Sunday, December 23, 2012

Clear Thinking

A salt water cleanse sounded like a good idea at the time, after a weekend of gluttony and the subsequent stomach ache of shame and regret. My dear, sweet, well-intentioned sister-in-law gave us a bag of "Real Salt" and a testimonial regarding her own salt water cleanse experience after a delicious yet heavy Thanksgiving. She had been pleased with the results, and her telling of the three hours it took to achieve them made it seem worth a try, if only for the story-telling material it would provide.

Here's the story...

Elizabeth gave it a shot, but never made it past the first sip of warm brine. She gagged even as it touched her lips, and she was smart enough to heed her body's natural warning. She poured the nasty elixir down the sink and swore off the salt water cleanse forever.

I am stubborn, dumb, and inclined to push forward in spite of all warnings. My younger brothers and I have always lived (and sometimes nearly died) by an unwritten code that has a lot to do with the potential for a story outweighing the risks. Without the code, I would not have such great memories of time shared with Jared before he died.

So I added more salt than is reasonable to a quart of warm water, mixed it well, and drank it. I say drank it, but it was more of a gagging, wincing, and forcing action. I felt my skin shrinking and my heart panicking at the rush of sodium. My cells cried out in protest as I sucked in enough salt to kill a bison, and then kill anything that ate the bison's carcass.

After drinking it I remembered back to the night before Hannah, our second child, came into the world. We were going to induce labor the following morning, making it a sure thing that Elizabeth would soon be giving birth. As we lay in bed, she began to panic at the realization that she was going to be screaming, crying, pushing, and hurting in fewer than twelve hours. There was no way out of the pregnancy without pain. Her fears were not unfounded; Caleb, our first child, had been stuck for hours on his way out, and the pain Elizabeth had experienced was unreal. I had never seen any measure of physical pain that even came close, and she was about to do it again, by choice.

A similar panic set in after I drank that quart of brine. I had willfully ingested something that was only coming out of me with a great sound and fury, and quite possibly some pain. The thought of the inevitable began to frighten me. Why had I done this? The reward (Hannah) far outweighed the sacrifice that Elizabeth made, but the same could not be said about my cleanse. I didn't really need to purge my system; my body is so regular it could be used to synchronize the Atomic Clock should it ever need winding. There was little to be gained, if anything at all. But I suffer from a worry about things I cannot see, and since my internal organs are permanently hidden from my view, I worry about them a lot. I imagine heart disease, cancers, blood disorders, kidney stones, and a clogged digestive system to be festering inside of me. One day I will drop dead of something I could have prevented had I been able to peer inside my body and been warned. This propelled me forward into salty madness.

It wasn't until the salt was inside me that I realized just how ironic it was to swallow something that could potentially kill me in order to prevent me from dying. Ironic and stupid.

In the midst of this panic the cleanse began to take effect. Now as much as I would love to put into words and specifics the initial reactions that my body had to drinking a quart of the Great Salt Lake, I will keep the details light. It is enough to say that I spent the better part of the next ninety minutes sat upon the throne that has been mankind's perch throughout the ages. My bowels were in spastic rebellion, angry with me for not respecting their near perfect record. I was angry right back; this was not part of the deal. I accepted that there would be a period of discharge and discomfort, but that would soon be followed by a peaceful, empty calm. I would feel lighter, cleaner, healthier. Why then, did I feel as though a steel cable studded with diamond barbs has been pulled through my digestive tract? Raw, tender, exhausted are not feelings of peace.

I felt like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon 2, sat upon the toilet with my legs asleep and and a bomb beneath me, and I was also one more sit-down dance away from blood clots (something else that I tend to worry about at a constant clip). And the thirst, oh my the thirst! My lips were puckered and burning, my tongue shriveled, and my throat rasping for moisture.

After a long while at this, I felt a calming within my bowels. Daring to leave the bathroom, I made my way to the kitchen. I was thirsty, hungry, and exhausted. I filled a tall glass with ice water and sucked it down in a few large swallows, then filled it again, draining it one more time. A cold, restoring sensation filled my belly. I was going to be okay, but I needed to eat. Thinking that dry toast wouldn't do me any harm, I popped two pieces of bread into the toaster.

"Uh-oh..." I said aloud in response to an audible and forceful rumbling in my stomach. I ran across the living room and into the bathroom, not sure yet whether I should kneel or sit.

I didn't have to debate the issue for long. A powerful torrent of cold salt water rushed from my throat and into the toilet. My eyes widened in amazement as over and over again, staggering amounts of clear, cold, salty water gushed up from within my stomach and out my mouth. My first conscious thought was the realization that projectile vomiting was real, and not just something invented for late night comedy sketch shows and terrible movies. My second thought was more of a wonder really, at how clear the cold and salty water surging from within me actually was. I could have poured it into a glass and served it to a friend (or perhaps an enemy). They would not have known until tasting the salt that it was not fit for consumption. This was followed by a regret that I hadn't set up a video camera to catch the sensational display. This would never happen again, and I had no physical evidence that it actually had.

My final thought, which accompanied the final barrage of stomach water, was this; this is loud, this is violent, this is painful; this is going to make a great story.

I hope it has.

Footnote: Elizabeth later told me (laughing) that not a split second after my loud and terrible retching had ended, the toaster popped up with a happy click, as if to signal an end to my suffering.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dimension Jumping

Caleb and I have watched "Red Dwarf," a British sci-fi comedy, since he was a baby. It is safe to say that together we have watched each episode at least thirty times, and that the show is more quoted than any other in our home (even Elizabeth is a fan). In one particular episode, the inter-stellar travelers happen upon a dimension jumper from an alternative version of Earth. "Ace" is an inter-dimensional (and better) version of "Rimmer," a somewhat miserable member of the crew. Handsome, daring, intelligent, lovable, and well-dressed in a gold jumpsuit, the blonde-haired Ace is loathed by the lesser, more cowardly version of himself. Confronted by everything he wishes he were but knows he isn't, Rimmer becomes even more pitiful, intent on making Ace the butt of comments and practical jokes. All of this backfires, leaving Rimmer even less likable than he was to begin with.


I am Rimmer, and my son Caleb is my Ace.


But I don't loathe him. I admire him.

