We’ve seen it before. Children having a tantrum. It usually involves the following: screaming until their face becomes a strawberry, the waterworks, the slobber, stomping their feet, throwing things. It’s really quite unattractive. Eventually they learn that this kind of behavior is not socially acceptable, and eventually with time the beast vanishes. Though not entirely. It’s still there even in adults. Buried. Deep inside. Locked in a cell. Periodically the little beast escapes. Often it’s when we don’t get our own way. Or for some of us it’s when we get behind the wheel of a car. That’s when our true character is revealed…well if no one else is in the car. If we have a passenger we may coat our true character with a thin veneer of civility.
“You drip! You turkey britches! Idiot! Boob! Sheisse-head!” These are just a few of my mother’s favorite names she would ascribe to inattentive or inconsiderate drivers. My father on the other hand I can’t remember a single time in my life I ever heard him curse at any driver. When he was behind the wheel of a car he was a monk. My mother was more of a Pentecostal. She was no less vocal when she wasn’t behind the wheel. One time someone almost side swiped us on the highway. My father was clearly flustered. It takes a lot to rattle my father, but he looked like he was on the verge of flippin’ a bird when my mother said, “Now, Robert,” as if to say, ‘let us take the higher road’. And my father nodded as if to say, ‘Yes let us take the higher road’. But as soon as we got parallel with the offending party my mother decided to take a different road.
“You stupid woman, you need to be more careful,” my mother scolded, shaking her finger vigorously at the offending party. And then the two hens went at it.
“Sheila,” my father said, and tried to speed away. The other driver sped up to keep up with us.
Both my dad and the man in passenger seat, who I can only assume was this hen’s husband, looked mortified. Her eyes flashed with madness, she frothed at the mouth, and a big long vein split the middle of her forehead. The next thing I knew a monster burst out of her skin, its head burst through the roof of the car, its left arm busted through the driver’s side window, and beat on the roof of our car until we were crushed like an aluminum can.
Usually when we’re children and we see this kind of behavior we tell ourselves ‘I’ll never be like that when I grow up.’ And then we grow up.
Some years later I remember a friend of mine asked me if I could driver her friend to the airport. My friend didn’t have a car to take her friend. I wondered how she had even got from the airport in the first place. Nonetheless I agreed and said I would be happy to drive her friend to the airport. I was living in Nashville at the time. I didn’t have a GPS, or a map, or a Smart phone. Needless to say my most frequent pastime was getting lost. Really I don’t know how I survived driving there for two years like this but I did. I relied heavily on others to guide me. I told my friend that she would need to help guide me to the airport. I sort of knew where I was going but not really. She wasn’t really paying attention because she was busy talking to her friend. She would give me last second directions, the kind that causes accidents. It was extremely vexing. I was getting pretty irritated with her. My top hadn’t blown yet but I could feel the pressure inside me boiling. We were on Interstate 24, approaching Interstate 40. We could go either East of West. I didn’t know which way we needed to go.
“Do I go East of West?” I asked. Both of them chattered on, paying no attention to the man behind the wheel. “East or West?” There was tension in my voice. I could see the window of opportunity slowly closing. “East of West?!” I asked excitedly.
“Oh,” she said, finally coming up for air. “You want to take East.”
I turned my signal on, and looked over my shoulder. Another driver was right next to me. Another was riding my rear.
“Come on, man. Let me over.” I pleaded. He sped up to keep me from getting in front of him, making sure to match my speed to keep me from even getting behind him. Meanwhile the car behind kept riding my rear. I could feel the pressure rising to an furious boil. “Come on, man!” I hollered at him. He just shook his head at me. The highways were about to diverge. “Let me over dammit!” I said. The highway split. Rather than going east where I needed to go I went west. “You filth and foul filth!” I shouted and shook my fist at the driver. He grinned at me, and headed east.
The car went quiet. My passengers looked around at things, as people often do when they’re uncomfortable.
The girl in the passenger seat looked at my forearm.
She cocked her head to the side and asked me, “What does your tattoo mean?”
I felt my head burning with embarrassment. I immediately felt convicted. Why? Because the only tattoo I have on my body is a reference to a Bible verse. Romans 8:38-39. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither angels nor demons, neither the past nor the present…nor foul language.
When I think of Mexico the first thing that comes to mind is a stray dog with fleas crawling all over his testicles. This deserves some explanation. When I was fourteen I went to Tijuana Mexico for a mission’s trip with my church. It was the first time I had ever been outside of the US. It was a shock to see how other parts of the world lived. Houses looked more like treehouses, put together with random pieces of lumber. It was dusty. Trash scattered everywhere, and many people didn’t seem to have a dental plan. Dogs were ubiquitous. They weren’t deified or pampered, or dressed in clothes, or taken to doggy daycare or doggy therapists. Most were strays, and skittish. One stray in particular stands out in my mind. He had white fur but was covered in dust. I could see fleas all over his body. He paused for a moment to lick his genitals before looking up and smiling at me as if he was saying, “Welcome to Mexico!”
“You have something stuck between your teeth. And I think it’s moving…”
Aside from the shock I had pleasant memories of Mexico. It was the first time I ever had a mango in all of its amazing and messy wonder. It was also the first time I had rattlesnake. None of us expected to have rattlesnake but it just so happened one night some of us decided to go for a walk. On the way back to our cabin we crossed paths with a rattlesnake. It shook its tail at us, and hissed. We lost our minds like girls at an Elvis concert. Our knee jerk reaction was to stone it to death. Seconds later we stood there with our heaving chests, staring down at its crushed carcass. No one really knew what to do. Finally someone suggested we roast it over an open fire. It was an experience. The meat was tasty, and tender…probably because it had been tenderized with stones.
18 years later I find myself living in Los Angeles, with the border being only a three hour drive away, depending on traffic. Some friends of mine wanted to go to Ensenada for the weekend. Most people, when I told them about it, became concerned. They thought we would either be kidnapped, or killed, or thrown into prison to rot. Most of these people were white, and probably watch Fox News. The only thing I was afraid of was being raped. If I had to choose between being raped or having Hannibal Lector open my cranium like a can of beans, sauté my brains, and feed it to me with fava beans, and nice bottle of Chianti, then kill me I would always choose the latter.
