In my previous post, I revealed one of the most embarrassing things that has ever happened to me. Here is another embarrassment (the list is endless, as the only thing I am sure of in my life is the fact that I will repeatedly humiliate myself!):

My husband and I had moved from California to Toronto, one of my favorite cities in the world. After a few weeks in a basement apartment, we bought a creaky old row house in the Greek neighborhood not far from the center of city. Everything was new and exciting to me—I loved buying my cheese at the World of Cheese near the Pape subway stop; I gawked at the slayed lambs hanging from the butchers’ windows during Easter week; I had my cardboard passport stamped by almost every country during the multicultural Caravan festival; and I rode the subway and streetcar whenever I could. The Canadian mosaic was great by me; I had no problem waving goodbye to the American melting pot.

And even my mistakes were fun. It took me about seven months to realize that mail is not picked up from your house, only dropped off (I repeatedly told my husband that I thought our mailman hated us as he refused to pick up my out-going letters!), I frequently forgot that speed limits were posted in kilometers and once went careening around a winding onramp thinking, Damn, these Canadians take their turns fast!, and I did not understand how spectacular hockey is until someone gave us tickets to a Maple Leaf game where we were seated just behind the plexi-glass barrier. (If you haven’t been to a hockey game, you must go! The skaters are like beautiful, graceful seals in an aquarium as they speed-skim around the rink. When they fight, fisting each other against the flimsy walls, you are startled into feeling alive.)

Eventually, I figured out most stuff, although it seemed that little unfamiliar encounters would pop up every now and then, as one did shortly after the birth of my first daughter.

I had just returned home with my baby from Womens’ College Hospital after a week of recuperating from a c-section while my baby was in Intensive Care. I’d had infrequent sleep and was teetering on the razor of extreme emotion. Additionally, there was a banana-shaped oozing gash at my pubic bone, my breasts were bigger than Dolly Parton’s (in fact, when I hobbled to the bathroom from my hospital bed one day, a tiny Philippina nurse looked at me and said, “Dolly Parton look out!”) and I was wearing my husband’s giant blue jeans with one of his over-sized triathalon tee-shirts. I looked, and was, a complete wreck.

There was a knock at the door, so I carried the tiny baby on my shoulder (one hand on her bottom, one hand free) and went to answer. A uniformed man stood on my porch. He had a clipboard in his hand.

“I’m here to read the meter,” he said.

I looked at him a bit stunned. In California, the meter reader went to the backyard and read the meter; he never knocked on your door. I had no idea what this moment would entail—him going into the basement perhaps?

“Okay,” I said.

“Here’s my I.D.” He handed me a laminated, drivers’ license-sized I.D. card.

I took the I.D. from him and didn’t even look at it. And then, in almost hypnotic slow motion, I put the I.D. in my mouth.

Yes. I PUT IT IN MY MOUTH. And I held it there, as if I were a human ATM just waiting for the cash to come out of some orifice.

I have no idea why I did this. I was delirious. I had been sniffing the baby’s hands and feet while she nursed. I think I put them in my mouth at times, too.

I didn’t realize what I had done until the man reached out and gently removed the I.D. from my mouth.

“I’ll take that now,” he said, and it was like I had suddenly awoken. My heart started beating, which in turn ramped on the pumping machine in my breasts. Milk pulsated out into wet bulls-eyes on my tee-shirt. I wanted to cry but I knew that to have stuck his I.D. in my mouth and then to burst out crying would only make the matter worse.


“Can I come in and read your meter?” he asked.

I sucked back the tears, stepped aside and let him pass. I figured he’d know exactly where to go.

When he left, he didn’t say goodbye.

SACRAMENTO, CA

It wasn’t until I was about 23 years old that I was able to face my family with the fact that I no longer believed in the Mormon religion. And even then I didn’t really face them. They found out in bits and pieces. The most obvious sign was the divorce, which I never told my parents about directly. They heard about it from my younger siblings. Through my siblings they also learned of my tattoo (oh my!) and my drinking (this hasn’t been verified, but I’m pretty sure they’ve heard about it by now). And of course the whole living in sin with my boyfriend for the past two years probably tipped them off as well.

At first they would try to get me to come back around. They’d question me about my beliefs and ask when I had been to church last. When I avoided their questioning or outright changed the subject they’d get upset, angry even.

But then they just backed off. I don’t know what it was that made them stop asking – perhaps the realization that I wasn’t going to change my mind based on their prompting – but they did. And now they’ve taken on a new tack: Acceptance. Well, sort of.

When I see them now, which isn’t often, my parents will gingerly ask me about my boyfriend and whether we have plans to get married. We don’t. Conversation over. If my tattoo is showing, my mom will complement me on it, even though I know she doesn’t approve of it. I’m always tempted to remind her of what she used to tell me when I was a teenager and I’d ask to get a tattoo or a belly button ring, which was, “You can do whatever you want when you turn 18, but not until then.” I never do say this. Instead, I just reach back and pull down my t-shirt so it’s covered again, and try to act as though she hasn’t said anything at all.

I often wish I had a better relationship with my parents (and my siblings for that matter), but when the opportunity to forgive presents itself, I find myself acting like a bratty teenager. I’ve spent many of the past ten years trapped among guilt, self-loathing and regret as I worked my way out of a religion in which I’m not sure I ever believed. My parents seem to have forgiven me, or at least are willing to look past my breach of trust, for leaving the church. But somehow I still haven’t been able to forgive them for judging me so harshly in the first place.

I’ve begun trying to make amends, but years of bitterness and hateful words have made it a difficult path. I find myself constantly having to bite my tongue when I’m with my parents so there won’t be any flare ups. In the past I’ve been able to spend no more than a few hours among my family members without a huge fight breaking out. But my last visit with them was actually somewhat pleasant, aside from the constant praise from my dad, and one particular sibling, that I’ve really grown up. Apparently acting civil toward people you can barely stand is a sign of maturity.

I don’t know how long the civility will last though. Each perceived wrong brings back the bitterness. Things like when my sister Katijona calls me to ask if I’ll be visiting this weekend for Peter’s baptism. I told her I didn’t even know about it so, no, I wouldn’t be there. Four days really isn’t enough time to plan for a trip to Utah. I couldn’t stop myself wondering if my parents didn’t invite me for fear that I’d turn another child against the church. After all, Katijona, of whom I’ve written before, remains unbaptized (which, of course, is my fault) and shows no signs of accepting Mormonism. When we spoke yesterday, she told me that the bishop asked her if she’d like to get baptized along with Peter this weekend. Her response? “I barely even come to this church, why would I want to get baptized?” Ha!

But I shouldn’t be laughing. I shouldn’t be proud that this 13-year-old girl has more gumption and resolve than I did at age 23. This is the thing that drives a wedge between my parents and I. But how can I not want to give her a big hug and tell her I’m OK with her decision?

I fear my parents (and some of my siblings) will be at odds with me for many years to come.

Chicago has an annual celebration of print literature called Printers’ Ball.

It’s a free event where a 100 or so lit organizations come together to showcase their weeklies, monthlies, yearlies, books, posters, horn-rimmed glasses, shaggy haircuts and zines. There’s also live entertainment and lectures and films and readings.

Of all the available super hero powers, I wish that I were telekinetic.

I’ve taken a close look at all the options out there: flying, invisibility, super strength…but these all seem so out of reach, and therefore completely unreasonable. I’m a pragmatist, and the truth is, somewhere in the depths of my being, I believe that if I really tried hard enough, I could do it. I could move stuff with my mind.

I had a kung fu teacher one time who swore that he could move things with his chi. Claimed he could blow out a candle with one focused ka-pow! I asked him to show me, but for one reason or another, we never got around to it.

I’ve tried teaching myself.  If you Google telekinesis, you’ll find all sorts of advice and demonstrations. Like this one: Guy moves CD using only his mind! And then, there’s this one: Guy bends spoon using only his mind!And then there’s this Dutchman fellow who appears to be able to levitate, using only his mind!

I even found an old documentary about a woman in Russia named Nina Kulagina who had been studied by a whole battery of scientists. She, too, could move objects on the table, such as utensils and balls, using only her mind!  

So, in the face of this incontrovertible evidence from the Internet, I know it can be done. I just haven’t figured out how to do it.

Yet.

A couple of weeks ago, a neighbor friend of mine told me about an energy vortex in the field across from her house. She said that if you stand there with a coat hanger (bent in the shape of an L, and then with one of the arms in a cardboard cylinder to reduce friction) it will spin in circles. You better believe that within minutes I was asking her to take me to this place. Take me to the vortex.

The next day, we met in the field. It’s in the back of someone’s house on the edge of the forest, so we called ahead to get permission. We took our coat hangers, and traipsed down the hill to the spot. Sure enough, the coat hangers immediately began spinning. My husband, Scott – who is kind of a geek and totally gets off on offering scientific explanations for everything – had taken along a meter to measure electric currents. What he found surprised him. He hadn’t expected to find anything – and that was exactly what he found.

