Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sick With The Epic Ick

There is sick, and then there is SICK, and I have been both this week. When I am sick I feel as if I have never been well and that I will never be well. As you can imagine, this attitude is fun to be around. 

I started sneezing an unusual number of times two weeks ago, my usual indicator of oncoming sickness, but I brushed it off to allergies. This is like a coal miner who, seeing the canary dead, says to himself ehh, he was probably old. 

I should have started sucking my customary Cold-Eze, which promises to "lessen the severity and shorten the duration" of your suffering. I lost two days' battle prep to my wishful thinking.

When on that Wednesday I got the irrefutable scratchy throat of doom, the enemy had already entrenched. Thursday I missed work, a rare thing. Friday I came back, with a low Lou Rawls rumble of a voice and a stuffy nose, prompting a coworker to ask, reasonably, "What are you doing here?" 

It was then I realized I had the Epic Ick. Not your usual cold, but the one you've heard about in low murmurs from friends this season. "Oh, I had that for three weeks," one will say. "Never had one hang on so long," another will say. 

Googling "flu season" I get a lot of results saying last winter's was a horrific one, which I had not known. Dodged it somehow. Thousands of people died, mostly elderly, but not all. This year's impact is not legendary, except to me. I missed two more days of work, unprecedented.

In the drug store cold remedy aisle I met another guy one night. "You got the cough?" I asked. He nodded in commiseration, like another lifer in the prison yard. I grabbed some goop. He said "Good luck." Fellow sufferers are instant friends. It is a wonder this country has not healed its political wounds on that truth alone.

The symptoms have not been worse than ever, except the tickle, just endless. The 8:00 tickle, which comes on as reliably as a "Rocky" sequel, and causes fits of coughing which leaves my stomach muscles aching. Perhaps I will finally get those six pack abs. I cough so hard the pressure in my head causes blue flashes behind my eyes, as they are squashed up against my skull. 

I take to sleeping in the living room in a chair, so my sinuses can drain the tickle. Lying down is impossible. So I bundle up and try to sleep sitting up, rain sounds from a white noise app coursing through my earbuds, drowning out last week's actual rain sounds, which were not loud enough on their own to cover the dog's nighttime hacking cough.

Reaching the two week mark I can tell I have finally turned the corner, just a week later than usual. I slept lying down, the first time in five nights. My stomach muscles have returned to their pre-illness lethargy. The tickle has retreated. Still, I can tell it will be most of a week before all symptoms are entirely gone, a personal record. 

I used to think Dennys and flu shots were for old people, forgetting that according to Dennys and doctors I now AM old people. I will be getting the shot from here on, because while it was fun to get a ton of movies watched, they haven't made a movie yet which was worth the demon tickle. Although "Rocky" comes close. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019


I was 22 when she kissed me for the first, and last, time. She was 39, maybe 40, gorgeous, a total stranger. 

This is a true story. 

I had just graduated college with a theatre degree and was spending six weeks at a prominent professional theatre which had a summer acting conservatory. (Folks, I could not GET enough theatre.) So each day I would drive most of an hour, don my tights and recite Shakespeare sonnets in the tiny black box theatre or from the rolling grass hillocks outside the complex.

One day a staffer I had never seen before poked her head in the rehearsal room and called me out of class. Twenty heads went up to watch me go. I did not know what was happening. A death in the family? Egads, and me in tights? 

She explained that actors were auditioning down on the mainstage for the upcoming season's Chekhov play and the guy who normally "read" scenes with the actors was unavailable, so Martin suggested they use me.


He was one of the two co-founders of this famous theatre, and the year before he had actually come to my college a few miles up the road to direct us in a classic piece of Irish drama. Our professor and he were old pals. I played a great part, and got to work with this esteemed professional director.

He kicked our butts. Our young ivory tower-dwelling butts. 

"I didn't believe you. Start over" was something I had never heard before from a director. He made us better. Exponentially better. See above: butt-kicking.

"You're a good actor, George" he said to me once. I was 21, and coming from him, it was heady stuff. That sentence continued with a "but..." but there is no need to elaborate. You and I are busy people, dear reader.

So a year later in Martin's own theater, he had tapped me to help with auditions, something he knew I could learn from, something I would appreciate. Let's be clear—I wasn't auditioning for this professional show, just reading scenes with the "real" actors. 

I played a young man my own age. I acted one scene with ingenues my own age, vivacious and gushing. And I played another scene with middle-aged actresses, auditioning for the part of my mother.

That's when she walked in. I'll call her Emery. Emery Eldridge. Her name was all alliteration, and her long, wavy blonde hair framed a Hollywood-perfect face, which is why I never forgot either. 

It was a scene in which my hand is injured, and the mother is doting, cooing and leaning close and being over-attentive. I had played the scene a few times already. It was a little disturbing, kind of incestuous. Then Emery took it up a notch. She fawned on me, caressed my hand, then leaned in and kissed me right on the lips. Mama!

