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The Time I Slept Through a Fire Alarm

May 31, 2013 2 comments

Lightning Strikes Jesus Statue

As covered before in this blog, I really like sleep. As in, I would gladly pay a stranger $100 each morning to allow me to sleep a few more hours. I would go bankrupt, but damn it, I would be well-rested.

To wake up for work, I have multiple alarms set up all over my room, and none of them work. I will get up in a stupor, walk to the offending alarm, switch it off, and fall back into bed without even realizing what I’m doing. I have snooze alarms as well, which are ignored each and every morning. As a result, my arrival time to work has been getting steadily later and later, but hooray, I haven’t been fired yet!

In junior high school, the smoke alarm went off in my parents’ house since my dad had burned some toast. I mean, the damn bread must have been a flaming chunk of wheat given how far away the smoke alarm was from the kitchen. In fact, the alarm was directly outside my bedroom. I blissfully slept through nearly the whole thing, though I do vaguely remember rousing myself slightly, thinking, “Hmm, that must be the fire alarm. Well, if it’s serious, my dad will wake me up,” and going right back to bed, the alarm wailing the entire time.

After telling my dad this, he said I had far too much faith in him. Evidently, he would’ve fled the house in his bathrobe, perhaps stopping to scoop up a cat, but nothing more. Sigh.

I also once slept through a tree falling on our house. A massive, full-sized Ohio beast of a tree which shook the entire house left not a single impression on me. My sister and her friend once bodily picked me up off a couch where I had been sleeping, dropped me from a few feet up, and I didn’t so much as twitch.

And yet a single tweeting bird these days will wake me up even with ear plugs, so I don’t know. I’m doomed to either coma-like slumber or the delicate sleep cycle of a paranoid insomniac. Lovely.

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Three Checks Walks the Deadman (Part 2)

October 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Click here to read Part 1

We now continue my brother’s 1980s Ohio paddling saga…


 
So, I went home that weekend and told my Mom I was going to be paddled. She’d always thought it was barbaric. She said if it ever came to that, she wouldn’t allow it. She asked what I’d done. I said, “Talking, basically.” She nodded.

Saturday, Sunday. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I had a migraine the whole time. I thought of nothing else as the hours slipped away towards Monday morning. I’d never been hit. By anyone, or anything. Never been in a fight, never been punched or slapped or beaten by my parents. I’d avoided conflict wherever I could. I suppose I knew my days were numbered; that sometime, somewhere, I’d have to take a punch like everybody else. I never imagined, though, it would come from someone I trusted and obeyed, never imagined it with a piece of wood.

My mom said she’d intervene if I wanted her to.

I thought of her charging into the front office with me in tow, stabbing her finger at the secretary, then the principal. I’d stand behind her, quiet, incapable, impotent.

I thought of Tuesday morning and the questions. “Why doesn’t he have to get paddled?” “Because Damian’s mommy won’t allow it. Because Damian can’t take it. Because Damian is special.”

I told her no.

Monday morning came. I rode the bus to school. No one brought it up. Maybe they’d forgotten. Maybe everyone had forgotten.

After the bell, the Teacher called roll. I said, “Here,” and a few kids tittered. They hadn’t forgotten.

I’d have a shot at that badge of courage after all.

After roll, the teacher looked at me, not unkindly. The rage she’d felt 48 hours ago had abated. But rules were rules and everyone knew them. Three checks walks the deadman. No waiting. No reprieve.

“Damian?” she nodded like a rancher about to put down her favorite horse.

Thirty faces lit up. They’d have their show. And on a rainy Monday, of all days, first thing.

I stood on wobbly legs.

I lifted the top of my desk, took the inhaler out of my pocket and held it a moment.

“Damian can’t take it. Damian is special,” I heard the voices.

I placed it inside the desk next to my books and fruit. Then I closed the lid.

I stepped to the open space between the tall bookshelves. The teacher and her Witness came up behind me. Then I walked around the corner.

Teacher said, “Everything out of your pockets, please.” I took out my milk money, an orange-colored eraser shaped like a Volkswagen, and a tiny Rubik’s Cube keychain and put them on the floor by my feet.

I stood again. The teacher made no speeches, no pronouncement of guilt, though she and the Witness wore the same smile as always.

“Bend over, please.”

The world inverted as I took the small bones of my ankles in each hand. The blood rushed to my head and dampened all sound. Blood throbbed in my neck. My heart counted down the seconds. I heard the engine of the entire world humming all around me. I remembered my Mom’s “A’right, then,” remembered her resigned look and the pat on my knee when I told her I’d make the walk alone.

Then the first hit came. It sounded like someone had dropped a book three rooms away. The walls around me shuddered as my body took the force, then steadied. I was still standing.

