Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Oh, Canada!

July 1st is Canada Day. I didn’t know what it was but figured it was some sort of ripoff of the good ol’ American Fourth of July. It is. Sort of. Because it celebrates the day in 1867 that Canada sort of became a country.

Like every ace history student I get my info from the first link on The Google, which is usually Wikipedia and we all know that the site is maintained by slutty teen girls and Romanian prostitutes. Sorry, wrong browser window. But I’m trying to say that if I don’t get this exactly right it’s not because I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t care enough to use a source other than Wikipedia. It’s not like I’m trying to brew my own biodiesel here. But I digress.

So, as I understand it, on July 1st, 1867 whatever Canada was before it became Canada created a document that effectively told the British that they didn’t want to start any trouble or nothin’ but they’d like to be called Canada. Kind of like when Garth Brooks changed his name to Chris Gaines.

They didn’t even start a war or anything. They just sat around for 115 years until the British got bored with them (“we don’t even like bloody hockey, you wankers!”) and in 1982 told them to have at it with their little Canada experiment.

Even though they accomplished this without any rockets’ red glare or bombs bursting in air, they still feel they have the right to shoot off fireworks every July 1st on what they finally convinced everyone was Canada Day. Not quite as ballsy as a goddam Declaration of Independence or dramatic as a friggin’ Revolutionary War, but I suppose it’s cool in its own little way. Just like the NHL and Molson.

That little background was really just to introduce a Canada Day event that I was just given a heads up on. If you’re in the Toronto area on Canada Day, you are invited to Rock the Park! Downsview Park... which bills itself as “a safe and peaceful place.” Hardly the venue for an event called Rock the Park, in my opinion. But I’m not as much a rebel as the event coordinators for this place. But I digress.

In the afternoon there are several bands playing but I’m neither hip enough nor Canadian enough to know any of them, although I noted that Rallycar employs a bassist named Dino. I can’t be sure, but I don’t think it’s the same one that’s famous for getting his hand chewed off by a rabid dog in an elevator.

After the daytime hullabaloo, the attendees will surely look forward to the “official welcome from Downsview Park dignitaries and politicians” at 5:45. That should definitely get the crowd pumped up for the evening line-up which kicks off with Rock Star Live featuring Suzie McNeil, Dilana, Marty Casey, Ty Taylor, Storm Large, and the Rock Star House Band. Allow me to assess….

I’ve always said I wouldn’t mind seeing Suzie live if it didn’t cost too much. Like more than 20 Canadian dollars. I don’t know exactly what the exchange rate is, but I’m not sure if she accepts US dollars. Who am I kidding, she’d probably accept Canadian Tire money if I knew what that was or if I had any. Regardless, I’d go see her partly because I want to see what retro-mash get-up she wears and partly because she’s got a pretty damn good voice.

Dilana became tiresome as the second season of Rock Star wore on, but I think I could tolerate a short set and maybe even enjoy some of it. As long as she didn’t pull the sympathy card again and come out on crutches or riding one of those mobility scooters that they advertise on late night television. She’d probably do something lame like try to paint flames on the side and think it’s cool.

Who doesn’t like Marty, right?

Ty. I have a feeling that he wasn’t on the bill originally and one of the other performers accidentally mentioned it to him and then kind of had to invite him so that they didn’t feel bad. And instead of realizing what was going on, Ty accepted the invite and started thinking of a new hairstyle since everyone will just think he’s copying off of Sanjaya if he shows up with a mohawk. All while whoever mistakenly mentioned it to Ty is now thinking, “Oh, crap, I hope the others don’t find out that I’m the reason he’s here.”

Storm Large. I’d like to see Storm perform without the network censors, but I’m not sure Downsview Park dignitaries and politicians will give her free reign. After all, they wouldn’t let Marty bring his Swinging Lovehammers or let Storm bring her Balls. I’ll wait to see her in a dark, smoky club that’s packed shoulder to shoulder and about 120 degrees inside. It just seems more right that way. Oh, and that’s ah-boot 50 degrees Celsius for all you Canadians I’ve already offended.

The Rock Star House Band… I’m guessing this is a side project for Hugh Laurie?

I’m just teasing, Canada. You rock, eh. Have a good holiday and don’t get exploded.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sid's Carcinoma Closure

On March 16th I got my final dose of radiation and glowingly checked out of the hospital for the last time. The following Tuesday they pumped the last IV bag of hazardous materials through my port, and I walked out knowing I had just completed my 18-week course of treatment. Everyone seemed happy as a pancake (if pancakes could be really happy) and was congratulating me as if I had just finished an iron man triathlon. But instead of washing a grease paint number off my arm and laying down in the finish line tent for a butt rub, I just went home and got back into bed. I felt like crap, had little hair, dry skin, a severely burned neck, a sore throat, was eating exclusively through a tube in my stomach and certainly didn’t feel like anything was over.

They warned me it would be several weeks before I started feeling better since the chemo and radiation takes time to clear ones system and even longer for all the tissue damage to heal. But all along I was so focused on the March 16th finish line that I found myself unprepared to deal with anything past that magic date. Like getting married. Sure, dancing all night to the Village People on your wedding day is fun, but then it’s over and, oh, crap, what just happened? Just kidding, Mrs. F’er. Maybe I allowed for a 2-week grace period after treatment, after which I planned to be back to eating chili-cheese dogs, cycling across the state, and helping old ladies cross busy intersections. Not quite. I started taking short walks around the neighborhood when the weather was agreeable, but it was the old ladies helping me cross the street.

