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.
I knew something wasn’t right the moment I woke up, but all internal indications led me to believe it was the amazing plate of big-boy nachos I crafted for dinner the night before, that had me feeling… Eh. Cathy 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 it 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
I drove hunched-over the wheel clear to Gary, then just as suddenly as it appeared the feeling of "Eh," was gone. “It must’ve been a cramp.” I thought. “It was probably, mostly, just a cramp.”

2 p.m.
“Do you?”
“I do.”
“Do you?”
“I do.”
Kiss. Hug. Pretzels. Punch. Congrats and Good-bye.

5 p.m.
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 my breaths were taking me to the point of hyperventilation. The pain was so unfamiliar, I began to fear an alien was about to announce itself and it’s 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 in 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, hospitable 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 brothers and lay down. She placates me. She drives.

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 brothers 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 the 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-wearing-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 to 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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Costco and The Bigger Picture

“You only want to do what you wanna do. You’re not seeing the bigger picture (This little phrase would come up more than once in the next few hours). You can’t just sit around on the weekends and watch football, we have to do family things.” To this point, I have no argument, we should do more “family things” I just don’t think becoming a member of Costco at 1 pm on a Sunday is one of the 20 million choices I would put in that category.

Everything about this trip is ludicrous and I have a weak heart. I’m convinced my wife is knowingly trying to force me into a panic attack. The parking is terrible and the lines will be 20 deep!
“Why can’t I just go and do it on Tuesday?” I begin to plea as tears well up in my eyes.
“Because we should go as a family. Why can’t we just go as a family? Did you read that article I sent you about ‘Happy families?’ You didn’t read it did you? You need to read it and we are going to Costco.” She storms off shaking her head like I’m the most irrational person on Earth.

Truth be told, this is not our first Costco membership dance. This argument happens quite frequently and until now I’ve succeeded in thwarting this application many times, but this time it’s different, I’ll cave. This passive aggressive agreement, this lip-biting white flag is about to lead to the most ridiculous reason for becoming a Costco member… Salmon. I know… I KNOW the only reason we are about to pay for a membership is because of this fish. Anytime we eat it, pass it or think of it, Cathy mentions how much cheaper it’ll be at Costco. Salmon is literally her whole argument for joining Costco and after 3 years of arguing, it appears that she is finally gonna make it happen, albeit in the form of a “fun” family experience.

On the way there, I do my best to relax and go-with-the-flow, but the tension is palpable. The moral was already low and I could feel the wheels about to come off when I tell the girls we are embarking on a “family fun trip.” Cathy has had it with my attitude, so I grab her hand and make a truce. I promise her that I would not to ruin the "fun" as we lead our little army harmlessly in and out of that giant-big-boxed-devil chasm.

So we get there, and surprise! We are immediately escorted into a circle jam of bird-flippin’, horn-honkin’ dummies who appear to be hopelessly lost and confused in this endless M.C Escher-esque parking lot. For 30 minutes, we troll before finding a nice quiet paring spot, approximately 791 yards away from the entrance. I ask Cath, if she would like me to call a cab, she huffs and begins the 22-minute walk to Salmon City.

Once we get inside, I’m amusingly surprised when a spy older man named Mark nearly tackles me for entering his palace without flashing the proper credentials. Nose-to-nose we stand as he informs me about policy and membership. I assure him, we mean no disrespect and that we were, in fact, are there to become members of this great bulk buying society. He patted me on the back and then gave me some secret Freemason handshake before showing us to customer service.

I wait in line nervously, very close to a panic. I watch as a steady stream of people exit the building with boxes, full of boxes full of food that will go bad well before they are ever able to eat it. The lady getting our information asks if we would like to become “Executive Members.” I assure her we are only there to buy Salmon and that the “Regular” member plan is sufficient, she smiles and says that the Executive members receive benefits like points and money throughout the year and that the salmon and other stuff will basically pay for itself. Cathy thinks this is worth it and we are now officially “Executive” members (Let it be known there is not a special bathroom for these members, which seems a bit hard to believe). We leave through the exit and whip around to the entrance where I flash my fancy black card at Mark; he gives me a fist pump, I acknowledge with a salute then proceed to crash into a Fiat sized box of granola bars.

For the next hour we methodically go up and down every aisle and debate the needs of our household. Cath is continually wondering aloud if, “That’s a good price for this?” My answer is always, “No.” She says I need to see the bigger picture and then proceeds to dump a 14lb box of arugula into our cart. My eyes widen, and assuming that we will now be eating salad for the rest of our lives, I toss in a 3-gallon drum of Ranch dressing; she pulls it out and tells me to stop being such an “Ass.”

Once we step into the frozen food aisle, we begin to argue. The topic being… “We can just put it in the freezer.” To which I respond in various ways like, “It’s not safe to have that much chicken/pork/rice/waffles/or cheese in the house.” I grab us a beautiful dinosaur-sized slab of salmon and place this membership-sealing monster carefully into the cart. On top of that, I put 48 rolls of paper towels. We both agree that this is a smart buy, but neither of us have a clue as to where we will store them when we get home.

Lucy and Ruby have eaten every sample we’ve passed. One of which, absurd as it sounds was… Cheerios. We’ve all eaten Cheerios, but apparently if you put 6 of them in a little white paper cup and hand them out for free, people go ape-shit. Everyone is plopping big yellow boxes of the worlds most popular cereal in their carts like they’re $50 flat screen TV’s the day after Thanksgiving. It’s surreal.

We finally make our way to the aisles that house the gorilla sized toothpaste tubes and drums full of enough Herbal Essences to clean the Canadian contingency of Sasquatches, when Cath coyly puts a 12 pack of deodorant into the cart. This blows my mind and I lose it. Once again she says, "I’m not seeing the bigger picture" and that it’s cheaper to buy these here and store them at home until they are needed.
“There is no way this is a good deal unless you’re opening a Walmart or plan on selling them out of the back of our car. Where are we gonna put them and more importantly how much deodorant are you applying every morning that makes this one of the few things we need in our cart?” We calmly discuss the merits of this purchase for a few minutes before coming to the gentle understanding that buying 1 maybe 2 deodorants at a time when they are on sale is a much better option.

We get in line, pay and then finish our daily calorie burn as we walk back to the car. The kids are in the backseat sharing an enormously gross Costco sundae. Cath is giving a pillow-sized bag of Popchips a taste and for some reason, I’m at peace, I’m calm. I lock my fingers between Cath’s, kiss the back of her hand and begin to think about what she said, “The bigger picture.” What is it? Is this it? Was joining Costco a metaphor? Maybe it made our marriage a little tighter… and I feel alive. It wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be and now we are all happy-ish. We pull out of the parking lot and into traffic, the sun is reflecting off the snow in a way that makes me think a higher force was at work today. Maybe I owe Costco my marriage and for that it should be thanked or at least properly recognized. I turn to look back, but I can no longer see it. I can’t see a damn thing, because there are a bunch of big–ass boxes, full of boxes-full of food that we’ll never eat before it goes bad crammed to the ceiling, and blocking every flippin’ view in the car!