I recently went to a new doctor. As usual, I arrived early (Gallant). I made several jokes to the Receptionist about the current state of medical care in America (Goofus).
I sat down in the waiting room and saw an issue of Highlights Magazine on the table in front of me. If you have ever been to a doctor or dentist in the past 72 years, you’ve probably seen a copy. If not, it is a magazine geared toward children with the subtitle, “Fun with a purpose”. Of course, I spent my formative years scanning the magazine for the porpoise.
I don’t know of anyone who personally subscribed, but it seems to be in every medical office in the country. I picked it up to see how much it had changed since my own childhood, some fifty years back. Old people do this so they can complain about it to other old people later. I was shocked to find that it hadn’t changed much at all.
The Timbertoes were still there. This was a monthly story extolling family values about a nuclear family of people that for no apparent reason are made of wood. In this episode, Mom and Dad were teaching their son and daughter how to bake cookies. I felt that teaching wooden children to stay away from the stove would be a more appropriate lesson.
Hidden Pictures was also still a staple of the magazine. It consists of a line drawing picture containing a dozen or so smaller pictures hidden in the design. Typical items to find are linear items like a spoon, fork, or knife, or an umbrella or pencil. Fish and pizza slices are also popular. I always seemed to be missing one item when called in to see the doctor. “Your boy seems tense”, he would tell my mother.
My favorite feature of Highlights was also still there. It was “Goofus and Gallant”. According to Wikipedia…Goofus and Gallant is an American children’s comic strip appearing monthly in Highlights for Children. The comic contrasts the actions of the titular characters, presenting Gallant’s actions as right and good and Goofus’s as bad and wrong.
Goofus and Gallant were depicted as two Caucasian boys whose age was depicted anywhere between five and twelve, but typically seemed to me to be about nine. I assume that the point of the comic was to depict children handling the same situation in bot a positive and negative light to show the contrast and to hopefully make it obvious that kids should choose the positive lifestyle.
Graphically, Gallant always dressed a bit better, was neater, smiled a lot, and kept his hair neat. Conversely, Goofus was a brooding, unkempt, and slovenly brat. The problem was, that as a boy, I tended to identify with Goofus. I think that part of the problem was that I have a brother who is a year older than I, and he seemed at the time to be the same type of shameless suck-up as Gallant.
I recently mentioned this to my daughter, who has a PhD in Sociology. She was surprised that I had always assumed the Goofus and Gallant were brothers. She never saw it that way. When I mentioned that the artwork depicted their parents as appearing the same, she figured it was a way to level the playing field and that it was more like alternate universes. That seemed to suggest that the real educational value would be for adults to try a find out what caused Goofus’ screwed up behavior. Keep in mind that the comic strip pre-dates Ritalin.
Even in my sibling version, I never found Goofus to be all that bad. He didn’t commit arson or anything. And Gallant, while being polite, came across as kind of a tool. I always felt that staying down the middle was sufficient for me. I recall a particular episode where Goofus throws rocks at birds, white Gallant feeds the birds.
As an adult, I would never throw rocks at birds, but as a nine-year-old? Don’t all kids do that? I once hit a neighborhood chicken in the head with a rock (cockfighting…don’t ask) and knocked it out cold. I was quite relieved when it came to and staggered away. I was considered one of the good kids. I witnessed one of the local nut-jobs drop a cinder block on a box turtle, smashing its shell.
Maybe Gallant was in clueless denial about his father’s alcoholism and tried to be extra good to gain his approval or to avoid beatings. And maybe Goofus’ anger stemmed from the fact that he witnessed his mother’s torrid affair with the pool boy and was venting anger of his own. In any case, it made me wonder where they would be today…(cue dream sequence music)…
It’s an unusually cold January and Gallant is happy to be seated in front of a hot bowl of soup. Always the optimist, he has come to find joy and comfort in small pleasures. Life has not been kind. Gallant excelled in High School and was able to use his contacts gained through volunteer work to get the best references. While he was accepted to three Ivy League schools, he decided to serve his country opting instead for West Point.
