Wednesday, April 26, 2006
In Which We Are Strepped Of All Dignity...
WARNING: POSSIBLE VOMIT LEVEL 1 IN EFFECT
Of course, anyone's who's read this blog for even a few months knows how often illness strikes the Magazine Mansion. In just a casual glance backwards, it seems as though I'm posting about someone being sick--often myself--with a regularity that astonishes even me. Setting aside personal injury and health emergencies not related to viral or bacterial infection, I've blogged about sickness--or while someone else in the house was sick--enough to make it its own sub-entry over in the margin. For instance, there was this post. And this one. And this, this, this, this, this, and this. Plus that one, that one, and that one.
Have I put too fine a point on this?
And you know, it seems like a lot of that sickness involved strep throat, which I guess is common enough if you have kids. I had strep about once a month every winter when I was growing up. In fact, I remember one time my doctor determined that I was a strep carrier. But that all ended--or so I thought--years ago.
But now here we are in the middle of tiny little household pandemic. Starting last month, Thomas had strep, and got over it (we thought), just in time for Her Lovely Self to get it. I avoided it (presumably because I was still recovering from pneumonia and was riding a wave of expensive and powerful antibiotics). But then the Brownie got it.
A few weeks later, when we had relatives visiting for Easter, Thomas got strep again. Then HLS got it again. Then my sister-in-law and nephew reported they had it (only they found out after returning home). Thomas then went on to get the stomach flu but while he was in the middle of that, the Brownie got strep. And that case was weird because she had no symptoms. No sore throat. No fever. It was caught during a regular check-up.
That made me wonder if she or someone else in the house might be a strep carrier, but we all checked out fine. That was last week.
Then, the other morning, I woke up with the old razor-blades-in-the-throat sensation. I peered down my own throat with the aid of a flashlight and a mirror. Looked like a horror movie down there. Good God, was it strep throat? Again?! Why could we not shake this thing? Could it be we had finally reached that point that doctors have always predicted? Could it be we had a strain of streptococcus so powerful that it was resistant to antibiotics? Would we be shunned, consigned to a strep colony on some distant island?
I was in quite a funk about it last night, sitting on the couch, staring out the window. At length I heard the soft padding of feet and Blaze, my faithful hound, who always detects when I'm feeling low, jumped up on the couch and lay next to me. When I refused to pat him or acknowledge him in any way, he nudged me with his cold shnozz and then began licking my face until I had to crack a smile and push him away good-naturedly.
This morning, I came down for coffee, feeling even worse than last night, and had decided to call my doctor to make an appointment for the inevitable throat culture and antibiotics. All around me, the usual morning chaos was well underway. Blaze was up well before me, playing with the kiddos. They were throwing his squeaky ball and he was catching it in midair and returning it to the Brownie, always giving her a big sloppy kiss as he did. At one point, Thomas grabbed the ball from Blaze and--because he's a boy and has a natural predilection for the Gross Out--Thomas put the ball in his own mouth and growled. The Brownie squealed with disgust and delight.
"Oh, yuck!" I cried, using my Dad Voice. "Don't put that in your mouth, Thomas! You'll--"
I froze. You'll get germs had been what I was about to say. And a moment later, coffee slopping across the floor as I hustled to the computer, I was online, searching assorted medical databases for a little factoid I had only dimly remembered.
Apparently, not everyone in the house was cleared as a strep carrier (see #4).
Instead of calling my doctor, I promptly called our vet.
"You think he has strep?" the receptionist asked, somewhat incredulous. "That's not very common in dogs. What are his symptoms?"
"Well, none," I said. "But everyone in my house has been getting strep again and again for the past month and--"
There was a long sigh. "--and you think Blaze is the carrier."
"Yes," I said. "Why? Is there--?"
"Oh, you'll find the vet has an opinion about this. But come on, bring him in. If he does have strep, it's not good for him any more than it is for people. We've got an open slot in about 30 minutes, if that works."
It did. And while I waited, I hunted online more to get additional background on the topic. Apparently, the idea of dogs as strep carriers to humans is quite the, er, bone of contention on certain animal care message boards. There was only one small animal study that claimed to prove the link and while some vets believed it, many vehemently opposed the idea.
Such as my vet.
"It's the most ridiculous theory I've ever heard!" she said to me a half-hour later, as Blaze sat on her exam table, looking up at her with loving eyes as she fed him a doggy treat (they LOVE Blaze at my animal hospital). She softened her expression for a moment. "I don't mean to yell at you, MM. It's just that there's this one small study that purports to prove it, and every winter I get families in here freaking out that their dog is the equivalent of Typhoid Mary, spreading strep to their kids. In some cases, they abandon their pets with us, and that's sad."
"So you're saying there's no way it's biologically possible for Blaze to spread strep? I mean, he's always licking me and the kids--"
She shook her head. "I'm not saying it's impossible. There are plenty of infectious diseases that can spread among species, and dogs can get certain viruses from people. But bacterial infections are less common. There just isn't enough proof."
"Well," I said. "That may be. But as long as I'm here..."
"Of course," she said, and began to ready a long cotton swab. "We can do a culture here in the office and get an answer in just a few minutes."
As she approached Blaze with the swab, I leaned over him and started to pry open his jaws. The vet looked at me.
"What are you doing?"
I looked up at her. "I've seen my kids choke and gag when they get a throat culture. I don't expect Blaze to sit still for this."
The vet laughed. "Oh, honey," she said. "Dogs don’t carry strep in their throats. But you can hold him still for a second." And then, before my astonished eyes, she turned away from Blaze's mouth and aimed the swab for the other opening.
My astonishment, alas, was nothing compared to Blaze's, who leaped and made a startled "ORK!" and looked pretty much like he did that time Thomas ran full-tilt into his rear-end.
Which, just to refresh your memory, looked like this.
I was aghast too. "So...so...so dogs carry...rectal strep?!?"
The vet nodded as she swabbed the culture in a container or some kind.
"But...but...if they're carriers, how do they give it to people?"
The vet gave me a patronizing look then. "I think you know exactly how they would, if they were carriers," she said. "But he'd have to be, you know, in your face a lot. It's not like you sleep with him every night and let him clean your teeth anything, do you?"
"No, no!" I laughed. "Of course not!"
But I was thinking:
"Well don't worry," she said, patting me on the arm. "I'm sure this will come back negative. I just don't believe dogs can transmit strep that way."
Fifteen minutes later, she was back with a funny look on her face.
"Um, well, it appears Blaze does have rectal strep," she said quietly.
Luckily for the dog, a quick shot in the haunches set him right, but as I drove him home, I felt vaguely ill. How was I going to explain this to Her Lovely Self? To the kids? I usually try to look on the bright side, to laugh off bad news, but there seemed to be no way to spin this in a positive direction. I mean, my entire family has had ass strep. In our throats. From the dog. Where's the silver lining in that?
I pulled into the driveway and brought Blaze in. Her Lovely Self was just back from taking the Brownie to pre-school. "I thought you had a doctor's appointment," she said. "What are you doing with the dog? What's the matter?"
"I think you better sit down for this one," I told her. "I've got some...weird news to tell you, and I have to be totally serious about it."
Her Lovely Self looked alarmed and sat right down. "Oh boy," she said quietly. "This is SO not like you. What is it? You're totally freaking me out. Can't you crack a smile or make some dumb tongue-in-cheek remark?"
"Trust me," I said. "Everything I'm about to tell you is ALL tongue-in-cheek."
From Somewhere on the Masthead
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
In Which We Have A Catch...
Well, Thomas must be getting over his stomach bug, because not only did he manage to avoid vomiting yesterday for the first time in three days, but he also found the energy to freak out when his mother told him he was still too sick to go to his baseball game last night.
Thomas is in Little League, the 7-year-old division, which means you get live pitches, but they still have the tee handy in case you can't connect on the 10th or 12th swing. They still don't really keep score, but now, unlike last year, the outs count, so the kids in the field are really hustling to get three outs and get back to the dugout so they can get more at-bats. No wonder Thomas likes to play, and he's a good hitter too, one of the few who can get some altitude on the ball and actually send it into the outfield.
You still see a lot of comedy in the field, though. None of them have the aim to correctly hit their cut-off man, and when they make a throw at the plate, they often as not hit the runner or one of the coaches. They're all still deathly afraid of pop flies, which leads to a lot of plays where four kids converge in order to watch the ball hit the ground. On the other hand, at least once a game, some lucky fellow manages to snag a mild pop-up or line drive, and they are all getting good at jumping on grounders and making throws to the correct base.
Some moms grouse that the dads who coach the teams are too serious, and while there are a couple of aggressive fellows (including a frustrated ex-minor leaguer who yelled at the catcher for not snagging a foul that popped up by the plate. He very narrowly escaped a mob of little league moms who were ready to string him up by his balls, and made a public apology from the pitcher's mound the next week, a move that allowed him to keep his job as coach, and saved him from a messy, emasculating death), I actually think the dads have the right idea, insofar as they feel the kids are old enough to start understanding the fundamentals of the game and they spend a lot of time showing them proper batting stance, practicing catching fouls and making double and triple plays, and in general instilling in them the concept of digging it out and making sure everyone knows what the best play is whenever a new batter comes up to the plate.
I certainly didn't have that kind of training when I played baseball. I played in a very loose league in Kansas for three years and playing and practicing for games, while fun and exciting, was also weird and dysfunctional too. Which I suppose is as concise a definition of my entire childhood as you're likely to get.
