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Thinkin’ about Rufus

We have these really great friends whose son Drake (not his real name) is roughly 168% boy. He’s a great kid with a good heart, and he’s really smart. When I picture Drake, even now, in my mind’s eye, I can only see him smiling. But because he is all boy, and because our public school system’s really set up to benefit only the children who are willing to sit, silently comatose, and have lessons taught at them as they follow a tax code’s worth of Draconian rules… Well, let’s just say he struggled when he was five.

Unable to sit still, and also unable to stop asking “Why?” every fifteen seconds or so, Drake was constantly on the dark side of his teacher’s moon. Let’s call her Mrs. Manacle (not her real name). Mrs. Manacle had a really hard time keeping Drake under control, and Drake likewise had a really hard time with a sweet, smiley young woman constantly trying to keep him under her control. But then one day Drake stumbled upon, quite by accident, a magical technique of psychological judo for which Mrs. Manacle was wholly unprepared.

When Mrs. Manacle would ask Drake to do something, some task with which he had no intention of complying, or to answer some question that might as well have involved a slide rule and quadratic equations (keep in mind that he was five), he would simply look far into the distance, forlorn, and respond, “I’m sorry. I can’t right now. I’m thinkin’ about Rufus.”

And when Drake was thinkin’ about Rufus, there was simply no reaching him. It was as though he shut down emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, fortress walls and impenetrable forcefields surrounding the very essence of his being. He was C-3P0 in The Empire Strikes Back, blown apart mid-sentence by offscreen stormtroopers. Mrs. Manacle could tell that Drake was truly, profoundly affected by thinkin’ about Rufus. Often, his eyes would well and glisten with tears that never quite pooled enough to fall. And when it was so evident that she was not going to be able to break through, Mrs. Manacle knew she had to back down.

Drake skated by for some time on the “thinkin’ about Rufus” ruse. However, as is most often the case with elaborate plans masterminded by five-year-old kindergartners, Drake had not thought through the calendar and realized that eventually, inevitably, Mrs. Manacle would have access to his parents, at which point she would no doubt ask them that most probing of inappropriate questions: “Who is Rufus?”

In fact, at the very next teacher meeting, where Drake was not present, but where both his mom and his dad sat down with Mrs. Manacle, to chart out elaborate strategies and plans and a coordinated effort to help ensure that Drake’s academic performance in kindergarten would not suffer, because as everyone knows, that phase of life is so critical for five-year-old boys to one day get themselves into the right college, which as everyone knows, is the only way one can procure sufficient employment in adulthood, the question surfaced.

His parents looked at each other, confused, as the words hung there in the air, a mist not yet fully dissipated. Drake’s mom, Andrea (not her real name), was first to break the awkward silence. “I’m sorry. What?”

Mrs. Manacle repeated herself. “Who is Rufus?”

Again the parents looked at each other, baffled. Mrs. Manacle realized she was going to have to do what she had not wanted to do: delve into this family’s personal business and press for that most difficult of resolutions. So she explained. “Well, sometimes—often, actually—when we’re doing work in class, I’ll turn to Drake and ask him to answer a question. Or I’ll ask him to complete some task—some center, some activity, some craft, whatever. And he’ll draw up, his eyes will water, and he’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Manacle. I just can’t talk about that right now. You see, I’m thinkin’ about Rufus.’ So of course, I feel like I have to know: Who is Rufus?

Andrea choked. She chortled. She wheezed. She snorted.

Mrs. Manacle wriggled uncomfortably in her seat. Clearly, Rufus was a person of some importance, someone very significant in all their lives, who just as deeply was felt as a wound in Andrea’s heart as in sweet little Drake’s.

And then Andrea full-on laughed. She roared. She guffawed so hard that she gasped. Tears came. But not like Drake’s tears. Tears of exuberance. When she was able to regain her composure, she began to explain. “Rufus,” she began, “is a cat.”

“Well,” she corrected herself, “actually, Rufus was a cat. Bryan (Drake’s dad, not his real name) and I had a cat for several years named Rufus. We still had Rufus when Drake was born, but he died while Drake was just a baby. Drake didn’t actually know Rufus. Not really. I mean, I guess, sort of through pictures. But he wasn’t attached to Rufus. It seems, Drake has found a way to avoid doing his work. I’m so sorry.”

