I Can’t

My kids and their generation have co-opted much of the slang from my day and changed its meaning, and rendering it useless lest I choose to be ridiculed mercilessly. They have also created some new slang which is equally confusing. One such term is “I can’t”, which appears in the Urban Dictionary six times, but basically means “This is beyond description.” As a writer, I take this expression to mean “I am incapable of verbally communicating my thoughts due to too much texting and tweeting.”
Recently, I was on my way to the supermarket when I received a call from my daughter, Abby. She’s 23, but as a father, I still get worried when she calls during the work day. After she assured me that there was no crisis, she asked what I was doing. I replied that I was doing nothing, which is typical since I lost my job a year earlier. Abby told me that her friend Cassandra was stuck at the airport and asked if I could go pick her up. This is most unusual in that my daughter lives and works in Orlando, some 220 miles from the Ft. Lauderdale Airport.
Abby and Cassandra have been friends since High School. Cassandra defies description. She must be experienced to be better understood. She is attractive, but not strikingly so, yet seems striking in that she wears the type of clothing that most people cannot wear. The garments that look great on the mannequin, but expose your every flaw just work on Cassandra. She is a singer and actress, who has been to our home on many occasions and each time she instantly became the center of attention. This attention is not in the dramatic or obnoxious way one might expect. She somehow makes everyone feel special just having been in her presence.
When I arrived at the terminal to pick her up, she was on crutches due to a recent foot injury. I placed her suitcase in my car and we headed back to Coral Springs. She asked how my wife and I were doing as well as Abby’s two siblings. After I finished with my stories, I asked why she had been in Houston. As is not uncommon, she began with, “Well this is quite a tale.” It seems that during her job on as a performer on a cruise ship, she met a young man and they shared a drink. This man named Harry, was apparently quite taken with Cassandra and asked to see her socially. She explained that this was forbidden on the ship and that she could only see him in port. He explained that he was spending an extra day with a friend in Quebec where the cruise ended. The ship had a one day layover, so she agreed to spend the day with him.
Now for me, this is already sounding like the plot of a Meg Ryan or John Cusack rom-com from the eighties, but is fairly tame by Cassandra standards. The two have a wonderful time in Quebec and continue to write long emails to one another. Harry asks her to come visit him in his hometown of Houston for a long weekend to see if anything develops. In the interim, Cassandra had fractured her foot and was in South Florida on a leave of absence from the cruise line. She decided to take him up on his offer. While in Houston, she meets his family and Harry seems to be getting a little too serious. I was reminded of Auntie Mame’s visit to the Burnside Plantation. By the time that Harry’s Grandfather takes them all to the opera, Cassandra is working on her exit strategy.
Cassandra adds that Harry invited his friend and physical therapist, Tom to the opera as well. When Harry steps out of the car to pick something up, Cassandra looks at Tom and somehow, he immediately knows that something is wrong. Cassandra tells Tom her concerns about Harry. Ever the loyal friend, Tom tells Cassandra that she should be honest with Harry and that Tom will be happy to let her stay at his place if needed. Cassandra cannot get an earlier flight, so she tells Harry the truth. At this point, I’m expecting the next part of the story to include a body with its throat cut found in a ditch, but this is Cassandra. Harry actually thanks her for her honesty, still buoyant from the brief time they had together. She tells him that she has a friend to stay with in the area and asks him to drop her off at a local Starbucks.
Tom picks Cassandra up at the Starbucks and takes her to his place. He gives her his bedroom and takes the sofa. In the morning, he makes her a fabulous breakfast and they spend the day together having a wonderful time. If this is starting to sound familiar, you are not alone. I think to myself, “I’ll bet not one person in a thousand has one adventure like this in their life, and Cassandra is working on her second one of the weekend.”
Tom apparently spent three years in L. A. as a working actor and they have a tremendous amount in common. He takes Cassandra out on a wonderful dinner-date and they spend the rest of the evening making out. Thankfully, Cassandra told this part of the story using terminology that someone of my generation could understand.
She flew back to Florida in the morning. When her planned ride texted to inform her that he couldn’t make it, she called Abby, here I am. Cassandra asked me to drop her off at our local Starbucks where she would wait for one of her parents to pick her up after work. Her mention of Starbucks immediately brought to mind all of the Star Trek episodes I’ve seen with time loops. I quickly shook Cassandra’s pixie dust out of my head and squeezed the steering wheel a little more tightly. When we arrived in the parking lot, Cassandra had a change of heart and asked me to drop her at the sushi place instead. I thought for a moment about joining her, but I was already exhausted. I brought her bag into the restaurant and helped her into the dimly-lit bar. She thanked me with a hug and I headed out. Before leaving, I looked back. All I could think of was the first paragraph of a pulp novel.
I walked in to the bar as much to get out of the rain as to have a drink. I spotted her right away at the far end. She was out of place in this dive. Normally the suitcase or the crutches would have piqued my interest, but it was the way she carried herself that I found most intriguing…
I got into my car and headed to my original destination. I wanted to let Abby know that I completed my errand of mercy successfully. In the supermarket parking lot, I tried to compose a text explaining my experience. I found myself at a loss for words. Ultimately, I settled on two.
I can’t.