I won't go in for one of those classic American guy clichés and tell you that baseball was the only thing my dad and I had in common, because it really wasn't. Oh, when he was home, he liked to have a good old-fashioned catch with his sons. And what quality time he spent with us generally involved some bats, gloves, and the few mud-stained baseballs we owned. The truth is, we had almost nothing in common. But of all the things we didn't have in common, baseball was the least of them.
So there was many a dusky spring and summer evening when my brother and I found ourselves out near the pear orchard, squinting in the gloaming as my dad hefted his ancient brown varnished wood bat and cracked ball after ball out to us. I was a terrible batter and not good at infield work (too many variables. And too many line drives). But I liked the outfield. For one thing, I had a knack for judging a high pop fly and getting under it for the catch. For another, I was the only kid on the team who could throw a ball from the back fence all the way to home plate, quite a feat for an 8- or 9-year-old, and one I can't duplicate now without watching my left arm dangle freely from its socket afterwards. My dad played to this one strength and so he constantly drilled me in snagging high flies, scooping up grounders and working on my control so that I could get the ball to the catcher instead of, say, the folks sitting in the bleachers behind the plate.
But every once in a while, my dad would come home of an evening and decide to take out on us whatever frustrations the work day had visited upon him. I could always tell if it was going to be one of those days as soon as he got out of the truck. Before he'd come into the house, he'd head for one our back sheds (where I realize now he must have had a bottle or four hidden) and then come back, at first refreshed, but later surly and mean. He'd snipe all through dinner, and then decide I needed to work on my batting or try catching some hard throws and line drives.
Batting was an unending source or embarrassment for me, and, I guess, my dad. See, in this little part of Kansas, among the 8 or 10 teams we played, I was the only left-handed hitter. When our coach wanted to get someone on base, he would put me in to bat. I could barely connect with the ball, but my being a southpaw always threw the pitchers off. In eight consecutive at-bats, I was hit by the pitch for an automatic walk. The first three or four times it happened, it was just kind of funny. But then my coach started calling me his "secret walk-on weapon" and my dad caught wind of this and he wasn't so happy. I think on some level, he wanted to protect my dignity, but it never translated that way. By the end of the season, I was collecting an impressive set of baseball-sized black-and-blue marks on my side, my back, and one memorable one on my right buttock. I was also absorbing a lot of abuse from my dad. "If you didn't crowd the plate, you wouldn't get hit so much," he'd say. Or "You know, if you just tried hitting the goddamn ball, you might connect."
I'd listen to this sort of thing as he'd wing fast ball after fast ball at me. And my dad was no pitcher himself. He was no coach either. He never told me how to stand, or correct my swing. Just kept telling me, incessantly, to keep my eye on the ball.
Other times, he wouldn't bother with batting. He just threw balls at me as hard as he could. "If you weren't so afraid of the goddamn ball, you might be a better hitter!" he'd cry, and then oomph another fast ball at me and I'd catch it, feeling the sting of the impact deep in my glove, my fingers aching a little more each time he threw. I always thought he was being unfair. I mean, I knew a lot of kids on my team and other teams who were petrified of pop flies. Indeed, most of the head injuries during games in our league were from fielders spectacularly misjudging a descending ball and catching it in the crowns of their heads, the hollow sound of the impact echoing across the field, eliciting winces and sympathetic "Ooooh!" sounds from both sides of the bleachers.
I hated when we'd play this kind of catch. It wasn't a game; it was more like duel. I'd get tired of catching such hard-thrown balls fairly quickly. But you couldn't let down your guard or try to slow the pace of things. That only infuriated my dad. "You better catch it!" he'd call, firing another hand-stinger at me. "You know what'll happen otherwise."
To some this might sound like the "or else" speech of an abusive father, and maybe it was, but not in the way you think. My dad wasn't threatening to beat me if I played badly; he was simply reminding me of the consequences of lax attention. I remember from a very early age my dad taking me and my brother aside and showing us the ball. "See how hard this is?" he'd say. "It'll hurt like hell if it hits you in the face. And that's what I'm aiming for. Best way to learn how to catch a ball is if you aim to hit someone in the head. You might miss once, but by Gorry I bet you won’t miss a second time." And he meant it, so my brother and I got very good at catching balls. We didn't dare miss.
Helluva way to learn to play ball, I know, but at the time, I didn't know any better and, I suppose, neither did my dad. He just wanted us to be good, to be prepared to play well in a tough game, and I suppose in that he succeeded. I just wish I could say it was fun when we did it.
And of course, now I wanted my own son to have fun, but he sure wasn't when I got home last night. Thomas was still fuming about not being allowed to attend his game. "I feel fine!" he insisted to me, as if I'd be stupid enough to try to countermand his mother's ruling.
I did, however, have a compromise. "You know, when a player's on the disabled list, he doesn't just jump right back into the first game. He usually practices and warms up for a few days to get back in the rhythm. So, if it's okay with you mother, why don’t we go out back and play catch and see how you feel. And if you feel up to it, we'll do some batting practice too."
Her Lovely Self thought the wisdom of this idea was positively Solomonic (and she was getting pretty sick of his crabbing anyway) so out we went, the whole motley bunch: the Brownie retired to a hammock in the corner of the yard ("I will be the cheerleader," she said to me. "I will yell the rah-rahs when you get hit." I hoped she meant when Thomas got a hit.") And Blaze was attached to his recently installed runner, which not only gave him plenty of romping room in the back yard, but also ensured that he would get his big doggy ass and the runner leash in our way at every possible opportunity.
Still, it was a good practice. Thomas wanted me to lob balls way up, mimicking the trajectory of the average pop fly. He was scared to get under the first few. But after about three dozens throws, he was actually getting good at snagging them.
Batting, as always, was an adventure. When I was a player, I had good aim from the outfield, but I was a lousy pitcher, and time has not improved my aim. Not that it mattered. Thomas swung at anything and everything. When he finally got his timing down, though, he sent four balls into the neighbor's yard (where all were helpfully retrieved by their 17-year-old son, who was mowing the lawn at the time), several dozens grounders bouncing off of rock walls and father's shins. And there was one spectacular line drive that came this close to beaning me smack in the middle of my forehead. I dropped like a stone, and even with my cat-like reflexes, the ball parted my hair and took my grandfather's Red Sox cap with it. Thomas laughed and hooted, the dog sitting next to him, panting in that way that seemed like a laugh. In the far background, the Brownie stirred from her hammock and cried, "Gimme a Dad! Gimme and E! What's it spell? Dad-eee! Goooooo, Dad!!" I lay on the ground in a heap, suddenly feeling like I was 9 again, and waiting for my own dad to start yelling at me to get my ass up and chase the ball.
But the moment passed and all in all, it turned out to be a good but short practice. After the near-miss with the line drive, the Brownie became bored and went into the house, taking Blaze with her. Then, after about 20 minutes more minutes of alternately playing catch and letting him hit away, Thomas was bushed. "I'm so tired," he said, in an uncharacteristic moment of honesty. "I guess I was too pooped to play." He flopped on the ground and grabbed for a nearby water bottle.
"This was good practice, though," I said, sitting next to him and fanning myself with my cap. "You're getting really good at snagging pop-ups. That's going to come in VERY handy next time you play."
We sat for a moment and drank our water and looked out at the lowering sun.
"Dad," Thomas said, "Papa said he was mean when he practiced with you. He said he used to throw the ball to hit you in the head."
I was a little surprised. "He told you that?" Thomas nodded. I shrugged. "Well, it was true, I guess. He thought it was the best way to make sure we learned how to catch the ball."
"Why was he mean to you?"
I sighed. "Well, Papa was a different guy back then. He was kind of like that coach who yelled at the catcher. He sometimes took fun things too seriously and forgot what he was doing."
Thomas took this in. "I'm sorry I laughed when I hit the ball at your head. It looked funny. But I didn't mean it."
"I know," I said. It was almost dusk now and Thomas yawned hugely. "Ready to go in?" I asked.
"Yeah," he nodded. He stood up and almost instinctively high-fived me, as he did with his teammates after every Little League match. "Good game, Dad," he said.
Good game indeed.
From Somewhere on the Masthead
Monday, April 24, 2006
In Which I Count to 12...
(Yes, you're reading this Monday, but I wrote it yesterday and for some reason it didn't post. So pretend it's Sunday).
Well, that was the best 12th wedding anniversary I've ever had.
Aside from the vomiting (note to self: never give Thomas red Kool-Aid EVER again for ANY reason).
And the cancelled dinner plans.
And the fact that the flowers I bought Her Lovely Self died overnight.
On the upside, despite her strep throat, the Brownie felt great, especially since being sick means unfettered access to TV, her drug of preference.
But I was briefly thrown by the Brownie's first choice of video to watch.
"Dad," she said. "I want to see the one of Mom in the Big White Dress."
I stared at her. "You mean our terrible, out-of-focus wedding video?"
"You're also aware that Daddy is in it, looking pretty sharp in his double-breasted tuxedo?"
"Yes," she said. "But you look mad. And anyway, I want to see Mom. In the Big White Dress."
So we got out the video and watched it. Mostly because when she's sick, the Brownie is extra bossy. Also, as she reminded anyone who would listen, her birthday is one week from today, so we should get used to following her orders in anticipation of her big day, when she (by her own reckoning) gets to be the Boss of Everyone. Also, I was kind of keen to see the video myself.
But boy, my daughter sure was right about one thing: I DO look mad.
I look mad because I was unable to smile. I was unable to smile because half my face was paralyzed. Which is why my favorite images from that day 12 years ago are not the traditional ones, like, oh, this...
