A Tale of Christmas Past in Two Cities, by Oliver Twist*

Setting: The English Channel, between Paris and London, at the start of the French Revolution, Saturday around 5:30.

The Americans, having finished their own revolution and a light supper, sail for Paris and the French Revolution, while the French sip lattes at the Café Rue de Les Misérables (“a miserable street deli”).

Doctor Victor Hugo Hackenbush is released from his front row Paris prison theater seat after 17 years of repairing shoes as a hobby. He is deranged and wonders how he will get back to London to start his new life. But while in the care of his servant Ernest “Borgnine” Defarge (“of the farges”) and his wife Madame “Large Bosoms” Defarge, Hackenbush is reunited with his fetching daughter, Lucy, who fetches him to England.

On their voyage to London, Lucy and Hackenbush befriend the nephew of the French Marquis Jean (“Bastille Day”) Valjean. The nephew, Charles (“lite”) Mayonnaise, who renounced his inheritance, was banished from France by the Marquis who with the help of his spy, John “Threeleg” Barstool, secrets in Mayonnaise’s pants a false letter accusing him of spying on England. Unbeknownstingly of this plot, Mayonnaise falls in love with Lucy, who, not knowing about the letter, simply thought he was happy to see her.

Later in London, while Lucy is sleeping, the implicating treasonous letter is found by a whore in Mayonnaise’s pants. The letter was also in there. Constables throw Mayonnaise in jail.

Mayonnaise is tried as an English traitor. He is then rescued by a drunken but brilliant lawyer, Sydney Carte Blanche, an oddly Frenchy name for an Englishman. Sydney falls in love with Lucy too, but she doesn’t give him Carte Blanche as with Mayonnaise. Everyone lets the senile Dr. Hackenbush decide who loves Lucy, and he chooses the real Frenchman, Lite Mayonnaise, not knowing that Mayonnaise is the nephew of the despised Marquis. Soon Mayonnaise and Lucy have a daughter, Little Lucy. Carte Blanche continues to love both Lucys while remaining drunken and lawyerly.

Back in France the evil Marquis, sensing things are going awry, rides into Paris in a carriage pulled by a horse that runs over the street urchin Oliver Twist, who was a real little dickens, but not a very artful dodger. Paralyzed by the horse in one leg (left front), Oliver rides on the shoulders of his uncle Ebenezer Scrooge, while the horse manages to get by with a limp and eye patch.

Then the Marquis is murdered just as the Americans arrive in Paris for the Revolution. Mayonnaise decides to go back to Paris to investigate, and he is promptly arrested in Paris and charged by the mob as the former big-shot nephew who fled France. He is thrown into La Force (“the force”) Prison where he is forced (LOL) to watch “I Love Lucy” reruns.

Hearing of the impending trial, the Lucy’s, Dr. Hackenbush and their friends, the Mertzes, use their frequent carriage miles to travel back to Paris. Speaking at the trial in defense of his son-in-law Mayonnaise, the Doctor wins Mayonnaise’s freedom.

At the party celebrating Mayonnaise’s acquittal, Madame Defarge produces a letter from her bosoms that Hackenbush had written years ago in the Bastille Theater. It explains why he was imprisoned and ends with a curse on the Marquis, his descendents and their horses: years earlier Hackenbush went to the Marquis’ country estate to treat a horse. In a rage, the Marquis’ brother shot the horse, not realizing that horse’s descendent would later trample Oliver Twist, the brother of Madame Defarge! Thoroughly confused about whom they should support, the partiers change sides and denounced Mayonnaise on the advice of the letter written by Defarge’s bosoms.

The Finale: Carte Blanche, willingly taking the place of Mayonnaise, is transferred to prison by guards who think he is the newly-accused Mayonnaise. At the last minute, the real Mayonnaise (har!), Hackenbush and the Lucy’s escape to London in a submersible carriage, while the innocent Oliver agrees to stand-in for the person who everyone thinks is the real Mayonnaise (but who really is Carte Blanche)! Sydney slips out the back and later stars as Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”.

The play ends when Oliver, lured by a Christmas pudding, ascends to the guillotine proclaiming, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, and God bless us, every one”. The curtain falls on the neck of the Marquis’ horse, which spends the rest of its life in a wheelchair.

*Another edition in the irritating series “Play Synopses for Modern Readers Ignorant of the Classics”. You may also enjoy “Rigoletto Comes to Utah” by the same author.

The Colonoscopy

Author’s Note:   One of the kindest (yet still unprofitable) things ever said about me was, “His writing is a good as anything Dave Barry wrote.”  Wow.  At the time I didn’t know who Dave Barry was, but I’ve learned that he wrote an article about his colonoscopy.

I’m proud to say that my article on this subject (written years before Dave’s) is eerily similar to his article, except that I used my own colon.  I also want to reiterate Dave’s challenge to get yourself a colonoscopy.  It’s easy and it’s good, clean fun, and it may save your life as it did mine.  Here then is a reprisal of my original article.

