Freudian Slips: July 2005

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

July 31, 2005

Most Accidents Happen Close to Home

Aerial photography of my housing development.

I do not say much but I am an outstanding viewer of life. Freudian Slips offers me an avenue to publish thoughts that I would not ordinarily share with others. It is a way to live in the moment and appreciate life for what it is. Life is a magical mystery tour and I am a bus driver on the road to irony.
A funny thing happened by accident on that roadway. I was transporting a client to a specialty shoe store. He needed to be fitted for SAS comfort shoes due to his diabetes. To pardon an expression, feet are a sore subject with aging diabetics. He alternates between humming songs on the radio and peppering me with repeated questions. He outlives his welcome and soon becomes a sore subject with me. I alternate my attention between him and the road.
"Where are we going?" he said.
"I told you. Berlin."
"What did I say five minutes ago?"
He answered his own question. "Shoe store."
"Please don't ask me that question a fourth time."
"Where are we at now?"
"Runnemede, NJ."
"Never heard of it." He seemed befuddled. "Does this town have a Chick Filet? I'm hungry. You took me to Chick Filet last time."
I explained the timeline. "We aren't stopping for lunch this time. I will have you back at your job by noon. I have a busy schedule today. Sorry."
As he digested the delay of gratification, I embarked on a shortcut to the White Horse Pike. It's a ten mile route that will coincidentally take us by my house. During the course of the conversation, he asks about my children, my wife, how much money I make, and any number of inappropriate personal questions. I rebuke him and I am not about to let him know where I live. He would show up for Thanksgiving dinner with three of his friends and a nearly dead squirrel covered in cranberry sauce.
He changes the subject. "My HUD contract is almost up. Maybe I can move out of my apartment and come live with you."
"I don't think so."
"Why not?" he asked.
I explain, "No room at the inn."
"Come on, Joe be honest with me. You probably live in one of those big houses like that." He pointed over to my left. "Betcha you have more than enough room to take me in."
We had gone miles. There are 66,000 people living in my hometown alone. We passed thousands of homes in our travels. God as my witness, he pointed to my development, the identical model six doors down from my actual homestead. I admitted nothing but I took a circuitous route on the return trip. Irony is an accident waiting to happen.

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July 28, 2005

Bally's Gym, Never a Rainout

Two hard bodies wait for the rain to stop inside the free weight room.
Flat rooftops are flat-out architectural blunders. I am convinced that any flat roof will sprout leaks over the passage of time. Water is not meant to be stationary because it is a relentless pursuer of new frontiers. I have belonged to Bally's gym for twenty years. I am sad to report that my body and the local gym should be in better shape. Enough about me. The gym has leaked rain water for as long as I can remember. They have patched and caulked the roof without arid conditions resulting. They have tarred the roof without addressing the leak. Bally's ownership is the neighbor who rides out a hurricane while Noah builds an Ark next door. They keep promising their members relocation to dry digs but nothing has come out of it. Every gym television is tuned to the weather channel to see if umbrellas will be needed for the indoor workout. There is no childcare, no juice bar, and barely enough customer parking for deliveries. The gym remains a dark cavernous rainforest full of outdated equipment and shoddy repairs. I own a Gold lifetime membership with no membership fees. I wouldn't want to pay for such nonsense.
There has yet to be a rainout at Bally's gym but life jackets flinched today. With the remnants of a recent hurricane moving north, the rain inundated the inside of the gym like never before. It was a deluge. The gym screamed liability as a slip and fall case waiting to happen. I wasn't plotting a get rich scheme but a dry piece of carpet to do stretching exercises would have been nice. Navigation around the gym was hindered by an obstacle course of buckets but patrons have grown accustomed to the folly. Aerobic steppers were turned over and used to catch the rain at every juncture. The steppers looked like capsized tugboats ordered into a fast approaching storm. In fact, every piece of plastic in the facility was used to catch raindrops. I am talking about dozens of jugs, buckets, and trash cans. I literally walked around raindrops to get my exercise in.
Due to poor landscape grading, water also rushed through two side exit doors and onto the indoor track. Rain attacked on two fronts. The real track meet was pooling enough staff to swing string mops.
I heard one staffer worry out loud. "We got to keep the rain from getting in the swimming pool."
Now there is effective emergency management. Talk about entry level staff. A few minutes later, an announcement over the intercom warned that the track was closed. No kidding! The track was under about three inches of water. You couldn't run if you wanted to but you might soon canoe. I got my jollies out wondering how many calories could be burned canoeing around the 1/8 mile jogging track. A disgruntled patron summoned the lifeguard to take care of a renegade leak in a workout room, where the fluorescent lights flickered towards electrocution.
I ribbed the landlubber of a lifeguard on duty. "When you find the spill, just add chlorine and we can call it a baby pool."
The lifeguard laughed through gritty teeth. Meanwhile, the operations manager frantically diverted housekeeping staff from one area to the next as more leaks sprung. The fire alarm sounded yet nobody could figure out why. Nobody wanted to go stand outside in the rain during a fire drill when we braved nature's elements inside. The fire alarm raged on for the next couple of minutes. I saw one guy head to the indoor swimming pool because, as he put it, he was going to get wet anyway. No gym workout is complete without a test of the Emergency Broadcast System coming on the radio. This was lollapalooza land.
Like a Titantic passenger, I went upstairs to higher ground but the same result followed. A cascade of water rushed down over a pair of stationary bikes. This was water that could be heard breaking on the gym floor. I have seen less water spilling though gutters. I steered clear of the indoor falls but it rained on my parade while I was doing a set of incline sit-ups. A raindrop complete with scratchy insulation fibers landed in my eye. As I rubbed my eye back to visual acuity, I knew I had enough. The indignity officially ended my workout session and I meandered to the locker room. Grabbing my gear from my locker, I saw a friend walking from the shower room sopping wet with a towel draped around his waist.
I chided him, "Just getting back from the jogging track?" He laughed.
I stood in the pouring rain fumbling for my car keys underneath the lonely metal frame of a canopy, which a gust of wind blew off five years ago. A funny thought occurred to me. It might not be costing me money but I am still paying for this gym membership.


