Words From a Funeral

You know, I wrote this last night and wasn't even sure I'd end up reading it today. Please bear with me.

Earlier this week, Molly asked us grandchildren what memories of grandma we will carry with us. I immediately thought of three specific scenarios, which will hopefully lighten our spirits a bit since I will always remember Katy as a fun, warm and sociable woman.

First, in my mind I still picture her at the Higgins Lake cottage, sitting out back on the patio in one of the green swinging couches. Nine times out of 10 she had a choice beverage in her hand that she told us kids was "iced tea." By the time I was 11, I learned that iced tea was, give or take, only half the contents of her glass. I also learned that when the words "long" and "island" are placed in front of "iced tea," it's an entirely different ballgame. And a much more enjoyable one at that. So I cheers you on that note, grandma.

Secondly, when doctors prescribed grandma calcium supplements to help strengthen her bones, we were all a bit confused as to why she started carrying around a seemingly endless supply of vitamin C pills in her purse. "Doctor's orders!" she said. That's when we had to politely explain to grandma that the "C" in "vitamin C" does not stand for calcium. She thought this was hilarious, so bless her for that. And to her credit, the doctor should have been more specific. Sorry if you're here, doc.

Finally, I remember the questioning but loving looks grandma gave us grandchildren once (who, mind you, were probably on the verge of a sugar- or caffeine-induced comatose) as we gathered around the stereo, got out Storm Front's lyrics sheet, turned the volume on full blast and attempted to belt out every single word of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire." And all of this at 10 a.m.! "We did not start this fire, grandma... It was always burning." We're sorry about that one, Katy.

We love you big.

Please. Don't... Move

[rant]Really, don't. No big deal. I'll go around. No need to for you to pay attention or acknowledge someone other than yourself, so, so just walk right into me, k? There ya go. See that felt nice. That was sorta like a little hug without the embracing part. Thanks.

What in the eff, you stupid frigging people? I exist. So start acting like it.

It seems that now, more than ever, the average shmuck is a lowly individual with little or no courtesy, manners or sensibility. This is stuff that should've died out in the '50s for Christ's sake. We claim to have evolved and become uber-intellectuals, right? So what gives?

Here are a few simple tips to help you suck less:

1 a. When you walk on sidewalks in crowded cities, look up. Looking down at your shoes will cause you to, ready?, run into other people (me), which is considered rude. So if you are about to run into someone, don't.

1 b. When walking on sidewalks or in public places, please stay to the right. Last time I checked it's still how the traffic of anything and everything in America is organized. As much as you might hate conformity, please don't go against the grain.

2. Upon opening a door, look behind you to see if there is another life form who might need to use the same door. If it looks to be that way, hold the door for him/her. Getting bludgeoned with a door is no fun, especially when you're holding a hot beverage.

3. Before entering something that has sliding doors (i.e. elevators, subways, buses), let those in the contraption out before you go in. Shocking concept, I know, but this one in particular has spiraled out of control. No need to stampede and trample children. You'll get in, I promise.

4. If it's raining and you are carrying an umbrella, please be aware of its size. Umbrellas are freaking huge, and they increase the amount of space you take up on this earth. And they can poke, stab and hit people when you move too quickly or wander aimlessly.

5. If you are walking in a group (more than three people), you are probably taking up the entire sidewalk and, no, you are not the only ones who need to use it. Get organized, and stop bogarting space.[/rant]

I Committed Bunnycide

What's cuter than bunnies? Let's be honest, probably nothing is cuter than bunnies. So you'll understand the heartbreaking nature of this sad-but-true tale, in which I play both the protagonist and the antagonist (and the executioner!).

One of my summer jobs in college was working with the maintenance "crew" at a local airport. As the sole member of the one-man "crew," it was I who was responsible for cutting roughly 150 acres of grass on a weekly basis. Fun stuff.

It took me almost no time to master the lawn mower (a Scag Tiger Cub), which guzzled diesel gasoline like Gatorade and pumped some awful black stuff back out into the environment. But I loved riding that polluter around on hot summer afternoons. Airplane mechanics took great pride in making fun of my pale complexion and slender build, and they taught me much of what I needed to know about the job. Much, but not all.

What they had failed to tell me was that I should pay special attention to certain areas of the airport grounds, as they are home to several species of wild animals. Guess I should've seen that one coming.

I had become quite skilled at rounding corners, turning on a dime, cutting in alternating swaths, avoiding damp soil, identifying troublesome objects (such as boulders, rocks and roots) - the whole nine yards. I was an artist, and even I admired my work.

But not for too long.

It all came crashing down one day when I drove the mower a little too quickly through a heavy patch of grass. While going over the patch, I heard what I believed to be the sound of sticks snapping in the blades and saw what I thought to be dandelions shooting out from the mower. But upon returning, I got a clear view of what I had just destroyed.

