Yards To Go Before I Sleep

[Otis Love Guernsey, football player and "...
Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Yards To Go Before I Sleep

“ Football is 90% temper and 10% mental “   Doug Plank, ex-Chicago Bear

Neurosurgeons note each year in September that there is a marked increase in male testosterone levels.  Brain scans reveal new levels of activity in cerebellums that have been dormant since early February.  For most, autumn is a time for back to school celebrations, pumpkins, apple picking and a landscape brushed from a palette of reds, oranges and golds.  It is also football season. Booyah !

Over the course of so many seasons, I have noticed how certain people, particularly men,  rely on sports analogies as a framework for relating to any situation.  During last year’s Pop Warner football season, I lampooned many of our most scared institutions – coaches, parents, politicians and our vicarious preoccupation with pre-pubescent gridiron, subjecting the parents of our then fifth grade players to a series of nonsensical newsletters simply titled, “Under The Bleachers”.  In one edition, I managed to memorialize the metaphors muttered most by manic men (how’s that for alliteration?).  These catch phrases are universal bridges guaranteed to penetrate to the thickest skull when trying to make a point.  They are the lowest common denominator of literary vehicles.

He tends to out punt his coverage – This individual has a habit of getting ahead of himself and his team and in doing so, exposes the squad to a negative consequence.

A good punt allows the kicking team to get down the field to prevent any return.  In business, people who out kick coverage are usually found in Sales and Marketing.  It’s often also referred to “writing checks one does not have the ability to cash”.

He’s played a little too long without a helmet – This person is generally a dullard, oaf, boor or a health insurance executive.  Rarely is this person aware of this fact.

I have seen better hands on a grandfather clock – The person in question has poor hand eye coordination that results in constantly dropped passes, missed catches or poor performance on a first date.  This individual would probably be best employed as a firewatcher or rickshaw driver.

He’s a few yards short of a first down – Metaphorically, this suggests a person does not completely possess the skills necessary to complete a complicated task and would best be suited in non skill positions such as politics or working for the CIA in foreign intelligence

This coach is depriving a village of an idiot somewhere – generally used when a coach has made a poor decision causing great harm to his/her team.  The practice of employing village idiots is now illegal in the world except in parts of the District of Columbia and England.  “So many walls, so little time” – The English Idiot Creed

He zigged when he should have zagged – This describes an individual player that made the worst possible choice and as a result, the play ended in disaster.  It can also apply to any circumstance where someone with 50% odds of success makes the wrong decision. This often results in tragic consequences.  Example:  John Wayne Bobbit zigged when he should have zagged and Lorena got the better of him.

Time for a Hail Mary – This refers to a wild, last ditch effort – – normally a trick play or long bomb pass to attempt to win.  As with all football, it has a clearly Catholic theme.  For Protestants, it is a suspicious play.  It was most likely first attempted at Notre Dame University when the team had one last play to go eighty yards to score against a protestant university.  “Hail Mary, Mother of Grace” was possibly uttered in the huddle and forever became synonymous with a call for a miracle.  The baseball equivalent of a Hail Mary is “swinging for the fences “.  The singles bar equivalent is asking the person you just met what they like to eat for breakfast.

The best defense is a good offense – This strategy is well understood by any married couple and is a commonly deployed strategy by wives to deflect attention from legitimate points of view during an argument.  In football, a sustained offensive push can keep one’s team from being put on the defensive.  This is also a device used by men who are on the cusp of losing arguments with the opposite sex. .  For example, let’s say you roll in at 4 a.m. with a ripped suit , black eye and lipstick written on your forehead that reads “ I am a pig “.  The best defense in this situation is:  a) blame it on your best friend, b) laugh and say it is all one big misunderstanding,  c)throw yourself on the mercy of the court, or d) go on offense and pick a fight with your spouse over the fact that Village Cleaners did not drop off your laundry that day. Answer: D

You can only option right so long before you get thrown for a big loss – as a general rule of thumb, it’s best not to keep calling the same play as your opposition will adjust and catch on, possibly resulting in a loss of yardage.  This also applies to moderate democrats who have the occasion to run right and in doing so, attempt to garner a broader base of votes without really intending to stay right.  Some one may produce a photo of you in the sixties burning a flag or dancing at Woodstock.

He was born in the end zone and thought he scored a touchdown – The actual comment was attributed to President W and drew on baseball: “ he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple “ This applies to anyone who as the result of luck, birthright or impeccable timing starts with a highly advantaged situation but seems to forget this fact and behaves as if they have accomplished great things.  This analogy is often used as a pejorative political devise or a non sequitor to deflect a question about one’s opponent.

Football is America’s sport.  It has served as an important refuge for the strong, the unimaginative and those with overactive pituitary glands.  But it’s greatest gift is it’s clever metaphors which serve as a masculine lingua franca in every mental locker room across America.

