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Monday, April 26, 2004

A distraction from distractions
...or...My Camel Dog

We will return you to our Distractions series very soon. In the meantime, please enjoy this tale of wussiness from our editor, Otis.

I'm going to be one of those dads. I hate those dads.

You know the one. The one that freaks out when his baby coughs weird. He runs her to the emergency room for a TB test. After all, that four-year-old gorilla at the National Zoo in Washington might have TB. Bitsy might have it, too. Lord, oh, lord, save my child!

Damn it.

I hate those guys.

I woke up yesterday morning to a dog that didn't want to eat. She didn't want to move. I figured she was just being lazy and picky. Then she wouldn't eat her treats. Or peanut butter. Or drink milk. Then her stomach started making noices like her insides were ripping apart.

I tried not to lose my marbles. I really did. I put the groceries away. I tooled around the house. Then I heard the noises from a distance. She looked miserable.

So, I did what I always do when something worries me. I started Googling.

Now, the problem with Googling when you're dealing with an animal crisis (and I've learned the same thing is a problem in the area of pregnant women) is that the biggest body of "knowledge" (a term I use way loosely) comes in the form of message board postings. That's where freaked out pet owners and pregnant women go to tell their tales of woe and horror. Nevermind that none of them know much about what they're talking about or that they are almost by definition statistical anomolies.

It's right there in print. It has to be true, right?

So, within about five minutes of searching I had determined that Scoop the Therapy Mutt was on her deathbed. The gurgling in her stomach was undoubtedly the result of twisted intestines, or worse yet, a life threatening condition called The Bloat.

Five minutes of frantic searching through Switchboard.com later, I found the number for the emergency vet in town, put Scoop in Emilio and headed across town.

The fact that Scoop assumed her position as Navigator (front paws on the center console, nose pointed toward our destination) should've been a pretty good indication to me that she was actually doing okay. But I still heard the frightening gurgling and squealing from her stomach and her eyes looked odd.

Fifteen minutes later I was standing in a very nice, almost pristine Emergency Vet's office. I learned soon that they were able to afford such a nice office by charging a small fortune per visit (but, you're paying for the peace of mind, right?). By this time, I had assumed the role of Way Too Freaked Out Guy. I filled out the admission papers, listing Scoop as a neutered male dog. She is, in fact, a prissy girl without a uterus.

Teni minutes later, the understanding vet tech and and equally comforting vet assured me that while Scoop had a slight fever, the intestine wrap and ultra-frightening Bloat usually happened in bigger dogs. More than likely, Scoop got into something or just had tummy ache. That's about the time I realized that I'm going to be one of those dads.

They injected Scoop with some Pepcid and something called Reglan (sp?), and put her on a saline drip to keep her hydrated while she rested off the illness. Funny thing...when they inject dogs with fluids, they shoot them up in the back. Scoop looked like a camel for a few hours.

Back home with a can of bland, stinky dog food, Scoop decided to eat a little bit then go to sleep. This morning, she was acting a little better. She ate more of the bland, stinky dog food.


My wife (oddly, the voice of reason in matters pertaining to the dog's physical health) has been reassuring me for hours that Scoop is okay. However, she insists my over-concern is a good indicator of being a good father. She watched me check on Scoop every ten minutes, hand-feed her the bland, stinky food, and pick through her droppings to make sure everything looked okay.

She said I'm going to be a good dad.

Me, I think I'm on my way to be one of those dads.

So, let the ridicule begin now. If you need me, I'll be in the Emergency Room for the next 18 years.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Distractions: Music

When life gets a little too mothertruckin' much, we seek out distractions. Sometimes it's simply a good movie, or a cold drink, or a big laugh with friends. Since I don't feel the need to belabor the bs, I've decided to dedicate the next few blogs to the best distractions around. Since I'm looking for as many distractions as possible, please use the comments section to submit your favorite memory related to the topic of the day, which today is...

