Mound Cake and Subsequent Disasters

Lately, I’ve been a huge fan of Facebook crafting videos – going so far as to root for the application of copious rickrack like it’s the home team at the State Finals. “Really?!?” I’ll scream gleefully at my cell phone, “Glitter!  Yes!  Just roll that thing in glitter!!  What else can you possibly put on there?  Lace!  With hot glue? Bring it! And now you’re going to coat the entire object (which is usually the sad remains of a laundry detergent container) in about six bottles worth of clear nail polish? Perfect!  This is high art!”  I always await new 5 Minute Crafts videos with further examples of how to hot glue garbage to trash with great anticipation.

One might think that I would have learned something from the hours I’ve wasted watching other humans tape stuff to cream cheese tubs, but I haven’t.  And, in the general cheerful sally-forth-straight-off-a-cliff spirit of my existence, I decided to make my father’s 75th birthday cake all by myself.

A few Christmases back, my dear friend Tamara made the G.P. a cake that he just loved.  It was a gigantic sheet of dense deliciousness that contained coconut, pineapple, bananas and pecans and was topped with cream cheese frosting covered in further (toasted) coconut.

“Nobody around here will toast any coconut for meeee,” wailed my Dad, with the entire pan of cake in his lap, happily digging in.

I couldn’t remember the name of the storied (and highly successful) cake, so I texted Tamara for the recipe – half sure she’d made the whole thing up on the spot.  She sent back a photo of a much-loved and ancient instructional sheet for something called “Hummingbird Cake.”  It didn’t seem like it was too difficult.

While Tamara had made a sheet cake for Christmas, the recipe called for a bunt cake pan.  If you don’t know what one of those is (don’t feel bad, I didn’t either and frankly expected the thing to be shaped like Sputnik) it’s the pan with the hollow center surrounded by a bunch of purely decorative humps. Basically, this wonder of engineering insures that anything you put into it will come out looking like a bunch of shy camels with their heads stuck in the sand.  It has been a long time favorite for creating such culinary delights as: “Green Jell-O With Unidentifiable Fruit” and “Aspic Ring Avec Canned Fish.”

The Rev — who owns every baking item ever devised by man including several items that look suspiciously like medieval torture devices – provided the pan and four perfectly blackened bananas.

The cake wasn’t a problem to assemble.  Honestly, it was just throwing a bunch of stuff in a bowl and stirring it a little.  The Rev gummed up the works a bit by putting the bananas in the freezer until I could come and get them.  I was personally unaware that a frozen banana is the hardest thing known to man until I dropped one and it cracked a tile.  I left them in a bowl outside to defrost.  It took four minutes.  Welcome to summer in Texas.

I dumped all the sugary goop into the cake pan and threw it in the oven for an hour and ten minutes.  The cake smelled wonderful as it baked – like a very rich banana bread.  I tried a little nerd when it was done and it was absolutely heavenly.  I left the cake to cool and went off to go watch more dumb videos.

A few hours later, it was time to turn the now cooled cake out of the weirdo pan.

Mistakes were made.

First, I should have remembered that you don’t turn a cake onto a cooling rack – you dump it on a plate, preferably the one you’re going to serve it from.  Secondly, even though I loosened the edged, a good one third of the cake stuck to the bottom of the pan.  It wasn’t burnt – it was just unfriendly and came out fine (if crumbly) when I applied a prying table knife.

By the time I managed to transfer the cake from the cooling rack to the plate, I was left with a pile which was all cake, but cake in a bunch of different states of cake (typically: solid, crumbly and gone).  This particular example was hovering between solid and crumbly.  For some reason, I decided that it would be a good idea to take the crumbly part and try to sort of sculp it into something that looked like a solid cake.

I filled in the hole in the middle, and started to make a mound, cramming the moist niblets together in a pile.  I sent the Rev a text message saying that I had “absolutely ruined Dad’s cake” along with a picture of the rounded wad I had made in an attempt to save it.

“It looks fine,” my Mother replied.

