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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Brain vs. Body

I spend a lot of time these days staring at old people. I understand that it’s impolite. But after I turned 50 I had a rude awakening. Sure I’d been eating at the adult table for a long time. I’m not kidding anyone when I say I’m still young, because I’m not. I’m simply immature. The next table I will be eating at will be the nursing home table. Followed by the hospital tray de puree. My body understands this. My brain doesn’t.

I see and feel myself getting old. When I look in the mirror, I notice my eyelashes have disappeared. They’re still there, but they are thin and flesh colored. Hundreds of childhood-fertilized, sun-baked wrinkles cover my face. My skin has thinned, and the face fat has disappeared. I’m getting “those horrid age spots!” they used to warn about in Esoterica ads, and worst of all, I am forever ripping out piano-wire-textured hair from my ears. I do not remember signing up for Chia Ears. Could someone call them off? I won’t even go into the age-related health problems. I’m saving my “organ recitals” for The Home.

So although I have physical signs of age, even beyond my years, my general psychological being is still an adolescent. So I’m paying attention to people a couple of decades older to prepare for what I’ll have to look forward to.

So far, there’s nothing.

I was at the pharmacy yesterday, and the woman in front of me, who was probably ten years my senior, was buying three giant-sized packages of generic adult diapers. “God,” I thought, “that could be me any day now. I’m so glad I’m not there yet.”

But I am there. After all, what was I standing in line for? To pick up my (fifty-dollar co-pay, thanks a lot) Celebrex prescription. For the osteoarthritis in my back.

I’m sure my brain is this way because it lives in denial. I nearly drowned last year when I got caught in a rip current in the Atlantic Ocean. I kept telling myself I’m one of the best swimmers I know, and I don’t need no stinkin’ lifeguards watching me. They couldn’t see me, of course, because they were dutifully patrolling their cell phones, having text conversations with their friends. I eventually swam out of it, but I did get to the point of yelling for help or drowning of pride. Other Bill helped rescue me. Will I swim out to a sandbar again? Probably. Because, to me, I’m not 53. My body tells me I am, but my brain is back in junior high school, wondering why all my friends are suddenly attracted to girls.

Granted, I have slowed down some. My body tells me that it’s perfectly all right to be ready for bed at 9:00 PM. Yet, my brain says, “Well if you’re going to do that, make sure you Tivo Dude, Where’s My Car? so you can watch it during the daylight hours.”

I try to eat healthy. During the weekdays, I have green tea for breakfast and an apple and a big carrot and a yogurt for lunch. But when candy, doughnuts or cookies are available at one of the many public offering tables at work, my afternoon repast will be a handful of tasty miniature Krackle bars, and if I’m lucky, a big piece of someone’s birthday cake.

My 53-year-old body tells me I should exercise to prevent myself from stiffening up. It says I should join a senior yoga class. But my 14-year-old brain says, “What that sore back needs is for you to push yourself all the way back in the recliner, put your feet up, have a couple stacks of those delicious, orange-colored Voortman vanilla-crème-filled waffle sandwich cookies while you enjoy two hours of Warner Brothers animation on the Cartoon Network. My brain bullies my body.

Doctors, therapists, and new age spiritualists all agree that you should listen to your body. But I can’t hear my body when my brain is screaming for ice cream. My brain uses a megaphone and holds the key to the sound-proof booth, where my body is isolated backstage.

I don’t know how or when my brain and body will merge and start to cooperate with each other. The brain is definitely the super-heavyweight in this fight, and my body is the light flyweight. The body will always be knocked out with the first punch.

So I stare curiously at older generations as if they will somehow give me a clue as to how this will come about. When I’m 80, I wonder, will I be driving a Lincoln Town Car and be shrunken up so badly that I can’t see over the steering wheel? In my twilight years, will I be wearing plaid pastel pants with white patent-leather loafers and matching belt? Who’s going to tell me when it’s time to stop wearing shorts and tank tops and jeans and worn-thin vintage t-shirts? At what point does wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch polo shirt look more ridiculous than a leisure suit and a bow tie? Will I ever own a car that is not a stick shift? When will I want to listen to Guy Lombardo, Bing Crosby or Celine Dion CD’s? The music thing may have already started, given the fact that there are four Mandy Patinkin CD’s in my collection. But how will the rest of the transition take place?