The second hit, I didn’t feel at all. There was heat, a rather cozy-feeling heat, actually. I could see the impact points perfectly in my mind, two paddle-shaped infrared slaps across my backside.

“You’re done,” she said. I stood up and smiled at her. Not a belligerent kind of smile but the kind that comes when you realize that the world is still there, and that it isn’t all that bad.

Teacher and the Witness parted and I passed between them. I turned the corner and saw the thirty faces, some grinning, some not, many confused and disappointed. I smiled at them, beaming. Immune.

I took my seat and every moment of the life I was about to resume, all the days I’d live in comfort, in safety, without fear, without war, without pain, yawned before me.

“Okay, people. Open your Reading books to page 28, please…” said Teacher.

I got out my book and, like everyone else, turned the pages.

Three Checks Walks the Deadman (Part 1)

October 26, 2012 Leave a comment

paddling-in-school

Today features a guest blog by my esteemed brother, who has been mentioned on this blog several times before. Keep in mind that my brother was born in 1971, so this story takes place well into the past. Enjoy!


Rex Ralph Elementary. Sixth grade. I’m a quiet kid, I’m a nervous kid. I know too much about Star Wars. Also, my hands shake. They shake from all this asthma medicine I take. Everyone thinks it’s hilarious. “I have asthma,” I say, like that’ll help. One kid grabs my wrists, holds my hands out all the time, “What are you, nervous or something?” He makes a big scene of it; he’s the same one who waves his peanut-butter sandwich under my nose saying, “Go on. Sneeze!” I told him I was allergic to it. He smells the weakness in me. I’m slowing down the clan. He’s got a natural-selection hard-on for me. Somewhere back in time, his ancestors place boulders on mine and leave them for dead.

But yeah, the hands. The shaking hands. I tell everyone it’s the meds and it is, but it’s also this place, this school, the teachers, the kids, everything. Some people can handle it, some people can handle anything, some people are Han Solo. Me, I’m an Ewok. But not Wicket. I’m the one with the hang-glider that dies.

Our classroom is a pressure cooker of E. Coli, Rotavirus, gummy bears, and craft glue. The hours plow forward through the airless haze made by 60 peanut-butter-stinking mouths. The stultifying minutes are differentiated only by the list of names growing down the side of the blackboard: one name for each person caught talking, caught fidgeting, caught giggling, found passing notes. A name for sneezing, a check next to it for sneezing again. Two checks if it was done for comic effect. Names and checks, names and checks, until someone scores three. When that happens, everything stops and the lights come up on the Thunderdome. Then the three-checker gets up and takes the deadman walk around behind the bookshelves. No waiting. No reprieve.

Back there, the teacher makes him take everything out his back pockets, pens, combs, keys. She makes him bend over and grab his ankles. She says a few words about his crimes so everyone can hear it. She concludes with, “Perhaps in the future you’ll learn not to…” Then, in the manner prescribed by the county, she raises the paddle high in the air. She nods to the Witness, the teacher from next door, her smoking-buddy, her trenchmate, her second. Witness smirks, shrugs, “What are ya gonna do?” They grin, despite themselves. Their eyes twinkle like Japanese businessmen at a live sex-show.

We’re all on the other side of the shelves, breathless, waiting for the “CRACK!”, which comes twice. Some of us giggle. Some of us reach for our inhalers. Then the victim comes back in, usually in tears, though sometimes not. The ones who don’t cry, who swagger in, beaming, immune – they’re a breed apart. Everyone knows this.

When the teacher comes back in, there’s a row of dew on her upper lip, she tucks her hair behind her ear but she can’t hide how good it feels. She puts a girl “in charge” for five. She’s gotta have a smoke.

I know all this because I walked the deadman once.

It was late on a Friday, near Halloween, lots of sugar around and names were going up on the board like a murder of crows. Everyone was frantic, the teacher was in a frenzy, nailing people for reaching too abruptly for a sheet of paper. Everyone screaming, laughing, kids sprinting from seat to seat, teacher bellowing something unintelligible into the gale.

Then someone asked me a question. And just as the class fell silent, I answered, “No, ‘droid’ refers to all robots, not just…” Searchlights locked on my position. I’d transmitted in the clear over radio silence. Teacher had me dead-to-rights. I was supposed to be one of the good ones. I never made a peep. I’d betrayed her. She reached for the chalk and next thing, I was staring down the barrel of three checks. I didn’t even know my name had gone up.

Then the bell rang.

Everyone sat, mouths open, looking at me, looking at her, looking at me again, all thinking the same incredible, impossible, delicious thing: Damian Baldet is gonna walk the deadman. Me: shaky-hands, inhaler-boy, Johnny-weak-link. They were looking at a ghost. I’d never survive it.

But there was something else was remarkable about the situation:

It was Friday. End of day.

