Like a Rolling Kidney Stone

“How does it feel?”

Grunt.

“On a scale of one to ten how bad is the pain? How does it feel?”

I’ve come up with a pain scale if ever asked that question again. Ten meant you were knocked out or possibly dead from the pain. Nine meant it hurt so bad you were trying to vomit but nothing came out but a guttural moan. Eight meant it hurt that much, but vomit was actually forthcoming distracting you a bit. That meant this was a “seven,” I said.

The emergency room nurse pricked something into my arm as I prayed. I imagined with her manipulation the tightness in my stomach lessening. And it slowly did before moving up to my ribs.

I’d had kidney stones once before fifteen years ago. I was working an office job and sometime after lunch I started feeling uncomfortable. The movie producers I worked for were out of the office so I went to my car and tried to sleep it off. Impossible. I paced around the office and some intern seeing my face, God bless his soul, offered to drive me home. On the afternoon ride I must have been making faces because he said, “Dude, I should take you to the hospital.”

“No, I just want to be home.” In my head the bright fluorescent lights would make things worse. On the throne of my blue toilet I could resolve this.

Home was no better. Bathroom, bedroom, couch in living room. I couldn’t escape it. Until finally the toilet came calling. Out of my mouth came all of that delicious broccoli from that Chinese restaurant where we always ordered take-out. Too bad, I thought. I liked that restaurant but this had to be food poisoning. I had a cast iron stomach. This was Spring 2005 and it was the first time I had thrown up since I stained the newly renovated science wing at my high school  between first and second periods when I was a freshman in 1993. I believe on that evening in 2005  I threw up a second time, then I went to sleep, woke up in the middle of the night to drink some rice milk, went back to sleep and in the morning I planned to go back to work when the tightness in my stomach came back. Maybe it wasn’t food poisoning. Maybe my appendix burst?

I didn’t have insurance, and the emergency room treated me as such. A lady came in asked for my credit card before I saw a doctor. Eventually a doctor  quickly diagnosed me with kidney stones. This wasn’t on my radar. “What can you do?”

“Nothing. You can wait around here and it will cost you a lot of money to have me watch you pass them or you can go home and pass them yourself. How much pain are you in?”

I noticed I wasn’t  hurting.

“Maybe you already passed it without knowing it?” The doctor suggested. He handed me a prescription for painkillers, some paper sieves for me to urinate through to catch the stones for a specialist to examine and sent me on my merry way.

And I was merry. I was back at zero on the pain scale. With the exception of the hospital bills that kept coming my kidney stones were quickly forgotten. I now had a pat answer for the most extreme physical pain I’d ever felt., but as  fifteen years passed that pain grew abstract.

Until Saturday morning at 3 am. when I didn’t know why my stomach hurt so much. I burped out gas. I didn’t want to wake my wife so I went to the living room to try to replicate that yoga move she showed me to relieve bloating. I let out some more burps and went to the bathroom and I remembered this was what kidney stones felt like. There was the cramp of all cramps stretching the right side of my lower rib cage. I lied down on the couch and it hurt so much I couldn’t even cry. I could barely even breathe.

I had to vomit, but this time nothing came out but a moan. If anyone would have asked me, this pain was a nine. I paced from the bathroom to the living room and back again. This was kidney stones, it had to be. Or maybe this time my appendix had burst? Regardless, I would go to the emergency room and if need be now the doctor was obliged to watch me pass them, after all I had insurance now.

Except  this was the year 2020. And there was a global pandemic for the highly contagious COVID-19. Miami Beach where I now lived was currently one of the hotbeds for the contagion. Was it worth going to a hospital with kidney stones and coming home with coronavirus?

And then my  fifteen year vomit-free streak ended. Kidney stones had done twice what no cocktail, mediocre burrito, or flu bug had accomplished  by making me retch again. Except this time there was no release. There was no going to sleep for a ten hour slumber. There was only more pain. So much more.

Like anyone searching for answers in our present time I went to the internet. There was something called teledoctor where I could talk to a doctor at any time of night. It was 6 am when I spoke to the medical expert and recited the last few paragraphs to him.

“You need to go to the emergency room,” he told me after my monologue.

“Even with COVID?”

“We take abdominal pain very seriously.”

I appreciated that. For the first time I understood why everyone thought it was so charismatic when Bill Clinton said “I feel your pain.”

I put on some shorts and my flip-flops. It crossed my mind this wasn’t appropriate wardrobe to die in, but it hurt too much to attempt to be fashionable. I woke up my wife and told her I was going to take a taxi to the emergency room. In hindsight I can appreciate this is a messed up thing to be woken up to. She wanted to drive me, but that meant waking up our daughter and I didn’t want her to see me like this.

