Dial a Doctor: Part 2

Nancy’s voice sounded petulant and angry this time, like a small child who found another occupying her favorite seat. My Mom had answered the phone this time, while I spent my day off sitting at overly small desks during Grandparents and Special Friends at Kevin’s school (Essentially I followed my little brother through his normal morning routine, listening to lessons in class, evaluating his progress, and introducing myself to his cute single teachers — and unsuccessfully concealing my innate aura of desperation.).

Again the phone rang during lunch. “Hello,” Mom said.

“Yes, I am calling from the hospital. Is your husband available?” Mom answered no, that he was still at work but would be home at . . .

“I asked him to call me yesterday before four. I made that clear. Yet he did not call me. Now I have to call again today.”

Mom of course has no response for this obvious fact. She informs Nancy that we had called Dad concerning the message and gave him her phone number. To Mom’s knowledge, Dad had indeed talked to someone at the hospital. Who, she could not be sure, but he was aware of his medical restrictions before the surgery.

“Hmph . . . well, he did not talk to me. Be sure that he calls me before four this afternoon.”

“Oh, well, alright. Good . . .”

Click

” . . . bye.”

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Save Me

Yesterday’s conversation with Dad’s doctor recalled a short email that I dispersed last summer after a particularly trying experience with Food Lion’s club card. It is a little dated — I have since bought into the bonus card — not to mention vitriolic, but I thought that it might interest some of you, who like me become exhausted with gimmick:

I believe the check-out lady at the local Food Lion hates me. Or at least, loathes my continued existence in her store. Samuel Johnson once wrote that the failure of most human relationships is the accumulation of insults and fractures too minor to mention and too numerous to ignore. Such is the marketing principle of these supermarket bonus cards: to slowly accumulate wealth. Yet the constant badgering and store-inflicted guilt too can accumulate, like a cancer, into a stubborn refusal to buy into the card at all, to willfully lose money.

Such is the case here.

Like most markets today, Food Lion offers a member-oriented bonus card, which offers the cardholder additional savings on groceries and free coupons for bizarre items like Chow Mein Noodles and vegetarian TV dinners. Once Mom gave me her card to buy six galleons of milk, a dozen eggs, and a pound of bacon. Upon checkout, the discount card earned me three coupons for Tampons. I refuse to sign up for the card; although, on occasion, I borrow Mom’s for large purchases (in a family of ten that occurs once a week). Typically during these rare moments, I only save about four bucks, ten at the most for a hundred dollar purchase. The check-out lady hates the fact that I could care less about the lost pocket change.

Whenever she asks for my card and I respond with a smile that I have left it at home, I am sure to look down so I cannot watch her shake her head. I do hear the sharp click of her tongue though. Clearly she disapproves of my attitude. An overly exasperated sigh follows, before I hear the beep of scanned cereal. Sometimes, the cashier’s pained voice will whine out to those standing behind me:

“Excuse me ma’am, do you have your card to scan? This gentleman cannot save without his card.”

She scans my neighbor’s card and begins packing my groceries into bags. I stand still like the fool in the corner who forgot his times tables. Purchasing fifty dollars worth of groceries earn me two dollars back and a coupon for cigarettes. I do not smoke.

“Don’t you like savings?” she asks.

Sure, I consider. I enjoy lollipops too, but I don’t think I’ll jump into traffic just to swap a freebie at the doctor’s office. I do not say this. Simply put, the prospect of playing this asinine game, when the savings could be granted to everyone with or without a card, prompts me to sacrifice several dollars a week just to annoy her.

I leave the store irritated, reminding myself to avoid her station next week. Though I know this will not happen, we somehow are drawn to one another like opposing charges: she sees a potential client while all I spy is another marketing trap, another ubiquitous plastic card to tack onto my keychain, another member of the nameless rabble who shop there.