In a later episode Ace returns to visit the crew. He is wounded, having been shot while saving a beautiful Princess named Bonjela from the Nazis in yet another dimension. As he is dying, he confesses to Rimmer that he is merely the latest in a long line of "Ace" heros; countless Rimmers from countless dimensions have gone before him, traversing countless dimensions as a brave and beautiful hero. Ace wants Rimmer to take up the mantle and keep the "Ace Rimmer, Space Adventurer" legend alive. He says that "the universe needs a chap to look up to, someone to right wrongs, and just generally be brave, handsome, and all around magnificent." Rimmer laughs at the suggestion that he can become a hero, then scoffs and mocks Ace even further.

"You're just afraid old son, afraid that you're not good enough. You've always wanted to play the hero," replies Ace.

And he is right.

In the end, Rimmer relents, donning the signature gold jumpsuit and a ridiculous blonde wig. He is far from a perfect Ace; his voice isn't deep enough, he doesn't walk with enough swagger, and his personality jumps between the man he wants to be and the man he is trying to leave behind. But he is trying, and he is determined.

Many times I have marveled at the dimensional mix-up that brought Caleb into my life. Seventeen years ago today there was a warping of the veil that divides two dimensional plains. Caleb's spirit, certainly destined for a different sphere (or at least a better father), instead fell to Earth, just north of Seattle. He is a better version of me, more handsome, intelligent, capable, loving, and charming than I ever was or will be. His birth and subsequent example have brought confidence, determination, and adventure to my life. I almost feel like an Ace, rather than an Acehole because of him. No, I don't wear a gold jumpsuit or a blonde wig, my voice is not as deep as I sometimes wish it were, and I sometimes jump between the man I wish to be and the man I am trying to leave behind. (Can we just forget about the swagger altogether?)

But more often than not, I feel like a Space Adventurer.

Thanks, Ace.


Smoke me a clipper, I'll be back for breakfast!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Grey


Today is grey, but beautiful. The sky is second-coming cloudy; grey billows with cracks of light
glowing through, as if Christ is about to drop through on his chariot of fire. But it's too cold for a heavenly visit, so I don't spend too much time looking up. I drive north along the state road with my camera, taking my time. There is no rush to get where I am going

The dead are everywhere. I pull over to inspect a Magpie that must have lost a game of chicken. On its back with one wing outstretched, the bird reminds me of a flying toy my older brother and I used to play with years ago. A plastic crank on the tail wound an elastic that would flap the wings when the toy bird was thrown gently into the air. It never flew very well, but we tried. I can't see any blood on the Magpie; it must have been clipped by a fender in mid-flight-hop. I snap a few photos of the poor dead creature, wondering what the broken body would feel like in my hands.


Back on the road, I drive past a white cross painted on red rock. There is an indecipherable date scrawled below it. Someone must have died here. I slow the car, wondering as I do if my attempt at reverence will make a difference. It won't, so I snap a photo to remember the spot and the moment. 




A mile or so of road, and I turn off into the state park without thinking why. The gate is open but the ranger station empty. As I drive past it I look through the glass sliding door and notice a comfortable office chair inside. I wonder what my life would be like had I followed through on one of my many plans and gone to Colorado to become a park ranger. My teenage boycott of Exxon had been as close as I ever came to making an environmental difference. The memory of jumping from the moving van driven by my girlfriend's father into an Exxon station is a funny one now. I stood defiant at the edge of the gas station parking lot, gathering strength from my "Save the Wolf" tee shirt as her dad pumped his tank full of shoreline-killing fuel.


The state park winds alongside what should be a lake. No lake today, and not for some time by the looks of it. Grass grows tall where water should ripple. I park the car near a cluster of lonely picnic tables. Grabbing the camera and winding my scarf around my neck, I step out onto what serves as beachfront after a good season of snowfall. A few steps forward and I am standing at the edge of an old Western. Any moment now, a pair of men on horseback will ride into view. They will cross the southern end of the empty lake at a full gallop, slowing only when they come to the mud bordering the shallow river that splits the landscape. Allowing their horses a quick drink, the cowboys will take advantage of the moment to turn and look behind them. There will be no cloud of dust, no thundering of hooves. They have outrun their past.





I stumble down the rocky slope to the tiles of earth below. Stepping out onto the bed, the smell of low tides in New Hampshire rush up my nose. I breathe the triggered memories away and walk closer to the river. My shoes grow heavier with each step as the tiles of earth near the river give way to tiles of mud. I stop rather than lose a shoe, or slip and slide into the icy mountain water. Twenty years ago I would have rushed to the river's edge, the invincibility of youth blinding me to the dangers of running alone across cold winter mud towards a cold winter river.


A few photos and many thoughts before I stumble back up the rocky slope towards the car. A scattering of bones, a single shotgun shell, and the mouthpiece from a snorkel catch my attention and give rise to a number of possibilities. I choose treasure divers overcome by greed and let my imagination run.





Northbound again. Rounding a bend I notice a trail of wet ending in a tiny pool of red. A deer has just been struck, I can see it lying dead in the mud at the side of the road. I pull over on a straightaway and walk back to the scene. There is a deep tire track in the mud beneath the deer. At first look it appears that the driver swerved off the road to avoid hitting the animal, while the deer leapt off the road to avoid being struck by the driver. Destined to collide, the deer lies where it was struck, and the driver kept going. But the wet read trail in the road tells a different story; the deer was struck in the road and landed in the mud. Other than a bit of blood, the deer looks much like the Magpie. I don't wonder how the deer's lifeless body would feel in my hands.





Back onto the state road heading north. I park at the northern end of the lake and walk out onto the man-made slope of earth and rocks that drowned a town and created the reservoir. There are a few determined fishermen sitting in camp chairs at the base of the dam. Their rods rest still in their mittened hands, bait and lures unnoticed by their prey.




It is cold, and but for the occasional passing car, quiet on top of the dam. I make a note to return on a sunny day, then head back to the car. I head out onto 80 heading east. Coalville is just a few minutes away. I exit the highway and drive onto Main Street, USA, 1965. It seems that downtown Coalville hasn't changed much over the years. The street is wide enough to turn a horse and buggy in a complete circle. I like it. I park in front of an old storefront and step inside, hoping to buy something worthy of a toast. The doorframe acts like a time machine, and I am surrounded by Spanish language adverts and labels. I walk through the market, marveling that everything is as it should be; the placement of the wooden shelves, the soda coolers, the rows of bottles and boxes, even the Latino shopkeeper and his son. Am I back in Paraguay?


