June 29, 2010

The Trouble With Pets Is That They're Always All Dead And Stuff

My family never had much luck with pets. When it came to cats, dogs, rabbits, turtles, parrots, and fish, their time was numbered. Try as we might, we couldn't seem to keep the suckers alive. We learned never to become too attached

When I was really little, we weren't allowed to have pets because of the "Incident of Jake In The Driveway," when my dad accidentally ran over my sister's cat with a suburban right in front of her. My mother felt that having her husband emotionally scar her daughter for life was enough to put a ban on owning animals.

Finally, my mom broke down and allowed us to get an orange kitten named Marmalade who had an affinity for crawling into the dishwasher. Surprisingly, this was not how Marmalade died. Instead, he went crazy (this was the medical term the vet used to explain his condition). He would run to the neighbor's house and urinate all over himself. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that the neighbor's adult live-in daughter was also crazy. She would dress in 80's exercise clothes, put sunscreen all over her lips, and dance by herself on their back deck, which was visible from our backyard.

One day I opened the door to this:

And then I did this:

And then my mom did this:

Then we got Jack, the Old English Sheepdog, who also met and untimely death. To learn more about how he died, and about how my mother gently broke the news of his passing, go here: http://jordiepaints.blogspot.com/2010/06/cake.html

Next, we got Bunnicula, a white rabbit with red vampire eyes. Bunnicula lived in a hutch outside. At that time, we lived on the intercoastal waterway. One morning we stepped outside to find a little girl from the neighborhood scooping up the rabbit pellets beneath the cage with her bare hands and tossing them into the water. She thought we kept fish food under the rabbit's cage, so my mom had to go out and set her straight. She ran home crying (understandably).

One day I went out to feed Bunnicula only to find that raccoons had pried open his cage, dragged him out on the lawn, and then proceeded to tear him into a bloody pulp. When my mom found me on the lawn, she instituted another pet ban.

This ban was broken a few months later when we found an abandoned kitten starving in the bushes. Of course, the cat turned out to be a human-hating-wild-anaconda-banshee that would attack the back of her legs as she fearfully snuck around the house.

I really loved that cat. He lasted pretty long, but one evening we went for a walk in the neighborhood when I noticed something odd in a box by the side of the road. I peered in to find our cat dead with a note scotch taped to his forehead that read, "I'm sorry I hit your cat with my car. I'm sure he was a nice pet."

My mom kicked herself for having once again lifted the animal ban. I think her own sense of guilt made the whole thing harder on her than it was on any of the kids.

Little did she know then that there would be more pets that would die brutal deaths in our future. The turtle we found would wind up going for a dip in the pool on the day my dad chlorinated. The eel (that always bit my mom during feedings while my dad was out of town) would eventually leap out of the tank and dry up on the living room floor, and our parrot would suffer a neurological disorder that gave it a thirst for flesh, as well as fatal seizures.

Our bad luck with animals would extend into our adulthoods. Once in college, my lawyer/sister called me all hysterical. "She's dead! She's dead! She's freaking dead!"

"Who!? Who!?" I demanded in terror as I clutched my heart.

Oh well, pets are dirty anyway.

June 25, 2010

Fog: Too Much, Or Lack Thereof?

During my senior year of high school, I decided to try out for the school musical despite the fact that I couldn't sing a note. I landed a role in Grease under one condition: I had to agree to mouth all the words during the songs. It was fun, especially when I got a little too into it and sang out once in a while, ruining everything.

One interesting phenomenon about the musical was a little girl from India named Aartie. Aartie had skipped several grades and looked young for her age, so it was as if a ten-year-old was walking around your high school. Though she auditioned, poor Aartie hadn't been cast in the musical. This didn't stop her from showing up in a poodle skirt to nearly every rehearsal. I'm not sure she quite understood that she wasn't supposed to be there.

Mostly, she would just appear backsage, but every so often during a scene she would kinda drift on stage, stay a while, and then drift back off. It seemed to annoy some people, but I thought it was really something.