The side effects lingered and instead of accepting them any longer, I ignored the wisdom to know the difference between the things I could and could not change. Serenity prayer, my ass. I tried getting back to a normal diet and failed miserably as I was tempted to throw plate after plate of unfinished meals against the wall. I refused to use that goddam feeding tube anymore and drank nutrition shakes until I was ready to sue Ensure for making me hate chocolate. (Any bored attorneys out there?) I tried to go out and rejoin society and was welcomed back with a nasty cold and infection. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started kissing slutty coeds so quickly. I quit eating again and even wondered why I bothered going through the previous 18 weeks.

I went back to the doc every Tuesday where my self-perceived lack of progress seemed to otherwise impress them to no end. I felt as if they were examining the wrong person and began to resent the weekly 2-1/2 hour commute. I suppose the fact that I was walking into their office after what they did to me was good enough for them. They saw my hair had grown back (now black and gray, instead of brown) so they figured I was doing great. After four weeks, they deemed me ready for the usual CT scan of my head, neck, chest and abdomen to see if anything abnormal continued to exist within. I went into radiology without a doubt that there was no way anything survived the treatment regimen and dared them to find something. The bastards did. Sort of. A spot near the lymph nodes in my neck that they wanted my ENT to examine just to make sure it wasn’t anything. The said ENT was on vacation that week (Disneyworld, thanks for asking) so I was freaked out for several days. My hubris suffered a blow unlike any other. When the ENT returned, he told me to chill. He was confident that it was scar tissue from my previous neck dissection, and that I was right that nothing should be growing there while under the influence of my 18-week chemo bender. I chilled a bit, but would still have one more surgery to scope out my insides and have my tongue biopsied.

The following week, I checked in on Thursday for the surgery and ran the usual gauntlet of med students, interns, residents and senior docs that take an interest in your case at a teaching hospital. They all managed to coordinate my timely trip to the OR where I was pleasantly sedated, then put under while they stuck scopes and hands down my throat, and then awakened about 30 minutes later for some juice, pain meds and discharge instructions which included no fire eating or auto-erotic asphyxiation. Jeez, what else is there?

I didn’t expect the pathology report by the end of the week, but certainly looked forward to it at my next Tuesday appointment with oncology. It wasn’t in the system yet, but they assured me that I didn’t have anything to worry about because pathology would have called them right away if anything was amiss. I’m not sure I subscribe to the “no news is good news” school of thought when it comes to foreign bodies growing inside me, so I followed up on Thursday with my ENT. His nurse said the report still wasn’t in the system so she called pathology and they said it might have gotten thrown out with the leftovers from last week’s potluck lunch, but they would check to see if it might have fallen behind a file cabinet or something. At this point I was convinced that my tissue sample was mistakenly delivered to the cafeteria or they found a lump the size of a Yugo in my tongue and were still baffled about how it got parked there. I spent the weekend doing estate planning to insure that my publishing empire would continue with minimal interference from the probate system. Fortunately this wasn’t necessary; the nurse woke me up on Monday morning with those three little words that everyone longs to hear – no carcinoma seen. She also added some stuff about mild atypia (therapy-related), hyperkeratosis, and mild chronic inflammation of the squamous mucosa, but I really wasn’t listening as I had tossed my cellphone in the air like a Mary Tyler Moore beret. The only downside at that time was that my docs didn’t want to take out the feeding tube because I had lost a few additional pounds (due to the flu and those slutty coeds) even though I wasn’t using it.

I was able to stabilize my weight and even regain a few pounds in the four weeks leading up to my next appointment. I’m still stuck at 167 (25 lbs less than when I started), but after a few sets of bicep curls and squat thrusts I should be back to at least 175. The doc was onboard with that and authorized them to take out the feeding tube and port-o-cath the following week. However, he did confirm I had developed minor case of oral thrush, thank you. Yes, a delightful yeast infection of my tongue. I got a nice mouth rinse that should take care of it, so keep the bread and vagina jokes to yourselves.

The feeding tube and port removal was scheduled with the Department of Annoying Medical Device Removal (aka Interventional Radiology) for the following Tuesday. The care I’ve gotten at this hospital has always been good, but I always feel as if this department is managed by the Three Stooges or, at best, Homer Simpson. However, the procedures are not very complicated and they seem to get things done correctly, and the wonderful drugs they employ make the process much more tolerable than if one were not stoned off his gourd (just where and how did that expression originate???). After navigating the unnecessarily time-consuming check-in process and enduring the department’s painful IV policy and the pre-interview with the overworked resident who looks like he can pull off the procedure, I am finally wheeled into the room and rewarded with a delightful cocktail of benadryl, versed and fentanyl. The first one hits you like a long swig of tequila, the second turns the room into a private beach, and the third one converts your experience to a dream-like sequence in which evil doctors are implanting or harvesting unethical devices while you only care to know if they can ink a Bill the Cat tattoo on your ass before they’re finished. The whole procedure takes about 45 minutes and I started sobering up toward the end; enough to ask him if what I was feeling was him stitching up my chest after taking out the port. No pain since they give a local, just some pressure, but it was indeed the stitches going in. With that complete it was time to remove the feeding tube, which I read on a message board is done in a complex procedure known as yanking. I asked the doc about this and he clarified – he had been highly trained to grasp the tube and yank it out so I had nothing to fear. They don’t even give a local, but I confess that when he yanked it out it felt no worse than a punch to the gut from a woman defending herself from an unwelcome sexual advance. Or so I would imagine. In a twist on the old joke, I even had to ask him if it was out yet. It was. I was patched up, moved to recovery and out the door about 15 minutes later.