July 26, 2005

Rubbing Salt In My Wounds

On better days...
Saturday July 23, 2005 represented the end of an era. I chose to abandon my saltwater tank, a four year science project that has cost me mega dollars with minimum satisfaction. I still do not know what stung me a few weeks ago( see July 3rd post called Fangs for the Memory ) while cleaning the inside of my tank but I believe it was a warning sign to wave the white flag of surrender. Furthermore, I recently found all but one of my gorgeous fish waterlogged floaters. If that isn't a second sign, I may need a lightning strike and a visit from Aquaman himself. I wish I could blame the massacre on a stray cat that found its way into the house but I have only myself to blame.
Let me explain. A saltwater tank hobbiest needs to be part veterinarian and chemist to maintain a healthy ecosystem. I have come to realize that I cannot pass the entrance examinations for either occupation. My dead fish and fragile coral reef are examples of my incompetence. A saltwater tank is like a soup that never gets done. Too many things can go wrong in a saltwater tank and you keep adding stuff to the mix to rectify the situation. You keep cooking and stirring. I devoted regular time to aquarium maintenance and water changes in the 40 gallon tank but some pool owners had more free time than me. Incidentally, pool owners got to swim in their water and not be reduced to a full time lifeguard like me. Power outages, Ph variations in the tap water system, skyrocketing nitrate when a fish had the gall to die on me, contamination from airborne cleaning products, changes in temperature, disease, pestilence, and any number of wildcards like children throwing pretzel rods in the tank as make believe canoes all negatively effect the water quality. Saltwater fish are expensive, many costing over $50.00 each. Whenever I lost a fish, I thought of how much flounder I could have put on the kitchen table to eat. A gruesome analogy, I know.
Using a mesh fish net, I scoop out the lone surviving braveheart Trigger fish from the recent death toll. He is eager to leave the land of the dead and does not fight his eviction. I place Trigger and just enough bubbly in a Ziploc bag and head off to the aquarium center. Once inside the store, I start feeling like a parent deserting a child. I muster up enough gumption to talk about trading the fish in. There is nothing like buying a fish for $39.99 retail and being told there is a no trade-in policy on livestock. Talk about rubbing salt in your wounds. I look down at the bagged Trigger fish, who all but shouts to be thrown in any other tank, including a skinny dip with the piranhas, before returning home to my cesspool. I offer up the sacrifice. The young worker with multiple tattoos snatches the plastic bag from my grasp.
I am feeling bad, really too much sentiment towards a slimy fish with scales. I start walking up and down the aisles now empty-handed admiring tropical fish waiting for adoption. My mind laments my decision to abandon sea. Have I turned this into a bigger decision then it needs to be? Should I give up my hobby all together and just play online checkers? My mind begins to enlist instructions to prompt me to action. 'Now go home and drain the tank then throw some stupid goldfish in the glass menagerie and be done with it. Do not stop at any fast food joints to indulge in guilty eating.' My face is all but pressed against a tank of tinfoil sharks when a stranger strikes up a conversation with me.
"Have you ever raised koi?"
If it was koi he wanted, coy he got. "I don't raise too much in water except toxic PH and nitrate levels."
He persisted, "But what do you think of koi?"
"Hearty fish." I answered matter of factly. "I hear they can live 50 years."
"You're God damn right. That is way too much commitment for me. Thanks." ...He walked right out of the store.
I decided then to keep my peaceful hobby but with a full retreat back to freshwater aquariums, where maintenance is lower and fish are inexpensive. Six hours later, I finished breaking down the saltwater tank for its conversion all the while the stranger's odd remark kept cycling in my head. Keeping anything in this world alive and healthy takes responsibility. Any fish hobbiest comes to understand that fact of life. And any divorced father will tell you that with can't start over.

