Strange days make for strange dreams make for stranger days still. The other night's: a doozy.

I was in Austin, a city I've never been to, attending a gig at SXSW in a small, packed, dimly lit club. I had no idea who was about to perform but I wanted to get closer to the stage. Then the crowd turned to me in unison and parted. As I walked to the front I overheard murmurings like, "Praise be!" and, "Oh, yes, this is great! He can help us." I saw that the people were trying with little success to fasten a large leather tarp to the stage floor. I grabbed a corner and started instructing them to secure rivets by the monitors and to smooth out the tarp surface. When we finished, a road crew came out to set up the band's gear. Moments later No Age took stage and started rocking out. During the first song Randy Randall's guitar broke in half and a roadie came out to replace it. I couldn't see the roadie's face but she was wearing a ridiculously long flannel shirt with sleeves that nearly touched the ground, and she had a cigarette clenched between her teeth. When she turned around I realized she was none other than Alison Mosshart. Alison Mosshart looked down, pointed to me with her cigarette (looking like this, to be exact) and said, "Hey, you! [Me?] Yeah you. You look familiar..." "Oh! I mean... Yeah," I responded, referring to that one cool time that was not a dream but actual reality. She reached down and grabbed my hand to hoist me up. Massive applause from the crowd, then we walked backstage. As we were walking, a chalice containing some sort of glowing blue potion appeared in her hand. The potion was reminiscent of Squeezeits, specifically Berry B. Wild. She insisted that I drink it, "But not all of it!" I misheard her on that last part and accidentally drank it all, every last drop since it turned out to be fairly delicious. Then we were both all, "Oh no!" and I started asking her what was going to happen to me. "I... Honestly? I have no idea," she said. "What do you mean you have no idea?! What is this stuff?!" I asked, freaking out, trying to cough up the Squeezeitesque liquid and wiping my mouth on my sleeve like a madman. "Never mind. This way!" she said, laughing. So we started running down a long, dark hallway and I began to feel pretty goofy.

This break is to denote where I briefly woke up and then fell back asleep, re-entering the dream precisely where I left off, which almost never happens to me.

Alison Mosshart led me into a tiny room where there were several doors of varying shapes and sizes. A light was shining under one of the tall ones. When I asked her what was behind the tall door is when I realized I was alone. I decided to turn the handle and cross the blinding threshold anyway. The door slammed shut behind me, and when my eyes adjusted who did I see standing in the middle of the room? Why, Matt Damon, wearing nothing more than a white bath towel tied around his waist that was branded with Hyatt symbols. Matt Damon was dripping wet and standing in front of a mirror flexing these abnormally huge muscles, and when he saw me he grew angry and screamed, "THERE YOU ARE! God
damn you. I'm gonna end you, boy!" I was so, so confused at this point. I tried asking him, "Wait, who? Me?!" and then, "Did I drink your potion? I'm so sorry if I drank all your potion, Matt Damon!" None of it worked. He grabbed me by the throat and punched me in the face, which sent me flying backward until I hit the wall. Lying on the floor, my face bleeding and my nose smashed in, I saw a shelf built into the wall that held dozens of Starbucks coffee mugs. As Matt Damon walked toward me, going on and on and on about teaching me a "hard lesson," I quietly grabbed a coffee mug from the shelf. When he picked me up by the shirt I turned and broke the mug over his head, which sent him to the ground crying. His cries were not those of a man, but of an infant. I quickly opened the door and closed it behind me, putting my back to it and collapsing in the previous room which was now lit with candles. Alison Mosshart had reappeared and was pacing around the candles in a circle. "Where were you?!" she wanted to know. "Where was I? Where were you?! And what the hell is Matt Damon doing here, huh?! He's pretty pissed!" I stammered. "I don't know who that is," she said flatly. I couldn't believe it. "You what? You... You don't know who Matt Damon is?!" I asked, crazed about what had just happened to me but, strangely enough, a little more crazed that she had never heard of Matt Damon. "Oh my God, your nose!" she exclaimed, grabbing my face and smooshing my cheeks and lips together like a fish. She then led me through another door and into a different room where she started feasting on the blood from my nosewound. As luck would have it, the pain began to subside. "This is awesome! We're gettin' all Twilight!" I exclaimed, to which she replied, "Quiet! Quiet, man! We gotta heal your nose to save the world!"

This break is to denote where I awoke.

Here's What I Wonder About...

  • When a dog barks, is it just barking the same word over and over and over again? Because I hear no real inflection or variance in a dog bark (all right, maybe a little). So in terms of dogspeak, is it possible that a canine is programmed with one word and one word only? Like: one dog can only bark, "Apple! Apple! Apple!" while another can only bark back, "Sunsets! Sunsets! Sunsets!" If this is even close to being the case, how do dogs communicate with each other? (Disclaimer: I live near a dog park.)
  • Why don't crazier things happen in public more often, such as people melting down, sobbing, throwing tantrums or simply making loud noises? Why is man generally behaved?
  • Given the abundance of distractions in our world, coupled with a person's capacity to act like a downright idiot sometimes, why don't car accidents happen more frequently, right in front of our eyes? Talking about witnessing them on a daily basis here. Same goes for people tripping, falling down, bumping into each other, dropping things, etcetera, etcetera.
  • Why were General Mills cereals like Franken Berry not more popular?
  • Why were General Mills cereals like Wheaties ever popular?
  • Do bugs have feelings and personalities like we do? Think: spiders.
  • Why are mom and dad so behind the curve with technology? They treat typing on a computer like keying on a typewriter; they don't go back to edit mistakes; they only forge ahead, their index fingers poking letters and numbers haphazardly, their noses inches from the keyboard; their attempted e-mails are always laden with typos and at times completely indecipherable. They have cell phones, but use them like tin cans and string; they only turn them on to make calls, then they shut them off; they're practically unreachable, but when I'm unreachable I return to my phone to see 16 missed calls, zero voicemails; I call them back and their phones are off; they also don't program people's numbers into their phones, but rather dial them from memory each time they want to call someone; at one point dad had a small paper list of phone numbers that he'd carry with him and fish out of his pocket whenever he needed to place a call. And then there's the time mom called me to ask if their home computer "has Google."

For the Nth Time: Pigeons

I've already written too much about pigeons, but I must write about them some more. I've simply learned that much over the past month. Things you should know:
  1. Studies (my studies) show that pigeons have a short-term memory of, on average, six seconds. While this does not sound like a long time, it, yeah, turns out it's really not that long of a time at all. To show this one pigeon just how stubborn I can be, I scared him (going to assume they're all male here) from my windowsill approximately 20 times in a two-minute span. Each time he acted all, "What?", like he had never seen me before. It went something like this: Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
  2. I have refined my scare-off tactics based on pigeon response. Today, I lock eyes with the offending pigeon, crouch and slowly spread out my arms like an attacking predator might, or like I might if I had wings. If the windows are open and I feel like throwing in a little somethin' extra, I will also hiss, like my pet cat might if she were a puma. Nine times out of 10 this works. But then they come back. (See No. 1)
  3. If I remain at the window after I've scared them off, I can clearly see the pigeons poking their heads out from the rooftop, craning their fat, little necks to see if I am still there. It takes them a really long time to notice I am standing in the same place, right in front of the window, but when they realize it they pull away like lightning - almost as if those past 10 seconds of us making eye contact never even happened.
  4. Within this particular flock of pigeons that nests in/on/around my apartment, I know which are the smartest, and which are the dumbest. I recognize them on an individual basis, and could pick one out of a lineup if I needed to (and I might, have to). I could even recommend which ones need a bath the most. God, some of them are so dirty it's ridiculous. When they're not partying at my place they've got to be hanging out at Jiffy Lube or something.
  5. Outside of Clarence, I have not given any of the pigeons names.
  6. I have stared deep into a pigeon's eyes, and I can tell you there is nothing there. This is officially the world's dumbest animal, folks.
  7. In a fit of rage, I once burned through an entire tray of ice cubes on a pair of pigeons that wouldn't scram.
  8. My landlord actually recommended I fill a spray bottle with bleach to, "See how they like that? Not so much, eh?"
  9. I have not tried No. 8, yet.
  10. I have interacted with pigeons for a long, long time now, and I still cannot list a single benefit they bring to this earth. Is there one? Because if there is it's lost on me. Unless it's screwing with people and getting them to spend time writing about pigeons. They're pretty good at that.

