Lilac Queen Coronation which I boycotted since I never even got a chance to vote for her. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. There was also a free concert from a band called the Salty Dogs. I couldn’t find any info on them and skipped it after assuming they were chosen with the village demographic in mind (average resident age: 87).

The following day, they closed down our street for the Lilac Time Art & Craft Fair. My mom is into that stuff, so I invited her out and offered to walk around with her and see if I could scam her into buying me a corn dog. However, she’s always a step ahead of me and feigned pneumonia and even checked into the hospital to avoid going with me. I refused to be shown up, so I went alone and spent some time perusing bad homemade jewelry and sex toys made out of corn cobs. I wasn’t able to identify a lot of the product offerings, so that’s just a guess. I skipped the Breeze concert in the park that day – not exactly the type of band you find on myspace, but I did spend a few minutes listening to the local high school jazz band at the Art & Craft Fair. They sounded exactly like you would expect a local high school jazz band to sound like, but drew a polite crowd of parents, boyfriends and girlfriends.

The next major event was the Old Fashioned Tea Party on Wednesday, May 9th. Unfortunately I was in the throes of stomach flu and didn’t want to infect the March Hare or the Mad Hatter. Instead I stayed home and nibbled on the mushroom in my pocket.

Friday, May 11th brought the annual Lilac Ball at The Carlisle. Some balls are held for charity and some for fancy dress, but when they're held for pleasure they're the balls that I like best. However, I couldn’t get a date and was too ashamed to go stag, so I just stayed home with the flu and puked in a bucket.

The next day they offered a watercolor class in the park, but I got kicked out for asking the instructor when the nude models were going to show up. The class sucked anyway – my canvas didn’t have any outlines or numbers on it. What a gyp. I was so disappointed that I no longer felt like swing dancing and skipped the free Bopology concert in the park.

Sunday was Mother’s Day and the Mother’s Day Brunch but there was no way I was going to get stood up by my mom again. She was on her own this time. Instead I told my sister I’d pitch in if she’d take mom to Subway for lunch or something. I had planned on hitting the last free concert featuring Bill O’Connell’s Chicago Skyliners, however I got stuck behind a cadre of fans with walkers and canes and by the time we arrived Bill and the boys were already packing up. They were also featuring a trolley tour of historic homes, but I feared accidentally ending up in the Neighborhood of Make Believe under the tyrannical rule of King Friday, so I just went home, changed into my sneakers and sweater and fed my fish.

Thursday, May 17th was the Teddy Bear Tea for children ages 2-1/2 to 6 years old. Children either frighten or annoy me, so I stayed well clear of the Tea Party for the ankle-biters and their germ-ridden teddy bears. I’m sure it was frickin’ adorable.

The only event on Friday was a Beer Tasting – “Enjoy a sampling of many types of beer and learn what makes them delicious.” The educational aspect appears to have been lost on most attendees – as I walked by the park later that night I found the gardens littered with dudes in George Thorogood concert t-shirts munching on the lilac bushes.

The following morning started out with the Mutt Strut 5k, which I thought was a benefit for some animal shelter but was actually a 5k for dogs. As expected, the dog from Kenya won by a considerable margin. The rest of the day was designated as Kid’s Day in Lilacia Park, which obviously meant that I fled to surrounding communities until it was over. I noted there was a Wine Tasting that evening, most likely for the parents that were unable to flee and spent the day watching family entertainer Circus Boy under duress.

The final day of Lilac Time, Sunday, May 20th, would culminate with the 2007 Lilac Parade. It was a cool, party cloudy day and I parked my bony ass on a retaining wall across from the Dairy Queen on Main Street. Very Norman Rockwell. All the citizens of Lombard proudly lined the Main Street, pulled their folding chairs out of their respective bags, and pretended to be entertained by the ensuing stream of emergency vehicles, beaten down marching bands, khaki-sporting politicians in convertibles, and a few attempts by YMCA clubs to make floats out of scavengered construction materials from local condo developments. It was all lame to a high degree, but I guess it gave everyone a chance to shut off their televisions, leave their homes, and pretend that they lived in that Norman Rockwell painting even though it looked more like a Picasso to me.