We went in two groups. Group 1 wanted to leave early in the day before traffic got hot and heavy. Not too long after Group 1 left I got a text from one of the girls who realized she had left her passport in her apartment.
“Could you do me a huge favor?” she asked.
“What is it?” Always my first response. I’ve learned over the years that you never agree to do anyone a huge favor until you first know what it is.
“Can you break into my apartment, and find my passport?” Getting thrown in the tank for B and E was not how I wanted to spend my weekend. I’d be a human pincushion for sure. I was still trying to figure out how to respond to her text when she said never mind. They were turning around to fetch her passport.
Group 2 left at seven. Around midnight we crossed the border. It only took a couple minutes to cross the border into Mexico. There was no border patrol. Nothing to declare. No one asked us if we were bringing any fruit into the country. No one cared that we were entering Mexico. Within 15 minutes our iPhones were reduced to iPods. Officially off the grid.
We all saw a sign for Walmart.
“Walmart what are you doing here?” Natalii asked.
I gazed at the milky moonlit water and all of the houses lining the Coast of Playas de Tijuana. There wasn’t a single light on in any of them. Not even a porch light was left on. There weren’t even highway lights. It was eerie.
“Oh my God!” Natalii screeched. Great, I thought. We’ve also entered a horror movie.
“What?” I asked. Daniel, the only other man in the car, and I looked around, puzzled.
“There was a man walking on the highway.”
“It was creepy,” she complained.
Before too long we passed another lonely soul walking down the deserted, unlit highway.
As we entered the Rosarito we went from deserted, dark, and deathly quiet highway to a small town percolating with night life. It was like any other Friday night anywhere else. Bustling bars blasting music, coupled with the cacophony of human conversations. Oddly enough, even though we were now in a Spanish speaking country it sounded like any other strip, Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, East Village in New York, the North End in Boston. Bar noise seems to be universal.
There were droves of people. Traffic had slowed to a crawl. It was madness. I watched two men dressed as Roman Centurions walk into a bar, and thought, when and where am I?
“What is going on?” Someone asked. Later we found out Papas and Beer, one of the largest and most famous beach clubs on the West Coast, was having their 31st Aniversario. Everything was full up for the weekend.
Our friend Isai had managed to find the last two available rooms in Rosarito at Hotel Castillos del Mar. It was a humble hotel on the water, off the strip. It was strikingly quiet. No barking neighborhood dogs. No Rusty. No Icky or Nasty. No Maggie, or any of the other fifty neighborhood dogs howling at all hours of the night. A quiet, calm, cool breeze drifted in through the hotel room window. The smell of the sea air had a therapeutic effect. There were two rooms, each with two beds. The three men were in one room, the women in the other. The women shared beds. We men looked at the beds. Isai was already spread out on one of them. Daniel and I looked at each other. Some time passed before I said, “I don’t mind sharing a bed, but I talk in my sleep and usually always have morning wood,” I warned.
“I’m going to sleep on the floor,” Daniel said. He had brought a sleeping bag. Usually men never share beds, even if it means one of them has to sleep on a cement floor, and wake up with scoliosis. The last time I shared a bed with a man was when I first moved to LA. My roommates and I were crashing in their parent’s pool bungalow, which, I know, sounds glamorous, but let me tell you it was not. You had to walk through the garden, which was more like an overgrown jungle to get to the bungalow, and there was an ant problem. And these ants had no respect for personal boundaries. One of the brothers and I shared a bed. I felt nervous lying on either side. If I slept on my right side I was the big spoon. If slept on my left side I was the little spoon. Both made me uncomfortable. Usually I would choose my back, and cup my privates. One night I rolled over and accidentally hammer fisted his face. He looked at me with crossed eyes, wondering what had happened. “Sorry,” I said. I quickly assumed the little spoon position, and began fake snoring.
Selfishly I was glad to have the bed to myself. We surfed the TV channels. Black Swan caught our collective interest…probably because it had Natalie Portman. Isai passed out first. Daniel and I struggled to stay awake, and make sense of the movie. When we got to the part where Natalie Portman’s character has her first sexual awakening and begins to ride her pillow like a horsey I asked Daniel if he was ready to go to sleep.
“Yes,” he said immediately. I switched off the TV as quick as possible, both of us flustered. I hoped I wouldn’t have dreams of swan sex. I hoped instead to dream of Natalie Portman BUT in a puritanical sort of way. My mind began to wander. What if I woke up in the morning and Natalie Portman was lying next to me? I whimpered at the thoughts.
“Are you crying?”
Within seconds the sound of the surf pulled me into the ether. In the morning my back itched like mad. It could have been one of three things. Bed bugs, fleas, or whoever had slept in the bed last had been eating saltine crackers.
There wasn’t much on the itinerary for the day other than to eat until we all had bubble-gut.
By daylight, the landscape looked much different. Houses and fences looked like they had been built out of random pieces of lumber and scrap metal. It was dry, and dusty everywhere we went.
Isai and I spent a majority of the day trying to find a place for our party of seven to sleep for the night. Every place he called had no vacancy. I had contacted several people through Airbnb with no response. It was a bit unnerving. Finally I found a place—the only place available, really. The Young Dudes Hostel, a blueberry colored three story house with Slimer green trim. Only $17 per person for the night!
When the front door swung open I realized why. The smell of damp dog blasted us in the face. The floor was gritty. The bathrooms horrifying. I looked nervously at the women. If it were just us men I wouldn’t give a fudge pop.
“Well we don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to,” I told the ladies. “But I really don’t know where else we would sleep.”
“This is what doggy day care smells like,” said Isai.
Ian, the owner, a ginger from Cape Town South Africa, sauntered down the stairs to greet us. He was tall, and slender, and had a thick English accent. There were two rooms on the first floor. One had a full size. The other had what looked like three little mangers; makeshift beds built out of 2×4’s. The shower looked dungeonesque. The shower curtain was hanging on for dear life from a rusty rod. The tiles were dingy. One towel lay crumpled on the floor. Another was passed out over the back of the toilet. Our stoned host explained to us that the septic system wasn’t like it was in the states. You couldn’t flush it down the toilet. Instead it had to be put in the wastebasket.