As of June, the only remnants of this ordeal are a dry mouth, minor difficulty swallowing, some skin discoloration on my neck, a receding hairline on the back of my head, the inability to grow a ZZ Top beard, and still some decrease in my energy level. Of all those, only the dry mouth really bothers me. Food doesn’t taste quite right and dry foods like chips or bread lost their appeal faster than Britney Spears. I also have to travel everywhere with a bottle of water or fire hydrant wrench, although my municipality strongly discourages the latter method. I’m not used to feeling this tired, either, but they assure me that my body is still in recovery mode and the energy will return. Oh, breaking news – that might also be partly related to my newly diagnosed case of hypothyroidism, which is a common condition following head and neck radiation. However, this can be controlled with one pill a day after they figure out the right dosage.

Looking back, I’m amazed at what the body can endure and how it can recover. In the middle of treatment, hell, even at the end of treatment, it was impossible to imagine ever making it as far as I already have. I keep telling everyone that all I did was keep showing up. The real credit and thanks go to my family; my friends; the docs, nurses and techs; the Academy; and whatever other forces out there that were working in my favor.

I’m starting back to work this week, so we’ll see how that goes. Going forward, I’ll have to go for a follow up physical exam and CT scan of my head, neck, chest and abdomen every three months since the greatest risk of recurrence is in the first 1-1/2 to 2 years. After two years, they’ll officially declare me “cured”, and I’ll get the CT scan every six months and eventually just once a year. And hopefully live to a ripe old age when I can roam the streets in my underpants and yell at the squirrels. And live happily ever after. The end, for now.

Post-Script: I’m consolidating and moving the entire series of posts regarding my experience to a separate blog so they don’t get lost at Leper Pop for anyone that might find them useful. And also to kind of archive the whole crazy experience for myself. I might add some other medical detail or bonus material, so please feel free to check it out or share with others. BOT Cancer for Dummies

Friday, June 22, 2007

Behind the Blog

People stop me in the street all the time. Most of those people want money. I want money, too. It’s good to have common interests. It holds society together. Other people stop me to ask me if I know Ruth Buzzy. When I tell them I don’t they call me a liar. It’s true, I do not know Ruth Buzzy. I have never even seen her in real life. I can’t honestly say that I know she exists. As far as I know, she could be an animatronic character developed by Sid and Marty Krofft who leased it to Rowan and Martin for Laugh-In when her character of Scabby Chaferstein scared children too much on H.R. Pufnstuf. Sometimes people lick me in the street, too, even after they’ve called me a Ruth-Buzzy-not-knowing liar. Every once in a while, someone will stop me and ask me for blogging insight. Usually I tell them to make up what you don’t know or at least make up what you do know if it’s boring. That satisfies most of them. Sometimes I get a hanger-on who wants real insight. I end up spending entire afternoons with these sponges as I read to them from my blogging manifesto (it’s actually a discarded, semi-completed crossword puzzle book I found under a bus).

As annoying as these blogasites can be, they got me thinking that people may be interested in having a look behind the scenes of a big shot blog enterprise. Since that woman from Dooce.com is too busy actually writing her blog, I decided to expose some of my preparatory quagmire that eventually solidified into a shiny new blog. Plus, I couldn’t think of anything else to write about today. So, in the interest of time wasting conservation, here is the original mustering that led to my May 16, 2007 post, Predatory Rub.

So, what am I hearing about this robin that has taken up residence on the property. My property. Get off my property! It is OK if the robin stays. She has built a nest on the swing set.

Robins, at least this robin, must not know of the utility of swing sets. They are built to be climbed upon. At least this one is built that way. And it is climbed upon by predators. Not just any predators, either. This is a predator the likes of which has never been seen on this Earth prior to about a hundred thousand years ago. This predator has the ability to wipe out all other species on this planet (well, most of them – damn bacteria and cockroaches!), yet this bird finds it safe to build its nest, a nest to sustain her fresh squatted eggs, whose survival lie in balance on the edge of a poker chip, on the ledge of the fort portion of the swing set, which can easily be climbed by the most dangerous predator this world has ever known. I speak, of course, of a ten year old little girl. Shudder all you like, but it gets worse.

This nest is also in the reach of the little girl's father, who does not need to climb into the fort to attack the nest, which is a good thing since his knees ache. Once while the little girl and her sire were watching the mother bird incubate her eggs, the bird must have determined that these predators approached too close. So, she took off and let her eggs fend for themselves. The human father thought this an uncourageous act and pondered smashing the eggs just to teach that chicken shit bird a lesson. But, the little girl staid his mallet. When the two predators retreated, the mother robin returned wearing a tennis ball, serrated by beak, as an aegis.

“Why have you taunted our dormant predatory instincts by building your nest on our plaything? Don’t you know we could have you and your eggs for dinner if we so chose, and if we hadn’t just ordered from Domino’s Pizza? Curse you bird of temptation! Curse you for attempting to draw out that which society has repressed for thousands of years! Taunt us no more!” To which the daughter added, “Right after the babies are hatched and reared and are able to survive on their own, OK, Daddy?”

The father thought the demands to be a little bold, but was distracted by the smell of melted cheese. The robin and her eggs will live to be afforded an opportunity to survive. But not one day longer, thought the father as he set his hose nozzle on jet spray. The little girl enjoyed her untamed pets vicariously as she knew not to disturb the mother and her eggs. The father, faced with his unearthed predatory instincts, began treating store bought food in predatory ways by stalking canned hams.

