Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery
Monday, August 11, 2014
I did not have an easy time of it. I had tried sports in elementary school and I was not good at them. I had no interest in cars. I was an utterly late bloomer who would be completely unappealing to girls for another five years.
I got depressed from time to time.
Comedy was my life line. Weird Al Yankovich, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and George Carlin were what I listened to instead of music. I would never be a musician; I knew that, even at a young age. But I could be funny.
My hero, my absolute hero, was Robin Williams. I'd seen An Evening with Robin Williams a year or two earlier, when we lived in a town big enough to have cable. (This would have had to have been late night, after my parents had gone to sleep.) I'd been a fan since even earlier, when he jumped from Happy Days to his own starring vehicle, Mork & Mindy, which became a staple of my young viewing schedule.
A Night at the Met was one of the first cassettes I bought after I made the switch from vinyl. I listened to it on my shitty little battery-powered tape recorder. I have a very clear memory of driving the little tractor we used at my grandparents' campground (where we were living after leaving town) and sitting the tape recorder on my lap so I could listen to Night at the Met.
"How do you like the play, Mr. Lincoln? Duck!" "Cocaine, is our little gift to the white man for what you did to us." "You wake up, he's been awake for an hour. 'Morning! Time for jumping ja-a-acks!'" "They say your 'friend has come to town.' Bullshit! What kind of friend makes you want to stand on the roof with a machine gun going, 'Get in the house! Get in the fucking house!'" "Mickey Mouse to a three-year-old is a six-foot fucking rat!" If I sat here longer, I could probably remember almost every single joke on that tape.
I know that, in the years since, his rapid-fire routines have grown stale. We've all seen his mile-a-minute, pseudo-stream-of-consciousness thing many, many times since then, in movies, in interviews, in cartoons, in places it didn't always seem to be necessary.
But, at the time, he was utterly unique and I loved him so much. I wanted to do what he did. I wanted to be just like him. I saw that there was a path out of the sucky middle school place I was stuck.
I'm not a stand-up. That's not his fault, though. I gave it a shot and found out one night at The Robin Hood in Kent that I had no real taste for bombing in front of a hostile crowd. Plus, I discovered that I was more suited to sketch. I still loved Robin Williams, though. Even when I no longer wanted to be him.
He let me down sometimes (even a hick teenager could tell that Club Paradise was a giant, steaming turd.) But he also validated my worship. The World According to Garp was the first adult novel that I read and really loved. The movie version is not a great film, but Williams captured everything about the character that I'd seen in the book. For better or worse, Garp was kind of an ideal for me. A writer who takes care of his kids? That has always sounded awesome, right?
I lost touch, over time, with the thirteen-year-old who adored Robin Williams to that degree. But I felt it tonight. I knew that he'd been struggling with his addiction after a long, long time sober. So whatever demons drove him to self-medicate obviously overcame him and now he's gone.
I've got friends who have decried public mourning on social media. But, I have to say, seeing how profoundly this loss has affected so many people made me feel better tonight.
I know how I will spend my time tomorrow: listening to A Night at the Met and watching The World According to Garp. Rest in peace, Mr. Williams.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
He will sit for, literally, hours at his little table, grabbing markers and crayons and pencils and drawing on notebook paper and sketch paper and construction paper and tissue paper. (This is a newish development; he seems to really dig the way a marker will get soaked into the tissue. It's not my favorite media, especially as we use the tissue for things like, say, runny noses and, when eighteen tissues have been pulled out of the box in one morning to be used for clown drawings, it means I have to wipe my sleeve on my hand.)
What's fascinating me now is that he's been, for a couple of months, obsessing over copies. He'll do a drawing--or, more likely, an entire series of drawings--and then reproduce them on other types of paper or in other sizes. Sometimes, he'll command my wife or I to copy them for him. It's like he's turned into a small Andy Warhol.
The other parenting thing floating around my head this morning is guilt. (That's more or less there all the time, as I can usually find any number of things I'm not doing or not doing right with which to hit myself over the head.)
This morning, though, I came out of the bathroom to find him standing on a step stool, rooting around the kitchen counter. Before I said anything, he volunteered that he'd been looking for a pencil sharpener. It had been in the kitchen. I said, "I don't know where that is."
I know exactly where that is. If I crane my neck and look out the window right now, I can see it. Or, rather, I can see the garbage bag it's in, sitting on the curb awaiting pick-up.