But, hey, the lilacs did smell really swell at full bloom a couple weeks ago. Thanks, Colonel Plum.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Predatory Rub

In the animated children’s movie, Madagascar, four spoiled zoo animals are ousted from their comfortable Central Park habitat and forced to live in the wilds of Sri Lanka. Or is it Ceylon? I can’t remember. Places shouldn’t be allowed to change their names after I learn them in second grade. The four animals in the movie: a dolphin, a zorilla, a wallaroo, and a blue-tongued skink, meet up with a band of wacky rhinoceroses who try to teach them how to live in the wild. Nonsense and liberal soap-boxing by the filmmakers ensue, and we all learn a good lesson. Oh, and the dolphin dies after about forty minutes of being on shore. That was kind of sad. She should have put a fishbowl of water around her skin like SpongeBob does when he goes on land to nail Sandy, the poriferaphillic squirrel nymph. The zorilla ends up becoming enslaved by the rhinoceroses and the wallaroo gets addicted to fermented acacia leaves. The most interesting story is that of the blue-tongued skink. After living his entire life in the zoo where he was hand fed and groomed by Chinese masseuse ladies, his dormant predatory instincts begin to emerge as he attempts to conquer the challenges of survival. Once his instincts are unleashed, he is unable to control them and ends up single handedly wiping out four hundred, thirty-nine species of Sri Lankan insects (it’s been a while since I saw this movie, you may want to watch it to check some of my facts).

The exact same thing happened to me. Only my predatory instincts were not spurred by banishment into nature. Rather, nature chose to trespass on my cozy, socio-petrified existence in the form of an audacious mother robin red-breast. This damn bird had the gall to build her nest on the ledge of the fort on my swing set – the swing set I built out of the wood from the trees I personally fell in my neighborhood. She did this without offering to pay rent or even asking for permission. Before I could unbury my trusty broom from the pile of crap I have in my garage to relocate the nest to the roof of my neighbor’s shed with one quick swing, the robin had laid eggs. Or is it “had lain”? Nobody uses “lain”. I would not have any problem evicting a single robin, but I am not so heartless as to send unborn eggs out into the street. Or onto the shed, as it were. Speaking of unborn eggs, they don’t really get born, kind of like a coffin doesn’t really die.

Soon my daughter grew attached to the eggs and looked forward to their hatching and to the upbringing of the robinlings. She would periodically check on the eggs to make sure they were alright. I found myself doing so, too, in her absence. I couldn’t let her down by allowing some stray skink with an instinct boner a free robin egg breakfast.

One day while I was mowing the lawn, I noticed the mother robin sitting in the nest. When I approached with the lawn mower, she fled, leaving her eggs to fend for themselves as she watched from the telephone wire. I turned off the mower and climbed up the slide into the swing set fort to look at the eggs. The mother robin squawked from above. Like I can understand robin speak. “Save your breath, honey,” I thought, “I’m not going to hurt your eggs.” But then, as I examined the eggs, I thought, I could hurt the eggs if I wanted to. What’s the mother going to do to stop me? I can take a robin. Unless she has a stick or something. What kind of mother abandons her eggs when the most successful predatory animal in the history of the world comes nosing around? A mother alligator wouldn’t do that. She would try to bite my head off, and I wouldn’t blame her. But this selfish robin mom thought of her safety first. I should smash her eggs and eat them just to teach her a lesson. But, I couldn’t do it. I realized that I had no predatory instincts. None. Also, I don’t like eggs. That robin is lucky she didn’t lay a few bags of Cheetos. I probably would have mawged on those. Such is the miracle of nature that Cheetos are not bred in the wild by robins.

I flipped-off the mother robin and returned to my mowing. For days afterwards I contemplated my lack of predatory instincts. I had no need for them. I was inured to sucking at the teet of human society. Comfort and leisure had squashed my urge to kill to live. I was no more equipped for survival than the animated helpless blue-tongued skink.