I like music.

My earliest memories of songs are The Beach Boys around my uncle's pool table, The Eagles screaming out of my dad's car stereo as we screamed through the backroads (his racecar driving habits still not yet atrophied), and Glenn Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy." Eclectic.

I remember Taco, Men Without Hats, and even, forgive me, Michael Jackson. Yeah, I owned "Thriller." And I owned Prince's bright purple "Purple Rain" 45 as well. Eclectic? Youthful ignorance, perhaps.

It wasn't until I found myseld in a musty basement outside of Springfield, MO, hitting power chords and trying to figure out Rush licks that I started hearing music in my head on a regular basis. It's when I started feeling the music in my fingers and trying to hear it in my voice. Dave, Dan and I pounded out as many songs as we could think of. We wrote instrumentals (one called "Fucking Backward" as I recall, but not for the reason you might think) and annoyed entire gymnasiums full of people. In stories I've told before, that relationship with music ended on a less than happy note. Still, I still own the amp and guitar that crunched in the musty basement. Throwing away memories like that just isn't easy.

College came next. A mammoth figure entered my dorm room one night and handed me a couple of Uncle Tupelo discs. I was supposed to like them, but at the time had a hard time understanding the appeal. That was, until I listened to them again. I have literally worn out those discs and had to replace them since then. It's probably not a stretch to say that Tupelo is probably still my favorite band, and for all the right reasons. And by this time, I was growing my hair even longer and playing the guitar on decks and balconies in front of girls who actually sat and listened for a while. Some stayed longer than others. Those are the girls I remember with the most fondness.

After college, I thought music was going to die. I moved to Hell and listened almost exclusively to talk radio for nearly two years. I barely played guitar.

But, then I stumbled into the foothills of South Carolina and I woke up. Now I can't sleep. For the past five years, music is just as powerful as it was in college.

Which brings me to the distractions of the day:

* Stone-cold sober, hopped up on testosterone and youth, in a southern Missouri ampitheater watching Tesla and Firehouse get a bucnh of sweaty teenagers even sweatier.

* My first and last Uncle Tupelo shows, singing along with Aaron and the rest of the boys.

* Throwing my body haphazzardly into a mosh pit while screaming along with The Urge as they screamed, "Get on your knees and bark like a dog!"

* Making every effort to play as casual as possible as I strolled the parking lot at my first Dead show, then eventually learning that if you just talk to the 14-year-olds, they know what's going on. By the time the first set was over, I did, too. Or, at least, I sure felt like I did.

* Driving at breakneck speed through New Madrid, MO, my buddies right there with me screaming out the lyrics to Tupelo's "New Madrid."

* Later, driving with different friends, 75mph in the wrong lane of traffic on Highway 65 toward Moberly, MO, the CD player playing "American Pie" over and over again until we reached our destination.

* Hitting the Lake Eden Arts festival for the first time, literally following the sound of the music until I found my friends listening to another of my favorite bands, 'Eddie from Ohio."

* Catching Acoustic Syndicate at the old Handlebar, Donna the Buffalo at LEAF, and the Cigar Store Indians in Athens (by accident).

* Strumming guitars with friends and jamming late into the night, paying too little attention to sleeping babies and wives, much like I hope to be doing tomorrow night.

Again, just a few. What are yours?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


When life gets a little too mothertruckin' much, we seek out distractions. Sometimes it's simply a good movie, or a cold drink, or a big laugh with friends. Since I don't feel the need to belabor the bs, I've decided to dedicate the next few blogs to the best distractions around. Since I'm looking for as many distractions as possible, please use the comments section to submit your favorite memory related to the topic of the day, which today is...

I like beer.

Tom T. Hall said it made him a jolly good fellow, and while I don't like to mimic, it does pretty much the same thing for me. Only twice in my life has beer resulted in violence or the threat thereof. The balance of the beer drinking time has been pretty good.