That’s not exactly true.  While the coat hangers were spinning, he was actually able to measure a current.

“The air-voltage potential is going wild!” He exclaimed wide-eyed, before adding somewhat more quietly, “although it’s not repeatable or consistent enough to be conclusive.”

I eyed him darkly over my spinning coat hanger.

“What?” He asked, pulling out a magnetometer.

It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate his attempt at explaining the phenomenon in a scientific manner.  I’m a gemini and the more rational of my wonder twins welcomed it with a hearty “Form of …a modern, rational thinker!”  But I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a part of me that wanted something unexplainable to be happening.  My other twin sort of bit her tongue and defiantly thought in her head something to the effect of “Shape of a why-can’t-you-just-experience-the-moment, bitch.”  When the twins are at odds, it’s hard to come across with any sense of uniformity in the party line.


When the magnetometer returned inconclusive results, as well, I was secretly pleased. He’s lucky he’s cute.

When we got home, I needed to think about things. I needed to go over my experience and decide what had happened.  Had it been a scientific phenomenon that we had witnessed?  And if so, is it true that all paranormal phenomena can be explained scientifically – but that we just don’t have the science to explain it yet?  

From there, my brain went wild.  What if it were actually possible for people to possess paranormal traits, such as possessing the ability to project one’s self across space and time, being psychic, being telekinetic? I mean, how would I know?  For years, I had been assuming these things weren’t possible, but what if?  What if it was only my rational mind getting in the way?

I stood up from my place on the edge of the bed and peeked around the door.  I was alone.  I closed the door.  I knew I was being ridiculous, but I needed to know.  I hadn’t checked in years.  What if something had changed?  What if my experience in the vortex had changed me?  

Carefully, I pulled out a blue marble from a drawer and put it on the table in front of me, and…focused.

Nothing.

No matter. I closed my eyes, put my hand near the marble and tried again.

Still nothing.

I started getting agitated. If I was going to exhibit signs of telekinesis, I needed to act now. Who knew how long the power of the vortex would remain within my mortal frame? Plus, who knew how much time I had before Scott walked into our bedroom and found me staring at a blue marble on my nightstand like Saruman the White over the Great Eye?


I tried again.

Still nothing.

And suddenly, I felt, once again, ridiculous.  I would love to say that there was alcohol involved, but there was not.  Why would I even think I could do such a thing?  It’s absurd!  Had I watched too much TV?  Too much Batman Wonder Woman Spiderman SuperMan Super Friends Great American Hero X Files X Men Star Trek Star Wars Stargate Stargate Atlantis Battlestar Gallactica Lois and Clark Smallville Heroes?  Do other seemingly normal people out there perform periodic checks to see if they might be the unwitting carriers of assorted psychic powers?   Where did I even get this idea?  Have I always had this idea?  Have I been secretly harboring the assumption that deep within I have a hidden well of psychic abilities and have not been able to manifest them thus propelling myself into a life of frustration and disillusionment?

When I was a kid, I had a pair of Supergirl Underoos. They had been given to me by my older half sister, seven years cooler than I. I loved my Underoos with a zealot’s passion. To me, they were not just “the underwear that’s fun to wear” – they were a life choice. When I wore them, they made me feel as if I could accomplish anything. They completed me.

Supergirl was telekinetic. She was also extremely powerful and was a bit of a shape-shifter, but whatev. This girl could move things with her mind.

I have fond memories of posing in front of the large bathroom mirror over the sink in the bathroom. When I wore the Supergirl Underoos, I became Supergirl. I’d flex my muscles, I’d pretend to fly. I’d move things on the counter, using only my mind! It was my secret identity, known only to me…and sometimes my younger sister, who would occasionally barge into the bathroom unannounced and catch me at it.

We really could have used a lock on that door.

Incidentally, my younger sister and I also had a pair of Wonder Woman Underoos (also a gift from big sis), which we fought over tooth and nail when the Supergirl Underoos mysteriously disappeared.


I believe my mother can be blamed for the heist. Unlike Wonder Woman, which was comprised of an undershirt styled top and panty, Supergirl had a top that looked suspiciously like a bra.


At the age of 9 in a conservative Evangelical household, this did not exactly fly. I had already been shamed by my ungodly desire to want to shave my legs after I had been caught in the bathroom by my mother with her pink Lady Remington. (What? I was a hairy 9-year-old.)

Faced with only one top and panty set – Underoos is clear on the use of “panty” in the singular – competition between us was fierce. If there was only one set between us, and mom only washed clothes once per week, then it stood to reason that each of us could only wear the set once in a two-week time period. This led to all manner of deals and threats between us, including some interesting outfit choices in order to try and extend the life of the Underoos beyond a bi-weekly event. Sure, a panty can only be worn once before it needs washing, but the cool top with the gold eagle-emblazoned red bustier could be worn at least a few times before it needed cleansing treatment. I’d pair the undershirt with a pair of light blue panties (plural, and therefore not as amazing or powerful), pull on a pair of red knee highs,et voila! I was Wonder Woman on laundry day.

I miss my Underoos. They had a brief, but brilliant life. At some point near the beginning of the fourth grade, I decided to make a secret appearance as Wonder Woman. Little did I know that it would be my last time. I dug out the Wonderwoman Underoos from my drawer and got ready for school. I knew in my gut that I was too old for that, and yet…and yet.

My teachers and classmates had no idea how protected they were that day – that a Superhero walked amongst them. Nobody had to know. It was my little secret. Somewhere around lunchtime, however, I realized the flaw in my plan.

Gym class.

I panicked. What if my shirt crept up in the process of clearing the projectile of a dodge ball? Seeing the potential horror of my decision I began to grow self-conscious that I might be discovered – that my identity would be exposed to the jeering taunts of my fourth grade class. I tried not participate. Used my superhero strength for good and turned Dodge Ball into Wall Ball. I went home at the end of school and retired my secret identity forever.


I believe that my first feelings of disillusionment followed shortly on the heels of this event.
To this day, I find myself feeling that I’m missing something in life – like I should be capable of something more. I should be able to accomplish bigger things, get places faster, fight for the greater good,
be telekinetic.

I decided to poll my friends to see if anybody else felt this connection – this strange sense of loss and lack of purpose in life after a childhood devoted to pretending to be a superhero. 21 of my friends actually responded to my poll. Of course, it is a rather small sampling of a huge cross section of our society, but I think we can learn from it all the same.

In my poll, I asked several questions, which for our purposes, I shall narrow down to three:


1.If you were a superhero, what would your special power be?

2.Did you have Underoos (and what were they)?

3.Do you have a clear sense of purpose in life, or is it hazy?


Here are the responses:
1 – Super strength / Superman / Hazy
2 – Know what people are thinking / Rainbow Brite / hazy
3 – Ability to beam places / Wonderwoman / hazy
4 – freeze time / no / clear
5 – Flying / Minerva / hazy
6 – get pregnant / Josie and the Pussycats / hazy
7 – flying / wonderwoman / hazy
8 – bendy / bat woman / hazy
9 – healing / wonderwoman, cat woman, spiderman / clear
10 – flying / superman / hazy
11 – the ability to dance and teleportation / no / clear
12 – flight / wonderwoman and Josie and the Pussycats / hazy
13 – telekinesis / batman, superman, he-man/hazy
14 – ability to survive on little sleep / no, but desperately wanted Superwoman / hazy
15 – treetop running, blasting off ground / no, but wanted He-man / hazy
16 – invisibility / Superman/clear
17 – telekinesis / Wonderwoman / hazy
18 – flight / wonderwoman / hazy
19 – flight / no / clear
20 – invisibility and omniscience / Incredible Hulk / hazy
21 – the ability to see through clothes / no / clear

Here is the final tally:

Of those who had Underoos:

hazy sense of purpose in life: 13 (87%)
clear sense of purpose in life: 2 (13%)

Of those who did NOT have Underoos:

hazy sense of purpose in life: 2 (33%)
clear sense of purpose in life: 4 (66%)

So, of those who wore Underoos, 13% feel as if they have a clear purpose in life.  Of those who did not wear Underoos, 66% feel as if they have a clear purpose in life.  

It may be interesting to note, that of the two respondents who did NOT have Underoos and who claimed that their sense of purpose was hazy, they both made a point of stating that they intensely pined over a pair of Underoos, but that their parents would not let them. So, it could be argued that these 2 people really belong amongst their Underoos wearing peers as they may have exhibited the same behavior – perhaps by making their own costumes out of felt and bedsheets. So, this final tally may be skewed with a deeper analysis of the situation.

Generation X has been referred to as “the lost generation.” For some reason, we who were born between 1965 and 1981 are said to exhibit a “hazy sense of identity.” Numerous reasons have been cited as possible contributors, including the collapse of the Soviet Union, a rise in the divorce rate, drugs and economic strain. No doubt, these all played their role.