...but instead I like the odd stuff. And I requested a lot of odd stuff. At least three of the wedding guests were freelance or staff photographers for newspapers and I begged them to bring their cameras.
One, my good pal Nick, went where No Man Could Go and got some neat behind-the-scenes images of the bridal party getting ready. She took one of my favorite pics, which I'll show you in a second.
But first, the requisite back story:
As I and my Best Man and assorted groomsguys were gathered at the front of the church staring blankly at 150 people staring blankly at us, the music started, the melodious cue that would signal the doors at the back to open and allow the procession to begin.
Except...Her Lovely Self missed her cue when the music started.
So the music started again. And just a moment before I was to start the self-conscious chuckling that would lead to a few seconds of consternation followed by a dawning horror that I had been left at the altar, the doors at the back opened and I saw my future father-in-law escorting a nimbus of light on his arm. The sun was shining in through the back of the church, see, and from my angle that's all I saw: a nimbus of white light that slowly resolved itself into my bride.
But she had missed her cue because at the last second, the Nimbus of White Light realized that she wasn't wearing lipstick and not a single tube of it could be had. Finally, someone from the congregation (it might even have been my cousin) found a stick and my pal Nick was there to capture the moment.
I'm also fond of this moment, which has nothing to do with the bride and the groom. I just like it because it's a record of the one and only time my Dad has ever worn a tuxedo, a secret he divulged right around the time this photo was taken.
"What?" I said. "Never? But at your own wedding--?"
"Wore a white sports jacket, borrowed from yer uncle Dennis. When we got to the yacht club for the reception, people thought I was a goddamn waiter. By jeeziz, I thought this time I'd make sure there weren't no mistake."
(And I have to say, my Dad looked like a million bucks, truly larger than life. Also, on a completely unrelated note, he looks like he's ready to go time-traveling. All he needs is a beaver hat and a cane.)
We had another photographer, Matt, who was a fearless photojournalist. He was the kind of guy who would drive into the worst slum of Chicago at 2 in the morning to buy ribs from this place that was open 24 hours and had been robbed so many times that you had to shout your order through a loudspeaker and then place your money in a bulletproof rotating cylinder, such as they have in banks. I went with him once and was so scared I vowed never to do it again.
Matt was Jewish, which I mention because it gave him an extra fearlessness when he approached the priest in our Catholic church and asked if he could set up a couple of cameras "...behind that table up there."
"You mean...the altar?" the priest asked.
"Yeah," said Matt. "I won't stand there. I'll just trigger them remotely. I'll have to move the statue of the blue nun, though." He said, referring to a painted sculpture of the Blessed Virgin.
The amazing thing is, the priest was so flabbergasted, he actually let him do it, so Matt and my brother unceremoniously carted "the blue nun" off to the side, next to a statue of St. Joseph, a.k.a. "the guy in the brown toga with the ring around his head."
Most of the pictures weren't spectacular. But I enjoy the larger prints because you can see the congregation and their reactions are kinda fun to watch, especially at moments like this:
Which is actually the reverse of this:
But the Brownie is never interested in the still photos. She wants to watch the video and see her Mom, who looks like a Disney princess (and then some).
During the viewing, a neighbor stopped by to drop something off and caught sight of what we were watching.
"Oh my God, is that your wedding video?" she asked.
"Yes," the Brownie answered for me. "That's mom in the Big White Dress." She paused. "They got married, and I was born 'zactly a week after!"
"Um, seven years and one week after," I clarified, wondering how many people she'd been saying that to over the years.
"Oh!" exclaimed the neighbor, regarding me with new eyes. "I wondered for a second. Because you sure look unhappy."
"Yeah," I sighed. "I get that a lot. But it really was the happiest day of my life."
And you know what? Four thousand three hundred and eighty days later, it still is.
From Somewhere on the Masthead
Sunday, April 23, 2006
In Which I Can't Sleep After 12 Years...
Yow, am I exhausted. I can barely keep my eyes open. But I suppose there were some mitigating factors, such as the fact that last night Thomas unexpectedly but authoritatively announced that he had come down with stomach flu, approximately 42 minutes after consuming a substantial supper of chicken, noodles (never pleasant on the return trip) and chunks of apple sweetened with a little bit of caramel.
All while Her Lovely Self was conveniently away at a cocktail party at the home of one of the Yummy Mummies in the neighborhood.
But Thomas, who is a generous boy, made sure that my sweet bride didn't miss out on any of the expectorant fun. In fact, the poor little guy threw up or dry-heaved throughout the night, at a rate of once an hour, almost on the hour, like some nearly accurate cuckoo clock of vomit.
Things settled down around dawn, so we got about two hours of sleep before the Brownie woke up and announced that her throat hurt. Of course it did: she has strep, as we discovered once we took her to the urgent-care clinic later in the morning. Well, at least the kids didn't string us along for a month or so, but instead got it all batched into this weekend.
Everyone else is asleep now, and I should be too, but I had a few things to mop up and also had to make a late call to our babysitter to let her know that we will not, in fact, be going out to dinner tomorrow night, as we like her too well to inflict Barf Lad and Strep Girl upon her.
If you had told me 12 years ago that this was how I would one day spend my anniversary weekend, I...well, I was going to say I would not have believed you. But with the way things had been going back then, I just might have.
For one thing, that spring of 1994 had been almost as eventful and tumultuous as this spring has been. Thus it was that on April 22, less than 12 hours from my wedding, I should have been sleeping--was certainly exhausted enough to be sleeping--but I wasn't. I was wide awake and then, as now, there were some mitigating factors.
To begin with, my body was thrumming with steroids. I had just a few weeks earlier awoken one morning to find myself afflicted with a condition known as Bell's palsy. You can read all about that eventful weekend here, but the short form is that the condition caused the left side of my face to become paralyzed. I suppose there are worse parts of the anatomy to suffer paralysis before one's wedding, but this was bad enough, thanks, as it spelled almost certain disaster as regards any decent wedding pictures. In addition to paralyzing one side of my face, the condition also caused no small amount swelling and facial pain in my neck and ear. After studying the literature on the condition, my doctor had found that some people--not ME, it would turn out, but some people--recovered more quickly if they were pumped full of the kinds of steroids that reduce your immune system--not to mention your testicles--to almost nothing. While I confess the treatment did help the swelling and pain, half of my face continued to be paralyzed for the duration of the wedding ceremony and for a few weeks thereafter.
The steroids also had the not-uncommon side effects of leaving me a near-raving insomniac, however, and that was just one of the reasons I was wide awake and drumming tabletops with fingertips for most of the evening.
Another reason was the gunfight.
Earlier in the day, with all arrangements seen to and nothing to do but wait four or five hours for the wedding rehearsal, my brother and several friends spirited me away to a large variety store, where we each bought a Super Soaker water gun of varying capacities and hydraulic firepower. It had been an unseasonably warm April for western Ohio, and so it was decided we should take advantage of the fact--and burn off the uncontainable mega-wattage of nervous energy coursing through us all--by heading off to a local park and having a squirt-gun fight.
The Wetting Party
And you know what? It was a fantastic idea. We ran around like idiots, shooting each other with jets of water, laughing and yelling in high spirits and enjoying the bountiful fresh air of a warm spring day.
Our battle ranged through a park, but stayed within loose orbit of a water pump, where we reloaded when we all finally spent our last drop of water. By "we," I mean everyone but my brother, who had purchased not a water pistol but a water cannon. The thing was about two feet long, pump-action, which drew water from a yard-long hose that attached to a giant backpack water reservoir that held about 400 gallons of water. The man never ran out of water. So when the rest of us would come to the pump to reload, he laid down constant, soaking, suppressing fire, which we were simply forced to endure as we filled our piddling little two- and three-pint water guns. The upshot was that we were sopping wet--and so was the concrete pavilion around the water pump. Not that this fact should surprise anyone. I mean, hey, if you're signing up for a water-gun battle, things are going to get a bit moist.
But we had no idea how moist until, as I finished reloading my gun, I made a mad dash along the concrete pavilion to try and hit my brother with an unexpected squirt. However, at my speed, and with my shoes and the concrete both being soaked, I ended up hydroplaning, skidding across the concrete before coming down on the edge of the pavilion, landing on one knee that emitted a surprisingly loud "POP" and then flopping bonelessly down the steps to the sodden ground below.
For a moment, no one moved. Even my brother went still and pale, and reported to me later that his only thought was for my well-being. Actually, to be completely accurate, his only thought was Oh FUCK, we crippled the groom. Mom is gonna KILL me!
And to be fair, everyone else was thinking some variation of this thought too.
Except me. I was only thinking one thing, and it wasn't even "Ow." Thanks to the steroids, I was feeling almost no pain. But despite my amped-up bloodstream, my left knee--the one I landed on--had swelled up to about double its normal size. By the time I got back to the hotel, the only thing my mind fixed on was wondering if I'd be able to pull the pantleg of my tuxedo up over the distended knee.
And I admit, by evening, it was smarting just a bit. So I had ample reason to be kept awake the night before my wedding.
I was rooming with one of my groomsmen, a great guy named Bunky, who was no more ready to sleep than I was. For a brief time we channel-surfed, but this was unsatisfying. In the end, we moseyed down to the lobby and were slightly surprised and pleased to see that many other wedding guests were ambling around aimlessly too. We ended up hanging out for a while and for me the moment was a bit surreal, like being a contestant on your own personal version of This Is Your Life. I mean, sitting on one side of me was one of my oldest friends, a guy I'd known since I was 2. Across from him were three guys I went to grad school with, and they were flanked by a couple of my old high school pals plus my brother and my best friend (also my Best Man). It was like someone had written me into a story featuring all of my favorite characters from every favorite book I ever owned. And I realized that this was a singular experience, in more ways than just the company I was keeping.
