Monday, July 21, 2014

Big Bad Me

By the time I decided it was “only” five stories high most of the damage had been done.   I had been standing at the base for several minutes and watched as little humans were dropped in, looped over then shot out of the tube like fleshy wet bullets.  It felt like a good idea, an opportunity to lasso in my age and replace it, for just a minute, with youthful exuberance.

Cathy tried to steer my attention elsewhere.  She reminded me about the time I spent hobbling around Navy Pier with chunks of elephant ears pasted down the front of my shirt because the swings that looked “harmless enough,” crippled my equilibrium.  Deep down I knew she was right, but when a beautiful Siren calls, the temptation to "Hulk out" with what little testosterone I have left, is far to hard to resist.  The curves, the lines, the laughter… Ooh man, I knew it was not to be trusted.  You know, there was a time (1997) when I thought I was some kind of low-grade superhero.  I was at the top of my game, a small city bad-ass born with the innate ability to steer clear of sketchy situations and the ulterior motives people tend to hide in casual tomfoolery.  That was a top three summer.  Now, I approach life like a baby in a mid-life crisis.  Common sense begs me to stay away, but an unreasonable amount of curiosity and fraudulent machismo often convinces me to follow the pretty woman who “Pssts” me down a dark alley.

“It looks like fun right?  I mean… it’s a slide, just a big wet slide.  It’ll be fun - - Right?  Right?!”  I beg her to agree; she doesn’t say a word, only motions that she and the girls will be waiting for me at the Lazy Lagoon.  As they walk away, my inner demons give way to battle once more.  Pro.  Con.  Pro.  Con.  I can make the right decision.  For the love of God, I have 38 years worth of experience on this Earth and I know, I KNOW, that if you’re wrestling with the idea of doing something for more than 30 seconds, odds are you should take a deep breath and walk away…WALK AWAY!!!  The Lazy Lagoon looks nice, but it doesn’t look exciting, so I begin to climb. 

I have little to no emotion while I mosey up the stairs.  I’m neither nervous nor excited.  I’m just a confident grown-ass man going against my better judgment. 
I’m gonna walk up those stairs and enhance my day with a refreshing trip down a five story-one loop water slide.  

As I stand in line, I begin to collect a bit of crucial information that was overlooked or undisclosed during my decision making process. First, from the base of the slide, five stories doesn’t really seem that tall, but as I stood on the platform I was convinced I could see Germany.  Second, you have to step on a huge digital scale before you enter the slide.  Your weight and a green light determine whether or not you have enough mass to send you through the loop.  I mean, there’s an honest-to-god weight, velocity, and gravity formula involved.  Finally, the door.  You didn’t just go up, sit on your butt and gently push yourself down.  No-no-no, you step into half a tube and onto a piece of clear Plexiglas and then told to cross your arms so as not to have them separated from your body during the fall!  Next, a steamy milk-ish colored door seals you in, “Clank.  Whoosh.  Next?”  The six kids behind me seemed really excited, so I let them cut in front.  I let another one jump ahead, because I felt my suit was not properly tied and when I thought I heard some loose change in my pocket, I let a couple more kids go while I looked for it.  Then...

“Hey buddy, you’re up,” says a small prepubescent voice.

I look over the edge and see Cathy and the girls waving at me from that lovely, Lazy Lagoon. From up here, it looks a little nicer, maybe even a little exciting, but I do not wear defeat well.  I turn for the scale.  With one foot on, I’m halted by a 16-year-old in a red tank top, who is apparently running this operation, “You can just hop right in, you’ll go down just fine.  In fact you’ll go faster than most these kids.”  I’m not sure if he’s being efficient or insulting me.  In either case I thank him and proceed to step into the tube.  I look down at my feet and realize I’m floating above the rushing waters as they spill inside down throat of this thirsty demon…. I-immediately-regret-my-decision-to-partake-in-such-a-ridiculous-and-callus-act-of-arrogance.

“Cross your arms over your chest and keep them like that until you get to the bottom.”  The boy in the red tank top yells.  I nod, but I don’t know why.  I want to step out, but the door begins to close around me S-L-O-W-L-Y.  I begin to hyperventilate and the clear tube is starting to fog up from my heavy panting.  Suddenly, I remember that scene from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure where a time traveling Napoleon has this euphoric wet slide experience at Waterloo in San Dimas, CA.  He’s smiling, laughing and slowly twisting through the turns, it’s pure joy.  That’s what I want, that’s the kind of slide I should be on... not this!  THIS is some NASA astronaut training shit, that's about to go down.  I hear a voice.