Mrs. Manacle no doubt realized she had been bested. It happens. It’s a hazard of the position, certainly. One learns, one moves on. Notes were made. Adjustments to plans and schedules and files. And the jig was up for Drake. Sadly, he would have to start “Thinkin’ about Lucy” or about “Peanut Butter” or about “Snowflake” instead. The “Rufus” work deterrent was taken from him, Benedict Arnolded by his own kin.

Now the beauty of the “Thinkin’ about Rufus” technique is that it’s available to anyone. Kendra and I use it. And I would encourage you to as well. The next time your boss wants to have one of those difficult conversations with you. The next time your spouse walks in and says, far too seriously, “We need to talk.” When a creditor or representative of the IRS is hanging on the other end of your phone to discuss “terms” or perhaps “irregularities.” You sigh deeply, inflating your chest fully with air, and find it within yourself to moisten your eyes from the inside. And you apologize with authenticity and say, “I’m sorry. I really can’t talk right now. I’m thinkin’ about Rufus.”

What works for you? How do you passively-aggressively avoid conflict (or perhaps work)? Has your child ever managed to put one over on their teacher? What did they do? Wouldn’t grown-up life be so much better if we all had a little “rest time” built into our workday?

Laser Eyes (Part 2 of 2)

(This is Part 2 of a 2-part story. Part 1 is here.)

The day of the procedure, you have to have someone there to drive you home, either because your eyesight’s not at 100% until your corneas can heal over (which takes a few days), or because they give you Valium to mellow you out for your time in the chair, or I guess possibly because, you know, they’ve blinded you. So Kendra went with me. It was mid-afternoon, and several other people were also there, sitting around in the big, executive-looking waiting room, either to have their own eyes blasted or to drive their groggy loved ones home. We checked in, then strolled casually to some comfy chairs, each of us selecting a magazine to peruse while we waited.

During our previous visit here for the initial consultation, they had led us into a maze directly behind the waiting room, a kind of hodge-podge of doctor’s examining rooms and tiny negotiating rooms like they sometimes have at car dealerships. But today, when my time came, a young woman took me to a completely different part of the complex. This place was in a storefront-type building in a strip mall, so the entire front was a wide tinted glass wall that faced the parking lot. She led me down what was more or less a long hallway, the wall of windows immediately on my right. So they could regulate the temperature along that wall, the windows were covered floor to ceiling with copper-colored metal shades.

Where the hallway ended, we turned left and passed a couple of restrooms. She took me into a large, dark room where there were three or four permanently reclined chairs, the kind you lie in at the dentist. She directed me to a chair, then brought me a couple of Valiums and some water in a tiny Dixie cup, the same kind you’d use in the bathroom to swish after brushing when you were a kid. She said I’d need to wait for it to kick in, checked her watch, and promised she’d come back to get me in a few minutes. She left, and I lay back and closed my eyes.

I drifted there for several minutes, ruminating lazily about all those tiny details I’d be able to make out now, things I might have been missing before, and gradually it also dawned on me that my bladder was approaching its full holding capacity. You know what it’s like when you’re lying in bed and you realize you need to go; once you’ve had just that initial thought, you’re past the point of no return. When the girl returned a few minutes later, I sat up and asked her if I could use the restroom before we went back. She looked…concerned. “Uh, number one or number two?”

I chuckled. “One.”

Still she looked perplexed. “Do you think you could hold it until after?”

I chuckled again. “Not bloody likely.”

She furrowed her brow, contemplating. “Okay. Do you remember where it was? We passed it coming in.”

“Sure,” I said, dropping my feet to the floor, which seemed much spongier now than when we came in.

She lunged at me and slipped her arm under my armpit. “Whoa. A little wobbly. Do you need me to get you some help?”

I played it cool. “I’m fline. Smeally.” Outwardly, I was being polite, but inside I was thinking, Seriously? I’ve been going to the bathroom myself now for like, what? Three hundred years? And also, Wow. Her face is kind of melty.

In spite of my stubbornness, she insisted on helping me back out into the hall. As soon as I saw the men’s room there at the corner, I knew I’d be fine. I walked towards the door. And overshot. Badly. Although I managed to get my hand up to keep myself from falling—at first, anyway—in so doing I grabbed a handful of metal blinds. I then promptly raked down them as I crumpled to my knees there at the windows. And this in full sight of all the terrified people down the hallway in the waiting room.

Try to imagine the sound of dragging your hand ceiling to floor across metal blinds pressed against glass in a long hallway. This sound was not unlike that. You’d probably imagine this to be a very loud, very dramatic kind of noise. And you’d be right. Every face cranked towards me, wrenched in horror. I can only imagine their thoughts, What in the world’s going on back there?!?