It looked like cheap dog food, but I correctly figured I could use the cream cheese frosting as spackle. After the cake was coated in further sugar and fat and then encrusted with toasted coconut, it actually looked kind of okay – although nothing like a successful bunt cake should look.  My nephews (who are in town from Germany for the summer) came over to help me decorate it.

I decided that the only thing we could do would be to stick candles into the more stable side, but I had forgotten to buy a “5” candle at the grocery store.  I still had a “7” from the year before.  The kids thought that Grandpa would be okay with being 74 again.  I was not okay with that.

I cut a “7” and a “5” out of cardstock and let the kids decorate them.  We then taped the numbers to wooden skewers and shoved them in the good side of the cake.  The kids also made the G.P. cards that contained poems which focused largely on that bodily function which starts  with “f” and is highly useful in simple rhyme schemes.

When Dad cut his cake, the pieces came out vastly different in size and amount of frosting.  He did, however, say the cake was good.  My friend Amber (who comes to most of our family functions and knew the entire story of the Great Birthday Cake Debacle and had been waiting for this very moment for three days) cheerfully yelled, “BUT IT SURE IS CRUMBLY.”

Everyone laughed.  Jerks.

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The Recycling Rev

The entire scientific community is now certain that the Earth is warming.  With all the dire predictions of super storms and rising seas, it would be very easy to become fatalistic about the whole proposition.  The Rev, however, is convinced that individual action can bring about huge change, and is currently waging a one-woman war against single use plastics and dryer sheets.

I have been conditioned essentially since birth to either not question my Mother or start huge arguments about the exact definition of the term “chifferobe” that last longer than some actual wars and have greater psychological consequences.  I agree with Mom that single-use plastics are incredibly wasteful, though, and hate the generalized condition of hubris that most of us tend to walk around in — oblivious to everything but our own instant gratification.  Besides, recycling isn’t new to my family.  Before the triple green arrows were even a symbol, it was impossible to find anything in the refrigerator.  To the unpracticed eye, it would have looked like all my family ever ate was Country Crock.  As it was, you had to open fifteen ex-margarine tubs to find last night’s mashed potatoes.  If you were very unlucky, you’d wind up with Dad’s fishing worms instead of leftovers.

Never play a game of Memory with anyone in my immediate family.  We’ve had tons of lab-rat-style training.

I’ve been rinsing out and reusing zip-loc bags for years, but the Rev has gone even further.  Recently, she handed me a used frozen corn bag filled with cherry tomatoes.  I accepted the gift and didn’t say anything, but I’m pretty sure this level of recycling means we’ve entered an era where we’re going to have to use black magic and divining rods to find the freezer broccoli.  She hasn’t messed with Dad’s burritos, yet, but I’m sure that day will come.

As I wrote a while ago, the family isn’t allowed to use the plastic bags from the grocery store any more.  That edict goes for all kinds.  Mom bought everyone net bags in which to put produce as well.  You have to tell the cashier to enter the tare weight, though, or you can wind up paying three dollars a pound for netting.  I diligently try to be a good daughter and decent conservationist, but I’m still notorious for forgetting my bags.  I’m trying, though.

We also have to use metal straws rather than the ones you get from the kind folks at the drive-thru.  If I’m with Mom, she makes me return any utensils we’re given and say these words, “My Mom says I have to give you back this stuff because we have forks at home and we like turtles.”  I usually get a laugh.  It’s pretty funny, I guess, to see a woman of my age completely being harried by her Mother.

They don’t know the Rev, though.  It’s easier just to use the metal straws and wash a fork.

She’s also mad at dryer sheets.  Don’t ask me why.  I’m not sure about exactly what environmental problems they cause.  I suppose I could look it up and report, but even if there is no convincing evidence that dryer sheets do anything to the environment, the Rev is sure they’re at least wasteful.  It’s wise to pick one’s battles.

In any case, in order to prevent me from using the heinous fabric fluffers, Mom purchased me six woolen balls that are infinitely reusable and get the laundry static free and soft apparently by pounding it into submission in the dryer.  They have a cute sheep printed on the cloth bag that they come in, but they’re really the mafia enforcers of laundry products.

They also look exactly like white tennis balls.