But, something remarkable happened. The more I thought about my predatory instincts, the more they seemed to grow inside of me. Soon I was drooling at the sight of road kill. I began mutilating our food during dinner preparation. “Why are we having ground beef and green paste again, Dad?” What are you talking about, son, that is a T-Bone steak with zesty buttered peas on the side. Shopping at grocery stores became unfulfilling. I bought a crossbow and used it to hunt food. Consequently, I was banned from all grocery stores in my area for destroying their merchandise. It’s all for the best, since Froot Loops get stale pretty quick when there is a giant arrow hole through the box. Eventually, I resorted to hunting live animals.

After all the pets in the neighborhood were gone, I migrated to the local forest preserves. Wild animals are more difficult to kill than dogs and cats trapped in fenced yards. They don’t tell you this kind of stuff on Animal Planet. And people don’t use picnic baskets as much as they did in Yogi Bear’s heyday, so even my scavenging instinct was of no use. Nurture ultimately conquered nature inside of me. Nature is too much of an adversary and a frozen pizza is just too accommodating to ignore. I gave my crossbow to a skunk and went back to my pampered, package-fed human life where I belong.

Since then, the robin eggs have hatched. The robinlings have not yet been weaned and are still squatting on my swing set. I don’t mind. They are kind of cute – too cute to eat. So, I’ve offered them jobs of ridding my estate of mosquitoes this summer. I’m not even sure if robins eat mosquitoes. The baby robins don’t know either. They only know to eat what their mom beaks down their throats. That’s not a bad life. I advised them to stay there. Something tells me their instincts won’t let them.

The other day, I climbed into the fort to thank the mother robin for teaching me a good lesson. She flew to the telephone wire and squawked at me. I placed some chicken bones into her nest just to taunt her. There’s no living with a mother robin with a giant ego, no matter how much I appreciate what she has done for me. I don’t want her getting a big head. She may decide to move inside, leaving me stuck in the nest, and the skunk has my crossbow.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Forsworn To Be Wild

Springtime. And almost every year about this time, as the temps get back to the 60’s and 70’s, I think how cool it would be to get a bike. Not a bicycle, as regular readers might presume, but a badass motorized one. Commonly referred to here in the States as a motorcycle. I sure you Canadians and Brits have your own wacky term for them. Many times when meeting people in social situations, as much as I try to avoid that type of thing, they will, in an attempt to feign interest, ask what I like to do. When I tell them I like to ride my bike, the men quiver and the women swoon, picturing me on my steel and chrome steed with 1200 cc’s between my legs. I correct them by explaining I meant I like to put on lycra clothing and ride my bicycle. Then the men back away slowly and the women steal my lunch money. But I digress.

I think the first time I decided to buy a bike was when I was 27, so you can’t blame this on any sort of mid-life crisis. A new buddy I met when I moved to Dallas had a dirt bike and invited me out to ride with him and his brother. I picked it up pretty quickly and had a blast tearing around a large field that was being prepped for some sort of construction project, while they took turns jumping some dirt mounds and looking way cooler than I. They convinced me that my 30 minutes of experience qualified me to do the same, and I lined up for my first jump to accept my promotion on the cool scale. It didn’t quite end as badly as you’re probably imagining but I was separated from the bike by some blunt force trauma and learned my second lesson. (The first lesson was that it probably takes something more like 60 minutes before tackling your first jump.) The second lesson, which they should have had the foresight to teach me before rolling out, was that once you’re falling off the bike don’t fight it. For some reason after landing and realizing that I was no longer securely seated upright on the bike, I decided I should still hang on as tight as I could even if that hand was gripped tightly to the throttle and responsible for dragging me through the dirt as if attached to a plow horse on steroids. The boys came over and repaired the bike while I shooed the birds circling my head and scooped earth out of my pants. Still with a smile on my face.

Of course, being a wise man of 27 years I decided that all I had to do was to buy a street bike not designed for dirt jumping and I would never crash again. Armed with this infallible logic I went out to check out the market on bikes. When all my friends discovered this information, I found out that they had started a pool to bet on the date of my likely early demise. As evidenced by the earlier dirt jumping anecdote, I wasn’t exactly risk averse at the time, and my penchant for beverages containing barley, hops, and, well, alcohol didn’t do much to improve the decision making process. After I tried to get into the pool on behalf of my estate, I came to the realization that maybe getting a bike at that time in my life wasn’t the best I idea I had ever had. However the idea always lurked in the back of my mind and struggled to take priority every Spring.