Oh, Whoops. More Things

And now for some things that have happened:
  • I was on a train and there was a fly trapped inside our crowded car. The thing really took to this one particular guy and it made his entire ride a living hell. It showed no interest for any other person, and all of our eyes followed the fly as it buzzed around this guy's bald head. So he's harumphing and shooing his poor arm off and finally he just snaps and starts rolling up the newspaper he's been trying to read. He sets down his bag and goes, "I'm gonna hit 'im!" You know, giving people fair warning to get the hell out of the way. So he's got his tube of newspaper and sees the fly land on the window. He winds up baseball style, his elbows near people's chins, pretty good form actually, and explodes this juicy bug all over the door. He was sweating and concluded with a big, "Thanks!" The rest of us went back to thinking about other things.
  • One night I turned on my bedroom lamp to see the biggest centipede I've ever seen. The thing was the size of a goddamn kielbasa, not including its legs. Pretty gross. Had it not been so close to my bed I might've let it live. Might've. So I quietly got out the vacuum and connected the hose attachment. I wondered if the centipede could see what I was doing, or if it even had eyes for that matter. I got the hose right next to what I believed to be its head and hit the switch. The hose started sucking in air loudly, but not quickly enough to unglue the centipede from the wall. The ugly thing really had that much mass. So I had to guide him in, sort of using the hose to slurp him up. It was a pathetic death. He didn't even try to fight me or at the very least run away. I went to bed feeling superior.
  • While my neighbors were moving out of our apartment building I heard them talking about me in the hallway. I got to wondering: Is this eavesdropping, or talking behind someone's back?
  • I asked my landlord to fix my leaky bathroom sink, and came home to find my kitchen covered in a film of sawdust. The floors, the counters, the sink, my cat's food - all of it dressed in wood shavings. I opened the back door and saw part of the staircase had been rebuilt, and concluded he used my kitchen as his personal wood shop for the day. Guy didn't even try to clean up. Obliviousness, or DGAF-ness? Not sure. He did fix the sink though.
  • I didn't ask my landlord to fix anything, and came home to find a huge black streak running across my bedroom wall. It ran waist level around my bed, which is strange because there is less than a foot of space between my bed and the wall - and nothing on the other side of my bed. So what someone was doing shimmying around my mattress, to get closer to nothing, is both lost on me and concerning. Not to sound vain, but my logic was soon in the gutter and I started checking crevices for video cameras and audio equipment. It made me paranoid for a few days, but mostly I just reverted back to living my life as I did before. If they really, really want to, let 'em watch, y'know?
  • This pair of pigeons moved into my apartment, into the small spaces on either side of my AC unit. I found sticks, feathers, pigeon crap and other bird belongings on the inside of my window sill, and my cat playing with it all. So I kicked them out. Sure enough the next day they were back, building and pooping in their new home simultaneously. I evicted them again! By the end of the week they would hear me come home and pretend to not be there. Right. Because that works. That's when I started going out onto my porch and throwing ice cubes at them, every night, for the subsequent week. At first you could tell they had no idea what an ice cube was, but then one of them got hit in the face. Now they don't come around anymore, and I can once again drink my drinks cold.
  • This summer I went to my family's cottage in northern Michigan for eight days. There is a dining hall there, filled with families clad in Polo sweaters and whatever argyle accessories their country clubs had left in stock. They eat there three times a day, and by the end of my stay a young girl was openly flirting with my cousin and me in front of her parents - using milk as her calling card. Yes, she flirted with us via milk, taking multiple unnecessary trips to the dairy bar and consuming close to five glasses of milk per meal as she eyed us up from behind her tilted container. That's 15 glasses of milk a day. We thought of asking her if she had a calcium deficiency but agreed the odds of that actually being true were rather good, and plus we didn't want the flirting to stop. Ever. So we kept on watching her watch us as she worked on her bones.

My Crooked Digit

Recently I broke my left index finger during a company softball game. I caught a pop-fly to left field very, very sloppily, and God I wish this story was cooler. Anyhow, the thing swelled up over night and by morning it looked like I had a big, purple grape on the tip of my finger in terms of size, shape and color - my pointer-turned-fruity-finger-berry.

So I went to urgent care for X-rays and a splint, and was then referred to a hand specialist. The hand specialist took even more X-rays and made me a custom splint, one molded to fit and snugly encase my finger. Then they moved me to their physical-therapy ward. Physical therapy. For a finger! I went on my way and over the next few weeks diligently practiced the circuit of finger exercises the four women had taught me as they braced various parts of my hand and forearm and repeated statements of encouragement like, "You can do it, Dave!" and "One more. One more! Come on, push it."

Now, apparently I was supposed to take off the splint daily to clean and air out my finger. Either they forgot to tell me that part or I was not paying any attention when they explained it, because by the time my next appointment rolled around some 20 days later I hadn't removed the thing since they strapped it to my busted phalange. The implications of this didn't fully dawn on me until an (alarmingly) attractive hand specialist who was definitely not there the previous time was asking me to ditch the splint so she could check and see how my skin was healing, all in a tone one might use to get a madman to surrender a loaded weapon.

As I started unraveling the tape I got a small whiff of something big, something awful, and knew things were about to get pretty embarrassing for me. With each strand I removed the smell permeated higher and deeper into the small room we were sitting in, both of us staring at my crooked digit with expressions of profound curiosity. "How could this have gotten so disgustingly bad?" we asked ourselves. We both knew the answer. The odor had soul, breathing and growing like a healthy, living organism or ecosystem of sorts. It was a stench entity - its presence staggering, its weight a heavy one - and for some reason she kept getting closer to my finger and scrunching her nose, with the kind of fascination and caution paleontologists probably use while unearthing fossils. This made me even more nervous.

By the time the splint was off the entire room stunk like old tacos, or like I had unwrapped leftover Indian food I'd forgotten about in the back of my refrigerator for months. Woof freaking woof. My skin was warm and pigmentless and steaming, and at one point I thought I heard it hiss. All I could say was, "Jesus," and then started apologizing to her. I half asked, half asserted that surely she'd seen and smelled worse from patients, and she half asked herself the same question, half lied to me that she probably (probably!) had, with an unsettling question-mark-type-tone at the end. Not good. My finger didn't even look like it belonged to a living thing. It looked more like that of a zombie, or like I'd been hanging out in a graveyard and dug up a freshly buried body to de-finger out of spite. It was gray and sort of transparent-ish, and there was still plenty of purple in there, my good ol' grapes gettin' nice and ripe.

My next appointment is in two days. This time around I've cleaned my finger every single day, but over the weekend a bartender told me I was cute and "have good hair" and said he'd like to do a shot with me free of charge if I let him sign my splint. So it has the name Perry on it now.

Here are Some Things

January? I really haven't posted anything since January? Boy am I ever disappointed in myself. If anyone still reads this old thing I apologize. I started some other writing projects that've grown into something larger and nastier than I originally anticipated. Plus I work during the day, but that one never seemed to get in the way before... Whatever.