There you have it. The first draft of a remarkable blog post. Fascinating, isn’t it? Thanks to unidentifiable drugs I found next to a crossword puzzle book under a bus and an innovative black market text generating software, I was able to turn what you have just read into an insightful, thought provoking and utterly hilarious blog article. There’s no secret, really – anybody can do it. Well, there was a secret until I told you about the drugs and the software and that gypsy I pay to help me organize my thoughts (and by “help me organize my thoughts” I mean “write the whole thing”). Shoot, now you know about the gypsy. Damn! I better shut up now, else I’ll have nothing to share with marauding people in the street.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Muse on the Cruise

As the springtime magnificence of Lombard’s Lilac Time fades from the memories of village residents, the weekly summer tradition of Saturday night Cruise Night takes over as the calendar turns to June. Makes sleepy Lombard sound like the Hamptons, eh? They need to hire me over at The Chamber of Commerce for the Events Committee or Tourism Board. I’ll have every hotel room in a 50-mile radius booked all summer.

For the uninformed, on Cruise Night the parking spots along our street are reserved for guys that can’t stand their wives and spend all their time in the garage fixing up hot rods to show off to other guys that can’t stand their wives and share the same hobby. Some of them may share wives but that part isn’t sanctioned by the village. It officially starts at 6 p.m., but the guys that really, really can’t stand their wives start staking out their spot around 3 p.m. The process involves parking your hot rod, placing a “Do Not Touch” sign on it, and then pulling out your chair in a bag to watch people admire your handiwork.

The event covers approximately three blocks and an overflow area in the bank parking lot. In the middle, it also spread eagles into a side street with either a DJ spinning oldies or a cover band, as well as a couple vendors selling pizza and a mysterious table set up by the Citizens on Patrol Alumni Association that everyone justifiably seems afraid to approach for some non-specific but very real reason.

The sidewalks get pretty crowded since the village planted trees on the sidewalks in the downtown area as part of the recent revitalization attempt. This wouldn’t be bad, except the trees are not mature (and constantly making fart jokes) so instead of just walking around a tree trunk you have to avoid a plethora of low hanging branches, and machete use is discouraged during these events. And by discouraged I mean the police don’t think it’s funny even if you do it dressed only in a loin cloth.

Most of the punk-ass kids in the town hang out at the 7-11 on the border of the Cruise Night festivities, but every once in a while a litter of six teenage girls (and it’s always six) will cross into the demilitarized zone led by the alpha female as determined by the loudest and most annoying of the bunch. Their collective screeches and cackles make one want to tear out the antenna of a nearby GTO and skewer ones own eardrums to lessen the pain. Eventually one learns to duck and cover and they will quickly pass. The teenage guys generally stay clear since the crowds make sick board tricks prohibitive.

The quality of the performing cover bands can vary. The first one of the year (First Avenue) was so bad I longed for the screeches and cackles of the teenage girls to help drown out the noise. The band was about as tight as a retired porn star and looked as if they had just finished up a tour of duty as roadies for a Foghat reunion tour. I’ve invented a scale to score the popularity of a band – it’s called the “Chair in a Bag” (CIB) factor. The more people that actually bring their chair in a bag and plant it in front of the stage, generally the more popular and better the band. Fifth Avenue had approximately four such hearing-impaired folks. This week, a pretty good group called The Renditions put on a decent show and had an estimated CIB factor of 30. The matching shirts were a nice touch as well (I’m talking about the band, not me and the Mrs., although our “Keep On Truckin’” tees are always a big hit with the crowd). To close out the summer they usually invite American English, one of those Beatle tribute acts that even try to dress and look like the Fab Four. I usually hire a girl with a fake leg to dress up as a Heather Mills look-a-like and then we go taunt the Paul look-a-like. I consider it performance art. Laurie Anderson, eat your heart out. We also make fun of the fake Ringo because, hey, he actually chose to be the fake Ringo. They draw a pretty big crowd and are off the charts on the CIB scale. [Oh, and doesn’t that new iTunes commercial want to make you punch that bloke Paul in the nose and smash that damn mandolin into pieces like Belushi did in Animal House?]

Ah, yes, the cars. Despite all the above entertainment, the cars are what actually motivate me to put on pants and leave my couch. There’s the usual collection of old school Mustangs, as well as GTO’s, Novas, Chevelles, Camaros and most others you would expect. I say that because I’m not a car geek and pretty clueless as to what I’m looking at, although it is great fun to stare intently under the hood of the ’68 Mustang and point out the 302 engine. The engine compartments on most of these are pristine and with my new glasses I can easily read the writing off the air filter holder thingy and nod faux-knowingly. There are also some great enormous cars from the 60’s that are nearly a block long with soaring fins, blinding white interiors, and steering wheels that could steer a boat. These are our favorites and the Mrs. has her eye out for a 1965 Cadillac DeVille Convertible, so let me know if you happen to have one sitting around your garage that you aren’t using. We have some bicycles and a George Foreman grill to barter.

Oh, and note to the dudes showing late-model Corvettes out there: Serious? Yes, your good credit impresses me. Now beat it.

In fact, new rule: Anything newer than a third generation Monte Carlo (so that puts us around 1980) is disallowed. I’ll allow a one-week grace period before unleashing the gravy bombs from my balcony.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Phlebotomy, Pancakes and Hippocrates

. I had an early morning doctor’s appointment this week so we we’re done at like 10:00 a.m. Although, they had to stick me not once, but twice, so I looked like a conscientious heroin addict with tape and cotton balls stuck to both arms when it was time to leave.