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July 24, 2005

Empty Nest Syndrome

The last moments of the riddled wasp nest before the fall.
Parchment is not needed when you make a declaration of war against insects. My war has raged into its fourth year and there is no sign of letup because my daughter recently spotted a wasp nest hanging from a shade tree in our side yard. No vacation of mine has been complete this summer without a joust with venomous insects. When I steadied eyes on the high riser of a nest, I could not believe it was an active nest the size of a volleyball. I contemplated just calling an exterminator but I didn't want to swallow the $150.00 bill for a house call.
The bird's eye view at a second story window helped me plot an unorthodox plan of attack. The nest was about 20 feet in the air and another 20 feet from the house. I found a can of wasp spray that advertised its contents could jettison 25 feet in the air. So I climbed into a spare beekeeper's suit kept around the house for nostalgia and yard work. I opened the second story window in my daughter's room and removed the mesh screening. I opened the window only as much as needed then doused the nest with bug spray. Some of the wasps began to leave the dripping wet nest. Other wasps returned from the field leary about entering their contaminated home. The spray of chemicals dazed and confused them. It was prime time to enact stage two of the master plan.
I summoned my son to get his paint ball rifle. With the neighbor's house directly across the side yard, we set the trigger to its lowest velocity. I lowered the window so only the barrel of the gun stuck out. I draped towels inside the window pane left and right of the nozzle. It appeared to be a perfect snipe from a makeshift indoor shooting range. With my track record on venom, there was no margin for error anyway. There didn't seem to be any real danger but my body exuded a cold clammy sweat nonetheless. My kids asked me why I was sweating. I told them the God's honest truth.
"Daddy is a tad nervous." I admitted.
With the rifle now steady in my hands, I took meticulous aim. My first paintball shot ended up hitting a branch and spraying a white mist all over the surrounding leaves. Bam! I plucked a tiny hole in the nest with my second shot. I knew if I missed again my son would want to take over as assassin. I missed. More or less, he took back his paint ball rifle and fired me on the spot.
"Before I shoot, let me say that a responsible adult is telling me to do this." forewarned Jimmy. "I don't want any trouble from the neighbors because this was your idea not mine."
"What ten year old talks like this?" I wondered aloud. "You have my permission. Will you shoot the nest and stop worrying about a potential lawsuit?"
He knelt down and in no time I heard the rapid succession of his semi-automatic weapon. Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! An expert marksman, Jimmy could have wrote his name in that nest before obliterating it. After about a dozen shots, the nest fell and splattered on the ground. The wasps didn't know what hit them. The three of us cheered before I shed the confines of my beekeeper's suit. A good time was had by all.
There is something so diabolically gratifying about killing wasps from the creature comfort of your own house but that is exactly how it went down. My youngest daughter used a camcorder to film the twelve minute extraction of the nest. The grandchildren will get a kick out of watching grandpa's antics in this home movie.

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July 22, 2005

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

My out of focus picture of the moon.