I’ll tell you how it’ll happen. This body, which has been bullied all its life by my brain, will finally rise up, grow a pair and fight back. Well maybe “fight” is too strong a word. It’ll just let go of the rope. The body knows Depends and Levi’s are not compatible. It is aware that no one at the nude beach wants to see your colostomy bag. It understands that portable oxygen tanks are not allowed on roller coasters. Wheelchairs are not going to cut it during vacations to hilly San Francisco. My body will refuse to step out into the sun without forming some kind of ugly, suspicious growth. My teeth will rot and crumble, leaving my body only mashed potatoes and Gerber products to consume. And as the body grows bolder yet sicker, the brain will have no choice but to relent, throw in the towel, and start doing what the body says. Unfortunately, by then, it’ll be too late. The brain will merely exist in regret.

Meanwhile, my brain is reminding me that it’s been a long time since I’ve gone—and it’s only a four-mile drive—to the beach for fudge and salt-water taffy. And maybe a nice new pair of flip-flops.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Tea for One

When you come over to our house, even though I always have it on hand, I will not offer you iced tea. There is usually lemonade, Diet Coke, water, and sometimes Fresca. But offering you a drink of tea will just be a waste of time. You won’t like it. I guarantee it.

Other Bill tends to put it on his list of available beverages to offer visitors, but I usually chime in with, “You probably won’t like the tea.” To some, that becomes a challenge. Who doesn’t like iced tea, after all, especially in the warm South Florida climate? The answer is everyone, unless, of course, you are my sister or a cousin on my Dad’s side of the family.

I’ll admit my iced tea looks like lawn clipping stew. Two thirds of it is brewed with green tree leaves that are rolled into the size of a BB. It is called gunpowder tea. When the hot water hits these pellets, they expand, just like those capsules that have animal-shaped sponges crammed into them. The other third is loose jasmine tea, to give it color and just a hint of flowery aroma. It has to be strained. My tea does not come in clean and convenient teabags. I don’t think I’m a tea snob, but I look at a teabag the way that Donald Trump looks at the rest of the world. In other words: I’m worth more than that.

The reactions to tasting my tea boil down to two. A polite person will express no displeasure with it, and he will spend the rest of the night thirsty while everyone else is enjoying their drinks. The ice will melt, leaving a glass of watered-down, untouched tea. An impolite person will wrinkle up his face as if he’s just taken a sip of a Rotten Sushi Slurpee, slam the glass down and say, “You really drink this shit? Can I have some lemonade instead?”

It’s true. I do drink that shit, and I have since I was twelve years old. Each summer when I’d go out to visit my Aunt Kay in Colorado, she’d fill up her 2-quart glass pitcher with the oranges painted on it, dump in a few teaspoons of gunpowder, and a few fewer of jasmine, and set it out on the side stoop in the morning. By lunchtime, it was sun-steeped and yellowish, and was a welcome thirst quencher. Initially I added teaspoons of sugar, but she gradually weaned me off of it until I drank it straight.

She would fill up the bottle again with water, set it outside, and we would drink it until it was too weak to differentiate from tap water. Then she’d make a new batch with new leaves. Call me wasteful, but I don’t adopt that Depression mode of tea recycling. I like it strong and bitter.

For the longest time, I made the tea in the sun, too. But Other Bill read something on the bastion of sketchy information, AKA the World Wide Web, which said that sun tea could encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Other Bill’s job is as a safety and health regulator, so if I do not comply with his wishes, he threatens me with a fine. Plus he wasn’t fond of looking at sod floating in a pitcher of water every time he opened the fridge. So these days I make it in my iced tea maker, whom I refer to as Mr. Tea (I pity the fool that don’t drink this shit.) I dump the dry leaves into the bottom of the pitcher and let it steep until the water cools, and then I strain it into a gallon jug so that instead of looking like street runoff, with the leaves swirling around, it looks more like a giant urine sample. Much more appetizing.