We are also the generation whose parents told us that we could accomplish anything that we set our minds to. We were assured that we were amazing and that we could change the world. We were the world. We werethe children. We were the ones to make a brighter day, so we had better start living.

And to prove it, we were bought Underoos.

Is there a connection? I don’t know. Was it that Underoos were a symptom of the times…or were they a contributing factor?  That is the question.  What do you think?


* I would like to note for the record that none of my friends had the Monchichi Underoos.

“Urban Rhapsody” from BRATZ: The Musical

The scene: Cloe, Sasha and Jade have just snuck out of the house after an all evening bender of vodka mixed with V8 Splash, stolen from Jessica’s mom.  Jessica, a precocious 5 year-old with the propensity toward long tantrums followed by consecutive days of bottomless joy, has been their caretaker ever since she got them for her birthday the previous year.  She is currently sleeping soundly under her Hello Kitty bedspread in the corner of the room.  The curtains flutter playfully in the open window next to her head…

[sung to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody – click here if you would like the tune in the background, you’ll need to open it in another window so you can karaoke it…]

Is this the real life –

Is this just fantasy –

Caught in a manslide-

No escape from reality-

Open your eyes

Look up my thighs and see –

I’m just a po’ ho, I need your sympathy

Because I’m easy come, easy go

A little bi, little ho

Anytime you need a blow, doesn’t really matter to me,

To me.

(8 count)

Cloe:

Mama, just met a man,

Got drunk and pressed my luck

Pulled his trigger, now I’m fucked

Mama, a new life had just begun,

But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away –

Mama oooh,

Didn’t mean to make you cry –

Doc said I’ll be back again this time tomorrow –

Carry on, carry on, passion’s all that matters –

(8 count)

Sasha:

Tuesday! My time has come!

Does anybody have a dime?

Body’s aching all the time

Goodbye everybody –

I’ve got to go –

Gotta leave you all behind and drink some 40 proof –

Mama – ooo – (any time you need a blow)

I don’t want to die,

I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all –

 

Jade:

I see a little silhouetto of a man…

Gotta douche! Gotta douche! Where did that damn man go?

Butter, carbs and shortening – very very frightening me –

Ass of J Lo, Ass of J Lo,

Ass of J Lo, Ass of J Lo

Paris, Britney – magnifico –

But I’m just a po’ ho and nobody loves me –

She is just a po’ ho from a po’ family!

Spare her this life from this life on the streetz!

 

Easy come, easy ho, will you let me go?

Shut up, bitch, no! We will not let you go – let her go –

Shut up, bitch, no! We will not let you go – let her go –

Shut up, bitch, no! We will not let you go – let her go –

We’ll not let you go – lemme go!

We’ll not let you go – lemme go!

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no means yes!

C’mon mami, c’mon papi, c’mon mami lemme go –

Snoopp D-O-Double-G has a place in his crib for me, for me, for me!

 

So you think you can bone me and spit in my eye –

So you think you can love me and leave me to die –

Oh baby – can’t do this to me baby –

Just gotta get off – just gotta off right here –

 

Oooh yeah!  Oooh yeah!

Passion’s all that matters,

Any 6-year-old can see,

Passion’s all that matters, passion’s all that matters to me,

 

Any time you need a blow…

 

There are two kinds of people in my world:

Those who think Tom Waits is some sort of musical demigod and those who erronesouly think he’s black.

This is not to imply they (or I) might be racist, just uninformed, or unacquired.

Maybe they are afraid of his voice?

He does sound a little like Louis Armstrong’s nightmarish great grandfather might’ve sounded after a lifetime of pounding coffin nails and guzzling sour mash.

Waits is one of those polarizing figures.

My boyfriend and I were driving home from the movies the other night. Which movie is not the point, but for the sake of setting the mood, it was a comedy and we laughed and we laughed.

The point is he’s got satellite radio in his car and he was flipping around to find something decent for us to listen to.

We tend toward a channel called Deep Tracks (AKA excuse to play understandably forgotten Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tunes) or Top Tracks (AKA excuse to play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” again, but with the benefit of really crisp acoustics.)

One can also find some decent comedy from time to time. And a hardcore rap show hosted by Ludacris. He and his partner swear and everything. We never listen to indie rock on satellite. I don’t know why.

Sometimes Mark turns to Hank’s Place, a channel that usually plays fine and classic country tunes. This time around, we found ourselves in the midst of a ditty with lyrics about getting old, and likening the aging dilemma to having the value of a precious, antique violin.

For reason that are probably apparent, Mark kept hitting the satellite radio remote, scrolling through our many other options to see what else we might find.

We came upon a jazz channel called High Standards.

Tony Bennett was singing.

I’m sorry to say that the name of the song he was singing now escapes me. Whatever the song was, it was quite good and not one I was familiar with.

A factoid emerged from my brain.

 

 

Tony Bennett is known to have been a fan of the marijuana. He went so far as to document it in his autobiography. Apparently it became a problem, but I prefer to think of him as a groovy velvety-smooth-voiced, cannabis-smoking man who lit up way before it became associated with hippies and lazy people. His whole crowd probably did it. You know the jazzbos — they were cutting edge, did dark things on the down low.

Anyway, I’m listening to Tony Bennett and I start thinking about his digging grass and it suddenly hits me, “Damn, I bet it would be really cool to get high to Tony Bennett.”

I don’t get high anymore.

I have an unfortunately sensitive disposition. Afflicted with a tendency for over-thinking, and the old cliche of fear and loathing whilst under the influence of most artificial substances (though thankfully not sugar or wine), I had to stop all forms of partaking in my early-20s.



I was instantaneously saddened at the thought that, in all likelihood, I would never smoke a joint, or load a pipe — fashioned from a Coke can or otherwise — with marijuana and have the experience enhanced by the dulcet sound of Tony Bennett’s voice.

My single-minded concentration on hard rock during my most prolific and potent smoking years started to seem really short-sighted. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin both opened and blew my mind for sure. But clearly not enough. Not enough for Tony Bennett to enter my consciousness.



I considered that if my grandmother had played a more influential role in my life during my teenagehood, perhaps then I might have had my time with Tony Bennett. Or, conversely, ridden a real bummer in the form of the soundtrack to YentyI thought about the people I know who still smoke. And how the world was still their oyster. As it applied to the possibility of hearing Tony Bennett while altered.

I thought about my dad and how he surely listed to Tony Bennett. While drinking. Which is different. If my dad had ever smoked, I imagine he would have put on The Band or Leon Redbone.

Then I wondered what my mother might put on while she was smoking.

It felt like I was onto a new smoking game. “What Would So-And-So Listen To?”

Thinking about all the fun I was most likely never going to have made me tired.



Songs with the word “tired” came into my head.

I thought of The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting.”

And of The Beatles’ “I’m So Tired.”

Current artists didn’t seem to be writing songs about being tired. Or they didn’t seem to be writing songs that will stand the test of time about being tired. Maybe it has something to do with ecstasy and cocaine.

Getting high makes you tired.

I often have bouts of insomnia.

Getting high to Tony Bennett and then falling asleep sounded like heaven.

I wished that could be my plan.

It occurred to me that my desire to get high to Tony Bennett represented something else. A desire to be carefree. Relaxed. Spontaneous. Unafraid. All worthy aims. All goals I’ve been working on from different angles.

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line…

Anyway, satellite radio has some real hidden gems. I highly recommend it.

I don’t know if you noticed, but a few years ago Johnnie turned around. He used to be walking left; now he’s going right.

When pressed, the Johnnie Walker company explained that leftward leads to the past, while to the right lies the land of the future. And if there’s anything Johnnie stands for, it’s the future.

In our room that morning as we changed into our bathing suits, stuffing towels and Coppertone into the souvenir Pan Am flight bags our father had gotten for us on a business trip, Glen told me how it would go.

“Answer her questions, but don’t start a conversation.”

“But Dad told us what to say last week. Remember? He said when we meet her to smile and say, ‘I’m state your name, very pleased to meet you, Kate.’ ”

“Yeah, I remember,” said Glen. “You can say it, but you don’t have to mean it.”

“Okay.” I watched him put a book into the bag and then slip a small white bottle of roll-on deodorant in after it. “Why are you taking that to the beach?”

“Don’t want my pits to stink.”

“You think girls from school will be there?”

Glen’s face went red as he zipped up the bag, then mumbled, “You never know.”

“I think she’ll be tall,” I said. “Taller than Mom, probably.”

“If you’re nice to her I’ll punch you,” Glen said, tucking the towel under his arm. “Hard.”

The snow was piling up outside, a white blanket six inches thick and gleaming in the moonlight, reflected up through Darla’s bedroom window. I had just finished reading a story to the girls from Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Treasury about sledding down a steep hill. Toad, the pessimist, is leery of such a dangerous undertaking, but the eternally optimistic Frog assures him they will be safe and have lots of fun.