An Empire Revisited

An Empire Revisited

People sometimes ask me, “What is the difference between baseball and cricket?”  The answer is simple.  Both are games of great skill involving balls and bats, but with this crucial difference: baseball is exciting, and when you go home at the end of the day you know who won. ~Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

The morning of our recent London trip, the newspaper read that two unexploded car bombs had been found near Picadilly and Soho. A third incendiary bomb had been detonated at Glasgow Airport.  John Smeaton, a Glaswegian baggage handler, became a national hero when he tackled and fought with the terrorist bent on incinerating himself and an airport full of people headed for holiday after term break.  Smeaton shared with the BBC, “I thought to meeself, what’s the score here; I’ve got to get this sorted.”  After breaking his leg and teeth in the thrashing of the terrorist, “Smeats” was an instant celebrity – a subject of news specials, blogs and proud recognition.  His reward?  1000 pints of free lager at his local pub.  To other would-be attackers, he was heard to remark with strong Scottish accent and cigarette dangling from his mouth, “This is Glasgow, we will set about on ye.”

Much has changed since our time in the Emerald Isle four years ago.  Gordon Brown is now the Prime Minister of England.  Smoking is banned in all restuarants and pubs, lawyers air personal injury ads, the US dollar enjoys the exchange value of a Mexican peso, and the property prices have gone from ridiculous to absurd.  What has not changed is the constant rain that disrupts Wimbledon, tiny loos, the threat of terrorist activity, great ethnic food, the Royal family as the face of the realm and a National Health Service under siege.  The Royal Mail still arrives the day after a letter is posted.  Manchester United still leads the Premiere Division and, alas, the red eyed, shaved headed lad still stumbles onto London transport wearing his soccer jersey and a sweat suit, clutching a can of Black Carling lager and daring anyone to make eye contact.

The British enjoy a love/hate relationship with their own country.  The NY Times recently reviewed The Angry Isle – Hunting the English, a book by British critic and polemic, A.A. Gill.  His theory is that every classically British trait – stiff upper lip, stoic humility, good manners, keen wit – is an ingenious strategy to deflect anger.  Gill asserts that the English are a culture founded on rage and aggression.  “The English created the queue because if they did not they would kill each other.  Gardening is a displacement activity for unresolved anger.  Pets are preferred as it is easier to love something small and fuzzy than another human.  Nostalgia and deep reverence of the past have helped medicate the embarrassment of Britain no longer making history but merely being resigned to curate it.”

Tradition and history are tricky things.  While Continental Europe is long on tradition, it easily eschews history for the sake of modern conveniences.  Independent England will fight to the death to defend history as tradition – the pound, the Royal family and the size of a phone booth.  History and tradition are fraternal twins and nostalgia is their mother.

Jane Walmsley, an American married to a Brit, crafted a brilliant book called Brit Think, Ameri-Think, which humorously contrasts England’s clash of restraint and tradition with American loud naiveté.  Walmsley jokes that the English bathroom is so small because the British have so little roughage in their diet that they actually never need to use the loo.  As an ex-patriot, you come to understand how clearly your country defines you and that subconsciously we are walking caricatures whose footprints occasionally fit less flattering stereotypes.  Our English neighbors in London could always tell the American houses because every light in every room of every house was illuminated at night.  “It’s as if you are having a party each evening,” one remarked.  We were hopelessly uninformed about European government, law or history.  The Tudors?  Aren’t they kinds of houses?  And what about that strange extra toilet that sprayed like a drinking fountain?  (The kids kept trying to brush their teeth in it before some European friends explained the concept of a bidet.)

Returning to the UK after four years, we quickly fell under the spell of Central London – jogging under the massive elms and horse chestnut trees of Hyde Park, peering through the grated fence of Buckingham Palace hoping for a glimpse of the Queen, navigating the phalanx of pedestrians at Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Picadilly Circus and perching like a peregrine falcon atop the London Eye.  The theatre district remains a joy and high tea is still a tonic for anything that ails you.  London’s richest history is perhaps its most macabre, as recounted deep in the The London Dungeon where children hear stories of serial killers, plague, executions and the Great Fire of 1666.  Outside, the fickle weather unleashes great sweeping thunderstorms, hail, gusting winds, angry grey clouds and the constant tease of intermittent sunshine.

Our village of Wimbledon was dressed to the nines for the tennis tournament as players, visitors and locals mixed every evening in the Dog & Fox Pub and spilled out on to the high street.  Our old church, Emmanuel, had a message board that read, “God made Roger Federer.”  The vicar, Jonathon Fletcher, was quite proud of this; it drew attention to the pleasant Anglican Church.  We went on to Hampshire to overnight in a 500-year-old manor house.  Once the children were bedded down, the lady of the house shared “I did not want to alarm the children, but we have a very active ghost in the room where your daughter will be sleeping.”  My wife and daughter quickly conferred; it was decided that I should sleep in the haunted room.  Around midnight, the door creaked open and as I braced for a poltergeist, my son slipped into bed next to me.  I sighed in great relief…I did not want the house awakened by a grown man shrieking.  It would have been very bad form.