Drive-in movies are akin to a history book for me. New Jersey operated the first drive-in movie in the United States but its personal history is of significance to me. Allow me to set the table because there came to be mouths to feed from this story.
I am on vacation with my children this week. It is one of the two weeks a year this divorcee gets to see his children in block time. We decided to go to the Delsea Drive-in in Vineland, New Jersey. It is the only operational drive-in movie theatre in the State of New Jersey. The double feature played the unlikely combination of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory then War of the Worlds. Drive-in movies and unlikely pairings appear to be a reoccuring theme in my life. I somehow pick my spots for drive-in movies.
The last time I went to a drive-in movie was a first date with my children's mom. We are divorced now and are as extinct as the drive-in speakers that clumsily hung in car windows. The drive-in movie had nothing to do with our demise. Instead, it represented the commencement of things to come. But, let this be a cautionary tale to anyone superstitious. Never see the horror movie Friday the 13th on a first date on a Friday the 13th day of the month! I can never escape this calendar irony when I revisit my first marriage. It is unprecedented irony super gluing my memory banks.
Behind the wheel of the parked car, I looked over at my youngest daughter and time seemed to catch up with me. Tossing the darkness aside, I galvanized the resemblance of her mother. It was the same naturally curly gorgeous head of hair and facial expressions that once filled the passenger seat when I was but a naive man looking for a wife.
Painful memories caused me to turn away from my daughter. I caught a glimpse of a full moon rising which shone a strange pumpkin color. A lot of things struck me as nostalgic. My mind teleported back to that legendary fright night of Friday the 13th. The return to the drive-in kept reminding me of my first date with the children's mother and the juxtaposed experience of our offspring at a drive-in movie for the first time. Time waits for nobody on this swiftly tilting planet.
A spidery dark cloud with tentacles moved left across the colorful moon. The sky soon swallowed the moon. The rain arrived a few minutes into War of the Worlds and it never relented. It comes as no surprise that even my picture of the moon turned out negative. The world moves too fast even when we try to slow it down.


July 19, 2005

Twist on a List

Five major things I detest about the world:
1. acts of war for political reasons or religious persecution
2. bureaucracy in any form
3. blatant prejudice
4. parents surviving their children
5. lack of ambition in the gifted and talented
Five idiosyncrasies that I do not like:
1. tasting adhesive from the stickers on fresh fruit
2. witnessing a person litterering in the proximity of a trash receptacle
3. hearing nails drag across a chalk board
4. feeling sand between my toes
5. hearing an alarm clock in the morning


July 18, 2005

Hey Bartender!

A long time ago, I realized that my DNA is missing the loneliness gene. I do a lot of activities by myself and do not need company to have a good time. The world with its infinite and endless irony is my playground. Escorts are a luxury whom I do not refuse but I have learned to live without their company.

I went by myself to Grabbe’s in Westville, New Jersey. It is a shell of a tavern in a small town that serves an outstanding all-you-can eat crab special. A female bartender manned the empty bar on a slow Monday afternoon. Bartenders are like pharmacists with a puny inventory and today there was but one customer to be had. I nestled into a bar stool, ordered a root beer, and my slobber waited for the first plate of garlic crabs to come out of the kitchen. The bartender walked over to the jukebox to pump background noise in the joint. She played one of my favorite songs in the world, For Crying Out Loud I Love You by Meatloaf. Her choice of song proved to be uncanny. When she returned behind the vacant bar, we talked about rock music for awhile. Our conversation got redirected over to people in different walks of life.
“I got one for you." she quipped. "A few years ago, this guy came in here wearing a strange white suit from head to toe. I was working as a waitress that day. He sat right back there in the corner booth. I couldn’t believe my eyes.” Her description sounded like her subject had disembarked a UFO to enter the bar for shits and giggles. “I have been working here for 18 years. I will never forget it as long as I live. I asked him why he was dressed like that. He explained he had some weird disease and had to wear the suit everywhere he went.”
With that bombshell of a story off of her chest, the bartender torched a cigarette. I asked her to come hither before she had time to get judgmental about her visitor. I opened my cell phone and showed the bartender the screensaver of me in my beekeeper’s suit.
“Did he look like this?” I asked whimsically.
“That’s the guy!” she exclaimed. “I don’t believe it! What are you doing with that guy’s picture?”
I wanted to tell the bartender a yarn about working for the FBI and that I was on the trail of an illegal alien from space. But strange enough coincidence existed that needed no invention.
“That is me!” I admitted.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” she said bewilderedly. “Wow!”
We made small talk about the idiosyncrasies of my skin disease. The conversation was effortless like we had known each other for years. She changed the channel on the television until it settled on Oprah Winfrey. We talked next about the joint experience of turning 40 years old a few years ago, spouses, family matters, and former relationships.
The bartender asked, “What high school did you graduate from?”
“Washington Township High School.”
“You know, I went to Gateway Regional High School. I graduated in 1980. I may be dating myself but when I was in ninth grade I had this crush on this real cute boy. My God, I was obsessed with him. I used to write his name on my book covers and day dream about being with him. I hold him responsible for my mediocre grades. Damn, I can still visualize his name scrawled across my text books. Joe Tornatore.”
She uttered my name with a tonic of fondness and familiarity. I nearly swallowed a crab claw. The bartender wasn’t dating herself as much as she once wanted to date me. I wondered how many times the bartender has told this barroom story before it reached its rightful owner? She turned her back on me to wash some dirty glasses. It gave me a moment to regroup. I seized the moment by removing my driver’s license. Proof was all around us, distilled or not. I asked her to come hither again.
"Hey bartender!"
“Now what?” she asked.
I instructed, “Do yourself a favor and read me the name on that driver’s license.”
She walked over to my open wallet then looked as though she had seen a ghost. “What the hell is going on here?”
I enlightened, “I am Joe Tornatore.”
“You are not. How can that be?” she protested. “What are you doing with Joe Tornatore’s driver’s license?”
“For crying out loud, I am he!”
“No. You just told me you went to Washington Township High School.”
“No, I said I graduated from Washington Township High School. I went to Gateway from 1974-1977 and that included hormone raging freshman year.”
She gave me a blindsided stare. Her world kept spinning on its axis and stopping at longitude and latitude Joe Tornatore. I was hosting a surprise party of one at the expense of another. I started to frighten the bartender so I put a big ole sweet pea grin on my face. A brash woman, I reduced the bartender to blushing. She regained her composure in no time for a stab at sarcasm.
“Joe, is there anything else you want to freaking tell me?”