Here's the deal with the pencil sharpener: A friend of his got him a set of Spider-Man school supplies for his birthday. Folders, notebooks, pencils, pencil bag...pencil sharpener. As a teacher, I'm not a huge fan of these types of pencil sharpeners, because I am constantly having to tell kids not to drop the pencil shavings on the floor and constantly having to tell them to put the sharpener away when they decide to sharpen every pencil they own in the middle of my lesson. So, I'm not inclined to look favorably upon these things.
Last week--and, I have to be honest here: I don't even remember the exact circumstances; either he was spilling pencil shavings on the carpet or he was sharpening a pencil as a stalling tactic at bedtime--I took the pencil sharpener away from him. Not any kind of big, emotional thing; I just took it and set it on the shelf above the sink.
A couple of days ago, as I was doing dishes, I was moving things around on that shelf and had to decide where to move the sharpener and--again, I don't really have a strong recollection of what was going through my head when I did this--I tossed it, on impulse, into the trash. "Done and done," I probably said, and then most likely started humming "Don't Let's Start" as I scoured a pan.
The Kid, of course, has a memory like a steel trap; knew exactly where the pencil sharpener should have been and will remember that it was taken from him until he's 90.
Saturday, June 02, 2012
When I think of passing out, the image in my mind tends to be of women in 1930s comedies, falling into Harpo Marx’s arms or maybe flopping onto a fainting couch, the very name of which implies a gentle end to losing consciousness.
If you stop and really consider it, though, it doesn’t come across as something akin to diving into a pool of velvet. I mean, one second, you’re standing upright. Head as high as it will go. Then your body gives out and you take the quickest path available to the floor. Doesn’t matter what’s in your path, you and the floor are going to get to know each other more intimately as soon as gravity will allow.
I’ve had three passing out experiences in my life, the latest of which was this morning. And not goddamn one of them was pleasant.
The very first time I passed out, I was maybe fifteen. I had a nasty, vicious, malevolent flu. I was standing in the kitchen of the model house we had built. The model house that my family had moved into when things took a turn so that we were no longer going to be building more of them and so it had become not a model house, but just a place to live until we moved someplace else.
The point is, I guess, that the place hadn’t been completely finished and we lived in it for a couple of years with cement floors. So I was standing on the cement floor in the kitchen as my mother very kindly made me an Alka Seltzer Plus. As I waited for the tablet to completely dissolve, I got a little light-headed and, next thing I knew, I was looking up at my mother from half-way inside the garbage can, which I had knocked over on my way down to the cement floor.
I remember thinking, “Wow. Fainting is not nearly as fun as I’d assumed.” Also, “I think there are coffee grounds in my hair.”
I was fortunate to go about twenty-five years before I passed out again. But when it came time for another go-round, it was a trifecta.
Last winter, for the first time ever, probably in the entirety of our relationship, my wife and I got sick at the same time. Historically, we’d traded these things off, so that one of us was always healthy enough to resent the person we now had to take care of.
This time, though, our son had brought home some particularly virulent plague from preschool and it laid us both low. As my wife moaned on the couch, I headed off to the bedroom, stopping off in the bathroom first.
I recall feeling woozy as I got up from the toilet and thinking, “I need to be careful standing up, here. I wouldn’t want to pass--” And then I sort of quasi-maintained consciousness as I staggered back and collapsed onto the toilet, where I hovered for about a minute on the edge of awareness.
Once I’d snapped back to the waking world, I made a firm decision to get to bed before any of the fainting shit happened again. I marched down the hall and through the bedroom door and woke up an indeterminate amount of time later in a heap on the floor, with a rocking chair overturned on top of me. “Ouch,” I thought. Maybe I said it out loud. I don’t recall. What I recall is that I had fallen into a very hard piece of furniture and wrestled it to a draw. I managed to haul myself to my feet (without managing to pick the rocking chair up) and lurched toward the bed, where I passed out again, this time pulling off a landing on something softer than porcelain or wood.
I chalked all of this awareness-losing up to the flu. So, between this series of falls and the quarter-century-ago garbage-dive, I know that influenza can lead to my fainting. Noted.
This morning, though…
I don’t know what the hell happened this morning. I’m not sick. I feel mostly fine and have for days. So I have no idea what caused me, as I was making an early-morning trip to the bathroom, to pass out as I was peeing.