Flying down the hill they hit a bump and Frog falls off. Toad keeps talking as if Frog were still on the sled, but a passing crow tells him he’s talking to himself. Toad looks back at the empty sled, freaks out and quickly crashes into a snow bank. Later, he tells Frog winter is fun, but staying in bed is much better. Safer too.

“I like that one, but it makes me cold,” says Emma, hugging her shoulders. “Can you tell us a Florida story?”

“Yeah, a Florida story!” Darla says, scrunching down under the covers.

So I begin as I always do.

I am not cool.

I am, in fact, the antithesis of cool, which some would counter makes me cool on the flip side, but I’m not even anti-cool enough to make it there.

Externally, I might be perceived as cool.I live in a cool neighborhood and I have a cool job and some of my clothes are cool some of the time, but by and large, I’m a product of an extremely white, sheltered, middle-class upbringing so my default cool setting tends to remain at 78-degrees Fahrenheit: comfortable and efficient, but hardly refreshing.

Let me begin by saying that YES, I am aware that what I’m about to say sounds crazy. And not just any kind of crazy. We’re talking Stephen King nuthouse crazy—a room with padded walls and a warden named Large Marge who goes about 6’6” and 250 and hasn’t smiled since the Reagan administration, partly because her moustache gets in the way and partly because that tick of hers prevents any form of facial expression. Nevertheless, here goes: I am being attacked by the Pillow People.

Let me explain. About two years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Kenya (motto: “Angelina Jolie slept here!”). We prepared for the trip in the standard way one prepares for a trip to a country where the insects are the size of racehorses and outnumber people 200:1.

1. Getting several dozen immunizations, all of which, despite the doctor’s promise of “this won’t hurt a bit,” hurt like hell.
2. Buying various industrial-strength bug sprays (the kinds that have skulls on the labels and names like “Zap It!” and “Kill ‘Em Suckers!”).
3. Familiarizing ourselves with African culture through intense cultural research (read: we drank Kenyan coffee and watched “Out of Africa,” which incidentally is the LONGEST movie of all time).

Also, because the flight to Kenya takes about two days—or three viewings of “Out of Africa”—the doctor thought it’d be a good idea to prescribe the sleeping pill Ambien. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials. A peaceful, soothing piano melody plays as we see a woman enjoying the most peaceful, soothing sleep of her life. We know this to be the case because an announcer, in his most peaceful, soothing voice, tells us that Ambien will give you the best darn night’s sleep you’ve ever had—granted you don’t experience any of the common side effects such as grogginess, allergic reactions, and the sudden desire to operate heavy machinery. Oh, and let’s not forget hallucinations.

Knowing this, I had second thoughts when the doctor pulled out his prescription pad. Personally, I thought it’d be easier to sleep by packing a portable DVD player and watching “Out of Africa.” But once I weighed those side effects (nausea, abdominal cramping, dizziness caused by slow-moving plot), I knew I’d be better off with the pill. And just like that, I invited the Pillow People into my world.

INCIDENT ONE

We’re sitting on the plane, en route to Kenya. With a stomach full of undercooked turkey strips, I pop my first Ambien. I konked out thirty minutes later (I know this because that’s how long it took the flight attendant to clean up the mess in the aisle, courtesy of the infant in 12E whose parents, no doubt, will have second thoughts the next time someone suggests they bring their baby on a transcontinental flight). So I slept. And then suddenly, according to my wife, I screamed and threw my pillow on the ground. 



HER: “What’s wrong?”



Scared out of my mind, I couldn’t respond. She tried again. 



HER: “What is it?”


ME: “THE PILLOWWWWW!” 


HER: “What are you talking about?” 


ME: “IT’S TRYING TO EAT ME!”

My wife laughed, said I was having a bad dream, and told me to go back to sleep. Terrified of the man-eating pillow, I stayed awake the rest of the flight.

INCIDENT TWO: A YEAR LATER 

After working non-stop for months, I was putting the finishing touches on a screenplay. When I finally finished around one in the morning, I was too revved up to sleep. Enter Ambien. I was just about to drift off when I heard something: whispering. My eyes popped open and scanned the room. There they were, on top of the dresser: two throw pillows…TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER. I couldn’t make out the whispers but it was clear they were plotting something. I don’t know, maybe they were angry at me for ripping the tag off the mattress a few months back. Whatever the case, they were pissed. And out to get me.

INCIDENT THREE: LAST WEEK

You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson by now. But it was late, I was overtired, and with a big presentation the next day, I really needed a good night’s sleep. So I took an Ambien and experienced the most dramatic hallucination yet. First, the shoes on the floor turned into alligators. Then, the air conditioning vent morphed into a giant mouth and tried to eat me. And, of course, the pillows.

* The whispering was louder.
* The sounds more menacing.
* And the pillows were growing at an alarming rate, like Popeye’s biceps after a can of spinach or the construction of a new Starbucks franchise.

My wife stopped me just as I was jumping out of bed to grab the nearest scissors. So, long story short, I’m finished with Ambien. And the next time I’m tossing and turning and in dire need of something powerful to send me into a deep sleep, I know what I’ll do. Screw the side effects, I’m watching “Out of Africa.”


I have a long history of becoming far too invested in my prime time TV shows. For a period, I went around telling friends and associates in various states of legal trouble that “a writ of mandamus must be issued” or that “these things usually sort themselves out in voir dire,” along with other bits of unsolicited, erroneous legal advice mined from “Law & Order” episodes. I employed, usually to little effect, modern forensic techniques learned on “CSI: Las Vegas” to create a time-line for those moments spurred on by my late-night roistering. I know I went to Taco Bell late-night because there are beans on my face this morning. But wait. Perhaps I am confusing correlation with causation. I’ll need more grant money to close the book on that case. But this is different. I’ve got a big problem now. The folks over at FOX have really done it to me this time.

“House, M.D.,” which usually airs at 8/7c, is a show that features the brilliant and ornery infectious disease specialist Dr. Gregory House, his three minions, Drs. Chase, Foreman and Cameron, along with Dr. Cuddy, the Dean of Medicine at Princeton Plainsboro and oncology specialist extraordinaire, Dr. Wilson. The show follows Dr. House and his colleagues through the Byzantine world of medicine, “where the villain is a medical malady and the hero is an irreverent, controversial doctor who trusts no one, least of all his patients,” at least according to a FOX network statement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WELL WHAT?

For me and my girlfriend Allison, this show has become an overwhelming presence, not just in our quotidian routine, but in the bedroom. Initially, my reaction to House, M.D. was a predictable one. I am a failed pre-med student, and even before the advent of Dr. House and his crew, I often resorted to offering ill-advised medical advice to those in need, falling back on my elementary training in medicine along with reruns of “ER.”

“Where does it hurt?”

“It’s my stomach. I think it might have been the fajitas.”

“Hmm, it sounds like your liver is shutting down. We need to start lactulose, 30 cc’s per NG and a get a stool and urine sample to see if there’s any blood in there.”

“It’s just a stomach ache.”

“Stat!”

“Tyler, we’re at a Chili’s. What’s the matter with you?”

“Fine. It’s your life. Do you want the Mudslide Pie to go?”

But “House, M.D.” is a completely different kind of monster. Instead of breakneck emergency room procedures, House and his team are consistently faced with medical mysteries and procedures that would throw the common ER doctor for a loop. Just the other day House had to treat a man with electro-shock therapy for male menopause to wipe out his memory because the man was also sick with love for his brother’s fiancée and the only way to get him better was to fry his brain and erase the memories to keep heart attacks brought on by his brother’s fiancée’s presence away. Not the run of the mill motorcycle vs. pedestrian so common on other medical dramas.

After Allison and I decided this was a worthwhile show and one worth purchasing on DVD, things took a turn for the worse. Innocuous medical issues became intense projects, as I would eschew the common diagnosis for a more bewildering prognosis.

“You wouldn’t believe it, Tyler. Everybody at work is sick. I think the flu is going around. Maybe I’ll take tomorrow off.”

“I see. Has anybody in your office been to Africa in the last six months to a year?”

“Why? I think Amy might have gone to Miami last summer with her husband, but I don’t think anybody went to Africa.”

“So you’re not sure?”

“Well no, not totally.”

“Look, after we put your office in quarentine, I’m going to need to check Beta 2 protein levels and do a lumbar puncture on all the employees. I’m leaning toward cowpox, but it could be amyloidosis or lymphoma. However, if the biopsy and abdominal CT scan are negative for cancers, I’m going to need to check for scurvy and African horse sickness along with hypergonadism. You all may also have a mild case of Addison’s disease.”

“Did you say ‘hypergonadism?’”

“Yes, of course. Why?”

“How do you explain a case of hypergonadism in an office full of women?”

“Exactly.”