So what’s stopping me?

1) I’ve lived in big cities where congestion and long commutes encourage drivers to become more efficient by using driving time to make phone calls, text message, work on Sukoku, apply make-up, eat jelly donuts, share the latest Young Jeezy CD with fellow commuters, write blogs and run over motorcycles.

2) Even though I wanted to be a TV weatherman when I was a strange little kid, I suck at predicting weather even when presented with the latest in satellite imagery technology and a direct line to the National Weather Service. This would result in me getting cold or wet way more often than I could accept.

3) I’m married now to a woman whose nickname is Miss Safety. We wear safety goggles when we brush our teeth. If I owned a motorcycle I’d never be allowed to leave the house in anything less than full Stormtrooper gear.

4) All sorts of bikers would want me to join their gangs, and I’d constantly be having to recite the “I’m a loner, Dottie… a rebel” speech from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

5) I’m just not cool enough to pull it off.

Don’t try to talk me out of it; I’m better off without it. The bug only strikes a handful of days out of the year and I seem to have it under control. In fact, once I pump up the bicycle tires this season, I’m sure a spin in my lycra will help me get over it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Burn, Baby, Burn

In the last installment of Cancer Boy, we left our hero after having completed eight weeks of induction chemotherapy. Next on Dr. Evil’s agenda was a ten-week period of chemoradiotherapy, which would combine the finest elements of chemotherapy and radiation in order to rid me of that pesky tumor on the base of my tongue. The ten weeks were divided into 5 two-week cycles. The first week was inpatient for chemo and twice daily radiation, and the second week at home to experience the full extent of the side effects (with a return trip every Tuesday for more chemo and a check-up). I was warned up front by my doc that this portion of the treatment would be absolutely miserable and I should expect some pretty severe side effects, difficulty eating, and weight loss. In return, he would kill my cancer and a magic unicorn would take me home when it was all over. I signed a waiver giving him permission to bring it, and in return he promised he’d try not to kill me.

I would check into the hospital every Sunday at noon, get my room assignment, unpack my lingerie, porn, and troll dolls, and wait for my nurse and doc. The nurse would draw some blood and jam the IV needles in my port to ready it for the collection of toxins and other experimental concoctions that they were working on that week, while the doc on call would give me the once over to wager whether their plans would end in my early demise. I was approved for action and Sunday evening they would start me on my new chemo plan.

My new drugs of choice:

Fluorouracil aka 5FU: They would start the IV on this one at around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday and it would run continuously for five days until they would release me 120 hours later. I could expect mouth sores, loss of taste, and other delightful abdominal ailments from 5 FU. However, if you remember your 8th grade biochemistry, 5-FU is a commonly used pyrimidine antagonist. Like the other pyrimidine antagonists, 5-FU is similar in structure to the normal molecule. It functions to inhibit DNA synthesis both by blocking the formation of normal pyrimidine nucleotides via enzyme inhibition and by interfering with DNA synthesis after incorporation into a growing DNA molecule. I stole that from some Emory University site, but basically it means that the cancer cells will fry more easily when I get sent to radiation.

Hydroxyurea aka Hydrea: This came in a giant capsule form that I took Sunday night and then two hours before each radiation treatment. This might cause nausea and vomiting, so I’d also get my anti-nausea and vomiting drugs with it. Again, going back to 8th grade biochem and Emory University, hydrea is thought to inhibit DNA synthesis and prevent cell division, but does not interfere with the production of RNA or protein. Though the exact mechanism of this drug remains unknown, research suggests that DNA synthesis is blocked by interfering with the activity of an enzyme that is important for the process. That basically it means that the cancer cells will fry more easily when I get sent to radiation.

Cetuximab aka Erbitux: This is the clinical trial drug that was also used in the first part of the chemo process. I would get this one every Monday so that Dr. Evil could see what would happen if they throw it in the mix with the other two drugs and some radiation. This was the guinea pig portion of my treatment. The people in the other half of the study would get Erbitux with a different combo of drugs and once daily radiation for seven weeks. May the better half live!