A few observations on touring England:  When boarding a tube, always put the children on first with an adult, lest you leave one on the platform.  Never give a child under 10 a pound coin (they are worth $2 and seem to slip from hands faster than greased acorns).  When anyone offers you pudding, take it.  Remember a yard is an abandoned lot.  A garden is a space in front or behind a home with flowers. Public school boys go to private schools and state schools are public.  The world of a teenager is made up of “shavs,” “skaters” and “preps.”

Although some inside and outside the UK may poke fun at the British, most Americans are Anglophiles at heart and Britain feels as if you’re visiting a close relative you never really got to know very well.  As for their unwavering support of America in these troubled times, we can learn a thing or two from our British cousins regarding their steely resolve, their patience, their pride…and their sense that regardless of what tomorrow brings, we must simply carry on.

Bye, Bye Bat Boy

Bye, Bye Bat Boy


Years ago, I returned home from work on a blazing Northern California Indian summer afternoon.  Our recently hired landscaper was drenched in sweat, installing a drip system on a steep hillside slope that fell to a retaining wall that abutted our ranch style home.  I quickly changed and went outside to offer him a glass of lemonade.  As we sat chatting, the conversation shifted from native plants and strategies to deter deer to hobbies and interests.  Bob shared his interest in “color therapy “- – the use of lights to help people get in touch with their hidden pasts and true identities.  As I innocently probed deeper, Bob revealed that “we” were all really slaves on earth and that an alien culture had brainwashed us into forgetting that we were not here of our own free will. He may have worn tinfoil inside his pith helmet to scramble the signals from the invisible aircraft hovering overhead.  This discussion, by the way, was years before the film, The Matrix, where Morpheous asks Neo to decide whether to eat the red pill and see the truth or the blue pill and continue to live in ignorance.  Perhaps Bob was also landscaping for a struggling screenwriter.


I am certain Bob was among the millions of periodic perusers of the scandalous grocery store periodical The Weekly World News.   It is with great regret that I learned last week that the Weekly World News had ceased its operations.  The purgatory of supermarket check out will never be the same as I can no longer be astounded by pictures of aliens shaking hands with Presidents, moms giving birth to 17 children at the same time, the teenager who hacked into heaven on his PC and my personal favorite:  Bat Boy Discovered In West Virginia Cave”.


       By Bill Creighton, Special Correspondent for the WWN:  Scientists claim to have found an astonishing “bat boy” in a West Virginia cave.  The strange creature has enormous amber eyes that enable him to see in the dark and oversized ears that work like radar….The boy appears to be four years old…and has started gaining weight since scientists altered his diet from human food to a room flooded with bugs


For those conspiracy theorists and the criminally insane, the Weekly World News was an important lifeline fueling their suspicion that there was a whole dimension of reality that was currently happening out of the eye of the general public.  Since the mysterious crash of what was rumored to be an alien aircraft in 1947 in an area adjacent to Roswell, New Mexico,  an undercurrent of anxiety has plagued America around suppressed stories of aliens, ghosts and of course, Elvis.  Over the course of my lifetime, I am certain I spent hundreds of dollars on the Weekly World News.  I often rushed home to share with my roommates the news stories that the syndicated media refused to run such as the ghost airliner that landed, bringing back dead rock stars who engaged in an impromptu concert shocking the city of Christchurch, New Zealand and then vanished again into the night.  The lineup was a who’s who of crash victims – Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Patsy Cline, Ritchie Valens, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ronnie Van Zandt and Jim Croce.


Bat Boy held my interest longer than any other story.  He became a favorite marquee headline for the WWN.  That pesky little mutant escaped from the experimental facility where was being held.  He was recaptured.  He escaped and stole a car, rampaging across three states on a warped joy ride.  How Bat Boy actually learned to operate the vehicle was news enough.  The exclusive photos of the wide eyed, fanged freak behind the wheel of a purloined Explorer held America captive, or at least, it held Bob and I captive. 


From Michael Chiron, WWN correspondent:  Queen Elizabeth is reportedly set to knight Bat Boy after the intrepid freak of nature saved a British Patrol in Iraq….Palace insiders say that pressure to knight Bat Boy – who is more popular in British opinion polls than Prince Charles – will be impossible to resist…Bat Boy was later credited with helping US special forces find Saddam, thanks to the mutant’s sensitive nose and Saddam’s failure to bathe while hidden in his spider hole… Apparently, the defunct dictator was terrified and “went into hysterics “when the winged avenger leapt into his hiding place.  