The common area was on the second floor, as was the stripper pole. I couldn’t resist taking a twirl and saying “woo!” for the laughs…and the tips.
“Yes, that’s featured both women and men,” Ian told me. To which I immediately got as far away from the pole as possible. Once upon a time I was seeing this girl I had met on Ok Cupid, or as I liked to call it, Ok Stupid. She had a stripper pole in the middle of her living room. I asked her why. She claimed that she used it for exercise, and empowerment. I had come over to her place for a Friday the 13th double feature, Killer Clowns from Outer Space, followed by Ticked Off Trannies with Knives, followed by several Jameson and Ginger’s, followed by her giving me a live demonstration on her stripper pole, followed by her twirling once, ending with her eating floor. It was certainly a night to remember.
On the kitchen counter was a half rolled joint, which our host had been in the process of rolling when we arrived. This man was in no hurry, and was probably stoned most days. In fact he didn’t even know what day it was.
As we were getting settled in one of the girls went through all of the rooms, dosing them with a bottle of fragrance spray in an effort to chase away the damp dog smell.
In the morning Natalii burst into our room singing “Wake up! Wake up!” Natalii is the happiest person I know. I don’t know how she does it but she wakes up happy every morning. There was a collective groan from us three men in our mangers.
“A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning will be taken as a curse,” I told Natailii.
“That’s not in the Bible,” she said.
“It is,” I insisted.
“Show me,” she demanded. I pulled up the verse on my phone, and stuck it in her happy face.
“Rebuked!” Isai said.
“Whatever,” she said and went to disturb everyone else’s slumber.
Later I cried in the shower. I had never been in such a filthy shower. I closed my eyes and pretended to be in my shower at home. If it weren’t for the smell I would have believed it.
Once we had finished packing up the cars I went in search of Ian. All I found was a young surfer dude passed out on the deck with half of his wet suit on. The bottom half thankfully.
It took three hours to get through customs. Three hours to get home. And the first thing I did once I got home was take a shower.
Every couple of hours a nurse would come in to check my vitals. I still had a fever but it was receding.
I had sent a text to my sister the day before letting her know I was driving myself to the ER. She left a message on my parent’s answering machine which was waiting for them when they returned home from my mother’s final cancer treatment. Not the most idyllic homecoming.
They were trying to get me on the slab as soon as possible. Everyone was eager to know when, especially my mother who kept calling. At one point my novia and I were in my hospital room, and we could hear the nurse talking to someone on the phone outside the room.
“I bet that’s your mother,” she said. I smiled. We soon found out it was. My parents lived a couple states away. It’s hard to watch someone be in pain and not being able anything about it. Even worse when it’s from afar.
Though the time of my surgery was still unknown what was certain was it would be before the end of the day. I looked at the clock. It was already past 6pm.
Together we waited. Neither had much to say. There wasn’t much to say. Only sprinkles of small talk. We sat holding hands. She hadn’t slept much the night before. What sleep she had gotten was fitful. I invited her to crawl up beside me in the hospital bed. We lay there together in our microcosm. Far from this unkind world. For a little while time stood still. Together we breathed. Together we exhaled.
When they came to take me away it was without warning. There was no gurney as I had expected. Instead they wheeled me out in my hospital bed. My novia followed closely behind. She barely spoke a word. It was all she could do to follow behind as I was wheeled to the operating room. I tried to assuage her fear by letting her know it would be ok. I can’t recall if I did this verbally or telepathically. Oddly I had no fear. No worry. No anxiety. I felt very much alive. Such a curious thing. When you’re going through the daily monotony of life you feel like the walking dead, yet when you’re faced with your own mortality it’s like an electric shock bringing you back to life. Worry is a leech. It sucks away any enjoyment of life. It’s been one of the greatest plights of my life. We are the only creatures on earth who think about tomorrow. Birds don’t. What would our lives be like if we weren’t weighed down by the pervading thought I wonder how this is going to work out? I decided not to. I wanted to be a bird and have no thought of tomorrow. What’s the worst that could happen? I die. Frack it. Whatever. My only regret would be that I didn’t use the turkey baster.
The three of us, my novia, my driver, and I ventured through a labyrinth of twists and turns. The man driving my bed expertly maneuvered past areas with seemingly impossible clearance. When we arrived at pre-op I was greeted by the anesthesiologist. He was wearing his team uniform: blue scrubs. His voice was like a drug. He went into a cool, and well-rehearsed speech about how he was going to sedate me. He hadn’t even done anything yet, and already I felt sedated by the golden tones of his voice. There was a brief aside about how with any surgery there is the possibility of death due to unforeseen complications.
“But the possibility of that happening today is next to nothing. You’re going to be fine. You’re young and fit,” he assured me.
As if on cue Dr. Staffer, the surgeon, came right after him. He was large like a football player. His voice was deep like Barry White. He shook my hand with a firm calloused lumberjack handshake. While he was explaining what was going to be happening while I was under the ether, the anesthesiologist slipped the first dose of drugs into my IV. I felt the frigid liquid crawl into my vein. Within seconds I could feel its wonderful warm arms about me. My face went from keen interest to euphoric fondue. Oh my God, this is wonderful. I feel amazing. This is the best cocktail I’ve ever had in my life. Keep my tab open. Dr. Staffer’s mouth was moving. I heard nothing. I just stared up at him. This is guy is big. His grand stature is making me dizzy. My head flopped back down on my pillow. I was salivating. I felt a sudden urge to ask him to sing me some Barry White, and bring me another cocktail. Wow, I feel a-maze-balls. I was trying not to laugh.
The procedure itself would take an hour, 30 minutes for prep, and 30 minutes to vacuum out my appendix.
“Like Jell-O?” I turned to my novia, giggling. She was not entertained. “Oh, Jell-O. That’s the first thing I want to eat when I wake up,” I told her. The doctor went to get prepped, as did my novia.