April 20, 2013 Another Author’s Note:  This article won First Place in the First Quarter 2013 HumorPress.com Humor Contest.  See it here: The Colonoscopy.

 The Colonoscopy

The colonoscopy is the butt of many jokes, yet the colon is full of laughing matter. The facts:  A normal adult colon is five feet long.  Abnormal adults have different colons, usually in fuchsia. The colon has four sections.  The Ascending Colon connects the small intestine to the duodenum then travels past the liver to the Transverse Colon.  This is called the Transverse Site because male colons dressed as female colons loiter here.  The Transverse Colon swings around the left kidney, dips below the pancreas and becomes the Descending Colon, where it speeds up to complete a double vertical loop inside the pelvis.  This is where injuries happen because people haven’t kept their arms inside the ride at all times.  The whole thing slows down on the flat section called the Sigmoid Colon, first discovered by Dr. Sigmoid Freud when he was developing his Sexual Theory of Colon Dreams, the pervert.

You need a colonoscopy if you’re over 50 or have a family history of problems,  including a colon that’s been abusing alcohol or has declared bankruptcy.  If your doctor recommends a colonoscopy, it can be troubling.  But he’ll relax when he realizes he’s done it many times and that it pays well.

At the start of the procedure you’re given drugs to make you sleepy, yet talkative.  Many family secrets are told while on these drugs, allowing the doctor to write a funny book.  For my contribution, I had rehearsed this riddle:

Only one other word can be found by rearranging the letters in POLYPS.  Similarly for SUTURE.  The two new words describe an unwanted body part.*

I told my riddle to the nurse after I was given the drugs.  It sounded like this:

Suture your colon to a bunch of Polynesians and rearrange them into two words meaning PANTS.

She slapped me hard, then laughed and gave me her phone number.

After you’re sedated, the inspection begins with a lot of frightening terminology.  An “endoscopist” does the dirty work.  He uses a “colonoscope”, which is also known as an “end-o-scope” (LMFAO).  The scope must be positioned “very near” the colon, which the doctor accomplishes while you’re distracted by the cute nurse.

The doctor manipulates the other end of the scope, which contains these features:

  • A tiny video camera which displays images on a large external (thank God) monitor
  • An adapter to play the doctor’s rare Betamax videotapes
  • A blower for pumping your colon full of air
  • A tiny vacuum cleaner with gall bladder attachment
  • A laser for burning polyps
  • A broiler for reheating undigested prime rib and potatoes

These devices fit in the endoscope’s long tube, which resembles a wide rusty beer can with sharp edges.

The doctor looks into the endoscope and immediately sees a large disturbing dark mass—the lens cap.  The scope is de-rectalized, the cap is removed, and the doctor takes a smoke break to steady his hands and tell Accounting to add an “emergency lens cap removal” line item on your bill.

The drugs begin to wear off as the inspection resumes.  The doctor needs help threading the scope around your colon’s S-turns.  This is the job of a male nurse with large biceps named Bruno.  Why he named his biceps Bruno we don’t know.  He pushes on your stomach when the doctor orders, “Ok, now take a hard left.  No, LEFT!  And watch out for that spleen!”  But because objects in the endoscope are closer than they appear, it’s just the bladder.  Bruno anticipates this and carefully taps the brakes.

If colon polyps are found, the doctor will remove them with a “polypectomy” procedure.  I only had one polyp, so the colonoscopy was stopped and the doctor again consulted with Accounting.  They decided to perform the procedure anyway but to double-bill it as two molar fillings and a femur removal.  I approved this change quickly because it was nearing dinner time and I didn’t want the doctor to use the broiler.

Finally it’s over.  The whole thing takes only 30 minutes, but it seems like 2 hours filled with screaming.

While you’re recovering, the doctor talks to your wife, and they laugh about all the funny things you said and will later deny.  He gives you a “Polypectomy Dozen” punch card (the 13th is free with purchase of a vasectomy!) and a souvenir video.  Mine showed one polyp screaming down the Descending Colon, happily waiving its arms.


Happy New 14th B’ak’tun!

If you’re reading this, the Mayan Long Count Calendar reset on December 21, 2012 and the prophesied end-of-world disasters didn’t happen. Or maybe they did happen, and another version of you is here in one of those theorized infinite number of almost-identical multiple universes, except now you have two left thumbs and everyone is Mormon. Either way, welcome to the start of the new Mayan epoch known as the 14th B’ak’tun.

That’s right, the 13th B’ak’tun has ended. This excerpt from Wikipedia makes it all clear:

A full Long Count date not only includes the five digits of the Long Count, but the 2-character Tzolk’in and the two-character Haab’ dates as well. The five digit Long Count can therefore be confirmed with the other four characters (the “calendar round date”). One can check whether this date is correct by the following calculation: The Tzolk’in date is counted forward from 4 Ajaw. To calculate the numerical portion of the Tzolk’in date, add 4 to the total number of days given by the date, and then divide total number of days by 13.