I’d always been a stubborn contrarian. I can’t even explain why I don’t trust Uber, but I compromised and let her call me one instead of a cab. I’d been boycotting wearing the surgical masks too and had instead been using this bandana I got one Halloween when I masqueraded as a pirate that I tied around the back of my scalp.

I stood outside waiting for the black SUV driven by Rosa to pick me up. The light was coming out indicating morning. I paced around until I saw the massive vehicle parked diagonal from the corner I was at. “Melanie?” she asked. I nodded yeah not having the wellbeing to inform her that it was my wife’s name and app.

She took a long time to start driving. She was looking at her phone. I stopped myself from explaining this was an emergency. I rolled down the window in case I had to vomit again.  There were no cars on the road but somehow she caught every red light that was between us and the hospital. I tried to will myself out of my body. It didn’t work. I was stuck.

But we got to the hospital’s campus where a handwritten sign greeted us reading, “Thank you heroes”. Heroes. They would save me.

As mentioned I’d been to emergency rooms before. I expected a long, uncomfortable wait. But after having my temperature taken to make sure I didn’t have a fever and given a surgical mask that I’d avoided for all these months I was grateful to find I was the only person in the lobby. Everyone else was either fortunate or smart enough to be anywhere else at that moment. I filled out some paperwork, turned over my driver’s license and proof of insurance and was quickly walked into their care.

I collapsed on the hospital bed as though all my problems would now disappear. The young guy who led me to the room wrapped velcro around my arm. “Do you have high blood pressure?” he asked.

“It’s probably because he’s in a lot of pain.”  A nurse told him and now we’re at the beginning of the story when she asked me “How does it feel?”

So bad that at the time I would have happily made any deal with any deity, god or devil, that agreed to take away the pain.

The nurse injected something into my arm and my mind wandered as it is so prone to do into the world of pop culture. I thought about Kurt Cobain and how he claimed his whole heroin addiction stemmed from stomach pains. Was that my fate? Dependency on drugs to numb the pain, followed by bouts of creativity, worldwide adulation, and then a bullet to the brain? The two middle steps seemed unlikely, but as hours of anguish turned into days I did start considering ending it all for the first time in decades. On day four or five of this kidney stone ordeal I  conceived a suicide plan for if this went too much longer. I would find the tallest highrise in my vicinity whose roof I could access. It would have to be at least thirty stories. I would swallow all the pills still in my possession and step off of this cruel ride. You might think this a cowardly solution, but then you probably never had a kidney stone.

But at this point I had faith in modern medicine. And the pain was lessening. I tried to shut my eyes in the bright hospital light and add to the three hours of sleep I was working on.

The nurse as she was adjusting IV’s oozing into me said to someone else in the room. “I have the Eminem song ‘Stan’ stuck in my head.” This was a conversation normally in my wheelhouse. I love small talk about old songs. but I couldn’t muster up the chit-chat. It made sense that a conversation was going on like I wasn’t even in the room.

“I don’t know it,” the other person said.

“It’s where the term Stan comes from when you’re a big fan of someone,” the nurse informed her.

The doctor came in. I explained my whole story as best I could. He felt around my mid-section asking if it hurt here or it hurt there as he applied pressure.  He agreed with my self-diagnosis of kidney stones, but was going to have me take a CAT scan just to make certain it wasn’t anything else. He gave me a jar to pee into and then told me something that I noticed everyone in the hospital said as they left my room, “I hope you feel better.”

What a nice thing to say. I told myself I would end all future interactions with that statement after they healed me.

An orderly wheeled my bed into a room where I was told to lie down in an open machine with a cushioned bench. The CAT scan technician told me to follow his instructions of when to hold my breath and when to breathe normally. Holding my breath was easy, breathing normally took more effort.

Wheeled back into my room I heard my phone beep. My wife texted asking my condition. I wrote something back but had no reception. I slept as best I could. At a certain point I heard the song “Stan” played at a low volume just outside my quarters.

“Such a good song,” a male voice said as the samples of Dido singing played over Eminem’s absurd rapping. “It’s funny how much better the first couple albums are. Why’s it always like that? It’s like you only have so many good songs in you.”

That’s a thought so many of us share. The early stuff is always better. Does that apply to life too? I was turning 42 in a week. It’s not old, but it sure ain’t young. Had I used up all my hit songs for my non-musical career? Was the rest of my life meant to be a series of duds with an occasional memorable trip to a hospital thrown in?