We have to leave the house around 6 a.m. for these appointments so it doesn’t leave much time for a balanced breakfast of Frosted Flakes and chorizo shooters. I’ve been experimenting with foods lately and I’m getting a better idea of what foods I can eat, so I suggested breakfast after the appointment – an option that wasn’t on the table in the middle of my treatments. I had heard about a place in the South Loop called Orange on Harrison so we decided to give it a shot. We passed on the Seuss-inspired green eggs and ham – rumor has it that it’s more novelty than delicacy; however, the Mrs. ordered up the half stack of jelly donut pancakes and it did not disappoint. Except for the fact that it wasn’t a full stack. I went with the frushi, which is sushi with fruit instead of fish. Kind of in the middle on the novelty/delicacy scale, but tasty despite being more rice than fruit. Cool joint with those funky server chicks that don’t appear to give a crap about their job but actually do a pretty good job bringing the service. They must all be hopped up on the orange-flavored coffee.

It was a pretty nice day and now that we were nourished, we did what any normal fun loving couple would do when playing hooky. Yep, we drove up to Old Town to visit the International Museum of Surgical Science. I’m not risking a sunburn for either of our crappy ball teams. Parking was a bitch, but we were justly rewarded when we found out that Tuesday was free day at the museum. Unfortunately, the place was accordingly packed and we had to jockey around the other three visitors there that afternoon. But it was well worth it to see the primitive amputation kits, trephination drills, an iron lung machine, early prosthetic devices, the first x-ray machines, the story of the Japanese dude that developed anesthesia (as well as the earlier chloroform rags that it replaced), an old-school wheelchair, and the Hall of Immortals featuring statues of bitchin’ medical celebs from Hippocrates to Lister (who suggested that it might not be a good idea to have a gallery of coughing, dirty orphans in the OR during surgeries). Those are just some of the highlights – we went through the place pretty quickly and it still provided over 1-1/2 hours of spine-chilling entertainment. There were also two rooms containing art exhibitions inspired by medicine, although each room inspired us only to look at each other and say “huh?”. Giant oil paintings throughout the museum depicted scenes including primitive amputations, trephinations, and operating rooms with galleries full of coughing, dirty orphans. A visit to this place will make you thankful you were never an 18th century patient of any sort and you will never complain about a visit to the doc again. In case I didn’t make my point yet, perhaps you ladies will enjoy the picture of the vaginal speculums that I took for you. So shut the heck up and go get your pap smear. It’s for your own good.

On the way out, the Mrs. added to her collection of museum t-shirts to further solidify her nerd status. As if the visit alone didn’t do it. But I think that’s a status symbol in med school.

We finished off our day in the city with a couple rolls of sushi at a cool little place around the corner, and then started our trek back to the ‘burbs. As soon as I got home I needed a nap, and I somehow was able to avoid any nightmares of trephination. However, the frushi and sushi combo were probably responsible for the dream about drowning in a rice paddy.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Chuck E's In Love

I might have to change Internet providers. Comcast’s spam filters obviously missed the piece of email with the subject line “Opportunity.” They normally get deleted but this one was from my sister, and I was curious if she had discovered a way to make big bucks from home or found a cheap source of Viagra or Cialis so I opened it up. I can always use more money and better erections, although buying boner pills from my sister seems a little creepy so I was hoping for the former. Turns out the opportunity was for a free meal. Of pizza. At Chuck E. Cheese. For my niece’s 4th birthday party. With about 25 other four-year-olds. And my two-year-old nephew. I was getting hives just thinking about it. However, my sister and her husband have always been hospitable and generous to us, so me and the missus agreed to help out. Well, the missus agreed to help out, and I felt guilty since it was my family so I agreed to go along.

The party was scheduled for 10:00 a.m., with pizza and cake at 10:45 and evacuation orders for 11:30. How hard could it be? We were instructed to meet at my sister’s house at 9:00 a.m., but I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was just in case one of the kids got caught in ductwork or Krazy Glued themselves to something. I guess they weren’t feeling too creative that early in the morning as neither scenario was the case. From there we received the second part of our mission – follow my sister to the party palace to set up. I had thought that’s what you paid Chuck for, but my family has a habit of overdoing everything party related. Upon arrival, my sister popped the trunk of the sedan and we were directed to unload the 25 colorful beach pails full of party favors with each invitees name written on them. After several trips past Chuck’s velvet ropes all the pails were inside and it was time to arrange them on the designated tables taking into account personalities, rivalries, alliances, political preference, gang affiliation and a software program designed by eHarmony for pre-schoolers. Next, twenty tokens were counted out and delivered to empty cups at each place setting. And finally, in a gesture of never-ending hope, anti-bacterial wipes were set out at the end of each table.

The finishing touches were in place a few minutes early, so I stole some tokens from the cup of a likely brat named Gavin and, before the paddles got covered with kid spit, I demonstrated some mad air hockey skillz with a 7-3 schooling of the wife. Niece and nephew showed up while I was in the breakdance portion of my victory celebration, which was interrupted by the next part of our mission. My sister and the Mrs. took the birthday girl and her tokens to the game area, while dad and grandma did the same with nephew. That left me happily unassigned so I quickly volunteered to stay behind and use my imposing 165 pounds and menacing presence to guard purses, cameras, baby seats, diaper bags and unclaimed tokens. I thought this suited my anti-social personality until I realized I had also inherited the responsibility to greet lost-looking MILFs, relieve them of any gifts, show them where to secure game tokens, and get them to the games so I could return to my peaceful post while sipping Powerade. Some of the church friends seemed to know who I was and said they were praying for me. I wondered if this was because of my recent illness or some implied moral depravity, but instead thanked them without inquiring any further. The plan was working swimmingly until 10:45 when our host/server announced on the PA that all the germ-ridden rugrats should report to the seating area for bad pizza and lemonade. Unfortunately, they listened and my Walden was quickly transformed into a mash-up of an ecstasy-fueled rave and carnival funhouse.

