Saturday, September 13, 2014

Attack of the Killer Squirrels

My wife Lisa's family lives in a very rural area of New Hampshire. The nearest big town is Keene, most famous for the location of the Robin Williams movie Jumanji. Her brother, aunt and mother all live on family property about a mile from each other and the nearest neighbors are about that far as well. The aunt and brother in-law live in fairly new houses that they built, but my mother in-law, Nancy, lives in a couple hundred year old farm that is mostly wood with a stone foundation. It's a huge rambler house with rickety old wooden stairs and several fireplaces and a wood stove that heat the place. There are a million little cracks and holes in the walls; in some cases you can actually see through to the outside.

We were there visiting for Christmas. We stayed at Nancy's(she goes by Pook) and then going up the hill for Christmas. Like I said the house is large and rustic. My mother in-law had some health problems a few years earlier and she isn't the tidiest person in the world. So there are usually books everywhere, dishes in the sink and writing projects on the table. This year there was a huge cage like thing on the kitchen table. It was a Have A Heart animal trap. When I asked what it was for I was told squirrels. I laughed because I assumed it was really for rats or mice. But Pook assured me it was for squirrels.

We had a really nice Christmas Eve up at my brother in-laws house. A winter storm was dumping a lot of snow and when got home we all rushed into the house. I heard the clawing and clicking before I even went to the dining table and saw a huge squirrel trapped in the cage. I assumed we were going to take it out and let it go but Pook wanted to wait until the next day to drive to another town. She said that they had to be relased more than a mile away or they'd come back. I didn't know if that was true, but I'm from California where we don't often trap squirrels so I kept my mouth shut.

I went into the living room and tried to  read but I kept hearing the squirrel trying to break out of it's cage. I went to bed but even up there I could hear Steve(I nicknamed the squirrel Steve McQueen who played a POW in the Great Escape). I also was certain I heard scratching in our room, so I slept with the covers up to my chin for protection;like I said I grew up in the suburbs in California.

The next day the roads were impassable and we were more or less snowed in. We ate breakfast in the drawing room with the squirrel scratching away. I went upstairs to the guestroom to read. When I opened the door I saw a bag of coffee that someone had given us as a gift laying on the floor with a huge hole in it and coffee all over the floor. Before I had time to do any detective work I heard a noise and looked up and saw another squirrel careening around the wooden ceiling beams, leaping from beam to beam, jumping to the wall and then coming toward me. It was hopped up on Caffeine and heading for me. In terror I  slammed the door and ran to get Lisa; I'm not equipped for fighting off deadly squirrels.

Lisa went around the outside and slid up one of the windows that could be reached from the side of the hill. After an hour we went in and the squirrel. was gone, presumably through the window. We shut the window and made sure there was no more food in our room.

After eating both lunch and dinner with Steve scratching away at his cage, Pook finally decided it was time to let Steve go. She went to her secret squirrel disembarkation place and came back resetting the trap. 

The next morning I woke up and didn't hear any noise from the trap. But as I went to get coffee I noticed something laying in the trap. There on the bottom of the cage was a dead squirrel. According to my brother in-law this was very unusual. We decided that this was the squirrel from the bedroom and the cause of death was caffeine overdose. 

I'm told that someone has finally squirrel proofed that house. Maybe I won't have to stay in a hotel the next time I visit.




Sunday, September 7, 2014

Earl's Monster

When my brother used to live in LA and I still lived in the Bay Area, I would usually take a road trip a couple of times a year to see him. It was about a 6 hour drive and generally a boring one so I occasionally I would get ride shares. This was before Craigslist so I'd either use San Francisco State's ride share board or the SF Bay Guardian(I tried the SF weekly once but I only got replies from people who wanted to know if they could pay for gas with drugs or sex).

It was a little harder to get to know someone back then without email,  maybe a phone call or two so it was always a crap shoot. There was the woman who refused to talk and winced any time I brought up any topic. There was the jolly stoner who would spend 20 minutes in the bathroom at rest stops and then got us lost in Compton trying to find his girlfriends apartment.

One trip I got a young woman in her early twenties. She seemed nice enough on the phone, but about an hour before the trip she called me and asked if she could bring her 3 year old son along. She had some story about her babysitter cancelling at the last minute, but I had the feeling this had been plan all along. The kid seemed okay, if a little hyper.

