First Gift (A throwback from 2013)

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.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Corona7:05 AM

Something is different this morning. Yes, my wife is, as usual, sitting up in bed checking her phone. But on this fine March morning, she has deviated from her usual annoying habit of telling me the temperature outside and the temperature where each of our children are living. It’s one of those endearing…actually annoying things people do. My friend Tyrone lives in New Jersey and frequently asks my how much gas costs here in the Triangle of North Carolina as though he might drive eleven hours to save fifteen cents per gallon. What was different today was that my dear wife was giving me a series of news updates on the coronavirus.

This probably is something that previous generations dealt with from time to time. I’m sure my grandparents listened to the morning radio news for updates on the Depression and World War II. My parents were probably glued to their TV screens during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember watching the Today Show every morning during which Frank Blair would update us on the Vietnam War. Even my kids check their online newsfeed every day to keep abreast of the issues that are important to them…like who was revealed on the last episode of The Masked Singer.

8:55 AM

We were headed to a local Bagel place to pick up egg sandwiches to take to a senior living community in nearby Apex. No, we were not going there to feed anyone, rather, we were going to have our taxes done for free by the AARP group. We were going early to get in front of the line as seniors are both early and slow. We figured it was better to sit in the lobby and have breakfast so we’d get out before next year’s tax season.

We passed the hospital along the way and my wife gave a little wave as we passed by. I asked her what that was all about and she said her friend and co-worker was having surgery that day. I asked why she wasn’t at the hospital, and she said, “Are you nuts? That’s the worst place you can be. The hospital is crawling with germs.” She then continued to regale me with a dizzying array of statistics about coronavirus including its spread, impact, incubation and parallels with the flu.

Part of this indoctrination includes the importance of touching your face. There is a rather hilarious video compilation of disease experts, newspersons and politicians speaking at news conferences explaining this and then almost immediately and overtly touching their own faces. It’s kind of like introducing a Gun Control bill while on safari hunting black rhinos.

For some reason, as she is explaining this to me, I mention that she must have touched her face when applying the makeup she is wearing. I also may have mentioned that it seemed that she may have over-applied it this morning. My tactlessness aside, I assured her that I only mentioned it because it rarely happens and it reminded me of the waitress we had in Charlotte last weekend who was surprisingly overly made up for someone so young. This seemed to successfully change the subject, but when I looked up from my phone, she was rubbing her face as though Barack and Michelle Obama popped in unexpectedly during her minstrel show. Mental note…too much makeup overrides health protocols.

9:20 AM

As we walk from the car toward the lobby of the “The Home”, we see an elderly woman coming out wearing a mask. This is the type of mask that has been determined to be completely useless against coronavirus, but still is being hoarded by profiteers and the paranoid. “Wouldn’t this place be almost as bad as a hospital?”, I wonder.

9:30 AM

While we wait, my wife is listing the companies in Seattle that are closing for the next month and allowing people to work at home. She also is reading about how the airline industry is getting murdered since people are reluctant to fly. This is relevant as our daughter in Charlotte is scheduled to fly to Seattle in two weeks to visit her brother, who lives there in the Ballard section. This is starting to concern us.

Westchester County: Man with virus goes to temple. Now dozens are in quarantine.

New Hampshire: Man leaves quarantine to go to event at Dartmouth College.

Seattle: CenturyLink Field vendor test positive for virus.

Now, I am quite confident that my daughter is unlikely to set foot in a temple, and Ivy League campus or an XFL game, but eventually this disease is surely going to make it into brew pubs.

11:45 AM

Our taxes are done and we’re getting a few bucks back. As much as I’d like to needle my wife with a “Thank God for Trump”, I’m already in the doghouse over the makeup comment. I check my Facebook feed and notice a post from a former student who is now a professor in Seattle. He mentioned to someone that he prefers to get his coronavirus information from legitimate scientific sources rather than the media. As a result, the person somehow compared my friend’s approach to acting like Donald Trump. As this clearly made no sense, I was about to post to my friend, the suggestion that he not lower himself into a debate with a lunatic and ignore the bait leading to a pointless argument. Instead, I just posted on his feed, “He’s obviously been infected!!! Burn him!!!”. At least my friend will get a laugh before dying.

Regarding science vs. the fear-mongering media, we had dinner a few nights ago with my son-in-law, who has a PhD in epidemiology, which is basically the study of diseases on populations. There was good news and bad news and quite frankly, I’m not sure which was worse. While Taiwan and Vietnam seem to have put forth an efficient and effective response to the disease, Americans might be in deep doo-doo due to our shitty healthcare system, particularly for the poor, and our equally shitty employee sick-time policies, again, mostly for the poor.

We learned the flu is indeed worse than coronavirus in many ways and that our pitiful impact on fighting the flu does not bode well for this new puppy. Death from coronavirus is pretty much only a threat to those patients under 5 and over 70 years old. The original name of Coronavirus, AKA COVID-19, novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, is SARS2. Now you tell me, what was the good news?

2:25 PM

Trump declares that the coronavirus will not be as bad as reported by scientists. His findings are based on “a hunch”.

2:27 PM

Trump cancels his visit to the Center for Disease Control citing “safety concerns”. Another hunch?

4:50 PM

Princess cruise ship carrying thousands is still meandering outside San Francisco Bay as a helicopter drops testing kits. The ship spent two weeks in Mexico and Hawaii (not Asia) and has several ailing crewmembers and passengers. A passenger on the previous cruise on this ship passed away from the virus last week. My wife contacts Royal Caribbean to find out the refund policy for our upcoming cruise in September.

7:15 PM

We try to relax in front of the TV, but it’s not the same. My attempt to hold her hand is met with a spray of hand sanitizer. I gently remind my sweetheart that all of the store shelves have been stripped of this no precious elixir, and we may want to save it to spray the mail, or neighbors. She tries to stifle a cough, a remnant from her cold of last week, but she knows I heard it, and slid to the extreme edge of the sofa.

10:35 PM

We try to put all of this behind us as we snuggle into bed. We know that we will both be reading the overnight reports in the morning. At least we are in this together. We lightly give each other a good night peck before turning away and vigorously rubbing our mouths with a Lysol wipe.

The Itis (A throwback from December of 2013)

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.