An automated Chuck E. Cheese came alive and lip-synched to seemingly anachronistic classic rock groups like the Doobie Brothers. Accompanying videos of Chuck and his posse played on monitors throughout the room. And scores of children bounced around the room like moths in a lightbulb factory. After each of the kids nibbled enough pizza to satisfy their parents, the Hello, Kitty cake was presented and the host/server led the official Chuck E. Cheese birthday anthem with admirable enthusiasm. Soon after, the cake was cut and doled out to the waiting sugar addicts whose juice boxes had run dry. Next, the curtain closed around the automated Chuck E., and the live in the snot-crusted fur Chuck E. appeared from backstage. The children all gathered around as he prepared to do some sort of performance, and video camera duty was suddenly thrust upon me. I raised the camera up high to capture the action and started to praise myself as the Scorcese of children’s parties when I was unexpectedly relieved of my duties by my exasperated yet polite sister who confiscated the camera, claiming that she could get a better angle as she moved in and took a place atop the back of one of the sturdier children. I happily slinked back to my station guarding the remaining cake and stack of birthday gifts and sipped my Powerade as I rested my arm. Eventually, the formal portion of the event wound down, but the kids did not. Grandma was exhausted by this time, and dad had gotten distracted by his Blackberry, leaving an unattended 2 year-old nephew unexpectedly as my charge. I panicked and called the Mrs. to help as I chased him into the gaming area where I caught him climbing up the side of a Spongebob machine.

Since, we had a climber I relocated him to the playground area where he could climb up this fort thing and then slide down. This lasted quite a while, and the low-maintenance and simplicity of the activity pleased me. He then sprinted to the assorted “rides” – one-seaters in the form of a train car, airplane or bulldozer that would gently rock back and forth after being fed a token. However, he didn’t appear interested in the ride part as much as buckling himself into the seat and then trying to disengage the buckle. So we’d disengage it, and then he’d buckle himself in again. Repeat. Like fifty times. But I didn’t mind since he wasn’t screaming or drooling on me. Then move to the next ride. Buckle in. Unbuckle. Buckle in. Unbuckle. Repeat. Cool. Parenting is easy. I don’t know what Moist Rub is talking about.

Suddenly he shot out of the playground area and into the video game area. The cool thing about playing video games with a 2 year-old is that you don’t even need to use tokens. You just hold him up and let him pound buttons while cartoon characters float across the monitor and you get to pocket his tokens. We did have to drop a couple tokens on the Pop-A-Shot game since you can’t get the basketballs unless you pay up. The Mrs. held him while I attempted three-pointers from back behind Whack-A-Mole game. I collected the prize tickets that the game spit out and would surely have enough to trade in for a cool sex toy from the prize cage when the day was finished. While this was going on, my sister had loaded up all the booty and leftover party favors into the car and then came to collect her kid. We handed him over, received many thanks, and even scored a few extra tokens as a gratuity for our efforts.

Now that the kids were gone, we got down to business with some serious Skee-Ball action. The Mrs. proved a worthy opponent here and our extended match ended in a tie. We collected our tickets and found that we had enough of them to take home three Tootsie Rolls. I guess the Jelly Pocket Pal will have to wait ‘til next time.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Doin' Some Parenting

Being a parent, sometimes I have to actually do some parenting. I rarely feel like parenting. Sometimes children ask for parenting, and sometimes I’m there to deliver. Other times, I’m lying on the couch dreaming of lawnmowers made out of fudge. I’m not speaking of the life-sustaining parenting such as feeding them, housing them, giving a crap about them and providing them air to breathe (not that providing air is such a challenge, but I could just as easily take it away with a plastic bag while they were sleeping) (not that I ever consider doing that). That type of parenting seems innate to me (so far). It’s the getting them to act like reasonable human beings that I don’t enjoy doing. I’m not very good at it because I’m not even sure how to act like a reasonable human being.

Children don’t understand a parent’s plight. The younger ones are oblivious to any motivation we might have, but the teen-agers are aware of it, but they don’t get it. They think a parent’s sole purpose in life is to hassle them, when in reality hassling them is a hassle to us (us meaning me). But I do it at times, just like I pay my bills late, because I’m sort of responsible. They don’t understand that I’m just a person trying to live my own life, trying to enjoy the things I like doing, trying to avoid being hassled and trying to keep them alive until they are eighteen. You would think helping them stay alive for their first eighteen years would be enough incentive for them to follow orders. They probably don’t understand how close they are to death each and every day. Do I need to throw down empty death threats to keep them in line? Because, in the interest of educating them, I will. I may even kill the dog in front of them just to illustrate the finiteness of life. So far I’ve relied on empty-threatening a good pounding and maybe a cheerful spank here and there. Doing anything more than that would be a hassle.

Note about empty threats: I know some parenting books and magazines and nosy neighbors and over-achieving parent-types in the PTA frown upon flinging empty threats at children. They claim that they are ineffective and actually result in promoting the behavior you are attempting to squash with them. But, they do serve a purpose. They allow the child to live to see another day. Empty threats give the threatener a chance to confront the proposed action without actually carrying it out. Generally, this is enough to quell the threatener’s urge to strangle or decapitate or to catapult the threatenee, thereby saving the child’s life. Empty threats are acts of mercy.