I also get teased at work. Officers sometimes see the soggy tealeaf compost in the bottom of the Mr. Tea pitcher and threaten to field test it to see if for weed. People are not used to seeing tea out of a bag. Most people believe that teabags grow on bushes.

At my last job, a clueless party-girl intern staggered in one morning and watched me pouring off my delicious gunpowder mix, leaving the soggy tealeaf sludge behind.

“What is THAT?” she demanded to know.

I rolled my eyes. I’d been through this countless times. “It’s tea,” I told her.

“Well, it looks like leaves!” she said.

I just stared at her until she left the room.

I was so heartened when I had a cousins reunion at our house a few years ago, and everyone, except Other Bill, of course, drank that tea, because they learned to like it when they were young, too. I felt so warm, so tingly, so validated by people who actually had seconds. I have never felt less like a freak in my life. I was moved to tears.

The truth of the matter is, my sludge is actually good for you. Green tea is full of healthy anti-oxidants. It is good hot or cold. I drink two to three gallons of it a week.

It’s a little bit bitter, but it’s very refreshing and has a fresh aftertaste to it. I understand it’s an acquired taste, just like scotch or gin or bourbon, but without the harmful side-effects. I’m not trying to convert anyone. It’s pricey, about $10 a pound, so I hate pouring out the big glass that guests are too grossed out to finish.

All I want is a little respect. It is not a urine sample, nor soggy marijuana, nor flat beer. My tea has zero calories and very little caffeine. I don’t tease you when you gulp down 420 calories from 3 cans of cola. I say nothing about the possible dangers of artificial sweeteners as you chug down a diet soda and can only pray that your DNA or healthy cells won’t be affected by it.

I’m tired of being judged because of my beverage preference. I want anti-discrimination laws to read that I can’t be discriminated against because of race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, or consumption of fluids that the majority of people find 100% reprehensible. Even Martin Luther King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” I happen to be quite fond of my cup of bitterness and don’t see how it even remotely relates to hatred.

Drinking something that looks like floating mulch is a cross I have to bear. I will never be part of a movement. I will never gain a following. There are no bitter tea drinkers support groups. Nevertheless, I will not be intimidated. I will not be silenced. I have a dream, too, you know. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the meaning of its creed that all beverages are created equal; that they will realize that a man who boils water, steeps his tea leaves, waits patiently for his infusion to cool (a process that takes several hours), is not in any way better or worse that a manufacturer who churns out 2400 twelve-ounce cans per minute.

Until then, I am imploring Other Bill to no longer offer my bitter potion to houseguests. Wasting my beverage of choice will not in any way impede me from making more. I am a member of a small, exclusive club, which he has been invited to join but chooses not to.

Give me liber-tea, or give me death.

Well, okay, maybe not death. But not Lipton, either.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Joyful Hanukkah, Groovy Kwanzaa, and Pleasant Other December celebrations that I don’t know about. Now shut up and get shopping. There are toys to be bought.

These days, all the danger is taken out of toys. Everything has to be touched, tasted, burned, crash-tested and, of all the stupid things, checked for lead content. What hogwash. I was snacking on lead paint chips more often than Lay’s has potato chips, and do you see anything wrong with me? (He asked, typing with his tumorous stumps.)

I grew up in the golden years before the Consumer Product Safety Commission was born. Giant head-piercing Lawn Darts, blinding projectiles, small choking hazards, and BB guns were all the rage. We had hand-burning Thingmakers that cooked toxic Plastigoop Creepy Crawlers. We loved our pinching, scalding, finger-amputating Vacu-Forms that created plastic molds you did nothing with. It was just fun to melt the molds and inhale the toxic, new-car-smelling fumes. We danced in clouds made by DDT-spraying, mosquito-killing trucks that went up and down the streets on summer nights. Pesticide smelled so good in those days. Okay, maybe that wasn’t a gift. We are still monitoring our cells for a possible class action lawsuit.

I am a bit loathe to admit that the first Christmas present I completely adored was a Swingline stapler. I wanted that more than anything, and after I got it, I spent hours putting that stapler to work, and evaluating its power. Could it staple my sister’s sleeves shut? Absolutely. But could it staple her shoes shut? There were scores of experiments to run. It occupied me for days on end. Boys push their toys to the limit to determine what it takes to break their Christmas presents. And once they find out, they ask for another one for their next birthday. Hopefully by then it would be new and improved.