Yet that’s the thing that troubles me the most: the total insignificance of the stupid card. With most of the cashiers — other than her — they station a manager’s card at the check-out so when some card-less shmuck like myself buys groceries, we can procure a few extra bucks. If the manger’s card cannot be found, they ask the next person in-line if they could swipe their card — usually without the guilt. Therefore, on any other day when the food-store fascist is absent, anyone regardless of race, creed, or key-chain can save a few extra bucks on bananas, bagels, and band-aids.

Or if they ever allow us to input our phone-number code, I’ll staple my phone number above the register, thus triggering such a massive influx of savings that Food Lion will crumble within a few years and I will have to drive an additional five minutes to a store with more amiable grocers. Although with the rising price of gas, it is lose-lose either way.

Dial a Doctor

The phone rang sometime during lunch, immediately after I had taken my first bite of a delicious egg and mustard sandwich. My mouth now full of egg, ham, and bread, I answer with garbled “Hewoo?”

The voice on the other end sounded stern, impatient, and quick like a German headmistress or someone who used words like “fiddle faddle.”  She was calling from the hospital.  “Is your father available?”

I choked down the bolus of chewed bread and protein, coughing out a semi-audible “No, no he isn’t.  May I . . .” before she interrupts.

“Can I leave a number?”

“Sure,” I say grabbing at a floret of pencils which in my haste spill out onto the floor (I may have cursed.).  An audible impatience sighs across the line.  I grab at an old notebook.  “Whenever you’re ready . . .”

Nancy — that I learn is her name — hurriedly fires off ten numbers and informs me that she will be “here” (I assume an office at the hospital) until four.

“Oh,” I stammer, “May I ask what this call is regarding.”  Now I think this a prudent question; although I know that Dad is scheduled for some minor surgery this Monday.  In fact, he asked me to drive him to and from the hospital.  However, I also realize that the time of his appointed surgery may been moved in the past, so knowing that this message concerned Monday’s visit — as oppose to the surgery several weeks ago — would be important.

“I am calling from the hospital,” she answers, stressing the word hospital as if it was sufficient explanation for anyone.

“Oh, ok . . .” I burble, wondering if I had inadvertently attempted to violate some patient/doctor confidentiality  and got caught in the process.  “Thank . . .”

Click.

“. . . you.”

Biblio-fool

Short post today. After the past few weeks of – for lack of a better word – ineffective writing, I wanted to return to some old content and style. In other words, include the same nonsense; leave out the confusing rambles.

My journeys carried me to Borders today in search of a birthday book for my young cousin. A dangerous enterprise on the best of days (a perfect example of which welcomed us today with warm breezy weather, cloud-less skies, and no classes), bookstores always threaten to consume my wallet, the sacrificial lamb for my bibliophilia. For instance, no sooner did I find the perfect gift, Olivia by Ian Falconer, than my eyes wandered to the other picture books on the shelves. I considered additional gifts for my cousin such as Where the Wild Things Are or a book of poems maybe something by Shel Silverstein, the seeds of a childhood library and fantastic books for young readers (and adults alike). My hands tickled like a thief fingering his hoard, until my conscience – the prude – checked my actions. Originally, I set my price limit to fifteen bucks, and so conceding to the anxious groans emanating from my wallet, I returned the additional books to the shelves and sighed. On my way out of the stacks, a (cute) female employee stacking books nearby must have seen me and asked if I required any help. Anxiety must have stamped its mark on my face, and I wonder now if she saw me as a potential pervert, this twenty-something guy hovering and mumbling to myself in the children’s section.

Politely I declined and shuffled off with my – *sigh* sole – book, only occasionally glancing back at her slender figure (I am human after all.). Now at this point, I should have adjusted my blinders and made a beeline to the check-out counter; however, my inner voice of reason, momentarily distracted with its minor victory, allowed me to browse. I wandered through the young adult section for the latest Crispin novel by Avi. Irritated at not finding it, my frustration coerced me through the maze of Self-help and Gardening sections to the manga, where I picked up two new volumes (Spiral and School Rumble, in case your interested). This satiated my urge some, but now I required absolution from my geek guilt (Definition geek guilt: noun. That worried feeling of approaching the check-out counter with an armful of clearly odd, unusual (i.e. geeky) merchandise in public). Subsequently, I picked out two books on short-story writing for buffering, paid, and left . . . . after stopping at the nearby coffee stand for a refill on refreshments.