The girl helped me up and wrangled me into the men’s room. “Are you sure you’re going to be all right? I can get somebody, a guy, to come help you.”

“Scromningulaind,” I assured her, waving her off dismissively. “Nit’s vend.”

She slipped out and closed the door, I think unconvinced. I placed a hand on the wall and conducted my business. In my memory, I had perfect aim, successfully navigated and with no undue overspray. Of course, for all I know, it was into a trash can or a sink or a drain in the floor or against the wall. But I’m sure it was fine. I finished up, I think put everything away and closed up, washed what I’m pretty sure were my hands, and staggered back out into the hall.

She was waiting there for me and helped me into another dark room, where I lay into yet another dentist chair. A doctor I couldn’t see gave me some instructions, which I obediently followed. Honestly, at that point, they could have handed me a gun, Jason-Bourne-style, and told me to shoot a hooded guy in the corner and I would absolutely have done it. (For all I know, they did.)

The actual procedure was kind of a blur, dark, with lots of popping noises and weird lights. The only part I remember vividly is that when they fired the laser into my eye, it looked like my eyeball filled with gray ashes—from the inside. That was the only moment I was frightened about losing my eyesight. But I was also very drowsy, so the feeling passed quickly.

I don’t remember leaving that day. I don’t remember whatever instructions they gave to me. What I do remember was awakening the next morning in my own bed, rolling over, and seeing my alarm clock—clearly—for perhaps the first time in my life. I cried a little. It was the best money I ever spent on myself.

Have you ever been high in public? What happened? Were authorities involved? When you write “gray,” do you spell it with an “a” or with an “e”? (I anguished over that decision today.)

Laser Eyes (Part 1 of 2)

(Today is part one of a two-part story. Part 2 is here.)

I’ve had poor eyesight for as long as I can remember. Primarily farsightedness. My mom took me to get glasses when I was in the third grade. I wore them for exactly one day and then never put them on again. Finally, when I was 16, although my eyesight was decent enough that I passed my driver’s exam, I couldn’t deny that I really couldn’t see safely at night. So I caved and got contact lenses. (That’s a story perhaps I’ll tell you another time.)

When Kenny, our first child, was about to be born, Kendra convinced me that I couldn’t risk not being able to see at his birth, particularly if he came in the middle of the night and I didn’t have time to get my contacts in before we’d have to leave the house. So I went and got glasses again. I spent a lot of money and selected very carefully. But later, when I saw the pictures from the hospital, I just couldn’t stand how I looked with them on. I think the problem is that if I wear glasses large enough to offset my nose, it looks like I’m trying to be all Hollywood. And if I wear glasses that are “cool” and the appropriate, “normal” size for the rest of my face, it’s impossible not to notice that they could fit handily into either one of my cavernous nostrils. Although that might make for convenient storage and quick access, it’s hardly practical. More importantly, it’s ugly.

So, still burdened by contacts and my backup ugly glasses, one day at work I was discussing my dilemma with a friend who told me about Lasik, laser surgery for your eyes. He had had it done, and he said (and this is an exact quote): “It’s the best money I ever spent on myself.” I didn’t need a lot of convincing. This was some twelve years ago, when Lasik was still pretty expensive—something like $1600 per eye—not like today, where you can have it done in the back of a van that comes to where you work, and if you bring in a Dr. Pepper can, you get a 10% discount. But after some research (and seriously begging Kendra), we set it up. And this is where our story begins…

Now, I don’t know whether you’re familiar with Lasik, but if you actually listen to what happens during the procedure, although the assistant tries to make it all sound routine, my consultation went something like this:

ASSISTANT: The Doctor has performed this procedure more than 38,000 times over the last 22 years…with-an-82%-success-rate.

ME: Excuse me? What? What was that last part?

ASSISTANT: Nothing. Here’s how it works: Using a highly precise scalpel, in an in-office procedure, The Doctor will make a minuscule, half-moon shaped incision…directly-onto-the-cornea-of-your-eye.

ME: I’m sorry. Did you say…

ASSISTANT: Then with another very precise instrument, The Doctor will open the flap he’s created…exposing-the-inside-of-your-eyeball-where-it’s-possible-although-not-likely-and-anyway-we-have-a-really-good-success-rate-and-it-almost-never-happens-that-infection-could-be-introduced-and-you-could-lose-your-sight.