Everything was fine at first.  The balls work well, and the laundry gets fluffier than angel food cake with too much baking powder.   It only took one ball falling out of the laundry onto the bedroom floor, however, to convince Stadler-the-dog that I have been hiding toys in the dryer this entire time – which is officially NO FAIR.

Now, every time I open the dryer door, 80 pounds of excited Labrador races around the corner, shoves me out of the way, and tries to physically crawl into the machine to get “her ball-ys” out.  She gets mad when she’s dragged back out and gives me a full dose of the stink eye for a few hours after.  She will sometimes lie in front of the dryer in wolfish, predator-wait-mode  for the next load to come out, but that usually doesn’t last long.

The dog can always be bought with a biscuit.  She’s about as wolfish as a brick, despite what she sometimes seems to think.  You can’t really be a full-on lupine if you’re also going to beg for a bite of pineapple.

No one said that saving the world would be easy, and I suppose it will have to happen one frozen corn bag at a time whether we like it or not.

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A Family Felled

I suppose I should have known this was coming when poor Jan was puking at the office last week. “You should go home,” I shouted as she returned from the bathroom.
“Why?” she returned. “I’d just feel like crap there, too.”
“Yeah, but the toilet is a lot nicer.”
“Too much to get done,” she replied.
And that’s sure the truth. Moon Monkeys must be available to keep the gears grinding at the old word factory, and we are but a proud few. I also thought that she might be the tiniest bit hungover.
Boy, do I owe her an apology.
About two days later, I came down with the same thing. Fever, chills, vomiting. I suffered in silence, for the most part, although I did text the Rev. I always do that. I know I won’t care after I’m dead, but for some reason, I’d really rather they found my mortal remains before Stadler got hungry enough to chew on them. I also had a leftover stash of red Gatorade (the finest they make if you’re planning on puking), so I was okay. I mostly slept.
Since I had figured there was a possibility that I too was hungover, I was a little surprised when the next day Mom fell victim to the same plague. I got a text from the G.P. that said, “Mom is sick. She said you were sick yesterday. Are you okay?” I was okay. Mom was not. She not only had the pukes but also a righteous case of the dire rear.
I felt much better the following morning and went to my parents’ house to dutifully check on my poor, ailing mother.
As I opened the front door, and stepped into the darkened house, I swear I heard Mozart’s Requiem. I slipped past the sleeping dragon (my father snoring in his recliner), and tiptoed back to the bedroom. Stadler had no such compunctions. The dog raced the side of the sleeping Rev and gave her a big, drippy lick. My mother moaned (weakly), “Oh….hello, Stadler” and reached a skeletal white hand towards me.
“Are you dying?” I asked, concerned but adopting the mien of a brusque, British World War II nurse.
“I don’t think so,” Mom replied. “Dad hasn’t started yet, though. It’s going to be really nasty if we get this at the exact same time.”
“Should I go find a bucket?” I rejoined, helpfully.
“YOUR FATHER HAS BUCKETS,” my suddenly less-than-feeble Mother roared. I managed to get her to eat half a piece of toast and slunk home.
The next morning, I got another SOS in the form of a text message: “Your Dad has been puking all night.”
I immediately ran back to their house bearing red Gatorade and Zofran. If Mom’s illness could be musically described as the Mozarts Requiem, Dad’s would be that Chubawumba song where the guy drinks way too much, gets knocked down, and then gets up again.
I found my father, lying on his bed, wearing only a suspiciously immaculate pair of tighty whities. I forced him to take an anti-emetic and offered him the Gatorade. He wouldn’t take the drink, instead sipping sweet tea. “This level of concern about me,” he opined cheerily, “might make me rethink my opinions on humanity.”
“If it makes you feel any better, no one without the last name Bair gives a damn how you feel.” I said, rather acidly.
That made him pretty happy. Then we spent a pleasant few minutes arguing about what the cause of his illness could be, and whether puking was making him more or less sick. He also told me the complete systemic history of the baked beans he’d eaten the night before (including the ballistics, which I have decided to spare you).
I left him happily screaming talk-to-text obscenities about the current political state of affairs into the welcoming bosom of Facebook, and went to check on Mom.
She was much better, though still not 100% her usual self. “I may,” she sang with a royal wave of her hand, “enjoy some tortilla soup later.”
That means: “Be on call to go get me some tortilla soup that I may or may not eat depending on my general mood, how I feel, the weather, what the dog thinks, and the restaurant of origin.”
“Okay.” I replied, trying to figure out where I could get a good tortilla soup that would cause zero fussing.
“I MAY,” Dad yelled from his quadrant of the infirmary, “have been poisoned by an overindulgence in cherry tomatoes!”
We were supposed to say: “Wow, you sure did grow A LOT of cherry tomatoes this year.” What we said was : “YOU WERE NOT!” (in identical humorless, screeching tones).
He did, in fact grow a riotous amount of cherry tomatoes.
A few hours later, I got a text from Mom saying that Dad was “sprawled in his recliner eating toast with peanut butter and jelly.”
“He plans to walk the dog later,” she texted. “I guess SOME of us were sicker than others.”
Maybe it really was the tomatoes.