There have been many nights of beer drinking. A few stand out as among the best. Those are the ones that are distracting me today.

In that I don't feel much like romanticizing the hops-driven joy of my young adulthood, I won't spend hours crafting an essay on the best beer times. I'm living a bullet-point week, so here's the sharpest bullets in the armory in no particular order.

* A ski lift not too far from Dillon, CO. Somehow the group of guys who became brothers to me over five short years in Columbia, MO had packed nearly a twelve-pack in their ski coats. The conversation escapes me, but the laughs still make my belly hurt.

* A sunny deck in St. Louis, MO. For some reason, we're drinking Busch beer and making fun of my friends inner-city, postage stamp-sized back yard. Someone suggests a backyard game of softball and I nearly spit my cheap beer all over my shirt. Later, the same guys take me out for one of the most fun nights of my life.

* On a deck again, this time in Greenville, SC, celebrating the birth of a child. We smoke cigars and later make up stupid games to distract us even more (see picture below). I posted about this picture once before. I said it reminded me of the good times. It still does.

* In the pouring down rain, in the middle of a soccer field, tarps engineered to direct the rainwater away from our heads. Hours passed in laughter and after two years of darkness, I again found the power of friendship.

* On the edge of the Grand Canyon, still younger than the legal drinking age, and handed a beer by my dad for the first time. It wasn't like I really needed a beer, or that I had a particular hankering for beer with a Grand Canyon label. But it was neat to say my dad bought me my first beer on the edge of nature's startling enormity.

* Under a Hawaiian sunrise, on a sailboat, with a beautiful girl.

* In the middle of my driveway with a man I always admired and a man I'd just met, singing songs in front of drunk people.

* Sitting in the back of my new SUV in Charlotte, NC, on the verge of listening to two nights of good music. A friend got harassed by some cops. We pretended we didn't know him and that was okay.

It occurs to me that I could sit here and hit bullet point after bullet point and not finish for days. That's either a sign that I use beer a distraction too many times or that I need distractions too often.

So, here's your assignment: You ever drink beer with me and consider it a great distraction? If so, tell me about it. And if not with me, just tell me about one of your good beer drinking distractions.

Coming soon...music.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Birdseed and sin

My last few posts have been filled with the usual April blog-puking about my lack of employee satisfaction. I could continue it here, but I'm trying to rid myself of the redundancy.

Unfortunately, that subject is consuming my life right now. I have no clear thoughts on any other topic. I do, however, have some mini-thoughts for your consideration.

* The tourists in Myrtle Beach, SC feed on either or both of two things: Birdseed and sin.

* The intercom announcement at work didn't sound exactly like this when I got here this morning, but it was close: "Attention, staffers: In lieu of bonuses this year, there will be free popcorn in the break room all day. Thank you."

* This season of The Sopranos is much more like the first season that the past two seasons. As a result, I like it much more. However, last night's addiction theme was a little over the top.

* That big life change I was predicting two posts ago has not panned out exactly as I hoped. However, that's not to say things aren't going to change soon.

* With this week being the anniversary of Waco, OK City, and Columbine, I sort of feel like I should anticipate some bad ju-ju this week. But I don't. I think this week is going to be pretty boring.

* My friend, Daly, is one of the coolest people I've ever known.

I feel like some mexican food right now. Maybe some tacos.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

My husband went to work and all I got was this lousy blog

Every year for the past five on the eve of April 12, I start ruminating on the significance of the day. Since nothing much changes in the significnce department, I'll just link to the past couple of years.

Here's a patch from April of 2002, just as my contractual obligation to my current employer ran out.

A more sober writer might suggest that it would've been nice to be offered a renewed contract with a hefty raise attached to it. The same sober writer might suggest that he would've been happy to sign on for another three years if management had seen fit to open its wallet and pay for the work it gets out of the man. That sober guy might suggest that he would've continued to put every effort into producing a solid journalistic product every day...if only he had some sort of incentive. He would suggest that it would almost be incentive enough to see people appreicated for the work they do...or more to the point...people reprimanded for the work they DO NOT do.