I note that in the above calculation it may be easier to find out how many days there are since 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u, and show how the date 5 Kib’ 14 Yaxk’in is derived. Don’t forget to carry the K’ank’in.

Since my recent induction as a substitute teacher and the creation of my own personal apocalypse, several Junior High School students have seriously asked me if I think the world would end on December 21st. Seeing this as an opportunity to discuss the differences between religious belief and scientific theory, I responded, “Well, many people believe it will end, but in the USA we teach science.” Then their bright little eyes glimmer with the hope that I, as the scientist they know me to be, will say that there is no scientific evidence that the world will end on the 21st. And I do say that, and then I also say, “But we also know that the earth could end for other scientifically valid reasons at any minute, like a huge asteroid crashing into us or a huge volcanic eruption that will block out all sunlight and we will die painfully from starvation if not from fire. “So, yes class,” I continue, “the world will no doubt end—probably not on December 21—but it could happen within a very few months.” Their eyes get huge and they suddenly ask for a bathroom hall pass, which I joyfully withhold.

Now that I really have the students’ attention, I neglect the teacher’s lesson plan on the geography of Antarctica, and instead we discuss the Mayans. I explain that they had wars simply to take prisoners whom they could sacrifice to the gods, usually by decapitation and sometimes by cutting out the beating heart. The class can relate to this because over the millennia Sir Charles Edison Graham-Bell’s scientific theory of the Natural Selection of Principals has caused 7th graders to often eat substitute teachers alive after the tardy bell rings.

Just at the start of my explanation about Ixtab, the Mayan Goddess of Suicide, one geeky kid raises his hand and says, “Mr. Woodside, could the Moon’s and Sun’s gravity add together to make the space rock crash into the Earth faster and kill everyone in a week instead of a few months?”

I reply, “Very good, Norman. That is correct because, as we have learned, the Earth has a magnetic field that literally pulls stuff, even light, closer to us according to the Wright Brothers’ Theory of Gravity”. As Norman considers this another kid hits him in the ear, deservedly, with a spit ball.

Steering the topic back to the Mayans, I have just enough class time to resume explaining that one time in a 5th grade class Ixtab was running in the hall with Kish, the God of the Stingray Spine, and they both tripped and Kish speared Mr. Yum Kaax, the God of Corn, through the heart, who was that day substituting for Mr. Hun Batz, God of the Howler Monkey. The school went into lockdown and eventually all Substitutes were allowed to bring concealed low-caliber skull-piercing darts to school.

If your world did end, and if you now find yourself in a new universe as a Mormon substitute teacher with two left thumbs, may your classes contain only Advanced Placement High School science students. And may you have a very happy 14th B’ak’tun.

Becoming a Realtor®

I'll describe how to be a Real Estate Agent, but first let me clear up any pronunciation confusion.  Realtor® is pronounced with as many extra syllables as you can cram in, like “Real-a-tor” or “Real-ly-a-tor”, or if you live in Alabama, “Dammit Thelma, get the gun. Them sales people's over yonder again”.

Realtor® is the official designation of people who are licensed to help others buy and sell homes they can’t afford, their never having even remembered seeing the ugly green wallpaper in the basement, otherwise they wouldn’t have offered so much money. A Realtor® belongs to the National Association of Realtors®, an organization dating back to medieval England during the reign of Caveat Emptor®.  In those times when land was cheap, plentiful and offered for sale at extreme prices by landlords, there were many "for sale" signs on telephone poles around the countryside.  Eventually some enterprising individual who was starting a national organization of salespersons noticed that the signs' letters "RARE LOTS" could be rearranged, and the name "REALTORS" was born.  The trademark symbol ® was added later when Shakespeare invented fonts.

Becoming a Realtor® is easy:

• Take internet real estate licensing courses on ignoring deadlines, miscalculating square footage, and the irritating and repetitive use of ®

• Take self-administered tests and receive a passing grade

• Register with your state, but neglect to report that you are a convicted drug felon

• Find a broker to supervise you and "share" your commissions with

• Perform costly yet ineffective marketing to get clients (people who let you demonstrate how not to sell their houses)

• Finally sell a house by accident to the seller's uncle

• Pay a fine to the state for selling real estate without a convicted-felon's license

• Use the last of your commission to pay dues and buy a keybox, signs, and a congressman who will ensure laws remain favorable to Realtors®

Disclaimer: This summary [   ] SHALL [   ] MAY [   ] BOTH (check one) be subject to arbitration should a dispute arise.  If BOTH is/are (sic) checked, the next paragraph applies; otherwise it's Tuesday.

Now that you've completed your first transaction, you need ethics training.  Held to the highest standards of ethics and professionalism, many Realtors® nevertheless sometimes abide by a written Code of Ethics.  Written in code, this is like a bible of allowed conduct when Realtors® deal with other Realtors®, the Public, their Clients and their Pets.  Here's an excerpt from the Code: “We Realtors® agree to abide by the Code of Ethics, the "Fairness and Equality" White Paper on the "Handling of Rezoning Requests by Ice Cream Street Vendors in New York City, Circa 1925", the "Non-Discrimination Pact of Pre-war Poland", and all of the terms of the Louisiana Purchase.  We further agree to not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, the countries people come from, possession of negative whole numbers, source of whiskey bottle collections, Lady Gaga, or shoe size.”