I make for the soda coolers. Scanning the rows of soda, my eyes fill with tears at the sight of Fanta Orange. The bottle looks just like it did in 1990. I reach out and take one in my hand; it feels just like it did in 1990. Shifting the bottle between my hands, I smile at the familiar feeling and sound of the cold glass slapping against my palms. I close the cooler, look up at the ceiling as if it were heaven, and laugh.


"Can you tell me how to get to the town cemetery?" I ask the shopkeeper's son as he rings up my total.


"Sure, just keep going up Main until you see the sign for the library. You know, a person reading a book," He mimes an open book in his hands, lowers his head and reads an invisible page.


"Okay," I smile.


"Take a right at the library sign and follow that road to the cemetery."


"Thanks," I reply, for some reason wishing that I were buying more than just a soda.


I step out onto the sidewalk and wonder about the bottle-cap. Will I need a bottle opener, or is it a twist-off? A quick grab at the cap hurts my hand. I walk back inside the shop.


"You need a bottle opener?" The shopkeeper is waiting for me, an opener in his hand.


"Thanks," I say again a moment later, leaving with my open bottle of Fanta Orange. Back in the car, I set the soda into the cup holder without taking a sip.


I chuckle as I pass the library sign, the shopkeeper's son and his miming fresh in my mind. A short drive and I see the cemetery up ahead, set on a slight hill at a curve in the road. I pull in and stop at the directory. The plastic pages are cold and wet from last night's rain. I flip to the back half of the book, and after a few turned pages find what I am looking for. A quick look at the map and I know where to go.


I park beside section C, pull out my headphones and stick them into my ears. After dialing up "The Man From Snowy River" soundtrack on my Ipod, I grab the Fanta Orange, take a deep breath, and step out among the dead. A few strides north and the grave I am looking for comes into view. The familiar music swells in my ears, and tears well up in my eyes. The bottle is now cold in my hand, the pain of it climbing up into my wrist and forearm. I think back to how good a cold bottle of soda felt on hot humid days in Paraguay.


Much like the man buried beneath it, the rock that marks Kent Saxtons' grave is rough-edged, unpolished, solid, and beautiful.


"Well, this is nice," I offer, taking in the view of mountains as I kneel in the grass beside my friend.


"I brought a bottle of Fanta Orange. The bottle looks just like the ones we used to drink in Hernandarias." I hold the liquid memory up in toast before taking a long pull. The cold orange fizz scratches at the back of my throat as it goes down.


"Just wanted to tell you that I have never met anyone quite like you, and I don't believe that I ever will." I smile, thinking back to the first time I met Saxton.


I was a brand new Mormon missionary. It was my first day in Paraguay. Saxton had been assigned to give my trainer and I an instructive tour of our service area, the Asuncion suburb known as Fernando de la Mora. Saxton's behavior during that tour was at best unbecoming a Mormon missionary. The short sleeves of his white shirt were folded like the sleeves of a biker's tee shirt, he swore like a sailor's whore, and spent most of the tour pointing out (and flirting with) every good-looking chica that passed on the street. Wet behind the ears as I was, his comportment shocked me to the point of tears. An hour into my two years as a missionary, and I was doubting the decision to serve. That night I promised myself that I would never accept an assignment to work as Saxton's companion, no matter how insistent the Mission President might be.


Four months of my mission passed in Fernando de la Mora. Saxton became a bad memory, and someone to avoid at mission conferences. My next assignment was to serve in a remote village known as Hernandarias. Known for the dark red color of the earth (and the subsequent reddening of a missionary's white shirts), the town sat near the border of Brazil. After a week in Hernandarias, an unforeseen emergency brought about the transfer of my new missionary companion to another area. President Russell, a reluctance in his voice and tears in his eyes, told me that I would remain in Hernandarias, and that my new companion would be Saxton.




Betrayed, dejected, and abandoned, I returned to the tiny apartment in Hernandarias and awaited my fate. It was the end of my mission as I had known it.


Saxton arrived by bus late that night. He carried a skateboard along with his luggage. I cried myself to sleep while he unpacked his Benneton cardigans and khaki pants to the thrashing sounds of Def Leopard's "Hysteria" album. I had never felt so alone, so demoralized. I was a teenager, trying to speak a foreign language to foreign people in a third world country. The food was strange, the people dirty and ignorant, and the living conditions well below my standards. The work was difficult, the responsibility great, and the fear of failure constant. Serving an honorable mission was hard enough without the distraction and moral vacuum that Saxton was sure to present.


That first week was for me emotional, mental, and spiritual torture. Jealousy and confusion wracked my mission-rules-abiding soul as I watched Saxton befriend an entire community with ease. Women swooned in his presence, men embraced him like they would an old school chum, and children trailed behind him as if candy rained from his pockets. He was easy going, a master conversationalist, and forever smiling. I hated him, but not because he was everything that I wasn't. No, I hated him because without wanting to, without meaning to, and without difficulty, I adored him.


His love for the people was unmistakeable, his sympathy for their trials sincere, his desire to help and uplift them manifest in his actions. Rough around the edges and non-conforming as he was, there was no doubting Saxton's motives; he served the people of Paraguay out of love.





"You need to stop swearing," I said one morning as we fastened cardboard mud flaps to the rear tires of our bikes. Mine read "Ride To Live, Live To Ride."


"I know," Saxton replied, regret and embarrassment in his tone.


"How about we make a deal; I'll help you to stop swearing if you teach me to love these people the way you do." I jumped on my bike and rode off down the street, worried that he would laugh at my suggestion.


"Hey," Saxton pedaled hard to catch up. "I want you to punch me in the arm every time I swear."


"What? Really?" My bike coasted to a wobbly crawl.


"Shit yeah, it's the only way I'll stop swearing," Saxton replied.


I reached out and punched him as hard as I could. The effort nearly tipped me off my bike and into the red dirt road. Saxton laughed, rubbed his arm, and kept pedaling.


"Hysteria" was soon replaced by "The Man From Snowy River" soundtrack, and after a week of sore arms, swears were replaced with Spanish/English hybrid substitutes. In time I gave away all of my silk ties and even my suits, replacing them with two simple ties, a pair of cardigan sweaters, and khaki pants. I found that I no longer avoided snot-nosed babies, playing street games with muddy kids, or carrying wood for a family's fire pit. I could dig a well, mend a fence, or wash an old woman's dishes without fear of damaging my expensive clothes.