Earlier, during the rehearsal dinner, a few pals of mine had more or less said the same thing, reminding me that this was my last night as a "free" man and that perhaps I didn't want to spend it sitting in a hotel, icing my knee and watching late-night infomercials. We had toyed briefly with the idea of heading off to some bar and that would have been nice, no doubt. My friends are not the kind of friends who would delight in getting me hung over for the wedding the next day (my already looking like a frozen-faced freak show took some of the fun out of that idea anyway), nor were they the kind of people who were likely to be overcome by the moment and tie me naked to a lamppost or stick me on a bus with a one-way ticket to Toledo (again, not an idea that held much promise for boffo yucks, since we were a scant 12 miles from Toledo city limits anyway).
In the end, we had all come back to the hotel because, well, it had been a long and fun day on its own. Most of us were tired and sleepy from all the fresh air we'd gotten during our water-gun exertions. And we knew that, over on the bride's side of town, everyone was probably already asleep. Those folks went to bed early, and as soon as the rehearsal dinner had wound down around 9 or so, we had watched a veritable motorcade of Her Lovely Self's relatives driving off to their beds, all yawning and talking about what a big day lay ahead.
Meanwhile, here we all were, not sleeping, but not doing anything else either.
It was one of those moments where there was a kind of vacuum in terms of any kind of last great moment before the wedding. Since nature abhors a vacuum, I found myself wondering what I wanted to do this last night before I became a married man.
And then, almost inexplicably, the answer came to me: I wanted to go over to Her Lovely Self's house. Not to see her--good God no! The bad-luck-to-see-the-bride-beforehand clause was already in effect. No, I had something else in mind.
I turned to my Best Man. "Did you bring your guitar with you?" I asked him, although it was really a rhetorical question, like asking him if he had brought his fingers with him. My best man was a musician and was performing during the wedding mass and even if he wasn't, he was one of those fellows who just would have his guitar with him.
Trained vocalist and all-around musical guy that he is, I half-expected him to laugh when I told him what I wanted to do. But one of the nice things about my BM is that he was pretty much game for anything. If I had told him I wanted to drive to Boston and back to pick up my favorite imported British hard cider for the reception tomorrow, he'd have had his car keys in hand in about a half-second. If I had said I wanted to mark the territory around Her Lovely Self's parents' house just to make sure no other male would try to claim my bride, his only question to me would have been to wonder if we should swing by a convenience store on the way to pick up a few extra gallons of urine.
So when I told him I had decided to sneak over to my fiancee's house in the dead of night for the express purpose of serenading Her Lovely Self, his only question to me was to wonder what songs I had in mind, and to suggest we run through them once in his hotel room, just to make sure his guitar was properly tuned to accompany me (which I thought was a sweet and diplomatic way of saying, "I know you don't have a musical bone in your body, so let's hear how tunelessly you render these songs so I can figure out how loudly I have to play to cover your sorry ass.").
As we crept away from the throng in the lobby, it only briefly occurred to me--as it is perhaps occurring to you--to wonder why, of all things, this is what I decided to do the night before my wedding. I don't have an answer, except to say that then, as now, I saw this marriage as a one-time thing. I didn't see it happening again, and that being the case, I wanted to make every moment of it count. For example, at the ceremony the next day, I had already decided that I wasn't just going to kiss the bride, but give her A Dip, too. Because, really, if not then, then when? (And if you read last year's entry, you saw how that turned out.)
I had never in my life serenaded someone before, and didn't think that, with my vocal cords, it was anything I was going to make a habit of in the future. So, why not tonight, of all nights? I could hide myself in the bushes in the backyard, just me and the big guy with the guitar, my own balladeer, standing in the dark, singing up to a shadow in the window.
Yeah, I thought it made me sound dead romantic, too.
There was just one problem.
Well, a couple dozen problems actually.
And they were all lying in wait for us outside my Best Man's hotel room door. Because someone had overheard me and word had spread and by the time the BM and I had briefly rehearsed my two-song set, half of my friends and relatives staying at the hotel had massed to bear witness to this, to join a convoy across town to watch me sing my tone-deaf songs of love--which, by the way were that hoary old stand-by, "Can't Help Falling In Love" and the slightly more obscure Waterboys tune, "How Long Will I Love You?"
And here the Best Man intervened, demonstrating one of the duties of all great Best Men, which is to save the groom from himself. As 50 percent of the reason why people had come this long way to a wedding, I was constantly in the position of feeling like I had to play host to all of these folks. So even though I had really just wanted to sneak off to HLS's childhood home and make a fool of myself in relative peace, now that the cat was out of the bag, I felt like it would be rude of me somehow to tell everyone else to fuck off and stay put.
My Best Man had no such compunctions. He didn't tell everyone to fuck off (although he would have, had I asked him). Instead, he simply said something about "meeting everyone over there." Then he took me by the elbow and hustled me faster than I knew he could hustle out to his car. He was breaking the speed limit before we even left the parking lot. At first, I protested that he should slow down because not everyone knew the way to HLS's parents' house and they wouldn't be able to keep up. But then I saw the look on my best friend's face and realized that was exactly what he had in mind. He didn't even have to point out that this should be as private a moment as possible, something sweet and low-key (but hopefully not too off-key), not a press event with an audience.
We broke land-speed records making it across town and found ourselves in the darkened cul-de-sac in the suburban enclave my future in-laws called home. Quietly--except for the part where I hit my knee (yes, that knee) against a fence post--we made our way to the back yard and I showed the BM the dimly lit back window on the second floor where I knew Her Lovely Self and her maid of honor were bedding down for the night.
With only the briefest preamble--and his wife to bear witness--the Best Man began playing and--God love him--backed up my tuneless caterwauling with his own deep voice.
Good God, I actually LOOK like I'm baying at the moon...
In the three or so minutes it took us to pick our way through the Elvis standard, we had slowly started to gain an audience despite our best efforts. I'm not talking about folks we left behind at the hotel (although many of them arrived for the second and last song). No, I'm talking about all the neighbors whose houses overlooked their neighbors' back yards and who one by one began flicking on back porch lights to try and determine what was making that noise. Was it? Yes! A guitar! A large man in the dark playing a guitar! And that red-headed fellow in the yellow barn coat. Is that...could it be...Ronald McDonald? Singing an Elvis cover?
By the time I was singing "Take my hand/Take my whole life too" I was aware of more than a few silhouetted figures gazing out at me from more than a few newly lit windows. Of course, the one window where no light changed and no shadow appeared was the one I was singing to.
Because meanwhile, in the house, Her Lovely Self and her maid of honor were listening to real musicians on the radio and talking about boys Her Lovely Self knew in college who she had decided not to marry. Indeed, their only hint that anything unusual was going on outside was the distant pounding of my future father-in-law's feet somewhere downstairs, as he stumbled in the dark from window to window, muttering "What the heck is that noise?"
And then the noise ended and with the first song over, enough of my unwelcome entourage from the hotel had arrived that they were able to applaud the BM's playing and my lame efforts.
HLS heard the clapping and shut the radio off. A moment later, her two sisters came into the room, wondering what was going on outside. At last, the three sisters and HLS's maid of honor peeked out the back window and saw dozens of shapes moving through the back yard. It was like one of those zombie horror movies and for a moment they were genuinely frightened (so, too, were at least three of her neighbors, who called one another and then ultimately called the police to report an aggravated serenading in progress).
But then Her Lovely Self saw the unmissable yellow barn jacket and simply uttered a phrase that would become worn with overuse during the next 12 years: "Oh God, what is he doing now?"
What he was doing was singing the first few lines of the Waterboys song, a personal favorite and one that he had rehearsed numerous times in the car on the way to work.
How long will I love you?
As long as stars are above you
And longer if I can...
This song was more in his range and he had convinced himself he was doing a better job with this one now that he was warmed up. But Her Lovely Self really had no way of knowing, because she could barely make out the fact that someone was playing a guitar and someone else was singing, and a lot of other people were milling about in the dark, trampling flowers and breaking sprinklers. She couldn't really hear them do this, of course, because her father had bought a very well-made house indeed, complete with nigh-soundproof double-paned windows.
Her Lovely Self reached to crank the window open, but her parents had--and have still--the curious habit of removing the hand-cranks from their windows. I had once joked that this was so none of the girls could escape, but then had to stay for the lecture about how the cranks caused the blind to fall unevenly, and so each room only had one hand-crank, which was usually secreted away in a dresser drawer in the room.
Or not, as in the case of this room.
By the time Her Lovely Self dashed to one of her sisters' bedrooms and found a window crank, I was in the home stretch of the song and imagined I could hear sirens in the distance. Besides, half the occupancy of the Sylvania Best Western was in the back yard now and I felt the intimate moment was spoiled. So the Best Man and I wrapped it up, bowed and cried good night to the window that was just now cranking open. And then we were gone, leaving the audience to inform the bride-to-be what it was she had just missed hearing.
Final score: full marks for the idea, and the sentiment behind it. Absolute dead ZERO for timing and execution. But bonus points for disturbing the peace.