As you might imagine, Realtors®’ adherence to this Code of Ethics prevents less than 2% of the conceivable disputes in real estate transactions. The remaining disputes are distributed among several categories: frozen pipes, the smell of dog poop in the heat vents, and women’s rude comments about other women’s shoes during open houses.  Any one of these can stop a sale cold.  For example, I was involved in a transaction in which I represented the Seller (the person who owned the house).  I told him he should accept the offer from the Buyer (the person who didn’t have enough money to buy the house).  The Seller (let’s call him Manny), (his real name), (told me), “Dave, did you see the latest “Survivor” episode where Martha loses her bikini top?  Ha, that was a good one!”  While I was listening, the contractual “Long Story Short Deadline” (contract section 5.3 (a), iii) expired, and the Seller lost the chance to sell to the Buyer, who quickly filed a grievance against me, claiming the pipes were frozen.  That’s exactly my point.

You have now learned everything you need to become a Realyater.  But, instead, you can always just use one of the kabillion real estate professionals already out of rehab to help you with buying, selling, or a drug transaction. You can find one of us anywhere.  Just ask any high school student.  But remember: don't hand over your earnest money until you first get a small taste sample.  And a copy of the Code of Ethics.

Author's Note: See the HumorPress.com publication of "Becoming A Realtor®" 

“Rigoletto” Comes to Utah

I somehow attended the Utah Opera’s 2012 production of Rigoletto.  It reminded me of the New York Metropolitan Opera where I saw many performances as a boy.  Back then my favorite parts were prying six dollars out of my father for a soda and snack at intermission and pitching peanuts into the bassoonist’s bosoms in the orchestra pit.

Opera is rarely appreciated and never understood.  It can be fun, though, like when Rigoletto’s Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (“Joe Green” as he’s known here) said, “I conceived Rigoletto without arias, without finales, as an unbroken chain of duets, because I was convinced that that was most suitable.”  Rarely do you see an entertaining use of the word that twice in one sentence.

At any given night at the opera, you’ll see a dramatic text set to music, which is performed by musicians (harpos), sung by gigolos (chicos), acted by jesters (grouchos), housed in an ornate building, attended by patrons (drunk), and which attempts to highlight the foibles of the times, all while contriving the plot so that a beautiful soprano (fat) has a few chances to belt out some popular show tunes.

Rigoletto is based on a play by Victor Hugo called Le Roi S’Amuse (King Roy Amuses Himself).  (Seriously?)  You can read the libretto and not understand it for yourself.   However, here is a brief synopsis of the opera, which may be skipped entirely:

Act 1  The old Duke of Mantua flirts with a beautiful married Countess.  Rigoletto, the hunch-backed court jester, mocks the Count.  Then the Countess’ father denounces the Duke for seducing his daughter.  The father curses Rigoletto and the Duke, which scares the jest out of Rigoletto.

Later that evening the Duke, disguised as Madame Butterfly, sneaks up on Rigoletto’s presumed mistress, Gilda (who is really Rigoletto’s daughter), and declares his love for her, saying, “E il sol dell’anima” (“Let’s go out for Chinese, baby.”).  Gilda begs him to leave, which he does, but afterwards she wishes they had gotten takeout eggrolls and a movie.

Even later that evening, the Duke’s henchmen arrive at Rigoletto’s house to kidnap Gilda, thinking that’s what the Duke wanted.  But the henchmen, needing Rigoletto’s help to gain entry (to the house, not to Gilda), convince Rigoletto that he’s helping the Duke kidnap the Countess (remember her?) who lives nearby.  The henchmen tell Rigoletto that he must wear a blindfold for a more realistic kidnapping. (Seriously?) They capture Gilda, and when Rigoletto hears her voice he rips off the blindfold and famously cries, “Ah! La maledizione!” (“Surely, you jest!”).  Everyone laughs at the joke, including the audience, who saw the translation on the teleprompter above the stage.

Act 2  Harpo cuts up on the piano in a brief comic recitative (an Italian word meaning “Thank God for a break”).

Act 3  The Duke, now disguised as a soldier, having released Gilda from captivity because he learned she is the jester’s daughter, pursues yet another woman at a nearby inn, The Horndog.  The Duke sings a tune, “La donna e mobile”* (later made popular by the Tom and Jerry cartoon) in which he says women are “mobile”, a common slur at the time.

Meanwhile, Rigoletto has been plotting to kill the Duke, so he hires an assassin who is at the same inn.  But Gilda, now disguised as the orchestra conductor, stumbles upon the plot, and the assassin inadvertently stabs Gilda instead of the Duke.  Rigoletto, in perfect comedic timing, returns to the scene and finds the dying Gilda and realizes the curse of Act 1 has been fulfilled!  This is good because with the death of the conductor the music has suddenly come to a screeching halt anyway.