We were in a Honda Civic which had a nice big back seat. The boy, Earl, was strapped in in back, If there were any car seat rules at that time I was unaware of them, We'd been driving along for about an hour when Earl screamed. It was a loud, sort of jarring yell. The mom, Shelly, turned around to ask what was wrong. Earl was huddled in the corner, he wouldn't say what was wrong. She gave him a cookie and he calmed down.

Two hours later, I'd just bought them some hamburgers at a rest stop and Earl was sleeping away in the back seat. Earl suddenly woke up screaming again. This time he said, "There's a monster. There's a monster." He wouldn't stop so I pulled over somewhere on I5 in the middle of nowhere and Shelly and I made a big show out of looking at the back seat. Finally Shelly convinced him he'd been dreaming and he calmed down.

Five minutes before reaching Shelly's destination in West Wood Earl started screaming again. This time he wouldn't stop and they  arrived at their stop with Earl crying and Shelly feeling kind of embarrassed.

After a nice week of visiting my brother I left LA around Midnight and headed up I5. By 4 AM I was getting White Line Fever and decided to pull over at a rest stop and take a nap. The back seat was fairly big so I laid down and took a nap. I was in a deep sleep, but I suddenly started dreaming about something crawling on me. I startled awake and had the feeling that something had really been crawling on me. But then I convinced myself that I was just imagining that. I'd been reading Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas and probably had Hunter S Thompson's desert hallucinations in my mind.

3 days later I was washing and cleaning out the car. I'd pulled everything out, and was vacuuming the back seat, when I suddenly noticed something wedged in the seat. I thought it was one of Earl's toys, As I reached toward it, it suddenly moved. There, running across the seat was small green lizard. There were plenty of Lizards where I lived and this one must have burrowed in the car at some point; Earl Monster.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Quentin's Big Adventure

After a year of waiting I'm finally at the oral surgeon's office. I've battled 15 years of a dental and medical phobia, undergone two sinus surgeries advised by a previous oral surgeon, waited 7 weeks for this appointment and then an additonal 5 days because the doctor was sick for the first time in 13years on the originally scheduled day. We've scrambled through early morning rush hour traffic only to be told that there's a back up and I need to wait.

I'm here to get 6  teeth pulled because of the crippling phobia that I had previously had. I'm much better now and have seen many doctors and dentists in the last two years, but I still get very nervous, particularly before surgery. We're sitting in the empty waiting room. I'm holding it together but I'm nervous; my doctor calls it White Coat Syndrome. I get a burst of adrenaline in medical offices that jacks up my heart rate and blood pressure.

I'm sitting there trying to relax and we hear sobbing coming from down the hall. My first thought is it's like one of those old time comedy sketches where the patient hears screaming from down the hall but it's something like a cat's tail being squished. My second thought is that this is intense crying and something bad has happened to someone. Like maybe someone just found out they have oral cancer or something.

The receptionist turns to me and Lisa and says "Sorry. We've had a very dramatic morning here." She turns to the inner reception window as though she's about to try to head off the crying person coming down the hall, but the waiting room door bursts open and there's a sobbing woman.

This woman in her late 30's has a handful of tissue, her eyes are red and she's half sobbing half talking. "That's hard to watch." In my head I'm thinking what's hard to watch did someone just die or something?"He's only 10. This is awful."

I'm trying not to engage her. I'm the kind of person people just talk to and I'm really trying to put up my "The Doctor is Out" sign. I really don't want to hear any drama before I'm about to go under the knife myself. But she plunders on."They couldn't find a vein, they stabbed him 4 times and my son Quentin started screaming," more sobbing.

Lisa says "That's hard to watch. I'm sorry."

And the woman is off. She starts telling us the details of his surgery, how her 10 year old has an extra tooth in his palate and how they had already tried to take out the tooth but they took the wrong one...My brain latches onto that. At first I think she's talking about another doctor, but no, it's this one. My brain is about to overload here. I'm about to have 7 teeth pulled by a surgeon whose pulled out wrong teeth before and can't find deep veins, which I have. This must be some kind of demented cosmic joke. Put the hysterical lady in the same room with the recovering medical phobic.

She goes on and on. She starts to tell us how she has shallow roots and her dentist told her that her teeth could fall out at any moment. I think to myself please don't let that happen now because I'll never be able to come back to a dentist again.

