Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gerald, The Largest Man Alive

         The largest human being I’ve ever seen just took his pants off in front of me. I didn’t plan for this to happen. A few minutes ago I was on a treadmill watching him leg press 800 pounds. On the last rep he let out such a roar I thought his perineum exploded. Now he’s standing next to me in the locker room undressing. What makes it even weirder is that he’s my neighbor. I’ve often fantasized about watching my neighbors undress but none of them have been named Gerald.
         “Hey how’s it going?” he asks me. This violates the unwritten code of male nudity. You don’t talk if you’re naked. For most men the larynx is connected to the underpants. Underpants on, go ahead and talk. Underpants off, no talking. All naked communication between men is by head nodding. Nod up means, “I acknowledge you as a friend but there will be no talking until we are fully clothed.” Nod down means, “I don’t know you personally but if you want to start a fight we both agree to get dressed first.”
         What complicates the conversation is that at the same time I’m watching Gerald undress I’m also watching Larry King on the television in the corner. The television is there so no one has to make eye contact. Unfortunately, I don’t feel comfortable watching Larry King naked. It seems like I’m engaging in some kind of pornography that there isn’t even a name for. The only way this could be more uncomfortable is if I was fully clothed and Larry King was naked. For some reason, I would not feel this way if I was watching Tom Brokaw.
         Tearing myself away from Larry’s suspenders I look at Gerald’s shorts on the floor. Nothing this big should ever be called a short. They’re enormous. It looks like a clipper ship came through here and dropped a sail. The pockets are so big they’d give a kangaroo pouch envy. This must be why they’re called cargo shorts. Anyone this big probably calculates his weight in gross tonnage.

         “I’m doing good,” I answer. I want to say more but I don’t trust myself. I don’t want to insult him but I’ve got a lot of questions. I’d like to say, “Did you mean for your neck become wider than your shoulders?” or “When did tearing phone books in half become a goal of yours?” He did this for me once in the parking lot of our apartment house. He saw me get out of my car and said, “Hey watch this.” And then he tore a phone book in half. At first I thought he was mad at the alphabet. Now I think it was just his way of saying he likes me. I’m just glad he didn’t leave a dead bird on my pillow.
         I like to think Gerald lifts weights just for the joy of lifting them. I also like to believe he’s not on some kind of nut shriveling muscle juice. No one else in the neighborhood believes this. They think that he’s either on steroids or he’s the last of a race that was killed 165 million years ago by a giant asteroid. I don’t know what steroids look like but I do know he’s got a gym bag full of supplements. He’s only in his 20s but he’s got the pill intake of an 80-year-old. Some of the bottles didn’t even have English labels. Apparently his nutrition plan includes powdered rhino, hippo lips and desiccated badger balls. Gerald would suck the bugs out of an elephant’s trunk if he thought it would give him an extra inch on his chest.
         What fascinates me about Gerald is that he keeps trying get bigger. Unless you’re flying through the sky with a magic hammer there’s no reason to weigh 350 pounds. The World’s Strongest Man competition only happens once a year. What are you doing in the meantime, punching moose? I’m all for trying to improve yourself but when you’ve got the lats of a lowland gorilla maybe you should take a week off from the gym.
         The thing that irritates me about Gerald is all the women he gets. I understand it might be a fantasy to be taken from behind by Ferdinand the Bull but do you really want to be seen with a guy whose idea of dressing up is putting on the one pair of pants he owns that has a zipper? Ladies, do you have any idea what you’re doing to the gene pool? You’re humping us back to the ice age. I know the poles are melting and the seas are warming but that doesn’t mean we’re going back to hunting mastodons. Pretty soon there won’t be enough cows left to feed the lumbering land mammal you’re dating and you’ll have to start talking to clever bald guys with degrees in communications.
         Another thing I don’t like is that physically Gerald can do anything he wants to me. It’s like sleeping in a catapult. He could have a bad reaction to protein powder and throw me off the stairs without even thinking about it. I have no idea what all those pills are doing to his impulse control. How am I supposed to relax with the possibility of getting an adult wedgie?