Anyhow, here are some things:
  • My car was recently towed because the new neighbors couldn't fit their couch between it and the vehicle parked in front of me when they were moving in. How this is legal I do not know (couch could've been really nice or something). But what I do know: I paid $15 for a cab ride to the impound on the outskirts of the city, $170 for the release of my "hazardously parked" car and $2.50 for a dozen eggs on my way home.
  • If it's late at night or dark enough, nine times out of 10 I will go to the bathroom sitting down. Simply takes too much effort to aim or do otherwise. And I must say: you ladies are really on to something.
  • I have met (several) people from the Internet. Some are cooler than others, but all are very real (people). I've played air instruments with just about every one of them, using props like tennis rackets, yardsticks, kitchen utensils, other people's limbs or sometimes no prop at all - perhaps the truest air instrument there ever was. We talk about it on the Internet afterward.
  • Last year I received a huge, heavy package addressed to an old tenant, and after six months of unreturned phone calls from the kid I caved and opened it. It was a wooden media cabinet that required assembly. I felt the same disappointment as I did when as a youth on Christmas morning I unwrapped the last present in the corner and saw it was not a caged ferret.
  • The couple behind me who owns that dog Margot or "Jenkins" or whoever fought this morning over a list of chores. Dude doesn't work, so when his girl stormed to the bus stop he ranted to ol' INSERT DOG'S NICKNAME OF THE DAY HERE about how she's a royal pain in the ass (he really used that word), is generally unappreciative of his contributions to the household (used that one, too), always makes him clean the goddamn (used it) toilet, etc. (did not use "etc."). I listened to all of this while clipping my fingernails.
  • My cat's personality is even weaker and less interesting than my own, so we make for quite the pathetic pair. However, there is this: once while she was eating I made a sudden movement in the kitchen and scared the crap out of her. Literally. I wanted to yell at her but thought that might make her go again. I was forced to clean it up in silence. Do you see? Weaksauce. Zero to negative "wow."
  • Most times I continue to consume milk way, way past its expiration date, so long as it passes a preliminary smell test. And when it does, I'll tell ya what: it's fiiine.
  • In my cupboard I found a bag of unopened sugar that I purchased exactly one year ago this month. That thing passed a smell test and a taste test with flying colors, which is less impressive because Google tells me sugar has an "indefinite shelf life" or something. More noteworthy is the fact that in 365 days I had not one use for sugar.
  • In addition to sheer laziness, a small oversight on my part prevented a pair of slacks from being included in one or two (approx./max.) trips to the laundromat. They fell off their hanger the other day but kept that neat, folded shape all on their own. They could've danced right across the floor. I added it up on my fingers and found that soap's felt the poor things but once in the six months I've owned them.
  • To date, the biggest come-on I've ever received came from a transvestite prostitute (pre-op, clearly) while I was walking down the street in broad daylight. Yes I stopped to ask her/him what that even meant anyway; yes I turned down the proposition upon interpreting her/his motions; and yes it's so dirty I won't be drawing any diagrams or explaining it any further. Doesn't mean it didn't make me feel a little bit cool, just sayin'.


So I've been working on some other personal writing projects and my friend Chris had to remind me that I still have a blog (thanks, Chris!).

Remember this post about Margot, the mutt next door whose owners coddle her like a newborn Homo sapien? Well it's been a little more than seven months since I wrote that and much of their silly, gag-me-with-a-spoon behavior has remained the same. That is, until yesterday.

Somehow, over night, all vocalized fanfare for Margot ceased and the next morning they cheered on the rising sun with much of the same verbal diarrhea - but for some dog called "Jenkins." No doubt this confused the hell out of me, and I actually became somewhat concerned about where oh where did our dear Margot go?

I think there are a couple possibilities here. First off, it's important you understand just how much I know about my neighbors without having ever interacted with them. In my worst moments when I am cold and alone and haven't eaten in days or whatever, the walls and floors that separate our two apartments become so thin that I feel like I'm actually living with this couple. Sounds and smells permeate our divide and it's as if we're one happy party of three (five if we include their dog and my cat). I can tell you that last night they made pasta with meatballs, Parmesan cheese and a dash of what smelled like Tabasco sauce. Ben must have wanted to try something new, which is odd since Beth doesn't really like spicy dishes all that much. "This has some kick!?" she borderline complained. Had I been able to see them, I'm sure Ben grinned at that very moment and shoved a huge forkful of volcanic pasta into his gourd. Maybe it was his way at getting back at her for when she told him to turn down that My Morning Jacket record he was blasting the other day. Poor guy had to turn it off right in the middle of my favorite song.

What I'm getting at here is that if I know all of the above, I'm confident I would know if Margot had died. Growing up, my family and I euthanized the equivalent of an entire zoo of animals, and I can assure you there's a period, however brief, where owners grieve a little bit after putting down their pets. So where does this leave us? I honestly think they just started calling Margot "Jenkins," which is so cruel and backward it almost doesn't make sense, for one because it connotes a doggie sex-change and for two because these two dolts practically worshiped every turd Margot laid. Something like that would be so grossly out of character for the pea-brains.

Then this happened: as I awoke today to more incessant cheering for "Jenkins," I got to the window just in time to see Ben and the beast walking to the nearby dog park. They were about 50 yards away, but even from that distance I could tell by the shadow, shape and gait of "Jenkins" that he is almost certainly
a different dog. He is still very ugly, much like Margot was ugly, but he embodies the essence of ugliness in different, almost uglier ways - like where Margot's folds and crevices and snout resembled that of a prized pig, the stocky, teetering trot of "Jenkins" mimics that of a wild boar combing the forest floor for grubs. Boy, Beth and Ben sure know how to pick 'em.

Margot, where art thou?

Ziggy Played Guitar (Hero?)

Alright, dudes. Time to cut it out 'cause this is really getting pretty ridiculous. You're what, 28 now? 30? So stop playing Guitar Hero already. I come home from work exhausted, you're playing it. I wake up in the middle of the night and wipe the drool from my face, you're playing it. I eat cereal at dawn and my cat and I we look at each other there in the darkness, you're playing it. I play (real, actual) guitar, you're playing it. To the point where I know your high scores. To the point where I know when one of ya's botched a lick or two. And that ain't right. No one wants that. So just start taking (real) guitar lessons already (and man is this sad that I even have to differentiate between "real guitar" and "Guitar Hero," but so be it). Come up and jam with me, I don't care. Just start doing it right. Start doing it f'real.

Last night you had what sounded to be some sort of Guitar Hero party. How you ever coerced anyone into attending is beyond me. I think I even heard girls, too, so you'll have to share with me that bit of miracle-working as well (I mean, really, cut the crap and tell me: how?!). And it just sounded terrible, all of it. You've got guys standing in front of the TV, pushing the controller buttons that I hear clicking through the walls and the floor and I can just imagine the little plastic guitars strapped to your chests. Not that anything I do is cool, per se, but this is just pure, unfettered lameness. You've got people in the background screaming out as if they've just witnessed a car wreck every time you miss a note on the solos. Seriously? I think one of you is even a doctor. Oh God my head just exploded.

But I have to remind myself that this is likely your way of getting back at me for all those times I turned my amps up to 11 (every time) and the wood slats rattled beneath my feet as a couple of us played awful (but real, mind you) guitar. Yes, you were likely jealous or pissed that we were not, in fact, participating in digital video games, but in life!

As you clicked those final notes last night on "Ziggy Stardust," it reminded me that, while the song and album were written around the completely ridiculous premise that an extraterrestrial rock star has come to planet earth, in human form, to save mankind (right?), it is nonetheless about an extraterrestrial rock star who has come to planet earth, in human form, who plays guitar, not Guitar Hero. Even if Bowie had written this stuff yesterday, I'd like to think it still would have manifested itself in identical fashion, and not be about some guy who uses a joystick and controller to make young, feeble hearts melt. 'Cause that's not sexy, and sexiness is what Bowie has always strived for (obviously).

Those Poor Drunk People

Sweet Jesus. So I haven't posted since October? Terribly sorry about that. Not that anyone reads this thing anyway. Yes, let's see here... yep, by the looks of things traffic has always been, and continues to be, a very definitive zero, which I guess means I'm neither ahead nor behind, just in a weird, non-living state of paralysis of sorts, so...