Something was moving beneath the grass shavings. And then I saw them. Below me lay the disfigured remnants of a litter of bunnies, writhing in a messy, glossy pool of red, brown and green. Pieces of them and their unstrung fur coats were strewn about everywhere. I had killed something like a baker's dozen of bunnies that were alive and young just a few moments before I had crossed their paths, and all I could do was shut off the mower and hate myself forever.

I didn't last much longer at that job.

So sorry, bunnies. I can't look at you guys the same as I once did. Please forgive the lawn-mower man.

The Biggest Compliment of My Life (Happened in a Dentist's Office)

There's been a whole lotta writing about teeth lately, huh? This one warrants some words. Sorta.

After going a year and a half with no - I repeat - no dental examination, I felt it was time to surrender myself to the awkward waiting rooms, blinding lights and stainless-steel prods I had been avoiding so well for so long.

First, I should mention that I have a poor track record when it comes to winning dentists' opinions. As a child, my brother and I would always have back-to-back appointments, and while his teeth garnered rave reviews ("Andrew, such a pleasure to see you! Have you kept good care of our favorite pearly-whites?!"), mine, sadly, were not as well received ("David, how many times do we have to tell you to brush your teeth?").

And the worst part was that I brushed them religiously! You could set your watch to my dental regimen. It was my brother who never brushed! He would even go as far as polishing off a bag of Skittles in bed the night before a dental examination! The situation could not have been more unjust.

That is, until recently.

Up until a week ago only one other dentist in the entire world had seen my teeth, so I had my concerns. (What if she doesn't understand my teeth like my old dentist did? Will she hate them? Have I stepped up my brushing game enough? And I know I hate, hate, hate flossing, but I've been doing it more regularly. I mean, haven't I? Oh God, I haven't! I think I skipped last Saturday! And I think I forgot to do the bottom teeth yesterday! That would explain why something's lodged down there!)

But when I sat in the chair and opened my mouth an unequivocal expression of fulfillment came over my new dentist. A lifelong search had ended. Beams of light emitted from every tooth. Choirs sang. Kittens mewed. Time itself stood still to honor the triumphant moment I was about to have. It was glorious.

She set down her tools and took off her rubber gloves, dabbing her brow with a blue handkerchief. She poised herself for what she was about to say.

(Small Hispanic woman saying the following) "Mr. Wendland, I have to say... In all my years as a dentist I have never, ever come across a set of teeth quite like yours. The are... how do I say?... magnificent."

E gads! Was this really happening?! Was this some sort of cruel prank dialed in by my former, crueler dentist, or perhaps my brother?

(Getting misty-eyed) "When such care is given to teeth, it reminds me of how good they are able look. You, Mr. Wendland, have taken exceptional care of your teeth, and I am so very pleased you came into my office today."

She really meant it! Holy cow! This was the moment I had waited so long for! (Are they really that great? I mean, I do brush - or try to brush - twice daily. Sure, sometimes it's once. Maybe she just sees a lot of homeless or wayward folks or meth-heads who don't own an actual toothbrush and have to use their fingers instead? Ever tried that? Doesn't really get the deep cleaning done.) Hooray!

I consider this the biggest compliment I have ever received in my lifetime. Call it lame, that's fine with me, but I can say that the joy this dentist brought me by ending years of mental angst and frustration is something that is hard to describe.

Update: Rest of World Just as Confused About Toothbrushes

Since our last foray into contemporary dental hygiene, I received some reaffirming feedback from a friend who currently resides halfway around the world. Her message to us, from Australia with love, is this: the rest of planet earth is equally perplexed about the toothbrush conundrum. Ladies and gents, it appears we have an intercontinental caper on our hands.

For anonymity's sake, we'll refer to her as Cuspid for this post.

"I went to look for a new toothbrush the other day, and it took me a good 20 minutes to settle on one," said Cuspid. "And then I had to choose my color! There were so many combinations. Am I a pink and yellow kind of girl? What does purple and green say about me? And what combination screams 'No!' to plaque?"

So Americans aren't the only sad souls spending fortnights in the toothbrush aisle! Oh, what a relief! Can you imagine if we were to add the collective man hours wasted on deliberating over toothbrushes? Had there been just one model and one color - only one option - we'd probably have cured certain diseases and ended wars by now (excluding gum disease and the war on plaque, of course). But no! We love selection!

In the end, Cuspid chose a baby-blue toothbrush fully equipped with gum massagers to roll, knead and do all sorts of crazy stuff to her gums. And is she happy with her choice?

"I have to say it's worth it," said Cuspid. "I never knew such a level of pleasure was possible with one's gums."