Fortunately for all of us, that sober writer fell off a cliff of insanity three months ago. We don't think he died. More than likely, he is hobbling around down at the bottom of some ravine, sucking on a wet pay stub, and shooting the bird at local wildlife.

(A quick aside here...Ralph Machio was a bit of a chump in Crossroads. You just can't take the Karate Kid as a serious bluesman. But Crossroads was still a kick ass movie. I think I may watch it this weekend.)

Three years, a couple dozen gray hairs, one Emmy nomination, a gross sense of the lack of work ethic in this world, just enough money to pay the bills and have a little bit of a good time in the process.

There is a certain amount of fear in being cut loose. It's like your wife saying...go out and do whatever you want tonight. The freedom is so severe it straps you to the couch.

And this is from April 2003. My boss had just told me I'd have to work a weekend shift because a employee (who now no longer works where I do) "got hurt" by a bag of frozen vegetables falling out of her freezer...or something

Our workplace survives on manpower. One piece of that power is a bit accident-prone. She tends to fall over a lot without a lot of explanation. We're told doctors have advised her to take the weekend (regular workdays for her) to recover from her most recent fall. I'm currently checking into the possiblities of contracting with the company that produced the Weeble-People to see if we can borrow some of the technology.

The calender tells me that tomorrow is actually my four-year anniversary here. Four fucking years. And I sit at my desk dreading the story I'm about to air. When the dread subsides, I go back to thinking of Weeble-People technology. Fascinating.

So, tomorrow as the sun dries the soil and the sweetgum trees begin their annual greening, I'll be efforting to make weekend news relevant.

Four years, ladies and gents. That's a long damned time in dog years.

Now, it's five years with The Company. I'd like to think that by the time next April rolls around, the story will be a lot different than it is today or has been for the past five years. It's about time this blog writer made some changes.

Monday, April 05, 2004


Try as I may, and it should be easier than it is, I can't remember a time when my grandma, Ruby, wasn't old.

I know she at one time had a shock of red hair. Pictures tell me that in the days of black and white she was a striking woman. I know that she read more books than I'll ever pick up. I know that while she would read anything, she was known to mark out any dirty words she found in the text.

Still, as I venture back through the years I spent in her cramped little house, sweating through Christmas dinners or endless visits under cover of pipe smoke and grown up conversation, I still can't remember a time when she seemed vibrant and ready to tackle life.

I know there was such a time. She gave birth to nine children, all of whom would grow up to live such wildly different lives that you'd think they all had different mothers. The dirt of west Texas didn't dirty her mind, and she lived out most of her years in a tiny house on Thelma street in Springfield, Missouri.

When I was born, Grandma was about my mom's current age. I can't imagine my grandma being that young.

This weekend, my wife and I traveled back to my old home for a baby shower. The weekend was designed to be one of celebration, one shed of all the stress and worry the family faced at the end of 2003. Instead, we got off the plane on Friday morning and went straight to the hospital.

The night before, my grandma had stood up from her seat on the couch, the one she had been sitting in for as long as I can remember. She told someone that her walker was in the way as she stood. That perception forced her off balance. She fell backward onto an 80lb marble end table. Her hip shattered. Her shoulder shattered. She was broken. About as broken as an old woman could be.

She had been in poor health for a long time. Despite the family's somewhat curious longevity, most people in it had some sort of ailment. With her, it was her heart. She'd had more heart attacks than I care to remember. At 82, she was slipping toward deafness and likely senility.

We got to the hospital in just enough time to see her in her room before the took her to surgery. She greeted me the way she's greeted me for most of the last ten years. What a beautiful boy. Such a beautiful boy. He's gotten much bigger since I saw him last.

She looked even older than I remembered. Her hair was white, her mouth seemed empty. Her eyes barely open. She was on a heavy drip of morphine to ease what must have been excruciating pain.