This morning it hit me, what is surely one of the greatest modern quandaries out there: what did all the drunk people do for emotional release before the advent of the telephone? Drunk-dialing seems so commonplace nowadays, even passé, dare I say, what with texting and any given impersonal communication flavor of the week, but what the heck did all those hoards of inebriates do when they were hanging out and getting wasted in saloons and neared that I-guess-I'm-feeling-vulnerable-enough-to-tell-her/him state in which they thought it prudent to contact some poor sober soul and spill their guts out to him/her, that apparent long-lost lover on the other side of town or the county or the country or whatever?

Did they break away from the barroom brawls and people swinging on chandeliers and other assorted tomfoolery to teeter-totter up to their room, or maybe through the tumbleweeds and down to the general store, and (I'm imagining this by candlelight) scrawl a poorly worded, mostly illegible letter and stumble it, in spurs, to the local post office or mailbox (if they even had those?)? Did they remember to get stamps along the way? OK no. Well wait a minute, what if they couldn't even read or write in the first place? Because that would obviously pose significant problems. What then, huh? Maybe they just grabbed the nearest person who knew how to read and write and straight-up verbalized - probably pretty passionately, with sweat dripping down their brow, with phlegm flying from their mouth that was in no way intended for a spittoon - what they wished to be emoted by ink and quill. But how awkward would that be for the scribe? Psh.

Maybe this is the whole Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs thing coming into play (clever bastard); you know, as you saunter home from the saloon and up your front lawn you're likely to care first and foremost about, say, making sure a wolf hasn't plowed through your whole lot of sheep while you were out hootin' and hollerin' with your drinking buddies before you decide to cruise Facebook at 3 a.m., haphazardly poking your crushes, and even complete strangers, in your e-warpath. It just kinda works that way.

So take all of this, got it?, k, and think now of all that bottled-up emotion - the pent-up sentiments and years of emotional solitude spread out over varying BAC levels (usually pretty high ones considering all of that moonshine and whiskey, or so I've read) - and what've you got? What you've got are barrels full of volatile little man hearts strapped with lit sticks of TNT, getting absolutely plastered in the proximity of women in bustiers and various corralled animals is what you've got. And that's pretty damn scary. Laws (the few that existed) were practically begging to be broken.

Or maybe there were just a lot more face-to-face confessions and confrontations, which would have rocked something fierce to witness. Can you imagine? I barely can, this tarnation. And just think: these people in these impaired hullabaloos were usually carrying guns. My God. Talk about being guilted into love. What if your assailant/lover-to-be was packing eyes full of tears, veins full of booze and a hip holster full of lead?

OK, OK! I'll marry you!

The Kid's Name was Jesus (or "Jesus B" or "El Otro Jesus")

So I used to work with a guy named Jesus. He was a huge Hispanic dude with jet-black hair. The only thing Jesus and I had in common was that we were both part of the lowly Wilson Hall cafeteria staff at Michigan State University. I knew nothing about him, but I was forced to read several (what I hear are, but don't know myself to be, because they bored me to sleep) acclaimed books about a man named Jesus growing up, so I felt like I somehow knew the person with the holy name whom I washed dishes next to on Wednesdays.

You'd be correct in assuming that Jesus is not a common name. I feel the same way. Especially not at MSU, ya know? Jesus was in fact the only dude named Jesus on the cafeteria-staff lineup. But, for inexplicable reasons, Jesus' name was never
ever used without his last initial: B. Sort of like Susan B. Anthony, but with less Anthony and less Susan and a whole lot more Jesus. Jesus B. Perhaps even more confounding, though, was that no other staff member's name was used with their last initial. Nay. On our name tags we were Daves and Dans and Marys and Beths, and it was clear going down the daily task schedule...

- Dave: dishes
- Dan: condiments
- Mary: cereal
- Beth: buffet
- Frank: salad bar
- Ron: milk machine
- Jesus B.: waffle maker

B? What in the. Well thank heavens they specified, I thought they meant the other Jesus who works here - Jesus A is he?

So I ask you: why did management do this? Was it so they didn't frighten people into thinking that Jesus had risen from the dead and come back to planet earth in the living flesh not to walk on water or cure diseases or end wars - but only to work tiny little miracles of Belgian goodness on a waffle maker in East Lansing, Mich.? Because that's the only explanation I can come up with. A
don't freak out he's not really Jesus type thing. Though I guess Jesus C(hrist) would follow our beloved Jesus B, right?

Overall, a good experience. This man basically led me to believe that whoever Jesus C was, he was probably an everyday person just like you and me - one who can wear hair nets and blue latex gloves with best of us.

I Can See Clearly Now, My Hair is Gone!

I can see all obstacles in my way!

Except for obstacles that just aren't visible (aka invisible), of course. Bias; hatred; viruses; gale-force winds; glass ceilings impeding the upward mobility of long-haired, middle-aged men in the workplace. You know, obstacles of that nature. Can't exactly see those now, can I? But then again, neither can you. For the rest of 'em, all of those seeable obstructions out there, I will be aware of them miles in advance. This race of life has a new harbinger, folks.

God this rules.

Tonight I had my first haircut in something like nine months. I could have had a baby by now, if only I were a woman. But I'm a man, so I chose to grow my hair out over the span of nine months to pay homage to all of you new and expecting mothers out there. This was not nearly as glamours or rewarding or pretty as what you've all got cooking and going on up in there, but it made me feel sort of important. To myself, anyway. And that's pretty important to me.

Anyway, the woman who cut my hair was very nice and asked why I was even cutting my hair in the first place (!) - she actually liked it the way it was. All fluffy and mangy and uncontrollable and long and poking me in the eye and mouth like that. Apparently she was into that sorta thing. Ugh, just my luck. I almost up and left.

So she gets through cutting my hair and all that jazz, like five pounds of my head now sitting in my lap and on the floor, and I start to feel confident - in strange, unfamiliar ways - with my new do. So what did my new do and I do? Well, we figured we would "get the party started" with the new style we'll be sporting for my next approximate pregnancy, and I elected to ask this woman out on a date, outside of the salon, what with her being a hair dresser and me with my newly chopped hair and all (cut by the very same person I would be dating, mind you, which equals a cuteness factor of gag-me-with-a-spoon, according to leading market analysts). Yeah, seemed like a good idea at the time, but get this: she said no because she is a lesbian! I know, right?! I believe her exact words were, "No, I'm a lesbian." The humanity. Honestly.

Just kidding. Or am I?

My Little Reading Rainbow

What follows should not make much sense to you. At least I hope it doesn't. But today it dawned on me that I have only recently gotten into reading. On my own time. As a hobby. In just the past year or so, I have finally evolved into one of those semi-intelligent (looking) beings who has a book in his hand most of the time. And I think this is a good thing.

Here is why.

Once a discouraged, pigeonholed youth, I have known far too well the pain of scoring a lowly 18 on the reading section of the ACT exam, and the labels that come with such a poor performance. An 18, guys. For those of you not familiar with this standardized college-admissions test, each of the five parts - English, math, reading, science reasoning and writing - is scored out of 36 points. And for those of you who flunked the math portion - either out of sheer lack of numerical inclination or the fact that you forgot to bring a calculator on exam day - my reading score of 18 is equivalent to 50 percent. See: abysmal. See: beyond repair. See: half-broken. See: chance.

This was my problem: I was always the slowest reader in my grade, missing reading assignments and deadlines left and right. Regardless of the book or subject matter, I was usually stuck somewhere around page 13, re-reading several times over the 12 that came before it. And this took me days. It was frustrating to say the least. I would fall so far behind that I'd have to resort to relying on things like CliffsNotes, the early Web and simply what my friends and random passers-by told me happened in these acclaimed works. Little did they know they held such power, and every bit of my trust. They could have told me anything. They could have told me Holden Caulfield is a transgendered individual struggling in the wake of a botched sex change, coming to grips with his/her maritime responsibilities aboard the USS Mushroom Stamp. And lest I forget "The Catcher In The Rye" is an autobiographical memoir of J.D. Salinger's mixed-up prepubescence at sea. You see, I would have taken all of this at face value, and failed, miserably. By all accounts, I should probably still be in high school, repeating literature courses in dizzying, merry-go-round fashion.