That year, drama club decided to blow nearly all its budget for the year on a fog machine for the Teen Angel scene. I loved the idea that every other aspect of the play would have to be super crappy in order for us to afford this one special effect. I was all in favor.

On opening night, everyone was excited, especially for the big fog-and-black-light scene. I watched from backstage as the curtains opened for the big moment. There stood Teen Angel and his background singers, posed and ready to go. But there was no fog. Everyone kinda waited a moment, looking around for any hint of a swirl of white.
None came, so the band struck up the first note and the song began. Finally, Teen Angel sang the final note and the actors exited. Then, as soon as the cast members in the next scene entered the stage and uttered their first lines, a huge burst of fog exploded onto the scene. It enveloped the actors and half the audience. Everyone was squinting and coughing as the actors groped around trying to find one another while delivering lines.

It turned out that Aartie had been backstage in her poodle skirt watching Teen Angel while standing on the fog machine hose. After taking in the number, she had casually walked away, stepped of the hose, and released all the fog that had been building for the past five minutes in a giant, all encompasing puff of whiteness.

And that's how Aartie made it the best high school musical ever.

June 23, 2010

Detox Center

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I graduated from college. I didn't have a job lined up so I moved home and got a job working with drug and alcohol addicts in a detoxification center. It was the logical choice.

This job lead to many interesting situations. One of my favorite parts of the job was checking patients in. This included...

Strip searching them:

Going through their belongings searching for hidden drugs:

And administering urine drug tests:

I also had to ask patients a series of questions about their personal and health related histories. You never knew what you were going to get.

I came up with this response on the spot based on what I'd seen on t.v.

Another one of my responsibilities included checking patients' vital signs (breathing rate, blood pressure, pulse, etc.) before they could get their medication. This medication mimicked the effects of their drugs of choice, and getting this medicine relied on some of their vital statistics. For example, a higher blood pressure sometimes meant a higher dosage of klonopin. Therefore, they would go on the patio and smoke ten cigarettes, run in circles in the bathroom, and then shove their way to the front of the line to get their blood pressure measured. It was great!

During this period of my life, I happened to be studying for the GRE. I had a lot of vocabulary words I needed to memorize and not a lot of free time, so I used to make the patients call me vocab words from my list before I would take their vitals. This always made them a bit agitated since they were desperate for their meds. It usually went kinda like this:

Once, a patient got so mad he tried to stab me in the face with a fork. I didn't see it coming, so I didn't flinch. The patients mistook my lack of reaction for toughness, and I instantly gained street cred within the community.

The staff at the center was just about as wacky as the patients were. One of my favorite stories from the detox center was the time we learned about what to do in the case of a fire. We even had a fire drill with the patients. The last thing a bunch of folks going through withdrawal need is a bunch of bells and sirens going off as they are herded down the hall. After the drill, the staff had a couple questions.

There was also some confusion.

Overall, working in the detoxification center was a valuable experience. I learned a lot about drugs, gained street cred, boosted my GRE score, and made friends with a bunch of drug addicts. It was a nice time.

June 22, 2010

Careful! This One's About Vomit.

All names have been changed to protect future employers from being humiliated that they actually hired any of us.

One weekend in college, my roommates and I hosted a party in our on-campus apartment. We were all acting in our typical fashions. Craig was making Ultimate Frisbee freshmen chug beers out of discs, Tom was holed up in his room talking about philosophy, I was nervously putting cups under coasters and cleaning up after everyone, and Corey had jumped ship and wandered upstairs to visit his girlfriend. Or so I thought.

As the party was winding down, I was entering my usual mode of "I'm stressed that people are still here because I should be in bed right now on account of all the homework I need to do tomorrow," while pretending to have a good time.

Then I found out Corey was not upstairs.

I was trying to subtly tire out a guest - "I love Sealy Posturepedic mattresses. I love it when it's late and you're tired and you can just crawl into bed and sleep for hours and then you can pass all your classes because you are so well rested..." - when Jeb tapped me on the shoulder.

"I have a question," he said. "Why did Corey just walk out of his bedroom, walk directly into your room, and close the door behind him?"