Goofus is looking over his speech for one last time. He’d just as soon get this over with as it is an unusually cold January. Goofus barely graduated high school and was trying to decide which community college would allow him the best opportunity to maximize profits from his small weed business. His draft number came up, but before he went to the Induction Center, he bribed a customer who also happened to be a podiatrist to document a severe case of heel spurs. It was enough to keep him out of the service.
Gallant graduated with honors and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He was sent to Viet Nam and was put in command of a platoon of very young men not unlike Goofus. During his two-and-a-half years in country, he heroically survived several fire fights and not so heroically, a half dozen fragging attempts by his men. He returned to a crowd of angry hippies who spit at him and called him “baby burner”.
Goofus used his brother’s transcripts to gain entry into Dartmouth and got a free ride by declaring himself as Hispanic. His drug empire flourished with the privileged clientele and he breezed through in two-and-a-half years never writing a paper or taking a single exam. Apparently, his choice of classes with young, left-wing professors worked out well for him. While his brother was in a foxhole in the jungle in Cambodia, Goofus got power-of-attorney for his parents and inherited their entire estate upon their death. The estate included several run-down apartment buildings.
After his discharge, Gallant uses his GI Bill benefits to get his bachelor’s degree at a low-end State College. He gets his teaching certificate so he can give back to the community. He marries a fellow teacher and has two kids. Money is tight with constant cuts to education. He and his wife go several years with no raises. They buy a small house.
Goofus uses strongarm tactics to force elderly tenants out of rent controlled apartments and converts the building into high-priced yuppie condos. He is asked to be on the board of a local bank, coincidentally, the same bank that just bought Gallant’s high-interest mortgage.
Gallant is fired when a disgruntled student falsely accuses him of inappropriate touching.
Goofus forecloses on Gallant’s house.
Gallant’s wife divorces him and uses the false student charm to deny him parental visitation. Gallant is now living in his car.
Goofus has Gallant’s car repossessed.
Gallant reflects on the past as he enjoys his meal at the homeless shelter. As bad has things have gone for him, he has no regrets regarding his attempts to be a good person. He looks up at the old television shared by everyone at the shelter. He watches Goofus walk toward the podium
Goofus glares condescendingly at his predecessor and his wife. He shakes hands with the Chief Justice and takes the Oath of Office to become the President of the United States.
I have been avoiding this topic due to the edgy subject matter. If you are a regular reader of my work, you are aware of the extremity of my boundaries. Even so, this is a very private subject for most people. It seems strange as pretty much everyone experiences the toilet several times per day. As a matter of fact, the only people I can think of who have an extreme sense of freedom regarding the toilet are the nearly ten percent of the U. S. population who have been incarcerated for a week or more.
What really amazes me is that the privacy issue with regard to the evacuation of waste extends well beyond the stall door. I know many people that automatically break eye contact and turn their head away when their dog stops to take a dump. When using the restroom with Carlos, a former co-worker, he would always use the stall to pee, instead of a neighboring urinal. I assumed that he had some level of public performance anxiety. I tested my theory by calling out, “You okay in there Carlos? Can’t you go with anyone watching?” It turned out that indeed he could not. It probably doesn’t help when I constantly bring it up.
We even use dozens of euphemisms to soften the blow, so to speak. We use the crude; piss, dump, crap, shit, the descriptive; leak, squirt, log, deuce, brick, the colloquial; pish, pee pee, kaka, dookie, poop, doody, the clinical; urine, stool, defecation, fecal matter, and the prim, tinkle, number one, bowel movement, number two. Feel free to send me the terms that your family used. I grew up in a pish and doody home. I asked my wife about her childhood, but after 35 years of marriage, she still won’t tell me.