It's not that I couldn't retain anything I read, my mind just tended to wander and think about other things while my eyes followed strings of words, left to right, down the page, only going through the physical motions, no further. I would catch myself doing this and have to re-read what I had just skimmed past, what I had failed to process. This was my problem, and it became rather apparent on the ACT, where would-be scholars are forced to read a series of passages and answer corresponding sets of questions. A tall order for yours truly, back then. This was the opening of the kimono, so to speak.

Perhaps most confounding about my test results (once my immediate family and I let go of our explanatory theories of miscalculation, results mix-up and severe damage to my temporal lobe) was that I did fairly well on the other sections, somehow managing a 32 for English. A 32! I wasn't sure what a 32 signified, but I knew it was a hell of a lot better than an 18. And I remember wanting to shave a couple points off that score and reallocate them to my valiant attempt at reading. My letters to the ACT board went unanswered, so I assumed this was not allowed.

Thank God the ACT averages your scores from all five areas for one composite score, or I may have never been accepted into a university. If there was no composite score, admissions departments would have just laughed at my applications, feeling bad enough to want to help me, but not bad enough to help me with their own education programs. So they would have sent me another program - complimentary copies of "Reading Rainbow" - instead. I would've felt insulted. I also would've watched all the episodes after getting over it. Every one of 'em. Because that was a good show.

The Art of Listening

I posted this one over at Harold's Kids.

For those who missed it, yesterday’s Twebinar was all about the importance of listening in building, maintaining and further developing a brand. Which seems obvious, of course, but is certainly much harder to, well, do.

The Twebinar series has been great thus far. Once you get over some of the technical glitches and spotty audio/video, it’s refreshing to hear communications pros discuss the topics-at-hand. This week, the same general tenet was repackaged 70 different ways:

Yes, listening is important, and it’s something all companies, regardless of size, should be doing, what with the myriad new-media tools that are readily available to us (often for free, other times for a nominal fee, such as the one offered by Radian6, the organizer of the Twebinar series [shocker!]). Why? Well, for starters, considering all the avenues consumers have to voice their opinions online, it’s no longer a mystery what your customer thinks, feels, likes and dislikes about your brand, and it behooves you to monitor this dialogue that’s already happening, for it’s a dialogue that will continue to happen with or without you. So participate!

But it doesn’t end at listening. Nay, you should probably do something about all of this feedback, right? Wouldn’t want to look like you don’t care all that much about these folks, would you? So once you’ve monitored and processed the raw commentary that’s out there, take it to the marketing teams, take it to the product teams, take it to all of the decision makers and see what you can do to better provide what people want to buy! At the end of the day, people just want to feel like they’re being heard and valued in some way, shape or form anyway, so isn’t this your big chance? Your big break?! Unfettered access to all of this testimonial — it’s beautiful. After all, won’t that make your brand more successful, if you can provide exactly what your target buyer is looking for? Methinks.

But what do y’all think? I’m all ears…

iPoding, Together*

Hey, cool kids: want to be even cooler? Dweebs, dorks, doofuses: want to be cool? Boy, have I ever got the thing for you. Just the thing for all you cats.

What follows is quite possibly - no, is the best idea I've ever conceived. I'm rather proud of it, too. It's been my brainchild. My baby. My special little personal pet project that I've been piloting all across this country the past few years. Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago. Some town in Indiana. Most of northeastern Ohio. Unbeknownst to your city and its residents, you have all witnessed this incredible movement-in-the-making in one form or another.

Perplexed, law-abiding citizens could have sworn they saw an apparition take to the streets, amid a loud, amateur recitation of... London Calling? Sleepy souls have been shaken awake by obnoxious hollering in the alley - noise that was somewhat reminiscent of but not nearly as good as Born To Run. Some dude brushing his teeth, getting ready for the early shift at the steel mill, yeah he could've sworn he heard an a capella version of Let It Be last night. You know all those people in the restaurant? In the bar? What they saw those kids thrashing around and losing control of their limbs to was Separation Sunday. They weren't having corresponding seizures. The stomping on the roof? The breaking glass? Southern Rock Opera.

To some of you, namely my parents, this will only further solidify my place in this world as a social outcast.
Three square meals a day, clean sheets, a roof over his head, a college education... all that for this?

To others, the below will seem like the most brilliant bit of brain juice ever spilled - the worthiest model ever devised, the most forthright social experiment ever carried out - and these people will burn with envy that they weren't the first to think of such a thing. And then they'll try it out for themselves. In public. And they will
love it. It will be obvious. You will clearly see them loving it.

This is by no means a complex thing, so I'll spell it out in the simplest terms...

Grab someone who likes to rock out. This could be anyone. A friend. A friend of a friend. An acquaintance. Someone you don't even particularly care all that much for. A stranger, even. The bottom line is that this is the most important component of the plan, so whomever you choose, just be sure that you've seen him/her rock out, heard he/she likes to rock out, or get the vibe that he/she is capable of letting go of all inhibitions for one reason and one reason alone: the sake of rocking out. Got 'em? Great. (Secret: once you have mastered most everything in this post, you will come to view a companion as an enhancement - something that is not entirely necessary to execute and enjoy all of this, but rather a great add-on. Yes, you will come to learn how to do this alone, free of embarrassment, I swear.)

The next necessities are far from immaterial materials. They are requisites, and critical ones at that. Without these, you will just look even more stupid than you're already about to look. So make a list, check it twice. Two (2) iPods. Two (2) sets of headphones. One (1) good - and I mean really, really good - rock album. Any of the aforementioned albums are fine choices. Prime, credible choices, if I may say so myself. Lastly, one (1) public place. It can be anywhere. Just get out there.

You see where I'm headed with this, don't you? I told you it wasn't rocket science. In fact, it's really just a better version of those long car rides or first few dates where you were so bored or incredibly in love that it compelled you to share a musical experience with someone - with a lone music player and a single pair of headphones, one headphone in each of your ears. That poor person. That lucky person! How cheesy. How romantic! What could be worse? What could be greater?! It either meant nothing or everything. The other person either understood just how important the song was to you, or he/she crushed your hopes by not listening to the whole thing or deeming it "nice," or worse - "good." Perhaps that person didn't get the guitar solo coming out of their allotted headphone?

Now for the synchronization, which is just a really big word for the fact that you'll be listening to this crap at the same time. Though I've deemed all above components to be the most important component, this is seriously the most important component. You've got to hit "play" simultaneously. So, at this point, calmly hand both devices to the person with the steadiest hand. This may or may not be the most sane or sober individual, so screen with caution and choose wisely.

To reiterate: do all of this - every last bit of it - not in your own home. Do it out there, in public. The underlying premise here is acting a fool. Play your part. Step it up. Be a rock star. It feels great. Earth seems small, life seems manageable and you seem larger than anything that ever lived. I swear! Or at least that's what it does for me...

To give you an idea, I have done this seated at (nice-ish) restaurants, at bars, walking on sidewalks, running in streets, in alleys, atop roofs, on fire escapes, in deserted dead-ends - usually between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 5 a.m., for effect, and 10 times out of 10 at max volume. Turn it up to 11, don't be shy. Pretty soon, you and your compadre will, or should, be screaming along with your favorite crooner and playing air instruments like it's nobody's goddamn business. The high hat and snare. The cymbal crash. Ripping those frets on the six-string as if your hand was a spider. Plucking those big, honking bass strings with bent-over tenacity. Throw in the occasional keys from the piano or sax for good measure and, of course, do not forget the flashy, "Diamond" Dave Lee Roth jump kicks and relentless head-banging. Also, run everywhere the night takes you. Don't walk. Be urgent about these things, please. Apply liberally, as necessary, and if done correctly, you should awake the next day with a sore neck from all the antics and whatnot.