I really didn't know why, so I lead the charge to my room. I stood outside the door wondering, "Do I knock on my own door? I don't want to be rude. I guess I should knock. " I tapped on the door and called out his name. Nothing. I knocked again and cracked open the door, cautiously peering in.

It didn't look like my room anymore. It looked like someone had played paintball in what used to be my room using bright red paint balls, only the paint was kind of chunky and smelled like rotting fish guts and cherries. Then I saw Corey crouching like a little abandoned kitty in the corner wearing only his boxers. His eyes were watery and confused and there was some of the cherry fish paint running down his chin.

Confused, he looked up at us, pleading for answers. We had none. My first thought was of the time, when I was a child, that I found an abandoned kitten starving in the bushes and wanted it to live so I shoved a huge chunk of doughnut down its throat, only for it to be hacked up a few minutes later.
This memory made me realize that Corey had puked everywhere. Apparently he had drunk too much of some sticky, sweet, cherry and sugar and giggles flavored alcoholic beverage at his girlfriend's party upstairs and now it was all over my room in vom form. I later learned that he had, in a drunken haze, mistaken my room for the bathroom. My emerging face was his first lucid memory of the incident. The slop was everywhere - on my bed, on the window, dripping off the window sill, running down the walls, even in the light socket. Somehow, by the grace of God, the splatter went all around my desk but perfectly missed my computer in the shape of an angel.
By this time, all my roommates were standing in the hall. Corey stumbled out past everyone and bumbled into the real bathroom. I just turned and closed the bedroom door behind me. The cherry fish vomit was of the most horrifyingly pungent variety, and the scent had begun to drift into the hall. Sensing a situation that required some form of actual responsibility, most of the party guests made their way for the door.

Finally, Tom decided that something must be done. He marched out to the kitchen and returned with an empty trash can and some cleaning supplies. "We have to fix this right now. It's going to stink up the whole apartment. I'm already gagging."

"No way!" the rest of us pleaded. We can't open the door again. It's too gross and it will release the smell.

This was a real dilemma. On the one hand, we could hold our breath and try to slosh around as much bleach as possible. On the other hand, that's gross and maybe if we just kept the door closed we could pretend like nothing had happened. I could forfeit all my belongings and move into the common room and we would never open the door or talk about it again.

I was all for the latter option, when Tom decided he was going in to at least open the window in the room for ventilation. With the way we carried on, you would have thought he was sacrificing himself to the explosives on the meteor in Armageddon like Bruce Willis. We begged him not to go. Finally, he looked back at us as if to say goodbye, swiftly opened the door, and disappeared.

We all waited in disbelief (and to be honest a little relief because none of us wanted to go in there). This is what we heard: "Ugh! Ergh! Mmmmmph!" Bang!, Bang! "Damn it! Ugh! Gag!" The window was stuck. (I actually knew it was stuck shut but I forgot.)

Finally, the door flew back open. Tom took one step out, closed the door behind him, leaned forward, and puked into the trashcan. Once he had emptied the contents of his gullet, he looked up and said, "The smell was too much. I couldn't take it." The rest of us squealed with delight.

At this point, Corey had emerged from the bathroom and in a drunken haze of shame, went into a furious cleaning mode. I'm telling you, he staggered into that room and made it spotless. It was incredible.

Meanwhile, Tom had brought the trashcan of his own vomit out onto the porch. He was sitting next to it, talking to a friend, when Jeb returned. He had left the party before we found Corey crouched in my room and was unaware of what had transpired. Apparently, Tom decided to jokingly insult Jeb for leaving the party. Jeb, having no clue about the contents of the trashcan, did what anyone would do in this situation. He dumped that trashcan right on Tom's head. Imagine his surprise when Tom's very own vomit came oozing down on him. Jeb immediately sensed that he was in for it and turned to run. Tom was chasing after him, threatening to give him a big vomit covered hug. They ran off screaming into the night.
The next morning, I woke up and immediately realized that I had set my alarm for the exact time I was supposed to arrive at work. I had a job in the welcome center and I was supposed to stand in the student union to greet prospective students and their families as they arrived for an on-campus event. I grabbed my pile of dress clothes and screamed into the hallway for Tom to fire up the Impala. Tom sat up in bed and, no questions asked, picked up his keys and headed straight for the parking lot.