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July 14, 2005

For Granted

I thought you first would have given up on me when I told you repeated grade school fibs.
…But you didn’t.
I thought you would have exhausted your patience when teaching me how to play Mozart on piano.
…But you didn’t.
I thought you surely wouldn’t accept my apology when I totally forgot your sixteenth birthday.
…But you did.
I thought you would be jealous when I flirted with your college roommate.
…But you weren’t.
I thought you certainly wouldn’t understand when I had no money for yet another Christmas.
…But you did.
I thought I loved you all of my life when I never attempted to show or say it.
…But I wanted to.
I thought you would completely forgive me when I failed to visit you following surgery.
…But you couldn’t.
I knew I would live to regret the things I could have done but didn’t.
…I have…but you didn’t.
by Joseph Tornatore
published in 1984 American Collegiate Poets Anthology


July 12, 2005

Nineteen Lies and an Isolated Truth

Weed the truth from fiction. Post your answer.

1)I shook the hand of President Jimmy Carter

2)I got an autograph of Ben Stiller in person

3)I was treated for bulimia

4)I have been married three times.

5)I own firearms including an assault rifle

6)I made over $9,000 in Ebay sales last year.

7)I have three children.

8) I have been aboard a UFO.

9)I ran out of gasoline in the Nevada desert.

10)I was attacked by a shark while the original movie Jaws played in movie theatres.

11)I own a United States Patent.

12)I am a Jehovah’s Witness.

13)Lightning has struck me not once but twice.

14)I was born in Italy.

15)I have a photographic memory.

16)I dated a midget who guest starred on Seinfeld.

17)I am valedictorian of my high school class.

18)I was grand marshall in a parade.

19)In a truth or dare, I held my breath underwater for over 6 minutes.