Thanks to government regulation, we no longer have to worry about getting shot with the teeny-tiny little James Bond figure that ejected out of a toy Aston-Martin into my cornea. My eye was bloodshot and sore four days after the ejection took place.

And speaking of cars, my sister wanted, but never got the Barbie Dream Car. She only got the cardboard Barbie Dream House, which, along with a fifth of bourbon, kept my uncle awake while he put it together one Christmas Eve. Those were the days when “some assembly required” meant, “hope you have at least a Master’s degree in civil engineering and the patience of a saint.”

I have a friend whose sister received the Barbie Dream Car. Alan’s sister built an intricate ramp on their front steps to send her Barbie dream car down. That was all fun and games until Alan poured lighter fluid all over it, tossed a match on it, and sent the Barbie Dream Hearse down in flames. Literally. With Barbie in it, of course. And Ken. To my knowledge, Mattel never did manufacture Flame Retardant Barbie. Now get the collectable, breakable Flame Retardant Barbie, made of genuine terra cotta clay and now with long, flowing, brushable asbestos hair! Ask your parents to give it to you for your next birthday!

Girls kept their dolls clean and groomed back then, but boys lived to destroy their Christmas gifts. It was more fun to crash your electric train into a cinder block rather than just watch it go around in circles. I had a battery-operated Hot Wheels Power Blaster that sent toy cars flying off the track, across the living room, and, if you aimed right, into your sister’s face. We’d bring in a ladder and build a Hot Wheels track from the top rung. This caused the gravity-powered cars to have momentum beyond what they were engineered for, and we’d sail them off a ramp to nowhere and tried to get them to plunge into a tub of Cool Whip. After that we just ran around the room with the tub of Cool Whip and tried to catch the car in it. Naturally this ruined shirts, stained carpeting and made upholstery, in spots, suspiciously shiny.

There was this stuff that came in a tube, the precursor to Super Elastic Bubble Plastic. It smelled like a combination of leaded gasoline and ammonia. You’d squirt a blob of it on the end of a straw, blow on it, and sometimes it would make this dreary, blue-gray, brittle, plastic bubble. Other times, you would just see a girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

There was a compound sold around the time of the movies The Absent-Minded Professor, and its sequel, Son of Flubber. Flubber was a moldable plastic clay-like substance that had more bounce to it than Play-Dough could ever dream of. Mothers loved it because even though it was clear when new, Flubber turned black with dirty hands and was often ground into the new carpeting without a trace of hope of being removed.

Everything worth having back then contained the word “Super” in it. There was this tub of pink gelatinous slime, which I think was called Super—perhaps Sooper—Goop. It was hot pink, came in a small tub and smelled like formaldehyde. You would form a blob of it over your mouth, blow on it, and a bubble would form, pop, and drip down into the carpeting to piss off your mother, who was already busy scrubbing the blackened Flubber and Cool Whip out of the new shag. After Sooper Goop became passé, you could use it to preserve your dead parakeets.

There was the rock-hard, high-bouncing Super Ball, which could break car windows or give you a concussion. After that came the Super Small Ball, a tinier version. My friend, Ray, and I would go into the bathroom and throw it against the side of the bathtub and see how many times it hit parallel walls. That lasted until it bounced out and cracked the medicine cabinet door. How’d that happen? I dunno.

One Christmas, Ray got something called a Water Wiggle. Picture a fire hose that gets dropped and starts flying around, willy-nilly, smashing windows, denting cars and knocking very wet people unconscious. The Water Wiggle was a scaled down version of that. It was a narrow, pressurized hose with a goofy, bell-shaped face on the end of it. You attached it to a garden hose and it would fly around, spraying water, until it finally wrapped around your neck and strangled you like a boa constrictor. We figured out on our own that if you just kinked the garden hose, you could save the victim from asphyxiation, but only if you got there in time.