Suddenly my bed floated into the operating room. One of the surgeon’s was finishing setting up. He was also wearing his team uniform. All I could see were his eyes which were eclipsed by surgeon goggles.
“Hi! I’m here for the party!” I said and waved at him. “Just got my birthday suit back from the dry cleaners.” He looked both ways, trying to figure out if I was waving to him or somebody else before tentatively waving back. I saw the metal slab where I would be placed. The operating room was frigid and I was going to be naked. My prevailing concern was that my penis was going to be no bigger than a thimble, and they were all going to laugh at me. This concern lasted but a moment as the anesthesiologist brought me my second cocktail, and after that I was somewhere over the rainbow. He asked me to count to ten. I barely made it to three before I was unconscious.
About three hours later I crash-landed back into my body, as if I had fallen from the sky into a war zone. Everything was amped, as if someone had cranked up the gain on my mental mixing board. I was panicked and disoriented, trying to remove my IV, and the oxygen tube that had been stuffed up my nose, and get out of my hospital bed.
“This is a recovery room, why are they shouting?” I asked no one in particular. I didn’t realize I was also shouting. I felt hands on me, my novia, trying to calm me. “Why can’t the recovery room be a library with quiet soft music playing in the background, not with gossiping nurses?” I boomed. Shortly thereafter the nurses went mute. My filter had temporary stopped working. Substances have a tendency to do that.
It was worse than the CT scan revealed, I was told. What should have only taken an hour took over two. Meanwhile my novia was in the one of the worst places on earth, The Waiting Room, with no one bringing her any word, good or bad. I felt terrible when I learned of this. I can’t imagine what it was like for her, waiting in the balance, steeping in her own thoughts. I probably would have had worry leeches all over me.
I looked around. I was back in my room, no recollection of how I had gotten there, as if I had been teleported. Damn opiates.
My novia bent over to kiss my forehead. She told me she’d be back tomorrow after work. Seconds later my room was vacant. The ghostly tendrils of her fragrance still hovered about me. The heart rate monitor chirped softly in the background. The hallway was bustling with life, and I felt another something I had never felt before in my life.
As if for a moment my soul had been dislodged from my body, and was floating above me. I was a bird. With no thought of tomorrow. I felt honored to have another day, to be on Earth a little longer.
I wanted to savor the moment, but I could feel the ether pulling me back under.
I was awake long enough to have one last thought.
“Goodnight,” I said to the man in the moon, and with that the curtains of my soul were drawn.
To be continued…
I was on my knees, practically in tears, begging my novia to get the turkey baster. I was constipated. In fact it was beyond that. I was monsterpated. It was bad and the devil was responsible. No, not the guy with the horns, and the pitchfork, with the condo by the lake of sulfur. I mean Diablo, the pretentious taco fabricator on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. We’d eaten there only a couple nights prior. My novia had ordered the vegan burrito. I ordered the same but added carne asada and now it was stuck somewhere in the pipeline.
“Do you want me to get the turkey baster?” My novia asked. “Cause I’m down. I’ll do this right now.” We had reached a whole new level of real. A friend of mine whose wife is a midwife had once told me if you’re ever constipated for more than two days you should give yourself an enema using a turkey baster. After that I never looked at a turkey baster the same.
“But how would we even do it?” I asked, wiping the sweat off my brow. I was seriously considering this as an option and was wondering how this feat could be accomplished. Do I get on my hands and knees like a dog, and stick my arse in the air, or lie on my back and pull my feet over my head? Do I pose like I’m about to use the Thigh Master? Are we going to need Vaseline or Crisco, or a funnel, or a bull horn to get this done or what? Judge me if you will but let me tell you desperate times lead to desperate thoughts.
My novia was on her phone, trying to diagnos me. I was convinced it was food poisoning. She thought otherwise because usually with food poisoning you turn into a double sided fire hydrant.
“I know what you have,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
She showed me her phone. I squinted to see what it said. “I think you’re menstruating.”
I mustered a laugh. Her second diagnosis was that I might be pregnant. I certainly was, with Rosemary’s baby burrito.
“Do you want to go to Urgent Care?” she asked. It seemed like a good idea. I had already had two bags of laxative tea, with no results. The cramps were getting so bad I was walking around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
At Urgent Care the receptionist told us the wait time was an hour and a half. There was no sympathy in his voice. He barely even looked up at my Bela Lugosi face. My eyes took a lap around the waiting room. Nobody looked in dire need of urgent care. If I had a crisp Benjamin on me at that moment I would have stuffed into his shirt and asked him to tell me what the wait time was again.
I couldn’t figure out what to do. Do we go to another Urgent Care? Or the ER? I clutched my stomach and leaned against the wall. All of the wait times were just as abominable. Some guy, slightly off his rocker, strapped to a gurney, was babbling about big block engines. His nonsensical babbling was only adding to my misery. I had to get away. The most accessible place was the restroom. The cramps came. Each one took my breath away and made my eyes water. Meanwhile the song “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun was stuck in my head. I was praying like a saint and cursing like a sailor. My stomach was churning like a cement machine.
“Can we go back?” I asked my novia. “We need to go back. Something’s about to happen.” And I didn’t want to be in the hospital when it did. Not too soon after we got back to her apartment I gave birth but it did not bring relief. Shortly thereafter I was racked with fever, aches, and chills. I was bed ridden for two days. I could barely eat or drink or walk to the bathroom. A few days later I went to see my PCP.
“Well, do you feel like you’re getting better?”
“I can walk now,” I said. “Seems to be improving.”
“If you don’t feel like you’re improving in a couple days come back.”
That was Wednesday. The following Monday I called him again. The receptionist informed me no one was available for at least a couple weeks.
“I can’t wait that long,” I said. I was lying on my desk at work.
“Ok, let me see what I can do.” Their awful hold music kept me company. It’s not that it’s awful. The piano is calming. What happens is at about halfway through the loop the volume suddenly spikes and there’s this screaming distortion which sounds like the piano just been bashed by a sledgehammer.