© Copyright 2013 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Itis

My son is a senior in college, so we speak infrequently. I raised him well enough that he stays out of trouble and manages his finances well. As a result, he never calls me. When I do decide to call him, it’s usually between 4:30 and 5:30 PM trying to find a time between his work and classes, and my Early Bird dinner and NCIS. During the rare conversations when he actually picks up the phone, he often mentions having “The Itis”.  It’s at this point that I realize that he only picked up the call because he was in too deep of a stupor to screen it.

“The Itis” is defined in The Urban Dictionary as the drowsy feeling you get after a big meal. Unlike Thanksgiving, where bingeing is combined with tryptophan, a sleep inducing chemical found in turkey, the itis is all about excess. Of course, my son and his generation misuse the term as they do for most of the English language, applying the itis to all forms of bingeing behavior including binge studying, binge drinking, binge tv watching and God only knows what else. What primarily struck me as odd, however, was his use of the definite article “The” in front of the ailment.

I thought about the fact that some diseases or medical conditions seem to be naturally preceded by an article or pronoun while many are not. I recalled my friend Jimmy recently mentioning to me that he had “The Gout”. Instead of commiserating, or asking if it would affect our golf outings, I immediately said, “Dude, Ben Franklin had the gout. I’m pretty sure that you just have gout.” Since golf was out due to Jimmy’s writhing in pain, I decided to look more deeply into this phenomenon.

I have the flu.

I have a cold.

I have cancer.

I suppose if people were to still use influenza rather than flu, they would drop the article. I’m also not sure why it was shortened from four syllables to one. While it is mildly expedient, we do not call leukemia “the Luke” or “the Keem” or impetigo “the Tige”. Also you take a flu shot to prevent the flu. Since it is a specific vaccine to prevent many types of flu, shouldn’t it be “you take the flu shot to prevent a flu?”

There are other difficulties with the definite (the) and indefinite (a) articles. We tend to say that “My kid has the measles”, or “My kid has the mumps” even though it’s unlikely that they have only one, yet one might specify “I’ve got a bum ticker” as though they are relieved to have another as a backup. Hemorrhoids are always plural and are unmodified, while “the red” ass is singular and always uses the definite article. Diarrhea is unmodified, but we say “the trots”, or “the runs”.

Sometimes the specificity of the ailment affects its usage. I am not referring to borderline ailments like “the hiccups” or colloquial euphemisms like “the heebie-jeebies”.  You’d say “I have syphilis”, or “I have gonorrhea”, but if you were being general, you’d say “I have the clap”. I’m pretty sure that either “I have crabs” or “I have the crabs” is acceptable.

I have also found that certain pronouns tend to become attached to particular maladies.  I’m not talking about new-age pronoun usage like “we’re pregnant”. I mean true medical emergencies such as “Doctor, I have this rash”, or “I have this discharge”.

When discussing this with my friend Tyrone, he pointed out that age was not the only factor affecting the way people referred to health-related terms. He said that all of his relatives in or from the South always modify diabetes as “sugar diabetes”. While I do not feel this has the homespun quaintness of “sweet tea”, it seems to include a warning or treatment option in its redundancy. Calling lung cancer “the smoke cancer” certainly would not be less of a deterrent.

I can imagine a conversation between a young doctor from Connecticut doing his residency in a rural Arkansas hospital and an older patient.

“So tell me a little bit about your medical history Mr. Pickett. Do you mind if I call you Cletus?”

“That’d be fine Dr. Steen-burg. I got the sugar diabetes and a touch of the gout, least when it rains a lot.”