The official name of the the study was A Randomized Phase II Trial of Concurrent Chemoradiation with Cetuximab (ERBITUX®), 5 Fluorouracil, Hydroxyurea, and Twice-daily Radiation (CetuxFHX) versus Cextuximab (ERBITUX®), Cisplatin, and Accelerated Radiation with Concomitant Boost (CetuxPX) after Induction Chemotherapy in Patients with Locally Advanced Head and Neck Cancer. For anyone not familiar with these clinical trials, in this trial people are randomly assigned to each group and both groups receive well-established treatment regimens without it being known which may be better. Then they toss the new drug, Cetuximab, on top to see what happens. That combo isn’t approved by the FDA for head and neck cancer, so I hopefully get to help prove it’s effective.

A couple weeks before this phase I had to go for a radiation simulation, in which they do some CT scans and make you a nifty “mask” for use during the treatments. The mask consisted of three fiberglass type strips that were molded to my face – one under the chin, one over the chin, and one across the forehead. Once it’s fit to your face, they can then strap your head tightly to the table like Hannibal Lecter so you don’t move or attempt to eat anyone while getting shot with radiation. I guess accuracy and personal safety is a priority to these people.

My first radiation treatment would be any time between 5:15 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Not only are they sadistic, but also they wake you early for it. The main objective during radiation is to hold perfectly still and not freak out at being strapped in for 20 minutes. I only freaked a little my first time and they recommended a nice little sedative for future treatments. I capitulated and was in total control of my fingers and total control of my brain for future sessions. I even told them no hurry – I wouldn’t go insane, they wanted me sedated. Only one time after that I had to ask to get out of my mask, when I told them I had some mucous issues. “Spit or swallow?” my tech asked. I replied that it was the first time I’ve been asked that question. My techs Meghan and Kenny were always very cool and got a good laugh. By the way, I swallowed. Once settled in, the actual procedure entailed receiving doses, not unlike an x-ray, each for about 30-60 seconds from about 12 different positions around my head, zapping everything from my jaw line to my collarbone. I was such a model patient I settled into the 5:15 slot so I wouldn’t start their day with any problems. Now if you were paying attention, you might remember that I needed to take my Hydrea two hours before radiation. So make it a 3:15 a.m. wake up call. In fact, let’s review a typical relaxing day in the oncology wing…