Saxton taught me to listen, to be patient, and to love. I no longer looked upon the people of Paraguay as filthy heathens in need of what I had to offer them, but as beautiful people that had much to offer me. I began to enjoy my time in Paraguay, rather than counting down the days I had left there.




Two decades later, far from the red mud of Hernandarias, the wind is chilly, and I am full of cold Fanta Orange. I kneel beside his grave and wonder at the impact Saxton made on my life. Why do I miss so terribly a man that I only knew for a short while, so long ago?


A thought springs to mind, pushing a smile through my tears.


Suits come and go, but cardigans never die!





Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sometimes I Call It A Draw

"His dedication often mocked his desire."
Please don't scratch this into my tombstone when I am dead. Sure, I fall short of my dreams on most days, but since I dream big my shortfalls often put me farther along the path to success than I imagine.
 
Today I didn't feel like writing, so I had some "Fun" instead. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"It's Not The Years, It's The Mileage"


Indiana Jones ruined flying for me. When I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at the impressionable age of eleven, I had not yet been on an airplane. I remember slipping into my seat as the movie began, my older brother sitting beside me in the dark. We pulled smuggled candy from warm pockets and settled in to watch what I thought was a movie about ghosts haunting archeologists that had unearthed Noah’s ark. Was I in for a treat; with the first crack of his whip, the man in the crumpled fedora and worn leather jacket became my idol.

My idol until the day I boarded my first flight, that is. I was fifteen years old and on my way to a weeklong sailing adventure in the Bermuda Triangle with some friends (another story for another time). We flew a more affordable option to the well-known carriers of the day, and to state that they were a low-budget airline would be a polite way of saying that they spent very little on maintenance and new planes in order to keep their prices within the reach of the daring but financially strapped general public. Looking out the terminal window I could see that our plane was old, but looked nothing so romantic as the Pan Am Clipper that had carried Indy to Nepal. Upon boarding I discovered that the interior was no better. I had expected a comfortable affair, with large seats and room to stretch my legs. Even my skinny frame felt cramped and punished in my seat.
The only consolation came in the form of gorgeous modelesque flight attendants. Their good looks warranted several clandestine attempts at photos from my friends and me. I still have a photo of one of them somewhere; I used it as a bookmark for some time after that trip.

After the safety demonstration (to which I paid great attention, and not just because a beautiful brunette was fastening and unfastening buckles right before my eyes), I sat back and waited for takeoff. I had hoped to tip my hat over my eyes and fall asleep as the pilot snuck the plane into the sky like Santa placing presents under the tree. I had forgotten my fedora, but had I brought it, I would have crammed it rather than tipped it over my eyes, to hide the sight of the wings bouncing as we taxied to takeoff speed with a roar that plugged my ears. The window seat that I had begged my friends to allow me was more a torture than a pleasure. I watched the precious earth roll beneath us at an unnatural rate, before a sudden thump set the plane at an angle and we began to claw our way into the blue. It was an odd sensation, watching Mother Earth fall away and grow tiny even as some invisible force pushed me back towards her. The maddening thunder of the engines was accompanied by an orchestra of groans, moans, hisses, and whimpers, and I was so terrified that it took me a moment to realize that the sounds were all coming from within my own frame. I closed my eyes and fought the urge to cry out loud, mourning my tragic young death.

But it was all over as soon as it began. A moment before certain disintegration, the plane seemed to gather itself into one solid piece of muscle and push its way into the sky with the confidence and poise of a veteran. We reached our desired altitude in no time, and the pilot came on the intercom to speak in a happy, garbled voice to all the foreigners onboard.

All was suddenly very quiet and casual, in great contrast to the violence of the past several moments. We played cards with the decks given us by the new beautiful objects of our fantasies (Note: I understand that the use of the word “objects” raises concern, but I was fifteen and had already witnessed countless examples of such behavior by that time, so what do you expect? I would hope that my own sons will be able to someday word such things in a different manner, but only time will tell.) During the flight we hit the call button far too many times. Each time we asked for something new; sodas, peanuts, magazines, cuddles, anything to bring the flight attendants our way. It passed the time, and kept the overpowering fear of imminent death by impact, fire, dismemberment, and sudden de-pressurization at bay.

And then it was time to land. As we began our descent, I felt little pockets of unease rumble through my stomach. I buckled up and stared out the window, not sure that willing the ground closer was the right thing to do. I had imagined that after circling the globe on a swift, steady, but gentle wind, we would float to the ground like a mechanized feather. A few sudden drops in altitude sent that idea packing, and I just knew that we were going to die.

I thought back to all the peanuts, cookies, crackers, and soda that I had consumed with reckless abandon throughout the flight, and cursed the beautiful objects of my fantasies for shoveling them onto my lap tray without a word of warning. They must have seen us taking photos of them walking down the aisle, and together they had conspired in the galley, agreeing to load us with all the snacks we could inhale as eventual punishment for our teenage fantasies. I would die a pervert’s death, covered in vomit, and I hated them as we fell to earth. What the world would think of me when the crash investigators found my camera and developed the film inside? A somber man in a dark suit would deliver a collection of photos to my family, and my parents would tear open the envelope, hoping to find a final, smiling image of their precious son on his way to a happy adventure. Instead, they would flip through several blurry shots of the flight attendant’s rear-ends, and remember what a turd their son had been in life.

It took several minutes to die. I watched the ground rise up to meet us, and remained conflicted about willing it closer as time ticked by on a broken watch. A puke bag at the ready, I watched as the tarmac came into view. I no longer cared about crashing; I just wanted it to be over. The plane tilted back as we came in far too fast for a safe landing, and I knew then that it would all be over in a matter of seconds. I envisioned a long, terrifying slide into the airport terminal, ending with a sudden burst into flames. At least my camera would melt in the fireball, and with it all evidence of my lust for flight attendants.

The rear wheels struck the runway with such force that I was sure they had punctured the cabin. Were I to look to the back of the plane, I would see but mangled bodies and the black rubber of the massive tires that tore them apart. A moment later the front landing gear hit the tarmac, and I imagined the plane heading into a spark-trailing slide. I was going to die, but only after a carnival ride from hell, complete with explosive ending.