ME: Uh…

ASSISTANT: Then The Doctor…blasts-a-loud-banging-super-high-intensity-laser-directly-into-your-eye-burning-away-living-tissue-and-kind-of-carving-it-into-a-shape-he-likes-and-thinks-will-probably-help-you-see.

ME: A…

ASSISTANT: Finally, The Doctor…blasts-the-dead-flesh-out-with-a-shot-of-air-and-lays-the-flap-back-over-and-because-the-surface-of-your-eye-is-basically-aqueous-it-uh-more-or-less-heals-itself.

ME: So what I hear you saying is that…

ASSISTANT: Do you have any questions?

ME: This “Doctor”: He’s like a real doctor, right?

ASSISTANT: Real enough. He’s got like a plaque in his office and everything.

ME: Um… Can I get a Valium beforehand?

ASSISTANT: We wouldn’t have it any other way.

ME: Do I need to sign anything? Like a waiver or something?

ASSISTANT: (laughing) Oh, my God. That’s hilarious! YES! Like, a bajillionty forms! I’ve heard it’s less trouble to do a house closing on a haunted mansion that’s a portal into hell and where serial murders were committed.

ME: Let’s light this candle.

Coming on Friday: The Actual Procedure…

Have you ever had a procedure done that the staff acted was like a completely simple, normal thing, but was actually terrifying? Have you ever had a procedure performed that was against your better judgment, but your vanity wouldn’t let you off the hook? Which do you think is better: Taco Bell or Taco Bueno? Justify your answer.

The Names Machine

A friend recently implied that I might be using some sort of expensive software to generate the Random Fake Band Names of the Day that I post on Facebook and Twitter. (Fresh band names appear Monday through Friday at 3:45 PM—unless something doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.)

Before that rumor spreads any further, please allow me to take this opportunity to nip that in the bud right here, right now: I do not now, nor have I at any time, used any technology or software—other than the mushy coils between my ears and the rhythms of everyday conversation—to generate band names. Friends that I used to work with years ago can attest to this fact, and even verify the origin of what became a game that we played on a near-daily basis: “Yeah, that’s your band name of the day right there.” (They would even tell you that I was the game’s creator.)

People tell me all the time, “Hey, I’ve got a band name for you…” Often, sadly, they do not. In order to qualify as a band name, a certain rhythm must be achieved in the syllables, and once the name grows beyond a particular length, often you must yield the field and transition into the arena of album titles. (Album titles can be as long and as unreasonable as you like.) The best band names are those which are not only relatively short, but which also contain some degree of ambiguity. Of course it’s not always possible to achieve ideal band name parity with such stringent conditions, so the rules are a little lenient.

Although I can by no means conclusively prove that I don’t cheat to generate band names—it’s really a question of character and integrity, which is why I invoked the support of witnesses present at the inception of the band name of the day—here are just a few examples from band names I have posted in the past, along with the explanation of how they were born:

  • Accidental Battle. On a recent visit to Greece, we were confined for lengthy periods to (never-unpleasant) tour buses. Many times, to get to someplace great, you have to ride for a while. (Go figure.) Anyway, on one of the longer rides, our fabulous tour guide showed us a couple of DVDs on the in-bus entertainment system. One of them was a History Channel production about the original, true story of a rogue Spartan general facing off against impossible odds in a narrow canyon, a moment in history which was the likely inspiration for the blood-gore-and-boobie-fest graphic novel and subsequent film, 300. The narrator of this documentary at one point remarked how this general found himself in this awkward position—where he had no choice but to fight—quite by accident, and only through sheer determination and strategic prowess did he win the day. An Accidental Battle.
  • The Buffalo’s Apple. Our great State Fair of Oklahoma was held just a month ago, in mid-September. Although it has become absurdly expensive and uncomfortably crowded in recent years, there exists no substitute I am aware of for mullet and pierced navel sightings, so I still consider it a must-attend. I took my 9-year-old son and my 5-year-old daughter, and my sister and brother-in-law and three lovely nieces joined us. At the very end of our stay, as we were walking toward the exit gate, everyone wanted to have a look at a mangy buffalo inside a fenced-in area. So we ambled over to ogle him. There, by his hooves, was a rather large and visibly soft pile of buffalo chips (feces), and within just a few inches of it was—you guessed it: an apple. The apple had a large bite out of it already, as though he had been munching on it earlier and had inadvertently dropped it, losing it in his hay. We laughed as we watched him sniffing all around, as though he were searching for it, placing bets on whether he would actually eat the apple if he found it. He did find it. He did not eat it. It was The Buffalo’s Apple.
  • Roasting a Drone. Recently I read an article online about some military technology which employs pairing a sophisticated tracking system with a high-powered laser to superheat and therefore ignite missiles and similar propulsive explosive devices to the point that they detonate before reaching their targets. In the military contractor’s demonstration before the happy government committee who writes checks, they successfully shot a small radio-controlled missile, sort of like a Predator drone, out of the sky with their “laser.” Somewhere in the copy of the article, the author described the process of heating the flying implement as essentially “roasting” it in midair. Thus, Roasting a Drone.