She goes on and on until, mercifully, the nurse brings me in back. They're giving me gas and the doctor comes in and I'm pretty loose. I ask "How'd that kid Quentin do?" In my haze I think he gives me a strange look but he says "Aah he did good." Then I tell him about how hard it is for doctors to get a line in my arm and he seems  a little nervous. As I'm fading with the gas I count 3 tries before he gets a line in and says "Phew. I'm glad we got that in." My mind fades thinking of sore arms and screaming kids.

When I wake up in recovery the very first thing I remember seeing is a little old man in a wheel chair.  Wheeling out backwards in front of me. But a I focus I see it's not a little old man it's a kid; it's Quentin. I try to say something but my mouth is completely numb and my brain for words hasn't come back online yet. I'm thinking "Good job little buddy. You made it." Groggily I put my thumb up and smile. It was probably a pretty ghastly, bloody smile. At first the groggy kid looks confused. Who is the old guy smiling at him with bloody gauze pointing a thumb in the air. But as he gets wheeled out he perks up, smiles his bloody smile back at me and gives me a thumb up; brothers in arms(literally).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kids are hard.

Between being brand new with kids and having to work with the very wild Russian immigrants my first summer as camp counselor was wild. But nothing compared to some people. I noticed that there was one counselor, Tom, whose entire schedule seemed to consist of tree climbing. I thought this was just general laziness but during our first staff meeting he was called out on it by the assistant director, Flora who never got ruffled about anything.

"Hey man." He said sounding stoned, he always sounded stoned. "Trees are life and they're getting they're sharing life energy by climbing on trees."

Flora who was always patient replied "Well I get that but maybe you can limit the tree climbing to a few minutes when you have free time."

Tom closed his eyes "Hey man. I have to go where the energy tells me. I can't be a slave to schedules and rules." Flora's eyes went wide but she didn't say anything. I don't think it was a surprise to anyone when the Tom didn't show up the next Monday and there was a brand new counselor in charge of his group.

As exasperated as I was my group of Wild Russians, I didn't lose my composure. I can't say that of everyone. I was in the kitchen, taking a short break from my group to bake some cookies we'd mixed. There was a multi purpose room next to the kitchen and there was a little serving counter that let you look into the. I saw the group led by a guy named Dan whose co-counselor was Shelly. Like me she'd never worked with kids before, but she always seemed angry and intense. Their group was sitting in a small circle and being a little rowdy. Dan was off to the side helping tie a girl's shoes. Shelly was serving snack time. She'd given out crackers and cheese and was having the kids pass cups and she started to pour milk from carton. One of the kids kept taking the cups and throwing them around the circle.

. One of the crackers hit another kid in the forehead and she started to cry. I could see Shelly was visibly upset. I was about to help her but the timer went off on my cookies and I grabbed them out of the oven. I could hear Shelling telling this kid to stop and the kid just laughing. I put the cookies down and rounded the corner to help out. As I was doing this I heard a combination of gasps and laughter from the group. When I got into the room I saw the noisy kid covered with dripping white milk and Shelly holding an upside down carton; nobody was surprised when she didn't come back the next day.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Russians Have come

I've written before about my camp directing days and working with the Soviet Jews who had recently arrived. I mentioned Ruslan who threw a rock through the temple window.  and Alex who stole the keys from the piano during a recital. But the all time godfather of the boisterous Russian kids was Gregory.

I first met Gregory on my first day as a counselor; a very green counselor who had never worked with kids. We were thrown into the deep end and not given a lot of instruction what to do with the kids. I'm one of those people who come off as very competent and self sufficient and I guess I have some strong leadership qualities so despitet my lack of experience I was given a group the assistant director jokingly called the dirty dozen.  I barely knew where to pick up the milk crate for lunch let alone how to deal with 12 boisterous kids, half of whom didn't speak English. I was supposed to have a Russian speaking co-counselor but somethign happened to his funding and he never showed up on the first day of camp.

The first day of camp is always a confusing blur of misplaced kids, crying parents and short tempers. My very first activity was swimming which meant taking this group of kids I didn't know into the changing room. Almost as soon as we got into the locker room this terrified looking kid named Dmitry started crying. I tried asking him what was wrong but he just kept screaming the word "polotense" over and over. This was long before the internet so I had no way of figuring out what he meant. 