I stood next to her bed, talking as loudly as I could to help her hear. I knew she wasn't hearing much. Half-blind, she wasn't seeing much either. It was sad, but, in a way, as beautiful as pitiful old age can be.

No one, doctors or family alike, expected her to live through the surgery. Her heart wasn't strong enough to withstand the hour under anethesia. A smoker for many years (many years ago), her lungs weren't strong enough to come off the breathing tube. The crowded waiting room, where my aunt performed some sort of baby-sexing witchcraft over my wife's belly, was little more than a vigil before death.

When the doctors came out and announced they had fixed all that was broken and that Grandma was breathing on her own, the sentiment was similar to the many other times she had cheated death: The woman is tougher than any of us know.

That's when a diferent sort of talk started up. The talk about how this might be the thing that helps her turn the corner. Instead of easing slowly toward death, perhaps she'll be able to rebound and live a life with some amount of quality. Perhaps.

We left the hospital that afternoon, everyone relieved, everyone looking forward to the baby shower the next afternoon.

The baby clothes and toys came in as many colors and shapes as you can imagine. The baby belly witchcraft said I'll have a boy. My uncle Ronnie insisted I would father a girl. Old friends stopped by as I loaded the booty into my dad's SUV.

A couple miles away, Grandma was still breathing on her own. We went to see her, held her hand, helped her eat. She complained about the bad food, and we couldn't blame her for it.

Later that night, we went back to the hospital. A crisis erupted and I was called on as an impartial family male to offer advice. I felt very old all of a sudden. Still, there was Grandma with her beautiful boys, pointing them out one by one.

We left Sunday afternoon in a fog. Grandma's blood count was down and she need a transfusion. As a TV reporter who knows way too much about blood, blood donation, and blood transfusions, I tried to play the expert in absence of my resident expert, Dr. Jeffy. I didn't do a very good job and did a poorer job of making everybody feel better.

Today was a big day for me. I had an appointment this morning that could alter my future. The appointment went well, despite the recognition that the chances my future would change much were pretty small. I left in the sunshine and the constant buzzing of my cell phone. Friends who knew where I was were calling, impatient, wanting to know how things had gone. During a call, my cell phone's call-waiting kicked in.

"Mom and Dad," read the caller-ID.

It was my mom on the other end of the line. Her first words were to ask about my appointment.

"How did it go?" she asked.

"Grandma died, didn't she, mom?"

A pause. Another pause.


It was midnight when it happened. The old woman--who I know was once young--died at midnight.

All day long people have been coming up to me, patting me on the shoulder, offering their condolences the same way I've done to others for years. This is my first grandparent to die. I didn't really know what it would feel like.

In my heart I know that had she lived, Grandma wouldn't have lived a very happy life. The doctors wouldn't let her go back to her spot on the couch. They would put her in a nursing home where she would die slowly and unhappily.

Tonight, I'm working late to make up for the morning of work I missed. My wife is out and about, her growing belly pushing against her cute maternity clothes. I'm tired, sore from a weekend of plane rides and restless sleep. I'm wishing I could give my dad a hug and let him cry for a while.

My regret is that I was too young to recognize when my grandma was young. I wish I could remember something other than her being old.

However, the regret is tempered by a sense of relief that an old woman doesn't have to suffer anymore. While trite, I suppose it is fair to say she lived a full life. And she gave me my dad, who gave me this life and an opportuity to give life to another. A boy, a girl, whatever the witchcraft or soothsaying uncles offer.

Thanks for that, Grandma. And peace to you tonight as you sleep.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Ski Dream

It's been too many years and beers ago to remember exactly when this happened. I remember where I was, why, and whith whom, but beyond that it's all a giant white blur.