The curtain falls, and the audience realizes the main point of the entire opera: “Oh! Guisseppe Verdi really does mean Joe Green.  LOL!”

We have seen that opera combines many theatrical things like acting, scenery, props, costumes, magic flutes, jesters, barbers of seville, marriages of figaro, fidelios, infidelios, comedy, death, crescendos, pianissimos, cruelty, violence, vengeance, abduction, rape, coughing, throat lozenges, baritones and ringtones.  And all that’s just in the audience.

When the Utah Opera performance of Rigoletto was over, I was satisfied.  I had relived my enjoyment of a favorite opera, and I was able to misunderstand the entire story translated into English this time. Best of all, I had sunk two peanuts in the Bassoonist.

*Woman is flighty…Who on that bosom does not drink love (or feast on peanuts**)!

**Modern Interpretation

Wi-Fi Streaming with Barney and Andy

TV shows used to come with only a few black and white pixels, and they were broadcast through the air by carrier-wave pigeon, also known as “analog”. The only shows available were I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith, Lassie, Perry Mason, and Who Wants To Be A $64,000 Question? You can still get that programming on your old TV set, which sucks the pixels through your roof-top antenna, through a wire, under the carpet and directly into your toaster oven because you didn’t read the instructions first.  But why would you live with that?  Here’s how you can get the very best of new TV technology.

Since you’re too cheap to buy an expensive HD TV, you get an analog converter box so you can watch more pixels in those old shows. You don’t know why you need this box, except that home repair TV show guys said you do.  So you buy a converter, and you finally get it all hooked-up incorrectly to discover the picture is still fuzzy, so you give up and get a new HD, 60-inch, flat-screen, LED TV, with a built-in wi-fi internet streaming cappuccino machine. But you must also get “Cable” for the introductory new subscriber price that after six months increases to a mid-sized yacht payment.

Soon (12 days later) a guy with huge steel-toed shoes, a 1/8th mile ladder, and an Iraqi Security tool belt arrives and asks to use the bathroom. Twenty minutes later he leaves, without using the fragrance spritzer. The next day he arrives again to install your “Cable”. This happens in the middle of a winter snowstorm at 7:00 pm (dark), and he needs you to shine the flashlight (yours, which he borrowed) at the top of the telephone pole where he is working. Two hours later he has routed the “Cable” from the top of the pole to the place on your house’s exterior wall farthest from your new TV, drilled through most of the major load-bearing walls, used the bathroom again, tacked the “Cable” along several miles of baseboards, hooked the “Cable” into the new TV, programmed the remote control and left by retracing his muddy footprints.

You quickly discover you spent $2500 and committed to a year contract in order to get constant reruns of I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith , Lassie,  Perry Mason and Who Wants To Be A $64,000 Question?, along with the new “reality” hits like Ice Road Truckers, Orange County Choppers and Ice Chopping with the Kardashians in Orange County.

Now you can view 800 HD “Cable” channels on a large HD TV, and that’s okay for a few days until your 5 year-old tells you that you can use the TV’s wi-fi capability in a clever way!  You can “Stream” movies and old TV shows directly to your TV! All right over your “Cable” internet service! All you need is a subscription to a “Streaming Service” like Netflix, Blockbuster or Video Vern’s Streaming Movie and Cigar Shop. Then you can login to this service and “Stream” any of the 14 available episodes of Marcus Welby, MD directly to your new TV! You almost have it working but you get a funny feeling about something…damn…you don’t have wi-fi in your house! But that’s easily solved. All you need is a new fifty dollar “wireless router”, without wires, that you connect to your “cable modem” with a wire!  You test it out like this:

• make a scotch and soda

• turn on the TV and see snow on every channel

• fiddle with the TV for 20 minutes while cursing

• make another scotch and soda

• check that your cable modem and wi-fi boxes are on and all the lights are flashing

• fiddle with the TV for another 20 minutes

• make a double scotch and soda

• get a brain storm!

• turn on your computer and pay your already-delinquent “Cable” bill

• make another double scotch and soda

• notice the TV picture is even worse than before!

• because you’re drunk!

• finally access your “Streaming” service totally by accident

• watch Barney give orders to Goober while Andy is in Mount Pilot on Sheriff business

Success! Wasn’t it worth it? Admit it, you like it. Of course you do, with that much alcohol in your brain. Plus, you learned new swear words that you can use on your next project: enabling iPhone Kindle Tweets on your toaster oven.  Good luck!

Sometimes it Really IS Brain Surgery

Brain surgery is not very amusing.  It does have its moments, though, like when the CAT scan image of your brain looks like Daffy Duck’s face.  Then you realize someone will be cutting through your skull.  By “cut” I mean “ROTARY BONE SAW”, and by “skull” I mean “THE HELL YOU SAY!