You will garner stares. A whole mess of 'em. People will laugh (insecurely). Dogs will turn their heads, cock their ears and whimper. Couples will stop dead in their happy tracks to marvel at your collective, anti-social display of disheveled derelict-ness. At your exquisite exhibition of reckless abandonment, at your disregard for almost all set social norms. At all the excess going on in front of them. You are amazing. You are a novelty. You are practically anything you care to be...

And every last one of them will die a little inside (minus the dogs), wondering if they ever experienced such a feeling in their youth. 99 percent of the time that answer will be "no," and they will smile and look at each other to pacify the ounce of pain that's stirring inside them. Now, why in the name of Bowie didn't I do those things when I was young, agile and able to? For the love of freaking Freddie Mercury, at what point did my life become such a stinking pile of crap? You know, because you certainly can't be acting this way forever. 45-year-old wedded men shouldn't be trying this. They'd just look silly. Not that we don't or anything. I'm just saying. It usually comes to a crashing halt when you have those little things called children.

*Individual results may vary. Please do not consult your physician to determine if iPoding Together is right for you. It is (ridiculous) (for everyone). If carried out properly, with maximum humility, with minimum composure, iPoding Together will help you begin to view life, and the world in general, in vivid, bursting colors. In vast crescendos and arpeggios. In distortion and feedback. In the very stuff dreams are made of, where stuff = double kick drums. Due to the very nature of the iPoding Together ensemble, common side effects include, but are not limited to, heightened senses of: coolness, stardom, actual musicianship, self fanfare and other fleeting feelings, as well as non-fleeting feelings, such as broken shoes.

The Escalator, or the World's Hardest-to-Repair Thing

As the late comedian Mitch Hedberg once theorized: "An escalator can never break. It can only become stairs. You should never see an 'Escalator Temporarily Out of Order' sign, just 'Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the Convenience.'..."

This small statement - one that used to make me laugh but now only mocks my every step - has more or less summed up the past four months of my existence. By observing repair persons not repair this cursed, perplexing device, it has become all too evident to me that the escalator is the motorized equivalent of a Rubik's Cube, be it an equivalent that's a whole lot less colorful and amusing. So a lesser equivalent, I guess. Or a non-equivalent. Whatever.

Repairing a conveyor-transport apparatus is apparently the ultimate task slash science experiment for mechanics in 2008. For one thing, it's impressive that there is actually a career track for escalator-repair persons. But what's even
more impressive is that these trained persons do not seem to have the slightest clue as to what they're doing when faced with a lifeless escalator. These individuals break down themselves. "Experts" flock to 233 N Michigan Ave. in herds when ours is out of service, which, unfortunately, is rather often. I finally stopped counting the number of times the stupid thing has crapped out, as I usually count with my fingers and lost track when I ran out of fingers and hands to count on in just the third month. I tried carrying the count over to my toes and feet, but I can't see them while wearing shoes, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of physically tallying something and turns it all back into a mental game, which, again, I'm no good at. So that was that.

Anyway, yesterday I was greeted by eight professionals examining the miniature escalator in the lobby that carries us diligent workers no higher than 15 vertical feet. That's like the shortest escalator ever, people. It's also one of those narrow ones, with the tiny steps that can accommodate only one depressed, corporate-American soul. So if there were eight workers for roughly 15 vertical feet of moving stairs, at about two steps per vertical foot, that means there were enough of these brainiacs to focus on just three-and-some-change steps, each. Each! A cake walk. But for the lowly lives of these dolts, they can never figure the bloody thing out. Too much responsibility, perhaps. Instead, they stare at it like it's something they've not seen before, but have only heard second-hand accounts or seen amateur sketches of, like a mass murderer on the loose, or a cold, dead body - but unlike a cold, dead body in that these burly men look like they've certainly seen their fair share of cold, dead bodies in former, less-noble lines of work, such as mass murdering.

So wherein lies the problem? Shouldn't the one and only test for escalator-repair persons be just that:
repairing a frigging escalator? "No," you say, Mr. Escalator Repair Person?! Let me see your syllabus and hall pass, I don't believe it.

We Drove Each Other Nuts

In our formative years, our family came dangerously close to perfecting the art of hostility, becoming exceptionally proficient at the trade as we spent more and more time together cooped up in cars. Minivans, to be exact. We went through minivans like they were dental floss, or chewing gum, practically mutilating beyond all recognition a fleet of six of the stupid things before my brother and I were even out of high school. We tended to lose our composure in the wood-paneled walls of those Pretty Hate Machines, regularly testing both the outermost limits of our psyches and the human brain's capacity for loathing planet earth and its inhabitants in their entirety. It was our special little regimen, and our hijinks were often more reliable than the moving mechanical parts of the minivans themselves.

The (semi-) funny thing was that trip duration did not seem to affect our lack of cohesiveness in any noticeable way, which should definitely be considered abnormal. We were usually in shambles, and could set each other off just about anywhere - on a seemingly harmless jaunt to the gas station for a gallon of 2 percent milk, or on a non-stop trek from Michigan to Florida that was treated like an Olympic race yet called a "vacation." The odds were the same. The odds were pretty damn good.

Dad instigated a lot of it, he who never let anyone else drive anywhere. In his world, a man's place was on the road, behind the wheel, and a woman's place was, while not
necessarily in front of a stove or a sink, it just... wasn't on the road. It was somewhere else. And he would drive them there, the women. On paper, it actually didn't seem like a half-bad idea when he first drew it up for my brother and me late one night at the dimly lit kitchen table. Bringing the chauvinistic plan that sat scrawled in lead in flow-chart form on a yellow legal pad to fruition, however, proved to be a bit more difficult and, obviously, downright shitty for mom.

The only reasons mom still traveled with us were, one, because she needed to go places, and, two, for the off chance that dad would perform his series of habitual, verbal critiques of female drivers who obeyed posted speed limits; of female drivers who used their turn signals at any time other than the "best" time, or who neglected to use turn signals altogether; of female drivers who veered into other lanes while talking on cell phones or putting on makeup; of female drivers who cut us off or made the slightest movement that could be construed as a deliberate assault on our family; of female drivers who did not lend us a "courtesy wave"; of female drivers who drove ugly or unkempt vehicles... only to pass the car or approach a stoplight and discover that the driver was in fact a man. To say mom relished these moments would be a gross understatement. "A disgrace to our kind, boys," dad would say, shaking his head and clenching his jaw as he locked eyes with my brother and I through the rear-view mirror. The King's humiliation was not lost on us - we could sense our ilk decreasing in value in real-time. Mom would look out the passenger window, completely smitten with the revelation that dad was, for the umpteenth time, wrong. These were tiny moments of victory, or defeat, depending on the parental party.

But dad wasn't the only one to blame. Nay, we each contributed in some way to our own un-put-together-ness. The situation would then be escalated by mom in one of two forms: a retort based on the premise that dad should try listening to her on the road because she usually, despite popular family mind-share, actually knows what the hell she's talking about, or the exact statement, "You're setting a horrible example for the boys!" One of the two, and the inside of the minivan would grow so torrid that the air escaping between the windows would whistle loud enough to drown out the incessant screams and white noises that polluted our heads. There, in our very own corner of hell, aboard a piping locomotive, is where we learned each other's buttons far too well, and we did our best to push them at a frequency that would have made any of our ADD-riddled friends look like a poster child for the Kids Pausing Patiently For Patience Foundation (KPPFPF).

If dad didn't volley the hot potato mom fired into his court, my brother and I would reach out our hands. I guess you could compare our behavior to that of malevolent little catalysts, or good-for-nothing provokers. If foul language was used, we repeated it loudly and proudly to support mom's point that we were creatures learning by example, wanting nothing more than unfettered access to the dirty dossiers of known naughty words. If the driver-in-question turned out to be a woman, we found much pleasure joining in on the name-calling and applauding various theories that reached far beyond our mental grasp - ones that heralded men as superb road warriors and ostracized women, the other half of our species known as "dingbats."

This was a seminal time for our kindred unit.

