Sunday, August 19, 2018

Face to face with a specialist

When you have a tooth that hurts, you probably do what I do—notify the dentist swiftly; within two years, tops. Time is of the essence, because the longer you wait, the longer you get to not be at the dentist. 

I went in last week because my gums seemed irritated, kind of inflamed, like I get when I accidentally go on Twitter. They did not see any gum problems, but they did identify that the tooth in question needed further investigation by...specialists. 

There is never a time when you want to meet a specialist. People who are special at things are trouble. My dentist made a point of not saying what the specialists specialized in. She is a professional.

Turns out they specialized in root canal. Root canal. Like Love Canal in the '70's, root canal is a phrase nobody wants to hear. I did not know anything about it except that, like videos of orcas eating penguins, it is supposed to be horrible. 

The specialist office was pristine, though. All black marble and dark wood, to make you think they like you. They put me in a standing position biting down on a rubber thingy and they ran an X-ray machine around my head to get a 3D image. I felt like airport security had suspected my head of something, and had singled it out for extra screening. 

The 3D made it clear—I needed a root canal. 

I always pictured a root canal being a canal they dig under your roots, like an open trench, a lot of gore. Much like that time I was sure "Gremlins 2" would surpass the quality of the original, I was wrong. It didn't even hurt.

My tooth had a crown on it, so they had to drill down through that (dude was changing drill bits like Will Rogers doing rope tricks.) They cleaned out the infection, and filled the gaps with plastic of some kind (and I was glad, because at least it wasn't going into the ocean), and then topped that off with a temporary filling. 

There was smoke. I had smoke coming out of my mouth. Nobody acted like that was unusual, so I didn't either.

They could have totally screwed up, and accidentally set my tooth on fire, but I'll never know. This is what being raised to be polite gets you. 

I still have to go back to my dentist in a few weeks and get this filling ground out so they can put in a permanent one. I am not sure why the specialists are not authorized to put in a permanent one. Maybe it's a union thing. 

So the upshot is, I advise everyone to get a root canal, mainly so you have an instant conversation starter, like women who have been through childbirth. 

Somebody will overhear you and be all, "Oh, you had a root canal? Mine took five hours. They burned through three drills, they ran out of that plastic filler and had to use Spackle, a hygienist died!"

"Did smoke come out of your mouth?"

"Smoke? Are you nuts? What kind of animals worked on you?"

The oddest part of the whole thing was the big screen TV on the wall showing a home remodeling channel during the whole procedure, I guess to take your mind off things. I couldn't hear it, but it is a little bizarre to watch people fix up kitchens through a haze of your own oral smoke. 

Bizarre seems to be the new normal these days, though, just in general. I guess it's time my mouth got with the times. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A birthday celebration on the surface of the sun

Parents, it is said, will do anything for their kids, even traveling to the surface of the sun for their amusement. And when I say the surface of the sun, I mean Buena Park in August. 

We were finally finding time for my college-age daughter's birthday, an entire season late, and Knott's Berry Farm was her desire. I have fond childhood memories of Knott's, but none of them involves the sensation of stepping fully clothed into a sauna. 

Maybe my parents took us in the off-season, I have no idea, but I don't remember heat. I do remember the old western style jail, which had a mannequin inside and a speaker, apparently, through which he would talk to you. 

Some actor was upstairs in the building opposite, probably, in sight of the jail, and he would comment based on your looks. My dad, who even in the height of the hippie 1960s had a crew cut, got asked, "Hey, did you fall asleep in the barber chair?" 

It was funny because when you peer into a fake Old West jail and see a mannequin in there, you don't expect him to talk, and especially don't expect him to criticize your choices. 

An actor with a mic and total freedom is a dangerous thing. They probably phased him out in the '70's. Imagine what that mannequin would say today at some guy peering in. 

"Whoa, nice cap. 'Make America Great Again?' Hey, can you spring me out of here? I'm a Cabinet member."

It was already warm, so we began the day on the rafting ride, which I really think they should rename Who Wants To Walk Around All Day With Wet Underwear Rapids. But don't go by me. I think the Statue of Liberty should be renamed the Statue of Just A Suggestion. 

We went on Voyage to the Iron Reef, which is described on the Web site as a "spectacular 4-D interactive ride," and I wished yet again that a science consultant would come and remind copy writers just how many Ds are actually possible. 