This also seems odd because of the health aspects of waste evacuation. Check WebMD and you will see that urinary and colon dysfunction is a symptom of nearly every internal ailment. When I was a kid, if I complained about any physical discomfort, including a hangnail, my grandmother’s first question would always be, without fail, “When did you last move your bowels?” It was the miracle cure since I knew that the next question would be, “Has anyone seen the rectal thermometer?” The kids with perfect attendance aren’t the healthiest. They just have the most anally fixated parents.
I’ve broken down the rest of this treatise in sections so that you readers can skip any parts that you find potentially offensive or distressing. Actually, you may want to print it and leave it next to the toilet. This way, if you really hate it, you can wipe your ass with it and at least figuratively give me the lowest of reviews.
Most bathrooms look pretty much the same, but I’ve seen a few that stood out. Once at a public park to watch my son play baseball, I went to relieve myself and found the coolest urinals. They were similar in shape as the porcelain models, but these were completely made out of riveted sheet metal with sharp corners and angles. I immediately thought that they would be what I’d expect to find on a Klingon warship.
I have visited a small number of ladies rooms albeit always by accident. Usually it’s in a theme restaurant with some cutesy name replacing Men and Women. I recall a seafood place that had Buoys and Gulls. I was halfway through the crowded Gulls room before I got the bit.
My friend Tyrone is a professional driver and often works in Manhattan. Unfortunately, he also has frequent gastric issues. As a result, he has a near encyclopedic knowledge of all of the usable bathrooms in the city. He can let you know which are closest to temporary parking, which ones have attendants (Tyrone is a generous men’s room attendant tipper), and even the décor. His favorite is a hotel with floor-to-ceiling privacy doors.
Urinal decals can be a nice enhancement. I’ve seen some sponsored by a local exterminator (aptly named Nozzle Nolen). The urinals have decals in the center of a target with an invasive pest in the middle with suggestions to improve your aim. Another favorite was a trip to a bathroom in a sports stadium. Each urinal had a decal depicting one of their rival teams. Classy.
The worst design in any bathroom is one where a mirror is placed directly opposite the toilet. If anyone questions why bathroom activities are meant to be private, this view of yourself is certain to make all answers clear.
I’m not sure why, but the public bathrooms in New Jersey and New York tended to be total biohazards compared to other places I’ve lived and visited. I’d hate to think that there are proportionally more savages in the Northeast, but I have seen some nasty, well…shit. People piss on the seat, the floor, the roll of toilet paper, even the top of the urinal. On my worst day, I couldn’t even imagine doing such a thing.
Tyrone’s pet peeve is people not washing their hands. He’s chased people down the hall to call them out and to shame them. I love the handwashing instructions. At my previous school, there were several steps listed including repetition and decisions. I actually brought it to class to teach flowcharting and hygiene together.
Once I was in a stall and in the stall next to me, a guy was having a loud conversation on his phone. It was bizarre and annoying. I cried out in fake pain as though I was passing a kidney stone. When the dope failed to get the message, I got louder and began cursing the Gods for causing my deep constipation. Eventually, he got the message and shut up.
My pet peeve is waiting in a fast food joint to use a single restroom and when the previous user steps out…well, picture this: A rather large fellow exits the room. He is generally north of 350 pounds, and is obviously at lunch after a sweaty morning of farming, roofing, sumo wrestling, or whatever. He usually will have a long beard and several tattoos as well as some sort of biker regalia squirting out between his jeans and his overhanging gut. Anything less than four burritos would be a light nosh for this gentleman. I make no judgement other than the fact that he leaves the bathroom walking as though he just delivered a small calf. You know…I think I can wait.
Is there a place that always gets your bowels moving? I have no idea why, but for me it is the Public Library. It is a rare visit where I am not running to the can within minutes of looking in the stacks. Weird, right?
I went into a bathroom to pee once and there were two urinals. One has a hole cracked in the porcelain, so I decided to use the undamaged one. Shortly afterward, while I was doing my business, I guy wearing a suit bellies up to the other one. After I finish, I pull on the flusher and a torrent of pee water blasts out of the other guy’s urinal and soaks his suit and pants. I’m pretty sure I darted out without washing my hands and a quick, “Sorry, Dude.”