And unlike her distaste for my other forays into pseudo, prime-time science, Allison was oddly tolerant and even encouraged my maverick House M.D.-induced diagnostic career. In fact, it now occurs to me that her long string of coughs, sneezes, yawns, ticks and alleged night sweats over the past year was a ruse to get closer to Dr. House and his colleagues.

“Babe, my head hurts. Do you think it’s anything,” she’ll say, prompting me to list a litany of ailments. Dr. House is never one to rule out any scenario and neither was I. Of course, my database of disease increased with every “House, M.D.” episode: Bwamba fever, Potato leaf roll virus, Mafucci syndrome, adrenal hypoplasia, Touraine-Solente-Golé syndrome, cat-scratch fever, oral-facial-digital syndrome types I-IV, you name it.

“Maybe it’s nothing. Why don’t you come in to the bedroom with me?” In the bedroom, Allison was nice to me and these niceties continued for quite a while. I hadn’t noticed the correlation, however, between our horizontal antics and their proximity in time to our viewing of “House, M.D.” I don’t believe men have the capability to reflect accurately on why or how they are treated nicely; we accept the situation with an awe and wonderment reserved for the contemplation of Machu Picchuor the Edelbrock intake or Buffalo wings. Once again, I confused correlation with causation, assuming my vast knowledge of pathology was the catalyst behind our new and improved love life. Alas, it was not my knowledge of medicinal arcana that provoked Allison’s amorous behavior; it was Gregory House, M.D.

As season one moved to season two, Allison’s and my fanaticism for the show grew. After the first season, you have a good sense of the characters—their motivations, a look into their skeleton-packed closets—and you begin to relate to them. Gregory House M.D. suffers from some kind of untreatable condition that led to necrosis in his quadricep, causing the brilliant doctor significant discomfort. I have a few ideas about what could be ailing House, but my humility prevents me from divulging these notions to strangers. Ok, I don’t really have a concrete idea about what could be wrong with Dr. House, but neither does he, which is why we both flirt with a Vicodin addiction. Dr. House needs a few handfuls a day to cope with the agonizing pain brought on by his condition and the stupidity of the hospital administration and his patients, while I, on the other hand, require a few handfuls to offer “moral support” to House and because my friend Brent has some left over from when he had his wisdom teeth removed. As for what’s ailing Dr. House, I’ll put it this way: Fulminating osteomyelitis is still on the list. But then again, so are a thyroid hormone plasma membrane transport defect and scabies. As you see, my enthusiasm for the show increased with every episode. Allison, however, began to “present” symptoms of a similar, yet more corporeal fanaticism.

Around the middle of season two, Allison, who is not much for idol worship, proposed we buy a poster of House, M.D. and his team on E-bay. During college and far too long after, I inflicted upon my roommates posters featuring green space aliens that glowed eerily under a black light, that Bob Marley poster that everybody has where he is smoking a joint the size of the Hindenburg, and the requisite poster of Anna Nicole Smith before she ballooned and fell into a quaalude/chicken fried steak-induced torpor. I thought I could manage another juvenile poster; time and maturity relegating them all (aside from the alien poster) to a dumpster at the behest of some style-conscious former love. We looked online and saw a House, M.D. poster signed by all the doctors, so for Christmas, I endeavored to purchase on eBay this one-of-a-kind item for Allison.

A 24 x 36 poster signed by Dr. Gregory House, M.D. and his staff (including Dr. Cuddy and Dr. Wilson) hovering over what looks like an exam table, the eminent doctors backlit by a surgical lamp, was available on eBay for $100. I went to work and during a lull, logged on to the site to put in my bid on the poster. I bid $150 and went back to work, confident that in two days, nine hours, and seventeen minutes the item would be mine. I checked on my offer a day later only to find I had been outbid by house_lover22. This devotee had pushed the bid up to $200. Fazed, but still possessing a little of the fight that has kept my alien poster up all these years (although I was told I’d have to lose the black light as it was, according to a former girlfriend, “the drippiest, crispy, weed-smoking patchouli bong resin relic I’ve ever seen”) I went whole hog in for $220. Only the best for my gal! But the next day, as I went to check my bid, house_lover22 dropped a $260 bomb on me. War. Without flinching, I offered $275 for the poster, certain that this would scare off the little House, M.D. tourist. Then, 45 minutes later, I had been outbid again, sure enough, by house_lover22. Three-hundred god damned dollars. I was done. He wins. I left the bidding arena feeling like a victim of acute cadmium poisoning.

I arrived home from my office and found Allison all worked up into a tizzy.

“I got it! I got it! That House poster we were looking at. Some fucker tried to snatch it up, but I hung around and got it.”

“Do we even have three-hundred dollars?”

“How’d you know it was…oh shit. Gift of the Magi. Sort of.”

The poster arrived and Allison hung it above our bed, where a mirror used to be. This is when I first came to suspect that Allison’s love of House, M.D. had taken a distinctly different shape than my own. Now, don’t get me wrong: I have a massive crush on Drs. Cuddy and Cameron and a bit of a man-crush on Dr. Chase. Obviously, Gregory House M.D., is included in this list, but my attraction to him is less physical—I’d like him to stay and chat over scotch and then maybe something happens. . . . But Allison, it now became clear, had only a selfish interest in my prognosticating. My diagnoses were mere vehicles on which she could ride away from the “real world” and into the arms of the wildly attractive knot of doctors at Princeton-Plainsboro.

I caught Allison engaged in House M.D. chat rooms, vigorously smashing away at the keyboard to harass other members of the otherwise innocuous chat room and reinforce the notion that these brilliant doctors were misunderstood by the cretinoid masses here at the Forum: http://forums.fox.com/foxhouse/.

“You dumb sons of bitches. Dr. Chase is merely trying to live up to his father’s wild, unattainable expectations. Of course he’s going to be wound tight, you sanctimonious fucks.”

Eventually these rants found Allison banned from a number of “House, M.D.” chat rooms and left to stew in the thought that there existed people out in the world who would disparage perhaps the finest team of doctors ever to be assembled. Speaking of the real world, I began to feel my first pang of jealousy, as our love life, at least in the bedroom, had become a decidedly canine diversion. Now, I love to watch House, M.D. on Tuesdays at 8/7c, but I don’t need to see the staff above my bed, examining my every move, judging me, diagnosing me.

“Hey, Dr. Foreman. The patient looks odd and manic. Do you think it could be Japanese encephalitis?”

“Well, Chase. I don’t know. Certainly neurological. Maybe metachromatic leukodystrophy. Dr. Cameron, any thoughts?”

“Yeah. Is that all he’s got? Jesus. Poor bastard.”

I remained tolerant of our signed House, M.D. poster because I am no fool and I know a good thing when I’ve got it. But, I really felt I had to establish myself as a plausible substitute for Dr. House and his colleagues. I met with my friend Ben at a sushi restaurant over Camparis to try and orchestrate a plan. We spent the afternoon sipping our Italian aperitifs and pinching at spider rolls, my confidence rising with the alcohol and Ben’s completely misguided advice.

“You should fucking apply to medical school, man.”

“What do you mean? I already tanked in pre-med and any relevant medical knowledge I’ve ever had is shaky at best, Ben.”

“Why are you so hard on yourself?”

“I’m not trying to be hard on myself, I’m trying to be honest with myself, Ben.”

“Oh, sorry. I guess I couldn’t tell the difference. I’m also on mushrooms.”

Everyone needs the friend who will actually ingest all the ridiculous psychedelic chemicals used for the occupational vision quest. I would never have conceived of applying to medical school in my current state—fragile, insecure and possibly suffering from delusions of grandeur or angina pectoris. But Ben planted this seed, and after tracking him down in the bathroom where he was organizing a bowl of edamame to resemble Che Guevara, I patted him on the back, stuck him with the bar tab and went to the half-price book store to purchase a guide to taking the MCAT.