I’ve been parenting for several years now. Since the time they were grubs, when I first confiscated their rattle for using it to pry off Aunt Ethel’s dentures, to the time I grounded them last week for spackling the teacher’s ears shut while she napped during a film strip, my rule has always triumphed. How could they ever believe it wouldn’t? You would think that the structure I have established in the past would provide the groundwork for my children to behave in a suitable manner so I would not have to unsheathe my parenting weapons here on out. But it doesn’t work that way. For some reason, they continue to attempt to act independently. I try to reason with them, explaining that independent thinking will lead to rash liberalism causing anarchy and a society of evil foot-loose-and-fancy-freeness. They look at me and say, “huh?” I tell them they should be sheep like the bible says and they don’t want to be sheep because sheep have to poo outside or wherever they happen to be and can’t get their hair cut at Great Clips, even though you would think they should be able to, but it’s probably due to the uncontrolled pooing. I look at them and say, “huh?” So, at least we understand each other. My biggest issue is that I can’t tell them the real reason I want them to behave – because it makes my life easier.

This protest pertains to my son more than to my daughter, who is still a sweetie and actually thinks I know what I’m doing. Sadly, time is running out on that luxury. The son, who is four years older than she is, senses some of my lackluster parenting style and looks to exploit it whenever he can. The other day I was supposed to coach my daughter’s softball game. The son looks forward to game days because I don’t cook dinner and he is free to hang out with his friends and grab something to eat using the hard earned money he took from my pocket when I was drunk. Unfortunately for him, the softball game was rained out, so I called him and told him to be home at six o’clock for dinner. The daughter and I then went to the store to buy food, as all I had in the refrigerator was freeze pops, some of which we ate for dinner the night before. I decided to make veal parmesan, so I bought some breaded veal patties, marinara sauce, Twinkies, cheese, spaghetti and garlic bread. When I got home there was a voice mail message from the son. He decided to stay out with his friends and grab something to eat. He decided. HE decided. I called him to tell him to be home by six. He resorted to his primary weapons of a whining barrage coupled with a battery of insane debate, such as “If I don’t come home for dinner, then starving people in Africa can have my food” or “I may get hit by a car crossing the busy street” or “But, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out……but, Dad, I’m already out”. I’m no match for his tenacity, especially since I didn’t really care if he came home for dinner. But, as usual, it came down to a battle of dim wits. Clearly I had the advantage, having been a dim wit for much longer than he has been. I decided to let him win the battle so I could whale on him later. I ended the conversation with a curt “Don’t bother coming home at all.”

I finished cooking dinner and set up a nice spread on the family room table for me and the remaining half of my brood who actually cares about me. She took her plate, set it on the coffee table and turned on the TV. Spongebob is considerably more interesting than I am, so I couldn’t blame her. I left my plate, untouched, grabbed the box of Twinkies and went to my room.

The evening progressed in ordinary fashion. The daughter and I did spend some time together building decorative pillows out of Legos, after Spongebob was over, of course. By the time I got around to doing the dishes it was nine o’clock. I began to look out the window for the arrival of the son. It’s not a hard set rule, but I’ve never let him stay out past nine o’clock on a weekday. Since he wasn’t home yet I wondered what he was up to. I thought about our earlier mensa-like phone conversation and then it hit me. He was abiding by “Don’t bother coming home at all.” He decided to pick and choose my commands, as if I were some kind of produce market of nagging.

I waited until about nine-thirty, in case he was just late. He didn’t show up. I called him. “Where are you?” I demanded to know firmly. “I’m at Lindsay’s house”, he replied as if nothing ever happened. “Is that a girl?” I asked. Of course it was a girl, but it threw me off my game. He was at a GIRL’s house! Alright! Way to go, son! I never got to go to a girl’s house until I mistook that sorority for a lecture hall freshman year in college. And I paid dearly for it. I don’t want to get into it now. Let’s just say that me being a man isn’t the only reason I’ll never breastfeed a baby.

So, he was at a girl’s house. What a good boy. I am so proud of him. I’m lucky to be his father. I hope to be like him someday…WAIT A MINUTE, where was I? I regained my composure and asked him why he wasn’t home yet. “You said ‘Don’t bother coming home at all’ so I didn’t.” I KNEW IT! Although I saw it coming, and I was irked that he used that excuse, I was also impressed that he could think in that manner. “Come home now, please.”

When he got home, we had a little chat. I wasn’t angry but I didn’t want him to know that. I had my parenting weapons unsheathed and I didn’t want to put them away until I played with them a little. I don’t remember exactly what he said during our conversation because I was concentrating on my arsenal. He had a dumb look on his face, I remember. After I ardently explained to him that I’m not a nagging bushel of kumquats (you have to keep them confused) and that he is not allowed to decide which of my commandments he needs to heed, I gave him an ultimatum. I told him he can choose his dining experiences whenever and wherever he wants. However, if he opted for that privilege, I would not feed him anymore - EVER. He could have water, and that’s it. And only from the tub in the laundry room. This was not an empty threat. I was prepared to save money on his portions of food I would no longer have to buy. He sat there dumbfounded. I could tell that he could tell I was serious. I told him to give me an answer in the morning. Since he lives at his mom’s house half the time, I knew he wouldn’t starve. That’s called leverage, baby.

After about five minutes of silence, he told me he would like to continue eating at home. “I told you to give me an answer in the morning.” “But, Dad….” “In the morning! I want you to think about what you’ve done.” (I love saying that.) So, I was able to torment him all night while I slept. When he woke up, he repeated his answer to me and asked if he could have breakfast. I said, “I don’t know, can you have breakfast?” “C’mon, Dad, do we have eggs?” “I don’t know, do we have eggs?” Shut up, Dad. Sorry, son, I forgot to put away my parenting ray of confusion.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Unable To Fulfill My Duties

Don’t know if you saw it (actually, can’t believe if you didn’t see it), but Miss USA fell on her ass in the Miss Universe competition last week, where the only thing she really had to do was to try to look pretty and not fall on her ass. I can only imagine the chaos if they made contestants chew gum at the same time.