I was the caregiver in charge of Daffy’s brain surgery to remove a tumor on her brain near her left ear.  A brain surgery caregiver does many things like researching brain tumors, helping to select surgeons, studying YouTube brain surgery videos in case the surgical team is shorthanded and you’re asked to help, and sending text messages to friends and family during the operation (“Hour 4: nurse says the team is a bit peckish, but otherwise doing fine.  Will resume after dinner.”).

In brain surgery there are almost always complications; for example, sometimes your cell phone doesn’t get coverage in the waiting room.  Daffy developed a spinal fluid leak.  We didn’t notice it for six weeks after surgery, and we figured it was just normal urine leakage that happens when you get older.  But no, the docs said it was brain fluid and scolded us for not noticing it was coming out of her nose instead of her…well…kidney areas.  Another surgery was immediately performed because the doc had his tools in his pocket.  This time they chased the leak path, which meandered around her inner ear, created a waterfall at the end of the eustachian tube, and finally ended in a warm pool near the hippocampus, where many small medical students were studying for anatomy finals in the courtyard.

Recovery from the second surgery took a few more days in the hospital.  Finally, Daffy was proclaimed cured and was readied for discharge when I—Super Caregiver— said, “Maybe we should make sure there’s still no brain fluid leak?”  That seemed reasonable to everyone, particular the janitors who have to mop the stuff up, so a new difficult and expensive procedure was devised in which Daffy had to bend over, and then everyone watched brain fluid drip out her nose into a bucket.

Doctors flooded into the room and planned a third surgery.  One said, “This time we should cut a bigger hole in front of her ear and dam the brain fluid at the source near the temporal lobe, hee hee.”  A second surgeon disagreed, “No, let’s go back through the first hole and use beeswax.  That stuff’s really sticky.”  The third surgeon said, “Somebody was sleeping in my patient’s hospital bed, and look!  She’s still there!”  Which was quickly followed by, “Let’s just sew her eustachian tube shut so the fluid can’t get out her nose!”  Relieved that we had not thought of such a stupid idea, we quickly agreed to the procedure.

During the recovery from the first two surgeries, every few hours of every day nurses came in to do various tests and measurements (not including checking for brain fluid leaks, which is left to the janitor).  On each visit, many questions are asked:  What’s your name?  What’s your birthday?  Where are you?  What year is it?   Eventually, every time Daffy saw a nurse, she preemptively yelled,


Daffy’s hearing had been damaged during the first surgery.  When she was waiting outside the operating room to be wheeled in for her last surgery, a nurse came by to make sure he knew which side of Daffy’s head was to be operated on.  He asked, “What ear is it?”   Mishearing, Daffy blasted away at the poor guy, “TWO THOUSAND ELEVEN!!!!”  We had a good laugh as I pointed out all the stitches and shaved hair on the left side as being a pretty good indication of where to operate.

Recovery from the third surgery was the worst of all.  It wasn’t fun for Daffy either. She was hooked to many tubes and for 10 days they had to keep her brain fluid a quart low to promote healing.  This is dangerous because of the risk of infection and tripping hazards.  Finally on discharge day they did one last test.  Daffy had to hold her breath, pressurize her brain and do her best to get fluid to leak from somewhere.  Imagine our happiness to discover there were no brain fluid leaks!  As we were leaving, though, we heard the janitor loudly wondering how so much pee got all over the walls.

Collecting Astronauts

Since I was five years old, I’ve collected astronauts.  I never intended to do that; I just find them without really trying.

My collection isn’t large, but it has some interesting coincidences.  Here are the statistics:

  • I’ve collected five astronauts.
  • I’ve had a few “near misses” as we say in the rocket business.
  • I’ve had a few Kevin Bacon-like connections to astronauts.
  • Three of the rocketeers are among the 12 humans who have walked on the Moon
  • One is known for barfing a lot on the Space Shuttle.

I thought my daughter might one day be in my collection.  For 20 years I’ve been suggesting she attend astronaut school.  When she was about 10, I’d frequently tell her, “If you start now, study your math and science, and become a pilot, you could be the first woman commander on a Mars mission when you’re about 40.”   She never liked that idea.

John Glenn is not in my collection yet either.  As I write this, we note the 50th anniversary of America’s first orbital flight made by Glenn on February 20, 1962.  If my math is correct, he’s now 90 and I’m 54, so there’s not much time left for me to run into him.

A “Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon” type incident:  Alan Shepard took America’s first space flight—a sub-orbital flight in April, 1961.  In the early 1990’s I was in a line at a pizza joint in Phoenix, where I started a conversation with two elderly twin sisters.  I learned that one sister had been Alan Shepherd’s secretary in his test flight days at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, probably back in the late 1950’s.  About fifteen years later Shepard walked on the Moon as the Apollo 14 mission commander.

Remember Buzz Aldrin?  We’ve all seen him on TV literally dancing with figurative stars, but who remembers that he figuratively danced with literal stars back in 1969 as the second man to walk on the moon?  I never got him in my collection either.  But I did meet his Apollo 11 colleague, Michael Collins.