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My Neighbor’s Pole

Ab’s Note: I feel like I need to preface this column by saying that my neighbors are the sweetest, nicest, best neighbors a gal could possibly have. I am very lucky to live next to them.

As many of you loyal readers have probably noticed, my life is full of strange occurrences.  Most of the unusual stuff that happens is probably enhanced by my enlarged imagination, but the following is 100% accurate.

I know because I have witnesses and a transcript.

The evening started out innocently enough.  My friend Amber had come over to my place (ostensibly) to help me babysit Lizzy-the-Moon-Doggie while Jan and Dale attended a banquet. It doesn’t really take two people to watch Miss Lizzy – she earned her Good Dog Card ages ago. Of course, if you asked Lizzy she’d forcefully assert her need for a worshipful Attention Harem any time Jan and Dale leave for more than four consecutive minutes.

After many treats and belly scratches for both Stadler and Lizzy, we had all settled in to enjoy the evening.  Amber and I decided to bake some sugar cookies and the dogs had taken up sleepy occupancy of both ends of the couch.  This scene of domestic bliss was slightly tiltled by the fact that Amber and I both had rocks glasses filled with a particularly noxious alcoholic concoction she had brought over.  Amber said it was “pineapple vodka” which I thought meant vodka and pineapple juice.  It tasted pretty strong, but I didn’t want to say anything.  Amber is a bartender and thus is in absolute charge of all alcoholic beverages by default.  I mean, even professionals make a gross drink from time to time.  Who was I to judge?

I later learned that what I was drinking was straight vodka with the mildest hint of pineapple flavoring.  No wonder it tasted like kerosene. Whoops.

In any case, I may have been a tiny bit loopy when I got my neighbor’s first text.

Neighbor: Hey, did your Dad dislike my pole (winky face)?

I was a little confused.

Me: What pole?

Neighbor: The wood pole that was in front of the house.

Me: In front of MY house?

In my own defense, I didn’t really think there had ever been a wooden pole in front of my house but couldn’t imagine a scenario in which the G.P. would ever care about a pole on someone else’s property.  Meanwhile, as you might imagine, Amber was rolling around on the kitchen floor laughing because my neighbor was talking about a gigantic pole (location unknown) that I had never noticed.

“Guys only ever want to talk about their poles,” breathed Amber (who has recently started online dating) between crippling fits of guffaws.

I continued texting, trying to figure out what the neighbor was talking about.  It took forty minutes, but I eventually discovered that sometime in February, he’d installed a wooden 4×4 (purpose unknown) in his front yard.  Someone had called the City to complain, and he’d been forced to remove it.  Evidently, the City has super-sensible guidelines (which aren’t published anywhere that I could find) about what you can’t install in an area of your yard on which they may someday wish to put a sidewalk.  What the City website does say, however, is that not only are you (the homeowner) responsible for mowing and caring for that land, but that the City doesn’t have the money to maintain the sidewalks they currently have — so the homeowner can just do that, too.  We’re all pretty sure more sidewalks aren’t getting installed around here anytime soon. That pole wasn’t hurting anything at all.