Several years later, after the explosive ending failed to take my life..,

And I am living through a remake of the movie "Airplane." The pilot has landed our plane in Milwaukee rather than Chicago. Thunderstorms have shut down both Midway and O’Hare, and after circling for longer than we should have in hopes of a clearing to land, we were running low on fuel and had to divert. We have been sitting on the tarmac for some time now, the lights of the terminal taunting us from a distance. I am beginning to fear a long night in my already uncomfortable seat.

Beside me sits a man with a broken arm, bent in a cast. His left arm. Did I mention that he is sitting on my right? This means that his elbow is sticking out over his armrest and into my ribs. He jitters when he sleeps, and he sleeps a lot. My ribs cannot take much more of this abuse.

A fully-grown golden retriever that surely has to poop by now is in the front row. I can see its head from my aisle seat in the second row. It is not evident which family member needs the dog’s assistance, but it is wearing an orange vest to signify that it is specially trained to assist someone. There are at least two babies behind me somewhere, each of them crying in competition for highest pitch. I have children of my own, and Elizabeth has flown many times alone with our babies over the years, so I feel the pain of the parents, while wishing for earplugs and muzzles at the same time.

Nearby sits a coven of stuffed suits prepping for a hostile takeover. They fill the air above them with heavy sighs and self-important rants about meetings that can’t happen without them being present, rental car and hotel reservations that will rot into mold if they don’t get there in time to sign their all-important names, and deals that will fall apart (and send the economy spiraling into a steeper tailspin?) if they aren’t there to close them.

In other news, there is a cute Hooters waitress in a tank top sipping diet soda through a tiny straw. She is seated on the aisle, two rows back and to the left of me, so my marriage shall remain happy and intact. The man sitting beside her can make no such guarantees to his own wife (dull un-shiny wedding ring present on his clammy looking hand). His eyes are almost crossed at this point from trying to read the bar codes on her implants.

Have I mentioned that the toilet is overflowing?

There are several loud cell phone conversations taking place in three languages other than English. I stopped trying to translate the one that I think is in Spanish. The woman is talking fast and hard, and I get a brief respite from my discomfort by imagining that she is lecturing her short fat husband for not walking her little poop machine of a poodle and eating in front of the tv while she was away.

There is a creepy little girl right out of a Stephen King novel walking the aisle. She stops to stare at people she doesn’t know. A doll is folded over her arm like a spineless baby, which completes the image of a harbinger of death.

If the pilot comes on the intercom with one more cheery affirmation, he might get bum rushed when he emerges from behind the safety of the bulletproof door. He must have recently been sent to a positive attitude seminar, he is that cheerful (or drunk). I choose to believe that he has anger management issues, and that the airline sent him to a feel-good mental rehabilitation clinic in the Catskills. There he endured weeks of hug therapy, mandatory kitten cuddling, and flower arrangement classes until his anger vanished in a cloud of incense smoke (lime-rose-kiwi scented). I don’t think the airline sent the flight attendants, because they are bossy and insensitive, not happy and accommodating. Or gorgeous.

Does anyone else smell that? How can they not? What is it and who made it happen? Smells like that should be outlawed in public.

Well, I never saw that coming. The dog just peed into a plastic bag. The father of the assisted family just held the bag underneath it, and the dog just let it go. Now the man is standing in line for the rest room, holding aloft the bag of dog piss like a proud old lady with a claim ticket in some weird sort of prize line.

I can feel the seventh circle of hell approaching.

The pilot has just informed us that after a refueling we will be making the flight to Chicago. That is good news. I am hoping to make a flight into Manchester tonight, and the sooner we get to Chicago the better. My chances of making the connection have been increased, because Air Traffic Control has been kind enough to allow us an unusual flight path over the lakes, so the flight will take seventeen minutes rather than the usual hour plus.

Well, this is it. I can feel the cold breath of Death on my neck as he steps up to take me. The plane is shuddering, the turbulence unreal, and the end of my life certain. The pilot was happy to announce our “special acceptation” flight plan but failed to mention that it would be at low altitude, and that the seventeen-minute trip would feel like a iron-wheeled carriage ride through a logging site. The bumps, sudden drops, and shrieking of the engines are conspiring to kill me before the impact does.

I look to my left, across the aisle, and out the window. I can see nothing but the darkness of water. To the right, the lights of the lakefront buildings twinkle below. If it were daytime, I would be able to make out people turning in surprise as we buzz a few thousand feet overhead. But it is close to midnight now, and I wonder if anyone will witness our sudden plunge into the cold water, capturing the moment with his or her cell phone. Would the dark and blurry footage of my terrible death merit millions of views on Youtube?

I find myself in a constant state of teeth clenching and anal-puckering, like an innocent man spending his first night of many in prison. I should be grateful that I will be surrounded by people at the moment of my death, but looking around the cabin, I can honestly say that I’d rather be alone. The son of the man who has trained his dog to pee into plastic bags will not shut up about spreadsheets. He wants his father to tell him more about formulas and sums, but his father must be deaf, unschooled in spreadsheets, or unwilling to stifle his son’s self-expression.
I fear that the last words I ever hear will be “Father, please tell me more about spreadsheets.”

I didn’t want to leave Oakley. Elizabeth and the kids are there. Blue skies, open fields, and long straight roads abound. Happiness flavors the water, like a sweet mineral from way down deep in the earth’s crust. I have loved New Hampshire, but Oakley is home now. It’s the first place I’ve lived where I would consider being buried.

Well, we’ve landed in Chicago and I am waiting to board my flight to Manchester. I wouldn’t swear to it under oath, but I think the plane did slide sideways a bit when the front landing gear hit the tarmac.

Damn you Indiana Jones, I’ve learned to hate you in the last 30 years.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Quality of Breathing


Oakley smells like a montage. I drive with the windows down and let the pictures summoned by each breath float across the monitor in my mind like a screensaver. Climbing cemetery hill behind Grandpa and Grandma Ingram's house in Alpine, flying on the rope swing inside the massive barn at my cousin's dairy farm in Idaho, and childhood road trips through the breadbasket states, these are some of the most powerful memory images brought on by smelling Oakley.

We haven't lived in Oakley for very long, but new memories are forming every day. Watching Solomon play football, driving country roads with Hannah, watching Caleb walking with new friends after cross country practice, checking in on the new baby buffalo down the road, and lunch dates at the local burger joint with Elizabeth. These are some of my new favorites.


On most nights the mountain air cools to sweatshirt level. So long as a skunk doesn't spray a barking dog or get itself smashed on the highway, keeping the windows open makes for a pleasant night and comfortable sleeping. Burrowing under the blankets without the air conditioning blowing feels good on both the wallet and the skin.