I followed Collin’s Apollo 11 flight carefully in July, 1969 when I was 12.  At the time, I was flying my own cross-country mission with my father in his Navion airplane.  At every evening stop I’d find a black and white TV to get Apollo updates.  I saw the moon walk on a grainy black and white TV picture in a Boise, Idaho hotel room.  Collins was in his room on Moon orbit, but he didn’t have any video of the landing.

In 1974, when I was 17 and working at a Delaware beach condo community as the resident property manager, a friend there told me he had heard that astronaut Michael Collins was vacationing there with his family.  Collins had invited me to dinner.  My friend said that I was to not bug the astronaut with a lot of questions because he was relaxing with his family.  I had dinner at his vacation beach house with his wife and son.  I knew much about Apollo 11, but there were still of lot of questions I would have asked.  But I followed protocol.  This bugged me for the next 30 years, and after I read Collin’s 1974 book “Carrying the Fire”, I found a first edition copy and decided to track him down and ask for a book autograph.  I found him and sent him a letter with the request.  He graciously answered my letter, in which he remembered the beach incident and he instructed me where to send the book, which he then autographed for me.

Who knows astronaut John Young?  I bet not one in 100,000 Americans do, but we all should.  For a time, my work for a NASA contractor regularly took me to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where I watched on closed-circuit TV the first flight of the Space Shuttle in 1981.  That flight was piloted by John Young.  Later he also commanded Shuttle flight 9.  He was also on the first manned flight after Project Mercury ended–the Gemini 3 flight in the 1960’s.  He rode Gemini 10 with Michael Collins, he was the first person to orbit the Moon alone courtesy of Apollo 10, and then he even walked on the Moon later via Apollo 16.   He also walked in space 3 times.  And let’s not forget that before becoming an astronaut, he was a Naval Aviator and jet test pilot.  Young was the only person to ever fly four different types of spacecraft—the Gemini two-man craft, the Apollo Command Module, the Apollo Lunar Module and the Space Shuttle.  He’s still around too; he’s in his 80’s and was still flying jets a few years ago (and maybe still is).  One time my friend and former NASA colleague, who also collects astronauts, spotted Young at Johnston Space Flight Center in Houston.  He said to his wife, “Hey, that’s John Young!  He walked on the moon!”  How often do you recognize somebody out walking around on Earth who’s also walked on the Moon?

In about 1990 I was staying at a Bed and Breakfast in Cedar City, Utah and attending the  Utah Shakespearean Festival.  One morning I heard a commotion downstairs at the first breakfast shift.  When I showed up, I learned I had just missed having breakfast with Harrison Schmitt, who was regaling everyone with tales of his Apollo 17 geology moon walk and handing out autographed photos.

My last and most recent discovery is Jake Garn.  A former Navy pilot and US Senator from Utah, he also rode Space Shuttle mission STS-51D in April, 1985 as a “guest payload specialist”.  Although he had some duties on the Shuttle, he is best remembered as being the sickest-ever space flyer.  Garn blew so many vacuous space chunks in space vacuum that NASA even created the informal “Garn Scale”, which assigns a number from 1 to 10 indicating the level of space sickness incapacity.  Reportedly, Senator Jake puked-in at a “Garn 13”, having been so sick that he was even off his own scale.

In about 1983, I spotted a 1940’s vintage Navion airplane at Utah airport.  I discovered the owner was Jake Garn.  Years later when I decided to buy a Navion, I sent a letter asking him if his plane was for sale.  It was not, but he offered me a flight, which we took together in 2008.  He had changed the registration number of his plane to N51D in memory of his Space Shuttle flight STS-51D.

Jake Garn’s Navion N51D

Shuttle STS-51D Mission Patch on Navion

That’s my astronaut collection.  So what’s next in space flight?

China purportedly intends to build a space station, and China and Russia talk about sending people back to the moon. NASA announced that it is looking for the next batch of astronauts to perhaps go to the Moon and Mars.  More likely, these people will be the US custodians of the International Space Station who will hitch rides on old Soviet-era hardware.  Previous orbital scientific research tells us that we can expect about 10% of them to throw-up in space sometime during their careers. Meanwhile, US companies continue to develop and test new hardware and technologies.  We are entering a new era of commercialized space flight, with a new batch of crazy people riding rockets and with new technologies advanced by companies with names like Space Exploration Technologies, Stratolaunch Systems, Virgin Galactic and even Armadillo Aerospace.  The purpose of manned space flight is transitioning from research and exploration to tourism.  I guess it had to happen, but Armadillo?  Seriously?  Instead, I’d suggest a name like Garn Virgin Road-Kill Stratolaunch Enterprises.

It may be a long time before another American carries the fire like Michael Collins did. I’ll maintain my vigilance.  You never know what former or future astronaut is out there walking around. And NASA, if you still want to go to Mars, call my daughter.  She’s available.