And speaking of peace, even though my future wife had only heard the slightest note of song from my awful warped throat, I didn't know that. I assumed I had been dead romantic and serenaded my bride and so I returned to the hotel congratulating myself on a job well done. A job so well done that I slept like a baby the rest of that night and woke up refreshed and ready to get joined, holy-matrimony-wise.
And now here it is, 12 years--12 YEARS--later. A lot has changed since then. For example, instead of sleeping like a baby, I actually have babies of my own and not only don't sleep like one, but have come to learn that the phrase "sleeping like a baby" means waking up every 90 minutes and making an ungodly noise. Which, in fact, is what one of my babies is doing right now. And so I must take my leave and see if I can soothe him back to sleep--or failing that at least make sure he hits the bucket and not the rug.
More importantly, I want to catch him and calm him and quiet him before he wakes Her Lovely Self. If 12 years have taught me anything, they've taught me that sometimes the most romantic gestures are the ones your true love never quite hears about or even realizes she's received until after it's over. So it is with my first gift to my bride this year: The gift of uninterrupted sleep.
Not as romantic as a moonlit serenade, I grant you.
But not as likely to make the neighbors call the cops either.
From Somewhere on the Masthead
Friday, April 21, 2006
In Which Spring Fever Makes Me Delirious...
I don't know what it is about spring, but it's the time of year when I tend to notice how much the kids have grown. And while part of me feels the pride and self-satisfaction that can only come from managing to keep two little people alive for several years (despite the fact that I couldn't keep so much as a cactus alive when I was growing up), the rest of me feels just a wee bit queasy.
Part of it is the renewal of things we haven't done in a year. Thomas just started Little League and we had to buy him a whole new uniform--right down to new cleats--because none of the old stuff fit him. Watching him hit the field this past week, I also saw what a tall drink of water he's become. He towers a head--sometimes a head and a half--above kids his age, the same kids he played with last year. And man, has he come a long way from the baseball-shy kid of last year. Where once I could barely get him to play catch, this year he's begging me to hit him pop flies and tricky bouncing grounders. In his first at-bat of the season, he clobbered the ball, the only kid of the game to loft one into the outfield. I was never very good at team sports myself, so it's been great to watch him get along in this team and do well.
Part of it is also just timing. This Sunday is marks my 12th year of married life with Her Lovely Self, which is just staggering. Amazing and wonderful, but staggering, too. The 12th anniversary is supposed to be one where you give your spouse linens and silk or colored gems and pearls. I'm getting her, um, lawn service. Sounds like an awful gift, but hey, you should see our lawn. And she's so busy with her gardening efforts, she just doesn't have time to seed and fertilize the lawn. So I signed us up and in order to pay for it, I will be ebaying a few choice items from the incredible Basement of CRAP, which will also please her, because she thinks I have way too much stuff, and didn't get rid of nearly enough of it in last year's giveaway.
And it's the thought that counts, right? HLS grew up in a well-heeled, upper middle class suburban neighborhood where everyone treated their lawn like it was, well, like it was big green colored gem. In New Hampshire, we didn't have a lawn, we had a yard (or "yahd," if you prefer). Of course we mowed it, but we didn't give a shit about dandelions or bare spots or whether or not we needed fescue or crab grass or whatever. In short, HLS knows I couldn't care less about the appearance of our lawn. So I figure getting lawn service would show her that I care about it because she cares about it. Either that, or it will look like I'm the biggest lazy-ass on the planet because I can't bestir myself to seed and fertilize the thing on my own.
But I guess the biggest thing this spring is the realization that the Brownie will turn FIVE YEARS OLD on April 30. I'll have nicer things to say when that weekend rolls around. But for right now, I'm having trouble finding anything good to focus on. It's a big deal when your baby completes her first lustrum. For one thing, she really won't be a baby anymore. This week that fact was brought home rather sharply and bitterly when the Brownie's preschool class had a field trip over to Thomas' school to see the kindergarten room and meet their teachers for next year. It was an optional thing, and so at dinner the night before, when the Brownie soberly informed me that she had thought about it and decided not to go, I was secretly elated. Still, I asked her why, and when I did, she got teary and said she would be scared to go.
And here we come to a great secret about my daughter. As much a bossy big mouth as she is at home, she is that much quieter and withdrawn at school. She's a bit like Jackie, the girl my son saved from a bully a few weeks back: When the Brownie talks in school, it's barely above a whisper, and even then it's only to talk to the teacher. Consequently, she hasn't made a ton of friends, and some of her classmates actually thought she was mute. It stunned me to learn this, but Her Lovely Self wasn't one bit surprised. My bride, it seems, was exactly the same way and didn't overgrow her quiet streak until she studied gymnastics and became a cheerleader in high school.
Now lest you think I am a completely self-centered and awful Dad, I did try to talk the Brownie through her fears, reminding her that she knew the school like the back of her hand already, having been there so many times to get Thomas. "So really, you already know where the kindergarten room is, so there's nothing to be nervous about there, right?"
At this, the Brownie gave me The Look. "D-a-a-a-a-d," she said, adopting a slightly exasperated tone. "I DO know where the room is already. So since I know, why do I have to go?"
Hmm, good point, dumb-ass, I thought.
"Well," I said. "You'll get to meet the teacher. And all your other friends from school are going. Wouldn't you hate to miss out?"
The Brownie didn't even pause. "Um, actually, no. So I'm made up not to go."
Well, crap. Bad enough that Thomas is an anxious kid, but now it seemed the Brownie was too. And I honestly expected her to want to go. I mean, this is a kid who generally is afraid of nothing. When it's bedtime, Thomas is so scared of going up to his room in the quasi-dark that he begs his sister to go up first and turn on the lights. Movies that Thomas won't watch because they contain scary scenes--Luath getting quilled by a porcupine in The Incredible Journey; Tarzan fighting the leopard that killed his family; the part where Charlotte dies and all but two of her babies leave Wilbur--are among the Brownie's favorite videos. And now, here she was, getting cold feet about a mere field trip. What was it going to be like in September, when she had to start riding the bus and going to kindergarten every day?
As it turned out, I didn't have long to fret about this because the next morning, when I came down after my shower and saw the Brownie eating her breakfast, she beamed at me and said, "Daddy. I thunk about it and I decided to go on the trip. And if I get scared, I will just think about something else."
I was so proud, I almost danced a little jig. I certainly made a fuss, telling her how proud I was, what a big girl she was to face her fears, especially in light of the fact that I hadn't even tried very much to cajole her into going. It was just one of those perfect moments for a parent when you decide that, gee, you just might have done something right.
Then the Brownie continued talking and said, "Andy is going to kindergarten too. I'm going to ride with him and his mother."
And my heart dropped straight out of my chest and exited out of my body and down one pant-leg.
"Andy? Andy from down the street?" I asked weakly.
The Brownie beamed and nodded.
Andy is 5 and the son of one of our neighbors. For the first part of our four years here, if he came over at all, it was to play with Thomas, who he absolutely looks up to like the big brother he doesn't have. But then last summer, that all changed.
I remember the moment with crystal clarity. I was sitting inside, putting on my tennis shoes and getting ready to leash Blaze up to take him outside. The kids were already out, kicking a ball around in the front yard (excuse me, front lawn) when I looked out a window and saw Andy running up his side of the street and calling the Brownie's name. Andy was holding something in his hand as he yelled. When he crossed over, it appeared to be a rapidly melting Popsicle, the kind with two sticks in it, so you can break it apart. And that's what Andy did, broke it in half and handed one portion to the Brownie.
The Brownie loves all sweets. And she thanked Andy nicely and gave him a hug. A hug! Blaze and I stared daggers at the kid and I muttered, "Okay, fine. You made your delivery. Now keep moving, you sticky little Romeo."
But he didn't. And now when he comes over, it's to see the Brownie, and to play with just her. Now, to top it off, he was going to the same kindergarten.
"Andy, huh?" I said in an off-handed voice. "Well, that's nice..."
The Brownie nodded. "He said if I get scared then he'll hold my hand."
I could feel my veins pulsing in my head. So my pep talk had been totally ineffectual the night before, but today, as soon as her SuperPop suitor announced he was going, she was ready to go too. Boy, did I feel low.
And of course the Brownie went and rode with Andy and his mom and DID (God, please don't let my head explode) hold his hand as they walked to the kindergarten classroom. By the time I got home for dinner that night, her tone had completely changed. She'd gone from scared and nervous to this bubbly young lady who wanted to tell me all about Andy and her experience at school, and how much she liked her new teacher--oh, and Andy. And how she sat at her table--with Andy--and he kicked her foot with his foot and made faces at her.
"…he did one where he stuck his tongue out and pulled his nose up and did a piggy face. It was even funnier than the Monkey Face!" she said, giggling. And I died. The Monkey Face is MY face. My best face.
"Well..." I started awkwardly. "I'm glad you had a good time."
Lights went on in the Brownie's eyes as she nodded and continued speaking in exclamations and italics. "It was great. Andy's the best! He's so funny! And he always shares his candies with me! He had a whole box of Nerds with him on the ride and he gave me half!" I couldn't help but notice she ended up not really saying much at all about the actual school visit.
Worse still, what she had just told me was a terrible portent of worse things to come. I mean, nothing says love like a box of Nerds. To think I had ever chided Her Lovely Self for getting bent out of shape whenever Alyssa or Caitlin--to name two girls who think Thomas is just the coolest--sent lovey-dovey notes to my son. But that was different. Thomas is older. And--
Okay, fine! I'll admit it: Thomas is a boy. And having been a boy myself, I get it. Okay?!?