20)My master’s degree is in parapsychology


July 10, 2005

A Hefty Move to Olfactory Purgatory

"Ooh that smell. The smell gets around you." -Lynyrd Skynyrd
Mother Nature provided clues that it wasn't the best day to move a client or pack fillet of fish on a bed of white rice for lunch. The ninety degree temperature and oppressive humidity caused the day to wakeup inside me. My shirt spot unprofessionally with wetness. Hastily exiting the company car, I failed to take in my immediate surroundings. My preoccupation proved to be a costly mistake on that fateful day in 1998.
My agency provided case management to Katrel but I would have an unwitting accomplice in this Freudian Slips caper. Alicia had Katrel on her caseload from a child protection standpoint. We shared responsibility of the fourteen-year-old boy. Alicia convinced an aunt to take Katrel into her home so we needed to uproot this non-ambulatory, non-verbal, profoundly retarded boy with cerebral palsy. Family is rightfully first in the child welfare system.
Luggage, however, is practically a luxury. I wish I could buy every last one of my clients decent luggage so they didn't look like drifters when they relocated. I had moved Katrel four times in the last seven years so he alone qualified for my good intentions more than any other client on my caseload. I am sorry to report Katrel had no luggage on the day of his move. There just aren't enough hours in the work day.
Closing out Katrel's paperwork at the kitchen table with his foster parent derails me. It is taking me longer than I figured to reconcile his finances and get on with the physical part of the move. Alicia pops through the front door looking all spry in a summer dress and sandals. I could hear her visiting with Katrel, who quietly stewed in his wheelchair plotting his next great escape. Katrel needed close supervision because he had Houdini in his blood. If left unguarded, he would escape from his wheelchair and go AWOL. There really isn't a word in the English language to describe run away attempts by the non-ambulatory. Exemplifying mind over matter, Katrel could scoot away wheeling his powerful arms atop the platform of his disabled hind limbs.
"Good morning, Alicia." I greeted, peeking my head into the living room full of the two of them.
Alicia turned and smiled. "How are you making out, Joe?"
"All of Katrel's belongings are packed. The bad news is that everything is tied up in those green garbage bags by the front door. We have to use garbage bags to move him."
Alicia gave me a look like she had seen this indignity carried out too many times before in her career.
I joked, "Looks like a Hefty move."
Alicia grinned. "How about I start moving his things while you finish up the paperwork?"
"Okay, if that is okay with you." I obliged. "Who wants to transport Katrel in their car?"
"I have a bigger trunk for his wheelchair."she said. "I'll take Katrel and his chair."
"Whatever bags don't fit in your car, put them by the curb down by my car. I'll load them when I get finished here.'
I returned to the kitchen, where I worked on securing the Medicaid card, counting medicine pills, matching prescriptions to the medicine bottles, and a dozen other mundane tasks off of a checklist. I heard the front door swing open and close about a half dozen times before I got the paperwork organized. As I walked through the living room to leave, I noticed that all the garbage bags had been moved. Alicia, Katrel, and the manual wheelchair have disappeared from sight. I double stepped outside where I was relieved to see Alicia fastening Katrel's seat belt inside her car. Moving days and runaways are not comparable. After I thanked the sponsor for caring for Katrel, my exodus was complete.
"You made quick work, Alicia." The plurality of the move had paid dividends. "I'll follow you to the aunt's house because I don't know where she lives."
"She lives only a few miles down the road, Joe." reassured Alicia. "We will be there in no time."
When I got to the company car, I saw two green garbage bags resting curbside in front of my car door. Fearing Alicia would get too far ahead of me, I literally tossed the green bags across the backseat of the car. I scooted into the driver's seat and took off to a trailing position behind Alicia, who owned a lead foot and familiarity with the town.
Less than a minute into the ride, I noticed a terrible stench. Pew! I made quick work of rolling down my window. The first turn of the steering wheel shifted the cargo causing the stench to permeate from the backseat. Keeping my eyes on the road, I tried to fathom what smelling so rotten would be considered a keepsake for Katrel's new home. Once the smell reached epic proportions, I pulled my polo shirt up over my mouth and nose as a counterbalance. I imagined looking like the Frito Bandito through Alicia's rearview mirror but appearances fall by the wayside in a case of survival of the fittest. The smell suffocated me even while breathing though a poly/cotton blend mask. This was olfactory purgatory! I rolled down the passenger side window and cranked the air conditioning to circulate the air but tornadic winds couldn't improve this smell. For my mitigating efforts, I fell back in my pursuit of Alicia but I had to get to the bottom of this. I contorted my neck around to sniff out the problem. A bed of steaming rotten crab carcasses teaming with live maggots were littered across the backseat. What the frick? My mind spun for an explanation in this theatre of the absurd.
I quickly figured out the error of my ways. The garbage bags that I grabbed curbside had nothing to do with my client's move and everything to do with a summer crab fest. I felt asinine upon realizing I had loaded rotting trash into the car. The thin sun-soaked trash bag liners spilled the crab shells about the car. I could tolerate the crabs but not decomposition and maggots too. I pictured the rice in my lunch coming to horrific maggoty life to putrefy the fish. I gagged. Unable to take the smell any longer, I started to wave down Alicia for her to pull over when we arrived at Katrel's new home. I stumbled out of the car, doubled over, and almost vomited until my last ounce of professionalism saved me from an even more embarrassing situation.
"What is wrong?" asked Alicia. She moved towards me. "Joe, are you all right?"
My breathing was spotty so I chose my words wisely. "Did all of Katrel's bags fit in your car?" I mustered.
Alicia asked, "Yes, why?"
"That is what I was afraid of." I gasped. "Look what I brought along for the ride."
I shamelessly showed her the crustacean mass murder inside the cabin. She pinched her hand to her nose and retreated backwards. After a round of deserving 'Oh my God's!' we both started laughing. I tried to swear Alicia to secrecy but this story would be destined to be told countless times. Who wouldn't repeat this moving experience?
Alicia only knew the shell of the story. Shell-shocked, I left work for the day to go home and clean up the mess. I had to resort to hand-picking the crab bodies then vacuuming maggots and tiny shells with reckless abandon. My clothes seemed permanently pressed with the smell of fish so I trashed them. I showered. Toweling off after the first shower, I still smelled traces of crab. I showered again. Over the next few days, I shampooed the carpets without the slightest improvement. A cocktail of air freshners, Carpet Fresh, moth balls, and fresh orange peels couldn't return that car to normal occupancy. I consulted care care professionals and owners of limousine company with no makeover results. That smell had become so embedded in the car that not even a fire hose and Mr. Bubbles could reverse its stink. I became a laughing stock at work driving around in a smelly car that was a shell of its former self. There were plenty more fish in the sea but there wasn't another fish cart like that on the open road. I got to get this kid some luggage.