Some time after that thought the doctor came in and confirmed it was kidney stones. He gave me a series of prescriptions, told me to see a urologist, drink more water and lay off eating too much salt and they were going to discharge me.

“Wait what?” It took me a second to register they were telling me to leave.

“You can always come back if you’re in too much pain.”

I guess there was a pandemic. And the pain wasn’t as excruciating as it was when I came in. I was at a five now. I checked my pockets. My phone said it was 9:30. Had I only been in their care for three hours? I had a full day ahead of me still. My wallet was in my pocket, but where was that pirate bandana I used as a face covering? Guess I lost it. We had some good trips to Trader Joe’s together. Well I had the hospital issued mask now. But as I walked out of the hospital I saw my reflection and there without my feeling it was the bandana wrapped lower around my throat.

The next days were amongst the worst in my life. The painkillers would stop the harshest edges of the pain, but never enough. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t shit. I couldn’t read or even watch TV. All I could do  was down one glass of water followed by a pill followed by another glass of water and then another pill as a mineral rattled around my organs.

In one not particularly proud moment maybe on day  three I went on some fuck COVID rant. And not in the way people say fuck cancer. I was certain nothing was worse. I would trade kidney stones for all the coronavirus in the world. Hook me up to a ventilator and stop this!

Maybe on day four I realized Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” was all about kidney stones.

You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud

I continued to offer my services to Yahweh and to Allah and to Satan and even Apollo. I would be as religious as need be.

On the morning of day five, I had a Zoom meeting with the specialist. From my laptop computer I explained to my urologist all the misfortune I had suffered. He told me to continue to drink water and that sometimes this can take weeks.

Weeks? But isn’t there some procedure where you can blast the kidney stones with sound waves?

“Yes,” he calmly responded. “But your stones are too low. This would shatter your pelvis.” Instead the procedure that would need to be done would be they would stick a hose up my dickhole and they would shoot lasers at my kidney stones so they could pass easier.

That sounded painful.

“You would be unconscious But yes it is uncomfortable.”

I don’t know if it was that conversation that finally knocked the stones out of me, but after a dozen more hours of moaning I went to the bathroom.

I remembered after my last kidney stone experience fifteen years earlier I’d had a scary conversation. One of the producers I worked for was an ornery sort and had a death threat. He hired a private security guard who I spoke with long enough that I mentioned my first kidney stone experience. He said, “Ooohhh kidney stones. That’s like pissing out razor blades.”

I had yet to feel such a sensation. My pee hadn’t hurt. It was only my stomach.

“It will,” he told me. “If it hasn’t yet it means you haven’t passed them.”

That freaked me out. That meant the pain could come back, but it hadn’t until now. But yet here I was urinating and the stream stopped and out came something I could describe like I was peeing out a razor blade. I looked down into the toilet bowl and my piss was tinted with a tinge of red. It stung a bit, but nothing like the rattling around in my kidneys. I kept my eyes open for a four millimeter stone. My naked eye could spy nothing. Please God I prayed. I will piss out razor blades for the rest of my life, just cast out the stones.

After five days of hell I was able to sleep through a night.

And now I write this down in the hopes I don’t forget. These are tough times. Maybe all times are tough, but in the future if things get me down, if things aren’t going my way, I’ve got to remember. Any day without kidney stones is a good day.

 

 

 

 

Just Another Date Night in the Year 2030 – A Short Story

 

Just Another Date Night in the Year 2030 – A Short Story

by

David Rolland

Wow the work week flew by. Friday night already. Let me check the date app to see who I want to go out with tonight. I’m feeling like something cis norm.

Scroll. Scroll. Ah, let’s get a close up. Oh, never mind according to her menstrual app, she’s showing potential for moodiness. Scroll. Scroll. Let’s get a hologram. OK! Even better she hasn’t streamed this week’s episode of The Walking Thrones, so she won’t give any spoilers. Let’s do it! We agree to a reservation at eight at Chez Le Drone which has received tremendous Yelp reviews.

I schedule a driverless car pick up. Hee hee, what a hilarious holo video of a cat getting run over. Car’s here. I rate it, but begin to get annoyed by the podcast blaring In the speakers. I text to turn it down, but I have to pay a subscription fee for a noiseless ride.

She said she’d be sitting in the back by the window. There she is. I’ll rank her on the dating app before I say hello. A ten on punctuality and a 9 on looking like her hologram. WTF? She ranked me a 6 on punctuality and a 5 on false advertising.