In summary, I ended up leaving having paid for five books and only – thankfully – two iced teas (Seattle’s Best Coffee constructs the best coffee milkshakes on the planet with real ice cream, no less; the ecstasy is almost too good to withstand.). Such is the nature of my bibliophilia. In my defense, the stories simply call out to me. Louder and with more brilliance than even the smoothest coffee milkshake or story-time Siren could ever sing . . . although in truth it is a lonely addiction. Maybe next time, I might invite the beautiful bookseller out for coffee. I might just amass the courage, unless of course I spy that Crispin novel first. Courage may embody the foundation of romance, but man cannot purchase coffee with an empty wallet. Perhaps we can muster a rousing conversation over cream and sugar packets . . .

“Courage, determination, and hard work are all very nice, but not so nice as an oil well in the back yard.”
— Cooley Mason

In which Murph journeys into the Lost World while consuming cookies . . .

I ate a cookie the other day. It was delicious. Cookies being rare treats for me (I try not to gorge myself on sweets too often lest the sugar-high causes my head to explode), I offered a silent blessing on the Keebler elves that their nimble cookie-making fingers never strain and their fairie baking-powers never diminish or empties — in truth, I know little about fairie baking magic, whether it can run empty like gas in an automobile or simply needs recharging like an RC racer.

NOTE: hopefully elves garnered more efficiency at charging than the racers as a normal three-hour charge releases only about fifteen worthless minutes of actual driving time; if such was the case, EL Fudge would be as rare and extravagant as Lindt’s truffles.

 

Yet then I realized that Milano cookies were a product of Pepperidge Farms, not Keepler. Quickly I finished my blessing to the elves regardless (every day we should thank all cookie makers for their worthy craft), and considered who I should thank for the Milano. I seem to remember an old man, in years past, who advertised the delicious cookies, his voice sputtering out the name “Pepperidge” like an old car engine. However, blessings I seem to recall require a name and “old sputtering Pepperidge Farm guy” just sounded mocking and thus unsuitable for a blessing.

 

As I sat wondering, considering whether I should just eat another cookie and save the blessings for those better suited to the task – clearly I was not – my gaze fell upon my collection of dinosaur toys from ages past.

 My dinosaur collection

When I was a kid, more than anything else I wanted to be a dinosaur. It is easy to conceive why as dinosaurs are vastly superior to any other living thing on this planet – except kangaroos, which due to their biological pouches and innate hopping do add something to the evolutionary gene pool. You may debate this point – unless you have a problem with kangaroos, in which case I do not want to hear it – but it would be folly. Seriously, from what other phylum past, present, and extinct could we choose? Dogs? Lions? Horses? Please. Evolution teaches us that most land-based mammals like horses, puppies, and cats grew from the sea; mammals were all once fish. Meanwhile fish represent the evolutionary achievement of all bacteria. Ad hoc we may categorize the majority of the animal population as either fish, bacteria, or platypus, the evolutionary equivalent to potpourri.

Ergo, everything started from the same stew of atoms, molecules, and bacteria, destined to develop into complex multi-cellular life, into either horses or dinosaurs. Now I ask you, which is more impressive? The answer should be clear. Even the platypus, as odd and jumbled as it is, cannot compete with the bony horns, cavernous mouths, and thick armor of the dinosaur. Like living tanks, knights with biological armor, or demons from the darkest corners of Tartarus. No child is immune to their seductive appeal, the marvelous beauty of living monsters unfettered by civilization.

 

“ ‘The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster but there – there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.’ ”

— Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

A Utahraptor enjoying a meal.

Yet dinosaurs achieve this distinction through three major factors:

  • They are giants.
  • They are monsters.
  • They were real.