At this point, I’d like to clear up the confusion that often exists between Miss USA and Miss America. Consider me your foremost authority on both pageantry and pork rinds.

Miss USA is essentially based on hotness. There is no talent competition and you don’t even have to prove you can speak a coherent sentence unless you make it into the Top Five. Then you only have to be as coherent as the other four finalists. Which is a lot like being as in shape as the other guys in your bowling league. If you win Miss USA, the prize package includes a $200k crown and a $17k tiara, a $30k watch, a crystal trophy, a crapload of wardrobes, a swimsuit wardrobe, a shoe wardrobe, salon services, fitness membership, dermatology services, hair care products, PR training and representation, modeling portfolio and contract, an American Airlines vacation, a NYC apartment for a year with living expenses, access to all hip NYC events, and a salary just for being hot. You also get to represent the good ol’ USA in the Miss Universe pageant. [They can call it Miss Universe because if there is life outside of our own solar system it probably consists of those ugly-ass alien life forms you see on the Sci-Fi Channel which are no competition for our Earthly beauties.]

Even though this year’s Miss USA fell on her ass, she seems to be doing much better than Miss USA 2006 – Tara Conner. After winning, Miss Conner dropped out of community college, moved from her small town in Kentucky to her NYC apartment and got right started on the big city moonshine, making out with other hot chicks, adding some Bolivian marching powder to her diet, and allegedly adding more than a few notches to her new designer lipstick case. She was allowed to keep her badass crown as long as she promised to do the rehab thing and not shave her head or beat up any SUV’s.

There is no scholarship money in Miss USA to help with an education to fall back on after the hotness fades away, so Miss USA is encouraged to hook up with a top tier professional athlete to support her unless she plans on hawking that crown on eBay for pennies on the dollar.

So that’s Miss USA for you. I’m sure Mr. Trump will correct me if I got any of it wrong. The Trumpster owns the thing in partnership with NBC.

Miss America, on the other hand, makes you prove you have some talent beyond strutting and places a little more emphasis on not only stringing together a coherent sentence, but seeing that it makes sense. If you can do that while keeping the swimsuit from riding up your asscrack, then they'll throw some cash your way for school. They still do the swimsuit and evening gown thing, but it’s only about one-third of the competition. The rest is based on the talent and personal interview. The actual percentages are a little unclear, since they’ve been adjusted slightly over the last few years as the organization struggles to find a network that will broadcast their exciting scholarship competition. ABC dropped them, and now CMT (yes, Country Music Television) has dropped them. That places Miss America just a step below NHL hockey on the American public’s “who gives a crap” scale of interest. How can you expect to hold a viewer’s attention with some baton twirling or tap dancing when a simple Google search will yield seemingly unlimited links to women who possess exponentially more captivating talents depending on your own particular turn-ons (or perversions). But I digress (no wonder it takes me so long to research and write these posts). It may seem like I’m ripping the organization but they do end up giving out something like $50 million a year in scholarship money instead of designer shoes and a key to hedonism. In return, the contestants agree to spend the dough on their education, usually to pursue their dream of becoming a special ed teacher or a veterinarian. Miss America also has to show support for a platform and promise to spend a year telling people around the world that stuff like AIDS, domestic abuse or homelessness is bad, so don’t do that stuff. I know that sounds cynical, but again, it beats doing blow off of Lady Liberty’s ass as Miss USA.

So how did I get so informed about the ways of pageantry? I used to be a woman. Not really… that’s still just a dream. Years ago, I dated a girl that did the pageant thing and claimed to be a something runner up in the Miss Florida competition. I’m not sure what place she got because I wasn’t really listening but instead just staring at her breasts. I’m kidding. In retrospect I realize that I wasn’t really listening because if you’re not first, you’re last. If she had won, then I could tell people I had dated Miss Florida and that might garner a little street cred. But a runner-up? That’s like dating the bass player in a band. (Unless it’s The Police or The Beatles.)

So anyway, while we were dating she got back involved with Miss America and was helping organize a local competition that would qualify contestants for the state-wide smile-off. Being such a high-profile local celebrity, I was asked if I would be a judge for the Miss Teen Farmers Branch contest. This was way too good to pass up. I’m sure you’re picturing me in the front row of a large auditorium, wearing a tux with perfectly coiffed hair and deliberately working an electronic scoring tablet. Not quite. I did, in fact, wear a suit, but I was sitting in a metal folding chair behind a folding table in the local community rec center, sniffing the fresh purple ink from scorecards that were just pulled off the ditto machine. I think there were six contestants that Saturday afternoon and a handful of family members in the crowd to cheer them on. We had to be done by 5 p.m. so that they could set up for the weekly senior citizen Bunco tournament that evening. Honestly, it was less than memorable. A couple of contestants were embarrassingly unprepared. Like a George W. Bush presidency. A few others were what one might expect from a Miss Teen Farmers Branch competition. I seem to recall the obligatory baton twirler (non-flaming, rec center rules), some singing and some dancing. There was an obvious winner, so I didn’t feel any pressure from potentially messing up the voting and pissing off my fellow two judges who had significantly more qualifications on their CV’s. No need to identify any misplayed hemidemisemiquavers in a classical piano piece. Our winner did some modern dance thing that looked pretty good to my untrained eye, and was much further removed from the awkward teen phase that plagued the other contestants. I only wish I could remember the lame questions I threw down for the personal interview portion.

I know it did inspire me to take pageant questions back to work to ask of potential job applicants. Great fun to ask an interviewee for a customer service position what they would hope to accomplish as Miss America. I highly suggest trying it some time.