We greet. She already ordered for me based on my profile. The wine is red and the meat rare. We discuss various amusing Tweets and controversial Instagram postings. It gets a tad bit awkward when the drone asks if we would like more to drink and I realize I’m a bit low on Bitcoins. Fortunately, she has already reached her maximum caloric intake for the day.

As she stands up I realize I am aroused. Perhaps it is the wine that makes me feel so forward when I ask her, “Your AirBnb or mine?” She offers hers, but first insists I log onto a sexual relations app. She uses Consexual. I download it and look over the contract. It’s fairly standard. Fifteen minutes of foreplay before touching privates. No posting of videos without her prior approval. Rear ends are off limits.

I punch in my PIN and an hour later we are laying in her bed rating each other’s performances. I give her a 10 with the good faith that she will do the same for me.

I keep refreshing the screen waiting to see how she rated me, but she is obsessed with the number of likes the pictures of her undressing are getting. I begin to feel a strange sensation like something is missing from the night. A void, an emptiness, that is until she asks, “Want to watch The Walking Thrones?” 

I then feel complete.

Deadbeat: The Movie

This is a short film I wrote and directed back in September 2003 It’s based on the first chapter of my novel Deadbeat. If you want to know what happens next and before, the novel is available for purchase by clicking here.

Thank you to everyone in the below cast and crew who volunteered their time and effort.

In the years between shooting this and putting it on-line I learned that the editor, Matt Villines had passed away. I’m not sure if he would have wanted me to, but since no one had to watch this as much as he did in the editing suite of the L.A. Film School, I’m dedicating it in his honor. R.I.P. Matt.

Cast:
Frank Bengling: Mark Craig
Maria Novella: Mirelly Taylor
Roger Bengling: Kidd Stablein

Crew:
Writer/Director: David Rolland
Producer: Jacintha Timothy
Editor: Matt Villines
Sound Design and Mixing: Peter Stier Jr.

Chasing Rainbows

We drive.

My daughter’s in her car seat in the back as a little bit of rain hits the windshield. In the gray clouds I notice the faintest hint of a rainbow. “Look, there’s a rainbow.” I tell her.

“Where?” she asks. I point, but she keeps asking, “Where? Where?”

It’s fading so I try to point it out exactly, but she’s getting frustrated. I’m not sure if it’s the way the seat has her strapped in or the direction my finger is pointing has her looking some way different than I intend, but I start to get concerned this whole situation might be scarring. Three years old is a formative age for the subconscious.  Could this create in her the idea that magic and beauty will always be just out of reach?

But then the road curves and something funny happens, the rainbow gets brighter. “Do you see it?” I ask her.

“A rainbow!”

We turn on to the interstate and I swear to God in the west is the fullest, most vivid rainbow I’d ever seen in my 38 years on Earth. Hell, for all I know it’s the most brilliant, colorful rainbow anyone in the universe has ever seen.

“Two rainbows!” she says. The conditions were so perfect that another fainter rainbow was on the outside of the legendary rainbow.

We keep driving. The road turns again.

“Where are the rainbows?” she asks. And I wonder if we can’t help scarring our young no matter how hard we try. Now she’ll think rainbows are something we’re all entitled to.

 

 

Zikapocalypse Now

A flea nearly brought down Western civilization when the Bubonic Plague took a tour of Europe centuries ago, but I’m still not sure how seriously we should take this Zika virus.

They say the sexually transmitted virus only exists in a mosquito that lives in a three mile radius in Miami. But this as we all know is complete and utter non-sense. If this virus traveled thousands of miles from Brazil to Miami in the matter of months, there are flying bugs and sexy people spreading it already at least as far as Kendall and Pembroke Pines.

They say Zika does not hurt most carriers. It will at worst cause flu symptoms, unless you are pregnant, then your poor child will have a misshapen and deformed head.

It is probably nothing. A couple years ago the news media was trying to sell us on the idea that Ebola will be the end of us all, before that was the avian flu, AIDS, and carpal-tunnel syndrome.

But odds are one day the fear-mongers will be right. It will all end for humanity. Or at the very least humanity’s idea of a perfectly proportional head.

In Defense of Third Parties

pfaw_two

Besides someone saying “it is what it is” no comment gets me more riled up than, “if you vote for a third party candidate you are throwing your vote away”.  Using this set of logic in the 2016 presidential election, if you vote for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump wins anyway, then you threw your vote away as well. You could also say if you vote for the victor and they win by more than one vote you also threw your vote away. The only vote that has value from this school of thought if you take it to its extreme, is an election where there is a tie, and your ballot will break the deadlock.