A kid’s first baseball game is a magical memory.  My son and I were prepared.  Last summer’s hours of pitching and catching in the front yard made for a strong arm and accurate throws.  He had improved too.

“Let’s go to a Buzz game, and I’ll show you a trick,” I explained.  “If you secretly wave to the batter so that no one else sees, he’ll try to hit a foul ball to you.”  My boy grinned, already imagining his souvenir catch.  “Hmm,  perhaps that wasn’t a great idea,” I admitted to myself.

We sat midway down the third base line in prime foul territory.  My analysis had told me that many of the Buzz batters are lefties, and that most foul balls result from late swings.  We were perfectly positioned.

Halfway through our foot-long hot dogs, we heard thwack!  A batter fouled one right toward us.  The ball veered and came to rest in the hands of a guy a few seats to our right and two rows in front of us.  My son looked at me, astonished.  “Dad, can I go sit behind that guy?”

I smiled at youthful innocence.  “Sure, boy,”  I said.  We moved over and sat behind that lucky fan. “Remember to keep your eye on the ball at all times and keep your mitt up,” I reminded him.  After awhile, a different leftie batter walked up and took a few practice swings.  My boy caught his eye and secretly waved to him.  The ball was pitched, and the batter got a piece of it.  The foul ball whizzed right at us!  It bonked off an empty seat five rows in front of us, then zagged left, still flying.  The boy kept his eye on it.  The ball binked off a handrail and popped up in the air, came down and took a few bounces off the concrete, then began rolling down our row past at least six shoes, including mine, and right smack into the waiting mitt of my son, who had tracked that ball the entire way.

Now I was astonished. The batter took a few more practice swings and looked over in our direction.  I looked at my son, who was still admiring his catch. “What the hell,” I thought.  I caught the batter’s eye, raised my mitt and gave him a little wave.

The Sunday Paper

Now I read the Sunday paper like my father did, lazily, while sipping coffee.  As it was for me, my kids must now endure the agonizing hour until I finish reading before we have breakfast or embark on some family activity.

In my parents’ home on many summer weekends, the routine began early Saturday.  My father left at seven for a half day of drilling and filling teeth.  “I’ll meet you at the airport at one o’clock,” he’d say.  My siblings and I hurried through our chores, packed our overnight suitcases with swimsuits, clean underwear and little else and rushed Mom out of the house.  An hour later we piled into the family airplane and endured the routine hour flight to the Delaware coast.

Once on the ground at the grassy airport, it took another hour to gas up the junker car we kept there, stop at Safeway for groceries, and drive to the beach house.  We immediately clambered into our swim suits, and the rest of Saturday afternoon dissolved into timeless fun.  We swam in the waves until the smell of grilled hamburgers overcame the sea’s grip on us.  After dinner, as the ocean slowly turned dark, we followed-the-leader in the cooling air.  The sand squeaked under our feet, and we stretched our legs into Dad’s footprints.

Sunday mornings before breakfast dragged-on like the occasional foul weather day at the beach.  We got up early and drove a few miles to a boardwalk shop to buy a Washington Post.  After wolfing-down pancakes and sausages back at the house, my father sat on the ocean-side screened porch to drink his coffee and read the paper for another interminable hour of waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting, for we were forbidden to swim for what seemed like a year’s worth of boring headlines and stories of a complicated inland adult world.

Meanwhile, my brothers and I had already staked our claim on the beach with an umbrella and chair.  Finally, in his baggy swim trunks, a Playboy magazine in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, Dad appeared on the sand at nine, the day already half over.  We stayed in the waves until Dad raised an arm, his signal for us to advance back up-tide into starting position, with the house front door, the magazine and the beach umbrella all lined-up before us. The sun raced towards five o’clock when we were called back to slow time by the porch bell.  We showered, packed our clothes and cleaned the house.  An hour later we flew inland, away from ocean time.

Years later, suburban lawns overtook the runway pasture.  The beach house was sold, for after 20 years of flying to the beach my father wouldn’t tolerate four hours in a car.  That old plane is gone too, broken into so many aluminum scraps on a cold mountaintop where my parents finished their last hour, slowed to forever, so far from the warm and happy coast.

I think about those idyllic summer weekends.  I marvel how the years now seem as flickering minutes, traded places with those few, unbearably long hours of my youth.  I see that time passes, sometimes like the unnoticed background whisper of waves, sometimes with the immediate presence of an offshore gale.

In a dream I stand on our beach, up on a dune behind a rickety sand fence.  I’m an adult, fully clothed, and my feet are buried in the sand.  I cannot turn around to see the house, and I cannot get out of the sand to cross the fence.  I can only look out towards the mocking surf.  In the dream I realize I cannot go back in time, that sometimes it’s even difficult to look back, that I can only stare ahead at the passing rhythmic waves, the unreachable pulse of my past.  I look down.  There is a thick Sunday newspaper, sun-yellowed, half-covered in sand.  The pages snap irritably, and the headlines fade away on the hot summer breeze.