 I read that Dick Cheney was indeed an alien which would explain his poor aim when hunting (he is much more accurate with a proton blaster) and his distain for anyone who could grow a beard.  I felt sympathy for the spouse of the logger who was held captive as a love slave by a female Bigfoot and when finally rescued had shouted at his wife, “can’t you just leave us alone? “ Talk about going native….There was the Pittsburgh man who died, went to Hell and was revived, only to report that Hell was great – – “loaded with booze, babes and one armed bandits” Perhaps, he had awoken from a blackout in Vegas.


I became envious of the WWN staff wondering if their Monday morning meetings resembled those of the early Saturday Night Live writers of Buck Henry, Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase, Al Franken and Tom Davis.  Was it like being a part of National Lampoon in the early 70’s where iconoclasts reigned and we were reminded to constantly question the sacred and sacrosanct?  Politics, celebrities, popular culture, religion, paranormal and historical events were all carefully reconstructed into a theatre of the absurd.  For many of us, we laughed hard.  We laughed at the audacity and the jaundiced journalism.  We appreciated that nothing was off limits and that anyone anywhere could be skewered with an outrageous lampoon.


In the end, the printers at the WWN fell silent.  The fact that Bat Boy was prophesized to become President in 2028 did not somehow reassure me.  It would be too long a wait.  I could not assuage my sense of depression that yet another independent view – – a twisted voice of satirical insanity was fading into the pantheons of literary kibble.  WWN was the intellectual equivalent of eating cotton candy but it was also a symbol of bizarre creativity.  It amused us and it challenged us to remember that imagination, humor and wit can find their place anywhere.  In a time where people and entire cultures are being categorized as either “friend or foe”, we need iconoclasts out there countering in their own crazy way, the absurdity of political dogma, rigid social mores and religious fundamentalism.  I am not sure anyone who sat around the editorial table at the WWN every Monday morning gave much thought to the significance of their “news”. However, in their own little way, they kept the field wide enough for all kinds of opinion. At a minimum, it made my wait in The Food Emporium a bit more tolerable. 


You’ll always be my wingman, Bat Boy.

Interview With A Vampire

Interview With A Vampire


Interviewer:  Your name, it’s French isn’t it?

Levachenuit: (Sheepishly) It’s my nom de plume. It literally means The Night Cow.    I am very fond of the French.  They like cheese, sit all day in cafes, do not work too hard,  and unionize everything so they can retire at 35.  Even their unions have unions. What’s not to like ?


Interviewer:  So, you are a vampire ? I must say you don’t look like a creature of the night.  You seem , well, a little middle aged. 


LeVachenuit:  (exasperated) Actually, we refer to ourselves as “the nocturnally challenged“.  Vampire is such a pejorative term.  We’ve come a long way from the days of being stereotyped as blood suckers with thick Eastern European accents that sleep in our native soil.  We have day jobs, coach little league, and have families. 


Interviewer:  So, how would I know that a person is “nocturnally challenged “?  In the old days, we knew who you were – – Transylvanian accent, the mysterious ground fog, bat scat, hunchback helper, can’t see your reflection in the mirror, hates garlic, needing to be home by dawn or it would get messy.


Levachenuit: ( smiling and shaking head ) That’s all Hollywood.  We come out during the day – – we just wear 45 plus sunblock.  We hang out at Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks and we drink quadruple venti lattes, consume copious amounts of diet coke, have high stress jobs and prefer to eat standing up.  We have health club memberships but never use them. We are not moderate creatures, we live for excess.  Each night, the caffeine, acid reflux, and un-metabolised adrenaline from a stressful day creates a chemical firewall between ourselves and sleep.  We become “the undead”, prowling our kitchens, surfing channels on the TV, foraging for food, and reading bad novels while our families sleep. We are usually between 40 and 80 years old.   It’s lonely and not all that it is cracked up to be.  Anne Rice completely missed the mark.  Lestat was too young, too thin.    


Interviewer:  So, all that stuff about mirrors, garlic and crucifixes isn’t true ?


Levachenuit :  Some of it.  I wear a cross now and then for a little bling.  It causes me eczema but nothing Cortaid can’t cure.  We still avoid mirrors but do so because we can see our own reflections and usually do not like what we see.  (touching his stomach)  The nocturnally challenged, along with the rest of America, have gotten a little too

“prosperous“ for our own good.  The undead really fall into four categories – – the eaters, the readers, the channel surfers and the bi-polar.


Interviewer:  I assume you are an “eater” as you appear very “prosperous”.  Your vampire predecessors – – Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, even George Hamilton – all skinny guys, they must fall in another category.


Levachenuit :  Yes. “ Eaters” love empty calorie foods like bread, cookies and donuts.  Most of the older vampires are readers or channel surfers – – although, some like Tom Cruise, may be bi-polar.   You would be amazed at how much we do when the “normies“ are asleep.


Interviewer:  Normies ? 