Voting in a population as large as ours is a symbolic act. The 2000 presidential election, the closest one on record, was decided by the 537 vote margin in the state of Florida. Those 537 ballots, lawyers argued fell within a margin of error where there needed to be another recount. If 537 votes could easily be misread, what difference does one vote make?

One vote is a voice saying I will not support two flawed candidates who promise war, just because this is what the Republican and Democratic parties served up. Yes, Donald Trump might model his rhetoric on some weird combination of Richard Nixon, Benito Mussolini, and Andrew Dice Clay. He is most probably the Anti-Christ he presents himself to be, but  in good conscience neither can I back a candidate in Hillary Clinton who promises in her Democratic Convention speech “we will strike their sanctuaries from the air, and support local forces taking them out on the ground.” Previously she bragged how as Secretary of State she wanted to get more aggressive in Libya and Syria and most famously voted as a Senator to go to war in Iraq.

In protest I will vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein for President even though she has zero chance of winning. Contrary to the political slogan a vote for a third party candidate is not a vote for Trump.

A vote for Trump is a vote for Trump.

If enough liberals make the same principled act and if enough conservatives vote for the Libertarian Party, perhaps in the next election the major political parties will take notice and give us options where we do not have to vote for the lesser of two evils.

Pain Killer – A Short Story

I had been to doctors, physical therapists, yoga classes, and chiropractors, none could help with my back. On the best days it was uncomfortable, on the worst I am at a lack of words to describe. It had become an ever present weight, one that had me swallowing pills wholesale and saving up money for an experimental surgery. So I was open minded when a man stopped me as I limped away from the counter with a cup of coffee.

“That looks painful,” he said. I contorted my body to fit into the booth and managed a smile that my pain could be acknowledged.

“What do the doctors say?” he asked before recognition seemed to creep into the eyes behind his rimless glasses. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude. It’s just I recently recovered from an injury that looks quite similar to what you’re suffering.”

“Really?” Months earlier I might have been cynical that he was trying to sell me something, but I had grown desperate and was willing to buy whatever anyone was offering.

“Yes. My hip was out of whack quite like yours and my shoulder was lower and I’m sorry, just looking at you is bringing back terrible memories.”

“How did you heal?”

“I found a doctor.”

“Can I have his name?”

“Yes, of course.” There was a long pause. It felt long anyway. “I must warn you that he is not a conventional doctor.”

“Is it reiki? Acupuncture?”

“It is unique. Dr. Woh works in realms that I have never been exposed to. But his his results are for me anyway, extraordinary. And his price…”

“If he can heal me, I will pay any price.” I said it and I meant it. The man who then introduced himself as Stephen Lyme gave me Dr. Woh’s address. On the train ride home I looked for evidence of Dr. Woh’s existence on the internet, there was none. Instead I found on-line profiles for Stephen Lyme, For the last year he looked a man of 35 in fantastic health, but the pictures from a year earlier portrayed misery. His spine was askew in a grotesque manner. In the dozens of photographs the camera could never seem to grasp him with a genuine smile.

After work the next afternoon with my pain being on what I would describe to doctors on a scale of 1 to 10 at a 6, I made the trek uptown. I tried to hope for the best and expect the worst, but as I walked down the stairs to the door marked 7707 I could not help but feel I was wasting my time. This looked more a dingy basement apartment than the office of a miracle worker.

But still I knocked.

Nothing.

I saw a buzzer and rang it. When I lifted my hand to knock again the door opened.

An older man opened the door with a beard reminiscent of alfalfa sprouts. I was about to ask if he was Dr. Woh when he spoke in an English accent. “You are not well.”

“No, Dr. Woh.” I was unsure what to say next so I apologized, “I’m not sure, is that the right way to pronounce your name?”

“Come inside.” He rushed me in and placed his hands on my hips trying to push them into alignment. Of course they would not stay settled. “This is bad. Rotten.”

I looked around. The bookcases and the desk and the futon couch made it evident this was a basement apartment, but I asked anyway, “Do you need to see my insurance card?”

Again he did not answer my question. “This looks very painful.”

“It is.” I assured him.

“Would you like treatment?”

“Yes! I mean, what would that entail?” He poked my leg with his bony finger then traced up toward my stomach. “Forgive me for asking so many questions, but I’d like to know what I’m getting into. I have limited funds and…”

“You can pay me what you think is fair.”

“That sounds… fair. Yes, I would like you to treat me. Please.”

He turned to open a door I did not notice was there. We walked in and he began lighting candles until I could see there was a red circle painted on the floor with a star in it.

“Is that a pentagram?” I asked.