“What about your parents?”

“Well, my Daddy died from a bacon stroke.”

“And your Mother?”

“She rolled the tractor clean into the irrigation pond. We never found out was it her heart, the fall, or the drownin’ that killed her. She did have the Crisco coronary artery disease, I reckon.”

“I see. Well, I’m going to need you to stand up and cough for me.”

“Son, I don’t know much about doctorin’, but if you’re thinkin’ ‘bout puttin’ them there fingers on these here testicles, you’re gonna hafta order up a few more doctors.”

I found a few more to add to my list.

The plague

The DTs

The gunshot wound

A fever

A migraine

A coma

This itch

These spots

That virus

I’ll leave it up to you to continue my research. Quite frankly, I’ve got the itis. I hope I can make it to NCIS Los Angeles.

© Copyright 2013 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

First Gift

My first gift to my Mother-in-law was somewhat unplanned.

I met my future wife in college even though we had spent four previous Thanksgivings together without realizing it.  We went to rival High Schools for four years prior to meeting.  She was in the band front and I played the saxophone in the marching band.  Our schools played every year on Thanksgiving.  I was a pacifist from Lakewood and she twirled a rifle for Toms River South.  Had we met earlier, it is unlikely we would have hit it off.

Eventually, on a weekend that we both came home, I went to her house to have dinner with her Mother.  I had arrived before Marie got home from work and my future bride, Theresa handed me the remote so I might watch some TV while she worked in the kitchen.  I flipped for a few minutes before coming across a cartoon show.  I have been a fan of cartoons my whole life, particularly the work of the masters such as Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Wile E. Coyote.  A cartoon came on that I had never seen before.  Later research told me that the cartoon was called “Bad Luck Blackie”, which has since been banned due to an offensive title.  The “Blackie” refers to a black cat and the “bad luck” is a central theme to this animated classic.

The thing that was particularly noteworthy about this cartoon was that it contained a level of violence so severe that Pharaoh, himself would have considered it to be gratuitous.  It begins with a large dog, a typical cartoon bulldog type, who is abusing a cute and tiny white kitten.  Actually, abuse might be too mild of an adjective as the level of malice shown by the dog would easily warrant a TVMA rating by today’s standards for sadism.  At one point, the dog appears to show mercy by giving the cat a bowl of milk as an act of contrition.  Alas, by the third lick, the poor kitten finds a rather large mousetrap smashed onto its tiny tongue.

Eventually Blackie makes his entrance and hands the kitten a whistle.  He explains that when the whistle is blown, he will appear and cross the path of the dog bringing him an appropriate dose of bad luck.  The resultant bad luck always comes in the form of an object falling from the sky and slamming into the head of the offending canine.  The story continues this way and though there are a few reversals of fortune to introduce some themes of Karma and justice, the real entertainment is the escalation of objects falling onto heads.

Starting with a flowerpot, a cash register and a steamer trunk, the sequence quickly escalates to an upright piano, a horse and several dozen bricks.  This is followed by a fire hydrant, a safe and the hackneyed, but obligatory anvil.  This little morality play ends with the dog swallowing the whistle.  This causes a spasm of hiccups resulting in his own personal hell of running through the countryside trying to avoid a continuing barrage including a bathtub, a steamroller, an airplane, a school bus and a battleship.

What makes this cartoon noteworthy is that from the first act of violence, I began to laugh…out loud.  Not only that, but the volume and duration of my laughter escalated with each act of violence on the screen.  Theresa came out to see what was going on, and about halfway through the cartoon, her mother arrived, eager to meet me.  When Theresa tried to introduce her mother, I was only able to hold up my hand as I literally was doubled over with glee.  After it was over, I made a feeble attempt to explain, but these were not cartoon people.  My future Mother-in-law was clearly confused, but was also polite as always.  By the end of the evening, I was able to convince her that I was at worst, eccentric and that her daughter was not dating someone with a mental handicap.

Anyway, back to the gift, that came later.  Marie was a hard working woman who had a domineering father, and an abusive and alcoholic husband and a minimal education.  She often held three jobs to provide her three children with all that she could and even a little more.  She sacrificed more than anyone I know and these sacrifices left her too often somber and just plain worn out.  We have very few photos of her even smiling.  Still, at any family gathering, where the subject of first meetings came up, she had a story.  This story never failed to get Marie to smile and even more, to laugh out loud.  I never meant it as a gift, but nevertheless, it was the first and other than grandchildren, the best I could ever give.