My neighbor was justifiably angry, and he thought the person who complained was my Dad.

When I was growing up, my family lived across the street from a den of crazed alcoholic drug addicts that my father dubbed “the Goobers.”  Papa Goober on several occasions threatened to murder my Dad, but the G.P. never called the cops.  Instead, he invested in spy equipment – a distance hearing device (the Goober Scope) and a pair of high-powered binoculars (Goober Viewers). I guess he figured that if he knew precisely when Goob was coming to kill him, he could do something about it.

Basically, I was positive that since Dad had tolerated the murderous hillbilly conclave across the street from his house for over a decade, he would have no problem with my very nice neighbors (who did all the grunt work of fence building after Harvey) putting up a pole.

Throughout the course of human events, many women have faced the unwelcome task of explaining to men that their poles were somewhat less than fascinating.  I, however, was met with the Herculean chore of convincing my poor neighbor that not only I had I never noticed his pole, but neither had my father.

Eventually, I got the point across by texting, “Look, Dude – have you seen my yard lately?  You could literally jam a twelve-foot pike with an actual human corpse hanging from it in your front yard, and you still wouldn’t be the one bringing down property values on this block.”

I didn’t even get laugh.  He only replied, “Ok, good, because I’m putting it back.”

The only person who actually benefitted from this exchange was Amber, who finally crawled up off the floor and announced: “I know what I’m going to do next time some idiot texts me a picture of his junk,” she said, eyes agleam.  “I’m going to say, ‘I’m not interested, and NEITHER IS MY DAD.”

If that’s not a deterrent, I don’t know what is.  Next, we’ll be solving world hunger.

You’re welcome.

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Eggsperimental Babysitting

Easter has always been a big deal in our family due to the Rev’s affiliation with Jesus. When my brother and I were little, we woke every year to brightly colored baskets filled with candy and small toys. Usually, the night before we would stay up late and dye Easter eggs with Mom. I still fondly remember the kitchen smelling like hot vinegar. My brother and I fought pitched and epic battles over who got to use the prettiest dyes – which usually ended in tears and stained fingers.

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to relive my youth by dying eggs with my nephews. Jovanni was six and Avery had just turned two. I had planned a whole extravaganza for us. We baked and decorated Easter cookies (shaped like eggs, carrots and bunnies), and then I set up the dye vats for the hardboiled eggs.
In my entire life, I’ve had what I’d call “limited” success with egg dying. After living in a small Czech town on the prairie (Wilson, KS “Home of the world’s largest Czech egg!”), I had tried to decorate using traditional Eastern European methods. This required blowing the goody out of the shells, rinsing, and then painstakingly painting each egg with a wax resist before applying special colorant. It seemed like that process would take a very long time, so I tried using rubberbands as a resist instead. The eggs all broke as I was applying the dye layers, and I gave up. Somewhere, however, in one of my art boxes, I still have about nine hundred packets of highly toxic (but very bright) dyes just waiting for me to try again.

One constant in my life is that I always fail to learn a lesson, even after bitter experience. I had high hopes for the kids’ eggs, and the fun they’d have. Mistakes were made.
The first of these was that I shouldn’t have fed the children the equivalent of a pound of sugar before handing them dye-filled coffee mugs.

The egg dying kit that I purchased came complete with little stickers that you could put on the eggs to act as a resist for the dye. Both Avery and Jojo really had a lot of fun glomping the stickers onto the shells. They didn’t understand the purpose of the stickers, though, and so when it came time to dip the eggs into the dye, both kids dissolved into tears because “IT WILL RUIN OUR STICKERS!”

The first dozen eggs wound up covered in stickers and marker, as did Avery.

I boiled another dozen and we tried again.

This time, I managed to get actual eggs into actual dye. Avery couldn’t work the egg dipper loop, and so wound up just plunging the egg and his entire fist into the mug. I laughed and let it go. His mother had gotten furious with me because I’d painted his fingernails bilious green the week before. “Hahaha! That’ll teach her,” I thought.
The kid was beginning to look pretty bad. He was down to just a diaper and had drawn what looked like a demon sigil on his stomach with red permanent felt tipped marker. The areas of his face not covered in frosting were smudged with egg dye, but you couldn’t really see them because he was in constant motion due to a mindbender of a sugar high.