“Yes, you have a demon within you and I must pull him out. Please, step into the star.”

I did as he said. he began speaking, nearly singing in a language I did not understand but imagined to be Asian. Chinese? Japanese? Korean? I could not say. I tried not to stare as he hopped up on one foot, but then he kicked me right in the stomach and I began to vomit. Green, black, and brown liquids spewed out of my mouth. As I was coughing and spitting and letting out all this bile, Dr. Woh was carefully collecting my refuse and jarring them in glass containers.

“You maniac!” I shouted out along with a litany of curse words when Dr Woh pointed out something I had not realized.

“How is your back?”

Not only was I standing upright, but there was no pain, no discomfort. “What did you do? How did you do that?”

“You had a demon within you. I took him out.”

“That is it?”

“I must dispose of him properly or else it might return, but yes otherwise this demon is done with you.”

“So there are no follow ups, no anything I should know?” he said nothing merely twisted the lids of each jar with great care. I went into my wallet and gave him everything I had knowing full well that was not enough. Even if the pain came back later that night or the next day, he gave me what no other treatment could provide, a moment of peace. “Thank you, doctor.”

He accepted the money and said nothing else.Then he opened one door and then another and I walked out into the night air. Or perhaps I walked on the night air. I was confused. I felt free and was unsure how to express my good health. I decided to click my heels the way they did in old movies. Even on the landing I felt fine. A jogger almost ran into me and I decided to follow him.

I felt fine. I felt great. There was an awning just out of arm’s reach I took a couple steps and leaped and touched it. This was remarkable. Life for so long had been a burden, now it felt like a blessing. There was so much to do. Old friends to see who had undoubtedly given up on me after so many turned down invitations. Places to visit that seemed too much of a trouble due to my affliction, I could now frequent. Genres of lifestyle like adventure, romance, and even comedy now seemed within my reach.

Then one day I saw him. The smile, the love for life was gone, his hair unkempt and his eyes staring down at the sidewalk. Most distressingly he was dependent on a cane. “Stephen!” I called to him. He did not look up so I stood in his path. “Stephen Lyme.”

He looked me up and down and managed a, “Hello”.

I did not know how to address his ill health, so I ignored it, a response I loathed when I was the one in pain. “I’m so glad I ran into you. You were right. Dr. Woh was a miracle worker. I’m off to play tennis now. Tennis! Can you believe it?”

“Yes. Yes, I can.”

“Is everything OK with you?”

Hunched over he looked at me like the idiot I was. “No.”

“What about Dr. Woh? Can he help you?”

“Dr. Woh’s services are too expensive for me at this point.”

“I’d be happy to lend you money. It’s the least I can do. Your recommendation improved my life in ways—“

“Excuse me,” he said as he limped past me. “It was good to see you, but I must make my way to the pharmacy.”

It was an odd exchange, but one I did not ponder too deeply. I was too occupied tasting fruits that had been kept away from me. I began exchanging flirtations with Jayne in accounting and looked into a weekend flight to New Orleans.

Then one morning the pain returned. Not a gradual tweak, but rather a full and excruciating reversal. After pushing myself off the ground and devouring whatever pills I still had at my disposal I took the trip toward Dr. Woh.

I knocked at his door.

No answer.

I knocked harder. Still no answer. There was no phone number or e-mail to reach him at so I sat, until I had to lie down at his curb. Hours later the door opened and I stood up with great difficulty. “Come in,” he said immediately.

Without him asking I expressed how the pain had returned. He said nothing until I begged, “I need you to do what you did before.”

“What I did before was what you would call a one time only—“

I interrupted. “I understand you must charge me. I will pay any price.”

He looked at me. A deep look. “You are desperate for good reason. This demon you have attracted will not be so easily fooled.” He stepped into the pentagram room. I quickly followed. He turned on an awful avant-garde music as he lit his candles.

He motioned for me to sit where I sat before and then left the room. I counted the seconds and then the minutes until he cured my agony. He returned with a jar that he handed me. In it was a little white mouse, the kind they use in laboratories or that you buy in a pet store to feed a snake. “As I thought this demon is not receptive to the same methods. It requires blood.”

I knew where this was going, but refused to believe it even as he handed me a knife. “I need to kill him?”

“Yes, and you must drink his blood.”

I wish, not truly, but more for reasons of empathy, that you could feel what duress I was under before you judge me. Perhaps then you would not consider what I did next as harshly. I behaved like a man lost in the desert who came across an oasis. Maybe it was all a mirage and the water I was drinking was just sand, but I had to try. I took the knife to the rodent’s throat and swallowed until there was nothing left.