One visit to a stall in a Publix supermarket involved an odd sight. The sink was inside of the stall and when I threw out my paper towel, I noticed that there were a couple of dozen scratch-off lottery tickets on top of the trash. All of the scratch-off material was there as well so it was obvious that someone bought them, and immediately went into the stall to test their luck. I hope they at least had a smooth poop.
Now that everything is electronically controlled, the public bathroom is a constant source of amusement and embarrassment. The toilets, urinals, sinks, soap dispensers, and paper towel dispensers all have the potential to be automated. How many times have you held your hand out waiting for something to happen before realizing that you actually had to operate the one device manually? I’ve also had toilets or paper towels come to life by just moving too close to the sensor.
My favorite bathroom activity is when someone stands next to me at a urinal just as I get there. I will turn to the gentleman and quickly say, “On your mark, get set, go!” You might think this would result in an ass-whupping, but two things are guaranteed. The person will not be able to pee, and they will never respond or acknowledge the challenge. I zip up, lift up my arms, say “WIN”, and head to the sink. Never fails.
My wife and I recently moved from South Florida to Raleigh, North Carolina to unload the giant house in which we raised out three children and to be closer to our oldest who hopefully will crank out a grandchild one of these days. Originally we lived in New Jersey and like most people living in the New York span of influence, had developed a thick skin and a slightly prickly way of dealing with all of the rest of the jerks among us.
My grandmother was born in New York and moved with her family to Newark, New Jersey as an adolescent to “get out of the rough urban stink of the inner city.” It was probably like our move to Coral Springs, Florida in Broward County. We were west of Ft. Lauderdale, south of Palm Beach and North of Miami. This tri-county area is pretty much the sixth borough of New York. It was pleasant at first, with less horn blowing, but eventually became nearly as obnoxious as North Jersey.
I was checking out my new area in Raleigh. I had just left my water aerobics class at the YMCA. I had originally joined the “Y” to play basketball, but quickly found that while my spirit was 25 years old, my knees were 59. Pleasantly, I found that water aerobics was populated by nearly exclusively women who read. I brought my books and sold half a dozen. I left the gym and headed to the Library to find out about getting my books in there as well.
While pulling into my parking spot, I noticed the car in the next space had a vanity license plate that said UNC-PHD. Instantly, my snarly New Jersey sensibilities kicked in and I decided to take a picture of the plate and send it to some select friends with an appropriate caption. Well, maybe not so appropriate. I knew that this particular group of friends (including my children) would all agree that anyone getting this sort of license plate was obviously a narcissistic blowhard, who we had every right to make the object of our derision.
These friends included Tyrone and Joe. I spoke to Tyrone a day earlier and he told me about a good deed that he had done. When I complimented him on his actions, he told me that he was doing a good deed in case he needed to come down and slap some sense into a couple who had rejected our offer on the house they were selling. I explained that he may be using the principles of karma incorrectly.
I’ll admit that this was not my best bit, but to the right audience, a picture of this license plate accompanied by my caption of DCHE-BAG was guaranteed to get at least a chuckle. As a matter of fact, when relating this story to each of them, they all laughed. Here’s the problem. As I lifted my phone to take the photo of the plate, a woman walked up to me and asked why I was taking a picture of her car. Being the quick thinker that I am, I immediately came up with a credible lie. I told her that my son-in-law was finishing his PhD at the University of North Carolina and I thought he’d like to see the plate.
Technically this was not really a lie as he actually is in his last year of his PhD studies, but I’m not so low as to cheat at karma like say, Tyrone. The crazy thing is that the woman began talking to me and may have been the nicest and sweetest person on the planet. I even ended up giving her a copy of one of my bookmarks when she told me how much she enjoyed blogs. After she departed, I was left standing in the parking lot, holding my phone with the picture of her plate wondering, “Who is the DCHE-BAG now?”
As I walked into the library, I thought about this at a deeper level. I wondered if the people here were so nice, that they wouldn’t even get the joke about condescending and demeaning someone’s vanity plate choice. The might even be so nice as to not be narcissistic at all. Could this be possible?