         On some level it comes down to what it means to be a man. Women see a big man and feel protected. Men see a big guy and think, “That’s the alpha male I have to beat up so I can get all those females with the red butt.” I just wish everyone wasn’t so big now. I walk through the mall and see 12-year-old Asian girls bigger than me. In India most Americans would be considered sacred animals. Years from now when archeologists dig up Gerald’s bones they’re going to think his ancestors ate krill and gave birth in the sea. They’ll probably name a new species after him, Homo Hipposapians.
         I’m keeping my eye on Gerald for now. Until he lifts too much weight one day and gives himself an accidental vasectomy I see this as a fight for survival. I’m going to do whatever it takes to gain an evolutionary edge. If you don’t see me for a while it just means I’m at the gym developing my vertical leap and neck frill.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Food Fight

         Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. I wear my lunch on my shirt. Most days I look like I went toe-to-toe with a Salad Shooter. At least five minutes of every day is spent picking food crustules off of my clothes. Sometimes I see people staring at me. I’m sure it looks like my shirt has hives. I really don’t know how it happens. One minute the ravioli is on my fork and the next it’s sliding down my chest like a prisoner shot dead in a jailbreak.
         Last week I found a two-inch piece of toast in my breast pocket. It was sticking up like a whole wheat handkerchief. I’d been walking around for half a day looking like a Denny’s lounge singer before anyone said anything. That’s nice. The barista asked me if that was where I kept my lunch. Yeah, I got a chicken potpie in my sock and a piece of melon under my hat. Don’t you wish you could be as cool as me?
         Some things I can’t eat at all, like tacos in the car. Three blocks from Taco Bell and it looks like a piƱata exploded in the front seat. I need a ferret to find all the lettuce and ground beef I’ve squished down into the seats over the years. Certain types of food are out altogether no matter where I eat them. Chinese food, for instance. Is there a less efficient way to get food to your face than chopsticks? Why don’t they just give us a piece of string and a seashell? Does anyone know how to use these things? When I go out for Chinese food people three booths away find my food in their laps. I may as well blow up a balloon, fill it with rice, and pop it with a pin for all the food I actually get in my mouth. At least then I have an excuse for wearing my dinner out to the car. “Would you like a box, Mr. Currington?” “No, thanks. I’ll just wring out my tie when I get home.”
         Recently, I’ve begun a nervous habit of wiping my mouth after bite. Every 10 seconds it’s dab, wipe, lick and dab. Waitresses think I either have tourettes or I’m signaling them to steal third.
         My son has the same problem with food as I do but he’s only 12 so he still gets sympathy from people, especially older women with grown children. They often walk up to him in a store, lick their thumb and wipe the day-old hash browns out of the corner of his mouth. Then they’ll look at and shake their head as if they’d just caught me offering my son a shot of Southern Comfort. Ok, so I don’t always notice what’s going on with his face. Maybe I’m too busy stopping in every polished window to see how much breakfast I have on my pants.
         A lot of times my son’s meal doesn’t end up anywhere near his face. I know he doesn’t play with his food but he must at least taunt it because it’s always trying to escape. I’ve often wondered if food is still sentient even after we cook it. I’ve noticed that the only food what stays on Taran’s plate is the stuff he’s never going to eat.
         Pork chops routinely slide off the table like little brown hockey pucks. We’ve actually chased Jell-O around the living room like one of those little 25-cent bouncy balls. Brussel sprouts, on the other hand, stay riveted to his plate. You’d think they’d at least rattle around a bit. Why don’t these little green golf balls go rolling around the kitchen and lodge under the fridge like the Cheerios? It’s because brussel sprouts are smart. They’re playing dead like ‘possums. They figure if they don’t move my kid won’t notice them and they’ll get away. I’m thinking of passing each plate over a roaring garbage disposal before I bring it to the table so all the food has a good idea of where it’s going if it doesn’t get eaten.
         My food dyslexia comes from my father who could eat a five-course dinner and have enough left on his undershirt for two midnight snacks. His wife, Betty, is just the opposite. Put on a pillbox hat and she could pass for Queen Elizabeth. Betty could eat soup riding a bicycle down a bumpy road while sneezing. Nothing gets off this woman’s fork. She sets the hook in a plate of peas as well as any salmon fisherman. I’m beginning to suspect her forks are barbed.
