Sunday, September 16, 2018

An interview with explorer Ponce de Léon

I have with me today famed 16th Century explorer and conquistador Ponce de Léon. Ponce, I understand you are dead.

PDL: Technically, yes. But then, in some ways, a rock is alive. So it's semantics. Oh, by the way, it's Juan. Ponce de Léon is my last name. 

GW: Whoa. All these years I've thought Ponce was your first name.

PDL: What kind of parent would name their child "Ponce"? Imagine the bullying. 

GW: You're right. You might as well go to school with a plume in your helmet.

PDL: Well, I did do that, actually.


PDL: Only once. Turns out we don't celebrate Halloween in Spain. I was misinformed. It was a painful lesson. 

GW: I'll bet. school I was taught that you came to the Americas looking for a fountain of youth. Now historians say that was all a myth.

PDL: Understandable. It's true that I was losing my hair, and I had remarked to a friend that I wish there were such a fountain. But that's the extent of it, until I left on an expedition. Then my friend spread the fountain story. He was joking, but you know how things take on a life of their own.

GW: You did discover Florida.

PDL: "Discover" in quotes. I was the first European to find it, yes, but of course it was already busting with native residents whose ancestors had discovered it thousands of years earlier. But yeah, I am known in history as the Florida guy. 

GW: So you were never obsessed with finding a way to live forever?

PDL: I died a good 80 years before Shakespeare was in his prime. Yet here you are interviewing me. I'd say that is as close to living forever as anyone can possibly hope for. 

GW: Without the fountain aspect, you're just another dude with a boat.

PDL: True. I guess I should thank my friend for that. 

GW: Tough question. You enslaved a lot of people in your quest for gold, didn't you?

PDL: Enslaved is a strong word. I encouraged a lot of people to dig for gold, build houses and plant crops for no pay and to opt out of being killed. 

GW: What does God say about your behavior? You've met him, right?

PDL: Everybody wants to know about God. God is...he's not so much a guy as a warm, cinnamony cloud. He forgives me. He knows I was a product of my time. As penance, though, I have to clean out the rain gutters for a few millennia.

GW: Wait, there are rain gutters in Heaven?

PDL: No.

GW: Ah. 

PDL: In Purgatory. Again, it's a grey area. Purgatory is not what they say it is in books, it's more of a really quiet, boring mansion. It has rain gutters. 

GW: So after a few millennia...

PDL: Then I get to move up, enjoy music again, see family.

GW: Where did all the gold end up?

PDL: The king commissioned some really nice bowls. Some chalices. I mean REALLY nice. You should go see them in Spain. 

GW: When you look back on it all, your 47 years above ground, what would you say was most important? What did you learn?

PDL: Well, don't attack the natives of Florida, for one thing. Boy, they are quick with some poison arrows! But as far as the big picture, get out. Explore. Learn. Fail big. Know that you're just one arrow in the Big Quiver.

GW: That's deep.

PDL: I've had time to ponder. You cannot imagine how many rain gutters this place has. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Random Thoughts Support Group

Group leader: The Random Thoughts Support Group will come to order. We have a new visitor today. Why don't you introduce yourself, George?

Me: Hi. My name is George and I have random thoughts. 

All in unison: Hi George!

Leader: Just remember, George, our motto is, there are no bad thoughts, only random ones. Why don't you start us off? What have you been thinking about?

Me: Well, you know how in prison they give you nicknames? Like a huge guy will be called "Tiny," or a guy who was a fisherman will be "Cap'n."

Leader: Yes.

Me: When I was younger I did some extra work in movies and TV shows. So I like to think, if I went to prison, they would call me "Hollywood."

Leader: That is not only possible, that's likely. Hope you never find out. Any other random thoughts?

Me: If Shakespeare were alive today and writing, the line would be “To cc or not to cc, that is the question.”

Leader: True!

Me: I thought of a sales slogans for flip flop shoes—“Like being barefoot, except noisier.”

Leader: Yes!

Me: I wonder if the Russian language has a translation for the phrase “your guyses," as in “Let’s go to your guyses' house.” Probably not. In which case, as code, it would be effective to say "Let's store those missiles at your guyses' armory." They'd never figure out where it is!

Leader: That is the definition of random, my friend.

All in unison: Random!

Me: I win so many arguments in my head after actual arguments end, I wish there were a job called Head Debater. 

Leader: Preach!

Me: What do atheists call the Adam's Apple?

Leader: Yeah. What DO they call it?

Me: Some things I have to deal with that my cave man forebears did not:

  • Temporary blindness as I place my reflective sun shade in my car's windshield
  • Bird droppings on my windshield RIGHT where I need to see out 
  • Lost Chapstick
  • Poor GPS apps

Leader: Cave men had it easy, am I right?

All in unison: Easy!

Me: Oh, can I do an anecdote? It's not a random thought, but this actually happened. Maybe you can help me figure out if this guy was putting me on.

Leader: It's irregular, but why not? This really happened?

Me: Yes. Well, I'm a librarian, see. So I’m on the Reference desk today, and a call is forwarded to me. Guy says, “Hi, I need help spelling a word...”

O.K. This happens now and then. People want to know how to spell “altruism” or “fortuitous” or the like, and they call the library. 

“All right, what’s the word?” I say.

“Orgasm,” he says.