Allison supported my decision to apply to medical school, but her behavior turned from one of trepidation toward to outright disgust. After delaying my attack on the MCAT a half dozen times for various reasons (“Who’s to say I don’t have cadmium poisoning?) I discovered medical school and even the medical profession at large, involved more than the rote memorization of obscure diseases and dosage amounts. There’s also quite a bit of mathematics and chemistry, two subjects which I would characterize as my weak suits. I sat on the couch going through MCAT flashcards featuring calculus and covalent bonds most evenings except for Tuesdays 8/7c, when House, M.D. would take me to a loftier position, in particular, the head of diagnostic medicine at Princeton Plainsboro hospital. Allison would sit transfixed, her tongue probing the air as if to catch some renegade particle escaped from the sweet breath of Dr. House through the phosphorous and the ray tubes of the television and onto her pursed and eager lips. The only time she ever strayed from her seat was when she would have to throw the cat against the wall for stepping on the remote control. Wednesday through Monday, however, I worked like mad toward being accepted to, “you know what? Fuck it,” I said, “Princeton Medical School.” Alas, Allison’s feelings of disgust at my obvious lack of aptitude for the sciences came to head one afternoon when she barked,

“How can you not know the difference between aromatic and alicyclic compounds or even less an atom and a god damned molecule? Baboons know that shit! I’m going on-line. You’re a mess.” I was, though. I was terrible. I began to copy test answers from the previous owner of this study guide’s practice tests. No doubt this whiz was already chief of cardiac medicine somewhere fancy. I allowed myself to be swept up in the idea that I had, like Allison and Dr. House’s molecules (atoms?), somehow become intertwined with this book’s previous owner. Another practice test. Another near-perfect performance. Allison came to trust in my capabilities, noting, “Maybe it’s just weird. Maybe you just sound like an idiot when you’re talking.” But I knew better and as the date of my MCAT came upon me, I was seized with fear. I was a fraud. All that legal jargon, all that ridiculous recitation of House’s diagnoses, not mine…puerile, stupid, show-offy, greasy kid stuff. What was I thinking? “Law & Order” never had me applying to law school; I saw “A Brief History of Time” and I didn’t go rushing off for a doctorate in space physics; “The Karate Kid” did see me enroll in karate lessons, but only for one day, as I wore my gi out in public sporting the never-menacing beginner’s white belt, and was quickly set upon by local hoods who locked me in a Port-o-Potty for 45 minutes. What the hell was this? Who did I think I was? I’m not a doctor, I’m a guy who makes a watermelon helmet at the end of a barbecue when I’m half-crocked on Carlo Rossi burgundy. I aimed to come clean to Allison and to myself, but I just couldn’t bear it. Not to mention, season three of House was coming to a close and a general malaise took over the apartment. Allison lost all interest in my imminent medical career and sex, I became overrun with guilt, monotonously going over practice MCATs executed to near-perfection by their previous taker, and even the cat seemed downtrodden, occasionally throwing herself against the wall in a touching display of nostalgia and abject boredom.

The day of the MCAT came and I lumbered off to take the exam in a nearby high school at eight in the morning as Allison dozed away.

“Good luck, doctor,” she italicized hopefully, unconvincingly.

“Thanks.”

When I arrived at the high school, I had to negotiate my way from the parking lot, through a gang fight (Why do gangs get up so early? Seems counter-intuitive.) and past a number of methamphetamine dealers to arrive at the auditorium, a trek that caused me a fair amount of unease. But unlike other major tests in my life, I wasn’t nervous for this one. I didn’t have those paralyzing butterflies or nausea present during my SAT or those other tests that determine whether you’ll be in the class that’s learning long math or the one where there are two kids locked in a cage and another kid rubbing his own feces all over the sack lunches. I was calm. There was a kind of Bach fugue/walking through honey-and-gauze calm that came over me. I was going to get through this. I was going to go in there and try my best and maybe, just maybe I’d pull it out this one time. The onetime cosmic forces all line up in your favor and there is no man, no superstructure, no howling stampede in this blasted world who can stop you! I thought this for a few more moments then decided that that kind of shit only happens on ESPN Classic and went to a bar instead.

I felt awful, not so much for skipping my MCAT as for deceiving myself and Allison the whole time I was allegedly “studying” for this test. Delusional parisitosis, or “Morgellon’s disease” could be a possible cause of my delusional medical aspirations. But then, so could leprosy.

The bar was an old Irish place called “The Blarney Stone.” The Blarney Stone, like the fourteen other Irish bars I’ve been to called The Blarney Stone, opened early—some loophole they must take advantage of by offering an Irish “breakfast” (in most cases a lukewarm hot dog, lukewarmer beans and $2 wells). I sat at the bar and lit a cigarette, taking in the faint smell of excelsior for just long enough to consider that jejune notion you talk about in college after too much marijuana where we are all cosmic guinea pigs, just spinning around that proverbial wheel in the proverbial unknown with credit card debt, acne vulgaris, goiters, elephantitis, jaundice, rush hour traffic and the like in some silly celestial aquarium filled with…

“Yeah, I’ll have a Guinness and one of those weenies.”And after a few Guinness, a quantity of scotch and plenty of lukewarm weenies, I was thrown out of the bar for telling the bartender he looked like he might have thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and to maybe hurry up with another one of those weenies.

I arrived home around noon to find Allison sitting on the couch with the MCAT book in her hand. I kissed her awkwardly and then paced around the apartment like I often do when I am drunk and hiding something.

“Look,” I said. “I’m going to have to come clean here. I didn’t take the MCAT. I just want…”

“I know, babe. I know you didn’t—unless they started serving scotch for breakfast over at the high school.”

“I think the PTA is considering it.”

“You got a letter from Princeton. It doesn’t look like an application.” I opened the letter, my clumsy, drunken hands fumbling over the envelope. I strained to read the letter, holding it closer, then further away from my face. I was finally able to make it out:

Dear Mr. Smith,

We appreciate your interest in Princeton University. Unfortunately, we offer no graduate program in medicine, nor do we have a medical school.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

____________

Princeton University

The Graduate School

Clio Hall, Princeton, NJ, 08544

 

 

 

 

And so it goes…

I gave the letter to Allison who, naturally, roared with laughter. I sank onto the couch, drunk and embarrassed, intermittently hiccuping blasts of fetid weenie about the living room.

“So why didn’t you take it?” she asked. “You paid good money.”

“It would have been a disaster. They would have had to check the machine to verify a score could dip so low.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, Tyler.”

“For what?”

“Doing something.”

“Thanks. See anything interesting in the study guide?

“No,” she smiled. “I’m just going over my old practice tests.”

“What tests?”

“My MCAT practice tests. I should get my scores in a week or two.”

“What the fuck do you mean your scores? I think I’m on mushrooms. I have to lie down.”

With my dipsomania subsided and a solid nap under my belt, I went to Allison to clarify what I thought she’d been babbling about earlier.

“Yeah, you just let it sit there for weeks. I thought I’d take a crack at it.

“So you took the MCAT?”

“Yeah. I think I nailed it.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“Nope.”

“That’s so ninja.”

“I know.”

“House, M.D. style!

“I know!”

Now that season five of House, M.D. is nigh, our lives have become decidedly different. Allison pores over medical school applications while I go about my routine, making sandwiches and catching smidgens of “Boston Legal,” something to pass the time until “House, M.D.” arrives. We still have the “House, M.D.” poster up in the bedroom, but it doesn’t seem like such the centerpiece anymore. Allison still manages a few tirades on rogue internet chat rooms about “House, M.D.,” but she’s focusing on a big life move. Soon, Allison will be telling me I’ve got gonadal dysgenesis and I’m actually going to have to do something about it. She’ll be surrounded by people who speak this language, people who actually understand it. And where does that leave me? I don’t know. I’m nervous. But, as I’ve always firmly believed, these things do usually sort themselves out in voir dire.



Rejection letters are always a drag; whether they are negative responses from job opportunities, university admissions boards or literary journals. However, there is nothing quite as spirit-crushing as a rejection letter received after submitting a poem. A short-story rejection slip is depressing, but not devastating. You manufacture a story in your head, create some characters and make them talk. Fine. So you didn’t like my characters. Their dialogue is unrealistic. Their motives are questionable. Fine. They aren’t me. But a rejection letter from a poem is, for me, the equivalent of standing out on a street corner naked and having passers-by hand you terse little notes reading, “Your penis is unconvincing,” or “You call those nipples?” or maybe, “You have an affected buttocks.” And that kind of stuff just breaks my heart. You pour it all into a poem: your skeleton, your bile, your oozing primordial remnant—your private parts. To be told that the fundamental you is not up to snuff—that’s hard murder.

I was looking out a window at the Vail ski slopes and thought that the skiers in the distance resembled fleas on a giant polar bear. That made me feel fairly poetic, so I went to my girlfriend’s computer to write it down. I’d never seen a ski poem and thought that perhaps there was a niche industry there. Most skiers are rich, most skiers are educated, and everybody loves a hokey poem about their sport, their profession, their passion. I could be the Pablo Neruda of ski poems: “I want to bounce over moguls/like the raindrops in Chile/bounce across your breasts.” Every poet, at one point in his or her life, considers dipping the quill in hackneyed Hallmark ink. But, this is poetry, and the real poet must never compromise feeling, self or integrity. My mind whirred around, thinking of words and meter, then came to a stop and remembered that it had been a while since I last checked one of my “poetry” e-mail addresses. This address (which I will not divulge, as I still may have a poem in me one day) is one of the many e-mail addresses writers have. Most publications assert that their editors will accommodate no more than two or three submissions per writer, per year. So, after those first two rejections, what can the writer do but stew until the coming year nears? I’ll tell you what: The writer can fabricate names and alternate e-mail addresses, assuring at least a few more reads a year (alas, this is inevitably coupled with a few more rejections each year). I have three poetry e-mail addresses. I had checked two of the addresses fairly recently, but it had been over a month since I checked the third. I went to my account, as I always do, hopeful as one is hopeful for making parole (in that this kind of hope is seldom realized and often results in continued forced sodomy, or in the best of cases, a job cleaning those cheese spackle guns at Taco Bell). I have four replies.