But...my little Brownie girl. I never had a girl in the house while we were growing up. She's my only daughter. I never really admitted here before what a sexist pig I apparently am for having a double standard. But I just couldn't bear the thought of this little crush thing that was going on. At FIVE YEARS OLD! What was I going to do in 10 years, when boys really started sniffing around? Blaze would be old and of not much help by then. What would happen when potential suitors came crawling out from under their rocks? I just know myself and odds are I will overreact, and when I do, it will not be in the most congenial of manners. No, not even to the Nice Guys. In fact, ESPECIALLY not to the Nice Guys. Because, see, I was a Nice Guy when I was a teen, and I know what I was thinking about whenever I was going out with a girl.
It's awful to say, but I predict I'll be the worst kind of Dad when the Brownie hits teen age. I'll be the kind of Dad who sits in the living room, cleaning his chainsaw with a bloody rag when the next boyfriend shows up. While the Brownie goes to get her jacket or apply a fresh coat of makeup or something, I can totally see myself taking the would-be Lothario aside and saying the most intimidating things.
"Oh, so you want to date my Brownie, huh? Well, sure, go on! You kids have a great time. Oh, but before you go, see that little box over there on the counter? Yeah, just go ahead and leave your penis there, would you? It'll be fine there, safe and sound, til you bring back my daughter--by no later than 11, incidentally. Yeah, that's right, just pop it in that box there, and oh! You dropped it. Blaze! BLAZE, don't eat-- Aw, that's a shame. Well, I wouldn't worry. You were never going to get a chance to use it around my daughter anyway. Here, there's some Oscar Mayer wieners in the fridge. Help yourself to one."
Ugh. The room was spinning. I had to sit down. Except I was already sitting down.
"Are you okay?" Her Lovely self asked, with no small amount of mirth in her tone. I didn't answer. She knew damn well I wasn't okay. The Brownie finished her dinner and got up from the table to wash her hands. And she was still talking about Andy.
"So I guess you like this boy?" I asked. "I guess he's cute and stuff?"
"He IS cute," the Brownie agreed. She went to wash her hands.
I couldn't stop myself. "Is he as cute as me?" I called to her, as she came out of the bathroom, drying her hands.
At this, the Brownie just giggled. "D-a-a-a-a-d," she said in that exasperated tone again. "YOU'RE not cute!" she continued, laughing like this was the funniest joke in ages.
Then, instead of sitting back in her seat at the table, she came over and wrapped her still-damp hands around my neck. And she hissed in my ear. "Boys are cute. But Daddies are handsome." Then she gave me a juicy smack on the cheek and went back to her chair.
But Blaze and I are still keeping a watch for that sticky little Romeo.
And I've bought a box that I think will come in handy in about 10 to 12 years...
From Somewhere on the Masthead
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
In Which I Am Called on the Carpet...
Can anyone tell me: Why does it seem like a good idea at the time?
For example, let's say you've lost your neighbors' pet rabbit. You're reasonably certain he's somewhere in the house, but with the great store by which your neighbors set these pets, you don't want to leave it up to chance. You want to catch the big fat hairy bastard if you can or, failing that, at least be able to identify his position in the house to within a few square feet. That way, you can at least leave a note saying something like,
Dear Cheap-Ass Neighbors Who Can Clearly Afford A Pet Sitter But Instead Mooch Off My Goodwill,
During his morning scamper, Uggs decided to have some quiet time under the sleeper sofa and I could not dislodge him, not even with your Dyson vacuum cleaner, (which needs to be emptied, by the way. Who knew so much fur could come off so quickly?) so there he stays. Hope you had a good time at the funeral.
Problem is, a visual inspection of several (dozen) likely hideouts has yielded nothing. Flummoxed yet humanely desperate enough not to have a beloved pet disappear on your watch, it occurs to you that the best way to find the critter is to call upon the talents of someone who is uniquely qualified to detect rabbits--not by sight, but by scent.
And so you bring your dog into the house.
Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
So again I ask: Why? Why did that seem like a good idea at the time, but later was so clearly...
Well, let's back up a bit.
In my defense, I should say that we have established a precedent for this kind of work. Blaze has identified the location of small animals when I could not detect them before. And my idea to bring Blaze into my neighbors' house to sniff out the bunny was actually a good one, insofar as he DID successfully identify Uggs' location.
At first, though, he made a yipping beeline for the kitchen, where he ran head-first into the rabbit hutch, causing an enormous racket, as though someone had just tipped a drawer full of silverware down a flight of stairs.
Wow, did that ever freak out the birds. The noise was bad enough, but when That Goddamn Bird and The Other One saw Blaze, their chittering rap
("Whothefuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckeeeeee? Whatthefuck? Whothefuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckeeeeee?? Whatthefuck?" "Ieeeeeedunno. Ieeeeeedunno. Whyaskmememememememeeeeeeeeeeeee?")
was so loud and so piercing I'm fairly certain my ears started bleeding.
Although a confirmed bird killer, Blaze gave these two almost no notice as he banged into the hutch again and again, sniffing and yelping. I was afraid he would cause the birds to have tiny little heart attacks (and how would that scene look with my apologetic note about Uggs lying nearby?), so I had to physically pick Blaze up and carry him into the dining room and out of sight of the birds (they calmed down at length and since they abruptly exit our story here, you'll be pleased to know that they are still alive and well to shit in their water and sing their chirpy songs).
Blaze would not calm down. He was thrashing his head every which way, twice bashing me in the nose with his hard doggy noggin. He was sniffing frantically, sending sprays of watery canine nasal fluid hither and yon. It was like the very air was impregnated with devil-bunny scent (and I suppose, for him, it was). I growled at him several times using the technique I'd been taught by our dog trainer (I've gotten better at. No, I really have.). But slowly, eventually, he calmed down and adjusted to his environment. I thought.
Holding his leash till it left horizontal slits in the palms of both hands, I began walking Blaze around the dining room table. He sniffed the air a bit more, casting about. I quickly brought him through the kitchen to the basement door and led him to the bottom of the steps, when he started getting very excited, yipping and woofing as he gave his nose what I was certain would be the mother of all rug burns. He pulled me across the floor, around the pool table and back to the stairs (along the way--and so quickly that I couldn't stop him--he sucked up the lone rabbit turd sitting at the foot of the stairs). I was convinced he had the scent of fresh bunny in his nostrils as he dragged me back up the stairs.
He didn't even pause in the kitchen, but bulled straight into the living room. He stopped once by the sofa, sniffing hard, then yanked me around the sofa and into the middle of the room where he began chewing at the carpet. I yanked his leash to stop him, but when he lifted his head, he was still chewing, and that's when I realized what it was: more of those hellish little M&M droppings, which I had not previously noticed, since they were as dark as the carpet and blended right in.
Thus fortified, Blaze renewed his tracking of Uggs, yanking me up the stairs and down a long corridor, stopping short by the bathroom door to suck up some more evil nuggets of bunny treasure. And then Blaze just stopped. Sat down by the bathroom door and looked at me with a quizzical expression that I could only hope did not mean "I can't believe I ate all that. But I think we're going to see it again real soon."
I was going to yank him back down the hall and try again, when I heard a noise that made me stop. It was a slick and skittery noise and it was coming from the bathroom. I stepped in, but Blaze stayed where he was. I had forgotten: he hates bathrooms. Bathrooms mean tubs and tubs mean bath-time, Blaze's least favorite activity on earth.
It was a completely white bathroom. White tiles. White Corian sink. White curtains, white towels. I was probably giving Uggs more credit than he deserved, but it occurred to me that if you were a white rabbit, you couldn't pick a better hiding spot. Indeed, I gave a very close look at the fuzzy bathmat on the floor next to the shower and ultimately had to nudge it with my foot just to make dead certain it wasn't Uggs. Then, ever so gently, I peeled back the shower curtain, exposing a Jacuzzi as big as my kids' wading pool, but about three times as deep. Ah, you're saying, Uggs fell into the tub and was stuck there. That makes perfect sense! And it would--except he wasn't there. I peered behind the wastebasket next to the toilet. I looked in the space behind the toilet. Finally, I opened the white cabinet doors under the white Corian sink and looked in there. No Uggs.
And then I started to stand up and let out an involuntary shout and I found myself staring into one blood-red devil-eye.
Uggs was lying in the sink and had so perfectly molded himself to the contours of the basin that he presented almost no profile. He had been right in front of me the whole time, camouflaged in Corian.
"Hi there," I said gently. "Come on back down to the kitchen with me, and I'll tell you all about my favorite movie. It's called Fatal Attraction." I've never actually had to pick up a bunny before, so I just kind of bent over the sink and when Uggs tried to bolt, I hooked my arm under him and clasped him to my chest. He kicked me a couple of times--hard--in the stomach, but I held on, gently whispering the plot synopsis of some of my favorite films involving bunnies. He struggled mightily and for a brief moment he nearly got away from me by climbing up my face and almost over the top of my head. It was like being smothered by a down comforter, wrapped around a sack of weasels. But I got him by one leg and pulled him back to a position where I could breathe once more. Then he abruptly settled down.
Blaze stood quivering at the doorway, making sub-vocal whining sounds. I finally succeeded--through a series of growls and gesticulations--to convince him to head back downstairs and not to attempt to save me from the ravening buck-toothed freak of nature. Once down the stairs, Blaze dutifully went to the front door and sat, whining.
Feeling a little frisson of satisfaction, I finally deposited Uggs back in his hutch. He sat there for a moment, then gave me a good long stink-eyed sort of look with those red eyes, and disappeared into one of his stovepipes.