Suddenly “Can you come in at 2pm?”
“Yes,” I said.
My doctor’s resident was the only one available. He was excellent. He had the most amazing bed side manner I have ever experienced. His voice was soothing and calm, and when he touched my shoulder I felt like he touched my inner child…not inappropriately or anything. He told a nurse to call around to see who could administer an immediate CT scan.
It was sunny and 70. I sat inside my car outside the CT Imaging facility. My car felt like an oven. It felt good. I was fighting a fever. I was wearing my jacket, and groaning like a caveman, saying “Mmmm, heat. Good.” Ten minutes earlier I had slammed 2 pints of orange dye fruit punch. Now I was waiting for it to illuminate my insides.
After a little of the ole in-and-out with the CT Scan machine I returned to the waiting room.
I overhead the receptionist tell someone over the phone I tested positive. Like baking soda and vinegar the reaction was instantaneous. My heart began to gallop. My body temperature spiked. Beads of sweat began to prick my forehead. Something began crawling up from my insides. It wasn’t vomit. I knew what this was. It was a panic attack, a perfectly normal, perfectly human reaction. I closed my eyes, told myself:
I imagined I was a pilot; my body was a plane about to go into a tailspin. I was struggling to keep control of it.
Someone once told me you cannot control the world outside yourself, only the one within.
In that moment I felt absolutely alone. I reminded myself it wasn’t true. God was here. I knew that I could not allow myself to stress. It would only harm my body.
“Be calm,” I reminded myself.
The woman at the front desk called my name.
“You’re going to take this report and this disc and go to the Emergency Room at Long Beach Memorial. There you will ask for Dr. Gartsman.”
“Ok,” I said. The CT scan revealed that someone had put a hex on my appendix. It was perforated nearly in half, and chilling inside an abscess. “Do you have the address?” I asked. She did not. Thank God for my iPhone.
“Did you find it?” She asked.
“Yes I did,” I said.
Despite the fact that I was on my way to the ER the drive was pleasant. I calmly drove to the hospital. Calmly took my parking ticket. Calmly parked my car, and gathered my things, and calmly walked into the hospital where I had to speak to several people before I was properly guided to the Emergency Room.
Soon after signing in I was invited to triage. Even sooner after that someone brought my chariot and whisked me away to have my blood drawn, then whisked me to another floor to have my vitals checked, and more blood taken, and hooked up to an IV machine with all sorts of fun bags, and changed into a drafty nightgown.
Some woman across from me lay cursing in her room. “I just want to go home,” she kept shouting. Numerous times she tried to make the great escape, only to be scolded back into her bed, which made her angrier. She was afraid and in pain. I could hear it in her voice. In that moment I decided to be happy, regardless of what I was about to endure.
Later some guy came in to the room next to the angry woman, hissing about all the pain he was in. In my head I thought ‘come on you Barbie, walk it off’. When my curtain was pulled back I caught a glimpse of the Barbie boy. He had recently had his right leg amputated and he had fallen on it. It was purple as a plum. “Wow,” I thought. “I.Am.A.Jerk.”
Intermittently a male nurse would come in and check my vitals, my fun bags, and ask me tell him on a scale of 1-10 how bad my pain was. Random doctors kept coming in and introducing themselves to me. I couldn’t keep track of all their names.
One doctor told me he was going to examine me. He began applying pressure to various parts of my abdomen, asking “Does this hurt? What about here?” When he got to my right side he gave me a quick jab. I cried out in pain. “Ok,” he said. He tried to comfort me by telling me no one else was going to do that to me again. He picked up the disc I had brought. “Is this your CT scan?” He asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m going to take a look at these images. I’ll be right back.”
No sooner had he left when his evil twin came in to give me the same abdomen examination.
“Does this hurt?” he asked. “What about here?” His hands wandered to the lower right side of my abdomen. My body tensed up. I said “yes”, hoping it’d convince him not to do it.
Right jab! Stars in my eyes.
“He said that wasn’t going to happen again,” I whimpered.
“Did you come in with a report?” He looked around, confused.
“The other guy took it,” I gasped. With that he vanished like a ninja. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were going to play Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide who would operate on me.
Hours passed. My surgery had been postponed until the next day: time, undetermined. My doctor was still trying to line up a surgeon. They wheeled me into a semi-private suite, where they took my vitals, more blood, changed my fun bags, and mainlined me with más morphine. I felt the cold liquid go into my arm. In a few seconds it felt like someone had cracked an egg on the top of my head. A strange warmth dripped from the top of my head, to the back of my neck, down into my shoulders, all the way to my toes. My heart was racing like a rabbit. I could taste the morphine in my mouth. I was caught in a euphoric rigor mortis.
“Are you ok?” asked the nurse who noticed my reaction.
“That’s intense,” I said.
“That’s why people pay good money for this stuff on the street,” she said.
My novia stayed a little while before kissing me goodnight. Now she had told me many times before that I was an excellent kisser but apparently with morphine I had the power to melt lips. I grinned, my eyelids heavy. She told me she would be back the next day. Seconds later the lights went out. I was alone in my hospital bed, in the darkness, alone with my thoughts. The commotion outside my room sounded like a distant tide. For a moment I felt something I hadn’t felt since I was a child. Helpless. Dependent. I felt humbled by all the care I had received. In my mind I thanked God for each and every one of those who provided me with care. Moments later I was submerged into a drug laced dreamless state.
To be continued…
It was a pleasant day. It’d been months since we’d seen Seattle or the rain. That is what I miss most about Washington. The rain. The seasons, the green trees. Blue skies not choked by chocolate smog. In LA there is only eternal sunshine and while this may seem heavenly at first it eventually becomes hellish. Especially when it’s Christmas and it’s in the upper 70’s. Christmas isn’t Christmas unless it’s so cold your nipples could cut glass.
My novia and I had planned a surprise trip to visit my mom. She was certainly surprised. In fact she heard us talking in the driveway with my dad and thought she was hallucinating. She asked us where were staying. We had already booked a place on Bainbridge Island for the night but I told her we planned on staying with them Saturday and Sunday night. My novia would have the guest bed while I would be relegated to the blow up mattress.