After months of begging, I finally got my Slip-n-Slide. Wham-o, the manufacturer, made the assumption when marketing this lengthy sheet of plastic, that people would spread it across spongy, cushioning grass. You would hook up your garden hose to it, and it would squirt water onto the plastic runner, and one would take a sailing dive on it and slide across the yard. Yippie!

We had zoysia grass. It’s like the grass used on putting greens. You can bounce Super Balls off of it. It is short-bladed and packed firmly into the hard earth beneath it. Jumping onto a Slip-n-Slide on zoysia grass was like taking a flying leap onto wet asphalt. You could only take it two or three times before you got a splitting headache or a spinal injury. Fortunately, Alan never tried setting you on fire while you slid across it. But only because I didn’t know him then; he probably would have.

One Christmas, I received, though never asked for, something called a wood burning kit. Probing the Internet, I see these things are still being made. How do you look at a seven-year-old boy and think, “What this fatherless, unsupervised boy needs is a pen that heats up to five billion degrees centigrade. He could use it to burn his name onto a wooden shingle. Or maybe set the house on fire. Wouldn’t that be nice?” I used my wood burning kit twice or three times, and never walked away without several giant blisters somewhere on my person. Billy’s birthday is just two weeks after Christmas. Maybe we’ll get him that Mattel Battlin’ Blowtorch or the Marx Miniature Nuclear Reactor.

Some genius made millions by threading a heavy glass ball on each end of a string and putting a plastic ring in the center. These things were called Clackers, because of the deafening sound they made when you bounced them against each other. It took weeks of practice and a fractured wrist before you could rattle them to sound like machine gun fire. Even my mother recognized them as unsafe. Although she feared more for the safety of our newly-acquired color TV set more than anything else. “You’re not allowed to play with those in the TV room,” she warned. “They could slip off the string and go through the television tube.” These clever toys were known to shatter, cut, blind, break bones and were the culprits of hundreds of concussions and other brain traumas. But as long as you don’t blow out the picture tube, knock yourself out. Why can’t you be more like your friends who spend a lot of time in the emergency room?

But thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, kids don’t get so damaged these days. Characters in video games don’t really shoot back and hurt you, or punch you until you’re unconscious. Hopefully one day technology will advance so electronic games can actually hurt you, by locking themselves down when they ascertain that the child’s homework hasn’t been done.

We have the Consumer Product Safety Commission to thank for shielding us from the Hasbro Slippery Noose, the Milton Bradley Slice-n-Run Chain Saw, the Parker Brothers Quaalude Fun Factory, Let’s Play Surgeon! by X-acto, the Just Like My Stepdaddy’s Tire Iron from Matchbox, Mommy’s Little Transvestite Schoolwear for Boys from Abercrombie and Fitch, Ideal’s Home Crematorium, and the Charlie Manson Map of the Stars’ Homes by Remco.

Actually, I visited the CPSC’s web page on children’s toy recalls and counted 823. One of my favorites is a desk set shaped like a submarine that houses a tape dispenser, pencil sharpener, scissors, and a razor blade cutting tool. Recommended for ages 6 and up! It houses storage drawers, convenient for, I would imagine, holding your barbed wire, ninja throwing stars, Ritalin, and, if you’re Alan, flammable liquids. Thanks for catching that, CPSC! Maybe if I’m lucky, I can find one on eBay.

I also was fond of the recall of Good Neigh Bears, a choking-hazard plush toy given away free by State Farm insurance agents from 2005 to 2007. I wonder if their life insurance claims rose those two years. Kind of counter-productive, wouldn’t you say, State Farm?

You can take the toy away from the boy, but you can’t keep the boy from his imagination. We made blow dart guns from straws housing pin-embedded Q-Tips. They were deadly accurate. We burned ants (sometimes aunts, if they were asleep outside) and started brush fires using only the sun and a magnifying glass. We made rockets out of matches, toilet paper, and tin foil. We made miniature Hindenburgs with suffocating dry cleaner bags, balsa wood and birthday cake candles. They would rise about 6 feet off the ground and then burn and melt, possibly on you.

God, this whole thing makes me sound so old. I need a diversion. Maybe I’ll go play some cards or a game of Scrabble.

Or would I get paper cuts and choke? Perhaps shuffleboard is in my near future.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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