Jojo happily dipped each of his eggs into all the colors to see what would happen. They turned a strange grey-brown color, but he insisted that he loved them.
Now the egg pile consisted of a dozen still mostly white eggs covered in stickers and marker, another dozen strange, grey eggs with some blue Avery fingerprints, and one lone, headless bunny cookie.

It may have been the saddest Easter trove in the history of the holiday.
Then I made the mistake of turning my back on the happy children for all of two seconds to take another batch of cookies out of the oven.

When I turned around, Avery had vanished — along with a large mug brimming with dark blue dye.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I screamed. “JOJO DON’T MOVE!”

“Okay, Ab!” Jojo replied happily, intent on disguising every remaining egg as a rotting, sulphrous monstrosity. I don’t think he even noticed that Avery was gone.

I began to race around my parents’ house in desperate search of the baby. Several of the rooms had white carpet, walls, or both. A disaster of Biblical proportions was imminent.
I searched each chamber along the hallway, screaming for Avery, the Rev, and Jesus in approximately that order.

Not one of them answered me.

Then I heard a happy, “YAYYYYYYYYY!” coming from the Great Room. I hurried in and found an entirely blue Avery running laps around the G.P.s pool table. The now-empty mug lay disconsolately on its side underneath the table.

I grabbed the baby and threw him into the shower, spending a good fifteen minutes trying to turn him back to a people color.

It didn’t work. I pulled him out and put a fresh white diaper on him.

He looked like a Smurf.

The Rev yelled, “Ab, WHAT IS WRONG?” (way too late) and stormed into the bathroom. I tried to hide Smurfy McToddler, but it was impossible because Grandma had entered the room and he had to greet her.

“Hi GwaMa,” Avery said, happily.

“What the hell happened?!?” my Mother exclaimed as Avery toddled off again.

“I think you know,” I replied as I followed the kid.

We headed back into the kitchen. “Well,” thought I, “I have dyed the kid blue. That’s got to be the worst thing that can happen.”

Jojo was still sitting peacefully at the table, churning out weird Easter eggs. There were, however, suspiciously more than two dozen eggs in his pile. I looked closer and noticed two empty egg cartons sitting on the chair next time.

“Jojo, did you get more eggs to color?”

“Yep!” he said, proud of his resourcefulness. “Out of the refrigerator!”

Jovanni had just dyed two dozen raw eggs which looked exactly like the hardboiled ones. I gave up, put the whole mess in the cooler, and poured an industrial sized glass of wine.
The next morning we hunted the eggs and then played raw egg Russian roulette. The G.P. got the worst of it. He loves hardboiled eggs. The dogs were overjoyed.

Avery was blue for about two weeks. Mother’s kitchen still bears scars from that fateful day, and I haven’t dyed an egg since.

Maybe it’s time….

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Let Me Eat Cake

It is not any kind of secret that I don’t deal well with illness.  Because of this, I generally tend to sequester myself with a bottle of Nyquil, some red Gatorade and a vat of Campbell’s Chicken and Rice soup until whatever is ailing me is defeated by the great medicinal trifecta of my people. Last week, however, I got so sick that I wound up being forcibly hauled to TLC’s Emergency Room by the Rev. Honestly, I didn’t fight terribly hard.  By the time we got there, I’d felt like I was being whomped in the head with those strange xylophone sticks with a marshmallow on one end for at least two days.  It was both painful and annoying, and I really wanted to find a people-mechanic who could fix me.

I have the world’s crappiest insurance.  Rephrase: I THINK I have the world’s crappiest insurance – it may actually be the most wonderful coverage the world’s ever seen, except for the fact that it’s completely unnavigable. There are five 1-800 numbers you can TRY to call, but you might as well just dial a random phone number and ask where to go for treatment:

“Hi, my name is Abi.  I need to go to a doctor.  My policy number is this.  Where do I go?”