Cuspid, here's to your next checkup!

One, Two, Too Many Toothbrushes

Have you been to a drug store lately? Good grief! I think searching for used cars is an easier task. At least you get to test drive them.

Who knew finding the right toothbrush would be such a time-consuming process that requires detailed comparison and deliberation? Shouldn't something so commonplace and essential be just as easy to select?

Um, no.

There are literally hundreds of options when it comes to toothbrushes. And they all do one thing and one thing only (ready?): clean your teeth! They don't even floss for you or ask you if that feels OK or take X-rays or administer fluoride or schedule your next dentist appointment or give you a little smiley-face sticker to wear on your shirt. What a ripoff.

So why are there so many kinds? There should be, like, two models max: soft bristles or firm. I'm all for that particular differentiator, but none of the others. Manual, electric, hybrid, battery-powered, solar-powered, diesel - the list goes on. Long-reaching, deep-cleaning, stain-removing, gum-massaging, tongue-scrubbing, molar-forming, tiered-bristling, ergonomic-fitting, etc. Oh, and just when you think you've narrowed it down they throw colors into the mix. Red, orange, green or leopard-print? Maybe silver?

And why don't all toothbrushes have the ADA seal of approval? Nothing is worse than ending up with one that doesn't. You mean to tell me the ADA does not recommend this model? Well crap, this thing might actually give me cavities.

Wait, what if all the ADA-approved toothbrushes sitting on shelves are really non-ADA-approved toothbrushes, in a ploy by the ADA to keep herding tartar-infested heads into dentists' offices? Awesome marketing scheme right there, no? This might explain why certain toothbrushes at local Walgreens stores are kept in secured glass showcases as if they were high-end stereo equipment or video games. Yes, these must be the ADA-approved toothbrushes. They certainly wouldn't want your average Joe being able to easily access such a device that could rid him of all his dental ailments, now, would they? No. They would make no money off of him! So they make it inconvenient for Joe and encourage Joe to purchase one of the lesser, "floor-friendly" models because none of the staff is willing to unlock the showcase for him.

A Flurry of Flurries

The McFlurry. Ever had one? I used to be obsessed. Obsessed to the point where I'd crave a McFlurry at the most random, inconvenient moments.

Per the McDonald's
Wikipedia entry, the McFlurry is described as "...a vanilla ice cream dessert that has pieces of candy, fruit or cookies mixed into it." The McFlurry is available in "most of its markets."

Well what happened here? Most of its markets?! Ronald, this is utter blasphemy. Why not all of its markets? Or every market that ever existed anywhere? Are you trying to ration the supply of McFlurry goodness to create a swelling demand for the tasty treat? Praying for a bull market, Ronald? Come on. Ya ain't no Greenspan. You're a frigging clown. No, this McFlurry thing of yours needs to be sold everywhere. On street corners, Ronald. On street corners!

My most memorable McFlurry experience occurred whilst pulling an all-nighter for an exam in college. Once my system came down from the sugar and caffeine comatose that Monster had wrought on my synapses, I found myself craving something sweet (shock!). But what could possibly be open at 3:45 a.m.?

You guessed it.

The only soul on the road, I clenched the wheel with sweaty palms and envisioned how great my McFlurry would be. Hell, the late-night McDonald's crew was probably up mixing its finest batch of vanilla soft-serve ice cream, ready and waiting for me to valiantly place my order.

"Welcome to McDonald's. How may I help you?"

"A McFlurry! I'd like one, please! With Reese's Peanut Butter Cups! Woo!"

I was getting ready to devour my McFlurry. I paid and pulled forward and waited patiently for them to perfect my dessert. I envisioned all four employees participating in the making of my McFlurry - each taking handfuls of Peanut Butter Cups and sprinkling them in at the most precise places, dancing around in a tribal circle as they achieved the optimal balance of creamy vanilla and chocolatey, peanut buttery sweetness.

This was going to rule. I might just park at the window and eat the McFlurry in front of them so they could witness how happy they were about to make me.

And then something magical happened. The window slid open and an employee leaned out with not ONE but, wait for it, TWO (count: two!) McFlurries!

"Two McFlurries, sir?"

"Yes! Yes, that's my order!"

I never found out if they had messed up my order or were just really bored and could sense how excited I was to have a McFlurry and made two. But I ate both in 25 minutes. It was disgusting. In fact, I almost didn't make it to my exam because of the intestinal pain the quart of dairy put me through.

Can one acquire lactose intolerance? Because I think I did.

You Can "Go Greek," I'm Going Home

(Just dug this one up from the college days.)

Advertisement 1: "Go Greek, Sparty Did!"

Advertisement 2: "Greeks: The Leaders of Tomorrow!"