Saturday came. It was a busy day. We attended two of my mother’s book signings in Seattle. By the time we got back to Silverdale, where we would be meeting my friends for dinner, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4:00pm. We made a quick stop at the BevMo where I picked up a rack of Redstripe.
“Are these twist off?” I asked. My novia began to look for something with which to open our beer. “No matter I said, and showed her how to open a beer bottle using another beer bottle.
“That’s impressive,” she said. “Where did you learn how to do that?” A college buddy. Most likely it was discovered by a drunk.
We sat inside the rental car, watching the rain melt the outside world into an impressionistic painting while we nursed our beer and ate marinated olives. We were both drained, in need of a brief reprieve. In a matter of moments we’d be in the busy bee hive that is Red Robin, a place I’ve frequently since my teenage years.
The noise of the kids section was merely a dull roar in my ears thanks to Redstripe. One of my friends told their son, Benjamin, to take it easy on the ranch sauce. He held a chicken strip in his hand and he wore disappointment on his face, along with gobs of ranch dressing. I told him to just dip his chicken strip on his face.
By the end of dinner the parents were spent, the table looked like a landfill, and there was a small mountain of used napkins.
Later that evening…
My mother asked my dad to blow up the blue air mattress for me. He had a pair of ear muffs that could block out the noise of a jet engine. He plugged in the air pump and flipped a switch. It sounded like a plane ramping up for take-off. The mattress began to rise to life.
Dad sat monitoring it. Last time I slept on it was some winters ago. It felt like I was sleeping on an ice block. I asked dad to put it in my mom’s office, instead of his man cave. Due to poor ventilation it doesn’t get very warm in there. It’s really more of an igloo than a cave; filled with various clocks my dad has collected throughout the years. All of them ticking out of synch. I felt like I was inside a clock in Antarctica the first time I ever slept in there. I spent about 15 minutes collecting all the clocks and putting them outside the room.
I returned for the donning of the bed sheets. The first sheet was that obnoxious sheet with the elastic stretchy band, the one that always makes you look like a fool when you’re trying to put it on your mattress or swallows all the clothes in the dryer and keeps them from drying properly. Each time I would secure it to one side then stretch it to the other it would pop off and slap me in the face. This happened about three times before I finally asked dad for help.
We stretched it at the same time, both of us in a tug-of-war to secure to our side. Then we decided to put on the sheet one side at a time. He’d hold his side while I secured mine and vice versa. It went back and forth like a seesaw. Mom said it was big enough for a queen.
Both of us stared at the air mattress. Both of us silently looking for a solution. My solution involved a pin.
“I could get some suspenders,” dad said. I didn’t know they made suspenders for sheets.
“How about some tent spikes?” I returned. I highly doubted suspenders were the solution. I could envision me asleep in the middle of the night when the suspenders snapped and rendered me either blind or sterile.
“I can just sleep on top of the sheet,” I said.
“It’s probably not going to stay on,” my dad said. I told him it would be fine. I was over it.
Sometimes after midnight my novia and I woke up after having fallen asleep watching a movie. We hugged and kissed each other goodnight and went to our respective rooms, she to the guest room, me to my blow up bed. I could barely keep my eyes open. I flopped down on the mattress, ready to drift off to dreamland. My feet were dangling off the end of the bed. I lifted my head and looked down at them, greatly annoyed. Maybe my pillow’s too low, I thought, and moved it to the very tip top of the mattress. It hadn’t helped at all.
I suspected the mattress had lost some air because I began to feel it hugging my shoulder tightly.
“I’m sleeping in an effing taco,” I told the ceiling. Only I didn’t use effing.
Maybe if I lay diagonally, I thought. I repositioned. Nope. With all the squirming and repositioning my feet had become shackled in bed sheet. I was a prisoner in this big blue blow up taco.
I flung off the blankets, wriggled free from my sheet shackles, and jumped to my feet. I began cursing vehemently. 8 years of working in kitchen’s have given me a black belt in cussing. I threw open the door to the man igloo and slammed the blow up taco on the floor.
“I rather sleep on the floor than with you, you bloody taco!” I told it and then went in search for the sleeping bag.
It wasn’t in the office closet. It wasn’t in the coat closet. It wasn’t in the man igloo. It could have only been in two other places. Either it was in the guest bedroom, where my novia was fast asleep, or in my parents room, where they were also fast asleep during my nocturnal hell.
I marched to the living room and raked up every available blanket, while cursing, and marched back to the office, while cursing, and began to build a makeshift cot out of blankets, while cursing.
“What are you doing, Robert?”
I was very surprised to see my novia standing over me with her hands on her hips. I hadn’t even heard her come in. I don’t even know what I said. I just began babbling.
“I thought you were asleep,” I said.
“I heard you marching around like a grump goat,” she said.
“Did you hear what I was saying?”
“I heard everything,” she told me. Gulp.
How embarrassing it is when someone you love see’s or hears you acting like a big fat baby.
“You’re sleeping in the guest bed and I’m sleeping on the couch,” she said sternly. I patted her on the hip and began to tell her I’d be fine sleeping on the floor.
“Enough,” she said sharply while swatting my hand away.
“Ok,” I said, knowing this wasn’t open for discussion.
I made her a little cocoon on the couch and tucked her in and said goodnight, after apologizing for my abominable behavior. She reminded me that it wasn’t the first time she’d seen me raging and told me that she loved me nonetheless. Now that’s true love. For better or for worse, through sickness and health, through good times, or grumpy goat.
Shortly thereafter I was asleep in the guest bed.
The thrill of going fishing with my dad was all consuming. I had visions of us catching salmon, cod, and swordfish, both of us struggling to reel them in, nearly capsizing the boat as we hauled in the greatest catch of a life time.
I asked my dad if there were swordfish in the Puget Sound. I hoped not. I worried if I caught one it might try to saw off one of my appendages as sort of a last stand. Or I envisioned my dad struggling to reel one in only to have it spring out of the water and spear him in the solar plexus, and yell, “Bull’s eye!” Dad assured me there were no swordfish.