“Um, this is Tim at Firestone.  Do you need some tires or what? Maybe you should go to the ER.”

I tried to find a provider in my handy dandy 500 page long “book of convenient care,” but there were only four in all of Nueces county, none of which were open on a Saturday.  The aforementioned horrible headache barely prevented me from setting the guide on fire as a warning to future insurance policy manuals.

I headed out to Doc Tom on autopilot.  He’s the best people fixer I know, so it seemed likely he could get me back on the road. Luckily, we found out when we got there that TLC took my insurance.  I very incorrectly (probably) filled out some forms, and then we began the wait.  The Rev swears that we didn’t sit in the waiting room for more than 20 minutes, but illness makes time pass super slowly.  To me it felt like 9 hours.  Mom says I started whining about “just bailing” and “dying in my own bed” after two minutes.  She also made me wear a mask to keep me from infecting other patients, which I immediately started calling a “germ rebreather” and saying that it was only aiding and abetting the germs I already had. At that point, Mom got me a blanket from the car, covered me up, and went to read her Kindle in another (quieter) part of the lobby.

I hid under my hoodie and the pile of blankets and muttered to myself. Light hurt my eyes and I kept alternating between broiling and fell-in-a-freezing-lake level of hypothermia.  Finally, my name was called and we headed back.

They gave me the fifteen-point analysis, from my fluids all the way down to the shocks.  Then, just to be absolutely certain, they tested me for the flu.

I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten a flu test before, but it’s enough to make even the most avowed needle-phobe beg for a shot of vaccine instead.  The protocol appears to be that someone wearing scrubs jams a Q-tip through your nostril into the bottom part of your frontal lobe to “see how sick you are.”  The nurse tried to warn me.

“Have you ever had a flu test before?” she asked, worriedly.

“Um, I don’t know. Probably.” I muttered petulantly.

“Well, if you had, you’d remember, and if you haven’t, you’re not going to like it,” she cheerfully responded, unwrapping an evil Q-tip with a business end like an aardvark’s snout.

“Look man, any time a medical professional whips out a Q-tip, I’m already like 99% sure I’m going to hate whatever happens next.  Just do what you gotta do.”

I didn’t have the flu, but now I can smell the color blue.

We finally got home, armed with a variety of prescription drugs and I crawled gratefully back into my bed and passed out.

At about 6 p.m. the doorbell rang and Stadler-the-dog went absolutely bonkers.  I peeped though the curtains and saw a black SUV that I didn’t recognize.

“I’m not opening this stupid door,” I thought, as I stomped morosely to the front door and opened it.

A pretty young woman stood there, smiling shyly and holding a box with a golden horn sticking out of it.

“This is for you,” she said (I think kind of terrified of me – I looked like a rancid sea hag), “from Kenia.”

I thanked her and took the heavy box from her, setting it on the dining room table.  Inside, was a sparkly, rainbow, unicorn birthday cake which my sister-in-law somehow managed to procure for me –despite the fact that she lives in Germany.

It was all I really wanted for my birthday, and there it sat – horn raised proudly to the heavens, mane of edible flowers, a towering sugary monument of deliciousness.  I stared, for a moment, stunned and awed.

Then I put it in the refrigerator and went back to bed.

Still, the cake was definitely the best thing about my birthday.  I had been complaining on social media (between fifteen-hour long naps) that all I got this year was a throbbing headache, a fever and bonus explosive diarrhea.

Kenia shut me up, and the internet reeled with gratitude.

In the end, I got my cake and ate it, too – after Doc Tom called in a prednisone prescription that got me feeling nearly human again.  I hate to say it, but this wasn’t my worst birthday.

I didn’t even manage to set myself on fire.20190223_17493320190223_180343

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An Epic Manifestation of Stunning Genius

As many of you know, I recently went back to school to get my master’s degree in Graphic Design.  As is customary in my life, things aren’t going super swimmingly.  I wrecked my bike last week on the causeway due to being struck in the side by a fantastic gust of wind which knocked me right over.  I’m sure it was pretty funny to watch.  I wasn’t going fast due to the gale that whipped around me, so the whole thing was naturally in slow motion.  The fall resulted in a dinged ego and some large bruises on my shoulders.  It was not the worst thing.