These factors in themselves convinced me to spend a great deal of my childhood stomping, growling in mock imitation of my favorite dino, Tyrannosaurus Rex. For a boy of seven, anything monstrous compelled imitation. Stomped loudly on the floorboards and roared with piercing primal screams, I was quite proud of my future occupation. Years later my piano playing never fully recovered from years of holding my two fingers aloft in the semblance of tiny reptilian claws or – for those ignorant individuals we met in the street – a hippie child with a lazy arthritic peace sign.

My mother remained quite supportive of my behavior too even after that biting incident at school; although the neighbors never ceased staring at me like I was sucking on lead-based lollipops. Clearly they were envious of my lofty ambitions.

Allosaurus skeleton.

In time my dreams drifted – though not faded – as I sought out other monsters living today, now. Sacrificing truth for reality, I researched the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Goat Man (A mid-Atlantic legend, the creature possesses the head of a goat and the body of a man and wields a giant axe to attack parked cars, lovers on lonely roads, and other untrustworthy individuals.) and then, as my reading skills improved, mythology. Until one fine beautiful day, I found myself with a copy of Lewis Carol’s “Jabberwocky” in my hand reading aloud to the kids. Of all the poems memorized for school, Shakespearean soliloquies, and wise saws from – as Patrick once put it – “old dead guys,” I will remember the wonderful horrifying nonsense of this poem ‘til I too one day pass away, consumed again into the earth, extinct.

 

 

JabberwockyThe Jabberwock by John Tenniel

By Lewis Carol

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

In which Murph considers current events and polygamy . . .

This morning I had the opportunity to listen in on the news, having just finished visiting the Wednesday webcomics, anime reviews, and movie news and now absently searching Google for something . . . anything that could distract me for another five minutes. I overheard another interview with the mothers from the polygamist compound. I say “another” as just the night before the same interview had appeared on the late late news, and no doubt for the sake of morning people or people like me who try very hard not to watch much television, they re-aired the footage yet again for completeness sake.

It was the voices that startled me from my escapist romp through the internet, by all that is holy . . . those voices. The sounds of their pleas possessed the tones of disembodied voices, a forlorn spirit haunting an old abandon nursery. The high-pitched moans were denying something, refusing to answer questions about their own marriage, the age they were given over to men nearly three-times their age. Hearing their refusals and adamant demands for their children’s return baffled me. The pleas of the possessed. The arguments of the brainwashed cult. I did not know whether I should laugh or cry.

In which Murph explores his experiences on the farm and love of — fried — chicken . . .

No man can accuse me of hating animals. Yet no cultivated love exists between myself and the rest of the world’s species. In truth, even if allergies had not impaired any lasting relationship – a true dander divorce – I am too well-acquainted with the responsibility of live-in pets to accept any non-human residents into my home. I have found that helping my folks with the siblings is akin to raising a band of wild wolves anyhow. My life requires no more wildlife, especially birds.

Most animal activists never grew up among chickens. Of this, I am sure. No, most likely as a child they retain fond of memories of Fluffy the rabbit or Tigger the cat, creatures with which you can cuddle or pet. Soft creatures that purred, nuzzled, or fetched. You try any of that nonsense with a chicken, and you might lose an eye, a nose, or a liver. Most assuredly you will lose all humanitarian credos, all faith in the notion that “Man’s Best Friend” can be anything other than a bottle of Scotch. This I say with all seriousness, a bias formed from personal experience . . . and therefore as such is entirely true. If most Americans lived among chickens – raising, feeding, cleaning, watering, and occasionally carrying those feather-born demons – PETA would be nothing more than flatbread, cock-fighting would be annexed as the national sport, and I could easily buy Chick-Fil-A on Sundays.