Finally, this large, muscular kid, turned to me and in a thick russian accent said "He cries because he has no towel." I asked him his name and he said Gregory. I asked him tell Dmitry that it was okay and I would get him a towel. He said something in Russian and instead of Dmitry calming down he started to scream louder. By this point another one of the Russian speaking counselors had come in and gave Gregory a stern look. Gregory started laughing hysterically. He said something to Dmitry and he calmed down instantly.

 The counselor said to me exasperatedly "Gregory has quite an odd sense of humor. I asked what he had said and the counselor said "Ehhm. he told Dmitry that you were very mad at him for not having a towel and you were going to spank him." Gregory was on the floor laughing hysterically. 

(To be continued)

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Martian Chronicles

Anyone whose either met my dad or heard me talk about him knows that he has a very funny, but odd sense of humor. He's never met a pun he didn't like or a one liner he wouldn't tell. He'll tell a joke and then say "These are the Jokes. These are the jokes" which I think is something that an old vaudeville comic used to say when he was bombing.

My sense of humor, for good or bad, is the product of years of watching Marx Brothers and Three Stooges Movies with him. My mom would cringe when we'd spend a whole Sunday watching Ma and Pa Kettle, Francis The Talking Mule and Abott and Costello. You never knew when he'd break into the old Three Stooges routine Niagra Falls.

But more than anything he loved playing practical jokes on me and my brother...Somehow my sister managed to avoid the frivolity. For years my dad had my brother convinced that he wasn't really our dad but an alien from mars named Klatu who had taken over my dad's body to observe humans. My brother was maybe 6 or 7 and was pretty convinced it was true. If somone touched my dad on the back of the head he'd wince and say "ouch those are where my Martian eyes are." He'd launch into Martian talk for a minute or two.  He'd often run stick pipe cleaners in the back of his hair and say they were antennae. It finally bugged my brother so much that my dad made up a story that he'd managed to come back from mars and take over his own body again.

One time I was in the living room and I heard my brother run down the hall screaming "I shot dad. I shot dad. he's bleeding." I took my brother by the hand and led him back to his room where they'd been playing. My dad was laying on the floor with his eyes barely closed trying not to laugh. There was red stuff on his chest but it smelled familiar,Ketchup. When my brother "shot" my dad with his finger my dad had grabbed his chest with Ketchup I guess he had on his hand already, said "you got me" and fell to the ground. Freaked my brother out.

We used to watch a show called Creature Features which was one of those shows where a local TV host would show old horror movies, mostly Monster movies like Frankenstein and Dracula.It was on late on Saturdays and my parents let me stay up to watch it. This particular night The Mummy was on, not the newish one with the Rock, but the creepy old black and white one with the guy withe disfigured face running around in bandages choking people.

We were in the dark watching and my dad got up and left the room. This wasn't unusual since he'd often go to his little office to make notes or go to the bathroom. There weren't any DVRs back then so you couldn't stop a show. The movie got to a really scary part where the monster was killing everyone and moaning.  Suddenly I thought I was hearing moaning from the back of the room. I looked around and didn't see anything and it stopped. But then it started again and got louder. Finally it was louder than the movie. But then it became a tortured voice saying "I'm coming to get you." I started to think that maybe it was someone outside trying to get in. I ran down the hall to my dad's office to tell him  I was hearing something scary. When I went in he was on one of our toy walkie Talkies laughing; the other one was in the TV room.

These are the jokes. These are the jokes.

Here are some of the comedy sketches that my dad introduced me to.

Three Stooges - Niagra Falls(Slowly I turn)




Abbot And Costello -Whos's on First





The Marx Brothers - A night at the Opera Cabin Scene




Marx Brothers- Coconuts Hooray for Captain Spaulding


Duck Soup Groucho and Harpo Mirror scene and Hail Hail Freedonia


Monty Python - Crunchy Dead Frog

Monty Python - I'm a LumberJack
Monty Python - Dead Parrot



Friday, June 27, 2014

Up From Rock Bottom

In case I haven't said it before, hospitals are strange places. They're sort of like airports, or casinos in that they don't have any fixed way of telling the time. You can be in an airport at 3 in the morning and even though the stores and restaurants are all closed there's some buzz of activity. Hospitals are like that too. Sure there are less staff at 2 in the morning but it's a guarantee that someone is going to wake you up at some point.