After the library, I called Joe, who also happens to be a Buddhist. He did laugh at the bit, but also gave me a primer in karma to pass on to Tyrone. What was really crazy was that a half hour later, while going into a bookstore, I saw the license plate KARMAH, as though I needed a reminder to consider my evil New Jersey ways.
The testing continues as later that day, I walked into a thrift store and saw a record album prominently displayed on the top of a pile of LPs. It was by The George Mitchell Minstrels, and was actually by a barbershop style group of Caucasian singers who perform in, yes, you guessed it…blackface! The album cover depicted a cartoon drawing of a fellow with a cane, striped jacket and panama hat in actual blackface.
Granted, the album was old and the group from England, but still! I’d like to think that a responsible store owner would forgo the dollar, even for charity, to avoid offending the hyper-sensitive population of today. This seemed no less offensive than finding Josef Goebbels Greatest Hits on the shelf.
In any case, I’m obviously going to have to approach my new home and neighbors with a bit more caution than I might in New Jersey or South Florida. I’m clearly not in Kansas anymore, although, that might be less of an adjustment for a DCHE-BAG like me.
I got my ball. After fifty years and dozens of visits to Major League stadiums, I finally got my genuine Major League game ball. As usual, there is a crazy story behind this event, which I’m sure you will agree that it will result in a deeper level of Hell for me someday. But first, for those of you who are not baseball fans, or had a deprived childhood, let me provide some background regarding the significance of this event.
For most normal red-blooded American kids, when first attending a Major League baseball game, you quickly realize that nothing on this earth could be more thrilling that getting a ball that was hit into the stands. Why do you suppose so many kids and even adults bring their gloves to the game? They constantly show the guy catching balls in the stands on TV broadcasts of games. I’ve watched thousands of games, each with dozens of foul balls and home runs, and in each case, someone ends up holding that white sphere of triumph over their head to show off to the world.
I’ve seen men catch balls while holding a baby. I’ve seen people catch them in their beer cup. Since the first guy usually misses the ball, I’ve seen people diving over and under seats to find the prize. Commentators frequently mock adults for diving over other patrons, elbowing someone out of the way, or even worse, snatching a ball from a kid’s hand. I’m not condoning this behavior, but I also don’t need judgement from a team employee or a former player who can go down to the clubhouse and pick up a ball at any time.
If you are familiar with the Steve Bartman play in the 2003 National League Championship Series game 6 that effectively cost the Cubs a chance at their first championship in over a century, you’d get all of this. A Cubs fan decided to go for a ball at a critical time in the game which prevented Moises Alou, a Cubs outfielder to catch it. This opened the floodgates to a Marlins rally that basically ended the Cubs season. Even though every single fan in the section was reaching for the ball, it was Steve Bartman who touched it. He is currently living a slightly more secluded life than Salman Rushdie.
Most baseball fans are like me in that they’ve never got a ball or even came particularly close. Still, I’ll bet any real baseball fan can tell you the closest they came to a ball. Mine was a night game at Yankee Stadium on May, 11th 1979. I know it was at the end of my junior year in college, but I have no recollection who I went to the game with. I do know that I was sitting in the left field bleachers, just a few rows behind outfielder, Lou Piniella. With two California Angels on base in the top of the fourth, Don Baylor lifted a high fly ball in my direction. As Piniella moved back to the wall, dozens of fans and I instinctively stood as one, waiting for the ball to arrive. It landed about four rows behind me. Pretty crazy, right?
I’m not the only one like this. A few years back, I was at a game in the new Marlins Park in Miami with my friend Tyrone. We had good seats in foul territory and spoke of the opportunity to get a ball. Tyrone is tall and could have the opportunity to reach over another fan. Obviously, there are no rules when everyone covets the same thing. Still, Tyrone deludes himself into thinking that he can follow a code. Even crazier is his belief that everyone else should follow the same code. He still insists that if he were in the Bartman seat, he’d have had the discipline to not reach for the ball. Yeah, right.