         Dad used to make up new etiquette. Once, while we were having dinner at a restaurant he invited a young lady at the table across from us to go sightseeing. Whenever he’d point to a mountain or famous building he’d say, “excuse my finger” as though he was shoving it up her nose. “Oh, look at that! A Yellow Breasted Nettle Pecker! Excuse my finger.” “See that? That’s a statue built to commemorate all the fisherman lost at sea. It’s made out of Halibut lips. Excuse my finger.” Fourteen years old and I’m trapped with a beautiful woman in a Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a travel guide/proctologist.
         There are three generations of us now and there’s no sign of letting up. Taran is still dumping ketchup on his fries like he’s trying to put out a fire. I’m still walking around the parking lot looking like I fell face first in the salad bar. Such is life. If anyone has any tips on how to avoid making a lasagna mustache tonight I’d be happy to hear from them.

Friday, September 5, 2008


         I don’t remember anything bad happening to our pets when I was growing up. Occasionally, one would get run over and we’d have to get a replacement pet but none of the many cats and dogs we’d had over the years ever really did anything more inconvenient than poop on the rug. And even that, if it was around Christmas, could be fun. All you need is a can of shellac, a few paperclips, and two parents with a sense of humor and you’ve got yourself a new angel.
         That’s why it came as such a shock to me that my current pet had fleas. It seemed so improbable. My dainty little kitten has fleas? It was like finding out the Queen has crabs. How could this happen?
         I know we’re not the cleanest family in the world. I’ve been known to keep a stack of paper plates in the cupboard for those special times when every dish in the house is dirty and I don’t feel like climbing Mount Sponge to waste an entire evening scrubbing burnt rice out of aluminum pots.
         But still, fleas? I always thought the people who got fleas were the ones who drive around town with rottweilers chained to the bed of their pickups. The kind of people who keep engine parts in their living room and know what NASCAR stands for.
         People like us don’t get fleas. I read hardcover nonfiction. I watch foreign films and shop at a co-op. I drink green tea in the mornings and laugh smugly to myself when I hear someone confuse the word etymology with entomology. People like us don’t get fleas.
         When I say ‘us’ I mean my son and I. My son is 11 years old and is completely covered in fleabites. They haven’t bothered me but my son looks like he has chicken pox, hives, acne and malaria all at the same time. When we go swimming at the Y, mothers shield their children. I hear them talking about the thoughtless parent that would bring such a contagious child to a swimming pool. So far it’s easier to sit quietly at the back of the bleachers than try to explain that I’m raising my son in a house filled with tiny blood-sucking vermin.
         We tried giving the cat flea baths but it didn’t help. I’m not sure which is worse fleabites or cat scratches. The instructions on the bottle said to wrap the cat in a towel afterward to dry her off, but I almost put the hissy little thing in the microwave. I would have too if there had been a button that read CAT next to the one that read POPCORN.
         When my kid’s teacher called me the following Wednesday to tell me that she was concerned the class ferret had caught something from him I knew it was time for drastic measures. I declared a holy war on the fleas – a flihad. I asked everyone I knew what poison worked best. A surprising number of them were shocked I would even consider bringing toxic chemicals into the house. Everyone gave me their own special recipe for dealing with fleas.
         “Wash everything you own in lemon juice.”
         “Dry your laundry over a beehive.”
         “Put on all your clothes and sit in the garage with the engine running for two hours.” (that was my ex-girlfriend’s idea)
         One family who owns an organic farm told me to eat five cloves of garlic a day and put an onion in my pants.
         None of these people, I have to admit, have any fleas. Of course none of them have neighbors either. A lot of my friends live in old school buses on the outskirts of town and can identify 25 kinds of mushrooms. Some of which are legal to possess.
         One person gave me a bag of diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is made from the spiky skeletons of microscopic animals. I wasn’t real sure how it was supposed to work. The fleas either ate the skeletons or sat on them. Either way it was supposed to kill them. It seemed like a pretty horrible way to go. I wouldn’t want to die from eating a porcupine or sitting on a pineapple.
         Even worse, the stuff is also dangerous for humans. Big red letters on the back of the bag warned me against taking a single breath while spreading this stuff. I don’t know what you do if your house is so big it takes more than one breath to walk through it. Hire a pearl diver I guess. After I locked the cat out on the balcony, I put on my 65-cent dust mask, a yellow raincoat, old sweats, rubber boots, a pair of Playtex Living gloves and went to work. I covered the whole apartment in fine white dust. I looked like a deranged beekeeper painting the 50-yard-line at the Superbowl. I didn’t care. If it would keep the kid in school and out of the smallpox ward I would have done it naked in a windstorm. I am not homeschooling my kid.