And I make the choice, in the nanosecond I have to make it, that I’m NOT going to go for funny, which is so tempting, I’m going to go professional. 

So I put him on hold and get the dictionary. Now, all the girlfriends I’ve ever had, or I think at least half of them, will tell you I don’t need the dictionary for this word. But a librarian, even a smart librarian who can spell, is not allowed to just spell. You have to provide an official source. It’s a librarian ethics thing.

I come back on the phone. “O.K., this is from the American Heritage Dictionary: O-R-G-“

“O-R-G...” he repeats.

“A-S-M,” I say.

“A-S-M?” he asks. 

“Yes,” I say.

“Thank you,” he says, and hangs up, right before I think to say “Good luck!"

Leader: He was putting you on. 

All in unison: Good luck!

Me: This was great. Are these meetings every week?

Leader: No, actually, the Random Thoughts Support Group kinda just meets whenever. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A visit to the capital of Wet (Seattle) - 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 (a MONTH) so you don't miss out on this and other Wa adventures.

What you’re missing this week:

($1 level) My first ever visit to Seattle, a Native American word which means "many lattés."
($3 level) Vintage column from 2012 about new laws I'd like to see enacted (they weren't)
($10 level) Audio recordings of me performing all of this month's columns.

Thank you for continuing to read me,


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Feel the fear and do it anyway

I have been listening to THE MOTH radio shows as a podcast for years, and always fantasized about going up on stage myself. You memorize a five-minute story and tell it, without notes, in front of an audience, and get scored by judges. 

If you win the "story slam," as it is called, your prize is $10,000. (I am joking. You got so excited!) 

Your prize is bragging rights. If you win 10 slams, you go on to the Grand Slam competition as a master. And if you win a Grand Slam, you become a minor celebrity among people who listen to podcasts. 

Ah. The dream. 

Each slam has a theme, and this week's in Los Angeles was "destiny." I decided that was general enough that I could cram my pre-memorized story into it. 

Tuesday night after work I blazed across town to Silver Lake, which is an Olde English phrase meaning "no parking, no how."

By the time I got upstairs it was standing-room only. That was fine. I needed to stand. My stomach was doing that dance your stomach does when it knows you are about to do something which might get it killed. 

I found the sign-up table. Forced my hand to write my name down. O.K., I thought. You are really doing this. 

I stood in the back. The emcee began. I almost bolted. I told myself if I ran I would regret it, and if I have learned anything in 57 years, it is that regret is harder to bear than failure.

Still, I sidled closer to the exit. You know. It was so crowded. 

The first name was announced! It wasn't mine. A young woman went up and talked about a cruise or something. She had a nice laugh line, a nice closing moment, didn't sense it, and went on for an unnecessary minute before fizzling out to polite applause.

The emcee held out the canvas bag of names for her from which to choose the next speaker. He read it. 

"Next up is George Waters."

Oh.       Sh*t. 

So I did as they had instructed. I walked up and waited alongside the stage while they tallied cruise girl's votes. Two minutes of my legs screaming "Run!" and my brain saying "Regret!" Then they called me on, to more polite applause.

When I was 25, I helped my dad maintain these apartments he owned. One of our tenants hanged himself. He popped the ceiling hatch to the attic and put a 2x4 across the opening, to which he tied a cord. 

The 2x4 he used was my board. It was a piece of scrap lumber I kept around the units for help with odd jobs. It was unmistakably mine; it had screwdriver markings on it I had made a few months before. I probably tossed it in the ivy next to the storeroom, and he found it, and he put it to use. 

It's a 10 minute story, a predictably surreal experience for me, funny in parts, self-deprecating, but I had to cut it down to five minutes, which left me only with "poignant." 

Now, the MOTH can do poignant, but not about a dead Latvian tenant from 30 years ago. It didn't fly. 

I rushed it, true, because at five minutes they give you "the flute" (a musical warning), but it just didn't work as narrative. With 10 minutes I could have killed. I have rehearsed 10 minutes in my head for a year or two now. It kills. 

Ten minutes is not the gig. 

More polite applause, and I got what turned out to be the lowest scores of the night, low 8's. Winners get mid-9's. 

I immediately ordered a $6.00 Coke and watched the rest of the show, relieved I had not bailed, philosophical about the mounting high scores which piled up after me.

Gavin bailed. They called Gavin's name, but he was nowhere to be found. We all began to chant his name. I turned to the guy next to me and said, "You could be Gavin. They wouldn't know." He smiled but declined. 

I was no Gavin, at least, poor guy. I felt bulletproof.

The winner was a lady who basically crashed an Australian wedding reception. She was good, relatable, funny, triumphant. Even better, she was good in five minutes. 

As I shot a picture of the scoreboard for posterity, a guy passed me and said "good story" or something. It was very noisy. The winner was whooping with her possé on stage. So he may have been digging deeper. I like to imagine he said, "Wasn't there more to it than that? I sensed a whole missing chunk about the cop who interviewed you and an adorable 1950s TV set and the Berlin Wall."

Or it might have been "Good story."

I joined everyone filing downstairs and out into the night. An old guy who had told a story which might have won three minutes in but took an unselfaware turn toward the child molesty and creeped everyone out was standing on the sidewalk. 

"Great story," I told him as I passed. 

"Thanks," he said.

It's just what you do.

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.