Three are in response to a poem I wrote about the death of Federico Garcia-Lorca. One is in response to a Bukowski rip-off that details the deleterious gastro-intestinal effects of drinking gin and eating chicken wings in excess. It looked bad. You can always tell you’re about to be denied when the response reads something like: Re: My Poetry Submission. If the bastards don’t want you, they won’t even bother with changing first person to possessive. Sure enough, I receive all vaguely complimentary albeit offensively generic rejections (I will not even begin to go into the despair upon receiving SASE snail-mail rejection letters. The thought of paying to be rejected makes me want to burrow through an excelsior filled cage with a rent copy of Leaves of Grass.).

Then, something snapped in me. Not exactly snapped, but kind of slurped. As I quickly changed websites to cnn.com/money to see how rapidly my stock was tanking, a warm swell enveloped me. I thought of Whitman and how he went door to door hawking his scrawls. Then to Rimbaud and how if it all went to shit I could just leave for Paris and drink absinthe all day. And finally, to a guy I read about in Saskatchewan who juggles moose testicles for the patients’ amusement in a cancer ward. There are solutions to problems. These men had all been faced with artistic rejection (except for the moose dude, maybe) in their careers and had found ways to assuage their pain. Besides, it wasn’tthat bad. I was in Vail. Of course, I had (still have) over $10,000 of credit card debt, a shit job, an STD I picked up in Nuevo Laredo and the house in Vail was my best friend’s boss’s house that we broke into; but it was still far from hopeless. Maybe poetry would never work out. I could be happy on a beach just drinking boat drinks and making passes at women—who needs poetry? Maybe this was just not my epoch; maybe in 2388, when robots/yetis rule the earth, I will be appreciated as “ahead of my time.” I didn’t need poetry the way I need pornography. I would survive.

My trip from Vail over a little more than a week, I sat in my girlfriend’s and my 300 square foot apartment in Denver, restless. The first few days I never wrote, I never thought of writing. However, after those few days, I started to lose it. I would wake up before my girlfriend and run to liquor store to buy a half-pint of vodka at 9:00am. I sat behind a car, drank the Absolut Citron mixed with Diet Rock Star Energy Drink and then wobbled my way back up the stairs. I would sit through an agonizing episode of ER in which I would lament my abbreviated pre-med career and think how, if I had been more vigilant in organic chemistry, I could have made MDMA and sold hits of Ecstasy to the gentry. The vodka would kick in and around 10:00am my girlfriend would wake up.

“Did you leave this morning?”

“No.”

“That Diet Rock Star smells like booze.”

“I know, doesn’t it?”

“What are you eating?”

“Chinese food.”

“From last night?”

“Yes.”

“We were going to eat that together for lunch in the park.”

“This is different Chinese food.”

“Are you drunk?”

“No.”

“Then where in the fuck are your pants?”

You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”

“Jesus.”

It went this way for a while until I reached that point of indifference that breeds the most valuable of ideas. Snow was falling over Denver and I sat out on our balcony and watched it. The chill was numbing but the scenery was hypnotic. I saw each snowflake as if I had been taken on some kind of peyote-induced vision quest. Every bit of geometry made sense, much like cheeseburgers; every cheeseburger, like every snowflake is different, yet hauntingly similar. My poems, God help me, were different. My unmetered scribbles were vessels for a universal suffering, a galactic joy. I resolved to sell a poem.

Up to this point, I had published a grand total of one poem (a floundering rant on commercialism picked up by a Marxist rag out of Portland) and had been paid for none. I was going to create and I was going to get paid for standing skinned alive on the street, my own entrails squishing through my fingers as I raised them over my head in Promethean awkwardness. I would become a merchant of my own quill and scroll. I would set up shop on my own—like Whitman—and sell my poems.

“Original Poems: $500 or Best Offer” read my slipshod cardboard sign. I spent almost two hours perfecting the desperate scrawls that adorned my sign. I don’t want to seem too complacent, I thought. Better dirty up the sign. I want to seem educated—perhaps one year of college, then the mendicant breakdown of sociopathic genius. I printed out a quantity of poems and sorted them into three piles. One pile would be for the patchouli-lathered quasi-hippies who might identify with me—people who might buy a poem just because the idea of buying a poem on the street seemed “counter-cultural.” Another pile would be my attempt at a “romantic” poem. Now obsolete, the poem was written for an ex-girlfriend that borrowed heavily from—who else?—Neruda. These poems would be for husbands too lazy to stop for flowers after coming home smelling like stripper perfume the night before. Finally, I managed to track down a poem I’d written a long time ago that amounted to a musing on nature. Nobody knows what to do with nature poems. This poem was the kind of wild-card I’d sell to those folks I couldn’t get a really solid read on. Nature confuses by its very, well, nature. Thus, its appeal in poems is undeniable but still perplexes the reader, which I suppose is good.

What followed was easily one of the most petrifying moments of my life. I gathered my stack of poems and made my way out to one of the busier intersections in Denver—at Hamden and Colorado. My first fear was that I would saunter up to the intersection only to find another “homeless” person with an even more sympathetic if not humorous sign and that I’d have to pack up my gear and find another intersection. I had picked this particular intersection because it was close to our apartment and I thought that if things really got out of hand or the gendarmes decided to go after me for loitering or soliciting (I can never remember which is which), I would have time to make a quick dash back to the apartment, burn all my poems and call my parents, asking them for another loan. I didn’t see any other vagrant with a sign, so I freaked out and ran back to the apartment anyway. The thing was, the closer I got to setting up my makeshift poetry kiosk, I was reminded that I had gone to college with two guys who I knew were in Denver. Denver is a big city, but I was beset by a strong mental image of either of them pulling up next to me in their BMW’s, noticing me, then it’s that whole awkward situation you see in movies where they demand to “take me in,” feed me and give me money until their wives come home and demand that “he can only stay the night, then he has to leave. . . Think of the children!” Or, the other option: The eye contact between former colleagues, one of whom has obviously “made it,” and the other, obviously bat-shit crazy, probably drunk and likely to start screaming about “modes of being.”

When I return to our apartment, my girlfriend is there, which is a bit of a problem, as I thought that she would be in class and that I would not have to explain why her upper middle class boyfriend is wandering around the streets of Denver with a stack of poetry and a cardboard sign.

“I thought you were in class, baby.”

“I imagine you did. What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m selling my poems on the street.”

“You’ve got to be shitting me. Why don’t you call my cousin—he said he’d give you a job at Starbucks”

“I hate Starbucks, no way.”

“Everybody hates Starbucks. You just have a bad reason—they took over your Taco Bell and that Taco Bell was the only one who would still make the Cheesarito?”

“I told you that?”

“Yes, a bio-degradable moment, obviously.”

“You read that phrase in a book.”

“No, you read that in a book. You say it all the time because you can’t remember that you say it all the time.”

“It’s a good line, though, you have to admit.”

“It was a good line. Now you just embarrass yourself with it. . . like you’re doing out on the street. Selling fucking poems, Tyler? Why don’t you just keep submitting to the New Yorker?”

“They don’t reply anymore. They just send me offers to subscribe, completely ignoring my submissions.”

“You shouldn’t have written them hate mail every time they rejected you.”

“It wasn’t hate mail, it was more desperate pleas for a sympathy publication.”

“You called an editor “fit for little more than extinction.”

“I was writing a metaphor.”

“Go sell your poems on the street, then. How’s it going out there, I guess I’ll ask.”

“Terrible. I totally panicked and ran back here”

“For wine?”

“For wine.”

“Get your fat-ass out there and you can have wine after you’ve sold ten poems.”

“Ten?”

“Ten at least.” She ushers me out the door, sort of tenderly, which is nice. But again, I’m scared shitless. I gird up my loins, as I have another flash ushered on by the Ghost of Poetry Future—who looks a lot like a black Emily Dickenson—that has me writing Crayon hieroglyphics on a bathroom wall somewhere in New Jersey with a bottle of something in hand and a case of mild gigantism that has only afflicted my lymph nodes. I walk out of the apartment, this time resolute in selling my poetry.

Again, I walk down to the corner of Hamden and Colorado. I sit for one moment, pondering the possibility (inevitability?) of humiliation and shame, but I am not the most weak-willed person in the world and I take up a spot at the northwest corner of the intersection by the left-hand turn lane. I arrange my poems in their respective piles, I don my sign and try not to make eye contact with any of the drivers. I am sweating ice. I feel an acute sense of fraud. I feel death.