I had finally fallen asleep around 3:00 after finally getting my record blood pressure down around 170, but exactly at five AM someone came in to get my blood and shortly thereafter the day nurse came in to introduce herself and get my vitals. The word was that maybe I'd get to go home after they ran more tests and I proved I could walk without fainting. This was 6 AM and I had to pee but I was still tethered to the bed and using that bottle so I begged her to let me off my leash. As it turned out the nurse the night before hadn't passed on her comments about letting me off my leash after three attempts at walking with an escort, but Deena my nurse told me that if I promised not to pass out and get a concussion she' let me off. I ran to the bathroom; never has a morning pee felt so good.

Around 9:30 I heard a commotion in the hallway which sounded like Lisa's voice. But it was quickly interrupted by another voice. After a few minutes of whispering Lisa came in looking exhausted and amped up all at the same time. She had a coffee in her hand which drank in her first five minutes and then she asked the nurse for more. 

She was scared and amped up and practically buzzing and it wasn't helping my BP at all. I felt guilty, stupid, tired and feeble and her buzzing was just making me more agitated. It was all very understandable but I think the nurse could sense it and when Lisa went out to get another latte the nurse came back in and said "I know your wife is really upset but I'm here for you. If you feel like you need a break just let me know and I'll take care of it." When Lisa came back Deena, didn't say anything but she did offer me some tips on guided relaxation and suggested Lisa join in.

The wheelie people came in 3 more times for 3 more tests. This time in addition to another CT scan and a chest X Ray I  met with the head of the radiology department who re-did my kidney sonogram. There was a lot of contorting of my body and hmmmming at my pictures and at one point he left to consult someone. He came back smiling and said that it was hard to tell, but it looked like my kidneys were probably okay and it probably looked odd from dehydration.

Around 2 I was told I'd be able to leave once the doctor signed off. I sat there hour after hour in my sweaty little bed, feeling sweaty and disgusting; I hadn't showered the night before this all started and I was really feeling disgusting now. It was apparently a busy day of new patients and I was doing okay enough to drop down the list of urgent need. The one productive thing that happened that day was that Lisa was so jacked up on coffee she knitted my nurse Deena snow hat. 

Finally at 7:00 PM Dr Halpern came in to release me. He did the scary looking behind my eye thing, made me squeeze his hands and then said I was doing okay. The diagnosis was an Extreme Hypertension Emergency. He sent me off with a handful of prescriptions for blood pressure and a recommendation of a low sodium diet and an admonition to see my personal Doctor;  A doctor I had stupidly never seen.

The ride home was almost as intense as the ride home from the street fair. I was very tired and scared, Lisa was scared and still angry. We stopped at Safeway to get some low sodium food. Fortunately I don't like processed meals and food very much anyway, but my big shock was that cheese is loaded with sodium. Well most cheese, for some reason Swiss Cheese is very low. So I loaded up with Swiss Cheese, Tofu, veggies and low sodium tortillas. It would be another month or two before I found a low sodium Soy Sauce that really was low in sodium at an Asian market. To this day I'm still pretty careful about my sodium.

I was terrified those first few days. I was certain that if I sneezed I'd have an aneurism. I pretty much ate nothing and didn't leave the house except to go see my new Dr. I was supposed to be seeing a Dr who had been described as very tough and I wasn't looking forward to it. Both Lisa and I were afraid that that would not help my phobia. But at the last minute I got a call that he was sick and an offer to see another Dr.. Dr B as I call her. She's great. She didn't have any more room on her panel but my case was so extreme that she took me on and I'm very glad about that.

So there I was someone who was certain that I'd completely broken myself. Someone who had developed a horrible Dr. phobia and had record high blood pressure. But that was then. Just like an alcoholic, this was my rock bottom. I have an awesome doctgor. t and I go regularly for physicals and tests. I've been seeing a dentist regularly as well and I even had two sinus surgeries last year to fix a sinus problem discovered by an oral surgeon in an X Ray.  My blood pressure is normal, as is my cholesterol. I even meditate every day which also has a profound effect on my blood pressure and general well being. Even broken things can be fixed with a Little TLC.