True, I had three checks. And everyone knew: Three checks walks the deadman. No waiting. No reprieve.

But:

It was Friday. End of day. The bell had rung!

There was room for a technicality here. It was in her power to be merciful.

Pity tapped on the blackened shell that encased her heart. For a moment, she fought her addiction.

In the end, though, it had been a bitch of a day and pity didn’t stand a chance.

Her expression darkened.

“On Monday morning, Damian will serve his punishment.”


Click here to read Part 2

The Time My Parents Got Kittens

August 6, 2012 2 comments

For 16 years, my family had a lovely cat named Cleo. He was some sort of Maine Coon mix, and was therefore huge and fluffy, and used to fetch sticks like a dog. And yes, we named him Cleo before finding out he was a boy. This happened with our cat Rosie, too. Look, we’re not very good at sexing kittens.

On Saturday, my parents took poor Cleo to the vet to have him put to sleep. He had been suffering for about two months with kidney failure, and had lost about five pounds, which is a lot for a cat. My parents had been giving him subcutaneous fluids and feeding him pureed food by syringe for all that time, and he just wasn’t able to rally given his advanced age. I wish I had been in Ohio to say goodbye, but it was not to be.

Though I knew the end was near, losing a pet is always tough. I really miss him already. My parents felt the same way, and ended up stopping at our local no-kill shelter on the way home from the vet’s. I think the initial idea was “just to look,” but who ever goes to a shelter only to come away empty-handed? And so we now have two new kittens, Sasha (grey) and Simba (tabby). They are currently living in my childhood bathroom until they settle down and are fully litter-trained.

Yes, my bathroom was/is pastel pink. It was not my choice. And that’s my mom there, posing with them.

The Time My Dad Declared War On Deer

June 29, 2012 Leave a comment

white_tailed_deer_buck

My dad has always had issues with the deer that live in our backyard.

Every year, his carefully tended beds sprout, look nice for about one day, then are mercilessly mowed down by a horde of ravenous deer. They clip each tulip and plant neatly with their teeth; it looks as if a scythe has reaped the entire lot. The deer come right up to the house and munch on our flowers while watching us eat breakfast through the windows.

In an effort to save at least a few of his precious plants, my dad has tried just about everything. He hung Irish Spring soap from each branch, which did nothing whatsoever. He began peeing on all the bushes, heading outside several times a day to “water the plants.” The idea is that your are marking your territory with your urine, but the deer didn’t seem to care.

He applied cheesecloth and bird netting to our raspberry bush, which didn’t work for deer OR birds. They actually seemed to work together, with the birds carrying off enough of the netting that the deer could feed more easily. He applied dried blood all over the place, which was supposed to scare off the deer. You can buy this blood meal at any hardware store, but what IS IT? Cow? The blood of virgins? The label does not say.

Obviously, this didn’t work either.

He strung up fishing line attached to poles, which were supposed to keep the deers’ long legs from marching around willy-nilly. But he didn’t build this fence tall enough, and the deer simply grazed over the top of the boundary.

The deer would walk over our frozen swimming pool in winter, and their sharp hooves would tear holes in the cover, which meant we had to buy a new one every year. My dad got worried that a deer would eventually break through the ice and drown in our pool, so he installed a super-tough cover at great expense.

Our dog Lily, a 75-pound golden retriever, was terrified of the deer, and so was no help. My dad would sometimes let her out anyway when the deer were around, in the hopes the deer would bolt, but Lily would just stay at the door, whining and pawing to be let back in. He then went out himself, armed with rocks, but the deer were completely unimpressed. I imagine they were actually laughing in their tiny deery heads.

My dad has since given up, and simply refuses to plant anything anymore. Annual bulbs still sprout, and are cut down before they can even bloom. Most of our landscaping near the house has been removed so that the deer at least keep their distance. This is a battle we realized we simply couldn’t win.

However, he is still fighting the good fight against the moles in our yard. Back when I was living at home, he would proudly show me the corpse whenever he caught one in a trap. The mole’s pinched face was barely visible behind it’s comically oversized paws, and its midsection was, of course, squished into a bloody pulp by the trap. Lovely.

The Time I Wanted to be a Junkie When I Grew Up

June 25, 2012 Leave a comment

So there was this anti-drug PSA in the ’80s that tried to scare kids by saying that, “No one ever says, ‘I wanna be a junkie when I grow up.'” Here, you can see it below if you want to relive your “Just Say No” days.

 

When I was little, I usually said that I wanted to be an alien when I grew up. However, after seeing this PSA, my new default response was, indeed, “I wanna be a junkie!” I was around seven years old and cute as a button, and I loved the reaction I’d get from saying this. Most people would be horrified, and glare at my parents with undisguised hostility.