Mission accomplished, I changed his water and his filled his food dish.
It was then that I heard the sound. It's not a sound you hear often, even if you own a pet. But, like the pump of a shotgun or the squeal of brakes, once you hear the sound you never forget it.
It was the unmistakable sound of a high-pressure jet of urine hitting a large and absorbent surface.
In this case, it was the dark loamy rug my neighbors had in their living room. In a snap, I peered around the kitchen doorway and there was Blaze, standing more or less in the center of the room, one leg half-cocked as he whizzed on my neighbors' carpet.
"WhattheFUCKareyoudoing?!!?" I shrieked at him, as if I expected an answer. He just gave me this strange look. He seemed to be a dog not in full command of his faculties, as if he were being controlled by some strange telepathic devil-bunny force to piss all over my neighbors' rug. I dashed into the room and made the classic mistake of giving him a shove, but that didn't stop him. It just made him spatter.
I dashed back into the kitchen and began looking for something, anything to sop up the damage. In the garage, I found a roll of paper towels and began a campaign of furious blotting. While I was doing this, Blaze stood nearby, staring at me with what I thought was an apologetic expression.
Until he raised his leg and began peeing afresh.
"ohmygodSTOP!" I cried. I picked him up again and carried him to the front door as he dribbled on my jacket and halfway down my jeans. I deposited him out on the porch, where I tied him once again to the railing.
Inside I blotted like the wind. Where in God's name had all this pee come from? I had just walked him and personally witnessed him water half the lampposts and hydrants in a five-block radius. Did he have some reserve tank, some Vulcan inner eyelid of a bladder that activated only in times of great olfactory stress, such as being in a house that smelled like giant fat white-furred devil-bunnies?
I went through the better part of a roll of towels to mop up the two spots. Then I turned my attention to the spatter issue. As I did, I repositioned myself on the rug. And immediately felt the right knee of my jeans dampen.
Another spot? My God, how many places had he peed in the fraction of a second it took me to come back? With this dark carpet, my options were limited. I could feel around on my hands and knees some more, or I could walk around the rug in my socks until I found any more spots.
I won’t tell you what my choice was as I knelt there in that unexpected minefield of dog urine. Suffice it to say, I found only one other spot, but it was big one, roughly the size of a manhole cover.
Of course, I quickly realized it didn't matter how much I blotted. My dog had covered what I conservatively estimated to be a full third of the carpet with his urine. This was not a time for blotting. This was a time for rug shampoo. And of course, you can rent a shampooer at almost any grocery store. An easy fix. After all, what are the chances that anyone would rent one today, Saturday morning?
Well, the answer to that question is: Better than you'd think, if it's the weekend before a holiday in which you are planning to have lots of family over for dinner. I went to five stores before I found one that hadn't already rented out their shampooer.
I'll spare you the embarrassment of returning Blaze to our house and having to tell Her Lovely Self why I was leaving on what would turn out to be a county-wide tour of the area's grocery chains. Sometimes you reach a point where your misadventures are just so awful that if you happen to be married to the misadventurer, you can do little else but throw up your hands and announce that you don't want to hear any more about it.
I'll also spare you the two-hour process of moving furniture and end tables, the discovery of just how much torque these devices have (at one point, the shampooer propelled itself along the edge of the rug and slightly up the side of the brick fireplace, forcing me to run up the side of the wall, Matrix-style for about two steps before recovering control), and the final clean-up, which included a wonderfully head-scratching moment when I couldn't remember if the sofa belonged here or there (the shampooer had wiped out all traces of furniture indentations, you see).
I'm pleased to report that, after opening every window to let the place air out, by the time I returned for the evening feeding, everything looked perfect. All the pets were still alive and well. The living room no longer smelled as though it had recently been cleaned by a desperate man. My neighbors would never realize anything had gone awry (or at least, if they did notice anything out of the ordinary, they haven't troubled themselves to mention it to us so far).
But when I returned home for my own evening feeding, Her Lovely Self greeted me with The Look. And a roll of paper towels. And a can of spray-on foaming rug cleanser. "In the family room," was all she said.
Blaze sat hunched in his cage when I walked in, his expression the very definition of "hangdog." Nearby, an impressive load of partially digested rabbit turds, marinated in a generous helping of doggy bile, sat on the rug. So much for my appetite (and yours too, I'm guessing).
"What were you thinking?" I muttered at him as I cleaned up the last mess of the weekend. "Whizzing on the rug, snarfing rabbit crap. What the hell?"
Blaze said nothing. But if he had been granted the power of speech at that moment, I think we all know he would have said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
From Somewhere on the Masthead
Sunday, April 16, 2006
In Which I Break a Promise...
As I've mentioned perhaps a time or two, I am really not a morning person. Never have been, likely never will be. Studies have shown people who are generally slow to wake and groggy in the morning are actually in a semi-conscious state until their brains catch up with their bodies. In short: They are not as smart as they are even an hour or two later in the day. That's me. My brain's a bit like my old laptop, perhaps, which was always slow to spin up when it was put on standby. Only where a computer is measured in terms of CPU speed or memory size, my intelligence, of course, is measured in IQ points.
Thus, I can only assume that I wake up with the IQ-meter at dead zero. By the time I take my first sip of coffee, I'm maybe up to 25 or 30. By the time I'm dressed and in the car, I'm maybe a point above Forrest Gump. Which explains why one afternoon long ago I made a promise to myself that I would never make any big decisions or follow through on any stupid ideas that came to me before 9 AM.
Mostly, but not always, I've kept that promise.
I said "mostly."
Which brings us to the morning last weekend when I saw Blaze with what appeared to be a white rabbit in his kennel. Her Lovely Self claims not to have a great memory, but during a signal event such as the one that occurred last night--I'm talking about Blaze getting free of his leash and coming home on his own--surely when she let him in she would have noticed him carrying a large flopping white rabbit in his mouth. If he had one in his mouth. Which I'm thinking he didn't. Anyway, she would have remembered it and told me. Wouldn't she?
That was about as far as I got on a cognitive level when the Brownie entered the room and yelled, "Hey, Blazey! I want Mister Bumper back NOW!" And walked sternly to the cage and dragged the dead rabbit out by the leg.
But it wasn't a dead rabbit. It was Mister Bumper, the name the Brownie had given to the stuffed white rabbit my parents sent her as an Easter gift earlier in the week.
After I had mopped up my spilled coffee (and broken cup) I spent a few minutes with the Brownie and got a closer look at Mr. Bumper. By this point, I was probably operating at an IQ level somewhere in the 40s, which explains why I briefly--and seriously--considered the idea of putting Mr. Bumper in the cage at my neighbors' house, thinking that perhaps they might mistake it for the missing Uggs. Well, not really mistake it, but at least be distracted by it, long enough to buy me time to find the real Uggs. Or find me time to buy a new one. But I couldn't get past the fact that in order for me to make a convincing decoy, I'd have to open a seam in Mr. Bumper and stuff in the biggest pillow I could find, and I just didn't think Mr. Bumper had the structural integrity to withstand this.
By the time I had a replacement cup of coffee in hand, I was already smart enough to realize this plan wouldn't work (how stupid of Morning Me! And how smart of Afternoon Me to make that promise all those years ago). Still, something about the dog and the rabbit kept bouncing around in my mind, which was probably revved up to a dizzying 65 IQ points by now.
I got dressed and took Blaze on his morning walk (this time cinching up his loose collar one notch to make sure he wouldn't squirm out of it again). As before, we finished our walk at my neighbors' house and I lashed him to the porch. He gave me a look that seemed to say This again? but laid down on the plush mat easily enough.
I let myself in and dashed to the kitchen, hoping to discover that Uggs had found his way back to his home. No such luck (although I did startle That Goddamn Bird and The Other One, because they chattered at me louder than ever). The metallic hutch was empty. After I performed the exceedingly nasty job of feeding and watering the birds again, I made a quick circuit of the house and garage once more (after the garage search, I congratulated myself on having the presence of mind to block the opening of the pet door with two telephone directories), this time including the upstairs in my search. No Uggs.
In a short while, I was back in the kitchen, swearing to myself and pacing the floor. As I did, I stepped over the trail of spinach leaves I'd left from the basement door to the cage last night. The leaves were all curly and singularly unmunched. But I had this feeling that Uggs was down there. If only my stupid neighbors hadn't been so untrusting and left the damn basement door locked! I jammed my hands into my pockets and was prepared to do some serious pacing now, when I felt something in my hand. I took it out and stared at it. It was the house key our neighbors had left.
My brain must have been operating somewhere in the Gump range, because I finally said to myself, Self, you don't suppose this key also opens the basement door, do you?
And of course, it did.
Never mind what I said earlier about my neighbors.
I opened the door and turned on the light. No enormously fat rabbit in the stairwell. I went down into the cool of the basement, turning on lights as I did. The basement was huge, of course, and completely finished and furnished. I looked in my neighbors' home office. I looked under and around the sofa and the loveseat. I looked into the works of the recliner. I searched under the pool table. I looked behind the bar.
And as I was bent over, looking behind the bar, I had a sense of something moving behind me.
I slid back off the bar and looked around quickly. Nothing seemed out of place, except...was that...? I ran across the basement to a spot on the carpet by the stairs: a single rabbit turd. I was fairly certain it wasn't there when I came down. I looked up the stairwell for more, er, clues, but saw nothing except the open basement door above. But I could hear the birds chittering, as they had the night before when Uggs had first oozed out of one of his metal stovepipes. I took the steps two at a time, expecting to see the fat bastard squidging his way into the open hatch of the cage. I reached the top, looked around the corner--
--and the frigging hutch was still empty.
