Sunday, June 17, 2018

Honoring my dad, a good egg

I have had an old book gathering dust on my bedside table for so long, something I inherited when my dad passed away a dozen years ago. It was my grandfather’s log book of his purchases on his farm a century ago. It’s called “National Diary 1918.” 

It was clearly precious to my dad, because it contains his dad’s handwriting throughout, his daily activities on a particular date (“Thursday, June 6: finished shocking barley”) and purchases (“nails for new room, $2.35, dinner, $.30.”)

I’ve flipped through the pages before, but not really inspected it closely. On this Fathers Day, I decided to finally take a deeper look at my grandfather’s world. It is a glimpse into a time in which movies were silent and horse carriages were just giving way to cars on city streets. A world in which Grandpa and Grandma were raising six children, with two more waiting in the wings. 

My grandpa, who died more than 30 years before I was born, farmed fruit and vegetables in Pomona, so his diary is full of the produce he sold and supplies he bought. He was also a devout Christian, a director of his church choir. Programs from church services are stuck throughout the book on just about every Sunday.

What is most precious are the notes Grandpa wrote in the book about his family. The Great War was still raging in the early part of the year. My father, Arthur, was four years old. On January 9, 1918, Grandpa notes the following exchange:

Arthur: “I would not go to war.”
Grandma: “Yes you would, if bad men came and began to kill all of us and hurt our baby, wouldn’t you?”
Arthur: “Yes.”
Doris, my dad’s older sister, maybe eight years old, chimed in: “Will Arthur have to go to war, Mama?”
Grandma: “No, I hope not. I think the war will be over before he is big enough.”
Arthur: “Then me won’t get to fight the Germans?”

On February 2, Arthur comments on his baby sister Helen: “Our baby is as good as God can make.”

Sunday, Feb. 3: “Fine sermon. Doris laughed out loud during prayer.”

Feb. 18: “Harriet (dad’s sister, maybe age 10) said she had the headache. Arthur said ‘I have the headache too, but I ain’t going to talk about it.’”

Feb. 22: Apparently at breakfast, my dad was not happy with his rations: “My head is biggest. Can’t I have two eggs?”

March 30: “Arthur got mad at Harriet. He said, “I don’t see why God made Harriet. He makes only good things, so I don’t see why he made Harriet.”

July 19: “We had sliced peaches raw for supper. Arthur says the hard ones are not any good but the easy ones are.”

August 5: 

Doris: “Arthur pinched my sore arms.” 
Arthur: “Well, she hit me and I don’t see the use of that.”
Doris: “He hit me first.”
Papa: “Arthur, who hit first?”
Arthur: “Dawdie said I did.”
Papa: “Well, what do YOU say?”
Arthur: “I say I did.”

As the summer ends and the year progresses, there are no more anecdotes. No mention, either, of the Armistice on November 11, just the work Grandpa did around the farm. On Nov. 18, there is this ominous note: “Children sent home account of flu. Schools closed until further notice.”

On the heels of the World War, the flu pandemic of 1918 is estimated to have killed possibly 5% of the entire world’s population. This is why I sigh when people moan we are going through the toughest time our country has ever seen. 

Writing down the price of apples in his book, Grandpa could not have known he would die just 10 years later of a sudden illness, leaving Grandma behind to raise Doris and Harriet and their six siblings, just a year before the Great Depression.

My dad and his seven siblings lived through that, and another World War, and it made them more empathetic toward their fellow man, not less. All of them are gone now. 

When I think of Grandpa, it’s a photo of him sitting in the sunshine, carefree, beaming at someone off to the side. And when I think of my dad, it’s the shot of him in the ocean, head and shoulders only, with a blazing smile that says how can I not live forever? 

This morning I had two eggs for breakfast in honor of four year old dad. They were delicious. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A new dog, a new normal

My wife’s aunt died Thursday night and left us her dog. Sue was one of those people who always had a little dog or two. Min Pins. Chihuahuas. Rescues, all. She had nippy dogs and snaggle-toothed ones, dogs nobody else wanted, dogs people had discarded. Charlie Brown Christmas trees of dogs. They struck a chord in her, and it thrums now in our house. In Charles.

I do not know if she named him Charles, or the shelter did, but it is awfully formal for this tiny fawn-colored dude. He looks more like a Petey to me, but as the Democrats say, what can you do?

My wife brought him up from San Diego and they bonded in the car. So now he steers clear of the rest of us, but he orbits Jennifer ceaselessly like a wee, velvet-furred moon. 

Unless we have food. Then Chuck drops the shy act. You got banana? Yeah, I could eat. 

Dude loves bananas. He’ll take it from my hand, until it’s gone, of course. Then suddenly I’m the foodless ogre again, to be given a wide berth. 

Our dog of 10 years, Skipper, is friendly with smaller dogs. He has never shared his domain, but as long as the supply lines for food and petting are open, he seems cool with it. Charles appears indifferent, except when Skipper decides to sniff him in delicate areas longer than etiquette permits. Then he’ll dredge up a low growl. 