         A week later the cat and the kid were still scratching. In fact, they looked worse than before. Maybe the fleas were snorting the powder and working overtime.
         More friends chimed in with advice.
         “You gotta get the eggs. If you don’t get the eggs buried in the carpet you’ll never get rid of those fleas.”
         Eggs? What eggs? These things have eggs? Nobody told me about eggs. Is this some kind of horrible Easter trick played on Jews?
         It was time to take the final step in my war on the fleas. They had survived the carpet bombing, now it was time for biological weapons. I didn’t care if I had to strap the fogger to the cat’s back. I was going to show these fleas who was the higher life form if I had to kill every other life form to do it.
         I went to Home Depot, the place where they let stock boys chase customers with forklifts. If anyone sold cans of black death it’d be these guys. I found three different cans of aerosol doom and checked the list of active ingredients. I was looking for words like napalm, Agent Orange, mustard gas. Instead I saw tetramethrin and permethrin. Was that good? I imagined the methrin brothers as a chemical Earp family ridding the last frontier of renegade fleas. On the front of the can there was a picture of a bug lying on its back with its legs in the air and its tongue sticking out. That seemed good. I didn’t want to just kill these fleas, I wanted them to suffer.
         For I am a horseman of the apocalypse now. I ride a black steed and swing my credit card like a scythe. I want my name to go down in flea history as Paul the Impaler, the mighty Khan with a ten thousand Mongols behind me, thundering out of the mountains, each armed with a can of Sure-Shot D-Con.
         I want fleas 50 years from now to hear about the Great Exodus from the Currington apartment.
         “You larvae think you have it tough? I was in apartment eight, October 5th, 2002 when the great white gas clouds rolled down off the drapes.” A tear would form along the edge of his multifaceted eye. He’d wipe it away with a hairy foreleg, unable to go on.
         I didn’t think of these bugs as the friendly little creatures from Charlotte’s Web or James and the Giant Peach. These were Starship Trooper bugs. Sigourney Weaver bugs. I imagined them in tiny jackboots herding happy caterpillars and crippled ladybugs into concentration camps the size of matchbooks.
         There would be no military tribunal for these fleas. No jury of their peers to judge the seriousness of their crimes and the extent of their involvement. These fleas must be destroyed, for I am The Redeemer of Souls, Protector of the Meek, Bringer of Justice to a Land Forsaken. Vengeance shall be mine. As a child of the tribes of Abraham I will scratch no more forever.
         I bought all three kinds of foggers. I went across town to a hardware store and bought two more. I went to the vet and picked up a can so big it looked like it should have had fins and a nosecone.
         I met a Vietnam vet in a dark alley who handed me a small box of white powder and whispered, “This stuff will knock your eyes out, Man.” I didn’t know if I should snort it or pour it on my carpet.
         Saturday morning I used everything I had all at once. I put three foggers in each room, lit the fuses and ran out. We ran down the stairs and across the street. I wasn’t sure what how much pressure the windows could take so we walked ten blocks to a park downtown just to be sure. I didn’t want to be there in case the building blew up in a shower of dead bugs and Dean Martin albums.
         Six hours later we came back. With handkerchiefs covering our mouths, we walked from room to room surveying the carnage. It looked like a scene from All Quiet on the Western Front. A dozen different species of insects lay dead in the bathtub. On the kitchen counter lay half a dozen flies, dead in the butter. How strange, I thought, that in their final moments they chose to wallow knee-deep in a pool of Land O’ Lakes unsalted. I wondered, if I had the choice, would I choose to die with my head stuck in a bucket of rainbow sherbet in a Basket-Robbins?
         My son started to feel bad about all the destruction. I explained to him that the nurse wasn’t going to let him back in school if we didn’t get rid of the bugs. And if he didn’t go back to school he would never learn long division or where Hawaii is on a map, and the fleas would have won. For our children’s sake, and our children’s children’s sake, we did what we had to do. God bless apartment eight.
         It’s been almost a month now and the fleas haven’t returned. Biotechnology and good old-fashioned American Know-how has triumphed again. My kid is back in school, our chemical burns are starting to fade, and the doctor says my respiratory problems will probably go away by the end of summer.