I was not expecting that.

The director was not expecting that.

I have to think she got the part right on the spot.

See, auditioning requires a different set of techniques than performing the final product. One key goal of an audition, when you are up against so many other talented, beautiful people, is to be memorable. You may do things in an audition you would never do in performance, just for effect. 

Emery had an effect.

My first thought was oh wow, I am getting kissed. She is kissing me. She is effing kissing me right here! This is a good kiss. 

My second thought was, oh crap, she's blocking my script. Do I have the next line? 

I hated to break the moment, but I wanted to be a pro. Didn't want to miss a cue. So I found my place and we finished the scene.

There was small talk between her and the director, the other founder of the theatre, who I had never met before. Another heady moment. Then I did it. I waited for a lull and then went for the laugh.

"Um," I said, "You know...that wasn't quite right for me. Could we do it again?"

I was 22. 

The balls. 

Cracked everybody up. Eventually I went back upstairs to my fellow students with quite a story to tell. Emery did get the part. I never saw the show, so I don't know if they used the kiss. I doubt it. It would have been a bit much, even for Chekhov.

I have thought about her over the years, her memorable name. A few days ago, I went a-googling. I was saddened to see she had died in her late 50s, about 20 years after our moment. No details were given, except that a few years after our scene she had left acting and become a humanitarian, working to help the underprivileged around the world, and the planet itself. Her obit said that her college major, at an Ivy League school, was a double—theatre, yes, but also political science. In the end, she wanted to make a difference.

I checked her acting credits on the Internet Movie Database, and she was in everything in the '70s and '80s, cop shows and mysteries and comedies, in shows which can still be found all over YouTube. 

I watched a scene or two. The writing was not exactly Chekhov. Nobody kissed anybody. Elegantly alliterative names were not noted by impressionable young actors. 

There is a theory of the universe that all things which have ever happened or will happen are still going on, just in a different dimension. That right now, somewhere, Emery is leaning in to kiss me. Right now she is kissing me. Right now her blonde hair is brushing my cheek. Right now I am never forgetting her name.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Charles the Chihuahua's continued shenanigans

Our Charles, the chihuahua, is like most dogs, in that he will eat whatever even remotely appears to be food. I often use soft foam ear plugs at night, then set them on my bedside table. Suddenly they began disappearing. On day one I figured I had knocked one under the bed, as I have done many times. On day two I got suspicious, but not so suspicious that it stuck in my mind, the next morning, to secure the ear plugs after getting out of bed. 

On day three it was clear we have a dog who thinks of the world as his own personal foam mini-marshmallow dispenser. Right about then my wife took off for a few days in San Diego and took Charles with her. Not long after I got the following text: "Good morning! Charles just pooped out three of your earplugs, FYI." 

FYI? lol. TMI. 

She also reported that he barfed one up. I am not sure that is all of them, frankly, but if there is still one swirling around undigested in his stomach or gut, we will likely never know. He is already ancient, and his heart doesn't work right, so he undergoes hourly wheeze sessions which, to a visitor, would give the impression that he was going to keel on the spot. 

Charles does not keel. He and his velvet fur may outlive us all. An earplug will not be his end.

Here is my best guess at Charles' thought process on a given day:

"Oy with the coughing again. 

Where are my mini marshmallows? 

Oh good. My harness and leash for walking. I will circle and circle so George can't get them on me. He is so serious all the time. Somebody needs to lighten him up and it might as well be me. I need to impart my excitement to this good man through circling. He doesn't seem to be getting it. I will circle a few more times. 

This patch of grass is not poop-worthy. Walk on, George. Walk on. I said walk...that's it. Good boy. 

This grass smells like pizza. I do not understand the world.

This dirt. Stop here. This is perfect for pooping. I will circle 700 times until my foot placement is exactly right for hunching. You hunch wrong, the Earth spins off its axis, and it's all on me. One circle, two circles, three...

Why does he pick up my poop with a plastic bag? The spot was perfect. We're just going to have to hit it again tomorrow, George, until you get this right.

You know those soft rubber finger-rests they have now on ball point pens. They are delicious. 


Aaaand we're back on my favorite chair. What is that? A fire engine siren? Wolves activate! Aroooooooooooooooooooooo!

Aaaand everybody's at work now. Let's just see what kind of crumbs are on the computer keyboard. Oh yeah. Oh yes. Thank you, universe. Oh crap, George is coming back in! To the chair!

Close one. Seems like he came back for his lunch bag. O.K. we're golden now. Hey Skipper, I'm gonna need that prime spot in the patch of sunshine. Out!

A little snooze? Don't mind if I do."

I will never understand why dogs find their feet so tasty or why each other's butts are so enticing. And they will, I expect, never understand why a person would stick foam inside himself. There is much yet to learn, people, and so so much to sniff.