I hadn’t felt light-headed, to the best of my recollection. I had a brief, sharp pain in my intestines that made me wince; I leaned on the wall until the pain subsided and then I found myself collapsed on the floor, clutching my head, which I’d apparently smacked on the toilet on my way down. I cleaned up the floor--as I’d been mid-stream when I veered sharply into dreamland--and cleaned up myself and went back to bed, where I laid awake and worried about just what the fuck is wrong with me.
I don’t like the idea that I can pass out with little/no warning. I don’t like knowing that I could fall on my face at any moment. I’m a grown man, not a teenage girl at a 1964 Beatles concert. That shit ain’t right.
So, I’m about to do what many guys do in the time after they hit forty. I’m going to make an appointment for a full-tilt physical. I’m going to have a doctor tell me every goddamn thing that’s wrong with this aging body of mine and set about dealing with it all. Most of the time, I still feel like I’m in my twenties. I still feel young. But things like this; things like waking up with a bashed forehead in a puddle of your own urine are enough to make a fella feel friggin’ old.
*deep, self-pitying sigh*
Friday, December 16, 2011
Why I Will Miss Christopher Hitchens
There are things in life over which we have absolutely no control. Strike that. Let me say, instead: over the vast majority of things in our lives, we have absolutely no control.
We cannot control the actions of our friends and family. We cannot control disease. We cannot control how others perceive us, as much as Scientology wants us to think we can.
It is frightening. Truly, truly frightening.
Which is why I completely understand why people turn to religion. I've said it before: religion is about community and comfort and knowing that, even if you have no control over what happens, someone does. I get it. And I honestly don't have any desire to knock anyone out of their beliefs or even try to debate them. As long as they don't try to convince me that I have to believe as they do I am a-okay with any views they have that don't crap all over other people's rights.
I know that the vast majority of the country sees atheism as a rejection. A rejection of religion and a rejection of God and a rejection of "values". In fact, it's the opposite. Atheism, to me, is acceptance. It's the acceptance of this lack of control, this lack of ultimate and concrete meaning in life. It's acceptance of this and it's the decision to find your own meaning. The decision to be a moral person because it's the right thing to do, not because God will punish you if you aren't. The decision to try to make the world better not to reflect God's glory, but because it's our world and we need it to be the best place we can make it.
Obviously, I'm not the best spokesperson for atheism. I'm a guy who tends to write about vomit and weird smells. Which is why it's such a good thing to have men like Christopher Hitchens. I did not agree with everything the guy said. I think, in the writing of his that I did read, he tended to be a little harsh on people of faith. But he was a man of tremendous intellect and he was so very skilled at getting his points about this subject (and many, many others) across that I will miss him, even if I was not his biggest fan.
I'm betting there will be people--people of faith, mind you--who will be actually gleeful about the passing of this guy who spat in the face of their beliefs. And I'm not enough of a hypocrite to cry "Shame!" here because I said my share of snarky comments when Jerry Falwell died.* But I don't have a God who's going to punish me for being a dick. I have to just accept my dickishness and try to do better.
*Interesting tidbit: I could not for the life of me remember Falwell's name, but trying to find it on Google, I learned that there's actually a site called Religious Douchebags.com.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
On the Train
Picked the Kid up from preschool yesterday and he was not overly fussy, as he's been the last week or so--owing to a cold and a general lack of sleep. We sat quietly on the train, heading to my wife's work, where we planned to meet up with her and then head toward Harlem to pick up our Christmas tree.
It's not a terribly long ride from my son's school to my wife's job, so we weren't on the train all that long. But we were there long enough.
Down the aisle of the car from us, there was a teenage couple. Like so many awful, awful teen couples on a train, they seemed to see a trip on public transit as "alone time" and they took advantage of their alone time to make out.
The thought in my head was not, I should point out, "Get a room!" If they got a room and had enough privacy to actually have sex, they could very possibly end up pregnant and I thought it entirely ill-advised for the two of them to spawn a child at this point in their lives.
No, my thought was, "Get an understanding that the rest of us have less than no desire to watch your tongues slapping sloppily against each others' teeth." Seriously, teenagers, I don't have anything against public displays of affection, but public displays of advanced foreplay are an abomination.
The making out, though, was not the truly awful part of their behavior. No, the thing that really got the collective goat of the entire population of the train car was the fact that one of the two teens--and I could not, honestly, tell whether it was the boy or the girl--had their little brother with them. And the little brother had a recorder with him. And he was playing it. A lot. Badly.