I hope that my de-mystifying this process for you does not diminish your enjoyment of the Random Fake Band Name of the Day. Rather, I seek to include you in the game with sufficient means that you may become fiercely competitive at it yourselves.

Also, if you haven’t noticed it before, because I love you—all five of you who read my blog—every title of every post I’ve ever written for this blog…is a Random Fake Band Name. Yes. I am awesome. And as always: You’re welcome.

What’s YOUR random fake band name for today? (Be careful—I’ll be judging, and I may relegate your entry to the dreaded album title category instead.) Do you have a favorite random fake band name of the day that you remember from those I’ve posted? If you’re not following me on Twitter or on Facebook, for the love of cows, why not? What’s WRONG with you? I mean, seriously!

Liquid Force

Fair Warning: Before you even begin reading what’s below, I apologize. I’ve done everything I reasonably can to keep today’s post from running over with bad taste. But the subject matter may be messy for some. It’s toilet humor. Literally.

My criteria for purchasing a toilet used to include force enough to flush an eight-pound ham in one shot. If that seems excessive to you, you’ve gotta understand: I’m a man over forty years old. And I’ve seen some things in all that living. Terrible things.

At my old workplace, the site manager was constantly stymied in a game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious agent my colleagues and I began semi-affectionately calling “The Toilet Terrorist.” This stealthy bear-dumper managed to clog at least one of the toilets in the downstairs men’s room literally at least once every two weeks. (I’m not making this up.) The manager was even exploring the legality of setting up motion-sensitive cameras to catch the poopetrator. Needless to say, the laws covering privacy often trump the laws covering common sense. He was never caught—brown-handed or otherwise.

Most every (sensible) North American has a toilet plunger somewhere around their house. I like to keep mine within easy reach of the toilet. Certainly it’s not beneath me to flip it over and use the “stick” portion (perhaps you call yours a handle) to break larger waste into more manageable sizes.  (I’ve even sharpened my handle into a wedge shape to facilitate more efficient chunking. But you do whatever works for you.)

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and let me tell you: Unclogging a toilet can be a real mother. I think it was probably the fourth time (or fifth—they kind of run together) that my four-year-old had managed to compress a bowling-ball-sized wad of toilet paper tightly into the toilet’s “S” curve. I’d been elbow-deep in the stool for more than an hour, wrestling Jacob-and-angel-like with an augur, when the thought occurred to me: There has to be a better way.

And that was it. The moment when the simplicity, the beauty, the sheer grace of the solution just rained down on me in one brilliant instant, glistening like pristine porcelain: What every toilet needs, my friends… is a garbage disposal.

Now, bear with me here, and don’t freak out: Nobody seems to have a problem with a garbage disposal in their kitchen sink. But why not all the other appliances that have their drains connected to that very same “dirty water” system that removes waste from your house? (Toilets, dishwashers, washing machines, etc.)

A toilet garbage disposal avoids all kinds of problems. Although people I’ve shared the idea with have raised all sorts of objections and tried to poke holes in my logic, none of the arguments I’ve heard holds water:

“Won’t waste splash out?”

Why? It doesn’t splash out of your sink, does it? Same principle: A rubber “sleeve” to separate you-know-what from you-know-where. Alternatively, have you seen those electric pool covers where you flip a switch and it rolls out across the surface? Same principle. Flip the switch, the cover rolls across the top of the bowl and, once securely fastened, the shredder kicks in. It’s genius. Misunderstood genius, perhaps, but genius nonetheless.

You’re welcome, world.

What’s the best idea you’ve ever had that will never see the light of day? Do you have a better idea than mine to solve the problem of clogged toilets? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen stuck in a toilet (that you’d be comfortable sharing, of course)?

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