In a panic, I scooped up my clothes, shoes, and socks, and made a dash for the front door. As I sprinted out onto the lawn in front of the apartment, I felt my foot hit something squishy and slid out from underneath me. Laying face up in the grass, a familiar smell helped me realize that I had slipped in the vomit from the overturned trashcan and I now lay in it. There was no time for anything, so I rolled around in a cleaner spot of grass, jumped in Tom's car as it pulled up to the curb, and threw on my clothes as we sped off toward the union.

Later that day, as I was serving on a student panel for prospective students, one kid in the back raised his hand and asked, "Does everyone just do homework at this school, or do people like party and stuff?"

"If it makes you feel any better," I responded "I'm currently wearing my roommate's vomit from last night."

He was pretty satisfied with that.

June 21, 2010

The Crow

I once got a bird stuck in my flip flop.

I was walking to the library after dinner in my usual outfit:

As I neared the entrance, I sensed that something was wedged beneath my foot. Thinking it was probably just a large wood chip or a pine cone, I shook my foot to loosen the debris and kept walking. A few steps later, I was irritated that it was still there. I shook my foot again, but the item was still stuck.

That's when I looked down and saw a big dead black crow wedged under my foot, it's beak poking out sharply from between my toes.

I immediately emitted a noise that sounded something like "Ngggghhhhuuuuggghhh" and began violenty shaking my foot in the air. The stiff bird just kept flapping up and down.

Finally, I shook it loose. Rigor mortis had set in, so when the bird hit the pavement, it rolled across the courtyard in front of the library entrance. There was no dignity in its death.

In disgust and shame, I looked around to see who had spotted me basically playing hackey sac with a crow carcass. Amazingly, it was business as usual. I had gotten an actual bird stuck in my flip flop and no one had seemed to notice.

I was relieved and disappointed. I washed my foot off in the bathroom sink.

June 18, 2010

The Time I Lost a Rat

Animals are weird. They are living, breathing things with ambiguous cognitive abilities. They can think, but one can never be sure to what extent. Once I was changing and my mom's cat looked at me. At first I thought nothing of it. It's a cat. But then we made eye contact and I realized I was naked in front of something that could form memories and may even be able to communicate with other cats.

All this to say that I don't dislike animals, but they kind of unnerve me.

In college I made the mistake of working in a neuroscience rat lab as part of a psychology course. I'm not too bothered by animals that are typically considered creepy (snakes, spiders, rats, bats, rabies-ananconda-banshees, etc.) when they are in controlled scientific environments. If I see them in the natural world I recognize that they are unpredictable and could unwantedly brush up against you.

On the first day, when we received our rats, our professor gave us a VERY stern lecture about how rats are living creatures and we should treat them humanely and blah blah blah. I was distracted by watching the white furry lumps with their red eyes crawl all over each other in their cages. I snapped to attention when I heard our professor say something about grades. "If you kill or lose either of your rats, you fail the class." I quickly thought up about 300 possible excuses for a dead rat - It bit me and then choked on my blood so it's not my fault; It was suffering so I completed a mercy kill; You can't prove this wasn't a suicide - things along those lines. I didn't want a creature to die, but I REALLY didn't want to fail a class.

Well our first task was to starve the suckers. The hungrier they were, the more motivated they would be by food to press buttons and levers. We had to weigh the rats, subtract a percentage of body weight in grams, and then adjust their food to get them good and hungry. The key element here was that you couldn't get your two rats mixed up because you could inadvertantly WAY over-starve one rat and under-starve the other. The solution was, no lie, to write their names on their tails in permanent marker. This presented a unique dilemma for me. I wanted to pick good names that would fit on their tails. Naturally, I began envisioning my rodents as rat-hotel tycoons, and appropriately named them Rat-ison Suites and Rats Carlton.