You are supposedly in a submarine blasting giant squids and other critters for points so that at the end you can compare your skill with your friends and family members in an effort to sow harmony.

It was fun, but the nonstop blasting was pretty painful on the old trigger finger after awhile, and as the ride ended, a voice came over the speakers which I could have sworn said, "Remain seated until the suffering comes to a stop." 

Turns out it actually said "submarine," but the other is not a bad motto for life, really. 

We went on the Calico Mine ride, which I surely must have gone on as a child but must have blocked. It has so many audio-animatronic miners who do not seem to know whether to grin or grimace at their hard underground labor it's creepy. Plus, if you have seen even one episode of "Westworld," you can't help but keep glancing behind you the whole time. 

Being at an amusement park is generally better than not being at one, but when it is 90 degrees out and muggy, you start to think that maybe "amusement" is meant ironically, until you remember that these people think there are four Ds. 

We rode and spun and debated solutions to the stagecraft of the Mystery Lodge, then finished our day on Ghost Rider, a giant wooden roller coaster designed, apparently, by the adult diaper manufacturers of America. It is good that screaming is considered normal on a roller coaster. Let's just say not everybody on a roller coaster is screaming for the same reason. 

Afterwards we went into the chicken dinner restaurant and I stood directly under the big air conditioning vent until people started to stare. And then a little longer. 

State law requires that after loosening all of your fillings on a wooden roller coaster, you eat fried chicken with boysenberry pie, and so we did. It is surprising, the rejuvenating effects of biscuits the size of your fist. The five pounds of water weight I had lost in the baking sun were soon replaced by five of gravy. 

As we left, we saw the waitstaff singing "Happy birthday" to another table, something my daughter was happy to forego. I am not sure the age at which that little ceremony shifts from charming to horrifying, but it is well before 21. 

Another trip around the sun celebrated, right from its surface. Well, as with most things, who you are with makes all the difference. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Shine it, kick back for awhile

There are certain phrases which, once read, never leave you. A bunch of Shakespeare is like that. Robert Frost. Cheech & Chong. Our brains, which could occupy themselves with stopping you from leaving your eyeglasses in the fridge, instead offer up random lines, like "Dave's not here, man" and "that has made all the difference" and "Shine it, kick back for awhile."

Oh, you don't know that last one? That is because it exists in only one place on Earth. It was written when I handed my 8th grade yearbook to a classmate I thought was cool. He was not bright, a bit of a delinquent, and enviously carefree. I was handing around my yearbook, and I handed it to Jim. 

The standard 8th grade yearbook quote in 1975 (repeated in mine a good dozen times) was "Stay as cool as you are. Have a bitchin summer." 

Side note: It is sad to me that "bitchin" has vanished as completely as Farrah hair. Some words, like "Righteous" are still said ironically these days, but "bitchin" is gone. "Bitchin" was to "cool" as the Stones were to the Beatles. A perfectly valid alternative. To tell someone the concert you went to was "cool" would have been maddeningly vague. But say it was "bitchin"? Well, everybody killed themselves because they were not at that concert. 

I miss bitchin. 

Anyway, Jim handed me back my yearbook, where he had written, "Shine it, kick back for awhile." This was apparently in answer to the implied question, "So what are you going to do, Jim, now that high school looms and it is time, maybe, to get serious about a few things?"

Jim made clear his plan: he was going to shine it, and then, assuming there was time, kick back for awhile. 

"Shine it" in the 1970s, or to "shine something on" was to ignore it, pay the worrisome thing no mind. To "shine someone on" was what we would now call to blow them off. 

Some examples:

"Mrs. Sowin asked me if I finished my English homework, but I shined her on."

"This guy has been on me to pay him back all week. Watch me shine him on."

"Dude, I waited outside 'The Towering Inferno' for, like, an hour. Why did you shine me on?"

It is not like I just got out my yearbook recently, either. This is just a sentence which has been rising up in my mind every few months since the day I first read it. There is a perfection in it, in that it captures Jim in his essence. 

Normally you would write something about the person whose yearbook it is. 

"Had a good time pretending to do the experiments in Chem this year, George. Stay bitchin."

"You are very quiet, George, and I like that. It's not a criticism. See you in German in the fall."

"Jorgé, you are a fast runner but I am faster because you never even see me. Later days."

"Later" was a common alternative to "goodbye." I miss it too.
I do not know what happened to Jim. I don't remember him from high school, but there he is in the yearbook senior year. I expect he did like a lot of guys who, finally freed from studies, excelled in the thing they were interested in, fixing cars, building furniture, flipping houses. 