It’s like watching Pee Wee Herman smack a fist into the palm of his hand menacingly. Not entirely impressive. 

Aunt Sue apparently never threw away a leash or harness. We were bequeathed a box of tangled doggy doodaddery in rainbows of colors. When I balked at putting a padded pink harness on Charles for a walk, my wife opined that color has no gender. She is right, of course. The hangup is mine. I begin to see this dog as a vehicle to enlightenment. 

Yesterday I walked two dogs for the first time. They each had their own agendas, interior personal Morse codes consisting of sniff-pee-poop or poop-poop-sniff-pee. One would stop and one would continue walking, pulling me in opposite directions so that I continually ended up, arms stretched straight out, as if I were in some sort of canine production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” 

Welcome to the new normal. I have never had a dog this small, a dog I could use as a sleep mask, a dog I could lift with one hand, but probably only if the other hand had banana in it. 

As it happens, my wife is leaving today for a week away, so I am going to find out if, in her absence, Charles will warm to me. I am skeptical, but with dogs as with people, bribery works. I am not above trying it. Sue left us her dog, but no Plan B. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Most people don't get to write about their colonoscopy

There may be five syllables more dreaded in the English language than “colonoscopy” (“Honey, I’m pregnant,” perhaps?), but personally I think “colonoscopy” is king. After you have one, they usually say come back in 10 years, but if you have polyps in your pooter, they suggest an earlier return visit. Apparently my colon is to polyp production what Henry Ford would have referred to as “whizbang.” 

So this was my second excursion in six years. 

If you are reading this, it probably means you are old enough to know the process, because it you weren’t you would be playing “Fortnite” online right now. And if you don’t know what “Fortnite” is, you’ve definitely had a colonoscopy.

My last colon exam was pretty blissful in retrospect, which is the best spect to use when it comes to anything below your waist. I remember being covered heavily in warm sheets. True, I probably hallucinated the whole chocolate chip fairy thing because of the meds. But it wasn’t terrible.

The prep is the worst, everybody says. The purging of your system, and when I say system, I mean everything south of my Detroit.

At 6 the night before, you start drinking eight ounces of the lemony purge fluid every 15 minutes. After two hours I had drunk a half gallon with no effect. I was bulging. This matched my imbibing record from Oktoberfest in 1984, except for the "no effect" part. 

I felt like a pregnant woman. Fit to burst. Then at about 8:00 I was reminded that fit to burst beats the alternative. I do not want to be graphic, so let me just give you a visual aid.

I began to project my own emotions onto the TV. Watching “Bosch,” it really bothered me that nobody on the show was ever looking for a bathroom. 

I got to the clinic early the next morning. I had to sign pages and pages of forms and waivers basically agreeing that if they turned my colon into an Airbnb I would not sue them. 

The nurse called me “Mr. George,” which made me feel like somebody else, but not for nearly long enough. She handed me a paper shower cap and paper booties to wear so that, I guess, if I wanted to make a run for it I could pass for staff. 

She piled a few warm sheets on me, but they cooled quickly, and she couldn’t get an IV port into my right arm, so I got poked twice as many times as I would have liked. Is your second colonoscopy typically as disappointing as your second trip to the Louvre?

Eventually they rolled me in for the main event. Heavy metal music was playing. I asked if that was the colonoscopy station. They are probably so tired of that line.

My friend had a colonoscopy recently and he said he wasn’t zonked out at all. He watched the whole thing on the little TV. I got the good stuff, the “twilight sleep,” and the twilight lasted about 10 creamy seconds before I was out. Just long enough for me to totally understand the opioid epidemic. Wow.

I don't remember waking up in the recovery room, but I remember the nurse handing me my clothes and pulling shut the privacy curtain. I put my clothes back on while lying flat on the gurney because I knew if I woozily stood, my obituary would read, "Well, he got one pant leg on, at least."

They wheeled me out all the way out to my wife and the waiting car. I took the day off from work, and sat around eating solid food and surfing Facebook. 

I await the results from Polyp Analysis 2018. They gave me color photos of what they found on their expedition, which look like a page from the worst pizza menu ever. 

I realize these are First World problems. I only hope some day we find a way to export them.

. . .

A View From The Back Side

~Vintage column from April 8, 2012~

I turned 50 this year, so I decided I should undergo that ol' humor columnist's gold mine of potential material, second only to the family dog—the colonoscopy.

"You never know what they might find," a fellow 50 year old said, causing me to contemplate the discovery, in my lower regions, of raccoons, possibly, or polecats.

So I slugged down the salty solution they give you to clear out the personal you-tubes, choosing, from a selection of fruity add-in powders, the pineapple. Not because I like the flavor, no. But I knew that after three hours of force-chugging, I would never want to taste that flavor again, ever, and I was right.

Sorry, pineapple, but it was you or cherry, and that's a no-brainer.