After writing their names on their squirmy tails, I began to withhold their food. Imagine my concern later in the semester when I noticed that the ink had rubbed off and I had no idea who should be starved to what extent. I kept this little secret to myself.

The other thing we had to do right away was acclimate the rats to human contact, a process called "Gentling," so that our presence would not be a factor in their performance in the lab. This name, "gentling," slayed me. It sounded downright perverse. The professor would remind us, "Class, you need to be gentling your rats twice a day. Gentle them in the morning and in the afrernoon. And remember to gentle them on the weekends as well." It was too much. I joked with my lab partner that if she ever started a successful band, her first breakout single as a solo artist should be titled "Ooh Ooh Baby, You Gentled Me."

Later in the semester, all seemed to be going well, aside from the little rat mix-up, and my hotel-tycoon-rats were learning and performing their tasks just fine. One day, I went to get Rats Carlton out of the experiment chamber. To my horror, the glass box was empty. I immediately began to panic about failing the class. I had been so busy coming up with excuses about a dead rodent that I had neglected to come up with ideas for what to say about a runaway rat.

Soon I had the whole lab class scouring the buildling looking for this missing rat. We crawled under tables and chairs, through electrical wires, behind computers and down hallways. "Try not to look suspicious." I cautioned. "We don't want the professor getting the right idea." After nearly an hour of searching, an F was looming lover my transcript. I assumed all hope was lost. Finally, one of my classmates said, "Hey, there's a rat in this other chamber. Did you put yours in the wrong one?" I looked at the Skinner box. "Oh, yeah," I said, "That's him."

My rats eventually graduated and went on to participate in experiments in the Advanced Neuroscience class. At some point during the next semester, I made the mistake of checking on their progress with a neuro student. "Oh, you mean Rats Carleton?," she said. "Well, he didn't do so well. We put him to sleep for his brain surgery, but in the middle, he woke up. We had to stop the surgery and staple his head back together. Finally, when he was strong enough to have the second surgery, it happened again. I think he's dead."

Sometimes, he haunts my dreams.

And that pretty much sums up my lab rat experience.

June 11, 2010

Surviving the Weather

In my high school, it was somewhat of a tradition to torture our French teachers. I can't exactly explain why it was French teachers in particular. I think we discovered them to be quite resilient and pretty lenient, so we took full advantage. Once in middle school, when our French teacher leaned over my friend's desk to see that he had not done his homework, he actually patted her on the cheek twice, mimed putting money down her shirt, and said, "Let's just pretend none of this ever happened, alright?"

One high school example that stands out as being particularly hilarious involved an assignment to give a ten minute instructional speech in French for the rest of the class. The idea was that it would be about "How to [fill in the blank with any sort of task]." We quickly wore the teacher down to letting us film a ten minute instructional video as long as it featured ten minutes of continuous speaking, which quickly evolved into us trying to create hilarious videos with funny editing and very little French.

My friends John and Katie came over on the Sunday before the due date to help me film my video. Naturally, I picked the topic "How to Cover Your Tracks When You Accidentally Run Someone Over With Your Car." We spent all day staging the accident. One of the best and most graphic frames, ended up looking like this:

And of course, there was this:

And finally:

It was about 9:00 pm when we were able to officially say "That's a wrap." Katie went home and then we realized that we had spent all day on my project and never made a video for John. We had to put something together fast, which didn't bode well for the quality of the video.

We decided to do something simple: "How to Survive Severe Weather." This was a good idea because John was terrible at French but seemed to have a knack for remembering vocabulary words about "les temps." He figured he would only have to say words like "la pluie" for rain, and "la grele" for hail while we flashed images of these conditions on the screen. The problem was, we really didn't have images of these things. That's when we got the brilliant idea to get our parents involved.

The idea was that each of our parents would dress up like a certain type of weather. John's mom would be the Duchess of Hail, his father the Rain Knight. I'm still not exactly sure what my dad was supposed to be, but I recall that my mother played the Wind Queen.