Midnight: Vital signs taken by nurse’s aide (every 4 hrs)
3:15 a.m. – Wake up call to take Hydrea, note roosters are still sleeping
3:20 a.m. – Try to figure out why there are roosters in my room
3:30 a.m. – Clean neck in preparation of radiation to avoid wet, messy explosions
4:00 a.m. – Vital signs – still alive
4:15 a.m. – Request sedative and morphine as needed
4:30 a.m. – Cue up Mother’s Little Helper on iPod, take drugs and meditate
4:44 a.m. – Sink into deep meditative state, minutes from total enlightenment
4:45 a.m. – Pick up by patient escort, discuss implications of latest UN resolutions while in transit
5:00 a.m. -- Arrive at radiation oncology for 5:15 treatment, learn about the Inca, Aztec, and Spanish influence in Mexico on waiting room TV. Get price of pork bellies from farm report if behind schedule.
5:30 a.m. – Called in for treatment, arms bound to the side, head strapped tightly to the table, ordered to lay still for 10 to 20 minutes depending on cycle. Additional five minutes required on Mondays for x-rays to align everything and make sure my head hasn’t grown.
6:00 a.m. – Learn more than I really care to about crocodiles from Animal Planet on waiting room TV
6:30 a.m. – Patient escort back to room. Discuss Federal Reserve economic policies in transit
6:45 a.m. – Try to enjoy morphine/sedative buzz and catch up on some sleep.
7:00 a.m. – Welcome by new shift nurse
7:15 a.m. – Request more morphine as needed, return to sleep
8:00 a.m. – Wake up for vital signs, return to sleep
9:00 a.m. – Wake up for pre-rounds by physician assistant and resident on call, argue over how much weight I’ve lost, return to sleep
9:30 a.m. – Wake up for first feeding, return to sleep
10:00 a.m. – Wake up for rounds by physician assistant, resident on call, and attending physician, address drastic weight loss issues, return to sleep
10:15 – Wake up for rounds by research nurse and nurse practitioner, return to sleep
10:45 – Wake up for rounds by nutritionist to address weight loss issues. She nods in sympathy like Deb in Napoleon Dynamite and agrees that I’m not going to turn to dust.
Oh, and return to sleep.
11:30 – Wake up from nurse in radiation oncology to examine burns on my neck and try something new. Return to sleep.
Noon – Vital signs. Still alive.
12:15 p.m. – Access wireless connection to check email, update fantasy hockey lineup and attempt to find porn sites not filtered by UC.
1:00 p.m. – Turn on TV, check CNN Headline News for uplifting stories about war casualties and missing white people. Wonder why black people don’t get abducted or lost nearly as often.
2:00 p.m. – Patient escort to radiation, discuss investment opportunities resulting from growing global economy while in transit.
2:15 p.m. – Arrive for treatment, forced to watch Maury with fellow drugged up patients who somehow seem entertained by it.
2:45 p.m. – Arms bound, head strapped, zapped with ray gun for second time that day.
3:15 p.m. – Watch Judge Judy on waiting room TV, losing will to live
3:30 p.m. – Patient escort back to room, discuss merits of 3-4 defense
4:00 p.m. – Vital signs, still kicking
4:15 p.m. – Coat neck with Neosporin, greatly reduce chances of suffering manual strangulation
4:45 p.m. – Take care of second feeding of the day, try not to puke
5:00 p.m. – Check email, send messages begging to bust me out early
6:00 p.m. – Call DirecTV and attempt to order NHL Season Pass for my room
8:00 p.m. – Vital signs, barely clinging to life
8:30 p.m. – Flip through channels hoping to find a Pauly Shore movie
9:30 p.m. – Nightly call from Mrs. F’er. Convince her that life is swell so she can get back to memorizing cranial nerves for upcoming exam
10:00 p.m. – Begin nightly primping routine with collection of ointments, gels, rinses, etc that are supposed to keep me alive
10:30 p.m. – Turn on Letterman, attempt to go to sleep
11:55 p.m. – Finally succeed in dozing off
Midnight – Wake up for vital signs… argh.

During the second cycle, mouth sores, icky mucous, sore throat, and loss of taste made eating as attractive as a date with Rosie O’Donnell, so I gave up food cold turkey. Not just cold turkey, but all food. I barely managed to drink one high calorie shake each day, but my docs didn’t think 500 calories per day would cut it and scheduled me for a feeding tube. After the procedure I woke up with a small rubber tube protruding from my stomach just under my last rib on my left side. They gave me a syringe to flush it, a case of canned nutritional drinks to sustain me, and a warning to keep the Jack Daniels out of there. Meal times simply involved pouring a couple cans in an IV type bag and spending a couple hours letting it drip into my stomach while trying to determine what kind of wine goes best with something called Jevity 1.2. I was also dehydrated and even got the home version IV pole so I could give myself a liter of saline daily through my port in between my normal feedings. The home health care company sent over a plethora of supplies, and I’m pretty sure I could use the leftovers to supply the Red Cross when the next catastrophe hits.

It did get ugly for a while, where even I failed to see any humor – if you’re just here for the laughs, you can skip the next paragraph.