I could not tell you at what point the creature stopped squirming because immediately the nausea kicked in. I spat out that black, brown gruesome tar and as I regained my senses I felt fantastic again.

I thanked Dr. Woh profusely. He did not smile. He knew much better than I that the cure was temporary.

Whereas before I was healed for months, this time it was only weeks until I needed to visit him again. I came prepared, stopping at a pet store and purchasing one of those mice. Dr. Woh shook his head and directed me toward  a restaurant’s kitchen where I paid for a rooster. It is true what they say about the bird, it does continue to move after you cut its head off.

The next healing or exorcism or whatever you should call it involved a snake. The following one required a cat. I did not feel as badly as you would think about slaughtering a dog as I could touch my toes again afterward.

As I stretched I felt the need to ask Dr. Woh what would be next. Would I require a horse or a monkey maybe? It was worse.

“The next step will require human blood.”

I thought long and hard about who I might be able to coerce into aiding my well being. I figured I could offer some vagrant money to follow me into the pentagram. Perhaps it would require drugs. I told Dr. Woh, “That will not be a problem. Next time you see me I will have the proper sacrifice—“

Before I could fully finish the sentence I felt the sharp blade of his knife puncture my throat. As my insides seeped out Dr. Woh feasted on my blood.

Turned out I was not the only one to suffer from back pain.

 

Ghosts of Basketball Courts Past

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Every so often I drag my old bones out to a basketball court and try to relive the glory days. I tell myself I’m just going to shoot around since I’ve got a fragile back, but inevitably someone asks me to play a game. Hoisting an orange ball toward a metal rim you find yourself in the company of people you might never talk to. Now I’m an elder statesman, but it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was one of the young whippersnappers.

Those years when I spent every possible moment on a basketball court, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, most of the regulars were my age or a few years older, but there were a few oddball adults. There was Jerry who must have been six foot six and looked like an eagle and John Lithgow had a lovechild and there was Paul, a foul mouthed guy who if you left him open long enough would pretend to pick his nose before he took the shot.

As the years passed and basketball went from an obsession to a hobby to something I rarely do, I can’t say I thought too much about either of them. But not too long ago I heard that Paul had passed away.

Hearing he died kind of jarred all these conversations over the years we had loose. I think most of this dialogue was after my first year of college. I was supposed to have gotten a job that summer, but I was thrifty enough to avoid one and spent the afternoons playing basketball. Paul who had kids just a few years younger than me felt comfortable giving me advice beyond putting more arc on my jump shot. I remember him telling me (his fellow Jew) that Miami would be a great place to live if it weren’t for all the Jews and Cubans. I also remember him telling me it was better to live in nature than in the city, because cities you eventually get bored of, while in nature there’s always something new, a new swimming hole, a new trail to walk.

I remember us making a bet about the NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls had just won a record number of games and I bet him ten dollars that the Bulls would win the best of seven series in five games or less. The Bulls won the first three games and my bet looked good, but then somehow lost the next two games, before closing the series out in six. In other words I lost the bet and as a thrifty guy without a summer job, I wasn’t too unhappy that I didn’t run into him at the courts before I went back to school.

When I made it back the next summer he was never there. I don’t know if I asked what happened to him or it just came up, but the story was he got in an argument when he called a foul. The opponent disagreed about the call and punched Paul square in the face. I had seen Paul get obnoxious in games, one time he didn’t like a call and punted the ball fifty feet away, but as an eccentric character he could get away with it. This time that wasn’t the case. He didn’t fight back, he left the game and walked off the court never to return. There were disputing stories of who threw the punch. But I’d like to think it wasn’t one of the regulars.

That was almost twenty years ago.

Now when I go out to the courts and I’m the one dispelling wayward youths unsolicited wisdom, I kind of marvel at however slow the days might go, how fast the years pass. Off the top of my head I don’t have too many regrets, but one is that I skipped out on the ten bucks I owed Paul. Now I’ll have to wait until the game in the big basketball court in the sky to pay my debt.

Puppet Pigs and Escalators

I once thought when I had kids I would never let them watch TV.  But like many well intentioned bohemian dreams, reality put  a dent in that ambition. Toddlers are like drunks in so many ways, but mostly in the amount of energy you have to put into keeping them out of trouble. And so I often give my two year old my phone and let her pick her viewing pleasures. She likes watching videos of people opening play-doh packages and uncovering toys. She loves British cartoons like Little Princess and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.