Dad gathered all the equipment we would need: the tackle box containing hooks, and lures that looked like feathers plucked from exotic birds, bobbers, the army green fishing pole, and our bait: garlic coated marshmallows.
“What are we going to catch with those?” I asked. I was expecting a coffee can full of night crawlers, not marshmallows with the hue of nuclear radiation. I unscrewed the lid and took a whiff. They reeked of garlic and preservatives.
“They’re good. Try one,” Dad encouraged.
“No thank you,” I said, remembering the time when he convinced my sister to bite into a cod liver oil vitamin.
We journeyed down the dirt road from our house with our fishing paraphernalia until we reached the scoliosis stairway leading down to the beach. They had been swept off their feet by the eroding cliff side or the incoming tide numerous times.
Next to the stairway was the Moyle family boat, buried in brambles. Dad pulled it out and located the oars. The boat had a foot long gash in its nose. I asked if the boat might sink. Dad assured me we’d be ok. I envisioned us rowing out into the water, Dad saying “See it’s fine”. A few minutes later “It’s just a little bit of water, nothing to be worried about.” Then “Here, use this to shovel out that water”. Cut to: both of us frantically shoveling water out of the boat. End scene with the two Rob’s and the garlic coated marshmallow container bobbing in the Puget Sound, Dad suggesting we swim back to shore, me asking him to give me a moment while I finishing peeing in the water.
With one oar my dad pushed us away from the sandy shore. Barnacle pimpled rocks scrapped the belly of the boat. Soon the boat became buoyant and gracefully glided out onto the water. I watched the gash in the nose with a nervous eye. With my free eye I watched the bottom of the sea floor fade from view.
This was it. The moment. I was giddy with excitement and fantasized about feasting on salmon later that night. I could smell the lemon, the dill, the tartar sauce. I asked what would happen when we caught the fish. Dad showed me the steel hammer he had brought from his toolbox. I was expecting a wooden mallet. I don’t know. It seemed kinder. Although I’m sure they’d prefer not be battered with anything, a mallet, a hammer…beer batter. I was less concerned with the barbarism and more concerned with my fish having a hint of steel flavor. Already this wasn’t lining up with my preconceived notions.
Dad gave me a brief tutorial on fishing. He warned me not to have too much slack in the fishing line when casting otherwise I might hook myself or him. After that I was afraid to stand up and cast for fear of hooking my colon.
Coupled with the hook were a few ball bearings, which were to help submerge the hook, and a radioactive yellow marshmallow. It didn’t seem like enough. The colorful lures remained in the tackle box because dad said we didn’t need them.
Dad held the army green fishing rod with his dominant hand, and gave it some slack. With one finger he held the bail open then in one smooth motion sent the hook and balls flying away from us. The reel whined as the hook soared through the air. There was a microscopic splash in the distance where the hook landed.
In fishing it’s important to reel the line back in gradually. If you feel a slight tug it means some curious fish is nibbling on your bait. What you want to do is tease the fish by slowly reeling the bait away from it in order to coax it into taking the bait. When you feel the line start to run away from you know you’ve got one on the line. At this point you want to carefully reel it in. Then you watch it flap around in your boat as it suffocates to death or if you don’t want to watch this horrible sight you can be a kind human being and beat it over the head with a wooden mallet, or a hammer, or your foot, or your oar, or your own head.
After he was sure I had a grasp on the concept Dad handed me the fishing pole. On my first cast I swatted the water with the rod and the hook fell about ten feet from us. I reeled the line back in and tried again and failed. Dad gave me additional pointers.
I watched as the hook flew through the air and landed a good distance from us, a faint smile on my face.
“Ok, now slowly reel it in,” Dad instructed.
Within a few seconds the line went stiff. Very stiff. I flushed with excitement.
“I got one!” Judging from the resistance I had something big. The line was heavy. It was a salmon. It had to be. A fifteen pounder at least. I could smell the lemon! The dill! The tartar sauce! I saw my catch coming into view. It was big. Dad cheered.
“Alright, kelp!” A big clump of ocean salad hung from my hook.
Dad pulled cleared the hook and put another radioactive yellow marshmallow on the hook. I cast the line again and slowly pulled it in. This went on for some time. I caught more ocean salad, caught some driftwood, even snapped the hook off the line. My head was getting hot like Donald Duck’s. Under water I could picture the all fish laughing at me. I was on the verge of giving up when I felt a nibble on my marshmallow. My shoulders hunched over like a cat creeping up on its prey. Gingerly I began to pull it in. I let out a low maniacal laugh and began licking my lips. I became inflamed with bloodlust. I felt a tug and the hook set in its mouth. The line jerked to and fro as it fought to free himself. The line ran wild, yet I was not swayed. I was in control. My hand firmly clasped the handle of the reel and I began to pull him in nice and steady. As I did the line grew heavier. My excitement grew when my dad confirmed that I caught something rather sizeable. Together we struggled to reel it in. We could smell the dill! We could smell the lemon! We could smell the tartar sauce! I could taste victory.
My catch was coming into view. Just below the surface I could see a Plainfin Midshipman. My first catch ever! It began to emerge from the water. Its head was green and it had venomous spins protecting his gills. His body was large. And grey. Much larger than his head. Disproportionately large. Odd looking fish. It looked like a shrunken head on King Kong. Attached to my fish was another fish. A dogfish, which is basically a small shark, and it was climbing up the body of my fish with its teeth, swallowing it like a Boa Constrictor. I watched in horror as the dogfish shook my fish violently from side to side in an effort to severe its body from its head. There was a splash in the water. The line went light. The dogfish swam away with the body of my fish in its belly. I was still in shock, staring at the head on my hook.
“He ate my fish!” I cried with indignation. My dad slapped his knee. He couldn’t stop laughing. It was quite a hoot to him. Meanwhile I stared at the foggy eyes of my fish, trying to imagine what he would have looked like with a body.