The next morning found me in a hospital gown, lying on a gurney under pre-heated blankets. It felt like a spa day, except the phone of the guy on the next gurney kept ringing every three minutes with a jaunty jungle beat which terminated in a chirp of monkeys.

Evidently it was out of his reach. For half an hour.

The lady on the other side of me was blabbing to the nurse how she was dating a toxic taxicab driver. I think. She had a heavy accent.

The sensation of rolling flat on my back on a gurney was strangely fun, though; I felt like an extra on "Grey's Anatomy."

They rolled me into "The Room," as the nurse called it, which sounded a little ominous. The lights were dimmed and I thought I heard Taylor Swift singing, but it was apparently only the colonoscope warming up.

They hooked me up to the anesthetic, and I watched a little monitor screen next to my bed. As the drugs kicked in I went all woozy, the doc began to work, and I could have sworn the little TV had a show on about colons.

It was pretty graphic, but really boring. Just before I passed out I remember thinking, "I can't see that getting renewed."

I woke up in the recovery room and the nurse told me the doc had performed a polypectomy, and I could call for the results in a week. (Students of history will also remember that Polypectomy was a decisive general in the Trojan Wars.)

The results? I am fine. The polyps were benign, and rather cute, truth be told. Not raccoon cute, but in the ballpark.

Now pardon me. My dog seems to be lobbying for my attention.

. . .

© George Waters, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2018

My attic was lousy with raccoons! Become a patron to find out what happened.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

I did this play called “Gatsby”

I acted in a play this month for the first time in years, brought out of retirement by the lure of a pair of plum roles called “Waiter/Policeman.” Well, I did play a third part with an actual name, but one so obscure in the show, “The Great Gatsby,” that unless you are an English teacher you wouldn’t know the guy. A self-involved, effeminate hack photographer “artiste” named Chester McKee. This guy, holding the drink:

At the drop of a hat he will invite you back to his place to see his, um, “portfolio.”

I got hooked on theater in high school, at 15. I played dads, grandpas, gamblers, lawyers, Irishmen, twins, guys with fake facial hair:

In college it was capes. Lots of capes. 

In middle age you get the parts with smoking jackets and double-breasted suits. The roles get rarer, but the clothes get better. 

Aging creeps up on you, like a critic you never noticed was in the audience until the review comes out. One minute you’re the 30 year old leading man for whom playwrights pen tons of parts, and the next you’re the character actor getting winded dancing the Charleston. 

You look around and the 30 year old guys on stage didn’t break a sweat. In between scenes, the 30 year old guys are doing push-ups in the wings to get up for the show. You’re not jealous, though, just kind of awed. You were never one to do push-ups without a P.E. teacher’s glare as the instigation.

Doing theater involves remembering taboos and traditions, like not saying the word “Macbeth.” Supposedly, if you say it inside a theater bad luck will befall you or your cast. You are supposed to refer to it as “the Scottish play.” As if the Fates can’t figure out the ploy. As if bad luck is thwarted by verbiage. 

Avoiding saying the word was tough because late in our run, our director began directing “Macbeth.” This led to many close calls like “So how are things going with Macbet—that kilt-fest you’re taking on?” And “Patrick, what are the show dates for Macb—that damned spot show thingy?”

Side note—It would fun to work spotlight for “Macbeth,” and turn it off when the famous line comes. 

I am pretty sure I said the word backstage, and I definitely watched another guy straight-up say it without even remembering not to. Nothing bad happened. But these superstitions, passed on, put you in a kind of club whose membership runs back and back through time, to the first schmuck who said the play’s name and then, probably, fell into the orchestra pit which just happened to be outfitted for a show involving live crocodiles. I am only guessing.

I got a couple of small laughs as Chester, which is the best part of doing a tragedy like “Gatsby,” in which the stage is strewn by the end (spoiler alert) with three dead bodies. Laughs in a drama are a little gift to help the audience cope. I have always felt that coping is overrated. I know I am in the minority. But let them cope if it means me getting a laugh.

I only had one quick change. I had to exit stage left, toss an armload of clothes against the wall, rip off my fake mustache, glasses, vest and gloves and then hustle across the backstage while tying on an apron and donning a different vest, all in about a minute before entering stage right. It made my pulse pound. How many things do that these days outside of politics?

When you go years without doing theater you can forget how magical it feels backstage where the lights are low, costumes are hung for quick-changes, there are prop guns and liquor bottles, fake ice cubes and cigarette lighters. The whole place smells like lumber, paint, makeup and hair spray. It’s that club thing again. We are back here, and they are out there, and what we are about to do to them they have no idea. It feels like having the password.

It is, in essence, showing off. I know that. You dress up and show off. Normal people don’t need to. Actors and politicians and preachers; we’re all in the hey-look-at-me business. Society sanctions it, so we get away with it in the name of entertainment, diversion, governance, salvation. Call it whatever, I’ll take it. Now and then.

I admit it is kind of weird to ask your wife to borrow her makeup remover, though.

. . .