"Dammit!" I cried. I closed the basement door and locked it. I looked around for something to block the pet-door opening in the basement door, and ended up using Uggs' own startlingly heavy bag of Devil-Bunny Chow. Still, I wasn't happy. This could go on all day. He could be wedged under something in the living room or upstairs now, or--
I heard a familiar but muffled woofing.
I went to the front door and there was Blaze looking through one of the glass panels on either side of the doorway. He was either trying to get my attention or something inside had got his attention and he was still barking at it. I opened the door to shush him--it was still fairly early in the morning, for a Saturday. As soon as I did, he stopped barking and began straining against his leash, snuffling around the doorway.
And then the thing about the dog and the rabbit that had been bouncing around in my mind earlier finally revealed itself: Blaze was part hound. He was especially good at sniffing after rabbits. Many's the morning he would follow some circuitous route around the yard, nose down and whimpering excitedly to himself, before finally coming up to an unlikely shrub or plant, whereupon a rabbit would explode out of it and pelt off to the next hiding place, often with Blaze (and his leash and my severed right arm) trailing along behind.
At that moment, an idea came to me. To some it might sound stupid, but at that hour of the morning (a little after 8, in case you were wondering) it sounded like the perfect solution to me.
"Get in here, Blazey," I said, unwinding his leash from the porch post. "Forget Mr. Bumper, you're going to find me a real bunny..."
Friday, April 14, 2006
In Which I (what else?) Chase the White Rabbit...
Somebody once said that if you want to find a number in the yellow pages, you shouldn't look under the first listing you'd think, but the second or third listing that might occur to you. For example, don't look under "Doctor"; look under "Physicians." Don't look under "Hooker"; look under "Escort Services." You get the idea.
Well, my life is kind of like that. If something happens--say, the freakishly large white fur rug with eyeballs/rabbit that you're taking care of suddenly vanishes from the kitchen where he was supposed to be scampering--I've learned never to choose the most obvious, easiest or optimistic option first. In this particular case, that would have been to run into the living room and see if anything white and furry showed up in stark relief against my neighbors' dark carpet. But that would just be too easy.
No, instead I looked immediately towards the two doors on my right. One led to the basement and one led to the garage, but both doors shared the same feature, which was a small pet entry--the previous owners had cats--installed at the bottom of each one.
And when I say small I mean small. As in less than six inches square. As in less than the appropriate width for all but the slimmest of cats to fit through, let along a honking big white rabbit.
Except...I had just seen Uggs Bunny in action, squirming through the stovepipes installed in his giant metallic rabbit condo. Based on what I'd witnessed, it wasn't entirely clear to me that this rabbit had a single solid bone in his body. And it's been my experience that, vertebrae or no, most anything a small animal can get his head through, he can get his body through.
Most importantly, based on what I knew about my luck, probability demanded that Uggs make a beeline for the garage door, the fastest route to the outside. Assuming there was another pet entry out there.
I leapt to the door and opened it into a space of utter darkness.
I looked on the kitchen side for some kind of light switch. Nothing. I reached my hand around to the inside wall of the garage, feeling blindly for a light switch. I felt something switch-like and was about to flick it, when something commanded me to freeze.
You know that's not a light switch, that something said. You know that with your luck it will be the garage-door opener. Find another switch and hit that.
I crept my hand down the wall just a tad, and there was a second thing that felt switch-like. Feeling smug, I hit that switch instead.
And of course the garage door opened immediately.
Luckily, an interior and exterior light were activated at the same time, illuminating a two-car garage. One bay was empty; in the other my neighbors had left their luxury sedan parked. I didn't really look at the sedan, though. Instead, I was heading for the driveway beyond the opening door, swearing as I went. Because I had fully expected to see Uggs making his dash for freedom. I reached the driveway and did a 360-degree turn. No sign of Uggs. In fact, no sign of life at all.
Except for Blaze, who had been snoozing on the plush, rug-like welcome mat of our neighbors' doorstep, and who bestirred himself the moment I appeared. He gave me a baleful look, and thought his doggy thoughts, then laid back down on the soft mat. Surely if he had seen a large white rabbit undulating across the driveway, he'd have been strangling himself on the leash to get free and chase it. Wouldn't he?
I backed into the garage, walking ass-end first all the way to the door switch, just in case Uggs was hiding on the other side of the sedan and pelted away while my back was turned. After a brief dance with a rolling garbage can that I reversed into, I found the switches and closed the garage door.
When the door was down again, I saw that a pet-door had indeed been installed in a low corner of it, but it looked like my neighbors had sealed it, leading me to believe old Uggs just may have tried to pull a Papillon on them a time or two before. I searched around the garage, crouching and peeking under the sedan. Nothing.
Back in the kitchen, I closed the door to the garage and tried the basement door, but it was locked. I seemed to recall the husband had a home office down there, which might explain the need for a lockable basement door, but this kind of rankled me. What the hell kind of neighbor did he think I was that he felt the need to lock his basement? Did he think I was going to go down there and rummage around?
(Well, actually, I was. But that's beside the point.)
I bent down and tried to peer through the pet door. Of course, there was total blackness. I briefly entertained the idea of sticking my hand in the door, on the off-chance Uggs was stupid enough to be sitting just on the other side. But I had a vision of Her Lovely Self finding me in the morning, arm hopelessly stuck in the door, my mind gone from listening to That Goddamn Bird and The Other One chittering at me all night, and I reconsidered.
Finally, I went into the living room and turned on the light. I did a circuit through the room, nudging tasteful floor lamps and bobbling expensive decorative items off of end tables as I went. No bunny was there.
He's got to be in the basement, I thought. If he had somehow escaped through the garage when I opened the door, Blaze would surely have seen him (wouldn't he?) and alerted me.
I sat down in my neighbors' leather recliner and thought a moment. If he was outside, there was no point hunting around in the dark trying to find him. If he was still in the house, he could be almost anywhere that a boneless lump of white fur could lodge himself, and that was quite a lot of places in a house like this. Meanwhile, the hour was growing late and I couldn't stay here all night.
In the end, I went back to the kitchen, causing the birds to chitter at me from their perch. I grabbed some spinach leaves from the fridge and broke them into tiny pieces. Yes, dear reader, I left a trail of spinach from the basement doorway back to the open hatch of the cage and decided to hope for the best. Maybe once I was gone, Uggs would return on his own and resume work on his memoirs ("Chapter 8: The Great Chase...").
This done, I turned out the lights, returned to the front door and was stepping out to lock the place up when I noticed that Blaze had done something very interesting:
He had vanished.
Disappeared from the porch just as suddenly as Uggs had vanished from the kitchen. All Blaze left behind was his collar and the leash.
I emitted a very short and loud swear word and then immediately went into my high-pitched, sing-songy castrato voice, telling my sweet little Blazeykins that he should c'mere, c'mon CA-mon big boy and just come on back to Daddy MM who luuuuuuuuuuuuvs him SO much and would he puh-lease, oh good Blazeyboy, just PUH-leeeze come back?
But that fucking dog wasn't buying it.
I walked all the way back to the house, calling and whistling and swearing some more. No dog. No bunny. But hey, at least the birds didn't get out, huh?
As I neared my own house, I say Her Lovely Self silhouetted in the doorway.
"What happened?" she asked. "You were gone for so long. And then I heard Blaze scratching at the back door. I thought you'd fallen down a well and sent him for help."
"Blaze is here? He actually came back on his own?" I asked, and it would not be incorrect to suppose I said this in a tone of absolute incredulity. In the numerous times that Blaze has escaped, it usually involves a multi-yard, hours-long search.
HLS nodded. "I couldn't believe it either. Slunk right in and went straight to his cage." Oh, the irony.
I poked my head in our family room and there he was, in his kennel, tail thumping against the back of it, eyeing me with certain guilty look that seemed to say Sorry I ran off and left you, but nothing very interesting was happening out on that porch.
I decided not to tell Her Lovely Self that I had lost the rabbit within 15 minutes of my first time feeding animals she had fed without incident a dozen times over. Instead, I simply resolved to get up for a really early feeding of the birds and hope that Uggs followed the spinach trail home, that fat, furry slug.
And so I went to bed.
Sorry to disappoint, but that was how the day ended, with the rabbit still missing and with the dog having got loose but found his way home on his own. Fade to black. If this seems unsatisfying to you in any way, think how I must feel. Long-time readers may recall that not everything that happens in my life ends wrapped up in a nice little packet of closure. Indeed, resolution often escapes me in the simplest aspects of my daily life.
Take, for example, my typical morning cup of coffee. Simple thing: load the coffee maker the night before, set it to start percolating just before you get up, pour it, drink it, the end.
But nothing is ever really that simple, is it? I mean, for me, there's always some coffee drama that's, er, brewing. There's no sugar. There's no milk. The coffee's too bitter or too weak. There's a crack in the cup. Or as soon as it's poured and I start walking with it, I begin humming "Pomp and Circumstance" and forget myself and stumble on a shoe or a Lego or a plastic dinosaur and scald myself. It's always something.
Take, for another, altogether more specific example, my morning cup of coffee this past Saturday morning. No problem finding creme and sugar, no breaks or scalds or anything of that nature.
But then I glanced at something in the family room and dropped the cup of coffee to a shattering end on the floor, while misting the nearby walls with my first mouthful.
You might, too, if this is what you saw.
(wait for it)