The crazy thing was that they actually agreed to it. Keep in mind that our parents are successful, respectable, upstanding members of their communities. John's father is recognized as a top attorney, my mother is the head of counseling at a prep school, and my dad ran a successful company selling medical supply products. But here they were, dressed in bathrobes with weapons made out of construction paper, attacking John as he tried to survive the weather.

The plot was basic. John walked around my living room encountering attacks from the different elements (our parents). Looking into the camera, he would explain what one should do. For example, as he rounded the couch, his mother came out screaming "La Grele! La Grele!" like an angry witch-banshee while smashing him in the head with an ice cube. Then, in broken French, John looked at the camera and said something about needing to put a helmet on.

The grand finale was when I hit play on the stereo, blasting the "Fight Club" theme song, and all the parents attacked at once while chanting "Les Temps! Les Temps!" They swarmed him and spun around him in a circle until he busted free from the middle with his fist as they scattered and spun away in all directions. The idea was that they would spin out of the frame and John could end the scene by saying "And that's how you survive the weather" in English (because we weren't sure how to say that in French), but of course my mom was still in the frame without realizing it, just sort of looking at the camera and waiting for it to be over. We thought this was the best part of the whole video, and it was late, so we called it a wrap and everyone went home.

The next day the teacher confiscated both our videos.

June 10, 2010

I Got Misdemeanors You Don't Even Know About, Toots

One summer I drove from south Florida to Vermont. In keeping with my life's typical theme, this trip, which should have been a normal adventure, spiraled into a grand debacle that ultimately involved a court date and a lawyer named Rocco Columbus.
I had safely made my way through Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina when I entered what I now refer to as the State of Unfairness and Death, or Virgina if you're nasty.

I rarely speed when I drive. In fact, I've been called a granny driver on multiple occasions. But as I drove through good ole VA, I was listening to a book on tape. It was some idiotic murder mystery about a killer who referred to himself as an Owl (lame) and who was taking people out left and right at his high school reunion.

The story was really heating up, and as I passed through that fateful strip of highway, the narrator began the ascent into revealing the killer's identity. I got so nervous and wrapped up in the story that I inadvertently laid on the gas pedal and was doing 85 in a 70 without realizing it. That's when the unmarked police car burst out from the bushes and pulled me over.

I had never been pulled over before, on account of the granny driving, so I was really nervous. Luckily, I had the good sense to turn off the cd player, because the White, male narrator was doing the voice of a sassy, Black female character, and taken out of context this would have been downright offensive emanating from a motor vehicle. In the end, I didn't really look at the ticket, or argue the charge, or even question the part where he said something about a court date. I think I just stammered thank you as he walked away. It wasn't until I was back on the road that I noticed what was written on it:

That's right, I had been issued a written arrest and a Reckless Driving charge, which is not a traffic violation but an actual criminal offense. My Lawyer Sister didn't make me feel any better by proclaiming, "When employers see that, they assume it means a D.U.I. that got plead down in court! You're screwed." Soon I was setting up appointments with lawyers in the county. I was pulled over in a more rural part of the state, so naturally my only choices for this type of representation were "Butts and Butts," or "Rocco Columbus." I decided to go with Rocco because this is what I imagined:

Rocco turned out to be the maverick I had envisioned. Whether he argued a great case in court or called in a favor with the mob, I'll never know, but somehow history was rewritten and my speed was magically reduced to 75 in a 70. This demoted me from "misdemeanor" level to "minor traffic violation" level, as long as I paid a HUGE fine (this, on top of my lawyer fees) and attended driving school. I sat through six hours of the online traffic program, passed the final exam, clicked submit, only to see the screen go from this:

To this:

I called the school's IT people, who basically said, "Oh, just tell us your score and we'll put it in the system." I really could have done this in the first place. Throughout this stressful process, I think my friend gave me the best perspective. He told me, "Look at it this way, when you're married and the relationship gets a little dull, you can just tell your wife, 'I've got misdemeanors in states you don't even know about, toots.' That oughtta spice things up."

That is one heck of a silver lining.