If neither of these techniques garnered a satisfying response or escalated the seriousness of the argument at hand, my brother and I resorted to punching each other in the arm. Whatever it took to keep the momentum going, to introduce behavior that could be labeled as deviant, the blame of which falling upon that of our caregivers. We sought cheap entertainment, and our two favorite actors just happened to be seated directly in front of us at all times, rehearsing heated scenes in a moving contraption with their backs to their two biggest fans. What could be greater? Methinks nothing. So break a leg! We're taking this show on the road!

Summer Time and the Senior Living's Easy

There's never a dull moment at Sunrise Senior Living. After you've either gotten over or come to terms with the fact that your loved one has entered this elder center as the eminent "final stop" in life, whether on or against his/her own accord, there are bountiful opportunities for the rest of us free people who visit the facility regularly to hunker down and laugh death square in the face. Once you've gotten all the weeping and pouring over family photos and nostalgia and reminiscing and boo-hoo-hooing out of your system, you really begin to appreciate how fleeting, and downright hilarious, life and its final moments can be. To be frank, if any of these people had the capacity to string together a coherent sentence, their advice to you and me would go a little something like this:

"My children, please, come close. Closer. Closer still. Ah, yes. There you are, your pretty faces. Children, it is in my final moment that I beg of you: do not take life too seriously, for you never know which day will be your last. Too many are the things we take for granted, such as the very clothes on our backs and modern orthodontics. Speaking of which, would you be a dear and fetch my dentures and personal effects from my cell? I want you to break me the hell out of here,
right now. I would rather die by the side of the road than rot in this prison."

The fact is that anyone who has ever frequented a nursing home of this caliber, let's say more than once a month, has witnessed and made mental note of enough absurd material to take a crack at penning a decent anthology about people who forget their own names, are spoon fed and sleep away the better part of an afternoon drooling on themselves. People who use a variety of wheeled contraptions to traverse carpeted hallways, and who poop their pants and hide the soiled trousers where they please. People who might smile one moment, and haul off and kick a resident or pet the next, for reasons that have long since escaped them.

Before she died, our grandma had a good stint at Sunrise, sleeping somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 hours a day in her "golden years." In addition to the unopened Christmas gifts and get-well cards and dusty picture frames and baggy, old clothes that no longer fit her scaled-down, 85-pound frame, she left behind grandpa, her husband, who still bides his time, albeit unknowingly, in the lower ward of Sunrise where they quarantine residents who have mentally checked out of life altogether. It's easier that way. For them. For the staff. For all of us. To sort of corral them into one area like that so they don't wander the halls and alarm virgin visitors who are not privy to the sedated, senile underbelly of Sunrise.

Out of sight, out of mind.

When grandpa was lucid, typically in the small window between a pill wearing off and before another had been administered in one of those small paper condiment cups, he became increasingly occupied with knowing the whereabouts of his "bride." We realized we had come to a crossroads. Should we tell the man the truth, which would surely devastate him? Or should we fabricate, "with good intentions," a soft story and quickly change the subject as we wait for the next pill to kick in? We pondered this for a while before realizing that no matter what we told him, no matter how accurate or far-fetched the tale, he would not be able to remember any of it.

For all he knew, grandma was on holiday in the Alps, taking to the black-diamond slopes in the morning and, later in the afternoon, carving up the moguls and half pipes. She was giving a series of award-winning seminars to prestigious universities across the country on the implications of global warming, and how we can all do our part to better the environment by reducing our carbon footprint. She was on tour with Coldplay. She was here just a second ago, and now must be in the adjacent room, or the garden, tending to that ol' rose bush that was in desperate need of pruning...

She was running for president.

Each of these seemed viable. More viable, in fact, than the harsh truth that grandma had passed away. So we ended up alternating our approaches, as if we were holding a recurring, redundant press conference where a lone, forgetful reporter asks the same question over and over and over again, with us family members huddled behind the microphone, covering it with our hands as we consult each other before giving a smattering of responses, sometimes building and playing off the assorted stories and plots and individual bursts of creativity we enacted.

As awful as this all might seem, it's a real quandary, and can only be fully understood when you've been in the situation yourself. And grandpa's case is just one man's example of the greater struggles being featured daily at Sunrise.

Take, for instance, the man confined to a dilapidated bed on wheels, who always screams for Henry. Nobody even knows who Henry is. There is no Henry. When he is not parked in the corner of the room by himself, screaming for Henry, he is stationed by the fireplace with his visiting family members, screaming out for Henry some more. Interrupted, his family jumps back at first because of the sheer loudness of his random outbursts, giving way to a slow shaking of their heads, as they've been duped like this millions of times before, yet, somehow, after all these years, still do not have a single clue or lead as to who the hell Henry is. Given the urgency of his cries ("HENRY!") and the mumblings surrounding them, it's become obvious to me that this is some sort of military flashback. The only other words I've heard him mutter are the seldom "DUCK!" and "INCOMING!" Granted, he has also been known to rip a huge fart and laugh hysterically after these signals.

Or how about the stalker woman who cameos as a kleptomaniac? She's rather speedy for a gal her age, as none of us can ever seem to shake her. She's also ubiquitous, and has that entire lower ward down like the back of her veiny, little, thieving hand. She particularly enjoys spending time with our family, too, which is another harrowing concept I've yet to elaborate on: the simple fact that these lonely people crave attention and interaction with young, warm blood so much that they'll satisfy their urges with just about anyone, regardless of who that person may or may
not be. So we see a quite a bit of her, usually when she's rifling through mom's purse directly in front of her. And this also awkward. How do you politely tell this woman not to steal from you? She's smiling the entire time she's doing it, by the way. Ear to ear. What does a person do here? Slap her wrist? No. Grab her arm and push it back toward her torso? Probably not. Quickly retract your purse? Sure. But then she looks so damn disappointed. You almost have to let this woman steal from you, and then track down the lifted items at a later time. They're not going very far anyway, and there certainly isn't a black market in the lower ward where hot objects can be pawned for dime bags. Colostomy bags, maybe.

But the piano savant is quite possibly our family's favorite. A real diamond in the rough. For knowing not what she does, she does it pretty well. We discovered this person, or rather she discovered us, last Christmas when she found us on the couches helping grandma and grandpa unwrap their gifts. The savant helped, too, which was weird, waxing on in Mad Lib form where blanks are populated with randomly selected words from the dictionary and sentences turn into one big chunk of undecipherable code. Once she was through with us, she took to the piano bench. Before we had a chance to brace ourselves for the careless clunking of keys, she launched into a chilling holiday ballad that took us all by surprise. By the time she reached the chorus, we sat with our jaws dropped, in agreement that this woman was on fire. All of this coming from someone who blinked a lot, whose hands trembled and shook with a force that would make for an excellent drummer rather than a pianist. But somehow, someway, this woman was a sage on the baby grand. Her fingers fluttered past black and white keys, her feet in Darco medical shoes steadily working the pedals. Surely the biggest surprise of 2007.

That same day, we were warmly introduced to the overly affectionate woman, who gave my dad gifts in the rare forms of hugs, kisses, shoulder massages, physical gestures and sweet-nothings whispered directly into his ear. Such unique presents. Aw, poor dad. We could tell it tickled, mostly because she is a heavy breather, and having someone breathe a hot, heavy breath into your ear is, um, tickly-ish. And straight-up creepy. From what we gathered, he somewhat resembled her deceased husband in his prime, which made bidding her adieu practically impossible. She wasn't going anywhere, and we didn't want that kind of guilt hanging over our heads on baby Jesus' birthday. So she just kind of hung out and we had ourselves a little senior mixer of sorts, trying our best to mitigate her passionate advances on my father.