Her favorite though is Peppa Pig. Peppa is an English animated pig with a Daddy, Mommy, and little brother George. They jump around in muddy puddles or visit their grandparents. They have adventures or they don’t, and every five minute episode ends with all the characters falling on their backs laughing uproariously. My daughter can name all the characters and has even taken to speaking in Peppa’s British accent.

When I heard that there was a touring live stage show of Peppa Pig’s Big Spalsh coming to the Fillmore, I pitched to my editor that I could write about taking my daughter to the show. I figured it would make an entertaining story and at the same time make me the #1 Dad in her eyes, at least until the next time I take the phone away from her.

So Saturday afternoon I woke her from her nap, packed the backpack with a couple snacks and took the short drive to the Lincoln Road parking lot where half of South Florida’s toddler population had parents with the same idea. With all the concerts I’d attended at the Fillmore, it was jarring to see strollers, diaper bags, and cotton candy being passed around instead of joints.

We got to our seats exactly at 5:00 which was showtime according to the ticket. My daughter placed her doll on the part of the seat she wasn’t occupying. She was amazed by all the action taking place around her. The kids her age and those a little older, the massive room and the red curtains on the stage. She was in awe until I could see she wasn’t. I looked at my phone. It was 5:15 and I started having flashbacks from our first trip to the movie theater. We had gotten there early and by the time the feature started she was already saying, “Go home Daddy. Go home!” But since that time she’s gotten older and her parents have grown wiser. Mommy told me to pack some chips, they would distract her and they did.

At 5:20 the lights dimmed, and the curtains rose. There was a Crayola hued set and the Peppa Pig theme song played. A woman dressed as a kid in overalls who introduced herself as Daisy came on to the stage and screamed “Where are all my friends?” Life sized puppets of Suzy Sheep and Pedro Pony  giggled as they came into view from the bushes they were hiding behind to the crowd’s delight. But there was still no Peppa. Daisy suggested to the crowd, “Maybe if we scream her name she’ll come out. One… two… three… Peppa Pig!” We did that several times. My daughter turned and smiled at me every time she yelled “Peppa Pig”. Out came Peppa. My daughter clapped like she was having the time of her young life and then began the show’s first point of tension. The late arriving crew sitting in front of us took their seats. My daughter started moving her head trying to see, I stuck her on my lap, but then it came, “Go home Daddy! Go home!”

I tried to distract her. “Look, it’s Mr. Bull!”

“Go home Daddy! Go home!”

I took out the chips, but she pushed them away. “Go home Daddy! Go home! Go home Daddy! Go home!”

This is another example of how drunk friends are good training for parenthood. you have to save these toddlers from themselves. If we were to go home, there would be no life size animal puppets. So we went into the lobby and took a few rides up and down the escalators until that thrill ebbed and returned to find some empty seats with clear views ahead of them. We got back just in time to jump up and down to help get George’s toy dinosaur out of a tree. We missed how it got up there, but I don’t think it was too important for plot purposes.

The plot from what I could piece together was that there was a hole in the school’s roof and Peppa and her friends threw a fair to raise money to fix the roof. There was a scene with talking pineapples that had the parents behind me joking in a South American accent about LSD.  At this point I got a little distracted because my daughter began swinging from the waist high bar in front of us. She’s not the toddler equivalent of the friend who when they get drunk passes out, she’s the one who dances on the tables.

Daisy on the stage asked for more jumping. My daughter would not disappoint. They asked for more cheering. She screamed, ran ten feet away and screamed again. I looked around the room.  Keeping up was not just my struggle. It was pandemonium. This must have been like when Rome was sacked by barbarians. When the kids got at their craziest, the show called it quits. My daughter saw everyone clapping, put her doll down and joined in the clapping. As we walked out of the theater the two of us spoke about what we saw. We recounted Peppa and her Daddy jumping in muddy puddles and all the fun hi-jinks we witnessed.

When we got home Mommy (her Mommy not Mommy Pig) asked our daughter how the evening and the show was.

In a British accent she answered. “Daddy and I went on an escalator.”

We all fell on our backs and laughed uproariously.

2016

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Every new year I head into it thinking this is going to be my year.

2016, the Chinese year of the red fire monkey, I’m taking a different philosophy. This will be my tax write-off of a year.

Too often I raise expectations thinking a new calendar will make all the difference and come January I will have grand epiphanies, memorable accomplishments, and carve some ambition into my lazy bones. By February it becomes clear that all my thoughts have been recycled, my actions have had no meaning, and the only carving I’ve done is an imprint of my buttocks into the couch.

2016 will be different.

I will expect nothing.

2017 will be my year.