July 07, 2005

Footing the Bill

Feet not even a mother could love.
Feet have never been an erogenous zone for me. I perceive feet to be the ugliest part of an otherwise magnificent human body. Feet are the deformed stumps of the forest. Our bi-pedalness seperates us from the animal kingdom but that doesn't keep me from detesting the smell of feet, their brute nakedness, or tendency to breakdown over time.
The subject of feet reminds me of escorting a developmentally disabled client to an ill-fated podiatry appointment in the early 1990's. Luigi suffered from type two diabetes so I endured taking him for regular podiatry appointments. Podiatry is an important ancillary service for diabetics where poor circulation and skin breakdown are notorious.
I have made the mistake of finding Luigi a female podiatrist. Luigi is a wannabe player. He likes to hound women in a mostly annoying not entirely vulgar way. He seems surprised that I am sending him to a female podiatrist. Luigi snickers then promises to keep his inappropriate sexual innuendos in check. Famous last words. I remain wary.
I warned, "I am sitting back there with you."
"I'll behave." scoffed Luigi. "You don't have to babysit me."
"Been there. Done that." I answered.
Luigi and I arrived at the podiatrist office on time. The office just opened so we are immediately seen. A foot locker of an examination room, the area was too small to accommodate a third party despite the side chair that I wedged into. The podiatrist removed Luigi's charcoal colored tube socks that screamed for new ownership if not a cleansing bonfire.
"Are those the formerly white tube socks I bought you?" I asked.
"Yeah." Luigi said matter of factly.
"What happened to them?"
"I wore them."
"By appearance sake, it looks like you wear those socks every day of the week. Do you need to do laundry?"
Luigi explained "Yes, but I need to borrow some money to do laundry?"
"Wash your clothes in the kitchen sink. You get paid Friday."
We had reached an impasse. My Tough Love was rooted in prior experience. Luigi was trying to hit me up for money that he would misappropriate on lottery tickets. The podiatrist stumbled upon bigger problems making dirty socks the least of Luigi's worries. I took one look down and saw two sets of cat claws that curled underneath his hammer toes. It seemed more accurate to say Luigi walked on his toenails rather than his feet. He had edema, calluses on top of bunions, and deep vein thombosis to boot. Luigi solidified my aversion for feet to the point of no return.
I lobbied, "His poor feet! You have your work cut out for you, doctor."
The podiatrist clipped and clawed his toe nails in professional silence. The sound of brittle nails hitting the floor bound plastic tray proved to be a slow death for all parties. The podiatrist proceeded to wipe toe jam between the digits. I looked away from the action and caught a glimpse of Luigi laughing at me. He was actually enjoying my discomfort as if he were manufacturing foot atrocities to ward off his scrupled chaperone. The question remained. Would I remove myself from the situation to leave the female doctor alone with my conniving client? Life is teaming with tests of will.
Things kicked up a notch when the podiatrist operated a buffing wheel on all cylinders. Shards of dead skin kicked high into the air. A smell took mold and it reminded me of a grilled cheese sandwich made with extra sharp provolone. Flakes of skin landed on my clothes. I tried not to react but I wasn't doing a banner job. As it rained dead skin, I began to inconspicuously brush off my clothes. Luigi began chuckling and his impressive belly jiggled in its reclined position. I gave Luigi the evil eye warning him to stop his shenanigans.
Meanwhile, the dead skin continued to parachute down on my shoulders and lap. I have brought my work home with me before but this was ridiculous. I needed a small umbrella and an air freshner the size of a Volkswagen. I felt so disgusted and dizzy that I almost passed out but this was war and they were going to have to carry me out. Where there is a will there is a way. Meanwhile, Luigi laid there like King Faruk with his hideous feet being meticulously serviced by a servant. Luigi saw my eyes swimming like saucers and figured it was time to move in for the kill.
"Hey Doc, look at my social worker. Joe looks like he is ready to puke. The baby can't take it. Why don't you wait in the waiting room, you big baby?"
I didn't budge. Eventually, the dust settled and Luigi stopped laughing...