© Copyright 2013 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Pumpkin Time

Recently I was in Orlando with my wife on a combination business trip and visit with one of our daughters.  We were going out for breakfast and chose a place called First Watch.  My daughters have both recommended the place, and had taken my wife there previously.  They have rarely steered me wrong, so I decided to forgo the sure thing, the Florida Waffle at Keke’s, and give it a try.

Well, the red flags were already flying before entering the restaurant.  Quinoa was prominent on the specials board as were whole grain and wheat germ.  What I missed was quickly brought to my attention when my wife squealed, “Ooh, pumpkin pancakes!”  My head was still spinning as we took our seats.  I tried to peruse the menu, but was distracted by my wife rubbing her hands together like Beelzebub zeroing in on a juicy soul.  Chicken sausage with apples, power bowls, crimini, and muesli, it reminded me of having to arrive at school at 7:00 AM to take the SATs.

I settled on the whole grain blueberry pancakes while my wife enthusiastically ordered the pumpkin special.  The waitress/spirit guide shared a moment with her as though they had a lifetime of understanding and I just didn’t get it.  I was in no position to argue.

The part that puzzled me the most was my wife’s reaction to the pumpkin.  She is by no means a stoic, but is generally genteel and reserved, polite and poised.  Now she was acting like a first-year defensive back who just returned an interception for a touchdown.  As a compliance officer, she is the ultimate rule follower and now she sits across from me doing the “raise the roof” thing with her arms…in public.

I suppose I should have seen the signs.  About a week earlier, we stopped in a Dunkin Donuts and they had just put out the first pumpkin donuts of the season.  She bypassed all of the jelly, icing, creme and custard in deference to the plain orange ring that looked like it belonged on that Fischer Price baby stacking toy.  Look, she can eat whatever she wants, but upon returning to the car, she immediately texted her sister and our three children to let them know that the magic donuts were back.  They all immediately texted back their excitement along with their individual plans to race to their local shop.  It was as if they created the Andrew Jackson donut, and every 99 cent pastry came with a $20 bill baked inside.

Another curiosity regarding my wife’s pumpkin fetish is the fact that I have prepared nearly every meal she has eaten in the past 35 years and did about 98% of the food shopping.  Not once during any of that did I hear her say, “Honey, how about some pumpkin for dinner tonight?”, or “Sweetie, I added pumpkin to the shopping list.  I notice that we are nearly out.”  I’m not sure that pumpkin is even meant to be food.  In my experience, it is a decoration.  I’ve carved dozens of pumpkins in my day and prepared nearly 50,000 meals.  I couldn’t even tell you what part of the pumpkin is the food part.  I label the parts as seeds, eyes, nose, mouth and scalp.  Legend has it that some poor decapitated fool in upstate New York even used one as a substitute head.

Have you ever driven past an apple orchard or cornfield and thought, however briefly, “It would be cool to pull over and pick a fresh one.”?  Well, I have driven by a few pumpkin patches in my day and never thought of food.  Even our early settlers only ate pumpkin because of their ease of capture.  They sit on the ground rather than in trees, they have the opposite of camouflage, and are large enough to be found from a distance.  The Puritans were not of the heartiest stock, being able to outrun only the turkey.  They just happened to run out of food during pumpkin season while being winded from all of the turkey chasing.

Maybe it’s a marketing thing.  There are plenty of seasonal treats.  Still, we do not restrict our chocolate consumption to Valentine’s Day or Easter.  I can have eggnog or turkey any time I want.  It’s as though someone invented a taste sensation for just, say, Yom Kippur.  “You can’t eat, so try crack on Yom Kippur.  It’ll give you what to atone for.”  Pumpkin is my wife’s once a year crack fix.

Our waitress returns to check on our meal.  “How is everything?” she asks.  My wife giddily reports that she couldn’t be happier and I nod as I chew through a bite of pancake with the consistency of particle board.  Apparently this is not good enough for Tinkerbell and she asks me directly.  The best I can do is to swallow hard and rasp out, “You can really taste the whole grain.”  After she leaves, my wife gives me her best “Well I never” stinkeye and says, “You didn’t have to say it like that.”  I nod in contrition, but I’m secretly smiling on the inside.  The fever is gone.  My wife is back!

© Copyright 2013 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.