“Three.” It’s a countdown.  It’s a prerecorded robot lady voice and it’s not comforting.  I look at my feet.
“Two.”  It’s not a lady; it’s the sound of the Devil.  It’s the voice you hear when you play a Sheryl Crow album backwards!  My chin is quivering.
“One.” The floor gives way and for a split second I hover above the hole like Wile E. Coyote after realizing he has just raced a bit to far over the cliff.  Then my body begins to fall leaving my head level with the boy in the red tank top.   I hold up a sign that says “Yikes!”  I try to let out a scream, but the only sound to come out of my body was a very faint “Oh.” 

The speed at which my body begins plummeting to Earth had only ever been achieved in a dream.  I tried to close my eyes but the force of resisting air has my eyelids peeling over my forehead.  I feel no sense of joy, no exhilaration; just regret.  I see visions of fire, war, steam, babies crying and raw meat…  It’s clear I’ve hallucinated myself into a U2 video. 

The loop is a non-factor; I’m going way to fast to even remotely comprehend the fact that I’ve just defied gravity.  My main concern is my swim trunks, which are stuck so far up my ass I can feel mesh on the back of my throat!  What started as a small wet wedgie has progressed to the point where I’m manically worried that this colon-cleansing ride will rip me lengthwise into two pieces.  And then… It’s done.   It's over.  

I’m spit out of the tube and down a long straight-a-way.  The water is a bit deeper and my feet provide the resistance needed to slow me down.  At the end of the ride stands another boy in a red tank top.  I look at him and I’m overcome with emotion.  I literally have no idea what to do.  He has no sympathy or compassion for what just happened, he simply tells me to move.  I stand up, but there’s more blood in my head than my feet, this makes me hobble.  As I pull my shorts down off my nipples I’m suddenly overcome by that weird panicky don’t let them see you cry in public feeling. My eyes well up and I begin that bottom-lip-sucking-in-silent-cry you get after having the air knocked out of you, or after being hit in the face by a baseball.
The only legitimate option I had at this point was to run away, run far away from slide.

By the time the girls stop me from frantically meandering through the park, I’m back to my normal shade of pasty white and my eyes have stopped watering. They’re eager to hear about the ride.  They ask about the temperature of the water and how many steps there were.  They ask how long the line was and if there was a lifeguard.  Finally, they ask whether or not I’ll be going back down?   I hug them.  I hug them hard.  Cathy has that “I told you so look” on her face.  I kiss her and I want to renew our vows. I ask the girls about the Lazy Lagoon, “BORING!” they both screamed. “Nice,” I replied, “let’s go there.”


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Picture

All I can tell you about the picture is that it’s perfect in every way. It is perhaps the only known photo to carry every single human emotion on the face of the Earth. It is splendid with exhilaration. Oozing with terror. Overcome with joy and speaks to an infinite sadness. Every time I look at it, I have a hard time remembering anything else that happened that day; there is only this moment.

Let it be known, I did not know I was going to do this prior to stepping in line. It was a spontaneous reaction to a complicated thought bubble as we rolled over the last hill. The girl next to me, let’s call her Skeeze, (to protect her identity I did not use Elizabeth’s real name because she wishes more than anything that this picture would go away. But every year I have to remind her that awesome doesn’t go away, awesome gets awesomer). Anyway, she did not want to go on this ride and as a result had been screaming the whole ride - - THE WHOLE RIDE.

By the time we stepped off the ride, a crowd of eager adrenaline junkies had gathered at the photo kiosk. People were gawking and cringing while others were mad their faces had been cut off, but over in the corner, an event was happening. A horde of sun-blistered faces were pointing and laughing, laughing and pointing, laughing and… laughing at something. I had an idea, but really - - I had no idea. The butterflies that had been filling my tummy were unleashing a euphoric feeling of accomplishment. Little did I know, we were about to stumble upon one of the single greatest picture in the history of time - - A frozen moment, which would forever change the landscape of our lives.