Levachenuit :  That’s what we call the normal people. “ Normies” drink decaf.  They fall asleep in five minutes.  They eat fish for dinner and then have one bite of dessert.  They say things like “look at the time, I have got to go to bed” or say “No thanks, I’m on a diet”. (Disgusted look)  


Interviewer:  Take us with you on a typical midnight prowl


Levachenuit : Well, I turn the lights down low.  I watch TV and devour things that I would not normally eat when everyone is awake – – chocolate chips, marshmallows, cookie dough, cereal.  I have specific foods that I eat to compliment certain late night programming – – talk shows ( pretzels and goldfish ), infomercials ( ice cream ), Cops

( hard candies ) and any Lifetime movie with Connie Sellica or John Tesh

( ladyfingers ).  I make impulse buys when I see an 800 number.  Last winter I purchased a “ Garden Weasel”, “ Ab Master”, the book on “ Miracle Cures that Drug Companies Do Not Want Me to Know About “ and a drink that promised I could have a colon more pristine than a computer clean room .  I acquired eight mint condition sets of American Eagle dollars from QVC along with a replica of a ring worn by Ramses II during his brief reign in Egypt.  


Interviewer:  Why not take Ambien to help you sleep?


Levachenuit:  I tried Ambien and woke up in Rhode Island riding in a car with Congressman Patrick Kennedy with twelve sliders from White Castle in my lap and a Butterfinger jammed in my mouth.  Pat wasn’t in much better shape. (leaning in to interviewer and whispering )  He’s one of us too you know…


Interviewer:  I had a suspicion about him.  So, did your spouse or partner finally help you to escape the land of the undead? 


Levachenuit:  Yes.  It came down to my doctor and my wife ganging up on me – a sort of vampire intervention.  I was upset.  At 2am, there was no competition for the Xbox.  I now go to the gym. I get sleepy at 11pm. The headaches, hunger pangs and even the voices of hot dog vendors in my head have all stopped.  I do miss “Cops” at 2am.


Interviewer:  Any final words for those still roaming at night ?


Levachenuit:  Channel Surfers: Channel 58 – Court TV, is a winner.  Eaters: Never mix Mentos and diet coke.  Readers: Read anything by Rush Limbaugh, you’ll get sleepy.

Bi-polars: don’t appear as a guest on Oprah – – nothing good can come out of it.   

Battle of The Sexes

Y’s and X’s – Battle of the Sexes


A few weeks back my wife and I were invited to celebrate a close friend’s birthday in the form of adult paintball.  In the weeks leading up to the event, there was a flurry of emails anticipating what was officially sanctioned the Battle of the Sexes.  The lion’s share of the traffic was between the women aka “Bond Babes“ as they wrestled with such life and death issues as ideas on how to wear proper protective garments to reduce “ bruises that might show “, what shoes really do go with camouflage and how to remove paint from a garment.  A sort of mob mentality started to creep into the emails which soon became a chat room of trash talk and female bravado.  The strategies discussed ranged from using their feminine wiles to dupe us into submission to outright intelligence winning over testosterone.  I could take it no longer and sent them an email on behalf of all the men urging the girls to stop whistling in the dark and to think long and hard about what they will do when they saw the “elephant.”


The “elephant “in Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage was a person’s first taste of battle.  In the civil war, young men sat bravely around campfires and swore that they would never “not run “when faced with mortal combat.  War is fickle and often the strongest and most boastful would end up dropping their weapons and racing into the woods while the soft spoken and timid would bravely dispatch their duty, fighting and sometimes, dying.  None of the women  actually remembered reading this novel, and  assumed I was referring to myself as the “elephant “.  This started an entirely less comfortable line of discussion about how big a target I was going to be and how “the elephant” was going to get brought down.


The evening of the Mother of All Battles arrived with nervous anticipation.  People arrived in various forms of sweat suits, thick jackets, army fatigues and padded undergarments.  My wife who is known for her calm and steady disposition, borrowed our fifth grade son’s football pants – replete with pads and body armor.  As we were walking out the door, she began that no win question, “does this make me look …” 

“Don’t even go there” I said. 


During the hour that preceded the battle, we gathered in an anteroom and had refreshments.  Not unlike so many warriors from the past, people were checking and rechecking their weapons, swapping folklore from other paintball battles and exchanging trash talk.   “ Only teams of eight “ shouted the instructor above the nervous side chatter.  “ If you are hit, an instructor will remove you.  Do not, I repeat, do not take off your protective helmets for any reason in the combat area!”  The “combat area “ is a slippery, 50’ by 100’ rectangle of paint splattered astro-turf interrupted by an assortment of foam barriers which serve as your cover and a primitive dividing line.  The first group of men gathered and excitedly picked their places to assume cover.  There was no discussion and no strategy.  It would be like asking someone to show you how to hit a baseball.  War is inate to men.  Attack.  Stay on the offensive.  To ask for directions is to admit defeat.  As I glanced over I saw the women huddled together, listening intently to their “instructor”, a young man in the loose clothes of a skateboarder wearing a protective helmet.  His hands motioned frantically in every direction.