I was on top of a mountain in a blinding snowstorm. The flakes were as big as they get and the wind whipped in all directions at once. It was the type of storm that should've forced the ski resort to close the lifts, but at that moment the lifts were still running. It would only be a few more minutes until the lift motors stopped and the hordes of skiers retired to lodges to wait out the storm.

But for the moment, I was on top of the mountain with a few friends, an inadequate grasp on the ability to ski properly, and a pair of rented skis that were obviously the cast-offs of some long-ago Olympic wannabe.

I didn't think this at the time. In fact, I didn't think this until this morning in the shower. If I had been thinking at that moment, I would've thought about two Roberts.

See, Robert Johnson stood at a crossroads. Robert Frost did, too, and took the road less traveled. Me, I had three potential paths back to the relative safety and warmth of the ski lodge.

Any beginning skier learns the color codes:

Green=Boring, yet safe, wide run to the bottom
Blue=Slightly less boring, yet still fairly safe run to the bottom
Blue/Black=Reserved for those who ski fairly well, challenging yet probably won't kill you or break anything if you choose to go in that direction.
Black or Double Black Diamond=Reserved for very good skiers. Will likely seriously injure intermediate skiers who approach the run with anything less than clear head and fresh muscles.

On my right was a Double Black. In front of me the Blue/Black. On my left the Green.

This would be a better story if I told you I waded through the blinding white-out, jumped over the top of the hill, and skied the double black like a pro.

I didn't. I watched Uncle Brian (who is not really my Uncle, nor much more than a year older than me) take the hardest route, like he always did. The man could conquer just about any mountain. He was the type of guy would laugh, joke, and drink with you all the way up on the lift. You'd wish you could follow him down the back side of the mountain, just for the laughs and contstant chatter. We always had to wait for those laughs until we got back to the lodge.

A few more brave friends hit the Blue/Black like they didn't care whether they ended up in traction. And I stood at the top of the mountain, trying to make my decision.

They are those grand old days that I remember well when I have the ski dreams. They are those vivid dreams that make you want nothing more than to be sitting around a fire, sipping on a beer, recounting the tales of the day of skiing gone by. I love the ski dream, because it least it helps me remember those days like the one in the middle of the white out.

And here I sit, on April Fool's Day, a day that holds no small amount of significance in my life, and I'm again standing on top of a metaphorical White Out Mountain.

So much is flying around me that I can't see. The blinding white is intimidating as anything. This is more than a state of flux. It's absolute chaos. It's exactly opposite of everything that I want right now. Right now, as I await the birth of my kid (who, incidentally, flipped me off during the ultrasound yesterday), I want everything to be clear, calm, collected, c-words ad infinitum (with the exception of the c-word that gets my wife all riled up).

But, that's not how things are. The chaos is out of my control. What's more, I'm again standing at the top of a mountain with three paths in front of me. Exactly which one I take is not entirely up to me, but I play a large role in that decision.

Back during the white out, I knew that if I followed Uncle Brian and made it down without injury, I would be the happiest and perhaps most applauded member of our crew. If I took slighty safer but still denagerous route that the rest of my buddies took, it would be a story of victory over adversity that we could all share for some time. If I took the safe route down, I would have no story. I would have no camraderie. And my friends would probably make fun of me.

So it was:

Probable disaster, with the potential for great victory.
Potential disaster, with potential for continued friendship and physical reward.
Absolute safety, with no reward and likely continued ridicule.

I chose the Blue/Black. I followed my friends through the blinding snow, falling a couple of times, but making it down no worse for the wear. It was exhilarating and one of the most breath-taking moments of my fairly lazy life.

Metaphors, I know, can be quite tedious, especially when taken this far. However, that's where I am right now.

I'm blind, I'm cold, the ski lift to the top of the mountain will be shut down very shortly, and I'm stuck with a decision that doesn't entirely depend on me.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not sad, mad, glad, or any other Suessian concept. I'm simply on edge, metaphorically and literally.

It may take a few weeks before this resolves itself.

In the meantime, what would you do?

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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