A screen on our bedroom door that opens onto the back deck would be nice, but I am not very handy around the house. I can hang a painting, glue a broken something, or tighten a screw, but I really shouldn't be building anything. I have tools, but don't use them all that much. Our homes have always been better off before my "improvements." But a screen door should be a minor, even easy project, and the effort made would be validated by the reward, right?


In recent years I have become more handy around the soul. Opening myself up to change, I have made some major renovations on the floor plans and decor of my heart and mind. I have torn down walls to create a more open space, installed skylights that allow happy sunshine to brighten dark corners, and shored up what had long been a weak foundation. Retaining walls have been strengthened, and some temporary walls have been erected to protect the renovation in progress. Good memories have been framed and hung, broken relationships have been mended, and a few loose screws have been tightened (only a few, I don't want to be boring).

When it rains in Oakley, the air smells to me like Heaven's fabric softener.

The retractable screen door sounded like a good idea while standing in the door aisle at Home Depot. It took some time, effort, and ingenuity to build out the left side of the doorframe for an even fit. During this part of the project I ignored the memory of my father's voice mocking my hammer handling "You're supposed to hit the nail, not the wood, dummy!" The focus on ignoring the past made for a dimple-free finished look. (Thanks Dad, but not really.) The installation was going well, and I even used the hacksaw without cursing. The paper instructions were all but useless, so I watched the online installation video instead, and followed every step as best I could. The man in the video made it look so easy. His screen door slid back and forth with a smooth motion and a quiet zipping sound.

Mine didn't. The screen bunched up, refusing to retract into the housing. I tried over and over again, my frustration mounting with each attempt. The neighbor's aging mother may have learned a new word or two through her open window as I did my best to make the door cooperate. Elizabeth came out to offer support and provide another set of eyes to review the installation, but to no avail. I returned the door to Home Depot the next day, and to their credit they refunded my money without questioning my hammer handling.

An indefinite moratorium on home improvement projects is now in place.

My inner space is becoming quite luxurious. So much so that I enjoy spending time with myself. Of course, the work is far from done, and not all of the finishings are perfect, but it's coming along better than I had hoped. Hey self, look at me, you're a work in forward progress!

The bedroom door remains screen-free. I shouldn’t have rushed to install a screen door that you could probably find in Sky Mall magazine, but I was so eager to let in more air. Oh well, lesson learned. I think I’ll wait and have a professional install a screen door that functions the way it should.

One that keeps the bugs out, but lets in the air.

That sweet Oakley air.



Friday, June 8, 2012

Surf's Up

I am not a good surfer, but I sometimes brave the winter weather and water, driving to the beach with a crazy friend named Captain Rob. He lets me borrow his long board. I thrill at the fact that the air, bullied about by the wind, is much colder than the water. We have to tread through the unplowed parking lot just to get to sand, another element that adds to the experience. That first shock of cold ocean water seeping into my wetsuit reminds me that my heart is still pushing warm blood.
The Captain surfs while I realign my chakra. I lay on the long board, letting the thick hug of my wetsuit, the cold salt spray against my cheeks, and the low thunder of the waves nourish me back to health. From time to time I ride a wave in to shore, but never do I ride very well. Still, it's fun. It's more than fun, it's living.
June 7th, 2009. A Sunday evening. I stand to speak before a small group of young, single adults. Although the talk had been planned for some time, most of it had written itself over the course of the past several days. My chosen topic? "Living." The stiff collar of my shirt floats around my neck on a layer of sweat, and my heart batters at its cage, threatening my chest.
I had spent the afternoon before my talk walking the abandoned railroad tracks near my brother's home. Elizabeth had walked them with me, in spite of her belief that we were looking for Jared's body in the wrong spot. She had a feeling he would be closer to his home, that he would have wanted to be found. I was not sure at the time why I wanted to walk the tracks all the way out to the beautiful Great Bay, but subsequent therapy has led me to believe that I simply didn't want to be the one to find Jared, yet needed to feel that I was making every effort to do so. The mind is an expert at tricking the body and heart into all sorts of madness.

Some of what I said that night:

"A few weeks ago I headed down to the sea wall on 1A North in Hampton. I sat on the wall and started to write this talk, but was soon distracted by a group of surfers that bobbed on the water like a string of black lobster buoys. I counted twenty in all, but of the twenty, only one was actually catching waves. I watched as he rode wave after wave, riding anything that even hinted at curling over, while his peers sat on their boards, feet dangling in the water. The nineteen of them just sat there staring out to sea, waiting for that one great ride, a dream wave that would carry them towards the rocky shore at a blistering pace, providing them with the adrenalin rush that only those who have caught such a wave can truly understand.  And so I watched that single surfer. He was something to see, riding his little waves, happy as it gets, grinning like an idiot the entire time. He ate it a few times, but he popped up out of the water and jumped right back up onto his board, paddling right back into it with that silly grin of joy on his lips.
That night twenty surfers came down to the beach with one purpose in mind; to surf. Twenty came down, twenty donned wet suits, twenty walked into the water and paddled out, but only one of them actually surfed. Only one was willing to ride whatever the ocean sent his way, while the other nineteen sat on their boards, drifting with the current, staring out to open waters as they waited for that one big wave to come and make their night complete.
Much like those surfers, we came to Earth to live. We came, we donned this mortal coil, and we paddled out into the open seas of life, but not all of us are truly living. Have you ever know someone that is happy to be here, thrilled at the taste of the salty sweet waters that life splashes in our face? I have, and I marvel at their tenacity, their attitude, and their contagious laughter.
On the flip side of things, however, are those that are miserable in life. We all know someone like this, or perhaps we are that someone. These are the people are afraid of life, angry at living, frustrated at every inconvenience, halted by the events that surround them, and intimidated by experience. We cannot always know or understand why they are this way, and it is not our place to judge them. Although we love them and wish the best for them, they are generally not fun to be with."

Did I really say all of this? How bold. Stay tuned.