It is only now, more than 40 years later, that I realize I may have misread the meaning of Jim's yearbook scribble entirely. Perhaps he was not telling me of his own intentions. Maybe he had marked me as the bookish dork I was and tried to intervene in as gentle a way as he could muster. 

"Shine it, kick back for awhile."

Maybe he meant it as advice.

In which case, from what I recall of the summer of '75, it was bitchin. Thanks, dude. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Support George on Patreon

Hello readers!

This is the week I post my column exclusively to my Patreon patrons, who after the demise of my newspaper column have joined together to keep the funny flowing. Become a patron yourself for as little as $1 a month, so you don't miss out on this and other Wa adventures.

What you’re missing this week:

($1 level) Torn from the headlines—my interview with a highly endangered plastic straw
($3 level) Vintage column from 2012 about the great stuff men save, which is not hoarding, I swear
($10 level) Audio recordings of me performing all of this month's columns.

Thank you for considering, and see you next week,


Sunday, July 22, 2018

A little thing called "luck"

The belief in the concept of luck is only a little more prevalent than the belief in UFOs, but every bit as entertaining. I recently came across a library book called "Luck, The Essential Guide," which chronicles the things people have believed are lucky throughout history. Hairy people are lucky, apparently. I have won several drawings over the years, and now I know why.

In Japan, big ears are lucky but in China, it's big ear lobes, a refinement which I find adorable. 

At one time in Europe, rubbing your hands on a redhead for luck was a thing. Or at least rubbing your dice on a redhead, which I still suggest you do without warning for maximum effect. 

Sneezing at the same time as another person brings you both luck, as well as, probably, your doctors. 

In 19th Century England, people would carry the tip, the "lucky bit," of a cow's tongue around in their pockets. I guess if I were sitting next to that guy on the trolley I would indeed feel pretty unlucky by comparison, especially downwind. 

Wearing clothes inside out is lucky, especially underwear. Red underwear is suggested while flying or gambling, for that extra edge, and also to crack up the coroner. 

Crossing paths with an elephant is considered lucky. Hunchbacks too, especially if you rub the hump. But in Italy, at least, encountering a nun is bad luck. Touching a bit of iron renders you safe again, or, I'm not kidding, you can say "Your nun!" to the person next to you, and pass the bad luck to them. I suppose if you both jinx each other simultaneously, she's nobody's nun, which is kind of what God was going for in the first place, I assume.

Hearing a cat sneeze is good luck. (I am guessing if you dig around in the Talmud deep enough it's in there too.)

Because the word "luck" in Japanese sounds like the word for poop, a golden poop charm is widely worn, with a straight face, it appears. 

Going back to the 17th Century in Europe, stepping in manure was thought to be lucky, or getting bombed by bird poo. The book insists that in France it's lucky to step in dog crap, but only with your left foot. When it comes to luck, specificity is key.

Like: a rabbit's foot is lucky, but, the book insists, it should be the rear left foot and from a rabbit killed on the full moon by a cross-eyed person. 

This is how we ended up with lawyers, people. 

Or this: saying "Rabbits rabbits rabbits" before saying anything else on the first morning of the month, ideally while spinning around in place three times, is lucky. There is definitely an element of OCD which goes hand in hand (ideally a redhead's) with luck superstitions. 

According to the book, "a spider found on clothing was a sign that the person would soon receive a new outfit." You are right about that. Are you kidding me? The old one's full of freaking SPIDERS.

Flowers grow best if planted during a new moon, plant root vegetables like carrots during a waning moon. Mooning your neighbor while gardening brings good luck along with the police. 

Alfalfa is lucky for gamblers. Imagine if the plane crashes, and the gambler is found with inside-out red underwear and a pocketful of alfalfa. It think at that point he's lucky he's dead. 

For luck in Africa, they evidently hang an aloe plant above the front door. I guarantee you that one is a practical joke that got out of hand.

The Chinese believe in lucky mole placement. A mole on either butt cheek is good luck. Unless you are the one stuck doing the verification. 

Humans have come up with a lot of rules for how to live. Pick up a penny. Don't step on a crack. Tell actors to break a leg so they won't. All to feel just a little in control in a world vast and sometimes scary. Some people blow it all off and live by their own rules, free of superstition. There is a word for these people. Lucky.