It was in that moment I learned it’s a dogfish eat fish kind of world. I also learned it takes less time and energy to get your fish from the supermarket. You ask the man behind the counter for the fish. He wraps it in paper. He gives it to you. You put it in your shopping cart next to the lemon, dill, and tartar sauce.
Later on I ended up catching a dogfish. When I saw him wriggling on the end of my hook I remember having this unbelievable urge to make it a dogfish eat fist kind of world.
I’m not sure what happened to the dogfish that ate my fish but I hope he got his ass eaten. Quite literally.
Asian women lined the walls of the lobby like sentinels. Not a single man, other than a patron, was in the house. A babbling brook cooed in the corner. Though the establishment was in the center of the city, it was as quiet as a cave in the dead of winter. I approached the marble counter. I was asked if I knew what I was getting into. I lied, told them I did.
The girl behind the counter placed a consent form in front of me. I threw my chicken scratch signature on the dotted line and slid it back to her, letting her know, without words, that her attempt to intimidate me had failed.
She swiped my debit card.
“Would you like a receipt?” She asked.
“No, I never look at those things,” I said.
Once the transaction was complete she extended a hand, bowing ever so slightly, and instructed me to sit down and wait until my hostess came to retrieve me.
On a wooden chair I sat and waited, a blissful smile on my face. I was about to set sail for the Island of Relaxation. I envisioned myself walking out of this place an hour later, a new man, refreshed, revitalized, rejuvenated.
No less than 5 minutes had passed before my hostess came and retrieved me.
“Follow me,” she said.
She made no effort at small talk.
At the top of the stairs was a community of shoes, all neatly placed. She told me shoes were not allowed inside. Nor was talking. Only whispers.
We passed through the curtain-shrouded entrance into the Cave of Relaxation. There was a slender walkway down the middle of the room and on the right and left were small rooms divided by thin curtains which looked like bed sheets. A gentle non-intrusive New Age soundtrack wafted in the air, joined by a bounty of pleasing aromas, all part of the experience. They call it aroma therapy. Above the sound of music was what could best be described as the sound of sex. Heavy breathing, moans, wet slapping and smacking, caused by hands wet with lotion. Either the temperature in the room had spiked suddenly or my face was flushed with embarrassment. What sort of den of debauchery have I walked into?
My hostess led me to her corner office, a tiny room on the left hand side, at the very end of the slender walkway. Four drapes hung from wooden poles in the ceiling above us. She handed me a pair of Thai pants to put on. Now I’ve been putting my own pants on for years but I couldn’t figure these things out. The waist line was big enough to fit a hippopotamus and as far as I could tell there was only one pant leg. A minute later my hostess returned. She looked at my legs, both of them sticking out the only pant leg I could find.
“Ummm…I need help,” I said.
There I stood, balancing myself on her shoulder, while this grown woman helped me put my pants on.
“You ever have Thai massage before?” she asked with some suspicion. I was too proud to tell her I hadn’t. Although it was probably apparent I hadn’t. Exhibit One: putting legs through one pant leg.
She told me to lie face down on the mat. I did as she said.
I closed my eyes. At last, I thought. I exhaled and prepared for my voyage to the Island of Relaxation…
The voyage began with a crushing weight which started at the balls of my feet and moved up to my Achilles and then crept up to my calves. I thought, Dear God this small Asian woman has the hands and strength of Goliath! I began to breathe deeply. Inhaling through my nose. Exhaling through my mouth. My head was getting light. The crushing weight continued to creep up my body until it got to my buttocks. I began to feel a deep ache in my abdomen. Unfortunately I had my testicles trapped underneath my body and Asian Goliath was mashing my man-grapes into new wine. I was sweating and seeing stars. Turn this ship around! Take me back to port! If I was sterile after this I wouldn’t be able to sue them because I had signed the consent form. I craned my neck to see how she was inflicting me with this pain. She had her arms wrapped in two of the drapes hanging from the ceiling. She was using them to balance herself while she walked up and down my body like a balance beam.
By the time she got to the middle of my back it felt as if my rib cage had been turned into a vice and was strangling my heart and lungs. This must be what it feels like to be road kill, I thought. At any moment I was going to cough up my heart. I quickly adjusted my man-grapes most inconspicuously before she started to walk up and down me again.
“Where does it hurt?” she asked.
Besides my reproductive organs? “My right shoulder,” I said. I saw the drapes next to my head slowly inch out of eyesight. The wood creaked as she repositioned herself. I closed my eyes, and stifled a whimper. My body went into shock as she used one heel to separate my scapula and the other to mine for knots.
“I carry a lot of stress in my neck, too,” I said, hoping I would get a breather.
She said something I couldn’t understand. I looked at her blankly. She repeated herself and patted her lap.
“Put my head in your lap?” I asked, not quite certain what she was telling me to do.
“Yes,” she said.
With tender man-grapes, the swirling sounds of sex in one ear, and the other right next to the place babies come out of I was feeling mildly uncomfortable.
Her boney elbow drilled into my neck. I felt a nerve tingling in my lower back. I think perhaps the nerve in my neck was shouting to the nerve in my back “Help! Help me you fool!”
The gentleman next to me moaned and said, “Yes, yes.” He and his hostess carried on a conversation. My hostess had to shush them several times. Talking was not allowed. Nor were shoes. Only whispers. And tears. And stifled whimpers.
We were nearing the end of our time together. She began stretching my limbs. This was the most pleasant part of my Thai massage. Having been a gymnast and a diver I am still very flexible. She put me in the fetal position and stretched my right arm behind my back. It felt great until I felt something creep in between my butt cheeks. I felt relieved but also humiliated when I realized she had inadvertently stuffed my own hand into my backside. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was an ancient practical joke.
My happy ending finally came—no not the one you’re thinking of—I mean it finally ended. I hobbled down the stairs where a sentinel waited for me with a cup of green tea. Usually green tea upsets my stomach but by that point I figured how much worse could I possibly feel?
Once I was finished with my tea I stood up. We all bowed ceremoniously to one another before I turned and walked out the door, feeling not like a new man, but a big violated piece of salt water taffy with sweats, a t-shirt, and sneakers.