The following morning Elizabeth was proved to be right. We found Jared not more than a long stare's distance from his back door. His still and restful looking, nonetheless lifeless body was hidden by the bright green shag-carpet of ferns that surrounded his chosen spot.
Not a sight that the two of us are ever likely to forget.
Since that day, the waters around me are often in turmoil, the heavy rollers towering above vicious undertows. I have clung to my board, the thought of hanging a perfect ten as far from my mind as I am from the shore. Made stronger by my guilt, anger, and regret, the waves look white, explosive, crushing. I close my eyes and fear them. I cannot overcome them. I am not ready, and feel I never will be. My chakra needs more than alignment, it needs a lube job, a new belt, and a jump start.
Just a few days ago, I was speaking with one of the single young adults that was present for my talk about "Living." Married just a few weeks now (to a young man that endeared himself to me for all time with his uncommon sincerity), she told me that she had not forgotten how I encouraged the group to ride even the smallest of waves in life so that they might be more prepared for the big, bad curlers that hit without warning. (Not all the big waves in life's ocean are fun to ride.)
This week, compelled by her recollection of something that I said, I dug out and then read my talk from that night. As it happens, I didn't write it for the young, single adults. I wrote it for me.
Captain Rob, wax up the boards. It's time to ride some little waves.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Meltdown

Were I a drinking man, I'd raise a tall glass of something hard to the single parent.


I am not done with all I have to do, yet I am tired and ready for bed. A constant chorus sounds outside my bedroom door, each of my kids singing a different song as they finish their homework. While I thrill at the vocal talents of my three children, my ears are beginning to fill with wax, a physical response to my need for quiet. There is a broken dishwasher in need of replacement, and the dirty dishes are piled high (despite the sign that reads "Use Paper Plates!" hanging on the cupboard door). I am thinking about installing a fare meter in my car, which I am also thinking about painting taxi-cab yellow. I have 40+ emails from clients desperate for my attention. One half of my bed is empty, and as I look across my pillow at night I see nothing but the hollow darkness that hovers above Elizabeth's. I am tired, stressed, and lonely. It has been a long few days, and Elizabeth is gone for another two.

My waking dreams are all about freezing time. I need the world to stop so that I can get things done without the pressure of backlogged requests.

Exhausted, I collapse into bed to watch Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride their BMW motorcycles around the world. Elizabeth and I had been watching "Long Way Round" (for the third time) before she left, and my favorite episode is next in line; Siberia and the Road of Bones. The road, if it can be called that, which connects Vladivostok to Magadan, was not only built by Stalin's prisoners, but from them as well. Those that died along the way were buried as part of the road itself, giving the route it's the grim nickname. The episode both fascinates and depresses me. Their struggle to travel a road born of such tragedy and suffering makes for emotional television. I watch the episode in short bursts, pausing several times to handle requests from the kids, and then to take a phone call from Elizabeth after they are in bed. By the time Ewan and Charley reach Magadan and climb the hill that leads to "The Mask of Sorrow," a monument erected in memory of those that died building the road, it is late into my night.

The episode ends, and notwithstanding the hour I jump on the Internet and begin studying the terrible road, and the dark story of how it came to be. Many clicks later I find myself reading about another scar on Russia's history. The disaster at Chernobyl has fascinated me since I first heard of it over twenty years ago (it has been 25 years almost to the day since the reactor explosion in 1986).

With every click, images of abandoned homes, businesses, and hospitals flash up on the screen. The floors are littered with everyday items; clothes, books, toys, furniture, even family photos. All of them were left behind in the desperate evacuation, which was ordered far too late to do most people any good. Gas masks are everywhere, and I wonder if people left them behind knowing that it was useless to don them. A Ferris wheel stands in the empty city of Prypiat, a rusting reminder of the children that were growing up there when the disaster struck.

I've seen all of these photos before, and while they never fail to mesmerize and make me sad, they are just pictures of abandoned brick, mortar, and belongings coated with an invisible layer of poisonous atoms. While they invoke memories of things I never did, with people I have never met or seen, their impact stops short of anything emotional. They are merely fascinating to look at and wonder about.

The final click of the night brings me to an online exhibit that I have never seen before. Photos taken by Paul Fusco begin to fade in and out from one to the next. As I watch, I imagine in Paul a man whose life was altered with each click of the camera lens during this particular shoot. His photos are of children effected by the nuclear disaster. The images break my heart. My eyes fill with tears, and my hands reach up to hide my face, an involuntary response to the emotional wave that folds over me. The slide show ends, and I want nothing more in that moment than to fly east, find these children, and hug them.

But I can't, and the prideful thought that a hug from me could make a difference in their lives fills me with self loathing. I sit on my bed surrounded by silence. I think about my list of unfinished items, and the dishes piled high on the counter downstairs. The thought of my selfish whining earlier in the evening weighs me down with shame, pressing me deeper into my comfortable bed. Helpless and full of sorrow, I once again wish for the power to freeze time and stop the world, with a little time travel on the side.

After several minutes I leave my bedroom and wander through my beautiful, radiation-free home. One by one I quietly open the door to each of my children's bedrooms and watch them sleep.

To watch a slide show that will break your heart but make you thankful for even your most difficult days and the most "trying" moments with your children, click here: Chernobyl.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Aw, Crap!