If you've heard a kid with a recorder, you've heard it played badly. You know that it can sound like a guinea pig being strangled by a duck. Played perfectly, the goddamn thing doesn't sound great. But played by a kid who has paid no attention in music class, it is unbearable.
So the little brother is squeaking and squawking and sending little daggers into the ears of every single person in the car. Every single person in the car is glaring at him and at the teens. When I say every single person, I mean that literally. Some of them might have attempted to read their books or listen to their iPods or play their PSPs. But no activity could compete with that noise.
The teens seemed to have no real awareness that the entire subway car wanted to throw them all onto the tracks. They sat there, staring into each others' vacant eyes and occasionally applying a coat of saliva to each others' tonsils. The little brother kept us his awful song, like a jazz fusion clarinetist on a meth bender.
When we came to the station by my wife's office and I popped up out of my seat to exit the train, I gave the rest of the car a smile. It amused me, in some cruel way, that these folks would be forced to share the long trek toward Grand Central with Lil' Kenny G and his irresponsible guardians. I like to think that, somewhere under the East River, someone in the car finally had enough and threw their shoe at the teens to wake them from their pre=coital haze and alert them to the fact that they needed to take action to save the ears of their fellow passengers.
But they probably all just seethed.
Sunday, December 04, 2011
Pathetic Christmas: A Short Story
Ludwig threw a handful of tinsel at the tree. It clumped in one spot and hung there limply, a couple of strands falling sadly to the floor. Ludwig stepped back to sip his eggnog and take in the whole tree.
The ornaments he’d picked up at CVS were okay. The colors were nice, anyway. But they weren’t his old ornaments. They didn’t have any kind of personal meaning. Okay, they had some kind of meaning about him as a person, but he didn’t want to think about what that meaning was.
The one string of lights was not enough. A single string of Christmas lights in a window can look festive, but a single string of lights in a tree just looks inadequate.
He wandered over to the kitchen and opened the mini-fridge. He pulled out the little eggnog carton and poured the remains of it into his mug. He tossed the empty carton in the direction of the trash can.
He checked the cookies. Almost. He’d cut them off the log a little thicker than the wrapper had suggested, because he liked his cookies a little thicker. He hoped they’d still cook evenly.
He stopped for a moment and scratched at his balls. An outside-the-jeans scratch was just not doin’ it. So he made the call. He reached in, lifted his balls with his index finger and used the middle and ring fingers to give the underside of his sack a good itching.
The timer went off. He grabbed his potholder and pulled the cookie sheet out of the oven. He spatula’d them onto his festive holiday paper plate. Cookies were always best warm, so he picked one up and took a tentative bite.
It didn’t taste so much like vanilla as maybe what the idea of vanilla might taste like in the imagination of a martian robot. He put the remainder of the cookie back on the plate.
“George! George!” came a voice from the living room.
Ludwig stepped back in the room in time to see Mary clearing off a table and listening for the townspeople. Donna Reed was the perfect woman. She stuck by George even when he was being a dick. Donna Reed.
He looked around the room. He was utterly alone. He sat down in his chair and pulled a few Kleenex from the box. He thought, “The holidays really are a special time.” His thoughts were then filled with Donna Reed and watersports.
Monday, May 02, 2011
Newsies II: The Quickening
My students' knowledge of current events is usually minimal. They don't spend a lot of time reading the newspaper, these fifth-graders. They don't seem to watch all that much news at home, either. But, when something big happens, they often have a handful of assorted facts that are maybe tangentially related to what has happened.
So, this morning, I had a small assortment of kids try to get me off the topic at hand--solving one-step algebraic equations--by bringing up last night's national security-related doings.
"Did you hear about the guy who died?" one of them queried.
"Mr. Wack, did you know Osama was killed?" said another, using Bin Laden's first name, because he was kinda like Tom and Katie and other celebs and posing the question to me because, obviously, I spend my time away from school in a cryogenic freezing chamber and was waiting for my students to fill me in.
Another kid tosses in the tidbit that "...they shot him in the head." This is followed by someone's dad's off-color joke, which I don't hear fully because I'm trying to get the rest of the class quiet so we can continue with the lesson.
Now, I don't know that I was fully versed in the goings-on of the world when I was in fifth grade, but I know that I wrote my first topical joke when I was even younger. It was a witty blending of the Action Comics quote "Look, up in the sky, etc." and the plummeting to earth of the abandoned Skylab.
I hope that these kids start paying just a bit more attention to shit that matters and a lot less attention to Jersey Shore.
Quick post on my kids' weak Osamatalk today.