My family had always been suspicious amongst the other parents at school, mostly because of my mom’s refusal to wear bras in public, her overall hippie ways, and our conspicuous absence at church. Strangers would accuse my mom of putting false eyelashes on me as a toddler, but my natural lashes were simply absurdly long. When she’d tug at my eyes to show them that my lashes were real, they’d still continue to shake their heads in disgust. (Side note: Long eyelashes are not all they’re cracked up to be. Bugs often land on mine and get stuck like they’re in a venus fly trap, and I have to wear my glasses halfway down my nose so that they don’t touch my lashes. Just saying.)

But I was completely oblivious to my parents’ embarrassment, and would gleefully tell anyone in earshot that all I wanted in life was to become a junkie. Except that I didn’t really know what a junkie was, but I figured it involved a lot of screaming, sweating, and running. I also thought it meant living in a cardboard box on the street, which perhaps wasn’t too far from the truth. I begged my parents to let me live outside in a large appliance box, but my pleas were ignored. Considering that a family of six deer lived in our backyard at the time, perhaps they were worried I’d be hooved to death? I assume it would be traumatic to go outside and find your daughter impaled on a set of antlers.

Eventually, I got them to agree to let me live in the box, but only indoors. I set up my box like a fort with blankets, magazines, and a flashlight. I also shook a little empty soup can full of pennies at my sister, asking her for change. She was not amused. I would randomly start tugging at my clothes like the girl from the commercial, rolling around on my blankets and screaming like a banshee. I thought the whole thing was pretty fun, but my parents were beginning to worry that there was something wrong with me. This was around the time they decided to take my college fund and use it for a cruise to Alaska, since I was obviously committed to being a homeless drug addict. (Note: This is a complete lie. I wasn’t really that committed. And my parents funded my completely useless degree.)

As I remember, I lived and slept in my box for about two days before the novelty finally wore off. My brother, who was in college at the time, found it completely hilarious, but I think he was the only one. And I wonder why I didn’t have that many friends as a child.

The Time My Mom Was Naked

June 15, 2012 1 comment

spencer_tunick_naked_photo_mexico_city

So, apparently nudity is not as common in other people’s houses as my own.

For many years, my mom seemed to have something against shirts as a concept. Bras were also not her cup of tea. I don’t mean that she did this outdoors or anything, but indoors, within the safe confines of our house, things were different. I was so used to it that I was never really fazed by seeing her topless. It was how she was most comfortable, though I was concerned when she’d try and cook that way. Let’s just say that breasts and hot grease don’t really get along. She bought a metal screen to place over the pan to minimize the super-heated spatter, but it’s almost impossible to avoid completely.

Growing up, my mom proudly showed our birthing albums to adult guests. These are a set of two nearly identical albums containing a veritable flipbook of the births of me and my sister. We were both born at home under the supervision of a midwife and doula, and the photos hold nothing back. There are breasts, a gaping vagina, and copious amounts of hair. Our tiny heads crown in a blaze of moist, bluish glory. The camera is up close and personal, revealing every piece of flotsam and jetsam stuck to our bodies. My toothless maw is sucked free of fluid using a rubber bulb, and my purple body turns an angry red as you continue to flip. Sweat pours down my exhausted mother’s face and body, the bloody sheets soaked with perspiration. I’m shown receiving my first bath, still attached to the placenta via the umbilical cord. The bath water is a pale pink from blood. My sister, almost five at the time, christens me with raisins from a box as I lie wailing in the tub. I speculate this is why I hate raisins to this very day.

All in all, these albums are a bit much for the average stranger. Polite dinner guests have sat in petrified embarrassment as my mom gleefully flipped each page, showing every detail of her heavily pregnant naked body. Appetites have been lost, and potential friendships have soured. I suppose you know you’ve found a keeper of a friend if they sit through the labor book on day one, but still, it seems a formidable gauntlet to run.

But I was young and carefree, and flipped through the books with grand curiosity, viewing over and over again how I first met this world. My mom’s naked body never bothered me since I was used to it, but I was weirded out by all the blood and other fluids associated with labor. During my sister’s birth, when my brother was eight years old, he ran screaming out into the street and passed out. Understandable, I think. No amount of talk really prepares you for the miracle of life.

My mom seems to have embraced clothing more in the past 15 years or so, but I will always remember when I realized that not everyone’s Mom was like this. I must have mentioned the fact that my mom was topless as a throw-away detail while telling a story to my friends, and they halted everything. “Wait, wait a minute,” they said. “I think we need to go back to your last comment.” I had barreled ahead with the story, and all they wanted to know about were my mom’s boobs? Weird. Nudity was evidently a big no-no in their houses, and I was made to feel weird about the whole thing. I naturally informed them that she never did this around other people—just family—but they were not reassured. My friends still came over to my house, but I’m not sure they ever looked at my mom in the same way again. Sorry, Mom 😦

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