"Well it's been a long time since I did that." I said the words aloud, though no one was around to hear them. The only sound to that point had been my crunching.
I was at home alone, eating a bowl of cereal. I had no appetite, not since the sudden onset of whatever it was attacking my body from within, but I thought that perhaps some sugar would calm the headache and shore up my energy against the fatigue.
The day had been a normal one. I visited a routine client in the morning, then headed off to install a firewall and vpn at a new break/fix client. It would be a quick 2 hour visit, then home to work on my taxes. My body felt fine, and my head free of pressure.
The firewall installed and configured, I tended to a few minor issues that had been troubling the client's network. It was just after 3:00 when they asked me to upgrade their antivirus, because it had been a few years since anyone had paid any attention to it. I figured it would take about 90 minutes, and since every minute onsite was billable I decided to stay and get it done. I was also looking to impress, since they are a fairly new client and their network in need of some tender loving surgery.
I stepped outside to call Elizabeth and told her that I would most likely not be back in time to watch Solomon when she and the other kids left for their music and ballet classes. We chatted for a moment, and as we did the sun peeked through the grey above, just for a few minutes. I felt good.
Back to work, and before long the work was done. I was feeling good, having accomplished a lot in this single visit, and adding an extra 5 hours of billing to my month. I was sitting at the server desk, making my last checks to the system before logging off and heading for home when it hit.
The chills came on in an instant, followed by a dizzy sensation that had me wavering as I stood. I reached out and grabbed at the wall in order to steady myself. The moment my hand touched the dry, white surface, a stabbing cramp gripped my stomach. My hand pulled away from the wall, my reflexes acting to protect me from what they interpreted in a flash to be an electric shock. With nothing to hold me steady, I spun around in a lightheaded circle, crashing back into the chair I had left just a moment before.
I doubled over with a groan as a longer ripple of cramps that must have fallen short of birthing contractions but was still one of the most painful sensations I had ever felt stretched across my belly. Beads of sweat popped out along my forehead, as the chills were replaced with an instant fever.
"What the hell?" I groaned, my arms wrapped around my waist, my face between my knees.
I took a few deep breaths, and the fever subsided, taking the cramps with it. I walked with a ginger gait over to my laptop and packed it away. Within a few seconds I had bid goodbye to my client (without a hand shake) and climbed into my car with some effort. I called Elizabeth at once.
"I am leaving now, and I am just calling to let you know that if I don't make it home tonight, I love you." My joking voice was laced with a perceptible seriousness.
"Kid, what happened?" She always calls me "Kid" when I am being silly.
"I don't know, but I feel like I've been through the ringer. I almost passed out earlier, and I am achy all over." I whined.
"Kid, it sounds like you've got it." She didn't have to say it; I knew she meant the Norovirus. It had attacked her friend just a few days earlier. All the same symptoms in a sudden onset.
"I hope not, but this is how bad it is; I want to go to bed in my clothes, without taking a shower first." (Whine)
"Ok, that's pretty bad." She agreed.
We traded a few sentences of catch-up talk as we did every day on my drive home. The kids, school, etc.
She interrupted, "Ok, you need to focus on driving, I am going to let you go. Everybody say hi to Dad!" I pictured her holding the phone aloft and heard our kids shout happy hellos and love-yous.
We hung up and I focused on the road. I listened to a loud comedy show from BBC radio in order to stay sharp. The loud laughter, high-pitched comic host with thick Northern accent, and the obnoxious musical tones screeched against the blackboard of my mind, but it kept me from driving off into the guardrail.
I made it home and dropped everything on my desk, stripping off clothes as I made my way to the bathroom. Ten minutes of a soothing hot shower later I was feeling better, but I knew that there was more to come. I just didn't know how bad or how long it would last.
I was standing naked in my bedroom when the doorbell rang. I made the mistake of peeking out the window, and was sure that the driver of the car had caught sight of the blinds shifting as I did so. I sighed, pulled on my pajama pants (inside-out) and slid a tee-shirt over my head.
Several minutes later, after a long discussion with an apologetic neighborhood boy and his mother about a moment of bullying that had taken place that day (something I knew nothing about), I wandered into the kitchen to eat something in hopes of calming down the intense headache that had just gotten worse. I really don't like bullies.
I poured a bowl of cereal and sat down to eat. The bowl was almost empty when I felt a rumbling. It was the kind of rumbling that signals the onset of something nasty. The rumbling spread through my belly, then turned south, snaking its way through my guts.

And then I pooped my pants.


Just a little.


But enough.


The gaps are for comedic timing, but it really wasn't funny. It was terrible.


I haven't pooped my pants in years. The last time I did was in Paraguay, at the age of 20. I remember visiting one of the poorest husband and wife that I have ever known. They lived in a shack on the side of a hill, and had at least a half a dozen kids. They had nothing. I mean nothing. Clothes, some dishes, and a place to sleep. That was the whole of their life together, but I remember them being happy. The mother smiled as her children ran up to greet us, the father taking my hand in his and chattering a happy welcome, the words passing with a whistle between large gaps in his blackened teeth. I marveled at their obvious affection for each other under such miserable circumstances.
They offered us some water. I looked across their dirt yard and noticed their well. It was a hole in the earth, right beside their cooking fire. I could see the water, just six inches below the edge of the hole. It was stagnant. I looked up at the shacks settled above theirs on the hillside, and wondered how much of the waste from the people living up there drained down into this family's well.
The moment was one of innumerable opportunities I had already been given to offend while in Paraguay. To refuse their offer of the only thing they had to give would have broken their spirit. Neither I nor my companion had the cold courage to do so. We nodded in acceptance.
The mother produced two glasses, dipping them one at a time into the well, filling them with water. She carried them over to us I like a waiter at a swanky restaurant carrying two bottles of fine wine. As she approached I noticed that the water looked like lemonade.
It looked like lemonade, but it wasn't lemonade. I took the glass offered with a gracious thanks, and my eyes widened at the sight of tiny little somethings swirling around in the dirty drink. I looked over at my companion and smiled with a slight shrug. He returned the same, his glass of liquid looking no better than mine.
And then we drank. Both glasses drained to the bottom in one long synchronous pull. We left the couple and their children after twenty or so minutes of chatting, the national pastime of Paraguayans. The sun was high and hot as we made our way back to the little house that we shared. My companion and I were sweating more than usual. We knew what was coming, we just didn't know when.
It sucker-punched me as we turned onto our street. I wanted to but was afraid to run. In running I might have lost control of the muscles holding back the onslaught. in the end it didn't matter, because my pants were soaked with the sickness before we made it inside. I entered the shower full dressed. The gravity-fed plumbing had hardly enough pressure to wash it all away, but I did the best I could. I even had to rinse my shoes.
The days that followed were terrible. If not for a woman named Kiti, a midwife by trade and a surrogate mother to us both, we might had died. She spoon fed us on iv drip fluids, keeping us from dehydrating and passing into comas. I lost weight, dropping at least 10 pounds from my hearty 150. It wasn't the first time I had been sick in Paraguay, and it would not be the last, but it was by far one of the worst.

20 years later it had happened again, and my reaction was to laugh and say, "Well it's been a long time since I did that."
A few minutes later I stood in the shower, rinsing a tiny amount (in comparison) of sick from my body and clothes. I was achy, feverish, and my stomach was convulsing. I wanted to collapse into bed and sleep until the weekend. I was too beat up to be ashamed, but I did hide my (rinsed) pajama pants in the dirty clothes, crammed down deep between the towels.
I spent a miserable night and all of today plagued by intermittent cramps, an everlasting headache, and a feverish chill that would not relent.
But I am looking on the bright side. I don't live in a shack on a hill, I have filtered water, and a beautiful nursemaid brings me medicine and soda crackers whenever I ask.
And best of all, it has been 24 hours since I pooped my pants!