Like Flounder in the Animal House, someone behind me squealed, “this is gonna be great”….  The other instructor yelled something incomprehensible under his mask and shouted “go”.  I rushed to my cover position where I was immediately met with a hail of enfilading fire. The men recklessly charged and were picked off by well coordinated bursts by the small teams of women. 


I slipped down the right flank between a log shaped barrier and caught sight of the backs of several opponents completely vulnerable to my fire.  I squeezed off several rounds striking a surprised hooded figure in the back.  I moved quickly and hit another enemy as she rolled for new cover.  Suddenly, a sniper moved out from my right but her gun jammed.  I hit her with a quick burst and turned to signal to my brothers in arms that“ Dog One “ was now open.  I was instantly hit with the sting of five bullets.  I turned only to get hit between the eyes of my facemask.  The judge had re-qualified my opponent because my paintball had not burst when it hit her.


I sullenly walked off the field.  I watched my brave comrades surrounded and dispatched one by one.  The instructor yelled “cease firing”.  A shrill cry, not unlike a thousand nails on a chalkboard sent chills down my spine as the Bond Babes had destroyed the men in battle.  The next group of men were slaughtered as the women, tucked into small spaces, using hand signals, spread out their fields of fire and picked off each determined but ill advised male.  As in all warfare, there were reprisals and egregious acts.  My fellow foxhole, Steve, found himself blindsided by my wife who had crawled into a defilade position.  After shooting him in the back, he rolled forward writhing in pain.  For good measure, she dispatched him with another unnecessary burst to his chest.  “I’m going to get her.” was all he repeated as he clutched his chest.  Like The Red Baron in WWI, her kill count went very high and so did the bounty on her head.   When she was finally hit and told to leave the battle, she felt several stinging thwacks in the back as she scurried to leave the playing field.    


In the end, I have to admit I was really in to it.  My imagination convinced me I was like Crane’s Henry Fleming “facing the elephant and not running”. Later that evening after two hours of “kill” or “be killed”, I came home and paced the house, unable to sleep, wired by the experience and captivated by the adrenaline rush of the frenetic battles.  The next day, I asked my wife what happened.  “ You guys did not listen to the instructors and just went in with your own individual plans.  We listened and had a strategy.  We talked to each other, did not retire when we were hit and, the instructors told us where you guys were hiding…”  She smiled.  “I knew it, you cheated”.  I whined. She just gave me that nonchalant, “all males are clueless” look and chirped, “we just had better intelligence.”







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“ I told my dentist I had yellow teeth.  He told me to buy a brown tie”  – R.Dangerfield

I have certain nightmares that reoccur with bizarre frequency.  Stress, tight deadlines or being asked to clean out the kitty litter box can trigger the same dream where I awaken back in college, minutes before all my final exams and I have not attended a class all semester. To my father’s chagrin, this dream is not too far from what actually happened my sophomore year, but the nightmare is nevertheless unnerving at 49 years old.  A rarer nocturnal gem, arrives without warning and involves having my teeth literally falling out as I am eating or speaking.

I am certain this relates to my lifelong phobia of the dentist.  This irrational fear plagues most people except masochists and hillbillies and certainly was a burden carried by our ancestors.  Ancient dentistry was at best, primitive. The term “Pearly Gates” must have its roots based in dental hygiene.  Heaven on earth meant clean pearly whites devoid of pain.  Hell was the frequent need of the farrier/cobbler/dentist who would use the same rasp to file a hoof and then extract your aching bicuspid.  Pain was character building and penance for decay. Medieval dentists yanked anything that even looked like it was thinking about decay.  Decay, whether it be moral or oral, was to be rooted out.

April, 1968. The blue postcard would arrive in the mail like the sinister letter filled with orange seeds in Sherlock Holmes and the Five Orange Pips.  It was a death notice.  My reaction was akin to the four phases of dying – disbelief, anger, bargaining and acceptance, usually all within about 12 minutes.  The author of the invitation from the House of Pain was Dr Allen, our dentist and a certain descendent of the Marquis De’Sade.

Our dentist sported an army crew cut and looked like an evil ventriloquist — grinning and flirting with our mother while saying under his breath…”You may feel a little sting”.   This Dr Jekyl would paternally put his arm around us and lead us into the dungeon while my Mom sat down to her Redbook.  Once in the chair, Dr Jekyl became Mr. Hyde DDS.

XRAYS were achieved by jamming into your cheek a T shaped piece of reinforced white cardboard the size of a shoe tree that caused immediate pain and involuntary tearing.  Then, came the probing of your teeth with a sharp pointed instrument to see if he could make you leap to the ceiling.  A mark on the wall presumably indicated the record for the longest jump once a nerve had been hit.  It was held by a fourth grader from Alhambra.. If he found an actual cavity, Dr Allen acted as if he had caught you stealing money from the orphans fund at church.  The greatest fear and loathing was just prior to a cavity being  filled.