July 04, 2005

Purple Mountains Majesty

I'll be There Because

Every Day in America...

3 children die from abuse or neglect.

6 children commit suicide

13 children are homicide victims

15 children are killed by firearms.

95 babies die

790 babies are born at a low birth weight.

2,660 babies are born into poverty.

3,398 babies are born to unwed mothers.

6,042 children are arrested.

8,493 children are reported abused or neglected.

1,407 babies are born to teen mothers

Despite the impact the above flyer has had on me as a social worker, I forget how exactly it came to be hanging in my office for the last decade. Its corners are folding inward, a wrinkled coincidental concealment of the content. My eyes often glance up to read what my stomach cannot digest. I lean on its message as a social work credo. The information has inspired me to be a conduit of change while the humbling statistics have also conversely served to derail my spirit from time to time. I look at life from both sides now.
Whenever I witness the breathtaking beauty of Fourth of July fireworks, it causes me to reflect about our country's history and future. Over fifty years ago, former Russian statesman Khrushchev boldly predicted America will destroy itself without anyone raising a single bullet against her. That day may be approaching if we do not right its course. There is a rampant decline of the nuclear family. The cycle of drugs and violence are undermining America. We are raising bullets against ourselves. The middle class is shrinking; creating a great rift between the upper and lower classes. I admire this country, democracy, and the personal freedoms it stands for. However, I am a fatalist when it comes to the long-range future of our species. I do not think the rest of the world is any more equipped than America to avoid self-destruction. Our sun has a three billion year burn cycle but I doubt humans will be around to see the damning dooming fade to eternal black. I worry that America has started a slow decay like a mighty oak rotting from within, looking proud until the day of the fall.
There is no shortage of work at my job, just a shortage of workers handling a multitude of social ill. It will take a miraculous coming together of a nation to prove Khrushchev wrong, to not yell "Timber" as the mighty oak falls on an unsuspecting populous while an American bald eagle, an endangered species herself, circles above the sun-driven sky. The world watches and waits. For purple mountains majesty from sea to shinning sea.

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July 03, 2005

Fangs for the Memory

In arm's way again.

While cleaning out my salt water aquarium this morning, I had a brush with mortality. Up to my arm pits in sea water, I felt an unmistakable piercing sting on my arm. An insect sting is a helpless feeling for someone with my skin disease. Splashing a lot of water round in the process, I recoiled my arm to dry land. Something envenomous just left two fang marks on my forearm. I had no idea what stung me but my arm immediately burned and itched. The sting area reddened. I wasted a lot of mental energy trying to figure out what in the heck could have stung me.
I reached my svelte 120 pound wife on her cell phone at a Weight Watchers meeting? I explained the bizarre event and she escalated to frantic mode. I popped chewable Benadryl out of the medicine cabinet and waited for her and God's next move. I started to sweat profusely and felt a little weak so I sat down. I clutched the Epi-pen as if it were the antidote to my life but I did not use it. Ninety percent curiosity and ten percent stupidity got the best of me. I speculated whether the last four years of immunotherapy would actually prevent my Mastocytosis from flooding my system with excess histamine causing me unconsciousness and anaphylactic shock.
While I worked on my science experiment, my wife raced home. She found me in the kitchen, the same room where I labored following previous bee stings in 2001. Call it deja vodoo on a footstool to death's door. My wife began to sob when I said I wanted to wait it out and not go to the emergency room. I speculated about a list of villains including microorganisms, poisonous coral, and water spiders. I tried biofeedback to lower my blood pressure and calm my body for the next 45 minutes. Gradually, the swelling on my arm stopped, the sweating subsided, and my airways were never in jeopardy.
I think longingly of all the days I have invested sitting in a hospital getting immunotherapy but this was my first litmus test with an insect sting. My arm still hurts like hell but I am not laying in a hospital hooked up to a vent and tubes. Three cheers for immunotherapy but a guy should be safe in his own home. Why do I have so many encounters with insects? I feel like I am never out of arms way.


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