I thought about the implications this could have. I thought about all the great works of art: American Gothic, Afghan Girl, The Sistine Chapel, that pizza from a Norwegian bakery circa 1996, and Nicole Kidman between Dead Calm and Moulin Rouge. I thought about how this could benefit future generations of… whatever?! Most of the onlookers saw a slice of Heaven that day. Others saw a missed opportunity, but for the six of us it represented everything great about our friendship. It was security. And confidence. And love. It was a sweet slice of life taken on a ride that specializes in pants crapping. This picture says a thousand words and each word is perfect. For nine long years this picture has been treated as folklore in the circles we share. Seen occasionally, but talked about often, I’ve decided to unleash it for all. It has to be out there for everyone to enjoy. Please take good care of it.
For Jen, Mike, Cath, Jason and Skeeze* (Not Elizabeth's real name)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Romancing the Stone

There’s an old Chinese proverb I made up stating that, “To not be startled when a panda sneezes, will only precipitate the toothy shrill of a dragon forged in Satan’s kiln.” Now, I’m not one for metaphors, but after staring at this clumpy sequence of words for the past hour, I finally understood what it meant… It’s about having the fortuitous balance between what you expect to happen (nothing), and how well you handle pain when that nothing turns into an unforgiving demonic clown giggle as it makes its slow jagged journey from your kidneys to your bladder.

7 a.m., August 31st, 2013. Chicago, Il.
I knew something wasn’t right the moment I woke up.  I was feeling a bit... umph, but all internal indications led me to believe it was the amazing plate of big-boy nachos I crafted for dinner the night before. Cathy, on the other hand, was convinced I was plotting a not-so-original excuse to get out of going to a wedding later in the afternoon. I assured her I was not, but warned her that a 3-hour drive into rural Indiana seemed less than ideal. She rolled her eyes, told me to “Deal.” We got in the car and left.

9 a.m-ish.  IN Toll Rd
I drove hunched-over the wheel clear to Gary, then just as suddenly as it appeared the feeling of "Umph," was gone. “It must’ve been a cramp.” I thought. “It was probably, mostly, just a cramp.”

2 p.m. Somewhere in IN, near corn field
“Do you?”
“I do.”
“Do you?”
“I do.”
Kiss. Hug. Pretzels. Punch. Congrats and Good-bye.

5 p.m. Across from Walmart.
The family gathers at your standard T.G.I Chili-Bees somewhere in Indiana.
“Are you Ok?" Cathy asks. "You're sweating!”
“I don’t know, that cramp came back, I’ll go walk it off.” I make my way down the hall and past a street sign confirming that I was in fact on “Flavor Rd,” a pile of driftwood, a life-sized replica of Dale Earnhardt high-fiving a miniature wood carving of Bobby Knight, a cactus wearing a Purdue sombrero, 7½ Bud Light Lime signs and a map of Paraguay before finding the bathrooms - - I step into the one labeled “Blokes.”

I unbutton my shirt and loosen my tie before splashing a handful of cold water onto my face. I can’t stop sweating and I'm almost to the point of hyperventilation. The pain was so unfamiliar, I began to fear an alien was about to announce itself and all his Earth annihilating intentions by shredding through my mid-section. I hobble back to our table, take a few sips of water grab Cath’s hand and then tell her in my most insane eye-squinting Gilbert Gottfried voice about the possibility of death. She takes one last Buffalo-Jack fried Chicken-stuffed Ranch burrito bite, dips it into a pool of Jim Beam-Teriyaki-Peanut M&M sauce and walks me to the car.

“What do you want to do? Do you want to go to the E.R? It’s about 30 miles away.” Cath asks. She knows I base all decisions on financial gains and losses, hospital bills are a loss, but she’s trying to make it seem as though I have an option… I don’t. I tell her that I just want to go back to her brother's house and lay down. She placates me. She drives.

5:35 Slowly begin to accelerate through country side
The pain has moved up close to unbearable. The sensation I’m getting is similar to swallowing a partially chewed Dorito as it slowly makes its way down your chest, except this Dorito was made by Lucifer and strategically put in the most uncomfortable spot, you never knew you had. The little relief I get by planking has my butt clenched so hard I’m afraid the slightest fart will literally lacerate ma’toosh.
“Cath?” I whine.
“Maybe we should just stop at your brother's house so you can change out of you fancy clothes and take off your heels… then we’ll talk about going to the E.R.?”
“Sure babe”

From here it’s gets pretty dicey. There's a lot of breathing, drooling and confessing of sins. At some point about halfway through this trip, I pass out! When Cathy notices she goes right into the standard “Violently shake the face of a passenger in your car if you notice they have passed-out from pain, while keeping one hand on the wheel and both eyes on the road” method. This worked about as well as you’d think. I woke up screaming and demanded that she now put the car in hyper-drive. Faster! Faster!! Faster!!!
“Where are we?”
“A couple more miles to the house.”
At this point my body was manically convulsing and I couldn’t stop quoting the rules for taking care of a Mogwai, circa Gremlins 1984, “Don’t feed after midnight. No bright light. And never ever get them wet….” I was delirious!
“Get me to the E.R!!!!!!!!!!”