This came up when a ballhawk took up residence in the walkway in front of our seats. A ballhawk is someone who regularly gets balls using a combination of determination, tenacity, and asshole-like soulless behavior. Tyrone seems to think that one ball is enough. I pointed out that this was not true for any of the other things that we once coveted like cookies, money or sex. After the first time, we just wanted more and still do.
A couple of years later, Tyrone and I were at Fenway Park in Boston sitting in the right field bleachers. During batting practice, I walked up to the wall where pitchers were shagging fly balls. Some of the pitchers would occasionally toss a ball to a fan. This is another legitimate way to obtain a game ball. They were throwing the balls mostly to kids. Tyrone said this fit his code. Then, a kid, about six, handed a ball to his father. Dad asked, “How many is that?” The kid replied, “Four.” At this point, Tyrone figuratively swerved across five lanes of traffic. He wanted to go and beat up the father for not stopping his kid from being a hog. So much for the code.
On this occasion, I was in Atlanta visiting my friend Carlos for a few days. Carlos’ wife Ines and their three kids were in Spain visiting relatives. He has season tickets to the Braves new stadium which is across the highway from his job and not far from his home in Marietta. We went to parts of five different games in five days, although a deluge at the beginning of the first one caused a long rain delay, and we left before the first pitch. He did take me on a nice tour of the stadium where I got a picture with a statue of Hank Aaron.
On Saturday, Carlos took me to the batting cages to hit several balls before lunch and then the 4:30 Braves game against the Milwaukee Brewers. I was wearing a bright yellow Brewers cap with the old-style logo. I did not wear this due to any allegiance to the Brewers, rather to be provocative to the local Braves fans. Carlos upgraded our seats to spectacular ones in the cutout in foul territory along the left field line. This would be a good place to get a ball. Alas, nothing was hit our way other than a double down the line that was still in play.
At the end of the game, the kids all left the area and a few adults stood to harass the half-dozen Brewer relief pitchers who were walking from the visitor bullpen to the dugout for a ball. A guy tossed one to someone in fair territory and I thought the balls were all gone. Still, I sheepishly lifted my cap to (falsely) show the Brewer pitchers that I was one of them. Meanwhile, Carlos was pointing to me when he shouted, “He’s an old man! Give him a ball!” He followed that with “My father is a cancer survivor!”
Yes, he went that low. You may know from my previous writing that I once went to a Jets game in a wheelchair to get in free. I’ve been trying to make up for that horrid act for the past 35 years. Now I’m back to the fast track to hell. The problem was that I still was hoping for a ball. One pitcher looked right at me, stopped for a moment, took a ball out of his glove, and tossed it across the fifty-or-so feet between us. It took a perfect arc, directly into my eager hands. I caught it like Willie Mays doing a basket catch…and I felt like an excited eight-year-old.
Carlos was laughing hysterically. I reminded him that he was going to Hell for this, even though I felt it unlikely that any of the players actually heard him. He responded by telling me that he carefully calculated what he had said. He said that it was true that I was an old man, certainly when compared to his forty years. He also reminded me that his father had indeed beaten cancer. He felt that if any of the Brewers misconstrued that he was referring to two separate people, well, that was their problem. I reminded him that he would not be able to bring a lawyer when he meets St. Peter, and that the people in Heaven were particularly good at looking directly into one’s heart.
As for the player who threw me the ball, his name is Jacob Barnes. I had not heard of this second-year reliever prior to this moment. I will follow his career from now on. He’s from St. Petersburg and went to Florida Gulf Coast University. He’s right-handed and currently leading the league in games pitched. I will be forever indebted to him and hope he has a nice career.
I suppose the best outcome is that I now have a great story. On the way out of the stadium, I was carrying the ball and a guy came up and asked if I got it at the game. I told him the unvarnished story, and he hung on every word. He offered no judgement other than laughter. When you think about it, is that really such a sin?