“You know, Debbie, I don’t think we need any Novocain, it’s a small cavity.”

At this point, my eyes would bug out of my head like a cartoon character and I would furiously tap an S-O-S with my hand,  hoping my mother knew Morse code. I had no voice – – my mouth was full of cotton and my throat dryer than an Arizona rain culvert in July. ” Almoooost done” he would say absentmindedly, dismissing my protests and shooting a wink at lithe, little Debbie, his twenty five year old hygienist who was clearly not the sharpest instrument on the table.  I expect she thought a molar was an animal that lived underground inside the Arctic circle.

The dental trauma train just kept chugging along when in young adulthood I was told that I needed extraction of my wisdom teeth. My oral surgeon did not feel general anesthetic was required so he instead shot me up with a quart of Novocain. At this point my eyes were frozen in place.  I could only stare, dead from the neck up. He clamped my back teeth and literally put his knee on my chest as he yanked out and broke off each of my four wisdom teeth.  Suffering from extraction trauma disorder, I decided to boycott the dentist for several years which proved to be a very bad idea.  The day of reckoning resulted in five cavities and a near root canal.  I chose a new age, roller-blading, Dead Head dentist with a pony tail, who gave me headphones to wear during the drilling and enough anesthetic to numb every beaver in North America.  Yes, it was an expensive lesson but I was relieved that dentistry had advanced since the Dark Ages of Dr Allen.

What a difference a few years can make. My kids actually look forward to the dentist.  It is not fair. Their pitted teeth are treated with the equivalent of Kevlar to prevent any attack from plaque. They can eat sugar.  Today’s pediatric dentists are child psychologists and pain free practitioners.  “Where the heck was I”, I thought when my son needed emergency dental work after cracking his eye teeth.  The office had flat screens in front of each chair with head phones piping in Nickelodeon cartoons and what seemed like 12 hygienists – one to wipe my son’s nose, hold his hand and another to tell the pediatric dentist what fine work he was delivering to this very lucky boy. Excuse me? What about the leather strap and the glowing, red hot knife to dig out his broken tooth?

I have to admit, it is easier for me as well.  Nowadays, my wonderfully reassuring hygienist Donna coaxes me with regularity back into her dental chair.  This particular visit, she asks me if I have ever worn braces.  Given that my “use it or lose” flexible spending account was over funded, I decided to take the plunge and get adult braces. A day after getting fitted with my new acrylic tracks, I happened upon a group of my son’s 12 year old friends and showed them my recent dental work.  I got head nods and sympathy.  Everyone in this posse had braces and they immediately accepted me as an honorary member of the brace face home boys.   “Don’t kiss any girls (with braces) and check the mirror because gross junk will be stuck in your teeth all the time.  No tootsie rolls, Airheads, gum, or Salt Water Taffy.”  They shook their heads in solidarity.  “Got it” I said, “especially about the girls.”

That night, I dreamt a bizarre Kafkaesque nightmare where I was transforming into a horse with huge eye teeth, sort of like old Lampwick when he goes to Pleasure Island with Pinocchio.  Intellectually, I was completely prepared for the braces. Emotionally, my tongue and lips kept sending my brain signals that the Watts Towers had been constructed inside my mouth.  Somewhere, Dr Allen was laughing at me.

So aside from the sensation that the Metro North spur line is cutting across my gums, life marches on.  I mumble more, smile less and vainly try to perfect a laugh that completely disguises my tin grin.  It’s a lot of work. My wife tells me it could be worse.  “Look on the bright side” she says, with her disgustingly perfect teeth, “you could have to wear a head gear.”

She’s got a point.

Java Junkie

Java Junkie

Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water. – The Women’s Petition Against Coffee -1674

It’s 6:30am and I stumble into the kitchen.  I feel a slight twinge in my medulla and need to feed my fix before the distant cerebral drumbeat becomes a multi-bladed roto-tiller burrowing into my brain. I robotically pour water into a decanter and place a filter in the drip coffee maker.  I have not even bothered to turn on the lights. I can do this in my sleep like a junkie crouched in a dark alley.  The only thing missing is perhaps surgical tubing.  The percussion in my forehead picks up a few beats.  It’s now reminiscent of the naval battle in Ben Hur – (thump, thump, thump) “Ramming Speed!” (Thump, thump, thump)  I reach for the foil package of brown, finely ground gold dust — a blend of arabic beans slowly radiated over sage and baobab fires, handpicked by native North Africans paid fairly under The Progressive Coffee Coalition for Responsible Global Trade Agreement of 2002.  I imagine the red nuggets glistening in the morning sun of another cloudless day somewhere in Ethiopia.  A lion roars in the distance while flamingos ascend in a shimmering hurricane of pink. 