Everyday before school, I would slip, slide, and breathe heavily downhill to the chicken coop near the base of woods. Suitably enough, most of the rainwater would gather at the base of this hill before trickling under- or aboveground to the adjacent ponds and streams, forming a marsh of fetid mud and slime, a haven for flies and mosquitoes of all sizes and varieties. This I would traverse to the edge of the bramble-soaked woods to the small shack, where the chicken’s dwelt. Most of the time this daily exercise would consist of scraping the food and water containers, cleaning out the excess – and putrid – waste from their coop, gathering slime molded eggs, and avoid losing my fingers to the pecking beaks of this demon band. During the summer months, as the air warmed and humidity rose, the wall above the coop door would collect with mud-built hives of wasps and bees, which I could either deftly avoid (rarely) or attack with a shovel (haphazardly missing). Either way due to the thick mud and swarming birds, I rarely avoided several stinging welts upon my head. The birds, if they could, laughed and cackled riotously. On the return journey up the hill, I trudge through the muck while big black flies bite and hummingbird-sized mosquitoes stab at me with their long proboscises like a straw inserted into a juice-box. At the top of the hill, drained of energy, will, and blood, I then cleaned myself for school, a welcome vacation from the “farm.”

Two years ago while on vacation, we asked a friend of the family to watch over the chickens: feed them, give them water, and collect the eggs. The coop was build with two sections: a large indoor shack with a small latched opening (to hamper invading foxes and weasels) and a outdoor fence. Typically when gathering water and food dispensers, we shoo the chickens through the opening and latch the door, so we can collect eggs quickly and easily. For you see, our rooster had become quite territorial. A whirling dervish of claws and feathers. Our friend did not know this. As he entered the coop, the rooster charged him, flying at him with claws extended like a kung-foo kick. He received several large gashes along his leg for his work, and many many apologetic thanks from the rest of us. Later that week, Mom cooked disgruntled chicken soup for dinner and the safety of the little ones.

Then there’s the smell. Oh, how many of my mornings, once full of color and warmth – emerald-green leaves caked in golden dewdrops; branches dripping opals of raindrops with sapphire pupils of the dawn sky – have been defiled by the fetid stench of the nearby coop infecting the passing storm breeze? Believe me, it frickin’ smells. I take one last longing gaze at the morning, and then barricade myself in my room. Piles of furniture, books, dental floss, shoes, chairs, and coat hangers construct an impenetrable wall, blocking every crevice. With a clap, electronic fans of all varieties whirl and turn like a manmade typhoon. As the book pages begin to flap, I relax allowing the scents of the artificial room to send me to sleep, awaking every now and then as a loud howling cluck splits the air.

To be fair though, I cannot suffer most smells that emanate from the barnyard. I walk through the stalls at the county fairs like a doctor examining plague victims, my nose and mouth masked to allow for ample breathing, my hands protected in overly-long sleeves. The kids meanwhile frolic and play about the maze of pig pens and cages, unconcerned about what they touch or where they step. In a nearby cot, my brother lies on a cot and chews on Doritoes, whiles his pig, Porky, grunts and squeals next door. Every so often his hand passes a chip through the bars, like a letter through a mail slot; his hand now sticky and wet is wiped on his jeans and reflexively returns to the bag. He consumes another chip. I try not to gag.

UPDATE: I am now adding cattle to the ever-growing list of animals best-fried-than-alive. Yesterday our cows got loose and scamper onto the nearby highway. My sister witnessed cars careening between yellow and white lines, narrowly avoiding collisions with the silly creatures. The animals remained unharmed though, apparently bored among the grass-less asphalt and capered off into the neighbor’s yard for some food. Despite the fortuitous absence in accidents, the sudden fear of tragedy, animal mutilation, and lawsuits left my family and me visibly shaken. Eventually though using some honey-soaked grains as bait, we managed to lure the creatures back in their paddock and repair the broken fence. Cows, for those unfamiliar with livestock, are extremely strong. As I held the bucket of grains, one of them managed to stick its head into the blue bucket and literally push me like a dog with a rag-doll. Afterwards we cleaned ourselves up, got some lunch, and took a nap, our bellies fat with cheeseburger.