On Monday, we had a huge project due in my Corporate Identity class.  I’m not sure how to really describe what this entails to you folks, but basically its goal is for us to understand the components of how businesses are branded, how they identify, and how they project those ideas on to the world. Basically, we’re spending the entire semester on the examination and rebranding of an existing business, creating everything from new logos to style guides, websites, business cards, annual reports – essentially anything that business could need from a designer, we’re making.

We got to pick which business we’d like to focus on.  The push was for us to help local folks (and hopefully sell our work at the end of the semester), but several of the students chose to work for national entities instead.  Almost all chose brick and mortar businesses that already had some branding established.

I should rephrase that: all except for me.

In a move which could only be described as an epic manifestation of stunning genius, I chose Jeff-the-Bug-Guy.

Bug Busters seemed like a good choice when I made it.  I like Jeff.  He’s a nice person who heroically saved me from two separate infestations of unidentifiable larvae from (probably) outer space.  Plus, he needs the help.  He doesn’t have a logo to speak of (or at least not one I could find anywhere), a website, or a social media presence.  He’s a good bug guy, though, and answers panicked, screeching curse-word-laden phone calls in a calm and professional manner.

I got into the weeds fast.  Other students chose taquerias and could source beautiful photos of tantalizing crunchy deliciousness. They picked local coffee shops and architecture firms and bars.

I chose bugs – preferably dead ones.

Then I spent about 19 hours looking at photos of dead insects, trying to find something (anything) that I could use to attractively illustrate a classically gross theme. I made about 200 illustrations of adorable candy colored bugs with huge sweet eyes.  That idea had to be scrapped because I soon realized that poor Jeff would wind up leaving in his wake a trail of sobbing children who thought they were going to get to see some cute bugs – youthful victims of misleading advertising.

Early on, I had decided that Jeff needed the tag-line “Hire a Hitman” largely because it would look cute on a t-shirt.  Also, in my heavily Quentin Tarantino influenced imagination, I had pictured Jeff delivering the “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men” speech from Pulp Fiction to a room full of cockroaches before summarily executing them.

If I’m being honest, the real Jeff (while a fearsome exterminator) has sad eyes and is armed with a large can of pesticide and an arsenal of sticky traps.  Still, he did once show me the small .45 he keeps strapped to his ankle – you never know.

When it came time to put it all together, I was seriously lacking in “filler.”  I mean, what should I have put – a picture of a guy in uniform carrying a can of malathion?  Maybe a floor covered in dead cockroaches would have better fit the bill.  I was in deep trouble.  I wound up dreaming almost entirely in insect carcasses.  I began to think I had made a bad decision in going back to school.

I sucked it up and spent the weekend making a whole array of stuff for Bug Busters.  It would have been a nice Christmas, filled with gaily wrapped “Hitman” mugs, t-shirts, stationary and signs.  My critique went well, although I suspect my classmates didn’t like the logo I landed on.  One girl suggested that I use a big dead ant, to which I replied, “dead ant…dead ant…dead ant…”

No one laughed.

Monday afternoon, I showed Jan Rankin my logo treatment and tried to whine about my depression/existential woes.  “You did it to yourself,” Jan pronounced.  “Why didn’t you just pick something cute?”

“Because I’m stupid, but also because it’s never actually nice in real life.  I mean, morticians need ads just as much as taco shops.”

“Right, but you still PICKED A BUG GUY.”

“No,” I whined, “I picked an insect-based hitman.”

“Have fun looking at dead cockroaches,” Jan replied, cool as a crocodile.

I went home and had beers with the Rev who was sympathetic and paid for them.

I may make terrible choices, but I do have great parents – although I feel like maybe they could have worked a little harder to make me smart enough to not choose to spend an entire semester rendering cleaned up versions of dead bugs.  I suspect some of this stupidity may have been arranged.

The Rev and G.P. are getting a pretty good laugh out of this one.

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