I’d say somewhere in the middle of this, probably in the third cycle, it got as bad as the doc had promised. Maybe even a little worse than I had imagined. I was losing about a pound and a half a day during my hunger strike and eventually ended up 27 pounds lighter than when I had started. I hadn’t been that skinny since high school when I had the metabolism of a Chihuahua on diet pills and couldn’t get laid since girls feared I might fall in. Well, that and I was a total geek. But I digress. I had already lost most of my hair during the previous chemo cycles, but now my skin dried out to the point that you could trace my path by following the trail of body dandruff I’d leave in my midst. And then it gets disgusting… please, skip ahead to the next paragraph. In addition to all the other pleasantries, that icky mucous I told you about continued to get worse. Gobs of it would clog up my mouth and throat. It was an ugly pale yellow and at it’s worst, the consistency of yogurt and impossible to spit up, instead choking and gagging me until I vomited it up several times a day. Lovely. I tried to warn you. And if the timing was right, I could even vomit up some of the delicious crap that I spent hours dripping into my feeding tube along with it. Followed by admonishments the next week for losing weight. Some time was spent in the mirror cursing the tumor, the mucous, myself, my doctors or the Chicago Blackhawks; other time was spent just lying on the floor begging some unknown force to make it go away while I wondered how I would make it through another two, four or six weeks. But even all that got to be part of the routine that did get me through it one day at a time.

After I had just checked in for my fourth cycle, I felt like crap and now had a pain in my back. I was also trying to get some nutrition in my feeding tube as the pain grew. And grew. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. So I tried to ignore it. That should make it go away. But like a pissed off two-year old, it refused to be ignored. I got ill and contorted my body any way it would go to try and alleviate the pain, and before I knew it I was kneeling on all fours on my bed, puking into a bucket and holding my back with an expression on my face that said, “Just kill me now.” My nurse happened to walk by, poked her head in and asked cheerily, “Is everything okay here, Mr. F’er?” I’m not a violent person by nature, but if I weren’t busy hurling and clawing at my own back I might have gnawed her ear off. She did regain a few points by getting the doctor on call there pretty quickly. He was able to convince me that examining me doggy style was not very dignified and I might be more comfortable sitting back. I obliged and he surmised I might have a kidney stone, and he rewarded me with massive doses of IV morphine. A CT scan confirmed his diagnosis and he informed me that it was small enough that it should pass on its own. So I buckled up with my morphine dealer nurse and tried to think about candy canes and Betty Rubble until the pain slowly subsided six hours later. Just the memory of that night caused me to chug a bottle of water right now to flush my kidneys out.

Also in the fourth cycle, an unexpected side effect of the Erbitux reared its ugly head. It had made the skin more sensitive to the radiation and, instead of just a couple bad spots, my entire neck was burned as if it had been stuck in a rotisserie oven for a week. With the proper spices from Kenny Rogers Roasters it might have made a nice meal in a primitive Paraguay village, but here it elevated me to celebrity status as the staff set up photo shoots so they could share the results with the rest of the medical community. Unfortunately I was on morphine at the time and failed to execute an agreement that might pay me royalties. Twice daily I’d have to soak my neck to clean it and re-apply the ointment or cream they gave me, which was as much fun as a full Brazilian bikini wax. Or so I hear. After that, I’d put on my customized t-shirt with a cut out neck (to avoid sticking), and sometimes I’d add legwarmers for that Jennifer Beale Flashdance effect. What a feeling! As much as I enjoyed reliving the 80’s in my Princess Reeboks, I added this new routine to my list of cursed activities.

By the fifth cycle, I was master of my disconsolate domain. I knew the routine and it was just a matter of mechanically knocking it out another two weeks without trying to think about it. Kind of like a weathered dancer at a low-rent strip club. I mostly took drugs and slept, and had taken to merely grunting at anyone who interfered with that. The cool thing was that people seemed to understand and accepted it. Everyone seemed excited that I was in my last cycle, but I was too bitter to share in it and would have rather they apologized for the first four cycles. By the time the last day of my inpatient stay came around, I did smile politely when the radiation oncology staff presented me with a certificate of completion. And right before I checked out, my favorite oncology nurses sang me a tune and presented me with a shirt signed by the staff, although I never remember being treated by Emma Roids or Willie Maykette. (Okay, I admit the last one was a little dark.)

I had to go back the following Tuesday for my final chemo treatment, which was rather anti-climatic, and I left pissed off that I didn’t get a certificate or a t-shirt. I couldn’t find the magic unicorn to take me home, either.

The following weeks post-treatment would involve a series of follow up appointments to track my recovery and, after approximately 4-6 weeks, a series of tests to make sure that the cancer packed up and left. I’ll let you know what happens in my next update.