Once inside, I become a slobbering mess. I’m crying… hard. Like I just finished watching Rudy. I’m completely out of my element and have lost all control of my emotions and limbs. They offer me a wheelchair, but I opt to awkwardly hobble-skip-tip-toe-Pee-pee dance walk into the exam room. Once I’m strapped down, they give me morphine………………

Oh, morphine - - morphine, morphine, morphine, let me tell you about morphine. Morphine is pretty much the most the most fantastical thing EVER! Once injected, it feels like you’re swimming on a bed made of stardust and 7000 thread-count sheets. Your veins are filled with an elixir I can only describe as blue menthol cough drops and Altoids. You can feel it traveling from your neck to your fingertips, it makes you smile and feel the way James Franco looks, IT IS WOOOOOOOOOOOOOONDERFUL.

With the pain now gone, they needed some info. First (I remember all of this, but Cathy has filled in a few blanks), a nurse asked for my social, to which I replied with my zip code. When she told me I was “missing” a few numbers, I gave her the telephone number I had when I was 6. When she said I was still “missing” 2 numbers, I added my address. Next, they asked a few questions about my family history. Apparently, I answered, “My wife is HOT!” for all of them, and as Cathy would later recall, I wasn’t taking “No” for an answer. This was enough info to send me for an X-ray.

I’m happily placed on a gurney and wheeled into the X-ray area. When I get there, there are two beautiful young ladies waiting for me.... ah yeah. Everything about this situation was dreamlike. I was feelin’ fine. I was lookin’ fine. I was spinnin’ tales, and in my head I was the coolest guy they had ever had in that room. This egotistical dream and disturbing vision of self quickly turned into a nightmare when those Sirens in scrubs asked me to “drop trou.” Look, I’m not modest at ALL, and 99 out of 100 times on morphine, this wouldn’t have been a problem, because 99 out of 100 times I would’ve been wearing some sort of... “hot docs want me to drop-trou X-ray apparel,” today, was the one time… I was not.

You see, when I get dressed-up (wedding), I like to wear my super-hip, sorta-tighter-than-they-need-to-be cherry red pants. The problem is, these pants only look right (and believe me they look right,) if they are sans panty-lines. In order to combat this fashion fuax pas I wear these - - Oh God… baby-blue-god-awful-fat-man-on-a-beach-in-Brazil-bikini-briefs-that-are-super-snug… Like unnaturally so. Cathy thinks they are hysterically… AWFUL. She often admits to being embarrassed just knowing that I’m wearing them.

I try to convince the technicians to put me in the machine headfirst, but they were pretty set on following procedure. I reluctantly try to vision how this scenario plays out and it does not look good. I’m completely demoralized when they tell me to, “Just pull your pants down around your ankles- -but keep your shoes on.” The thought of this makes me queasy. I concede and follow the directions; only to have the situation escalates into a full-blown panic when I attempt to stand. Inauspiciously, I realize my legs have forgotten how to work, and my belt has become some sort of unsolvable puzzle… Morphine!!! They are forced to intervene and within seconds, I’m a confused vulnerable mess. Cherry-red pants drooped around my vampire-white ankles and the front of my collar shirt tucked ridiculously into my little-itty-bitty-teeny-unimaginably-tight-baby-blue-bikini. There I was, in all my awkward glory, ready to shrivel-up and die from embarrassment, but not before they each grabbed an arm and held me up as I shuffled my feet like a darling little penguin across the room and into the machine. I could feel them shaking with laughter. By the time the whole ordeal was over, I couldn’t even look them in the eyes, I was broken. Minutes later a kidney stone was confirmed. We left with some prescriptions and waited 3 weeks for that little S.O.B to exit into the toilet with a “clink.”

I often think back to that day and all the lunacy that surrounded it. I think about that newly married couple and how I hope their marriage lasts through all the trials and tribulations that are present in our everyday lives. I think about my own marriage and how much ones love and affection can strengthen during a time of crisis; my wife is my eternal mate. But more importantly, I’m reminded of an old Greek adage I made up stating that, “When the sour grapes fall from the branch of narcissism, only he who wears the little-itty-bitty-teeny-unimaginably-tight-baby-blue-bikini briefs shall taste its humility,” or roughly translated: A kidney stone is made worse when your underwear is ridiculous. I don’t know, who cares.