Moments go by and it seems, in my agitated state, that none of the drivers have even recognized this freaked-out specimen standing on the side of the road. The light is still green. The cars whiz by and I long to be in a fugue state, or at least drunk. But I’m here, carrying with me the hope every poet must carry in his or her heart that what they have to offer is valuable, valuable not just to the self, but to humanity. The light goes yellow and it seems I am being rained on by a sulfuric acid cloud. My skin gets hot, my knees wobble and my head feels as if needles have sprung from every hair follicle. The light turns red. An eternity goes by and still nothing. I begin to daydream . . Word gets out. Within a week a writing professor will drive by after reading one of the poems purchased by his wife and take me in and coddle me and cultivate my writing and then I’ll be fighting Jonathan Safran Foer at some art opening in Soho. I think when Annie Leibowitz shoots my photo for Rolling Stone, I’d like to be ass naked holding a five liter jug of Carlo Rossi burgundy with only a Purdue roaster chicken covering my crotch. Art. Just start with one poem. One god-damned poem.

After waiting another eternity on this damned corner, I resolve to engage at least one person on thiscorner. I walk gingerly up to the Ford Explorer stopped at the light. The driver is a 40ish man in street clothes, so I’m relatively assured that he either has enough money not to work or has one of those jobs that allow for free-thinking and poetic tendencies. I make eye contact with the man and he looks back and, noticing my sign, lets out a laugh. He rolls down the window.

“I don’t have $500. What kind of poems are you selling?” He sounds vaguely Texan, something that puts me at ease. I am from Texas.

“I’ve got a few kinds here. Romantic, pensive, natural…”

“I’ll give you five dollars for one of each.”

“Five a piece?”

“God, no. Five for one of each.” I am about to wet myself I am so excited. I reach into each of my little cardboard boxes and pull out one of each poem. I hand him the poems and he hands me a five dollar bill. My first poetry sale fills me with such happiness that after taking the money, I nearly walk out into traffic out of mongloid jubilation. There are souls on this earth that still care! I am the happiest man alive I resolve to stay out on this magical corner for the rest of my days, happily whooping like a Valkyrie and selling poems to this world—this beautiful, artistic, forgiving, gentle world. I regard the Rocky Mountains in the distance and feel I belong here in this place. There is a place for the poet on this Earth!

As my eyes water with joy and Haydn’s “Der Himmel Erzahlen” bellows throughout my very soul, aFord Explorer pulls up and a 40ish man with a hint of a Texas accent throws some pieces of paper at my feet.

“Hey, man—these motherfuckers don’t even rhyme.”

I was in a full panic before my mother said anything at all. I didn’t want to ask what was going on, because her face and her shaking hands were confusing me. Usually, when I was in trouble, my father looked at me a certain way, and then it was clear, I’d been caught. But Dad wasn’t there, and all I had to go by were my mother’s ambiguous signals.

Finally, she spoke. “Your grandmother tried to kill herself today. She put a bag over her head and tried to suffocate herself.”

God, I was so relieved.

Almost excited, even. I got out of school early for this. Poor Mom, though. This was her mother, and I can see getting upset over this sort of thing.

My mother had a tendency to swallow this kind of thing whole. She was literally shaking with grief. Some people get upset like this. My mother was one of these people. I guess it’s safe to say I didn’t inherit this particular behavior.

Because Nana tried to off herself, my brothers and I had to visit her all summer long. We’d stand outside the automatic doors of the mental institution for a while, taking in the flowery, summer air, and then enter. The whoosh of sterile, crazy people scent replaced the outside smell, and into Nana’s room we were ushered.

The halls were white. Not sterile white, but eggshell white. It was so crisp and clean. I had imagined shit on the walls and muffled screams. It was more like an elementary school without the children.

The rooms where they kept the patients didn’t have open doors. I don’t see why they didn’t keep Nana’s door open, though. It would have been hard for her to escape, seeing has how she was in her eighties and she only had one leg.

And there was Nana, crumpled on her bed. She looked like she was sinking into the mattress. There was no fat on her body, none at all. The blankets covered her torso, but you couldn’t tell there was anything under there. If there wasn’t a head sticking out the top and a foot sticking out the bottom, she’d easily go undetected.

Nana didn’t ever turn to see us. She knew we were in there, but she didn’t care. Her face would just stay, all squeezed around her mouth, in a perpetually angry expression. She smelled terrible, like week-old urine, but so did everyone else in a mental hospital.

“Lenore, next time you come, bring your Nana Drain-O to drink,” she’d say.

“I’m not allowed to, Nana. Sorry.”

Then she’d try with my brother.

“Benjamin, you’re the smartest one, right? Find Dr. Kevorkian’s number for Nana.”

Ben was only eleven. He just quietly declined and apologized for not being more helpful.

We’d spend a long, unbearable hour in that awful, sharp room, struggling to make conversation. What do you say to a crazy, old lady whom you never really knew to begin with? She blamed my mother for her attempted suicide. After all, my mother was the one who brought the fresh fruit to her in a plastic bag. She was tempting her, obviously.

We watched Nana deteriorate in the next few months. She shrank smaller and smaller, week by week. Eventually, my grandmother starved herself to death.

It was different than I expected it to be. I was very unaffected by her passing. I didn’t even go to her funeral.

I was surprised when my siblings told me that her death was disturbing to them. I didn’t understand. I’ve realized since then, Death made his footprint on me long before Nana went. I was desensitized when he zapped my identical twin sister, Margot, in the womb.

The umbilical chord attached to my twin was pinched, so she couldn’t get any nutrients from my mother. It also wrapped around her neck and strangled her, which was the eventual cause of death. My chord was pinched also, but not as long as hers was. I was born dead, in that ridiculous way where I wasn’t actually dead, but the doctors say I was for dramatic effect. But there was no hope for my twin, who was dead three days before we were born. Dead bodies decompose very quickly, even in the womb. This means I was floating next to my decomposing sister for the last three days of my womb life. I must have smelled terrible when I came out.

The time I spent with my dead sister in the womb, I believe, forced a bizarre relationship between myself and Death. I go to sleep thinking about my mother getting into some sort of horrific accident, resulting in her decapitation, or the portioning up of my little brother on some grimy hotel room floor by the local pervert. I can’t control it. I’ve tried to think about happy things like babies and puppies, but then those babies and puppies die. My brain forces the thoughts into visualizations, and soon, I’ve knocked off my entire family and all my friends.

The worst part about this problem of mine is the irrational mess I become when these nighttime reveries are especially jarring. I’ll start believing that these things are actually going to happen, that I’m psychic. I’ll call my father and beg him not to go to any public places for a while, because there will surely be an armed madman in Home Depot or that little Argentinean restaurant. And he’ll kill Mom, too, but only after he rapes her. It drives Dad crazy. “Stop calling, Lenore. We’re not even going to Home Depot today.”

When I think about my twin, I wonder why I ended up alive and she ended up dead. I always end up feeling some level of guilt for being alive. When I think about this topic in depth, I often feel so blameworthy that I punish myself in small degrees. I’ll stay home from a party I was looking forward to or make myself watch a movie without my contacts so I get a headache. Sometimes this frame of mind moves in a circular motion. In the beginning I will think about Margot, which results in the culpable feeling; a need to reprimand myself is created, compelling me to think about the death of a loved one.

Although Margot’s death certainly did have an effect on me, it didn’t offer an explanation of Death. I didn’t understand it as a child, even knowing about her, and I don’t understand it today. This is tremendously exasperating because I believe that, given my insider’s info, I should have come up with a theory by now. In reality, I just don’t know what happens- I don’t even know what I think happens. I have examined all of the most popular beliefs, and none of them seem logical to me. If there is a Heaven, by now it must be packed. Under the same presumption, Hell would be overflowing with tortured souls. I could go on for hours about why these ideas have an endless string of flaws attached to them but then I feel pressured to come up with a viable hypothesis of my own. Eventually, the thought of it will drive me crazy if I don’t just assume that reincarnation would be a reasonable explanation. I only go with this premise because I believe that recycling is a relatively efficient way of keeping our environment clean. The parallel may be difficult to draw but it is there if you work at it, which I do.

Today, my grandmother and my twin’s deaths are still the only family deaths I have experienced, and I suppose they have both been important.

Even if it affected me in no other way, Nana’s passing made me realize that I was different from others because of the loss of my twin sister. And in the end, no matter how many hours I spend upsetting myself with images of death, or how many sets of twins I see walking around to remind me of Margot, I’m not always bothered by it. I think I benefit in some way by this thing that haunts me. I sometimes think I know more, or that I’m tougher than the rest of the people my age.

I spent one summer taking courses in biology when I was in high school. In the program, we got to dissect human bodies. Real, bloated, dead bodies, and they didn’t cover the faces with surgical napkins, or make any attempt to dehumanize the specimens. While half of the class ran out of the room covering their mouths, and the ones who stayed spent the rest of the day whining about how “all they could think about was the poor departed and their families,” I was holding organs in my hand and laughing at the squishing noise that they really do make when you squeeze.

I have Margot to thank for that.