Somewhere amid all the calamity, you will find at Sunrise the youngest life-form by 80 some-odd years: a lone feline named Smokey. Smokey is an overfed, overstuffed cat - gray, chunky, mean and lazy. I'm not kidding when I say she could very well be the infamous I Can Has Cheeseburger cat. Or a miniature bear with cat-ear transplants. Smokey bulked up to her plump size not by hitting the weights or raiding the medication room late at night for steroids, but by eating all the food that these poor people are unable to get into their mouths that ends up on the floor at three different points during the day. You'd think there were regular food fights considering some of the unruly residents, and vivid scenes of seniors up-ending tables and hiding behind trays and wheelchairs as they chuck handfuls of mashed potatoes and sandwiches fill every guest's head. Sadly, it's not that exciting. It's simply a case of coordination, or the lack thereof. It's also a dirty job, and some organism's got to do it. Sunrise doesn't even need a vacuum cleaner this way. They have the Smokey 5,000, and Smokey 5,000 has Sunrise. Meow.

That Big Harry Potter Scar, and How it Got on My Forehead in the First Place

If my hair is short enough (or parted by the wind in some unfavorable way); or if my face is red enough (which it usually is, regardless of season or embarrassment level); or if the lighting is right; or if you get close enough to the maritime vessel that is my gigantic, empty head; you will notice a big, vertical scar running down the middle of my forehead - an authentic marking with unauthentic intentions, as it all too closely imitates the one Harry Potter sports and treats like some accessory or piece of personal branding or business card. Trust me, it's not that glamorous. But how did it get there in the first place? My scar, dummy, not the boy wizard's. I have no idea or interest in knowing how his got there, though I'm sure many of you do, including the riveting ins and outs of which spell or sorcerer he contended with to come out so scathed. No, this is a selfish post, dammit, and I intend to stick to the agenda here: explaining the unsightly brain-scar that is giving me an eternal hug between the eyes. Geeze.

Fifth grade. Winter time. Recess.

Gearing up in the coat room, us boys struggled by our cubbies with our snow suits for the second time that day, the difference being that this time our mothers were not present to help us hoist and shimmy and pour our pudgy little figures into the insulated torture device. Or maybe that was just me. My grapefruit-sized calves never seemed to fit into my snow boots properly, and by the end of March they always ended up looking like salt-stained wind socks or tarps.

We were already choosing teams for football before we even reached the field. One of my closest friends, Tom, also one of the smartest people I knew at the time, selected me. I always thought Tom was particularly bright - a prodigy even - not because he could multiply double-digit numbers, do long division, give exact change when working the school cafeteria (contrasted with the many times I erred in assuming there were 60 cents in a dollar and gave change thusly, for in my head there were 60 minutes in an hour, which, after all, were the two elements the world valued most - time and money - so they must operate on the same metric system for good measure), pass physical fitness tests with flying colors, return library books on time, or talk to girls without stuttering or tripping over his own two feet and hating every inch of himself for it... but because he always seemed to pick me first or second for football games, and this ranked him pretty high in my book. Tom saw through my doughy, girthy exterior to note my true athletic prowess on the miniature field.

Truth be told, it was because of Tom that my social and athletic standings (often directly correlated, often the exact same thing) went up at an alarming, exponential rate. Dave was picked first?! That means something right there. I don't know what it means, exactly. But there's something there. But it is also because of Tom that I now walk the streets at 25 looking like I'm in between classes at Hogwarts (I don't read the books, really, this is just what people tell me).

At the peak of the game we were up big. So big, in fact, that we tried showboating a bit to impress the couple of girls who had strayed from the larger pack of girls who were busy doing girly things during recess, like being cold or not playing in the snow, much too occupied to watch us champions in snow suits on the grid iron.

Tom called a huddle. We were going long. I was going long. A Hail Mary. The sweet, saccharine stuff dreams are made of in fifth grade (though now I know some guys grow up and never relinquish this fantasy). I had barely heard him yell "hike" before I was running haphazardly down the snow-covered field, flailing my arms as if I had no control over them. Then the pig skin was in the air, and I was sprinting straight ahead, past my ADD-riddled opponent, toward the end zone, with my head turned back over my shoulder to look for the ball.

I caught it. I freaking caught it! Mom would've been proud. But in the short seconds between making that catch and turning forward in my stride, I ran face-first into the goal post. My forehead met the corner of the wooden beam, and I stuck there for a moment with it wedged in me. It cracked me open the way a fresh cantaloupe would look if someone took an ax to it. I fell backward, onto the snow, blacked out and came to only to find faces looking down on me as it started to rain. For as far gone as I was, I could tell something wasn't quite right about the rain: it was thick and clouded my eyes and tasted weird and the only place it seemed to be raining was on my face. Then I rolled over to feel what felt like a garden hose protruding from my forehead, squirting my livelihood all over the snow like some cruel holiday arts-and-crafts session gone horribly wrong, where you're only provided cotton balls and red glue and told to "make something beautiful for your mother." Next came a lot of high-pitched screaming. I guess the girls had decided to brave the snow after all.

When I managed to bring myself to my knees, the crowd's reaction can only be compared to that of people witnessing mauled bodies come to life again as they take to the streets as zombies of the living dead. None of them were willing to help me, and they all stared and shrieked as if I were about to hunt them down and snack on them and turn them into zombies, too. To this day, I have not seen a pack of people disperse quite like that. Pandemic pandemonium. Though I wasn't a zombie (yet), I sure sauntered and staggered around the playground like one. My only goal was to find one of the lunch ladies who supervised recess. Upon finding two of them, they gasped and shouted even louder than the little girls had. Ha-... Halp?! My head. It's. My head is. Ahh! Somehow they got the picture.

What happened next was, and still is, confusing and irritating. I started to lose control of my legs, I'm guessing because I had lost the liter equivalent of a couple 7-11 Big Gulps of blood, or maybe because zombies need to rest a lot because they have such stiff legs and never seem to bend their knees. You know, people can faint that way. Anyhow, with my limp body semi walking, semi being dragged by their arms, I started to give way and turn gray (even more zombie-like!). This was simply unacceptable to one of the women, who insisted I "stand up straight and stop getting blood all over the clean halls." Oh, right, 'cause I can do that. Thanks a lot, lady. Die in a fire.

I had never heard our principal swear before, but I got to that day. With the three of us barreling into the front office and me fading in and out of consciousness, I stuck around long enough to hear her say, "Oh, holy SHIT! What in the... Just what in the hell is going on here?!" It must have been a sight. Then the ambulances came and they strapped me to a wooden board, which I thought was used for unruly patients, which confused me because I surely wouldn't be putting up much of a fight, but I soon found out it served the purpose of keeping my body on the board and off of the parking lot floor. They shined bright lights in my eyes and asked me questions like, "Who is the president of the United States?" and "What is our state's capitol?" and "What is 10 times 10?" and posed challenges like, "Recite every other letter of the alphabet" and "Count by odd numbers," which annoyed me because I never got any of those things right on tests anyway. I needed Tom. But I gave it my best shot, with whatever part of my brain that was still in tact and not stuck like gum to the wooden goal post. Apparently these were ridiculously easy questions, and served as some sort of barometer to escalate the severity of patients' cases if they got X number of questions wrong. I think I passed, or failed, depending on the way you look at it, with flying colors. I went to the front of the line and got right into the emergency room.

The next thing I remember, I was being told that the 45 stitches in my face would come out in due time, and that the crimson, lightning-bolt scar of raw flesh would mend and turn out to "not look that bad." Well there's a vague diagnosis. My mom was pretty strict back then, so you know what she did? After scolding me in the car for playing in the snow so carelessly, we passed the very road we lived on. Where could we possibly be going? I needed to go home. I needed to rest and curl up in blankets and eat Popsicles and chicken noodle soup like all the other kids who smashed their faces in. I needed to learn our state's capitol and what odd numbers meant other than the fact that certain ones were funny or confusing to me. Maybe we were going out for ice cream and Novocaine? Yes, of course! Why didn't I think of this earlier?! We were going for ice cream and Novocaine. To my dismay, we pulled back into the crime scene. Beneath the flag pole, my mom dropped me off at school where I had busted myself open no more than four hours earlier. "Now. You go in and get the homework you missed," she said.

My dad was a little more lax. After being assured that his first son was not dead, the next words out of his mouth were: "Well, did he catch the ball at least?"