I think we need a little more guilt put into these cheap recruitment slogans, please. There's nothing like peer pressure to get me to do something. Sparty went Greek this year? Oh he did, did he? Since when are people doing what Sparty does? I'm yet to see anyone walking around campus wearing steel-plated armor and skirts. Did you hear at U of M last week Wolverine announced he would be endorsing the "Go Mammal, Wolverine Did!" campaign? Yup. The entire student body's on his side.

Well, I guess since my own university's mascot went Greek then I should too. But does this mean I'll have to tote around one of those bulky canvas bags with strange letters sewn on it? How can I be a leader with such a great weight on my shoulder? And aren't we stealing the characters of a different culture? I've never even been to Greece, and would probably be lucky to identify it on a map. So what gives?

Is it safe to assume that Greek college students are as interested in American culture as we are in theirs? Could we go to Greece and expect to find students carrying around propaganda promoting the EAT or ZOMG house? I mean, what does that all really mean anyway? Don't you think we'd laugh at that? "Doug, look, that house over there has ABC on its roof in gigantic, blood-red letters. They must be, like, a spelling bee dynasty!"

But I, I guess this bag's kinda cute... ish. I just thought labeling was discouraged nowadays. Granted, we do need to differentiate ourselves from the non-Greek people. Is that part of our philanthropy? I thought it was, and that's sorta why I got into this thing. So...


Oh, I know! Perhaps they should give us staffs instead. Yeah! Or maybe scepters. Yes. Big, golden scepters with cool crystal balls fastened to their tops. And our trusty steeds will be unicorns. We'll bring them back, and we'll ride them around campus. I think that fits the leadership/visionary role a little better, you know, instead of a bag, or a hat, or sandals or something?

Actually, we could probably have hats - the tall, black fuzzy ones British Guards wear. And we could march too. People would genuinely want to know what we are up to. "Where the f*** are you guys going?!" they would ask. And that's when we could raise our phat scepters and reply: "To the future! We're leading you to the future!"

And then we could lead like we advertise ourselves to.

Biggest Mistakes of My Life: Mistake No. 2

I still regret going back to Wisconsin. What was supposed to be a weekend full of concerts, camping and sun just turned out to be one huge disaster.

Since we needed extra room, we decided to borrow my parents' van for the 400-mile trip from Detroit to East Troy. We also used their roof rack and carrier to help transport the tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, coolers, grills and other funky crap that people need when staying in a field for days on end.

The heat alone was enough to make the expedition a bad idea. It was the type of humidity that makes you feel like you're swimming in your skin all day. You can just taste the salt dripping down your face. No thanks.

Once we arrived, we unloaded the van and roof carrier and set up our camp site. Then it was time to drive to the amphitheater for the first night's concert. Since the carrier was now empty, we contemplated leaving it at our site but decided instead to fasten it back to the roof rack and bring it with us.

Morons. All six of us.

What we had not thought about were the laws of physics, and how all of our luggage had helped weigh down the roof carrier on the drive to Wisconsin. Sure, the carrier was somewhat secured by bungee cords fastened to the roof rack, but it was basically a massive plastic sled sitting on top of our van.

We slowly pulled out of the camp grounds and onto the interstate. I was driving, and by this point had completely forgotten about the carrier. We were accelerating quickly, but there was a disgruntled Wisconsinite riding our bumper. Apparently 50 mph wasn't fast enough for him.

Thank God he decided to pass us.

Before we hit 60 mph something awful happened. With no weight in it, the roof rack was trying its hardest to withstand the headwind. The only things keeping it down were now the bungee cords that had been strung together by idiotic amateurs.


In a fraction of a second after this noise bludgeoned our ears, I saw in my rearview mirror a sight of pure horror. The carrier, flying over our car - up, up and away - crashing down onto the road behind us and blowing up into two pieces. And then...


This is the last thing we heard before we were surrounded by shards of glass flying every which way throughout the cabin of the van. Slow motion. Glass was exploding everywhere and we all ducked to cover our heads, including me - the driver. I don't know how we kept it on the road.

When the bungee cords snapped and left the carrier at the mercy of the wind, they whipped around to the back of our van, their metal hooks shattering the entirety of our back window and tail lights. The glass was then sucked into the vehicle, entering various points of our skin and landing all around us.

Would you feel comfortable leaving your car at a concert if it had no rear window and all of your belongings were sitting inside for anyone to take? We didn't. So we headed to Wal-Mart to bandage up the van.

After buying a couple hundred yards of duct tape and blue tarp, we taped up the ass of our van. Poor thing. It looked like a giant blue diaper. I could no longer see anything out of the back while driving.

The damages set me back $1,200, but had the Wisconsinite not passed us his car would have been hit with our plastic roof carrier missile. I could have been a murderer.