The package feels dangerously light. To my horror, it is empty.  I search the cupboards and freezer.  The heartbeat in my brain is growing more rhythmic, accelerating into a finely tuned drill.  There is no coffee.  Was I hit by a bus and this is my first day in hell? When do the flies, boils and the other plagues arrive? I become frantic. Like a heavy drinker pathetically eyeing the cooking sherry, I suddenly recall the partially consumed holiday basket from two years past that still gathers dust in an kitchen upper cabinet.  Inside the basket, I find the package.  “Ghiradelli Vienna Creme Hazelnut Mocha — An Elegant Dessert Coffee”.  Yeeeech.  This is a moral dilemma for a coffee addict.  Juan Valdez would use week old grinds with filtered septic water before he would allow any of this artificial monstrosity to pass his lips.  He would not even feed Hazelnut Mocha to his burro, Sancho.  Yet, addicts have no dignity and I rip at the garishly colored tin foil pouch.  As I pour the fragrant grounds into the filter, I distinctly see the terrible five letter word: D-E-C-A-F. 

So this is my bottom?  Does my family enter into the kitchen only to find me rocking back and forth, slowly humming nursery rhymes with a belt wrapped around my head to reduce the possibility that it might explode? Should I sprint next door to the Murphy’s replete with facial tics and a measuring cup, begging Charlie if he could spare three fingers of anything caffeinated? No coffee? Do you have any Mountain Dew?

Perhaps my caffeine addiction is carried in a chromosome.  Now that I think about it, we did not think there was anything abnormal about my father keeping a four foot high pallet (  no lie ) of Coca Cola in his den closet.  He would routinely polish off a six pack before two in the afternoon and then suddenly appear in army fatigues so hopped up on soda that he would wanted to weed the entire neighborhood.  My Mom finally connected the relationship between soda consumption and his pathological need to clean the garage with a toothbrush.  Whether it is borne of genetics or personal body chemistry, I have vainly tried in the past to shake the caffeine monkey off my back. The occasional attempt to join the ranks of the decaffeinated is usually afforded by an unforeseen bout with the stomach flu or some other annual illness where a headache accompanies a high fever and offers the ability to mask my caffeine withdrawal.  It is after I am feeling better that I realize it has been days since I had my last cup of Joe.  I now have a decision to make and I ponder a future without my daily addiction.  I consider a life free of the blood sugar rollercoaster.  Can I live a more tempered existence now that I have slayed the Java Jabberwocky?  Can I fit in with the denizens of tea drinkers?  Will I miss the nervous exhilaration where it feels like I need to run to Tennessee after drinking a triple espresso?  Would my colleagues no longer think me the perfect candidate for Flomax because I have ditched my dark diuretic.  I could rejoin the ranks of the living and abandon the undead who line up each morning outside of Zumbachs twitching like junkies, wiping noses and stomping their feet while dreaming of Blue Mountain Jamaican blend.  

Yet, my resolve always falters. I smell the deep aroma of roasted beans as I drive past the coffee store.  Ahhhh, what I would not give for a hot cup of home?  It is a love affair.  Even, the media feeds my addiction. Each holiday season, we see the all American boy sneaking in from college on Christmas morning and making a pot of coffee so potent, it  awakens the entire house — a celebration of rich Columbian blends. “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your house…” The fact that he has missed Christmas eve and has been missing for weeks is all forgiven when that first cup of coffee is poured.  Even American icon, Joe Dimaggio, was known as – – Mr. Coffee.  Joe drank coffee every day of that 56 game record hitting streak.  The fact that Joe did not sleep at all during this period is a mere asterisk that the American Coffee Growers have successfully erased. 

In 1990, a young Swede, Krister Lindmark compiled a list of the evil brew’s many aliases: Artificial sleep, bean, bean soup, black gold, the black horse,  bucket of black snakes, caffeine sandwich, the everlasting, that evil black brew, fourth cushion on the sofa of pleasure, go juice, Java, jet fuel, joe, jolt juice, jus de pipe (too strong coffee), leaded, lifeblood, liquid life, low crank, magic elixir, Mrs. Olsen’s elixir, mud, nap suppressant, nerve oil, nut snake, Peruvian love drops,  Columbian marching water, Turkish black top and zoom.


In the end, everyone wrestles with their own demons of addiction.  Some carry around monkeys manic for sugar.  For others, excess is exercise, spending, alcohol, relationships, or reruns of The Three Stooges.  My dependence de jour is harvested faithfully every day in the wilds of Africa and South/Central America.  It is shipped, washed, toasted, dried, oiled, packed and eventually ground and filtered.  It is timeless.  Theologically, my theory is the world might have taken ten days to make had it not been for coffee.  It is possible that someone rewrote the original opening of the Old Testament.  It may have actually read:  ( Genesis 1:1-3 ) ” In the beginning., there was nothing but darkness.  God was tired and wanted to sleep a few more hours.  God created coffee and declared that it was good.”  The rest, as they say, is history.